Friday, 31 March 2017

Not just Nigel

Monty Don's Nigel is not the only gardening hound who has to endure the horror of his favourite ball finding itself in the wheelbarrow 🐾  💚

What is less obvious is that some hellebores and a Himalayan honeysuckle finally made it into the ground in the Coppice.

(Yay, finally trying to deal with the photo-backlog.  So that Susan doesn't miss any posts I plan on publishing the new ones on whatever date I write them, and move them where they belong a few days later)

Post-Kielder clean up

How can two people and one dog make so much MESS in six days?  The probable answer is spend that time in Northumberland's version of Glastonbury.  It is now Friday morning and I have only just got the house straight.  We spent all day Monday washing mud off two awnings, awning floor tiles, water containers, tent pegs and anything else we'd used;  thank goodness the weather was outstanding and we had a sunny and dry day to do the work in the garden.  In truth, it wasn't all hard work - we set up the solar telescope again and I probably wasted two or three hours gazing at massive prominences and a couple of big sunspots, and we invited a couple of neighbours over for their first ever solar viewing experience which everyone enjoyed.

M. had the excellent idea of putting up the 'difficult' awning to see if he could work out what went wrong for me.  We've concluded that a couple of extra webbing straps in certain places would have alleviated most of my problems, so they're on my 'to buy' list.

The rest of the week seems to have been spent on an endless cycle of laundry and putting things away.  Of course, there has also been the daily minutiae of shopping, cooking, walking Daisy and a couple of appointments but I still wonder where time goes?  These days it does not even have the decency to make a gentle whooshing sound as it disappears at speed . . . 

Thursday, 30 March 2017


(New 2017 blog post published in December 2019)

I am including this in the 'catch up' as a reminder to myself to (hopefully) not do this again.

I admit I was waylaid by visions of Monty Don and Carol Klein cheerfully walking down their gardens in April carrying beautiful pots of tulips which they had planted up the previous year.  With a garden the size of Bag End it made sense to try this as I definitely have the space to store the pots over winter.

But it didn't work - whilst the four varieties I planted were lovely I only seem to have pictures of one, and the pots were a pain in the ***** to look after when it bloom.  I hate watering tubs with a passion - this garden is quite big enough and contains more than sufficient work:  I really need to remember not to add to it unnecessarily.

Shrugs shoulders, it is only by trying stuff like this you find out what works and what does not.

Edit:  with the benefit conferred by Blogger's ability to date posts in a twimey-wimey fashion that David Tennant would have been proud of, this is what the pots looked like at the end of May:  a right mess but still needing to be fed and watered to give the bulbs half a chance for next season.


There have been no updates from Bag End for a few days because there's been a little holiday and although I have been back since Sunday night it has taken me until today (Thursday) to get my act together sufficiently to face the keyboard and photos!

We have had a trip to the frozen north which combined stargazing in sub-zero temperatures and sun-bathing with a serious risk of getting burnt, all in the same day.

I went off early last Tuesday to Kielder Forest intending to have a quiet couple of days before the majority of astronomers arrived but it didn’t quite work out like that.  As is to be expected at the most remote village in England with no mobile signal, virtually no internet, set in the middle of a massive forest which supplies 25% of the country’s timber one has to contend with Weather Gods. Despite much work over the closed period to improve drainage and hardstandings the ground was completely saturated and a lot of care was needed to ensure no car or caravan wheels inadvertently went onto the grass.  There is good potential to get stuck if you don't pay attention:

But I got set up on a pitch and after walking Daisy, a drink and a bite to eat decided to put the awning up. Least said about that the better. Our new awning absolutely refused to co-operate with the caravan despite much help from a friend who was pitched nearby; every time I thought we had it pegged out a gust of wind flattened the dratted thing.  After two miserable hours I called a halt - amazing how quickly you can get an awning down . . . Not only had this pushed my stress level way beyond where it should be on a caravan trip but highlighted how narrow the hardstanding was and that the surrounding grass area had been shipped in from Glastonbury.

So I moved the caravan to a different pitch, and the Amazing Knight in Shining Subaru (known as Management) drove over after work that night to bring me the regular awning which I knew I could pitch. It still took until late Wednesday afternoon to finish setting up thanks to monsoon-like precipitation. At that point I was grimly muttering about wooden boats and animals in pairs . . .  Around this time I planned to move my car away from the pitch so that it wasn’t in the way of people arriving later in the week. That was when we found the battery was totally flat, the engine wouldn’t even turn over. More stress but our friends helped out again; 12 hours with a proper battery conditioning charger sorted my car and eventually I could relax.

The Weather Gods really were “having a laugh” with us - wind and rain all day on Tuesday but at 8.00pm the skies cleared and there were so many stars visible it was almost impossible to make out familiar constellations.  By Thursday the rain had gone but left much muck underfoot which Daisy did not approve of when we went for a walk in the forest.  She approved even less when I used a nearby hose to GENTLY rinse off her legs before we got back to the caravan.

Management came over on Friday by which time the sun had come out and it almost felt as if I had made up stories about the appalling conditions of a couple of days earlier. We had some brilliant observing both by day and night, much wandering around chatting to friends, and on Saturday spent nearly all day outside the van sharing views of the sun with others.  I had intended on going to a couple of the talks that afternoon but Daisy was ‘not quite right’ and we decided it would have added to whatever was stressing her if I’d buggered off for a few hours.  So instead we hung around, and chatted to folk, watched a massive prominence on the edge of the sun and had endless mugs of tea.  It was very, very relaxing and thoroughly lovely.

The big problem with an intense astronomy weekend is the hours - we managed to keep going until a bit after midnight each night but more dedicated folk were still out and about at 3.00 or 4.00am, and on Saturday night a couple of them lasted until 5.00am! That is serious dedication, especially when you factor in temps of at least minus 3 every night, possibly even colder. Once you’ve done that a couple of times something akin to jetlag sets in, it’s really not very pleasant. So we decided to quit whilst we were ahead, so to speak, and at the end of a lazy Sunday with more solar observing, packed up and were home by 8.00pm.   A fabulous trip, the best Starcamp yet.

Once we had overcome the awning issues I was so relaxed that I took very few photos and certainly didn't bother with astrophotography this time. **  There are, however, a great number of pictures of Daisy!

Oh, I forgot to tell Management - one day when I took Daisy out I was extremely brave and I made myself go through part of the Minotaur Maze.  Which might not sound like much to normal people but my claustrophobia extends to structures like this where I cannot see how to get out.  Did it, pleased with myself, won't do it again . . .

**  If you want to see "real" Starcamp photos, look up Stuart Atkinson on Facebook.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Winter Salads experiment

(New 2017 blog post published in December 2019)

In September 2016 I sowed all my remaining lettuce seeds in the greenhouse and the small fruit cage.

Germination was good and swift, but before long every seedling in the fruit cage had fallen foul of the slugs.  With the benefit of hindsight, given the cage is a protected area and not accessible to birds I should have put down slug pellets . . . I did not.

The surviving plants grew strongly in the greenhouse.


Did well under fleece in November and December:

Varieties not really suited to cold conditions froze to death in February:

Whilst more sturdy types (Swiss chard, parsley, lambs lettuce, beet leaves, spinach and even some small carrots, although they were not very sweet) carried on producing well into the Spring, and the final two crops - Swiss chard and spinach - not running to seed until May {which I can say with a straight face for a post dated March, but not published until 2½ years later!}

A most successful experiment, and one I should definitely repeat.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

This week in the garden

I've already written about my lovely but thoroughly exhausting day on Wednesday;  although a great deal was accomplished I was completed worn out by the end of it.  Despite being an extremely willing and hard worker, there are occasions when LP has what I refer to as "away days" when his body is present but not necessary connected to his brain.   As a result I had to "micro manage" what was done and it wore me out completely.  I'll give you a prime example:

Whilst I could go out and buy more timber I would really like to see if we can complete the raised beds without adding any more to the profits of our local builders' merchant.  Therefore it's extremely important that we use the wood we've got very carefully.  I had sorted out the 8" x 2" timber for Wednesday and at one point had a long conversation with LP where I asked him to cut Piece A a certain length for the front of the bed, because that would leave us exactly 24" left over which was the size needed for a side.  This took some time because he was determined to cut Piece B, which would have left me with an off-cut too small to be useful.  Eventually he said "OK, right, I get what you mean now" and I put Piece A in front of him.  He turned away to get his saw, picked up Piece B and started to measure where the cut should be.  It took, maybe, 1.5 seconds for him to have abandoned the correct piece and pick up the wrong one.

This did not happen once, it happened pretty much on every single bit of timber, and with every single element that needed measuring ..... believe me, after six or seven hours of micro-managing at this level your brain would be completely fried as well.

So I was very glad that I had enjoyed a few hours alone in the garden on both Monday and Tuesday afternoons, because thanks to imminent-brain-implosion and bloody awful weather, there was to be no more progress 😊

So, what did I get done?  Well, nothing particularly earth shattering, but "real gardening" that feels so good 😊

I moved self-seeded Clary and Foxgloves from the New Garden to the beds behind the patio.

The new mower was christened and I cut the Cottage Garden lawn but the ground is really too wet and soft so I did not try to do any more.   Instead, I had a bit of a blitz on the large bed next to the fruit cage.  Lots of remedial work planned here for later in the year.

All of the lovely campanula my neighbour gave us has been planted out - some in the two narrow beds near the sheds, and the rest in an attempt to make an attractive edging around the Big Pond.  I ran out of time, energy and campanula but it's a start.

I'm feeling a tad despondent about the Big Pond at present. Although we have created ponds in every previous garden I have never had the fun of making one so large, with such a big planting area.  Unfortunately I had no idea just how invasive some of the plants we put in were going to become, and taking my eye off the ball the last couple of years has now come back to bite-me-on-the-bottom.

On the far side of the Big Pond (furthest away from the house) I am going to have to dig out pretty much all of the various grass species which are out of control.  It will be a thoroughly horrible job - these plants are tough, and strong, and very well rooted, and we've got to do it all without damaging the pond liner.

So apart from being grumpy and tired after Wednesday, it really wasn't a bad week, I just wish it would flippin' stop raining.😊

Friday, 17 March 2017

Caravan cushions

It must be at least two weeks ago when, during a particularly wet week with rain every single day at some point or another (and when it did not rain it was pretty cold) I "extracted the digit" and continued to cut up the quilted green piece.  On the Tuesday I created two bolster cushions, Wednesday produced four regular cushions and during a weekend I used nearly every last scrap for three large placemats and four mug mats.

Things stalled a bit after I put a binding on the placemats.  Whilst I loved the contrast of purple and green, WHEN am I going to remember (and learn) that the large supply of Oakshott cotton fabric I have is really not very nice to work with?  Yes it is exceptionally pretty, and yes it has a lovely feel to it, but the stuff is a slippery as a bag of irritated eels and was moving all over the place as I tried to hand-finish the binding.  It was gloriously liberating to cut the whole lot off (only made each mat half an inch smaller) and use a nice stable red print which has behaved beautifully.  Unfortunately it's taken me the best part of a fortnight to find time and energy in the evenings to finish all seven pieces.  But now they are done and look lovely.

Even found time to make Daisy a couple of new house coats.  A metre of fleece and a few inches of Velcro later . . . but Madam was not really in the mood to model this season's daywear 😀😀