The Bad Blogger’s Birch – tree following, October 2014

Oh dear, I am bad. So much has been going on in the garden, and have I been blogging about it? No. In between working, coping with a crap hand (not of cards, crappy tendon problems, again, boooo-ring) and actually gardening, blogging has been left behind. But so has my birch…

It’s most odd. I was anticipating significant change between August and September, and again between September and October, but it’s not really happened.


The downy birch is just not colouring up, but then neither are my other birches, like the big thug in front of my baby birch here. The area around it has changed, and significantly too: the meadow has been cut. This has allowed other things to appear, like these crocuses


and a rather miscellaneous array of fungi, none of which I can identify as they mostly go brown and slimy before I can get to them with Roger Phillips wonderful photographic guide, Mushrooms.

But apart from that very little has altered. The odd leaf is going brown and one or two are even yellow, but there are still scale insects

scale insect

sunning themselves when the weather permits. Mind you, there are definitely fewer of these than there were last time.

One thing I have noticed, though, is that the bark of my baby downy birch is most definitely changing colour. When I started following my as-then-unidentified tree, the trunk was still very orange. The majority of the branches (like this one) and the higher parts of the trunk still are a warm orangey brown in colour. But the base of the trunk, right up to the level of the first branches, now has a distinct silvery tone. I’d not realised quite how silvery until I looked again at that top shot – silver with a hint of marmalade, instead of the other way round.

The leaves may not be changing colour dramatically, but they are definitely thinning out:


They are also beginning to dry out and are starting to feel quite crispy when they’re crushed, so maybe there won’t be any left at all by next month.

The grass isn’t covered in fallen leaves, however – a fact I can only ascribe to the gales and storms we’ve been having. I snatched these pictures on a good day. This is why I waited:


…allegedly, a colour photograph. It’s been a bit on the wild side. Already. The birches are fine with that, though. They bend dramatically, flexing with the force of the gales, and then they ping back upright. Occasionally I might lose a minor branch (the big thug has a small one which is brown and dangling, but totally out of reach), but that’s it. They are ideal for my garden, and I clearly need to plant more (I always fancied a grove of perfect white birches, rather like Anglesey Abbey)…

Tree following, September – little change on the western front…

Ok, I know I’m late (something of an explanation can be found on my woolly blog). I did manage to get the photographs taken in time, but have been busy dealing with some online difficulties and became distracted from the way of righteousness and tree following. Still, I think the problems may be resolving themselves and anyway ‘phfeh’ – life goes on. My downy birch certainly does.

In my mind I thought there would be more change between August and September, other than the cutting of the meadow – only partly done so far, but we’re doing the rest on Monday. Though the surroundings may be looking more autumnal,

meadow light the tree, surprisingly, is not. Yes, it’s a wee bit more tired in appearance and some of the leaves are tattier than they were, but there really isn’t that much marked a change.

When you look at the leaves against the light you can see that the cells are more clearly defined than I think they were -

leaf and light

that would probably make sense – but again, I can’t swear to it. And the browning was already happening in August.

One change that has happened is in the flowers. Earlier in the year, intrigued by their appearance, I sliced one open. I needed a knife to do it, and there was quite a lot of resistance. Now the flowers are showing signs of age,

ageing downy birch flower

(spot the shield bug? I didn’t), and though they haven’t actually started to shed their seeds themselves, they are much more easy to break apart – in fact, they just crumble in your fingers.

ready to go

Very few of these will ever form a downy birch, but if the tree manages to germinate just one during its lifetime it will have done its job, of course. I’m going to have a go at trying it in a pot, though I’ll give them a little longer to ripen – let’s see what happens.

On the wildlife front, the tree is humming. Not literally – that’s the lavender – but it is teeming with life. There are a heck of a lot of shield bugs,

shield bug 3

and not just the birch shield bugs I spotted earlier; there are many others. When I was taking some shots I watched a group of five or six quite clearly assessing each other from their different leaves. They seem to congregate on the more exposed side of the tree, which surprised me. If I look at the seawards side it doesn’t take long to spot them once I’ve got my eye in; on the landward side it takes longer and there are markedly fewer. And the wind has been from the prevailing direction, coming at us from the sea and the south-west. But it’s not been wild, and it has been sunny. Any explanation? General randomness? Luck? Do they move round during the day to sit in the sun?

There are other things, too:


like this iridescent fly I saw after a rain shower, which gives a good size comparison for those tiny next year’s catkins. This fly – and many others – have been spotted on the landward side; maybe there are just too many occupied leaves on the other. And too many shield bug arguments.

So, not much change with my birch. It’s a beautiful September so far, and the forecast is for that to continue. I wonder if there’ll be spectacular colour in my next post? One of the other birches is changing already, but so far the my downy babe has restricted itself to this sort of thing:

one leaf

It’s enjoying the weather as much as I am.

Happy tree following, and thanks to Lucy of Loose and Leafy for this meme. I’ll be on time next month – promise!


Beans, herbs, a dubious marrow and shallot wars

Otherwise known as ‘it’s village show time, folks!’…


When I was a child, our village show was great fun and enormous (I may have mentioned the time I won a piglet by guessing its weight, then my father not allowing me to take it home – some things can scar you for life). I blithely entered classes like the moss garden and the painting by someone under 10 without a care in the world. Oh, I vaguely remember muttering among the adults, and in one case a fight breaking out, but I think they may have drink taken.

Or maybe not… maybe they showed some perfect long shallots and had them spurned for some imperfect round ones.

shallot evidence

Not that I’m taking anything that happened on Wednesday remotely personally, you understand. But let me just say that the two best vegetable gardeners in the whole area thought my shallots would win, and were quite shocked on discovering they had not. I did assure them in advance that they wouldn’t even be placed, because I’ve been here before but flatly refuse to give up. Personally, I’m ascribing it to anti-French bias. Aux barricades!

Shallots aside, it was a lovely show with some great produce even given that it has not been the easiest year for veg growing. Or growing fruit either, come to that, or shrubs, or flowers, especially dahlias (been a smasher for earwigs, though). Amazingly I won a second with the Unwanted Masquerading-as-a-Courgette-when-Young Yellow Marrow,

marrow and the rest

which is just visible in the middle there, diagonally down from the person explaining that he’d grown one but his was THIS big (though he could have been talking about the heaviest potato – it was a marrow-sized misshapen horror). OK, there were only three marrows in the class, but hey (last year there was a single entry in one class and it only got a second – not good enough for a first, apparently). Now, though, I have a problem – what do I do with the marrow? Apart from throw it away, that is? I’ve found a potential stuffing recipe involving cous-cous and chorizo, but this still sounds suspiciously like an ‘eat the stuffing and chuck the marrow in the bin’ experience.

I also managed to win a second with my ‘six named herbs in a jam jar’ (grown-up ousin of the moss garden of my childhood),


seen here during set up. And – astonishingly, given that they were a) purple and b) foreign, Italian things – also got a second for my Cosse Violette beans.

I did OK in produce (chutney, marmalade and blackberry whisky all placed), but the win which warmed my cockles most wasn’t my first-and-third double in the potted geraniums. It was my second in the french marigolds:


I’ve been so snobby about these in the past, and I know I’ve sung their praises on here before following my conversion, but they have been fab – and they are still going strong. I could have entered three bright yellow ones, three brick red ones, three deep red and bordered in yellow – the packs were called ‘Durango Mixed’, by the way, and I strongly recommend them. In the end I went for the marmalade orange, probably because it was drizzling when I picked them and they lit the place up. They still are – little smashers. They do stink, mind you…

It could be worse… hee hee

Yesterday I had a day off. Yesterday I went to a garden centre. I was just going for the craic, some 6-inch terracotta pots, and some coloured plant labels. I didn’t get the latter, had plenty of the former (many thanks to Janet – Plantaliscious – and Karen – Artist’s Garden – for that) and did indeed buy some 6-inch terracotta pots.

Somehow I bought a few other things:


See those pots? They’re mine. Some of that greenery is Karen’s. And – cough – some of it is mine.

Not much, natch:


Well, I had this voucher – £4 off if you spend over £40. It would have been rude not to have used it, wouldn’t it? I wouldn’t want Fron Goch, the best garden centre for miles even if it does mean an hour’s drive, to go out of business, would I?

So what did I get? The first thing I fell for was a Physocarpus, Little Devil. I love the colour of Physocarpus leaves, and this one immediately attracted me because the leaves are small and delicate. A bit unusual – as was the stunning Rudbeckia lacinata ‘Goldquelle':

oh yes

Sedum ‘Dark Knight’ found its way into my trolley (that’s going to be split with Karen), followed by another Actaea (you can never have enough Actaeas), this time one called ‘Black Negligée’. Where on earth that name came from I have no idea – it’s rather substantial for a plant called black negligée, but I don’t suppose a name like ‘big black elasticated pants’ would have much consumer appeal. Anyway, it will contrast nicely with the much more feathery and negilgée-like Actaea that I’ve already got.

By this stage my trolley was looking rather black – but as I had said when arranging to meet, I would undoubtedly be wearing black myself on the ‘once a Goth, always a Goth’ principle. Extending this to my plant choice was completely unintentional, and more than a little surprising (to me, though possibly not to anybody else). Time for a change, and I turned round and immediately fell in love:


It’s a small pine, Pinus strobus, and will grow to about 60cm in ten years, so it’s heading for a container. But it wasn’t just that, or the fact that it was soooo tactile that appealed: it’s called ‘sea urchin’, and this time the name was apposite; it does look like one (a living one, that is, not the rather sad bleached shells). Silly really; I don’t need a pine, I had no thoughts of a pine, but I couldn’t leave it there. It lives here now.

Of course, there were other things on my route to reaching voucherisation, as it were: a Gillenia trifoliata, which was actually in my plant list, and a Persicaria vaccinifolia

sweet x 2

which was not on my plant list but should have been.

And I bought some tree stakes (always useful; reduced price), and cake and coffee. And on the way home we stopped at a newly revamped small garden centre, just to see what it was like, you understand, and I bought a rather nice Festuca glauca…


which looks just right with the sedum. Must remember that. Hey, it was only £2.99…and let’s just say that I reached my voucher target. Um. Plus.

On balance, I think it’s just as well that garden centres are somewhat scattered in Snowdonia. But it was a great day… and thanks to Janet and Karen for being delightful company. Otherwise known as ‘enablers’. (Mutual enablers all round, really.)

The downward slope – tree following, August.

Yes, my little downy birch was looking a bit tired at the start of last month; yes, the signs were clear that the year was turning. I’m not sure that I’d expected much more than that when I went out to take some shots for this month, but it’s definitely changing faster than I anticipated.

starting to change

We have had a great summer this year, and hopefully will continue to have one, even if it is now more temperamental than it was. This could be partly responsible for the early change in colour, of course – it has been quite dry – though I must be honest here and say that I have no idea if similar changes had begun by this time in previous years. I would never have noticed the insidious approach of autumn if I’d not been doing this meme – thank you, loose and leafy, for starting the whole thing. I would have passed by the tree, doing something else, and only really thought about it turning colour when it became much more obvious.

But I’m not the only one who has noticed. Various things have been taking advantage, snacking their way through the leaves and causing damage which I’ve not noticed earlier. In fact these are the first signs I’ve seen of any damage whatsoever:

chew toy

I’m not sure what has caused them, but probably not this birch shield bug, which I caught resting and pretending it wasn’t there (I’ve had to take the photos over a couple of days, hence the changing light – partly the demands of work; partly the demands of the weather, which has been distinctly changeable).

birch shield bug

You can also see, quite clearly, the fuzziness of the smaller branches – and the turning tips of the leaves.

And what, I wonder, has been doing this?

mystery trail

I did pull the leaf apart, looking for an answer, but answer (or bug) came there none. Any suggestions?

It’s interesting, too, how much clearer the pores on the leaves are. Again, something I’d not noticed before.

going, going

I’ve decided to try and keep a close watch on a few particular leaves, and I’ve marked them with wool (well, I am a spinner and knitter; I’ve plenty to hand. Too much, some would say, but some can – um, go away and do something else). This is one; I’m wondering if it will be reduced to a skeleton by next month. It’s probably more likely to be ripped off the branch by the gales we are currently experiencing, but I can try.

And the meadow around the tree is looking rather flat and autumnal, too.

meadow grass

I can’t blame the Hell Hound of Harlech for the seasonality, but I can blame her for the flatness, the random paths and the occasional turd (@!&xHG%%ew6!!!). From now on, following an unfortunate incident with a developing squash, she is banned. Hm… back to the tree, as yet unchewed by puppy teeth. That bark is definitely paler than it was at the start of the year. I don’t think it’s down to seasonality, and I can’t blame the dog, so I am forced to conclude that it is indeed finally changing colour and becoming a grown-up downy birch.

In the face of all this autumnal change, there are signs that the seeds of next year are being laid down. The foxgloves are shedding potential everywhere,

foxglove seed head

and on the birch there are catkins forming for next spring, again looking just like the downy birch illustrations in my Tree Guide. They are very small and awkward to photograph; I’ve just been out with a tape and the longest one was 150ml x 4ml at the widest point…

and for next year…

but they are there, and not just in one or two places; the tree is covered in them.

The almost-ripe female catkins are much larger, at 200-250ml x 75ml. They haven’t yet begun to shed the papery seeds I discovered last month when I cut one open; maybe that will be something for September. In the meanwhile, the tiny new ones are a sign that everything goes round and round. The leaves may be disintegrating, the meadow may be flat and tired and full of things literally setting seed, but the seeds are also being set metaphorically for next spring.

In a minute I’ll be speculating about what sort of winter we can look forward to, so I think I’d better leave it at that – it is still August, after all: it’s still relatively warm, there are still leaves on the trees, and the roads are full of mobile homes whose drivers are scared of stone walls and think passing places are for parking in. Oh, joy.

The year turns… end of the month view, July

I’ve been very bogged down with work, but there’s a small hiatus due to a disappearing author (I’m sure he’s fine, he’s just gone quiet) – perfect timing for an EOMV post. Not perfect weather, though – overcast with a hintette of drizzle.

July’s been splendid here – even been swimming in the sea – and just when the waterbutts ran dry again, it rained. And at night. But it’s a bit more chancy now – well, Gorffenaf indeed. (Gorffenaf – July – translates as ‘summer’s end’). The Rosa rugosa hedges are laden with hips, and the meadow is beginning to look rather tired:

tired meadow

I think the Big September Strim is more likely to happen in August. Most things have set seed and if there are any complaints whatsoever about the fact that it’s lying rather flat, I shall point to the fact that it’s not been so much a meadow this year as a dog’s playground. She’ll be older next year. Or staked down.

The fruit trees look promising, all except for the eirin bach – the little local wild plum; one’s in the foreground here. This one looks as though it’s got mildew – I had to uproot the nearby mangetout more quickly than I hoped; they were dreadfully affected and it may well have spread – and the other has had plum leaf gall mite something rotten. Out?

Moving down from the meadow,

salvia BA

I have been very pleased with my containers this year. Mind you, I have been all round the garden with the three huge urns filled with Salvia Blue Angel (plus Geranium sidoides and, in one case and totally accidentally, a bright yellow nasturtium). It’s a difficult plant to place, but when I suddenly realised how yellow the middle garden was this year, I knew I’d found the right spot. Ignore the erigeron in the background and look at it with the senecio. So glad I didn’t cut the flower heads off the latter!

The middle garden is going to be changed (again). Here it is, complete with big pink bench of doom.

middle garden

That middle bed – packed with tulips in spring and a sundial and some black cow parsley, and now some dill and not much else – is too small; it has to change (the bench is approx 1.8m / 6ft long, to give an idea of scale). Spent ages working out where the washing line goes, where the biggest clumps of snowdrops are, where the deepest shade falls – and completely forgot to consider the fact that the garden slopes, so there’s only one area for the BPBOD. Redrew plans. Plans not right. Accused of adding shaping for shaping’s sake. Quite right. Plans redrawn. Laid out rough outline with P using canes (I know). Canes danced on by dog.

The upshot is that the middle thing will become part of a new bed which will essentially stretch away at about 10 o’clock (towards that shadow), if you see what I mean. It will expand a bit bench-wards, but not that much because there just isn’t enough flat ground anywhere else. But I need more room for plants and this garden isn’t matching the rest now: it’s too functional, I guess. Washing-line space. Barbecue space. Sitting on the BPBOD and drinking tea space. Not garden space.

Mind you, there are some parts of it I love, like the stipa and the dill and this:

love these

plus the snowdrops are very, very prolific – and spreading. I just need to remember where most of them are. Oh, and avoid the roots of the ash, of course. Most of them. The bigger ones. If possible.

Looking down from the top garden, I’m particularly fond of the evening view towards the sea,

path and capel

(especially with the way the sun highlights the down pipe, ho ho). The Stipa has been fabulous and is just beginning to keel over, though that might be partly down to canine activity, and I wish I’d grown much more dill – foreground, left – and planted a bigger clump. Next year I’ll do that.

I also like the way you move down this path and are immediately confronted with the middle bed in the bottom garden, my spiky special – it’s very tall and full of things like Cirsium and Verbena bonarensis and Verbascum chiaxxi album (just cut back) and Echinops ritro: either I didn’t think this through, or I just need to go with it. It’s not too bad when viewed from behind the lavender hedge.

middle bed and lavender

I’m going with it.

On Monday, P said he thought the garden was looking its best for ages. I’m not so sure; I’ve had one real disappointment, and that may have coloured my view, I suppose. Last year my random seed bed was fab. This year, I carefully assembled a selection of seeds, mixed them up, did exactly what I did last year (except I didn’t plant any in seed trays for security) and – huh.


Most of the things I sowed deliberately have failed to germinate, except for some beautiful scarlet Linum.


The whole thing is dominated by wild carrot, now dying back unattractively, and feverfew. Both of these seeded themselves last year, as did the poppies – they are lovely – and the nigella. Then there are interlopers, caused by me literally emptying the seed tin over the bed last year:


When seen in detail, it’s fine. The trouble is that most of the time you don’t look at it like that; you look at the whole and think ‘what a mess’ because it’s all accidental. I know it was ‘accidental’ last year, but it was a deliberate accident, if you like. However, it has taught me two things: 1) those carrots are coming out, architectural or not, and 2) I will be seeding this bed in the autumn and seeing what happens. I suppose there’s a third: have seed trays planted as back up.

And when it really annoys me, I can turn round and worship my heleniums in the bottom bed:


Acer in the background, mostly Moerheim Beauty in the middle, with an Actaea in front of them, and the stems of the Crocosmia Lucifer. And, of course, a dahlia. So autumnal!



I don’t care for marrows. I find them watery and best suited to, perhaps, cattle food. I am an inveterate Frog, when it comes down to it. I do like courgettes, and while some people consider them as essentially immature marrows which, strictly speaking, I suppose they are, I do not.

That’s because I like courgettes. I also like Magritte:

Magritte's pipe

‘This is not a pipe’, when it clearly is.



n’est pas une courge (which is the nearest I could get to a translation of ‘marrow'; I can honestly say I’ve never seen a marrow in France but I may have had a sheltered life). It ******* is.

It’s supposed to be a perfectly normal courgette plant, obtained at the Green Fair’s plant swap earlier in the year. It’s trailed everywhere and produced this swelling beast, revealing itself, I think as the Long Green Trailing variety – I do like accuracy in a plant name, but would have preferred accuracy in the marrow/courgette domain. So now what do I do?

Actually, I know. There’s a class for marrows in the Garden Show (of course there is, nous sommes ici) so I plan on growing it on to a monstrous size. I’m sure there are ancestral marrow-feeding secrets, perhaps preserved in ancient leather-bound tomes and sealed with mighty iron clasps, possibly even guarded by dragons*, which will give me some advice. But on the other hand, I could just ask one of my neighbours. He doesn’t grow marrows any more himself but – villages being what they are – I’m sure he’d be delighted if I challenged the long-standing marrow-growing supremacy of X, Y and Z…

*Or I could just have been watching Game of Thrones too much.

PS: Have just received first tip. Collect dirty wool from sheep fleece – sheep poo gets everywhere, but some areas are more blessed than others – and suspend in bucket of water using old onion bag. Allow to mature. Water with resulting liquid. I’m a spinner, so this would be possible – if I hadn’t just skirted a fleece and put the skanky bits in the brown bin, where they have now been joined by half a ton of grass clippings and a dead rat (thanks, Next Door’s Cat. Again). Seaweed feed instead, methinks.