The winter of my discontent

Grumble, grumble, grumble. Guess what the weather is doing? Again?

Everything is wet. Even the logs stacked in the greenhouse are wet. I’m wet. The Hell Hound of Harlech got wet. P got wet, though despite this he still decided to go tree climbing with a bow saw and take a branch off the cherry. Next Door’s Cat got so wet that he actually went to his real home and has been looking at me smugly from behind a window.

And it’s been windy. First, wind off the land:


and now wind – big wind – off the sea, as is more usual. Just retrieved one wheelie bin from near the car park, and the other from behind a lamppost. They were wet.

But I have done one thing: got the spuds chitting. They began sprouting quite lavishly, so I hauled them out, told them off, rubbed away the weak white shoots that always make me think of Gollum and put them in egg boxes on a windowsill. If it doesn’t stop raining in time I can always throw them at Next Door’s Cat. Or P. Or the HH of H (the most likely candidate).

A few things are out. They’re battered, but they’re out. My first daff, for instance, and some snowdrops, and some crocuses. And even…


Oh, all right, I took this last year. The light levels are so low that all my photographs of the hellebores this year have been shite – but they’re there, and they’re flowering nicely. When you can actually see.

And I have been doing a bit of planning, looking at all the things that are coming up because it’s so unseasonably warm (we have had one good frost, but I wouldn’t mind more, honest). There are a load of Verbena bonarensis seedlings which I’m going to move into one bed, and there are foxgloves everywhere. Time, I think, for a little selective meadow-editing. A couple of years ago there were foxgloves in the meadow, so I was hoping they’d be back this year – but I can’t see any evidence so far. Time to do some moving, I think. I know this is lovely,


and, believe you me, I’m really looking forward to a seeing the meadow in its glory again, but I think a few foxgloves would be a good addition. They looked fab when they appeared spontaneously, so I’m going to give them a hand. Better that than throwing them on the compost (I have a lot of foxgloves).

However at the moment it’s a bit wet…


Welcome to 2016….

Grumble, grumble. Back to what passes for normal, except – for the moment – it is NOT raining. Really. The garden is so wet that your squish, squish, squish as you walk on ‘grass’, and P has nearly surfed from one garden to another on mud. Joy, oh joy.

However, gardening is taking place. This sort of gardening:


Though in deference to convention, P is not wearing yellow tights and white socks, and the apple trees are considerably larger (though they do have carefully cleared circles of earth around them, or as I like to call these things, ponds). It’s pruning time.

It is emphatically not


digging time, as that will only annoy the Weather Gods even more, and anyway I have enough standing water as it is.

Of course, what we really need is one of these:


especially as this rather splendid portrayal of a viking longship can take a house on its deck, allowing me to move somewhere with LESS RAIN.

In the meanwhile this is me,


doing my tax return. Joy, oh ******* joy. And the last of the Christmas cake got eaten yesterday. 2016 just keeps on getting better.

(Seriously – all the best. It cannot, CANNOT, carry on like this!)

‘Tips for the winter garden’

Reality and journalism – or what sometimes passes for journalism – often collide. And so, in celebration of this fact, I would like to offer some of my very own tips for the winter* garden (watching where you tread should be first, after what I stood in just now, and thank you, Next Door’s Cat).

‘A well-placed container close to a doorway, window or path really makes an impact.


Several containers make even more of an impact, especially when you slip on wet slate, slide into them and scatter your shopping all over the path. They might make more of a metaphorical impact if I’d just had five seconds in which to do something about their contents. Or space in the greenhouse for the geranium.

Leave cover on perennials that fade elegantly.


Which ones would they be, then?
(And, incidentally, I suppose this also deals with the reality of the ‘not forgetting the weeding’ tip. Believe you me, I haven’t. I haven’t forgotten the tip, that is. I’m quite happy to forget the weeding.)

Leave flowerheads on grasses; they look lovely in winter.’


Or then again…

Don’t forget to clean out the greenhouse.’


I didn’t. I just filled it with stuff first. And it’s staying there. I’ll do it in the spring.

The italicised tips – or fantasies, as I prefer to think of them – are all from recent articles in the media. The reality is, alas, all from the garden. I know it’s not just me who has things like this


(Cirsium rivulare Atropurpureum, in case you don’t recognise it) filling their borders and flowerbeds at this time of year.

It isn’t, is it?

*Let’s just examine the concept of ‘winter’, too. Can we have one, please? I realise this might come into the ‘be careful what you wish for’ category but I DO NOT CARE. I just want it a bit colder.

(Oh, and by the way and a propos the last post, there was indeed an agapanthus in the photo quiz. And I did fail to recognise it, despite having, at the last count, seven clumps of agapanthus in the garden.)

Shattered… and a party

Agh! Been soooo busy, what with one thing• and another••, that I’ve barely been in the garden. This is probably just as well as the lawns are almost liquid and the beds are covered in dead leaves and ‘donations’ from Next Door’s Cat. And they’re almost liquid too. But I will be back, very shortly.

In the meanwhile, it’s the Garden Club’s Christmas bash tonight. It will be exactly like this:


only with more tupperware and a completely impossible photographic quiz about seed heads.

Back when I’ve recovered. This could be tomorrow, but I may take longer to surface after the shame of not recognising something like an agapanthus.

*Big professional craft fair in Harlech. Am one of organisers, also exhibitor, didn’t move fast enough. Almost sold out.
**Deadline. Writing book. Done. Even the references.

Tree following: November, and farewell to the hawthorn

Oh boy, is it November or what…

I looked at the weather forecast and decided to photograph my tree a little early. About a week early, in fact, and it’s just as well I did. The wind is storm force (Force 9, to be specific, though it is lessening a little); the rain is horizontal and the clouds are so low, despite the wind, that I can see about a hundred metres. Lovely.

A week ago it was a completely different story:


I don’t expect any of these are still there now. They may be in England, they may have been blown as far as Norway, but I’m pretty certain they won’t be here. I’m not going up to check, mind – the little car park I use was so squishy a day ago that it might as well be under water (it probably is, now) and the path I would take as an alternative to driving is mud. Sorry, that should be Mud. It definitely deserves a cap M. And this is essentially why, although I’ve enjoyed ‘following’ my hawthorn, I will pick a tree a little closer to follow next year.

Anyway, here is my best-beloved, looking lovely in the sun of 1 November:

hawthorn and dolmen

When I started following the hawthorn I said that the tree’s association with the dolmen did seem to give it a special significance, and I had more confirmation of that. This was, of course, the day after 31 October, Halloween, Samhain, call it what you will – and in the foreground you can just see a blackish area between a few stones, directly below the white spot on the capstone, right at the edge of the shot. It was the remains of a fire, evidently recent because there was just a hint of warmth to it. Not surprising, though hawthorns are more traditionally associated with Beltane. But I expect the tomb is the draw… or, of course, it could just have been fellow archaeologists up there to check any solar alignment.

So what has changed since my last despatch (I didn’t make October as I was away)? Well, there are now no leaves whatsoever, and the haws are patchy – some parts are still covered; others have none, or only very shrivelled ones. Exposure again: I spent some time just leaning against the hawthorn this time and realised, for the first time, that the pressure of the wind can be felt quite strongly, even on the thick branches – and that’s why it has developed so many trunks and roots, I guess.

There are signs of a lot of life in the tree – or perhaps that should be sign of a lot of spiders using it. The low angle of the sun really emphasised that, though it was very difficult to show just how bedecked the tree was with single filaments and whole webs:

spider webs

The sheep are back, rather more obvious and considerably more noisy:


They’re also considerably less flighty – possibly because the lambs are now huge, possibly because they’ve got used to me (don’t laugh; sheep can recognise a significant number of humans – there’s been academic research into this. Really). Once again, though, I noticed how much more battered this hawthorn was than its neighbours and decided to take a brief tour around some of its companions.

A little further down the hill is an Iron Age hut circle. There are hawthorns which guard the entrance:

entrance hawthorns

and they’ve been stripped of leaves too, despite being in a more shetered position. But notice the oak at the top? Here’s another shot of the whole thing:


All the oaks are like this, still with leaves. I’m intrigued, mind, by the fact the upper leaves are still green; without really understanding in detail, I’d have instinctively expected it to be the other way round. Particularly when you consider the exposure element (oh, yes – the dip in the middle, behind the oak, is the hut circle – it’s huge, would probably have housed an extended family plus some animals).

Quite a few of the trees are ivied, and when I say ‘ivied’ I mean it with a capital letter again:


And the tree still lives.

The gorse is just beginning to flower again, in parts,


though a lot of it is being cleared by the farmers. It had got very overgrown, and it will be back, and so I can’t really lament the extensive cutting back – especially as it is making it a lot easier to see some of the extensive archaeology up here. I’d not really realised how much the gorse had grown up until I took another look at the aerial photograph in the March tree-following post. You can still see grass in that, amongst the gorse. Until the hacking back, you could barely see any; just gorse, and you couldn’t push through it. So what is there, underneath all that? An irregular field system which is probably Neolithic, as is the dolmen; lots of clearance cairns and burnt mounds, some of which are very old, Bronze Age; some old terracing, maybe Neolithic; an old trackway, ditto; traces of huts, both prehistoric and Roman period; lots and lots of medieval stuff. And  the old pack-horse routes, of course.

It’s a wonderful landscape, a scheduled ancient monument, and I’m very glad I decided to visit it regularly to follow this tree. But visiting a tree a bit further away – even though it’s not exactly miles and miles away – has also been problematic; I’ve not observed the hawthorn as frequently as I did the birch from last year, for the simple reason that I could pop out of the kitchen door and be at the birch within, oh, twenty steps. So I will go back to following an even more local tree next year. What, or where, I’ve not decided (but it probably won’t involve encounters with feral goats, unlike this one).

And in the meanwhile, farewell sheepies:


I’m up here a lot, so I know I’ll be back. But I definitely got more out of tree following my birch -as a tree following exercise, that is, as opposed to archaeology following, plant hunting, goat avoiding, lichen photographing, mud squelching… oh, hang on, I think that last one would apply with the birch at the mo. Hm.

Apparently some people in this small country are enjoying sun and t-shirt weather, right now. All I can say is this is coming your way. Get your wellies out. And you’ll need vests.

PS: Huge thanks to Lucy at Loose and Leafy who has hosted the tree following meme for the last three years, and hello to Pat at The Squirrelbasket, who is the new host. It’s brilliant.

Oh wow – updating the Garden Tour

It’s been needing doing for some time, but it’s rather like hoovering the loft – you can put it off for ages. A while ago I created a ‘garden tour’ page, and I’ve not looked at it for ages. The other day I decided that there’d been too many changes. It had to happen. Spring cleaning. In late October.

I mean, it’s not as though the changes have been minor:

tree surgeons

They’ve made quite a difference, really…

It has been interesting, too. There are now so many more beds than there were, and much less lawn. There’s a heck of a lot more colour throughout the season, not just in the spring. The vegetables have ceased to spread around the garden and are confined to the veg plot and a small bed by the greenhouse. There are all sorts of plants that were just not here before, from heleniums and verbena bonarensis to grasses, dahlias, echinaceas and actaeas. The meadow has gone from strength to strength, despite the fact that the birches which were small trees then are now all big (and, in the case of one, huge).

So I feel I can say ‘do please come and walk around the garden’ – here. And, of course, it will all need updating again soon…

dill and broom

Winter jobs (sigh)

All right, I admit it. It’s not that far away. The garden is covered in leaves, logs are chopped and stored in part of the greenhouse and I haven’t seen Next Door’s Cat for a bit (he’s gone to ground, possibly in a duvet, possibly at his actual owners, though not necessarily). We’ve had the semi-annual Bonfire of Irritation though this time, owing to a lack of planning on my part, without the equally traditional baked potatoes on which to burn our hands.

Time to do the rounds of the garden and work out what needs doing. Lots, is the answer. This is the point I feel a sudden urge to run away to sea.

There’s this:


which is allegedly a flower bed. It’s right in front of the house and contains hardy geraniums, a huge osteospermum, a parahebe and various other things. In actual fact it’s a couch grass bed, and I’m going to break with organic gardening to try and deal with it. I’ve been trying to be organic for the past ahem, ahem years – about ten? – and I’ve given up. I’ve tried mulch, I’ve tried black plastic, I’ve tried everything (though I did refuse to let P play with a flamethrower, citing health and safety and the desire to still have somewhere to live). It’s right in front of the house so it drives me bonkers every time I walk by. In the past I’ve wrestled with ground elder, I’ve had a terrible time with convolvulus, horsetail has seriously pissed me off – but none of them compare with fecking couch fecking grass. Fecking.

And there’s this:

the iris bed

This is the iris bed. Oh yes it is.

And this is also the reason why it will no longer be an iris bed. The problem, however, isn’t just that it looks good for about a month and then spends the rest of the year looking as though it’s had a rough Saturday night and just staggered downstairs for a Red Bull. The real problem is that when you confine one plant to a particular bed, disease and bugs can really get their teeth in to your precious darlings. And they predictably have.

So it’s time to sort out the good rhizomes, throw most of them out, and replant. They’ll probably go into pots first. I know you’re not supposed to do that, but I’ve always misbehaved with my irises and they’ve always been good – until I decided to clag them all in one bed, that is. They originally ended up here because it was the one place where they could really sunbathe, but since I’ve had a couple of trees down – one deliberately, one not – there’s much more light elsewhere in the garden.

Like on this bed, the bed at the gable end. South facing; huge climbing rose on the wall, plus a Parthenocissus henryii which has finally taken off.

gable end bed

Here the problem isn’t couch grass. Yet. It’s Japanese anemones. Oh, and Geranium macrorrhizum album which I’ve finally got under (nominal) control, but which constantly threatens to run amok. There are yellow flags in here and they seem to love it – strangely; it’s a bit dry – so this is one of the places where my saved irises are going. In fact they were here originally but failed to thrive because the bed was in deep shade. Not any more.

Oh yes, I also have a path to salvage:

path. honest

I do. It’s under those lavenders.

They are now over ten years old, and last winter one of them took itself off during a storm (literally: I saw it further down the hill, about to blow over the main road, when I went down to the post office). They’re magnificent, but they are on their very last legs. Cuttings have been taken, cuttings have died; more cuttings have been taken, cuttings have damped off, but I’m having one last go. I don’t mind buying new plants if I have to, but they won’t go here. I’m going to seize the chance to rework this bit of the garden, which one expert gardening friend said now ‘looked as though it belonged to a different garden’. It does; since I planted the path huge areas of lawn have turned into beds. Curving beds. The path’s staying put – it was repaired with such dedication that if the house is washed away in a tsunami the path will remain – but I’ll soften its edges. Or rather P will.

But it’s not all dead leaves and planning. It’s dahlias suddenly deciding that they are going to flower after all:

pretty pretty

Thanks goodness for that. I had to have something fab!