Surprised by secateurs

I love my secateurs – oh, thanks, I had a lovely time in Shetland, but let’s get things in perspective. I really love my secateurs.

And I lost them.

secateurs with giant tom

I had them, oh, I had them. I was fiddling about with them, in the way that you do, and put them down to do something else. Then when I went back for them – no secateurs.

Admittedly I wasn’t sure where I’d popped them down, so I went round the entire garden about 85 times, fossicking through ivy in case they’d disappeared into the maw of the overgrown walls, ferreting through the long grass in case they’d fallen down. (I have a lot of long grass which now looks as though wildebeest have been migrating through it. That would be me and Next Door’s Cat, who was – let’s just say ‘Not Helpful’, and the ‘not helpful’ needs its caps; I emphatically did not need his contribution, and how a mangled mouse was supposed to help I do not know.)

I even cleaned out the shed – dried up shrew, gee, thanks, NDC – which (let’s face it, and quite obviously given the level of rodent mummification as evidence) has needed doing for some time. I might have left them in the house, but thoroughly checking that would have led to housework – ergh – so I looked everywhere obvious and left it at that. By this stage I was even looking in places I’d already checked thoroughly, just in case.

No secateurs.

I rang up P, as we have a long-running joke about Felco theft. No, he had his own, thank you very much – very, very clear on that point, his have the turny handle which I can’t use. So I went round and checked one more time – well, you do, don’t you?

I’ve had these secateurs for years. They’re Felco 8s, and were a deal. Well, an exchange. For several years I was involved with selling books at Chelsea Flower Show, and the last day was always the usual last day mayhem:

Chelsea old(old last-day-Chelsea photo from about 1990, maybe 1989 given the shoulder pads)

but it wasn’t just members of the public trying to fit eight-foot-tall delphiniums on the 19 bus. The madness spreads to exhibitors too.

Non-exhibitors were eventually shooshed out of the show ground, but we had to wait for the lorries to come over from Battersea Park in their meticulous convoy which carefully and inexplicably (all this was apparently organised by the Army) brought them to a position exactly outside the correct stand. This was the time for all the deals which had been arranged during the week to take place; for example, my colleague almost always sloped off to a particular show garden with a heavy carrier and came back with boxes and boxes of plants on a trolley. I used to go skip-surfing for plants myself, and often had the car so full that I could barely see out as I drove away – the irises I found one year still flourish. But one year I was less ambitious: I swapped a signed copy of something on roses for a pair of Felcos. Maybe I didn’t have the car park pass that year. But they’ve lasted longer than almost everything else. Or they had (sniff).

So they are at least 25 years old. And they’re wonderful. Were wonderful.

They’ve been used and abused. They’ve been left out; they’ve cut things thicker than they should have; they’ve cut things in gardens in rented property, in the tiny patch I had with the first studio I owned, in the garden of my last place in London and now here; they’ve been used to give scale to unlikely tomatoes and strange unidentified flowers. They were an extra hand. And they were gone.

I went out and spent money. Well, OK, I spent £2.50 in Wilkinsons. (I could have spent £1, but even Cheapskate Kate realised those weren’t worth the quid). They’re OK. They have a sharp flange to hold them closed and I kept hurting myself on it, but I soon got the hang of avoiding injury. Ish. They’re grey, they’re boring, they’re not brilliant. But they do cut.

My kitchen is partly into the hill, so I see legs going past on the path by the ground-level window when I’m washing up. This time it was legs in motorbike leathers. Strange men in leathers are not a usual feature of early evenings round here (though they probably should be). Open door: is it George Clooney, bored with married life, come to me at last? No.

It is P. Removing my secateurs from his jacket. MY secateurs. MINE!

secateurs recovered

(He was very shamefaced. Picked them up by accident. Didn’t realise until he used them and thought ‘funny, the handle’s not rotating’. Can use this for years, like the time he hedge- trimmed the hedge-trimmer’s lead. Oops, I’m not supposed to be mentioning that.)

And on the plus side, I not only have my secateurs back; I also have a clean shed, sans rodents. Though I still have Next Door’s Cat, currently frozen into immobility on top of the rowan stump, staring into the grass. Mouse number two, no doubt.

What a difference a few feet makes – tree following, June

I’m about to go away – garden sitters have been briefed and shown where the watering cans are – so I’ve been rushing about. We’ve also had some seriously odd weather, as have most of us, so what with that and the rushing, I’ve not been near my hawthorn.

I had hoped to get up there and catch the opening of the blossom. I thought, you see, that it would be fading by 7 June, and anyway I’ll be away then. But I only made it up there yesterday, and I found this:

hawthorn

Not exactly covered, is it? Was it, perhaps, over? I walked round to the other side and approached the tree. No, not over – many buds were still to open. Some flowers which had opened were damaged, but most were still firmly shut.

blossom

The ones which were open were attracting attention from flying things which zipped past me, helped no doubt by the sudden increase in temperature (from single figures to the giddy height of 14 degrees, mind – I was still in my fleece and walking boots).

hawthorn blossom

Those flowers which were open were also a bit battered, or looking rather hesitant and fragile.

I turned round and was really surprised. Though ‘my’ tree is the largest and oldest of the hawthorns up here by the dolmen, it is surrounded by others. It is also a tiny bit higher than the others, and that – I assume – is probably the main reason why the others looked like this:

another hawthorn

Is it snow, or is it blossom? While mine looked like this:

where's the blossom?

It’s not age, or I don’t think it is – because my followed tree has plenty to come. It’s just not doing it yet. It’s waiting, still doing the equivalent of wearing  fleece and walking boots. It’s not casting a clout either.

And in the meanwhile its neighbours are amazing:

hawthorns

It’s supposed to be warming up significantly this weekend, so I am hoping that the venerable hawthorn I’ve decided to follow will catch up – but the only significant difference between it and its fellows is a few feet in altitude. And when I say ‘a few feet’, it’s maybe two feet – just as exposed, but that little bit higher. And the trees on the landward side of the lane, which are another couple of feet higher up still, are in the same state as my tree. It would never have occurred to me that such an apparently insignificant difference could have such an impact among so close a bunch of neighbours.

Wildlife? Well, no goats this time, and no sheep either – they’ve been moved higher up. The usual ravens shouting their heads off, buzzards circling high above and calling … and the deeper call of, could it be, a peregrine? Then I spotted the peregrine’s unmistakeable flight pattern and shape, and watched it for a few minutes before it shot downwards like a guided missile and disappeared out of view, Rabbit, possibly. Plenty of those about.

And the wildflowers are benefitting from the sheep move too. The bluebells are still out up here; yellow tormentil is starting to speckle the grass; the foxgloves are heading skywards and there are some small umbellifers. I get almost as confused with umbellifers as I do with ferns, so I’m throwing this one open:

any guesses?

Could be any one of about twelve things, I think. Short (could be the conditions), small – flowerhead about 5cm across, max, generally less. Pretty, undoubtedly.

Fiddleheads

I love this time of year – the garden is filling out, there are huge changes from day to day and Next Door’s Cat appears to have found an alternative feline toilet (or has maybe just moved elsewhere in my garden, somewhere with less foliage to get in the way). Some of my favourite plants for right now are my selection of ferns, some inherited, some deliberate.

It’s fiddlehead time!

fiddlehead 1

All the labels have been tossed about the garden by several generations of blackbirds, so identification is not easy. I know what I planted, and roughly where, but some things die and others have been moved over the years and some were just here anyway, so if anyone is a fern expert, pleas help!

This beast, I am almost 100% certain, is my Dryopteris cycadina:

Dryopteris cycadina

Very strange. Very prehistoric, even for a fern.

An inherited one now, or is it?

Dim suniad

This is ridiculous. The idea of four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie seems more appealing by the minute. Plus they make a noise like a herd of elephants charging through a forest while they’re doing it – quite startling if you’re not expecting it. I’ve been out there with the list of what I’ve bought over the years, the rough plans I’ve made, the notes and the assortment of discarded plant labels. and I’m still not much the wiser. This year I’ll have another go once they’re in full leaf. Frond. Full frond.

Felix-femina

Some were never labelled, of course, because they were just here. Doing their thing in the wet west, growing like mad and looking wonderful. I have a huge collection of Dryopteris felix-mas, but what’s this one, with its distinctive ruby stems? Roger Phillips is no use; the RHS guide doesn’t help.

I suppose I shouldn’t really care; they’re beautiful. Why do I need to put names to them? Because, I think, that’s what humans do: going right back to the Garden of Eden (allegedly). We organise. We label. And, boy, would I like to label some of my ferns. So if anyone knows a good reference book, a really useful website or anything else helpful, please let me know.

and again

Agh….

On shrubs and going a bit mad

Sometimes you suddenly get a bit between your teeth and do something radical. I think whatever it is has actually been brewing away subconsciously, and then something happens to pull it into the foreground and there you are – with an inspiration which seems to have come out of nowhere. You could apply this theory to great works of art and literature. I’m applying it to the big bed in the bottom garden.

grumble

This is the bottom garden, this time last year (I’m about three weeks’ behind). To the left of the red Acer is a green shrub – that’s a clethra (or, according to my spellchecker, a ‘plethora’ – sort-of right there). It’s actually in the bed behind. Just below and to the right of the plethora is a green boringness. This is a Lonicera fragrantissima. Allegedly. Boring as all out – but should be good in spring.

Nah. Lonicera fragrant-isn’t-ima. Out with it!

I’ve always fancied getting a Cotinus coggygria, a red one this time – I had a green one in my last garden. So I set off for the garden centre, necessitating a 16-mile detour due to long-lasting %@1±CCZ&*! roadworks, and there one was. Looked good, decent price. But there was something that gave me second thoughts – would it really show up against the hedge? Would it work with the glorious colour of the big Acer?

I’d already done the detour so I decided to press on – and ended up at Fron Goch, my favourite garden centre and one where you can always get really good, knowledgeable advice. I was briefly distracted by ferns (no surprises there):

Fron Goch ferns

but remembered what I was supposed to be doing (and the fact that I’d recently bought a couple of ferns). So I sought out one of the most knowledgeable staff – I’d suddenly had an idea, and I wanted to run it past someone.

Another Acer. But a different one. Plenty to choose from…

Fron Goch 3

The bed I’m considering is probably the least exposed place in the whole garden, protected by the Great Hedge of the Annual Scaffolding Winge, and the red Acer is a beauty – though it’s approaching the top of the GHASW and heaven only knows what will happen when it reaches the top. Nothing too fatal, I trust. The presence of the hedge is one of the problems – whatever I plant needs to stand out, it needs presence.

Tah dah!

acer leaves

I think this qualifies. It’s Acer shirasawanum ‘Jordan’, and it’s only fair to say that it was not cheap. But, I feel, worth it. It’s already lighting up that corner,

bottom garden

even though it’s only a baby – there it is, between the standing stones – and contrasts nicely with the darkness of its background  while also working with the red Acer (about eight or nine feet tall, to give an idea of scale – and of the need for scaffolding during the annual hedge-cutting exercise).

The leaves flush pink when younger and in sun:

baby leaves

and it is, interestingly, fruiting:

acer

A lovely healthy plant. And now I have to go and rob a bank or something, but I’m happy. Bit like the Acer, hopefully!

Keep your clouts on (tree following, May 2015)

The old verse / proverb / saying / whatever is something like ‘cast ne’r a clout till may be out’. It doesn’t mean ‘don’t throw clouts at people’ (clouts are clothes anyway) and it doesn’t refer to the month. It refers to the flowering of the hawthorn – or the may tree – and instructs you not to remove a single garment until it blossoms. I’ve been putting on garments rather than casting them off, and also lighting stoves, filling the oil tank, etc. It’s been cold.

We had a warm spell about three weeks ago, and I took myself off to the hawthorn I am following to make sure that I wasn’t missing out on blossom time. I wasn’t; the blackthorns were covered, but the hawthorn was just beginning to show a green haze:

tree and gorse

and the gorse was amazing. The whole area smelled heavily of coconut, rather like a hen party in Spain – a mixture of suntan oil and Malibu.

That was then. A couple of days later the weather shifted and a lot of things seemed to go into a sort of suspended animation in which they changed only slowly. But nothing stands still for ever (OK, arguable, perhaps) and things are shifting again:

hawthorn tree

The tree is now well covered in young leaves. Some, however, are showing signs of damage – I suspect that is from the terrible gales we’ve been having and, particularly, from one which was accompanied by hail. I’m fairly sure that was the culprit as most of the damaged leaves seemed to be on the landward side of the tree – and that was the (less usual by a long way) direction of the freezing gales.

However, it’s definitely picking up – and the newest, freshest, baby leaves have a beautiful red-pink colour as they open, which I have never really noticed before:

baby leaf

and that’s despite us kids snacking off them on the way home from primary school. They were called ‘bread and cheese’, and I’ve found that this is a remarkably common name across huge parts of northern Britain. Some people think it refers to their use as food in times of dearth (which would fit with the timing – this is the ‘hungry gap’ – but seems a bit far-fetched), and others just think ‘it’s a nickname’. Well, dur – nicknames come from somewhere… but where?

almost there

The flowers, however, are still very tightly in bud.

Around the tree, life is going on. The lambs are bigger, more adventurous and a lot less likely to gallop off hysterically as you approach; instead they look you straight in the eye and either stay put or get up slowly and deliberately and wander off as though they were going in that direction anyway. The road surface holds the heat, and is a favourite place to sit and snooze:

road lambs

When I left London, way back in 2002, I opened the window on my first morning here – I was staying at a friend’s place up the hill because the house I’d just bought was uninhabitable – and saw loads of sheep sitting contentedly on the road outside the farm buildings. I instantly realised that I had not made a rash decision, that I was back where I ought to be, in the hills and the countryside and away from all that city stuff. I grew up avoiding sheep resting on the road – not a hazard you encounter very often in south London – and it felt instantly right. Still a sight I enjoy!

This, on the other hand, was something of a surprise in amongst all the sheep:

wild goat

Just the one wild goat, aka gafr wyllt, officially the feral goat. There is a substantial population here (well, on what the Snowdonia Mammal Group describes as the Rhinogydd uplands), but I’ve never seen one this low down – higher up, yeah, loads – or this close either; generally in the distance, moving in flocks. As a child in Scotland we used to go out ‘wild goat spotting’ on summer evenings, and it was something of a result when we glimpsed one in the distance. The population here has somewhat exploded in recent years (there’ve been selective culls), but I’ve never been so close. Never. Amazing.

However, it’s not the tree. Here is a small montage of ‘my’ may tree in, well, May (click on an image for a slideshow):

And thanks to Lucy at Loose and Leafy for hosting this meme – without it I’d never have been eyeballed by a wild goat. Bet that’s one of the more unusual results of tree following! (Do check out some of the links to other blogs on her site, tree addicts – people are following a wide range of trees and it’s really interesting.)

Epimedium enchanting!

I have a bit of an epimedium weakness (I like erythroniums too, and many other things beginning with e but not… well, let’s not get distracted). However, my garden eats epimediums, so this year I got a bit radical.

epimedium

My one remaining epimedium – and I’ve been given epimediums which are an invasive menace elsewhere but which disappear chez moi – is this precious pearl, Epimedium grandliflorum ‘Lilatee’.  I love it, but I didn’t want to see it go the way of all flesh – um, the way of all epimediums – and so I marked its position carefully and let the leaves die back.

And when they did, I potted it up.

epimedium

One of my friends said ‘I didn’t know you could grow epimediums in pots’, and neither did I. But it’s a tiny one, despite the name, and I thought it might be OK. It came through the winter fine, nice and dormant, snuggled below the soil. Then this spring I began to notice signs of life. I moved the pot to near the back door where I could enjoy it, and sure enough – pow. A really healthy plant. Flourishing, in fact.

Then we had a really chilly night – I had to scrape the windscreen of frost – and I thought it looked a little pinched and surprised, so I moved it into my unheated greenhouse.

I think it likes it.

epimedium

It’s supposed to be warming up a little, so I might try reintroducing it to the outside world. But while it’s sitting on the potting bench (oh, I’ll come clean – the old picnic table I use as a potting benchette), it’s at just the right height for some epimedium worship.

epimedium

Those flowers, by the way, are a max of 2.5 cm from spur tip to spur tip. I’ve got another flowering stem to come out, and I’ve never seen it look so good.

Maybe I might invest in a couple more…

Free plants, free plants

There is something deeply satisfying about this time of year, especially if you are a cheapskate gardener like me. For now is the time when friends decide to clear beds of things like extra hardy geraniums and grasses and give the excess away, when divided plants reveal if they have survived the savage process of separation, when cuttings take like a dream. So while I’m not actually offering free plants (the huge number of black cow parsley seedlings I have are not yet hardened off enough),

black cow parsley babies

I am celebrating their existence.

Some things come about as a result of insufficient deadheading, or of deliberate lack of it, and I defy anyone to keep up with removing the seed heads of nigella, aka love in a mist, or eschscholzia, aka Californian poppy. As a result they are everywhere, and as far as I am concerned, they’re staying put:

free seedlings!

I did wonder if the recent dip down into semi-Arctic conditions, especially at night, would destroy them, but no, thanks, they’re fine. Last year my random seed bed was a little disappointing – though only really to me, and only to me because it became dominated by wild carrot, which are brutes. Pretty brutes (bit like some men I could name but won’t, hee hee), but thugs nonetheless, and difficult to eradicate completely (er, ditto…). This year I’m hedging my bets. I’ve sown some seeds directly, as last year, but also sown some in trays and they’re currently germinating nicely in the greenhouse.

(Hm. Some of them are, but I won’t be buying from Plants of Distinction again. Grumble. Nor will I be getting shallots or garlic from Marshalls – doubtless I’ll have a separate rant about then when I get onto veg at some point in the future. That will also take in PoD and their **%£1@Z@ tomatoes, double grumble.)

But my favourite freebies are probably the gifts and swaps. I’ve still got a verbascum which I got from Sara Hillwards (who is also celebrating a gorgeous freebie at the moment, incidentally). Then Karen at Artist’s Garden gave me this lovely hardy geranium

hardy geranium

and a great big chunk of her phlomis,

phlomis

in exchange for a giant garden bucket/trug full of osteospermums (they like it here, but a bit too much, so I had the odd one, er, odd hundred or so, which were surplus to requirements).

Some garlic chives and a tray of baby black cow parsley went to Janet aka Plantaliscious, as she said she’d swap them for some Stipa tenuissima. Some stipa. Just the ‘odd one’, you understand:

yikes

Of course I should have known, given the great Offloading of the Osteospermum. ‘Some’ equalled eight big ones.

I know exactly where they are going (once we’ve dug up some dandelions and snowberry) – round the side and back of the greenhouse. Self-sown foxgloves (another freebie) will stand up amongst them, and with a bit of luck I should have a river of stipa and foxgloves instead of a river of dandelions, valerian seedlings and flipping snow flipping berry, stupid flipping ineradicable thing. Flipping. Ahem.

P. also did some perennial splitting this year, and not before time (I did try, but I wasn’t strong enough; that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it). That’s also very satisfying, but I am clearly going to have a garden full of agapanthus:

agapanthus

I am toying with an idea: breaking up the iris bed, which will need to be dug out and refreshed this year anyway, and replacing it with agapanthus. White agapanthus. Which one of my neighbours has said she will swap for some black cow parsley… and so it goes on!

(PS: I’ve still got some osteospermum, by the way…)