Summer summary

What a summer – not that the weather’s been spectacular, because it hasn’t, but because I’ve been very busy indeed. When you freelance, you’re used to being busy in the summer because in-house publishers and journalists go on holiday like anyone else, and work doesn’t stop. Now I’m much better (thanks to intensive physio), I’m back working like a loony during summer. It pays for the Maxicrop, that’s what I say.

But all this means the garden has been somewhat neglected. I’ve tried to make sure I got out there for an hour a day, just to try and stay on top of the weeding as well as keeping sane, but It’s not always possible. So It’s great to have whole areas which look after themselves, like the meadow:

meadow July

which has been very good indeed this year. It will soon be time to mow it – mow it, what am I saying? Strim it. Using a big strimmer and a big strong man (flattery will get you everywhere). But the tendency to be about three weeks later than normal this year is still the case – usually by now everything has set seed, but I still have some meadow flowers in bloom.

One of my highlights this year has been the ‘random seed’ bed. Last year it was a little disappointing, and this year I thought I was in for the same – and then I realised that even disappointing plants self-seed:

seeded

and it’s been lovely.

The nigellas have come up in two marked clumps, white and pale blue, and I have tried to perpetuate this when scattering seed as the heads ripen – but I’m sure I won’t have managed it. One thing this has taught me, big time, is the value of autumn sowing – so give it a couple more weeks, and I’ll be out there with my seed packets. The things which I sowed in seed trays in the spring have just not cut the mustard. Some of them – cosmos, are you listening? – have still to flower.

I’ve added some new plants, though I have been quite restrained… this is my Salvia Amistad (I do like to keep up with trends, even if I’m a couple of years late):

Salvia amistad

and my penstemons have been consistently good:

penstemon

This one is a mystery, and if anyone knows what it is, I wouldn’t mind knowing too. At least I wrote it down this time; the only problem is that I’ve written ‘mystery penstemon’. That, Kate, is not the point of keeping records. Must remember this.

On the veg front – meh. Some things have been good – I’m regularly picking a kilo of beans at a time, and I actually reduced the number of plants this year – and some things have been terrible. (Courgettes. Again. Thought I’d cracked it. Wrong.) The spuds have not been good but I do seem to be setting a good number of squashes. My artichokes have also finally been in full production, and one of them won the ‘any other veg’ class at the village show:

artichoke

And, and, and I have finally managed to grow aubergines – or perhaps that should be ‘I have finally managed to grow aubergines without having the whole greenhouse infested with white fly’. That’s thanks to Green Gardener and their Encarsia, which I strongly recommend (and which I bought and have not been paid to push – used it before; this time it really, really worked). Evidently, because I have this

aubergine vincent

instead of a load of plants in the compost bin.

On the fruit front, a lot of apples are dropping but my new pear tree looks promising. Unlike the plum, which is coming out. Not in the sense of revealing to all that it’s a gay plum, but in the sense of being dug up and put on the bonfire. Terrible infestation of plum mites and though it’s laden with fruit now, they are manky and nasty inside. Plus, it’s wasp central. Who cares when you can have Japanese wineberries instead?

Japanese wineberries

Ok, there aren’t enough for a crumble, but who’d want to eat them any other way than off the bush, warmed by the sun? Not moi…

The wildlife has been much in evidence, and that includes Next Door’s Cat who has been a fairly constant companion, at least until feeding time when he vanishes completely, or until I trip over him for the sixth time. It’s also been a great year for the spider population:

spider web

though I realise not everyone will consider this a good thing, and I’ve even heard plenty of crickets which is amazing given the weather.

cricket

But personally I could live without the dead rat that NDC gave me last week. Nice. That’s what your real owners are for, Fluffybum.

Hopefully the arrival of autumn heralds a rather more organised and less frantic pace, and I’ll be able to blog more regularly. I haven’t even been taking lots of photographs – a real indicator of just how busy I’ve been. Right, let’s break out the camera!

Belated tree (and path) following – August 2015

I did it, I did it, I got up the hill and followed my hawthorn (er, that makes it sound like an ent, and me rather like either Pippin or Merry trailing after Treebeard). It is beautifully in leaf, even if it isn’t ripping apart any rogue wizard’s tower. I’m not quite clear about damage its roots may have done to the dolmen next to it, but that’s been there for probably well over 4,000 years and I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon, ancient tree or no ancient tree.

hawthorn

And I did manage to spend some time looking at the tree more closely, without interruption from sheep, mountain goats, tourists asking what I’m doing, the farmer asking what I’m doing, or any attention from cows, which is something of a result. For me, anyway; not sure how the hawthorn felt. But I am too late for Loose and Leafy‘s ‘tree following’ box for this meme, or am I? Hey ho!

The seaward side of the hawthorn is quite notably damaged by the bizarre weather we’ve had this year. Even the new growth looks mangled – we’ve had storms worthy of September, and there is absolutely nothing between the tree and the winds from the sea. Here’s a new shoot on the seaward side, followed by an equivalent on the landward side:

(just click on any of these paired images for the full view). The one is all crumpled and brown and dry and papery and shrivelled, and the other is not. The one on the protected side – note the dolmen in the background – has a little bit of browning at the tips of the leaves, but that’s all. The same applies to the haws:

There’s quite a difference. Of course it’s predictable, but I was still interested to see how marked it is.

But we are dealing with an ancient tree here, and one in a highly exposed position. The damage, it has just occurred to me, is the tree profile shaping itself in action, as it were – growth on the landward side, increased vulnerability and damage on the seaward side. The damage can be quite something on the tree as a whole, too – it’s in the path of the Irish Sea gales and we have had some whoppers recently, including the 120mph gusts of the winter before last. So it’s not surprising that things like this have happened:

IMG_3346

But how about all this new growth? Most impressive.

And then there’s damage just casused by age and sheep attention and things that bore into wood already weakened by storms,

and which inevitably results in an extremely old dolmen-guarding tree which does sometimes appear to be more out of a fantasy novel than reality:

damage

But I can’t ignore the landscape of which the tree is part, even without tourists, sheep, goats, cows, passing farmers who all think I’m mad anyway. And on the fantasy-novel theme, to quote Tolkien ‘the road goes ever on and on / down from the door where it began’:

roadwayThe single-track road that passes the hawthorn and the dolmen runs down to Llety Lloegr, the ‘England shelter’, where it goes over an old stone bridge, Pont Fadog. It was a spur of the main drove road to the markets in England; now it peters out into a footpath, part of which is running over the hill in the middle distance.

That’s a track which branches off; it used to lead directly south and down to the Mawddach estuary, passing the manganese workings which were part of the economy of the area in the past. It still does, but now it’s the start of the southern section of  the Taith Ardudwy, or Ardudwy Way, and is clearly signposted – if you click on the link and then follow the links to the central and southern sections, you’ll see just where I am – or that should be where I am when I get fed up and need a breather. Sometimes I’ve thrown all my bits of paper into the air, packed a lunch and walked up there before going back and working in the afternoon.

Now there’s a thought!

Where’s this year going? Phew…

I know, eek, I know I’ve got to get up the hill and check out my hawthorn before the 14th for the monthly tree following meme; I’ve got to get another book proposal finished pretty soon; I’ve got to do some research for the next book, anyway; I’ve got to get my things ready for the garden club’s summer show on Wednesday, plus I’m sorting out some show admin and stewarding; I’ve got to get stuff done for a craft pop-up I’m inhabiting in about ten days’ time… and the rest.

Every so often, though, I do manage to get into the garden, weather (and what weather) permitting. And when I’m there I sometimes manage to lift my head from the weeding, the cutting back, the ripping out of foxgloves from inappropriate places, the removal of ‘gifts’ of various kinds (pre- and post-eating, ergh, or maybe that should be fresh and, um, processed) left for me by Next Door’s Cat. And it’s not been that bad, you know.

Salvia hot lips

Even if it did take my Salvia ‘hot lips’ ages to remember that it was supposed to be in two colours and respond to what I am going to call summer. Well, vague warmth, anyway.

When I left London after, as my mother would doubtless have put it, ‘coming to my senses’ I thought life might be less frantic. My memory must have been playing tricks on me. This goes some way to explain why I’ve not posted much recently. Either I’m so glued to the screen editing and writing that I can’t face voluntary screen time, or I’m rushing frantically from one place to another in a cloud of dust and a Toyota Auris. Some measure of how bonkers life is at the moment can be judged by the fact that I was in Tesco at 8am because it was the only time available. Start your day the Tesco way. No, thanks, really, that’s fine…

poppy

I think I’d rather be in the garden. Or anywhere, with the possible exception of South London. Or, OK, I admit it, Barmouth on a sunny Saturday. Well, sitting in a queue of cars to get into Barmouth on a sunny Saturday – I counted 614, mostly stationary, as I was travelling in the opposite direction last week. Where they all thought they were going to park, I don’t know.

Er, garden!

My directly sown seed bed has been amazing this year. Great clouds of nigella, interestingly all self-sown and split into two broad patches of colour – white and blue – were most gratifying, and the poppies have been good too. Some verbascums popped up unexpectedly, and I’ve got a huge spontaneous chicory plant as well. The cosmos and antirrhinums I sowed into seed trays and then planted out might possibly flower. Only might, mind. Direct sowing for me, and in the autumn, too.

hiawatha

I planted this lily – Hiawatha – in October 2013, and it has been absolutely lovely this year; it was good last year, but this has been better. I also seem to have acquired a freebie, somewhere where I’d not planted one – surely a year is too soon for it to spread itself about? And the monarda has been lovely too, so it’s not all gloom and doom. It is in the veg patch, but I’ll gloss over that. At least I’m not alone.

And when I drive up the hill, rushing between one thing and the next, I get a cheering reminder that there is indeed a garden by my house:

lucifer

I planted a couple of Crocosmia Lucifer in the bed by the side wall of the chapel house almost two years ago. We’re on a hill, and the lane is cut into what would be the normal lie of the land, so the side of my garden is actually about six feet higher at the bottom end – yes, there’s a wall, and yes, it’s in good nick – than the road. The Lucifers, now vastly increased in number, look spectacular and make you do a double-take if you don’t realise how high the ground is behind the wall. In my case, the double take comes as I remember I haven’t been down there for a few days and there’s a suspicious smell. That would be the NDC, aka FluffyBum, again, no doubt.

Next, I’ll get up the hill to my followed tree, honestly!

(Incidentally, there seems to be something of a red theme happening in my garden this year. Strangely, all of it was planted before we even knew the result of the last election, let alone that Jeremy Corbyn would be standing for Labour leader. The garden clearly knew. I seem to have a socialist garden.)

Baby birches!

This is by way of being a) an explanation of why I’ve been a bit quiet, and b) a sort-of substitute for my monthly tree-following post, which is clearly not going to happen this month.

A) is simply that I’ve been busy editing a 100,000-word book full of figures and typos and a language other than English (which makes using a spell-checker difficult, presumably the reason why the author didn’t bother). Plus there’s been root canal. Eek. However, am now eating solid food and coming to the end of the editing marathon.

Despite all that, I’ve been managing an hour’s weeding a day – just as well, or the garden would invade the house in the manner of the tropical wilderness generated when Moomintroll put some plants in the Hobgoblin’s hat (sorry). And I realised I’d had a surprising success when I went round the back of the greenhouse:

babies!

and this is B), my substitute for this month’s view of my hawthorn. These are three seedlings from the downy birch I ‘followed’ last year. I only took the seeds in October!

They are very healthy little baby birches, and I am soooooo pleased. I did sow a whole seed tray, and only got three decent plants which I potted on – but I didn’t really expect them to survive. Obviously they’ll be potted on again next spring, but this rather raises the question of where on earth I’m going to put them… but who cares?

Right, back to my books…

 

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….