Category Archives: Irritations

Meadow watch, end of June

I cannot believe how much the meadow changes in one quick month.

Mind you, it’s been an insane month in terms of weather. Insane. The temperature has varied from over 30 degrees one morning, to under half of that the next. The nights were either impossibly hot or you needed a blanket. The garden wasn’t struck on the variation, and neither was I (though at least I could access that blanket).

The wildflowers – and escapes – in the meadow have coped a lot better than I have, though. A Verbascum chiaxii album has suddenly appeared up near the bonfire site, which was surprising,

but then there are all sorts of things up here which are not supposed to be around – more Japanese bloody anemones, for instance. Sigh. And I certainly didn’t plant the feverfew which is all around the base of one of the ashes, either.

Or the campions.

At the beginning of the month I decided that the ox-eye daisies which I’d spent years hoping would appear – and which did appear, splendidly, in the last couple of years – had vanished. But they were just being shy, and they’ve been lovely.

So the meadow is coping. The veg patch seems to be hanging on in there too, though I’m not so sure about the people who work in it. Tea helps.

And the pollen, oh, the pollen. People like P., who has never had hay fever in his life, have been suffering. My asthma has been the worst for years, and set off my ear and balance problems. ARGH – here’s hoping that July is a bit more stable. And that I am, too. Please…

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Couch grass wars

Yesterday – Monday – the forecast was vile, but it also proved to be completely wrong.

primrose and ginkgo

So though both P and I started off gardening in 85 layers of clothing, they were gradually removed – until something more sensible was reached, cough, not until we were gardening naked. That would not have gone down well with anyone, even the Hell Hound of Harlech (who was being particularly hellish and had to be muzzled to stop her barking at the builders next door). But, boy, did we achieve lots!

Just as well, because the garden is open for the Garden Club in July. Not sure why I agreed to that, but hey. It’s good to focus the mind. There’s lots to do.

We got the windbreak up around the veg patch – a much more reliable sign of spring than the first fritillaries,

frit

and then we launched ourselves at something that’s been an issue for several years and consciously avoided for the last three.

Couch grass.

I know, I know, everyone has couchbloodygrass. But I have one bed that it particularly infests, and it’s slap in front of the house. I’ve been trying to find some ‘before’ pics in the archive, but there aren’t any because the bed was such a disgrace. Time for radical action. And for the remaining gravel… (and for temporarily abandoning organic principles, but cough, cough).

I dug out the plants I wanted to keep and potted them up in autumn. Then I threw them away because cough grass came up in the pots. I took cuttings, most of which died because by then it was a bit too late. Then I lost my temper, and bought chemicals. So yesterday we treated what remained, carefully trimming back the wall-growing potentilla and pulling the clematis montana out of the way beforehand, covered the whole bed in ten metres of black plastic, and spread tons – well, half a ton – of gravel on top. The clematis, which is just about to flower,  was carefully brought back up and tethered down with tent pegs; that should keep it in position. Come autumn we’ll remove everything and treat the f%2!!88er again, then put everything back for another year. So, for the next couple of years or so, there’ll be pots on here.

Now all I need to do is try and recover the ability I once had to plant up and maintain a stunning container. Er, in the teeth of the winds off the Irish Sea. That should be interesting, as should the fact that the couch grass is in the wall. Oh well, hopefully successive doses of Roundup should help. Hopefully…

 

Oh, sod off, winter!

I don’t know, we have spring in November, a whole year’s rain in December and now, March, we have snow. Had snow. Had snow a few miles inland; here we had sleet. Oh, all right, I know, global warming, the scary though temporary ‘achievement’ of the 2% above normal temperature recently (that’s the target which is critical, ahem, and it will be back), melting glaciers – and here I am complaining about it being a bit chilly. But it is.

However, poo to glaciers, here in west Wales we have achieved peak gravel, even though it’s still bedding down and is about as stable to walk on as marshmallow (similar to some glaciers, perhaps). And there was only half a sack left over, too. (Who was right? Hm? Who would that have been? Hm? HMM?)

But it is revolting, cold, crappy, raining, drizzling, nasty, vile, horrible and therefore, in a spirit of generosity, I am sharing my blackberry whisky recipe, as requested on the #gdnbloggers twitter thing a week ago Sunday. Just make sure you know where the recipe is when it’s August or September. I spent so long looking for another scribbled recipe once that the elders I’d located were reduced to sticks and occasional dead leaves.

show

It’s award winning, too, if you count a first place at the village show as an award. I do. After all, if anybody and everybody can describe anything from black pudding to shirts as ‘award winning’ then so can I. Hrrupmf. (It’s the big bottle at the front, with the purple label. What, pray, is the point of a small bottle?)

Crabby today? Moi?

Anyway, you need a tribe of small children, and possibly you need to wear a snood and not be male (these pickers are foraging in WW2, so all the men were away),

blackberry picking in WW2

and end up with a kilo of ripe blackberries.

You then need a couple of huge Kilner or Le Parfait jars – other brands of airtight storage bottles are available – half a kilo of sugar and a litre of whisky. Cheap whisky is just fine; in fact, it’s better. Pick over the blackberries and wash any wildlife off; divide the berries between the jars. Divide the sugar between the jars too, and then slosh in the whisky. Seal the jars well, and then turn them over. Store in a dark place, and turn them a couple of times a week for the first month or so.

I know people who decant their whisky for Christmas, but I prefer to leave mine for longer; the 2015 crop is still in its jars and will remain so until late summer and the foraging of the next lot. I also know people who purée the sodden blackberries and make an ice-cream topping, but I’ve tried that and prefer to put them in the compost.

Drain the whisky carefully, preferably through muslin – and you may need to do this twice. Put it into clean, sterile bottles (an oven at 100 degrees is a good way to sterilise a bottle) and enjoy. It is fabulous over ice, drunk beside a roaring stove while snow falls outside. Just saying.

blackberry whisky

Tried to take a pic with the light shining through to reveal the gorgeous colour, but the light wouldn’t cooperate. Grumble, grumble, chunter. Again. Ahem.

And – if you have easy access to elderberries, which I curiously do not, there’s a recipe for a similar elderberry elixir over on my food blog, Twelve Miles from a Lemon. It’s great for colds, probably because of the high Vit C content. Or maybe it’s the rum.

And sometimes I do manage to forget the weather and the mud aka meadow, because the Viburnum bodnantense is flowering and I just have to go up there for a noseful… squish, squish, oh great, thanks, Next Door’s Cat, ex-mouse, squish…

Viburnum

Incidentally, I haven’t joined in with the tree following meme yet because I can’t decide what tree to follow. I thought it might be my apples, but they’re difficult to photograph. I’m currently auditioning the ginkgo. And grumbling.

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:

pruning

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

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:

ship

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,

writing

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!)

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.)

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.

Garlic Day

Today is garlic day. Well, it should have been yesterday, what with it being the solstice / shortest day and all, but by the time I got back it was dark. It’s tradition: plant your garlic on the shortest day, harvest it on the longest*:

garlic harvest

Except for certain suppliers, that is. Grrrrrr.

Ordered shallots, garlic, spuds from Marshalls this year, well in time. Time passes. No sign garlic. Ring Marshalls. Oh no, not despatching this particular garlic until the spring (they sent it in winter, and in time, before). Useless for me. Ring round others. Organic Catalogue, bless ’em, have exactly the same garlic, available now. Have already paid for Marshall’s garlic – they’ve taken the money from my card, of course, on order not despatch – so have not cancelled as chaos will doubtless ensue and will end up with no shallots or spuds either. So now I am going to have a garlic mountain, and an interesting test.

garlic

This also meant, a little late in the day, that I had to think quickly about the veg garden plan for next year. And that meant that I had, in all the pre-Christmas chaos, to get out my seed tin and work out what I am intending to grow in 2015. Displacement activity? Oh, surely not.

I do love my garlic. I find it satisfying to grow (except this year, when half of it succumbed to onion white rot and fell over, signalling the problem which now means that for the next eight years at least I will be growing artichokes on that particular bed) and even more satisfying to eat. I’m down to my last clove of this year’s crop, which means that I had enough even with half of it collapsing. And next year I’ll have double. Oh well…

garlic drying

So what will I do with all that garlic, apart from ensuring that my house is avoided by every vampire for miles around?  There’s a saying in France that you should never go a day without garlic, and I’m going with it. I will probably not follow the Ancient Egyptian practice of hanging a necklace made from garlic cloves around my neck to deter internal worms, nor will I fasten a similar necklace round the necks of my livestock (only because I haven’t got any) to keep Swedish trolls at bay.

garlic again

I will, however, cook it in absolutely everything, from having it raw in tsatsiki to roasting chicken with forty cloves. Then there are remedies. I’m going to be free of tension (‘macerate a clove in water overnight and drink it in the morning’), won’t have a single head cold and will have perfect digestion. I won’t be troubled by voice loss, whooping cough, dropsy, bronchial catarrh or bubonic plague. And chewing a few raw cloves will give me the same strength and courage it imparted to ancient athletes. Honest.

Nobody will be able to come near me, but that’s OK: I’ll chew fresh parsley, a raw green bean, an apple or some aniseed. And if there’s any left, I’ll make my famous anti-bug spray for my plants by soaking cloves in water for a week, then diluting the liquid and spraying it on. Not on me, on the plants. There are limits.

Right, here goes – let’s get the first lot in!

Organic Catalogue garlic

* Quick tip for harvesting garlic, apart from the longest day: when six leaves yellow. I’ve found that much more reliable, and less dependent on the vagaries of the summer. Or, of course, when it falls over because there’s onion white rot.