Tag Archives: inspiration

On March and losing my mojo

I suppose it happens to all of us gardeners, except the most dedicated and professional, at some point over the winter: we lose it. I lost it, big time, plus I’ve been busy working. So I managed to ignore the beast outside (fortunately P. didn’t) while simultaneously feeling very guilty about it (can you feel guilty about something you can also ignore?) and about the fact that I hadn’t blogged for ages and ages and ages.

It ends now, with some daffodils for Dewi Sant (St David, whose day it is today, and no, I am not wearing a leek in my hat. Oh, please).


I haven’t been completely idle – well, in gardening terms, that is, and though I have yet to get my seed order in I am intending to do it today. The seed potatoes are chitting and the shallots had better not be sprouting, or else. This year I saved my own garlic,


(which went in on the traditional date, the shortest day) instead of getting it from outside, so we’ll see how that works out. It’s Germidour, which usually does well round here though it never wins anything at the garden club show. I find it more reliable than the other varieties, but that might just be my garden…

…which this year has been really, really worked on. By loads of this stuff:

yum yum bigs bum

No, not Levington’s compost, but what the bags now contain: organic horse shit. Lots of it. And it is fantastic stuff: the worm population exploded last year, and I was quite conservative with the magic gunk. This needs to rot down a bit more but it will soon be ready. Yay!

Through the winter the veg patch has been busy, I do have to say. Celeriac and kale,

and there’ll soon be purple and white sprouting broccoli, too, and – by the look of it – it won’t be long before the first of the globe artichokes brakes cover.


This is one of the baby plants from last year; the parents are enormous. Everything suffered in the storms, but the artichokes just bounced straight back. There had to be an upside to developing onion white rot… oh, that’s not a non sequitur; I got the vileness that is OWR in this bed. That means that I can’t, at the most conservative estimate, plant any of the onion family in it for at least eight ears (some say thirty). The only answer – I love my alliums and would doubtless forget – was to stick perennial veg in. I can’t buy globe artichokes round here easily, so the obvious thing to do was plant the beasts. And this means I can enjoy them when they are small and tender and yummy and wonderful in a risotto.

Better go and check them, then… I’m back!


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.


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…


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.

Oh, what a garden – Plas Cadnant

I know, I should be tree following, but I forgot. Zooooomed up there for a quick look, not much change except fewer leaves. But I have visited the most lovely garden, and it has lots of trees in it, even if I’m not following them specifically…

Excuses, excuses. Understandable? Look at this:

Plas Cadnant 1

This is Plas Cadnant on Anglesey, just over the Menai Straits from Bangor. I had a business meeting, but since the web designer concerned also happens to be a keen gardener (hello, Janet aka Plantalicious, whose post on the day was considerably more prompt and rather more professional), guess where we decided to meet up? Guess how long we spent on business? Yup, about five minutes. Possibly less than we spent on cake. Certainly much, much, much less than we spent on the garden.

It’s stunning, and it’s right up my street, and I couldn’t (as is obvious) stop taking photographs. The planting, particularly in the less-wild parts of the woodland areas, is so intelligently unobtrusive and so much in harmony with the extraordinary setting that it blew me away. I also love ferns, which helps.


and rocks, and mosses, and silent pools reflecting the planting, and lichens…


Did I mention tree ferns?

tree ferns

Huge tree ferns. Tree ferns you can walk under easily.

Then there’s colour. Colour, bright in contrast with the formal planting:


autumn colours in the shade of the woodland,

baby leaves

and which are even more startlingly bright when backlit:

acer colour

I don’t know, I give up. Plas Cadnant almost left me speechless – suffice it to say that I upgraded my entry into a season ticket, and that we’ve already made arrangements to meet here at the end of October.

In the meanwhile – and do visit Plas Cadnant’s website as well as Plantalicious for more actual, real, hard information as opposed to the blogging equivalent of someone going ‘WOWZER!’ – here is a gallery of some of the things that had such an impact on me. Wonderful place.

PS: The cakes are pretty good too!

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…


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.


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:


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.)

Other eyes

I know my garden; I’ve worked in it for time out of mind and I’ve photographed it a lot, and I mean A LOT. But last weekend two friends came round for afternoon tea and a walk (which we gave up on, due to the weather), and one of them is a professional photographer.

I’ve worked in mist myself, and I love the effect it gives – but mist and persistent drizzle? When there’s a stove to be lit and crumpets to be toasted? Hmmm. The weather did not, however, deter my friend. When I saw his shots I was surprised at what he had photographed, and delighted. So here, with his permission, are three looks at my garden through someone else’s eyes.

First, the old pigsty. You could call it a potting shed but you can’t actually stand up in it. It’s a pigsty. Or was, literally. Now it’s a metaphorical pigsty – a general dumping ground.


I would never have drawn attention to the wheelbarrow. I prefer to forget it’s there, and that it needs replacing. I’ll get round to it soon.

Now for the garden’s tutelary deity:


Yes, that’s right, it’s a concrete budgie.

It was here when I arrived in 2002, propped up in the roots of the rowan where they scrabbled over one of the retaining walls. The rowan has since gone, brought down by last winter’s storms, but the budgie remains. His eyes are bright amber, his beak is chipped and I can’t think of the garden without his slightly cheeky presence. He’s only about seven inches long, so he doesnt take up much room. At present he lives in the gnarled remains of the rowan’s trunk, and will soon need a new home when we get round to dealing with that too. After the wheelbarrow.

(The wall just below here has some horseshoes built into it; in fact the whole house is ringed with iron. This is possibly due to the fact that the small hill diagonally opposite me was traditionally supposed to be one where the Tylwyth Teg – the Fair Folk – met. So there.)

This last shot I would never have taken – too much reflection, I’d have thought. But I like it and should evidently not be so narrow.


It’s an old stone sink which provides a bird bath (and disguises an inspection trap over a place where several pipes meet on their way to the soakaway). It’s not particularly picturesque, but the birds love it, and the stones enable anything which falls in to climb out. I sometimes find toads nearby, as well, but I’ve not had frogs. Yet.

(Probably just as well, given what Next Door’s Cat can do when she sets her mind to it.)

All photographs courtesy Malcolm J. Murgatroyd

Brooding on Beangenie…

Bear with me. No pics. Well, maybe a couple. At the end… oh, OK, here’s one to be going on with, of the gorse which has suddenly gone mad and made the air smell strongly of coconut:


Very cheerful, and a good start to the year.

Now, when I started Beangenie and Woolwinding, almost exactly four years ago, I had decided that I would split my blogs up. I felt that the gardeners might be bored by the constant wittering about wool and sheep – never a friend to a gardener, especially when they are wall-climbing, mountaineering sheep, like the ones we have here – and that the woolly people might not be interested in the trials and tribulations of making something grow in the teeth of Irish Sea gales. Of course there’s a crossover (I’m one myself), but I knew from reading many, many blogs that too many posts which fail to grip just make readers go away. Or maybe that is just me… but I still feel this was the right decision.

Over the past few years some of the garden blogs I used to read before I started blogging myself have fallen by the wayside. Life, it seems, has taken over. Or possibly slugs and the need to eliminate them have taken up more time (I know that’s not just me, even if I do choose to serenade mine, which probably is just me) .

Some – blogs, not slugs – spring gloriously into life now and then, and some have vanished completely or are frozen in 2011. I was talking about this with a friend last year, and she felt that she had lost her mojo, that she was doing the same thing on her blog year after year – reporting on the same but different changes to the same but different borders, talking about the same, not-so-different plants. I know I can be guilty of that (hey, it’s October so let’s have a post about a bonfire), and there is a tendency for a garden blog to turn into an online version of a gardener’s notebook. Interestingly, this is also tendency with woolly blogs, and many of the ‘look what I’ve knitted’ blogs, also chronicling projects undertaken and completed, have also vanished. They seem to have a natural lifespan.

There’s nothing wrong with a gardener’s diary, of course (pictures of pother people’s plants being much more interesting than pictures of other people’s pullovers), but I’m not entirely sure that’s what I want to do all the time, even though I like reading about how other people’s gardens adapt and change. That’s part of the reason why I’ve not posted as much in 2014. The other reason is the silly online stalker, but SOS isn’t, after all, worth considering and has finally stopped creeping me out. So what am I going to do in 2015?

I’m not stopping, that I do know.

I’m a writer first and foremost, before I’m a knitter or a spinner or a gardener or an archaeologist, and I’ve been writing since I was six and am not stopping now (though I have moved on a little from stories about cake-baking dinosaurs living in a shed). I just need to find out what path I want to go down. Woolwinding was never a ‘look what I’ve knitted’ blog, but I went through this debate over there some time ago and resolved it. Now Beangenie has caught up. But I also think I have an answer, sort of, partly inspired by the ‘tree following’ posts I’ve been doing.

I’m going to branch out a bit.
(Sorry, just noticed the ‘branch out’ – ouch. But that’s what I have in mind, pun or no pun.)

A garden isn’t an isolated thing, a square – or rectangle, in my case – cut out of the landscape in which it sits. It is most emphatically part of its environment, whether the garden is a 10m x 70m rectangle behind a Victorian terrace in south London or half an acre up a Welsh hillside. The sea below me, the mountains to my back, the woods more immediately behind the house, even the village – they’re all part of my garden, directly (thanks for the bracken, wildy bit next door) or more indirectly (the impact of Next Door’s Cat, er, Cats). The village, especially in the form of escaping sheep, over-assertive felines and garden shows, already makes an appearance. The landscape tends to take more of a back seat. I think I’ve been taking it for granted, a bit.

So I’m going to be getting out into it, and featuring it here, a little more than I already have. Yes, there’ll still be updates on the garden, lots of pictures of primroses and irises and dahlias and marigolds and tomatoes; debates about what do to do and whether/when/how to murder the Hell Hound of Harlech, let alone the cats who think they live here too.

But there’ll also be more posts about the plant life around me, whether that’s the local woods or the Plantlife Wildflower Survey I hope to be doing in the dunes near Harlech. I’m also going to carry on tree following – I learned so much about my birch, and close observation is, by itself, fascinating – but I’m choosing another tree for the rest of 2015, and one outside the garden this time. That means I’ve got a dilemma, though I have narrowed it down to – oh, about sixty.

Or possibly more:


Maybe in here, somewhere? I can’t follow a whole wood…

Or maybe this one – it really is one and not three – which is slightly easier to access in bad weather?


Let’s see where this goes…

Tree following – January, and a year of birch watching

So here we are, a new year, and almost a whole year since I started following my baby birch. It’s been wonderful; I have learned so much. It seems a good idea to have a round up, because next time I will be moving on to a different tree. Which one, though…

When I began, I didn’t even know what sort of birch I had, other than it was a free sapling given to me by the library as some sort of promotion with, I think, the Snowdonia National Park. Now I know it’s a downy birch, and that it’s growing up – its bark is changing colour.

birch trunksIt’s the little one at the back, and this time last year its trunk was really orange. It’s shedding all that now on the main trunk:


though the branches and growing tip are still orange, and will be for ever.  It will still have a slightly golden tint to the bark, and I don’t think it will ever be as white as the elegant left-hand birch, but who cares? This isn’t Anglesey Abbey, with a glorious grove of white birches – they’re Betula utilis var Jaquemontii, and, beautiful though they may be, they look rather artificial – or so I think. Lovely but deliberate.

So I thought I’d have a look back at a year – OK, almost a year – of my downy birch. To the setting it’s in – in the meadow and straight in line for the south-westerly gales off the sea – and to the changes, to the insects, to the weather. A quick photographic tour, before I move on to another tree for 2015. I wonder what that will be? One of my apples, perhaps? I was initially envious of people who chose trees with more obvious flowers and fruit, though as I came to understand more about the birch that feeling diminished. Not a native tree, perhaps my ginkgo? But I think I’ve found the answer, though I’m still doing reccies. Watch this space.

And in the meantime, here’s a year of a downy birch. Click on an image for a slideshow.

Thanks so much to Lucy at Loose and Leafy for organising this brilliant meme.