Tag Archives: winter

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.


There are winter jobs…

… and then there are winter JOBS. Jobs which deserve their capital letters. Jobs which you’ve probably been avoiding for several years, if you’re anything like me*.

And then one sunny day, when you don’t have a deadline for the first time in months, you suddenly find yourself down the builders’ merchants ordering three tons of gravel. Like you do.


You then get back, have an argument about the size of the order which you win by pointing out that gravel magically disappears when you start putting it down and that you have got two old paths, one new path and an area by the pigsty plus the log store / ty lawnmower to do, and then the guys delivering the gravel can’t get up the hill because someone has parked on it, and then they have to do a strange reversing manoeuvre to go the wrong way down a one-way street so they can at least see the main road they’re emerging on to, during which time the man moves the parked car, and then they get to the right spot by going round in an alternative circular route because they didn’t see the man move his car, then they have to crane three giant bags of gravel over an old stone wall, avoiding the pear tree, the greenhouse and the Hell Hound of Harlech – and then a friend calls round in the middle of all this…. that sort of day.

I’m never complaining about a deadline again.

Anyway, this is what is happening:


This is the pigsty area, complete with old feeding trough which isn’t going anywhere, coal bunker which is where I store compost, and the side, hardly ever exposed, of the extension to the pigsty itself. That’s where chopped logs live in the winter, and the lawnmower lives the rest of the year. It is, essentially, mud. As you can see, there’s baler plastic under some of the old gravel, but it’s more and more baler plastic and less and less gravel.

Both of the existing paths have huge sections which are also mud, and which have – over time – gradually slumped so that all the gravel is either at one end or strewn around the garden. So they’ve been dug out

old path

(and, I am ashamed to say, weedkilled) and any plants moved, except for an old fern – I have billions – and a rotten stump which was previously interestingly shaped but which is now merely unpleasantly rotten. They are toast. Soggy, manky toast, but toast.

Then there’s the new path.


Well, it’s not exactly new as such. It was a path / death trap, because everyone knows that the way to create a path is to take some old roofing slates and miscellaneous rubble, stamp them into the soil, and shove some concrete in the gaps. (Removing the slates revealed one that was broken but carved, and I’m next door to a burial ground. Er…) So this now needs digging out, the edges tidying, and gravel laying.

And then you remember that your old wheelbarrow rotted through and went to the tip, and that you haven’t quite got round to replacing it because of the deadlines, and so you dash off to the farmers’ supply place, source of such delights, and they have two, both of which are broken, and so you zoom ten miles to Porthmadog and hooray, hooray, Wilkinsons have ONE left, and it’s the big one which you wanted. And then you get back and it’s dark anyway.

That sort of day.

I need some pretty flowers to remind me why I do this:


That’s better. That’s mad, mind, because these don’t usually get cracking until well into March, but I’m not quibbling. For once.

*Who knows, this year I might even paint the trellis…

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.

The winter list (and a spring surprise)

Every year (OK, for the last few), I get organised. After the great meadow strim P and I walk round the garden working out what needs doing, and draw up the winter list.

winter gardening

It’s all those jobs which have probably needed doing since the previous Christmas, but which have ‘somehow’ not quite been done. It inevitably includes things which didn’t quite get done last year (‘paint trellis’), or indeed the year before that, and things which are, frankly, optimistic (‘bramble remove’) or somewhat vague (‘move slates’  – which slates? – and ‘repair pigsty: ???’).

It’s divided into the three areas of the garden, and is followed by a list of plants. That’s because winter’s a good time to sort out what needs moving and work out where it can possibly go (quite apart from to the dustbin / compost / neighbours), and then there’s the problem of remembering exactly what ‘get rid of that horrible thing by the hedge’ meant. But it’s mainly the structural jobs which get done in winter, apart from weeding of course. We’ve rebuilt steps, dug new beds, erected standing stones and laid paths. This year it was repair time.

The rowan, which had to come down after the January storms last year, ripped apart the wall above which it grew. But we never quite got round to sorting it out – partly because there was a heck of a lot to do at the time, partly because the storms didn’t let up, and partly because once they did finally stop all the bulbs came up and started flowering. So all of last year I lived with a wall leaning outwards at a dangerous angle, entirely held in place by ivy – except when it wasn’t and stones came crashing to the ground.

Now I have this:

new wallwhich comes complete with a convenient shelf for a cup of tea or a pair of secateurs. And, yes, that is the rowan stump – it’s staying put. I can’t get a digger into the garden.

There was a heck of a lot of rubble, some of the little double daffs had to be replanted and I doubt that my chionodoxas will be as spectacular as normal this year, but it’s done. At last. And we found an old bakelite top for a Pan Yan pickle bottle (c. 1920), but that was the extent of the archaeology.

I’ve also now got  a dug-out greenhouse. I should explain – there is virtually no flat ground in either the top or the bottom garden, and the middle one is iffy. The greenhouse had to go in the bottom one, so P had to dig a base into the slope, which he did. The high side was held up with a mini dry-stone (OK, dry-sort-of-stone-brick) wall, which over the years has gradually slumped against the glass. At the back of the greenhouse a prostrate rosemary was so determined to get in that it broke the glass. It needed tackling…

greenhouse wall

So P demolished the old wall, cut the bank back, rebuilt it as a stepped wall – that should be much better – and dug out the back. I’ve now got what remains of the prostrate rosemary in a  pot, but it’s looking seedy. What a shame. Oh dear. Bechod.

What with all of this (most of which has been done with me watching due to bronchitis, but hey ho), I almost forget to look out for lovely things as well. Just round the corner, I have the first wallflower:


Right, that’s it. It’s clearly spring; I can put the winter list away!

(Plus the garden is suddenly full of snowdrops and crocuses – watch this space…)