Thursday, September 27, 2018

Grubbing and Planting

We spent some time yesterday digging out astilbe and Johnson's Blue geraniums because they had got far too big for their space. The astilbe will be going to Richard of the enormous garden and the geranium to anyone who wants it. We left a bit of that because it's a big favourite with pollinators.

And speaking of pollination, our friend Rachael was on the TV again. Not rare orchids this time but because her organisation Polli:Nation (part of Learning Through Landscapes) scooped a National Lottery Award for Environmental projects. Well done to everyone. I've learned a lot from Rachael, especially about encouraging pollinators by letting parts of (actually a lot of) our outdoor space run wild.

After the grubbing out, I planted oriental poppies. I know, I know! Not a huge draw for pollinators but I love them so. I'm not even sure they'll do, as the part of the garden they went into is rather heavy going.

Bert went to the doctor this morning for a discussion about how to manage his bone condition. He has been diagnosed with osteoporosis which is unusual for a male not yet sixty. He's a bit blue about it all. I felt a tad guilty about wanting him to rotovate especially as his rib is still bothering him so we decided to leave that until he's feeling better and planted the Stag's Horn Sumach anyway. He said we can work around it.

That little tree will branch out and become much fuller next year. And the year after that it will be even better. I'm looking forward to watching it grow.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Parcel From England

Remember my lament about being unable to source a Stag's Horn Sumach? When I wrote that post I was rather hoping that someone would contact me to say that their Granny had that very shrub growing in her garden and that I was most welcome to come and help myself to a sucker.

That didn't happen. But this did!

It arrived this morning. When the delivery person pulled it out of the back of his truck I was quite flummoxed as to what it could be. For a moment I thought Bert had bought another strimmer. It was much taller than I expected. And oh, so carefully packed. It took me a while to get it unwrapped.

I shan't photograph it until it is planted in the ground which should be tomorrow. We've chosen the spot and it will need to be rotovated and levelled. One has to be careful when planting a sumach as it will make lots of baby sumachs so cannot be too close to other plants. The spot we picked is just outside my private, secret sitting room so I'll be able to enjoy looking at it when I'm relaxing.

The person who sent me this in response to my lamenting blog post was my cousin Dermot from Sussex. He is actually a first cousin, once removed and I believe that I might have met him on at least one occasion when he was a very tiny child and I was a teenager. But that's one of the truly excellent things about social media - you get to keep up with far-flung family members and even get to know some that you'd probably never get to meet in ordinary life. It was a very kind gesture indeed, and just the sort of thing that Dermot's great-grandmother might have done if she'd been a horticulturist and an expert plant finder and knew someone who really, really wanted a Stag's Horn Sumach.

Thanks, Dermot. You're an excellent cousin and a fine human bean.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Autumn Days

Chrysalis on tomato support frame in the polytunnel

Bert went a-wooding on Saturday to begin dealing with the big beech tree that blew down in the sheugh on the day of the strong wind. I mooched around the house doing a bit of this, a bit of that. It was a fine bright day. After a while, I went to see how he was getting along and found him loading all the fiddly branches in a big pile. And while he was doing that, he couldn't chainsaw. The truth is I worry about him when he's off a-wooding, just like Matty used to worry about Daddy. What if he injures himself, out in the fields, all alone? Lying there, bleeding out, his phone (as usual) lying on the coffee table, not able to get help. I may seem happy-go-lucky but I do get rather carried away with worst case scenarios.

Anyways, he was fine. I looked at what he was doing and thought, I could do that and let him get on with the chainsawing and, at the same time, keep an eye on him, be there if he accidentally cuts his leg off, be able to run out to the road and flag a vehicle down as my phone (as usual) is lying on the sideboard and I wonder which of my garments would be best to tear up to use as a tourniquet if the worst did happen. I'm thinking all this as I'm throwing small branches on the huge pile and keeping a look-out for any breach of health and safety procedures on Bert's part.

Of course, tourniquets are no longer recommended and stanching and applying pressure to large wounds is the thing to do nowadays, The tee shirt I'm wearing would be good for that purpose. But would Bert be able to apply the pressure himself while I ran out to the road looking for help dressed only in a flesh coloured bra and Gap jeans? That would certainly stop the traffic.

Happily, none of this came to pass and we spent a couple of hours a-wooding and I have to say, it was one of the nicest Saturdays I've ever spent and I could hardly wait to get back to it but it would have to wait until Monday as unnecessary outside work on a Sunday is still frowned upon in this God-fearing townland.  

Sunday was a good day too. Bert visited his Aunt Lizzie and I worked in the polytunnel and made pastry and a pie filling for the next day's dinner. And the reason for that was so I would have more time to go a-wooding on Monday.

Bert was a bit of a slow starter on Monday morning but eventually, he gathered up tractor, trailer, loppers and chainsaw and set off. I had a steamed chocolate pudding on the hob and it needed more time so he set off before me. Twenty minutes later I joined him to find that he'd already got several decent-sized trimmed branches on the trailer. I chided him for working too hard then set to gathering the trimmings to load onto the enormous pile. Bert stops work, starts staring at the fallen tree. He is pondering his next cut. I stop working too and ponder alongside him. I haven't a clue what he should do. All I know is that I will not approve him perching anywhere precarious whilst operating the chainsaw. He decides to approach the job from the other side of the sheugh (ditch). It is a very deep sheugh and it involves him climbing down then clambering up the other side and over the thickest part of the tree trunk. In fact, it is such an awkward manoeuvre that we decide I should climb into the sheugh and reach the chainsaw up to him. It was at this point that I realised that one of my wellington boots was letting in water.

Safely on the other side of the ditch, Bert starts to chainsaw while I watch from a distance. There is an expectation that the tree will drop closer to the ground so it is best to stay back. It takes a while. The tree moves a bit but not far enough. He can't see what is holding it up. If it was winter and the foliage gone it would be possible to work it out but not with the tree in full leaf. I keep watching to make sure he stays safe. He leans over a small branch to steady himself as he starts to cut into a thicker branch under it. 

Be careful,

I say as I've said so many times already. Then he stops, he goes pale, the chainsaw stops. I can see he has hurt himself. He's popped a rib. Game over, no more wooding for us. And now the bloody tree is a health and safety risk for we still don't know what's propping it up. It will have to be Clint and the digger now. How he will gloat at having to finish the job for us.

I advised Bert to rest while I went to Killyless Stores to buy new wellies. When I got back he said he was feeling much better and thought he might finish trimming back the rhododendron bushes beside the greenhouse. I pulled on my new boots (so comfy) and went out to help and was just in time to see him take two-thirds of a lilac bush down. 

It'll do it no harm,

Says he. We worked at the hedge for about an hour and, since the chainsaw was running anyway and Zoe had arrived, we persuaded him to saw down one of the three peach trees in the polytunnel. It was growing in a really awkward place and hadn't produced fruit in two years. My hopes are, that the one beside it will do better if it's gone. And, if not, it's going too. The third one we'll definitely keep as it produces a good crop most years and is well worth the space it takes up.

Poor Bert. He'd hurt his rib, banjaxed the fallen beech and been forced to murder his carefully espaliered peach tree and his troubles were not yet over. For Miss Evie, six going on seven, playing her favourite game of standing on his steel-capped boots while he walked her around, gave him a shove backwards which knocked him completely off balance and they both went tumbling to the ground. She, thankfully, was completely unhurt but he staved the palm of his hand and gave his frame another jolt.

The white hen refuses to lay in the hen-house. This is her latest nest. She thinks she can't be seen.

When he woke up this morning his hand was black and his rib was throbbing. I said,
Should I have a chat with Evie and say maybe she should be less rough in her play as she could hurt you?
He says,
Don't bother. She'll hardly be doing it for much longer.

Evie was delighted with this ladybird's hiding place.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Rhus Typhina or Stags Horn Sumach

How hard must it be to find someone selling this shrub for less than £30?

I first bought it in a 2litre pot at Ballymena Market. back when it stood on the original Fair Hill site, planted it at our first home on the Dreen Road where it flourished.

We sold that house to Clint and we knew he wasn't a lover of flowers. He was going to dig everything out! And he did. But, before that happened I returned to the garden, dug out suckers and potted them on. It took a while, a long while before we organised our new garden and decided where the Stag's Horn Sumach should go.

Too long. The Rhus Typhina was potted (and doing very well) in 3litre pots but, by the time I went looking for them, were gone. Nowhere to be found. Completely disappeared. Bear in mind that they were six or seven plants, among several thousand. It was a plant nursery after all, and my sumachs were lumped in along with the rest of the For Sale plants and some utter low-life landscaper type bod had arrived up someday, on a day that we weren't around and stole them. This light-fingered shit probably took other stuff as well but we don't keep track of lonicera, clematis and random shrubs so who knows.

That was years ago and I still haven't replaced my furry-branched sumach. There have been other sumachs but not Rhus Typhina. I'm old now, how many years have I got to appreciate those velvet branches and the unsurpassed Autumn colour. I could spend thirty quid being robbed by some pack of English bastards, charging me stupid postage and a further six quid surcharge for being from Northern Ireland, Channel Islands or The Fucking Hebrides like having to get on a boat means we get to be robbed. When I KNOW there are people within a ten-mile radius with Stag's Horn Sumach TORMENTING them with suckers and all you'd have to do is let me dig them up and I'll swap you a clematis, or some crocosmia Lucifer and as many aquilegias as you can carry.

What's brought this on, you might ask? Bert and I, this very day sailed to Dobbie's Nursery in Lisburn, which emporium offered Rhus Typhina on its website. I knew it was a Fool's Errand, websites being notoriously unreliable entities. And of course, I was right. I got into a conversation with one of the (Greenmount educated) sales assistants. It was an interesting and enlightening conversation. Apparently, crocosmia Lucifer is still a thing and also, the website is a nonsense. All that it means is that Dobbies knows Rhus Typhina is a plant, they've heard about it and might have sold it once, several years ago. What else can I say about Dobbies? It is very expensive. Araucaria that Bert sells for ten quid they sell for forty. There is a butchery? There is. I find that strange. The women's toilets are weird. The toilet cubicles are flimsy and cheap looking. The wash hand basins are shaped like flowers. They look stupid and hard to clean. I did not think of flowers, just bacteria.

Despite all this, I bought stuff. Strange stuff. Unusually coloured crocus, weird bean seeds and nasturtium seeds that are supposed to look like orchids. Dobbies has a chance to redeem itself. If these corms and seeds fulfil their promise I might return.

I still want Rhus Typhina.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Seeds Ordered!

Product NameStock CodeQuantityPrice
Bargain Basement 10 packets13271£ 3.25
Eremurus robustus513B1£ 2.38
Canna indica2691£ 3.10
Eccremocarpus scaber, 'Tresco' Mixed490H1£ 2.25
Anethum graveolens, 'Mariska'102Q1£ 1.95
Papaver somniferum Mixed Varieties954G1£ 1.75
Lathyrus odoratus, Old-Fashioned Sweet Peas, 'Cupani'765Z1£ 1.95
Salvia patens, 'Blue Angel'1141R1£ 3.15
Salvia sclarea var. turkestanica1140R1£ 1.95
Cleome spinosa, Mixed Colours366A1£ 1.85
Pulsatilla vulgaris1075B1£ 3.25
Helianthus annuus, 'Lemon Queen'674J1£ 2.25
Abutilon x hybridum, F1 Hybrid, 'Bella' Series, Mixed5M1£ 3.15
Angelica gigas102E1£ 3.65
Carthamus tinctorius, 'Zanzibar'277P1£ 1.95
Adonis aestivalis481£ 1.72
Sub Total:16 Items£ 39.55

So, using the Flickr gallery group, I made my choices. All seeds ordered from Chiltern Seeds and all except the salvia sclarea inspired by James Fenton's list. 

I've been meaning to grow that salvia for ages now. It's been a while.

If I do this right, there should be enough plants to share with friends and enough to sell to the local garden supply shop which should, at least, cover the cost of the seeds.


Another thing that was on my mind today - it was our father's birthday. Seamus was born on this day 99 years ago. Happy birthday old lad, wherever you are. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed

One of the more wonderful things about the internet is how easy it is to source hard to find books. The poet James Fenton's A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed was not available from my local library nor was it to be found on Amazon but, as always, eBay obliged. I couldn't wait to get it.

The premise was interesting. A hundred packets of seed. It would have to be a very big garden if all those seeds sprouted. It would cost at least £300 to buy the seed and a fair bit of compost and seed trays would be needed as well. Still, it would be much, much cheaper than the garden centre, that is if one could even find that sort of variety in a garden centre. I'm sure Fenton doesn't expect anyone to actually sow 100 packets in one season or even two. Growing space might be a problem too.

The book arrived and I read it in one sitting. It wasn't easy. The print was small and too many of the pages were coloured orange or violet which made it difficult to read. There were no illustrations. Despite all this, it was an inspiring read and I longed to grow new things.

I spent an hour copying out a list of Fenton's recommendations. Black ink on a white background - super-easy to read. Would it be wrong of me to reproduce the list here? Would it be an infringement of copyright? The book is still worth it for the way Fenton writes. He is a poet after all.

But I did do this thing and it has taken me three days. I could have completed it in an hour if I'd put my mind to it but I have this fantasy that my life is composed of a series of Herculean tasks so I preferred to take my time. The thing I did was make a gallery on Flickr, a gallery composed of the hundred plants that Fenton listed. Many of them were unfamiliar to me which was rather a thrill. Those will be the ones I shall try and the gallery will assist with the choice.

In case readers are unfamiliar with the concept of Flickr galleries they are selected from other people's pictures, not one's own. I'd like to express gratitude to all my fellow Flickrites who allowed their beautiful photographs to be used.

Here is the link. I'm sure that anyone who has a look will be impressed with the gorgeous photographs and James Fenton's choices. Enjoy!

And if any of the seeds packets I decide to purchase and sow succeed be sure I will keep everyone posted!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Garden Centre

Today we went to The Range garden centre, where Evie wanted to have her photograph taken at all the stands.

 She insisted on two angles at this one.

 This, she said, was her favourite picture because it featured her favourite flower - the pansy.

We had an hour to use up before we picked up her sister. She asked, "Did you get the lion in the photo?"

And after all that, we only purchased two pot herbs and some lily bulbs. She wanted me to buy a fountain. There are about as many photographs of her standing beside the wide selection of fountains but I think that's enough garden centre for one day.

Oh well, maybe just the one then.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

My Birthday Photograph

These pictures were taken on the eve of my sixty-fifth birthday. They had to be taken yesterday as Katy, my middle daughter, was heading back to deepest, darkest Norfolk earlier today with her family. Dave took the pictures with my camera and under my instruction which absolves him from any responsibility as to their overall quality. We did have a lovely day, an outing to the zoo (of which more on a later date) and a Indian food ordered in from the Khayber restaurant. We ate before six because that's what happens when there are small children.

So, sixty-five years old. No argument now - I am definitely an Elder of the Tribe. I get the all-Ireland free travel pass so might be off to Dublin soon. I won't wear those jeans I think. When I look down at my leg attire I always think it looks OK but photos tell a different tale, a tale of baggy denim.

 For fun, I chopped the other pictures into bits. James, my sole male descendant (so far) was very taken with Ziggy. Perhaps Ziggy was slightly less enthusiastic about James' attentions. Judy was the most patient of all our dogs with James which I think is because Martha was around when the Judester was a pup.

Martha, Zoe and the Queen of Dogs.

Evie just wanted to cuddle Emily. She has always loved babies.

Ziggy looks a little stand-offish in this one. No-one else seems to mind.

The house seems so quiet now that all my visitors have gone. But it was a super birthday and a wonderful four days with my Norfolk family. The next time I see James he'll be a seasoned pre-schooler and Emily will be completely mobile. In the meantime I have Mark's regular photographs and videos to look forward to. And perhaps get up to date with this facetime thing.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

A Crossed Line

Not Able To Come To The Phone

The telephone makes me cross. That's because it's ALWAYS ME who answers it. If I'm showering or otherwise engaged Bert will still wait to see if I get it and then excuse himself by saying,

I was just too late, whoever it was rang off.


The phone rang the other morning and, as always, I answered it.

Hello, is Bertie there?
May I ask who's calling?
Blah..blah... health.

I carry the phone to him like a good wife.

Bert, it's the Health Centre. Maybe about your scan.

He had a DXA scan last week.

I gave him some privacy to take the call even though I was keen to hear what the health professionals had to say. Some minutes later he told me what had transpired.

Hello! I'm calling about the results of the test.
It's positive.
What does that mean?
It's positive.

Bert told me that he thought the caller was awfully abrupt for a health professional.

He said,

What shall I do?
There's nothing to be done!
But shall I come down to see you?
What! No. There's no point. There's nothing can be done.

At this point, Bert thought the caller extremely unsympathetic to him.

He said,

But is there not some advice I might need? Medication I could take?
What? I'm ringing about the wee ash tree. The test was positive for ash dieback. Nothing to be done.
Oh. I thought you were someone else.
Oh dear. It was the Plant Health Inspector on the line. I should have cottoned on when she called him Bertie. That other lot always refer to him as Robert. Still, maybe it'll teach him to answer the phone himself instead of letting his half-deaf wife do it. Some hope!

Monday, September 03, 2018

Ash Dieback

Just a little self-sown sapling at the edge of the growing area that has succumbed to the Chalara ash dieback fungus. Bert spotted it a couple of weeks ago. It's a notifiable plant disease so he started looking for the number of the plant inspector who calls once or twice a year. Of course, he couldn't find the number and after about a week he cut down the sapling and chucked it in a shed. The very next day the plant inspector drove into the yard. Bert told her about the sapling and she took a sample to test. She informed him that the disease is now rife in Counties Antrim and Down and there is no real benefit in taking precautionary measures. Apparently, it is mainly saplings that are affected so hopefully, our mature trees will be able to fight it off.

So it's not always buddleia and butterflies in Nelly's Garden. Yet, on a cheerier note...