Monday, 21 August 2017

planting the gap

As they used to say on Ground Force, and now the planting.  I have finally planted up the space at the top of the sloping bed.  A bamboo cane marks the gap for a rugosa rose, probably 'Sarah van Fleet', and I expect a few other bits and bobs will find their way in to the mix in due course, given my penchant for complex matrix plantings, but it is essentially done.  The plants all look rather small and surprised at the moment, but I have high hopes of them.

I put Tamarix ramosissima 'Pink Cascade' in the middle, though further towards the back than the front.  It has feathery, light greyish green foliage and produces little airy tufts of pink flowers at this time of the year, which would be useful when the garden is starting to wind down in terms of what's flowering.  It should cope with the wind in what is a windy corner: think of all the tamarisks you have seen on beaches.  It is supposed to be fast growing.  Yes, I am very hopeful, notwithstanding that another tamarisk planted half way up the bank by the drive several years ago has scarcely done anything.  The new tamarisk has had lots of lovely compost dug into its dire, sandy soil, and is not half way up a steep slope so will be easier to water, and will not have a sea buckthorn collapsing on top of it.  Surely it will do well.

Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Heavenly Blue' has grey leaves and deep blue flowers, also out now, which are manna to bees.  It likes sun and good drainage, which it will get.  Boy, will it get good drainage.  But I have dug in so much compost, it might be happy there.  In spring it will get a severe pruning, to keep it bushy.

Buddleia davidii 'Wisteria Lane' is a bit of a punt.  It is quite a new variety, which is supposed to have very long and pendant racemes of mauve, honey scented flowers.  The flower clusters on my new plant are not in truth that long, on the other hand it is a very young plant.  They are certainly pleasantly scented.  I chose Buddleia davidii for that corner because, again, I wanted something that would flower late in the summer, buddlejas are good insect plants, and since you can see self sown seedlings of B. davidii growing out of the faces of buildings I thought it had a good chance of coping with the meagre soil.  I needed a variety that would not grow too big, which narrowed things down, and 'Wisteria Lane' was one of the smaller types that Crocus offered and I thought it was pretty.  But you never know.  I tried the newish hybrid 'Silver Anniversary' in the gravel in the turning circle and it was an abject failure.  I watered it and cared for it but it just wouldn't grow, finding the burning sand altogether too terryifying.

I am confident about Cistus 'Silver Pink'.  Cistus like the light soil in the top part of the back garden, and even seed themselves around.  They do not greatly like manure, but I don't think I've managed to add enough soil improver to this bed to upset it.

I have never grown Sphaeralcea munroana before, but it looks good on paper.  It is a native of the western side of the United States, where it grows happily in regions with ten to twenty inches of annual rainfall.  According to a US nursery whose website I turned to for guidance it is highly resistant to browsing by deer and rabbits, loves sun, and is cold hardy down to US zone 4, which is cold.  My plant came from the man in Lincolnshire, and I afraid it has not especially enjoyed spending the summer sitting in its plastic pot until I had a space to plant it, so I hope it takes. From what I've read they are not the longest lived plants, which is not necessarily a problem once you have it in the garden because it will seed itself, but mine has not set seed.  If I left it too long in the pot and it quietly fades away over the winter then I could always buy seed next spring, assuming I could find somebody selling seed, and that the articles that came up in my Google search for Sphaeralcea seed about overcoming dormancy don't mean that growing from seed is really difficult.  It has orange flowers, by the way.  That might put some people off, though not me.

The only other plant I bought for this project was a tiny pot of Malvastrum lateritium, the False Mallow, which is supposed to be happy creeping about in a very hot, sunny, well drained soil where it will produce mallow shaped green leaves and single, round, pinkish flowers.  Mine came from a plant sale months ago, since when it has done nothing, and when I came to tip it out of its tiny pot I discovered that its little root ball was suffering from a bad case of root aphid.  It is not utterly reliably winter hardy either.  I have dosed it with Provado vine weevil treatment, planted it anyway, and hoped for the best.  Otherwise a couple of nurseries in the eastern region sell it, or the person who provided the original plant might have some more.

Everything else that went in I grew myself from seed or cuttings.  That might be a story for tomorrow.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

and even more compost

I bought more compost.  After thinking about it I decided I could put ten bags in the car, since although the weight makes the Skoda sink visibly on its suspension, I would be perfectly happy carrying three people and an adult passenger must weigh as much as three and a bit bags of compost, if not more.

In the half hour or so it took me to fill the bags only three other customers arrived, two of whom were together, and yesterday there were none at all while I was there.  August is a quiet month for gardening, but even so I began to wonder how long that kind of low key garden centre could survive.  It will be a pity when they all go, and there is nowhere left selling things like spent mushroom compost.  I would have to buy packaged, commercially produced soil conditioner each time I ran out of home made compost.  Then I calculated that at current prices B&Q large bales of multi-purpose compost actually worked out fractionally cheaper per litre than the mushroom compost, at £6.93 for 125 litres versus £7.00 for 120 litres.

That would explain why I saw bags of it laid out along the verge recently by a garden where contractors were planting a new laurel hedge.  And buying bales of compost would save me the time and effort of filling my own bags, and would make less of a mess and a smell in the car.  It would be a pity to have to buy new plastic packaging each time instead of reusing it to collect something that exists as a by-product of food production.  But I reckon I'd save time overall, even allowing for having to drive down to Colchester Hythe instead of just going round the corner.  If and when the Colchester branch of B&Q finally closes and the site turns into a Sainsbury then I'd have to go to Clacton, and that would take longer.  But if the little garden centre around the corner closed I'd have no choice.

I did cheer up when I realized that since potting compost cost the same as mulch, I need not feel bad I had wasted compost potting up too many Nicotiana mutabilis.  Those I didn't use myself or manage to give away are destined for the compost heap, but since I always need more home made compost it turns out the only thing I have wasted is my time in potting them on, and some water keeping them growing.  Likewise if I decide to grow more pots of tulips (I haven't) or repot all the dahlias (I might next spring) I shouldn't worry about the incremental expense of multi-purpose. Every litre of discarded potting medium on the compost heap is a litre of mushroom compost saved.

By late afternoon I was finally ready to start planting.  Mr Cool came and curled up on the drive nearby while I worked, then uncoiled himself, stretched elaborately, and strolled into the house with me for his supper.  Sometimes I think my adoration of Mr Cool might be mutual, although now I've fed him he has disappeared again.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

more compost needed

My plants from Crocus came.  I had only just followed the link on their email informing me that the order was with the courier to arrive today and seen that there were no deliveries ahead of mine when there was the scrunch of white van wheels on gravel and they arrived.  The driver did not even want a signature, so if I wanted to order anything else I could risk doing it in a week when I couldn't guarantee to be around.  The box was encouragingly tall, and was handed over to me the right way up and uncrushed.

It had a little lid which I removed, and looked down lovingly at the plants while wondering how I was going to lift them out, before discovering I did not need to lift them out of the box, instead I could lift the box off them.  You pulled a tab near the base, like the ones on detergent powder boxes, and the whole of the top of the box ripped off, leaving the plants sitting nestled into a shallow inner tray inside the base of the big box.  Each pot was wrapped in polythene and taped securely to the tray, so even if the main box had been tipped over in transit the pots would probably have stayed put.  I love it when mail order plant companies invest in proper packaging and don't just try to wedge everything in with balls of newspaper.

The cats now have the lid, the base of the box, the inner tray, and a tunnel formed by the body of the big box which I've put by my desk for them to play with because they like tunnels.  Mr Fluffy spent part of the morning sleeping in it.  I have the plants, and they all look very healthy, while the tamarisk is taller and bushier than I thought it might be, and the buddleia that was described as being in a 9 centimetre pot and which I thought might have to be potted on for planting out next spring looks substantial enough to go out now.

All I have to do is get the border ready for them.  I went and bought another eight bags of bag-your-own spent mushroom compost, and dug that in, and used all the home made compost that was ready the last time I turned the compost heaps earlier in the summer.  That means the new bit of border has had sixteen bags of bought compost and ten bags of home made.  The mushroom compost bags held thirty litres because that's the size of the bucket the garden centre sells it by, while I didn't measure out the home made compost but on average there must have been more than thirty litres in each bag, so the new stretch of border has had over 780 litres of organic matter added to it but needs more.  I haven't even covered all of it yet, and some of it is still so sandy and meagre when dug over that it looks quite unfit to plant anything in.

I shall have to go and get another load mushroom compost in the morning.  I wish they would give me a loyalty card like coffee shops do, buy ten bags of bag-your-own mushroom compost, get an extra one free.

Friday, 18 August 2017

at the museum of east anglian life

Today is our thirty-third wedding anniversary.  When I initially suggested to the Systems Administrator a few days ago that we could go out on Friday the SA, who was suffering from a cold and getting increasingly stressed about the car, stared at me rather wild eyed and asked Where do you want to go?  I said I didn't know, somewhere local like last year when we went to the Munnings Museum, but that we didn't have to go out.  By the next day the cold and the car panic were abating, and the SA suggested that we could go to the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket, adding as a clincher and proof that this was not just a casual idea that he had checked it was open.

That's the difference between being at home and on holiday.  If we were just visiting west Suffolk for the week we would certainly make the effort to go to a museum of East Anglian life.  Living on the fringes of East Anglia we have not bothered to visit once in over thirty years.  So we set off. The SA checked the traffic on Google maps before we went out and reported that everything was flowing freely.  When we got to the fringes of Ipswich the dot matrix signs on the A12 said that the A14 was closed between J50 and J49.  Where, enquired the SA, wa J50?  I looked at the road atlas and discovered that J50 to J49 was the stretch of the A14 that is effectively the Stowmarket bypass.  Ah.  We came off two junctions early and took the back route through the lanes, along with quite a lot of other people who could read road signs, and then sat in traffic in Stowmarket with all the other people who had been turfed off the A14 whether they had been reading the roadside warnings or not, but we got there.

The museum turned out to be bigger than I expected, though tiny compared to Beamish or Blists Hill.  They have got some old buildings rescued and reconstructed from various bits of Suffolk, which mostly house exhibitions.  There is a lot about agriculture from the late Victorian era through to the mid twentieth century, a lot about the many engineering firms that developed out of Suffolk's need to service the agricultural sector, and a little bit of domestic history with a few room sets and a Victorian school room.  There is a tiny bit about the fishing industry, which is fair enough since Stowmarket is well inland and there are museums on the coast that major in fishing (which we have not been to either).  I would have liked something about the silk weaving industry, though I suppose the Warner archive in Braintree covers that.  There are traditional East Anglian breeds of farm animals in modern wire enclosed paddocks, with signs around the museum appealing for funds to build them a Victorian farm.  There is a watermill, and a windmill originally used to power a drainage pump rather than thresh corn.  A Victorian octagonal shelter looking as though it had escaped from the seaside, except that it is too enclosed, came from the cattle market in Bury St Edmunds where it was used to settle livestock trading accounts.  There are charcoal burning and hurdle making equipment, neither in use today.  There is a restored walled garden in full productive clatter with vegetables, fruit and flowers for cutting.  If we had stayed on until tonight we could have seen the outdoor cinema showing Mary Poppins.

It is a slightly confusing site to navigate your way around.  The signs are not awfully clear as to what things are and which buildings you are supposed to go into, and more than once we found we'd started an exhibition somewhere in the middle and only got to the welcoming orientation panel that would have told us what it was all about at the end.  The key to the map they give you with your entrance sticker does not list the numbered attractions in any order that would make any sense to somebody who didn't know the site, so it took ages to decipher, and I was simply baffled by the little banner flapping in the wind on a patch of grass that said First Aid Point.  We never saw anybody there and there was no first aid equipment so I don't suppose what you were supposed to do if you needed first aid.  Lie down on the grass until somebody noticed.

Still, the food in the cafe was quite nice, and I got to scratch a Large Black Pig called Tim behind the ears, and after much painful thought understood how the mechanism of a church clock built in 1607 worked to transmit gravitational force from the weight to the pendulum so that it kept swinging.  The key according to the SA was the escapement at the top, and it all became much clearer once I worked out I needed to think about the mechanism from the top downwards, instead of fixating on the largest cogwheel and then working upwards.

The museum is taking its time expanding, since it was first opened in 1967.  There is plenty of space for some more buildings, as and when suitable buildings and more critically the finance become available.  Still, we spent three and half hours walking around looking at stuff, and left feeling our brains were full, just as it began to spit with rain.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

site preparation

The top of the sloping bed is tantalisingly close to being weeded and cleared for planting, bramble stumps grubbed out and the majority of the sea buckthorn roots extracted.  It is remarkable how it has managed to look as though it is almost clear for several days, while taking hours more work to finish clearing it.  Thinking I must be nearly there, I went to measure the space before ordering shrubs to go in it.  It is a very odd shaped hexagon, and I am still trying to work out how the back can consist of two not quite in-line stretches of 3.3 metres each, when the front is only 3.3 metres in total.  I am fairly sure each individual measurement is right, and the answer must be that it's due to the uphill end of the border being deeper than the downhill one, and the downhill edge not meeting the back and front edges at anything like a right angle.

This morning I stood in the very light drizzle with a handful of bamboo canes, poking them into the ground and trying to check whether there was really room for a Tamarix, a small Buddleja, a Caryopteris and a pale pink Cistus, plus rose 'Sarah van Fleet', or if that would be too many shrubs, or not enough and I would actually need more than one cistus.  I wasn't buying more than one Caryopteris, since they are easy from cuttings.  I was accompanied by Mr Cool who alternated between trying to climb up my leg so as not to have to stand on the wet grass, and chewing the ends off the bamboo canes.  I decided that one each of the shrubs would be enough, and stomped back indoors to order them, unhooking Mr Cool from my knee.  The rose will come from the excellent Trevor White roses once it is the bare root rose season, and I ordered the others from Crocus.  I have used Crocus before and found them utterly professional, as befits a firm that supplies plants to several Chelsea show gardens every year.

By the afternoon the rain had passed and I set off to buy mushroom compost to dig into the soil at the top of the bed, which consists of incredibly thin soil made worse by the addition of left-over builders' sand, on top of an old track.  The mushroom compost had gone up by twenty-five pence per bag since the last time I bought any.  The woman on the till told me briskly that it was still very good value compared to other, bagged composts and she was right, but I would have preferred her to feel my pain.  After all, it isn't bagged.  I had to shovel every last one of the two hundred and forty litres I bought today myself.  At least I know to take my own stainless steel spade.  Life is too short to dig spent mushroom compost with a plastic shovel.

I spread it across the end of the bed, and was dismayed at how far it went, or rather didn't go.  I was evidently going to need another car load, and more probably two.  And I was aghast as I began to fork it into the soil at how quickly it vanished.  I'd spread a good generous layer, but the sand simply ate it.  In fact, I couldn't understand how there was quite so much builders' sand.  How much had our builder had left over?  Based on my recent gravel spreading experience there seemed to be a couple of bulk bags of the stuff, coming up in discouraging off-white seams with every turn of the fork.

I arranged for the Crocus shrubs to be delivered on Saturday, and in my mind's eye by Saturday afternoon, or Sunday morning at the latest, I was going to be arranging them in the freshly cleared and compost laden space, along with quite a few of the plants that have been languishing in pots outside the greenhouse all summer.  By Monday morning it was all going to be done, barring the composted straw mulch that will have to wait until I psych myself up to order another pallet load. I now see that was a complete delusion.  By Sunday afternoon I might just about have managed to bag, cart and incorporate in the border enough organic material to give the new planting at least a vague chance of survival.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

at last we collect the car

I switched on my computer this morning and it was fine, uploading emails entirely normally and letting me scoot round the Times website while I ate my muesli.  I have discovered what it was doing last night, which was uploading the new Microsoft Office.  There were new and unasked for buttons on the toolbar, including Outlook, which I don't use, and some kind of search engine called Bing, which I'd never heard of.  I opened Bing to see what it was, and couldn't find any way of closing it again, and had to call on the Systems Administrator for help, who couldn't initially close it either and kept harrumphing from the aggravation of the car still being at the garage and the government website being down so it was impossible to see if it had passed its second MoT or not. I really wish Microsoft wouldn't do that.  Supposing I had badly needed to use my laptop last night, if I'd been up against a deadline to finish a report or something, I'd have been stuck.

Finally the government site worked, and a little tick appeared against the car's MoT status, and the garage rang to say it was ready to collect.  It goes to a Jaguar dealership for servicing because of the electronics.  There are so many of them it is basically a computer on wheels, and it is of an age where they have started to play up, so although it passed the MoT first time round in July except for the cracked windscreen, the Systems Administrator was not entirely confident that it would necessarily pass again.  The Jaguar dealership is in a retail park to the east of Ipswich, and there are two ways of getting there from here.  You could walk a mile to a railway station and get a train to Colchester where you could change trains for Ipswich, then get a bus from the centre of Ipswich.  Or you could drive there in another car.  The SA quite understandably preferred the latter option.  The garage is in the same retail park as the Ipswich John Lewis at Home store, and so it was a reasonably productive journey because after collecting the car we were able to go and buy a couple of oven gloves and some frying pans.

Having a car stuck at the garage for over a fortnight while Autoglass fails to replace the windscreen on a weekly basis is not the worst of problems to have, in the grand scheme of things. It's not as if it was our only car.  I have a friend who needs to sell her house, who is on permanent standby in case of viewers, having to keep the house unnaturally clean and tidy, all social plans subject to revision and cancellation in case a potential buyer should materialize, and afraid to book any kind of holiday.  The Colchester housing market has gone soft and she is getting quite demoralised being tied to home all through the summer.  Compared to that being on standby to go and collect the car is a minor inconvenience.  Even so it is a nuisance.  Arrangements to see people and go to places have kept getting bumped forward to try and keep my diary clear.  I was hoping to revisit the Tate's Giacometti exhibition with one friend before they go into hospital for an operation that will leave them immobile for a bit, but I fear we've run out of time.

The garage somehow swung it so that the SA was not charged for the second MoT.  It would have been deeply unfair to have to pay twice, when the only reason for the first failure was the windscreen and it would have been the work of two minutes to see that the windscreen had been changed and the paperwork showed it had been done by a qualified installer, and the car had been parked at the garage all the meantime.  Still, technically it was outside the ten working day period to qualify for a retest, and the SA was more or less resigned to paying twice and then deciding whether the hassle of trying to reclaim the cost of the second test from the insurers and the windscreen firm was worth it.

The oven gloves were plain black ones from John Lewis' Essentials range.  We already have some, and they give much better insulation than many branded ones at four times the price.  In the end we split the difference on whether to go for upmarket frying pans or get cheap ones and just replace them as often as the non-stick coating scratched, buying a fairly expensive saute pan that fits our existing lids and has a metal handle so can go in the oven, and two budget frying pans, one of which was marked with a piece of kitchen string through the handle as soon as we got home so that it can be kept for pancakes and omelets.  John Lewis at Home is really rather a terrifying temple to consumerism.  I read in one of the Sunday papers that inflatable flamingos were A Thing, but I didn't entirely believe it until I saw they have them in Ipswich.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

computer says no

This could be a short post.  I think my computer is doing something.  I didn't ask it to do anything, because I wanted to use it, but I think it has gone ahead and is running its scan or update or whatever it wanted to do anyway.  The cursor sticks and becomes unresponsive for seconds at a time, if not minutes, and it is a test of my touch typing when whole clauses, whole sentences, don't appear on the screen for a minute or more after I've typed them.  I gave it half an hour to see if it would finish but it is still doing it.  Corrections are practically impossible as I end up overcorrecting.

In fact, that is me done for the day.  Typing the first paragraph took over ten minutes.  Try again tomorrow.