Friday, 30 September 2011

tackling the second pond

The army has been firing some very heavy artillery for the past three days, four guns one after another in rapid succession, in vollies that make the house shake.  The Systems Administrator said that it sounded like practice battery firing, and that it is usually done on the ranges up in Northumberland but moves to Essex during the grouse shooting season.  I asked if the sound of gunfire disturbed the grouse particularly, and the S.A. said that it was more a question of not shelling the shooting parties.

I put on my waders and set out to tackle the wildlife pond in the meadow, but soon discovered that it was so dry that the waders were de trop.  I hope the water has simply evaporated, and the pond hasn't sprung a leak.  It has a butyl liner, but I have allowed a lot of brambles and shrubs to grow around it.  Indeed, it has alder trees growing in it, plus so many reeds and iris that I haven't made it to the far side yet.  Things seem to be getting slightly damper as I go downhill, and I haven't seen any holes or damage to the liner, so I'm reasonably optimistic so far that it will hold water when refilled.

I had assumed that I would be scooping out wet gloop, but it turned out that the layer of soil covering the liner was held together with a very solid matrix of roots.  Instead I found I had to cut through the roots with secateurs, and remove the soil in slabs, almost like lifting turf.   Using the secateurs, and occassionally the loppers, I am careful to hold the mat of roots and earth clear of the liner as I cut, to avoid stabbing it.  Progress has been impeded around the edges by the ornamental cobbles originally used to cover the liner, which are now embedded in the root mat, invisible until I hit them with the secateurs.  This is the first time I've ever cleared the pond out, and we made it over a decade ago.  The soil and roots accumulated since then measures between 5cm and 15cm thick.  It is, I think, an example of a hydrosere, the process whereby bodies of fresh water tend to convert to dry land, without intervention to maintain them as open water.  Whenever I've asked wildlife experts from the Essex Wildlife Trust the best time to clear out a pond, they've always said that ideally you don't, just dig another.  But that isn't really an option in a domestic garden with limited space, and if I don't clear the pond then at some point in the future I won't have one any more, just a butyl lined bed filled with alder trees.

The chickens are great creatures of habit.  Yesterday I let them out early, in mid afternoon, as it was such a lovely day and I was working in the front garden to keep an eye on them.  I thought it would be a treat for them, instead of which they were intensely suspicious, took a long time to come out, and after eating some grass retreated back into their run.  The Systems Administrator tempted them out with Value Sultanas (the rooster can recognise the sultana container at a considerable distance) but soon after eating their snack they went back into the run, until it got to proper chicken letting out time, a couple of hours before sunset, at which point they came out happily under the S.A.'s supervision.  Right person, right time.  I consoled myself that at least they weren't pining all day in their run for the final bit of the afternoon when they would be allowed out.  Final bit of the afternoon seems to be all that they want.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

cleaning the pond

I got to see the Queen's Dutch paintings in the end.  I nipped down from Piccadilly to the gallery and bought a ticket for the afternoon first thing yesterday when I got to London, before meeting a friend for a post-lunch snack.  Or at least, a meal that was after she'd had (a business) lunch, and substituted for mine.  The Dutch landscapes were jolly nice, and the staff let me in at 4.00pm as it was quietening down by then, although I'd got a 4.30pm entry ticket.  On the way out I remembered to get my ticket stamped, and tucked it away safely, so I can have free entry to the gallery for the next twelve months.  Coming up this winter is a show of photographs of Antarctic expeditions, which might be interesting, if I happen to be in London with a couple of hours to spare. This process of converting your exhibition ticket into an annual pass only works for tickets bought from the ticket desk at the gallery, not those got through travel agents or complimentary tickets.  With time to spare before the cheap trains resumed, I walked back from Buckingham Palace to Liverpool Street.  It really isn't very far, since walk up the Mall and you are in Trafalgar Square, which I always regard as eminently walkable.  London looked rather beautiful in the sunlight.

I'm not surprised the Metropolitan Police have trouble with crowd control, though.  My quick nip across Green Park to get my ticket for later co-incided with the tail end of trooping the colour.  One police constable and a police community support officer were controlling the crowds of people waiting to cross the road in front of the Palace.  Virtually no traffic passed, and we stood there as the little pedestrian light turned from red to green and back again, and the community support officer stood there with arms outstretched, indicating for us to stay on the pavement.  Finally a middle aged woman spoke up and said that she wanted to get to Trafalgar Sqare.  He indicated the direction, and she asked when she could cross the road.  He said that we couldn't while trooping the colour was going on.  Until she spoke he made no eye contact, never smiled, never spoke and didn't explain what the hold-up was and when we would be allowed to cross.  I'm middle aged, middle class, white, with a strong RP accent, an air of confident  bourgeois entitlement, and no history of police hasslement, and I don't much like the Metropolitan Police.  If I were young, working class, black or Asian, with no house, degree or previous illustrious career to fall back on, and a definite history of being stopped by the police, I would probably like them a lot less.  A cheery 'Sorry, folks, we're just waiting for the parade to finish, you'll all be on the move in five minutes' accompanied by a smile would have worked wonders.

Today, as it was such beautiful warm weather, and I was supposed to clean out the pond in September, and had bought the waders to do so, I put on the waders and stepped into the pond.  Carefully.  Happily it isn't deeper than my legs.  I thought it wasn't, but the Systems Administrator had made some alarming mutterings.  I pulled out all of the sedge or whatever the grassy thing is that was seeding everywhere, and scooped out as much of the duckweed as I could, using a plank as a boom.  The sedge had formed great floating lumps, some of which I had to ask the S.A. to haul on from above while I pushed from below, they were so heavy.  I scooped out some surplus oxygenating weed while I was in there, and some brown gloop, and left it all around the edge of the pond so that in theory any creatures in it could make their way back into the water.  I feat that in practice any caught in the middle of the clumps of sedge will be well and truly stuck.  I wore a short sleeved T shirt for this operation, as I hate dripping sleeves, and so discovered empirically that the leaves of the sedge or whatever it is have sharp edges.

Next year I'll get some nice iris, and maybe pickerel weed.  We aren't overly well-endowed with aquatics suppliers around here, and it isn't an aspect of gardening I know much about, so it will probably be whatever B&Q are doing, if they do packs of pond plants next year like they did this year.  No more sedge.  That really does fall into the boss's bioplant category.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

legislating for human goodness

So Labour is going to reorganise the tax system so that it gives breaks to good companies, that are building sustainable businesses and investing for the long term, and penalises bad companies, that are only interested in short term gains.  Example of good company, Rolls Royce.  That offers apprenticeships and has been around for ages.  Example of bad company, Southern Cross.  That structured its balance sheet in an inappropriate way and couldn't cope with downwards pressure on the fees it charged.

Er, right.  The government and HMRC are going to draw up a set of clear rules (I believe tax law has to be clearly set out in statute, rather than a man from the Inland Revenue telling you that he doesn't like your attititude and you don't give out the right caring vibes) that will distinguish, in advance, between good long term businesses and bad short term businesses.  That'll be the same government that was responsible for regulating UK banks and failed to detect that they were stoking up the biggest bubble since the South Sea, or Wall Street in 1929?  Right, that should work fine, then.  No problems.

I spent years of my life working as a professional money manager investing other people's savings in small companies that were quoted on the stock market.  So did the Systems Administrator, as it happens.  Bits of people's pension funds, and unit trusts.  We looked at their financial numbers, and met their managements, and talked to stockbrokers' analysts, and tried to understand the markets they served, and their strategies for meeting the future requirements of those markets.  Sometimes they were companies newly floating on the Stock Exchange, and sometimes they were companies whose shares were already listed, but which might have changed for the better, or been unfairly overlooked.  It was a very old-fashioned form of investing.  We handed over our clients' cash, and got some shares, which were held in custody somewhere (that became the Systems Administrator's department.  I couldn't tell you much about it).  There were no derivative instruments or short selling shares in small companies, back in my day.  Your clients owned a stake in the company.

In order to invest enough money to make any difference to our clients' portfolios one way or the other we had to buy quite a lot of the small company's shares, say 2% or 5% or 10% of the entire company.  If we changed our minds, or the company's prospects began to look a bit iffy, 5% of a company wasn't something we could sell that easily.  It was likely to take several days or weeks, and we were likely to lose a lot of the money we had invested.  Sometimes the company would go badly wrong, and trading in its shares would be susupended on the stock market, then we couldn't sell the shares, but they sat there on the valuation, where our client could see them, at a hulking loss to where we bought them.  Sometimes companies went bust, and we lost all of our money.  This was distressing to have to explain to our pension fund clients at the next quarterly pension fund meeting, and the loss of value harmed our performance relative to other funds.  If that got too bad, we would be sacked.  People working in the City regularly were sacked for performing badly, unlike, say, teachers, or nurses, or civil servants.  If we made good judgements we would be given bonuses, and praised in financial magazines as talented investors.  You can argue about the fairness of the level of the bonuses, though they were not in the same league as bankers get nowadays.

Now the prospect of being given bonuses and plaudits if we did well, and having to break bad news in person to people if we did badly and then being sacked, concentrated our minds wonderfully, almost as much as if we were to be hanged in the morning.  Nonetheless, sometimes we invested in bad businesses.  We didn't do it out of short term greed, or idle malevolence because we didn't care if, for example, the old people living in Southern Cross homes were thrown on to the streets.  We just got things wrong.  Events happened that we hadn't thought of. We failed to understand the significance of some of the facts known to us.  People lied to us.  And Ed Miliband believes that politicians and civil servants will be able to devise a set of clear tax rules, which other civil servants will then have the time to apply to all the companies in Britain, which will distinguish between good long termist and bad short termist companies.  Well, do you believe it is going to work?

By the end of yesterday we had been given the example that only companies that offered apprenticeships should be eligible to bid for government contracts, and somebody representing small businesses had bobbed up on the TV explaining that this discriminated against them.  I thought that there were some service businesses where apprenticeships were not really applicable.  Does that mean that, say, catering and cleaning companies pitching for government contracts will have to produce some sort of documentation relating to their training programme for the Inland Revenue's inspection?  Another spokesman on the radio said that small businesses that took staff on could be given incentives in the form of reduced NI contributions.  I don't think Ed Milliband has ever worked for a small business, apart from maybe casual jobs when he was a student.  I'm pretty sure he went straight from university into professional politics, and as his parents were Marxist intellectuals he probably wasn't much exposed to the realities of life in a small business in the home.  Having seen a small (service) business from the inside over a period of several years, I know how much desperate juggling goes on trying to balance staff costs with the demands on the business, and how staff are apt to come and go, or work seasonally, or flex their days.  Making NI more complicated to reflect exactly many more or fewer people are working there over an arbitrary period is not going to help anybody.

I have been reading Andrew Rawnsley's book about the latter part of the last Labour government, The End of the Party.  It is a splendid read (though rather sweary).  One of Gordon Brown's character traits that made his premiership unworkable was his desire to micromanage every last detail of government.  Ed Miliband, who was Gordon's boy, now wants to codify this into the tax system and/or state directed corporate governance.  I don't think it is going to work.  Well, do you?

Addendum  Sorry, I made a mistake yesterday about the parks.  The pelicans and coots are in St James's Park, where there is a pond, not in Green Park.  I should have gone and checked the names on the map, but I was tired, and conscious that it was time to shut down the laptop and start talking to my nearest and dearest.  And I am now going to post this without previewing it, because our broadband is working at 0.00001% of what it is supposed to be.  And I am tired, and it is time for me to close the laptop

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

art and nature

I went to London today.  The plan was to meet an old friend and former colleague I hadn't seen for some time, look at an art exhibition and get some lunch, and then visit this year's Serpentine Pavilion in the afternoon, while my erstwhile colleague returned to the world of real work and a meeting requiring a suit.  The meeting was on his initiative, but I was left to come up with a list of potential exhibitions, and in the event required to choose.  I thought it was magnaminious of him to let me have the final say, given that I fully intended to go to whatever didn't make our shortlist later anyway, so if he were only having one bite at the cherry he might has well have chosen whatever he liked best.

It boiled down to a choice between Hungarian photopgraphy at The RA, which ends on 2nd October, and Dutch landscapes at The Queen's Gallery, which ends on 9th October, so once again I'm leaving things to the last minute.  I opted for the landscapes, but when we got past the queue of people waiting for the 12.15pm entry slot and made it to the ticket desk we discovered that the next entry available was timed for 3.30pm.  I was rather chagrined by this, since the previous time I visited I got straight in, but apparently it is busier when the rest of Buckingham Palace is open, as people buy gallery tickets as part of the whole tour.  We agreed that it would be Hungarian photographs after all, and yomped back across Green Park to Piccadilly, from whence we had both recently come.  Fortunately it is not very far and we are both stout walkers (indeed he runs, an occupation I consider to be an invention of the devil, designed to store up ruin for human joints, while giving us a foretaste of suffering).

There are pelicans in Green Park.  I had a look at them on the way to the Queen's Gallery, as I had time in hand.  Also lots of coot, which are the ones with white faces, as distinct from moorhens which have red faces.  Coots have the most extraordinary feet.  They are black, and not webbed like a duck, but each individual toe has broad scaley scalloped flaps down each side, to increase surface area and resistance when paddling.  I never looked close up at a coot's feet before, but of course the birds in Green Park are extremely tame.

The Hungarian photos were very good.  Some were of rural life in Hungary between the wars, others produced under Soviet influence portraits of heavy industry.  There was a beautiful sequence of shots of Paris, and my absolute favourite, Washington Square in the snow.  The branches of several trees curled elaborately, iron railings looped, and there were two ornate lamp-posts, two people walking separately, and several seats.  The viewpoint was high, the depth of field not great, and the foreground trees were truncated mid-crown.  The effect reminded me of Japanese and Chinese pictures, where there is no conventional Western perspective and important features are made larger irrespective of actual size, as the snowy background made it impossible to judge how far away anything was, and the furthest tree was significantly bigger than those in the foreground.  I shall investigate whether they sell a copy of that one, as we didn't stop to look at the shop.

By the time we emerged from the RA the promised sunshine had appeared, and Hyde Park looked very pretty as I walked across it.  I'd thought on a whim as I went around Hyde Park Corner that I could go and look at the Wellington Museum, but that turns out not to be open on Tuesdays.  A treat for another day.  This year's Serpentine Pavilion is a Hortus Conclusus by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, with planting by Piet Oudolf.  Put like that it sounds as though I have heard of Peter Zumthor.  Actually I hadn't, until I saw he was responsible for this year's pavilion.  I have heard of Piet Oudolf, obviously, him being a famous garden designer.  I didn't bother to go to last year's pavilion, as the best that anybody seemed to be able to find to say about it was that it was red, to mimic the buses.  The year before that there was an amoeba shaped roof made out of polished aluminium, which did really reflect the buses, upside down, and the year before that a brutal, multi-level stucture of glass and timber that I liked, though some architectural correspondents were very rude about it.  This year's pavilion is a credit-crunch pavilion, covered in what looks like black painted hessian, and I think we can safely assume that it was cheaper to build than the amoeba or the tiered glass and timber.  It presents a vertical face all round, no visible roof.  Inside you pass through a fairly narrow, tall, (black) corridor into an enclosed rectangular garden, surrounded by a walkway with a shallow pitched, (black) roof, wide in proportion to the space it encloses.  Think cathedral cloisters meet Zen garden and you're there, except that this Hortus Conclusus incorporates a bench around the entire perimeter plus lots of tiny galvanised cafe tables and white canvas stools, so you can have a sit down.

The planting was full, and in Piet Oudolf style used plants close to the wild species, some of which had finished blooming and, in Oudolf style, the seed heads remained.  The cloister was also full, of young people with sketch pads.  The roof kept the sun out of our eyes, while it lit the central planted area, and it was pleasant to sit listening to the chatter of young voices and watching the bees working the plants.  Actually, I think the bees were working harder than some of the students.  It struck me, as I looked at the planting, that I might be seeing a very different thing to the students.  I couldn't have identified the exact species or cultivar of all of them, but I recognised autumn flowering Aconitum, hardy geranium, Joe Pye Weed or Eupatorium  (which had largely finished), Actaea, Astrantia, Rodgersia, Liriope, some sort of Veronica, Aster, and thought that the grass, which looked like one used at Scampston, was Molinia.  I was puzzled by something with red petals like ragged claws.  I've just done a quick search on-line for a planting list and not found one, which seems a curious omission, though from an article in The Telegraph I think the red flowered thing could be a form of Monarda.  If you aren't interested in gardening, which probably covers the majority of teenage artists, I presume the planting is a pure jumble of colour.  It was very nice, predominantly soft colours with muted blues, greens, browns, and the odd flash of pink and soft red.

I once saw a TV programme in which subjects were given the individual elements of Matisse's snail as cut-outs, and invited to arrange them into a pattern, which turned out to be very hard to do.  It would be interesting to be given free rein of a couple of top-quality herbaceous plant suppliers and that amount of space (and sorry, I didn't pace it out and I can't find a web article that gives the dimensions.  I wish people would be more specific.  It's quite big.) and see how difficult or easy it would be to be Piet Oudolf.  Can anybody make a large rectangle of late flowering plants look good for that limited period, given access to some nice plants, or does it in fact take artistic ability?  I really don't know.  It's on until 16th October, if you want to go and see for yourself.

Monday, 26 September 2011

assorted customers and an invention

Today was quiet and mostly civilised.  A couple called in to collect a Philadelphus that we'd reserved for them, and were really pleased that we'd rung to say we'd got the plant.  While they were at it they bought an early flowering yellow rose as well, Rosa banksiae 'Lutea'.  A customer I'd called yesterday because Prunus mume 'Beni -chidori' was in stock and she'd wanted one in the summer when we didn't have any rang back to say that she had sourced the plant elsewhere, but was grateful we'd taken the trouble to ring.  It is considerate of people when they do let us know that they no longer require a plant, since we can put the reserved specimen back out for sale.  'Beni-chidori' is a pretty thing, an ornamental tree from Asia with small, vivid cherry-pink flowers in spring.  The name means flight of the red plovers.

Somebody rang from Norfolk asking about the availability of various trees.  One of them I'd never heard of, and nor had the manager.  It was a narrow leaved form of the cockspur thorn, full moniker Crataegus crus-galli var. pyracanthifolia.  She said that it was a thoroughly good small tree, that formed a perfect umbrella shaped crown, which she'd had in a previous garden.  She'd bought her original tree from Hillier's nursery, but they no longer sell direct to the public, and the Crataegus wasn't in the Plantfinder at all, though it was in Hillier's dictionary of trees and shrubs.  I looked it up after our conversation, and it did sound very nice, so I said to the manager that if he ever saw plants offered by a grower maybe he should snap them up.  She was after the tansy leaved thorn as well, which we had, though smaller than she might have liked, and a flowering cherry and various other things, some of which we were expecting later in the autumn.  We ended up with quite an organised plan to assemble what plants we could get, so that she could send someone with a lorry to collect them.  From her voice I put her down as quite old, and quite posh, and she had a refreshingly clear grasp of how to order plants.  In the course of two conversations we'd established what we had, what we ought to be able to get, when that was likely to be, and how she was going to pay for them and get them to Norfolk.  I wish all our customers were as organised.  Compared with the Woman who wanted sixteen lavenders it was like dealing with a Mckinsey consultant.

It is frustrating when no grower propagates a good plant  variety and it isn't available for sale.  Of course, these are precisely the plants that a certain kind of gardener wants to possess.  If you are a plant collector making trips out to the wilds of Asia or South America, or friends with plant collectors, so that you can lay your hands on things grown from wild collected seed before they enter commerce (if they ever do), or are on plant swopping terms with other exclusive gardens, that marks you out as a certain type of gardener.  If you care about whether your garden contains commercially unobtainable rarities that marks you out as a certain kind of person.  We do have a few customers like that, but they always seem rather pathetic to me.  Better not to let on, if you are that way inclined, like getting a First while managing to give the appearance of not having done any work.

I spent the afternoon weeding the hardy geraniums, and ended up with back ache, again, from working on a bench that was too low, alternating with working holding the pot against my stomach with one hand, which left me with a black disc of compost on my uniform shirt.  Exasperated by the back ache (I don't really care about the shirt.  It's going in the washing machine, and if it comes out still looking grubby that's tough) I outlined my idea for a mobile potting bench to the manager, who said it was a really good idea.  That is what my fellow back ache sufferer said yesterday afternoon when I described it to her, having just thought of it.  The snag is that the boss will never bother to get the gardener to make one.  Highly paid office workers who have to sit down all day get special orthopoedic chairs, but lowly paid garden centre workers who have to stand up all day are just supposed to cope.  I developed the prototype in my mind as I pulled dead leaves off Hemerocallis.  It would be at the right height to work standing up, without stooping, narrow enough to only take up half an aisle in the plant centre so that customers with trolleys could pass if they insisted, with space on top to rest a pot and put down your secateurs and knife, a low back to stop pots being pushed off, a bin of compost at the right height to reach it for top dressing without stooping, and a bucket for prunings at one end, below the height of the worktop so that you could sweep prunings straight in.  It would have wheels at one end for moving it along the aisle, and legs at the other so it didn't roll around (and you only had to buy two wheels).  It could have a shelf underneath for collecting up any dead or suspect plants encountered en route.  Using my new trolley I could work at a sensible height, using both hands to manipulate leaves and operate the secateurs, instead of having to do everything one handed while using the other hand to hold the pot.  The idea has to be a sure-fire winner.  I need to persuade the Systems Administrator to make me a prototype, having worked out how high 'the right height' actually is.  I tried out the idea on the S.A. briefly when I got home, and have agreement in principle.  The size of scantlings could be an issue.  When the S.A. built the chicken house, all the frames and planks came out a size thicker than specified in The Golden Cockerel Book of Poultry Houses, and when it was finished we could barely lift it and I almost ruptured myself helping to get it out of the workshop (although it did probably save the chicken's lives when a tree fell on it).  The patent Cardunculus portable potting bench needs to be as light as is consitent with not actually disintegrating during use.  I don't want to swop back ache for a hernia caused by trying to move the potting bench about, and the boss will get cross if it scuffs up the gravel.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Sunday working

So there is no respite from the R3 Breakfast show on Sundays.  This morning we were told that somebody was an under-rated composer, and invited to contact the programme saying whether we agreed, and that somebody else had possibly reinstated the guitar as the equal of the violin or cello.  Did we consider this to be the case?  Do please let R3 know via their website, and at 8.30am there will be a phone-in.  The tough choice facing us this evening between Downton Abbey and Spooks was mentioned (no, I won't be watching either programme) which led clunkily into the intro for a piece of Elgar.  Some Mendelssohn was said to be wonderful.  I never heard of Clemency Burton-Hill until yesterday, and her chirpy, determinedly let's not be elitist and instead make classical music accessible to the masses tones have already joined those of Ed Balls, Patricia Hewitt (nowadays mercifully silent), David Starkey and Nicholas Parsons introducing Just a Minute, as something to be avoided at almost all costs.  Except that the alternative at 7.30 on a Sunday morning driving to work is assorted dreary theologians.  And I used to really like R3 first thing on a Sunday.  Bother. Indeed B****r.

Work was moderately busy, as was yesterday.  Trade overall is rather subdued, and very lumpy.  Watering is a challenge as some plants are sopping wet, while others are bone dry.  We did our best to cater to each according to its needs, but inevitably some dry pots slipped past us.  I had left my wellingtons in the hall at home, which I realised as I got out of the car at work and couldn't find them.  Fortunately I avoided watering my feet.  I normally do water them, so wonder if there is an element of risk compensation when I have boots on, and if I am more careful when I don't have boots, or any dry shoes to change into.  But it might have been a matter of luck, and which lance I had.  I have got new Wellingtons, since the left boot of the old ones split over the toe and allowed water to pour in, even just walking through wet grass.  The new boots have got rather meaty treads, which seem to pick up a lot of gravel, mud, and anything else that's going.

I finished weeding and tidying the hostas and epimediums, and made a start on the hardy geraniums.  It's amazing how quickly they get weedy.  I remember doing all of them, not so many weeks ago.  It will soon be incorrect to compare weeding them to painting the Forth Bridge, since I saw on the news recently that they have painted that with a new weather resistant paint which is expected to last for ages between applications, so we will have to think of a new cliche.  By the end of the working day I had a large circle of mud on my stomach, from resting the bases of pots against it, and back-ache, from working at a bench that is critically too low.  My colleagues equally reported back-ache, though we all seemed to have it in different places.  I'm a low back sufferer myself.

There have been a lot of regular customers in over the weekend.  One of them today (with the ailing brother in London, who is stone deaf without her hearing aids but today she had them in) said how much she enjoyed the whole experience of visiting us.  It's good to hear that.  The contrasting cases of the two old ladies who called in yesterday is a fascinating study.  One of them is tiny, with visible osteoporosis, and is always extremely polite and very grateful for any help.  She has charmed all the staff, and gets a great deal of help.  If she wants a particular plant and the ones we have in stock are not awfully nice, we will order a few new ones rather than try to flog her an old one, and if she wants anything that might be hidden away behind the scenes we will run and look for her.  Her enquiry about plants with particular names, for a memorial garden, sent somebody trotting up to the office to consult the on-line Plantfinder.  Beyond being scrupulously polite, she never gives the impression that she wants us to like her.  The other old lady is about equally tiny, though less fragile.  She has the habit of buying things, taking them home, not liking them when she sees them in situ, and bringing them back.  She somehow gives the impression of being lonely, and wanting to be liked, while not always behaving like a proper customer, going and finding her own plants on the reserve bed, and trying to queue jump with queries.  The unfortunate result of her apparent neediness plus failure to quite observe the boundaries is that she is not liked, and members of staff try to leave somebody else to serve her.  One former colleague was reduced to going and hiding in the staff room.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

dumbing down

I left early for work this morning, to allow time to unpack the plants from the car.  I clicked the radio on, as I generally do when driving, and found it was tuned to Radio 3.  Normally I'm a current affairs junkie first thing in the morning, but the music was something stately on the piano, which I liked, so I left it there.  Then we got to the end of the piece, and I discovered that it was by Handel, and I began to learn what Max Davidson was on about in Thurday's Telegraph.  I'd already found the new format Essential Classics not to my taste, but this was the first time I'd sampled the new-sound Breakfast programme.  I have no quarrel with the music, but the continuity is quite toe-curlingly awful.

I know very little about classical music.  I can't read music, and I didn't play an instrument at school. Or at least, I didn't learn to play an instrument.  Aged nine or ten, I had one or two year's piano lessons with an elderly nun, who told me to bring my fingers down like little hammers, while I practiced some piece purporting to be about little Indians.  My parents bought a piano, an upright with a couple of stuck notes and candle sconces that rattled when it was played, which never saw a piano tuner after entering our house, and probably not for some time before that.  The piano was installed in an unheated room that was used as a combination of workshop and junk store, known as 'the first room' to distinguish it from 'the far room', which was even colder and equally full of junk.  Piano practice didn't go very well, and the lessons soon stopped.  My grandmother lamented that I would regret not being able to play an instrument when I was grown up, but appealing to a nine year old's future regrets is not an effective form of motivation.  As a teenager I learnt to play the guitar slightly, and by my twenties had worked out that I was totally devoid of the talent I admired in, say, Martin Simpson or The Police, and that it would be better all round if I desisted from guitar playing.  Likewise I taught myself to play tunes on the English concertina, as long as they weren't too fast, and to put in some basic harmonies, but when I heard people jeering at musicians that only ever used three chords, I was pretty sure I was such a one.  I have a folkie's ear for a tune, but I couldn't identify a dominant fifth if it jumped up and bit me.

Nonetheless I like classical music, and I like being able to listen to the whole of a piece, without advertisements for Specsavers.  I like being told something about the music, and the circumstances in which it was written.  If the composer is blissfully in love, or crushed by the death of his children, or oppressed by awareness of the coming war in Europe, that's quite interesting.  Likewise if he recycled bits of a piece he'd alread flogged to another patron, or was using the new possibilities opened up by advances in instrument design, that's good to know.  Or if the composer was influenced by another musician, or paying homage to them, or making a musical reference or joke, I like to be told.  I love the programme that takes a piece of music and dissects it in not too technical terms, pointing out how the theme played by the violins in the first movement has returned in the third movement but given to the woodwind section, or whatever.  I really like all that stuff.

We didn't get that in the Breakfast programme.  Instead we got repeated invitations to e-mail, or tweet, or even write, with our thoughts on bits of music related to weddings that meant something to us, and nominate which classic recordings we would pay a lot of money for (this introduced by some waffle about Pink Floyd).  We got exhortations to follow the programme on Facebook.  The Essential Classics is as bad, with the presenter repeatedly assuring us that she loves receiving all of our e-mails.  It's cringe making.  It's not just the content that's awful, it's the delivery.  I have noticed when I happen to see telly aimed at young children, or overhear a school group at a garden or museum, that many adults talking to groups of primary age children adopt a special voice of overdone enthusiasm.  I don't know if children like it, but I find it dreadfully embarassing, and I suspect I would have when I was nine.  Radio 3 has started talking to their audience in that tone, and it is so, so cringe-making.  I'm quite happy with a bit of chat from presenters who know how to do it, Radcliffe and Maconie being prime examples, but when they do it they sound natural.  I could believe that if they were down in the pub, or sat in each other's kitchens, they would still pooter on in that vein.  The poor wretched R3 presenters just sound phoney.

Of course radio stations have to move with the times.  My uncle was a R3 producer, back in the days before digital recording, when a lot of R3 output was of specially commissioned concerts.  He is a proper musician, with a first class honours in music, who can play the piano.  He considers the current reliance on CDs a retrograde step, whereas I'm quite happy with them.  If I hear something I like I can go and get my own copy.  I have just bought a Stephen Hough recording of Chopin's waltzes on the basis that I heard one on the way to work the other week, and liked it, plus I wanted the one used in the soundtrack of Waltz with Bashir anyway.  A few years ago one of the Radio 4 satirical sketch shows did a very cruel piss-take of Radio 3 along the lines of 'Somebody got up and made a cup of tea in the middle.  There's always someone who has to ruin it for everybody.  Now we'll start again from the beginning and listen, very quietly'.  Radio 3 shouldn't be pompous, or stuffy, and it sometimes has been.  But couldn't the audience be given some credit for simply wanting to hear some good music, intelligently explained.  Spare us the phone-ins and the cheerleading.

Friday, 23 September 2011


I planted more crocus bulbs in the bottom lawn today, one hundred each of Crocus tommasinianus 'Ruby Giant' and 'Barr's Purple'.  I planted a couple of Cyclamen hederifolium in the border as well, and the ground is still dry.  Two hundred divots of turf is enough to lift in one day, to avoid ending up with a blister on one's palm.  It looks a bit pink anyway, and I was trying to grasp the handle rather than press down on the end.

I used to have a good population of crocus in the borders at the bottom of the garden, mostly named varieties of C. chrysanthus, but they were badly attacked by voles (or mice, or something) last winter.  I don't know if that was because the weather was so particularly harsh, or whether the rodent population is simply increasing as the garden matures.  I find a lot of little holes in the borders when I'm weeding, and we disturbed a couple of voles (or something) when we were scrantling the long grass.  One of them got scrantled, so they must not be as good at ducking under the blades as the toads.  The rodents dig down to find the crocus bulbs, which they eat, tossing discarded stems around.  Unless it was the muntjac.  Some of the few surviving clumps were tucked in close the the base of shrubs and under the protection of their stems, which I wouldn't think made any difference to a vole.  The crocus in the grass fared better for some reason.  Maybe they were harder to find, or harder work to dig up.

Two hundred bulbs spread over a large lawn don't really go very far.  My hope is that they will spread and multiply, since Crocus tommasinianus are supposed to be excellent naturalisers, and that if I add some bulbs each year, nature will increase them and do the rest.  That has been my policy with the snowdrops, and the cyclamen, which are not cheap to buy.  This year there is a good crop of cyclamen seedlings, after many years when I didn't seem to get any, so perhaps the plants appreciate my annual applications of leaf mould, or perhaps it helps that the current generation of chickens don't go into the back garden.  Some people advise you to pot up cyclamen seedlings and grow them on in individual pots in the greenhouse, which sounds like an excellent policy if you have the time.  Given how frantic it gets in my greenhouse, and how crowded, I suspect they would be very likely to be over or underwatered, or get too hot at some point in the summer, and that they are better off taking their chances in the border, under the shade of the wild gean.

Still to plant, or pot up, is the bag of Anemone blanda (blue) bulbs.  I much prefer blue to the other colours when it comes to Anemone blanda.  The bulbs are funny little black, knobbly things, which are supposed to be soaked in water overnight to rehydrate them before planting.  I keep forgetting to put them to soak on an evening when I'm going to be working in the garden the next day.  They don't last well in the garden, dwindling after a few years, and I don't know if that's because the growing conditions don't quite suit them and they die, or whether the rodents are eating them as well.

The only other unplanted bulbs are the tulips, which don't want to go in until November anyway.  I have tried to be restrained this year in my bulb orders, since they are fripperies in comparison to getting various bits of the borders sorted out.  It was such a beautiful day today outside.  Fingers crossed we have a good October and run up to Christmas, so that I can have a proper go at the things that still need digging out, and get the areas replanted, or ready for replanting in the spring.  Which is ridiculous, since what I hope for will make absolutely no difference to what the weather does.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

and another talk

Tonight I'm doing another talk, not a charity one, but a private enterprise talk to a gardening club, titled 'Colour and Interest in the Autumn Garden'.  I've just got back from work, as they kindly let me borrow plants to use as props.  I'll take them back in with me on Saturday, to keep the driving about to the minimum.  It's not a desperately remunerative activity, by the time you've taken into account all the time spent collecting plants and getting to the venue, but it's usually good fun, and I've met some nice people that way.  Also it keeps my hand in talking to groups, which might come in use again professionally at some point.  If I ran my own nursery then I'd get the profits on the sale of any plants that the audience like the sound of so much they want to take them home, but as it is proceeds on plant sales go to the boss.

Using live plants as props means that I never know in advance exactly what is going to be available, which gives a frisson of variety to each talk, compared with ploughing through the same set of slides each time.  Plus I get to keep the lights on, and am able to make eye contact with the audience throughout.  Some organisers say they actually prefer it as a format compared to slides, for those reasons, and I think quite a lot of people do enjoy the opportunity to see and touch the actual plants.  It can be difficult with species that don't do so well or last so long in pots, as they can be looking fantastic growing in the ground, when in their black plastic pots they have gone terribly manky, or been cut down already.  It is then up to me to describe their many virtues so that people can imagine how lovely they would be, if they weren't so horrible.  While I was picking out today's Skoda-full a colleague told me that somebody had been in recently and bought three plants of Ribes laurifolium on the strength of one of my talks (that would be Gardening for Bees) when at the time I hadn't even had a plant to show the audience because we'd been out of stock for months, so I must have managed to make that one sound nice.  Actually, it is very nice (or at least my plant is.  A friend who is a good gardener planted one over her dog's grave, and it died).

Plants for autumn colour include things that flower now, plus those with berries or leaf colour.  Not too much leaf colour, since that's more of an October thing, and anyway the car was full of flowers.  The plants in pots will be augmented by a few things picked from the garden, either because we had run out, or because they had finished flowering prematurely in their pots, or in the case of trees because I couldn't fit them in the car.  Fingers crossed the cut things don't shrivel up too much before about 8.30pm, which is the point at which I should have finished talking.

I try to take some rarities, but nothing too impossibly difficult.  People like to see something a bit different, but there's no point in lecturing them exclusively about plants that they would need several acres of space, or twice East Anglia's rainfall, to have any chance of growing them successfully.  I arrange the plants by theme, then pick each one up in turn, and tell the audience what the plant's main attractions are at the key points of the year, and how to grow it, in terms of what situation it would like to grow in, how to prune it if at all, and so on.  If the plant has interesting historical associations or medical uses or any other bit of associated lore that springs to mind then I chuck those in as well.

Tonight's goodies include a white flowered form of Lespedeza (less common than the purple ones, and we'd run out of purple); Buddleia crispa, a rare and tender form of buddleia with beautiful rounded leaves which I'm very tempted to try myself; a good form of Euonymus; and Abelia shcumannii, which you don't see as often as A. x grandiflora.  If time permits, the Abelia will act as a springboard to talk about one or two other rare-ish Abelia as well.

It all sounds rather hand knitted out of tofu, and when I started off I was slightly doubtful that the audience would wear it as a format, though I knew that the manager generally talks from plants rather than slides.  Maybe nowadays, when every house contains about three televisions and digital images are two a penny thanks to the internet, an actual live human being standing holding a live plant, and telling you about it while looking at you, has a sort of retro charm.  At any rate, it's my second visit to this club, so they know what they're getting.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

another talk

I've just got back from another woodland charity talk.  It was to a Townswomen's Guild, and they were a considerate group of ladies, who opted to put me on first, then conduct their Guild business after the tea break, when I had safely packed up and was on my way back home.  I have sat through a lot of club business over the years, and it is interesting, in a sort of Alan Bennett something overheard way, if you are of a nosy disposition and curious about how society organises itself, but still it's nice when people think that you might have other stuff to do besides listening to the minutes of their last meeting being read, followed by a thank you for their fund raising efforts letter from the Air Ambulance, and a reminder that bookings are being taken now for the November theatre trip, and an update on who is ill and how their operations went.  They said they liked the talk, and one of them wanted my details because she helps run a WI branch and other societies and thought the talk mught be useful for those.  Further bookings from people who have already heard me speak are always reassuring.

Beyond that there isn't a lot to say about it, as I wrote at length about talks last week.  The church hall was exactly where the map made it look as though it ought to be, I was not caught up in traffic jams on the A12, the projector bulb didn't blow.  Having read the instructions on the side of the machine while I was waiting for proceedings to start, once I'd finished setting up, I saw that if the bulb failed I had to let the machine cool for a minimum of 45 minutes before extracting the old one.  On that basis I don't know why I bother to carry a spare, since no audience is going to want to wait for that long before the talk recommences.

The trouble with afternoon meetings is that they do take out a lot of the day.  I extracted my odd super of honey in the morning, which had been sitting on the kitchen worktop for several days pending a convenient moment to do something about it.  The Systems Administrator, as chief cook, had intimated that it was a tiny bit in the way, and become progressively less inclinded to avoid frying onions or performing other high-odour culinary operations.  I could see it was in the way, and I didn't want the honey to end up smelling of onions, or curry, once I'd established that it was good honey and not from the ivy.  The trouble with extracting one super (not even full) is that you end up with only a finger's depth of honey in the bottom of your honey bucket, and still have the work of washing the equipment afterwards as much as if it were a couple of buckets full.  Once I'd finished with the honey, and checked that the projector and extension cable still worked, and run through the talk, there was an odd little bit of time left that wasn't long enough to be worth going out into the garden, or starting to do anything in particular.

Driving back it looked like a beautiful sunny afternoon, which it was, but once I got home I realised it was also extremely windy.  The Systems Administrator having finished today's stint painting the house had just released the chickens, and was wandering around with a deckchair looking for somewhere that was in the sun but out of the wind to sit.  I don't think there is such a place in the front garden at this hour of the afternoon.  Apparently the house-painting is going very well.  The S.A. had to saw a small piece off the frame of the bedroom dormer window to fit the top layer of scaffolding into the available space, but says it will be easy to put back afterwards.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

in the conservatory

The first Hedychium gardnerianum flower has come out in the conservatory.  I smelt it as soon as I went in there to do the watering, before I even saw it.  They are very beautiful flowers, spikes of soft yellow trumpets with orange protruding stamens.  Until Google come up with Google Smell you will just have to take my word about the scent.  H. gardnerianum is a good value pot plant, flowering over quite a long period.  I also have 'Tara', which has lovely spikes in a mellow shade of orange, that sadly don't last for very long, and have been and gone by now.  Both of these make large plants, with leaf spikes up to 2m tall, which have a tendency to lean out from the clump, so an established plant, which will happily fill a 45cm pot, needs a fair allocation of floorspace.  They grow from spreading rhizomes, like a bearded iris, and when they get to the edge of the pot you can saw them up into smaller lumps and start again.

Also flowering is the Correa, or Australian fuchsia.  The flowers are pendant and bell-shaped, hence the common name, although the shrub doesn't really look anything like a fuchsia.  Mine is the variety 'Peachy Cream', which has yellow and pink flowers, no scent.  The leaves are evergreen, small and rounded, and slightly prone to insect attack leading to sooty mould, which it is impossible to wash off the individual tiny leaves as you could with something bigger.  I've tried Correa in the ground, and lost them, and nowadays stick to growing this one under cover.  They make rapid growth, are quite amenable to being griven a trim to keep them within their allotted space, and apart from the slight insect problem seem to make good long-term subjects for pots.

The first of my Camellia sasanqua has just finished its second flower.  This is the variety 'Plantation Pink', which by coincidence is the one photographed in Noel Kingsbury's article on how to grow them.  Presumably that means it is a relatively common one.  C. sasanqua are earlier to flower than the more familiar C. japonica and C. x williamsii, and in my experience not as easy to grow.  They are said to be relatively tender, and to require more sunlight than other camellia species, so I thought they sounded like ideal candidates for a west-facing conservatory, but they also seem to be much pickier about the watering regime.  Too much or too little and the leaves go brown at the tip end, and the buds mummify on the plant.  For several years they suffered from being grouped together out of the way in a corner for the long months when they were not in bloom, so now each has its own space, near the window at the sunnier end of the room, so that I can see properly how wet they are, and only water when needed but without letting them dry out.  The crop of buds is looking promising so far.  They make rather lanky plants, and I might follow Noel Kinsgsbury's advice and give them a trim after flowering.

Up the back wall the Plumbago auriculata is producing its sky-blue flowers, which are very pretty, and make me forgive the fact that I know that later the leaves will go brown without falling from the plant, and I will have to pick them off.  On the other side of the lead water spout (electric pump still trickling away, so that's another polar bear doomed) is the climbing Fuchsia 'Lady Boothby'.  This was a present from a friend who had bought about nine in a newpaper readers' offer, which was several more than he required for his own purposes.  Poor 'Lady Boothby' was left outside during the winter of 2009-10, and I thought she had perished.  A frail shoot appeared, but she spend all of last year recovering her strength, and I decided that she had better live inside.  She has large, red and purple typical fuchsia flowers, similar to classic varieties like 'Mrs Popple', and is quite a climber.  Her topmost tip in the conservatory must be approaching 3m, if not there.

Tropaeolum 'Ken Aslet' has not flowered at all.  This is a complete mystery to me.  I did ask the manager at work, but he said it was a mystery to him too.  Maybe it needs a bigger pot.  The tuber was only about the size of a conker, so a huge pot seemed silly.  Maybe it wants seaweed, or tomato food, or to be in stronger light?  Who knows?  However, a Hoya that another friend gave me, who rooted it from a plant that belonged to her grandmother, has suddenly gone a darker shade of green and is looking more decidedly alive, having made some new leaves.  It has been desperately, awfully slow to make roots, and at one point I thought I'd killed it.  I did kill my white flowered Begonia evansiana (much less usual than the pink) but it cropped up again this years as a squatter in a pot of Cautleya (a miniature ginger lily relative), so it must have managed to make a few bulbils on its stems last year.  I peered hopefully at this year's leaf axils in search of baby plantlets, but there are none properly developed yet.  It's lucky I didn't weed them out, as the pink flowered form spreads itself so generously it could almost be a weed.

I like the conservatory very much.  Having a proper garden room, with lights and electric plugs, that doesn't leak or rattle or let the wind howl through it and can be kept frost-free in winter, that I am allowed to fill with plants, gives me the same buzz that owning a really, really good luxury car might give a petrol-head.

Monday, 19 September 2011

stocking up for autumn

Stock is now arriving in the plant centre in quantity, ready for the autumn selling season.  I hope we do sell it.  The manager ran a stand for us yesterday at the Helmingham Hall rare plant fair, and trade was slack.  Everybody seems to have had a bad year, so our sales weren't helped by the fact that other stallholders were knocking out plants (by now potbound) at massive discounts to avoid being left with them over the winter.

A delivery of shrubs came in some time last week, while I wasn't there.  Some of these were lined up in confusing trolley loads behind the shop, the same variety split between more than one trolley but not yet carrying our labels with price, description, and most crucially, name.  The grower just sends them out in batches with a single label to cover all ten or twenty plants of each variety, and it is a very good idea to keep them in their groups and not muddle them up until you've tagged them.  Some of the plants were intended to go out for sale straight away, and others to be stored behind the scenes in the tunnel on the other side, to replenish stock in the plant centre as needed over the coming months.  It wasn't clear to me which were which, and it didn't seem to have been clear to the staff working over the weekend either.  The manager startled me with a howl of rage as I was watering in one of the tunnels, which initially made me think that maybe he wanted the abutilons and Lobelia tupa to be really dry and that it was my mistake to have watered them, but it turned out that they were not supposed to be in that tunnel at all.

The boss is in the process of buying a new tractor.  I thought this was quite an encouraging sign, but it turned out that his hand was forced, because the old tractor had begun to give off such copious amounts of smoke that it was unusable.  This may have had something to do with our attempts to run it on paraffin (left over from the old tunnel heater) instead of diesel.  There again, it was a very old tractor.  The proposed new model was delivered for the gardeners to inspect, and they looked as engrossed as you would expect two blokes to be, given the prospect of a shiny new mechanical toy.

While the gardeners and the boss were putting the potential new tractor through its paces, an articulated lorry-load of trees arrived.  We ask our suppliers not to send artics, since they won't go up the drive, but I expect that an artic is all some of them have.  This one had to park out on the road, and the boss refused to interupt the tractor trials so that the gardeners could help unload the trees, so the rest of us had to plod up and down the drive with trolleys out of the garden centre, six trees at a time.  The driver must have thought that we were taking the piss.  Eventually the gardeners came to help with a big trailer, and things speeded up.  Our most long-standing employee came to help, who works part time behind the scenes potting and weeding, but the manager's self-appointed guardian told her that we could manage without her, and that it got confusing with too many people.  The longest-serving member of staff said that the manager had told her to come over, but that she would go back to her proper work, and retreated fuming to the polytunnel.

We were one member of staff down, due to illness, and so after the excitement of the trees I found myself largely confined to the shop.  Occassionally the manager would suggest I could move trolleys of this and that, but customers can get into the shop and feel as though they have been unattended for a very long time in less than the time it takes to unload a trolley of plants, so that isn't a very easy piece of multi-tasking to pull off.  I did manage to make some phone calls to let people know that their stuff had arrived.  Sometimes I just got their anwerphone, but one woman sounded really pleased.

The extra-tender and extra-beautiful 'Azureum' form of Teucrium fruticans had come in since the last time I was at work, so I put one aside with my name on it, to go in our turning circle in due course.  No ginger scented rosemary yet, but I live in hope.  I was tempted by a rather tender species of buddleia, B. crispa, with lovely rounded felty leaves, but I'll ponder that before committing.  I do have a collection of plants waiting to go in the ground, and am trying to deal with them before buying too many more.  It is easy to be tempted when rarities turn up, though, since if I don't grab my chance I might not get another for a year, if not longer.  I still wish I'd bought a plant of a particularly long-flowering white Weigela I'd had my eye on, before the grower supplying us and the liner nursery supplying them both ceased trading.  I've never seen one since.

At home the Systems Administrator had the sad task of disposing of the body of the old lady hen, who took bad yesterday and died in the night.  She was pretty old, for a chicken.  I think we got her in 2005, and she lived through a fox attack and was a feisty creature in her day.  In recent months she had got reluctant to venture out of the run, though she did come out for a nice walk about on Friday afternoon, and we guessed her time was drawing to a close.  It is sad to see her go, when we had known her for so long, but maybe less sad than when young hens fall prey to the fox.  Chickens seem a bit like fighter pilots.  If they survive the first few weeks of conflict their chances of survival rise considerably.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

hedge cutting

I spent today trimming the Eleagnus x ebbingei hedge, or at least the side of it that faces the drive.  The Systems Adminstrator had made a start, but the hedge was growing to a point where it was getting impossible for delivery vehicles to get around the turning circle, and since the S.A. is also trying to paint the back of the house and change the gutters, and take the truck for its MOT (fingers crossed on that one), it was agreed that I'd step in as officer in charge of hedges.

It is a large hedge, in every sense.  It is over thirty paces long, stretching from the corner of the house almost to the boundary, and is up to the eaves, the equivalent of two storeys high, and starting to tickle the electricity cable.  It would like to be equally wide, but then we wouldn't be able to get up the drive.  It was planted as a wind-break, and to divide the garden internally between front and back, and it fulfils both of these tasks.  Blackbirds nest in it each spring, and birds, including the chickens, eat the fruits.  At this time of the year it has small, unshowy white flowers that are deliciously scented of old-fashioned clove carnations, and indeed I feel very mean trimming them off, except that it has to be reduced if we are to have an oil delivery, or a new mattress, or a pallet of strulch, or before long for us to use the turning circle at all, even in a small Skoda.

Eleagnus x ebbingei is an evergreen.  The old leaves are olive green, the new ones silvery.  It will tolerate strong winds, including coastal ones, and poor, dry soil, otherwise it would not be growing so well in our garden.  It has the ability to fix nitrogen itself, a trick shared by other members of its family.  It makes long, wand-like new stems, but is not honestly a very graceful or architectural shrub.  And it grows fast, and wants to grow very large.  When I had a part-time gardening job one summer vacation while I was at Writtle, one of the gardens we tended had an Eleagnus x ebbingei hedge.  The house was fairly new, the garden as small as modern front gardens are, and the hedge can't have been there very long.  I can't believe it's there now.  Within a few years it would have completely filled the garden and covered the front of the house.

Trimming and pruning works up to a point, but the woody structure inside the outer green layer gets inexorably bulkier and more massive.  We don't attempt to use an electric hedge trimmer on ours (which would look awful anyway as the leaves are quite large).  Instead we trace new growths back to a leaf node, and take them out in such a way as to try and promote new growth from inside the plant.  We still get left with old, knobbly ends to the branches, that have been cut back to numerous times, and each time we cut the hedge we lop or saw out some of the most prominent, again trying to stimulate new growth from within.  Eleagnus x ebbingei will break from old wood, but it does so grudgingly, and it's better not to leave large bare patches, as they take a long time to cover themselves.

The appearance immediately after pruning is not very satisfactory, neither crisp and formal nor informal, and it's worse now the hedge is so large that I can't reach the middle of the top from the stepladder, so a rough faced-up front ends in a tufty top of unpruned wands.  I know now that I should have used hornbeam.  It might have taken a few more years to get cover, but after that we would have had a quality barrier that would have outlasted our time in the house.  The poor old Eleagnus never looks entirely smart, even as it filters the wind and blocks the view as required.  The final element of anxiety comes from my realisation, several years after planting the hedge, that it is not reckoned to be a long-live shrub.  Ours has had odd bits of die-back, particularly in the area where there are the remains of the root system of a mature oak (the tree came down in a storm before we bought the house, but the roots remained to make a nuisance of themselves).  Overall, however, it is still looking pretty well.  In fact this autumn it is looking healthier than it has for a while.  I don't know why.  The weather must have suited it.  But one of these days, maybe soon, who knows, one or two of the plants will die, and then I shall be left with a quandary whether to hire a mini-digger, rip out the hedge, and start again with hornbeam as I should have done in the first place.  Which would be very nice once it had grown up, but think of the uncomfortable, exposed years first.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

day trip to Biggleswade

Today we went to Old Warden Park near Biggleswade, the home of the Shuttleworth Trust.  It has, in the normal way of things, an historic garden, a collection of vintage aeroplanes and a collection of birds of prey, and in the middle weekend of September it hosts the Bedfordshire Steam Country Fayre.  Old Warden Park belonged to the Shuttleworth family, and was set up as a charitable trust to support education in aviation and farming, in memory of the heir to the estate who was killed in a flying accident in WWII.

I didn't know this when I originally suggested a visit, since the only part of it I knew of was the Swiss Garden, which features in garden visiting guides and is a Historic Garden Grade II*.  It was laid out in the 1820s in a picturesque style for the owner's Swiss mistress, with a Swiss cottage, canals crossed by ornate iron bridges (made by Emma Hamilton's uncle), and wiggly paths.  It was added to by the Victorians, who built a raised terrace and a Pulhamite rockery, and it possesses a vast number of urns, cast iron seats, garden shelters and other eyecatchers.  It was restored in the 1980s by Bedfordshire County Council who now own it (or at least did when my 2006 Good Gardens Guide went to press).  It is a charming garden, not necessarily a plantsman's paradise, though we saw a very nice Hydrangea villosa, but atmospheric and historically interesting, and the Swiss cottage is quite something.  Hexagonal, thatched, covered walkway running most of the way round the outside supported by rustic pillars, fir cone decoration on the ceiling.  It was locked today, and looking at the rows of gold chairs (like the ones that large hotels use for corporate dinners) and other furnishings I should say it is licenced for weddings.

We walked through the aircraft collection, really little more than a recce to see what was there.  I am afraid of flying, can tell you what the Venturi effect is without believing it in any intuitive sense, and know practically nothing about aeroplanes, so my appreciation is limited to odd observations like thinking how much a German glider looked like an Alexander Calder mobile.  The Systems Administrator loves aviation history and does know about aeroplanes, and said that this was the best collection of small and early planes in the country.  Most of them are in working order, and the collection does flying displays though not today, so the S.A. will be back.  As well as the aeroplanes there are great quantities of aviation stuff, propellors (which reminded me of that David Hemmings film Blowup), photos, obituaries of great aviators, a menu of an aviation dinner, a model of the Wright brother's homemade wind tunnel, clothing.  There was a leather aviator's coat (as distinct from bomber jacket) complete with diagonal map pocket on the chest, which I reckon you could copy and put straight into the TOAST catalogue.

We didn't actually go into the birds of prey centre, as while they are interesting creatures I saw lots at the Tendring Show in July, and the big draw this weekend was the Bedfordshire Steam Country Fayre, or rather the steam bit.  The steam engines were really, really good.  We saw a demonstration of steam ploughing (engines at each end of the field pull the plough on wires between them, the plough being double ended so you don't even have to turn it round to go back the other way.  Faster than horse ploughing, apparently).  We saw a steam thresher in action (which reminded me of a very vulgar folk song, but we won't go into that now) and several steam saw mills, ranging from a large engine powering a saw that was sectioning tree trunks to a small engine that was driving a workshop sized saw bench.  We saw huge traction engines designed to pull heavy loads, little ones designed for light industrial or general agricultural use, and scale models.  We saw steam rollers.  Then there were steam lorries, and steam generators providing the power for a fairground and a competing myriad of fairground organs.  I adore fairground organs.  Many were originally from Belgium and Holland, but there was one 86 pipe one that had been built by somebody who wanted an 86 pipe organ and couldn't afford to buy an original, so decided the solution was to build one.  The fact that he knew nothing about organ building was what the S.A. and I would call a bourgeois technical detail.  It took him twelve years, and he had very understanding neighbours, apparently.

The real glory of all these steam vehicles was that they moved about.  I had assumed that they would be in steam, but standing on their pitches, occassionally summoned forward by marshalls in controlled groups to parade around a ring.  They did parade around a ring, but they also wandered about, in among the visitors, with the odd hoot or slowing down if a pedestrian seemed not to have noticed them, and good natured negotiations when several arrived at a junction simultaneously.  Some had small children riding in the cabs, or on the backs of the lorries.  In these days of Health and Safety it seemed incredible, but nobody got run over while we were there.  People, aware that they must take care and trusted not to behave like idiots, do seem to be capable of behaving sensibly.  Who'd have thought it?

There were lots of dogs, who seemed to enjoy the steam engines, and all sorts of other vintage things that had got in on the act.  Motorbikes, vintage caravans, old gardening tools, military vehicles.  I am rather regretful that I have somehow missed seeing a collection of historic jelly moulds.  The Country bit of the Fayre (dreadful word but that's what they called it) was generally rather ramshackle, and we limited ourselves to a pint and a pasty.  There were enough loos, and we didn't have to queue getting in or out.  The princely cost of admission to all these delights was £10 each, which left us scratching our heads given that entry to the permanent attractions without the steam rally is normally £12.  I consider that an absolute bargain.  Next year's Fayre runs from the 14th to 16th September, and I suspect we may not go in 2012 (it clashes with a milestone birthday and something a little more glamorous than a trip to Biggleswade might be called for) but it is a brilliant event.  My only complaint is that I have got soot on my sunhat.

Friday, 16 September 2011


I trimmed one of my topiary yews today.  I only have two, at opposite ends of the long bed in the front garden.  Most of the planting throughout the garden is billowing and informal, and I suppose the yews are slightly incongruous, in terms of their formality, and because they are not merely formal but old-fashioned, consisting of cake-stand tiers over solid bases, and a pom-pom on top.  With the modern house, I suppose they should be some irregular free-form sculptural shape.  They have come out the way they are just because that was my idea of a topiary yew.  The prototypical clipped yew.  I can say that they are post-modern, that will explain them.  They are slightly wonky because I am not very good at cutting formal shapes, and I still haven't got the line of their shoulders right, but I'm fond of them.  They are not even closely matched for shape or size, as the two plants turned out to have markedly different patterns of growth, one more upright than the other.  The taller of the two has reached its absolute maximum height ever, because if I let it get any taller I won't be able to reach the top to trim it, even standing on the top of the stepladder.  Thus our own dimensions are written into our gardens.  If I were a taller gardener I would have slightly bigger topiary.

I found a birds' nest in one of them a few years ago when I came to clip it, hidden away in the pom-pom.  It was in very good condition, and after treating it with flea spray it now lives on the hall dresser, tucked in next to the artisan pottery.  I was hoping I'd be able to do the same thing with the robins' nest in the greenhouse, and instal it in the conservatory, preferably with a joke Christmas decoration robin in it, but by the time they'd finished with it, the nest had largely disintegrated.  I'll keep my eye out for another in a better state as I cut things back this winter.

I've been reading Monty Don's Ivington Diaries.  There is somebody who loves clipped hedges.  Box, hornbeam, pleached lime.  It is an interesting and readable book, printed on nice paper.  But I couldn't be doing with all that clipping myself, which is one reason why we have very little formal hedging.  Grow what you will enjoy looking after, in a private garden you maintain yourself.  Though I am gradually adding more patches of box, in dry or dark areas, that will be cloud pruned to informal mounds as they grow together.  They should function as ground cover, and provide some structure in the winter when many herbaceous plants have been cut down, and deciduous shrubs are mere piles of twigs.  I find it reassuring at such times to have something 3D to look at.

Tomorrow we are off to see the Swiss Garden, which we were going to visit in the summer but discovered that on the day we were due to be there access would be restricted for an open-air performance of Shakespeare.  This weekend they are hosting a steam rally, which means traction engines.  I really don't understand how they work (I mean, I know the broad theory of using steam to move a piston, but I don't understand how they work in any practical sense.)  I like looking at them though, all that paint and gleaming brass, and I like the hissing noises and the smell of coal smoke.  So if Cardunculus fails to post tomorrow it is because we got back from Biggleswade very late.  Though there should be time, while the Systems Administrator does the supper.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

a lovely day

Today was a beautiful early autumn day, or maybe late summer, like you hope it's going to be at this time of the year.  I snipped dead heads off the dahlias, and thought how many buds there now were, and how I must be more generous with the tomato food next year.

Some weeks ago I did something I had told myself I musn't do (and don't so much, nowadays), and bought a plant I didn't have a clear place in mind for.  It was a small but vigorous-looking specimen of Clematis 'Bill Mackenzie', a tangutica form with delicate yellow flowers in late summer followed by seed heads like puffs of silk.  I justified the purchase by telling myself that I had a large garden, and there must be a shrub somewhere for it to ramble over.  No suitable host immediately presented itself, given that I was limited to the less sandy parts of the garden, but my previous plant in a similar vein (the cultivar 'Helios') had failed to thrive in the heavy clay of the far rose bed (failed to thrive is a euphemism for died after a couple of seasons).  The yellow flowers were also an issue.  I love yellow and orange flowers, and am always gently amused by the customers we get at work who obviously believe that to declare a hatred of yellow flowers is a mark of genteel good taste.  However, yellow flowers scrambling over, say, the pinkish white rose 'Sally Holmes' and pink hydrangeas was not going to work.  Just before the weekend I suddenly saw the spot, a clipped, bird-sown dome of holly with two young Callicarpa bodinieri 'Profusion' in front.  Delicate yellow flowers draped over the dark green holly leaves would look just right, and if the flowering overlapped with the ripening of either the purple Callicarpa berries or the yellow-berried Cotoneaster salicifolia 'Rothschildianus' behind then so much the better.  I am never very good at remembering or predicting flowering times, and anyway they vary so much according to weather.

I also succumbed on Monday and bought a plant of the shrubby potentilla 'Daydawn'.  It has nice, apricot-tangerine coloured flowers, and this afternoon it went into the long bed in the front garden.  I had thought it might fit in between a new pittosporum and the Colutea x media 'Copper Beauty', but when I looked at the spacing there wasn't really room for a third shrub.  Instead I removed a Hibiscus that had made only tiny amounts of growth in a decade, and this year developed mottled leaves that didn't respond to feeding, making me suspect a virus was at play, and not just drought and starvation.  One of my resolutions for improving the garden is to remove various plants that are not thriving, and have not picked up despite improved cultivation.  In the long bed a Choisya 'Aztec Pearl' and a Lonicera nitida 'Baggesen's Gold' are for eviction, as soon as I'm feeling energetic about wielding the pickaxe, as it has turned out to be too dry for them.  The Choisya is always stunted and the 'Baggesen's Gold' full of dead twigs, and no amount of mushroom compost or blood fish and bone has made any difference.  I don't mind watering recent plantings, until they are properly established, but mature shrubs have to be able to look after themselves.

I was chatting to a customer at the weekend and they had experienced dieback in a mature Cotinus after a dry spell, and it responded well to having the dead bits pruned out, followed by feeding and watering.  I think I will try and revive the purple leaved Cotinus in the long bed before giving up on it, because it did do OK for years and had at least made decent growth before its recent setback, whereas the Choisya never thrived from the start.  I had got as far as setting up the hose to run on the Cotinus, when it was annexed by the Systems Administrator, who took advantage of the light wind blowing away from the lettuce field to start burning the great pile of stuff up by the compost bins. and wanted the hose on hand in case of accidents.  Some of yesterday's grass went, but I think we need more dry prunings to help things along.  The grass made a lot of smoke.  I like the smell of bonfire smoke, and find it very evocative of autumn, though I believe it is dreadfully bad for one.

Addendum  The news of over £1billion losses run up by a rogue trader at UBS seems to support the idea that splitting out the trading elements of banks from the bits with your and my savings in them would be a very good thing.  Granted, the bank in this case is not British, but why exactly should the taxpayer be standing as guarantor for trading activities intended to make profits for the bank?  I asked the Systems Administrator whether the problem with risk control in banks nowadays was that derivative products were so complicated that it was impossible to understand what risks were being taken, but the S.A. said that actually the products were not that complicated.  The problem was that many front office staff were quite fantastically aggressive and unpleasant, and the management were unable or unwilling to control them.  In his last City job, a clerk who queried the activities of one of the fund managers was told that 'you're in the back office so you can f**k off'.  The head of the back office played the tapes to the fund manager's boss and requested that he be sacked, but it didn't happen.  Or at least, not then.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


We scrantled two acres today.  Well, not two acres, but the daffodil lawn and the long grass in the lower part of the garden.  It hadn't been cut since last winter, and was ceasing to be a thing of beauty, and approaching that dangerous stage where, if we keep getting rain, we can't cut it because it is wet, and then the grass all falls over and it really is impossible to cut at all.  The first half of September is the time to do it.  We visited Great Dixter on this day, nine years ago, and their meadows were all cut down.

The scrantler is a petrol driven power scythe.  The Systems Administrator bought it at Chelsea some years back.  We had parted company for an hour or so as we usually do, each to look at their favourite bits at their own pace (the floral marquee in my case) and when we met the S.A. said 'I've bought you a present' and I had visions of a stainless steel water feature.  In fact it was the power scythe, which turned out to be much more useful.  Before we had it we cut the long grass either by smashing into it with the lawn tractor on its highest setting, which caused the engine and gears to whine horribly and can't have done it any good at all, or else I walked up and down swinging a heavy duty strimmer.  That was punishingly hard on the back and I am definitely too old and stiff for that sort of caper nowadays.

The power scythe was soon christened the scrantler, in homage to Stella Gibbons' peerless book (thought the film version with Kate Beckinsale before Hollywood ate her, and a young and ridiculously handsome Rufus Sewell was pretty good as well).  We both make references to Cold Comfort Farm, with cries of What about the spring onion harvest, that be man's work, when there is some heavy duty task to be done, clettering dishes, and I did, F. Poste as a rejoinder to a repeated question.  Sometimes I feel like Aunt Ada Doom, with my enthusiasm for looking at the church of any village I visit (Wymondham,see 24th March; Clavering, see 12th August), and anything by a journalist with an unlikely name is likely to remind me of Flora's conclusion that Mr Mybug must be a genius, otherwise he would have changed his name by deed poll.

The scrantler chops down the long grass in a slightly ragged fashion, but the cuttings can go on the bonfire heap, and once the surface of the lawn is exposed to the sun and wind and dries out some more, the S.A. will be able to go over it with the conventional mower.  My job is to rake up the fallen grass and help load it into the trailer.  An awful lot comes off, but it hasn't been cut all year.  We always disturb some toads in the course of this exercise, ranging in size from tinies smaller than my thumb to big fat ones.  Fortunately they seem to be able to duck down below the height of the cutter blades, though it must be terrifying for them as the machine goes overhead.  Most of them instinctively make for the nearest edge of the lawn, and I always wonder how they do that, though one small one today was heading back towards the middle.  We pick them up carefully and put them in a border before they can be scrantled, or raked up.

My remaining task is to cut the sloping side of the daffodil lawn by hand, as it is too steep for the machine, and to cut the tufts on it, as there isn't room to get the lawn tractor in and it is very uneven due to the huge number of anthills.  I expect the woodpeckers will deal with some of those soon enough.  There is quite a lot of work still to do,but the key thing is that  the weather-critical part for which I need the Systems Administrator to muck in, as I can't even start the scrantler, is safely done.  A good afternoon's work.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

talking for charity

Today I gave my first woodland conservation charity talk of the autumn.  I joined the charity sometime back in the 1980s, because I liked trees and it sounded like a good cause, but only started volunteering for them when I gave up commuting and City life. (Mind you, that is eleven years ago by now.)  While doing my London job I couldn’t have got home in time, even assuming that I hadn’t got evening work commitments that day and that the trains hadn’t been late.  Once I was free of the shackles of commuting (man is born free, and is everywhere in trains, as Tiresius says in Notes from the Overground.  It is out of print but you can pick up copies second hand for peanuts.) I was able to volunteer.

I went to a slightly ambiguous session for potential speakers, which might have been either them vetting us for suitability, or else simply a training day.  We were all asked why we wanted to volunteer, and everybody said that they wanted to support the charity and put something into the community, and I said that I wanted to do those things too, and also since I had had a lot of expensive presentation training and was now taking a form of early retirement, it seemed a pity to let it go to waste and I would like to keep my skills up on my CV.  The other would-be volunteers all looked at me and went ooo, and I gathered that you were not supposed to admit that.

Eleven years on I have lost track of how many groups I have spoken to, and how many people.  I get a fair few Women’s Institutes, plus pensioners’ friendship groups, conservation groups, universities of the third age, and some gardening clubs that like to add an environmental or conservation dimension.  I don’t charge a fee, just ask for a donation to the charity, and knowing how much gardening clubs pay for horticultural talks I can tell you that it is a cheap way of getting a speaker.  I keep on doing it because I still enjoy it, and while I am closer to conventional retirement age than I was eleven years ago, I should still like to keep my CV faintly polished.  I don’t talk to schools.  I don’t feel I know how to talk to children, having no experience, and I found the whole idea of the CRB process so offensive that I resolved never to participate.

When I started I used a slide projector, which I had to buy myself in Jessups.  I began to sense that this was getting out of date when friends who came to stay were practically laughing at the quaintness of the idea that they knew anybody who still used one (indeed, it was parked in the spare bedroom at the time).  A few years ago the charity lent me a digital projector, which runs off a memory stick plugged into the back.  I found my first few outings with the digital projector faintly terrifying, since I am not technologically savvy, and was painfully aware that if the machine played up or I pressed the wrong button and got lost in its internal programmes, I would be on my own with no technician or the Systems Administrator on hand to save me.  At least with the slide projector, even if the automatic carriage stuck I could drop slides in manually, though it never came to that.  I have had some alarming moments with the digital machine, but by now am reasonably confident.

It’s a funny business, talking to a roomful of pensioners with no real downside.  The worst that could happen is that I might bore them to idiocy (or to sleep), causing damage to my own pride and very mild reputational damage to the charity.  It keeps me on my toes anyway, as I hate making a fool of myself in public.  In my days of doing City presentations I was a cosseted performer in comparison, with a minder from client relations or marketing to make sure I got to the right place, and prepare the presentation.  Now it’s just me, and after eleven years I have got wise to some of the oddities of Essex social clubs.  In rural areas I have learnt to beware the cluster of two or three villages with similar names, where the village hall is not physically in the village that is named in the letterhead of the club I’m visiting, but in one of the other villages two or three miles up the road.  I’ve also learnt to fend off caretakers and club officers who are terribly keen that I should use their laptop, projector table or some other bit of kit they are proud of.  I take all my own kit.  I know how it fits together, and the thought of trying to plug my memory stick into a strange laptop is terrifying.  It’s difficult setting up the equipment with a bevy of eager committee members looking on and wanting to help, as I become dreadfully clumsy trying to do any mechanical task when I know that people are watching me.  A lot of venues now have a sound system, which organisers are keen visiting speakers use, not least because it may feed a hearing induction loop.  There will be no sound-check before the talk starts, so I’ve got used to having a microphone thrust into my hands or clipped to my lapel and launching straight into my act.

Today’s talk was the first one for several months, but was fine, a church women’s guild in Romford.  Their newly appointed Chair was a tiny and deeply impressive West Indian woman.  I gathered that she had just taken on the role, and that the guild had slipped into the pattern of a small number of committee members doing all the work, leaving it in disarray when somebody retired.  She was determined that things were going to change in future, and I wouldn’t have dared stand in her way.  They said they enjoyed the talk.  Most people like trees, and like to hear other people be enthusiastic about something, so it’s not a hard topic.  Compared to explaining why their pension fund return in the last financial quarter was 1.5% behind the performance benchmark but they shouldn’t worry, it’s a very easy sell.  They gave me a charity donation and some flowers, possibly plucked from a vase in the church, but it’s the impulse that counts.

Monday, 12 September 2011

oh the dreadful wind (though not rain)

The wind really arrived today.  The plant centre was a mess of fallen pots, and we didn't try to run the automatic irrigation, as even if the pots had been the right way up, the water would have blown away before it hit them.  We watered some things by hand, and the others were left to wait until the wind dropped.  We didn't bother picking up the plants that had tipped up, since they would only have blown over again, each time with a fresh chance of breaking themselves, or squashing something else in the process.

We got off to a slightly chaotic start staff-wise.  One of the part timers left a couple of months ago, after only about eighteen months with us.  (Since I am sure she never reads this blog, I will risk venturing the opinion that it was no great loss, as she wouldn't do her fair share of the watering, refused to lift anything as large as a bag of compost, and didn't seem very keen on nursery work generally.)  We almost covered the gap in the rota by agreeing that a former member of staff, who has been with the business practically since it started, off and on, would come back for three days a week.  This left just one problem, which was that every other Saturday there were only two members of staff on duty.  Two people is really not enough at this time of year, and so the manager has been plugging the gap on an ad hoc basis, which I presume we will continue to do until winter arrives and two people are plenty.  He worked one Saturday himself, and the plan for next Saturday was for somebody else to do it, and take today off instead in lieu, and for the woman who normally works over on the other side to come in today so that there were three of us.  Unfortunately, the person doing next Saturday completely forgot that she was supposed to take today off, and came in as normal, so there were four of us.  The manager was worried that the boss would be cross to see four of us there, trade being as it is, and after much discussion she went home again.  I thought she was remarkably nice about it.  Granted, it was her mistake coming in, but she agreed to alter her working days in the first place to help the business out, and Saturday working is a pain, given that social stuff tends to happen then.  Indeed, irregular working patterns are a nuisance.  At least with set days each week you know what invitations you can and can't accept, and your friends and relations know when you are free (at least in theory.  Some of mine have still not mastered the concept of every Monday and every other weekend after five years.)  If I had got to work and discovered that I was not wanted on voyage, and that my efforts levering myself out of bed at six in the morning and burning a couple of quid's worth of petrol (more at current prices) shlepping up to Suffolk and back had been all in vain, I wouldn't have been so good-natured about it.

The manager was very cross to get a phone call from somebody enquiring whether we had a particular Viburnum in stock and if so whether it was in good condition, as a friend of her's had visited us yesterday and been very disappointed that there were plants lying down, and that many of them had yellowing leaves.  The manager explained to her that yesterday had been windy, and that unfortunately pots did blow over, and that as it was the second week of September leaves were starting to die back and look a bit tired.  Then he grumbled about her to me, and then to my colleague drafted in from the other side.  A problem shared is a problem multiplied.

I had just started my lunch break and the phone got very busy.  After a while the boss came over the radio, asking whether any of us could get the phone.  The manager replied that he was with a customer, and I was at lunch.  I kept quiet, but I thought that if you require your staff to help customers in the plant centre, and operate the till, and answer the phone, and you only have three of them, one of whom doesn’t do phones, then when it gets to lunchtime there may not be enough staff to do everything.  You had a fourth member of staff first thing this morning, but she was sent home.

The day’s takings were further depressed by somebody returning two moderately expensive conifers, that she had decided were not suitable, and that what she needed was fastigiate yew.  She had agreed with us over the phone that she could return the conifers.  I think there were several conversations, and I know I was party to one of them, in which I politely suggested that if she didn’t want the plants we would prefer to have them back sooner rather than later, so that we could try and sell them to somebody else.  I think she would have like to save herself a drive and hold on to them until we had the yew, but that might not have been for weeks or months, so I was pleased to see the conifers.  They were in very good condition, so she had clearly kept them well watered, and I forgave her the fact that she had cut the prices off the labels before deciding she didn’t want them, and the manager had to faff about in the office finding out how much they were, and we will have to print new labels.  Some customers who change their minds about plants bring them back in miserable condition, obviously believing that if it’s only a few days then the plant won’t need watering.

The wind didn’t drop all day, and I was rather relieved when it was quarter past five and I could go home.