Sunday, 3 February 2013


I discovered this morning that one of the cats had been sick in the Systems Administrator's heavy walking shoes in the night.  In all the tidying up they were left in the hall next to the cat flap, and the culprit must either have not made it out through the door in time, or just thought the corner of the hall was a good place to be sick.  When I was a teenager you used to be able to buy those incredibly cheesy 'Love Is...' cartoon posters in Athena (remember Athena?) but I don't believe there was ever one that read 'Love is hosing cat sick out of your partner's shoes'.  There should have been.

Dealing with the shoes got me nicely in the mood to clean out the chicken house.  It badly needed doing, and I would have done it last week if it hadn't been so windy.  Scooping up three sackfuls of sawdust mixed with chicken shit is a pleasanter job when flakes and fragments of it are not going to blow everywhere.  For those of you who have not seen inside a chicken house, and may not have thought about their design, chickens instinctively roost at night.  If you provide them with a perch they will spend the night sitting on it, unless they are very old and doddery, and while they roost they crap, quite a lot.  You therefore build the house with a roosting board under the perch, which keeps the rest of the house relatively free of droppings, and you can clean the board and put fresh sawdust on it more frequently than you change the sawdust in the rest of the house.  Today I cleaned the whole house while I was at it, since the sawdust on the floor was starting to look a bit grotty, and I always do the nest box when I'm doing the roosting board.  They are pretty good about not crapping in the nest box, but they tread dirt in there on their feet, and you obviously want the eggs to be sitting on pristine sawdust until you collect them.  The dirty litter goes on the compost heap, where by the time it has finished composting it is not offensive at all.

After lunch we started on the boundary hedge.  We managed to get the Henchman to the back of the border, by dint of collapsing it and sliding it under the branches of a couple of large shrubs that form part of the back row in that bed.  The feet are individually adjustable so that you can level it off to stand safely on a slope.  The hedge is a mixture of hawthorn, dogwood and field maple, and I can't remember how many years it is since we last took the top out, but they have shot up a good 3-4 metres above the point where we cut them last time.

We can never know what somebody else sees, when they look at the same thing that we are looking at.  The SA asked me where I wanted the hedge to be cut, and I said to about the same height as we did it last time. The shrubs had regrown with multiple leaders at the point where they were cut last time, so the previous cutting line was clearly visible within the hedge as a sort of ripple.  Clearly visible to me, that is, but not to the SA, until I'd explained what we were looking at.  If you are interested in woody plants, you see in their present form the evidence of how they have been trained in the past.  If you are less involved in plants and armed with a chainsaw, you see a thicket of branches that need reducing.  If we'd been looking at a steam engine the SA would have known the significance of every piece, while to me it would have been a jumble of metal and oil drips.

The operation was a joint effort, with the SA cutting and me clearing.  Each piece of debris had to be carried forward through the border without smashing any of the shrubs in the bed, or treading on anything.  Some of the occupants of that border are large enough to look after themselves, but a small and precious Acer aconitifolium that only went in last autumn, and a little Drimys lanceolata, could have been destroyed by a misplaced boot or carelessly wielded log.  There was one alarming moment when a rather large branch fell unexpectedly on a camellia, but no serious damage.

It was too much to do in one afternoon.  By quarter past four the light was going, the SA's arms were starting to ache, and we'd had to cut the electric saw out of one branch that closed on it, and reset the chain which had slipped.  The half hour before dusk, when visibility is poor and you're getting tired, is a prime time for gardening accidents, and we called it a day.  There is at least another afternoon's work to do in the back garden, with the rest of the hedge and a large willow branch that's hanging too low over the ditch bed.  Following that the hedge along the side of the meadow needs cutting back.  I'd better hope for some more dry and not too windy days.

Addendum  Muntjac have eaten most of the buds out the Mahonia japonica in the back garden, the flowers from the hellebores in the ditch bed, and half the leaves of some of my saxifrages.  The SA suggested I could try a deer scarer.  You can get battery operated ones, I think triggered by infrared, that you tune to a speech radio station, and the sound of human voices are supposed to scare them away.  I can forgive the cats for incidents like this morning's episode with the shoes, but I really do loathe those ruddy little deer with a passion.

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