Monday, 31 August 2015

a wet bank holiday

I overslept slightly, and thought I would have to rush down the drive to open the rabbit gate for the postman before remembering that it was a bank holiday, and there wouldn't be any post.  We'll probably get confused now about the recycling on Wednesday, and forget that the bin men won't come until Friday.  The rabbit gate is not intended to exclude burglars, only bunnies, and the postman could theoretically open it himself since it isn't locked, but it seems unreasonable to expect him to get out of his van to hook it back.  If either of us are around when the van draws up outside the kitchen we generally rush out and take the letters to save him even having to walk to the front door, partly to be nice and partly to store up goodwill against the day when we don't manage to open the gate in time.  Saturdays are the worst, since for some reason the post is earlier that day than any other, often here by quarter past eight.

There was no rush to get up in the absence of the postman, apart from the chickens locked in their box and the cats' breakfast, because it was raining.  It went on raining all day, and by teatime the Systems Administrator said we'd had half an inch.  That's a lot by our standards, since our annual total is only about twenty-one inches.  That's less than twice what they get in the south of Morocco, according to a magazine article I was reading about a Moroccan garden.

Looking on the bright side, we were not motoring back through Harwich harbour and up the river Orwell in the rain, after a night time  North Sea crossing punctuated by vicious showers and thunderstorms, which is how we spent quite a few August Bank Holidays over the years, and I didn't have to spend the day working at the plant centre, where Monday used to be one of my days.  I didn't mind bank holiday working per se, since we normally try to visit places on some other day when they'll be less busy, and I liked it better once another part timer who kept the books for her husband's small business explained to the owner that she was legally obliged to pay part time staff double rates since salaried staff who worked on bank holidays got a day off in lieu.  But wet days always dragged at the plant centre, once working outside became impossible and you were reduced to ghastly tasks that had nothing to do with plants, like polishing the glass shelves in the shop, while the owner radiated anger and disappointment that the weather was bad for takings. Actually, faced with a choice between the glass shelves and the anger and disappointment, and putting my waterproofs on and standing outside weeding pots, I'd go for the pots, unless it was raining very hard indeed.

Instead I have been reading through more old gardening magazines, prior to packing them in boxes in date order and storing them down in the garage for future reference, and considering things that need doing in the garden.  I already knew that the back of the Eleagnus x ebbingei hedge needed taking back hard, now that the front has more or less recovered, and that the Cryptomeria japonica 'Elegans' in the sloping bed needed to come out, since it is no longer elegant and the view from the dining table will be considerably better without it.  Both operations would yield some useful planting space, and the magazines contained a few ideas for plants that should grow happily here, and whose style would suit the garden, but the main tack of my thinking was on what to remove or reduce.

Glancing up every so often at the little oak, which more than two decades after we moved in is no longer so little, I have been considering how much to reduce one low hanging branch so as to restore circulation round the garden without looking too brutal and depriving the SA of a favourite place to put the deckchair on hot evenings while minding the chickens.  And in a sudden fit of insight I realised that Coronilla varia probably had to go from the central bed in the back garden. If I can salvage some roots I could unleash it on a dry, problem area by the entrance, where drought tolerant large scale ground cover would be useful, and it can fight it out with Euphorbia cyparissus, but it is too rampant a spreader by far for the island bed, and a waste of a relatively sheltered and sunny spot.  I could grow something more choice there, and still have room for the Coronilla somewhere else, if I wanted it.  The bees love it, and it flowers for a long time.

It's a good exercise as a garden matures to take time out from dashing around doing things, and think about the bigger picture.  For the first few years the space seemed so vast, and the gaps between the newly planted shrubs so dauntingly large, and the soil and meagre rainfall so hostile, that I was dreadfully glad of almost anything that wasn't a weed and would grow.  Fast forward a dozen years and the once tiny shrubs are touching.  There are plants that have gone past their best, and areas where I planted too close because I didn't believe things would ever grow that much, or I was greedily trying to shoehorn in some coveted plant.  So I didn't entirely mind that it was raining. Time spent planning is not necessarily wasted.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

the cyclamen are out

Suddenly, cyclamen flowers have appeared in front of the septic tank.  They are Cyclamen hederifolium, the ivy leaved cyclamen, and come ahead of the leaves.  Their emergence prompted me to tidy that part of the bed so that I could see them standing clean above bare earth, rather than among a litter of fallen twigs from the wild gean, and a mass of seedlings of the wretched wild geum that makes its home down the side of the wood.  It is our native wood avens, Geum urbanum, and pictures of it on specialist wildflower sites make it look quite pretty.  Indeed, its small, dingy yellow flowers are sweet if you like that sort of thing, but it seeds everywhere, all over the shady border and into the moss lawn.  The seedlings look small and innocent initially, but grow into bulky plants with dull green foliage.  They crowd the cyclamen and snowdrops and stick up out of the moss lawn, and I want no truck with them.  The only way to get them out of the lawn is by hand weeding.  Oh joy.

The cyclamen flowers were tottering slightly by the time I'd finished, as if not sure about being deprived about their supportive background of wood avens seedlings and juvenile herb robert.  I'm hoping they'll stiffen up as they get used to the exposure.  They are mostly white, with a few dark and one or two pale pink.  The soil, originally orange brown, has turned much darker after years of diligently applying compost and leaf mould, and it sets the flowers off nicely.

The leaves, when they emerge, will be attractive, ivy shaped and variegated in green and silver. Cyclamen hederifolium makes vigorous plants, and the reason for not interplanting it with the later flowering C. coum is simply that the latter may be overwhelmed.  On the whole I have segregated them in two different beds, though some flowers are coming up now in the birch bed that's theoretically the domain of the milder mannered C. coum.  Maybe I should move the tubers over when they've finished flowering.  The best way to buy cyclamen is as potted plants when they're in growth, rather than as dried tubers.  There's a higher chance of their actually being alive, and you can choose your leaf pattern and flower colour.  By dint of buying three or plants annually for years I now have a reasonable display, though it is still nowhere near the masses of flowers you see naturalised at stately homes where they've been growing for the past century.

Once I was working in that corner I didn't confine my attention to the weeds.  Branches of the winter flowering honeysuckle had started to obscure the view of the Buddha statue, and I trimmed them to give a better view to the back of the bed and the wood beyond.  The top of the Buddha's plinth is covered in a green carpet of moss, put there by the hand of nature, and you would never guess that the plinth was originally a tall OKA planter, bought cheap in a sale and turned upside down.

An evergreen berberis that was hanging out into the narrow access path through the shady bed behind the Zelkova got a trim as well.  It is Berberis candidula, planted eighteen years ago and still going strong after one very heavy prune when it had got to a size and bulk that it took up too much of the bed and blocked the little path entirely.  It has come back splendidly from the hard chop, but took its time.  It is an evergreen, with neat, glossy, dark green leaves with white undersides, and flowers in a clean shade of yellow.  It grows nowadays in a fair amount of shade, whereas when it was planted back in 1997 the site was much sunnier.  I would not say that berberis was the most exciting plant for a woodland garden, on the other hand I like them.  Totting up I can think of at least three other evergreen berberis around the place, all variants on the theme of dark green leaves and yellow flowers, which suggests I have a thing about them, or an unresolved berberis issue.  I don't grow the popular B. darwinii or the rarified B. valdiviana.  The former is a stalwart of the limited shrub offering found in DIY stores, while the latter gets you brownie points as a discerning gardener, but the flowers of both have got too much orange in them for my taste.

Tomorrow I shall take a couple of low hanging branches off the river birch, if it isn't raining.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

a rose by any other name

Gardening magazines tend to feature plants with seasonal interest in each edition.  That's fair enough, I'd rather think about snowdrops in February and dahlias in August than the other way around.  Now that September is almost upon us this means that there are lots of photographs and articles about asters, forcing me to face the awful truth that the botanical plant names of many of them have changed.  It's not new news, the RHS announced last year that as from 2015 they would be following the new nomenclature, but as I haven't bought any asters this year, or even read up on them, it has largely passed me by until now.  No longer.  Picture captions are peppered with unfamiliar names for familiar looking plants, and I feel vaguely harassed, and terribly middle aged for not taking it in my stride.

The North American asters have been deemed by the molecular and genetic scientists to be more closely related to other North American members of the daisy family, like golden rod, and so they are no longer Aster but Symphyotrichum.  Catchy, isn't it?  Trips off the tongue.  It means 'the hairs joining together', a reference to the fact that back in 1832 somebody thought that the hairs on the seeds were fused towards the base.  Which is obviously the first thing anybody would notice about a plant, whether or not the hairs on its seeds were fused together.  So good old bright pink Aster novae-angliae 'Andenken an Alma Potschke' is henceforth Symphyotrichum novae-angliae 'Andenken an Alma Potschke'.  You can see why people just call them Michelmas daisies.

Meanwhile the lovely little white flowered, shade tolerant North American Aster divaricatus has become Eurybia divaricata.  Ye gods, it has even changed sex.  It is a nice little plant.  I have a small patch hanging on among the weeds in the meadow, that I've recently liberated, and I must go and investigate reports that the Chatto garden has a particularly good form for sale with dark stems.

The botanists are always at it.  I'd barely memorised Lonicera infundibulum var. rockii before it became Lonicera elisae and my efforts were wasted.  It is an agreeable shrubby honeysuckle with bronze coloured new leaves and delicate, pendant, narrowly funnel shaped, pale apricot flowers, and I used to be very proud of my specimen, but it has never been so good since the last very wet winter.  I feared it was dead, and I think most of its roots probably rotted as the bottom of the rose bank turned into a virtual spring.  I'd still not discovered how I was meant to pronounce Schizostylis, should it be skits as in schizophrenia, or shits as in bears in the wood, when it became Hesperantha and I no longer had to worry about it.  The owner of the plant centre was fighting a rearguard action against the renaming of Stipa arundinacea as Anemanthele lessoniana when I left, saying that customers would not be able to find it if the name changed and it moved on the sales table from S to A.

Gardeners can be a conservative lot.  It took decades for Funkia, as Gertrude Jeckyll knew them, to be accepted as Hosta.  On the other hand, a sure way to mark yourself as a dinosaur and no longer down with the kids when it comes to gardening is to refuse to stay up to date with plant names.  I must repeat ten times daily, Symphyotrichum, Symphyotrichum, Symphiotrichum.  Eurybia, Eurybia, Eurybia.  Actually, Eurybia sounds quite pretty, like Eurydice, but it means 'who has a heart of flint within her'.  Why anybody thought that was a helpful name for a small, pleasant North American daisy I have no idea.  It makes 'the hairs joining together' sound quite sensible.

Friday, 28 August 2015


The Amaryllis belladonna in the turning circle is about to flower.  Walking past the spot the other day I noticed that a fat, pink tinged stem with a tightly furled bud on top had suddenly appeared out of the bare gravel.  That's the nature of Amaryllis, pink flowers in autumn followed by leaves, then a blank period in summer when there's nothing visible above ground at all.

It's a bulb, originating in South Africa's south western cape, where it forms part of the rich and extraordinary vegetation called the fynbos.  If I were inclined to long distance travel, which I'm not, the fynbos is one of the things I should like to see.  Because I knew it hailed from South Africa I had my Amaryllis in a largish pot for a long time, before discovering that it should be hardy in this part of Essex except in a bad winter, and deciding that the largish pot did not justify its space in either the greenhouse or conservatory, since it never seemed to flower.

One reason for that was probably failure to water it properly.  Traditional garden bulbs like daffodils and hyacinths are easy.  You know to start them into the growth in the autumn, the flowers appear while the leaves are still green and healthy, then everything dies back and you can give them a dry rest in the summer before starting again next autumn.  With the bulbous species that flower from bare earth then produce their leaves at a different time I'm left struggling to remember when I should water them, and when they need to be dry.  In my anxiety to avoid over watering the Amaryllis pot at times when the bulbs were trying to rest I probably didn't water it enough.  There have been times when I've been convinced it must have rotted away and died, before investigating the pot and discovering that the compost was full of roots, and on the whole I haven't felt in synch with its life cycle.

Out in the gravel, which is extremely free draining, it manages its own watering.  Or at least, when I see leaves I might water them occasionally while I've got the hose out to do the pots, but it can manage its own period of dormancy without me having to worry about flooding it at inappropriate moments.  That was the plan, and if the plan failed and the plant died it wouldn't be too much of a blow, since it never seemed to flower under the previous pot regime.  It went out in the spring, and the leaves looked fine for a while then disappeared, and I wondered vaguely whether that was indeed its dormant period or if the move had been too much for it.  And then a few days ago a stalk suddenly appeared.  I was rather jealous after noticing at the Chatto wildlife fair that there was one coming up in the gravel garden there with several stalks, then this morning I saw that mine was making a second.

The flowers when they open should be pink trumpets, held in clusters at the top of the stalks.  They are quite similar to those of Hippeastrum, which is grown in this country as a house plant and sometimes called Amaryllis.  Most confusing.  But they are different things, and if you plant your Hippeastrum outside in Essex then come the winter it will most definitely die, no matter how free draining your gravel.

There is a sensible looking web page here with scholarly references and everything if you want to know more.  At moments like this, when I've just read up on Amaryllis, it seems obvious that if it were still in a pot the time to withhold water would be summer, after the leaves had died down, since it is summer dormant, but in real time as I dragged hoses round dozens of pots it was difficult to remember what I was supposed to do with those where nothing was apparently growing.  I should have stuck labels in them with care instructions, preferably written in script that I could decipher while standing at arm's length and not just pencil scribbles on stick in plant labels so that I had to be bend over and pull the label out of the pot to read.

And now I am going to take a moment to explore the gardening in mediterranean climates worldwide website further.  It looks promising.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

bees unite

The talk at tonight's monthly beekeeping association meeting was on uniting colonies.  I found it extremely useful, though it would have been a pity if I hadn't, since I suggested the topic in the first place.  If you attempt to control swarming in your apiary then by this stage of the summer you are highly likely to have two colonies where back in March you only had one.  Add in an odd swarm or two that may have taken up residence on your property, which again is not unlikely since if there's one thing that homeless bees like it's the smell of boxes that previously held bees, and it's easy to go from two hives to four or five in a single season.  And in the following year, as they say, do the math.  You are either going to be Mann Lake's best customer, and well on the way to being a commercial beekeeper within a few years, or you are relying on half of your bees dying over the winter to keep the numbers in check.

My bees generally seem to survive the winter, which on any rational scale has to be considered a Good Thing.  They must be reasonably healthy and happy.  I had one hive go mysteriously queenless last winter, and one the year before.  They were fine when I tucked them up in autumn, but come spring there were no eggs or brood.  But overall I certainly don't reckon on losing half my colonies each year, and I'd be horrified if I did.  I could ask around and see if anybody wants some bees, and would probably get takers.  Several people I've asked about their bees by way of polite conversation have launched into explanations involving queenlessness and subsequent fading out, and I know the feeling.  My former beekeeping tutor said that bees rarely go queenless save through the efforts of the beekeeper, and I suspect he was right, since my early attempts at swarm control seemed to put paid to a number of colonies, otherwise I'd be up to about two to the power of thirteen hives by now.  But in the past few years, as I've got better at not killing them off by degrees, their numbers have been creeping up to the point where Something Has To Be Done.

The principle of combining bee colonies is pretty simple.  You choose the queen you'd like to keep, whether because her hive is productive, or good tempered, or for some entirely arbitrary reason like that the bees are pretty.  I have one box which always seems to contain golden bees.  Each time they swarm I wonder sadly if the new queen will still make golden bees, and so far they always have.  The golden bees have no particular utility whatsoever, not being especially quiet, or unusually productive, but I like having them simply because I enjoy looking at them.  Then you remove the queen from the other colony, and physically combine the two boxes in such a way that the bees won't fight.  Classes and textbooks for amateurs always recommend using a sheet of newspaper at this point, but I learned this evening that professional beekeepers who don't have time to fiddle about give both colonies a squirt of Febreze to mask the unique scent of each hive and leave them to get on with it.  If you don't like the idea of spraying your bees with air freshener then you can use a Fox's Glacier Mint dissolved in a cup of warm water.

I knew the basic theory, and earlier this year combined two colonies successfully using a sheet of the Times, after one of them became queenless following my botched attempt at swarm control. That was dead easy, since I didn't have to find and remove an unwanted queen and there was no brood in the second colony to worry about.  And the two hives were right next door to each other with their entrances facing in the same direction.  The second colony probably barely noticed that they'd moved house.  The member giving the talk, who estimates he has done close on ninety unites in the course of his beekeeping career, showed us a Youtube video of some people performing just this manoeuvre, complete with newspaper, which blew about just like mine except that they had drawing pins to fix it.  The professional beekeeper in the room could barely contain himself when the clip was finished.  Why, he demanded, did beekeepers always make everything so complicated? Why the newspaper?  Why not just put the crown board on the queen right colony, with a piece of paper over the feeder hole if you insisted, and put the queenless colony on top of that.  The bees without a queen would be so happy to get one, they'd be down through that hole like a shot.  The entire job should take the beekeeper ten or fifteen seconds maximum.

I always listen to the professional beekeeper's views, because his belief that bees know more about what they're doing than any beekeeper, coupled with a desire to do as little work as possible, chime with my own feelings about bees.  And since the local farm shops are full of jars of his honey his methods must broadly work.  But I did pick up some very good practical advice from the talk on how to approach the job, including what to do when the two boxes you'd like to combine are not next door to each other and with their entrances facing the same way, and the idea of fixing the newspaper to a queen excluder before you start, so that it will not blow all over the apiary.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

all the fun of the fair

Sometimes fate smiles on an enterprise, and sometimes it doesn't.  So it was that the wildlife fair at the Beth Chatto Gardens was scheduled for yesterday and today, and it rained and blew both days. I'd agreed to help today, and as the weather forecast remained obdurately set for heavy rain for the entire day, I wasn't particularly looking forward to it.  Still, I'd said I'd go, and looking on the bright side our gazebo is quite waterproof, and I'd just bought a new raincoat.

Doing the second day meant that I missed out on helping to put the gazebo up, which by all accounts was a performance as the organisers had given us a space so narrow that once our tent was up nobody could have got past except by wading in the lake.  The team of volunteers had to walk the frame around the side of the pond until they got to a patch of grass wide enough to allow visitors to get by, and even then the garden maintenance staff produced a set of iron railings to go along the water's edge to try and stop people from falling in.  The duckweed was much the same shade of green as the grass, and it would have been very easy to take a step off the edge if you weren't concentrating on where you were putting your foot.

In the end it rained slightly less than forecast, which is one advantage of a forecast for heavy and constant rain.  Any brief break in the downpour or glimmer of sunlight come as a bonus.  The small children who had been brought along actually seemed perfectly happy running around in their wellingtons and pond dipping in the rain, while the grownups were generally phlegmatic.  You can't really afford to live in the UK and then go into a hissy fit each time it rains, even in the driest area of England.  But visitor numbers were well down on what they probably would have been given better weather.

The number of stalls was down as well.  A couple of organisations had pulled out at the last minute when they saw the forecast, which I thought was wimpy of them, but perhaps they didn't have waterproof tents.  Ours was the subject of gazebo envy from a neighbouring stand, who'd got the same make but were grumbling that their's leaked, and our canvas looked better.  The RSPB came, and the Essex Wildlife Trust, and a local nature reserve, and a group that rescue and treat injured owls.  But Colchester Natural History Society didn't attend this year so I missed out on my annual opportunity to remind myself what a stag beetle grub looks like, and the Woodland Trust weren't there, despite owning a woodland just up the road.  There was a big local fundraising push a few years back to buy the site, and it would have been graceful to come and update people.  And the butterfly conservation people weren't there this year.  I tried to interest the bumble bee man who comes with the beekeepers to the Tendring Show, but he must have had enough shows to attend already.

That is the trouble with country fairs and shows.  Charities like the RSPB that are big enough to have a marketing budget have to decide how they're going to spend it, while small groups like the beekeepers are limited by the number of volunteers and the time people are able to put in.  Every year we get requests from the organisers of village shows, and commercially run fairs with an angle on the environment, or food, or sustainable living, asking if we can run a stall, and there aren't enough spare hours in the year to go to most of them.

We actually had quite a nice time on our stand.  Some people hang out in pubs and clubs, others at classic car meetings, and others sing Jerusalem with the WI before settling down to a lecture on My Life at Sea as a Cunard Steward.  Beekeepers stand in a gazebo in the rain, gossiping among themselves, and explaining swarming and what bees do in the winter to random strangers.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

beware of the begonia

As I continued to saw and hack my way down the edge of the wood, watched with beady eyed curiosity by the chickens, I suddenly heard a faint scream and a crash from the front of the house. It was not an absolutely piercing scream of panic, more a startled cry, and I stopped to put down my saw before walking over moderately briskly to see what had happened, rather than hurling my tools to the ground and sprinting.  The Systems Administrator likes to take a break before lunch and sit in the garden, weather permitting, and there's a limit to how much damage you can do to yourself sitting.  This didn't sound like a life threatening emergency, but more as though the deckchair might have collapsed.

The Systems Administrator, tablet in hand, was standing in front of the porch looking slightly shocked, and three of the orange flowered begonias lay in a mess of shattered terracotta in the porch underneath the shelf.  They fell off, said the SA, gesturing at the begonias.  I was sitting there in the porch and they just fell off.  They startled me rather.

I picked up one of the pots that had not fallen off, and it weighed light in my hand.  While the plant was not flagging it could definitely have done with some water.  Looking at the height of the plants by this stage of the summer versus the size of the pots, I came to the conclusion that by now they were top heavy.  A gust of wind bouncing back off the wall at a moment when the compost was dry had been enough to knock three of them off the shelf.

I apologised to the SA for the shock, and the SA expressed regret that my plants had been damaged. I went and found buckets, picked up the plants, the broken pots and smashed stems, and put the begonias in new plastic pots for now, pending a decision on whether to try and overwinter them. They'd survived the fall perfectly well, just minus a few stalks, but I didn't reckon on my chances of getting them to stand up and look presentable for the remainder of the season.

One of the things to emerge in the wreckage was a label telling me what sort of begonia they were, which was handy because I'd forgotten.  Begonia 'Glowing Embers', according to the label, winner of the Best New Plant Award at the 2010 National Plant Show, according to an archive Telegraph article.  I hadn't known that when I bought them, I just thought they were fun.  As is the way once you've bought something, you start noticing other people's, and so I have clocked them at the Yellow Book open garden I went to with my parents, and in some giant pot displays at East Ruston.  The internet was full of advertisements from firms who would sell me 'Glowing Embers', but less generous with advice on whether and how to keep it through the winter.  That's only natural, since the seed companies, garden centres and DIY stores would all like to sell me some more plants next spring.

There was a discussion on one internet forum, where nobody seemed entirely certain if it made a tuber or had fibrous roots, but consensus was that if kept dryish and frost free it would die back naturally and was likely to shoot again next year, only later than the ones for sale in garden centres.  I think that on balance I'll try and over-winter my plants, if only out of curiosity to see if it can be done, though I'll have to buy some replacement pots.  If they do survive the winter I might be able to move them up into slightly bigger containers, which might make them more stable (though that bit heavier and more dangerous if they manage to fall on anybody next year).

In the meantime the remaining two pots of 'Glowing Embers' are safely down at ground level on the gravel.  The winter display will have to start early, and I have bought half a dozen pink cyclamen with attractive marbled leaves in The Range, which is doing three for a fiver.  They are even scented, as I discovered carrying them over to the greenhouse packed into a plastic bag.  The effect probably won't be very noticeable out in the open as the winter winds rip through the front garden, but the postman might get the odd whiff.

Monday, 24 August 2015

bird watching

The garden birds tend to become elusive in August.  The nesting season over, the pressure to hold territories is largely gone, and many are skulking out of sight while they moult.  This year's babies are bumbling around in a race against time to learn how to be proper birds before starving or being eaten.  With rumpled plumage and lacking their full adult colours they are simultaneously comical and vaguely pathetic.

Somewhere at the bottom of the garden an owl has been calling during the day.  Voice wobbling with adolescent uncertainty, we are sure it must be a youngster, learning how to too-whit, or perhaps to too-woo.  It's difficult to say.

I watched a green woodpecker on the back lawn, my perch at the dining table with its giant floor length window giving a splendid vantage point.  The patch of red on top of its head was faint and ill defined, but whether it was one of this year's fledglings or a moulting adult I don't know enough about woodpeckers to tell.  It was busily plunging its beak to its full length into the ground as it stabbed the lawn in search of insects, a testament to the way the recent rain has softened the ground, and to the fact that woodpeckers have phenomenally strong necks.  How sad to treat one's lawn for grubs, and not be treated to the sight of a woodpecker garnering elevenses.  Give me a woodpecker over an immaculate sward any day.  Except in the depths of winter in the years when they take a fancy to my beehives.

Green woodpeckers are large birds, but still remain alert as they feed.  This one flashed a look around it in between stabs.  They move by hopping on both legs like a wallaby (or a blackbird) rather than walking.  They are fairly wary of man, and when I'm working out in the garden I only see them flying past, not like the blackbirds and tits that will get on with their own business as long as I don't go too close.  The robins, of course, track a gardener's every move on the lookout for any freshly uncovered things to eat.

The house martins were swooping over the neighbour's field yesterday, scooping up insects.  They sometimes fly over our garden, and I enjoy watching them and hearing their chatter, but they never nest on our house, to my regret.  Never have in over twenty years, though they return faithfully every year to the pair of cottages down the lane.  How long before they disappear back to Africa?  Noticing when you last saw something is tricky, unlike the first sighting of the season. You don't know that a given sighting is the last, so it's a case of gradually realising that you haven't seen it for a while.  Come to think of it, I haven't seen Black and White Alsatian Killer Cat for days.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

bees, seeds, and pests

I didn't finish clearing the strip along the side of the wood from the turning circle to the bonfire heap.  Nowhere near.  It didn't help that it began to rain after lunch, but I wouldn't have finished even if I'd had all day at it.  I suspect that to enjoy gardening, or beekeeping, you have to be an incorrigible optimist.  Everything will get done eventually, and next year it will turn out really well.

The bees are not starving.  Every hive I've lifted the lid on has been packed with extremely lively bees.  I risked taking the supers off one colony that swarmed late in the season to harvest the scrappy bit of honey they made before swarming.  I know the new young queen is present and laying because there was brood in the brood chamber when I checked last week, but she won't have time to make a vast number of new bees in what's left of the summer, so they don't need the extra space after losing around half the bees with the old queen.  I darkly suspected them of starting to move the honey down into the brood box, and thought I'd take it first.  The one way bee escapes did not do a perfect job of clearing the supers of bees, and I had to do a fair amount of shaking, banging and careful brushing to remove the last few dozen.  I waited until the rain had just started before giving them their consolation prize of a bucket of sugar syrup, so that none of the bees from the other colonies would be tempted to come and investigate.

In fact, I have never observed feeding to trigger robbing in the apiary, but I am trying to do things by the book as far as I can.  The supers on the next couple of hives I peeped into were full of bees, and I'm still not sure it would be a good idea to reduce their living space while it's so hot.  I prised up a few frames of honey to see if they were capped with wax.  If they had been that would have been a signal that the bees had reduced the moisture content far enough for the honey to last in storage without fermenting.  Most annoyingly, the frames I checked were not fully capped, in most cases no more than half capped.  The bees must still be messing around with them, though I don't know what they're foraging on in any quantity by now.  There was virtually no activity at any of the hive doors when I went up there this morning to take the supers off the late swarmers.  What, then, are they doing with the honey in the supers?  I definitely want to get the honey off before the ivy flowers open, since I tried harvesting a super of late honey once before, and my experimental teaspoonful tasted so horrible that I didn't even bother extracting it but gave the super back to the bees.

Meanwhile, the plague of possible mouse droppings that infested the conservatory a few months ago has revealed itself to be the scattered seeds of Geranium maderense.  One of my plants flowered this spring, and I was watching the seed head and trying to gauge the moment when the seed would be fully ripe to collect it.  While it was drying numerous small, dark, cylindrical pellets with pointed ends appeared around our chairs on the conservatory floor.  The Systems Administrator was concerned that they were mouse droppings, they looked so exactly like the ones that appeared in the blue summerhouse during the mouse infestation.  I installed an electric rat zapper, but didn't catch anything.  I eventually picked the geranium seed head and left it to drop its seeds into a big plastic bowl in the study, where it stayed until this morning when I finally got round to clearing it away because I wanted the space to stand the honey supers, pending extraction.  In the bottom of the plastic bowl were more black mouse dropping-like cylinders.  I put them safely in an envelope, thinking sadly of how many I had swept up off the floor, though in truth I've collected more than enough seed, and have already got half a dozen young plants in pots by the greenhouse.

A muntjac was barking earlier this evening, close to the house.  As I sorted through more old gardening magazines while it rained I had a nasty feeling reading the articles on late summer colour that the comparative lack of flowers in the back garden was not entirely down to lack of planning or drought, but partly because things have been eating them.  Knautia macedonica normally livens up the beds with dots of dark red from its small, scabious-like flowers, but I've scarcely seen a flower this year.  Something, rabbit or muntjac, is eating them before they ever open.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

trouble with Pileostegia

The Pileostegia viburnoides on the front wall of the house is coming into bloom.  I say on the front wall, but most of what is blooming is at ground level and making a break for it towards the drive. It has had a chequered history, mostly my fault and not the plant's.

You may not have heard of Pileostegia.  I hadn't, until I saw some at the plant centre where I used to work.  Then I saw a large and very fine specimen growing on a wall at Bodnant (or at least, I am pretty sure it was at Bodnant.  It was part of an Edwardian scheme with steps, terraces, and a vast wooden latticework pergola painted a fetching shade of duck egg green, that must have cost an absolute fortune each time it needed renovating).

Hillier's manual of trees and shrubs has kind things to say about Pileostegia viburnoides.  One of the best climbers for any aspect including shady walls, it says.  The first meeting Mr H G Hillier had with this plant was in 1922 in Orleans when the leading French nurseryman of the time, Mons Chenault, proudly pointed to a plant covering the front of his house.  I did not want it to cover the front of mine, but I had a reasonable sized blank wall, east facing, and thought it would look very fine with a Pileostegia.

Several years later I can report that the house front is in no danger of being covered.  My first specimen quietly died, despite my watering it from time to time.  The second plant did better, reaching to the first floor and making some width, before I allowed it to be overwhelmed by tentacles of Boston ivy that had grown all the way round from the back.  That is literally half the way round a reasonably sized detached house. but the invasive habits of Parthenocissus tricuspidata are another story.  I thought the Pileostegia did not mind sharing its air space with the Boston ivy, but I was wrong.  It resented the shade cast by the ivy's big leaves tremendously, dropped most of its leaves, and the smaller twigs died back.

The Systems Administrator chopped the Parthenocissus back from the end wall and front of the house when painting the wooden cladding, and swore it must not be allowed to return since on its first foray it had lifted the sill of the dining room window and allowed damp to come in.  It has grown back this summer, and one of my jobs for this autumn is to limit its spread once again to the trellis under the veranda.  Friends who admired the view from the dining room through the fringe of lobed leaves hanging across the top of the window exclaimed how pretty it was, and commented how lovely it would look when the leaves turned red in autumn.  They were right, it would look very pretty, but it is a wrecker.  Now the birds have finished nesting it has got to go.

So what's so good about the Pileostegia, given its tendency to die and inability to compete? Pileostegia viburnoides is an evergreen, self clinging climber, related to hydrangeas.  Self clinging is useful if you want to grow a climber up a brick wall that won't need painting, and don't fancy having to bash nails or vine eyes into the brickwork to fix supports for your climber.  There are not so many evergreen climbers around, or self clingers that won't try to take over the entire building, or climbers that are happy with an east facing aspect.  The leaves are long and leathery, an agreeable shade of mid green if the plant is happy, or a sad, chlorotic shade of pale green if it's not.  Asking a hydrangea relative to grow on meagre sand was probably a big ask, and my plant has appeared unhappy at regular intervals, quite apart from the catastrophe with the ivy.  Nowadays I water it fairly often when I'm watering the pots around the front garden, and sprinkle fish, blood and bone around its roots several times a season, and that has cheered it up.

I managed to divert a couple of the ground level shoots that were trying to escape from the ivy so that they grew back towards the house, and they are now obediently ascending the wall.  They are not flowering this year, which is fine, since I don't want them to flower, I want them to focus on growing, but the remains of the older parts of the plant are flowering.  The flowers are held in big, flattish plates, which remain for a long time in bud, each bud a tight little white ball.  The balls open to reveal a cluster of protruding stamens surrounding a minute central female part, while there are no visible petals at all.  The whole effect is very dainty, with a pleasing contrast between the dots of the unopened buds and the froth of the open flowers.  It is not scented, but the bees love it.

The climbing hydrangeas are slow to get going as a group, so some of my difficulties with Pileostegia may be due to the nature of the beast as well as my own failings.  I think I have read somewhere that it's best to regard recently planted ones as honorary container plants, and feed and water accordingly.  If I haven't read it somewhere else then you read it here first.  Now that our relationship is on a better footing I am looking forward to a solid bank of evergreen leaves, and large, lacy white flowers in summer, enlivened with foraging bees.

Friday, 21 August 2015

reclaiming the edges

As I was going through my pile of old gardening magazines the other day, I came upon an article by Anne Swithinbank, whose weekly gardening update informed readers that she had been reclaiming part of her garden where the edges, as she put it, had been slowly creeping inward and eating things.  Not just small things like bird baths or tools, but quite large items like garden tables.  I love Anne Swithinbank's column, as in between more rarefied tasks she admits to spending days hacking out brambles from her borders, or resuscitating unfortunate specimens that have spent far too long in their pots behind the greenhouse because nobody got round to finding them a permanent home in the soil.  When she writes about her large plot, limited time and finanes, marauding rabbits and deer, and unhelpful soil, I feel I am not alone.

I have been waging war on the edge of the wood, which is steadily encroaching on the path past the chicken run to the workshop, the vegetable patch, and the meadow and bees.  Ivy has been running about at ground level and brambles rooting, while overhanging branches regularly sweep the contents out of the trailer, and latterly the wheelbarrow, on their trip from the back garden to the bonfire heap.  The muddle is compounded by various useful pieces of potential firewood left outside the workshop to be sawn up, which vanished into the brambles and nettles before anything was done with them.  I have even found the leafless remains of two Christmas trees lurking in the undergrowth.

Ivy pulls up pretty readily, long satisfying strands coming up in your hand.  Any big clumps of roots are then dealt with using a pick axe.  That's by far the best way to get rid of it.  I was once quizzed on how to clear ground covered in ivy by a customer at the plant centre.  She had already asked the landscaper who helped the owner with tree planting demonstrations on open days and he had told her to use glyphosate.  She was very unwilling to believe me when I said that, speaking from personal experience, ivy's shiny leaves did not respond especially well to herbicide sprays, and that it was far more efficient to clear it manually.  I couldn't understand why, if she had already decided she was set on using weed killer, she was giving me such a hard time about it, but maybe she wanted a second opinion that agreed with the first one.

Bramble roots will sometimes pull up in the spongy ground of the wood, but on the edge of the track to the compost heap it takes a pick axe.  Half a dozen good chops normally lift them.  The real nuisance comes from the brambles just outside the rabbit wire, that have grown up through the six inches of netting bent outwards at the bottom of the fence.

Overhanging branches reaching into the track are straightforward.  You just cut or saw them off, depending on size.  Old pruning marks showed where one of us did the same exercise in the past. High branches are more problematic.  We've been here over twenty years, and trees that seemed safely confined to the wood then, or even five or six years ago when the Systems Administrator put up the second greenhouse next to the vegetable patch, are now looming out over the garden and shading greenhouse and vegetable beds for more of the day than is ideal.  But cutting them back would be a job for the local tree surgeon, and would not be cheap.  We had a couple of large ash trees drastically reduced for safety reasons after their neighbour collapsed spectacularly across the drive, taking out the phone lines to fifty houses and the lettuce farm in the process, but I don't think the big sweet chestnuts that are shading the SA's greenhouse are unsafe.  They are just large. And rather magnificent.

The SA chopped up most of the poles destined for firewood yesterday with a bench saw, leaving me to stack the bits.  I filled the woodshed, and all the log baskets, and have pretty much run out of space.  There turned out to be quite a few more pieces of wood tucked away among the undergrowth, so I cut them up with the bow saw, using the wheelbarrow as an impromptu saw bench.

I fondly hoped when I started that I'd get to the turning circle by the end of the day, but these jobs tend to take longer than you expect, and I still haven't even reached the great lump of mature ivy that sagged down out of a hawthorn tree recently and is half blocking the path.  Oh well, tomorrow is forecast to be dry.  One more day should surely be enough.  It isn't the sort of area of the garden one wants to spend too much time on, which is of course how it came to be such a mess in the first place.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

musical mailshot

This morning we performed the annual ceremony of the music society envelope stuffing.  The brochure for the upcoming season, plus a newsletter, plus a couple of fliers on behalf of other local arts organisations on good enough terms with the music society committee to hitch a ride in our mailing, all went into envelopes, which were duly equipped with address labels and stamps. Anybody who bought a season ticket last time round was deemed a member of the society, and in addition got a notice of the AGM with the agenda and an annual summary of activities on the back.

The whole exercise was a marvellous mixture of the slick and the resolutely home made.   The brochure was almost a disaster, because after it had gone to the printers, indeed as the Chairman was on the point of approving the final draft and giving the go-ahead to print, word came from the academic who was booked to give our annual lecture that the date of a conference in Spain where he was due to speak had been changed, and he wouldn't be back in time to talk to us.  Many apologies but he could suggest some alternative speakers.  Hold the front page.  Could he manage the previous week instead, and if so would the hall at the High School we had booked be free, and would anybody be there at the school during the school holidays to deal with our change of date?

The newsletter was a last minute production because the Chairman sent the first draft around the committee for comment, and one member responded to her lament that it might be boring by rewriting it.  She was so pleased that he had effectively volunteered to write next year's that we went with his version.  Luckily we have an understanding printer who doesn't mind rush jobs.  The annual summary was even more of  rush job because the Chairman had forgotten until this morning that under our charitable status we were supposed to produce one, so had to write something quickly before the envelope stuffing brigade arrived at ten.  When I first bought a season ticket I hadn't grasped that it qualified me as a member.  I thought it was just a cheap way of obtaining several concert tickets.  I'm not sure the majority of our audience consider themselves members, but some do, and stay loyally for the AGM and wine and cheese afterwards, while the verger hovers over his vestry carpet like an avenging angel in case anybody should drop cheese on it.

We were systematic about making up little packs with our material on the outside of the bundle and the guest literature tucked inside, so that it would be obvious on opening the envelope that it was from the music society.  Pick up a film festival leaflet, pick up a music festival leaflet (just the one, they tended to stick together), tuck inside a newsletter, slip the whole lot inside one of our brochures.  I was quite fast by the end, but was glad I was just doing it for the morning, and not on piecework and paid by the thousand.

Things really got interesting with the winnowing of the address labels.  Age, infirmity, actual death, marital catastrophe or moving to the next county, there are all sorts of reasons why it might be insensitive to send people a music society mailing, or at least the waste of a stamp.  Lives were briskly dissected, so and so had gone into a home and could scarcely get about, she might be upset to get the brochure, on the other hand she was not gaga, could somebody perhaps be found to give her a lift?  Had anybody ever seen this person at any of our concerts, and did we really expect them to drive over all the way from Great Totham?  This couple were young and he worked abroad a lot, unlikely they'd attend, they never had in the past apart from one lecture.

Within two and a half hours we had three sacks of envelopes ready to go to the post office, and two piles of unstamped envelopes to be delivered by hand to supporters in the village, excluding those with really long drives to walk up.  Too much trouble, and you feel like an intruder marching up to their front door, they get a stamp to save the hassle.  It was quite an efficient operation in the end, though next year we must put a slip in with the letters to everyone who never seems to buy a ticket, asking them to confirm they would still be on the mailing list.  At least we didn't do what we did a couple of years ago, and seal up a whole pile of envelopes before realising there was something else to go in them.

The music society has a website, and we have email addresses for most of the names on our list, but even in the internet age I think it's worth sending out a brochure.  An email has generally fallen off the bottom of one's screen before the day is out, displaced by the sheer volume of subsequent emails.  A nice little leaflet with encouraging photos of some of the musicians might hang around in people's kitchens for weeks, reminding them they'd like to buy a ticket.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015


We had falsche Suppen for lunch.  For a long time I believed that only echte Suppen, soup made with real meat stock, was worth bothering about, and it is true that some of my stockless vegetable soups did taste a great deal too much like boiled vegetables floating in hot water with Marigold powder.  But the tomatoes in my greenhouse finally started to crop, and a couple of days ago as I looked at the two punnets of accumulated tomatoes in the fridge, the pot of basil on the kitchen window sill valiantly sprouting again for the fourth time, and the open bag of slightly flabby carrots, I decided that something must be done, and that they had the makings of lunch.

I surreptitiously ate the very first tomato that I picked, instead of presenting it to the Systems Administrator in triumph, and it was not honestly awfully good.  Not especially tomato flavoured, and mysteriously woolly.  The SA meanwhile resolutely ignored the filling punnets in the fridge, and continued to buy tomatoes from Waitrose.  Hence the need for home made tomato soup.

This time round I left Marigold powder out of the equation.  I have come to the conclusion that when in doubt about savoury food, the answer is generally an onion.  I sliced two small ones, one each, and fried them gently until they were soft and an appetising shade of caramel brown.  Then I added a carrot, diced, and sweated it with the onions, then a punnet of tomatoes, and in a fit of inspiration a dash of green lentils.  Not too many, as I was aiming at soup, not dal, but I thought they'd thicken things up and add an earthy base note.  It didn't need much extra water with the juice from the tomatoes, but I added some and simmered it until the lentils were tender, then allowed it to cool.  Just before lunchtime I liquidised it and reheated it with a generous handful of torn basil leaves, then stirred in a swirl of single cream that was left over from something else.

It was very nice soup, so much so that today I did another one, using up some left over mushrooms and omitting the carrots and basil, and the cream because there wasn't any.  And that was good as well.  You could just about taste the mushrooms among the general tomato and onion medley.  And it provided four of our daily helpings of vegetables in one go, or three at any rate.  I am not sure how many lentils constitute a portion.  So that's my secret method for quick soup, an onion, tomato and lentil base, plus whatever's left over that needs using up plus a suitable herb or spice (I wasn't convinced by the idea of mushroom and basil).  You could even put a bit of bacon or ham in it, if you had any.

Meanwhile Our Ginger has been feasting on rabbit.  Or at least, we assume he has given the size of the kidney deposited at the bottom of the stairs this morning.  No feet or ears like the old cats used to leave, just one outsize kidney and a smear of blood on the Fired Earth.  I missed the pile of entrails at lunchtime, but the SA who cleared them up reckoned that was bunny number two, going by the size of the organs.  There is still at least one adult rabbit in the back garden, or was up to the day before yesterday, as we had the wildlife camera set to check and photographed it sitting on the top lawn, but it can't live for ever.  If Our Ginger can just keep eating the babies the colony must die out eventually.  Mustn't it?  Unless they are being reinforced by extra rabbits coming in from outside the wire.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

success with pots (or not)

It has rained all day.  The garden needed the rain, and I was happy enough to have an excuse not to do anything energetic while the last lurking remnants of my headache went away, so I was didn't mind, though the Systems Administrator was not served so well because it was chilly and dank in the workshop and glue took forever to set.  All of this is by the by, since it will rain or not rain irrespective of whether we would like it to or not.

I spent much of the day ensconced in the upstairs sitting room going through a stack of old gardening magazines.  My vantage point at the dining table gave me a clear view of the terrace (or patio) and set me pondering the success or otherwise of this year's pots.  The Cosmos have been an unqualified success.  Raised from seeds that came free with a magazine, they have cost me nothing beyond my time and the compost they were grown in (if you take the greenhouse as a sunk cost, that is).  I was worried that the young plants had grown awfully spindly, but moved on into big pots and stood outside they have bushed out nicely.  They are covered in flowers as I type, and there are enough buds to make me think they'll go on flowering until the frosts, as long as I keep watering and dead heading them.  Apart from that they have required no attention whatsoever, beyond a couple of doses of tomato food and the insertion of the odd cane when branches began to fall over. Top marks to the Cosmos.

Not so the tobacco flowers.  I grew two varieties from seed, traditional white Nicotiana sylvestris and the lower growing 'Tinkerbell' whose flowers are lime green without and soft brick red within. Look them up for yourself on Google images: they look divine.  Sophisticated, subtle, but lively, definitely not bling.  Both sets of seed germinated very quickly, demanding to be potted on and turning into lanky little plants that exuded suffering.  Once moved on to nine centimetre pots, and then to terracotta pots for display, they cheered up and grew prodigiously, and the N. sylvestris acquired a dense peppering of tiny black insects that they kept for the rest of the summer.  I thought they were some sort of small aphid that was feeding on the plants, while the SA thought they were thunderflies that had simply got stuck to the nicotiana's hairy and sticky stems. Whatever, they lowered the tone by the front door, and no handy ladybirds arrived to eat them.

I am not an organic gardener in the strict purist sense.  I use Provado under glass and as a drench in emergencies against root aphid on things in pots.  I use glyphosate sparingly, and a very few slug pellets, but I will not spray flowers against aphids in the open garden.  If sap sucking pests and natural predators can't find a balance that doesn't leave the plant speckled with black insects than I'll grow something else.  The Cosmos are not covered in aphids, bless them.  Then the foliage of the N. sylvestris began to turn pale, though perhaps that's because they wanted more tomato food, and by now the flowers are nearly over, and it's only mid August.  'Tinkerbell' did better since it was not covered in black specks and there are still some flowers to come, but the overall effect was underwhelming compared to the picture in the catalogue.

The Systems Administrator revealed that his father always used to grow tobacco flowers, but the SA had never thought much of them.  I think we've agreed then, that's one family tradition that can be knocked on the head.

My three tender fuschsias were wonderful, covered in flowers, but have run out of steam.  Was that because they too wanted more tomato food?  I did feed them, but maybe not enough.  Or is their east facing position by the front door too shady for them?  Or is it the variety?  There are always specialist fuchsia growers at Chelsea, so I'll be able to ask a professional before it's time to put next year's pots out.  My conversation with the man on the Tesco checkout who commented on the amount of sugar I was buying had got as far as establishing that his wife grew lots of fuchsias and they repeated well.  It's a shame he doesn't work in our new local Budgens where I might run into him regularly, and could ask him to ask his wife for her advice.

The Calibrachoa by the front door are still going great guns.  They look like miniature petunias. I've had them in that spot before, and they did well with less than full sun last time.  They seem to be self cleaning, and I don't even dead head them.  The impulse buy Ipomoea 'Trailing Black' has been great, producing lots of lush, dark, lobed purple leaves with a greenish metallic glint and a few lavender coloured bindweed shaped flowers that are slightly here nor there.  In general foliage has been a success in front of the house.  A multi-pack of three different spotty leaved Hypoestes from B&Q have been fun, one pinkish, one mainly green, and one with pale variegation, mingling gently with their neighbours.  The B&Q label doesn't say what sort of Hypoestes, but I have a feeling they might be the common polka dot plant.  Whether or not it would be worth trying to overwinter them, or take a fatalistic view and buy them again next year if I see them or otherwise grow something else, I haven't decided.  The large, grey, furry, slightly pleated leaves of Plectranthus argenteus have been a total success.  Raised from seed sown this spring they have made large, bushy plants, that seem equally happy in full sun or half shade.

Poor Lotus berthelotii, another impulse purchase, has only produced about three of its burnt orange, claw shaped flowers.  I think it must need more sun.  I could try moving it, except that I don't have any other groups of pots themed on orange flowers except the dahlias and it would look silly with them.  Maybe tomorrow I'll move it to the sunny end of the conservatory, and see if it cheers up.  It could be a friend for Dicliptera suberecta, another grey leaved sub-shrub with orange flowers that I fell for heavily after seeing growing in a charming, slightly ramshackle walled garden in Worcestershire that also had a double flowered pomegranate.  I was extremely pleased to find that a nursery in Lincolnshire I was buying verbascums from offered Dicliptera, and snapped one up. It is growing and flowering in its pot but cautiously,not clumping up as much as I think it would if it was really happy.

One of the lessons from my pile of magazines was that to get a really good display from pots you may need to change them over during the season.  The wonderful array outside the front door at Great Dixter is not static.  Things are brought on behind the scenes, whipped out at their moment of glory, then taken away again.  Alas, lacking a supply of eager horticultural students to help with all the potting and the heavy lifting I am looking for plants that last the season.  Good old Cosmos.

Monday, 17 August 2015

not so fast

I switched the radio on this morning and found myself listening to a man from BT, being grilled about the pace at which fast broadband was being rolled out in the UK.  His gist was that the proportion of properties with access to fast broadband was increasing extremely quickly and BT were doing a splendid job, and there was nothing anti-competitive about the fact that the infrastructure supplier Openreach was a BT subsidiary.  People who did not yet have fast broadband, he insisted with supreme confidence, could find out when they were going to get it by putting their address into the BT website, and rivals to Openreach could likewise discover Openreach's investment plans, so there was no commercial disincentive to rival providers, none at all.

After I had showered and eaten my daily six spoonfuls of muesli, out of curiosity I went on to the BT website, and looked to see where I should put my address to find out when we were going to get fast broadband.  It was not immediately obvious, but I got there by dint of typing Openreach into the search box at the top of the BT homepage, and then clicking on the link to allow me to find out whether I was in a Superfast Broadband Fibre area.  Except that it didn't tell me.  BT Openreach knows that we exist, all right.  The dropdown list of addresses with our exact postcode included the name of our house.  But the box that popped up on the map of our local area was prefaced, not very reassuringly, by a question mark and the message We're keen to bring Superfast Fibre to your area and are exploring how best to achieve that.  We may deliver it as part of our commercial programme, or by working in partnership with your local authority.  In the meantime you can't order Superfast Fibre.

Funnily enough, I didn't think I would be able to before going to the website, though I did think it would have been a good idea if the Today interviewer or at least a researcher had spent five minutes playing with the website before the interview, so that they could have challenged the BT spokesman's blithe assurances.  There are eight categories of possible availability of Fast Fibre, according to Openreach, including our ?.  Lucky souls with an AO rating are already covered by an enabled cabinet, though in a minority of instances that doesn't guarantee availability.  I'd take that as a maybe.  If you're in a High Demand area you're probably going to get Fast Fibre sometime fairly soon, since the cabinet has been installed but Openreach are too busy to connect everybody at once.  If you're in an Enabled Area then the area is enabled (obviously) but no cabinet installed as yet, so you can't place an order.  You're on a roll if you're Coming Soon and fast broadband should be yours within six months, while in a Planned Area you're looking at eighteen months.  If you're Under Review or they're Exploring Solutions then nothing doing at the moment, maybe or maybe not in future.

It isn't as though we live anywhere fantastically remote.  If we were one of a cluster of three dwellings half way up a mountain and our nearest settlement was a small market town twenty miles away, that would be one thing, but we're less than seventy miles from the centre of London, in one of the most populous counties in the country.  And three or four miles by copper wire from our telephone exchange, and therein lies the rub.  Several years ago there was the tantalising prospect of a small provider, not BT, setting up a fast wireless broadband service using an existing mast with a clear and uninterrupted line of sight to our house.  BT increased their speed of service just enough to kill the rival wireless idea stone dead.  Nowadays we get around 4Mbps, according to the Systems Administrator, whereas the wireless project would have given us 20Mbps.  It takes about half an hour to download an hour's worth of TV, so forward planning is needed, and live streaming on the iPlayer is apt to be interrupted by fifteen second bursts of buffering while the telly catches up.  We manage.  Whether we would if we were trying to run a design business from home, or wanted to play games online, or do both at the same time, I don't honestly know.  But I did think the Today programme might have probed a bit harder, instead of letting the BT representative claim that all was sweetness and light.

Addendum  Meanwhile, my headache that ran for four days solid has almost gone, leaving just a faint ache and a strong instinct not to move violently or do anything to get my blood pumping.  My right nostril has stopped streaming as well.  I have no idea what that was about.  A summer cold?  A new and virulent susceptibility to hay fever?  The hormonal perils of female middle age?  Novels sometimes feature women of a certain age who suffer from Bad Heads.  Often as not they are portrayed as unsympathetic characters who suffer strategically in order to annoy other people. Best keep quiet about it and carry on.  The SA, a lifelong headache sufferer, was sympathetic, and phlegmatic about having to eat cheese for supper last night after eating cheese for lunch, because the only food I'd bought were the ingredients for a vegetable curry and instead of cooking it I went to bed.  The SA does not do vegetarian cooking, beyond arranging slices of tomato and mozzarella on a plate.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Saturday, 15 August 2015

domestic day

This is going to be a short blog post, just to keep up the record of daily posting, holidays excepted.  We had friends to supper, and I didn't get round to writing anything before they arrived, and now they've gone it's quite late, and I want to go to bed.

I haven't really done anything today to blog about.  I cleaned the kitchen, but if there were anything more tedious than cleaning a kitchen it would be reading about other people cleaning their kitchens.  Or at least, if it was a real horror story about cleaning it might be ghoulishly entertaining.  Pizza boxes stacked to the ceiling, new and unknown species of penicillin growing in the sink, that sort of thing.  Mine was more of a quick swab around the floor and a routine wipe across the cupboard fronts with a fresh dishcloth.  Move along, nothing to see here.

I made another cherry tart, and this time thickened the cherry filling with a little cornflour at once, instead of messing around trying to boil the juice off the cherries.  You will find the full recipe in Dan Leperd's baking book.  The fact that I made it again and this time chose to offer it to guests tells you that I think it's a good one.  It is less trouble than making Bakewell tart, because there isn't a pastry layer under the sponge.

And that was about it, until supper time.  I wish the weather would freshen up and it would not be so humid.  I hope that the fierce prickling in my sinuses is not the start of a cold.

Friday, 14 August 2015

the bees didn't get the email

An email popped into my inbox yesterday from the government's National Bee Unit, warning that reports were coming in from the seasonal bee inspectors of colonies starving to death, often without the beekeeper being aware that they were short of food.  Hives where the honey crop had been taken off but the bees had not yet been fed, and colonies produced through splitting and artificial swarming were most at risk.

I hadn't thought when I last inspected the bees that any of them were that low on stores, but I had made a mental note that some didn't have much in the way of reserves.  The chestnut trees bloomed weeks ago, and now the brambles have finished.  There are some flowers out in the garden, but I've seen more wild bees on them than honeybees, and it's been so dry there may not be much of a nectar flow anyway.  The official reminder acted as a prompt that maybe I should start feeding my bees.

Accordingly while I was at the supermarket I bought six two kilogramme bags of granulated sugar, to get the ball rolling.  The man on the checkout remarked cheerfully that somebody had a sweet tooth, and seemed quite interested when I told him about the bees, though perhaps he was just being polite.  Back home I dug out my copy of Ted Hooper's book to remind myself what strength syrup to make (two pounds of sugar per pint of water), fetched some feeder buckets from the garage, sterilised the one covered in sooty mould with a hefty squirt of Milton, and mixed up a couple of jam saucepan's worth of syrup.

I left feeding until evening, as advised by Hooper.  The theory is that the bees can get excited at the smell of sugar syrup, and you are less likely to end up with a riot of of bees flying everywhere looking for the source of the smell and starting to rob each other's hives if you put the syrup on the hives after their bedtime, when they are minded to settle down for the night.  That was about as far as I could go following Hooper, since he also advises feeding every colony at once, the theory being that if they all have their own bucket of sugar syrup they won't bother about what other hives have got or are doing.

I don't have enough equipment to feed all of my colonies at once.  It isn't just a question of having enough feeding buckets, you need to add a temporary extra layer to your beehive around the bucket to support the roof.  Otherwise you would have to leave the roof perched perilously on top of the bucket, or leave the roof off entirely, either of which would be a very bad idea as soon as the wind blew or it rained.  If you had a spare brood box you could use that, but most people don't have that many spare brood boxes, and if you did have spare brood boxes but they had frames in you would have to find somewhere secure and hygienic to store the brood comb while you used the box by itself.  I have one very old and battered brood box that I keep purely for feeding, or as a last ditch emergency brood box, and the Systems Administrator kindly made me three ekes out of planks, but as I currently have more than four hives that still wouldn't be enough to feed all the hives simultaneously.

(Nobody I know except beekeepers uses eke as a noun.  I presume it is from the same root as eke in the phrase 'to eke out'.  A beekeeper's eke is just a four sided, topless and bottomless box the same breadth and width as their beehive, which is inserted into the stack when space is needed to put something else inside the beehive.  If that something is a bucket feeder you need an eke that's taller than the bucket, while if it's just a tray of anti-varroa treatment a narrow eke an inch or two high will do.  I have some of both.  You don't leave an eke on the hive longer than you have to, as the bees will tend to fill any large spaces up with comb, which is a waste of their efforts when all you are going to do is remove it, and a waste of your time when you have to clear up the mess).

I trundled up to the bees with some buckets of syrup, plus an experimental wasp trap made from a large water bottle and some squashed grapes, and discovered that I was still using one of my ekes as a hive stand.  Also that I'd forgotten quite how many of the hives had at least one super on, which I added to make sure the bees had enough space.  You do not want to feed sugar to bees when there are honey supers on the hive.  Firstly, you want them to store the syrup down below in the brood chamber so that they can eat it through the winter, and secondly you do not want them to put it in the super, because when you come to harvest whatever honey is in the super, you would like it to actually be honey, and not dissolved granulated sugar.

I lifted the roof off the first of the hives with no super on, and was slightly taken aback to see bees all over the crown board, the wooden lid with two strategic holes in it that sits on top of the boxes that make up a beehive.  Cautiously, since I didn't have my smoker with me and it was very hot and humid and not at all the weather for messing about with bees, I prised up the crown board and peered inside the hive.  Bees were spread across the whole width of the box.  Now I am sure that when I inspected the bees only last week they were not that crowded, and even allowing for some brood having hatched out in the past few days, I don't believe they are that crowded.  I think what must have been going on is that it was so hot that they were spreading themselves out as much as they could, to cool down.  I gave them a bucket of syrup, trying to put it and the eke down as slowly as I could so that the bees could get out of the way.

The second hive without a super was exactly the same.  I gave them some syrup as well, and then retreated.  The other colonies all had at least some honey in their supers the last time I looked, so the bees shouldn't be starving yet.  Until the weather cools down I think I'm a bit stuck, though. The bees seem to need the space, so I don't want to leave them with no supers, but while they've got supers on I can't feed them sugar.  If I thought they were absolutely and literally starving it would be different, since then they would eat the syrup at once and I wouldn't have to worry about where they stored it, but otherwise I can't really proceed.  I think I may have jumped the gun with the NBU email.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

another cake failure

Sometimes I think I'm quite a decent cook.  The flan we had earlier in the week left me preening myself on my shortcrust pastry.  At any rate I am a tenacious one, and after the abject failure of the honey sponge cake (Julie Duff, Cakes Regional and Traditional) Mark I, I bought a seven inch ring mould specially for the purpose from an Amazon vendor.

It is a natty little anodised aluminium one, and I buttered the inside thoroughly and dusted it  with flour.  Grease and lightly flour a 18 cm/7 inch ring tin, that was what the book said.  As I added the flour and eggs to the creamed butter and sugar mixture, I began to think that it looked like a lot of mixture for the size of tin.  I am not practised at judging the volume of a sawn in half ring doughnut shaped receptacle by eye, but I couldn't believe the contents of the mixing bowl were going to fit comfortably into the tin with room for expansion, and they didn't.  Instead, the raw cake fitted neatly and exactly, which would have been fine if I hadn't been expecting it to rise at all.  Things were not looking good, and I stood the cake tin on a tray so that any drips wouldn't burn on to the bottom of the oven.

It overflowed.  I kind of knew it was going to do that, but hadn't fancied scraping out a proportion of the mixture and trying to cook it separately.  Or throwing it away.  Instead I ate the pieces off the tray, which had assumed a pleasant, aerated biscuit quality.  Then I heated up some honey, pricked the top of the cake and poured the hot honey over, skipping over the instruction to pour only half the honey then decant the cake, invert it and pour the other half over the bottom, having a premonition that wasn't going to work.  Instead I left the cake to cool in the tin, and then started trimming its muffin top where it had oozed over the edges, until I could run a knife round the edges of the inside of the tin to loosen the cake.  When I tipped it on to a plate a horseshoe shaped cake emerged, leaving one section still stuck to the tin.  Then I discovered I couldn't pick up the horseshoe to put it in a tupperware box without it disintegrating further.

I slotted the missing section back into the rest of the cake and inverted the box over it to keep the flies off until teatime.  At that point we ate the broken bit, and I put the rest of the cake away in the box and it broke in a second place, just as I thought it would.  The honey drench makes it so sticky, I don't think it has the structural strength to be picked up.  I dare say the ring mould will come in useful for something, indeed when it arrived the Systems Administrator began to make hopeful noises about circles of sponge surrounding islands of fruit, but I really think the honey sponge would be much easier done in a loaf tin with a paper liner.

The failure of the Mark II honey sponge rather dampened my enthusiasm for fancy cake tins.  After ordering the ring mould I went on surfing Amazon, to see if I could buy an Austrian style Guglfupf tin, as featured in Gretel Beer's book.  "...a Guglhupf really does taste better when baked in its proper 'setting'.  This is not an optical illusion but a matter of simple arithmetic: fluting means an increased surface over which to sprinkle the blanched almonds...".  Allowing for the passage of sixty years and the difference between Austrian and German spelling, you can indeed buy Guglhupf tins on Amazon, and their American cousin the Bundt tin.  By then I was so excited that I went on to see if it was possible to obtain a Rehruecken tin, a long fluted tin with a dent running down the centre, used for baking a particular kind of chocolate cake shaped like a haunch of venison, and was pleased to see that you could get hold of those too.  Though even Gretel Beer admits that if you don't happen to have a Rehruecken tin you can cook the cake in an ordinary one.

Since making my investigations into Continental European heritage cake tins I keep seeing advertisements for them embedded in every other website that I visit.  I don't know how long it will take the internet to work out that I'm not going to make a chocolate cake shaped like a haunch of venison any time soon.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015


I've been potting on some of the plants I grew from seed.  They were becoming miserable in their pots, roots congested and compost unable to hold a day's worth of water and running short of nutrients.  I'm hoping that they'll busy themselves over the next couple of months rooting into all that lovely fresh compost, and last comfortably until spring, giving me more time to plan where they're going and clear whatever weeds, moribund shrubs or overly enthusiastic spreaders are occupying the space at the moment.

Kalimeris incisa went up to two litre pots a couple of weeks ago, and is already looking happier. This is an Asian relative of the asters, with daisy like heads of pale blue rays around a yellow centre.  It is not very tall growing, and reputed to tolerate some drought and shade even if it would prefer full sun and moister soil, so I thought it would be worth trying in one of the more fertile stretches of the meadow.  Nurseries mostly sell the named variety 'Blue Star', but I'm trying the straight species raised from seed to see what it's like and how well it does.  My packet of seed cost me under three pounds from Chiltern, plus five pence a litre for the compost, while a single 'Blue Star' from Beth Chatto would set me back £4.80, so I might as well test out the growing conditions on home raised plants first, then go and see if 'Blue Star' is perceptibly nicer.  I grow the species of Gaura lindheimeri when every tall, white flowered plant in commerce seems to be labelled 'Whirling Butterflies', and the un-named plants are every bit as attractive (actually, I'm not sure I could tell the difference).  It is also long lived with me, despite Gaura's reputation as an unreliable, here to day and gone tomorrow sort of plant.

Lysimachia atropurpura 'Beaujolais' has gone up a pot size.  I started them off thinking I would plant them in the vegetable patch for cutting, but now I'm not sure about that.  In the meantime they had become desperately pot bound.  The roots are a pinkish colour, I've discovered.  They produce spikes of dark red, funnel shaped flowers, or will if they recover, and are not long lived in my experience, all the more reason to sow your own rather than pay three or four pounds a pop.

Verbascum chaixii var. album has gone up to two litre pots.  There's one odd plant in the garden, that's lived for years outside the conservatory where it is gradually being swamped by the hydrangeas, and it's been such a good doer that I thought I'd like some more.  My sowing last year came to nothing, but the remains of the packet that I sowed this spring germinated readily, and I've got quite a few plants.  Those that ended up in the shelter of the greenhouse have remained much leafier than the ones I stood out on the concrete, that cooked rather in their nine centimetre pots, so I've potted on the latter and am optimistic that they'll grow on now they've got the space.  At least some verbascum varieties can be propagated from root cuttings, a hint they might be good at regenerating from the roots.  I've held back for now on repotting the happier looking plants in the greenhouse in case I could find a home for them this autumn.  My former employer's labels for V. chaixii included the advice that they were better on alkaline soil, but ours is acid, and the plant by the conservatory is fine.  Some verbascums are biennials, and some of the perennial varieties can be short lived, but based on my unscientific sample of one V. chaixii does not suffer from that problem, another reason for planting more.  Verbascum nigrum is reliably perennial, by the way, but its sulphur yellow flowers might not be to all tastes.  I like them, but am aware that not liking yellow flowers is considered a mark of refinement in some circles.

While I was occupied with potting I pulled enough shoots off a reddish brown, tiny leaved sedum that is energetically covering the ground in the railway gravel to make up two trays of cuttings, at twenty-four modules per tray.  It may disappoint me and decide that life within six feet of the hedge is simply too shady, but I'm hoping it will agree to cover the ground between some of the Systems Administrator's model houses.  The SA was talking about planting heathers in the gaps, but my advice was that they would swamp the buildings in a couple of years.

I had to go and buy more compost before I could do any of this.  I'm currently using B&Q's Verve brand, which still seems good, though you never know with compost.  The same make is liable to vary wildly in texture and whether or not it is capable of supporting plant life even within the same growing season.  I buy the 125 litre bales, because they are so much cheaper per litre than the small bags, and as I was about to start manoeuvring the two bales from my trolley into the boot of the Skoda, a stranger stopped his car, got out, and with barely a word came and helped lift them.  I have to admit it is easier with two.  People can be very kind.  Somebody on yesterday morning's train, hearing us debate whether we'd find three seats together as we got on at Colchester, spontaneously swapped seats to free up a third for us.  Fate does not always reward good deeds as it should, since while today's benefactor received my thanks he also stubbed his toe on my trolley.

I am experimenting with the Verve peat free compost.  If I could find a peatless compost that worked I'd use it, not being insensible to the beauty and ecological value of peat bogs, but some peat free composts are truly and diabolically awful.  I only got a small bag, and have potted a few Verbascum and Lysimachia using it to see how they do in comparison to the others, labelling them as PF.  Initially I mixed them up with the other pots on the concrete, so that they would receive identical treatment, then began to worry in case the two composts had different watering requirements, and scrabbled around among the verbascums until I'd found the peatless ones so that I could group them together and water them according to their apparent needs.  How random should a random trial be?

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

the day we went to Margate

I went to Margate today.  This was something of an achievement, since when I tried the Telegraph's quiz: can you locate Britain's seaside resorts on a map? one of the three that I got wrong was Margate.  I put it round the corner, where the North Sea starts to turn into the English Channel, but I was confusing it with Broadstairs.  Margate is on the north Kent coast, quite a way beyond Whitstable.  But it didn't matter, since we were going by train.

The expedition might turn out to be the inaugural meeting of a Grayson Perry fan club, since I went with a couple of friends who are both Grayson Perry enthusiasts, though they hadn't met before today, and the reason for going to Margate was that Turner Contemporary has an exhibition of his work, Provincial Punk, on until 13th September.  The idea for the trip started with one friend as a joke, then we began to think that there was no reason why we shouldn't go to Margate, and once the visit was definitely on I thought it would be nice to see if the other Grayson Perry supporter I knew would like to come too.

The co-founder of the expedition researched the train times, and all I had to do was turn up on the day.  Did you know that trains to Margate run directly from Stratford International railway station? I didn't.  I wasn't even aware of the existence of Stratford International, other than a vague memory of my mother talking about having to carry their suitcases through a shopping centre to change trains when they went on holiday.  Until today I had never been to Margate, or indeed been inside Westfield shopping centre, though I've seen it from the train window on trips to London.  It is big, and very shiny, and full of shops that none of us wanted to buy anything in (though I suppose Boots might be useful), and signs for Stratford International are almost non existent, but all you have to do is walk up the main concourse and bear right at the end.  It's an understated station with platforms devoid of seats or anywhere you could buy refreshments or a paper, in the bottom of a concrete canyon, but the Javelin trains to Margate are very swish.  Fast ones go via Canterbury and Ashford, and slow ones track the mouth of the Thames through Whitstable.

Turner Contemporary was a palpable hit.  It is a plain, business like building facing the sea, with splendid views from the upstairs foyer, and exhibition spaces with vertical walls you can hang art works from, unlike the wretched Firstsite.  The cafe serves the usual trendy museum menu and does it well, and they were doing a roaring trade.

Grayson Perry was excellent.  There are pots, maps and tapestries.  If you like Grayson Perry you will enjoy it very much.  If you don't then you probably won't make a special trip to Margate just so that you can remind yourself how much you don't like Grayson Perry.

Margate old town just behind the seafront is visibly gentrifying, just as the papers said it was.  So there are still tacky arcades along the promenade, while in the streets behind there are a lot of vintage shops, a cupcake emporium, a kitchen ware shop, and one selling tweed dog chews and collars with tartan bibs and matching leads.  I have been right off the idea of vintage clothing since going to the pest controller's talk at the beekeepers monthly meeting, and I don't have a dog, but I should think it would be fun to potter around if independent shops were your thing.

It does take quite a long time to get to Margate by train, especially when you don't want to leave Colchester before 10.03 when the Network card kicks in, and so we did not have time to go and seek out the shell grotto, the winter garden, or any of the other tourist sights, or to visit Dreamland.   Dreamland sounds astonishing, a vintage funfair saved through local protest from demolition and redevelopment as housing, and now being restored in original vintage style.  I gather that funds are tight, and it is still a work in progress, but it has reopened.  Tickets are fifteen quid, though, and none of us wanted to go on the rides, so we contented ourselves with admiring the ferris wheel from a distance.  But if I were in the area for longer than one afternoon I'd probably splash out to go and see it.  And seek out the spot on the promenade where TS Eliot is said to have worked on The Wasteland.  Margate was his holiday resort.

As we trooped back to the railway station (which is a fine one, opened in 1926 and designed by Edwin Maxwell Fry who later expunged it from his CV after he became a Modernist), we found ourselves chatting to some other day trippers who had been to visit the gallery.  One of the stated aims of Turner Contemporary, as well as to provide cultural access and art education to the locals, was to assist in economic regeneration.  To judge from today's trip, it is succeeding on both counts. Whether the inhabitants want to see their town colonised by cupcake and tweed dog costume emporia and members of the chattering classes down for the day is another question.  Whitstable is also known nowadays as Islington-on-Sea, and some of the folks who were born there aren't very happy about it.

Monday, 10 August 2015


I finished watering the railway garden and the gravel outside the blue hut this morning.  Originally the forecast was for rain this afternoon, but I didn't take that too seriously, assuming that it wouldn't be enough to do my recent plantings any good, if it happened at all.  In the event it didn't rain.

I watered every one of the rooted cuttings and bargain lavenders in the embryonic Nicole de Vesian rip-off by the blue hut, running the hose to the count of thirty per plant.  A count of thirty comes to a bit less than half a Haws watering can's worth of water, and is based on nothing except experience.  I prefer aiming the water at each plant in turn rather than spraying it vaguely over the entire area, because then I have some idea how much I've applied and can tell when I've finished. Otherwise after ten minutes I'd be tempted to feel I'd done enough, when under the gravel it had barely penetrated the surface.  The Malus 'Red Sentinel' that's not really got going yet got a count of one hundred, and the other that's frankly struggling got twice that.

I watered everything planted this year in the beach themed planting outside the blue hut, and a few things that might prefer it damper than that part of the garden is by mid August.  I've picked up a couple of dwarf Ozothamnus, rather sweet little things with tiny greyish leaves, one from Beeches and the other from an alpine mail order supplier, and I thought as I bought them that I was possibly pushing my luck asking them to live somewhere that dry.  They've looked happy enough so far, but giving them the odd summer soaking probably won't come amiss.

Silene schafta is putting on a good display.  It carries a copious display of small flowers in a warm shade of pink, petals opening wide from deep throats.  The leaves are a pleasant middling shade of green, the habit tidy, and the display in previous years lasted for quite a time.  I bought three originally, and was so pleased with the way they performed that the next year I bought a packet of seed, so that I could have more without paying the £3.95 a pot that my former employer was charging.  They might be available cheaper and smaller from an alpine specialist, but the seed germinated readily and the young plants were forgiving when they got left for far too long in their divided tray in the greenhouse, so they are pretty easy to raise at home.  I can altogether recommend them for low growing late summer colour.

After watering the beach garden I worked my way along the railway garden to the point where I stopped yesterday when I was watering from the other end.  Spotting the recent plantings among the self seeded thyme was more difficult, and I am afraid I have missed out some heathers, while I have lost a small Berberis entirely.  I bought three as part of an alpine order and was somewhat taken aback at quite how small they turned out to be, though for the price I wasn't expecting anything as big as you would find among the shrubs in a garden centre for ten or twelve pounds. With the benefit of hindsight I should have potted them on, and grown them under cover for another season then put them out when they were bigger, but instead I planted them with the rest of the order, and have never since been able to find one of them to water it.

The other risk with planting extremely small shrubs into the railway gravel is that they will get trodden on.  But I can't really mark them with sticks, because the railway is the Systems Administrator's project, and when you are trying to create a one sixteenth scale fantasy landscape you don't want random canes and iron spikes sticking up out of it.  I only got involved in the railway garden at all because it had become weedy and I thought the SA needed help, but I don't want to go muscling in on somebody else's game.