Thursday, 30 June 2016

music and art

Today I went to my aunt's cello recital at St Pancras New Church.  It is a handsome, grade I listed Greek revival structure, built two hundred years ago to accommodate London's growing population north of Oxford Street.  I toyed with the idea of visiting St Pancras Old Church while I was in the area, since learning recently that Mary Wollstoncraft was buried there, before discovering that the two were a kilometre apart and that the old church had been substantially altered by the Victorians.  Now I see on Wikipedia that I failed to look at the new church's most original features, the two tribunes and supporting caryatids at the west end.  But I admired the interior, which retains its galleries supported on cast iron pillars, and correctly worked out that the gigantic columns behind the altar were painted to imitate marble and not solid stone.

The recital consisted of Vaughan Williams' six studies in English folk song, three romances by Robert Schumann and Gabriel Faure's sonata number two.  I wasn't at all familiar with the Schumann or the Faure, but did know sung versions of most of the folk songs, which gave them a quite different complexion to the one they might assume to anybody not brought up on folk music, since while the tunes are pretty the words mostly deal with death and betrayal.  I like Vaughan Williams, and my uncle reassured me that while it might have been considered cowpat music thirty years ago, nobody dared call it that now.

Thence to the National Gallery, where Painter's Paintings has just opened.  This is an exhibition of paintings once owned by other painters, which sounded an interesting idea.  Who admires who else enough to want to possess their work, or feels they are worth supporting financially, and can we see any influence in their own output?  The National Gallery explored a similar idea in its recent exhibition on Delacroix, which I enjoyed, though it didn't achieve blockbuster exhibition status.  It turns out that some artists were madly keen collectors, to the point of bartering their own work for other paintings or buying pictures at the expense of food, but that's not really surprising.  Art, after all, is the thing that mainly obsesses most artists.

You could have considered the current show a bit of a cheat in that many of the paintings were from the National Gallery's permanent collection, so you could have visited them for free any time, but I didn't mind.  I would never have guessed that Degas was an admirer and keen collector of the smooth and minutely finished Ingres, and the parallel between Van Dyck's self portrait, glancing confidently out of the canvas over his shoulder, and a Titian in his collection were striking.  And there were enough loans from foreign galleries to send me away thinking I'd seen some pictures I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

pond works

Today I tackled a task I'd been putting off for some time, and removed the clumps of sedge from the formal pond.  I don't know what sort of sedge it was, but I wouldn't recommend it.  It had little green, pendulous, tufty, not terribly interesting flowers, and green leaves, and that was all it did, apart from seed itself lavishly around the pond, the edges of the pond, and anywhere I was unwise enough to allow its spent flower stalks.  I planted it originally when I was young and green myself, and had never had a pond before, and had doubtless read books about how I should include things with vertical stems for design reasons and to allow emerging dragonfly nymphs a route out of the water.

I am never entirely sure about the best time to disturb a pond.  The books suggest that September isn't bad, when the eggs of anything that's breeding in the pond have hatched and nothing has yet started to hibernate.  And May is supposed to be the time to repot water lilies.  But September and then May slipped by without my doing anything about the pond, because I spent most of September when we weren't on holiday cutting the hedge along the drive so that we'd be able to have an oil delivery, and had a cold for most of May and didn't feel like messing around in ponds, then was madly trying to catch up with everything else.  And pond maintenance is not honestly my favourite sort of gardening.  I don't like slimy things I can't see, and don't enjoy getting wet.  Give me some nice succulents or desert planting over a pond any day.

Still, we have the ponds, because they are so good for wildlife, and look pretty, or would if they weren't so overgrown.  The formal pond even had a small fountain at one point, but that broke a long time ago.  Replacing it is also on my mental list of things to do, since the sound of trickling water is very pleasant and a real psychological draw in a garden.  But fountains are high maintenance projects.  The grounds of Writtle College must have contained half a dozen water features when I was there, and most of them weren't working most of the time.

Clearing the pond began to seem more urgent because we are getting so close to the point when we'll let the kittens out, and I thought the water had better look unambiguously like water.  Cats are sensible enough not to try and walk on water, but a spongy amalgam of sedge and overcrowded water lilies could prove misleadingly tempting, and fatal.  And while I have been regularly scooping out excess strands of the submerged oxygenators, there was still much too much near the surface and waiting to wrap itself around the legs of any kitten unlucky enough to fall in. Time for a clear out, and if the end of June is not the right time to do it then so be it.

I managed to tug one clump of sedge out of the pond a few weeks ago, and got another half way out but decided I needed extra muscle power to get it all the way.  I duly enlisted the Systems Administrator's help, and we set forth after breakfast.  The small clump I'd almost extracted already yielded to our joint efforts.  A bigger clump came half way out of the water and then stuck, held in a slimy underwater embrace.  The SA asked hopefully if we could get a rope round it, but I could not see any way of attaching a rope to the clump, and wasn't sure what we'd do with the rope if we did.  Tie it to the back of the Jaguar and drive off?  Instead I fetched the largest and sharpest kitchen knife and cut through the underwater roots while the SA pulled, until the clump came free.

The last two even larger clumps weren't even thinking about shifting however much the SA pulled at them.  I had to don my budget Amazon thigh length waders, turning each upside down and shaking it vigorously before putting them on to make sure no mice had taken up residence since the last time I used them.  Grabbing handfuls of stalk, I hacked them off with the kitchen knife, then began to cut the great basal lump into smaller bits that with a lot of prising and pulling I was able to extract.  Sawing through something underwater that you can't see but feels spongy is frankly creepy, and I felt vaguely embarrassed about waving a large knife about out of doors, even though there was nobody there to see.  Mounds of dismembered sedge and the odd section of water lily piled up around the edge of the pond, and I kept reminding myself that I must not under any circumstances stab the butyl liner.

The theory is that any aquatic creatures caught up in the wreckage will be able to make their way back into the pond over the next twenty-four hours, though frankly looking at the scale of the mess I wouldn't rate their chances highly.  This is partly why I don't like messing about with the pond. There's always that fear that I'm destroying lots of hapless wildlife that only wanted to be left alone.  On the other hand, the pond was fast reverting to dry land without intervention to clear out the sedge.  Once I can remove the piles of sedge I'll assess the water lilies, and probably remove some of those nearest the edges even though they are just coming into flower.  Then the Systems Administrator will rig up a couple of planks so that if the kittens do end up in the water they have a sporting chance of getting out again.

Addendum  It was my day for mess.  Having tackled the pond I cleared out the old sawdust from the chicken house.  By unspoken agreement this has been my job since we've had the hens.  The SA builds and maintains the house but I clean it.  I suppose I am smaller and more flexible and don't have such a bad back, making it easier for me to reach in to shovel the dirty litter out.  And it was originally my idea to get chickens.  My gardening trousers are now in the wash.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

pampered pets

We watched the second part of The Secret Life of Kittens last night, and once again felt inadequate that ours were provided with such a grotty selection of things to play with.  One of the TV kittens had an elaborate wooden box with round holes in it and balls inside. The game was to get the balls out of the box through the holes, which the kitten duly did.  Another had a purpose built climbing frame running all round the room, with ramps.  And one had an iPad.  Seriously, there was an app for a coloured butterfly to flutter around the screen while the kitten batted at it.

Our kittens have the coloured bouncy balls that came with them from the rescue centre as their only worldly possessions, and some soft miniature footballs which they enjoy, and some hollow balls with little bells inside, which they like playing with although when they invented a game involving the jingling balls and a cardboard box it sounded as though we had a Morris man held captive in the corner of the study.  Apart from the balls they have had to make do with cardboard boxes, loo roll tubes, and pieces of newspaper and egg boxes that they have appropriated, plus climbing on and vandalising various bits of furniture.  And hunting spiders.

They might like an iPad.  Mr Fluffy came and poked at my tablet, while I was busy doing something else, and managed to switch from the Kermode and Mayo Film Review programme to the BBC pashtun language service.  He liked the kittens on the television as well, and spent some of the episode balanced on the TV cabinet in front of the screen to get closer to them, occasionally swiping at a tail.  Our Ginger only took notice when a ginger cat appeared on the screen, at which point he rushed up to the television and stood in front of it looking worried, in an Oh god, not more strange cats in the house sort of way.

The kittens on the television disappeared behind the furniture and climbed the curtains, but did not emerge covered in dust and fluff the way ours do.  I suppose that when your living room is going to be on national television you have a good go at cleaning it beforehand.  And one reason people buy their kittens expensive toys is that they don't like having their house littered with broken cardboard boxes and the chewed up remains of loo roll insides and egg boxes, though mainly it's the urge to buy stuff.

The voiceover in the programme referred to the human owners as mum and dad.  That's just creepy. They are not babies.  They are cats.

Monday, 27 June 2016

rus in urbe

I was rather early to my woodland talk.  It was held in the first floor restaurant of a department store in Chelmsford, and by the time I'd factored in some time to spare in case of delays on the A12, some more extra time in case I couldn't find the multi-storey car park, and a further allowance in case I got lost looking for the department store, it added up to a lot of spare time. The A12 was running smoothly and I didn't get lost, so I didn't actually need any of it.

Department stores are not my usual habitat for talks.  Village halls, community centres and the odd school, yes.  Even the occasional garden centre or church.  Department stores, no.  This one was part of the Co-op, who run a weekly coffee club in the cafe as part of their community engagement programme.  If any of the communally engaged members should happen to do some shopping on the way out then so much the better, I suppose.

A coffee shop isn't the ideal venue for a talk, in that there was no black-out so the slides were rather dim.  The Co-op had provided a screen and extension cable, so that the only equipment I had to carry was my projector.  They had also provided a sound system, with a very strong steer that I should use it.  There was no opportunity to practice with it first, and I just had to try and follow the organiser's instruction to hold the microphone so that it touched my chin.  Remembering the absolute shambles of a lecture I once attended by a former Reith lecturer, who had refused to take part in any kind of sound check beforehand and who was inaudible approximately fifty per cent of the time, I hoped I would do better than that.

One elderly lady approached me as I stood awaiting my turn to perform, and I thought she had come to ask me something about trees, but she wanted to know whether they had to pay for their fish and chips in advance.  But once I started talking, they all listened with polite attention and no talking or fidgeting at all.  There was no conveniently placed clock, and I didn't like to look at my watch while I was talking, so was pleased that having been asked to talk for about half an hour I came in at twenty-eight minutes.  Afterwards some people came up to say that they'd enjoyed it, and one said that I had a lovely speaking voice.  That's nice to know.  Nobody ever likes recordings of their own voice, and I always think that my message on our telephone answering machine sounds like a cross between Mrs Thatcher and Sarah Ferguson.

I had a lucky escape on the way back up the A12.  Somewhere near Kelvedon I passed a Range Rover parked on the hard shoulder, with quantities of brownish-grey fumes gushing from underneath the bonnet that looked too much to be steam, and smelt like smoke.  Settling down at the kitchen table with a mug of coffee when I got home, I saw the breaking news in the East Anglian Daily Times that the A12 was closed due to a vehicle on fire on the north bound side.  There was a photograph of the Range Rover with more smoke pouring out of it than when I passed it, and two lines of stationary traffic behind it.  Shortly after that it was engulfed in flames, to judge from the picture on the website in the afternoon.  I must have got past it no more than five minutes before the police shut the road for the next hour and a bit.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

gardener, cook, kitten minder and charity volunteer

I'm off to Chelmsford bright and early to do a woodland charity talk, so have spent the interval since supper reminding myself how the presentation goes, reassuring myself that the projector still works, and mugging up on woodlands near Chelmsford.  And before supper I was cooking, having volunteered to take a turn this week.  Hence it is rather late to be blogging.

We shut the kittens in the study for the night earlier than we normally do, so that we could eat supper at the dining table with candles and music like grown up, sophisticated people without flying kittens landing in the food or setting themselves alight.  I mentioned the other day that squeaking was their new thing, and as they get more vocal they no longer suffer in silence locked away while they can hear human voices on the other side of the door.  Instead they squeak, penetratingly and piteously.  The sitting room is separated from the study by the hall, corridor and laundry room, including what used to be an external wall before the house was extended in the 1970s, and I could hear them squeaking from the sofa.  In the end I had to go and check that they were all right, although the Systems Administrator said that they would be, and they came shooting out of the study door like furry jet propelled rockets, with nothing wrong with them at all except that they could hear the party continuing without them.

Supper was a Claudia Roden recipe from her book of Mediterranean cooking for chicken with tomato and honey.  I hadn't done it before, but thought I'd better try and make a change from my default position of stewing chicken with tomato and rosemary.  It turned out to be a good recipe and I'd do it again.  It needs a very light hand with the cinnamon, which is a bullying spice if not treated cautiously.  I had meant to serve it with pita bread, but on opening Dan Lepard's book I realised that I should have started the dough off so that it could prove at least half an hour before I started thinking about it, so we ended up with rice.

My fine and handsome plants of Verbascum chaixii 'Album' which I raised from seed and have potted on by degrees into two litre pots have started flowering where the mullein moths have not eaten them, and there is nothing album about them.  They are all coming out yellow.  Quite a nice shade of pale yellow, like the whisked up yolk of a free range egg, but yellow.  Not white with purple stamens giving a mauve centre to the flower.  The culprit according to my spreadsheet of 2014 seed orders was Plant World Seeds.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

supporting historic churches

We went to a concert tonight.  The Suffolk Historic Churches Trust has a campaign to raise funds to help churches and chapels with lead roofs install anti-theft alarms, following a spate of robberies. Lead thieving seems to go in cycles.  According to Ronald Blythe's Akenfield it was the rural crime of choice just after the second world war, and had practically died out by the late 1960s. Nowadays it is only too prevalent.

Tonight's concert was hosted by the church at Lavenham in gratitude for the support they had received from the Trust and to help other less well funded churches.  When the news spread that water was pouring into the north aisle of Lavenham church last year, they were so successful raising money that they rapidly exceeded their target and waived their grant towards the new alarm, but their smaller sister church down the road is not so famous or well funded and was glad of the support.  Churches that don't have alarms and are stripped of lead suffer a twofold loss as their their insurance does not cover the cost of the replacement roof or any other damage.

The church of St Peter and St Paul at Lavenham is magnificent, very large for a parish church, late Perpendicular and severely plain.  Simon Jenkins gives it four stars in his book.  Ronald Blythe mentioned its bells, which included one cast in 1625 that was the sweetest bell in England.  I checked with one of the clergy during the interval at the concert and it hangs there still.  In fact, if we could have been bothered to drive back to Lavenham tomorrow morning and climb up the bell tower which will be open we could have looked at it.

Tonight's performers were The Marian Consort, a youngish group of early music specialists.  The chairman of the churches trust described them as up and coming in his email urging us to buy tickets, but they are already fairly well up, having appeared on Radio 3 and at Kings Place.  They were performing late sixteenth century music about the Virgin Mary sung in five parts, one voice to a part, sacred motets by Carlo Gesualdo, who is chiefly famous for having murdered his wife and her lover, and settings by Cipriano de Rore of verses by Plutarch.  I like early music without knowing an awful lot about it.  The Systems Administrator is not such a fan but gallantly agreed to come with me.

The church looked very beautiful with the setting sun glancing in through the clerestory windows, and the music was very lovely.  There were enough people I knew to make me relieved that I had my partner in tow and was not out toute seule on a Saturday night, especially as the interval was quite long.  Home made cheese straws were served in the interval, the Lord Lieutenant was there (she really does work hard) and apparently the local MP, though I don't know who that is and didn't recognise them.  I wish that the mother of the small girl of approximately four years old had not let her make so much noise, though the SA tried to cheer me up afterwards by pointing out that it was historically accurate for the de Rore pieces, which were originally performed as background music to glittering social occasions.  On that point I thought that less authenticity would have been better.

Friday, 24 June 2016

dawning of a new era

It came as a shock this morning when I turned the radio on to gather mid sentence from the Today presenter's sombre tone that Leave had won.   Tendring is one of the most Eurosceptic districts in the country, but as one of the 30.5% who voted the other way, it was an unwelcome shock.  The bookies and the markets got that one wrong.

But as Auden observed, these things happen and people still eat and open windows and walk dully along, while dogs go on with their doggy life and so on.  We don't have a dog, and are rather cautious about opening windows at the moment in case the kittens escape, but we ate, and walked about although I hope not dully.  I planted the last of my Viv Marsh alstroemeria, a beautiful deep red with no yellow throat called 'Red Elf, and a couple of clematis, and the nice Valeriana pyrenaica my mother bought for me at Beth Chatto.

And I dead headed some of the roses, which have been battered by the recent rain, and the lupins, which are almost trouble free plants except that after flowering to keep them tidy and save their energies you must remove the copious and very heavy seed heads.  I pulled up horsetail and trimmed some of the lawn edges while trying to decide if I needed new shears, or if they would be fine if only the grass was dry.

The Systems Administrator managed to weigh the energetic kitten, who paradoxically enjoys sitting in a mixing bowl on the kitchen scales, so much so that he hopped back in after the SA had finished weighing him and curled up there.  He has gained one hundred grams in eight days.  I don't know if that's good or not.  I tried to weigh Mr Fluffy, but every time I put him in the bowl he bounced out again.  Neither of us tried to weigh the cool kitten.  He is not the sort of cat you can imagine curling up to order in a plastic dish.  I think he might have overtaken the energetic kitten and be the heaviest of the three.

The SA remembered to set the camera up last night to try and find out whether the motion operated lights in the gravel outside the front door were having any effect on the foxes.  The first night after the SA put the lights up the fox came twice, visits an hour and twenty minutes apart, and hung around each time, which didn't suggest the lights were putting it off at all, but since then there have been fewer fox turds in the drive.  When I checked the camera card I got a blackbird yesterday evening, a small and over confident rabbit for several minutes around twenty past five in the morning, and Our Ginger after breakfast.  No fox.  Once the kittens are allowed out I hope we won't be seeing any more of the rabbit either.

Later on I made some experimental oat and raisin cookies to use up the condensed milk left over from the ice cream.  I am not sure how cookies differ from biscuits, or if it's merely a question of American English versus English English.  The condensed milk was supposed to give these a chewy interior, which doesn't sound very biscuity.  The instruction to roll the mixture into golf ball sized pieces was not the easiest one to follow since as a non golfer I can't think when I last saw a golf ball.  My cookies did not look like the ones on the Carnation website, since they spread out on the baking tray until they ran into each other in a sort of giant indented pallid flapjack.  Maybe they will taste delicious with chewy interiors.

The Systems Administrator listened to the cricket.  The kittens ran around squeaking because making noises is their new thing.  And so our first day of the UK economy going to hell in a handcart passed quite pleasantly.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

delays and cancellations

Soupy air rarely brings anything good.  I was worried yesterday about the blanket yellow warnings for extreme rain and thunderstorms covering East Anglia and the Greater London area, since I was supposed to be going to London today, and when I woke to roars of thunder and the hammering of torrential rain on the roof it did not bode well.  Yesterday the Systems Administrator, who was planning to go to Lords today for an evening of T20, brushed aside my visions of short circuited signals, flooded underpasses and overhead wires knocked out by lightning, saying it would not be that bad.  This morning it sounded as though it probably was, and when I got downstairs and looked at my emails there was one from my prospective companion in art to say that Abellio Greater Anglia's departure board was a sea of red and they were asking people not to travel unless absolutely necessary.

We postponed our trip, and the SA cried off the T20, since there was nothing else to be done, and were then left with an unexpected day at home.  At least it meant we were both here to preside over the cats.  The cool kitten has had a growth spurt, and yesterday evening his pursuit of Our Ginger around the house looked less like adoration and more like incipient bullying.  Things will change in July when he and his brothers make what we hope will be their final visit to the vet for now, to be castrated, but that still leaves us with nearly two weeks of surging testosterone to get through.  Being stuck at home also meant the SA was here to look at the controls of my shower, which suddenly failed this morning.

Our Ginger must have decided in the night that he was man and not mouse, because today he held his ground with the kittens instead of demanding to be let out each time they sniffed him too enthusiastically.  By lunchtime the cool kitten had become markedly more respectful, and we think that at some point when we weren't around Our Ginger must have thumped him hard or else snarled at him in a genuinely menacing fashion.  At any rate, Our Ginger sat surrounded by kittens, swishing his magnetic tail like anything and daring them to touch it, and they didn't dare, following which he curled up on his favourite pouffe and slept on it undisturbed until teatime.

There was good news on the shower front as well.  As I tried to turn the water off this morning the knob passed the usual Off position without resistance, while the flow of water didn't reduce at all. Panic stricken I continued to turn the knob, while trying not to force anything in case it broke, and after a couple of minutes the stream reduced to a trickle, then finally stopped.  I managed to wait until the Systems Administrator was half way through breakfast before mentioning the problem with the shower, instead of waking him up to tell him.  Later on the SA showed me how to switch off the pump and which valves to turn in the airing cupboard, and when the SA investigated the control knob the problem was due to the valve being gunked up and nothing was actually broken.  Phew, that's a plumber's bill successfully averted.

And we voted, which we'd have done anyway before going to London, if we'd gone, and in the afternoon I made scones and we had a cream tea.  Scones are really not difficult, and I bought some clotted cream when I was shopping for ice cream ingredients.  The Systems Administrator was rather irritated that the forecast for tonight has steadily improved since this morning, and it might have been possible to go to the T20 after all, but that's not the way to look at it.  Once you've made the best decision you can given the information available at the point when you have to decide then that's it.  There's no point in jobbing backwards, as they used to say in the stock market.  The air is still like soup, so I hope it clears overnight in the absence of more thunderstorms.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

further adventures in ice cream

It has been so sticky today that the air has felt like breathing soup.  I exaggerate, like all those columnists who gleefully declare that they would rather eat their own eyeballs rather than watch another episode of whatever programme they have taken a dislike to.  They wouldn't really, they would settle down meekly to Snog, Marry, Avoid or whatever it was.  But is has been and still is awfully sticky.  At the point when I emerged from my six weekly appointment at the hairdresser the atmosphere had given up the attempt to hold that much moisture and it was actually raining in a fine, unforecast drizzle.  I had not brought a coat.

It was still raining when I got home so I thought I'd use the time to make ice cream.  I bought the cream and full fat milk earlier in the week, rummaging into the back of the chiller cabinets to find the longest dated containers I could.  Then I was busy doing other things and not in an ice cream making frame of mind.  Dulche de Leche and Everyday Chocolate this time, and definitely no Russian Toffee in sight.  The Dulche de Leche went smoothly, the chocolate less so because I rushed to finish the cooking stage before lunch, and only realised after lunch that I'd forgotten to add the sugar, by which time the heated milk had cooled down.

Bother.  Or possibly some ruder word.  Horrible shades of the Russian Toffee fiasco.  The best thing seemed to be to substitute caster sugar for granulated as the smaller crystals should be easier to dissolve, and dissolve it in a small amount of liquid taken from the cooked cocoa mixture by heating it gently and stirring.  It turns out that caster sugar is very reluctant to dissolve in lukewarm milk, even when you stir it a lot.  I kept stirring, kept tasting, and the mixture went on feeling gritty on the tongue.  Part of the point of sugar in recipes is to give a lovely mouth feel. Gritty is not what you want.

I tried leaving the bowl of sugar and coca in the simmer oven of the Aga for half an hour, to warm it gently before another session of stirring, but when I returned to it the sugar had risen to form a strange crust.  I got rid of the crust by putting the mixture through a sieve.  The pile of washing up was mounting, and at this rate most of the sugar was going to end up stuck to various bits of kitchen equipment instead of in the ice cream.  I began to worry about super-saturated solutions, added some more cold cocoa, and kept stirring.  The kitchen door had to stay shut throughout so that I didn't end up with kittens bounding all over the table, and the temperature was soaring.

Eventually the sugar dissolved, and I fired up the ice cream machine for the second time.  I hadn't been through the full scrubbing and sterilisation routine after the first batch, on the grounds that I was about to use it again, and once frozen it revealed streaks of Dulche de Leche down the inside. By then I'd spent so long messing around trying to dissolve the sugar that I didn't fancy using it in that state, and had to switch it off and wait for it to warm up again so that I could wipe it more thoroughly.  I tried to do so too soon, and fragments of wet kitchen towel immediately added themselves to the Dulche de Leche as it froze on contact.

The next time you recoil at the price of a tub of Haagen-Dazs, just think of the effort that can go into the home made sort.

Addendum  My kitchen string, which I ordered from Amazon at five past seven on Monday evening, arrived at twenty past ten the next morning.  That is incredible and faintly scary.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

back issues

As I was weeding the gravel this evening I suddenly realised that it was a quarter to eight, and I hadn't done my back exercises or blogged.  It's just as well the Systems Administrator is doing the cooking this week, though I have promised I'll take a turn next week, even though it will cut short my evenings working in the garden.  Make the most of the long evenings, that's my maxim.  The days will be getting shorter from now on.

I have lapsed with the back exercises in the past couple of months.  As my endless series of colds dragged on I felt less and less like making any kind of coordinated physical effort, and then once I perked up I was so busy.  Having a monthly lesson booked in my diary used to concentrate my mind, since it would be both embarrassing and futile to turn up for them having patently not put any effort into practice since the last one.  I joked to the teacher that I was outsourcing my conscience to her.  But it got to the point where I didn't feel I was learning anything new in the lessons.

This may not have been entirely my teacher's fault.  When I arrived with yet another cold or headache it was difficult for us to progress beyond the same gentle stretching exercises, but I began to suspect that even on the days when I turned up fit and ready to go, there was no structured lesson plan waiting for me.  Instead we seemed to cover slightly random bits of whatever she herself had learned in her last lesson, only they never developed into anything more at our next session, however diligently I practised whatever I'd been told to practice in the meantime.

Her twenty-four hour cancellation policy was pretty tough as well, what with the colds and the headaches.  Late one afternoon in the grip of a particularly severe headache I emailed to say that with apologies I wouldn't be able to cope with a lesson at half past two the next day.  I received an affectionate reply saying that of course that was fine, get better soon, but she charged me anyway. OK, she was within her contractual rights and it was probably lost teaching time for her, but I thought of the number of times she had cancelled my lesson the same morning because she was ill, or I had agreed to last minute swaps to help out another client, and decided that individual Pilates tuition was a luxury I could no longer afford.  Fitness coaches of the world take heed.  My hairdresser, incidentally, takes last minute cancellations on the chin, and her fixed business costs are considerably higher.  This is one reason why I try very hard not to miss hair appointments, unless I'm so ill I think I'm a public health hazard.

Anyway, I was shocked by how bad my back was after an evening of the Arts Centre's chairs.  I think I'd vaguely hoped that after six or seven years of faithful Pilates practice my posture would be so much better and my core muscles so much stronger that I'd be fine even without the formal exercise regime.  A couple of months were enough to set me straight on that score.  No need to pay anybody else to be the guardian of my conscience, if I want to be able to garden and spend the evening sitting in uncomfortable chairs like a normal person I am stuck with the back exercises for ever.

Monday, 20 June 2016

cat tales

The kittens finally went to sleep.  The cool kitten stretched out in debonair fashion on the back of the sofa, the energetic kitten curled up on the seat, and Mr Fluffy made himself into a neat china cat under a coffee table.  The spell was broken by the sound of Our Ginger squawking at the glass hall door to be let in.  I went to open the door, followed by the scampering of twelve little white socks as the kittens came to greet their hero, in from the wilds of the garden.  Our Ginger was a little damp, and had to be coaxed past his bevy of admirers and up the stairs.  He is now resting his chin heavily on my right wrist, making it rather difficult to type, and a minute ago he pressed a key and Blogger asked if I really wanted to leave the site.  Ernest Hemingway famously had cats, and goodness knows how he got anything written.

Earlier today two of the kittens lay at one end of the kitchen table, while Our Ginger lay at the other end, and the cool kitten who has still not quite mastered the bend round the edge of the table from the current kitchen chairs lay on the seat of the chair.  It was not awfully restful because every so often one of the kittens on the table would go to Our Ginger's end of the table and prod him, and Our Ginger would hiss or take a ritual swipe, or the cool kitten would get down from his chair and go and play with Our Ginger's tail which Our Ginger had left carelessly hanging over the edge of the table.  I, caught in the middle, was trying to keep the peace while researching open gardens looking for somewhere to visit with a college friend.  We manage to go garden visiting most summers, and have been meaning to go this year since May, only she had a cold, I had a cold and then her daughter had a baby.

The sitting room curtains are now drawn away from the sofa to make climbing them from the back of the sofa seem less attractive.  One is tied to a door handle with a proper curtain tie, complete with huge tassel, supplemented with the last of the kitchen string.  I ordered some more string on Amazon, since I like to have some in the kitchen drawer in case I suddenly want to make a steamed pudding or something, and was amazed to see that a reel from one supplier had one hundred and thirty Amazon reviews.  Who on earth posts reviews of string on Amazon?  No wonder we are all so time-poor in the modern age, if that's what we're spending our days doing.  One of the reviews did simply ask how much there was to be said about string, but several were glowing.  It had a lovely texture, apparently.

We do not have a water pistol, so the Systems Administrator has been using the pastry brush to flick water from a glass at the energetic kitten when he starts climbing the curtain.  I'm not sure it's helping, since when I saw the technique in action all that happened was that the energetic kitten partially lost his grip and dangled from the curtain by two claws while looking flustered.  He's probably more likely to pull threads that way than if he hung on and spread the weight over all four feet.

We now have all three kittens lying on the hearth rug, while Our Ginger spills into my lap, snoring gently.  It's an advance, compared to the first time we showed him the kittens, and several times after that, when he refused to look at them and then howled to be taken out of the room.

Addendum  They fidget about faster than I can type.  It's now Mr Fluffy's turn to lie on the back of the sofa.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

a concert

I took my father to the Colchester Arts Centre tonight, to hear Martin Simpson, Nancy Kerr and Andy Cutting.  The tickets were actually part of his birthday present, which was weeks ago, and it was fortuitous that the concert happened to be on Father's Day.  It was not part of the normal folk club offering, which happens on Mondays, and Folk Club organisers take note, it is really brilliant when the doors open at seven and the performers you have come to see take the stage at half past seven on the dot, just like a real concert at the Royal Festival Hall or somewhere.  The Arts Centre chairs are not truly very comfortable, as the management acknowledge given they have an appeal running for funds to buy new ones, and it's nice to get home just after half past ten even after dropping my father back at Wivenhoe rather than gone half past eleven like on normal folk club nights.  I don't even have work in the morning, but lots of people do.  A concert that's over by twenty to ten (like the Royal Festival Hall) is preferable to one running on until quarter to eleven. Trust me, Folk Club organisers, it is.

Martin Simpson is a very, very fine guitar player, and I was pleased that having brought his banjo along we heard plenty of it, rather than it appearing for only a couple of songs.  I like the banjo, despite it being to folk instruments what the viola is to the rest of the orchestra.  He lived in the United States for many years, and brings a welcome dose of the deep and not so deep South to the Simpson-Kerr-Cutting combination.

Andy Cutting is the go-to man of the English folk world for accordion and melodeon accompaniment.  The Systems Administrator and I used to joke that it must be illegal to make an album of English folk music without featuring Andy Cutting, he crops up on so many records.  I haven't done the exercise and I'm not going to, but my guess is that if I were to go through all my albums and list who appears on each of them, that Andy Cutting would appear in more different line ups than any other single musician.  He has won Folk Musician of the Year three times at the Radio 2 Folk Awards, most recently in 2016 (Martin Simpson has notched up two Artist of the Year, an Album of the Year, and a Best Original Song of the Year).

Nancy Kerr was the 2015 Folk Singer of the Year, and is part of a group that picked up Best Group and Best Album in 2014.  She is a fine fiddle player.  I have to admit that she is not my favourite female vocalist, but that's a matter of personal taste, and on the whole I'm not overly keen on the songs she writes, which is a matter of personal taste as well.  Writing songs is extremely difficult.

So the three of them represent the creme de la creme of English folk music.  I enjoyed their instrumental numbers a great deal, some of the songs not so much.  Blood was still circulating through my lower regions after an evening of the Arts Centre's chairs, though it reminded me that I have been lax about doing my back exercises recently and must get back into the routine of doing them oftener.  The gig wasn't a sell-out: the central aisle was almost full but there were no extra chairs set out down the sides.  I found that surprising and slightly disappointing, but maybe people don't want to go to folk concerts in the middle of June.  Perhaps they are busy having barbecues or going sailing or on holiday, or just don't want to get themselves to central Colchester by half past seven and spend the rest of the evening sitting indoors.  Or maybe folk music is simply a pitifully minority art form, and that's all the people who were interested.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

our furry friends

Mr Fluffy's new party piece, now that he can leap on to the kitchen table in a single bound, is to jump on to the top of the kitchen bin.  It's quite endearing, though the day must come when he leaps just as one of us is opening the bin and he smashes into the lid.  Less endearing is his ambition to climb the sitting room curtains.  He is quite good at climbing, and can come down as well as going up, but I am never in my life going to buy that much Nina Campbell furnishing fabric again and would like the curtains to last another couple of decades.

The energetic kitten is determined to follow suit, but is less good at climbing than his brother and gets stuck with his entire body weight dangling from one claw, whereupon he wails piteously and has to be rescued.  I have tried distracting him with a toilet roll tube, and a miniature football, and even a little ball with bells on it, but a minute later he is back up the curtain.  The Christmas tree is going to be a laugh this year.

Meanwhile Mr Fluffy jumped on to the hall dresser for the first time this morning, so the pottery, postcards, and nature table collection that normally live there have been cleared away until it feels safe to put them out again.  The pottery is more or less irreplaceable.  The giant cups and saucers were made by an Essex potter who is now sadly dead, the little Moorish inspired vase was brought back from the Holy Land by a friend of my grandmother, a jug was a wedding anniversary present, I bought the dumpy and vaguely Aztec inspired bird on a school exchange visit to Brittany, the strange angular teapot is a souvenir of a holiday visit we made to St Ives, and the matching Whichford jugs a reminder of a joint trip to the Hampton Court Flower Show.  And so on and so on. The cuttlefish I picked up on the beach at Dorset's Golden Cap, while one of the bird nests has strands of thin green twine artfully incorporated among the grass and moss.  I do not want Mr Fluffy smashing any of it, or the kittens chewing it.  The house is starting to look increasingly minimalist, as more breakable objects are secreted day by day in the spare room.

Our Ginger could not decide this morning whether he wanted to be in or out.  What he would really have liked was to be in the house but without the kittens, but as is so often the way in life his desired outcome wasn't an option.  He compromised by sleeping on the chair in the outer hall, so that he could keep an eye through the glass on what was happening within, but the kittens could not get at him.  After lunch he managed quite a long session in the sitting room with them, and after they had finished sniffing at his temptingly waving tail, and he had finished magisterially waving a large paw at them, they all settled down to sleep, Our Ginger on the sofa and two of his tiny fanboys stretched out above him along the back of the sofa.  Perilously close to the curtains for when they woke up.

Friday, 17 June 2016

natural defences

Yesterday I finally planted my Gazania and Arctotis in the gravel by the entrance.  Gazania will actually keep for a remarkably long time in a very small pot, and will overwinter if kept frost free. I discovered this when several years ago I had some in a six by four modular tray that I never got around to potting on, and which ended up spending the entire winter sitting in the greenhouse.  The following year I finally potted them up, since rather to my amazement they were still alive, and they went on to make flowering plants.

I could have kept the Gazania back until the rabbit problem was under control, but didn't since I'm not going to have enough space in the greenhouse this winter as it is.  The seeds germinate quickly, and apart from the seedlings being vulnerable to over watering they are easy to grow, so my current plants can take their chance with the rabbits and I'll sow more next year.  So far so good, since the rabbits have not eaten them overnight.

They have had another chew at my array of pots on the concrete, all things waiting to be planted out, or possibly pressed on willing (and not so willing) friends or donated to garden club plant stalls if I can't find a space for them before they start to become hopelessly pot bound.  However, I now have a novel plan to keep rabbits at bay.  Some of the surplus plants on the concrete are Puya in five litre pots, while I have an awful lot more young Puya stuffed into one litre pots and desperate to be potted on along the back of the greenhouse staging.

I defy any rabbit to eat a Puya.  Indeed, any rabbit that so much as sniffs a Puya is likely to be rewarded with a painfully prickled nose.  Puya are terrestrial bromeliads, which is to say members of the pineapple family that live on the ground, and their long grey leaves are arranged in rosettes like the tufts on top of a pineapple but enormously scaled up.  In response to the barren conditions of their native Andes they have evolved sets of sharp spines down the edges of their leaves, each spine curving inwards towards the heart of the rosette like a hook.  These are designed to trap and hold any grazing animal unwise enough to poke its questing nose into the plant, which may remain caught until it dies and its rotting carcass can nourish the roots of the Puya.

I have been moving the Puya in one litre pots into two litres, and arranging them and the bigger plants as a barrier around the other pots.  My hope is that the rabbits will give up on encountering the Puya palisade, and not manage to get at the trays of Verbena bonariensis, Oenothera, Centaurea nigra and Malva moschata behind them, all of which they had a chew at last night.  It's a theory.  If it works then the Puya will see me right until the autumn, at which point I have to work out how on earth to overwinter them given the quantity of other things I need to fit in the greenhouse.  They would take temperatures down to freezing if kept dry, but not below zero while sitting sopping wet in a black plastic pot.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

kitten news

We watched a programme on Channel 5, The Secret Life of Kittens.  They were all very cute, though I thought that pictures of cute kittens was what the internet was for.  Or as the Guardian reviewer said, expect some insight into the formative experiences that shape a cat's personality, although anybody who has one won't need telling that they are passive-aggressive connivers from birth.

By the end of it we felt quite guilty that all the kittens on the telly had bespoke toys, if not full blown kitten recreation rooms, except for the litter born in a barn.  Climbing frames, hammocks, sisal covered scratching posts, tubes in an assortment of sizes for crawling down.  One pair ended up with a cat bed shaped like a miniature teepee.  Ours were allowed to partially destroy a cheap fair trade footstool, but apart from that they've had to make do with cardboard boxes and scrambling around in the paper recycling basket.  When they looked as though they were ready to start sharpening their claws we gave them a log.

The energetic kitten knocked over one of the kitchen chairs today.  I've been afraid he was going to do that since he started mountaineering up the backs of them.  It's practically a feline rite of passage, toppling kitchen chairs, and they have to learn that not everything is stable or safe to climb on.  On the other hand, they are still so small I'm scared that if a chair fell on one it could break his back, or crack his skull.  Fortunately this time the energetic kitten jumped free and the other two were safely out of the way up on the kitchen table.  We ended up swapping the kitchen chairs for two old ones that normally live in the hall and in our bedroom covered in a heap of the Systems Administrator's clothes.  The back legs of the old chairs splay out further so they are more resistant to toppling, and the struts of the back run straight up and down with no tempting horizontal bar part way up to encourage climbing, while the seats are deep enough that if we remember to push them right in against the table they will catch on the table before they tip right over.

Yesterday we folded up the rug on the sitting room floor and put it away in the spare bedroom until they are older, because the ripping of tiny claws on moderately old, moderately expensive tribal textile was getting too much to bear.  The small carpet that normally covers the hall table went upstairs weeks ago because they hung on the edges of it and ripped at the fringe.  It was replaced with a towel to try and ensure that about the only French polished piece of furniture we possess didn't end up with scratch marks along the front edge where they'd jumped up.  They were amusing themselves yesterday evening by pulling the towel off and tobogganing around the hall floor on it. There is nothing to be done about Mr Fluffy's desire to climb the curtains, but at lunchtime I rescued two short coats that were hanging from the hook by my desk, after finding the energetic kitten dangling from one of them.  My long winter greatcoat disappeared to the safety of our room the day the kittens arrived.

The cool kitten has discovered the joys of scratching paper hankies out of the box.  Turn the box upside down, problem solved.  For now.  Meanwhile Mr Fluffy, the smallest and normally the least athletic, is the first to have learnt to jump clean on to the kitchen table without going via a chair. They still think Our Ginger is absolutely wonderful.  He is being very patient with his tiny fanboys, but extracting his pound of flesh.  This morning I felt obliged to let him in to the bedroom at twenty past five when he began to wail outside the door.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

blessed are the cheese makers

I went to a talk on cheese making this morning.  I was fairly sure before the event that I was not going to make my own cheese at home, and was merely going along to be sociable and in the same spirit of enquiry in which I listen to The Kitchen Cabinet on R4.  Cheese always strikes me as potentially risky.  Honey is fine.  Jam is fine.  Things can go awry with both of them, but they are chock full of sugar and really very unlikely to kill anybody.  Cheese with the wrong bugs in it can be fatal.

Our lecturer started with a demonstration of Ricotta on somebody's Aga.  All you need to make your own Ricotta, it turns out, is milk, white vinegar and a cheese cloth.  She heated the milk until it steamed, added some vinegar, then added a bit more vinegar to speed things up for demonstration purposes.  Before our very eyes the curd started to form, the tutor lifted it out with a pasta scoop and put it in a colander lined with cheesecloth, and by lunchtime we had Ricotta, still slightly warm but edible.

The whey, our tutor explained, made a good base for soup where it would give a creamy taste, or as the cooking liquid in casseroles, where the vinegar would tenderise the meat although the whey did not taste vinegary.  She also used it as the liquid when making bread.  A gallon of milk would yield about five pints of whey as well as the Ricotta.  I did not think the Systems Administrator and I would want that much Ricotta, but apparently the method scales down perfectly well and you can do it with as little as a pint.

Marscapone sounded easy as well, just double cream set with a pinch of tartaric acid.  Tartaric acid is not the same thing as cream of tartar, and one might have to buy it from a specialist cheese supplier.  As our lecturer said, look at the price of Marscapone in the shops relative to cream. Yogurt was easy, she assured us, and Greek yogurt was just ordinary yogurt dripped through a cheesecloth.  A cheesecloth did seem to be pretty key.  She used blue ones rather than traditional white muslin so that she'd be able to see if any threads had ended up in the cheese (the alternative view would be that a few muslin threads weren't going to hurt you and you'd rather not know). Purpose made cheesecloths are fabricated in their final size and not cut down from a larger piece of material anyway, to reduce the risk of stray threads.

Mozarella sounded a faff, because you had to drop lumps of cheese in boiling water and then stretch them wearing heat proof cheese stretching gloves.  Cheddar needed a cheese press, and anyway by the time we were on to the cheeses made adding purchased bacteria I felt I was in food poisoning territory.  It's no good, if I want some Brie I'll buy it in Waitrose so that I can be sure the bloom on the outside is the right sort of mould.  But Ricotta and Marscapone and Greek yogurt I could cope with.  I might even Google cheese making suppliers for blue cheesecloth and tartaric acid.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

wildlife but no gardening

Last night's wildlife camera session showed we were visited twice by a fox.  It was sniffing around the gravel near the front door at twenty past ten, and again at just gone midnight.  The Systems Administrator has rigged a couple of solar powered, motion activated lights at the edge of the drive, to see if that scares it off.  We don't want a fox so close to the house and hen house at all, and certainly not right outside the cat flap.  We were going to keep the kittens indoors until they were bigger anyway, but if we hadn't been before we would be now, since discovering we are getting nightly visits from Reynard.  The SA was rather dismissive of my idea that this particular fox might be disposed of on a more permanent basis, saying that somebody would have to lie in wait for it for hours with no guarantee that it would show up, but I shall ask the advice of my friend the wildfowler whose friend and fellow club member is a professional pest controller, the next time I see him.

It is of course possible that a fox has been patrolling right beside the house for years, and we never knew until now because we didn't have a camera rigged there.  My friend the wildfowler has a story of somebody who lost all her hens to the fox, the one night she forgot to shut them in.  How unlucky, she lamented, that the fox should come the only time she didn't secure them.  Not so, said my friend, the fox has been coming every night to see if you have forgotten.

Curled on top of one of the box hedges I saw a small brownish thing, that looked vaguely like an earthworm except that something about it suggested it wasn't.  It uncoiled rapidly at my approach, and I saw from the bright yellow flash at the back of its neck that it was a baby grass snake, before it dropped down out of sight.  That's the only part of the garden where I've seen fully grown adults, and as it's close to some sheltered, south facing paving I presumed it was one of their favoured places for basking, but the only time I've ever found eggs or egg pods was in the compost bins, which must be a hundred yards away.  They are mysterious animals, the grass snakes in the garden. Wildlife is a subjective term, since I am pleased to see the grass snakes but not the foxes.  The Systems Administrator is mildly phobic about snakes and would rather not have either.

It was a useless day for gardening.  I spent the first part of it getting new tyres fitted to my car, and came home via the Clacton Garden Centre and the farm shop to stock up on flower pots and local strawberries and asparagus.  The staff in the garden centre had the slightly grim air of people faced with a key trading month being rained off.  I know from my years working in the plant centre that an awful lot of sales happen between Easter and early July, if they are going to happen at all. I tried to cut the edges of the lawn when I got home, thinking I wouldn't get too many tools out so that I could dodge the showers, but the wet grass wouldn't cut and it soon began to rain quite hard, and I gave up.  The grass was wet, all the plants in the borders were wet, and if I attempted to crawl in among them I would soon be wet as well, while bonemeal and miccorrhizal fungus stuck to everything.  There were distant rumbles of thunder all afternoon, and the SA developed a headache, while even the kittens ran out of energy.

Monday, 13 June 2016

lifetime achievement

I feel rather full of lunch, in a good way.  My father's cousin, who moved up to Lancashire at the start of the year to be near his nephew, returned to Suffolk for a visit to his U3A, where his friends had organised for him to receive a lifetime achievement award.  He rang me a while back to see if the Systems Administrator and I would like to come to the ceremony.  It is a long drive from north Essex to Lytham St Annes to see my cousin, and we said that we would.  Then one of his friends kindly asked us to the lunch party she was organising for him.  My cousin's U3A crowd are a cheerful bunch, and we accepted with alacrity.

I knew that my cousin had been one of the founder members of the East Suffolk branch of the University of the Third Age, but hadn't grasped quite how much of a founder he was.  Today was their twenty-eighth Annual General Meeting, and they have over two thousand members with monthly meetings held at four locations and over a hundred and fifty interest groups.  It was my cousin who put the original advertisement in the local paper, inviting people interested in forming an Ipswich branch of the U3A to a meeting.

When he moved away the members of the geology group that he ran clubbed together to organise membership for him of the local geology societies in Lancashire, and I was touched that the whole group had arranged for him to have an award.  It was handwritten by a member of the calligraphy group (naturally), framed, and they had arranged for the Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk to come and present it to him.  I was rather excited at the prospect of seeing a Lord Lieutenant in the flesh after my parents' account of the visit of the Devon Lord Lieutenant to Exeter university. That had a distinctly Lucky Jim vibe to it, because his official uniform included spurs and the campus tour was carefully planned so that he would only have to walk up stairs and not down them.

Suffolk's Lord Lieutenant was not wearing spurs, or even an official uniform other than a large ribbon pinned to her chest, but she was the first woman ever to have held the post since its introduction under Henry VIII.  I was duly impressed, and charmed by Clare, Countess of Euston. Heavy rain on the roads meant that she was slightly late, and so my cousin's award was presented after the AGM rather than before it, meaning we ended up staying for the full meeting.  After the address and presentation we got tea and cake while being serenaded by a ukulele orchestra, which hit the same problem as my music society's jazz evening, in that people were not sure whether they were supposed to listen attentively or were allowed to treat the orchestra as background music while chatting.  The majority opted to talk until they were told off for their discourtesy to the orchestra.

So I was pleased to see my cousin, and a real live female Lord Lieutenant.  But I do now feel as though I'd eaten more than I usually do at lunchtime, while having taken no exercise today whatsoever.

Addendum  I thought yesterday afternoon that the old and new hens were starting to flock as one. I went out yesterday evening to shut the hen house as thunder rumbled away in the background. Peering in through the end window to check that the little hens had gone in and weren't still loitering in the run, I saw the old lady Maran where the tinies usually perch.  Looking through the window at the other end I saw the ex-broody, so I opened the roof of the house, to find the little hens sandwiched in the middle, with the former broody's wing stretched protectively over two of them.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

stupid annoying rain

A rabbit or rabbits are still working their way round the edge of the further rose bed.  The lawn was littered with bitten off Camassia stems and bits of Kerria japonica.  There were more of them than when we walked around the top lawn yesterday afternoon and the Systems Administrator was cautiously optimistic that the rabbits might have been eradicated from that part of the garden.  Not so, alas.  We haven't seen one on opening the curtains for the past few mornings, but I'm afraid that just means they have got more cautious and are doing their damage at night, or very early in the morning.

I picked up the fallen stems, and started cutting down the remaining ones to give a clear view of the roses, since the Camassia have now finished.  I deadheaded a couple of rose bushes, and planted out an Alstroemeria and a seed raised plant of Melianthus major that were sitting in the island bed left over from yesterday.  It is disheartening planting new things when the rabbits are liable to eat them, and my little pots of Arctotis and Gazania are still sitting in the greenhouse getting rather drawn because I haven't had the heart to spend a morning dibbling them into the gravel, but rabbits don't seem to like Alstroemeria, and Melianthus major smells so strongly of peanuts I'd be surprised if they fancied it.  What do I know, though?  Maybe rabbits like peanuts.

And then, just before eleven, it began to drizzle, not enough rain to soak into the soil and do the garden some good, but just enough to make the gardener damp, and earth stick to everything, and applications of bone meal stick to the foliage of the plant you are trying to feed.  A stupid, annoying amount of rain.  According to the Met Office the chance of rain at that point was only five per cent but there you go, it was raining.

I went indoors for a cup of coffee and sat with the cats and wondered whether the rain was going to pass or accept that it was now raining and change my clothes and settle down to do something else.  When the Systems Administrator got back from Waitrose and Tesco, because Waitrose did not have any kitten biscuits or cat litter, the rain radar settled the question.  A broad band of showers lay behind the initial rain, not due to pass until three, after which it might be dry for the rest of the day if more showers did not build up.

It is infuriating, with so much to do in the garden, on a day when I have not arranged to be anywhere else.  It is very bad luck too for all the people opening their gardens this weekend.  I said as much to the SA, who was more concerned that the cricket was delayed.  If it dries out later I'll be out there until mid evening, which is why I am writing my blog post now.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

feline fan club

After a morning of sleeping on the sofa quite successfully while the kittens wandered about, Our Ginger's nerve cracked last night.  As he came into the study, where we were watching the final part of Dan Cruickshank's series on domestic architecture, he was mobbed by his tiny fans.  Faced with a kitten at every turn he climbed on to the footstool, fur standing up all along his back, and began to howl.  I took him out into the hall, while the Systems Administrator shut the study door with the kittens inside.

Our Ginger sat down in the outer hall, staring out into the garden, tail lashing, while I sat down next to him and stroked him, murmuring that it was rotten of us to fill his house up with rats and that he was doing very well.  We stayed there for some time, until the SA opened the study door to see where I'd got to and whether to abandon Dan Cruickshank, and the tiny fans shot past the SA's ankles towards Our Ginger.  Looking at the three little remorselessly advancing black and white faces and three sets of white feet from closer to Our Ginger's perspective than I usually see them, I had to admit that they did look quite creepy.

Our Ginger bolted through the cat door, the SA ran about in circles rounding up the kittens, and I followed Our Ginger into the garden.  He consented to be called back from the concrete, and we sat on the doorstep for a while then he agreed to come back into the house.  Eventually I got to see the last bit of Dan Cruickshank, which I was glad about as we'd just got to the Ronan Point disaster and the key design difference between that and the earliest tower blocks, as well as the construction failures of the former.

Our Ginger was still in residence this morning, appearing in the bedroom just as I was getting up. The SA had already disappeared into the bathroom so I felt obliged to go back to bed for ten minutes so that Our Ginger could lie on the bed with me.  John Humphrys was in particularly annoying form so we listened to Radio 3 for the duration.

By evening the kittens' clockwork had finally run down and they were all lying flaked out in the sitting room when I heard the cat flap bang, and went to the front door to find Our Ginger had nipped in for some supper and was sitting on the doorstep washing.  I opened the front door and inner glass doors for him and he strolled into the house, to be met by his tiny fanboys streaming down the hall to meet him.  He magisterially touched noses with them as he passed by, and settled on the sofa where he went to sleep, once we had persuaded them not to climb up there to join him. All three sat in an adoring row for several minutes gazing up at him.

They are now amusing themselves with my fleece on the other sofa, while Our Ginger slumbers. We are going to usher them into the study with us while we have supper, to give him some peace.  I am trying not to take it personally that our new cats find our existing cat so much more fascinating than us.

Friday, 10 June 2016

summer pots

The fuchsia plants I bought from Other Fellow Fuchsias are all romping along.  They were little more than rooted cuttings when they arrived, and I have been trying to be careful with the watering, conscious that it's easy to over-water something that small when giving its bigger neighbours on the greenhouse a drenching, and equally easy to let the pots dry out.  A couple went out to join the display by the front door today, and I'd have moved all of them into their initial terracotta display pots, except that I ran out of pots,

At Tuesday's talk I met somebody from a fuchsia society, so took the opportunity to ask him why some of my small collection had stopped flowering prematurely last year.  The answer was depressingly obvious, which is that you must not let them set fruit.  The hardy types I started off growing in the open ground and which kept on flowering through autumn pretty much to the first frost quietly shed their spent flowers without ever berrying, so I wasn't used to thinking of fuchsias as something you needed to deadhead.  But the non-hardy, pink flowering one I got in a local garden centre last year and which ground to a halt before the season was nearly ended did set fruit, and I didn't pick them off.  Lesson learned, and I should have gone back to first principles in the first place.

The first flowers on 'Katjan' are as pretty as I remember them from last year's Chelsea, dainty deep red bells with a swept back outer ring of petals.  The miniature Encliandra type fuchsia I bought for the conservatory as a companion piece to the deep pink 'Lottie Hobbie' has been flowering for weeks.  Last year's plants, which were looking twiggy and distinctly unpromising until very recently, have suddenly started throwing out soft new growth and covering themselves with leaves.  Altogether I am quite optimistic about the fuchsias.  Alas, I really must not buy any more.  It is so tempting, when there are so many forms and they can be mine for only £2.25 each from Other Fellow, but I'm going to be short of greenhouse space next winter as it is.

The man from the fuchsia club said he kept his in the garage over the winter then brought them back into growth in cold frames, because he did not have a greenhouse.  He insisted they were tough as old boots, and he just put a couple of extra layers of fleece over them if frost were forecast.  His anxiety this year was that the mild winter had brought them into growth too early and they would peak before the fuchsia show.

The dahlia pots are mostly in their summer quarters now.  As I put them away last autumn I stuck labels in the pots reminding me where they should go in the spring.  Some, in coordinating shades of red, orange, dusky pink and purple, go in front of the conservatory and last year I spent ages humping the pots about once they were in bloom until I was happy with what I'd got next to what. Before dismantling the display I marked them Row 1 through to Row 7, so that I could recreated the effect without so much lifting and fiddling about next time.  Then there are some purple and white ones that look nice with white and pink cosmos but don't go at all with the conservatory display, and some extraordinary huge doubles called 'Wanda's Aurora' in pink and apricot that don't go with any of the others.  There are two mystery pots, one lacking any kind of label and the other merely telling me which flower bed I dug the tuber out of, which will have to stay by the greenhouse until they begin to flower and I find out what they are.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

cat minding

The Systems Administrator went to the cricket today, leaving me in charge of the cat introduction project.  I can't really complain, since I've been out myself rather a lot over the past couple of days, what with walks and talks and calling in on a friend in Colchester.

Our Ginger was around first thing this morning, which was not so very surprising since the kittens spent the night shut in the study leaving him the run of the rest of the house.  Once they were let out, after everybody had had their breakfast, the energetic kitten touched noses with Our Ginger, then followed him lovingly about until Our Ginger curled up on one of the dining chairs and spent the rest of the morning resolutely asleep.  Rather conveniently I could see him through the dining room window from where I was working in the back garden, so I didn't have to worry about him in between my visits inside to say hello to the kittens.

By noon I was facing a dilemma.  We had run out of milk, and also wet food for the kittens.  They had adult food last night and at breakfast, because that was all there was, and the energetic kitten's tiny tummy promptly went on the blink again, making me think they needed to stay on kitten grade pouches for the time being.  This left me with the choice between leaving Our Ginger asleep, with the risk he would wake while I was out and find himself imprisoned in the house with the rug rats, or waking him up and evicting him, which might make him feel rejected.  I opted for the former and scurried around Tesco at top speed, only to find Our Ginger still on his chair when I got home.

He emerged blinking at lunchtime, and advanced sleepily on his empty food dish.  I went to fetch him some lunch, and turned back to find him flanked by an adoring fanboy kitten on each side, looking confused.  They promptly tried to eat his lunch when I put it down, even though they'd just had a kitten pouch of their own, and I had to hustle them back into the study to give him some peace.

In the afternoon Our Ginger opted to come and sit in the garden with me.  He stayed outside when I came in, until I went out to look for him at which point he appeared instantly at the sound of my footsteps.  Once in the inner hall he graciously touched noses once again with the energetic kitten, magisterially ignored the other two, began to look slightly trapped as they followed him down the hall, and ate his supper in the kitchen with the door shut to keep the kittens out of it, then agreed to come and sit on the kitchen table for a while.  From that vantage point he looked down slightly uncomfortably at his tiny fan club, and then looked beseechingly at me, until his nerve cracked and he asked to be let out again.  He ate a second helping of supper in the outer hall while the kittens pressed against the glass staring at their hero in utter fascination.

Provided I can find him once I've put the kittens back in the study for the night I'll be quite happy with progress.  I worried that Our Ginger might either be so upset he started moving out, which is after all how he came to live here in the first place, or be aggressive towards the kittens.  Neither scenario has come to pass so far.  Instead they seem to find him entirely wonderful, and he seems to be coping.

I am typing this at the kitchen table with all three kittens stretched out beside my left elbow and Mr Fluffy's small paw resting on my wrist.  I know it is not strictly hygienic, but we always wipe the table before eating or cooking on it.  They have only just settled down after numerous attempts to walk across my keyboard, though Mr Fluffy's blog entry made no sense.  At lunchtime he managed to turn my laptop off.  I must make sure I don't leave it switched on and unattended when they can get at it, in case I return to find they have trodden on the wrong key and started downloading Windows 10.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

a country mile or three

This morning I went for a short walk in Constable country.  A friend bemoaned her lack of fitness the last time I saw her, so we agreed that next time we would chat while exercising our legs and lungs, which is free, instead of drinking coffee at over two pounds a cup while sitting down.

She lives in Constable country and knows the footpaths, so I was able to follow her without worrying about map reading and concentrate on the view.  The Dedham vale is very lovely at this time of year, fields with swathes of buttercups and clusters of trees with groups of brown cattle gathered in their shade.  Willy Lott's cottage and Flatford Mill are so ridiculously familiar from chocolate boxes and jigsaws that it is quite disconcerting to see them in the flesh.  The tower of Dedham church bobs in and out of sight depending on where you're standing.

My friend was touched by my enthusiasm, explaining that while she appreciated it, when she and her husband walked that circuit it tended to turn into a route march towards getting the day's ten thousand steps in.  The company of somebody who wanted to stop and look at the cows and the church tower and the shoals of tiny fish in the Stour made a change, and encouraged her to look anew at the landscape.  I remember that when I was at Oxford the only time I went to the Ashmolean was when I had a friend visiting.  It's good to see your own backyard through somebody else's eyes from time to time, if you can.

We notched up 7,500 steps according to her app, and were walking for around an hour and forty minutes, though some of that time was spent sitting down or standing about looking at stuff.  There were a couple of short, steepish hills, and I'd say it was a respectable effort for two middle aged ladies on the hottest day of the year, though for maximum health benefits and weight loss we should probably not have opened the Rich Tea biscuits at the end of it.

We went first thing, before the heat of the day could really build up.  Now I ought to be gardening, but it is so hot and humid I have ground to a halt.  Tomorrow is forecast to be cooler.  Mind you, thunderstorms were forecast half an hour ago and they haven't happened yet.  I was talking last night to a garden club in Kelvedon, and was mightily relieved to make it there and back with nothing worse than a few fat drops of moisture falling on the windscreen on the way home.  There were yellow warnings in place for heavy rain, and when I got home I read horror stories on the web of people in their cars being rescued from waist high flood water in Dunstable.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

close encounters of the furred kind

The first day of opening the study door to let the kittens explore the rest of the house and mix freely with the ginger cat went OK.  After an afternoon of mingling and exploring the kittens are now safely shut in again for the night and there has been no scratching or biting, while Our Ginger still seems to be speaking to us.  Compared to disaster scenarios in which Our Ginger ran screaming into the garden and wasn't seen again for two days, or attacked one of the kittens (bearing in mind he has caught three squirrels in as many days and eaten their heads) things have gone pretty well. There's a house where the creatures meet.  I guess I like it fine, so far.

Our Ginger seemed more worried about the encounter than the energetic kitten and Mr Fluffy, who both advanced on him as curiosity trumped anxiety.  I suppose that they did see lots of other adult cats at the rescue centre.  Vacuum cleaners, washing machines and strange humans have all come as a bit of a shock, strange cats not so.  Our Ginger hissed, not entirely convincingly, and Mr Fluffy hissed back, but he and the energetic kitten did both rub noses with Our Ginger.  The energetic kitten then began to follow him about, which bugged Our Ginger for a while until he gave up and went to sleep, whereupon the energetic kitten lay down a yard from him, and Our Ginger relaxed so much he rolled on to his back.  It was a hot afternoon, but even so.  Do kittens go in for role models or hero worship?  They appear fascinated by Our Ginger's tail.  They like tails generally, and Our Ginger's is much bigger than theirs and very mobile.

After a while Our Ginger had had enough, and we let him out through the inner glass door, but he only went as far as the doorstep rather than disappearing off to the far reaches of the garden in a huff, and later on he ate his extra biscuits we'd put in the outer hall for him.  And he seemed to get the hang of being let in and out, which is an imposition for an old boy used to having his own cat door.

The energetic kitten and Mr Fluffy amused themselves by running as fast as they could from one end of the house to the other, until they got tired and retreated to their base in the study.  They went upstairs as well, negotiating the stairs with great aplomb for animals which had almost certainly never seen stairs before in their lives.  There was some pathetic wailing when the energetic kitten discovered he was alone in the upstairs corridor.  Meanwhile the thoughtful kitten made a slow and methodical examination of the downstairs sitting room, and practised sitting in one of the cat beds in the hall.  Mr Fluffy found the unfinished remains of Our Ginger's lunch and ate them.

The kitchen window remained closed just in case they managed to get up to the the worktops, though I don't think they can jump that far yet, and with the inner glass door being shut as well the house became distinctly warm.  We have to keep this up, and the letting in and out of Our Ginger, for another month.

Monday, 6 June 2016

in the herb bed

I have been weeding the herb bed, or rather, I have been chiselling the clump forming grasses up by the roots while resorting to simply pulling off the top growth of the running grasses and the bindweed.  It was one of those jobs that got three quarters done in the spring, but never finished in the miasma of colds, and as the climbing rose at the back of the bed is out now it seemed a waste to view it through a haze of grass.  It's amazing how quickly weed grasses shoot up at this time of the year.  A friend who is opening her garden for a village event in the third weekend of July, and didn't manage to do much gardening last year, has been going around her borders digging out waist high grass, so I'm not alone.

A well conducted bed would not have running grass in it, or bindweed, but they simply turned up, and I am not going to dig out all the mint and oregano and lemon balm so that I can fallow the bed for a year or two, while pulling every fresh sliver of grass out from the roots of the climbing rose, the clematis on tripods and the sage bush.  And I don't have the time or the inclination to stick a bamboo cane next to every piece of bindweed, wait for it to grow to the top and then treat it with glyphosate while being careful not to drip on the rightful occupants of the bed.  I could, but I'm not going to.

The rose is 'Meg', a 1950s climbing hybrid tea, with large, semi double flowers in a very lovely shade of pink with a tinge of apricot.  She barely produces any repeat flowers after the main glorious flush, but has fine hips, large as conkers and a warm coral pink.  I grew 'Meg' in my previous garden and liked her so much that when we moved house I bought another.  The shrub has been moved once, since she was originally planted against the end of another shed until we built the pot store over the spot.  She hasn't made much new growth in the past couple of years, and I gave her a generous dose of fish, blood and bone this afternoon and ran the hose on her for a long time, something I should have done back in March.

The Systems Administrator does not entirely believe in the herb bed.  Sprigs of rosemary from the bush in the turning circle turn up regularly in cooking, but we have at least two and possibly three jars of dried sage sitting in the kitchen cupboard, even though I have pointed out several times that the big, grey leaved shrub in the middle of the herb bed is culinary sage, Salvia officinalis.  We have two jars of ready made mint sauce as well, even though there is lots of lovely fresh mint at this time of the year.  In all fairness it does get rather tough and hairy later in the year.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

animal tales and a plant postscript

We have been trying to put Our Ginger on a diet.  After the old tabby died he virtually stopped eating, and we were quite worried about him, and since the kittens arrived we have been trying to cheer him up, and he has expanded.  I was quite shocked when I read the daily recommended allowance of cat biscuits, weighed it out on the kitchen scales and saw how small twenty grammes of biscuits was.  Under the new regime we weigh his ration of dry food and put his daily allowance of pouches out at the start of the day and that's it, if and when he eats all of it he's not getting any more.

There are a couple of snags with this theory.  The guidance on the biscuit box about how much you should be feeding to cats of various weights (which doesn't even go up to Our Ginger's weight the last time he visited the vet) doesn't specify the ambient temperature, but casual observation shows that cats eat much more when it's cold.  And if we feed Our Ginger less than he wants to eat he is perfectly capable of going out and making up the shortfall for himself.  This morning I found a quarter of a mouse outside the garage, just a tail and one hind leg.  I assume the other three quarters disappeared down the cat, along with the head of the headless squirrel that the Systems Administrator found laid out in front of the television.

One of the kittens has had an upset tummy.  I would not have believed how many interesting conversations about poo the SA and I could hold with perfectly straight faces until we got these kittens.  On Friday it was definitely the energetic one, but his last recorded bowel movement was firm and perfectly formed.  So was the watchful kitten's last stool, while Mr Fluffy performed beautifully last night.  This could mean that all is now well, or that the problem is random.  Maybe they sometimes eat too much.  The energetic one ate a piece of paper this morning, which can't be good for him.

Last night's camera session showed a fox walking along the low wall in front of the dahlia bed, while this morning a large rabbit bolted across the concrete in broad daylight, after I'd been out to get the camera.  The rabbits really are taking the piss now.  One has been eating the alpines in the pots on the terrace, and nipping through the stalks of flowers it did not bother to eat, leaving them strewn around the pot.  The terrace (or patio) is all of ten paces from the cat door.  Don't they know we have a squirrel killer living here?

On another subject entirely I promised to let you know how a couple of tender plants over-wintered.  Begonia 'Glowing Embers' turns out to keep well from year to year.  They had made fat surface level tubers by last autumn.  I left them in their pots over the winter and kept them dry, then started watering them again in the spring.  Four of the five began to sprout new leaves and are growing away nicely.  The fifth didn't.  The tuber felt softer to the touch than the others, so perhaps I got the watering slightly wrong.  Still, four out of five isn't bad.  I consolidated the survivors into one large pot and stood it in the shady patch outside the conservatory, where they can jazz up the ferns and hosta.  The fancy dark leaved Ipomoea, on the other hand, didn't form any kind of tuber and by the middle of winter I decided that they were dead and I needed the space in the greenhouse.  Garden centres would like us to buy lots of new bedding every year, but I'm trying to concentrate on things I can keep from year to year or grow myself from seed.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

what the camera saw

I was not pleased to discover this morning that a tray of young sunflower plants I'd left on the concrete outside the greenhouse had been eaten to stumps overnight.  Rabbits.  I knew they'd been eating the plants in the sweep of gravel that runs round in front of the blue summerhouse next to the hedge, but that's close to cover.  I didn't expect them to emerge right out into the open and attack plants on the concrete.  Alas, if only I'd left the sunflowers in the greenhouse until planting them into the dahlia bed they'd have been OK, since the bed is backed by a wall and has netting along the front to keep the chickens out of it.

Later on I retrieved the wildlife camera from the gravel by the blue summerhouse, where it had ended up for several nights because I never got round to going and collecting it.  There were, as I expected, numerous shots of a rabbit, just the one but a biggie, hopping around.  Something has eaten the hollyhocks, taken all the flower stems off a campanula, reduced a small Ozothamnus to half its previous size, and kept some scabious grazed down to low cushions.  The photos showed the culprit out around midnight, and between quarter to six and half past in the morning.  Short of expecting the Systems Administrator to spend the night in the blue hut with a gun, which is not going to happen, there's no way of getting a shot at rabbits in that corner.  It is too far from the house to take aim from an upstairs window.

More disconcertingly, the camera showed a lot of fox activity, with a fully grown adult working back and forth across the space in front of the blue hut pretty much every night, around midnight and just after.  At least in one picture it appeared to have a rabbit clamped in its jaws, but it was altogether too much fox so close to the house, and the hen house.  Living in the country we expect the odd one to pass through, but not be criss crossing the front garden nightly.  Why there?  Where is it living?  And where is the rabbit coming from?

I was galvanised to finally mend the roof of the chicken run.  It has a wire netting top, since a fox could swarm up less than five feet of vertical netting and get in if it were open.  It also has a hawthorn bush growing in it, which seeded itself into the run after it was built and somehow avoided being scratched up by the chickens.  We've left it, since it creates some shade and cover which hens are supposed to like, being derived from jungle fowl.  However as the hawthorn has grown it has dislodged some of the netting roof.  I kept meaning to fill the hole with an extra bit of chicken wire, indeed, the job had been on my list of Things to Do for such a long time that it stood at number two.  Since the actual chance of a fox spotting a small hole in the roof seemed quite low I never quite got round to doing anything about it, but today I did.

The next job with the rabbit is to work out where it's coming from.  Does it, oh horror of horrors, represent another colony living inside the garden, or is it jumping in from the wood?  Raising the height of the netting along the side of the wood is another long standing and stalled project on my list of things to do, but perhaps I need to get on with it as a matter of urgency.

Friday, 3 June 2016

pets and livestock

The kittens had visitors today.  Mr Fluffy did well, allowing himself to be stroked and purring loudly, but the normally energetic one sat in my filing tray looking rather subdued before being sick behind a cupboard and producing a small liquid poop.  When I reported back to the Systems Administrator the SA said that he'd produced a large liquid poop earlier while I'd been out.  He seems fine now, and comparing notes I think that between us we've been giving them too many biscuits.  The thoughtful one hid in the corner at the back of the lowest shelf of the bookcase so that the visitors saw nothing of him but a pair of baleful green eyes, but I wasn't expecting any more from him.  He is still pretty nervous, though he will now sleep in my lap when he's in the mood.

They were all weighed while they were at the vet.  The energetic one is the biggest by a whopping hundred grammes, and Mr Fluffy is the smallest by a whisker.  He does still feel nothing but bone under all the fluff.  They are all large for their age, according to the vet.  She did not share my enthusiasm for hunting cats, and rescued a baby rabbit from hers.  Rescue rabbits?  I'll be posting a reward for every pair of ears laid on the front doorstep.

Our Ginger has a new game, which is to cry outside the bedroom door early in the morning, any time from five onwards.  We let him in to try and reassure him that he is still a loved pet, hoping he would go to sleep at the end of the bed while we got some more kip ourselves, but instead he poked his toes up the SA's nose unless the SA stroked him.  The SA claims to have stroked him for three quarters of an hour yesterday, and half an hour this morning, but I wouldn't know.  I was asleep.

It was so grey and horrid and dismal that I couldn't find the enthusiasm to go out into the garden.  I did extract a super of honey in my beautifully hygienic and clean kitchen that I spend most of yesterday washing and wiping while it was equally cold and dull.  I took the super off the beehive on Monday when it was warm, and it has been sitting in the spare room until I had time to process it.  I got nearly a bucket full from the one super, and since I can't remember the capacity of the bucket I don't know how many pounds that is.  The colony it came from has built up extremely well, after doing absolutely nothing last year.  It rather puts me off the idea of uniting colonies at the end of the season, since how do I know which queens to keep?  Nothing about this colony last year would have made me think it was going to do so well this spring.

The new little chickens are growing, and beginning to look more like small hens as their tails develop.  Beyond making sure that they have food and water and are not being badly bullied by the old hen they have been rather left to their own devices, because we have been so taken up with the kittens and the weather has been patchy since they arrived.  I don't suppose they mind.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

making new plants

There is some progress to report with the attempt to grow Clivia from seed.  The seeds in the heated propagator, which were sown in multi-purpose compost, and the ones in the airing cupboard which were in vermiculite both germinated.  A single fat root is the first thing to appear, then rather unexpectedly the leaf emerges not from inside the large seed but from the top of the root. Those that had begun to develop in the airing cupboard were pure white, whereas the ones grown in the light were green with a reddish tinge.  Green is obviously better though the others will presumably green up once exposed to the light, and if you had a heated propagator I'd be inclined to favour that over the airing cupboard method.  Apart from avoiding the problem of lack of light, I didn't always remember I had seeds in the airing cupboard, hence they were left to grow fungus white in the dark, and watering was slightly erratic.  The others were checked every time I inspected the propagating cases in the greenhouse.  But if an airing cupboard is all you've got it certainly works.

Development of the first leaves is proceeding at a glacial pace.  I was slightly disheartened to notice a very small Clivia seedling in a friend's loo, with a 2012 label stuck in the pot.  If mine only make a couple of leaves no more than four inches long in four years then they might just about reach flowering size in time for my funeral.  But her plant was quite a long way from the window, and I don't know if she's ever fed it.

She had a purple and brown tall bearded iris all along one border, very graceful in habit, which I coveted enormously, so made admiring noises amounting to a brick sized hint.  It turned out that she had found it years ago in Sussex.  Riding along on her bicycle she saw a heap of discarded rhizomes in a ditch and rescued some.  Seeing how generously it had spread through her border I could understand how some spare roots might have ended up in a ditch.  I don't know if it would be too forward to take a plastic bag and a small fork with me the next time I'm visiting and ask if I can dig up the piece she said growing out into the lawn in the way of the mower.  It was so good I really did want a bit very badly.  She didn't know its name, given how she came by it, but said she had never seen it since in any garden centre and I could believe her.  It is quite possibly an old form, and probably worth running past an expert in old garden varieties of iris.

My attempt to raise an apricot coloured form of Primula florindae ended in failure for the second year running.  Last year I got good germination but over watered the seed pot in a spell of warm weather, perhaps remembering how the mature plant will grow in water, and the seedlings rotted. This time I got them to the stage of very small plants, but after I pricked them out individually into divided seed trays they all turned brown, withered and died over a period of two or three days.  I'm stumped by that.  Should I have found somewhere cooler to put the seed trays?  Do the young plants resent root disturbance and do I need to sow tiny pinches of seed into modules to avoid pricking out later?