Sunday, 31 July 2016

social history postponed

This afternoon we went to visit the Thorrington Tide Mill.  It is one of half a dozen mills in Essex owned or leased by Essex County Council that are in working order and open monthly to the public during the summer.  Thorrington's day for opening is the last Sunday in the month, and I was pleased that I had remembered it opened the day before it did, and not the day afterwards.

Opening hours are from two until five, and once the Systems Administrator had finished watching the Grand Prix we drove down to Thorrington.  We went there, but we did not see the mill.  A chain still hung across the patch of grass that must constitute the small car park advertised on the website (available only on mill open days) and a notice said that due to unforeseen circumstances the mill was not open.  There was nothing to do except turn around and go home again.  We were not the only disappointed would-be visitors, as another car that had turned into the car park just ahead of us did the same thing.

I was disappointed.  Also rather cross, having made the effort to go and interrupted the rhythm of my gardening day, and used up some of the kittens' daily allowance of biscuits prematurely to bribe them back into the house so that we could go out.  There was nothing on the website to say that the mill wouldn't be opening this month, and what sort of unforeseen circumstances were they anyway?  Presumably whoever was supposed to be opening the mill up and keeping an eye on visitors for the afternoon was ill.  Really the mill should be on Twitter, and so should I, and then we could have been warned.  Sorry peeps, no mill visits today.

Looking on the bright side we hadn't walked there.  Comparing notes afterwards each of us had separately considered suggesting making the mill visit the central point of a walk, and decided against it because it was still quite hot and we both had things to be getting on with at home.  It's a couple of miles to the mill, not long in the car but we'd have been pretty peeved if we'd walked there only to discover that it was shut.  And we hadn't taken anybody else with us or arranged to meet them there.  That would have made us feel fairly stupid, and guilty for wasting their time.

We can always go next month, if we remember, and if we don't have anything else on.  Or in September, though we provisionally have that Sunday pencilled in to go and see the splendid water powered Gunton Park Sawmill in Norfolk, which also only opens once a month and finishes for the year in September.  It appeared on TV in a series about the impact of the railways on Victorian England, and we agreed it looked amazing and were even more amazed to discover afterwards that it was in East Anglia and doable as a day trip.  But by then we'll just have got back from holiday and may feel we've done enough driving about and looking at things for the time being.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

a day in the gravel garden

I have been watering the gravel planting in the turning circle.  I don't often do that.  The plants are chosen to be happy on sand and reasonably drought tolerant.  But the garden is beginning to get quite severely dry, and as I looked at the browning cushions of thrift and rapidly dying foliage of the Asphodeline and Eryngium, I thought they were really beginning to suffer.  And the whole area looked very dreary to be the first thing to greet visitors as they approached the front door.

I'd been weeding and tidying the turning circle intermittently anyway, because it was a handy thing to do while keeping an eye on the kittens as they made their first forays out of doors and needed doing. The spent flower stems of the low growing Euphorbia myrsinites had passed from the attractive post flowering pink stage to an unappealing pale brown, while the fat, whiskery seed pods of Nigella damascena had turned from architectural green whiskery spheres to simply tatty, where they had not been grazed off by the rabbits to stumps.  Leathery dead leaves had blown in from the eleagnus hedge, and the whole area was a candidate for debrowning, quite apart from the weeds.

The routine with the hose is to set it down so that the spray head plays over a patch of gravel, weed and tidy nearby for a few minutes, then move the hose to the next patch of gravel, and so on.  The neighbours have got one of those back-and-forth spray things.  I had one once, but they end up giving patchy cover because tall plants mask the ones behind them, and it's difficult to cover right up to all the edges without wasting water on adjacent areas that may not need it.  My method works well as long as you keep moving the hose.  Each area gets a real soaking, but that's fine. One deep soak over the course of the summer is better than several light sprinklings.

I've been planting out more evening primrose grown from seed, a nice form with narrow leaves and flowers in a soft shade of apricot.  I think looking at my planting list that it is the variety 'Apricot Delight', but can't be bothered to go outside at this moment to check the label.  I used some a couple of years ago outside the blue summerhouse, and they appear to be perennial, unlike the yellow form I collected on Dunwich beach, which dies after flowering.  Those seed themselves very generously, and would like to spread around the garden.  Indeed, a few have put themselves in the end of the long border nearest the blue shed, but since that end of the border is supposed to be yellow and I like the play of the same plant across the front garden I shall leave them to it.

The creeping sorrel is incredibly persistent.  I used to be jealous and puzzled that Beth Chatto's gravel garden didn't seem to suffer from it, until spotting a tiny bit and realising that the difference was that I did not have a supply of keen Dutch and German horticultural students to weed it out for me.

Friday, 29 July 2016

some larger members of the carrot family

I deadheaded the hogweed that grows in one of the borders in the back garden today.  I felt slightly regretful as I did, because the large, flat flower heads have a fine, architectural silhouette as they turn to seed, and add height without casting much shade.  The average height of common hogweed according to Wikipedia is between 50 and 120 centimetres, with a maximum of two metres.  Mine must have enjoyed life in a flower bed that was dosed last winter with spent mushroom compost and blood, fish and bone, since it shot up towards not far off the two metre mark.  But the architectural heads don't hold on to their seeds for long before scattering them generously, and the large, flat brown seeds germinate readily, each turning into a little parsnip rooted miniature hogweed that requires winkling out with the point of a trowel.  I spent a great hunk of time last winter teasing tiny hogweeds out of the beds in the back garden, and don't want it to become an annual ritual.

On my visit to Corpusty Mill I saw giant hogweed in the flesh, with the garden owner present to vouch that that was indeed what it was.  He had two stands of it, and was slightly defensive when we asked if it was really giant hogweed, stressing that the seeds could not escape into the wider countryside from the places in his garden where he had it, and yes, he did let it set some seed in order to keep it going in the garden.  That might be a wise precaution if you want to grow it, since fewer outlets sell it now than formerly.  The plant centre stocked it the first couple of years I worked there, but dropped it at much the same time as they stopped selling the species of Rhus with particularly noxious sap.

The sap of giant hogweed can produce very nasty blisters indeed by the particularly unpleasant mechanism of making the skin sensitive to light, so that even after the victim's initial injuries have healed they have to protect the affected area from further sun exposure.  They are likely to be scarred, and in the worst case blinded if the sap gets in their eyes.  It is really not a nice plant. And yet it is very handsome, quite apart from the illicit thrill of harbouring something so dangerous.  I wouldn't grow it myself, not least because I wouldn't enjoy the feeling that I was taking my sight in my hands each year when I deadheaded it, and while I could tell human visitors not to touch it I would worry about the cats.

Now I've seen the common and giant hogweeds in full flower I wouldn't confuse the two.  Giant hogweed is not just taller, it is more giant in all its parts.  The leaves are bigger and shinier and more divided than those of poor old cow mumble.  The flower heads are enormous and multi branched, each individual umbel a gigantic saucer with saucer upon saucer heaped up to make the whole.  The stem is a brighter green.  I have witnessed well grown examples of the common hogweed produce the odd nervous squeak from people worried they might have the giant one on their hands, but really the two are quite different.

Tomorrow I might cut down the angelica stems in the rose bed.  Strange that when giant hogweed is so toxic, and even common hogweed sap is to be avoided, angelica stems can be candied and put on cakes (even if they have gone completely out of fashion).  The angelica seed heads are big orbs atop stems fully six feet tall, and again they are fine architectural features, but weeding out angelica seedlings is about as tedious as dealing with baby hogweeds.  And I must definitely hoik the flowered parsley stems out of the dahlia bed before they can leave me with a thousand million little parsley plants all over the gravel outside the blue shed.

Thursday, 28 July 2016


When I was running through what is flowering in the back garden at the moment, I forgot to mention the hydrangeas.  I do not think it was a case of the Freudian process of repression as a factor in forgetting: it was late and I was tired.  I am extremely fond of hydrangeas, and if I had a larger and damper garden I should grow more of them.

They are stalwarts of the large garden for late summer colour.  Go to many of the great British gardens that were originally designed for peak impact in the spring or early summer, and you will see banks of hydrangeas being planted out as their owners and managers realise that July and August are important holiday and tourist months, and that by then not only are the naturalised daffodils a distant memory, but the rambling roses planted up the trees are over.  Hydrangeas are classic season extenders.  They sit happily in a woodland garden, and are far less demanding of time and maintenance than a herbaceous border.

Outside the conservatory is 'Ayesha' Mk II.  The real thing is a flat headed pink hortensia type, with unusually fleshy petals.  It enjoyed the wet June, and has made a great deal of growth, so much so that it is starting to crowd in on the tree peony next to it, and may need some careful editing soon. In the hierarchy of garden occupants, Paeonia rockii rates well above mophead hydrangeas.  Sorry, Ayesha.  Next to it is Ayesha Mk I, which was sold to me as 'Ayesha' although as soon as it bloomed it became clear that it was no such thing.  The petals are pink but not at all fleshy, and fundamentally undistinguished.  I once tried to dig it out, broke my fork on it, and gave up.  It is harmless, and now looks quite pretty with a couple of self sown wild ferns growing up through its feet.  I would have no hesitation in razing it to the ground if it started growing into anything else.

Next to the nameless pink is a paniculata type hydrangea with pointed domed heads of flowers. The variety is 'Vanille Fraise': the freshly opened flowers are currently a dead shade of white, but will turn pink in due course.  It is rather crammed in against a dark leaved Podocarpus, which is growing like billy ho following the wet spell, and rose 'Sally Holmes', which is looking distinctly sorry for itself (herself).  The hydrangea would probably like to have more space, and may yet make a growth spurt and start fighting back against the conifer.  Shrubs in this garden that don't die in the couple of years after planting often speed up later on, once they have got their roots right down.

In the sloping bed along the southern boundary of the back garden are an oak leaved hydrangea and another paniculata.  Hydrangea quercifolia is a lovely thing, with tall, pointed domes of flowers that are (from memory) individually larger and more widely spaced than the paniculatas.  I think of them as being opulent but less dense, without being precisely sure how they achieve that effect without looking at one.  The large, oak shaped leaves colour well in the autumn and remain on the bush for a long time.  This is my second plant.  The first suddenly died but I was never sure why. Winter cold, perhaps?  The replacement is still quite small.  Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' nearby is another form whose flowers start off white before changing colour, in its case to a pale lime green.

Hydrangea paniculata flowers on the current year's wood so in March you can prune it fairly hard to a lowish framework.  After several anxious weeks in which nothing seems to happen at all it will suddenly produce a lot of strong straight shoots which will start flowering around the last week of July.  You could not prune it, of course, in which case it would make a larger shrub with more but individually smaller panicles of flowers.  With pruning mine makes it to about five or six feet in a season, which is plenty.  As Christopher Lloyd pointed out, most shrubs only flower on their outsides so if you let them get too large they occupy a great deal of space to no good purpose.  Do not try this pruning regime on mopheads if you want flowers in the same year.  If you need to reduce the size of a mophead the best way is to take out some of the oldest and longest stems at the base annually, renewing the plant over several years.

At the bottom of the sloping bed lives Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle', a shrub of mildly suckering habit whose lax stems are scarcely up to the job of supporting the vase domes of white flowers.  'Annabelle' was very trendy a few years ago, which I suppose means that in due course she will go out of fashion, if she hasn't already.  Like the paniculatas she can be pruned quite hard in the spring, and one of these years I may buy mine a smart rusted iron plant support to stop her flopping at what should be her moment of glory.

Around the corner in the ditch bed is a variety of Hydrangea aspera.  They have huge felty grey leaves, and make imposing shrubs if happy and gaunt, sad ones if not.  Mine was looking great a few years ago, then just as I was preening myself that it was so much better than the one in the Beth Chatto gardens it went abruptly off the boil.  They hate dry summers, and while they like some shade they don't like too much, as far as I can work out.  Watch out for encroaching trees, as corners that seemed just pleasantly shady can become oppressively dark after a couple of seasons without your really noticing.  My plant is the variety 'Mauvette' which flowers in a pleasantly subfusc shade of purple.  Pruning at the moment is limited to trimming out the dead wood.

Nearby is a lacecap whose identity I'm not sure about off the top of my head.  I had more hydrangeas along the ditch in the early years, but some died of winter cold or summer drought, others were shaded out as the trees grew, and a couple drowned after a very wet winter when the water table rose under them and turned their bed to mud soup.  I know I still have 'King George', a mophead which flowers in a rather beetrooty shade of red and which has made prodigious growth in the past fifteen years since being liberated from a pot.  You can grow hydrangeas in containers, but they need plenty of water and feeding and are probably truly happier in the ground.  Most shrubs are.  H. macrophylla 'Selina' still battles along in a pot since I fell for her cherry red lacecap flowers at the plant centre.  I'd like to get her into the ground but really have no more space.  She is looking happier this year since I moved her into a bigger pot, and have been remembering to feed her.

There are lots more I'd grow if only I had space.  There are some fabulous bright blue forms, while 'Zorro' in addition to electric blue flowers has black stems.  I'd love one of those, as I would the wonderfully named 'Merveille Sanguine' with its plum red flowers and bronze coloured young leaves. But there is no more room until something dies or is evicted.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

high summer garden

I called at the Clacton garden centre after going to the dump, to stock up on gardening gloves and string, and they had given up on summer bedding.  Where there had been a row of Dutch trollies with packs of petunias and arctotis there was just an empty space, and one trolley with a few vegetable plants on it.  They must have taken the view that the bedding plant sale stage of the summer is well and truly over, and binned anything they hadn't sold.

The garden is starting to assume that late summer air of weariness.  The wet June kept it going remarkably well, but after the hot spell it has started to flop.  I must have another session removing old foxglove stalks and the iris stems I missed last time, plus a few flower stalks of aquilegia and poppy that are still hanging about, but no amount of tidying could clear away the feeling of heaviness.

The ground is getting too dry to weed in places.  The Systems Administrator scratched around in the railway garden yesterday, but pronounced the soil too hard.  I generously offered the use of the hose for a couple of hours to soften it, but the SA has not taken me up on that suggestion.  Even though it's not as hot as it was last week, it's still dreadfully muggy to be crawling about in the gravel.  I managed a brief stint weeding the turning circle until a rain shower too sharp to ignore drove me indoors, though at least that means we'll get supper at a reasonable hour tonight.  I am still planting seed raised evening primrose into the gravel, since they've got to come out of their pots before winter comes and I can't do everything in October, but it's going to be tricky remembering where they are to water them.

Meanwhile I am looking at the July and August chapters of books that go through the garden month by month, plus Marina Christopher's book on late summer flowers, searching for ideas on how to rejig the rose beds so that they are not such black holes of boredom by late July.  Things that will grow in evil yellow clay that can sit wet in winter but dries to concrete in summer, in an corner of the country where average annual rainfall is sub 500 mm.  Next to an active rabbit colony which is set to remain active until such a point as the energetic kitten's emerging hunting skills and the Systems Administrator's sniping from the bedroom window manage to finish them off.  Easy peasy.  I am sure there are lots of lovely things that will grow beautifully.  Joking apart, planning is part of the fun in gardening.

I would not like to leave you with the impression that there is nothing flowering by now.  Au contraire, various things are looking very good.  The Romneya coulteri has never been so splendid, several of the clematis have responded really well to the wet June and last winter's feeding, Verbena bonariensis is at full clatter and I have some more young plants in pots ready to slip into gaps, magenta flowered Geranium 'Ann Folkard' has outgrown the rabbits to make huge pillows, mingled with pink and white everlasting sweet pea, the pots are looking good with fuchsias and cosmos and dahlias.  If I had only finished the edges and the de-browning and trimmed the whiskery hedges it would be up to open gardens standard in terms of overall amount of floral interest.  It's just that I can see bits that could be better.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

music and kittens

The music identification app on my phone is quite creepily good.  It needed three goes to identify a Saint-Saens piano concerto, and I began to think maybe it wouldn't work on classical music, but it got there, right recording and everything, and I was talking the first time I tried.  Last night it got Dvorak's cello concerto straight off, and this evening as I was cooking I tested it on The Purcell Quartet and Corelli, and it was there within a couple of seconds.  That's seriously obscure.  I'm getting curious about what it can do now.  Fred Wedlock?  Tinariwen?  We shall see.

We watched the kittens as they ate their last couple of pouches for the day, and realised that the serious kitten had eaten the whole of one pouch, while the energetic kitten and Mr Fluffy shared the other between them, and were then too bashful to muscle in on the serious kitten's plate.  Time for three plates.  We tried that at the beginning, being aware of the theory that cats like their own space and their own food rations, but gave up because they never stuck to a plate each, instead piling into whichever helping they saw first, even if it meant that all three of them were sharing.

This evening I ushered the energetic kitten and then Mr Fluffy into the kitchen for an extra pouch, where they unfortunately interrupted Our Ginger who was attempting to eat a little late night supper in peace, and scoffed the remains of his supper as well.  Our Ginger was very forbearing about being robbed of his food, and by the time I'd put second and third helpings down to try and placate everybody I'd lost track of how much they'd all had and Mr Fluffy and his brother were looking as round as barrels, but extremely pleased with themselves.  If there is a nasty mess in the litter tray in the morning I'll know I overcompensated.

We went through a dodgy few days after starting to let them into the garden when they thought that the extra thick gravel that had built up outside the front door was meant as their new litter tray.  I can see why they might have formed that impression, but it was not very nice for the postman.  After a couple of days of poop scooping decisive action was required to break the habit. The Systems Administrator scraped up the thick gravel and dumped it elsewhere on the drive, then dosed the ground with a thick solution of mint flavoured shower gel.  Either I bought it, or the SA bought it because there was nothing else available, but the SA does not awfully like mint scented showers.  It turns out the kittens do not like artificial mint either, and have stopped crapping right outside the front door.  That's good, and we didn't even have to buy a special feline repellent at the garden centre.

Monday, 25 July 2016

outward bound

It's interesting watching the kittens leapfrog each other in their development as they progress towards being adult cats.  When we first opened the front door and let them go out into the garden, the serious kitten was the most cautious about the whole outdoors project.  For the first couple of days he sat in the hall, staring out through the open door over the gravel and (from a kitten's eye view) endless expanse of plants with a sombre air.  Then he decided to come out, and now he is the most independent about exploring.

It is a nuisance that his favourite place to explore is the circuit around the oil tank at the end of the wood.  The edge of the wood is bandit territory: we've lost more chickens to foxes there than anywhere else, and I wish to goodness he would go and play in the middle of the back garden where he'd be relatively safe.  He will not be told, of course.  I bribe him away from the oil tank with a few biscuits, but he eats the biscuits politely and is back up by the tank.

He had a growth spurt about a month ago, and started to look like a small cat while the other two were still definitely kittens.  By the time they all went off to the vet for the terrible chop he was the largest by a considerable margin, overtaking the energetic kitten who was significantly heavier than the other two when we got them.  The energetic kitten, meanwhile, has suffered a crisis of confidence.  Today he was reluctant to go outside, and after the other two had gone off and left him indoors he kept rushing up to first one of us and then the other, looking for affection.

Mr Fluffy explores blithely along the eleagnus hedge.  He was climbing it yesterday afternoon but fell out, to judge from the crash while we were drinking tea on the terrace.  He leaps at butterflies, and collects leaves which he brings back into the house.  The only kitten to have captured any actual prey so far as we know is the serious kitten, who caught a vole last week.  He took it into the house, and since I am keen for them to act as rodent controllers as well as pets I didn't like to discourage him by shouting at him to take it out.  I hope Mr Fluffy does not become a bird specialist.  He seems to lack the concentration to wait by holes in the ground for things to come out, but is very quick on his feet and seemingly obsessed by flying things.  He likes watching the bats as they hunt past the windows after nightfall.

Our Ginger had had enough of them by this evening, and stomped off in a hissy fit to the herb bed, but when he turned round and saw that none of his small acolytes had followed him he stomped back and settled on the doorstep, surrounded by adoring kittens.  The Systems Administrator has caught him a couple of times leading them around the back garden.  He wouldn't admit it, but I think he secretly likes them.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

rose, thou art old and too fat

The lawn edges have assumed a Forth Bridge quality, before the switched to epoxy coating put an end to the endless repainting.  I hadn't got all the way round when it was time to start again at the beginning.  Obviously I should have put cutting the lawn edges further up my list of things to do, only it is not as entertaining as fussing around with flowers, or as conspicuously urgent as potting things on from their tiny pots before they are ruined by drought and starvation.  Fortunately we do not open to the public and the Systems Administrator has no strong view on lawn edges.

I pondered the question of the roses as I worked my way around the edge of the rose bed below the veranda.  Edging provides good thinking time in a garden.  You look at each part of the bed in turn, and the whole view unfolds from a gradually shifting angle.  As I clipped, slowly and methodically while keeping an eye out for approaching kittens or any toads that might be sheltering under the whiskery edges, I saw how the overgrown, massed effect of the roses was exacerbated by the eager young rose stems shooting up all around them.  These were not suckers of the root stock, but the actual old roses.  Several of them, having been quite demure in their early years, now run not quite like the devil, but pretty vigorously.  I chopped the unwanted shoots down to ground level last winter, but they have sprung back.

I noticed too how the Viburnum x juddii I'd tucked into the rose bed to provide some spring interest was being overwhelmed by roses, and how well the pink flowered herbaceous Clematis 'Aljonushka' was doing up its narrow rusted iron column, new this year.  Last year it burrowed off into the undergrowth and I virtually didn't see it.  I reflected on what space was available for adding plants to flower at this time of year, and had to admit that there wasn't very much, except to try and grow even more clematis.  Cutting the edges took longer than it would have otherwise because great lumps of rose had fallen out over the lawn, and I was having to cut up to a yard's width of grass in from the edge in the places where the SA hadn't been able to get in with the lawnmower.

The black spot was terrible.  Whole branches had defoliated, and the repeat flowering on the modern shrub and David Austin varieties that ought to be capable of producing successive flushes wasn't anything like as good as it should have been.  My conviction grew that I needed to reduce the roses a lot, take out the thick old stems at ground level, shorten the others, and generally try and get some light and air back into the bed.  The Systems Administrator appeared to check that I was keeping tabs on the time, since I was going out to lunch, and listened while I held forth on the rose problem.  Maybe you should prune them hard, said the SA when I paused for breath.  The SA believes in pruning roses hard since the SA's father went on a Wisley pruning course and practised what he had learned on his return home, scandalising the neighbours.  The roses responded magnificently.

That's it.  The roses are getting a big, rejuvenating chop this winter, and if any of them die then it will make room for something else.  Once I'd decided about the roses, my eye fell on the Baptisia australis which is presenting a wall of greenery over four feet high for the second year running, with about three flowers on it in total.  Maybe I should dig out the Baptisia and use the large space it is currently occupying to grow something else.  I quite like Baptisia when it is doing what it's supposed to.  It has blue flowers like a cross between a lupin and an outsized sweet pea.  But mine has virtually stopped bothering to produce any flowers at all, and has not been persuaded by this spring's application of fish, blood and bone.  I think that maybe after fifteen years I'm getting fed up with it.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

a day in the greenhouse

I have finally finished tidying up in the greenhouse.  Everything that needed potting on has been potted, and those past potting have been thrown away, along with those pots of seeds that failed to germinate.  I know that in theory they might yet come up, but in practice after the recent mini heatwave they are almost certainly well and truly cooked.  I am afraid I may have junked a small pot containing three young seed raised Amaryllis bulbs, but that's tough.  I need a better system for bulbs, maybe a dedicated seed tray to stand the pots in so that I don't assume from the lack of top growth that there's nothing in them.

The heat has done for some of my cuttings.  Three slips of Plectranthus collapsed completely.  I only took them recently, and exhuming the remains revealed that they had already rooted before dying of heatstroke.  Fortunately I kept the mother plant, a lop sided freebie from the Chatto gardens, who were giving customers a free plant if they spent a minimum amount.  It was a free plant of their choice, and not initially labelled until the person before us in the queue asked at the till what it was.  That was a not unreasonable question, since it turned out not to be hardy, so any customers who planted it out in their gardens without knowing what it was will be disappointed after next winter.

Two pots of cuttings of Dianthus 'Doris' also shrivelled to a dull green, and didn't look as though they would be making roots now.  Annoyingly, I had junked the source plant after taking the cuttings because it was so tatty and I was thinking about reusing the pot.  I told myself that a replacement 'Doris' would not be very difficult to find and that one plant wouldn't be very expensive, then was pleased to discover a previously rooted 'Doris' cutting among the tray of pinks on the greenhouse floor being overrun by a tomato plant.  I can take more cuttings off that in due course.  The moral is to hang on to the parent after taking cuttings until you are quite sure that they are rooting.

I took some more Plectranthus cuttings and stood them out in the cold frame where it might be cooler, but on the whole it seemed a waste of time and cutting material to do more while the hot spell lasts.  Instead I marshalled together the pots of things I wanted to propagate and stood them near the greenhouse door until the hot spell should come to an end.

The tray of little plants of what should be the white flowered form of Begonia evansiana had scorched during the hottest days, but were already making new leaves.  I picked the dead and damaged ones off, and stood the tray down beside the tomatoes where they would get more shade. Begonia evansiana is one of the easiest things to propagate, making new bulbils in the axils of its leaves.  All you have to do is remember to collect them and pot them up.  And avoid watering them too much in the winter, or they will rot.  They spread themselves quite happily into other plants' pots in the conservatory, which is how I came to still have the white flowered type, having killed the original parent by over watering.

I tied the tomato plants into their system of canes.  I don't understand tomato growing.  I even bought a book about it, and was still unclear how many side shoots I was supposed to remove.  Last year's tomato plants grew wildly everywhere, and after I had rather given up on them suddenly ripened a lot of fruit, some of which I didn't fancy because it had been lying on the greenhouse floor, and some of which split due to erratic watering.  I resolved to try harder, and am quite surprised at how organised this year's tomatoes look in comparison.  A couple of trusses are almost ripe, and none have split yet.

Friday, 22 July 2016

the mayflower project

I went to Harwich this afternoon to visit the Mayflower Project.  This is a scheme to build a full size replica of the Pilgrim Fathers' ship and sail it across the Atlantic in 2020 to coincide with  the four hundredth anniversary of the original voyage, following which it will be moored in Harwich as a tourist attraction.  That's the plan, anyway.  Nobody knows exactly what the original Mayflower looked like, but they have agreed a set of plans for a vessel that will look pretty authentically seventeenth century above the waterline, while having modern concessions like an engine in case of emergencies and for use in harbours, and navigation lights.  At a hundred and forty foot long it would be a bit bigger than a Thames barge.

At the moment there is not an awful lot of ship to see on the ground.  They have laid the keel, and erected the bottom section of the stern post and one set of ribs.  It is slightly difficult to imagine that there will be a finished and certified ocean going vessel in less than four years' time.  But the manager who showed us around was incredibly enthusiastic and energetic, and it could happen.

The project is based in the former rail marshalling yard.  They have got the roof back on the old railway shed, which did have trees growing through it.  This now houses a workshop and an upper floor giving them a loft for making full sized patterns.  They have already managed to put quite a few local youngsters through level one to three NVQs in engineering and carpentry related subjects, including some hard to teach ones who weren't succeeding at school and the odd young offender. The previously derelict station building nearby has been renovated and used as training rooms, and there is a grand plan to turn the rest of the former marshalling yard into a car park so that they can accommodate more than a dozen tourist cars.  There is a modest visitor centre at the front housed in a cabin recycled from the Harwich Festival of the Sea a couple of years ago, and a much smarter purpose built visitor centre about to open behind the shed overlooking the yard where the keel is laid, so visitors will be able to look at the work going on even if they can't poke around the yard. There is an enormous pile of oak trunks from the Tregothnan Estate, brought up from Cornwall one by one when there was cheap space available in an empty returning lorry.  There is celebrity endorsement in the form of Richard Branson and Stephen Fry.

The manager has a vision of all Harwich's small museums and attractions coming together under one tourist banner, with the railway branded The Mayflower Line.  Abellio Greater Anglia are on board for the idea, if they retain the franchise.  Local teenagers have been painting brightly coloured panels illustrating Harwich's maritime and railway history, to decorate the line by the station.  The dream is that the replica Mayflower will be the first in a line of wooden ships, bringing wooden boat building back to Harwich and offering engineering apprenticeships in the town.  Next up is a Viking longboat, if everything works out.

I hope it does.  I like Harwich.  I fear the sound of Felixstowe docks across the harbour working 24-7 would be oppressive if one lived there, but on a sunny afternoon it is a nice place to visit.  The old town has become smarter in recent years, and the waterfront has a jaunty air on a bright summer's afternoon, with the Halfpenny Pier and a former light vessel moored alongside.  The Pier Hotel where we had tea after the Mayflower visit has just been refurbished, and featured recently in The Independent as their Cool Place of the Day.  It has a spoof of the shipping forecast running in the loo which is almost worth the visit by itself, but the cream teas are good as well.  The Systems Administrator and I have been saying we should go to Harwich sometime to pay a return visit to the Redoubt and tour round the little museums and rather good second hand bookshop.  If we do I must drag the SA along to the Mayflower project.

Addendum  I checked my Wittr app while I was there to check that my piece of battenberg cake had moved and was not stuck in the middle of the lettuce farm, and saw that I was now apparently bobbing around in the middle of the harbour.  The app guide did say that it fuzzed your location.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

time for an upgrade

Google killed my phone.  Apparently it is a known bug affecting early Android models.  All sorts of Google services that I don't use, understand or want kept trying to update themselves, draining the battery in the process.  The phone, left fully charged when I went to bed, would be completely flat by morning.  Even when I had switched it off before going to bed.  The analysis of battery use showed eighty-five per cent going on Google services.  It began to eat all my data allowance as well, until the other day for the first time ever I got a text warning me that with several days to go to the end of the month I had used eighty per cent of my monthly package.

Mobile phone battery life has been a thorny subject since the mobile was invented, but I don't use my phone to stream YouTube clips, play online games, update social media or listen to music.  I exchange the odd text, keep tabs on my emails if I'm out for the day, very occasionally ring somebody if I'm meeting them, and receive incoming calls so infrequently that the last time I had one I couldn't remember what kind of swipe I had to make on the touch screen to pick the call up. I would like to be able to use the internet on the go, to answer odd questions like What is a mesa landscape, which I wondered as I walked around the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition, but the old phone did not want to tell me in any reasonable timescale.

The Systems Administrator initially advised me to turn off my location unless I needed it, saying that GPS was a notorious drain on the battery.  I did, while suspecting that this was not the root of the problem since I used to be able to have the GPS on.  Then the SA actually looked at the phone, consulted Google, and pronounced that unwanted Google functions were the issue.  Unfortunately the phone was so old by mobile standards (which is to say at least three years) that the online guides to disabling unwanted Google features didn't even cover my model.  The SA, taking an educated best guess, managed to uninstal or disable the unwanted battery eaters.  The fix lasted all of ten days before they reinstalled and reactivated themselves, and once again the battery was drained dry overnight as if visited by some mobile phone feeding vampire.

A phone whose battery will not last the day, even assuming you had time to charge it fully before going out after it had completely discharged itself overnight, is no use at all.  After the requisite period of huffing and puffing about systems developers (probably young people) who couldn't leave well alone but were overloading and pestering middle aged people's phones to death, I resigned myself to getting a new phone.  The Systems Administrator kindly spent some time wading through reviews in order to be able to tell me which phone I wanted.  I have no interest in telephones.  I want it to work.  End of.  The SA informed me that what I wanted was a Samsung Galaxy J5, and the only decision I had to make was whether I wanted it in a black or gold case.

The young woman in the shop was extremely nice and efficient and did not make me feel as though I had asked to have a paper bag on my head as she changed over the SIM card, synchronised the contacts, and changed my monthly payment to a new (lower) figure for twice as much data as I had before.  The Systems Administrator has with any luck managed to set the new phone so that it will not automatically synch its contacts with my laptop like the last one did without being asked to (I do not need the email addresses of every club booking secretary and mail order plant supplier I have ever had dealings with plus the entire music society committee on my mobile telephone, thank you Google.  Just the phone numbers of those friends who have my mobile number will be quite sufficient).  I spent a happy half afternoon playing with the phone, at the end of which I had checked I knew how to answer incoming calls, had deleted approximately a hundred unwanted contacts, and was equipped with antivirus plus apps for The Guardian, National Rail Enquiries, Sudoku Daily, the AA, the Art Fund, and Wittertainment.  My location is marked by a piece of battenberg cake.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

a visit to the west end

I went to a West End musical this afternoon.  I hadn't been to a musical since Phantom and Les Miserables sometime in the 1980s, but a friend was keen to see Kinky Boots and asked me to go with her.  I love the film and had introduced her to it, and she, though initially confused about why I was so warmly recommending a story about a failing shoe factory and transvestism, loved it as well and began recommending it to other people.  Thus word of mouth proceeds.  It is a wonderful film and I am shocked to think that it is now over a decade since it came out.

I wasn't at all sure that anybody could match Chiwetel Ejiofor, who is a truly magnetic screen presence.  I couldn't see how you would convert the story into a musical, and I wasn't sure I liked musicals.  But still.  The worst thing that could happen was that I would not greatly enjoy Kinky Boots The Musical, in which case I would know not to go to any more musicals for another twenty years while garnering some brownie points for accompanying my friend, who very much wanted to go and needed somebody to go with.  Better still, I might enjoy it, and best of all I might enjoy it very much indeed.

It was great.  It was done with a great deal of panache, the song and dance routines worked with the dialogue, the set design was fluid and clever, and the music was pretty good with quite an eighties vibe.  I see now that music and lyrics were written by Cyndi Lauper, which explains it.  I enjoyed Kinky Boots greatly, as did my friend.  And we had a nice lunch in one of the chain restaurants in Covent Garden first.

Only Network Rail were intent on spoiling our day out.  I'd pushed for a matinee when we booked, because the trek back from the Strand to north east Essex starting at gone ten at night is so depressing.  It suited my friend because then she didn't have to leave her dog alone all evening. When we got back to Liverpool Street things did not initially look too ominous, no swelling crowds on the concourse.  But the 18.10 to Norwich was cancelled, while the departure of the 17.58 Ipswich train kept slipping later minute by minute without a platform being announced.  We spotted a stopping train bound for Clacton and leaped on to it.  The 18.12 left on time, but took two hours to get back to Colchester.  The story on the local news just now didn't tell the half of it: the problem was not just stretched overhead wires and hot rails but a broken rail at Colchester that had entirely knocked out one of the tracks through the station.  And I saw just now in the local paper that to compound everybody's misery, at 20.30 a tree fell on the line near Diss.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

jimson weed

The Tate sent me an email asking me what I thought of the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition, and inviting me to tell them via their Facebook page.  That is not going to happen because I am not registered on Facebook and am not going to register.  They don't really want to know anyway.  A previous email asking me what I thought of the Barbara Hepworth exhibition included an email address I could reply to.  As it happens, I did want to tell them a couple of things, so sent off an email to the address given and got an automated reply saying that this address was not being monitored.

Happily the Tate's email about Georgia O'Keeffe included a photo of the painting of the white flower, complete with title, so now I know it is a Jimson weed.  I looked up Jimson weed on Wikipedia, and it sounded quite alarming.  Alternative names include Devil's snare and stinkweed, the former because it is a member of the Solanaceae and all parts of the plant are toxic, and the latter because the plant itself smells foul (though the flowers which open at night and are pollinated by moths are fragrant).  Its botanical name is Datura stramonium.

It was used in traditional medicine to relieve symptoms of asthma and as an analgesic, and also taken for its hallucinogenic properties.  The lethal dose, unfortunately, is only slightly greater than the medicinal one.  Not a plant to cultivate at home, I think.  Would I have looked differently upon the painting if I'd been aware of Jimson weed's sinister backstory at the time?

I didn't get much done today: it was too hot.  I grumbled to the Systems Administrator on Sunday as I dragged the hose about that I was not a fan of high summer and rather preferred spring.  The SA promised to remind me of that statement the next time I'm grumbling because it's cold and raining. I don't particularly enjoy such hot days, though.  Britain, according to the papers, is basking so I am presumably supposed to bask along with it, but I don't really like basking.  Basking is OK for sharks or tortoises, but not for a human being with stuff to do, for a whole day.

The kittens didn't think much of the heat either and refused to come outside at all until about seven this evening.  Instead they lay about the hall, looking pained.  Our Ginger slept in the hall with them, but perversely poured himself into a small cardboard box.  I'd have thought he'd have been too hot and would have been more comfortable stretched out, like Mr Fluffy, but what do I know?

Monday, 18 July 2016

a trip to the tate

I saw the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibition today at Tate Modern, and had my first view of the new Tate extension in the flesh.  The first was not quite what I'd expected, and the second even better than I'd hoped.

I associated Georgia O'Keeffe with outsize, slightly psychedelic paintings of flowers, into which have been read all sorts of symbolic sexual meanings.  There are some of those in the exhibition, a white iris with petals stained the sort of pale pink that puts your teeth on edge and green that was never seen in nature, and two huge red oriental poppies placed on an even redder ground.  I liked the poppies, but would not have felt comfortable having to live with the iris.  The Tate knew that giant flowers were what the public were expecting, because they have used a big white, night flowering species (whose name I have irritatingly forgotten so couldn't look it up afterwards) as the artwork for the poster and the covers of the exhibition guide and big fat catalogue.

But most of the exhibition, and it is a big show, is not paintings of flowers.  There are abstracts and New York cityscapes from her early years, and a great swathe of paintings she made of the New Mexico landscape, and some of her last landscapes which are more abstract and bigger.  The exhibition is peppered with black and white photographs by her husband Alfred Stieglitz, some of the city but most of O'Keeffe herself, which show her to have been a beautiful woman with the most marvellous hands.  Or rather, as an interesting and striking woman who could have presented herself as conventionally beautiful if she had chosen to do so.

O'Keeffe was enraptured by the New Mexico landscape, the quality of the light and the air and wind.  I could tell from looking at her paintings that she had been deeply in love with the area, but realised having watched various thrillers set along the border I associated it with drug smuggling and gang violence rather than solitude and peace.  Her massive, plain black cross set against a starry sky made me think of some novel along the lines of a Graham Greene, ending in the death of a defrocked or disillusioned priest.  That is probably not what Georgia O'Keeffe meant by it at all.

So I was very interested to see the exhibition, while not immediately adding Georgia O'Keeffe to the list of artists whose work I love.  On the other hand, I loved the new extension.  Brutalism is back in fashion.  It is big and muscular with an angular twist like a 1980s Rosenthal vase, clad in a marvellous brick work lattice.  Inside are generous corridors and tall ceilings, and walls and ceilings meeting each other at odd and satisfying angles.  The new Members room is large with plenty of space between the tables so that you are not crammed in on top of other people's conversations and can walk about to look at the view.  There are windows that open, and on the tenth floor a viewing platform running all the way round the outside of the building.  There is a bridge on the fourth floor like a much more subtantial version of the one in the Star Wars Death Star linking back to the original building.  I really, really liked it, having held off going for the Members opening because that was going to be so crowded, with queues.

One thing puzzles me.  The turbine hall smelt gently but definitely of engine oil.  I don't remember that from previous visits, so was it a residue of the building works?  Or being piped into the space, a scent installation evoking the building's power station past?

Sunday, 17 July 2016

sunny Sunday

As I went to visit the bees this morning I saw a fully grown fox at the end of the meadow.  It saw me, and ducked rapidly out of view.  I've had the wildlife camera trained on the drive outside the front door for the past three nights, and only caught a blackbird, a magpie and Our Ginger, no rabbits and no foxes.  It was a relief that the fox was no longer patrolling outside the cat door on a nightly basis, but they are feeling bold for one to be out and about in broad daylight.  Still no free range for the hens, I fear, and it will be a while yet before the kittens are left out in the garden without one of us about.  I suppose they will partly decide that for themselves when they refuse to come in again, but so far the call of 'Here kits' has them racing to the front door like greyhounds.

Never believe anything a cat tells you, whether they are saying they haven't been fed or that they didn't do it.  I came in from the garden a bit before seven to start doing the supper, and as I appeared I was besieged by kittens, looking imploring and making little hopeful dashes towards their food dish.  I checked with the Systems Administrator before doling out food, and they had just been given two pouches.  To look at them you'd have sworn they hadn't had a thing since lunch, maybe not even since breakfast.  Or last night.

The bees were remarkably quiet given that it was a hot and humid day, and my face was literally dripping sweat into my veil.  Bees do not like sweat.  Some of the hives have almost been engulfed by brambles, and I had better go up there when it's raining lightly and they're not flying, to cut the undergrowth back.  Everything has grown so much after the unusually wet June.  I have to remind myself that in other routinely wetter parts of the country it must be like this every year.

There is a very beautiful sunset now, of pink and dove grey flat bottomed clouds against a pale blue sky.  It looks like something Monet might have painted.  I must get out on to the veranda on Wednesday and trim the shoots of elder that are starting to hide the view.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

late summer borders

Now that the once flowering old roses have finished, and the theoretically repeat flowering roses are beginning to be bothered by black spot and are not repeating with anything like the impact of the first flush, the part of the back garden immediately by the conservatory looks rather dull. Given that this is the time of year when we're most likely to use the table on the deck down there, it seems a pity to be left staring at two blank stretches of boring green leaves, verging on the offensive where the black spot has struck particularly badly.  I need to think of a way to inject some more interest into the beds at this time of year, and said so to my friend who was visiting yesterday.  She laughed and said I sounded like all gardeners, telling her she should have come last week, but that's not really what I meant.  I'd invited her to lunch because we hadn't seen each other for more than a quick coffee for ages.  The garden was merely the incidental background.  My remark was more of an outward expression of inward musing about the design issue.

It's in the nature of gardens that different areas peak at different times, since it's almost impossible to make every bed, nook, and corner perform at full whack for fifty two weeks of the year.  For example, the row of Iris unguicularis against the south wall of the house are a delight in the winter, but nothing much to look at now.  That doesn't matter since the slack is taken up by a succession of pots on the patio, and even if it wasn't there's no reason to spend time looking at the iris leaves. You could look at the view, if you wanted to look at something, or just use the patio as the quickest route from the front to the back garden and not look at anything beyond the basic requirements of walking.  But the top lawn, which is flanked by the rose beds, forms the geographic core of the back garden.  It ought to be a place where you want to linger, especially in high summer.

One problem is that the roses have grown larger than I was expecting to the point where they meet up in a solid wall of foliage.  As originally envisaged there were supposed to be other flowers in the gaps between them.  Should I go down the Christopher Lloyd route and ruthlessly rip out the least satisfactory of the roses?  That would give space for inter-planting, and some variation in height which would be more interesting than the current block.  On the other hand, I like the roses. Should I prune them drastically this winter to free up some space?  Or keep them as they are and step up my efforts to grow later flowering clematis through them?  I don't know.  Something to ponder as I go about other tasks.

Another way of improving the look of the garden from mid summer onwards is to keep on what Fergus Garrett described as de-browning it.  Flower spikes that have gone over, yellowing and damaged leaves, the odd dead and damaged shoot, that sort of thing.  Cumulatively they can make a garden look tired and grubby when an objective count would show that there were actually quite a lot of things still in bloom.  I am guilty of not de-browning our garden so assiduously as I should, generally because I end up being busy doing other things.  Today I cut a lot of the edges, slicing through the long grass almost effortlessly with my new shears, and removed the spent flower spikes of common foxgloves, which were turning from green to frazzled brown.  Clear away the trails of goose grass as well, and the whole border looked brighter and fresher out of all proportion to the work involved.  Really I should forget planting out and potting on for the summer, and just spend my time in the garden assiduously edging and dead heading.

Friday, 15 July 2016

the innocent eye

A friend came over for lunch today, and we were able to sit out in the garden, starting in the Italian garden in front of the house before retreating to the back garden to eat.  The gravel plantings in the front are looking colourful at the moment in a joyous, wild and weedy way with lavender and butter yellow evening primroses, arcs of pink Dierama and spears of candy pink and brick red Watsonia, and blue orbs of Agapanthus.  There are white flowers on the variegated myrtle and the pots of geraniums are blooming.

The olive tree has loved the rain and made masses of new growth.  It looks fat and rampant and makes you realise how much better they do growing in the open ground than in pots, if only they can survive the winter.  The crown of ours must finally be back to the size it was when we bought it just before those two very cold winters, on the other hand it has its roots down now so if the top growth should get cut back this winter I'd expect a relatively quick recovery unless the trunk were killed outright.

There are quite a lot of flowers in the back garden too, various Clematis viticella scrambling through earlier flowering shrubs and a brave 'Kermesina' making it fifteen feet up the willow leaved bay.  There are great masses of a tall growing Campanula, largely self seeded, mounds of magenta flowered Geranium 'Ann Folkard', Crocosmia 'Lucifer' is just opening, the Penstemon have enjoyed the rain this year, and the established clumps of Alstroemeria are putting on a really good show, though one badly needs staking.  The first flowers on Romneya coulteri are opening, fully two feet above my head.  Most of the foliage is still looking pretty good, apart from the old roses which have been badly blasted by blackspot.  There are quite a few spent flower stems which I need to go round and remove, great trails of goose grass growing over the borders, and some of the lawn edges have got so tall they have gone to seed.

My friend really likes the garden, which is kind of her.  She says she is no gardener herself, with an air of combined regret and slight embarrassment.  I tell her it doesn't matter and not to worry about it, one can't do everything, though she has a better eye for a plant than she gives herself credit for.  Anybody who enquires what that cabbagey thing is when confronted with Crambe maritima, AKA seakale, or correctly hazards that the bright pink flowers and trifoliate leaves of Fragaria 'Red Ace' appear to be some kind of strawberry is clearly paying attention to the plant world.  But she does not enjoy the act of gardening, or feel confident about it.

It is nice when other people like something you have spent so much time and effort creating, and quite salutary.  My friend notices the flowers and the foliage and appreciates the tumbling air of romantic ebullience.  She does not see the waving grass seed heads along the bottom of the rose bank or the goose grass climbing over 'Ann Folkard', or at least she does, but they are not freighted with meaning in the same way as they are to a keen gardener.

It is impossible for me to look across the full width of the front garden, as I am doing now in glancing up from the kitchen table, and not instantly register the two self seeded ash saplings in the end of the long bed I never managed to weed last winter.  The rain has sent all those hard-to-remove tree seedlings into overdrive, and I've been working my way around the beds cutting them down to ground level where I can't dig them out, but I still haven't got to that end of that bed. They don't ruin it for me.  I still appreciate the contrast of the soft mounds of Santolina with its little yellow pom pom flowers against the slender vertical spikes of Verbascum nigrum, but I can't not see the ash.  To my friend the ash seedlings are nothing more than a few strong green shoots, signifying nothing, no failure of maintenance, no reminder that without constant vigilance the garden would rapidly tumble down to woodland.  Just plants in a garden full of other plants.

The flip side of garnering admiration from a non gardener is that they are not impressed by the rarity of any of the plants.  No brownie points to be had for the obscure or downright difficult to grow.  My friend liked the Romneya because the white flowers are beautiful and the taller than human height glaucous stems dramatic.  Its notorious trickiness to establish in the garden did not sway her at all.  The Watsonia were taken on their own merits, and the fact of their being fairly difficult to get hold of and quite tender did not make them any prettier.

Tomorrow, once the Systems Administrator is around to keep an eye on the kittens, I must disappear into the back garden and do something about the goose grass, though.  And the edges, before the kittens make it that far and I have to start worrying in case they pounce on the moving blades of the shears.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

yet another talk

I did another woodland charity talk this evening, at the AGM of a conservation group in one of Colchester's leafier suburbs.  They had very considerately set the running order as my talk, then coffee and cake, then the formal business of the AGM, meaning I could slip away at the end of the refreshment break without having to stay for the formal business.  They used to do the AGM first then move on to the speaker, before the current committee noticed the growing despair on the faces of their non-Colchester based speakers as heated debates about local planning issues dragged on, and realised that visitors probably didn't want to sit through that part.

I must admit that I have only ever attended the AGM of any club of which I was a member when I was on the committee and had to go.  As William Morris almost put it, you should only go to meetings which you know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.  In the course of doing talks I have sat through quite a few horticultural society and other AGMs, and they are not generally terribly entertaining.  The Chairman reports on what they've done in the year, which the members presumably already broadly know.  The Treasurer tells them how much money they've got and what they spent and whether it is enough.  There is normally a plaintive appeal for fresh blood on the committee, nobody from the floor volunteers on the spot, and the Chairman implores them to think about it.  Somebody from the floor asks an awkward question followed by a supplementary statement because they are not happy with the answer.  Anybody who was thinking about stepping forward to join the committee decides against it.  Miscellaneous people are thanked and possibly given flowers.

Anyway, I was allowed to miss that bit this time round which was great because it meant I didn't have to sit through whatever argument was brewing about the proposed bus lane.  Instead they listened very attentively to the talk, thanked me afterwards and gave a generous donation to the charity.  That's all good, as was the fact that when I got back to my car it had not been run into. The church hall where the meeting was held had no car park, and while parking was available on the opposite side of the road in the sense that there were no yellow lines, the speed of the passing traffic was anything but reassuring.

I was relieved to get home relatively early because I'd left the kittens locked in the study.  The Systems Administrator had gone to London for the cricket, and I didn't want to leave them with free range to spend the evening demolishing the curtains while Our Ginger stayed shut out in the hall. The kittens had rather a restricted day.  They were shut in the study for part of the morning because I had to vacuum.  I let them outside after lunch but then couldn't relax and get on with weeding properly because I was so aware that if any of them were missing when it got to five o'clock then I would be faced with the awful dilemma whether to abandon him in the garden and go to do the talk with the cat door taped open, or ring the organiser and blow her out with two hours' notice.  None of them have gone very far yet or ever failed to reappear at the first hint of food, but day by day they'll be going further and for longer.  My nerves failed me and when they all wandered into the house for a spot of tea and a mid afternoon nap I shut them in again.

When I got home there was a lot of wailing from behind the study door and they had knocked their bowl of water over.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

all fall down

I spent part of this morning digging a fairly large hole, and then filling it in again.  You could say that this was an emblem in miniature of what gardening is like.  You cut the grass, you pull up weeds, they grow again.  The purpose of this hole was to bury and anchor the legs of a five foot tall iron obelisk which had blown over under the weight and windage of the clematis growing on it.

I have four tripods in the herb bed, two on each side of the diagonal path running across it.  I am rather proud of the path, a design of square slabs laid diamond-wise infilled with cobbles, which I laid myself.  I am pretty keen on the tripods as well, which I bought from Room in the Garden before their prices rose into the stratosphere.  Other rusted iron plant supports are available, though Room in the Garden's were actually particularly nice.  Some plant supports are a touch on the flimsy side, while others use unnecessarily heavy rods or the iron balls topping them are crucially too large or too small.  The Room in the Garden ones were just right, but they kept hiking their prices until they became ludicrously expensive.

I planted the tripods with varieties of Clematis alpina because I'd read that they coped well with lighter and drier soils.  That was before I discovered that there is dry and light soil, and then there is our soil, a material so dry and so light that even classic dry garden grey woolly things like Ballota shrivel and die in it.  I have planted many more than four Clematis alpina on my four tripods over the years, and would have given up on the project if it were not that one of them was doing so extraordinarily well.  My notes have got a bit scrambled and so I am not entirely sure I know what it is, indeed I am not convinced that everything I bought was correctly labelled, since the only other survivor doesn't look like anything I planted according to my records.  I think the one doing well is 'Ruby'.  At any rate it is pink, as is the other remaining plant, and it has made a lot of growth, with an extra spurt this summer after June's rain.

And then the tripod blew over.  It was the second time it has happened.  Firms that manufacture plant supports ought to give more thought to how their customers are supposed to stick them into the ground so that they'll stay up.  Some you see for sale have such a short length of leg below the bottom hoop that if you were to bury them as far as you need to the lowest tier would be virtually at ground level.  And there are some enormously expensive wooden ones around that I don't see how you are supposed to use at all, since if you buried the wood it would rot so they would need to be mounted using something like a Metpost, only garden centres don't sell them with metal fixing posts or any instructions about fixing them.

You have to bury quite a lot of a tripod for it to be stable in a high wind, once it's covered in plant growth.  I made that mistake with the tripods in the herb bed, which is exposed, and with the vertical sided circular rose supports in the back garden, some of which have sagged in random directions in the past couple of years.  I cannot blame any of this on Room in the Garden, who did endow their products with long enough legs.  I simply didn't realise how deeply I ought to bury them.  It isn't very easy to rectify the mistake with the rose supports after the event, since they are about three feet across and the roses are now growing up through the middle of them.  To bury them deeper you have to scrabble under each leg in turn, digging out a little hole with a trowel and freeing up or pruning off any branches that catch as the support very gradually sinks, leaning first this way and then that like an erratic tower of Pisa.

Fortunately I planted the clematis alongside the herb bed tripods rather than under them, so could excavate a single large, round hole just big enough to drop the legs of the tripod down into before refilling it.  The loose soil of the backfill doesn't offer much resistance to it tipping again, though. I could do with something growing there to consolidate the ground.  Chives?  They seed like mad around the bed, but by now it's getting quite dark under the clematis.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

garden tools, tasks, and the gift of half a mouse

The new shears are so good, I should have bought them ages ago.  I cut some of the lawn edges in the back garden and the long tufty grass around the chicken house where it's impossible to get right in with the lawn mower, and they sliced through like the proverbial knife through butter.  Actually, not quite like butter because it felt slightly crunchier, more like a very sharp knife through an iceberg lettuce.  They say a bad workman blames his tools, but it is a waste of anybody's time gardening with inadequate equipment.  If you are going to use shears at all they need to be sharp, and in a garden of this size it's essential.

I tried to sharpen the old shears and the blades felt keener to the touch, but I hadn't really made much of a difference when it came to using them.  I believe there's a technique, but I don't know what it is, and don't even know whether you can sharpen the type with serrated blades.  Tightening the knob holding them together is supposed to help, but it didn't, not enough.  Shears lose their potency so gradually that at first you don't even realise they aren't working a hundred per cent any more, and I should probably just buy myself new ones every two years and give the old ones to some tool recycling charity for them to worry about.  They would cost less than three pairs of gardening gloves, and I don't expect those to last more than a few weeks.

I finally got round to planting a pot of Crinum into the gravel by the pond, that has been sitting around for years.  Literally years.  It had been in the conservatory for so long without flowering that I'd forgotten what it was, until last year it threw up a flower spike.  I'd been vaguely hoping it might be something more exciting, though I don't know what.  Crinum flowers do not last very long, certainly not long enough for one stem to justify greenhouse space for a 32 centimetre pot all winter.  I'd been worried about how easy it would be to extract from the pot without damage to either, but the fat white roots parted from the terracotta sides very easily as I tapped the rim of the inverted pot on a stout post.

That was a welcome surprise.  Agapanthus, which also makes fat white roots, is an absolute bastard to extract from clay pots.  The roots cling to the sides like anything, and I am not looking forward to re-potting two of mine, both in huge and unwieldy pots, which will need doing soon.  One has thrown up numerous lovely fat flower stems so is set to produce a good display this year, but has risen so far in its pot with all that root growth that it is getting extremely difficult to water.  The variety is 'Queen Mum' and I'm rather proud of the plant having grown it from a little eight pound specimen because I was too poor and too mean to buy one of the big thirty pound ones also on offer at the plant centre.  It would be more than thirty pounds now.  The other is an evergreen variety lifted from the gravel some years ago once I grasped that its leaves were not frost proof, whose name has got lost in the mists of time.  It has produced one measly flower stem, and I fear it is too cramped.  Agapanthus like to be pot-bound, but only up to a point.

Meanwhile in the world of kittens Our Ginger caught a mouse.  I failed to witness what followed but have it on good authority from the Systems Administrator.  Our Ginger strolled towards the front door carrying the mouse as the kittens were playing in the garden.  He proceeded to eat half of it while they looked on, awestruck, until the cautious kitten summoned the nerve to go and touch noses with him.  Whereupon Our Ginger gave the remaining half of the mouse to the cautious kitten, who ate it.  They have been washing each other as well.  It's a bromance, or else Our Ginger is playing the part of mummy cat, but I wouldn't have expected it, either way.

Monday, 11 July 2016

the high days of summer

This might be a short post.  Time's getting on, and our internet is running very slow and occasionally cutting out entirely.  I haven't done much today to write about anyway.  High summer is a funny season.  Today wasn't even especially hot, but I find I slow right down at this time of year.  I don't know if it's the pollen count, or the humidity, but I can feel my faculties slow to a crawl, then they revive with the fresher weather in September.

So this morning I overslept, then played with the kittens, and did the watering, and went to the dump and bought strawberries at the farm shop on the way back, and that was it.  That was the morning gone.  I had radio 3 on in the car and so missed the news that Andrea Leadsom had withdrawn from the Tory leadership race, leading to a rather peculiar conversation for five minutes over lunch until the Systems Administrator grasped that I hadn't heard.  Her role in the Brexit campaign managed to entirely pass me by, but the awful spectacle of the Iraq war and Blair's dodgy dossier should be enough to put anybody off political leaders who sex up their CVs or anything else. And she voted against gay marriage, and speaking as a childless person I was offended by the implication that childless people were less keen on a decent future for everybody than those who had reproduced.  I would have joined the party just to vote for Theresa May, until I discovered that you had to have been a member for a minimum period, and there were no instant three pound votes to be had.

After lunch I crawled around in the gravel, pulling up weeds and planting evening primroses while trying not to squash too many things by kneeling on them.  I grew the evening primroses from a packet of seed that came free with a garden magazine, and they are flowering a fetching shade of deep orangish pink.  I think they are Oenothera 'Sunset Boulevard'.  I noticed in passing that quite a few things in the gravel had been nibbled down, and hoped that was mainly the work of the small rabbit we saw a few days ago hopping between the shelter of the herb bed and a large juniper, until it made its final appearance on the doorstep clasped in the jaws of Our Ginger, who ate it.

We propped the front door open for the kittens after breakfast, but they are starting to behave more like typical cats in that they spent a large part of the afternoon asleep in the kitchen then wanted to come outside as the evening began to draw in.  They are getting gradually more adventurous.  Mr Fluffy and the energetic kitten disappeared round the corner of the house as far as the terrace, and the cautious kitten made it from the shelter of the flower pots and the porch to the middle of the turning circle, where he boxed energetically with a patch of chives and an Agapanthus flower head.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

small steps to freedom

When I think of all the trouble we have taken to try and keep the kittens indoors, closing the outer hall door before opening the inner one as narrowly as possible and sidling through the gap, wiggling foot outstretched to nudge the kitties back, and rushing to pluck Mr Fluffy up if he slid past us into the lobby, I have to conclude that we may have been over-cautious.  Have in fact been massively over-concerned about their escaping.  We propped both doors open this morning once the Systems Administrator got back from the supermarket, and it was ages before any of them were brave enough to go out.  Eventually Mr Fluffy and the energetic kitten pootled around among the flower pots by the front doorstep and scampered as far as the porch, while the cautious kitten sat in the hall, staring out with a sombre gaze.

They did not like it at all when it began to rain, and scuttled back indoors pronto.  They got a little braver in the afternoon when the SA went to sit with them in the porch, and Mr Fluffy even made it as far as the turning circle, where he looked at the water but the SA couldn't tell what he thought of it.  They enjoyed playing with dry leaves out of the eleagnus hedge, though the cautious kitten took his leaf indoors and played with it in the study, and Mr Fluffy enjoyed biffing the stems of a love-in-the-mist with his front feet, while the energetic kitten chewed an Agapanthus leaf.  Waving a pouch of cat food about with the cry of Come kitties brought them rushing in from the garden in seconds.

I'm relieved that they're wary.  If they had gone charging off into the garden or down the lane with only the haziest idea of where they'd come from or how to get back there we'd have a problem.  As it is, when some neighbours called round in their car, poignantly with a flyer about their cat which went missing last Thursday, the kittens shot straight back to the front door.  Having been muttering about trimming the eleagnus hedge for weeks I am now leaving it deliberately shaggy for a few weeks more, since the odd escaping long branch hanging out over the drive should slow down the faster delivery van drivers.  Some rush round the turning circle at speeds suggesting they haven't grasped that they are in someone's domestic garden.  Never mind just kittens, there could be a child about to run out from behind the hedge.

It did make it a lot easier unloading the groceries, though, not having to worry about whether the kittens stayed inside, and it is very nice being able to prop the doors open and get some more air moving through the house.  I guess part of the point of being free to go out is that you don't have to all the time if you don't want to.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

free range kitties

The kittens went outside today for the first time under their own steam.  I don't think travelling in a cat basket from the cat rescue centre or to the vet really counts as going outside.  Four months old is later than some owners would leave it, but the vet's advice was to keep them in until they had been neutered, to reduce the chance of their clearing off afterwards, and when we thought about the foxes and the neighbours' Airedale bigger seemed better.

Our Ginger was unexpectedly helpful.  His attitude to the kittens has gradually softened, as long as they don't all come at him at once like black and white versions of the alien children in The Midwich Cuckoos.  He has been seen allowing them to wash him, and even washing them back, and has sometimes allowed them to wrestle with him briefly.  Mr Fluffy appeared quite overcome with emotion after being permitted to wrestle with his hero.  Today as the kittens sat uncertainly inside the newly opened front door, staring at the immensity of the outside world, Our Ginger came and lounged magisterially among them before stepping out and lying on the doorstep, where they found the courage to follow him.

Quickest off the mark and most adventurous was Mr Fluffy.  The energetic kitten, for all his bouncing, was more of a follower than a leader when it came to the crunch, and the cautious kitten sat in the hall for a long time looking out before daring to step over the threshold.  They did not venture very far from the front door.  They spent some time exploring among the pots of fuchsias and playing in the porch where the Systems Administrator was sitting, and hiding behind the clipped box domes.  There was a great deal of scuttling back into the house and out again. They did not like it at first when the wind made my bag of weeds and rubbish flap, and dashed back indoors.  Running away from strange noisy things is good, since we want them to give delivery vans a wide berth.

They never made it across the full width of the drive to the turning circle, where I spent this morning thinning out the water lilies to make the pond look more unambiguously watery, and the Systems Administrator has fixed up two small planks to help them climb out if they fall in.  I topped the pond right up to the brim as well, to make it easier to get out and to make the presence of water as obvious as possible.  The main danger is probably when animals are running in response to something else and not looking where they're going.  One of the hens fell in once, and the big tabby.  No pets have drowned to date.

We shut the gate before letting them out, as the neighbours' Airedale occasionally wanders up here, One of its predecessors chased our first three hens all the way to the meadow.  It didn't catch one, but as we dragged it back to its own house and complained I saw the neighbour quickly run his hand across its muzzle to check for blood.  I take an extremely dim view of dogs being allowed to roam off their own land, and an even dimmer one of dogs that chase livestock, and am not awfully fond of the Airedales.

By six we decided that was enough kitten exploring for one day, and gave them their supper and shut the front door.  They are now completely exhausted.  We haven't had such a quiet evening for ages.

Friday, 8 July 2016

blickling hall

I didn't have the space or the energy last night to say anything about Blickling Hall beyond name checking it.  It is a National Trust property, one of relatively few in East Anglia, which gave me the chance to get a little more value out of my membership.  I like belonging to The National Trust anyway, since despite the sometimes deadening or dumbing down custodianship of their properties they do at least keep the roof on them, and they manage great stretches of our coastline quite sympathetically.  I liked what I saw of Blickling Hall in my flying visit, and it was clever of the trip organisers to tag it on to the trip to the private garden.  Corpusty Mill might have been our main reason for going to Norfolk, but it had one loo between forty-nine people, not enough chairs for everybody to sit down at once, and we were not going to get any refreshments more substantial than a cup of coffee and a biscuit.  At Blickling we had loos galore, a cafe, and retail opportunities for those for whom a day out visiting gardens is not complete without buying a plant.

The house at Blickling is Jacobean, built on the site of and incorporating an earlier Tudor manor house, and refashioned within over the centuries, until stopping in time in 1940 when with the death of the eleventh marquess of Lothian it passed into the keeping of The National Trust.  Various archive voice recordings, newspapers of the day concerning the abdication crisis, and dinner party settings including the names of Lord and Lady Astor remind us that he was a member of the Cliveden set, though apart from that he sounded quite a decent man for the times.  The house was requisitioned for the army in the war, and when he found his housekeeper had put all the good furniture into store to preserve it he made her get it out again, saying the poor men had no furniture.

The exterior is handsome in a red brick, Jacobean kind of way, and the inside has panelling, some splendid plaster work ceilings, a couple of Gainsboroughs, and a really fine library.  The books were bequeathed to an earlier occupant of the house and were somebody's real library, not just bought in by the yard for their leather bindings to furnish a room.  The National Trust is archiving them, a process scheduled to take another twelve years, and the latest thinking on old books is that white cotton gloves cause more damage than they save, because they make the wearer clumsy and tiny snags in the cotton bind on the paper.  The approved method now is scrupulously clean bare hands. I don't subscribe to a Brexit style wholesale rejection of Experts, but that is the trouble with Expert advice.  White cottons gloves, low fat diets, babies sleeping on their fronts, they're all the approved method until suddenly they're wrong.

The garden we see today is but the latest in a series of gardens going back to Tudor times.  There was a Wilderness, until it was removed, and a mount which went the same way.  In the landscape era grass swept up to the front door.  The Victorians had an elaborate parterre, Norah Lindsay did away with the fiddly beds and made four big square ones.  A copy of her original planting plan is on display in the house.  There are venerable topiary yews, an orangery and a temple which I saw, a lake I didn't have time to walk around, and several other features I didn't manage to get to.  Two hours is not enough time to look at all of Blickling Hall, even though I forwent the opportunity for a National Trust tea and ate a soft roll I'd brought with me while walking around the flower beds. The planting is pretty good, but a bit all of one height for my taste.  Aesthetically I think I prefer Piet Oudold and Tom Stuart-Smith to Norah Lindsay.

There is a very large and well organised second hand bookshop, where I picked up clean copies of two books I didn't think I already had, a Margery Fish and a Gertrude Jekyll.  I was happy when I got home to see that I really didn't have them, and it wasn't just that I hadn't read them for a few years.  The National Trust has cunningly sited the coach pick-up and drop-off point next to the shop, bookshop and cafe, so that visitors making their way back to their coach with a few minutes to spare may use the time shopping rather than standing about in a distant car park.

I should like to go back to Blickling with the Systems Administrator and have enough time to look at all of the garden, and maybe even a cream tea.  It is not so very far from the north Norfolk railway, so you never know.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

a trip to corpusty

Today I have been mostly visiting Norfolk.  It was my garden club's coach trip, this year to Corpusty Mill Garden and Blickling Hall.  I had read about the garden at Corpusty Mill and it sounded splendid, so was delighted at the prospect of a visit, doubly so when I saw on their website that it opens by arrangement to groups only.  Blickling Hall is owned by the National Trust so in theory the Systems Administrator and I could pitch up any time we fancied, but it's a long drive to the far side of Norwich and we still haven't been, so I was happy enough to go there as well.

Corpusty Mill is very, very old, or at least there has been a mill on that site for hundreds of years. The current owner's parents bought it in 1947, at which point there were no gardens, just water meadows.  The current owner and his brother began to make a garden around it from the early 1960s onwards, a process of gradual accretion as they did not live there.  The brother died in 1990 aged only fifty.  The owner continues to develop the garden at a pace that shows no concession to advancing years.

The garden is every bit as good as the magazine articles say it is, and well worth a visit if you can find any group to attach yourself to (though you can have a group of one or two, you will still pay for the minimum group size of twenty.  The garden is perhaps not quite that good).  The planting is superb and miraculously lush for East Anglia.  It is amazing how fast trees can grow when shortage of water is never, ever an issue. Though the garden does not flood, according to the owner, the lawn gets very squidgy in wet weather.

Maintenance is equally superb, striking exactly the right balance between looking relaxed, intermingled, charming and slightly jungly, while having an extraordinary absence of weeds, edges clipped to be neat but not tiresomely over manicured, things pruned when and as they should be, and a general air of being in good nick.  Incredibly, the owner does virtually all of it himself with a paid gardener for three hours a week.  OK, there were no vegetables or fruit and I didn't see a greenhouse, but the gardens run to five acres.  There are lawns needing to be mowed and edged, topiary and formal hedging needing to be kept trimmed, numerous water features needing to be kept in working order, many beds to be weeded, leaves to be swept, gravel.  I honestly have no idea how he does it.  He said he spent most of his time on it, and that must be the literal truth.

Then there are the follies and sculptures.  It is the built structures that give the garden the edge, a small but perfectly formed grotto down enough steps to feel underground, snaking along by candlelight, a viewing tower mounted by a tiny spiral stair and covered in climbers, fragments of freestanding wall with gothic arches, classical heads, urns, pools, and a really splendid flint clad wall and hump back bridge built as a memorial to the dead brother.  A large Mediterranean courtyard garden complete with Roman inspired temple at one end turns out to inhabit the base of a demolished barn.  The built bits are really, really good and very well integrated with the planting.

The only category in which I'd give it no more than average marks was the layout.  The trees and follies and planting and lushness between them pull the whole thing together, but its origins as a project conceived and executed piecemeal over decades does show.  As an exercise in laying out space it is no Gibberd Garden.  The formal lawn nearest the house is an awkward shape while the pools and paved areas have a slightly plonked down air.  Who am I to criticise, since my own front garden is considerably worse?  There again, I have criticised my own front garden.  In typography the spaces between the letters is as important as the letters, so with gardens.

Blickling was great fun too, though in a less secret and privileged to see it way, but since it is now late and it is forecast to rain in the morning I might save that for tomorrow.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

the cruellest cut

Today was the date for the kittens' fateful trip to the vet to be neutered, as the comforting euphemism goes.  To be castrated, in fact.  I feel very mean doing such a thing.  I know that they will fight less, wander less, and the Systems Administrator points out that they will statistically speaking live longer than if they were entire toms.  I think that's above and beyond the benefit of less fighting and wandering, due to the physiological impact of reduced levels of testosterone.  And practically speaking it's the only way we can cope with having tom cats living in the house. The kittens themselves have not signed up to any deal, but the implicit contract is that we will provide food, shelter and companionship for the rest of their lives, but they cannot spray pee in the house, or bully Our Ginger as they grow up.

The vet could see I was down in the dumps about the whole thing and reminded me of the broader social benefit of having my cats neutered, that they would not contribute to the never ending stream of kittens wanting homes.  We bumped into somebody from the kitten rescue centre in the waiting room, and gathered that the valiant Brenda had more kittens than ever to place somehow and somewhere.  But further generations of kittens are not our kittens' problem, and I was not sure that I could use a future broader social good to justify their present suffering.  Still, it had to be done.

They were ready to be collected by three, neutered and micro-chipped.  The vet had warned us when we took them in that they might be sleepy afterwards, but should be back to normal by Friday.  The incisions would be so small they would not even have stitches, and he would not need to see them for a follow-up appointment.  They would not need to wear buckets on their heads, unlike the kitten in the TV programme about their Secret Lives.

The veterinary nurse who talked us through the discharge procedure gave us some pouches of special invalid food, because normal cat food would be too rich for them in their post-operative state, and suggested they might have a pouch and a half each over the rest of the day.  We were not to be worried if they didn't have much appetite.  The litter trays should be lined with torn up newspaper for tonight rather than proprietary cat litter, to keep dust away from their nether regions for the first few hours.  How many litter trays did we have?  Two?  Animal behaviourists had found we should have one tray per animal, and a bowl of water each as well.

A bowl of water each?  Not for the first time I felt as if other people's cats must inhabit a different, rarefied universe to the one ours live in.  Our kittens clamber happily over each other's heads in their eagerness to eat from the first bowl of food they see, then gallop into the kitchen to check if Our Ginger has left anything in his dish.  Their small emerging psyches do not seem troubled by having to share bowls.

The kittens were rather subdued on the way home, but became enormously animated as soon as they were set down in the study, and bounced around in their baskets while we sorted out the litter trays then wolfed down a third of a pouch each of invalid food.  Mr Fluffy looked a little disorientated, but the energetic kitten was chasing flies within ten minutes, and before an hour was up he was hanging Errol Flynn style from the sitting room curtain while stretching across the window in an attempt to reach an especially tempting fly.  After a couple of hours we thought they'd better share another pouch, which they devoured in seconds before thrusting Our Ginger off his bowl and finishing his tea as well.  So much for sleepiness or loss of appetite.  An hour later they were looking so energetic and squeaking so loudly we gave them a third pouch.  As the SA said, if the worst that could happen was that they sicked it up again then we could always clear it up.

I can only conclude that veterinary anaesthetics must have improved greatly in recent years.  They don't seem to have to do the drips into both front legs either.  I was expecting to get the kittens back with shaved patches of fur on their forelegs, that take weeks to grow back fully, but that doesn't happen any more.  I am relieved to have them home, though.  Even though it is routine surgery, things can go wrong.  As the vet said when I signed the consent forms for the anaesthetic, there are risks.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

another trip to a garden club

This evening it was my turn to hear somebody else talk.  The speaker at my garden club was Chris Lane, a nurseryman and member of the RHS woody plants committee whom I'd previously heard talking about witch hazels at Plant Heritage.  Tonight's lecture was supposed to be about wisteria, but as the clock ticked towards half past seven and the group of muttering people was still gathered about the projector while the only image coming up on the screen was the message that there was no input, alternating with the brand name of the projector, it became clear that there was a technical hitch.

I am so glad that the projector I have for charity talks runs directly off a memory stick so that I don't have to mess around trying to get it to speak to my laptop, or even search for the presentation in the laptop.  Switch on, stick in the USB portal in the back, the full menu of slides comes up automatically, I scroll over to the first slide and click, then all I have to do to move on a side is click right or left to go back.  As long as I don't press any other buttons nothing can go wrong (unless the bulbs fails).

After ten minutes it was decided that the lecture would proceed without slides.  Chris Lane coped very well.  He knows an immense amount about the cultivation and propagation of woody plants, he already has four national collections and is about to go for a fifth, so telling us about wisteria and anything else that took his fancy for three quarters of an hour was barely going to scratch the surface of his knowledge.  It must have been stressful, though.

I did learn some useful things about wisteria, and some things that were interesting to know but didn't require any action on my part.  The main action point was that I must check my young plant being trained up a scaffolding pole to form a standard, and if there is more than one main stem I should untangle them, select the best and prune the others out.  If the plant is allowed to grow up with multiple stems twisting round each other the likelihood is that the weakest stem will eventually be strangled and die.  Once dead it will rot, which can in turn open the way for other rots.  Best never to let a wisteria twist around itself, or around any supporting wires.  I already knew enough to know my plant should be tied to the side of the scaffolding pole and not permitted to grow around it.

I also learned that wisteria can be pruned extremely hard, should the need arise because the plant had got completely out of hand or you needed to do building works.  I don't currently have such a plant, but it's handy to have heard it from the horse's mouth for future reference.  And I discovered why the wisteria growing up our wild cherry might have been so slow to flower, before this year producing quite a lot of flowers but all hidden inside the tree so that I only saw them when I stood directly underneath and looked up.  Apparently they tend to keep climbing and not really start flowering until they've reached the top of whatever they're climbing up.  Once they sense they've got to the top they begin the business of flowering.  Now that ours has reached that stage it should grow out to the sides of the tree, and within a couple of years we should start to get a good display.

Wisteria do indeed sense where they're going.  Or at least, they are programmed to grow upwards, and programmed to twine around their support.  If you have ever grown one you will know they make immense quantities of thin, whippy, fast growing extension growth.  If these shoots don't encounter any kind of support then after a couple of metres they stop getting any longer, and the plant tries again and sends out a fresh shoot somewhere else.

They will grow happily on almost any kind of soil except pure chalk.  Acid, alkaline, sandy, clay, all fine.  They don't need much feeding, being members of the pea family and able to fix their own nitrogen.  Chris Lane prunes his up to three or four times in the summer, when the extension growths become unmanageable, and finds they don't then need much winter pruning, if any.  When asked why all the books and the RHS's own advice pages said to prune in winter he suggested that that had been the view once, and subsequent books had simply copied it rather than the authors describing from their own experience what they did that worked.  He grows his wisteria on poles, and prunes them with shears to save time.  He said they flowered very well.

So it was an entertaining evening, and I didn't miss the slides particularly.  The important thing was the ideas.  I can always go away and look at images later on the internet.  Chris Lane has a book coming out on wisteria, but not until 2018.