Friday, 18 August 2017

at the museum of east anglian life

Today is our thirty-third wedding anniversary.  When I initially suggested to the Systems Administrator a few days ago that we could go out on Friday the SA, who was suffering from a cold and getting increasingly stressed about the car, stared at me rather wild eyed and asked Where do you want to go?  I said I didn't know, somewhere local like last year when we went to the Munnings Museum, but that we didn't have to go out.  By the next day the cold and the car panic were abating, and the SA suggested that we could go to the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket, adding as a clincher and proof that this was not just a casual idea that he had checked it was open.

That's the difference between being at home and on holiday.  If we were just visiting west Suffolk for the week we would certainly make the effort to go to a museum of East Anglian life.  Living on the fringes of East Anglia we have not bothered to visit once in over thirty years.  So we set off. The SA checked the traffic on Google maps before we went out and reported that everything was flowing freely.  When we got to the fringes of Ipswich the dot matrix signs on the A12 said that the A14 was closed between J50 and J49.  Where, enquired the SA, wa J50?  I looked at the road atlas and discovered that J50 to J49 was the stretch of the A14 that is effectively the Stowmarket bypass.  Ah.  We came off two junctions early and took the back route through the lanes, along with quite a lot of other people who could read road signs, and then sat in traffic in Stowmarket with all the other people who had been turfed off the A14 whether they had been reading the roadside warnings or not, but we got there.

The museum turned out to be bigger than I expected, though tiny compared to Beamish or Blists Hill.  They have got some old buildings rescued and reconstructed from various bits of Suffolk, which mostly house exhibitions.  There is a lot about agriculture from the late Victorian era through to the mid twentieth century, a lot about the many engineering firms that developed out of Suffolk's need to service the agricultural sector, and a little bit of domestic history with a few room sets and a Victorian school room.  There is a tiny bit about the fishing industry, which is fair enough since Stowmarket is well inland and there are museums on the coast that major in fishing (which we have not been to either).  I would have liked something about the silk weaving industry, though I suppose the Warner archive in Braintree covers that.  There are traditional East Anglian breeds of farm animals in modern wire enclosed paddocks, with signs around the museum appealing for funds to build them a Victorian farm.  There is a watermill, and a windmill originally used to power a drainage pump rather than thresh corn.  A Victorian octagonal shelter looking as though it had escaped from the seaside, except that it is too enclosed, came from the cattle market in Bury St Edmunds where it was used to settle livestock trading accounts.  There are charcoal burning and hurdle making equipment, neither in use today.  There is a restored walled garden in full productive clatter with vegetables, fruit and flowers for cutting.  If we had stayed on until tonight we could have seen the outdoor cinema showing Mary Poppins.

It is a slightly confusing site to navigate your way around.  The signs are not awfully clear as to what things are and which buildings you are supposed to go into, and more than once we found we'd started an exhibition somewhere in the middle and only got to the welcoming orientation panel that would have told us what it was all about at the end.  The key to the map they give you with your entrance sticker does not list the numbered attractions in any order that would make any sense to somebody who didn't know the site, so it took ages to decipher, and I was simply baffled by the little banner flapping in the wind on a patch of grass that said First Aid Point.  We never saw anybody there and there was no first aid equipment so I don't suppose what you were supposed to do if you needed first aid.  Lie down on the grass until somebody noticed.

Still, the food in the cafe was quite nice, and I got to scratch a Large Black Pig called Tim behind the ears, and after much painful thought understood how the mechanism of a church clock built in 1607 worked to transmit gravitational force from the weight to the pendulum so that it kept swinging.  The key according to the SA was the escapement at the top, and it all became much clearer once I worked out I needed to think about the mechanism from the top downwards, instead of fixating on the largest cogwheel and then working upwards.

The museum is taking its time expanding, since it was first opened in 1967.  There is plenty of space for some more buildings, as and when suitable buildings and more critically the finance become available.  Still, we spent three and half hours walking around looking at stuff, and left feeling our brains were full, just as it began to spit with rain.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

site preparation

The top of the sloping bed is tantalisingly close to being weeded and cleared for planting, bramble stumps grubbed out and the majority of the sea buckthorn roots extracted.  It is remarkable how it has managed to look as though it is almost clear for several days, while taking hours more work to finish clearing it.  Thinking I must be nearly there, I went to measure the space before ordering shrubs to go in it.  It is a very odd shaped hexagon, and I am still trying to work out how the back can consist of two not quite in-line stretches of 3.3 metres each, when the front is only 3.3 metres in total.  I am fairly sure each individual measurement is right, and the answer must be that it's due to the uphill end of the border being deeper than the downhill one, and the downhill edge not meeting the back and front edges at anything like a right angle.

This morning I stood in the very light drizzle with a handful of bamboo canes, poking them into the ground and trying to check whether there was really room for a Tamarix, a small Buddleja, a Caryopteris and a pale pink Cistus, plus rose 'Sarah van Fleet', or if that would be too many shrubs, or not enough and I would actually need more than one cistus.  I wasn't buying more than one Caryopteris, since they are easy from cuttings.  I was accompanied by Mr Cool who alternated between trying to climb up my leg so as not to have to stand on the wet grass, and chewing the ends off the bamboo canes.  I decided that one each of the shrubs would be enough, and stomped back indoors to order them, unhooking Mr Cool from my knee.  The rose will come from the excellent Trevor White roses once it is the bare root rose season, and I ordered the others from Crocus.  I have used Crocus before and found them utterly professional, as befits a firm that supplies plants to several Chelsea show gardens every year.

By the afternoon the rain had passed and I set off to buy mushroom compost to dig into the soil at the top of the bed, which consists of incredibly thin soil made worse by the addition of left-over builders' sand, on top of an old track.  The mushroom compost had gone up by twenty-five pence per bag since the last time I bought any.  The woman on the till told me briskly that it was still very good value compared to other, bagged composts and she was right, but I would have preferred her to feel my pain.  After all, it isn't bagged.  I had to shovel every last one of the two hundred and forty litres I bought today myself.  At least I know to take my own stainless steel spade.  Life is too short to dig spent mushroom compost with a plastic shovel.

I spread it across the end of the bed, and was dismayed at how far it went, or rather didn't go.  I was evidently going to need another car load, and more probably two.  And I was aghast as I began to fork it into the soil at how quickly it vanished.  I'd spread a good generous layer, but the sand simply ate it.  In fact, I couldn't understand how there was quite so much builders' sand.  How much had our builder had left over?  Based on my recent gravel spreading experience there seemed to be a couple of bulk bags of the stuff, coming up in discouraging off-white seams with every turn of the fork.

I arranged for the Crocus shrubs to be delivered on Saturday, and in my mind's eye by Saturday afternoon, or Sunday morning at the latest, I was going to be arranging them in the freshly cleared and compost laden space, along with quite a few of the plants that have been languishing in pots outside the greenhouse all summer.  By Monday morning it was all going to be done, barring the composted straw mulch that will have to wait until I psych myself up to order another pallet load. I now see that was a complete delusion.  By Sunday afternoon I might just about have managed to bag, cart and incorporate in the border enough organic material to give the new planting at least a vague chance of survival.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

at last we collect the car

I switched on my computer this morning and it was fine, uploading emails entirely normally and letting me scoot round the Times website while I ate my muesli.  I have discovered what it was doing last night, which was uploading the new Microsoft Office.  There were new and unasked for buttons on the toolbar, including Outlook, which I don't use, and some kind of search engine called Bing, which I'd never heard of.  I opened Bing to see what it was, and couldn't find any way of closing it again, and had to call on the Systems Administrator for help, who couldn't initially close it either and kept harrumphing from the aggravation of the car still being at the garage and the government website being down so it was impossible to see if it had passed its second MoT or not. I really wish Microsoft wouldn't do that.  Supposing I had badly needed to use my laptop last night, if I'd been up against a deadline to finish a report or something, I'd have been stuck.

Finally the government site worked, and a little tick appeared against the car's MoT status, and the garage rang to say it was ready to collect.  It goes to a Jaguar dealership for servicing because of the electronics.  There are so many of them it is basically a computer on wheels, and it is of an age where they have started to play up, so although it passed the MoT first time round in July except for the cracked windscreen, the Systems Administrator was not entirely confident that it would necessarily pass again.  The Jaguar dealership is in a retail park to the east of Ipswich, and there are two ways of getting there from here.  You could walk a mile to a railway station and get a train to Colchester where you could change trains for Ipswich, then get a bus from the centre of Ipswich.  Or you could drive there in another car.  The SA quite understandably preferred the latter option.  The garage is in the same retail park as the Ipswich John Lewis at Home store, and so it was a reasonably productive journey because after collecting the car we were able to go and buy a couple of oven gloves and some frying pans.

Having a car stuck at the garage for over a fortnight while Autoglass fails to replace the windscreen on a weekly basis is not the worst of problems to have, in the grand scheme of things. It's not as if it was our only car.  I have a friend who needs to sell her house, who is on permanent standby in case of viewers, having to keep the house unnaturally clean and tidy, all social plans subject to revision and cancellation in case a potential buyer should materialize, and afraid to book any kind of holiday.  The Colchester housing market has gone soft and she is getting quite demoralised being tied to home all through the summer.  Compared to that being on standby to go and collect the car is a minor inconvenience.  Even so it is a nuisance.  Arrangements to see people and go to places have kept getting bumped forward to try and keep my diary clear.  I was hoping to revisit the Tate's Giacometti exhibition with one friend before they go into hospital for an operation that will leave them immobile for a bit, but I fear we've run out of time.

The garage somehow swung it so that the SA was not charged for the second MoT.  It would have been deeply unfair to have to pay twice, when the only reason for the first failure was the windscreen and it would have been the work of two minutes to see that the windscreen had been changed and the paperwork showed it had been done by a qualified installer, and the car had been parked at the garage all the meantime.  Still, technically it was outside the ten working day period to qualify for a retest, and the SA was more or less resigned to paying twice and then deciding whether the hassle of trying to reclaim the cost of the second test from the insurers and the windscreen firm was worth it.

The oven gloves were plain black ones from John Lewis' Essentials range.  We already have some, and they give much better insulation than many branded ones at four times the price.  In the end we split the difference on whether to go for upmarket frying pans or get cheap ones and just replace them as often as the non-stick coating scratched, buying a fairly expensive saute pan that fits our existing lids and has a metal handle so can go in the oven, and two budget frying pans, one of which was marked with a piece of kitchen string through the handle as soon as we got home so that it can be kept for pancakes and omelets.  John Lewis at Home is really rather a terrifying temple to consumerism.  I read in one of the Sunday papers that inflatable flamingos were A Thing, but I didn't entirely believe it until I saw they have them in Ipswich.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

computer says no

This could be a short post.  I think my computer is doing something.  I didn't ask it to do anything, because I wanted to use it, but I think it has gone ahead and is running its scan or update or whatever it wanted to do anyway.  The cursor sticks and becomes unresponsive for seconds at a time, if not minutes, and it is a test of my touch typing when whole clauses, whole sentences, don't appear on the screen for a minute or more after I've typed them.  I gave it half an hour to see if it would finish but it is still doing it.  Corrections are practically impossible as I end up overcorrecting.

In fact, that is me done for the day.  Typing the first paragraph took over ten minutes.  Try again tomorrow.

Monday, 14 August 2017

a house visit

A friend who decided to downsize from the family home following the death of her husband has finally moved, and today I called round to see her in the new place.  It must be three or four years since her husband died, and one of the things that enraged her even amidst the fog of grief was the number of people asking when she would move, or stating as a given fact that of course she would move now, before the earth had even settled on her husband's grave.  I had assumed that she would move in due course, since the family home was a money pit, a wonderful vast crumbling Victorian pile with antique wiring, rotting window frames and no central heating, but had the tact not to mention it until she told me last summer that she had decided on it.  Then I was mightily relieved to hear that she would be staying in the area and not migrating to be near any of her children, but as she said, she has over forty year's worth of friends and contacts here in north Essex, and who is to say any of her children would stay put if she followed them.  Moving to the other side of the country to be near your son is all very well, but finding yourself living in a place where you know nobody after your son has had to relocate two hundred miles for work is something else.

She is worried about her cat, who is not yet allowed out but is used to roaming miles across the countryside.  The cat was sent to a cattery for a week over the actual move, and spent its first two days in the new house hiding under a bed, before it started to prowl the house looking miserable.  The only upside is that the cat, from being an independent entity before the move, has taken to sitting in her lap for consolation during the evenings, so at least they have bonded over the moving experience.  But she is still worried about what will happen when she lets the cat out, as she will have to do after another couple of weeks.  I told her about our cat that had moved house with us twice, and forbore to mention the other cat that disappeared a couple of weeks after our move to our present house.  I take her point when she says the cat is the main thing she is worried about, more than adjusting to the sudden shock of having neighbours while not yet having any curtains.  And she says she will boil, moving from having no central heating to having underfloor heating, but I'm sure she will get used to it.  She can turn the thermostat right down.

I promised to help design the garden since she asked, though I suggested we get the Systems Administrator to look at it as well, given the SA designed much of the layout of our back garden and has a better eye for proportion and layout than I have.  It is a promising space, roughly square, mostly sunny, and the developers have managed to arrange the development so that none of the houses loom over next door's back garden.  It is laid to turf, in estate agent's parlance, which is growing alarmingly fast after the rain.  It is by no means a blank canvas, however, since the finished garden will need to include a collection of plants brought from the old garden, plus a metal arbour, small pond, butler's sink, and collection of chimney pots, also brought with her (the pond liner, that is, not the contents.  Fortunately while small it is quite deep).  Plus a weeping silver pear promised by friends who gave the one that had to be left behind in the old garden because it was too well established to dig up (Silver Anniversary present) and sundry other gifts of plants.  Plus space for a shed, and compost bins, and a rotary clothes dryer.  Some of the lawn has to remain for visiting grandchildren to play on.  The grass had stuck itself down so firmly that I couldn't get at the soil to rub it between my fingers, but I'd hazard a guess it is sandy.

From my initial very rough sketch and list I am beginning to have the germ of an idea.  It will be better if the SA considers the problem independently, before I say what my idea is.  Once somebody has told you they are thinking of X it makes it harder to come up with an alternative that's not influenced by X in some way.  The SA did seem a little disappointed to hear that the garden was fairly level, and that I did not think my friend would be up for major earth moving or raised beds.

At the front she is lumbered with some unsuitable laurel that householders have to keep until the estate is finished.  After that it will go, otherwise it will block all the light from the dining room and half the pavement.  I did suggest that in the meantime she could go along it occasionally with a spade and sever the roots a little way out from it, so that it still has nice compact roots when she comes to dig it out.  She fancies lavender, a much better choice.  I wouldn't bother about trying to save the sad browning variegated Spiraea the developers have lumbered her with, though.  If they should quietly die before next spring I should call that a blessed release.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

companion animals (not)

Mr Cool was not in for his breakfast.  His body clock seems to run on a longer than twenty-four hour cycle, whereby he will spend an entire day hanging around the house, and then disappear for most of the next day.  Yesterday was a sleeping-in-the-trug day, and so I wasn't entirely surprised when today was a nowhere-to-be-seen day, as I am slowly getting used to Mr Cool's way of doing things.  I'd still rather he waited faithfully outside the bedroom door every morning like Mr Fluffy.

When he hadn't shown up by half past twelve I tried calling for him.  Mr Fidget came trotting from the direction of the compost bins and bonfire heap, followed by Mr Cool at a leisurely pace, while Mr Fluffy bustled around the side of the house with a you-wanted-me expression.  I dished out half a tin of cat food between the three of them, and Mr Cool licked all the jelly off his and stalked off again.

That was the last I saw of him until mid afternoon, when I heard feline squeaking so faint I checked in case I had accidentally locked a cat in the laundry room, but it was Mr Cool out on the drive, carrying a large mouse which he proceeded to eat, starting at the head end.

The third time I saw him he strolled into the kitchen, sat under the table ignoring my blandishments to come and be stroked, and eventually allowed me to pick him up and cuddle him, though really he wanted his tea.  Once he'd had that he went back out.  The Systems Administrator saw more of him than I did, because Mr Cool went to sit with the SA under a tree in the back garden, but I don't really feel I've had an adequate daily fix of a pet as adored as Mr Cool is.

I expect we will see more of him come the winter, once it is wet and cold, since Mr Cool appears to regard being rained on as a personal outrage.  The Systems Administrator said we had better hope we didn't get too many long wet spells.  Mr Cool got quite grumpy enough the other day when it rained for twelve hours, pacing about the house and sitting on the doormat staring out thunderously through the glass door at the rain.  I don't like to imagine what he'd be like after a week confined to barracks.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

a day in the garden

The lawn, which the Systems Administrator cut on Monday, needs mowing again.  The SA is sure it was Monday because the cricket was on the radio.  I suppose Monday was five days ago.  Suddenly we are getting a taste of what gardening is normally like in the great swathes of the UK that don't have annual rainfall only fifteen centimetres above what would technically count as semi-arid. Here the lawn almost never needs cutting twice in a week in late summer, just a quick trim every ten days to take the whiskery bits off.

The pots were drying out by today, and I am grateful that no more of the zinnias have collapsed. Watering a zinnia in a pot continuously for twelve hours is no way to persuade it to live.  I am delighted with 'Queen Red Lime', whose flowers are a good colour at all stages, fading to a brownish pink that co-ordinates well with the brown tinged pink of the Ricinus flowers and seed pods.  Having sworn last year that I would not grow zinnia again I am becoming a fan.  I won't bother with Tithonia next year, though.  If I had good, deep soil in a sheltered spot I might, but in pots on a windy patio they are a travesty of what they should be.  Ah well, I have tried and got Tithonia envy out of my system.

The ivy hedge in the front garden is shaping up reasonably.  Ivy presents various issues as a hedge, which I did not foresee when I planted it and which the garden designers who still happily peddle the idea in the media do not seem to foresee either, or at least do not admit to.  One is its habit of sending shoots running out across the ground.  Yes, you can trim them off, but it is fiddly work and hard on the back compared to trimming a regular hedge, especially when they run into the border and mix themselves up with the border plants.  Another is ivy's habit, once it has got to the top of its wire support and accepted that it can go no further, of switching to the mature, fruiting form.  This is perfectly attractive per se, but difficult to trim to a neat, hedge-like finish, and impossible to cut so that it retains a decent covering of leaves each time without finding it rapidly balloons in size.  Earlier in the year I took some stretches of hedge that had grown to be level with my chest back down to knee height where they were supposed to be, and the remaining woody framework was entirely bald.  I wasn't at all sure if they would reclothe themselves, or if I had just added Replace Ivy Hedge to my list of things to do.  They have sprouted anew, and I am spared a major gardening headache.  For now.  There again, if I had used box originally I could have found myself battling with three hundred metres of box blight.

There was a steam special running today on the branch line.  The Systems Administrator thought of going to stand by the track to take photos, and give Tornado a wave as she went past, but decided against it.  From the garden we could just hear the sound of the engine from the point where the line passes closest to the house, and the wild shriek of a steam whistle.

Friday, 11 August 2017


I have been deadheading the lavenders in the turning circle, as a change from trimming the ivy hedge and to give a mixture of clippings to go on the compost heap so that it doesn't end up with a two foot layer of ivy.  I don't know if it will really make much difference, since the lavender stems are about as woody as the ivy, and what I really need is some nice soft green stuff, but there's nothing suitable.  The lawn is so full of weeds the Systems Administrator tips the contents of the lawnmower grass catcher on to its own slimy pile, rather than add it to the compost bin.

I am not good at lavender.  I diligently read books and study the websites of specialist lavender nurseries, and try to remember whether Lavandula x intermedia or Lavandula angustifolia is better on acid soil, and which cultivar names belong to each type, and my brain shies away in sheer boredom and refuses to retain the information.  I buy named varieties, plant them, and two years later cannot remember which is which, and then a few years after that they have seeded themselves and I am even less clear about what anything is.  Lavender is a grey leaved plant with spikes of purple flowers, and that is as much as my subconscious seems to want to know about the subject.  Odd, when I always really enjoy looking at the Downderry Nursery display at flower shows.

I have tried taking cuttings, and they have always shrivelled and died, as if the lavender could detect my basic lack of interest.  And yet as a child I loved lavender.  There was a hedge of it across the full width of the garden, perched on top of a little dry stone retaining wall of rough lime blocks, that was always full of bees when it was in flower, and that was one of the things that kindled my interest in beekeeping.  We used to pick stems, dry them and make lavender bags out of muslin.  How can I be so cack handed about propagating something I grew up with, when I am fine with Dianthus, with Perlargonium, and Hebe, and Penstemon cuttings?

In the meantime I am cutting off the spent flower stems, taking off the top few growth buds from each stalk to encourage the plants to remain bushy, while making sure to leave some on every stem.  Some stems have died entirely, which I remove as I go.  I don't know why they have died, except that lavenders are not the longest lived plants, and perhaps something about the acidity or lack of alkalinity is not to my plants' liking.  A tall white variety given to me by a colleague at the plant centre and which I think she described as Old English White is looking very sad.  The plants look sparse and ratty after their haircut.  I read a gardening article the other day that said that the silver leaves of lavender looked attractive at all times of the year.  Not in my garden, they don't.  They are shockers by the end of winter as well, until their pinched buds swell and they produce a new crop of leaves.  Maybe they are lovelier in other people's gardens, who have the right kind of light soil and understand their whims.  Or maybe the article was a piece of wishful thinking.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

after the rain

The rain gauge in the front garden recorded fifty-five millimetres yesterday, which sounds about right since somebody in Elmstead Market  posted a reading of  fifty-seven.  That's a lot, two inches in old money, or ten per cent of our average annual rainfall.  It had stopped by this morning, leaving a very soggy garden.  The cats were delighted to get out after spending yesterday evening stuck inside.  It was touching the way they followed us from room to room, but the way they tried to chew my hair, my shoes and each other did suggest they would rather have been out on their evening patrol.

One of the advantages of light soil is that you can get on it about five minutes after it has stopped raining.  I gave the water laden foliage and sodden clay of the back garden a wide berth, and carried on weeding and deadheading the thrift in the gravel at the front.  The sheep's sorrel has crept about some more since the last time I weeded the turning circle, and rather infuriatingly some of it has seeded.  The worst bits to winkle out are where it has grown up through the cushions of thrift.  Sheep's sorrel in light ground is like horsetail in poorly drained clay, you will never get rid of all of it.  The best you can do is pull out as much of both as you can, and learn to live with the rest.

The gravel in the turning circle is thin in places, and I have a nasty feeling I should have ordered a third bag, except that I'm not sure I could face spreading as many as three and I didn't want the third hanging about for months.  My back is still feeling tender from the second, and there's half of that left to do.  I have read (though not understood) how in order to build up muscles you have to break them down first, a statement I saw repeated this morning on the Telegraph website (not in a Premium article.  We don't subscribe to the Telegraph) and my back feels just as if I might have been breaking down my muscles.  I trust they will grow again, better than before.  The photo illustrating the article was of a male torso, but I daresay it works for middle aged ladies too, not that we are supposed to want muscles.

The car will not be ready this week.  Having first of all told the Systems Administrator that the new windscreen had arrived damaged and the work would have to be postponed to today, the latest tale of woe is that some necessary clips were missing, and they can't do the work until next Tuesday afternoon.  That will take it more than ten working days from the MoT, meaning that in theory it will need another full test and not just a retest.  In the meantime it is stuck at the garage in Ipswich.  Lucky they have plenty of space.  Lucky I had not made any plans for next week beyond Tuesday morning.  So much for all those Autoglass repair, Autoglass replace adverts on Classic FM.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

the rain it raineth pretty much all of the day long oh

The forecast at breakfast time showed the rain was not due to arrive until lunchtime, and I thought my niece might just about manage her morning's garden work experience without getting wet, but alas, it began sooner than expected.  I'd scarcely got her started deadheading lavender when it began, lightly at first so that I didn't notice from the kitchen.  She stayed valiantly kneeling in the drizzle until the Systems Administrator pointed out to me that it was raining, at which point I told her to move to the backup plan, which was to pick the tomatoes and do some potting inside the greenhouse.  By half past eleven when she came in with the tomatoes it really was raining quite a lot.  I asked if she was getting damp out there and she said she was, rather, so I gave her some tea and she made herself useful stringing together a box of holey stones that I'd collected over the past months and not got round to doing anything with.  I paid her for the full morning's work, since she is a nice girl and it was not her fault that it rained, warning her that wouldn't happen when she worked for a grasping small business owner who expected to take her rest breaks unpaid, but that doting aunts were different.

The artists formerly known as kittens were not very welcoming.  I was afraid they wouldn't be, and had warned her in advance not to expect much from them.  They did all look at her warily from a safe distance, which is slight progress from fleeing the house at the first sight of visitors and not returning until the visitors have gone, but not ideal for a cat loving teenager.  Mr Fidget did consent to come into the kitchen with us to eat a couple of Dreamies, but then rushed out again, overcome by his own daring, and Mr Cool abruptly left the building.

By the time I'd driven her home it was still raining solidly, so I went to look for Mr Cool and found him as expected sitting in one of the chairs in the conservatory.  I tucked him inside my waterproof jacket and carried him back into the house, since he had not had his lunch and had no way of telling when it was safe to come back indoors without venturing out into the rain, and he hates being rained on.  He was happy to be carried, delighted to be reunited with Our Ginger, and had something to eat before settling into his favourite chair in the study for the afternoon.  And so we all sat, Our Ginger on the doormat staring out at the rain, the SA in his usual corner of the sofa in the sitting room, me in my usual corner of the other sofa, Mr Fidget lying upside down on a chair downstairs, and Mr Fluffy curled in the new favourite cardboard box, a tall one they soon knocked over so that it had a roof, and which we have christened the sentry box.  It is such a coveted location that when Our Ginger is already in it, one of the other cats will go and lie on the floor in front of it, communing with Our Ginger and waiting their turn in the box.

It is sluicing down now with almost tropical intensity.  There is nothing like an English summer.

I recommend the Guardian's underwhelming photos of cats.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

a domestic day

I might have been over-optimistic thinking I could fit in a couple of hours' gardening before meeting a friend for coffee, then a trip to B&Q and Waitrose before doing the cleaning.  The Systems Administrator, returning from a day at Lords, found me still pushing the vacuum cleaner round the study at gone eight, which felt like my cue to stop.  The SA has kindly agreed to vacuum the upstairs sitting room in the morning.

I had hoped to buy a replacement box ball in B&Q, or a medium sized box that could be trained into a ball fairly quickly.  One of the four in tubs by the pond has drowned, not anything to do with the pond but because its drainage holes must have blocked up.  Water has been sitting on top of the compost when it rains, or if I water it too much, and while I was thinking that I had better investigate the problem and repot the plant it quietly died.  August is really too early in the year to buy box, as by a strange convention it is one of those things garden centres tend to stock up on in the autumn, but I thought I might find some in B&Q.  I did, but half the plants had nasty looking brown patches, that might have been down to erratic watering but equally might have been box blight, and I wasn't taking the risk of buying one to find out.

As I set off to Waitrose it suddenly occurred to me that they might sell box balls at some point.  If they do I expect they will be immaculately healthy and correspondingly expensive, but they didn't have any today.  Maybe in the autumn.  They did not have any caramelised condensed milk either. Just now as I opened my laptop a new email popped up, which was a survey by Waitrose asking about my shopping experience.  I filled it in, because I am an obliging creature, and in the box asking how they could have made my shopping experience better wrote that they could stock caramelised condensed milk, and added that the lamb steaks could have been longer dated.  After I'd gone on from that page I began to wish I'd added that their bread wasn't awfully good, though I wasn't actually buying bread today.  I am afraid they ask rather a lot of their staff.  I wasn't inspired and enthused about food by any member of staff, but I wasn't expecting to be and would have found it off putting if they'd tried.  I had a list, or rather two lists, the one from the pin board in the hall and the notes I'd made on the bottom of the list of things to get in B&Q.  If I'd been unable to find anything on the list I'd have been happy to ask a member of staff where it was, but I knew it was no good asking about the caramelised condensed milk because Waitrose don't stock it.  They never have it, and there is no gap for it on the shelf next to the ordinary sort.

I bought the Systems Administrator a pork pie, as the SA had asked me specially to get one.  It was a proper Melton Mowbray pie, which have enjoyed Protected Geographical Indication Status since 2009, and said on the wrapper that it was succulent.  That, as the SA said, was to distinguish it from the dry pork pies people might buy otherwise.  Pork pies are one of the SA's favourite things, for a treat.  I am partial to a pork pie myself, though I have never been especially keen on Melton Mowbray since we stopped there on a long car journey to grab some lunch and a comfort break, but found it seemed to have no public lavatories, and ended up having to go back and buy another half an hour's parking to give me time to nip into a pub and drink a tomato juice I didn't want so that I could use their loo.

Monday, 7 August 2017

the best laid plans

By quarter to nine this morning the outline plan for the week had pretty much unravelled.  The phone rang, which at that hour is either a nuisance call or presages something ominous.  It turned out to be Autoglass, who were booked to replace the windscreen on the Systems Administrator's car, which is currently at the garage in Ipswich.  A chip that had been there for so many years the SA had discounted it suddenly propagated into a crack just as the car was due for its annual service and MoT.  The SA blamed the stresses of the hot weather for the crack, which was bad enough to constitute an MoT failure.  The garage pointed out, rather brilliantly, that it was worth checking to see if the windscreen replacement was covered by the insurance (it was) and that Autoglass could carry out the work at the garage, rather than the SA collect the car, have the work done in the drive, and then return to the garage for a retest.  This morning Autoglass were going to fit the new windscreen and this afternoon I was going to drive the SA to Ipswich to collect the car, taking in John Lewis en route to buy a frying pan.

Autoglass rang to say that the new windscreen had arrived damaged.  The job has had to be put back to Thursday, which leaves one day in hand of the ten working days allowed for an MoT retest. The SA was philosophical about the delay, which was doubly disappointing since originally the SA had been planning to go today to the county match at Lords.  That trip was rescheduled to tomorrow to allow for picking up the car, and the London forecast for tomorrow now shows a fifty per cent chance of rain from two onwards, whereas today was dry.

The deteriorating forecast was the second cause of the week's plans unravelling, since I'd arranged for my niece to come over on Wednesday to do some gardening (of the safe, carefully vetted kind designed not to involve being poked in the eye, sprained, scratched, or blistered by toxic sap) to earn something towards her new phone and because she is said to be interested in gardens.  It is now forecast to rain on Wednesday, rising to ninety per cent probability of heavy rain by lunchtime, with a Met Office Yellow Warning of potential traffic disruption.  I had been planning to start her off on deadheading lavender then maybe offer some potting by way of variety.  I am not sure she would want to spend all morning in the greenhouse in the rain, the roof leaks, and anyway I don't think there are enough things to pot to last for two hours.  It sounds like a recipe guaranteed to put a teenager off gardening for the next three decades.

I will speak to her mother and see what they want to do.  She could come on Thursday if she doesn't have anything else planned, and we could collect the car after taking her home and go to John Lewis another day.  Or she could come on Wednesday and we could make ice cream, or bread.  We could get the car on Friday and have loads of time to go to John Lewis.  It will all work out one way or another.  It's just that I am enough of a nerd to like to know what the plan is in advance.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

overdoing it

Mr Fidget fell in the pond.  I was weeding by the pond and there were no cats in it, then a moment later when I went into the kitchen the Systems Administrator gestured to me through the window to come and look at something, and there was a wet and pathetic Mr Fidget, little ratty tail all draggly and fur sticking up in punk spikes.  He must have climbed straight out after he fell in, to judge from the large wet patch along one side of the pond and absence of water at the top of either of the wooden ramps that are still in place from when the kittens were first allowed outside, and he seemed entirely unharmed except in his feelings.  It might be just as well that yesterday I topped the pond up because the water level had dropped by four or five inches and I was afraid that it would be too far to climb out if any of the cats fell in.  It would happen to Mr Fidget.  We were starting to hope that he might be getting less accident prone as he got older.  I dried him on the kitchen towel and gave him some biscuits, but he went on looking pathetic.  As the SA said, he was probably not very happy at all his fur smelling of pond water.

I went on weeding by the model railway and moving gravel, until on about the fourth barrow my back suddenly twinged in a way that told me that I had better stop.  It is frustrating since I would very much like to finish spreading the contents of the second bulk bag, and not have it sitting by the gate for months.  In the meantime I shifted to weeding the turning circle, a meticulous but lightweight fingertip job.  The thrift needs deadheading, since the old heads are not especially ornamental and the tight buns of foliage look better without them, but am leaving the brown, spiky heads of Eryngium and the bobbly spent flower stems of Asphodeline lutea until winter. Both are attractive in a decaying sort of way, especially early in the morning with dew or frost on them, and contrast nicely with the smooth domes of the deadheaded thrift.

There is lots of sheep's sorrel.  However much I pull up, it always comes back.  Dead Eleagnus leaves have tucked themselves down among the other plants and need scooping out.  It's debatable whether to leave the old stems and seedheads of Nigella damascena any longer, or if they have already passed beyond the architectural stage to become merely tatty.  There is some sort of native plant whose name I don't know, that looks quite like salsify but has yellow daisy flowers instead of pink, and seeds itself more than I should like.  I pull the seedlings out, a slightly fiddly task since the small ones are easy to confuse with Asphodeline at a casual glance.  As long as they come up with a white tap root and not a cluster of yellow roots I know I haven't got the wrong one.  There is a running grass that dives among the roots of the Iris florentina.  In the past I have lifted all the iris and dug the area over, but since a tiny bit of grass always escapes it's easier just to pull the grass out and resign yourself to doing it again in due course.  There are brown, dead, not even remotely architectural stems of Silybum marianum, that need to be pulled up and added to the pile of stuff bound for the bonfire.  They are extremely prickly.

Our Ginger came to watch me work, and wanted to sit in my lap as I kneeled.  I petted him for a while then fetched him a spare foam kneeling mat to sit on, but he wasn't having any of it and stomped off.

Saturday, 5 August 2017


The forecast (with seventy per cent probability) thunderstorms did not materialize.  There was a torrential downpour at around three, and by half past four it was dry enough to change back into our gardening clothes and go back outside into what turned into a beautiful evening, bathed in golden light.  I was relieved the thunder missed us, because I hate thunder, or more accurately I hate lightning.  The Systems Administrator said I was more scared of thunder than the cats, and I pointed out that that was entirely reasonable since the cats did not know they were living in a house with a roof made out of compressed straw.

I am glad it is a nice evening, since the grandson of the neighbour who lives in the further of the cottages in the lane called round a month ago to warn us that he would be having a party.  By this morning they had got two portaloos in their field, and a pair of gazebos, and it would have been a pity if it had rained.  He plays in a band, or used to a couple of years ago when he warned us he was having another party, at which his band would be playing.  They weren't bad, from what I could hear of them across the field, and then the music switched to something else with a female vocalist and I thought Blimey, she is really good, and then realized it was Debbie Harry in one of the tracks from Parallel Lines.

In between the spells of rain the Systems Administrator had time to finish fitting the bamboo screen across the back of the sloping bed just inside the entrance.  We will see how it stands up to the gales.  I am reasonably optimistic, barring a full blown top end Force Ten*, since it is permeable and flexible, but I think the SA had visions of the top breaking and disintegrating in the wind.  As long as it lasts for a few years it won't matter so much, since that will give time for plant cover in the border to grow.  The immediate effect is to make the back garden appear more enclosed, and is a great improvement.

The sense of enclosure is one of those design effects that's important but difficult to pin down. You don't need a full blown system of garden rooms with hedges and walls above head height.  A waist high barrier can do it, or a strip of tall but see-through planting.  You can feel enclosed but still be able to see out.  But to have something around the edge that's substantial enough to prevent people passing over or through it, at least assuming they are following norms of behaviour and not chasing around like Bodie and Doyle, makes an area feel more secure, and more like a distinct place.  And blocking views of the more mundane or unattractive surroundings helps build the illusion of the garden being its own contained world.  The top of the sloping bed was in practical terms already fairly well enclosed, having a rabbit fence along the back of it, and behind the rabbit fence a pile of grass clippings, and beyond the grass clippings a patch of brambles.  But it was not an attractive little corner, and as your eye passed over the rabbit fence you mentally left the garden.  From all the rest of the back garden once you are in it you could see nothing except the garden, the wood, and the sky.

The turning circle is an area where the sense of enclosure gradually built up, and was all the better for it.  First of all it was just a scruffy lawn.  Nobody would ever have wanted to sit there. We dug a pond, replaced the grass with gravel, and laid a path across it and a square of paving next to the pond.  It was still not a place to linger, even when the first planting of bulbs and low growing plants started to take shape.  Now there are banks of lavender, a bulky Phlomis italica, a semi-prostrate rosemary, an olive tree, a young Persian silk tree, a sprawling Teucrium fruticans, myrtles, and other shrubs that thrive on sun and sharp drainage.  The little metal cafe table and two chairs at the heart of it feel like a real place to sit, though it is still overlooked by the house and you can eyeball the postman and the Amazon delivery drivers from your chair.

In contrast, the field hedge around the front garden doesn't feel quite as enclosing as I should like, especially in winter when the leaves have fallen.  It is a good practical barrier, with rabbit fencing on both sides and quite bushy, and in most places you'd be hard pushed to climb through it, but there is something distracting and exposed about being able to see the field so clearly.  I realized that in the odd places where we'd planted a dwarf pine or box close to it the effect was much better, even though you could still see through the hedge above the line of the evergreen shrubs, and so planted more box in front of the hedge with the aim of keeping them clipped to about four feet as they grew.  Distant views of the far side of the field and the trees are fine, it is just something about having the field margin in the foreground that feels wrong.  As I said, the sense of enclosure is tricky, important, mutable and hard to define.  Cats notice it too.  Why else would they be so keen on sitting in cardboard boxes, even tiny low sided ones?

*Which is a Storm, not a Gale.  On the Beaufort Scale Storms are stronger than Gales, contrary to much popular usage.  There used to be an advertisement for, of all people, the RNLI, appealing for us to support them when their crews would go out in Force Ten Gales for us, and it irritated me every time I saw it.  I have no idea why the RNLI let their advertising agency run with it, except that most people probably think a Gale sounds the baddest thing there is, except for a Hurricane and we very rarely get those in the UK.  It isn't.  A Storm is bigger.

Friday, 4 August 2017

a glut

Mr Cool disgraced himself by catching a green woodpecker.  He brought it into the house, where he was intercepted by the Systems Administrator who shouted at Mr Cool and made him drop his quarry.  The woodpecker from shamming dead became very much alive and flew about the study. The SA chased Mr Cool out of the room, shut the blinds and opened the back door, and the bird flew towards the light and freedom.  Mr Cool seemed rather abashed by what he had done, and spent the rest of the day lying in an armchair looking subdued.  Goodness knows how he caught it, but of course they feed on the ground when they are going after ant colonies, and it was probably a young one that had not yet learned about cats.  None of the previous cats have ever caught a woodpecker, and there are a lot in the garden.  Fortunately the current generation have not caught on to the idea of drilling into beehives.

The fig tree is cropping prodigiously, and blocking more of the garage door day by day.  You would not think it was the same sad plant that used to exist in a pot in the conservatory.  This year's figs are escaping the attention of the birds, perhaps in part due to the presence of the young cats, though there hasn't been any wasp damage either and I can't credit the cats with keeping wasps at bay.  It is a pity that fresh figs keep for such a short time even in the fridge, and that the SA does not like figs.

I looked through some of my cookery books and online for ideas on what to do with them, but after discounting savory partnerships with ham, which the SA would not eat with any degree of enthusiasm, regarding it as a waste of good ham, that left various enormous cakes.  The cakes didn't sound as though they would have terribly long shelf lives, and converting a glut of more figs than one person could eat into an even larger cake that one person couldn't eat either wouldn't really help matters.  I briefly considered fig jam, but wasn't sure when even I would eat that, and lacked confidence in my ability to tell when boiling sugar had reached the pearl stage.  Spoiling a bag of sugar and half wrecking a saucepan in my attempts not to waste the figs would be a false economy.  In the end I followed Jane Grigson's method of baking some with vanilla sugar, which I thought would help them keep a while longer in the fridge, and ate some raw for lunch.  Last night I paired some with the end of a tub of vanilla ice cream and some honey, and that was good.

I am nearly at the bottom of the first bag of gravel.  In fact, I have seen the bottom, though I am still busy scraping shovel loads of gravel out from around the sides.  When I consider the rate at which I am shifting it I should remember that of course I am lifting it twice, once when I fill the wheelbarrow and again when I spread it, and in between the two stages I have to push it in the wheelbarrow.  It takes ages to dig the last bits out as the edges of the bag keep flopping over and getting in the way.  Builders' merchants never seem to put a deposit on the bags nowadays, or ask for them back, and I wonder whether health and safety now dictates that they are single use, or whether on building sites where time is money people slit the bags rather than fiddling about trying to dig from them.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

the gravel arrives

The gravel arrived.  I was out in the garden by half past eight, keeping a beady eye out for the lorry, before an email arrived at 08.59 confirming that my order would be arriving between 07.00 and 13.00.  That was better than the customer service desk had told me yesterday when they said they couldn't guarantee a delivery time, since while it wasn't a very tight slot at least it didn't mean I was committed to waiting for the lorry all afternoon.  Lucky it didn't come between seven and half past eight, though.

It was unlucky that it seemed to be a particularly noisy morning on the farm, which sent me regularly scuttling down to the entrance each time I heard a heavy diesel engine revving or the bleep of a vehicle reversing, only to see a lettuce lorry about to depart or another trailer load of freshly harvested salad arriving.  It was unlucky too that it was such a windy day.  I had the front door propped open so that I'd hear the phone as I weeded and waited, but when finally the sound of a lorry down at the farm did turn out to be the gravel, by the time I'd walked down the lane to meet him the driver had had time to leave messages on the landline and my mobile.  And no, I didn't take my mobile into the garden with me.  I never do.  It would only get broken.

The driver was much more amiable than the man on the customer service desk, and said he would walk up the lane to have a look at the access.  He seemed perfectly happy with it, and when I said that the dustmen had been only that morning he said confidently that anywhere a dustcart could go, he could go.  I said that I hadn't been able to understand why the customer service desk had got quite so agitated about the lane, and he said that was because the man on the desk didn't drive a lorry, just sat at a desk, and as he had been there yesterday when I rang it would have been better if he had spoken to me directly.  I conceded that it was difficult to form a view about access when you hadn't seen it, and he reversed his lorry up the lane and offloaded the gravel without any trouble.  He was not even worried about the high-up bits of the farm's trees and the neighbour's hedge obscuring his wing mirrors, because his lorry had a camera on the back, and he told me not to worry about the dustmen because they always had somebody in the passenger seat who could look out that side.

His firm announced their results today, and profits were down on turnover that was up, reflecting a margin squeeze from higher import costs due to weak sterling and subdued activity in the housing market, but they still made a five per cent margin, so they still seem as solid as they were twenty years ago.  Materials distribution is not an inherently high quality business, as witness the collapse of the firm I used to buy acrylic sheet from.  It was only because I'd paid using PayPal that I got a refund when after a series of increasingly unconvincing excuses the acrylic still hadn't arrived by the time their website vanished and the consensus among their unhappy customers on the internet was that they'd gone bust.  Being quoted is no protection against going bust, but total failure is normally preceded by a couple of profits warnings.

I asked the driver how much a large bulk bag of gravel actually weighed, and he said around a tonne, just over if it was very wet, otherwise just under.  I set to work with my wheelbarrow once he'd gone, and spread fresh gravel over the area where the juniper used to be, and started topping up the dry garden planting and the edges of the drive along the base of the ivy hedges where the gravel was thin.  I alternated between barrowing gravel and weeding, so as not to strain anything, but by early evening the big muscles between my shoulder blades were starting to ache and I thought that might be enough for one day.  I must have spread over half the bag, maybe even two thirds of it, pacing myself over about seven hours.  In comparison, when The Flying Scotsman broke the 100 mph barrier in 1934 her fireman shovelled about nine tonnes of coal in five hours, and at the World Coal Shovelling Championship in Tasmania the record for shovelling half a tonne stands at 26 seconds.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

retail stress

Yesterday I bought a nice, bushy yew about eighteen inches high from the Chatto Gardens, having noticed that they had some when I called in before to buy the Verbena officinalis.  At that point I didn't know I would be wanting yew, but the fact that it was in stock registered.  August is not a usual time to buy hedging plants.  I already had two dahlias growing on in pots and some homemade compost to bulk up the soil before planting, so all that remained to complete the project was more gravel.

After the experience of the collapsing acrylic sheet distributor I am probably neurotic about small materials suppliers.  This was one reason why I left it a couple of weeks after my first attempt to buy gravel when I was told the local aggregate merchant's computer was down on Friday and still down on Saturday.  Their website was still there yesterday, but when I rang the man who answered the phone sounded very doubtful when I said I wanted to buy two bulk bags of washed shingle, and said he would have to ring me back.  Somebody else did ring me back, in more than two minutes, but by then I had lost my nerve and gone to one of the builder's merchants, a quoted company and one which back in the day when I followed the building sector was reckoned to be extremely conservatively run.  Mind you, a lot can change in two decades.  When I worked for Lloyds TSB they were reckoned to be well and conservatively managed, making a positive virtue out of dullness, and look what they went and did next.

I ordered my gravel online, ticking the box that said I was a DIY customer and not trade, and the one that said access was not suitable for HGVs, and giving details of the single track approach to the house, necessitating reversing one way.  An email arrived saying that my delivery would come from the Colchester branch who would contact me to arrange a delivery date.  The ETA was given as Wednesday, which suited me fine as I wanted to get on with spreading the gravel.  I hovered around near the entrance keeping an ear out for the lorry while weeding, so that I could head the driver off at the pass before he embedded his wing mirrors in the Eleagnus hedge trying to drive right into the garden, and I kept an eye on my phone for my advisory text saying when the gravel was coming.

By lunchtime I'd had neither text nor gravel, and it was forecast to rain, so I rang up the Colchester branch.  The conversation went badly from the start.  I explained I'd ordered some bulk bags online, would like to know when they were coming, and had the online order number.  The man at the Colchester branch said that was not much use and a name and address would be better.  I gave him my name and address.  He asked when I'd ordered the gravel and I said, Yesterday, and the email had suggested it would be coming today, and I would like to know when it would be coming so that I could be there to make sure it was put down in the right place and the lorry did not try to come into the garden.  He did not like the fact that we were not on the public highway at all, or that I was asking his lorry to reverse up a single track lane.  Did I know that the lorry could not go off road?  I said that I was not asking it to go off road, it was a perfectly good lane, all other lorries managed to get up the lane, including the dustcart that did it every week, the oil delivery lorry, and the local aggregates' firm lorry that had delivered the last lot of gravel a couple of months ago.  It was just that there was not room to turn at the top.  How was it supposed to reverse?  Would there be a banksman to help?  I said that I would be there.  He told me that he couldn't give a time for the delivery.  I said that was all right, I would wait in the garden all day.  He warned me the driver would do his best, and some of their drivers went above and beyond the call of duty, but they only delivered to addresses on the road.  They were not insured to go off the public highway.  And I should have rung them to say that I'd ordered gravel to be delivered to a property with such limited access, it said so on the website.

It doesn't, or if it does it is in size 6 font on a page tucked away in the website's furthest recesses. And I had ticked the box that said it was not suitable for HGVs and given as many details of the lane as I could fit on the online order form.  And the confirmation email said that the branch would contact me.  And it must be utter bollocks that they are not insured to go off the public highway.  They are a builder's merchant.  They deliver to building sites and new estates whose roads have not yet been adopted, for goodness sake.  And if the company didn't want private punters like me to order stuff they wouldn't have an open access e-commerce site, but one where you had to register as a trade customer and then log on before you could order anything.  I can only assume that he had the hump because I'd ordered online and that the firm's business model meant he made less from that than if I'd ordered from the branch, which would be a very silly business model if that was the problem.  Perhaps he was just having a very bad day.  Whichever way, I won't be using them again, and I shouldn't think the Systems Administrator will be getting the Coroline corrugated roofing to reroof the blue summerhouse from them when that finally rises to the top of the SA's list of Things to Do.

I hate buying gravel.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

of witch hazel and wisteria

This will be a late and probably short blog post, since I was late in from the monthly meeting of the garden club, and never got round to posting anything before I went out because I was gardening.  I had reminded the Systems Administrator in advance that I would not be around for supper today because it was the first Tuesday of the month, and this morning asked the SA to give me a nudge if I looked as though I might have forgotten that I was supposed to be going out.  At this time of the year I'm usually out in the garden until half past six, if not seven, and it is very easy to get engrossed in what you are doing and forget to come inside in time to get cleaned up and have something to eat.  Sure enough, when the SA came over at quarter to six to check I'd remembered I was going out I was still busily planting up the newly cleared end of the dahlia bed and only vaguely starting to think about packing up.

Tonight's lecturer was a highly knowledgeable and experienced nurseryman, Chris Lane, who holds a National Collection of Hamamelis and another of Wisteria.  I have heard him speak a couple of times before, but am always happy to hear a shrub expert who really knows their stuff holding forth.  I have his book on witch hazels, purchased second hand from a US based seller after it had gone out of print and hit astronomical prices in the UK.  My nice and very clean copy was remaindered from the Orange County library service.  He is working on another book on wisteria which I shall certainly buy, if and when it comes out, since he was working on it the last time I heard him talk and that must have been a year ago.

I picked up some new strange and interesting snippets.  I knew that Hamamelis were traditionally propagated by grafting, and it turns out that they still are.  I wondered if nowadays they might be micropropagated, but it turns out that the numbers involved are too small to be commercially attractive, and that in any event it doesn't work with witch hazel.  Plant science has got so sophisticated, it wouldn't have occurred to me that you couldn't micropropagate pretty much any woody species if you wanted to, but apparently not.  The tubes fill with strange brown gunk and it just doesn't work.  For home gardeners who haven't mastered the art of grafting you can layer them, giving the branches a couple of years to root, or even air layer them, but in commercial nurseries they are still grafted, as plants have been for hundreds of years.

Young wisteria need generous watering to get them going.  Once established they are fine with normal watering, and water logging is fatal, but until then they need lots of water.  That will be why my plant that's supposed to be growing up the scaffolding pole is not doing anything.  I watered it in dry spells early on to keep it from dying, but I have not regularly lavished water upon it.  I had better give it more.

He elaborated on his statement in a previous talk that wisteria tends not to flower until it has reached the limits of whatever it is growing on, be that a six foot pole or a large tree.  The mechanism is that the new, whippy young growths will not extend more than a yard or so beyond their support.  If at that point they sense they are still flailing around with nothing to cling on to, they stop growing.  So if a wisteria has a whole tree to explore it will keep growing until is has poked its way out of the tree by the requisite yard, while if it only has a pergola, or a pole, it will reach the point of no support rather sooner.  Once it has discovered it has nowhere else to go it will start putting more of its energies into flowering.

Chris Lane sells strictly by wholesale, except on his nursery open days.  The dates of those tend to be advertised on his website only a few weeks in advance, because the timing of flowering is so dependent on the weather.  The sight of his stock beds of witch hazels must be a sight to behold.  I need to convince the SA of this, since I don't think I should have the energy to drive all the way to Faversham in my Skoda in February.  I was thinking how good a garden club coach trip would be, until the winner of the potato competition who was sitting next to me pointed out that you couldn't book a coach when you didn't know in advance when the witch hazels were going to be out.

Monday, 31 July 2017

making progress on two fronts

The Systems Administrator cleared away the heap of juniper branches and roots, all except the stump which I helped lift into the trailer before the SA packed up for the afternoon and went to cook supper.  I need to give the remains of the gravel a final tidying up, pulling out the last roots and treading it flat, and the SA has offered to sweep the newly accessible concrete parking area in the morning, and then it will only need a fresh coat of gravel and the juniper clearance project will be finished.  When I added Sort out conifers by concrete to free up parking to the list of things to do (currently number 67) I imagined cutting them back without entirely butchering them, but the drive looks much better with them gone.  It just goes to show that it is worth trying to look at a garden with a fresh eye.  Once plants have been there for a long time it is easy to regard them as fixtures, but really anything can be up for grabs at any time, except for trees with Preservation Orders on them.

Meanwhile I am close to finishing weeding the mess just inside the entrance to the garden.  I haven't managed to get every last bramble root out, and I expect they will shoot again in due course, but I shall be ready for them with glyphosate.  I took the SA to see what I'd been doing after tea, and set out my requests for projects with which I should like help, which sounded rather long when presented as a list, even when hedged around with disclaimers about some of them not being urgent, and more something for the SA to ponder possible solutions in odd moments.

I should like a screen for the bins, so that the first thing one saw on entering the garden was not the dustbin and the brown garden waste recycling wheelie bin.  I should also like a screen for the grass clippings the SA dumps into the odd corner of the next field which under the way the farm was carved up ended up as part of our garden.  I should like to fix a reed screen up to head height, or perhaps split bamboo might be more durable, along the back of the newly weeded and cleared border at the top of the slope, so that when I replanted it with whatever shrubs I decide might cope with the wind and sand they would have a more attractive background than brambles, a pile of grass clippings, and any stuff the neighbours had left lying around their field at the time. Sometimes they have a portable miniature football goal, though that hasn't been in evidence recently.  And I should like help installing (for which read like the SA to install) my new artwork. The artwork was more urgent, since I had already bought it, and in fact the screen along the back of the bed was quite urgent, since I should like to get on with planting up the border.

It sounded like a long list, and I felt rather mean, when garden artworks are part of my hobby and not really anything to do with the Systems Administrator.  The SA drew a deep breath and explained that as this was an exceptionally windy corner, exposed to the full blast of the south westerlies, that movable screens for bins and lawn clippings would be quite difficult to design so that they did not fall to bits after a few months.  Likewise there was the risk that a bamboo screen along the back of the border would blow apart.  On the other hand, the SA could see my point that as the top corner of the slope was visible along both of the main paths through the back garden and along the drive from the house it would be better if it did not consist of some wire rabbit netting and a mound of brambles.  The SA began to talk about battens and to warm to the theme, and we agreed that as a roll of split bamboo screen would not be vastly expensive that I would get one, the SA would fix it, and we would see how it worked out.

The artwork provoked similar anxiety about the wind, and we ended up with a compromise that it could be fixed at waist rather than head height.  I have just bought a set of ten capital letters in an elegant serif font, stamped out of thin rusted metal sheet, and I want them fastened up by the entrance to the garden where they will spell out a line from Samuel Beckett which could be every gardener's motto (and is especially apt for this dry and windy corner where I have struggled for nearly a quarter of a century with a series of unsuccessful planting schemes).  Instead of a view of dustbins as you arrive I want people to see the words:


Sunday, 30 July 2017

the stump is out

The juniper stump is out.  The pile of debris next to where the juniper used to be is taller than I am, though the Systems Administrator has offered to move it to the bonfire heap tomorrow.  I feel rather stiff but mightily self-satisfied.  Also relieved, as there was a point about half way through the excavation when I began to wonder if I was going to be able to get it out by hand.

Poor juniper, I still feel mean removing a healthy plant, and it was a very healthy specimen. Having said that they will not regenerate from old wood, there were a few little points of new leaves sprouting right in the very heart of the plant.  I would not rely on being able to cut one down to stumps and it reclothing itself in fresh growth in any sensible time period, though.

The roots went mostly horizontally, echoing the growth habit above ground, and I was able to dig most of them out.  Branches and roots are both made of soft wood and easy to cut by hand.  The Systems Administrator spent ten minutes before lunch today cutting down the last couple of feet of the main stems with the chainsaw, which had reached four to six inches in diameter after two decades, but I dismantled most of the canopy with a manual pruning saw and loppers.

Getting the roots out was hard work, but not the part that almost threw me.  It was getting the stump out that was the real challenge.  It was made up of several stems, occupying a space getting on for a yard long and half as wide.  After working my way round the centre several times, sawing and cutting through the roots as I went, I had to start undercutting the mass of stems in the middle using the pick axe, and keep chopping the ends of the severed roots ever shorter using loppers and the pruning saw, so that the great central lump began to shrink down to a more reasonable size and I stood a chance of eventually cutting my way right to the centre.

There was no central massive anchoring tap root, as there is under some plants, but several smallish roots plunging straight down from underneath the cluster of trunks.  At the end, when I'd undercut so far that the rootball wobbled under my touch, it still refused to lift out of the hole, and I had to tip it as far as I could to one side, feel under it to see where it was anchored, and then reach under it while still managing to keep it tipped and cut through the remaining roots, identifying them by touch.

The cats seemed mildly appalled to see a shrub, a hitherto dependable garden fixture, disappearing in front of their eyes.  Change is bad, when you are a cat.  Mr Cool was especially fascinated by the hole, which he came and inspected very carefully, while Mr Fluffy unfortunately took the large area of freshly disturbed earth to be a new and magnificent lavatory.

I do wish that gardening programmes on TV would be more honest about the work it takes to dig out mature shrubs by hand.  They make it look as though after ten minutes of digging with a spade you will have a trench right around the shrub, while a few more brisk chops will cut under the root ball, and it is really not like that, or at least not most of the time.  The main roots of the juniper were over two inches in diameter and the smaller ones an inch, and if I'd chopped at them with a spade all that would have happened is I'd have jarred my arms painfully until the spade broke. The pick axe bounced off them if I hit them directly.  Instead I dug down to them and with the blade under them used the leverage of the handle to raise them to a point where I could sever them, or if they were too thick to lift at all I dug a hole on either side to give access to saw through them.

Anyway, it is out now, and I have almost finished filling the hole and smoothing off the site, and it looks much better.  All it needs now is a tonne of gravel.  I feel rather stiff, but I don't think I've torn or injured anything.  I was very careful to let the axe do the work.  I know someone who managed to rip a couple of ribs loose by dint of tugging furiously at a thing she was trying to dislodge, but brute strength is not the answer, not when you are small and no longer young. Cunning, leverage, gravity, and sharp cutting tools, that's the way to do it.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

talking about trees

The setting for today's woodland charity talk was rather different to some.  For a start, it was in Suffolk.  For years I have tried to explain to a series of volunteer organizers that I live close to the county boundary.  It takes me, on average, just over twenty minutes to get into Suffolk, versus a good hour and a quarter to get to Romford and longer by the time I've allowed for delays on the A12, but they have all insisted on running things on a strictly county driven basis.  I was once offered a booking in Stansted Mountfitchet, still part of Essex but the other side of the M11, and it came as a revelation to the administrative assistant concerned that if she were to look at a map she would see that Hertford and Cambridge were both much closer to Stansted Mountfitchet than I was starting from the east of Colchester.

Hats off, therefore, to the latest volunteer manager, who seems to have a better grasp of geography and a less blinkered view of county boundaries than many of her predecessors.  She has also issued me with a name badge, a set of business cards which have my name printed on them and not just generic cards for the charity on which I am supposed to write my details in biro, and a portable banner on a stand.  I feel we are going places.

Today's talk was unusual for being on a Saturday morning.  Who goes to talks on a Saturday morning?  It was part of a summer long festival of trees and gardening, the first time the organizers had run one.  I didn't know what to expect, and was reconciled to nobody wanting to come to an ad hoc Saturday morning lecture on woodlands.  In the event there was an audience, small but friendly, and I did not feel an idiot talking to them, as I might have done if the festival organizers had outnumbered the members of the public.

If they do it again I think they could do with roping in somebody with flair and experience to help with the publicity.  It must be difficult running a series of events when you have no history, no database of past supporters, and pretty much no budget, but there was no notice outside the venue to say that a talk would be taking place on Saturday morning.  I saw nothing about the festival in any of the local papers I read online, and it didn't get a mention at the garden club, which meets not very far away, or any publicity at their Open Gardens.  The only person I know who lives in the town didn't know there was a festival of trees and gardening running over the summer.  Still, it was brave of the organizers to try, and it must be as potentially embarrassing for them as for their speakers to stage events and risk nobody turning up.  More so, in fact, as my name wasn't on the programme.  They were doing a guided tree walk this afternoon, so I hope some people went to that, because it began to rain soon after lunch.

Friday, 28 July 2017

a party of cats

Whatever Mr Cool was doing on his travels yesterday must have exhausted him, for he spent most of today sleeping in the trug I use to carry twigs to the woodland charity talks, and is now lying sprawled across the end of the kitchen table.  It is going to be a blow to him when after tomorrow's talk the trug goes back down to the garage and he has to make do with his wicker cat bed and whatever assortment of cardboard boxes we have lying around at the time*.

I spent much of the day sawing my way through the gigantic juniper at the end of the dahlia bed**.The pile of prunings on the concrete is already vast, and I haven't finished yet***.I think it is large enough that it will be worthwhile for the Systems Administrator to pump up the tyre of the old tractor, which has a slow puncture, and sort out whatever the problem with the fuel system is to get it to run, so that we can clear the heap using the big trailer rather than making twenty journeys with the little, hand pulled one.

There is something sad about dismantling a healthy plant simply because it has outgrown its space, but it has to be admitted that the drive is already starting to look better without it.  Seeing the gap highlights how the juniper had ceased to have any useful purpose.  It blocked access on foot and for vehicles to places to which there ought to be access, and created a thirty foot detour in getting from one side of the dahlia bed to the other, and it was not a thing of such beauty that one didn't mind accommodating it.  Almost the first exercise we did in class in the first term at Writtle was to conduct a landscape appraisal, which means looking at everything in a landscape and deciding what its function was.  The poor old juniper had no function.

The SA has offered to cut through the thickest branches with the chainsaw, if I remove the lighter top layers by hand.  That will speed things up, but still leaves the roots to dig out.  I have a nasty feeling that is going to be a pig of a job with the pick axe, the juniper being in the pink of health, unlike the sea buckthorns, and presumably having a massive root system to match its enormous top growth.  There are twenty years' worth of fallen and decaying needles to scoop up as well, and the gravel will need replenishing.  In fact, I think I had better order an extra bag****when I buy the next load.

*In the time it took me to type that last sentence Mr Cool returned to the trug.

**Mr Cool was promptly replaced by Our Ginger and Mr Fluffy.  Our Ginger gave the top of Mr Fluffy's head a good wash, and Mr Fluffy is now lying down looking cute and purring at one end of the table while Our Ginger lies at the other end with his paw on my arm, purring.  Stereo purring.

***Now Mr Fidget has arrived and he and Mr Fluffy are washing each other.  The kitchen table is getting rather crowded.

****Mr Cool began to feel lonely in his trug and has joined the party on the table.  Four cats.  Ernest Hemingway, eat your heart out.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

the mystery of the vanishing mr cool

Mr Cool was not in for his breakfast this morning.  Initially I was not too fussed, since he likes to go out and normally shows up by nine or half past.  When he had not come in by ten I walked up the side of the wood calling for him, and round the back garden, but he didn't appear.  I had to go out soon after midday for an afternoon woodland charity talk, and as I set off there was still no sign of him.

I fretted about him all the way up the A12, then managed to stop thinking about him once I was set up in the hall, ready to go.  Today's group was a U3A with a proper sound system including big speakers on stands, a lapel microphone that didn't keep cutting out or depend on my holding my head in exactly the right position at all times, and a cheerful man who knew how it all worked. Since the first part of the talk is accompanied by actual twigs, and I tend to move about and use my hands to illustrate points while lecturing, it is a lot easier not to be rooted to a microphone stand or desperately concentrating on holding the microphone the correct distance from my chin with one hand while operating the projector or rifling through a basket of twigs with the other. The only technical issue today was that the hall's big screen was above the stage, and even with maximum tilt on my projector table and a magazine wedged under the projector's front feet the image still fell short of the top of the screen, and I had to raid my pile of leaflets for extra packing.

The U3A seemed to enjoy the talk, or at they stayed awake and some of them were smiling and some came up afterwards to say that they had enjoyed it.  I'd give this afternoon's effort an alpha minus, whereas I rated the last one beta double plus.  It is very hard to tell, though, like trying to say how you did after an exam.  There have been times when the audience have sat through a talk so solemnly and stiffly I've been amazed to get a call a year or two later inviting me back, but other times when people seemed to love the talk on the day then I never heard from any of them again.

As I packed up my things I remembered that Mr Cool had not been seen since about ten last night. I drove back up the A12 telling myself that when I got home the Systems Administrator would greet me with the news that Mr Cool was back, but Mr Cool was not back and it was raining.  The SA had been up the side of the wood and through the wood calling him before the rain, to no avail.  I changed into my gardening clothes to start looking for Mr Cool, and Mr Cool appeared, soaking wet.  He graciously consented to be clasped to my bosom while water soaked into my t shirt, then he ate some tea, or perhaps it was a late lunch or breakfast, and then he went to sleep in my chair in the study.

Today was the longest we have gone so far without sight of him.  Even when he isn't hungry he pops in after we've got up to say hello, and he generally wants lunch.  There were strange people here this afternoon, first of all some friends kindly bringing us straw bales for the chicken run, and then our cheerful local boiler specialist to do the annual service and measure up to replace the heated towel rails, which are leaking.  Mr Cool hates strange people, so perhaps once they started to turn up he remained out of sight until they had gone and it started to rain.  That doesn't explain why he ignored us calling for him earlier, when yesterday he was enormously friendly, but that's cats for you.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

a decision

This morning, as I headed off to the railway gravel to plant out some more of the stash of plants in pots by the greenhouse, an idea struck me with great clarity, and I realized that I should remove the large semi prostrate juniper at the end of the dahlia bed.  It is a specimen of Juniperus x pfizeriana 'Pfitzeriana Aurea', a name that does not exactly trip off the tongue, and was planted nearly twenty years ago, since when it has overwhelmed two other, lesser prostrate junipers, and changed its name from the slightly more manageable Juniperus x media.

You would probably recognize it if you saw one, even though you might not know its name, for it is a classic landscaping plant of the 1970s, and none the worse for that.  Willing to live in miserable soil, or shade, and gently spreading to fill odd shaped gaps or corners with a weed proof, impenetrable, evergreen cover, it used to be one of the plants that landscape architects reached for when they had an awkward space to fill.  It will tolerate regular trimming, but woe betide you if you cut hard into old wood behind the current growth.  It will not reshoot, and you will be left looking at the stumps.

My regular trimming has not been regular enough, so that after two decades the juniper has spread to occupy the end of the dahlia bed and almost a car's length of parking on the drive, as well as creeping nearly mid way across the concrete so blocking half of the overflow parking area, and has advanced towards the long bed until there is only a pinched, eighteen inch path left between them.  I have been fiddling around trying to reduce it to improve access to the concrete and the railway, but the real solution is to chop it all out.  Suddenly we would regain a space as large as some small front gardens.

Most of it would not be space for new planting, just parking, but it would still be welcome, and I would want to put something in its place to mark the end of the dahlia bed.  For a few hours I toyed with the idea of a dwarf pine, not too tiny or slow growing but that wouldn't get too large.  I love pines, and all those we've tried so far have done extremely well in the sand.  A form of the native Pinus sylvestris whose new growth emerged pale yellow, perhaps, or a dark, gnarled pine like the ones seen in some recent Chelsea gardens.  But neither of these felt right, and my budget would not stretch to the sort of pines seen at Chelsea, and how long would I have to wait for one to reach that size?  No, the answer, it turned out, was another yew, to echo the two topiary domes topped with cake stands in the long bed.  I would not make another cake stand, but perhaps a spiral, or a sort of Cleopatra's needle obelisk.

Yew is by no means instant, but it will make getting on for eighteen inches annual growth when young if fed and watered, and it likes good drainage.  In damp ground it is vulnerable to phytophthora, but in sand it is pretty bullet proof.  There is not, so far and touching wood, a yew blight to go with box blight.

I ran the idea past the Systems Administrator, who turned out to be delighted at the prospect of the juniper going, so pleased in fact that I thought the SA could always have asked before.  I suppose it is part of our modus vivendi that my plants are allowed to do their thing without criticism in case I should dearly love them, the main exception being when they block the signal to the Sky dish.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

an unwelcome discovery

I finished moving the Tithonia on into bigger containers, so they are now in 27cm diameter pots and we shall see how that works.  They had made a lot of roots in their old pots, and I am coming to the view that they are better with plenty of space, plenty of water, and probably plenty of food.  In contrast one of the Zinnia 'Queen Red Lime' had collapsed over the past few days, and I'm pretty sure that was because it got too wet, from the spells of very heavy rain as much as from my over watering it.  Luckily I had one plant left in the greenhouse, still in its two litre plastic pot, so I was able to substitute that for the dying one.  It looks as though with Zinnia you want to keep the pot on the small side, and try to keep them from getting soggy.

I potted on the Nicotiana mutablis by the front door, all except one because I ran out of the right size pots, and then I made a very unwelcome discovery about the fuchsias.  I have been fretting since mid spring when they came back into growth that most were not bushing up as well as I'd like.  They produced leaves, and some flowers, but not many new shoots, and as the summer went on the rate of production of leaves and flowers started to tail off instead of gaining momentum.  I wondered if I had fed them too little, or too much, or with the wrong kind of food and they didn't like Vitax Q4, or if they had been too wet on average, or allowed to get too dry between waterings in the hot weather.

This afternoon as I was picking off the fallen flowers and snipping off the fruits from those that set berries I noticed a distorted shoot tip.  Peering over the top of my safety spectacles, my nose pressed up close to the foliage so that I could see, I found more misshapen growth, stems fattened and flattened, leaves stunted, flower buds distorted.  I went and checked the symptoms on the internet, but I was already pretty sure what I'd got, fuchsia gall mite.  It is a relatively new pest in the UK.  The RHS magazine had warned that enquiries about it were rocketing up their league table of most asked about pests and diseases, so I suppose that like Hemerocallis gall midge it was only a matter of time before it found its way here.

I felt quite cast down anyway, a sort of Vissi d'arte gardening moment.  Here I am trying to mind my own business and remain mostly harmless, diligently concocting cheese puddings out of stale bread and cheese to avoid wasting them, still wearing t-shirts that are a quarter of a century old because they have not actually dropped to bits yet, solemnly sorting out the recycling every week, and taking all my holidays in the UK instead of flying.  Why does the ungrateful earth have to unleash a debilitating foreign fuchsia pest upon my garden when I have been decorating my particular altar with flowers with sincere faith?

It is a tiny, tiny mite, resistant to any pesticide available to amateurs, and in any case since fuchsia flowers are attractive to bees you wouldn't want the whole plant laced with pesticide.  I threw out the two worst affected small plants, snipped off every dodgy looking shoot I could see on the others, and sprayed them all with an organic soap based treatment.  The soap will kill those mites it envelops by physical smothering, but they are so small and tucked away in the crevices of the plants that it won't touch all of them.  All I can do is keep trimming out visible damage and soap spraying at frequent intervals, and see if I can get on top of the problem.  In the autumn I shall cut all the fuchsias down very hard so that I get rid of most of the infected material, and hope that they shoot back from ground level in the spring.  Then I had better get going at once with soap spray, and if there are still mites then bin the fuchsias.  That would be a great shame, as I am very fond of fuchsias and had just started to build up a little collection.  It is sheer chance that I didn't buy more recently.  I was all set to put in another order with Other Fellow Fuchsias when the variety I particularly wanted went out of stock and I decided to leave it for the time being.

On a happier note, the replacements arrived for the five primula that should have been orange but all flowered purple.  As the driver hunted for the right box in the back of his van he said that the garden was lovely, he really liked the way we'd done it though it must be a lot of work.  He sounded as though he meant it, and I was deeply touched.  Somehow I hadn't expected a young man driving a white van to be interested.

Monday, 24 July 2017

potting on

I spent the day potting on various plants raised from seed, that were gently grinding to a halt in their trays or existing small pots.  A dark red Gaillardia, Gaura, some white poppies, a few sad foxgloves, two varieties of wallflowers, sweet williams, and another species of long stemmed Dianthus for the gravel since the Dianthus carthusianorum worked so well.  I'm pleased I finally remembered to sow some wallflowers at the right time, which is summer.  There are so many other things to do in June that it's easy to forget about seeds, but early summer is the time to sow biennials.

I am very fond of wallflowers.  I like the scent, the dusky colours, and the whole old-fashioned vibe.  A couple of years ago I bought some bare root wallflowers by mail order, but they failed to make very satisfactory plants, remaining rather spindly.  It was as if they had never got over the indignity of being posted.  I don't understand why, when almost every other bedding plant under the sun is sold in a container, the tradition of bare root wallflowers persists.  I read somewhere that wallflowers were not suitable for selling in pots as young plants because their rootballs didn't hold together, but the ones I potted on this afternoon had perfectly normal looking roots.  They held together in the shape of their divided tray without seeming congested, and I have every hope they will do the same in small pots until the autumn when I can plant them in some of the containers currently in use for summer bedding.  Seed company Thompson and Morgan advise on their website that biennials are usually sown in a nursery bed where they can grow undisturbed until ready for transplanting, and I wonder why?  How many gardens nowadays have a nursery bed? If my young potted wallflower plants suddenly keel over, or gradually dwindle to nothing before the autumn, then I'll know that maybe I should have found a nursery bed for them, but as it is I fail to see why they can't be grown in little pots, like the young cabbage plants garden sold in garden centres and DIY stores to home vegetable growers.

Members of the cabbage family, including wallflowers, can suffer from club root, so one advantage of growing your own from seed instead of buying bare root plants is knowing that you are definitely not introducing club root to the garden.  You would hope that no reputable mail order company would allow such a thing to happen, but you never know.  And seed raised plants are cheaper, when a packet of seed costs a couple of pounds if it doesn't come free with a gardening magazine, while bare root mail order plants are forty or fifty pence each, and demand to be planted as soon as they arrive.

The Arctotis that got held up in the post and had gone yellow and mouldy by the time they arrived have finally filled their plastic nine centimetre pots with enough roots for me to be willing to move them on into five inch terracotta pots and stand them outside.  Hayloft did refund me for one pack, which seemed about fair since all the plants survived in the end and I probably shouldn't expect to get two packs entirely for free.  Let's hope that after all the trouble with them they survive the winter in the greenhouse, so that I get a full season out of them next year.  In principle they should, indeed in theory I can multiply them by taking cuttings.

As I went to buy more potting compost and some larger pots for the Tithonia, I stopped at the Chatto gardens to buy a dark leaved, tiny flowered form of verbena, Verbena officinalis var. grandiflora 'Bampton'.  It is fairly new introduction, though I have been eyeing them up covetously for a year or two and am going to try one in a pot with the other purple and dark red flowers.  The Chatto gardens describe it as a particularly fine form, in contrast to other inferior versions which have been grown from seed, leaving me thinking that I ought to be able to take some sort of cuttings from that as well.  I can feel a Google search for 'Verbena officinalis propagation' coming on.