Thursday, 31 August 2017

another disease to worry about

Reading my September issue of the RHS Garden magazine I learned that yet another fatal plant disease is looming on the horizon.  Xyella fastidiosa, a bacterium that infects the water conducting vessels of plants, has been working its way across Europe since 2013.  Symptoms include leaf scorch, wilt, die-back, and death.  Of course, quite a lot of other things can lead to the same list of symptoms in plants, and not all plants infected with Xyella show any symptoms at all.

The first manifestation in Europe was in olive trees in Puglia.  I'd seen in the papers that something was infecting olive trees in Italy, and felt sorry about it, but Italy seemed comfortingly far away and olive trees seemed quite niche from a UK point of view.  Now it turns out that the thing that was attacking olive trees in Italy has also been found in oleander, Polygala, cherries, and almonds, in locations across France, Germany, Spain and the Balearic Islands, and that it is thought to be capable of infecting 359 species (so far and counting) across 75 different families, including hebe, lavender, rosemary, oak, and herbaceous plants as well as shrubs.  It has not been found in the UK yet, but what's the hope of it staying out, given our fondness for cheap Dutch plants and Italian specimens?

The rest of the article did not make comforting reading.  The UK has regulations in place to keep the disease out of Britain, namely that importers have a responsibility to ensure plants originate from a disease free source, one that has been inspected and confirmed to be disease free. Inspected for signs of a disease that can be symptomless, and whose presence can only be confirmed by specialised laboratory testing.  Run it past me how that works, exactly.

There is a Government plan on what to do if Xyella is found in the UK, but that didn't fill me with confidence either.  Control measures focus on removal of host plants and control of the insects that spread the disease.  Um, it is spread locally by sap sucking insects like common froghoppers. How are we going to control those, by spraying chunks of the Home Counties with DDT?  If the infection is thought to have become established the host plants within a 100m radius must be destroyed.  I took a bit of time to digest that.  A hundred metres could easily span the width of eight or ten suburban gardens and the depth of three roads.  Thirty gardens?  I tried to imagine DEFRA officials going through them removing every hebe, lavender, floribunda rose, sycamore, bird cherry, native oak, and ivy plant, plus whatever else Xyella can live on.  And what would they do with the debris?  Burn it in the road in great piles like cow carcasses during the foot and mouth outbreak?

Would the householders get compensation for their ruined gardens?  Who would pay for the removal?  Who would do it?  And who would report a suspected case of Xyella to DEFRA?  Most people would quietly dig out their ailing shrub or hire somebody with a chainsaw to come and chop down whatever tree looked poorly and cross their fingers that it was dying of something else, rather than risk bringing down a Government scorched earth policy down on their own garden and their entire street.

Of course post Brexit we could adopt biosecurity measures as strict as Australia's, if we wanted to, apart from the difficulty that unlike in Australia the rest of the European continent is within flying and drifting distance for spores and insects, and lots of people arrive in the UK with vehicles by ferry and train.  But we could, if by good luck we manage to evade Xyella until then.  I can't see plant health making it to the top of the list of Brexit issues to be addressed in any timescale that would be of any use, though.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

a retrograde step

It is always a blow when something you liked, that worked perfectly well for you, ceases to be an option.  So it is that we are grappling with the imminent demise of Love Film, a disc rental service we've been using for years, that was acquired a few years ago by Amazon and set to close due to declining demand now that digital downloads are the thing.

LoveFilm was fantastic.  It had a huge catalogue including some really obscure titles.  I almost never read a review of any film, even when they were still at the film festival stage and before mainstream cinema release, that couldn't be rented from LoveFilm in due course.  I think one comedy native American road movie that I wanted to see after watching a Rich Hall documentary about film portrayals of American Indians might have eluded me, but in general you could get anything.  We had got into a routine of ordering something funny, something thrilling, something touching on a serious topic but in a heart-warming way, and one downright heavyweight that you had to be feeling strong to watch, so that we'd always have the genre in stock to fit the mood. Sometimes we'd get through two or three comedies and crime capers before steeling ourselves for an evening's gloomfest, but as a system it worked.

In order to use Amazon's streaming service the Systems Administrator has had to buy an Amazon firestick and an Amazon tablet.  They were offering a special deal to ex LoveFilm customers, but even so that is a firestick and tablet which we did not otherwise want or need.  We were not sure whether we would be allowed to download the film in advance so that the tablet could act as a buffer against our slow and slightly dodgy BT broadband connection, or if we would have to stream as we watched.  The answer, it turns out after much digging about by the SA, is the latter.  We will have to see whether our broadband can support a full length film without various judders and sticky patches when the connection drops out.  If not, there is often spare capacity at the end of the month on the SA's backup 3 mobile dongle, so we could use that, or switch to it mid film if BT is having a bad week.  And we will have ammunition to complain like mad to BT if we find we really can't watch streamed films without interruption.  We are on a plateau only sixty miles from the centre of London, for goodness sake; it's not as though we were living in darkest rural Herefordshire or hidden deep in some valley or on the wrong side of a mountain.

Not everything is available to rent at the moment, even quite recent and quite mainstream movies like the 2015 comedy with Meryl Streep, Ricki and the Flash.  There is also the option of buying second hand Blu Ray discs, though the market seems thinner than it is for used CDs, presumably because Blu Ray is a newer technology, so not everything is available on Blu Ray and if films have been issued on Blu Ray there aren't necessarily lots of used copies swashing around for sale. Buying may even work out as no more expensive, at £3.49 for Amazon video rental and £1.26 standard postage for a disc, and at least if you buy a film you've got it to lend to other people, or even watch again.  The way to do it would be to set up a long wish list and check it periodically to see what's available, and what's cheap.  There is also Sky, which does allow you to download films to watch when it suit you.

But altogether it is a nuisance and a disappointment.  Instead of being able to browse one very comprehensive catalogue, choose what we would really like, and have it arrive on the doormat in an envelope, we are looking at having to keep tabs on a variety of sources and settle for what we can actually get.  It doesn't feel like progress.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

a sticky day

The shrubby ivy has been loud with the sound of bees foraging, and I was worried that they would put ivy honey in the supers that are still on the hives.  Ivy honey tastes vile, as I discovered when I once took a late super of honey off, thinking it was an end of season bonus, and found it tasted so nasty there was nothing to do with it but give it back to the bees.  Then I remembered that ivy honey is notorious for setting rock hard in the comb, so much so that some beekeepers advise against letting your bees overwinter on it for stores because they need to collect so much water just to make it liquid enough to eat.  That was fine, then, since if they did put ivy honey in the supers it wouldn't spin out the next time I was extracting honey.  I thought about going and getting the supers, but it was so hot and so sticky that I could not face the thought of immolating myself in a bee suit and trying to shake bees out of their boxes, and I was pretty sure they wouldn't be pleased to see me.

It was ridiculously humid.  The Systems Administrator, who wilts like yesterday's lettuce left out of the fridge in this sort of weather, has had a low grade but constant headache since the current sticky spell started and gave up, sitting in a deckchair under the 'Tai-haku'.  Yesterday Mr Fidget sat with him, too hot to fidget, but today he could not be bothered to walk that far.  Our Ginger lay on the drain cover by the front door, Mr Fluffy lurked in the turning circle, and Mr Cool vanished into the wood and was not seen until teatime when it started to rain.

I occupied myself until then cutting the edges of the top lawn, pulling out horsetail from the beds, and trimming some of the shrubs around the lawn.  The rambling roses had sent out more long tentacles since I last dealt with them a couple of months ago.  I used to try and twiddle some of these errant stems around so that they grew in the direction I wanted, but nowadays I am more ruthless about simply cutting them off.  They tend not to stay obediently twiddled, but bulge and sag outwards, so the roses might as well put their energies into developing all their other shoots that were going the right way to start with.

The older branches on some of the shrub and old fashioned roses tends to flop outwards, while this year's strong, new, as yet unbranched shoots grow upwards in the middle.  The tell tale sign is when the SA can no longer mow up to the lawn edge and an arc of unmown grass starts to appear that I have to cut by hand.  I trim back the flopping older growth from over the lawn, while trying to preserve a soft, graduated outline rather than facing them up severely like shrubs in a supermarket car park.

The golden yew by the conservatory is slowly but inexorably trying to advance beyond its allotted space.  It is rather a nice, spreading form, Taxus baccata 'Summergold', not the rarest thing but not the most common.  Nine UK nurseries currently list it according to the RHS Plant Finder.  It isn't prostrate in habit, but doesn't seem to have any central trunk.  Instead, branches amble out sideways then every so often decide to send a shoot upwards, from which new side branches emerge, drooping slightly and gracefully.  This gives it a rather lively habit, and my aim in trimming it is always to keep the open grace of it rather than chopping it back to a blocky outline. It shares its quarters with a semi-prostrate cotoneaster, which sends long, delicate shoots out through the yew, some of which I allow to remain.  I like plants to mingle.  After fifteen years the yew is up against the lawn on one side, a potted Acer on another, and the deck by the conservatory on a third, so regular trimming is called for.

I faced up the wild hollies at the end of the top lawn.  I am happy for them to present a sheer, shining dark green face as a backdrop for the potted Hamamelis and Acer.  A plain and rather elegant metal arch over the gateway into the wood had become obscured with hazel twigs, and I removed some of those, all the time trying to keep a natural outline for the hazel so that it would not look as though it had been pruned, but just as though it happened to be exactly framing that arch.

And then it began to rain, and I staggered indoors for a cup of tea, vest sticking to my clammy stomach.  We are due to get a good dose of rain over the next twenty-four hours, which will be very useful for watering all the new planting down by the gate, and after that it should be much fresher.  The seven day forecast shows the daytime temperature only recovering to 20 C by Sunday, which is fine by me.  19 or 20 degrees Celsius is a lovely temperature, warm enough for anybody.

Monday, 28 August 2017

a visit postponed

We were all set to go around and lay out the design for my friend's garden.  Two nice, smooth, silky ropes that looked as though they might lie in serpentine curves without kinking, a handful of bamboo canes to stand in for the position of trees and the larger shrubs, a tape measure to carry out reality checks on planting distances, two of the pieces of rose root I dug up from her old garden now growing away nicely in pots, and an aerosol of white grass marking paint for when she was sure she was happy with the layout, my housewarming present to her.  It is absolutely impossible to lift turf working from a line delineated by a rope (or hosepipe) laid on the lawn.  I guarantee that within five minutes it will have moved.  I was rather pleased by how well the roses had taken, given that late June is not the normal recommended season for digging up pieces of root from shrubs and expecting them to grow.

Half an hour before we were due to go out the phone rang and it was my friend, sounding dreadful.  She had a cold.  I said not to worry at all about postponing the garden session, and advised her to drink lots of tea, and she said that what she really wanted was to go to sleep, so I told her that in that case she should go back to sleep.  Then she began to worry that she had to be better by the weekend because the grandchildren were coming to stay, and I told her that if she was still ill then their parents would just have to make other arrangements.  It is much easier to take a ruthless view of children and grandchildren when you don't have any.

I was rather nonplussed by suddenly being left with most of a free morning.  Not quite all of it, as I'd been having a leisurely start to the day up to the point when I found I wasn't going out, and then I wasn't wearing my gardening clothes or even the right earrings and had to change into them (my gardening earrings are the pearl studs I used to wear to the office.  Not out of any desire to emulate Vita Sackville-West or any other aristocratic lady gardeners, but because the pearl studs have gold posts that haven't eroded over time and so are less likely to fall out while gardening, and if they do they are of no sentimental value whatsoever).

I decided to spend my unexpected free day working on the back garden, as a change from the front garden and because my back was politely indicating that it had worked hard yesterday with the pick axe and would like a day off.  That's the trouble with getting older, the spirit is willing but you discover that the flesh is no longer happy to go outside every day and hit things with a pick axe.  The jobs that needed doing in the back garden were very decorous, trimming off the great long rambling rose stems the wet end to the summer has sent scrambling yet again through the flower beds and across the lawn, trimming the edges of the lawn, and clearing away the sere and brown remains of the Camassia.  I could usefully have done the latter a couple of weeks ago, if I hadn't been doing other things.

The experimental planting of Geranium 'Rozanne' seems to be coping in the far rose bed.  In the spring the ground is covered with the densely packed foliage of the Camassia, which have seeded themselves joyously over the years.  By high summer the Camassia leaves are starting to look tired, and by late summer they have withered entirely, leaving a gap.  I racked my brains for ages last year trying to think of something that would make a suitable underplanting for roses, coping with the partial shade cast by the roses, the evil clay soil, and average rainfall of only around 550 millimetres (or twenty-one inches if you are still metric), and the fact that up until mid June it would be more or less overwhelmed by Camassia leichtlinii.  It needed to fit in with a blue and yellow colour scheme, and flower in the second half of the year for as long a season as possible. After much head scratching I settled on hardy geraniums, and went for 'Rozanne' because it is sterile and has a long flowering season.  In 2013 it was voted the RHS Plant of the Century, and for some reason I didn't actually have it anywhere in the garden.

The three plants I put in last autumn vanished rather quickly, and I didn't really see any signs of life before the Camassia got going so was not utterly hopeful, but as the bulb foliage faded so the geraniums appeared, late but triumphant like a reinforcing cavalry force appearing on one's flank in the field of battle.  Now they are flowering blithely, and I'm eyeing up the bare spaces in the bed trying to work out where I could fit a few more, where they would not be completely smothered in early summer.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

bramble bashing

Now that the bird nesting season is over I am tackling the brambles and nettles that have grown again around the wildlife pond in the meadow.  Last winter the Systems Administrator cut down a lot of their top growth all the way up the side of the wood, and I dug out quite a lot of roots, but then it got too late in the spring to risk removing any kind of undergrowth, and I was busy with all the tidier bits of the garden and the greenhouse.  The remaining bramble roots left to themselves began to regenerate, at first sedately and then as the season wore on and it turned into a wet summer with rampant abandon.  And so here we are again, chopping out unwanted growth less than a year after doing exactly the same thing.

The brambles aren't actually as bad as before, since there isn't a dense tangle of old, dead branches under the new stems like there was last time.  The nettles, on the other hand, are probably worse because they moved to colonize spaces previously dominated by brambles with great enthusiasm.  If we can remove them both including the roots before next spring then after that we must adopt a zero tolerance policy on brambles this side of the rabbit wire, since neither of us have the time or the energy for this level of scrub clearance to become an annual job.  And while the trees and large shrubs have survived their latest brambly inundation I should like to use the space to grow something more interesting under them.

I thought as I chopped away with my pick axe that the saga of the brambles could be used as a metaphor for all sorts of situations in a Thought for the Day sort of way.  Dig out the root as well as clearing away the branches, or your problem will be back before you know it.  Although if we were to push the vegetable metaphor a little further, most plants die eventually if you keep chopping off all their leaves.  And some plants die if you cut all their branches off even once.

The nettles are taller than I am, and so venomously stinging they have managed to get my right thigh through my gardening trousers.  A small but strategically placed hole has opened in the left thumb of my leather pruning gauntlets.  This is Combat Gardening.  By teatime, when I called it a day in the meadow because I wanted to pick blackberries and tomatoes and needed to check the watering, I felt pleasantly exercised.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

sorting out the stash

I have finally finished sorting through the collection of pots outside the greenhouse.  Many gardeners will have their own collection of pots, and I like to think it is a sign of my increasing gardening maturity that nowadays most of mine are things I've raised myself from seeds or cuttings, rather than impulse purchases brought home with no clear idea of where to put them in any sensible timescale.

As I was weeding and sorting I tipped every plant out of its container to check the roots for vine weevil and root aphid.  I didn't find any vine weevil at all, which was a good result.  Anything with root aphid was put in the council brown bin, unless it was rare and precious enough to be worth dosing with an insecticidal drench.  There wasn't as much root aphid as a couple of years ago, so I hope I am getting on top of the problem.

The tough part of sorting out your stash of plants is psyching yourself up to be ruthless enough about throwing away the ones that are frankly past it.  Plants in pots have a limited shelf life, deteriorating with age faster than their compatriots in the open ground even with fairly diligent watering.  Plus, if you have propagated more than you need to start with it is only natural to plant out the biggest and best specimens first, so the ones still languishing in their pots by the following season were probably the runts of the litter to start with.

There are several trays of Solidago rigida in one litre pots waiting to go into the meadow.  They are from last year, and I was relieved to see how good their roots were looking.  If I manage to dig out some of the nettles and brambles this autumn they will still be worth planting.  Theoretically they should have gone in last autumn, but I wasn't ready for them.  Solidago rigida is a native of the north eastern United States.  It is a good insect plant, flowers usefully late in the summer, and is tough.  It should be just the thing for a wild place like the meadow, though I would not necessarily put it in a more formal area closer to the house.  And it is yellow, which some people would hold against it.

On the other hand last season's Teucrium hirsutum had really not liked spending an extra year in pots, and looking at the small, almost leafless, pathetic stubs of plants I hardened my heart and put them in the bucket destined for the compost bin.  As I recall, seed was not very expensive and they germinated easily, so I might as well start again next spring.  I managed to plant out a couple of trays of them earlier this year, which look as though they might be reviving now they are in the ground from what I could see in among the rash of annual weeds that have sprung up among them, but the ones I didn't have time to plant before did not look worth spending any time on to plant them now.  Not that I could plant them now, since I need to weed the meadow first.

Throwing out the surplus Dianthus carthusianorum was quite painless, as I have planted plenty already in the gravel, and have a couple of trays of the similar Dianthus cruentus coming along this year, which will need finding space in the gravel somewhere.

Some failed experiments in bedding went on the compost heap.  The pale yellow flowered Cosmos never grew at all well, and when I tipped them out of their pots I found few roots.  I don't know why they didn't take, when the pink ones are so easy, but they didn't.  The biggest swizz was the trio of climbing plants supposed to be Ipomoea 'Heavenly Blue', seeds of which came free with a magazine.  They did have very interesting, unusual triangular seed leaves when they germinated, and that was the only interesting thing they ever did.  Planted into a generous pot they grew up their bamboo tripod, but here we are towards the end of August and they have had no flowers, nor even the merest sniff of a flower bud.  The yellow and blue scheme they were supposed to be part of failed anyway, so they went to the compost heap too.

A Plectranthus argenteus that has not been at all happy all year since overwintering in the conservatory was stripped of its shoots to make cuttings.  I was surprised on investigating its roots to find that it was not suffering from root aphid, and I don't really have a strong theory as to why it has done so badly this year when it was fine last year.  Plectranthus generally seem straightforward from cuttings, otherwise a fresh packet of seed will not be very expensive if I decide I want more.  In the meantime I have a dark green and burgundy leaved form grown from cuttings of a lopsided plant that came as a freebie when buying plants at Beth Chatto last year.  I can see why they ended up with some odd shaped plants to give away, because the variety barely survives the winter in a frost free greenhouse, and several of mine died or lost several limbs to adopt odd shapes themselves.

Surplus Kalimeris incisa, nameless Kniphofia grown from self sown seedlings dug up while weeding that I could not bear to waste, Physalis, Sempervivum, cottage garden pinks, rather weedy little Aquilegia, this year's sowing of oriental poppies, a stray self sown Correa rescued from another pot in the conservatory, an odd leftover Geranium maderense that was too weedy to offer to the garden society plant stall, all have been scrutinized, weighed up, weeded or junked.  Tomorrow I might manage to do some actual gardening.

Friday, 25 August 2017

a day at the Tate

Today I went to Tate Modern, to get another fix of Giacometti before it closes on 10th September. One of the pleasures of revisiting an exhibition is being able to home in on the rooms or individual pieces you liked most the first time, without feeling the need to conscientiously work your way through every last display cabinet and faint pencil sketch.  I like the array of heads on plinths that greet you as you enter the first room, the smallish trio of walking men, the large gesturing man, and especially the dog.  If I could take just one piece home with me it would definitely be the dog. Though I rather like the Egyptian inspired woman standing between the gigantic wheels of her strange chariot.

Working through the temporary exhibitions in reverse closing date took me next to Fahrelnissa Zeid in the new extension.  I can truthfully say that I had never heard of Fahrelnissa Zeid, but the posters looked lively, and half the point of paying up front to belong to a gallery is to reduce the marginal cost of entering exhibitions to zero, instead of having to decide if you want to pay £11.30 in order to discover whether you like Fahrelnissa Zeid.  It turned out I did, a lot.  She was an unlikely candidate to be an artist, born at the start of the twentieth century into a wealthy and aristocratic Ottoman family, and eventually married to a member of the Iraqi royal family who only escaped assassination by luck because he agreed to go on holiday with her that summer instead of making his usual visit home.  She never even cooked a meal for herself until the age of 57 when he was sacked from his ambassadorial post following the coup, and even then she soon took to painting on the leftover bones.  Most of her paintings were done on conventional canvases, and in the middle and to my eye the most appealing stage of her career they were large, colourful, very energetic abstracts.  I would say she was an Abstract Expressionist, except that she didn't work as part of that movement.  She trained in Europe, and I found echoes of Kandinsky and Klee, as well as Op art, plus influences from the Middle East, all pulled together into a vigorous and individual style.  I really liked it.  It is not a very large exhibition, and there were not very many people looking at it, and one of them sat on a bench scrolling through pictures on her phone all the time I was there.  It runs until 8th October.

Then, as my brain was not quite full, I went to see Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, which runs until 22nd October.  It has reviewed very well and I felt a bit mean leaving it until last, but I was more likely to be able to visit that one again if I liked it.  It deals with weighty and often painful subjects, the treatment so often meted out to black Americans, how black artists responded, and how the white American art establishment responded to them, and it is a big exhibition.  There is something of practically everything, 60s pop art, photography, conventional painting, sculptural assemblages referencing African art and fetish objects, conceptual art.  Much of it is overtly political, some of the portraits could be taken at face value as portraits of people who just happen to be black.

There was nothing I coveted as much as I coveted Fahrenissa Zeid's small mixed media abstracts or her mysterious shimmering blue green square.  As a visual experience it is not the most decorative exhibition.  At the intellectual and historical level it packs a big and painful punch.  I really liked some of the portraits as paintings, while I am always going to be irritated by an inner tyre encased in a pair of tights and hung on the wall whether they were assembled by an oppressed black artist or Louise Bourgeois.  It did feel unfair to the artists to have tagged them on at the end of my day out when I might have been starting to flag, but juxtaposing the Soul of a Nation with my earlier viewing did leave me thinking about the point of art.  Does it matter whether it is visually ravishing or carries a serious message?  Is one better than the other?  What, in fact, is art for?  And is the message always the one the artist meant?  One of the totemic objects in Soul of a Nation is a large wooden sculpture, shaped like a fist on one side and with two negro faces on the other.  It is a very fine object, but reading the label and learning the identity of the shiny, dark brown timber the first thought that jumped into my mind was not anything to do with black power or identity but the slogan in defence of tropical rain forests, Mahogany is Murder.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

a partial fix

I rang the garage first thing, and got through to the young assistant on the service desk.  I explained what had happened to the window, and she said that the earliest they could book the car in was next Thursday.  Four working days (since Monday is a Bank Holiday) wasn't too bad, and in any case if that was the first day they could manage then that was what I would get.  In the meantime I'd been promised the use when needed of the SA's car, which is cleaner than mine.  The weather forecast was dry and not too windy, and looking at the compost bags hanging over the car window I hoped it would stay that way.

Five minutes after putting the phone down to the young person at the garage it rang again, and it was the experienced service manager, who said she gathered that my retraction mechanism had broken, and that I would not want to have the car sitting outside with no window for an entire week.  If I could bring it down this morning they could wedge the glass shut for me, then at least the car would be secure.  She was absolutely right, I did not really want the car sitting outside the house until next Thursday with a large hole in the side of it, only I had not seen any alternative.  I agreed enthusiastically, and then remembered after ringing off that today was the first day of the Clacton Airshow, and began to worry how bad the traffic to Clacton was going to be.

In a world where garages are commonly viewed as rip-off artists, alongside banks and estate agents, I really like my garage (mind you, I like my bank too).  It is a skilled job being a good garage service desk manager.  I have heard Lesley coax descriptions of ailing motors from their non-mechanically minded owners with the patience of a doctor or a detective so that she can form an educated guess about what is actually wrong with the car and hence how much workshop time to allocate to it.  Let us hope the young person is listening and learning.

The traffic turned out to be no worse than normal, if not downright quiet for a sunny day in August.  You would not have guessed there was an airshow.  Once at the garage it took rather a long time to wedge the window shut, and I was running out of levels of the day's Sudoku on my phone when the assistant appeared with my car key.  As I left the showroom the service manager told me not to open the window, and I drove up the road worrying that I would absent mindedly press the button or else lean on it by accident.  Just as it is impossible not to think of a word you have been told not to think of, so it felt as though it might be almost equally hard not to press a button you had been told not to press.  I stopped on the way home to buy hand cream at the garden centre that sells it, thinking that at least I would get some incremental benefit from the journey given I was running out of hand cream, and as soon as I got out of the car I realized I had forgotten my hat, which must have dropped off my lap when I stood up in the garage, so I had to go back for it.

That was half the morning gone by the time I got home, just to achieve a temporary partial fix on my car which had been working perfectly well until the previous day, and buy some hand cream. No wonder the meadow is disappearing under a fresh crop of brambles and even the path to the dustbins is half blocked with over-ebullient shrubs.  Where does the time go, indeed?

I had been meaning to write up the minutes of yesterday's music society committee meeting first thing in the morning, so had to come in early from the garden to do them.  For a meeting where we weren't going to discuss much except formally approve the accounts it went on for a long time and generated a lot of notes.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

came to pieces in my hand

This afternoon as I was driving my small and elderly car at a sedate thirty miles per hour I pressed the button to open the window.  It wound down with a strange and ominous grinding noise it had never made before, and I found that something in the door had broken and it refused to come up again.

A car with a window you can't shut is not at all user friendly.  I don't know how people who drive convertibles manage.  I was supposed to be meeting a friend, but did not like the thought of leaving the car in the town car park with the driver's window fully open, even though it is an old and shabby car and probably nobody would want to steal it, and I could still lock it and would have the key.  Objectively speaking the thought of anybody climbing in through the open window and hot wiring it in order to nick it was ludicrous, and if they wanted it that badly they could just break the window anyway.  It's not as though there was anything worth stealing in it, only three road atlases (one national, one Essex and one Suffolk), some grubby reusable shopping bags, a free Evening Standard collapsible umbrella, a squashed box of tissues, partly used, and two dirty towels to cover the back seat when carrying compost.

I couldn't help thinking of the episode of One Foot in the Grave in which Victor Meldrew empties the contents of an entire dustbin into the open topped sports car of somebody who has annoyed him, only of course it was not actually their sports car but another one of the same model.  Deeply engraved into my subconscious must be the fear that if you leave your car window open somebody will chuck rubbish in through it.  A more rational fear is the fear of rain.  Also, as I discovered driving home behind two buses, a car with no driver's side window is jolly noisy.

It is now parked by the house, driver's side to the wall, with a couple of large compost bags shut into the door so as to hang down over the void, tree stakes propped against them to try and stop them blowing around.  The towels are shoved up against the inside of the door to catch any drips. If I need to go anywhere between now and whenever I can get it booked into the garage I daresay I can borrow the SA's car.  It is a nuisance, though.  I've only just spent a morning driving to a garage, and going to the Skoda garage in Clacton there will not even be the consolation prize of a new frying pan and some oven gloves from John Lewis at Home.  Coming on top of the honey fiasco I am starting to think that the week is not going my way.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

many a slip

I was all set to extract honey today.  I went up to the bees on Sunday when it was warm and calm and put excluders underneath a couple of supers, one full and one fairly full of capped comb that was ready to come off.  For the non-beekeeper who wishes to know more (otherwise I should skip the next couple of paragraphs if I were you) this translates as follows: a beehive consists of a stack of boxes.  The queen bee lives in the lowest box where she lays eggs that develop into new bees. The upper boxes are there for the worker bees to store nectar and honey.  You can tell they have finished converting nectar into honey when they cover the honeycomb with a wax capping.  At this point if you want to remove the upper box and the honey without too many bees you need to get them out of the upper box(es) of finished honey.  There are various ways of doing this, but one of the easiest for an amateur beekeeper with only a few hives is to put a board underneath the box(es) to be removed that has a couple of holes in it, in which you place little plastic devices the bees find it easy to go through one way but difficult to navigate in reverse.  A day or two later most of the bees should have left the box(es) above the board and been unable to get in again. You don't leave it too long or they will find their way back up.  There, now you know what was going on.

I got ready for the extraction, tidying the kitchen, washing the floor, digging the extractor out of the cupboard under the eaves, and finding a couple of honey buckets.  Then, dressed in my bee suit, I set off up the meadow with my wheelbarrow, armed with a soft plastic brush to help clear any recalcitrant bees out of the boxes I planned to take.  (Sometimes there are still some bees above the excluder board, who either found their way back up again or never left in the first place.  Giving the super a sharp jolt can often shake a lot of them out, and I keep a couple of sturdy wooden boxes in the apiary that are useful in such cases, as well as providing a handy place if you need to put a stray super down for some reason.  If there are really a lot of bees still in the super there are ways and means, including lifting the frames out one at a time, giving them a hard shake and a brush, putting them in a spare super you have in a wheelbarrow a little way from the apiary, and then legging it with the barrow as fast as you can before the bees work out what you are doing.  This really doesn't work for more than about one super.  If you were a professional bee farmer you wouldn't even mess about with excluders, but would have a machine that delivered a puff of something the bees didn't like into the top of the hive and they would all go down towards the bottom).

As soon as I reached the apiary I could see that something was wrong.  There was a small but busy crowd of bees darting around the back of the top super on this year's strongest colony.  That was wrong.  Bees should only ever be flying about the entrance to the hive, which is at the bottom, opening into the brood box where the queen resides.  Access to the upper part of the hive should only be via the front door, which the bees guard against intruders, be they wasps or bees from other hives.  (When I started going to beekeeping classes I was taught that in the summer you should give the bees a wider entrance, perhaps even stretching the full width of the hive, to make sure they got enough ventilation.  Now that all my hives have floors made of metal mesh, to help with varroa control, I reckon that they will get enough air through the floor, and leave them with their one inch wide door all year, reasoning that it must be easier to defend.  In winter I put a metal cover over it with holes large enough for a bee but too small for a mouse to get in, but that is another story).

I needed my metal hive tool to prise the top super loose, as the bees had already done a good job of sticking it down again in less than forty-eight hours, and it was sickeningly light, whereas when I put it back on Sunday it needed real effort to lift it to chest height.  The top of the excluder board was powdered with crumbs of wax, and some dead bees.  Robbing.  I had somehow failed to make the top of the beehive entirely bee proof and bees had found their way in through the gap and stolen most of the honey from the super above the excluder.  Normally a good sized colony would defend their assets, but of course with the excluder in place they couldn't get up there to repel boarders.  The litter of wax was from the cappings, which the robbers had torn off the comb to get at the honey beneath.  The dead bees would have been killed in the fight between the robbers and the hive residents.  Poor bees.

I removed the excluder board and left the robbed super in place for the bees to finish clearing out what honey remained.  Later I worried that it would still have had some robbing bees in it and that if they made their way down through the hive and out of the entrance they could theoretically bring reinforcements back to rob via the front door, but the colony is probably strong enough to defend itself, even assuming that the robbers made it out alive.  As I said, poor bees.

I took the super I'd planned to collect from the other hive without incident, and extracted the honey, though there wasn't as much as there had been in the super I'd just lost.  By half past one I was all finished, floor washed again, extractor washed, honey harvest finished for another year. The next job will be to remove the supers now the colonies aren't growing, and feed the bees for the winter.  Objectively speaking I didn't really need the last bucket of honey, having harvested enough for our own consumption and to give some to friends, and not being geared up to sell it.  It is galling, though, having got the bees so far through the summer, past the hazards of swarming and wasp attack, to have lost half the crop from that hive at the eleventh hour through carelessness.  I think there must have been one frame sticking up slightly proud somewhere, so that surfaces that should have touched and made a perfect, bee-tight seal did not quite touch and there was a little gap, small but big enough for bees to get through.  I only hope they were my bees doing the robbing and not somebody else's, then at least the honey is still in the apiary somewhere and the bees or I will get the benefit of it eventually.

Monday, 21 August 2017

planting the gap

As they used to say on Ground Force, and now the planting.  I have finally planted up the space at the top of the sloping bed.  A bamboo cane marks the gap for a rugosa rose, probably 'Sarah van Fleet', and I expect a few other bits and bobs will find their way in to the mix in due course, given my penchant for complex matrix plantings, but it is essentially done.  The plants all look rather small and surprised at the moment, but I have high hopes of them.

I put Tamarix ramosissima 'Pink Cascade' in the middle, though further towards the back than the front.  It has feathery, light greyish green foliage and produces little airy tufts of pink flowers at this time of the year, which would be useful when the garden is starting to wind down in terms of what's flowering.  It should cope with the wind in what is a windy corner: think of all the tamarisks you have seen on beaches.  It is supposed to be fast growing.  Yes, I am very hopeful, notwithstanding that another tamarisk planted half way up the bank by the drive several years ago has scarcely done anything.  The new tamarisk has had lots of lovely compost dug into its dire, sandy soil, and is not half way up a steep slope so will be easier to water, and will not have a sea buckthorn collapsing on top of it.  Surely it will do well.

Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Heavenly Blue' has grey leaves and deep blue flowers, also out now, which are manna to bees.  It likes sun and good drainage, which it will get.  Boy, will it get good drainage.  But I have dug in so much compost, it might be happy there.  In spring it will get a severe pruning, to keep it bushy.

Buddleia davidii 'Wisteria Lane' is a bit of a punt.  It is quite a new variety, which is supposed to have very long and pendant racemes of mauve, honey scented flowers.  The flower clusters on my new plant are not in truth that long, on the other hand it is a very young plant.  They are certainly pleasantly scented.  I chose Buddleia davidii for that corner because, again, I wanted something that would flower late in the summer, buddlejas are good insect plants, and since you can see self sown seedlings of B. davidii growing out of the faces of buildings I thought it had a good chance of coping with the meagre soil.  I needed a variety that would not grow too big, which narrowed things down, and 'Wisteria Lane' was one of the smaller types that Crocus offered and I thought it was pretty.  But you never know.  I tried the newish hybrid 'Silver Anniversary' in the gravel in the turning circle and it was an abject failure.  I watered it and cared for it but it just wouldn't grow, finding the burning sand altogether too terryifying.

I am confident about Cistus 'Silver Pink'.  Cistus like the light soil in the top part of the back garden, and even seed themselves around.  They do not greatly like manure, but I don't think I've managed to add enough soil improver to this bed to upset it.

I have never grown Sphaeralcea munroana before, but it looks good on paper.  It is a native of the western side of the United States, where it grows happily in regions with ten to twenty inches of annual rainfall.  According to a US nursery whose website I turned to for guidance it is highly resistant to browsing by deer and rabbits, loves sun, and is cold hardy down to US zone 4, which is cold.  My plant came from the man in Lincolnshire, and I afraid it has not especially enjoyed spending the summer sitting in its plastic pot until I had a space to plant it, so I hope it takes. From what I've read they are not the longest lived plants, which is not necessarily a problem once you have it in the garden because it will seed itself, but mine has not set seed.  If I left it too long in the pot and it quietly fades away over the winter then I could always buy seed next spring, assuming I could find somebody selling seed, and that the articles that came up in my Google search for Sphaeralcea seed about overcoming dormancy don't mean that growing from seed is really difficult.  It has orange flowers, by the way.  That might put some people off, though not me.

The only other plant I bought for this project was a tiny pot of Malvastrum lateritium, the False Mallow, which is supposed to be happy creeping about in a very hot, sunny, well drained soil where it will produce mallow shaped green leaves and single, round, pinkish flowers.  Mine came from a plant sale months ago, since when it has done nothing, and when I came to tip it out of its tiny pot I discovered that its little root ball was suffering from a bad case of root aphid.  It is not utterly reliably winter hardy either.  I have dosed it with Provado vine weevil treatment, planted it anyway, and hoped for the best.  Otherwise a couple of nurseries in the eastern region sell it, or the person who provided the original plant might have some more.

Everything else that went in I grew myself from seed or cuttings.  That might be a story for tomorrow.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

and even more compost

I bought more compost.  After thinking about it I decided I could put ten bags in the car, since although the weight makes the Skoda sink visibly on its suspension, I would be perfectly happy carrying three people and an adult passenger must weigh as much as three and a bit bags of compost, if not more.

In the half hour or so it took me to fill the bags only three other customers arrived, two of whom were together, and yesterday there were none at all while I was there.  August is a quiet month for gardening, but even so I began to wonder how long that kind of low key garden centre could survive.  It will be a pity when they all go, and there is nowhere left selling things like spent mushroom compost.  I would have to buy packaged, commercially produced soil conditioner each time I ran out of home made compost.  Then I calculated that at current prices B&Q large bales of multi-purpose compost actually worked out fractionally cheaper per litre than the mushroom compost, at £6.93 for 125 litres versus £7.00 for 120 litres.

That would explain why I saw bags of it laid out along the verge recently by a garden where contractors were planting a new laurel hedge.  And buying bales of compost would save me the time and effort of filling my own bags, and would make less of a mess and a smell in the car.  It would be a pity to have to buy new plastic packaging each time instead of reusing it to collect something that exists as a by-product of food production.  But I reckon I'd save time overall, even allowing for having to drive down to Colchester Hythe instead of just going round the corner.  If and when the Colchester branch of B&Q finally closes and the site turns into a Sainsbury then I'd have to go to Clacton, and that would take longer.  But if the little garden centre around the corner closed I'd have no choice.

I did cheer up when I realized that since potting compost cost the same as mulch, I need not feel bad I had wasted compost potting up too many Nicotiana mutabilis.  Those I didn't use myself or manage to give away are destined for the compost heap, but since I always need more home made compost it turns out the only thing I have wasted is my time in potting them on, and some water keeping them growing.  Likewise if I decide to grow more pots of tulips (I haven't) or repot all the dahlias (I might next spring) I shouldn't worry about the incremental expense of multi-purpose. Every litre of discarded potting medium on the compost heap is a litre of mushroom compost saved.

By late afternoon I was finally ready to start planting.  Mr Cool came and curled up on the drive nearby while I worked, then uncoiled himself, stretched elaborately, and strolled into the house with me for his supper.  Sometimes I think my adoration of Mr Cool might be mutual, although now I've fed him he has disappeared again.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

more compost needed

My plants from Crocus came.  I had only just followed the link on their email informing me that the order was with the courier to arrive today and seen that there were no deliveries ahead of mine when there was the scrunch of white van wheels on gravel and they arrived.  The driver did not even want a signature, so if I wanted to order anything else I could risk doing it in a week when I couldn't guarantee to be around.  The box was encouragingly tall, and was handed over to me the right way up and uncrushed.

It had a little lid which I removed, and looked down lovingly at the plants while wondering how I was going to lift them out, before discovering I did not need to lift them out of the box, instead I could lift the box off them.  You pulled a tab near the base, like the ones on detergent powder boxes, and the whole of the top of the box ripped off, leaving the plants sitting nestled into a shallow inner tray inside the base of the big box.  Each pot was wrapped in polythene and taped securely to the tray, so even if the main box had been tipped over in transit the pots would probably have stayed put.  I love it when mail order plant companies invest in proper packaging and don't just try to wedge everything in with balls of newspaper.

The cats now have the lid, the base of the box, the inner tray, and a tunnel formed by the body of the big box which I've put by my desk for them to play with because they like tunnels.  Mr Fluffy spent part of the morning sleeping in it.  I have the plants, and they all look very healthy, while the tamarisk is taller and bushier than I thought it might be, and the buddleia that was described as being in a 9 centimetre pot and which I thought might have to be potted on for planting out next spring looks substantial enough to go out now.

All I have to do is get the border ready for them.  I went and bought another eight bags of bag-your-own spent mushroom compost, and dug that in, and used all the home made compost that was ready the last time I turned the compost heaps earlier in the summer.  That means the new bit of border has had sixteen bags of bought compost and ten bags of home made.  The mushroom compost bags held thirty litres because that's the size of the bucket the garden centre sells it by, while I didn't measure out the home made compost but on average there must have been more than thirty litres in each bag, so the new stretch of border has had over 780 litres of organic matter added to it but needs more.  I haven't even covered all of it yet, and some of it is still so sandy and meagre when dug over that it looks quite unfit to plant anything in.

I shall have to go and get another load mushroom compost in the morning.  I wish they would give me a loyalty card like coffee shops do, buy ten bags of bag-your-own mushroom compost, get an extra one free.

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.