Thursday, 30 November 2017

winter gardening

It was a day to keep moving, not a fingertip weeding, crawling around sort of day, and so I set off to have another go at the brambles and nettles along the side of the wood.  The saying that there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing, may apply to coast to coast walks but doesn't always apply to gardening, because if the ground is frozen or slimy with rain that limits what you can do.  But today the frost had held off in the lee of the wood and the soil was quite dry, so the limitation was quite definitely the endurance of the gardener.

By this stage of the year I wear seven layers on my upper half: a cotton vest, a Musto thermal polo neck, an old long-sleeved t-shirt, a proper shirt, another t-shirt, a cotton sailing smock, and a fleece.  The fleece maybe only counts as three quarters of a layer because the zip has broken.  I have a fleece scarf, a fleece hat, thermal leggings, cotton trousers and thick socks from the local tool hire shop, which are slightly on the large side because nobody with size 39 feet ever buys boot socks, obviously.  I have leather gloves that are rather stiff, so that after the first hour I had to put a plaster on the arthritic bulge on the little finger of my right hand to stop the glove from rubbing, and short wellington boots.

It was enough.  I did not feel cold as I chopped away with my pick axe and scrabbled up bits of root.  In general dry cold is fine, so long as you are moving.  When we were younger, and winters were reliably colder and drier than they seem to be now, we used to go fell walking each February.  The prospect of darkness falling by five is enough to keep you moving at a fair clip, and we walked solidly all day, carrying emergency supplies of Kendal Mint Cake, but not stopping to eat sandwiches or anything else at lunch time, because it was too cold to stop walking for longer than a thirty second breather after the steepest stretches.  We enjoyed ourselves.  Winter gardening is a doddle in comparison, and after all you can always come inside for a hot drink and to warm up any time you fancy.

It is supposed to snow later this evening, only very lightly before it turns to sleet.  That's a bore, because I am honour bound to go to a lecture by Fergus Garrett at Wrabness, having asked the organisers to save me a ticket to pick up on the door and not yet paid for it.  Besides, I want to hear Fergus Garrett.  By Sunday it is supposed to be warming up, and I should be able to plant the rest of the small hellebores, the rooted divisions of sweet violets, the plants I bought recently from Dorset Perennials, the sad left-over Sarcococca that's been sitting by the greenhouse for months, and at least one of the potted roses I've been growing on since last year.

A robin watched me intently as I worked.  I read somewhere that in nature they would follow wild boar about waiting for the ground to be disturbed, and that gardeners could think of themselves as substitute pigs.  Mr Fidget rushed past at one point and stared at me with mad eyes before rushing off again.  He too had the right idea.  Keep moving and you won't be cold.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

the roses arrive

The bare root roses arrived today from rose grower Trevor White, only ten days after ordering them.  An email popped up in my inbox in the middle of the morning to say they'd been dispatched and would arrive within three working days, so I thought I'd better go and buy some compost.  The advantages of buying bare root roses by mail order rather than container grown plants are firstly that you have a much wider choice, and secondly that they are cheaper.  In fact my strategy now for ramblers is to start them off for their first season in large containers, bigger than the deep 3 litre pots garden centres use, and let them make some extension growth before planting them out.  This is based on bitter experience, that roses tend to be slow to get going in their first summer, and if everything around them has shot up by midsummer they tend to languish in the shade and never manage to grow at all, fading away quietly over a season or two.  When I got to B&Q they had some reasonably priced large plastic pots that were highly suitable for my purpose, apart from the fact that for some bizarre reason they had been manufactured without drainage holes.

When I got home I the paper sack of roses was already waiting on the doorstep.  The Systems Administrator obligingly drilled holes in the bases of the pots, and I opened the paper sack, and the black plastic bag inside the paper sack, and started trying to disentangle the roses from each other while keeping their roots covered as much as possible.  There was a cold wind blowing, and you really don't want to have bare roots waving around in the wind, or they will dry out in no time.  They looked very good plants, with generous root systems and lots of stems.

One was not a climber and went straight into the ground, the rugosa rose 'Sarah van Fleet'.  The rugosas originate in Japan and are splendid roses for light soil.  I have seen them growing in the sides of a Dutch marina in what was basically a sand dune.  They shrug off the leaf diseases, despising black spot and mildew.  Indeed, their mid green, somewhat pleated foliage does not look especially rose-like.  Rugosas generally have splendid round hips, and flower in shades of pink or white, often at the same time as the large, round hips.  'Sarah van Fleet' has scented, double, pale pink flowers produced over a long period.  Robin Lane Fox awarded her his award for submarine rose of the year, after observing how well one bounced back in a seaside garden that was flooded for a fortnight.  I do not expect our garden to be flooded, or at least if it is then how well the roses cope will be the least of my problems, but I do want 'Sarah van Fleet' to grow in a windy spot at the top of the sloping bed in horrible dry sand.  I dug a lot of compost into the bed earlier in the year, and I will mulch it, but even so it is a tough spot for a rose.  My other choice would have been Rosa pimpinellifolia, but I already have one of those which is doing very well in an even windier spot just inside the entrance.

I debated whether to plant 'Rambling Rector' directly into the ground by the little oak tree, and decided I would start that off in a pot like the other ramblers.  Once it can get up into the oak it will enjoy plenty of sun, but first it has to move out of the shadow of the Eleagnus hedge so it could probably do with a head start.  It is an old variety, described by Peter Beales as being of great age and by Trevor White as Very Old, and it is extremely vigorous.  We saw a wonderful specimen at the Boxford Open Gardens, that required fierce pruning to keep it even halfway under control, and a couple of splendid plants on our trip to Norfolk rose gardens this summer.  The flowers are white and scented, the foliage glossy and healthy, and we agreed that it looked just the sort of thing to grow into an oak tree.  I will have to water it regularly and feed it lavishly in its first few years, and hope that it can get its feet down.

'Ayrshire Splendens' is fairly old, dating from 1835.  This has small, fully double, myrrh scented, pale pink flowers emerging from purplish buds, according to the website, and very pliant growth, which made it sound a good bet to tie in to the space under the veranda.  I would have liked 'Dundee Rambler' which we saw at Mannington, but David Austin was the only supplier who listed that and they were out of stock.  I thought I would rather press on with the veranda project, and maybe find somewhere else to put 'Dundee Rambler' later on if I managed to get hold of one.  To keep 'Ayrshire Splendens' company I plumped for 'Phyllis Bide', a rambler with the unusual habit for a rambling rose of repeat flowering, which I did have on the rose bank but see less of every year as it is smothered by other, more rampant varieties.  'Phyllis Bide' has flowers in a mixture of pink and yellow, which sounds as though it might be horrid but is actually delightful.  When I unpacked the paper sack and checked it against what I'd ordered I found I had actually managed to order two 'Phyllis Bide' by mistake, but the veranda is quite long and I might as well plant both.

'Francis E Lester', white single flowers, and 'La Mortola', also white, are back-up replacement plants for the side of the wood, where the specimens I put straight into the soil have not fared well, shaded out by the summer rush of growth which the potting technique is intended to overcome.  I was tempted by Peter Beales offer of the tiny flowered white 'Mannington Cascade' and purple 'Mannington Mauve', but resisted, pending a space to put them.  Maybe next year if I manage to clear more of the brambles along the side of the wood, and the growing on in pots works.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

a day in town

I took the day off from gardening to meet up with an old friend in London, and visit the current exhibition at the Courtauld.  My friend is working out of an office in Farringdon, so the geography of the whole trip tied together rather nicely.

I love walking through Clerkenwell at the moment, because you have never seen so many office furniture shops.  Clerkenwell is vying with Shoreditch as the hipster capital of London, and I suppose you can't have a tech startup without getting a couple of trendy chairs for your workspace.  Some of them were really very nice, and I felt quite regretful that I was not in the market for any office chairs.

You could tell that the restaurant we were meeting in had strong hipster leanings from the complete absence of ceilings.  Instead there was a clear view of all the service ducts, bolted to the underside of the concrete floor of the next storey, which must make maintenance easy.  Also there were a lot of Anglepoises.  The Systems Administrator and I have had a pair of Anglepoise lamps in the study since before the hipster movement gained traction, and they are not actually all that well made, since all the bits that are supposed to make them adjustable became loose or lost their spring quite quickly, and the lamps became fixed in a single downward facing posture of submission.  Various attempts to botch a repair with slivers of cardboard and sellotape have never proved effective.  I digress.

My friend was in a sombre mood, having just learned that a business pitch she was involved in had been unsuccessful.  She is in the business of advising small tech companies on their applications for EU grants.  The applications are graded by moderators, and those with the highest score win the pot.  There is no feedback on how the scores are derived, so my friend is left not knowing if the assessors didn't believe in the technology, did believe in the technology but didn't like the business plan, couldn't understand the application (which would be her fault), or simply chose half a dozen winners at random and then went out for a good lunch.

I love the Courtauld Gallery even more than I enjoy walking through Clerkenwell and observing the hipsters.  The current temporary exhibition, on until 21 January, is of portraits by a mid twentieth century artist I'd never heard of until it came along, Chaim Soutine.  Jewish, born in Russia but working in Paris, this show concentrates on paintings he made of hotel staff and pastry cooks.  They are remarkable, vivid and touching in a sort of Grand Budapest Hotel way, and I can quite see why the Evening Standard gave it five stars.  Soutine found commercial success and critical recognition in his lifetime, but died in 1943 aged only fifty.  The biographical details given in the exhibition were sparse and I wondered if he had been a casualty of Nazi anti-Semitism, given the date and place.  According to Wikipedia he was , but in an indirect fashion, dying of a perforated stomach ulcer for which he could not seek proper treatment because by then he was in hiding and on the run.

The Courtauld's temporary exhibitions are never big, and I always look at some of the permanent collection as well since one ticket covers both.  It keeps being rehung, with the less famous pictures rotating on and off display and occasional conspicuous absences when paintings go on loan to other galleries, and I am still mourning the disappearance of Braque's The White Ship which they had for several years on loan from a private collection and have no longer, but I have been visiting some of the pictures for over forty years.

Monday, 27 November 2017

rain stopped play

It was still raining when I got up, and I was disappointed when I logged on to my laptop to see that the Met Office forecast gave an eighty per cent chance of rain until ten o'clock.  The Systems Administrator said that he'd thought I'd been a tad optimistic putting on my gardening clothes, and I countered that I was an eternal optimist when it came to gardening.  Sure enough, by nine it had stopped raining and I was able to get on with weeding the sloping border in the back garden.  It would have been more comfortable if the ground hadn't been wet, and I couldn't apply fish, blood and bone because it would have stuck to the foliage, meaning I couldn't apply any Strulch, but I could weed and prune.

I think I have got all the dead branches out of the Chaenomeles 'Moerloosei' now, though each time I thought that I seemed to notice another streak of coral spot or peeling bark.  Still, it looks fresher and less cluttered, and I can always have another go at it once it comes into leaf and I can see any branches that don't.  Having a good look at it in better light would help, since today was so grey and murky that everything looked dull and lifeless.

There was some dieback in the yellow berried Cotoneaster salicifolius 'Rothschildianus'.  It looked unnervingly like text book descriptions of fireblight, a bacterial disease of the rose family, with blackened leaves still hanging on the dead twigs.  The RHS is emphatic that it only affects members of the rose family in the sub-family Pomoideae, and so it is not the same thing as whatever it is that can cause whole sprays of mature rosemary bushes to blacken and die.  I followed the RHS advice and cut out the affected shoots I could see using the pole lopper, though I did not go back beyond the visible damage by as much as the one to two feet the RHS recommends.  By then, although it was only early afternoon, the light was so bad I could scarcely see what I was doing, and I couldn't reach one dubious looking shoot without wriggling round to the back of the bed with the pole lopper, which I was reluctant bother doing in the gloom.  I need a good, bright but not overly sunny day so that I can see the condition of the individual shoots.  Nursery growers keen to promote fast growing evergreens for quick screening love to recommend C. salicifolius.  All I can say is that in a country garden with cold winds, on poor soil, in a dry area of the country, it is not reliably evergreen.

Fireblight is a potentially serious plant disease, but still I am not too cast down about the cotoneaster's prospects, because I am an incorrigible optimist and it might not be that bad.  A Pyracantha in our previous garden had what looked like touches of it, but survived.  The Cotoneaster salicifolius did not get fed and mulched last year because I had run out of Strulch before I got to the back of that part of the bed, so I am sure that if I feed and mulch it now that will encourage it.

By three it was raining hard.  This morning's Met Office forecast didn't forecast rain in the afternoon, and I felt rather short-changed.  It is so frustratingly slow trying to get anything done when it keeps freezing and raining and getting dark.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

another cold day

There was another frost overnight, which meant another late start in the garden.  The lawn remained obstinately icy until mid morning, although I managed to get on to the border before then and spent a useful hour pulling ivy out from around the mature shrubs, where the frost hadn't penetrated.  Self seeded ivy is a perpetual problem: the birds eat the berries, perch and crap, as birds do, and ivy seedlings spring up under every branch.  Deep under the shelter of mature shrubs they proliferate, sending long stems out across the surface of the border, and climbing up into the crowns of the shrubs themselves.  Brambles perform the same trick on a lesser scale.

I had a go at the ivy up the back of the sloping border last winter, but didn't finish clearing it.  Some gardening jobs feel more urgent than others, and tidying the front parts of a border that are in clear view will always trump clearing ground level weeds out of the back.  The ivy does not do the shrubs any good, though, competing with them for water and nourishment, and once it starts to climb it becomes a visible nuisance as well.

When I worked at the plant centre I met one customer who needed to clear a section of woodland floor of ivy, and had been told by the owner's pet landscaper to dose it with glyphosate.  I disagreed.  That would be damaging to any other ground flora she wanted to keep, expensive, and not very effective because glyphosate is not good at penetrating ivy's shiny leaves.  Take a firm hold of one of the spreading horizontal stems and pull steadily.  If you are lucky you will be able to pull the whole shoot clear in one length.  If it breaks no matter, try again with another shoot.  Gradually you will be able to see where the roots are, and can use a trowel or fork (or pick axe) as required to dig them out.  The whole exercise is easier to do in open woodland than when your face is buried under a flowering currant as mine was this morning, but if you persist you will make progress.

The brambles required the point of a trowel to dig out the base.  This is how I know quite how dry the soil still is.  They will shoot again from the roots, which I can't dig out because of all the roots of the shrubs and the hedge that I don't want to dig up.  In due course I will have to repeat the process, and so it will go on.  The regrowth from old bramble roots in competition with mature shrubs is miserably small and weedy compared with what a new bramble can do in fresh soil, so it isn't a big problem.

By the afternoon I'd worked my way down the slope as far as the Prunus mume, and saw that its buds were already visibly swelling, a promise of glory to come.  I always think that people who describe winter as being a dead time have never gone outside and looked at it properly.

Meanwhile the Systems Administrator over the course of the past two afternoons has managed to cut all the grass, including the whole of the lower lawn so that it shouldn't be too long when the crocus come through.  It is a great relief to have got that done.  Even though the soil in the borders is dry, the grass always seems to be wet at this time of year.  It must be the dew.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

frost and short days

There was a frost this morning.  Belatedly, I realised that I still had not brought in the spray heads from the ends of the hoses.  I tried to disconnect the one from the hose that leads to the greenhouse when I went to open the greenhouse door, and found I could not release it because the connector was frozen.  I laid it on the concrete where the sun could shine on it, and remembered to remove it later on, along with the spray head from the hose that lives coiled in a pot outside the conservatory, and the one snaked up to the meadow.  The hose for the greenhouse went away for the winter, curled in big loops on the ground behind the woodshed, and I retrieved the hose from the meadow, which broke but fortunately only a few inches from an existing join.  All watering from now on will be done by hand from a can, unless I get to the point of being ready to refill the wildlife pond.

Frosts do shorten the gardening day.  The sun did not burn the ice off the grass enough for me to be happy walking on it until mid morning.  That is the trouble with having access to large parts of a garden via grass paths: in winter you are limited as to when you can walk on them, unless you want to risk leaving a trail of black footprints.  In the meantime I finished cutting down the dahlia stems in the dahlia bed, and weeded some of the gravel outside the Systems Administrator's blue shed.  It was not a very deep or penetrating frost, as the gravel and the ground beneath it were not frozen.

The Chaenomeles speciosa 'Apple Blossom' (also called 'Moerloosei' but 'Apple Blossom is more descriptive as well as being easier to spell) in the sloping border had several dead branches in it.  I planted it in March 1994, so it has been in place for over twenty years, which is not a bad age.  It has taken to suckering, and has managed to establish quite a convincing subsidiary centre on the downhill side, which was looking healthier than the original plant last summer, while there are still young shoots in among the dead branches growing from the old centre.  I surmise that it is neither naturally short lived nor diseased, but that perhaps and especially on poor soil it likes to spread, and renews itself by abandoning some of its oldest wood.  A growth habit, in fact, not unlike the shrub and old roses, and Chaenomeles is a member of the rose family.

Some of the dead branches were infected with coral spot, which doesn't normally attack living wood but is still better on the bonfire than lying around the garden.  I am in the process of removing all the dead, and shaping the sprawling bulk to something roughly dome shaped.  Nobody could ever make a convincing case that the Japanese quinces were architectural, for they all seem desperately twiggy and heading in every direction at once, and while I like 'Appleblossom' I don't want to devote a twelve foot width of the border to it, and I should like to be able to see the plants behind it.  As it will flower on old wood it is a prime candidate for a touch of very light topiary.

I had to vacate the back garden before I'd finished renovating the shrub because the Systems Administrator needed to mow the lawn, so I needed to move all my buckets and tools and bags of Strulch and collected debris out of the way.  Instead I went and raked leaves up in the meadow until I had filled the leaf bin, and it got dark.  With a measly eight hours and twenty-one minutes of daylight today it's no wonder I notice the loss when frost takes a big dent out of the usable hours.

Friday, 24 November 2017

eventually finished

Earlier this evening I was about to start typing when Mr Fidget appeared on the arm of my chair, kneading at my fleece and looking as though he might want to climb into my lap.  He sits in laps almost vanishingly rarely, and I was quite charmed by the prospect when Mr Cool pushed past him and draped himself across my thighs.  Mr Fidget retreated back to my desk and curled up behind the Systems Administrator's head, and I put my computer back on the floor and settled down to admire Mr Cool, who does not come and sit in my lap every night of the week, although I did feel that Mr Fidget should have been given a chance.  He has been in an oddly skittish mood today, running away in panic at the slightest things.

Earlier in the day I finally emptied the two partly used bags of gravel that have been sitting inside the entrance for months.  I never meant them to stay there for so long, although knowing when I bought them how easy it is for bulk bags of building materials to linger.  With this latest delivery I was making good progress spreading the gravel, then overdid things and tweaked something in my back, which took a long time to settle down, then there was my father's illness and then I went down with a chest infection, and the weeks just passed.  Meanwhile a great deal of goose grass seedlings and baby Euphorbia sprang up in the gravel around the bags, which I had to weed out before I could empty them.

I am going to need more gravel.  There are still bald patches in the drive where the tarmac shows through, and thin bits in the railway garden, and a patch that needs topping up next to the doorstep, and a wildly weedy corner at the end of the miniature desert wash that will be mostly bare earth by the time I've extracted the weeds.  But on the basis that I still have forty seven and a half bags of Strulch to spread on the borders I might leave buying more gravel for a while.  Then I might try my luck with our friendly local plant hire company, since at least they know where the farm is and might not be so grumpy about the private road as the man on the telephone was at the last place I used.  The driver when he delivered the gravel was perfectly cheerful about the access and said that the trouble with the customer service chap was that he drove a desk, not a lorry, but gardening is supposed to be fun and life is too short to spend dealing with miserable people on the telephone.

The rusted iron letters FAIL BETTER look so much finer and more artistic now they are not standing above two collapsed bulk builders' bags and a thatch of weeds, I feel regretful I didn't manage to finish moving the gravel before.  I invited the Systems Administrator to come and admire his handiwork now it could be seen uncluttered, but the SA was more relieved that the bamboo screen he put up at the same time hadn't blown down in the gale of two nights ago.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

slow retail

Following on from the slow food movement and then slow TV, comes slow retail.  It is a fine experience so long as you are not in a hurry.  The story went as follows: back in July I placed an order online for some more auricula pots with the same Yorkshire pottery I got the last lot from.  Their online retail process does not extend to payment, because they have to calculate the delivery charge for each order depending on bulk and weight.  I was rather surprised not to hear back from them after I'd emailed and left a phone message asking about payment.  After calling every week or two for a couple of months I was starting to wonder what had happened to them, although the fact that their website was still up and running suggested they were still going.

In September I got an apologetic email explaining that they had sent me a quotation for the full cost including delivery, only it had got stuck in their draft mail folder and was never delivered.  Some of the pots I wanted were not in stock, but they would be making and firing more.  I said I still wanted to go ahead and settled down to wait, since making terracotta pots is not a process that can be hurried.  Once thrown, they have to dry to the right consistency before they can be fired or else they explode in the kiln, or at least that's my understanding.

At the end of the first week of November I got an email saying the pots had been fired and would be packed and dispatched the following week.  A week passed and I heard nothing more, so wrote to ask politely when they would be coming.  Finally at the start of this week I got an email to say they had been picked up by the pottery's courier and would be with me mid week, and sure enough yesterday they arrived, pretty much four months after I ordered them.  They are really nice pots, only I have missed the window to pot on the last lot of auriculas I bought, which will have to stay in their black plastic pots until they come back into active growth in the spring.

As well as the auricula pots I bought one experimental larger pot, to see if it would do for tulips now that the Whichford pottery has disappeared into the stratosphere and only sells highly decorated pots at equally elevated prices.  My new, hand thrown, small Tuscan planter from Yorkshire is wonderfully plain but exactly right for the job of displaying tulips en masse.  Ten inches high by thirteen across, it should be stable in the wind while being visually balanced.  The lip and raised band around the top feel reassuringly solid and should make the pot easy to lift and move when it is planted up.  There is a good sized drainage hole in the middle of the base, and four more low down around the sides.  The terracotta is a nice, soft shade of brown.  I ordered one to see what they were like, and will test it over the winter to check it really is frost proof, though I haven't had any problems with the auricula pots.  It cost eighteen pounds, at which price I could buy a set if I wanted to.

If you want your own traditional hand made British flower pots the firm is the Littlethorpe Potteries.  They are lovely, polite people to deal with and the pots are great, only you have to not be in a hurry.  If you needed a pot for a deadline like a birthday you might not want to risk it, and they don't accept PayPal so you have to be willing to send your cheque off and then not receive anything for weeks.  I would be entirely happy buying from them again, and will probably be ordering more small Tuscan pots and maybe some alpine pans in due course.

Mr Fidget thought that the parcel was absolutely fascinating, and watched keenly as I opened it while I had to be careful not to stab him in the eye as I cut through the parcel tape.  I laid the pots down on the rug in the hall for the time being because I wasn't going outside in the dark and three quarters of a gale to put them away properly.  I was pleased to find them wedged in place with the cardboard egg trays and not plastic, since the cardboard is biodegradable on the compost heap or makes good bee smoker fuel.  I left the cats the box and some of the egg trays to play with, but after a session jumping in and out of the box they curled up around the pots and went to sleep.

Addendum  In the night the three quarters of a gale turned into a full one, and we were woken at 4.21 am by the television aerial blowing off the roof.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

raking leaves

I spent a couple of hours this morning raking up leaves in the back garden.  There are two reasons to collect leaves.  One is that they are going to cause damage if they stay where they are, dead smothered patches in the lawn and rotted crowns among the dormant perennials in the borders.  The other reason to rake up leaves is that you want them to make leaf compost.

My raking belongs largely in the second category, because the garden is so exposed that if I don't get around to collecting the leaves they manage to disappear by themselves over the course of a few gales.  Leaf mould is fantastic stuff, though, so I try to round them up while I can and put them in a heap to rot down.  They only need a bit of netting round them to stop the heap drifting, but take a long time to decay completely, so I have two heaps next to each other, a bigger enclosure that I try to fill each autumn and then top up a couple of times as the leaves pack down, and a smaller enclosure into which I shovel the year-old contents of the bigger bin at this time of year before I refill it.

It is a frustratingly low yielding process, as what seems like several cubic metres of leaves eventually decomposes into barely more than two or three barrow loads of compost.  It is lovely compost.  I spread it reverently on the bed along the ditch and tell myself that the snowdrops and cyclamen will love it, though when I run out they have to make do with spent mushroom compost.

There were yellow warnings in place for high winds for today and tomorrow, so I thought I would at least salvage the leaves that were still lying neatly in a pool under the 'Tai-haku' before they were scattered all over the back lawn.  The wild gean has almost finished shedding, but its leaves have mostly blown straight into the wood, where they will do the blubells good but are no use to me.  The little oak tree by the daffodil lawn is generally a good source, but is still hanging on to its leaves, unless tonight's gale brings them down.  The big chestnut trees along the side of the wood have dropped about half their leaves so far, which were lying temptingly in the meadow.  By mid morning I had to go out, so I suggested hopefully to the Systems Administrator that he might like to rake some leaves to help fill the leaf bin, but the SA did not look convinced.  I hope they don't all blow away before I can get back to them.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

back on the road

Today, as the Systems Administrator was standing in the hall, he saw a hare go lolloping across the front garden.  It did not appear to be in any great hurry or to be running away.  Initially the SA took it for a munjac from its size, before paying attention and seeing that it had long ears and a hare's gait.  I saw one in the lane a year or two back, around dusk, but never in the garden, let alone right by the house.  Hares are a menace in very cold weather because they will ring and kill trees, but I rather like the idea of the odd one passing through.  They are unmistakably different to rabbits, much longer legs, a more purposeful, loping run, and generally wilder aspect.

The level of coolant in my car had not dropped since the SA topped it up.  The handbook said that on no account was I supposed to just top it up, and that I should take it to a specialist garage immediately to have the coolant chemically rebalanced and the reason why the car lost coolant in the first place identified.  The SA said that the handbook was written by the manufacturers who had a vested interest in sending business to Skoda dealerships, that the coolant had fallen only just under the minimum level when it triggered the alarm, and that in the first instance it was fine to top it up and see if the level fell again and if so how quickly.  Certainly when we were young we used to fill our car radiators without a second thought.  I remember coming back from the vet in Ipswich with one of the previous cats in a basket and having to stop in the outskirts at a convenience store to buy an emergency bottle of mineral water because the engine was over-heating.  The car, and the cat, both lived to a ripe old age.

The SA announced that as a precaution he would come with me on a trip to the dump to test the car.  We set off with two emergency bottles of water, and the SA promising to take over and nurse the car home if anything happened, like steam coming out of the bonnet.  Nothing did happen, and we went to the dump, and the useful garden centre to buy chicken food and gardening gloves, and the other useful garden centre to buy locally made beeswax hand cream which the first garden centre declines to stock.  At th end of it the coolant was at the same level as it had been at the start, though I am still suspicious as to why the level dropped, when it never has before.

In the afternoon the plants arrived from the nursery in Dorset,  called (unsurprisingly) Dorset Perennials.  It was the second time I'd used them, which is always an encouraging sign.  I only placed the order on Sunday morning, and they sent everything I'd asked for (assuming that everything is correctly labelled, but their last lot of plants were, unlike the wretched bog primulas), and it arrived undamaged within the hour's time slot that their courier emailed me this morning.  They accept PayPal, give free delivery on orders of £39 or more, and do not sent out pots with weeds in them.  All of this puts them considerably ahead of several of the other mail order suppliers I've tried.  Their list is not the longest, but they offer good forms of what they grow, and you could furnish a very respectable border from them without looking any further.

Monday, 20 November 2017

cats sleeping in inconvenient places

I had business in Colchester this morning.  When I looked at the state of my hands even after taking a shower and washing my hair I thought that perhaps they were not very nice to take into a meeting with a solicitor.  The appointment was not until half past ten, so I fished the washing out of the accumulated pile that was waiting to be done by hand.  The friction of rubbing all that wool and a dose of Stergene often works wonders for dislodging the grime that other soaps cannot reach.

I did the dark colours together first, and when I looked round Mr Cool had made himself comfortable on the kitchen table in the laundry basket.  He had the expression of a cat that could get used to sleeping on a bed of silk and linen-and-cotton mix, and looked hurt when I removed him, before hopping back in.  The laundry basket became his new favourite place for the rest of the morning, even without the benefit of my best vest and ancient but still good sweater.  He was still there when I returned home in the early afternoon, rolling over to show me his tummy and looking suddenly kittenish when I came in.  Apparently he lay in the laundry basket all through the Systems Administrator's lunch, peeping coyly through the side and watching as the SA ate.

Once Mr Cool had come out of the basket to eat his tea I wiped the fine layer of hairs out of the bottom and put it away in the laundry.  I felt rather mean confiscating his new toy, but we really cannot live with a plastic basket containing a large cat permanently in the middle of the kitchen table.

Mr Cool and Mr Fidget do not share Our Ginger's and Mr Fluffy's taste for pouring themselves into impossibly small and square boxes.  For a thorough analysis of that phenomenon may I refer you to ig Nobel Prize winner M A Fardin's paper On the rheology of cats.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

a fine cold day

This morning, when I pulled up the blind in the bathroom to have a look at the day, there was a frost.  Last night must have been crucially colder or more still than the one before.  I congratulated myself that I had remembered to shut the greenhouse and conservatory doors, and settled down after breakfast to a pleasant compare-and-contrast session with the Chatto Gardens and Dorset Perennials websites, looking at who listed what, who had what in stock, and who was cheaper.  Five of a particularly drought tolerant form of Epimedium, some non-running comfrey and some spotted leaf arums are now on their way from Dorset, and I have my eye on a few shade tolerant plants from Chatto.

Then I cleaned the chickens' roosting board, which needed doing.  The contents were a welcome addition to the piles of shredded Eleagnus leaves, of which I still have an awful lot of bags left to go on the compost heaps.  After the frosty start it had turned into the best sort of November weather, the sun brilliant but so low in the sky that the shadows were interesting.  A light sheen of ice on the pots of tulip bulbs by the greenhouse warned me that it was not planting weather, however, and I spent the rest of the morning cutting down the dahlias in pots and moving the pots into the greenhouse.  They yielded two big buckets of stems, which made a useful layer on the compost heaps so that I could empty one more bag of the apparently infinite supply of hedge trimmings on top, and the pots took up almost all the remaining floor space in the greenhouse.

I managed to fit in the pots of violas, which overwintered outside last year with mixed results, and that was it.  The greenhouse is full.  In fact it is over-full, since several trays of nine inch pots are currently resting on top of the dahlia pots, which is going to be a nuisance when I need to water the nine inch pots given the dahlias need to be kept dry, and will not be viable at all once the dahlias start back into growth.  I am looking on it as a reminder that I need to press on weeding the meadow to make space to plant out the Gaillardia, and do some renovations in the long bed in the front garden which largely missed out last spring as time ran out.

The ground had thawed by lunchtime, and in the afternoon I weeded and spread Strulch at the top of the sloping bed in the back garden, where I cleared the dead sea buckthorns and replanted the area back in the summer.  The new plants at the top end have made massive growth since being released in August from their plastic pots.  A pink flowered kind of prostrate mallow, Malvum lateritum, which I got at the garden club plant sale and which sat in its pot outside the greenhouse for three months doing nothing at all has leaped into life.  Dosing it for the root aphid I found it was suffering from when I came to plant it out may have played a part in its transformation, but a Sphaeralcea munroana that did not have root aphid has been similarly transformed, and some elderly seed raised specimens of Lepechinia hastata, a slightly tender, sage like species with deep pink flowers that had been languishing for ages in the greenhouse have sprung back into active growth.  The oriental poppy 'Royal Wedding' planted out as part of this scheme must be ten times the size of the rest of the batch that are still in their pots on the concrete, while the Diascia personata brought home as a cutting from last year's garden club propagating evening, and that had got horribly potbound before I found somewhere in the garden to put it, is making a burgeoning clump with lots of fine, fat new shoots at the base.

Several of the plants listed in the last paragraph are only doubtfully hardy.  Let us hope we don't have a hard winter.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

more weeding and clearing

To my surprise there was no frost on the grass this morning.  Indeed, by eleven I spotted one industrious honeybee foraging on the Mahonia x media 'Winter Sun'.  Unfortunately I missed the first part of this unexpected good fortune as I needed to go to the supermarket, where I experienced a moment of anxiety after finishing my shopping when I couldn't see my car where I knew I'd left it, before remembering that I was looking for the Systems Administrator's silver Skoda and not a red one.  I did find it difficult to believe that anybody would have stolen my car in broad daylight from the Waitrose car park.  It is fairly battered, first registered in March 2006, and is so entry level that when I bought it, the salesman pointed out the plastic clip inside the windscreen for holding car park tickets, not in a spirit of irony but because there were no other features to highlight.

With what remained of the day I bashed on clearing the weeds around the wildlife pond.  There are an awful lot of goose grass seedlings, which is a nuisance since it means there is going to go on being a lot of goose grass coming up every year for the foreseeable future.  Come retreat to the easy-to-manage retirement bungalow or death, whichever happens sooner, I am pretty sure that goose grass will still be coming up.

I chopped at the nettle and bramble roots with my pick axe and hauled lustily, only remembering late in the afternoon that I'd forgotten to take my wedding ring off.  Fortunately I had not bent it again.  By the time it got dark I'd filled two old Strulch bags with bits of nettle and sprays of burdock seeds, and the Systems Administrator's small garden trailer with bits of bramble.  At least the docks are not resprouting too badly.  I read somewhere that as long as you take off the top few inches of root they will not shoot again from the buried tip, unlike dandelions, and it seems to be true.  I dug out a lot of docks out in the spring and they have mostly not grown back.

I have got to plant something on the cleared earth, though.  I spread the existing primroses around a bit, which will help, but I need ground cover, otherwise I am locked into an endless Sisyphean  cycle of weeding every winter, only to see the weeds grow back each summer.  The Beth Chatto and Dorset Perennials websites beckon.

Friday, 17 November 2017


A light frost was glittering on the grass when I pulled the bathroom blind up this morning, and I was glad that the plumber had come yesterday to fit the new radiator.  The drizzle that set in yesterday afternoon and was barely gone by the time I came out of my talk had been displaced by what newspapers love to call a blast of arctic air, though it was a very quiet blast.  The front garden looked lovely in the low rays of the early morning sun, dew and tiny ice crystals shimmering in the clear air.  November can be a very beautiful month, when it is not raining or foggy.

The trouble with frost is that the effective gardening day gets even shorter.  I used the enforced hiatus to catch up with indoor jobs like bottling some more honey and sorting out the invoice of my new friend, the plumber, but the ground wasn't in a fit state to be weeded until near on half past eleven, and by half past three it was getting dark.  At least by this stage of the winter the days are only getting shorter very slowly, and with less than five weeks to go to the solstice dusk is within twenty minutes of being as early as it's going to be.  The days are so short, though.  The first spring bulbs will be coming up within a couple of months, and in three or four months the weeds will be growing again.

I chopped down nettles along the side of the wood and stuffed them into old Strulch bags to take to the dump, along with their yellow roots which I dug out with the pick axe.  I carefully dismantled the skeletal remains of several statuesque burdocks, and put their branching, seed-laden tops in sections into the bags as well.  Burdock is a fine and handsome plant, with huge basal leaves and truly magnificent seed heads, but their giant burrs are a menace anywhere near a long haired cat like Mr Fluffy.  My immediate aim is to clear the ground around the wildlife pond so that I can finish planting my budget hellebores, a stray Sarcococca that's been sitting around in its pot all summer, and maybe the tray of variegated box cuttings.  Then I'll have to see how far I get.  I've got pots of seed raised Solidago and Gaillardia waiting to go in the meadow, if only I could clear the space for them.

Last night's frost has properly blackened the dahlia tops, so I now feel free to chop them down in text book fashion.  That could be a job for the morning.  There was a sky full of stars tonight, so there will be another frost tomorrow.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

one step forward, one step back

At eight-thirty on the dot a white van drew up outside the front door.  It was the plumber.  A couple of weeks ago the first frost of the year had focused my mind on the fact that the radiator in my bathroom was so rusty it had had to be turned off, as the odd drip had developed into a flow.  I'd managed over the summer by dint of spreading my bath towel out on the bed to dry each morning, but I drew the line at going through the winter with no heating in the bathroom.  The radiator in what estate agents would call the family bathroom, although unless we have guests it is the Systems Administrator's bathroom, was still at the slow drip stage, but the SA said that if we were having one done we might as well get them both replaced at the same time.

I had a go at finding somebody to fix the problem in the summer, asking our friendly boiler repair man to quote when he came to do the boiler's annual service.  It said on his business card that he also did general plumbing, but after weeks when nothing happened he admitted that actually he did not have time to do the radiators.  I ended up ringing somebody who bothered to advertise in the parish magazine, knowing nothing about him beyond the fact that he possessed the gumption to advertise and had a genuine local landline number.  Asking friends for personal recommendations for builders is never as helpful as you think it ought to be.  Generally they have not employed that sort of specialist directly, or else their builder is on the verge of retirement and only does odd bits of work for people he already knows or is fully booked until the middle of next year or otherwise unavailable, or was so ghastly they would never admit them over the threshold again.

Our nominated new plumber came round to quote promptly, and supplied a very reasonable quotation to do the job practically the following week, and was cheerful, and had a small, silent teenage boy in tow who I guess was his son learning how to be a plumber.  He measured the radiators so fast I was amazed he could be confident about the answer, and assured me there would be no problem in getting replacements that would fit the existing plumbing exactly.  He was true to his word.  In under an hour and a half we had two new radiators and not a tile out of place.  They are warm.  It is wonderful.  I am waiting for any of my friends and acquaintances who live locally to mention that they need a plumber so that I can leap forward and recommend mine.

The SA and I tried to go out once the plumber had finished, only a red warning light flashed on the dashboard of my car.  I felt mildly crushed that no sooner had I got the radiator problem fixed when something else went wrong.  We had to hurriedly switch to the Systems Administrator's car and the SA promised to look into the warning light as soon as he had a moment.  In the meantime I am still driving his car, which is almost the same as mine but has a subtly different gear ratios and gearbox, so that on the way to my emergency substitute speaker woodland charity talk I was half the time dawdling on to roundabouts more sluggishly than I'd have liked, and the other half of the time pulling away from junctions with an inadvertent squeal of tyres.  The WI liked the talk, fortunately, and one sweet old  lady with a mischievous face came up to me afterwards and told me she'd enjoyed it much more than if it had been the scheduled talk about nutrition.  I should think so too.  Who wants to worry about nutrition in the run up to Christmas?  The time to agonize about that is in January.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

replacement box

Every time I think I must have finished weeding the gravel in the turning circle, I spot another square yard I've missed.  Sheeps' sorrel poking up through the tufts of thrift, innocent little strands of wild vetch that look so sweet now but will be lanky, smothering masses come next summer, brown Eleagnus leaves tucked down between the plants, nascent rosettes of dandelion, and clumps of the slender leaved weed grass that plagues the light soil in the back garden but not the heavy soil at the back, they all need clearing away.  The end result is a lot cleaner and fresher but makes it obvious that the gravel needs topping up.

I managed to plant one more Limonium caspium, then side-tracked myself into clearing the dead roots of the waterlogged box out of its planter, and planting the new, replacement box in its place in fresh compost.  I picked up the new box ball at the Clacton branch of Tesco, of all places, where there was a Danish trolley of them outside the front door for ten pounds each.  They looked very healthy and very bushy, and while they were not nearly as large as the one that died I thought that for a tenner I could afford to wait, compared to buying a fully formed specimen for three or four times that amount from a nursery.  Box is not especially slow if treated nicely.

It wasn't obvious when I exhumed the remains of the old box why the container had been failing to drain so badly.  I'd assumed that the drainage holes must have become blocked by roots, but they hadn't been, so far as I could tell.  Box makes a dense and fibrous root system, as you will discover if you ever try to weed next to a box hedge, and I can only assume that the mass of compost and feeding roots had acted like a plug.  Waterlogging was certainly an issue, as after long spells of rain water used to lie on the surface of the compost for hours.  There were only three small holes for drainage, which was probably stingy given the size of the container.  Two were still covered by their crocks when I excavated them, further proof that big roots hadn't grown down through the holes and blocked them completely.  I never found the third crock, but it is probably in the recycling bin by now along with the rest of the old compost.

It was a calculated gamble planting the new box ball directly into its new home.  In theory I ought to pot it up one size of pot at a time, so that it wouldn't sit in excess wet compost and rot.  But I thought I had so many other things to do that I should like to get it planted and be done with it, and if it was planted into an intermediate sized pot it would have to stand on another upturned pot to bring it up to the right height, and then it would keep blowing over.  I have in the past got away with massively over-potting an Acer straight from a two or three litre container into a big fifty centimetre diameter pot, when I wanted to plant something to make the back garden look kempt for a party, and the Acer established itself quite happily with no problems of rotting or anything else.  Perhaps box will be similarly tolerant.  For a tenner I'm prepared to take the risk and find out.

Then gardening came to another premature close because I was booked to go and do a garden talk.  The talk seemed to go reasonably well, though I saw a few heads nodding.  That's the trouble with early afternoon talks, you hit the post-lunch slump.  I mentally marked myself down as having been competent but not electrifying, although trying to electrify a Townswomen's Guild at two o'clock in the afternoon is quite a tall order.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

all in a day's work

I was taken aback when I went to let the chickens out of their house and it was drizzling.  I hadn't expected this morning to be wet.  But by mid morning the sun was shining and I cracked on with weeding the gravel and planting my seed raised Dianthus and Limonium.  Just one more day's work, one final push, and I'll finish.  I feel sure I will.

As I was pulling up sheep's sorrel and dibbling planting holes I thought I heard the phone ring, and trotted into the house in time to pick it up before it went to answerphone.  It turned out to be somebody from one of the local branches of the WI, who wondered if I might be free on Thursday evening?  Their booked speaker now couldn't make it, and she was looking for a replacement act, urgently.  I wasn't free, but though I could rearrange things so that I would be.  As we talked she disclosed that her mother had died the previous week.  While it wasn't a total shock at the age of ninety-four, still there was a lot to sort out and she said she could have done without having to find a new speaker on top of everything else.  I thought that maybe somebody else on her committee should have stepped in to sort it out, but who am I to dictate how the WI runs its affairs?  Apparently I come highly recommended.

The day's gardening was cut short because I had a garden club meeting of my new committee, preceded by a trip to the bank to arrange the change of signatories and new address for statements.  The bank meeting went remarkably smoothly compared to some of my efforts to get extra signatories added to the beekeepers' bank account.  In fact, one of them resigned from the committee before I ever managed to get them put on.  The committee meeting was not too long, cordial, and efficient, which is how I like meetings to be, and we had smoked salmon sandwiches and Victoria sponge with cream as well as jam in the middle, but apparently it was a special tea because it was somebody's birthday, and normally there is only cake, not necessarily with cream.  Even so it looks like my sort of committee.  The only downside is that as incoming Treasurer I have inherited the cardboard box containing the club's financial records plus a cruet set, two pieces missing since the AGM supper, which will have to find lodging in the spare bedroom.  Also walking to my car in the dark through the narrow gap between two other cars drawn up in front of the outgoing Treasurer's door I failed to see that one of them had a towing bar fitted until I hit it, quite hard, with my knee.

Monday, 13 November 2017

lost and found

Yesterday, as I was weeding in the middle of the turning circle, I suddenly noticed a glint of something bright in the gravel by my right knee.  It was a gold butterfly clip from an earring for pierced ears.  I pulled my gloves off, put my hand up to my right ear, and felt my ex-office pearl stud where it should have been on my earlobe, clip snugly against the back of my ear.  Left hand, left ear, nothing.  A blank.

I peered hopefully at the gravel, since if the clip had only just fallen off the post with the pearl on it might not be too far away.  A moonstone stud once fell out when we were visiting the Marks Hall Arboretum and the Systems Administrator managed to find it by retracing our exact path and looking at the grass very, very carefully.  I was delighted to get it back since I was particularly fond of the moonstone earrings, and the SA was very relieved to find it because it was my birthday, and losing the earring would have cast a pall over the proceedings even if I'd tried not to make a fuss.

Maybe moonstones show up better in grass, or perhaps the SA is better at looking for things.  Looking for a lost pearl in ten millimetre gravel turned out to be a thankless task.  I couldn't see the earring anywhere along the stretch of the drive where I'd been working when I found the backing clip.  It occurred to me that I might have scooped the earring up along with the dead leaves and bits of sheep sorrel I'd been collecting in my bucket, so I took everything out of the bucket, piled it in a heap on the gravel, and put it back in the bucket piece by piece.  No pearl.  Ah well.  I wore the old office earrings for gardening because they had corrosion proof gold posts and so were less likely to work loose and drop out than silver ones, and because I regarded them in the same light as my old office shirts, of no sentimental value.  Even so I would still rather not not lose a perfectly good pearl stud.  I might still find it, but I wasn't holding out much hope, and it soon wouldn't be in very good condition if I did, sculling around in the gravel.

Today, as I was in the downstairs loo, I saw a pale, round shape lying next to the base of the lavatory.  My lost pearl.  How extremely fortunate that I had put the odd one and the stray clip away in a little box, instead of chucking them out in a temper.  The set is now reunited in the pot where I keep all my stud earrings.  But what is the chance that, after the post fell out of my ear in the downstairs loo, of the clip managing to stay stuck to my sweaty little head until I had got all the way outside, before falling off in a place where I actually saw it?

Sunday, 12 November 2017

dry at the root

I have potted the gigantic amaryllis bulb in a mixture of John Innes number 3 and horticultural grit, as advised by our friendly local bulb merchant, and squeezed it on to the kitchen window sill behind the taps.  There it sits, a huge pistachio green orb with the merest hint of a leaf tip emerging from the top, while I wonder nervously how I am supposed to tell when it needs watering.  It is the largest amaryllis bulb I have ever seen, fully five inches in diameter, and ended up needing a seven inch pot.  I used terracotta, because that was what I had and it looks nicer than plastic, and being porous the clay allows additional air to the roots which I thought it might appreciate, and what with the size of the pot and the quantity of grit I needed both hands to lift it.  Now the surface of the potting mix looks dry, but I am worried that it must still be damp underneath when the bulb has not yet had time to put out new roots.  Tipping the pot sideways with one hand to test the weight told me nothing except that it was very heavy.

Out in the garden I went on planting the Geranium 'Rozanne' I picked up weeks ago from the Chatto gardens.  I grumbled to a friend the other day that the grass was still growing, the soil being so wet, and she picked me up and said the soil was not wet at all, and in fact she is right.  We have not had any proper rainfall for weeks, and the grass must be growing on the strength of nothing but dew and the odd shower.  When I tried to dig a hole in the further rose bed for the first geranium, which was only growing in a one litre pot, I ended up stabbing viciously at the solid clay with the point of my trowel as if I were trying to murder somebody with an extremely blunt knife, and the lumps of soil that eventually came out of the hole were too hard to crumble with my fingers and I had to resort to bashing them with the trowel.

The morning's gardening was cut short because we had to go and help put up the stage.  The music society has found a new volunteer who has offered to help with the stage and who turns out to understand the system of clips that hold the sections together and have the general air of someone who is used to putting things together so that they stay up.  He is a diamond and I have told the Chairman to clasp him closely to her bosom.  Now I have seen how naturally he has taken to the stage I would have no qualms about the two of us putting it up without the Systems Administrator's help.

I thought I would have time to plant the other geranium before heading back out for the actual concert, but it rained, even though according to the Met Office we were experiencing bright sunshine with a five per cent chance of rain.  The concert was excellent, though, with a piano trio who played Joseph Haydn, Smetana, and Schubert.  I never knowingly heard the Smetana before, though I couldn't swear it hadn't been on Radio 3 at some point.  When I got home I looked it up on the Presto Classical website, and discovered that I had a choice of thirty-nine recordings.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

gravel gardening

I have been weeding the gravel in the middle of the drive so that I can plant out my seed raised Limonium caspium and Dianthus cruentus.  It is rather like a re-run of cutting the hedge, as I seem to be perpetually one day's work away from finishing the half of it nearest the entrance.  Scooping up fallen Eleagnus leaves, dibbling out the creeping stems of the wretched purple leaved oxalis, pulling out the old stalks of Nigella damascena whose dry seed pods could be architectural but are in truth tatty, and hoicking up tufts and as much as possible of the running roots of the sheep sorrel which, in sandy soil, ye have always with ye, bucket after bucket of rather gritty debris has gone into my nice new garden waste bin, but there is always a bit more left to do.

It pays to know your weeds.  The rosettes of next year's yellow evening primrose are fairly unmistakable.  The foliage is mid green with a hint of yellow, very slightly bullate (meaning the surface of the leaf bulges upwards between the veins), and while the ends of the leaves are pointed they are still fat towards the tips.  The apricot flowered Oenothera has narrower and more pointed leaves that are equally easy to spot.  They have seeded themselves generously, and quite a lot of seedlings found their way into the bin.

I want to keep next year's teasels.  They are biennials, flowering in their second year and then dying, and at this stage next year's flowers are no more than rosettes.  Darker green and bristlier looking than the evening primroses, they are not so easy to tell apart from some other things I'd rather not have.  There is a yellow flowered member of the daisy family, whose common name I don't know, but that suddenly sends up tall flowering stems from dark green rosettes.  As the basal foliage expands it develops strange lumps on the surface of the leaves and looks less and less like a teasel, but young plants are not easy to tell apart.

I couldn't place another rosette former, and pulled a couple of plants out on the basis that they must be the annoying yellow daisies, while not feeling entirely happy about it.  Then the penny dropped that they were actually viper's bugloss, Echium vulgare.  This is yet another biennial, a native with spikes of intensely blue flowers that are highly attractive to bees.  I planted some out of pots into the gravel in June of last year, which flowered later that summer, and was disappointed not to find any seedlings, given the original plants came (at the second attempt) from a packet of bought seed.  Now it seems that they have seeded after all, and it's a pity I pulled some of them up, but on closer inspection there are quite a lot left.  I had completely forgotten I'd tried viper's bugloss in that area, but the location of the mystery rosettes is such a good match to where I remember planting the bugloss that I'm sure that's what they are.  The plants have wide ranging, fleshy white roots and did not especially like being raised in pots, but with any luck will now keep themselves going like the evening primroses do.

Friday, 10 November 2017

weeding and planting

At some point yesterday, when I was not looking, the council's waste contractors came and took away my old, broken green waste bin, and left a new shiny replacement.  As I played with the gleaming lid of the new one and began to fill it with weeds from the gravel I felt a little rush of the gratification that comes from a successful encounter with authority.  When most news stories about waste collection are tales of woe and strife and missed collections and today a report of an aggressive idiot driving his car at the poor bin men, I was pleased that the whole garden waste bin question had been resolved so easily.

Into the newly weeded gravel I finally planted the two Papaver pilosum subsp. spicatum that have been sitting about in their pots for about a month since I saw them on the Chatto Gardens website while shopping for geraniums, and couldn't resist trying them.  It is a perennial species of poppy with orange flowers, which will immediately put some people off.  The flowers are carried at intervals up the long flowering stalks in the style of Himalayan blue poppies, rather than singly on individual stems like oriental poppies or the Papaver nudicaule that already grows in the gravel.  I saw a plant of P. pilosum growing in somebody else's garden back in the summer and thought it was so pretty I was willing to risk trying a couple at home.  I don't attempt to grow blue poppies because the very air is too dry for them in Essex, never mind the soil, but seeing P. pilosum looking perfectly happy in Suffolk gave me some grounds for hope.  And ever hopeful, I bought two plants in case they were not self fertile, since if they will grow here I should like them to seed themselves about.

I began to plant my stock of seed raised Limonium caspium 'Dazzling Blue'.  The description in the Chiltern Seeds catalogue made it sound as though they might grow in the sandy soil of the turning circle, though the Limonium I've tried in the past have not really thrived.  The current batch only made very subdued little plants in their pots, and I am not fantastically optimistic about them, but having got them this far it seems silly not to give them a go in the ground and see how they do.

Periodically I have been startled by the sight on the hall table of what looks like a large, green mangle wurzle wearing a festive decoration tied round its middle.  In fact it is my amaryllis bulb.  I must remember to pot it tomorrow.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

tiny figures

This month's lecture at the newly renamed Art Society, Colchester (not to be confused with The Colchester Art Society) was about eighteenth century porcelain figures.  I set off to the talk in a cheerful spirit of open minded inquiry, knowing practically nothing about porcelain figures and having no desire to possess any.  We looked at what seemed like rooms and rooms of them at the splendid Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, and I was left simultaneously charmed, and appalled at how on earth you would dust them, and how much generations of housemaids had probably hated and feared them, with all their little hands and frilly cuffs and tiny flutes just waiting to break off.

My spirit of open minded inquiry was put to the test before I ever made it to the hall, since I found my normal route through central Colchester blocked and diversion signs in place.  Thinking about it there was something in the local paper a couple of days ago about a burst water main.  Fortunately, following the diversion signs I spotted the name of a road I recognized, turned into it, and found there was legal on-street parking for non-residents as long as I was gone by half past twelve, and that a footpath led through to where I wanted to be.  That will be useful to know for future reference, since parking in the road I've always used in the past is quite tight and I have wondered what I should do on the day when I finally couldn't find a space at all, or at least not one accessible to anybody as bad at parallel parking as I am.

Eighteenth century porcelain figures turned out to be thoroughly entertaining, as odd subjects often are if you just go with the flow.  The first ones appeared at the start of the century, and were used as table decorations on grand occasions, replacing the confectioners' sugar sculptures that used to be placed down the middle of the table.  Thanks to BBC documentaries about the English renaissance and the history of confectionery, I was aware of the fashion for decorative and inedible sugar items, but never grasped that they were the precursors to the first china table decorations.  It's nice when the dots join up.

Meissen was the first and for decades the sharpest manufacturer, who managed to keep the technical secrets of making hard porcelain under wraps for years before a worker escaped (almost literally) and sold the knowledge to other makers around Germany.  England had the Bow works, the Chelsea works, the Derby works and presumably eventually lots of other works, but they dealt for years in soft porcelain, which didn't allow the same crisp detail, although much of it had a sort of naive charm.  Eventually porcelain figures found their way off the dining table to the mantelpiece and china cabinet, became larger, and frequently flat backed because they were no longer designed to be seen in the round.

It was fun.  I'd rather like to go back to the Bowes Museum for another look, now I know a little more about it, or there's always the V&A, which is closer to home.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

the social whirl

The garden club annual supper was very fine, and very well attended.  The members of the committee must work like stink, and next year I suppose I shall find out more about it, to put the whole thing together and manage to lay on a hot main course plus salad for members without charge, while guests pay a fiver.  There is a well-supported raffle, which must cover the cost of the ingredients, and members bring puddings, but it is still a magnificent effort.  The AGM which is mercifully brief is slotted in before the meal, and there is nothing like offering people a free supper to boost attendance at an AGM.  People I spoke to congratulated me on my appointment as treasurer and did not seem to mind that I did not live in the village, and the stand-in barman, actually the manager of the village hall, told me regretfully that they were looking for a treasurer for the hall.  People would not volunteer for things the way they used to, he said.

I dutifully bought a strip of raffle tickets, and won a prize in the raffle, a gigantic amaryllis bulb.  It will have to go on the kitchen window sill for the winter, since there is nowhere else warm enough in the house.  The Systems Administrator received the news with equanimity.  I try not to turn the kitchen into a plant hospital, but last winter there was a rooted Impatiens cutting that I didn't dare leave in the conservatory.  My gardening club friend's ticket was drawn further up in the raffle, and so she got an orchid.  The ritual of village club draws is often that the holder of each winning ticket picks the next one, and as I went up to collect my bulb the third woman on our table tugged my elbow and said I had better choose her ticket.  As I turned back around from the prize table I found that I had, though she had to make do with a pair of gloves.

I wondered what the chances were of three of the winners in a raffle that was not rigged all coming from the same table?  There were about eighty people at the supper, most on tables of six and some on tables of four, while raffle tickets were sold either singly or as a strip of five, depending on how generous you were feeling.  I didn't manage to work out the answer to my question even assuming that all tables had the same chance of winning each time, and then began to think that it would be slightly more complicated than that, since whether people bought one ticket or five or none at all was probably influenced by what their neighbours were doing, and friends sitting together might tend to have similar attitudes to spending.  I gave up, but I was pleased with the amaryllis bulb.  It was donated by a local bulb merchant, who warned me that it did not want to have its roots wet and would really like to live in a mixture of John Innes and grit, not multipurpose compost.

Today I went to a talk on Treasure Hoards of East Anglia followed by a two course lunch.  I am starting to feel rather well fed.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

the mystery of the uncollected bin

It is the garden club AGM and supper tonight, and so the first thing I had to do this morning was make a pudding.  Last year's array of puddings was truly splendid, and I am making the same pudding again.  I thought that after twelve months nobody would remember, and it is a recipe I know how to do and that travels well, Dan Lepard's cherry and polenta cake.

Then before I could finish potting the tulips I had to go and buy another bale of compost.  It served me right for not scoping the task more carefully before I started, since I passed by the Clacton branch of B&Q only last week and could have picked up a bag then, if only I'd thought of it.  Two of the five bags of fifty bulbs were short, one by two and the other by three bulbs.  I wish merchants wouldn't do that.  Five bulbs out of two hundred and fifty is not enough to be worth complaining about, but still it leaves me feeling slightly hard done by.

The phone rang just as I was heading out into the garden, and it was the council's outsourced garden waste collection firm calling back about the garden waste bin, which should have been emptied last Friday and was not.  It turned out they thought they knew about my bin: was it the one with the piece of metal on the lid?  I agreed that the lid was mended with a short length of meccano where it had split, presumably in the course of being emptied since it had been fine one day when I put it out, and broken when I went to get it back.  Only one of the bin men had cut his hand on the metal through his glove and they were going to have to give me a new bin, so they had been hoping someone would ring up claiming ownership.

I was faintly baffled how anybody could cut themselves on meccano while wearing industrial gloves, when meccano is normally given to children to play with, but sorry someone had been hurt.  The woman from the waste company said it was alright, it was an accident, and they knew there were issues over the quality of the bins.  It would be emptied, probably tomorrow, and if I could not refill it then a different lorry would bring me a new bin and take the old one away.  I should like to think that our existing bin will fitted with a new lid, but have a dark suspicion it will simply be scrapped.  I'm not sure the council and their contractors have entirely got environmental consciousness nailed, since I've only had the bin a couple of years so it can't have been emptied more than about fifty times.  Does fifty bin's worth of green waste being composted for the council offset the embedded environmental cost of making the bin?  Probably not.

Monday, 6 November 2017

winter approaches

There was a frost this morning, the first of the winter.  It was not heavy, just enough to leave a thin layer of ice on the car windscreens that soon melted in the sun, but I was glad I'd shut the doors of the greenhouse and conservatory and had a final sweep round yesterday for pots of anything tender still lurking on the patio or by the pond.

The weather taking a wintry turn reminded me that I had better go and take the buckets of syrup off the bees.  It's been warm enough for them to forage in recent days, with honeybees as well as bumbles on the Mahonia 'Winter Sun', so they might have been able to do something with the syrup if they'd wanted it, but I think it is definitely getting too cold now, and the trouble with having a bucket of feed on a hive in cold weather is that you have to put a deep extra box above the brood box where the bees live in order to support the roof.  It is like giving them a giant, chilly attic, and they would be snugger without it.

While I was there I put the mouse guards on.  These are perforated metal strips with holes in large enough for a bee to pass through, but not a mouse.  There is a risk of mice setting up home in the corners of your beehives during the winter months.  The bees, if they are all clustered together for warmth, will not sting it to death, as they presumably would in summer when there were more of them and they were more active.  I felt quite pleased with myself for remembering the guards now and not in mid December, though concerned that the hives felt a little lighter than I'd have liked.  Still, I have supplies of fondant to give them in an emergency.  There is nothing more to be done until the end of the year when I shall dose them with an oxalic acid based treatment for varroa mite, except keep an eye on the hives in case they should blow or be pushed over.  Fortunately the thriving local badger population has never shown any signs of interest in the beehives.

I began to pot the tulip bulbs, now that it is November and getting colder.  Received wisdom is that November is the time to plant them, the reason given being that if the leaves emerge too early they are more prone to catch the fungal disease tulip fire.  Other, odder reasons do pop up from time to time, like the theory that the bulbs tire themselves making leaves, and I note that the RHS advice about tulip fire does not mention planting time.  It certainly doesn't hurt to plant tulips later than daffodils, since if left to their own devices they don't seem to start rooting as early as the daffodils do, and tulip bulbs don't dry out as frighteningly easy as some bulbs, like fritillaries, but having accepted the late planting gospel for years I have begun to wonder how much basis it has in fact, or if it is one of those bits of lore owing its origins more to past practice and convenience than science.

I could not finish potting because I began to run out of compost.  The days are getting so short.  I tidied the auricula pots, potted half the tulips, sorted out the bees, and that was daylight gone barring a tiny bit of weeding before it got too dark and cold.  And of course once we start getting frosts that severely limits what you can do outside for the first half of the morning.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

job done

I finally finished cutting the Eleagnus hedge, or at least I cut as much of it as I was going to.  Straight after breakfast I dragged the Henchman into place, half way along the hedge where there was still a small tufty section I didn't manage to get to last time before my neck got too stiff.  From the vantage point of the Henchman the small section seemed larger than I'd thought it was looking at it from underneath, but as I snipped and flipped I began to make visible progress, stopping every so often to relax my neck and shuffle the platform a little one way or the other to try and get a clear view of the last obstinate stems I couldn't quite see to cut.

The Systems Administrator appeared before I'd finished and asked how it was going, and I said that there were still a few tufty bits.  The SA said they could just stay tufty, but I said that then they would annoy me every time I looked at them, knowing I'd had all the kit out and hadn't quite finished the job.  Eventually I thought I had finished and went to put the pole lopper away in the garage, only to see as I turned around that there were still some isolated tall waving shoots, not visible from the side of the hedge facing the drive but only too obvious from further down the hill.  I cursed mentally and got the pole lopper out again.

By lunchtime I decided it really was as good as it was going to get, and after lunch we put the Henchman away, so I cannot be tempted to fiddle with the hedge any more and cutting it has officially been deleted from the list of Things To Do.  At last.  Tomorrow I might finish planting my Beth Chatto geraniums and poppies, and try and get some more of my seed raised young plants into the ground while the soil is still warm.

It was a beautiful, sunny morning, and as I stood up on the Henchman I had a good view of a buzzard circling over the wood and the back garden, quite low.  When do buzzards establish their territories, or do they even have territories?  I don't think we've had them breeding in the wood so far, but it would be exciting if we did.  Though we have had kestrels.  Are kestrels happy co-existing with buzzards?  They might be as I don't think they compete for food particularly.  I never understand why people who know about birds generally seem so unimpressed by buzzards, which are dismissed as not red kites or golden eagles.  I am due to see a friend on Wednesday who knows a bit about birds, and must try and pick her brains about buzzards.

Meanwhile the SA cleared away the great pile of prunings I'd left outside the study after chopping down the tangle of honeysuckle and Boston ivy that was climbing up the downpipe on the veranda, and beginning to infiltrate the gutter and climb in through the bedroom window.  The SA was admirably restrained yesterday when I had to confess that in the process of cutting through the honeysuckle stems I'd managed to sever the cable to the outside lights.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

let there be light

This morning the pole lopper was out again, this time to trim a conifer growing in a friend's front garden.  She had got home from work to find a letter from the council warning her that she had two weeks to clear the overgrowth from around the street light in front of her house, otherwise she would face a fine.  I must admit that my initial reaction when she told me about the letter was What street light? which suggested that maybe the conifer was rather in the way.  There again, if I go round to her house I drive there, and if it is dark I have my headlights on, so I wouldn't really notice street lamps either way.

Removing the conifers completely has been on her list of things to do, but if her list is even half as long as mine it's no wonder that paying a tree surgeon to come and cut them down might not have made it to the top.  We have talked about the conifers in the past, and how much lighter the front garden would be if the trees were not there, and the extra space that would be freed up, but still, hiring reputable arborists is not cheap.  Lots of people will post fliers through your door, but do you really want to sign up to have work done on the basis of a verbal offer from somebody with only a first name and a mobile number, and no address or verifiable insurance details?  My friend didn't.  We wouldn't either, though fliers don't often make it all the way up the farm track to our front door.

I agreed it would be a sensible holding measure if I went round with the pole lopper and took off as much greenery as possible, to make it look as though she was doing her best to do something until she could get a tree surgeon in to complete the job.  The lopper can't cut through anything more than an inch in diameter, and barely an inch nowadays if the wood is hard or old, but the offending conifer branches were mostly young and soft.  They came bouncing down across me and the pavement, while my friend scurried around collecting them up and keeping an eye out for cars and pedestrians.  I started by removing the foliage that was actually growing out in front of the lamp (we had to admit that the council had a point) and worked down and outwards in a sort of cone, to allow the light to fall on as wide a section of pavement as possible.

My friend is a lecturer in psychology who has recently done some research into office workers' perception of light and sound levels, while I read psychology at university in the dim and distant past.  Take one PhD and one graduate in psychology and set them to work clearing a street lamp, and it rapidly becomes a case study in perception.  We agreed that what we needed to do address was not so much the absolute level of light reaching the street, as the perceived level of obstruction in the mind of whoever it was who had complained about the street lamp to the council.  To that end I carefully cut away as much as I could reach of the twigs above and behind the lamp, even though all they were doing was cutting down the light pollution emitted into space, until the lamp stood with a clear halo of sky around it.  With the bit between my teeth I went on trimming branches that overhung the pavement even at some distance from the light and after my friend had told me that I could probably stop now.  I didn't stop at the conifer.  Overhanging pieces of privet and cotoneaster got the chop as well, since my friend said they were all going in the long run anyway.  My theory was that they made the pavement feel hemmed in, and that it would seem lighter if there was less greenery overhead, even if the street light wasn't shining directly on that bit of pavement.

By the time we'd finished we'd filled three council green waste bags, and it certainly looked as though she had made an effort.  With any luck it will be enough to hold the council at bay until she can get a tree surgeon in to do a proper job.

Friday, 3 November 2017

the strulch arrives

The Strulch arrived today.  Strulch is wonderful stuff, chopped straw mulch which is what the name stands for, and it stops weeds germinating and cuts down on evaporation from the soil and is altogether great, and I dislike having it delivered more than almost any gardening task.  I buy it in bulk direct from the manufacturer because it is so much cheaper per bag that way, and it arrives on a pallet swaddled in yards of plastic film.  Because we live up such a tiny lane I daren't go for the free delivery option in a big lorry, and pay a premium for a little, 7.5 tonne lorry.  The delivery firm the Strulch company uses don't have space on their paperwork for detailed instructions on how to find us, so I have taken to simply asking that the driver ring me when the lorry gets to the lettuce farm.

That leaves me hovering in earshot of the phone for an unknown proportion of the day, which is always obscurely unsettling.  It's pot luck whether the driver will see the instruction to ring from the farm, or stick to it, or how grumpy he (or it might be a she but so far has not been) is by the time he has reversed up the little track.  I tell them to reverse in because otherwise the offloaded pallet and the truck end up blocking each other's further progress, but there's always the chance the driver will just drive up the lane anyway.  The driver certainly won't like the gravel, since you can't use a pallet trolley on gravel at all.  Sometimes he won't manage to wheel the trolley off the tail lift and we'll end up having to break the whole load down in situ and offload it bag by bag.  Some drivers have refused to have anything at all to do with the gravel and broken down the pallet on the back of the truck, passing every individual bag down to us.  I know it is not the easiest delivery, but one or two have been so grouchy I've felt like spelling it out forcibly that if it wasn't for people buying things they wouldn't have a job delivering them.  And there was the time that delays on the M25 and the M40 were so bad that it got dark and I had to go out before the Strulch ever arrived, leaving the Systems Administrator to help unload it from a truck with no internal light, until the tail lift collapsed half way through, spilling bags of chopped straw mulch all over the drive.

Today's driver arrived mid morning, which was nice as it got the waiting out of the way, and was cheerful, which always helps.  He rang from the public road, and it turned out he had made it as far as the lettuce farm before only he could not get a phone signal there.  He pulled and the Systems Administrator pushed and they managed to get the pallet right off the tail lift, which was almost a first, and meant he could set off on his way.  The postman did arrive while we were unloading, but I managed to squeeze past the truck to take our letters and the postman laughed at my joke that all we needed now was for the binmen to turn up, before he had to reverse all the way down the lane.  He is a nice postman.  I thought that with such a magnificent pile of straw we should have manned the barricades and sung a few verses from Les Miserables, but instead we carted all fifty bags out of the way, and I moved the pallet, and the SA announced that he was now going to Sit Down.

This afternoon I used one bag.  I am not really ready to apply the Strulch yet, but had a discount code valid until the end of October, and it will be handy to have it in stock as I cut down and weed each bed in turn.

Addendum  I made a happy discovery in the Guardian.  Several years ago I went to an exhibition at the RA of photographs by five early twentieth century Hungarian photographers.  It was a very good exhibition, and I liked one photo in particular of trees in a park in snow, and was disappointed that it wasn't one of the pictures the RA had chosen to turn into a postcard, though not surprised since the picture you really like so often isn't available as a card.  In the years since I have fretted occasionally about my lost photograph, while forgetting the photographer's name.  Today in the Guardian's art section I saw an article about an exhibition by a Hungarian photographer, and scrolling down the page found the scene of the park and the trees in the snow.  His name was Andre Kertesz, and the park was Washington Park.  It seems that every museum in America has a copy of the print, and the Met website has a Print button which the SA has promised to investigate when the printer has the right paper and some ink in it.  A home printed copy would not be as good as an original silver gelatin, but still, I love the image.  Alas, the exhibition is in Amsterdam so I won't be going.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

useful plants

I finally got round to planting one of the Geranium 'Rozanne' I bought from the Chatto gardens about a month ago.  I tried three in the further rose bed last year, not sure if they would cope with being smothered by Camassia foliage in the first part of the summer.  After a slow start this year all three emerged, looking healthy enough, and when by the first week of October they were still flowering doggedly away I decided to add some more.  The original trio in the ground are still covered in flowers, though once we get a frost that may be the end of it.

'Rozanne' achieved the top slot at the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013, being acclaimed their Plant of the Centenary, the best garden plant of the past hundred years.  Seeing how determinedly they have been flowering in our garden, tucked down between the roses in half shade and horrible clay soil, and with the Camassia leaves to contend with when they first start back into growth, I have nothing but respect for them.  Respect is about all I do have.  I am planting more because they are so useful, and I would rather look at them than the bare Strulch for the second half of the year, but I can't say I love them, which is a perverse reaction to the best garden plant of the past hundred years and very ungrateful of me.  It's just that their big, deep violet, white centred flowers lack the haunting delicacy of many of the more fleeting geraniums.  There is something self-satisfied about them.

As I planted I also hoicked out the odd weed, and chopped down the browning, tatty leaves of the peonies, the blackened stems of the remaining clumps of Baptisia, and the still-brilliant green leaves of the late flowering Aconitum.  I felt rather mean removing the latter, but reminded myself that there would be frosts soon enough and it would die anyway.  Aconitum is in theory very poisonous in all its parts, and it is better to avoid contact with your bare skin, but I always wear gloves for wholesale chopping down anyway.  I might take them off for particularly delicate deadheading, but not for grasping handfuls of stems.

I moved around the borders a bit to try and get a nice mixed bucket of stems and leaves.  There are still bags and bags of shredded Eleagnus leaves to be added to the compost heaps, and to speed the rate of composting I am putting a layer of other, softer material in between each bagful of shreddings.  The old stems of Baptisia are so thick and woody that I tried to mix them in with other things rather than end up with a whole layer of nothing but Baptisia in the compost.  It seems rather back-to-front, cart-before-the-horse gardening to let your day's work be dictated by the needs of the compost heap, but compost is important.

The dahlias have nearly finished.  I have been easing on watering the potted ones so that I don't end up putting them into the greenhouse with sodden compost, which might rot the tubers, but even the plants growing in the ground in the dahlia bed are winding down.  The first frost will blacken them, and then I will have some nice buckets of dahlia stems to mix up with the Eleagnus leaves.

Addendum The holiday insurance paid up in full for the week's rent on the cancelled flat but did not refund the holiday cottage site booking fee, which seemed mildly odd when the insurance was bought via the booking site.  Ah well, try again next year.  I fancy Cornwall in the spring.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

keeping up with myself

I read through all the papers for this afternoon's music society committee meeting this morning, and it was only when I double-checked the agenda at about half past three that I noticed the start time was given as 5.30 pm.  I'd been convinced it started at five, since that's what I've had written in my diary since the meeting was fixed in August at the end of the last committee meeting, and rang the Chairman to check that we really were going for the later start.  Arriving half an hour late to a meeting at which you are supposed to be taking the minutes is no good to man nor beast.

Everything happening half an hour later than I expected threw my plans for supper, and the Systems Administrator ended up being fed later than I'd intended.  The SA said it didn't matter, but wandered into the kitchen with a slightly forlorn expression at half past eight asking how things were going.  Originally I'd thought I might manage to make tonight's supper when I was cooking yesterday evening, then all I'd have had to do was reheat it, but in practice I didn't manage to do anything more than cook the beans for the black eyed bean and mushroom curry.

Meanwhile I have still not quite finished cutting the top of the hedge.  The postman did not come until nearly midday, so I didn't return to the task until the afternoon, and then didn't quite manage two hours before my neck got stiff.  One more push should do it.  I have told myself that rather a lot of times.  But I did plant up the pot by the front door with the violas I bought the other day.  I have gone for 'Honey Bee' again, because it did so well last year.  The flowers are a warm mustard-green, a combination which, as the Daily Telegraph said when they reviewed 'Honey Bee' in 2013, is a lot nicer than it sounds.

Addendum  If you put hot custard on the remains of a week old Victoria sandwich it makes a remarkably convincing sponge pudding.  This is what I did this evening with the last bit of cake left over from the funeral tea.  It seemed a pity to waste it.  My original theory was to use it as the basis of a trifle, but I did not have any cream, and the SA managed to convince me that custard would be sufficient.