Sunday 19 May 2024

The peaceful sanctuary of the garden

Greetings from my favourite time of year. I think I smile all the way round on my dog walks at the moment. Even the dog is doing mindfulness in the morning when we're down by the stream and the birds are singing. 

The garden is chugging along in a slightly stressful way. Patio Rat has had babies, which briefly unnerved me, although they are quite sweet when they rub their little faces with their hands. I discussed it with my nextdoor neighbour, who is happily pro-wildlife, and who doesn't see a problem unless they come into the house. They have been lying low lately, so I have calmed down somewhat. Although I am all for wildlife, there is part of me that still wants to stand on a chair and scream. Why is that? I have no idea. I am tamping it down.

The neighbour on the other side is rewilding vigorously and the huge growth of trees and shrubs is just full of birds' nests, it is wonderful. The garden is full of starling babies and sparrow babies. The newest starlings haven't learned to steer yet, meaning that when they fly straight at you or at the house, they have no idea how to change direction. They crash land where they can and hop to safety. 

The dog has had a couple of close rat encounters, which involved quite loud intervention on my part. I am happy to say that no rat was harmed. He is back to waiting by the entrance area now and saying things like, 'Ratty? Would you say that you are chewy?' and 'What is inside of you Ratty?' Ratty does not care to reply. 

I also have to check that there are no birds down low before I let him out or he runs at them barking madly. So it is not entirely relaxing out there, particularly as he likes to barge through the door first and rocket about the place.

The two younger urchins are doing exams. Which is also a little stressful for me. They seem remarkably calm though. Honestly, it's as if they're not even my children. 

I will take some garden pictures next time. I have new raised beds and asparagus and three types of beans. Also, I got some red-flowered strawberries at the Saturday market on, well, Saturday. Very pretty. We shall see if the fruit is any good or if it's all a gimmick. I might treat myself to a rose as well. I am torn between pink and apricot. My gut feeling is apricot, but if it's a bit too yellow or orange I might regret it. I have been agonising over it for ages. You know how I am with decisions. Feel free to weigh in with suggestions. I did find one that I love, but it apparently grows to 25 feet, so not entirely what I was after for a pot on the patio. 

The rose website has stunning pictures of them in containers, all glorious blooms and shiny, healthy foliage. I think we all know that mine won't end up looking quite like that. 

Any news at your end? I hope all are well. CJ xx

Sunday 3 March 2024

Silver birches


I am suddenly obsessed with silver birch trees. I was already very much a tree person, always wondering whether I can squeeze a tree in here or there and lamenting the tree cutting on my morning dog walks by the stream. Then I saw something about how perfect silver birches are for small gardens - slender, not too thick they block the light etc.

Plus, I remember reading ages ago that they are second only to oak in the number of species they can support. More than 300 insect species, according to the Woodland Trust. So I have put a couple in the garden. They are just very small at the moment, but I do so love planting a tree. If I were ever to come into money, I would buy woodland I think, trees just makes me happy.

And of course, now I am spotting silver birches everywhere. I chose the native one, which I assume is probably the best bet for wildlife. I'm also thinking about digging a hole or two in the patio and sticking in a fig tree and an olive that I have knocking around in pots, but I'm slightly concerned that I might hit the mains sewer. It feels like the sort of thing I might do. Does anyone know where they go? I seem to recall they mostly go out the front and to a main pipe running down the middle of the road, but it would be big mistake to make, even for me, if it turned out to be under the patio. Might just stick with the containers to be on the safe side.

Not much news here, I am working, working, working which doesn't make for exciting reading. The dog is well, and has been enjoying a dry and sunny day after surprise snow yesterday morning. No-one was expecting it at all, so the morning dog walk was full of astonishment from all and sundry. It was a proper thick white snowfall, but the day warmed up and it was gone by lunchtime. No complaints from me, I have usually had enough after a day of snow.

Just a week ago I was rescuing early bees who had come out for a look round and collapsed with exhaustion/cold/thirst/hunger. I found one on the pavement, with acres of tarmac all around. I took her into the kitchen where it was warmer and popped her on a plate with some honey and water. You could see her lapping at it for ages. When she was all warmed up and buzzy we took her out to the woodpile. I hope that's the right thing to do. A day or two later, there was another one. Hopefully they are tucked back up for now though.  

I shall leave you now and be back when I have some actual news. I hope all is well at your end. CJ xx

Saturday 23 December 2023

The festive stepladder


I find I have absolutely no new photos on my camera, so I am cheating with some preloved images so that I can come and wish you all the seasonal stuff.

And also so that I can tell you about my Christmas tree, as has become our annual tradition. You may recall the year we had one that was so fat that the middle boy and I couldn't see the television and had to sit outside of the circle being sarcastic for the whole festive season. Then there was the year I bought a tiny real tree with the idea of bringing it inside every year, except that all the needles fell off in February, probably after the trauma of going from ideal growing conditions (garden centre) to Above the River Towers and then outside. And the year I inherited an artificial tree which I believed would solve all of my problems, being eco-friendly and reusable ad infinitum, until I got it out of the box and it turned out to be 18 inches tall and could only handle ten baubles.

This year, I had a genius idea. A festive stepladder! Yes. You can see them on the interwebs and they are very nice indeed, people make a lovely job of them. And in the spring you can hang handmade quilts and Welsh wool blankets on them, and in the summer you can prop them against an apple tree and it all looks marvellous. I had no sooner had the idea pop into my head than I was on Ebay sourcing one. The idea is you festoon it with baubles or greenery or tinsel or whatever you have to hand and it all looks beautiful.

In a stroke of luck, I found one almost immediately, only a half hour's drive away. It looked nice and vintage and was attractively photographed in the street from quite a distance. Which should have set a small alarm bell ringing, but didn't, because I was caught up in the fast excitement and brilliance of my idea. I measured the car to make sure it would fit, then before you know it I was back on Ebay and it was bought. From idea to execution couldn't have been more than twenty minutes.

This was the point at which I measured the height of the living room. Yes, indeed, I should probably have done that before I bought it. And the strange thing was, the stepladder was actually taller than room. What are the odds? I was still fairly hopeful that once it was opened out it would fit in nicely. Have you ever done one of those personality test things? My leading strength is optimism, which is probably just as well. So off I went to collect it.

Oh my. It is HUGE. The stepladder of a giant. Unlike anything I have ever seen before. And I suddenly understood why it had been photographed in the street from a distance. As well as being really tall, it is also really wide. It just about fitted in the car, although some mirrors and windows were temporarily obscured.

I got the middle boy to help me into the house with it when I got home, as he is the calmest and least prone to providing unsolicited advice. Plus, I feel this sort of thing is pretty much what he expects from me most of the time, so he just takes a slightly deeper breath than normal and gets on with things.

We eventually worked out how to get it in the living room door. It turns out that even with both legs as wide apart as they will go, the ceiling is too low for it to fit. So we propped it, closed, against the wall. I then spent a week thinking. Should I admit defeat and try to sell it? Put it in the garage along with all of my other brilliant ideas? By the time a week had passed, we were all used to it, despite the fact that it takes up quite a chunk of space. So I decided to decorate it.

The Christmas decorations live in a very tricky-to-access spot in the converted loft, so there was quite a bit of cross, sweaty shifting of giant cricket bags to get to the cupboard. And even more cross sweaty stuff when I couldn't find the lights. Honestly, it never looks like that in the adverts, some poor woman stuck in the corner of what could be mistaken for a junk shop, falling over as she tries to get out, hair all dragged the wrong way and baubles falling out of a damp box. No, on the television it is all smiles and shiny bouncy hair being tossed around as the family all gather together in festive bliss.

The middle boy helped some more by suggesting the right placement for the lights (trickier than you would imagine on a festive stepladder) and admiring some of the more minimalist decorations, including a pipe cleaner arrangement with a small silver bauble stuck on top and an old bean tin with holes punched in it that I believe is FC. The fairy is jammed against the ceiling and the slight roughness of the stepladder, the authenticness one might say, has dragged some of the feather boa effect off of some of the angels, but from a distance you can hardly tell. 

Anyway, it is all done now and no-one has dared to say anything too direct about it, although there have been one or two comments about the fact that it has CONTRACTOR stamped across the front a couple of times in giant letters. I have not quite worked out where it will go for the rest of the year, given its size and the fact that the garage is, as aforementioned, already full up with some of my previous brilliant ideas. But in the meantime, I have NO PINE NEEDLES so I am calling it a win. I will try and take a photo in daylight. I did try just now, but everything was orange and I feel you wouldn't be seeing it in its best light. 

I hope all is well at your end and that you are all prepared for some nice days. I have somehow ended up with an insane amount of parsnips, but otherwise everything is going to plan. So far. Except obviously the festive stepladder. Have a lovely day, and I shall see you on the other side. CJ xx

Sunday 19 November 2023

An egg in a pocket


Autumn photos from the canal and a couple of great reads from last month. I particularly enjoyed reading 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' around Hallowe'en time, it's deliciously dark. I have moved on to 'Fourth Wing' now, one of those books I am reading to see what all the fuss is about/so as not to miss out. I'm enjoying it so far.

I made miso and surprisingly it has been an absolute triumph. It matured for ages and I'd sort of forgotten about it or assumed it wouldn't be anything to write home about, but it's fabulous. As good as professional miso! I have loads of it, so I'm hoping it will keep. In the meantime, I'm making lots of soup and aiming to boost everyone' immune systems - they've been bringing various viruses home from school on a regular basis.

I have a new washing machine, which plays Schubert's "The Trout" at the end of a cycle which I am told may be some complex metaphor for being trapped by doing the washing. One of its first tasks was to wash an egg out of a pocket.

Someone gave the littlest boy a freshly laid egg which he was intending to cook for his breakfast the following day. This was around lunchtime. He put it in his pocket (I KNOW) and wandered around with it in there ALL DAY. He even flopped down on his bed and still it was fine. 

In the end he plunged his hand into his pocket to put his ear buds away and that was the end of it. Me and the middle boy have not got over our amazement that he could carry an egg around for as long as that without breaking it.

I am in the middle of doing NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month at the moment. It's challenge where you aim to write 50,000 words in a month, which isn't generally a whole novel, but it's nice start. I am all on track so far, even a couple of days ahead in fact. I do love writing a first draft, but the editing bit is a strain. 

When I am not writing (which is my day job as well), I am looking out the window at the wildlife. Lots of long-tailed tits appear sometimes, right outside of the window. A squirrel came looked right in the other day as well. Good job the dog didn't spot it. Still no hedgehog though. There was a dead one on the green the other day which was sad. Someone told me that they eat pumpkin and it can kill them.

So I may be adding unattended pumpkin to the things that I am opposed to now, which already includes fireworks and Christmas. Well, more of the packaging/landfill side of Christmas, you know what I mean. But I worry that it makes me a Grinch and that the list is getting longer.

I hope all is well at your end and that you haven't been too badly battered by wind and rain. CJ xx

Saturday 14 October 2023

Carcasses and power naps

A distinct lack of photos on my camera at the moment. The cosmos picture is from earlier today, in the setting sun, but the fruit has long since been eaten. Strangely, I have the urge to grow vegetables, just as it is almost all over for the season. I have ordered Rekha Mistry's allotment book which looks lovely. Maybe I should pop in some broad beans. I tend not to grow onions and garlic now as I don't use them very much. But I did love the feeling that the new planting season was starting in October and watching the new green shoots appearing.

I think I might pull out the strawberries and plant asparagus instead. In fact, I went outside today to get started and then got cold feet. The strawberries were dreadful this summer, sort of pale and flaccid, but what if they were just having an off moment and are intending to be amazing next year?

The flowers were from the biggest boy and are from an ethical flower company. They were so lovely, all scented and delicious, with herbs and everything in there. I have of course kept the mint and rosemary as cuttings. For me that was the most exciting bit. And good to know that banging on about the horrors of some parts of the flower industry all these years did not fall on deaf ears. They are actually listening to me! On occasion.

The dog surpassed himself the other day. He found what I can only describe as a carcass up on the green near the local shop. He and I were locked in battle over it for a good ten minutes. I have no idea what it was, it was properly butchered (no limbs or innards or fur) but it was all flappy and really just not a very nice thing to have a tug of war with. He thought it was utterly delightful. We made a huge spectacle of ourselves. 

The dog was absolutely committed to keeping (and eating) whatever it was. Rabbit maybe. He has recently discovered rabbits at the community woodland and has been naughtier than ever before, running off after them (none caught, I'm happy to report). Anyway, there we were deadlocked over this dead flappy thing. As he got tired of holding on he made a last grab of it and pretty much squashed my finger, cutting it open slightly. So there I was, bleeding, with dog saliva and carcass bacteria coursing through my veins, but triumphantly holding my prize. I marched him home after that and got someone else to take him out so that I could wash my hands and sulk. Anyway, that was a few days ago and I am happy to report I am still here. I put the carcass in the bin and it had gone by morning. Clearly it was very sought after.

Not really any news to report here. The littlest boy went to the theatre in London and I had to pick him up at 1.30am. On a school night. The rain was biblical and actually lapping against the curb as cars went past. I pity the teachers who had to teach them the next day. I had a 10am power nap and was as good as new. I never have a lie-in, I hate missing the early mornings, but I am a big fan of the power nap when needed.

Has anyone else been amazed by the hoo-ha over the sycamore tree in Hadrian's Wall? While it is always disappointing to see a beautiful mature tree cut down, it was a single tree in a barren and over-grazed landscape. Where is all the outrage over the destruction of ancient woodlands, home to countless wild creatures? I have been quite cross about it all. Well, maybe it will encourage more tree protection in general, we shall see. 

Wishing all a lovely Sunday. CJ xx

Saturday 9 September 2023

Of butterflies and moths

A little more Wales, which seems like a while ago now. A storm moved in and whipped up waves on the lake. The castle is Conwy Castle, built between 1283 and 1287. I can't imagine how, it's completely amazing. The old town walls are apparently some of the finest and most complete in Europe and are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I'd love to visit in winter when it's quiet and have a really good look round.

At the moment I've been enjoying the warm evenings, walking about the place with the dog as the sun sets. Windows are thrown open to try and capture a breath of air and lights are on as the evenings draw in. It's been lovely, although the afternoons have been a bit hot for my taste and I do love regular rain keeping everything green.

On the subject of green, let's talk about box moths. I don't know if it's the same across the country, but they have absolutely devastated box hedges here. There has been a little damage over the past couple of years, but this year, oh my. Below is a box ball a few weeks into the summer.

The other ten or so I have were in similar shape. Then in a matter of days, they were like this:

Shall we take a look at the culprit?

There must be hundreds of thousands of them. Big box hedges have been reduced to straw, it's astonishing. There were around eight box moths in the bathroom the other evening. 

I have ordered some yew plants to replace the box, but they'll take a while to grow. In the meantime I have quite a few empty pots. 

I've added a few acers and ferns though, which should be nice when they're bigger. I do like lots of green shady stuff. The back of the house faces south, so I put the shady stuff along the east-facing fence where it's not too brutally sunny. I have a prized acer at the moment (prized by me, probably not to anyone else, it's not exactly spectacular, but I have high hopes) and I am moving it round during the day to keep it out of the sun. 

Something that has surprised me is that a cloud of butterflies has turned up to feed on the ripe figs. There are a handful that are too high up to pick, and I have had red admirals fluttering around them every day, it's been lovely. No pictures, they've been too high up, but I do have a gatekeeper for you. 

I have also tackled the pond, which is a non-favourite job. Although the anticipation is worse than the actual job. Once I've got a grip of myself and plunged my hands into the murky depths it's quite satisfying. The frogs and newts have more space to swim about now that most of the waterlily and weed have been removed.

Not much news at the moment. I am working hard now the urchins are back at school and learning as much as I can about writing and self-publishing in my spare time. And also cooking the mountain of windfall apples that I have this year. I thought about getting a dehydrator and making apple rings, but I'm trying not to eat too much sugar. Although of course cooked apple has exactly the same amount of sugar, so I don't know where my logic is on that. 

I've noticed that People can be quite slow to take a homegrown apple out of the fruit bowl if it has a blemish on it. I usually have to rant at them a bit to persuade them. Ridiculous, because they taste sublime. Luckily ranting is one of my strengths.

Hope all is well at your end and that you have apples and butterflies aplenty. I'd be interested to know if box moths are as common and have done as much damage where you are. CJ xx

Wednesday 23 August 2023

As wise as David Beckham


Photos from a week in beautiful North Wales. How fast a summer week flies by. How fast a whole summer flies by in fact. There has been walking and kayaking and rock climbing and surfing. The dog went on a boat, which he hated, as did another less portable dog. He also found the kayaking very stressful and stayed in the lake too long trying to keep everyone together and got cold and shivery.

Other major shocks included sheep strolling about the streets, a hang glider dropping out of the sky i front of him and the above goat, which was larger than it looks in the picture. I persuaded the dog to edge a bit closer for a photo and we both jumped out of our skins when it had a huge snorty sneeze. 

On the home front, I have been tackling a couple of enormous evergreens this evening. It's one of those jobs that I started on a whim and may live to regret. Now I have a couple of enormous evergreens with a giant chunk cut out of the sides and more green waste than I know what to do with. The inside of the trees is very brown and dry. Fire hazard dry. The trees are overhanging the new neighbour's garden, but it turns out they like trees and are quite happy with them, so I'm trimming rather than removing. At the moment the trees are winning.

When we moved in, they were small and manageable. Somehow they have romped away when I wasn't looking. But the pigeons love nesting in them each year and the smaller birds like to look for insects in there, so they are quite nice to have. They look vastly better from upstairs, where you are eyeball to eyeball with the birds and it's like being in a nest.

The littlest boy, who incidentally is now 15 and taller than me, has been making me laugh. He absolutely loves a treasure hunt and suggested I hide his phone and give him a clue/riddle as to where it was. I could immediately see the problem with that plan, in the event that he didn't find it straightaway, so I gave him an easy clue. I hid it next to an owl and said, A wise one can help you

After things degenerated and got a bit tantrummy I helped him a bit by asking him what word he immediately thought of when I said 'wise'. Oh my. He did not immediately think of 'owl'. In fact he did not think of owl at all and things got even more tense. Some of his guesses were 'bread' and 'David Beckham'. Suffice to say he has very different thought processes to me. And probably to the rest of the world. I gave the clue to a brother in the end who found the phone in ten seconds flat.

Another conversation that made me laugh involved a mention of Leonard Cohen. Littlest boy: Was that the bloke that invented the spud gun? In case you were wondering, it wasn't. I did check, in case he knew something that I didn't and LC had put it together in an idle moment in between writing songs and wrestling with poetry.

Any wisdom at your end? I do hope so. CJ xx