Rooting it Out

November 27, 2020

As regular readers will know, our garden project motto is ‘all in the fullness of time’, but even for us, that fullness of time does eventually arise. And so it is that we’ve reached the point in our lives when the fruit cage has gone from an idea, and then a firm aspiration, to – by way of some vague preparatory work – becoming an actual project.

As with most of these things, this is 90% down to the other half actually getting on with things while I waft around having ideas (and being quite busy, in fairness to me). Anyway, over the last few weeks, he has done his bit which was to take the remnants of an old chicken enclosure and turn it into something that will eventually keep birds out, rather than keep them in.

Frame for fruit cage

Now that I’m out from underneath the latest pile of work, my job is to try and hold back the other marauding forces that will imperil our fruit production: the nettles and brambles that were fully established in that corner of the garden. We’d given ourselves something of a head start by covering up the bulk of the area with a load of compost and our stock of manky carpet more than three years ago, topped off another load and finished with pallets which is how it’s stayed for the last 18 months (I really wasn’t kidding about the fullness of time, you know).

pallets on the carpet
Preparatory work in 2019 …

The carpet has now finally been removed (with some difficulty – some of the weeds had quite happily established themselves on the carpet, effectively knitting it together) and it’s done its job in that it’s kept the soil underneath at least superficially clear of weeds – but as I’ve been discovering, it’s still about 30% weed root by volume, as evidenced by the impressive and growing pile of rooted-up roots we have managed to generate.

large pile of weed roots

After a busy few weeks of being more or less chained to the laptop, two mornings spent with a garden fork adding to the pile is actually rather a satisfying job. It’s been mild and dry for a couple of days, all the muck and compost we added to the soil has turned into something rather nice to work with, and even though I know that at best I’m slowing the invading forces rather than eliminating them, every handful of weed root feels like a step in the right direction.

There’s still a lot of digging to do, but my mind is already turning to what we can put in there once it’s all ready to go. Blueberries and raspberries are top of the list – but what would you plant?


Signs of Madness

November 23, 2020

It takes a special kind of gardening genius to kill willow in a climate like ours – basically, it will root almost anywhere if you stick it in the ground (especially if you don’t want it to). Unless, that is, you’re me and you’ve been trying for two years to establish a willow fedge without a great deal of success. The stakes we knocked in to support it have all sprouted with great enthusiasm, while once again the willow whips I planted to replace the ones that failed last year have all miserably failed to take.

willow fedge in March
Fedge in March, with replacement whips woven in

The problem, I think, is that while on the whole our climate errs on the side of the mild and damp, both times I’ve tried to put the willow in have been followed by a period of gloriously bright sunny weather which is nice for everyone else, but disastrous for rooting willow cuttings. I did try and water them, but probably not enough – we’re so unused to watering anything that’s not in the greenhouse that we’re not really set up for giving things a real soaking and honestly, it just feels strange to be watering anything at all (I am writing this with the rain hammering on the skylight overhead and the very idea strikes me as frankly bizarre).

Anyway, with a gap in the work schedule appearing this weekend, I did get a chance to get out and survey the damage, do a bit of weeding and tie in the surviving shoots as well as try to make good some of the gaps using the side shoots of the stakes.

One section does seem to have established itself as I’d hoped, but the rest of it is pretty gappy.

I note from the blog that I was doing exactly the same thing this time last year and, come next spring, I’ll be cutting off the bigger top shoots and using them to to once more fill in the gaps. At this stage, it’s less about the willow fedge, and more about the weather: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results might be one of the signs of madness, but if an afternoon spent sticking a few willow sticks in the ground ushers in three weeks of bright sunny spring weather, then it will all have been worth it. And if not, then maybe I’ll get my fedge…


Feeling Hot, Not, Not

November 20, 2020

If I ever need proof that I’m not ruthless enough to be a proper gardener, the evidence is on my windowsill.*

Thriving chilli plant

This Thai hot chilli plant is now in its third year. The other half had it in the greenhouse in its first year but there was no room for it to go into the bed and it ended up in a pot, where it didn’t really thrive. Come the end of the season, it was still looking a bit sorry for itself and I didn’t have the heart to put it in the compost before it had had a chance to do its stuff. I’d heard that chilli plants are actually short lived perennials and can be grown as houseplants so I put it and its sole chilli on the windowsill in our entranceway and waited to see what happened.

What happened was it rapidly cheered up the next spring, flowered like mad, produced a ton of attractive little chillies, and then became a magnet for the aphids that had hitched a lift into the house on a basil plant. By the end of the summer it was looking pretty sorry for itself and I was struggling to control the aphids so I took all the (by now dried) chillies off it, and chucked it outside into one of the named storms to fend for itself. Leafless and chilli-less, it shivered out in the cold and the wind and the rain looking almost – but crucially, not quite – dead. Regular readers will know that I’m a sucker for anything that survives against the odds, so in it came again and sat in the utility room looking like a lost cause until March, when it decided to produce some green shoots and then spent the spring and summer – and now autumn – flowering and fruiting away like a mad thing.

Leafless chilli plant in spring

You may be thinking that this is hardly lack of ruthlessness, as I’ve managed to get myself a thriving chilli plant and a ready supply of fresh spicy chillies to hand whenever they’re needed in the kitchen. And that would be true if it wasn’t for the fact that, despite its name, this wasn’t the least hot chilli plant we’ve ever grown. Even our jalapenos, which are pretty mild, throw off a little heat at random from time to time, but you could feed these ones to a baby without a qualm. I don’t know if it’s the hard life it’s lived or just that it’s a duff plant, but so far it’s proved nothing but decorative.

Which is something, I suppose, because after all we’ve been through together, I’m not going to be throwing it out any time soon.

*Actually it’s all over the other windowsills too as the spider plant lockdown baby boom continues, but that’s a story for another day


Work, Work,Worketty-Work Work

November 15, 2020

I’ve realised it’s been over a week since I last blogged, not that anyone’s exactly banging on the door for the next post. The fact is, I’ve had a big job on and not only have I had not really had time to blog, I’ve not had time to do anything that was really interesting enough to write about – even given the low threshold for ‘interesting’ that applies on this site. After last Saturday’s brief escape with the other half for a bike ride (and lunch out in a nice new, if slightly chilly outdoor dining area at the nearby Farm Shoppe and Gift Emporium (top tip for cafe owners looking to accommodate our new al fresco lifestyles: even in Southwest Scotland the sun does shine occasionally so maybe don’t site your sitooterie on the north side of the building)) I’ve barely been out to fetch the paper, while my contribution to the gardening in the past weeks has consisted of a) going out and raiding it for the occasional vegetable and b) watching wistfully through my study window as the other half gets on with the latest garden project, currently the construction of a fruit cage.

New fruit cage being built

On Friday, however, a brief intermission between deadlines coincided with a break in the weather, which meant I could zip down the hill on my bike and marvel at how the sun just barely squeaking through the clouds makes everything around here an even more lurid green than usual, even if my phone camera refuses to record it in all its lushness.

November sunlight

And this afternoon, after hitting another milestone (yes, on a Sunday, welcome to the wonderful world of freelancing where you are your own boss and master of your own time which sometimes means getting to head for the hills on your bike on an unexpectedly sunny afternoon, but equally can mean choosing between working late on a Saturday night and getting up early on a Sunday morning to finish off something that was sent to you in an email ironically signed off with the words ‘have a good weekend’), I was able to spend an hour reacquainting myself with the joys of gardening to Gardener’s Question Time. Fortunately the panel agreed this week that tidying up the garden over winter is no longer considered good practice; I think I may be overperforming on that score.

Untidy garden

I’ve another week of slightly less pressured work to go (I hope) and then I may well take some self-administered gardening leave.*

I may even manage to introduce myself to our new neighbours.

field of sheep

* I can’t be the only busy middle-aged person who hears of someone being put on gardening leave and thought it sounded more like a life goal than a punishment.


Get Outside

November 7, 2020

I had stuff I needed to be doing at my desk today, but when November delivers a sparkly, calm and sunny day you have no choice.

sunny road in November

You have to get out on your bike.

road climbing up

Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

large trees autumn


I Can See Clearly Now …

November 6, 2020

If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that procrastination has its downsides. Specifically, the belief, back in August last year when I got notification that my eye test was due, that there was plenty of time to find a new optician* and book a new test. And even as the year rolled on and the scratches on my normal glasses began to become a bit of a pain, I still felt there was no rush, especially as just getting new lenses, let alone allegedly stylish new frames, is a three-figure outlay for me these days. And even in February, when the other half had found a new local independent opticians where everyone was lovely and they don’t try and upsell you varifocals all the time, I still didn’t pop in to book an appointment. Indeed, it wasn’t until March that I started to think this might be something I should get on with, before we were … oh okay, maybe too late now.

Meanwhile the scratches on my glasses had reached the point where I had to wear my spare pair (known, I think ironically, by the other half as my Young Person’s Glasses) to actually do any work that involved seeing things, and I was very grateful to have a spare pair to use for the last 7 months even if it meant confronting the sight of myself in what I still think of my NHS specs during every video call. As lockdown ended and everyone else rushed out for a haircut, I was on to the opticians who were reporting a six-month backlog and holding out no hopes for a new appointment unless it was urgent, and I assume by urgent they meant ‘imminent sight loss’ not ‘looking a bit of a tit on Zoom’.

Me doing my ‘how does this phone work?’ face, back when I was a Young Person in my forties…

Fortunately, once the rush had died down, I was actually able to get an appointment in 2020 – indeed last week – and order replacement lenses for my glasses. ‘This might take a couple of weeks’ they warned me – just as Boris announced England was going back into lockdown and for a while it looked as if Scotland might follow suit.

foggy road

A recreation of how the weather looked when I set off, as I didn’t actually stop to take a photo of it, seeing as one foggy day really looks very like another.

I’m not sure whether opticians count as essential retailers or not** but fortunately I got the call a couple of days ago that my lenses were ready and hastened down today in the ironically foggy weather to get them fitted before Nicola changed her mind about the current five-tier arrangements. There was a slight glitch in the fitting that means they are a tiny bit wonky and will have to be sent off again to be adjusted, but they are once more actually doing their job of making the world more rather than less visible (at least when I’m not wearing a mask in a warm shop). They did ask if I wanted to go back to the old lenses until the adjustment was made, but I wasn’t risking another six months of squinting through scratches or wearing my spares and took my ever-so-slightly wonky glasses and made good my escape.

We’re still not sure whether we’ll go into full lockdown in Scotland or not – but at least I will be able to see whatever is coming our way when we do.

*the old one got taken over by a national chain and I felt that their use of the small print to turn their headline very low prices into rather less low prices when it came to actually paying for your new glasses was – given the fact that they know *exactly* how small of a print you can’t read – a bit sharp.

** you can insert your own Barnard Castle joke here, I can’t be bothered.


101 Uses for a Brompton: Discovering that Some Things Haven’t Changed

October 30, 2020

In this strangest of years, it’s good to know that some things haven’t changed. It’s an iron law of life around here that almost any interaction where favours are being exchanged must involve some form of baked goods (in summer, garden produce may be substituted).

Exhibit A: today’s journey to drop off our second string ice cream maker. We bought this at the local charity-shop-which-does electrical-items (not to be confused with the charity-shop-with-a-good-selection-of-knitting-needles, the charity-shop-that-always-has-decent-books or the charity-shop-where-someone-knits-little-cosies-for-its-mugs – I’m sure the charities involved all support good and noble causes but it’s their stocking policies which tend to count most when I’m actually buying something) a couple of years ago and have since upgraded to a bigger and better one.

I was going to take it back to the charity shop (by which I mean putting it in the special place of things awaiting the trip to the charity shop, where it would probably still be when the earth finally fell into the sun, along with the curtains that were in the spare bedroom when we moved in and our Antarctic expedition padded jackets which may well get resurrected as going-out-for-lunch jackets the way things are going). But a fellow cyclist expressed an interest in having it at our last group ride and today there was a sufficient window in the weather to load up the Brompton basket with the help of a couple of cunningly deployed bungees and set off into Bigtown.

I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to then be presented with some home-made biscuits in return, which was very nice, albeit unnecessary (especially as we have a new shiny ice-cream maker which the other half is busy testing out). I then headed to some other friends who are moving house, to have a rummage through their surplus books (outside of course) and parlayed a couple of the biscuits into further baked goods, in the form of flapjacks and brownies, before pedalling my well-gotten gains home.

I’m often asked by baffled locals why I ride a bike when a car would be quicker, safer, and on most days and most journeys drier. There are many reasons which I’ve covered here before, but the one that makes most sense to those I’m talking to is that it allows me to maintain my cake-based lifestyle. Or these days, my cake- biscuit- and ice-cream-based lifestyle…


The Cyclist’s Full-Body Workout

October 27, 2020

Warm up: Go to get your bike to head down for the paper, and remember about the slow puncture that showed up on Sunday. No problem, it’s a thorn in the tyre, it will probably stay pretty stable for a few days before you get a chance to fix it. Pump up the tyre fully with the track pump and set off with a song in your heart and not a care in the world.

First interval: Three miles down the road, realise that the tyre is now flat again. Contemplate turning round. But it is only another three miles to the shop and surely you can get there and back if you pump it up a few times. Get out the little bike pump and refill the tyre. Pedal as fast as you can, in case that will help

Second interval: Two miles later, with the shop almost in your sights, admit the tyre needs pumping again. Refill tyre, sprint for the shop. By the time you have bought your paper, realise that you tyre needs pumping again.

Main workout: repeat the pedal, stop, pump, full gas sprint for the next five and a half miles, with decreasing intervals between them. For extra points, be wearing full rain gear so you can sweat off any additional weight.

Tip: Remember to breathe! Sometimes an audible breath can help you manage the stress of a workout like this. You can use an ‘ujjayi’ or ocean breath – or you can scream ‘f*** off you stupid machine’ at your bike as it falls off its kick stand for the umpteenth time. Whichever works for you.

Cool down: Do the walk of shame for the last half mile home.

If I’ve learned anything cycling here for the last 12 years, it’s that the puncture fairy always wins. And clearly, I’ve not learned anything …


Actually Quite Interesting Traffic Signal News

October 21, 2020

‘Oh that’s nice, Papershop Village has a proper pedestrian crossing’ the other half remarked as we drove through it on a rare outing this morning. Long overdue, as the village is bisected by Big A-Road and is scary enough that the only person I’ve ever seen crossing it before was the postman, and then always at a sprint.

Anyway, I don’t know how long Papershop village has had its pelican crossing – it wasn’t there earlier this year the last time I went through it – but I hope the postman enjoyed it. Because in the time it took us to drive to the coast, have a lovely walk through woodlands by the sea, discover the famous local fish and chip shop was shut on Wednesdays, source a couple of pies for lunch instead, stop off at Notso Bigtown for supplies and head back home …

… someone had managed to take it out with their Jag.

(no photos because that would be a bit tacky so have some lovely woodland scenes instead)

Looking back through the blog archives, I recall that, whether due to the postman’s sprinting prowess, or the fact that nobody else dared cross the road, the village missed out on a trial 20mph limit because not enough vulnerable road users had been injured there, in the dismal calculus they use to justify not spending anything on road safety. I don’t know if pedestrian crossings count as vulnerable road users (perhaps they ought to) but maybe this will be enough to get Papershop Village a stoplight of shame and really slow the drivers down.


Fleeting Meetings

October 17, 2020

Me: Only being able to meet up outside is fine! We’ll go for a walk! We’ll sit outside under blankets! The Danes do it all the time! There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing!

Weather Gods: Yeah, about that …

We’ve been trying to work out how we can meet up with my parents under the new regime without breaking any rules or exposing them to their death of cold and/or coronavirus. The Woodside Garden Centre near Jedburgh seemed like our best bet (thanks to Twitter for the tip) – a sheltered walled garden, a walk in the woods near by, somewhere between our two households.

And in the end, despite it being a four-hour round trip for a 30 minute walk and lunch and the dreich weather threatening for the whole way there and back, it absolutely was fine. The walk was perfect with all the autumn leaves beginning to turn, the rain decided to stay off at least while we were out, and the cafe was set up very nicely with gazebos for shelter and plenty of well-spaced picnic benches.

walking in the woods

Of course it was mainly about being able to catch up and see each other while we still can – I know many of my friends have not seen their parents since this crisis started, while others have suddenly found themselves on the wrong side of a health board boundary that they probably didn’t know existed until this cursed year. It was never about the walk, the weather, or the quality of the lunch…

… Although, that said, I can report that the cake portions at the cafe were pretty epic (this photo is misleading because that was not a small cup) and highly recommended especially to any passing cyclists in need of fuel.