Ask and Ye Shall Receive …

August 30, 2016

The joy of the internet: no sooner have I intimated that I might need some plants to populate my garden, than lo and behold a car boot full of them land on my doorstep

plant haul

Thanks to the kindness of a friend of a friend (who has form when it comes to distributing plant material …) I have several recycled recycling containers full of guaranteed slug-proof, bomb-proof, cold-weather-proof (he may live in England, but at considerably more height), but possibly not me-proof plants.

The slug-proofing shall be tested extensively, as I have discovered that plenty of places for slugs to hide + the removal of a large amount of vegetation = lots of very hungry slugs who then devour every tender little plant you try and establish in place of the weeds.

new plants

The me-proofing will also be put to the test as I’ve got another crunch on with work (not helped by a planned long weekend in the Netherlands with my female cycling pals letting our hair down – sorry, that should have read ‘extensively studying cycling infrastructure’) so I’m going to have to plant them without the sort of extensive preparation and care that I would normally lavish on them (*ahem*. Honestly). I suspect with some of them (Monbretia, I’m looking at you) I could probably just fire them at the ground and they’ll be fine. As for the rest, we’ll just have to wait and see…

The Accidental Gardener

August 28, 2016

Visiting the ‘allotment’ today – as we are now referring to the old veg garden and greenhouse – I noticed that I appear to have accidentally grown some courgettes

accidental courgettes

Proof perhaps that there’s no avoiding a glut of courgettes (and as I don’t like courgettes – and neither, apparently, does the rabbit, although it has spend the last few days demolishing a bed of cavolo nero – then just one courgette counts as a glut) even if you don’t plant any of the buggers.

Although, thinking back, a friend did turn up with a load of plants back in April uttering the fateful words ‘take them or they’re going in the compost’, with only vague instructions as to what they were. I might have guessed when they thrived they would be courgettes rather than the hoped for squash

Delicious recipes, possibly involving rabbit, appreciated.

It’s About Time

August 26, 2016

Apologies for the lack of posting in recent days – I’ve been busy, but with the sort of routine boring things that don’t really generate much that is blogworthy,* even allowing for the very generous definition of ‘blogworthy’ used on this site.

wall planner

When we moved, I carefully kept aside all the things I knew I was going to have to put my hands on in short order, while packing up all the things I wouldn’t need for aaaaages – ooh at least the end of August – into various boxes. This evening, I realised that almost a month has passed since we moved and it’s beginning to wear thin as an excuse. In short, the time had come and had to rootle through the unpacked boxes looking for things like the tin that used to live on the windowsill in the old sitting room with the duplicate receipt books in it (popup bookshop) not to mention the file of random correspondence and minutes (community council meeting) and bag of useful material for handing out at bicycle promotion events (bike breakfast) – oh and the large hairy spider (actually I was trying quite hard not to put a hand on that one it scuttled out of one of the boxes). And the fact that I don’t actually yet have anywhere to put all the stuff away into now that it’s unpacked suggests that my settled intention to be a bit more organised now that I have my own study may be something of a work in progress.


First find your desk

However, I have finally bought myself a wall planner so I can at least see how stupidbusy I’m about to get before it happens, although it’s slightly terrifying to discover it’s already almost filled in up until mid December, and we haven’t even started planning the new Pedal on Parliament yet…

* I did consider writing a short disquisition on my new rotary dryer, taking into consideration its place in the class hierarchy vis-a-vis the washing line and the pulley rack – with a short detour into the signifiers inherent in the Belfast sink – but it would only make all of my English readers think less of me, while baffling all of the non Brits** who had no idea there could be a class-based component to laundry accessories.

** Any Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish readers would just roll their eyes.

A Thorny Question

August 23, 2016

Showing visitors around at the weekend, it suddenly occurred to us to wonder why these trees – which looked a bit like ash saplings – hadn’t been munched by our bovine neighbours, which have done a pretty good job of demolishing anything else within reach


Closer inspection revealed that they weren’t ash

not ash

And solved the mystery of why the cows hadn’t eaten them – they’re quite thorny

thorny stems

thorny stems

There are sharp little thorns between every leaf

more thorns

And even on some of the leaves themselves.

thorns on the leaves

All in all, not a plant you’d want to tangle with – but having cleared up one mystery, it only raised another: what the hell is it?


Thanks to the magic of Twitter, it would appear to be Aralia spinosa, or the Devil’s Walkingstick.

101 Uses for a Brompton: (Not Quite) Wimping Out

August 20, 2016

brompton under treeToday was supposed to be the last of our summer rides – and to describe the forecast as not looking promising would be an understatement. For a couple of days it was predicting ‘heavy showers’, but this morning – as I woke to the sound of rain on the skylight – it had settled on just heavy rain from ten in the morning onwards, and by mid morning it had thrown in a couple of yellow weather warnings for good measure. Contemplating the thought of cycling six miles in the pouring rain to spend twenty minutes waiting for people not to show up, followed by six (uphill) miles in the pouring rain home, undoubtedly with a headwind, I took up the other half’s offer of a lift into town with the Brompton, with the hope that nobody would show up for our advertised 11 mile ride.

rain on the river

And come 2pm, when the ride was due to set off, it began to look as if that was indeed what would happen. My fellow ride leader had gone for the folder-in-the-car option too, while another local member had come by largely out of curiousity to see if anyone would turn up. We stood under a tree and watched the rain sheet down so hard that even a dog – a dog in a rain jacket, no less – was refusing to go for a walk in it. And we were just about to call it a day and head home with some relief, when three figures on bikes – mum and two kids – hove into view with waterproofs on and raring to go. The prospect of a cosy ride back in the car evaporated. We were on, every soggy sodden mile of it. We were going to do this family bike ride if it killed us

And you know what? It was great. It was, as someone pointed out, quite warm rain (and tbh only the Scots consider this to be an improvement on the regular kind of rain). I’ve been cycling back and forth on the same road for too long for the past few weeks, so it was good to get out and go somewhere else, just for the hell of it. The older child had a new-to-her bike and was getting used to the gears so we were riding along practising going up and down through the cogs, while her younger brother bombed ahead, his jacket discarded, having decided just to get drenched. And when the inevitable puncture came as we reached our destination, we were near to a shelter and could sit under a roof eating brownies and making helpful comments to the person fixing it, and watching someone else have what was possibly an even worse weather-related afternoon:

bride in the rain

By the time we were back on the road, the rain had briefly passed, the sun had almost come out, and I discovered a new route back to the house, by way of some lovely empty tiny roads. I’m still not sure it was exactly how I would have planned the afternoon – but it just goes to show that no day with a bike ride in it is ever entirely wasted.

Territorial Gains

August 19, 2016

I have been doing some weeding.

weeded scree slope

Actually, I will say one thing about the baffling landscaping of this garden: it’s blissfully easy to weed, at least the bits which have been refashioned as a scree slope. Anyone who has ever battled with creeping buttercup would relish being able to not just pull up a single clump, but have half a dozen more follow, attached by their runners, as easily as detaching a strip of velcro.

artificial stream

Other bits are slightly more hard work (and where the dandelions have got their roots through the landscaping fabric and into the soil below, they have grown to the size of cabbages). We have yet to work out where the pump is for the water feature, but if we can get it working, this (above) will be a miniature streambed.*

work in progress

There’s plenty more clearing to be cracking on with – but I’m conscious of imperial overreach: there’s no point clearing out a bed if you haven’t anything to put into it. I’m not finding too many decent plants among the weeds – apparently the landscaping was done by the previous owners but one, and has since suffered a decade of neglect and death-by-hens – and I’m too tight to go and buy actual plants so I may have to start another batch of random perennials to get me started.

pink geranium

One of the nicer plants found lurking among the weeds

I did get a tour of the garden at the neighbouring farm, and the promise of a few offshoots in autumn, once things are dying down. They had the most amazing clumps houseleeks (‘deafy lugs’ around here apparently) growing on the steading wall, which must have been decades old. I wonder if anyone would notice a few going awol. Indeed, I’m beginning to cast covetous glances on any interesting plant I spy.

I am now beginning to understand why the gardeners at Kew were so leery of visiting old ladies with capacious handbags and a certain glint in their eye…

*I’m minded to put in a miniature ford to go with it

Nosy Neighbours

August 16, 2016

No, not the human ones, although most of the folk in the houses round about have dropped by to introduce themselves since we’ve moved in. It’s our other neighbours who cannot contain themselves from watching our every move, the ones we’ve dubbed Moo-I5

nosy cows

‘Left hand down a bit’

Particularly this morning when we had electricians round who made a bit of a production of backing their various vans into our drive – possibly not helped by having an audience of fascinated bovines.

nosy cows

‘He’s going to hit that gatepost …’

Cows suffer from FOMO too, so the ones in the other field had to come over and have a look.

With the house full of workmen indoors, and a gloriously sunny day outdoors, I cut my losses and decided to take gardening leave for the morning, so of course the cows had to just happen to be over on our side of the field.*

nosy cows

And a brazen few overcame their nervousness and came over and said hello. They have surprisingly rough tongues, cows.

nosy cows

And then, after about half an hour of gardening with several pairs of big brown eyes fixed on me, they all got bored again and wandered off, leaving me wondering if it was something I did…

*when we got all the paperwork pertaining to the house, there was a fairly long clause explaining how we had joint responsibility with the farmer over the fences around our garden, which boiled down to the fact that they were responsible for keeping the cows’ feet off our property, but if we wanted a fence that would prevent their heads from coming over and eating everything within cow reach, that was our responsibility. We now understand the full force of that …

Garlic, the Final Verdict

August 15, 2016

greenhouse garlic

As you may recall, last year I was very excitingly given three sets of heritage garlic bulbs by Marshall Seeds to trial and report on to see how they might cope with the sort of conditions we ‘enjoy’ in Scotland.

garlic under snow

garlic under the snow

Initially, I was worried about the garlic surviving the winter at all – but all of it managed to sail through some of the wettest, windiest and most changeable winters we’d experienced and come out looking pretty splendid.

garlic plants

Then – by way of a bonus – we discovered scapes, which are seriously one of the most delicious things you can grow in your garden and were entirely unexpected. Having enjoyed those we were looking forward to the main event – after all that nurturing and care.

garlic stems

But I’ve long said it’s not the winters that are the problem around here – it’s the summers. And as after a fine start, the summer quickly degenerated into wet weather, it did look as if I had missed the moment to actually harvest the bulbs themselves. It didn’t help that we were moving house, so I had other more pressing matters on my mind.

sprouting garlic

If you’re wondering if you’ve left your garlic too long before harvesting, this might tip you off …

By the time I got to them, many of those which hadn’t started to sprout, had started to rot in the soil, although some of them had formed really impressive bulbs. We managed to lift some to eat right away (chicken and garlic in white wine – a delicious way to use up garlic in a hurry), and a couple of weeks ago – just after we’d moved – I lifted the rest and left them to dry before going through the resulting bulbs to see what had survived

garlic harvest

Some have, unfortunately, rotted further, while others have sprouted but I have – just – managed to produce slightly more garlic than I started with. The Mikulov seems to have survived best, producing whole bulbs, which actually look as if they will store quite well (always assuming we don’t eat them first).

final garlic haul

And the pinkish ones (I think Bohemian Rose – unfortunately the labels blew away before I could harvest them) certainly look splendid, although they broke up into individual cloves as the papery skins got too soggy and soft in the claggy soil.

pinkish garlic cloves

All in all a qualified success (especially the scapes) and one I will repeat again but with the following minor modifications to my growing method:

1. get all the cloves straight into the ground and not mess around with pots, waiting till new year or anything like that
2. not move house just at the point when they’re ready to harvest
3. consider planting them in a dryer, sunnier location such as (to pick an example at random) not Scotland.

Oh, OK, maybe not the last one. Although with the weather we’ve had these last few weeks, Spain is looking distinctly tempting…

Creaky McCreakBike

August 13, 2016

bike on stand

Hmm. For the past week* or so, my bike has been getting increasingly creaky. It was all right – I knew what the problem was, I just hadn’t got around to sorting it out. The front chain ring is bent and that was making the chain rattle through the front derailleur on every pedal stroke. I’d taken it to the bike shop and supposedly was waiting for a new front ring, but sourcing one is proving difficult as apparently my gears are a bit retro and that makes tracking down a replacement a prolonged process. We’d talked about upgrading the gears but apparently that’s not worth it and I should just get a new bike, but I love my bike and don’t want to replace it, so I was prepared to wait. A few creaks here and there are nothing, after all, even as the odd creak became a steady volume of noise that at least means I no longer have to ring my bell when cycling on Bigtown’s many shared use paths.

However, as the volume of creaking grew, it was beginning to get embarrassing. On our summer rides, even the guy who turns up on a bike that’s been falling apart for three years was beginning to comment on it. Creaking up the hill on Thursday, on the way back from the veg plot I resolved to act. If it was the front derailleur that was causing the problem, then I should just remove it. It isn’t as if I use it much. And it was a simple enough task even for someone of my mechanical ineptitude. Indeed, I managed it this morning, taped the loose gear cable to the bottle cage and set off down the hill on what I hoped would be a blissfully silent bike.

It’s still creaking.

I’m now baffled. Of course, it’s one of those things that only occurs when you’re riding the bike – put it up on the stand to have a proper look and the chain runs as smoothly and silently as oiled silk. Take it off the stand and ride it around and the noise starts. Clearly something that only happens when I’m sitting on the bike. Which makes me wonder if it’s the frame.

Suggestions for fixes – preferably ones that don’t involve buying a new bike – in the comments please.

*And by week I mean month. Or longer, but don’t tell the bike cruelty people

Come in, you’ll have had your Summer…

August 11, 2016

I was thinking yesterday, as I was woken yet again by the sun at 5 am only to watch the morning cloud over and the day descend to endless drizzle, that it would be kinder of the Weather Gods not to give us that daily hour of hope and expectation, but just start the day off as they mean to go on. And then we were woken this morning by the sound of rain against the skylight and I decided I’d take what sunshine I could get* (and maybe invest in some blinds for the bedroom).


Still, rain or no rain, I had to get myself down to the greenhouse back at the old house – or the allotment as it is now known – if only to water the other half’s plants and harvest some produce. Because, even with the rain spattering on the roof, it’s all going great guns down there.


The tomatilloes lie in wait: none of them are ready yet, but we know they will be soon, and once they start cropping, by god they are prolific. Last year we had to resort to depositing bags of tomatilloes on people’s doorsteps when we ran out of room in the fridge. This year we’ve put in fewer plants but they seem to have compensated by becoming even more prolific.

The chillies are taking their time, but the purple jalapenos are worth it for the flowers alone.

purple jalapeno flower

Time to dig out the Mexican cookbook and dream of warmer climes, and summer…

* Obviously, it would be even kinder of the weather gods to start off sunny and go on like that, but we’ve had our summer and we know better than to hope.