Green Shoots

May 28, 2018

Now that spring is firmly established, I’ve been going round checking just which of our plants really did die over the winter, and which were just playing dead. Frankly, it was no winter to be a Californian lilac, although ours has got over the fact that it’s not in California any more, Toto, and is struggling back into leaf, if not flower. A small hibiscus that suffers from the fact that it’s one of the hares’ favourite plants has also unexpectedly gone from ‘stick’ to ‘green shoots’ in recent weeks’ albeit still looking pretty nibbled around the edges. Half of the the dianthus plants from Aldi that did so well last year succumbed to the snow, but Homebase were selling them even more cheaply last week – not only could you buy six and get change from a fiver, we could have bought six, plus the entire shop and still had change for a fiver …

But there was one thing on my conscience, and that was our huge willow tree which I had rather cavalierly had re-pollarded in September. I was pretty confident you couldn’t kill a willow, at least not without trying a lot harder than we had done, but as winter passed and spring set in, things were beginning to look less than encouraging. Indeed I was starting to feel rather guilty (while enjoying the extra light in our sunny entrance hall). When a woodpecker started to show some interest in it, we comforted ourselves with the thought that standing deadwood is a valuable ecological resource, and my thoughts began to turn towards suitable flowering vines to scramble over the stump and hide the evidence of my crime.

And then, looking out the window this morning I realised, it really does take a lot to kill a willow. And we were going to have to try harder than merely attacking it with a chainsaw.

willow putting out shoots

Sadly, the same can’t be said for olive trees, at least olive trees in Scotland…

dead olive tree

And then there’s this, which never looked all that much, frankly, and now looks deader than a dead thing. But the hares seem to like nibbling on its fronds so we may be stuck with it until they’re done.

dead spiky plant

Any idea what it might be (& if it’s worth replacing)? Until then, I’m calling it the Hares’ Toothbrush


Stopping to Smell the Flowers

May 27, 2018

After a full on few weeks of work – and a Friday deadline that ended up extending well into Saturday evening – I have finally come out (almost) on the other side.

There is work still to be done (as well as a whole backlog of cycling-related stuff to organise), but today I finally felt able to take some time off and try and catch up with the garden. As the other half was keen to try growing some tomatoes in hanging baskets to maximise the greenhouse space, this first meant a trip to the garden centre which is rapidly (sad to relate) becoming one of our go-to options for an exciting outing like the middle-aged people we are.

more flowers and hedgerows

Normally we’d go by car because garden centre trips usually end up with us buying things like giant bags of compost, which even I don’t think can be sensibly transported by bike* – but I persuaded the other half we’d manage to get a few hanging baskets easily enough with a few creatively deployed bungees, so we took the scenic route.

Stopping only for photos

speedwells and bike

(I was so taken by the banks of speedwell along the cycle path coming into Bigtown, that I just googled how to encourage them to naturalise in the lawn. Ah. Apparently most people spend their time desperately battling to prevent speedwell from taking over their lawns. How strange. But then again, I’ve never understood why people try and eliminate daisies from their lawn either).

I then spent the afternoon trying to do a month’s worth of gardening. I didn’t succeed, and the garden doesn’t look noticeably any more gardened, but the chard and beetroot are all planted out, there are slightly fewer weeds – oh and I’ve got sunburn down the back of my arms and legs.

I still have an inbox full of stuff I should be doing that I’ve been putting off while the work has been relentless, and there’s still a pile of work to be done tomorrow and Tuesday. There’s a little voice in my head that says I’ll regret not spending some of today getting on with that (if only because of the sunburn). But actually, a day spent away from the screen and out in the garden was exactly what I needed.

Potatoes in May

* Inevitably, someone’s going to comment here or on Twitter about how it’s perfectly possible to transport compost by bike, and how people move house by bike in the Netherlands etc. etc. Indeed, I have access to a bike trailer that would quite happily fit a 50 litre bag of compost. And I invite anyone who’s keen to point out the evils of our car-driving ways to come and cycle it eight miles uphill from the garden centre to our house.


Clout Casting Commences

May 24, 2018

Signalled by a strange portent yesterday morning

Not only has the fine weather continued, but suddenly it’s gone from ‘nice and sunny and warm if you’re out of the breeze’ to ‘this is not a drill, this is summer, enjoy it while it lasts, because when it’s gone, its gone’

Unfortunately this has coincided with the crunchiest of crunchy work deadlines so I’ve mainly been enjoying it by proxy, but I have been allowing myself a snatched hour or so outside here or there. This has meant choosing between gardening and the bike …

hawthorn (may) blossom

Today the bike won, even though my seedlings are queuing up to be planted and starting to suffer in the sun. I don’t regret it though, because the may is out (and the bluebells and the gorse and everything else) and where the farmers haven’t been slurry spreading the air is positively perfumed and gorgeous, and warm with it.

sandals

Apologies for the glare…

There might even have been a bit of clout casting done.

Besides, I have pipeline news: they have finished laying and joining the big gas pipe and started to make good the enormous hole they dug to do so, so the site now looks like this. Given the talent the land round here has for growing grass, I expect it to be indistinguishable from the surrounding fields within weeks.

pipeline covered over

Or almost, because a mysterious pipe remains, sticking out of the ground, purpose only to be guessed at …

pipe sticking up

Amazingly, if the forecast is correct, this weather is set to continue after the deadline crunch has passed and I will be able to do all the binge gardening I’ve been longing to do all week. Watch this space. I might even get around to blogging about compost …


While Stocks Last

May 19, 2018

I genuinely did not have time to get out on my bike today – and I didn’t need to go and fetch the paper because the other half was going into town.

may blue skies

But it is May and the fine weather is still here, and each day brings another fleeting spring moment, and when it’s gone it’s gone. Today it’s the turn of the cow parsley, just beginning to froth in the hedgerow. We have slogged our way through the winter, living for the moment when this weather would arrive, and it would be criminal not to slip out just for an hour or so to enjoy it.

And the roads were empty, for some reason, even emptier than they normally are. Could it be that people round here were all huddled inside, watching the royal wedding? I encountered about three cars and perhaps half a dozen cyclists, one of them out stretching his legs before the cup final.

Tomorrow we have lunch guests (the greenhouse inspection committee) and we’re hoping this weather will continue long enough to wheel out the barbecue. At least we were, until the local farmer – also keen to seize the day – made the most of the fine weather by spending the afternoon spreading slurry. Hopefully the smell will have dissipated somewhat by then

Got to take the rough with the smooth, living the rural life. This is the price we pay for having hot and cold running hares in the garden, and coos for neighbours.


Supporting Act

May 18, 2018

It’s another iron law of gardening that peas will climb up anything or nothing, rather than make use of the nice supports you may have provided them -something I remembered only after I’d made some nice tripods (actually quadripeds I suppose) in time-honoured allotment fashion from things I found lying around in the shed.

pea supports

Naturally they preferred to cling to each other, like orphans in storm, which is touching but doesn’t help them get out of the way of the slugs.

peas clutching each other

You’re supposed to use old pairs of tights to tie them up, apparently, but I haven’t worn a pair of tights this millennium so I sacrificed an old base layer instead. Yup, you know you’ve gone full cyclist when even your gardening accessories are made out of merino…

merino pea ties

The third iron law of gardening is that when the weather’s nice and your seedlings are climbing out of their pots to be planted, you’ll have too much work to do to devote enough time to all but the bare minimum, but the raised bed project is inching along.

raised beds in may

I have thoughts on compost I’m sure you’re all impatient to share, but they will have to wait.

Meanwhile, speaking of iron laws, look what’s popped up in the propagator long after all hope was lost.

orange and lemon seedlings

Yes, I did colour code the pots, what of it?

Clementine seedlings on the left, lemon (finally!) on the right.


Suffering for my Principles

May 15, 2018

Heading back from Bigtown with a freshly serviced stealth bike this afternoon, I had to pick up some sausages on my way home. This meant a choice: the butcher in town, who does nice sausages but from pork of unknown provenance and hence probably intensively reared pigs. Or the farm shop and shortbread emporium out on the edge of town, which does equally nice if somewhat pricier sausages but from its own outdoor reared pork, which means happy (albeit now obviously dead) pigs

may woods

And an extra mile or five added to the ride back…

may woods

It’s a tough choice.


Down in the Wildwood, Something Stirs

May 13, 2018

I love this time of the year, especially once POP is over and I can enjoy it, and above all I love the colour of the just-emerged spring leaves which is so fleeting and so gorgeous with the sunlight filtering through it that the Germans, of course, have a word for it:

Today, then, with the Weather Gods relenting and bringing us some proper May weather (I knew they read this blog), was the perfect day to finally visit Carrifran Wildwood, which I have blogged about before. We pass it every time we go back and forth to Duns, and we have watched with interest over the years as the tiny trees have grown up from a barely visible fuzz on the hillside, but we’ve never properly visited.

Carrifran Wildwood

Today we took the opportunity of a guided walk led by one of the people who’s been involved from the start (and joined by the contractor who planted several thousand of the trees we were there to see over the years). It was a gloriously sunny day, loud with birds, and a fascinating glimpse into a project I’ve long been admiring from afar.

carrifran new trees

It was great to hear about its history from the people involved and learn more about the wildlife that was coming back alongside the trees – but you don’t need a guide to see what an amazing difference a few determined people can make if they stick at it year after year (and don’t let anyone tell them what they’re doing is impossible).

trees emerging on the hillside

We even got to see the original rowan, the sole surviving tree in the valley when it all started, now surrounded by its own emerging offspring.

Original rowan

We’ve got used to Scottish hillsides being cropped bare by sheep and deer, and the rest of the valley where the wildwood lies does have its own bleak beauty, but Carrifran is something else.

Carrifran track

Such a contrast between the emerging native woods – and the bare hills and plantation forest beyond

Go if you can, in May if you can, when all the birds are singing their hearts out and the trees are just putting out their leaves. You won’t regret it.

Carrifran track

Though maybe bring some boots.


April Showers Bring May … Gales?

May 11, 2018

It’s safe to say that I’ve been pretty disappointed with May’s weather so far. After the various beasts from the east and what have you, I’ve been holding out for a fine, dry May, or ‘summer’ as it’s known in Scotland. We had a couple of nice days over the bank holiday weekend, but not the heatwave everyone was enjoying down south, and since then it’s mainly been rain, wind, the odd hailstorm and fog.

evening ride

Yesterday was nice enough, if chilly, enough to tempt the other half out on the bike for an early evening ride, and today looked promising at least until we checked the forecast: high winds, which would only drop in the afternoon as it set into rain. By lunchtime, with the paper still to be fetched, the wind was battering round the house in an uninviting manner, but as the other half pointed out, at least I’d have a tailwind home, which is better than the usual arrangement.

The trouble with tailwinds is that you can never rely on them to deliver on your way home, however bad the headwind might have been on the way out. But as I came out of the shop with the paper and narrowly dodged the display of plants a sudden gust of wind sent tumbling down, I had a feeling today was going to be different.

And so it proved. My bike is not is still awaiting its winter service* and is all squeak and rattle at the moment, so it’s not the smoothest of rides – but even so, with the south-easterly pushing it along almost dead behind me, it was transformed into a flying machine. The hill home was still a climb, but compared with battering into a headwind, it was positively enjoyable. And as I turned to tackle the final kick upwards to the house I could feel it behind me like a welcome hand on my shoulder, pushing me home.

Even so, I think the weather gods have made their point, and if they could lay off for a bit so I can get my seedlings into the ground without them being blown away, I’d be grateful.

* I think the bike shop is hoping that if they take forever to order the parts needed, I will give up and buy a modern bike like a normal** person.

** adjusted for being someone who rides a bike


Oh, Sugar Sugar

May 9, 2018

I have to admit that when the recent stushie over changes to the Irn Bru recipe blew up, I might have rolled my eyes a little as desperate consumers allegedly started stockpiling supplies of the old version. Similarly, I had little sympathy with those distressed over the reformulation of Ribena apparently ruining their lives. That was until I settled down on the sofa a couple of evenings ago with a nice refreshing ginger beer and I came in for a nasty shock.

Old Jamaica – my gingery tipple of choice – have responded to the sugar tax by reformulating and it’s not an improvement. It’s not so much the taste, as the fact that it now seemed to have a distinctly soapy texture to it. It was startlingly high in sugar before, so I can see why they’ve done it, but the end result is distinctly not for me.

I’m in two minds about the whole thing, now. While I don’t quite buy the current ‘sugar as the root of all evil’ argument on balance, I think the sugar tax is a good thing, if only because the soft drink companies fought so hard against it. Yes, it would be better if kids – and, indeed, me – mostly drank water and only had fizzy drinks as a special treat, but the obesity (and tooth decay) crisis is happening now, and changes like that would take decades to bring about, so the fact that my occasional soft drink of choice has been ruined is really neither here nor there compared to the likely impact on the wider population’s health (it’s telling that, round here, all soft drinks are referred to as ‘juice’…).

It’s a shame that the approach most drinks companies have taken is to replace sugar with the cheap fix artificial sweeteners, rather than gradually just dialling down the sugar but that’s the way of the world. So I’m not going to claim my life is ruined or it’s the end of the world as we know it. But the fact remains, the new version is no longer the pleasure it once was and I need the occasional sweet gingery kick in my life.

Twitter, ever helpful (or ‘helpful’) has made a number of suggestions, including many people urging me to start a ginger beer plant and start brewing my own, in case Project Sourdough ever got too easy.* While this strikes me as likely to provide excellent blogging material, not least because it comes with the distinct possibility of explosions, I’m not so sure it will result in anything actually drinkable.

For now we’re auditioning Belvoir ginger beer as our alternative which is very pleasant, naturally much lower in sugar, and approximately three times as expensive than the Old Jamaica ginger beer, which is probably a good thing as we’ll drink less of it. Even so (at the risk of becoming someone who I’d roll my eyes at if I heard myself on the news) I kind of wish we’d stockpiled the original while we had the chance …

* just to keep the magic alive, I managed to completely forget to add salt to the last loaf until the very last minute. These things are sent to remind me why I shouldn’t contemplate taking up another project, particularly one with explosive potential.


Bottling It

May 7, 2018

Planting out my peas the other day, I realised that my collection of old plastic bottles that I use as mini cloches has become somewhat diminished over the years. A combination of the house move, my disorganisation, and last year’s less-than-convincing gardening efforts means a fair few have gone missing, and others may have simply become too tatty to be used, although some of them must be almost a decade old and pretty much unchanged, which I suppose illustrates the problem with plastic in the first place

We don’t buy that many drinks in plastic bottles any more but that’s not a problem because empty ones apparently grow on trees – or at least in verges, ditches and parks. Anyone who’s cycled with me in recent days has had to put up with me slamming on the brakes and suddenly swerving to the side of the road or doubling back as I spot a particularly fine specimen to add to the pile on the back of my rack. Even being picky and sticking to the freshest-looking new arrivals, I usually run out of room before I run out of bottles.

bottles on bike rack

I feel a little bad only picking up some of the litter but I suppose each one salvaged and put to work for the next ten years in my garden is one more not clogging up the gullet of an albatross chick, so it’s better than nothing. Especially now that summer has arrived even in Bigtown (I actually heard someone say ‘taps aff’ this afternoon) and people are apparently feeling the need to keep themselves well hydrated and then helpfully leaving their bottles out for me to pick up, in some cases just yards from a bin …

summer in Bigtown

“Aye, it’ll no last, mind”

That is, if I’m allowed anywhere near the garden for the next few weeks, as the other half reported he couldn’t complete the strimming round the back because there was a tiny leveret hanging out in the long grass. Fortunately not so tiny that it didn’t have the sense to get out of the way – finding one baby hare in the garden is wonderful, finding half of one, not so much.