On a Sparkly Afternoon

August 31, 2018

River in the afternoon sun

When you’re painfully aware that summer is really on its way out …

august sun

Sometimes you’ve got to turn a ride for the paper into being a tourist in your own town.

scenic route

And take the scenic route back, of course.

August clouds

In the absence of artisinal glaces, there may have been mini donuts consumed

Meanwhile, in baffling pipeline news, the workmen at the site were apparently been spending the afternoon building little stacks of rocks. Perhaps they too want to pretend they’re on holiday.


August 29, 2018

Riding back from New Nearest Village this afternoon, just as I got to the foot of the Totally Unnecessary Hill that lies between our house and the village, I spotted an older couple, possibly touring, turning onto the road about 100 yards in front of me.

As I started the winding climb, I couldn’t help but consider what friendly, encouraging words I might exchange with them as I (younger, unladen) inevitably overhauled them with their panniers and their more advanced years. I was even planning some route advice they might benefit from to avoid the worst of this less-than-bike-friendly road, assuming they were heading to Bigtown and might not know the slightly longer but flatter route I have perfected.

I might even have sped up a bit on the climb, because you do when there are riders in front and you want to get the slightly awkward overtaking part over with. And With the bends in the road, and the passing cars, and the irritating noise my front derailleur has taken to making, it took me a while to realise that in fact my elderly friends were leaving me for dust on the steepest part of the climb.

By the time I’d panted my way to the top, they were long gone.

view from the climb

Photo because when you’ve been thoroughly bested on a climb, the best thing is to pretend you were just stopping to take photos



August 26, 2018

Back in spring, in a spirit of experimentation and what-the-hell, I planted a couple of lemon and a couple of clementine pips to see what happened. It turns out that one of the things that happened was that I got bored of waiting for the lemon pips to germinate and stuck a couple more in the pot, only then reading on the internet that a) lemons take a long time to germinate, and b) you get more than one seedling out of each pip.

citrus seedlings in pots

Fast forward four months, and we have a veritable citrus grove developing in our entrance hall, which we have now dubbed the orangery. This has enabled me to rekindle a long-dormant interest in bonsai which I was quite fascinated by as a child but which I’ve never really followed up after one failed experiment trying to grow an oak seedling in half a grapefruit skin,* which is what the book I had at the time told me was how you were supposed to do it. This being the 70s, with no Internet and, I suspect, very few books on bonsai in the local library, that was where I left it, convinced that bonsai was far too difficult for mere mortals to attempt (and also with something of an aversion to grapefruit skins).

Fast forward 40+ years and it occurred to me that there might be other methods out there on the Internet that were more effective and so I have decided to have a go with one of my seedlings. This time, I’ve got the opposite problem from my 7-year-old self as instead of one single bad idea, the Internet offers reams of contradictory advice on how best to create and look after a bonsai tree, most of which involves buying specialist equipment, all of it – coincidentally enough – available for sale on the site in question. In truth, I suspect that to do something like Bonsai properly you have to have a real understanding of Japanese culture and spend about 40 years studying the art, but I was slightly reassured that the one video by an actual Japanese guy I could find on YouTube had him shovelling gravel and ordinary garden soil about with some abandon and with no specialist equipment whatsoever.**

Where the various sources all agreed, was that I needed to plant my tree seedling in a shallow pot, with lots of gravel in the bottom, to improve the drainage. Having searched the local charity shops in vain for a suitable shallow pot, I was willing to concede defeat and buy one at the local garden centre, but I was buggered if I was going to actually buy any gravel, considering that our garden already has four different kinds of gravel in it, not counting the random stones that pile up whenever you stick a fork in the ground.

sieving gravel

So this afternoon, it being too wet for any other kind of gardening, I spent Gardener’s Question Time patiently sieving out small enough pieces of gravel from one of the gravel piles to put in the base of my pot, and then planted one of my clementine seedlings to see what happens.

I suspect this may lie on the grapefruit end of the sensible bonsai advice spectrum, but if it doesn’t work, it will have cost me nothing expect an hour of my time, and possibly another small shred of my remaining sanity.

bonsai seedling

Be in no doubt that I shall keep you posted as this story develops.

* The idea, according to the book, was that the roots would grow through holes you’d put the grapefruit skin and you could trim them to keep the tree small. This had an appealing logic to it, but the book failed to say that long before your tree seedling had put out any roots at all, your half grapefruit would be a green mouldy mess.

** and also, my 7-year-old self noted, growing the plant inside a plastic colander so you could cut the roots as they grew out of the holes. No grapefruit involved though.


August 25, 2018

Twitter reminded me this morning that I had intended to sign up again for the Big Wasp Survey

I duly did and it’s not too late to register if you fancy having a go yourself (although hurry, you need to get your trap out in the next week). Last year I caught a few wasps (and a fair few other unidentified things) and discovered that drowning wasps in beer for a week and then freezing them doesn’t necessarily kill them but does slow them down considerably. It all Got a bit Day of the Undead until I put them back in the freezer for a longer stretch. This year, given the amount of grumpy wasps about, I’m expecting that the haul will be somewhat larger but hopefully rather less immortal…wasps in jam

Now all I have to do is find a time to drink some beer. Truly we suffer for science here.

Noisy Neighbours

August 23, 2018

So, we have got new neighbours over the summer, which is good because it means we’re no longer the newbies in our little group of dwellings (the oldest inhabitant is 90-odd and was born here so we’re never going to actually catch up). As custom dictates, we’ve dropped by to say hello and deliver some of their misdirected mail and, obviously, have as much of a nosy round as we* could manage within the social boundaries offered by being invited in for a cup of tea.

They have also returned the visit and we’ve since exchanged pleasantries as we pass through their yard up on one of our normal walks. And it was during one of these that we noticed they have a couple of guinea fowl – indeed they’re hard to miss because they make even more of a racket than the peacock that used to live down the road from the old place. They’re even harder to miss when you end up inadvertently herding them comically down the road in front of you as we did on our return from our walk. Fortunately, they didn’t make it into our garden but headed up the hill towards our other neighbours instead and we let them get on with it. Presumably any birds that free range must have at least more road sense than a pheasant and enough of a homing instinct to get back to their new place (unless of course the new neighbours started out with a couple of dozen of them and these are just the survivors. I hope not, because I really don’t want to cycle past a sad little heap of polka-dot feathers on the Nearest B-Road).

Anyway, whether they’ve lost their way permanently or are just of an exploring bent, this morning, we discovered we had visitors…

guinea fowl

It’s an interesting addition to the garden bird list, but I may have to upgrade my hare defences.

* And obviously by ‘we’ here I mean ‘I’ as the other half is above such things.

Full Disclosure

August 21, 2018

So, I’ve shown you the other half’s greenhouse, and someone else’s garden altogether, but what of my own veg gardening? Are those raised beds still proving so wonderful?


veg plot in August

To be fair, August is always a bit random on the gardening front as the accumulation of any spring and summer neglect comes home to roost in spades, but I’ve never grown an additional mystery crop of mushrooms in my potato patch before:

mushrooms in potato patch

Any mycologists out there?

mystery mushroom

I’m more or less resigned to the fact that cabbage whites will come and infest my brassicas. In the past I’ve tried netting them, picking them off, and just ignoring them, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it takes a lot to completely kill off purple sprouting broccoli. Hopefully, enough plants will survive to put out spears in the spring, after the caterpillars have been killed off in the winter. This year, I’ve cut off the worst of the leaves and stuck them, caterpillars and all, in the compost bin, which probably only means that the caterpillars will have worked up a good appetite by the time they’ve finished crawling back round the house to the veg patch.

caterpillars on broccoli

Interestingly (for a certain value of interesting) the broccoli is quite badly infested with the yellow-and-black caterpillars of the large white, while the cavolo nero right next to it has a much more limited number of the green caterpillars of the small white. Any entomologists care to weigh in?

In other news, my sole squash plant has turned into a sprawling giant which has quite overwhelmed the beans I had optimistically hoped it would share its raised bed with, annexed the fennel bed next door, and is currently conducting a hostile takeover of the not-yet-cultivated mixed bramble and willowherb patch next to the pond. Normally, my money would be on brambles winning any sort of territorial battle, but this time I’m not so sure. The only thing it’s not doing is apparently producing any squashes (but then again, I thought that about the pumpkin last year).

squash plant

On the other hand, despite all this, we’re still getting plentiful potatoes, chard, kale (some with added protein) and giant beetroot. And the peas, which should have been over and done by now, are having a new lease of life and are merrily producing new shoots, flowers and pods. Obviously, what they’re not doing is using any of the supports I helpfully supplied for them, which means they look terrible and picking the peas is a challenge, but August peas of any kind are a bonus so it’s worth the effort.


How does your garden grow?

Thinking Outside the Phonebox

August 19, 2018

Back when I was still secretary of Old Nearest Village community council, we received word that our phone box (along with what appeared to be every other phone box in the county) was due to be removed unless we could think of a good reason why it shouldn’t be. Communities had the option to suggest alternative uses and some quite creative ones came up in the surrounding area, from a mini library and a defibrillator cabinet to an actual phone box (the village that had this radical idea now have to have a rota to make sure the statutory one phone call per three months is being made to keep it going). Sadly, Old Nearest Village had no such ideas so the phone box was carted away, no doubt to join its old bus shelter in the great scrapheap in the sky.

I was reminded of this sad tale today, after we were tempted out by a not-too-rubbish-day-considering-it’s-August for a jaunt out to a cafe for Sunday lunch, via a new-to-me route. On the way we found that one enterprising village has turned its old phone box into what is either Scotland’s smallest shop or its largest honesty box.

shop in a phone box

In other news, Bigtownshire has some jolly nice scenery and cycling, something we do occasionally tend to forget.

dappled shade on road

And now we know where to stop off should we be short of supplies on the way home…

skies and scenery

Boring: See Civil Engineers

August 17, 2018

Cycling past the gas pipeline site the other day, which has largely been sitting quietly growing grass for a few months now, I noticed two people in hard hats peering down the mysterious sticking-up pipe that was all that remained to remind us of what lay beneath. I did consider stopping and asking them what I was up to, in my capacity as local boring infrastructure reporter, but I bottled it, and cycled on.

This morning, I was excited* to see that something had changed – they’d stuck a bag over it:

pipe in bag

That doesn’t seem very engineering-y even to me. I’m genuinely intrigued as to what purpose it might serve. Any gas pipeline experts care to chip in and explain?

pipe sticking up

Sticking-up pipe in happier days…

*OK, not really.

Studied Delight

August 16, 2018

As eagle-eyed readers have no doubt picked up from Twitter, we’ve more or less redecorated my study and today I finished moving all my stuff back in, including maps I’ve been holding onto for more than 15 years while waiting for a place to hang them all.

I’m delighted with the result, which is exactly as I’d hoped it would be, although I am sure it will not be to everyone’s taste.

new study

Minimalism, what’s that? And yes, it really is that orange

As well as storage (I was about to say ‘ample storage’ but to be honest my new storage boxes are already all spoken for) I now also have a place to put several years’ worth of cycle campaigning memorabilia.

Pinboard of POP posters

I still need more space for books, and no doubt it will never look this organised again, but I finally have a work space I am truly happy with. This leaves only one problem: I now have to get on with all the things I’ve been waiting until I have the perfect work space to do …

Back from the Brink

August 15, 2018

Nipping out into the garden between showers this afternoon, I thought I’d tackle the ‘hare’s toothbrush’ which was looking dead back in May and has spent the summer gradually looking deader and deader. Even the hares have stopped nibbling on it so it was time to hoick it out and find something more interesting to put in its place. Or anything, indeed, that wasn’t an eyesore.

dead spiky plant

Hare’s Toothbrush back in May, since when it has only got sadder and deader looking …

Except, when I went to pull away the dead fronds I found it had been quietly reshooting from the base and now looks slightly more attractive and certainly less dead. If, as has been suggested, it is a Cordyline australis, it’s pretty amazing it has survived at all as apparently I should have been protecting it in winter and it needs a mild and sunny location.

hare's toothbrush

Hare’s toothbrush, or more properly, probably Cordyline australis

Of course, as regular blog readers will know, I’m a complete sucker for a plucky survivor in the garden so regardless of whether it grows back into an attractive or striking architectural addition to the garden or just like something that’s been chewed by hares, I’m stuck with it now. At least the hares will be happy

And speaking of back from the brink – if you recall the willow tree which I thought I’d killed last year, but was showing signs of life?

regrown willow

I think we can safely say it’s recovered.

Perhaps there’s hope yet for the olive tree …