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 …


Non-exciting Greenhouse News

August 14, 2018

I promised you a greenhouse update, so here goes – we may not be quite in the league of my friend’s parents yet, but in the past two years the top back corner of the garden has gone from looking like this:

chicken shed

To this

pile of shed parts

To this

large pile of soil

To this



That’s because the other half is in charge of both weed strimming, and greenhouse erection and care and maintenance. This makes for poor blogging material as he largely just undramatically gets on with doing things properly: tying up the plants and supporting them, cutting out the side shoots the way the books say you should, keeping on top of the weeding. Hell, we’ve got an automatic watering system and everything.

watering system

As a result of my complete lack of involvement in the project, everything is coming along very nicely. In fact, we’re awaiting the ripening of all the tomatoes with some trepidation…

tomatoes ripening

Not to mention the tomatilloes, and several different varieties of chillies …


If I have one complaint, it’s that the current version suffers from a bug that means no sooner have I managed to dispose of one courgette in a not-too-revolting way, another one (usually bigger than the last) appears in the kitchen. Clearly it’s time to accelerate the ‘learning to love courgettes’ project. We made a start with this Madhur Jaffrey recipe which was actually quite nice (and probably would have been nicer if I’d followed the instructions and put in ground roasted cumin seeds at the end instead of whole coriander seeds instead). Turns out, most things can be tolerated, and even enjoyed, if you smother them in enough cream…

How the Ladybird Got its Spots

August 9, 2018


Arriving home this afternoon, I headed up to the greenhouse, thinking to update you all on its progress. But I got distracted by a strange yellow ladybird, apparently without any spots, something I had never seen before:

yellow ladybird

Naturally, I asked Twitter, and naturally Twitter knew:

And lo and behold, Twitter was right too – after a few hours the ladybird was now spotted and looking a little less yellow (the black thing beside it is in fact the old pupal case which it had emerged from)

ladybird with spots

And an hour or so after that, you would never have known it had ever looked like anything but a classic red ladybird.

normal looking ladybird

Apologies if everyone knew that ladybirds, like Dalmations, need to wait for their spots – I had absolutely no idea, and felt I just had to share. So, you’ll have to wait a bit longer for a more detailed account of the greenhouse itself (although – spoilers! – things are looking pretty spiffy at the moment, if a bit too courgette-heavy for my liking).

Getting Off at Haymarket

August 8, 2018

So I thought I had worked out Haymarket. After several episodes when I have confidently headed in any number of wrong directions, I should have learned that if I know anything, it’s that I don’t know which way to go when I come out of Haymarket station and that – due to the fact that Edinburgh’s topology is in some indefinable way just wrong – whichever way I think I’m going, that way will be the wrong way. Indeed, I should know by know that the only sure way I can ever navigate around Edinburgh is to head for the Pedal on Parliament route and go from there, as, after 7 years, I’ve just about got that one committed to memory (unlike the Glasgow one…) or failing that just break down and turn the GPS onto my phone and let the magic of technology guide me.

However, having arranged to meet a friend for lunch yesterday near where I’d got the Brompton serviced, I might have got a bit too cocky. After all, I had navigated the route before, and I had looked at Google Maps to check, and I had cross referenced it with the map outside the station. I was fairly certain which direction to head off in, so it was just a question of discarding Google’s walking route suggestion as clearly insane and … heading off confidently down the wrong road. I swear to God Edinburgh rearranges itself every time my back is turned.

This may also explain why, having had a very enjoyable 3-hour lunch (there wasn’t even any booze involved, but there may have been cake and there was certainly gossip) I managed to completely fail to find the Central Library, despite it actually being on the POP route, someone having unaccountably moved it to the other side of the George IV Bridge when I wasn’t looking. Honestly, the festival really has gone too far these days.

The worst part was I was on foot, which meant battling along Edinburgh’s unnacountably narrow pavements through festival crowds, every single one of whom appeared to be either handing out flyers or doing the mime act of ‘man stopping to consult mobile phone abruptly in the middle of the pavement’ (although, to be fair, they might have been trying to work out where another Edinburgh landmark had rearranged itself to now). As I had already been walked off my feet by my friends in Fife, I was pretty footsore and weary when I finally made it down to the Princes Street Gardens, which was still where I’d left it, and a very welcome bench. How anyone manages to survive Edinburgh in August I will never know.

Fortunately, after five bikeless days in strange lands we will be back home tomorrow, and I will know never to leave my Brompton behind ever again…

So you Think you Can Garden?

August 6, 2018

Regular readers may have detected a certain self-satisfaction, not to say smugness, creeping into recent gardening posts of mine. Not only do I have hot and cold running hares in the garden, but we also have been having loads of tasty veg to eat (if slightly limited in variety) and the other half’s greenhouse is looking pretty spiffy too…


And then I go and visit a friend whose parents have been gardening at scale in the same spot for almost 30 years and realise that when it comes to growing veg I know nothing …

huge veg garden

For instance, do we have an ancestral grapevine in the greenhouse?

grapevine in greenhouse

Or a marvellously organised polytunnel?


Or enough strawberries to supply Wimbledon?

strawberry bed

And I don’t even like celery, but seeing this, I almost want to grow it…


This is definitely not how my fennel is looking


And why do I not have TWO compost turners (not to mention two pink wheelbarrows)?

compost turners and wheelbarrows

And while I might have rescued one bee …

bee sign and bee hives

There was more (sheep, chickens, flowerbeds, beautiful wood piles, precisely placed decorative broken pots, an actual box of useful hose parts) but I think I may have to go and have a little lie down…

row of peppers

Having put myself firmly back in the beginners’ class, I shall return home with renewed ambition and hope that by 2048 I too will be beginning to get the hand of this gardening lark.

Do Bee Do Bee Do

August 1, 2018

After the weather we’ve had, it’s been pretty depressing to set off on the bike in a jacket, gloves and tweed cap – I’ve grown rather fond of pottering round in a t-shirt and shorts. And I’m not the only one feeling the weather. Venturing out this afternoon to rescue the washing from yet another shower, I came across a dopey bumble bee that seemed to have given up the ghost.

A teaspoonful of honey* and water seemed to do the trick.

bee sipping honey

It’s rare you get to see a bee properly up close, so I made the most of it as it lapped up the water. Insect tongues seem to be all the rage this week …

bee close up

It soon perked up, had a poo (or whatever the bee equivalent** is – certainly something shot out its back end; I told you I was watching it closely), groomed itself and as I left it to it, was struggling to get airborne again. I hope in my eagerness to help I haven’t contributed to some sort of apine obesity crisis…

I hope everyone in London is enjoying their break from the heat, because I can tell you, I’d be very happy to see the heatwave return up here. And so would my new pal the bee …

*Post-hoc googling suggests I should have just used sugar and water rather than honey so hopefully I haven’t spread any nasty germs

** Googling bee poo suggests that they do … as always, you step into specialist fora at your own peril as an Internet rabbithole awaits.