January 12, 2020

drowned field

I suppose I should know by now that winter in Scotland means a choice between reasonably mild but wet and windy weather, or sunny and sparkly but bitterly cold weather. Yesterday was the former,* but today – through some bureaucratic error – it was both reasonably mild (above freezing, anyway) and sunny. For January, this counts as a miracle, especially as I’m not buried in work for once.

That meant only one thing – into the garden (I did suggest a bike ride but my suggestion was spurned). The problem is, while it might have been fine and mild today, we’ve got at least another 3 months of potential frost, snow, gales and rain (well, technically speaking, 12 months recurring of rain) and there isn’t really much you can usefully be doing in the garden at this time of the year, unless you’re of the tidying-up persuasion which I’m not for both ecological and can’t-be-arsedness reasons. I’ve mulched all the beds that need mulching and cut back all the growth that means cutting back, and the rest of the garden would be happier if I just left it alone to get on with things.

I believe this is what January plantings of sweet peas are for: scratching the gardening itch without compacting wet soil, destroying overwintering spots for wildlife, or encouraging tender shoots to sprout too early. I even had some sweet pea seeds because I took a last-minute trip to the garden centre to pick up a gift before Christmas and made the mistake of wandering into the seed department just to have a quick look at what was there and not buy anything (if anyone has actually managed this feat, please do go ahead and let me know how in the comments).

sweet pea planting materials

And so a pleasant morning in the greenhouse ensued. I don’t think I’ve ever grown them before, at least not in Scotland, so I was a little sceptical about planting them now but it seems worth a shot. I didn’t have the requisite number of toilet roll inners due to some over-efficient recycling, but we have plenty of newspaper and I bodged together some paper pots by rolling them round an old spice jar. According to some sections of the internet I was supposed to have soaked the seed overnight but I googled until I found some advice that said you didn’t need to bother, and then I split the difference and soaked them while I made and filled the pots (you all do this, right?). Twenty-four pots have been filled and planted and are on the utility room windowsill. I don’t actually have anywhere to put any sweet peas if they emerge, but I’m sure that a space will be found; for now they have done the job for which they were intended and any actual plants will be a bonus. Especially as tomorrow brings our next weather warning, and winter is all set to resume.

planted sweetpeas

* I did actually venture out for the paper in the rain, once the wind had died down a bit. Looking at the floodwater in the fields along the way, I did briefly consider that a better blogger than me would extend her trip by a few miles on the way home to check out the ford, and then I came to my senses. Fortunately, a local pal is made of sterner stuff:

Hitching Up Again

December 31, 2019

After a Christmas week with just the one token cycle ride, I’m not entirely sure that a 20 mile round trip towing a trailer was exactly what either my bike or its rider were after, but that’s by the by.

Bike and trailer

Did I ever mention that we live at the top of a large hill?

The fact is, we’re home, and there was bartering to be done – I continue to be unnaturally fascinated by the local barter site. My old yoga mat was surplus to requirements (I have a fancy new cork one, and very nice it is too; I think the other half has worked out that if things don’t come in merino then I would like them in cork, seventies child that I am) so on it went and a swap was quickly arranged for a couple of miniature roses.

The only problems were that a) my barteree lives in one of the more cycle-unfriendly parts of Bigtown and b) my non-rolling yoga mat did not fit in my saddle bags and could not be usefully bungeed onto my rack.

Fortunately, the two problems cancelled each other out – it turns out that if you have to tackle the more car-centric roads around here on a bike, then towing a trailer is the way to do it. As I’ve remarked before, despite the fact that it’s actually no wider than my handlebars it seems to give me far more presence on the road and only one driver (because the rule is that there’s always one) felt the need to squeeeeeeze past and that was the one who always seem to do it when I encounter them on our B-road on the way home (well, it’s the same car – I assume it’s the same driver).

I did wonder – as I took a pot of plants off a stranger’s doorstep and thrust a bin-bag containing an old yoga mat under their car – whether someone would stop and ask me what the hell I was doing, but if anyone noticed they didn’t challenge me at all. Either this sort of bartering behaviour has become commonplace in Bigtown (the site has taken off in a big way, and some of the most implausible swaps seem to be arranged in matters of hours), or they were still too flabbergasted at the sight of someone at that end of town On A Bike let alone Towing A Trailer to take note of what I was up to. Clearly a career as the world’s most brazen potplant burglar looms, if I can manage to pedal my ill-gotten gains up our hill.

miniature rose

I wish you all a happy Hogmanay and a fulfilling year to come. Who knows what the next decade will bring, but as long as it includes plenty of cycling, gardening and even combining the two, then I shall have some measure of content.

Laying Waste

November 17, 2019

I enjoy most aspects of gardening, but if I’m really honest, the tasks I really relish are the ones that involve getting properly stuck in and laying waste to something. This is especially the case in November when gardening is only really bearable if it involves being in the greenhouse or doing something fairly vigorous. I’ve already wheelbarrowed about as much muck as I’m going to need at the moment for the veg beds, so today I decided the time had come to tackle the overgrown trellis that disguises the old dog kennel.

overgrown trellis

I was a little ambivalent about this because it’s clearly a nice sheltered spot for the bolder class of bird in the winter – but for the same reason, I knew if I was going to deal with it at all, it would have to be now because it was also used by a nesting blackbird this spring (we know this, because we had to keep rescuing one of the fledglings from inside the dog kennel).

trellis bed

At some point, this must have been a raised bed with a trellis up the back, planted with a rather nice miniature rose, some sort of lacecap hydrangea, a honeysuckle, something that might be a kind of jasmine, periwinkle, and some ivy.

Lots and lots of ivy.

ivy flowering

Throw in approximately a decade of neglect, and what you get is effectively the memory of a trellis (now a few crumbling sticks clutched between the twining stems of the climbers) in a monstrous mass of ivy, possible-jasmine, and periwinkle (which is also, worryingly, coming up through the flagstones), with a rather desperate rose and hydrangea just about keeping their chins above the rampant vegetation.

ex trellis

A happy few hours with a pair of loppers and the radio for company produced that most satisfying of gardening things: a big pile. Hopefully, it has not also killed off the rose or the hydrangea although as I’d never actually realised the hydrangea was there until now, it wouldn’t be desperately missed. I don’t fool myself for an instant that I’ve done anything to slow down the ivy or the periwinkle, but at least we now know what we’re up against and can plan accordingly…

big pile

I like big piles and I cannot lie

I can’t say it actually looks any better just yet, partly because the old dog kennel is a bit of an eyesore (and rapidly going the way of the trellis), but watch this space, because we have plans for it …

Kill Will(ow)

November 10, 2019

With a long-running piece of work finally dispatched and a sunny Sunday in the offing with nothing else planned I knew what I’d be doing today: binge gardening.

The first port of call was getting to grips with my fedge. Over the summer it has become increasingly apparent that if my plan had been to create a line of willow trees then it has been a roaring success, as every single one of the sturdy stakes we stuck in the ground to act as a support for the woven willow lattice has sprouted nicely (I didn’t think that willow this mature would root, but apparently it will. Perhaps we should have put them in upside down to be sure but even then …)

Willow fedge

The actual woven whips, which were supposed to root much more easily, haven’t done as well. A few have taken but more than two-thirds have not, possibly due to the dry spell we had after I’d put them all in, possibly some other reason, undoubtedly user error. Nothing for it but to clear away some of the encroaching vegetation, and wait for spring to fill in the gaps.

Of course, with willow, it’s not dead until it’s warm (or in actual flames) and dead, so I live in hope. Indeed, one of the deadest-looking sticks did prove to have a shoot coming up at the base, so we shall see.

willow shoot

It wasn’t the only thing showing unexpected signs of life, either. When the sun shines in November in Scotland, everything seems to emerge to make the most of it.


Nature, Tooth, Claw, Red in, etc.

November 7, 2019

While I was gadding about in Embra, it seems there’s been a murrrder in the veg plot, which I’m rather sorry I missed.

feathers on the grass

Exhibit A: A sad pile of feathers

Closer examination of the scene of the crime revealed a little bit more about the identity of the victim:

pheasant's foot

It seems we are down one pheasant (and if that photo doesn’t convince you that birds are just tiny flying dinosaurs – and how cool is that? – then I’m not sure what will).

It leaves us no clearer about the culprit though. The position of the feathers, under the electricity wire, originally made me think it was a sparrowhawk as they like to retreat to a handy perch to pluck their supper, but I’m not sure a sparrowhawk could take a pheasant. I’m not sure a buzzard would be able to either, unless something had killed it for it first. We’ve not seen any foxes around, which doesn’t mean there aren’t any – it’s only urban foxes that like to stroll around in broad daylight. Then again, if we had foxes on the prowl would we have as many hares as we do?

It’s a mystery – and clearly, it’s also a sign that I need to be spending less time gadding about and more time at home, keeping an eye on my own back yard.

This is a programme I can entirely get behind.

101 Uses for a Brompton: Transmuting Spiderplants

October 25, 2019

I’ve had a bit of a work crunch on these last 10 days or so, with a tight work deadline combined with events in Edinburgh and Glasgow and a big consultation exercise on the Scottish National Transport Strategy to respond to (because we know how to party in the Town Mouse household). So obviously, one of my number one priorities was to spend time photographing just some of our growing army of spider plants and posting them on Bigtown’s newly created bartering group online.

baby spider plants

I joke, but it was becoming a matter of growing urgency as we were in danger of becoming overwhelmed by them. We bought one spider plant about three years ago, after we decided that our new-to-us bathroom storage unit looked wrong without a plant sitting on it. Pretty soon the spider plant started doing what spider plants do, which is the same thing rabbits do, but without the need for another spider plant to get the process going.* I’m a sucker for planting up the babies because they look a bit desperate just hanging there, but I always forget that the first thing the babies do once they’re settled in is start creating babies of their own, so we’re on about our third generation now.

Anyway, amazingly – because you’d think the world would have enough spider plants for everyone to have at least one by now – there were takers, and after a trip down to Bigtown in the Brompton (plant transporter of choice), two of the spider babies have been transmogrified into a nice sanseveria, with further offers of a peace lily and a couple of aloe veras still in the bartering pipeline.


In fact the whole bartering group has proved to be something of a delight: a simple idea that appears to have taken off among the good people of Bigtown in an unexpected way. Quite a few people are using it just to get rid of stuff without wanting anything in return (‘space in my house’) but it’s been fun to watch some of the more creative swaps actually take shape – as well as the emergence of packs of coffee and chocolate bars as an ersatz currency.

The only slight downside is I’m now feeling a little bereft, as gaps appear on the windowsill where the spiderlings once sat and others are earmarked for swaps. Still, as long as I don’t get rid of the motherplant, that’s a problem that will quickly solve itself.

What would you barter?

* I used to volunteer for a charity which used to help old people who’d lost control of their gardens, back when we lived in London. One old couple had made the mistake of planting out a spider plant to see what happened. There was basically nothing else growing in their garden, and every nook and cranny was filled with spider plants. You’d think I’d have taken this as a Dreadful Warning but apparently not.

Meadow Larks

September 21, 2019

It’s been a bit of a crunch week for me this week, with the Bigtown Bike Breakfast last Thursday (this was a roaring success, helped by half a primary school turning up on bikes (despite the school in question being one of the most difficult to get to by bike in Bigtown, so chapeau to the teachers) and tomorrow’s Fancy Women ride to organise (current status: finely balanced between panicking about nobody turning up and panicking that too many people will turn up and it will be chaos). There’s also the small matter of my Anniversaire which is next Saturday and didn’t even have a route planned until late last night. But it’s also September, and a gorgeously fine one to boot, and gardens wait for nobody, however busy they might be.

As always with my garden I have a lot of half-baked projects on the go and the current one is establishing a bit of a wildflower meadow in the bottom corner which will hopefully function as more hare habitat as well as joining up with the bit of the field that has been left uncut. There’s an easy – or at least quick – way to establish a meadow, which is to remove everything that’s already growing there (“herbicides may be needed to remove perennial weeds”, as the guides say, which seems a bit counterproductive for a wildlife-friendly garden) and then replant with a mix of seed, but anyone who’s been following my gardening adventures for a while will probably guess that’s not the way I’m going about it. As far as I can tell from what I’ve read, the other way to establish a wildflower meadow is to only cut a piece of ground once a year, while being progressively beastly to the grass – removing fertility from the soil and sowing yellow rattle, which parasitises grass – and encouraging other things to grow in its place.

Given that – as I’ve said before – what this garden really wants to do is grow grass, I may be in for an uphill struggle here. But nothing ventured – and at least it will save the other half some strimming.

future meadow

Watch this space …

So far, we’ve let the grass grow long in our chosen corner over the summer, and have now cut and raked it to remove some of the grass. I’ve also transplanted what I’m fairly certain are wood anemone rhizomes – but realistically, could be anything, so a nice surprise for spring – from another part of the garden, and started creating bare patches where I’ll sow yellow rattle seed and maybe some other wildflower seed that we were given at a wedding last year. Then, hopefully, it will just be a question of time, an occasional strim, and sitting back and watching our meadow bloom. Or, possibly more likely, entering into a battle royal with dock, nettles and brambles – and of course grass – until we give up and take it back to lawn …