The trials and tribulations of a life of leisure...


Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Responding to Comments

Well, the weather today is as predicted. Very strong winds. Wicker Pig made another dash for freedom, despite his ground pegs, as I was looking out the window. By the time I got my boots on to catch him he had scarpered down the bank and across the road...

I didn't actually lose too much available gardening time yesterday as we had decided to take the dogs to Duns castle grounds for their morning walk. There would have little point in starting in the garden prior to taking them. The later blog was written after I came back in when it was dark...

The size of our plot including house, garden, cowshed and back barn is about half an acre - small in comparison with most of the houses around here, but enormous compared to Sandhurst. It does not take into account the slope though, which adds quite a lot to the banks' surface area.

Responding to anonymous regarding rose pruning and insects in the garden. At the start of the year I went on a half-day course on pruning fruit trees at Floors castle, but they also covered roses and other plants. I have forgotten a lot of it. The thing I do remember re rose bushes is that they didn't have time to prune in summer/autumn, and only pruned hard in Spring after St. Georges day. I must say that your gardener seems wildly overqualified for the job - maybe that is why he charges so much :)

Fauna in and around Todheugh

I am by no means an expert on such matters, and the lists may not be complete. They only cover what we or neighbours have actually seen/heard/recognised.

Badgers - there was a dead one on the road to Allanton. My friend Allan at Coldingham, about 9 miles away, had some living in a waste pipe in the bank of the stream over the road from his house.
Bats - saw lots at dusk in the summer
Deer - Roe deer are becoming more common around here, and we see them quite often on our walks
Foxes - Surprisingly, considering the number of rabbits, I have only seen one early one morning up the hill from Margaret's farm
Hares - fairly common
Mice - we started the traps again in the loft last week. Count so far is 11
Moles - common. Had one in our lawn last year. Mole hills in the high bank this year.
Rabbits - ubiquitous
Rats - roadkill again
Voles - caught some this spring. Can see the holes in the lawn and in the long bank

Toads - lots. See earlier post re Poncho and the toad
Probably frogs too, but I would find it hard to tell the difference.

We have a good variety of birds around here as we have farmland, woodland and the river. We are also not far from the North Sea coast, can see the Cheviot hills to the south and are fairly close to the Lammermuir hills in the north. This list will definitely be missing some, despite me having my book of Scottish birds...
There are several birds of prey - buzzards, sparrowhawks, kestrels
Owls - I have only actually seen one, but you can hear them in the daytime as well as at night
Pheasants - the dumbest bird ever
Various tits (although I find it difficult to tell the difference between some of them) all come to my bird feeders -there is a definite pecking order amongst them
Robins also come to the feeders, and have been following me around as I have been digging
Swallows, swifts and house-martins - all very similar
Sparrows - food for the sparrowhawks
Blackbirds, green finches, crows/rooks, thrushes, wagtails, woodpeckers (heard)
At the river kingfishers (seen by neighbours), ducks and herons

Bees - various. Iona and Hedley keep bee hives. They were feasting on the clover in our lawn this summer
Beetles - various unknowns
Butterflies - glorious year for them. Cannot identify them all but orange-tips, common white, tortoise-shell and red admirals
Centipedes - don't know what they actually are, but black and squiggly ones all over the blackberries at the end of September
Earthworms - enormous great big juicy ones
Flies - various. Plagued by them on our walks on still warm days this summer. Was enthralling watching the swallows catching them.
Midges - but not as bad as further north
Moths - lots. Probably why so many bats...
Slugs - all 3 British natives: white, brown and black
Snails - but not as bad as Sandhurst
Spiders - seen more in the house than outside, but when there was a heavy dew the whole of the high-bank was covered in webs. A lot of small white ones on the elderberries.
Wasps - had a nest in the lawn

What has been more of note is what we haven't got that plagued me down south.
Roses are amazingly bug-free. May account for not having ants too. In Sandhurst my roses where covered in aphids/greenfly, and ants nests underneath farming them.
Lupins - not a woolly-aphid in sight
Lilies - apparently lily-beetles not made it here yet either

Monday, October 30, 2006

Autumn Gardening

A week last Friday I was browsing a plant catalogue from J.Parker when I noticed they had a website. I logged in and began browsing in earnest - before I knew it I had started adding stuff to my basket. They hook you with some excellent offers - 12 mixed hyacinths for £1.95, 5 Starfighter lilies for £1.75, 25 Allium Purple Sensation for £2.45. In they went. I had clocked up the first free gift of 6 Campanula Glomerata Superba the moment the first plant hit the basket. Next target - spend £40.00 and get 30 free Apricot Beauty tulips - well, that shouldn't be too much of a challenge. In went the blue Himalayan poppies - should love it in the left hand side of the high bank. Next came the pack of 6 Japanese anemones - I had already planted some of these last year (a gift from Janet), but only 2 had survived from the weed attack. Tricyrtis Hirta - now they look interesting, lily-like flowers, white covered with red splotches, and they like shade - will be great at the top of the high bank. Ooh - a collection of double paeonies - buy 4 and get 2 free. I'm sure I'll find somewhere for them. A pack of 6 mixed Tradescantia - they like wet or dry soil, sun or part shade so will be ideal for my garden. Lastly a pack of 5 Erythronium Dens Canis - Dog's Tooth violets - for under the buddleia in the long bank. Proceed to checkout. Total £58.75, savings £39.50.

Now all I have to do is get the garden ready for them.

I still had the 2 packs of bulbs and pots from Aldi to sort out. There was no way I was going to cram 50 bulbs into those small pots, but they would be fine for the hyacinths. I set about clearing out the weeds from the 3 tubs along the edge of the lawn - I thought I may be able to put some bulbs in them but found they were already pretty well bulbed up. I topped up the compost level, re-located a mint plant to a separate pot and planted the crocuses from the packs around it. I replaced the mint with a small pot of chives I had brought up from Sandhurst.

As a separate project I had also bought 2 packs each containing 3 climbers from Aldi several weeks ago - an absolute bargain at £3.99 per pack. I had 4 clematis, a solanum and a jasmine still waiting to find a home. I had plans to plant them along the other side of the drive to the long bank rockery. There is trellis up already, with the garden sheds on the other side. I managed to clear enough to plant 3 of the clematis last Wednesday before darkness and rain forced me to stop.

The next job was to clear the small area along the side of the rose-bed area. There are a few plants self-seeded into this narrow patch, but mainly the lawn, clover, docks and thistles seem to want to claim it as their own. I planted the sparaxia, puschkinia and allium moly from the bulb packs in here. I still need to weed the rose-bed itself...

Moving on to clearing the debris from under the buddleia. The alchemillas (Lady's mantle) had taken over under here. I remember when I first arrived up here being very pleased on finding these in the garden. A short walk over the road and down to the river soon showed me that they were growing everywhere here, as are geraniums which I love. Now, why couldn't they have invaded. I also started clearing out some of my annuals from the small beds I had made along the bottom of the bank.

Yesterday I was back to the high bank. There was a very weak small potentilla in there which was doing nothing - that needed to be pulled out. Also a few branches on a shrub (no idea what it is) slightly higher up that were growing outwards instead of upwards that were ready for the chop. This would clear quite a large area ready for planting. Those jobs done and back up with a rubbish sack to remove the debris (mainly moss and twigs) and a fork to dig it over. It was nowhere near as muddy as I had expected, and surprisingly not as stony as other areas. I found more autumn crocuses and snowdrops up there as I dug it over, and these were relocated to under the shrubs. I planted my last clematis just below the shrub - hopefully it will grow up into it. Feeling pleased with how well this went I carried on around the front of the pampas grass. Then I got over-ambitious. The high bank continues around to the side of the house - there is actually a small alley between the house and the bank that houses the dustbins from before the council switched to wheelie bins. I had never made it round that far in all the time we have been here - finding a route had not been possible before, but now that I had cleared the pampas grass and brambles I could see a way up. Off I set with my loppers, gloves and fork. Firstly to chop the dead and annoying branches off of yet another buddleia. Now I could make it to the bottom of the conifers. Next chop off some of the lower branches of those so that I can work my way past them to get to the side. I was greeted by another giant hogweed, but on its last legs for this year. I could get past that okay - to get to another forest of nettles... and another of brambles... I pulled out as many of the nettles as I could, throwing them down into the alley. I hadn't the heart or the time to start on the brambles. That job can wait until everything else has been done.
On bagging up the rubbish I rediscovered my wicker pig hiding in the alley. He is looking a little worse for wear (needs some new wicker I think), but I decided to give him his freedom. He was locked up before because he kept blowing away, but I had found some ground pegs, so hopefully he is now going to behave.

Today I moved back to the rockery end of the long bank. There were loads of linaria purpurea (I think) all over it. These could go. They will seed back in unless I clear the whole bank, but that will be fine once what I want growing there is established. I hadn't realised quite how many of them there were - I filled a sack and a half. The last job of the day was to dig out the old lupin - this also had self-seeded, and I had already transplanted the seedlings at intervals along the top edge of the bank.

Having looked at the 5-day weather forecast I will probably get a day off tomorrow - strong wind, but nowhere near as bad as the earlier predicted 40 m.p.h. It does seem to improve as the week goes on, but the temperature is now dropping. I just hope my plants arrive in the next few days...

Country Living

Back in Sandhurst, although we lived in a small cul-de-sac, we only knew about half the other people in the street, and out of those we were only really friendly with our immediate neighbours on one side. When we bought our house up here we made an effort to go round to all the other houses in the immediate neighbourhood that we knew about to introduce ourselves. We discovered there were a few more houses we hadn't known about when Ray and Janet, from the bungalow further up the hill on the other side of the river, stopped when they were passing to say hello. People wave when they go past in cars - and occasionally even complete strangers have stopped for a chat when they have seen the dogs. It is amazing how many people used to own greyhounds, whippets or just used to go to dog races.

Ray and Janet have been very good to me and my garden, a steady supplier of plants from when we first moved up here for good. Frequently when we walk past with the dogs they are waiting for us on our way back for a chat and to enquire whether I would like some x for my garden. We have also been provided with rhubarb and apples.

We have become good friends with Anne and Neil from 'the big house'. They now keep chickens, and we have had a good supply of eggs. We have also shared some gardening catalogues, which means we have taken advantage of the special offers and postage savings. Anne lent me her jam pan which meant that I didn't have Paul standing over me worrying about spilling sugary goo onto his hob for my last couple of batches of jam/jelly. Paul has set up their website for them - they are hoping to holiday-let their renovated basement flat -

We often see old John and Mary, who own a farm at Edrom, when we are out and about. They sell their own potatoes and Paul went and bought a couple of stones (imperial measurement - not small rocks) at the end of last week. We also got given another bag of apples. We should not need to buy any for quite a while now as long as they keep okay.

My main part in the community spirit has been distributing jars of jam - although I still have enough to keep us supplied until next autumn! I have also been seed collecting from my garden and should have a quite a few packets to give away. It was a particularly good year for giant poppies - all the better as they were self-sown and just sprouted up in all the areas I had cleared along the bottom of the long bank.

Well, I'd better get back out to the garden now. This looks like it might be the last good day for a while now, and I want to be ready when the new plants I have ordered arrive...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Long Bank

I was busy with my camera yesterday. We have been here for just over a year now, and there is no comparison with the state of the garden now to when we moved up here after six months of neglect. My job now is to try to keep it under control, and begin to replace the plants that I don't like or I do not think are 'right'. I think that large evergreen (possibly an aucuba) will be going...

This is the main 'rockery' area that has been completely planted up with spring bulbs...

Continuing on from the photinia ...

On to the end section where I have planted mainly grape-hyacynths and narcissi between the saxifrages. You can see the bank of red-hot pokers - these marked the end of the garden for the previous owners. However, we also bought the cowshed which can be seen at the end of the house, and the barn behind it. We have now been granted planning permission to knock it down and build an extension...

I am actually growing plant labels...

Buddleia after major surgery. The shrubs underneath can now actually be seen. I will be underplanting with some dog-tooth violets...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

High Bank

Joy! I finished weeding the high bank yesterday. I was foolish to think it was only another days work. In order to finish off pruning/culling the honeysuckle I decided the easiest way to reach it was to go round the back. As I ascended I was met with yet another thicket of brambles and nettles - Sleeping Beauty had nothing on my garden...

I decided to tackle the problem from basics, and continued climbing up to Margaret's barn at the back. Session one I removed all the brambles from along the back and between the conifers. Session two I started clearing those in front of the conifers and discovered two berberises, a forsythia and a rhododendron. We then had two days of steady rain...

Yesterday afternoon, with some trepidation, I set off back up the bank armed with my loppers, secateurs, gloves and rubbish bag. It was like climbing a mud bank, but with various shrubs to hang on to for purchase I got there. Yet another buddleia to attack, and the rhododendron can now see the light of day. I then had to gingerly start working my way down towards the honeysuckle, pulling out nettles and as much of the root system as I could from the mud, without sliding a***-about-t** down to the bottom. It then started to rain again...

Had a break to walk the dogs, and the rain stopped. I went straight back out on return - it would have been far too easy just to call it a day but I was so close. I had left the loppers up there, so it was slightly easier to get back up. I managed to work my way to the telegraph pole and this gave me a good footing.

Also from here I could actually throw the weeds and prunings onto the lawn, rather than have to try to pack them into the rubbish sack. Attempts to throw stuff from higher up had generally resulted in me having to do a scavenger hunt to retrieve all of the bundles that ended up lodged in various shrubs half-way down.

The honeysuckle after the war...

Autumn is here

Paul is away in Peebles playing bridge, so I am alone with the dogs.

It is glorious autumn day - blue skies, sun shining and hardly a breath of wind. I decided to take the dogs for a morning amble rather than walk, as I was not having to keep up with my pace setter. I think this threw Jen into confusion, as for once I was happy to let her sniff and swap sides, and just stand looking at the views whilst waiting for her to be ready to continue on to the next interesting place. Poncho also behaved himself, which makes for a much more pleasant outing.

It was so lovely that I got my camera and went back out to take some photos...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Normal service resumed

Last week my laptop decided it was not going to start up from hibernation mode. Luckily it was still under extended warranty so Paul arranged for it to be sent back. I was out in the garden completing the bulb planting when the DHL van pulled up. I thought it was very good service as it was only a couple of hours since Paul had phoned, only to find out the driver was actually looking for our neighbour's house up the hill. He reappeared at about the same time the following day to collect the laptop...and I got it back this afternoon.

I completed the bulb planting in the long bank at about 6 p.m. on Thursday. It should look glorious if they all survive and thrive. I also pruned the buddleias, but not to the extent that Colin would have liked.

I started on the high bank on Friday - buddleia pruning again, along with nettle and bramble clearing. In the afternoon I went over to Anne's to pick some more elderberries. I spent the evening removing the berries from their stalks.

On Saturday morning Jean phoned to ask if I wanted to go over to pick bullaces (small plums). After getting directions I donned a thick jumper, packed my wellies and barber into Paul's car, and set off. I missed the entrance to the farm but quickly realised I had gone too far and found it no problem on the second attempt.

Jean and I set off with her two dogs to the field with the bullaces. Jean was not amused to find that someone had already picked a lot of them. This was part of her farm land and not exactly on the beaten track, and a little detective work showed horse hoof prints... However, we were more intrepid than the thieves and climbed over the fence to get to the ones at the back, and finished up with a couple of pounds. We wandered back to the farm and then headed off in the jeep to another field to pick sloes. We actually had less luck with these as the trees were fairly sparse. We were just giving up when Jean spotted a well-loaded tree and I braved the gorse bushes to get to it, adding significantly to take our total to three quarters of a pound. Should be enough to make some sloe gin.

On the way back to the farm we passed an apple tree that Jean thought was not too good, but we decided to pick a couple to try them. They were lovely - juicy and slightly tart. Jean backed the jeep up to the tree and we stood on the back to pick a couple of bucketfuls.

After a coffee I set off back home loaded down with the spoils of the morning.

The weather had improved and in the afternoon I got back out into the garden. Next on the to-do list was to tidy up the pampas grass as I could now actually get to it. I don't think the dead leaves/fronds??? or old canes have ever been removed. Once this had been done I could get around the back to pull out the brambles and dig out the roots.

We had been kindly invited to a cheese and wine evening by Chris and Maggie at Preston - friends of friends who knew we were fairly new to the area. We had a very pleasant evening, and actually did know some other people there from the Berwickshire bridge tournament earlier in the year.

Sunday was another high-bank gardening day, and I scaled new heights right up to the top. I had spotted something blue back there. After filling five sacks with nettles (these must have been about three metres high) and more brambles I eventually discovered a patch of aconites, and a giant hogweed that I very cautiously skirted. That will be a job for chemical warfare in the spring. I was hoping to be able to exit around the side of Margaret's barn at the top of the bank, but discovered the path along the side was also filled with nettles and hogweeds, so there was nothing for it but having to scramble back down, pushing the rubbish sacks, loppers etc down in front of me.

In the evening Paul and I went over to Anne's for drinks and to play pool and table football. I am pleased that my mis-spent youth came flooding back to me and I was undefeated on the pool table.

I resumed on the high bank again today - pruning the honeysuckle after what appears to have been several years of neglect. I filled another five sacks with dead wood, and must have gained about another metre of garden from underneath it. I even found two old birds nests in the middle of it. I still need to get around the sides and back - I have spotted some more giant nettles. Tomorrows weather is supposed to be good again, so I am hoping to complete the weeding and may actually get to fill some of the new gaps with plants...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Bulbs, bulbs and more bulbs...

The bulbs I had ordered duly arrived on the afternoon of my birthday - mainly alliums, crocuses and narcissi. 185 bulbs...
Anne and Neil came round shortly afterwards with the bulbs I had ordered from her catalog - more narcissi, crocuses and dwarf irises. 140 bulbs...
I had also bought narcissi, scillas and grape hyacinths from Aldi. At 99p a pack I couldn't resist - another 100 bulbs. And that isn't counting the two packs I bought with planters...

My main spring area is the long bank at the drive end. I had already planted dwarf rhododendrons, azaleas and gentians, and transplanted a couple of large clumps of snowdrops from the high bank earlier in the year. Having weeded it a couple of weeks ago I thought I should be up and running. No such luck. With the rain and sunshine we have been having the weeds had already started to come back. Forget-me-nots appear to have taken over from the buttercups of last year. Still, it was nowhere near as bad and I set about my task with great gusto.

With each little area cleared of weeds I have to decide what combination of bulbs to plant. I try to plant in groups of five or seven. Once decided, in went the bulb-planter only to hit stones/rocks in two out of three 'holes'. Once the stones were removed to allow me to create a hole of the correct depth I then had to remove the stones at the bottom of the holes. Paul doesn't seem to understand the design aspect of gardening, and why it is taking so long...

On a different note Paul and I went to a quiz night with Jean (bridge player) and her husband Sandy at Preston village hall last night. It was 'take your own food and drink' and half way through the quiz there was an auction to raise funds for the hall. It was really good fun, and somehow we managed to win...mainly due to Paul displaying his lateral thinking skills in the dingbats round. We got home quite late, to discover that Poncho (I am guessing) had decided that my Jellybean jigsaw puzzle that my sister had bought me for my birthday may actually contain jelly-beans. The box had been ripped open as had the plastic bag containing the pieces that were scattered around the sitting room floor...

I was not expecting to be able to continue in the garden today as the weather forecast had not been good. It had rained quite heavily in the early hours, but when I got up the sun was shining. Paul volunteered to walk the dogs on his own so that I could get back to it.

I cleared the section at the top of the drive of mouse-eared hawkweed (according to my book of Scottish Wild Flowers (aka weeds)). The soil up there was very clayey and, as per everywhere, extremely stony. I planted up the hostas, astilbe, solomons seal and elephants ears that Maureen had brought down in July. The camassia bulbs went in here - need heavier moisture-retentive soil. That completed that section of the bank - about 200 bulbs, mainly crocuses, dwarf irises and narcissi, with a couple of groups of rockery tulips and scillas.

We were thinking about going to a craft fair at Paxton house this afternoon, but as the weather was still good I decided to keep going. I upped sticks to the house end of the bank. This area of the bank is mainly covered in saxifrages. I had already decided that I wanted to plant the grape hyacinths in between these. I also planted one group of tulips and one of narcissi. Another 50 bulbs down.

I decided to continue weeding the last couple of metres that I had not completed on the previous pass. I filled two sacks with weeds before the rain came down forcing me to stop for the day.

So after 3 days I still have about 200 bulbs to go, but I am on the homeward stretch now...

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