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


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Conquering The High Bank

Over the last three afternoons I have cleared most of the moss and weeds from the lower sections of the high bank, and have begun scaling the heights.

It was so lovely on Monday evening that I wandered out with a cup of coffee and moved one of the garden chairs into the middle of the lawn so that I could survey my work. I always have robins following me about as I work, seeing what easy meals I have made available. This one posed for me...

<-Before After->

I obviously didn't do a very good job of nettle clearance last autumn behind the honeysuckle and to the right - but there are nowhere near as many this time round. Today I lugged the fork up with me... This time I am working from bottom to top unlike last year, when there was no route up, so it is slightly easier to dig and pull the nettle roots out of the claggy clay soil.

I reckon another three days should see the job finished, but the rain cometh...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Waiting for the Sun

It's a bit dreary outside at the moment but it is supposed to clear and turn into a nice day. I hope so - there is still so much to do.

On Saturday I pruned the roses. I was nowhere near as intimidated as last year - there was an article in the RHS Garden magazine entitled 'Roses: myths and facts'. Amongst other things it said that hard pruning each year is not needed, and pruning every stem to an outward facing bud produces fewer flowers than cutting with hedge-trimmers! I removed the 3 Ds - damaged/dead/diseased and then just cut back to a reasonable size. One plant had had it, so I dug it out leaving fifteen surviving. There appears to be plenty of room in the bed - it is its own low walled area housing our septic tank - for the six new ones I have ordered.

I then had my first weeding/moss removal session of the high bank, starting at the left hand side. It is hard work up there - trying to balance, not step on/flatten with rubbish sack the 'real' plants, not slide back down, and actually do the weeding. I have imposed a new rule that one sack filled is enough for a session - otherwise my legs will ache for the next three days. I got two thirds of the way up...

Yesterday morning I cleared another area at the top of the drive for my third compost bin. This involved removing the stones until I got down to mainly soil from an area large enough for the base - a circle of about a metre diameter. This took quite a long time as after the easy top layers had been removed there was a sort of double layer embedded in the mud. Forking it over loosened them enough to pick them out. Once the third bin was in place it was baptised with the moss/weeds from the day before.

After lunch I commenced my 2007 chemical warfare campaign - the ground elder and dandelions in the long bank were first in the firing line. The giant hogweed at the top of the high bank was next - it was already almost two feet high. Once up there I spotted another one coming through close by - zap. Around the side of Margaret's barn is a mass of them - I sprayed the ones I could easily reach. This is going be a long term problem...

I then weeded/de-mossed the next section along of the high bank - I have decided to get the lower sections sorted out first as that is where a lot of the new plants will go. Another sack of moss/weeds added to compost bin number three.

I then recommenced my logging of the long bank - another two metres mapped out. I have decided this is going to take too long - from here on in I think I will just photograph it and make notes of where the gaps are...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Plant Buying Military Campaign

I discovered that I have been assigned a garden budget of 660 pounds for this year and that I have only spent 10 percent of it so far. Paul had forgotten we had had the 'one-off' purchase of the petrol strimmer last year so this years budget has been somewhat boosted :)

Having had a forced break from gardening due to 30+ mph winds, snow, sleet and hail my thoughts turned to the next plant buying campaign when the J Parker spring/summer catalogue arrived in the post.

This time the free plants are an azalea with every order and spend over 40 pounds and get 10 dwarf white lily bulbs. There were also some very good offers within, restricted to one per order. This was going to need meticulous planning...

Step 1: Initial pass through marking up what I want with a large asterisk
Step 2: Create a file with all that I have asterisked with code/description/price and total
Step 3: Compare bulb prices with my Avon bulbs catalogue and amend list accordingly
Step 4: Phone the enquiry line to check there is no restriction of one order per household
Step 5: Split the order into 4 to get all the free gifts/repeat special offers that I wanted - well worth the extra post/packing fee
Step 6: Go onto website and create orders - discovered the dwarf rhododendrons were two pounds more expensive on the website
Step 7: Do the last order using the catalogue form to ensure I got the catalogue price...

Plant List
75 dwarf narcissi - 11.50
45 narcissi Pheasant's Eye/Poeticus Recurvus for naturalising - 9.90
75 rockery tulips - 11.50
75 lily flowered tulips - 14.80
25 Allium Christophii - 7.95
25 Allium aflatunense - 7.95
2*6 Guernsey Lilies - 3.90
40 dwarf Oriental Lilies - free
Summer Basket/Pots
12 Cascading Begonia - 1.95
2*6 Surfinia Repens Velvet - 5.90
2*6 Double Trailing Petunia - 5.90
6 upright Fuchsias - 6.95
2*10 Mixed perennials -1.90 - even if I only want a couple from each pack I can't go wrong at that price
2*6 Mixed Lupins - 1.90
6 Aquilegia Black Barlow - 3.95 - I know these will love my garden...
1 Acer p. d. atropurpureum garnet - 13.95
1 Acer p. Orange Dream - 12.95
1 Acer p. atropurpureum - (buy 2 get one free)
3 Dwarf Rhododendron - 8.90
6 Lost label roses - 9.00
12 Hardy Fuchsia - 9.95
4 Azalea 'Geisha Orange' - free

So in total 166.60 pounds spent, 201.60 'saved'.

Aldi's also had rhododendrons at 4.99 yesterday - it was certainly worth a trip to check them out as we needed a couple of things in Berwick anyway. They were excellent value - good large plants in 4 litre pots - so I bought three (white, pink and red).

The weather was much better yesterday afternoon so I went out with graph paper, pencil, eraser, tape measure and camera to start logging what is growing where and where there are gaps that need filling as by autumn when next year's spring bulbs arrive I will not remember. This is going to be a major task as I only completed the first 5 metres. It should get easier when I get past the rockery...

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Garden Report 2007 - 7

I have made good progress in weeding the long bank in the last couple of weeks. I was hoping to finish it this afternoon, but have been driven back inside as the wind is too strong. Also, in cutting back a large clump of geraniums I also took a large slice out of my left little finger which bled profusely. I finished the task before I decided to come in, clean it up and get Paul to apply a plaster. I have tidied up the last of the hostas, removing last year's dried out leaves and flower stalks. Healthy new buds are already coming through.

Yesterday I decided the time had come to remove the aucuba (?) from the bank. It really was out of place - far too big and not in keeping with the rest of that area. Loppers did most of the work and then garden saw to cut the stumps right down. I got Paul to do the main trunk after I was getting nowhere with it. I am very pleased with the end result - the bank looks right now despite there being a big empty space. I will need to dig some compost around the stump, which is too solid to easily remove, before attempting to plant around it - the soil looks very poor there.

The snowdrops are finally calling it a day now and setting seed, and the daffodils are taking over. The three clumps that have come up in the grass are now flowering. There is no sign of the other two clumps I planted, but on checking they are a late flowering variety - May - so maybe they shouldn't be visible yet.
The tete-a-tete and Jetfire varieties in the long bank, the dwarf ones in the tubs, and a few of the larger ones that I inherited in the high bank are now also in flower. The other side of the river is ablaze with them...

I have had a rhododendron (praecox according to the label) in flower at the top left of the high bank now for a couple of weeks. I risked life and limb climbing up with my camera. You get a better idea of how high up I am from this shot...

I also have a small pale pink one (unlabelled) starting to flower now in the long bank.

The aubretias are now beginning to flower in earnest. I have pink, mauve, purple, cerise and many colours in between. Ann from the lodge on the other side of the bridge says she has tried to grow it with no success. It self seeds all over my garden, so I will pot some up for her at some point. I was surprised to find out that her garden is alkaline soil and she was equally surprised to find out mine is acid...

The flowering currant is now doing what its name implies. These have never been amongst my favourites. I inherited a couple in my previous small garden, and I gave one of them the chop. However, it looks more at home here and I think it will stay, although it will probably be reduced in size later in the year...

The scillas and puschkinia have started to flower and the grape hyacynths do not look far behind. The dwarf irises and crocuses are continuing to flower. Many of the later bulbs are now also pushing through, and in the case of some of the larger alliums and tulips there is a large amount of leaf already.

Fresh growth is also visible on many of the perennials and I can almost see the leaves growing on some of the shrubs.

The farmers around us seem to have decided it is spring. On Tuesday we noticed the first field being ploughed on the other side of the river, and Ian (Margaret's cousin) was muck-spreading the rabbit field. Then the one down the track before the bridge was ploughed. Then the one down the track opposite Margaret's. And yesterday the stubble field. We saw our first lambs of the year yesterday at Edrom. Today the field up to Ray and Janet's, that had been empty, is now populated with sheep and their lambs...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

CSW - The Start of a Journey

My free ABSP copy of the 'Collins Scrabble Tournament and Club Wordlist initiation kit' arrived a little over 3 weeks ago, and I resisted the temptation to dive into it until after the Scottish Masters. We do not switch from Chambers to Collins until May 15th, and I have two more tournaments planned before the cut over - Durham and the Scottish Open. However, there is a lot of work to be done and I decided to start a couple of weeks ago. I will buy a copy of the complete new book at Durham.

The initiation kit is a great starting point. It lists all the new 2/3/4s and their definitions, 5s with J/Q/X/Z, 3+ vowels and hooks of 4s, vowel-heavy bonuses (5+ vowel 7/8s), new Collins-only S hooks for 2-6s, new high probability 7/8s and new 7/8s from the top 250 6/7 stems.

I have learnt the new 2s, 3s and 4s - 369 words in total. I am also pretty well up on which of the 4s are blockers, and which do/do not take an S.

I have spent a couple of days on the new 5s containing J/Q/X/Z - 72 in total - almost there now. Next I will concentrate on the new hooks for 4 to 5. And then back to 4s again to see if they are actually in my head or just in short-term memory...

Thursday, March 08, 2007


A couple of weeks ago we met Anne on her way to visit Margaret as we were taking the dogs out. She had picked up a couple of cans from the verge and asked if she could drop them in our bin on the way past. We thought at the time that we should take a bag out with us on our walks as we had noticed how much litter had accumulated on the verges and in the hedgerows around us. And every walk we forgot.

Then on the radio a few days ago there was a feature on littering. There was a phone-in survey on what was permissible littering. 93% of people thought it was okay to drop an apple core or the like in the countryside. I have no problem with that - it will bio-degrade. However, it gave us the reminder we needed to take a bag with us on the lunchtime walk.

We had filled the bag by the time we were only half way up the hill past Margaret's. At the top of the hill we built quite a large pile of bottles from a very small area, to be picked up the next time we went past. You'd think it would be more economic to drive to a bottle bank with them than to drive out to Todheugh. Or maybe there was a wild party up there that we were not privy to...

In the afternoon Paul took a couple of bags with him on the walk to Edrom, meaning to collect the bottles on the way back. However, he had already filled them both.

So far in two days we have filled about ten bags. We have also found two carrier bags ready-filled and dumped. The main culprits are plastic sports/water bottles (there are several cycle routes around here), drinks cans and crisp packets. The bottle collection is mainly made up of wine bottles. Unfortunately we haven't found anything of any value...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Garden Report 2007 - 6

Janet had given me a tray of double snowdrops, winter aconites and chionodoxa (?) that needed planting. The weather had been pretty bad last week, but on Friday the rain had stopped and it had brightened up a little. In the afternoon I decided to go for it. I weeded the next couple of feet of the long bank and planted up the snowdrops and chionodoxa. I split up the clump of winter aconites and planted them under the large buddleia further along the bank. The weather was still holding so I then continued weeding the long bank up to the end of the drive. This mostly meant removing the surface of moss that had built up and was acting as a grow-mat for the weeds. I decided this would be suitable for composting. I don't know what happens in my compost bins - they have TARDIS properties in that I fill them up and weeks later they are only half filled, despite me never actually having removed any compost from them...

Yesterday I got around to pruning the two redcurrant bushes after taking advice from my RHS encyclopedia again - cut back side shoots to a bud and reduce leaders by 2 to 3 inches. All well and good in theory. Trying to decide what was a leader was not so easy after what looks like more than just one year of pruning being missed. There were branches with what I would consider multiple 'leaders' coming from them. The neighbouring blackcurrant bushes had also muscled their way in and I was unable to untangle them. All I can say is that I tried my best, and next year I will cut back the errant blackcurrant branches. On the plus side I had a couple of low-growing branches that have self-layer-rooted to give me future new bushes.

After a break for a cup of coffee and to warm up a bit I went back out to follow Reg's advice. I dug up four large clumps of snowdrops from the patch I had cleared up the week before. I replanted a few back into the areas I had raided, and it is hardly noticeable that anything has happened. I got a couple of dozen smaller clumps from this stock and have planted them all over the area of long bank I had weeded the day before. They look a little sad at the moment but hopefully they will bulk up over the next couple of years.

Several of the groups of crocuses in the garden are now beginning to open...

The first few dwarf irises are now in flower...

The hellebores are still going strong.

The autumn crocuses have erupted into strong lush growth, including the ones I planted/transplanted last year.

I have spotted three of the five groups of daffodils I planted in the grass at the bottom of the drive coming through. I have none in flower yet in the garden proper but we spotted the first one open along the road to Anne's on St. David's Day. I think my garden is a week or two behind the other side of the river as it is north-facing...

Rabbit's Revenge

I spoke too soon...

We noticed on Wednesday evening that Jen was struggling a little to stand up - her back legs looked very awkward. On Thursday morning we were woken early by whines. Paul went downstairs to check and found Jen lying in the hall feeling sorry for herself. When he got up for proper she had not moved, and did not want to go out. In fact she did not want to move. All attempts to get her to stand up resulted in squeals of pain.

We managed to manoeuvre her duvet under her between us, just in case we needed to move her and also for damage limitation...

Paul phoned the vet when they opened at 8.30 and asked for someone to come out as there was no way we were going to be able to get her up and in the car. They were very good - I needed to go into Duns to get some shopping and when I returned the vet had already been and the hall was clear of dog and duvet.

Paul said that when he arrived Jen got up, albeit slowly. Typical. He gave her a thorough examination but found no injuries. He thinks it was just her muscles seizing up and aching from the rabbit incident. I can relate to that - it is normally two or three days after I have been gardening that I really ache. He gave her an injection of pain killer and a prescription for more pain killer to be put in her food.

On Friday she was a lot better but in the evening Poncho was showing the same symptoms and yesterday we were getting little squeals from him when he got up, but unlike Jen nothing was going to stop him going out. Jen is back to her old self now so I think we will give Poncho the rest of her pain killer...

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