Archive for July, 2016

Curiosity #3

Dumfries and Galloway: “secret Scotland”. Where we just spent a relaxing week. Walking Forestry Commission trails, watching midnight skies gradually darken (was that the I.S.S. we saw?), visiting gardens, beaches, driving woodland trails, dipping shoeless feet into the cool waters of Kirroughtree’s Otter Pool and a hot day spent on a trip to Belfast.

 Image result for portpatrick


Impressive agricultural landscapes, bracken heathlands, valleys, burns, pine plantations and bays. Drinking tea, watching hares and roe deer and being surprised by evening barn owls and bats on strolls from our idyllic cottage near Stairhaven. Friendly people at every turn, although at most turns there were very few people at all. Remote tranquillity and the sound of the sea: I heartily recommend the region.

Image result for kirroughtree otter pool Image result for stairhaven

Of course my eyes always peeled for plants, tips, and swaggage. Once a scrounger, always a scrounger I guess*:

Thalictrum something-or-other growing outside a house in Wigtown (book capital of Scotland), bracken used as mulch, crushed seashells as pathways, sea-smoothed rocks from the beach at Portpatrick.

Image result for wigtown scotland

And two sealed bags of coffee grounds from Clattershaw’s Visitor Centre, where the manager refused to serve us jacket potatoes because of the inferior standard of the potatoes delivered. Only courtesy stopped me going back and taking all seven because I could imagine emptying them out into the wormery at home.


It was a long, gruelling drive home, made worse by traffic jams unimaginable during the week in “splendid isolation”. So it wasn’t until the day after that I eventually dumped the rich smelling coffee grounds (and a couple of tea bags) from the sellotaped-closed bags.

Slugs and snails are, apparently, deterred by coffee grounds, while worms, it is said, enjoy the texture (and, who knows, smell maybe?).

So, once back and unpacked and after a night’s restless sleep I add the grounds to the wormery. The smell instantly surrounds me; rich and evocative. That advertising hook instantly comes to mind, but revised as:

“Smell the coffee and wake up!”

(Far more likely don’t you think?)

The wormery has survived, the little critters doing their wriggling decomposing thing in that timeless, magical way. Any time soon I suppose I should be adding the third “floor” and using the contents of the starter tray, saving the worms and putting them back to carry on munching.

A couple of days after adding the coffee grounds, which include a couple of tea bags, this is what I saw.



Not sure how to describe it: pretty, unexpected; a pink bloom maybe. Some kind of fungus/ decay.

But is it usual?


* and plenty of room in the car, if you’re wondering because we aren’t loaded down with boxes of food and consummables (how many toilet rolls?)


“Hear! Hear!”

Back from a fine week’s seclusion, five minutes up a single track road from Stairhaven in Scotland. Where roe deer walk the fields during the day, hares practice that languid liquid loping walk then, magically disappear from human sight and bats, barn owls and buzzards share the skies with a gorgeous full moon Seen even better with the aid of a telescope thoughtfully left by the owners.

Scorching temperatures during a calm crossing Tuesday day-trip to Belfast (Northern Ireland) from Carnryan. The marvellous company of our grown-up and moved-out daughters and their partners. Time to relax, stretch the legs and the brain.

Then, to ram home the no pleasure without pain mantra: a six hours something Friday drive back home through a frustrating roadworks section of the M6. Traffic flow restricted because “smart motorways” are being built. Hmmm. Really?

And once back we notice a new message on the allotment gate,  replacing the one that asked people who visited the site before 6.30 a.m. (!) to use the bottom gate to avoid disturbing the neighbours.

The new note asks plot holders to refrain from using petrol driven strimmers from the afore-mentioned 6.30 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. Sections of the metal gate, meanwhile have been padded and the chain has been wrapped in rubber which, while no doubt lessening the sound of lock, chain and metal barriers, appears less appealing: a bodged job.

Fair enough. It is summer. Even for the season, while we’ve been away the area has been scorched by 30 Celsius – and above – temperatures, this is hot! Uncomfortably hot! People try to sleep with their windows open. The metallic binging and banging of the gates would disturb them. They have the right to sleep! No wonder they are complaining.

Using the bottom gates is a sensible suggestion. Of course it is. But using a strimmer so early in the morning? That is simple ignorance from a plot holder, surely? Whoever it is has not made the leap between noise (of opening the gates) and any other kind of noise. Has presumably walked the half mile or so to the bottom gate (no houses nearby), entered, walked up the hill to their plot and cranked up a noisy machine to batter away at paths.

We have a suspect in mind. And, actually he is a committee member. But he finds it hard to communicate, because he is (very) hard of hearing. Hearing aid in each ear. It has even been said that, in order to conserve the tiny batteries that power the things (my mom has hearing aids by the way) he had them turned off at committee meetings until someone nudged him to let him know it was the Any Other Business item of the agenda (and he would have none, but be aware of the date of the next meeting)

We imagine the scene at the last committee meeting, when the resident’s complaint is brought up.

Our man can’t understand it. He sits there, thinking:

“That’s strange, that’s about the time I usually get up there. I’ve never heard any noise from the gate.”

He maintains that he needs to be up on the plot so early because he suffers from exposure to the sun, by the way. Rest easy people I have seen his reflection in a mirror.

And as to the strimmer we imagine he thinks:

“There’s someone else has their strimmer on the go, while I’m just using mine to tidy up the grass round my fruit trees? Wonder who it is. Funny, I’ve never heard ‘em. But, of course if ever I find out who it is, I’ll tell them not to make so much noise in future.”

Image result for dysfunctional committee

“Please Tell Me …”

“Please … tell me those are not earlies?”

There’s a small hint of desperation in The Pepper Grower’s query.

I am up at the allotment, with my to-do list:

* pick strawberries,

* pick red currants,

*see how the potatoes are doing (dig up one root to check; if they are good dig up another (we’ll take them to Scotland*), if not just bring the one root back and leave the rest to grow (while we are in Scotland).

The truth is that the potatoes, nestling in the shallow basket which formerly held a flower arrangement, actually are earlies. Arran Pilot to be exact. The soil drops away from them easily enough, being dry and friable.

Pepper Grower, who has made a tremendous effort since taking on what was the Captain’s plot two years ago, has been growing potatoes in black plastic bags. He works, he tells me in the subsequent conversation, as a web-site developer. He uses the internet regularly. He had watched a YouTube video – “a guy up north” – who explained how to grow wonderful show potatoes. This is the principle he has followed. But the results are not what he expected. And it has cost him a significant amount of money.


In allotment terms I am not in the least bit competitive. Unlike some. Our potato crop, grown in the fashion I am sure my grandfather would have approved of, is the result of many years husbanding the soil, watching the weather, earthing up, the bagged up “potato fertiliser” sold at the site shop … ah and a slice and a half of luck. Not competitive, but pleased with this year’s spuds as they emerge. Alan, down the path is a relentlessly good tater man: and has been pestering me. He is competitive and wants, desperately to find out how big our potatoes are, how many to a root …


Thankfully, he’s not here when I dig that first root up. I can tell him anything.

But they are not bad: smallest hen’s egg sized, most the size of a lady’s fist but some larger still. Fourteen on one root, thirteen on the other. Beautifully smooth, thin skins. Enough to get us going up in Dumfries and Galloway at any rate.

I love that idea of watching how-to videos on modern technology. It is, after all the way I am attempting to learn bonsai, and it is the modern equivalent of listening to the “old boys” in the village pub, reading about it in a book or magazine, picking up tips from Gardener’s World or the Beechgrove Garden on TV or something from Gardener’s Question Time.

There are, roughly, a hundred gardeners on the site, I explain to Pepper Grower, philosophically. Every one of us knows the best way to grow potatoes, make the best compost, the strongest, tastiest wines. He just needs to find his own method, taking on any advice (even if he chooses to ignore it). There’ll be trial and error, failure and success. It’s a process is growing and you have to grow into it. Its only now, when I’m typing this little episode up, that that line occurs to me.

Meanwhile I remind him of how much he has managed since he first came on-site. He has completely changed the plot around, built his own shed, raised a greenhouse and a neat little poly tunnel and made beds and wood-chip paths. Unlike the Captain, he does not grow produce without weeding and, so far he has never rotovated a crop into the ground because he cannot be bothered to find it (amongst the weeds) or harvest it.

I give him the opportunity to take some of our strawberries and red currants while we are away. He offers to water anything that may need it over the next week. This is the kind of cooperation I love. A major plus point of our neighbouring plot holders, bless ‘em.

Looking around the plot I know there are going to be issues with weeds when we get back; the paths will probably need strimming again. But the peas are looking good, the late-planted runner beans have time to fill out. The pumpkins and courgettes, having a hard time getting established, will either have run away or pegged it while we are, hopefully enjoying “secret Scotland”.

But up against the fence the thornless blackberries are this season’s surprise crop: absolutely loaded!

* We are about to head up past Hadrian’s Wall, cross the border to spend a week in Dumfries and Galloway with our two grown-up, moved-out daughters and their partners.


How do you get there.

I am Pam Holland

Go to the end of the path until you get to the gate.
Go through the gate and head straight towards the horizon.
Keep going towards the horizon.
Sit down and have a rest now and again.
But keep on going.
Just keep on with it.
Keep on going as far as you can.
That’s how you get there.

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The Same River …



Just aware that I sometimes mention “stuff” going on at home. This was always meant to be an allotment based blog, it was never meant to be exclusively so.

Here then is a small snapshot in time of bits of the back garden. be aware, however, that as some intelligent Greek once said

“You can never step into the same river twice.”*

These two “characters” (the first is a grubbed out elder root) inhabit the pond and scree shrubbery (is that possible?) near the house.

DSC03346 DSC03345

Some of the pots we keep around to fill in spaces, but the “glasses” add to the effect, as well as ensuring water gets tot he roots.


The hanging basket (used for the umpteenth time, but we had to replace the chains, is suspended between the top box that collected water from the gutters of the Wesleyan chapel on the (main) Walsall Road but was replaced and the home made (from discarded fence panels) window box.

Beneath are the cherry tomato plants. Oh and you might just spot the bee hotel by the down spout.



The flowers in the vase were cut away (up at the plot). Vervain is a prolific plant that self seeds almost anywhere. In this case in the strawberry beds … and we couldn’t get the anti-bird nets over the fruits with this tall beauty in the way.



Inside the greenhouse sits this little star, on sentry duty beneath the cucumber plants. Good work little soldier!


And right at the bottom of the garden, beneath a roof of branches of next-door’s laburnum and our small leaved lime is “Dingly Dell”; a.k.a. “Fire Pit Heaven. Please note the cover is an old oil drum lid in use because on days when our wonderful country is forecast to have a “mix of sunshine and showers” we normally have the showers and somewhere else must suffer the sunshine.


*It’s often all Greek to me.

Zen and the Art of hedge Maintenance ?

“Router bits?”

This is my mother.

“What are they? What are you going to do with them?”

Something I had actually been wondering myself. They were a bargain (honestly) at the local Aldi – or so I impulsively thought, having visions of, of … well routing … obviously. They were just glittering and sparkling like something a little arcane from Abanazar’s cave.

Image result for router bit set aldi

“You? You’re not in the least bit practical minded!”

This is the kind of encouragement guaranteed to give your off spring confidence, build their self-esteem. More please.

In truth I have always been a fix things together with a straightened nine inch nail hit home with a rounded stone kind of craftsman ( the Palaeolithic type I guess, though it never caught on).

But having moved large amounts of brash and transported barrows full of nutrient exhausted, but very fine soil in the process of renewing/saving/repairing a hedge (see ) I was persuaded to try and grow on the stumps as bonsais – something I know just a little about, but aside from oohing and aaaahing when I see one of the twisted little specimens, tiny landscapes I have half of zero experience of.

Image result for bonsai tree

But, this is an allotment. Somebody knows something about it. In fact, rather darkly one plotholder was thrown off the site because contrary to established rules he was, allegedly, growing bonsai stock on site and he occasionally sold potted bonsais. Therefore, according to the then-secretary (and, one would guess, the committee) he was making money from the allotment – not allowed. So bye-bye bonsai man. Harsh, most likely a poor decision but …

Any way Jim is a self-proclaimed bonsai expert. It is he who puts the idea into my head, tells me, very roughly how to do it … and I have a go.

That was some two years ago now. The little chunks of privet that I hacked from the size-of-a-Suffolk ram-root-ball were duly plonked into a raised bed (with a concrete slab at the bottom of it to stop roots, already savaged by axe and crow bar, going too deep). Some managed, in the way that privet will, to survive and have flung up joyous stems that are now some two feet plus.

“ … need to sort them out mate …” Jim says from the corner of his mouth, “get ‘em into trainin’ boxes like …”

Typically I ain’t set eyes on him since then.

Sort them out? Training boxes? What on earth ?

Divergent thinking needed. That and patience!

Browsing charity bookshops in Lichfield, search engine queries: there is so, so much to get my aching head around. The terminology; words such as nebari, yamadori, Han-Kengai, Ikadabuki and chokkan. But first the practicalities…

How to actually do it.

So many YouTube videos to watch. Inevitably lots of repetition, but gradually a light begins to dawn. I need to trim the roots and place the plant in a smaller (and smaller) container. It is best done in the autumn.

But – honestly – I don’t have that much patience, and I want to have a go. Fortunately I have an ash seedling that was in the way of planting in the back garden. So I put it into a pot expecting, eventually to replant it in the wild somewhere.

I actually measure bits of wood, use a power drill, screw the sides together, make holes in the bottom for drainage and to take the wires that’ll, essentially hold the young tree in place once it’s main anchoring roots have been butchered away. I varnish the outside of the training box – just for effect really.

I cut off a large section of the tap root, far more than the Plantation Owner’s Wife thinks is sensible, add some wound sealant to the bare end and set up the planting.

I have bought some akadama* and using some spare gravel pieces and some flexible wire get the tree planted. I’m totally new to this, but going for a sloping trunk, hoping that the branches will head to the more upright.


So far so bonsai good …

… but there is always far, far more to learn.

Wish me luck?



*A traditional Japanese bonsai soil that is comprised of the red volcanic matter of Japan; used for thousands of years by bonsai artists on most types of deciduous bonsai trees.

Thief! Thief!

“Our” plots lie at the corner of the allotment site. Down-slope. An advantage we smilingly say, because when those on the slope above us water their land the water runs downhill – and we get the benefit. We need that bonus though, because we are as far away from the stand pipe as it is possible to get. Our part of the world is bounded by two hedges; the one along the Wolverhampton Road and the second between us and a detached house. There is a lap board fence beyond this hedge, the installation of which severely damaged the hedge. However, over the years e have either repaired the hedge or replaced it.

As you walk along the path to our plots, usually carrying a bag of horse muck, baskets or the kitchen waste in buckets the view is obscured in summer. By the branches of a Bramley cooking apple tree and a mixture of drooping, fruit heavy damsons (or are they plums?) from the opposite plot. And the mighty Tarzan-sized leaves of rhubarb (which a new plot holder recently mistook for gunnera!) which project out of massed roots on our own plot. So you don’t see the strawberry plants packed into the raised bed until you have ducked under (difficult with a wheelbarrow) the trees and heaved aside the rhubarb.


Yesterday as I did this I disturbed a pair of thieves. Sitting, hidden, on the sides of the raised bed they were carried away. Helping themselves to the strawberries we have spent time, organic chemicals and energy on … so that we can stuff ourselves with that juicy taste of warm sun (as if …) and summer. We didn’t go to all that trouble for …

All of this rage is passing through me …

I haven’t broken pace, but I have started to lower the box I am carrying that has the means in it of making fire. For today is Friday: burning day. And we have come to get rid of the brash from trimming the insides of the hedge, which have been left to dry for a week or so.

At about the same time as I see them, the robbers notice me. They are fast. With that characteristic noise they leap up, startled but moving already.

… and are gone. Because, goddammit wood pigeons can fly!

Leaving me shaking my fist (still holding a box of matches) in frustration.

Image result for wood pigeons

Our fault. Of course. We have been lax. Should have put that netting over the crops a lot sooner.

Wood pigeons are a big problem on the allotments here: taking the tops out of pea plants, pecking at cabbage plants, breaking the soft branches of currant bushes that can’t – quite – support their weight and attacking the strawberries. Often, after they have departed the evidence damns them: part-pecked fruit on the paths.

But we seem to have human thieves here too; other plot holders are talking of losing vast quantities of fruit or having protective netting removed and produce disappearing.

This is nothing less than disgraceful, shameful behaviour … and may, perhaps, even worse, be an “inside job”.

The committee are making big, off-the-record noises about the security cameras they have had since autumn, apparently. But nobody is actually sure, because accounts vary, whether they have actually set these up yet.

Meanwhile we get our heads down, install the anti-marauder netting, burn the clippings, water the squashes and retire to sit, sipping wine by the fire pit.

DSC_0418 DSC_0419

Picking the strawbs can wait until tomorrow.


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