Archive for June, 2018

Solstice Plus One

 

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I’m working locally on Friday. So very locally that I drive home in five minutes. Listening, as is my wont, to BBC Radio 4*. All kinds of weird and wonderful information on there sometimes. I hear a weather report. Apparently after low temperatures overnight we’re in for a couple of weeks of warm (if not hot), dry weather.

Three things leap into my mind: watering: the allotment will need, at least,  some water. That, in turn, will mean, filling water butts (a long job involving linking three differently coloured hoses together and man handling the resulting snake across paths and around crops. But the plants in the back garden are showing signs of flagging, so I was thinking of putting the hose sprinkler on. England play panama in Russia in the FIFA World Cup finals on Sunday. Around dinner time. I want to be in good shape to watch that.

So far, so sensible, but I also have a crazy desire to sleep in that very same back garden in a tent. Not wholly sure why but something to do with an idea I abandoned last year, to do with spending time in the environment and “knowing it” at a time I am not usually there. What’ll it feel like? Sound like/ Can I even still manage to put a tent up, never mind actually sleep in one?

I have a tent. It was one a friend needed a home for as he moved house. And a sleeping bag.

Plantation Owner’s Wife asked at the time (imagine I got home with a bag of golf clubs, the self-assembly tent folded down into the shape and space a rock drummer’s gong might take up, thirteen cans of 16 mm film, a wooden wine box and other “interesting” odds an’ sods. And I didn’t have an answer. Partly to do with the inspiring talk given by naturalist Simon King at the Garrick Theatre, Lichfield on Thursday night. Not directly, but he was talking about photographic hides, being “in nature” and it hooked me.

Oh –and, of course – why not?

So my plan, by the time I get home, is to brave the predicted cold tonight, sleep in the tent, put the sprinkler on the garden tomorrow (I don’t fancy sleeping on a dampened lawn), then sleep soundly over Saturday night so I am properly refreshed for the game. It sounded logical at the time, trust me.

So we pull out the fire-pit. I set it up on a piece of unused kitchen work surface to protect the grass from the heat and sit outside in the lovely evening sunlight. A procession of common wasps visit the table, slow motion creatures intent on taking wasp paper back to build a nest somewhere I guess (though isn’t it  a bit late for nest building?).

 The tent, literally pitches itself. I unzip the circular bag and, tension released, metal rods spring and flex and, voila, there is the tent. Bigger than I had expected. It’s only been used once, I was told, for some music festival. A good looking, well-constructed Norwegian tunnel. Plenty big enough. The sleeping bag disappears in there, some cushions, a torch, book, camera, mobile phone …

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Just a few pegs for belt and braces safety (but not really needed).

.  Half a dozen swifts are high in the sky. Still in the sun, it seems, as every now and then they turn and catch the light, feathers suddenly becoming fish scales and reflecting light. The pair of bats that we watched a couple of nights ago are not to be seen.

Ten o’clock and this is what the Scots would call “the loaming”.

“When night fully owns the lower ground, but the skies are still bright.” At 10.30 there are few stars visible, but those that are shine fiercely along with the half-moon blazing down.  No streetlights are visible from the back garden.

“there is no dark side of the moon,” pops into my head, “matter of fact it’s all dark.”

I install myself in the canvas cocoon at eleven – ish. Now I can see only the walls of the tent. Close to me. The roof quite low. The soundscape beyond  is a siren, diminishing, a dog barking in a back garden, traffic in the distance. Last night was Mid Summer’s Night and it would have added a certain something-or –other to have done this last night. But, getting home from the theatre it was cold … and got colder. And, anyway, will twenty four hours really make that much difference? How many seconds less of daylight can there be? What would Will The Shaking Spear say?

I am not sure what I am expecting (other than not getting much sleep): cats, dogs, snails creeping their slimy way up the tent sides, ear wigs, hedgehogs, a fox?

I do expect not to fall immediately asleep. What would be the point of that? But I have a quiet moment of thinking when I realise that the leather hat I treated with some aerosol concoction a couple of days ago is in the enclosed tent with me and I recall the instruction not to breathe in the fumes when spraying as they are toxic. Could the hat be giving off poisonous fumes even as I fall asleep? Murdering me?Rubbish – of course. If that were the case it would mean many a person being deaded by leather clothes in all kinds of surroundings. And I’ve never heard of a single one! I smile, in the dark, at myself.

What I get is constant noise. Usually defended (is that the right word?) by efficient double glazing, I hadn’t realized just how very noisy the night is I am given the impression of  a game show conveyor belt, sounds being wheeled past: a constant machine hum, low. The ear becomes accustomed to that. But what sounds like someone stacking scaffold planks, the wind chime, a crane loading cargo containers, wind chime,  the emergency take off flaps of a startled wood pigeon (cat nearby perhaps?) yet another motorbike, the high revving of the engine at a corner, a roundabout. Wind chime. A cat landing on the wood store, scuffles, sniffles, a train hooter, small apples falling on the tent. A wagon reversing, car horns, Wind chime!!!

That wind chime is annoying! I fall asleep, but at around what my phone screen tells me is 3.10 I am awake. The wind chime? It is still ringing. I had promised myself I would just observe, just experience whatever was out there, but I need some sleep. I gradually unwrap, unzip, disentangle myself from this unaccustomed prone, horizontal floor position, pull on trainers and, fetch the thing from its branch. But once I have done that, and look around, the garden is certainly a different place. Robbed of colour; monochrome: tones, textures not colours. Black, white, grey. Shadows. Gaura, foxglove, a galaxy of ox eye daisies,  scent of honeysuckle scrawling in conference pear tree feverfew, astrantia, Damp grass, the feel of the wind. The sky light and sunrise is not due for another thirty or so minutes.

It takes some time to get back inside, zip up the two doors, re arrange the sleeping bag and bits and pieces, get warm again, the handy thermometer I found swinging on the tent was reading something like four Celsius! – I lie down – and can hear the first of the birds. A robin, close by. The pre-dawn chorus?  An avian orchestra warming up? In fact it is late in the year for the full dawn chorus: usually heard in spring time, a preamble to nesting, territory staking behaviour. A song thrush further away. Then the staccato chatter of a magpie, and perhaps a wren.

I sink away and back to sleep (which, later, will  surprise me). I wake later (about seven o’clock. Shadows of the apple tree are across the tent walls, that of the shed too. I pitched the tent here deliberately so that I would not get disturbed too soon this morning by the early sunrise. I open up the doors. There’s a house sparrow just going into the nest box on our  house. It looks surprised by my appearance.

It wasn’t part of the original plan but, as my wife is still asleep upstairs I steal around the kitchen, get toast, orange juice and a cup of tea, light up the fire pit and sit outside for a little longer. The first bumble bee of the day buzzes past, into the flower of a fox-glove. It’s part of a spell that bleeds warmth and colour back into the surroundings.

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The garden is wearing it’s everyday  clothes now: no longer the space for Titania, Oberon and a common man with and ass for a head (or something of that nature); the sun has gone around again, the clocks have moved along. This is June twenty third, two thousand and eighteen: the world of ordinary mortals again.

I am pleased with the experience. I managed a longer sleep than I was expecting, saw a different aspect of the garden and, as I quietly smile to myself I make a list of jobs to do:

Thin out the apples on the tree (there should be no more than two to a cluster, this will ensure good-sized apples).

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Get the grass clippings up to the compost heap.

Put the tent away and get the sprinkler on the lawn (but, hey, those tasks can all wait while I drink this cuppa, right?)

Oh, and … put the wind chime back.

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“Soon Be Getting Darker at Night!*”

 

Just a week ago I was at RAF Cosford with my wife, my mother, youngest daughter and her partner. A fabulous day out! Today, up on the plot I am reminded of it because, hearing the sound of an aircraft I look up. To see the Lancaster bomber (there are only two left flying in the world – over here with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and one in Canada) overhead.  A stunning sight!

It is Father’s Day today. I am on the plot to do some strimming I meant to do yesterday, but believed, wrongly, that it would rain. But, for a few wonderful moments I am re-living last Sunday: this year the annual spectacular was celebrating one hundred years of the Royal Air Force. And every plane clearly and easily visible under hot, blue skies. Six thousand tickets sold (plus children going free) and we got a first class viewing parking space near to the crowd line. Plenty of space, great displays both in the air and on the ground made it a wonderful display. From the moment the RAF Falcons parachute display team stepped out of their Loadmaster plane we had an inspiring, relaxing day. The static displays were well spread out, cars not crammed together, people friendly and the fast, fly-by-wire jets (that Polish Mig Fulcrum, the French Dassault Mirage and the science fiction perfection of the Typhoon Eurofighter complimented the heritage aircraft (the superbly graceful and magnificent Spitfire, the steady work-horse reliability of the Hawker Hurricane, the now-stately, but once-upon-a-time state of the art World war One planes. And that moment of pride when the Red Arrows aerobatic team turn up and fill the skies with shape, power and precision.

And, avoiding the traffic jams on the way back by following a smart phone generated course down back lanes between fields of oil-seed rape and greeny-blue stalks of wheat.

Interestingly, mentioning this to Jim, he tells me he once worked for a major Black Country engineering firm that made and supplied parts for the prototype Concorde and Hawker harrier jump jets. When they were still top-secret in-development aircraft. Now Jim is a good talker and, doubtless adds a pinch or two of romance to his reminiscences, but there is likely to be at least a grain of truth in what he is telling me.

The parts and pieces of these experimental planes must have been actually made somewhere. The Black Country was, and still is, the cradle of a lot of such engineering. So why not?

Jim does tell me the name of the firm, saying they were paid (and, deservedly) above average wages, but, this being me, I forget.  He was, he tells me,  a union convener. Nosey with it. The metals and drawings arrived, he tells me with “AGRICULURAL MACHINERY” stamped on them. But, being smart and a little suspicious he noticed that the tolerances in the design specifications were amazingly specific.

“Hello,” I says to meself, “tractor parts don’t need such narrow tolerances. Where are these going?”

“When they told me, the bosses,” he goes on, “I said “hang on a minute; they don’t make agricultural stuff there!”

The armoured military vehicles we now know as tanks, developed during World War One (but now evolved beyond recognition) are so called because the original components were ferried about in boxes labelled “TANKS” (as in containers of liquid) to mislead spies and avoid detection by enemies. Until they were unleashed.

Incidentally British tanks were developed from, you guessed it, agricultural machinery.

I pick a carrier bag full of strawberries, add one or two raspberries from the wildflower area/beetle bank we have mid plot.

The runner beans have now started to grasp the bamboo canes, and the seeds I planted, belatedly to make up the row are emerging from the ground.

We had a discussion about how well the potatoes would crop this year. The consensus is perhaps not very well; they were late going in, the weather has been poor and, though it is not conclusive, top growth is well back this year. One fierce storm, while we were away in sunny Jersey, took all of the hoed up soil and levelled it out, exposing tubers and upsetting growth.

Our potatoes are flowering already. Little Dave shares a tip with me: take off the flowers, it’ll maybe add a bit more to the tubers below ground. Otherwise, the plant puts all of its energy into the little green “potato apples that appear after the flowers fall off. This is when it is easier to realise potatoes are members of the tomato family: those little green spheres are, to all intents and purposes tiny tomatoes. And, like tomatoes, will be filled with seed. It is a short cut way to grow potatoes from tubers, new plants will eventually grow from the seeds carried inside the green fruit.

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I decide to give it a go and, stroll along the row decapitating the haulms.

Across the path the newbies have made a brilliant job of clearing the annual weeds that were threatening to spread their profligate seeds far and wide. Not only that he has built some finely levelled raised beds and is there, as I start to strim, digging over soil to pop some courgettes in.

“By the way,” I drop in, “you annoyed me,” I tell him. You have to don’t you. Early on in a relationship: get things straight, let people know where they stand, not beating about the bush.

“Ooooh,” he says “what’s that then mate?”

“See those raised beds you’ve put in?” I say, raising my chin in the general direction.

He nods.

“Well,” I say, they’re rather perfectly level. It upset me because I just nail mine together. I can never get ‘em like that!”

We both smile. But later he tells me he actually had upset another neighbour; pulling up carpet and digging out bindweed he believed were growing in a raised bed that belonged to his plot. Turned out they actually belonged to the Jag driver. Apologies were made, he said, but the jag driver didn’t look too impressed.

Heading for home for a planned late-lunch barbecue meal with my two daughters I am met by Gaffer. Gaffer usually has something negative to add to any conversation. He’s a supporter of local club Wolverhampton Wanderers who have just been promoted to the Premier League.

“They won’t stay there,” he predicts, “soon be back down again!”

“And, another thing,” there’s no stopping him, “after this Thursday it’ll be getting darker again.”

Happy Father’s Day!

 

*There’s always one, isn’t there?**

** If you can’t name the one, then it’s probably you!

Bad News First?

“Which do you want first,” we might be asked, “the good news or the bad?”

And people far more clever than me make fortunes from analysing the answer and providing deep insightful character assessments from the order in which you prefer to hear stuff.

Forgive me for thinking that I may be unusual; insofar as that, sometimes, I want the good news first and sometimes the bad.

But what if the news is both good and bad? At the same time?

As a perfect example: our lawnmower is kaput. Not my favourite way to waste time, in fairness, following a lawn mower across grass and I have shamelessly avoided it on many occasions. But the lawnmower (now gone to the great prairies in the sky perhaps) has done me great service: covering up my poor skills and apathy for over seven years. I have, every now and then, tinkered; taking off the stone-bent blade and “sharpening” with a rough file, cleaning out the crevices and plastic depressions before – thankfully – putting it away after “the last cut” of each year. Qualcast. Rotary. Electrical. I have a fond memory of a faithful, manual, cylinder mower that my grandfather had: a Qualcast Suffolk Punch. It became one of my tasks, in spare teenage-time years, to push this beast across front lawn and back. The front lawn had a unique star- shaped island bed.

It was the Plantation Owner’s Wife that noticed the problem first. Possibly because she was using the mower to shame me into getting the lawn chopped.

“It keeps stopping,” she patiently explained, “then starting again.”

I fiddled with the switching mechanism; there’s a knack to it. Seemed to have it fixed, there were no loose connections after all. But when I got to work to finish off the lawn she had started … sure enough, it kept cutting out.

So, as is standard these days (or so it seems) a quick internet search (who knew there were so many options, so many companies, so many choices)and a car ride up to Homebase. To purchase the nearest-to-similar as the ex-mower at the best price. The new Qualcast model in fact. And, surprisingly easy to put together (I even read the instructions*!)

The clippings are bagged up and go into the boot of the car (now protected by a cardboard carpet fashioned from the box from the new mower of course: waste not want not) and taken up to the compost heap on the plot. We have two sections of the bin now maturing and are adding “new” stuff to the third. I have planted some nasturtiums in the finished heaps, which still smell, quite strongly, of soot as you walk past. The pile that is, not the nasturtiums.

We have new neighbours. One of the plots along the walkway has been neglected and annual weeds (including groundsel, grass, bitter cress, nettles, docks and dandelions) have sprouted, obscuring the beds in which the previous-but-one tenant had worked so hard to develop. Unfortunately she chose to give up the plot because she had lost her driving licence, was biking to and from work and had little time left (or energy?) to keep up with things. The next tenants? We never saw them, but perhaps they had the “inspection letter” and simply realised they couldn’t manage.

But today we met the two newbies. A lady in pink, settled in a pink chair. Watching the man, in black T-shirt methodically ripping up the weeds. We introduced ourselves, hopefully gave them encouragement and handed over a dozen or so French climbing bean plants we had been wondering if we had space for.

Little Dave wandered over to give us the latest news on the boundary dispute. Apparently – and, sadly, as predicted in this blog – the final settlement is not quite so final. The “independent” surveyor has been, apparently and made his pronouncement. The parish council are just waiting for the house owner to “sign a document”.

Meanwhile, the house owner himself appears. Calls me over. He has half a wagon load of graded top soil he needs to get rid of. Does anybody here want it?

“Free?” I ask.

“Now,” says he, Irish accent and eyes twinkling, “when did I ever charge you for anything?”

So I take delivery. The tyre on the wheelbarrow is flat; I keep forgetting to bring the foot pump up, but the soil is dark, stone free and, especially as it is dry, very light. I dump a couple of barrow loads on Little Dave’s plot. He will use it to grow some carrots, he thinks, though maybe not this year. We have adopted the practice of sowing carrot seed in raised containers: an old galvanised dust-bin (from before the huge-in-comparison plastic Eurobins came into our lives) and three plastic tubs (one pink, one purple). We did this in order to avoid the dreaded carrot fly: legend has it that they cannot fly above twenty centimetres from the earth, so fly around tall things. So far it has been successful. We sow thickly and thin out the seedlings.

Good idea Batman. We find an old water butt and part fill it with this dark treasure. We just need to find some carrot seed now …

DSC_0184Actually on the plot, the turnips are through, thrusting eager seed leaf pairs upwards in – typically of me – a row that is none too straight. No sign of the parsnips I sowed at the same time though. The first row of peas we planted is a failure, plenty of weeds growing tall between the sticks, but only five or so pea vines. However, the second row is doing much better and the third row emerging. I water these two rows and set about taking up the sticks from the failed row to use on the third.  I leave some, those with pea plants nearby and pop some more seeds into the row, excavating rows with the trowel as I go. There is a voice in the back of my head whispering quietly, insistently that this is too late to plant peas; that they need water and the coming months are the driest months of the year. Now I’m not sure if that voice is telling the truth (or where it got the information), but there’s a second voice saying that there are plenty of pea seeds left, that they might as well go into the ground (because there is enough space) as not.

Between the raised beds are six egg plants in pots that our plot neighbour had offered: he’d planted too many and they’d all germinated. My plan is to put some into pots in the already crowded with tomatoes greenhouse at home and put the rest into the ground on the plot. (I believe they need greenhouse shelter and warmth to thrive … but let’s see what happens.

While I am weeding out a patch of ground I notice little hints of red in the raised beds and – sure enough – our first strawberries are ready and waiting. Picking them will have to wait because I suddenly realise it’s late and I need some sleep.

Summer is here, late sunsets and strawberries.

 

 

 *Most likely because there were four sentences and diagrams to help.

Back to Reality Meets W.H. Davies

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Our splendid Channel islands holiday is well behind us now. Reality takes its rightful place: nobody to tidy the bedroom, cook the meals, mow the lawn. I’ll miss the experiences, the “funny money” (apparently legal tender back in the good old U dot K) and loved the cheeky last minute appeal: the honesty stall in the airport offering Jersey potatoes (above picture). Me? I put fifty pence in and took the bag.

So, on the plot, we notice our onions are not doing at all well. Honestly we’re not sure what to do to help them. A quick ten minute search engine session tells us “general fertiliser” (hmmm) or nitrate of ammonium/sulphate of ammonium.

Waiting on a text from our youngest daughter, taken ill while staffing a charity bike ride in Italy/Switzerland/France,  we decide to visit a garden centre nearby. One that might stock the aforementioned remedies. We have general fertiliser (worm box leachate, chicken manure pellets) but are ready to step up a gear.

One thing leads to another (as happens in life, of course) and, several hours and a visit to said, recovering daughter sees us back at home and waiting for BBC Springwatch programme to begin.

But, being a little impatient I take it into my mind to nip up to the plot, swing out the nitrate of whatchermacallit and water it in (as per instructions) then get back in time for the BBC nature programme ( a magazine of information, data, live camera action and discussion).

But Mr Molineux is on site. It’s been a while since we bumped into each other. We chat: football clubs (though, unsurprisingly not the looming World Cup Finals), families, Jersey, booze cruises and, I’m sure, other important subjects.

Then, he has to leave and I stroll over to the plot. There I am distracted by a wasp (the first I have noticed this year?) chewing material for a nest from the one-time side of a wooden wardrobe I am storing to use as the side of a compost heap (when needed). This little wasp, too small to be a queen, is fully focussed on her task. 

I re-read the fertiliser packet instructions, break up the ground around the struggling plants with a hoe, then broadcast the white crystals in approximately the correct measure (one handful is 35 grammes, apparently; enough for one square yard*). Then water the whole patch.

While I am doing this task – and enjoying it – I notice the texture of one of the black polythene bin bags that I have tied to a cane as a possible bird-scarer. It is flagged out horizontally by an evening breeze and looks for all the world like an elephant’s ear.

I notice, glancing at my wristwatch, that Springwatch will have started. But I am content. I have noticed that other, recently planted crops need water: the courgettes and pumpkins, the carrots I sowed only yesterday might benefit from water, the runner beans, at last starting to look like climbing the bamboo canes (thank goodness!).

And then I start to pull up some gone-over forget-me-nots. These beauties self-sow and pop up everywhere. Generally we tend to let them flower – unless they are in the way of a crop. Sitting down to this job I hear, then see, a large bumble bee, working its way into and out of foxgloves (also self-sown). With no pressure but a half formed aim to make a quasi-scientific Springwatch-style observation (yes, yes, I know now it’s a kind of joke – but it felt serious at the time) I count the number of seconds this busy little creature spends burrowing industriously into each flower. About four. I watch as she creeps out of the twelfth. This somebody’s-sister bee has knees loaded with pollen and I wonder again about the phrase “bee’s knees”: surely it has something to do with this little insect carrying a valuable commodity?

Standing up, I challenge myself to dig another couple of rows of the “end plot”. It needs finishing, we have plans for the space … and, if I can manage two rows a day in this warmth, it will be complete by Saturday. In the sky there is the noise of a high –flying aeroplane, but lower down, below the level of neighbouring house roofs is the undisciplined honking from a loose gaggle of Canada geese. Seven of them. Heading from where they have been grazing for the day to a safer roost. I remind myself of the upcoming RAF Cosford Airshow. Have to make arrangements for that – but, hey, that can wait.

The digging is satisfying. I cannot dig level lines, so I start at one end with two spits, but have to switch half way across to add a third. I string a line to let me know where to stop. There is a deep trench, then the gooseberries and Worcester berries.

Back at home, still lightly sweating,  I climb, well satisfied, from the car and notice the buddleia globosa is loaded with honey bees, crashing the flowers with typical urgency. Springwatch has nearly finished on TV, but I’ve been out in the real-time, real thing.

 

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

W.H. Davies.

 

 

Lessons Sans Pressure.

All the wonderful wall to wall media saturation surrounding the marriage of the dashing Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the stunning, nobody-does-it-better-than-the-Brits pageantry is history now. But, walking around the botanical gardens at Samares Manor (on Jersey) I suddenly realise neither Harry nor Meghan had a single bloom, fruit or vegetable named after them at the Chelsea Flower Show (which also featured extensively on BBC TV).

Before getting to this fine place we visited  the wonderful Jersey Zoo, so quietly dedicated, yet modest, in its role as conservation  model par excellence. Particularly since it is one of the first of its kind. Certainly a fitting tribute to its founder, the school-shy Gerald Durrell, who made wonderful mountains out of molehills back in the day. When it was possible to succeed just by determination, positivity and ignoring those who said it couldn’t be done. I remember reading his books (particularly My family and Other Animals and The Overloaded Ark) as a young teenager. Still remember the passages in which as a young boy/naturalist living in Corfu he put a scorpion into a match box which was opened by his older brother when he was about to light an outdoor cooking fire. Finding, to his surprise, no matches but a scorpion inside he dashed the box to the floor, exclaiming:

“It’s that bloody boy again!”

The animal enclosures are massive, well equipped and the creatures inside seem relaxed and  so at home: gorillas (always) and orang-utans being my favourites on this visit. So taken by the atmosphere were we both that it wasn’t until the evening that, in discussion, we realised there had been so few species there. We hadn’t missed the elephants, big cats, crocodiles and camels. It was enough to bask alongside (so it genuinely seemed, the otters, meerkats and tiny tamarind (that eventually appeared if you were patient enough, for long enough)).

 

No lecturing, just straight forward enthusiasm and a why-wouldn’t-you-care attitude that was as stunning as it was simple. The warm weather helped, the keeper talks added interest and information (the silver-back gorilla in the group of five was originally from France and spoke no English. Really!)

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On another day, the bus trip to Samares Manor shows a property from Norman times that has  been thoughtfully converted into a successful botanic gardens. Successful, by and large, for the very same reasons: no lecturing, good value for money and leading by quiet example. For us there was nothing new to learn, no strident attempts to inspire with new ideas. Just good old-fashioned horticulture and the confidence that the plantings and themed areas will speak for themselves. Places in which you can simply relax. I enjoyed the willow tunnel, the two hundred year old tulip tree, the Japanese gardens and the “conservation meadow”. And lunch in the unhurried (how that word sums up the break!) Herb Garden café was wholesome and unfussy.

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But there was too the sense of fun that I like to think is a feature of the best gardening. It is possible to take things too far, too seriously. But not when you are faced with a photo opportunity like this one:

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And, for a moment, I am hard pressed to remember the names of any varieties of orchard fruit: Granny Smith – easy enough then I struggle. And am reduced to music hall/Carry On double entendre:

A nice pear ?

Before swiftly – and ashamedly – moving on to the Harry and Megham query I opened with.

“Your Hands Are Clean!”

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“Your hands are clean!” she says.

I look. And she is right.* We are three days into a seven day holiday on Channel Island Jersey. I am carrying tied together training shoes by the laces, walking trousers rolled up to my knees (not a pretty sight but an image to juggle with) paddling on the edge of an outgoing tide. The sand is fine, damp but reassuringly solid. The beach impeccably clean (like the island), the sum warm (as it will be for the whole week.

But my shining baby pink hands! I am a gardener, more often than not up to my knuckles (at least) in soil, compost, weeds; or taking apart strimmers, lawn mowers or splashing myself – and, occasionally a shed or wooden panel – with fence stain. With a hammer, an axe or bamboo cane in my mitts. And, largely because of my impulsive, not to say impatient nature, shunning the wearing of gloves. At least until I have been stung or have to grub out blackberries and thistles.

The flight from Birmingham was gentle, a fine view of the jig-saw piece that is the Isle of Wight fitted and framed perfectly by the window. The sea and a long, slow descent over what I now know is Five Mile Beach. The shuttle drive from the airport along sunny, narrow lanes, a driver wise enough to know what to say – and very helpful too. I see very few dairy herds. Even fewer Jersey cows: the source of very creamy milk. How well I remember the pair of Jerseys in the herd at Home Farm back when I was a child. Faces somehow better framed, less bulky than the ubiquitous Holsteins and Fresians (though I also remember an Aberdeen Angus and an Ayrshire).

 

Some fields of potatoes too, visible as we scuttle to the hotel perched beautifully above the beach and a balconied room with a sea view.

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On holiday, busily doing walking, sight-seeing … and, this time, above all, taking in the wonderfully peaceful, uncluttered atmosphere that envelopes us. The island is split up into twelve parishes, each named for a saint (Saint Helier – giving his name to the capital of the Island – was beheaded by ne’er do wells hence the parish badge of crossed axes); each parish has a committee that twice a year goes around and inspects gardens and premises with fines for those whose upkeep is below standard. Really! The same is true of roadside hedges.

It seems very harsh, but, after all it is what happens on the best of allotment sites (on a much smaller scale of course)… and, in Jersey’s case works marvellously well. Gardens are blooming. No doubt partly because of the climate but also because of the system?

We have spent days on the sand, picking over shells, paddling aimlessly (unless the aim be to simply relax and enjoy the passing of time). Very speedily getting into a holiday feel with a few ice creams and a few more beers ( lovely local pale ale named Liberation) On the south coast our hotel lies mid-way between St Helier and St Aubin and the tide goes out a long, long way, leaving stretches of spotless sand. There are few rocks here and very little seaweed on the strand. A guy at the airport (as we are leaving) comments that Jersey is “four countries in one island”, referring to the different natures of each of the coasts. Succinct but correct I reflect.

One of the “secrets” of the potato growers is that they collect the seaweed from the beaches (twice a year) and use it to fertilise the land where they will grow spuds; in some cases on seemingly impossibly steep banks (cotils in the local language). The earliest – and arguably the tastiest potatoes, covering them with polythene sheets to stop the vraic (the top dressed seaweed fertiliser) and seed potatoes being washed away by rain!

 

In my allotment brain I formulate a plan: we have another coastal holiday booked later in the year. Mainland Dorset. May be I will  take a couple of bin bags, collect some seaweed, dry it out and lump it back to the compost heap on the plot. Maybe this won’t be allowed by those I travel with, but this is Jersey, I’m on holiday and surely a time to come up with crazy plans?

And, after all, my hands are – for once – clean!

 

*No surprises there, she usually is. Even when she is wrong!

 

 

 

 

 

Because It Doesn’t Always Have To be Serious, Does It?

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So, in this intense, busy-busy-busier season of planting out, weeding, watering, hoeing, thinning out, weeding, netting, slug-deterring (did I mention weeding?), there has to be time for a little frivolity. Surely?

A moment to stand and stare, reflect or do something just for the heck of it.

I hope so; because unless this is one of the many signs of madness I took it upon myself to reassemble a passably fake, but reliably sturdy iron “water pump” from a rotted-out and thrown away water feature half barrel. I bought a solar powered pump and some odds’n’sods and screwed a few pieces of cedar together (to conceal a plain black water bucket) and managed to create a going concern. The solar panel sits atop the back garden greenhouse roof and adds that running water melody to the area.

But I also repaired a damaged gnome, bought as a joke present for me some years ago. In fixing him (or her, who can tell with gnomes?) to a raised bed the lefty leg had, frankly,  broken off. So, a little dab of some  Acme Fixitall glue had the little feller well balanced again and able to pose for the above photo.

Happy gardening people, but don’t forget to smile every now and then eh?

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