Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A Backwards Glance





The last blog entry of 2008. Here the year is ending on a very cold and foggy note. Himself suggested treating me to lunch an offer that I could not decline. A Chinese restaurant in Liverpool our destination. We went in on the train - the nearer we got to town the noticeably whiter and whiter it became. At first I thought it was simply a much harder frost than we experienced, then it dawned on me that there was quite a bit of snow on the ground yet we had not seen as much as a single flake.

Looking back it has been another memorable year as far as the weather goes. Surely after the rainy summer of 2007 we were due for a better summer. Would you believe it ? A mild winter was followed by a cool spring but then by yet another incredibly wet summer. September was mellow but it seemed too little and too late. I wonder what 2009 will bring.

Garden successes seem hard to recall but the low of the year comes straight to mind - failing the allotment inspection in July. The allotment went to the bottom of my priority list as it got nearer to me finishing work at the end of July. That combined with the fact that we were away for a fortnight in June as well as week in July resulted in allotment chaos. Plants that I hoped to get in the ground did not get in until after the inspection, the weeds flourished and other lottie jobs were neglected. So I spent most of my first few weeks of 'retirement' toiling at the lottie throughout a cool, dreary and damp August. Quite often I was the only soul there shivering under damp and leaden skies. The hard work paid off though as I passed the next inspection and was spared what would have been the heartbreak of losing my plot.

Plans for 2009 will be drawn up in January. The seed catalogues and a notepad are ready and this year I will be sticking to a definite plan I hope. I would dearly like the allotment to become a lot more productive and want to get my head round successional sowing and harvesting. Himself's Christmas gift to me is another four raised beds which is he in the process of constructing so I will have more space to fill.

We managed to fit in a few garden visits during the summer including a couple that I will post about soon. We also got to the Southport Flower Show again and to the Malvern Autumn Show which we had not visited before. I always enjoy Malvern in the spring but had never been to the autumn show. This show did not disappoint in its content and was blessed with some glorious autumnal weather.

Finally my blog has fared much better this year - more posts than in previous years and I hope to continue this into the new year. Hopefully, it will not be another three months or six months down the line before I return! Maybe after spending less time at a computer word processing voluminous notes because I had to, I am now just enjoying writing for the pure enjoyment of it. Time now to sign off here though for the time being and find the corkscrew!

PS The above photo is a fairly new planting combination in the garden which gave me pleasure this year.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Decisions,decisions.



Well that was all over in the blink of an eyelid or so it seemed. It was always going to be a quiet one with himself having to work two twelve hour day shifts on Christmas Day and Boxing Day followed by two twelve hour nights. However when I came down with a cold/cough/chest infection it became even quieter :) I managed to force myself off the settee on Christmas Day to cook a wonderful meal for his return - well it looked wonderful but I could have been eating cardboard. Since then I have spent a lot of time on the settee moaning and groaning, sniffling and coughing and generally feeling sorry for myself. I am only now just beginning to feel more human. I usually love this twilight zone between Christmas and New Year with plenty to read and dwell upon but have not really been able to do it justice this time. However for the first time in my adult life I am fortunate enough not to have the return to work looming over me so the books to be read, seed catalogues to be poured over pile can wait until I am ready.

What I have taken pleasure out of is looking out of the window at the birds feeding in what has been a long and protracted cold spell. Apparently we have had the coldest December for three decades taking us back to a time when I did not take so much interest in the weather. These little fellows above have presented me with a serious quandry. The viburnum tinus in which the feeders are situated was planted over twenty years ago. It was one of the first plants we planted in the garden. In those days we had a wonderful family run garden centre with a cheap and cheerful bargain corner where we bought a good few plants. The viburnum is now too tall, unruly and riddled with what I think is viburnum beetle. It is a serious contender for 'The Chop' but when I see the birds dart in and out as well as feed my resolve weakens Oh decisions, decisions. Off with its head or not now that is the question ? Answers on a postcard please

Monday, 22 December 2008

Wot no sprouts ?

Unlike some I could mention including the illustrious VP I do like my sprouts. Christmas dinner would not be complete without them. Tempted by a seed catalogue that shall remain nameless I ordered some 'Red Rubine' seeds earlier this year. There was a warning that the yield may not be great but it was the thought of the 'sweet, nutty taste' that grabbed me. Duly sown, nourished, planted at the allotment, staked and regularly decaterpillared etc. I have been looking forward to harvest time. This was going to be a first as I have not successfully grown sprouts before let alone any members of the brassica family.

Today I went to the allotment risking life and limb in doing so, to check on the state of play. Visiting the allotment at this time of year is almost an Olympic winter sport as the central paths are so wet and slithery. Come to think of it the path was in the same state in July when I did not keep upright and sustained a badly bruised foot. This morning having ungracefully skated my way down the main path, in full view of spectators, I finally came to a halt of the gate of plot 57. I once again was pleased that I went for raised beds noting the state of my neighbour's plot as I tottered past - his strawberries need swimming costumes.

'Will they be big enough to eat?' was the burning question on my lips - ' No!' was the resounding reply. I do have quite a few sprouts on the couple of plants, which unappetisingly have whitefly on them despite the recent frosts, but they are not much bigger than the size of chocolate buttons. So tomorrow when I go to Chester to pick up the main component of the Christmas meal I will once again have to buy my sprouts. Oh well there's only about another 365 days to go the next potential Christmas sprout crop.

On the plus side I was pleased to see my autumn planted red onion sets and garlic are making good progress. What is more a letter came in the post recently to say that the council will start work on resurfacing the path in the new year, so hopefully I can hang up my skates as the resurfacing will be done as far as I have to walk. However I was told today by another plotholder who uses a walking stick that only half of the path is to be resurfaced. On a more serious note, I wonder how plotholders with disabilities manage this hazardous state of affairs. Does the local council have a legal responsibilty to ensure safe access to plots under the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act ? Despite some research on the internet I have not managed to find a definitive answer yet. Definitely an issue to raise at the next AGM.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Anticipation



Of all the flowers in the garden, the first sightings of snowdrops especially make my heart skip a beat. Given recent doctor's advice that my pulse rate is fast maybe I should henceforth resist from one to one chats with snowdrops. This is Galanthus plicatus 'Three Ships' which when I checked last week, was just showing the tiniest peek of white and now look ! What is more a bonus too - after two years my single bulb has a companion. I am hoping that it will live up to its seasonal name and be fully open by Christmas Day. As the immediate weather forecast is for mild, wet and windy conditions the odds are favourable. I will not be able to resist looking every day from now on and will report back.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Of Country Markets

Today took me in the direction of the market town of Frodsham where I was meeting friends for lunch. I fitted in some odd ends of Christmas shopping beforehand. Panic is beginning to set in. Why is it that my plans to have it all done and dusted by the beginning of December have failed abysmally ? I am beginning to come to the conclusion that leaving things to the last minute is part of my genetic makeup.

My first stopping post was the Country Market which is held weekly every Thursday morning. I have been going the market on and off for about fifteen years or so, both as as a customer and in the past as a producer. Country Markets Ltd is a co-operative organisation that gives home producers the opportunity to sell items at markets throughout the country. Its roots go back to 1919 when the first W.I.(Womens Institute) Market took place in Lewes, Sussex. W.I. markets were started as outlets for surplus produce from gardens and small holdings, and allowed women and men to supplement their incomes. Markets slowly but surely expanded throughout the country. In 1995 Markets separated from the National Federation of Women's' Institutes, adopting a new name 'WI Country Markets Ltd'. In 2004 the use of the WI initials was discontinued

My local Country Market provides an excellent source of homemade bread, cakes, pastries, jams, chutney and honey. There is also craft produce in the shape of handmade greetings cards, knitted items and jewelry. In the summer months the trestle tables outside groan alarmingly with a tempting array of plants, cut flowers as well as fruit and vegetables. The market has provided me with a good number of plants over the years which are grown locally and lovingly by the producers. I have been a producer in the past selling plants. For the princely sum of five pence anybody over the age of 16 can become a shareholder and sell at market. Markets take a percentage usually 10% from the producers which goes to cover the expenses of running the market. I enjoyed producing and may return now that I have more time on my hands. There is quite a bit of paperwork involved i.e. labeling each plant as well as filling in an invoice detailing what you have bought to market. However for anyone wishing to dip their toes into the water as far as selling plants go it can be a good place to start.

Today I picked up a jar of seasonally named 'Christmas Chutney' but I am hoping to return next week for a seasonal wreath for the front door. Come the new year I am sure that more plants will make their way home with me whether from my local Country Market or those that I have come across on holiday.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

'Mr Tambourine Man'



I have been singing at the top of my voice nearly all weekend. Those who have heard my singing voice will grimace in pain. If you have not yet had the pleasure think of
'Coronation Street
' then of Hilda Ogden warbling as she flitted round with her duster and yes that's my singing voice. You will have to be of a certain age and have certain television habits to be aware of our Hilda, otherwise you will have to use your imagination.

The reason for my song fest is because I have managed to get tickets to see Bob Dylan, who will be playing at the newly built and splendid Liverpool Echo Arena next May. I have wanted to see Dylan since I was a student many moons ago, when so many evenings were spent listening to his music drift through the air as we pondered on the meaning of life etc. I am just so excited but will have to refrain from singing' Mr Tambourine Man' for the next six months or so, otherwise the other occupant of this house will not be responsible for his actions. To be continued !

Friday, 5 December 2008

'The Robin Man'

Last night was my garden club's Christmas do. We have been going for a good few years now and meet monthly. We usually have a speaker except for the summer months when we might go garden visiting. We are a fairly small group - under 40 members at present. Like many gardening clubs the majority of members are female and fifty plus.

Our speaker David Tideswell was not a stranger to the club, as he has visited us before, and was back last night by popular demand. David, an ornithologist, can be heard regularly on BBC local radio and has also appeared on the television programme 'Springwatch', where he acquired the name of
'The Robin Man'. He is an informative speaker who has a great sense of humour. The subject of last night's talk was getting garden birds through the winter. We came away with many valuable hints and tips including a recipe for a yummy birdcake which can be served whole or in little pellets. David could not stress enough how important it is to regularly clean bird feeding stations and water supplies.

A tasty buffet followed and then a most pleasant evening was rounded off with our traditional present swap and raffle. The only fly in the ointment was that I won a raffle prize - a box of M&S Belgium chocolate biscuits - now how am I going to keep to
that diet ?

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Branching Out


Just where to start is a question that has been puzzling me for quite some time. I have a piece of paper in my possession which details my family history on my paternal side as far back as my great great great father who was born in 1780. The information to date has not come about from any detective work or head scratching on my part but was researched by older and wiser family members. Unfortunately they are not in a position to continue but now that I have more time on my hands, it is something that I would dearly love to do so and to see whether I can get any further back.

Last week I visited the local library to talk to members of the Family History Society who run a regular drop in clinic to see if I could get any hints/tips about how to proceed. I am not sure whether I came home more confused - lots of jargon and initials went drifting over my head. However, I am cheered by the fact that we have an unusual surname, although I must confess that I was not partial to it in my younger days. At the same time I also picked up what looks a very comprehensive tome on the subject of researching your family tree. I think that my head will be buried in these pages during the next few weeks so that I can devise an action plan.

The tree in the above photo is one of my favourite trees- it is on the edge of the village pond at Hanley Swan, near Malvern, Worcestershire where we have enjoyed several holidays over the years.