Friday, 28 September 2007

A Cheery Cherry Planting Day

Well, I'm sure you're all wondering by now how the allotment opening day went. Fine, thank you. Actually the whole day has been somewhat stressful. First I went downstairs to find a frog on the draining board. I let it swim around in the sink while I got my coffee, and then we had to go through the whole charade of the nude trip to the pond again. Afterwards I trod on my glasses, my 'second' pair, though the ones I usually take to the allotment with me (as my first ones are "Miu mius"---huh, eat your heart out NHS subscribers!). On arriving at the allotment I found that the leader had bought two enormous flowering cherry trees which he was planning to have the visiting dignitaries plant in an area which a couple of clients and myself had spent two months clearing for a soft fruit patch. A rather heated discussion followed---the result of which was that I had to dig two large holes for the trees at the far side of the allotment. The weather wasn't pleasant, but the really hard rain only really set in as the dignitaries arrived. I don't quite know how I got mud up my nose but several people alluded to it. We all had our pictures taken pretending to plant one of the trees. And pretending to be VERY HAPPY INDEED about the whole thing, even though by this time we were all soaking wet. The usual pr job. Then tea and biscuits were passed round and polite conversation was made. It was great fun watching the dignitaries trying to figure out which of us could be considered 'mentally ill'----I was talked to very, very, slowly on at least two occasions, and almost felt I should let slip about the petrol poisoning episode last week. But I kept a dignified silence. Oh, by the way, it's now official. I have TWO friends!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

A Lurid Fantasy of Monty Don's Bottom...

I just got an e-mail from a friend informing me that mirrors were once used near ponds to keep herons away. Well, that's certainly not the reason I got mine. I got, well all the gardening mags said it was the trendy thing to do. They are supposed to give my garden endless pleasurable vistas. But what they can give you, as I've just discovered, is a very nasty shock when you're planting your bulbs, as you see your endless rear end reflected to infinity. This never happened to Monty Don! (Actually, I wouldn't mind if it did). Anyway if anyone knows of any herons visiting the Cambridge area, tell them they are most welcome to pop in. Another thing they could do, and you can do, too, is to join up with Facebook and become my friend. I've been on for two weeks and I'm absolutely fed up with being told that I have no friends in the entire Universe! Has anyone else suffered from this, I wonder?

Some Women Can't Multi-Task

There seems to be some confusion about flower size now. When I said 'small' yesterday, I in fact meant 'dwarf'. But in these politically correct times I don't know if one can say 'dwarf', so I thought 'small' would be OK. Obviously it wasn't. So, you need to plant 'height restricted' or 'vertically challenged' daffs. OK now? Can you manage that? The other thing is to plant multicoloured crocuses, otherwise you'll end up with the well known gardeners' yellow jaundice ailment around April. You know, that feeling that if you see another yellow flower you'll throw up. The other big finding I have to report this morning (besides the usual frog in the living room) has been disproving the theory that women can multi-task. I did this by gargling with my new disclosing mouthwash whilst trying to sort the laundry. It was a messy business, I can tell you. But isn't this new mouthwash fascinating---the way you can see all your germs coagulating in garish hues in the sink? Or all over the walls, if you've just disproved a famous psychological theory....

Monday, 24 September 2007

Virginia Creeper Crashes in Heavy Winds!

Wouldn't you know it? It all happened again last night. Frogs in the living room. I'm learning about frogs, I can tell you. And the first thing I've learnt is that they don't learn. Not one whit. You would think by now they would have some association in their tiny brains between being put in the plastic bucket and returning to the pond. But no, they leap out of the bucket to behind the bookshelves where it is almost impossible to dislodge them. And the squeaking! You would think I was hurting them instead of just gently nudging them from behind with a rolling pin (hot tip that). Anyway, reading through yesterday's gardening tip, I think I may have confused you by mentioning big bulbs. Yes, you do want big bulbs, but if you have a small garden you definitely want small daffodils, otherwise they will look silly. Also, try to find daffs that have a scent. Again Spalding bulbs are great for this. My priority for the garden, after the wildlife features is scent, as this is what I enjoy most about flowers. (I decided long ago that all flowers look nice, but only a few smell nice). So all around the fences I've planted heavily scented climbers and bushes. Except of course where I've gone for autumn colour! I piled in two prize winning Virginia Creepers too---one of which I planted (rather cleverly, I thought) in the grass collector of an old lawn mower I found in the shed. Very much 'in the vernacular' as Gertrude Jekyll would say (yes, honest!). But I'm afraid Mr 'In The Vernacular' keeps falling over as lawn mower collectors are not very stable. He's gone over again this morning after heavy winds in the night and does NOT look happy. So much for being clever...

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Frogs Ruin Elvis Lookalike Competition

Well, what I was going to write this morning has been almost totally obscured by the events of last night! I was just get comfortable, ready to watch the Elvis lookalike competition on BBC1, when a frog appeared in the living room (closely followed by a cat). A short interlude followed whilst a very fat lady was seen sprawled out on the floor trying to get the aforementioned frog in a plastic bucket so it could be returned to the pond. I'd only just sat down when the same thing happened...and it kept happening. To the extent that this morning I'm exhausted and I'VE ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA WHO WON THE ELVIS COMP. I tell you this wildlife thing is no picnic. Anyway my main horticultural tip for today is to remind you all to buy your bulbs from a reputable dealer! As Alan Titchmarsh himself demonstrated only a few weeks ago on the Beeb, small daffodil bulbs produce only one flower (at best) per bulb, whereas large ones can produce three...I get most of my bulbs from Spalding, which is the centre of bulb growing in the UK. You probably don't know that Spalding holds the most fantastic bulb festival every spring which is as good as anything you'll see in Holland, but we Brits are not good at advertising such things. I've already planted by snake-headed fritillaries and am waiting for some rain to get my crocuses and daffs in. The fritillaries are good because you can plant them in partial shade and boggy bits and they still come up good.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Mental Health Patients Nearly Poisoned by Allotment Volunteer

Yesterday was allotment day again, and I made a mega-mistake. I washed all the mugs out with petrol! How on earth did you manage this, you ask yourself? Well, the petrol was in a washing up liquid bottle, brought for that day by the group leader to fill the lawn mower. So, I could have poisoned the 'vulnerable adults' in my care, or at the very least made them highly combustible. Luckily I realised my error and cleaned everything up before anyone drank anything. But surely you should have smelt the petrol, you say? Well, yes, I did think the smell was odd, but I thought that was down to it being very cheap washing up liquid, and decided not to make a fuss. You see, I was taught very strongly that one should never, ever MAKE A FUSS...and this is why I often keep quiet when I should speak up (like most Brits...). Only other news was that my strawberries, so lovingly planted last week, had wilted badly, due to the dry windy conditions. I do hope something manages to stay alive for next week's opening. I got home to find the crocus bulbs I'd ordered have arrived so I've now got 100 bulbs to plant in the area of an egg cup. Should be interesting.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Stark Naked!

Well, another exciting start to the day. I woke up to hear plaintive mewing coming from downstairs. Oh no, not another cat! I flew downstairs to find my two cats cornering something in the living room. A creature that looked like no other. I switched on the light to find it was a frog spewed out on the carpet. I got a plastic container and shunted it in, to find to my delight it was still alive. (It hadn't croaked! Get it?). So, even though I was stark naked, I hurried out to the pond and put it back in. It swam away in no apparent difficulty, so I think it will be all right. (I'll post a picture of me today, so you don't get too excited about the thought of me stark naked). Anyway, all this excitement has quite put me off my stride, as I was going to tell you about how exciting my visit to church was yesterday, on account of the pastor talking about life changes, which is something I wrote a book about two years ago. I really want to get this book published, but don't know where to start. It contains a new theory of human development which combines current psychological research with Biblical teaching. Yeah, really! It's not that bad, honest. Anyway, I've given the pastor a copy of the manuscript. (Poor man, I hear you say).

Friday, 14 September 2007

Strawberry Fields Forever

Just got back from the allotment, where I volunteer for a local mental health charity, absolutely exhausted after planting a few strawberries. I don't think it was the strawberries that caused the exhaustion as trying to organise the drinks and biscuits for everyone (well just 6 of us actually!). Um, perhaps that wasn't it either...I think it was because I'm trying so hard to get ready for our official opening in two weeks time and feel there is so much to do, when most of the people who turn up immediately seem to show a deep aversion to gardening---one can't say anything, of course, because we are all, including myself, EXTREMELY SENSITIVE. Honestly, by the time I get home I feel totally shattered. Still at least everyone looked happy when they got back in the car and we all got a good share of fresh veg and some fruit. I was approached today by the pr woman asking me if I would appear in the local papers as someone with mental health problems. I said it wasn't a good idea, as I preparing to beam everything about myself to the far reaches of the universe on the internet instead. She said she quite understood. My teaching yesterday went quite well. The students seemed quite accepting of the fact that I was dressed in a pair of bright red devil's horns and large reflecting sunglasses for part of the lesson---though they did mention that this rarely happens during class in Bulgaria.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

The fur is flying!

Well, yesterday was an exciting one! On Wednesday night, I woke at 1a.m to the sound of terrible screaming. Big Tabby had entered the house and was attacking Roland Garros on the living room floor. He ran out when he saw me, of course, but we were all visibly shaken. Luckily I have some liquid valium (I'll let you know more about my collection of drugs later!) so I took a few drops to ensure a good night's sleep. I had a lot of fur to clear up the next day in the living room before heading off to my first psychology teaching for 6 years. Boy was I nervous! Luckily the little group that turned up were great (2 Bulgarians and a Khazak---sorry if that's spelt wrongly). I feel at the cutting edge of European integration now. It turned out I had a lovely teaching room, next to the oldest Church in Cambridge and within view of King's College (in fact I could see the room where I spent my second year as an undergraduate---a very poignant moment). I was exhausted when I got home but my little garden looked a treat and I sat out enjoying the sun almost until the England v. Russia match.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Beware flying cds!

My biggest news this morning is that two of the cds I suspended by string from the tree in the garden blew down yesterday. Moral: use wire next time. Yesterday I also tried to position the white water lily I'd bought at the weeked---a perilous task as it turned out (not for nothing does Louise Bardsley tell you in no uncertain terms to position your deep water floaters before you put the water in the pond---what she didn't mention though is that this time of year is particularly good for getting bargains in pond plants at your local garden centre). Anyway it is now at the bottom of the pond, the right way up, though unfortunately the leaves are still under water. I'll keep you posted on its progress. Oh yes, someone mentioned to me the expense and ecological 'sin' involved in using bricks for your garden patio and walls. Let me just say that firstly I recycled all the old bricks that were already in the garden when I arrived and then the builders sources further recycled bricks for me. So I'm clean! My cats (who are both French, by the way, and only recently arrived from France) are somewhat worn out this morning having been chased all over the street and back alley by an ENORMOUS tabby. Poor Tiger Woods was so upset he brought up all his biscuits...I'll have to go now as I have to start teaching tomorrow, and I have to prepare my lessons. I heard on Friday that none of the textbooks and other resources I ordered have arrived! C'est la (teaching) vie!

Monday, 10 September 2007

Super High Technology Lights!

Ooh, I forgot to mention. Another thing I didn't stint on was the wonderful solar lighting system---you can see one of the lights in the picture. These are great because it means you can sit outside in the evening watching the moths etc. I also got a solar powered fountain in the shape of a lily leaf which works well and helps aerate the pond. While I'm at it. Two other things. I painted all the fencing and the shed to make the garden look bigger and 'softer'. Also I got some large mirrors with pine frames cheap in a market,painted these up the same colour as the fencing and placed them in the corners. Now the size of my garden is endless!

Making a wildlife garden

OK, so how did I do it? Well the first thing I did was buy "The Wildlife Pond Handbook" by Louise Bardsley (ISBN 1 84330 111 3) and I read it very carefully indeed! I employed professionals to dig out my pond and lay the bricks as I wanted a large area of the garden (over 70% of it!!) dug out. Using Louise's book, I ordered my native pond plants from Merebrook Pond plants---excellent value as most of the plants cost less than £2.50. I raked out the back areas and planted a selection of wildflower seeds---some to attract birds, some butterflies, and one lot for 'shady areas' (all Sutton seeds). I tried to get everything I could either free or at very reduced prices---hence I visited the dump, scoured out our old shed for possible planters, and took advantage of money off offers in magazines and papers. I particularly recommend the BBC publications for this. I dug out mature plants from overgrown allotments (with permission!) to fill in any bare patches.What I didn't stint on though was the quality of the climbers that I planted around the wild section. Here I went for bright autumn colour and strong scents. I made sure that everything I bought had gained an RHS gold medal and I planted each with great care, digging in plenty of organic matter as the soil in my garden is poor (and the builders had removed all the top soil!). My plan now is to plant bunches of fragrant miniature narcissi--of course I have got the bulbs on special offer (BBC publications again!). I'd love to here your comments about this.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

sunday in the garden

Well, here we are Sunday 9th September. I've just been messing around in the garden. My latest thing is using all the free trashy cds we get in the daily newpapers as reflectors. They are really beaut, as they don't just act as mirrors but also reflect wonderful rainbows. By the way, I'm an avid recycler. I try not to spend any money on pots in the garden but use anything I can get hold of---I've found the dump very valuable in this respect. I've also found that one can get really nice specimens of wildflower plants from allotment sites (it being illegal to take them from the 'wild'). I'd be happy to share with anyone any other money saving gardening tips!