Snow & Ice… But This Time Last Year…

More of the white stuff has fallen and is still falling this weekend.

It is bitterly cold outside – and in – as we are both confined to the one room warmed by the wood-burner. The rest of the house is cold on account of our ’emergency level’ of low oil. Unfortunately the long-suffering forgot to check the oil gauge as red light and pump sign flashed frantically on and off warning of dangerously low levels.

 

In his defence it is situated behind the door, not always visible, and this is our first whole winter in our house, nevertheless his shoulders are slumped as it is his job in our house to check these things.

A quick phone call to our supplier would not relieve the current situation for at least 10 – 14 days! The recent Beast from the East has meant delivery times have been extended to cope with the backlog. The present ‘mini beast from the East’ will no doubt have the potential to extend delivery times further still.

As I leave the comfort of the wood-burner and add some warm layers to make a hot cup of tea in our freezing kitchen, my mind drifts off to warmer climes……..

This time last year we had no such worries as we relaxed at the end of nearly two months away on a warm beach.

GROUNDS-11Thailand was the last leg of our indulgent long holiday after four weeks touring New Zealand in a Motorhome, followed by two weeks in Australia.

We stayed at The Shore Katathani resort for a two-week relax and unwind from an amazing adventure packed six weeks of travelling. Our villa – expertly researched by the long-suffering was a dream. Set into steep lush hillside with beautiful sea views and its very own private infinity pool he and I were not disappointed with his choice.

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The steep walk up and down many steps/ramps gave us ample cardio in-between just lazing around and generally being waited on, and if the heat got too much and sweating man made an appearance we could always take the ever available golf buggy up instead. With high humidity outside and air-conditioning inside, drawing back the blinds in the morning revealed condensation covered glass doors out to the view. Luckily the Long-suffering duly obliged with his window cleaning skills!

Primarily Thailand was our down time however, we did do one all day excursion involving a ninety minute coach journey followed by a speed boat trip to the Phi Phi Islands archipelago in the Andaman Sea.

Maya Bay shoot location of the film ‘The Beach’ starring Leonardo di Caprio was one of a few islands our tour guide took us to.

This island has recently been in the news, reported to be temporarily closing from June this year due to the extremely high visitor numbers – 5000 or more people a day.

From our experience last year, controlling visitor numbers can only be a good thing for the conservation of these beautiful islands and reefs.  Nothing prepares you for the sheer volume of people on what is promoted to be an idyllic beach. The posters depict it almost devoid of people and boats. The reality is anything but!

Brochure Picture………

Reality……….

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There were quieter moments walking through the lush vegetation out to the lookout, a welcome retreat from the masses.

We also visited Monkey Island……

For our part we preferred to view the Macaques from the boat which was just as well as the shore was busy with other tour boats, although the monkeys from a distance seemed at ease with the attention!

Bamboo Island our first stop…….

and Ko Phi Phi Don………..

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Sadly all the islands on our visit were just parking lots for the many boats lined up along the shores or bobbing in the water. I am sure in the non tourist times when the masses have left they would once again resemble the idyllic Islands the Brochures suggest!

An encroaching storm meant a rough and wet ride back to Phuket as we sped accross the water, even the plastic ponchos we were kindly supplied with were in danger of being ripped from us by the strong winds whipping around the open to the elements boat. Exhilarating to say the least!

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Back in the vicinity of the wood-burner our time away from the british winter last year is but a distant, happy memory. Nevertheless spring is around even if it is currently under a blanket of snow!

 

 

Out from the Cloud!

This week I have been full of optimism once again at being able to continue my horticultural line of work. With a spring in my step and gentle warmth on my back I worked happily under the early spring sun reassuring me that a new growing season is just beginning. The gardens are full of promise as they wake up from their winter slumber.

Gone is the self-doubt and despair that winter always brings upon me as I tread carefully on slippery paths. Everything is heavier – soil, wheelbarrows and weed buckets. The cold and damp send my hip and leg into spasms. I lurch sideways as I over compensate for ‘being careful’. The dreaded limp becomes more pronounced and the familiar ache in my lower back groans with the extra effort of stability as I slip and slide. I question the logic of this labour intensive occupation!

I work less days in the winter now than before ‘The Accident’, such is my very real fear of damaging the good work my surgeon made putting me back together. I am lucky in that my regular clients are understanding, most have known me before and after. There is not so much to do, the gardens are for the most part winter dormant, nevertheless I still feel guilty every day I am at home.

Luckily some horticultural tasks can be achieved at the drawing board in the warmth of the dining room/office. A time to plan new gardens and borders.

In Winter my mood like the weather becomes unpredictable. Time alone becomes my friend and enemy in equal measure. I am either manic and ‘can do’ as I throw myself into new and put aside projects or the opposite as I head down into the pit of despair becoming despondent, reclusive and unable to concentrate or settle to anything productive.

A can do moment in January saw me enrolling on a beginners oil painting course. For the long-suffering any new hobby – there are many – give him welcome birthday present ideas and this year it was a floor-standing easel to assist me on another journey, this time as an artist!

The Kitchen has like the dining room become dual purpose, at least until the days are warmer when I will decamp out to the summer-house in the garden.

The class started with tonal studies, followed by gradually adding more colours. We have worked on portraiture, landscape and as now back to still life. Some are finished and some will need more work.

Efforts so far Portrait……

Still Life…….

Landscape……..

I have even in past years been manic with knitting projects…………

In previous years for the Grandchildren at Mole Hall a blanket and toys!

This year a knitting project for a new grandchild due in June …….

 

My worry of retiring from a job I love is the catalyst for my despair days. Hours of on-line searching for a less strenuous way to earn a wage plunge me downwards and bitterness rears its ugly head once again.

But in the end gardening is all I want to do, still….. Gardening makes me happy, and is the one thing above any other that I feel confident at. This week my mood was instantly lifted I was outside surrounded by nature – birds, early insects, rabbit munching young shoots, hopping away as I arrived. The resident dog, dropping her ball on my trowel as I weeded, eyes excited, tail wagging, expectant for me to throw one more time. A different garden the resident cat sat on top of an arbour purring as he too enjoyed like me the warming sun, his eyes lazy, half-shut watched me as I toiled away below.

Moving out of the winter season will steadily see my hours increase as the mornings get lighter and the working day gets longer. There will be less time and inclination to spend on indoor pursuits, although I am determined this year to keep up with writing, painting and photography. But for now thoughts of changing what I do will become a distant memory – that is until the next winter when old doubts will rise again!

 

New Wheels – Mini Road Trip!

The Mazda MX5 RF has just been announced as the What Car top Cabriolet for 2018. The long-suffering is feeling smug with a told you so look on his face. It may be top car but I (and him) have not seen another one on the road since his purchase last summer!

In June 2017 the long-suffering suffered a mid life crisis and as such traded his old ‘sensible’ Mazda 3 Saloon for the new ‘convertable’ Mazda MX5 RF. Of course ‘he bought it for us…..to make us drive out on warm, sunny days/evenings/weekends’. Who is he kidding!

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Practical it is not in our rural location – hedges are high while we travel low, dwarfed by large oncoming vehicles in the middle of narrowing roads and liable to bottom out as we swerve to avoid collision into a potholed passing place!

However what it lacks in practicality – small boot, only room for two – it more than makes up for in its frivolously fun drivability. With the roof down, wind in our ‘greying hair’ I am transported back thirty years to our first date in long-sufferings original soft top, the characterful lopsided Triumph Spitfire.

The RF has an electronic retractable hard roof meaning boot space is tight. On the upside with the roof retracted we are a little more enclosed than the traditional MX5 – my hairstyle if not perfect at our destination does not now resemble a birds nest!

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Although the hip outwardly groans getting in, once down into the seat it is comfort supreme, my exit is a little more tricky and as after any journey of more than 30mins I revert once more to my ‘Quasimodo’ style of walk until limbered up again.

After a few evening drives out locally to Weymouth……. IMG_2337Studland…….

and Lulworth Cove…..

we were ready for a two day mini road trip to Cornwall……….

Day 1….. Our early start on a warm July day paid off and we arrived at Trebah Gardens – our planned excursion – just after opening. The leisurely stop for breakfast along the way had not happened as in a blur we passed breakfast vans and cafes at speed. Long-suffering muttering ‘there will be another one further on’ of course eventually there was not!

Instead almost at Trebah, hunger getting the better of him he pulled into a garage, where we had words over inedible warmed bacon rolls – me, and spilt hot chocolate over the RF floor – him!

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Trebah Gardens –  beautiful 26 acre sub-tropical ravine garden.  Australian tree ferns, lush waterside plantings, majestic, stately specimen trees, blue Hydrangeas on mass and its own private beach. A gardeners delight!

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Gunnera Plantation

IMG_0862Bamboo Forest

After lunch on the private beach, our next stop was Portloe – a pretty unspoilt fishing village in the Roseland Peninsular. We walked up one side of the steep valley before stopping off at the Lugger Hotel where we sat outside drinking cold beer looking out to sea.

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On to Portholland beach – a granite wall backs the rocky outcrops of this beach, between the small hamlets situated to the east and west with a total of only forty residents between them. We sat for a while in the warm sun reclining in two travel deckchairs we had crammed last minute into the boot along with the cabin size case, holdall, coats, and walking boots. Not such a small boot after all it would seem!

Off the beaten track……..

And finally our stop for the night Mevagissey….

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A walk where we shouldn’t with the aid of a kindly villager!

Evening Sunset View from our B&B terrace

Cornwall-19 Day 2 – After a good nights sleep and a ‘Full English’ for breakfast we set off heading east to Charlestown our morning stop-off on our route back home to Dorset.

Cornwall-36The working Port here dates back to the late 18th Century and little has changed in Charlestown since. It has a lovely old charm with little in the way of any large scale developments and creates the perfect setting for period dramas such as Poldark, Mansfield Park and Hornblower to name a few.

We explored the resident Square Rigger ship moored against the harbour walls, an area busy with tourists and a party of artists busy sketching and painting the scene before them.

The Shipwreck Rescue and Heritage Centre centre located in an a historic China Clay building kept our attention for a good hour, following the history from its early beginnings as a small fishing village to present day. We walked underground tunnels where the clay trucks were pushed out to ships in the port for the once thriving China Clay industry which followed on from the transport of copper from nearby mines. The construction of the port dock and harbour began in 1791 by Charles Rashleigh.

We had time after our light lunch sat overlooking the port for a quick walk on the beach before heading home roof down until the rain stopped play, however this small inconvenience only served to enable the long-suffering to demonstrate once again how quick and with very little effort – just the push of a button – we could be watertight once more!

My thoughts on this Cabriolet of the year….. It is fun, economical – compared to my 4×4 – a responsive drive – according to long-suffering and it IS making us take time out especially spur of the minute which suits my personality.

However It is NOT practical for visiting gardens that have either plants for sale or any gardening related paraphernalia as there is just not the room for impulse purchases unless the boot is empty and even then there is a severe height issue!

Having said that I did manage to squeeze in the boot some iron sculpture for the garden from Trebah, but the coveted tractor seat had to reluctantly be left in the shop.

This year 2018 I shall hope for a good dry summer and lots more garden visits after all isn’t that what he bought it for? Oh and maybe I will spot another Mazda MX5 RF on our travels this year. Are there any other owners out there to back up the accolade?

 

Gardening on Ice is NOT Hip

On an already short week work has been sporadic due to temperatures on two days barely rising above freezing. Icy conditions are not a ‘Hippy’ gardeners friend.  Pre accident even if the ground was too hard to work there was always fruit trees to prune and rambling/climbing roses, Vines and Wisteria to tame – back then I had no qualms about using ladders on the sides of houses/outbuildings and up through the boughs of larger top fruit trees. The hazards of icy ground never entered my head until after…….

The spring after the RTA, restarting work in hands on horticulture came with conditions – set out by my long-suffering, duly backed by my surgeon and further by my Rottweiler solicitor – ladders were for the foreseeable future and beyond out of bounds, as was walking on frosted ground.  I complied, after all using crutches or a stick rendered ladders and icy ground impossible anyway!  I was excited enough just to get stuck in at soil level with a kneeler in tow along with some standing pruning within the confines of my arms reach.

With a newly employed assistant to work alongside, carrying weed buckets, pushing wheelbarrows, climbing ladders, doing all the things I could no longer do I resumed my business lurching around in a Quasimodo like fashion the few gardens suitable – on the flat – along with clients who still trusted me with their upkeep. I earned very little in terms of money and my wasted muscles only allowed for short bursts of activity, despite this the mental stimulation and feeling useful again outweighed the negatives.

That winter I was out of action once again with a Hip replacement – rendering me a true hippie in the literal sense.  By the time I could resume work again with my loyal clients winter was over – a relief considering the now added worry of certain leg positions or worse a fall causing the new hip to dislocate

Winter 2015/16 was my first working since 2011/12. Now a fully fledged hippie my muscles although still not at full capacity felt stronger around the joint. I came proudly through without incident and my confidence level was high for me and my business.

This Winter 2016/17 sees me again tentative after an unexpected hip revision in August. My muscles once again have been compromised by more surgery. The walking, swimming, gym, cycling and Physio have all helped to regain strength but do not lessen my fear of falling.  Having had six weeks off over summer to recover I am still on catch up and desperately need to work for me, and my clients sanity!

Already just this week walking out over my own patio has seen me sliding and flailing about like an animated Bambi on a frozen lake trying to stabilise my limbs and core to keep me upright.  After preparing for the worst I surprised myself by regaining control of my weak wayward leg. It would seem my hip will live to garden another day, whats more, higher temperatures look set for next week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ivy, love it or hate it?

A lot has been written about Ivy or to give its latin name Hedera helix.  Often in my experience opinions of this rampant climber seem to fall into two categories.  On the one side it is harmless – let it be – on the other it is unsightly, invasive and there to be eradicated.  Like Marmite there is a definite love/hate divide!

My own personal view swings violently at times between the two.  Recent days have seen me crawling around on all fours through neglected and overgrown borders where Ivy has become the dominant plant.  Shrubs and small trees have lost their graceful identity – the deciduous have become evergreen all year now, clothed as they are in the twinning Ivy stems thick with glossy palmate leaves. Trees grown for their ornamental bark show only glimpses of the beauty beneath.  Some shrubs have become standards, lollipop like, top heavy all growth below strangled into submission.  Underneath the dense ivy covered earth few remaining ornamental ground cover plants survive.

Hours spent digging, pulling, teasing, cutting and extricating, sometimes laying prone on the ground to reach under and into the centre of large established shrubs have taken their toll on my joints, surprisingly for a change not my hip – a result possibly borne from hours spent strengthening in the gym and pool!

My wrists especially the more dominant right are sending out twinges of pain from my thumb through to the wrist whenever I rotate my hand.  With each twinge my love for this plant is being sorely tested although if I am honest the blame is not wholly down to Ivy.

Periods using frames, crutches and canes to aid my walking over the last few years have taken their toll on my right wrist, the latest after my left hip revision only a few months previous.  Furthermore this autumn the twisting, pushing action needed to plant over 700 bulbs including 300 in my own garden did little to promote   Diagnosed with tendonitis, I resorted to a splint for a good few weeks as a support while working, eventually it healed enough to garden without until the dreaded Ivy!

So far I have painted only the negative effects of Ivy, I must remind myself and you the reader some of its more friendly merits before I send you all rushing for the machete!

Hedera helix (Common Ivy), I much prefer the sound of old now rarely used ‘common names’ – ‘Bindwood’ and ‘Lovestone’ referencing the materials to which it would cling and grow over.  Images spring to mind of flower fairies from childhood books sitting on cushioned stones or swinging gently from long, looped stems.

Importance to wildlife – my forced clearing on ground level revealed ladybirds, beetles and other hibernating and sheltering insects. The dense covering not only providing cover would have lessened the hardening effects of frost allowing birds in the depth of winter to find food in otherwise frozen ground. High up empty nests were tucked away safe within its twining arms.

Collettes hederae (the Ivy bee) depends on its flowers from September timing its very existence around the occasion.  This little bee was first recorded on our shores in 2001 in Worth Matravers (Dorset).

Many winged insects including Bees, wasps, Moths, Butterflies and Hoverflies are all attracted to its plentiful food source and vital cover. In winter the berries that follow on from the flowers are a welcome food source for visiting birds.

The art of disguise – it does this so well – unsightly buildings, fences are all rendered unrecognisable quickly becoming green walls alive with life.  Telegraph poles – hard lines become softened, some with imaginative pruning become topiary subjects.

Ultimately Common Ivy by its very nature will always create a divide nevertheless for me its benefits to nature alone outweigh its sometimes unsightly – but rarely fatal – stranglehold on its hosts.  The now newly cleared borders are on first impressions quite devoid of its rambling presence, yet lurking unseen visible only to someone like me – commando crawling to the back and beyond – glossy leaves on now shortened stems will continue to help in natures cycle of life.

Luckily for me the Christmas holidays are almost upon us. I will be taking two weeks off from gardening hopefully giving my joints some time to recover.  With the forced distance between us ‘Lovestone’ and I will once more share a mutual respect when next we meet on ground level.  For now with the festive season in full swing, Christmas wreaths on doors, swags on mantles will continue to remind of its many attributes!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adjusting in a Smaller Space

Moving to a much smaller garden although good from a less stressed hip point of view, has at times made me feel like a chicken with her wings clipped.  Like them I scratch about on the surface, my boundaries closer, with few places to expand in a ready-made garden and for the most part made well!

My long-suffering as he commutes home on a Friday will say this is a blessing.  He can feel safe in the knowledge there will be no grand labour intensive surprises, long lists – of the garden variety – or worry from watching his wife limping around from labouring overkill.  Few things at all in fact to interfere with his weekend sporting fixtures in front of the TV!  The biggest exertion for him most weekends since March is getting the mower out of the shed for the 15 minutes it takes to cut our much reduced – by at least 90 minutes in mowing time – the back lawn area.

In the early days when we were making our previous much-loved large neglected plot my term of endearment for my wonderful husband was not ‘long-suffering’ – he became this post accident. No my preferred choice was ‘Victor Meldrew’ inspired after the often morose fictional sitcom character from ‘One Foot in The Grave’, with his negative grumpy mutterings and dour face pulling every time I came up with a new spade wielding ‘project’, the resemblance was uncanny minus the bald head.

At the beginning of our gardening journey from winter 2000 and beyond especially while reconstructing the overgrown and hidden stream area his energy and enthusiasm was easily on a par with mine.  Unfortunately a few years of digging heavy clay soil – constantly wet in winter or rock hard in summer – gradually whittled away all the above.

Gardening  journal, excerpts from four years on…

17th Feb 2004.  Time was spent this morning evaluating the front grassed area resulting in my decision to turn a third into a new Kitchen garden.  After lunch I marked out the area to be fenced ie. rabbit proofed, with canes and string.  Later my excitement at relaying and showing my plans to Richard on his return from work was  severely tempered by a very grumpy ‘Victor Meldrew’ impression!

18th Feb 2004.  Not to be disheartened by Victor Meldrew – from hereon in for the purpose of this Journal shortened to VM – I have organised the position of the raised veg beds and rung round suppliers to acquire prices for posts, netting and hire of a turf cutter.

20th Feb 2004.  VM needs three weeks – only three!  Preparation for this new project I have thrown at him obviously needs contemplation time.  Very grumpy for the last two nights however there is light on the horizon I think with a bit more persuasion he will slowly come around to the idea.

24th Feb 2004.  Great excitement!  VM went to bed with yesterdays birthday present my new book ‘Making Gardens’, leading me to believe my kitchen garden and other ‘projects’ could soon after the prerequisite VM become a reality!

Although not on the grand scale as before I have still on occasion given Richard cause to put on his VM face even on our much reduced landscaped plot.  I write this with a smile on my face, so far borders have been extended, widened, trees thinned, rope swags erected for rambling roses, a new wild flower meadow in an existing front lawn, planted up with 300 bulbs and 300 native wild flower plugs.

I think over the last few months my wings have slowly grown back, whilst not needing to change the layout of  the hard landscaping areas, some of the planting needs much rejuvenation.  The question is how long can the confines of this garden sustain my free range ideas before I feel clipped once more?

 

 

 

 

Man versus Machine?

Not normally being one for using power tools, I have today succumbed to the lure of the Leaf Blower.  The reason for this in a word is gravel.  Our new house – as of March this year is surrounded by it in one form or another!

We have neighbours too with a shared gravel drive between the three properties and right of access for the farmer to tend his huge often waterlogged field.  Having neighbours comes with a certain sense of responsibility, especially when neat and tidy looks the norm!

For the last four days on my return from work my senses have been bombarded from both sides by the continuous – and after only a few minutes annoying sound of the leaf blower. For me nature, rake and broom have been my tools of choice in the matter of leaf disposal. However on all this gravel I fear it will become an evil necessity.

I have always found the sight of workers spending huge quantities of time blowing leaves from one place to another slightly amusing. As fast as they blow them in snaking orderly lines even a gentle breeze will whisk them up and distribute them back from whence they came starting the whole process again.

Of course there are other reasons to clear by hand, the whole body workout you get in the process is as good as any session spent in the gym.  The fresh air for another -petrol power tools by their very nature give off fumes, electric with the easy to cut cable can shock you or worse without a circuit breaker.

Well, with all the gravel and pressure of recent activity I had the opportunity to try one out today, thanks to my kind neighbour. The model offered was an electric Black and Decker with the blower attachment fitted – apparently it sucked as well with a different part fitted on.  A short tutorial, basically how to switch it on and I was ready to go

After plugging in and flicking the switch the force from the powered air jolted me backwards like the recoil from a rifle, I was momentarily stunned having not expected such a high power level for blowing around a few dried leaves?  Looking down I was dismayed to see that along with the leaves the gravel was now displaced and I was looking at a patch of bare driveway.

Unfortunately, before I could gather my wits and find the off switch more damage was being done, self seeded Myosotis ‘Forget me nots’ and Nigella ‘Love in the mist’ were being uprooted and flying across the drive at alarming speed along with more of the leaves, driveway and goodness knows what else!

Eventually finding the off switch calm and more importantly quiet was restored, well almost, apart from the security alarm from next door still emitting its constant beep now on day three. They return tonight!

It was my turn to be the butt of my own amusement, I felt I was acting out a scene from a cartoon sketch. With much trepidation I resumed blowing, it was a thankless task but did get easier once I had got to grips with the distance between blower and leaves.  In the end it was down to my long suffering husband to rescue me from this most mundane of mind numbing activities. He blew, I happily by hand gathered and disposed!

Verdict then…… Even surrounded as I am with a sea of gravel, very tidy neighbours and lots of leaf producing trees I will stick to rake, broom and for the leaves I happily leave behind Nature can reclaim as it sees fit with my blessing.