Spring is finally here!

Gosh, it’s been a horrible winter, with lots of snow and rain and wind and more snow and more rain and more wind.  Some of the shrubs have been frost damaged and wind-burned.  One of the giant laurels came down, too, with all the heavy wet snow.

Spring has been creeping in very slowly.  The snowdrops at Attingham Park were lovely, but our frogs crept in for only a couple of days between freezes to spawn.  Normally they hang about waiting for the females to arrive, but this year, they all came in, did their thing and left!  Naturally, we saw our first newts soon after – devouring lots of the eggs!

The birds have paired up and there’s lots of territoriality, showy display flights, strong singing, heavy breathing, collecting of sticks and moss and dried leaves and feathers.  In our cold garden the buds on the shrubs are barely breaking, but the daffodils are just coming up to their peak

At the bottom of the road, on the common land with the war memorial there are masses of white and yellow daffs right now.  It’s a lovely sight to see!

Today there’s promise in the air, too.  Strong sunshine and warm southerly winds have cheered us all up and Jan and I had tea out in the garden this afternoon.

While we were there we found a Larch Ladybird.  They’re very small and I’ve never seen one before.  It’s unusual because it’s tan coloured and doesn’t have any spots.  I’m not surprised that it’s here – there are a lot of larches, including a huge one next door – but it was sitting on a camellia leaf and they’re supposed to prefer conifers!

Paul’s coming tomorrow and it’s supposed to be sunny with highs around 20C.  I can’t wait!

Spring is finally here! Read More »

Blast from the past

I’m cleaning up my hard drives as it is snowing outside and I need to get my office cleaned up in more ways than one!

I just found this little animation that I had on my first website back in the 90s! It runs very fast on modern computers!

Blast from the past Read More »

Badger Movies!

We’ve just found a couple of badger movies from last year.  John set up the trail cam near one of the sett openings to see if there was any action.

In the first clip, one of our little friends is bringing in fresh bedding.  It’s an interesting action – he does it by pulling the material (grass, straw, bamboo leaves, etc.) backwards with his long front claws.  They change the bedding quite frequently, as witnessed by the trails of leaves and detritus we find across the lawns and the flower beds!  Don’t worry about the video going dark in the last half, the trail cam was running out of batter power. Sorry about that, but I thought you’d like to see the behaviour.

In the second clip we see that clean bedding doesn’t always equate with a clean badger!  This guy seems to have an awful lot of itchy spots!

Badger Movies! Read More »

Oeuf! I can breath!

Don’t ask me what the title of this post means – I don’t actually know.  However, my Mum always said it when something was opened up or because clear.  Actually, she had a thing about eggs.  When she didn’t know someone’s name she called them Mrs or Mr Huevo!  Dad and I used it too, but with English accents it because Mrs or Mr Wave-oh.

Enough reminiscence.  The reason I can breathe is that Paul has been working here today and has opened up about half the herb bed. He tells me that a lot of the plants will have died because there was so much moss choking things.  The wild strawberries, which also came up, were only rooted in the moss.

Over the past few weeks he has worked steadily around the garden, pruning and weeding and digging and it’s really making a difference.  He’s also mowing the lawn more regularly, so that whole thing is looking a whole lot tidier.

You will have noticed that Paul is in shorts.  It is NOT, I repeat NOT, shorts weather, but these mountain bikers are a tough crowd!  It was cold, windy and drizzly today – yuck!  Earlier this week we had the remains of Hurricane Ophelia which brought down all our apples and a crows nest.  Then it rained like the clappers for about 24 hours and now we’re getting ready for Storm Brian which is predicted to bring more wind and rain tomorrow.

I tried to get some better pictures of Paul, but failed miserably.  However, in the one picture I have with him in, you can also see a bell-shaped rusty old iron object.  That is an old “copper”.  These were what housewives and washer women used to boil up their laundry in the old days.  We found it behind the shed when we moved in.  It’s now upturned and used as a “feature” in the middle of the bed, and it covers up a big manhole where all the sewers of the neighbourhood come together.  It’s lovely to think that all the ordure of our side of Cardingmill Valley flows under our garden.

Funnily enough, while he was weeding Paul dug up a rusty old manhole-cover-lifter that some plumber must have dropped as well as an old kitchen knife.  We have lots of interesting stuff buried in the garden (apart from Granddad – just kidding).  The stream brings all sorts of things down – old ginger beer stoneware bottles from the old pop factory in the valley, bits of clay pipes, beer bottle stoppers from WWII, etc. etc. We also found the remains of an old concrete path the other day.  Further archaeological excavations are called for!

Oeuf! I can breath! Read More »

Two holidays

As the rain pours down on Church Stretton I browsed my photos from two recent trips to remind me that there can be good weather sometimes, somewhere!

In late September we went to France.  I was on a painting holiday and John was an accompanying partner with the express intention of doing some birding.  This was a fantastic week in the countryside near Albi.  Our lodgings had a wonderful view of Cordes-sur-Ciel which is named thus because it appears to float in the sky when there is valley fog about.  The company was great, the scenery fantastic and I learned a lot.  Here are a few photos.

A week after our return from France we headed off to North Somerset for a family holiday on the National Trust Holnicote Estate.  We rented Lower House, which is a large farmhouse in Bossington and over the week entertained a whole slew of family and friends who gathered to wish Joy an happy birthday (I won’t mention the number!)

Here are a bunch of pictures from over the week.  They’re not all beautiful, but they give you an idea of what we were all doing (right, you guessed it, we were mostly eating and drinking!).

Two holidays Read More »

That’s better!

Taming the jungle!

Paul made a good start on the patio bed on Friday.  He’s built a tee-pee to hold the perennial sweet pea, dug up the bamboo shoots that were escaping from their beds and weeded out a lot of rubbish.  Here’s a general view of the bit that’s done.  I reckon he’ll need at least another visit to get the whole bed in shape, and it may take two!

We had a little fence around the bed to keep the weeds from tumbling all over the lawn.  Now we can take that down.  I don’t really like cutesy fences, first because they look naff, second because they trip you up and third because you can’t get close to the edge with the mower or the strimmer.

Rakings from the meadow along with windfall apples and our lovely blue lace-cap hydrangea which has been spectacular this year.

Meanwhile, John has been working on our mini-meadow.  That’s the patch you can see around the cairn of stones.  During the summer it was an impenetrable tangle of knapweed, daisies and other smaller plants, but now it has been cut down and raked up.  We leave the rakings on the meadow for a few days.  This is to allow them to dry and drop their seeds. Sometimes the badgers take  the dried vegetation for their bedding, so John leaves it in a pile for them.  This time they ignored it, but carried on digging up the lawn looking for worms in the damp earth.

You can see a lot of apples on the ground.  If they’re bruised or rotting we leave them for the animals.  The blackbirds seem to like it when they’re brown and mushy – I suppose they get a bit drunk!  The crows only want to eat the apples on the trees.  They keep stabbing them with their beaks, but ultimately the fruit fall off and then the crows move on to the next apple – wasteful devils!  The squirrels run up and down collecting apples.  I don’t know if they try to bury them – I hope not.  However, I do find half-chewed fruit all over the garden.  I just wish they’d finish one before they start on another!

There’s a lot of fruit about this year.  We’ve had amazing, huge juicy blackberries, the rose hips, haws and eldeberries are plentiful and there are plenty of berries on cotoneasters and viburnums.  Some say it means we’re in for a bad winter, but I think we’ve just had a good summer for fruit!


That’s better! Read More »

First Letter to Paul

The title of this post sounds like one of the biblical epistles, but it isn’t. This is the text of the letter I’m preparing for our new gardener, Paul.

Dear Paul,

The Patio looking Southeast October 2005

These pictures show you what the bamboo looked like when we moved in. It was so small and dainty in those days! Over the years we have expanded the bed, but the design has never been satisfactory and I’d love to get it sorted out.


Virginia Creeper and Bamboo – October 2005

This week we would like you to start work on that flower bed next to the patio.  This is our first experiment as we don’t know how much time you will have or how much can be done in a session.  We’ll have a much better idea after you’re done, so please forgive me if I’ve asked for too much!  If it needs to continue into future sessions, that’s fine.

I’m just going to list some of the thoughts we’ve had about work on the patio bed.

  1. It’s inevitable that some plants that we want to keep will be dug up.  If they can’t be put back right away, please pot them up so we can keep them till we have a space for them. There are plastic pots in the shed and there’s reasonably good compost in the left-hand dalek compost bin near the shed.
  2. Some plants are very spindly or sick.  If you don’t think they are in the right place, feel free to dig them up.  They can be composted or moved depending on whether you think they will survive if they are used elsewhere.
  3. There are the remains of the following perennials which aren’t doing all that well but which might recover if you feel it’s worth it: spiderwort (tradescantia), kaffir lily (schystostylis), osteospermum, michaelmas daisy, sedum, stipa gigantea (getting smaller and more spindly each year), acanthus.  Please look out for them when weeding and see if there’s anything that can be done to make them into a decent display.
  4. Some plants like the phlox, astrantia and the ornamental grasses are doing very well and probably need to be divided and spread about in the bed.  Feel free to do so.
  5. You can remove as much of the following as possible: nettle, dock, sorrel, lawn grass, dead ornamental grasses, purple toadflax, ground elder, centaurea/knapweed, creeping/meadow buttercup, willowherb, nipplewort, dandelion, ragwort and relatives.
  6. Spent foxgloves can go – I’m not sure about first year foxgloves which will bloom next year – I’d like to have a specific area for foxgloves and move them all into it, but I’m not sure where.
  7. Columbines can be cut back and deadheaded
  8. Ox-eye daisies have invaded the lawn edges of the bed – I think they ought to be removed, but am open to suggestion.
  9. Smaller, orange crocosmias can be pulled out if they are in the way.
  10. We want to keep the bamboo, as it provides a lot of shelter and food for the smaller birds.  However, we need to keep it contained, so we’d appreciate it if you could attack all shoots and roots that have escaped into the bed. Thinning and harvesting seems like a good idea too.  We will keep the harvested stems to stake up other plants or make little fences and tripods.
  11. There’s a perennial sweet pea that’s scrambling all over the place.  It should be near something it can climb through – can it be moved? Any suggestions?
  12. I’m happy to leave the following as ground cover where it occurs: speedwell, scarlet pimpernell, self heal, wild strawberry, saxifrage, ajuga. Later on, we’ll try to be kind to the ivy and periwinkle, but I don’t think there’s any in this bed.

Thanks …… Joan

First Letter to Paul Read More »

More help in the garden – hooray!

Next week, our new gardener will be starting.  His name is Paul and he visited us a couple of days ago to discuss the possibility of his working with us.  He has agreed and I’m mightily relieved as we can’t keep up with it.  Perhaps if we worked all day everyday we could get it under control, but there are lots of other things that we want to do, so the help will be much appreciated.

Paul suggested that we do it in small steps rather than trying to tackle everything at once.  He’s completely right and it’s the overwhelming whole that puts me off when I walk around our once-lovely garden.  So next week he’s going to start on the bed beside the back patio.

The pictures above are of that bed.  They are the “befores” and I’ll post some “afters” in a week or so.  The bed hassome interesting plants, but they’ve been overwhelmed by plants that didn’t ought to be there.  I don’t call them weeds because they would be just fine in other parts of the garden, but they’ve seeded themselves about and they’re taking over and smothering the more ornamental things that we have in that bed.

This weekend, we’re working on our first set of instructions for Paul.  I’m writing him an email because, unfortunately, I work at Scrappies on the day he’ll be working here.  My letter will be my next post.

More help in the garden – hooray! Read More »

Office Cleanup

boosted-coloursEvery now and then, the mess in my office gets overwhelming.  I can’t find anything, I throw things about and stuff piles up so I can hardly get into the room.  I reached that point this morning, so had a bit of a tidy.



Classic FM is having an all-day Mozart fest so I’ve got the music playing and I’m working away. There are still lots of piles about.  That’s the way I work.  If it’s filed, I’ve forgotten it, so it has to be piled so I’ll find it again later!

While tidying I started putting away the wreckage of this terms art-work.  Pastels are back in pots, brushes have been washed and paintings put into my box of work.  I took pictures of the ones I like best and then played with them on the computer – boosting colours, adding contrast, straightening and cropping, etc.  The photos look a lot better than the originals, so I’ve included them in this post.

contrastmoonNow it’s time to start going through my “Arts Festival Pending” e-mail folder to get some jobs done before tomorrow’s committee meeting.

Office Cleanup Read More »