Posts Tagged ‘garden’

I’ve always longed for a garden trug but new ones are really expensive and it’s something you can easily do without. After all, a cardboard box or a plastic basket of some kind work just as well for holding picked flowers until you bring them indoors. Also, until I came to Spring Cottage I didn’t really have any flowers to pick so a trug had to wait. P1010966 Now, however, Spring brings loads of daffodils and other narcissi, and I also plant all kinds of seeds in my cut flower beds specifically to grow things to bring inside. So I’m enjoying a clapped out old trug that I bought last summer at a car boot sale for three quid. It’s a bit brittle and won’t last for ever but I’ve waterproofed it a little by painting it with Danish oil and it now looks as thought it’s a family heirloom, which I much prefer to things being brand new. It kind of goes better with the ancient nature of the cottage, looks suitably rustic hanging in the woodshed, and I can spend the money saved on seeds instead.

The main flowerbeds here are in the front garden, which is at the side of the cottage, if that makes sense. Being at the side, at the gable end of the house, there is no window overlooking it. So I have to bring flowers in if I want to see them more than in passing on the way to the car. in hedge Many of the daffodils have also been planted under the various hedges. Well, they would have originally been under the hedges but now they are in the hedges, the hedges having grown widthways as well as in height over the years. So the daffs need rescuing before they are forced to bend over by the branches sprouting above them. daffodils on windowsill

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N2 When Nora arrived she was small enough to slip under the gate to the back garden from the little contained area immediately around the house. Fortunately, that didn’t last long and for a few months it was safe to let her out of the back door knowing that she wouldn’t be able to run off and get lost.

Then she became a teenage dog and discovered exploring. Through the hedge she would go, unerringly finding the one section where there was a break in the ancient wire netting embedded in it. Terrifyingly, she would run out into the lane and then stand stock still in the middle of the road ignoring all calls for her to return. Heart stopping, knowing that people bomb down here fairly fast, although it’s often quiet for hours, lulling you into a false sense of security. more fence Then she got even naughtier and started to jump over the ridiculously low back fence and go off foraging for things in the field behind the cottage. The fence was deliberately low, having been put up by my predecessor who favoured the view. Oddly, at that time the field was used for cattle grazing, which was brave or foolhardy of her, depending on your point of view, as she might have had a ton of cow land on her while she was sitting out in the sun. fence Worse than the possibility that Nora would leave an occasional poo among the growing crop was my fear that she would be seen. In the hills, you can see an animal from a long way off when it is the only moving object in a field, so I worried that the farmer would be annoyed that I’d let the dog loose on his land.

So, off I went to buy some wire fencing to temporarily (I hope) constrain her adventurousness until she is old enough to listen when she is told to wait and come down. It’s ugly, much harder to put up than I thought and knackered my hands completely, but it does the job and I hope to be able to take it down in about eighteen months or so.

I do feel rather sad at spoiling her fun as there are a lot of pheasants around at the moment and she’s very curious about them. Nora 1

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Usually, I’m pretty annoyed at hearing machinery on a beautiful morning. However, today the noise I’m listening to is a chap cutting my hedge.

I can’t quite express how happy this makes me after almost five years of cutting the rather long hedge myself, which has been exhausting and quite painful sometimes, as I have carpal tunnel syndrome and, frequently, tennis elbow – the latter most likely as a result of trimming the hedge. Afterwards, I always have a few days of numbness in my hands and pain in my forearms. I try to keep my strength up in the gym but wielding even a light trimmer at arm’s length for several hours takes its toll.

So after all this time the hedge was much taller than I wanted, as I couldn’t really give it the ferocious cuts it needed. And it became harder with each passing year as another couple of inches was added to its height, so Jay is taking a good eight inches off the top of the hedge today.

man cutting hedge

But it’s only waist height, you might be thinking. Indeed, on the garden side, it’s only that high but on the road side it’s probably about eight feet high, so no fear of anyone peering over the top. And that’s part of what’s made it so hard for me to cut, for, in places, it’s not reachable from the garden because of its width. Teetering on a ladder in the path of the traffic has been part of the fun of living here.

Man cutting garden hedge

Of course, Jay has the right equipment: a petrol-fuelled hedge trimmer far heavier than I could wield comfortably for any length of time. I’m rather envious of it though.

fuel for hedge trimmer

An added thrill is the fact that Jay’s parents used to live at Spring Cottage in the 1960s and 70s. They sold it to the woman from whom I bought five years ago. So he was interested to see inside and he was able to fill me in about which improvements his parents had made to the place (the addition of bathroom and kitchen extension, and the demolition of several layers of wall and fireplace to reveal the original inglenook).

hedge cutting

I wonder if it feels odd to Jay to be cutting hedge that was most likely growing here when his parents lived here almost 35 years ago. I’m hoping I can perhaps get to see some photos of the cottage in the old days when he next comes. I find this kind of thing endlessly fascinating.

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I’ve been meaning to go to Hestercombe Gardens – laid out by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens – for a long time but I hadn’t looked carefully enough at the website. It costs £9.70 to go into the gardens and I just wasn’t going to pay that much for a walk with a silly little dog, who’s only allowed 15-20 minutes exercise. Another time, maybe, when she’s bigger and can cope better with having to be on a short lead and we can stay longer; or when we have visitors who love such places or when the weather is better. But not today.

I was determined to make something of our visit though; there’s always something to see if you’re curious. And somehow, it makes it easier to be nosy when you’ve got a dog with you as you have the excuse of walking it for snooping into odd corners. I fully intend to make the most of this.

So we set off down the drive to see what we could see and were rewarded with a small herd of cows at the bottom of the deepest ha-ha I’ve ever seen, being led to a different pasture by three members of the farming family. I love ha-has; especially as in this case when you walk to the edge of one to be completely surprised by what you find.

farm lady

cows in mud

driving cows

old farmer

These would have been Nora’s first cows but for the fact that the field opposite the cottage has cows in it at the moment – something that happens about twice a year when Sue lets someone graze a small herd there. We stood by and watched from a distance, and Nora actually sat when I told her to, which has, so far, rarely happened outdoors. The strategic rustly packet of treats in my pocket might have had something to do with it, I suppose…

There were lot of different mushrooms everywhere and I took  lots of photos but, with her dragging me around after various delicious poo smells on the other end of the lead around my wrist, they all came out blurred. Anyway, you all know what mushrooms look like. And now you know what bits of Hestercombe looks like. My guess is that it’s a lot more attractive around the paying side.

hestercombe house

view from Hestercombe

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Nora has been helping in the garden: she’s been digging…

dog digging





watering… although some of that is me getting rid of her puddles…


and generally having a whale of a time.

dog playing with flowerpot




Thankfully it’s the end of the growing season, and most of the less established plants that I couldn’t move were either rescued from Homebase’s discounted section or cheap purchases from Morrison’s that I put in quickly to make the garden prettier for the Boy’s visit in the summer. (I should really start calling him the Man, given that he’s now 25 (and a half) but that just sounds weird.)



But there are still some pretty things and this phase won’t last forever. I can see from the pictures – the ones where she isn’t wearing a collar are from last week – how much she has grown.


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It’s incredibly windy at the moment which makes doing any work outside rather difficult. My hair gets in the way of seeing anything, so it was very frustrating being up the ladder fixing the cooker hood vent’s gravity flaps, one of which had fallen off during the winter. I could tie it up, of course, but that thought only ever occurs to me when I’m already doing whatever I’m doing surrounded by swirling hair.


I cleaned the windows, which is no big deal except when some windows have got ridiculous amounts of security metalwork to dismount before you can get at the glass. It made me realise that there were two windows I’d never cleaned before – in four years! Slut.

I’m quite an anxious gardener, going around prodding and poking and wondering whether things are still alive after the winter. So it’s reassuring to go back to old pictures and think that the tree probably isn’t dead because it didn’t have any leaves the previous year at this time either. Here are the last five years. (They enlarge if you click them.)

In the evening, after my final bout of cleaning, we found a small frog that had somehow made its way inside and got itself attached to a ball of slut’s wool. I quickly rescued it from the cats, who were looking very interested, and put it out in the garden under the leaves growing around the pond. It was only when I came back in that I remembered that I should have kissed it first.

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So I was worrying about the trees in my last post. Well, I arrived at Spring Cottage to find things could have been worse. snowy landscape

A rapid thaw was happening, the temperature having shot up from minus three to about five degrees centigrade overnight. Where I’m told there had been knee-deep snow yesterday, patches of earth were now appearing.

snowy landscape

The house looked more or less intact. I’d remembered to turn off the water before I left, there was no burst pipe. On the other hand, the back door looked suspiciously wet and was hard to open. I put my shoulder to it and burst out into the soggy garden, shocking some birds into the sky. Above me, the gutter teetered at an unseemly angle and disgorged its melting contents straight at the door. In the garden, we’d lost a couple of tree branches here and there, nothing desperate and it will all make good kindling once it’s dried out.

hedge along a roadside

The weight of the now rapidly vanishing snow had done other things as well. Along the lane, bits of hedge were looming forwards in the manner of a drunk sharing a confidence. Lonicera Nitida, sometimes known as boxleaf honeysuckle, is easy to shape and trim but, being a relative of the climber, it hasn’t got any what you might call ‘integrity’. Rather, it leans up against itself like a teenager during that phase where they cling to doorframes to stay upright. Weigh it down with a lot of snow and it’s gone – teenager to drunk in a week.

trimmed hedge

I had to do something before the forecast rain arrived. So I swapped my idea of walking in the hills for sturdy yellow work gloves, reached through the hedge as far as I could from the garden side and hoicked the spindly stems inwards. Then from the roadside, more than ankle deep in thawing snow, I shoved it upwards with an upside down broom. But it wasn’t enough, it had lost its grip, and some of its top-heaviness just had to go if the next snowfall wasn’t going to see it lying stretched out across the lane.

Now that it’s done, I’m thinking that the snow did me a favour, although I would have liked a walk instead of a sore elbow from wielding the shears. The hedge is now thinned out for a bit of fresh growth in the spring and should be all the stronger for it.

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Pop your clogs on and go and have a look. All kinds of sculptural winter beauty and living things await.

clogs on doormat

lace cap hydrangea flowers dried in winter outdoors

clematis on a trellis

terracotta planter with ferns

terracotta planter with fern and slug close up

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I took these photographs in the back garden around the herb plot. This is one of the times of the year when I am so grateful to my predecessor’s sense of garden design. The burgeoning leaves and flowers remind me every spring and summer that they were chosen complement each other, down to the tiny rock plant’s flowers.

I can only claim credit for the dwarfish lupin. Surely they’re meant to be taller than that? Oh, and the cat who is a delightful beigey shade called ‘lilac’.

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There’s something so lovely about a daffodil. They are so welcoming and so joyful, and so totally appropriate for Spring.

One of the lovely things about this garden is the sheer variety of daffodil-like flowers that appear at this time of year. I think there are about ten types of narcissi out there. I don’t know the names of any of them as I owe them all to my predecessor here.

different varieties of narcissi

As soon as one type has ‘gone over’ another pops up and so they continue for a few weeks. They grow in the flower beds in the front garden, on the lawn and the banks in the back garden as above, and at the back and front of the house.


I’ve just had a good rummage about at Peter Nyssen and found that I have a pretty good cross section of the different types available. Had to log out of there quickly before I bought something…

more types of narcissi

The ones I find the least successful are those that are really fancy – double headed cream-coloured ones – in the picture below, with their second flower not yet open. They look a bit washed out compared to their brighter, more exuberant cousins but it could also be that they are planted where they look a little lost in the bare earth of a bed not yet colonised by alchemilla mollis and strawberries.

double headed narcissi

At this time of year, I buy a bunch of daffodils almost every time I leave the house if I’m not in the country. They are just so cheerful that I want to fill every room with them.

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3rd April 2010

2nd April 2011

30th March 2012

Well, so much for this year being so warm. It turns out that last year, the garden was far more advanced than it is this year, despite this year’s sunny spring. However, in 2010, there were barely any flowers out at this time. Interesting.

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Spring is definitely in the air but here in the hills high above sea level, there are only some very small signs.

And a very few tiny flowers.

The snowdrops ares still the most obvious presence.


There is still some fine winter colour in the leafless hedge.

And some things that have been around quite a while.

And others that are very new.

Someone told me today that snow is forecast for tomorrow. There’s certainly a strong, chilly wind blowing. We shall see. But when I stroked the heather here, I disturbed two bumblebees.


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Found something new in the garden for the junk shelf in the porch. It’s been sitting behind the oil tank for a fair while. I knew it was there and always assumed it was just a mug but today, when I was checking the oil level, I noticed the little bottle on the right, so – curious – I dug that out (it’s broken, sadly) and then decided to have a closer look at the ‘mug’. Not a mug at all but a Victorian jam jar. They still make Hartley’s jam and there’s a nice story behind the origins of the company. I wonder what else lies buried out there?


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I was in the woodshed filling up the bird feeder, when I gradually became aware of an unusual, gentle, repetitive sound. “Swish-swish. Swish-swish.” I tracked it down to the basket where I keep the kindling. “Swish-swish. Swish-swish.” And there, unexpectedly, on the basket’s underside, was a butterfly – a peacock – slowly opening and closing its wings.

I couldn’t get my DSLR camera to focus properly on it, while it was opening and shutting its wings. The camera’s mechanism felt as sluggish in the cold as the butterfly’s movements. I probably just had it on the wrong setting but, as so often, my wits desert me when I’m trying to take a picture where the subject is not inanimate.

It didn’t try to fly away when I moved the basket into the light to see it better, so I managed to get something slightly better with my phone camera.

As I’m writing this, I’m feeling guilty that I didn’t rescue it but I just hadn’t the faintest clue where to start. I don’t suppose it will have survived very long, poor, beautiful thing – I haven’t had the heart to check.

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The ‘winter’ banner picture at the top of the blog is completely inaccurate. It’s been neither cold nor snowy this year. Of the three winters I’ve known here, this has been the warmest, with scarcely a frost.

It’s almost exactly three years since I first saw Spring Cottage. It was snowy then. Now it’s balmy and the garden, although still bare, is getting on apace, even though we’re high in the hills.

The moss, for instance, has been galloping ahead and has now almost completely taken over one of the areas of what used to be lawn. I’m going to have to read up on what to do about this. Although I kind of think life’s too short. It’s green, isn’t it?

There’s one budding daffodil. Just one.

Loads of hellebores.

Masses of heather. In fact, I’ve never seen this looking so good.

This lovely thing that I can never remember the name of. I am going to look it up. [It's lonicera fragrantissima or winter flowering honeysuckle – two very kind readers told what it was last year]

And a few primroses and snowdrops. All very timid still but they are out. It’s not even the end of January yet.

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