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Saturday, January 29, 2011

My mum...........

For the past year my mum, who is now 86, has been in decline.  We visited mum and dad today and I came home with mixed feelings.  She smiled and laughed today for the first time in a year.  Depression and indifference seems to have been all she has known as the ageing process takes a stronger hold - yet, today, her blurred thoughts and confused mind somehow caused her to forget what she's been depressed about, and she chuckled and smiled.  It was good to see....  yet sad also, to look on this little old frail woman who is my mum - the person that gave me so much of what is good in my life.

Both my parents love plants and the garden my older brother and I grew up with was a joy.  There was something in it for all of us.  Mum and dad had their rose garden.  Together, they would choose some new roses from a catalogue on an annual basis, and they would let Ian and I choose one too.  My dad didn't do things by half..... he used to test the soil for its acid and alkaline content, add various organic materials to it so it would be perfect for the roses which he would prune at just the right angle and at just the right time.  He even got to be quite an expert at grafting them too.  He laid pipes under the soil to help with the drainage and he especially liked to take care of the lawns by carefully edging them, mowing them and then going over them with a roller.  

Despite the attention lavished on the garden, it wasn't a show garden.  My dad made a mini putting course on one of the lawns, complete with holes and markers.... and we were always having picnics on the grass, especially when joined by members of the extended family.  We were never told to keep off the grass or not to pick this or that, etc.  It was a garden that was enjoyed by the family.  Against one wall was the rabbit hutch and run that my dad built.  One day mum got in a panic because she thought I had disappeared with my friend, when all the time we had snuck inside the rabbit hutch along with Candy, Floss and Titch!  On one of the borders was a section that was given to me, where I learned to grow my first seeds..... radishes.

Mum always had a vase of cut flowers in the living-room, taken from our garden and when I gave birth to my eldest son in hospital, dad brought me a huge bunch of roses, mixed with other garden blooms - the nurses admired them so much that he brought a bunch for them at his next visit.  

I remember a navy cord jacket that mum wore when I was a child.  To me, it seemed to smell of plums!  Then, one day when I was much older, I was walking beside the river and I could smell that familiar scent. After a while,  I realised it was coming from the Himalayan Balsam that was growing alongside the river...... the scent was just like mum's jacket!  So now, the scents that I associate with my mum are plums, Himalayan Balsam...... and most of all, her favourite perfume - Coty L'Aimant (which has nothing at all to do with gardening!). 

I'm so glad that my parents were not only such keen gardeners, but that they allowed my brother and I to enjoy the garden without the fear of 'spoiling' anything in it.  My love of the outdoors has been gifted to me by my parents, but not only that - my faith also, for it was in the outdoors that I found it.  I love you mum and dad.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gathering Moss by Dr Robin Wall Kimmerer

Gathering Moss - A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses
By Robin Wall Kimmerer

I've had this book for some time now and dipped into it numerous times.  It's a book I will never tire of and new bits of information stand out with each reading.  Robin Wall Kimmerer is  Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.  

This is not just a book on identifying mosses - it is much more than that.  Dr Kimmerer writes beautifully and passionately with a scientific mind and also a mind that has come to know the environment intimately through her native american heritage.  She tells the story of mosses in language that does not necessitate the need for being a botanist to understand - how these amazing plants "live and how their lives are intertwined with the lives of countless other beings."  (quote from the back cover) 

Robin Wall Kimmerer

"I think it is this that draws me to the pond on a night in April - tadpoles and spores, egg and sperm, mind and yours, mosses and peepers - we are all connected by our common understanding of the calls filling the night at the start of Spring.  It is the wordless voice of longing that resonates within us, the longing to continue, to participate in the sacred life of the world."  Robin Wall Kimmerer

An excerpt from the chapter, An Affinity for Water, pages 39 & 40:-

"Watch a drop of rainwater fall on a broad, flat oak leaf.  It beads up for a minute, reflecting the sky like a crystal ball, and then slides off to the ground.  Most tree leaves are designed to shed water, leaving the task of water absorption to the roots.  Tree leaves are covered with a thin layer of wax, a barrier to water entering by absorption or leaving via evaporation.  But moss leaves have no barrier at all, and are only one cell thick.  Every cell of every leaf is in intimate contact with the atmosphere, so that a raindrop soaks immediately into the cell.  

The leaves of trees are uniformly flat, to intercept as much light as possible, and spaced far from one another to prevent shading.  But light is of less concern to mosses than is water.  Therefore, the nature of moss leaves is entirely different from trees.  Each leaf is shaped to make a home for water.  Lacking roots or an internal transport system of any kind, mosses rely entirely on the shape of their outer surfaces to move water.  In some species, the flow of water is accelerated by the wicking action of minute threads, or paraphyllia, that densely cover the moss stem, like a blanket of coarse wool.  The shape and arrangement of some moss leaves collect and retain water, a concave leaf holding a single raindrop in its upside-down bowl.  Others have long leaf tips, rolled into tiny tubes that fill with water and channel the droplets to the leaf surface.  Leaf overlaps leaf, closely spaced, creating tiny concave pockets, a continuous conduit for water moving among them."

Dr Kimmerer's book is a joy to read and would make a wonderful gift, either to yourself, or to someone you know who is fascinated by these wonderful plants.
From the preface:- 
"In indigenous ways of knowing, we say that a thing cannot be understood until it is known by all four aspects of our being:  mind, body, emotion, and spirit.  The scientific way of knowing relies only on empirical information from the world, gathered by body and interpreted by mind.  In order to tell the mosses' story I need both approaches, objective and subjective.  These essays intentionally give voice to both ways of knowing, letting matter and spirit walk companionably side by side.  And sometimes even dance."

Go here to read more about Robin Wall Kimmerer

For anyone interested in studying mosses and even growing them, go here for a fantastic download.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Seeds is a synonym for joyful promise

During the month of January the weather can be a bit hit and miss.  Some days you can get out into the garden to work, most days you cant.... whether it's because of rain or a hard frost, like today.  One of the activities I enjoy at this time is all the extra feeding of the garden birds and watching them from the warmth of the house..... another is planning on which seeds I'll be sowing.

I'm particularly fond of Sweet Peas and I've got some different ones to grow this Summer.  This one (above) is Royal Family mix. 

This one (above) is Air Warden

Above is Old Spice Starry Night

Sweet Peas are so obliging - their germination rate is excellent, they grow well with very little attention, they come in colours to suit everyone and, best of all, the majority of them are scented.  Furthermore, the more you pick the flowers, the more they will send out new blooms..... so, throughout the Summer you can have cut flowers for the house and flowers in the garden right up till Autumn.  Perfect!

Hyssop officinalis - blue

Hyssop is an evergreen bushy herb that can be used in cooking and for medicinal purposes.  The list of its health benefits is endless.... everything from digestive problems to treating wrinkles - think I'll be making myself some hyssop oil this year!  I especially want to grow it because it looks pretty and I love the shade of blue of its flowers.  I've also got some seeds of the white variety to try as well.  I've got a small section of the garden set aside for herbs - it will be growing in amongst lemon balm, parsley, rosemary and angelica.

Borago officinalis

Borage is another herb with pretty blue flowers.  It's sometimes referred to as Starflower because of the shape of the flowers.  You can make an infusion with the leaves - it has a subtle cucumber taste and makes a nice refreshing drink for hot Summer days. Both the flowers and leaves can be used in salads and if you pop a flower in each of the ice cube compartments, they make a healthy addition to your drinks.   Borage contains a host of vitamins and minerals and is particularly helpful to people with respiratory complaints.

Cichorium intybus

Chicory is a perennial herb.  The roots, when ground and roasted, make a healthy substitute for coffee and is said to cleanse the blood and improve the health of the liver.  The young leaves can also be used in salads.

 Sweet Pea Help for Heroes

The seed and plant company, Mr Fothergills is donating £1 for every packet of Sweet Pea Help for Heroes that is bought, to the charity of the same name.  Go here to buy your packet.

I found this lovely poem about the joys of seeds.

He Knows No Winter

He knows no winter, he who loves the soil,

For, stormy days, when he is free from toil,

He plans his summer crops, selects his seeds

From bright-paged catalogues for garden needs.

When looking out upon frost-silvered fields,

He visualizes autumn's golden yields;

He sees in snow and sleet and icy rain

Precious moisture for his early grain;

He hears spring-heralds in the storm's ' turmoil­

He knows no winter, he who loves the soil.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Spring in the air........

The sun was shining today..... it was, I saw it from my window!  So I decided I'd take the opportunity to get out in the garden and get something done.  It was lovely and mild with a definite hint of Spring in the air.

At the back of the garden, there's a lovely little corner where we think the wrens take shelter and probably nest.  On one side is a leylandii hedge with ivy growing underneath, and on the back fence there's Winter jasmine.  I planted some wild purple foxgloves at the back, underplanted with wild strawberries, both of which I had grown from seed.  We've placed the arch nearby and I'm training one of the clematis over it...... as I was tidying it up today, I saw a nest within it's branches.  I saw a second nest, again in a clematis, in another part of the garden.  I hope the birds continue to make their homes here even though we've moved in, as the house had been empty for quite a long time.  On the back fence, there's a honeysuckle and the leaf buds are making an appearance....... oh, what delights Summer holds!

Having had such a good day in the garden set me off dreaming about the features I would like to have.......

greenhouse by Gabriel Ash

This is my dream greenhouse, just the right size for our garden, with matching coldframes... ideal.

How about this pond, fed by running water and adorned with gorgeous water lilies.  Oh.... Bob, Charlie and Benji would have such fun plodging through a pond like this!


Next on my list would be a romantic ruin ...... somewhere to while away the hours and forget where I am - forget which century I'm in......


Somewhere in my garden there would be a grotto, dark and damp with lots of lush ferns growing all around.

...... and when I've had enough of lingering underground, I would wander through the wildflower meadow with the butterflies and bees. 

Methinks I will have to scale things down somewhat!

Friday, January 7, 2011

In the attic.....

 Artwork by Mark Sach ~ go here to see more of his work

Shortly after moving into our new house, we could hear noises coming from above the bedroom..... like scratching.   The most activity occurs very early in the morning, but I hear it at other times too.  At first I could only guess as to what was making the noises.  Rats? Squirrels?  One weekend, I treated myself to a lie-in, book in hand and cup of tea on the bedside table that I'd made  asked hubby to make me.  As I was reading, I kept noticing birds flying to and fro outside the bedroom window - some were perched on the telephone lines and others were flying to and from our roof.  They were Starlings and I wondered if they were our mystery lodgers.  It was confirmed that they were when hubby saw one go in one of the air vent tiles on the roof.  They're very posh Starlings as we had the attic insulated last week, so you could say they're living in a giant carpeted nestbox.  We don't mind them lodging in our attic, in fact they were no doubt here before we were...... but I'm wondering just how early they'll wake us up in the mornings when Spring arrives!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Whooooohooooooo, I feel good!

We had a dry day today and I spent from 1 o'clock until dusk out in the garden, yay!  I dug over the part that gets flooded (read about that here) and found that there were paving slabs underneath the soil with just gravel thrown on top.  I know that next-doors pipes will still cause problems until they are fixed, but at least with the removal of all the submerged slabs, the water will have somewhere to go and it mightn't be so bad, fingers crossed.  It was hard and heavy work, but I feel all the better for it and so glad that a start has been made.  It's time to stop feeling sorry for myself and just get on with it.

I also managed to tidy up a bit - when we moved in we had so much to do that the plants in pots were just littered around the garden.  I've retrieved the ones that haven't been squashed to death by Big Foot Benji and put them in an orderly fashion, somewhere out of his reach .... I hope.

Big Foot Benji (in our previous garden)

My next job is to prune the shrubs and climbers on the fences before the new Spring growth appears.  The garden may look like a disaster area just now, but I'm happy to see that there are quite a lot of good shrubs already here, ones that I would have chosen myself, such as pyracantha, buddleia and winter jasmine, etc. 

It's been such an enjoyable day and the icing on the cake was looking up to see some long-tailed tits feeding on the fat balls I'd hung out.  I also saw one of the wrens (hubby's seen two in the garden), bobbing about in amongst the shrubs, a blackbird winked at me from the fence (honest, it did!) and a collared dove sat atop next-door's roof calling to its mate, "Oi, it's Lesley.... we've found her, the grubs over here."

Illustration by Annette Abolins ~ to see more of her work, go here.

I'm back to being a happy gardener..... bring on the Spring! :D

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fungi, Tiny nests and Sheep!

At last I have been able to photograph something in the garden!  I'm hoping someone can identify this fungi.  It's growing about a foot's distance from the hedge.

Below is a closer image of it.  It's sort of ruffled and the edges are laced with white.

This is another fungi (pictured below), growing on a tree stump in the garden.  Does anyone know what it is?  It looks quite disgusting - like some form of excrement!  I hope neither of these fungi are poisonous because of our dogs.

Charlotte (daughter) and I went out for a walk today - we even got the old man to come too!  The picture below shows a tiny nest - there were three of them within yards of each other.  I wish my photo' could show just how tiny they were.  At a guess, I'd say they were about four inches in diameter and they were built mostly with sheep's wool. :D  Does anyone know which bird might have built these perfect little nests?

Could these be the very sheep that provided the building materials for the above abode?  They were in a nearby field.  I love the ones to the left, with the white faces. :)  This is between Oakenshaw and Brancepeth.