Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Rainy night/damp day

Wisps of cloud are drifting across Badnage Wood and the air is heavy and cool as I write this. The rain that fell overnight will have done a power of good - the ground has been so dry. I am mesmerised by the rain drops clinging to leaves and have tried to capture some of their sparkle.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Meat and Two Veg.

At 7.30 this morning we were woken not by Radio 4's wind-baggy and self righteous 'Today' programme but by the bleating of a few hundred sheep. John, Heather and Carl had gathered the flock in the yard on the other side of the garden wall with a view to selecting some of the better lambs To Go To Market. And we know what that means...... Lamb chops.

Vegetables. This is not going to be a Gold Medal year for beans - at least not in the garden at The Granary. In his innocence Alan sprayed the last of the raised beds with some awful toxic mix to get rid of the weeds that had persisted over the autumn and winter. We'd assumed that the spray would deal only with the weeds it touched and not rest in the soil. However, regretfully this has not been the case - beans failed to germinate and the tomatoes and lettuce suffered terribly before I ejected them. The second sowing of beans are through but look fairly pathetic. They may pull through yet as the stuff loses its potency. A lesson learned.

On the plus side we've got Basil, Coriander and Lettuce in abundance. Pesto will be on the menu.

As I write this, fairly late on, the sheep are quiet at last. The ewes have been very noisy all day - shouting for their lambs I guess - which if I thought about it too much in a certain frame of mind would make me very sad indeed. I keep reminding myself that a. They are sheep and we shouldn't assign human emotions to them and b. They have had a really good, if short, life out on the hill.

Finally, congratulations to Rhona and John on the birth of their son, Samuel, born on Saturday 8 weeks' early. How special to be born on Midsummer's Day!

Friday, June 23, 2006

A dip in the gene pool

Escaped today to the county archives in Shrewsbury. A very civilised place, hushed and cool, where the real world is, well, a world away. Picked up the threads of some family history research - my father's paternal family lived and worked about 5 miles from here in the lead mining industry in the 19th century. I like this kind of investigation, piecing together snippets of information, names and places and dates. I like the handwriting of the registers, the notes in the margins, the names, the places and the occupations.

After about 2 hours of sliding film through the micro-fiche reader, seeing the same names go by: births, marriages and deaths, one slips into that little community up in the Shropshire Hills. Silent now but busy then with the mining industry at the height of production. Large families, biblical names, illiteracy - the older folk often signing with a cross - 'his mark'. A hard life above or below ground for man or woman. My g.g.g grandfather ended his life as a ratcatcher, which depending on your view of rats, may or may not have been an honourable profession.

So this afternoon for a couple of hours I imagined another swaddled baby christened - another mouth to feed; imagined the brief celebrations of a country wedding and the sombre note of a funeral on a bleak November morning. A hovel for a home and grinding poverty. But there must have been pleasures too - moments of warmth, love, affection and wonder.

I'd been so engrossed that the 21st century hit hard as I left the Archives and stepped into the sunshine.

Drove home across Long Mountain which is as good a place to go as any. Alan had made Caesar Salad using lettuce and rocket from the garden, garnishing it with asparagus, for our evening meal. Excellent.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Longest Day

...............and it hasn't finished yet.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Goings and comings...

At dusk yesterday evening John and Heather took the last of the Lower House sheep over to Fir House to be ready for the shearers this morning. This only left the ewes on our field to be collected. Now, they're a funny lot - a disparate bunch, not really a cohesive flock. They'd been gathered together from different farms and the only thing they had in common was that they were the very last to lamb. They were a bunch of single-minded feisty females given to vigourous bouts of head-butting.

Today, however, they were united; each and every one resisted being loaded on the wagon that came to take them to be shorn. They ran this way, that way, forwards and backwards, round, over and down - pursued by an increasingly breathless John, Heather and Sabre. (I was on gate duty.) After much whooping, hollering and chasing one ewe relented and went up the ramp - which was perhaps a hidden signal for the others to follow - albeit unwillingly. Add a bit of pushing and shoving and we get the them all in bar two lambs. Shut the gates quick.

In the midst of this agricultural distraction our visitors arrive: Alan's sister Nina and her son James. Nina will be staying with us for a few days. It's always good to see her - catch up with family gossip and take a few days out to show off some of the beautiful countryside hereabouts. We've not seen James for some years so it was good to catch up with him too over a pub lunch before he scooted off to meet a colleague in Shrewsbury.

The 2 lambs were eventually collected (an effort that took 3 people and a dog several circuits of a 5 acre field to accomplish) and taken to be reunited with their mothers. A happy ending then....

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Not such a warm day here, and a little rain this morning.

Dan and Harry came down from Stockport this afternoon. Dan brought with him this wonderful cheesecake he'd baked. So good I ate 2 slices........and am looking forward to a morsel more tomorrow.

Thank you Harry for helping me with my .mp3's and my .m4p's. As importantly, the audio attached to my 'Bling' post below should now be playable thanks to his manipulations.

I am now much wiser re How To Post Music but wonder why things have to be so complicated. It's like this whole wide web world is full of its own secrets and conventions, with a language of its own, where not all the rules apply all of the time - and just when you've grasped them - heh! The boundaries shift somewhere bigger and brighter. And don't even get me started on mega-corporations.....at whose door I want to lay some of the blame.

So with apologies for this minor rant and adding thanks to Harry for this little sketch, I'll end on a positive note. Bull terriers are ace!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

New Hens

OK, back on track. The New Hens: 5 Light Sussex x Rhode Island Reds and 1 Marran, aged 11 weeks. The Marran will lay eggs with dark brown shells. They've had a hard day what with being caught, being in box, a car and a new home - and not helped by the brown dog's overexcitment. (He is a 'bird dog' after all, though we wish he'd stick with mousing....far less frantic)

And here's Alan surveying the pond in the dappled evening light.
It's been another beautiful day up here at the end of the Long Mountain. There has been little rain for well over a week now - the farmers must be making the most of it for hay, silage and shearing.

We returned from the NEC on Wednesday to find that some of the sheep had been shorn. Without their fleeces they looked really naked. The shearing process is obviously quite disruptive: lambs get separated from their mothers and vice versa. The hours it takes for the ewes and lambs reunite are loud with baas and plaintive bleats - it wasn't until the early hours that the hill was quiet again. There is still some of the flock to shear and while this hot weather continues they are seeking out the shade - it doesn't seem so long ago that the same ewes were tucking themselves under the same hedges against the cold.


This started out as a blog about the New Hens, which, as I write, are cowering at the far end of the Hen-House-on-Wheels utterly traumatised by the events of the day. Maybe later...

I got kind of sidetracked by this: Jay-Z and Kayne West's 'Diamonds from Sierra Leone' - which since I heard it the other day has been one of those 'tunes' which worms into your brain. Ugly/beautiful/powerful. Where are your diamonds from? And do you care? I guess the movers and shakers have moved on from this and it is left to us middle-aged mums and trendy vicars to ponder its poetics.

Powered by Castpost

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A day out yesterday at 'Gardeners' World Live' at the NEC in Birmingham; an event which describes itself as a show for gardeners by gardeners. And that I think is a fair description. Chelsea remains the creme de la creme of shows and Tatton considers itself the Chelsea of the North. This show, heavily promoted by the BBC, came across as very down-to-earth (appropriately) and user friendly. Familiar faces from the TV gardening show of the same name were much in evidence - and approachable. Monty Don, Diamurd Gavin and Alan Titchmarch - what more could a girl ask for?

Shopping was the order of the day - although I brought nothing home. People staggered under the weight of their purchases - those with an iota of sense came equipped with irritating little wheeled trolleys. And what were people buying? Lots and lots of plants: grasses - Briza maxima was popular judging by the number of nodding seed heads that trundled by, alliums, geums and peonies. The plant mall did a roaring trade.

The show gardens were at their best this being the first day. None were particularly stunning but there were ideas to pinch and some good planting here and there.

Reaseheath College's garden 'The Plot' in the Natural Gardens category deserved its awards: Gold, and Best Show Garden. Its emphasis was on promoting healthy living for children and building awareness of the origins of food in infant and junior schools. (I think children had grown some of the plants used in the garden.) I loved the bio-dome run on solar energy which housed, amongst other things, mature citrus and a fig tree and would enable groups of children to garden in all weathers all year round. Outside the planting was both edible and attractive. Environmental issues were nurtured through the use of peat free composts, biological pest control and wildlife friendly features. The recyled rubber used on the paths was brilliant. I wish I had taken photographs but the hoards of people made this impractical.
Unlike many show gardens it showed something we could all achieve - eco-friendly productivity in an attractive and harmonious setting.

At the other end of the scale this garden was another favourite. Sue Adcock's simple and stylish 'Dining Out'.

This is very much an outside room for relaxation and entertainment - an extension of the home, having a very covetable stainless steel kitchen/barbecue space and dining area under an airy wooden shelter. A cushioned bench overlooks a still formal pool from which a silver figure rises. The planting was muted and restrained, soft tones of silver, blue, purple and yellow - rows of lavender with juniper, bay and pear for vertical accent. Culinary and medicinal herbs featured too. I felt this was probably not a garden for our grey climate - but had I got a Mediterranean retreat this would be on my list. Next to the infinity pool. Dream on.

I'm writing this having come in to change my clothes - having just fallen in the pond whilst adjusting a newly planted water lily. I guess it had to happen and there was no one there to laugh. Although the dog was amused.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Last orders

I've just received this picture from my brother Anthony. How he came to be planting a smacker on the cheek of Lord Nelson is still a mystery. Anthony is the driving force behind the Warwick Leadlay Gallery in Greenwich, London and probably the Great Sea Lord's greatest fan. I guess he probably just found himself at the top of Nelson's column and just, well, puckered up.

Monday, June 12, 2006

I planted roses at the end of February and this is the first one to flower; 'Blanc Double de Coubert'. I wish the photo did it justice. It is the whitest rose I have ever seen, with fine papery petals - not unlike those of a poppy - unfurling to reveal yolk-yellow stamens. I'm having a stab at planting a 'white' border' and it is only now I realise how many whites are actually tinged with other colours. Geranium 'Kashmir White' is quite pink for example - and G. 'Kashmir Green' is actually white streaked with green.

Our run of sizzlin' hot weather ended last night with rain and the landscape this morning had a milky haze. Smelt good too - damp soil and freshness. Here's the vegetable garden and orchard: onions and peas in the foreground, salads and beans beyond. Tomatoes, aubergine and peppers in the green house. courgettes, roots and brassicas out of shot.
I spent some time today thinning carrots. A job I dislike - it's fiddly and feels like murder. (Is there such a thing as 'vegicide'?) All those dear little seedlings have struggled against the odds to push their way through the soil and then they're hoiked out simply because they're overcrowded.

One of the first jobs we did - and one of the only jobs we could do while the builders were working on the barn - was to dig out a pond. I say 'we' but in fact all 'we' did was give a few instructions to ace digger driver Sid Pickering who proceeded to excavate a pond, craft a stream and redistribute the tons of spoil heaped on the site. We subsequently lined the pool and did a bit of minor landscaping and planting. Nature did its bit - provided water; frogs, newts and insect life arrived soon after as did a couple of ducks and a solitary heron. We had a pond. And that was 2 years ago.

Anyway, here's Alan picking up where we left off in 2004 and constructing a board walk along one edge of the pond.
This spring we discovered we had 4 small fish in residence - where they came from is a mystery. Perhaps as eggs on some pond weed or perhaps in the feathers of a visiting duck?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Perfect strangers...

We set out today to go and see Paul with a view to getting some hens to live in the Hen-house on Wheels. We set out in good time - something Alan is very keen on doing and me, well something I'm not very good at. (I'm a bit of a last minute merchant and am usually to be found careering desperately to my appointments having found something vital which prevented me leaving In- Good-Time.) Today we found ourselves with about 45 minutes in hand - we'd been to the tip, the bank and got the newspaper. To pass the time we decided that rather than go to Cheap Charlies new 'Country Store' and check out the gee gaws which are to be found in his garden centre we'd go and walk round the Nature Reserve just along the road instead. Lovely day, sun shining etc - see the geese and the great crested this's and that's. Parked up and set out on the trail in this small but perfectly formed site of which half is water. Not many paces on Alan discovers he hasn't got his car keys.......and yes, you've guessed - on returning to the pick-up there they were - locked inside along with all the worldly goods you don't need for a walk round a nature reserve. And as no one anticipated the need for a phone on a hen buying expedition neither of us had brought a phone. Dumb and dumber.

To cut a long story short and after an exchange of looks which spoke volumes I set out for home leaving Alan in the car park with the pick up. With nothing but the scruffy gardening clothes I stood up in and hopefully the powers of persuasion......

It was, in a way, a mini adventure in the best fairy tale tradition. Hero sets out on quest, beset by perils and pitfalls but, ultimately and by force of their inate goodness, overcomes all hurdles and reaches their goal. In my case the spare set of car keys. Hmm.....

First stop was a nearby garage where the cashier - Perfect Stranger No 1- made phone calls for me but to no avail. A kindly gentleman whom I approached on the forecourt - Perfect Stranger No 2 - changed direction and gave me a lift back into Welshpool and the deserted offices of the YelloCabs - all the taxis were out on the school run. But a kindly Perfect Stranger - No 3 - tried to call an alternative taxi company on his mobile for me. And still no taxis appeared on the horizon. Perfect Stranger No 4 said he'd ask his boss at a neighbouring company if he could drive me up the hill and home. Which bless him he did. Fortunately our neighbours were home so I was able to pick up our spare door key get in the house and collect the spare pick-up key. Then back to the car park in my own car - where a slightly sheepish Alan emerged from the undergrowth and gratefully unlocked the door. We went home - hen buying mission aborted.

But many, many thanks to my 4 Perfect Strangers who offered help to a stranger without question. There are good people out there and yesterday they were in and around Welshpool.

Later that evening the WI had a visit to Glansevern gardens just outside Berriew. Alan became an honourary Woman for the night and came along to make up the numbers. The weather which had threatened rain earlier, cleared and was perfect for enjoying the grounds of this country house. We walked round the lake, through a marvelous collection of unusual mature trees and shrubs and had a quick walk through the more formal gardens closer to the house. Unfortunately time was not on our side and we were unable to spend as long there as we wanted. The planting was exhuberant and colourful - there were some good combinations of colour, form and texture. The warmth of the evening intensified the scented plants and the air was heavy with the sweet smells of Wisteria and Philadelphus in particular. Could have spent a lot longer just going into the planting detail. We missed the walk down to the River Severn completely so will have to go back one day to do that. We had a simple supper of salad and Pavlova - all from beautifully fresh ingredients, a last glimpse of the courtyard and home through the twilight. The sky in the west was a rosy pink - boding well for the following day - and a couple of stars were twinkling.

We reached home shortly after 10.00 - still light - 2 weeks to go before the longest day.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Busy, busy

The hiatus that followed the frenzy of lambing is over. The cold, wet and windy weather that had set in at the start of May changed overnight; the sun is shining and temperatures something like the seasonal norm. Now there are sheep to be shorn, hay to be made and silage to be brought in. Tractors are racing through the lanes from field to farm and back again making the daily drive to fetch a newspaper a precarious ride.

The garden continues to burst into life but (dare I say it?) a little light rain would be good for the emerging vegetable seedlings. The battle between Me and the Forces of Evil that threaten to eat every delicate leaf that unfolds above the earth and every root beneath it, has started. Greenfly. Whitefly. Cabbage Root fly. Slugs. Damn them all.

But all is not doom and gloom of course:

The Hen-house on Wheels.

This wonderful contraption is 'The Hen-house on Wheels' and was my Christmas present from Alan. (Now, having removed to these rural parts, gifts no longer come in sweet little beribboned boxes promisingly labelled 'Brigid O'Hagan Creative Jewellery.) It has something of the siege machine about it don't you think? Now at last it's up and running and we must acquire some hens. I think 6 will be more than enough to keep us in eggs.