Sunday, February 21, 2016

Vera, You Are Utterly Fabulous: Leycesteria formosa

Being the completely appalling wretch that I am, (and Darling of my charming, witty and erudite readers), I haven't been checking my emails for months. Consequently I missed Vera's ident which she hopefully posted alongside this post about Rod Stewart
Anonymous (that's Vera) said...
I wanted to comment your Sheffield Botanical Gardens; What Is This Plant? (posted on Thursday, January 09, 2014, but it has not comments allowed). In case no one answered it yet. :) I guess it's Leycesteria formosa. :)

Yes. Yes, absolutely correct. Thank God for people like Vera.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

If This Is It...I'd Choose Right Now ... by Newton Faulkner

Remember this? -->

The whole summer built up to the 2012 Olympics, and finally Friday night arrived and we all settled in to watch the opening ceremony. Sound turned up to eleven, windows open against the heat, curtains drawn against the sunshine, everything on ice and everyone in their chosen seats...

... then James Bond leaps effortlessly up those red carpeted stairs, sidesteps the corgis at the top and we all thought, "Oh it's that woman who does the impersonations..." And then she turned round and we all screamed "OMG it's the Queen!"

And Daniel Craig reflected the zeitgeist when he paused, blinked ("Yes, I am in character with HMQE2 and she's playing along..."), then turned on his heel and carried on. Perfect, perfect Danny Boyle genius.

And yesterday I found this on YouTube --> all the best bits of the 2012 London Olympics.

Its the backing track music that makes it. Newton Faulkner's song If this Is It.
If I had one night where sunshine could break through
And show you everything,
I’d choose right now.
If this is it, all we have,
I know I’ve done all I can.
If this is it.
And we can't stop,
And start again,
We can't fast forward to the end.
This is it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day, 21 June 2015: Hero, Family of the Year

"...So let me go
I don't wanna be your hero
I don't wanna be a big man
I just wanna fight with everyone else
Your masquerade
I don't wanna be a part of your parade
Everyone deserves a chance to
Walk with everyone else..."

Saturday, February 28, 2015

On Head Gardeners and On Their Comings and Their Goings

My most favourite head gardener died at the back end of January, deepest winter with snow on the ground. Sometimes the snow was so deep the hospital grounds men shovelled it onto spaces in the car parks just to be able to get visitors at least somewhere to park. Over eleven days of comings and goings you get to understand how hospitals work for visitors.
The staff were utterly, utterly wonderful. If you were to describe a pitch perfect care standard, this would be it. Woefully understaffed, still at their station an hour after the end of their shift and thus unpaid, writing up notes and asking passing visitors if they needed a tea tray; in the middle of their unpaid overtime, still caring enough for the welfare of the friends of the dying. Over the days you become familiar with other patients in adjoining rooms; moving from a discreet nod and small smile to preserve their dignity and privacy; to hellos then, "I've popped in to sit with her as I knew you'd be stuck in the traffic;" to "they've managed to stabilize my renals so I'm all set for discharge and that means I can restart my chemo next week;" to finally arriving at night with a set of rellies from the airport and the adjoining room has a new face so the polite nodding begins again.
Throughout our comings and goings, quietly to not disturb the rhythm of the clinical care needs on this busy, busy ward, amid the bustle and bright lights, the housekeeping staff brought in tea trays. Not a couple of mugs of tea, but the whole thing; teapots and cups and saucers, always a saucer of biscuits and an instruction to just keep making ourselves a fresh pot when needed. When the ward receptionist saw you arrive with more relatives, she clearly had a word and sandwiches appeared, "because its a long way from East Midlands and you won't have stopped on the way..." You can have all the star ratings and finest surgical outcomes you like, but if you get the care of friends and relatives right, you'll probably be getting everything else right, too.

All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain... if the Tories get in on May 7th. Get out. Get your ballot papers out, and get the Tories out.  

Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Year Began With A Lie-In

And then a walk over Baslow Edge through the Highland Cattle.


Thursday, May 08, 2014

Knackered, of Newbury

I have no idea why I wrote that title, possibly because I lived and worked in Newbury at the very start of my career, and because I love the alliteration. It does sound rather better than "knackered of sunny Derbyshire."
I've finished the garden renovations of my not-so-new favourite clients. It's nearly killed me. 18 months ago we hired some tree fellas to do some radical thinning out of an overgrown and potentially dangerous copse together with the removal and stump grinding of some repellent Mahonias and Rhodies swamping the front of the house.  The savagery of the task and the resultant log pile was quite breath-taking. We felled several yews and you just can't imagine how wonderful this most calorific of logs smelt as it burned in our fireplaces over last Christmas. Heavenly.  
As my charming, witty and erudite readers will appreciate, I've always loved a bit of horticultural overhauling, the bigger the better.  It just seems to give a garden room to breathe. Light floods in, birds start swarming over the disturbed soil and suddenly we have pools of planting opportunities. At a stroke the shady side of the copse disappears and becomes sun-filled and full of potential. 

We've spent most of the last year renovating the Victorian walled kitchen garden. We've restored the old glasshouse beds to something almost approaching their former glory; we've dug out old ponds and a deep well; we've set out new raised beds that make it easier for arthritic knees to reach the soil;  and we've got everything in ahead of schedule.  Yes really. I can't quite believe it myself.  Everything sown, potted on, planted out, dug over, cuttings taken then rooted then potted on then planted out. We even have two rows of cuttings we struck last autumn from the mixed currant bushes... we're unsure what colour they'll turn out, as we were chatting too much to take much notice of the parent bushes as we worked our way round with the Felcos.  No worries. We are opening the kitchen garden this spring for a fundraiser and will sell the baby bushes dug up straight from the ground.
Truly, I lead the life of Riley...

Friday, March 07, 2014

Friday Five: Things to Buy This Weekend

1. Couple of large-ish Long Toms for my olive trees, currently wintering out in the glasshouse;
2.  Half a dozen large-ish terracotta pots for my tree saplings, currently wintering out on the terrace steps;
3.  Bags of charcoal and plenty of firelighters; if we're to have a warm weekend with Cs into the mid-teens, let's get cooking;
4.  Even more packets of seeds, specifically mini cucumbers so I can recreate my Jerusalem breakfasts...
5.  Another box of purple latex gloves; one must at least attempt to be stylish when sowing one's seeds.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day 2014: The Little Land of Me

I came across Naomi Johnson, creator of these gorgeous little artworks at her workplace last year. She is as lovely as her creations.  If only you saw her range of Christmas decorations, each one handmade to Naomi's meticulous standards. Guess the price of the red felt heart above; £3.00.

And this perky little key ring; £1.00.  Yes really, a pound! I've ordered several for little stocking fillers ready for next Christmas.

But the green wreath above is my favourite decorative item this spring, and is going to feature heavily in my Easter decorations in the weeks to come. 9cm diameter an absolute steal at £2.00.  Two pounds!
If we are to reflate our economy, we must support young, skilled British designers like Naomi.  For as William Morris so perfectly stated; "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody... Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Sheffield Botanical Gardens; What Is This Plant?

Another trip over to the Sheffield Botanical Gardens this afternoon, after an arduous hour in John Lewis replacing half a dozen assorted pieces of Robert Welch cutlery that appear to have gone walkabout since the start of the year. It wasn't arduous at all. Quite the opposite, actually. John Lewis was pretty much deserted, so much so that I wandered up the escalators and bought some lovely little White Stuff woollies and an Alice Temperley dress. But back to the Botanical Gardens, beautifully stripped back by winter and experienced staff supported by tremendously knowledgeable volunteer gardeners...

Now, my charming, witty and erudite readers, I have a little task for you all. Hop in the car and belt up the M1 to Sheffield then career off at J31 along the A57; jump left onto the A61 and stay on it until you get to the big roundabout St Mary's Gate / Waitrose; take the first left onto the A625 Ecclesall Road, and stay on it until you come to the roundabout where you need to go right up the hill onto the B6069 Brocco Bank.  Follow the road up past the student uni flats on the left hand side and swing right as the road becomes Clarkehouse Road.  Near the pedestrian crossing you'll see free parking on both sides of the road.  Park up and stroll across to the Botanical Gardens. Free admission.

Walk downhill towards the fountain. Standing with your back to the fountain, sparkling droplets in the bright winter sunshine, walk up towards the glasshouses between the two large herbaceous borders.  About halfway up on the right hand side you'll see a gap in the hedge backing the border, where the following plant grows.  It's about 5' or 6' tall, woody and still with some crimson coloured racemes.  Those racemes would put you in mind of a Corylopsis Pauciflora.

At the end of last year I decided that I really ought to get my photos sorted out into some sort of meaningful order, rather than the strip-dumps of, "2013 summer?" "Sheffield 2013?" Some don't even have that measure of effort. Anyway, suffice to say I've dated, filed and shifted hundreds of photos from last year, and now I can't find a thing. Somewhere I have a picture of the fountain at the Sheffield Botanical Gardens; the one above's in Dublin.

Incidentally, the pictures above of the as-yet-unknown plant (which is just a thinly veiled plea to Helen Yemm to name it), which you'll see EVERYWHERE in Sheffield, were taken sometime in the Autumn.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday Five: Rod Stewart

What can I say? Rod is back BIGGER and BETTER than he's ever been.  I missed the Maggie May generation (thank goodness) and really came to know Rod via Atlantic Crossing and those big big romantic ballads.

1. Beautiful Morning
"Beautiful morning, on this beautiful morning, on this beautiful, beautiful morning here with you..."

2. She Makes Me Happy
"...She showed me loving is a wonderful thing; She makes me happy; want to sing, sing, sing!"  His joy in his relationship with Penny Lancaster just shines right through this song.  Just wonderful...

3. Its Over 
Beautiful arrangement. Lyrics choke you up. Gifted songwriter. Rod at his best. This whole album is his most autobiographical.

4. Forever Young

5. And pretty much everything else he's done, but at a push probably this, not least for the way his voice breaks as he sings, "I can tell by your eyes that you've probably been crying forever..."

6. And Some Guys Have All The Luck, because I just love the way one song segues into another and his blond saxophonist... classic.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

"A Life Lived in Perpetual Peril Can be Exhilarating..."

I'm freezing, and have taken to wearing a cashmere sweater and tomato red jeggings from Marks just to get through the day.  I did however, decide to leave my pashmina in the  car at Sainsbury's, as I thought that was just overdoing it when everyone else was in shorts and tee-shirts.  It always takes me a couple of days to acclimatise when I return from (and go to) the Middle East.

Hot, hot sun and bright blue skies. Sunnies and Factor 50. Flip-flops and bottled water in the car.

Olive trees full with fruit and the stony, weed-free understory.

Simply wonderful.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bread & Fish Roasted Over Charcoal

Pile the barbeque and set light. 
When coals white and ready to transform words into food, slip whole fish, cleaned and gutted, oiled and thymed, onto charcoal fire and roast gently.
Serve with bread you bought at 5am that morning, and consider the nature of friendship and overwhelming mercy.  
Dishes of chermoula, olive oil and za'atar optional.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Arum italicum "Marmoratum" Italian Lords & Ladies

September brings the autumnal fruits of Arum italicum "Marmoratum" to delight the hearts of gardeners.  We are all familiar with the clumps of large, arrow-shaped, glossy green leaves veined creamy-white from whose depths shoot up these showy spikes of orange-red berries at this time of year. So easy to propagate too; either by splitting and replanting the tubers or culling these fleshy seeds and throwing into your beds to a depth of a few inches.
And here we have a clump of Lords and Ladies in their original habitat at the Sheffield Botanical gardens. Here they look a bit spartan, (that's the purpose of a botanical garden, after all), and in the domestic garden would look well under shrubs and roses to give some ground level interest.  Lords and Ladies will grow pretty much anywhere in your garden, as long as you can provide moist but well-drained soil and avoid planting in gardens where children have unsupervised access; all parts are toxic if ingested.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Next Month in The Holy Land: Palestinian Olive Oil

And given the appalling expense of Palestinian olive oil in the UK, it can't come a moment too soon!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Drummer Lee Rigby; Son, Brother, Husband, Father, Soldier

"I can't call in sick on Mondays when the weekend's been too strong.
I just work straight through the holidays, sometimes all night long,
You can bet that I stand ready, when the wolf cries at the door,
And I'm solid,
And I'm steady,
And I'm true down to the core,
And I will always do my duty, no matter what the price.
I've counted up the cost,
I know the sacrifice.
And I don't want to die for YOU but if dying's asked of me
I'll bear that CROSS with honour, cos freedom don't come free."

Seemingly, the Help For Heroes website crashed Wednesday night, so many people were trying to buy tee-shirts and donate.

Get your plastic out, people.

Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Quercus petraea: Sessile Oak

I woke myself up this morning with a nightmare.  It's one I've dreamt before; no doubt I'll dream it again.  I'm strangling someone but with insufficient conviction.  I hauled my sorry a***, racked with a filthy head cold, sore throat and aching ankles out of bed and made a cup of tea and a couple of maxi-flu paracetamols.  An hour or two later and I'm feeling perky and ready for a longish walk and some fresh air.
Driving down the A38 listening to Classic FM on the way to the National Arboretum and the weather is cold and blowy with occasional snow flurries.  Perfect Easter Bank Holiday Monday weather.  And then this came on the radio ---->
And we walked all through the trees and as always here, found new memorials and plaques of remembrance. One tree on the outer edge of the Merchant Navy Convoy Memorial was dedicated to a teenager, a little naval apprentice who spent his 18th birthday floating on a raft after his vessel was bombed, and where he died 10 days later. 

This memorial is densely planted with 2,535 Sessile Oaks representing every British flagged merchant vessel lost to enemy action during the Second World War.  The Sessile Oak, Quercus petraea, is native to Great Britain and mid-Europe. Significant botanical differences with English Oak include the stalked leaves, and the stalkless (sessile) acorns. It is found more frequently than English Oak in upland areas that have a higher rainfall, but also the lighter soils, which it prefers.  The Royal Navy was once said to be founded on “Hearts of Oak” – a reference to the stoic nature of British seaman.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Rose Balling: Rosa Eglantyne

What causes rose balling?  Rose balling is an annoyance that dominates in a damp, cool summer exactly like the one we endured in sunny Derbyshire in 2012.  Flower buds develop normally but fail to open fully.  Wet weather saturates the outer petals and when the sun finally puts in an appearance and scorches the flower dry, the outer petals are fused together preventing full opening.  These fused petals dry to a crisp, brown appearance.   
Rose balling can be a problem if you've planted roses in a partially shaded site, and you've got a penchant (as I) for roses with a multitude of thin petals.  Rosa Eglantyne and Geoff Hamilton are particularly vulnerable in my garden, whilst my peonies and camellias appear to be thus far unaffected.  Clearly the site is the predominant problem. 
Standard advice seems to be pruning to open up a lovely goblet shaped bush thus enabling good air circulation and rapid drying of the flower buds after rainfall; watering in the evenings only (laughable advice last summer); removing balled buds promptly before grey mould sets in and infects both host and nearby plants with a whole new set of problems; and rather drastically, removing or cutting back overhanging shrubs and trees.
Reading this advice last year on the RHS website finally prompted me to tackle my knackered old Warwickshire Drooper plum tree, stalwart of hundreds of jars of my world famous spiced plum chutney (thank you Delia.)  More of that in a forthcoming post.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

On Stalking Helen Yemm

I know, I can't believe I've written that post title, either... 
 All photos Daily Telegraph
Something else I can't believe is that Helen Yemm IS FINALLY BLOGGING AGAIN.  Well, not really blogging, just turning in her annual copy... Click on this ----> OMG!to read her latest article about her most recent book, Gardening in Pyjamas. This book will appeal to those gardeners, myself and all my charming, witty and erudite readers ofc, who like Helen, are, 
"Keen enough, daft enough, to get out there in all weather first thing in the morning (usually inappropriately dressed, hence the title) but didn’t quite know what to get on with and how to go about it – and why."  Buy it here...
Although I have to tell you, Helen, I know exactly what to get on with, armed with my secateurs and assorted WMD... indiscriminate pruning! 

Here's a lovely shot above of Helen pruning an offensive cat out of its lair.

Here's a lovely shot of Helen crushing the evidence.

Here's a lovey shot of Helen about to spread the crushed evidence around the roses and top fruit.

 And this is just a random shot of Helen being fabulous. 
You know, it strikes me that if Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller had had a certain someone in his squad, he'd have found those WMD...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Slacker Diaries: Part 22

I love this picture.  It's Paula Hamilton falling through a window at a fashion shoot.  Because sometimes life is just like this.  Even when you're down, you can still make a few people larf. 
Photo: Daily Telegraph, photographer unknown

Thursday, January 17, 2013