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Did someone call my name? – a goldfinch on the feeder…

We are all enjoying the sunshine and dry weather here in Dorset but in other parts of the country it has turned to drought and our thoughts and prayers are for the farmers, especially for those renting farms on low margins that their crops will not be too badly affected…

Heavy rain has woken me up this morning!

On Monday the rains come and drenched the land but high pressure has returned with the sunshine and normal paradise has been resumed. This lovely weather is really too good to be true!

The forget-me-nots that weave their way delightfully through the borders have come to an end and I spend quite some time pulling them out. Their grey seeds fall to the ground assuring they will return again. A wily old bind-weed makes its way up the stem of a prickly berberis and dares me to pull it out without getting snared by the thorns.

The aquilegias are going to seed and I cut them down now. They are the most promiscuous of plants and we do not want any of that sort of thing going on around here. This is John Wesley country after all. For the second time in a year a bee has made its way up my sleeve and stung me on the way out, the daft thing.

A couple of viburnum beetle have been found on two new plants and the Solomon’s Seal is being attacked by saw-fly larvae but I will write about this when I can process the photographs.

Some of you may know that I have been having computer problems. I use Photoshop Elements for my photographs and the weight of this software seemed too big for my dilapidated old laptop. I decided it was time for Biggles to come to my rescue.

Biggles has lived in the village for just about all his life and some say he has never left the county. But one day he got it into his head to go on holiday to Egypt after seeing a programme on television about pyramids. He talked about nothing else and we thought he was just daydreaming but then he announced down the pub that he had bought himself a ticket. We gave him a send-off party and wished him well.

Our intrepid explorer made his way to Gatwick airport only to discover that he had got his dates wrong. His flight had taken off three days earlier without him. He spent a day or two in the airport pub getting sozzled on his holiday money and then returned with a major hangover and a photograph of a rather pretty air-hostess. We have called him Biggles ever since.

He is rather a dab hand with the computers though. He pushed a few keys and declared that I had a memory problem. I told him that I knew that already and that it was on account of my growing years. He looked at me with that sympathetic look usually reserved for idiots. He told me I needed more Ram memory and with a few clicks of the buttons, and with the use of my bank-card, he had me one purchased and on its way in the post.

He asked me if I felt confident enough to insert the memory card. I assured him that I would feel more at home performing open-heart surgery on myself than opening up a computer. He gave me another one of those looks. He finished his tea and assured me that he would be back whenever the ‘whatever’ arrives.

Like most folk I have such an ambivalent regard for computers. I love the means of communicating and expressing my thoughts with others across the world and digital photography is a sheer delight. But when they break down or do not function well then I become frustrated and begin to remember the days when we did not even have electricity or running water and wonder if I have gained or lost something. This is an endless debate with no answer I guess.

I head up to the hills where I can breathe more easily and sit back and watch the peregrine falcons surfing the waves of the wind and then swooping down to catch their prey. This is where I belong. Now where did I put my camera?

PS if you have never heard of Biggles then please do google him! Well worth reading.


The following is an article written by my wife Corinne…



thymus silver   A garden is never complete without herbs. Not only are they attractive but they also provide us with the joy and satisfaction of bringing deep flavours to home-made meals.

I regard an herb garden as a wonderful source of inspiration. There I can dream: Moroccan mint tea for breakfast; steamed potatoes with butter and parsley for lunch; thyme and rosemary to accompany a hearty stew, and lemon balm or verbena as a soothing bed-time tea. My imagination runs wild.

Lavenders take me to my birth-place in Southern France in a haze of deep intense blues under the sun. Aromatic thyme and sultry sage reminds me of the parched rocky banks of Crete, whilst the enchanting fragrance of the jasmine climbing on the wall of my patio transports me to mystical India!

The choice is yours how you may want to design your herb patch: a cluster of terracotta pots will enliven any empty corner very nicely, bringing the sunny Mediterranean or Mogul feel so sought after. Alternatively, you might choose to plant your herbs in formal neat rows or patterned designs.

My Grandfather who lived in Bordeaux, in France, used to grow a large row of emerald-green curly parsley in his well-tended garden, to supply us with this vital ingredient to French cuisine. Rich in iron and vitamin C, it would bring a distinctive flavour and texture to the simplest of dishes, from starters and soups to salads seasoned with olive oil, garlic and mustard, accompanied with fresh crusty bread and cheese.

And those who enjoy eating garlic might like to know that parsley is well-known for refreshing the breath!

The sky is the limit where your passion of herbs takes you. Growing more domesticated herbs on the window-sill will bring a multitude of cooking options: basil for salads, pasta and tomato dishes and coriander for curry and dhal, without forgetting always to keep fresh garlic and ginger at hand!

Vegetable gardening is all about timing at this time of year. We scan the weather forecasts for signs of a sudden late frost. We consult the television gardening gurus. We look over our shoulder at other allotment plots and see what everyone else is doing. The time comes though when we must throw caution to the wind and plant out our tomatoes and courgettes and hope for the best.

Ours went in last week but three nights ago the clear skies lowered the temperature just enough to nip the toms and courgies causing the outer leaves to become a sickly yellow. The winds have raised the temperatures since and I have no doubt these plants have been slightly set back but will recover.

I note with some relief that other gardeners have suffered the same fate. At least I am not in the boat alone. Potatoes and beans have all suffered but once again they will pull through no doubt.

Some have erected fleece shelters just in case but I feel that may be the last frost of the year. These could be famous last words! We shall see.

Every two weeks we have been sowing fresh rows of salad ingredients in order to keep a supply coming through the summer. This will be the task for this week. Already we have eaten our way through a row of radish and rather welcome they were too. This has left a gap for more lettuce to be sown.

The first of the sweet peas have come through and provided a welcome feminine touch of colour to the allotment.

Since my camera and my computer have decided not to talk to each other again this is a picture-less post but hopefully I will be able to sort out their disagreements this week!

compton down may 15th 2011

We dedicate this photo and our prayers to all those who are suffering from the effects of the tornados that hit Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee and other states recently.

The butterfly is a green hairstreak that is to found resting on the leaves of small shrubs. It can be hard to see. Its top side is brown and the underside green and is hard to see even when it is flying. I took the photograph on Fontmell Downs in May of this year.

The free-flowing style of our garden means that sometimes it looks divine and sometimes it looks a dishevelled mess. But there come precious moments for every garden when they look their very best and all the hard work put into them proves to be worthwhile. At this time of year they still hold the flush of spring growth. The roses are beginning to bloom. And the sunshine makes everything radiate with joy. This is a blessed time indeed.

All horticultural eyes have turned to the annual Chelsea Flower Show this week. The Duke and Duchess have been up in London and no doubt have paid a visit to this esteemed event. I managed to watch a little on the television when I got back from the allotment. The blend of cutting edge technology with naturalistic plantings is fascinating.

Diarmuid Gavin, the naughty boy of garden design, has created a £2 million-plus ‘Garden in the Sky’ with a zeppelin-sized fully planted ‘pod’ raised and lowered by means of a crane catches the eye. A veritable hanging garden. The man has ‘bottle’, have no doubt about that.


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But there is no gallivanting around garden shows for me. Back at the ranch the show goes on. The gooseberries always suffer from sawfly and the first batch has just begun to eat away at the leaves. They start on the top leaves and you can see the small green things on the underside of the leaf. It takes a little patience but I have removed most by hand. A week later and I notice that no more damage has been done; perhaps a natural predator has lent a hand. I have no doubt they will be back but at least we have won the battle without resorting to chemicals for a while.

The espalier apple trees that form a spine down the centre of the garden are now wreathed in the Rosa ‘Alchymist’ which was developed by Kordes in 1956 and has yellowy orange flowers.


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On Wednesday I am in the middle of the herbaceous border weeding underneath a shrub when I hear footsteps coming down the gravel path. The Duke and Duchess have returned and they have a couple of friends in tow. Whoever they are they look wealthy and important.

I keep my head down and hope they do not notice me. One of the visitors, who looks as if he knows a thing or two about hedge-funds, comments that this is the best looking garden he has seen all week. This is some compliment, considering they have just gotten back from Chelsea.

I try not to move but the Duke has spotted me. He bids me good-day and I am obliged to stand up. I am conscious of how dishevelled I must look, as if I have just gone through a hedge backwards which is what I have just done. The two visitors smile at me and congratulate me on the garden. I mutter something incoherent and look and feel rather stupid.

And then they are gone down the path but as they go the Duchess turns and gives me one of her heavenly  and delightful smiles of appreciation.

And I walk back to the stables with my head twice as big as it should be and as tickled pink as if I had won a gold prize at Chelsea!


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rosa Alchymist on the espallier apple trees

In this part of the world when we want to take a break we head down the A303 for Cornwall. The landscape changes when we get past Exeter. The bleak moorland of Dartmoor beckons. But we push on further towards St Ives which has become a favourite haven for us to catch our breath and relax a while.


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The rocky crags are stunning. The beat of the waves bring us once more to our natural selves.

The sound of the seagull is never far away.


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And dogs chase the waves.


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The twisting cobbled streets meander down to the quayside. Tourist trinket shops sell their wares. Cornish pasty shops cater for the hungry. The pubs are busy!

St. Ives became a colony for artists who were drawn by the ever-changing light of the bay. Down side-streets galleries invite you to browse their paintings and sculpture.

The town though remains steeped in its Methodist history. First and foremost this is a fishing village with its tales of heroism and tragedies.


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The possibility exists that I am at this moment in Cornwall and that by the wonders of technology I have written this post on Saturday and it has been scheduled to be posted on Monday. If you are not reading this post then technology has obviously failed me yet again!

Good news. The chap who owns the plot next door has finally turned up. His excuse for having done nothing whatsoever this year to his allotment is that he is busy with all the arrangements for getting married next September. A reasonable excuse I suppose.

He has the rolling accent of someone from Liverpool. In other words, he is a ‘scouser’ as we affectionately like to call folk who come from that part of the world. The plot belongs to his wife-to-be. Perhaps her terms and conditions for entering into marriage is that he proves himself to be handy with a spade. He has certainly attacked the plot with gusto and made up for lost time.

His saving grace is that he cleverly covered his plot last winter with a landscapers fabric weighed down with hefty boulders. When he lifted the fabric for the first time this week it revealed a weed-free soil that only required a quick dig through before seeds could be sown and potato tubers planted.

On our plot everything is slowly growing up. The tomatoes and courgettes have been planted out and look happy enough.

Back next week with more photos I promise you!


welsh poppy maxwell arnott may 2011


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This Sunday our thoughts are for the Middle East and the hope that one day peace will reign in the hearts of the leaders…

The photo is of an Adonis Blue taken on Fontmel Common.

A solitary crow, flapping his wings like a metronome, makes steady progress across the skyline. By contrast, the swallows dart in and out of the stables and then fly loop-the-loop with casual daring just for the fun of it. The blackbird below seems to have two wives and looks rather dishevelled by it all.

The news this week is that I have backache which is the curse of all gardeners. I have no idea how I managed to hurt my back, the pain was just there one day and seems to have no intention of leaving. I do try to look after myself and always seek help from Charlie and Bones if anything heavy needs lifting.

I feel fine when I am up and walking about but when I sit down then my back seizes up. I have become a character in a Greek tragedy, doomed to spend the rest of eternity walking the earth unable to rest for even a moment. My wife is fed up with all my moaning and groaning and has booked me an appointment with the doctor.




The appointment is at the inconvenient time of midday causing me to make a mad dash from work, shower and smart clothes and then on to the surgery.

The receptionist looks up with a disgruntled look that tells me I am disturbing her. She points with a sigh to a machine on the wall by the door that I failed to notice when I came in. I touch the screen and the machine asks my date of birth and sex and then welcomes me to the surgery and invites me to take a seat and wait. Medical science has clearly advanced in leaps and bounds since I was last here.

My usual doctor is a pleasantly chubby fellow with the ruddy complexion that comes from drinking copious amounts of fine wine. But unbeknown to me my wife has booked me with a young female doctor who now beckons me into her office with a bent finger. I enter with trepidation.

Having explained my predicament she invites me to strip to my underpants. It has certainly been a long time since a young lady has asked me to undress. Thank goodness I changed knickers. I comply obediently.

She asks me to bend down and touch my toes. I reach down slowly and get within spitting distance of them. It has been a long time since I have seen these fine toe fellows. She prods my spine with her fingertips.

Then she has me on her couch and lifts up my knee and bashes it with a hammer.

Apparently all is well, just some bruised muscles. Nowt is broken. I leave gingerly with a relieved heart.

By the time you read this letter I should be on my way with the missus down the A303 heading for Cornwall for the weekend.. My back feels better already. Will send you a post-card. Promise!