Archive for January, 2011

The January sun shines brightly upon the pale greensand walls of Duncliffe Manor. The quiet of the day is broken by the sound of a battered Volvo estate car that draws up at the front door, and the Duke and Duchess, just returned from London, descend and enter the house causing a flurry of activity as orders are given, lunches are prepared and bedrooms made ready.

The robin is always by my side, especially in the winter when he is hungry! His melancholic song is always a delight.




I dream of having a photo-lens but have to make do with a kit 50mm lens for the moment. Nevertheless this robin was quite content to come near when I threw a few seeds down. He did not mind the sound of the shutter falling at all.


robin 1


A mistle thrush has taken residence in the holly tree by the black gates. Larger than a song thrush, she has a grey-brown back and a white under-belly with large black spots. She dines on the berries of the holly and a near-by pyracantha and she defends her territory vigorously: nobody else is going to pinch food from her store larder. Even in the most torrential of wind and rain she will sit astride her chosen tree singing her song, earning her the nick-name of ‘storm cock’.

The Duke has been given a mobile phone for Christmas, a desperate attempt by his family to bring him into the modern times. He always swore that he would never have one but now he has rather taken to it. You can see him through the library window, pacing up and down, sending text messages to all and sundry. He refuses though to use abbreviations and insists on proper grammar and vocabulary. ‘How do you do inverted commas?’ he asks, but no-one’s quite sure.

Cook informs me that the Duchess has taken to her bed with a mountain of travel brochures. A cruise down the Amazon is on the cards apparently…


meadow hill


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‘This is my second book recommendation, my first being found here. It is always a joy to come across a book, enjoy reading it and then have the pleasure to recommend it to others.


The Virago Book of Women Gardeners’ edited by Deborah Kellaway

This book is a delight to read. Deborah Kellaway has brought together a collection of excerpts from the writings of some one hundred women gardeners. She was a gifted garden writer herself and her obituary in the Guardian is well worth reading.

She begins with a short but scholarly study of garden writing from the end of the nineteenth century through to the modern day, charting the ebbs and flows and fashions especially through the war years.

Then she allows the writers to speak for themselves. She includes contributions from such well-known writers as Jekyll, Chatto, Pavord and Hobhouse. She also includes the writings of others, less well-known, who have equally toiled in the design and building of their treasured gardens and taken the time to write eloquently of their observations and experiences.

These writings have a comforting old-fashioned feel to them. They take us back to an era when time seemingly passed at a more genteel pace. The words were not punched out on a processor but written with the refinement that only a fountain pen can bring.

There are no bullet points or sardonic wit that characterises the modern style of garden writing. Instead of gimmicks we find a poetical knowledge and wisdom that enthuses the reader with inspiration and encouragement.

This is a book that one can dive into and always find something interesting. To read of their dedication and their passion, their successes and their heartbreaking failures, is to be uplifted by those who have gone ahead of us.

‘The Virago Book of Women Gardeners’ is edited by Deborah Kellaway and published by Virago Press. On Amazon uk the price today for a second-hand illustrated hardback was 1p with £2.80 postage or second-hand paperback was £1.34 postage paid or £6 with postage for new paperback.

For my American cousins the price on Amazon usa today for a second-hand paperback was $1 plus $4 shipping or $3 new hardback but not sure of shipping costs.

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The boat laboured in the heavy seas. The crew had been at sea for many months and provisions and morale were low. They feared that they may never reach land again. Up in the crows-nest the young lad searched the horizon once more. All of a sudden he saw the glimmer of a shape in the distance – he rubbed his eyes to make sure that they were not deceiving him – but his eyes were telling the truth, there ahead lay the faint yet beautiful sight of the familiar white cliffs. With a loud cry he uttered: ‘land ahoy’ and the crew gave one almighty cry of relief.

Forgive me for indulging in such melodramatics but so many gardeners feel this way at this time of year. The winter months seem so drawn out and the first month of the year passes so slowly. Every day we venture out into the gardens hoping to catch a glimpse of new life, a bud bulging here or a bulb nose poking out there.

Soon the garden journalists will wax lyrically of the harbingers of spring and there will be no stopping the relentless march of the seasons. For now though the merest glimpse of life in our seemingly dead garden will bring hope to our winter weary hearts.


tree planting (1)


I have no formal qualifications in horticulture and so I offer this description of planting a fruit tree with fear and trepidation. I am sure that someone will write in and tell me that I have done it all wrong. My only defence is that there are many ways of planting a tree and most of the trees I have planted over the years have grown on to be happy and fruitful so I must be getting something right.

The photo above was taken a few weeks ago when I prepared the holes for planting a few fruit trees. A fair amount of compost and blood fish and bone was added and a few rocks removed. I prefer preparing the holes in advance so that there is not so much of a panic when the trees arrive by post. It also allows the soil level to settle down and find its own level. Digging the holes certainly warmed me up on that snowy day!


tree planting-1


The Ashmead Kernel apple tree was laid out ready. there was not much of a wind but I stlll covered the roots up. The roots were still quite damp but I dipped them in the pond for good luck.



tree planting-1-1

Room was made for the root system and then good soil was replaced, teasing the soil between the gaps of the roots, carefully making sure that no air pockets were left. Then I stood on the soil to stomp everything down. I use a bamboo cane to make sure the soil is at the right level, just covering where the top root protrudes from the stem. This should leave the graft union sticking up in the air by about three inches.

A sturdy stake is then hammered in with a lump hammer. The ties were shorter than I usually use and so I had to bring the stake nearer to the tree than I would have liked. If I rattle the top of the tree and see that there is little movement at the base of the tree then I know that I have staked it well. The stake is then cut to size with a bow saw taking real care that I do not damage the tree itself. Some trees need one tie and some need two. The vital thing is to make sure the tree does not rub against the stake.


All that needs to be done then is to put the spiral rabbit protector on, sprinkle a layer of compost on top to make it pretty and offer up a prayer to the heavens.

The weather has been cold but sunny this week and has cheered everyone up no end. Even grumpy George has half-a-grumpy smile on his face these days!


tree sculpture

natural sculpture….

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Well, no, we don’t actually have any roses in bloom in Dorset at the moment as the title suggests but the weather has been so blooming awful that I thought I would offer this delightful poem by John O’Reilly and some photos from last summer to cheer us all up….

rosa felicite perpetue

rosa felicite-perpetue

The red rose whispers of passion

And the white rose breathes of love

O, the red rose is a falcon

And the white rose is a dove

But I send you a cream-white rosebud

With a flush on its petal tips

For the love that is purest and sweetest

Has a kiss of desire on the lips

by John Boyle O’Reilly

Stop press: a gorgeous day out there with crisp sunshine so things are looking up already!

rosa felicte perpetue

rosa felicite-perpetue

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The weather remains warm but dull grey. It seems an age since we last saw a glimmer of sunshine. The garden birds sing, though not of love but of petty jealousies.

The usually solitary crow tends to join up with others in the winter months. Twenty of them are flying overhead, almost hovering hawk-like in the gusty wind whilst all the time haggling at each other.

Great vigilance is needed when it comes to trees on an estate of this size. A fine specimen of a sweet chestnut grows against the edge of a field where two horses are left to graze from time to time. Unknown to me they have been reaching over and nibbling the bark causing a fair amount of damage. A couple of posts and a strand or two of wire is enough to keep them back. The tree will recover but this is not a good testimony to my husbandry.

Ivy is constantly trying to grow up into the heights of the trees. Turn your head for just a moment and the tenacious climber has made its way up. Naturalists would all want to swing me from the nearest branch for saying this but I have an instinctive hatred of ivy growing in trees.

I understand that ivy is paradise when it comes to overwintering insects and the berries make a fine food. But I feel that the branches of the tree suffer enough in the winter storms without having to cope with the extra weight of an ivy clambering all over it. Furthermore I love the sight of naked bark rather than being clothed with the rather dull ivy green

Theories abound regarding the staking of young trees. These days I prefer the method of hammering in a stake at an angle of forty-five degrees and using a flexible tie to secure the tree.

tree stake

The idea holds that if you do not stake a tree then it will blow over in the gusty breeze. But on the other hand, if you stake it too rigidly the top will blow in the wind and transmit vibrations down to the roots and cause damage there. Lightly securing the tree is the answer.

The witch hazel chooses to flower at this time of year in defiance of this dull wintry weather. Why it chooses to flower now is a mystery to me. No doubt there is a perfectly rational botanical reason that sadly eludes me. I guess there must be an insect out there that enjoys feeding at this time of year.

On this sad day I would rather be curled up by the fire with a good book and a mug of Irish cocoa. I have no choice though but to venture out into the drizzle to earn a living.

God sent the ravens to feed Elijah when he most needed it and perhaps the witch hazel has been sent to lighten up my hour and my mood and remind me that good days are just around the corner.

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Hello and welcome. My garden journal is published on Friday or Saturday and you can read my latest post by scrolling down. The Wednesday Hotchpotch – is an eclectic blend of articles about the southwest of England, features of artists and artisans, experiments in frugal living, random photographs and anything else that catches my eye. I hope you enjoy it!

This article is very much tongue-in-cheek and no gastropods were harmed in the writing of this piece.


The pursuit of gardening lends us the time to ponder and ask questions. The chore of hoeing the vegetable patch is a meditative practice. Inevitably though there are some questions that are beyond fathoming. The human mind can only cope with so much. Subjects such as the nature of God, quantum physics and how my wife manages to knit, talk and watch television at the same time; such truths are simply beyond us.

There has always been one question that has vexed me though as I have hoed the cabbage rows. If I lob a snail or slug over the garden wall, will the said hungry beast return? Does it have a homing instinct? Or will it stay there and devour my neighbours’ prize cabbages?

Amazingly this question that has haunted me for so many years has been answered! Miss Ruth Brooks, a 69 year old grandmother from Devon, won an award for her research into the homing instinct of a snail. She found that they easily find their way back home if they are only removed by 30 metres and probably need to be moved 100 hundred meters or more to ensure they never return.

I have paced it out and I have found that my slugs have to be lobbed a fair few gardens away for them not to return. This is too far to throw so I have resorted to an ingenious piece of technology. It is called an enormous catapult. I find that the slug fits nicely into the pouch and one huge fling and the said slug sails through the air to pastures new.

And now life seems so much simpler with this new-found truth of mine. But sadly as soon as one question is answered then another one comes to take its place. I now find myself wondering if my aerobatic slugs and snails are suffering whilst in transit. Do they suffer concussion when landing on my neighbours cabbages? Do they experience g-forces or acrophobia or even vertigo? Life is indeed a journey of endless ponderings.

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Janus the God of beginnings and endings lends his name to the month of January. With one face he reflects upon the year just past and with the other he scans the year to come.

As I sit writing this post on the first day of the year I am naturally inclined to look back, to the glory and the sadness we have just lived through, and to wonder with hope to what the coming months will bring.

On the estate everyone is back to work with rather subdued moods. The Duke and Duchess are up in the City leaving us to clear up after the festivities. A veritable mountain of sherry and wine bottles has accumulated outside the kitchen door and I have been instructed to take them to the skip.

Charlie and Bones are both sporting rather dashing purple bobble hats that Father Christmas kindly gave them. Bones also has a swishing new blue sandwich box which Charlie seems rather jealous of. And I have a new pair of gardening gloves so we are all feeling perky after all.

Just after lunch we all gathered around the radio in the kitchen and listened to the special edition of the Archers. We all knew from gossip in the village that Nigel had come a cropper somehow but were vague on the details. He will be sadly missed. The sudden birth of Helen’s baby took us all by surprise and there was barely a dry eye in the kitchen although Charlie pretended to have dust in his eye.


trees1 019


I have dedicated some time this week to inspecting the trees on the estate. We have numerous young specimens and the stakes and ties all need checking.

Trees grow quietly but quickly and if one is not observant the girth of the slender trunk can outgrow its tie and begin to chaff and damage the outer bark. Different ties are on the market these days but I always lean towards those that are more flexible rather than the cheaper but stiffer ones.

Tree ties also have the habit of slipping down and a tack hammered into the stake is needed to keep it in position.

Sometimes the wind causes the stake to cross the trunk of the tree and rub causing damage. A square of underfelt will suffice to separate the tree from its stake.

Perhaps the tree has grown so big that the stake is no longer needed. Rather than try to yank the stake out whole I am tempted to cut the stake off at ground level, it is quicker and does not leave a hole in the ground leading down to the roots of the tree.

And then lastly the plastic spiral rabbit protectors are put in place for nothing is more distressing than a good tree having its bark gnawed away at.

The young trees near the house have the grass cut away around the base and replaced with mulch. This helps the tree get as much water as possible during the summer months. The young trees further away are sprayed at the base with Roundup, not as pretty or ethical but practical. After two or three years a tree will have developed enough of a root system to survive with grass growing up to the bark.

The days pass slowly this month. Although I have a heap of work to get through, nevertheless I can afford to take my time and do a thorough job rather than racing around like a headless chicken like I do the rest of the year.

After the snow of the previous month the weather is decidedly grey and dreary. A blue hint of sky appears and a ray of sunshine illuminates the grey boughs of the beech. The past year has brought the death of two close members of our family but our three grand-daughters continue to grow and blossom and become more mischievous than ever. Who knows what the New Year will bring. One can only hope and pray.

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