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Archive for March, 2011

The West Country is buzzing with excitement at the sighting of a lake monster at Stourhead Gardens this weekend.

A local gardener Mike ‘hazeltree’ Thompson and his wife were walking past Turners Paddock, one of the lakes on the Stourhead estate. He saw the monster and took the photograph below. He said, ‘I was walking with my wife past the lake and we suddenly saw the monster. We were terrified. Although it was quite stationary it was definitely staring at us and we were afraid it would jump out of the water and gobble us up.’

A spokesman from Stourhead Gardens, that belongs to the National Trust, commented: ‘we have always suspected that a monster lives in the lake but we have never seen a photograph as clear as this before. If we ever catch it we will make sure that it signs the relevant membership application form.’

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the kneeling pad…

It was my birthday a couple of weeks back and my dear wife gave me a kneeling mat as a present. I spend countless hours on my knees weeding flowerbeds and so it was a welcome present.

I usually use the cheap mats that you can buy for a couple of quid but this mat was in another league. It is made by Burgon and Ball from Sheffield, a company well-known for the manufacture of garden and agricultural tools. It is called a Kneelo!

I must point out that I am not sponsored by Burgon and Ball. But one day this humble weblog will become world-famous and companies will be chasing me down the road begging me to endorse their products, which I will happily do for a handsome fee. But until that day arrives I am free to criticise scathingly as I see fit.

 

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The mat is of generous proportions, oval in shape and has ‘a core of EVA foam with a cushioning layer of ‘memory foam’. It is encased in waterproof, durable neoprene with a quick dry, wipe clean nylon coating.’

But is it comfortable? Well, yes, this is sheer comfort. My knackered old knees gave an audible sigh of relief as they sank into the thick foam.

So will this kneeling pad last? My wife assures me that it will if I look after it but there is fat chance of that happening in this neck of the woods. Tools get treated hard around here. I have already stuck a fork through it.

But I have rather taken to this luxurious kneeling pad and use it all the time now. If it lasts six months I shall be more than happy. It comes in many colours but I have the rather manly moss green one. The price is around £15 plus postage but sadly they do not export abroad at the moment.

And if there are any producers of single malt whisky out there who would like me to endorse their product then kindly pop a bottle or two in the post and…

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of earth thieves…

With the weather being set fair I have devoted some evenings this week to the new allotment. The sowing season is upon us and so there has been no room for delay.

The soil on the allotment is not brilliant. However, there is a large pile of good topsoil just to the side of the field. A few enquiries revealed that the soil belongs to the farmer who is intending to move it elsewhere. A few other allotmenteers have been discretely inching some of this said soil in the direction of their own plots.

And so Tuesday evening saw me carrying buckets of soil to be hurled on top of my plot. This has had the effect of burying all the weeds that were formerly growing there. The plot now looks remarkably good and almost well-tended. A barrow-load of top-soil covers a multitude of sins as they say somewhere. I was just in time: the following day the farmer moved the soil.

 

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I wanted to put a path right down the middle to create two beds of roughly five feet in width. By this means I should be able to reach over and work the beds without needing to tread and compact the soil.

Charlie told me of a skip outside one of the houses in the village which looked promising. I thought of doing a night-raid but instead I did the honest thing of knocking on the door and asking if I might help myself. It is surprising how possessive folk can be, even of stuff being thrown away. However, the lady of the house was most charming and let me take what I wanted.

Amongst a broken chandelier and a table football game with one player missing laid some tongue-and–groove boarding which was almost ideal for my purposes. There were also a couple of beach wind-breaks; the material was shot away but the poles still useful.

 

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I then lay two strings to mark the position of my new path and scooped the earth out onto the beds. The planks were laid in position and supported by the wind-break posts cut to size. I am no handy-man and Geoff Hamilton must be turning in his grave, but it should work and any improvements or reinforcements can be made as I go along.

A layer of chipped bark will be added soon and Bob’s your Aunt Sally as they say in these parts.

Now that most of the landscaping is complete I can focus on actually growing things.

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A few days of glorious sunshine and the zest for spring cleaning is upon me. The first job is to tackle the gates at the back of the house. There is something quite invigorating washing off the green algae that mars the white paintwork. On the radio the world cup cricket is in full swing. Hopefully you can tell the difference betwixt the gate I have cleaned and the one I have not in the photo below!

 

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The same spring cleaning madness has fallen on the house. Cook Jenny and the three domestics are rushing around with cloths and sprays and goodness knows what else. The whole house is being turned topsy-turvy in their zeal. I knock cautiously on the window and one of the domestics kindly fills my bucket with hot water whilst Cook Jenny is upstairs.

In one sheltered corner a magnolia stellata has burst into flower, the epitome of innocence and divine beauty.

 

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There is a commotion in the house and the past three weeks must have flown by because the Duke and Duchess are back. I’m working on the terrace gathering a few stray leaves and I can see through the kitchen window that the Duke has taken centre stage regaling Cook and the domestics with tales of derring-do whilst riding a camel through the Thar Desert.

“There were scorpions the size of your hand, said the Duke, gesticulating wildly with his hands, “oh, and snakes”, he continued. His face shone with the exuberance of a school-boy. Meanwhile, the Duchess, who had clearly been more interested in buying shawls in Jodhpur market than wrestling with truculent camels, stood to one side, tut-tutting at her husbands’ slightly exaggerated account of their holiday.

Don’t be fooled though, the Duchess is a plucky old bird and I’m sure she enjoyed every moment of the trip, and just for a moment, watching the pair through the kitchen window, I can see the Duchess as a Katharine Hepburn in The African Queen although it takes a little more imagination to see the Duke as a Humphrey Bogart.

One would think – being deep in the heart of the tranquil countryside – that the local wildlife would get on with their romantic liaisons with quiet and joyful hearts. Not so. Every male cock bird seems to be muscling around, boasting of his prowess and keen to dispute the matter with anyone who would care to disagree. And the girls are no better, pretending to be coy and modest whilst all the time giving the boys a run for their money. ‘Pipe down will you?’ I grumple, but they pay no heed to my protests and carry on with their noisy flirtations.

Blimey, I can barely hear the cricket on the jolly old radio with all their goings-on!

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Monday morning brought the spring equinox sunrise but sadly the dense fog meant that little could be seen…

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The earth folk were there though…

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and the stones themselves…

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the musicians…

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those in prayer…

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the happy ones…

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the priests…

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them as what hold the stones up…

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the people…

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the best seat in the house…

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and the ceremony……

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prayers were said for Japan and Libya and for mankind to fall

once more in love with our planet home…

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The village has an area set aside for allotments: a curious hotchpotch of cloches, compost bins and vegetable patches. Each plot has a shed made out of recycled materials and one or two men have been known to take up residence when ‘life with the missus’ becomes intolerable.

Sadly the ownership of these allotments is jealously guarded. One would have to have put your name on the waiting list in the days of Noah or, allegedly, have connections and a wine cellar. The chances of my ever having an allotment seemed slim. Each year the parish clerk would shake his head and declare solemnly that there were no plots available for the foreseeable future.

And then out of the blue came an offer of an allotment on the outskirts of a neighbouring town. The newly acquired site is not perfect: the soil is a sticky clay, sheds and fugitive husbands are not allowed and the site lacks the character that is built up over the years. Yet beggars cannot be choosers and so I signed on the bottom line, paid my fifteen pounds and accepted.

 

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I have already been down there to turn a part of it over and have erected my flag of ownership in the way of a clump of rhubarb that I have half-inched from the estate. I have also purchased a bag of ‘red baron’ shallots from the local store.

 

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Grumpy George, who naturally has an allotment in the village, has promised to pass by and teach me all he knows of the noble art of growing vegetables. I can hardly wait!

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Up and down the country gardeners are tearing at seed packets and marvelling at the potential of a palm-full of seeds. Those with cloches have already started but those without wait impatiently for the soil to be warm enough. A frost is forecast for the weekend so perhaps one had best wait just another day?

In days gone by, the gardeners’ wife would bare her bottom and sit on the soil to determine if it was warm enough. Whether this piece of folklore is true or not I do not know but in our parts modesty prevails and one relies on that ‘feeling in the bones’ that the time for sowing is upon us.

I had a cold last weekend and rivalled Grumpy George in the grumbling stakes.  Tuesday brought a merciful day of spring sunshine that made all the difference and I began to feel alive again.

 

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aquilegia growing in a wall

 

A bumble bee passes by. She is the most endearing sign of the weather warming up but she is in a hurry and has no time for pleasantries. She has work to do.

Five and twenty jackdaws, all as plump as pies, stride a nearby field poking the grass for worms and grubs. A grey squirrel skirts the edge of the field on tip-toe. A solitary crow perches on the ash tree and observes the hedgerow birds making their nests. He carefully takes notes for their eggs will be his dinner one day.

The song of the robin has turned from winter melancholy to chirpy cheerful, the tune of the amorous lover.

 

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On the estate we have a walled vegetable garden but to be honest I am always so busy with the herbaceous borders that I have little time left over to grow more than the basic vegetables.

And then quite out of the blue I have been offered an allotment. At home our garden is too small for a vegetable garden and so this gives me the opportunity to have my very own patch of land. The soil is sticky clay, quite a difference to the fine soil of the estate but beggars cannot be choosers. I hope to be writing of the developments in the coming weeks, a new adventure.

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The Duke and Duchess are back in London and return next week.

Every gardener works with the energy of nature and knows the blessings and the curse. At coffee-time we read the newspaper headlines of the tragedy in Japan. This post is dedicated to all those who are suffering in that land.

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