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Archive for April, 2011

Duncliffe Manor is strangely quiet this morning. The Duke and Duchess have left for the Royal Wedding. Cook Jenny has gone to be with her family in Brighton. Charlie and Bones have been booted out by their respective wives and have picked up rod and reel and gone fishing. I feel rather alone!

I walk the estate watching out for trees or shrubs that might be suffering from lack of water. We have had precious little rain for ages now. It is by observation and intuition that we gauge whether a young or newly planted tree needs watering.

The English pride and joy at this time of year is the native bluebell. A walk in the bluebell woods is a simple delight and the scent is gorgeous. The yellow archangel and the white stitchwort are worthy companions.

Last weekend we headed up to Duncliffe Hill which is a steep climb but well worth the effort. The hill dominates the surrounding countryside and is a familiar landmark in these parts.

The bluebell walk is nothing less than enchanting.

 

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The dandelions are casting their  fluffy white seeds to the four winds.

 

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A dingy skipper butterfly in fine fettle enjoys basking on the sun-baked earth of the path or hugging plants. They seem to enjoy having their photo taken unlike the orange-tip butterfly that passes by in search of romance and never seems to stop.

 

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My mobile goes and an excited Charlie and Bones are on the line telling me of all the huge carp they have caught during the night. And the one that got away was as big as a whale…

All thoughts are turning to Friday and the big day for a certain couple. They have captured the imagination of the world and billions will be tuning in to watch the royal wedding. The Armed forces and the Household Cavalry are busy rehearsing the procession. People have already staked out their places and are sleeping on the streets to guarantee a front-row view.

I have a few jobs to do on the Friday morning and will listen to it all on the jolly old radio and then lock up and head back home. In the afternoon I will raise a glass of beer to toast the newly weds and I hope you will all join with me in wishing them both the very best for the days to come!

A superb post on bluebell woods with photos by Janet of plantaliscious can be found by clicking here. Highly recommended.

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Head down to Cattistock in southern Dorset this weekend and you will be greeted with the spectacle of a bunch of men endeavouring to throw their knobs in the air.

I hasten to add, to prevent ladies of a nervous disposition from fainting with embarrassment, that the knobs in question are round and hard and made by the local baker from left-over bits of dough.

Women and children may also enter the competition and much money is raised for local charities.

There are strict rules to comply with. The knob must be certified genuine and thrown underarm keeping one foot on the ground at all times. Three knobs may be thrown for the price of a pound. The umpire’s decision is final.

The world record for knob throwing in the men’s section is held by Phillip German-Ribon who threw a knob 26.10m in 2009. The ladies record is held by Leah Stewart with a throw of 20.2m also in 2009. Perhaps there was a prevailing wind in that year?

The competition is not just restricted to throwing. There are knob eating, knob painting and knob-and-spoon races as well. The knob is a bit on the hard side but may be softened by dunking it in a local beverage such as Piddle beer.

The competition is on Sunday 1st May from 10.00 to 4.00 and there is a local food festival as well. Sadly your roving reporter is heading off to Dorset Day at Clayesmore School and will miss the event but if anyone makes it then please let me know. More details may be found on the most excellent website: www.dorsetknobthrowing.com found by clicking here which has directions and much more.

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Come early Wednesday evening the allotment is busy and we all congregate around the water tap and have a natter about the weather and this or that.

The exception is the bloke in the corner who prefers to keep himself to himself. He has been digging incessantly for the past fortnight and one cannot help but admire his labours. He has planted nothing but main crop potatoes. He likes them mashed apparently.

The chap next door has finished digging his plot and he turned up the other day with an instant vegetable garden bought from the garden centre next door. Trays of courgettes, peas and lettuce came out of the boot of the car and were carefully planted in place. None of this germinating seed malarkey. Bung it in, a dosh of water and be done with it. His five-year-old daughter stands by his side supervising his labours. She takes after her mum.

 

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I am pleased to report that my small seedlings are now large seedlings and can be seen without the aid of a magnifying glass. The broad beans are up and getting bigger every day. My wife assures me that the courgettes and runner beans fare well in the nursery.

My compost bin rumbles with digestion. All is well on the allotment!

 

my broad bean plus a few weeds….

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An early spring has burst into summer with a high pressure heat-wave settling on the land. Everything seems to be two weeks ahead of itself. The giant trees have awoken and are turning to leaf.

The kitchen is a hive of activity. The Duke and Duchess are due back for the Easter weekend with many guests in tow. Cook Jenny is rushed off her feet preparing all the food. I am working on the borders outside one of the opened sash windows. I can hear her humming to herself. I look up and she smiles back.

 

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the old beech leaves are making way for:

 

The soil is dry on the surface but dig down just an inch and there is still moisture to be found. If you dig near the walls of the house though, it is bone dry, and so my first job is to water the many roses that grace the walls.

The young trees that I planted in the orchard this spring will also need watering whilst they are establishing their root systems. I lay a hose at the base of the tree with a slow trickle of water to get down to the roots. My only job now is to remember to move the hose to another tree every ten minutes or so. Not always an easy task to do.

 

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fresh new beech leaves…

 

There was a time when the Duchess kindly gave me a rowan tree to plant on a Friday afternoon. They were heading back to London for the weekend. I planted the tree as best I could and left the hose on to water it in. And naturally I forgot about it. When I returned on the Monday the poor tree was floating at a rakish angle in a boggy quagmire. Fortunately nobody noticed and happily the tree survived and went on to flourish.

Three weeks ago I was dividing the perennials and replanting them. April is usually such a good time to do this with warm soil and cool showers. But with our present lack of rain I have had to set up the hose and sprinkler to keep the newly transplanted from wilting. I pick up the sprinkler to move it to another bed and all of a sudden the water comes on and I am soaked by a gush of cold water. I walk back to the tap to turn it off. No-one is around but I expect that Charlie and Bones are not too far away!

I am talking to a dear friend when a male orange-tip butterfly passes by. It is a sign of a good spell of weather to see so many orange-tips according to folklore. The sunshine continues to beat down but with a gentle breeze. The swallows have returned from southern Africa and soar in the sky, the wisteria is in full bloom, and all is well in this gorgeous English garden.

May I take this moment to thank all my readers from all over the world for your support and encouragement over the past year. A happy Easter weekend to you all wherever you may be!

 

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and beautiful apple blossom everywhere…

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A pair of robins have happily built their nest in the stables again. Their nest is hidden well away in the corner making it difficult to take a photograph without disturbing them.

Last year they built their nest on one of the shelves and here is a photograph of that nest.

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If you look closely you can just see the robin peering out from her nest. I took the photo quickly and then left. The eggs hatched and the babies fledged successfully.

A wren also nested in a coil of rope hanging from the rafters.

ps. sorry this post is so rushed, work is pretty intense this week and I am exhausted with the heat!

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Come Saturday the weather was set fine and we managed to devote half the day to the allotment. Seeds have been sown, a new compost bin built and another hazel stick tepee erected for the sweet peas and french climbing beans.

Comments have been made down the pub about my hazel stick constructions. They are not ‘hippy wigwams’ as some have said but rather they are environmentally-friendly, ecologically sound, locally resourced, low-carbon-footprint runner bean supports. And rather handsome they look too, even though they are not dead straight.

 

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I came across a website here which celebrates the national beanpole week which starts next week and has all sorts of helpful information pleasantly presented including the whereabouts of suppliers of bean poles in the UK. The site celebrates Britain’s coppiced woodlands, the animals and plants that live in them, the coppice workers who look after them and the beanpoles and other coppice wood products they produce. I highly recommend anyone and everyone taking a look at this site. Click here to arrive at their site.

But half my readers come from many parts of the world and I wonder if hazel trees are found elsewhere and whether they are coppiced or not and what on earth people use to support their runners. If anyone could satisfy my curiosity then please do.

The seeds sown two weeks ago are all up now but small they are and hardly worth a photograph. The broad beans have also burst through the soil with intent. Three weeks ago the plot was quite barren apart from a row of parsnips kindly left by the previous owners. We have no autumn sown onions or garlic or brassicas but soon our sowings will grow. And then we will be in business!

 

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a swan at Stourhead gardens…

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It was my own fault. As I knelt in the undergrowth prising out the roots of a bramble, I just knew that I would end up losing my hand-fork. It was just a matter of time. Goodness knows why I insist on buying traditional wooden-handled tools that are so well camouflaged that, when dropped on a woodland floor, instantly disappear forever.

I really should buy an ultra-modern plastic orange fork with a built-in radio-active bleeper in the case of loss. The sort that you can never lose even if you wanted to. Using traditional tools in a woodland setting is just asking for trouble. It is akin to throwing a needle in a haystack and then deciding to do a spot of sewing.

When gardening one needs to be neat, tidy and methodical, three qualities that I badly lack, as my dear wife will testify to with a woeful shake of her head. I do tend to scatter tools around during the course of the day and then gather them up at the end of the day.

And nothing is more annoying than putting a tool down and not being able to find it again. I raked through the woodland area hoping to find it but to no avail. I could not give up though. I knew it was there somewhere. I was leaving no leaf unturned. The thought of losing the tool nagged me like a loose tooth.

Sometimes I can lose a hand-fork and find it again a few months later whilst turning the compost heap; a brush and a wash under the tap and it is as good as rain. Worse is when I find the metal part in the embers of the bonfire. Once I searched for ages for a fork only to turn the corner and find Charlie’s dog gnawing contentedly on the handle.

Bones insists that there are resident pixies that borrow tools from time to time but are never seen except on full-moon-sundays or after drinking lots of scrumpy.

The estate provides all the large tools but hand-tools are for me to provide. Perhaps I should buy really expensive ones which would encourage me to look after them better but then if I use cheaper ones it is not such a blow if I lose them from time to time.

I give up the search and head back forlornly to the stables. But then a glint of sunshine catches my eye and there in the long grass lies my fork. Now, who could have put it there?

 

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