Friday, 21 August 2009


To my Australian friends in general, and in particular to the one who said that England was incapable of playing a consistent game of cricket and was unlikely ever to win the Ashes, all I can say is: Ner, ner, na, ner ner!!!

Oh and that Stuart Broad chap. What a guy! He's surely a human Verbena bonariensis – fast, tall, slender, beautiful, enviable, and irresistible to butterflies.

The Bathroom

It's been too long since my last post – and sorry for that – but we've had a rather eventful couple of weeks. The Photographer General decreed that the sanitation in our creaky little farmhouse simply won't do. And when the PG decrees, it is usually wisest to enter into the spirit of the thing, offering fulsome support.What I didn't expect was to walk into our main bathroom the other day, stark naked, towel over shoulder, to discover that workmen had removed the shower, bath, bog and washbasin. What a surprise! And last weekend we had three guests coming to stay. Hmmmm.

Repairs and alterations are never plain sailing, in old houses. As soon as the floorboards come up, or a ceiling comes down, it becomes obvious that original budgets and estimates will be about as accurate as Britain's was for the 2012 Olympics.

Previously hidden pipes turn out to take the longest possible route between two points; structural timbers appear in the most unexpected places and in some spots, we are finding vestiges of previous civilisations.

There are quaint 1950s tiles under some of the plaster. What we thought was a currently operational soil pipe - it bulges menacingly between beams in our kitchen - turns out to be a pre-war cast iron one. It is no longer used to convey what is euphemistically called 'soil' but was left in situ to be used as a conduit for thinner, more modern water pipes. Why?

Scarily horrible wallpaper has been unearthed, in places, as well as 1940s lino. I'm told it will be another 2 to 3 weeks before we are back to normal.

But enough, already. The PG's grand designs – though they make those of Peter the Great look modest – is not the subject of this post.

No, the week's big event, is the arrival of Wendy, my little treasure of a greenhouse from Hartley Botanic.
My new Hartley Botanic, Wisley 8, Six Pane Greenhouse. Mmmmmm!

For various reasons, I've had to wait for my greenhouse since we first moved here nearly 6 years ago. There were boundary 'issues' with our neighbours, all of which were perfectly amicably resolved, eventually. Before that could happen, however, there was an odious and avaricious third party involved and the legal settlements were not concluded until three lots of solicitors had significantly enhanced their wealth.

The structure arrives on Tuesday 18th August at 12.30

But that's all behind us. I'm now the proud owner of a tastefully cream coloured, reinforced glazed, fully operational greenhouse. I can't believe it's really here and on Friday evening, when my dear brother turned up to our bathroom-less house for a semi-impromptu overnight stay, and when three of our four grown up children were here, we had what is known in the PR trade as a 'Soft Launch.'

The official opening will have to wait until the building is stocked with pretties, and until the surrounding squalor has been cleared and the area landscaped. But on Friday, Champagne was sipped and an inaugural plant was placed into Wendy's tender care.

The Hartley Crew assemble the bits on Wednesday 19th.

Strictly speaking, her full name is Wendy Three. Wendies One and Two were at our last house and accommodated two grape vines, an internal 'hothouse section' where I damped off almost everything and plants of every description from Arctotis seedlings (also damped off) to Zantedeschias. The earlier Wendies featured on BBC Gardeners' World programmes where, with good editing, we managed to conceal horticultural disasters and look mildly professional. Wendy three definitely will not feature on Gardeners' World.

Installing an automatic vent.

It's fitting, perhaps, that the Inaugural Plant is a new propagule of Crassula ovata aka Jade Plant. Remarkable for its boringness, if nothing else, this particular little jade plant has a history.

When my younger son was studying Art at Loughborough, back in the 1990s, he and two mates shared a room with the usual student-land mix of vermin, cheap lager, Mother's Ruin white bread, dodgy substances and the sickest, most desperate looking jade plant ever observed.

The Assembly Boys - Peter, Jonathan and Joseph.
They did a superb job, completed in just under 5 hours.

The jade plant's compost was used as an ash tray and when someone watered it with Kestrel lager, it responded by collapsing with a central rot which caused the branches to fall off. When I first saw that plant, it consisted of a dead – a profoundly, Norwegian Blue parrotly dead – trunk with the last few wizened twigs lying scattered round the base of its pot.

I picked one of the pieces up, said, 'I could revive that' and slipped it into my pocket.

Ten years later, it was more than a metre high and burgeoned shinily in a huge clay pot which obstructed our French windows – as fine a specimen of the world's most boring plant as you're likely to see in a container.

When we moved to the Fens, I had planned to dump the jade plant but the PG wouldn't have a bar of that. 'It's coming with us,' I was told. We have no window big enough to do it justice, so it stands outside, each summer, boring for Britain, but must, I'm told, be kept alive at all costs for sentimental reasons.

Early this year, I sawed through its main trunk, to encourage it to be more bushy, but also with a mildly subversive hope that it would die as a result. It hasn't, but as an insurance, I rooted a tiny cutting and that is what we first put into Wendy on Friday night.

By Sunday midday, Wendy was also accommodating Leonotis leonurus, a rather exhausted Euphorbia milii, two South African 'mesems' of unspecified nomenclature and a Haworthia which, during the bathroom campaign, managed to spend a few days immersed in water. Things can only get better, on the plant collection front!

Some of the family assemble with Champers, for the 'Soft Launch.'

I'm listening to the weather forecast. Apparently we're to have a second hand, knackered hurricane on Wednesday. Sounds a bit like my car!

This week's film was The Reader, which I greatly enjoyed. A rattling good story, well constructed screen play by David Hare, sublime acting, not only from Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, but also from the young David Kross and the old Bruno Ganz. And the deftest, cleverest directing from Stephen Daldry. An unsettling, unnerving film, making one re-evaluate at every turn in the tale.

I've just read Peter Marren's brilliant column in the journal British Wildlife which I heartily commend. You can find details here.

This day in 2007 we discovered that my Mother-in-Law had died in the night. She was 91.

Wendy's first ward, the little Crassula propagule. Aaaah!


  1. Congratulations on the safe delivery of Wendy - although I am not convinced that Wendy is a sufficiently dignified name for such a remarkable edifice. Particularly one painted such a tasteful shade of Cappuccino (or is it Marmoset?).
    Gwendolen would be more acceptable.

  2. I have bathroom fitters turning up tomorrow to fit a new bathroom while we are enjoying the torrential rain in Wales!!
    Very green at your greenhouse but agree Wendy is just not the right name

  3. I know this isn't what you are supposed to do - but I'd sit in it. I'd spend ages just sitting in it - while it's still empty. It's like a new exercise book when you are at school. When you first have it, you think of all the wonderful things you will write - and all the wonderful marks you'll get. After that it's just down-hill. (With me it was anyway!) The 'just before you start' moment is one to savour because at that point - well, you can fit a forest inside . . . there will be no pests . . . no viruses . . . no watering problems . . . only perfection!

  4. Good luck with your new Greenhouse, I'll raise my glass to bountiful seasons to come! hic!

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