Tuesday, 4 January 2011


And a very happy New Year to you, too! And to everyone!

Aeonium 'Zwartkop' - I love the way it goes green in winter. One of the prettier things overwintering in Wendy, my Hartley Botanics greenhouse.

What a bizarre but enjoyable Festivemass that was! We went to jolly drinky doos, ate and drank far too much, experienced some delicious wines, gorged on evil but delectable chocolate, finished the damned turkey yesterday - thank goodness - and had, generally, a relaxing time. The PG's Xmas pudding, Xmas cake and micro-mince pies were utterly delicious.

It's been a time since I touched my computer - lovely! But now work has started again and obviously, one is in need of reaching out into the world.

Some casual observations, therefore:

1. To celebrate the Yuletide season, the Photographer General purchased a bumper edition of Radio Times so we could choose which bits of Telly to watch and which ones to miss. (We are neither of us, very big TV watchers, preferring to gawp at films on DVD.)

But we ended up watching even less than we expected. UK TV is so absolutely bloody awful! Everything seemed to be about cooking. The Perfect Christmas, bish bash bosh, with that Mockney bloke and his family; How to Defeat the Tyranny of the Turkey, by someone who clearly doesn't know how to cook one without it being dry; How to Roast a Country Cottage without Scaring the Horses, by that educated one with ringlets and specs.

When cooking was off the menu, the screen seemed to be filled with celebrities pouting, celebrities gushing, celebrities doing eccentric things at great personal risk to themselves or celebrities and ordinary folk doing competitive dining. But from time to time, you could watch some spectacularly mediocre films.

We attempted to view the new version of Murder on the Orient Express, being Suchet fans, but the almost constant barrage of advertisements for furniture emporia, interspersed with tiny snippets of the ITV production, cause the PG to go into a deep and almost irreversible coma while I railed, fumed and finally went to bed, determined NEVER to buy another sofa, even if our current one fell into a thousand pieces.

What do I get, of value, for my TV Licence? Radio 4, Channel Four News, NO TEST MATCHES and not a lot else. Good value - I don't think so!

Prettiest flowers in Wendy at the moment - a wild species from South Africa, Pelargonium ionidiflorum.

We also watched a much hyped, new, adaptation of M. R. James's chilling ghost story, Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad. Despite starring the magnificent John Hurt, it was dreadful. The story - a superbly self-contained work with not a syllable out of place - was rogered brutally, with character changes, plot changes, pace changes and - well, it was completely awful, and, in its denouement, incomprehensible.

And that story can be adapted to TV, as was sublimely shown by Jonathan Miller, with the late Michael Hordern playing the pedantic, self-centred Oxbridge don. I'm so glad we have a DVD of that one.

2. The disgusting winter weather - festive my foot! - finally relented and I was able to get into the garden to begin the serious winter jobs. To my dismay, the freeze-up has 'preserved' all the fallen leaves, so instead of rotting quietly, through the weeks leading up to the Solstice, they have lain, almost unaltered, forming a slug-refuginous layer over everything.

This plays havoc with my 'Slow Gardening' technique. I'm loath to rake too many up, since that defeats the object of allowing natural decay, thereby recycling the nutrients and building the humus, in situ, rather than wasting time and energy raking up, primping borders, and then having to barrow the bloody compost back to shovel all over the border again.

Leaves all over the border in my 'woodland' garden.

So I'm not sure what to do. I also blush with shame at the quantity of unharvested Bramley apples which litter the ground. I'm posting a piccy, to prove that I'm Boy Scout enough to own up to seriously under-harvesting such a bountiful crop. What a waste!

If anyone has any ideas about what to to with the leaves, I'd be glad of some advice - apart from the obvious one of raking them up.

3. We've had a visitation of waxwings - or if you're American, Bohemian Waxwings - in the village. Although I'm a keen birder, this is one species that has managed to evade me. They're like that cat called Macavity - never there when I'm around. It's not a particularly rare bird, and frequently visits the UK in substantial flocks, but whenever waxwings are around, I manage to miss them.

Until a friend in the village phoned me at lunch time on 28th December to say a small flock were feeding on his Sorbus. In moments we were there, and at last I could enjoy their buff plumage, fancy crests, sealing wax wing edges and beautifully marked facial features. You can find good picture of waxwings here and particularly here.

Since I haven't seen this species in the UK before - this was what birdie folk call a 'lifer.' Though I have seen the same species, Bombycillus garrulus in the Canadian Rockies.

The fallen, unharvested Bramleys. Shockingly wasteful - but the blackbirds love them.

This day in 2006 I was dug a trench for a new hornbeam hedge which is now 2 metres high in places, but still a bit thin in others. I had to dig through gravel, old tarmac, brick rubble and finally, cold, blue clay. Lovely! The PG was recovering from 'flu.

This week's film was Frank Capra's 1937 masterpiece, Lost Horizon with Ronald Colman. Watching it made want to re-read James Hilton's original book. My son had a copy handy, and lent it to me. But you know, the most surprising thing is that it is not available as an e-book at all, either from Amazon or iTunes. And Gutenberg hasn't produced it either. It seems that 'great' books of their time - it was a massive success - fall between two stools. They're perhaps not 'classic' enough for Gutenberg, but neither are they popular enough to keep in print. Interesting!

I'm listening to a Beethoven Piano Trio, Opus 1 number 3.

The happiest of Happy New Years to you, and bye bye for now.


  1. Whoops! The 2006 bit suggests poor English and that someone else dug the trench for the hornbeam. The text should read 'I dug a trench. . .' not 'I was dug a trench.'

  2. That hornbeam hedge bit is encouraging. I planted one last spring, so by your account I may have a visible hedge in 2005, all else being equal? (not likely)

  3. You are such a joy Nigel! I have been diverted from writing a proper blog by the temptations of wanting to rant about the appalling TV over Christmas and now I can do it here! The worst in living memory! We pretty much finished watching all the stuff we had recorded on the V+ box as there was nothing at all on TV. And then the ghastly Radio 4 Archers' storylines like one long continuation of Lynda Snell's panto! So no escape there either.

    Is your greenhouse heated? I confess to 'frostfreeing' mine so that my aeoniums look like yours this winter rather than the rather nasty slimey goop that was left of them last year.

    I think I must give my greenhouse name.

  4. James - did you really mean 2005? I actually planted four hornbeam hedges that year, three in lovely soil, the fourth in our horrible yard. Those on good ground are lovely and dense and tall. The yard one will catch up in the end. I backfilled the trench in the yard with lots of compost, bonemeal and snitched topsoil, to get it off to a good start.

    Arabella - yes, heated to nominal minimum 5ÂșC, to keep the tender things alive.

    Also, I forgot to say that I harvested our last few tomatoes ON CHRISTMAS DAY. The PG and I ate one each. They were 'Sungold' which I know you hate, Arabella, but tasted lovely. The plant had been pinched out and its single stem went up and over and along the greenhouse. Like a pillock, I didn't measure it when I pulled it up.

  5. You ate Turkey from Christmas until January 3rd? That is devotion to tradition!

    Blackbirds don't seem the least bit interested in apples in my garden but have been feasting on rosehips. (Perhaps it's because they aren't Bramleys.)

    If there's more frost and snow to come, will your leaves insulate any plants coming up beneath? Or doesn't it work like that?


  6. No, no I'm with you on the 'Sungold' love them and always grow them. It was someone else didn't like them. I'm definitely going to try and extend my growing season this year!

  7. Will a goat solve the apple wasting problem?

    What an ignoramus I am. I had no idea that any of M.R. James' ghost stories had been done for TV. I'll avoid the new one at your recommendation though. If we Americans had made it, there would be lots of bad language, nubile young women, and explosions, regardless of what the book was like.

    Christine in Alaska, frantically looking for James DVD as of now

  8. The bumper Radio Times always used to be one of the great Christmas traditions. There was a time, which I am sure you will remember, when the RT only had BBC listings and you had to buy the TV Times for ITV.

    The TV Times was considered rather naff and could only be tolerated at Christmas: probably as a sort of charitable act.

    The Morecambe and Wise thing was good.

  9. Thanks for identifying the Lonicera. I've added a note and a link with the picture.

    Did you watch the Just William adaptations over Christmas? I think they held remarkably close to the spirit of the books.


  10. This was a good read and you are the closest garden blogger to me in Grimsby that I have found - so I'm hoping for lots of useful advice from your pages.

    Incidentally I read yesterday (can't remember where, that there is a massive influx of waxwings in the North of England this year so that may account for your flock. I haaven't seen any yet but I'm hoping.

  11. A Year In . . . Thanks, and welcome. Don't take anything I write too seriously!

    Lucy, James A-S - no I missed those programmes. Glad to hear something on TV was good.

    Christine B - Good Luck looking for the Whistle and I'll Come to You DVD. If it's any help, it was a BFI (British Film Institute) issue and has become rather a collector's item. Also, I'm not sure whether it's available in NTSC as opposed to PAL colour. Or, whether the DVD is set for the US Region. Amazon UK offers a new one at £120 - quite a price for a 40 minute dramatisation!!

  12. I love the very dainty Pelargonium ionidiflorum and have two different coloured versions flowering at the moment in my greenhouse. I am planning to write about them on my blog this year. I also agree about the appalling TV programmes we were presented with over Christmas and have decided to make an early start recording plenty of programmes so watch next Christmas and New Year.