Thursday 28 April 2011


Papaver orientale 'Saffron' Our first big poppy this year.  (Click on pix to see bigger.)

Well, hullo!  What a delightfully festive time we're living in!

Gardens in a minute - but first, this:

1.These pernicious gagging injunctions must stop at once.  What has got into the minds of the Cocklecarrot judges who are dishing out dodgy protection to anyone who can afford it, regardless of scurrilous peccadilloes or worse?  Do they not understand the crucial importance of the Fourth Estate in a democratic system - especially when we don't have a written constitution? 

The press may be populated with reptiles, but if you want freedom of speech and exposure of villainy or governmental malpractice, you have to take the vileness and gossip along with the genuine exposures which serve the public interest.  If you protect against one, you'll be giving undeserved refuge to the other.  And if you go on like that, Britain will end up like the rest of Europe - craven about bumping the pedestals of the great, regardless of their behaviour.  If we want to preserve our precious freedoms, we must have a fearless and unfettered press, however distasteful that may seem, at times.
2. About the Prime Minister's borrowing of Michael Winner's odious and infuriating catch phrase. It probably made a lot of spondies for Mr Winner, but it backfired into poor old Cameron's gut like a rotten oyster lurking among a dozen Whitstable Specials, at PM Queston Time.  He must have forgotten that there's a terrifying and semi-rational 'Rad-Fem' element woven through Old Labour and, having little else to attack him on, they saw their opportunity and pounced.  

So who was the gender chauvinist in that spat? Who were over-reacting like a batch of bolshy schoolboys?  And amid the hypocritical railing, where did parliamentary debate go?

Rosa banksiae 'Lutea' on our house.

Now then, Ahem Ahem!!

I'm inordinately proud of my Banksian rose.  People have stopped me in the village, to
congratulate me on its sublime beauty.  The fact that it's pushing tiles off the roof and threatening to obliterate the windows, doesn't seem to bother anyone but me. (I'm the poor sod who has to teeter atop the wobbly ladder, extricating rose from roof.) It's a climber I would never be without, and one of the first I planted when we moved in here, seven and a half years ago

This is the thuggiest of thug roses, but has the saving grace of being thornless and easy to handle.  I have to prune mine twice, hacking much of it away in June, after flowering, and than having to have another go, to pull it out the roof, again, each autumn.  You have to remember, though, that when you prune a spring-bloomer that late, you're removing future flowers with every snip.

The first Rosa banksiae was introduced into England in the early 1800s, I believe, by William Kerr – a Joseph Banks protégé.  This was the white form which he named 'White Lady Banks'.  It had been cultivated in Western China for centuries.  I planted this double-flowered white variety last autumn, on an outbuilding.  It has yet to flower, but I'm told the blossoms smell strongly of violets.

The double yellow, R banksiae 'Lutea' which is the easiest and most popular form, was brought to Britain by rosarian J. D. Parks in the 1820s.  I first knew this rose when our family moved into a late 17th century house, in Kent, in 1968.  A huge specimen grew on the south-facing wall, and I was determined, thereafter, to have one wherever I lived.

The flowers are supposed to smell of violets, but the white form has better scent than this more widely grown yellow.  All the flowers come in spring and there's never a repeat.

Our first oriental poppy came out this week - picture at the top of the post.  I tweeted about it earlier.  The variety is 'Saffron' and I purchased it from one Nori Pope, when he had the nursery at Hadspen House. Every plant the Popes sold was a treasure.  

 'Saffron' is usually my first Oriental, but this year is almost month early.  However, recent bitter north-east winds, and lack of rain, have stopped everything mid-stride.  Now we can only wait, while the chill breezes bruise all tender vegetation.  The picture gives it a strong hue, because it's newly emerged.  But the charm of this variety is that it quickly matures to the colour of a Buddhist monk's saffron robe.

Angelica archangelica 

After two years of sulky, vegetative growth, our angelica - we knicknamed it  'Houston' - has produced a rampantly shameless and unapologetic flower spike.  The plant grows on the threshold of our tiny vegetable enclosure and is the most self-important thing I've ever grown.  It's wrong where it is, not very graceful and I'm sure I'll never harvest the stems to make that delicious sweet green stuff that decorates cakes.  

But I wouldn't have missed this outrageous inflorescence for anything.  It's as if it's ramped itself up to present an outrageous, suggestive and decidedly rude gesture at judges, politicians, Andrew Marr and Royal Weddings.  Good on it.  I'll invite the village children to dance round it today, while chanting pagan things, à la Wicker Man.

I'm listening to An ancient recording of Victoria Spivey singing What's this Thing They're Talking about? 

This Day in 1986  I traded in a combine harvester and, since the PG was in Norfolk collecting pots to sell in our nursery, I cooked supper for myself and the kids.  Apparently, we all had pork chops and stir-fried leeks with, as a treat, pancakes to follow. What an indulgent Daddy I must have been.

This week's film was Monty Python's Life of Brian.  It's still as fresh and delicious as the first viewing.  The corpsing scene with a stammering Pilate who couldn't say 'r' is a cracker but the dissident being made to parse the Latin for Romans, Go Home, is one of the best comedic moments of all time.  Imagine being married to someone called Incontinentia Buttock!  The perfect antidote to over-saccharined religious films.  Grossly irreverent, but blasphemous?  Surely not!

Toodle ooh.  Enjoy the long week end and a happy princely wedding to all.

Thursday 21 April 2011


Good morrow, good day, hullo and good luck!  And whatever your Paschal or other vernal/aestival proclivities might be, good luck with those, too!  It being Maundy Thursday, as I write this, I now have a mere 34 hours to wait, before I can gorge gluttonously on the chocolate and sweeties that I've foregone since Ash Wednesday.

This tulip was sold to me as 'Shirley' which is white, with a subtle and delicate lilac-mauve edge to the tepals.  There's nothing subtle or delicate about this one, but I love its brash cheerfulness.  (Close-up portraits by the PG.  Wides by me.)  CLICK ON PICS TO SEE BIGGER.

What can I say?  Is this really spring? Or is it a precocious summer, to be nipped in the bud by cruel May frosts and a flooded Chelsea?  We shouldn't care, I suppose, but should enjoy each glorious golden day as it comes. But I can't help thinking that there'll be a vicious sting in the tail of this heatwave.

Some triumphs:

A wide view of my mini-woodland garden

I have to say that my micro-woodland garden has been an unfettered joy this spring. At last, the treasures that I've been secreting into the leaf-mouldy soil are beginning to look as though they turned up there naturally, rather than having been planted in self-conscious, allotted spaces.

Left to right, Anemone nemorosa 'Viridiflora,' A. n. 'Royal Blue,' fading, with 'Parlez-Vous' behind. Dying oxlips to the right, budding Trillium flexipes on left. 

The wood anemones which surprisingly, the wood pigeons ignored this spring, were spectacular, creating a lovely patchwork carpet with the lilac mauve of Anemone nemorosa 'Robinsoniana,' Ash Wednesday blue-grey of the curiously named 'Parlez-Vous' - I keep thinking of German officers crossing the Rhine - the startling azure of 'Royal blue' and all the oddities like 'Viridiflora' which has no flowers at all and the gigantic 'Leeds Variety.'

Anemones are on the wane but we have other sylvan delights including Trilliums, Uvularia, Cyclamen repandum, Omphalodes verna 'Alba' foam flars, some spidery epimediums, a plague of oxlips, both true and false, plus dottings of this and that.

Trillium flexipes just coming into flower.

The place works as it should.  When I walk from the 'Tea Lawn' through the archway, into the wood, the atmosphere changes, the temperature drops a little and it smells different.  People whom I've ushered through invariably say 'Ah!' Or, if they're really appreciative, 'Aaaah!' without actually being able to put their finger on why.

The mini meadow isn't bad either.  The snakeheads are getting established, despite unwelcome attentions from lily beetles, and our wild cowslip colony has multiplied superbly.  More to the point, the grasses and flowers are already full of insect life.

Do we have a downside?  Well of course, who doesnt?  I'm still on one crutch, after my hip operation on 25th March, but can walk for a little while without any aids at all.  I can walk behind a mower, therefore, can water things in the greenhouse and do the odd light job but it's still a bit of a bugger getting down onto the ground, and up again.  And in a garden like ours, there's only one possible kind of weeding - down on your knees and by hand, or with a little hand fork.

It's going to take a long time, to get total control back.  Or, will I ever get control.  Do I want to have full control?

Nature is giving us exquisite pleasure this spring.
The swallows are zooming in and out of our garage, so we're hoping they'll nest in there again this year.  If only there were more swallows.  I sense that numbers are falling, year on year.  As for cuckoos, I only heard two last year, from the garden.  Another distressing population crash.

We've enjoyed a big hatch of Holly Blue butterflies, not to mention Orange Tips.  I've seen the year's first Speckled Wood, too -  female in exquisite condition and with perfect markings.

Also - my auriculas - all outdoor tough-guy varieties, are looking delicious and smelling extremely attractive!  You've got to slog through a bit more text to see a piccy of one.

Erythronium 'White Beauty'

AND NOW, two rather pointless observations.

1.  I'm only going to Chelsea on the Monday, purely as a guest.  And even then, I'm going mainly for the lunch. No journalistic work, no RHS work that I know of, and no responsibilities.  Lovely!

2.  When discussing proposals for a new farm housing 2,500 breeding sows in Derbyshire,  Lord Melchett informed me, via Radio 4, that I don't want large animal farms in Britain, but preferred smaller, traditional farms.  He didn't name me personally, of course, but rather sweepingly said something along the lines of  'People in Britain' or 'The British people' don't want this kind of thing.

I HATE it when leaders of pressure groups make sweeping statements on behalf of 'the people' or the 'silent majority,' as if they had inside knowledge of what genuine, analysed public opinion on the subject may be.

They do it to buy credibility, of course, but it doesn't bloody work with me, and I'm part of 'the British people.'

May I point out that I welcome large, efficient farms, provided the animal welfare is of a standard high enough to guarantee happiness, security and comfort for all the livestock, and that working conditions for the staff are also comfortable, safe and  bring fair rewards for the work.  And provided the carbon footprint of such farms is smaller, per unit of production, than on more traditional ones.

I welcome the efficiency of such farms if they will help to produce good food at competitive prices. And since Britain is only about 65% self-sufficient in food, it makes sense to increase our productivity.

I also suspect that if a detailed analysis was made, of the 'British People,' the majority would be found to buy food largely on price, given minimal quality standards, provided the animal welfare is up to scratch.  I'm not saying that is good or bad. I'm simply questioning sweeping statements about what the man on the Clapham omnibus really wants.

As a footnote, it's interesting that as living standards have fallen, a tad, sales of organic produce have slumped.  That speaks volumes.

Primula auricula 'Eden Greenfinch.'  The name doesn't seem apt, but this shot was taken several days ago.  The flowers have now turned much greener.

I'm listening to The 'Good Friday' music, from Wagner's Parsifal.  The incomparable Peter Hoffman, who sadly died last November, is singing.

This day in 1991, my diary says, the night temperature dropped close to 0ºC and damaged our fruit crop.  I was reading Mark Twain's Pudd'nhead Wilson.

This week's film was Christopher Nolan's Inception. I was told it would a riveting film with a complex and absorbing plot, superb effects and a brilliant story.  What I dozed through - and I admit, I was only half awake for much of its inordinate length - was a pointless ramble through a 'Matrix-like' world with a McGuffin which, as far as I could be bothered to tell, turned out to be valueless.  The acting was uninspired, as you'd expect with such awful material and the soundtrack, with relentlessly repeated, juddering musical bangs and phrases, was agony to endure.  To some, perhaps, a great action film. To me, it was puerile crap.  I was staggered to see that it won some Oscars.  But then, so did Titanic!

Bye bye, and happy holidays!

Friday 15 April 2011


The minipond in our mini-woodland garden.

Well hullo my hearties, my beauties!  I must kick off with the most profound apology.
Well, a double apology.

First, it's been three disgraceful weeks since I set so much as a tiny toe into the delectably warm, oozy, cuddly ocean of the blogosphere.  It would be shamelessly egocentric to imagine that any of you were waiting with eager anticipation for my next offering of pointless drivel but self-deception can be comforting.

Secondly, I've been terrible at keeping up to date with everyone else's blogs.  I've even been a recalcitrant and inconsistent twitterpater, so tweetie friends and fellow bloggees, please know that I still care and - well, you know . . .

The excuse, as some will know, is a recent hip replacement.  I won't bore you with disgusting clinical details but want, briefly, to put a word in for our poor old, much maligned National Health Service.

About 30 years ago in palmy days, I had a hernia operation in a private hospital near here.  The service was  good, the food disgusting, the medical treatment and its after effects fine and everyone was happy.

Exactly 3 weeks ago, I became an inpatient at the NHS Peterborough City Hospital for four nights.

The hospital is new and sparkly.  The polyglot ancillary staff were busy, competent and managed to keep the great machine running reasonably well.  I quickly made friends with the people who took food orders, and then delivered plates of matter which bore not one jot of resemblance to the descriptions in the Hospital Trust's five star menu booklet.  The servers were utterly charming and efficient; the food was institutional – Colditz-cum-Somme trench fare.

The medical staff, including His Nibs, my Royal Navy surgeon, his devastatingly attractive anaesthetist –who had the most artistically chaotic hair in the style of a young, sexy Eleanor Bron, if you can remember back that far - the duty physicians, nursing staff, physiotherapists and medical porters were, without exception, wonderful.  They were kind, attentive, helpful, encouraging, comforting and at all times remarkably positive.  I was better looked after than in that posh private hospital of thirty years ago, and much more solicitously looked after than when staying at the Doha Four Seasons.

I've travelled a very great deal, in my 67 years.  I've lived in Kenya, as a child, in New South Wales, Upstate New York and even Norfolk.  And visited, extensively, much of South East Asia, South Africa, Europe, Central America and the Caribbean, and a number of other spots.  (I've even seen Komodo dragons on Komodo and the piled skulls of the Toraj people in Sulawesi.)  And I can tell you that we are pretty damned lucky, here in Britain, to have what we have in the NHS.

I may have paid dearly through my taxes, for this service, but I'm glad to have it.  Deeply, profoundly glad, and no less happy for my dosh to flow into government funds for health, than to some grubbing giant of an insurance company that squanders squillions on ritzy head offices.

Hobbling about with 1.5 legs and two crutches has a mass of disadvantages but several HUGE plus points. Being lame has reminded me to stop, stay still and contemplate.  

The PG, who has been an absolute pillar of wonderfulness, blending kind support and help with stern reprimands every time I disobey the 'hip precaution' rules, drove me to a bluebell wood, on Wednesday and yesterday, to one of my favourite birding woods.  In the former, because I can only walk short distance, I learnt to stand, stock still, and simply gawp at the ocean of violet-blue, the contrasting brown oak and grey ash trunks, the curious angles of fallen branches, the exquisite beauty of a sudden patch of primroses, or a twig with back-lit, green-gold baby leaves.

Yesterday, at  Callans Lane wood, Lincolnshire, where one can see both willow tits and marsh tits, together, thereby solving their exasperating i/d differences on the spot, I had a sensory feast:
I'd remembered to put on my hearing aids and while standing stock still for about ten minutes, heard the distinctive songs of black caps, willow warblers, white throats, chiffchaffs, song thrush, blackbird, robin, dunnock and wren.  A heavenly symphony, I thought, and although I longed for a nightingale - they do come to that wood - was more than happy with with such a rich, aural feast.

Back home, our tiny woodland garden has been sublime this spring and the mini-meadow is also limbering up for a great season.  Oxlips in the wood have been shamelessly promiscuous with wild cowslips in the meadow, so we have some outrageous mongrels popping up all over.  Do I exterminate these, to keep stocks pure?  Have I the heart to?  Probably not!

I beg you to forgive the paucity of piccies, in this post.  I promise a feast of them next time.

Meanwhile, I beg you to imagine the bluebells, the wood anemones, our newly returned swallows and the bizarre sight of me, putting on my underpants with a long-handled litter picker.  I have to be extremely careful that I grab cloth, with the thing, rather than flesh!

The title is a line from Keat's Ode to a Nightingale.  You can read the rest here

I'm listening to El Bodeguero from a CD I bought directly from the band 'Maguey' when in Havana, Cuba.  They performed in a bar called Las Minas and a man made cigars in the front, where one sat and drank mojitos.

This time 3 weeks ago, I was pretending not to be terrified, while being wheeled off to the operating theatre.

This month's films have been The Stieg Larsson Trilogy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.  A violent but compulsive trio with immaculate plotting, competent acting and a constant, wearing sense of menace.  I think they're terrific.

Too many words again - please forgive,
Toodle ooh!