Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Tis The Season To Be Jolly. . .

Fa, la, la, la, laar, laar, laar, laar, laaaaaar.
Very excited as this week is jam-packed with festive goodies. Tonight B and I are off to a drinks party before meeting our muckers, Ange & Sue, at the Columbia Road Christmas Wednesday for a spot of late-night shopping and a bite to eat, tomorrow is It's a Wonderful Life at the Stratford Picture House and Friday is Matthew Bourne's Cinderella at Sadler's Wells - how much Christmas cheer can one woman pack into a week? Yay!!
Well (and you won't often here this) enough about me. Merry Christmas everyone - don't overdo it on the sherry.
Blog you next year!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Deck The Halls With. . . Fuzzy Felt?

This year (and as gardening is not the most lucrative job in the world if you're a one- woman- band) I've taken to making presents for people instead of buying them. Hopefully they appreciate the love and time that goes into each thing I make and forgive me for the fact that when I sew I create very kitsch items indeed!
Sewing holds fond memories of sitting with my mother and embroidering table cloths on a wooden frame and although I've got a lovely hi-tech sewing machine for cushion covers/curtains etc, I still make most things entirely or involving a lot of hand-sewing - I do love a nice bit of felt. At the moment I'm making Christmas decorations for some of my family and friends and am particularly pleased with my gift tag. I also like the Noel heart as it's quick and simple to produce. The tree and stuffed angel, however, involve a bit more fiddling about, but are a classics in waiting so Cath Kidston beware (pffffff, snort, guffaw).
I've made several items this year - a cycling sash, glasses case, bag with singling bird applique, a couple of clutch bags and a few blackberry cases in various colours and three rather smart cushion covers for the office/spare room. I don't think about it much, but I suppose I should feel fairly proud of myself as they're all my own designs and patterns and each one is unique. Oh well, if nothing else it keeps me out of trouble!

Monday, 13 December 2010

Cats and Christmas Trees

Back to Wendel's place for a final visit this year on a cold and foggy morning. Yay, I've finally made it to the back of the garden (well, at least down the right hand side!). Another day of clearing and discovering all manner of novel containers. You can just see at the bottom of the photo on the right what looks to me like an old piece of drainage pipe. This was buried under a bush but had, at one time, been used as a plant pot. I love that!
Actually I love working on this garden full stop as it's full of little treasures just waiting to be discovered and I feel as though we're finally getting somewhere. I can't wait to get back at it next year and to discuss with Wendel's owner what kind of planting she wants. I also have the challenge of building my first insect habitat - all very exciting.
Alas Wendel was absent again today - not sleeping but figuring out how he can get at the Christmas tree, which as you can imagine and like all cats everywhere, he's completely entranced with. He's definitely a fellow after my own heart where all things sparkly are concerned. Go Wendel!

Monday, 6 December 2010

It's All History Now

"Turn Back Time Pop-Up Shops and Events - step into the 1930s and meet our grocer as he opens his 'shops' across the UK. As well as taking you back in time through the 1930s grocer's shop, there will be advice on researching your own high street history, local artefacts to get 'hands on' with, and a chance for your old photos of the area to become part of a high street memory line."
I spent this weekend up in snowy Bradford helping out with the BBC's Hands on History project, which was tiring but great fun. I was on the dressing up section, encouraging children of all ages to don a period shop assistant's uniform and go and help Mr Turner the shop owner, or serve Mrs Howard (our best customer).
The shop space was quite small, but it was really well done with a time-line that followed that of the TV programme and with front of store being the 'shop' containing produce found at the time, complete with original packaging designs, old money and and ancient till. Fab!
The people of Bradford turned out in large numbers despite the weather and seemed genuinely interested in the exhibition and were sad that their city centre was in such decline, missing the local shops of their youth.

Staff uniforms & today's milk delivery


Thursday, 2 December 2010

Snow Ahoy!

Tuesday it started snowing and it was a tad chilly on the HMS Belfast today, although the view over the gun turrets from the Compass Platform was very atmospheric - I can imagine what it was like when the ship was part of the Arctic convoys in 1943.
One crew member recounts that he would've been swept overboard during a storm if it hadn't been for the fact that his hand was frozen to a turret door!
Fortunately for me it wasn't that cold on the Compass Platform, but our newest recruit was sitting in the Captain's chair with the duffel coat wrapped around her legs at one stage this morning. Not to worry, I'm sure she'll toughen up.
Apart from the brave one or two visitors (including a lovely economic historian from NZ) the cold snap managed to keep most folk at home/in hotels so the 'Chief' (Chief Yeoman) sent us home just after lunch, which I think our newbie was quite relieved about.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Too Cool For Cats

Even for poor Wendel who's usually up for a frolic in the shrubbery!
Well, winter's finally here with a vengeance and all the sensible people (and animals) are all safely tucked up in-doors with their feet up and a nice hot cuppa. I, on the other hand am wearing 3 layers of merino and still plugging away as, although December is almost upon us, I'm still fortunate enough to have work. Wendel's owner is still happy for me to come in and clear the overgrown sections of garden and it really doesn't matter what time of year you weed, so it's all good for me.
I'm currently working my way along the right hand side of the garden and today involved removing lots of self-seeded Sorrell and dead ivy, which actually belongs to next door. In the process I discovered 2 bags of frozen bark chips, a lovely little wooden barrel and a Honeysuckle! I'll be going back in a couple of weeks for my final visit of the year - mind you, the snow's due tomorrow so this is dependent on whether or not we're snowed in.
Roll on Christmas - yay!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Frozen Vegetables!

Spent today on a chilly allotment as part of a tree felling co-operative between us (plot 1) and Bronwen & Gwill on plot 7. The council had been around at the beginning of the year and marked, with an attractive yellow dot, the trees that they were willing to loose in order for plot holders to gain some much needed light so the felling began. Between us 3 trees sadly hit the dust, but as with all allotments the wood and branches have been allocated for use either on wood burning fires (Dina, plot 3), as fencing, gate posts and all manner of weird and wonderful constructions.
I'm constantly taking inspiration from my fellow plot holders and never cease to be amazed at their inventiveness and, in the case of the recent scarecrow competition, their craziness! I now have lots of ideas that I want to put in place but most of them will have to wait until the weather eases as the clay soil is totally impregnable at the moment.
We did intend to start digging the path - we've manfully drunk our way through our wine collection in an attempt to produce enough bottles to edge the path and hold the membrane down, but as you can see from the photos the frost stayed with us all day making it impossible to dig as B found out when she tried to wedge a fork into the ground. Now that everything's died back there's a real melancholic, autumnal feel to the place - I love it! You can just see our rather sad rasberry bushes and the willow supports for our broad beans (bent double and frozen stiff in the bed closest to the rasberries), which I hope will survive the winter - eek.
B will hopefully be extending her willow fence along the whole length of ours and the adjoining plot so that we can finally get rid of those horrid sheets of rusty corrugated iron.
Here's to Spring!

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Mad Hatters Wedding?

Having now spoken to the 'Bride to Be' (BTB) regarding the theme for the decorations I am now firmly on the hunt for design ideas for the table settings. A mutual friend has given BTB some gorgeous place card holders in the shape of tiny, white topiary balls, which is perfect as that's the theme she had in mind all along - who knew? Fate does work in mysterious ways.
The attached photo is an advertisement from milliner Bridget Bailey of BaileyTomlin and the tea cup on the left is my inspiration for the most perfect centre pieces! It's a great combination of Aussie verve and English style of BTB and her UH (ultimate hero) and the bonus is she loves the idea - yay!
I won't be able to get a squint at the venue until next March, so am not sure what else I can come up with just yet - will keep you posted (once it's passed BTB's approval that is).

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Branching Out

My terribly glamorous PR friend, Katie, is marrying her Ultimate Hero in April 2011 and I've been asked to come up with some design ideas for the reception, which is all very exciting/flattering/scary/insane. So yesterday and with flowers in mind, I attended a course at the Judith Blacklock School of Floristy to hone my flower arranging skills.
Judith (who's an absolute star) runs the only accredited floristy school in London and her teaching style is relaxed and uncomplicated, breaking down each design and technique into simple, easy to follow steps. In one afternoon I managed to make the attached wedding/church arrangements (traditional, beautiful, but definitely not our Katie) and became the perfect dinner guest this evening by presenting two of them to my hostess and the bride to be.
Our delicious pie and mashed potato dinner was washed down with cava, followed by ice cream and tight waistbands, all overlaid with friendship and chat - the perfect evening. Even the Ultimate Hero (the only male at the feast) seemed to have a grand old time.
Anyway, now I've got an idea of what the bride (and groom of course!) are after it's away to ponder all things PR wedding - T.T.F.N. daahhhling!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

I Was Lovely Once You Know

OK, I am about to have a little rant, so if you're not not in the mood to listen to me moan, please don't read any more.
I work for a local estate agent, going in to rented accommodation to maintain or clear gardens on behalf of the tenants and landlords, which whilst providing a good source of income, in this instance has teed me off completely! The tenant asked the landlord to clear the garden, which is fair enough considering the state it was in, but when I got there she was quite insistent that I chop everything down or take it out which is wrong on several levels.
1. Why rent a flat with a garden if you're not interested?
2. It's the wrong time of year to prune most things (which you'd know if you liked plants - duh!).
3. It's not actually your garden, is it?!
Sorry, I just get very frustrated when I salvage what was once a well loved and attractive garden under the weeds and know, with sinking heart, that it's all in vain and will it'll be back the way I found it in a matter of weeks.
Anyhoo, I left a list of appropriate weed killers for the patio/paths and grass with strict instructions not to use them on the raised beds. Not sure what the chances are for this garden, but I am, if nothing else, an optimistic soul!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Hello Sailor!

You may remember (and if you don't, why?) that in the summer I signed up as a volunteer for the Imperial War Museum and was put on the waiting list. Well, the good news is I now have post on board HMS Belfast one day a week as part of their visitor interaction team. This involves encouraging visitors to use some of the equipment and items on board to enhance their learning/enjoyment, and is great as I get to work with members of the public all day.
I've also leaned quite a few things in the process myself:
1. never call it a boat, or in my case utter the damning phrase 'driving the boat'. V bad!
2. port is left/starboard is right.
3. The bow is the pointy bit at the front and;
4. the stern is the slightly less pointy bit at the back.
5. you enter on the quarterdeck.
6. the difference between the Admiral's deck and the Captain's and their respective roles on board ship.
7. that I am totally useless on a walky talky radio - I sound like someone's maiden aunt and don't use the correct language at all.
8. that I am never gonna be able to go down those stair ladders front-ways!
I work on Thursdays and share the day with another volunteer called Ernie who's an absolute star and very enthusiastic about all things IWM. He does an additional day at the Museum in Lambeth taking pictures of all the firearms for the catalogue and is also very knowledge about steam strains.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Where The Bloggin' Hell Have You Been?

You may have noticed (or not depending on how much other stuff you've got going on at your end) an absence of blogging on my part of late. This is due to the fortunate fact that I've been really busy with the old diggin' 'n' hoein' - to the point of aching elbows, sore hands and being good for nothing unless it involves imbibing a glass of wine and then falling asleep in front of the telly. Not that I'm complaining mind you, the extended summer has seen an increase in work at a time when most people start to re-prioritise their gardens, so I count myself lucky indeed.
This frenzy of autumn activity means, however, that I've been a bit lax with the old photos and updates - apologies. I was gonna try and catch up with myself but realised it was an impossible task in regard to both the blog and life in general and starting from here on in seems the best option - so watch this space!!!

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Weeds & Windfalls

THE WEEDS: This afternoon saw me back at the Raspberry house for more weeding and clearing, this time an overgrown flower bed, which was hoed and then hand weeded to make sure that as much unwanted stuff was removed as possible. You have to be philosophical though as there's always something you miss and you can guarantee it'll be Back to haunt you come next visit.
THE WINDFALLS: Well after gathering up enough rotting apples to keep Bulmer's in business for a year (other cider producers are available - ooh I sound just like the BBC!) and a full compost bin later, job done.
Not sure when I'm going back as the owner has diary issues, but hope to carry on the good work soon - I'll just have to be patient and wait for that call!

Ooh, What's Under There Then?

Well, it just so happens there was an Acer, a Rose, a Clamatis, a Yukka and a couple of hanging baskets!
Wendle's back garden is a constant wonder as I never know what I'll find as I work my way around it, this time removing the last of next doors' vine and chopping back the ivy to release a rather sickly Bay Tree from captivity.
Wendle's owner went out and left me to it, so I was relived when I got a text from her saying that I'd done a "fantastic job" - always a relief!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Cat's Under The Primroses

I realised today what a privilege it is being let loose on peoples garden's. I spent the day working for a lovely lady (a neighbour of one of my allotment buddies) who's husband created and maintained the garden. Unfortunately he died 3 years ago but is still there for her in every plant and blade of grass so, yes, I feel privileged. I was, however a little disconcerted when I realised that I'd been hoeing the cat! Apparently he was buried under the primroses, which were covered in weeds - thank heavens he stayed put. . . People really do form a deep emotional attachment to their gardens and each plant (or deceased pet) has a story and memory attached so there is a responsibility on my part to make sure I do the best job I can.
A day and a half brought this garden back from slightly overgrown to neat and tidy and as the owner's unable to get about as much as she'd like, I'll be going back to maintain it - with due reverence.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Dr Livingstone I Presume?

OK, this might not quite be a jungle, but it took an heroic effort to get this garden into shape.
This is my downstairs neighbour's garden and I've been watching him from on high for some time as he's periodically hacked and mown away at this little plot, secretly wanting to get down there and help out. So, it just goes to show that wishes sometimes do come true! It took me best part of a day and a half to get this little patch of weeds under control and I'm still feeling a complete failure at the state of the lawn, which goes from unruly clumps to totally bald, incorporating some fancy weeds and moss on the way!
The grass edging is something new for me. I used it for the first time in Kansas a couple of weeks ago as edging for a flower bed, but this is the first time for grass. It's a great idea as it won't be seen once the grass is up and running, but it's a bit of a bugger to put it when the soil's as stone-ridden as this was, but it's done and means that my neighbour won't have any issues with encroaching grass and can weed away in the flower beds without worrying the grass seed.
The great thing about tackling this garden was the opportunity to plant (my absolutest favouritest thing ever!) and to choose the plants that went in. As I'm a fan of insect attractors there's an English Lavender, a Rosemary and some Red Hot Pokers for the birds as well as some much needed ground cover. My neighbour also purchased some Lupins, Gypsophilia and Aquilegia to accompany the existing Hypericum and Rose so it should look really lovely out there come summer.
Oh well, off to buy some feed, weed & seed for the lawn - wish me luck!

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Grass, Grass, Everywhere

Accept for where you want it that is!
A return to Kansas brought more removal of unwanted grass from below the bird feeders, this time at the back of the garden. I like this garden as it's totally surrounded by greenery but, and I never thought I'd here myself say this, I miss the pigeons! Eh? I hear you say, but let me clarify. Most of the time I think feral pigeons are nasty, dirty things but what I've realised working in Kansas is, they're exceptionally good at cleaning up all the bird seed and bits of fat ball the smaller birds manage to flick all over the place. We have pigeons scrabbling around under our feeders at home all the time (occasionally balancing precariously on them and flapping wildly about too - very funny) and it's only just occurred to me how useful they are - we have very little debris or grass.
Obviously some smaller birds are ground feeders, but I think it's due mainly to the lowly feral pigeon and surely it's got to be a better way of living than risking life and limb in the middle of the road eating squashed burgers and cold rice?

Return To The Land Of Raspberry

Back to work today and back to the Rasberry garden, this time to tackle an overgrown pond and a weedy (full of weeds not weak and feeble) flowerbed. It rained all day, which is great for loosening up the soil, but not so good for the poor gardener. Luckily I've got a rather good waterproof and a barber cap, so complete with wellies I looked a right old treat, but at least I was dry(ish) and was able to get stuck in. I also managed to dig over the veg patch, removing the wild, self-seeding rocket and sweep the paths, so all good. I love this client as she's obviously been gardening for years and knows far more than I do, although I was a tad concerned when she saw the pond and commented that I'd been a lot more brutal that she would've been - eek! Apparently that was a good thing though so phew!

Surely not that brutal???


Saturday, 18 September 2010

Wisley Hosta Shocker!

We're camping at the moment in sunny Surrey for our anniversary and visited Wisley today. I was a bit reluctant 'til now as I for some mad reason I thought my gardening expertise wasn't up to the lofty standards of the RHS, but then I thought hang on you're an A grade student, pull yourself together and get your butt down there. So that's what we did and it was well worth the journey as the orchards were lovely in the mellow September sun and I was secretly comforted by the fact that even at the great and wonderful Wisley the slugs and snails have had their way with the Hostas! I know, I'm really sad. Nevertheless the rest of the gardens were absolutely beautiful and there were lots of activities going on including a fab sculpture exhibition with pieces dotted around the grounds - all unfortunately way out or our price range and too large to get in the car.

Friday, 17 September 2010

This Week's Plant From The Garden - Gerbera G. 'Dwarf Frisbee'

Also known as the Transvaal or African Daisy and B's favourite! Gerbera are more often as not grown as indoor or greenhouse plants although they do go well in the border and there are now some hardy species which can be overwintered in the garden. This one was given to us as a present and I really wasn't sure it was going to last beyond a few weeks. Nevertheless in my usual mood of blind optimism I replanted it and as it's been such a lovely warm summer, it not only survived but flourished in the garden as part of a display at the end of the path. As the days are getting shorter and the nights cooler it's been brought inside to overwinter in the house.
Family: Ateraceae/Compositae. Depending on which reference book your using it can be categorised as just Asteraceae or both.
Position: Full sun in sandy soil. Ours is in normal multi-purpose compost with regular feeding and also in partial shade but still did well.
Flowers: Summer - all summer in our case and still producing buds.
Dimensions: 18 - 25cm high by approx 25cm wide - will keep you posted if it spreads!
Habit: Small evergreen herbaceous perennials - tender to half hardy.
Care: As ours is in a ceramic pot it needs watering regularly. Keep the slugs/snails away from it and when it's inside make sure it doesn't get too hot or cold.
Pruning: Leave it to it's own devices apart from dead heading.
Propagation: By seed in early spring or autumn. Basal cuttings in summer or division of established plants. Ours will be divided when it outgrows the current pot. It did have time to seed in the garden before coming in so who knows?
Origin/Distribution: South Africa and every florist shop and roadside flower van you've ever visited.

Bold/italics = RHS
Everything else = me

Monday, 13 September 2010

Grape Anyone?

Today I went back to visit the adorable Wendel and to make a start on the back garden, which I did by decimating next doors' grape vine which has completely taken over and was marching full force across the border! The poor bay tree it was climbing was a mass of old vine, woody clematis, struggling ivy and roses reaching for the sky, to the point where it was suffocating under the weight of all that debris. I couldn't believe how much fruit the vine had produced with no attention what-so-ever and the first job was to harvest as much of it as possible, which turned out to be 3 buckets full - I was sorely tempted to remove my wellies, step into the bucket and start stomping!
Unfortunately the clematis and rose have suffered a lot at the hands of the roaming vine and had to be pruned right back, but I'm determined to bring them back to full vigour in the spring. I'll also be spending some time each visit cutting out the dead material from the bay tree to make it look and feel better and to prevent further encroachment.
Wendel kept me company by chasing flies, pouncing on anything that moved and climbing up and sleeping in the shrub beside me, but cannily disappeared when it came to bagging and tidying up - little bugger!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Allotment Ballet Dancing

We hosted a little get together on the allotment today so that we could meet our fellow allotmenteers. We're quite lucky that ours is plot 1, the first on the site as you enter, which means we don't have to travel far to get there but also means that we don't get to see any of the other diggers and growers unless we happen to see them coming through the gate. It was a great afternoon/evening and it was generally agreed that we should do it more often, so hopefully someone will suggest it again soon.
We'd asked everyone to bring a drinking receptacle and were really chuffed when people turned up with gifts of seeds and beans, wine, cake and a stove for making tea. For the first time I really felt part of a community. The conversation covered many subjects including the fact that if a stranger asks me what I do for a living I say I'm a ballet dancer (it's amazing what people will believe), which caused much hilarity considering my natural grace and elegance!!!
Lovely day & great folk.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Not In Kansas Any More!

Toto the Yorkie (Toto, Kansas - geddit?) and friend of the ever resourceful Wendel lives with Chester the ginger tom, 3 other cats & 2 guinea pigs and stands guard over a great garden around the corner. The provider for this menagerie and owner of said garden had a number of tasks ready and waiting for me including weeding flower beds, which had a couple of inches of bird seed encrusted over them and subsequently some very long and lush grass to remove, planting some lavender, phlox and bulbs, digging up and potting a magnolia, putting in some plastic edging, pruning back a rose, trimming the buxus back into shape and mowing the lawn - phew!
The pictures show the flower bed with the grass seed coating before and after. You can see where I've cleared and planted the lavender and the bright pink phlox. I discovered the lovely metal climber frame at the back of the flower bed.
Will be going back in a couple of weeks to tackle another grass ridden section of the garden and am really happy that I now have a few gardens that I can invest some real time and energy in as opposed to just fire-fighting every 6 months or so.

This Week's Plant From The Garden - Achillea

Named after the Greek hero, Achilles, who apparently discovered its healing properties but is better known as Yarrow or Milfoil. Other names include Nosebleed, Thousand leaf, Soldier's Woundwort, Devil's Nettle and Carpeter's Weed and is used to control bleeding/heamorrhaging.
We have two varieties, Achillea Millefolium 'Fire King' (red) and Achillea Millefollium (white). We got them because they attract all manner of insects, they remind me of the countryside and because they provide really good ground cover for our dry garden.
Family: Asteraceae/Compositae
Position: Sunny, well drained soil.
Flowers: Summer. And again in early autumn if the weather is mild. Ours has just produced a second if modest set of flowers following the rain.
Dimensions: 60cm high by 60cm wide.
Habit: Perennial herbs - full hardy.
Care: Leave it to it's own devices - comes up year after year.
Pruning: Not necessary but you can just pull it up in clumps if it spreads where you don't want it.
Propagation: By division in early spring or autumn or soft wood cuttings in late spring.
Origin/Distribution: Europe, Asia & North America, my father-in-law's lawn and almost every hedgerow or piece of scrub land I've ever come across!

Bold/italics = experts
Everything else = made up stuff so don't believe a word