Gardening 4

I wish she could live in a smaller, brighter and warmer house with about an eighth of the hedge and half of the lawns to look after – or a team of large schoolboys ready to be hired next door.

I went for a pleasant though chilly walk along the beach with the dog, amid clouds of swirling sand, as the wind was strong. There are some nice houses along the stretch there, which one doesn’t see from the road, and some of them have attempts at gardening right down to the sand, with succulents and so on. But the actual bottom of their gardens is hardly fairy-like; they are obviously bothered with erosion and each frontage has its own endeavour to counter it – here a concrete wall, then posts and planks, then old stakes with old motor tyres thrown on them, and so on.

Bugs in the garden are being a real worry this year, and I have had to root up a very promising row of broad beans as something ate all the centre of the main shoot out! I was so proud of them too but hadn’t bothered to examine them closely. Pigeons attack from above, slugs from below and the weather from all round, so it is parlous hard – but good exercise and profitable if anything does come up!

Parlous hard!

Pause to go and drive two cats off my vegetable patch where they were indulging in preliminary love-play all over my small cauliflower plants. Not nice at 9.40 a.m., and definitely counter-productive of caulis at any rate.

The house has a well-planned and flat veg garden, a fig tree and lemon, peaches plus plus plus, but as it’s only 6 years old they are only about 6-9 foot tall, but things grow almost as you watch them there, and they said they had put down 100 lbs of runner beans last year.

I noticed the lawn was getting terribly mossy, so got some iron sulphate and scattered it about – not very evenly, I fear, for the next morning it has turned black in patches! The agent who came the other day and seemed knowledgeable said the real trouble was some worser-than-grass-grub animal, called something like piranha (though I thought that was a fish) – it lives 18 inches down but comes up to feed on the grass roots.

Gardening – 3

We found the only way to cope with weeds on the gravel was with spray however much I hate it, I imagine every symptom for weeks after using it, especially after our Bishop was whisked off to hospital after spraying his roses!

the bishop is poisoned

I’ve had a fantastic ‘go’ in the garden – and for the first time ever I don’t mind if people look out the windows – I’ve even cleaned those so they can!

I’ve had all my dahlia bulbs out this year and have far too many to cope with – but have put hem all over the place and this morning I found I was digging them up to plant another – so feel it’s time to stop.

We’ve taken out a tree which was past it’s prime like me.

A friend of ours had a horrid accident with one of those dangerous fly-mowers; he’s removed his big toe on one foot and damaged the other foot. I met him at the clinic yesterday, just managing on crutches. I think they ought to be banned, there are so many accidents like this.

Our camellias are super and responding to lots of acid++ and the magnolia has just started to come out. I had 2 daffodils just inside the gate and some so and so took them.

Did I tell you I got myself a petrol chainsaw after all, as well as my electric one. Much more noisy of course – but I couldn’t resist it, to tackle the great pile of logs and bits pushed together by the logging men’s bulldozers. I’ve had two or three days out there (it’s rather a more-ish job – one never arrives at a point when there isn’t an obvious place to pull out a few more bits for the bonfire, cut one more big log, or clear another square yard or two of field!) The veg garden has been too wet to work in – tho’ I did get a row of potatoes in a couple of weeks back. The grass is growing a little, though not much – enough for a rush job to be done on the lawn when we asked a couple to tea at short notice last weekend!

Seems like spring could be here. My tulip, daffodil and iris bulbs are showing, and I’m in the middle of being dazed by glorious seed catalogues, trying to decide what to plant in the garden. The circle really has come full swing quickly.

Nuisances of life 2

A woman had run her car into the side of X’s the day before and had really upset him – especially as it was just after he’d left Y sitting down while he collected the car from parking place – and not only lost her but the car too! and they finished up being driven round in a police car.

The owners will spend only the barest minimum in upkeep. We’re still waiting to have a leaky loo and roof fixed, to say nothing of the bathroom and kitchen redecorating. There isn’t one window ledge that hasn’t got paint flaking off – two grow moss! and the wallpaper is about 12 years old – and looks it. The carpet is worn down to the felt in a number of places and the previous tenants not only smoked very heavily, but apparently kept various animals locked inside all day while they worked…

[Re irritating habits of the public touching display of painted silk goods] I forgot to tell you about a card with a piece of similar weaving with ‘Feeling swatch’ written on it! Would this keep your customers’ grimy hands off?!

At least I managed to find a couple of books and a pleasant card for X’s birthday – though at the moment most of our ferries are carrying the same cargo backwards and forwards several times across Cook Strait because the shunters at Picton are not working overtime in protest at a new roster, and the Union refuse to fill the place of any man who is absent for any reason, and then the whole gang say they can’t safely unload any wagons! Anyway the card went by air.

My new pullets were no sooner given the freedom of the field than they wormed their way through the hedge in order to grub about under the blackberry and other scrub on my neighbour’s side. What’s more, though five of them returned for the night, the sixth insisted on roosting in an inaccessible bush – so that if it started laying I certainly wasn’t going to get the eggs.

Making a run for it

I don’t know why, but all my greens have come to nothing, and though we got beans they never really recovered from the sheep’s attack. There are lots of tomatoes, but I doubt whether most of them will ripen now and quite a number are infested with caterpillars that make large holes in them – though whether to go in or to come out I haven’t discovered and it is a matter of some importance!

Nuisances of life 3

I think I told you about the huge rat that walked across our skylight when I had an elevenses party. Well, we didn’t catch that but a while ago I saw another smaller one and managed to get X to see it before it scurried off. We set a trap in the skylight and caught two the same size but now they seem to have taken the hint.

exploring rat

The second week of the holiday was somewhat marred by having a wisdom tooth out. It wasn’t too bad but my face swelled more than expected so I looked like an advanced stage of mumps on one side for a while. It’s almost down again now – I can still feel where he pulled my jaw about though.

Whilst I remember, did you ever – Maddening – I can’t remember – something caught my attention and can’t finish that fascinating question!!!

Only four lambs – 50% lambing rate is most shaming! Next year if I still have them I’ll have to find another ram I think. [But later] We now have adorable twin black lambs from a ewe we didn’t think was going to lamb, plus a white one, and one twin that survived, and another is imminent. They make their bed in the oddest way by pawing the ground and when nice and muddy or clear of grass sit in it.

I found my dahlias were at last showing few shoots, so spent a whole afternoon sorting them out into 3 boxes, one that looked too shrivelled to come to life again, another that might, given time, and the third that all had shoots and were ready to plant. I’d promised X some of them and intended sharing the third box, but left the job in the middle and didn’t come back to it for 2 days when I was taking the typewriter to her as she had asked to borrow it, so picked up the box outside the back door and went – yes, you’ve guessed, it was the one with all the good ones in it. I was ridiculously miserable for two days – I’ve enjoyed them so much the last two seasons, I hope she does this season!

I fear I haven’t done very much of the jigsaw, there seem so many things mounting up in the garden and bridge and just living takes a long time!

I’ve been feeling very sorry for myself as the 2nd double tooth broke in half last week, the first one was on the bottom jaw so didn’t show but this one was on the top beside a previous gap. The dentist was away but saw me promptly the day he came back, and said he couldn’t do anything about it as it was too soft, so I’d have to have it out soon. I asked, ‘Like now?’ and he said if he gave me a local whilst he saw the next person just slowly coming up the drive, he’d do it when she left.

My bank statement came and I took ages trying to balance it – finished $100 up on the bank – must be wrong! I think it was last time X did them for me and after 2 days still couldn’t balance it that he said he thought I should die before him. I said I didn’t want to be hurried up I had lots of things I wanted to do!

Outings

X and I had a lovely visit to a woodland garden near here yesterday as there was a sale of plants there. X very knowledgeably discussed the merits of something she fancied with an old gent selling it, and we came home with two of them! She is very good at reeling out names of things, whereas I refer to everything as ‘that blue thing’, which is very lazy on my part. Also I find my eyes don’t really encourage me to try to read the labels as I have to get down to it a bit too much and get in everybody else’s way by sticking my bottom out and my head down. But it was a lovely morning and the garden itself was in gorgeous autumn colour, despite very wet grass under foot, so we thoroughly enjoyed our little excursion.

X brought Y over for afternoon tea the other day. She’s amazing for 86 – I gather they were worn out by the time she left!

I’m going to some good lectures – given by an art historian – Renaissance & Impressionists – very yummy and I so enjoy them as they are nothing to do with anything – if you know what I mean! [Er – not really!]

We had lunch and a walk-game. We went for a walk and left a trail of arrows to say which way we’d gone, and they tried to follow. I say tried, because they missed the first arrow and ended up miles away!

not THAT arrow!

I can’t remember if we had been to X on a shopping spree when I last wrote. I bought a cardigan in a revolting khaki which did nothing for my complexion, and a skirt that makes me look like the back side of a bus – otherwise we had a very good day. After agonising over my purchases for days I told Y about them and she said to send them back, it was my money! So I did, and felt much better.

We feel much the same about meals out – they flow off the plate. X is wonderful: if I settle for a ‘do it ourselves’ he buys all the most extravagant things plus wines etc. and there’s no comparison which we enjoy most – and there’s usually exotic things over for days – all at the price of going out.

X is up to her eyes in lists and writing to people to see if they can go and see them – wish I didn’t feel so sure it won’t come off – she’ll be so disappointed. I keep reminding her that from experience, when you’ve worked out costs, double them.

Hope you like the photo of your godson! He and his girlfriend (she’s Greek believe it or not) went to a ‘P’ party – he was a peasant and she a panther. No, it isn’t his own hair, it’s a wig from kindy.

They were here for dinner the other day and X said, ‘We’re driving to Y on Friday if anyone wants to come’ – so I’m going! It’s for their daughter’s 21st. I gather you got an invite! I think everyone except me did – so I’m gatecrashing it! Should be neat fun.

You commented on me tolerating X going to McDonald’s. He hardly ever goes normally so there’s not much point in getting my knickers in a knot over a few holiday visits! What’s the bad press? We haven’t heard it here.

That night it started pouring with rain and still was when we left at 7 a.m. for our pre-booked trip out to the reef. We went in a yacht with 13 passengers and 5 crew. It would have been a lot more lovely in fine weather, but as it was we had to go under motor (nasty diesel smell) and the wind was squalling up to 40 knots, so I fear I was dreadfully seasick for most of the way out and felt ghastly for at least an hour after getting there. Still, eventually I felt well enough to have a go at snorkelling and the crew were really kind and helpful and someone came with me and brought up interesting creatures from below like sea cucumbers and a creature that spits out its intestines like spaghetti to shock intruders! The coral was lovely and the fish amazing, so I’m pleased we went despite the weather.

Gardening

I have decided on Going Native, and all of the native garden plant books use only botanical names. Common names exist as an appendix at the back. Some of the common names are quite fascinating. Who wouldn’t want a Running Postman (do these occur in Europe?), or a Wonga Vine or a Twiggy Wili-Wili, or a Geebung? … I have discovered that, really, the list for small to tall shrubs of slender habit which will grow in heavy clay, in a Mediterranean climate, in either full or part hot shade, with flowers of either red or white, and are not rampant growers, or drain cloggers, or branch droppers, is quite small. Makes things so much simpler.

Did I tell you the sheep got into my vegs and scoffed the lot – the day we went into X for the wedding. Now a fortnight later things are not so bad – carrots etc. have grown new tops – but the runner beans seem unlikely to come to anything.

I was amazed at the variety I got from the garden. Picked forget-me-nots, yellow freesias, forsythia, winter jasmine, whitebells (no blue ones out yet) and grape hyacinths and one pale pink winter rose. My lily of the valley is about to come out and has really established itself in the rose bed. The widened path looks far less mean – I told the second brickie that I didn’t like having to walk in single file and he promptly put his arm round my shoulders and said, ‘You like to be nice and friendly?’ Last year’s anemones have come out at last too which add a good splash of colour. I’ve just put in my second lot of sweet peas – v. late. Did I tell you I fell for a rhododendron too – pale yellow, and a daphne – but have been careful to leave gaps for some dahlias next month. I’ve dug up the acanthus and put it in a vast and expensive pot at the end of our paving and will move the hibiscus to a bed so X won’t have to mow round it. Our puriri tree is out and we’ve got two visiting bush pigeons.

I put far too many noisy cinerarias in the rose bed and had to move them to a bare place instead, beautiful colours but very strong.

noisy cinerarias

 

Hellybellys coming up in a nasty bit of ground, which is clever of them and I hope I can encourage them to grow on and survive. Sorry I can’t think of their official name at the moment but you gave me the seeds and they do begin ‘hel’ something or other.

The various bushes look wonderful – especially the one outside the bathroom window and the little one near the gate! Very shape-full and pleasing to the eye. I still haven’t done the last bit of sickling to remove the rest of the long grass patches but there are fewer weeds than there were and the strawberries have been re-organised and set out ready for next year.

I’m growing my own wheat – guess what! More in my next.

I have a fantastic pumpkin plant which sowed itself in a strip allocated to cauliflowers and has now spread in a sort of L-shape about fifteen feet in each direction, threatening to engulf altogether most of my parsnips, carrots and sweet corn, as well as the poor cauliflowers (which weren’t coming to much anyway – they are the most difficult things to grow satisfactorily). The celery has rust, but we can eat bits of it… and my beefsteak tomatoes have blight – but there again, parts of them are excellent as the curate’s egg. The apples are far more afflicted with codling moth than last year… The strawberries are over, the sweet corn looks splendid, and the leeks have done better than usual for me. My main onion crop consists of only about two dozen, but some of them are four inches across… The grapes look good too… I planted three zucchini-type marrows but we didn’t get many zucchinis off them – they grew so fast! Eventually I carted four of them up to fourteen inches long off to church to go in the charity box, and dug up the plants which were covered in a revolting grey mildew by then.

 

We all keep on gardening

My B&B business is still thriving, nearly all the proceeds of which go into the upkeep of the garden. However hard I try to be abstemious, I always end up spending a fortune on seeds and plants each year, and then wondering why I have to spend so much time watering when the weather is hot and dry! … some things did extremely well, such as roses, peas, garlic, onions and autumn raspberries, while others failed quite spectacularly, in particular, summer raspberries, most tree fruit and broad beans. All my tomatoes and peppers were very late producing anything edible, due to the lack of sun in early summer, but there wasn’t a sign of the usual infestation of whitefly. There’s no pleasing gardeners, is there!

I had a lad who helped with the mowing for most of the summer. Very useful but he did it so badly that it nearly drove me to drink!

The ground is squelchy with wet after last night’s downpour and there won’t be very much more I can usefully do in the garden until it dries up a bit! The poor little seedlings do look bedraggled after it and I might earth them up a bit I suppose, but it seems rather fiddly and pointless to mess with them. Actually the slugs will finish them off in one more night if I leave them I expect – they have devoured a line of carrots, the first line of kale and sprouts and all the dwarf beans to date so there isn’t much hope I feel!

There is quite a large backyard which has an orange tree and some vegetables which I planted. However it mainly looks very run down as nothing has been done to it for years. I expect I will have to battle for several more years to rid it of noxious grasses which just take over if not kept constantly in check. Come autumn I will have planned it (I hope) and can plant some shrubs and ground cover which should improve it greatly. I have things in the front garden now – some cooking herbs, a climbing rose (to hide the iron fence), a white and ordinary coloured lavender, a rosemary bush, and two daisies both of which have a fungus and will have to be destroyed.

…if you’re against strong poisons on weeds and have only a small area, a drop of petrol will go down to the roots in no time, useful for between paving.

water creature

 

For my birthday in July everyone generously gave me money so I could put a water feature in the garden or, as X calls it, my water creature.

 

The garden has been lovely, always something new… I got quite a lot of strawberries last year, made lots of my strawberry syrup and bottled it. We shall use most of our homemade jams in the tearoom, muffins & jam etc. I may do marmalade and lemon curd for sale as one can make them any time. We have a good fig tree too, some citrus and mulberries besides plenty of pawpaws. We may do things like homemade bread & pate for lunches, and fruit salad. Youngberries and blackberries are growing well. Hazel nut trees have taken and one sweet chestnut tree, one blackcurrant (one small shoot survived the new gardener!) [Green with envy re this list!]

The weather here in Sydney is gradually getting warmer as spring turns into summer. The trees and shrubs are all in bloom so the City looks great. The Jacaranda trees have been stunning. I went on a garden excursion recently – to see some private gardens in the Blue Mountains. Unfortunately it rained all day and it really rains hard here. Anyway we had to spend a lot more time on refreshments than viewing.

The varieties of potatoes have me intrigued. One of the ‘house’ type magazines I bought had a feature on potatoes: it was really quite an education. One rather intriguing one is Purple Congo which is quite small and dark purple. I t mashes quite well apparently, to a beautiful lavender shade reminiscent of a colour some elderly ladies used to like their blouses. A bit off-putting, so I haven’t tried it, even though the writer of the article did promise it was very tasty. I am not going to have any vegetables other than a few herbs in pots. I cannot get enough sun at the right time for them to grow properly. I don’t want to put them in the front, although many home gardeners of Mediterranean origin do. You see these beautifully staked beans and tomatoes in beds next to the roses, which may have garlic or onions growing under them. … I sort of run out of steam when planting the front, as I came to the foundations of the original house in just that strip where I could plant. So it was digging and prising small stones from between very much larger and heavier ones, and chipping off the sopping old mortar. I couldn’t get out the largest: they were just too heavy, apart from being at a depth of from just above my knees down. I would see people drive and walk slowly past me trying to peer inconspicuously to see what I was doing, knee-deep in my own front garden.

After death

I pulled up my socks and set off on a day trip last week to rescue some possessions that X had ‘wished’ to us. .. After a drink my distaste for the whole day had melted a bit, but I still felt it was wrong to be peering at her possessions. However the others had done far more of it, and had much more to do so I swallowed my dislike and ended up with a bag full of china, an anorak and a skirt. … sent me home with a determination to throw out more junk (not yet quite fulfilled, but I have started several times!)

I feel none of us paid enough attention to X but that is absurd as she was wrapped up in her friends there and all their doings! She was so very good to us all and did so much for all her friends – we have heard so many examples of the kindnesses she did to all sorts of unexpected people.

the round bed

I had a lovely time during the week when I was rather specially remembering X as I was alone in her beloved garden and could feel very close to her. I even braved the little round bed that contains the ashes and gave it a good dig and some peat to help drown the ashes, which don’t seem to have mingled quite as expected!

As you say, it is amazing how things pile up. X’s neighbour of 90 died recently after having lived alone in the same house for over 40 years. It took a woman who was I think designated as Executor of her Will over four months of daily grind to get it all cleared out and the house sold… She used to tell me that she was going right home to clear out her own house before it was too late! But one never does of course, and the moment you do throw something out you find that you need it!

Just a note with some sad news I’m afraid. Mum died quite suddenly a few days ago… She died at home in her own comfy bed, which is what we all hoped would be the case, as she hated hospitals… After attending the Catholic church for many years, she decided to make it “official” and was baptised a Catholic three days before she died… So it is to be a Catholic funeral which really seems not much different in any case.

We plough the fields and scatter

“My vegetables are OK but the rest of the garden is a disaster. It’s a sort of vicious circle – I don’t put enough effort into it to make it look nice, so it’s unsatisfying, so I don’t put enough effort in! My latest effort is a rain forest crèche on the dining room window sill. I’ve potted up vast numbers of ‘Greenpeace’ native seeds I was given last Christmas. I have put them in a very expensive potting mix and watered them daily for weeks. They’ve not so much as stirred – ungrateful things!”

“Spring has arrived early and it is a delight to admire the pink flowers of the camellia tree and the yellow ones of the mimosa in the back garden.”

“I fear my first beans will fail despite covers as I had to put them out as the roots were too huge for their starting pots. Dear X upset a box of very expensive Alpine Strawberry seeds, but fortunately they have started to come up in parts, so I am still hopeful. Parsley in the airing cupboard – the first lot caught me out and shot up unexpectedly but I am on the watch for this. Far easier to buy but not so much fun.”

“…the spray for the various beetles didn’t quite do the trick so the result is some rather mucky looking raspberries but they puree all right with a little hard work removing bad bits and the ‘livestock’! They take a long time to pick but as there are so few nice ones the problem of going round giving them away does not arise so much.”

“Other things have come on too, so I have been able with great delight to pull up the last of the over-winter carrots and throw them away. It was getting quite a struggle to separate the eatable outside bit from their vast central rock-hard stem.”

coarse carrots

“I have planted some broad beans which the pigeons are rapidly demolishing I think, and some potatoes got thrown in very casually one day. It is all rather half-hearted and vague but I enjoy trying to keep it comparatively tidy to the last. I shall have two tubs and a grow-bag on a patio I hope!! Alternatively of course it might be a bit of flannel and a packet of cress on the windowsill.”

A garden is a lovesome thing (or not)

Letters from gardeners in three countries (aged from 40 to 80!) Strange that we all go on gardening when it seems to have many inbuilt problems! The triumph of hope etc.

” …my garden is starting to look just marginally more respectable in that some perennial plants have honoured me by actually growing. Most of them are still quite small yet, but I feel that when there is growth there is hope that something bigger will eventuate. I still have to arrange a path to my orange tree and compost bin – at present it is what one could politely describe as ‘beaten earth’.”

a vegetable garden which is described as far from thriving
A lovesome thing

“The garden has dried up and we have been trying to fit in some of the winter tidy. I’ve managed to prune my trees (though piles of branches still lie about) and dug a big enough patch to put my seed potatoes in, though I don’t think there is any point until it gets a trifle warmer; and have weeded my leeks – which are about the only thing I’ve got growing apart from half a dozen Brussels sprouts which are too small and weedy to pick. I made a couple more kilos of pumpkin soup last week and managed to use up an enormous carrot which was the sole remnant of my so-called crop and which partner was refusing to cook as being too coarse. It tasted well enough as carrot soup with curry powder and the rest in it. I have artichokes too waiting to be dug up and converted in the same way, but they are rather a bore doing, and nobody really likes the result very much – and I have not discovered a way of disguising them. I wonder whether they would just add some body if I mixed them with oxtail, of which we have the remains of a catering-size tin which must be getting pretty stale by now. I have replaced all my strawberries with new ones, but fear with cold weather delaying them, we shall get very little fruit, very late, this year…”

 “I got bored stiff with the rain. Days and days of meaning to get on with jobs and only getting short spells at sweeping or digging or something – still bits got done and that is about all I can manage in one session. I had a lovely afternoon today as I lit a bonfire and burnt about 6 barrow-loads of acorns and oak leaves – very, very naughty as I ought to compost the lot, but there are so many and I am not sure about the acorns and whether they turn into leaf mould! There are still plenty left to add to the heap on another day when they are wet and clingy – today they were bouncing everywhere in the wind.”