Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Tulips, dead and alive

I didn't plant fresh tulips last winter, but a scattering of the previous years came through; the lily-flowered reds were smaller than in previous years, but still looked good. A few of Big Sunny came back. What an amazing tulip.

Tulip three in a row Tulip stripy tulip spiky
tulip frosted Big Sunny Tulip rosy
Tulips are over tulip iced Tulips are over

The dead tulips are weeks old now, from when I bought myself flowers. Orange tulips grown under Dutch glass, bought from the co-op on the corner for a few quid. It's a great compliment to say of a garden plant that it dies well, or dies tidily. Tulips do better than that. They die fabulously.

Tulips are over

Sunday, 13 May 2018

three things in april

The wheat in the wall

A feeder walks down Leopold Street. Just outside the nunnery, under the cherry trees, scoops of wheat litter the pavement. Some go to birds, some doubtless to rats; in this wet city they are never far away. The nunnery wall has a kind of concrete skirting, detached in places from the main body of the wall. In it the wheat is sprouting, sweet wheatgrass waiting for a grazer, where odd seeds have tumbled into damp, fertile spaces.

wheatgrass in a wall

A traditional green roof

On Donnington Bridge, this service building sits at one of the entrances to the residential moorings. A defiant slab of concrete and corrugate, it was built with no thought of aesthetic appeal. Still, the shallow pitch, the shadowing trees and the omnipresent moisture from the river and weir have brought it into the mossy wonderland aesthetic beloved of certain parts of the internet. This is green roofing traditional style; a look we would love to pursue... were it not for the constant water seepage issue.

green roof

The flower of patience

My cane orchid has finally reflowered, some years after it was carefully selected from a portable cut-price unit in Sainsburys prominently marked "Manager's Special" as having the Best Flower. That year, there were cane orchids about in large quantities for the the first time; presumably some wrinkle in their cultivation had just been ironed out. These were allsorts, probably bywaste from aiming for white or accepted varieties. I tried to ID it from a fancy cane orchid website, but I think it's just an endearing mutt. Manager's Special (I stuck with the name) has come to flower again; hooray for the bathroom orchids.

bathroom orchid 1


Wednesday, 9 May 2018

leaving behind the ivy traces

On my way to get a haircut I saw this on the side of the multi-storey car park:

car park ivy traces

A creeper (probably ivy) has been peeled off the cream-painted shuttered concrete wall, leaving behind its imprint in a tracery of paint damage. Here it looks a little drunken and random, but let me give it the mid-century modern treatment:

car park ivy traces car park ivy traces
car park ivy traces car park ivy traces

There's a pattern you could wear, on a smart Zara blouse, ideal for work to evening; or make into fancy wallpaper to dress up a shabby chic restaurant project in a dilapidated shop unit.

My assumption is that I caught the time-space between the gardeners pulling the weeds and the painters repairing the damage, although it's possible that this will be left; this modernist multi-storey is marked for destruction, to be replaced by high-density flats. Here's what they look like; a sort of 80s take on modernism, with bold stripes of red and blue on the rails.

car park ivy traces

The top two decks are permanently closed now, but before that happened I did go up there once to look at the view. It's spectacular; Oxford laid out like a fancy, shiny quilt with tiered red-brick skirts around a golden hub, glittering rivers pulling lines of green through the houses.

Part of the plans for the future include community garden space, so the multistorey ends up as flats with a garden well, quad style, with spectacular views and shared green space.


Monday, 7 May 2018

the bumblebee and strimmer

The allotment has bees. I didn't mention that, did I? At the far end, in a clearing in the middle of some brambles, are four beehives. The bees belong to the Treasurer. Today I met a few more people -- the Local Couple, who spotted me and came to check me out; the Romanian, whose plot is very developed (fruit trees, a grape vine, a spectacular tomato house) and of course the Keeper of the Power Tools, which gave me access to the strimmer.

I strimmed my paths and marked my borders. In the top corner, I kept getting warning buzzes. Sharp little hiss-like hums. I took my strimmer back a few steps and looked down into the heavy tussocks. There were runs down there; rat-runs, probably. And also a surpising number of bees. Solitary bees. And bumble bees.

As long as you don't hit the nest with the strimmer, a strimmer in your hand is probably the best way to discover a bumblebee nest. I gave the bee-busy area a broad berth and declared it fallow for the season. I'll need to give it a sign, probably, but I'd forgotten my writing tools. Rookie error.

Also my hat, but I was wearing UV sheild product on a bit of a bouff and my hair kept the sun off nicely.  

The strimmer's string ran out just as I was running out of steam. I killed the engine and checked it back into the shed, apologising aloud to anyone's afternoon I had been annoyingly buzzing at. The bees, certainly. Overhead a Red Kite craned down, checking me out. A crow flew by and dipped a piece of bread in one of the plumbed-in troughs, like a fable.

I lifted the weed supressor and shifted it to the next space. There was still a bit of couch grass under and I yanked out some. You never get it all. I found some chitting potatoes in the plant-pass-on zone and some beans in a dried pod on the weed suppressor. Some leftover broadbeans went in. I put down thick drills of parsnip, beetroot, radish, spinach. Easy peasy pop-up plants. Inbetween I put down wildflower, pot marigold, phacelia, drunken cottage style.

Lot of paving stones on the site. I shifted them uphill, laying them like Minecraft tiles over some more couch-grass. Ants mourned their losses. Carnivorous flies and little wasps hovered over the fresh-turned soil. A starling with a song like a car alarm sat on the fence, licking its chops. I found a fat, juicy leatherjacket, but nothing was sure enough of me yet to come down for it.

I'll bring them some treats next time. 


Wednesday, 2 May 2018

so yes, the allotment

It was a cold day. The allotment site is up the hill and catches the wind and under the grey sky it felt weirdly open. Compared to my little green box of a garden, this felt like an open plane, even though it's just a little space surrounded by houses in the estate.

Don't worry! Said the allotment treasurer, who'd been the one pushing the allotments on our network. There's allotments enough for everyone! Allotment 1, closest to the gate, wrapped around the communal shed (home of the strimmer and mower) and backed onto an ivy and douglas hedge. Allotments 2-3 backed onto the houses, surrounded by very tidy plots full of regimented onions and broad beans, looking a little weedy in this rather rough spring. Allotment 4 was a tangled mess of couch grass, paving stones and rubbish sweeping uphill to an unhedged backgarden bordered with brambles. Allotment 5, the furthest from the gate, was a mess of bleak, broken soil, slightly waterlogged, as if someone had put down some weed control so severe it had also taken out everything else. Except the Horse Tail, which was doing fine, sprouting everywhere. I pulled a stem and waved it at the treasurer. Is this a big problem on the allotments, I said? There's a bit of clump here, she said, and it's possible it will spread out and destroy the whole area. But for now, it's... mostly contained.

I was quite taken by the one by the gate -- it had that on point, riding shotgun sort of feel, and wasn't intimidatingly large. But one of the others leapt on that instantly, a weekend man seeking  more space. The East Oxford Cyclist went for one of the little plots in among the tidy spaces. She'd just lost another allotment to horsetail -- it's a major weed on the whole estate. That and sucker ash.

Do you mind if I go back and look at 4? I asked. You go ahead, she said. I've got the paperwork for when you're ready. I peeled back a bit of some of the rubbish on Plot 4. It was some sort of waxed tarp, the cover off a landrover maybe, something like that, laid down to supress weeds. I'd brought a small fork with me, and broke the soil, and rubbed it between my hands.


The couch grass is fierce here, but there's no Horse Tail. Yet! We'll see if it comes in once I start clearing beds. There's a lot of rubbish - paving slabs, bricks. There's a sort of compost thing, full of crap, dry compost, mostly couch grass with a few dessicated pumpkins. Plenty of things are growing in there already, among the grass and weeds. The poly-tunnel is the neighbour on one side, the heap visible on the right is the neighbour in the other direction. The camera has flattened the slope a bit, but it's gentle, and warm. A sun-catcher.

At the Co-op on the corner I sketched a plan, while some local characters wrangled blattedly behind me, a cheery memorial of the pub it had been before. Doubtless that'll change, as time goes by.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

defining a border

Today I was helping glamorous friend define her border. Grass at the moment is drifting into beds. The lawn is without border.  The mower can drift into the fruit trees, and nobody wants that.

You can do an edge cut, of course. But what a faff. She had something much better.

Flexi-border Eco-Friendly Garden Edging in Green.

Fortunately the recent wet weather meant we had moist, soft soil - perfect for working. I sunk it into a shallow trench cut by - ta-da! an edge cutter, while the keeper of the lawn pounded pegs and locked together segments. We were able to create an elegant curve around her freaktastic Redlove Apple, this year in rampant ecstatic blossom, with surprising ease. Corners were a touch harder, but all fell to order in the end.

Grass on the bed side was duly pulled and turned over, woodchips covering the worst of the weeds. The fruit trees now stood happily in smart little beds. The lawn, already beginning to ease over the base plate, it would cover over it soon. The recycled material looked pretty smart, too.

The keeper of the lawn wasn't going to mow it today - too damp, too tired. But when he did, oh the joy of knowing when and where to mow up to.

In the usual way, the daffodils naturalised into the lawn now looked a little bit out of place. A job for another day; clear them into the wildish bank at the back of the garden, along with the three-corner leeks.

For today: no further jobs please!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

an allotment is calling

It took me three goes after the message appeared on my place of work's yammer to persuade the person who knew about a place where there were allotments going to tell me where they were. By that time, of course, I was already emotionally invested.

She knew what she was doing, my allotment pusher. The question is, do I? or is this madness?

Everywhere green is expanding, unfurling, exploding, like mad new plans. It would give me somewhere to put that greengage I want so badly, a proper retreat, somewhere I could dig with reckless disregard of my soil structure, put down cardboard, recycle old junk into semi-usefulness.

Only a germ at the moment. I might see it and hate it. But just maybe...