Sunday, 3 December 2017

ten minutes before dusk

It was a warm day today, for December. In my garden (I got out for ten minutes before dusk, Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service playing on the radio and a yellowish smear of light in the western sky) there were tender Fuchsias still flowering; the Confetti Bush, stalwart of the Southern Hemisphere, had a spatter of pink, honey-scented flowers; Marguerites, my unkillable invaders, were in cheerful flower; and there were flowers on the geraniums both inside and outside the greenhouse. So I went in search of Broad Bean seeds because a warm day in winter is the perfect moment to get stuff down.

I didn't have any broad beans. There weren't any bulbs waiting to be sown. It's been a disorganised autumn. So I rearranged my pots, pulling them into more sheltered spaces, filing a few in the greenhouse. I found one last chilli on a frost-browned bush.

The patio was thick with willow leaves. The sky was dark. The temperature was falling.

Time to go inside and dress a Christmas tree.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

The imagined gardens of Wollaton Hall

We went up to Wollaton Hall in Notts for the Dinosaurs of China Exhibition in half term week, and so much of interest in the garden area happened there that I've been saving it up for when I have time to post. (The Dinosaurs are back in China now, but there's a 3D tour of the exhibition here and I know I shouldn't spoil but... Microrapter Gui holotype!  Fossil eyes! An entirely new way of flying!)

Wollaton Hall is one of those huge old seats of the wealthy now turned over to public enjoyment, with huge grounds (now containing an equally huge car-park) full of the usuals; lakes, grand landscaping, extremely chilled deer, orangeries in mild dis/pending repair:

the deer incident chimney fetishism
in the orangery garden warp 2

That dog had enough of a go at the deer that I stopped taking photographs in case I inadvertently photographed a beloved spaniel being gored; but from the reactions of the locals (tsks and disapproval rather than fear for the doggie) I expect this deer is a well-known photo oppportunity.

Orangeries are such joyful places in the UK; little flights from the grey and the damp. It's always wonderful to find one there and open for the public. This one had amazing ancient glass, thick and bubbled, which distorted the formal gardens beyond into wild psychedelic pulses and whorls.

stuffed bird collection Ravens
stuffed bird collection stuffed bird collection

Inside the house there is also a permanent collection, in cabinet of curiosities/treasurehouse style. Stuffed birds in diorama, glass jellyfish models, an archaeopteryx; but no furniture, no objets d'art. The effect is curiously serious, as if it had been assembled by an aristo with no time for anything pretty, unless it was also educational.

Blaschka's Jellyfish archaeopteryx
two roars sullen tragopan

The dinosaurs are peerlessly stunning. A combination of casts, 3-D printing, specimens of interest and holotypes. We find a palaeontologist vibrating with frustration at the ten centimetres of  space between the glass that must not be moved and the stone begging for microscopic analysis, and  spend a great ten minutes getting information about soft tissue discoveries, taxonomic arguments and the latest theories about what flew and how.

Garden dinosaurs are of course a thing,  my plant pots teem with Schleichs, and while many of them are either too luxe or too daft for my taste, I have an eye out for just the right beast.

Upstairs we've had the usual invasion of dinosaur art, imagining scenery and plumage and landscapes. I love these imaginary worlds, teeming with diagrammatic life. The palaeontologist is torn between his outright admiration for the gorgeous paintwork and desire to point out where the depictions diverge from the latest reconstructions.

Bizarre flyers Bizarre flyers
Dino murals Dino murals

Wild reconstructions of awesome animals stare down at us from all directions. Concrete, resin, feathers, fur and plastic. We get to touch a Mamenchisaurus. Selfies with a wire T-Rex; green tea with concrete worthies barely dressed in a coat of algae. Above the hysterical chimneyscape, crows play in the evening wind.

anxious statues exit via the gift shop
Tim with wire t-rex crows playing

I'm not sure our local County Houses have ever done anything as awesome as this.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

car-park moth

My car broke this week and I had to walk to the abandoned chemical works on the outskirts of town, just like I used to in the bad old days before unflappable Igors (gentlier with the clutch!) finally helped me through my vehicular aversion.

Things have changed since I last came this way; Cowley Centre has sprouted a new tiny parklet, like a promise of greener spaces to come (this is just a marker park!) and the Business Park 's wilderness area has shrunk again as another unit goes up. The pleached beeches outside the swanky call-centre are growing well, and the hedges are filling out nicely.

And in Tesco's car-park, I find this, basking in the mock-orange, warmed by exhaust fumes.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

grapes have done well


I'm picking my grapes late. I don't care for them enough. The bunches are overcrowded, and caramel rot, regular mould and all the other permutations are rife in the depths of the huge bunches. It's always a race; will they ripen, ere they rot? The weird, sickly, winey sweetness, the tough leathery skins, suggest that this year is not a good vintage; my concrete terroir has been a terror.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

all wrapped up for winter

The frosts are starting. My car is getting unwilling to start in the morning. Breath clouds the joggers as they scoot past me on the tow-path.

It's time to get my tenders indoors. Or, in the case of my magnificent tree fern, to get out the straw and the hessian, and a little plastic cap to make sure there's absolutely no way the growing bowl will fill with icy water.

As ever, I'm in two minds about the Abutilons, the stone fruits and the fuchsias. Either option takes a chance. Either they're under cover and at the mercy of my hapsidasical watering regimes, or they're exposed but at least getting light and moisture.

I feel a little bet hedging coming on.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

a growl from a twist of leaves


Clearing my flowerbed of overgrowth produced a slightly unexpected result when I found, tucked cosily under the bush clematis in the rain shadow of the back hedge, a pile of tidily pulled together leaves. One hedgehog consultation later I'd confirmed the presence of a hog, ordered a hog-home and "accidentally" bought a cat-food variety with hog appeal.

I've been careless and neglectful in the garden this year. I lost a clematis and an astilbe. The deep bed was a heck of a mess. But then there was this.

In the end, the catfood wasn't such a great idea. We're going again with mealworms as winter snacks instead. Hog needs a name if it's joining the garden (and the robin that floated down, too, attracted by my mulching). Maybe Hypergrowl and Savage Twitters? I got a fabulous growl when I checked in on my hog before popping the home on top.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

what's in my shed?

The shed is reaching crisis point. For some years now, our shed (a lean-to off the house side made of fence panels and roofed roughly with polycarbonate, which according to our survey "adds nothing to the value of the house and should be demolished") has been in the business of steady accumulation. Everything that has become too dusty, too faded or too icky, yet has retained its aura of specialness (its joy-spark, in the modern interiors vocabulary) has drifted out into this realm of mice and spiders.

what's in my shed 2017 in the shed

Hell-o Kitty there, the bobble-head photo frame, for example. For years she lived on my front windowsills as a protective spirit. The intention of the item is that you place a picture of your child into the frame, so it looks like she's wearing a Hello Kitty costume. Or alternatively like the child is trying to escape from Hello Kitty's jaws. In the absence of children I filled in a classic horror-mouth of fangs and slaver, now faded to a the uniform yellow of old copier paper. The pretty pottery tool-holder broken by our first set of cowboy builders. The Scare Owl, with genuine flapping wings, was given to me by my father when I was a teenager. It's intended to scare birds from your garden; you rig it up to flap periodically. Or not, if you like birds (which I do). I'm fond of it, but the texture renders it utterly undustable. Servelan was a gift from my older sister, a professional performer who is very fond of feathers and sequins. The feathers went to the dark side, but well. Supreeeeme commander.

in the shed in the shed

The piano telephone probably doesn't work. This is one of my partner's sparks, much loved, now retired. I like having a disconnected telephone around the place, for rehearsing and/or disposing of conversations that aren't really going to go anywhere. The putty commemorates an attempt to improve the windows in the verandah, which was partially successful. With the bulb glasses, I'm still puzzling about why I can't make them work. I remember growing lots of bulbs in bottles as a child. But as an adult, the knack seems absent, oddly.

in the shed in the shed

The door to the back garden has a cage door which can close over the shed door. The previous owner bred dogs, and presumably this was for puppy enclosement purposes. I've been known to use it to keep toddlers out of the shed, too, though nowadays the cage often has tender plants growing up it or hanging off it. Arnie was previously in the kitchen, but the kitchen is too clean for Arnie and his ilk now. The charms (and the horticultural fabric) dangle from an unused hanging basket I was trying to use to keep the cats off a catmint plant for long enough to establish. No use; my cats are fond enough of the nip to get through anything. Horticultural fabric is something I have a quantity of, but find a bit of a pain. Designed to slow down evaporation and reduce watering, you can line hanging baskets with it (where it will promptly wick out all the moisture and leave the basket bone dry), you can put it under seedling pots (where it will hold accessible water for the plants but also get welded to their roots as a result) or use it to hold water to increase humidity around cuttings or in greenhouses (and grow algae, and harbour slugs). I suspect it's one of those things that works best with a daily gardener maintaining moistness and checking for roots. Staff, then, ha ha.

overmatured planters overmatured planters

The shed is also something of a graveyard for discarded furniture; there's a coffee table out there, an old stool, the old TV bench, and our first drinks cabinet against the back wall (above). The glass shelves never really worked as a grow-house (the corner is too dark) but the planters on top have given pleasure over the years. The fancy Christmas orange box which was planted with houseleeks etc. has now matured to algal mush, however; and the two Halloween cauldrons previously used to intimidate trick-or-treaters (one contained tricks, the other treats, and all trick or treaters got one of each) but now growing bog plants, have matured through their glorious years of wasp-catching pitcher plants and squirming sundew, past the fancy bog plants in glorious flower, and are now growing (self seeded) that stubborn, shrubby little bog tree I see growing along the river and in the marshes all around here, which isn't any tree I recognise, and really won't fit in the container, and how on earth does it self seed when I've never seen the plant have a fruit or a flower?

This and other mysteries suggest we will have to tackle the shed. That's a good winter job, right?