It rained in torrents the last two days* and then today, when it was supposed to rain in more torrents, it cleared off and was gorgeous—and everything green** and rooty that had sucked up lake-sized draughts promptly shot up another couple of feet. Atlas mowed Third House’s lawn last Monday and I swear it’s chest-high again. But I really have to take some new photos because the ones from a fortnight ago that I still haven’t got round to posting are like last century. Meanwhile I seem to have got a little distracted by footnotes again.***
* * *
* . . . well I think it was approximately two days. Between being brain-destroyingly short of sleep and going to bed after dawn, the days kind of smush together.
** Not necessarily green green. If you’re a copper beech you’re deep maroon.^ If you’re a black-leaved dahlia you’re, um, black. Or anyway a very dark green.
^ Love copper beeches. LOVE.
The hellhounds had had a good hurtle around Mauncester Friday morning so I took the hellterror with me to Warm Upford in the afternoon to top up Wolfgang’s fuel tank since it’s a frelling Bank Holiday weekend frelling frelling again FRELLING NO VOICE LESSON TOMORROW FRELLING FRELLING FRELLING. About two miles beyond Warm Upford on the road to Prinkle-on-Weald there’s a huge old estate that’s been mostly turned into a conference centre or similar. They’ve left the landscape alone, bless them, and various outbuildings and the astonishing old stable block, which is a kind of miniature palace, are still there pursuing new careers. When we lived at Warm Upford we used to hurtle the previous generation out there pretty often, and back in my running days my two main loops—one five miles, one seven—began there. Before I lost my nerve and Darkness his temper about off lead dogs I used to take the hellhounds out there occasionally, but I can’t now remember the last time we hurtled there.
Part of the landscape that the conference centre has left alone is the old avenue to the Big House . . . lined with copper beeches. There are a lot of copper beeches around here, including the one that hangs over Third House’s garden from the churchyard+, but this is the only proper avenue of them that I can think of. It is dazzling in its splendour—especially this time of year and especially-especially in a good rain year because beeches are shallow rooted—at least it is if you are crazy about copper beeches. Friday I parked under the tree I used to park under to go running, about halfway down the avenue, and it was like MY OLD FRIENDS! HOW YA DOING??
Also, the hellterror was beside herself with delight. I swear there were about eight hellterrors, all of them HURTLING. Do all short dogs have pogo-stick legs? BOING. BOING. BOING. She met her first horse—up close, I mean, being ridden past, not at a distance in a field++. And she did not bark. I was very proud.+++
+ Mine mine MINE. Never mind where the roots are. MINE.
++ She also met her first horse crap. Horse crap = dog chocolate. Ewwww. Sigh.
+++ Today every nincompoop with a dog was out with it. Bank Holiday Sunday the end of May in glorious weather—hopeless. But us rain-or-shine regulars are grimly out there too. The hellterror and I were attempting to walk past a bench upon which were two women with dogs and one dog-free bloke. The dogs were large. The women were medium. The bloke was small. The dogs had that superior look that often goes with largeness, to which the hellterror took exception. Well I’m kind of with her there. Walking past quietly on a loose lead was out of the question, but we could at least walk past in a series of short controlled hops with a minimum of sotto voce comments about the heritage and personal habits of the unnecessarily large dogs. I was bent over with some fingers hooked through her harness the better to continue the conversation—she does listen, the little evil eye rolls back toward me with that but-they’re-LARGE-and-SMUG-you-can’t-expect-me-to-IGNORE-them look—but she has a somewhat non-existent attention span# so I have to keep reminding her that she did agree to be polite. And the bloke says, you training him?
In the first place HER HARNESS IS PINK. I’m aware of the cultural dorkiness that says that all dogs are he like all cats are she. And, okay, never mind the vagina and the prominent nipples. HER HARNESS IS PINK. In the second place WHAT DO YOU THINK, POTATO FACE? I usually walk all bent over with my hand hooked through my short-legged dog’s harness murmuring sweet nothings in her pointed ears for the entertainment of the teeming Bank Holiday hordes.
# I have to tell you again however our late-night training sessions are a hoot. There are now several things she does pretty well but our default is that she sits and gives me a paw. Whenever we start getting tangled up in some dumb thing I’ve failed to explain successfully in hellterror language, we revert to sitting and offering a paw. Because these sessions involve fooooood the lack of attention span disappears under an avalanche of greed, and she has a full-body offering of paw(s) I find hilarious. What I really want to video however are my attempts to teach her to roll over. She is, of course, a total ham—I think this is in the bullie gene map—and if I’m laughing, as far as she’s concerned, she’s doing it right. Especially if she gets chicken/cheese/apple for it. But I haven’t got enough hands to run a video camera too.~
~ Especially since I think I may have broken a finger. I can’t even remember what I was diving for, last night, in my clumsy, sleep-deprived state, but my hand slammed into a chair instead and there was this tiny nasty snapping noise. Oops. I took about half a bottle of arnica and I can still type—this is not coming to you via voice-recognition software, no—but the finger has turned kind of a funny colour= and it’s (yelp) rather sore and I don’t think I want to hold even a small video recording device in that hand. If it gets no worse I’ll just let it sort itself out but there may be a hiatus in bell ringing. How long does it take a small finger bone that is probably cracked, not broken, to heal?
= Rather copper beech coloured, in fact.
*** I keep telling you I need sleep. I. NEED. SLEEP. Sigh . . .
Poor Nadia emailed yesterday that she had tonsillitis**, so I phoned Atlas and asked him to bring his trailer today, Monday being his usual McKinley-Dickinson day, and I’m usually having a voice lesson.*** But now that I’m NOT letting Third House, the garden is again mine.# So I thought I might send some of the botanical overflow from the cottage to Third House, whose borders are nothing like full since the awful truth is that living in three houses is Not Really Practical. Ahem. At least not unless you have staff which is not one of the options here. And while Atlas to cut the grass is great## if you have a garden because you like gardening you don’t really want someone else doing all the fun stuff, which is basically everything but mowing lawns.###
Atlas, grinning hugely, said, So, Robin, what are you going to do with all the SPACE? –SPACE? WHAT SPACE? You can still only get out the kitchen door at the cottage carefully. You can barely tell anything’s changed. Especially after I spent the remainder of the afternoon at the cottage, potting up and potting on.~ Things race out so, this time of year, with summer icumen and all. I also found, not to say unearthed, a good Wolfgang’s boot-load of plants that should have gone up in the trailer. Except there wasn’t room. Tomorrow. I can take them up tomorrow ~~. Tomorrow I may teach Fiona the basics of gardening.~~~
* * *
* And I wish the cuckoo would sing, they’re getting rarer and rarer. When I moved over here twenty-odd years ago they were dead common. They’re now dead rare. I hope they don’t finish this progression to dead dead.
** It’ll be good when everyone’s immune system adjusts to kids-in-school germs. Stella still goes down with everything on offer and generously passes about half of it on to her mother. And there’s Renfrew to add to the germ-factory joy in a couple of years.
*** It is really very annoying that the world does not revolve around me, so I could schedule everything to suit my convenience.
# All right, I’m going to have to share it with Peter. Our garden. Not some random rent-paying stranger’s garden.
## I used to the mow the little lawns–ie with a hand mower, not some snarling sit-on behemoth–in the walled garden at the old house AND IT’S ABOUT THE MOST BORING THING EVER.
### Almost everything. Battling perennial weeds with roots to China is also a major ratbag since I won’t use chemical -icides.
~ I need more potting compost. Sigh.
~~ Okay, so I buy too many plants like I buy too much yarn and too many books and music and . . . but I have a serious dahlia problem this year. Which is that I think all of last year’s are still alive. And of course I ordered more, because attrition can be expected to run anywhere from about 60% to 100%. Little green dahlia leaves in one of last year’s pots are usually cause for excitement and celebration not a blank look of disbelief and a muttered, another one?
~~~ First you buy your Royal Horticultural Society/Victoria & Albert Museum kneeler, with the fabulous William Morris or Redoubte rose print, and then you need your pink gloves^. . . .
^ They’ve started making pink hand tools but so far the ones I’ve seen appear to be for people who don’t actually . . . plan to use them. Hmmph. Who wants tools that don’t do the job?? Decorative tools? Spare me. Although I’m just as happy not to spend top-end prices on another pair of secateurs. If Felco comes out with pink secateurs I’m in trouble.
I’ve been planting sweet peas and singing. My poor neighbours. Theodora is very usefully deaf* and Phineas seems to think I’m fun to watch and possibly even listen to.** I do keep it down a little when I’m out front; I don’t want the military chappie over the road to decide to test the army’s new long-range assault weapon at home.*** This is the time of year when my garden suddenly gets away from me. There’s usually a misleadingly serene several weeks in early-mid spring when I think I’m finally going to get it together this summer . . . and I have managed to keep throwing out the ever-better this-season’s plant sales BUY BUY BUY BARGAINS TOO GOOD TO MISS catalogues which is where I usually lose it drastically†, especially during those disorienting few weeks in spring when there are gaps where I can see actual bare dirt,†† and the careful, all-at-once-so-I-can-remember-what-I’m-doing orders of the previous winter have faded perilously in my memory. Despite this unnatural restraint I still seem to have an awful lot of thriving baby and adolescent plants out there.
So it’s been a beautiful day and there are all these trays of no-longer-so-little plants gasping to go into something a little more permanent. The sweet peas have indeed rioted on to a degree I wasn’t expecting and have all plunged through their crumbly pressed-paper plant-as-is pots and reached little white roots into the surrounding compost . . . oops. Sweet peas hate root disturbance and these will now sulk for weeks††† . . . and if any of them does send out a questing tendril, you can be sure it will snake along the ground and then twist up the wrong frelling thing. Bamboo stakes? Boring. Garden wire run through eye-bolts in the house wall? Vulgar. Iron railing uprights? Feh. Other plants? . . . Possibly. But only things like snapdragons and petunias, not sensible things like roses and my little corkscrew hazel.
Gardening. It’s still critters, just more green and less fur.
* * *
* Her daughter isn’t, but she gets home latish . . . although not late enough this time of year when the sunlight goes on and on and you can be in the garden till nine. I admit that by 8:30 if you’re not noticing it’s getting dark you’re really determined not to pay attention^, but this can be arranged.
^ You probably don’t want to be weeding at this stage: all little green things look alike in twilight. You can certainly be potting on however. Some day I will get electricity put into my greenhouse . . . and then I can stay out there all night.+
+ With the bug zapper on high. ZZZZZZZSST. #
# Why are bugs so STUPID? And this includes nice bugs~ like bees. I know that house flies exist to be annoying and mosquitoes are after you, but bees, say, they fly into your dark house and make a pass through your kitchen and rather than saying, oh, wow, bad choice, and turning around and flying back out through the door again, they fly straight past the open door, duck around the frame, and bash themselves against a window. I had one of those small-dog-sized bumblebees~~ fly into the cottage kitchen this afternoon and mosey around like a medium-sized zeppelin. And she would not leave. I finally put a glass over her and took her outdoors like a bouncer dealing with the last partygoers.~~~ From the names she called me through the glass she was not amused.
~ A generic term for chitinous critters. Because I say so.=
= Back, taxonomists! You’re not wanted! Back, back!
~~ Pav and I met the Yorkshire terrier lady this afternoon while we were out for some hurtling. I made the mistake of telling a friend a few days ago what a nice dog Pav has turned into and she’s been possessed by forty demons ever since. It was by email! It’s not like Pav heard me! The Yorkie lady is a big Pav fan although on days like today that takes some concentration. Anyway I swear my bumblebee was larger than either of the Yorkie lady’s little bundles of fluff.
~~~ I suppose I should make exceptions for bees that I find climbing into my indoor flowers. I wouldn’t have thought there was anything to have off your average windowsill geraniums, but I’ve seen bees trying. Also popular are cut garden flowers—as opposed to florists’ flowers—bees appear to believe that nectar and pollen go on being viable even in a vase.=
= These are deadheading accidents, you realise. CUT flowers for the house?? Cut them OFF THE PLANT? Are you KIDDING?
** Also I feed his cat for him—the orange ex-hellkitten^—when he’s away. He wants to stay on my good side.
^ He’s so little. He’s not huge even as ordinary domestic cats go—he’s probably the small side of average—but if you’re used to dogs, if you have dogs twining up your ankles most of your life+, cats are such delicate little things. I realise this is an illusion but in terms of sheer weight even Pav is about three cats’ worth.
+ Nat on the forum asked if the hellhounds are whippets. I thought this was in ‘about’# but apparently it isn’t. Surely I’ve told you that they’re seven-eighths whippet and one eighth deerhound##? Well, it ought to be in ‘about.’ Furthermore I’ve forgotten all about putting poor Pav in. Not to mention Christianity, Street Pastoring and the Samaritans—or even voice lessons. So one of these nights I’m not writing a blog post I’d better update ‘about’.
Oh, and hellhounds are also ‘entire’ as they call it over here—they still have their testicles—which entirety also makes them a little bigger and sturdier than most whippets. The whippets and whippety dogs that look like they’re made out of pipe cleaners were often neutered too young.
# Top bar of the opening page of the blog
## Sighthounds are notoriously bad eaters. Of sighthounds, deerhounds and Salukis are notoriously notoriously bad eaters. SID EATS. Wish fulfilment? Sure. That and cliff hangers are why I enjoy KES.
*** And the evil vargleglunger over the back wall, the one with the shed with the tarpaper^ roof that sticks up over the wall and ruins my view, I should spend more time on that back border and learn the Queen of the Night to accompany my efforts. Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen! Hört, Rachegötter!!
^ Well it looks like tarpaper, which is to say ugly
† Speaking of windowsill geraniums, I have spent YEARS telling myself I will get all the geraniums^ off the windowsills and outdoors^^ this summer to be pruned and repotted and given some real sunlight, which geraniums usually like, before that irritating fellow Winter shows up again and spoils it. THIS YEAR I’m going to get . . . at least some of them outdoors. I am.
^ And begonias, poinsettias, spiky cacti, and various random houseplants
^^ the Christmas cacti and the hibiscus can stay indoors since they’ll have palpitations if I try and persuade them that photosynthesis is good and the sun is their friend
†† Or in my garden, I-just-frelling-cleared-there weeds, self-propelling courtyard gravel, and glimpses of all the plumbing in Hampshire.^
^ But you know I could use a few more petunias. And maybe begonias. I seem to have underordered.+ And I need to get back to the garden centre, I’m still waiting for my snapdragons. Snapdragons are necessary.
††† IN MY DEFENSE I’ve gone on bringing them in at night off and on till this week, and I’m still bringing the basil^ and the recently-arrived chocolate cosmos indoors overnight.
^ Basil always says, England? England? Are you kidding me? You’re expecting me to burgeon and produce fragrant Mediterranean leaves here? YES. I DO. AND HERE’S A NICE HOT SUNNY KITCHEN WINDOW LEDGE. SHUT UP AND GROW.
You thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you? Anyone who lives in bluebell country, however, can tell you that it’s pretty difficult to miss bluebell season—if your bluebells are happy they spread enthusiastically. The wood I took most of this year’s photos in was drastically cleared out at one end some few years ago—they were dorking around with pylons and super-cables and things. The bluebells had only started colonising that area and that stopped them flat. But except for a narrow chop-through most of the trees were left standing and the bluebells regrouped and made another sortie . . . and they are now dazzlingly winning. That bluebell wood is a good, I don’t know, my sense of size is about as reliable as my sense of direction, sixty or eighty foot longer than it was twenty years ago.
I know bluebells are generally endangered or at least under pressure by deer, hikers, global warming and the Spanish invader, but as I’ve said before (at least once a year), not around here.* Around here they are ebullient and thriving—and may they remain that way—even if they are total thugs in your garden. One of my rose-beds at the old house was taken over by bluebells. It was a tending-to-be-dry border in strong sunlight, for pity’s sake, a few bluebells couldn’t possibly hurt, they’ll be too busy struggling to survive. You’ll be sorry, said Peter. He was right. I went through and dug out buckets of the wretches** one year and I had bluebells in that bed the next year anyway.
I have bluebells in my garden(s) now. But I guess I’d better be nice to them. Just in case.
* With the possible exception of the Spanish bluebell. But I’m not sure I can decisively tell the one from the other: proper English bluebells bow over farther and farther as their flowers open. A very rounded-over bluebell is definitively English, but a more sticky-up one may still be English if it’s early in its flowering. The Spanish bluebell photos I’ve seen look more like Scilla than like bluebells: proper bluebell flowers are graphically and unmistakably tubular.^ The bluebell woods around here are (a) fairly out in the sticks, to the extent that Hampshire is ever out in the sticks^^ and (b) old, so they have a good chance of being pure; also Spanish bluebells apparently don’t have much smell, and our bluebell woods are nearly eye-wateringly fragrant. Particularly strong this year too, I think, possibly because of all the winter rain.
^^ which to a Maine girl isn’t very
** I couldn’t face hauling the lot up to the ridge, but I couldn’t face putting them all on the compost heap^ or the bonfire either, so I took some away and threw them around in the wild where they had a chance to engulf more woodland. I’ve told you this story, haven’t I? This blog is too old. I’ve told most of my stories at least once.^^ Since it’s illegal to pick wildflowers or dig up bluebells bulbs I was terrified I’d be discovered and someone would leap to the wrong conclusion.
^ Yep. We had bluebells growing in the compost too.
^^ Except KES, of course.
We have roses. We’re not supposed to have roses—it’s only the end of frelling April—and we don’t have many, but we do have roses. And they’re not even the so-called species* roses which are often the early ones, but proper overbred garden roses. Peter’s is even an Austin for pity’s sake, although she is on the front wall of the mews, and that courtyard is a heat sink, but I’m used to Austins in Hampshire starting up in June. My two, Sophie’s Perpetual and my beloved Old Blush, AKA (among other things) Parson’s Monthly, are certainly human bred roses, but they are also known for starting early and going on and on.** But THIS early?*** Never mind . . . I’m not complaining.
* Botanical nomenclature makes me lose the will to live really fast. I acknowledge the need for precision, including that everyone talking about this plant rather than that plant can feel sure they’re all on the same page blah blah blah blah blah blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH but I don’t want to hear about it. I have one perfectly practical, working response to plants, in a catalogue, on a web site or at a nursery: (a) roses = want^; (b) shiny = want; (c) meh = don’t want. I don’t care what you call them^^. ‘Species’ roses, or ‘species’ most things that have a large cultivated-garden presence, are, for my money, and you purists out there look away now, the ones that haven’t been endlessly messed with by plant breeders and look more or less as they did when some stalwart explorer first found them growing out of a hillside or a cliff top or a river margin or the roof of the local priestess’ temple and brought them home in the hopes of material gain.
^ This being why I have to chain myself to Wolfgang’s steering wheel when we drive past the one semi-local rose nursery: when you have a small garden you can do a lot of damage in a rose nursery even if you only go there once a year.+
+ Penelope, Harriet and I are planning a field trip that will involve passing that nursery but Harriet is driving. This is ostensibly because Harriet of the three of us minds driving the least and she has a much nicer cleaner car than Wolfgang.# But I haven’t told them about the chaining myself to the steering wheel tactic or they might insist on my driving for the entertainment value.##
# People given the choice of firing squad or death by dog hair inhalation will probably choose the firing squad. Even if I remove the dog beds and sweep out the back seat it’s still a Guinness Book of World Records situation back there.
## Most of my friends have a strange sense of humour, yes. That’s why we get along, innit?
^^ Except insofar as it pertains to whether or not I can grow the sucker. If it’s going to get eight foot tall and is frost tender, no, I can’t.+
+ Which is why the one fabulously successful stephanotis floribunda# I once grew in my office at the old house and which was significantly bigger than I am when I had to move it into town, croaked the first winter. Both of us couldn’t fit in the cottage kitchen at the same time, and I didn’t get it indoors soon enough one night.##
# Botanical nomenclature AAAAAAAUGH. It’s a lot harder to avoid in England, however. You Americans can call it Madagascar jasmine, I think.
## I killed another little one this winter I have no idea why. It had been doing pretty well, I thought, on the kitchen windowsill, and then it suddenly said, bored now, and died. I’ll probably get another one. . . . ~
~ And I think I haven’t told you about the Hibiscus Forest. Peter had a very, very, very, very badly neglected hibiscus houseplant that I tried to kind of fatten up for the chop so I could get some cuttings off it before/when I pruned it because I suspected the pruning would kill it. It did. I had about eight viable cuttings which to my total astonishment struck= which I therefore had to pot on and figure out what to do with. First winter they all fit on the same windowsill, no problem. And then the gardening books always tell you to put your houseplants outdoors for the summer because all indoor plants are ipso facto dying== and this will make them happy and strong to survive another winter on your windowsill.
The hibiscus cuttings hated being outdoors. I kept trying to find the hibiscus sweet spot and they kept saying, no, this isn’t it, waaaaaaah, we want murky daylight through glass, we want house spiders and dust, we want dog hair. I lost three of them. I thought I was going to lose a fourth, but it was still semi-clinging to life by early last autumn when I gave up and brought them indoors long before frost would become an issue. All five of them have shot up and out over the winter and I’m going to have to pot them on and . . . you know, common-or-garden-variety hibiscus get kind of large.
= Ie grew roots and looked like living.
== Although if you want to get technical about it everything alive is dying.
** I’ve told you before that in a mild winter Old Blush will have a flower out for Christmas.^ I haven’t had Sophie in town long enough, and at the old house she was in a dumb place and shut down flowering with the majority.
^ Mythology states that Thomas Moore’s Last Rose of Summer was an Old Blush. Mind you, what exactly is going on in that poem is, perhaps fortunately, a trifle obscure. If he’s really tearing up a rose so it doesn’t have to be alooone, he’s a dipstick with a tendency to vandalism and it’s no wonder he doesn’t have any friends.
*** Apologies to the forum member whom I told quellingly she would not see roses when she was over here the end of April. I hope there are banks, walls and gazebos of blooming roses wherever you are.