Friday 23 December 2011

Who stole November?!

Now we all know that the Grinch stole Christmas, but I want to know who stole November? I had PLANS for November!
I was going to do posts on the reconvening of The Brown Earth Society, Autumnal vegetables, work in the garden, developments in the Japanese garden, the heron that nicked my fish, the renovations in the house and - most importantly, the completion of the Tea House at last. But then some heartless swine stole November when I wasn't looking and here we are at Christmas already and none of the above have got done!

So instead, all that remains is for me to wish each and every one of you a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

Thank you all for reading my posts, leaving comments, making me laugh and becoming my friends ..... I'll be back in 2012 (with an extra month in it when I've found the stray November) with the as yet unwritten posts - hopefully! :)

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Book Review - Sarah Raven's Wild Flowers

I recently recieved an email from a Senior Marketing Exec at Bloomsbury Books who had been rootling around on my blog (!) and "thought that you might want to hear about a book that we are publishing in October – Sarah Raven’s Wild Flowers." She also wondered if I'd be interested in "seeing a sample of the book, with a view to perhaps mentioning it on your blog, as a fresh angle for your readers? "

Well, not being one to miss out on doing something a bit different for you lot for a change (aren't I so good to you, eh?!), emails were swapped and it was agreed that I would review the book from the information on the sample providing that "I have the freedom to give a clear, open and totally honest review of the book as I see it?! ". So here it is.....

I duely awaited the arrival of said sample with excited anticipation whilst not being fully sure what a sample would consist of ..... would it be a whole chapter? just a few pages stapled together? a hefty wodge of the book perhaps?! I knew it wouldn't be the whole thing because: A) I was getting a sample! and: B) the book had been described to me as 'a whopper', but even so I have to confess that I was just a wee bit disappointed to recieve this:

An A2 sheet concertinaed down to A6 size.

When I opened it out there was a very pretty poster on the back, photographed by Jonathan Buckley - who took all the photos for the book. The 9 photos on the sampler are glorious and I have no reason to doubt that the others in the book will be equally as good. The photos are clear, sharply focused yet with wonderful slightly hazy backgrounds and depths of fields or, alternatively, the soft background greens of spring grass:

I had initially felt a bit let down by the size of the sampler, but I felt even more so when I looked at the information side of the sheet - as it only contained 4 examples of wild flowers and their descriptions....not much of a sample from a book of 500 wild flowers that is described as a 'lavish book' , 'a botanical marvel' and something that will be 'the most covetable flower book on the market'!!!

Anyway, once I'd got over being miffed at having to review the book from such a tiny sample (about 3 days later 'cos I can be a stroppy baggage at times!) and sat down to read it properly, I did quite enjoy what I read.

According to the (limited) information on the sampler, there are landscape photos throughout the book and a portrait of each plant to accompany each species description.

Two of the 4 extracts are shown below and you can click on them to enlarge them for reading:

I knew nothing about the Fly Orchid, except that I thought I vaguely recognised it from early summer walks out in Derbyshire, so this description of what it looks like and why, combined with where I might find it was useful and I felt I'd be far more able to spot Fly Orchids and to astound my companions with my depth of knowledge whilst on my wanderings in future!

I loved this photo but there was no description to go with it as the writing alongside the photo was too busy telling me what a perfect gift the book would make and how Sarah Raven has travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles to find these 500 "most breathtaking beautiful wild flowers".

Apparently she will be also presenting a 3-part BBC2 series about biodiversity and British wild flowers this Autumn - what a coincidence!

Mild sarcasm at marketing aside, the photos in the book are absolutely stunning, the species description write-ups are informative, clear and well laid out. Each one begins with a brief overview, then covers plant type, flowering period, height, description (very useful), companion species, distribution and habitat.

I did enjoy reading these 4 species descriptions as I only knew one of the four plants shown, although I didn't find them quite as captivating as the sampler blurb suggested I would, and I found the initial paragraph about the Wood Anemone a little bit twee as I don't go in for anthropomorphism in plants, but that's just me! I also found that as I didn't recognise the names of some of the companion species mentioned, I'd have to be flicking to and fro through the book to find the companions if I was using it in real life (as it were!)

But the book cover is pretty - even if it is somewhat predictably of bluebells:

....yet I was left feeling that as they had managed quite easily to get 2 photos and 2 species descriptions onto one A4 sized section of the sampler when the actual book itself is a nominal A4 size with a photo on one page and the species description on the facing page, then £50 for a large format hardbacked edition (yes...fifty quid!!!) and seventy five quid for a special slipcased edition was a hell of a lot to pay for some pretty pictures and a larger font that I could read without my glasses on!

I know it's meant to be a coffee table book and I know I adore wild flowers and would love to know more about them, but there is no way that I would cough up that amount of money for any book no matter how beautiful and informative it is! I didn't pay anywhere near that for my much loved and well used RHS 2 volume Garden Plant Encyclopaedia in a slipcase and that has vastly more than 500 plants in it!

Also Sarah's hefty tome is hardly a transportable little number, so you'd have to remember to either bring a bit of plant back with you (which I suspect is illegal for some plants anyway - not that I'd know without the book there though!) or to take your camera with you and then remember to take a photo of the plant and hope it came out clear and non-blurry enough to be able to identify the plant from...or is that just me and my photography skills?!

Having said all that though, if it ever comes out in a smaller, softbacked edition that would fit in the pocket of my rucksac so that I could have it to hand for when I spot the wild flowers when I'm out and about and, ideally, costs less than a tenner, then I'll be the first in the queue at WH Smiths but until then I'll just have to hope that our local library gets a couple of copies!!!

However, if money is burning a hole in your pocket or you've got some rich relative prepared to fork out the dosh for a cracking Christmas present that will indeed look very elegant on your coffee table (and may well have to stay there because it's too heavy to move), then this could be the book for you.

It was published on Monday, 17th October by Bloomsbury Books. The large format hardbacked edition is Wild Flowers, Sarah Raven

ISBN 978 1 4088 1394 2 480PP and is £50 ...or if you go onto Amazon it's down to £28.50 already..... looks like I'm not the only one that thinks it's too expensive then!

Thursday 13 October 2011

A quick Autumnal hotchpotch!

It's a jolly good job that I've got that 'Slow Blogger' label on my sidebar or I'd be chucked out of here for my lack of posts of late! Anyway, here's a quick roundup of what's going on in the garden at the moment......

Kale, spinach and rainbow chard are going at full pelt at the moment ...but the salad behind them has bolted somewhat!

No idea what sort of squashes these are as the foxes or badgers broke and nicked the labels when they ate the sweetcorn :(

Yesterday's pick of the crop - and, yes, we have still got a few Autumn raspberries left, but that's the last of the flagelot beans.

The sedum is lovely this year.

A closer look.

One of the Acers in the Japanese garden is begining to turn. It'll be a stunning deep red in about 2 more weeks.

No-one told my new water lily (Nymphaea 'Denver') that it shouldn't be flowering at this time of year. I guess the recent very warm weather confused it!

There are lots of berries everywhere this year - is this a harbinger of another hard winter?

The next post will be interesting - I hope! It's going to be a book review on a new wild flowers book that comes out next month......! :D

Wednesday 7 September 2011

That's Proper Foreign!

......was the phrase heard as we gazed down from the plane over the vast expanse of scrub desert that is Morrocco. For the past few years we have got cold and wet holidaying in England and France - and France doesn't really count as 'abroad' because we know the language, we know the culture, we know the way it all works and we know how cold the rain can be! So it was decided that to celebrate our Silver Wedding anniversary, we would have a family holiday somewhere different; hot, dry and 'proper foreign' for a change .... and Marrakech was certainly all those things!
So make yourself a cup of mint tea (or 'Morroccan Whisky' as the locals call it!), sit yourself down and join me in a whirlwind tour of Marrakech.

The hot dry air that slapped us in our faces as we left the plane at 7 o'clock at night was just the first of many suprises:
The traffic wasn't heavy, but it was interesting in its make up.....

Cars can't get down the narrow streets and alleyways of the Medina - the old town within the walls, so a man with a handcart trundled our bags to our guest house.

Some of the children that we talked with every day on our way in and out from our riad

We stayed in the wonderful Riad HadikaMaria, an 8 roomed guest house 10 minutes walk from the main Jemma El Fna square (or 3 hours and, eventually, the hire of one small boy as a guide to get you back on your first day!)

The courtyard gardens were beautiful.

The plunge pool was a joy when the temperature topped 40 degrees!

Our room...but, sadly, I never got serenaded by anyone under my balcony!

The rooftop terrace - the view was prettier at night as you couldn't see all the breezeblocks and satellite dishes!

The souk.

A tangle of narrow alleyways where you can buy anything and everything - for a price!

It's easy to get to get lost at first, but it's also easy to get the hang of the layout of the alleys once you dive in and get on with it. As most people are a bit wussy and tend to lurk round the main street, the further in you go, the quieter it gets and the chances of haggling down to a cheaper price are greater. A wonderful place!

We found possibly the world's largest padlock

Tassles - they just love tassles!I've never seen so many tassles, they were everywhere!

"Looking is free today!"

The best compliment that the shop keepers can give you is "You like Berber - strong! Bargain hard!"

Meet Nutty Gnome, Berber woman!

First-Born and Last-Born are also natural born Berber women! :D

"You want nice lamp? I sell you nice lamp - democratic price"?!

Never did find out what a democratic price was.

Last-Born the jewellery maker checking out the quality of the beads in her bead heaven.

*whispers* "You want spices? I sell you spices - I take you to my/my brother's/my sister's spice price...come, come!"

First-Born caught cumin-sniffing!

or you can go to the Dyers Market, a specific area within the souk, to see the yarn and fabrics being dyed - in vast vats of boiling water over roaring fires. How the men coped with the temperatures is beyond me!

....where we bought huge scarves at ridiculously cheap prices - mine was one of the blue ones you can see hanging up...and he showed us how to make it into a toureg turban - not quite sure I could do it again now though!

or check out the fresh produce.....

a bit like this kitten did!

Inside or outside everyone has something to sell

A little further away from the main square and souk the veg stalls were a bit more basic


Nightime in the Jemma El Fna.

A vast almost empty square during the day, a busy, bustling, endlessly entertaining source of food and snake charmers at night.

All the stalls are the same price and serve pretty much the same food - tagines, couscous, kebabs, salads, chips(!), almost too much to choose from. You sit on benches at tressle tables with your 'Morrocan serviettes' (squares of paper!) and order your food from the multilingual staff. It's quick, it's cheap, it's generally hot from being cooked immediately and it's good!

It's worth running the gauntlet of the stalls just to hear the comments they come out with to entice you to their particular stall - hillarious!

"Come, come - cheaper than Tesco"," my stall not just any stall M&S food", "lovely jubbly food", "Jamie Oliver eat here", "better than Asda price", " 'ave a butchers at what we got!", "bluuuuddy luuurvley food!" - how could we resist?

I'm guessing they watch British TV for all the food-related adverts then?!

So there you go. A brief tour of the heart of Marrakech - and I haven't even started on the mosaics, the carvings, the Majorelle Gardens, the Ozoud Cascades........! :)

Friday 5 August 2011

Himself gets expansionist ideas!

Don't get me wrong here - I'm not talking about annexing France or invading Wales, just something a bit more, well, modest really!

Let me take you back to late spring of last year........!

As we stood on the planks on the as-yet-to-be-completed veranda, a strange look came over Himself's face. He paused, then sucked in through his teeth in a 'there's a bit of problem' sort of way before sighing and saying (in a very Eyore sort of voice) "Pond's not big enough".
I coughed and spluttered for a bit before conceding that, actually, he was right! Now that the tea house was up and the extent to which the veranda covered part of the pond was fully obvious, the pond was diminished and out of proportion.

I sighed. I knew what this meant ......I would have to extend the pond!

However, I had a cunning plan. I called on my friend Sarah, who has the strength and endurance of an Amazonian woman! A few weeks later Sarah came over for the day and we dug. I had already cleared the beach, stones and plants from in and around the edge of the pond and Himself and I had freed up the liner and underlay fleece, folded it back over a plank and weighed it down with the stones I'd removed.

We filled innumerable trugs, emptying them into the nearby barrow which Sarah then hauled up the garden to dump on a tarp for use later on.

It was hot, heavy work as it was all sandstone. The topsoil is only about 12-18 inches deep in this part of the garden - yeah, I know ...which fool would want to put a pond where the bedrock is so close to the surface? Same fool that would want to put a pond under trees!!!

That'd be me then!

Pond extension hole finished, work then ground to a halt on that project as other things in the garden took priority.

Ten months later, with a party deadline looming, we realised that we couldn't put it off any longer just because we weren't quite sure how to do it. So, taking a deep breath........
we built a temporary pond on the lawn using our largest groundsheet, some random planks and old bricks. We used the pond pump to take the water out of the top pond and into the temporary pond.

Taking enough water out to get the level to well below the original shelf level so that we could excavate under the liner where the old and new parts would join up.

We cleared out all the zillions of leaves and bucketloads of gunk that had accumulated in the hole whilst we'd ignored it and Himself barrowed back down the garden some of the sandstone that Sarah had barrowed up last year.

We then put it all through a griddle to separate out sand and stones - the stones were then used to make foundations in a new path I was building elsewhere (all will be revealed on that little task later!)

and the sand was used to line the hole, the new shelf and the bit under the liner where the two parts would meet.

Whilst Himself was grovelling about under the liner, I took the opportunity to sort out the 'rockage' in front of the waterfall as I'd never been totally satisfied with it. I cleared everything out except for the rocks that we'd hoisted into place - I'm not daft, I wasn't even going to think about moving them!

I cleaned the base, put new fleece underlay in place and had a happy time arranging new rocks until I was satisfied with how they looked. The frog who lives behind the left-hand big rock kept popping up to glower at me to try and get his water back, but we weren't to be rushed on this.

Somewhere along the line it was decided that the bottom of the pond ought to be de-gunked ....a luuurvely job!

and I had to be very careful not to lean too far over !

The bit that had put us off doing the extension was the joining of the new liner to the existing liner. In the end, it was just like doing a giant 15ft long bicycle tyre puncture repair! I haven't got any photos of the process as we were more concerned about getting it right than getting it photographed! We had to clean, de-grease and scour the old liner, apply glue to the edges of both liners, wait for it to go tacky then stick a special sealant strip one one side, using a decorators' roller to press it down and get any air bubbles out, whilst making sure that there were no kinks, twists or creases in the liner or sealant strip - easier said than done when the liner isn't a straight edge and you're pressing down on sand!

Himself had, naturally, worked out how to get round this. He used chalk to mark where to glue the liner and created a solid base underneath where we were working by using a strip of hardboard propped up on wood - with stakes driven into the base of the extension to make sure it was secure (never knowingly overcomplicated or over engineered!) to rest the liner edges on and give us something solid to work against. He's good!

We then had to position the 2nd edge on top of the sealant strip, hold it in place, peel off the special backing paper and roller the 2nd liner onto the 1st liner all at the same time ...a tricky business!

It all then had to be left overnight to go off - but covered by a tarp in case of rain as we weren't allowed to let it get wet at this point.

The following day was crunch time. We laid out the fleece underlay then carefully unfurled the joined liner and eased it out into position - you can see the fold where the two liners join, running between the 2 large rocks of the original pond. Then we pumped the water back into the pond and waited with baited breath to see if it leaked.

Of course it didn't leak - Himself was in charge!

A couple of weekends later, when the water hadn't gone down at all, Himself declared that he was satisfied with the seal and started making the pond edging. He excavated enough sand and soil away to be able to put wooden strips in to fold the liner over and give a good, solid edge for me to put rocks and stuff on - naturally the rough wood had strips of fleece on top so that the liner wouldn't get ripped.

He built a measuring 'thing' to ensure that the edge was level all the way round.

Then he tucked the liner into place and backfilled with sand and soil.

Me? I was busy on the inside of the tea house - but I was happy with my waterfall rockage!

It's ended up a bit of a long post, so I'll leave the arty-farty finishing off stuff we did until next time!