Putting Your Back Into It


Even Ella seems depressed by the weather

Back to school after a half term break of mixed fortunes. I started out with a burning desire to get the veg patch properly started with visions of raised beds marked out next to what promised to be a dazzlingly constructed greenhouse, risen from the pile of aluminium and glass in the corner of the lawn (well, field).

After a wet but enjoyable weekend in Liverpool with the youngest, the week stretched out before me with the promise of constructive horticultural efforts to come. But the North West rain followed us south (very cold and very wet) to put a major dampener on my efforts.  And then, while carrying out the first garden dig, my back gave way.  It was not one of those minor tweaks.  The movement in my lower spine was of a tectonic level that registered on the Richter scale.   The sound of my spinal plates collapsing was only drowned out by  the sound of the pouring rain and my heavy breathing as I maniacally turned the sodden earth to transplant the rhubarb.

My first reaction is always one of anger and frustration combined with feelings of stupidity that – as someone with a history of back pain – I had allowed myself to nearly rupture a disc once again. The sentiments regarding my own stupidity were clear in the look Mrs B gave me when I told her later but, frankly, I can’t live my life trying to mitigate against potential injury, when I am needing to design and dig a garden. It’s just a risk you take – like face planting in snow board in big air or tripping on the start line in speed skating. You just gotta go for it.


The base is levelled (and square). Now just the frame and glass…

But from there the week did get better and with Mrs B’s able assistance we got fence panels erected at the back and managed to construct the greenhouse.  We constructed the frame, levelled it and glazed it without losing a single pane or running out of screws, although I nearly lost a thumb when I impulsively wiped some green mould off one of the panes.  Instead of wiping the face of the glass, my thumb ran along the corner edge – carving a long slice down the length of the thumb pad.

Two plasters stemmed the flow of blood, and two visits to the osteopath seem to have mended the back, so this weekend I was able to (carefully) start the construction of those raised beds.  I even managed to delve deeper into my atavistic gardening spirit by burning a very effective bonfire.

The garden is beginning to take shape.  Is that spring I see just around the corner? Answer:  No.  We have a week of Siberian conditions to get through first.


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Staying Positive

It’s half term and the weather has continued with its succession of weather fronts providing torrential rain to leave the earth  sodden.  Yesterday it did not stop all day although this made little difference to me as I had ricked my back on Tuesday trying to heal in the rhubarb I was transplanting from up the road.  A day inside in front of the fire and TV tuned to winter Olympics was probably the best option all round.

But when the short hours of daylight are filled with boggy walks in torrential downpours one needs to be on the lookout for positive indicators.  And there are some.  There are plenty of snowdrops in the garden and along the banks of the stream winking shyly in the occasional watery sunshine.  The first green shoots of the transplanted aliums are looking strong and vibrant in the cold pond bed.   In the tubs – some of which we acquired with the house and some of which had planted ourselves – the early shoots are coming through.  I have no idea what is in which, irrespective of whether we planted them or not, so there is an eager anticipation in trying to work out what each set of shoots is going to produce.

And out the front there are plenty of bunches of daffodils springing up.

And just to prove the days really are getting longer the hens have started laying again. These two lazy layers take more time off than your average MP.  They have not laid an egg since early autumn, it seems, so it is a pleasure to have the occasional newly laid offering once again.  The chickens have really recuperated after looking sad  and emaciated before we moved them down.  Now they have beautiful plumage (to quote Monty Python) and their combs are red and firm.  The black hen is looking sprightly though the brown one is still limping along , trying to persuade me that she needs reclassification for the paralympic winter sports.

Perhaps if we classify her in the LW2 category (“major physical impairment in one leg”) she will start laying too.

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The Road to Caryford


The Holy of Holies

A wet West Country Weekend might, on the face of it, have promised little in the way of gardening opportunities, but Sunday was Potato Day, the Horticultural Hajj for the gardeners of Cary.  It is that time of the year when the green fingered pilgrims make their way through the wind and rain to the car park at Caryford Hall, before entering the door to the Holy of Holies: the rectangular table of seed potatoes.  Once inside, the devotees of the tuber huddle and queue around the hallowed trugs.

And so we stood there in line, wicker baskets on arms, brown paper bags and crayons in hand, ready to pick the choicest chitters.  We shuffled along, hardly daring to look ahead in case there were not enough King Edwards or Belle de Fontenay to go round.  We were worried that, although the opening time was advertised as 10.30, it was clear that some early worshippers had stolen a march on the rest of the gardening fraternity, leaving with bags bulging as we arrived shortly after the half past. Sadly there were no B de F’s so we had to hang on for Swift instead as our First Early.  The thought of trying to go back up the line against the slow-moving mass of potato fans was not one I wished to contemplate. (In other Hajj’s there have been stampedes and mass fatalities caused by less important issues).

Of course there are other subtle differences between this pilgrimage and the Hajj which kicks off annually in Mecca.  In this particular ceremony there is a differing direction of prayer (clockwise instead of counter-clockwise), and while there is no need for the pilgrims to run back and forth between the hills of Safa and Marwah, there is a fair amount of running between car and hall door in the pouring rain.  Disciples do not need to drink from the Zamzam Well, but teas, coffees and light refreshments were on sale in aid of Macmillan Cancer Care.  The equivalent of standing vigil on the plains of Mount Arafat will come later when the potatoes are chitting – as the green-fingered check them each day or week to see those shoots growing in their little eff boxes, while spending a night in the plain of Muzalifa and throwing symbolic stones at the Devil will be mirrored in the actions of gardeners throwing projectiles at the neighbours’ cats or dogs to discourage them from doing their own digging and fertilising in the newly dug veg patch.

Happy Chitting.



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Catalogue ordering to banish the blues

Dark wet days post-Christmas and we all need a bit of cheering up.  Now is the time to plan for those longer summer days so I ditched the travel supplements, holiday brochures and flight planners and went and ordered my seeds for the prospective vegetable patch.

This year I decided to order locally from one of our local suppliers: Pennard Plants.  Their seeds are cheaper than the big boys which could partly be because there are fewer seeds in the packet. But since the average packet of runner bean seeds from Suttons would give you more wigwams than Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse combined, I think I should still have enough plants for the allotment.  Fewer seeds – less waste.

They had New Year 25% special offer, were delivered within a couple of days and look quirky and fun in their packaging.  The heritage and heirloom varieties are intriguingly named and should be interesting to grow.



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Pond Life


Ready for planting

It was back to school for me this week, but with no Saturday lessons, weekends really are weekends: two full days of fun and frolics.  The intention was to start planting in the new garden, as I last weekend I had ransacked the Cut Flower Patch at the old place for a load of stuff to start populating borders.  But in between a trip to Hive Beach and visits to the sick and elderly (our three surviving parents are taking it in turns to be Harry Hill’s “Most Sick Person of The Week”) we did not get do anything till Sunday afternoon.

But we got a lot done for what was officially our first proper stint in the new garden.  Mrs B wanted to start with the back yard border which last summer was inundated with geraniums that had taken over the place.  A new challenge for us here is to sort out a pond, so with images of Monty (or more pertinently Charlie Dimock) in our heads we donned wellies and started dredging our water feature.  It turns out that not only was the pond a lot bigger than we thought, it also contained a wealth of plant life that seemed to be choking itself – though not apparently a large number of frogs that were idly lolling in the bottom.

We took a lot of water lily out (laying it on the side to allow any fauna to find its way back, just like Monty had told us) then cleared geraniums, rearranged some of the bog-type plants around the pond and planted irises.  I say we – actually it was mainly me as Mrs B was obsessing about the frogs that both intrigued and repelled her.  She did not want to go near them, but was equally worried that they would be unable to escape the pond if we did not put a stairway of stones for them to ascend.

Elsewhere we planted snow drops which are the harbingers of our wedding anniversary in February.  And in front of the house I started digging up part of the lawn to extend a flower bed into which the echinacea and more irises went.  All-in-all it was a good afternoon’s work which augurs well for the future.


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There are places I remember

Beatles songs have been on my radar this week with Ron Howard’s documentary of the Touring Years shown on Friday reminding me of the brilliance of their work, as if to confirm what moved Bruno Tonioli to tears on Desert Island Discs over “There are Places I Remember”.

The lyrics came to mind for me when I was refurbishing one of my mobile phones for The Old Man and I was diverted by the photos on the memory card. They dated from 2011 through to 2013.  Times when Fudgey dog had a black muzzle, VB was celebrating her 16th and a herd of heifers destroyed the Old Man’s Brussels.

It was in 2012 that we started to take on the Old Man’s garden.  But it is not pics of the lavender that we planted that evoke the strong memories: it is the pictures of VB on sports day and JB Jr being dropped off at Liverpool uni for his first year.  And most significantly the photos of Mrs B in chemotherapy, being treated for nutropenia, and undergoing autologous stem cell transplant: these are the images that drag up the strongest feelings.  But in between the bad times there was the hope that 2012 engendered when we welcomed the world to London for the olympics and Barack Obama was president of the USA.  There was a sense that the world could become a better place.

Upheavals in the past year for me could have challenged any lingering positivity, with changes of jobs, moving house and ailing parents, not to mention the idiocy of our political systems and world leaders.  But strangely the memories from 2012 of spending our silver wedding anniversary in an isolation ward in Musgrove Park, as Mrs B’s stem cells worked to re-colonise her system, remind me (if I need it) that I am a lucky man.  We have our health, and we have happiness in our new home while our two little ‘uns start out on professional careers as teacher and (in a few months’ time) doctor.

2018 promises more challenges, but we will take them in our stride, Mrs B and I, and we know there will be plenty of good times and laughs.  It will all be OK.

“And I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about themIn my life I loved you more”

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The Autumn of Our Lives

Autumn 2017 has seen a significant shift in the direction of our lives and of this blog too.  Despite The Old Man’s typically downbeat assessment of his health last year that he would not be around to celebrate Christmas 2017, he is steadfastly remaining alive and coughing, with the support of his oxygen machines and some visiting care workers.

But the imminence of his demise is still something that remains on everyone’s radar, as even the slightest infection sends his system into a tailspin which is only relieved by the rapid deployment of antibiotics.  So we have always known that we would need to get our own place at some point, and we actually managed to do that this summer, finally moving in October.

With change very much in the air, a week before the big move I left my job at the school that had once educated my mother and took up a position at my old school instead: from mother’s sch00l to “Alma Mater”.  The change was a leap (or perhaps a push) in the dark, but less travelling and a shorter working day will mean more time at home and especially in the garden which holds great promise.

What the future holds is not entirely certain, but planning and planting new beds abd veg will be a fresh opportunity for me.  So it will no longer be a matter of “Taking on the Old Man’s Garden” but taking on my own midlife gardening project.

As I plan the new patch, I will gradually put the Old Man’s Garden to bed for the last time.  I have cleared the greenhouses and have turned a large number of chillis into a red hot jam.  And we will continue to harvest the winter veg, as long as older  siblings do not help themselves to too many.

TOM has new tenants in our old place and seems happy with the income to pay for more care visits.  And we are happy to be property owners for the first time in ages.  The change of residence and occupation has given us the chance to clear a lot of rubbish out of our lives – much of it Australian in origin, although one item still cropped up the other Saturday, but I don’t expect to see that again with any luck.

But we will try not dwell on the past but must take care of the present while looking to the future with friends and family gearing up for a great Christmas.


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