Driving us Spare

This week we have managed to get our hands on an advance copy of “Bark” the latest instalment detailing the life of Mr Long: Badger, to his peers, or the Duke of Midlife, to his vassals and many humble fans.  The Duke has been busy these past few months putting together memories of his first years in the Midlife Garden, or the Firm, as he likes to call it.

Badger has been reminiscing on the events of the last couple of years, how he has brought joy and love to people’s hearts and been the one true star of the Midlife Garden Family.  But it has not all be plain sailing for the rugged little soldier.  He recalls how he brutally lost his mother at such a young age (well, we bought him) and how that has affected him.  How the fact that his parents were of differing cultural backgrounds has affected his outlook on life and how he has always suffered bigotry and prejudice at the paws of the middle class dogs in the village.  It explains his vehement dislike of the golden Labrador puppy down the lane, but does not excuse his attempts to rip the throat out of the big black Newfoundland at the other end of the village.  We put that down to Small Dog Syndrome.

Badger Boy seems happy to share his most intimate secrets, such as the day he lost his virginity.  He says it was a “humiliating” experience, during which the“bitch” treated him “like a young stallion”.  But underlying the questions over his prowess, were the muttered questions from some sources, about how dark the offspring from his union with the sexy blonde might have been.

Badger relates his early experimentation with drugs, describing the first time he took Drontal, which led to a night of hallucinations and hysteria which only ended when a member of the household staff took him on a long trek in the early hours to bring him down.  This did not reduce his appetite for illicit substances.  On another occasion he nearly OD’ed on chorizo and mozzarella balls from an unguarded coffee table.  This led to a night of hallucinations and hysteria which only ended when a member of the household staff took him on a long trek in the early hours to calm him down.

Other contentious claims in the book revolve around Badger’s assertion that while out on patrol around the village he has sought out and destroyed up to 25 squirrels, a claim that is as unverifiable as it is unbelievable. 

The good news is that Badger is very happy now.  He has found peace and love with Carrot – who is always there for him and who does not look on him as inferior in anway, but simply bleats and squeaks at his command. 

Badger has come to accept that he has not always been the most patient and empathetic member of the family but puts a lot of these feelings down to the insecurity of being ‘The Spare’, behind Ella who is the favourite, the chosen one, the heir.  The pair of them have been through some tough times together and while one might hope their bond would gradually strengthen, Badger’s relationship with Carrot and the treatment of Carrot by other members of The Firm have led to tensions.  It all came to a head one day in the garden when tempers rose over a string of sausages. Badger had to take himself off around the grounds – repeatedly – to calm down and although Ella became openly aggressive towards the put-upon junior at least no dog bowls were broken in the fracas.

It is clear that Badger feels belittled by those who see him as no longer a working member of the Midlife Garden, but the question remains as to what he did if he ever was a working member.  What exactly does a working member do apart form wag his tail and make people go “ahhhhhh”?  Still, the title is important and so Badger remains a part of The Firm, albeit often apart – when out on walks and chasing imaginary deer.  He claims that no one else does so much to guard the territory and reputation of the Midlife Garden – if sheer volume and persistence of verbal and non-verbal communication is the gauge.

Despite this, Badger still alternates between periods of debilitating lethargy and terrifying barking attacks, but Carrot has been there to calm him and massage his ego.  The relationship between a Carrot and a Dual heritage Dapple Dachs has been the subject of many scurrilous rumours and falsehoods, but if there is one thing to take from “Bark” it is the conclusion that they make each other very happy and for that we should be pleased.

Just don’t keep yapping on about it, OK?

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Clearing the Litter

Winter arrived in the Midlife Garden with a vengeance in December.  It reminded me that I really should have been putting everything to bed for the fallow season, while planting and prepping stuff for the early spring risers.  But as often happens, I left it to the last minute and missed the opportunity to plant up pots with bulbs or get early broad beans in and all those other jobs that would have potentially borne fruit in the spring.

I did belatedly harvest the peppers from the greenhouse, albeit after the frost had got them, so they were consigned to the production of some murky looking chilli jam.  As usual, I lost last year’s award-winning recipe but I found it, shortly after I had got my jam on the boil, using a different recipe sourced from the internet.  Still, it does not taste too bad – a little milder and darker in colour than the Red-Hot version of yesteryear, but it will do.

Outside, my main preoccupation has been sweeping and collecting leaves.  The 300-year-old oak over the road has deposited the majority of its leaf litter in our back garden but I have been more organised on this front than in the past.  Inspired by the maxim “What would Monty Do?” I collected and mowed them to break them up. I have put them in dumpy bags, which should allow the rain in to keep them damp and enable them to break down to produce good leaf mould for the new season.  Last year I did not chop up the leaves with a mower, so even now they remained whole, pressed neatly in layers as if taken from an 18th century botanist’s collection. I mowed them and added them to the 2022 vintage.

With all this mulching and raking I became a little obsessed about collecting leaves pondering collecting more from around the lanes, but after the frosts of early mid-December, we got the deluge, which has put a dampener on my efforts.

Another job a did manage was to mulch the raised beds with cardboard, which should keep the weeds down ready for spring. I had been late in planting my autumn garlic (which I left until November), so planted them through the cardboard. They had the usual binary choice that Mrs B always suggests plants have: to live or to die. Despite rain, frost and more rain they miraculously they chose the latter and I was pleased to see plenty of sharp shoots poking up anaemically through the dark turf and cardboard yesterday. Nature finds a way.

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One Tomato, Two Tomato

Last year’s chillis under this year’s tomatoes

The clocks have gone back, so maybe summer is finally over. The harvest should have been safely gathered in, although the recent warm air currents seem to suggest there is still more growing to do. I cleared two of the vegetable beds at the weekend, getting rid of the dead sweet peas and the tired courgettes. The courgettes, like the beans did not do well this summer, perhaps unable to cope with the long dry spell. The sweet peas, similarly, went to seed very rapidly, and the sound of their pods “popping” in the sun were one of the sounds of the summer, for me.

The most prolific vegetable producing area was the greenhouse, where tomatoes went balistic and we are still harvesting green (and red) peppers, with chillis still to come. The sheer volume of tomatoes had me scratching my head for ways of perserving them and I came up with three methods.

First of all, we made ratatouille, using up our own dodgy onions and oversized courgettes with the excellent MLG garlic. When the courgettes and onions were finished (or rotted) we went on to making the first MLG passata, which seemed pretty decent too.

But our most satisfying preserving method was our own sun-dried tomatoes. Well, strictly speaking they were oven-dried, but the results were very pleasing, all be it a little on the small side. I guess it should not be too big a suprise that dried tomatoes take up considerably less volume than the originals, but four baking trays of halved cherry tomatoes only made three jars of the sun-dried version. We swamped them in a little olive oil and loaded them with quartered garlic cloves and the results were spectacular.

Now I include my sun dried tomatoes with everything: ham sandwiches, cheese and biscuits, corn flakes (ok, maybe not corn flakes, although, but then again, why not?)

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PTS Dachshund

Long Dog, Short Sunspot

It feels as if the weather is about to break.  It is trying to.  And not before time.  Mr Long is about to snap, or else break us, after a week of strange encounters with other residents of the Midlife Garden, climaxing in a torrid day for our little German sentry dog.

The hot weather has brought crazy critters out in force.  It started with Mr Long finding an interloper amidst the tubs on the patio.  Like any dachshund he approaches any creature smaller than him with curiosity and a simple checklist:

A: is it dangerous? (If the answer to this is ‘No’, go to question B.  If the answer is ‘Yes’, bark at it)

B: Can I eat it? (If ‘Yes’, then do so, if ‘No’, bark at it)

Badger had clearly found something that was either dangerous, or inedible, or both.  It turned out to be a toad hiding under the trailing lobelia and Badger initially tried to bite it, only to discover that toads secrete an irritant to put off predators.  Mr toad just sat and smiled as Badger tried to bark with a mouthful of toad venom.

We moved the toad to the front garden, and all tried to move on, although Badger remained on the alert. 

Dachshund v Caterpillar

Next up, the Dachs discovered caterpillars.  Hawkmoth caterpillars.  The first was a green version, which freaked him enough.  A few days later it was two cigar-sized brown versions.  These feed on Fuchsia, which was where our intrepid whiffler found them, just going about their business.  The sheer size of them was enough to wind our clockwork dog up to eleven.  The ‘eyes’ on a hawkmoth caterpillar are supposed to deter predators and they certainly put the willies up Mr Long.    Not that this stopped our guard hound from obsessing about caterpillars all evening.  He tends to over think these things.

Yesterday, Mrs B was sitting quietly in the sunken area when she was alarmed to hear rustling under the pallet seating opposite her.  We know there are vermin around here – none more so than Mr Long, who barks whenever he thinks he sees a rat around the recycling area or shed.  He never actually attacks them – suggesting he regards them as dangerous, which is fair.  So, on hearing the clear movement of rodents in the cavity below the pallets, Mrs B called for assistance – which Badger was keen to provide, if an anxious, barking dachshund can be described as help.

It was not, however, a rat, but a mole, which I quickly despatched – to the ditch two hundred yards up the road.  The mole was not happy, but I do not want moles in my garden.  The plan seemed to work, until a couple of hours later I discovered a mole once again in the same spot, in the leaves underneath the seating.  Either we were dealing with a “Homing Mole” with Speedy Gonzales-like qualities or just another dumb rodent.  Badger tried to attack this one.  He obviously did not see it as dangerous but was not convinced of its nutritional qualities.  I caught this mole and, in case it was the same one, I despatched it more permanently.

The Long Dog was now on a mission and as we sat in the shade on the patio, he flushed out a frog from behind the flowerpots.  I often see frogs around the tubs – I guess they are keeping the slug population at bey, so I am happy to see them.  Badger does not share my delight and decided to chase the frog across the patio.  Each time it stopped, he stopped, nudging it with his chisel-like nose.  The frog would then leap away, at one point landing on the back of the recumbent Labrador, who casually got up, wondering what was on her back.  The frog leapt off and into the pond, pursued by the Dachshund who tiptoed around the edge.

By now our Dachshund was beyond wired.  The world is a big scary place when you are not much bigger than a Pringles tube on corks and he was struggling to cope.  Taking the dogs for their afternoon walk seemed like a good way to re-set the highly strung snack tin, but this backfired when the empty field we were walking around was invaded by a dozen heifers charging around the circumference towards us.  Badger gamely ran after Ella and me to the gate, blissfully unaware of the bovine blitzkrieg that was heading his way.

The evening saw us trying to relax on the sofa, but still Badger wanted to check the garden, so we gave him “supervised” exercise, like some convict.  I spotted a frog sitting by the pond, just as Whiffle Boy saw it too.  The frog exited stage left, pursued by a dog, who, straining to see where the frog had gone, toppled into the water.  Dachshunds are not water dogs and the inadvertent dip put a literal dampener on proceedings.  He spent a sorry few minutes licking himself dry.

It seemed the fun and games were over when we wearily pulled the bifold doors shut on the kitchen and put our tired dogs to bed.  Half an hour later we were woken by Mr Long whining, and then barking once again.  I wandered into the kitchen to remonstrate.  As I switched the light on, I caught sight of something flying towards me at knee height, with a Sausage Dog in hot pursuit.   Whatever it was, missed me and landed in the corner.  It was like a scene from Family Guy.  I looked and laughed.  It was another (the same?) frog.  Badger was determined to have it this time, and once more I had to come between him and his foe like the sober friend in a pub fight.

“Leave it Badger, he’s not worth it” or words to that effect.  Words which actually had no effect.  For the next several hours, even with the frog now safely airlifted to the pond, or Rwanda, or wherever, Badger continued to pace the kitchen floor looking for more caterpillars / frogs / moles / heifers.  Assuming it was the scent of the frog that was disturbing him, we moved both dogs to the living room for the night.  The choice of sofas and beds seemed to settle them, and we eventually slept.

I had placed their bowl of water on the hearth with a piece of newspaper underneath in case it spilt.  When Mrs B saw it the next morning, she gave an ironic laugh.  The article in the paper, describing life for many people of our age, was titled “We are having the best sex of our lives!”

“They clearly don’t own a dachshund” she said.

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Freezing in the Heatwave

When my parents were looking for a house in the second half of the 1970s, their choice was influenced, in large part, by thoughts of self-sufficiency.  They bought the new house because it had been a smallholding, and they proceeded to grow vegetables on an industrial scale.  My teenage experience of ‘helping’ in the veg patch informs much of what I did when I started the Midlife Garden.   Initially, I was rebelling, trying to do things differently from what my father did, but increasingly I have come to grudgingly accept that much of what he did in the garden was actually sensible and effective. 

My father’s quest for self-sufficiency stemmed from the bad old days of the early seventies with the threat of nuclear war and the challenge of oil supplies from OPEC.  But these days not everyone looks back at the seventies with horror.  Our two erstwhile candidates for the post of Leader of the Conservative Party hark back to the election of 1979 and are in a race to the bottom to prove that they are the real Spirit of Thatcher, competing to see who can promise the lowest taxes, the most Grammar Schools and fewest immigrants. 

In 2022 my own desire to grow more veg has been sharpened by concerns similar to TOM’s, over oil prices, inflation and even the thought of nuclear obliteration.  So, in another nod to my parents’ efforts I have begun blanching and freezing our excess crops, starting with the peas.  In the past we have not always been as diligent as we could have been in preserving our full crop of veg.  Rumour has it we have had to import two thirds of our own vegetables. Only five words to describe that situation: That. Is. A. Dis. Grace.

Of course, at the Old Place we also raised pigs which meant a plentiful supply of meat for the family.  Our opening up of the Midlife Pork Market went some way to filling the freezer, but now that we eat less meat at MLG, we are more reliant on veg, so blanching and freezing is back the hot topic around here.

Unfortunately, it does not look as if we will have much surplus in many crops.  The beans are a case in question.  Very much the Rishi Sunaks of the veg patch, they were looking good at the start of July, but they have since bolted, appear increasingly desperate and are unlikely to be as successful as we first thought. 

Instead, we have a great crop of tomatoes (yes, it’s a good season for trusses, you will be pleased to hear).  And also peppers are doing well in the greenhouse.  But, if the tomatoes are on Trusses, they might struggle to find their way out of the greenhouse

While the indoors is thriving, the hot dry spell has left the raised beds looking arid and many crops are wilting.  But fear not, as many online trolls have pointed out, it is no worse than the “Long Hot Summer of 76”, so why worry?  Don’t be distracted by so-called experts at the Met Office (what do they know?).  Let’s get back to the 70s, when we elected our first female Prime Minister.  Maybe that is what the Midlife Garden needs: Iron Lady II – the War on Garden Waste.  Blanche and Freeze to our heart’s desire, and let’s party like it’s 1979.

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Provenance

First Tomatoes

The other day Mrs B came home with a new cook book. This not an entirely unusual occurrence: we both enjoy discovering new recipes, and Mrs B owns a Bookshop. You do the Math. Home Food, is written by Olia Hercules. She is Ukrainian, co-founder of #cookforukraine and in this, her latest book, she details many simple, delicious recipes. There was one that we were both drawn to describing a novel way of cooking aubergine, which was as simple as it was surprising. It involved steaming the aubergine whole for 40 minutes. That was it.

The (not particularly) tricky part of the recipe was making a dressing with which to smother the halved vegetable and provide some flavour to the mushy flesh inside. It was easy and yet so filled with flavour, and most of the ingredients were simple store cupboard items, like soy sauce, wine vinegar, lime juice, sesame oil and sesame seeds. And to add extra staisfaction to our implementation of the recipe, it also listed items which we could readily harvest from the garden, such as chillis and garlic, which has cropped early and heavy this year. I have over forty good bulbs, all produced from the bulbs I grew last year, so it has not only been plentiful, but virtually free, too.

But the pièce de résistance came at the end of the recipe, when the author instructed me to add some chopped mint. Thisis a bit of a no-brainer, as mint grows like a weed in any kitchen garden, and at this time of year it is young and zingy in its flavour. But, in a twist that was straight out of an M&S food advert, the author had decided to take it to another level and admitted that for the picture in the book, she had “got all fancy”, gone a bit rogue, and added some Peruvian mint. Now, I have have grown this for some years, but it is the first time I have ever seen Peruvian, or Black Mint as an ingredient in a mainstream cook book. So, after picking my spring onions, I stopped off in the greenhouse to pick a few leaves. It provided a subtly different flavour and look to the meal, but it also provided a massive geographical shift and validation for my persistence in growing apparently niche herbs from around the world.

The recipe also needed a spring onion, and lo and behold, I have a row of sping onions in the veg patch, so I just pottered out and pulled a couple.

This year, the Black Mint, Korean Mint and Pipiche (‘Bolivian Corander’) all germinated extremely well and we looked as if we would be getting a fine crop with plenty of seedlings to give to friends. It seemed that, unlike many of our seedlings, our Herbal Foreign Legion seemed immune to the local slugs, so I potted them on with little fear for the consequences. But the local slime balls had either rapidly developed their taste for overseas food, or had simply been playing a waiting game, as one morning I came out to see the pots decimated by the sluggy thugs. I gave my herbs made a tactical retreat to the relative safety of the greenhouse, potted on some of the previous rejects and have managed to nurture some replacements which are ‘doing well’.

I planted them out in a raised bed, interplanting amongst the sweetcorn, as tidy as an Inca’s allotment. To keep the slugs at bey, I have been organised enough to put in beer traps. I was not, however, organised enough to get some cheap beer in for the job (I reckon a malty porter does the trick), so had to use whatever came to hand. In this case it was a choice of some fancy “craft” IPA or a bottle of reliable Doom Bar. Despite evidence that the slugs have acquired a taste for foreign herbs, I did not think they would have refined their palates to go for an NEIPA made with Citra Hops, with a complex fruitiness and layers of tropical flavour. So Doom Bar it was, sacriligeous as that may be to some. But the results spoke for themselves, with half a dozen sozzled slugs floating in the jars of ale the next morning, like little Dukes of Clarence in Malmesey wine.

The herbs continue to flourish.

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A Long Dog’s Journey into Night

“This is my Sniffy Dog”
(Billy’s Beetle, by Mick Inkpen, 1992)

So much of our lives revolve around routines. We are creatures of habit, as they say, and no creature is more habitual than Mr Long – Young Badger Boy. He gets us up at 6 a.m. every morning and was not even put out by the clocks changing: he just re-set his internal horological mechanism and started whining an hour earlier the next day. He demands dinner at 4, playing at 5 and, more often than not, a lap or a warm log fire by 6. And a biscuit at bed time normally settles him. It’s a simple life and it works, at home. It is when we are away from home that ‘issues’ occur.

They first became apparent in a dog-friendly hotel room in Monmouth last July. It was hot (Damn’ Hot). Three of us were sharing the room with Mr Long. No amount of biscuits would encourage the dog to go to sleep that night and Mrs B, VB and I took turns trying to get the boy asleep. After a fraught night, which ended with us frazzled and irritable (and him sound asleep on the floor) we agreed there had been moments we had worried we might impulsively hurl the poor animal out of the third floor window. Not because we wanted rid of him – far from it – but we were so punch drunk with fatigue we could not have been held accountable for our actions.

But that was one night in a busy pub / hotel (with other dogs). He were sure he would be fine at my brother’s house, when we visited earlier this year. And I am sure he would have been, if it was not for the gourmet feast of mozzarella, chorizo and cherry tomatoes that The Long Dog took advantage of when it was generously left for him on a low coffee table. By the time he was discovered, he was metaphorically wiping the plate with the remains of a large home-baked sour dough loaf. His subsequent whining and restlessness throughout the night we put down to indigestion.

Next up, perhaps staying over with friends nearer to home, without the consumption of vast quantities of carbs would be a better proposition? Sadly not. The first thing Badger did on arrival, was to escape from the kitchen and run upstairs – where he managed to corner one of the resident cats. When Mr Long sees a cat, he, not to put it too mildly, LOSES HIS SHIT. And on this occasion he was unable to regain it for the rest of the night. We left our good friends, like a guilty one night stand, by the back door, at dawn.

So, is there a trick in this tale of getting a Long Dog to lie low while away from home? If there is, we might have discovered it on our trip to Cambridge last weekend. The trick is to not be there. While we stayed in Cambridge, Badger was dropped in Bedford for a sleepover with long-time friends Jane and Stuart, and their lively Golden Lab Silas. It did not start well, as Badger launched an unprovoked attack on Silas. In Badger’s defence (no, really, he’s very bright and the teachers do not understand his needs), he did get roughed up Silas, who wanted to get rather too intimate with the Badger Boy. Silas is still ‘intact’. Badger (after his operation) is not. Silas seemed obsessed with this and constantly tried to lick the area that was lacking the very two things that Silas was boldly displaying between his hind legs. It was perhaps taking the…whatever.

After an initial reaction that was tantamount to a threat to rip Silas’s throat out, we were able to calm Badger to mute acceptance although Silas remained unabashed. We left for Cambridge with a sense of doom on how the night would pan out.

But apparently it all turned out fine. Badger just made the decision to go upstairs at bedtime, ending up in bed with his human hosts, in a clear insistence that this was what his normal night time routine entailed. Jane accepted the Long Dog, who snuggled at her feet. And so it all ended happily ever after. Which is more than can be said about our evening in Cambridge celebrating my big brother’s Rub Wedding. I left the party at 10, with a headache, sore throat and temperature.

We were hoping to stay with Jane and Stuart the next evening but instead we sat in the drive, took a Lateral FLow Test, which was positive, and went home with bags and dog. But it was not an entirely wasted journey. We had found out how to go away with Badger: don’t stay with him, keep him away from cats, amorous male dogs, and any food after 6pm, and ensure he has the almost exclusive use of a king size duvet.

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New Year, New Potatoes

Potato Day in January carries calendrical significance like a gardening equivalent of the Chinese New Year. For the Chinese, 2022 is the Year of the Tiger, but how will this gardening year be named? Will it be the year of evasion and lying, when we pretend we have bought lots of seeds to help the garden grow and bloom, but discover that all we have are some very expensive spent husks? Will it be the year of invasion and ruin when all those pests that have been amassing in their hundreds of thousands on the garden border, decide to invade and destroy? Or maybe it will be the year of garden parties which we subsequently deny all knowledge of, and blame on others, so that we can continue to enjoy the privileges of living in a lovely space, without having to do anything too tiring.

At least the year started strongly with a proper, in-person Potato Day. Last year’s was a lockdown casualty, so it was pleasing to once again gather at Caryford Hall to get our hands on a wide selection of little chitters. Sadly Belle de Fontenay – normally my first choice second early – was not available, an absence for which we can apparently thank Brexit. I was disappointed, but just shrugged it off as yet another “unintended” consequence of our departure from the EU. But there is some consolation in the thought that our little glove puppet of a Foreign Secretary will be cheered by the news that we are importing fewer potatoes from the continent. To paraphrase Ms Truss, British gardeners having to use French seed potatoes is…a…dis…grace. So, no more French spuds coming over here taking the place of our King Edwards or Duke of Yorks, but since I saw a headline the other day suggesting Duke of Yorks may have to be renamed soon, I bought some British-bred Gemson as a replacement. We will see how that goes.

Anyway, when not being flattened by Storm Eunice, the garden is showing the first signs that spring is near. Bulbs are emerging like warheads in the pots, and around the garden we have Snow Drops and Crocuses in abundance. At Potato Day I bought some early seeds: tomato, chilli and cosmos. They have now been sown, and will soon be taking over the spare bedroom in a bid to allay Mrs B’s fear of Tomato Envy – that condition caused by neighbours offering tree-sized tomato plants, at a point when ours have barely germinated.

They will ultimately go into the greenhouse, which has now been in the garden for four years. I was reminded of the fact in a flash back on Google pictures. Four years ago is, to paraphrase L.P. Hartley, a foreign country. I look through the “4 Years Ago This Week” photobook my phone has prodded me with and see that not only was I trying to rearrange lengths of aluminium and glass into a safe growing space, I was constructing raised beds and (The Horror! The Horror!) I was even lighting a bonfire in my front garden. How I avoided being drummed out of the village, I cannot say. I was probably saved by the fact that advanced communications like Facebook Groups were not widely known about in our rural community so I avoided the kind of neighbourhood trolling that would follow any misplaced bonfire now.

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Clearing Up

January. The party season is over so we have been clearing the decks in a manner that some say the Government should. It is difficult not to sympathise with the PM. I often head into the garden with the idea of work in my head, but get so distracted that 25 minutes just fly by in the company of a bunch of tits amongst the vegetables.

My willing accomplice in the MLG is often the Long Dog, who happily whiffles around the back garden looking for whatever he can hoover up. His primary objective is normally to tidy the border underneath the bird feeder, ensuring no peanuts or bits of bread are left behind. I suspect he would fit in well in the Corridors (or gardens?) of Power as, for him, this is clearly not a party: Mr Long views the consumption of large amounts of crisps and nuts as an essential part of a hard day’s work.

On Sunday I spent two hours clearing the remains of what passes for a cold frame, before tidying the potting shed. After a summer of poorly planned and executed failed seedlings and excess potting, the cold frame had more empties than the aftermath of a Downing Street works do. We are starting the first phase of the building back better operation in the MLG, which included clearing the remains of last year’s flowers from the Spursy bed. There are already green shoots poking up like the hands of disgruntled Tory backbenchers, which augur well for the spring (in both senses). And the onions and garlic are looking good, which is particularly pleasing as these are the onions that were re-planted after failing to grow last summer, and the garlic is from our own more successful crop.

Next up, we will take a look at the seed catalogues which are starting to crash onto the front door mat at this time of year. We will look through them and make some measured decisions on what to buy. When it comes to purchasing seeds, there is no VIP lane for seedy contracts: we try to do things the right way in the Midlife Garden.

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Potted history

Japanese Maple

In October, when I discovered that my big brother had already planted his spring bulbs and even sown his sweet peas, I decided to use my blog posts to see when I had previously planted bulbs and so I read my post from 2019 to check what I did right then.  Sadly, delving into events of the past two years is a potentially upsetting exercise – like raking over the embers of a massive fire, they appear harmless, but underneath the grey ash, the coals are deep and hot.  And they continue to burn – I fear they always will.  The pictures on that post show bulbs neatly placed in pots, on a bed of compost ready to be made snug.  There is a photo of the grey wagtail that appeared as if by magic and has returned this year, flying at the patio doors like an anxious spirit. 

The pictures are gloomy, in my mind if not in reality.  But I remember the spring show that followed my efforts that day as being the best I have ever achieved with bulbs, so this year I hope to surpass them.  Which might explain the trigger-happy internet shopping spree that led to a large box of bulbs being delivered to my door in November.  So this year I am going large on bulbs and sweet peas, in an effort to ensure a vibrant colourful spring in the Midlife Garden.

I made up some potting compost to my own random recipe.  To a base of New Horizon peat-free compost I added a little left over builders’ sand and a scoop of slow-release fertilizer that has been hanging around since being retrieved from the Old Place.  (How slow release does slow-release fertilizer have to be before it passes its use by date?)  The key ingredient, though, is horse manure.  I have been up and down the lane collecting wheelbarrow loads of the well-rotted organic gold dust from one of our neighbours – the same one who advised on action before motivation two years ago.  The consistency is fine-grained and friable and I am hoping that it will provide plenty of sustenance to any bulb or seed. 

So, in the New and Year and spring I hope to see narcissi, muscari and tulips filling the tubs, while crocuses push through the lawn, snowdrops glint in the borders and snakes head fritillaries dip their heads bashfully in the wild flower garden.  At least, by my actions these past couple of weeks, I can at least of given myself some hope for the New Year. 

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