A Potatolypse Now

“I love the smell of digging in the morning…….The smell, you know that wet earth smell, the garden. Smells like………Arran Victory”.


Arran Victory: A potato to die for


“Someday this garden’s gonna end…”


(apologies to Francis Ford Coppolla et al.)

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One Month On

170614 (3)It’s been a month since I put finger to keyboard (or for some I know it would be thumbs to keyboard).   It is an interesting comparison to see how stuff has panned out in the past 30 days.

A month ago it was raining, I was at the end of half term, looking forward to a mad month of end of term activities and report writing. Now the sun is shining and I am on holiday looking forward to weeks of no school and starting to reap the harvest from the springtime planting, potting on and general nurturing.

In June I was worried the garlic was going over and rotting. It was suffering rust (was it the rain?)  and some did – but most are now drying nicely and have been joined by the shallots, spread out in the garage, away from the joists where the swallow fledglings sit and shit.  The Old Man’s reaction to the harvesting of shallots was typical:

“It’s a bit early for shallots”.

“Try telling the shallots” I replied: “they’re falling over”.

It’s been a good year for them (early or not) and many are the size of decent onions. I wish I had planted more now.

Up the top of the garden, a month ago the pig pen was a tangled mess of three foot high weeds.  I put my back into clearing a particularly fertile area of the pen (resulting in a trip to the osteopath) but I reckon it was worth the effort:  the new squash patch is thriving on what I cleared and what the pigs left behind.

Early June the runner beans were just beginning to grasp the canes.  Now they are over-topping them.  The first beans are formed.  The curly kale was being protected by boards – now the kale is big enough to stand by itself and the boards are protecting the cabbages, which suffered some mouse damage.

Mid-June saw the first Cosmos and sweet peas – ahead of the regular 10th July Sweet Pea Day.  And veggies came on stream: courgettes, new potatoes, peas, mangetout and any amount of kale.  And second plantings of lettuce leaves are in full swing when they were non-existent a month ago.

While the over-wintered chillies were originally small and red, they became large and yellow in June and have graduated to orange to proper sized red chillis now.   And this year’s new chillis are starting to bud.

And….much to my relief and Mrs B’s delight…we have the first tomatoes.

(A bit early for tomatoes wouldn’t you say?)

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Unvote-able in pursuit of the unquote-able

I noticed in the Conservative Party Manifesto that they are offering  a free vote on reinstating Fox Hunting if the nation decides to re-elect President May.  Around these parts the hunt still meets – but currently just ride to with the hounds or canter with canines or something.  The traditional Boxing Day Hunt Meet is always a well attended annual event outside the George in Cary, drawing bloated Christmas crowds to share in a mulled wine before the men in hunting pinks take the hounds to seek and destroy the vulpine vermin (by accident of course).

We tottered into Canaryville this year feeling content after a good festive feast the day before, but the feelings of comfort and positivity started to dissipate as we arrived at the Market House.  I have mixed feelings about the hunt and I am not entirely sure what to make of a gathering of people on horses sipping mulled wine, surrounded by others who have little or no attachment to the countryside other than the fact that they own large parts of it to enable them to graze their ponies for their offspring to ride.  So much green tweed, Hunter wellies and dogs smoozing in the thin December sunshine, ra-ra-ing at the strident political statements from the master of the hunt, as he stands up in his stirrups and lets forth at the usual subjects.

There are no longer any hunt sabs who some decades ago (prior to the ban) had the nerve to stand outside the George to protest.  They looked sad and a little forlorn surrounded by the congregation of slightly tipsy twits with terriers who were fencing them in.  But the Master these days has his unopposed moment in the sun to make his case and he took it with his whip hand in December.

In a rollicking review of the ills that beset the countryside he started with a popular subject, harking back to the days of Tony Blair “and his cronies” deciding to ban hunting with dogs – to general murmurs of support.  Except at this point – miraculously – a voice was heard saying “good job too” to some startled mutterings.  While someone was despatched to find the key for the lock-up on Bailey Hill into which to throw the woolly-headed liberal dissenter, the Master continued unabashed.  He berated such organisations as the RSPCA, National Trust and RSPB for having lost touch with the countryside.   This cheered the assembled throng who were further enlivened as the Master reviewed the three major events of 2016:  Leicester City winning the league (loud cheers); Brexit (even louder cheers); and Donald Trump becoming the Leader of the Free World (the audience were a bit confused with that – were they meant to cheer or not?).

Brexit is an interesting one.  Why did it elicit such a cheer, when, as I understand it, the farming community – with which the Hunt is supposedly intrinsically linked – has for years survived on the subsidies provided by the Common Agricultural Policy developed in Brussels.  Country folk for Brexit sounds like turkeys and Christmas.  Perhaps I have missed something and Brexiteers have discovered another £350m a week which can support agriculture as well as the NHS.

It’s part of the jingoistic nationalist tendencies that have left us as blinkered as the winner of the 3.10 at Kempton.  The Master said that all we want is to be left alone to hunt to our hearts content (and kill things) and thanked the farming community for looking after the country and making it a good place to hunt and shoot (and kill things).  These are the same farmers who have ripped out hedges and helped decimate numbers of hedgerow nesting birds, while we are left to dodge swarms of brainless partridge and pheasant chicks as they run around the lanes trying to end it all before the shooters get them in the autumn.

I wouldn’t say that it was a long address, but one portly gentleman in the saddle who had started a cigarette shortly before the start was forced to rummage around in his hacking jacket (pardon the pun) to light up another mid-way through in order to help him concentrate.

The Master’s final jingoistic message was to Buy British – buy local – which is a sure-fire winner, although the chances of Britain being able to feed itself in the near future are remote.  On the other hand the assembled throng could do worse than come into El Castillo di Cary to exercise their democratic right to vote, then take some time to support their local businesses – and nowhere better than their local  independent bookshop.  They might find something educational and informative to read rather than listening to the loud-sounding nothings that have populated the airwaves for the past months.



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“This One Goes Out to the Ones I Love”

There is a storm blowing outside: the manifestation of the metaphorical turmoil that is in the air around us at the moment.  It is a time to hold our loved ones close – if not literally then at least in our hearts and minds. And to remind ourselves of our own values which do not require violence, puerile tweets or egotistical rants to back them up.

So this post is for my daughter who is working her socks off for her 4th year medical exams and for my son who has just got his first teaching job, in a proper (multi-denominational) school which will treat him like an adult and support him in every professional way as he starts his teaching career.

So I could talk about the walk the other day with the dogs through the damp grass which was bent like a Hokusai wave, on which the Labrador managed to despatch two rabbits; or I could tell you about the shrew that I spotted scuttling into the Old Man’s kitchen as I sat talking to him in the living room, and which proceeded to do a full tour of the house – via French windows, underneath the TV and then through to the breakfast room (all without TOM managing to see it) while I made vain efforts to humanely catch and release it whence it came.

But no more jokes about illegal immigrants this week.

Instead I will just show pictures of the straight lines and pleasing colours and blooms in the garden.  Just before the wind and rain battered it to destruction…

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The Campaign Continues

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Mangetout for the many

April and early May was so dry, and yet it was not warm.  Without temperatures getting particularly high (we rarely had the opportunity  to be able to sun ourselves amongst the mole hills) the ground had dried and cracked.  At school, one of my colleagues was even proposing getting a hose pipe out on the playing field to water the bare turf in goal mouths that had been re-seeded.

I suggested we leave ground work to the groundsman who is, after all, the expert.  But I do not have that luxury in the garden. I am the expert in the field leading the campaign, so it was with some relief that the past week has seen some solid rainfall. It has meant some potentially dispiriting lessons at school, but the garden plants look refreshed and revived on it. I told the Old Man about how it all immediately looked so green and healthy and he drily opined that it is the water on the leaves that magnifies and enhances the colours. It seemed a fair hypothesis and reminded me that even though largely house-bound, the OM retains the title of overall expert around here.

I might not have him literally looking over my shoulder, but he retains some theoretical oversight and to that end I remembered to net the red currants and black currants, after last year’s crop went exclusively to the greedy birds who feasted on them.  My brothers come down at regular intervals to cook for him at weekends and find the constant stream of instructions shouted from the living room to the kitchen rather taxing.  I have a little breathing space in the garden – perhaps that is why I find it so rewarding – but in the veg patch I am doing what I imagine my parents might have been doing in their hey day:  planting out  peas, mangetout and Cavolo Nero while the potatoes are sprouting healthily.  I’ve also planted beans, although I know the paternal voice in my head tells me it is too early for runners.

Such advice is about as welcome as a Johnsonian justification of alcohol consumption in a tee-total temple, so I am sticking to my campaign promises because the future of the garden is in my hands, I am planting not for the few, but for the many, and I expect all those plants to be strong and stable…

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May Now

May is deceptive.  You think there is sunshine and warmth there, but look closer and all you see is grey and coldness. That’s the PM for you.

It’s no different in the garden, where temperatures remain cool and seedlings need to be tough to harden off before planting.  Even before getting to the veg patch they have to combat the “bloody difficult” slugs which continue to chomp on them, but enough are surviving the onslaught to make it to potting on.  Despite the snails rampaging through seedlings like the SNP through the Labour heartlands, I have managed to pot up plenty of Summer PSB, and enough Brussels to pay for ten thousand new policemen.  I think that figure is correct.  Give me a moment….

This weekend it did start to feel warmer and Mrs B helped me plant out the sweet peas in the goalposts.  Last year the first sweet pea blossomed on 27th May – a month and a half earlier than the usual Sweet Pea Day of 10th July.  I cannot see that we will have a sweet pea by that time this year, but perhaps one will bloom on 8th June.  We could do with something uplifting and beautiful to happen on that day.  I am not expecting any other wonderful surprises then.




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Being There


Gardening while elections are being fought put me in mind of Peter Sellars’ last film – Being There.  The tale of a simple gardener whose naive statements about  horticulture are mistaken as pithy economic advice as he potters his way to become a trusted adviser to a political insider.

Perhaps we can take some advice from our politicians to help with our gardening.   Immigration, for example.  We saw a couple of rabbits by the hotchpotch bed the other day.  After the felling of the Blue Cedar the rabbits seemed to think we had an open border policy with a free movement of labour.  We sent our border control police out and they took one of the invaders down.  We are now rebuilding our wall (well…fence really) and we are going to MAKE THE RABBITS PAY FOR IT.  I don’t know how: perhaps they are Mexican rabbits – they’ll pay won’t they?

Elsewhere the immigrants are taking liberties with our seedlings as snails chomp their way through PSB, Brussels (no, not that one – the plant), Cavolo Nero and even Sunflower plants.  Typical foreigners:  they even eat weird food.  I mean: cosmos and sunflowers?  Getting rid of these invaders (when we can find them) is easy enough:  we just send them home – over the fence –  quicker than you can print a deliberately misleading poster of refugee snails and label it “Breaking Point”.  The real solution must be to put quotas on the slippery little characters.  Or maybe a points-based system on what they can bring to the garden…

Hardest of all is stopping the moles who continue to dig up the lawn.  These guys are the real Mugwumps of the garden.  What Massachusetts Native Americans would term a war leader.  They continue to lay their own IEDs on the lawn and tunnel under the tulips.  But I think they are less like mugwumps than the kind of Old Etonian who uses such terms in his newspaper column: with their dark-suited thick-set bodies, ponderous gait and blinkered, short-sighted outlook on life having them in charge of lawn care is about as right-minded as putting Boris “350 million for the NHS” Johnson in charge of foreign policy.

But maybe, just maybe, I need moles, slugs, snails and rabbits in my garden for the sheer diversity that they bring.  We have abundant bird life and amphibians feeding on so many of these critters and the dog stays fit and lean chasing after rabbits.  My recycled mole hills are excellent topsoil for the veg patch or even in potting compost.  So maybe without the uitlanders,  my garden ecology would fall apart, like an NHS without foreign doctors.

Perhaps I might take it easy on the immigrants.  Let’s not Keep low-paid jobs for British Workers but instead grow Broccoli for slugs and snails.  Maybe, to quote Chancy Gardner, I should remember that “Gardens need a lot of care. But if you love your garden, you don’t mind working in it, and waiting. Then in the proper season you will surely see it flourish.”

So true of life, gardening and health services.






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