Rhododendron Ponticum

May 22, 2015

(Stock photo from Google)

(Stock photo from Google)

The hills are alive with the purple of this Rhododendron. When my favoured route to Tescoville used to run through Slough, this time of year one really was driving through groves of this stuff, purple on both sides of the road. My favoured route has changed, and while it’s not quite as common, it’s still very notible.

Favoured route here means a route to take when the M25 is completely clogged up, which is most weekday evenings.

A couple of years or so ago, at this time of the year, a group of us went to a car breaker based in Yorkshire. One of the group looked up at the hills and admired the colour of the Heather – so I had to correct him in that the colour now was Rhododendrum runaways, Heather didn’t come out until August. For reasons of my father being a Beekeeper, and one year I helped out in a general treck taking the bees up to the Heather moors (in the late 1980s), I knew the Heather starts in August. Bees are taken there partly as the main crop in the South of England has ended, and partly because Heather Honey is widely praised. It also has some interesting physical properties – it is thixotropic, for a start. Hum, interesting rare word used in English containing the letter “x”…I digress.

It is amazing just how invasive plants have come to dominate some areas. (This is also true for insects and even some Deer species). Red Valarian is a pest in Tescoville, as indeed is Japanese Knotweed, I remember seeing it in the town centre in the 1970s, and it was a pest then!. Fortunately the latter is nowhere near anywhere of my responsibility, though there are enough other pests to keep me occupied. I did try and kill off a clump when I rented a house in Cambridge, but wasn’t there long enough to know whether I’d even killed off the lot in the garden let alone everywhere else in the area. Rhododendron is a pest in the woodland in the greater Tescoville area, but also all around the country.

As has been my want in the past few years, during the summer time regime (the clocks an hour forward), I take a walk at my favourate countryside spot every Saturday evening. Frequently that means no-one else around, and that’s how I like it. I noticed last Saturday that some of the early purple orchids are already showing (their blotchy leaves are very distinctive), but in other places where they have been plentiful in the past few years, nothing. A few wild strawberries in bloom. Cowslips just starting to fade (no primroses at this site for some reason, but massive clumps of cowslips)

Primula Veris

Back at the house I inherited, when I last lived there, we only got to see Swifts at an Aunt’s house (very close to the favourate countryside spot), but these days they are in the skys above the house. So what with the Robins and Blackbirds singing on and off from 5am to now (21:15), the wood pigeons and collared doves, Red Kites all singing away (plus many others on occasion), the soundscape is much more varied – but plus emergency services sirens, reversing lorry warnings, footballs hitting my cars – in a rather more built up surburbia than this identical spot 25 years ago.

Meanwhile in the garden is my “Red Cowslip”.

redcowslip

It’s been here for at least 20 years, sometimes I dig up one of the daughters to try and propagate it, but haven’t really succeed with that, being in the lawn it sometimes gets cut down. A few years ago it was a sizeable clump, but it’s currently down to these two plants.

The local wildlife.

April 19, 2015

Having taken possession of the house I grew up in, and there is a lot to do. But it has struck me how the local wildlife has changed.

Thirty or fourty years ago, there were house sparrows and starlings, with the “cheep” of the former being very loud in the summer, and the mimicry of the starlings sometimes causing confusion – immitating car alarms, telephone rings etc. Along with these were blackbirds, robins and the occasional finch.

These days the bird population is completely different. The blackbirds and robins are still around, and the occasional sparrow, but now it’s wood pigeons and collared doves that make all the noise. Magpies, chaffinches and wrens are also seen and heard, and there were blue tits but I’ve not seen one this year so far.

While wheeling above them all are the red kites. A few days ago there must have been twenty or more red kites trying to get something from a garden – diving down, swooping back up – it was quite a sight. But if I got too close, in order to try and take a photo, they stopped what they were doing, and moved away – only to return once I had gone.

Some of the twenty or more Red Kites performing aerobatics or perhaps trying to pick up some food...

Some of the twenty or more Red Kites performing aerobatics or perhaps trying to pick up some food…

I know that these are little better than silouettes, and I’ve had to crop the image quite a lot to not upset bad neighbour, but you can see one Red Kite diving down. I never saw any of them actually pick anything up, and it was the second time in three days I saw them doing these aerobatics above the same garden.

Interestingly, other wildlife seems quite unperturbed

A wood pigeon on the roof apex, apparently unconcerned at the aerobatics of the Red Kites around it.

A wood pigeon on the roof apex, apparently unconcerned at the aerobatics of the Red Kites around it.

A couple of years ago I was almost hit by a couple of red kites, one chasing the other, I was amazed that they’d get so close to a human – literally inches away from me, a spectacular piece of flying. The same day I saw what I discovered to be a moth fly into the garden, hover (like a hummingbird) by a flower, and then fly off again.

Other wildlife has changed. There were and are foxes, hedgehogs, but rats are more noticable these days – there is some scrub land, apparently belonging to no-one – at the end of the garden, so no surprise where the rats probably reside.. There is the odd squirrel. Even at night things have changed, as I’ve heard owls and seen bats these days, I never remember seeing them here before. One of the local cats – no one really knows which family it resides with – managed to catch (probably) a rat recently – it was night, but I was awake, and I heard its triumphant cry.

As far as plants are concerned, the pests include some kind of (wild) geranium, a monster form of hairy bitter cress, the ash and sycamores (the original trees probably were planted, their seedlings a constant menace), but bad neighbour had an pyramidal orchid growing in their unmown front lawn. I felt guilty in pointing it out, as the next day they just mowed the strip of lawn with that poor orchid in. There are the garden escapees, thankfully the nearest Japanese knotweed is about half a mile away at present, but several other plant thugs are present.

A garden shed…

January 16, 2015

The shed that my father designed and built himself is over 40 years old and ten years of neglect hasn’t helped. I believe it to be rescuable still, but would need alternative storage in the mean time. And I could do with a shed of different dimensions.

Any ready-to-assemble shed that I have ever seen for sale has one feature that I cannot understand. The door is about 5’6″ high at maximum. Anyone taller has to bow as they go in. I also gave away one such shed from my Aunt’s place, although there was a favour in return so I cannot really complain. A neighbour had a bespoke shed made, but it is off square, the door doesn’t close properly, and not a good advert.

I happened upon a website offering shed plans for thousands of designs, and so I signed up. Disappointed that some designs that were illustrated by photos on the intro page don’t appear, and that there are many duplications of the same plans under different file names, and most of the sheds are far larger than the entire garden I have to put it in. But there is a reasonable selection, and one may serve as the basis for what I need.

But to my surprise were included plans for the A frame building that I referred to in a post about loss of data in the digital age (at the end of the post) However, if I posted the plans here, I’d be breaking the copyright.

First signs of Autumn?

August 25, 2013

Although I have much to do at the moment, I decided to spend an hour in the garden this afternoon – mainly hacking back the ivy. The orchard is doing well, loads of apples, but it looks as if they will be small this year. Sadly the pear tree has died in recent weeks, no real idea what finally killed it off. I did take a photo or two of the blossems on it in the (latish) Spring.

While I was up in the canopy, I saw that the Discovery apples were ripe – some were being attacked by Wasps.

Apple - variety Discovery

Apple – variety Discovery

Discovery as a variety is early, and a recent, well, discovery, but it’s certainly not an apple to store. A week, basically. But I have a fondness for this, as under the guidance of my father, when I was pre-teenager, it was I who grafted the bud onto an existing tree (which was not the variety it was said to be, or perhaps the original graft failed and it is the rootstock that fruits). It doesn’t do very well as the main tree is dominant, but there are a few fruits every year. So, the first apples from the orchard this year. All four of them.

The other two known variety trees, Adam’s Pearmain and Mutsu, also have lots of smallish fruit on.

A still growing Adam's Pearmain

A still growing Adam’s Pearmain

The Mutsu has a lot of fruit on as well.

The Mutsu has a lot of fruit on as well.

Another sign of Autumn is the first flower of Cyclamen Hederifolium. This again has links to my father. The mother plant was from an original sowing at least forty years ago. Many years ago a slug got to the mother plant, and I cut out all the dead and decaying part of the corm, hoping to save it. I did.

The first flower of Cyclamen Hederifolium

The first flower of Cyclamen Hederifolium

It continues to flower every year, and has many daughter plants. And one of the daughter plants has just opened the first flower of the year.

This photo of the flower is rather bleached out. It happens with both my phone cameras. I had similar problem with a saffron crocus a couple of years ago. No idea why this should be the case, the flower is rather more pink/purple than this photo shows.

I was hoping to put all the corms into a new bowl, but again time just has run away.

Forty-odd years ago, walking in local woods with my father every Saturday morning, we’d frequently come across a Beach tree that had fallen down.  Being shallow rooted and on the chalk, they were very vunerable, especially if there was a break due to another tree having already fallen or cut down.

More recently, the Great Storm of 1987 that brought down so many trees in Southern England is well remembered.  I don’t remember the storm itself at all.   I remember cycling home the night before, thinking it calm (‘before the storm’) and waking up next morning with the Today programme going on about this storm – and then seeing all the trees down.

The London Borough of Richmond has – or at least had – a programme to check all the trees lining the borough’s streets.  In the road where I live, pretty much all the old oaks – coming up to 100 years old, I guess, were cut down on the grounds that they were getting dangerous.  This also made the council’s previous policy of building the pavement out into the road around these trees to preserve them rather pointless – and it cut the number of car parking spaces in the road dramatically.  Did they reinstate the parking spaces when the trees were cut down (rhetorical question)?

Image

You’d think with all this going on, the health of trees would be checked by the council, even if on private land, but this example seen yesterday shows otherwise.  The tree clearly had rotted at the base, and came down, across the riverside footpath and into the river.  Had it fallen another direction it might just have hit Richmond Bridge. 

Image

I don’t know exactly when it fell, but as the leaves were still fresh I’d hazard in the twenty-four hours before I took the photo at 15:30 (Friday 11th).

Cymbidium in bloom

January 17, 2012

The South of England is having it’s first real cold snap of this winter. Nothing like last winter, of course, I remember snow laying on the ground in November, all that we’ve had so far are a few frosts.

Such is the cost of electricity, I’m keeping a careful eye on the greenhouse. My method of one fan blowing all the time, and another that comes on just to supply heat, just to keep the greenhouse frost free seems to be working at present. The minimum temperature recorded on the bench was 1.1C, the fan heaters are beneath the bench and blow away from it. And the plants themselves don’t seem to be suffering – four different Geraniums (one still in flower, just), and three cacti (one died last summer for unknown reasons) are OK, while the Cymbidium has opened the first of its buds.

If we were in for a real cold snap like December 2010, when the average temperature for the month was -1C, I’d be putting a lot of bubble-wrap insulation in the greenhouse, but while its not to bad, and I’ve an awful lot of other ‘real’ work to do, that job is rather lower down on the ‘to-do’ list.

While I have been the sole user for the past few years, this year is really the first time for decades that I’ll actually be able to do anything serious in what is now fully and completely, no question about it, MY greenhouse. Although there is the continuing war with the Ivy to deal with, and to a rather lesser extent, bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis). The other thing to deal with are all the broken panes. Some of these breakages are due to the Ivy.

Preparing for Winter

November 26, 2011

Not for the first time in recent years, has there been a mild October and November – although I believe this year was record breaking.  A few years ago, when we were having a new roof put on the block of flats, the roofer disappeared for weeks, during that fine, mild autumn, and when he then complained about trying to finish the work in a cold wet December – he finished on 24th(!) – I pointed out the weeks of one of the best Autumns for years when he was away [doing other jobs, no doubt] – he pretended not to hear me.

Preparations this year are different and it is probably worth giving some detail as it gives an idea of the current situation chezes (sic) moi.  For I have three places to look after, still.

The Greenhouse is tricky, for the second heater appears to have developed an erratic thermostat.  Not that I thought much of the thermostat, or indeed the heater as a whole, to start with.  Using the remote sensor system, as previously blogged about, I’ve gone out late at night on more than one occasion to try and adjust the heater down, for it was holding the temperature too high.  It’s not that it really needs the heat yet (even this late in the year), but I want it working correctly for when the frost/snow does finally arrive, especially if I’m not around to fine-tune (or even, coarsely adjust) the heater.  Or get yet another heater.

As for the last two years, the old heater, just acting as a blower, is on all the time, to keep the air circulating.

If necessary, I do have a lot of bubble-wrap that I could use to make a smaller ‘greenhouse’ within the main one, and put all the valuable plants into that.

As well as moving the summer pelargoniums in last week, the Cymbidium again is in bud.  I fear that neighbours 60′ trees now overshadow the garden so much as to limit summer growth.  Unfortunately the Pleonies were killed off by the cold last winter.

This year's Cymbidium flower bud - only one so far.

One new problem is that I find I cannot reverse the Mercedes into the ‘back yard’ at Mother’s – it just will not go, and how I’ve tried.  I could get it into the garage, poking its nose out, but I’d have to clear the garage (again, it gets cleared and filled with monotonous regularity), take the doors off, and while the car’s there, not have access to anything in the car or the garage.  The reason for this is that the car needs some work to stop the rust now, before it gets serious, but it is the sort of job that could take more than a week (especially at this time of the year), as paint dried, and I cannot block neighbour’s access to his hardstanding for that long.

For the second year, I face winter with no gas central heating – a long running legal battle.  The tenants in the flat below used to be profilgate in keeping their heating on (which helped keep me warm), but I guess they’ve either moved out without telling their landlord, or else the fuel price has finally forced some economy in their living standards.  I’m really not sure which of the two it is!

Apple harvest 2011 (2)

October 23, 2011

Not much more time on this today – work and some of the jobs I didn’t do yesterday because I had to work yesterday.

I made a comment previously that the two bi-annual cropping apple trees were both fruiting heavily.  True, to a point.  The Adam’s Pearmain is fruiting heavily, for a year when it normally would not.  But so far I’ve got one tray picked from the tree, one tray of windfalls.  This is rather fewer than I had expected from looking at the tree, although other comments about the size of some of the fruit still stands.  5 more trays of Mutsu (in addition to the 12 gallon containers from yesterday), loads more Mutsu on the tree, but rather fewer Adam’s Pearmain still visible.  One of the unknowns has a large number of fruit, but are beginning to fall.

I’m already running out of storage for the fruit – and they are not well stored as it is now.  Let alone finding somewhere cool.

I’ve also spent a fair bit of time trying to find ways of preserving the apples to last.  Apple puree (mixed with blackberries, rosehips and/or spices for variants) would be a good idea if I had a working empty freezer, and that’s an expensive option.  Many of these puree/preserve recipes also require straining the mix at some point, another set of equipment I don’t have or the time to produce an alternative.

Crab apples are also falling at present, and I know of a few good trees.  I love crab apple jelly – although it is a pain to make because of the straining issue (above).  Why other apples don’t make a similar quality jelly I don’t know.

 

 

Apple harvest 2011

October 22, 2011

The Food Programme (BBC Radio 4) pointed out that this year is a bumper year for tree fruit.  As if I did not know, from the orchard at what was parent’s house, and which I am inheritor-presumptive (awaiting probate)

I had no chance to pick the fruit until today, when I only had half an hour, and despite the recent windy weather, most of the fruit is on the trees.  There are quite a number of windfalls.  On occasion I’ve gone out, picked up a windfall,  and baked the apple.  I made the interesting discovery that Adam’s Pearmain turns into an apple froth when baked, just as Bramley apples (‘cookers’ to those who don’t know any more) famously do.   Another (unknown) variety does not.

The photo above shows how heavily laden the Mutsu tree is.  In the half hour, I picked two tubs of 25 liquid litres (~6 gallons) just from a few branches so laden they were pickable by just standing under the tree.  I know I’ve only taken a small percentage of that tree, and there are others I’ve not yet started on.  It is ironic that father was so critical of ‘Golden Delicious’, yet it is one of the parents of Mutsu, which obviously has Japanese parentage as well, from its name.

The orchard has four apple and one pear tree surviving.  Even the pear tree cropped this year, neighbours picked 60% of the crop early – it overhangs their land, (they gave me a slice of the pudding they made from it), but the rest rotted before it was ripe.  The Pear tree was seriously ill, I thought it would die, but in the past couple of years it has slowly started to recover. Two years ago I managed to rescue one pear before it rotted – it was, as I remembered, delicious.  Variety Pitmaston Duchess.  Two other pear trees, Conference and one so long ago I now forget have died, whereas all the apples have survived.  It has just occurred to me as to whether the pear tree is self fertile (which is questionable), or if not, where the nearest pear tree is.

The apples clearly fertalise each other, for all the complexities of apple fertility (di and tri varieties).

There are two apple trees that had been in alternate bi-annual cropping, but both are heavily laden this year – Adam’s Pearmain and Mutsu (aka Crispin).  The other two are a mix.  One has Discovery plus something else unknown, the other is a different unknown.  ‘Unknown’ means that the trees are not as advertised when purchased – one was supposed to be Lord Lambourne, I forget what the other was supposed to be.  It may be that the trees are just the rootstocks, the budding having failed.  So maybe the fruit is ‘M19’ or other rootstock variety.  The Discovery was something my father and myself added (he was showing me how to do it), budding this variety onto the existing tree.

The Adam’s Pearmain is sometimes referred to as a Cider variety, although I’ve never seen it used for that.  The tree is a bud on a dwarfing rootstock from a tree at my paternal grandparents, and the story ran as follows.

They planted a tree, probably a Cox’s Orange, but it died.  The next year, there were shoots, from the rootstock.  It soon started fruiting.  My grandfather sent off some of the fruit to the RHS, who identified it as Adam’s Pearmain.  I vaguely remember the tree as being an enormous glory – shaped just as a child would draw a tree – at the bottom of grandparent’s
garden.   The house still exists, but there appears to be a factory built over where the tree used to stand (the garden is much shorter – albeit as viewed from the road).

Some of the Adam’s Pearmain this year are enormous – I cannot remember seeing these apples this large before.  The Mutsu I do remember was an enormous fruit in any case, although this year are smaller in general, I guess due to the sheer number.

One reason to pick the fruit is because the trees over hang the greenhouse these days, and I don’t need yet more broken glass to have to replace (it’s a tricky job).  But everything is in shadow at this time of year to the sycamores literally inches beyond the end of the garden, and even put the ground floor of the house (30 yards or more away) in shade during the day when the sun passes behind them.