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At last the begonias have decided that it's about time they came in for the winter!  Well, most of them have -  first frost struck last night and now most of them are looking a bit dreepit.

I've started bringing them in, and as per usual, I'm sticking them in a bath of hot water for a couple of minutes in order to cook the vine weevils.  It's a bit cruel, I know, and I do my best to evict all innocent parties like worms and centipedes before the soaking begins.  It seems to work, because I've had one dead weevil grub floating in the water already.

Since I have so many begonias kicking around now, there's no way I'm going to get them all sorted tonight. So I hope they'll be able to hang in there until tomorrow, because the temperatures are supposed to dip below zero tonight until mild air moves back in from the Atlantic tomorrow.

Will post some more photos from Lagrasse tomorrow!  Enjoy your weekend everyone - don't know about you lot, but I really need this chance to sit back and put my feet up!!
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The weather's gorgeous - at last!! - and I of course messed things up by deciding that I really couldn't be bothered getting up at 6am to cycle 5 miles down to one of our nearby train stations. 

By lunchtime, I was of course regretting this decision.  And by the time I finished at 4pm, I was kicking myself. 

So I did a workout instead, and now I'm even more knackered.  The weather's supposed to be good all week, so I guess I'll be able to take the bike on Thursday instead.

Since I've finished my last series of Lake District posts, I thought I'd take some time out for a garden post.  I've mentioned my 'Cromer Rock' anthirrhinum from Thomson & Morgan a few times, so here's a picture, just to let you know what they look like:-


It might be a bit garish for some, but I like it!  It took a while to get going, but now it's flowering madly.  And in the wider context of the front flower bed, it doesn't like quite so in yer face:-


My apologies for the random bits of couch grass....

I still don't think this bed has peaked yet as far as the annual bedding is concerned. The godetia haven't started flowering yet and the lobelia are still being a bit tardy. Their zenith will, of course completely fail to coincide with the potentilla, but we can't have everything, can we?

On the penstemon front, the situation is catastrophic.  Heavenly Blue (below) is doing really well, and Sour Grapes isn't doing too badly, either, though it's not flowering yet.  Stapleford Gem has also made it, but I know for sure that Appleblossom and Snowstorm have gone to the great herbaceous border in the sky....


Some old faithfuls remain consistent, including my David Austin Old English Roses. This one's Eglantyne - unfortunately, I can't post you the perfume, which is divine:-


And another revelation has been the pelargoniums, which came from Vernon Geranium Co.  I lost one or two due to damping off or something similar, which was a bit disappointing (and yes, I should have complained!), but those that made it have been lovely. Unfortunately, the writing on the plant labels has faded, but I'm pretty sure that this one's Vectis Glitter:-


And now I'd better get on with my daily chapter...
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I just heard back from the bee researcher, who wants me to do some further research on my bumblebee nest on her behalf.  This involves photographing them, which might be amusing...

The garden's beginning to look very nice now, with the annual flowers finally coming into bloom.  I shall post photos once the weather allows it (yes, it's still grey. It's still raining.  It's truly horrible...)

But to another garden, now, with a return to the beauties of Ardchatten Priory. 

I promised you some nice pieces of garden furnitur, and here they are.  A handsome sundial, first of all, and while I recently read a paper devoted to sundials in the west of Scotland (including a helpful Typology of sundials.  Yay!  Where would we be WITHOUT a Typology of Sundials???) I have forgotten everything it said, though I can state with confidence that this is in fact a horizontal sundial and not a vertical one.  As you will probably guess, sundial typology is not rocket science, and the differences between vertical and horizontal sundials are not difficult to establish....

And a close-up of the dial itself:-

To the herbaceous flower-beds now, which are located in front of the main house structure. 

And the obvious question here is "how do you know if you've got elephants in the herbaceous border?"

The answer is, of course, "footprints in the London Pride".  That is, if it is London Pride, and not some kind of saxifrage....

A rather lovely flowering tree which I stumbled across during my garden tour now, and if any of you out there know what it is, please tell me.  It strikes me as being rather antipodean in character, though I could be completely wrong...

And here's a close-up of the flower head:-

Any ideas, folks??  Because sadly the owners hadn't put a label on the plants.  Or if they had, someone else had nicked it... 
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Some horticultural eye-candy now, courtesy of Ardchattan Priory...

As I mentioned previously, some of the conventual buildings were retained and they're now part of a domestic residence. Which is itself still occupied, by some very gracious individuals who have welcomed visitors into their very considerable, and extremely handsome, gardens.

I don't often visit gardens, which is very remiss of me.  I should do so more often, because the gardens at Ardchattan Priory were truly inspirational.  The owners have made extensive use of wild flowers, and the results were really effective.  Here's a path cut through a swathe of wild flowers, which the bugs and beasties loved (and so did I!):-

We missed the best of the rhododendron and azalea displays, which was a shame, but the place still looked great:-

And once again, wild flowers everywhere!!

It was a lovely place, though I suppose the weather really helped to make the gardens look truly special.  There are some fun bits of garden furniture dotted around the place, too - but we'll have more of them tomorrow.

And looking outside at the grey dank miserable weather that we're stuck with right now, I find it hard to believe that these images were taken in the same country!!!
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I want to do some writing this afternoon, so I'm going easy on the images for a change...

Some bad news on the garden front.  My weeding regime finally took me to the final flower bed of the front garden today, and it was with some sadness that I learned that one of my penstemon - Penstemon Appleblossom - didn't make it through the winter.  I mulched it with straw, I put fleece over it, all to no avail.  The cold weather was evidently too much for it - though I can't help wondering if I should maybe have watered it in the recent dry spell, as that bed dries out quickly and I'm sure I saw hints of new growth a few weeks back...

So I now have a great big empty space which I suppose I'll have to fill with something...

We went out to McLaren's nurseries at Uplawmoor this morning, which was a mistake, because instead of spending an anticipated £10 on plants, I spent closer to £25.  I got some more container plants (today's pot had the colour theme of blue/pink/white, built up around geranium vectis glitter) - they seem to trundle out new varieties to tempt the unwary almost every week, and I also managed to get some very pretty snapdragons and a tray of godetia.  I love godetia, but it's not often possible to get hold of them. 

The front flower bed is almost fully planted - the lobelia I ordered from Gardening Direct still haven't arrived yet, however, which is a bit annoying and highly unusual.  I keep meaning to drop them a line enquiring, but of course I never get around to it (I could be doing that now...) so it means there's a hole at the front of the border where the lobelia should be planted. I'm now at the stage where I'm finding gaps and just shoving anything in to fill them - I've got annual poppies, nigella and now the godetia to perform this task, so here's hoping that the next few weeks will produce a magnificent display.

The only things I'm running short of now are garden 'mums and osteospermum.  Guess they'll have to wait until the next visit!

I will, of course, post photos once there's anything to report...

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I was tipped off by an entry in [livejournal.com profile] clytemenstra's blog that Hilary Mantel's follow-up to Wolf Hall has now been published.  Since it was available at the fairly modest sum of twelve quid, I was hopeful that this time, her publisher would NOT be going through the rigmarole of releasing a massive hard-back edition a year before the paperback came out...

So I went rushing headlong into Waterstones today and more or less said to the hapless assistant: I NEED Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and I need it NOW!!! Gimme, gimme, gimme, PLEASE!!!!!!! 

The assistant duly obliged, and led me to the best-seller shelves, where I found that the princely sum of twelve pounds could buy me a hardback edition the size of a small breeze-block, which would neatly double up as a murder weapon, if so desired, which considering the subject matter, is probably quite appropriate.

I spent thirty seconds deliberating.  I'm desperate to read that book, but...  In my view, books are for life, not for Christmas.  I don't have the space on my shelves for a hardback, and since it's a book I'll probably be re-reading on a semi-regular basis, I really don't see myself lugging the damn thing across the world in a plane or a train or whatever.  So I left in on the shelf, and now I guess I'll have to wait it out until the wretched publishers finally get around to releasing the paperback.

I WISH they wouldn't do this.  It's really annoying.  I mean, who actually buys hardbacks, anyway???  Am I in a minority here, or what??? 

On a lighter note, I am delighted to report that our bee box, which was placed carefully in the garden near where my beloved Clematis montana used to live (sob!!) several winters ago, has at last got residents.  It is currently occupied by a colony of bumbles - I couldn't tell you what type of bumbles they represent, though they are rather tiny.  I like to call them 'mini-bumbles' for this very reason...

I'm delighted by this turn of events.  In a time where bees seem to be under attack on every quarter, it's wonderful to see them buzzing in and out doing their bumbly things and generating more and more bumbles to populate the garden.  It means that as far as my stakeholder gardening system is concerned, I must doing things right! 

I'm so impressed that I might invest in a second bee box for next year, which I can place a discreet distance away.  I'm assuming the creatures aren't too territorial...
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It's sunny!!  It's hot!!

Could summer actually be here???

Maybe that's too much to ask for, but I've just been running around like a mad thing and now I'm going out to the Writers' Group, so no post tonight, I fear!!

I shall be back tomorrow...
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Could somebody please explain where the day actually went???

We took a leisurely stroll round the village this morning, then went out to the the nursery at Uplawmoor to buy some plants for one of J's gardening clients before heading to our usual cafe at Lochwinnoch for lunch.  I rather hopefully embarked on the trip with the intention of buying 'a couple of nemesia for the patio pots.'

Oh dear.  It's not for no reason that I say that plants are to me as shoes were to Imedla Marcos.  I got my nemesia alright - a dozen in total, plus some bright red verbena and some pink and white verbena.  Then I wandered around the nursery in a complete daze, wondering whether I'd died and gone to Heaven.  Or was it Hell...  Those of you who like your gardens, imagine if you will a garden centre, which has polytunnel after polytunnel after polytunnel, stretching as far as the eye can see.  There's a whole polytunnel devoted to paeonies...  A whole polytunnel devoted to hostas... Etcetera... 

Yes, you get the picture. 

We were hunting for coreopsis and geum.  We got the geum, but oddly enough, the one thing they didn't seem to have was the coreopsis.  They did, however, have four varieties of brunnera.  And so, since I'm a sucker for impulse buying, I thought I'd give Brunerra 'Jack Frost' another go.

This is the third time I've tried to establish a Jack Frost.  On both previous occasions, the slugs and snails munched at those pretty, succulent leaves faster than the poor plant could grow them.  The plants, on both occasions, were youngsters bought from mail order companies.  So I'm hoping that buying a fully established mature plant will mean it gets enough of a head start to beat the beasties.

I have my doubts, however.  My 'Dawson's White', which I bought a few months previously, is looking positively moth-eaten already...

Anywhere, here - for your delectation - is a pristine, lovely Brunnera 'Jack Frost', free of slug holes and snail-munching perforations.  [And, in case you're wondering, the white container in the top left hand corner is a slug pub...]

Stepping back a bit, the brunnera effect can be seen properly.  In the foreground is my well-established brunnera (which I think was a 'Looking Glass' which when it got established didn't look anything like how it was supposed to, but never mind.  I still love it!!).  'Jack Frost' is in the middle and 'Dawson's White' to the rear.  The miserable-looking laurel may not survive much longer (J is threatening it with destruction if it doesn't pull its metaphorical socks up) and the twiggy mess to the right is an unknown plant which we call George (the Bush...) because of its expansionist and imperialistic tendencies:-

Stepping back further, the full effect can be seen, with Rhododendron 'Hoppy' and Cousin It (a weeping silver pear) forming a backdrop.  We used to have a beautiful dark red broom bush in that area, but it didn't last very long, and we haven't replaced it.  Yet.  Something's going to have to replace George, though, who (or which) has achieved the dubious accolade of being the only plant in the garden that has been subjected to weedkiller in order to get rid of it.  Yes, we loathe it that much.  I tried to dig it up, five or six years ago, and it defeated me.  All in all, it's such an obnoxious customer that it requires a draconian treatment...

The other rhododendron in the garden is Rhododendron 'Dreamtime'.  Of course, it would have been looking a whole lot better if the fence had still been concealed beneath the vast expanse of clematis montana which used to grow here, but our wretched neighbour put an end to that, didn't they?  Grrrrr...

I also created another pot today.  I'd bought a new plant today - a heliotrope - because I thought it looked stunning and wanted to give it a try.  So I built the pot up around this new acquisition, adding a few nemesia and a bacopa and a purple calibrachoa for good measure:-

The only thing I can't get across in the photograph is the smell.  Because nemesia smell divine, which means that I can now sit out on my patio happy in the knowledge that I can close my eyes and wallow in the scent of nemesia blosson.  Okay, so the patio's still a complete mess, but it's getting there, at least.

Though I'm told there may be yet another frost tonight.  Ulp!!!
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Time for a garden post now.

It's that time of year again.  The time when the azalea and rhododendron are in their prime. 

I should probably have done a special feature on our azalea and rhododendron, but by the time I stopped footering around with the garden and got round to the photography, I'd lost a lot of direct sunlight and was limited in my choices for photographs. 

A view across the front garden now.  The big weeping silver pear on the corner is now in flower, and there are a few azalea and rhododendron visible in shot:-

The pale flowers in the distance, just in front of the weeping silver pear, belong to a rhododendron of the variety called 'Hoppy'.  I'm sure I chose it in the first place because I liked the name as much as anything else, but it is rather pretty:-

The back garden is quite quiet just now, while we wait for the poppies and the aquileagia to leap into action, but there are a few favourites in bloom.  Particularly the auriculas:- 


I keep meaning to buy more auricula, but they're tricky little beggars to grow successfully, and I'm keen to get hold of some of the really pretty and exotic ones which are available from specialist growers.

I've also built up my first pot.  I'm hoping I'm not being premature with this one, but I'm pretty sure our frosts are finally finished, and if the worst comes the worst, I can do something drastic like drag it into the porch overnight.

Anyway, I opted for a pelargonium as the central feature, with petunia, surfinia and bacopa accompanying.  I've still got a couple of gaps, so I might shove in some lobelia when they finally arrive:-

What the group photograph doesn't show, unfortunately, is the flower of the pelargonium, which is absolutely lovely.  It's Geranium Species Sidoides, which came courtesy of The Vernon Geranium Co., and it's a wee cracker:-

I'm looking forward to seeing how it progresses throughout the year, as it becomes established.

Watch this space!!

And today it's wet and windy, so I'm going to do some writing.  Woo hoo!!
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I awoke at 6.43am exactly this morning, and with the sun streaming in through the bedroom window (readers in southern England may at present find this rather hard to believe, but there you go) and announced to J that today would be a perfect day to tackle Ben Arthur (aka 'The Cobbler').

No, quoth he, without putting his head above the covers.  Too cold.

I huffed.  I squawked.  And then I gave up and went back to bed.  And when I next woke up at 8.57 precisely, I went downstairs and stuck my nose out of the door.  To be hit by a sub-artic blast of wind which made me think, yeah, maybe it is a bit early in the year to be sitting on the summit of a rather tall Corbett eating lunch... 

So sayeth the person who climbed Helm Crag on the 21st December last year, but...  Scottish mountains are seriously malevolent creatures when they want to be, and tackling even a Corbett is not a matter to be taken lightly. 

In the end, we went cycling.  I upped the mileage to twelve miles or so today - I'd hoped to get a few ten-milers under my belt last week, but, alas, it was not to be.  My legs are now toast: this is good, as I've been trying to pedal at a rate which is more like a lively trot than a leisurely saunter, which means churning merrily up slopes and inclines (I haven't encountered any proper hills as yet - thank goodness!!).  In fact, I think I'm judging it just about right for my current level of fitness. 

When I came home, I was working in the garden - as usual - when one of the neighbours paused at the wall for a chat.  She's leading a campaign to slow down the maniac motorists who keep charging up and down our street, and of course she's got my wholehearted support.  In fact, she's trying to do something to improve the image of the town as a whole.  Evidently, we're entering the 'Britain in Bloom' contest, so she asked me whether I'd signed up for the event with my garden, because it was by far the best in the street,

I shook my head, and replied with a polite 'no.'

I must admit that I've considered it.  But this is what I'd like to call a 'stakeholder' garden.  I'm the managing director of a thriving concern in which the needs of everyone (except maybe the ants and the slugs, who occasionally get ASBO's when they get too unruly) are attended to.  Why, even the vine weevils have a purpose - as some of my robin and blackbird friends can attest to, because they were greedily scoffing a few grubs that I uncovered in the pots and threw in their direction yesterday.  My daffodil leaves are left to rot down in their own good time, the lawn's uneven, the wild flower patch can look a bit weed-ridden and scruffy and there's bald patches under the laburnum tree where the bird feeder gets placed. In other words, it looks good from afar, but if a couple of 'experts' from the Royal Horticultural Society came snooping round it looking for faults, they'd have a list as long as a respectable sunflower stem.

So I guess I'll keep my distance, and give it a miss.

And now the latest in the Squinty saga.  You may be wondering why I haven't been talking about Squinty the blackbird just recently.  The truth is, I just haven't seen her.  She vanished about five weeks ago: it wasn't a sudden disappearing act, it was more like a tactical withdrawal.  She had her own things to do, and since we were about to go on holiday, I was quite relieved to know that she was doing her own thing and being completely self-reliant. 

On our return, a female blackbird settled into Squinty's old familiar role, but -and I may make myself very unpopular here, and get branded 'blackbirdist' - all female blackbirds tend to look the same, and I wasn't sure if it wasn't Squinty herself.  But the more I got to know this blackbird, the more I suspected that it was in fact Cresty.  Who is distiguishable only by her slightly natty haircut (hence the name), her furtive manner, and her slightly mis-shapen beak. 

Of Squinty, there were occasional possible sightings around the garden, but she was still largely conspicuous by her absence.  Cresty, meanwhile, was throwing her weight around like there was no tomorrow, beating up the robins, and every other blackbird who dared to go anywhere near her.

J said that Squinty had come onto the fence looking for food last week, only to get seen off by a furious Cresty,  I was slightly skeptical, but today -lo and behold! - when I was potting on the petunias, I heard a familiar clucking, and there was Squinty,  But right on cue, Cresty came down like a guided missile and there was a spat.  But the blackbird that emerged victorious, though timid, had no natty haircut, so I think it was Squinty, and not Cresty,  I tried to get her to eat on the step, where Cresty still does not dare to tread, but she was understandably a bit furtive. 

It was very good to see her again, and to know that she seems to be doing very well for herself.  She's still plump, and very healthy looking.  Now all I need to do is to get Cresty to eat her food elsewhere in the garden so that both birds can get their fair share of RSPB Fruity Nibbles and not end up having a fisticuffs each time.

Oddly enough, this method has worked quite well so far for the males.  They appear at different times (mostly!), eat their fill, and then move on.  It's the girls who are being obnoxious - perhaps this is because their territories aren't as big.  Though neither of them are nesting in the garden, so I don't really know what they're up to...

I guess this is what happens when you interfere with nature....
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I'm taking a break from Carcassone today so I can actually get stuff done!

We took the bikes out this morning, for the second time THIS YEAR!!!!!  This is truly shocking.  I knew I wasn't going to up to much - of course, my legs (being fairly seasoned cyclist's legs!!) got all excited to begin with and I just churned along happily.  The aim was to try and do a good robust ten mile run, rather than try and do fourteen or twenty miles and wilt halfway through.  The initial wave of enthusiasm soon got replaced with a dull grinding ache as the gradients went gently up (of course, I felt obliged to attack each slope, albeit in a mealy-mouthed pathetic kind of way!!)

I now feel like I've had a good workout.  I felt knackered when I got home, so must have judged the effort just right.  Yes, we did get overtaken, by a pair of local octagenarian supervets (one of whom is a former World Champion in ladies' cycling, so there's no shame there!) who called out as they sailed past, "Woo Hoo!  We caught the D's!!'

You will note, however, that any prestige in this situation comes from catching J, who's turned a mean wheel in the past.  I have always been a dumpling on the bike, and I guess I will always remain so!!

All I need to do now is repeat the exercise on a fairly regular basis (three or four times a week) for a month, while gently extending the distance each week.  Will this be possible in the Scottish summertime, and surviving on an archaeologist's diet of regular fieldwork?  Who knows? 

My poor baby plants aren't chuffed after yesterday's hail storm.  The lobelia look very miserable - I've now put them under a garden chair to protect them in case of another similar incident.  The fancy perlargoniums have got slightly burned leaves, and the begonia leaves have little splits, which may also be hail-related.  But work's progressing well in the garden.  The last overwintered begonia has been planted - I'd actually dismissed it as a dud, but it at last showed a bud - and I've planted my last seeds: nigella, and annual poppy 'Dawn Chorus'.

And now I've got a lot of stuff today for my writing, so goodbye!!
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It's Writers' Group tonight so nothing more from Carcassone, I'm afraid...

Touching down in Prestwick yesterday was a bit of a cultureshock.  We'd left Carcassone in the pouring rain and Scotland was basking in sunlight...

...but enduring an Arctic breeze which was sweeping down from the north and lowering the temperature by about five degrees or so. 

I'm glad I brought my begonias in for the duration of the holiday because we're still having reasonably heavy frosts.  I'm now really pressed for space, so they've been punted out again, along with the baby snapdragons and the lobelia, but the addition of a fleece jacket seems to be keeping them hale and hearty.  The baby snapdragons I'd planted out in the front flowerbed have survived their ordeal, though they're looking a bit stunted.  I planted out another as an experiment yesterday, and believe it or not, it came through the cold night looking quite happy and pleased with itself.

Only one plant was lost during the ten day holiday - a sweet pea which looked as if it was going to die anyway.  The rest of the sweet peas had bolted because I'd deliberately placed them away from the window to stop them drying out in the bright sunlight (in Scotland???  Was I off my chump???).  It might in retrospect have been a bad decision but it seemed like the lesser of two evils in the circumstances.

As for the new arrivals... I had three small packs of plants arrive in my absence last Wednesday which my FiL kindly attended to, so the scenario I'd feared of returning home to a jungle filled with half-dead and expiring annuals didn't materialise.  I expect an inundation of the things pretty soon, so I'm quite glad the snapdragons are coping with the cold - the sweet peas and the nasturtiums, which also, thankfully, fall under the category 'hardy annuals', will also, I'm afraid soon be joining them.

Just as well I can't be charged under the cruelty to plants act!!
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It's another beautiful day out there, and the world seems to be flitting blithely past my front door on two wheels.

And I'm stuck in here, coughing, sniffling, and popping mega-Strepsils like smarties [NB. If you wonder what my idea of a mega-Strepsil is, it's one of those hideous pale blue ones for blocked nose & sore throat combos.  It appears to embody Pestilence, and tastes vile.  The consumption of these vile things is, however, chipping gradually away at my blocked sinuses.]

All in all, bleaugh.  In case you hadn't guessed, I decided against riding my bicycle today.  So I'm crabbit...

I have, however, been gardening.  I pruned a rose, did some weeding, dissected some more sweet peas, potted on a begonia, trimmed an excitable pelargonium, planted some gladiolii and my nice new salmon pink primula, and lost my trowel.  Not my archaeological trowel, which I lost years ago and haven't yet got around to replacing, but my garden trowel, which - considering what time of year it is - is a matter of slightly more concern.

Our current ladybird census stands at 26.  All seven spot, and not a single harlequin in sight.  Phew.

So rather than posting something intellectual, I thought I'd post some plant porn.  I believe [livejournal.com profile] ingaborg is on a quest for shade-loving plants just now, so I decided I'd dedicate a post to the noble brunnera

Here's the Dawson's White I managed to wheedle out of J yesterday:-

For those of you who are unfamiliar with brunnera, once the forget-me-not like flowers finish, the leaves just get bigger, and bigger, and bigger.  It's a wonderful ground-cover plant for damp shady places (I'm hoping the spot I chose for this one won't be too sunny...), its only drawback being that it makes a tasty well-loved snack for slugs and snails.  Once they get established they can hold their own against attack, but for the first year or two, they're vulnerable, the variegated ones especially so.  I've tried 'Jack Frost' before, and been unsuccessful both times - I'm hoping this plant'll be big enough to cope under prolonged slug attack.

This is my established brunnera - I can't remember what the variety is, though the name 'Looking Glass' seems to ring a bell:-

In this variety, the leaves are lightly spotted around the edges with silver.  It's been a great addition to the garden, and it's a plant I'd wholeheartedly recommend to anyone.

And lastly, daffies.  Because they're at their best at the moment, and I like them!

Incidentally, whatever has happened to the noble senetti??  They've been available on mail order sporadically through the years, and they were starting to get popular in the garden centres a while back, and now they've just vanished.  I saw a nice selection on sale at the nursery yesterday, but at eight quid each, they were more than I was willing to pay.  I just can't understand why they aren't more popular - they liven up any container at this time of year and with the proper treatment they're repeat flowering, too.

The garden just isn't the same without them.
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Thanks to my esteemed colleague The Classicist, who trailed into the office feeling under par last week, I am now loaded with the cold.  I should be spending today working on my WIP, but since I feel like my head's stuffed with aerated cotton wool, and since the sun has been shining (shock horror!!!) I've been pootling around the garden instead.

J took me to his favourite nursery this morning, at Uplawmoor.  Since he retired, he's transformed himself into a gardener, and his task today was to buy 15 privet plants for a client.  At this time of the month, I'm skint, so I was most dismayed to see a lovely variegated brunnera (Brunnera Dawson's White) and the most gorgeous salmon pink polyanthus on sale.  I was, however, able to persuade my Best Beloved to spend a few pennies on these plants in exchange for helping select and shift his privet plants and a bag of compost (and I wonder why I'm feeling awful???). 

Castle spotters will also be interested to know that we took a drive past Caldwell Tower (star of 'Restoration Man') to admire the new addition.  From one approach, the structure looks great - it's been nicely consolidated, and looks set fair for the foreseeable future.  From the other, well...  It looks like someone's tacked either a dodgy grain silo or a missile silo onto the side.  Not the world's most attractive feature, I fear...

After lunch, I went out into the garden to make the most of the weather.  I planted the brunnera (with a slug pub nearby), weeded some more of the front bed, then took the enormous step of taking away the fleece from the half-hardy plants and potting on one of the begonias that I've been hardening off.  I'm pretty confident now that we'll only have a few isolated frost pockets in exposed parts of the garden, and I'm so pushed for space indoors that I'm having to move things along. 

I'm disappointed in the over-wintering exercise: I put the plants out (under fleece) a few weeks back, and the chrysanthemum, the ageranthymum and most of the osteospermum have failed to put out any new growth.  This is surprising, as the chrysanthemum in particular were showing some shoots, and one of them was actually in its third winter, having been left outside all winter two years ago, where the temperature dipped to -6 a few times.  I suspect slugs or even vine weevil grubs may be to blame...  Never mind, I'll leave them a little longer and see if they pick up.  My half-hardy fuschia have, however, all survived...

I seperated a few of my sweet pea, which arrived from T & M yesterday. I really dislike the way most sellers send 70 sweet pea plants in the form of 10 plugs containing 7 plants each - I need more than 10 plants for my garden, thank you, so I wind up dividing them, even though T & M says not to.  If it's done very carefully, they recover, though they don't like it when I do the equivalent of open heart surgery on them...   With the arrival of the sweet peas, the snapdragons are being shuffled out to the porch, along with some of the bedding begonias, for a couple of days' hot house treatment before being hardened off next week.  I'm hoping I can put a few of the snapdragons in the ground before we go off to France: if we have the misfortune of a blocking high in the jetstream while we're away, I'm really likely to lose all my plants if they're left in peat pots and we end up with a dry spell.  There's also a higher chance of frosts in that scenario, too, so here's hoping the atlantic rains aren't altogether absent - sorry, if you're sitting here thinking 'woo hoo!  Dry weather is GOOD!!  But hey, I've got to think of my plants...)

It's always a gamble, I suppose, when you go on your hols at this time of year...

Oh, and I forgot to mention.  I sowed my cornflower and nigella today, too.  So I've been busy...
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And they call it weeding the herbaceous borders...

Yes, I know I've been promising you the Saint Andrews posts for ages, but once again I've been distracted.

It's a beautiful day today.  Warm, blue skies, and just lovely.  I've spending a lot of time in the garden , so I thought I'd share some news and some photos.

I continued my onslaught on the front flower bed this morning, and left a trail of destruction in my wake.  My loyal and dependable Lavender Munstead  - last survivor of five - had to be pulled up, unfortunately.  It's been getting poorlier and poorlier through the years, and sadly, it didn't make it through the winter.  I now have a big gaping void in the front bed...

Now, I'm swithering as to whether I should replace the lavender, or buy a new Old English rose to fill the void.  I originally bought the lavender bushes to plant between the roses, as a deterrent against aphids.  These days (as a later photograph will show!) I'm not convinced I need them,  In the bad old days, we were so beset by aphids that we actually resorted to insectides.  But it's been six or seven years since then, and now such draconian remedies are not required. 

I've got a couple of nasturtiums showing their heads in the seed tray already, which is great, and I've planted up another begonia and a couple more geraniums, which arrived this morning from the Vernon Geranium Co.  These are single plants of the varieties 'Paton's Unique' and 'Vectis Glitter'.  One of them suffered badly in the post, with a lot of displaced compost, and it's looking a bit 'wabbit'.  Hopefully, it'll pull through now it's potted on.  And eegit-here forgot to label them before chucking the boxes out, so I haven't a clue which one's which!  Ooops!!!

I've been neglecting my penstemon cuttings - I'd just assumed they'd all died, and I really haven't been feeling up to checking them just recently.  But J informed me that one had masses of roots, so I finally got round to checking them over and discovered that three had actually survived my evil neglect and did indeed have roots.  Hopefully, these little guys will have been so toughened up by this spell in the 'plant-agoge' that they will be super-strong!  They have now been potted on, I hasten to add!

It's time for photos, now.  And because Wales are playing France for the Grand Slam today, the emphasis is going to be on the noble daffodil.  Here's the big flower bed by the drive, which is full of daffs:-

And a close-up now:-

I wanted to feature 'Jetfire', but they're past their best, unfortunately...

A change of species now, but there's still a Welsh theme.  When my Aunty O moved up north, she moved into a nice little house with a hurrendous downstairs neighbour, who probably sent her to an early grave (okay, she was in her nineties, but she got really stressed by this b*****d, though thankfully, she managed to outlive him and at least enjoy a couple of months' peace and quiet before she died).  These pretty primulas were living in her front garden, and when she passed away, I divided one and took it away as a memento.  As you can see, it's now thriving.

Aunty O was a HUGE Welsh rugby fan, and she'd have loved to see today's match (as would my mum, who also loved her rugby...).  I'm sure they'd both have been really proud of Wales' performance today...

And lastly, I'd like to report an insect plague in the garden.  This is a VERY GOOD THING, as the plague in question is of ladybirds.  We counted four in a very small two metre length of flower bed today, so where there are four, there are probably forty...

Just to prove it, here's a photo, though it's a close encounter of the rather blurred kind...

And it's a seven spot, as opposed to one of those horrid Harlequin imposters that are munching their way across the country.

Lastly, according to spaceweather.com, there's a good chance of aurora tonight.  AND THE SKIES ARE CLEAR!!!  Eeek!!!!  Let's hope that magnetic solar flare heads right this way!!!
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According to AuroraWatch, we're right in the middle of a full-blown aurora attack.

And, of course, the west of Scotland is giving us its regular weather routine of damp, dreich, miserable drizzle. 

On the work front, things are progressing well in the field survey.  We've finished one set of stairs and are almost through the other, and this dank, grim weather - while hopeless for aurora spotting - is quite helpful for spotting dim red lasers against blocks of sandstone,

Meanwhile, the plants just keep on coming.  I've had two lots of pelargoniums from the Vernon Geranium Co. so far.  One was a batch of three Mr Wrens - one got damaged (here, I think, not in transit...) and I think I'm going to lose it, and while a second is in fine form, the third looks a bit sick, though it seemed to be okay when it arrived yesterday.  Their plants are normally excellent, and today's arrival  - Pelargonium Golden Angel - is also in fine fettle. 

I'm looking forward to getting hold of the rest now!

Adieu, everyone.  Keep watching the skies!  If they clear, that is!!!

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Since Caldwell Tower's been a hot topic of conversation on everyone's posts just recently, I thought I'd dive back into the archives with this:-


It's been a mad kind of day.  I phoned up the garage to arrange for Sophie's MOT to be done, only to be told 'bring her in now!'  So I took her in, and now she's back again, having passed with flying colours.  And my beloved Minty, whom I handed over to the owner of the garage on the off-chance that he could do something with her rather than scrapping her, has now been patched up with some welding, and is currently being used as as the garage runaround, and is doing a grand job in that capacity. 

I feel quite chuffed about that, I must say! 

It's not all good news.  I've made the decision to put Sophie in again later this week to get her timing belt changed, but that counts as a good investment, as far as I'm concerned.  Hopefully, it won't prove too expensive, as I guess the mechanic owes me a favour, considered I gave him just under six months' free road tax and a car worth at least one hundred quid in scrap value...

And then I came home and had to do some surgery on a begonia.  One of my overwintered corms was hollow and a bit iffy looking, so I carved into it and found a mass of rotton spongy 'flesh' which was being feasted upon by what appeared to be fruit fly (or similar) larvae, with some little adult flies gadding about.  The rest of the begonias look quite healthy, so I suspect that the small flies have been attracted to the rot, rather than being the cause of it.  Anyway, the begonia is beginning to sprout, so rather than chucking away the whole plant (that was J's suggestion...) I've gone for the kill or cure option.  I carved out all the rotten stuff with my trusty plasterer's leaf (helpful to archaeologists, AND to gardeners...) much as you'd carve the rotton stuff out of a horse's hoof if it has an abscess (NB: I've never tried doing this.  I've just watched the vet and held my nose...)

Will the patient survive?  I haven't a clue.  But I thought it was worth a shot.  Fingers crossed...
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It's been a busy day, in which much progress has been made on many fronts.  I finished writing the draft of my Perthshire farmsteads paper. It still needs a wee bit of revision: I'd be happy to present it at a conference as it stands, but it just needs a bit more tweaking to bring it up to publication  standard...

And tomorrow, I'll be heading off to the weir for the next stage of the repairs...

Horse-riding went extremely well tonight.  I did eight trot-canter transitions on the left rein - Diva's BA-A-A-DDD rein! - and out of the eight, we managed to get two on the wrong leg, followed by another three on the right leg, followed by a stint on the right rein (on the right leg, each time...) followed by yet another couple of canters on the left rein, in which we got the first one on the wrong leg, and another two on the right leg.

That's what I call progress.  I feel vindicated, because my suspicions have once again been confirmed.  There's nothing wrong with Diva's left canter, but she needs to be helped by her rider, and not abandoned to bumble along unassisted.  When I first started riding her, she seemed a bit of sluggard when it came to trot-canter transitions, but...  Oh, boy, when she gets going, she ain't half stroppy!  She's very strong, and when she gets into her head that she WANTS to canter, she won't half fight you when you ask her to trot.  Which is nice, because I like a horse with a bit of oomph, as long as it's enthusiastic oomph, and not mean, wilful, treacherous oomph... 

So there's been improvements all round.  I'm much more confident at cantering Diva - so much so that I'd be quite happy to try cantering 20m circles and canter changes of reins.  And... Diva wasn't half as sweaty and knackered tonight as she has been, even though she did an awful lot of cantering.  She seems to be getting fitter.  Which considering that she only gets worked properly for half an hour a week is quite miraculous.

Things are not quite how I'd like them to be.  Cantering should be smooth and controlled - for a musical embodiment of the perfect canter, take the third movement of Mahler's 1st symphony as a perfect model.  But as I drove home, I discovered that I'd inadvertantly selected the perfect soundtrack for the occasion: Depeche Mode's Mercy in You (from the Songs of Faith & Devotion album).  Which in comparison to Mahler's landler is, how can I put it, a bit boisterous and energetic.  Just like Diva's canter, in fact...

And then... I discovered that the weather forecast delivered last night was a wee bit over-optimistic. There was a frost already settling, and temperatures of minus six have now been forecast for our area.  So I had to spend ages running around the garden trying to get the penstemon wrapped up for the foreseeable futures, packing them with hay and then putting fleece over the top.  Unfortunately, I think may have shut the stable door after the horse as bolted, which means, alas, I'll have lost all my plants, as none of the cuttings seem likely to survive to maturity.

Alas.  I had the sneaking suspicion that this might happen.  Though at least the pelargoniums have been brought into the house for the night, so they should be okay, at least...

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Blackcaps in December, wind, rain, more wind, more rain...  What is the world coming to???

I thought I'd give you all a garden post, mainly to show to those of you trapped in the realms of the Snow Queen and Jack Frost that there is hope, and that spring will soon be on the way.

I was doing a bit of weeding on Boxing Day (hey, it's me!!) and I discovered a hellebore in bloom.  Here's a photo, just to prove it:-

I thought this was just an abherration, but then on a garden perambulation this morning, I found another hellebore at the other end of the garden doing exactly the same thing:-

Now, I know they're popularly known as the Christmas Rose, but I've never actually seen one blooming at this time of year before.  They're usually the harbingers of spring, coming out around February and March.  We also have a snowdrop about to bloom under the weeping silver pear tree in the front garden.

Most of the hellebores are, by contrast, being stubbornly sensible:-

I'd call this normal hellebore behaviour...

I shall of course be having my annual hellebore fest as next year progresses, because spring just isn't the same with hellebores, and I've managed to fill my garden with loads of them.

One last thing...

Just to add to the general weirdness, here's what I snapped in the front garden:-

One of the David Austen roses - Eglantyne - has graced us with a bloom, albeit a mangy, pitiful one, right in the depths of winter.  Weird, or what??  What's weirder still is that I've actually been able to photograph that elusive beast, the blue sky, which has been absent during much of the last month or so.  The far end of the back garden, where I photographed the second hellebore, is so soggy and waterlogged that I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper as I positioned myself for the shot.

[I also tried to photograph Squinty.  Who, when she discovered that I was out and about doing Odd Things in the garden, decided that she was very hungry indeed.  But I couldn't dispatch Fruity Nibbles and take photos simultaneously, and she scarpered smartly when I took the camera out...]

And tomorrow, I think I'll feature my Top Ten Fiction reads of 2011...
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The snow came early, unfortunately.  I was supposed to be going down to some horsey store in Dundonald so J could get me a new pair of jodphurs as part of my Christmas present.  My other pair are, quite literally, falling apart (nowhere embarrassing, I hasten to add!) so it seemed like a good idea.  We were also going to take a trip to my local antiques dealer to see if he's got any nice bits of Charlotte Rhead ware in stock...

But with a slushy layer building up on the high ground, and ominous slate grey clouds all around us, we decided to be prudent and head back to Lochwinnoch.  Where a small fortune was spent on bird food, and we then went on to our usual coffee shop for lunch.

Squinty the blackbird was a welcome visitor to the garden today.  She appeared twice, and scoffed a huge number of raisins and RSPB issue 'Fruity Nibbles' on each occasion.  Our garden has been overwhelmed by blackbirds, all of whom are very cheeky, and there have been some squabbles.  Squinty, however, seems to have got her timing down to a fine art.  She waits for the hue and cry to subside, then slopes in when no one else is around and gets personal attention.  Unfortunately, I'm not often there to see to her because of work - it's now too dark for birds to be around when I leave in the morning.  Hopefully, J will keep an eye out for her in my absence, though there should in theory be plenty of food to go around all the needy beaks - I stocked up today on various tasty snacks, including Peck n'Mix, Sunflower Drops, Fruity Nibbles, Fat Bars, Coconut Treats, plus the obligatory husk-free sunflower mix (bulked out with nyger).  And I already had plenty of Ground Feeder Mix.  I'll probably need to restock my feeder seed before Christmas, and maybe get a few more Fat Bars if the weather turns bad, but the rest should last till Christmas.  I do need to get some more apples, however, and when the weather really turns I'll be adding grated Cheddar to the larder, too, so the wrens (what wrens???  Last one I saw got catted a good few years ago...), robins and dunnocks get a chance to get a look-in. 

We have copious numbers of bullfinches flitting around the place.  I hear them frequently, but they never visit the feeder.  But hey, that's why I bought a flowering cherry tree.  As much to feed the bullfinches as to produce flowers...

I've now put fleece over the chrysanths/fuschias/osteospermum that I've been decanting into pots for the winter.  It still doesn't seem cold enough to bring them indoors - despite the snow forecast, I don't think we'll get below freezing tonight.  My begonias are now all indoors: there was only one confirmed sighting of a vine weevil grub during their move to winter quarters, which seems a bit strange, considering the large numbers of adults I spotted over the summer (does 12 count as a large number?  I'd say yes...)  Perhaps their development has been really slow on account of the cold spring... 

I've also managed to bring in most of my fancy geraniums.  The rest have probably had it, but that's just too bad.

I also stumbled across a penstemon Osprey today in my garden travels - I'd forgotten all about it, which meant I hadn't taken cuttings.  This ommission has now been rectified, I'm pleased to say. 

As for the cuttings?  My surviving Heavenly Blue seems much better now it's been moved out into the porch, and I've got one viable Sour Grapes chugging along quite nicely, too.  I've also potted up two Hewells Pink plants so far, but I'm not convinced that one'll make it.  The rest are still being very tardy about root production, but there's not much I can do about that except wait...

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