Friday, April 10, 2015

A cornucopia of pleasures

I'm really enjoying the weather at the moment. The sun is out and it's been dry for a few days now (not throughout Easter of course when it was cold and rainy for 3 days!) and everywhere looks so beautiful that I just want to spend all day outdoors drinking it in. The birds and bees are doing what they do best at this time of year and the lambs are busy gamboling so the best thing I can do is share some photos from my runs and other outdoorsy things along with progress on my afghan, which has slowed a bit due to sore hands from too much gardening.

It's a pattern full of interest and makes a refreshing change from granny squares and ripples. Not that there's anything wrong with them it's just that I have a plethora of both plus I really like overlay crochet.


I'm very glad I took this photo as I've made a mistake on the dark navy round I started late last night - I've made the first flower into the wrong part of the stitch - bother! Although it also looks as if the flowers are slightly to the right of the stems that will be corrected on the next round when the stitch is anchored.


I've created the cluster inbetween the v stitch, ie in the body of it ……..


Rather than into the top of it where I've inserted my hook here:


At least I'd hadn't got too far to rip back. Serves me right for doing it when I was most likely too tired and not concentrating.

Hairy Horse


You know that Spring has finally sprung when the horses start to moult. I took this photo of Esther through the kitchen window. There were 5 rooks pecking away at her bottom, getting rid of any bugs but then taking away some of her hair for their nests. A mutually beneficial act!


Esther has a very thick coat and only needs a rug when the temperature stays low for a long period. I just rubbed my hand across her back and look what came off:



As the farrier was due yesterday I took the opportunity of giving her a really good brushing to help speed up the process of moulting. She looks all sleepy and mellow doesn't she.


She just investigated what I'd got on my hand in case it was something to eat and then let me get on with it.


After about 5 minutes of brushing I'd got nearly a bucketful which I left for the birds to use as lining in their nests.



Which reminds me, the pampas grass flowers I put by the compost heap are getting smaller and smaller with a convoy of birds taking them for their nests. Plus, all the dead plant stems and small twigs left on the flowerbeds are being tidied for me by pairs of birds which is exactly what I'd hoped for.

Time for some Nature


The sun has brought some butterflies out. So far I've only seen Peacocks, as seen below, and small tortoiseshells but there are plenty of bees buzzing around which is why it's so important that there are nectar-rich flowers available for them to build up their strength.



The lanes are bedecked with primroses.


The deciduous woodland is full of wood anemones with the promise of bluebells and wild garlic to come very soon.


Another beauty is the Lesser Celandine which is often spotted along the hedgerows. Its cheery buttercup-yellow petals shine out from the undergrowth above its pretty, marbled, heart-shaped leaves. 



You might think that William Wordsworth’s favourite flower was the Daffodil, but it was actually the lesser celandine about which he wrote three poems. Here is a verse taken from my favourite:

To The Small Celandine

Pansies, Lilies, Kingcups, Daisies, 
Let them live upon their praises; 
Long as there’s a sun that sets Primroses will have their glory; 
Long as there are Violets,
They will have a place in story: 
There’s a flower that shall be mine, 
‘Tis the little Celandine. 

You may be familiar with the gorgeous purple flowers of Viola riviniana aka the Dog Violet which, unlike many other violets, has no scent. You can make a Violet tea using the fresh leaves but I'm not fond of the flavour even though I believe it's renowned for its demulcent properties and might be good for me!



What you may not have seen before though is a white version. I'd never seen it before we moved to our village where there's a large patch growing in a verge. They look so delicate and fresh. Native wild violets are an important food plant for Butterflies such as Fritillaries.



This next beauty is one of my favourite wild flowers. It is Cardamine pratensis but it's common name is Lady's Smock or the Cuckoo flower as it usually appears with the arrival of the first cuckoo (although we don't get nearly as many cuckoos as we used to).



This is another plant that has been used for it's medicinal properties as it contains a high level of vitamin C and was used to help prevent Scurvy in olden times.

I still have lots more to write about and loads of photos to share but I can't bear to be away from the garden too long as there's so much to do.

The main reason I'm writing this is now that there are very high levels of pollution across the UK at the moment and there has been a horrible thick smog lingering over the valley all day. Health warnings have been issued for asthmatics and people with lung problems.

I spent a couple of hours outside this morning but was sensible and didn't run today which turned out to be the right decision as a massive coughing fit sent me scuttling back inside. I shall just have to get on with some crochet which isn't such a bad thing after all.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Crochet and Marathon 43 of 60

First may I present my progress on the lovely Sophie blanket:

Such pretty roses

Viewed in close-up you can see the flecks in the yarn

It's getting harder to photograph - I had to stand on a stool for this shot!
It needs a good blocking but I haven't the time or patience at the moment. Better do it soon though!

Now about that marathon


Last year I ran my first attempt at 2 marathons in 2 days in Dover - you can read about them here where you will see that the weather was near perfect, all sunny and bright with no wind.

This year was a bit different: You know when you hear the weather forecast and you think "maybe it won't be that bad"? Well it was worse!  I left home in heavy rain and strong winds and drove through the same but with the addition of fog for good measure.

I'll let the pictures tell the story:

View from the car when I arrived

View from the car whilst plucking up the courage to get out of the car - this doesn't give any indication of how windy it was - 30+mph with 45+mph gusts!!!

Not too foggy looking across to the Ferry Port

Race HQ

Sharon taking registrations and handing out numbers. She then went and spent the rest of the day being a marshal getting soaked and being blown around

Karen, our Race Director who organised everything and took care of us in what could be described as Biblical (but without the plague of locusts) weather conditions!

I'm not sure I would have enjoyed a ferry trip yesterday!

At the race briefing Karen said that they couldn't erect the race gantry for health and safety reasons and that the time would be displayed in the back of a van parked by the finish line. We passed that 12 times as it was an out and back route along the sea-front then out along the pier.

For the first few hours it rained and blew and gusted which really sapped your strength. I was lucky to have the company of Lynn for the first 9 miles until she dropped back for a bit of a break (she'd done the day before as well and was feeling the effects a bit).

The bit along the seafront was challenging - going one way you had a tailwind which should have helped except there was also a crosswind thrown in which caught you unawares and threw you off-balance. On the way back along that stretch you were battling against a headwind, leaning forward and struggling to move onwards. I clocked my speed at one point and noticed I dropped to 14 minute miling (from 11 or 12 minute miling) whilst battling that section.

Then we ran along the length of the pier and back and boy oh boy that was difficult. I don't know how the marshals at the turnaround point managed to stay upright! I concentrated on the colour of the sea to take my mind off it - on one side the sea was a deep turquoise yet on the other side it was much darker with more grey/green in it. Further out to sea it appeared to be brown. 

Karen spent a few hours in her car, popping out to shout encouragement whilst recording our numbers. During a dry spell she put out the speakers and we had some music to boogie along to when we went past. Last year we did a bit of Gangnam style together, this year I gave her my best twerk (with apologies to the poor man running behind me who had to witness such inappropriate behaviour from someone of my advancing years!).

There was a lifeboat bobbing around at one point and I gave them a wave and they all waved back and sounded the siren. Simple pleasures took my mind off my aches and pains.

On my last 4 laps the section on the pier became almost impossible as the gusts were so strong and the ambulance men were getting very concerned about our safety. When the going got really tough I thought about Wendy who sadly can't run any more and to whom I dedicated this marathon. As time wore on and conditions worsened the Port of Dover Exec was called in to check the wind speed and the course was diverted to avoid that section as it was too dangerous. I managed to finish just before that but there were still people out there doing another couple of laps so it was a wise decision.

Before the start as I was already soaked to the skin, I made the wise decision to leave the camera in the car for fear of it getting damaged so the only photo from during the race is this one taken by Sharon:

I can't believe I'm still smiling!

I'd made the decision just to get round rather than worry about a time and in my mind I thought I'd be happy to finish in 6 hours. In the end I scraped in around 5:19:59, only 17 seconds slower than last year, so was very happy with that.



Now I've got a few weeks until the next madness which sees me doing 3 marathons in 4 days (whose stupid idea was that then?!!!!!), the last of which will be my 10th running of the London marathon. No gimmicks this year, just running; which is exactly what I did in my first ever London marathon back in 2005.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cutting, tidying & a 10th anniversary

At this time of year I'm always playing catch-up with my gardening chores as there's just so much to to. I was desperate to get all the pruning done on shrubs and trees before the sap started to rise and my hands are really sore from all the chopping, sawing and pulling which is not good for arthritic hands. Ouch!

I did, however, enjoy taking some photos whilst snipping:

The colourful stems of these dogwoods need to be cut back hard each Spring to encourage them to produce their brightly coloured new growth which gleam throughout the winter months. The stems you see in this next photo have all grown since I pruned them last March. It's a procedure known as 'stooling' whereby the stems are cut back to within 6" of the ground each year. It is suitable for the more vigourous dogwoods but not for  Cornus 'Midwinter fire' which you can just see peeping through the stems of the red one. That requires a much gentler pruning regime and I haven't pruned it at all this year.

Before

After

I grow lots of different Buddleias and I delay pruning some of them to spread the flowering season so that there's still lots of lovely nectar left for the butterflies and insects well into the autumn. As this part of the garden get battered by strong winds, I'd already reduced the height of this one by 1/3 in Autumn to reduce wind-rock which can disturb the roots.


It doesn't matter that they are already sprouting leaves, which often happens in a mild spell, as a good hard pruning encourages the stems to produce bigger flowers.


I took a moment to admire the beautiful bark.


I took this one down to a framework of about 15".


One of the benefits of all this pruning is that you get lots of woody sticks you can use to prop up plants in the borders instead of using bamboo canes (as long as the stems aren't bendy they are ideal). Here's my selection of brightly coloured stems together with 2 brown ones which look like small trees but are in fact the stems of cardoons which you can see here to the right of the gazebo as you look at it.


Of course, being immersed in the garden I spotted loads of weeds, some of which required eviction immediately before they set seeds and wreaked havoc amongst the beds. 

May I present public enemy number 1 - bittercress (aka Cardamine hirsuta):


Oh but look at its pretty little leaves and the sweet white flowers I hear you cry. Well, look a bit closer and you'll see 2 brown seedpods forming amongst the flowers. If allowed to ripen, which they do in the blink of an eye, they will scatter themselves far and wide whenever something brushes against them. When ripe, even the slightest touch sends them flying all over the place and they will grow absolutely anywhere!


It's flourished this Winter because the damp conditions suit it perfectly and it's all over the gravel drive as well as the flowerbeds.

Now is also a good time to get rid of the old growth that's been left on plants over winter. Here you can see the lovely fresh green chives peeping through.


It's really easy to pull out the dead stems and I leave them on the flowerbed so that the birds can use them as nesting material. What's left will then go onto the compost heap.


It's a good idea to try and get some of the dead growth out of ornamental grasses such as this Festuca Glauca 'Elijah Blue' before the new growth comes through.


I used my fingers as a comb to remove as much as possible. You can't get it all out but it makes it look much neater.



10th Anniversary


On Tuesday, the 10th anniversary of mum's death, I had a conference call with several people about join dementia research (JDR) in which I had to think and talk about dementia. I really didn't want to take part on that day but I'm glad I did because it made me realise how far things have come since I joined up with ARUK. Things have moved on so much and we talk more openly about dementia.

There were a few Lay Champions on the call and we all spoke about what we'd been doing to promote JDR and everyone had done a great job. I've been to local villages leaving leaflets in doctors' surgeries, sending out my usual newsletter to everyone who's sponsored me, spoken about it whenever I get an opportunity plus visited all the Nursing Homes with EMI Units (for the elderly mentally infirm - I HATE that acronym) in a town nearby. 

What I didn't share with everyone was that I missed out one EMI unit because I just couldn't face going inside. It was the one where mum spent the last few months of her life. I couldn't even drive my car into the car park as I felt a tightness in my chest and the tears welling up so I sat outside in the road trying to compose myself then headed for home. I was shocked that my emotions were still so raw after all this time.

RIP mum.

Another thing I've been thinking about is how our language relating to dementia has changed. By that I mean they way we describe people living with dementia and the words we use. This short video by the Dementia Action Alliance is really thought-provoking and well worth a look.

I have another marathon this weekend and I'm hoping the weather forecast is wrong because at the moment they are predicting wind and rain!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Crochet, cats and compost

A crochet & cat combo


I've done quite a lot on the blanket over the last few days but each time I've tried to lay it out flat on the floor for a photo Tilly has come and helped. So I've abandoned all hope of a full photo for the moment and will just show a couple of views with cat accoutrement!

I wouldn't mind but she has her own special snuggle rug on the chair seat (you can just see it in the photos).



Although she's been with us for 10 months she has shown no inclination to venture outside as she's very timid and still scared of visitors so we decided to let her tell us when she was ready. Recently she's been watching what's going on through the window and seemed to be much more settled so for the last few weeks we've been encouraging her to be brave and come outside just for a short time each day.

I'll let the photos show her journey. She was really scared at first and it took days to get her to even come out onto the patio (with me sitting on the sun lounger with a packet of Dreamies cat treats as encouragement!) and she'd just sit there sniffing the air and looking around.

I'm not sure…….

Here I come…..

…but then again…..

I like it here!

What's that then?

This smells interesting - it's Curry plant so the leaves are aromatic but she spent ages rolling underneath it so there must have been an animal scent there too.

There were lots of nice smells around the stacked wood by the barn

Hmmm, I think mum needs to get some weeding done in this bed!

First close encounter with ducks. Thankfully they quickly established the ground rules between them.

Now she's very keen to come out and we have several outings each day of about 30 minutes at a time. She wanders off and has her own adventures whilst I potter in the garden; then she comes to get me when she's ready to go back inside. Bless her!

Compost


Yep, I'm about to extol the virtues of a good compost heap. No, don't yawn, it's an important part of gardening!

For years I've been hoarding pallets (well, a girl can have an obsession other than yarn can't she?) in the hope that someone, ahem Mike, would make me some compost bays. We've only been here 12 years, admittedly a lot of that time was spent renovating the house itself and the garden had to take a back seat, but finally my dream came true and here they are:


They may not look pretty and you probably wouldn't want them in an urban setting but my goodness they are useful! Until now I've had to just create piles behind the barn and because they weren't closed in at all they attracted the ducks and badgers who would rummage through them for worms and make a right old mess. I also have piles of leaves rotting down, a pile of wood chippings which I use as a decorative mulch on some of the flowerbeds in the wilder areas and a pile of horse muck.

You can see I've got 3 bays; one to be left to rot down, the current one that's being built up and one for piling stuff to be sorted into the current heap - oh the luxury!  It's really important to get a good balance of ingredients so things rot down well. Mike puts the grass clippings in the end bay so I can add them to the current heap in layers as grass clipping just form a slimy mush if left in a pile on their own or added all at once.

The first thing I had to do was transfer my existing heap into the first bay. I did this at the beginning of February which was the ideal time as it's got time to finish rotting down before I start using it to dig in when I plant new things. It's really important to turn your compost heap to mix things up and get air into it but it's jolly hard work.

The lower I got into the heap the more worms I found; just look at these lovely composting machines. They help the rotting process by digesting things, which breaks them down, and by moving through the heap thus aerating it too.



But you don't need such a large area to compost things. When we lived in our flat we were lucky enough to have a small garden and I had a wormery just like this. I still chuckle when I remember that the brandling worms came through the post in a polystyrene container! We put all our kitchen waste into the bin together with some plant material and the worms did all the hard work for us. Not only did they produce the most crumbly compost, they also gave us a liquid feed (that's what the tap's for) which I diluted and used for our plants. 

When we moved to our next home the bin was full and I refused to empty it out so the removal men transported it for us. They were both fascinated and horrified when I showed them what was inside!

What do I put on my heap? Lots of things, some you might not have thought about composting. Here are a few things:

- things high in nitrogen such as plant material from the garden for example plant leaves and stems but not perennial weeds or annual weeds with seeds developed. I also add fruit and vegetable peelings and scraps, coffee grounds and tea bags (although not all teabags are compostible). I always have a few comfrey plants in the garden as their leaves speed up the composting process so I add them throughout the summer.

- fibrous materials such as dead and dried plant material and plant stems; but not anything too woody as they take a long time to rot down. If you want to add tougher plant material then you can put it through a shredder to help it to break down faster.

- I used to add rabbit dropping when we kept rabbits and I always add horse manure, egg shells, cardboard (ripped up and wetted) and paper towels.

So why am I showing you a photo of our beautiful pampas grass, taken last summer? Because I left the plumes on all through winter and they looked wonderful but I had to chop them down so that the new growth could come through.


I know that the birds love this sort of material for their nests and so when I'd cut them off I put a pile of them by the compost heap so they can help themselves.