Wild and wonderful advent calendar

The first week of my wild and wonderful advent calendar has gone rather well. I set out to tweet something that struck me as wild or wonderful every day. This has forced me to go outside at least for a few minutes in the morning or in the middle of the day when there was still some light and to try and notice the world around me. Some days this is easy but others I have to really pay attention. So for your enjoyment, here is the first week of wildness and wonder:

Day 1 – the Viburnum in the front garden, in full flower and with a scent to knock your socks off

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Day 2 – Chelsea decided to climb the apple tree, her wondrous colouring only just managing to not merge with the red berries on the cotoneaster

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Day 3 – was a little gloomy but I made myself walk to work to look for wildness and wonder. I saw lots of things but I was waiting for something to strike me. The wonder came from a bush full of sparrows. I couldn’t see them but the bush was alive with chirping;

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Day 4- frost was forecast, so I nipped out to the back garden to catch the frosty rainbow chard

20181204_082327Day 5 – was another glorious frosty morning. I went out into the garden to see if there was anything new and I hear a wren in a tree. Again, I couldn’t catch it in the photo but rather liked the dawn light through my neighbour’s apple tree (much bigger than the one that Chelsea tried to climb):

20181205_075130Day 6 – I caught the light at the end of the day. I’m usually stuck in an office at this time but yesterday I happened to be out and about and saw the light begin to leave the sky at 3.30pm:

20181206_153319Day 7 – my work took me out around central Scotland by train. I spent some rather chilly moments waiting on railway platforms. But the sun came out and struck one of these little wooden trains which often cheer me in these small town stations:

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So my first week of looking for wildness and wonder in December has gone rather well. It has been more challenging than the 30dayswild challenge in June but has proved to be possible and perhaps even more joyful. It is easy to find joy in nature in June when the days are long and everything is at its best. It’s tougher in December, with such short days and plenty of gloom. Look out for more on my twitter feed and an update on here next week.

 

Emergency carrots and a strange use for sprouts

There’s been very little done in the garden or allotment these past few weeks (by me anyway) and very little interesting cooking either.  But today we got the Christmas puddings made. My mother, now living much nearer to me, came over to help. The pudding recipe  has long family roots and, although I have been making my own puddings for decades now, my mother is the true expert  I thought I had been clever and got all the ingredients prepared but, at the last moment, noticed we had no carrots. Carrots in Christmas pudding? Essential apparently. I asked Mum if we could just add extra apples, or maybe a beetroot from the allotment. ‘No’ and ‘No’. Sadly we have no home grown carrots so I sent a senior assistant out on an emergency carrot hunt while we steeped the dried fruit in alcohol -‘I would just empty the whole bottle in, No point in leaving a tiny bit’. By the time the emergency carrot arrived the fruit was well steeped. Then came the ritual of everybody in the household contributing to stirring the pudding.  Good luck apparently and necessary that everyone makes a wish while doing so. We managed to round up one mother, two middle generation and one son while the other son contributed virtually by phone. Wishes were made but not disclosed – that would break the spell. Then the puddings  were put on to boil (we split the humungous amount of mixture between two pudding basins). Several hours later,  my Christmas preparations were complete.

20181202_203251[1]I may succumb to further preparations over the next few weeks but I always feel that, as long as we have a pudding, nothing else really matters.

Although spurned as a pudding ingredient the allotment beetroot went in a rather good beetroot, turnip and sprout curry. It doesn’t sound too good but actually it was. The sprouts were a bit of an afterthought. The recipe required peas but there were none.  I found the sprouts in the freezer and threw them in instead. Surprisingly it worked. The secret to this particular curry, however,  is the addition of fresh mint right at the end. I went out in the rain to harvest the mint and felt, for just a few minutes, as if balance might have returned to my life.

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End of November – bah humbug

The thirtieth of November has crept up on me. I’m not one for celebrating St Andrews Night, a relatively new invention, but all joy to those who wish to do so.  This is the night when I usually have a mad dash to make an advent calendar. This annual creative endeavour is an example of necessity being the mother of invention, started about 15 years ago when I discovered late on the thirtieth that we hadn’t organised an advent calender for our two then very small boys. So I made one and have been doing so most years ever since – for some examples see here

For the last couple of years I’ve done one for the blog and tweeted the pictures – see here for last year’s effort. But this year, I’m going to do something different. I looked on line for ideas for alternative advent – but, I warn you, just don’t even look. The results were terrifying ‘Are you bored with chocolate?  why not have an advent calendar with: gin, cat food, socks ‘adult’ items, pork scratchings, lipstick, ’24 days of stationery’.  …. it gets worse and worse.  Or there is the idea of the reverse advent calendar, where you donate something to charity every day of advent. That’s fine but not what I was looking for.  Then I found lots of children’s activities. Closer to what I wanted but I’m not at that life stage.  And of course there are actual religious advents, which is what it’s about I suppose but not for me.

I’ve got quite Scroogish in my old age and find most ‘festive’ stuff difficult, while still thinking it would be nice to get through December by doing something cheering. So I’ve decided to follow the principles of the #30dayswild project and try and find something wild or wonderful for every day of advent.  I promise to tweet something every day and provide summaries on here every few days.  You can look forward to something a little wild or a little wonderful – there won’t be much tinsel or tasteless consumerism but there may be cats. Here are some slightly festive things from previous years to get you in the mood:

 

Sheds

After a little twitter discussion on #gardenshour the other night, which ended up with more information about deceased vermin that I really wanted, I got to thinking about sheds and their contents. I had commented blythely that I had spent the weekend clearing out a shed (part of my mother’s moving house project) . The shed contained joys of all sorts of other kinds, including: enough plastic pots to keep any gardener going for at least 50 years, the stand for my now 21 year old baby’s Moses basket, several trowels in a range of states of usefulness and decay, several broken bird feeders, some random bags and jars of plant food, bird food and cleaning products, string, cardboard, newspaper, useful plastic thingies, useless plastic thingies, useful wooden thingies, useless wooden thingies, a chimenea, a box of partly rotten cooking apples, a wasps nest, more garden tools in various states of decay, more plastic plant pots, a few rather nice clay pots…

but actually not any dead mice. Someone on twitter asked if there had been any dead mice in the shed. I confess that my twitter response was a tiny white lie – the dead mouse was in the house. Sorry to remind you dear sister but these joys are side effects of cat ownership and I’ve got used to it over the years.

Anyway, it was a lovely sunny day and we made good progress, if not entirely finishing the job. We really have to admire my parents’ generation’s ability to keep things on the grounds that they might come in handy one day. Most (if not quite all) of the things in the shed did have potential uses. Sadly, quite a lot of it had to go to the ‘recycling centre’, a modern euphemism for the dump, but some has been spared to pass on to new homes and I’ve brought one of the better trowels to pass on to my mother so that she can do some midnight gardening in the grounds of her new flat. She’s worried that it’s not really allowed so intends to plant bulbs in the dark.

Back to musing about the shed though, and the deceased vermin. I remembered the project that I carried out with my grown up 21 and 19 year olds when they were about 4 or 5, when we painted murals on the inside of our garden shed to make it into a sort of play house.  I asked them what should be included.  Their interests in those days included dinosaurs, dogs, flowers and butterflies:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASea creatures:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGiraffes:

pb280296.jpgflamingoes and peacocks:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAour then cat, Roxy:

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and a tiny mouse, to commemorate, the inevitable deceased one which we had found when clearing it out (sorry no photo of the mouse painting) – it’s a thing, deceased vermin in sheds.

Inside/outside, dealing with weatherhouse cats

Cats, as you know, are always on the wrong side of the door.

DSCN5359Here is our lovely Bella on her first ever trip outside in 2015. She has got a little bigger since then but has had to face new challenges in the battle of the doors with the arrival of Chelsea:

my mother’s cat who has had to leave her old home and her handy cat flap to come and stay with us, at least for the moment, while my mother works out whether she can manage to have a cat in her new tiny flat.

Unfortunately, these two delightful animals are not the best of friends, so we have had to devise ways of keeping them apart. To begin with we kept Chelsea inside, but now we have let her out to explore the garden:

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She seems reasonably impressed and completely at home but they still hiss and yowl whenever they see each other. So for the moment we are operating a one cat in, one cat out system, like the little couple in an old fashioned weatherhouse.  This is more or less working except at night when, generally speaking, they both want to be in.  This requires a simple system requiring a shut door and a big warning to passing residents to think before opening it:

wp_20181115_21_56_36_pro1.jpgIt has worked quite well except that cats can’t read and these two are quite clever. One or other of them worked out how to open the door, as we discovered when we were awoken in the middle of the night to yowling and hissing.  An ingenious son, left on his own to cat wrangle while I was out at work, came up with a system involving chairs and bits of rope, which worked to stop the cats from opening the door.  But it really seemed a little too uncivilised for anyone who might want to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.  So this evening I had a look through the ‘that might be useful one day’ box and found a snib for the top of the door. There were a few of these in the box because the previous owners of the house had them attached to every door to  keep dogs in or out :

wp_20181115_21_56_27_pro1.jpgFor once something from that box has been used. Let’s see if it works at least until the cats can learn not to kill each other in the middle of the night.

November sunshine

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Earlier this year I had some monstrous conifers removed from the back of the garden – here in mid-removal:

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Behind them the privet hedge is  recovering slowly but surely. This photo is from June:

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I had this idea that I would make a place to sit in the sun as this is the sunniest part of the garden but that plan was foiled somewhat by three things: the arm injury in early July (now almost fully recovered); life and work being even busier than usual and the amazing tomato and cucumber harvest in what I planned to be temporary new raised beds where the conifers used to be:

These beds have produced the most bountiful tomato and cucumber harvest that I have ever had (helped of course by the hot summer) but still:

So I’m tempted to the leave the raised beds where they are to catch the sun at its height. Today I went out to the garden to clear the beds and cover them with cardboard (to keep the multiplying cats off) and think about what to do with the space. I was struck by the beauty of the oak tree in the corner:

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It has been there, growing slowly, for about five years, after several years in a pot. It is my millennium oak, grown from an acorn collected by two very small boys in 2000 – you’ll find that story here 

Today I sat on a garden chair, bathed in the oak tree’s autumn glory, and remembered that the real value of this part of the garden is that the sun reaches it in November.

Cats, cables and upside down onions

The problem with gardening in the dark is that I may have planted some of my onions upside down. Well there are worse things in the world. Today was one of those days when I had to get into the garden and the dark came down too quickly for me to get everything done that needed to be done.  Before the onion episode I did a massive grass cutting.  What with the various distractions this summer, the grass had not been cut since August when the musicians were in residence. Two months is too much to leave the grass uncut even by my low standards so it was too long and really tough to cut.  My trusty push lawnmower really struggled and I had to stop every couple of minutes to remove the tangles of grass and clover from its innards.  I got fed up with this after a while and got out the electric strimmer,  a beast which I am very loath to use. I remembered why.  It also seizes up every couple of minutes but instead of just turning it upside down and removing the tangle, you have to go and unplug it first, to avoid strimmed fingers.  Then the electric cable only reaches half way down the garden and so you can only get at some of the worst bits of jungle.  The excitement and danger of having electric tools in the garden was enhanced by rain threatening and a complicated cat situation. My mother’s recent house move has resulted in her cat moving in with us. Her cat is lovely but so is ours and, for the moment, they are sworn enemies.  We are slowly introducing them to each other but meanwhile trying to keep Mum’s cat inside and letting Bella play in the garden so that she can retain some self-respect. But the electric cable for the strimmer has to go through an open door. Not a good way to keep a new cat inside.  Cats and electric strimmers are not a good combination either, especially when they are so fond of  playing with string:

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WP_20181103_15_45_28_Pro[1]Anyway, we all survived these complications with no cats escaping, fighting or losing tails in the strimmer.  I got the grass cut in the end but I think I’ll stick with push lawnmower when at all possible:

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And that’s why I was planting onions in the dark. Some might appear in Australia rather than Scotland but at least they are in on a relatively mild day and some hope of establishing before the cold returns. No photos – it was dark.

Winter in October

On this last day of October, here are some photos after the astonishingly low temperatures we had here on Saturday night. It was minus 3.7 degrees in my garden and the frost has killed off the stunning nasturtiums which had scrambled over the back hedge. It didn’t kill the sweet peas though – just made them extra beautiful:

WP_20181029_07_23_32_ProWP_20181029_07_22_54_ProSo that’s October over, nights seriously drawn in and November looming but the frosty flowers reminded me that there are some tiny compensations to the gloom of winter.

Another bouquet of vegetables

I had a mad dash into the garden today to harvest the last of the tomatoes before tonight’s threatened dive into zero temperatures:

WP_20181026_12_31_08_ProThis is the last of an incredible tomato harvest this year and these are lovely fat juicy San Marzano plum tomatoes which will probably now ripen indoors.  The tomato bed still has a couple of rather beautiful rainbow chard plants and some nasturtiums, which I hope will survive the deep freeze:

It was another dash into the garden as I’m still busy with my mother’s house move. So all the overgrown weedy stuff will just have to stay where it is, overgrowing happily. My mother is staying with us for a few days over the moving period and I thought it would be nice to put some flowers in her room to cheer the process. I’m not a great flower grower, and certainly not a flower arranger, but there were some lovely sweet peas, and I added some radish flowers for extra zing:

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Sky

I’ve been a little busy with work and family stuff so gardening and blogging has fallen behind a bit. To keep you all amused, here are some photos. Since my current technology is letting me down in the twittersphere, here they are on the blog instead: sky paintings on the way to work one morning:

Sunset from an evening return:

WP_20181012_18_30_16_ProDucks on a dragon boat:

WP_20181020_13_48_30_ProTomato chutney in the making:

WP_20181016_21_48_39_ProAnd finally, on a visit to my mother’s this weekend, to help her pack up and move house, some of the big trees behind her garden. You can’t see the leaves in this photo but when I looked out of the window I could see the leaves flowing straight from these trees and directly into her garden  – see post from a couple of weeks agoWP_20181021_10_56_04_ProMy father was sending us a message that the move is the right thing to do.