The Mole Catcher

One of the benefits of writing a daily blog over a period of more than two years is that it can be used to jog one’s own memory. Quite often we have checked something by using the search facility. Struggling to remember the name of the architectural salvage outlet where we had bought a door knocker on 9th April, we looked up ‘The Knocker’, and there it was – Ace Reclaim. Actually, I had remembered the Ace bit, which I thought rather impressive.  Unfortunately they were not open today so we couldn’t visit them for something to contain a rose that is straying across the main brick path.

There was, therefore, no excuse to go for a car ride instead of gardening. Boundary cornerWhen I had cut down the last of an invasive privet, I had finally reached the corner of the boundary under siege from next door. (My computer, or maybe WordPress itself, delights in deciding it knows better than I which words I wish to use. It changed the ‘finally’ in the last sentence to ‘fatally’. I do hope the machine is not prescient.) The foliage on the right of the photograph is to be repelled when necessary. The two edges of IKEA wardrobe sections roughly central to the picture mark my assessment of the boundary line, based on metal stakes stuck in the ground. The facing metal poles with worm-eaten wooden struts wired and ragged to them continue along the South side of the back drive. Once I round the compost heap and enter that stretch there are metres and metres of similar bits of wood, metal, and wire marking out territory, between a number of mature trunks of felled trees. Decisions will have to be made about a number of shrubs that line this drive, among which Blackberriesare blackberries coming through from the deserted garden, that are so scrumptious looking and such thick stemmed as to make me think they are cultivated. If anyone does move into the empty house we will need someone like the cartographic decision-makers of nineteenth century Europe, who drew lines across uncharted territory around the globe, to do the same for us.

Stepping stonesDandelion nailed to treeDuring recent weeks Jackie has been removing unnecessary composite paving stones from the mess that is the system of paths in the kitchen garden, and transferring them to her work area to use as stepping stones from there to the new shrubbery, rather like, but longer than, the system I had inserted at The Firs. I helped a little with that today.

It was possibly when prising one of these slabs from its original position that Jackie extracted her dandelion trophy. This had such a magnificent root that she was minded to nail it to one of the pillars of the wisteria arbour where she sometimes takes her rests. She pointed it out to me today. We were both under the erroneous impression that the countryside tradition of nailing moles, regarded as vermin, to fences was in order to keep others away. She thought her action might deter other dandelions. However, that is not the reason rows of moles are lined up like the heads of unpopular members of opposing factions in mediaeval England. They are there to demonstrate to the farmer that his freelance professional mole catcher has done his job. Maybe crows hung in trees could serve as a deterrent to others. There does not seem, however, any consensus on the reason for this practice.

StreamDamselfly 2Damselfly 1This afternoon I ambled down to Shorefield, and, after spending some time leaning on the railings of the bridge over the sun-dappled stream that runs alongside the holiday chalets, returned home. Damselflies flickered iridescent blue over the water seeming to reflect their hue, and coots, keeping well out of fleeting sight paddled in the ochre shadows. So quick were the insects that only when they took a rest in the sunlight was I able to focus on them. I couldn’t actually see this one when I pressed the shutter, but I had seen it land and hoped for the best.

Blackberries pickedBraeburn applesLater, I picked some of the blackberries. As they were mostly emerging from the top of the jungle, I had to teeter on top of the stepladder to reach them. Cleared patchA bird has already started on one of our three Braeburn apples, but we will probably need to buy some cookers anyway for blackberry and apple crumble.

Jackie worked all day on further clearing the patch she had begun yesterday. The exposed root in the picture is a euphorbia about to be clipped and discarded. These are attractive plants, but they self-seed and tend to crop up in the wrong places. Those in our garden have been given a free rein for a number of years, so they must be culled in order to free up what they have choked.

Seeking somewhere different for our dinner tonight, we tried the Rivaaz Indian restaurant in Milton Station Road. The initial disappointment at being informed that they do not serve alcohol, but that we could bring our own, was somewhat assuaged when I remembered we had parked opposite an Off-Licence. It was completely quashed when we noticed that both naga and phal were on the menu. The food was marvelous, and the service friendly, efficient, and unobtrusive. The lamb in my nagin was lean and tender, and Jackie thoroughly enjoyed her chicken jabajaba. Both meals were flavoursome. The rices were cooked to perfection, as was the parata and the mushroom and spinach side dish. We both drank Kingfisher, and neither of us could quite finish our meals.

The Bolt Cutter

Had the rain not driven us inside yesterday, before I’d assembled the first of the benches for which we had purchased the wood and bolts, I may have been saved the rude awakening in the middle of the night when I realised a somewhat more than minor miscalculation. It is customary, you see, for me to make a slight error when attempting D.I.Y. Had I discovered this one before going to bed, I may not have dreamt about it.Dump bench mark 2

The two pairs of garden bench sides required a total of nineteen wooden slats. I also needed the bolts and nuts to fit. So how many nuts and bolts did I buy? With the possible exception of Orlaith, my youngest grandchildren could probably provide the answer.

So. Jackie’s first task this morning was to drive off and buy another nineteen of each.

Whilst she was out I carried on with the job. Had I realised that it would be simpler, and easier on the back, to assemble the seat on a table rather than on the ground, I may have got a little further than raising a sweat. I had just begun to work on a small table by the time Jackie returned.Washer holding slat in place It was her suggestion that I should use two tables and balance a borrowed section of the IKEA wardrobe fence across them. One of the cast iron sides was broken, and so deprived of a hole through which to thread a bolt. I thought it sheer genius to suggest we borrowed a washer from one of Barrie Haynes’s favourite wheelbarrows to secure the bolt. Derrick on dump bench mark 2View from dump bench mark 2Apart from Jackie’s brains, I needed her to help screw in the bolts and tighten the nuts.

When Jackie had photographed me on the Nottingham Castle bench, Becky had commented that the structure came with its own hobo. Naturally, therefore, this shot had to be reprised as I sat admiring the vista opposite.

Both our sheds were leaking, because their roofing felt has perished, and one had rotten barge boards. Rod’s Repairs, who are to be highly recommended, came and fixed them today, as I began bolting the  seats into our second spare set of cast iron side pieces. Having been well schooled in the process with the first one this morning, I didn’t need to take Jackie away from her own gardening tasks too much, except to hold the structure in place near the end of the job.

Rubbish from compostCleared areaExcept also for the car ride, that is. We needed some different length bolts so went back to Travis Perkins for them. They were closed. So we did an about turn and drove to Knights at Lymington. They were closed. So we did another about turn and went to Milford Supplies who had not had the right length this morning, but had some a bit longer. We bought those.

Apart from interruptions, Jackie had finished emptying our predecessors’ compost maker, and, as usual, been astounded at what they had thought might make good compost. In fairness, it may have been the dog that buried the bone. She had also heavily pruned some overgrown euphorbia thus revealing some other treasures, such as a clematis, a camellia, and a rose that had all been obscured by it.

Bolt cutterDerrick tightening boltsHaving returned home I continued with my task. The sides of the bench I was working on still contained bolts well rusted in. Considerable pressure was required to sever these with the heavy duty cutter. As I clipped through sixteen of these I thought of a story my old Westminster Social Services friend Ken Coleman once delighted in telling. One of Ken’s responsibilities involved regular visits to a residential care home for people with learning difficulties. Each time he attended the establishment he was presented with the bolt cutter challenge, as was virtually every other visitor.

One staggeringly strong young male resident was engaged in what must have been quite a long term fencing task. This involved cutting through an Alcatraz type metal trellis with a cutter most other people would be unable to lift, yet alone employ. He was immensely proud of his implement and what he could do with it. The unwary visitor would be given a demonstration of how easy it was to cut through the cable, and invited to have a go. The initial wide welcoming grin would, almost imperceptibly take on a wicked twinkle as he handed over the weapon and supervised the ensuing struggle. His victim would be unable even to prise apart the handles, and very quickly forced to admit defeat. Our young man would take back his cutter, and beam with unashamed pride.

Our second refurbished garden bench has been deposited in what is still the kitchen garden, in readiness for its metamorphosis into a rose one. Jackie on refurbished benchWhen the transformation is View from kitchen gardencomplete, the seat from which Jackie is, when I am not standing in the way with a camera, looking out down the Heligan path, will be set back against the fence behind it.

We dined this evening on pork spare ribs in barbecue sauce; wild rice and peas; and Heinz Beanz. Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Cotes du Rhone.

A Manly Garment

A couple of days ago Jackie had achieved a first. Seeking a small table for use in the garden, she had unsuccessfully visited various shops in Highcliffe. A wave of inspiration led her to try her luck in the Efford Recycling Centre, purely as a shopper without the excuse of having something to deposit. There she purchased a table, three hanging baskets, a chair, and some shelves. She also spotted something on which she wanted my opinion before buying it.

This was a somewhat rickety garden bench, not old, and in pretty good condition. It was still there when we visited the dump for the purpose of dumping. We bought it and tightened up its bolts when we got home. We also came away with a couple of cast iron sides to another bench for us to assemble; two window boxes, and a plant pot.

View from repositioned Castle benchView from dump benchThe Castle bench, in its assembled state, is now very heavy indeed. However, we inched it along to make room for what will forever be termed the dump bench, which is facing the opposite direction. This means that those sitting on the Nottingham Castle replica have a shifted, and rather more attractive, perspective in view. Jackie on dump benchHere Jackie sits on the new acquisition admiring the scene from there.

Derrick tightening Castle bench 1Derrick tightening Castle bench 2Derrick tightening Castle bench 3Derrick tightening Castle bench 4Derrick tightening Castle bench 5In repositioning the Castle bench we realised that its bolts also needed tightening. So, like any self-respecting motor mechanic unable to lift what he is working on, I crawled underneath the seat with a socket set and a couple of ordinary spanners

for the two longer bolts. Trapped in that position I was prey to the paparazza, who had a field day.

Incidentally, I owe my apparel to Sam and Louisa. The trousers, excellent for carrying all kinds of stuff in their numerous pockets, were cast off by my son sometime in the late 1990s. I suppose it is acceptable for a father to wear hand-me-downs from his son. It must have been around the year 2000 that Louisa spent some time in Sydney in Australia, with her friend Rebecca, and brought me back the T-shirt from Manly beach.

In January 2008, soon after Sam and Holly’s wedding in a Margaret River winery, Louisa, Errol, and my granddaughter Jessica Thompson, revisited my daughter’s Sydney haunts. Derrick & Jessica in Oz 1.08By coincidence, I was wearing the same souvenir from Louisa when Errol took this photograph.

Having successfully tightened up two benches, I had the bit between my teeth. Off we drove to Travis Perkins in Milford on Sea and bought a supply of Red Grandis eucalyptus hardwood; nuts and bolts; and a bolt cutter to sever some that had been rusted into their holes. We needed 19 four foot lengths of timber, and a kind young staff member called Nathan volunteered to cut the much longer strips to the required size.

I got my head together to work out the process of measuring, drilling holes with precision, and assembling the sides of our other dump purchase, and, with a little help from our resident D.I.Y. expert, began the construction. Then it rained. Heavily. With thunder and lightning. We grabbed tools and made a dash for cover.

There is no limit to what, given gestation time, and a certain amount of nurturing, a sausage casserole (recipe) can develop into. Thus the liver casserole of a day or two ago, evolved from the sausage sauce (and one sausage) being supplemented by more onions, mushrooms, liver, and tomato puree. By then the juices were richer and even fuller of flavour. Liver and bacon casseroleTonight it became the liver and bacon casserole, which Jackie termed ‘the evolution of the sausage casserole’. Absolutely delicious. Maybe it will carry a few chillies  tomorrow. With her meal Jackie drank Hoegaarden. My choice was a Cotes du Rhone Villages 2012, brought over from France by Mo and John.

Privilege Customer

Bramble blossom

BrambleNo matter how thorough you try to be in pulling up and eradicating brambles, there are always some that catch your eye as you wander around. For this reason I went on a bramble hunt today. Some, by now, are announcing their presence with blossom and budding fruit; others are so long and straggly they make you wonder how you missed them. So skilled in the art of camouflage are these thorny ramblers that I was constantly amazed at how much space was opened in the shrubberies simply by removing them. No doubt if I repeat the process in a day or two, I will be equally surprised.

Jackie continued weeding, watering and planting.

EchinopsagapanthushoneysuckleHibiscusAmong the recent discoveries more welcome than the unwanted growth have been echinops, agapanthus, and honeysuckle whose pink blends quite well with the blue arch around which it clambers.

Not knowing what colour to expect, we have been eagerly awaiting the blooming of the hibiscus in the front garden. We were not disappointed by its interesting pink hues.

For a late lunch today we visited the Needles Eye Cafe in Milford on Sea. Jackie enjoyed a cheese omelette, chips, salad, and diet coke; whilst I, once I had jogged the waiter’s memory, relished a maxed-up breakfast with tea. This large fry-up comes with toast and marmalade. For the second time, my toast was forgotten. I assured the staff member that I did not take it personally as I was not paranoid.

Beach sceneBeach scene 2We had not been to this beach in hot holiday weather before, so it was something of a shock to walk to the path at the top of the shingle and be confronted by a picture postcard scene. ‘Oh, yes. We live here’, we said.

After our meal Jackie drove us on to Stewart’s Garden Centre at Christchurch and back. Just before my last trip to France, I had signed up for a Stewart’s Privilege Customer card. One of the benefits of this is that you may buy two samples of specific plants at half price. The choice changes monthly. The July selection is agapanthus. After dropping me off at the airport on 8th July, Jackie hot wheeled it off to Stewart’s to choose her agapanthuses. She found two marvellous full-budded specimens. Taking out the coupon from the monthly magazine, she proffered her pennies. She was asked for the Privilege card. Ah. It was in my wallet in Sigoules.

The card is now safely in Jackie’s purse, so off we had gone to choose some more of the perennial blue plants. Agapanthus and clematisesUnfortunately there were only a few, decidedly past their best for this year, left. Never mind, we could still have two of them – and we found two that will do very nicely next year – and, in compensation for their condition, a clematis also at half price. we chose Inspiration ‘Zoin’.

LilyThis evening I wandered down to the postbox. A lily has escaped into the hedgerow in Downton Lane.


I began the day with a wander round the garden in the morning light. Jackie has been steadily working away at the creation of her open air gardener’s shed. This is what it looks like at the moment:Jackie's work areaJackie beneath the weeping birch

As she walked under the weeping birch she came alongside the growing log pile that I will eventually saw up for the wood burning stove.

We have now reached the stage where we have clear views all across the garden.View from Castle benchView from concrete areaView from deckingView from patio View from Wisteria arbourI amused myself by taking a photograph from each of our five seating areas. What you can see depends on the direction your chair is facing, but I satisfied myself with just one in each case. Perhaps I will make a set in the evening light quite soon.

Before driving me to New Milton for the London train, Jackie took us to Ferndene Farm Shop where we bought three large bags of Violet Farm Compost, and deposited them at home.

On the station a couple were waiting for the arrival of our train, ten minutes late, because they had left their bags on it and were hoping to find them. Presumably they had been travelling from London and trusted that their belongings would be transported back after having reached its destination. Another unfortunate young man boarded the train at Winchester, dashed back to the door as the closing beeps were sounding, jumped off, and didn’t make it back. His friends said he had left one of his bags on the platform.

The buddleia has been described as the railway plant.Buddleia from train This is because our lines are riddled with it, as seen through the window on the approach to Basingstoke.

The train had lost another ten minutes by the time we reached Waterloo, just allowing me River Thames and Houses of ParliamentChildren with ice creamsto take my usual walk to Carol’s, along the side of the Thames where the sun glinted on the wavelets, and, in the shade of the embankment wall, the produce of ice cream vendors was being avidly devoured.

After the usual pleasantly stimulating conversation with my friend, I took the customary transport back to New Milton, where my carriage awaited. Jackie drove me home and fed me on a luscious liver casserole, with crisp vegetables and boiled potatoes. She tells me that different stages of the cooking were interspersed with gardening activities, but there was in my meal no trace of privet or any other plant except for the bay leaf which was there by design.






High Maintenance

In a recent exchange with my Facebook friend Kanan Buta, who had, from afar, been admiring the garden in pictures, I commented that because this was our first year it was full of surprises.IKEA wardrobe fence ‘Pleasant ones, I hope?’, she replied. ‘Not always’, was my answer. One of the less pleasant ones, as my readers may know, is the amount of rubble including chunks of concrete and broken tiles we have been bagging up and taking to the municipal dump. Today, I found a use for the next batch for disposal. The untended garden next door lies at a somewhat lower level than ours. This means the path I have been clearing between the two properties, in parts, drops away steeply, leaving an uneven trench. Several bags of rubble filled the holes and helped to keep the last sections of the IKEA wardrobe fence, added this morning, in place. The whole is not the most beautiful example of garden design, but at least it will help to keep the triffids at bay. That reminds me – the morning’s efforts included cutting down an adolescent bay tree.

Main gravel pathHelidan pathDead end gravel pathAs I spent the best part of the afternoon hoeing, raking, and sweeping the gravel paths, whilst Jackie dripped around with her watering can, I reflected on the fact that, at an age when many of our friends are turning to low maintenance gardening, we have done exactly the opposite. I can, of course, comfort myself with the fact that most of the really heavy projects that have occupied the last three months will not require repetition. But a myriad of potted plants will always need water in hot weather, and weeds will need to be removed. I learned today, too, that the bamboo removed from the oval path will continue to crop up in the middle of it. The hoe was inadequate to deal with that. Brute force to pull up the trailing root, and a pair of loppers to cut it off where it joined the main plant were required.

Hebe - New Zealand

The New Zealand hebe identified by Tess is now full of blooms.

Sweet peasTomatoes

Readers will have gleaned that we do not intend to go in for kitchen gardening. Jackie has, however planted sweet peas and tomatoes, probably as  token gestures.

Seriously, sweet peas are among  our favourite flowers.

I don’t know whether the chef at Hordle Chinese Take Away felt like cooking tonight, but we didn’t, so, thanks to Jackie and her Modus, he provided us with our dinner. This was the usual excellent melange from this establishment, accompanied by T’Sing Tao beer.

The Day Of The Triffids

Lords and LadiesRed hot pokerYesterday evening, the head gardener put me right on red hot pokers. As she read my post for that day she pointed out that the plants I had erroneously given this term are actually Lords and Ladies, which are the berries of an insignificant variety of arum lily. We have both emerging in the garden. I think I can now tell the difference.

We both spent much of the day gardening. It is a truism that whatever we plan to do on our never ending project is subject to delay through diversion. Thus, when intending to plant out seedlings of sunflowers from seeds my sister in law, Frances, had, along with a magnificent hoe, sent us for a housewarming present, she found herself embarking upon what she termed heavy landscaping. Sunflower seedlingsOval bed brick pathIn building up the soil in front of the pruned prunus, she had discovered that the brick path we had excavated some while back was wider than we had thought. Sunflowers planted, path finishedThe bordering row of bricks had been covered with stone. She moved the tablets back and set them in an upright position; filled the earth triangles with gravel; and planted and watered the sunflowers.

Lonicera hedge far cornerMy task was continuing to do battle with the invasive plants along the path by the neighbouring empty house, in preparation for extending the IKEA wardrobe fence. UnknownAs I did so, carefully avoiding brambles desirous of poking me in the eye, I was grateful that these and the lonicera, privet, and ivy, were neither, like triffids, ambulant, nor, as far as I know, capable of communicating with each other in order to assist in tracking down their prey. I had no wish to emulate Bill Masen, blinded by triffid-juice. Our neighbours’ invading plants certainly stretched out their tendrils and forced them through windows in the ramshackle fence which is our only rampart.Compost cornerBack driveBack drive boundary

Now I have reached the corner occupied by the compost heap, I only have to turn right down the back drive and tackle the even less defined boundary between that and the back of the untended jungle. I am not sure I have the stomach for that this year.

According to Wikipedia, ”The Day of the Triffids’ is a 1951 post-apocalyptic novel about a plague of blindness which befalls the entire world, allowing the rise of an aggressive species of plant. It was written by the English science fiction author John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, under the pen name John Wyndham. Although Wyndham had already published other novels using other pen-name combinations drawn from his real name, this was the first novel that was published as John Wyndham. It established him as an important writer, and remains his best known novel. The story has been made into the 1962 feature film of the same name, three radio drama series in 1957, 1968 and 2008, and two TV series in 1981 and 2009. In 2003 the novel was listed on the BBC’s survey The Big Read. The protagonist is Bill Masen, a biologist who has made his living working with triffids – tall, venomous carnivorous plants capable of locomotion and communication”.

Early this evening Barrie called in to return my copy of Kilvert’s Diaries, and the three of us had a pleasant chat for a while. Afterwards Jackie and I dined at The Plough Inn, Tiptoe. With my pint of Doom Bar and Jackie’s Becks we enjoyed, as usual, the best pub food we have found since arriving in The New Forest. I managed to finish the mixed grill as Jackie did her half rack of pork ribs. No mean feats. Creme brulee was Jackie’s choice of dessert, mine being lemon meringue pie and ice cream.