I failed an intelligence test this morning.

Well, in fairness no-one told me that the weedkiller sachets contained further such items. You see, it was my task to zap the weeds in the cracks between the concrete sections of the front drive, and its accompanying gravel path.

Weedkiller sachets

So. I merrily tore of the top of the outer covering and tipped the contents into 5 litres of water. I would have immediately added four more inner sachets. But I noticed a transparent packet bearing floating minuscule sections of what looked like vermicelli, and strove to extract this. Ah. It was soluble. So I got the poison all over my fingers and had to wash it off. Of course, the mini-pasta also dissolved, as it was meant to do.

Well, now I know.

Iris foetidissima

Our first iris foetidissima bloomed today. Its days are numbered because The Head Gardener is less partial to them than I am. It must be something in the name.

This afternoon I finished reading:

Undine title page

This volume has adorned my bookshelves for 34 years, but, although I have often perused the pictures, I only began to read it a few days ago.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica has this to say about the author:

‘Friedrich Heinrich Karl de la Motte, Baron Fouqué(born February 12, 1777, Brandenburg—died January 23, 1843, Berlin) German novelist and playwright remembered chiefly as the author of the popular fairy tale Undine (1811).

Fouqué was a descendant of French aristocrats, an eager reader of English and Scandinavian literature and Greek and Norse myths, and a military officer. He became a serious writer after he met scholar and critic August Wilhelm Schlegel. In his writings Fouqué expressed heroic ideals of chivalry designed to arouse a sense of German tradition and national character in his contemporaries during the Napoleonic era.

A prolific writer, Fouqué gathered much of his material from Scandinavian sagas and myths. His dramatic trilogy, Der Held des Nordens (1808–10; “Hero of the North”), is the first modern dramatic treatment of the Nibelung story and a precedent for the later dramas of Friedrich Hebbel and the operas of Richard Wagner.’


It is a measure of the prowess of the artist, the foremost English book illustrator of the early twentieth century, Arthur Rackham,

Undine cover

that it is his name that appears on the front cover,

Undine spine

although the writer features on the spine.

One reason I never pursued book illustration as a career was that I knew I had no hope of ever matching this master.

Undine illustration 1

Undine illustration 2

There are 15 colour plates in my Heinemann edition. I forced myself to make a limited selection, and chose these two examples of the many moods Rackham is capable of evoking. He is noted for his trees.

Undine vignettes

Each chapter is topped and tailed by an exquisite little vignette, pertinent to the story.

Let us not forget the translator, W. L. Courtney, who has produced a beautifully poetic rendering of the original romantic fable of 1811. I do not know how far from the original he has strayed, but suitably quaint archaic language speaks of the bygone days of knights, honour,  chivalry, water sprites, and magic.  The poetic prose is especially descriptive. It was fun to read, even without Mr. Rackham’s input.

This evening we dined on chicken marinaded overnight in lemon and piri-piri sauce, carrots, runner beans, ratatouille, and mashed potato and swede, followed by lemon tart and cream. The Cook drank Hoegaarden and I drank la Croix des Celestins Fleurie 2014.

‘Are You Going To Do All That By Hand?’

Today was spent on garden maintenance, the vast majority of which was carried out by Jackie. She was engaged in planting, weeding, and moving of self-seeded treasures, such as the host of hellebores that crop up everywhere.Jackie carrying herbicideJackie applying herbicide

In preparation for Aaron’s laying of the gravel, she applied megadeath to the various patches of grass, brambles, and dandelions, and other weeds clinging to the back drive. This in the form of diluted DeadFast weedkiller concentrate.

Worm eaten fence post

Some of the fence posts miraculously being held up along this drive are very worm-eaten, giving them an appearance as sculptured as the bark of the birch tree, now in leaf. This particular bright magenta crop of honesty flowers will not appear again for another two years, as the plant is biennial, flowering one year and seeding the next.

Birch leaves and honesty

My major task was mowing the lawn. Well, not exactly mowing, and not exactly a lawn. We have an odd-shaped patch of grass, the main purpose prior to our arrival probably having been for canine convenience. It is a small area bounded by flower beds and paths, and bearing benches, a Victorian chimney plot planter encircled by pretty round stones, a couple of shrubs, and a small stump. A mower cannot reach everything without putting the blades at risk. We have long-handled shears for cutting the edges.Grass cuttingPieris

Now, in my previous life, I have been accustomed to heavy duty Honda petrol mowers that can produce stretches of nice straight lines in which one can take pride if one possesses a large enough lawn.

Last year we used a strimmer to shave this little patch, but that tended to become a little heavy, especially for Jackie, by the end of the job, so we bought a small electric mower more suitable for the task; and the pair of shears. I had not used the machine before today, so my first task was to turn it on. After several failed attempts I managed the synchronisation of button and lever which was required for successful operation. Having established that, I set about the numerous edges with the shears. By the time I was about three quarters of the way through this task I began to consider that I was doing this in the wrong order. I was probably shearing rather more than I needed, and it might be easier to mow first and clip afterwards.

For some reason best known to herself Jackie has the impression that I make life hard for myself by the methods I use to carry out tasks. This is on occasion mentioned when I fill my food plate from one of her casseroles. My plate stays at my place setting and I carry the food across the table from the dish. This requires some not always successful dexterity in ensuring that I do not spill any on the cloth. My lady thinks that it might be more straightforward to take the plate to the dish.

So, there I am, contemplating the grass-cutting, and along comes the head gardener. ‘Sweetheart,’ she trills, ‘are you going to do all that by hand?’. I explained my method, and that, of course, she was right.

The application of the mower went off rather smoothly, although I did occasionally have to extricate myself from the cable which seemed to persist in ensnaring my legs.

Onamental grass

We don’t cut all the grass in the garden, for we have a number of ornamental varieties that are small enough not to require it.

This evening we dined on chicken Kiev, cauliflower cheese, carrots, beans, and mashed potato; all to Jackie’s usual high standard. She drank Gallo Muscato. I didn’t.

Painted Into A Corner

While we have been working on the main garden, the back drive has taken advantage of our negligence, and become rather out of hand. Jackie has decided that, far preferable to getting down on her hands and knees to weed it, she will apply a weedkiller. Since this area is the size of a large town back garden, the task will require goodness knows how many trips from the house to the undergrowth with a small can of diluted poison.

In the photograph she is seen making her way to the far end. At least a start was made.
The front garden has also rather burgeoned. After transporting a few more sets to finish yesterday’s border, I made a start on that.
After leaving off the poisoning, Jackie set those last few blocks of granite, and continued planting and watering.When she called me for lunch,

I had not even finished clearing the brambles breaking through the trellis by the entrance, and clambering over any plants in their path. As the second picture shows, it became apparent that I had painted myself into a corner. I found another way out.
This afternoon I managed to clear the trellis area, and heavily to prune a sloe tree that was encroaching onto the footpath outside our property, and putting unnecessary pressure on the latticework of the trellis. I had to sacrifice nascent fruit of both the brambles and the tree, but I can live with that.
Before I could put my feet up at the end of the day I needed to clear the severed branches and uprooted blackberry bushes from the garden and the street outside. It was then my turn to make long treks down the garden path. The vast pile of cuttings that all the clearances are accumulating, lies at the far end of the main path, near the gate in today’s first photograph. Backwards and forwards, knackered, I tramped. Adding material to the heap is rather like tossing the caber.
Afterwards, I had a wander around with my camera.

A new variety of poppy has revealed itself in the bed I weeded yesterday, and a pink climbing rose has taken off since we gave it more space and light.

We have a number of varieties of verbena which are seemingly happy with life. The tall stemmed bonariensis blends beautifully with the clematises on the new arch, and the surrounding geraniums. Its shorter, scented, cousin, aptly named strawberries and cream, makes a welcome companion for diascia and pelargoniums, especially the nutmeg flavoured one. That is why Jackie has placed their pot alongside the bench.

Petunias, such as these in a hanging basket, come in a variety of colours, as does the mimulus, nestling on the margin of the tiny pond.
For dinner, Jackie produced gammon baked in a nest of whole mushrooms; swede, carrot and potato mash; cauliflower; and a positively piquant melange of onions and tomatoes for    a sauce to provide juiciness. I didn’t drink any of her Hoegaarden, or anything else for that matter.
For the onion and tomato sauce:
Take four medium onions, finely chopped. Fry them with one clove of garlic in butter with a little oil to stop the butter burning.
When they are well done, add a can of chopped Italian tomatoes and gently fry until blended in well.
Try it. It’s delicious.