Six on Saturday – Murk

I feel a little bit confused. Not unusual, it’s true, but the severity of the confusion seems all the more at the moment. I mean to say, what day is it?! Saturday of course, it is Six on Saturday time. I am barely into my January sabbatical (big word for a month off) and I’m drifting about like a anchorless dingy. I am chomping at the bit to get out and do stuff in the garden, but it has been so wet that even in the tempting rain-free interludes the ground is sodden and I know better than to stomp (rather than chomp) about on easily compacted soil. Frustrating. I suppose that is the name of the January game. However, all is not lost. There are plenty of people out there enjoying sun and warmth and all things floriferous, and there are others, like me, who are dreaming of sunshine, and some that might well be under a blanket of snow. If you check out The Prop you will be able to catch up on what is what and what is not in the world of SoS. Come on now, let us shake a New Year leg.

First, we have a snail. Not a real snail, but a monster to scare the others off snail. It hasn’t worked in the past, I live in hope.

Next, a hitchhiker. A plant that I have previously dug up at great physical cost, cursed on its defiant return and later its prolific self-seeding. Now I am activity tending this thug in its host pot of watsonia. It is bronze fennel, Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’, and I don’t know what I am thinking. If I moan at a later date please feel free to say “told you so”,”when will you ever learn?” and the like.

This Christmas our household was the proud recipient of two bird feeders. The bog standard one from me to him, the fancy pants acorn from my astute nephew and his partner. As our garden is not on the birdie super highway, I was jumpy uppy downy thrilled this week to see a sparrow on BS and a robin taking full advantage of FP. Very happy me. They will come.

Onto the anaemic leaves of emerging ranunculus. Early, I know, but at least it has turned up to the party.

Someone who has never left the party is Osteospermum ‘Purple Sun’, pictured next to our rainwater reservoir, AKA a plastic box. Ever ready to pop the odd flower out, so far any attempt at cold hasn’t thwarted its enthusiasm. Long may this last.

Finally, I bought some seed. Yes, I know, I have a biscuit tin full of seed. OK, fair cop, I have two biscuit tins full of seed. But I do need, yes need is the correct word, some reliable fresh seed for a talk/practical presentation I will be doing in March. I have a certain responsibility. And I love Rudbeckia ‘Irish Eyes’ and I just had to have Ipomoea ‘Heavenly Blue’ and ………

That is your lot. Have fun, stay safe, ’til next time, my friends.

A Great Need

Our new house is situated at the top of a large new estate. So new, in fact, construction at the lower end of the site is ongoing, although Ein Cartref Bach is a relatively mature 7 years old. As a couple we have never owned a newish house before. In fact we have never lived in a house built after the end of the 19th century. ‘Til now. And to be honest, it is a curious experience. Towns and villages usually evolve over a period of time, this, in relation, popped up over night. Which must bring problems with it; creating a near instant community is tricky, it takes time.

The Estate does have many good points. These are the things that swayed our decision to buy. There are copious green spaces, with sections of ancient boundaries, hedgerows and matures trees left intact. Saplings have been planted and areas of scrubland left to provide havens for wildlife. The architecture is varied in size, form and materials, making for a varied aesthetic. There is a network of cyclepaths that lead to the school. As estates go, I would say it is a good one.

Yesterday I went for a lone explore, to nose about and try to glean what I could with a little entry level nosiness. I found a postbox, a prison, a wooded area, a birdtable, some children on Christmas bikes, a few dog walkers and a lot of front gardens that to be polite “could do better”. To be fair, there were a few exceptions that had made an effort, but mostly they were deserts of lawn or gravel or slate or, horror of horrors, artificial grass.

What is needed is some widespread horticultural-bombing. For some goading and cajouling and inspiration and damascene conversions. Perhaps not in that order. But whether that can be brought to fruition is another thing. I doubt whether garden maintenance is a priority for most of the residents who are, I am sure, busy folk. These people all have lovely homes, and take time and effort to furnish them beautifully. Their cars are washed and polished and preened regularly. But why not their front gardens? On the whole they are relatively small areas and a similiarly small amount of effort would greatly enhance not only their own, but their neighbours’ and visitors’ environment. This is not a criticism of their choices, but an acknowlegement that if they wanted it could be so much better.

So what to do? What I need is an ally.

Check In

How are we? A little delicate, disappointed, over-fed, over-watered, exhausted, confused, relaxed, relieved, or perhaps a little bit of each on rotation? It is a strange time, this in-between bit; not quite Christmas, not quite new year. Are we living in the moment or eyes fixed on the horizon? Anyone have a clue?

If all else fails a castle usually diverts attention, for a little while at least. Here we have Coity Castle. My manor. Well, as much as any other ancient monument.

Unforgotten – Prodigal Plates

You can all stop looking, I’ve found them! Persistence paid off and they were in the bottom box in the far corner of the understair cupboard. They are now washed and ready for roast spud action.

I hope you are not too disappointed by their un-festive look. They are our best plates and used when we have visitors and other such special events. Such as Christmas. To compensate for their unsparkley, ruddolph-less appearance, with not a even christmas tree in sight, I have added a couple of elves to boost their seasonal appeal. I hope this will suffice. These lovely elves were a gift from my Norwegian sister-in-law, and like all her wonderful nation, she knows a thing or two about Christmas decorations. One is me and the other is OH. But you knew that.

I wish you all a wonderful Christmas, my friends. May you have fun and laughter and love and light. Thanks for everything, I couldn’t do it without you.

Unforgotten – Not a Plate

The unpacking has slowed to a snail’s pace. The initial enthusiasm has dwindled with promises for New Year and a fresh start. Possibly with fingers crossed. There is one thing, or rather four, that I would really like to find. Our best plates for Christmas dinner.

Today I had another heave ho ho ho and rummage through bubble wrap and newspaper, all to no avail and a twinging back. What I did find was this little doll, which coincidentally I had been talking to my mum about, only a few days ago.

This elegant lady was given to me when I was a little girl by a friend of Peggy. In fact Barbara had been her bridesmaid. For some time Barbara was a missionary in India and I can only assume this is where my precious doll came from. There are lots of things I don’t remember. I don’t remember being given her. I don’t remember playing with her, but at the same time I can’t remember being told I couldn’t. I do, however, remember that I have always loved her, her draping sari and ruby necklace. And I felt the very same this morning, as I unwrapped her from lace-edged napkins, which I picked up at a jumble sale years ago, in the hope the one day I either be posh enough to use them or find an alternative to justify their existence. I smoothed the folds of her skirt, ran my hand over her raven hair and admired her rosebud mouth. Still lovely to me.

Now you must excuse me. I’ve just had some inspiration. I have an inkling where those plates might be. One last hope.


I believe there is an official point when mist becomes fog or fog becomes mist. Not a vague guestimate like when a courgette becomes a marrow or novella a novel; something scientific. It is possibly to do with how far you can see. If I were a deceptive soul I would look it up and pretend I knew, but I am not and I don’t. I am also feeling too lazy to do any research, although I do realise that it would take seconds to do so. It seems I am not such a good gal after all. What has fog/mist mist/fog got to do with anything, you may well ask? The answer is, it is how the day began and how it continued.

After lunch I decided to go for a walk. “Would you like me to come with you?” OH asked over his newspaper. “No thanks” I replied. Which might seem a little bit mean of me. It is not that I don’t like walking with him, it is just that when we do it is necessary to compromise our own personnal styles. Me: Brisk, then very slow when examining a dry stone wall or taking a photo of a tri-coloured bramble leaf, often tempted to leave the path, wandering into unchartered (by us) territory usually shouting behind “I think I know where this track might come out”. Him: Steady Eddy, likes a known route, sighs quite a lot.

Unhindered by disapproval I headed out for the village church and graveyard. Perfect atmospheric conditions. On the way was diverted a little and by the time I got there the mist/fog had cleared and the sun was shining. Still, I wandered and took photos and read stones and wondered about the residents. Then I realised I had dropped my phone. Luckily it was just a few steps away, face down in the grass. I really don’t deserve nice things. I brushed it off, and replaced it in my pocket.

On the way back home, I took a new faint path through some rough ground and to my amazement I found a Magic Tree. I was pleased to see signs of a pallet tree house and took photos from all angles. When I looked at them later I realised that I hadn’t dried off my phone very well and the resultant pictures were blurry in part. Or, as I like to put it, very atmospheric.

Six on Saturday – Imagination

You will need to use a little imagination to fully appreciate my Six on Saturday this week. You will have to channel your seasonal goodwill and indulge me, which to be honest you often do. There is not a lot to shout about in the garden at the moment and what does deserve a hip horray is blurred. Such is life. If you wish, and I highly recommend it, you can check out the rest of the SoS Community in Father Propmas‘ workshop and find out what he and his stocking clad helpers have been up to. Let’s get on, it will soon be Christmas.

We are still transporting plants and accoutrement from Peggy’s. This little chap arrived in his new home this week. The car was full to bursting with boxes and plants and he winked at me as if to say “don’t forget me”. I wrapped him in some kitchen towel and put him in my handbag. He was a gift from a very special friend and for that reason he is doubly loved.

Next we have the new diddy border. It seems that there are two schools of thought when planting: leave ample room between plants for maturing in an elegant and restrained manner or cram the little darlings in for instant impact. No brainer.

Earlier in the week I sorted through my seed box and found three packets that required cold stratification. Today I potted them up and abandoned them to their fate in the far reaches of the estate (easily viewed from the back door). I don’t want a cold winter, but if we do have one then I might well have germination of nomocharis, anemonopsis and roscoea. Win, win. Or perhaps lose, lose.

Salvia conferifolia is still valiantly flowering. I have yet to get a decent photo of this very special salvia. Today reinforced that fact. In fact I believe I am regressing.

Eventually, the Pyrus ‘Chanticleer’ is beginning to turn. About time too. I was beginning to wonder if it was some strange evergreen version. Once the leaves have fallen there will be a diminished sail effect and in turn less rocking and rolling in the wind. All of which will lead to a less stressed out Gilly.

Finally, under the evil influence of Professor Gadget, I have acquired some red hot pokers for the garden. To be more precise, four red hot pokers. They came bare-rooted and, it would seem, had been packaged up for a while. Still, where there is life there is hope, and if they fail His Gadgetship will be on the case. A fabulous collection: Nancy’s Red, Alcazar, Ice Queen and Sunningdale Yellow.

That is your lot. Next Saturday is the big day, so I’m unlikely to be on parade. Hope it’s a good one for you all, my friends, full of fun and laughter and lots of love and green triangles. ‘Til next time.

Unforgotten – Bludgeon

Everyone knows the necessity of a stick companion whilst walking in the woods. A good stick is a vital part of any expedition. A stick is needed to prod things, to offer support on tricky descents, to arrange at arms length. A stick is necessary to Gandalf a little, to swish, or to brandish. There can be no argument, a good stick is imperative. But this stick should not be brought with you, it should be found, and each walk should be begun by selecting an appropriate one.

Ashton Court Estate is a short meander from the country end of Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Over the years we visited many times for a plethora of reasons; sometimes battling through a crowd, sometimes seemingly alone. There were weddings, balloon fiestas and free festivals. There were muddy runs dodging mountain bikes and gentle walks culminating in bacon butties. There were friends and family and many memories.

The grounds are a pleasing mix of woodland and meadow and manicured open parkland. It was here I saw my first little owl, blinking in the early morning sunlight and where I studied the muscular beauty of a red stag and his glamorous hareem. Dotted across the site are ancient oaks, hollowed and propped, colossal Sequoiadendron giganteum give witness to Victorian exploration and equally spectacular Magnolia grandiflora welcome you to the mansion. The dog graveyard was always visited; carefully, as a mark of equal respect, reading out each name with solemnity, wondering by the size of the gravestone whether it be Great Dane or Yorkie. With a little trepidation we would investigate the ice house; dripping and funereal and littered with evidence of modern shenanigans.

Each spring we would visit the bluebell wood, blanketing a knoll close to a rarely used entrance, far from the house. It may have been on one of these ocassions that I found the chosen one. I’m afraid I don’t recall the details. All I can tell you is that a stick caught my eye and at the end of the walk I decided to take it home with me. This not usually acceptable behaviour, in fact it was frowned upon. We had enough of a hoarding problem already to now start collecting random pieces of wood. But this one was special and I resolved to keep it and love it. And for once my resolve came to fruition. I lovingly rubbed it down and oiled it and it has been with me ever since. I have no idea what tree donated it to me or even what made it more attractive than the tens of others that had been discarded before it. Sometimes things chose you. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it (forgive the pun, although I quite like it myself).

It is totally hopeless as a walking stick, far to long, more crutch like. It would make a perfect shillelagh or bludgeon, both fabulous words although slightly contrary to my amicable demeanour. However, if I should ever need a weapon, I have a rather beautiful one to hand, which I am sure would make the violent act far more pleasant. Or perhaps not. On reflection, I will keep it as ornament and a peaceful one at that.

Six on Saturday – Pretty Maids All in a Row

It has been a fortnight since I last reported and I am worried that you are expecting great things of me. I am sure you do not wish to hear excuses, if necessary I can come up with a baker’s dozen, so I will just say “these things can not be rushed, I am an artist and I must wait for my muse to inspire me”. Which of course is bunkum, but worth a try. What I present you with here is a particularly dull Six on Saturday. Apologies, but perhaps you could read it just before bedtime to aid a good night’s sleep. If stimulation is what you are looking for, pop over to Mr Dynamo himself, The Prop, and find out what himself and his acolytes have been up to. Right, let us get this over with.

To begin, a new border, the first. It is north facing. I may call it The North Border, although this is unlikely. At present it is pathetic and feeble, pretty maids all in a row, but it is a start and the hydrangeas especially needed to have their feet in the soil once more. Talking of soil, I am pleasantly surprised in that department. A few inches of nice dark stuff, then a more red sandy clay type. Not a fag packet, Gregg’s carrier bag or bit of rusty metal in sight. I must get a pH testing kit. I was asking Jim a couple of weeks ago about a small camellia to suit and I would rather not grow it in a pot.

In the new North Border (working title) I planted a cutting from our wonderful red hydrangea in Ilfracombe (above not looking very red), Hydrangea aspera ‘Hot Chocolate’, Impatiens omeiana and Begonia ‘Claret Jug’. All a bit deciduous so in the middle went Pseudopanax ‘Moas Toes’, which is heading for the stars. I’m thinking about nipping out the top to encourage some horizontal growth, any thoughts? I will wait til spring so you have time to think about it.

Much as I would love a hand crafted artisan compost heap, I am realist enough to accept that a dalek is as good as it is going to get for the foreseeable. This is enough to make me very happy. The evidence of border excavation is nearby. As tidy a pile as an untidy pile can be.

I had bulbs to plant. I had no pot to plant them in. So I made a mini bed and planted out Rodgeria ‘Heavenly Gill’. If ever a plant should not be in a pot, surely it is a rodgersia. Hopefully it will thrive here, it has struggled up to now.

Then in with the bulbs of Lilium ‘Forever Susan’. This must be my five hundredth attempt to find the real thing. Fingers crossed for next year. And yes I did cover the bulbs with soil.

Some traditions must not be ignored. The violas are doing very nicely.

Your trial is over, you have stayed the course. I can’t promise much more excitement next time. I can promise I will try. Stay safe my friends.

Unforgotten – Portrait of a Young Girl

Something that became overtly apparent when we were packing up to move is that we have a great deal of everything. Too much. Including pictures. Too many. Oils, water colours, prints and mixed media; landscape, still life, abstract. Although we had no more wall space, for a long time I yearned for a portrait. Not of me, or even of him, just of someone I liked the look of, a fine cut of gib.

Ilfracombe, as many others do, has an annual art trail. Local artists set up temporary exhibitions in their homes, or perhaps collaborate with friends, and invite the general public to view their work and perhaps buy a picture or two. We enjoyed this event. It was a good opportunity to explore corners of the town we hadn’t come across before and have a nosy about in strangers’ houses. Oh yes, and admire the wealth of art this small town has to offer. Whilst on one of these arty meanders we wandered past an artist studio-come-home-come-gallery. This property is adjacent to a set of traffic lights approaching the High Street and I had often admired the paintings in the window as I waited for green to hurry me along. I had never actually seen the door open before so took the opportunity to dangle a foot across the threshold and call “are you on the Trail?” to whoever might be lurking inside. “I’m not, but please come in”, was the reply from the shadows.

As we stood chatting to the owner/artist, Nigel Mason, my eye was caught by a small square painting of a woman. In fact I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The mens’ conversation faded into the background as I studied this bright young face or was it a dark young face, I wasn’t quite sure. Then, without consultation or further ado I asked “How much for that one?”, pointing in her direction. Nigel had a think and pulled a very reasonable price out of the air for our consideration. We checked purses and wallets and offered what we had in cash, which he accepted.

Before we left, carefully wrapped painting in hand, I wondered “Who is she?” And I was surprised by Nigel’s answer. He had painted this picture from a photo he had found of a young Russian woman who was just about to be transported to The Gulag.

I knew exactly where I wanted her to live. In our bedroom, on the wall just above the chest of drawers, the same height as a mirror, so that every day I could look into her eyes and she could look into mine. Who knows what insignificant misdemeanour caused her internment, who knows what horrors she endured, who knows if she ever left her prison? But she lives on, in Nigel’s portrait, in my thoughts and I like to think she won in the end.