Gardening in my slippers – a cautionary tale

June 17, 2011

The (now-ex) primulas

Two days ago, early in the morning I was carefully walking along the edge of the pond (precious primulas in full sail to my left, water to my right) in order to haul out some of the mass of oxygenating weed that was threatening to engulf the pump.

I had just wandered outside, having completed the ‘weekly tips’ section of my Telegraph column, in which I  including advice on the need to keep pond weed in check at this time of year.

I was inappropriately wearing slippers (as you do) and yes, I slipped.

I think this is what happened:

My right shin scccccraaaaped down the brick edge of the pond and into the water.  When my slippered foot hit the sludge on the bottom of the pond, it skidded sideways, and as I struggled to recover my balance, I thwacked the inside of my right knee against the edge of the pond, and into the small protruding overflow pipe that sticks out of the brickwork into the water (supplying constant moisture to primula bed).

The result of a split second of stupidity:

My right shin, from ankle bone to knee is totally bruised and grazed –  hot, throbbing and bright scarlet. The entire ankle and calf have swollen to what looks like twice their size.  I have a 5″ diameter dark purple mottled bruise (a haematoma, the nurse called it) on the soft bit on the inside of my knee and a similar large purple patch on the bony bit under my kneecap.

I am now wearing an elastic tubigrip  bandage from the arch of my foot to above my knee. I am on penicillin and heavy duty anti-inflammatory/painkilling drugs and had to have a tetanus jab as a precaution.  I am not supposed to drive till things improve,  and am told to keep my right foot above the level of my heart whenever possible, which ought to be most of the time.  And until the heat and swelling on my leg starts to subside, I should if possible strap an ice pack to it made out of a tea towel and a bag of frozen peas.

I am told it might be some weeks before the swelling goes down and my leg returns to normal, during which time the colour from the healing bruise will gardually drain down to my foot.  Attractive.

Oh yes, and  – just a small additional bit of sadness to the outcome:  quite a lot of the primula stems bit the dust, too.

All this because I slipped – well, actually only one leg of me slipped – into a  small garden pond barely 18″ deep.

Fellow early-morning slipper-wearing pond-lovers, of which I suspect there are legion, consider yourself warned.

For my part, I am tempted to only undertake weed-removal duties in future if wearing full protective gear including flippers and a snorkel, although I consider installing a life belt by the pond a step too far.

More seats, please

June 4, 2011

I am always surprised to find myself in small gardens with no chairs or seats apart from the obligatory dining ones by the house.  You walk up them… and you walk back.  And that’s it.  Absolutely nowhere for quiet contemplation.

Admittedly, my garden has an overabundance of seats, many of them elderly rustic chestnut things, relics from my former spacious garden.

Some of them are tucked away under trees where little else will grow,  areas that would otherwise be somewhat unsightly.  A bench or chair so placed kills two birds with one stone – providing a something pleasing to look at from elsewhere in the garden, and somewhere on which to perch while enjoying looking the good bits of it.

The avian references are apt, as it happens.  I have just been scrubbing a year’s worth of guano off my chairs and benches in preparation for my open afternoon tomorrow and subsequent other visitors.  It simply wouldn’t do for the assorted bottoms of Wadhurst and its environs to go home with bird-poo embellishments.

So, now the garden visiting season is in full swing, and by way of encouragement to others who perhaps have gardens where seating is a bit thin on the ground – or indeed, tricky areas under trees that need a bit of dressing up – I will include here a selection of pictures that should go under the heading of ‘Seats that are rarely sat on most for of the year’  since I have to admit that the moment I sit on them myself, I immediately see something that needs propping up or deadheading.

So off I go again.

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My garden is open for four hours…

May 29, 2011

…between 2 pm and 6 pm on Sunday June 5, as part of the Wadhurst Open Gardens 2011 weekend.  Other lovely gardens of all shapes and sizes are open as well, of course, during both the Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Tickets cost £5 from Carillon Cottage (the parish office near the post office bang in the middle of Wadhurst High Street).  I am keeping my fingers crossed for good weather –  and less of the ghastly wind that has been rocking things around for the past week.

“Did you know there was an old lady in a hairnet drowning in your pond?”

May 22, 2011
A picture of my pond

My pond

…was just one of various bemused comments from visitors about the orange mesh bag – actually full of barley straw – currently breezing around on the surface of my pond as part of my battle against blanket weed and green water.

Wiggly Wigglers ( sell bags of straw in trios (they are on special offer as I write, the prime time for putting the bags in ponds).  By the time it is settled in and starts to submerge a bit, the combination of sunlight and water temperature will make the rotting barley straw release hydrogen peroxide (I think) into the water, which inhibits the growth of algae. You can undoubtedly Google some better science on this.

What no one seems to latch on to though is the fact that as soon as they become saturated, the bags sink – out of sight (which is a bit of a relief, actually) , but more importantly out of sunlight  – which slightly ruins the whole operation.  So I always open up the bags, stuff a small empty sealed plastic bottle right in the middle, compress the straw around it so that it is invisible and then seal the bag up again.  The bags (which, by the way, do fade quite quickly in the sun) remain permanently partially submerged.  Hey presto.  Drowning old ladies in hairnets in my pond.

Does the barley straw technique actually work?  Well it undoubtedly helps – as long as you hoik out the worst of the algae if  it starts to accumulate (if, for example you have to top up your pond with tap water, which encourages algal growth).  But it also helps to allow between a half and a third of the pond to become full of oxygenating weed.


Blush Telegraph

April 27, 2011
Ken's Exochorda

Ken's Exochorda (click to enlarge)

I have been having a bit of fun with my Telegraph page (a gardening agony column) recently. 

Totally fed up with readers sending me endless pictures of crisply dying bay trees (sometimes without even any accompanying question), expecting clairvoyancy on the subject of their teetering-on-the-brink hydrangeas and whingeing about myriad buds dropping off camellias and about primrose-vandalising sparrows, I blew a fuse (partially extinguished pre-publication by my Tact Inspector, Telegraph Gardening‘s editor Joanna Fortnam).

  Read the rest of this entry »

Thorny Problems – progress report and events

March 10, 2011
Thorny Problems


My book, Thorny Problems, has been out barely a week and I am pleased to say it is doing really rather well…

After hefty promotion in The Telegraph on Saturday, Amazon sold out (but that has been sorted out by now I dare say), and when I last looked it was at no. 2 on their ‘homes and gardens bestseller‘  list (no. 1 being a Kindle book which, as someone  Really Important in publishing  (I daren’t say who) said, ‘doesn’t really count’).

Anyway, I’ve got various speaking and Q & A sessions coming up and will endeavour to keep a supply of books with me, both RHS Grow Your Own Flowers and Thorny Problems.

The following are the more ‘horticultural’ events (there are one or two ticket-only charity things, and I don’t think the organizers would thank me for mentioning them at this late date because I think tickets are all sold).

Tomorrow (Friday 11th March) I shall be answering questions (with the fab and famous Fergus Garrett  and  Stephanie Donaldson)  in Hastings at a Gardeners’ Question Time organized by the Lower Torfield Allotment Association – 7pm in All Saints Hall, All Saints Street, Hastings.

On March 16th I shall be doing a talk on ‘Downsizing’  – an upbeat PowerPoint saga of my change of horticultural circumstances –  in Framfield Hall, Framfield, East Sussex starting at 7 pm.

On March 24th at 7.30 pm I shall be talking to the members of an organisation called ‘Beautiful Battle‘ in Battle Memorial Hall which is, yes you guessed, in Battle, East Sussex.

On March 26th I will be doing a ‘Thorny Problems Live’ session for the Dorset Hardy Plant Society at Colehill Memorial Hall BH21 2LS, at 2 pm.

April gets really busy, starting with talks at Barnsley House in Gloucestershire (April 1), a booksigning at Wisley (April 3) and another ‘Downsizing’ session for the Chelsea Gardeners Guild (April 6).

I will post more details of these later.  This is, I fully acknowledge,  a VERY BORING POST –  but Henry (my son) told me I absolutely had to do it.  Blah blah Henry, since when did you give your mother orders….?

Grow your own leaves

January 29, 2011

No, this is not – to my knowledge – a reference to yet another RHS tome in the successful series, but refers to my passion for foliage.

When I was writing Grow Your Own Flowers, shrubs and trees and perennials grown for the sheer beauty of their leaves were, as the title of the book kind of suggests, elbowed aside – allowed barely a mention apart from as mere supporting players for cut flowers, that is. I actually found this somewhat restricting and rather unnatural, since the subtly of a predominently green tapestry has always been a bit of a passion of mine.

Indeed, one of the parts of my own garden with which I am most satisfied – and for a long season, too – is a leafy and shady area about which I wrote here a couple of years ago when it was just getting going, which I call ‘Torquay’ (for slightly silly reasons – it is all in the previous post…).

This week I had cause to look at some of the more recent pictures of  ‘Torquay’ (taken some time in late summer last year)  when I was composing a reply to a Telegraph reader who wanted help in prettifying an un-plantable shady part of her new garden blighted by a septic tank that previous owners had covered in gravel.

I thought I would put them on here for all to see:

A picture of my garden

'Torquay' (click to enlarge)

Even in the wide view, above, taken of the area surrounding  ‘Torquay’  from the other side of my pond, there is scarcely a flower in sight (the only prominent thing being a huge clump of scarlet Persicaria amplexicaulis ‘Taurus’ on the left hand side).  Leaves just do it all by themselves.

A picture of my garden

More 'Torquay' (click to enlarge)

I am far too idle to map out and name every plant in this other closer view of the potted central area, the population of which I quite enjoy changing  a bit each year.  But suffice it to say that tucked around the permanent posh urns of clipped box last summer were Cannas, Ricinus, Melianthus major and a pair of colourful cordylines (that both bit the dust this winter because I wasn’t quick enough off the mark in the lengthy cold snap), a couple of in-the-ground Kirengshomas and various Hostas (the bright little one in the foreground is ‘June’, next to a little patch of self-seeded Corydalis cheilanthifolia).

There is also an uninvited and definitely unplanned ‘extra’ in the scene –  tucked in on the extreme right end of the group you may notice a stout, flame-flowered, giant-leafed Gerbera.   All of us gardening hacks were given one of these in our party bags at the Thompson and  Morgan Press Day last summer.  Mine looked, it has to be said almost despite itself, quite at home in ‘Torquay’.

I’m on the radio

January 10, 2011

iPlayer logoJust a quick post to say that I was on BBC Radio Kent yesterday, talking about my RHS book.

Here’s the iPlayer link:

I’m on from about 35mins.


RHS’s ‘Grow Your Own Flowers’ – an ego trip? Moi? (Well, just a tiny one maybe)

November 29, 2010
RHS’s ‘Grow Your Own Flowers’

My new book - Grow Your Own Flowers

One of the fascinating things about having one’s own blog – even if one doesn’t actually ever post on it very much – is looking at what you, the public, type into search engines to get here. You’re an odd bunch, you really are.

A not inconsiderable number of you seem to be preoccupied with my marital status, if the frequency of visitors looking for articles containing the words ‘helen yemm divorce’ is anything to go by  (anything on that subject that you may come across, incidentally, has nothing to do with me.  There seems, surprisingly, to be another Helen Yemm…).

Similarly, the popularity of my post on ‘Solomon’s seal sawfly’ never ceases to amaze. And I do hope that the person looking for “where to plant yew balls” found what he or she was looking for.

However, I may be being somewhat vain, but I like to massage my ego by assuming that at least a small proportion of you are looking for more information about the author of the Royal Horticultural Society’s brand new offering in the Grow your own… series, namely Grow your own flowers, now on sale (for delivery in January) via the RHS shop.

In case you haven’t worked it out yet, that author is none other than yours truly. However (a little disappointingly) there is, apart from my name and a broadly grinning mug shot (not of my choosing) on the cover, not a lot in the book to explain to those who haven’t heard of me from my little corner of the Telegraph, who I am or where I have come from  – no pithy little biographical titbits on the inside of the cover even, for some reason.

So if you are indeed wondering who I am, take a look at the stuff on here, or over at The Telegraph’s website

…and then go to the RHS website and order the book which, incidentally, I did write all by my little self (apart from some snazzy little inserted POWs – that’s Pearls of Wisdom – in boxes from the RHS’s Leigh Hunt) and about which I am (not very secretly) quite proud.

Next bit of excitement is another book (a distillation of my long-running gardening agony page in the Saturday Telegraph) Thorny Problems, due in March (Telegraph Books and Simon & Schuster), and which you can pre-order on Amazon here.

Anyway, watch this space – and I expect Telegraph Gardening will helpfully work up a bit of a sweat about it as well, bless’em.


Hooray for my allotment – and my friends

August 8, 2010
A picture of me on my allotment

Last year I picked my own veg… (Photo by Ruth Francis; click to enlarge)

I am generally a very unbloggy blogger –  I don’t normally share random immediate thoughts, although perhaps The One Show bit and my Charles Darwin post were a bit off  the usually fairly carefully thought-out rails.

However, I would just like to share with readers the fact that despite the hideous work-enforced neglect of my allotment this summer, I have just  eaten the most magnificent supper most of which came from my plot.

What did I eat?  Chicken (regrettably I can’t lay claim to that), cooked with onions and garlic  and tarragon (from my plot) and a dash or white wine (regrettably I don’t own a vineyard either)   with lovely chubby chard stems (the leaves were a bit coarse and holey), french beans and butter (regrettably no cow, either) with more garlic  and magnificent Charlotte spuds, carefully groomed to avoid the odd unfortunate tunnel,  cooked with mint and then steeped in a parsley/butter goo (I really must think about getting a cow…).  Totally delish.  And followed by the first of my  autumn raspberries.

But none of this would have been possible without my fantiastic friends who have  been down to the neglected desert and picked things for me. This post is for them.

Over and out.