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Entries by martian77 (524)


Garden diary - it is begun

Forgive another long bout of radio silence. We had no internet connection at home, and I've been slack. Now, however, I do have a good internet connection at home (although I may still be slack). We've been up to all sorts, but the two week break in Florida probably did most to recharge my batteries - with vitamin D if nothing else!

The garden is still predominantly a patch of mud, but now I have big plans for it. They look a lot like they've been scribbled on the back of a fag packet, and require far too much pointing and explaining to post up here. But I do now have some idea what I want to put where and what will join the various bits and so on. The slightly trickier bits are the execution of said plans: they require lots of levelling of shed and patio bases, preparation for turf, paving and the like. So we're still drawing breath and pausing before really getting going on the tough stuff.

The grey of the mud patch has been starting to get to me though, even with the amount of grass that is trying to force its way through. So when we popped to see my parents this weekend, we couldn't turn down a trip to their local(ish) nursery, Simpson's in Fordham. We knew the garden had to have a cherry tree, and Simpson's normally do a good line in all sorts of trees. We probably should have stuck to just one, but they were half price, so we got two. That meant a drive back with 5 people in the car and two trees sticking out of the sun roof. Then we had to get the two trees out of Mum and Dad's large Lexus and into our tiny Audi A1 (no sun roof) for the 2.5 hour trip home. I lost a game of shotgun to two trees. Still, all four of us made it, pretty much none the worse for wear.

We planted the trees (labels preserved for posterity here) yesterday on opposite sides of the garden.

This is a droopy (not an entirely technical term), dark pink one that apparently flowers in Spring:

Prunus pendula 'Pendula Rubra'

And this is a more upright one with white flowers, apparently in Autumn/Winter, with a Mickey Mouse bird bath for company that our friend Pat bought for us as advance payment for staying with us on her retirement trip to the UK later this year:

Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis'

We've also potted up a couple of blueberries that our friend Steamer gave us as a house warming present. Those are going to live on the patio, each side of the doors to the conservatory. Hopefully that will be close enough together for the bees to find their way from one to the other, and close enough to the house for me to eat the blueberries before the birds. We've just put a load of violas in with them - not sure what they will make of the ericaceous compost, but I guess we'll find out! I've mulched around the two trees with two 50l bags of compost, and put the rest of the violas in that. I'm sticking with the no-dig approach where I can (although we're planning on rotavating once, particularly under the lawn) This soil will need masses of compost to make it even halfway decent, so I'm going to stick with spreading it on the top and hoping the worm population will step up to the plate and drag it down into the clay beneath. I have seen some (small) worms, so there is some hope. 50l bags of compost are not an affordable long-term strategy, but it gets things started.

The two trees in their islands of compost do look slightly incongruous, I'll admit. But I feel better for getting something growing. I'm going to try for some annuals too, so we don't have to worry about them if I get the lines of the beds slightly wrong. It is begun!

Tally so far:
100l of General purpose compost
90l of Ericaceous compost


Yes, I cycled

My preferred method of commuting is by bike. It's been my preferred method of commuting for a long time now, and I suspect it will be for a long time to come. I enjoy the exercise, I get lots of beautiful sunsets and sunrises, and it's just so much better than driving I can't even begin to explain. In the summer, noone really questions that. It's light, warm, no problems. At this time of year though, I get constant stream of people saying things like "You didn't cycle today, did you?", and "I can't believe you're still cycling, it's dark!".

See, here's the thing. It is possible to prepare for dark (hello, really bright lights and reflective stuff), and dress to make almost every type of weather ok. Yeah, almost. But it's not the rain that causes problems, or even snow (that much, anyway).


It's high winds that cause me most issues. And ice, but in this country it's windy considerably more often than it's icy. There's pretty much nothing I can do to make cycling on narrow roads with lots of traffic safe in gusting winds, so I do drive occasionally. My cut off is usually a forecast of over 20mph during commuting times. (I used to have a cut off of 15mph when I lived in Cambridgeshire, but when I moved to Brighton I discovered that wouldn't let me cycle much. It's breezy by the sea.) I could probably go a bit higher if I didn't have parking at work, but I do, so. 

Still, I cycle more days than not all year round, and there are some tricks I've picked up that make this time of year a lot more bearable. There was an interesting article on the Boston Globe recently called the "Anatomy of a Winter Cyclist", detailing what a cyclist who commutes in massively sub-zero temperatures wears. There were a few differences in what I would consider sensible over here, because we're dealing with different conditions. My big problem isn't extreme cold - we don't get much below freezing, after all - but wet.

(It's worth noting that the outfit in the picture above was taken a couple of years back, when I was cycling with Clarkie on a run. I'd never wear that much in this country if I'm going full speed. I'd get far too sweaty!)

Getting wet at temperatures not far above freezing is deeply uncomfortable, and there are big, unavoidable puddles even on days that it isn't raining. The canvas shoes that the winter rider in that Boston Globe piece used would not work for me, even with the wind covers. I have good, full-length mudguards, and still end up with wet and muddy shoes most days.

Mudguard Fail

(That's an old picture, I have better mudguards now so it doesn't spray up quite as far. Same principle though.)

I wear walking boots in winter for cycling, because they are waterproof. At the current temperatures I wear a fetching pair of ankle gaiters as well, which keeps my trousers (a pair of cheap, baggy, hard-wearing army-surplus combats) out of the chain. I don't bother if I'm wearing shorts, which is most of the year. I wear a waterproof jacket for around three quarters of the year anyway, layering up or down as required underneath - currently a long-sleeve merino base layer and a fleece gilet. I use my Oakleys, but with clear lenses. I have a lovely pair of mittens that I really like, but if it's raining (or below freezing - I'm a wuss) I cover them with a pair of ripstop over-mittens that I made. They look silly, but work, which kind of sums up my headgear too. I'm still wearing the really silly earwarmers that I made back in 2010 because I don't like wearing hats under my helmet but hate getting cold ears. If it's raining I wear my waterproof trousers as well, over the boots but under the gaiters. Chances are I'll turn up looking like a drowned rat, but I'm dry under the waterproof layer! 

I shower and change at work, so I don't have to worry about getting sweaty, and what I look like on the bike really isn't terribly important to me. Being on the bike really is important to me though, so yes, if you ask, I probably did cycle, and yes, I probably will tomorrow too! 


Once more, with pictures

Turns out Clarkie had a picture of the mud, so no more imagination required!

I present, for your viewing pleasure, our new garden...

Garden mud


New Garden

Of course, with a new home I also have a new garden. I've been holding off posting about it, waiting for a chance to get a photo, but I'm never home in daylight at the moment during the week, and have no internet access from home at the weekends. What I do have is the sketch I made for the measurements:

Garden Dimensions

The house is at the top of the picture, which is also sort of North, North-West-ish. It's an odd shape because of the garages either side and the conservatory. The rest of the garden is... well... mud. There are some paving slabs, but other than that it is what is known as a 'blank canvas'. There is a large tree that sits at the bottom right (in that sketch) just behind the fence, which currently has no leaves but will cause some shade when it does. The soil looks a bit on the unimproved clay side, which is currently holding water nicely but will dry like concrete come summer, plus there's a fair bit of construction rubbish around.

I'm not rushing, but I have some ideas I'm toying with. I need to start sketching them so I can share them properly with Clarkie. We're defintely not at the stage of monthly shots yet, but it's a whole new wonderful space to play with! 


New Home

I'm not sure where the time has gone. I blinked, and suddenly it's a whole new year and we have a new house.


The last few months I seem to have been functioning, but I can't really say what I've been doing exactly. Life has been rather hectic, but I think a big part of my inactivity has to be traced to post-thesis recovery. I remember after finishing my MSc that I started to feel human again a few months later. The hangover from the PhD (and it's not been examined yet, so I'm not totally done) seems to be quite strong.

Which isn't to say it's not been a lovely few months, with friends and visits and new stuff galore. And the most recent thing is the lovely, shiny new house that we moved into on December 12th. We're not unpacked yet, nowhere near tidy, but it feels warm and cozy and lovely. We have a lovely conservatory that I can sit in and ponder the patch of mud out back and plan what I'm going to do with it this time.


Granted, we are still living on a building site with builders turning up at 7.30 every morning on the dot. There's mud everywhere on all the roads (what there are at the moment) and no-one can find us because Google Maps includes all the estate roads (even those that aren't built) and our postcode doesn't pinpoint us yet. We have no phone line, and no date when we might get a phone line and therefore no broadband. Still, it's a really lovely house. 

We keep looking at each other and trying to work out how we managed to get here. I guess there's a whole lot of work and luck and hope and planning that we're forgetting, but it feels pretty amazing. This isn't the worst time of year to reflect on that, I guess.

Can't promise that posts will be more regular yet -  as I said we have no internet connection yet, which makes it more difficult. (I also seem to have accidentally and irretrievably deleted my last post from August. User error.) But the intention to post more is there, and that's something. 


UPDATE: Clarkie saved my last post via Google's cache. Hurrah!