Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Hope is a Thing with Wind Break and Insulation

Apologies to the poet from Amherst, but gardening in the north is a leap of faith where hope has to be shored up with technology. Yesterday in balmy spring like weather, I planted out some seeds in earth that had been under fleece for a few days. I also trialed my Kozy Koats--mini greenhouses using the property of water --it loses heat keep some seedlings and some bean seeds a bit warmer.

In the night, I heard the wind get up---By 6am the house was so cold I thought a door had been blown open (the window has its little tricks...). I bundled into a blanket and slept-- thanking my lucky stars that I had not been so overcome with enthusiasm by the warmth to remove the fleecy cocoons from the Cornus (dogwoods) of recent blog fame.
Inside a fenced area, inside chicken wire with additional wind netting on it, in a raised bed under fleece or inside a Kozy Koat---surely they are secure here even from a wind from Siberia, but certainly we know not to underestimate the Russians by now. I might be tempted to think it was a UK government conspiracy to send the cold winds up here, but I dont think they know where we are.

So in good Caithness tradition, my gardening pal and I are starting our own willow plantation. With a bit of luck and more hard work---she's a good friend with a border spade--please admire her lovely rows. I'd include a photo of her by her handiwork, but she is camera shy.
Come spring we'll have our own lean, straight willow wythes of named varieties from our tutor and basketmaker and willow planter who spent the day showing my pal Cynthia and me and a handful of others how to do it.  And then, for me, the fun begins--willow woven around the base of our trees (in lieu of this year's chicken wire defensive perimeter). And a woven fedge in back and teepees for the peas and maybe a dome for fun. All in good time, I know, but when the wind blows like this, you gotta have something to hang your hope on.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

In the Ground at Last!

Months of digging and hauling and raking and hefting bags of compost and finding and assembling the raised beds and today was the day, the Cornus alba Sibrica moved into their forever home.
My heat sank this morning when  I woke to see frost on the grass, but it quickly dissipated. As if the last word of a pointless argument--winter is on its way out!
They don't look like much here, but they are out of their bag and trimmed--I averted my eyes while Angie did the deed..

In place and looking happy --or so I like to think--and watered in. The soil is warm, the raised bed should keep them a bit warmer and reduce the risk of wind rock, so we decide to cover them with fleece at soil level but not the elaborate creations we were preparing. We'll see. The next few days look balmy enough, but the worst winds often wait til March to blow a hoolie.
Angie  appeased my pruning terrors by assuring me the cuttings would live again as new plants.  We'll see.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Skylark Memories

Working hard again at the front bed. A moment leaning on our shovels and my gardening pal heard a lark high above us. It is an amazing sound. We swapped memories--
hers--my mother and I walking across the fields in Belgium to get to a recreation area
mine--hearing an actual lark on Spittal Hill here in Scotland and understanding what Shelley was trying to say. Then as now I thought it would be better to send 16 year olds out on a hill to listen to the world more than sitting in a classroom listening to someone else's idea of it. I still have a low tolerance of English romantic poets, but in fairness to my English teacher of all those years ago and my new garden friend, I offer the last two stanzas of Shelley's Ode:

Better than all measures
Of delightful sound,
Better than all treasures
That in books are found,
Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

Teach me half the gladness
That thy brain must know,
Such harmonious madness
From my lips would flow
The world should listen then, as I am listening now.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

And now about the chain (or part 2 of fountain pens, rocks, and a chain)

Snow day has rearranged my schedule,  so I've filled the house with music and poured myself another cuppa.

On the way to making something like this in the front garden:
We discovered these:
The large flat stone in the side pocket as it were, I thought was the queen of the stones. Here's what she looked like after she was liberated or exhumed
Every stone is a portal, but you can't always see where they've been --and hence, presumably where they'd take you. She might have been part of the old coaching inn on this site and tumbled ignominiously into the soil to make way for our house. She might have been part of the outbuildings we knew were here from the 1876 OS map or part of the horse course that was here on the 1905 map--or parts of all that. Stones get reused. It is a matter of respect as well as necessity, so here's what some of her majesty's smaller companions are doing now. Thanks to Angie's artful design they are a windbreak/cairn for an Icelandic willow. After several years in a pot, the willow has a spot of its own.

And along the way to liberating more rocks of various sizes, the chain emerged. At first a rusty nothing much at all beneath stones at all angles, making it much harder to remove. Hamish, the next member to join the 'chain gang,' thought we might have to pull it out with the teleporter, but Ivor managed to get the overlying stone out and then we worked the chain free. Heavy, about 7 feet long and a history as curious as the surrounding stones. Part of the horse course? Part of the coaching inn history? Thanks to Nona and Andrew McKay, we discovered it was the chain that goes around the sprocket of a rear delivery sail reaper. If, like me, you have no photo in your mind's data base, it looked like this:
This one is from our neighbour's collection of vintage equipment (West Greenland Contracting Castletown). The photo is by Morris. Once we knew what it was, Hamish took it in hand to get the rust off. A bit of a clean and then dragging the chain along behind his pick up truck--made a fine buffer.

Now why all this fuss about a chain? Curiosity of course. A fondness for history. An homage to the hard working people here on this site for more than 200 years. And an inherent recognition of the kind of craftsmanship my friend spoke about in his blog about the fountain pen. Something in us is drawn to that elegance, the union of necessity and imagination, that sets us apart --albeit not far--from the other animal toolmakers. 

Rocks, Chains, Fountain Pens, Pencils and a Poem about Junk

Remember when you were a kid and trying to excuse your own behaviour you said something like, 'He/she started it!' Well, this is a positive take on that. I have amazing friends who drop into my inbox from time to time. And recently two of these on separate trajectories landed in my inbox and got me thinking about craftmanship and tools and how do we grow that in ourselves and others and why it's important. And in the middle of this thinking is a big hole and a 7 foot chain.

Richard Wilbur wrote a poem called Junk, in which he says, in part:

The heart winces
for junk and gimcrack,
for jerry built things
And the men who make them
for a little money
Bartering pride
like the bought boxer
who pulls his punches,
or the paid off jockey
who in the home stretch
holds in his horse.

Honest to goodness even if you think you don't like poetry, the whole thing is worth a read.  Tomorrow I'll post the photos of the rocks and the chain. It really is all very logical in its own way.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

On The Particular Pleasure of Gardening with Cats

I found this when I was looking for something else--as one does. Since Solomon is a lot older than when I wrote this and has been feeling ill, I thought it would be good for both of us to remember his salad days in the walled garden at Isauld.

All wise people know that it takes a lifetime to explore even a fraction of the ways that cats make pleasurable companions: purring on your lap, warming your feet, patiently listening when you are sad, keeping careful watch for fairies, witches, dust motes, or other spectral visitors, but I want to talk of the particular pleasure of gardening with cats.

First, cats help scout out the best places for the sun-loving plants.  Gardeners without cats must take precious time watching the sun and marking the shadows.  Those of us wise enough to have cats, simply let them do the scouting work.  If a cat likes a little patch by a wall, then certainly a marigold will, too.

When the season begins in earnest, a cat will be a stalwart companion when crossing the threshold into the garden suddenly overgrown.  Cats prance boldly into the garden as if your trowels and hoe and weeders are sword and buckler enough to take on anything.  Cats, with their unique insights into nearly everything, refuse to be daunted by weeds.  In fact, cats, who are quite discerning about people and food, are uncharacteristically broad minded and tolerant of plants.  They will roll as gleefully over nettles as bergamot or the first green shoots of the precious bulbs ordered from the heritage garden shop and worried into their first precious greening.  If you are a wise gardener with a cat as mentor, you, too, learn to be broad minded.  Although I need a refresher each season, my cats have opened my eyes to the wonders of anything green.

Cats like to emulate the gardening tasks that make sense to them.  My boon companion, Solomon, likes to show me that he can dig like a meercat.  He knows I like meercats because I watch them on the box in the room.  He knows what I do because he watches me through the windows.  Cat-watching people watching cats: entertainment all around.

Cats are much too multi-talented to specialize exclusively in digging.  As soon as the digging gets boring for them and for me, they start the aerobatics and dancing.  The most elegant pas de deuxs are done by cats of the same size, and sadly, usually only in younger cats.  Leaping three feet in the air and dropping and rolling are very demanding, but it is probably the only thing to make digging amusing and so the cats take to their gardening chores with gusto.

As if dancing and digging were not enough, cats are also adept at rolling.  As soon as seeds are properly spread on the surface of the soil, the cat sets aside his dancing and comes to whirl like a dervish over and over the newly spread seeds.  If cats were not so tidy, they might sprout all the seeds they have wriggled over and become a hybrid creature both plant and animal, thus stumping anyone trying to define them by playing animal, mineral or vegetable.  Cats are adept at defying classification even without sprouted seeds along their backs.  Luckily, some of the seeds defy the odds and remain in the soil or there would be no plants for rolling on later in the season.

If you are lucky enough to be able to garden with cats, take a moment to savor the pleasure of their company the next time you feel put upon by a weed or a cloud.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

'You ought to write a blog'

Thanks to my young relation listening to my stories around the kitchen table who suggested I write a blog. 'I do,' I said and immediately felt guilty. It has been a while since I've visited here. Her comment and my friend's blog (,which he described as a 'walled garden of niceness', prompted me to revisit my own little walled garden.

It's the first full day of 2018. It's 8:20 and the sun is just getting up. This is progress. It used to lag sleeping below the horizon til 9am. I nipped outside to take a photo  of it both because I like talking with my hands and in a blog a photo is roughly equivalent to that and because, like many latecomers, the winter sunrises try to make up for their lateness by being especially charming. It began like this--a kind of sheepish sidewise grin-- and now that shy good humour is glimmering off the clouds overhead.

I might have lingered for more photos but a grouse complained to me from the cover of the rosa rugosa that dawn meant a dawn chorus and where was the breakfast?

If you've ever heard a grouse, then you understand why someone complaining is said to be grousing. But I dont begrudge him his seeds or his croak among the dawn chorus.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Rediscovering Brough Bay

You wouldn't think something like this could slip your mind or be taken for granted, but I have been away. The walk down the braeside road--as bumpy and gravel-strewn as ever--started conjuring the memories of times past. I note the tide is coming in and look for the seals to poke their heads above the waves, but the sea offers only gentle waves and occasional ducks or gulls beyond the range of my camera.
I stood for a moment at the end of the path before turning toward the lighthouse and the bothy night merry making breathing in the soft air, the bird sounds, and the gentle waves. After some gossip with friends, I head for the beach. I can hear the music now behind me mixing with the bird sounds and the waves. My camera and I need to get reacquainted with seaweed.
 I love the lace like effect of seaweed when it's draped in rocks.

The eye popping green would be out of place anywhere else.
My favourite is usually the bumpy dark red-purple fronds.

I sit on a rock and listen until the aromas of the cottage pie call me back to bothy night. A great evening getting reacquainted with old friends and old scenes.