Saturday, March 10, 2012

Plumbing and prose

Well folks - those of you that  normally just look at my pictures will have to read this one although there might be a photo at the end to keep you going! After six months in the sun of Palm Springs, my return to the UK seems like a trip to Siberia, although friends tell me its mild and spring is on its way! After the palm trees, succulents and bougainvillea baking in the desert heat, the bare branches, muddy  lawns and few scant daffodils here seem a very Dickensian welcome.

Its amazing how much one forgets after being away six months. The coffee maker wouldn't work and kept flashing a red light. Took me several attempts to remember the correct settings. And my backup hard drive - where had I hidden it? Fortunately a friend reminded me that I had lodged it with him for safe keeping. With some 15,000 pictures now, I cannot risk losing them to theft, fire or earthquake! And as I hung my new pair of grey jeans bought in the USA in the wardrobe, I found I already had a pair - don't tell my partner! The house was generally as I had left it with a few failed light bulbs and six months of dust! The houseplants were all given away last autumn, so its bare and lifeless. Must get some new ones! The sweet pea air freshener did not manage to persuade me it was summer.

Back in the USA we have often cursed American plumbing which doesn't seem to have moved on from the days of Thomas Crapper. (19C inventor of the flush toilet - yes - true!) One of the toilet cisterns in our condo has the annoying habit of continuously filling after flushing, requiring the lid to be lifted and the offending flap of flimsy plastic to be adjusted. After two very disturbing floods this was a matter of distinct concern! Be patient - I'm getting to the point - so as you can imagine, I was glad to leave this problem behind. But the plumbing gremlins have followed me -  our modern, close coupled, compact, dual flush toilet here in the UK has developed the same problem! Plumber's due Monday!

My little garden has survived! After last year's devastation I am relieved to find my new Phormiums looking quite chirpy. The Clianthus, Carpenteria and Abutilon vitifolium that  I planted last year look distinctly healthy. Even the Cordyline 'Pink Stripe', which I so love, has survived but that does look a little razzled as does Astelia 'Silver Spear'.  Once again Heucheras, of which I have quite a few, have come through unscathed with their brilliant crinkly leaves. My Paulownia in the back garden reached to nearly 5m last summer (I hard prune to about 2m) and it now stands gaunt and stark like a giant hatstand. It will need pruning soon. The eucalyptus in the front garden has reached the telephone wires and so I think will have to go this spring. It was temporary planting five years ago when a birch I had previously planted died and it somehow stayed.

Late last summer I bought a plant of the new chocolate leaved  Ceanothus 'Tuxedo' but that has died. Pity - it looked promising.  There are also quite a few other pots with dead skeletons and no labels, so I can't mourn their loss.  I ventured into the loft last night to retrieve a large pot of Colocasia 'Black Magic' which I particularly wanted to keep but the tuber was just a dead shell. I have sometimes wished I had kept the labels of all the plants I have grown and lost (or should I say killed?) So often gardeners will say 'Yes - I've grown that but lost it!' What a trip down memory lane to revisit the labels but I guess I'm getting maudlin!

This morning I went for a run to lift my spirits - that was a mistake! My run passed the inevitable roadworks, a forest of 'For Sale' signs and the desperation of empty, boarded up shops. The Caribbean restaurant that failed last year has a sign saying 'new ownership' - guess what its going to be a Caribbean restaurant!  As I ran from shops, through housing to the countryside, my mood was not lifted by the bare lifeless hedges speckled with windblown litter and orphaned traffic cones. In a 50 minute run I passed a few clumps of tiny 'Tete a Tete' narcissus and a rather fine winter Viburnum probably a V. bodnantense hybrid but little else of horticultural interest. I do wonder why UK gardeners don't make more use of the wonderful winter shrubs available. Check out my Bloomers posting on these if you didn't read it.

This afternoon has brightened a bit - some sunshine but particularly with the company of other gardeners. Today was the spring meeting of the local National Garden Scheme openers - those who open their gardens for charity. Coffee and home-made cakes plus friends and plenty of chatter about plants and gardens was bound to improve the mood! Now today I was a bit of a gate-crasher, as I am not actually an opener any more. (I  used to be when we opened the University gardens.) But having offered to help the local NGS I was kindly invited and it was good to see some old friends.

The event was held in the tea room at Felley Priory. These beautiful gardens are open to the public and well worth a visit particularly in summer when the herbaceous borders are at their peak. The picture above wasn't taken today but this traditional topiary was just as striking in the low winter sunshine! So as you can see I'm a cheap date - coffee and cakes plus chatter and I'm a happy guy again!


  1. I can sympathize with your plight, at least a little. We've gotten in the bad habit of vacationing in sunny places in the fall. It's a shock to the system to leave the sunshine and come home to the grey.

    Don't know about how spring progresses there but here March can be the longest cruelest month. So close...but so far away.

  2. Oh dear, I'm sure you'll get the hang of being back in blighty again. Great to hear that your garden has mostly survived and doing well after this winter, and it's nice that you attended the NGS meeting which has lifted your spirits with some social interaction. Coffee and cake is a great pick me up combo :)

  3. Hey Ian, welcome back to the UK. I think...

    Just catching up on some of your posts. This all sounds rather gloomy, but I guess arriving back to a cold, empty house is never going to be too welcoming. At least you've avoided the worst of our winter and things can only get better from a gardening perspective now!

  4. Goodness - seems as if I've been a bit negative! Better get my head out of the gas oven and think positive thoughts!