Saturday, 23 April 2022

Hope in in Difficult Times

We live in a connected world. The big supermarkets are restricting the purcase of cooking oil - Tesco has just joined Waitrose and Morrisons. Had we previously realised that here in the UK most of our sunflower oil is produced in Ukraine?

Of even greater significance is the supply of grain to the world market. The impact on countries like the Lebanon - already in difficulties - will be immense

See the WFP link on the left
Yesterday's pronouncement by Russian General Rustam Minnekayev that their key war aim is to block of Ukraine from its southern ports is hugely concerning - but hardly a surprise to those following the war. Ukraine has a massive agricultural industry on which it depends for export income - this has already been severely disrupted

It is worth noting that 50% ofthe UN World Food Programme (WFP) comes from Ukraine and Russia so the predicted disruption and impact on famine relief is difficult to underestimate. You can read more about this here

A big thank you
I had not planned to write another blog post until later this week but the warm response to last week's post has caused to rethink

Food spontaneously donated to family fleeing the fighting
Please accept Codger's heartfelt thanks
for the reception to our plans get funds out to Poland - where our friends are working ceaselessly. This support is two-pronged - it directed both to folk remaining in Ukraine and also those seeking shelter in Poland (this latter figure now stands at three million!)

What is being done?
As I type these notes our friends are preparing a 24 tonne shipment of relief supplies that will be driven out to warzone in the East of Ukraine where people are particularly desperate - you will have seen the situation on the news
Made in France, bought in Poland, delivered to Ukraine

Being on-the-spot they are very practical in their approach so they have just purchased a second-hand Renault Traffic that will be used by a church in Sumy to get food to the small and less accesible villages

Meanwhile, back in Poland volunteers are converting part of their church into a flat for a refugee family

Stickers advertising the website
Spiritual and emotional needs are also in the forefront of their thinking. Our friends constantly refer to the deep trauma they witness. They have taken delivery of the second batch of 50,000 'prayer books' designed with the needs of people with an Eastern Orthodox background in mind (they celebrate Easter this weekend, of course)

In the recording studio - see Добра новина - Надія Є! (
There are even new videos under production associated with a website, in Ukrainian, they has been set up in record time. In fact, the title for today's Codger blog is borrowed from that site: Hope in in Difficult Times or Надія у важкі часи

You can take a look for yourself - Google will kindly look after the translation. Incidentally, although Polish and Ukrainian are related lanuguages they are distinct - plus you have to cope with the Cyrillic script (similar to Russian - but with differences!). The website is here

Giving channel soon
So, I hope this gives readers a flavour of what is going on as our Polish friends reach out to their Ukrainian cousins. Quite a number of readers have asked about making donations. I can take cash at the moment but, within days, I'm hoping to announce the online channel. We did not plan on Covid and that has slowed us down a bit. In the meantime, a slightly amusing story ...

Three bags for £10 at Wilko
A trip to Wilko's
Do you remember the bit about potting compost at Homenase and then Asda. Well, Codger noticed that Wilko had gone one better - three 50 litre bags for £10! (see next). Whilst at our Great Bridge branch, a man approached me speaking in very broken English. He wanted to know about the drill bits he had located - were they the right ones? He turned out to be Pole - not that much younger than me, at a guess

Explaining "masonary drill bits" is a foreign language was an obvious challenge. I was able to communicate 'hammer drill' by gesture - although that might have been mistaken for "Gatling gun". I don't have many words of Polish but, strangely, remembered their word for "concrete" (betom) . We were home home and dry

No reasonable offer refused
As I was loading my six bags of Westland Gro-Sure All Purpose Compost I heard him tell the checkout lady "him Polish", he seemed rather pleased. So, as I struggled with the bags it crossed my mind that one old man might give another old man a helping hand. "This your car?", he asked - I made the necessary assurances. "You want another?" he continued and proceeded to try to sell me a second-hand car - unseen, of course

Finishing off the compost
But, I must finish off what I was saying about the potting compost - a bit of a thing of mine, I know. Since Codger is busy sowing seeds at the moment - an experiment. The photo show three rows of using different brands (from left to right): Wilko, Asda and Homebase - although only there are shown there are six pots of each

Hope springs eternal
Regular readers will know that Codger usually adds Perlite - to improve drainage. When sowing seeds, as opposed to potting, he also sieves the material to take out the larger lumps

Asda and Homebase were similar in this regard but the Westland stuff contained a lot of lumps plus, what is best described as, fluff. It also smelled a bit - rather like liquorice to his old nose. We shall now observe germination and see how the three products compare

Looking forward
Well, there's glimmer of sunshine and more to do outside. I did a rough count this morning - I reckon we have over 300 plants in Codger's Nursery, all looking for a good home. Those I'd mention just now:

These aquilegia photo courtesy Wiki
Flowers. Got some nice aquilegia - various types - just coming into flower and can be planted now. Also quite a few iris - lovely blue Jane Phillips - propagated from our own stock. I've also potted up, wigwam-style, sweetpeas - should give lots of flower and scent throughout the summer

Fruit & veg. Potted strawberries - they will fruit in their pots or you can plant them out - you'll get fruit in time for Wimbledon if you act now. Also, some lovely rhubarb - local variety that fruits really well - it's looking good. In addition, a few broad beans plants available - a Polish variety that I've found particularly good. There will be French beans in due course
No time to count the seedlings coming

And, there are loads of tomatoes - plants, that is - all at an early stage just now. I'll say more about the varieties available in future weeks. Something to suit all tastes, literally!

Must sign off now ...
... I was keen to pass on news from our Polish friends - I do hope you have been encouraged by the efforts they are making against a background of such heartbreaking events in Ukraine. I've just checked the news and find that, as Russian aggression in the East intensifies, Odessa has come under attack. O Lord, have mercy ...

Codger will be back in touch just as soon as the giving channel is lined up for business - hoping that will be within just a few days

... our prayers - Garden Codger

Just one photo on this occasion - remember the Orange Revolution? We live in hopes ...

Monday, 18 April 2022

A garden in Ukraine

Yes, Spring has arrived in Tipton - our cherry blossom

Our cherry tree is in blossom - a joy! But as I took this shot this morning it was a joy tinged more than a little with sorrow

In the same way when collecting medicines from our nearby pharmacy - grateful that so much care is available to us - yet my thoughts dwelling on folk in Ukraine unable to get the help they need. I'm sure you have seen the harrowing pictures

I could draw many more parallels. Amid the utter devastation it is often the small detail that tells a story - the abandoned toy, the empty pushchair, the lost shoe. Old Codger notices the gardens ...

One of many, many devastated gardens - see editor's note below for acknowlegement
We came across this sad photograph earlier in the week. It appeared in the Kyiv Independent, a publication launched not too long before Christmas. It is an English language newspaper and an excellent source of information - I check it out every day. You can find it here

So, if I may say, the next time you step outside into your garden, you have some thing to thank God for. And, I might add, something to pray for

[Editor's note: I have applied for permission to use the photograph taken on 6 April 2022. The Kyiv Independent is run by a small and, no doubt, overworked team so I still await a reply. I gladly ackowledge the source and the photographer, Kostyantyn Chernichkin. The location is the village of Andriivkan 40 km from Kyiv]

These former Polish soldiers were resettled in the Staffordshire
Moorlands, seen here in a Buxton quarry. I often drive past their
former Blackshaw camp near the Roaches and Ramshaw Rocks 
Personal reminiscence
Last week, we explained a little of our Polish connections dating back to 1968. However, I ought to mention something that well predates that - I had a uncle by marriage who fled from Poland when the war broke out and fought with the Allies in Italy

He married one of my dad's sisters and never returned to his farm - the predations of the Germans and then the Russians meant that there was nothing to return to. I still have warm memories of him - Uncle Nick (and Aunt Sis)

Wiki acknowledged: by Kosar - own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Only recently, I have recollected that when I was a student, I often worked at a mental hospital. It was a lowly position that brought me into contact with Anna, one of the older cleaners. I learned how she, too, came here - in her case after the end of the war and from Ukraine - yes, the Ukraine

She had suffered the doubled privation of being twice 'liberated' in her homeland by invading armies. She survived the second (by Soviet troops) by hiding in a dustbin and, somehow, getting safely to Britain. Perhaps I should tell you more - call in again, next week

[Note: I wrote the above piece a week ago but then went down with Covid - having escaped right through the various lockdowns. Now, I'm  trying to catch up but a bit short of energy, I'm afraid]

Weeds like this definitely spoil the lawn
- dig out the tap root
A bit of gardening!
No, I have not forgotten that this is a gardening column - but I'm sure you'll bear with me. In terms of catching up let me share few tips about Spring jobs - first of all the favourite: weeding!

It's not too late - in fact, it's a really good time to weed as, with the spurt in growth, it's now easier to tell what's what. Nearly everything that comes out is grist for the mill - the compost heap, that is. Mix with grass mowings and the heap will heat up nicely - mine is running at 60 degrees just now. Whilst you are mowing, look out for weeds that can be removed from the lawn. The worst are like the type in the photo. I only go for the worst - sorry, better things to do

Ground Elder rhizomes
Persistent weeds
Although Codger is relaxed about weeds in the lawn, he does mount the occasional attack on persistent weeds in the garden. The worst offender is ground elder - a word of encouragement: it can be controlled! Just keep at it - a blitz once per year knocks it back BUT do not put it on the compost heap - instead condemn to the council green bin

With a bit of practice you can recognise the roots (strictly, rhizomes - they are white with sharp growth points). Track them back and take out as much as you can - they eventually become demoralised - keep at it. Try not to leaves bit in - they regenerate like lightening

I tried this out as an experiment - worked fine
as a mulch. Would not use as compost, though
Once weeding is complete, it is time for a good mulch. keen as I am on making your own compost for this purpose, Codger is first to admit that it is difficult to produce enough of the stuff. You could use commercial potting compost but that is an expensive option

However, an alternative: I recently experimented with the organic soild improver sold at The Range - at four bags (200 litres) for £10 - a good deal in my reckoning. It was heavy to lift - probably because it was packed wet - but it seems to have done the job

I would not use this as as a potting compost and, as far as I can tell, it's not sold for that purpose. Worth knowing about if you live in range of The Range!

Last year I was buying Homebase.
Asda has shaped up best this year
Compost deals
You may have spotted that, like everything else, the garden centres are charging more - often a lot more - for compost. This could be related to the move to peat-free - more on thattopic another time. Having shopped around a bit, currently I rate Asda as doing the best deal - four bags (150 litres) for £12

As I type this, the goldfinches are raiding the birdfeeder. In our garden they seem to have taken over from the sparrows. They still visit but in smaller numbers. Greenfinches are number two - plus the usual bossy pigeons and a few blackbirds keeping them company. Things go a bit quiet now and then - usually a sign that the sparrowhawk is around. We also gets frequently checked by the heron - but I have ways of outwitting this wily old bird

See the upturned crates on the left of the picture. My homebrew anti-heron measure - the fish hide when in danger!

He (or she, or both!) have spotted the fish feeding. I have probably told you about this before. When the water temperature is below 10 degrees they do not feed. Nudge ten - and they are away!

Queen bumble bees are on the prowl. Following a tip on a BBC Radio programme I sometimes drop what I am doing doing follow them around. Fascinating to watch as they try to set up a home in our garden

The map of Central Europe once looked very different
(Map acknowledgement: Mathiasrex via Wikipedia)
Excellent radio programme
Before I finsh - and time presses - I must tell you about a top-class series on Radio Four. Three programmes called The Invention of Poland. Did you know the the most spoken lanuage in this country, after English, is Polish? Probably not! We are poor in of knowledge of Central and Eastern Europe - but the present crisis in Ukraine gives us a reason to put that right - and this series is a good place to start as the history of Poland and Ukraine and very closely linked

If you only have half-an-hour I suggest you listen to episode three - the final programme. You can find it here

Getting relief to Ukraine
We are now back on our feet.
The weeding is done and we're
ready to receive visitors.
Come and take a look!
As I explained in our previous post, I am intent on helping to get relief to Ukrainians suffering at home - or in neighbouring Poland. I have been speaking to my favoured giving charity - Stewardship - about this. I hoping that the organisation run by my Polish friends will soon be on the Stewardship Partners list

Click here - and you'll see an impressive array of humanitarian work already in progress. Our friends ahve just got 20 tonnes of food and medical supplies out to the East - driving their own van. I'll be giving more details next week

In the meantime ...
... if you are doing some work in the garden and need plants - do get in touch. Why not make a visit now we are back on our feet? Every penny will be well used - and you will be doing a bit of good for others at the same time

Best wishes from the Garden Codger

Stop Press. Even as I have produced this episode, news has continued to flow in about vicious and  unwarranted attcakes on Ukraine. Please stay with us and support if you can

Promising pear blossom

Marsh marigolds making their seasonal splash

One effect of the mild winter: last year's geraniums surived and flower again

Cherry blossom says: Spring is here!

Our little woodland corner

Monday, 4 April 2022

Light in darkness

Camellia Nuccio's Jewel
February 24th changed things. In the preceeding weeks, we had heard many times about the threat of invasion and hoped against hope that an awful terror would not fall upon Ukraine

It has. Daily we view heart-rending scenes on the media. In the last 24 hours the reports from the BBC reporter, Jeremy Bowen, have been particularly moving. I have just seen a tweet from him saying Medecins Sans Frontieres have located Iryna Kostenko to offer her support. She is the lady who buried her only son in their devasted garden in Bucha. The mound is covered by a rug held in place by a wooden pallet. Perhaps you saw the news report or have read about it - truly awful and, very sadly, not an isolated incident

Why refer to them here? May I have your patience while old Codger explains ...

Emergency supplies being shipped out to Ukraine from Poland
The Polish connecton
As a young married couple we spent Christmas 1968 in Poland as guests of a family we had got to know, somewhat unusual in those day when the country was under Communist domination. This led to a lifetime friendship Pehaps we can tell you more about that in a future episode

One of these friends runs a Christian organisation that reaches out to Ukraine so it was no surprise to learn that they became immediately involved in supporting people whose lives had been turned upside down by the Russian invasion. As you will know, two million Ukrainians have fled to Poland and now reside there - and another million have passed through

No, not our country residence - guests at a wedding reception
So, for our part: are there ways in which we can help? Yes! Provide some publicity and send them the money that comes in from my various Codger plant offers - and so forth. In other words extending the Garden Codger project but in the Poland/Ukraine directiion - incongruous as that my sound

A personal note
As many readers know, Mrs Codger is not quite so well these days. Following cancer in 2017 and the subsequent treatment (successful, praise God), dementia set in. So we, daily, are dealing with Alzheimer's and, I hope, coping fairly well. However, over the winter I came to the conclusion that old Codger ought to be pensioned off. But the events of February 24th changed that

Displaced Ukrainians being looked after by our friends
Our experience of central and eastern Europe gave us an immediate empathy with the suffering being experienced by the brave people of Ukraine. Everyone has seen the magnanmous response of the Poles. They, of all people, know what it is like to live under Russian domination. We are in a position to help, so feel that we should

They are getting help to where it is needed - the east of Ukraine
This has it dangers - the plan is to get a 50 tonne truck to Sumy this week!
BCM and a coincidence
We have been pleased to support our colleagues at the Birmingham City Mission. We are grateful to all our friends who have enabled us to raise over £4,500 for their funds (this figure includes Gift Aid). It's a great work and we continue to support BCM on a personal basis

Interestingly, they also have links with Poland. You can read about that here. Like us they believe that the best help is to support those working on the ground by sending funds

Garden Codger's idiocycratic project began as a respose to the first Covid lockdown. Folk with unexpected time on their hands turned to gardening. We were in a position to help and we received generous support at a time when we thought that charities might take a hit. We set up a giving page as you can see here

We have built up a good stock of plants - this shows about a quarter
Hoping they may beautify your border - you're welcome to inspect
At the time, I did not think about the expiry date - that got inserted by default: 12th April 2022 - that is next week! A neat coincidence that leaves me with work to do. One possibility is to replicate something similar but with Polish support for Ukraine as the target - I am currently working on this

[Codger has already sent an advance - the need is immediate - but wrestling with payments via the international banking system was no fun - does Garden Codger really look like a Russian emigree avoiding sanctions?]

So, how will we operate?
Well, much as before. Plants, as above - and advice along with them. Hanging baskets, planters, tomato specials (always does well) and anything to do with gardening that will help you whilst bringing in some funds that we will send out. As has been the case for the last two years, every penny goes to charity - we are glad to be in a position not to take expenses

You can give with confidence because we know and trust our Polish friends implicitly. So, finally, a word about them ..

Henio is the senior figure - we'll introduce the rest of the family later

Here's the man
Our longstanding friend in charge of the operation is Henryk Krol (Henio to me). He has a deep Christian motivation combining vision, organisational ability and an entrepreneurial spirit used for the good of others. I'll be telling you more about his plans and their progress in coming weeks. In the meantime, I'll leave you to look at their webpages - the story is fascinating, just click here to get the background

STOP PRESS: another coincidence!
One of the housing projects
Henio has an older brother, Adam. Rather closer to my age, he too, lives to serve others in the name of Christ. For many years his focus was a series of housing projects run under the Habitat for Humanity banner (housing has been a issue in Poland ever since WW2). They produce affordable housing through innoative methods and volunteer labour

Adas and his wife Rhonda
Now, here's the coincidence. Only last night (Sunday 3rd April) he received a national award before the television cameras in Warsaw! In case your Polish is as poor as mine, here are two quotes from his acceptance speech:

"All good things come from God and to Him I want to give the glory ... ... already as Jesus Christ said, it is better to give than to receive"

You can find the two relevent bits of the YouTube video at about 51:58 and 54:30 - highly recommended - I know the guy ...

[Editor's note: When I set this up the video was publicly available on YouTube. However, it has since been withdrawn perhaps for copyright reasons. Sorry about that, outside Codger's control!]

For old hands
Garden Codger usually signs off with a few photos. Let's see what we can find ...

... best  wishes from the old Garden Codger ( please pray that the Lord will keep him going)

PS - due hope we don't hit some techie probs as we publish - I'm out of practce handling the intricacies og Google Blogger

National colours of the side I'm supporting

A bit of sunshine

A lewisia showing off (the first I've ever overwintered!)

A frosted cotula - available to a good home!

Saturday, 27 November 2021

After - and before!

After ...
Some editions of this blog just don't want to leave the departure lounge. They sit there waiting for a rewrite until they are no longer news
So old codger is breaking through the lassitude in an attempt to launch this post whilst the snow is still on the ground. He was awakened at five this morning by the howling wind. About six, it went very quiet - I guess that's when the snow fell. The photo (above left) shows our garden a couple of hours later

... before
Up to now, of course, we have had an amazingly mild autumn - they reckon a

couple of degrees above average for the time of year. Early this week I took this shot (right) of a sweet pea that keeps flowering - there are even some further buds waiting to emerge but perhaps that won't happen now. The pot is just yards away on the patio where the old water pump, shown above, is situated

On the same day we took advantage of the sparkling sunshine to visit Mrs Codger's favourite walk - tuther side of Claverley from here. I'll put a few photos at the foot of this edition - we call it our secret walk

After ...
Spring Bulbs
My next 'after' shot shows containers of of Spring bulbs - obviously after the snow - taken just this morning. The photo below show the same pots earlier this week when we had the sunshine. If you look back to the previous edition (Spring Bulbs anyone?) you'll get the picture

I can hardly believe that it five weeks ago when I wrote about the Spring bulbs. Since then I have had to work around around a number of distractions but, between times, have been busy planting up more containers. Thanks to everyone who has been in touch - and especially to those who have called in - over a hundred pounds-worth have been sold. All for charity, of course - see next item including the BCM Toylink video

... before
My usual practice has been to take donations online but, responding to requests, I have put a price on the Spring bulb containers. The price reflects the cost of the pot, the planting medium (see below) and the bulbs. Some containers contain one layer and others two - usually tulips and daffodils

In addition, I managed to source some really posh large pots - these have three layers (so-called lasagne planting) so cost more - £25 - but we have plenty of pots and troughs much cheaper than that - even £2.50 if you go for a lucky dip

Blushing Lady

The cold has driven me indoors today but I still have a few containers to plant up. Perhaps I ought to say that in addition to the combo I mentioned last time (tulip Sunset Shades and daffodil Belle Vista) I have some more really lovely combinations

Planting bulbs is an exercise of faith. However, trusting reliable suppliers, I am optimistic about the tulip Slava grown together with the narcissus Blushing Lady. See what you think to the photos

There's also something new. I have stumbled across what looks like large grape hyacinth but isn't. Same blue colour but larger - correctly called Bellevalia rather than Muscari which is the correct botanical name for the more usual, but smaller, grape hyacinth. The shade of blue varies between plants giving a pleasing mix 

I have also been working on a range of alliums - no time for this now - hopefully next in the next edition. Rather, what I would like to do is give some hints about successful bulb planting based on my experience over the last few years. But first, for those not familiar with Toylink - a short video about this really worthwhile cause:

So, if you would like to help - why not have a container of Spring bulbs from Codger? Plenty in stock and I can do more if necessary

Drainage, drainage, drainage
Successful bulb planting
You can pick up bulbs cheaply as we come to the end of the season so, should you wish to do your own, the mantra has to be this: drainage, drainage, drainage

Ninety-nine percent of bulbs hate wet conditions (camassias are said to be an exception but Codger has not found that to be the case). I do two things to get good drainage - assuming the obvious - holes in the bottom of the pot! 

Smaller sizes available - this is 100 litres!
First, some form of drainage at the bottom. Old crocks (broken clay pot) are usually recommended but I never have enough so off we go to B&Q. A bag of 10mm shingle only costs £2.50 or so - and does the job well. I usually wash it first, just to be safe. I picked up a couple of bags for only two pounds yesterday - you often come across burst bags that are reduced

Second - this is really important - it is best not to use general purpose potting compost straight from the bag - the standard material holds the water far to much and risks rottin gthe bulb. I lighten the mix with perlite (vermiculite does the same job but is more expensive). In fact, the best combination I have found is to add say 25% perlite to a vegetable growing bag - that gives a really good consistency 

Add for more oomph!
I always incorporate a little garden soil or my own compost to spark a bit of life. If I'm unsure about fertility I sprinkle some blood, fish and bone into the mix. But not too much - in a container it can go rancid - it's an organic product, of course. Since the pot will sit around few a few months, I like to finish off with a top dressing of grit. Apart from other considerations, it looks a lot nicer

Just one H&S point: keep your Covid PPE mask handy. Handling perlite gets me coughing in seconds - there's always a lot of very fine dust. And breathing in the dust from blood, fish and bone is not too great either

Gardening on TV
Now Gardener's World is taking its winter break you may wish to know about a couple of series that you can watch on catch-up. Carol Klein has had a good autumn series on Channel Five. There are several programmes - this one deals with bulbs

And a fascinating two-part job on BBC. Wildlife photographer, Colin Stafford-Johnson, converts his country patch in Ireland into a wildlife garden. Codger found this fascinating - you can find it here

Quick update
What else has Codger been up to in November? Well, dealing with unwelcome wildlife has been one preoccupation. There is a downside to being a keen composter. The clue is in the photo (left). I've even resorted to moving my compost containers - this extended the old chap a bit - I tend to over-engineer such things. I dare not guess how much the reinforced bin weighs

The cheeky visitor had been removing the compost and using it to build a nest in the adjacent hawthorn hedge belonging to the school at the bottom of the garden. 
When time has permitted, I've done other essential maintenance in that neglected part of the garden - perhaps more on this next time. I owe you an item of growing raspberries and redcurrants

And only today, Mrs Codger consumed the last of our tomatoes. Despite the battle with blight we did well - eating almost into December! Plums were good, too - and figs. But we failed with our pear tree this year. Looks good, doesn't it - but this was the one solitary pear!

Well, folks, I'll try to get another edition in before Christmas. Until them I'll add a few more seasonal photos - please see below

Don't forget the Spring bulb Toylink offer. It would be great to boost the funds a bit more

Best wishes from ....

... the old Garden Codger

Postscript. Before I add the photos - did you hear Michael Morpurgo's poem dedicated to those poor souls who died in the channel this week? It is haunting. You can see the BBC video here

Camellia brought down by last night's storm - now fixed - no harm that I can see

On our walk earlier in the week

The first batch of Spring bulb planting - mostly now sold - but more to come!

Figs have been good

I'll give you the recipe sometime

This is a 'before' - the frost has now got them - time to dig up the tubers - a job for next week