Friday 25 September 2020

A day out (2)

As of a couple of hours ago - now possibly consumed!
I had forgotten that we had some ripe strawberries ready to pick (it's nearly October!), the tomatoes needed watering, the bird feeders were empty etc, etc

An hour-and-a-half later and I was onto the main job I went out to do - moving and splitting a Gaillardia. I wanted to do it today so that I could mention a few plants that will be ready and waiting for any takers

Gaillardias attract bees

Now is a good time of year to be planting. The soil is still warm and you'll find that the strong root growth will produce better plants next Spring. It may seem to be the wrong time of year but, be assured, it's a good idea

A word about the Gaillardia. It is really useful in a dry and sunny spot - just seems to thrive on neglect. It multiplies, too - but without becoming a nuisance

One plant becomes eight!
You only need one and you are away. So, if you want something that is colourful, trouble-free, attractive to inspects and smiling well into October - this is the plant for you. We now have eight potted up and ready to go. Just say if you are interested

Incidentally, a possible useful tip. The photo shows a large seed tray that I keep outside the greenhouse. It is usually half full of water with a drop of seaweed feed in it. Newly potted-up plants sit in the water for a couple hours. I find this gives them a good start

Once I've recovered from this morning's blogging trauma, I intend updating the plant list. This lives on a page that you can reach by clicking Plants for You at the top right hand of this home page

A few of the plants being grown on for next year
Having mentioned strawberries, let me again remind you that we have some excellent strawberry plants available. Also some rhubarb and some blueberry plants

In addition, there are loads of perennials coming on for next year. Some are so well advanced that you are welcome to have them for planting now. Why not check out your border and see what needs to be done. If a plant is in the wrong place, move it. If you've got a gap, fill it! The weather is still on your side

Well, I am glad to say that those two hours in the garden have healed the mind. Do you find that? Coming back to the screen with a clearer brain, I think I can see where the software goes wrong. Perhaps it will get sorted one day. Beggars can't be choosers - I don't pay for the use of Blogger and you, as the reader, does not get troubled by adverts

Quiz answers - time to tackle those quiz questions:

Don't tell anyone but Mrs Codger is calling me: time go and get some fish and chips. Just time to confess another case of mistaken identity. The plants at Baddesley Clinton were not labelled so I took a punt on this this flower. I thought it was an aster - but now I'm not so sure. So, Question Zero is name this flower (photo left)

Q1: The Speckled Wood was the second (lower) photo – here is what I saw (photo below) so you will understand the confusion

Q2. This was the questions for intellectuals: The gentleman on the left was F for Fred and F for Flintstone - the famous Fred Flintstone

His friend, who was on the right? The almost as famous, Barney Rubble! 

Q3: Fruit and blossom at the same time: sloes – the fruit of the Blackthorn. I cannot work out if this is unusual phenomenon. Perhaps I had not noticed previously

Q4: It is the alder that bears both male and female catkins at the same time. The tree loves wet conditions and was (is) used for the making of clogs in Holland. (I bought a pair from a shed at the back of a Dutch village store in 1960 but, despite endurance trails never got used to them. The Dutch are hardy souls/soles!)

There is a great website about trees. You can learn about the alder here

Q5: Blackberry!

Q6: Slightly tricky because modern cameras do all sorts of clever things automatically. The two photos were taken with my trusty Nokia 7.1 and accurately renders the glow of the setting sun in the left-hand picture. I have previously mentioned its only defect: it does not cope well with some reds. It is as though the sensor gets blinded and reproduces a colour tone that is over-saturated, if that is the correct expression

However, once again, I am not complaining – the general results are good and the resolution excellent for the amount I paid. My winter homework will be to learn to use it properly. As a bonus I have included some more of the shots from Baddesley Clinton. In case you are not aware, clicking on a photo will give you a larger version

Well folks, thanks for reading - and, if you have, for coming back for Part 2. Don’t forget – there is still time to do some planting …

… best wishes from your old friend, the Garden Codger

Lake in the woods at Baddesley Clinton


This is cheating - a shot just to prove that my lettuce back home are doing fine

A day out (part 1)

Our own tomatoes have done well
The week draws to a close with the same brilliant sunshine that started it. However, with a marked drop in temperature. We are promised 13 degrees today - on Monday we had fully 25 - and there's a wind chill, too!

The vegetable plot has been productive, but my main attention has been potting on plants for next Spring in the hope that clients, old and new, will be interested. There's a bit more about that later on in today's post

However, the warmth on Monday drew us out of our own garden. Reading that the autumn equinox would coincide with cooler weather we decided to grab the chance for an excursion – our first National Trust visit for at least a year

A great garden in which to take photographs
We are NT members and glad that our annual subscription has helped, albeit in a tiny way, to support the charity through the enormous financial challenges of lockdown. We are told that the reduction in income this year amounts to £200million!

Booking is now essential so we decided to head for whatever property within an hour's drive had an available slot

That turned out to be Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire (Radio 4 Archers' country). As expected, we found strict Covid safety measures in place and observed that visitors were very good at keeping to them. The house (which looked inviting) was closed but we were able to enjoy the park and gardens

First of the Baddesley shots was of a lily
A notice explained that lockdown measures had forced the furloughing of three of the four gardeners so things were not as good as they wanted. Well, who minds a few weeds? The display of flowers in the border was magnificent in the autumn sunshine so I took a few photos for you. See here and at the end and as a postscript

Whether a another trip will be possible, we do not know. We certainly enjoyed this visit. Restrictions allowing, we would love to get out again. One blessing of living where we do is that we are within easy reach of many properties under the care of the Trust. The nearest are Wightwick Manor (great for Arts & Crafts) and Moseley Old Hall (where Charles II hid after the Battle of Worcester)
Romance blossomed on the Malvern Hills (Wiki)

Midland counties
Mr and Mrs Codger met each other in Worcester and originally intended settling there in that shire. But other things were wisely intended for them. We still enjoy the county – and neighbouring Herefordshire – joined (or separated by the Malvern Hills)

The hills arise from nowhere and can be spectacular in the autumn so, perhaps, romance will draw them back as the trees turn to gold

A little bit of Shropshire near Claverly

Baddesley Clinton is in Warwickshire – not far, but a county we know less well. This is probably because, geographically, Birmingham is in the way. On Monday a road closure meant that we saw more of the county than planned!

It is much easier for us to get out to Shropshire - an immediately adjacent county to the west. We have our ‘own’ walk just 35 minutes’ drive from here (see next item below)

This is near the High Peak in Derbyshire but much of the district is in the Staffordshire Moorlands

Our home county is, administratively speaking, the West Midlands. But old attachments die hard. Our original married address read: Tipton, Staffs. Staffordshire is a much larger county than many realise, especially south to north – the way we think of it. In the south you have Kinver and, in the north, the Staffordshire Moorlands and the better-known Peak District. We enjoy the drive to Buxton, which is just over the border in Derbyshire. So, we are truly spoilt for choice

Sneak view of the grounds
Our very own walk

Perhaps we should not give away its exact location (!) but our 'own' walk has its link with the neighbouring Black Country - where we live, of course

It is a story of local boy ‘dun good’. Market trader, Keith Smith, made a million (or two) from a cash and carry business and became a tax exile. Along the way he gave his son, Steve, the idea behind the Poundland empire - so there is a bob or two in the family (well done Smiths!). Steve also learned his trade on a market stall (West Brom and Bilston, I believe) so, really, it’s a tale of local lad and son dun good

Our favourite walk - and an oak wood we usually have to ourselves

Mr Smith Senior bought an grand property in Shropshire which, by all appearances, he tends with great care. The residence is understandably closed to the public, but he and his wife open it up once a year (lockdown prevented this year). There is a handy parking place for our walk which is conveniently located nearby and runs along the edge of the grounds

There is an interesting historical twist to the tale. Mr Smith’s property was rebuilt in its current grandeur 150 years ago by another Black Country entrepreneur. This Victorian gentleman made his money from the Baggeridge brickworks in Sedgley which is just up the hill from Tipton 

Spot the heron, poised for action
Tipton wildlife
Mind you, we do not have to leave our own urban garden to experience a bit of wildlife: two incidents to report ...

First, the heron – or, rather, herons (plural) – our neighbour reports no less than three along the nearby canal. I woke the other morning with my heron sensors twitching. I got to my study window in time to see him take and swallow a fish
Very strong woven cord

It was over in an instant – one seamless, swift action – the result of much practice - largely at my expense, I fear. However, there is a limit. So, I have taken a new measure: strong, black unbreakable thread. I have stretched a line across the vulnerable spot where you see the varmint posed in the photograph. The line is almost invisible when stretched out. Will it work? We wait to see
The little of what was left of the pigeon

Then, in last week’s hot spell – the sound of mewing. Repeated, and rather like a cat - but louder. Four birds circling above – I assume two pairs calling to each other. I think they are buzzards. Later, on Monday of this week, we returned from our day out to find feathers scattered across the lawn – clear evidence of a kill. They were pigeon feathers

So, this may have been evidence of the buzzards but, equally, it could have been our local sparrowhawk. We see a pair quite often eyeing things up in our garden where a feeder attracts possible prey. I rather fear for our friendly robin who keeps me company quite often these days. Hopefully, the pigeons, of which there are plenty, will continue to provide a more substantial meal

IKEA bargains

IKEA potted chrysanthemum
Not usually associated with plants intended for the garden, IKEA can surprise. This time of year, they sells chrysanthemums as houseplants – a fiver a go. these are nice plants and I suspect these are from Dutch nurseries which achieve a good effect by multiple planting

Look closely, and you will find that what appears to be a single plant is, in fact, five individuals planted close together

I have found that once they have finished flowering, they can be split and grown on separately – many of my patio chrysanths started out this way. Worth a try, even if you get a pot elsewhere – check if you have a multiple planting. Don't bin them when finished - keep moist and protected - then split and pot on

The same company also sells Gaultheria for a mere £1.50 – cheap, but a bit of a waste in my view – they will soon shrivel up in most centrally-heated homes

The label is the give-away – OK down to minus 14 degrees Celsius! far better to plant them out in the garden for autumn/winter interest! White berries turning pink then red

I imagine that IKEA sell them as a sort of holly replacement - a Christmas item. Anyway, I know from experience that you will get a better result outside

We have hit a problem with number of technicalities in creating this post. Old Codger struggling with Google's new blogger software! Sorry about this. Easier to post what I have done and send the remainder later ... ...

... so best wishes for now - look out for Part Two! 

Your old, and befuddled, Garden Codger

Friday 18 September 2020

Autumnal tips and a quiz

Dahlias are great at this time of the year. And they come in such a wide range of colours – and forms. Although I am no expert, I find them a really useful way of extending the season. And so, unashamed, I shall give them another push in the hope you more of my ‘customers’ can be persuaded to have a go

In these parts, it is best to give them protection over the winter. So, if you are a dahlia-beginner, here is a suggestion. Start by rowing them in pots. They can then be positioned on the patio for colour near the house. Just as easy – put them, still in their pots, in the border. That is great for filling gaps. If you wish, you can plunge the pot

When we get frost, you will need to bring them in. At that point I shall show you two ways of giving them protection during the winter. So, there is my first tip this week: grow dahlias!

Another contender

I know a little about cultivating dahlias (emphasis on little) but next to nothing about growing chrysanthemums. But I am having some success. That encourages me to observe that they are another good way of ‘extending the season’ – in other words, lengthening the period when the garden has attractive flowers in bloom.

Having seen a Sarah Raven video last year, I experimented moving the chrysanths into the greenhouse in October, replacing the tomatoes that had been growing there. This extended their flowering period even more. Mind you, there proved to be a downside: very leggy plants. I must find the next video in the series and learn how to deal with this! I guess heavier pruning is needed – see item below on secateurs

Speaking of videos

Non-celebrity gardener chopping away earlier this year

I have previously mentioned the BBC tv programme Gardeners’ World. Last Friday’s episode was particularly good – all round, one of the best episodes I can remember. Monty did an excellent exposition of compost making – really clear and well illustrated. You can see it (episode 26) here

I would like to pick up on a couple of points. First, the space requirement – not, apparently, an issue for celebrity gardeners. But a significant problem for many readers of this blog. My method helps a bit with this by obviating the need to turn the whole heap from one bin to another (two bins!). I turn as I go – that is done about every seven to ten days this time of year – here’s how:

Compost heap this week - note layer of shredded paper

Top off each layer with shredded paper. When it is time to add new material I first turn and mix the previous layer, or even, two layers. This serves two purposes. It helps get the green/brown mix right and it introduces the air that the bacteria need to complete their work. There’s a bit of an art in this but practice makes perfect. Then I add the new material and chop it thoroughly – very thoroughly, as this aids decomposition and rapid heat build-up. I then top off with shredded paper ready for the next cycle

The amazing answer lies in the soil

Soil science

Rather neatly, Monty followed the compost lesson with a fascinating piece (a repeat) on the hidden life in the soil that makes things grow

No better way of explaining why making your own compost in a good thing. Take a look and enjoy the enthusiasm of Dr Charlie Clutterbuck. Yes, that’s his name. Somehow apt for a soil a man of the soil!


Servicing shears

Hopefully two pictures saving a few words

My garden shears get heavy use chopping material for the compost heap. I have found a weak point with many designs to be the tensioning mechanism so here is a tip that might be useful if your shears go floppy

Assuming you can find one, add a second nut to the bolt that runs through the two blades. Tighten the two nuts against each other. You will need to fiddle a bit to get the tension on the blades right but once done you will be able to chop away much more effectively. I added a washer as well to give a freer action

While you are at it, run a file across the two cutting edges. Best not to remove the burr – and use a drop of oil on the joint

… and two secateur tips

I am sure you know that secateurs are a garden essential. I mention it now in case you might consider putting a good quality pair on you Christmas list (yes, this is the season when garden centres begin to transmogrify in elaborate versions of Santa’s Grotto, ugh!)

Although my shears are pretty run-of-the-mill, my secateurs are top-quality - Felco. Having used mine for many years, I would not now settle for less. They are sturdy, easy on the hand and, above all, the blade will take and keep an edge. I have a small, cylindrical, carborundum stone that I use to keep them sharp

A David Austin rose in our garden - one of several

When visiting David Austin Roses last year, I noticed that the gardeners keep a pot of methylated spirits handy when pruning. This keeps the blades disinfected and prevents the spread of disease. I use this tip to avoid spreading tomato blight – I always a get a bit with some of the outside tomatoes but like to avoid it hitting the greenhouse. So far, so good

Tomatoes by the boatload

Speaking of tomatoes, we have had a good crop. I like to grow a range of varieties – partly for the interest and partly to plan next year. As usual, Harzfeuer has done well. These are as seed supplied by Lidl – cost next to nothing and grow away very reliably. The cherry tomato, Cerise, has worked well. But our favourite this year has been Sungold (see photo left) – so more of those next year. Sweet and tangy at the same time

Houseplants sagging?
If you introduced houseplants in the Spring - a favourite times, of course - you may find that they are sagging a bit. This can be  due to lack of nutrients in their compost which cannot be replenished as when planted outside in the soil

Epsom Salts may provide the answer to some problems. For outside plants, too. Come back next week for more on this

And finally …

You may remember that there is a quiz hanging over from last week. Must be the gardener in me - it seems to have grown a bit over the last few days. So, if like me, you are once again locked down– here below are a few questions to exercise the brain cells (but not too much)

… best wishes from the old Garden Codger


Old Codger’s Quiz (acknowledgement: photos in Q1 and Q2 from Wikipedia, otherwise they are mine)

Q1. This is the question that kicked off the idea of a quiz. Regular reader, Rachel White, spotted a case of mistaken identity. Look at these two photographs. Which is the Wall Brown and which is the Speckled Wood?

Q2. Another case of mistaken identity. Joann Young is possibly our most senior reader (Codger attended a birthday with a zero last year). Being an American – and a New Englander at that – she noticed that I had married Wilma to the wrong man! Please sort out who is who in this picture

Q3. Back to nature. I took this shot in the week. Fruit and blossom at the same time. Struck me as odd. Identify, please

Q4. In an almost similar vein. Identify this tree. Note how it appears to have two sorts of fruit (if that is the right word). And Dutch friends please note, the wood from this tree has a particular use in Holland


Q5. An easy one. What fruit would you expect to find here?

Q6. And a photographic question. Below are two photos of the same rose - Iceberg at the bottom of our garden. They were taken a few hours apart

Which of the two is the later shot?

Friday 11 September 2020

The last rose of summer?

Our wanderings along our local walkway have begun to take on a more autumnal feel. It is lovely to see the proliferation of acorns on the young oaks. Rosehips are plentiful, too, and there are still quite a few blackberries; though most of them have gone over, unpicked. Are we the only walkers to have collected a share?

Most poignant, though, was yesterday’s sighting of ‘our’ white rose previously reported upon in these pages. Having bloomed much earlier in the season we were surprised to see it in flower again about a month ago. On that occasion we took some cuttings, and some appear to have taken – but it is really too early to tell

Seeing it in flower again reawakened our affection for the delicate find so, finding a suitable wand still green, I have made some more cuttings. These I am trying in vermiculite although I understand that perlite is a better bet – perhaps there will still be chance to try that medium. I have some on order and will report back in due course

Earlier this week, some newspapers were writing about the prospect of an Indian Summer to rival the wonderful Spring. Looking at the BBC weather forecast, I sense we will find that temperatures will be reasonable and that we have another month or so to both propagate and to plant

These young strawberry plants have really strong roots
Fancy a strawberry?
I have been pleased with my strawberries this year - the new plants have done well. They keep producing more fruit as well as throwing out runners. You can see from the photo how well these have rooted. So, rather than wait for 2021, why not plant now whilst the ground is still warm. These are an excellent Malling variety and will grow away well, giving an early crop next year. Just let me know, I would be pleased for you to have some plants

And don't forget the rhubarb - I still have a couple of plants available. In fact, much of the stock that I have been building up for next Spring is available now if you are interested. You can check the list by clicking on Plants for you (top right of the homepage)

You can see how well the nursery bed is doing in the photo on the right. If you are a new reader (see final item) may I explain how we work? I do not charge for plants. If you like what you get please consider making a donation to Codger's charity page here

By clicking the link you will see that almost £2000 has been donated this year. Every penny goes to the Birmingham City Mission - we make no charges whatsoever and are more than pleased to do this. Our Codger project was kicked off by lockdown and, along the way, we started theblog. This has now settled down to one post each week, usually on a Friday. It seems that we have readers who like to know what we are up to, so ...

Yabba Dabba Doo!
You remember that tree that I brought down two weeks ago (with a bit of help, as we told you)? It was a rowan or mountain ash and had never done well. But I had not realised that it was, in fact, rotting from the inside. When I came to reduce the stump to logs, I noticed that the sapwood was very soft

I probed a bit and soon found that I had a hole that went right through to the roots. As you can see it was just as though I had used a one-inch drill

As I put the bowl (the very bottom part of the stump) in the wheelbarrow I thought a photo might be of interest. It was only later, when looking at the picture, that I spotted the resemblance to a cartoon character. One of the features of age is that odd little things trigger the memory

Eventually, it came back: Yabba Dabba Doo – the Flintstones! 

Do you remember Bernie and Wilma? And – here’s the connection – their pet, Dino (except I could not remember the name). Take a look, can you see him - or, at least his head - in the photograph? Possibly looking rather older than you may remember him. But then, several decades have passed since I first saw Bernie, Wilma and Dino on the back and white telly with our young boys - they were my excuse for following the adventures of the Flintstone family

The usual suspect
Long-term readers will know that our garden has a frequent visitor in the shape of a heron. That should probably be plural - herons; the nearby canals provide both evidence of our industrial heritage and sustenance for our wildlife in an urban area. Since the pond is now rather overstocked, I don't mind the occasional loss a a few small fry. Now and then, though, the attacker takes on more than he (or she) can chew. The damaged fish usually escapes. Sadly, as in this case, the injured the fish does not recover. I no longer use a net for protection - nets look obstrusive and prevent easy pond maintenance. My alternative approach is to provide protected hiding places for the fish. Seems a more natural solution 

Heart of the Black Country
They reckon that Tipton has more canals than Venice. They were constructed throughout the Black Country during the Industrial Revolution and many are still here today although some have been filled in. Many towns claim to be 'at the heart of the Black Country' and Tipton is a contender. But our local towns are so cheek by jowl it hardly matters. Certainly the local dialect remains robustly strong so I was pleased to hear Tipton get several mentions in an half-hour BBC radio broadcast on Sunday. If you like learning about English dialect speech you'll enjoy this programme. You can listen here

Canal - a few minutes down the road from us
I'm not a native speaker myself, but after 55 years living here I can follow pretty well (another five years and I can apply for naturalisation). I found the programme particularly pertinent in that it brought back a warm Black Country memory - sorry, I'm reminiscing again. The programme mentions a comedian and story-teller who lived locally - Harry Harrison, lovely man. He visited our church one occasion. After the service he took me on one side and asked me to pay him a visit at his home. Evidently something he had seen, heard or felt had touched him; "Theer's sommat special 'ere, me mon", he said

When I later went to see him, he showed me a vast collection neckties, selected one and presented me with it. I think that's the closest I'll ever get to receiving a medal. He wrote a lovely follow-up article for the Black Country Bugle but, sadly, Harry died not long after 

Dialect Primer
Incidentally, if you want to follow up more on the local dialect I can point you to a video on YouTube that was filmed at the Black Country Living Museum a couple of years ago by the local ATV news team. You can find it here

What particularly interests me is the link with the way Old English was spoken. For example the numeral 4 (four) is pronounced 'fow-wah' - modern speech has lost the diphthong vowel. Thus Black Country folk can justly boast that, despite the critics, they "spake prapper"!

Mistaken identity
As you know, I enjoy hearing from readers. Rachel White has kindly been in touch. She is more of a wildlife expert that she cares to admit (remember Rachel's froglets? - see photo, right). Her eagle eye has spotted a case of mistaken identity. Her observation has inspired me to put together a short quiz - please see the tailpiece to today's post

More on readers
Many readers follow along for the obvious reason - we share a love of plants and gardening. Many have had plants from me (more available right now!) - it would be great to part with a few more whilst we are still having weather which is perfect for planting

A few readers follow us from a long way afar - for example, old friends now living in Australia who wish to stay in touch. Greg Philander sends lovely photographs of the area in which he and Michelle now live (Beaumaris, Melbourne)

Nearer to home, as you may know, we also often hear from Holland. We have other readers, too. Behind the scenes, Google cleverly does it stuff and tells old Codger something rather surprising: we have a growing number of frequent readers in Hong Kong

I am really pleased to hear this - and more than a little intrigued. As far as I am aware I do not know anyone who lives in Hong Kong. You are very welcome - please get in touch if you feel inclined - add a comment to this blog post if you wish

Over and out (nearly!)
As we draw to a close this week I feel bound to refer to the news that is coming in as I type these very words. Locally, we are being locked down due to the rapid rise in C-19 cases. The big emphasis is on 'household mixing' - we are being told not to visit the homes of other people

Check out Zechariah 8:20-21
Sadly, this comes as no surprise as we been on the Covid watchlist for quite a few weeks now (see previous posts). The new local lockdown measures will affect Codger's personal plans for the week ahead and would, as far as I can see, have prevented him spending last Saturday morning as he did. To explain, a friend had suggested that a few of us who were able should meet together to pray about the serious national situation. So, on Saturday, we met in his home for this express purpose. In issuing this invitation, he aptly quoted the Bible verse in this photo - take look (photo right)

I'm glad I took those four words literally - I myself am going - that won't be possible for a while. Be that as it may, I hope very much that we will be able to use this blog to stay in touch - look towards the end of next week ...

... our very best wishes, the old Garden Codger

Please accept our apologies for holding over the quiz until next week. The news of the local lockdown rather interfered with this afternoon's work plan. Mrs Codger was anxious to take the writer for his walk so, by way of compensation, here are a few photos from our perambulatory excursion ...

That rose again! Now open - the earlier shot was taken yesterday

The nearest reach of the canal arm - no longer navigable

And our own Metro Station (Wednesbury Parkway)