dear diary :: garden progressing nicely, knitting not so…

I have been hoping for rain all week – not the statement most of us would want to hear, but secretly I have because I had plans here at the cottage for wet weather.  One of them was to do more knitting. 

I boldly decided to alter the back of the pattern of the little dress – probably not the wisest of moves given my novice ‘under’ novice status.   I realised when casting on for the back of the dress that it does not open completely it only opens to the little contrast coloured ‘ribbon’ band.  This means it would be harder to get on and off in my mind with no ‘give’ room and I am already beginning to doubt if the size I chose to do will fit.  I decided on the slightly smaller size because the pattern on the model looked quite baggy and this is maybe why because the opening is not the full length of the bodice.

So, in my wisdom, I thought it would be better to knit a separate left and right back and have a small slit in the adjoining skirt which, if you remember, is fabric.

To do this means I need to do some pretty neat edges along the opening edges and my edges are not great. Normally, it doesn’t matter too much as they are part of an inside seam and not on show but I knew there are ways are making them look neater so back to You Tube and from what I can tell slipping the first stitch pearl wise does the job.   So I will begin the back again and see if that produces something more passable.  It is either that or little Sweetie walks backwards everywhere when she wears it so no-one sees the mess I make.

My other reason for desiring a wet day was to do more sketching.  I bought a new set of pencils and a small watercolour pad in W.H.Smith’s ½ price sale and there is an abundance of lovely autumn seed heads on every verge to draw at the moment and I have been collecting little bunches from the garden which are now hanging up in the shed to dry.

While the sun shines though it is gardening again though I must say we have been out nearly every day and I wonder if we have actually made any difference.  Slowly though it is taking shape once again after the sorry neglect of the Covid year.

DH put up a windbreak behind the young Braeburn apple tree – we had to cut a wider border to accomodate the stakes and as usual this led to a bit more weeding and sorting in this corner.

Meanwhile I tackled the tangled mess under the holly tree in our ‘ Beyond the Pond’ border as I call it as it is just beyond the pond on the left. This border is part of the woodland walk in the lower wood so can be quite shady in the summer. The large leaved Rogersia is an excellent plant for the shade as is the decorative Osmunda Regalis fern. In the front of the border is an Azalea surrounded by a spreading geranium planted as ground cover to keep the weeds down and of course the Tellima that self seeds everywhere.

We had temporarily moved the large stones here from the Trellis Border that were no longer needed and I wanted to move them into place to enclose the border up to the Holly tree. We will then be extending the grass up to the line of the stones and this will also keep the planting contained and out of the path of the strimmer.

The pond too has been put to bed. DH put the ‘spider’ pond cover and netting in place to catch the leaves from the Sycamore tree nearby. Everything now is beginning to die back and when we return in a few weeks time it will all be one soggy leafy mess in this part of the garden – meanwhile the weeds will still be on the rampage.

I do love this time of year for cooking and the magazines are full of plum crumbles and all my favourite fruits and the root vegetables make wonderful roast meals and stews. We have already begun changing our menus to suit the seasonal vegetables available. Celery is plentiful in the shops so DH made celery soup and threw in the end of some broccoli we had in the fridge. I made one of my easy one pan autumn meals Chickpeas and brown rice – a seasonal favourite when the weather starts to change and I also made a curry which we will have with brown rice and mango chutney one night and then fill some of those crisp corn Taco shells the next (I know a strange mix of cuisine but they are quite delicious), and I found you can microwave them (I did buy a microwave for the caravan in case the calor gas ever runs out) which will save heating up the gas oven to some incredible costly temperature to cook them for only 3 minutes.

We will be venturing home soon so I am savouring the last of our days here – there is going to be some hot weather on the horizon I am told so no doubt all the weeds will spring into action once again and after a few days our cottage garden will look like we have never been here.

Since writing this we have had rain today. I skipped on the knitting though as we will be leaving soon for home and I decided the caravan needed a good fettle before we go, even under the caravan seating. I thought there was little stored under there until I lifted the seats and found a few things I had totally forgotten about like the electric kettle in case the gas fails, some spare cutlery and cups and a host of large plastic containers. I decided to put everything together under one of the seats and make a list as at the moment it is definitely a case of out of sight out of mind.

Before we go home I will snip off a few hydrangea heads to dry at home, shake the Bramley apple tree to get the last of the apples down and collect some shells to take back for the grandchildren. I am so looking forward to those tomatoes at home now.

If the heatwave that is predicted arrives I hope you all enjoy more time to go out and about or in the garden before the weather changes once again.

Back soon x

dear diary :: back to normal

After the events of the last few days we are slowly settling back into normality….. such as it is here. 

The heating is on when we need it, which is mainly to take the chill off in the morning, we have hot water once again so we have showered, washed our hair and the dishes are done making us respectable once more.   I have hoovered the floor whilst listening to radio 4 and it is heaven to have all these facilities we normally take for granted; no wonder then that my thoughts recently have been with all the refugees that are experiencing hardship day after day.  How on earth do they cope? At least during our powerless plight we had a roof over our heads and a gas cooker enabling us to make a meal and a drink.

And somehow whilst we were thrown into mayhem October crept in….how did that happen?

Yesterday we had planned for rain all day but mid-morning it stopped and the sun appeared and it turned out to be a glorious day.  So we gardened all afternoon.  We did far too much and regretted it later especially when with our aching backs we had to prepare and cook the tea when all we really wanted to do was collapse in a heap sit and relax. 

I didn’t even sleep well last night; we were early to bed, well early for us, and after only 10 minutes reading turned the lights out and we must have both been asleep within minutes. All was snug but then something woke me at about 2am and after that my mind began to churn over – never a good sign and never conducive with sleep. 

It rained heavily again this morning so I spent a good hour updating my yearbook.  It is my catchall – part notebook, part bullet journal, part task lists and diary but also filled with snippets of information I want to refer back to at some point.  At the beginning of each month I go through my Country Living magazine and pull out anything of interest and stick it in my notebook.  This month for instance I have cut out the snippet about Asda starting a vintage clothing section in 8 of their stores.  You are able to swap unwanted clothes for vouchers apparently. I also kept the recipe for the cold remedy ginger and poached pear which sounds like something I might drink even without a cold…..and I am very tempted to buy this book ‘How to Grow Plants from Seeds’ published by RHS. Or perhaps something for my Not so Secret Santa list.

We ate the last of the mushroom soup for lunch which we made just before our power cut and couldn’t really eat because of course the stick blender is electric so it went into a large pyrex bowl to be stored in the fridge. Even though the fridge was off for a few hours during the power cut everything in there seemed OK and we have no ill effects from eating it (and of course we don’t eat meat or that might have been something we would have had to throw away).

Tonight we decided on an easy evening meal so we chopped loads of veg, tossed them in oil and slung them into a baking pan to roast in the oven.  It is one of my favourite autumn meals.  We had sliced Halloumi (which we brown in a hot non-stick frying pan with no oil) and couscous to go with it though it is just as nice with brown rice or often we add a little Passata to make it more moist and stew like and eat it with large chunks of Ciabatta bread dipped into the sauce.

Last night I managed to finish the front bodice of the little dress I am making for Sweetie.  I was quite pleased with myself as being quite a novice knitter I am never very sure if I am actually understanding the pattern instructions correctly and I have no-one other than Google to ask. Well it looks quite even on both sides of the neck and I even managed to ‘fashion’ the decreases around the armhole and neckline, which wasn’t actually written in the pattern but I think it looks so much neater and I find makes it easier when sewing together at the end.

There are some nice little corners in our cottage garden appearing.  Some planned but also some surprises. Did I mention we gave the very large and leggy pink rhododendron the chop this year and cut it back almost down to the base, then crossed our fingers.

Before

Luckily it has started sprouting but the huge hole it has left in the garden is testament to how large it had become over the years, however, in the meantime while it is regenerating we can see the beautiful weeping larch tree beyond which nicely frames the view into the lower wood beneath.

After

I spent a good hour in the fernery by the pond (Polystichum munitum – Western Sword fern) a great fern for coastal areas with glossy deep green leaves that are evergreen and doesn’t die back in the winter but does require any browned and dead leaves removing every so often to keep it looking at its best. I also have to reduce the mass occasionally when is begins to creep further and further into the woodland garden, overstepping its allotted boundaries.

My little seat beneath the old Cherry tree is now completely covered in moss but I shall keep it like this and find somewhere else to sit as it has such a lovely natural appearance. I spent a few minutes picking up more windfalls from the Bramley tree and this year we salvaged one or two eating apples from the young Braeburn, planted 2 years ago. It only produced 5 apples and three of these must have dropped and rotted before this visit. After taking the photo we shared the larger of the Braeburns and it was extremely nice – not too sweet and quite crisp just how I like them. Hopefully there will be more next year.

I have a mass of daffodil bulbs to plant out – I must have dug these up prior to Covid and with all the disruptions and lockdowns last year never got them into the ground. All that lovely natural raffia attached though.

I never managed to find a rose for the garden arch either because of the restrictions so in desperation to have something, anything climbing on it this year I picked up two cheap Clematis in Morrisons the ones for £2 each. The one on the right has taken off better than the one on the left and I now have stones in place to protect it from Kelly (who cuts our grass when we are not here) and her strimmer! For £2 each though they are not doing too badly.

And I love this little ‘green’ corner with all the different leaf shapes.

And with the weekend almost over we will be back to Monday soon enough and we shall have to make plans to return home where, according to my neighbour who is looking after things for us, we have an abundance of ripened tomatoes!

dear diary : a long lazy weekend

We are still here at the cottage in Scotland.  Maybe we will be stranded here if the petrol crisis continues!

Last Thursday we worked all day in the garden – I tackled the steep slope that falls away from the lane above.  Just to recap – this is how we left it at the end of July. You might remember that DH is terracing the slope with planks of treated wood but as usual we are only part way through this project as more pressing work has taken over. We have been building up the banking, which is quite loose sandy soil and easily erodes, by adding barrow loads of well-rotted compost from one of the large bins. So now it has become extremely fertile and the weeds and wildflowers moved in whilst we were away.

And this is what we came back to in the picture below……the self-seeded poppies have been spectacular though and I carefully weeded out the chickweed and bitter cress hiding amongst them but is probably also supporting them too. Hopefully sometime this next week DH will get back to the terracing.

This is the view from above standing on the lane looking down into the garden.

If anything is guaranteed to give me backache then this is the place.  Normally I hand weed kneeling down but on a slope this is barely possible and the uneven and contorted posture I end up in is a recipe for disaster and certainly mega backache.  .

By the weekend we had to finally acknowledge the weariness that had crept upon us after a very long and busy summer so during these last few days we have been relaxing….both in mind and body and have tried to ignore the problems going on in the wider world around us as sometimes they just feel insurmountable.  It feels like the country is in such a mess and so directionless at the moment the problems will never be sorted out and the worst of it is that every problem always seems to boil down to money – either tremendous costs or a lack of. 

So on Friday with a change of scene and a rest in mind we put the last of the celery soup into a flask and headed up the road to Portpatrick, a pretty little village with a harbour and usually this is where you find most of the tourists. 

Portpatrick faces out into the Irish Sea on the other side of the peninsula to us and on a clear day you can see the land mass of Northern Ireland looming in the distance 21 miles away.  Somewhere here is the spot that Boris proposes to build his connecting bridge (or was it a tunnel).  I for one would be strongly against the idea.  Why would you want to route thundering big juggernauts through this beautiful place.

There are a number of ‘touristy’ shops here, a café or two and a row of pubs with outside seating along the front……and believe it or not an amusement arcade (on the right of this picture). 

Luckily the place wasn’t very busy though which was nice.

We had a wander around the Lighthouse Pottery gift shop looking for possible gifts but I didn’t really see anything that would have made a nice present for anyone.  I have bought quite a lot of bits and pieces from here over the years but the stock has changed overtime and is not as ‘different’ as it once was.  Smuggler’s Cove was closed and the Lifeboat shop didn’t have anything appealing either so I just left a donation.

We walked around the back lanes to reach the main road in to the village.  This is where the churches are.  I particularly love the Episcopal Church and their lovely decorative sign.  

A little way further down the street just off one of the side roads is the really old church, a ruin now but the tower is still intact.  Some of DH’s relatives lie in the graveyard here. 

So far we have found two gravestones with his family name clan Kerr (from his mum’s side).   Kerr is from the old Norse meaning marsh dweller and they originated from Normandy (the French settlement of Norsemen). The Kerr’s have typically been associated with left-handedness, and some of their castles and tower houses have spiral staircases designed with this in mind as they spiral round in the opposite direction to most. DH though isn’t left handed and so luckily we have no need of a left-handed staircase!

Clan Kerr has 3 tartans the modern, (red, green and black), the hunting (blue, green and black) and the old colours ( a more muted red, green and black).  The coat of arms bears the moto in latin Sero, Sed, Serio  which means ‘late but in earnest’ and I would say that sums DH up perfectly (but don’t tell him I said so!!

Saturday we had planned to garden again.  But it didn’t happen.  DH felt out of sorts which is unusual.  Should I be worried – he is never ill with anything other than a cold once in a blue moon?  I suggested another lazy day for him whilst I made use of the time and cleaned the bathroom and tidied around.  We had lunch and once everything was washed and put away I got out the sketchbook again for a little practising doing a few quick 10 minute sketches while DH quietly read and dozed.  This was quite an unusual, but enjoyable, afternoon for us and I could get to like it.

On Sunday we continued with yet more ‘lazing around’.  DH made soup….tomato this time whilst I just pottered doing nothing in particular.  During the afternoon I spent a lovely couple of hours with my sketchbook and watercolours again.

We had a chat with one of the caravaners whose caravan is next to our boundary fence.  He is packing up and pulling off the site as a few of them are.  The new owner has made it impossible for them to stay with his new rules – he requires everyone to change their vans every 10 years and second hand ones cannot be sited. Eric has been here since well before we bought the cottage.  He lives alone now as his wife died suddenly (aged only 60) from a heart attack about 10 years ago and visiting the caravan and his friends here has been a big support to him.  His caravan is quite old now but still fully functional and as he must be around 70 a brand new caravan on a pension would not be a viable buy.

How does scrapping caravans after only 10 years benefit anyone especially the environment?  It only benefits the pockets of a few including the site owners who charge to have a van removed and then charge a large commission on a new one.  Caravans these days are built to last longer are well insulated and double glazed – there should be no reason to scrap them after ten years.  The site owner claims there is no market for second hand vans but I would challenge that.

On Sunday evening we had a long night of rain….continuous and quite heavy though we managed to sleep through the rhythmic pounding on the caravan roof and finally awoke to brilliant sunshine. We took advantage of the good weather and had a trip round the bay to Wigtown who are celebratng their book week though the events are much more limited this year due to Covid.

And now our few rest days must end and I need to work up some energy to get down to the gardening once again so that we don’t find that our list of tasks are increasing.

In and amongst my thoughts keep drifting away to Christmas.  I am trying to stop them but then I notice Christmas is creeping in at every turn.  All the Christmas magazines are on sale in the shops, the Lifeboat shop had a stand of Christmas cards, I received an email from Booths about their Christmas book and a few others about their mega advent calendars (at mega prices) and now my mum is asking me what we all intend doing at Christmas.  It seems Christmas and the planning of Christmas is almost unavoidable this early.  At least I don’t have to worry about a turkey – our Nut Roast will be made well ahead of time and be resting in the freezer.

seasons :: warm September days

Such warm and glorious September days at the moment; but without doubt the very last of summer is slowly slipping away. I never mind too much though and I look forward to this new season like I do every season as each brings its own rewards. Even though the last of the flowers are fading fast the hedgerows here are bursting with colour, bright red hips and berries, leaves turning to that rich golden brown and the majestic skeletons of thistle and cow parsley towering above the dying grassy verges. 

For me this is the season of gathering. 

Gathering in the last of the homegrown produce from the garden; tomatoes, apples and courgettes…. gathering free food from the hedgerows and restocking my pantry with dried fruits, lentils and chickpeas (shortages allowing) ready for those warming one pot meals that go well together with chunks of homemade bread.

But there is also a different type of gathering that I look forward to – gathering new recipes to try at this time of year – I probably do most of my baking during this season, gathering books to read – old and new and magazines that will provide inspiration for the coming months, and of course gathering together candles and my cosiest of blankets ready for those long lazy evenings by the fireside and best of all gathering the family together around the table sharing a meal and a bit of chit chat.

We have been at the cottage here on the Mull of Galloway for just over a week now, the village is sleepy quiet as most of the visitors have returned home. We have spent most of our time as usual in the garden and I can’t deny that it has been such hard work.  A mixture of old age causing tired and aching muscles and a garden far too overgrown through not having been here for the last few weeks.

I had planned to do some knitting and a bit of tidying in the caravan when it rains and we couldn’t work in the garden but guess what….it hasn’t rained yet other than a little overnight.

DH has spent most of the time in the garden trying to reshape the holly trees which is a mammoth task.  They have not been attended to as they should have been and are far too tall and a bit misshapen.  Getting them back into a pleasing shape is going to be difficult. There is much muttering going on.

Meanwhile, I have been crawling around on hands and knees weeding in all the borders. They need a good sort out this autumn.  Some plants need dividing, some are just in the wrong place, and some need cutting back drastically. There is an abundance of chickweed this year but it is easily removed along with the bittercress and red campion but the alkanet not so as the tap root goes down deep into the soil.

I have been snipping off the heads of the chamomile that self-seed around the seaside garden to put in the flower press, they make wonderful cards

Each morning we seem to be finding a cooking apple on the lawn which has dropped from the very top of the Bramley tree; it is too high up for us to pick them so we just wait until they fall off and hope we get to them before the wildlife.  Yesterday whilst we were roaming around the countryside we picked some blackberries too so I could put the two together and make a blackberry and apple crumble. I don’t keep flour at the caravan or have any sugar (I like my apples tart though) so I cheated and bought a packet of Tesco’s crumble topping and stirred in a handful of desiccated coconut for extra crunch.  It was amazingly good.

Once our evening meal is over and the washing up done we both flop for a while. I usually play a couple of games of patience but recently I have become addicted to those Codeword crossword puzzles. Normally I have just torn the odd one out of the back of my mum’s Woman’s Weekly that she passes on to me but this week I actually bought myself a book of them in Tesco.

After ringing my mum at 8 o’clock (when I know she will have watched Maigret which is being rerun at the moment) we settle down to watch a video which I can play on my laptop as we don’t have a TV here at the cottage and the radio is often not that entertaining.

Currently we are going through the Royale Family box set….howling with laughter – I know all these people in one way or another though thankfully I can say my dad was absolutely nothing like Jim Royale and luckily my daughters are not like Denise in respect of their childcare!

We did have a day off from the gardening last Sunday.  It was a gloriously warm and sunny day so we made mushroom soup, poured it into a flask and went for a drive along the coast road to the neighbouring village of Ardwell for a picnic.  We drew into the picnic site that overlooks the bay and watched the seagulls bobbing about on the waves.

Afterwards we did a couple of quick 5 minute sketches before moving on to the Castle Kennedy estate to the tea room for a cup of tea and a scone…..saying yes to both jam and clotted cream as a treat. I brought the little piece of dried seaweed home with me so I can have another go. The light sitting on the beach was so bright that it was hard to capture the depth of colour and often it is easier to see this in a photograph more than in real life.

It was too late in the afternoon to go around the gardens so instead we drove on to New Luce and had a pleasant walk around the village.  I feel every day of sunshine is now quite precious as all too soon the weather will change.

I love this wee cottage and the gardens beyond. Each of them displays the personality of the owners.

Not sure if Mary and Billy refers to the occupants, two dogs or maybe even two goats!

A cottage with a true upcycled garden full of repurposed artifacts. I especially love the fact that the owner has used the front of an old shed as an archway.

Yesterday we were in WH Smiths in town and I own up to the fact that I couldn’t resist purchasing this year’s Country Living Christmas magazine. Starting to think about Christmas this early does go against the grain a bit but I do need to think ahead and start planning especially as I want to make more homemade presents this year for friends and I need some inspiration.

Welcome as ever to new followers and readers – I am never quite sure why anyone wants to hear my ramblings but there you go – I know I always love to know what you are all doing.

back soon x

dear diary :: a productive day

With the warm sunshine, high humidity and fleeting showers everything is growing at a rate of knots and as other bloggers are saying some of the flowering plants are almost over before they begin with the heat.

The free tray of the long flowering valerian plants given to me by Elizabeth McGregor at her nursery in Kirkudbright a few years back is now well installed and flourishing in the seaside garden (top photo). I love the wispiness and I am hoping they don’t go under too quickly in the heat.

Further along the border there is no sign that the clematis Montana Reubens will stop flowering anytime soon it is still dripping in flowers this year even though we hacked it back with no precision at all – it must like a good hair cut.

Yesterday I cleaned. I was waiting for the heating engineer to service the gas boiler in the caravan. He didn’t show….again…. but that is typical for this area. As usual we rang him to arrange another day, no explanation was offered as to why he didn’t come and now we will wait for him to come on Friday….or not as the case might be!

But the caravan is spick and span… seating hoovered, bed changed, bathroom sparkling, windows washed and everywhere had a good hoover. If there is a spider left in here I would be surprised.

Meanwhile DH hung some cheap net curtains at the cottage windows. It was looking rather forlorn so earlier this week we cleaned down all the gutters and drainpipes, then the windows inside and out and it has made it look less of a ruin. The curtains will stop anyone looking inside and give it a more lived in look to passers by.

After lunch the cleaning continued and I washed pots. Remember the free pots….everyone in the village has them, every house you pass it is like spot the pots. They are extremely useful and I have turned them into quite few gifts for people adding herbs and bulbs. The lady who is giving them away is now onto her very last crate full – so I might just go and take a few more.

Meanwhile DH did a tip run with umpteen bags of garden waste in the trailer and on his return he continued with our new project….the banking that runs down beside the lane. We thought it was quite steep until we saw the open garden at the weekend where it was almost vertical in places; ours is not quite as bad as that. A while ago we had the idea to terrace it just using planks of treated timber – this will give the plants a more stable pocket of soil to grow in and prevent them from toppling over in the wind as well as making it easier to weed. Many a time I have been balancing at the top of the slope and lost my footing only to end up sliding all the way down.

The large conifer that overshadowed a lot of this patch came down last year as it had grown through the power line and with all the extra light that flooded in a lot of everything suddenly wanted to grow here. We put in a chicken wire fence at the top because with the conifer gone it was feeling a bit exposed.

As you can see from the photo ferns love to grow here – they are all self seeded but it would be nice to have other plants here as well – the jury is out on what the planting might be but I have some ideas churning around. We have been building the banking up over time with rotted compost from our bins and it is extremely fertile. Rather than have the planks in straight lines we are running them at angles to form wider and narrower beds for more interest and some of the boards will be single height and some double.

This is the view from on top of the banking looking down.

Today we shall be doing more in the garden and hopefully get the first stretch of the terracing completed before we go home next week.

I still have the stone path to complete and the border above in front of the Olearias which really needs a complete overhaul and reshaping. originally it was quite a large bed with 3 fairly modest Olearia plants. Now the Olearias have grown the border has shrunk considerably and some plants have been lost altogether beneath the shrubs.

It may be my imagination but my list does not seem to be getting any shorter even though we have both been working hard and ticking the jobs off as we go.

dear diary :: a nudge in the right direction

Saturday was hot. I started numerous jobs and then had to move to find more shade as the sun moved around the garden.

I have been scouring our garden finding more flat stones to lay down at the entrance to the lower wood that leads to the pond. They keep a lot of the weeds down in a place where nothing grows very much other than self seeders. Bark just rots down quickly and doesn’t stop the weeds as they just root into the bark but the flat grey stones have been really good at supressing them.

Before long the heat was far too intense and I had to abandon the job; instead I moved round to the patch beneath the holly and apple trees which gave me an umberella of shade to do some weeding. In this bed there is always a scattering of the sneaky self-seeder tellima nestling in alongside other plants and eventually overcoming them. To leave this part of the garden looking natural is actually hard work and requires more management than you might think. So very carefully whilst crawling around the bed to avoid the pain of kneeling on the fallen holly leaves ….ouch…. I managed to selectively extract the tellima that had muscled in on my delphiniums – well the delphiniums that the rabbits have not devoured yet.

After lunch I decided to tackle the curly wurly tree (corkscrew hazel) and give it a trim. It should have been pruned earlier in the year while it was dormant and leafless to reduce the height …drastically…. as it collides with the apple tree that grows next to it; but we missed the moment with the restrictions and a light trim is all we could do at this point. So out came the long pole that has some pruners on the end to reach the upper branches and that believe me is a job in itself and I gratefully passed the task over to DH. I love this tree as the canopy is low and falls over one of the entrances to the lower wood and woodland walk.

Sunday was much cooler and by teatime the rain had set in and we were treated to a glorious double rainbow over the bay in the early evening, unfortunately both didn’t come out on the photo.

After lunch on Sunday we set off to visit an Open Garden up the road high on the hill above the village with fabulous sea views. It was the very cottage we had looked around in 2004 just before we put in an offer on our cottage so it was really interesting to see what changes had been made. I remember it as being in need of a lot of renovation, probably more than ours, though it did have a new roof. The garden was just long grass at the time – not really a garden at all.

The cottage has changed hands since the original buyers in 2004 who did quite a bit to the place but the current owners have done a lot more and made it into a very desirable property whilst still retaining a lot of the character and cottage feel; in fact when we arrived we realised we knew the new owners from the caravan site – they have decided to up sticks from Halifax and live here permanently.

The garden is on a steep slope with steps leading down from the cottage above.

This brilliant two story Bothy that they have built in the garden and sleeps 2-4 people is a great place to put up visiting family and friends and they also let it out for around £40 a night. It has a fridge and microwave, composting toilet and washbasin and breakfast is provided by the owners.

There is a series of winding gravel paths cleverly taking you down and around the slope through the garden. The welsh poppies are scattered everywhere, little specks of brilliant orange and yellow dancing around in the breeze.

Although windy up above (they are much higher up than our cottage down by the sea) it is a very sheltered garden down below so they can grow the palms and more tropical plants quite easily and they do not suffer from the salt spray like our garden does.

They even have a tiny ‘beach’ at the very bottom where the burn runs through. It is much clearer water than ours as they are at the top of the hill and their burn feeds down into the harbour whereas we are at the end of the run and so we get all the run off from the farms above us which often makes the burn rather sludgy in the summer when there is little water coming down.

Since they acquired the cottage at the end of 2019 they have added an extension as well as the Bothy and now they have bought the adjoining cottage which they are doing up to let out as a holiday let. I was beginning to think maybe we had chosen the wrong cottage to buy!!

However, after visiting their cottage and garden and seeing all they had accomplished in so short a time we have been inspired and motivated to get back to sorting ours out. Since the flood we have really been muddling along not really able to make decisions and then Covid has certainly made things worse – but somehow this visit has really helped us turn a very difficult corner and as my title says it has been a nudge (no less a mighty big push) in the right direction!

Today we started on a project in the garden which I will share with you in another post.

Back soon x

dear diary :: roamin in the gloamin once again…

Just dropping by again to say hello from bonnie Scotland.

It has been a while but one daughter is now moved and settling in well and all the empty boxes have been passed onto to someone else – boxes are so hard to come by these days. Everything went to plan on the day and I was assigned the job of cupboard cleaner and organiser in the kitchen so now of course my daughter cannot find anything and when I go next time I probably won’t find anything either as she will have rearranged everything to suit her. Still the main thing was that all the boxes, but for a few craft items and nick nacks, were emptied and put away by the time we left.

We are now in Scotland once again with a to do list as long as a toilet roll. The woodland walk is in full bloom with pretty white sweet woodruff, pink dicentras and the elegant Solomon’s seal.

The pond is full of rotting leaves as we couldn’t clean it out last year because of the restrictions on our visits or put the pond net over last September to catch the autumn leaf fall. Thankfully, with little rain it is quite dry so will be easier to scoop out and clean then refill with fresh water though it is not a pleasant job and not one I look forward to. The primulas have multiplied and look stunning, I do need to plant some more of the deep orange coloured primulas though as they appear to have gone.

We have plenty of thick moss to scrape off all the paths and then we will spray some cleaner onto them to remove any residual bits. The cows have been watching our every move with curiosity all week.

After a mornings work we stopped for light refreshments! These small assorted danish pastries courtesy of Tesco are one of my treats when we come up here. There are five in a box so we always share the jam centred ones.

In the afternoon we visited Castle Kennedy gardens. (Jayne at The View from Bag End has more lovely pictures here from her recent visit to the area.) We always manage to fit in a visit when we come up and I really missed not being able to go during last year so it was lovely to see that it is open for visitors once again.

This is a very special place for us as DH’s grandfather was head gardener here from the late 20’s up to sometime in the 60’s when he retired. His granny and grandad lived in the head gardener’s cottage on the hill by the little bridge that takes you into the car park. DH stayed here for a while when he was younger with his mum and dad when they moved back from Ireland and he tramped daily around the estate trying to keep up with his grandad.

Because of our connection to the place we held our elder daughter’s wedding here in 2016 and had a marquee by the old ruined castle that sits next to the walled garden and the cute little wooden tea room.

The wedding was in July so the walled garden was at its best.

And the marquee took in the spectacular views across the estate and of course all our guests could relax and roam around the grounds during the afternoon.

And when it went dark in the evening it was quite magical.

Of course her wedding day would not have been complete without having the old tea room part of this big day. It has over the years had many coats of paint and also had the floor levelled so the tables no longer have blocks of wood beneath the legs to even them up. Today it has even had the addition of a disabled ramp.

The guests all enjoyed the afternoon tea provided on the picnic tables.

Everything was homemade and done on a tight budget – I made all the invitations, confetti, table flowers and favours….

…spent hours making yards and yards of bunting and a few hours decorating the marquee and putting up cheap white paper lanterns from a very wobbly ladder.

So it was lovely to wander around in the same warm sunshine that we had enjoyed that day with our memories and see that thankfully the place remains quite unchanged. We had gone specially to see the magnificent collection of rhododendrons that are in bloom at this time of year – they are renowned all over the world and they did not disappoint. They were stunning.

Many of them were planted by DH’s grandfather who also propogated many of the hybrids on the estate such as ‘Lord Stair’ and one named after himself RW Rye. He was awarded an RHS gold medal for them and of course we have his rhododendron in both our gardens. He is also credited as the person who propogated the pale lavender buddleia named ‘Loch Inch’ which many people will have in their gardens.

The round lily pond which is 1/4 of a mile across is another feature which is absolutely glorious.

The ‘newer castle’ built around 1860 is where Lord and Lady Stair reside and is situated between the two locks (the Black Loch – Loch Crindil and the White Loch- Loch Inch) and has magnificent views across the landscape.

We spent the afternoon sketching in the sunshine before treating ourselves to tea and scones – it was so nice to do something quite creative for once though I need a lot of practise I am decidedly rusty, especially the watercolour which is spectacularly bad – but at least I made a start – it takes time to get back into it.

We decided that today would be a ‘rest’ day and we are walking to the village and up the steep hill out towards the Mull to see one of the Open Gardens at a cottage that adjoins one we nearly put in an offer for, but we bought our cottage instead so it will be interesting to see what they have made of the garden.

The weather has been so hot here everything is beginning to look parched and dry and many of the flowers are soon over. Even the foxgloves have bent over heads from a lack of water. Our garden ranges from peaty and waterlogged to dry sandy dust and my style of gardening is just to let the self seeders find their own home where they are happiest.

So that is all my news so far which just leaves me to say a warm welcome to all my new followers and sorry for the lack of posts – life just gets incredibly busy and my energy levels incredibly diminished – but I hope everyone reading is enjoying the good weather, though personally I could easily tolerate it much cooler but at least the sea breeze helps to cool me down. I have had to garden all week wherever there is shade so I have been constantly moving around and consequently no one patch or task is fully complete. We have also spent some time over a concerning problem that has arisen because the new owner of the caravan site next door wants to put a locked gate at the top of our lane over which we have a right of access to our cottage. This would be very restrictive for anyone coming to the cottage if we had to hand out keys to everyone who has to have access, especially when we start to have contractors on site again to renovate the cottage.

Nothing ever stays the same for long these days and it is so easy to get swept up by other people’s agendas – I am feeling pretty upset by it all especially as it has been such a difficult time with the flood and then the Covid restrictions.

But tomorrow is another day as they say!

Back soon x

dear diary :: garden progress

Just a quickie as I drink my cocoa as my bed awaits – I am utterly shattered from a few days of intense gardening and we have only just scratched the surface. Apart from the horrendous wind and rain on Saturday morning we have had good weather for most of the week with clear skies and sunshine and each day has got a little warmer than the one before. Tomorrow we have to go down home for two or three weeks to attend appointments and do other things including another visit to my mum whilst my sister is on her respite holiday.

Everywhere I look there are jobs to be done here, weeds to be lifted, branches to be pruned and order to be reinstated (well as much order as you can get in a semi-wild garden). Most plants seem to be quite late coming out this year – everything is in bud and about to burst forth and probably waiting for the moment we leave!

I made a start on this banking below the lane and on the wood side of the cottage.

The banking is one of those places that I find hard to decide just what to plant here. I have cleared it a few times and then never got to put any plants in as by the time I have cleared it all it is time to go home and when we get back there has been another flurry of seedlings – but never quite so bad as during this lockdown period. It is dry and sandy near the top, almost like dust, then it can be quite boggy at the bottom where the water runs down and collects. It gets a lot of wind from both directions and until last year had an enormous conifer at one end which gave us plenty of shade and privacy. The conifer was taken down by Scottish Power as it was situated just underneath the power line to the cottage and every year or so they had to take a good three metres off the top of it which left it looking rather an odd shape and in the end a lot of brown bare stems. It wasn’t very pretty so we had it removed and we will grow something a little lower in height.

Over time the soil has washed down the banking with the rain because it is quite steep and so our plan is to build it up a bit more using the well rotted contents from our compost bins and then we will terrace it with some wooden planks of treated timber to make planting pockets. Well that is the plan.

Most of the weeds are pink campion and blue alkanet – both lovely wild flowers but quite invasive and they crowd out any garden plants so have to be well controlled. As you can see from the picture below it is a slow job clearing such a backlog of weeds. In the picture, but well hidden behind the fern, is a little Robin sitting on its nest – 3 little eggs – she has been quietly watching us garden all week – we probably relieved the boredom of having to sit still for hours on end!

Above is looking across the garden from on top of the banking next to the lane. I cleared this patch from unwanted invaders fairly quicky. The lane gets a lot of wind and sea spray so anything planted here has to be fairly tough. Below is the little blue gate leading to the daisy path that takes you down to the cottage. The Rosa Rugosa hedge on the right should have been well pruned this year to reduce the height to keep it bushy and prevent it being ‘leggy’ but of course we could not come up to do it. The holly tree like the rest of them in the garden is waiting clipping but that will be another job another visit. The conifer used to completely block the view of the cottage making it more private so something will be put in its place.

There are one or two nice little spots in the garden here and there.

Solomon’s Seal
Sweet Woodruff and Astrantia
Primula
Braeburn Apple blossom

I really don’t want to go back home – I miss the sea when we have to leave.

I won’t miss my aching back though!

Back soon x

dear diary :: good to be back

It is so good to be back by the sea and nothing lifts my spirits more – though a little less sea breeze and a slightly higher temperature would be better. It is sunny, bright (and breezy) but certainly very cold and as we look across Luce Bay we can see the snow topped hills in the background a reminder that although my calender is telling me it is May the weather has still to catch up.

I am having to choose my position in the garden very carefully – the seaside garden is a definite no no and the wood side, although more sheltered, is shaded by the trees at this time of year while the sun is still a bit low. So I am nestled into a cosy spot outside the little porch that leads into the kitchen. The giant Fatsia and privet hedge providing shelter from the wind on one side and the cottage itself on the other. It is not the worst part of the garden by any means there are places crying out for resuscitation after being ignored for more than a year….but one step at a time.

We had a visit from the ‘ratman’ this morning – during the lockdown they had taken up camp in our wood being fed nicely by the escalation of the takeaways and leftovers of food in the bins belonging to the pub next door (part of the legacy from the government initiative ‘eat out to help out’ scheme). I don’t think they had included the rat population in this – but they had a good feast nonetheless.

Afterwards I managed a couple of hours gardening while the leek and potato soup simmered away on the stove. After lunch we had a stroll to the village chatting with one or two of the locals at a safe distance and catching up on the news and generally just passing the time of day. It was obviously washing day. I always find it is an immensely satisfying sight for some reason to see washing on a line and blowing in the wind by the sea (no tumble driers needed up here) and I just had to have a few pictures.

We took the low road that runs by the shore back home to view the now famous artwork – the painted stones – which have grown in number over the past year and many more painted stones have been added to the collection, an obvious sign of what everyone has been doing during lockdown. I loved these simple little leaf paintings.

Tomorrow we have a visit from a local civil engineer who will hopefully make some suggestions for the repairs we need to have done to the burn; we lost a bit of the banking this winter when the willow tree fell over into the water taking part of the banking with it. The farmer next door removed the tree for us with his tractor and now we need to repair the hole before it erodes any more.

A lot of land was lost to the sea this year on the seabank below us but luckily this is not our responsibility and falls to the new owner of the caravan site. Presently, he has the civil engineers in with diggers and hefty looking Tonka toys making the banking good and laying armoured rock against it to hopefully stop further erosion. The power of the sea should never be underestimated.

Ah well my bed beckons….night everyone x

dear diary :: here at last

At last we are here in Scotland at the cottage but staying in the caravan in the garden of course (as those regular readers, who know the flood story, will know).

And what of the garden? Well did you ever read the Secret Garden as a child? Then perhaps like me you can remember having an image in your mind of the moment when Mary discovers the entrance to the hidden garden and unlocks the door to discover a wild and beautiful place – well that is just what our cottage garden looks like now after 6 months of neglect. Very wild but also quite beautiful. My heart was both heavy and lifted at the same time.

The daisy path
The stone trough
Looking out to sea at the end of the trellis border
The lawn garden and pine tree border looking towards the entrance to the lower wood and woodland walk

Everything has grown in abundance including the wild flowers and those that are definitely weeds. The goosegrass is draping itself around so many plants and weighing them down.

The stone steps to the pond – all but disappeared!

Sadly, we cannot leave it in this state as even a wild garden has to be managed or the most vigorous plants eventually take over and the smaller vulnerable ones are crowded out. If left unpruned the trees and shrubs grow so tall the reduced sunlight causes the undergrowth to die back and with little light plants like ivy soon settle in and can sweep through a wood floor like a fire. It is a fine balance I have to strike in this garden to keep it in check but also keep it looking quite natural.

Looking back across the lawn garden
The entrance to the woodland walk in the lower wood
The streambank border with self seeded giant thistles

After an initial tour of the garden I estimated it would probably take us about 2 years to get it back to what it was like before, but now having spent a couple of mornings in the garden I might revise that to 3 years hard labour! Everywhere I look trees and shrubs need attention, the invasive weeds removing and many plants need thinning out or cutting back. The ivy is heading for the farmers field next door and some of the weeds have settled in so well they have tap roots more than 2 feet long.

But it is not all doom and gloom, despite the rather wild and shaggy appearance, and the fact that some areas have been fully taken over by something far too vigorous, there are delightful little corners to discover where self seeded foxgloves and poppies have made a new home.

The laneside border

The picture below is by the lower woodland pond and I now have a very green mossy path with daisies that was once bark chippings – but I quite like this and will probably keep it as it is. The little seat by the pond has disappeared altogether into the undergrowth – it may take me a while to uncover it.

The pond by the woodland walk in the lower wood

There will be plenty to keep us busy for a while – thankfully we do not have to maintain the caravan other than it needs a wash down on the outside to remove the green winter film it collects. And of course there is soup to make – mushroom maybe and tomato.

On our very last visit here back in January we did not get to replace the empty gas bottle so that was on the priority list, there is nothing like running out halfway through cooking a meal. So a trip into our nearest town of Stranraer was required in the afternoon…..that and it was good to take a break. Frequent rests are much needed at the moment until our backs are stronger and can cope with the strenuous work in the garden. Being at home for so long during lockdown just pottering around the house and our very small Yorkshire garden has left us with weaker unused muscles.

The weather was so lovely yesterday that whilst in Stranraer, which was eerily quiet, we decided to take a walk down to the harbour and round through Agnew Park. The light and cloud formation was incredible – I will leave you with a few pictures.

It is time for bed now – I am not sure I am making much sense in this ramble – I have an early start in the garden tomorrow….weather permiting. x