Monday, 25 November 2013

it's that time again

Orchard pruning time is here again - it's a job I find really satisfying.

This time last year, I dragged Mr Asparagus Pea out of bed and into work with me on a Saturday morning, to shoot a video of how to prune a pear tree. The weather was unkind.
It lashed down, and all the shots were spoiled by rain on the lens. 
So one year on, with a sparkly sunny day forecast for Saturday, we thought we'd have another go.

It was a fabulous frosty morning, and I'm really pleased with how our little film turned out. 

Fruit pruning is a big subject - many worthy tomes have been written. 
I wanted to demonstrate the process, and give people confidence to have a go.
(Hopefully without boring the pants off them). 

Massive thanks, as always, to my patient, clever husband for his camera and editing skills.

Monday, 18 November 2013

all the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey...

Imagine, if you will, a line stretching from the Amazon rainforest (lotta trees – no grass), to the steppes of Russia (lotta grass – no trees). Somewhere on the middle of that line is me standing in an orchard in Cardiff (some trees, some grass), raking up leaves. Grassland is fussy and will only persist if it is regularly grazed either by animals or lawnmowers, (or me with a scythe). Also, if I allow the fallen leaves to lie,they will kill the grass underneath. - not in a vicious hand to hand battle, just with a gentle suffocating sigh.

Now I’m talking about a lot of leaves here, because as well as the fruit trees, the garden is flanked by a stand of mature beeches. Last year I grumpily raked them up, wheel-barrowed them out through the gate and dumped them back underneath the trees.
It was a gesture designed to say ‘There you go – you can have them back!’ 
A bit like throwing your neighbour’s cat poo back over the fence...
( - not that I would ever do that). 

I’m not sure if the trees noticed. 

Then, when February rolled round and it came time to build the hotbed, a bit of research in Beeton’s Book of Garden Managementsuggested that beech leaves would be the perfect filling ingredient for those finding themselves a little short of fresh horse manure. So back out through the gate I went, and sheepishly barrowed in as many as I could be bothered to rake up.

Again, to their credit, the trees ignored me
(I told you they were mature).

So this year I’m trying to turn my frown upside down’ (barf), and view the deluge of leaves as the delivery that I ordered for February. I’m raking them into holding piles between the compost heaps, where they’ll gradually reduce in volume till I’m ready to use them to build the hotbed. After nearly a week off work with a bad back, it feels good to be out and about doing something so satisfyingly seasonal.

Monday, 11 November 2013

a knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork...

On Friday I spent the morning with a group of volunteers planting wildflower plugs into a piece of grass by the big museum in town. The plan is to create an urban meadow, with lots of stuff that's good for bees - then install some beehives on the roof. It's not my project, but I've been helping out with a bit of hort support. It was lashing with rain while we were doing the planting, so I was suitably dressed in waterproofs and boots. Before driving back to my museum, I decided to remove all my wet stuff and change my boots. While doing the 'don't put your socked foot in a puddle' dance by the back of the car, I seemed to have managed to stuff up my back. By mid-afternoon I felt strangely in need of a hip replacement, and my drive home was mostly in third gear as I was having trouble lifting my leg up to depress the clutch pedal.

After an early morning distress call to the osteo on Saturday morning, I am mobile again but extremely tender.  So what do you do when you're in an analgesic haze, with an attention span of about 10 minutes, and a fuse of about 5 seconds?

photograph cutlery - obviously!

As part of the kitchen renovations we put in a dishwasher - I've never had one before. It soon became clear that six forks was not going to be enough in this brave new world of domestic appliances. So the highlight of this weekend was a short shuffle round the corner to our favourite junk/vintage store. There are always a few trays of assorted cutlery and kitchen bits there - I find them very poignant, little fragments of ladies' lives that remind me of my nana's house. We have spent so much money and made so many 'choices' as part of the building process, that it felt good to assemble a haphazard handful of useful items delivered by the random gods of house clearance.

While Mr Asparagus Pea was downstairs perusing the defunct electrical equipment (his all-time favourite thing), I was on my hands and knees (can't bend over), rifling through the kitchenalia.  In amongst all the usual mixed stuff I found a little wooden box containing these stylish beauties.

They're from the 'Studio' range by Viners of Sheffield, designed in the 60's by British silversmith, Gerald Benney. Very mid-century modern with their elegant lines and bark textured handles. Now I don't normally buy with a view to putting stuff on eBay (unlike my canny husband), but a girl only needs so many fish knives (or in my case none). So I might cover the cost of my cutlery haul by selling this set of six.

(I do plan to wash all of this before it goes near any food -
 but the floor was the most comfortable place to take the pictures!)

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

getting my house in order

Anyone who has had any major building work done on their house will know that there is not really a definite end point. Sorting out the niggles and snags takes weeks, and in the meantime you slowly reclaim the living space and the scattered shreds of your sanity.  It's not like on the telly where Nick Knowles leads you into your fabulous new kitchen with his hands over your eyes, while 67 plumbers, sparks and plasterers stand around weeping about how much you deserve it. Off camera in another room, lurk the boxed up contents of your old kitchen cupboards, including your collection of antique jams, and a host of suspect looking jars of condiment from the early part of the century.

But we have (mostly) crossed the finish line and I feel ready to post some pics. I thought I would be able to do some really coherent 'before and after' shots, but it's making my head hurt even thinking about it. So I'll just try and give you a flavour of what we have managed to achieve.

These houses were built with three handsomely proportioned reception rooms to the front, and a tiny poky kitchen with outside toilet and lean-to conservatory to the back. The back of the house is south facing, so the outside lav was the best seat in the house. Knocking that through into the kitchen creates extra space, but throws up the problem of how to shoehorn a (much needed) second WC into the house. As a house full of 6 footers we were determined not to end up with a poo cruncher toilet in a head banging cupboard under the stairs.

The solution we settled on was to divide the third reception room in half to create a laundry room with WC accessed from the hallway, and a study/office/piano room leading off the dining room. We also needed to put in a new boiler, so that has gone in the attic. I'll show you the laundry and office when they are photo shoot ready. In the meantime - here is the new kitchen and sunroom...

Most of what we have spent the money on is structural work, plus the big ticket items like floors, kitchen units and work surfaces. But I'm really pleased that we've managed to hang on to the smaller, quirkier design details that make this space work for us:

pantry and fridge next to each other - putting the shopping away is one of my pet hates.

pantry door handle salvaged from one of the kitchen doors we took out

chairs £10 each - from local shoe shop closing down
nest of tables - £5 eBay
ceramic dish £3.50 - charity shop
tiles on wall salvaged from the outside lav

painted pegboard for hanging space

We never wanted 'new for the sake of new' - this project was about breathing new life into what had clearly been a much loved family home. Sorting out the structural and practical issues has allowed us to create a warm, light filled space that works for our family. I think it's what the house deserves...