Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Last Window Opens in the 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 24

Happy Christmas Eve everyone!

This one works whether it's the name of the blog it appeared on (first) or the name of the person in the photograph - so take your pick.

Right - that's your lot! You now have all the windows open, and hopefully all the letters you need to come up with the answer.

If you're still a bit stuck, take a look back at the day a window was opened as I've given a few little hints and tips along the way. And then there are the original rules, explanations and excuses here.

In the spirit of Christmas generosity, I'm also going to give you a big fat hint which should help you get the final answer.

As I said in the original post, I'm looking for the name of a Christmas present a gardener would enjoy: and also the name of a genus of plants, many of which are in flower at this time of year.

So here's your clue:
I want 4 words in all
3 of which will be the name of the Christmas present.
2 of the words are the name of a well-known gardener and designer.

And it's the short version I'm after, not the long one.

Now that's quite enough clues for you all.

If you think you've got the answer, email it to sally [dot] nex [at] btinternet [dot] com. First person to email me with the correct name of both Christmas present and plant gets the prize!

If it's all just too difficult and nobody manages to guess within a week, I shall help you along a bit; and if nobody guesses it after that, I'm keeping the prize msyelf as I want it too. So there.

Happy Christmas to one and all and may all your Brussels sprouts be crunchy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 23

Oooooh! Nearly there! Time to open the penultimate window of the festive season....

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 22

Oooooh.... not long now! Are you feeling Christmassy yet?

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 21

Today's hint: this object has a name: but it's the owner's name which will give you the letter you need.

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 20

Bit tricky, this one, so here's a slightly cryptic clue: you won't find it on the boring version. And the letter comes from the flower depicted, not the blog's name.

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 19

Phew.... less than a week to go... the end is in sight, folks...

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 18

The thing in the picture behind today's window has acquired legendary status in the garden blogging world this year. However, you'll get your letter not from the name of the blog where it achieved such fame, but from the name of the thing itself. And be very specific.

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 17

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

I interrupt this advent calendar to announce....

It's snowing! It's actually snowing!

In December! In softy-southerner Surrey!

Apologies for the unseemly excitement here but this is unheard of. I can't remember the last time it snowed before Christmas here or indeed anywhere south of about Oxford (which is the furthest north I've ever lived and where it did, while I was there in the 1980s, snow an awful lot from about October onwards).

This has to be the best chance of a real, bona fide, proper white Christmas in living memory. Right, that's it - I'm digging out the Frank Sinatra and the sleigh bells. Never mind all that pretending with robins perching on snowy fork'andles on Christmas cards and the like - we might, just, have the real thing just around the corner this year...

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 16

Another hint with today's clue: this picture appears in a lot of places but it's not the event, it's the original blog's name I'm after. But don't forget the exceptions listed in the original rules, explanations and excuses here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 15

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 14

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 13

Not the name of the blog this time, but the author.

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 12

You get a hint with this one too...
This picture appears on several blogs - but which glittering, star-studded event of the garden blogging year does it refer to?

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 11

I'll give you a hint on this one: this is inspired by a blog (and a particularly delicious one at that) but I'm not after the name of the blog. The picture is of something that's frequently a matter of discussion on said blog - and be specific :D

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 10

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 9

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 8

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 7

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 6

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 5

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Friday, December 04, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 4

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar: December 3

It seemed to be confusing everyone terribly updating the original post, so at the risk of the next 21 posts looking just like the one before I'll start doing it this way :D

For rules, explanations and excuses see the original post here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The 2009 Garden Bloggers' Advent Calendar

December 2:

(click on the pic for a (slightly) larger version)

Since it's horrible weather, I've cancelled all gardening and I have time on my hands, I thought I'd throw all conventional blog posts out of the window between now and Christmas and launch a little competition.

As you will see I got busy with my Paintbox and have created an advent calendar. I will be "opening" a new window for you each day to reveal the picture behind it.

Each of the pictures is taken from a blog (3) somewhere in the gardening blogosphere (almost all of them already listed on my favourite blogs list).

Each will give you a clue to a letter: usually the title of the blog, but not always (1). I've also thrown in a few memorable events from this year, plus a few clues refer to authors of blogs not the blogs themselves (I don't want to make it too easy, for goodness' sake).

The 24 letters, when unjumbled, will give you a two-part answer:

- what the first prize is: something every gardener will want at the top of their Christmas present list this year (4)

- and the genus name of a group of plants which you should be able to see in flower now.

The first person to email me both parts of the answer after the window of no. 24 is revealed on 24th December will get the prize :D

1: A few clues:
- When it's a blog beginning with the word "the" I've usually left out the definite article - so "The Manic Gardener" would be "M" (for Manic). Note the 'Usually': there is one exception.
- where pets are pictured, the letter is always the name of the pet (with one exception, though that particular 'pet' is more of a visitor and hasn't got a name anyway)
- in two clues the name of the blogger is required, not the blog: in these cases it's always the first name (so James as in Alexander Sinclair). And they're not at all obscure, so you should be able to find out easily from the blog itself.
- I'll be around to answer any queries and duck any brickbats throughout via the comments section and will also give you a final clue as to the answers on the final day just in case you're stuck.

2: Rules and regulations:
- if you recognise a picture from your own blog, please could I ask you to refrain from posting the answer and giving the game away
- you may post your guesses below for each day but please don't post guesses for the final answer - if you do I'm afraid you'll make yourself ineligible for the prize
- I will be giving clues to the more tricky ones: keep an eye on the comments section
- answers and prizewinner announced as soon as I've recovered from my Christmas hangover (hopefully before the end of December)

3: Apologies, excuses and abject grovelling:
I realise the graphics are pants. I am not, have never been, and on current evidence will never be able to master Javascript as relevant to so I have given up in disgust and you'll just have to make do. It is possible that they may improve as the month goes on but they may well not. Sorry.

I may well get into quite a lot of trouble with this as I have filched all the clues from other people's blogs. I'm hoping you'll all take it in the spirit in which it's meant - i.e. as a way of sharing with people the gardening blogs I've enjoyed this year and hopefully getting lots of people to come visit your blog. I will, at the end if not before, make sure that when the answers are given they include a link to the blogs concerned. I would have linked the pictures except that that I think that requires Javascript, so I refer you to the apology above.

If you really, really object to my using material in this way just get in touch with me (post or you can find my email via my profile) and I will change the clue and grovel even more abjectly.

4. Well, quite near to the top if you don't count Matthew 'Darcy' Wilson. And Cleve West's thighs.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Rays of sunshine

Feast your eyes on these. Don't they just make you feel warm to the tips of your toes?

They're the marigolds left over from a summer of tomato-growing in my greenhouse. I confess, contrary to anything they tell you to do in the textbooks, I didn't bother pulling up my tomatoes at the end of the season and just left them in the greenhouse to wait until I got around to clearing them up. In the meantime, the marigolds have taken over, growing tall and lusty and generally flourishing until they're filling the whole space with glowing, warm orange and amber.

The funny thing is, I haven't done a thing to help them out. I haven't watered them, fed them, dead-headed them or in any way paid them any attention since about August. And they love it: they're flowering their little hearts out. What's more, they're ridiculously healthy - not a hint of mildew, just big, hefty, happy plants.

Next year I shall try to remember just how drought-tolerant marigolds are. And that sometimes, leaving things well alone is much the best way to garden.

Monday, November 23, 2009


There's one thing they don't tell you about gardening before you start: you only find out once you're well and truly hooked and it's too late. It can be, and almost always is, excruciatingly painful.

Most of the time it's true that we all spend our time wafting about in floaty Laura Ashley dresses and floppy hats (except, in public at least, if we happen to be male gardeners) with trugs overflowing with floral bouquets on our arms exclaiming over plant combinations and quoting poetry at each other.

But it is also undeniably true that I'm almost always bleeding, bruised or aching - sometimes all three - from some gardening-related wound or other.

At the moment it's a blister. And not just any blister: a huge gobstopper of a blister, right slap bang in the middle of my left palm.

Now for any normal person, this would be an odd place to have a blister. On the curve of your thumb, maybe, if you'd been, say, rowing or painting a ceiling; or if you were a particularly keen letter-writer you might develop a carbuncle on your top middle finger joint just where the pen rests. But in the middle of your palm?

Seasoned gardeners will know all about this pecularly November-related affliction, and will probably sympathise. I've been planting tulip bulbs. Hundreds of them (well, 350, to be exact, which isn't a lot by some people's standards but is quite enough by mine). And that spot where the end of the trowel rests as you gouge a 4" hole in the earth over and over again is, you guessed it, right in the middle of your palm.

I've been planting my tulips in bursts so when the central-palm blister got just too painful I decided to transfer over to my hand-held bulb planter, not usually my favoured option as I find it a bit heavy-duty for my purposes, but at least its sturdy wooden handle would lie across the 20p-sized wound on my palm in, I hoped, a soothingly non-abrasive way.

I didn't reckon on the action the sides of the bulb planter would have on each side of my hand where I twisted it into the ground. I now have two more blisters to match: one on the outside of my palm, just where your clenched fist would rest on the table; and the other just on that fleshy bit between thumb and forefinger.

I have to return to my bulb-planting tomorrow for one last push: I'm seriously considering attaching a spike to my foot. But then I'll end up with blisters on the soles of my feet, too.

I won't mention the rose thorns semi-permanently embedded in my fingers (I've lost some of them - where do they go, do you think?) or the barbed-wire lacerations which stripe my arms from January to March and again from about July until September (pruning season). I've even found berberis thorns sticking out of my head. And that's not even counting the sundry rashes, broken nails, skinned knuckles, stone-bruised knees, groaning backs or aching shoulders I've sustained in the course of pursuing the gentle art of growing things.

Actually, I find whenever I get together with other gardeners we almost always end up comparing wounds at some point with a sort of childish fascination. I had a great time earlier this year when I was sporting a livid gash about 6" long on my upper arm. It elicited horrified admiration from all around, who assumed I'd slashed myself with a chainsaw or other viciously sharp pruning implement and only just avoided severing my entire arm.

Unfortunately for my gardening cred, it was actually an oven burn, sustained while reaching across a scalding hot baking tray to get something from the cupboard. But don't tell anyone. It makes a great scar.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Friday photo

Magnolia x soulangeana seed pod

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Boom, boom, boom.....!

I'm pathetically amused by groan-inducing horticultural puns, so for those of you who aren't grafted at the ear to Radio 4 like I am and missed it, I faithfully repeat here an uncharacteristically garden-related line from the preamble for I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue last night, broadcast from Southwark, south London. For full effect, imagine it delivered in the laconic tones of Jack Dee.

"Another attraction near here is the Museum of Garden History, in Lambeth Palace Road. During a recent revamp, there was a heated dispute over whether to include modern garden features. The head designer became angry with the garden manager, tempers flared and he decked him."

Yeah, I know, it's not the best, and we'll overlook the extraordinary number of things they got wrong in one short joke (including the name of the museum) but hell, gardening humour has now arrived in the mainstream. And besides, I was just giggling at the idea of the urbane, charming and utterly sophisticated Christopher Woodward (director of said Museum and responsible for its reincarnation as the beating heart of the gardening community) getting cross enough to have a heated dispute with anyone.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Seeds! Seeds! Seeds!

Ooooooh! The RHS's seed list for 2010 has been published!

One of the many great things about being an RHS member is that every year you get to choose 20 packets of seed collected from RHS gardens for the princely sum of 60p each. And they're mostly quite unusual, so you get to pack your garden with some choice lovelies for next to nothing.

There are annuals and biennials on the list - including things like sweetpeas, though not your average Spencer hybrids - but I use it mostly as a chance to indulge my irrational desire to raise perennials and shrubs from seed. This takes ages, isn't always successful (actually, isn't very often successful), and you generally end up with, say, 30 pokeweeds of which you need maybe two or three at absolute most. But oh, it is such fun.

You can give away the ones you don't want (sometimes - there's a limited market for pokeweeds, I find), and besides, if you want to fill a patch of garden with a swathe of something, you need lots of plants. Swathes come expensive in the garden centre: a measly three hardy geraniums will set you back around 15 quid if you're lucky, but for my 60p paid a year or so ago for a packet of RHS seeds I now have 9 Geranium pyrenaicum 'Bill Wallis' which have been flowering their pretty little socks off in a satisfying swathe at the front of my border all summer, and will do for years to come. And I gave another 10 or so away to friends. Yes, I had to wait a while: but isn't that curious mixture of delicious anticipation and near-heroic patience a lot of what real gardening is all about?

So, though many of these won't make it through under my occasionally erratic care, and some will drive me crazy with their capriciousness over, let's see, whether or not to germinate, here's the list of plants common and not-so-common which I have a chance of looking forward to in the coming years:

Camassia leitchlinii
Galtonia candicans
Musa velutina
Aconitum napellus
Euphorbia x pasteurii
Geranium gracile
Gillenia trifoliata
Heuchera micrantha
Inula helenium
Kitaibela vitifolia
Penstemon smallii
Phormium cookianum subsp. hookeri
Sanguisorba minor
Tricyrtis pilosa
Alchemilla fissa
Coronilla valentina subsp glauca
Daphne mezereum f. alba
Pawlonia tomentosa

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A tale of gardening failure

My poor apple trees.

I was raking up the leaves they've so generously been scattering all over my chicken run, and to relieve the monotony (and the ache in my shoulders) decided to have a closer look at them - something I don't do nearly often enough.

I found them etched with a sorry tale of years of callous neglect from their excuse for a gardener. I'm afraid that since they are in the chicken run, they're something of an afterthought at the end of the garden and I don't pay them anything like as much attention as I should: the constant and tender cares of better orchard-owners than I are sadly lacking here, and though they try to soldier on as best they can, they're clearly showing signs of strain.

It doesn't help that the person who planted them - not me, I hasten to add - put them far too close together: I have four standard apple trees, two Bramleys, two Cox's, about 10ft apart in a square. That's about half the room they should have, so they're at a disadvantage before you even factor in the slacker gardener who's supposed to be looking after them.

Here, like a doom-laden encyclopaedia entry of afflictions for apple trees, is what I discovered:

1. Woolly aphid

Like cotton wool balls sticking to the bark. There are little critters under there, sucking away joyously at the sap of my apple tree. I've seen this covering an entire tree in someone else's garden, so it can get to epidemic proportions: luckily I've only got the odd fluffball or two.

Treatment: I'll be getting out the hose with the spray set to 'jet' this spring: you just zap the suckers away and keep doing it till they're gone. Very satisfying.

2. Brown rot

Actually I did know I had this problem - I just haven't done anything about it. The apples go disgustingly brown and pustulent while still on the tree, and then - key to identification, this - they stay there, mummified. If you leave them, they'll infect healthy apples next year.

Treatment: do the exact opposite of me and pick them off as soon as you see them. Get rid of them in the bin, or burn them: don't put them on the compost heap.

3. Squirrel damage

This suspiciously regular area of bark damage is characteristic of a visit from one of those furry-tailed rats we're all supposed to find so sweet. As you can see, it's eaten away the bark right around the branch, cutting off the water and food and killing the branch. Still think they're cute?

Treatment: Letting rip with air rifles is, for some inexplicable reason, frowned upon in our semi-suburban street. The dog is, uncharacteristically, some help here: though the main purpose of wildlife in his opinion is to provide him with merry chasing opportunities, he does share our opinion of squirrels and they're the one and only thing on which he occasionally sates his inner wolf. However, he's also a bit thick so they outwit him all too easily and laugh their squirrelly laugh at him from on high. I think this is one bit of damage I'm just going to have to put up with.

4. Canker?

I really hope I'm wrong here, but it's not looking good. Apologies for the lousy picture, but I was in a state of shock when I was taking it.

Canker is the one thing apple growers fear to see. Sunken patches of bark like this, where the branch above the patch has died back (as was the case here) is a sign of a fungal disease that can kill the entire tree if you let it spread.

Now, before panic sets in, I'm not entirely sure this is canker. It's a bit long and thin - cankers on apple trees tend to be rounder, like the horrific picture on the RHS advisory service page on the subject (now there's a sight to strike fear into an apple tree's heart). On the other hand, there's no denying that there has been considerable die-back above the area.

Treatment: I can feel an extensive programme of winter pruning coming on. The organic way of dealing with canker is simply to cut it out: and if this is canker, it's very much at the early stages, with only small branches affected and nothing on the trunks or major branches - so I've still got a chance to get rid of it if I act now. I'll be cutting back at least a foot or so behind the canker into healthy wood, and again - I'll be burning the wood, not leaving it lying around to re-infect healthy areas. And even if it isn't canker, I'll have given my languishing apple trees the first TLC they've had in oooh..... this many years.

And then I shall assuage my guilt by pampering them in an over-compensating sort of way all year. Before lapsing next winter some time into my usual state of distracted forgetfulness, of course.

I think I shall go and become an accountant now. Goodbye.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Getting militant

Now, I'm generally quite a quiet person. I keep my head down, I work hard, I have fun with my kids, and though those who know me well are all too aware I have some caustically strong opinions, I generally keep them to myself: I learned the hard way, back in my far-away youth, that if you go around shooting your mouth off, you generally end up putting your foot in it - and that instantly renders you everyone's least favourite person.

But when it's on your doorstep, and when it's affecting your quality of life, your neighbours' quality of life and potentially, the future of your children, sometimes you just have to speak out.

So in nearly-middle-age I've re-discovered the student within and taken up my place on the barricades. I know I'm a little late joining the party, but I've finally signed up to the Air Plot campaign being run by Greenpeace against the proposed third runway at Heathrow.

So, apparently I now own a bit of a field next door to Heathrow Airport. I'm hoping it might be the bit next door to Alys Fowler's allotment, so I can pop along and pick a cabbage or two from time to time.

What with Monty Don lending his support and the backing of one or two of us gardening bloggers I'm tempted to start shouting slogans. How about "Gardeners of the world unite! We have nothing to lose but our planes!"

Ah.... Karl would be proud....

Friday, November 06, 2009

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Torquay's mystery plant

I mentioned in my last post that not many of the plants in the Palm House at Torre Abbey in Torquay had labels. Of course the one I fell in love with was one of those without identification.

Trouble is, I want it. I really want it.

Any ideas?

It was the sight of those exquisite flowers which first caught my attention. I've never seen flowers weeping before.

Now those of you with a delicate disposition had better look away, as I'm about to show you quite the most eye-popping and frankly embarrassing seed capsules I've ever seen.

In case you wanted a closer gawp at those...

You can look again now. Here's a more calming photo of the leaves.

It was about 5ft high or so, and multi-stemmed - a sort of loose clump, I suppose. I am deeply smitten, so if anyone out there knows what it is and can introduce me, I will be eternally grateful.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Torquay treasures


That's Fawlty Towers, kiss-me-quick hats, blokes with knotted handkerchiefs on their heads and deckchairs, right?


It's the proud home of quite the best municipal planting I've ever seen. VP - you should get down there and take some pics for that OOTS strand of yours asap.

We've just come back from a little break there: I won't bore you too much with what we got up to, though we did find a hotel John Cleese would have been proud of to stay in.

Instead I shall just introduce you to the Palm House at Torre Abbey. The head gardener - employed, take note, by the Torbay Council's Parks Department - is career changer Ali Marshall, who used to be something in business administration but for the last year (only a year?!) has taken the helm at Torre Abbey. And my goodness, is she an inspired plantswoman.

It's a small garden, but there's a lot packed in. A dahlia border so densely-planted I mistook it for a rose garden from a distance; a cactus house with three-foot-across hummocks; palms a go-go and a bank of cannas. There was even a recently-planted Agatha Christie garden which owed a great deal to the Poison Garden at Alnwick but with a sleuthing twist.

But it was the recently-restored (as is everything at Torre Abbey, thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, gawd bless 'em) 1960s Palm House which stole the show for me. There weren't many labels so I gave up trying to identify everything in the end and just marvelled.

You wouldn't believe it's a public garden run by the Parks Department, would you? Talk about showing everyone else how it's done...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Roses in November

When the Irish poet Thomas Moore went on in a lamenting sort of way about 'the last rose of summer' it was 1805 and I'd guess he wasn't looking at routine double-figure temperatures in November.

There is no last rose of summer any more. There might be a last rose of late winter at some point, I suppose, but this is, these days, a late summer or autumn flower. If not a winter one.

Certainly here it is, November tomorrow, and my garden is full of roses.

An unidentified miniature patio rose growing in the kids' garden.

Rosa 'Perpetually Yours'

A budding Rosa 'Dublin Bay'

Lots of buds on my container-grown Rosa 'Wildeve'

and the Rosa 'New Dawn' on the front of the house is flowering its heart out still.

I just can't make my mind up if I like it.
I love that my garden is full of roses: who couldn't like that? But they look all wrong among the autumn leaves somehow.
And can you imagine having roses on the table for Christmas dinner?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Netting niggles

Is it my imagination, or are the leaves coming down faster this autumn?

We've had a week or so of brilliant colour, and now it's like a wall of yellow confetti. I can't help feeling a little cheated: autumn is my second-favourite season (after spring, of course, silly) - something to do with the sudden onslaught of colour on senses bleached by the white light of summer.

But onto more prosaic subjects: each autumn I get into trouble. This is because I net my pond, a job I carried out about a week or so ago using a roll of reasonably small-gauge plastic netting I use every year. I weight this down with bricks to keep it taut and work the occasional length of wood underneath to keep it clear of the water.

Trouble is, my uber-wildlife-friendly friend tells me this is absolutely not what you should do if you want to be nice to nature. As of course I do: this is after all meant to be a wildlife pond. She says I'm trapping all the lickle creatures in the water so they can't get out. She gets a bit more fuzzy about what exactly happens then: after all, I said to her, I surely would have found rafts of drowned newts floating on the surface in spring if it really was a problem.

I say they can find their way out through the gaps (alongside, for example, the bricks) if they need to, and besides, it would do the wildlife a whole lot more harm if I let all the leaves fall in and rot into a stinking and stagnant mess on the bottom.

So who's right? Since we've reached something of an impasse I thought I'd hand it over to those who know more about these things than I do. Has anyone out there got any light they'd like to shed on the matter? Any intensive research studies on the winter habits of pondlife and the effect thereof of plastic netting I should know about?

All authoritative conclusions gratefully received...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The path to enlightenment #2

Back to the grindstone: you may remember I had a two-inch layer of MOT on the path which once I'd got the capricious and frankly malicious whacker plate under some semblance of control I managed to compress to a pretty good solid layer.

Step 5: start mixing your mortar. I went for a 1:4 mix of cement to sand which seemed to work pretty well. You slosh a bit of water in and then squirt some washing up liquid after it - this keeps the mortar elastic - before using the oldest spade you have to mix it up until it's the sloppy side of solid - about the texture of blancmange. This is the best way of ruining gardening tools I know.

Step 6: Use the mortar to set your edging bricks. At this point I thought I'd better start taking some pictures of my somewhat erratic progress.

This bit isn't quite as bad as it seems: I used pegs and string to mark the outer edge of the path so I had a line to follow and then it was a matter of using a rubber mallet to knock the bricks in place.

Step 7: go and do something else for a day while it all dries.

Step 8: it's time to play with the sand you ordered, if the neighbour's kids haven't got there first. A 2" layer inside the brick edging, if you please.

Step 9: level the sand and dry-lay the bricks, making sure they're level in every direction - I put a gentle camber on mine from one side to the other to drain the water off.

At this point Joe Swift produced a natty little bit of wood, with the profile of a brick cut out of each side so it "hung" on the sides of the path and acted as a template to smoothe your sand level.

I thought this looked like a good idea, so gave it a go. Sadly, I quickly realised the catch: it does assume that all your bricks are identical. In some misguided attempt to be a bit more environmentally sound we'd bought our bricks reclaimed at an auction, so they were every possible size, shape and thickness you can imagine and I had to lay them all individually, using my little rubber mallet and taking Bloomin' Ages.

Still, it's starting to take shape and look ever so slightly like a proper path by now.

Step 10: Mix some more 1:4 mortar but don't put the water in this time. Make sure it's not raining, or even a bit damp, and use one of those little pointing trowels to feed the dry mix into the gaps. Then follow up with a stiff brush so there's not even a little bit left on the surface of the bricks (where it will set in a grey and depressing mat of concrete). This is why it's essential your bricks should be dry before you start this bit.

By the way, the grey and depressing bits on the bricks above were already there - see reclaimed bricks comment earlier.

Now, I was lucky and it rained the night after I did this so all the mortar was beautifully watered in and set almost straight away. But if it doesn't rain, you'll have to do this yourself with a hose set on sprinkler - don't blast water at it all or you'll wash out all the mortar and have to start again.

By the way, being a very amateur bricky, I cheated.

I have three holes in my path: here, where the four arms of the cross meet (there are two little side-paths off to my shed and my greenhouse - oh, no, I'm not over-ambitious, oooooh no) and at each end, where the squares I made under the gates in and out were, ahem, not exactly square.

One of the many things I discovered through making this path is the reason why brick paths are always an odd number of bricks across. The width of my path, for reasons lost in the mists of history, is six bricks across for the main bit and four across for the side paths. This doesn't work, and my maths isn't up to working out why. So I just fudged it. A little concrete and a few pretty pebbles should fill in the hole nicely.

Doncha just love amateur DIY enthusiasts? What can I say - I make mistakes so you don't have to. Still, I got a pretty good new brick path, and I learned an awful lot of things - chief among which was that It's Never as Easy as it Looks On TV.

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