Thursday, 18 December 2014

Snuffling around!

In haste today - but here's an idea for a fun indoor game for those of you whose dogs are getting to spend less time outdoors sniffling around the garden. Haven't tried it myself yet but Archie and Angel love the challenge of getting a treat out of a towel, so I'll be adding this to my list of things to make and try after Christmas! Here's the link: SNUFFELMAT

Friday, 12 December 2014

Still blooming!


No, not being over optimistic at all ...
even at this time of year
the alpine strawberries are still blooming and producing small fruits! 

Friday, 5 December 2014

A splash of colour


Despite a couple of heavy frosts, the rhododendron in the front garden has burst into bloom once again - it is covered in buds with more opening every day! There are also plenty of primroses creating a welcome splash of colour on dull days in the back garden ... what's blooming in your garden? 


Find out more HERE!

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Poo bags ... not just for poo!


No matter how thorough you think you've been when digging up the spuds, when you go over the patch again to prepare it for next year's crops, you always find a few more. Not having brought anything with me to carry produce home in, a quick search of my pockets produced the usual ever-present bundle of (empty) dog poo bags - just the right size for transporting the spuds in. We will enjoy them later, boiled with mint from the allotment and served with a knob of butter ... and no doubt the wippitts will get a share too!


Find out more HERE

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Thinking ahead

A bit of a blatant plug today - but it's all in a good cause!
If you are being organised and planning out your Christmas present list for friends and relatives,
why not give those who are dog owners a copy of Dog-friendly Gardening?
It will help them ensure that the garden is a safe as well
as fun place for everyone - two and four legged - to be.
All royalties are donated to a charitable cause: to
find out more visit the website at
http://dogfriendlygardening.jimdo.com/

If you want to buy the book, click the link below!
Click HERE for link

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Dazzling

A dry afternoon the day before yesterday meant I had an opportunity to give the patio a quick clean. Not my favourite job and I had been lazy about it during the summer, but really couldn't leave it any longer as although it was fine on dry days, every time it rained it became treacherously slippery. And with autumn well and truly here and winter on its way, there are obviously going to be more wet than dry days ahead ...
So the dogs were left indoors safely out of the way and out came the power washer - it is an 'own brand' one from B&Q and has been one of my better equipment purchases. It does the job nicely and cost less than the comparative named brands. Although you can buy various products to apply to patios and paths to clean them, I'm always wary of those which carry instructions that tell you that although it is a 'pet friendly' product you shouldn't let your pet walk on it for a certain period of time. A presssure washer uses nothing but water, so provided you leave your pet indoors while working so he cannot accidentally get blasted, I'm happy that it is entirely safe. The only down side is that it does tend to blast the mortar out of the cracks - another job for next year - but it was loose anyway, I suppose. And happily the painstakingly cultivated moss between other paving slabs seems to have survived the experience!
The patio will obviously never look like new again (although I'm not sure I should like it to) but it is much brighter and cheerier - and more importantly still, is now safe for both two and four legged folk to walk on.


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Monday, 3 November 2014

Remember, remember ...

I'm posting early this week, as Wednesday night will be Guy Fawkes' night.
Yes, it's that time of year again and as well as the distress that fireworks may cause your dog and other pets, wildlife has good cause to be anxious too. Please, please, check very carefully beneath any bonfires before lighting them - whether piles of leaves which have been swept up in your garden, or a Guy Fawkes night construction - as hedgehogs may be hibernating beneath them. The best way to make sure you don't accidentally roast one is to actually lift and move everything onto a new pile.


You can find some more info on how you can help this gardener's friend HERE



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Friday, 31 October 2014

Nom nom nom

One of the things I look forward to at this time of year is pumpkin soup!
I even save all the insides of the Halloween pumpkin I scoop out before carving it as I can't bear to let an opportunity for soup to pass by ...

This is a Valentine Warner recipe - although the sherry is optional, if you have any knocking around it is worth trying as it gets the soup an extra lift!

You will need: 1 x 4kg pumpkin, 125g butter, 2 finely chopped medium onions, 1 cinnamon stick, freshly grated nutmeg, 1.7 litres chicken or vegetable stock, 3 tablespoons sherry.
Remove and discard the seeds and fibres from the middle of the pumpkin: remove the flesh and roughly chop it. Melt the butter in a large pan over a low heat and add the onions. Cook gently for around 15 minutes until softened and golden-brown. Add the pumpkin flesh, cinnamon and nutmeg, season to taste: increase the heat slightly to medium, and cover with a lid. Cook for around 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until pumpkin is cooked through. Add the stock and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Transfer to a food processor in batches and blend until smooth. Return to a clean pan, bring to a low simmer and cook for a further 30 minutes. Before serving, stir in the sherry if you are using it.  Enjoy!





If you are expecting any trick or treaters tonight, make sure you keep your dog safely shut in another room before answering the door - and check that all garden gates have been properly shut once they have all gone. It's a good idea to walk your dog early as well, and a little later than usual in the evening as meeting gangs of trick-or-treaters in spooky costumes may be a little unnerving for some dogs.
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Friday, 24 October 2014

Brrrrrrr

The days are getting shorter, and it is definitely feeling more chilly. 
I know this because Archie and Angel are not keen on lingering longer than necessary outside, and have been asking to have their coats on when going out at night for a before-bedtime pee. My Mum also commented on how nippy it felt the other day and went to look out her winter woollies. I checked the temperature - 14 degrees, so not actually as cold as all that. If it had been an early Spring day with the sun out and primroses and crocuses blooming everywhere we would all have been exclaiming about how lovely and mild it was ... but because it is Autumn and leaves are falling, it is apparently, 'chilly'!

What the well dressed whippet will be wearing in the garden this year

Friday, 17 October 2014

Surprise!


Archie quality checks the apples to see
if they are ready for harvesting
 
It was a bumper year for my apples and pears this year: the first lot of pears - a dessert variety - are all picked, poached and safely in the freezer. I'm still waiting for the next lot to ripen, and then the freezer will be fully stocked for the winter months ahead.
The apples are all in too - or I thought they were.
And then I spotted this: two which I'd somehow missed picking off the apple tree in the garden.
It was a nice surprise and best of all, as they are eating apples, I won't have to toil over a hot stove cooking them for freezing!


Friday, 10 October 2014

Invasion!

No-one sleeps while there's still a crane fly at large ...
There has been an invasion of crane flies lately - apparently due to the weather conditions. A combination of a hot summer followed by heavy rain showers and then a warm, dry period have seen them thriving in huge numbers. 
Crane flies - also known as Daddy-long-legs - start life as larvae called leatherjackets, which live in the soil feeding on decaying plant material. Unfortunately for lawn-proud gardeners they are also rather partial to healthy grass roots and can be responsible for creating yellowish brown dead patches - so don't be too quick to blame the dog! Check to see if there are leatherjackets at work by lifting a section of the affected turf and looking for them in the surface soil levels; alternatively soak the area with water, cover with a sheet of black polythene and next day roll it back to look for grubs on the surface under the cover.
There are no chemical controls for them - which I'm very happy about as there are already far too many chemicals to be found on the shelves of garden centres - but you can try using nematodes. And crows, magpies, rooks and starlings love the grubs and will search for them in the turf, stabbing down into it with their sharp beaks - so don't chase them off or let the dog scare them away while they are at work! 
When the larvae  hatch in the autumn into the familiar adult daddy-long-legs stage, they mate, competing ferociously with each other, during the remaining fortnight they live for. This is when they also move indoors and seem to be everywhere: no sooner have you shepherded one outdoors than a dozen more take its place. Archie hates them: at night I have to check around the bedroom while he sits watching me from his bed. Only when he is sure I have removed every last one will he then settle down to sleep. Really, it's true!

Crane fly trivia!
Crane flies have been voted the world's scariest creature in a recent poll - although personally I can think of a lot more scary ones I'd prefer not to share house space with: and it is thought there are around 14,000 different species.   
Buy the book HERE

Friday, 3 October 2014

Late bloomers

Checking out the self-seeded nasturtium
Snapdragons looking good:
the geraniums didn't quite
make it into the shot ...
















As I write this, the weather is lovely and mild and we've all 


Snapdragons coming back for more ...
been enjoying a bit of pottering - and in the case of Archie and Angel, snatching a bit of sunbathing - in the garden.  I'm glad I wasn't overscrupulous about tidying up the beds while weeding a few weeks ago, since as well as the seasonally appropriate bloomers like the Sedum, there has been a burst of flowering as plants make the most of the weather too. Second helpings are always nice as well as value for money!

 

... and this geum ...

and the Sedum is supposed to be flowering now!

Buy the book HERE

Friday, 26 September 2014

New tenant ...

Woodland fairies in residence ...
Here's a fun idea if you have small children or grandchildren and want to convince them that fairies really do live at the end of the garden. My friend Julie spotted this recently while out walking her dog in local woodland and we both thought it was rather fun. No reason why you shouldn't replicate this in your garden - if you don't have a tree, you could always make something similar using a flower pot. Although you might want to locate it somewhere that your dog won't wee on it - and obviously you should make sure that there is nothing that could harm your pet.


Got your copy yet?
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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Pots to spare

Flower pot lady
With autumn here it's time to catch up on all those chores, such as refreshing hanging baskets and containers with new, winter hard plants - and emptying old pots of any spent compost and cleaning them ready for re-use next year. I always seem to end up with more pots than I can use though: last year I gave a lot of empties to Chiltern Open Air Museum, who used them to pot on things for their own use in the gardens there as well as for specimens they sell on their plant stall. There's a limit to the number of pots you can give away, but here's another idea for any surplus ones you may have, which we spotted at the museum!
What do you do with your extra pots? 
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Friday, 12 September 2014

Success!

Another sign of autumn being here - the annual garden show was held last week. All around the village you could hear the sound of busy bakers (the local shop briefly ran out of self raising flour and jam sugar at one point) while the allotment saw an unusually early contingent of gardeners descend on it to harvest fruit and veg entries ...

 I must have been doing something right as I was excited to find that I'd won prizes for my apples, plums, pears and cape gooseberries. It will be nice to be able to eat them at last - they have been kept aside on a sunny windowsill to ripen just in time for the show.
 And of course I now have a prize winning bowl of fruit in the kitchen!


Needless to say, Archie and Angel are not in the slightest bit impressed, and prefer not to get involved, but instead to supervise from a safe distance while soaking up a few rays of autumn sunshine from their beds by the garden window ...

Friday, 5 September 2014

More signs of autumn



Whippet o'clock
Another indication that autumn has arrived: Archie is happy to stay in bed longer in the mornings and no longer wakes me up at 5am with a determined prod from a cold wet nose and doing his greeting-the-sun dance. Time to start setting the alarm in the morning - whippet alarm clocks are very efficient during the summer, but less reliable in the winter!


We also had a very restless night last night before Archie felt safe to settle in his bed for the evening, due to the usual seasonal invasion of the house by spiders moving in from the cold garden outdoors. They seemed to have all targeted the bedroom, and in the end I had to go fetch the long-handled microfibre duster and remove the lot from the ceilings and tops of the walls where they had cosily made themselves at home. Archie sat and apprehensively watched, but once satisfied that the last of them had been banished at last settled in his bed for the night ... He's not keen on moths either. And tomorrow it is the annual village show where everyone competes with their allotment produce. It is an early start, so I must remember to look out the alarm clock!

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Thursday, 28 August 2014

Shades of autumn

Fashion notes:
What the well-dressed dog will be wearing this winter ...

Autumn appears to have started already: there is a definite nip in the air first thing and the other morning there was even a touch of frost and we crunched our way across crispy white rimed grass on the lawn. Archie and Angel didn't linger long over having their early morning wee that day, but hastily got on with doing the necessary and then hurried indoors. Soon it will be time for their nightime pjs, and they will demand warm jackets to wear before venturing outdoors. If you too have a fine coated dog, bear in mind that they do feel the chill and will appreciate an extra layer when outside. Not just thin coated dogs either, but often older dogs and youngsters too will be more susceptible to cold conditions, so you might like to think about wrapping them up too when temperatures drop.



In the meantime there is a lot to enjoy in the garden and on the allotment: the blueberry crop may be nearly finished but the leaves are now beginning to turn the most fantastic shades of red. Soon it will be the turn of the Stagshorn in the garden, which always produces a fabulous display of orange and red feathery foliage - at the moment the deep red fruits look wonderful.




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Friday, 22 August 2014

Worth waiting for

Although you can achieve instant results with bedding plants and ready-made planted up pots and hanging baskets - and even large specimens of shrubs and trees - the most satisfying results which give the most pleasure are more often the ones that you have worked for yourself. (And usually much cheaper too.) A bit of patience in the garden always helps as it can take a bit of time for the results to appear, of course.
Once established, some of those pleasures worth waiting for become seasonal ones, and worth every moment - as in this pic of my friend Julie's apple tree. She planted the climbing rose many years ago and it has thrived and grown and from the initial few flowers on a spindly stem when it was first installed, every year now converts the tree into this glorious mass of blossom.


Also worth waiting for have been the pears on my allotment. One tree has done well every year, but although the other one has grown splendidly, has produced only a handful of fruits each year - and last year the four pears that had appeared disappeared overnight as they approached ripeness. But this year it has been covered with fruit; there have been plenty of windfalls that I've poached with ginger and which taste wonderful. There are even enough that some time over the weekend I shall be experimenting with pear and lemon jam ...
Less patient are the wippitty ones. Left to their own devices, Archie and Angel will harvest every single alpine strawberry, even if it isn't yet ripe. They will also yaffle every blackberry they come across out on walks - but although a little fruit is fine, be careful your dog doesn't overdo things as overindulgence can lead to an upset tum. Some fruits can also be potentially dangerous - greedy dogs that eat plum stones as well as the plum itself, for example, can end up causing blockages in the gut if the stones don't pass through.
Another hazard at this time of year is, of course, that of sugar-hungry wasps attracted to windfalls along with your dog. Just in case your dog does get stung, keep a supply of homeopathic Apis mel on hand plus dog-suitable antihistamines from the vet, and an icepack ready in the fridge. And if he gets stung in the mouth or throat and swelling begins to make breathing difficult for him, treat it as an emergency and get him to the vet as quickly as possible.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Feeling jammy


Cooling down with a
frozen yogurt-filled Kong!

It is raining today - a relief after so much hot and dry weather. Although Archie and Angel love to sunbathe, even they have found it a bit excessive at times recently! Indoors I try to create a nice cool haven for all of us, with a fan, drawn curtains and a cooling mat bought last year from Mekuti ... but no need of all that today as it is also noticeably cooler. Dare I say it - it feels like there is a real autumnal nip in the air! 
Angel daringly rests a toe on the cooling pad ...









Add a soft fleece for the right degree of luxury, and it's perfect!














Strawberry thief at work!
Why wait for handouts when there are alpine
strawberries in the garden for the taking?
The dry spell has also meant that the grass has not grown as quickly as usual, and it has been nice to be able to take a bit of a break from the chore of mowing, particularly as there have been other seasonal tasks to crack on with - mainly trying to keep up with harvesting produce from the allotment. It has been lovely to have fresh fruit to add to my breakfast cereal each morning - I've worked my way through raspberries, strawberries and am now onto blueberries. Naturally the dogs hang around in the kitchen awaiting their share of fruit handouts! Later in the year there will be the delights of home made jam to spread on hot toast: it really is a taste of summer at a time when sunshine is scarce and warm days but a memory, and of course makes a wonderful gift for friends come Christmas time. I have also tried making a cordial this year, and it is not only very simple to do, but delicious, making a wonderful non-alcoholic drink when mixed with sparkling water, but great poured over ice cream, or added to white wine, champagne or Cava to make a kir. If you are thinking of making your own, the secret is to make a separate syrup, and to add it to the cooked unsweetened fruit juice when it has cooled, otherwise you run the risk of it setting and turning into jelly instead. It also freezes well, and if you have the foresight to freeze it as ice cubes, is perfect to toss into white wine you forgot to cool ...   
Frozen fruit being made into jam last winter ...
Recently though, it has been far too hot to even think about slaving away over a hot stove making jam, so all the fruit has been put in the freezer to await cooler days to convert into preserves. Oh dear. I suppose that means days like today ...  



And the results ...

Not to mention the courgette soup with cheese melted in ...



Friday, 8 August 2014

Thinking about it ...

Although there are many websites with lists of plants which are dog-friendly and those which are toxic, the best I have found at the moment is the one on the ASPCA website. Mainly because it actually has photographs of a lot of the plants, which is helpful in identification.
The trouble is that it is far from perfect - as are some of the other non-illustrated lists - because there is confusion over many of the names and some are wrongly identified. So I was thinking about creating a website myself, with photographs and hopefully, slightly more reliable identifications. What do you think? Would you find it a helpful resource?
If I go ahead and do it, it will be during the winter when I am less busy with the garden and allotment!

In the meantime, here's a quick and easy way to provide a bit of fun and entertainment for your dog out in the garden (or indoors if it's rainy!) while you are busy weeding, hoeing or simply relaxing.  Simply place a treat inside the cardboard centre of a toilet roll, fold it up tightly and give to your dog!

video


Thursday, 31 July 2014

Lazy gardening

Californian poppies





The weather has been so hot recently that it hasn't really been conducive to doing anything much in the garden other than seeking a bit of shade in which to loll around in ...



Pot marigolds amongst the
alpine strawberries
round the olive tree







But it's nice to have an excuse to take it easy and let things slip a bit. There'll be plenty of time when things cool down again to catch up. And I'm all for a bit of lazy gardening. I allow the edges of the lawn to grow long by the fence rather than trimming them after mowing - it provides a bit of long grass for the dogs to munch on and a bit of shelter for the frogs. And I don't get too ruthless with some of the weeding either as I love the way many of my plants self-seed and spread. As a result of this I'm enjoying a lovely show of nasturtiums at the end of the garden (as is Angel, who enjoys nibbling at the odd leaf or two) and Californian poppies round the base of the washing line (improves it's looks no end) and next to the bird baths. There are also pot marigolds, and earlier in the year there were lovely drifts of blue forget-me-knots. And a couple of Evening Primroses have sprung up through cracks in the patio next to the wooden bench seat. The scent on a warm summer's evening as I sit out there with the dogs enjoying the sunset is sublime.


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