Writing an article about oneself seems a strange thing to do, and to be perfectly honest it is not something I am very comfortable with. But since I’ve been asked to do so on several occasions by more than one person, I feel I ought to comply.
So where to begin? My youngest daughter cheekily suggested this: ‘I was born in the olden days in the beautiful city of Coventry.’ Both statements are untrue. Sure, Coventry is where I spent my formative years, and where, on Easter Eve 1978, aged 14, I played the organ for my first church service. The church itself was like a lot of Coventry at that time: a rather brutal, brick-built edifice. It is no exaggeration to say that even then I wished for a more congenial setting, somewhere where there was a sense of the continuum of Christian worship.
As a teenager, I learned the cello and harpsichord and spent most of my waking hours dreaming about playing baroque music. After a classical education at school, I studied music at Oxford - where, it so happened, I first encountered a chap called Julian Elloway. (He bought a harpsichord from me in 1986 which he kept until very recently.)
Since leaving university I have done a number of things musically: taught the cello and piano, written a Ph D and other articles on Bach, founded and directed a baroque orchestra and, for more than thirty years, promoted professional concerts. I have played keyboard instruments for a number of orchestras including the BBC NOW, CBSO and Philharmonia, and broadcast on radio and television.
Cheltenham is where I live with my wife Rachel, and three ‘grown-up’ children: Lois (23) who is at Tübingen University, Germany; Henry (21) who is completing his degree in Maths at Oxford; and Sophie (16) who is doing her lGCSEs currently. My spare-time activities include wild camping, cooking, building and plastering, making musical instruments, brewing (and drinking) beer and oil painting.
What else is there to say? In the short time I have been playing at Minchinhampton I have found the church community wonderfully welcoming for which I am very grateful. It is an absolute delight to play the organ there. And, yes, the setting is more than congenial: it is the kind of place that I dreamed of back in the 1970s.
There are two sightings missing from the 2019 garden bird list shown. A great spotted woodpecker and a mistle thrush should have been included, so the total was 32 over the year. However, there were some notable absentees: song thrush, green woodpecker and fieldfare, which we usually see. The siskin and owl were new to the list, and others have been seen regularly, but frustratingly, haven’t landed in the garden. Also, the waxwing I dream about has yet to become a reality.
The mistle thrush was spotted eating mistletoe berries on one of the crab apple trees, but had gone before I could point my camera.
In the garden, snowdrops may be divided once the flowers have finished as these recover and spread quickly if planted in the green. Stroud potato day is on Saturday 1st February, so time to start chitting. If the soil is not too wet, prepare your vegetable beds, and sow tomato, chilli and pepper seeds in a propagator or indoors.
Prune wisteria, cut back deciduous grasses and remove dead grass from evergreen grasses. Sow sweet pea seeds in a cold frame and pot up lily bulbs, dahlia tubers and cannas. Root cuttings can still be taken from Verbascum, Acanthus and Phlox. I tried a garlic spray on the Verbascum last year which seemed to dissuade the mullein caterpillars from turning it into lace. I’ll try it again this year, and on the Solomon’s seal.
Remove the old leaves from Hellebores and clear the beds to allow the spring flowers to be seen to best effect.
A new interstellar object in the form of a comet was discovered in August last year by Gennady Borisov, a Ukrainian astronomer. This object is in a hyperbolic orbit which means it will not be captured by the sun’s gravity and will not return. The first interstellar object to be detected was an asteroid, Oumuamua, which visited the solar system in 2017.
I’ve been drawing up my list for Santa. At the top is a polite request for a big bag of excuses, each to be drawn at random as the need arises. The first one covers the lack of tidiness in the flowerbeds, which is ‘to help overwintering wildlife’, but I’m struggling to find a satisfactory one for not clearing the pond during the autumn – too wet?,…too deep?....
However, the apple trees and vines have been pruned, and the roses will be next. The old hellebore leaves will be removed to allow the early spring flowers to be seen, and the same applies to any clumps of epimedium, whose delicate flowers are often covered by the last seasons’ leaves.
It’s early November, and the rain and wet ground is preventing some of the tender plants from being lifted and stored for the winter by this fair weather gardener. But between showers, I’ve managed to sweep up a few leaves and top up the bird feeders, and during the showers and long dark evenings, catch up on the odd book or magazine.
I came across an article about cloud pruning (Niwaki) of evergreen shrubs aimed at providing some structure to the garden during winter. This technique originated in Japan and has become more popular recently, offering a slightly alternative type of topiary. It can be very effective in producing elegant forms, and is best applied to small leaved varieties with interesting branch formations, such as box, yew, pine, Japanese holly, (ilex crenata) and Japanese privet, (Lingustrum Japonicum), amongst others.
Have you been fortunate enough to see – or hear - a hedgehog in your garden this year? When we moved to Gloucestershire over 20 years ago, we would often hear the noise of hedgehogs at night. Today, sadly, the hedgehogs no longer visit our garden and I wonder why? Hopefully, we will gain an insight into the problems faced by these remarkable creatures from John Crowther who will talk about ‘the Plight of the Hedgehog’ at our next meeting on Tuesday 17th December. We meet at 2.15 for a 2.30 pm start, at the Hub, Tobacconist Road and after the talk, we will enjoy some seasonal refreshments.
Whilst perched up a ladder with loppers, reducing the size of the crab apple tree, (pruning would imply some method or plan), a grey shape sped over my left shoulder and disappeared through the gap between the two holly trees in the hedge. I glimpsed it for less than half a second, swift, silent and stealthy, a sparrowhawk in hunting mode.
We also reduced the bay tree to a sensible size, and sorted the compost heaps. But had time for tea outside, making the most of the last warm days of summer at the end of September. A humming bird hawk moth was also making the most of the salvia flowers, which have recovered nicely from the dead-heading it received during August. Watching the moth delicately extract nectar from the flower, it’s clear that it doesn’t do much pollinating.
Many of the roses seemed to be infested with caterpillars this summer, which was unusual. And rather than spray, I had hoped that the birds might eat them, but no such luck. However, I expect they will enjoy the holly berries, which are looking great at the moment, but will be much thinner by Christmas.
With the winter on its way, it’s time to lift any tender plants and store them in a greenhouse or shed with some frost protection. Generally, it’s the combination of cold and wet that plants struggle with, so a cloche over those left outside would protect against the worst of the weather.
The pots of lilies have been emptied into a wheelbarrow to extract the bulbs and ensure they are clean from lily beetle grubs before repotting in fresh compost. Other tasks are to apply grease bands around the trunks of fruit trees, rake fallen leaves from the lawn and tidy the herbaceous border, though some dead stems could be left for over-wintering insects.
Dusk on the 28th November offers the interesting spectacle of Venus, Jupiter and a 2 day old moon in close alignment, but they will be close to the horizon, setting not long after the sun.
A flight of swallows was spotted on the telegraph wires down Well Hill earlier in September, preparing for their long journey south.
The ‘hot bed’ inspired by the one at RHS Rosemoor and established in the front garden a few years ago has done well this summer, with a range of dark leaved plants setting off the deep reds of dahlias, cannas and crocosmia Lucifer. Several varieties of day lilies together with persicaria, rudbeckia, burnet (sanguisorba), yellow bishop dahlias and a few grasses plus some ground cover make for a full bed with plenty of texture and interest. Lobelia was included in the original layout, but it hasn’t survived the sharp drainage and slugs. I’ll lift the dahlias and cannas before the first frosts and overwinter them in the garage in the tomato pots using the old compost that the toma- toes were grown in. The crocosmia will be thinned along with several herba- ceous perennials from the other beds which will be split.
The crab apple tree is bowed down almost to the grass with the weight of fruit, and it’s never looked so voluptuous, with its ripe, pink, chunky apples. I can eat only so much crab apple jelly, so the search is on for new recipes.
The sweet peas have also been excellent this year, giving us and the neigh- bours some beautiful blushes of fragrance. I do feed and water them regularly, and remove many side shoots and any old flower heads. I’ve also finally pruned back the vines, which had become very overgrown.
The main flower bed has also become somewhat overgrown during the summer, partly through us being away, so not keeping on top of dead-heading and cutting back, and partly because the plants have become too large, and are competing for space and light. Over the next month or two, many of these will be lifted, split and re-sited. The pond will also need attention this autumn, as the lilies are tending to completely cover the surface. Always a challenging task, as the roots become entangled in a single mass making it difficult to remove. Autumn is a time to enjoy the variety of fungi that may be around, though this bracket fungus photo was taken in April.
Harvest the products of your hard work over the year, and prepared hyacinths for Christmas flowering should be planted before the end of September.
The show schedules including entry forms are available around the town for the gardening club show on 14th September. Please note that nuts and nut products are not allowed in the school, so bear this in mind when preparing your exhibits.
A conjunction between the moon and Jupiter occurs on 6th September, and the autumn equinox is on 23rd September.
The Lady Chapel Altar’s journey to Paris and installation in an excellent new home.
|A precarious start!
||Mind the Wedding Dresses!
|It took seven builders to move it during the reordering
||This time it's 8 good men and true
Many of us, like me, used to await our school report with mixed feelings. However it is my experience that little consideration is handed out to those who write the reports. Different schools have different traditions about report writing and the advent of parents’ evenings, when parents meet their child’s teachers, has, to some extent, added to, but not devalued, reports.
At Sherborne, an all boys boarding school of 650 13 to 18 year olds, where I was Headmaster for 12 years, the tradition was that each boy would receive a termly written report from all those who taught them and these would then be passed on to the 9 Housemasters who would fill gaps and comment on the boy’s extra-curricular activities. In order to discourage mundane comments like “he could do better” and “reasonable progress has been made”, I used to run a competition that reflected the humour and possibilities of report writing. I posted about 10 anonymous extracts on the Common Room notice board and the first colleague to guess the correct author of each of these snippets received a bottle of wine.
I don’t think I’ve seen the Park and the common looking as splendid as it did this spring, with the buttercups, trees and sunshine providing a lovely setting. The main task for the next month or two is to enjoy the garden, or someone else’s. Take your time to smell the scents, listen to the birds and leaves, taste the produce and experience the colours and textures. Ignore the weeds for a few hours.
I came across a Camellia in the garden of a relative recently. She already has 2 plants, but this one appears to be a present from the birds, and has a fine columnar form with neat, prolific flowers, as in the photo. So I shall be looking to take a few cuttings next time I visit.
Last year’s tomatoes had evidence of both splitting and blossom end rot, which was probably due to the hot weather and the watering regime. The tomatoes are grown inpots, with fresh compost, so they tend to be generally pest and disease-free. The pots stand on gravel, and a tray under each pot may well help to maintain a more even level of humidity both in the pot and in the surrounding atmosphere, so I’ll give it a go.