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!