Sunday, 6 December 2015

Trees ....

With winter settling in, this blog, like the garden and allotment (and by all appearances Archie and Angel who are only too happy to spend extra sofa time snuggling under fleeces) will be enjoying a period of restful dormancy until the Spring. I'll still be popping posts on the Dog Friendly Gardening Facebook page, so do please join us over there - as usual, if I do post a blog, it will be flagged up there anyway. I'm planning on catching up with a bit of maintenance on the allotment such as hedgetrimming and rebuilding the sagging walls on one side of the compost heap, but otherwise I'm getting a lot of enjoyment from looking at the trees all around. As well as convenient places for dogs to post their pee-mail, they have an ever changing beauty all year round and in winter, their architecture is ratcheted up another gear on those mornings when each bough, branch and twig is delineated by frost or snow.
Yes, I'm fond of trees ... and as well as admiring those in the area, I'm looking forward to reading a  recent buy, spotted in the gift shop during a recent visit to Chiltern Open Air Museum, "Special Trees & Woods of the Chilterns", written by locals and inspired by Thomas Pakenham's fabulous book, "Meetings with Remarkable Trees" Winter is after all, a wonderful time for a bit of armchair gardening, catching up on some of that reading you've been promising yourself. If you haven't yet got a copy yourself  or want a gift for a dog owning friend there is also "Dog Friendly Gardening" - all profits are donated to charitable causes.
In the meantime, we all wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Plenty to look at!

A lot of the leaves have fallen around here (most of them into my garden, I could swear) but there is a real beauty to trees when they are 'naked' too, just as much as when clothed in spring green leaves or the glorious autumnal show of colours we have been treated to this year. When it gets frostier and possibly snowy, and each bough, branch and twig is delicately outlined in white they become even more beautiful to look at. And looking more closely there is always something of interest - whether you are a fan of spiders or not, their webs are a thing of beauty as well as awesome construction. And after a dewy start to the day, making a whole array gorgeous, glittering beaded decorations - who needs flowers?

And of course, your dogs will be the ultimate decorative touch, 
the perfect enhancement for any garden!

Friday, 6 November 2015

Spot the poo

Here's a fun new game to play along the lines of 'Where's Wally?'
It's called 'Spot the Poo'.
It's also an object lesson in picking up the poo the moment you see your dog doing it - because you can bet that the moment you take yours eyes off it for a second at this time of year (as I did because I had to go fetch some baggies from indoors - normally all the pockets in all my clothes are stuffed with them, but naturally, on this occasion I'd run out) it will perfectly camouflage itself amongst the fallen leaves.
And if I fail to find it, then you can also bet that as I potter about tidying up the beds ready for winter, I will of course step straight in it.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Seeds - everywhere!

A dry day and I've been rushing round collecting seeds which are now reposing in bags and boxes around the house to finish drying before I store them away ready for sowing next year. Some will also be given as small Christmas presents to friends - pop them inside a small jar which you have decorated with glass paints, tie a label with a piece of pretty ribbon round its neck and voila! a gift which even Kirstie Allsop wouldn't sniff at.
As well as seeds on the allotment and garden, Archie and Angel have also been doing their own fair share of seed collecting while out on walks - and amazing just how many they pick up considering how short and close their single coats are. They still manage to get a few cleaver burrs stuck to them, and sometimes bigger ones between foot pads. Archie also seems to get beech mast wedged in there too, hopping along most uncomfortably until I spot the problem and remove it for him. When it is chilly enough for them to wear their fleece coats, even more seeds and burrs get stuck to them, and the other day I discovered that Angel had even managed to get a dozen or so burrs firmly stuck to the inside of her jacket, where they must have itched like anything. So do check your dog carefully after walks, especially if he has longer fur, as it doesn't take long for the hairs to mat up into a knot which can only be removed with scissors!
Here we go gathering .... er... burrs in October ....

Monday, 19 October 2015

Beware ...

Apologies if posts are a bit erratic at the moment - apart from it being a busy time of year trying to tidy up in the garden and allotment before winter sets in, I've been busy - assisted by office assistants and head gardeners Archie and Angel - promoting Haunting Hounds (about which I blogged last week) and trying to get a bunch of papier mache hounds finished and posted off to their new owners. They are being auctioned in aid of Kim's Home, a terrific cause ... you can find out more on Facebook or the website HERE

On the gardening front, lots of fungi have been popping up - I've spotted a lot while out on walks. They are fascinating to look at and rather beautiful in their own way, but bear in mind they can be just as lethal as many garden plants should your dog nibble on them experimentally. Some dogs will try anything ... and very sadly this was illustrated by a post of Facebook earlier this week about Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's Pug Brutus who sadly died following this ... You can read the full post HERE

 It is a real tragedy and our hearts go out to them. It is impossible to keep an eye on your dog for 100% of the time, but this is a very timely reminder to try and minimise hazards by checking yards and gardens for potential hazards on a daily basis - fungi can pop up overnight.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Come and join in!

A slight deviation from gardening this week - I'm busy promoting Haunting Hounds
over the Halloween period as 50% of all profits are donated to Kim's Home - a worthy cause close to my heart.

Haunting Hounds
It is available from Amazon both as an ebook at £2.99 and as a paperback at £6.99 and is, of course suitable for all-year-round reading as well as at Halloween!

You can find out more about the book at its' website

and about Kim's Home

You can also join the fun on their Facebook pages:

Friday, 9 October 2015

A garden visitor

A visitor has taken up residence in the front porch.
Any ideas what sort of caterpillar this is?
Not great pics I'm afraid: my camera is rather basic.
As well as being fuzzy, he has a rather distinctive purple plume on (I assume) his head.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Autumn colour

Well as I remarked in a previous post it's definitely autumnal now - and the foliage is looking stunning this year. I'm not entirely sure I don't love it more than the gaudy spring and summer flowers: one thing's certain, it's definitely putting on a show ... 

With the weather so mellow at the moment, Archie and Angel are enjoying being able to spend more time outside too ... I was lucky enough to interview the lovely Carol Klein recently, and as she remarked, dogs are the perfect gardening companions.

Sunday, 20 September 2015


Autumn is definitely here - leaves are beginning to change colour, the days are noticeably growing shorter, there is a chill in the air in the mornings and there are spiders everywhere you look! On the plus side, the hedgerows are full of blackberries, to Angel's delight and I am overwhelmed by a glut of plums - so much so that I have resorted to making plum gin, vodka and brum (a mix of rum and brandy) It is one way of using up old spirits I suppose! And of course, much easier than making jam ...

Harvesting the hedges!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Strange fruit

Another blog in haste - busy harvesting fruit on the allotment in between showers, and then prepping it for jam or freezing in between the sunny spells!
There are currently a lot of wasps in the garden too - a little while ago my Waspinator blew down and shredded itself and I didn't get around to replacing it. No point, I thought - the summer is nearly over ... silly me. The Waspinator usually does a sterling job and I only ever see the occasional solitary wasp passing through: the other day while doing a little digging I suddenly found myself surrounded by a cloud of them. Since then they appear to have taken up residence round the willow tree and the topiary box next to it, swarming all over them and the ground at the foot of them is alive with crawling black and yellow bodies ... Some are absolutely huge. Normally I try to be as organic and eco-friendly as possible, but I really can't have wasps moving in to the garden because of the dogs - whenever Archie gets stung he blows up something horrible. I always make sure that when we go for a walk I have Apis mel. and anti histamine tablets with me ever since he somehow managed to tread on a bee on what should have been a relaxing stroll ...  Calling in the wasp man from the council is out of the question as they just bombard with chemicals, which I don't want to expose my dogs to either.
So following suggestions from the Friendly Gardeners on Facebook, the tree is now festooned with brown paper bags stuffed with newspaper, and wasp catchers, while the remaining Waspinator is hung from the nearby apple tree, Strange fruit indeed. Lets hope it works!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Going to seed

Time to save some seeds - I've been collecting them from nasturtiums and sweet peas this week, to keep for sowing next year, and am about to collect the seed heads from the evening primroses so I can have a few where I want them., as well as the random ones that always spring up ...
There have been some not so good seeds around too: at times this year it has felt a bit like we've been playing Grass Seed Russian Roulette ... Archie has had them in his ear on several occasions before now, despite trying to keep him away from grassy verges. The last time was particularly horrid as it ended up on his eardrum and he ended up with it being ruptured and on ab's and a lot of pain for some time. And then on Friday he got not one, but two in an eye while out on a walk, after succeeding in juggling his tennis ball right into a grassy verge. I succeeded in floating one out - I always carry water with me - but the other one disappeared  into the corner of his eye and disappeared. We cut our walk short and went home, where he was dosed up with homeopathic Silica ... an hour later, just as I was thinking we might have to go the vet to ask them to flush it out, it made an appearance in the corner of his eye and this time I was able to successfully remove it. Nasty things, grass seeds, whether stuck in paws or anywhere else - they can also get up noses, and into eyes. If removing one, check carefully to make sure the pointy ends are still there. I was amazed at just how sharp this seed was two hours after getting into Archie's eye - it hadn't softened at all, as you might have imagined it would.
What has this got to do with dog friendly gardening? If you leave your lawn edges tufty, as I do, for your dogs to graze on, do trim back the tops when they start to seed - and avoid ornamental grasses unless you trim the decorative seed heads off ... no point in trying to avoid them on walks if they are infesting your garden!
The culprit ...

Monday, 17 August 2015

The allotment floweth over ...

A brief lull between fruit and veg harvesting to tidy the compost heap.
And to plan a bit of  rebuilding later in the year ...

It's all go on the allotment at the moment - just about to embark on the blackberry, damsons, plums, apples and pears picking season - the blueberries are in full flow and have done exceptionally well this year. Much to Archie and Angel's delight, as they love blueberries almost as much as strawberries - I started with one in a pot in the back garden but moved it to the allotment when it became clear that otherwise it was going to be a race every morning between me and the dogs to get t the ripe berries first. It has been joined by 5 other bushes since then ... but when I arrive home with the harvest each day I get mugged at the door for a sample!
One of the quality controllers checking out the goosegogs earlier this year

Saturday, 8 August 2015

So that's how you do it ...

At the allotment first thing this morning and then off to Chiltern Open Air Museum for a walk with Archie and Angel before it got too hot. It was Viking weekend there and we found a Vikingess who wove her own lovely willow baskets. She had a whole load more with her, ready to use ... and so I learned that the lengths of willow that I didn't use earlier in the year after cutting it, and which has been propped in a bundle awaiting its fate is still usable ... simply soak it first to restore its pliability. A day per foot of length apparently.
So now you know too!
Vikings camping out

All set for willow weaving

Sunday, 2 August 2015

A fine crop ...

... of caterpillars!
Too numerous to count - but not a surprise [perhaps in view of the vast number of butterflies I've seen so far this summer. Lots more moths than usual too, leading to many bedtime chases as Archie will not settle if one is flapping round the room. The bats are back again too - one was dancing all round my head the other evening out in the garden: it was a real delight. Does anyone know of good bat boxes so I can buy a couple to put up? All the ones I have found so far have been smooth, finished wood, and bats apparently prefer it to be rough and unfinished so they can get a grip on it with their little bat feet :-)
Anyway, here is a picture of that caterpillar crop ...

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Another quick one!

Another brief post as the allotment is going at full throttle at the moment and when I'm not picking black and redcurrants, jostaberries, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries I'm prepping them for the freeezer ... Archie and Angel always greet me at the door, ready to enthusiastically sample anything left at nose level.
Some is frozen whole, some stewed ready for pies, Eve's puddings and crumbles, and I've just made a half dozen Summer puddings: later in the year when things have calmed down a bit I'll retrieve some of the frozen fruit to make jams and jellies at a more leisurely pace.
In the meantime here's a picture of a butterfly: I haven't seen so many around for years, but they are everywhere - although I have seen very few Cabbage Whites this year ...

Friday, 17 July 2015


The joy of a sharp pair of secateurs . . .

The sorrow when you realise you have lost them somewhere on the allotment, probably perfectly camouflaged by piles of clippings, and probably gone forever (or at least until they have rusted solid) . . .

The joy when you are reunited with them after only a brief search!

Apologies for the brief post. The allotment calls!

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Monty Don, depression and photo calls ...

A couple of weeks ago, Monty Don commented on TV's Gardener's World that gardening helped him combat his well-publicised battle with depression. Studies agree with this - and that gardening is a great stress-buster for everyone, whether you suffer from depression or not. While doing a bit of additional research for my current series of dog friendly gardening articles for Your Dog magazine I found this little snippet::

"A recent study in the Netherlands suggests that gardening can fight stress even better than other relaxing leisure activities. After completing a stressful task, two groups of people were instructed to either read indoors or to garden for 30 minutes. Afterward, the group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the reading group, and they also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

In a study conducted in Norway, people who had been diagnosed with depression, persistent low mood, or bipolar disorder spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables. After three months, half of the participants had experienced a measurable improvement in their depression symptoms. What's more, their mood continued to be better three months after the gardening program ended."

Such ideas are fairly well documented, so it probably isn't news to many of you. But in the programme, Monty went on to say that he preferred not to wear gardening gloves as he always felt better not just for gardening, but for actually getting his fingers into the soil itself. So it was lovely to then read on that the researchers conducting the study went further, suggesting that
while the novelty of gardening may have been enough to jolt some of the participants out of their doldrums, there might be a more radical explanation for how gardening might ease depression: 

"Christopher Lowry, Ph.D., an assistant professor of integrative physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has been injecting mice with Mycobacterium vaccae, a harmless bacteria commonly found in soil, and has found that they increase the release and metabolism of serotonin in parts of the brain that control cognitive function and mood—much like serotonin-boosting antidepressant drugs do."
The Head Gardeners posing with Monty Don
(Well, we did invite him for a photo call.
Not our fault if he didn't turn up!)

If that isn't enough to get you out gardening like mad (and could it be that dogs who like to dig in fact know something that we don't?) there is also research supporting the theory that the
physical activity associated with gardening can help lower the risk of developing dementia.
Two separate studies which followed people in their 60s and 70s for up to 16 years found that those who gardened regularly had a 36% and 47% lower risk of dementia than non-gardeners, even when a range of other health factors were taken into account. 

So we know that dogs are good for you, and that gardening is good for you - so what could be better than putting the two together? 

Friday, 3 July 2015

When it's too hot ...

I'm not really a hot weather person: I much prefer cooler Spring and Autumn to boiling summer months. And so much time is spent dashing around watering when I'd rather be doing other things ... on the plus side, I have been enjoying the first cherries, and the alpine strawberries have never been so productive (to the joy of Archie and Angel) ... and the grass isn't growing quite so fast in this weather, so at least there is less mowing to keep up with.

There are other pleasures as well in the dog-friendly gardening, top of the list of which in this current heatwave, is doggy icecream. It's easy enough to make - simply add mashed banana to some low fat yogurt, spoon it into a couple of mini yogurt pots and pop them in the freezer. When they're frozen, simply turn out of the yogurt pots and serve! If you want to make them last longer, try putting it into a Kong instead and freezing it - block the small hole first with a dab of cream cheese or peanut butter to stop the filling leaking out before it has frozen.

Getting your tongue right down to the end takes concentration ...

Saturday, 27 June 2015

A mystery!

I really need to get out and mow the lawn ... so while I get on with it, instead of a written post, let me offer you a mystery instead. I went to take down a bird fat feeder and inside was a snail shell. No occupant. And the shell was huge - too big to fit between the bars or through the hole at the bottom. Maybe it slithered in as a smaller snail and decided to stay: but in that case what on earth had it been living on to grow to that size, where it couldn't escape?
There's been nothing in that feeder for a year ...

Sunday, 21 June 2015

In haste ...

In haste this week as I'm supposed to be finishing writing an article for Your Dog magazine - So I'll post instead a picture of one of my dog-friendly favourites - Sempervivums. Thrive on neglect, look lovely all year round and during the summer these lovely flowers appear on triffid-like stems. Love them. These pics really don't do them justice - one day I'll learn how to take a decent shot!

Friday, 12 June 2015

A Thing of Beauty

The shed roof is finally finished, thanks to Bill the Builder, who also added new soffits and finials and replumbed the water butt to a more convenient place and then repaired the floor to the other shed as well. My contribution was to apply a bit of weatherproofing to the wooden bits, which took up most of the weekend. Anyway, three coats of Ronseal later and I was rather pleased with the final result. 
I fetched the camera to take a photo of it for posterity. 
The only thing that could make it look more beautiful, I thought, would be the addition of a couple of whippets in the snap. 
I looked round for them. Silly me .. they were far too busy harvesting the alpine strawberries to be interested in posing next to a garden shed!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Covering up

There comes a point where you just have to face the fact that you aren't going to get round
to sorting out some projects within a reasonable amount of time.
I was a bit embarrassed when I realised that the tarpaulin thrown hastily over the shed
roof when a leak was discovered had actually been there for over a year and a half.

On the plus side, the neighbourhood cats didn't seem to like walking on it let alone
doing any sunbathing. On the minus side, that leak wasn't getting fixed ... and after a while that blue tarp does become a bit of an eyesore.

What to do? Well I realised that realistically, even if I found the time to fix the
problem, I probably wasn't going to do a great job of it - more likely an
enthusiastic bodge which might be okay in the short term but was unlikely to last.
So, dear reader, I called in Bill (no relation to Bob) the Builder.
Archie and Angel agreed not to eat him on condition he shared his
slice of cake during a tea break,
They are still waiting for him to keep his side of the bargain.

He has done a brilliant job of fitting a corrugated roof - love those silvery stud thingys.
Looks like a very butch roof now.

In fact the only thing that could make it look even nicer is the addition of two whippets ...

Friday, 5 June 2015

Another first

Full of firsts at the moment - this week it's the first gooseberries.
Archie has quality checked them and pronounced them
perfect for crumble.
So please excuse the brevity of this week's blog  - I have some topping and tailing to do!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

First of the season!

Not the first strawberries, but the first time this year that there 
has been more than one ripe one - which is quite hard
to divide between three!

Forget sugar and cream.
Best eaten freshly picked straight from the plants ...

It is well worth growing a few alpine strawberries - they'll grow in a pot, 
in hanging baskets, in crevices in the patio even, and they are hugely rewarding. 
They go on cropping month after month - right into November last year
in their sheltered spot by the back door.
And a handful is perfect for breakfast, scattered over cereal or with some yogurt
- as well as being a handy treat I can give the dogs while out in the garden.
I just have to keep an eye on them that they
don't sneak over and stuff themselves and give themselves upset tums.

Friday, 22 May 2015

A new toy

Archie found a new toy in the garden the other day,
and pounced on it with glee.

It wasn't really a toy - it was the Waspinator, which had blown down during the night.
It hadn't even been particularly windy, but nevertheless the fabric loop 
it was tied by had torn off.
It is my one complaint about them - they seem to do a good job of discouraging wasps from setting up home, and are perfect when you are trying to be as chemical-free as possible, both for the benefit of wildlife and safety of the dogs.
But they are ridiculously fragile - they never last a whole season and tear as soon as you so much as breathe on them. Okay so you can buy two for a tenner - but when you have to keep on spending a tenner each and every year, it starts to become irksome. And having to get the long ladder out to hang it up is a pain too, when you have other garden tasks planned. 
Would it really be so difficult to produce a more robust version?
Come on, Waspinator, we're sure you could do it!

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Another encore

It's happened again ...
Every year I decide to chop down the ceanothus in the
front garden which has flopped to one side and now
makes it difficult to mow underneath ...

... and every year it goes and does this ...
The picture really doesn't do it justice ...
It is the most intense, eye-watering blue and the bees
adore it. They swarm all over it, working busily - everywhere you look there are bees 
and more bees - from a short distance away where you can't see them, you can
hear the humming sound they make.
A happy bee chorus? 
Or a less scary version of the Singing Ringing Tree?
It has once again got a reprieve - how could I ever have
thought of getting rid of it, even if I had planned to replace it with
another, better trained one.
It is simply glorious and I'm loving it. 

After a couple of days of glorious weather - yesterday was positively hot
work on the allotment - today we have been promised rain all day.
I'm quite pleased as I have lots of indoor stuff to get on with - such as working on the Your Dog gardening series - plus it will soften up the ground nicely - I still have another bed to dig over ready for the leeks. 
Archie and Angel are less thrilled.
Sunbathing by a radiator just isn't as good as the real thing.
Good thing doggy TV is switched on - rain never puts the pigeons off, so there's always something to watch in the garden outside whilst staying warm and dry indoors.

Saturday, 9 May 2015


I opened the front door the other day to find ants running round everywhere in the porch and beginning to venture into the house ... I wasn't thrilled as I'm not a fan of ants. Apart from hurting when they bite, I'm always baffled by gardening books which declare that they aren't a problem in the garden and won't hurt plants. Well they may not actually chomp their way through them like slugs and snails, that's true, but I've lost plenty of plants in the past due to them setting up home in and around the roots of them ... Happily they don't seem to be much of a problem out there these days, so I wasn't especially pleased to see a return of them. I didn't want to resort to anything chemical and locating the nest and pouring boiling water over it seems as barbaric as boiling lobsters. Everything has a place in the system, even if we aren't always aware of it's role anyway, so I preferred to encourage them to relocate rather than to actually kill them off. Enter the solution - a tube of toothpaste. I smeared a bit on a finger and rubbed it along the door lintel and watched. Ants encountering it turned back immediately, making no attempt to cross it. I worked more toothpaste into the area, creating a barrier into the house at any rate: it was a sunny day and before long the whole porch was filled with the smell of freshmint toothpaste.
I went out for a walk with the dogs and when I came back found that ant movement was greatly reduced and next day there were only a few to be seen scuttling around. The toothpaste appeared to have done the trick, but just for good measure I mixed a few drops of rosemary and lavender essential oil and used a cotton bud to smear it across the wooden lintel. The next day - no ants in evidence at all. Job done, and without endangering wildlife or Archie and Angel with any chemicals, or any death involved. Oh - and very cheap too ... Next time I find an ants nest in the garden I shall simply bury small pots with dabs of minty toothpaste in them and watch them packing their bags ...

PS I'm told that lemon or white vinegar is also an effective deterrent!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Flower power

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough ..."

In fact everything is hung with bloom - this is an ornamental cherry by the garden back door - but the cherry tree on my allotment plot was an even more stunning sight: unfortunately I kept forgetting to take the camera along to capture it in all its glory ... The apple and pear trees have also bust out all over too and as with the cherry are as much of a delight to look at for themselves as much as for the promise of fruit to come later in the year. The alpine strawberries in the back garden are also flowering, and Archie and Angel have been rather optimistically making a point of starting to regularly check them - but it will be a little while yet before I have to make sure they don't pig out on the fruit!

Apologies for missing the weekend post - but being a Bank Holiday weekend and all I was rather busy trying to catch up on garden chores and finally getting the last of the spuds in. That's the good news: the bad is that after defrosting and cleaning the freezer in the shed ready for this year's produce, I moved it to sweep behind it and found that the floor at the very back had rotted and given way. Anyone know of a good shed repair man?

Friday, 24 April 2015

The long and the short of it ...

Another brief post this week - but you'll probably know the feeling! Everything seems to be happening at once - flowers bursting into bloom everywhere: as the dazzling yellow of the forsythia begins to fade, the ceanothus just below it is poised on the brink of exploding into its usual show-stopping intense blue display. The bees love it and happily hum busily all over it ... in my Mum's border the daffs may be fading, but the aubretia is spilling in red and lilac swathes over the edges, the wallflowers are in full fig and the violas planted in a container last autumn are getting their second wind ... Weeds are also popping up everywhere and I'm making the most of the current sunny weather to keep dug beds on the allotment well hoed ... the grass has been growing fast too. Of all the jobs in the garden, mowing is my least favourite: I've already given the back lawn three trims, and the allotment has had one and a half. The half because I ran out of petrol before I'd finished - so there's another job for tomorrow. Archie and Angel have been enjoying spending more time out in the sun:
mowing the lawn is also their least favourite chore because I shut them indoors while getting on with for the safety of all concerned. Weeding might be tedious but they get to be outside with me while I'm getting on with it and are always happy to divert me if things look like getting too boring!

Archie checks out the obelisk I made from willow prunings