More Yarn Will Do The Trick

Friday, 20 May 2016

Around our Welsh garden in late May

Yay, we've finally made it to our Welsh retreat, something I've been dreaming of for nearly 18 months. Feels so good to be able to walk round the garden, despite the neuropathy -  I'm determined not to let it spoil my enjoyment. The cuckoo's calling and the house martins are swooping and swirling in the air, scooping up the dreaded midges, then back to their nest-building in the eaves. As Lionel, our previous owner, used to say It's God's own country - and that feels just about right. 
Lionel's namesake hosts a fine house leek hairdo!
Vic and Roy, who've been looking after everything while we've been gone, have done a good job. However, I can't help feeling that a garden seems to recognise the people who have built and nurtured it by springing to life and seemingly putting a smile on its face. It's as if it's waking up from a long sulk, and thankful that you're back, wants to make sure you don't abandon it again. 

There's much to be done here, in both the hard graft and the gentle pottering, so I won't be loitering for long, but just wanted to share with you some of the treasures around the garden. 

Before I do this though, I must tell you about the poor little black cat who's been holding our two cats siege ever since we got here four days ago.
Here she is strutting her stuff
She's a sweet wee thing but as she's on heat, she insists on cattawauling all night long, hoping to tempt one of our two neutered Toms. They in turn aren't at all interested and cower indoors wondering when she'll give up and go. P managed to entice her with some food into a cat box yesterday, then knocked on every door around the valley trying to find her owners. No takers though, one neighbour jokingly said they were pleased she'd moved on as she'd been driving them crazy the week before! 

So... we're not sure what to do with her - RSPCA is one option, but hesitate to do that as the nearest one is 10 miles away, and her family is probably more local. If we didn't come and go so much we'd be happy to keep her, but don't feel comfortable taking her back to York with us.
Django trying to ignore her creeping up on him from behind
OK, so down to business, here's a selection of the delights the garden had in store for us when we arrived. 
First thing I noticed was this beautiful herbaceous peony.

Then these two very different tree peonies caught my eye.

Next were all the camellias dotted around in variety, mainly white and red flowering now as it's the tail end of their season and the earlier pinks had finished.
Then the biggest surprise of all was the Rhododendron sinogrande, planted ten years ago in the front garden, which had never flowered once in all those years! Only two large blooms but they were definitely worth waiting for - never held much store by that old chestnut everything comes to those who wait. but certainly true of this tardy beauty.
Rhododendron sinogrande
Also good to see this Azalea "Blue Tit" in bloom, she's rarely been seen in such good heart 
Couldn't bear to leave out the fabulous hellebores. This really is the tail end, most are done now, but they all work so hard to liven up the garden throughout the barren months from February until they fizzle out in May
Then there's the garden drama queen, the ever gobsmacking Clematis montana, climbing and colonising wherever it's given free rein, wafting its heady almond scent around, especially on damp dewy days. We have four different ones...
This one has covered a large old birch which we pollarded as it was obstructing
the view from the house - sadly it took offence and never came back πŸ˜ͺ
This one grows outside the studio and I love its tetrarose deep pink
And finally this one grows over the end of the barn
I haven't forgotten I said four, but I didn't get around to photographing the other one. It clothes the oil tank and rambles down over the beech hedge - not so interesting but you get the picture πŸ˜Š

So now we've more or less covered all the show-offs, we come to the sweet surprises and volunteers popping up sometimes where you least expect them.
Like this aquilegia (grannie's bonnet) in the paving on the terrace,
with the sweet little Welsh poppy behind...
...or this Soloman's seal volumteer by the studio......
....or this gorgeous camassia, a relic of many planted years ago, which have all but
 disappeared - methinks providing a good supper for the field miceπŸ˜ͺ
These chrome yellow spurges place themselves thoughtfully in shady parts
...and this is one of my favourite euphorbias  - Fireglow. She certainly does just that and looks great against a dry stone wall. The jury's still out on the berberis behind - colour's fine, but not keen on the prickles
I'm always fascinated by nature's way of creating the most wondrous works of art,  often thinking why didn't I think of that.
Amazing to watch the fiddlehead ferns unfurling, pure joy with their spring green 
And guess what? On a free afternoon on one of our Irish knitting tours, Merry and Andrea went to the Dublin Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, and saw a sculpture in the fern garden inspired by the plants - awesome!
Dublin Botanic Gardens
© Marilyn Fenton
This potter wasp had been hard at work in the chimonea creating a nest for itself.
Just a perfect little pot!
I've probably told you before that this garden has many different parts and although I love to play with colour, texture and form in the more formal parts, the wilder reaches are also a joy. 
Like the little English bluebells in the part we refer to as the orchard. Wishful thinking, fact every attempt to grow fruit there has failed, whereas stooled willow and dogwoods thrive there. Lesson here - I must practise what I preach πŸ™‚
Then there's the bog garden. We're going to miss the spectacular show the irises put on in late May, but maybe you can get an idea of what I mean from this Vincent van Goch painting.
The bog garden with a lone iris in bloom in the foreground, skunk cabbage to the right
and the majestic, if rather triffid-like Gunnera manicata just waking up in the background
Looking the other way into a part of the garden where fruit is happier, there are several sweet chestnuts,
a walnut, a damson, an apple and a plum
And finally, we have several tumbledown stone walls, one of which we like to imagine was the home of pigs in days gone by, hence its name. The piggery's walls are now at waist height and have become the perfect hosts for succulents and small herbs.
London Pride and sedum enjoying the protection and warmth of the piggery walls
House leeks and thyme also love it between the stones here
That's just about it for now, phew! I hope you like the new header image. It's a cropped version of my friend Anna Oakland's portrait, painted many years ago when she was a neighbour in London. For more of her amazing artwork visit Annalou's website.
Here's the full picture
As I type the little cat is still calling. Our last hope is a friend in the next village who may know something, or perhaps even give her a home. I'll keep you posted. 

Latest bulletin on Lyra is that she's doing quite well and gaining weight on her NG tube, though no progress as yet on eating. The physio is pleased with her weight-bearing, although she's a long way from taking any steps. Her paediatrician thinks it's going to be a long haul of 3-6 months in hospital, but at least everyone feels the problem is being addressed and hoping this will put her on the road to a full recovery.

Thanks for dropping by, more anon x

Postscript on the little cat: We eventually found his family - hmmm, that's right, HIS family. He's so small we thought he was a female on heat, but he's actually Buzz, an un-neutered Tom. His behaviour was perplexing, growling and yowling all night long. We know now why our cats, being the wimps they are, were always cowering and trembling inside. Turns out he belongs to a family further down the valley who are there sporadically for long weekends, leaving him with a self-feeding system in their barn. We had actually found another home for him in the next valley with some friends, which would have been a better solution for us, but for the moment he's happily reunited with his first family. Unfortunately we think he'll be back every time we're here, as he's obviously lonely and quite happy to laud it over our gentle giants.  Sadly that doesn't suit our cats at all πŸ˜•

Friday, 6 May 2016


Sorry for the month-long absence. I do enjoy blogging but I've not felt up to it recently as I've been fretting over Lyra, our five-year-old grand-daughter, who has deteriorated over the past couple of months ending up in hospital two weeks ago. She was diagnosed with Pervasive Refusal Syndrome, a condition when a child stops eating, drinking, walking, talking and refuses personal care.
`Happy times

Lyra didn't fit the mold on all the above as she doesn't refuse all personal care and also only practises selective mutism, but it was thought that given time she would develop the full-blown syndrome.

It was very hard to see her being fed on a Nasal-Gastric tube in hospital, but fingers crossed it seems to be doing the trick and she's put a couple of kilos on and no longer looks skeletally thin and according to the nurses is now a bit of a chatterbox. She hasn't as yet attempted to walk but everyone is hopeful that this will follow on if she starts to eat regularly. In fact she's made such a phenominal recovery that the psychiatrist is saying he no longer thinks that the diagnosis is correct and the paediatrician is saying that they'll now just treat it as a set of symptoms.

P and I were hoping to go to Wales for the first time since I became ill, but sadly we both got a stomach bug, so we've been marooned here in York, trying to feel well and having to stay away from Lyra in case she caught it as then, as once before, she would vomit up the NG tube.                                    

However, she's in our thoughts much of the time, reminding me of the song I wrote for her a couple of years back, that's constantly playing in my head - it's called Walk Tall. It encapsulates everything I wish for Lyra, I've posted it before but here it is once again for those who missed it.


Walk tall, you can touch the stars in the sky
If you believe you can do it, you can climb the mountains high
Your tiny legs won’t fail you, they’ll keep you safe from harm
Walk tall, little one, walk tall and keep calm.

Run free, chase the wind around the trees
The world is full of wonder, just waiting for a key
Unlock the door and step on through, with feet as light as air
Run free, little one, and shed your woes and cares.

Your eyes will sparkle once again, your smile will light the room
Walk forward into happiness, the future’s there for you…
If you walk tall.

Step lightly through the rainbow, approach that pot of gold
Imagine some new stories like the fairy tales of old
Life’s mysteries and problems weigh heavy in your head
Step lightly, little one, and learn to trust instead.

Your eyes will sparkle once again, your smile will light the room
Walk forward into happiness, the future’s there for you…

… the future’s waiting for you if you walk tall.

P and I are beginning to feel better and more able to enjoy the garden that's practically burgeoning in front of our eyes right now. We're hoping that every passing day brings Lyra a few steps closer to full recovery.

Thanks for dropping by.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Around the garden in early April

It's been a busy couple of weeks recently, which is great as it helps distract from the rainy grey days. There have been a couple of glorious mornings though, like yesterday, when we've had coffee in the garden with friends and family, but generally there's been too much cowering indoors dodging the heavy rain and hailstones like marbles. Still it's good for the garden, although even that seems to have gone back into hibernation, going through a fallow period with not a lot happening. In an unusually fine half hour today I wandered around and took some pics to show you.
The black widow geranium or Geranium phaeum is one of my favourites, as it's the first cranesbill of the year and self-seeds tastefully, always finding plants that complement its understated beauty. 
This splendid looking Camellia williamsii 'Donation' has never looked so good before, she's a blaze of blooms and colour right now.

Camellia 'Black Lacel' is a new addition in the front garden and seems to like her shady spot.
The walled bellflower Campanula poscharskyana is another volunteer that's almost a nuisance. However, she's such a pretty little thing that I can't bear to pull her up. 

The hellebores are in full swing and associate really well with the tail  end of the hyacinths...
...which in previous years have been planted out after first flowering indoors. The hazy figure of the bruised and battered garden gnome was made by Felix many years ago. I must confess I'm not a gnome lover, although I would never knowingly harm one. However, he's had many knocks over the years, being accidentally dropped by successive well-meaning but clumsy children. I've become quite sentimental about him as he magically moves around the garden for the grandkids to find.
Neither am I a lover of the elephantine daffodils that are planted in many gardens, although I do love them inside during the cold January and February days. But outdoors I much prefer any of the smaller narcissi, like these delicate little TΓͺte Γ  TΓͺtes.
The last of the crocuses add a splash of much-needed colour. The birds have attacked all the others leaving them looking limp and defeated.
Django looking handsome under this scarlet amaryllis, nice contrast to his monotone palette πŸ˜‰
Wanted to show you this fossilised centre of one of last year's blooms on our Magnolia grandiflora. It was such a poor summer that by the time most of the buds had formed, the weather was too cold for them to open and the petals just rotted and fell off leaving this structure in the centre. I love the different textures - there must be a sweater design in there somewhere!
Work in progress
Another thing that's been happening in the past few days is that we've been having the French doors in the music room replaced. The previous doors were only single-glazed to half way down, but now we're getting the benefit of the new full-length, double-glazed doors, feeling warm and cosy whilst having a much better view of the garden.
Nearly done, almost there except for a couple of bolts
The cut down old doors
The top half of the original doors are a real bonus too. Cut down, they'll be great to use as frames for a couple of outdoor quadriptyches (now all we have to do is make them!). Watch this space..
Izzi's teeshirt
Ava's teeshirt
lyra's tiedyed teeshirt
And finally, just wanted to tell you about something I've had a lot of fun doing with the grandkids - ie I've rediscovered tie-dyeing. It's really interesting how a few elastic bands and some colourful dye can transform boring white teeshirts into unique designs.  I'm quite tempted to do one for myself! πŸ˜€

Thanks for dropping by x

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Dave Gregory

Dave Gregory was someone I was aware of for many years, but didn't really know. I used to wonder who the interesting-looking man with the big beard was when I'd see him walking into town along Bootham. Later, when I learnt he was a luthier, I took my guitars to him for set-ups and services. But I only got to know him a little better after I began to play guitar with Susie, his life partner, when we would practise round at theirs or ours. Usually he'd be beavering away in the workshop, but he would sometimes come in and ask if I'd like a cup of tea, or something stronger. Susie always said that he'd like to play with us, but didn't want to muscle in. I always thought what a great idea, as I instinctively knew he'd be a wonderful addition whatever he was playing. Sadly for me, because of one thing or another he never did get round to playing with us.
Dave with one of his mandolins
P and I were looking forward to seeing the two of them at our anniversary party. So you can imagine how shocked we were to find a note from Susie a couple of days before, saying they wouldn't be coming as Dave had died. I knew that his health had been up and down recently but never imagined for a moment that anything like this might happen. Sadly, he suffered a massive brain haemorrhage on the previous day and had died early that morning. Needless to say, our thoughts went immediately to Susie, and Peter, their son, and the rest of their family. At the same time though, I felt deeply affected by the news. I asked myself was it because I too had nearly died at precisely this time last year, and yet, here I was a year later.  Life is a lottery and nothing hammered this home more than the news of Dave's tragic and untimely demise. Life can be such a brute for many people, and there but for fortune go all of us.
The chapel at York Cemetery
I dropped Susie an email asking her to call in if she needed to talk or even just a change of scenery. I remembered from experience how lonely the time before a funeral can be. P and I were so pleased when Susie came round a few days later, as it's hard to know what to do to help when someone dies, especially as I'm not well enough yet to do practical things. Susie discussed the arrangements she'd been making for the funeral - a private cremation in the morning, a public celebration of Dave's life in the afternoon at York Cemetery, a magical, old Victorian non-denominational graveyard (one of only two in the UK), and culminating in a buffet and a few tunes in the Golden Ball, the community co-operative pub that Susie has a share in.

We decided we would aim to go to the celebration of Dave's life, but not the buffet at the Golden Ball as I'm good for nothing in the evenings and one event per day is as much as I can manage. So if anyone who went and has photos or something to add to this post, I'd be very pleased to insert it.

It was a lovely walk up to the chapel yesterday, with the daffodils, hellebores, euphorbias, primroses, pussy willows and several other spring flowers in bloom. Although the sky was grey, the verdant opulence of the ancient site more than compensated.
Spring flowers along the wayside on the walk up to the chapel
Some of the old gravestones, over time leaning away from the prevailing wind
Although we arrived a good fifteen minutes early, the chapel was already jam-packed, eventually being standing-room only with 200+ people. We managed to get a couple of the last seats and settled down with a friend to await the start of  proceedings.
Inside the chapel
Everyone had been asked to bring along any Gregory instruments they had, resulting in upwards of thirty on display at the front of the chapel. Pete Mitchell, an old friend of Dave's and partner in crime in Los Yobos and the Hot Not Bothered Ceilidh Band, did a great job as master of ceremonies. As the occasion was completely secular, the celibratory music was provided by The Lennanshees singing It Must Be Love and Mike Taverner, Gil Stapleton, Burt Sawdon sang and played Going Home, with an enthusiastic contribution from the congregation. The exit music was a selection of Dave's mandolin playing compiled by Pete Mitchell.
There were moving and sometimes amusing contributions from Susie, Peter, Dave's mum, and his sister, as well as many spontaneous recollections from the floor. It was truly a massive tribute to the man to experience the genuine and sizeable love and admiration that Dave inspired in so many people.
His spirit shines on through those twinkling eyes
Cut to the guitars. I couldn't begin to guess how many hours had gone into the making of all those beautiful instruments. Many things were said about Dave, but one of the most telling was the legacy he has left in the instruments he made. Dave Ashworth said that every time you pick up a Gregory instrument, it's like playing a duet with Dave, the point being that all of them have the unique Gregory sound that will live on as long as they're played. 

Of course, Peter also is a wonderful living legacy. I'd never met him before the funeral, when I couldn't help thinking what a handsome and confident son Susie and Dave had raised. Also Dave was an organ donor and his kidneys and liver are now keeping three other people alive. 

These photos give an idea of the craft and artistry of the man:
My concert ukulele sitting proudly on the left. Photo © Pete Mitchell
Photo © Pete Mitchell
Photo © Pete Mitchell

Photo © Pete Mitchell
When Dave heard I was ill and was too weak to play guitar, he sent his proto concert ukulele round with Susie bearing the message, please play it in and hang on to it as long as you need it. Although I'd never had any aspiration to play the ukulele, I took Dave's message to heart and indeed did play it every morning and it became an important part of my recovery over the following months. I looked forward to my sessions teaching myself the chords and learning a few songs to play with Susie. I grew very attached to it and asked Dave several times if I could buy it, always met with the advice that I'd be better buying one from the local music shop, Red Cow. When at last I did manage to persuade him to sell it to me, instead of singing its praises as any other maker might have done, telling me what a great instrument I was getting, no, Dave mumbled uncomfortably, Well I suppose you'll never find another uke with a lacewood back and sides!'
I'll remember Dave as a true master craftsman, but also as the modest and kind human being he undoubtedly was too. Just one other thing: On my final guitar session with Pete Mitchell before I got ill, he gave me the tab for Richard Thompson's Beeswing. I'd been working on it recently and on the morning of the funeral I woke up with a couple of lines from the chorus ringing in my ears. I remember thinking that if the song was about a man, it could easily be Dave - He was a rare thing, Fine as a bee's wing. And that, for me, says it all.