9 Aug 2010

Summer raindrops – precious jewels

Everywhere water is a thing of beauty gleaming in the dewdrop, singing in the summer rain. – John Ballantine Gough.

We just had a weekend away in the English Lake District, to try and get some fresh air, time under trees and some walking done. The weather forecast didn’t look very promising and after several weeks of very poor summer weather, we were resigned to donning waterproofs and just getting out there and making the best of it. As it happens, it didn’t turn out that badly and we only got damp.

To quote Billy Connolly, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing. So get yourself a sexy raincoat and live a little”. For many years I was a fair-weather walker – if truth be told, I didn’t really like walking that much, in any weather. I just didn’t enjoy the process and how it made me felt. I was perpetually struggling to keep up with my significantly fitter husband and unfit enough myself to make it uncomfortable, combined with joint problems that simply made it painful.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.

But I’ve recently had to embrace a more active way of life, in a deal I struck with the medical professionals that manage my diabetes. I was on medication that made me thoroughly miserable, but it was a necessary evil for my well being and future prospects. I finally mutinied at the end of 2009 and said I would have to look at alternative methods to manage my health, I didn’t feel there was much point in living longer if I was totally miserable, and largely housebound, in the process.

So I was prescribed some initial gym sessions and told that if I’d get fitter, lose a whole chunk of weight, I might be able to manage it better under my own steam without the medication – they’d give me 6 months to achieve that – but it would need work. I was going to trade pharmacological control for personal effort.

The sky above Thirlmere looked incredibly ominous and it was very dark, but thankfully the rain was light and gentle and nowhere near as bad as we anticipated.

So as 2010 has progressed, I’ve stuck religiously with the regular gym sessions, taking out membership once my initial prescribed sessions expired. I’ve recently been given a revised regime, as I’d simply progressed beyond the original plans. I’m just about on target for my weight loss plan for the year and am significantly fitter than I was as the New Year started.

So now walking isn’t a chore and I really don’t care about the weather any more. What’s the worst that will happen – I’ll get soaked, need to wash my hair and require a change of clothes? I feel significantly better than I did on the medication and know that my health has simply improved for the efforts I’ve so far made and my improved fitness. It was a win-win trade I made. They thought so too, they’ve allowed me to stick with this plan.

One of the factors that significantly helped me, was deciding to try walking with a pole – my joint problems and a recent back injury meant I was always a little nervous and tended to guard myself as I walked, meaning that I never truly relaxed when walking on uneven ground, or got up a decent pace and was reluctant to try more challenging paths. I had the idea that being a tad clumsy already, adding a pole into the mix, along with the camera I always carry was just going to be asking for trouble, I would either end up covered in bruises, or more likely, my walking partner would. Or else I’d trip one or both of us up with it and end up with it confiscated on the grounds of safety.

But it simply didn’t prove to be the case. I took to using it much more easily than I expected and now wouldn’t set off without it. I’ve taken on steep paths that would have felt insurmountable a year ago and I can now walk faster and with much greater confidence than I ever have before. Such a simple change has been responsible for a massive improvement in both what I’ve actually achieved, but my willingness to even try. And yes, husband of mine, I can hear you crowing “I told you so”.

I love gawping into woodland – I cannot conceive of life without being surrounded by trees. Much of the woodland around Thirlmere is managed forest as a timber crop – and it never ceases to amaze me how quickly the land is re-colonised by young trees after an area has been cleared and you see new trees living alongside established ones. There’s a little waterfall running through this scene that I’d not noticed before.

Thirlmere is a reservoir owned by United Utilities and the public are granted permission to access the land. The large lake was originally created from two smaller ones adjacent to two villages, Armboth and Wythburn, which were flooded late in the 19th century to provide water to Manchester. Consequently, there is still evidence of rural life in the area and you can see stretches of dry stone wall and sometimes a lone gatepost amongst the dense woodland.

So come Saturday morning, we were determined to walk along Thirlmere, one of our very favourite spots and donned waterproofs and set off under the trees. The rain was light and gentle and the air very still, so whilst it felt very damp and humid, it was pleasant enough to walk in. The light texture of the rain seemed to cling on everything and all the small plants seemed to be bejewelled with the tiny raindrops. Heavier rain simply bounces off, but these tiny fine droplets clung to the hairs of fine grass seeds and mosses like diamonds. It was very certainly worth damp hair to see them. Unfortunately, due to very low light, they’re not as sharp as I’d hoped, but you get the idea.

6 Jun 2010

My garden is now ready to face summer

Alternative title: another gratuitous opportunity to post some photos I took over the weekend. Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

I have a small garden. A very small garden. Not the kind of small garden they talk about in the commentary to the Chelsea Flower Show TV coverage – mine is merely postage stamp sized – far too small for a garden designer to trouble themselves over. A friend came to visit me one gorgeous day a few years ago and I suggested we take lunch into the garden to which he commented “I knew you had a small garden, but I didn’t think it was this small!”

As we like to eat out as often as weather permits and I like to take my work outside too, I concentrated on flowers with fragrance this time and got two of these candy striped phlox plants which are a dome of those pretty little flowers.

I’ve blogged in earlier summers about my garden – it’s basically the enclosed back yard of a Lancashire cottage, intended to house the outside facilities and for storage of logs and coal and for drying washing, the house being built pre-indoor plumbing, central heating and tumble driers.

I keep several dichondra each summer, each in a separate pot on their own adjacent to seating, purely for stroking purposes you understand. They’re deliciously velvety and soft to run your hands over, just like stroking a weimaraner puppy.

My house is a long thin tall stone cottage of about 140 years old, so my yard is too. The house sits in what is basically a square plot, divided into three long strips. The house sits in the middle third, with a long thin garden on either side.

I’ve only just finished the summer planting, which will need to fill out – and hopefully flower – a considerable amount yet – so it looks a tad scrawny still, but another month will see a huge difference.

The garden in question is enclosed within 6 foot high stone walls and the base is entirely concreted. The concrete is of very poor quality and badly uneven, so we covered it with small sized gravel when we first made it into a garden some years ago. When we first decided to make it into a garden, largely as an area for sitting out to eat in summer, it was pretty bare, unnaturally new-looking and has taken a number of years to fill out and develop a personality. It’s finally reached the stage where it looks like a proper, established garden. I suspect these things can only be hurried along if you have deep pockets.

Height is achieved in this area as the display is based on lots of cut logs from a dead tree my father felled in his garden – logs of different heights simply stand on end and form stepped risers for smaller pots. In fact, some of the plants have simply seeded themselves into crevices in the timbers.

Everything grows in pots, so we do periodically lose things that just run out of steam when confined to a pot, so every year it is slightly different and I supplement the perennial, largely green, planting with summer bedding to add colour. That has been my priority for the last couple of weekends and I finally put my trowel down last night as darkness drew in and declared it finished. As far as a garden ever can be finished. But I’ve planted all the new things I’m going to this summer.

I think the deep frost and extensive periods of cold this winter seemed to benefit this pyracantha – which doesn’t like to flower that often, but is going to put on a good show this time. The flowers at the top, that get more sun, have already opened. It has wicked, long sharp thorns though (hence one of its names of Firethorn), so I tend to leave it to its own devices.

I went out to admire my handiwork in the light this morning, just as it started to rain. But it was nice, gentle downward falling summer rain, without wind and the air was just nicely shirt-sleeve warm. The beauty of that sort of still gentle rain is that it lands and remains largely undisturbed, forming jewel like droplets on leaves and flowers. A perfectly beautiful phenomena in its own right.

So I grabbed a camera and just spent a pleasant Sunday summer morning under my umbrella in the company of my camera.

Shame that I can’t include the fragrance with this Pink, it’s fabulous within the enclosed walls of the garden.

The waxy leaves of roses are ideal for the raindrops to form droplets.

This Japanese maple was the first big feature plant I bought and is just turning green from its spring red, returning to this flame like appearance in autumn.

‘Peaches and cream’ Verbenas – just look at the perfect spherical beads of rain in the centre, what could be prettier?