The Back Garden in June

2 Jun

Some general views here. Reading blogs from other parts of the world this morning made me reflect that i’m fortunate to live in a climate where dividing the garden into a xerophytic half and a lush green half is an option. Australian and SoCal gardeners would have a chuckle at me running for the shade after half an hour in 23c “heat”!

Looking out from the living room through the glass doors
Agave next to hostas on the greener side of the back garden. The grass seed is taking a while to get going on the “lawn”
Quite a few colourful annuals are punctuating the blue and black shades in the desert
Quite a range of colours here now
I’m quite a fan of those pink scapes set against powder blue

New flowering

1 Jun

Among the arisaemas, Arisaema ciliatum v Liubaense is furthest along.

The mulch is new. It was getting difficult to keep the ground from drying out. On the other side, the sempervivums are sending up their odd little flower shoots

Also in the desert, a red version of Californian poppy opened today

My state of mind is better this week. I have a bit of a fascination with conspiracy theories, but I don’t let the foolishness get me down. At least it’s good for a sarcastic laugh. I can’t be bothered to try to understand why some people think that coronavirus isn’t real, George Soros has found phalanxes of anarchists to foment riots, our heads of state are down-to-earth regular guys, shape-shifting space lizards are sapping our vital life forces, Obama is Skeletor to Trump’s He-Man or blah blah nonsense blah. There’s no accounting for taste.

One more day of this warm weather before cooler temperatures and a chance of rain for the rest of the week. It’ll be welcome.


29 May

You know how i’ve been gibbering on about the lawn? I watered it four times today to give the grass seed half a chance. It was another day of blazin’ squad weather. Sorry, that’s a household joke. Blazin Squad were a risible scally boy band from years ago. It’s been dry weather again today.

The lack of rain has turned Eucalyptus nicholii scarlet in parts. A leaf – sorry, phyllode – fell off and tangled in the lavender:

I had a couple of visitors today. Eva the Brugmansia x candida ‘Creamsickle’ left winter quarters to go live in another part of Manchester for patio season. I got hostas as a gift:

It’s taken its time to catch up with me but at long last i’m going stir crazy in lockdown. So i’m heading into the hills next week. There’s eleven miles between me and the last town before the Pennines. That’s walkable. The rules state that I shouldn’t be staying out overnight, but my way of camping is to not use a campsite or indeed any facilities at all. I’ve long has in mind a particular spot on the map between Bleaklow top and Howden reservoir to the east. It’s empty and featureless. Just the job.

Back home, the almond I bought last week is sulking. It isn’t dry; that’s not the problem. I’ll put it in a gritty mix and pot on the two Furcraea macdougalii while i’m at it.

Wyberslegh Hall

28 May

It being 24c and me going a bit stir crazy in lockdown, I thought i’d take a tip from myself and visit the above place, having mentioned it last week in my irreverent post about Edward James.

To recap, Wyberslegh Hall is the birthplace of Christopher Isherwood, writer. Everybody knows of his influence even if they haven’t heard the name. His Berlin novels were the inspiration for the film Cabaret starring Liza Minnelli.

It’s situated on the outskirts of Stockport metropolitan borough, in a spot called High Lane. There aren’t any contemporary images of the hall online, so I assumed it had been sold some time ago, had large grounds and would be difficult to see from the road. This is one of the more comfortable areas of Stockport; the hall is a Grade II listed building dating from the sixteenth century; and it belonged to the Bradshawe-Isherwoods whose ancestor signed the death warrant of Charles I. All in all, a posh do.

NOPE. The only thing I had right was that it isn’t visible from the road. Adjacent to the road are farm buildings and what looks either like an extension to the hall or a barn conversion. I was glad to see someone there so I stated my interest and asked the way. The lady kindly pointed the way along the overgrown path.

Dear reader, as far as I could tell, the place hasn’t been touched, let alone lived in, for some forty years. Given what has happened to property prices over that time, I find it absolutely extraordinary that the plumb piece of the old Hall has been left for decades, so much so that the details of the front facade can barely be discriminated through the thicket that now grows upon what was once the drive. If i’d taken my phone with me I couldn’t have taken a decent picture regardless, so here’s a screenshot of an image posted by Marple Historical Society. Who can know the attribution? The website dates the picture as having being taken in 1981.

It isn’t the prettiest building. But Oh! The romance! Not to mention the mystery of it. What happened? The Bradshawe-Isherwoods’ main residence was Marple Hall. That was demolished in the mid-twentieth century after falling into dilapidation.

Now call me cynical, but there are some people who would greatly resent being told by the nanny state that their property is a listed building and that no alterations can be made to the exterior shell of the building without permission. Let it fall down.

Then there are property speculators who couldn’t care less about renowned men of letters or remembrance in the English language of the decadent melting-pot that was Weimar Berlin. Let it fall down.

Perhaps the owner has a sentimental attachment to the place but money isn’t there for the restoration costs. Builders are expensive at the best of times. But builders specialising in restoration projects are £££. Maybe it’s haunted. Maybe there’s A BODY IN THERE WHAHAHA.

Back on to serious matters, the land registry is neither open to all comers or a complete survey. Finding out the recent history of the place would not be straightforward. Regardless, it’s all academic because I don’t have a seven figure sum lolling around in a bank vault, which only serves me right for being a nosy beggar.

It was a pleasure to see the place, see a friendly face or two show me the way and to see it still in one piece, just about peeping out from the obscuring thicket of history.

New Bloom

27 May

The first of the flowers on the seed grown cannas is out

Pretty thing. The species flowers tend to be less flash than some of the more popular cultivars. This plant was sown in January. I sowed two types of canna seed in the same box and labelled it “Canna brasiliensis and Canna paniculata” but the internet says both names refer to the same species. There’s several more younger ones I haven’t planted out yet. Wait and see what they do.

The bees have caught on to the passionflower. They’ve even figured out use of the greenhouse vents instead of bumping confusedly against the glass over and over again. There are scores of flowers on it

Magnolia delavayi still has its big fat bud swelling away at the top of the stem. It seems unusual to me for a tree to have a bud right at the apex of the leader branch. In other respects it’s behaving just like M. insignis, but with larger leaves. I s’pose they must be closely related.

It is unseasonably dry. After a very wet winter that caused terrible flooding across the North of England, mid-March onwards has seen very little rainfall. The rivers near to where my mum lives in Cumbria are approaching record low levels for the time of year. She’s having a bit of a nightmare gardening with a scraping of earth laid over limestone on a steep slope. Northumbria has had just 8% of average spring rainfall. Here in Manchester it hasn’t been so extremely dry. Let’s just say I picked the wrong weather to grow a lawn.

Small Greenhouse & Small Agaves

25 May

The smaller greenhouse is set in a corner of the garden, missing a lot of its glass, although the roof is nearly intact. It gets forgotten about sometimes.

The only thing in there that needs an eye keeping on it is Magnolia figo. Other than that, there are dry loving palms and agaves i’m growing on. Lots of variegated americana on the right

Palms and other agaves on the left with the figo.

Some of the agaves are pups of straight-up A. americana. Some are grown from a mixed species packet of seed; I lost track of what’s what. There are two that stand out though. This looks like A. lophantha to me:

This one is slower growing. Its leaves are chunky, almost tetrahedral. It’s always been spotless, so seems a hardier type. I don’t know what it is, but I’d love to! Look familiar to anyone?

Just outside the greenhouse are some seed grown agaves on the big berm. They are supposed to be A. ovatifolia. They don’t look especially like it to me, though they’re pretty and certainly relatively tough with just the plastic dome to protect them. Maybe the looks are just a juvenile thing.

Do you find seed of agaves is mis-sold sometimes? Any ideas on how to ID them?

Music, for a change

24 May

From fifteen to twenty-one years of age, I just listened to indie and alternative rock. My favourites went from Nirvana to Manic Street Preachers to Bowie to REM. I still listen to that type of music. It has a sideways angle on the vernacular. There came a point where I became tired of it and found a way to defenestrate the vernacular altogether. See ya! Off it went to go bother someone else.

Gradually I got a grasp on the fact that humans have been making music for millenia. So I had a good delve about for a few years. Me, I love a bottomless pit to delve in. Plants do the same for me. What have Beethoven and trees got in common? Neither gives a monkey’s what you think about them. I like that very much, that irrelevance to our mores and habits. They’re 100% watertight against any and all crap life can throw at us. I don’t much like Mozart, a lot of it sounds naive and childish to me, but so what? He didn’t write music for my benefit. What I think doesn’t change a thing, and that’s just dandy.

People forget that. “Classical music is difficult/elitist/contains ridiculous singing/stuck up/depressing/sounds like a film soundtrack/gets on my nerves/should be more accessible” Delete as appropriate. Once I was told it all sounds the same. Yep, two thousand years of an art form amounts to a homogenous beige thing until Elvis came along. It was there yesterday, it’s there today and it’ll be there tomorrow. Take it or leave it, makes no difference. To me that’s reassuring. It’s not a popularity contest.

I’m not musical myself, so it isn’t a competition for me. I’m not going to make any money out of it. At school I got to grade three on alto saxophone. Later I thrashed along playing bass in a few bands. The hardest thing I mastered was Hang on to Yourself by Bowie. But as they say, I know what I like. Actually I don’t. Things surprise me still, thank goodness, despite working in the classical section of a big music store for three years, ordering the stock and having free rein to play what I liked. That was a great opportunity. Listening to Radio 3 always helped too.

When I started there I had an enthusiasm but not much of an idea where I was going with it. The Rite of Spring. Mahler and Shostakovich. I’m not sure what happened next and in what order, but there was a big baroque phase, especially French and Italian. There’s the decadent way the Romantic movement gradually died in the shape of Alexander Scriabin (he who scares the old ladies), Strauss’s Salome, Szymanowski’s mid period, Wagner, Debussy and so many others. The crepuscular quality of elements of Bartok, Janacek and the second Viennese school. Messiaen ripping it up one minute and spinning out eternal peace the next. The rough luxury of professional musicians playing Kurt Weill and mediaeval secular music. Beethoven: the big slow movement of the Hammerklavier sonata that’s like dropping acid and the Große Fuge. If I didn’t know better i’d swear that man could see into the future.

It’s all on CDs in a cupboard, untended until today. I can see myself getting a bit more use out of it all for a while now.