Wednesday, February 12, 2014


 The shade garden has a new look: it's being turned into a STUMPERY.

I'm going to type that again. It's such a satisfying word: STUMPERY.

For those of you who have no idea what a STUMPERY is (there, did it again), it's a garden feature of sorts, using large, atmospheric, old stumps and large pieces of driftwood, along with lush green plantings of moss, ferns, and other shade-loving plants.

I was watching the Great British Garden Revival and host Chris Beardshaw was clumping through Prince Charles' ("highly acclaimed") stumpery at Highgrove, waxing enthusiastically about the Victorian love for melodrama, dark corners, and scary woodland settings, all the while gesturing at the massive, overbearing, stumps on either side of the path. It was impressive and vaguely alarming (those wacky Victorians), but mesmerizing at the same time. So I decided to try building a STUMPERY in what I've nicknamed The Shade Garden.

The Shade Garden languishes a bit, truth be told: it's home to neither herb nor vegetable, so it doesn't get much in the way of compost or soil amendments (less rude neglect than simple economics). Up til now it's had a mixture of bee-friendly perennials and shrubs that don't mind the near constant dappled shade. After watching Chris Beardshaw rhapsodize about The Thing That Is A Stumpery, I realized that the Shade Garden is just perfect for a mess of driftwood, moss, woodland plants, and aesthetically-placed rocks (which I happen to have a lot of). A STUMPERY, in other words.

I didn't clear the area too much beforehand, but I'm going to have to clip the soapberry bushes, I suspect. They are threatening to overwhelm. Prince Charles' Head Stumpery Gardener stated rather baldly that it was quite a bit of work keeping their stumpery looking the way it does, which initially had me worried, until I remembered that my grounds aren't open to critical garden visitors all the time.

Mine lacks the giant stumps and creeping, hanging moss, so it's considerably more muted, but there's a certain gravitas about it that we're all very taken with.

I've tucked some hellebores, heuchera, leucojums, old-fashioned primroses, and a few odd ferns amongst the pieces.

This hellebore is "Monte Cristo."

My stumpery will have quite an overhang of hawthorne and some giant green shrubby thing, all spring and summer, so I've pushed some bits of moss into the driftwood, in the hopes that the rainy spring will help them spread around a bit. Atmosphere, you know.

 It's a good place for beach stones too, because they are less likely to get swallowed up in the green.
  Look at him slinking around there. Are all cats so hopeful and yet so idiotic? He scratched around idly while I gave him my best gimlet eye. Fortunately he's very susceptible to a good gimlet eye. And I have one of the best.

Irises are blooming all over the place. My trick with these miniature bulbs is to keep them in troughs and pots - they are far more portable this way. If you're anything like me in your gardening style, and you are frequently moving things around from year to year and from whim to whim, this is far less traumatic on the poor bulbs. These little spring irises are one of my very favourite flowers. Such perfect crisp colours.

 The pod peas are springing up in the greenhouse. Sometimes we pinch the tips off and chew them, thoughtfully. Sometimes we feed the tips to the chickens, who also chew them thoughtfully.

Along with STUMPERY one of my other favourite words is FECUND, which perfectly describes this Calamondin orange. A fecund creature if ever there were one. The only drawback to its otherwise delightful presence is the fact that the scent isn't particularly strong. Not like the lemon trees, which waft up your nose and make you feel as though the world is perfect, beautiful, and delicious, all in the same instant.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

In Which Sheila Outwits & Outplays The Cat

 It's been cold here all week. Unusually cold. And by cold, I mean very, VERY cold. Cold as in -5 when I get up in the morning. Cold as in bringing the chickens' water into the basement overnight so it's liquid when we go out to free them in the morning (that's how they see it, let's face it). Cold as in putting the fleece liner in my raincoat.
Cold as in some of us spending most of our day sleeping under a blanket. Witness this lazy fellow. It's been a while since he's written a guest post, but don't be expecting one any time soon; he barely manages to rouse himself to eat, let alone put his little paddy paws to the keyboard.

One thing he DOES manage to soldier on with, depressingly, is finding soft, diggable toilet spots in the garden. No squatting in the bushes for this feline. Most of the time he doesn't even bother to cover it up, either. I suppose he thinks that's he's doing me a favour, leaving it out in the open for easier finding. I've tried to discuss it with him, but he isn't partial to my conversational methods, which generally involve a version of the old Who Flung Poo? joke.

So while he's unlikely to read this post because let's face it - he's a cat and who knows of a cat that actually reads blogs? otherwise occupied, I'll show you how I manage to outwit, outlast, and outplay his attempts to use my garden as a toilet. 
 First, don't throw out that old greenhouse you bought a while back. You know, the one with the plastic cover that disappeared during the first winter storm it met? Yes, that one: the shelves will not disintegrate, no matter what. And they make very fine soil protectors, as you can see from this photo. Here I have managed to outwit the cat AND the squirrels.

 Here I've combined greenhouse shelving with some wire row covers, along with a little chicken wire, because this is his Very Favourite Spot Of All. I have to be particularly crafty, because he is able to squeeze under the wire row cover, unless, of course, I block each end. Nothing like a little spot of cat poo in one's row cover to brighten the day.

I ran out of greenhouse shelving so I had to resort to plastic for this area. I also left the SuperMegaGigantic Marigold Shrub carcass right there, because if there's one thing that Toffee does not like, it's having to bushwack his way through the garden to his toilet space.

It's not terribly atmospheric, I admit, but the soil in this bed has finally turned into the most gorgeous crumbly stuff possible, and there's no way Toffee's little bum is going to - ahem - soil my soil.

Look at him! Does he look like he appreciates the lengths I go to keep him out of my garden? Of course he doesn't. He's got better things to do, evidently.