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Here’s some more photos from Germany. From Harth in Nordrhein-Westfalen to be more precise. It’s a small village in the Sauerland, a scenic forest region about a hundred miles east of Cologne, popular for hiking and cycling. I was there for a week to teach a holiday course in a school in the local small town of Büren. It was a pretty good week- nice weather, good kids, and cheap food and drink in the inn we were staying in. The only real fly in the ointment was when one of the parents tried to put me down on the insurance when his child broke her phone. Casual insurance fraud (and insurance policies/claims for everything) is a national sport in Germany though.

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Nara Garden

You can see more photos from other places in the Japan category of this blog, and also read about the trip in the zine I wrote.

While we were in Nara we also visited a traditional Japanese tea garden. Unfortunately the tea house was shut, and it was raining, but it was still a lovely garden.

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Kyoto II

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Here’s some more photos of Kyoto. I have split the pictures up into several entries. You can see more photos from Kyoto and other cities in the Japan category, and also read about the trip in the zine I wrote. Kyoto is famous for its cherry blossom, but sadly we were there a couple of weeks earlier than it comes out in full bloom. You did see the odd bud here and there though.

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Instead of garden gnomes, people in Japan have tanuki figures. I didn’t see any wild racoon dogs.

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Charity shop finds

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I haven’t found as many good charity shop items lately as over the summer, but there’s been the odd few things. I got this vase for £2, which I’ve planted an aloe vera in, for my own plant version of Sideshow Bob.

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This box of Chris Ware stories, which hilariously was put in the children’s section as a board game for £7. Definitely not suitable for young children.

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This bananagrams game for £2. This one is suitable for all the family.

Triffids in search of a new home

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I’ve got a large number of cacti and succulents, some of which I’ve had for years (and have their own offshoot children growing in separate pots now). By the end of the summer, some of them were looking a bit sad, and were in serious need of repotting. I collected a load of Hornsea ware and other vintage pottery for £1-3 a time over the summer, and then had a big repotting session outside, just before the weather started turning cold.

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Here is how you successfully repot a cactus or succulent into a closed pot. They like dry soil that drains well- any moisture hanging around will make the roots start to rot. There’s a layer of gravel at the bottom for drainage, then a layer of activated charcoal to help stop any fungi growing. The soil is special cactus mix, which is dryer and sandier than regular potting soil (it feels very like coffee grounds). Don’t use soil from your garden as it will be too thick and might harbour pests. I used a brand of compost called Cactus Focus. The plants seem to like it, as they’ve been growing better in that than the stuff they came in. At the top of the pot you put more stones, for decoration, and to stop the fine-textured compost blowing away.

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Triffids

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I’ve built up a collection of cacti and other succulents over the last year or so. They’re desert plants from the Americas and southern Africa which store water in their bodies, so they don’t need a lot of looking after, and they have a huge range of dramatic shapes, which explains why they’re such popular house plants. They’re also cheap to buy- mine all came from the supermarket, Wilco or IKEA and cost £2-4 each- and can live a long time if kept in the right conditions. (Opuntia cacti also produce delicious prickly pears and nopales pads for cooking). My current room has a large windowsill which gets some fierce sunshine around lunchtime, and is next to a radiator which dries up the air throughout the winter, which is the ideal conditions for growing them. I used to be into growing orchids and indoor herbs as well, but they just don’t thrive in the conditions here.

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If it ain’t bracken, don’t fix it.

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I refuse to apologise for that pun, you’ll just have to suffer. Here is a photo I took of myself recently in my dad’s garden. I can’t remember the last time I had a new photo of myself bar a few awkward phone snaps when I’ve been out. Perhaps you could say I was communing with nature when I took this photo, but I was sat on a plastic bag to avoid sitting in anything nasty hidden underneath the plants, so I don’t think I was that in touch with nature. Luckily we don’t have poison ivy or dangerous snakes in this country, I was more worried about the milder perils of stinging nettles or fox droppings. I was also a little limited with angles and framing, because sticking a wide-angle lens in your face is rarely flattering, but I couldn’t get the distance to use my portrait lens because I didn’t have a tripod with me.

There’s a wooded area at the end of my dad’s garden where I took the photo, left over from the woodland that covered the area before they built the houses in the 20s and 30s. It’s not really a proper wood or field because it’s too small, but it’s not really garden either because it’s left wild. A lot of the trees are about fifty foot tall, and there are ferns and wild flowers and daffodils growing underneath. I don’t know if it would even be legal to cut the trees down, anyway everyone prefers them standing. My parents used to keep their caravan down there (there’s a lane that runs along the back of the other houses which connects it with the road), and there’s currently a dilapidated Second World War Anderson shelter which houses some foxes, a compost heap/bonfire pile and a pet graveyard (RIP Sukey, Sweep, Sue, Snowdrop, Honey and Smokey) and my old climbing frame overgrown with plants.

The deeds to the house also contain some interesting clauses banning you from using the land to host a travelling fair or farm pigs (it doesn’t ban you from farming any other animals, mind). I think any fair that would fit on it would be a pretty disappointing affair, but some pigs would probably enjoy rooting round in the compost and tree stumps. My parents never gave the pigs a go, sadly, but at least they aren’t in prison for illegitimate pig-keeping and funfair-hosting.

Picking Blackberries

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A little while ago I went to visit my pál Erika (sorry, can’t resist the terrible pun) in Surrey for blackberry picking. Her friends Stephanie and Katja came down too, and we went out on a sunny day into the woods and picked some berries and had a picnic and drinks (for N. American readers, British woods aren’t very wild). Blackberries grow everywhere here at the end of August and most of September. They don’t belong to anyone, and it’s safe and legal to pick and eat them. I used to pick huge amounts of them when I was growing up. They’re also good for jam, pies, crumbles, coulis and wine-making. We made jam this time. Foxes also like them as much as humans.

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