Friday, October 20, 2017

Beauty in decay as the garden prepares to sleep

I know a lot of people feel melancholy at this time of year as the days grow ever shorter and Nature shuts down for the Winter. I struggle with the dark mornings and find that I get up at least an hour later than during the lighter months.

What I love about it though is watching the garden give us the most spectacular display. Leaves turning wonderful shades of yellow through to rust, trees dropping their nuts/seeds and the fungi popping up everywhere.

There is such beauty in decay be it in us humans as faces wrinkle with age (I much prefer a face full of character than one full of botox!) or plants shutting down for their dormant period. You may have guessed that this is going to be a rather photo-heavy post and you are quite right! I've actually had to split it into 2 parts as I have a massive selection of photos of fungi to share too.

We had some dramatic skies the other evening as the latest storm sidestepped us:

That's a mini tornado forming high up there......

...thankfully it didn't come any lower!

The eerie pink colour came from all the dust collected in the storm apparently

Around the garden the plants are delighting us as they prepare for their Winter rest:

The fabulous purple berries on our Callicarpa bodinieri always make me smile. In Spring the leaves emerge in the most beautiful bronze colour.

The giant plumes of the Pampas grass look pure white when they emerge. This is part of a large clump that was in the front garden of our last home. It was such a gorgeosu plant but it was in the wrong place so I dug it all up (that burned some calories I can tell you!) but planted a small clump in a pot for future use. It spent 5 years languishing neglected in its pot alongside the barn when we first moved here but it forgave me when it became an integral part of the front garden. The stems are 12 feet high this year. Modern hybrids are bred much shorter for small gardens but I much prefer these looser and more graceful plumes.

Looking across part of the front garden the eye is drawn to a variegated Cornus 'Hedgerow Harvest'

Here it is in close-up, backlit by the sun, with the browning leaves of Hosta 'Big Boy' at its feet.

The leaves of the Bergenias turn a brilliant scarlet

I'm pretty sure that the red-stemmed dogwood heard me say I was going to move it to the back garden this year as it's grown to twice its normal height and produced such intense dark crimson leaves just to show me why it should stay where it is! It's still being moved though as I want to replant part of that bed.

This yellow-leaved jasmine really shines in the low light levels

I couldn't resist a closer view of the Pampas and other assorted grasses in this bed. They all bring wonderful movement to the area as they ripple in the wind.

Here's a close-up of the red-leaved Berberis with it's beautiful shiny berries.

I took this to remind me it's nearly time for my cacti and succulents that have been having a holiday in the sun during the Summer to go into the garage for the Winter. The silvery white foliage of Artemesia ludoviciana really shines behind the dark rosettes of the Aeonium.

I love this golden Hakonechloa macra at this time of year. The flower panicles contrast so beautifully against the foliage.

The seedpods of the Cercis are spectaular in the autumn sun. This is not the healthiest tree and has been on my 'watch list' for several years.

The pretty flowers of this fuchsia stand out now the leaves have fallen. The grass in the righthand corner of the photos is Stipa tenuissima 'Hair' which I adore but others hate because it seeds all over the place.  I love the way it ripples through this border when the wind blows.

One of my desert island shrubs, Euonymous alatus, never fails to delight. It's common name is 'Burning Bush' for reasons which become obvious at this time of year. But that's not its only attractive feature. It's bark is absolutely stunning too, see below.....

....isn't it gorgeous - all corky and interesting!

The grasses really earn their keep in the Autumn. I've drawn a blank on its name for the moment. I bought it about 8 years ago and I think it's a Stipa calamagrostis, possibly 'Sonata' 'cos I know I bought it for the musical association.

The beautiful white flowers, with their green tips, of Fuchsia 'Hawkhurst' bring to life a slightly shady area - the purple flower is a cheeky Verbena bonariensis  which has beautiful seedheads and its stems are square.

The flowers of this Sedum Telephium look amazing even when they've finished flowering.

The seeds of this Cyperus are absolutely stunning, except when they seed into the gravel drive (although they are quite easy to pull out)!

I don't cut back the stems of plants in my gravel garden until early Spring as they make a nice snug hiding place for insects etc. I love the fluffy seedheads of this Eupatorium.

The courgettes have been plentiful this year, happy in their spot on the compost heap.

Still flowering, but the courgettes are getting a bit soft now and quick to disintegrate.

Probably my penultimate haul for this year - destined to make my spicy courgette fritters, ratatouille and a lemon & poppyseed courgette cake.

Last but not least we had to cut the grass in the orchard. We usually use scythes but the head fell off mine and I can't use Mike's 'cos it's too heavy and also the thought of tackling that with sore hands really didn't appeal at all anyway so we used one of these little beauties which is like a push-along strimmer with a nylon line that chops the grass:

Mike had first go 'cos he's a man and they all like this sort of toy!

Then I had a go to give him a rest then whilst he took the next shift I raked the cuttings into piles.

But sadly we had to say goodbye to my trusty wheelbarrow. Anyone with horses knows that you get through wheelbarrows like nobody's business and so you become creative in keeping them going. This one sheared off its frame about 10 years ago whilst I was shovelling horse poo in the field. Undeterred I tied it back together with baler twine, as you do, and amazingly it remained serviceable until then when one of the rusted struts fell off and I had to admit defeat.

As soon as we'd finished and gone inside the birds came down to investigate! There were seeds to peck plus there was a myriad of animal runs, probably voles, to explore.  We rescued several newts, frogs and a baby toad and took them to safety.

I may have to do a cull of my photos of fungi as there are soooooo many. But then again, they are really beautiful................but first I've got some cake baking to attend to ahead of the Cakeathon Challenge on Sunday which will be the anniversary of my 100th marathon.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Double bubble, bits and bobs

The marathons

First I'll get marathons 125 & 126 out of the way, one on Saturday and then another on Sunday. Part of Traviss and Rachel's 'Winnie the Pooh' series they were on the same route as last year and I didn't take any photos as the views were slightly hazy this time although they were still glorious. Take a look at my photos here from last year to get a feel for the scenery. The Sunday last year was also my 99th marathon.

It was a 9:30am start and as the venue was only about an hour away I didn't need to leave home at silly o'clock which was an added bonus (although I do prefer an earlier start so I don't hit the busy period on the roads on my way home). As I phoned Mike to let him know I'd arrived safely I noticed the mileage on my car, which I'd reset when I left home; 26.2 miles, ie marathon distance! What a happy coincidence.

The route was laps of around 5.25 miles and you could complete as many as you liked within the 6 hour time limit. It was 5 laps for a marathon.

This was day 1 on one of the rare flat sections. On day 2 I was wise and took my walking poles to help with the exceedingly steep uphill sections!

Heading out for lap 2. I don't have  a number any more at Traviss and Rachel's events as when you've completed 1500 miles at their events they give you a 'VIP' bib with your name on. Such a nice gesture as recognition for supporting their events. They always look after everyone so well and I wish all Race Directors were more like them!

I really enjoy the challenge of this sort of event. Some people completed one lap, others more than the marathon distance (speedy Lee was one of the few people who ran up each of the steep hills and completed at least 3 extra laps each day). It's wonderful to see the joy on someones face when they've completed even more laps than they thought they could.

It was nice to chat with fellow runners en-route and there were plenty of dog walkers and horse riders out too but it was also nice when there weren't many people left out on the course. That's when the mindset of a long distance runner is crucial as you have to be able to cope with not seeing another person for what can sometimes seem like age. We all have our own coping mechanisms and being a numbers geek mine is usually to count which keeps me in the moment. I count my left footfalls from 1 - 100 and then start again. I don't think about anything other than putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I will break to take photos or for a chat when I meet up with another runner but then I go right back into my own zone. Other people listen to music or podcasts which is also a great way to pass the miles.

On day 1 I was delighted to finish in 5:56:05 which was 9 minutes faster than last year. I nearly went out for another lap to make it an ultra but I was anxious to get home to get bathed and fed in time for 'Strictly Come Dancing' to which we seem to have become addicted even though we are really awful dancers! 

On Day 2 I got out of bed with no stiffness or perceivable soreness as if nothing had happened the day before. However, I wasn't fooled by this feeling of euphoria as I knew those hills would feel like mountains on day 2. I wasn't wrong but I was delighted to find that I was only 20 minutes slower the next day coming in at 6:19:36 which was actually 38 minutes faster than last year. So that's 3 tough marathons in 8 days, each faster than last year. Go leggies!

Aren't they gorgeous medals!

Today Mike and I went out for a nice 4 miles walk which helped stretch my legs out. I've now got a few days to recover fully with just a few short runs before next Sunday which will be the anniversary of my 100th marathon.

Bits and Bobs

We had a little jaunt out on Friday taking in an antiques centre we didn't know, an art exhibition we visit each year and then an impromptu trip to Battle for a wander around so here are just a few random things to make you smile.

The antiques centre was in an old railway station near Bexhill-on-Sea and it was a lovely looking building - see here for better photos.

We arrived mid-morning and we noticed there was a cafe so we headed off for coffee and cake (as you do!). I knew it was going to a fun place when I saw this sign:

Wise words indeed!

On the wall was this massive moose head

Free wifi seems to be obligatory nowadays

Our next trip was to see the annual exhibition from the Pure Arts Group which is held in a hotel near Battle. We weren't overly excited by many of the exhibits this year although some of our old favourites produced some interesting work.

What did catch our eye was this lady's magnificent hair. We chatted for a while and she said that when she'd visited the Summer Exhibition in London (which we had to miss this year) she was accosted by many different people who thought she was an exhibit! I'm not surprised as it was stunning.

Afterwards we headed into Battle town centre which was getting ready for the annual Battle of Hastings re-enactment which is a lively affair and forms part of the Battle Festival. We were saddened to see that many of the high street shops had closed and were empty because they just aren't getting the business nowadays. Such a shame.

What did brighten our day though were these beautiful floral displays along Old Lady's yard.

I have such a lot of photos to share from the garden and even more photos of some of the amazing fungi I've been spotting recently. I'll try to get them uploaded soon.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Therapeutic knitting and stitching (and some useful support)

The last few days have been very stressful which has resulted in a rather unexpected rush of activity on the creative front.

I've been knitting like crazy on a jumper using one of my favourite yarns, Rowan Kidsilk Haze.

I wanted something light and airy and not fitted and 'Slouchy' fitted the bill perfectly. I have plenty of kidsilk haze in my stash, thankfully purchased in sales or on eBay as it's not a cheap yarn!

I started my gauge swatch using the recommended needle sizes but knew straight away it would be too loose so went down several sizes and got the tension square just right.

So off I went, knit, knit, knit in various corridors and after a very short while the rib was done and I started the pattern.

But sometimes it's not a good idea to start something when you're stressed and I soon discovered that the pattern didn't seem to be aligning with the rib in the way I'd expected. Yes, that could be because I'd misread the pattern couldn't it. After all, I've only been knitting for about 54 years, doh!

Ripping back a yarn containing mohair is not the most enjoyable experience but it didn't take too long - if you have a lot to undo then a good tip is to stick it in the freezer overnight which makes it much easier as the strands don't seem as 'sticky'.

Take 2 flew off the needles and since this was taken the other day I've finished the back, front and half a sleeve. It's an easy pattern repeat to memorise.

Then there's the bargello. This is a sampler cushion cover idea I'm playing with using many different stitches. It's incredibly absorbing and my tapestry stand, complete with light and magnifying glass, has been a real boon. I can't make my mind up which stitch to use for the main central pattern and keep changing my mind! I started with a curve but think I'll rip it out and do a more angular pattern.

Small swatches using a limited palette

It's fun leafing through my many bargello books accumulated over the years. I actually sold one to a dealer at a book fair a while back; I paid £8 for it orginally back in the 1970s and he offered me £42 for it which I accepted as a donation to my fund-raising! It was a good basic book but I had most of the stitches in other books so I don't miss it.

Now what about the 'support' mentioned in the title? Well, I've had arthritis in my feet (especially my toes (ouch!) since my early 40s but in my hands for much longer. Both index fingers and middle fingers don't sit nice and flat and are very lumpy on the knuckles as a result of which I try not to draw too much attention to them!

I've written before about different so-called cures of which I must have tried almost all to no avail. Everyone has to find their own way of dealing with it. I do finger/hand/wrist exercises after a session of crafting which helps keep the mobility but what I struggle with most is my grip and strength (or rather, lack of!). I used to be able to hoick a bale of hay up onto my shoulder and carry it with ease to the barn. Nowadays I struggle just to pick them up and load them onto the bogey. I've also had to adapt the way I knead bread as that really hurts now. About 12 years ago I had to change the hand supporting my horses hooves when I picked their feet as I can't stand much weight on my left hand.

That's what we all do when there's an issue isn't it; either that or we stop doing the thing that hurts which in my case is most of the things I enjoy doing!.

For a while I've been struggling in yoga, specifically in a position known as 'downward dog' as it puts so much pressure on my wrists and the ouchy pad beneath my thumbs where unfortunately I seem to be developing rheumatoid arthritis which crippled my late father in his 60s. 

I don't want to give up yoga as it really helps keep me supple - we runners have notoriously tight hamstrings and yoga helps enormously. When I mentioned my problem to Jane and Malcolm, our lovely teachers, they suggested wrist supports like the ones used by weight-lifters. 

Off I went to ebay and found these:

There's a loop to fit around your thumb and then you wrap the strip around your wrist at a tightness comfortable for you.

They really have helped although I've had to skip yoga today as the pad on my left hand is too sore to put any pressure on it.

On a brighter and more positive note I ran another marathon at the weekend. The Sussex marathon which claims to be the toughest road marathon in the UK due to its hilly route. It has a strict 5.5 hour cut-off and when I ran it 2 years ago I did it in 5:14:37 so I knew I'd have to push myself quite hard. Which is exactly what I did.

It's a 2 lap course with a mix of people choosing to do just 1 lap for a half marathon finish. I ran the first lap hard (those hills are unrelenting!) so I'd have some room for walking the really steep hills on the second lap.

There were only 35 finishers in the marathons, including just 5 women. I was delighted to finish in 5:07:51 to better my time from 2 years ago.

Mike was not impressed by the medal though as it was teeny-weeny (he's used to the amazing medals I get at Traviss's events!).

That was marathon 124 and if all goes well there are a lot more to come throughout October.SaveSave