Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Garden, Before and After

The gardener came again yesterday, and with his assistance we completed our overhaul of the garden. It's time for some before and after pictures!

Above is the yard on July 21, before the big clean-up. If I could write out a Tarzan yodel at this point, I would -- so just imagine it.

And here's the edge of the patio on July 21, with irises running amok and weed-choked rock garden. (By the time I took this, we'd already weeded and planted the bed in the foreground.)

And here's the yard now. Can you fully appreciate the quantity of vegetation we removed from the side of the yard? The large hedge plants -- hazel and philadelphus -- have been pruned back, the blackberries (mostly) removed, and the roses, hebe bush, camellia and other plantings rescued from encroaching undergrowth. You can even see the fence through the gaps!

The other side of the yard didn't change as much. (I don't have a before photo, but you can kind of see it here.) We trimmed things up and removed lots of weeds, but we left the big hydrangeas alone. Dave potted some ferns from the alley beside the house, hoping to cultivate them and perhaps transplant them to a more visible spot in the garden.

Here's the patio now. Dave trimmed all the irises down (they were mostly brown and apparently, being "stinking iris," they're somewhat undesirable anyway), trimmed the ivy, weeded and planted some tiny new bushes (bee balm, red-hot poker and black mondo grass near the fence). We found an old cast-iron mantelpiece at the back of the property, and brought it to the patio to add architectural interest. The eventual plan is to train our clematis over it, but we'll see how that goes.

Check out how much the horseradish has grown in its new blue pot! Kind of scary!

I'm off to Florida today, taking wing just before noon. I'm almost sorry to leave our garden, not to mention Dave and Olga. Every little bud I see, I think, "Well, that will bloom while I'm gone!" It seems unfair. I wish I could hit the garden's pause button.

Monday, July 28, 2014


Dave and I went to Greenwich yesterday to visit our friends Sally and Mike. They had a little brunch in their garden with summery gazpacho and Mike's special Maltese pasta and pastries, the names of which I've already forgotten. Two other couples were there -- Liz and Andy, and Anna and Lawrence. Anna teaches in the same department as Dave, and by complete coincidence she and Lawrence bought a house just a few doors away from Sally, who I've known for years through blogging. Worlds collide!

We toured Sally's garden and she gave us a rundown on some of the plants and weeds, so we have a better idea of what we're dealing with in our own garden and what we might plant in certain areas.

Then we walked to a nearby animal park to see some baby deer, and we found this amazing peacock.

A peacock really is an incredible bird -- ridiculous in its extravagance, an overdressed dandy. This one kept trying to court nearby chickens and pigeons. Or perhaps it was warning them away from its territory. Who knows what was going on in that tiny peacock mind?

Dave and I made our way back home yesterday evening, tired and sated both gastronomically and socially. Every time I go to Greenwich I marvel at how far away it is! We were still so full from lunch we just ate some nibblies as we watched TV, and then went to bed early.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Boyhood and a Reunion

Olga and I photographed another set of streets for Bleeding London yesterday morning. I got a little lost this time around -- I had to come home and consult Google Maps to figure out how I wound up where I did. But Olga didn't mind. Any walking is fine with her. (And me too, actually.)

Dave spent the morning in the garden. And by the way, I appreciate all the comments about the gardening being worth it no matter how long we live here (see previous post). You're all absolutely right. He should just enjoy himself.

In the afternoon we walked over to Hampstead to see the movie "Boyhood," which I loved. I thought it was very effective in showing the beauty and richness of day-to-day life. And what an amazing idea -- to film a movie bit by bit over a decade, so the audience can watch the characters naturally grow and age. It was unlike any movie I have ever seen. Dave found it frustrating -- when watching a movie, we're all trained to expect a momentous plot event, and there really isn't one in "Boyhood." But I think that's the point. It's all the little moments of our every day that are ripe with beauty and disappointment.

Finally, last night, I met up with yet another old Peace Corps friend passing through town. I hadn't seen Mark since 1994 -- and in the intervening years he had married a woman he met while we were in Morocco, had two children and divorced. His kids were with him, and let me tell you, nothing drives home the passage of years than seeing teenagers who didn't even exist the last time you'd talked to their parents. They're great kids -- squarely in the midst of growing up, like the "Boyhood" character -- and it was good to reconnect with Mark. We wandered through Soho and had dinner in Chinatown.

When I got home last night, Dave was watching one of the newer trio of "Star Wars" movies -- blasting the subtle and evenly paced experience of "Boyhood" out of his mind with a few ray guns and explosions.

(Photos: Top and middle, a vacant building around the corner from our flat. Bottom, a found bag of body parts!)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Storms, Political and Otherwise

Dave, the energetic garden maven, mail-ordered more plants and they arrived yesterday. We got a red-hot poker, a couple of bee balm plants, some ornamental grass and some lilies of the valley. He planted them in the morning, just in time for drenching afternoon rains that we badly needed.

It's been such a trip to watch Dave in the garden! We've never lived together in a place where we had a garden, so I'm seeing a whole new side to his personality. I'm glad that despite his homebody tendencies he now has a place to be outside, and surprisingly he is quite a perfectionist about how things should look. (I say surprisingly because he's not at all a perfectionist when it comes to the inside of the house. I don't mean that to sound as snarky as it probably does.) He spends a lot of time planning, weeding, trimming, planting and dead-heading flowers (even sometimes before they're really what I would call "dead," which I rib him about). He gets such joy out of it all.

My only reservation is that this really isn't our garden. I hate to see him invest too much time and money in something that we may have to give up in the next year or two, depending on the whims of our landlord. I try to gently remind him of that, while not deflating his enthusiasm. Debbie Downer.

I took Olga to Hampstead Heath yesterday (not the West Heath!) and on the way back we got caught in the first of our afternoon storms. So I ducked into a little sidewalk cafe in Hampstead and had an amazing, artistic coffee (above) and a lunch of scrambled eggs, smoked salmon and toast. Olga, exhausted from our outing in the park, snoozed beneath my chair as three people at a table next to me loudly discussed Israel's conflict with the Palestinians in Gaza. (If there's ever a conversation you don't want to have loudly and in public, it's anything to do with Israel and the Palestinians.) They came down squarely on the side of Israel and its right to defend itself. I was somewhat annoyed with their volume but I refrained from making any indication that I heard them (how could I not?) and eventually the rain subsided enough that Olga and I could get home.

I had an unsettled night's sleep. I slept very lightly and I was up early. We have a busy weekend ahead and then I'm off to Florida on Tuesday, so my mind was swirling with all the things left to do -- my usual pre-travel anxiety!

(Top photo: Houses on a street near our flat, one of my photos for the Bleeding London project.)

Friday, July 25, 2014

Well, That Was Awkward

This was the scene at the local fire station when I took Olga for her morning walk several days ago. The sign on the easel out front reads "Closed due to pension theft!" Kind of disconcerting, eh? Supposedly during such strikes firefighters will still respond to "serious fires" in homes, but not rubbish or grass fires, automated alarms and that kind of thing. Apparently this was just one in a long, long string of strikes by the London Fire Brigade to protest government plans to raise retirement age and increase firefighters' pension contributions.

Oh, my. Can't we all just get along?

I've been working on photographing my local streets for the Bleeding London project. I was out this morning with Olga in one area and we went yesterday to another neighborhood nearby. She's become so used to me taking pictures while we walk that she'll just stand next to me while I fiddle with the camera. I can drop her leash and she won't go anywhere. She's very patient.

Yesterday we went to the West Heath, a part of Hampstead Heath that I had not visited before. It's very woodsy and I could not help but notice that there were lots of single men wandering around. Sure enough, turns out it's a very popular spot for gay cruising. Not being on the market myself, I wasn't all that interested, but it's funny that Olga and I stumbled into the middle of the action. Maybe we'll just stick to the main parts of the Heath from now on!

Of course, Olga was oblivious to all that. There was mud, which made her happy. (Not me, so much.)

The neighborhood around the West Heath tends to be very upscale, at least where we walked. I found the home of Aldous Huxley and his clan, and took some pictures here and there, but overall I find that wealthy neighborhoods are much harder to photograph than more heavily trafficked commercial and middle class residential areas. I suppose it's because any distinctive or unusual features tend to be hidden behind walls and hedges.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Olga's Ball Bonanza

As we cleaned up the yard on Tuesday, Olga stayed outside with us, lolling on the grass and keeping an eye on things. Every once in a while she would disappear behind a bush, beneath some ivy or behind our built-in brick barbecue grill and emerge with a new toy!

The previous occupants of this flat had a dog -- and probably several earlier occupants before them. There were lots of stray balls out there.

Some were plain old tennis balls, to be carried around and protectively slept with (or on) until the time came to demolish them.

One was an especially groovy little football. In fact, as you can see, it bore the words "Groovy Baby!" next to a picture of a disco dancing couple. Olga punctured and partly shredded it before I had a chance to take a photo, so you're seeing only the damaged version.

Gotta love the peace sign, smiley face and lava lamp!

Unfortunately, this groovy little ball lasted only about half an hour before it was gnawed into enough pieces that it needed to go into the trash can.

(Olga's soccer ball, on the other hand, lasted several days after she found it on our walk last week. But it finally went into the trash as well, having been pulled almost entirely inside out.)

Another backyard find was a fun little hard plastic red ball that lit up, blinking, when shaken. What a great idea for throwing around at night! Unfortunately, as you can see, Olga gnawed through it as well, exposing the plastic innards and the blinking light. It went out with the trash, still visibly blinking frantically through the plastic trash bag.

We also found a solid yellow ball with a waffled surface that lasted only about 20 minutes. I didn't even have a chance to take its picture.

Olga sure had fun excavating our yard for traces of pets past!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Garden D-Day

The gardener came yesterday to whip our Tarzan-worthy English jungle into shape. Before he arrived I got to work on early-morning weeding, and I uncovered numerous snails and slugs like the critter above. (I relocated this one and several others to shady parts of the garden that stood to remain undisturbed, but I'm sure there will be some heavy duty Darwinism going on over the next few weeks!)

Dave and I have been joking about our garden being incredibly inhospitable. If a plant has painful thorns or sticky sap or proliferates wildly, we have it. Even our iris plants are known as stinking iris. "I hate them," said our gardener helpfully.

The plant I called green alkanet in my previous garden post may actually be borage -- they look so similar I can't really tell. In any case, everyone hates it. We have it in spades! I've removed tons, saving only a token two plants (for the blue flowers).

And the asters! I said before that we had only a few, but that's because I didn't recognize the millions of them that weren't blooming. They provoked a domestic debate. I wanted to save some of them, because I really want to preserve the wild nature of parts of the garden, cultivating wildflowers and native bugs and whatnot. (Snails, even!) Dave has a much neater approach to gardening -- he wants to trim and weed and edge. We compromised on the asters -- I saved a patch about two feet square, and we pulled all the others.

I also saved our largest blackberry bush but we yanked out tons of others. A ridiculous quantity, actually. And we saved our wild geranium.

The little orange flower above was a casualty. We had only one, and I'm not sure what it was -- I thought it was a garden volunteer from previous years, but the gardener seemed to think it was a weed. It was growing out in the open on the lawn, and though I asked him to try to save it, it was trampled in short order. Probably not a realistic request on my part. Maybe it will come back.

The upshot of all our hours of work (the gardener was here all day, and Dave and I worked pretty consistently all day as well) is that we have much more open space and sunlight. The gardener took three carloads of vegetation to the recycling center. And he's coming back next Monday to finish things up!