Your Inner Monkey

The latest documentary I directed and produced is airing on PBS this evening. It's all about the science of why you look the way you do. 

Plus it's got monkeys... lots of monkeys.

If you're in the US, please tune in!


The moths are back

I think this is a Jersey Tiger moth. Whatever he is, I like him. And he likes our Buddleia too.


Down the garden path

Path as it is - concrete and straight. Boring.
I have a dilemma.

I'm taking the next week off, and one of the many things I plan to do is dig up our old garden path, and put in a new one. I think I'm going to make it a brick one to match the house.

I realise it's going to take me a lot longer than I think. And I think it's going to take me quite a long time.

I'm in two minds - a curved path following roughly the same route? Or my preferred (but harder work) option of the path taking a longer meandering route bordering our border.

Any advice, answers on a postcard.

The plan!!!


The flower eaters

Parrots - messy eaters.
Now why would these perfectly good blossoms be lying around on the pavements near our house? It's not been windy, there have been no hard frosts, and the tree is in good health.

Looking up, I spotted the answer... the green parrots of South London (no that's not an April fool - London, and parts of the South East have a resident population of parrots). They seem to like eating the flowers. Which I think is totally charming.

The hard winter seems to have done them no harm at all. I keep on spotting them on my way home - munching away amongst the blossoms of a cherry by the side of a busy road. When a bus comes along, the rush of air makes them scatter with a squawk and an inelegant flap, but they soon return.


A long winter

It's been a long hard winter. I've barely been into the garden, nor have I felt like writing anything here.

But the armandii is out, the peonie is looking rude, and the sap is rising. Spring is coming.

Now - where are those seed catalogues.

Peonies... Rude

Clematis Armandii: the only thing in flower at the moment.

More Clematis Armandii


Flowers of the Lost Coast

Over the summer me and the other gardener hired a VW camper from a very nice man in San Francisco and drove north to the Lost Coast of California. 'Lost' because it's the only section of the US Pacific coast that isn't flanked by Highway 1. The terrain is just too rough for a main road to follow the coastline, so Highway 1 bends inland, leaving the Lost Coast sparsely populated and very hard to get to. 

It's a fascinating place - wild, and very isolated. It looks idyllic in the photos, but it was actually blowing a gale, and fog is far more common than sunshine. On top of that, the waves were so big that swimming would have been suicidal. It's a far cry from a day-trip to the British seaside.

We hiked a small part of the Lost Coast Trail - a 24-mile trail that hugs the sea, and is total wilderness throughout. You have to carry a tide table with you, as at high tide parts of the trail are impassable. 

The coast was everything we'd hoped for. Savage, but startlingly beautiful. Huge chunks of driftwood littered the beach - but no litter at all. Sea Lions basked on the black volcanic sands. And despite the fact it was far from peak wildflower season in spring, flowers were everywhere - in the hills, lining the tiny stream beds, and along the shore. I've no idea what most of them are, but a lot looked like wild relatives of late summer perennials.

I've made a pact to go back, but with a tent this time.

Many many more photos below the break.


How to grow your own... wine

My Dad likes wine. He also likes making stuff. So one day he and a friend decided to see if they could make wine.

Luckily he lives in sunny California - where vines grow a bit better than here in South London.

As you can see, they got a bit carried away. My Dad and his friend Bill terraced the entire of the side of a hill next to Bill's house and covered it with vines. Then installed a bespoke irrigation system. It was a massive undertaking.

Until their vines start producing fruit they're buying in grapes and making wine in my Dad's basement. They have lab coats and everything. I sampled a bit, and it actually tastes pretty good. Definitely a step up from the beer he used to brew from a kit in a plastic barrel in our garage when I was growing up. That just tasted of the seventies - nasty.

I'm looking forward to sampling wine made from the fruits of his own vines. Something tells me they'll have plenty of it.


Our side border, or as we call it - the border of death

Digging the Border of Death from Tom on Vimeo.

Ever since we've been here this side border has been known as 'The Border of Death'. It's got our house on one side, and a fence on the other, so it basically never sees the sun. It's waterlogged in winter and bone dry in summer. It's where plants go to die.

So taking the advice of a very nice lady at the Chelsea Flower Show last year we decided to do the only thing we could. Improve the soil. So we built a new high wall of wooden railway sleepers, then ordered a tonne of topsoil and a tonne of compost to fill the new bed.

I spent an entire weekend shifting it onto the border without a wheelbarrow. Not the brightest of ideas - I could hardly move the following day. And to top it off, there wasn't quite enough soil. So there's more lifting and shifting to do. Combined with a sharp trim of the shrubs to get a bit more light, hopefully we'll have a fully functional new border. Now we just have to find some plants to fill it. But that's the fun bit...

The border as it was. Barren, and very unhappy.
Compacted, bone dry heavy clay soil.

First step - the railway sleeper wall.
The soil - arriving by crane.

Two bags. A lot of work. But worth it! See the video at the top for the end result.


A modest harvest

I've been asked to document this weekend's harvest. In part because getting anything out of the vegetable garden at all with the weather this year feels like a total result. But mostly to out-smug some close relations of my co-gardener. She has a fiercely competitive streak when it comes to growing vegetables, and photographic proof of produce is the best way to show her clear superiority in the green fingers department.

It made for a delicious salad and a small but very tasty pudding.


There's a fox in the garden, what am I gonna do...

Ideally sung to the tune 'There's a rat in my kitchen what am I gonna to do'...

By UB40.

You know the one:

I can't quite work out if this is the equivalent of posting lots of pictures of my own cats. But this guy was very cute. I've restricted myself to three pictures only. I took about 30. 

I'm not proud.