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September 2008
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October 2008

What a writer reads

You can’t write if you don’t read. We’re both writers and famous for checking more books out of the local library at one time than anyone else. Put something in front of us – we’ll pick it up and read it. I’ll turn over a plate to read the backstamp and put on my specs to read the tiny copyright notes on a box of tissues.

By the side of the bed is a partially organised pile of reading matter, spilling out of its formerly organised piles… The bedside cabinet, of course, is full to bursting. Same as last time.

As I slipped on a copy of The Legislative Gazette (riveting stuff) that I picked up in the New York state capital, Albany, last week I thought perhaps it was time for a clear out and another look at what was actually there. Click here for a look at the bedside situation in April 2007. Here goes.

The Book Stops Here (A Mobile Library Mystery) – Ian Sansom
A very strange mystery. 1) The author’s name does not appear on the cover or the spine. 2. Nothing happens for the fist 100 pages. 3. There is no corpse. Very sparky and strange. Excellent.
Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
Pity the type the type in this old paperback is so tiny – that always puts me off reading it again.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court – Mark Twain

Confession: I’ve never read this, that’s why it’s there waiting.
Birds of Pennsylvania – James S. Wakerley & Lilian D. Wakerley

From the local library sale, can’t pass books on our local birds.
Carp Fishing on Valium – Graham Parker
Great autobiographical short stories from the great rock ‘n’ roller. Turns out that when he was a kid he was fishing the same streams, at the same time, as I was. Bought on for one cent.
The Sound of the City - Charlie Gillett
Classic history of rock ‘n’ roll. Superb.
Cinderella Sims – Laurence Block
One of the best mystery writers, this is a very old one disinterred.
Across the River – C. Solimini
Another mystery and not quite throw-it-at-the-wall-in-a-fury bad but unreadable. It might have helped if the text was not printed crooked on every page. Have they no respect?
Strange Brew: Eric Clapton and the British Blues Boom – Christopher Hjort
Boggling, day-by-day history of the British blues boom from 1965-1970. To be discussed on my radio show tomorrow.
Planthropology – Ken Druse
An uncorrected proof for review. Yes, they still create uncorrected proofs to send out. But the many pictures are only in black-and-white.
White Bicycles – Joe Boyd
Musical autobiography from the record producer who worked with Pink Floyd, Incredible String Band, Fairport Convention, Nick Drake – and was Stage Manager of the Newport Folk Festival the year Dylan went electric. Fascinating, but low on insight and, oddly for those 60s days, almost completely devoid of sex.
Grow Your Own Veg Journal – Carol Klein
(No, not Grow Your Own Veg Journal – if you see what I mean) For review. One of those books with blank pages on which you’re suppose to add your own notes – which no one ever does because they can’t bear to deface a book.
Piece of My Heart - Peter Robinson
Excellent mystery sent to me by a listener to my radio show as it deals with a murder at a Sixties rock festival.

Milford Magazine - Our excellent local monthly.
The Week (latest US edition) – Valuable digest of papers from around the world for those of us too busy to rad the Sydney Herald and the Irish Times.
New Yorker (three back issues) – Oh dear, getting behind…
Nutrition Now – the truth about what we eat. Excellent.
Hanburyana – Erudite botanical journal from the Royal Horticultural Society.
Journal of the Hardy Orchid Society – Enthusiasts only.
MacUser (UK edition) – The best UK Mac magazine.
Garden Media Guild News - trade journal for garden writers, photographers etc

Black Bear Film Festival programme book – from last week’s local festival.
How to Write: Journalism – free with The Guardian newspaper in England and given by my mother. How long have I been doing this?!
Local newspapers – back issues of them all, too many to list! Front page main headline in a paper from a  nearby town: Hawley Approves Nail Salon. Oh, bursting with news, we are…
WJFF Volunteer Handbook – new edition from my radio station
Seed catalogs – they seem to arrive every day… moved into a file of their own.

And, like last time, no picture of the disorganised pile…

Fall color, and ghostly presences

KenozaLake12464-500 The fall color this season has been a little mixed – a few early, chilly nights coupled with a few days of strong winds have muted the display in our area. But 35 miles north of here, across the Delaware River in New York state, I came across this dramatic display last weekend on the way to the radio station. And this picture is almost entirely not-messed-around-with in Photoshop.

But with more frost threatened last night, the old bedsheets were out again protecting the cannas and coleus, caladiums and colocasias on the deck and in the borders. Not the most picturesque of approaches – but it works if the night Ghostlyprotection500temperatures don’t drop too low. In fact, last night took us down to only 35F – tonight is supposed to be colder.  But don’t just leave those bedsheets in place – it can be tempting, especially if you’re out all day and there’s no one around to be offended by the “display”. But the flowers underneath can rot in no time if the moisture is not allowed to dry out in the autumn sun.

Frostprotectionumbrella500 Pots from the deck were brought on to the porch and for a little extra protection gathered under the umbrella and with a few more bedsheets enjoyed a very effective shelter. And the cats found it intriguing too…

Transatlantic seeds

Thompson and Morgan is the only seed company with a significant presence on both sides of the Atlantic. Based in Suffolk in eastern England and in Jackson, New Jersey, T&M are known for their exciting new introductions, many bred at their own plant breeding station, and the sheer size of their full color catalogue. They publish separate catalogs amd websites for each market, one for the UK, one for North America.

This year, as usual, there are far too many newcomers to mention so let me just pick a five.

Antirrhinum ‘Bronze Dragon’
From T&M’s own breeding, when I saw this last year at the T&M headquarters I was impressed. Deepest bronze foliage is topped with delightful two-tone purple and white flowers on neat plants. Lovely for containers and the front of the border.
Order from T&M (UK)

Order from T&M (North America)

CosmosrosebobonTM330 Cosmos ‘Double Click Rose Bonbon’
Double cosmos are great cut flowers, and as it happens I was admiring a huge vase of ‘Double Click Mixed’ at my favourite British pub, The Kings Arms at Polebrook, in Northamptonshire, just a couple of weeks ago. They were still going strong at the end of September. Now this is the first separate colour, with delightfully fluffy double rose pink flowers on plants 2-3ft/60-90cm tall. I expect to see great billows of ‘Double Click Rose Bonbon’ in the pub restaurant next year.
Order from T&M (UK)
Order from T&M (North America)

Nasturtium ‘Cobra’
A semi-trailing nasturtium with very dark blue-green foliage and deep red double flowers, ideal spilling out of baskets and as well-behaved ground cover. Another from T&M’s own breeding, it’s taken them ten years to build up enough seed to offer.
Order from T&M (UK)
Order from T&M (North America)

RudbeckiaCherryBrandyTM-600 Rudbeckia ‘Cherry Brandy’
Developed by T&M, and fifteen years in the making, this is the first red rudbeckia and it looks spectacular. For more on this take a look at my New Plants blog.
Order from T&M (UK)
Order from T&M (North America)

Tomato ‘Cherrola’
For UK customers only, I’m afraid, this was a star at last year’s Royal Horticultural Society trial of cherry tomatoes, for more on this check out my New Plants blog.
Order from T&M (UK)

If you prefer to look over the T&M print catalog, and it’s well worth a few hours winter fireside browsing, you can email a request for a copy of the UK catalogue here and order the North American catalog here.

Those deer have powerful allies

Slasheddeerfence500-1 A bear has broken down the deer fence.

I was away in England till recently and while I was away my wife Judy looked out of the window one morning to see three deer munching through the phlox and hibiscus. Nursing her strained back, she managed to chase them out the way they’d come in (conveniently provided by the bear), tied up the fence with string in a temporary repair and headed off to the chiropractor.

Now let me be clear: this was not one of those flimsy wisps of netting that come treacherously labelled as “deer fence” at Home Depot and which can’t keep out a three-legged mouse. This is the real deal, not steel wire but extra heavy duty black polypropylene from Benners, the top deer fence specialists in the country. It might as well have been a silk scarf.

So, it’s the middle of the night. The bear, which I’ve watched trot nonchalantly around the outside of the fence on more than one occasion, decides to take a short cut. One slash of the paw – walk right through. The largest bear recorded in our area weighed 864lb (393kg) and could probably do just the same to a steel fence.

Bearskunkcabbage2500 Then the deer, which also regularly amble along just outside the fence, suddenly find a gap as they make their nocturnal circuit. And they turn right in to find feasts undreamed off in the overgrazed woodland which they’re usually forced to scour for morsels..

Fortunately, there can hardly be a less devastating time for them to get in. We’d not yet had a frost so there was plenty of luxuriant foliage to choose from. And, finding so much lush growth, they sampled a little from a wide variety of plants. PhysocarpusStripped500 And they didn’t feel the need to eat the shrub stems but stripped the foliage and left the woody growth. Frankly, if they eat hosta leaves in September it’s not the end of the world. But if they eat shrubs to the ground years of growth is lost. Only the 7ft heptacodium has been seriously set back – they not only ate the leaves and shoots but stripped the bark a few inches above the ground.HostaEatenDeer-500

But, unfortunately, just before I left for England I’d planted two or three deliveries of new varieties sent on trial – mostly they were pulled right out of the ground. And with Judy finding it difficult to bend over to replant them carefully they look rather sad.

It’s depressing. I’ve recently extended the fence and am making some new shade beds but if a bear with a liking for a straight line decides to go through then the deer won’t be far behind. In winter, when there’s little else, the shrubs would be sawn off at ground level.

Anyone have experience of electric fences?