Saturday, 12 March 2016

New lights, new shower - home away from home in England

The last two weeks have been pretty manic as I've had a work trip to Canada and the UK, and I tried to sort out some bits back home in England at the same time. Toronto is pretty cold at this time of year, with temperatures between minus 12 and minus 7. When I arrived it was brisk but clear, with no sign of snow - something which didn't last very long with snow coming in quickly on the second day of the 5 day visit. I left before it got too deep in snow, and headed back to 'the other side of the pond'.

The tenants have moved out of the house in Buckinghamshire, so it was time to do an inspection and to do some much needed maintenance - with the assistance of IDD, D and their new grafter, S. As it was also Mothering Sunday, I had planned a quick trip to Cambridge to see the family.

First sight of the house in Bucks seemed pretty good until I noticed a place where the paint was flaking away from the wall in a very characteristic way - water damage! I'm getting far too familiar with water damage here in NL, and a quick exploration quickly showed that the grouting in the ensuite shower had given up the ghost after many years of use and water was leaking through the walls. IDD & D were not in the slightest bit phased by this however - so out came the tools and off came the tiles to find out how bad the damage was. The water had waterlogged the wall, but hadn't caused major damage - it wasn't necessary to completely redo all the plaster. Two days with a hot air blower focused on it lifted the majority of the moisture out and had it ready for re-tiling and refitting of a new shower.

Whilst everything was drying out, I took a quick trip to see the family - and quickly got embroiled in even more repair work. M has had many electricians around to quote to replace her overhead downlights with new LED fittings - and each time, as soon as they have quoted they disappear off the face of the earth. IDD kindly nipped up into the attic to have a look - and reappeared looking quite ashen. After I'd followed him back up, it was quite clear why - the downlighters were a very old model, with bare wires and in many cases had scorched the plasterboard boxes around them - a MAJOR fire hazard. Immediate down tools in Bucks, and all hands to the pumps to sort out the Cambridge electrics the next day. The loft is remarkably small and it's a good thing that D is a lithe and slim young man, able to shimmy around in some of the smallest of places. My task was to run around the countryside finding matching light fittings - apparently very few DIY stores stock enough downlighters to do more than a half dozen lights in one go. Thankfully we did manage to get everything done in one day and M now has a much safer home!

Back to Bucks and on with painting, tiling and shower fitting and a million little tasks like changing batteries, lightbulbs and tightening bolts. Thankfully IDD, D & S took it all in their stride and ploughed solidly through all the tasks whilst I juggled work email, calls and trips to DIY stores. I love the new shower, and the new extractor above it will help to make sure that there is no moisture build up in the small room. Sadly we couldn't match the original tiling, and didn't have time to strip all and start again,  but the new tiles are lighter and illuminate the dark corner of the ensuite. A week later and I'm home, tired and slightly grouchy after a week of sleeping on a very dodgy air mattress!

Spring garden maintenance

It's been beautifully sunny recently - cold, crisp and sometimes icy in the morning, but lots of gorgeous sunshine during the daylight hours. Both of us love being outdoors, and we've been catching up on the trimming and pruning in preparation for the spring.

Last year we had lots of lovely blackberries from our bramble patch. It's been there a long time and it's been gradually expanding outwards as it hasn't been trimmed back for years. Much of the undergrowth material is now dead, and it's well overdue a tidy up. We chopped it hard, and aimed to take it back by about 3/4 of it's original size. Blackberries don't form on the first year growth in most of the varieties out there, and I think this is a common invasive variety, not a special fruiting cultivar. You need two year old canes for fruit, so I didn't want to take all of the mature growth out and chop it to the ground. I'm hoping that we will still have a few berries from it in 2016, but we won't be freezing as many as we did last year.  

We've also been trimming back the hydrangeas  around the stables. I'm a little worried we may have been a bit too early in the year, as there are still frosts, and lots of people have been telling me that hydrangeas don't like frost. I really don't like hydrangeas - it's something to do with the way that the 'flower' fades but hangs on for ever - but even I have to admit that they look pretty amazing in the summer when they are exploding into color. I've given them a pretty tough pruning - cutting them back to 1/3rd of their original height, as they had clearly not been trimmed for a few years as well. As with the blackberries, that might be a touch too brutal for them to want to flower this year. Fingers crossed!

The pear trees have been sending up some very tall vertical shoots - I think they were all trimmed back exceedingly hard just before we bought the house. We got the grand total of 5 pears off 3 trees last year, so this year, I'm working on making sure that the trees have enough fertilizer and have some woodchipped space around the base to make sure that they don't have competition from the grass around them..

The last plant (other than nettles!)  that we have in crazy amounts is elderflower. It's another super exuberant plant that shoots up and spreads itself happily around the garden. Once it has its roots solidly in the ground, it's a real nightmare to eradicate without masses of digging or horrible chemicals. The flowers make wonderful drinks - cordials, wines and champagne - and the berries also make a good cordial for a warming winter hot drink. I also love elderflower fritters. I didn't get around to doing much with our crop last year, so this year will be our first elderflower food feast. We've cut back a lot all over the garden and property but given how fast elderflower shoots up, I have no doubts that we will have more than enough for the two of us.

As I look around the garden I can still see so much more to do - we've barely scratched the surface of the main garden, let alone headed out towards the fields. Loving every minute, and happy to be outside! How's your spring maintenance going?