Garden news

The aquilegias that I grew from home-harvested seed last year are in flower! They are mostly pretty pastel variations on the parent plant’s dusky pink blooms, but I like this rich deep blue one best.

Although we’ve had some spells of sunshine, the weather continues to be quite chilly and I’m glad I was late in starting my courgette and runner bean seeds. They’ve popped up through the compost now and will hopefully be ready to plant out by the end of the month. I’m already putting them outdoors during the warmest part of the day, so they won’t need a long period of hardening off.

The garden is looking very lush with spring growth now, the rain has been good for that at least, and we haven’t had any frost lately (as far as I’m aware). There are flowers on the strawberries, blackcurrants and loganberries and buds on the raspberries. I’m picking chickweed, rocket and mizuna to eat, have a potentially decent crop of coriander leaves to come (my first success with this!) and my saved parsley seed is germinating well. I’ve eaten my first crop of radishes and planted some more. I’ve earthed up the spuds twice and they’re due for another top-up soon, though it won’t really matter if I don’t get around to it.

I still need to repot some of my fig cuttings and to give as many of them away as possible. I’ve agreed to keep the ones for the community garden for a while, but I want to reduce my watering commitments as much as I can.

I set myself a New Year resolution of only having ten pots to water this year and have failed dismally on that front. I now have more pots than when I set the goal. Oh well, I’m doing better with other resolutions! I’ll plant out the bulbs that are currently in pots and few other potted plants will be axed once they have flowered (things that are pot-bound, not doing very well and too big to repot easily). That and rehoming various things will reduce the total pot-count eventually.

I also need to rip out a lot of forget-me-not plants BEFORE they go to seed. They are very pretty at this time of year, but rather invasive. And last, but not least, I need to keep applying weedkiller (carefully and selectively) to the blasted bindweed – I let it get out of hand last year and I must be more ruthless with it this year .

It’s frustrating having to limit what I do in any one gardening session, but little and not too often achieves more in the long run than a long stint that flattens me for days.


Pause and restart

I didn’t see my doctor yesterday because a random mutation in the appointment system meant that what I was told on Monday no longer applied. But I did get an appointment for next Tuesday. At a time of day that suits me. So that’s good. As long as I don’t forget why I made the appointment, which I’m inclined to do once I feel better. And I was very glad not to have to get dressed and go out yesterday because I had a filthy migraine to top out my misery.

But the good news is that I woke up this morning with only an ignorable amount of pain and feeling more like my “normal” self. Which is not normal as in healthy, just “not feeling too shitty to function except at the most basic level”. So today’s challenge is to restart from when I was forced to pause on Monday morning and NOT to try to “catch up” on all the things I would have done had I not been in collapso mode (plus a few that I merely imagine I could have done if I hadn’t been so poorly).

Which is what “pause and restart” is about. One of the toughest lessons I’ve had to learn over the last few years is that I cannot “catch up”. And that trying to do so generally results in me achieving less rather than more. When I have to take a pause it’s not as simple as just picking up where I left off as soon as I feel better – some plans are date-dependent and it’s just not possible to arrive three days late for a party or other one-off event. It’s hard to shrug off such disappointments, but it has to be done – grieving over such things uses energy that can’t be spared. Getting angry about what you can’t change is like burning the money in your wallet because your mobile phone has been stolen.

Other things shift in priority. For example, food shopping may be delayed for several days, but not indefinitely. I try to always keep a good store cupboard and plenty of no-effort food in the freezer, but sooner or later shopping has to be done. Ditto anything to do with finances – I pay most bills by direct debit so I don’t get caught out by late payment charges if I’m not well enough to keep up with things, but I still have to make sure that there’s enough money in the account to make the payments. So what wasn’t urgent when I paused may well be top priority when I restart.

Which makes planning anything at all difficult. Basically, most of what I plan has to be provisional, depending on how I feel on the day. I used to get terribly anxious about fixed-date-and-time events whether they were enjoyable or not – I hate cancelling things at the last moment and being unreliable. But I’ve learnt, slowly and painfully, to just wait and see. Stressing about whether I’ll be able to go meet with friends or get blood tests done or see an exhibition before it ends actually increases the likelihood of a sleepless night and failure.

I’ve got loads more to say on this subject, but I need to pause now and rest, then get on with things that are probably more important than blogging about my life-management problems. Though I’m thinking that it might be worth writing down some of what I’ve learnt over the years about managing the challenges of chronic ill health in the hope of helping other people. Incurable Optimism strikes again and I add yet another possible project to my already immense list!

Incurable optimisim got me where I am today

And where is that?

In bed, in pain and jolly pissed off.


As you may know, I have ME, which is a chronic, fluctuating condition with a myriad of symptoms. I’ve had it for at least 16 years and you’d think I’d have learnt by now that a spell of feeling a bit better than usual DOESN’T MEAN I’M CURED. But the incurable optimism (IO) that I can beat the illness just won’t lie down and die.

So what happened?

Last week I had a relatively good week – a couple of late nights, all goals achieved plus a few extras and I was feeling on more or less on top of the necessities. I even made some progress with things on my “when I have some spare energy” list. Which was very nice indeed.

Then the blasted IO kicked in. It was the monthly open day at the local community garden on Saturday and despite feeling somewhat weary, I went along and actually did some work! (I usually just visit, if I manage to get there at all). I knew I was pushing it a bit after a busy week, but IO whispered in my ear that I’d be OK, all those years of illness WERE all in my mind, I’m CURED now and I can do NORMAL things. Well, the sort of thing that feels normal when your life is, in fact, very abnormal. I did about 45mins weeding and half an hour’s chatting. Which is A LOT by my usual standards and after a restless night.

And it was great, I thoroughly enjoyed cutting back nettles that were encroaching the entrance path and carefully removing bindweed from a clump of cuckoo pint. Not to mention taking a few photos and talking to various other volunteers and visitors. It was wonderful to be outdoors digging in the dirt on a sunny May morning. Normality. How I crave normality.

I spent the afternoon sensibly resting, chatted to a friend on the phone, had supper and planned an early night. Then the neighbours lit a barbeque… When they’d finished eating they started burning wood from shrubs they’d cut down months ago and sat chatting until nearly midnight. Which I have no doubt was a lovely thing to do when you’ve been at working hard and it’s the first sunny weekend in weeks. I couldn’t begrudge them their fun. But it did mean that my bedroom was (even with the windows tight shut) too full of smoke and noise for me to contemplate going to bed until they did.

I try to go with the flow, stuff happens and it’s no good getting ratty about it (that just consumes more energy), so I accepted that Sunday would be a write-off and I stayed up surfing the net, watching 80s music videos and eating the contents of the fridge (overeating can compensate for fatigue in the short term). I enjoyed it and chose not to dwell on about the likely consequences of failing to rest when necessary. IO told me that as long as I was sensible and rested properly on Sunday I’d be fine – I had a great week, what was one more late night? Late nights are fun – they are normal. And I was only sitting on my arse clicking a mouse – not exactly strenuous activity.

I slept OK, had a restful Sunday and felt quite pleased with how well I’d coped with the unexpected event. Time was when I would have been beside myself with rage at having my routine disturbed by noisy neighbours, but I’ve gradually developed a Zen-like acceptance of shit I can’t control. IO was in full flow!

Am I boring you? Having ME is boring – you have to micro-manage every aspect of your life whilst trying not to become a neurotic over-anxious control freak.

So, back to the story. On Monday morning I felt a tad groggy, but I’d slept reasonably well and dear old IO was telling me that all would be well, I was CURED, doing MORE would be good for me, think positive, push those stupid limiting boundaries, it’s all in your mind, just do it. Etc.

It was a bright morning, but rain was forecast and the scruffy patch of grass near my back door needed strimming. The landlord’s gardener cuts the lawns, but he won’t touch the grass that grows through the crumbling concrete by the back door in case a stone flies up and breaks a window. So I have to do it. It’s not a big job, 20-30 minutes including preparation and clearing up, but it’s hard work for a weed like me. Still, IO was cheering me on, and I manage it OK a few times a year don’t I? Just a quick burst of exertion and it would be done before the rain came and not reproaching me as a job undone every time I looked out of the kitchen window.

Well I did do it. It took less than 30 minutes (I wasn’t really timing it, but, really half an hour max) and by the time I’d finished I was in such pain I could hardly move. Quite scary pain considering one of the key features of ME is that pain and fatigue are delayed by 24-48 hours after exertion. This pain in my joints and muscles had immediate and quite vicious onset. I immediately took some ibuprofen, but I could only move using will power until they kicked in. I spent most of the rest of the day lying on my bed apart from essential forays for drugs and food, and going to the loo.

In my case the delay from exertion to consequences is usually about 36 hours. This is my “normality” – if I overdo it (and that’s not difficult), it catches up with me a day and a half later. Ish. Up to a point I can plan my life around it, but it’s impossible to completely avoid overdoing it if you live alone and want to have a life that doesn’t totally revolve around your heath issues.

Events tend to overlap so I might be expecting a mild, but manageable, period of malaise from one event and then have to react to an unexpected event which compounds and prolongs the first malaise. Or I just overdo it a tiny bit several days running, then crash for no obvious reason. Or, and this is where I am now, I have a run of good days when I appear to get away with doing more than my usual baseline of activity. Which is when the IO that I’m cured at last tends to kick in…

The more overdone I am the longer it takes to recover, and sometimes one event runs into another and it all gets horribly tangled up. When that happens all I can do is accept that IO was wrong (again) and retreat to basics (rest, food and what personal hygiene I can manage – it’s not pretty!). What scared me this time round (enough to make me plan to see my GP asap) is the change in severity and onset of symptoms.

There’s no cure for ME and recovery for someone of my age and in my situation, whilst not impossible, is unlikely, so I don’t usually bother seeing my doctor except for routine tests and prescriptions. Apart from anything else it’s difficult to make an appointment. I’m lucky to be on the list of a good GP who is not unsympathetic to ME patients, but his working hours are of the “every third Monday, unless it’s a bank holiday, in which case it’s Tuesday, and Thursday afternoons, except when he’s on holiday or on a training course or it’s a full moon” variety. He’s duty doctor tomorrow so, if I can get through on the phone between 8:00 and 8:05am before all the days’ appointments are booked, I’ll see him tomorrow. If not, I can choose between seeing a random doctor or waiting for an indeterminate period of time (Dr is on holiday for the next two weeks).

Are you bored yet? I am. Well, maybe not bored, just a bit sick of dwelling on the dreary details of Life with ME, but I think I need to get this stuff out of my head. If you are still reading, thank you. Having ME is boring, mostly I prefer to concentrate on the non-ME aspects of my life, but today I’m stuck in bed and feel like telling it like it really is for a change. And this is still a sanitised version. I haven’t (yet) mentioned the fact that I’m well overdue for a bath and hairwash, but it was buy food or have a bath this morning and I chose food. And yes, I know you can have groceries delivered, but in my experience it’s less stressful overall to go and do my own shopping than to shop online. Home delivery is for when I’m past caring whether they bring the wrong kind of pears or the yoghurt is short-dated.

IO is still busy – it’s telling me that it’s OK for me to write this because I’m resting on my bed, it’s not physical exertion and I don’t really feel nauseous with fatigue (well, writing helps me ignore the nausea). And if I feel well enough to go to the doctors tomorrow (and if that sounds daft, fellow Spoonies will know what I mean), IO will probably try to convince me that I don’t really need to worry about the increasing bouts of increasingly unpleasant pain I’ve been experiencing lately and that I’d be better of using the time for something more interesting (or just having a bath and washing my hair). After all, it’s probably “just” a progression of the ME combined with aging, and if I’ve developed some other ailment, maybe I don’t really want to know yet. But I do need another prescription, which is not allowed on repeat – I have to see the doctor so he can confirm that I haven’t become a raving junkie as a result of taking 50 odd diazepam tablets a year. Sigh.

Still, that old IO keeps me going really – life would be bleak indeed without the hope that one day I will be completely well again, but as I’ve been writing it’s occurred to me that although I’m pretty good at managing the bad stuff I also need to learn to manage the IO. It’s heady stuff, optimism, and on balance I’m glad it’s incurable, but like chronic illness it needs to be tamed a bit, so it doesn’t lead me into bad places. It’s good to feel better, but I really, really need to learn to let it happen slowly, to enjoy the feeling of making progress without getting carried away and falling off the mountain. Again. Wish me luck, and thanks for reading, if you’ve got this far. Useful hints and tips for taming IO welcome in the comments section 🙂 .

Nature table

It was yet another a wet and stormy day at the end of the wettest April I can remember. I felt ill and weak and sick and tired of wind and rain. A boring bedrest day of deep melancholia. But late in the afternoon the skies cleared, the wind dropped and the sun came out. I opened the back door to feel the unfamiliar warmth and survey the wind damage.

In the grass near the back door I spied a piece of bright yellow lichen washed off the roof by the torrential rain. I thought of my version of The Quince Tree’s multitude of small delights and decided it was time to make another collection. Slowly and carefully because of my throbbing head and feeble energy, I took a walk round the garden collecting colourful small delights to arrange on my nature table by the back door.

Just half an hour of gentle focused activity transformed a miserable lost-to-illness day into one with a small, but intensely happy memory of achieving something creative. The wind and rain returned that night and wrecked my careful arrangement, but that’s OK – what is really important is the process of doing, not the end result.

The pictures don’t begin to convey the sheer pleasure I experienced that afternoon, so, if you haven’t wandered round your garden collecting “treasures” recently, please, do make time to create your own nature table (or whatever you like to call it) soon…

Bee confusion

Regarding my previous post (18th April) about Mason bees: Having seen a lot of similar-looking bees when I visited a branch library I don’t usually go to yesterday, I now think I may have misidentified them and that they are in fact Hairy Footed Flower bees.

The Wiki entry says:

The females usually lay eggs in a nest equipped with cells excavated by themselves in clay slopes and steep walls of mud.

The bees at the library were making holes in the earth of some raised flower beds which are being left uncultivated for their use. The bee using the hole in my wall could be an adventurous opportunist saving herself a lot of digging by using a pre-made hole!

I suppose it doesn’t really matter what kind of bee they are, the main thing is the pleasure I get from seeing them. And wondering whether and how bees classify non-bee creatures…

Given that my own use English is far from perfect it seems a bit churlish to mention that Hairy Footed Flower bees clearly aren’t “unique” to Goring Library, but it is a shame to see such misuse of words on a notice displayed at a library!

Bees in the wall

I was sitting in the sun planting primulas in a pot last April when I heard a cheeping sound nearby. A baby bird? Where? It sounded just like a peeping nestling, but eventually I realised that the noise was coming from the wall! It was a bee! Cheeping! And apparently digging a hole in the mortar! On the ground under the hole was a good teaspoonful of fresh mortar dust.

Naturally my interest was piqued so I popped indoors to consult my friend Google and deduced that it was a mason bee. The Wiki entry for mason bees says that they don’t excavate their nests, but the bees that occupied the hole in the picture this year and last have most definitely have deepened the hole and pushed the crumbled mortar out onto the step below. Once I started watching the bees I realised that there were perhaps half a dozen of them busy nearby.

It’s a great pleasure and privilege to be able to observe a wild creature at close quarters and I’m grateful that my neighbours are happy to share their home with bees. Sadly this year there have been fewer bees than last – at least one fell prey to a spider which built it’s sticky trap under the neighbour’s meter box. T destroyed the spider’s web when he saw a bee trapped in it, but who knows how many more of our lovely black bees the spider ate?

I tried really hard to catch a snap of the bee as she came out of the hole, but what you see above is the best I managed. It got a bit tiring standing in the hot sun with the camera poised, watching and listening for the sign that she was about to fly out. I mostly hit the shutter fractionally too late, but sometimes I was too quick. This is my best shot and you can just see that it’s a bee emerging from a hole in a wall. Can’t you?

The hole is several inches deep – I shone a torch in to get a good look. On one occasion I could see the gleaming lining of pollen and nectar. When the bee had finished laying her eggs she neatly walled them up with a mixture of tiny bits of leaf debris and mud. It was fascinating to see the bee nipping off bits of dried leaf and flying back to the nest with them. While I was watching she always flew out of the hole towards the north, whether this was because of some kind of instinct or because I was standing to the south I don’t know.

Thanks to Hunter’s Mason Bees for this useful article about the lifecycle of mason bees. Does anyone have bees in their walls? Or experience of using a manufactured bee box for solitary bees? I wonder if they actually get used or are just a gimmick for the gullible…

Fig tree cuttings – a success story

Aren’t they looking good? These three were started off indoors last October and are well ahead of the outdoor cuttings I set at the same time. I started hardening them off last week and eventually they will stay outdoors all year round.

The outdoor cuttings have also started to sprout and it looks as though I’ll end up with at least eight young fig trees. Two or three will go to the community garden and one into my own garden. I’ll be giving the rest away to neighbours in the hope of reinvigorating the local fig growing tradition. I may even do some guerilla planting in suitable corners of public land so people can forage the fruit in future years. The more food we grow locally, the better in my opinion.

The parent trees are in the Tarring Fig Garden which date back to around 1745, if not earlier, and were once quite a tourist attraction with a tea room for visitors. Sadly most of the fig garden was lost to new housing in the last century, but the few remaining trees are protected and can be visited by the public once a year.

I thought it would make a nice link between past and present to have some descendents of the original Tarring figs in the new community garden. The current owners agreed and kindly gave me the cuttings. Having successfully produced more young trees than I need, I’ve expanded my ambitions and hope to encourage more people to grow a fig tree or two.

I haven’t actually grown any figs of my own yet, but I have a small tree in a pot that my brother gave me at Christmas and that will hopefully provide me with my first crop this year. It already has a number of fruit buds, so fingers crossed for clement weather!