Monday, September 30, 2013

Slowly But Surely

Well not everything is slow, some move more quickly, just like time. Whatever happened to summer? It seems to have just flown by this year and now the signs of autumn are unmistakeable. We have been super busy all summer so no wonder it felt like it has just passed us by just like that, so quick but one thing that did stick and linger in mind is that weather wise, it has been a decent summer.

To be honest we have been so pre-occupied that it never really hit me before that autumn is indeed here until I saw this group of ginkgos earlier today when I got home from work:

Nevermind! It does mean that it's not long now before we really have to prioritise the garden again for a few weeks as we prepare it for the cold months ahead (which we're hoping won't be that cold, mild would be very nice!).

Not long now before I have to cut back the Gunnera tinctoria
And not long now before I put this Cycas circinalis under cover
And now back to the title, slowly but surely we are starting to regain our house again. And last weekend we went full swing with redecoration starting in the lounge where all the work the builders have to do have all been done, yay!

A glimpse of our new lounge...
But work continues in other areas, like on the porch which is part of the makeover of the front garden (which we blogged about recently).

Construction of the new porch
So far so good...
I still like the idea of a pond here underneath a walkway. Gaz firmly said no.
We're definitely getting there! 

Mark :-)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Half a Central Park

Before we set off for New York I had visions of spending an entire day at Central Park in Manhattan, a colossal public green space right at the centre of a bustling city and surrounded by sky scrapers and towering buildings, and considered to be the 'lungs of New York City'. A huge park spanning 840 acres and much bigger than the giant city park I'm more familiar with which is Hyde Park in London, I was aware that it has different generously spaced sections to explore and with different functions too. And with it still being late summer when we visited I was also expecting to see some of their summer bedding displays and plantings within the park.

Central Park, New York City
Alas, spending an entire day there was not to be the case. We found that there was so much to do in Manhattan that it quickly dawned on us that a week is simply not enough to see and experience all the essentials of NYC. Instead of dashing here and there just to catch a glimpse of what we want to see, we chose a few and took our time to experience and explore them.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Garden in September

Whilst we weren't looking, the garden kept growing....

Figuratively speaking of course. We have been away for a week in September and for most of the summer our attention has been on the house renovation. Suffice to say gardening and the garden has taken a back seat. And there were days that all we've done outside is a quick look once over before we hurried back to carry on with work in the house.

But even if we weren't looking we're glad the garden carried on growing.

If Only We had a Lawn...

As regular readers will know we no longer have a lawn in our garden, which combined with our love for gadgets made us wish we still had one when looking at the Miimo, the robotic lawn mower from Honda UK. When we did have lawn - the last section of grass was prior to building the filter house for the koi pond - it was mown the traditional way, by me!

However the Miimo takes over the grass cutting duties, automatically cutting the grass several times a week, providing the weather is good enough. This is not the first robot mower of course, there have been several others available in the UK for a number of years, Husqvarna have had one since the mid 1990's. Where Honda have the advantage is through the use of genuine robotic technology, most people will be familiar with the humanoid robot Asimo that featured on QI with Stephen Fry.

The technology that Honda have been developing with Asimo is not just for publicity such as TV appearances, there is genuine real world applications. One such application is the Miimo, which unlike other robot mowers is able to "see" obstacles and avoid them rather than bump into them and then reverse to go round which is the common approach with most other automatic mowers.

So other than looking good and having some clever technology, is the Miimo actually a god mower. It is still a fairly new product so looking for long term reviews is difficult. However the early indications are all positive. Miimo doesn't collect the grass clippings, instead it chops them into a fine mulch which it spreads on the lawn. Whilst there has always been a debate over whether to rake up clippings or leave them, the Miimo chops them so finely that they fertilise the lawn. From reading a number of reviews of the longer term effect of this chop finely and disperse approach (admittedly reviews of other robot mowers) most agree that this does have a beneficial impact on the health of the lawn.

In terms of cutting the lawn itself Miimo has number of options it is able to cut in a random pattern, which is most best when mowing larger areas that contain a number of obstacles or complex borders. Honda explain that this produces less stress on the lawn which should lead to healthier grass. Alternatively you can tell Miimo to follow a particular directional pattern, which can be used when mowing areas with simple, straight borders and minimal obstacles. Finally the mower can follow mixed mowing pattern that gives a combination of both approaches.

The mower is also weather proof and has its own charging station, where it returns to charge up, its quiet and energy efficient too, one estimate of power usage I read was that the estimated running cost for one summer is in the region of £12. That said this is not an inexpensive gadget, with prices online from £1990, although is competitively priced compared to similar mowers from other manufacturers. 

So now all we need is a robot gardener to do the rest of the chores! 

Competition time

We are giving one reader the chance to win a £50 gardening voucher.

To enter tell us what gardening task you would love a robot to be able to do for you.

Extra entries can be made by following us and sharing this competition on Twitter or by liking our page and sharing the competition on Facebook. An additional entry can be made by "following" this blog via Google Friend Connect

Terms and conditions: This competition closes at 23.59 on 7 October 2013. Any entries received after this time will not be counted. Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter. By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name being published and by taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read, understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them. The winner will be selected at random from the correct entries and will be announced here on the blog. Please make sure we are able to contact you if you do win, as we will need to arrange for your prize to be sent to you. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Front Garden Makeover Begins

Finally, the part of our property that we have mostly ignored, or if not at least neglected all these years is going to get a makeover - our tiny front garden (or driveway being as it is fully paved).

You would think that we would have prioritised this part of the property being the first one to be seen the moment anyone arrives to visit us and the garden but nope that wasn't the case.

Since we moved in here it largely served as an area to store or even dump materials to be used for the back garden. The back garden has always been and will always be our main priority being a relatively large area for planting as well as being private. The front garden however is tiny, exposed, and functional for parking a car, not the sort of place for hanging around for all of the above reasons. So as we developed the back the front got side lined.

Work in progress and not a pretty sight
But the time has come that the front garden receives some much needed attention. It may not be the biggest of spaces but it is the 'face' of our property after all and is the one that gives the first impression, kerb appeal if you may call it.

The thing is when it comes to front gardens there is almost always a need for conformity to adhere to that will be sympathetic to the type and age of the house and its immediate surroundings. More often than not these are the first considerations over ones creativity and sense of individuality. Unlike the more private 'back' where you'll have more free reigns to do practically whatever you want within reason. Be too creative, wacky, or individual to the front garden and face of the house and you risk devaluing your property.

But before I continue, let me tell about a front garden that I have always admired ever since I've seen a photo of it online many years ago (and fortunately Ian of Pampas2palms featured on one of his blog posts just a few months ago). Once upon a time, Chelsea Flower Show used to have a dedicated category for the design of small front gardens and one of the ones that were built for that category was this garden:

Photo by Ian Cooke of Pampas2palms
I love it! It is fun, quirky, very unusual, and above all it is a pond (as most of you would have deduced by now, I love ponds!!) situated in an area you wouldn't normally associate a pond to be located. Whimsical and totally impractical but I love it nevertheless. I wouldn't mind having something very similar in the future, not in the front of the house of course. But I imagine it in front of a garden outbuilding, a contemporary one, the sort that is marketed as a home office. Something for the future garden (when and where, who knows...).

So when I arrived home yesterday this was the sight that greeted me and I was immediately reminded of the picture above. 

Instead of a pond the entire has been dug up in preparation for the base of what will be a little porch at the front. The existing front door will be replaced by something more simple and appropriate as a secondary front door, as well as the ugly kingfisher stained glass panel. A new front door will be installed on to the porch.

Ironically, with the building of the new porch would mean the ripping out of the existing wooden storm porch which is an original feature that has been there since the house was built mid 1930's.

Conservatory at the back, a porch for the front, all part of the current house renovation. Once the porch is finished we can then decide what else to do at the front and what planting scheme to go for. At the moment the plan is to reinstate metal railings on both sides of the front garden as it was originally several decades ago. And from there perhaps have small raised beds, a thin hedge, or even large pots with specimen plants. Should we go for more traditional planting or grow succulents on raised beds as it's an ideal spot for them with it being south facing, milder, and sheltered? Small space it may be but there are still plenty of options to go for.

The Dusty Miller that bit the dust. It makes me laugh whenever I see the two hanging baskets of dead plants at the front of the house (and the fact that the builders have opted to keep them there till the last minute).
Work has started and will continue in the following days to come. The front garden makeover is long overdue and so glad it's finally happening.

Mark :-)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bye Bye Miss American Pie

I never realized how pumped up I must have been with adrenaline and other stress hormones until we went away in the middle of the house renovation, relaxed, then came back and found that it took me a few days to get into the loop again.

Work continues in the house and some progress were made whilst we were away but things are far from finished and inconveniences are still there and there are loads for us to do still...

But it was a very enjoyable time away from it all and we had a blast suffice to say!

We're hoping to sort out the photos in the following days to come and will share them soon. At least now we have the mass photo re-sizing transferred on to our little laptop and we can conveniently do it there. Unlike before where it was only on our desktop computer wherein at the moment you have to move loads of stuff away just to be able to use it.

We've had so many wonderful, amazing, unforgettable, and funny moments whilst we were across the pond. Like when a security guard held up a queue of people behind us just to be able to chat to us about the royal family (he was particularly fascinated with Camilla Parker-Bowles); or when I nearly choked on my cinnamon pretzel when a shop assistant informed me that a purchase I made earlier qualified for a raffle for a chance to win a whole weeks holiday to Liverpool....

On our flight to New York there were a few irritating passengers, obviously in a holiday spirit (or is that too many spirits?) who were belting out 'New York, New York' and 'New York State of Mind'. Come on guys, let the other passengers get some sleep (or at least have some originality)! But on our way back home I was discreetly humming to myself 'Bye Bye Miss American Pie' (Madonna's version of course).

America is a colossal country, and each state is a country in each own right with its own culture, and New York City is just a small fraction of New York State but is a good taster of what else is in store for the rest of this amazing country. We're intrigued and we're looking forward to exploring it even more in the future. We'll be back soon for sure.

We found New Yorkers generally very friendly but we've been told that the people in the West Coast are even friendlier, is that true? ;)

Mark :-)

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Post Card from NYBG

Our last day in New York and we are sat in the grounds of The New York Botanic Gardens. How great is it to have wifi sat in a garden!

These are just be a quick unedited snapshot of the garden and a full post will be shared with you all on our return.

See you all soon - off to the airport shortly :)

Mark and Gaz

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The New York High Line

Running for about a mile on the eastern Side of Manhattan on a former elevated railway line is one of New York’s newest Parks. The High Line is a fantastic example of urban renewal as the former railway tracks make way for trees, grasses and pathways.

The elevated railway had opened to trains in 1934, but by the late 1970s the line was underused with the last train running in 1980 – pulling a cargo of frozen turkeys! During the 80’s various business owners lobbied for the tracks to be demolished. Abandoned for years but thankfully not demolished, the tracks became home to tough grasses, and trees, by 2004 the city of New York recognised the potential in the High Line and $50million was earmarked for its redevelopment into a public space. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

View from The Rock

We are staying only a short walk from The Rockefeller Centre, so decided to take in the views. Whilst the most famous of the skyscrapers is The Empire State, you dont get to appreciate  it unless you can see it. The view from the Top of The Rock gives you a fantastic view out across central Park - more on that in another post later in the week, and also across New York to the Empire State and other famous Landmarks.
The Empire State Building in the centre of the picture.

Central Park

We were surprised to see a number of Butia Capitata palms planted in the Channel Gardens outside the building, presumably they are potted and lifted for winter as I cant imagine them looking this good for long with the New York winter!

With the heat of NY and presumably ample watering the exotics look fantastic, the magnificent setting helps too!

We will share other short "postcard" posts from our trip as the week progresses.


Brunch at Bryant Park

We finally made it across the pond and after a long flight and an hour’s yellow cab ride to 42nd Street we checked in, dropped our bags, freshened up and decided we needed some…brunch!

The weather is looking so fine here in New York City and what better way to start our stay here than a spot of alfresco eating in a park near to where we’re staying. So past the Chrysler Building and buying some sandwiches and pastries at Grand Central Terminal we settled down just a few minutes after in a perfect spot at Bryant Park, a charming little green oasis nestled in amongst the towering skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan.

We are looking forward to a fabulous week ahead!

Mark and Gaz  :)

Friday, September 06, 2013

Competition: Win a Bouquet of Flowers

The lovely people at Serenata Flowers, an award winning online UK florist & plants shop are offering one reader the chance to win a £40 bouguet of flowers of their choice.

Brightly coloured Dendrobium orchids
You can choose the flowers that you like best, whether thats Orchids, roses or something else. How about a touch of the exotic with the aptly named Amazonia bouquet.

Get your jungle jive on at Club Tropicana - 'cos these showgirl heliconias sure know how to party. Big, bold shapes. Big, bold colours. Big, bold impact.

So to enter, simply tell us your favourite flower and why you like it. The winner will be selected at random from all entries made.

Extra entries can be made by following us and sharing this competition on Twitter or by liking our page and sharing the competition on Facebook. An additional entry can be made by "following" this blog via Google Friend Connect

Terms and conditions: This competition closes at 23.59 on 20 September 2013. Any entries received after this time will not be counted. Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter. By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name being published and by taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read, understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them. The winner will be selected at random from the correct entries and will be announced here on the blog. Please make sure we are able to contact you if you do win, as we will need to provide your details to Serenata Flowers to arrange for your prize to be sent to you.