The Outer Hebrides

This summer we went up North, and spend a couple of weeks camping in the Outer Hebrides, mainly in and on the water–open skies, brilliant colours, and eagles soaring above the bay.

Well ….

… only after our Outwell Montana 6 held its word and survived gale force 10 storms with only some minor bruises! While I was huffing and puffing lugging the heavy tend over uneven ground, when I saw other tends collapse like houses of cards around us I was rather grateful for our old lady! A local farm shop supplied us with fetching olive green and lined fishermen trousers–allowing walks to the beach. Maybe walks is a bit of an understatement, charging against the wind, stomping through wet sand, along a raging shoreline is probably a more adequate description. We played Ninja Paws, ate chocolate, and chatted while the tend hissed like a chained dragon trying to take off.

long exposure evening sky all blue hues
long exposure evening sky

Our weather app had thrown it’s virtual and proverbial hands in the air. Eventually the storm receded, and we were able to get out more. We went out with the kayaks, and while the boys were fishing, I made good use of the fishermen’s trousers and sat in the wet sand for long-exposure shots. We flew the kites, went to see standing stones, and even caught some days of such warmth that we swam in the Atlantic not needing our normal 5 mm wet suits. So all in all a perfect summer, after a wet and stormy start.

It is needless to say when spending time on Harris and Lewis the sew-inclined person has to visit Clò-Mòr the Harris Tweed exhibition. There are some interesting designer garments to see, and you can learn about the history of Harris Tweed. I reminisced in childhood memories combing some wool and had to have serious words with myself about budget for fabric!

The fabric I eventually decided for reminded me of the colours of the Highlands and Islands–and well, my favourite camping mug.

Whilst you can buy garments and some fabric at the exhibition, they have a bigger store in Tarbert close to the ferry terminal. And there it is really difficult to choose just one panel for making a dress! Did I say really, really? You could not buy lining there–or at least I don’t remember seeing lining, which is a bit a shame as they could sell lining matched with the beautiful wool they have in the shop. Once at home I tried to draft a couple of designs that would work with the dress and could not stop myself from superimposing the figure onto the landscape. More about the actual dress in the next blog post.

Living Wall: Iteration 02

Felt Pockets and Pot Bound Plants

So after one season of the felt pockets it turns out that even the biggest available pockets are too small, and most of the plants become pot-bound. I had a chat with a gardener from the local private garden centre and they told me that it always takes a bit of experimentation, but was able to recommend some plants that instead of becoming pot-bound would just no grow as big as they would roaming freely. Most of the alpine plants available in spring provide a good cover and early flowers. Another plant I am fond of is the winter pansy. I planted mine in late January and we have mid April now, they have been blooming since and are now developing nice foliage and keep getting new blooms. I would say the £3 spend in ASDA were definitely worthwhile.

Don’t Waste your Money

Self watering green wallsystem

Since the felt pockets are prone to dry out really quickly–and I am living in Scotland!–I decided to try out the self-watering system. BIG no no … firstly for the size of our living wall at the cheaper end the pots would have costed me £600. So I bought two rows only for proof of concept, and boy was I glad I did. These pots became waterlogged really quickly (USDA 8) the the plants literally rotted in them. I eventually took my drill and drilled the bottoms of all the pots. As you can see in the photo above most of the plants did not take in the pots, also they appear to be bigger than they are. Due to the double bottom in them, and the slanted shape, they cannot even take plants the size the biggest felt-pockets could. Additionally if you water a lot of the soil gets washed out.

I am now planning to take the pots I have, fix them on a South-facing fence and add a mix of sand and rocks for good drainage and create a fence with colourful succulents in them.

Keep in simple!

Well, I had an idea. Considering that I could not find a ready made wall system that was affordable and had the appropriate pot sizes for my plants, I figured I could just get actual planters, which are sold in packs of 10, and won’t loose space due to either how the pockets are sewn or the design of the hanging wall system. So without much ado here is the solution that actually works without breaking the bank.

Tip: pre-drill a hole before fixing the pots to the wall to avoid the plastic from breaking, put a washer between the screw-head and the pot to prevent it from tearing and providing a better fit. You want to make sure to use outdoor screws and washers so they don’t rust.

I bought simple brown plastic planters, 17cm, placed a square of an old bath towel in the bottom to prevent the soil from washing out through the holes, and then filled the planters with the soil mix described in the previous post and planted herbs, flowers, and strawberries. Mind you the strawberries weren’t too keen on the small planters and I would have to go for different type of strawberry such as wild strawberries. Having busy Lizzies in the living wall had a dramatic effect and covered all the pots so it literally became a living wall.

Why have a living wall?

This might be an observational bias but the amount of insects and spiders living in the wall definitely increased biodiversity in the garden. Also the wren came back and feeds on the creepy crawlies every morning, as do other song birds. We have had different kinds of bumble bees and bees in the garden. So strictly no weed killers or insecticides.

Living Wall: Installation

It’s alive!

This was 2018 when we installed the first iteration of the living wall. 

So this weekend was the weekend to install the first bit of the living wall. The last planting pockets are still on their way to roost. Okay let’s start with the frame.

Tip: if you buy the textile planting pockets (don’t install the frame before they arrive) despite specifications they are between 1-2 cm off in size.

Last weekend I prepared the frame for the living wall, painting the wood with a weatherproof coat.

After this it was time to install the frame. We could not place heavy duty anchors in this wall, so we decided to mix it up: wall screws at strategic places and the we used CT1 to chemically bind* the structure to the wall.

Once we had all the laths up on the wall we placed a waterproof sheet over them, as the pockets are textile and we wanted to protect the wall from direct water. Also the layer of air between the wall and the cover creates insulation.

photo of tarp that protects the wall from moisture

Then we began to put up the pockets. When I was standing in front of all these pockets with my plants sorted according to height, I had a moment of feeling slightly deflated. These were a lot of pockets and a lot of plants. The pictures show only about half of each.

I am going to write a post at a later time (once we have observed which plants do well where) about layering the plants. Basically which plants go at which level on the wall. At the moment some of these are under observation, strategically planted at different levels. But as a rule of thumb, the alpine plants are higher up (dry, more light) while herbs and violas (fairly resistant and sturdy) can live at medium height. The grasses and peppermint (basically indestructible) are living at the bottom levels. But I will report back with observations throughout the year.

Tip: I realised that once the pockets are wet the textile stretches more. So I am wondering if next time doing it I would soak the pockets in water before setting them up.

Mixing the Soil

So after some discussion with the gardener we decided to mix the soil 2/3 compost 1/3 sand. To make it lighter and prevent water-logging we threw a couple of hands full of gravel and perlite into the mix. It was amazing when I mixed the soil how much lighter this suddenly became after adding the perlite.

Tip from the gardener: cut the perlite bag open and fill it with water, this way the material soaks up water and you can see it changes the volume, it makes it easier to handle, but also adds moisture into the soil. img_20180414_1239391024016101.jpg

First glimpses

While the final planting pockets are still on their way. Here are the first glimpses of the upper layers.

*That’s an internal joke. Basically a fancy term for using glue.

Wonder Woman

Today is not a long story more photos: A couple of years ago all the excitement about female super-heroes finally got me into knitting. So with the help of colleagues and a pattern from Ravelry I managed to cobble a pullover together.

I have a legacy of strong women to uphold, and try to be a good role model, so a bit of a moral boost now and then when wearing this pullover cannot go amiss.

Eyeballing a Pattern

I found a mind running wild.
I fed it chocolate and ideas,
and send it on its way.
I found a heart running wild.
I fed it strawberries and love,
and send it on its way.
I found a soul running wild,
I fed it light and rain, fire, earth, and wind,
and send it on its way.
You wonder why?
Because that’s what my garden grows.
My garden grows, earth, light, rain and wind,
and trees full of chocolate and strawberries.

From my poetry blog

When sitting in the kitchen we can see out of the glass-front into the garden. Watching ‘garden TV’; the trees changing, camellia blooming, leaves growing and going, the birds, the creepy crawlies and occasionally neighbour’s tabby, a fox, or the odd deer nudging her nose at the kitchen window. Now when I saw the fabric below, I wanted to make a dress, which was like wearing our garden. 

There are kingfishers on the canal around the corner from home. And most of the plants on the fabric can be found in our garden.

Now I decided to experiment and take a pattern off one of my favourite dresses. The outcome was so bad I never even took a photo. At this point there was no chance of making or using another pattern so I literally eye-balled the pattern, pinned the dress around myself, stay-stitched the seams, cut bits and pieces off and added a zipper. After I had tailored the dress directly onto myself, it kind of sort of worked. 

This was the original idea. The teal coloured top, was supposed to be a double layer above the floral part. It didn’t work out well at all. So I took this section completely apart and rejiggled. Results below. 

Barbara Branches

Every year on 4th of December, Feast Day, devoted to St Barbara, mum would cut branches off apple or cherry trees and place them in a vase. If the branches are in full bloom on Christmas eve the year ahead will be prosperous and happy.

A while ago I read one should hit the branches with a hammer (the bottom of the branches) and put them in warm water, this will enable them to bloom for Christmas. I am not keen on the hammer method and our branches usually bloom anyway – not always on Christmas though.

Thinking about walking barefoot through rows and rows of blooming apple trees as a child. Cold morning dew numbing my toes. I want to wear that feeling. The magic of a spring morning. Maybe it’s time to try out one of these ‘design your own fabric’ companies?