Category Archives: gardening bits and bobs

Geriatric pets

It’s not an easy task, taking care of a geriatric pet, whether it’s a cat, dog, bird, cow, horse or whatever it is that has been a big part of your family, your life, your heart.

I’ve personally been there a few times, but my pets didn’t become totally dependent on me towards the end, unlike the little guy we have now. Clayton is a full time job. He developed a heart murmur in 2012 and suffered an attack and a stroke Christmas 2013. We thought we had lost him for sure, but he bounced back and was looking in good health until the summer of 2014 when we moved here.

Clayton in Vic

He is a cold climate cat so the air conditioning is on most days in the office where Clayton spends most of his time. The heat makes him more breathless and uncomfortable, so we try to keep him happy and healthy as much as possible. It’s a tricky business.

In Perth, my longest living cat, Tigger, had a heart murmur and he decided one morning at the age of 22 that he’d had enough of this life and came to my bedroom, asked to be put on the bed and died in my arms. My other cat TJ was already on the bed, and you know if anyone tries to tell me animals don’t have a clue and don’t feel grief, I will laugh in their faces as being the heartless and ignorant fools that they are.

TJ was 17 at the time and he was heartbroken, as was our 15yr old dog Buddy, a faithful blue heeler. All three had grown up together.

Tigger was a healthy three years old when TJ was rescued by a friend and I from her horrid neighbour who used to set his German Shepherds onto the kitten and laugh as the poor baby tried desperately to scramble over the fence away from their barking and gnashing teeth. TJ was welcomed by Tigger with no problems. Both ginger and white, but TJ was fluffy and a tad dumb to be honest.

Shortly after, Buddy was brought to my husband’s business as a 6 week old puppy by some goon who didn’t think it was necessary to have his female dog fixed. I think there were about five or six puppies to be given away. Buddy took Tim’s eye immediately and he too was welcomed by Tigger and TJ into our home. They played, slept, ate and snuggled together and had fun unrolling the toilet paper into a big white mass on the bathroom floor, many times when I was at work. They travelled around Australia with us and enjoyed life.

Tigger was the first to leave us with his dicky heart giving up, Buddy was next with a heart attack at the age of 16, and TJ soon followed at the age of 18. I always say he died of a broken heart which I can fully relate to.

When Tigger died I rang my boss and told him I was taking a week’s compassionate leave due to a death in the family. He asked how old the family member was and I replied 22. Shock echoed at the end of the line before he told me to take as long as I needed. To this day, nobody I worked with knows that it was my cat who had died, not a 22 year old man as they imagined. I was bereft for months, and that week away from work was necessary.

Below is a pic of Buddy with Steven both aged about 5. Buddy could be trusted with any child or animal – he was one in a million.

Buddy and Steven

Clayton has his good and bad days. One day he is struggling to breathe and can’t go outside or climb the stairs, and yet the next day he will as bright as a kitten. Each night Tim and I go to bed wondering what will the morning bring and dread having to say our goodbyes to him.

He was a cat we never intended having. (Hence his name Clayton – the cat you have when you’re not having a cat. It’s from an ad for Claytons drinks back in the 80s for those who are still wondering…it was the drink you had when you weren’t having a drink). Get it?

Anyway, he lived mostly in the paddock behind our rental in Victoria when we first moved there and were waiting for our house to be built. His owner was a cabinet maker, unfriendly, gruff, heavy drinking, slobby and uncaring. The last person you would imagine having a cat.

Clayton spent his days and most nights out with the sheep, and played with the magpies by day when it was sunny, or slept under our outdoor setting if wet and cold. He was only friendly with Tim and didn’t trust me one bit. Tim was smitten because Clayton looked like a tubby  short-legged clone of our Tigger. (Mind you, back then the tubby part was all fur to keep out the cold as he was rather thin until I got the chance to feed him up).

Eventually, he would come inside for a bit of ham or cheese. A sweet little guy, gentle with a loud purr but he rarely made any other sound whatsoever.

When the day came for us to move to our finished home, there was no sign of Clayton so Tim drove off with his car and trailer loaded up; Steven drove off with his car loaded up.I sat quietly in the ute with my door open and after a couple of minutes, saw Clayton on the drive watching me. I said ‘Are you coming too Clayton?’ and held the door open a little wider. To my surprise he walked casually towards me and jumped into my lap then made himself comfortable on the passenger seat. We left that place behind and began our new lives together.

On our drive to Queensland from Victoria almost ten years later, he again sat on the passenger seat of the ute and chatted to me between snoozing for the 1800kms.

His breathing and general health began to take a turn for the worse a few weeks after arriving. The heat as I said earlier was too much for him.

It has been a constant worry and dread for us waiting for the inevitable. We love him dearly and I know Tim will need that week’s compassionate leave for sure!

Today though, he woke up looking very bright and happy and wandered outside while I fed the chooks. He loves the garden and found his favourite place this morning. It was cool and shady, just right for a cool climate cat. As the morning drew on it became warm again and he retired to his office with the air cond. He’s a lucky boy.

Tomorrow who knows? He might need to be carried up stairs. He will want to sit on the first available knee for a cuddle and he will still want his breakfast, lunch and dinner with his cheesy snacks and treats in between. He will get all this attention because we love him dearly and just want his life to be the happiest we can possibly make it for him.

Below are a few pics Tim took of him in his garden this morning, looking quite fit and healthy. Close up though his breathing is asthmatic.

Bless him. I do hope anyone out there who is going through the same stage of life of a pet as we are, stays strong and keeps smiling. We wish you the very best. It’s hard, but it’s worth every second.

 

 

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There is rain in the air

Yesterday it rained for a short while. Just enough to water the garden I had already spent almost an hour watering. The lovely thing about rain here in the ‘almost tropics’ of Queensland though, is that rain is cooling not freezing. Refreshing not discomforting. For me, anyway.

The sky is grey today but not that dark depressing greyness of the southern states of Oz. The grey skies there hurtled me into a world of glum almost daily when we lived there. I’m a sunshine person and without it, I wilt.

When I lived in the South Island of New Zealand (many moons ago) the skies there were grey more often than not too, but for some reason it wasn’t as glum or cold as it is in Victoria, Australia for me. Now I’m not saying this to make the Vics annoyed or angry – they are mostly nice people and I have many gorgeous friends there, made during my time living in a pretty rural area and working in an even prettier rural town. Gisborne is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever been to, so if you ever have the chance, go see it.

But I digress. It’s cloudy here, cooler than it has been since last October and with a hint of more rain to come during the next few hours. The sun peeps through occasionally but the clouds are determined not to allow that to happen for long. Just enough to let us know the sun is still up there – waiting.

Our garden is coming along. I have planted lots of hedge plants (Photinia Robusta), a fast growing shrub with shiny green leaves, which after a time turn rusty red. It flowers too if it’s allowed, but we always have ours trimmed into a square hedge before many flowers appear. Pretty little white flowers – hay fever inducing prettiness. A sample pic:

photiniaRobustaPopup

Our hedges so far:

The first is down the back side of the house along the pathway to Chookingham Palace to the far right, and the second is down the front side of the house with tomatoes growing very well in between each hedge plant. This row of hedge extends down to the front fence and across the entire front to the gate, and will carry over the other side of the gate eventually. I haven’t got that far with planting yet.

The other parts of the garden we’ve worked on recently, are the green fernery beds near the driveway and under the Poinciana tree. Here are some photos I took last night.

In the last pic you might be able to see my little cow made of metal. I saw her looking lonely in an out-of-the-way gift shop in Victoria and decided she should live with us.

Of course all these hedges mean lots of plants. I am very fortunate to be a long term customer of a wholesale nursery in Bacchus Marsh in Victoria. Their plants are always healthy and their prices are excellent. Recently they had an offer for their long standing clients of two plants for the price of one. I ordered 80 Photinia and received double that.

Lots of re-potting later, we had to tidy up and rearrange my ‘nursery’. Photo of the potted beauties below. The pots in the little trolley are gazania and a ground cover box (related to the box hedge) destined for the front gardens.

The red and white things are the empty paint containers from the fence painting. They come in handy for all sorts of jobs in the garden. Great for storing all those little screws and nobs and bobs found all over the place too.

Last but by no means least, here is a pic of the ongoing saga of the deckchair restoration. We inherited two very old and decrepit deck chairs from the previous owners of the house. My old Granddad always had about 8 or 10 of these on his veranda in Bundaberg where I spent many evenings as a child, listening to the wonderful stories told by an aunt, Ruby Greene.

Our inheritance was in bad shape and most people would have thrown them to the tip, but I insisted on restoring them. Lucky for me, Tim is pretty handy with woodwork and repaired this one with new wood here and there to make it strong again. I sewed the canvas hummock seat doubting it would work or look half decent, but as it turned out, it’s not too bad. Just have the second one to do now.

deck chair

So while I wait for the rain to do its job out there, I shall be busy with sanding down the wreck of a deck chair in the attempt to make it pretty again. Recycling they call it. Who would have thought I’d be happy to recycle?

Until I have another update, keep smiling, enjoy each day and stay safe.

Horrible Horace the resident green frog says ‘See ya soon.’

harry frog

Our garden – the work continues

In my last blog I wrote about the trees being lopped and the block next door being cleared. The block is now home to the chooks. We placed their Chookingham Palace toward the back of the block, far enough away from the street, but not too close to neighbours either. The plan is to have brick paved paths to the chicken run, which by then hopefully, will be better fenced with a proper gate. We have wire netting surrounding their palace at the moment, and the ‘you beaut’ Aussie farmers’ gate. This gate is the bane of my life now that I have a ‘dicky’ arm.

chook house 2

Our biggest task on arriving was the fencing around the entire property. The original fences were old, unpainted and mostly rotten. Chilli, our big staffy dog proved this to be so one evening when she went flying through the pickets to get to a passing dog, as if the fence wasn’t there at all. Tim dived through behind her as there is no telling what she would do once face to face with a strange dog. She is also the bane of my life! Also,without fences there was no point in trying to start growing anything in the rock hard gardens. I seem to be doomed to have hard ground to dig!

So the fences were erected (hang the expense!), and they looked pretty good too. The painting of the pickets went well at first. I started on the front fence which was lower than the side fences, but the most important to get painted first I thought. Below are some pics of the new unpainted fence.

As I said, the painting was going well and I felt quite pleased with my efforts. I began in the May and was positive it would be done by September at the latest, which would be ideal as Tim’s parents were expected a month or so after that. Below is the front fence looking bright and white.

fence 1

As some of you already know, by the time I got round the corner to the taller fencing, things came to a grinding halt. Luckily, on finishing the shorter front fence I veered from the side fences surrounding the property and painted the inside fences we’d erected. These were put up across the front sides of the house to create small private areas for us to relax in (much later) and of course for the dogs to run.

Things had already been held up anyway with the relapse of a virus I suffered earlier in the year. True to its name, the 100 day virus finally left me after three months. On the long weekend at the beginning of October, I mixed the paint, got my brushes, grabbed a kitchen stool so I could reach the very top of the fence and set off to start where I had left off so long ago.

To cut a long story short, I fell and broke my left arm and made a bit of a mess of the wrist joint as well. This put a stop to painting, gardening, writing, baking, renovations….in fact pretty much everything, for almost three months.

The past few weeks have been productive though, and I’ve been able to create a green fernery garden near the drive. It’s a perfect place for the plants to establish their own climatic conditions, and they are thriving. They had been sitting in this area in their pots, and some I rescued from the block were so pot bound I almost cried in sympathy.

 

Birds’ Nests, various ferns, native violets, Happy Plants and anything that likes the cool spots in a garden and lots of water. As you can see there are still pots to be planted out in the next section that continues round the corner.

We’ve planted 2 lemon trees, 1 orange and 1 mandarin also, and just last week I started sewing seeds for veges and some flowers including Flanders Poppies, my favourite. I am currently planting out hedge plants – Photinia glabra rubens, a good hardy and fast growing plant. With the humid weather and the occasional downpour they should grow rapidly before the cool weather hits us in about June/July. (It was rather chilly last winter believe it or not).

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My job for this afternoon when it cools down a bit, is to plant a few more hedge plants continuing along this line. Home sown Shasta Daisies are waiting for a bed too, and I have numerous other pots grown from tiny seedlings coming along nicely. More about them later.

One of the bug bears here is nut grass and it has invaded a garden bed in the front. I have decided to take out my daisies there and then bombard the area with poison to get rid of the stuff. Let’s hope it works.

Some other plants I rescued from the block, Peace Lily, Zanzibar Gem, Fish Ferns, Foxtail Ferns and an assortment of caladiums I’ve put in old laundry tubs and bigger pots and they are now gracing our downstairs area outside the office and TV room windows. Below is a pic of the laundry tub and some of the pots. Also a few of my hanging baskets upstairs. Strawberries are doing very well in hanging baskets on the side veranda where they get the morning sunshine but are sheltered from the hot afternoon sun.

Of course the best sign that all is well in a garden is having one or two green frogs as happy residents. This is the youngest of our little family, called Harry.

harry frog

Till next time we chat in the dirt. Take care.

 

Gardening and Me

It is always said in gardening articles, magazines, blogs and so on that creating and maintaining gardens is satisfying, gentle exercise.

Pfft! Gentle my foot! Each garden I have ever created and maintained has been pure hard work.

There have been many gardens in my lifetime, including the little bed of phlox I adored and nurtured when I was a little girl. I was so happy with my little garden bed on the edge of my father’s huge vegetable garden, and when the phlox died off each summer, I would sow bird seed for my mother’s budgie Simon. He was very appreciative.

phlox

In New Zealand I had large vegetable gardens and the front flower garden was always a colourful range of blooms lining the paths up to the front door.

On my return to Oz, the first garden in Perth was large and very time consuming with wisteria, grape and hoya vines, fruit trees, bougainvillea on the fences, hibiscus and oleander bushes trimmed to hedges, roses, a vegetable plot as well as dozens of baskets hanging from the huge pergola at the back of the house.

hanging basket 2

After my first marriage disintegrated I lived for a couple of years in a town house. The courtyard was full of pots but didn’t prove to be enough for me so I built a house and started again. Another big garden…..and so it goes on.  One house boasted a huge pond full of gold fish complete with water plants. They are not easy to care for so don’t be fooled by their apparent beauty and nonchalant independence.

Our move to Victoria involved creating gardens on just over two acres. The ground was like cement when we first bought it and my plans of having trees in and growing while the house was being built were stymied somewhat on the first day I tried to stab a spade into the ground. My body reverberated with the shock as if I’d hit a brick wall! Eventually the garden blossomed as you can see by the pics below. It was my pride and joy in spite of the heavy work, the freezing cold conditions (those winds were cutting) and the relentless frosts.

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The garden looked established when we left it five years later. The bore was a godsend and saved many plants in the drought we endured for 2 of those years, followed by cold harsh winters with frosts and snow. The very reason we decided to sell up and move to sunny Queensland.

Renting for a year before our move north, I decided to do something about the garden at the rental which was depressing to say the least. Below are before and after shots.

Before:

front garden March front garden progress 2 Jan.

After:

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I hope the next tenant was a gardener and took care of my hard work. The garden was the prettiest in the street and the owner of the home and the agent were in love with it.

Which brings me to this garden in Queensland. I hope you will travel along with me as we create a new garden here over the next year or so.

Our first job was to get rid of all the old palms that were threatening to fall over (shallow root systems) and housed bats which no doubt carried the dreaded Hendra virus and other infectious diseases. Greenies say they are essential to the environment – I say they are flying vermin.

A particular type of gum trees grew in the main garden also which had been declared a noxious weed by the Agricultural Dept here so we felt happy about having them removed pronto. They oozed a sap which was very sticky (more so than normal sap) that entrapped small birds and bees. I can only imagine the horrible death these creatures would suffer.

Here are some before shots of the garden round the actual house before the tree loppers moved in. The previous owners were keen bromeliad growers too….great watery homes for mosquitoes that had to go.

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Along with the house we purchased the block next door which was something like a jungle as shown below:

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Included in this jungle was an old run down hut that was very shaky to say the least. It all had to go.

Demolition guys moved in and did a sterling job at clearing the block next door, while the team of 3 tree loppers worked on the trees and rubbish round the house. Massive job for all concerned. Expensive too. Worth it, we hope!

The old fences were then removed and replaced, but that’s another story for the next blog. I hope you stay with me on this…it’s a long bumpy road but I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel now that my arm is almost healed and I can actually do a bit of manual work in the garden again.

Looking forward to some gentle exercise…..*snort*.

 

 

Names of flowers and plants remind me of people

Last week while dead-heading my roses (David Austen Heritage – very delicate pink old fashioned type of rose), I kept thinking how much roses reminded me of my mother. My mother was not an avid gardener. She left all that dirty and hard stuff to my father, her brothers and me. She loved her rose bushes that grew so well in the front garden surrounded by gerberas and pansies which she adored also. When I was about five, someone convinced my mother to enter one of her red rose blooms in the local Agricultural Show and with many protests she more or less threw a hastily picked rose on the table of the judging panel and filled out the entry form. That rose won first prize. For the following years till her early death, her deep red roses (no particular name that we knew of) won first prize. The rose garden was cherished and loved forever by our family, and red roses always bring memories of my mother to mind instantly.

red roseThe favourite flower of my Gran’s was the violet….she grew them under the big water tanks where it was cool, shady and nearly always moist even during the hottest summers of Queensland. Well fertilised and weeded by the hens as they picked and scratched their way around the clumps of violets, they were very hardy in spite of the delicate and sweetly perfumed flower. Gran’s old dog (called an Alsatian back then, being German Shepherd) Towser, loved to sprawl on top of them on hot afternoons in an effort to keep cool. He was actually bitten by a black snake under there during one of his siestas – the snake had the same idea in mind and didn’t like his space being intruded upon. Towser didn’t die from the bite though. Gran cut and bled the bite and poured lysol on the wound – he was sick for a few days, but the only after affect was a huge lump that formed on the top of his paw where the bite had been.

violetsNot only pretty flowers can bring back memories of people from our past though. Vegetables are just as powerful when it comes to producing a quick snap shot of someone long gone into the mind. My ex-husband was lucky enough to have a lovely step-father Jim who hailed from Glasgow in Scotland. Jim and my ex’s mother sailed out to Australia on the same ship as 10 pound poms, and met while exercising on the decks. Jim was headed to Sydney with his family and Beatrice was headed to Perth with her two sons. She had distant family in West Australia and thought it would be full of villages just as it had been in England. After a few years apart, Jim moved to Perth where he worked in Fremantle Prison as a guard, until he was offered a very good position in the South Island of New Zealand. They left together leaving her two teenage sons in Perth with relatives and friends. Jim promptly fell in love with Southland. the cold weather and good soils, and they bought a few acres out of town where he could experiment with a garden. His first attempt to grow anything was spuds and peas. The feel of dirt on his hands was exquisite he told me once, and the joy of digging up the spuds in time for Christmas dinner along with picking fresh young peas was euphoria. Jim said he had grown up where there was mostly concrete in Glasgow so the luxury of having a few acres of good gritty, dirty dirt to plunge his big hands in was like Christmas Day every day. Jim died about 15 years ago, but I quietly thank him for teaching me how to plant and care for my spud crops, and if there is ever a year I don’t have the chance to grow them, I feel as if I have missed out on something very dear.

spuds and peasIf anyone who knows me and my garden think to choose a plant or flower to remember me by, I would think they would have to think of the daisy. I adore them and have many of them in my garden. I grow them as hedges defining garden beds, I trim them into round balls as a feature of other beds, and I fill in those awkward gaps in the garden where nothing seems to want to survive, with a daisy bush. Mixed with my roses and other bits and bobs from the garden, they look stunning in a vase in my kitchen.

daisiesLastly but certainly not least, my other flower memory is of my mother’s best friend who was from England and rather a rare specimen when I was little. We didn’t have too many English folks in our town due to the heat of the area and back then the remoteness of it also. My Gran was English but she had lived on the family cattle and dairy property since she was a young bride and was always an Aussie to us. Mum’s lovely friend who always wore pastel suits and gloves and who I always thought looked like the Queen, grew the finest gladioli anyone in our region had seen. She and her husband lived on a half acre block with a high set Queenslander in the middle of it. Every spare inch of the yard was taken up by gardens…vegetable in the back half tended lovingly by the man of the house, and gladioli, roses, gerberas, asters, sweet peas, and one winter this fine lady successfully grew daffodils and tulips. Unheard of by the locals as the climate was far too hot for these types of bulbs. Her name was always Mrs Asling to me, but my mother called her ‘Glad’ because of her gladioli. Mum had a huge urn type vase in the lounge which she would fill with the blooms from Glad’s garden. Mrs Asling died when I was away doing my nurses’ training, but I was told by the family that her coffin was covered with her ‘gladdies’ of every colour. Whenever I see Dame Edna throwing gladioli blooms into the audience, I think of the lovely lady of my childhood.

gladdiesMy father taught me most of what I know about gardening, both vegetable and flower gardens. He had a wonderfully green thumb and could get anything to grow from seed or cuttings. In his later years he grew and cross-bred the most amazing orchids and won accolades in North Queensland for his blooms on show. By far Dad’s favourite flower was the Banksia. He died under a Banksia on a very hot day in Perth and I like to think he chose this spot because of the flowers in bloom at the time. banksia

 

 

 

 

Mother Nature is a fickle lady this summer!

Remember that song ‘It’s looking a lot like Christmas?’ sung by Bing Crosby I think.

Well change the words to ‘It’s looking a lot like winter’ because that is what I’ve been singing for the past week. The arrival of our summer brought sweltering heat (for the local Victorians it was sweltering but for us it was just nice) at 28deg C for a day.

Tim and I went off in the ute to buy up all the bits and pieces we need for reticulation of the garden from the underground bore, returning home with much less cash but  a lot of hoses, sprinklers and all the stuff that goes with it. By the end of the day it was all set out on the lawn where it waits for the arrival of the ditch-witch or whatever it’s called to dig trenches to sink the hosing etc into. Having 3 acres of gardens, the best way to keep it watered when it’s not constantly raining, is by automatic sprinkler reticulation from the bore. Heaven for me because I won’t have to lug long hoses round the lawns and garden every half hour or so.

The next day though was a tad cooler and rather cloudy, and from then on the weather went downhill and returned at an alarming speed to winter. Snow fell – yes, snow! In Australia, in summer.

Victoria snow in summerThis was the pic of the day in the local news. Even the locals are complaining about the inconsistency of the weather patterns and are disappointed that our PM’s carbon tax has done nothing about the global warming and erratic weather in these parts despite all her promises!

In Queensland the saying regarding the excellent weather there, is ‘Beautiful one day, perfect the next’  -here in the southern region of our country, Victoria I have decided the saying will be ‘cold one day, freezing the next’.

On the bright side though, I always wanted to have a white Christmas and this year it just might happen!!

It’s Not Just a Carrot!

Today I did a bit of research on the net and found out that before the 17th century, almost all carrots cultivated were purple.  The modern day orange carrot wasn’t cultivated until Dutch growers in the late 16th century took mutant strains of the purple carrot, including yellow and white carrots and gradually developed them into the sweet, plump, orange variety we have today.

Before this, pretty much all carrots were purple with mutated versions occasionally popping up including the yellow and white carrots. Much like the small orange poppies that keep popping up in my garden!

These carrots however were rarely cultivated and lacked the purple pigment anthocyanin, which gave carrots back in those days, their distinctive purple color.

Apparently the modern day orange carrot was developed by crossing the mutated yellow and white rooted carrots as well as varieties of wild carrots, which are quite distinct from cultivated carrots.

The reason for my research was a conversation with my sister when Tim and I visited her in Queensland in October. Her husband has the firm belief that his eating purple carrots will make him leaner, meaner and I guess healthier….too bad about the chocolates, biscuits and huge packed lunches my sister supplies him on a daily basis! My brother-in-law also believes coffee gives him back trouble where he finds it difficult to walk….well I’m not sure what to think about that one.

Anyway, my gorgeous big sister Bernice mentioned she would like to grow the purple carrots as they are so darned expensive to buy up there, being rare finds in the general fruit and veg shops of Central Queensland. So, on our return to Victoria, home of nurseries that produce all sorts of weird and wonderful plants, I set about finding some seeds for her, hence the history lesson.

I have 2 packets of purple carrot seeds (300 seeds in each) being posted to me as I write this and am feeling quite excited about producing them in my veg patch. Knowing my luck, my seeds will come to nothing, but the seeds I sent to Bernice will thrive and produce beautiful carrots of the finest purple….I just betcha! (my sister’s favourite saying).

So now I have imparted this useless information (for most), I shall now take my weary body off to bed.
To dream of the purple carrot perhaps …