Thursday, March 29, 2007

Surprise By Name, Surprise By Nature

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the wonderful birthday present my garden gave me; sweet, adorable Kadootje. But that was not the whole story, because quite soon after Kadootje and I had met, she introduced me to a friend of hers, a very pretty blue tabby and white female cat.

During the time that Kadootje was still an outdoor kitten, she would pop around a few times a day for a cuddle and some food. After about a week, she brought this feline friend with her, who was also very much interested in cuddles and food. The way those two acted around each other, made it clear that this was no ordinary (if such a word could ever be applied to a cat) friend, but Kadootje's mother. What a wonderful surprise and that was also a fine name to call this pretty lady of the feline persuasion.

So there I was with two outdoor kitties. As Kadootje was still a kitten, it would not be difficult to introduce her to my cat family (it wasn't), but to introduce an adult cat into your cat family is a whole different ball game/kettle of fish all together. What to do with Surprise? If I would take her in, my other cats would surely fight with her, so that was no option.

Again, like I did with Kadootje before her, I put a collar on Surprise with a little note saying; if this cat has a home, please give me a ring. But alas, nobody called. Phoned Amivedi (lost and found pets organisation) and the vet, but no, there was no one missing this beautiful and oh so friendly cat.

In the end I decided on a compromise, all my cats are indoor cats, but Surprise would be my first outdoor one. I bought a nice and warm basket for her and put it on the porch near my front door, where at least she would be sheltered, warm and dry. Winters can be cold around here. And in the meantime I would try to find a loving home for this sweet cat so that she could be a much loved indoor pet too.

Like her daughter before her, Surprise would stay close to my house and garden. To make Surprise appear, I would only have to pop my head out of a window or door and hey presto, there she would be, like magic! The weeks passed and I asked a lot of people if they were in desperate need of a very sweet, cuddly and terribly pretty cat to have and to hold in their homes and hearts. Surprisingly, they all said no. Very strange that!

My house is in a very quiet area of the village I live in, with very little traffic. I like to go for long walks and very soon Surprise decided that she would accompany me on my walks and she did. This was not a good idea, as my path would often lead me into other, less cat friendly parts of my village and surrounding areas, with lots of traffic and other dangers to cats. And because Surprise wanted to be with me for as long as she possibly could, she would follow me everywhere, even into (for her) dangerous places. This I could not allow, but what to do?

So for weeks and weeks this is what I did: before I left my house I would look left, right and center to make sure that Surprise was not close by, check and double check, and then quietly sneak out of my own house like a thief in the night and be very quick about too, before she would spot me. Many a time I had to turn back (bummer!) because surprise!!!! Yes, I did give her the right name, but you don't know the half of it, yet.

One day I noticed that Surprise was calling and unfortunately I was not the only one who did. To make a long story short, Surprise got pregnant. I gave her lots of good food, dewormed her and gave her several baskets to choose from in which she would like to give birth. She rejected them all, unfortunately, and found herself a better kitten nursery, but where oh where did she find it?

One fine morning she appeared and she was quite slim again, so I knew that she had given birth. But where were the babies? Surprise usually had her food in my back garden and then quickly vanished through the hedge, back to her babies. And all though she could go through the hedge, I could not and I had to walk around. By the time I got to the front, Surprise was gone. This went on for weeks and I got quite worried, as there is only a short time frame, from 1 to 7 weeks of age, in which you can socialise kittens properly. After that it becomes problematic, to put it mildly.

As the weeks passed, I became more and more frantic, but she had hidden her babies very well and I could not find them until it was too late. One day, quite by chance, I saw Surprise walking down the road and I followed her and it was then that I found her kittens. She had hidden them here. Quite clever, don't you think, to have the kittens in an abandoned old boat? Click on picture to enlarge.

But alas, they were already 8 weeks old and I couldn't get at them anyway so that was, unfortunately, that. The next day hubby and I were going on a holiday, so there wasn't much that I could do at that point in time. I had asked a dear friend, who would look after the cats for me, to feed Surprise too, and he did.

One week later we came home and we were literally 5 minutes in the door and who appeared? That's right, Surprise! It was past midnight, I was tired so I decided to feed her and then go to sleep. I opened the door, gave Surprise her food and then, then ....................... I saw a gorgeous brown tabby and white kitten. I couldn't believe my eyes. Surprise started to eat and so did the little one. I thought I'd better get some more food and when I returned with more food I saw another kitten, a black one, walking up the garden path. Two kittens!! And they looked healthy and all though wary, they did not appear to be all that scared of me. And while Surprise and her two kittens were chomping away, I saw another kitten. This time a very beautiful blue tabby and white one. Three kittens, now that's what I call a surprise!

After they had finished their meal, Surprise led the kittens back to the boat and I went to sleep as I was very tired from the long trip home. The next day was a lovely sunny day and guess who came for a spot of breakfast, bright eyed and bushy tailed? Yes, they were all there in my back garden. And after their breakfast they stayed the whole day and the kittens played and frolicked to their hearts content and it was utter bliss.

Much to my surprise (grin) the kittens were not all that frightened of me and they allowed me to stroke them while they were eating. But as soon as they had finished their meal, they became wary of me and would only tolerate me at a 3 feet distance.

I couldn't let the kittens roam the streets, that was really far too dangerous for them, so there was nothing for it, they had to come and live with me for a while. So, that's what I did. While the boys were eating (yes, they were all boys), one by one I picked them up and put them in the spare room. There I gave them some more food and then I put Surprise with them as well.

The next five weeks I spend socializing the kittens, feeding them, getting rid of worms, fleas and ear mites. Going to the vet with them and their mother for their vaccinations and health check. All kittens were pronounced bouncing babies and healthy as could be. They were much admired by the vet and rightly so, as they are all very handsome chaps. Surprise was neutered so that we wouldn't have to worry about unwanted kittens.

Of course, I also had to find good homes for my darling boys and I did. The black kitten, Basil, went to live with a dear friend of mine. And for the other two, Teuntje (blue tabby and white) and August (brown tabby and white) I also found good homes. All the new carers were informed that these were special needs kittens and were asked if they felt up to it. The boys were now used to humans but still needed lots and lots of TLC to become proper cuddly pets. They had a lot of catching up to do in kitten nursery/kindergarten school.

It took me a long time to earn the trust of my baby boys and I knew that the people with whom they were going to live eventually, would also have to go the extra mile. And they all did, no problem. So I'm glad to say that instead of ending up as yet 3 more unwanted strays, all my boys are now much loved and well taken care of indoor pets.
This picture of August putting his little paw in my hand is very dear to me. This was the moment that he decided to put his trust in me. Of the three boys, he was the last to do so. It took a lot out of me, getting these kittens accustomed to humans so that they could live in the lap of luxury and be pampered pets, but it was well worth it.

And Surprise? Does she still live up to her name? Oh yes indeed, but that story will have to wait till another time.

Rich Cat, Poor Cat

Rich cat, poor cat
Beggar cat, tramp
House cat, alley cat
Store cat, champ.
The rich cat eats from a porcelain dish
Cream and chicken and lobster and fish
Poor cat sups from a dirty old tin
Scraps and bones and bits of skin
If you look at it, it's fair to neither
There ain't no justice in our world either.
Paul Gallico, The Honourable Cat

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Tree That Fell Down

When we bought our new house it had a rather large garden with several trees, among which a pear tree. The pear turned out to be a Conference, a lovely, delicious pear. I am very happy with my pear tree as it looks good for most of the year and it provides us with lots of healthy and tasty pears too. In winter it can look like this, very beautiful, don't you think?

In May it's covered in blossom, a glorious sight, and the bees are very busy buzzing around the tree, pollinating the flowers. During the summer months the little pears slowly grow bigger and bigger. And then in July and August the wasps come, the birds and butterflies too, and all would start to nibble a few pears. Some would eat the fallen fruits, others would start on the still growing pears and I let them. Every year there's plenty for everyone, human or otherwise.

In June I have to thin the fruit out quite a bit. There's usually a cluster of 5 to 10 flowers and when pollinated, the flowers turn into little fruits. Five little pears or more in every cluster is a bit much for the tree, it will take too much energy to turn them all into hand sized pears. So of every cluster of 5, you remove 4 miniature pears. If you leave all the fruits on, then the next year the tree will produce very little if any blossom and therefore no fruit. At the end of September, half October, depending on the weather, it's time to harvest the Conference pears.
Our pear tree has been a very generous tree that gives us loads of pears every year. So many in fact, that we can't eat them all ourselves and we are making lots of friends, neighbours and relatives happy with a basket full of pears yearly.

Last year (2006) was an exceptional year for fruit trees. Never had the pear tree been so full of little pears growing merrily into bigger ones. July was the hottest and sunniest month in 300 years in the Netherlands. Then August came and we broke another record, this time for the wettest month in about a 100 years.

I went on holiday for a week during August and when I came back, I couldn't believe my eyes. Disaster had struck! My lovely pear tree had keeled over, and was now in a 30 degree angle to the ground. Only a few big and sturdy branches kept it from falling over completely. What to do?

I ran out and had a good look at the tree. To my surprise the roots were still in the ground and the trunk in one piece. I tried to get the tree upright again but to no avail. I then called for my garden assistant and we tried to get the tree upright together, but no luck. It was just too heavy, even for the both of us. So I decided to saw of a few of the bigger branches and that did the trick. The tree was much lighter now and we could push it upright and we propped it up with a sturdy pole.
And then I waited, and waited. The next few weeks all the pears fell off the tree, then a lot of leaves fell off too, not all but many and the ones that were still attached to the tree didn't look all that healthy. And I started to worry about my tree; will it survive?

In Autumn it lost the last of its leaves and then Winter came and the tree was either dormant or dead. I just had to be patient and wait to see if the tree had survived its ordeal.

Then Spring 2007 arrived and it looked like this. Still nothing. Was it alive? Had it gone to meet its maker, kicked the bucket, was it pushing up daisies? But no, I checked, no daisies as yet. And then, yesterday, I saw this.
The first sign of life! A miracle, don't you think?

Winters know
Easily to shed the snow,
And the untaught Spring is wise
In cowslips and anemonies.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), May-Day and Other Pieces

Monday, March 26, 2007

Frivolously Frilly and Flirty

are the violets that I bought this weekend. Very frilly and frivolous, aren't they?
On Saturday it was overcast and dull, alas, so I went to the garden center to buy a few things for the garden.

This is what I brought home with me, a few plants and a very nice deep blue bowl with 2 little birdies to put birdseed in for the birds outside.

Here's a closer look at those frilly violets I also bought. Fun aren't they, and so pretty!
On Sunday I woke up to blue skies and sunshine, so finally some good weather to do a bit of work in the garden. This time I decided to tackle the front garden as it was long overdue. Of course, what you need, to do a job properly, is some good equipment and here is mine.

And here is a close up of all the stuff I needed to prune the roses and tie them up. I have a lot of roses in my front garden, mainly climbing ones that only need a light prune and the removal of dead wood.
I also needed to do a lot of weeding as you can see here. I have 6 beds in my front garden edged with box. In the middle of each bed is a obelisk for a climbing rose.

To make the job of weeding easy I have a kneeling bench that is great to have, as it's easy on the back and knees. It also makes getting up much easier as you can just push yourself up. If you turn this bench upside down, you have a little stool to sit upon. Very handy, don't you think?
Because I was working in the front garden, and ran the risk of other people being able to see me, I decided to dress for the occasion. It really doesn't do to frighten one's neighbours by looking a fright while working in the garden. Here's a glimpse of my garden apparel. Pretty in pink, as they say, with matching hold all. Well, I do have a standard to maintain, as the garden fashionista of the garden bloggers world, don't I? :-pRight, lets get cracking with the weeding.

After about 2 hours, a lot of weeds had gone in the pink hold all and the beds were getting pretty neat and tidy again.
There, you see, all weeds gone.
Here's an overview of my front garden. There are 2 beds on the left and 4 on the right, divided by a path leading to the front door.

After all the hard work, I decided to relax in one of my favorite spots in the garden, my little table and chair next to the Victorian greenhouse. It's a very secluded spot and I love sitting there, basking in the spring sun. It was nice out, the birds were singing and the daffodils were gently nodding their heads in the light breeze. It was fun to just relax with a nice cuppa and and do a spot of sunbathing. Bliss!

If we are to believe the Bible, the first murder was carried out by a gardener. And the first garden was a place where sin beckoned wherever you turned.
Simon Busch, The Guardian, 23 May 2003

Friday, March 23, 2007

A Promise of Better Days to Come

Another day of doom and gloom today. Dull grey skies promising more rain once again, a nasty cold wind that makes you huddle deep into your winter coat. Brrrrrrrr. It's Spring they say, but it doesn't feel like it at all. I'm glad I took some time yesterday to work in my garden, because today it isn't going to happen.

To cheer myself and fellow garden bloggers up, here are a few pictures to remind us of warmer, sunnier and better days to come, and that we will, once again, be able to enjoy our gardens to the fullest. Feast your eyes and warm the cockles of your heart on the queen of flowers, the rose!
A rose is
a rose is
a rose is
a rose is a rose, errr Ruskie, oops, sorry!
is a rose
is a rose!!! With many thanks to Gertrude Stein for those wise words about roses. Have a wonderful weekend everyone with lots of fun gardening and hugging your pets!

Idealist: One who, on noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes that it will also make better soup.
Henry Louis Mencken, 1880-1956

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Behind the Scenes

Today the weather was better than the last few days and I was able to do some work in the garden. The sun was shining and the temperature had risen to about 10 to 11 degrees Celsius. I started of with pruning the Penstemons and of course Kadootje kept a careful eye on the proceedings.
This is what my Penstemons look like in summer. Very pretty, don't you think? And they flower for a very, very long time. Last year they started flowering in July and were still in flower at the end of November. The flowers are also good for cutting and last about a week in the vase.

This was what they looked like this afternoon, very messy and flopping all over the place and in serious need of a haircut.

and after!

Of course my supervisor Maine Coon Vita was there to check if everything was done by the book.
After the pruning I went into my kitchen garden to check on my seedlings and to do some planting.
My seedlings are coming along nicely. The broad beans and sweet peas are doing fine. The rocket, lettuce and radishes had decided to pop up their little leafy heads and say hello. It was nice to see them again. In about a few weeks time I'll be harvesting the first vegetables from my kitchen garden.
Two weeks ago I had planted some cloves of garlic and I was curious to see how they were doing. One week after planting they looked like this.
And now, two weeks later, the garlic looks like this. They have grown quite a bit, even though the last few days have been cold and we had some night frosts as well.

Of course, Dolly was there to keep me company. She loves the outdoors so and is always curious to see what it is I'm up to. Here she's checking to see if I had weeded the flowerbed properly.
Three weeks ago I started chitting my potatoes in the conservatory. And after 2 weeks of chitting they looked like this. Almost there but not quite. Today they were ready to be planted in the new bed my garden assistant had dug for me.
So I got all my tools ready, donned my pink wellies and started planting the spuds.
And here is the finished result. Now we have to wait and see if and when the potatoes will send up any leaves and then we will take it to the second stage. More of that on a later date.

After all that hard work, I decided to treat myself to something nice. I like decorating and as Easter isn't all that far away I made this. Personally I think it's rather amusing that my spanking new watering can is the exact same shade of lilac as the violets and the pot they're in. I bought them a week apart, so yay me!
The most humiliating thing to me about a garden is the lesson it teaches of the inferiority of man.
Charles Dudley Warner, My Summer in the Garden, 1871