Archive | April, 2013

Special delivery from Captain Skim

29 Apr
Captain Skim

In his element: Captain Skim, aka ranger Mark Astley, demonstrates his skill

As you know, I’m no stranger to the world of celebrity – and super heroes, in particular. I’m already friends with Spider Man (Look who came to visit, April 8) and last week I was thrilled when Captain Skim came to see me and make a delivery for Amanda.

For those of you who don’t know him, the Captain is a member of the National Trust’s Fantastic Five elite ranger team, along with Midas the Treasure Hunter, Tree Man, Bug Catcher and Den Boy. As their names suggest, they all have a special skill that they share with visitors.

Captain Skim – alter ego Mark Astley – is a world-class stone skimmer, who works in our North Lakes ranger team. He was dropping off birch brashings and hazel and willow poles for our garden team to construct pea tunnels and broad bean frames.

Nowadays, most people use canes, but these weren’t available in the 18th-century, when our garden was the childhood playground of William and Dorothy Wordsworth. Whatever period of garden you have, brashings will look much more attractive.

If you would like to make some, Amanda says the brashings for peas need to be fresh, otherwise they’ll snap when you try to work with them. Simply weave them together into a tunnel shape – you shouldn’t even need any string.

For the bean poles, thrash them into a series of triangular shapes, connecting with a pole running along the top. Then weave flexible poles between them lower down on either side, to give the structure strength and for the beans to hold onto.

On one side, we grow runner beans and on the other we put sweet peas, as it looks so pretty. Amanda trails lengths of hemp string down the sweet pea side, to give them something extra to anchor to.

The picture below shows Jean and Aine hard at work. If you’re wondering what the colourful, woolly structure beside them is have a look back at A heads-up about fun to come from February 19!

Making pea tunnels

Weaving: Jean and Aine making pea tunnels


Hats off to those gorgeous Georgians

24 Apr
Alex has a Dorothy moment

Channelling Dorothy Wordsworth: Alex, my typing assistant, goes retro with some daffodils

If you like dressing up as much as we do, beat a path to our door, as we’ve just taken delivery of a fabulous selection of replica 18th-century headgear to supplement our collection of Georgian costume.

Why not come and try on a hat or wig – along with the rest of an outfit – and get your picture taken in the garden with me, in all my sartorial splendour.

Wigs and bows: Housekeeping staff Liz and Tracey take a break from conservation cleaning

Wigs and bows: Housekeeping staff Liz and Tracey take a break from conservation cleaning

Kirsty in a straw hat

Stupendous in straw: Visitor Services Manager Kirsty loves her new look

Zoe in a tricorn hat

Wordsworth would be proud: Manager Zoe rocks a tricorn hat

A year in the life of a blogging perchcrow

19 Apr

Alistair & FletchI can’t believe how quickly the time has passed – and how many new friends I’ve made – since becoming the world’s first blogging perchcrow.

It’s a year this week since I embarked on my new literary career, inspired – of course – by my famous predecessors William and Dorothy Wordsworth, who were born in this house more than 240 years ago and spent their formative years playing in the garden I now look after.

Alistair Starling, the general manager of the National Trust’s North Lakes area, was so impressed by my grasp of technology and my communication skills that he made a special visit the other day to congratulate me. That’s us together in the picture at the top.

Being a perchcrow of simple habits (and little geographical knowledge) I was astounded when Head Gardener Amanda told me that I have readers in 56 countries – many that I hadn’t even heard of. It seems that, thanks to modern technology, the world is a much smaller place than it once was.

I suspect that Dorothy, as a committed diarist, would have taken to blogging like a duck to water if it had been around in her day.

As a retrospective of the past year – and my earlier life, before I became a global media figure – I’d like to share a few picture from my personal archive…

Fletch at 2 days old, June 2004

June 2004: Spot me in the background, at just two days old. That’s Amanda in the natty striped trousers, by the way

 2007: A younger, slimmer me

September 2007: A younger, slimmer me

April 2009: Slightly chubbier

April 2009: Slightly chubbier and working the monochrome look

November 2009: Almost a goner - but rescued in the nick of time from the great Cockermouth flood

November 2009: Almost a goner – but rescued in the nick of time from the great Cockermouth flood

A hug from Amanda

March 2013: A hug from my best friend, Head Gardener Amanda

Bottoms up in the flower beds

17 Apr

Jean and Alison seed sowingAmanda tells me that Georgian gardeners were known to test the soil temperature with their bare bottoms to see if it was warm enough to start sowing seeds.

This was not considered quite the done thing in the Victorian era, so they used their elbows.

Nowadays, we have the option to go more high tech and employ a soil thermometer to check that it’s above seven degrees centigrade, which is the minimum level for germination.

However, Amanda confesses that she’s a bit of a Luddite and generally makes do with the palm of her hand. She combines this with eagle-eyed observation skills – in other words, she has a good look round for annual weeds germinating, as this is a sure sign the soil is warming up.

You may like to use any of these techniques in your garden now that things are finally getting more spring-like.

Because it’s been so cold, she and the team are about four weeks behind with sowing and have only just started setting off seeds in our cold frames.

If you’ve got plants in cold frames, remember to label them clearly – as it’s amazing how quickly and easily they can get jumbled up, leaving you with no idea what’s going to come up.

It’s also worth putting the date on the label to remind you how long they’ve been there. If they fail to germinate after the expected time, you can clear them out and use the valuable space for something else.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to water them regularly, as they will tend to dry out every day, even in damp weather.

And this his how it should eventually look, as seen through the lens of visitor Chris Smith last summer…

Wordsworth House garden

Look who came to visit…

8 Apr

I had very special visitor yesterday – a celebrity no less! Yes, I met Spider Man. But it turns out his real name isn’t Peter Parker – it’s Rudy. Here we are together.

Rudy with Fletch

I love meeting new people, even if they aren’t as famous as Spider Man, so please come and take a snap with me when you visit – and email a copy to my assistants, Amanda and Alex, at so I can post it here for everyone to enjoy.

Forget Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”… here’s Zoe’s “Odes to a Cold Frame”

2 Apr
Daffodils in Wordsworth House garden

Poet’s favourite: Lent lily daffodils in Wordsworth House garden

Normally at this time of year, Amanda and the team would have seeds set off in the cold frames and in the vegetable plots – and she would be giving you loads of tips about what to do in your own garden.

But winter is lingering and it’s not possible to sow seeds in these conditions, so she’s been doing some work in the office.

One of her projects has been to make some posters to go on the cold frames for when they are finally back in use.

Visitors like to open them to see what’s inside, but they’re not so good at closing them. As a result, the plants get cold at night and can die, so she wants to post some gentle reminders about the importance of keeping them shut.

Manager Zoe, taking inspiration from Wordsworth himself, decided to help out by composing some limericks to illustrate the point.

So, for your enjoyment, here are the rhymes that are going on Amanda’s posters…

There was a young plant who was cold
who said: “If I might be so bold,
if you raise up my lid, so I am not hid,
may I warn you I’ll never grow old!”

There was a young plant who was warm
and sheltered and safe from the storm.
Someone raised his lid, so he was not hid,
and he said: “That’s really bad form!”

There was a young plant called Sid
who attempted a suicide bid.
He called: “Raise up the lid, so I cannot be hid;
I’ll live fast and die young in the garden.”

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