Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Early Spring Sunshine

The sun was so warm this weekend, that I took full advantage to get some jobs done in the garden, join me .... https://youtu.be/yX1lfKsO_zg

Monday, 5 February 2018

Returning to my Gardening Roots with Bonsai

My garden path is a wiggly one

My mother was very protective of her garden, when I was young, she would try to let me 'have' bits in an attempt to nurture a love of gardening in me, but things took too long to grow from seed, I never remembered to water, weeds took over, and before I knew it, my area had been assimilated back into Mother's garden.

I liked making mud pies next to the dustbin :)

In 1988 at the tender age of 14, I was flicking through a copy of my mother's Amateur Gardener magazine, and saw an article written by someone called Clive Jones. The photo accompanying the article was a tree...and it was in a little ceramic pot.

first Bonsai article read Clive Jones Amateur Gardener magazine 1988
This is the very first Bonsai article I ever read, it's probably an antique now!


Imagination captured!

After that, I scoured Mother's garden magazine collection for more information and articles. The author of the articles then changed to a gentleman called Peter Chan, a Bonsai artist living in Surrey, with his own Bonsai nursery called Herons. Mother didn't need much persuading to arrange a family day out, so on a sunny summer's day we went.
Bonsai article written Peter Chan Amateur Gardener magazine 1989
Peter Chan wrote in a different manner to Clive

I was star-struck by Peter, and tried asking him a question, but I don't think he took me very seriously.
My dad and I were completely captivated by the glorious forest plantings on Peter's display benches, and at the end of my visit I bought two little Swamp Cypress starter trees in 3" pots.

My 1st Collection

Back then, we didn't have much money, so alongside my two Swamp Cypress, I had a fuchsia, a couple of little seedlings from the garden, a pyracantha, and occasional evergreens, which I would get overly ambitious with...and kill...very quickly (I gave up on evergreens after a while!). I did have a Scots Pine in a big bucket as well. I loved poring over Bonsai catalogues, and would send off for price lists. In those days catalogues were mainly typed lists of plants and descriptions, so you were very much buying blind.

ancient collection Bonsai catalogues circa 1988
Bonsai Nursery catalogues from the late 1980's

Learning about Bonsai in the 80's

I wasn't terribly interested in learning as a teen (I was doing enough of that at school), so I would grasp a couple of concepts and cling to them. Such as;

to thicken a tree's trunk, grow it in a standard plant pot rather than a bonsai pot.

Perfect! I'm creating Bonsai!

I had some nice Bonsai books, one was a school prize for attainment, but in all honesty I was afraid to prune anything off my trees for fear of ruining them, didn't understand how often to tend or feed them, or that I should be tailoring their soil to their individual needs, I just used whatever compost Mother had, or I'd take soil straight from the garden.

Somehow I kept my trees going for about 4 years until I went to Art College, started a part time job and discovered night clubs! Sadly my little trees couldn't survive this deep neglect (even though Mother was watering them for me), and one by one they died.

If you read my page How I came to Gardening you'll see I have now found space in my life for many aspects of gardening, and I've documented my growth in knowledge and achievement here in this blog as well as on my YouTube channel. I'm also enjoying the actual act of learning far more than I did back then, especially as it's just for me, I don't have to prove anything to anyone, or take exams or anything.

Fast forward to Autumn 2017

As research for my own YouTube channel, I'd been seriously exploring the garden-based YouTubers to see what sort on content I could create; I had my garden itself, my carnivorous plants and my succulents. Then I stumbled on some amazing Bonsai videos, and quickly realised that things had moved on an awful lot in the world of Bonsai since my last attempts, and long-held techniques were being discarded. Being able to watch a current Bonsai artist, amateur or professional, assess their trees in real time, make decisions, prune, wire and repot trees was an absolute revelation It occurred to me that now might be the perfect time to go back to where I began my journey, back to Bonsai.

My Favourite Bonsai YouTubers:

YouTube is a huge source of information, but for truly educational Bonsai videos - I would highly recommend searching for Nigel Saunders The Bonzai Zone, Graham Potter at Kaizen Bonsai and Ryan Neil at Bonsai Mirai.

  • Nigel is based in Ontario, Canada, and enjoys 'cut and grow' Bonsai techniques, has lots of trees in his collection from all different climates, of different ages, and stages of development. His plethora of videos are gentle, calm, informative, friendly and he takes you carefully through the pros and cons of each decision he makes for his trees. He breaks the videos into libraries, so it's easy to search for species or techniques. Nigel also takes you for walks around his local area, to study the natural shapes and quirks of different trees as they grow out in the landscape.
  • Kaizen Bonsai is in Norfolk, UK. Owned by Graham Potter who seems to get much joy creating sculptural deadwood on pines and conifers, he also has a good quantity of videos for inspiration, though most of his work seems way beyond anything I could ever hope to approximate. He is very good at demonstrating confident use of power tools on deadwood.
  • Bonsai Mirai has free content on YouTube and their website, then if you want to learn even more, you can subscribe to their live streams. There are 3 tiers of subscription, I've recently signed up to Tier 2. Ryan Neil is a Bonsai professional who trained for 6 years under Mr Masahiko Kimura in Japan. He doesn't just look at styling and design, but gives you complex horticultural knowledge that you didn't realise you needed to know, but gives you a real *lightbulb* moment on your own successes and failures. Bonsai Mirai is based in Oregon, USA.
These three channels together provide a perfect balance for me to learn from, each with their own speciality and way of imparting information - watch Nigel's Lara Croft video and tell me you weren't totally absorbed by it!

Peter Chan also has a number of videos on his website and YouTube, his Bonsai skills are undeniable, but personally I find his demonstrations too fast to be able to learn anything meaningful from.

So here I go again

There is a Chinese proverb...
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

If I'd been able to keep my first trees they'd be about 33 years old now, but I must not lament their passing, just remember that they taught me many lessons, and that I am now ready to begin my journey over again. My trees and videos will reflect my skill level - enthusiastic beginner! I can promise you no more than that, but it would be nice to think I might inspire someone else to try their hand at this beautiful art form.

Love PB xx

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Valentines Inspired Sempervivum Heart Decoration Tutorial

This weeks video is live, and features beautiful Sempervivum, on a Valentine's Day inspired heart decoration.
Rebecca xx

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Sad News about Molly & Gastrointestinal Stasis

It's with deep sadness that I announce the passing away of my beautiful Molly.

Molly Guinea Pig passed away
Molly Mumma

Molly had been poorly for a couple of weeks, and though she fought bravely, and we did everything within our power to pull her through, ultimately we had to make the difficult decision to have her put to sleep.

To make something positive out of this sad time, I wanted to share what happened.

Friday 29th December 2017

We had all seven piggies out together for floor time. Mr PB wanted to FINALLY connect all the hutches up together, allowing them to access all the floors. It was a big job and would take 2 days. At the end of Friday we decided the piggies were safe to leave out in their floortime run overnight.

Saturday 30th December 2017

Everything went well, until during the afternoon we noticed Molly had tucked herself away in a quiet corner of the run. She wasn't coming out for water, or to eat from the bowls as she had been that morning. We tried putting ReadiGrass and hay right next to her, and she was eating small amounts. If you held a bottle for her she would drink from it, but she didn't want to move.

We noticed a very soft poop where she'd been sitting, but not as many poops as I would expect her to do, considering how long she'd been sat there for. Worrying that Molly was going into Gastrointestinal Stasis, we decided to start syringe feeding her.

Syringe feeding Molly guinea pig GI Stasis
Molly looks unimpressed by her syringe feeding

Syringe Feeding a Guinea Pig - Method

We always keep small (1ml) syringes in our pet first aid box, but didn't have any Oxbow Critical Care, so instead we soaked Burgess Excel Tasty Nuggets  in plain water, ground them to a watery paste with a spoon, and sucked the mixture up into the syringe.
Hold your guinea pig's head in one hand, insert the tip of the syringe into the guinea pig's mouth, immediately behind the incisor teeth. Slowly squeeze the plunger of the syringe to dispense a small amount of the feed into the guinea pigs mouth.
Allow the guinea pig to chew, then repeat the process. If you try to feed too fast, you can make your guinea pig choke.

We aimed to feed Molly 2ml every 15/20 minutes. That doesn't sound much, but it is.

When we weren't actively feeding her, we kept Molly on her own in a big box with a towel, some hay, and placed a warm hotwater bottle underneath the box. GI Stasis is very painful - imagine when you have an upset stomach, so the warmth is soothing, but your guinea pig should not come into direct contact with the hotwater bottle, and shouldn't be allowed to get overheated.

We were also massaging Molly's abdomen constantly. Later in the evening she began passing tiny round poops, and then later as more fluids entered her system, the small poops started joining together into long clumps. Molly would also strain her tummy while we massaged her, it was clearly painful, but an important step to kick start her system again.

We constantly cleaned poops away from her bottom, and changed her bedding every couple of hours.

It's not a pleasant operation, your guinea pig is unlikely to think you are helping them, but you MUST be persistent.

Sunday 31st December

Despite our best efforts, and working in shifts all through the night, Molly was looking weak. We continued through the day, trying to tempt Molly with little bits of romaine lettuce, celery and carrot but she wasn't interested.

She'd lost 80g in just two days, so we had a frank discussion about how long it was right for us to continue. Molly is an elderly guinea pig - we don't know exactly how old, as she is adopted. Maybe she had just decided that this was her time? But her eyes were still bright and shiny, so together we agreed to keep trying through another night.

Monday 1st January
Molly looked a little brighter, and she actually began eating hay

Friday 19th January
We'd used our last Critical Care yesterday night, but more was due tomorrow. Molly suddenly looked weak again, and her weight had dropped another 60g. We fed her with mashed nuggets again, but she seemed to be straining, and her poops were getting smaller and rounder again.
We booked her an urgent appointment at the vets.

So What is Gastrointestinal Stasis (aka GI Stasis)?

Guinea Pigs have a very delicate digestive system, they are herbivores, but as one brand of pet food terms them, 'Fibrevores' may be more accurate. For good digestion and uptake of nutrients, they need to constantly eat long-staple fibre (ie long strands of hay). This fibre plus water feeds microorganisms in digestive system. The microorganisms then produce a type of volatile fatty acid. The fatty acid is what gives a guinea pig its appetite, and keeps its digestive system functioning properly. Any little blip in this delicately balanced system, in which the function of one part relies so heavily on another, and you would start to see symptoms of GI Stasis very very quickly. GI Stasis can lead to death in a matter of days. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital.

Symptoms of GI Stasis

The first thing you might notice is your guinea pig being quiet and not interacting with its cage mates or you.
You may notice it isn't drinking or eating as much as normal.
You may notice that your guinea pig isn't eating its caecal (pron: see kal) stools (the special softer poops that a guinea pig MUST eat to be healthy.
You may notice that your guinea pig is tired, eyes are dull, coat is puffed up.
You may notice that your guinea pig is passing very small, hard, or very soft poops, or worse still; isn't passing poop at all,

Any or all of these symptoms need investigating urgently. They could means any number of things are wrong with your guinea pig. If you are at all uncertain, then make an emergency appointment with your vet!

Molly's Final Trip to the Vet

Alex the vet listened to everything that had been going on, whilst checking Molly all over.
Eventually, he looked up and said "I can feel a mass in the left side of her abdomen".

This was a total bombshell.

To me it felt about 2.5cm long x 1cm, approximately torpedo shaped, hard and immobile.

Alex believed that this mass was probably the underlying cause of Molly's GI Stasis. He talked about the possibility of treating Molly with steroids to reduce the lump, but we knew it wouldn't be a cure, and besides, Alex's veterinary medicine handbook didn't give a steroid dosage for guinea pigs, so there was a strong risk of not giving enough, or giving too much.

Mr PB appeared to want to try, but I looked in Molly's eyes and said "I think it's time to let her go".
We shared a final cuddle with our gorgeous girl, and she snuggled in as close as she could.
Then Alex took her away to administer her injection.

We will be having Molly cremated, and keeping her ashes, like Pudding, there was something very special about her. In the 2 years and 2 months she was with us she touched our hearts very deeply.

I just hope she knew how much we love her, and that we gave her a happy retirement from her life as a breeding sow.

Sleep tight my Molly Mumma xx You are loved xx

Sunday, 7 January 2018

My Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis) collection.

New YouTube video

I've just uploaded a video all about my Moth orchid collection. Come along and see what I've got.


PB x

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Gardening Tools - Surprising Objects of Desire

Objects of Desire

When I was at Art College (centuries ago), I read a book entitled 'Objects of Desire - Design and Society since 1750' by Adrian Forty. I'd be lying if I said I remember it word for word, and could quote from it at the drop of a hat, but I do remember it changing how I felt about 'things'.

There is no getting away from the fact that as consumers we live in a 'throwaway society'. Businesses, economies, even world powers NEED us to consume, dispose and buy again. Stasis is no good, they need us to make them grow. Material and production costs are forced down as low as possible, advertisers tell us our lives will be revolutionised by this new 'thing', or we'll obsolete ourselves if we don't have it in our lives! As demand grows the end price drops, increasing demand again. Quality and longevity are expendable, and so we become surrounded by 'stuff'', consumables that we use briefly but can't bring ourselves to throw or give away, until our homes, minds, oceans and landfills reach a kind of critical mass, and something has to give!

Looking down on these landfill corpses are the design classics, the beautifully engineered pieces, built from exquisite quality materials, designed and manufactured to last, and give us as much joy from the day we first see them, to the day we die - because trust me, you're never going to throw these hardworking beauties away. Think of the Dualit toaster in all its chrome gorgeousness, heavy, solid, dependable. Built to make toast, and my goodness it does it well, with a reassuring tick, tick, tick as the knob rotates back to zero. Mine was a birthday present 20 years ago and it's as perfect as the day we got it., the chrome has aged a little, but that adds to it's looks and doesn't stop it working. Yes, it was a considered purchase in 1997, but spread over time it's cost less than 2p per day!

Now back to gardening...

Gardening Tools - Objects of Desire

I attended the Wealden Times Midwinter Fair in November 2016, held at the Hop Farm, Paddock Wood, Kent (UK). My friend Alisa and I had been scouring the stalls for Christmas gifts for our loved ones. Shortly after lunch, Alisa began chatting to a stall holder, and my eyes wandered round the hoards of people and brightly coloured goods for sale...

Then my breath caught in my throat...

I began walking trance-like through the throng...

And before I knew it, I was touching the most beautiful hand trowel I'd ever seen...

Gardening Objects Desire Modern Mint Mira Hand Trowel
The Mira Trowel from Modern Mint

The stall was Modern Mint, and this was the Mira Trowel at £33.00

Modern Mint

The company was started as a resource for gardeners who wanted to work with beautiful things, built to last, and that would really connect them with their gardens.

They have sourced tools made from bronze (copper alloyed with tin), which look far too precious to actually use, but the guy on the stall said they are tougher and sharper than most tools, and deserve to be used for the purpose which they were made. Just like the Dualit toaster, their full beauty can only be realised when you actually use them.

I explained that my sub-soil was a delightful mixture of clay, flint and chalk which has defeated hand tools and full size tools alike (I have four forks all with bent tines!), and that I would hate to ruin such a thing of beauty.

The guy said that was definitely challenging, but was confident that the worst thing that could happen would be a bit of patina on the bronze.

Who was I kidding, this gorgeous Object of Desire was going to be mine! Whip out the cash already!!

The photo shows the Mira trowel in mint condition (no pun intended). I've used it all year, from the lovely light soil of the square foot garden beds, to the evil 'concrete' soil in the woodland garden, and just as the man said, the only sign of use is a little surface patina, it's as straight and sharp as the day I bought it.

Do you have a favourite garden tool? Maybe it's one you felt an instant connection to, the way I did with the Mira, or one passed down to you from a family member. I'd love to hear your story.
PB xx

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Introducing My Family Part 8 - Maisie and Cherry

The Day 5 Guinea Pigs became 7

I feel like I should be at some sort of meeting, or intervention. "Hi I'm Pumpkin Becki and I have a problem..."

I'm not an animal hoarder by any stretch of the imagination, I do know when the cut off point is. If I'm on my own in that "certain" pet shop, I'll go and look at the baby Guinea Pigs and hamsters, coo over them for a few minutes, check the adoption section to see who's there...and then walk away. Often I'll get home and tell MrPB all about the new friends I made, but I won't actually buy or adopt anyone.
Now if MrPB comes with me, that's a whole lot more dangerous!

I'd told MrPB about a big male Guinea Pig called Bruce that I had seen. Knowing he was a boar made it even easier to walk away, he would have to be neutered and quarantined before he could go anywhere near the girls.

Monday 13th November 2017

We popped in to the pet store a couple of weeks later, and as expected, Bruce had gone to a new home - Yay! We stopped and looked at the baby girls, they had lots of young Guinea Pigs in, which always worries me before Christmas. We watched two little girls, a long haired Abyssinian and a smooth short coated tri-colour being nice to each other, sitting together, grooming each other and following each other round the enclosure.

We walked away.

We came back

We asked each other some important questions; which one would we have (I said we'd have to have both as they were so nice together) where we would put them, what would we need etc etc. and after answering all the staff member's questions, these little girls became ours.

The Journey Home

Oddly, the staff member put each guinea pig into it's own travel box. Admittedly the boxes were quite small, I've taken double-boxed hamsters home in one that size before, but that still seemed a really odd thing to do. If guinea pigs are bonded to any degree then it makes sense to keep them together during a stressful event like moving to a new home, taking them to the vets, and so on. I humoured the store until we were safely shut in our car, then I opened the boxes and popped them both in together. They settled quickly, and we drove home.


We set up the floor-time pen with food water and hay as soon as we got home, put the travel box in (carefully placing it on it's side to create a hidey), and left them to come out in their own time. Later on we put some Romaine lettuce in the run, plus a handful of ReadiGrass. The babies didn't brave the big wide world until night time, MrPB went downstairs to get a drink, and heard them scamper back into the box, and saw the lettuce and ReadiGrass had gone.

So lets meet them...


Miss Maisie is a very fluffy Abyssinian Guinea Pig. Her coat pattern is described as broken, but it's hard to describe her colour accurately, she has white and lemon patches, but her main colour is somewhere between slate and chocolate. It depends which photographic resources you look at online, and which screen you view them on. grrrr!

She is very sweet natured, shy and wary, always in the background, but she will take food from your hand and enjoys laptime, she has also quickly has formed friendships with Phoebe, Daisy, Tilly, Molly and Emmeline. I think it's because she is so subservient, she is no threat to the others or their pecking order,

Maisie Abyssinian Guinea Pig baby


Cherry by contrast is a little pickle, one moment she's sitting quietly...

Cherry smooth short coated Guinea Pig baby

The next she wants to know what's going on over there...

Cherry smooth short coated Guinea Pig baby

And over there!

Cherry smooth short coated Guinea Pig baby
You're my Ch Ch Ch Cherrybomb

She is a tri-colour, with chocolate Agouti on her rump, plus red and white. She is very very vocal, shouting louder than everyone else put together at teatime. She's confident, popcorns constantly, takes food from the others, grooms them, rumble-struts at them (which is hilarious! this little mouse of a guinea pig telling off Phoebe or Daisy who are three times her size - she's got pluck!)

What's the Plan?

We've already managed to integrate the babies in with Phoebe, Tilly and Daisy. We've also had all seven out for floor-time, which has worked really well. Maybe, just maybe we can connect all the hutches together and have a herd...I say that every time don't I! :D

Magnificent Seven Guinea Pigs Maisie Tilly Emmeline Daisy Phoebe Molly Cherry
The Magnificent Seven - Clockwise from top left: Maisie, Tilly, Emmeline, Daisy, Phoebe, Molly and Cherry