A testing time

It has been a stormy start to the year and not just with Brendan battering us. We were on holiday while he was doing his worst. Also, while we were away, our cat was ill. Poor Gizi had had something amiss for a while but the vet could not work out the problem. Before we left he had a swelling on his face but the vet gave antibiotics and we had no idea the episode was going to end the way it did.

Jo at the Cat Hotel contacted us to say that she had taken him to the vet a few days before our return and he was booked in for examination the day after we got back. On our way back from the airport we picked him up and the swelling was a growth that was preventing him from eating, drinking or breathing. That night he could not sleep because of the problem and he was wheezing loudly. We took him to the vet the following morning and had him put to sleep. He was not the first cat I have had die in my arms but this was the hardest – we were both gibbering wrecks.

Gizi was a rescue cat that had had a tough start in life. He was not the most friendly of cats at first and if you tried to tickle his tummy you would not leave without some blood loss! He was a big cat both physically and emotionally. But as he aged he mellowed and he loved nothing more than sitting on his pile of cushions between us, with his paw on ours. He even started walking over us at the end – he never sat on our laps. He was a very sweet boy with huge eyes and the softest coat and very affectionate in his own way. He is hugely missed. The house is empty without him.

Testing of a different kind.

One of the rules I always say is that if you have a new garden you should do a soil test. See what the pH of your soil is so that you won’t waste money on plants that won’t grow. I bought a risky plant last week and it spurred me on to finally do a soil test.

I bought an embothrium (Chilean fire bush) which is often seen thriving in Ireland. It can be a bit picky but like a lot of south South American plants it does well in Ireland. It is a glorious, evergreen shrub/tree that is covered in curious, scarlet blooms in May/June. It is in the proteaceae and I am a bit scared of them and have not experimented with them much, apart from some grevilleas. They tend to prefer acid soils and hate phosphorus in the soil so should not be given regular fertilisers. So my embothrium is planted at the base of a raised ditch of soil so it has the poorest soil I can find, perfect drainage and shade from the heat of the day, at least when small. Anyway, it reminded me to do a soil test – though I should have done it first.

I did a couple of tests from different parts of the garden – freshly dug areas that have not been improved with any compost. Since the hedges around include bracken and gorse I have always assumed the soil is acid. But the test suggests otherwise.

The trouble with these tests is that it can be difficult to read the results. But I think these are on the acid side of neutral. I did let them settle properly but since windless days here are as rare as Boris Johnson opening his mouth without lying, the tubes fell over and the liquid is a bit cloudy. I am still convinced the soil is acid – the rhododendrons and camellias I have planted are thriving.

Last week saw the arrival of another 8m load of compost. I spent a day moving the remaining live beech hedging to top up one side and then broke the spade trying to plant some cornus. That meant it was time to go indoors in disgust.









6 Comments on “A testing time”

  1. Paddy Tobin
    February 3, 2020 at 8:56 am #

    Sorry to hear about your Gizi; losing a pet is always wrench.

    Embothrium seems grand in our also slightly acidic soil here in Waterford – I have a young plant, given as a gift as I was never tempted to actually part with money to have one. In other gardens I have seen it is inclined to sucker generously so you may have lots of plants in time. A very similar-looking plant I see growing in Mount Congreve garden is Telopia mongaensis, from New South Wales.

    • thebikinggardener
      February 3, 2020 at 5:25 pm #

      LOL. Well I had a mad moment and thought I would risk it. It is odd how some plants are tricky to establish and then become weeds! Fingers crossed. I am sure there is a telopea at Mount Usher I saw too though not necessarily that species. Proteaceae are fascinating but I need to get the garden going a bit and the soil tamed a little and some windbreaks before I start playing with tricky stuff.

  2. digwithdorris
    February 3, 2020 at 10:37 am #

    Sorry about your cat. Testing times.
    A mystery about your soil, if the camellias are happy don’t worry so much. My dad has three magnificent camellias and they are in near solid clay.

    • thebikinggardener
      February 3, 2020 at 5:22 pm #

      The soil is really odd – poorly drained in places but sandy underneath. I think it is compaction through building so digging is important. We will see how things go but I am content that it will be acid – will have to see what colour the hydrangeas go.

  3. derrickjknight
    February 4, 2020 at 12:07 pm #

    So sorry to learn about Gizi

    • thebikinggardener
      February 4, 2020 at 7:25 pm #

      Thank you. We are getting a new cat this weekend so will let you know how we get on with her.

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