How to Train Your Cordon

And just like that, summer was over. We had a brief reprieve with sunny weather the last few weeks, but thunderstorms and torrential rain have made frequent appearances. The garden hasn’t suffered the weather particularly well – all of my tomato plants died off suddenly and unexpectedly following a particularly windy and damp spell. I suspect blight is the real cause, but if there was a plant-based coronial system it would be overwhelmed right now.

Cause of death…bad babysitting

I’m reluctant to even compost the plants given the possibility of fungal disease – once the stems are dry I’ll burn them instead. The chillies have survived, however, and are promising to yield more than I could ever hope to use.

Where’s Huck when you need him?

The news isn’t all depressing. Once the weather let up I was able to get out to paint the wall. The fact that it is yet to fall down is quite reassuring. All I need to finish it is some coping stones on the top to help guide the rain off it. The final result was quite satisfying and a marked improvement over the original segment behind the fence.

The before times

If you can’t remember back to when this project started, this was how it looked. To be fair to the previous owners, there were fencing panels along the length of the wall, but they were starting to rot, and poor bamboo control had left me with little option other than to rip the fencing out and dig up the bamboo. It was a monumental task and required several re-visits to remove little clumps that kept popping up. Even now there are some stragglers – I dug up a section of the lawn that was involved and ended up pulling out a surprisingly big runner.

I considered putting up another fencing panel, but my neighbour suggested building a segment of wall there. Ordinarily he would be able to help but he’s been out of action recently with knee problems. It was up to me to build it with him providing tools and advice over the top of the wall. My Wilson from Home Improvement, so to speak.

Picture this, but in the rain and wind.

Even painting the wall was a challenge. Concrete blocks are not smooth, for those who have never encountered them, and painting coarsely textured surfaces takes forever. And a lot of paint. I ended up giving up on the longer section of wall as the older blocks there were taking forever to get a decent amount of paint on. The new section of wall got two full coats and looks really nice. I ended up leaving the red brick unpainted as I like having it as a feature.

My first construction project, nearing completion. The whole garden is neater as a result.

One of the main reasons for finishing the wall was to install hardware for growing fruit trees in a cordon. There are a variety of ways you can train fruit trees to grow in a compact space and encourage them to produce plenty of fruit depending on the type of tree. I had six trees to plant and not a lot of space so I opted for a cordon, with each tree planted two feet apart and at a 45 degree angle. I had a random assortment of trees picked up from Lidl and Thompson and Morgan so I’m not sure how successful the project will be, but I was determined to get them in the ground before the end of summer.

Building the cordon

For the support, I needed to build three horizontal wires which supported bamboo canes tied on at an approximately 45 degree angle. This was trickier than I expected, as most of the bamboo from the garden wasn’t tall enough. I was able to work round the limited supply though, and improvised. The canes may need replaced in the not-so-distant future but they work for the time being.

I chose 3mm wire rope given its strength. It wasn’t easy to cut through, and I ended up going to B&Q to buy specific cable cutters to do the job. I picked up most of the hardware from Screwfix, including the eye screws which were a little lightweight for my liking. On tightening the turnbuckle, the eyes have angled themselves towards the cable, so I wasn’t able to tension the cable as much as I would have liked without risking damage to the fittings. The eye screws I used are sitting in wall plugs which is a cheaper option, but I may replace them with eye bolts and sleeve anchors for a more secure fit.

The (slightly improvised) fruit tree cordon.

I had to prune some of the trees so that I could tie the central leader of each onto the cane, but otherwise they’re young so time will tell how well they do. The stems are tied on with soft ties, which are rubber with thin metal cores, ensuring they minimise damage to the growing tree. Once the trees were planted I was able to plant out the rest of the bedding plants from Thompson and Morgan along with an acer that was living in a pot at the back of the garden. The acers that I planted in the Japanese corner were not at all happy and had been eaten by an unknown creature, so they have been withdrawn and placed into witness protection (plastic pots at the back of the garden).

I am quite happy with how everything has turned out so far. The fruit trees should really be of the same age, and probably more mature than my bunch, but even if the yields aren’t great I think it will still be an attractive feature years down the line. A somewhat less attractive feature was next on my list.

I like big (water) butts

The dual water butt system

My nextdoor neighbour often supplies us with odds and ends, and during lockdown he was clearing out an old water butt that was previously part of a water feature in his garden, but now surplus to requirements. Doing something with it was on my list for several months but I had no downpipe diverter for my guttering. I looked in B&Q and online but the price of a kit was nearly the cost of a second water butt which came with a kit. A bit of a no-brainer, I picked up a second one with the intention of connecting the two. The instructions were fairly awful and some of them were detrimental, but I managed to get the diverter hooked up, then used a length of water pipe left over from making the support hoops for the raised beds to connect the two. The joints still need some silicone but having the rain water for the plants in the garden and conservatory will be really handy. Last night alone almost half filled the primary tank.

Speaking of time travel…

Tenet. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Tenet

That was a dreadful segway, but a necessary one. We saw Tenet in the cinema last night, which aside from the drive-in cinema in July, has been our first post-apocaly…I mean post-lockdown big screen movie experience. The Vue cinema in Plymouth was well placed to cope with the additional restrictions having already installed rows of recliners about two metres apart, and ensuring space between groups.

I went into Tenet knowing next to nothing. I knew it was a sci-fi action movie with some time-bending thrown in, but other than that I wanted to go in blind. That was how I saw Inception. I didn’t follow the build up and had heard little about it, and that blew me away. That was something I haven’t really experienced since and I wasn’t going to throw away the opportunity for a repeat. And was it the same calibre of experience as Inception? Well…

Yes and no. There was a well paced story with some excellent action set pieces and fantastic performances from all of the actors involved, but I would be lying if I said I knew what the hell was going on most of the time. Nolan is known for headscratching epics but this was a whole other level. I left the cinema with more questions than answers, and we were resolute that a second viewing was absolutely necessary.

I’m being deliberately vague because I want you to go and see it and come to your own conclusions. One thing I will say, the music is excellent. It’s not Hans Zimmer this time, in a departure from usual form, but Ludwig Goransson. As much as I idolise Zimmer’s work, Goransson is a refreshing change and does a fantastic job building tension and conveying the..well, the weirdness of everything. We’re right there with the protagonist, and at times it’s obvious he’s as confused as we are.

So in summary, go and see Tenet. You may be confused, but I hope you won’t be disappointed.

Rise of the Tomb Raider (Publisher: Square Enix)

Games

I shouldn’t really be playing games with an impending exam but that hasn’t stopped me getting in the odd session. Rise of the Tomb Raider was released on PS Plus in July, adding another time sink title to the game library. We really enjoyed the 2013 Tomb Raider back on the Xbox 360 but somehow missed out on the 2015 sequel. This time Lara is headed for Siberia to look for the legendary city of Kitezh (pronounced Kit-esh, and not a legendary city of cat memes) while combatting a shady organisation called Trinity.

I would be lying if I said I’ve really gotten into it. For whatever reason it hasn’t won me over yet, though I’m not that far in. It’s heavy on the survival and crafting angle, allowing you to make ammunition and upgrade weapons. Part of the problem is that I am just fresh from playing Horizon Zero Dawn which is a newer game with similar but more refined mechanics. Retrospectively comparing the two is unfair, but it could be part of the reason I haven’t gelled with the game yet.

Drilling down to the core, Uncharted has become what Tomb Raider once was, and Horizon Zero Dawn is a more evolved version of many of the concepts seen in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Maybe I’ll feel differently once I get further in, but it has some work to do to win me over.

Brief Reflection

This year has been insane. I came across a photo from one of the particularly low points back in March just after the start of lockdown. We went to the local Tesco to get some essentials and were met with massive crowds of people and empty shelves. And despite all the fear of food shortages, we made it through and people stopped collecting toilet paper to use as currency in the “new world”. But a picture says more than words ever can. The same shelf in March, then four months later in July. As if nothing ever happened. It just occurred to me that there should be a word for selfish shelf clearing, then as usual Urban Dictionary beat me to it.

Feel free to use it in a sentence. “Don’t be shelfish, leave some for the people who need it”.

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