Sunday, 30 December 2018

Annual Spending Review - 2018

So where did all the money go in 2018 ?  Here's our regular end-of-year review.

click on the graphic for a larger image ...

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Pergolas - Phases 2 & 3 Works (the Summerhouse)

Following on from my post in September about building the pergolas, for a while afterwards I was thinking that the larger one to the side of the house seemed a little lost and disconnected with the rest of the garden.   

Not wanting to sound like a pretentious tosser, but what it needed was anchoring within the landscape.

So Phase 2 was implemented, which involved connecting this pergola with the one at the side of the house extension by extending the outer beams of both structures until they met each other.  This also meant reducing the height of the semi-goliath pergola slightly so that the extended beams were both at the same elevation.

The longest extension beam needed another vertical post to support it, but by this time I already had the summerhouse in mind (the Phase 3 works) so this new post was positioned where it would also form one of the new building corners.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

A personal Rate of Inflation ...

I mentioned this subject in a post a few years back, but inspired (!) by the recent decision by NS&I to tie future index-linked certificate renewal returns to CPI instead of RPI, CPI being typically around 1% lower than RPI, I decided to have a go at calculating a personal inflation rate to see how it compares with the UK government's own 'official' figures.  

At the time of writing, CPI is running at 2.4% per annum and RPI at 3.3%.

My results are tabulated below with a few following notes on the methodology and values used etc.  I've hidden the columns with the actual sums spent, and am just displaying the percentage changes from 2017 to 2018.

including holidays & travel

a) our long winter break was used as a proxy for all the 'Holidays & Travel' category, and its costs were multiplied by 2 to represent the other holidays we also take throughout the year.   Because our 2018 early break was actually paid for in late 2017, I calculated the costs which would be incurred today of taking an identical trip in early 2019, using exactly the same flights, accommodation & duration etc.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Yucca Gloriosa in flower ....

We have three variegated 'Spanish Dagger' plants (Yucca Gloriosa) in the garden, two of which we bought quite small and planted in the ground five or so years ago, and a third that self-spawned from one of those two originals. 

This third plant just appeared above ground one day next to its parent, around three years ago, and after a while we lifted it and potted it on (where it's doing well, and it actually seems to be giving birth to a fourth plant judging from a small side shoot forming at the edge of its pot).

From the growth rate of this third plant, and the size it is now compared to the originals at the time we bought them, I'd say the big two must be around 8 years old.   

The mature plants issue many new leaves from their centres each year, and as the lower leaves fold outwards and trail below the horizontal I usually first cut them with a sharp knife and then pull them off the plant completely, which forms an ever increasing height of 'trunk' on the plant as it grows into a more tree-like form.  

The broad leaf edges are very sharp, and there's also a needle point on the end, so their common name is very apt - they can be quite dangerous to be near and to handle, so they're maybe not suitable plants if you've young children. 

Anyway, this year, and obviously spurred on by a warmer summer, one of them has flowered !

We've seen it's quite a slow process for the yucca to come into flower.  We first noticed a spike rising from the centre around the beginning of August, which gradually lengthened and thickened while developing large red buds which remained tightly folded against the stem.

25-Aug-18, flower spike clearly visible

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Madeira ...

We've just returned from a holiday on the island of Madeira, which is a place we'd never visited before. 

As keen gardeners, we'd heard about its ideal conditions for growing just about anything, and so we came here to see for ourselves and also maybe to identify another potential location for our longer winter breaks in the future.

Madeira's quite upmarket compared to some of the holiday destinations we've visited.  There's not much in the way of sandy beaches, and access to the sea can be difficult to find since there are high cliffs around much of the coastline.  And there's a lot of steep hills to negotiate if you're on foot, so some form of motorised transport is a must if you want to explore places off the beaten track.

There's an extensive modern road system linking the major settlements via dual-carriageways with long tunnels and bridges to cut through the mountains and cross the deep valleys between, although we generally travelled more leisurely on the older roads which wind around the mountains with spectacular views but greatly extended journey times.

the Via Rapide from the Funchal botanical gardens

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Investment Review - September 2018

The year marches on - we're already past the equinox and heading into the gloom of winter, but I'm drafting this post from a ninth-floor hotel balcony overlooking the sea so it still feels very much like summer at the moment.
Here's the combined portfolio update as of the last working day In September :-

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Building a Pergola - or three ....

At our previous house, we had a rambling rose which ran along the entire length of the garden fence, and produced a profusion of snowy white flowers in the summer.  It was really spectacular and we'd like to grow something similar here.

To support such vigorous plants, I looked around the garden centres and websites for a strong pergola.   However, whatever I bought would have been delivered as a flatpack and so I'd still have had to assemble it and then fix it into the ground myself.  

So I reckoned I could design, construct and erect one myself easily enough.   But when I went out with the tape measure to survey a suitable location, I thought I'd make two of them.   And when I looked again, I decided to add a third !

at the side of the driveway leading onto the lawn ...

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Garden Gate Repair ... and new Fence

We built this gate when we first moved in here seven years ago.   At the time, half of the front aspect of the house was open and we wanted something to close it off, so we planted the cherry laurel hedge to one side and constructed the gate ourselves from timber.  

It's quite long, at 3.6 metres between the posts, hence the sprung support wheel at the 2/3 point.  

the original gate ...

This gate was lashed up quickly and intended only as a temporary measure, but of course these things have a habit of becoming permanent.   It's been re-painted every couple of years, using a different colour each time.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Stopping mice entering through the roof eaves ...

In the spring, we noticed gnawing marks on a piece of soap in the cupboard under the bathroom sink, and removing the bath panel revealed a few mouse droppings under the bath.

From the relatively small quantity, we'd luckily spotted the problem early.  We bought a few traps and had caught the first mouse within an hour, and five more over the next few days.  They were common house mice (Mus musculus).

One thing I couldn't figure out was how they were getting into the upstairs bathroom when there were no signs of them anywhere at ground level.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

A fruit salad - in pictures ..

Here's some pictures of the fruit growing in our garden - looks like it could be a bumper crop this year ...

first ever pears developing on our young trees - but only 10 in total !
apples, reliable as ever despite a very hard winter tree pruning ...
grapes developing, loads of bunches this year ...
blueberries fattening up, not yet ripening ....
blackcurrants, many ready for picking ...
it'll be a record crop from our cherry tree, almost ripe now ...
rhubarb, been cropping continuously since March ...
redcurrants - still a few weeks away ...
first raspberries just forming, they'll crop right through into autumn ...
strawberries, red & white varieties, eaten as soon as they ripen !

There are also two melon plants growing in the greenhouses, but they haven't yet produced any female flowers.

And our young plum, apricot and quince trees didn't produce any blossom this year.  Maybe we'll have something from them in 2019.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Investment Review - June 2018

Well, we're already halfway through 2018.

I've been doing quite a bit of travelling this year and there are more trips coming up soon, so I haven't posted much lately.

But here's the usual quarterly portfolio update, as of the last working day in June :-

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Financial Planning - 2018 Annual Review

We're now exactly halfway into our 10-year Grand Plan, which would be cause for celebration if it wasn't so bloody depressing that five years seem to have come and gone in the blink of an eye ...

Anyway, here's the usual two graphs.

SIPP POT to Mar-18

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Investment Review - March 2018

Here's the updated combined portfolio spreadsheet as of 29 March, the last working day of the first quarter :-

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Building a Walk-in Propagator Cubicle

Some of our more tender plants haven't survived this winter in the large cold greenhouse.    

the garden on 29 December 2017 ...

The mercury hasn't dropped below -6 C, i.e. only our typical winter low, but I think it's the sheer number of very cold frosts we've had, many of them on consecutive nights.  

Usually, we'd get around a dozen or so sharp frosts all winter, but this time around it seems as if there's been a dozen every month for three months (not that we've been at home for most of the winter, but we kept an eye on the house and weather via our webcams and also talked to friends on Skype).

Having only recently returned to Blighty and surveyed the destruction of the plants, I immediately started thinking about heating a small area of the greenhouse during future winters.   We also brought back more seeds of sub-tropical plants from our travels, which should do well enough outdoors in our summers but won't tolerate even a sniff of a frost and will need protection throughout the winters.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Notes from a small island ...

After the success of our long winter break early last year, we decided to do it again in 2018.  By 'success' I mean avoiding the cold, miserable, grey days that characterise much of January and February in northern England.

So we're back in the Canary Islands for the best part of two months, although staying on a different island to last year. 

Of all the many places I've ever been in the world, I think the Canaries have one of the very best winter climates.  We're around 5 degrees north of the Tropic of Cancer, and it's very mild - warm even - but without the high humidity of the tropics.   The sun's bright, the sea's crystal clear and at night we can see many more stars than at home, due to the clearer air and lower light pollution.

The local flora is stunning, even at this time of year.  It's just a very nice place to wander around.

flowering vine growing wild on scrubland - naturally, I took a cutting ....

Monday, 1 January 2018

Investment Review - December 2017

Here's the final combined portfolio update for 2017, as compiled on the last working day of the year :-

click on the graphic for a larger image ...