Sunday, 7 July 2019

Yucca Rescue ?

After its spectacular flowering display last autumn, our largest yucca gloriosa went into a serious decline over the winter.

It was suffering from a fungal infection which shows itself as brown spots on the leaves.  It's happened several times before to a lesser degree and, although there's no cure, the infected leaves can be simply cut off leaving the unaffected ones on the plant.  

However, this time around, every single leaf was discoloured.   Previously, these infections had also started during the winter months, particularly in prolonged wet periods, but last winter and early spring had been remarkably dry.

I first thought perhaps that yucca were monocarpic, i.e. they flower only once and then die, but then I remembered I'd seen very much larger specimens in flower in the Canary Islands, and in that climate it seemed unlikely they'd reached such a size without flowering several times before.

So what to do with the plant ?  A bit of research on the internet seemed to suggest that the top of the plant could be cut off and, with a bit of luck, it may respond by producing new shoots from the side of the trunk.

So in late April, during a spell of warmer weather, this is exactly what I did, cutting the whole head off the plant and leaving a bare stump of 300 mm height.

the freshly cut stump ...

Friday, 5 July 2019

Friday, 7 June 2019

Cotoneaster Lacteus Hedge Training

To form our parallel evergreen hedge, we planted the cell-grown saplings at the start of June 2017, so this is now their third summer in the garden.

the saplings after planting in summer 2017 ...
... and in early summer 2018

For the first couple of years, we'd basically just left them to become well established, resisting the temptation to trim or thin them in any significant way. 

Left to its own devices, Cotoneaster Lacteus is of spreading & arching habit and hence very slow in gaining significant height, so by this April there was a dense tangle of low growth and it was time to start training some of it upwards to form the high hedge we want. 

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Making a Garden Water Feature - Cascade

Hot on the heels of our waterwheel, we've now built another water feature to sit under the Cypress tree in the south-east corner of the rear garden.

This was an unusual project for me, in that there were no plans drawn up or even preliminary sketches - I had the idea for it one evening, made a start immediately and then everything was just built on the fly over the next few days.

We had five large stepping stones in the front garden bed, of irregular shapes, which I lifted and then hauled them around to the back.  I laid them out in a rough curve around and between some existing plants, overlapping the ends of the stones to establish the required start and finish points of the cascade.

I had some lengths of 2"x2" timber behind the shed, reclaimed from the old rabbit enclosures, and I used these plus other timber offcuts to make a simple carcass with five levels to carry the stepping stones.  I made the first drop much larger than the subsequent ones, to form a waterfall which pours onto the second stone down.   Each stone feeds the one below.  The fifth and lowest stone overflows directly into an underground sump from where it is recirculated back to the top using a pump.

The carcass tower was framed with offcuts of fence boards from our front fence build last year.  

carcass during construction

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Making a Garden Water Feature - Waterwheel

This is a project that had its origins over six years ago, but I've only just completed it !  Therefore some of the first descriptions of cleaning the pump and building up a waterwheel date back to a draft post from 2013 which was never published.

My wife has always wanted a water feature in the the garden.  When we did the major landscaping works in 2013 we put a couple of old round resin sinks into the planted gravel area to be used as sumps, and although I've played around with a few ideas over the years these sumps are just too small to be effective for water features and fountains - they're very shallow and tend to empty quickly due to water loss from splashing and also the wind carrying the water outside the bowl area.

the two sumps installed in position many moons ago....

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Two Islands ...

A somewhat belated post, from our now regular trips to the sun during the first few months of the year, to escape the cold and miserable weather of north-east England.

This year, we split our time away across two islands, with a three-week gap at home between.  One of the reasons for this was that last year we returned home from an extended break only to find we hadn't actually missed the worst of the cold weather, which was still to come in mid March.

So this year, we went first to Fuerteventura and then made another trip to Tenerife.

Feurteventura was quite cool at the start of the year, although there were several days of warm weather during the trip.  There were also strong north-easterly winds blowing continuously, which is supposedly one of the reasons for the name of the island.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Living with Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation

Today's an anniversary of sorts.

In April 2013 I woke up in the early hours of a Saturday morning with my heart beating wildly and very fast, thumping hard in my chest and clearly out of rhythm.  Given the history of heart disease in the family, I thought my time was up ...

I called the ambulance service on 999 but they weren't as concerned as I was (!) when I said I had no chest pain, and they told me to make my own way to the nearest hospital with an A&E department.

Once there, I was seen quite quickly, given aspirin & beta-blockers, lain on a bed and hooked up to an ECG machine.  Soon afterwards, the symptoms subsided somewhat and I left the hospital late on the same morning with some further medication and an appointment at the hospital's regular Chest Pain Clinic on the next Monday, although I hadn't actually experienced any pain at all.

Another ECG at this next appointment, and then booked in for an ultrasound scan of my heart, the results of which were that my heart seemed structurally sound but I had suffered an attack of atrial fibrillation (AF or A-Fib in the medical jargon), where the chambers of the heart beat out of synch with each other.  They said it could either be the start of a longer-term problem or it might never happen again.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Financial Planning - 2019 Annual Review

We've just clocked up six full years into the 'Grand Plan', so here are the usual two graphs :-

SIPP POT to Mar-19

Monday, 8 April 2019

Plum crazy ....

When we did the major landscaping works on our garden extension six years ago, one of the trees we planted at that time was a young Victoria plum tree.

It's grown into quite a substantial tree with a trunk around 125 mm (5") diameter.  

However, it has never produced a single blossom in all the time it's been in the garden.   Given that it was probably three years old when it was planted, it's likely now heading into its tenth year and again doesn't look as if it will blossom this spring.

the old 'Victoria' plum tree

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Saturday, 30 March 2019

The new Climbing Roses .... Six on Saturday

Following on from building the pergolas and summerhouse late last year (see posts passim), over the winter and early spring we've sourced and planted the new climbing roses.

And since there just happens to be six of them, I thought I'd use the opportunity to join in with the Six on Saturday brigade for the first time, a theme hosted every week by The Propagator and which is one of the gardening blogs I read regularly. The SoS links are the source of much inspiration around the garden.

However, since I'm not a particularly prolific blogger, I'll likely only be a very occasional contributor to this community.

But, on with the chosen roses.

At the base of both trellis panels on the pergola at the rear of the house, we've used 2x Climbing Icebergs to provide an all-white display over this structure, which frames the view from the kitchen window.  These are pot-grown specimens which were planted in the early autumn of last year, so they're the most established of all the new roses.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Cost of Car Ownership over 9 years ...

We've just replaced our 15-year old car, which we've owned for the last 9 years.   It was just about on its last legs, was going to cost a fortune to keep on the road for another year, and it effectively had zero residual value when we got rid of it.  

Still, it's been a good workhorse for us, had carried tonnes of stuff and taken us many times on very long journeys both in the UK and across mainland Europe.

Anyway, I thought I'd take a look at what this car had actually cost us during the time we owned it, and so here's the summary spreadsheet (click on it for a larger image) :-

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Calculating Portfolio Returns - Bogleheads Spreadsheet

Calculating portfolio returns has been a hot, or at least a warm, topic on the FI blogs recently, in particular with regard to accounting for regular and / or ad-hoc additions and withdrawals of cash to and from the portfolio.

Yesterday, I stumbled across this page link on one of the investing forums.

On this page, you can download a free Excel spreadsheet in which you can select a current or historical start date and then populate all the relevant cells with end-of-month valuations, contributions and withdrawals.

The spreadsheet and its formulae & formatting is not protected in any way, so although it's initially populated with examples using US dollars, it's very easy to get in there and change the cell formats etc to suit any currency.

So, armed with the data from my own portfolio spreadsheets, I copied and pasted all the values into this Bogleheads sheet.   If you're starting from scratch, then you could either link this spreadsheet to your own or just use it as a standalone calculator.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

High Yield Portfolio - what's in a name ?

A High Yield Portfolio (HYP) seems to me a harmless and generic name for any group of investments cobbled together in an attempt to bring in above-average income.  Until recently I had no idea of the origin of the term, which is common enough in the FI blogs and even the MSM.

However, to the boys over at The Lemon Fool forum, HYP is a religion.  It has its own messiah, texts, rules, specific and tightly-moderated forum boards and a gaggle of hard-line disciples, with a kill-the-heretic mentality for anyone daring to suggest actually selling portfolio shares or including investment trusts etc.

The constant bitching that goes on between the strict adherents and the heretics is actually quite amusing.   Check it out, they're in top form at the minute ...

It reminds me of Graham Chapman in the Life of Brian asking 'are you the Judean People's Front ?'

Sunday, 27 January 2019

New High Yield Group within SIPP

These days, I'm becoming increasingly uncomfortable with holding large chunks of individual company shares, preferring instead to spread the perceived risk by using funds and trusts that invest across many companies.  I must be getting old ...

Within my combined portfolio, Centrica (CNA.L), GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and Royal Dutch Shell (RDSB.L) may each be a relatively small piece of the whole, but if considered together they'd become my largest equity holding and be quite significant in actual cash terms.

And there's good reason to link them together.  These three shares are amongst the largest contributors to my passive income stream, and in combination produced 18% of last year's total income despite comprising just 6.5% of the total portfolio valuation at the year end. Understandably therefore, I'm very reluctant to ditch them altogether.   

So instead, a few days ago I created my own high-yield 'fund' by actually increasing the number of individual shares within the portfolio but using much smaller holdings.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Investment Review - December 2018

And so this is Christmas, and how have we done ?  

Firstly, the combined portfolio spreadsheet updated on Monday 31 December 2018.