8 Small Steps For Man..


 .. one giant leap forward for the hill dwelling gardener.



Someone has been busy



The same area at the back end of February


Given that the blog has a readership far, wide and just the other side of my study wall I feel obliged to point out, for the avoidance of any doubt, that the ‘Small’ contained within the title in this context refers merely to the width of the steps. It bears absolutely no relationship to the amount of work that has gone into their construction.

The steps do show just how steep the bank is. Each one is almost a foot in height. Previously, to do any work in this area, I’ve had to scramble on my hands and knees up the slope, fervently hoping that I manage to avoid stepping, tripping or skidding on the oil pipe which as we know would have grave consequences for the good health of the gardener. Fortunate then that Mike has contrived to bury a goodly proportion of the pipe as part of his endeavours. The Sword of Damocles still lies in wait higher up the bank.


Astrantia 'Buckland'


Astrantia ‘Buckland’



It didn’t take the blackbird long to find the newly laid bark, much to Mike’s annoyance.


Unfortunately the blackbird acquired tenancy of the naughty step long before it happened across the new path. It wakes early in the morning. Which wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t insist that the experience should be shared. Following early ablutions the bird settles himself down in the tree nearest to the bedroom window and starts to chirp. Last week, having been woken up and finding the need to answer an alternative call of nature, I noted the time on the bathroom clock. 4.34 a.m. And presumably getting a minute earlier each day.

He of The Other Side Of The Study Wall is threatening to get the chainsaw out. But the blackbird has moved house before. It is, after all, an avian occupational hazard chez rusty duck. Mike would have to chop down an awful lot of trees to sort this problem out, some of which we do not own. He’s also forgotten that the blackbird is by no means averse to perching on the top of the chimney.


Iris 'Benton Olive'


Iris ‘Benton Olive’


Centaurea montana


Centaurea montana


And speaking of disturbed sleep, the blackbird hasn’t been the only thorn in the side this week. The bedroom clock radio, not to be outdone, took to turning itself on in the middle of the night. Its favoured channel appeared to be a not quite in tune foreign talk show. Volume readjusted to max.


Iris sibirica


Iris sibirica


And then the transformer within the clock radio started to hum. Continuously. Day and night. Increasing in intensity as the days went by. Dodgy electrics being the last thing you want when your roof is made of straw the clock has been ripped from its moorings and summarily dispatched. The bathroom clock did enjoy a brief (one night) period of promotion to the lofty status of bedroom clock before it too was expelled for an over loud tick. And so we have returned to waking in tune with the season.

Who needs an alarm clock anyway, when you have a blackbird?



All the better to get out there early and plant up the new woodland path.


Itoh Peony 'Pastel Splendor'


 Itoh Watch: the tension mounts

I never did get the hang of this delayed gratification thing. I have the patience of a gnat.

2017-10-26T10:11:06+00:00May 22nd, 2017|Tags: , |


  1. justjilluk May 22, 2017 at 11:19 am - Reply

    Ha ha. That made me laugh. Steps look good, especially for you. Well done Mike that was a mammoth task.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 7:27 pm - Reply

      Less chance of a twisted ankle now, I hope!

  2. derrickjknight May 22, 2017 at 11:21 am - Reply

    Scary steps and great photos. Well done, Mike. We keep a broom in the rose garden to sweep up after the blackbirds – daily 🙂

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 7:29 pm - Reply

      They do make a mess. But it is lovely to be serenaded whilst gardening so they do make up for it I suppose!

  3. grammapenny May 22, 2017 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    I was roaring this morning as I sipped my coffee.. we have the same early waking issues – wrens and mourning doves for us.. my favorite line of yours was about the birds needing to share their early waking experience.. we have also had the same issue with clocks and clock radios .. they are banished as well.. and our addition to the morning routine who, upon hearing us lightly tread back to the bed from the bathroom, flops down on the floor at the bottom of the stairs, emits a huge sigh and begins to whine that her tummy clock is working just fine thank you very much.. i’m so glad you are posting.. reminds me i better do one.. heh

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 7:34 pm - Reply

      I was out on the bank this afternoon and a wren suddenly started singing from the plant I was hunched down next too. It couldn’t have seen me, they are quite nervous birds, but I got a very clear view of it. Just wonderful.

  4. Brenda May 22, 2017 at 1:03 pm - Reply

    I hope Mike was rewarded with a good stiff drink after finishing those steps. I guess early morning bird song is a universal problem. Ours start about 4:20 here now. We have a whole chorus. Between the birds and the dogs, we have no need of a clock in the bedroom.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 7:39 pm - Reply

      The dawn chorus is fabulous at this time of year. I really should just get up one morning and go out into the wood to listen to it.

  5. The Big Garden and Croft May 22, 2017 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    J > He who is tired of the blackbird’s song, is tired of life.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 7:40 pm - Reply

      I couldn’t agree more Jonathan. Other Half needs a bit more convincing!

  6. woolythymes May 22, 2017 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    My hubby retired 10 years ago…..and still has the alarm clock set for 5:30 am at which time we wake to the latest farcical political comedy that is currently called news here in the states. Believe me, the sound of a persistent blackbird chirp would be much preferred!!!! I’m in love with that centaurea montana….off to see if I can find one …..and if it will grow here!!!

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 7:44 pm - Reply

      It isn’t much better here Steph, with yet more violence and the background of tedious electioneering. The blackbird singing whilst I potter around the garden is a much needed escape.

  7. Elizabeth Neal May 22, 2017 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the post, the steps really open up that area. I didn’t want to comment on your previous posts about blogging/not blogging as it is entirely up to you and you don’t need my emotional blackmail, but I’m glad you haven’t disappeared completely just yet.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 9:37 pm - Reply

      Thanks Elizabeth. I agonised for weeks over whether or not to stop the blog. It didn’t take much pushing to keep it going, albeit at a slower pace!

  8. CJ May 22, 2017 at 3:07 pm - Reply

    Brilliant steps, nice job all. I am locked in battle with a whole group of blackbirds who are constantly pulling earth out of my pots and throwing it around. I fear I am becoming slightly deranged, out there at 6.30am sweeping up, only to find it all messy again two hours later. I have put pot saucers over some of the earth, but of course they just look in the next pot instead. There is a bumper crop of blueberries on the way as well, which they are very partial too. It is going to get ugly. CJ xx

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 9:41 pm - Reply

      Our inherited old fruit cage collapsed in a storm last year so we did the decent thing to put it out of its misery and took the rest of the structure down. Blueberries, and redcurrants, now fully exposed to blackbird and squirrel attack. I thought I would leave it like that and see how it went.. well you can guess. Good luck.

  9. Charles May 22, 2017 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Loving the steps. We are currently constructing our raised beds to go along our sunniest fenced border. It’s amazing how different (and lovely) a bit of hard landscaping can make the garden. So happy to read your post again

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 9:44 pm - Reply

      It does make a difference and raised beds are so practical too. They make growing an absolute pleasure. Thanks Charles.

  10. offtheedgegardening May 22, 2017 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    Looking great, well done Mike!

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 9:45 pm - Reply

      He’s done such a good job of it I’m wondering where I can put more..

  11. Rae May 22, 2017 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Good to read your post Jessica, plants looking colourful as usual. Don’t blame the blackbird, they love to have a sort through leaves and bark. Are you able to say where you acquired Benton Olive, I would be very interested. I garden in the Charente.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 10:04 pm - Reply

      Blackbirds seem particularly drawn to bark, but then so are the bugs they are presumably searching for. I don’t blame them, I love to have them in the garden. Worth clearing up after! I got the iris from the Royal Horticultural Society Garden at Rosemoor. I’ve had a brief hunt for it online and it seems it’s quite difficult to find, even in the UK. If you are planning a trip over I would think Wisley would stock it if Rosemoor does. Also Beth Chatto although she’s currently out of stock. I had better stop the slugs decimating it having discovered it’s so rare!

  12. Linda May 22, 2017 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    So glad you decided to stay with us Jessica! Love the way you write…the clock story made me giggle!
    Those steps are a work of art…is Mike an engineer?
    Lovely collection of blooms…
    Enjoy your week!
    Linda :o)

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 10:07 pm - Reply

      Thanks Linda. No, he isn’t an engineer but he is very practical and loves a project. Especially if it requires a new tool for the toy box. 🙄

  13. Marian St.Clair May 22, 2017 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    How wonderful to make my way to the computer this morning, groggy-headed after weeks of travel, to find you with another funny story to tell. Your and Mike’s daring-do never ceases to amaze me. I took note of similar steps at Bodnant a few years ago for my own steep bank and love the idea that we are again on the same page. I only wish I had your initiative. Smiles to you and rusty backbird (doesn’t have the same ring, does it?)

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 10:11 pm - Reply

      Weeks of travel sounds very exciting, if tiring! I hope we get to see where you’ve been. Another tour? The steps have made such a difference already and once planted up will look much softer.

  14. Kris P May 22, 2017 at 6:07 pm - Reply

    Is your house haunted perhaps? Actually, I’ve had funky experience with small electric appliances in the past too – and currently some sensor in my driver’s side car door cries out, seemingly in pain, at periodic intervals. It’s enough to turn one into a Luddite. The flowers are beautiful – I’ll rejoice with you when your Itoh blooms, which mine is still stubbornly refusing to do. As to the steps – brilliant! I may have to try something like that on my back slope, which I’m currently back to ignoring.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 10:16 pm - Reply

      If you believe all those pseudo documentaries, passing UFO’s are supposed to turn on radios to out of tune stations or lots of static. But the fact that it happened two nights running, at the same time, points to a much more mundane scenario. Either that or ET is exceptionally interested in us for some reason..

  15. Rebecca May 22, 2017 at 6:30 pm - Reply

    Someone in our neighborhood owns a Peahen and it has the unfortunate tendency to let out an amazing sort of squawk/honk most night between 3:30 and 4 am. Which, when coupled with a 4:30 am train, has made sleeping rather futile this past week.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 10:21 pm - Reply

      Hi Rebecca and welcome.
      There are peacocks (and I presume peahens) just across the valley from here too. Their call is really quite eerie, but thankfully they sleep through the night. So far.. I hope yours recovers from its insomnia!

  16. Archie The Wonder Dog May 22, 2017 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    What a difference those steps make! And the astrantia is gorgeous! Hope the blackbird finds a new home further from your bedroom window very, very soon…

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 10:25 pm - Reply

      I keep reminding myself (and Mike) that come July the blackbird will stop singing and we’ll miss it. I hate it when that happens. We’re into the second half of summer then.

  17. Linda aka Crafty Gardener May 22, 2017 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    What an enormous task to put in those “small” steps. They look amazing and am sure they make climbing that area so much easier.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 10:27 pm - Reply

      Much, much easier. I was surprised how many steps it took. Even so it’s still quite steep but better than slithering down the bank in the mud!

  18. CherryPie May 22, 2017 at 9:09 pm - Reply

    The steps look good, a definite improval of the slippery slope.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 10:29 pm - Reply

      Thanks Cherie. Indeed, slithering is so unladylike!

  19. Marianne May 22, 2017 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Great set of steps, not too hard landscaping, fits in beautiful, I’m interested to see how you’ll plant it up, and bet it makes a big difference working there. Lovely sharp pics of your blooms, Benton Olive is my fav with astrantia a close second. I’m lucky to have them in my garden too. My earplugs go in after my third loo visit of the night, I enjoyed the first few mornings of mr blackbird but it wore thin pretty quickly.
    Just wanted to say I so understood why your blogs were getting too much for you but was really chuffed to find you in my inbox this am.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 10:39 pm - Reply

      It’s quite a tricky area to plant. Part shade but quite dry thanks to all the tree roots. I’m going to try things like hellebores and epimediums, both of which seem to cope with direct sun for some of the day elsewhere in the garden. I’ve also got irrigation in there which should help. Solomon’s seal grows well further up the bank and of course the ferns. They need thinning but groups of them will look good and maybe try more ornamental varieties. With the bit of sun that gets through maybe I have more options. Will be fun experimenting! Thanks Marianne.

  20. samd21 May 22, 2017 at 9:38 pm - Reply

    Dodgy electrics story. Hubby likes background noise 24/7. So he runs a little radio in the background at work. Came back from a meeting to find 2 telecommunications ‘police’ in his office and the office manager having kittens on the spot. Apparently every time he turned on his little radio, it blocked the telecommunications signal for an entire inner city suburb. After months of fruitless searching, they had to send their gun investigator up from Melbourne. It took him four miserable days trying to find exactly which city tower housed the culprit. Moral of the story: the little radio bought in Dubai stays in Dubai! Thanks for the laugh this morning!

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 10:56 pm - Reply

      What a story! I bet he was popular.
      The internet knows me too well. It places Qantas ads everywhere I go online, telling me how cheaply I can fly from Heathrow to Sydney. I so want to come back! I note though that the stop over point is Dubai. I’ll be careful what I buy.. 🙂

  21. Anna May 22, 2017 at 10:06 pm - Reply

    Well that’s certainly a step in the right direction Jessica or should I say eight steps. Well done that man! I would still need a handrail installed to get me up and down the slope. What a fabulous iris.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:00 pm - Reply

      It is a bit of a dizzying experience descending those steps. I’m wondering what it will be like when I am also carrying a trug full of weeds and garden tools.

  22. Brian Skeys May 22, 2017 at 10:38 pm - Reply

    Benton Olive, lovely, on the wish list.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:01 pm - Reply

      You won’t regret it.

  23. Sue Garrett May 22, 2017 at 11:18 pm - Reply

    Every time we are at the plot a blackbird comes and serenades us. Those steps look as though they will make life much safer,

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:04 pm - Reply

      I used to have a very tame blackbird at the last house, almost as tame as a robin. Cupboard love of course. If you have worms in a cupboard that is.

  24. Mary Jenkins May 23, 2017 at 7:07 am - Reply

    “an over loud tick!” Brilliant! I am naturally an early riser, had my washing out on the line this morning well before 6am. I think it’s the aeroplanes that disturb me, as we are under a flight path – but that’s the only time I hear them, so tuned out at any other time. In fact I took a short video the other morning in my garden, and couldn’t put it up on instagram due to a loud aeroplane going overhead that I did NOT hear at the time. I am lucky to live amidst green belt and am in fact surrounded by woodland, so birdsong it my soundtrack – lucky me, often hearing tawny owls at night. Or foxes, but that’s a whole other story! You take care on that slope.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:10 pm - Reply

      Plenty of owls here too. I’m sure they must be attracted by all the mice. And yes, foxes, although I didn’t realise they were such frequent visitors until we set up the field camera. Which I must do again now the weather has improved. I’d love to have ducks (real ones!) in the garden but not with all the foxes. They are even out in broad daylight.

  25. Jackie May 23, 2017 at 8:20 am - Reply

    Fantastic steps, the difference between the two photos is amazing.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:14 pm - Reply

      It’s coming on isn’t it. You know how hard it is to deal with an overgrown garden. But little by little we get there.

  26. Indie May 23, 2017 at 1:34 pm - Reply

    Those steps definitely look like they took a lot of work! Love the iris! I have an alarm clock that makes bird chirping sounds as its alarm. I realized my folly when I wake up now when the birds start to chirp at 5:00am. I now have to keep the bedroom windows closed at night to try to sleep through them. This alarm clock also keeps time faster and faster until I reset it, so the alarm keeps going off earlier and earlier. I’m really not sure why I have kept it for so long (and my husband wonders the same thing.)

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:21 pm - Reply

      I can just imagine that! My (very aged) iPhone has a quack as the ring tone. I very, very rarely use it. So much so that when it rang the other day (Mike called it as a test) I looked down to the river to see if the mallards were about.

  27. Sol May 23, 2017 at 5:29 pm - Reply

    you are a hard core gardener going up the slope on your hands and knees! Steps were needed!

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:24 pm - Reply

      It’s extreme gardening here. Ropes and pulleys are what I need.

  28. wherethejourneytakesme May 23, 2017 at 9:52 pm - Reply

    Brilliant – just what we could do with to get us up the slope into the upper wood.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:26 pm - Reply

      It makes a huge difference. And (dare I say it) quite a simple solution to the problem. We got the idea from the National Trust coastal path amongst other places.

  29. wherefivevalleysmeet May 24, 2017 at 2:29 pm - Reply

    Love the steps with a backdrop of fresh green ferns – I know just how Mike feels, the blackbirds have being doing the same to all my pots making a real mess all across the patio area – better go out with the brush and pan and get rid of it, but the trouble is, they will be back.

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:28 pm - Reply

      They will. At least they don’t damage the plants though. Unlike those wretched squirrels.

  30. Freda May 24, 2017 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    What dedication ! – those steps are a work of art!

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:31 pm - Reply

      With luck they will stay in place a long time. I’ve seen the length of the screws!

  31. Cathy May 24, 2017 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    Was this a spur of the moment idea, Jessica? It’s certainly a life changing one – well done both!

    • Jessica May 24, 2017 at 11:35 pm - Reply

      Something we’ve been mulling over for a while. The ground flattens out at the top of the steps. We plan to put a bench up there (when the brambles have been cleared away!), a nice place for a coffee break nestled in the trees with a view over the valley.

  32. ginaferrari May 25, 2017 at 8:31 am - Reply

    Your story of the blackbird made me smile. I like to be woken by birdsong at this time of year but maybe 4.34 is a tad too early!

    • Jessica May 29, 2017 at 7:03 pm - Reply

      And getting earlier.. 🙁

  33. Sam May 25, 2017 at 12:44 pm - Reply

    I am so behind with blog-reading that I went through the low of reading you were stopping to the high of you reconsidering to the relief of another post all in a few minutes! I’m so glad you’ll be carrying on as I do love your blog – gorgeous photos, wise often funny words, gardening knowledge… These steps are such a good idea (steep slopes are no joke). We have a very loud wren that wakes me up early with it’s belting song. I don’t mind too much, though, as it’s a beautiful sound. Sam x

    • Jessica May 29, 2017 at 7:06 pm - Reply

      Wrens make an inordinate amount of noise for their size but, I agree, it’s a lovely song. Thank you for your kind comments Sam.

  34. Chloris May 25, 2017 at 1:14 pm - Reply

    Just looking at those steps makes my back ache. Well done on yet another amazing achievement.
    I love the Cedric Morris irises. Yours is a beauty.
    Talking about delayed gratification, growing tree peonies from seed has to be the ultimate. The suspense of waiying for the first buds and then for them to open is unbearable.

    • Jessica May 29, 2017 at 7:09 pm - Reply

      I’d rather like to have a go at tree peonies from seed. Oh the sense of achievement when they finally bloom.

  35. hb May 26, 2017 at 3:34 am - Reply

    Here we have Mockingbirds, Mimus polyglottos, singing all night long for a mate or to declare their territory, and it is the California Towhees that scratch through the mulch, flinging it onto the pavement. The result is the same: early rising. I love the mockingbird song though, and the Towhees eat every bad bug in the garden, so it’s a fair deal.

    I think you will enjoy those steps every time you walk up them–gardening will be easier and safer. They look well crafted.

    • Jessica May 29, 2017 at 7:13 pm - Reply

      The Californian Towhee looks like a cute little thing, I’d probably let it off too.

  36. germac4 May 27, 2017 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Your garden looks amazingly full since last you wrote, summer must be just glorious in your part of the world…I’m with you on not being good at delayed gratification, when I look at all the spring gardens in the northern hemisphere (in blog land) I’m madly planting bulbs, and wishing they would come up tomorrow, but I know.. but everyone has to go through a winter I guess!
    Your blackbird is even earlier than our magpies, but they play havoc with the garden in the same way.

    • Jessica May 29, 2017 at 7:18 pm - Reply

      I saw magpies on Kangaroo Island. There was one which frequented our terrace (until it was chased off by the kangaroos!) but defied all my attempts to take a photo of it.

  37. Linda P May 29, 2017 at 7:28 am - Reply

    A great job done planning the angle, making and installing those steps so that gardening on that slope will be easier and much safer. Love seeing the new growth of ferns in that area.

    • Jessica May 29, 2017 at 7:28 pm - Reply

      We took the path of least resistance, following the contour of the slope. Even so, it took more steps that I was expecting. It’s much easier now though. I’ve started planting it up so hopefully by next Spring it will be looking less stark.

  38. restlessjo May 30, 2017 at 6:14 am - Reply

    You have some great comments and don’t really need mine, as I concur/sympathise with most of them. Good to catch up with you, Jess. 🙂 🙂

    • Jessica May 30, 2017 at 10:33 pm - Reply

      You too Jo. Your latest walk was just lovely. Inspires me to get out more!

  39. Peter/Outlaw May 31, 2017 at 3:06 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the morning dose of laughter and beauty. The stairs look great and make me feel less nervous abut you doing an impression of a mountain goat and risking life and limb to garden on that steep slope. Oh no, it goes even higher? Have you considered wearing a safety harness attached by rope to a tree at the top?

    • Jessica June 1, 2017 at 9:54 pm - Reply

      Yes, it goes higher. No doubt at some point in time we will be extending the steps. But I’m grateful that I can now get part of the way safely. The soil is very loose on the slope. It isn’t just the gradient, it’s the constant feeling of slithering that is so unnerving. And tiring to keep up for too long.

  40. Island Threads June 1, 2017 at 6:49 am - Reply

    tell Mike to feel gratefull it is not a cookcoo at 4 a.m. at least the blackbird has a nice song, the steps look great and I am deeply envious of all thoses lovely natural ferns, what a wonderful background structure to plant up, beautiful photos as usual, Frances

    • Jessica June 1, 2017 at 11:23 pm - Reply

      We had a cuckoo at my parents house one year. It drove my poor father almost mad. The ferns look at their best right now, all fresh and a beautiful bright green. I shall have to remove some, there are far too many, but you’re right they provide a beautiful foil for other plants.

  41. Dudhwa Tiger Reserve June 1, 2017 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Astounding photographs of nature and blossoms..

    • Jessica June 1, 2017 at 11:24 pm - Reply

      Thank you!

  42. Diana Studer June 2, 2017 at 12:48 am - Reply

    ah I HATE those tick tick tick clocks. I have to hunt for a truly quiet one.

    • Jessica June 2, 2017 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      I can’t stand ticking clocks of any description. They remind me of time passing, morbid though that may be.

  43. Robbie September 5, 2017 at 9:53 am - Reply

    Steps look great! They are the awkward ones though, you dont know whether you can walk down them like normal steps, or you have to approach them liek a toddler, planting both feet on each step! Can make you look a little daft at times haha.

    • Jessica September 6, 2017 at 9:18 pm - Reply

      Hi Robbie. Yes the steps are pretty steep! But so is the hill. Previously I was scrambling up and slithering down and with the oil supply pipe for the central heating just under the soil at that point there was no room for error. It isn’t an easy set of steps to climb but it’s far better than the alternative, however daft it may look!

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