Win A Copy Of ‘Down To Earth’ By Monty Don

On Saturday, I attended a pre-publication lunch held to promote Monty Don’s new book, ‘Down to Earth‘.  I don’t often accept the various invitations I receive through the blog but this sounded marvellous … and with free food and drink too.

Despite considerable effort spent making myself sort-of-presentable, I still felt out-of-place at the very smart venue – Hams Yard Hotel, Soho – and on arrival half expected a hand on the shoulder and a polite shove toward the exit.    But no.  My name was on the list, the smiley staff were welcoming and I was immediately offered a cold glass of bubbly.  I clasped it tightly and tried not to gulp.

Ham Yard Roof Garden (2)

Four storeys above the hubbub of Soho, the roof terrace was cool and tranquil and beautiful, as I double checked my fingernails for mud and scanned the early arrivals in hope of a familiar face.  There wasn’t one, so I tried to look purposeful by photographing my non-gulped wine.

Ham Yard Roof Garden (1)

And then I took a second for no good reason and, still acting purposeful, explored the terrace.

Ham Yard Roof Garden (4)

Monty Don would be arriving soon to sign copies of his new book for this small gathering of twenty or so bloggers and ‘influencers’.  It was as I took the above photo that I saw two very welcome faces indeed emerging from the green: Michelle Chapman and Alison Levey, who write the Veg Plotting and The Blackberry Garden blogs.  I’d met both before and they introduced me to two other bloggers, Sara Venn and Alexandra Campbell – The Physic Garden and The Middle Sized Garden – and I was no longer lonely.

Ham Yard Roof Garden (6)

With Michelle, I walked through a gate to a small but crammed-full veg garden, bee hives,

Ham Yard Roof Garden (7)

and even a green-roofed shed for goodness sake.  But to be honest I was so busy nattering to Michelle that I took less notice of this roof-top oasis than I should have.

Our small group of Garden Bloggers gravitated toward the ‘signing table’ where we were offered a succession of wonderful canapes – and more fizz.  I’d eaten nothing all day and was tempted to grab fistfuls of food at a time; but there was no need.  Chunks of tender beef with béarnaise sauce, small ice-cream type cones crammed with delicious mushroom risotto and prawns speared on to something very-tasty-but-I’ve-forgotten-what, kept on coming with lots of other delicious morsels.  I ate till I could eat no more.  We washed all that down with gin cocktails in glasses the size of goldfish bowls, leaving us all rather jolly if not overtly raucous.  I think.

Time for the main event.

Monty Don (1)

Monty Don appeared as if by magic straight off the telly and gave a short introduction about his new book, its journey from initial musings on a beach in India and its purpose:  his personal thoughts on what is important about gardening, with tips and pointers to make one’s garden grow well.

Then, each guest was handed a Hessian goodie bag (no, really) containing a handsome mug (mine with the inscription ‘For True Gents’), a small pretty plant, a tube of posh hand cream, a roll of posh twine, a pack of posh teabags and The Book, which Monty would sign for us.  I hadn’t expected a free copy and queued up dutifully.

When it was my turn to meet Mr Don, my mind went blank and rather than launching into pithy, witty, sparkling repartee nor even mentioning my blog (my son groaned and sank his face into his hands when I told him later about that omission), I recited my smuttiest limerick.

Monty Don (2)

Which went down well.   (I didn’t really recite a smutty limerick.  Though in retrospect, I rather wish I had.  As, I’m sure, does Monty).

Down to Earth by Monty Don

I’m sorry to say that since the lunch, I’ve barely had time to open Down to Earth, let alone read it.  But the publisher, Dorling Kindersley, who kindly laid on the lunch and to whom I offer my warmest thanks, have offered me a second (unsigned) copy to give away.

The book is published tomorrow and if you would like the chance to win your own copy, here’s all you need do:

say you want to enter in the “Any Thoughts” box below

and

(if you don’t do so already) follow ‘The Anxious Gardener’ blog; or follow me on Twitter; or like The Anxious Gardener Facebook page.  Or all three!  The relevant follow buttons are in the sidebar of this page.

You can also enter via Twitter or Facebook – check my Twitter feed and Facebook page for details.

Please note that the prize can only be posted to a UK postal address.

The competition will close at midnight on Sunday 15th October 2017.

I’ll draw a name from my hat, contact the winner and add the result to the bottom of this post.

Monty Don 3

Good luck!

oooOOOooo

The competition is now closed.  Thank you to everyone for taking part … and the winner is Rej via the blog.  Congratulations.

The Sparrowhawk

Jim picked me up from work at The Old Forge yesterday and, as I loaded my tools into the car, told me that he’d almost driven over a sparrowhawk crouched on the lane leading up to the house.  Luckily, he had braked in time and the bird flew away, as did an injured pigeon it had caught.

Buzzards circling lazily overhead are now a common sight on the South Downs; but other than those and an almost tame host of wild rabbits eyeing this gardener with ill-concealed contempt, I hadn’t seen any wildlife of interest whilst working and felt a little peeved at missing an up-close bird of prey.

After locking up the outbuildings and casting a satisfied eye over the freshly mown lawns, I climbed into the car, ramped up the air-conditioning, took off my sun-hat and gratefully grabbed the proffered can of cold coke.  It had been a long, hot, tiring day’s mowing.

Sparrowhawk (1)

Pulling away through The Forge’s gate and onto the road, we were both excited to see that the sparrowhawk was back.  With its recaptured prey.

Sparrowhawk (2)

Jim cut the engine and we coasted to a slow halt feet from where the hawk tore at the freshly caught pigeon.

Feverishly, I fished about on the back seat for my camera bag: unzipped it, took out my Nikon, removed its case, unlocked the standard lens, placed it carefully on the dashboard, found my telephoto, took it out of its case, attached it to the camera, took off the lens-cap, turned on the camera, pressed buttons and swivelled dials, looked through the viewfinder, swivelled dials some more – all the while knowing that the hawk would be long gone by the time I was finally ready for my first shot.

Sparrowhawk (3)

But it wasn’t.  As their name suggests, sparrowhawks hunt small birds and it’s a little unusual for them to catch something as large as a pigeon.

Sparrowhawk (4)

This female wasn’t about to abandon her bounty to a couple of gawking bystanders.

Sparrowhawk (5)

I see sparrowhawks often, close up even, and only once when I had my camera in hand  but usually they’re up and away as soon as I stumble upon the scene.

Sparrowhawk (6)

Today though, our car served as a perfect bird-hide and this Accipiter nisus, unconcerned by a stationary silver box, continued feeding.  Messily.

Sparrowhawk (7)

So often when photographing chance wildlife, I have seconds in which to take a shot and  usually in poor light too.

Sparrowhawk (8)

But yesterday, the soft afternoon sunlight backlit the raptor beautifully and I couldn’t believe my luck – and the unexpected camouflage gifted by our shabby, old car.

Sparrowhawk (9)

But however thrilled we were by her gorgeous markings, her stature, her presence, her pantaloons; this was a gruesome scene with sharp beak tearing off chunks of flesh.  Especially gruesome because for overly long minutes, the pigeon was still alive.  This was no clean, quick kill.

After a while, and with the pigeon now mercifully dead, she grasped its body with her talons and flew down the lane, landing in front of a farm building.  Jim started the engine and we rolled after her, pulling up alongside.

Sparrowhawk (10)

It is always exciting to see a terrific wildlife scene worthy of a David Attenborough voice over;

Sparrowhawk (11)

if only on a quiet, Sussex byway – rather than the Serengeti or the Himalaya.  But watching that hawk eating her still-alive prey was pretty horrid and not a thing I needed to see.

Sparrowhawk (12)

My close relationship with the natural world is a marvellous bonus to gardening but occasionally it reminds me – vividly, starkly – of how indifferent to suffering that world truly is and just how precarious life is.  The sparrowhawk wasn’t being cruel in eating her quarry alive; she simply wasn’t aware, didn’t care.

The hawk’s feast and the pigeon’s demise was a bit of a conversation dampener on our short drive home.

oooOOOooo

Thursday’s encounter reminded me of two similar wildlife posts on my blog which you may not have seen: The Bedraggled Kestrel – about an even more intimate hawk encounter – and The Stoat and the Pigeon.  In the latter, and as you might guess, I’m afraid there is no happy ending for the pigeon.Save