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August 2019

Well it's with much embarrassment that I have to admit that it's been four whole years since I last posted something here :(. Far too long and there's absolutely no way I can hope to make up for the lack of updates over that period of time. Well let's try anyway, with a super-concise summary of what's been going on......


To be honest it could have been an even longer gap, but this update has come on the back of some semi-enforced changes to my webcams. In short I have long toyed with the idea of swapping some of the cameras around, however the issue was decided by an event in July 2019. So why was I considering changing things? Well, camera 1 (which was my Stardot Netcam SC) is located in a not partularly user-firendly location in my attic, in a tiny cubby-hole where it is <censored> tricky to set up the camera and manually focus it. So when the camera slips out of focus (which it eventually does after extended periods of use) it is an absolute pain to put it right. On the other hand the Axis camera that was used for camera 2 has a nice facility for fine tuning focus either automatically or manually, from the web interface. This is why I had considered putting an Axis camera on camera 1. So what event decided the issue? Well in July 2019 my Stardot camera threw a wobbler after four and a half years' trouble-free use. In short it lost all of its settings (including its IP address). So it had to come down so that I could diagnose and rectify the issue. This camera clearly needs to be somewhere more accessible, so since I now own 2 x Axis P1344 cameras (obtained from ebay) in addition to the P1343 used for camera 2, I have changed the setup to the following:

- Camera 1: Axis P1344

- Camera 2: Stardot Netcam SC

- Camera 3 (NEW!): Axis P1344.

This setup also has the benefit that all cameras now record the same size (1024x768) image, which is a nice size for various screen resolutions, high enough to produce a nice image quality but low enough to keep the file size small (important due to the archive that I keep which has images going back to March 2003).

Camera 3 is a new addition which shows a wider angle view of the sky above my house. This camera also has an IR facility enabled, which means that it will work in darkness - cloud generally showing as a grey area and clear sky as black with a few stars visible on most nights.


The garden is still going strong, with no more losses due to cold weather (well there hasn't been any notable cold since my last update - there was a bit of a spell dubbed the 'Beast from the East' in late Feb / early Mar 2018, which was severe in parts of the UK mainland, but as so often with easterlies we got away lightly with a couple of nights at -3C).

Summers were very average in 2016 and 2017, however 2018 was a bit of a stunner - the early/mid part of it anyway. After the cold start to spring there was a step change to summer in mid-May, which amazingly lasted almost continuously here until the end of July. Daytime highs consistently reached the mid-20's celsius, peaking at 30C in late June. Sadly August turned out to be poor. Now you may think that the palms would have loved the more or less continuous sunshine and heat, but I don't really think they did. In fact I think the extended warm/dry conditions stressed them a bit. 2019 has been nowhere near as good so far - not terrible by any means, just ok with a mixture of nice days and not so nice days and no extended settled period. However the palms and the garden as a whole seem to be very happy with this and are growing well. I'm also giving the palms plenty of seaweed extract and Palmbooster to help them on their way and to try to banish the <censored> leaf yellowing. And they look possibly better than they have done for quite a number of years.


I'm in the 12-month period that occurs every other year, where I have to fly for 12 hours in order to revalidate my licence. It's not been a bad year, since I've got to fly almost every time I booked, with very few weather cancellations. I've currently flown 10.0 hours, with 2.0 left to fly before the end of September. Just need to consider how I'd like to get those last 2 hours. It has however been a challenge to get trips organised, with no one at the flying club apparently driving this at the moment. Same old story! I'd love to organise more of these myself, but until I have much more time on my hands it's just not possible. Guess I'll have to try to make my early retirement happen, then it might be a possibility! Not happening for the foreseeable!

So anyway I've had a few more trips, mainly to the Scottish islands and Southern Ireland. A few weeks ago I had a nice trip to Carlisle, England with a couple of friends. Great airfield to visit with a great wee aviation museum (Solway Aviation Museum) on-site. I'll finish this long-awaited update with a couple of pics from our visit - see below.  



Me with Vulcan



Trident cockpit - yes that really was an early moving map display and yes it really does show Northern Ireland :)






August 2015

Ok firstly an update on my new webcams. Both are fully operational and should now also be stable in terms of location and settings (following *much* more time spent tweaking them than I could ever have imagined!). The Stardot Netcam SC was the more problematic. The first issue was that on arrival it would not drive the DC auto iris upgrade lens (it just displayed a black picture). Following an email exchange with Stardot, I was asked to open the camera where I found a broken wire on the lens connector. Knowing that this was likely to be a simple fix, I explained to Stardot that I was an electronics engineer and would be happy to repair the wire if they would be willing to let me do so without voiding my warranty. They were happy, so I soldered the wire and the lens came alive! I was very relieved at this because I did not relish the thought of having to return the camera to the US!


So I was able to get the Netcam up and running and was very pleased with its performance. However, one or two things have come to light which are worth mentioning. The first is that I wanted to use the WDR (wide dynamic range) feature so that I could have both the foreground and background correctly exposed with lots of detail in both. However with the WDR function enabled the lovely natural colour balance of the camera was gone and instead the whole image seemed to acquire an unnatural sickly pinkish cast that I quickly decided I could not live with. The effect of this varied depending on the time of day and lighting conditions. I spent several months on and off tweaking the settings but despite achieving a bit of an improvement I was unable to obtain satisfactory performance and so was forced to abandon WDR. I also saw a poster on a webcam-related forum mentioning this as an issue with this camera. The result of abandoning WDR is that the camera cannot now cope fantastically with all lighting conditions and sometimes the background and sky is 'blown-out' (completely or partially white) - one of the issues with the cheap USB webcams that I was hoping to have left behind! However the Stardot is still much better than the cheap USB cams in this respect, so I will live with it!


The second point of note on the Stardot is regarding its exposure to direct sunlight in the morning. Now I was aware that the sun enters the frame of my east-south-east-looking shot early in the morning in winter, and had already discussed this with Stardot prior to purchase. They assured me that the Netcam SC has a CMOS sensor which will not be damaged by direct sunlight. And that's fine - I can confirm that it hasn't been damaged! However I have noticed some washing out of the image (reduced colour saturation) in the mid-morning period with the sun backlighting the image. This occurs even with the sun not directly in frame and in the summer as well as the winter. It's not a major issue though and I can live with it.


By comparison commissioning camera 2, the Axis P1343, was a breeze. I had initially set it up in my daughter's room looking north-east. However this summer we have re-decorated her room and I did not want to retain the admittedly make-shift camera installation therein. I have now moved the whole camera outside into an external enclosure (pictures on my "How it's done" page). I've noticed that the Axis also sees the sun in its frame, but unlike the Stardot this occurs in summer and not in winter. One issue I did have with the Axis was softening of the shot over time, eventually leading to a very out of focus image. I figured this may have been due to a tired lens (since the camera was purchased used from ebay). Conveniently this camera has an autofocus function that can be invoked by an IP command, so I simply wrote a small program to command it to autofocus once per day (the program runs on my server).

Despite its lower resolution I really like the image from the Axis. It has a warmer look to it than the Stardot and seems to cope better with dynamic lighting conditions.


I've also set up software to dynamically control the captions on both cameras (more details on the how it's done page). In this respect I absolutely love the Stardot, whose firmware allows for a four line caption. This has allowed me to stamp a signifcant amount of additional info on the caption of camera 1 :).


Ok, we've done webcams to death so on to flying. And this has certainly been my most frustrating and challenging year for flying yet. A fairly important year too, with my SEP revalidation due in September. In the 12 months prior to this I need to clock up 12 hours' flying in addition to a training flight with an instructor - easy, huh? You'd have thought!

Well back last September the club was planning a winter flyout to Southern Europe and I was all signed up as part of the crew returning the aircraft to Newtownards from Cannes (this return flight was due to take place in early March). This would have provided me with 5 or 6 hours' flying - nearly half of what I needed for my revalidation. Well I had a busy autumn (2014) for a number of reasons, so in late September I consciously took a little break from the flying - which ended up being for the rest of the calendar year! But the France trip was coming, right? Wrong :(. For all sorts of reasons people started dropping out and on 1st January the decision was made to cancel the trip. Thankfully I had not booked my easyJet flights out to meet up with the aircraft - others had......

Well I did my training flight and check out in January and thus got back into the flying. Another local flight and some circuits just to keep current, and then came Easter. I planned a trip to Scotland with Fiona and couldn't believe it when the Easter weather turned out to be wall-to-wall sunshine with daytime temperatures more typical of June! So on the day we turned up and as we were taxying out there was an incident with a microlight that resulted in the airfield being closed. I could elaborate on this but it's not the place to go into it here :'(.

From then until June I only managed to fly circuits to keep current, but by June I still needed 7.5 hours' flying!! I had several attempts to organise trips myself but to be honest as I write this at the end of August I can say we have had one of the worst 4-month periods of weather that I can remember, and all of these trips were canned because of this.

I have also tried to get friends to come flying, even locally, by posting intentions on e.g. Facebook. But the truth about this is that while these posts usually generate some interest, they often do not result in flights taking place.

Then in late June one of the guys at the flying club organised a multi-aircraft flyout to Scotland. On a weekday too! I quickly signed up for the trip on 7th July. But it had to be rescheduled for 13th due to weather. No matter, I could still make the 13th. Guess what the weather was like on 13th? <censored>! Well to be fair it cleared during the day, but it was after 6pm before it was flyable, by which time most people had given up and gone home. My patience paid off though - after waiting for >10 hours we had a nice evening flight on an admittedly very curtailed route. Never mind - nearly a couple of hours in my logbook!

There was then another flyout to Wales planned for 7th August, but that was cancelled due to weather. Frustrated, I then killed a couple of hours by doing a checkout in the club's new Cessna 152's.

And then the trip that I was really looking forward to - a flyout to Wales, Isle of Man, England, and Scotland, all in one day. And they were all airfields that I hadn't been to before - I couldn't wait! Well on the day (21st August) the weather was (almost) as bad as ever, and immediately the original route was canned in favour of a Scottish Isles trip, where the weather looked better if not wonderful. So some disappointment immediately as I'd already been to Islay, Oban and Campbeltown and now wouldn't be getting any new airfields in my logbook. But beggars can't be choosers and in the end of the day we had a great day out and I got another 2.8 hours flying in my logbook!

So now I need one more hour before the end of September, which shouldn't be too hard to do - hopefully!!


So as I hinted in the above paragraph, I've been very close to calling 2015 "the year without a summer" :(. The summers of 2007-2012 are notorious in these parts for all being bad to some extent, but I don't think I can remember any of them being so consistently bad - although my memory probably can't be trusted to accurately remember lacklustre summers from several years ago. I think what has been so frustrating about this summer is the consistently bad weather. It has been cool, in fact by summer standards downright cold at times. It has been wet. And it has been stupidly windy for summer. I've counted only 8 "properly" good days snce 1st June (in fact since late April). And a even a few of those were windy despite being sunny and warm. The longest run of good days has been 3, before a return to poor weather. Anyway, maybe the relatively good summers of 2013 and 2014 (2014 did in fact become the warmest year on record in the UK) have spoiled us, although the frustration of not being able to get a usable day for almost any planned activities has been tough at times.

Despite all this the palms have been growing away happily and don't seem to be experiencing any particular problems. But I personally feel absolutely starved of a summer and happily have a holiday to sunnier climes planned for later in the autumn :).

Just looking at my garden pics. Many of them are 5 years old and I can tell you things have definitely moved on since then! I've updated some of the pages but I'm aware that I really need to get some new pics up there! I will see what I can do when I get a chance! Anyway, sorry for the very long update this time around!






December 2014

Well here we are at the end of another exciting year! Some changes are currently taking place on my website which you may have noticed if you have been looking at my webcam page lately! For the last 11 years I have been using a cheapo Creative Webcam Pro (USB). To be fair this old camera has served me well and is still in good condition and fully functional despite 11 years of 24/7 usage! However as with many things there comes a time when the decision needs to be made to move on. In this case it was quite an easy one since the old camera has developed a habit of periodically refusing to update. I'm very sure this is a driver problem, perhaps not an uncommon issue with USB cameras since all require software drivers to work at all - as well as third party software (and a computer!) to function as a "live" webcam. The driver for this camera appears to be a bit unstable and is no longer being updated since the camera is so old - the worst thing is that when the driver crashes it is unrecoverable by any means other than an undesirable reboot.

Since the old camera has a resolution of only 320x240, I felt it was time to go for some improved image quality. I experimented with a few no-cost options first, for example using the old Creative camera in its full 640x480 mode, and replacing it with a much newer 720p Logitech USB camera (both with an updated version of the Conquercam software that has also served me so well over the years). However, to say the least I was underwhelmed by the results and eventually decided to look at spending a bit of dosh in order to do the job right! So both USB cameras and Conquercam are to be retired in favour of a much more reliable and high quality option.

One of the webcams that has caught my eye over the years and indeed provided some inspiration for my original webcam setup is from the University of Arizona (https://www.cs.arizona.edu/camera/). Since 2006 they have been using a Stardot Netcam Megapixel IP camera which has continually produced some beautiful images (plentiful Arizona sunshine helps too I suppose!). I'd not heard of Stardot before that, however it was now top of my list for further investigation. I also had a look at what Axis had on offer, but it was the consistently gorgeous image quality produced by the Stardot cameras that appealed most to me (for some more sample shots see here). On investigation I discovered that the original Netcam Megapixel has been discontinued and that the Netcam SC was probably the current model I'd want to look at. I also discovered that Stardot have only one distributor in the UK, whose prices were alarmingly high. I had several email exchanges with Stardot in California who were very helpful and were happy to sell to me direct - their prices were also high but they were about to have a massive Black Friday sale! Their Black Friday prices ended up being really good but in the end of the day I decided to order from B&H Photo-Video in NYC, whose prices including shipping were better still - I chose them in preference to California PC with whom I was also in contact. (Thanks to all 3 suppliers for their prompt and helpful email responses, I have no issue providing links to all of their websites here).

B&H are also shipping with USPS rather than an overpriced courier. Even with shipping and UK import taxes/duty, I am picking the Netcam SC up for around half of the UK price. I also upgraded the lens to one with DC Auto Iris and zoom.

Right now I am just waiting for the camera to be delivered which I expect to happen very early in the new year. So expect another update here before too long! In the mean time I have made my first foray into the world of IP cameras by acquiring an Axis P1343 from a well known online auction site. Even though this camera has only an 800x600 resolution, I have been impressed by the image quality and its ability to cope with tricky exposures in a way that cheapo USB webcams never could (there are lots of pics in my archive with the sky a complete white-out, for example). The Axis has mow become my second webcam and it's view looking to the north-east from my house can also be found on my webcam page. I have also increased the rate of updates from once every ten minutes to once every one minute.


OK so enough about webcams! Not too much to report on the flying in 2014 since I have spent a good amount of time completing my IR(R) renewal - although I did have a lovely scenic flight around Malta, Gozo and Comino while on holiday there - under the supervision of an instructor at the local flying school at Luqa Airport. There is a possible trip to France in February 2015, I'm just waiting to see if it's definitely on or not.


2014 has been a year of notable overall warmth following a very mild winter, warm spring and early summer, and warm early-mid autumn. 2014 may even achieve a warmest year on record in the UK - we should find out in a few days!. For now, happy new year and I will hopefully provide another update before too long!






January 2014

First of all happy new year to anyone reading this! It's hard to believe this site is 14 years old this month! I'd like to give it a facelift but unfortunately don't have time...... I keep reminding myself that this site is "content-based" :).


Next a brief report on the Tangier flyout in September. In the last update, now in archive news, I mentioned that I was on Crew #1, flying the aircraft as far as Paris on the first day and on to Biarritz on the second day. Well the day before our departure it seriously looked like the weather was going to beat us - a spell of wet & windy weather was due to move in late in the night. However last minute emails from the other guys led to the departure being brought forward from 9am to 7am (sunrise, in other words, in late September) in an attempt to get ahead of the weather front coming in from the west. So an early start it was, and as the daylight emerged at Newtownards airfield things looked ok. We knew, however, that we would be in a race with the weather all day and could not spare much time at each stop.

So we had our photo taken for the press, and set off. The first leg to Welshpool in mid-Wales was uneventful, just a few bumps and well scattered low clouds going over the Welsh mountains. I've been to Welshpool once before but wasn't flying on this occasion. There was only time for the quickest of breaks at Welshpool - fuel, toilet, and off we went. A quick call to the guys back home let us know that the weather had since closed in there.

So my leg for the day was Welshpool to Shoreham (Brighton). After a longgg take off run at Welshpool due to the weight, the plan was simple - climb to 3000ft and fly the route in 3 legs, avoiding a variety of stuff like major airfields, danger areas, etc. After leaving Welshpool I called London Info who gave me the usual squawk (1177). However London didn't keep us on frequency and passed us on to what turned out to be a lengthy list of local ATC units. So long I can't remember them all, but it definitely included Gloucester, Brize, Southampton and Fanborough. There was a NOTAM about temporary restricted airspace around Kemble, but Brize cleared us to go through that. It took a few attempts to make contact with Shoreham, but when we did they gave us a right base join for rwy 20 in a fairly busy circuit. Too high... go around! A right hand circuit and a much better approach and landing in fairly gusty crosswind conditions. Other than that though the weather at Shoreham was the best we had seen all day, so we took some time to have lunch in their restaurant. After refuelling we departed with the weather still looking good (3rd pilot now flying), but once we headed out over the channel it soon became apparent that some lowish cloud had been sneaking round to the south of the UK, and the weather was poor, but flyable, for the whole way across the channel and for half of the distance to be covered over land on the other side. This was my first trip across the channel and when flying ay 1500ft at 110kts it sure does seem like a long way (about 30 minutes on the day). It's also apparent how busy the channel is - I lost count of the number of ships we flew over! Nearing the Paris area the weather improved markedly, a good thing as the fairly experienced pilot flying navigated us through the complex Paris airspace and the rather busy circuit at our destination, the dual-runway Toussus-le-Noble. I think we were all glad to have our feet on the ground as we took a taxi to our hotel in Trappes, about 20 minutes away. Shortly after, the cloud base lowered and the rain band moved in.

Next morning things didn't look good. The original plan was to fly the first leg from Toussus to Chateauroux. Chateauroux is a very interesting airfield with one of the longest runways in France, and where airline training often takes place with pilots doing circuits in 747s and A380s - but it is an airfield that also actively encourages private flights in  light aircraft. I was looking forward to going there, but sadly the weather everywhere to the south was bad with low cloud and rain. It was ok at Toussus though, although windy, so we started planning where we could go to instead. We waited for a couple of hours to see if things improved but it was clear that we could only go west. So we hatched a plan to go first to Le Mans, then to try to get out to the coast (Nantes or La Rochelle). It wasn't so much of a Plan B, more a Plan D or E. We didn't at this stage think it likely that we would see Biarritz that day, which would play havoc with our commercial flights home the next day :(. So off we went to Le Mans with me flying. A fairly straightforward 25L take-off and exit from the Paris area and then routing via Chartres and negotiating a couple of danger areas - one which was inactive (so we went through it) and one which was active so we routed around. We also had to dodge one or two beefy showers in otherwise quite good weather conditions. Arriving at Le Mans it was very windy - a crosswind which was also very gusty. It was hard work on the approach but we got down ok. The airfield at Le Mans is just beside the famous motor racing track. At Le Mans we decided that we would next head to La Rochelle - with my flying now done I could sit back and relax. This was an uneventful leg in quite good weather and we arrived in La Rochelle in beautifully warm & sunny conditions, but in a gusty crosswind with a Ryanair deparing while we were on downwind leg. It was at this point that we realised we might be able to make Biarritz after all since we could trundle down the coast at low level if necessary, and the reported cloud base at Biarritz was 1400ft. So the pilot flying phoned ATC to get activity reports for the many restricted/danger areas along the west coast, and off we went at around 6pm. There was about 1.5 hours flying to do, but sunset that night was at around 8pm. The weather was fine until we passed abeam Bordeaux, then the blue skies gave way first to medium level cloud, then low cloud and a little rain. When we got to Biarritz we found the cloud base not as high as we would have liked, but were still able to land at our destination in very windy conditions - but at least this time the wind was straight down the runway!

So we took a taxi to our hotel and later had a great night out with the guys from Crew #2, who had flown in on Ryanair and who would be taking the C172 all the way to Tangier over the next two days. Next morning we spent some time exploring Biarritz in much better weather, then took the bus to the airport to catch our flights home, first Ryanair to Stansted and then Easyjet to Belfast.

Pretty much the rest of the trip went like clockwork, right up until the day Crew #4 brought the aircraft back into the UK at Shoreham. The weather then finally thwarted progress, and they had to wait two more days before they could return the aircraft to Northern Ireland - and even then ended up diverting to Belfast City due to weather at Newtownards!

The whole thing was a great experience though and I look forward to more in 2014 :).

When I got home I got my licence renewal and the EASA licence conversion done.


G-UFCI at Le Mans

After the good summer the warmth continued into the autumn before things cooled down in November. It's been a mild autumn and early winter though, for only the second time I have gone into new year without having recorded the first airfrost (sub - 0C). It has been close though with 3 nights having recorded a low of +0.2C. The weather has been very active/stormy lately but for 3 weeks in late November & the first half of December we had what I consider to be pretty much perfect winter weather - high pressure to the south east, with mild, moist, cloudy air circulating around it - and pretty dry & calm too! Here's hoping the rest of the winter remains mild, even if its' two less desirable friends (wet & windy) come with it :).


Finally I have spent some of my Christmas and New Year holiday decomissioning my old server and migrating everything to a new one, hopefully this will improve the performance of my webcam pages as well as saving me some electricity (since it is a fully solid state server).






August 2013

Well I've just realised that it's been over a year since I updated this site. Perhaps not *too* much has been happening in this period, no more trekking trips or other adventures to report on. But still worth a few lines to post an update on the various areas of my website.


Let's do the exotic gardening stuff first. The garden is ticking over nicely. The weather has been mostly kind with a pretty mild meteorological winter 2012/2013 - not the super-mildness of 2011/2012 but still pretty good in my books! This year the spring was more of a problem to be honest - March in particular which was exceptionally cold for the time of year, more than 3C below normal and with an exceptional bout of wet snow around the spring equinox. In fact early March recorded the coldest temperature of the winter at -3.8C (the worst temperature from Dec-Feb was -1.4C, same as the previous winter). That was the coldest temperature I had ever recorded in March, similarly the -1.4C I recorded in early April 2013 was by far the coldest I had ever recorded in that month. May too was nothing to write home about, with more below average temperatures overall. By the end of this "spring" my garden was beginning to look a little poorly, with the usual leaf yellowing even more apparent than usual. I now believe long cold/damp months have a lot to do with this. Now the weather in this part of the world often surprises, and 2013 has delivered what many thought impossible - a good summer! This started in early June with a week and a half of sunny and very warm weather. The rest of June was close to average, giving an above average month overall. But the real heat hit in July (just after I sodded off to Spain for 2 weeks), with a 3-week heatwave and temperatures up to 30C (86F). Just as the ground was beginning to look parched, the weather turned more unsettled but remained warm, leaving July as a whole over 3C above normal. A fantastic month! Sadly August hasn't quite followed suit, with more unsettled conditions. However the horrible northwesterly pattern that plagued "summer" 2012 has been absent, and August has remained a little above average as a result. And the end result for the garden after this summer - great! It's really looking good again, as if the bad spring never happened! Sadly though the butia eriospatha that I planted last in June 2012 quickly declined after planting and spear pulled in spring 2013. It's now been dug up and is potted in the greenhouse.


I'm just going through the revalidation of my private pilot's licence and as part of this I need to convert this to an EASA licence. I actually need to be signed off for English proficiency haha.... hopefully I won't have a problem with that. I have been seriously struggling to get on any of the club's organised flyouts since most of them are on, or involve, a Sunday - incompatible with my church activities, which, as a Christian, come first. However I have managed to get on a flyout to Tangier in September - should say though that I am not actually going to see Tangier! I'm on the first crew flying Newtownards-Paris on Tuesday 17th, Paris-Biarritz on 18th, and returning home with Ryanair/Easyjet on 19th. All weather permitting of course! This summer I have been organising some flyouts myself since I needed the hours for my revalidation. Castle Kennedy and Islay were two of my destinations; plans for Donegal, Sligo, Abbeyshrule and Prestwick went "tango uniform" due to the weather - yes even in a good summer in this part of the world!!! I also did a one hour local flight when I was in Spain, at Jerez. It would have been longer but there were actually some issues due to the intense heat!! (38C/100F on the day I was there). Aw well, onwards and upwards!!!!






June 2012

I was delaying writing this update until I was sure winter was well and truly over, but since it is now June I think I've inadvertently taken this to the extreme. The reason I was waiting for winter to be over is actually for good reasons rather than bad, so good in fact that even in April or early May it was possible for some of the winter statistics to still be altered. So in short, winter 2011/2012 was the mildest winter in the 20 years or so that I have lived at my location, and certainly in the 17 years that I have been gardening exotically. Here are some of the stats:
- Mildest winter in the 20 years I have lived here.
- Latest first air frost I have recorded (28th January). So I did eventually get into a new year without an air frost (and then some), but it was a close run thing with +0.2C having been recorded in December.
- Earliest last air frost I have recorded (3rd February).
- Only 3 air frosts in total, and all confined to a one week period (28th January - 3rd February).
- Absolute winter low was only -1.4C (29.4F). So close to a zone 10a winter, but not quite!
- Warmest Christmas Day ever in Northern Ireland, At Murlough 14.3C (57.7F) was recorded. At my house I had a high of 13.5C , with the overnight low being almost the same.
- No lying snow to speak of, just a couple of mornings in December with half a centimetre of wet slush.

So with those stats it's not surprising that there was no further damage to my garden this year, with one additional positive being that my dicksonia antarctica is not dead as previously thought, but is sprouting from the base. Unfortunately the mild westerly pattern that was dominant right through until March appears to have simply disappeared as the calendar changed to April, giving us a very poor, cool, unsettled spring and suppressing growth for the first part of the new growing season. The exceptions have been two fantastic weeks of warm or very warm settled weather, one in March and one in May, with plant growth responding accordingly. Another improvement is possibly on the cards in about a week's time as I write this.
Oddly enough I have actually acquired some new plants this year, more details and hopefully pics to be added (once I've planted them) in my next update - which all being well will not take as long to appear as this one!

On the flying, I completed my IMC Rating in March. Very nice also to see that it is to continue as a Resrticted Instrument Rating (IR(R)) under the new European aviation regime. I've also been checked out in the club's new two-seat Tecnam P2002 aircraft. In addition, on 26th May in glorious weather 8 of us took two Cessnas out to Sywell (Northampton) for the Aero Expo 2012 exhibition, making stops on both the outbound and return legs. This gave us the opportunity to fly a bit each while avoiding paying for the whole trip! I flew from Sywell to Blackpool on the way home, negotiating the very busy Sywell departure, Birmingham/East Midlands airspace, the Manchester Low Level Route, and the Warton MATZ, prior to the approach and landing at Blackpool. Great fun!! More please :).
On a sadder note I learned that the very aircraft that we travelled to/from Lukla on during our Everest Base Camp trip last autumn crashed in northern Nepal on 14th May, with 15 fatalities out of 22 on board. Thoughts and prayers are with the families of the casualties. The accident happened at a similar altitude to Lukla, and in similar terrain, so we can just be thankful that our trip was completed safely.






December 2011


Incredibly we're at the end of another year! And another exciting one at that! It's not too many weeks ago that I returned from Nepal, having trekked to Everest Base Camp with a team from the church. And what a trek it was! The team was hit severely by sickness. For a start 3 team members had altitude sickness and had to descend. For the other 17, the trek was complicated by food poisoning, vomiting & diarrhoea bugs, flus and head colds :(.  And it was a strenuous trek to begin with! Unlike Kilimanjaro where up was up and down was down (to a large extent), every day on the EBC trek was composed of climbs and descents over many mountain ridges. But despite all of the above the remaining 17 members of the team of 20 made it to EBC, and I'm pleased to say I was one of them! There are some pics on my Photos page. But getting to EBC wasn't the end of it! Having made it down to Lukla where the only way out is by small plane back to Kathmandu, we found ourselves clouded in and were delayed SIX DAYS!!! Boy was I glad to get outta there!!! But overall a great experience :).


As part of the training for Everest, back in August I flew a couple of friends over to Scotland and we climbed Ben Nevis. It took two attempts as the first was called off due to weather :(. With the experience of having to make a command decision which left passengers disappointed under my belt, I felt persuaded to undertake the IMC Rating which gives a pilot more flexibility with regard to flying in cloud and other conditions which would make visual flight impossible. I'm well through it now, practising instrument approaches at Belfast City airport and the like. I've a skills test to do and hope to have it completed within the next few months.


Now an update on my exotic garden. Well I can think of about 4 plants which are dead (dicksonia antarctica, back butia capitata - which was already on its way out before last winter, cycas revoluta, and nolina longifilium). Everything else has survived last awful winter and is coming back strongly! The most painful bit perhaps was having to fell the 15ft trunks of my two front cordylines :(. But of course - they are pushing forth plenty of new growth from the base and are already about 18 inches tall with numerous growing points. I've provided similar protection to last year for the current winter, once again I really hope it is not needed!


Well that's it for now, I'll provide another update soon!






May 2011


It's with regret that I admit not having updated this page for not far off a year. Once again (as always) there is good reason and a large part of that is due (sadly) to the major headline for this update:




In the last update I gave an overview of the exceptionally cold winter of 2009/10 and its effect on my garden. I was never really convinced that the strange weather patterns earlier last year had completely gone away, so in November 2010 I prepared extensive winter protection "just in case". Of course I hoped that it would all prove to be completely unnecessary....... unfortunately, it proved to be necessary.

Now let's get one thing straight about winter 2010/11 in these parts. As a whole it was less severe than 09/10, with a near-normal January and a mild February (nothing below freezing in February, for example). The cold was concentrated almost exclusively in one month, December. Two exceptionally prolonged cold spells, in fact - one lasting from the last weekend in November until around the 10th December, followed by a mild week, then a second, much more severe, spell lasting from 17th to 25th December. Both were accompanied by snowfall.  Some quick statistics from these parts:

- Coldest December for more than 100 years

- Multiple all-time record lows; previous Northern Ireland record low of -17.5C (0.5F) broken by over a (celsius) degree: -18.7C (-1.7F). At my house, -11.6C (11.0F) recorded.

- December temp 5.4C (9.7F) below normal.

- 3 or 4 freeze days in one week at my house (to put that into perspective, I've only recorded 2 freeze days in the previous 18 years)

- Nearly 20 days of lying snow in December at my house, compare that with the normal 4 or 5 days for an entire (average) winter.

- 8 inches (20cm) of snow in the second spell...... ironically the depth may have protected some plants as the ground didn't freeze where the snow cover persisted.

It's funny how things average out though, as after Christmas the rest of the winter was snow-free at my house.......


Now once again I could whinge about how bad all this was (and it *was* horrific). But we look forward hoping that better (milder) winters lie ahead. This spring has been very different to last spring in that the last frost was sometime in March (remember last year the frost kept coming back and we even had a ground frost in early May). Not only that, but we've had a record breaking warm April in some parts and the warmest Easter for 50 years or so.


OK, here's the garden damage report, it's less bad than it would otherwise have been (largely due to my protection):





Damage (as of May 2011)


Brahea armata

Brahea edulis

Butia capitata

Butia eriospatha

Butia paraguayensis

Chamaedorea microspadix x 4

Chamaedorea radicalis x 3

Chamaerops humilis x 2

Chamaerops humilis 'cerifera'

Chamaerops humilis 'vulcano'

Jubaea chilensis

Phoenix canariensis

Phoenix theophrastii

Rhapidophyllum hystrix

Rhapis excelsa

Sabal bermudana

Sabal minor

Trachycarpus fortunei x 3

Trachycarpus manipur

Trachycarpus martianus 'Nepal'

Trachycarpus Naini Tal

Trachycarpus nanus

Trachycarpus Nova

Trachycarpus wagnerianus x 3

Trithrinax campestris

Washingtonia filibusta

Washingtonia robusta



Cycas panzihuaensis

Cycas revoluta

Dicksonia antarctica

Pleioblastus variegatus

Cacti, agaves, echeverias, yucca filifera and carnerosana

Yucca gloriosa x 2 & filamentosa x 2

Cordyline australis (green) x 2

Cordyline australis (variegated)

Cordyline indivisa

Dasylirion wheeleri

Fatsia japonica

Nolina longifolium

Phormium tenax (green)

Phormium tenax (variegated)

Rheum palmatum







50cm stems

30cm stems




1.6m (40cm trunk)







1.6m trunk, 2.5m overall






0.8m trunk x 2; 0.4m trunk x 1

1.5m trunk







0.6m trunk





4m trunk

2m trunk









Temporary enclosure with heat

Temporary enclosure with heat

Warming cables + temporary sheet cover

Warming cables + temporary sheet cover

Temporary enclosure with heat

Temporary enclosure with heat

Temporary enclosure with heat

Temporary sheet cover

Temporary sheet cover

Warming cables + temporary sheet cover

Temporary enclosure with heat, 2nd spell onwards

Temporary enclosure with heat

Temporary enclosure with heat


Temporary enclosure with heat

Temporary enclosure with heat

Warming cables around base


Warming cables around base + cover

Warming cables around base + cover

Warming cables around base

Warming cables around base + cover

Warming cables around base + rain cover only


Temporary enclosure with heat

Temporary enclosure with heat

Temporary enclosure with heat



Temporary enclosure with heat

Temporary enclosure with heat



Temporary enclosure with heat





Warming cables around base; temporary sheet









Leaf tip browning & slightly burnt base, heater went on fire :(

Minor leaf tip browning

Minor leaf tip browning

No additional

Minor leaf tip browning


Browning; spear pulls on one plant; suckers ok

Minor leaf tip browning

Leaf tip browning



Sucker spear pull; otherwise none


Clinging on to life after second bad winter


Leaf tip browning








No additional

Brown spear; growing





Dead (was in decline before winter)

No growth yet..... not looking good





Defoliation; re-growing from base

Defoliation; no new growth yet





Leaf browning

Leaf browning



This winter has surely proved the worth of truly hardy palms such as trachycarpus fortunei and trachycarpus wagnerianus.


Just a word on the flying, I've had fun taking family and friends for a spin, also had a few nice trips to e.g. Scotland and the Republic of Ireland (hope for more soon), and completed my night qualification over the winter!!






June 2010


OK once again it has been ages since I last updated this page, for which I apologise, although there is good reason!


Basically this update is going to centre around the exotic gardening side of things, not least because we have just  had the coldest winter in nearly 50 years :(. I won't go into all the gory details here, although there is a summary on my 'my involvement in exotic gardening' page. In short the winter past has seen persistent cold spells unlike anything I recall seeing before. For the most part the low temperatures were not severe, the exceptions being two nights in early January with lows of -6C (21F) and -8C (17F). These were significantly below our average annual minimum of -4C (25F), and the latter almost equalled the lowest temperature that I have recorded at my house in the 18 years I have lived here.


So that's a very brief summary of what happened, and as you may expect there has been some damage to my plants. Spears have pulled on rhapis excelsa, trachycarpus martianus nepal, and phoenix theophrastii, although all still show signs of life - watch this space for updates. Leaf browning/spotting has occurred on all butias, brahea edulis, phoenix canariensis, sabal bermudana, chamaedoreas, discksonia antarctica, and even a small chamaerops humilis 'vulcano'. All of these are growing :).

Bananas (musa basjoo) were cut to the ground and are now re-growing from the base. Two agave americanas are mush, although two more are ok.

However the plant I am most worried about in my large trithrinax campestris, whose leaf browning is still increasing and whose spear is now brown, although still firm. This is a large and expensive plant which is supposed to be hardier and which I would hate to lose, so I am keeping in contact with other growers on the internet forums for advice.


On the plus side, I have approximately 30 other exotic species, including about a dozen palm species, which have come through the winter with no significant problems :-). All of this has changed my perception of the climate though, and future plantings will definitely take this into account!!!


As for the flying, well I'm still enjoying taking family and friends up and hope for some trips outside of Northern Ireland shortly.


Talk soon!






December 2009



So much to say since the last update (which admittedly was 5 months ago!!!).


"I DID IT!!!!!" Part 1:

First of all, I'm now a pilot!!!!! On 10th September this year I passed my PPL skills test with examiner Mike Woodgate, and so finally have completed my private pilot's licence - the culmination of well over 2 years' work! And the skills test itself wasn't an unpleasant experience as Mike is a fantastic examiner who made me feel at ease right from the start. After passing my skills test I had to wait a few weeks for my licence to arrive, after which I took my first passengers - yep you've guessed it, Fiona, Rachel and Andrew! And they loved it!!! I've also started to try some new things, having been checked out on the club's C152 and PA-28 aircraft so that I can fly them as well as the C172s. In addition I had a wee flight with a friend in a microlight a couple of weeks ago :). Lots of other things I want to do too 'in the fullness of time'!!


"I DID IT!!!!!" Part 2:

On 21st October, a team of 10 people from our church set off to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. This was a sponsored climb in aid of our childrens' hospice in Nyeri, Kenya. It was for sure one of the toughest things I have ever done, but incredibly rewarding!!! 9 out of 10 of us made it to the edge of the Kibo crater at Gilman's point (5681m amsl) and hence were officially deemed to have climbed the mountain. 5 of us, myself included, went on to the Uhuru Peak (5895m), the 'true' summit and the highest point in Africa. This was another 1 hour hike through driving wind and snow. Thankfully I only had minor effects from the altitude - headache, breathlessness, increased pulse rate and (eventually) some nausea. No need to say too much here - instead have a look at my KILI TRAVEL LOG WITH PICTURES (PDF, 5MB). After the climb we visited the hospice in Nyeri and helped unload 3 containers of aid for 2 local hospitals as well as for our own hospice. Fiona was also at the hospice for a week while I was climbing Kili :).


I feel I have said so little about each of these 2 achievements, I could easily write ten times as much! But it's a great feeling to have successfully completed these challenges and who knows what 2010 will bring!!! For now, a merry Christmas and happy new year to all who read this!!!






July 2009


This update brings more big news on the flying front. The most important being my completion of the long cross country exercises - the solo one being a mandatory exercise for PPL issue. It's a solo nav flight of not less than 150 nautical miles, with two full stop landings at airfields other than the point of departure. Departing Newtownards, my landaways were at Belfast International Airport (Aldergrove) and Enniskillen St.Angelo Airport. I did the exercise dual (with an instructor) on 5th June and solo on 24th June. In each case it took 3 attempts to get a slot with suitable weather!!!


In addition to the long nav-ex's, I have also completed all of the JAR-FCL handling exercises and am currenly practicing for my skills test (the grand finale to all this). I'm not quite ready for that yet since I don't have enough solo hours. I'm planning another solo nav-ex to help with that, but once again I'm battling the summer weather which is (so far) proving really disappointing for the 3rd summer in succession. Even the day of my long solo nav-ex, the sun was splitting the trees but there remained a persistent significant wind (I landed at Aldergrove in a 13 knot crosswind :-()). Let's hope for better soon and hopefully in my next update I'll be able to talk about completing my PPL!


There's something else to mention too. In October this year I hope to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with a team from the church. We've already started our training days in the Mournes, which are hard work but good fun too! The climb is in aid of the church's childrens' hospice in Kenya, which we will also be visiting during the trip to distribute aid from 2 x 40ft containers which we hope to fill. Of course I'm looking for sponsorship and if you're reading this and feel so inclined, you can sponsor me here: <link removed>


With so much activity I have not had much time to spend in the garden and have shelved any plans for new plantings this year.






April 2009


Well as I write this today (16th April 2009) I have just completed the two radiotelephony (RT) exams for my private pilot's licence - a written one and a 'practical' one, where I was required to pretend that I was a pilot on a simulated flight from one airfield to another. Along the route of course were pretty much all of the occurrences that could reasonably be expected to be encountered during a flight in UK airspace, plus a few that wouldn't normally be encountered (e.g. an emergency call). This, I must admit, is one of the parts of the PPL course that I was least looking forward to, but despite some initial concerns I got through it ok (insert emoticon for 'relief'!). It's a reminder too that my PPL training is nearing its conclusion, with only a few exercises left before the long cross-country flights and the skills test. Interesting/exciting times ahead!


Well it's probably worth mentioning a bit about the winter just past, not least because for large parts of Europe it was the coldest winter for more than 20 years. This was an interesting time on the online exotics forums since few exotic gardening enthusiasts have been involved in this activity for longer than that! The news seems to have been mixed, with plenty of losses (it's experimental gardening after all), but also some surprising successes (which is what this is all about, I suppose!).

Now what I haven't yet mentioned is that most of this nasty weather came from a succession of easterly blasts, meaning that here in 'Norn Iron' we missed the full brunt of it. In fact my winter minimum was just -2.6C/27.4F. What this single figure doesn't show though is that temperatures were often below average during December, January and early February (with some snow in early February). Statistically December and January were below average overall, with February just above.


With winter (hopefully) now behind us, it will soon be time to consider planting out my juania australis and perhaps a few other plants (as time - among other things - permits!).






December 2008


A quick update on the progress of autumn/winter 2008/9. It's been pretty average I suppose, with no really exceptional weather, good or bad. There was a very early first frost in late October, which was not only a ground frost but also an air frost with a low of 0C/32F. After that virtually the entire month of November was frost-free, right up to the 30th. Since then there has been a colder than average theme to the weather, but nothing too severe as I write this in mid-December. We did have one night at -1.8C/28.8F (so no zone 10a winter this year then!).

Plants have all coped fine so far, let's hope this continues. The current weather doesn't give me significant concern for my plants, but I hate being cold myself and therefore still wish it would get milder again :-)


I bought a juania australis this autumn, not a particularly cheap plant to buy, but some folks have doubts about the continuing supply/import of this species so I thought it was finally about time I had one. Just a small one, mind, which I'll probably plant out in the spring (if I can find a suitable spot) and give it some TLC for a winter or two (or three).


The flying is also progressing, I've been getting some nav exercises in and hope to be doing my first solo nav early in the new year. I'm also working on the next two exams as one, since (in the text book at least) there isn't a clear division between them. After that there will only be one written exam left :-).


That's it for now, merry Christmas to all who read this!






September 2008


OK I'm having a break from the flying for a few weeks, not intentional, it's just that with it now being September school has started once again, and incredibly we now have not one but two kids at school (Andrew has just started primary one). Of course the kids don't get out of school at the same time (that would be too much to ask), so I now have two school runs to do on a Friday afternoon, making squeezing a flying lesson a bit difficult. In a couple of weeks I hope to get my mother in law to do a few school pickups to let me get flying, but for now it's a bit of a break which I plan to use to make progress in my study for the next ground exam. And it's a natural break in some ways, since I have recently (finally) completed my 3 hours solo circuits. And another landaway on my last flight too, with another opportunity to fly up to Aldergrove and back (avoiding the landing fee again too, since I was delivering two guys up there to collect another aircraft). So my next flying lesson should be, weather permitting, the first navigation exercise.


Now, this time last year I wrote:

"Headline #1: Miserable summer :-("

.... while in my last blog on this page I was talking about the lengthy dry period that we were then experiencing! Well I'm sorry to say that it didn't last and that the 'meteorological' summer of 2008 (June, July and August) has been similarly miserable to last year. In short, it has been almost incessantly dull, damp and cool, with the exception of one great weekend at the end of July. Flooding has again been in the news during August :-(. So my new irrigation system hasn't really been needed! Now I don't take anything away from the month of May, which was fantastic, and in truth there's hope yet since autumn last year was dry, warm and sunny, and 2008 seems to have shown somewhat similar weather patterns up to now.....


On to plants, and a not especially bad story here despite the weather. My plants have all been growing slowly but steadily throughout the summer, in particular my jubaea has pushed out (I think) five new fronds.  Also better news on my butia eriospatha which was looking on its last legs in the spring. It hasn't pushed out any new leaves this year, but it has spent the summer developing a small but nevertheless significant and fairly decent centre spear. So here's hoping for a good show next year.

I have fed my plants a little later this summer, right at the end of August. Near the end of last winter I had a lot of leaf yellowing (generally reckoned to be a nutrition problem since many of the plants cannot take nutrients from cold soil). They must have been pretty hungry by the end of winter - let's see what happens this year as I think I have been a little over-cautious up to now about feeding plants late in the summer - after all, the first frosts should be a long way off yet.






June 2008


OK where do I start? It's been very busy lately, with all of the gardening stuff in full swing. The weekly summer lawn cut is joined by hedge cutting at the moment, a big job which I now prefer to do a bit at a time, and using the 'brown bin' (for garden waste) rather than carting dozens of bags of cuttings to the dump myself. I have to say though that the lawn cutting has been reasonably painless due to very dry weather over the last six weeks or so. Even though there has been some rain over the last couple of days, it hasn't made much difference to the yellow grass and rock-hard soil. I have been trying to water my plants as best I can (including using the new irrigation system installed in the back garden), but it is *really* difficult to keep the soil moist in these conditions. I have also been applying fertiliser and root hormones to promote top and bottom growth, and in truth virtually all of the plants have responded well to the warm and sunny conditions during May.

Now there are exceptions, and one fairly spectacular one. The large-ish butia eriospatha which I planted last summer has reacted quite badly in its new home - all of the old leaves have become mostly brown and the centre spear has not moved significantly. Although this looks really bad, I'm advised by other growers on certain online forums that this can happen and to persevere with the plant for a while yet. There have been a few other minor issues with other plants, but nothing to get too concerned about at this time.

I am not planning to add any large plants this year (I'm too busy), but I have added a few smaller ones, for example a couple of yuccas (filifera and carnerosana) and small nannorrhops ritchiana (Mazari palm). See my 'my plants' page for a full list.


After a lengthy period of mostly weather-related frustration, the flying seems to be 'taking off' again (oh that was terrible :-). Got two more solo flights in over the course of the last two lessons, with nearly an hour (total) solo in the circuit. I need two more hours to meet this particular requirement, after which we can seriously move on to Nav exercises (and PFLs, and whatever other bits of the course we haven't yet covered). I am still studying for the Nav exam at the moment and hope to be in a position to get it done before too long, although studying has become more difficult since the arrival of spring/summer :-).


Edit: Just want to add this: 2008 marks our 15th wedding anniversary (on 26th June). It also marks the 20th (eek!) anniversary of us becoming a couple (on 20th May). Here is a glimpse of what we looked like 20 years ago (apologies for the hair!):

Gav & Fi - July 1988





March 2008


Well much as I would like to keep the previous entry on top of my 'latest news' page for ever, it *has* been there for quite a while and I think it's now appropriate to update this page.

By this time I had hoped to be able to share more exciting news on my newest 'hobby' (flying). I had hoped by now to have completed much more solo flying and perhaps some Nav flights, but the weather has intervened and despite a quite a number of very useful dual flights in the circuit since my last update, I haven't had the opportunity to complete even my second solo let alone any Nav flights. In fact as I write this at the end of March, I have flown only twice in 2008 so far. However, while this is disappointing, I have taken the view that 'it will all happen sometime, let's just enjoy getting there'. Needless to say, I have long since given up the initial hope that I could do the private pilot's licence in a year and now plan to enjoy the challenge probably over two years.

The good news is that I have had more time to study for the 7 ground exams, and have now completed 3 of them.


Winter 2007/8 is now officially over despite a late cold-ish spell as I write this (over the too-early Easter holidays). I think we can say that it has been a mild winter again, with a minimum temperature of -1.9C (28.6F). There was some snowfall in early January which only lasted a day; other than that it was mostly mild and quite wet too. March has seen temperatures at or below average, but despite this many of my plants have continued growing throughout the winter, including (surprisingly) my jubaea chilensis.

I don't have big plans for the garden this year. I am definitely interested in trithrinax acanthocoma and butyagrus nabbonandii, but biggish ones are very expensive. With my current lack of time to spare, I think I will only add smaller stuff this year and let the other plants mature.







October 2007


Well it's not been too long since my last update but I'm writing this now because today (Thursday 25th October 2007) should for me prove memorable for a long long time and most likely for the rest of my life :-)

As indicated in my previous update, now in archive news, I followed up my initial trial flying lesson in May with the beginning of my PPL training for real, in July. Since then I have clocked up over 18 hours of flying and have recently passed the first of the seven ground exams.

What all of my first 22 lesson have had in common, though, is that in each one there was an instructor sat beside me from start to finish to get me out of trouble if things were to go horribly wrong :-). Today though was the momentous occasion when after some initial dual flight, the instructor saw fit to send me off on my own to complete my first solo.

I have to say it was scary, but not as scary as I thought it was going to be. The truth is, I have been flying circuits for 12 hours now, and during the last few lessons the instructor has hardly had to touch the controls.

However, completing first solo has still put a great big smile on my face, which will probably remain there for days if not weeks. It's a fantastic feeling which I am thoroughly enjoying and I hope it never wears off (just remember the first time you drove the car on your own, and amplify that by about 100 times!). It's also a huge confidence-booster!

I should say of course that the first solo is just the first great milestone in the PPL course and there is much more yet to do.......


Well Autumn 2007 is progressing nicely, and it's been a good one too! September and October have both been warmer and drier than normal, with summer-like temperatures enduring as far as the middle of October. Even today, after returning from flying, it was nice to sit outside in the sun at my parent's house with a nice cup of tea! This after one of the most disappointing summers in recent years.... In retrospect I would prefer to remember 2007 as "an average summer which lasted from April to October" rather than "a miserable 'meteorological' summer period (June to August)".

The result of this is that there is still noticeable growth on many of my plants. The only 'problem' has been that I have had to water parts of my garden a few times this month due to the almost total lack of rain. Must get one of those 'leaky-pipe' things for next year!

We may be approaching the end of the very good autumn weather, as wetter and windier weather is forecast for next week. I'm not too fussed though, as I'm off on holiday to Morocco tomorrow!


(Click for larger image in new window)






September 2007


This update is composed of two main topics:


Headline #1: Miserable summer :-(

Well the headline says it all. Summer 2007 in the UK was poor at best and was occasionally a washout, with flooding reported several times in many parts of the country. With the exception of a week in early June (which was sunny and warm, occasionally hot), this summer has been dull and frequently wet, with very average temperatures. This has come as an additional disappointment due to (i) a very sunny and warm/hot summer in 2006; (ii) a mild winter 2006/7 which in some parts of the UK was the mildest on record and (iii) an exceptional early spring period in 2007, with the entire month of April being especially sunny and warm. In truth I have tried to delay writing this update in the hope that some good weather would appear, but with the meteorological summer at an end it hasn't really happened (although the last week in August has been reasonable and the first week in September looks quite good at the time of writing).

The end result of all this is that the plants in my garden which like cool damp conditions (trachycarpus sp, cordylines, chamaedorea radicalis, d.antarctica, and even my newly-planted w.filibusta and b.edulis) have been romping away, while heat lovers such as b.armata (1.5 new leaves so far this season), w.robusta (1 new leaf) and sabal bermudana (0.5 new leaves) have not. In agreement with other UK growers I would conclude that this has been a slow year.


Headline #2: A new 'hobby' :-)

As already reported on my 'brand new' aviation page, I have followed up my trial flying lesson (see June 2007 update) with quite a few subsequent lessons, with the intention of attaining a private pilot's licence. This is not an easy course of action, particularly for someone like myself with a young family in addition to a number of other exciting hobbies all jostling for my attention. It took much consideration before deciding to go ahead with it, but it's something I have always wanted to do and now find myself in a position to do it. I'm not sure how long it will take, but for now I am enjoying every minute of it :-)

You can read my PPL diary here.


More next time :-)






June 2007


Well the spring plantings have begun, helped along by the warmest April in record in the UK! It was a truly cracking month, the only downside is that it has left my garden very dry. This has not been helped by mainly dry weather throughout May also (although May was generally cooler and more unsettled). So far I have planted the following palms:

- 1 washingtonia filibusta

- 1 trachycarpus takil

- 1 trachycarpus princeps

- 1 trachycarpus manipur

- 1 trachycarpus martianus 'nepal'

- 2 trachycarpus nanus

- 2 washingtonia filifera, to replace the one which snuffed it for no apparent reason last year :-(

- 2 arenga engleri

- 2 more chamaedorea radicalis

- 1 rhapis excelsa (an experiment!).

I have also acquired the following, which will not be planted out (this year):

- 1 parajubaea torallyi torallyi

- 1 parajubaea torallyi microcarpa.

On order, but not yet arrived (now due early July) are:

- 1 butia eriospatha

- 1 butia yatay

- 1 brahea edulis

- 2 chamaedorea microspadix

- 1 livistona decipiens (first one has lost its spear :-)

- 1 sabal minor

- 1 trachycarpus princeps

- 1 trachycarpus martianus 'nepal'

- 1 cordyline indivisa.

(Not all of these will be planted out this year).

..... Do you think that's enough ...??? I really have gone a bit mad this year, next year I think I will *really* have to keep it a bit more sensible!!


The seedlings germinated from seeds collected during my trip to Malaysia also continue to grow (slowly). So I await this year's final plant delivery (a pallet which was due early June but has been delayed for a month).....


Finally for this update (this is definitely worth mentioning), Fiona bought me a trial flying lesson for my birthday last year which I finally managed to take at a local flying club on 5th May. The aircraft was a Cessna 172 SP. Trouble is, it was fun and addictive :-) Here are a few photos taken over Strangford Lough (the fourth one is of Mount Stewart):






April 2007


Well let's start with a quick review of winter 2006/7. "Generally very mild" would sum it up I suppose! If you've been reading this page over the winter period (see archived news now) you may have read about three weather-related events which, had they occurred, would have been fairly exceptional. They were:

1. Making it to new year without having had an air frost (i.e. temperature at or below 0C). Came very close but hopes were dashed by a single night (Dec 20th) of -0.7C/31F.

2. Having a "zone 10a" winter at my location (which is zone 9a). Was still on in early February, but two or three frosty nights, one down to -4.0C/24.8F, put paid to that!

3. Having a "snowless" winter. Sooooo nearly happened! There had been no lying snow to speak of until mid March, when a brief northerly delivered a tiny amount of extremely wet, very short-lived but nevertheless white precipitation to my garden :-(

I'm pleased to say there was no cold damage to any of my plants during the winter, only the usual wind damage to the more susceptible plants.


The seedlings germinated from seeds collected during my trip to Malaysia are still progressing slowly. Adonidia merrillii always germinate quickly in a warm environment (airing cupboard) but grow slowly once exposed to my 'normal' indoor temperatures. Areca catechu all germinated (eventually) but the first two (of 3) did not survive - the third is doing much better as I left it on top of a radiator :-) Livistona rotundifolia germinated well but have been very slow, some have rotted. By far the best performers have been the other (unidentified) species, which I think are also livistona. Some of these have a decent first leaf out in my 'normal' indoor temps.


With spring having now arrived I have plenty of ideas for the garden. The 3 mini-greenhouses which were used for protecting some of the plants introduced to the 'dry' area of my garden in 2004 have already been removed. I thought long and hard about whether to do this, but eventually came to the conclusion that it was a good idea. The plants will now be expected to fend (mostly) for themselves (rain covers, at the very most, will be considered for some of them next winter). I dismantled two of the mini-greenhouses and packed them away - they are quite quick & easy to assemble/disassemble. The third I kept in the corner of the garden to be used as a 'real' greenhouse.

As far as plants are concerned, so far I have:

- 1 washingtonia filibusta with about 30cm trunk, and 1 similarly sized livistona decipiens (delivered)

- 1 butia eriospatha and 1 butia yatay, both with 40cm trunk, to be delivered in May/June, along with 1 brahea edulis, plus 1 cordyline indivisa.

- 1 cycas panzihauensis (small) and 1 rhapis excelsa (ebay). The cycas will be grown on for a bit (I already have one of these in the ground) but I may try the rhapis outside.

- *may be more - watch this space*





February 2007


Well with winter in its advanced stages I feel it's probably a good enough time to update this page. Another strange winter I would have to say! In my last post here (December 2006, see archived news) I had just had hopes dashed of making it to the new year without having seen an air frost, by a single night of -0.7C/31F. Well, this time last week I was wondering if it was possible to see a zone 10a winter at my location, as that was what had happened so far (the temperature above was still the lowest recorded this winter at that time). What a difference a week makes, as there have been two or three frosty nights since then, with one down as low as -4.0C/24.8F! So we're now having (marginally) a zone 9a winter! That's about right though and certainly not unusual - so we'll have to wait a bit longer for our possibly first 10a winter. We did have a winter minimum of 29F a couple of years ago (zone 10a starts at 30F), so it's still possible......


And yet there remains one 'I wonder if.....' this winter: To date we have had no lying snow to speak of. I wonder if it's possible that....... (oh forget it, shouldn't speak too soon....!)


Another thing has stood out about this winter. If you have read my climate page you may be aware that I don't pay too much attention to long range weather forecasts - with good reason, since up to now they have been pretty much rubbish! However this winter the UK Met Office predicted a milder than average winter, with lower temperatures possible later in the season. We'll have to wait and see how February turns out overall, however at the time of writing their prediction is not looking far off the mark, even if the rest of the month is milder than average.

What makes this more interesting of course is that they are generally considered to have made a fairly accurate prediction for the 2005/6 winter (their first official winter forecast AFAIK). As early as September 2005 they predicted that the upcoming winter would be colder than those of the previous ten years or so (which were all mild across the UK as a whole), and that the lowest temperatures would be in southern England. And that's generally considered to be pretty close to what actually happened across the UK.

Time to take long range forecasts more seriously then....? Maybe, let's see how they do next year......


The seedlings germinated from seeds collected during my trip to Malaysia have been progressing (slowly). I now believe that I collected seeds of adonidia merrillii, areca catechu, livistonia rotundifolia, and another unidentified livistona species. Not all are growing particularly well, however. As expected the tropical palms really need more heat than I can reasonably give them in my house, especially at this time of year. Time will tell.....


Back to hardy palms now, and I have obtained two plants already - a washingtonia filibusta with about 30cm trunk, and a similarly sized livistona decipiens. I have also pre-ordered two butias - an eriospatha and a yatay, both with 40cm trunk, to be delivered in May, along with a brahea edulis. The chosen supplier this year is Hardypalms.


That's it for now....





December 2006


Once again I find myself writing stuff for this page well after midnight! Aw well......


It's Christmas again! Or at least has been, with the big day itself already over and new year just a few days away. I've been fortunate enough to have had a lengthy Christmas & New Year holiday, been off for very nearly 2 weeks now, and boy has it flown! It's been incredibly busy as always and I can't believe we'll all be back to work/school/etc next week! As always I go into the new year with mixed feelings. On the one hand I'm glad the first month of winter is out of the way, with just 2 more to go (in some ways I'm always kinda glad to see the back of all the Christmas decorations too!). On the other hand, I'm sorry to see the end of a fairly substantial holiday, with no more time off planned until Easter....


I updated my garden photos back in early October. I think that early Autumn is always the time when the exotic garden looks best, with virtually all of the year's growth finished but with the potentially damaging (to some plants) autumnal gales yet to come. And now as I write this Autumn has come and gone, however it's been a mild one with only three ground frosts and one air frost recorded (by myself). The first air frost (i.e. below 0C) was on 20th December, decidedly late. In fact just before it occurred I was beginning to wonder if it was possible to go into New Year before the first air frost!

Now in all of this it should be remembered that the bulk of the winter still lies ahead. I see that the UK Met Office has forecast an average to mild winter for the UK in general, with the possibility of any lower temperatures occurring later in the winter. We'll have to wait and see how that pans out, although they are generally reckoned to have been pretty close to the mark with their winter 2005/6 forecast (the first seasonal forecast I recall from them). As always, better to keep an eye on the short term forecast rather than get carried away with what are essentially experimental long term forecasts.....


I had a fantasic trip to Malaysia in October/November (I added a selection of photos to my photos page, click on the image to open the viewer!). During the trip I collected some palm seeds and brought them home. I packed them in freezer bags full of compost and put them in the airing cupboard. The heat in there had most of them germinating within a couple of weeks, and to date I have potted up nearly 70 seedlings! Here is what I collected:

- Christmas palm (adonidia merrillii)

- Betel nut palm (areca catechu)

- 2 unidentified species, one believed to be livistona, the other possibly a thrinax species.

Now these are mostly, if not all, tropical palms, so the trick will be to keep them alive indoors long-term. I have had some previous experience with adonidia seeds/seedlings but none survived beyond 3 years. It will be an interesting experiment but I can tell you I won't be keeping my house at 30C just to keep them happy!





September 2006


Well I've just realised how long it is since I wrote something for this site :-O  and it's 12.30am..... aw well here goes.....


It's pretty tough finding time to do the big updates as they take a lot of work. I do actually have some new garden pics sitting on my computer, but they need edited for the web pages. There's more garden pics now than ever before! Promise to update the pics shortly.... for now here's a quick summary of what's been happening over the last few months...


First of all the summer. A good one by all accounts, with a decent May, a warm and sunny June, a fabulous July with temperatures reaching the mid to high 80's (exceptionally warm month in this part of the world), and a warm September so far. August was more disappointing, having average sunshine, rainfall, and daytime temperatures. Night-time temps were still fairly high so the month still came in a little above average.


So what did this mean for my exotic garden? Well growth has not been as impressive as I may have expected, possibly due to the lack of rainfall up until the end of July (this following a dry winter). My phoenix (c & t) and my brahea have pushed out fewer leaves than last year. Most of the plants have done well though, the exception being my very small washingtonia filifera, which seems to have given up the ghost. Assuming this is the case I will plan to replace it in the spring since I still think this plant should do quite well here (I'll buy a bigger one).

All of my new plants have now been planted out, including the trithrinax, which arrived in early June. You can see the pics on my my plants page. My nolina also looks a lot better now.

Finally some more good news: one of my small needle palms, which has been in the ground for 10 years and lost its centre spear for no apparent reason at the end of summer '04, has started to push out a new leaf after 2 years of apparent inactivity!





May 2006


OK OK I'm aware that I haven't updated this site for a while, apologies for this but I have been really busy, much more so than even my normal state of extreme busy-ness.....


By this time I had hoped to have posted some nice pics of my new plants in my garden, this is not yet possible due to (i) my main plant (trithrinax campestris) not having arrived yet, (ii) my yucca rostrata not having been planted yet, and (iii) fairly miserable spring weather which has resulted in minimal growth so far. I have planted my sabal bermudana, washingtonia robusta, and butia paraguayensis which I bought in the Amulree winter sale in January, however the washy has taken a little bit of a battering from the wind, despite being planted in a sheltered spot. Let's hope for some better weather & decent growth....

My nolina longifolium, which I admit I bought sort of by accident, did something very strange. The centre spear turned almost white, before collapsing in a mass of narrow leaves. I thought it was dead, however the leaves have now turned a nice shade of green. It has not been planted out until I determine if this is very bad or just normal.


I think we can post a summary of the winter past, given that it officially finished more than two months ago :-) In general a moderately bad winter for some parts of the UK, particularly the southern half of England, with many exotic gardeners there reporting losses. There were some notable cold spells, however what may have caused the plants most trouble was the extension of the wintry weather into both November and March. In my part of the world the winter was less severe, although we did get some cold weather, notably early March which produced the coldest night of the winter at 26.2F/-3.3C. Overall I would describe it as 'average to mild'. One thing which really did stand out was the dryness of the winter, by our standards that is :-) Rainfall was around 68% of normal in Northern Ireland. Seems to have made up for it this week though.....


So my plans for the site this year are to first of all get some pics of my new plants uploaded. I will wait until all of this year's plants are in the ground and we hopefully have some nice new growth.... also I plan a new section related to...... cars :-) Watch this space....





February 2006


Well winter's progressing nicely, hard to believe it's mid February. Especially since the first couple of months of any new year usually seem to drag on & on....


This is just a quick note as I'm sat here on a Saturday afternoon with not too much to do (a rare thing for me but it's nice when it happens).  Once again plenty to say about the old garden :-)  Like last year I have pre-ordered a plant, this time a trithrinax campestris with 1m trunk, ordered this year from Mulu. Like last year, a saving of 25% is on offer over the full price, although this is yet another slow-growing species which only forms a trunk after many years and is therefore quite expensive. It's a species which has been tried in the UK for several years now with considerable success. It's hardiness is estimated at between -10 and -15C (5 to 14F), although like so many palms it is expected to appreciate well-drained soil. My 'trithy' is supposed to arrive in March.


It doesn't stop there. Browsing the web over Christmas I came across the winter sales at a number of specialist exotic nurseries and ended up purchasing the following plants from Amulree Exotics:

1 Sabal bermudana with 20cm trunk

1 Washingtonia robusta with 50-60cm trunk

1 Butia paraguayensis with 20cm trunk

1 Nolina longifolium in 10ltr pot.

The bermudana is supposedly hardy to about -10C, but unlike other sabals it is supposed to grow reasonably well in cooler climates (a problem with most ultra-hardy sabals here, learned the hard way by yours truly with my sabal minor). The robusta is maybe not the hardiest palm I could have selected, but has done well for other UK growers due to its fast growth (by palm standards). The butia was something a little different, similar in appearance to capitata, but interesting nevertheless, and the nolina was substituted for a dasylirion I had ordered and was out of stock. All of these plants were really cheap (again, by palm standards). These plants are enjoying winter in my kitchen but will be planted out in spring.


Finally, I purchased a yucca rostrata (blue beaked yucca) from a seller on ebay. A fantastic looking plant, it is currently located at my front door happily re-rooting prior to planting out in the spring/summer. My specimen has about 70cm trunk.


I look forward to posting some new pics (in fact probably starting a new page) when I get some of these planted (roll on spring :-).

BTW last year's additions are still doing well...





November 2005


Not too much to say at the moment, it's that quiet time of year when not much happens. With daylight saving just ended, we enter that 3-month period of gloom with dark mornings and evenings. The sun is already setting at around 4.45pm here in Belfast and that will be 4.00 by December 21st :-( This is not my favourite time of year as I definitely get a bit of "S.A.D"!


Perhaps it would help a bit if we had permanent daylight saving, keeping an additional hour of daylight in the evenings. And so the old debate rears its head once again (as it does every year at this time): 'Should we join Central European Time (CET)?'


Not something I have a very strong opinion on, although I can see why it would work in southern and eastern parts of the UK. However here in Belfast, sunrise on Dec 21st is already 8.45am and in CET would be 9.45! Sunrise would also then be unreasonably late over a large part of the year, and as someone who gets up at 6.30am on weekdays, this would not appeal. On the positive side, hours of daylight in the middle of the summer (in CET) would be 5.45am to 11.05pm (that sounds good).


I guess it's a problem with our relatively high latitude, as we have bucket loads of daylight in summer and not that much in winter. It's difficult to figure out a scheme which makes best use of 7 hours of daylight in winter and yet doesn't waste any of the 17 hours in summer....


Until the early part of the 20th century there was no daylight saving at all, can you believe that people were happy to waste hours of summer daylight as they lay in bed while the sun was up at 3.45am?!


Anyway enough of this. My 'jub' and 'vulcano' seem to have settled in well and until recently the garden was looking very good indeed (it always seems to look its best in early autumn). It's just past peak now as the first wet & windy nights have taken their toll!

On the arengas, the micranthas are showing no sign of life, while the clumping engleri has one growing point which hasn't totally withered and may yet provide new growth (we live in hope).





August 2005


Lots happening at the moment, first and foremost on 30th July I rented a van and made the 250-mile round trip to Kilmacanogue, Co. Wicklow, to pick up the jubaea chilensis. It stood 8-9ft tall in its oil drum and it took four of us to get it into the van (thankfully only two to get it out again though). It was some job to get it planted - no point in going into details on this page, but you can read the full story here.


While picking up the jub, I also purchased (for 20 euro) a small chamaerops humilis 'vulcano'. This completes my chamaerops collection as I already have the regular green version (x2) and the cerifera (blue version). That's it for this year, no other plant-related purchases planned...


I have officially pronounced my arenga micrantha (2 small plants purchased last year) dead. In fact other UK growers have reported similar failures with this plant. My arenga engleri still looks bad and may follow soon :-(. However everything else in the garden looks good.


My new server was installed on 17th June and has been running happily since then, so hopefully that's the end of my IT purchases for a while!


My guestbook is now running on my ISP's new cgi platform. This hasn't resulted in the massive speed increase that I had hoped for, however reliability is top priority following the previous problems. I am now also very aware that they expect me to make regular backups to preserve my guestbook entries.... (oops).





June 2005


Half way through June & whether you subscribe to the meteorological or astronomical calendar, summer is upon us. Spring has been disappointing, with not many warm sunny days. I think this has shown in the lack of growth in my garden (despite my feeding it).


The jubaea should have been here by now but has been delayed until July, so I expect to be collecting it sometime in the next month or so. Hopefully that will happen :-) I'll try to update all of my garden pics once it's planted. The trithrinax looks less likely now, probably for the best as I've spent a fair bit of dosh on other things lately! So it looks like the jubaea may be the only garden addition this year, although you never know what I may find when I go to collect it :-)


My arenga micrantha appear to be toast, no sign of life there at all. The arenga engleri doesn't look much better :-( However the rest of last year's purchases are looking well, taking on a nice green colour - perhaps the feed is having some effect after all! My echeverias have also recovered well.


Some techie stuff: My UPS is working very well, however my server has developed a nasty habit of rebooting itself lately. I'm not sure what the problem is but I have acquired a Dell Poweredge server (thanks ebay) which will be replacing it in the near future. That will probably mean a day's downtime on my webcam/archive pages. The old server owes me nothing as it's an home-built, overclocked 233MHz machine running at 266MHz, which is about 8 years old and has had two previous lives, one as my main PC and the other as an mp3 player connected to my hi-fi. It has been powered 24x7x365 since late March 2003....


Some other IT-related news: My ISP's new cgi platform is about to go live. This is good news since they lost a lot of users' data a few months ago due to a multiple disk failure. We'll also see what that does to my guestbook pages, which have always been rather slow to load...


As promised, please find some pics of the new church audio studio on my church page :-)





March 2005


Hi there...


Just a quick update - been very busy lately and haven't had time to update the site..... at least now with the Easter hols upon us I get a chance.....


First of all some tech stuff. I have been busy over the last couple of weeks installing a UPS to protect my server (the one which uploads the webcam & temperature data). Since my last update we have had two power outages - one during the Christmas holidays and one during the small hours of a late January evening. Now that frequency of power cuts is not normal, however it did make me think about power protection a bit more seriously. Now some weeks later I have got round to it. I went for a 'biggie' - 2.2kVA. I don't really need that sort of raw power, I just wanted a long run time to hopefully get me right through most short power cuts. My next plan is to connect my generator to the house supply via a transfer switch, which as well as providing power for the essentials, will also take the load off the UPS and/or provide continuous power during longer outages.

Webcam and temperature data updates were affected a little (not too much) over the last week or so during installation of the UPS, hopefully that's finished now!


With spring officially here it's time to think of gardening again. My lawn has already been mowed, after only 3 months' break (the last cut was in mid-Dec). My pre-ordered jubaea is expected in May (yep I went for it) and I'm still investigating the trithrinax....


Virtually everything in my garden made it through the winter ok. Some of my echeverias look a bit sad, but mainly those planted in wet areas. As succulents, it's not too surprising to find that they didn't like the combination of wet and cold. My two arenga micrantha also look a bit sad. They were left in the mini-greenhouses (thermostat set at 1C) over the winter. An arenga engleri was also left there and looks a little bit better...

Speaking of the winter, it was quite mild even by our standards, with a minimum temperature of -1.7C (29.0F) recorded at my house. It was a strange winter too, with high pressure dominating from mid-Jan until the beginning of March. For much of this time the high was to the west of us, allowing mild air from the south to circulate around it. With mainly dry conditions, this felt very pleasant. A bit of a change from the wind and rain that we are used to, especially in winter. There was a colder spell in late Feb (decidedly cold for eastern parts of the UK), however we escaped the worst of this.


On another topic, the church audio studio refurbishment is nearly complete. It looks fantastic and I hope to post some pics shortly.





December 2004


Welcome to a new feature :-)

Since I seem to update this site "fairly" regularly now, I thought it might be a nice idea to write a few lines from time to time about some of the stuff on my site.


First of all I am becoming aware that my site is now less of a "personal homepage with lots of stuff" and more of an "exotic gardening site that also has some other stuff on it". That's not to say that I am any less interested in the other stuff, it's just that at the moment there doesn't seem to be quite so much updating needed on the other topics.


Well as I write this it's the end of December once again, that strange period between Christmas and New year... for some it means a few days back at work before the new year holiday, but thankfully for me my holiday continues right through until 4th January. Quite good though, even though these are the darkest, most dismal days of winter, a good break is relaxing and gives me some valuable time to spend with the family as well as getting a few things done around the house :-) Amazing that we've just celebrated Andrew's 1st birthday, doesn't time fly!!!


A strange Christmas though... a white one for a start! To clarify, this is only my third (I think) white Christmas in my lifetime (currently 36 years!). Note that I define a white Christmas as one where there is snow on the ground on Christmas day, not the official definition of at least one flake falling on 25th. Thankfully it was traditional Northern Ireland snow, i.e. wet & slushy, and barely lasted one and a half days. So for now we're back to typical winter days of green land and grey skies :-) Anyway, it's good to be past the winter solstice, with the daylight starting to lengthen from now on...


All of which makes it a bit strange to be thinking of exotic gardening. Now normally I wouldn't think about new plants until spring, however this year I may well take advantage of one of the 'pre-order' schemes offered by some specialist exotic nurseries. If I order a specimen plant 'now' for delivery in the spring, I save up to 25% of the cost. That way the nurseries can ship plants into the country knowing that they can shift them. Haven't made any definite decisions yet, but I'll admit that jubaea chilensis and trithrinax campestris are top of my list. Both exceptionally hardy plants (supposedly to well below -10C and perhaps -15C), however in my 8 years of exotic gardening I have successfully avoided both due to their relatively high cost. Now with a chance to acquire them at significantly lower cost, I may well go for it. Will let you know what happens.... for now, happy new year....




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