Thursday, September 16, 2010

Gardens and guinea pigs

On Sunday, very unusually, we were childless: Daughter 1 on holiday in Northumberland with her husband and his parents; Daughter 2 in Nottingham with her fiance visiting his parents; and Son in Perth, where he currently works. So Mr Life and I took my mum to visit a garden open under the Scotland's Gardens scheme, where ordinary householders open their gardens to visitors to raise money for charity. Here are Mr Life and Mum having a bit of a seat in the sun.

The garden, while not big, was packed with plants which were kept well under control, unlike in my garden where the thugs are currently smothering the more genteel plants. I need to dig things up and thin them out, but this is going to have to be a retirement job.


Lots of island beds. Clearly someone has lots of time to mow round them.

As I said, Daughter 1 and her husband are away on holiday this week and we have the alarmingly responsible task of caring for their three guinea pigs, Cupcake, Brownie and Pumpkin. Some bloggy friends may recollect that these furry little ladies are deeply beloved by their owners and that, when Brownie and Pumpkin got ill, much expense was lavished on saving their lives. Since then, their health and well-being has been a constant concern. So we’ll be relieved when we can hand them over, still alive and trotting about, on Saturday.

They have their own bedroom at Daughter 1 Towers and now at Life Castle. Their run is a palatial 4 x 6 feet and they have a cunning arrangement whereby instead of sawdust, their run is lined with a fleece on top of a thick layer of newspaper. The fleece acts as a wick for their pee and stays remarkably dry, while the dampness is soaked up by the paper. Because the run is so large, the proportion of pee to paper is small so that, amazingly, the room isn’t smelly and we have to change the fleece only every four days.

What we do have to do, morning and afternoon, is vacuum up the poo. Yes, you did read that correctly. They have a hand-held little vacuum cleaner which sucks up the little pellety poos amazingly efficiently. The guinea pigs aren’t particularly keen on our doing this but they do exhibit more fortitude than Sirius and Cassie, who vanish behind the sofa at the mere sight of our big vacuum.

Apart from supplying them with food and water, we also have to give them vitamin pastilles and cranberry juice with probiotic powder in it. Yes, this is a 5-star guineapiggery. According to our son-in-law, you put the one-sixth of a pastille on your finger and the pig will rush across the run to devour it. Well, sort of. I don’t think they trust us quite as much as they do their doting owners, so we have to get near enough for them to smell the pastille, whereupon they do consent to eat it, first having an experimental nibble of the outstretched finger. This may be easy enough for a 6’2” chap with long arms, but a 5’3” (at a stretch) woman can’t reach across the run (it’s 4’ by 6’, remember) so has to get into it and chase. (It’s all right, though, SIL. They seem to enjoy the pursuit.)

Then there’s the cranberry juice with probiotic powder. You mix this and then give them two syringefuls each. “They’ll run over and take the syringe in their mouths,” said SIL. Well, again, this is an approximate description of what happens. On my first try, I stretched as far as possible into the run, waggled it temptingly and one pig eventually came and had a suck. Then she took it firmly between her teeth and backed resolutely away.I gently scooshed cranberry juice while attempting to hold on to the retreating syringe and not to fall face-first into the run. Then, triumphantly, she pulled really hard, whereupon the syringe came to bits and the remaining juice spilled out. At which point I kicked over the supply glass of juice which I’d foolishly put on the carpet.

Revised method: what you do – should you ever need to – is to pick a pig up, tuck her firmly under your arm, and hold on till the juice is administered. And make sure you’ve put the supply glass on the dressing table out of way of flailing legs (yours). Or better still, get Mr Life to do it. His hands are bigger.

They also like treats such as cucumber.

Ah well, they’re very cute, THEY’RE FINE, son-in-law and we’re getting more expert every day.

You can't see them, can you, because they're HIDING? Well, I admit I took the roof off their little house for the photo. Must be cosy in there.


  1. I'm not so sure about the guinea pigs (my cats would probably love them as an after dinner treat), but the gardens are so absolutely gorgeous! Ours here in North Carolina not so much, as we are starting back into drought status.

  2. I think you are heroic. I had to grin at your description of your flailing legs. I do hope Mr Life has a camera available at all times to catch these moments!

    I absolutely know what overgrown gardens are like. Like mine. Every spring I think ...ooh, a gap! And plant something else, completely forgetting that hollyhocks are HUGE and dahlias need a metre of space.... sigh. Oh well. I like it this way!

  3. Beautiful garden you found there. My garden is out of control too, but I like it that way.

    You are both heroic with your G. Pig care. I didn't realise it was all so complicated.

  4. And here was me thinking guinea-pigs were low maintenance pets...

  5. So what do Cassie and Sirius think of all this fuss over a pair of rodents?

  6. Giggling a lot at your descriptions of guinea pig babysitting - definitely not low maintenance pets are they! Giving Zanna some biscuits in the morning and chicken necks of an evening interspersed with a walk seems positively uncaring!! Zxx

  7. Are you still finding time to feed and water yourselves? And this is before the grandchildren start arriving!!

  8. Wow I never knew looking after guinea pigs entailed so much work! Hope you'll be getting huge 'thank you" pressies at the end of the week! I love the idea of the poo hoover!

  9. As I frequently say after a visit from daughter's cat - grandchildren would be easier!
    I love the idea of you with the handheld vacuum hovering up the poo, the fleece sounds a great idea though. Annd I do love that funny squeaky noise guinea pigs make.

  10. My, Isabelle, but we are witty today! As a matter of fact I did not get my tusks clipped. Just the mop. And not too happy with it either! My stylist doesn't seem to get it--- she sees a white haired older person, when really, what I am is a twenty-something or other, trapped in this aging shell. So, accordingly, nodding at my instructions [for something swingy and young---to reflect the inner me] she nevertheless goes ahead and does a frumpy cut [in keeping with the evidence before her eyes.] Sigh. If only they could have some vision! Your furry charges would snuggle right up to me at the moment, thinking I must be one of them. [Cupcake:"Of course she is Brownie....Look at her hair!"]

    Did I mention how much I adore that second photo?

  11. What a lovely photo of your husband and your mother!

    I enjoyed yourstory about the G Pigs. You made me chuckle all the way through. But... WHAT A LOT OF WORK! That's love!

  12. Ha ha, that was a great post, Isabelle! Lovely photos of the gardens, with Mr Life and your Mum, who both look well and happy among all those flowers. I can understand why your daughter only trusts you with their guinea pigs; I can't imagine too many other people who would devote so much time to animals other than cats or dogs! Wish you could be here to look after our hens when we go away...the neighbour will water and feed them every day (and willingly take the eggs I'm sure), but I can't see them chopping up vegies, or sitting out in the yard for an hour while the hens scratch around in the garden. Somehow, I can see you and Mr Life being quite happy to do that. Want to come to Oz for a week?

  13. I LOVE the picture of Mr. Life and your beautiful Mum in the garden Isabelle. I sit here waving to them. ;-) Looks like you're having fun with the piggies -- you do make a fine set of piggies grandparents!

  14. I just adore the way folks over there use the word "scheme" instead of "plan". It sounds so much naughtier!

    A "garden scheme" brings images of people with spades and pots, tiptoeing around at night planting things when nobody's looking.