Thursday, 29 May 2014

stop a while and join me for elevenses …

 

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Why don’t you pull up a chair … and we will have a chat … before I go on holiday next week.  Can I interest you in a cup of coffee and a cocoanut macaroon … or maybe a ginger snap.

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I have picked a nice little posy for the table; chive flowers, sweet rocket, nepeta and a cornflower, all looking a little bedraggled  after all the heavy rain we have endured just lately.

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Elevenses is a quintessentially British ritual and a highly civilising one, at that.  So it amuses me that it takes a bear from Darkest Peru to remind us of the pleasure of that moment halfway between breakfast and lunch that is perfect for a little sit down and a reward.  Paddington, never one to miss an opportunity to eat (he carries marmalade sandwiches in his suitcase in case he should ever run short of sustenance), enjoys his elevenses of bun, cocoa and chat with Mr. Gruber in his antiques shop on Portobello Road.  It’s wonderfully cosy and irresistible, and a fine example of civilised living to all readers.

Winnie-the-Pooh preferred honey on bread with condensed milk, and for the Hobbits, elevenses is a meal eaten between second breakfast and luncheon.

So, back to today … as I said, next week we are taking a little holiday at the coast  for a few days … my friend is taking care of the garden for me … but if it carries on raining like this there won’t be an awful lot for her to do in the watering department.

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“All year I wait for spring, and now it’s here I’m greedy for every minute of it; and yet hours pass when I’m inattentive, and ungrateful.  It only lasts two or three weeks, this explosion of life reborn, and I have only twenty or thirty more springs to watch in wonder:  I need to remind myself that this is it, now, this is the best of life, this is what I will remember on the dark evenings, and in old age.  So I sit at my keyboard and lay down these thoughts, to pay public tribute to this May morning, before it is gone again.” (William Nicholson)

The last few days I have woken up to rain, rain and more rain.  Those hot, sunny days earlier in the month were summers’ false start.  I always get taken in … think, this is it … here comes summer.  But no … so eager was I for summer to start that I forgot to keep enjoying the end of spring.  It is hard to remain optimistic when it is grey and drear outside … when just wandering around the garden leaves your clothes soaked.

The long range weather forecast is not looking good … do I pack summer or winter clothes or a bit of both?  There isn’t a lot to do in Norfolk when it rains … I want to be able to walk feeling the sun on my skin … ditch the trousers and bring out the shorts … leave the knitwear in the suitcase and  wear light cotton tops.  Is this too much to ask?

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I have been preparing the garden  for our leaving … everything is planted out … all those annual flowers that I tended so carefully so that the garden would be a glorious splash of colour … all the vegetables have been found a place.  I find myself not really wanting to go away at the moment … it has come around too quickly… and I feel unprepared in my mind.  I realise that once the car is packed and we are on the road to our destination I will be okay … but it is always a wrench somehow … leaving the familiar behind … even if only for a few days.  The garden will keep growing without me and will be greeted with delight on our return when more flowers will be in bloom and others will be gone.

We have always been lucky with the weather on our little jaunts … will the weather gods look down on us and feel pity … and send a few rays of sunshine our way.  Will the slugs and snails breathe a sigh of relief at our leaving  and munch their way through all the fragile, tender plants that they so enjoy … without my unrelenting vigilance … only time will tell.

When we return home June will be in full swing, this extract from ‘The Wind in the Willows’ describes it beautifully:~

Purple loosestrife arrived early, shaking luxuriant locks along the edge of the mirror whence its own face laughed back at it.  Willow-herb, tender and wistful, like a pink sunset-cloud was not slow to follow.  Comfrey, the purple hand-in-hand with the white, crept forth to take its place in the line; and at last one morning the diffident and delaying dog-rose stepped delicately on the stage, and one knew, as if string music has announced it in stately chords that strayed into a gavotte, that June was at last here.”

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So this will be my last post for a while   … well, only a week actually … let’s not be too dramatic.  I leave you with the first rose to open … looking a bit battered  and sorry for itself … there are two mice living in the compost bin … and the visiting racing pigeon is still with us … and the snails are proliferating.  Who says this isn’t a haven for wild life.

One last photo of the greenhouse strawberries as requested by Rosemary at Share My Garden ~ my friend will pick those that ripen  whilst we are away, so they won’t go to waste.

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‘Til I return, I hope the sun shines on you too.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

life in the slow lane … strawberry ponderings …

 

The modern strawberry is a tale of disappointment and delight.  I have learned to treat each punnet of really good berries I encounter as a box of fleeting, precious jewels, a treat to be enjoyed with unalloyed pleasure; no cream, sugar or splash of Beaujolais, just the warm berry in all its scarlet glory.  That perfect fruit is a rare find, but once you chance upon it life seems, for an instant, to stand still.  Eyes closed, you are briefly lost in buttercup meadows, with bees buzzing on the heavy afternoon air.  It is then, breathing in their honey-sweet scent, the prickle of their yellow seeds on my lips, that I wish they could always be like this – Nigel Slater. 

container strawberry flowers

I have been savouring the delights of my greenhouse strawberries … biting into the soft flesh … still warm … and shiny.  Opening the greenhouse door on a sunny morning … the fragrance of the fruits is overpowering.

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Strawberries are the angels of the earth, innocent and sweet, with leafy green wings reaching heavenward - Terri Guillemets.

Just two or three is enough … savouring every  mouthful … raw and sweet … straight from the plant.

home grown strawberries

Nothing speaks of summer so eloquently as a dish of strawberries, eaten warm and richly glowing, straight from the garden.” (Anna Pavord)

There is no comparison with ‘shop-bought’ fruit … after their long journey from the fields … into cold storage … overly large with no delicate undertones of flavour.

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Whilst waiting for the outdoor fruits to swell and ripen … this is my little treat to myself because I’m worth it … the harvest isn’t large … but it is enough … and as the rain lashes against the windows … I look at these pictures and am transported to summer … for just a little while.

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I don’t want to eat them all the year round … there would be nothing to look forward too … later, when the strawberries in the ground are fruiting … jams and conserves will be made … so that in winter I can open a jar and breathe in the glorious fragrance of summer once more.

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The strawberry is a berry that is attached to many positive things through symbolism and folklore.  The flowers and berries together symbolize righteousness and spiritual merit in Christian art.  The structure of the leaves, being trifoliate, represents the Trinity.  Pagan tradition echoes this in that the three leaves are thought to represent the three-fold Earth or Mother Goddess.  In Victorian flower language, the berry symbolizes perfection and “sweetness in life and character.”  It also represents modesty because the berries are often found under the leaves.

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STRAWBERRIES
by Kathy Randle

Strawberries are like
The signs of high summer
Luscious, sweet, soft and juicy.
Sounds of plink-plonk
From the tennis courts.
Plates of strawberries and cream,
Delicious mouth-watering dreams.

‘Til next time – enjoy the rest of the week.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

the summer switchover …

 

First it’s the wardrobe … putting away the heavy winter clothes … and bringing the summer ones out of storage.  Checking to see if everything still fits after eating heartily over winter … luckily they still do.  Saying hello to old favourites that will give me another years’ wear … making mental lists of replacements needed.

purple sprouting broccoli flowers left for the bees

Then comes the garden switchover … pulling out the last of the spring flowers to make way for the summer ones that have been waiting in pots for the right planting time.  With such a glorious week of weather … and knowing that rain was on its way … I have been working like a demon to get as much planted out as I could.  Going to bed exhausted each evening … a nice kind of tired … with a feeling of something achieved.

bees love borage

Trundling up and down the garden path with trugs full of compost to revitalise the garden beds … heavy work … I feel just a little muscle-bound … frequent cups of tea were needed sitting in the shade … to keep me going.  I almost finished  … just a batch of Zinnias to plant out … but I have run out of space.  It rained heavily overnight … flattening lots of plants … and watering the newly planted … saving me another hosepipe session. 

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As I am writing this it has started to pour with rain … thunder rumbles around the sky … lightening flashes … and I am thinking that I may have been premature with the wardrobe switchover … not exactly shorts weather.  Personally … I am glad of a rest day … I need to replenish my energy before getting back out there to  bring some order to the borders that are running riot … who said gardening was easy … not me … it’s darned hard work. 

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purple sensation alliums

kolwitzia

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“You're not a gardener, are you? So perhaps you don't know that once a garden is established, much of good gardening is about removal rather than planting, honing what you have to produce a pleasing effect, sacrificing the particular for the good of the whole. Gardening is a creative pastime, but the result is always a work in progress; unlike a painting or a piece of music a garden is never fixed in time. ("In The Garden")”
Rosalie Parker

Monday, 19 May 2014

the end of a perfect day …

 

The day had been hot … tired after a busy day … we drove down the hill to the lake … in search of the cool evening.

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So quiet … and tranquil … the water still.

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A swan puffed its wings … pushed hard … and glided past.  

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A family of geese … startled by our presence scuttled into the water.

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The sun slowly sinking … sending golden rays shimmering into the dying light …

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Peaceful …

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Just the birds singing their last song …

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Cooled by the gentle breeze off the water …

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We headed home …

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The end of a perfect day.

Friday, 16 May 2014

a single moment … the week in pictures

Sometimes words just aren’t enough to describe the rosy tint of the sky at dusk …

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or the sound of the buzzard flying high, circling and mewling … chased by crows …

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or the sight of the fields … hedgerows crowned in May blossom

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or  hearing the bleat of lambs calling for their mothers … distant white specks on the horizon

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Sometimes words just aren’t enough to describe my joy at finding lots of tiny pear fruitlets … more than ever before … I have yet to taste the juicy flesh of my very own pears … will they hang on this year, flesh out and mature … I can only wait and hope.

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Joy comes in all shapes and sizes … even in a floral china cream jug and sugar bowl with a lovely apricot rose design … new to my collection.

a new addition to my collection of floral china

or a Peony in full bloom …

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or the first of many breakfasts sitting outside in the sun eating my own fresh strawberries …

first outdoor breakfast with the first ripe strawberry

and lastly … who wouldn’t enjoy an afternoon cup of tea after a hard day in the garden … I have a lot to be thankful for.

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Finding joy in the little things … ‘til next time … have a lovely weekend.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

a woman of the soil … the kitchen garden in May

 

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the kitchen garden July 2013

“ I want streams and hills, rivers and seas, mountains and pastures.  I want a whole, happy, earth.  And when I’m not being overly ambitious about my environmental desires, I also want a garden with a little bit of everything in it.  These two desires are not unconnected, my happy earth will, in part, be by my ability to grow a large percentage of food in my garden, in a way that does not devour resources.”  Alys Fowler – The Edible Garden.

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the kitchen garden July 2013

I have to agree with Alys on this one.  I want a flower garden but I also want to grow my own food.  My garden is medium sized and about two-thirds of it is for growing flowers and fruit trees.  The other third I use for growing vegetables.  And it isn’t enough.  There is no way I can squeeze everything I want to grow into this small space.  Even with additional containers.   I don’t want to dig up the lawn or get rid of  a couple of flower borders and put them down to veg – there has to be a better answer. 

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the kitchen garden July 2013

So I have decided that my sunniest border will be a mix of flowers and vegetables.  This isn’t terribly radical – the old cottage gardeners had been gardening this way for generations.  They needed to grow their own food to supplement their diet so this was their priority but they also introduced flowers into the rows and round the edges – one thing complemented the other. 

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the kitchen garden July 2013

So this is the plan – all the spare veg plants that I have no room for will go in the sunny flower border mixed in with the annual flowers that I had planned for this space.  Once I have pulled out the forget-me-nots and wallflowers I will get a better idea of what space I have to play with - I will refresh the soil and re-plant, with Cosmos and Cabbages, Marigolds and Tomatoes, Courgette and Runner beans with Cornflowers.  Well, maybe not all of those things – but you get the idea.  This isn’t revolutionary Alys Fowler did this with her t.v. programme The Edible Garden – and it is one way of using the space I have to maximum effect.

I am quite keen now I have made the decision – I think it will look pretty darn good and I can’t wait to get planting. 

Here are some pictures of what is happening in the kitchen garden at the moment.  With all the recent sun and rain everything is going great guns and looking very healthy so far.  I am hardening everything off outside now ready to be planted out.  Let the growing season commence.

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shallots

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broad beans

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runner beans (nibbled)

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broccoli

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first ripe strawberries in the greenhouse

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greenhouse tomatoes in their final position

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chives

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chocolate mint

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early potatoes in containers

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parsnip seedlings interplanted with oriental leaves

Over the winter I sat scribbling in  notebooks and planned what I was going to try and achieve this year – and I am on the way now, the plan is slowly coming together – perfick!

‘Til next time

The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people can still plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.”
- Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.