Friday, 12 May 2017

Madness by way of Mendelson

Alas dear reader, 
'In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed.'
After months of eking it out, a portion at a time, I have finished Charlotte Mendelson's 'Rhapsody in Green'.
Cue big sigh.
I loved it. It spoke to my inner mad woman who cherishes strange small seedlings that then grow into glorious Field Maples; who wanders down hedgerows counting and sampling the edible plants she comes across (much to the embarrassment of my husband); who greets the spread of wild garlic into the lawn as a thing to be celebrated and not a reason to get the lawn mower out.
She writes well; crisply yet with deeply evocative prose, you can smell those apples and feel the sharp tang of a mulberry on your tongue.

It also spoke to my inner fantasist which insists that the long thin garden we have and which already houses said Field Maple, an apple, a cherry, a conifer, magnolia and three holly trees; veggie beds, greenhouse, summer house, man shed and borders should also be able to fit in an orchard, bee hive, chicken coop and wildflower meadow.
And if I had my way the lawn would already be seeded with yellow rattle and I would have purchased a scythe!
So imagine my joy when I came across this bizarre little seedling that had appeared in the herb bed.  Intrigued by its strangely fuzzy stems and incipient buds I carefully extracted it and potted it up, only to be overjoyed when the leaves started to unfurl; for yes...... is a baby fig tree!
Many years ago when I worked in archaeology in Essex we were lucky enough to have a site that was being excavated in an old walled garden that contained a fig tree, it became a bit of a habit that whoever was visiting the site would bring back ripe figs to the office and so I encountered my first fresh figs; to this day I have dreamed of having a fig tree in my garden - and then I moved to a county not known for its Mediterranean climes.
The first taste of figs.
However one in depth conversation with a neighbour of our sick friend later, accompanied by a visit to his fig tree and I have been convinced that figs can indeed grow on a sunny southern wall in Lancashire.
Of course every house is different and while this aforesaid gentleman's south facing wall is in his back garden alongside the garage, our southern wall is at the front of the house; an unprepossessing paved area bounded by lacklustre conifers inherited from the previous owners and depressed pots that I shoved out last summer in a quick attempt to brighten it up. Jean-Luc is deeply unconcerned about improvements as he parks his much beloved car on this area but I have a 'cunning plan'.
The village is launching an open garden scheme and with it a Doorstep Challenge. I'm sure it's only a matter of time until I can persuade Jean-Luc that in return for not entering our garden into the open garden scheme, we should seriously improve this area and what could be a better start than a lovely fig tree trained over the front of the house!
Cue manic laughter and much rubbing together of hands.
I shall not mention the mulberry tree that used to grow in the derelict garden of the archaeological hostel just yet.... softly, softly the path to gardening madness.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017


We went to Amsterdam and in five wonderful, relaxed days we fell in love with the city.
Canals, a tram and bus system that the whole world could learn lessons from, candlelight bruin cafes, poffertjes, houseboats, coffee that even a registered coffee addict could find no fault with, amazing architecture - both modern and traditional and a people that were unceasingly warm and friendly.
We were lucky enough to be staying in a hotel about ten minutes walk from the Central Station.  It was a fairly new build lodged just behind the Ministry of Justice building and boy was it fun.  I felt as though I'd walked into the set of a 1970's sci-fi series; a sort of Captain Scarlet, Logan's Run and Space 1999 all rolled into one.  It wasn't dystopic but lightheartedly joyful instead.  Colour coded floors, huge white bathrooms and bedrooms, quirky 60's inspired furnishings and amazing views gave it a lovely feeling of light and airiness.
Our space capsule bedroom.
I can see for miles and miles and miles.....

...ate breakfast in fern covered cafes....
...visited the sublimely hilarious sex museum....
...and the strangely moving and inspirational Bodyworlds.
We admired bikes and architecture.
(zoom into the top floor and yes! those are cheeses stacked in the window)
We ate Poffertjes, little pancakes served with icing sugar and brandied butter.  Oh what fresh heaven is this?!.....
....and drank local beers in cosy, candlelight bruin cafes.
We queued at the Van Gogh museum and then after being informed that the expected time of arrival at the ticket office would be an hour and a half later! we let serendipity guide us.
Around the corner I stopped to take a photo of a building that I liked the look of only to discover it was the Moco Museum, which was hosting a Banksy and Dali exhibition.
Two minutes of queueing later and we were in.
The house itself was lovely, a sort of arts and crafts building housing ... well arts.
Apologies to Banksy and you, Blogger seems to be cropping my photos inappropriately. :-(
Having gorged ourselves on some brilliant art we popped into the garden of the Rijksmuseum for a quick sit down, only to become engrossed in this game of chess.
We dined at the seriously upmarket and ridiculously expensive Momo restaurant and had a fabulous meal.
We visited Edam....
 ...and the beautiful fishing village of Marken....

...and found their citizens to be both beautiful and friendly.
And then, dear reader, we visited Keukenhof Gardens for the Tulip Festival.
Oh Wow!

 Just beautiful.


Hereagain, goneagain, backagain

We have been cursed and are living in interesting times.
One of Jean-Luc's oldest and closest friends has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and we are devastated.  We are doing our best to support her and Jean-Luc is taking her to the weekly chemo sessions but loving smiles are being delivered through veils of tears on both sides.
I'm not going to dwell on this as much of it is private to Jean-Luc and our friend; instead I will talk of May and the garden and our recent trip to Amsterdam (a delayed birthday present from Jean-Luc to me).
Over the five days we were away something wonderful happened - early summer arrived!
It is that perfect time of year; the sky is blue, the trees are that exquisite shade of spring green that positively screams 'LIFE' and the trees and hedges are full of blossom.
I lean over the back fence, stare into the green and breathe deep, scented breaths.
 The garden has come alive and colour is creeping into the borders.
 More subtle blossom is gracing our hedge.  I spent about five minutes just staring and sniffing these beautiful flowers.

 My much loved field maple; when we moved in three and a half years ago, it was in a stray volunteer sapling that I had rescued and it barely reached shoulder height.  It's obviously loved being able to spread its roots and has shot up.
It's repaid the care with beautiful spring and autumn colour and forms the shade backbone of my rather pretentiously named 'woodland border'.  The ferns and wild garlic that grow underneath are ever grateful for its shade.
 In the greenhouse miracles have happened and the Oca has grown!  This is one of this years experiments in exotica and I can't wait to see what sort of (small) harvest we might get.
This gorgeous spider has been patrolling the blackcurrant bush and eating its fill of aphids, sadly it needs a larger appetite or some friends to dine with. But how lovely to see it.
 It's not been all good news.  When you catch one of your own household (she shall remain nameless) squatting over your newly sprouted Jerusalem artichokes Something has to be done and so we now have a bed of sticks. 

And I've been enjoying the sun and catching up on quilting my patchwork, which is meant to be based on the nasturtium flowers that grew all along the fruit bed last year.
Next stop Amsterdam!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

House and Garden

It's been a quiet but industrious week at home, getting into the garden when it's sunny and sorting stuff out around the house when that cold wind starts blowing.
The veggie beds have been manured and one bed has been planted up with 25 Jerusalem artichoke tubers.  Yes, I hadn't realised exactly how much space they'd take up but I'll be planting up between the lines with chard and kale, while the other bed will hold the broad beans, beetroot, courgettes, gherkins and everything else I get round to planting.

The fruit bushes are flowering and seem to be benefitting from the new sense of order that the trellis has imposed - at least they can now breath without the loganberry trying to smother them all.

Beautiful broad beans, both red and green varieties.  I'm so looking forward to risotto primavera later in the year.

Mixed salad including the intriguing 'Wasabi Rocket', I'm thinking peppery and fresh salad all summer long - or maybe blow your head off salad all summer long.  Time will tell.
Jean-Luc has been busy cooking up two weeks worth of meals for the freezer including steak & kidney pies, lasagne, chilli and fish pie. Cooking from scratch saves us money and means we know exactly what's in our food and we get easy, frozen meals that taste great.
And, finally, I made some soap. I've been making soap now for about 8 years and I've written about making it here before, but I realised that I've never posted a picture of the finished article - so here it is.  20 bars of lime scented soap, curing in the pantry.