Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Country currency

On an ‘out and about’ day recently, I found myself in the pretty centre of Wickham Market. I was mesmerised by the 700-year-old octagonal flint church tower with its soaring lead spire.

More urgently, I was in need of a cash machine. I asked a gentleman who looked as though he had lived in Wickham for a hundred years if there was a Bank nearby. He straightened his stoop, adjusted his cap and looked misty-eyed into the distance. After a long pause, he explained that he had just been trying to calculate whether it was thirty, or forty years ago that the last bank in the village had closed its doors for good.
I thanked him for his time.

Wickham Market, I then discovered, has a distinguished connection with currency. In 2008 one of the largest iron age coin hoards was found in a field near the village totalling 840 pieces of gold. 
So, my elderly friend, there must have been a thriving bank 2000 years ago!

Wrapped up in thoughts of yesteryear, I then called in at nearby Deben Mills. Founded by Mr. Rackham in 1885 as a water-powered mill, his descendants continued to produce stone ground flour until 1970. Still a family run business the mill now trades in coal and animal feeds. Even better, a handwritten sign stuck to the till advertises free bagged horse manure. So I came away with a steaming car boot full, despite still not having any coins in my purse.

That got me thinking, on my way home, about the joys of bartering. The horse manure was destined for my rose bed. The roses I had gained in exchange for a painting. I have been known to provide hot dinners in appreciation for gutter repairs.

Only last week I met an old friend for lunch. She greeted me with an offshoot of a plant I had once admired in her garden and a book that was the casualty of a de-clutter. For her, I had brought homemade chutney and freshly laid eggs. 

For a fleeting moment, I had a vision of myself as an old lady in a market square, wistfully reasoning that I haven’t needed a bank in years!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

January blues.. greys.. whites

Another grey day. 
It’s not raining but it’s so foggy that the air is dripping with moisture and beyond a few metres the world is a blank canvas.

It feels consoling to hunch indoors and distract myself with seed ordering but there are rewards to be reaped beyond the back door. 

Amid the quiet stillness, seasonal treasures are heightened. A woodpecker’s drumming is reverberating through the poplars and I spot a few gleaming aconite buds as I plod up to the veg patch to find parsnips for soup. 

Hundreds of fieldfares scatter noisily in acknowledgement of my rude interruption, white bellies melting quickly into the mist above my head.

At my feet are dozens of molehills, soil fresh, dark and crumbly. Maestro of labyrinthine activity, his stealth has not been dampened by the weather. 

All I need now is for the cats to prise themselves away from the radiator and earn their keep with some mole trapping!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Happy New Year

I’ve just walked round the garden in the dwindling daylight.
The last fruits of winter have released their grip, making way for the buds of spring.
Bowed heads, sapped of energy, snared by the frost and gloom.
Yet in each shriveled pod and faded petal a shred of beauty lingers.


Friday, December 16, 2016

Squirreling away nuts

Walnuts and squirrels are hotly debated topics of conversation in the country. Any advice on how to keep the two apart is gratefully received.

A few years ago we planted two walnut trees but still barely get to enjoy a single nut.

The trees flower and fruit abundantly but I have yet to outwit the squirrels. I could snatch the nuts early on, while they are still green, and pickle them. But what I really want, is the satisfaction of cracking fully fledged, deliciously milky nuts out of their lumpy shells.

This year I tied little net bags around as many nuts as I could reach. But the fluffy tailed thieves merely used the twine as dental floss in preparation for some serious gnawing.

Last year we had one nut, this year I was chuffed to salvage twenty.
By constructing an impassable metal platform under the lower branches of his tree my neighbour, with a competitive glint in his eye, tells me he harvested four hundred and thirty. (Gardeners love to count, I know a man who keeps a tally when deadheading his dahlias!)

Fortunately I can buy as many walnuts as I want for Christmas from Geoffrey who sells his produce at the local farmer’s market. His three trees are forty years old and crop handsomely.

When I ask him about squirrels he simply smiles and says “shoot 'em”.

Friday, November 25, 2016

It's a good day...

...when the autumn sun is bright, 
you take the veg peelings out 
and bump into a little hedgehog who is snuffling through the compost heap. 

"The fox has many tricks.
The hedgehog has but one.
But that is the best of all."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hedgerow adagio

Colour is slowly being wrung from the hedgerows.
As the summer greens fade, coral and carmine briefly dazzle,
then slip in tatters.
Discarded pantomime costumes.
Leaving winter sketched on the horizon.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Salad or soup?

It might be November but on bright days the garden maintains a distinctly summery tempo. The dahlias continue to throw out dazzling blooms and there will be salad for lunch with pickled beetroot.  
More fitting for November alas, we have bleak days when mist hangs in the air and virtually obliterates the vegetable patch. Out of sight out of mind, I have to make a positive mental note to gather dinner before darkness.

This weekend I pulled up the old beanpoles and prepared the ground for planting garlic. Nothing complicated... just the painstaking removal of a barrow load of buttercups. The ground was well composted in the spring and if my garlic cloves are lucky I’ll remember to add some lime and wood ash.
As a bonus for my efforts, there were a few wizened pods clinging to the beanpoles, from which I rescued perfectly nourishing beans. They’re now squirreled away in the larder for the increasingly frequent days when a hearty soup is really more appropriate than a summer salad.

And what’s more the larder shelf is comfortingly shielded from the elements!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

October treasures

“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.” Henry David Thoreau


Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Along the lane

The countryside never stands still.
Straw bales have been collected up and loom in great stacks, leaving bleached stubble scrawled across the page.
Ancient hedge boundaries define the landscape, shadowy contours dividing the fields, like the well worn folds of a cherished letter.
Then the plough cuts deep, unfolding a veneer of mahogany and teak.
Resplendent in the pink tinged afternoon light.