Wednesday, April 22, 2015

waste not… want not

Don't forget, when you've eaten the last pork pie, the final mushroom and three sad grapes, those little plastic trays could be very useful in the greenhouse at this time of year.

Ugly… but useful.

Friday, April 17, 2015

When life gives you violets...

April is the leanest time of year in my veg garden. It’s full of promise by way of seedlings in the greenhouse but I can’t find much to pick for dinner! 
There’s sprouting broccoli-a-plenty and some faithful chard but I dug up the last of the leeks this week and the salad leaves have to be carefully rationed. 
Of course rhubarb has flounced its way centre stage with characteristic effusion but there's a limit to how much rhubarb one can reasonably consume. 

Quietly prolific however is my favourite spring flower, the violet. Best appreciated from a hands and knees position, the garden is twinkling with hundreds of these dainty flowers, from deepest velvety purple to pure white. 

So, when life gives you violets.... take a fist full into the kitchen have fun with crystallised flowers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hitting the right note

“Play it like something you hear down by the river” Edward Elgar

Beautiful spring day. It’s warm already.  
I pulled a bucket full of weeds before breakfast as the rising sun leached through the willow and across the pond. 
Now I’m in the studio and have just tuned into Radio 3 which is playing a spirited recording of Elgar’s La Capricieuse for violin and piano. 
A perfect way to start the day. 
Happy Tuesday!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Spring has sprung

Wheeling barrow loads of compost the length and breadth of the garden could quickly become tedious and back breaking but with the right attitude and consistently deep knee bends, the monotony is soon eclipsed by the reviving breath of spring...

Past the pond fringed with downy willow buds, duck under the bean tree avoiding trampling the primroses, good time to transplant snowdrops, hug the perimeter of the chicken pen... pause for a quick chat and egg count. The fluffy bantam has surprised us all by coming in to lay again. At eight years old I really didn’t think she had much life left in her. Cross the flagstones, carefully, patches are slippery, hmm, the tulips have been nibbled by deer or rabbits but the irises are looking good, mental note to move the chrysanthemums and to sow stubby rather than elegantly pointed parsnips which never emerge intact from our clay soil 

And so the narrative grows with each gladly shovelled load. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Portobello Road

“Portobello road, Portobello road
Street where the riches of ages are stowed.
Anything and everything a chap can unload
Is sold off the barrow in Portobello road.
You’ll find what you want in the Portobello road.”

(Chorus from the 1971 film, 'Bedknobs and Broomsticks'... the magical saving grace of a wet camping holiday in Wales)

This week I found what I wanted... in the Portobello Road. 

Not off a barrow but in ‘The Cloth Shop’

A tiny Aladdin’s cave

with staff happy to help

and stuffed to the gunnels with irresistible warps and wefts.

Three meters of embroidered trim was a modest purchase but means that I can finish off one of my many unfinished projects.

I’ll tell you about it when it’s done!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Loving my loppers

"People love chopping wood. 
In this activity one immediately sees results". Albert Einstein

Pea sticks from prunings and seed pots from the weekend papers, that's a pretty good result. With a truck load of mushroom compost arriving tomorrow I'll be getting a decent wheel barrow workout at the weekend. The immediate result of this particular activity will be exhaustion... but I'll be reaping the rewards all summer!

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Yesterday it was my husband’s birthday. 
It was crisp and sunny and the sky was an almost mediterranean blue so we decided to take a promenade around a local estate that we hadn’t visited before. 
Ickworth House is a rather grand Georgian Italianate folly, neatly bordered by formal gardens yet nestled in the Suffolk countryside. Snowdrops, narcissi and bouncing, new born lambs rub shoulders with clipped hedges sweeping paths and sunken lawns. 
We were mostly in the company of a few eighty year old daughters taking out their hundred year old mothers... so it was a serene and unhurried morning. Only when a troupe of purposeful Nordic walkers breezed past, poles swishing in the spring sunshine, did we have to watch our ankles.
It’s always good to visit other people's gardens, it makes you look at your own from a new perspective. While I wouldn’t aim for quite such a manicured look in our own garden, (and certainly have no chance of achieving it), I did come home resolved to coppice our unruly hazel and tame a couple of Phyllirea angustifolia the big round blobs in the photo above.
Below the house stands the immaculate St Mary’s church and beyond that, completely hidden on a south facing slope the jewel in the crown as far as I’m concerned. Like all competitive gardeners I felt a rush of blood as I went through the door into the walled kitchen garden. 
"There was a big population up at the house, 14 kitchen maids, 14 scullery maids, scores of girls up there. We used to feed all them, West Suffolk Hospital, the chauffeur, the keepers, head keeper we used to feed all them from that garden." Ken Saddler, Head Gardener, 1930
Standing in the lea of the ten foot high, red brick perimeter wall I longed to see that garden as it would have been three hundred years ago. It pre-dates the main house by a hundred years and was thought to have served a manor house, now destroyed, that stood behind the church.
Sadly, it’s now largely given over to a wild flower meadow which is obviously at its shaggy worst at this time of year. The sunken heated pineapple house is dilapidated and the glasshouses that remain from an original eight are crumbling. Happily a group of volunteers and the local school do keep a couple of traditional veg plots going though. 
Hmm, very neatly tilled soil... some winter brassicas and signs of garlic and beans. I can’t even compete on account of all the perennial weeds criss-crossing my patch. Although despite the weeds I too have new garlic shoots, handsome broad beans, broccoli, leeks, cabbage... so maybe we have a draw!
What really enchanted me was this little ‘bothy’ built into the wall at the top corner of the garden. The head gardener would have lived in a larger cottage at the opposite corner, so I like to imagine this might have been for the guy who had to rise at dawn to keep the boiler stoked to heat the pineapple house. 

Alas, these days, where’s the poetry in slinging a pineapple in the trolley at the supermarket!