It might be November but on bright days the garden maintains a distinctly summery tempo. The dahlias continue to throw out dazzling blooms and therewill be salad for lunch with pickled beetroot.
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.
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!
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.
On the whole my journey is predictable. I’ll exchange a few pleasantries with the chickens, I’ll tut at the weeds in the gravel, poke my nose into the garage to see the swallow family lined up on the rafters and finally make a diversion into the greenhouse to water my aubergines.
It’s about fifty paces from house to studio but yesterday the unexpected congestion had me distracted all morning.
It was the noise that stopped me in my tracks. In addition to our resident family, a huge gulp (what a lovely collective noun) of swallows were congregated around the telephone wire chattering feverishly. Like a group of over excited school children on a day out it was impossible to do an accurate headcount but there must have been forty or fifty.
A migratory stop over?
Restless. Swooping, diving, pausing briefly then taking off for another loop over the birch trees. How do they know when to migrate? A subtle change in the weather?
The only three birds that remained calm were our fledgling lodgers. They sat plump, content and open beaked while mother raced around preparing breakfast for them. Shoulders still slightly downy, they cut a fuzzy outline against the morning light.
The fevered assembly debated for a couple of hours... passport? money? toothbrush? tickets? and then as quickly as they had arrived, they were gone. Covering up to two hundred miles a day they're probably half way down France, drawn by the warmth, en route for South Africa... but hopefully with a return ticket to Britain, dated April 2017, tucked safely into their pocket.
Just one family remained for a couple more days. I guess mother wanted her youngsters to streamline those shoulder pads before they set off on their long journey south.
(Sadly for one bird the journey's over. And I don't even think the cat was responsible, it just chose the wrong route… through the closed garage window.)
It’s a real tonic to put aside the ‘to do’ list once in a while, and take the time to enjoy what someone else has ‘done’. With this in mind we visited Somerleyton Hall a couple of weeks ago. Beautiful brick boundary walls, tree lined driveway, fat herbaceous borders, drifts of meadow flowers, clipped yew and picture perfect courtyards.
The air of tranquility belied the phenomenal amount of effort required to sustain such an inspiring garden. Until I poked my nose into the cordoned-off greenhouse. Charmingly dilapidated, I had found the heartbeat of the garden in the unravelled hose, the upturned seed trays and bags of compost...
...it was the palpable birthplace of those magnificent borders.
"Summer cooking implies a sense of immediacy, a capacity to capture the essence of the fleeting moment." Elizabeth David Pop to Aldeburgh first thing in the morning and you’ll see damp fishing boats parked on the pebbly beach next to small black huts advertising the day’s catch. Almost still flapping, silvery skins glistening you literally “won’t find anything fresher”, to borrow a chalked up phrase.
Know your fishes...
"Plaice, sole and haddock join the crustacea as some of the month's best eating. Sea bass is a rare delicacy, steamed whole for a surprisingly short time." Jeremy Round