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. 


 





Monday, September 26, 2016

Did they know it was the last day of summer?

Last Wednesday I had trouble getting to work.

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.)

Friday, September 9, 2016

To Do or not To Do

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.

So what's on my 'to do' list this weekend? 
Get into the greenhouse and sow some biennials.