Rambling

November and the sun is shining. Well, to be fair this photo was taken at the weekend so it was technically October but what does a few days matter. One week off work yielded much activity but almost none of it was spent in the garden. We have had the builders round laying the base for a much awaited conservatory so that has dominated our outside time. As you can see the garden has been left to do its thing which I think is to be encouraged. Too much time is spent fussing and worrying plants. Sometimes you just have to let things go for it in their own space and time.

We were given a small cutting of Salvia Hot Lips two years ago when our garden was new. Today it is almost triffid like, not yielding to any amount of pruning, defying us with utterly vigorous regrowth, flowering furiously all year. It has overshadowed the Alchemilla Mollis and the dainty Geum. I have hacked it back three times and this has only encouraged it to grow more bullishly. I intend to be savage once it has finished flowering and have taken some cuttings just in case I finish it off.

The cosmos are raging still and I am cutting four vases of flowers each week. Not bad for a small garden. We haven’t planted any new bulbs this year so it will be interesting to see what comes up in a few month’s time. I am hoping for a field of black and pink tulips but fear squirrel action.

 A couple of weeks ago I picked all the crab apples from the little tree my mother gave me several years ago. I have managed to make one jar of jelly from it each year but this year I have four jars, a bumper crop. There are still some on the tree I didn’t pick them because at the time I was doing battle with a few garden spiders so rather than risk being covered in arachnids, I let the last few fruits stay where they were…for the birds….I tell myself.


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Autumn

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The benefit of having designed a garden to reach it’s peak during October is that every Autumn it is in full bloom and we are over run with stunning colour begging to be picked.

When we decided to overhaul the bare patch we inherited we didn’t really think about the seasons and flowers or colour schemes or anything really. Other than the fact we needed to be able to walk down it without breaking our necks.

Being on TV gave us a focus and that fact we got married in October meant that we had to aim for something. So quite quickly we planned flowers that would still be going strong as the big day loomed. We also discovered that late sowing of annuals yielded late colour thanks to consistent dead heading or actually, live heading. So we combined two gardens into one. A cutting garden which gave us a lot of blooms for the house throughout the summer but also a prolonged flowering season thanks to forcing plants to keep making flowers and a herbaceous border with an established feel.

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This year, our second season, has seen us popping outside to be blown away by the riot of colour. Our garden is quite sheltered so unaffected by wind and rain and cold snaps. The dahlias, salvias, fuchsia, verbena, roses, cosmos are still going strong. We still have plenty of alpine strawberries and nasturtiums. Oranges and reds are predominant colours as are the purples and whites in the bottom bed. Separating the colours has proved even more impressive year on year. The hot colours in the top bed, catching the sun and burning bright whilst the blues, violets, soft pinks and whites glow in the shade of the neighbouring trees.

Next year we are focusing on the woodland area at the base of the garden and finally, the conservatory we have planned and longed for is looking like happening so we can sit and gaze at the glory of it all.

Weekly Photo Challenge – A Good Match

A happy accident holds huge appeal and this picture is no exception. I have been experimenting with newly inherited ceramics materials which probably date back to the 70s. I’m so glad that the raw materials needed to make glazes don’t appear to be any less effective with age because they are so expensive to buy these days.

So what you are looking at are my early test tiles made with a tiny tile cutter found at the back of a cupboard. The colours are oxides, found in unlabelled boxes. So my only option was to test them out. I made the textures in the surface of the clay with a wooden butter pat and some metal sculpting mesh. Once bisque fired I washed a dilute solution of each mystery powder, labelling each tile as I went to allow for easy indentification later on. A coat of clear low firing glaze and off into the kiln for a second blast.

What emerged was, for me, the luckiest outcome. I was easily able to identify the colours as cobalt, red iron, manganese, chrome, nickel and copper. Joy of joys they are in harmony and are now waiting to be grouted into something memorable.

Against the Odds – Daily Photo Challenge


Against the Odds

I don’t know about you but this picture is both beautiful and horrifying. The colours, textures and years of neglect have created something truly mesmerising, almost edible. However, what it actually shows is that I am up against it in terms of teaching my inherited classes to be responsible and caring for their equipment. This is the norm for them and in light of that I have become almost obsessive with washing up. Am I battling in futility towards an inevitable defeat? Time will tell.

February

It’s possibly the coldest day of the year, it’s been snowing but nothing has settled which is disgraceful as I am praying for a day off work. Glenn has been outside all afternoon building a new stepped planter from pallets and I have broken my vow of avoiding the garden until spring by going into the garden. No resolve.

The day is grey, bitingly cold and from the snug security of indoors there is nothing going on outside. How wrong can you be? It is all kicking off out here. The first thing I notice is the sound of birdsong. My knowledge of birdsong is limited to the obvious ones; pigeons, cuckoos, seagulls, ducks. So what the various birds are that are giving it their best out there today is totally beyond me.

What happened was what always happens when I am out in the garden, I pop out to do something very straightforward and end up getting sucked into many tasks.

 

The garden looks rubbish at the moment. There is so much that needs clearing and the dahlias still haven’t been lifted but we didn’t lift them last year and they came back bigger and better than ever. Go figure. We have hibernated since October, we meant to do so much but it has not happened. But you know what? It doesn’t seem to have mattered.


We planted hundreds and hundreds of bulbs in the autumn and they are coming up, full of lush promise. The primroses, snowdrops, hellebores, wallflowers are all going mad. It just makes me yearn more for those warm bright days of early spring. There is one area of our garden which escaped us. It’s a slope down the side of the garden, next to the steps. It’s hard, dry, shady and unloved. Our aim is to grow a meadow style patch of grass and a lot of seed has gone into that area so we shall have to wait and see. In the meantime Glenn planted many crocus bulbs and thankfully they are in evidence.


So after I have had a walk around the garden and marvelled at nature I decide to do some hacking back. Glenn has already had a good tidy up today and so I re-wrap the canna lily in bubble wrap and cut back all the dead growth. This may well be the wrong thing to do. Last year we kept the pot in the greenhouse but since our greenhouse is smaller than a cupboard and it already full of geraniums and sweet peas, outside in a sheltered spot is our only choice. I have collected a lot of seed so I intend to sow some successors in case of unplanned death. Jazzy is helping me, as only cats can.


So with frozen feet and fingers I scurry inside to sort through the seed tin. I now have a pile of ‘to plant’ seeds for this month. Once again every windowsill in the house will be occupied with seed trays. This year we are growing for two, the allotment demands our attention and large scale veg and flowers will be our driver. In the meantime there is chard to pick with to go with our pulled pork.

Shadow – Weekly Photo Challenge

Shadow

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If you have never been to the Maldives, go to the Maldives. It is the most outrageously beautiful, fragile, isolated place I have visited yet. This picture was taken when we were there three years ago. Two weeks spent in utter awe and stunned smiling fabulousness. The colours, the incredible sea life, the odd balance between civilisation and abandonment. I felt hugely privileged to be able to be there, it didn’t seem right somehow. The staff at our small hotel told us how the sea level had risen by over a metre in two years and so the island was very quickly being claimed back by the turquoise sea. I wondered if we ever returned if it would all have been swallowed up, just the tops of the palm trees showing.

Our days quickly formed a lazy routine and this was part of our late afternoon stroll into the water to wait for passing fish (and sharks) to come along and say hello. Incidentally neither of us are this shape but I love how distorted we appear which indeed is much like the reality of the Maldives.

Names

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I knew Glenn had been up to something in the garage in the run up to Christmas. And here it is, my own knitting bowl with my name on it but not only that, my name is functional and integral. When I was little, finding stuff with my name on was almost impossible. As I have grown older my name has become commonplace but having my own belongings with my name or initials on still thrills me. This is mine, it belongs to me and no one else. The fact that it was clearly made with love makes it the most prized possession.

Relax

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I completely love umbellifers. They draw me in. Every shape and size is of equal appeal. I sketch them, photograph them, paint them, collect their seed. Seeing them in drifts like this makes me stop and sigh. It’s like lacey fairy snow on a summer’s day. They are so dainty and detailed and yet so robust and virulent. I should really know more about this group of plants but all I do know is that they are the parsley family and some have edible roots, like carrots. I also know that if you cut them to bring inside for a huge blousey display, they drop their petals within minutes and smell like cat’s wee. So perhaps it’s best to allow them to roam free.

Just near our home is a large expanse of wild ground. In summer it is drenched in this stuff and you can wade through it waist high. If that isn’t relaxing I don’t know what is.

It’s Not This Time of Year Without….cheese

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Round about this time of year we throw all caution to the wind and break out the saturated fats. We came across this totally sinful recipe because we had a huge sage plant and wanted some way of using some of it in a flavoursome fashion. A quick internet search took us to Old Farmer’s Almanac and their fabulous recipe for Cheese Crackers with Sage http://www.almanac.com/recipe/cheese-crackers-sage.

This has now become part of our winter routine and strictly speaking we only bake them at Christmas. Mainly because the recipe is mostly butter and cheese bound together with flour. They are so simple to make and taste so utterly scrumptious yet bad for you. However, we have broken with tradition and I baked a batch tonight as we are entertaining tomorrow and need something to go with the cheeses we bought to serve after the chocolate tart.

I would argue that they are not crackers as they do not crack. They are more biscuit-like but then I am British and this recipe is American so cracker is probably the nearest language wise. The recipe makes about 24 square crackers/biscuits which should really be eaten within 24 hours. Not because they go stale but because eating something so terribly disgustingly lardy is best done swiftly so you can move on and pretend it never happened.

 

Magic

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There is alchemy in baking. Unimpressive ingredients combine to make something truly delectable and sinful. I am drawn to bake because it is cathartic, creative and everyone loves you for making the house smell wonderful. Plus there is something to go with a cup of tea.

My Pinterest boards are crammed with bakes I plan to make and so far, every recipe I have tried hasn’t failed. There is so much versatility in baking, so many ways you can tweak and develop.

I am by no means an expert. This year I aim to master icing on Christmas biscuits. Something which all Americans seem instantly perfect at. My style is more rustic and wholesome with an occasional flurry into OTT. The picture above shows my daughter’s 15th birthday cake (s). She requested coffee cake which only she and I like and only then in moderation. So I made a trio of mini loaf cakes; coffee, chocolate fudge and Victoria sandwich. There are two left if anyone is hungry…….