Planning under a banana-shaped moon

img_3189On this last day of February I cycled to the allotment and spent a sunny morning making and tending a bonfire of the old raspberry canes and fruit tree prunings and planting two rows of shallots. I weeded what will be the potato patch and picked a colander of purple sprouting broccoli. I resisted the temptation to pick rhubarb as today is Shrove Tuesday and we’ll be eating pancakes with sugar and lemon tonight. I noticed the newly planted autumn raspberries are starting to shoot from the base, but nothing else is moving apart from the weeds – oh and daffodils and tulips. I picked the first daffodils from the plot last Friday.

I paced the plot planning this year’s growing and now I’m sitting on the floor and drawing a rough plan onto graph paper. I haven’t made a paper plan since 2014, a bad omission as I like looking back on my plans of what I’ve sown, planted and harvested.  I see I used to be much more experimental growing over 40 different varieties of fruit and vegetables – not all of them successsfully. Nowadays my plot has more space devoted to perennial plantings which fits with my ‘no dig’ permaculture approach to growing. I’ve been allotmenteering for 16 years and in the early years I  grew as many flowers as I did vegetables. In the middle years flowers were squeezed out as I tried for maximum self-sufficiency.  Now I’m happy to grow only my favourite vegetables especially asparagus, baby broad beans, wet garlic, new potatoes, salad leaves, summer herbs, French and borlotti beans, purple sprouting broccoli and squashes and allow plenty of room for floral experimentation.  I also grow rhubarb, summer raspberries, several different varieties of strawberry, autumn raspberries and I have one red gooseberry bush and five (six when I get round to planting my quince) fruit trees. No longer do I grow main crop potatoes, onions, any currant bushes or thorny cultivated blackberries, carrots or parsnips or cabbages. But old habits die hard and I find room for leeks, beetroot, courgettes, cucumbers, chard and kale.

So far this  year I have sown a tray of broad beans (Red Epicure) and four pots of sweet peas from saved seed. I have  new seed for ‘Spencer Waved Mix’ and ‘Kipper Cream’to sow but this year I would like to extend my sweet pea season to beyond a July heatwave so I will hold onto these until after Easter. I’ve checked through all my seeds today.  I don’t order my seeds preferring to call in at my local garden centre on my way to the plot for whatever I need.  Luckily they stock Sarah Raven seeds for flowers,  Jekka McVicar seeds for herbs and carousels of vegetable seeds.

In other news I’m enjoying my self-directed art appreciation course and on a freezing cold Saturday took the train to Dulwich to visit the small but perfectly formed Dulwich Picture Gallery for a Vanessa Bell retrospective. Vanessa has been a favourite artist for a long time, I love her loose brush strokes and colour sense and the feminity of her paintings. She loved picking flowers from her garden, arranging them in a vase and painting them and clearly had her favourite vases which she used over and over again.

You perhaps won’t be surprised to read that I loved the feel-good modern musical that was ‘ La La Land’ and tomorrow I’m looking forward to seeing  ‘Manchester By The Sea’.  At the end of the week I’m going to London to see the David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain and then catching the bus to Hampstead  to visit Fenton House and Erno Goldfinger’s house.

I’ve just looked up to see the sky is a most beautiful pearly rose and there is a silver sliver of moon.

I’m finally ready for 2017 and excited about what this year has to offer. I didn’t enjoy 2016 which I spent in an almost permanent state of anxiety. I feel bad, almost fraudulent, talking about it here because everything that happened was completely self-inflicted and it is over now, yet it still has some residual power. I need to get fitter and stronger in my body and I know that will help my mind. I’m swimming quite hard once a week (I swim 1500m in under 30 minutes) and I know I’m lucky to have so many wonderful walks on my doorstep, but I still need to recover my confidence on my bike and try out my shoulder with a game of tennis. I followed a 30-day on-line yoga course with a teacher from Texas which was great fun. I’ve practised yoga for decades but stopped going to weekly classes a few years ago. I’m good at practising by myself and attend the occasional class at the local leisure centre but I miss the camaraderie of a weekly class with the same bunch of people. But everyday I am feeling a little better and a little more confident and today I feel as if I’ve leapfrogged forward. Tomorrow is a new month and renewal and spring is in the air.

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In a vase on Monday: The less-travelled path

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I am really enjoying this latest blast of crisp frosty weather.  It has been perfect for walking and off-road cycling – a real treat to feel the earth as hard as iron and with beautiful sunrises and sunsets too.  I’m writing a local walks booklet for my village to try and encourage all of us to walk more without getting in our cars first.  So far I have four favourite walks plotted which range in length from two to six miles and have another four walks in my head ready to go but as I think I should have 10 walks for the booklet my plan is to include two longer trails which cross my village for those for whom even a six mile walk is a walk in the park.

Back to my vase today which features a beautiful old brown glazed jug (a lovely Christmas present from my son) of dried material collected while walking on my local chalk downland recently.  The Belted Galloways do a sterling job every autumn of chomping up the grasses and wild flower seedheads but some areas are left for wildlife notably the teasels which are adored by goldfinches at this time of year and in any event are far too prickly to pick.

In the squarish brown dish from the Powder Mill pottery on Dartmoor are this season’s Seville oranges which are now squeezed, sliced and simmering before being bubbled into marmalade.

Looking ahead to the summer I could not resist investing in another bag of anemone corms which seem to thrive in the rich well-drained soil of my sunny allotment. And down at the allotment yesterday I roped in my husband to help prune the Fiesta apple tree which had put on a ridiculous amount of skywards growth last year but produced very little fruit. The previous year it had needed emergency surgery when the main trunk split in two due to a combination of weight of fruit, torrential summer rain and high winds. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that between us we’ve done a good enough job this time and it will crop well again this year. Meanwhile we had a very pleasant stroll around the new winter garden at Wisley (couldn’t detect any scent from any of the newly-planted Witch Hazels despite the warmth of the sun) and we loved watching the ducks skating on the frozen glasshouse lake. I also borrowed Noel Kingsbury’s latest book, ‘New Small Garden’ which is 200pp of inspiration and good ideas.  I have also been researching which new Autumn raspberry to plant at my allotment and have narrowed it down to five canes of Joan J (recommended by Sam and available at my local garden centre) and four canes of Polka (available at Wisley).

And whilst sitting by the fire I am pleased to have learnt how to ‘join as you go’ in crochet. It always looked and sounded so much more complicated than whip stitching together but in fact it is very easy and gives a much more secure finish with far fewer ends to weave in. The motifs are all made with leftover ends of yarn and the joining round is tough Romney Marsh lambswool which I bought direct from the producer last year. This  isn’t going to make a blanket, more of a casual throw for the arm of our nearly 20-year-old sofa. (Our last sofa reached 27-years of age and I was so upset when it was time to say goodbye I’m planning to keep this sofa for as long as possible.)

Oh and I nearly forgot ‘Weatherland’. I’m eking out this wonderful book slowly. It is densely written and thought-provoking and is sending me back to read literature from my bookshelves which I haven’t looked at for decades. It’s also making me think about climate. Literature and history show us that for centuries our weather has always been variable but all evidence points to the fact that we are reaching a critical point now when unless action is taken our children will see the last of the weather we have been fortunate to enjoy. Our temperate climate which has endured since the ending of the last Ice Age some 11,000 years ago is changing and either there will be substantial changes in the way we live or there will be substantial changes in our climate which will in turn necessitate new ways of living.

Joining in with Cathy with my vase on Monday. Please visit Cathy over at Rambling in the Garden where you will find links to many more home-grown or foraged vases, with ne’er a forced supermarket daffodil or tulip in sight.

 

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Whatever the weather

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I am more than ready for a new year.

I may be a little bit late in welcoming 2017 but as tonight is Twelth Night and our tree is still looking beautiful I am keeping the lights twinkling for one more evening.

We had lovely Christmas holidays and saw a surprising amount of blue sky and sunshine. My holiday reading has been “Weatherland” by Alexandra Harris which is turning out to be an excellent romp through English Literature all the time keeping a keen eye on the weather. I’ve already looked at the Bignor Villa mosaic of Roman Winter dressed in a cowl and read a sonnet (A Soote Season) by my Lord Henry Howard of Surrey in which for the very first time a sonnet steps outdoors and roams through a summer meadow. This book also has some great work on Virginia Woolf’s novels, especially Orlando, The Waves and To The Lighthouse, (Alexandra is a Virginia Woolf  scholar – her biography of VW is truly excellent and the Radio 4 series she made in which she walked in VW’s footsteps was enthralling) and I am so enjoying dipping into it randomly as well as reading it from beginning to end.

As you can imagine I was delighted to see Ian Hamilton Finlay’s word art decorating the granite of the Folkestone lighthouse which says that weather is a third to time and place, which I took to mean that it is of equal importance. I think the mermaid (a bronze cast by Cornelia Parker of a real woman) who looks out across Folkestone harbour to the sea beyond would agree. The Bridget Riley painting which is on display in Tate Modern is called ‘To A Summer’s Day’ and definitely conjures up a vision of a summer meadow to my eye and the knitted hat and mittens are made from undyed  Romney Marsh lambswool and would have been very welcome when we were on the beach, except they weren’t quite finished. The Christmas cross stitch is a little advanced from this photograph, but not by much – I think I may roll it up until the summer as the low light is not conducive to stitching on 28 count linen. East Head is a fragile sandy spit backed by sand dunes and forms the end of West Wittering beach where we spent Boxing Day basking in warm sunshine with barely a breath of wind, although by the time sunset arrived (which was definitely worth waiting for) we were all freezing.

Wishing you all a wonderful 2017 with lots of very good and appropriate weather.

 

 

In a vase on Monday: Advent Angels

 

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Advent, if one can avoid the mad frenzy of the High Street (both real and virtual) and the siren call to buy what you don’t need, is one of my favourite times of the year. I love the stillness of the countryside as flora and fauna settle into winter hibernation and nothing can beat a winter sunrise or sunset. At this moment my garden is aflock with acrobatic birds from the far north feasting on the white pink-tinged berries of the Sorbus tree while the sky is a rosy glow heralding another starry night and frosty start.

My Advent preparations have so far  consisted of making mince pies by the dozen for immediate consumption while today I refreshed my autumn wreath, the base of which I made from a coil of Virginia creeper stems. Now it is wearing glossy green leaves and tiny white flowers from Sarcococca twisted with fresh green and white leaves from Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’.

In my vignette  I have a Blue Kuri squash waiting to be turned into Thomasina Miers’ squash and pasta soup with fried sage and Parmesan. The recipe was in the Guardian magazine of 26 November and it was so good I’m making it again. I harvested 14 Blue Kuri squashes from five plants this year and this is the seventh to come into the kitchen,  although they keep until March in my cool garage. The orange slices are waiting to be dried for decorations involving cinnamon sticks and the succulents were casualties when the biggest head toppled over felling the others in its wake. When I carefully detached the fallen heads I noticed I had several tiny new plants growing in the gritty gravel. I put the stems in water and now I see they have developed fine roots so on a warmer day than today I will pot them up into small terracotta pots. Or maybe add them to my winter wreath?

During this time of waiting and expectation I’ve been thinking of my dear dad as today would would have been his 90th birthday. I hadn’t realised until recently what a stellar year 1926 was to be born: David Attenborough, the Queen, Eric Morecambe and Fidel Castro, to name just a few.

Philip Larkin was born in 1922 and died 31 years ago but last Friday evening a memorial stone to him was laid in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. I didn’t care much for Larkin’s lifestyle but I cannot fail to be moved by his poem “An Arundel Tomb” which he was inspired to write by the tomb of Richard Fitzalan, 3rd Earl of Arundel (1307-1376) and his second wife Eleanor. In his Will Richard asked to be buried  “without pomp” in the Chapter house of Lewes Priory and I imagine his fine tomb was moved to Chichester Cathedral around the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. See how Eleanor’s body is twisted towards her husband’s and how he has slipped his hand out of its gauntlet in order to take her hand in his. The little dogs with their noses blunted by time symbolise the loyalty of the Earl and Countess to their king and kingdom.

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Here is the final verse from “An Arundel Tomb” by Philip Larkin.

“Time has transfigured them into

Untruth. The stone fidelity

They hardly meant has come to be

Their final blazon, and to prove

Our almost instinct, almost true:

What will survive of us is love.”

Joining in with Cathy with my succulents. The garden pickings may be very slim in December but I am always inspired by your vases.

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London skyline at 15.50, 29 November 2016 

In a vase on Monday: Blue dusk

 

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What an absolutely gorgeous day, chilly but not freezing if you keep moving and just perfect for a bit of gentle cutting back and digging out of crumbly compost to make room in the full to overflowing compost bin for today’s prunings. I never call it garden waste or green waste, it is the essential ingredient for growing a garden. I cut the dried flower heads of Verbena bonariensis today and added them to poppy seedheads and a seedhead of Allium Christophii. I was going to cut some flowers from my various clumps of Panicum, but they are looking so good right now I just couldn’t bring myself to spoil the display.  I adore grasses, especially at this time of year. I planted another Pennisetum this autumn and have been wondering if I should pot it up after the alarming weather forecast for tonight.  It is planted in a sunny well-drained spot and I’ve surrounded it with tulip and narcissus bulbs which I don’t want to disturb so I think it will have to take its chance.

The vase is special to me. It was made by Amanda Brier when she was working at the Leach pottery in St Ives and I bought it direct from the pottery maybe 15 years ago. It is a simple cylinder in shape and it reminds me of the sea and holidays in Cornwall.

I am getting ready for Christmas in my usual low key way. I made a fresh batch of mincemeat over the weekend (I use Delia’s recipe) and have just rolled out my first batch of mince pies.

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I’ve also been making Liberty lawn lavender bags filled with dried lavender from the garden. (I make an inner bag from leftover lining fabric and use toy stuffing as well as lavender to make them soft and plump.) And I’m pleased with how this crochet cushion cover (still awaiting its feather pad) came out as I copied a photograph from a book and worked out the pattern  myself. (Is it a ripple wave? It has a really nice texture.)  It has been made for the painted chair with a punched star seat which I bought from a junk shop for the cottage. This is my (absent) daughter’s bedroom and today it not only smells of lavender but is also scented by the Rose of Attar pelargoniums overwintering on the windowsill.

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I love a sunny blue sky day. Tomorrow is forecast to be as good and I’m going to London to take advantage of my Tate membership and plan to see both the Paul Nash exhibition at Tate Britain and Elton John’s modernist photograph collection at Tate Modern. As I’m going with my husband there is bound to be a nice lunch too. We first visited Tate Modern in December 2000, taking the opportunity of a child-free day out together while our four-year-old daughter stayed at school all day for a Christmas play.  I remember it well because we bought a print of The Snail by Matisse for the playroom and had lunch at the Globe theatre before dashing home to collect the children at 3.15pm. Tomorrow will be more leisurely I hope.

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It’s great to join in with Cathy and post my vase on Monday.

Soldiering on

There isn’t much flowering in my garden in mid-November so I won’t be joining in with May Dreams Gardens Blooms Day round-up but in order to do better next year I’m going to write about what is looking good on this mild, damp and windswept day. No photos I’m afraid, unless I find some of relevance in my archive.

As I look out of the window as the light fades the first plant that I see is Nandina domestica and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the barely blushing leaves and teeny tiny cones of pink berries. Behind is a generous mound of Sarcococca, not quite ready to burst into fragrance, and in front flowering lavender and Erigeron. Two clumps of panicum are looking good, but they need the sun to alight on their inflorescences to really shine. Geranium leaves are colouring red and the flower heads of Sedum are a pleasing peaty brown. Undoubtedly the highlight of this south-facing border is the combination of Pyschocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ with its  interestingly-shaped burgundy/red leaves against the solid green of Euphorbia palustris and the orangey-yellow leaves of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’.   Up and over the pergola the yellow wisteria leaves are showering onto the deck and blowing into the pond whose margins are still studded with red hesperantha.  The pear tree is in that fragile ghostly state where the grey leaves have turned even paler.  Sometimes this tree goes out in a blaze of glory – not this year though, the next cold day it will literally shiver its remaining leaves to the ground.  Viburnum bodnantense  ‘Dawn’  is flowering and the leaves of Magnolia Stellata are the colour of caramel. Looking good all year round is the closely planted combination of Euphorbia characias wulfenii, Helleborus Corsicus and Bergenia Silberlicht. The white nerines are a little frost-damaged but from the kitchen window look just about ok.  But my absolute favourite right now is the warm orange light coming from Sorbus Hupehensis and at its feet amplifying the glow is Hakonecholoa macro ‘Aureola’. I love this grassy plant which earns its keep for about 10 months of the year and changes from the freshest lime-green in spring to the most gorgeous rusty hue through autumn. The pink-flushed white Sorbus berries will be a feast one cold January day for the fieldfares who fly in from Scandinavia. There is another buttercup yellow Cornus in this bed showing up well against the glossy green leaves of a camellia. Moving round there are hips from Rosa Glauca Rubrifolia combining with the last of the fuchsia flowers and the remains of Dianthus Barbutus, sown from seed as an annual last year but flowering here almost all year round. There is more yellow glow coming from the garage bed where I have a large stand of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ and on the right-angled corner where the soil is practically non-existent there is a successfully-placed Panicum which catches any low sun at this time of year.

Reading this back has certainly made me feel better about the garden. Yes, there are few flowers but there are interesting shapes and once the wind has scoured the garden of its litter of leaves I have some good evergreen structure and tall trees to draw the eye up to the sky.

Today, and proof that my shoulder is finally on the mend, I gave the cedar deck its annual scrub to remove the layer of algae. I have a system for this job which just uses warm water, a stiff brush and my muscle power as I cannot bear noisy garden equipment. Today it took me an hour from start to finish and as soon as I was done I jumped into a hot bath to release my shoulder.

Talking of which it turns out that I had sustained a new muscle tear to the subscapularis muscle which lies underneath the scapula (shoulder blade) which was why every forward and backward movement made in an arc from the body was so painful. I still can’t front crawl (I tried again in the pool yesterday) and tying my apron strings behind my back is impossible but I am so much better than I was six months ago when I fell off my bike. I have found an excellent physiotherapist and after only two sessions I am starting to re-build strength in the shoulder. I’m sure that like many of us being unable to do stuff in the garden is the worst thing so I am very relieved to be on the mend after a somewhat frustrating summer.

I think a visit to Wisley may be necessary to see what is blooming locally in November. I usually avoid Wisley at this time of year for fear of stumbling across a Christmas craft fair or shopping event, but needs must and I think my garden has room for a special purchase or two.

Oh and look what I found in my archive,  a mosaic of November 2015 photos. Not quite the intensity of colour I’m seeing this year, but a good enough flavour I hope.

In a vase on Monday: Pure gold

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The homeslip on Sunday morning, after our first frost of the season.

It was important to me to join in today and celebrate with Cathy, and other blogger friends, three years of In a vase on Monday. I started posting my Monday vases in May last year when I was very new to blogging but I became derailed when we bought the cottage and my focus shifted to making an 18th century cottage habitable and then saleable. Thank goodness that is all in the past.

Today I spent a couple of hours in the garden planting the remainder of the Angelique tulips and ‘Sailboat’ narcissi. I waited until after our first frost  as I needed to plant them in the only free space in my garden around the collapsed peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ which has been cut to the ground and mulched with home made compost. The soil here is beautiful – dark and crumbly and sweet-smelling and exactly as you would expect after 25 years of home composting. It wasn’t always like this. At the beginning even digging the smallest hole for a bulb meant excavating demolition and builders’ rubble and compressed blue clay, not a job to look forward to.

Bulbs planted I whizzed around the garden with the lawn mower spreading the grassy leafy mulch directly on the woodland border. I also did a little bit of cutting back, not too much as I like my garden to decay gracefully and gradually.

What did I find to bring inside?  A flowerhead and bud from Clematis ‘Marie Boisellot’. She was cut to the ground after her May-July flowering period and now she’s back up the fence and flowering again. I love the almost linen-like texture of her petals. In the smoky glass posy vase there is the last Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’. Dare I say this plant is losing her vigour. She shares a bed with the equally ‘intent on garden domination’ Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’. I usually cut the cornus hard back in the spring but I missed the moment so the cornus is top dog(wood) this year. Also in this vase is a white cyclamen (I have a lot of ants in my garden and consequently I have cyclamen popping up everywhere), a few daisies from Erigeron which had its annual hair cut today in a probably futile attempt to stop it self-seeding everywhere and a stem of sweet-scented lemon verbena. I thought about cutting a stem of white-flowered nerine, but as I see them from the kitchen window and I only have three flowers they have all kept their heads.

There is also a bowl of Lord Lambourne apples which have been so good this year. I picked the apples from Chivers Delight a fortnight ago as we were going away and I was concerned that an October gale might strip the tree for me and they too are delicious. We made a flying visit to Canterbury on Saturday so I took my daughter a basket of apples. We had a very good lunch in The Goods Shed in Canterbury which uses local and seasonal produce to mouth-watering effect and afterwards visited Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’,  currently on tour in The Beaney.

Our holiday was spent on the Cotehele estate as I was  interested in seeing the orchards in fruit, especially the mother orchard which was planted in 2007 to help preserve the old Cornish apple varieties. We had marvellous weather and walked for miles in golden sunshine every day. One day we had a birthday lunch at Endsleigh and explored the Repton landscape garden (the acers were on fire) which surrounds the early 19th fishing lodge built for the Duke and Duchess of Bedford high above the river Tamar. The day was crowned by the most spectacular sunset viewed from the top of Kit Hill.

Heading home we crossed Dartmoor and walked up a tor or two. The sky was blue as blue can be but it was ear-numbingly cold as we climbed high. We also made a pilgrimage to Sanders at Lettaford and when I pinged a photo of this unspoilt Devon longhouse to our children our son replied “Heatwave”and we remembered the May half term when he swam in the freezing river. Our final night was spent at the newest Pig hotel near Honiton. We have had several nights staying at this small chain of hotels and always had a great experience. The food isn’t fancy or trying to be faultless as all the vegetables and fruit are grown in the garden, they keep chickens and pigs for a home-grown breakfast and everything else comes from within a 25-mile radius. They describe themselves as a ‘kitchen garden with rooms’ and that is exactly right.  It was very lovely mid-evening having a star-lit walk around the garden before coming back to cheese and pudding in front of the log fire.

We were lucky to have an open fire (and no wifi – hooray) in our Cotehele holiday cottage so I took a small crochet project for the evenings and enjoyed making up my own design for a cushion cover to sit on the Nordic-style (well it has a star pattern punched in the seat hence the need for a cushion!) white-painted chair in my daughter’s bedroom.

I just made it to the brilliant  Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at Tate Modern and as a birthday present to myself I decided to join the Tate as a member. On the same day I caught the boat to Millbank to look at the artwork of the Turner Prize finalists at Tate Britain. In contrast to Tate Modern which at times is unbearably busy I usually  find Tate Britain a quiet haven of contemplation. I especially like the walk through British art from 1500 to the present and have my clear favourites. Outside Tate Britain I hopped on a bus to Westminster, walked across Westminster bridge to Waterloo and then home.  I am planning a year of culture … but before that I have to see what vase of delights Cathy has posted today.

 

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