Half Term ‘Time’ in the garden.

How Does Your Garden Grow *5.

In London, it’s been disappointingly wet for a May Half Term, as everyone seems to be saying.

Last week, the sun shone and the air seemed warmer.

     As I sat in my office at school, glued to the computer for too many hours each day.

Now, the sun has taken a break along with the schools.

Lady's mantle in Spring rain.  May 14.

Lady’s mantle in Spring rain. May 14.

But the Half Term holiday gives precious time nonetheless.

Instead of the bright sunshine that May promises,

raindrops line the edge of leaves and glisten like jewels caught on petals and fringing stems.

Crystal encrusted Alium.  May 14.

Crystal encrusted Alium. May 14.

Dripping from the end of my nose as I pot up seedlings in muddy compost.

Wondering at the amazement of those little pink earthworms who, unaided and in under a year,

have transformed kitchen waste, scrap paper and random discarded garments into a mass of beautiful rich, crumbly compost.

Our pond seems to have turned into a fantastically successful blanket weed incubation centre.  (‘Long String Algae’ in US.)

Despite bales of barley straw, this wretched weed demands regular harvesting and discarding.

Luckily, the worms on the compost heap seem to appreciate it.

As I was clearing, I found myself face to face with this little fellow,

   poised on a lily pad and boldly watching me – as I watched him – throughout the dredging process…

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“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
― Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

* * *

“Is the spring coming?”  He said.  “What is it like?”…

“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine…”

– Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.

Alium in the Spring rain.

Alium in the Spring rain.

Washed and dried, now I’m off to see what’s going on with Annie’s How Does Your Garden Grow project.  Take a look at http://mammasaurus.co.uk or follow the pink blossom link on the right hand side bar for wonderful blogs and inspiring pictures.

Silent thoughts on a cold Spring day

Time for thoughts on a cold Spring day

‘Time’ is precious, even if it’s a grey or rainy day.

What do you do when you have ‘time’?

Dainty Dancers!

How Does Your Garden Grow *3.

I love Aquilegia, or Columbine flowers.

Their common name is ‘Granny’s Bonnet’.

But my granny wouldn’t have been seen dead (and certainly not alive!)

in a bonnet like this.

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Granny’s Bonnet on a hazy morning.

They always make me think of light-footed dancers in frilly tutus,

effortlessly drifting over flowerbeds…

Surfacing in new and surprising colours, just where they please the next year!

Here are some of the beautifully dressed acts appearing in my garden, lighting up the shady boarders this Spring…

 From Cecily Mary Barker’s beautiful Flower Fairies book, which my girls and I so enjoyed when they were young,

here is the accompanying poem…

Columbine

The Song of the Columbine Fairy

Who shall the chosen fairy be
For letter C?
There’s Candytuft, and Cornflower blue,
Campanula and Crocus too,
Chrysanthemum so bold and fine,
And the pretty dancing Columbine.

Yes, Columbine! the choice is she;
And with her, see,
An elfin piper, piping sweet
A little tune for those light feet
That dance among the leaves and flowers
In someone’s garden.
(is it ours?)

Peeping through the Trellis as the day begins.

Peeping through the Trellis before the day begins.

Last Sunday was International Dawn Chorus Day.

I was up early as ever (groan) ready to prepare breakfast for guests we had staying.

The bread was finishing baking and the coffee brewing.

I nipped out and took these shots as the sun gently heralded the start of what turned out to be a fantastically sunny Bank Holiday Weekend Sunday…

Thank goodness the weather doesn’t always listen to the forecast!

Good morning gift!

Now I’m off to check out what the other How Does Your Garden Grow participants have been doing in their gardens last week…

Follow the pink HDYGG flower on the right sidebar to join Annie at http://mammasaurus.co.uk and the other inspirational gardeners  🙂

What have you been doing in your garden this week?

A Riot… of Tulips!

‘How Does Your Garden Grow?’ 2:

4.14 Tulips white

Visiting the Royal Horticultural Gardens at Wisley every Easter and Summer holiday has become a mother and daughter tradition for me…

4.14 Tulips Pink ripple dwarf

A shot in the arm for us both.  A perfect excuse to snatch and share some ‘quality time’.

4.14 Tulips pink over bench

Having been inspired by Annie’s stunning post over at http://mammasaurus.co.uk last week, I was planning to head for the monster greenhouse, to admire the orchid display.

4.14 Tulips red & yellow soft petals

But we got diverted by an absolute riot of tulips – over 1600 planted in a huge, unself-conscious mass.

Celebrating the totally wondrous variety of colour and form.

So bold and simple.  Unlike anything I have seen at Wisley before.

4.14 Tulips Purple

So my ‘How Does Your Garden Grow?‘ post this week is not exactly about my garden, but about one that I feel, in a way, is part of my inheritance…

4.14 Tulips red & white loud stripe

The joy of visiting with my mother and being inspired.

4.14 Tulips pink open

The entertainment of discovering temporary displays such as this one, and the security of re-visiting the fruit trees and checking that I’ve got the pruning in hand at home!

4.14 Tulips yellow & crisp red

So I’ll enjoy the orchids over at Mammasaurus, from the comfort of my own living room –

and savour the memory of those cheeky, bashful, outrageous tulips making such an exhibition of themselves!

4.14 Tulips black soldiers in front of gravel

Click on the ‘How Does Your Garden Grow?’  pink flower in the right hand side-bar to follow the link to other HDYGG? posts.

4.14 Tulips pink & strong white strong ones

* * *

Rampant Ladybirds in the Rhubarb!

How Does Your Garden Grow? 1.

Easter Holiday this week – so I’ve been planting French bean, pea and marigold seeds, potting on the courgettes, cosmos, chard, sweet peas & pansies, and generally having quality time in my favourite place.

The wildlife have been busy too…

I wonder what next year’s Ladybirds will look like!?

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I have also joined up with Annie at Mammasaurus and  her ‘How Does Your Garden Grow?‘ project.

Annie’s blog is inspirational and beautiful – food for the eye and the mind.

I’m looking forward to a virtual weekly meeting with the other participants in HDYGG and following what is going on in their gardens… humbly, having compared my photographic skills with those on the other blogs… but bottom of the pile is a good place to start, as the only way is up!!

Click on the pink How Does Your Garden Grow image in the right sidebar of my blog to see Annie and the other HDYGG bloggers –

or follow this link:  http://mammasaurus.co.uk/49-how-does-your-garden-grow/

Rainy Easter Day.

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Apple Espaliers – 4 years old this Easter!

Snatching a little time to potter is so precious.  I found some bags of clean sand being offered on Freecycle, so took the opportunity and did one of  the garden’s most satisfying and most dreaded jobs – renewing the grass edging with a cleanly cut sandy trench.

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A satisfying job, because it does make the grass look so smart.

Dreaded, because it always leaves me aching all over – must be a wonderful workout!

I love the principles behind Freecycle – that one person’s waste will be of use to another… I also picked up some Victorian Rope Edging tiles this week, but they’ll be used for a project that is yet to be conceived!

Who needs the gym when they’ve got a spade and Freecycle?!

Here’s an illustration of how my garden grows this week –

What has been happening in your garden this week?

And do you use Freecycle?

A versatile take on Hummus.

Chickpea, Roasted Lemon, Tomato, Parsley & Black Olive Smash:

A zippy, more adaptable take on hummus…

Equally delicious, even more healthy, and, well, see what you think…

Coarser & less oily than the original, roasted lemons and tomato combine zestily with the smashed chickpeas, toasted cumin seeds and black olives.  Bursting with goodness and full of natural, unadulterated Middle-Eastern flavour.  Although made at the end of February, I was able to use fresh parsley that had overwintered happily in the garden  🙂

Spring Parsley!

Spring Parsley!

Great to have sitting in the fridge as a ready snack, especially for those of us who are wheat free so need an alternative to bread or biscuits ready to grab, to combat the 5pm slump… Or whenever a burst of energy is needed!

If using as a dip / starter, crush chickpeas up a bit more – but not as pulverised as you would for hummus.  Serve piled onto baby Romanie Lettuce leaves, or crisp crackers.

chickpea, roasted lemon & tomato smash

1 – 2 cans of chickpeas, gently heated for around 5 minutes to make them easier to crush.  Drained.

A couple of large handfuls Baby plum or cherry tomatoes, halved

1 Tbs Olive oil

Pinch of salt

1/2 Lemon, sliced into half moons

1Tbs Lemon juice

2Tbs Olive oil

Handful of fresh parley, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

3/4 tsp Cumin seeds

 –   Preheat the oven to 180C/350F
 –   Mix the tomatoes with the teaspoon of olive oil and the salt.
 –   Place tomatoes on a lined baking tray, cut-side up. Roast for 10 minutes then add lemon slices & cook for 20 minutes
      more. Remove from oven and set aside.
 –   Toast cumin seeds in a small non stick pan for 1 minute until fragrant.  Then lightly crush in a pestle & mortar or with the
      side of a knife.
 –   While the chickpeas are still warm, drain then add to a bowl along with the olive oil and lemon juice Gently crush with a
      potato masher. You want to keep plenty of texture.
 –   Stir through the roasted lemon slices and tomatoes, fresh chopped parsley and cumin seeds. Season to taste.
 –   Serve at room temperature with crackers, lettuce or crusty bread.
Chickpea, Roasted Lemon, Roasted Tomato, Black Olive & fresh parsley Smash.   V,  W/f,  D/f.

Chickpea, Roasted Lemon, Roasted Tomato, Black Olive & fresh parsley Smash. V, W/f, D/f.

Recipe originally from the Waitrose magazine – altered slightly, to suit.
What’s your stand-by ‘pick me up’ snack?

Chicken with Dates, Olives and Capers.

I’ve just stumbled across Yotam Ottolenghi’s wonderful recipe for chicken, dates, olives and capers.  Comforting, exciting, fresh and zesty: what more could a girl ask for at the end of a long day..?

ottolenghi's chicken with dates, olives and capers 1:2

Perfect for family suppers, easy entertaining, or prepare ahead & freeze suppers for one.

Treacly, dark sugar mingles unexpectedly but perfectly with sharp capers, green olives, white wine and vinegar.  Preparing ahead and allowing to marinade for a day or two tenderises the chicken, and adds to the all-round chilled out personality of the dish. Serve with your favourite green salad and crispy herb coated potatoes, basmati rice, or a hunk of fresh bread to mop up the juices.

A warming blend of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences, this is an inspiring, easy dish to prepare for long, cold winter’s evenings, adding a spark at the end of the day when the dark has drawn in.  Having said that, I know I’ll be enjoying it outside, on balmy summer evenings too.

Roast Chicken with Dates, Olives and Capers.   

Serves 4 (ish).

8 chicken legs, drumstick and thigh attached, skin on (2kg )
5 garlic cloves, peeled & crushed
15g fresh oregano, torn, plus extra for garnish (be flexible  – I use basil, marjoram or similar)
3 Tbs red wine vinegar
3 Tbs olive oil
100g pitted green olives ( I use pitted olives stuffed with pimento, as I like the flash of red)
60g capers, plus 2 tbsp of their juices
70g , pitted and quartered lengthways Medjoul dates (or the best dates you can afford)
2 bay leaves
120ml dry white wine
1 tbsp date syrup or treacle
Salt and black pepper

Skin the chicken or not as you wish – I always do half and half, as some do and some don’t like to eat the skin.  I’m definitely in the latter camp.

Place the chicken in a large bowl and add all of the ingredients, apart from the wine and date molasses, along with ¾ teaspoon of salt and a good a few turns of black pepper. Gently combine, cover the bowl and leave in the fridge to marinate for 1 to 2 days, stirring the ingredients a few times during the process.

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Spread out the chicken legs on a large roasting tray, with all the marinade ingredients poured over. Whisk together the wine and molasses and pour over the meat. Cook in the preheated oven for 50 minutes, basting 2 or 3 times, until the meat is golden brown on top and cooked through.

Remove from the oven and transfer onto a preheated large platter.  Sprinkle your herbs over to garnish and add to the melange of flavours… yum 🙂

This recipe is from Yotam Ottolenghi’s website – well worth a visit if you haven’t found it yet: http://www.ottolenghi.co.uk/roasted-chicken-legs-with-dates-olives-and-capers-shop

Half Term… time to play with new ‘toys’!

I spent the first weekend of this half term playing with a new gadget that Jassi (daughter 1) bought me –

it’s a ‘Polti Vaporetto Evolution Steam Cleaner Kit with Iron’ ...

Since she’s had her weekend job in the kitchen department at John Lewis, she’s become a bit of an expert about all things necessary, desirable and labour-saving.

She staggered home last week on the train with a huge heavy-duty JL plastic bag containing this wonderful present for me…!

I’m not going to pretend that I’ll use this often, and I don’t really think that’s the point of it – but it is pretty fantastic, and saves a huge amount of scrubbing or fiddling around with specialised cleaning products for different jobs (which I find usually disappoint anyway).  So it’ll be regularly if not frequently in use.

All the building work over the last 9 months resulted in walls being demolished seemingly randomly, plastering at a pace that resulted in not only the new walls being covered with the stuff, but floors too.  Chimney work was accompanied by shocking clouds of soot literally all over the kitchen and workmen walking through what they clearly saw as a building site rather than a home (marching soil, soot and plaster dust throughout as they did).  The hard floors were in a very sorry condition.  The once limestone coloured tiles and grout in the kitchen had transformed to mid brown tiles and black grout.  The dust and plaster power that had got caked onto the basin stand and metal fireplace in the bathroom was equally disheartening.

But after a weekend with my new toy, the grout has re-appeared, showers sparkle and I have the satisfaction of knowing that things are literally steam cleaned without endless bottles of chemicals.

P1000014It’s not a cheap machine, but I’m sure I’ll get lots of successful use out of it –

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the power of steam can be quite addictive and satisfying.

The more I use it, the more I’m saving on cleaning materials…

so longer term use ticks the environmental and financial boxes too!

P1000022On Monday I used my dad’s grass scarifier.

Yes, I know it’s too early in the year to scarify the grass, but he doesn’t know that and I imagine had got his electric scarifier out at the first glint of sunshine.

P1000021Having had a go at his grass and apparently been so pleased with the amount of moss and debris picked up, he was absolutely resolute that I should borrow it and have a go myself.

I did with a heavy heart, thinking that scarifying the grass really isn’t a priority right now. Despite being an electric machine, it was an amazing workout – the collection basket fell off every few seconds – literally – with the result that I spent over an hour  – or was it all afternoon (felt like it) bobbing up and down re-fixing it.

Another good result from the whole scarifying event was that Ava and Clemmie, the chickens, simply loved all the bits that the machine collected – it’s such a good feeling to see or hear happy animals going about their way.  The sight and sound of them contentedly kicking up the moss and grassy waste, clucking and pecking as they went was a pleasure to witness.  Happy girls.

So one product to recommend – see John Lewis’ web site (and other places too) for details of  the ‘Polti Vaporetto Evolution Steam Cleaner Kit with Iron’.

And another to recommend avoiding – won’t name the brand of strimmer as I’m not sure of the model number, but just to say if you’re ever thinking of using one, make sure the basket fixes on properly – unless you have time to spare and want a unbelievably energetic workout as part of the experience (in which case a heavy-duty rake would be a more cost-effective option!)

What gadgets would you recommend using or avoiding?

I’d love to hear…