A high summer jam with a couple of variations……..

raspberry harvest

Apart from the odd overcast afternoon with an accompanying shower of rain, it’s been pretty dry here the past few weeks in Norfolk, and while it’s a bit too warm for me to want to spend too long outside in the garden, our raspberries are loving the early heat wave.  Many of the plants are already my height and more and we’ve been picking fruit everyday, in fact there is now so much all ripened together that today I’ll be making jam.

The variety of raspberry we grow is called Autumn Bliss, the plants produce two harvests, a small early crop around now and then they really go for it around August and will produce fruit, weather permitting, through October and even into November if there isn’t a frost.  Those first fruits are smaller in size but come August they are the size of small plums, but already we are seeing very impressive sized red velvety berries, hanging down from the bushes like Christmas tree baubles….Normally we don’t get jam quantity sized gluts until the second harvest, so this is a lovely surprise, especially as today seems a bit cooler and I won’t need to keep fanning myself while I’m leaning over the jam pan.

a handful of berries

The other Christmas my boyfriend bought me a huge French copper jam pan, and that’s really wonderful for making a kilo of fruit sized jam quantity, (the jam itself also seems to look brighter and more glossy) but I’ve also regularly used the big size Le Crueset or Chausseur pans if I’ve only had say 500 g of fruit (though if you have room in a freezer, you can always freeze small quantities of the berries until you have enough as raspberries freeze very well)

Raspberry Jam

Ingredients

1 kilo of freshly picked raspberries

800 g granulated sugar (I use golden as it has a lovely taste)

juice of a lemon

Some sterilized jam jars

(pop a couple of little saucers in the freezer as these will help checking the set of the jam easier)

Method

Don’t wash the raspberries, just check them over and cut off any bits that are a bit scabby.  Put them into the pan you’re using for jam. Cover with the sugar and the lemon juice.  Bring the fruit to a gradual boil, all the time just very gently stirring the fruit and the sugar together without over squashing the raspberries.

Keep stirring gently, and allow the fruit and sugar to bubble furiously….as well as watching the jam, you’ll need to keep an eye on the time.  The jam needs between 5-8 minutes (a bit longer if you are using more fruit), skim if it’s needed (though to be honest I don’t always bother), check for a set on a chilled saucer from the freezer, allow the jam to cool down for a minute (turn the jam pan off so it doesn’t keep cooking)…once the jam wrinkles when you push your finger into it, pour into the sterilized jars and cover with waxed discs.

Variations

Sometimes I add a splosh of cognac to the jam once it has reached setting point, it adds another note to the jam which is particularly nice if you’re using berries from the freezer….another little tip which I do more with the Autumn crop and which ekes out a smaller quantity of raspberries is to mix them with nectarines and peaches, this is especially good if you’ve bought some of those and they are a bit sort of ….woolly…. (I don’t like to say woolly as a non compliment as I love my sheepy yarns and a really woolly yarn is always lovely to knit with, but I can’t think of how else to describe peaches and nectarines when they become a bit spongy and fluffy tasting at the end of their season)…

I generally use around a 5 to 4 fruit:sugar ratio…… so 250 g of peaches will need 200 g of sugar…..Peel the peaches, remove the stones and weigh.  Put into a ceramic dish and add the calculated amount of sugar and a squirt of lemon juice, leave for a couple of hours and then mash slightly…if you are just using a couple of peaches then a tablespoon or so lemon juice will be enough as you’ll be adding more with the raspberries….put into a heavy based pan and bring to a simmer for a couple of minutes….once the fruit has softened, add to a jam pan before putting the raspberries and rest of the sugar and lemon juice……

That all  sounds a bit pfaffy but it’s actually very easy and it uses up fruit which otherwise isn’t quite so nice to eat.

Raspberry jam is such a taste of Summer jam and can’t be beat on scones mere seconds out of the oven, ones so warm they can just be pulled apart before being covered with jam and a smear or dollop of clotted cream, it’s also excellent for a Victoria sponge cake. But I’ve also used the raspberry jam before in making truffles, the sharp fruity taste mixes in perfectly with the chocolatey ganache.

 

 

 

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Broad beans, exotic blooms and the blackbird tapping……

white bottomed buzzy bee

For the past some years I’ve been an early riser, even on those dark cold mornings when it’s rainy and windy outside, I could happily snuggle back under the pile of quilts and blankets that we have on the bed, but once I’m awake, I’m awake….I need to be up, have the kettle on, make a pot of tea…  Even if it’s just nestling in my corner of the sofa with some knitting, my day has began and I want to start doing…..

Come Summer the early morning light creeps into our bedroom, I can hear the dawn chorus begin and feel Bernard shift around at the bottom of the bed, I make myself stay under the covers til five thirty so I don’t wake the whole house with my fidgetting but then I’m up and try to be mouse quiet as I dress and creep down the stairs…

The past week has seen the weather warm up, mornings have a soft cool breeze that tickles at the back of my neck and along my arms, but make being outside a pleasure in the early hours before it feels too hot and scorchy….

napping on the potting table

(the supervisor taking a little nap sometime last year……)

Our little back garden is quite open, it’s East facing so there’s plenty of sunlight for plants, without the full exposure of West facing, there’s shady spots and shadows shift across the vegetable beds….

The past couple of Summers gardening hasn’t been so easy, or so enjoyable, next doors cats seem to delight in playing amongst our raised beds and raspberries, last year we didn’t feel inclined to do anything after numerous plantings were squashed, dug up, and pooped on….but this year I can feel the pull of the soil in my heart, I need to get my hands in the compost and plant, smell green things growing…..

The last time I felt this deep longing was a year or so after my dad died, there were so many things I wanted to ask, some to do with how things were planted, what was the best time for beans to go in the ground, how much space should I give courgettes and squashes, how many tomatoes could I fit into a grow bag….but also other things too…conversations I didn’t know I wanted until it was too late…..being outside, potting things up, weeding and tickling with one of my dad’s hoes (there’s a spot his hands have worn right smooth and shiny) seeing what wanted to grow where and what liked the soil…..all the noise and jumble in my head seemed to soothe itself out while I dug, and planted, watched seeds I planted grow into sweet smelling blossoms, herbs and fruit I was able to make into pestos and jam…….

It’s not been all sunshine, we’re still getting quite heavy downpours so being out first thing in the morning, the soil feels damp and weeds are relatively easy to lift out before Summer makes everywhere rock hard….but it’s being outside while the morning wakes up alongside with me that is seeming to give me the most pleasure….

We’ve been buying live meals worms from Wiggly wigglers and the blackbirds and robin have been tucking in like you wouldn’t believe….the sound of the blackbird tap tap tapping as he fills up on worms accompanies me most mornings when I’m outside and if I’m weeding, the robin hops over and watches me, cocking his head from side to side then darting down if he thinks I’ve found something particularly interesting….

broad bean flowers

I’ve cheated a bit this year, rather than grow a lot of things from seed I’ve bought small plug plants from Thorns which is a local ironmongers, if you live in Norwich or Norfolk then you’ll be smiling when I say it’s a right old rabbit warren inside, and I’m sure people get lost in there all the time…..I’ve planted out two rows of peas and I’ve also got broad bean plants growing too….I love the stark contrast between the milk white and inky black blossoms, and look forward to seeing those tiny doll sized pods appear…we’re growing the broad beans a bit different this year, himself has read about growing them in a circle with a tripod support, the beans grow closer together and create a micro climate that retains the moisture in the soil…..I’m not sure what my dad would have thought, he grew his in rows but then he’d grow several hundred where as we have just 2 dozen.

newspaper pots

Apart from the plug plants, I’ve planted some french beans from bean rather than plantling, the first couple of weeks of May were really cold and damp so I don’t think it’s the end of the world planting these now, hopefully they’ll soon start to sprout and come on before I know it….

I’d wanted to try make these newspaper pots for ages and I found a couple of really nice little videos on youtube, (I think this chap in particular is really nice)….I actually got a bit carried away and made way more than I needed so I think I might plant up some of the wild/apline strawberries that have started to take over under our cherry tree and give those away to friends….

Other seeds I’ve planted included foxgloves and hollyhocks and some grannys bonnet that I found up in a seed box, I don’t know if the grannys bonnet seeds will grow as they are a few years old, they came from a plant that my dear friend Joyce gave me, she died last year so I must have had these for a good few years…oh well, we’ll see, if they grow they grow, if not…I’ll just have to buy one instead…the hollyhocks are from various neighbours gardens, I’m not sure if these are the deep purpley, as “black as Cromwells heart” (…thank you @paulbommer for that) ones or the apple blossom pink ones that are all faded brown around the edges…..for the most part we have lovely neighbours, and a compliment on gorgeous front garden blooms sees a handfull of seeds given away very generously……

courgette flower

One of the real delights in getting up nice and early is being greeted by a beauty like this when you step outside….it’s like a glorious exotic bloom in a glasshouse….seriously who needs Chelsea Flower show when this is in the back garden…The blossom is the most eggy colour yellow you could imagine, all sou’westery and brightness itself….

I love courgettes and I bought 3 plants from good old Thorns, Mister Green Fingers informed me last night that I’d planted them a bit too close together so first thing this morning I moved two of them, I’ve put them into large plastic pots and will try and remember to buy some plant food when I go into town on Friday (another visit to Thorns, I almost live there in the Summer….) I can happily eat courgettes til they come out of my ears, grilled, roast, lightly steamed and served on cauliflower rice or tossed into a salad…I used to use them in a poppy seed cake where they add lots of moisture, so the cake in theory would keep longer though it tasted so nice it wouldn’t ever last more than a couple of days.

wild strawberries

I mentioned the wild/alpine strawberries that have taken over the garden somewhat…..we’ve grown both wild and alpine varieties and over the years they’ve pollinated each other so the fruits that grow in the back garden are rather a jumble, they seem to do most well just growing where they will rather than in pots, often the sweetest fruit are the ones that appear in the middle of the patio or alongside our garden path…I guess it’s because their roots like to spread out, and for the most part we just let them do as they please….the little fruits are a mix of sweet and sharp, some taste like Opal fruits/starburst, others are tart and make you go “ooh!!”….I’ll often add them to jam (they are too tiny to pick enough to make a jam of them by themselves) or to breakfast yoghurt, we also like to mash them with water mint from over the marshes and make a Summery Orchard Mist cocktail….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fluffy plumes, other people’s cats and a fat velvety spider……

next doors cat

Don’t trust that cute little face….. as I mentioned the other day we’ve been getting a new little visitor in the garden of late…..this is Ivy and she lives next door.  She’s about 9 months or so I think and is one mischievious little minx.  We occasionally see her brother Neil but I don’t think him and Bernard get on so well however this young madam seems to becoming Bernards new partner in crime*.

Most mornings when I get breakfast things ready and pop toast under the grill I hear a high pitched mew and when I open the back door this is what I see sitting on the back door step….it’s like she’s asking “is Bernard coming out to play” …. inevitably he’ll appear, slowly stroll out into the garden and then there’ll be nose and face rubs, a bit of bottom sniffing and from time to time Bernard will give her a quick wash, the way she wriggles makes me think she feels it’s a bit like a mum licking a hanky and wiping it over a child’s face.  And then when Bernard is happy and thinks she’s all spick and span, they go running up the path together and then out into the playground that’s the other side of the fence (there’s actually a little hole in it which Bernard treats as his own personal door….)

not our cat but it's in our garden

Whereas Bob used to follow Bernard right through the house as they’d come bolting in from the garden, often all the way up the stairs and then back down again, Ivy tends to just come up to the kitchen door if she sees us about……however, if she thinks we’re not around it’s quite another matter and then she seems more than happy to come in and have a good explore and has made me jump as she suddenly appears from behind a chair or the side of the sofa…..when it’s been hot and we’ve had the door open she’s snuck in and pulled about in my work room (reels of sewing thread seems to delight every cat I’ve ever met) and I’m trying to forget what she did to my knitting…..

I quite like sitting out in the garden on the door step with a cup of tea or with my breakfast, enjoying the peace and tranquility while the day starts to wake or just to have a few minutes breather while waiting for the kettle to boil….however I’ve found that leaving things mid eat on the back step to answer the front door is fatal….I’ve come back to find her face in my yoghurt and have even caught her wolfing down carrot soup…..

And she’s so quite quiet…Bernard wears a collar which has a bell and a name tag and a magnet for the cat flap…he gets grumpy about a lot of things but is as good as gold with having the collar on and it doesn’t seem to bother him….we get lot of birds in the garden and I feel that a bell gives them at least a few seconds warning if he’s lurking around in the undergrowth…but Ivy doesn’t so will silently creep up and spring out, often grabbing poor old Bernard’s tail in the process.

in the nanny chair

I’m particularly fond of Bernard’s tail, it’s fat and fluffy and when he saunters off with it held up high it looks all the world like a peacock plume on a fancy hat and incredily stately and grand….(when I commissioned a picture by my friend Beth, she drew Bernard using it to do the housework with…) and it would appear to be an object of fascination with other cats….Bob and Izzy and the rest of the kittens who lived next door last year were all “worm tails” as are Ivy and Neil.  Bob used to spend ages staring at Bernard’s tail and feathery ruff, gently reaching out to pat them and gazing up with envy…Ivy is a bit more grabby grabby and a couple of times has almost fell off the potting table as she stretches out her paws to take a swipe at that enticing tail.

a monster amongst the raspberries

Otherwise in the garden it’s all been a bit quiet although the raspberries seem to now be coming into their stride….a handful of canes has slowly spread across the garden and we’ve now got quite a decent sized patch.  The variety we like is called Autumn Bliss and we’re often still picking them late October early November…in fact one year I was picking them after a snowfall.

They get really high and some of them out there are easily 7ft.  They first start to fruit around mid-Summer but this first crop is never much to write home about, a few scrabby berries to scatter on breakfast yoghurt or pop on top of an Eaton mess, however the second harvest begins around now and is worth the wait…fat, velvety, rich tasting and full of flavour, the berries also swell up and can become the size of small plums in the blink of an eye…..we generally get a good few kilos of fruit and have enough to make and put down several batches of a French style jam for the pantry and Christmas gifts, as well as stuffing ourselves silly on raspberries and cream for pudding.  Last year we made a raspberry liquor which was very nice and also a cognac jam inspired by Anna Karenina and Kitty’s jam.

If you’re a long time reader then you know there is one creature that can make me shoot across a room and up on to the sofa pretty damn quickly…spiders…. lifting up these berries to find this fat monster did give me a bit of a start, however maybe knitting with natural shades of yarn has rubbed off a bit as I found myself gazing at those soft nut browns and the patterns on it’s body and actually rather appreciating the beauty of this hairy beast.

* I used to think of Bernard and Bob as kitty versions of  Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid…..

Tangled and wild in the garden……

broccoli flowers and poppies

While I’ ve not really been spending as much time as I’d like out in the garden, in part due to the rubbishy weather, I did manage to take some pictures of little spots where it’s all gone a bit wild…..

In our far end bed we’ve had sudden burst of poppies all sprouting up amongst the gone over broccoli….delicate scarlet petals which in certain light become as translucent as tissue paper..

wildflower gardening

They always remind me of a great aunt (the one I inherited “Dorothy” from)…her surname was Poppy and a lot of her friends used to call her that……I love how they look growing amongst the Phacelia, orangey reds all side by side with tufts of lavendery fronds.

comfry

It’s not just the Phacelia which is a lovely lavender hue, the comfrey that is growing all around the edge of our compost bin is the same soft shade….while not as large as the bells on a fox-glove, somehow the bees still seem to half squeeze themselves in there to gather up pollen, emerging all powdery.

flowering rocket

Elsewhere some forgotten about rocket has shot up and revealed a small posy of butter yellow blossoms….there isn’t a lot of smell to them (so they aren’t as whiffy as the broccoli flowers) but they look so pretty, especially when a butterfly or damson fly lands on one for a rest.

I like the shape of the stem, those almost spikey angled seed pods reminding me of embroidery stitches…..

oranged bottomed bee

The garden has once again been host to a variety of bees, they love the Phacelia and spend ages at each flower, tumbling and rolling around each bent and curled frond of tufty blossom…..these orange and gold bottomed ones are a bit smaller, but are so pretty…..seeing the combination here of colours that if you tried to imagine them together they just wouldn’t work……lavender, mauve, orange, gold and that bright salad leaf green, takes my breath away and has me itching to learn stranded knitting……

white bottomed buzzy bee

The white bottomed bees are the big boys, though unlike a lot of the birds, there’s no argy bargy shoving or squabbling…….sometimes there are two or three bees all on the same head….they’re so busy, non stop with their pollen gathering….yet the sound of their buzzing never fails to make me feel all drowsy and is the perfect backdrop to any lazy sit down or half nap out in the garden.

poppies

Those beautiful scarlet petals don’t last long, especially when it’s raining, the stems seem to curl and twist, forming wild patterns for knitting cables before coming to a fat full stop with those swollen seed heads.  I’m hoing to gather some this year to dry out to sprinkle on top of beetcake cake or a sharp and sticky lemon cake…..I love seeing those tiny black seeds scattered over white icing, and even though I don’t get to taste the finished results, I can still take pleasure in the baking.

purple and red in the garden

Every so often I find a poppy bud that’s just about to open…a bright red slit like a paper cut across that hairy green.

I love it when we leave wild patches in the garden, we’ve both felt rather under the weather this year and the weather itself  has been a bit hit and miss at weekends when we would normally be out there pottering……but the bees are benefitting, and every so often I see one of the robins or a blackbird poking about under the plants, looking for insects or grubbing about for worms……..

It’s not the fanciest garden and taken as a whole it probably does appear a bit of a muddle but it’s a space that never fails to soothe my spirits or inspire me with colour combnations or embroidery ideas…….

what time o'clock

I’ve been trying to keep the dandelions in the garden down a bit this Summer, last year we had a few too many, however this one got missed……those globes of white and thistledown are my favourites, downy soft and fluffy…..some years ago I was in a chant group and we headed out one late July/August evening to a Norfolk meadow…it was full of dandelion clocks, under the twilight moon they looked like a mass of stars, all fallen down from the heavens and illuminating the grass underfoot.

tarting in the garden

And here’s himself……generally I’m not in the garden long before my time out there is supervised….he’s got a few places dotted around the garden where he’ll happily snooze, even when it’s raining cats and dogs he’s more often to be found out there rather than on a comfy chair ….one favourite spot is under some clear plastic where we were trying to grow salad leaves but which he’s taken over as his space……he’s able to keep quite dry and even if I go out and get half soaked bringing him in, as soon as we’re indoors he’ll wriggle out of my arms and dart back out again………at the moment he’s coming in with a tummy covered in tiny green burrs from the cleevers, we used to call this goose grass but a Scottish friend calls it sticky willies…….he also brings in tiny slugs which stick to his fur and are the devil to remove…. one evening last week I found a teeny tiny snail stuck to his pantaloons, poor little thing was trying to wriggle free of the cat fluff, and I’m sure if it could have talked would have been ptutting and tutting, cough cough cough…..

He’s looking a bit rumpled in this picture, he’s just woken up from one of his many naps so wants some fussing…some under chin tickling and behind his ear scritching is called for before he saunteres off with that fat plume of a tail held up high.

blossoms, bees, butterflies and bernard……

apple blossom

We’ve three small apple trees in our garden and this year we (well I say we but it was the boyfriend as he’s the one with the green fingers and thumbs,) decided to move two of them so they’d get a bit more sunshine and light…two are in huge pots, and I’m not wholly sure what the plans are for tree three…one of the trees is still to blossom but it’s a later variety however the other two have been a real treat to see….delicate rose tipped petals…with glorious buttercup coloured centers…..

the palest pink blossoms

The fragrance surrounding the trees has been so wonderful, the scent is quite reminiscent of gardenia or tuberose…especially one of the trees we’ve moved, it’s really basked in the sunshine and it’s blossoms are incredibly heady.

The powdery apple pollen has been somewhat of a feast for the bees, most mornings when I’m either taking out vegetable peelings for the compost or filling up the bird feeders I spot fat bottomed bees tumbling around in those silky scented petals…and it’s not just bees that have been enjoying the apple blossom, the garden is already full of tiny blue butterflies and pretty orange tipped ones.  As we live pretty close to a river and some of our neighbours have ponds, we often see damson flies and spectacular jewel bright dragonflies darting about the garden, sometimes they rest near the blossoms before flying off in the air above.

blue and yellow forget me nots

The forget-me-nots have begun to take over the garden and while I know some gardeners see them as weeds, we’re happy to let them grow, enjoying the soft smudges of colour as they spread out along path edges and down the sides of steps…the petals are a much darker bue this year, I suppose as it’s been a combination of mild weather which has meant they’ve grown, but without the full Summer sun to then fade them….they’re almost as dark as a bluebell.

delicate blue forget me nots

I love watching the colours of the flowers change, they start off as the tiniest buds of lilac and lavender, mauve and pinky…..slowly opening up to reveal those blue petals.  Last year we also had lots of catseye/birdseye speedwell but that’s been a bit slow making an appearance.

tiny blue sprigs

Tiny clusters of petals seem to form the smallest little posies….along with the forget-me-nots we’ve also let our wild strawberries spread out, everywhere we look there are tiny strawberry blossoms.  We’ve grown both the alpine (long pointy fruit and very hardy…I’ve eaten freshly picked Strawberries in November) and wild (rounder in shape and as sweet as a kiss) strawberries and over the years they’ve cross pollinated so the fruits now are seem to be a bit of a mix, some can be a bit tart but others taste like an opal fruit sweetie.  I like adding a few of them to the bigger berries when I make ice-cream and we’ve also used them before with some water mint or apple mint I’ve picked from a walk over the marshes to make a Summer cocktail with very happy results.

under the chery tree

And it’s not just blossoms, bees and butterlies in the garden…if there’s sunshine then Bernard soon heads out and takes up residence under the cherry tree….the shade there is all dappled and when he sprawls out he almost disappears….for the most part he ignores the birds, there’s been a few disagreements in past years wiht the blackbirds and he’s now a bit frightened of them, many the times he’s been chased indoors only to sit up and glare out the window at them.

Equally the birds don’t seem too bothered by Bernard, he’s not really agile enough to climb the cherry tree so they seem quite content to use the feeders above him (dropping bits of seed shell down on him as if to tease)….they’re also still pulling off wisps of fleece for nesting…mostly its the tiny tits that seem to love the fleece though I’ve also seem the goldfinches inspect it…but generall it’s the tits, they pull out the finest strands of fleecy fluff, and keep pulling and pulling, until they seem almost covered with sheepy candy floss fronts before flying off.

grey skies and frothy blossoms

cherry blossom and grey skies

There’s been a such a change in the weather here, finally the cherry trees around here are in full blossom and looking so beautiful……most are in people’s gardens but there’s a handful that are growing in the green spaces that the village where I live is full of…tucked away from cars and traffic so it’s always nice to pick headgerow fruit and forage here without worrying about stepping off any sloping verge into the road.

Last week when I was walking back from the shops I kept wanting to look up, it was hard not to notice the huge grey clouds up in the sky, such a contrast to the soft white petals of the cherry blossom…..I wasn’t home long before the heaven’s opened and the rain/hail started……

a sky of blossom

I love seeing the glimpses of blue sky and billowy clouds up through the cherry branches and the froth of white petals.  I always think there’s something quite cheerleader like when the cherry trees are in full blossom, all pompoms and “Spring is here, Rah Rah Rah”…..

milky white blossoms

Up close the blossoms are so pretty, delicate milk white petals with golden yellow stamens and apple green centres….they must be full of pollen as the trees almost vibrate with the sound of bees gently buzzing from branch tip to branch tip.

And while I love each of the seasons in their own way, the cherry trees seem to be celebrating spring with an abundance of blossoms which fill the air with a sweet scent making a trip outside a treat for eyes and nose alike that…..

forget-me-nots

In our garden everything is waking up, our raised beds and path edges need some serious weeding but for now we’re happy to give over some garden to these pretty forget-me-nots…as the sunshine has been a bit slow arriving the tiny flowers are a much more intense blue than is usual.

The forget-me-nots were one of the first wild flowers I think I knew the name of, they’re very distinct looking and I think the name makes them easy to remember……because other insects like to visit them, along with the bees, then we often notice the birds having a poke about, investigating around the plants, finding food and tiny six legged snacks.

cowslip

Earlier in the year we moved a couple of our apple trees, they weren’t getting enough sun where they were and both now seem to be responding to the move very well….sprouting soft pink buds and blossoms, and giving something for the blue tits to sit on while they queue to use the feeders (they seem to wait for the great tits but anything else that is at the feederes they just fly down and shove out of the way…even the robin which is normally a feisty little chap gets chirped at nd told to move on)…during the apple tree move the cowslips must have been disturbed as there’s been no sign of them this year, but then when I began lifting the leaves of the wild strawberries I found these ones…..and since I took this photo I’ve found another one so fingers crossed next year we’ll have our yellow carpet again……

The yellow is such a soft shade, brighter than a primrose and nowhere near as intense as gorse or broom…the yellow is quite similar in hue to powdery catkins….I’ve always liked the name of them.

jack in the hedge

Something that does grow most unwanted in the garden is this jack in the hedge…it’s super stinky like wild garlic, and you can eat the young leaves…but I don’t like garlic to eat or to smell so it’s not coming into our kitchen…..it’s quite an invasive plant and you need to pull it up as soon as you see it as if not it’ll take over the garden in no time at all…because it’s been so wet some of the garden has been a bit forgotten about so I’ve spent a couple of days going round whipping these out…they do lift out quite easily, but the air around where they’ve been growing is still pungent with garlic aromas for some time afterwards…..And while I’ll happily admit they do look pretty, and have inspired me with numerous little florl embroideries, those tiny white petals combined with the yellowish green un-opened buds are so dainty, they’re not something I let grow in the garden for long.

Being outside when it’s Spring time and sunny feels such a treat after too many wet and windy afternoons cooped up indoors, when front gardens and hedgerows both are bursting with daubs of colour, sitting on the back door step keeping quiet with a lap full of  knitting and a cup of tea, Bernard sprawled out alongside my feet, birds are busy everywhere, scurrying and skittering around under the shrubs, feeding youngesters or still nest building and pulling at the fleece I’ve put out for them….the sound of them all singing lifts my heart as well as any piece of music by Bach, even the magpies raspily squawking at each other in the huge Sycamore tree that overlooks part of our garden…it’s hard not to be out of doors for 5 minutes this time of year without wanting to smile.

A wee sprig of blue, baking bread, ladybirds and the shawl thief strikes again…..

this weeks sourdough loaf

It’s been lovely and Spring sun-shiny here today,  at times there was a little bit of overcast and cloud but for the most part it’s been just glorious….I’m still feeling an hour behind myself with the clock change last weekend but hopefully this next week will see me perk up a bit more….this morning though I felt too tired to get up and so lolled in bed with Bernard using my hand as a public resting post…he likes it if I wrap my fingers behind his ears and scritch, as I get a bit drowsy my fingers slowly stop and then he soon perks up and pokes me in the nose with a fat paw to make me wake up and continue my scritchy scritchy.

I made sourdough bread on Thursday and it’s come out a fair bit smaller than normal, the beloved said it tastes fine and not to stress.  One of the things I like about baking bread at home is how no two loaves ever seem to come out quite the same but when a loaf comes out not up to scratch (in my opinion) I get a bit sulky. Not sure why this one didn’t bloom as well as the ones I’ve been making, I forgot to let the sponge bubble away over night like I’ve been doing so suspect this may be the reason.

first of the forget me nots

Earlier I had a bit of a nose around the garden as it was so smashing outside today and was so happy to find the first of  this year’s forget-me-nots…. and once I spotted this wee sprig I became aware of other tiny smudges of blue dotted around in sunny spots.

ladybird ladybird

And it wasn’t just forget-me-nots I started noticing, there were also a fair few ladybirds scurrying around or basking in the sunshine like this one….I love ladybirds, they always make me think of Summer, and on a day that’s warm and really rather splendid, then thinking of Summer doesn’t feel too daft….and hearing an ice-cream van just down the road really created the right mood (though we didn’t pop out for a Choc Ice …..I always used to like the slice of ice-cream wedged in between two wafers).

hiding amongst the strawberries

I also spotted this one hiding up in one of the wild strawberry plants , scuttling about under dry leaves it seemed very busy though I’m not too sure what it was up to.

wild strawberries

Some of the wild strawberries are already i blossom, dainty milky white blossoms with such a bright yellow centre…these ones were being visited most of the morning by some really fat bees….we’ve noticed a lot of bees around here this year, proper fat bumbles that are nearly as large as my thumb……just up the road there’s a house with a little tree in the garden that’s had the sweetest grey catkins, so soft and downy just like kitten paws…they’ve become so powdery and fuzzy the last week or so, and yesterday I stood and watched at least a dozen bees rolling around and tumbling over the the blossoming catkins…covered in the prettiest powdery yellow pollen.

The other leaves along the bottom edge are cowslips, I first grew these some years ago and bought the seeds from some old plants with me when I moved…we’ve (well he’s) dug up and moved two of the apple trees so theses should get a bit more light this year…the apple trees weren’t doing so well where they were so we’re (he’s) just deciding where is the best spot to position them)…..I like pottering and doing as I’m told in the garden but he’s the ones with the green fingers.

Bernard and his new shawl

I’ve finally finished my Nature’s Shades Moonraker shawl, I’m so pleased with it, it’s incredibly soft and drapey, and much warmer than I thought it was going to be.  I’ve washed it in some Eucalan and have blocked it pretty hard to get it to form a nice triangle. I ended up using a couple of hefty old metal yard sticks to make a solid long straight line between the shawl tips so I could pull the knitting out accurately, and 3 boxes of knit pro blocking pins.

It’s now dry and I was hoping so much to get out and persuade the boyfriend to take some snaps of me in it while the weather was so good however “someone” has been sprawling out on it for most of the day (there’s been more than a little bit of paddy paws plucky plucky going on so I’m going to have to wriggle and pull in a couple of the stitches to bring them back into shape.   He got really grouchy with me when I tried to move him off and that tail was flicking like nobody’s business so I felt it safer to just let him be rather than risk anymore damage by him holding on tightly as I lifted him up.

The mid-brown Blue Faced Leicester that I’ve used for the main body of the shawl is so similar in colour to how Bernard looks…it’s much more of a grey than brown but when it’s sunny those brown hues really do shine.  I’ve loved doing this kal, and the other finished knits over on Brit Yarns Ravelry page are just stunning.  I’m not normally one for naturals, greys and browns but I really like the different shades of cream and milk combined with the darker shades of charcoal and smokey grey.  I’d certainly consider using these beautiful un-dyed shades again, maybe in a cardigan or a tank top to wear with something really bright.

Kettle caterwauling and frosty sweetpeas……

frosty patches in the garden

Last week when I woke up early Monday morning there was that odd eerie light when you know there’s fog or snow outside…I opened the curtains so slowly with my eyes squeezed shut and hoped…please please please….and all my wishes were granted.  During the night we’d had a soft fall of snow, nothing crazy that would upset the traffic or be a hazard, just enough to made my heart skip and paint the garden and neighbours rooftops white…..

I quickly bundled myself up in fat cardigans and my yellow shawl (it’s never very far away, being worn in bed as I read before lights out, and wrapped round me while I wait for the heating to come on in the morning) and stepped out into the garden….snow light is the weirdest, early monings look more like twilight, it’s very jarring to the senses and I feel like I’m the only one in the world awake….I made sure the feeders were all topped up with food, brushed snow off the bird bath and broke the ice that was underneath before quickly hurrying back indoors as I heard the kettle start to whistle (it’s getting on a bit now so it’s once tuneful song has now become a right old caterwaul.)

frosty sweet peas

Once I’ve had a hot drink and feel a bit more wakey, and have put a decent amount of clothes on I venture out again, I love poking about in the garden, seeing what the frost has done to any plants that are still lingering on from before Christmas such as the little pots of sweet peas on the potting up table……an old champagne box which we use to grow salads has become home to a whole load of weeds which look beautiful, gorgeous greens and a burgundy claret…not a combination I’d think to put together but which looks stunning this snowy morning.

frosty greens

Most of our Winter greens didn’t do so well, you may recall me saying in the Autumn how the kittens next door had played havoc with a lot of the vegetables, even though we staked out plants and put up lots of little fences so it was like Fort Knox or Colditz in the raised beds, they still wriggled under, tearing the fleece which was protecting the greens…..and then the pigeons swooped in…so we’ve had some cavalo nero but the broccoli has all been eaten.  The best broccoli we’ve grown was some I’d bought as seedlings from an old boy at a car boot, the plants were pence each and grew huge, the broccoli kept us going for 3 or 4 months and was so abundant, finally they flowered and became a tad stinky but the butterlies and bees really flocked around their tiny yellow blossoms.

a snowy house for birds

Just round the corner from where we live is a patch of green which is home to some pretty little crab apple trees which I’ve shared pictures of before.  I’m not sure when this bird house went up but I’ve really only now noticed it being here…it looked so pretty amongst the snow and I thought it was like a wee house you read about in a fairy tale…..I half expected someone tiny to peep their head out with arms crossed or wings all a flutter and ask me what I was about….

lichen roves and mossy green

Up close the apple trees are all lichen covered, roves and scabbiness….which feel wonderful to touch though my mittens were off for only the briefest of moments…too cold today for bare hands.

snow is melting before the morning is over

I love the mix of textures and colours, sage and silvers, deep mistletoe and bright green with all the sparling white of the snow….melting almost in front of my eyes….it felt so bitter cold but it was still too mild for the snow to stay around.

Today though the weather couldn’t be more different, we’ve walked down to the shop and I didn’t even need to wear a coat (though I had my shawl cuddled around my shoulders…it felt lovely not being all bundled up in big mittens and Winter coats, patches of green all blooming with smudges of primrse pastels, crocus, snowdrop speckles all snow white fresh, the brightest yellow and egg yolk orange daffodills…the air smelling so fresh and clean and the sunshine so full of Springtime promises.

 

 

Rose tinted smudges and chalky faced clowns in the garden…..

cheeky faced

Readers of my blog know I’m the first to admit I’m no David Bailey with my camera, and with that in mind…please excuse the slightly wonky pictures but I wanted to share so much Sunday’s visit to the garden by these little poppets….look at that face…it’s adorable, he looks so cheeky…I’m always reading how tits are the acrobats of the bird world, and as I watch them happily feeding upside down or at a most peculiar angle I’m not going to disagree…however when the long tailed tits arrive, it’s more a case of here come the clowns…with their rose tints and face powder they look like they’ve raided the make up box, and their funny hands under the arm farty squeeks always make me laugh.

I’ve always known them as a banditry of titmice…my first school was a lovely country Primary school and an old chap from the village would come to the school once a week and with a teacher would take a group of us out for walks over the footpaths and common-land that surrounded the village…not just in Summer mind, all weathers…a light shower or a good old blow outside didn’t stop the teacher getting us all ready, coats were all buttoned, (think we all wore duffles in those days) and scarves tucked in …out we’d head, and Mr Ellis would always describe birds and animals to us with proper old country names*…..

chirping and singing

We’ve got a small ornamental cherry tree in the middle of our back garden which is all bare and rather forlorn at the moment and it’s where we hang a lot of our bird feeders…the bird cage effect of the bowed branches seems to offer a bit of protection against the weather (it always seems full of birds even when it’s raining) but also it means larger birds such as the fat old wood pigeons can sit comfortably while they reach across to have their breakfast (they’re far too fat to sit on a feeder with any comfort)…..it’s obviously been a really good year for the long tailed tits as there are quite a few big colonies of them living very near by, they’re in the garden a lot right now and at times I’ve seen over a dozen at once on the cherry tree, though mostly it’s about half a dozen.  It’s quite odd to see just one and I suppose there is safety in numbers.

 

long tailed tits

They particularly like these fat feeders we bought just before Christmas from Wiggly wigglers….I’ve seen 5 of them all on one feeder with no squabbling that I could see…..un-like when the blue tit or great tit shows up, then it’s every bird for himself before they get shooed off by the cross yellow tummied bossy boots..the long tailed tits seem very good natured and will happily feed alongside other birds, chaffinches and blackbirds, robins, gold finches….they naturally live in big colonies during the winter months and if a brood fails then the pair will often help feed a neighbouring pairs young rather than lay more eggs of their own.

pink smudges amongst the cream and charcoal

I love seeing them dance and whirl about in flight above my head…they aren’t in the least bit timid and while they flew off when I first stepped up near to where they were feeding, they soon came back and weren’t very bothered by me at all…..the only other bird that doesn’t mind me being outside is the robin, he’ll hop up very close, but for the most part I tend to watch what is in the garden from indoors or just sit quietly on the back door step….not such a close up view but I don’t like to disturb them too much.

pink tints

Their colouring is really beautiful, it’s quite hard to see at first exactly what is going on with their plumage or “wardrobe” ….they’ve got very chalky white faces and tummies, and they’ve got rose tints underneath so it’s like they’re wearing a pair of wispy pink drawers…..their wings for the most part are black and so are their tail feathers, imagine a frock coat with tails at the back….there’s smudges of grey and black around their eyes and delicate rose tinged feathers around their shoulders…this site has some really gorgeous pictures and describes their colouring perfectly.

And if you’d like to hear them…just listen in here….

rose tints all a flutter

As I said it’s obviously been good weather wise for them, a few winters ago we had two weeks of pretty heavy snow which was just magickal to watch…I sat on the doorstep with Bernard on my lap and it was like being in a fairy tale watching heavy flakes of snow slowly fall down while these tiny tits seemed to dance among the falling snowflakes….. we put food out twice a day and made sure the water was kept ice free but sadly a lot of tiny birds such as these and the wrens didn’t cope too well and I noticed the last two summers their numbers here went right down…..but I’ve seen a pair of wrens in the garden everyday this year and as for these fluffy pompoms …..every time I step out I can hear them before I see them.

soft and fluffy

They’ve got very small beaks and they remind me so much of the fabric birds that Ann Wood makes….it’s in part due to their cheeky expression…..they also remind me of flying pompoms or ping pong balls covered in fluff……

a blurr of feathers

And eventually they all fly off, a tiny fluffy flurry of feathers and wing beats and they’re all gone…the chirping lingers though as they fly up into the branches of the big sycamore tree in the play area behind our garden, or in the hedge that lines one side of it…wherever they’ve gone to it’s not out of ears reach…..

My knitting skills aren’t there yet but once I’ve got my head around stranded knitting then I’m planning to knit something with these tiny birds in mind, their soft shades and smudges of rose, grey and charcoal inspire me and quicken my heart every time I see them.

 

if you’re interested Country Life had a nice article about some of the bird names last year…