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.

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.

 

 

Kittens, cavalo nero, the calmness of bread making and needing something “purely medicinal” at 10.30 in the morning…..

planting winter greens

Is it wrong to confess to wanting something of a “purely medicinal” nature at 10.30 on a Sunday morning….Pretty Izzy from next door had kittens in the Summer and they’ve just discovered (while watching their Uncle Bob) how to climb up over our fence and creep into our garden.

What’s black, cute and has twelve legs?

The three extremely adorably fluffy kittens I found playing in my kitchen on Wednesday morning.

Up until then they’d just been eyeing the fence but hadn’t worked out how to get over it…ohh, but once they had learnt……

The carefully planted beds of kale and cavalo nero must smell intoxicating, like catnip or something as they won’t leave the beds alone…even putting in lots of pea sticks to stop them from digging hasn’t really deterred them…so next stage is fleece or netting.

I’d like to take credit for the neat planting but it’s all my boyfriends work, including placing pieces of card around each plant to help keep down the slug damage and also it offers a little protection with the digging by kittens.

protecting winter greens from the cats next door

We’ve got a bit of a tangley garden, a little overgrown in parts which the kittens are finding to be the greatest lark to play in…yesterday I spent most of the morning chasing them round pots (which got overturned), retrieving them from my blueberry bushes (which they were trying to nibble) and down from from the big tree in the corner…at one point my boyfriend had to climb up it to rescue a mewling kitty (which 5 minutes later climbed back up and then showed us it didn’t need any help thank you as it jumped on a neighbour’s fence and daintily walked across it.

The high jinks this morning started quite early, this involved getting into what I call our “poly-tunnel” while another jumped on top and was causing the roof to sink down….the best fun ever if you’re a cute, big eyed kitten….and a bit annoying if you’ve spent the previous afternoon planting and building it.

One even half wiggled into the big Mister McGregor watering can, his little bottom peeking out.  Nothing is safe…even the raspberry plants are getting a chew (here they take after their Uncle Bob as he liked to do that do when he he first discovered our garden in the Spring).

And if you’re wondering about Bernard, why isn’t he out there keeping an eye on things, well he’s all fluff and whiskers, a big girl’s blouse and he quickly runs indoors when all 4 kittens are in full force.  (the kittens were a bit hissy when they encountered him, but a clout round their from their mom and Uncle Bob has stopped that…afterwards both mom and Bob nose kissed noses and sniffed bottoms with Bernard, and purred to high heaven as they rubbed themselves around him….poor old boy, I think he seemed rather bewildered by the kitten invasion)

last of the red tomatoes

Luckily the tomatoes seem to have survived the kitten capers….the lovely sunshiny weather of the last week has seen lots of what I thought were destined for chutney, green tomatoes, instead ripen up and were eaten yesterday in a big salad (they were nice and sharp, intensely tomatoey and very good with a little goat’s cheese)…..there’s still quite a lot of tomatoes so any that don’t redden in the last of the Autumn sunshine will no doubt be thrown into a pot of slowly cooking chutney in a couple of weeks time.

autumn bliss raspberries

We’re still picking the Autumn Bliss raspberries (a fruit that more than lives up to it’s name)….I just made a couple of batches of raspberry  jam this year including this lovely recipe… I tinkered a little with the recipe and think if you’re going to make it then you’re better off using raspberries that have only just turned red…the heat breaks them down so quickly that unless they’re still quite firm they won’t stay whole…..a nice jam to make if you grow your own…and obviously perfect for eating while reading Russian novels.

You could of course just add a splash of cognac to this recipe as it’s very similar.

Along with the jam we’ve also made this raspberry liqueur but substituted Marsala for the red wine…the recipe says that afterwards the raspberries can be used for something else, however we found really all you’re left with is a pink seedy pulp so added it to some cream and sugar which I’d bought to a boil (for 3 minutes) and then left it to infuse…strained and poured into little ramekins and made fruity possets. I think lemon and orange ones are the best but these were still nice to have with fresh berries on top.

nasturtiums

This pot of nasturtiums has been wonderful to look at, especially in the mornings before the day has brightened itself up.  The flowers are nearly always full of bees and I have to tap them gently before picking them for salads (I love the velvety feel of the petal combined with that peppery taste).

Thankfully the pot has survived the kittens running around (though there’s been a couple of close wobbles as they clamber up it only to jump down on top of one another) and earlier this morning I saw a little black face peeping out from all the greenery before darting off to join it’s brothers in adventures and mischief.

After what feels like the umpteenth kitten removal (they’ve been all over the garage roof which is on a slope so they climb up and peek over the top), shooing them out of the kitchen (my fault for having the door open but it’s so warm today it’s nice to let in the fresh air and sunshine while the weather is good) and “hey you-ing” as they run out of the house with one of Bernard’s pompom toys in their mouths, I’m starting to eye the bottle of Pomona and I’m wondering if just a small glass, for “purely medicinal reasons of course”, might be just what I need to stop feeling quite so frazzled.

still warm from the oven and smelling nutty and sweet

And in the midst of the chaos that only comes from four little kittens causing havoc and mayhem, there’s the quiet and calm that is bread……allowing the sponge to slowly bubble away, the slightly sharp scent of the natural leaven mixed in with a grated apple and a dollop of honey, a handful of oats and bread flour.

I though to make a loaf this week with cobnuts and apple (they work so well in a crumble how could they not work in a bread loaf) however I’ve now missed the fresh cob season…one of the lovely guys (always smiling whatever the weather, even when they have chilblains and wind chapped fingers) on Mike’s vegetable stall on Norwich Market (stalls 46 and 47, they’re right on the front) said the cobs they’d been offered now were all brown rather than green and you’d be better off buying hazelnuts so it’s a recipe I’ll put to one side for next year.  But if you’re lucky enough to have green cobs where you live then I’d thought to make a paste like this walnut one (though with cobnuts) and adding that to my regular sourdough recipe with apples.

This one is a simple apple and oat loaf but I’m thinking to make a hazelnut bread with brandy soaked raisins…a bit like cinnamon rolls, not so sweet and a little more robust and rural, for next weeks breakfast.  The cinnamon rolls always keep well and I think will raise a smile when one is found wrapped up in a lunch tin as the something sweet for elevenses.

Apple sourdough, a day out at Thornage Hall and terrible tomato envy……

weekend sourdough

There’s no sign here yet of an Indian Summer although the weather at the weekend was a whole lot nicer than it had been all week.

Adding grated apple to the sourdough mix now comes as second nature, just a small size bramley seems to do the trick and helps keep the bread from drying out too much.  I weigh the bread and oats and starter to make the sponge but then once that’s risen for a couple of hours I just add the other ingredients by feel…..when it’s wet outside I always end up needing to add more flour so don’t stress myself out by worrying too much about weights and measures.

We had my boyfriend’s family up from Bristol for a few days and so went out for a short afternoon amble over the marshes on Saturday although it was quite wet underfoot, the colourful pastures of Spring and Summer are now a hazy memory as only small  patches of red clover, purple loosestrife and the ever present rosebay willow herb remain.

The hedgerows were heaving with sloes though so I don’t think it will be long before I’m out with my basket and gathering those, we had a couple of blackberries “au natural” and straight off the bush which were a lot tarter than the ones we ate the other weekend.  The elderberries on the other hand were dark and sweet and so intensely fruity, if it keeps nice today I’ll head out later and gather some to immerse in a leisurely bath of vodka and sugar.

ready for sandwiches and cheese on toast

The apple and spelt sourdough seemed to disappear very quickly, we used it in sandwiches and also toasted it up with some of last years homemade chutney (pumpkin* and ginger) with some sharp goats cheese and rocket from the garden.

*I always find those huge Halloween pumpkins brilliant for chutney, it cooks down and goes all sludgy which I really like, it also makes nice soup along with other orange/yellow vegetables such as sweet potatoes, peppers and carrots with freshly ground coriander………although I love Summer salads and could happily live on them, I really do like Autumn soups made with roast vegetables and now the weather is definitely turning I’m starting to wistfully dream of huge bowls of soup for supper.

tomatoes

We cheated a bit this year and bought some tomato plants from a local garden centre, they’re a cherry plum variety and have been doing okay, a couple are semi under cover and one is rather more exposed to the elements but isn’t coming to any harm.  I’m just hoping for a bit more sunshine so they ripen up a bit more.

I was feeling all happy with the tomatoes progress but then on Sunday afternoon we went out to Thornage Hall which had their annual Open Day fete and now I’m suffering from tomato envy.

We’re lucky enough to have a wonderful organic fruit and vegetable stall on Norwich Market owned by Rob Folland, (there’s a great interview with him just here) what ever the weather, he’s always nice and happy.  He spoils us terribly and will deliver us sacks of potatoes and huge winter squashes both of which are too heavy to lug home on the bus.  As well as being organic he also has locally grown bio-dynamic vegetables which are grown at Thornage Hall farm.  I’d always thought the Hall was just the farm, so was surprised to find out on Sunday that it is also a community set up to help adults with learning disabilities.

It’s quite a big place, some 70 acres and they grow a whole range of vegetables (including the best tasting carrots I’ve ever had though I wouldn’t recommend using the blue ones in a soup as it will turn brown though there are wonderful steamed and drizzled with butter or used in a carrot cake)…everywhere there are fruit trees (and I even spotted some walnut trees which were fair covered in green shelled nuts).

They have some huge greenhouses, inside one we saw the biggest and most intense smelling lemon verbena bush which I couldn’t stop touching as the scent was glorious, along with sweet peppers and an array of herbs and French marigolds planted between to deter pests and in another greenhouse was the cause of my tomato envy.  Strings were hung from the supports at the top of the greenhouse and up these were growing a selection of different tomato plants…I’d never seen anything like it, the wealth of tomatoes was just amazing, all around the plants were planted fat basil bushes, and the air smelt wonderful (Lucy, who was giving us the tour, said if you put the side leaves of tomato plants around your brassicas it helps keep down the cabbage white butterflies as they don’t like the smell so that’s something to remember for next year.)

Lucy was helped in her tour by a young chap called Matthew who was one of the adults there they help, his confidence with talking to a whole load of strangers and obvious enthusiasm for being out of doors was really infectious and it was very apparent that at Thornage it’s not just the plants that thrive in such a peaceful and wonderful environment but also the people.

At Thornage they also keep some cows so they can be self sufficient for meat and they also keep some laying hens and some alpaca as they use their wool for weaving.

Stupidly I completely forgot to take my camera so I don’t have photos to share but if you live in Norfolk then there are a couple of places where you can buy their fruit and vegetables from (which are well worth it as they taste amazing.)

It was a smashing day, along with a tour of the farm there were also craft stalls, food stalls, a Bar B Que, music (including a great band of proper sounding old Norfolk boys with lovely accents and not a one of them a day under 65). We had such a totally brilliant time there, sadly they only do the one Open Day a year but if you’re in Norfolk next year then see if you can go as it’s a wonderful experience (and we came home with a bag full of fantastic vegetables).

And mentioning craft stalls I’ve forgot to mention this Saturday (September 12th) it’s the Autumn Clutter City at Norwich Art Centre.  There’s always a good array of different stalls at Clutter City, along with good food and music in the bar.

I don’t know for sure which vendors are going to be there but I know my friend Sasha who makes gorgeously forlorn looking rabbits and cats dressed in vintage frocks, tapestry cushions, hanging clouds, and cat and cloud bunting will be there.  All of Sasha’s makes are so unique and she doesn’t sell on-line so it’s only ever really at Clutter City or the occasional fair elsewhere that you get the chance to buy her makes. (Though you can sometimes buy her things from Glory Days at Holt)

there’s something lurking under the apple trees…..

rosy and red

It barely seems 5 minutes ago I was sharing pictures of the apple blossom in the garden, soft and billowy white blooms….now, as if by magic, they’ve been transformed in to proper fairy tale apples, all red and rosy.  We’ve only got small trees and they never have the biggest harvests but the fruit they produce is lavished with love, often cooked in paper thin tarts or a tarte tatin if we have company when the apples are ready.

apples in the garden

We’ve got three trees in total and each one is a different variety.  Only two seem to have any apples (we’re thinking of moving the last tree as I suspect it’s not getting enough light and apple trees do like sunshine) ….we’ve got a big laurel tree in the corner and it casts that whole section of the garden in shadow, so if we move one of the apple trees it will be to plant it up in a big pot for the patio……I’m not sure what varieties they are but they’re ones that double up, being good for both eating and cooking.

This year we seem to have a nice little harvest out there, so I’m thinking to bake a Sunday apple cake as I thought it would be nice to make one using apples from the garden.  Even though my boyfriend is somewhat of a chocolate fiend, Sunday apple cake is still his first choice when I ask what cake shall I make.

If we had more space I’d be tempted to get a peach tree…..one of our neighbours has one growing up the front of his house, it’s south facing so gets lots of light and as it’s against the wall it’s also benefiting from the warmth given off by the brickwork.  In the Spring when the peach tree is covered in huge blossoms we always stop and admire it, it’s really breathtaking, and then in the summer when the branches are covered with fat fuzzy peaches it’s just wonderful to see….one of the sights when I’m walking to the shops that never fails to left my spirits and make me smile.

Bernard amongst the strawberries

For some time now we’ve suspected Bernard had a new hideout in the garden, we knew about under the hydrangea bush, under the rosemary bush, behind the water butt, under the ornamental cherry (it’s branches hang right low down and touch the gravel so he has a shady arbour to relax in)…but there are times when he’s called in the evening to come on indoors and although we can hear him we just can’t see him……When I was photographing the apple trees I heard a tinkle and looked round, no cat….then another tinkle and so I looked down, parted the raspberries that have now grown up around the apple trees and which are fast taking over….and saw a tuft of grey.

The best view came from stepping back and squatting down a bit…there peering over the last of the wild strawberries were two pale green eyes blinking back at me.

bob being shy

Well I thought he was staring at me but when I turned round I saw Bob from next door wriggling around under the bird bath looking totally adorable even though he’s in our bad books after he was caught using the fleece that is covering our lettuces as a hammock….everything underneath is somewhat flattened and when asked what he thought he was doing, he just looked up and slowly blinked, mewed then stretched out, squashing even more little lettuces in the process.

Most days Bernard and Bob are to be found cuddling together on the patio or sitting on the back door step while Bernard is gives Bob’s face a wash, or one is chasing the other down the path from the playground (there’s a hole in the hedge where they nip in) before they come roaring through the house only to bolt back outside when we shout “what the blazes is going on….”

If I’m sitting outside sewing, inevitably it will only be minutes before one or both of them come over to see what I’m about, then it’s lids on sewing baskets or thread and floss is snatched and ends up goodness knows where.