Sunday 13 October 2013

Some Very Good News

Gentle Reader~I have been absent for a while, three weeks, and I am sorry. You must think I have forgotten you.  I have not, but I have been keeping up with bits and bobs over on Facebook, on A Garden In The Shire page, but have neglected my blog ~~ I think the reason is that, as things slow down there is not much to write about.  I have been distracted by family matters, and I am also not wanting to do too much in the way of heavy work until I am certain my back is up to it. Also, my computer is struggling to cope, and I fear it will now be a while before I can replace it. Anyway, this will bring you a little update.

As the blog title suggests, there is some very good news, but I am going to hold that back until the very last moment! Oh! I am such a tease, but there we are! On with other news first~~~

There have been bags and bags of leaves to sweep up!  Oh, my have there been leaves.  These are all swept up into big bin liners, holes poked in the bottom for drainage and left in a corner where in a year or so they will have metamorphosed into beautiful, rich, crumbly leaf mould for the garden.  At the moment though, there is a slight problem.  We have a badger who is tearing the bags apart, presumably in a search for worms.  Not only that, but he, or she, is digging big holes in the lawn!  I shall have to work out what to do, but no harm will come to the badgers, I would rather put up with the holes in the lawn than hurt those lovely creatures.

I have started taking pictures of the sky again, from time to time, especially when something catches my eye, like this big, squiggly shaped cloud ~~

Or, yesterday evening, when after the greyest of grey days the rays of the setting sun set fire to the sky above and we were treated to one of nature's brilliant, bright displays~~

But I also like to see the paler skies too~~

Earlier in the week, I played a little magic trick on my Facebook page with these two photographs~~now you see it, now you don't~~for these were the two views from the bottom of my muddy lane looking out across The Shire~~isn't nature wonderful, perfectly hiding the rocky outcrop in mist, as if erased by some giant hand from above, only to put it back a short while later~~

There have been quite a few sunny days, and surprisingly the butterflies, which have been absent most of the summer, arrived in force.  Here are some lovely Red Admirals sunning themselves, making the most of the last warm days of the year before they hibernate until Spring~~

Here is a close up of this quite beautiful British butterfly~~

 The days have been sprinkled with dew, making chains of gossamer beads across the webs that scatter across the garden, and this one is a pretty backdrop to a spray of rose hips.  The Frances E Lester rambler has now set it's seed, and the hips are swelling and ripening well.  I hope the entire bush will soon be covered in such clusters, for that will make a very pretty picture.  Here, for now, is one such cluster~~

Late last year, I discovered, growing in between some paving stones, what looked like a small rose seedling.  Now, I have never seen a rose growing from a seed, but sure enough, earlier this year I found it again, only this time much bigger.  I resolved to move it, for it cannot be left to grow where it is, partly because I do not know how big it would grow, and partly because it is on the path. Before I had the chance to move it I hurt my back and could not bend, so the rose has grown much bigger. 

Last week, I managed, with much struggling, to get it out from its comfortable nook and I potted it up in some fresh compost with lots of rooting gel and other root~growth compounds and so far it looks quite happy in its new home.  This is about a week after the transplanting work was done ~~~
The courgettes have continued to harvest and give up their bounty long after I would have expected this year, and after a late start they have given plenty~~here are the last ones, sizzling in my cast iron griddle pan, in oil.  I later enjoyed them tossed in a delicate sage butter~~
The big, rosy red hips on the rosa rugosa give a glorious splash of colour, and later in the year they will help to feed the birds too~~ 

During the days I have not been clearing and tidying, I took a little walk around the cathedral and wandered into the Secret Garden, the healing garden around the back of the building, half hidden from view, and only known to those that stumble across it, taking the time to turn a corner and look.  There I found this mysterious doorway, half hidden by the planting around the edges and growing across~~
I love it, the mystery, the magic, the wondering if my grandfather ever stepped through this door during his time as caretaker of the magnificent and ancient building and grounds~~
Well, Gentle Reader, I promised some very good news, and here you shall have it!  Do you remember the dreadful state of affairs when my well meaning neighbour cut down my hedge, in particular the Elder trees?  Well, just the other day I found some tiny green shoots, miraculously shooting and regenerating from the stubby remains!  Here they are~~

I hope you are as thrilled as I am to see this!  Isn't nature wonderful?  I will monitor their progress carefully now, and make sure no one gets close to them with a machete again!

~~~A Gardener's Work Is Never Done~~~


Sunday 22 September 2013

Spider Webs and Gossamer Threads

Gentle Reader~it is that time of year when the garden is draped in a raiment of the finest threads of gossamer silk, as spiders weave their magic right across the land.  Although I do not like spiders, I wish them no harm, and some of them are quite beautiful indeed.  It is big, hairy, and feathery fast house spiders that send me screaming in the opposite direction, whereas I find orb web spiders especially beautiful.  Have you seen those tiny, amazingly marked jumping spiders?  With their black and white markings I call them Zebra Jumping Spiders, but have no idea what they are really called.

The perfectly formed mystery of a web suspended across a seemingly impossible to span space with a prettily marked arachnid sitting happily in the centre of it's masterpiece is one of nature's greatest feats. 

Spider silk is the strongest fibre known to man, and a couple of years ago, a project was completed by capturing orb spiders and harvesting their silk to be woven into fabric and if you click here it will direct you to a page on the V&A website where you can read a bit more and see some of that very fine and costly fabric that was made into a shawl.  I do not agree, personally, with such methods, but it is done now and it is a particularly magnificent cape, and fascinating too.

I love waking up to a gentle Autumn morning, when dew has drenched the land and sparkles as myriads of glistening diamonds, strewn carelessly and softly by some fairy hand in the night across the webs that drape the leaves and flowers of my garden.  Today, a heavy blanket of fog sits upon us, it is not warm for there is no sun, but this serves to make the webs even heavier with dew, and it does not burn off, so that in turn means lots of photographs of dew~laden webs and plants too.

Here are some of the many webs that covered the Garden~~No spiders, just webs, for the arachnaphobes amongst us! {that's me} and this time of year I walk about the garden using my eyes as much as my feet, for often webs are strung between the widest of gaps and the unsuspecting walker is snared in some very strong, almost invisible, strands! Shudders~~~

This is probably the most scary one, so let's get it out of the way first!  Early one morning, just as the sun was rising, the light glinted and gleamed from every sinister web that covers the rosemary bush~~

Delicate patterns strung across the rosemary in the front, and to the back is  a tightly woven meshy net~

Even a damaged web looks beautiful, capturing metalic looking dew, a s it sits,hanging above the drying seed heads of Alchemilla mollis~

An unusual shot of a web across the corner of a window pane and reflecting in the glass for a special effect~

Another fine, seemingly unstructured net of web ready to snare an unsuspecting insect for lunch~

One of my favourites, this one looks like a net cast across the sky, capturing the stars that shine at night~

Here I had one web in focus and the other one out of focus for effect~

and I did the same here, but I do like this one much better~I think it looks like fairy lights~

Shudders~~~this one makes me think of Shelob's web in which poor Frodo Baggins got ensnared~~~

I love the way it is the droplets of water shimmer here~

and in this one, you can hardly see the web for beads of shimmering dew~

Even a small space between some apples is room enough for a tiny web to be spun~

I am starting to feel now that I will be able to go back into the garden very soon, with care, to start catching up on all those jobs, overlooked for so long, and prepare the garden for winter yet to come. 

~~~A Gardener's Work Is Never Done~~~

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Autumn Harvest and Braised Red Cabbage

Gentle Reader~I am at that dangerous stage now, where my back is almost healed, and my fingers are a itchin' and a twitchin' to get out there and dig that soil!  I must be strong!  I must not sally forth with undue care into the garden to do these jobs before my back is ready, for I do not wish to pay the price of rushing.  The work will still be there when I am fully able.

I managed a turn around the lawn pushing the mower, last week, and that was enough.  Pruning is happening where I am able to do so without reaching and bending, and I am gathering seeds from all the many flowers of Summer, so I will have free seeds to sow and share for next Spring.  There is much joy in the harvesting of seeds to set aside for future displays.

I'd like to welcome the new followers to my blog~~Croeso! Welcome! Thank you for following and I do hope you enjoy reading my ramblings and photographs.

First, I must share some sad news.  My neighbour has desecrated the ivy and honeysuckle along my Pembrokeshire stone hedge.  I think he thought he was doing me a favour, but he did not tell me his exact plans and I came home one day to find the entire section hacked into non~existence by a machete.  As one friend pointed out~at least he waited until after the birds had finished nesting and the young have fledged!  Even my two Elder trees are matchwood.  Here are some of the disturbing images~and I know you will share my distress~

Two splintered stumps are all that remain of my magical Elder trees~

I have been told the Elders may recover.  I can only hope they do, for I prize and value the berries and flowers.  I know nature has a way of healing and recovering, and this damage will soon be restored, it is was such a shock to come home from a day out to this sight.  I grieve and am concerned, not only for the damage, but the removal of shelter, for many small birds fed and sheltered in the tumbled growth of ivy and honeysuckle.

Gentle Reader~shall we move on? 

The weather is changing, Autumn chills the air, and there are now many small birds in the garden, foraging for seeds and insects, and one of my new friends is this adorable juvenile robin.  Do you see how his red feathers aren't quite full, there is still a vestige of the downy new fledgling about him, but he is more adult than baby now.  I call him my Teenage Robin!

This week, I have seen woodpeckers, blue tits, chaffinch, goldfinch, sparrows, and many more.  I must settle down to getting some photographs, mustn't I?

The raspberries are fruiting again!  They did the exact same thing last year.  They flowered and fruited (and were greedily devoured) in the expected time frame, and then, two months later cropped again!  The only difference is that in both years the second crop, although much smaller in quantity, is producing much bigger, firmer, and flavoursome fruits.  They are altogether a far superior berry to the earlier crop produced~~how strange is this?  Here is a photograph to show you the quality fruits~

Don't they look good?  Luciously red and deliciously juicy jewels of plumptiousness!

Here is my recipe for Braised Red Cabbage.  I devised this vinegar~free recipe because my mother is unable to eat anything containing vinegar.  I hope you like it~~

1 head red cabbage
2 medium onions
750 ml good quality apple juice
Seasonings: salt, pepper, 1/4 teasp each cinnamon, clove, freshly ground nutmeg, juniper berries, 1 tablesp grainy mustard. {all seasonings can be adjusted to taste}

pre~heat oven to Gas Mark 3
Remove outer leaves of cabbage and slice as thinly as possible. I use the finest blade on my mandolin. Finely shred the peeled onions.
In a large, oven~proof lidded casserole layer the cabbage and onions, adding seasonings to ea
ch layer. Pour over the apple juice.
Slow cook in the oven for around 3 hours, until cabbage and onions are buttery soft.

This freezes very well and is great for people who cannot take vinegar. When reheating, I add a tablespoon of loganberry or redcurrant jelly {optional} which gives a lovely glaze if serving the dish to company. 

Three hours later, this is what you should be removing from the oven~a casserole dish full of ruby red delicious goodness~~

Of course, it would not be Autumn if the Dreaded Giant Marrow Courgette did not rear it's fearsome head, and here is the one for this year~

Not as big as some I know, but big enough!  Until next time~~~

~~~A Gardener's Work Is Never Done~~~

Sunday 1 September 2013

Autumn Pizza and Fruit Crumble

Gentle Reader~today, September 1st, marks the "official" start of Autumn, at least the Meteorological start of Autumn, according to The Met Office.  The other "official" start of Autumn is still a few weeks away, on the Autumnus Equinox, in the Northern Hemisphere, on September 21/22.  I am grabbing today as the Official Start, as I adore Autumn and plan to get the most out of it as I possibly can, for it is my most favourite time of the year. 

Hot chocolate supplies are now sitting happily at my Hot Drink Station in the kitchen {yes, I really do have this} and scarves, mittens, and woolly jumpers are getting an airing and freshening up after their long, Summer storage, for soon it will be cool enough to wear them.  Quilts and pillows will be washed, ready for use on those chilly evenings that are nigh, books and magazines are waiting to be read on the darker evenings ahead, and fragrant candles are scattered across the hearth~~

At the moment, daytime temperatures are sitting in the low 60's, but are slowly slipping into the high 50's already!  The winds are fresh, and leaves are preparing to turn colour.  Although my back is a good bit better, I am still unable to garden, so I am simply going to keep the blog going for the meantime with some images from my photographic library, some thoughts on Autumn, gardening and planning ahead, and I shall share a recipe or two. 

There will be many thoughts as I sound out my plans~which are certainly bound to change~on establishing the changes to the garden that make it easier to manage with arthritis in my spine.  This little episode has made me all too aware that changes must be made if I am to continue to garden without bringing in help~~not an option!

Here is a happy little banner I made to celebrate Autumn~~I now need to find somewhere to hang it!

Although the harvest from my garden has been small, I am regularly cropping courgettes {zucchini} now, and my favourite recipe for these is~

Fried Courgettes, Apples, Onions, and Sage

In a heavy pan {I use my cast iron skillet} heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil and saute, over a gentle heat, a peeled and roughly chopped onion {red, white, or yellow} with two medium courgettes, {washed} cut in 1/2" rounds.  When they start to colour a little {about 15 mins}, add two cored and chopped {skinned optional} tart eating apples and a chiffonade of fresh sage leaves {thyme is also good}.  Place a lid on the pan and continue to cook until the apples are soft and courgettes are browning.
Serve hot or cold, as a side dish or a salad with fresh, crusty bread

I am not good with quantities, but this recipe can be adjusted to personal preferences, and doubles up very well.

This plate shows the recipe, bottom right, with a garden salad of mixed leaves, parsley, fennel fronds, and nasturtium flowers~

Here are some variations and suggestions for this base:

Mix in a can of cooked chickpeas and some Zatar seasoning instead of the sage.  Serve with pitta bread and salad.
Use as a topping on a home made pizza base (see image below)
Serve with slabs of griddled Halloumi cheese (scrumptious) and crusty bread
Add a handful of sliced runner beans or broad beans at the same time as the apples.
Add some roast parsnips, stock or milk and seasonings and blitz into a soup.

Needless to say, this is one of my favourite things at this time of year as I grow almost everything in the garden, fresh food from Plot to Plate in minutes~~does food get any better than that?

There have been crumbles too~~blackberry, and blackberry and apple.  Such a simple thing, but few puddings bring more pleasure than a bowl of warm and juicy, fruity crumble with lashings of creamy custard~~

Fruit Crumble

Put 4 oz self raising flour  and 2 oz butter {or butter cooking spread} and 2 oz sugar in a mixing bowl.  Rub together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. 
In an oven proof dish, put about 2 cups of your chosen fruit, or combination of fruits, sweeten to taste with sugar or stevia, and gently press the crumble topping over.
Bake in a moderate oven {Gas Mark 5 or 6} until the topping is browned and the fruit is bubbling, juicy, and cooked.  This can be anything from 25 ~ 40 minutes depending on the fruit, you may wish to partially cook it first.

Serve hot, warm, or cold.  I like it best warm with either custard sauce or vanilla ice cream.

Some good choices for fruit are: Blackberries, Blackcurrants, Apples, Gooseberries, Rhubarb, Peaches {if you are lucky enough to have them}, Plums, Apricots, and Pears.  A lot of these make good combinations too, like Blackberry and Apple, but it is entirely up to you!  Add things like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cardamon, or any spices of your choice too~~no rules in my kitchen {except when you need to be exact!}  As you can tell, I am a bit of a hit and miss cook, I don't really do set recipes. 

Gentle Reader~do let me know if you try any of these recipes I'm sharing.  Please, share some of your own in the comments.  I'd love to know how you get on, or what suggestions you have for alternative toppings, maybe, for the fruit in the crumble ~~ Buon Appetit!

Finally, here is how the sky looked a few evenings ago over my little corner of The Shire~~fierce and stormy, though it was calm as can be!

~~~A Gardener's Work Is Never Done~~~

Sunday 25 August 2013

A Fine Romance~~Book Review {Indulge me, please?}

Gentle Reader~~I beg of you to humour me today as we make a small departure from gardening in the Garden in the Shire and join me over tea as I talk about one of my most favourite people in the whole, wide world, Susan Branch , and her new book "A Fine Romance"  My back is still bad enough that I cannot garden, and it isn't a complete departure from gardening, for in this book Susan, a born Anglophile, and Joe, tour England, visiting many of the notable gardens and places of historic interest across the land, by way of tea rooms, pubs, eateries, country markets, quaint shops, country lanes and meadows, and the highways and byways that make up the quintessential English countryside.  I am just bursting to say lovely things about this book I have added to my Susan Branch book collection (this my new favourite one, of course) and Amazon just will not let me review it there!!! Bad Amazon!  So, Gentle Reader, I beg your indulgence~~

This {above} is my own precious copy, with a mug of Twinings tea tea in my favourite Emma Bridgewater mug that has a big, Pumpkin, crow, and bat design.  Anyone who knows me knows that Autumn is my favourite time of year, but I think this design is now discontinued.  Maybe Emma Bridgewater will bring out a new pattern for this Autumn?  What bliss that will be if she does!  I adore pumpkins too~~and Pumpkin Pie is my very favourite!  Gentle Reader~I digress~

Question: what treasured possession would you save from your house? Hmmmmm, let me think~~~

Susan is an American artist and illustrator, who creates the most beautiful, witty, charmingly hand written and enchantingly illustrated books.  She brings together everything she loves best in life and expresses it with a contagious passion, sharing recipes, illustrations, favourite quotes, photographs, and so much more along with her own beautiful, handwritten prose.  She is quite contagious, in a good way of course!  This contagiousness is not helped in that I seem to share a love of almost all the same things!   She is not that well known in the United Kingdom, but I do hope this book will change all that!  Each page of every book by her that I own is a pure delight.

From delectible front cover to delicious end cover, "A Fine Romance" is brim full of Susan's own, unique, inimitable style of writing and illustrations.  It begins some years ago with how she met the love of her life, Joe, and then leaps forward to the present day {well, last year actually, for a good book is always a long time in the making} when they celebrated twenty~five years together with a two~month long trip to England.  The journey begins as they depart their home in Martha's Vineyard, and we travel with them as they arrive in England by way of a proper and very stylish "crossing" aboard the Queen Mary II. 

Susan's band of loyal followers, a very friendly, amicable, fun~loving, and very supportive army, are known as Girlfriends.  We follow her on the F.O.S.B. Facebook page, and on Twitter too, as well as her wonderful Blog.  {We squeezed ourselves into every nook cranny in the Cocoon aboard QMII, the car, each and every room along the way, so it is a good thing we are all so friendly and get along well with each other.}  Thanks to modern technology we were with her every step of the way last year, so it has been a long year waiting for the adventure to continue with the arrival of the book.  If you follow the link to her blog, you will see even more, and be able to join in for yourself if you wish to.  No doubt, some of you reading this will already know all about this little haven on line!

Back to the book~~Susan and Joe arrive in England, with all their luggage, including Susan's paintbox and drawing supplies, and all the accoutrement of tea too!  {I always carry tea making provisions with me~~one never knows where one will end up, and tea, a priority of any traveller, should always be as properly served as conditions permit!}

In case you want to read the book, which is a magical darling of a diary of an adventure abroad shared, for yourself~~and I'm so hoping you will~~I shall not say too much more about the details, other than they spend the next two months exploring the English countryside in a magical way, meeting up with old friends, visiting stately homes and gardens, and the arrival at the home of one of Susan's most admired and loved authors, Beatrix Potter's Hill Top now owned by The National Trust.   Sissinghurst, Batemans, The Lake District, Jane Austen's home, Emma Bridgewater factory, ~~you get the drift~~ just a few of the places visited and beautifully written and described in Susan's own inimitable style which leaves you wanting even more!

Oh, Susan!  I have that exact same Olney hat that you are modelling in your book on page 173!  The fourth one down, on the bottom, 'cept I wear mine t'other way around!   {Big Smiley Face here}

Eventually, the dream is over, and Susan and Joe arrive home where the long job of writing the book began for Susan.  {I wonder how she found this?  Was it hard or easy, revisiting every lucious moment of such a dream of a holiday?}

Did I mention that this book is perfect in absolutely every way?  Not just the selightful illustrations and every blissful word, but it is perfectly sized too, just right for holding in the hands, neither too big nor too small, like a small bear's bowl of porridge it is just right.  A pleasure to look at, to hold, to own, and to read~~like sitting down to visit with an old friend you haven't seen in a while, but it is as if you only met up over tea and cakes the day before~~

I try to get through life without regrets, but I do wish I had not bought from Amazon UK and gone direct to, for those books came with a personally signed bookplate and mine does not.  I am so happy and excited, but also a little envious, of all the Girlfriends who will meet her and get their copies personally signed on her booksigning tour!  She has had a purpose~decorated van you know, which you can see if you visit her blog or the F.O.S.B. page too!  It s'wonderful!  Who knows, maybe when she and Joe return to this island, they may come to Wales {Scotland and Ireland too}and do a trans~Atlantic book signing tour~~now, there's a thought!

As I draw to a close, I hear the church bells ringing out across the valley, over my own, small corner of this wonderful world that is made all the richer by the lovely Girlfriends and the friendship we share through Susan Branch.


Gentle Reader~~Since I created this entry it has been brought to my attention (via @dearsusanbranch on Twitter) that signed copies of "A Fine Romance" will soon be available from Much Ado Books and also from the Jane Austen House. I would urge you, in support of local businesses, to check this out if you live in the UK and wish to purchase a copy. I am sure they will fly out of the shops like hot cakes!

Saturday 17 August 2013

The Garden Still Grows~~~

Gentle Reader, my back is still preventing me from doing any manner of gardening, other than a smidge of necessary watering using my smallest watering can from Harrod Horticultural {one of my favourite online shops} which is lightweight even when full.  The watering is restricted to only the pots and vegetables that need it most.  It is not easy hobbling with a stick in one hand and a full watering can in the other, but the garden still grows~~~

I am also struggling with my technology.  My newest computer is still waiting attention, and my old laptop is plodding on, holding the fort.  I had planned to do a few blog entries using my quite extensive library of photographs, but they are all on the 'resting' computer so this is not an option.  Gentle Reader, you are stuck with my wittering around what few photographs I have on this one! 

The weather, overall, is not unpleasant, but is not as warm as it could be.  As my small vegetable crops play catch up from their late planting I fret they will not catch up enough.  I must have more faith!  Regrettably, the forecast for the next 48 hours is, frankly, abysmal and not what one expects in August.  Higher winds and heavy rain are the likely prospect.  Locally, campers are advised to be aware of localised flash flooding.  These are the joys of a British Summer Camping Holiday.

The courgettes (zucchini) are two healthy looking plants, all things considered, and they now have several small fruits.  I do not think they will produce enough for my delicious Courgette Chutney, and if I want to have this scrumptious addition to the Christmas table then I might have to buy the raw ingredients.

This was taken about two weeks ago, and it is a very healthy looking plant~

Then, just a couple of days ago, I noticed, with a squeal of delight, some yellow flowers and the first few fruits starting to develop~

and some more!

Courgettes have male and female flowers.  It is prudent to remove the male flowers as soon as possible because they are generally far more prolific and sap so much energy from the plant that you really want going into the female flowers which are the ones that bear the fruits.  I don't expect these ones to get too big, but they will be delicious, whichever recipe I use.  More on this later~~

I have protected my tiny mixed leaves plants using recycled clear plastic beer pots and washed yogurt pots (with the labels removed).  So far, they have deterred the slugs, snails, and birds, although some children staying in an adjacent cottage found great amusement using them as skittles!!!  Thankfully, no major damage was done and all that was needed was a little tidying up.

A pair of close ups~you can see the little plants perfectly protected in their own little micro~environment~

Here, you can see a fine collection of Borage seedlings growing amongst the upturned pots.  These are on the 'to do' list as soon as I can get gardening again, because I want to pot them up so I can plant them where I want them to grow next Spring~

Borage flowers are so pretty, bright blue, and make lovely additions to ice cubes, or in a Pimm's Cup~~

Other edible things that are nearly ready are the apples, full the tree, but are all too tempting for the crows who seem to love them almost as much as I do!

A lovely bunch of peppery radish for salads or snacking~~

and brightly coloured nasturtium flowers, which are a particular favourite of mine, to add to a salad or even to munch on while gardening (of course, be careful to check there aren't any bugs inside!)

I have some photographs of more lilies (yes, they keep on blooming and giving even more colours!) and some surprising little critter photographs too, but they carry a 'scary' warning, so when you return next time, you have been warned!

~~~A Gardener's Work Is Never Done~~~