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~~~

Monday 5 August 2013

Oh! Silly Silly Me ~~~

Gentle Reader~have you missed me?  I am nursing an injured back (again!) and everything is either impossible or painful.  Some of you know I suffer with this from time to time, and about ten days ago I had a warning shot.  Instead of listening and taking things easy, I decided that I, maybe, wasn't feeling that bad after all and was fully capable of transplanting my lettuces.  At this point, strike out 'capable' and insert 'incapable'~~~the rest is history!  Needless to say, I was anything but capable, and after 30 minutes on hands and knees weeding the spot and transplaning the lettuces, complete with mini cloches (aka those large plastic beer glasses you get at functions and parties) for protection from slugs I struggled to get to my feet and hobbled home.  Since then, I have had no choice but to listen to my back as it recovers very slowly and I hobble around on two sticks~~oh! dear!

The weather has changed, our heatwave gone, and temperatures are now in the mid~60's, so much more bearable.  The last few days are more a return to normal with brisk breezes and rain!  In one way I am deeply grateful because the rain is doing the watering for me, for there is no way I could lug a watering can for at least the next few days again as I recover.  As even siting here is not comfortable, I am going to cheat a little and copy and paste some of what I shared on Facebook last week~~~

On August 1st, I wrote~~
the day dawned much the same as yesterday, but as Fog seems to be a new, primary feature in today's weather, I will tell you how deeply I miss the sound of the fog horn that used to boom out from the South Bishop's rocks. Technology is a wonderful thing, and I am deeply grateful for much of it, but when GPS and other new~fangled devices replaced the fog horn, some things, in my opinion, are a step too far. There was something deeply comforting with that sound, booming out from the sea fog, letting us know that seafaring men on their ships and their boats had warning of the reef and rocks, which in an instant could bring tragedy. Men manned the Trinity House building, perched precariously upon the rock in the middle of the ocean, and men took responsibility for the safety of other men. It was a part of childhood, of growing up, just as much as my love of gardening took root in my being as I played in safety in the garden that in decades long past was tended by my Great Grandfather~~~fog without a foghorn is like a garden without a gardener.
The only jobs for this gardener today will be a little tidying up, some dead heading, and clearing leaves that have fallen. Fallen not because it is Blissful Autumn, but because they are dried and shrivelled from lack of rain which came too late, so they just gave themselves up to the wind. Now, they litter my lawn and patio, a coverlet of brown, and must be swept up soon into bags to make rich leaf mould for future years.
and this is how the sky looked, late one evening, after the fog had lifted
and on July 30th I wrote~~
ah! the wonders of technology, as my laptop languishes in the land of the lost, I found my ancient, trusty Dell which, with a few gentle persuasions, is now functioning and allowing me to be connected to the 21st century while I find someone to attend to the sickly laptop.
The next challenge I face is to attempt to bring the photographs I downloaded yesterday here, for they are of bi
g, wonderful skies that rolled across a wide blue sky, behind distant hills, and away beyond the far horizon. The skies were spectacular, and I do hope to bring them to you soon. I will not give up.
This afternoon, reading ahead on the forecast, I have picked yet more raspberries, an urgent task, for heavy rain is forecast and I do not want to leave ripe berries on the cane. The joy of picking such fragrant, ripe, and delicious jewels from the garden is without compare, and later there will be jam for tea~~~a gentle reminder of the warmth of summer days in the depths of darkest winter. Of course, a few get greedily devoured while the picking happens~~~it wouldn't be fruit picking otherwise!
This evening, the salad was supplemented with two of my favourite garden ingredients~handfuls of fresh, vitamin rich parsley and some peppery nasturtium flowers that add colour as well as flavour. Pudding, as you may have seen on an earlier post, was a dish of home grown, home made gooseberry crumble. Oh! I have waited three years for a decent crop, and this year the reward for patience came at last! I am full and satisified tonight!
Here, Gentle Reader, is a photo of a big bowl of that delicious crumble~~~

I am afraid dead heading must wait, and the grass is growing on the lawn but that will have to wait too for a mow.  For now, I must be happy that the much hoped for pink Oriental lilies have bloomed.  I do wish they had bloomed before the rain came, or waited until after it had passed, but somethings we cannot manage.  Here they are, I do so love them, and they are well worth waiting for~~~

I am sorry there are no more photographs or words today, but remember that ~~~   

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