Sunday 29 March 2015

And So March Goes Out Like A Roaring Lion ~~~

Gentle Reader ~~~ The old adage of which I spoke some twenty nine days ago did not come to pass ~~~ for March, which came in like a lion, is leaving us with the power of a full pride of roaring lions as winds of strong gale force sweep across the country, battering us from every angle and bringing much torrential rain for many ~~~ my poor camellia "Debbie" is doing a very merry dance in the corner ~~~

Before I forget ~ as I am very wont to do ~ I'd love you to go visit an wonderfully charming entry in Susan Branch's Blog called "The Elf, The Gnome, and The Naked Leprechaun" and as you scroll down, look for the incredible tromp~l'oeil painting by the very talented artist Margot Datz.  Isn't that amazing?

I did promise an effort to return to the garden, and it is taking great effort this year to leave my books and mugs of hot, steaming tea and cakes, my warm and cosy fireside, so here is a gentle ease back into the gardening saddle ~~~

Debbie the Camellia has done very well this year, full of bright and beautiful pink blooms, cheering up the end of Winter and helping herald in sweetly, soundly sleeping Spring {who has yet to realise that it is her time to shine} ~~~ maybe her nose is out of joint at losing an hour as the clocks sprang forward an hour this weekend ~~~

I love the complexity of the petals as they fold in and around each other ~~~

and there are many tightly closed buds that will ensure many more weeks of this splash of colour in the corner ~~~

I love how these ones cascade through the deeply dark and glossy leaves ~~~

how others peek from behind ~~~

or push their blousy way to the fore ~~~

So pretty ~~~ I'm getting all swoony ~~~

however they behave ~~~

there is nothing shy or retiring about this shrub full of ballerina pink tutus !

A magnificent display ~~~

Did you know that the camellias we grow in our garden for their beauty, structure, and colour are related to the very same camellias that are harvested to make my, and maybe your, favourite beverage?  Tea! 

I have another camellia too, this one flowers later and so is only just coming into bloom. It is red, so quite a contrast, and here are some of the flowers that have opened ~~~

Is it any wonder that another name for this beauty is the Rose of Winter?

The sharper eyed amongst you will notice that the blooms and leaves are quite different between the two, and you can read a little about Camellias here on the RHS Website.

There was a sweet surprise waiting for me in an abandoned border ~~~ a small clump of the most magical double daffodils!  Aren't they just the most magical blooms ever for Spring {although everything is pretty magical about Spring} ~~~

The unsightly stalks behind are the remains of last Autumn's Wind Anemones that gave a magnificent display of white flowers, bobbing in the Autumn breezes ~~~ 

With the forecast of strong winds and heavy rain, I picked the flowers which were already showing signs of distress, for the stems are not quite strong enough to support such a heavy bloom, and brought them inside. I am delighted to say that they have already lasted four days indoors, which I really did not expect them to do, for they had been in full bloom for over a week in the border!

The moon is waxing in the evening sky ~~~

and the days are lengthening noticeably.  Soon I will be able to snatch a few hours in the garden during the evening too! What bliss that will be ~~~ Why! I do declare I think I love gardening best of all as the sun is setting to the west ~~~

The lawn has been mowed for a second time, with a lower cut again. My neighbours have told me to cut back anything of theirs that overhangs my fence, so earlier this week I set too and attacked their sycamore saplings and ivy that is turning into the tree kind. My garden waste bin was full to overflowing and I had so much waste that I cannot compost that I was relieved when a neighbour offered me a lift to the Community Recycling and Refuse Amenity Center {also known as The Tip} Another neighbour offered me space in his garden waste bin as his was less than half full, so I have successfully removed almost everything.  I have thoroughly cleaned underneath two blackcurrants and a gooseberry and now must make decisions over the future of the blackcurrants.  Piecemeal clearing has also commenced in several borders. Spring is definitely on her way ~~~ and I must be ready when she gets here!

Remember that 

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

Friday 20 March 2015

A Solar Eclipse, Vintage Postcards, and Victoria Sponge for the First Day of Spring

Gentle Reader ~~~ 


Yes, Happy First Day of Spring, my friends, and we are celebrating in style with a Solar Eclipse here in the UK. Where I am, in the Shire, it was only a partial one, but amazing and an awesome reminder of the timing of our existence in our wonderful universe.  I did my best to capture some images, but we had, once more, sea haze that hampered clarity, but here are my two best shots. It is not worth the risk to anyone's sight to look at the sun without proper protective glasses, so I just aimed my camera and clicked ~~~ 

During the time of the eclipse, the bright, early morning sunshine began to dim, quickly, more quickly than twilight sets in of an early Spring evening.  It fell eerily silent, birds stopped their morning chatter and looked toward the sky in confusion and began to roost as they were lulled into a false sense of time, a strange calm fell across the land as the shadows of the false evening deepened and lengthened, and I allowed myself to feel that sense of the fear experienced by our ancestors who thought the sun was being stolen from the sky.  As the morning darkened, the eclipse deepened, the day that just a few moments earlier was warming up dropped into a sudden chill that increased with the growing eclipse. Then, an hour later, as quickly as the dark descended, the light and warmth returned to us and all is well, once more, with the world.

I hope you will like these following images ~~~ and I promise, as the weather is improving so will the reports on what I'm up to in the garden! I keep saying that, don't I? I am incorrigible, but it is still chilly in the wind Little by little I'm squeezing in a few hours out there ~ but even after two hours on my hands and knees weeding just one border, it looks as if so little has been done. Oh, and I am aching in muscles I didn't know I had ~~~ please, stop giggling, yes, you, in the corner, stop giggling!

I am not a fastidiously tidy gardener in that I do not remove all the dead seed heads in the Autumn, oh, no! I leave them all for the birds so they can keep on foraging for their food as long as the weather permits. This is a good thing for the birds, because if we feed them too much over the Winter they can become lazy, relying on us to find their food for them.  Of course, I am the first to put out plenty of seeds if the weather turns bad, and I keep the feeders filled during breeding season too, to help them get plenty of food for their babies in the nests. So the first order of work is to start with some general tidying up of everything!

In the meantime, I have some vintage postcards to share with you. My Godmother passed them to me, and she is uncertain how they came in to her hands, and has returned them to me.  I am thrilled she did as they are all sent between my Grandmother and Grandfather, her sisters, brothers, and my mother. I don't know much about them, except that the majority of them were sent as birthday greetings. I don't know if this means that greetings cards as we know them were not readily available, or if these were available as an alternative, but you will see that many of them are purposely printed with birthday greetings ~~~ here they are ~~~

There is a cryptic message on the back of this first one which leads me to believe the sender was making a tounge~in~cheek reference to my Grandmother and her future husband ~~~ for she was tiny and he was a tall man ~~~

I think it was quite common to create compositions representing literary characters, and this is captioned Little Nell ~~~

A picture postcard of Little Haven, Pembrokeshire ~~~ 

The back of one of the cards, complete with postage stamp ~~~

{The James who signed this was James Nicolas who went on to become one of Wales most notable Archdruids and poets. He was a wonderful man}

And more birthday wishes ~~~

A picture postcard of Llandudno Promenade ~~~ the dress looks quite Victorian, don't you think?

When I am gardening, I love to take breaks to drink plenty of tea and eat fortifying slices of cake. Here is my recipe for one of my most favourite cakes to eat, whether when gardening or not.  It was a favourite of Queen Victoria herself, indeed it was made for her and named after her ~~~ Victoria Sponge ~~~ here are two versions, the one I learned in school, and the one I use most of the time.  This is a picture of my cake, with the book Mary Berry's Baking Bible in the background showing Mary's version ~~~ I think I did good!

First, the recipe I use most of the time by Mary Berry, because it is the easiest and most successful one I've ever used, you will find it here on the BBC website, and it is a very good bake.

My old recipe, this is the one I learned in school, many decades ago, is only a little more complicated in that you have to weigh your eggs!  There are other small differences too, such as beating by hand! 

For two six inch round cake pans take the weight of two {room temperature} large eggs in butter, self raising flour, and caster sugar.  
Because you are weighing your eggs, the weight actually varied from sponge to sponge!  This is why I prefer Mary Berry's recipe.

Grease and flour well two six inch cake pans.  Light a moderate {gas mark 5} oven. 

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon {yes, that is how we made them in the 1960's} until the butter becomes pale in colour. Add the sugar, and cream together until the sugar is incorporated to the butter. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add a little at a time {to avoid curdling} until they are incorporated into the butter and sugar.  Next, sift the flour and with a stirring motion {no more beating} gradually add into the mixture.   Batter needs to be a dropping consistency, and a little water or milk may be added to achieve this.  Spoon into waiting prepared pans and bake for about 20 minutes, or until cake is coming away from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

I like to listen to see if the cake is still 'singing' and the skewer method best.

Cool in the pans for a few minutes, then turn out to cool completely on a wire rack before filling with strawberry, raspberry, or apricot jam.  Cut into slices and enjoy!

For larger pans, weigh three eggs for seven inch pans, and weigh four eggs for eight inch pans. Increasing baking times slightly.

Here is a single layer cake I made, filled with whipped cream and fresh strawberries ~~~

So, Gentle Reader ~~~ you now know what I will be using to keep up my flagging energy levels in between the digging, and the weeding, and the sowing of seeds ~~~

Monday 16 March 2015

Éirinn go Brách ~~~ It's Saint Patrick's Day!

Hello Friends ~~~ today is Saint Patrick's Day. Top o'the Mornin' to you and Éirinn go Brách ~~~

A Wish for a Friend

Wishing you a rainbow
For sunlight after showers—
Miles and miles of Irish smiles
For golden happy hours—
Shamrocks at your doorway
For luck and laughter too,
And a host of friends that never ends

Each day your whole life through!

Here is the O'Brien coat of arms that my father brought back from a holiday in Ireland, and which hangs proudly on the back of my Irish oak front door ~~~

~~~ or is that a Welsh oak door, as you may read here, thus adding further mystery to my mixed Welsh~Irish roots!

The O'Brien clan motto is Lamh Laidir an Uachtar – "The Strong Hand from Above" and it is said that we are all descended from the Irish King Brian Boru. {see, I knew it all along ~~~ I am a princess!}

There is, as you might expect, much legend born of the mists of time about Saint Patrick, so I will share one of our Welsh legends ~ that Patrick was a Welshman, a contemporary and friend of our very own Welsh patron saint, David, and as many scholars believe, born in Pembrokeshire in Wales. I will leave it for you to decide, but here are a couple of links for you to read at your leisure~~~

St Patrick a Welshman
The most celebrated Welshman in America

Here is my Flickr album of the Shrine of David, Restored which shows the procession and ceremony of the unveiling of the restored Shrine of David. I am proud to say I was one of the five hundred guests at the ceremony. Patrick is depicted, on David's left hand side, on the recently restored Shrine of David at St. David's Cathedral, and local legend says that Patrick left Welsh shores for his ministry in Ireland from either Porthclais Harbour or Whitesands Beach. {one of the two hundred stars in the canopy is dedicated to my late father}

In the meantime, while we do not have the big parades in Wales, or drink green beer {although a glass or two of Guinness will never go amiss} I will be giving a nod to my Irish heritage by baking Irish Soda Bread and serving it, spread thickly with lashings of butter, alongside a dish of my vegetarian interpretation of Colcannon.  As a vegetarian, corned beef is not on any of my menus!

Here is a picture of some Irish Soda Bread I made earlier

Here is the recipe for Irish Soda Bread  that I use. It is a Delia Smith recipe.

My interpretation of Colcannon is simple. I will, in my heavy cast iron pan, fry off in butter and oil some floury potatoes {unpeeled, cut into one inch chunks} with some thickly sliced onions. When those are nearly cooked and all golden and caramelised, I will add some thinly sliced cabbage and lightly toss around until the cabbage is wilted. Simple, and very tasty!

However you celebrate, I wish you all a 
Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Sunday 15 March 2015

Mothering Sunday Blessings

Gentle Reader ~~~ 

Today, March 15th 2015 is Mothering Sunday in Great Britain.

I have already written about this day, and how it differs from International Mother's Day in May, and you can read about it here

Sending Heartfelt Warmest Wishes for a Happy Mothering Sunday to All Mothers, wherever they are, and to all the Hu~mums of Fur Kids everywhere.

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Curling up with a Good Book ~~~ or ten ~~~

Gentle Reader ~~~ Winter {hopefully} must surely be exhausted.  Days spent in luxurious hibernation, snuggling under a comfy quilt, sitting by the fireside with a cup of tea, a slice of cake, and a good book while winter rages outside, are coming to a close for another year.  The sun, when not hiding behind clouds, is rising higher in the sky with each passing day.  The days are lengthening. This is the point where I'd like to say they are getting warmer, drier, and less windy. They are not. However, work is slowly being resumed in the Garden in the Shire ~~~ probably not as energetically as I should, but {forgive the moan} age is catching up with me and the garden, much as I enjoy puttering, seems bigger and more out of control than ever before.

The onions and garlic that I planted late last Autumn are progressing, albeit slowly, and will hopefully gather some growing momentum with the lengthening days.  I will write more on these in the coming days, for slowly this journal must return to the garden ~~~

I can only stand by and watch weeds grow for so long. I had enough of seeing how rapidly some are already growing, so I went out in a thick, damp sea fog, well wrapped up, and dug up by the root many Evening Primrose, Dandelions, and Borage before they become established and difficult. Oh! if only the onions would grow like the weeds have done ~~~ but that is asking too much, isn't it?  

It was so lovely out there, shrouded in the comforting grey fog ~ you may consider that strange, but I grew up by the sea, salt water is in my blood, and sea fog comes with the territory.  I enjoy time spent, alone, sitting in the still, early morning quiet of the house where only the tick tick tock of the mantel clock disturbs the heavy silence of a sea fog blanket outside ~ oh, how my heart years for the sound of the fog horn, long gone now. 

As a child, I would listen for the deep, echoing booms carried on the air, that muted sound that carried through the fog blankets that hid the coast and dangerous reefs that sit beneath the surface of the sea. There was something deeply comforting in the sound that warned sailors of the dangers ahead. 

Here are links to two of our local lighthouses ~~~

Smalls lighthouse paragraph three 

South Bishop lighthouse

I digress ~~~
Are you sitting down?  If not, find yourself a seat quickly ~~~ for I have mowed!  Up off your fainting couches ~~~ 
Yes, I have mowed!
I do not think I have ever mowed the lawn so early, but did so on the divinely sunny afternoon of February 17th. 

It felt so amazingly good after the near onset of Cabin Fever as the long, dark months of winter approach their end ~~~ although I do love those shorter days of winter, for it affords time to visit faraway lands; catch up with old friends; discover new recipes to try; take a glimpse into the lives of others; and go on many a grand adventure; all from the comfort of my own armchair ~~~ 

Sometimes, just sometimes, a book passes into your hands and something magical happens as it stops you in your tracks ~ time suddenly stands still; more than the usual joyful feelings that come with a new book begin to happen ~ as you carefully open the pages, the goosebumpy thrill of knowing that you are the very first person to peek inside this copy washes over you; you smell that indescribable new book smell that you love so deeply; sometimes, just sometimes, more than simply lovingly stroking and caressing the covers, turning the pages, and looking at the pictures, before you start to devour the magical words that are written just for you, you close it back up and hug it to your chest, because sometimes, just sometimes, you find a book that is so exceptionally special you begin to coo and wax lyrical over it ~~~ just sometimes ~~~ and then the adventures begin!

Such books are the books that, if they do not build empires in the greater scheme of things, certainly build empires in my heart ~~~ they are the very stuff that speaks so loudly to me, and here are some of those authors who have greatly influenced me, and who speak in the most gentle of ways the loudest of all to my heart ~~~

and here are some hints at the books I have enjoyed getting to know, and some old friends I've revisited, over the past winter months ~~~

I've held the hands of the March girls through their many joys and heartbreaking sorrows, and taken tea with them, and fallen in love with Jo once again ~ for when I was a child I wanted to be Jo March when I grew up, more than any other girl whose lives I shared ~~~

I've experienced the humiliation of red hair and the trials of an imperfect nose, and being called "carrots" by my future husband; sharing secrets with my best friend Diana as we sit by the Dryad's Bubble, or stroll, daydreaming, making plans for our perfect futures, along the White Way of Delight or by the Lake of Shining Waters ~~~

I've gazed, in pure amazement, up to the stars at night from my bed of sweet hay in a chalet perched high on the side of a steep Swiss mountain, while waiting for morning to come so I can run over the mountain with my friend Peter the goatherd as he takes the goats to pasture and I've known the horror of being estranged from the people I love, unable to reach out to them or return to my home in the Alps ~~~

Long afternoons spent wandering and exploring gardens in the company of a quintessentially English lady who loved her gardens and found such inspiration therein that she wrote and illustrated some of the most charming of all children's books ~~~

I discovered Pear Ci~dah {a traditional English drink made from pears, formerly known as Perry} as I toured the countryside of merry England in spring time with a Girlfriend who is a self~confessed Anglophile with a love of sheep ~~~

There was a very special visit to Martha's Vineyard with a tiny, adorably cute mouse named Eliza ~~~

Eavesdropped on an inspiring collective of creative souls and spirits that became one of the most legendary and influential groups of the twentieth century ~~~

Someone must have decided red was a very good colour to bind books with this season ~~~

I have read recipes, tried recipes {let's not go there today} and consumed copious amounts of hot tea in any number of varieties and flavours {winter is a good time to experiment with new flavours of tea} and some of my new favourites are made by Twinings, especially their fruity green teas, such as Apple and Pear, or my top winter time drink Gingerbread Green Tea ~~~

I love the new Twinings Tea advert, it is so happy ~~~ makes me smile each time I see it ~~~ too sweet not to share ~~~ it will make you smile too ~~~

I have fed birds on my feeders, and spent many a wistful hour just watching them flitting and feeding ~~~ I am sorting out my photographs to tell you all about them soon ~~~

~~~ there are books of one sort or another in every room in the cottage ~~~ and on a diverse variety of subjects as you could want to find anywhere ~~~ I love books, I just can't help myself ~~~ and there is always room for one more book ~~~

~~~I wonder where I'll be voyaging to next?~~~ 

What are your favourite books to visit time and again? Where are you off to on your next adventure?