At last a day of sun!

April 25, 2012

From the day the hosepipe ban was announced it has rained every day for three weeks …except yesterday. Of course this is an excellent thing but it’s also a bit gloomy. Yesterday we managed to cut the grass

and I did some necessary weeding.

This is an attempt at a seventeenth century garden to complement the house, which means formal with straight lines which is what I love anyway. But I also like untamed wild  rustic beauty. The apple espaliers seem to me to combine the best of both.

Happy Easter

April 8, 2012

I’ve been a bit dilatory recently with the blog, partly because I’ve been in London for a few days and partly because the garden is yelling for attention, with everything suddenly growing fast. We no longer have a gardener for reasons of economy. And also because it’s so difficult to find anyone who is at all competent or even interested. I don’t mean to bleat. I adore the garden and it’s the only exercise I take. Before I went away I took a photograph of the back door

which used to be the front door until the introduction of cars, I suppose they might have arrived in these parts in about the 1920s. When we came came in 1998 every time there was a shortage of rain you could l see the large  turning circle for the carriages, carts and traps as a brown shadow on the lawn. Horse drawn vehicles of course can’t be driven backwards or be left to stand long but cars need somewhere to be parked so I’m guessing that’s the reason the house was  changed round so to speak and the back, with its courtyard became the front. You can see that the lintel needs repair and it’s been on our list of things to be done from the beginning. But, being a romantic, I preferred to go ahead with the more exciting idea of transforming a rather dull lumpy tree-darkened lawn in front of it so this is what we did.

As a tribute to Easter and springtime I’m including a picture of the emerging wisteria, which is always rather fascinating as delicious colour emerges from silky grey buds

and the Simnel cake my daughter  made yesterday.

I hope everyone is enjoying themselves as much as I am.

A Hellebore Bore

March 20, 2012

I know pictures of other people’s hellebores are rather boring but they are so tough, reliable and beautiful I can’t resist sharing them. How grateful one is for such large flowers when everything else flowery in  Northamptonshire  is exquisite but tiny at the moment.

Harvington’s Red


 Harvington’s Speckled White to the left and below, Ellen’s Double Picotee

A rather blurred photograph that is self-explanatory. Well, Annegret, a little helleborean challenge. I LOVE your poems. Thank you.



This is the most beautiful cheese made by Elizabeth Fraser-Davies who lives at Cwmglyn Farm, 36 Morgans Road, R.D. 2 EKETAHUNA. 4994, New Zealand. She  has three cows whose milk is turned entirely by hand, her hand,  into these objects of gastronomic wonder. It is approx 20cm high by 20cm diameter. I say approx because actually we’ve already eaten it and it was absolutely delicious, creamy, buttery, crumbly, full of flavour, yum, yum, and I can only say if you’re lucky enough to live in New Zealand do get one.  Elizabeth (Biddy) so kindly sent it all the way to England because she likes my books and I only hope she likes them half as much as I  like her cheese.


I Like Lichens

March 5, 2012

Well, specially now that I’ve looked them up and reassured myself that they won’t harm to my espaliered apples. Instead they just look, to my eyes anyway, beautiful in three colours.

Lichens are a monitor of air pollution and useful for dyeing things (this I shall not try …my dyeing days, as my jam-making days, are sadly over). Also they are a valuable food resource in Siberia where they are extracted, partiallydigested, from the stomach of freshly killed reindeer and caribou and eaten with relish (of mood rather than from a jar). Hm, I think my lichen-eating days are over, too.

I am also  fond of mosses. I  particularly like the little puff of moss on the lips of the Bacchante in the Flower Garden.

In a whimsical mood I imagine some tender-hearted young man in a slightly drunken state pressing his lips to this little puff and finding himself embroiled in a whirl of magical realism along the lines of F. Anstey’s ‘The Tinted Venus’ …a short story, which amuses me no end. I do recommend it

There are varieties of iris for almost every day of the year. In February reticulatas,  little delicate things so welcome among the green-ness  and brown-ness, the dead leaves and twigs, the muddiness of winter.

And later, of course, the wonderful bearded irises to which I am devoted though they bloom for a comparatively short time and they DEMAND their own bit of the garden and if overgrown by any other sort of plant for a split second go into a deep sulk… and they have to have sun so they need a prime spot. As they are difficult to mulch because birds scratch it over the rhizomes and this also puts them off flowering one has to weed constantly with a sharp knife. I weeded my iris border minutely in October…a process as fiddly as drawn-thread work…something I spent hours leaning to do at school and a skill I haven’t needed in my life so far …and because of the mild weather in November and December all the weeds sprang up again ….see work in progress

So I’m wondering why I put up with irises at all. This is the pursuit of beauty akin to madness. But if I’m still doing this blog in May I shall put up photographs that may justify the terrible effort.

Just found a photograph of the same border,  taken last summer when the irises had finished. THE GARDEN TEAM.

And it grew wondrous cold. And ice, mast-high, came floating by,  As green as emerald’

Urn in canal garden.

I hope I’ve got that roughly right. It’ll be familiar to those of us over a certain age  who were made to learn chunks of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at  primary school. I’ve always loved the poem despite the rhymes so often criticised by poetry pundits. Not me. Iused to shed tears for the poor albatross and felt the punishment meted out to the mariner was not nearly severe enough. (I’m talking about my 8 year old self. I no longer cry but my sentiments remain much the same). Well, the first two lines applied on Saturday though sadly NO EMERALD ICE. Chiz! (Tribute to recently deceased Ronald Searle)

Pyramid yews in south garden (a little wonky as trimmed last summer by husband)

Of course this is a pathetic dribble  by comparison with the deluge of white stuff you Canadian girls (women, guys, folks …I don’t want to offend anyone in these sensitive times) get each winter and I know we Limeys are a bit of a joke because England goes into profound shock at a faint dusting … airports and railway stations collapse, schools close and shoppers fight for the last packet of sugar. But some of us still feel a childlike excitement and revel in the beauty, the light, the silence.  My hens hate it.

VC on hen duty, necessary because foxes live in garden.

I hope a word or two about our roof might be of interest. It is tiled in Collyweston slates which is local to this part of Northamptonshire and considered to be of unsurpassed beauty (if you like that sort of thing!) because of its colour and texture, which increases in depth and variety as it ages.  The rock-slate layer lies at a depth of between 20 to 30 feet, and has to be quarried  by hand. Collyweston slates are unique because they are split by frost action. Blocks of limestone called ‘logs’ are dug in December and January, laid on the ground, kept wet and exposed to a succession of frosts and thaws. They must never dry out or they are ruined.  Winters in the latter part of the 20th century being generally mild it has been virtually impossible to quarry new supplies, so what there is in existence  has become  extremely precious.

When we moved here in 1998 the roof had several large concrete patches on it and a week after we arrived a storm brought down a section leaving a hole about six feet square. The decision was taken to  re-roof and insulate at the same time. The house was dark with scaffolding for months but the result was well worth it, I hope you’ll agree.

The old slates that were in a fit condition were of course re-used, fastened to wooden battens…oak because a stone roof is a tremendous weight … with copper pegs (in the old days they sometimes used small animal bones) and the shortfall was made up with reclaimed Collyweston.  You can see from the photograps that the large slates are laid at the bottom reducing in size to little ones at the ridge.

Now, twelve years later, the moss is growing back and every day I get pleasure from glancing up at it for to me the roof is a thing of beauty.

Having looked at a few  blogs I realise that photographs and not much text are the most enjoyable…for me, anyway. I’ve always found it difficult to be brief with pen in hand, so I hope this approach will reform me. Here is a photograph of my front door, a suitable beginning.

The date stone (unreadable because it’s only about the tenth photo I’ve ever taken) is 1633. In this year (for those who were staring out of the window during lessons on the Civil War) Charles I’s enemies were just grumbling in dark corners.  Charles’s second son (James II) and Samuel Pepys … who were to have so much to do with each other … were born, 8 months apart. Also in this year the Pope obliged Gallileo, under threat of torture, to retract his assertion that the earth orbited the sun rather than the other way round. (In 1992 the Vatican admitted they had been wrong.)

Our house, though called The Manor House, is really just a farmhouse.  The double height porch is typical of the early 17th century.  Traditionally the little room above was where stewards or agents did their book-keeping.  For 13 years I’ve been meaning to remove the winter jasmine around the door because it’s too rampant and dreary for 46 weeks of the year. But then, in the coldest weather the little yellow stars come out so I let it live. Also it covers a bodged bit of 20th century  grouting.  Not an impossible eyesore to correct and I can’t think why I haven’t. Could this be the year?  The front door is painted in Farrow and Ball’s Castle Grey.

I am delighted to report that in the absence of a print edition Stormy Weather is now available as a Kindle e-book from:

I am sorry that no UK publisher has seen its way to publish an English print edition.

Best wishes to you all.

Fowl Freedom

April 6, 2010

It’s been warm enough (just) over Easter for me to let the hens out of their pen. Warm enough for me, I mean, to spend more than a few minutes in the garden until rain stops play. To my delight these girls, instead of shunning humankind which has given them such a raw deal in the battery house for the last twelve months , cluster about my feet and follow me closely around the garden as though they are Israelites and I am Moses. They clucked politely when I showed them the hellebore border …rather a grand name for a raised semi-circle of soil and leaf mould but oh, how exquisite their flowers are, pink, white, crimson, purple, yellow, blotched, speckled and plain, interspersed with blue anemone blanda and pink corydalis Beth Evans and hardy cyclamen …really, though I say it myself it does look pretty …anyway the hens were appreciative. They practically crowed when I showed them the canal we put in four years ago, thirty six feet by ten feet and growing only waterlilies (not showing above the surface yet of course). And they admired with coos and chirps my new crabapple borders …six a side, grown in squares of box all  from seedlings and cuttings, interpsersed with squares of catmint but at this time of year filled with bulbs, pink, cream and purple hyacinthsand anemones which give way to narcissus Icewings (to coincide with the pinky white crab apple blossom but in fact they come out too early) followed byCarnival de Nice, a wonderful red and white striped double tulip together with Uncle Tom a  dark red paeony flowered tulip. All supposed to be  like a ‘flowery mead’  only of course, as is always the case with gardening, the effect does not quite come off until you have made adjustments. The pink hyacinths (Fondant)are a little sickly and, after three years of looking at them and thinking this, I’ve decided that nothing will do but to take them out and replace them with a paler pink, DAMN! Anyway the hens thought the effect lovely and were warm in their praise but their enthusiasm for my horticultural schemes paled to nothing when I began to weed and incidentally dug up worms. They screamed with ecstasy and all five wanted to stand on the spot I was working on. Georgie, my adopted stray with a long black-and-white coat, exactly like a sheepdog but cat-shaped, wanted to terrorise them because HE likes to lie on the plant I am clipping or weeding round. He crawled forward and pounced only to receive a sharp peck on the nose. These maltreated hens have the insoucience and aplomb of  robust tiptop mental health specimens. They are an advertisement for imprisonment and torture.  I see that I should have coralled my children into dank gloomy sheds with straw palliases and naked light bulbs instead of investing heavily in luminous stars, revolving pirate bedside lamps, Ninja Turtle duvet covers and My Little Pony blankets. I should have fed them on stale bread instead of Curlywurlies and alphabet potatoes. Then adulthood could only be a feast of fun and indulgence and delight.