Saturday, 12 July 2014

Open Gardens

The gardens at a village two miles north west of the town where we live were open on Saturday 14th and Sunday 15th June as part of the National Gardens Scheme.  Thousands of gardens throughout England and Wales open their gates each year in order to raise money for nursing and caring charities.  Many of these gardens are not normally open to the public.  Keen to get ideas for our amateur efforts at the Old Rectory, S and I went along.

The first thing that caught my eye was the old telephone box.  If you look closely, you will see that it is no longer used for making telephone calls - well, surely everyone has a mobile phone now - but rather it is the village lending library.  This appeals to me enormously as an ex-librarian.  You can take the girl out of the library but you can't take the library out of the girl, so there are few things that warm my heart more than a shelf of books.  And such a brilliant way to save that old red phone box.

In the first garden that we visited, we were transfixed by the screening off of the working area, fascinating creatures that we are.  I am currently a student of Monty Don, English television presenter, writer and speaker on horticulture, having now read two of his books and currently slowly working my way through The Ivington Diaries inbetween reading novels.  This is the story of his own garden near Hereford, on the border with Wales.  I am currently boring everyone to death by quoting Monty all the time - Monty says that you should restrict the roots of the fig tree so that it fruits, Monty says that the hostas are stressed in pots and should be planted out in the soil, which will make them more resistant to disease, Monty says that mushroom compost is the best...and so on.  Well, Monty also says that every garden should have a work hub with compost bins, areas to mix compost, store wheel barrows and so on.  We must obviously create one and I'd like it to be next to the gardening shed and screened off, rather like the one in the picture below.

View from the Back..
...And View from the Front
Other ideas gleaned from this garden were this rockery below.  Which gave me heart that even S and I can have a go at laying a wall like this, bearing in mind that we currently have piles of stones strewn around the garden, the remnants of the fallen wall.

We liked the look of this shrub but don't know what it is.  Some kind of viburnum perhaps...?

The third garden that we visited was truly magical.  On a slope at the edge of the village with a wonderful view across the Wiltshire countryside, you enter through a rose covered arch.

There was a shaded area to the left with a pond and watching statue standing by.

At the bottom of the slope was another rather larger pond with a boathouse and a rowing boat.  Even though it was a pond, not a lake and, therefore, not a very large expanse of water in which to row a boat, it was very romantic.  The thought of lolling about reading in the gently rocking boat on a sunny day was very appealing.  Or sipping an evening glass of prosecco whilst leaning on the balcony waiting for the barbecue to cook.

In the next garden, we were impressed by this apple tree through which a rose had been growing for the past thirty years.  It was a mass of white and smelt glorious.  The owner of the garden walked around with us.  I envied his retirement and he redressed that envy by telling us about his dementia, how he could no longer remember how to drive and, with no bus service to this village, had lost his independence and was reliant on his wife.  We asked him the name of a plant in the garden and he said that the ability to recall such things was long gone.  It was a dark cloud during a pleasant day and we left his side feeling rather more subdued.

The next house on the itinerary was not simply a house but rather the Hall, the stables of which have a very French feel, I think.  They give me the sense of being in Normandy, rather than Wiltshire.

Although not all of the grounds were open and, sadly, not the wonderful orangerie, which I have visited in the past, visitors were welcome to go into the walled kitchen garden.  I do like a kitchen garden.  I love to see rows of vegetables and to admire fruit bushes.  In a lean-to greenhouse, they were growing almonds and peaches.  In the garden itself, I was much taken with the idea of arches of apple trees.

And swathes of Nigella, love-in-a-mist.  More romance.

This reminds me that, as we have started planting up some of our beds, we have discovered that one plant is not enough so I have started buying three of everything.  Except now that I stand back and look at the bed by the gate, I'm starting to think that three isn't enough so might up that number to five.  At least.

Anyhow, some ideas gained.  Some charitable giving.  And some rather nice blueberry cake and a cup of tea.  A grand day out.

Monday, 30 June 2014

A Few of my Favourite Things...

Well, not really my favourite things but I was just looking back over the photographs of the past year and I found these, which I haven't included in this blog to date.

Clematis outside the back door.

Daisies in the 'orchard' - pretentious, moi?

Sprocket the Dog

The Vegetable Garden - in our dreams! - at Night

There's something lovely about standing in the garden at night when the house is full of people and the lights are on.  Then it seems like home.

Blue skies and overgrown shrubs

Why would you fly away?  A sunny English spring.  Nothing better.

Toadstools (or mushrooms) covered in Leylandii droppings

The Shaded Path to the Unused Gate - will be the title of my murder novel when I finally get round to writing it!

Bread.  And more to come.  S has become a master baker in recent weeks.  He's fettling his sourdough as we speak.

Great British Bake-Off - my mum or Mary Berry?  It's a tough one.

Hot buttered bread for tea.

Sun rise over the Old Rectory garden.
First outside meal of the year.

Sprocket again.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Stoned...or De-Stoned!

Why have I never had a cherry stoner before now?  It is a truly wondrous thing.  Just put in your cherry, squeeze, et voila!  A stoneless cherry.  I got mine from Lakeland (ever eager to get some sponsorship for this blog!) for £7.59.  It does olives too.

A Sparkling Cherry Stoner
I love cherries!  My favourite fruit.  But only ever eat them when they are in season and English.  There is no joy in something that has been shipped from afar and is mean and sour.  My favourite dessert at this time of year is a bowl of berries: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and cherries.  And, towards the end of the summer, blackberries too.  Yummy!

Berries in a Bowl
It's a time of year for salads too.  And I do like a good salad.  This one is from the Waitrose Magazine and is very delicious.  And healthy.  Recipe here.

To complement the salad, we have, of course, freshly baked bread.  S has turned his hand to baking, with great success, and I haven't bought a loaf in weeks.  Some examples of his prowess.

White Bread
Brown Bread
Special Bread Basket for Proving that Creates Those Concentric Circles on the Bread
The Bread Maker's Tools
Walnut and Honey Bread - a Triumph!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Old Rectory on the Road

We had a few days away at Easter.  It's been ages since I went anywhere for longer than a day.  My brother came to look after our mum and his dogphew.  We headed off to Suffolk.  We've been before and we know the area so it was easy.  We wouldn't have to rush around sightseeing.  We could just relax, read and be.

It wasn't until just before we left that I noticed that the description of the cottage that we had booked said 'with no electricity'.  "It says 'with no electricity'", I observed to S.  "What do you think that means?"  "I expect it means that it hasn't got any electricity."  The man is a genius of no small proportions.

WHAAAATTTT????!!!!  That meant no lap top, no iPad, no iPod, no Kindle, no mobile phone charger, no hairdryer, no toothbrush, no television.  No. Electric. Kettle.  Tea!!!!  How would we survive?  Panic set in.  But instead of doing the sensible thing, cancelling immediately and waving our deposit goodbye, we set off.

The house turned out to be a gamekeeper's cottage set in a wooded glade on the outskirts of the small village of Yoxford.  Very Lady Chatterley's.  We woke the first morning to a group of deer peering at us from just a few yards away.  However, it was too chilly for frolics and daisy chains.

The cottage had open fires in the sitting room and bedroom and a wood burning stove, rather like an Aga but called an Esse, dealt with the cooking and heating.  Light came from candles.  (And a torch for the inevitable middle of the night trips to the loo.  It's our age.)  We got on well the first night.  I cooked a ratatouille on the hob and it was delicious.  Mellors, aka S, began to plan his first loaf of bread.

However, after that, we couldn't get the stove hot.  It was hot enough to heat the water for tea and to give us bath water but the oven wasn't sufficiently hot for bread.  Then it started to smoke from every orifice, setting off the carbon monoxide alarm twice, which made us a bit twitchy to say the least.  And it is wrong to claim that there is no smoke without fire.  We stank of smoke and there was no discernible fire in that stove.  Although we didn't realise how bad we smelt until we got home.  So, apologies to the delightful staff at the wonderful Crown and Castle Hotel in Orford, owned by Ruth Watson of Hotel Inspector fame.  We thought we were oh so elegant when in fact we smelt like we'd been standing beside a pile of burning old tyres for a week.

On the Saturday morning, we couldn't get the kettle warm enough for tea.  Disaster.  We headed to Snape Maltings, but too early for it actually to be open.  We were saved by the village shop.  It was the last straw and we called for help.  The estate managers, who look after the cottage, arrived bearing an electric kettle.  Yes.  An.  Electric.  Kettle.  They removed part of the wall with an allen key and there were the sockets.  The builders who had renovated the property had said it was mad to be 'with no electricity' because they wouldn't be able to use their drills to repair things.  And so there was, in fact, 'electricity'.  And I guess that explains the inverted commas.  It's to protect against charges that they are contravening the Trade Descriptions Act.  Because they say there is no electricity when there is.  I'm not bitter.

All this aside, it was a lovely place to stay.  Romantic and peaceful.  Some pictures.  And, if you want to book it, go to Best of Suffolk.