The longest day

midsummer

It is a beautiful time of year, and here in the West of Scotland we have been enjoying some incredible weather. Most days you will find me here . . .

knitting

. . . knitting away on my current YOKE, looking at this . . .

view

. . . and occasionally these . . .

tomato

What a joy to have a garden!

clematis
honeysuckle
rose
geranium
borage

The midsummer evenings are truly extraordinary. Around 9.30 the world turns to gold.

whw1
whw3

Every day I am bowled over by the beauty of my surroundings. I like how connected I feel to the outdoors, the surrounding landscape, its sense of space, the changing light, my lovely neighbours. So on the one hand, these days around the longest day have been delightful. But on the other, they have been kind of hideous. Tom, who has suffered from recurrent bouts of appendicitis had an attack last week in Dublin and finally had the offending organ removed in St Vincent’s hospital on Thursday morning. Thank goodness for the prompt and careful action of those surgeons, because it turns out the thing was dangerously gangrenous. Thankfully he is now doing well on some serious antibiotics, but it has nonetheless been a horribly worrying few days during which I have felt rather useless, there being little I could do. I am so incredibly grateful to Una and Roger, with whom Tom has been staying in Dublin, whose support has really been above and beyond. We are hoping to get Tom home by the end of next week and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing him after the grim worries of the past few days. Hopefully he can then spend some time recovering and relaxing in our garden. Its a shame he can’t knit. . . Well, please keep Tom in your thoughts, everyone, and I hope you are enjoying a lovely Midsummer weekend!

Pottering

clematis

Tom is away, working in Ireland at the moment. I really miss him, but I am distracting myself by working very hard on my YOKES, and am enjoying pottering in the garden in my spare moments.

leeks

I cannot use a spade (I have tried, and I just fall over), and we knew there was going to be a limit to what I could feasibly do this Spring in the garden in Tom’s absence. But with a couple of raised beds, a plastic lean-to, and many containers, I’m not doing so bad.

lettuce

I brought salad leaves on in the lean-to, planted them out in a raised bed and have been amazed at how well they are doing. I don’t want to speak too soon, but as yet they have remained mercifully unmolested by pests – the raised beds have a protective cordon of bark and copper tape, which has proved an effective slug deterrant. More remarkably, perhaps, the deer and rabbits have not yet taken the opportunity to chow down on my tasty crops. There are certainly rabbits and hares in abundance in our environs (I enjoy seeing the hares if I’m out on an early morning walk) but so far, there have been surprisingly few in our garden. My neighbours (who inform me that we are usually overrun with bunnies by this point in the Spring) think that Jesus (our cat) has something to do with it. He has been seen out on the prowl in the early hours, and kindly leaves headless rodents on my doorstep, as well as those of my neighbours, from time to time. If the rabbits are concerned that they or their offspring might meet the same fate, it is all to the good. But I have no idea how he is seeing off the deer.

Meanwhile, in my containers, the beans are doing their bean-thing. . .

beanpole

.. . the cabbages are looking cabbage-y . . .

cabbage

. . . beetroot is sprouting . . .

beetroot

. . .and some tatties, which my dad and I planted rather late a couple of weeks ago, are starting to appear.

tatties

There will be fruit too – raspberries and strawberries.

strawberry

. . . and there are tiny gooseberries on the tiny gooseberry bush!

gooseberry

Yesterday I took the squash and courgettes from the lean-to and planted them out in 10 litre pots to see how they do.

squash

If I see a spare space in a container I pop in a petunia. . .

petunia

. . .and the back of the garden has presented me with other, unexpected floral delights.

iris

But what I seem to have most of are tomatoes. I started growing them from seed in the bathroom several months ago and their flowers and trusses are now starting to appear.

tomatoflower

The lean-to is now taken up with eight very vigorous tomato plants, and I have probably twice that number rotating in and around the house. My mum ventured yesterday evening that I might have grown too many tomatoes.

What do you think?

manytomatoes

Please to note the housemartin, to the right of the photo, on its way to its nest under our eaves. Their nests are beautifully compact and sturdy and I love to hear them chit-chattering above my head when I’m sitting outside knitting at the back of the house. Last year, when the housemartins had finished with their nests, a few were occupied by late broods of swallows. Will that happen again this year?

Every day, in one way or another, I am grateful to be living here.

garden days

pots

One of the saddest things I had to do in the months following my stroke was to give up our Edinburgh allotment. I simply did not have the strength and energy to maintain a garden, and since then I have rather missed growing things. Our new home has lots of outdoor space, and happily I have more energy and strength (though I have to leave the digging and hauling stuff about to Tom). This is the first time we have had a garden of our own and we are really enjoying it.

shed

Looking North and West from the top of the garden you can see Ben Lomond. The West Highland Way is just behind us, and you often hear the clink of the gate and the voices of walkers and cyclists as they pass. Away down the garden and past the house to the South there is the loch, and woods, in which, today, the first cuckoo of Spring was singing. It is a grand spot. I am trying not to be too ambitious with the planting this first year, and we are mostly growing things in pots and a couple of raised beds (which Tom is currently digging out). I have also put up a lean-to next to the shed, where I am bringing on the plants I started indoors.

salad

There will be salad leaves and herbs and tomatoes. I am very fond of sweet peas, and have planted several varieties, the shoots of which are currently colonising the bathroom. The other day, I found a few forget-me-nots behind the shed and potted them on.

forgetmenot

. . . and things in other pots are flowering

droplet

cowslip

There is blossom on the exciting spiny shrub that I’ve now been told is an ornamental quince (thanks, Lynn and Miriana!)

crabapple

Time for tea.

bench

basket

How very nice it is to be able to grow a few things and have this space to potter about in.

confectionery

A post for those of you who have been wondering about the earlier appearance of the Himalayan poppy. On our drives through Argyll to catch the Islay ferry, I am often struck by the displays of azaleas and rhododendrons in the front gardens between Inveraray and Lochgilphead. These, in lurid 1970s shades of pink and orange, look amazing when set against the slatey blue-green waters of Loch Fyne, and I have often wondered if the locals are buying their plants at Crarae.

An Edwardian garden acquired by the National Trust in 2002, Crarae showcases an important collection of Himalayan plants in an absolutely stunning setting. Rhododendron Ponticum rightly gets a bad press in a Highland context, but Crarae is home to 600 different rhododendron species and hybrids, which are carefully managed among the native woodland.

The Crarae burn tumbles down the hillside to Loch Fyne, and the garden is built around the water and its gorge. Petal-strewn paths and bridges criss-cross the burn through colourful, gloriously scented woods, while the presence of larches, firs, and and tantalising glimpses of the surrounding lochs and mountains remind you that you are in Scotland, not the Himalayas.

I am sure the garden looks beautiful when it puts on its Autumn hues, but surely nothing beats the colourful eye-candy of the place in early June.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and I was definintely in the mood for Crarae’s crazy floral confectionery.

The paths around the garden are very well-designed, with several waymarked routes for different walking abilities. I was particularly pleased to see that the Trust had designed a low-level wheelchair-accessible route, which took in the wonderful display of meconopsis at the top of this post. But, after my walking experiments, I was feeling ambitious, and decided to attempt the “white route”, which covered a couple of kilometres and some steep stretches up and down the gorge. The paths are managed, so unlike a “real” hill, there are steps, hand-rails, and benches to assist those who are tired or uncertain of foot. This was a great way for me to to attempt some inclines, and to enjoy some glorious sights and smells along the way.

I managed without the crutch again, as you can see, and am thinking more and more that gardens (of which there are many superb examples in Scotland, including Inverewe, which I shamefully have never seen) are a marvelous way for me to enjoy the outdoors while I am rehabilitating.

In other news, I must also report a resounding confectionery success, relative to which I have a query. While my own baking is rather workaday and unexciting (limited to bread, scones, and the occasional carrot or marmalade cake) Tom has a penchant for fancy cakes and pies which he makes extremely well. He has quite an exacting approach, and can spend months comparing and testing different recipes for tarte tatin or clafoutis. (This means, of course, that I get to try out these delicious treats and I am not complaining). While I was in hospital, Tom did not bake much, and consequently found himself buying a fair few cakes. He developed a fondness for a particular dessert made by Maison Blanc for Waitrose – a sort of chewy, nutty meringue, sandwiched together with mascarpone. He has been wanting to make this since he first tried it, but the cake was bewilderingly unnamed on the Maison Blanc box, and his search for a recipe was initially hampered by the fact that neither of us really knew what to call it. When I was a kid, Smiths, our local bakers sold something similar, (albeit less deluxe) which we referred to as a japonais, but a search for this did not turn up a recipe. Tom finally found a description of something called “Swiss Meringue” in Leith’s techniques bible, which, with chopped hazelnuts and white-wine vinegar to assure chew, sounded about right, and he tried it out on Sunday night. We lacked mascarpone, so he whipped up a vanilla cream instead. This thing was really unbelievably good – much better, indeed, than the Maison Blanc original. Courtesy of the swiss meringue, we have been happily floating away to pattiserie-land for the past couple of evenings, and it has whetted Tom’s appetite to attempt more in the way of such desserts. He has never made macaroons, and has read conflicting things about their ease (or lack thereof) of execution. He wondered whether you had recommendations of a good macaroon recipe, or whether you might have any macaroon-making tips. Any advice very gratefully received!

mead mountain x2

A White Christmas! And time, once again, to ascend mead mountain. Does doing this more than once make it a ritual or tradition? Whatever it is, the excitement of uncovering a bottle of home-brewed mead, buried at the top of a mountain, really never goes away. This bottle had a full twelve months to mature in its trusted site . . .

. . . and if possible, it tasted even better than last year’s vintage. Slainte!

To add even more fun to the mix, we had brought our fell shoes along with the idea of having a reviving Christmas run in the snow. So I took off my boots and donned my trusty Walshes (thanks once again for the super socks, Viv!) . . .

I can assure you that mead plus fell shoes is quite a heady combination. The feet securely grip the ice; the body glows with the power of delicious home-brewed fuel; one generally feels quite invincible. It was an exhilarating descent.



Phew! After a crazy snowy hurtle, we made our way homeward, stopping off at the allotment to collect the finishing touches for dinner.

It was very satisfying indeed to pull something we’d grown out of the cold ground. And one of my favourite gardening buddies stopped by to say Merry Christmas.

The allotments looked beautiful in the snow.

We are having a lovely holiday, and I hope you are too, however you like to spend it. Thanks so much for being with me throughout December, and particularly for all your comments, which I always appreciate and love to read. Seasonal joy to you, till we meet again in 2010!

on show

show1

Today I visited the Edinburgh and District Allotments and Garden Associations Show. I found out about the show too late to enter (not that anything I’ve grown would have won any prizes, mind, but I do have hopes next year for the “any knitted item” category). I really enjoyed myself — it was great to see everyone’s veggies and chat to fellow gardeners — and, despite the weather over the past couple of months, there were some marvelous vegetables on show.

onions

The onions gave me serious onion envy, and I confess to a brief, wistful moment when I looked at the tomatoes. For, I am very sad to report that all of my tomato plants fell prey to blight. This was a distressing sight when I returned home from the Hebrides, but I also felt bad for my allotment buddy, who was kindly taking care of things, and in my absence witnessed the onset of the evil spore. (I was able to salvage a crop of green tomatoes for chutney, so all was not lost).

I took note of some evidently successful and interesting vegetable varieties. I definitely want to try milan purple tops (you can see some inbetween the swedes and the carrots – beautiful).

neeps

There were some gorgeous blooms on display, too. Dahlias in abundance.

dahlia1
dahlia2

I was very impressed with the stained glass panel that won the “art or sculpture” category. Here is a detail. . .

glass

. . . but my favourite entry was this arrangement, “the dark heart of savoy” — it was awarded second prize in its category.

savoy

I love the rich colours, and the incorporation of all kinds of produce into the display — there are brambles, beetroot, and broccoli in there! I enjoyed chatting to the chap who entered it — he was very pleased with his prize.

lotment

After the show, I spent a glorious golden afternoon on the allotment. I started cutting back the unruly hawthorn hedge that is currently stealing sunlight light from my beans. The hedge must be tamed, and the veggies must have light. The hedge resisted, but me and my pruning saw won in the end. That said, despite the goggles and industrial protective gear I was wearing (which would lead any observer to assume that I’d just got out of the puzzle factory) I managed to cut myself several times (the blood actually spurted! hawthorn is evil!) There is more of this to be done, but I think I might leave battling the remainder of the hedge till Tom returns from his immunological extravaganza in Berlin. . .

hawthorn(I chopped it).

Having been thoroughly inspired at the show, it was nice to come home with my own modest basket of veggies, and begin making plans for next year.

radish

GQT *

allotments

Sarah (possessor of much gardening wisdom) popped round for lunch today. The weather was just right for pottering about down the allotment, and I took the camera along so you can see how things are progressing.

3795749426_5af8dc54ee

The tomatoes and courgettes are ripening nicely, and at least some of the beans survived the Evil Slug Attack which decimated many of their comrades in their early stages. I love the beautiful blue borage flowers, and am pleased that the bees like it just as much as I. (Perhaps we need to get our hands on a bottle of Pimms?) After some enthusing about the flourishing leeks, and commiserations about the non-existent lettuce (slugs again – bah), we sowed “pronto” beetroot, chinese radish, and a few more varieties of turnip (my neep obsession deepens daily). Sarah inspected the pond. The resident frog did not appear, but I know he’s in there.

sarah&frogbuddy

Her sweater makes me want to knit another one.

In the greenhouse, the grapes are abundant, and fill me with consternation. I can’t believe that the unruly woody thing I chopped back and trained across the roof a couple of months ago is producing these wonders. Now, I inherited this vine from Billy (the allotment’s former gardener), and, never having grown grapes before feel something of a novice. While poking about in my books tells me that these grapes are likely to be bianca, or black hamburgh, I don’t know how to distinguish grape varieties, and really have no clue what these are. Nor am I sure if a grape should look like this at this particular stage of growth. I’m a little worried by those black specks on the fruit too. . .

grapes

Can anyone help me out? Should I be concerned by the specks? Any tips that you may have for successful greenhouse grape-growing would really be very much appreciated. I have been happily dreaming of Tom incorporating these beauties into a tasty home-brewed beverage later in the season, and must make the dream A Reality.

Talking of making dreams reality, thanks so much for your support in my quest for the “promotional non-cereal breakfast product” (to paraphrase Liz), also known as The Dorset Cereals Eggcup of Dreams. This wee clip from Father Ted pretty much sums up my feelings.


(now available to watch on 4 OD)

Thanks, everyone! Now we must wait and see. . . .

* Gardener’s Question Time

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