At least this morning we have bright sunshine, although even before I looked out of the window I could tell from the clarity of light there would be frost too. There is. Indoors, I keep peering at my tomato seedlings and thinking, ‘why did I start you off so soon?’ They say they don’t know either. Ah well, when it comes to gardening, as with much else, all one can do is travel hopefully. Meanwhile, fingers crossed, we’ve seen the back of these wintry scenes. You can click on an image to also see these in carousel format.
Miriam Wilkinson nee Hickling: 21st February 1914 – 17th March 2003
There was only one thing my aunt loved more than her Devon garden, and that was the Derbyshire Peak District – the lanes round Bradwell, Ashford and Hathersage, the byways of Fox and Bennett family forebears. To a child brought up in the suburbs of Manchester, the Peak District of spring and summer holidays seemed like heaven.
For most of her married life, Miriam was a nomad – living in 42 different rented flats. Each one she tried to make home, and always with much flair and limited funds, as she followed her engineer husband from one telephone exchange to another, whenever and wherever he was dispatched to oversee the upgrade of Britain’s telecommunications. They had married at the start of World War 2, and the header photo probably dates from around this time. After a makeshift marriage whither my grandmother had arrived wearing only her shopping clothes since she looked down on the whole affair, Miriam had been left married, but stranded with her unsympathetic parents while my uncle was posted off to West Africa.
Looking back, he must have been helping to provide British navel and military intelligence with radio surveillance capability since he had no service rank as far as I know. He apparently lived in some style out in Africa. But it was all change a year later when he was posted to Coventry during the Blitz, presumably to work on restoring bombed out telephone connections. And this is where married life actually began, in a dismal rent room smelling of boiled cabbage and with Luftwaffe bombs raining down.
My uncle did not cope well with either the bombing or the war-time privations. Miriam had to keep him together on all fronts, while she went to work in a munitions factory. I cannot imagine what it was really like for her. She had lived a life of quiet and modest gentility, though always within the orbit of rich relatives. She had endured her mother’s spirit-crushing jibes while doting on a father who, in her hearing, had once described her to a family friend as ‘a dud’. Neither her mother or father had the faintest idea about parenting or how to prepare their two daughters for adult life.
My grandmother had been mostly brought up by a housemaid and a slightly dotty aunt as her own twice widowed mother drifted around in black silk dresses, taking covert sips of gin, while presiding over a Cheshire Inn. Grandfather had been abandoned by his own mother, who apparently fled merchant-class respectability and ran off to be an actress. She deposited grandfather with his dour Victorian Hickling grandparents, though returned in later life from time to time, wafting in at the family firm for a cash injection from ‘master Georgie’.
You can well see how lives of ‘quiet desperation’ get handed on from generation to generation.
Miriam had a talent for drawing and writing but even this outlet was denied. She had poor eyesight and had terrible headaches, but my grandfather would not let her have spectacles. No visible signs of imperfection would be tolerated. She told me how once, when returning from a childhood trip to Derbyshire by train, she had developed a rash on her face. Her parents being highly alarmed, took themselves off to another carriage to complete the journey to Manchester leaving Miriam alone in a state of disgrace. By the time she was fourteen she had suffered four nervous breakdowns and had to be taken out of school. Both she and my mother, who was eight years younger, were sent to small private schools. My mother was not allowed take up a place at a prestigious girls’ high school despite gaining a scholarship. My grandfather would have no ‘blue stockings’ in his family. He had some notion that providential husbands would somehow materialise: both his daughters would ‘marry well’ and thus be taken care of.
They did not and they were not. But each in their own very different ways made the best of very bad jobs, though in my mother’s case her methods of choice were destructive and damaging to others. Miriam remained stalwart, loyal to a man whose nerves were fragile, and who, in extremis, once attempted to strangle her as she slept.
My mother, Peggy, probably sixteen years old, Miriam around the time of her marriage circa 1939. Both stepping out with so much intention.
Miriam did not have a home of her own until the mid-1960s. It was on top of the hill in Pinhoe, near Exeter. There she made a garden that was filled with wildflower reminders of girlhood Derbyshire holidays – dame’s violets, bloody cranesbill, saxifrage, cowslips, primroses, the wild yellow pansies of the limestone uplands. In their latter years, she and my uncle took to having an annual spring holiday in the Derbyshire Peak District. It was a source of great joy to both of them. Sometime later I took her ashes there.
Miriam around 4 years old c 1918. The first time she met her father was when he returned from France at the end of the Great War. He had been an ambulance driver, and came home with gas-damaged lungs, which left him an invalid for the rest of his life. It left him the poorer too with years of medical bills to meet. He said wearing a gas mask got in the way when he was trying to pick up the wounded.
copyright 2016 Tish Farrell
The field path to the allotment was a slithery assault course after heavy rain and the wind was bitter, but on the big allotment bonfire-heap-in-waiting there was treasure. On top were slices of a new builder’s pallet that someone had sawn up to make for easier disposal. Well thank you very much. Naturally I had to retrieve these for recycling man and the home wood burner pile. I stacked the pieces by the hedge beside my exit route for later transportation i.e. once I’d emptied my big blue IKEA bag of vegetable peelings on the compost heap; the reason for my visit.
But then once I’d fished out the pallet pieces I realised someone had dumped a mass of garden waste that would be so much better on my compost heap. (Why do people who garden not make compost?) My good fortune though. I filled the IKEA bag to bursting. And it was during this exercise and under a load of tree prunings that I found the other half of the pallet that had not been sawn up. Yippee! It was just the right size to make the side of a new compost bin. I lugged it up to my plot along with the compost makings. Dug up the last of the carrots and discovered some parsnips. It was then I realised I’d been so busy scavenging and rootling, the weather had sneaked up on me. Over Windmill Hill there was a storm coming in. Just time to slither home across the field, deliver the pallet bits and untangle the sheets that had tied themselves in knots on the washing line. When I took them indoors they were filled with fresh-air smells that made me think of spring.
copyright 2018 Tish Farrell
All was glittering in the garden this morning – the first real frost of November. There was bright sunshine too, so I went around the flower beds snapping these fragile Hesperanthus. They have been flowering so bravely, though perhaps not for much longer. Then I stood in the sun at the top of the garden by the field and did some qi gong. It always feels best done outside, and there’s nothing like a bit of cloud hands waving and dancing with rainbows to spark up the spirits. Happy Friday!
So far my Monday has been unusually zippy. This morning I did the final edit on a short story and emailed it off to a literary magazine that specialises in ‘emerging writers’. Because the thing is, and this can be a commonly depressing condition for many long-published, but still unknown writers, after many years of publication, and awards won on three continents – (am especially proud of the Golden Duck for my contribution to children’s science fiction writing, Write Your Own Science Fiction Stories), I am still emerging. It is a damn slow process too – being half in and half out of my chrysalis. Nor am I entirely sure if those parts which are out have fully metamorphosed.
Anyway, I was quite pleased with the story and, having despatched it into cyberspace, I then felt free to go gardening for three hours. The allotment is verdant because at last we’ve had rain that has soaked into the soil. The runner and French beans have switched into prolific mode; I have a polytunnel full of groovy little yellow squashes, and the tomatoes are beginning to ripen.
Out on the plots there were butterflies everywhere, and for a while I faffed about with my Canon Ixus running after them in daft-bat mode. I also got the mower out and cut all the paths around my one and half plots – not my favourite task. Then I faffed some more, snapping an artichoke which proved a particularly absorbing subject.
Around 2 pm I thought I ought to head home and provide lunch for He Who Is Teaching Himself To Make Mortise And Tenon Joints So He Can Create A Shed Door, (where would we be without those life enhancing You Tube videos that show you such things as how to skin a dover sole, make almond milk and clean the stairs properly?) And it was then I spotted this Red Admiral on the Doronicum beside said evolving, currently doorless shed.
I am taking the butterfly as inspiration. This is how it will be when I’m full emerged. What I splash I’ll make. How high I’ll fly. Though I do hope for a slightly longer life span. In the meantime here’s a rather fascinating view of life inside a gone-to-seed globe artichoke.
P.S. Did you spot the web?
This year I seem to have started off the zucchini aka courgette season with a glut. I anyway usually slice them into spaghetti strips or noodles to use, seasoned, sprinkled with fresh chopped oregano or coriander, and warmed through with a little oil or butter, instead of pasta. They go well with either tomato or meat based sauces.
But then as the harvest began to multiply beyond the sensible, including exceeding neighbour capacity, my mind wended towards cake. I remembered having a delicious slice of lemon courgette cake last year in a museum cafe. So I did a trawl of recipes on the internet, and adapted a gluten free flour one found at The Pink Rose Bakery into a ground almond-polenta version. In fact I’ve been using ground almonds (and or polenta flour) in most of my cake recipes these days. They give much lighter, moister results.
So this is what I did:
Lemon Zucchini Cake
20 cm/8” deep cake tin, oiled
oven 180 C/160 C fan/350 F
250 gm/ good 8 oz of coarsely grated zucchini/courgette placed in sieve over sink to drain
2 large eggs
125ml/4 fl oz vegetable oil. I used groundnut
150gm/5 oz sugar. I used coconut flower sugar for its slight toffee flavour
112 gm/4 oz polenta flour
112 gm/4oz ground almonds
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder
3/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
zest of one unwaxed lemon, though zest of two would not hurt if you like lemon
1. In large bowl beat eggs, oil and sugar together until smooth;
2. Stir into the batter all the other ingredients except the zucchini;
3. Gently squeeze any excess moisture from zucchini and add to the mix, distributing well;
4. Pour into tin and bake for around 45 mins until lightly browned and firm to the touch. I was using a fan oven. Probably wise to check after 30 mins.
5. Cool in tin for 10 mins. Turn out onto rack and sprinkle with coconut flower sugar.
Options: You could drizzle it with icing made with lemon juice and icing sugar, or maybe add a carrot cake topping, although we found the cake sweet enough without. I’m also thinking you could swap the lemon zest for orange zest, and use half a teaspoon of cinnamon in place of the vanilla essence. And I think the cake would be good served with fresh raspberries and creme fraiche. Unfortunately we have now eaten it before I could try out this last suggestion. But never mind. There are plenty more essential ingredients growing at the allotment.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
Daily Post Photo Challenge: Satisfaction
Over the past few days the butterflies have been feasting on the allotment buddleia bushes. From top down we have: Red Admiral, Comma, and Small Tortoiseshell. In the teasels we have assorted bumbles:
This morning when I arrived at the plot, there were insects everywhere. It was also very hot, so I was glad to take a break from sieving compost and wander round, capturing some of the busy foragers. Having had a nice little play with my Canon Ixus, I then went back to work. I harvested my onions, hung them in the sun to dry, watered the polytunnel jungle, fought the tomato vegetation into submission, discovered a neat little cauliflower out in the raised beds, picked French beans, courgettes, plucked a few beetroot to make borsch and a lettuce for our neighbours, sowed some golden beetroot, carrots and Florence fennel, then staggered home across the field whither I arrived a very dishevelled and grubby person. Back at the homestead, he who is building a shed in the back garden had erected the fourth wall to his edifice, or at least the framework for same. And having laboured all morning and well beyond lunchtime, we then retreated to the cool of the kitchen for a restoring cup of tea. And there you have it, Monday chez Farrell – overheated but happy.
Am linking this to Jo’s Monday Walk which (as ever) is totally fabulous this week. Please trot over there for a longer walk than mine to the allotment, and also for some very lovely candlelit scenes around the streets of Lagoa.
You have to be out of bed rather earlier than I am to catch the Morning Glories unfurling. That is probably lesson number one: be up and doing earlier in the day; nurture the creative impulse before the world of dreaming totally recedes and mundane matters like doing the washing impose.
Then there is the lesson of making the most of opportunities as they arise, and at least here I came up to scratch. I dashed outside in my night attire to capture this scene. The hoverfly will feast. The Morning Glory will be pollinated. And I am watching, recording and posting. Everyone wins.
All the same, on the side lines my writer’s nerves are jangling. There are other lessons here. For one thing I have several works in stasis, projects that I dearly wish to complete. But for some reason I’m not attending to any of them. The danger is that procrastination may soon transmogrify into something toxic – a stultifying sense of failure that in turn becomes a downward spiral of non-doing and self-recrimination. The writer’s vicious circle.
But wait! I’m hurrying back to see what has happened to the Morning Glory. By late afternoon the sky coloured canopy of the day’s high hopes has imploded – the colours deepening, bruise-like. It is hard not to feel a pang of loss for such swiftly passing loveliness.
Yet there is a beauty here too in the subtle end-of-spectrum shades. Not failure, but process. Deep within the crumpled sheath things are happening. The hoverfly has done its work. There will be fruit in the making, new seeds to ripen and sow. Tomorrow is another day. Another chance to bloom. Time to get back to work then.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell
P.S. For more beauty in decay, pop over to Sue Judd’s blog. It is a theme she explores in many arresting photo essays
Next to my excitement in turning over a well-rotted compost heap, comes the joyous anticipation of lifting the first potatoes. Will they have grown well? Will the slugs and other pests have got in there first and had a feast? But no. Here they are – somewhat irregular in shape due to the long, long dry spell with only two or three rain showers to spur them on – lovely Belle de Fontenay.
This is an heirloom variety introduced in France in 1885. Pale yellow, firm, waxy – ideal for steaming or boiling, their flavour apparently improving with keeping , although I cannot verify that bit as we generally eat as I dig. And as well as arriving early, these pommes de terre have other obliging qualities. They don’t mind what kind of soil they are grown in, and they seem to love my allotment, which given its unyielding soil, is a huge plus.
This year I planted most of the potatoes on the ground I’d covered with several inches of partially rotted compost back in the autumn. I also sprinkled in some biochar and fish, blood and bone meal before planting in April. This was a half and half no-dig enterprise, in as much as the overwintering compost cover saved me from having to dig over the whole plot as I would have done in the past. I didn’t dig trenches either, just a row of holes, one for each potato.
The ultimate no-dig method would be to simply bury the spuds by hand in the compost layer, thereafter adding more compost to earth them up. But then that requires an awful lot of compost.
Anyway, compromise is everything when it comes to allotment gardening.
The spuds in the photo were delicious, steamed and shared last night with good friends from Buffalo, Jack and Kathy, who come each year like swallows to spend the summer in Wenlock. Also on the menu was Chicken Hymettus (recipe below), and also from the allotment, finely sliced greens (Tuscan kale, Swiss chard, beet leaves, Greyhound cabbage), Onward peas, lightly steamed, and served with a walnut and parsley pesto sauce.
Hymettus Chicken (serves 4)
chicken portions cut in half if large – I used thighs as they were
limes – juice and zest of 3 (or 2 lemons)
saffron strands – a good pinch
oil and butter for frying
honey – 2 tablespoons preferably light and runny though I used gooey dark African
thyme – 2 teaspoons fresh chopped/ 1 level teaspoon dried
mint – 2 tablespoons chopped
salt and pepper
almonds flaked – a handful
Prick skin of chicken pieces, place in shallow dish and pour over lime juice and zest. Marinate in the fridge for 1-2 days, turning meat occasionally.
When ready to cook, put saffron in a cup and add 4 tablespoons boiling water and leave for 20 mins.
Lift chicken from marinade with slotted spoon and fry in butter and oil till golden brown all over.
Strain saffron and mix liquid with honey and the remaining marinade. Pour over chicken, add thyme (I actually used Greek oregano), half the mint, and salt and pepper. Cover and simmer very gently for 45 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Toast the almond flakes and to serve, sprinkle over the dish with the rest of the mint.
This recipe works well cooked a day in advance and then reheated.
copyright 2017 Tish Farrell