In these viral days – virtual and actual – we could probably all do with some regular infusions of lemon balm tea. Medical herbalists prescribe it for anxiety, shock, insomnia and all round jangled nerves. Simply brushing your fingers against the stems fills the air with a lemony minty freshness that lifts the spirits. Last night as I was standing at the kitchen door, waiting for the couscous to fluff up, I saw these sprigs among the montbretia leaves, briefly lit by the last of the sun – a glow to savour then between our present squalls of wintery rain and high winds. Last Saturday it was all heat and high summer here in Shropshire. This Saturday the weather clock has regressed to early March. Strange times all round. Time to brew some lemon balm methinks.
I took this photo last night as I left the allotment: the cow parsley in the descendant, the wheat thrusting up and beginning to form ears. It rather reflects my mood, for much as we have been enjoying the sudden outburst of ‘high summer’ days, albeit in May, I’m also feeling very cross. And since my views veer towards the contrarian, I don’t intend to air them here beyond saying there is too much officialdom fudging/ineptitude/cross-purposes/vested interest/contradictory information/rubbish media reporting and all round manipulation.
So that was May in the outside world. Meanwhile in my little Wenlock sphere of influence all is burgeoning, and the garden is lovely. I’m not sure how we ended up with Mediterranean weather over the last few days and for the week ahead. It was preceded here by two days of tempest and a high chill factor that the weather people described as a gusty breeze. So gusty was it, that plants I’d put outside to harden off, had to return indoors and the process started over once the wind dropped.
Here is the gusty breeze in action. This is not a ‘fake’ photo:
I haven’t recorded this month’s allotment activities – although much has been done: earthing up of potatoes, planting out beans – runners, butter, borlotti, Jacob’s cattle gold, Cherokee, climbing French; courgettes and squashes; red cabbages, Tuscan kale; and in the polytunnel: tomatoes, aubergines and peppers. The reason I’ve not taken photos is because most things are shrouded in thin horticultural fleece or mesh to defend them from excess heat, drying out, and pigeons. For now the plots look like some kind of crazy campsite.
On the home front the garden is moving into summer mode with foxgloves, roses, sweet peas and geraniums. The columbine grannies (aquilegias) have mostly lost their bonnets, the poppies their frocks, and the alliums are transforming into seedy constellations. But the red valerian (Centranthus) – also known as kiss-me-quick and devil’s beard is busy attracting the bees, and the whole garden is filled with bee-hum which can only be a good thing. I’ve also had the chance to notice how very furry some bumble bees’ bottoms are, so I thought I’d share an example of that particular observation in the upcoming gallery.
And here’s some news from the Dyfi ospreys: chicks hatched in new High Definition:
In the garden last week: Welsh Poppy catching the sun.
Our cottage at the back looks out over Townsend Meadow and beyond it, to the sky over Wenlock Edge. It is a westerly view so every day of the year we have a sundowner light show. Obviously some days the spectacles are more striking than others, but the sky over the Edge is always worthy of a good long ponder. We do much pondering here on Sheinton Street on the vestige shores of the Silurian Sea (circa 400 million years ago), when it was somewhere else entirely. Probably a little north of the Comoros Islands in what is now the Indian Ocean. A thought worth embracing. Or at least a prowl around its peripheries.
I’ve posted these archive shots in response to Jude’s this week’s light challenge over at Travel Words:
“This week’s assignment – Use strong backlighting (i.e. shooting towards the light source, but do not look directly at the sun) to create a contre-jour image where the subject becomes a silhouette, OR shoot the light through flowers or leaves creating a transparent effect.”
In April’s Changing Seasons post I featured the amaryllis that was part of a neighbourly doorstep plant swap. It was a single bud when I acquired it, but over the following couple of weeks the bud opened into four flowers which bloomed and then drooped in picturesque tones, their texture suggesting fine raw silk. I’m thinking Sue at WordsVisual will quite like these.
Lens-Artists: Delicate Colours This week Ann-Christine asks us to show her some delicate colours.
Across the fields beside Benthall Hall, Shropshire.
There are times when the forces of good culinary outcomes are all in alignment, and yesterday in the Sheinton Street kitchen was one of them. The cake worked and the loaf worked. The first, a gluten free orange spice cake, is one I make every now and then, though I keep changing the constituent parts; the second I rarely ever make. I am thus inordinately pleased with this spelt flour creation. It not only looks beautiful it also makes brilliant toast; especially delicious with homemade marmalade.
The cake started out as a Delia Smith recipe from her classic cookery book, but I’ve made so many changes, I think I can claim it as my recipe. In yesterday’s version I replaced the flour with ground almonds and polenta, the butter with coconut oil, the castor sugar with coconut sugar, and the mixed peel with a table spoonful of homemade marmalade and some chopped stem ginger.
Orange Spice Cake
You need an 8 inch/20 cm loose bottomed cake tin – greased (I usually line the base with parchment). Oven 325 F/170 C/160 C Fan assisted. Cooking time around 1 hour.
5 oz almond flour (140 gm)
5 oz polenta (140 gm)
4 oz coconut oil (110 gm)
3 oz coconut sugar (or sugar of choice) (75 gm)
ground ginger – rounded teaspoon
ground cinnamon – rounded teaspoon
ground cloves – a pinch
grated zest of large orange
2 eggs beaten
3 oz runny honey (75 gm)
1 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 3 tablespoons cold water
1 heaped tablespoon of marmalade or 2 oz (50 gm) chopped mixed peel
1 piece of stem ginger finely chopped
Gently melt honey and coconut oil in a pan over a low heat. Set aside.
Sift ground almond flour into large bowl with polenta. Add sugar, spices and orange zest. Stir in melted oil and honey. Add marmalade/or mixed peel/stem ginger, beaten eggs, dissolved bicarb and beat well. The resulting mix is slightly sloppy. Pour into tin and bake. It will probably take about an hour but keep an eye on it. When cooked, cool in the tin and then turn out. And eat!
Now here’s a change of style from our roadside show-offy red poppies posted earlier in the week: Meconoposis Lingholm, a blue Himalayan poppy. It is a newcomer to the shady, behind-the-shed corner of the Farrell domain. I bought it last autumn on-line from the very excellent Ballyrobert Gardens in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. (It’s amazing what excellent plants people you can discover in the gardening section of ebay.)
The poppy was little more than a large ‘plug’ when it arrived with the rest of my order. I dithered about, wondering whether to pot it on (and worry about it freezing in its pot if we had a hard winter) or to plant it out while it had time to establish itself, but still hope that we wouldn’t have a hard winter. I opted for the latter course, and then it poured with rain for the next five months, with hardly a sign of frost. And so I worried instead that it would get water-logged and rot. When it died down, leaving not one single trace of itself, I thought I’d lost it.
Which just goes to show you can do a lot of worrying about nothing. Besides, I knew very well that I’d taken the best care I could when I planted it. Anyway, the rather hairy leaves started poking through the mulch in April and the single bloom began opening about a week ago with another bud behind it. But what a floral wonder! I’m hoping it’s going to thrive now, though mostly only Graham will get the benefit. I planted it to give him a view from his shed window while he’s grinding and drilling and making odd constructions that only he understands.
I’ve written lots about bees on this blog, and I guess most people who come here know how important they are to human existence; their overall busy bee-ness and the way they pollinate flowers that produce so much of our fruit, nuts and veg. So to celebrate bees here’s a gallery of snaps taken in the garden and up at the allotment. All, with the exception of the blue cornflower shot taken last month, are from the archive. At the moment the bees are zooming round too fast to have their pictures taken. Anyway more power to their pollinating…
Our cottage faces east and so has full-on morning sunshine, and here it is filling the oriental poppies – a sort of natural neon effect as they sway in the breeze. They are right beside the main road, which is growing busier by the day now that lockdown strictures are easing. But the increase in traffic isn’t cramping the poppies’ style. Lots more buds set to open, and that will definitely please the bumble bees.