Archive for February, 2011

Inspired by reading an article about gardening expert Carol Klein, in the magazine Somerset Life, I decided to stop sitting about at home all day and drove south to East Lambrook, which is thought to be a good example of cottage garden style as planted by Margery Fish just before the second world war.

The garden was quite a lot smaller than I expected and must be quite lovely when everything is flowering in the spring and summer. This picture is of the shop’s display of the many different varieties of snowdrop planted in the garden and available to buy there. I couldn’t actually get them all in the picture.

It had turned into the most beautifully sunny day but it was so windy that the many, many varieties of hellebore and snowdrop that I photographed didn’t come out very well, as they were blowing around so much and I’d forgotten to put my camera on the idiot proof ‘running man’ setting. I’m not sure I completely understand ‘galanthophilia’ or snowdrop mania, though, as the differences between the different kinds are pretty subtle. For me it was enough to notice that some of them were pretty giant – about 10″ tall and with quite substantial foliage. I think when they get to that size, they cease being lovely snowdrops as there’s not much of the ‘drop’ about them anymore. The variations amongst the hellebores struck me far more because of the different colours and number of petals, and I’ve now taken to looking much more closely at my own  – one of which you can see here which lives in my front garden.

I’d missed the snowdrops’ main flowering, which must have been a couple of weeks ago but it was still an impressive show. I came away with just one purchase, although I could have made more: a type of hellebore that I haven’t yet got. So pretty.

flowering hellebore

This post makes it sounds like I had a very solidly horticultural day. In fact I didn’t. I am omitting the story of the wild goose chase across the county in search of an old fashioned, leather dog collar and lead for You Know Who. Another sign of the times, when the little village pet shops have all closed and one has to go to a massive superstore. Who knew?

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I’ve got a new project on the go and will write about it when it’s complete but here are a couple of pictures in the meantime.

oilcloth

Lloyd Loom carboot find

handknitted socks

Oh, and here are the socks I’ve just knitted, with Opal sock wool. Wonderful self-patterning knitting yarn which is simplicity itself to turn into a pair of pretty socks. For this inspiration, I thank my blogfriend, Charlotte.

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red sky in the morning, shepherds' warningA fine red sky this morning, so, of course, the early morning’s clear weather has deteriorated into a fine, drizzly mist, so thick now, that you need fog lights to drive up here in the Quantocks.

Luckily, though, the dry weather held out until we got back from riding. I was riding a much smaller horse called Joseph today, which was nice because I actually felt like I could get my legs down far enough to gee him up properly. Trigger is just so broad but Joseph was a dream, but perhaps I’m actually just getting better at riding.

We rode up to Fyne Court, a direction in which I’d never ridden before, and then back again. Did loads of trotting which I can now manage absolutely fine and, apart from sometimes feeling a bit fretful about what I’m doing with the reins, I felt quite in control. Cantering was harder and I need more practice at that. It was great to go riding with a group that didn’t include a total novice, so that we could actually do more difficult stuff than just walking. So many cars, though, on the roads and a tractor and rattly trailer came along, which really spooked Trigger and Harry, who were in front of me and went dashing off up a bank and into the woods. I wore my lovely new half chaps that the children gave me for my birthday. Thanks!

Sad news though of John H., who has just had to be taken into a care facility because he has suddenly got very confused; he’s probably disturbed by the new kitchen they are having put in at the farm, so hopefully it will settle down again, when the work’s finished. It’s only two weeks ago that I saw him driving past the cottage on his quad bike. Let’s hope he can come home again soon. He’s such a character.

It is starting to feel a bit more springlike. Quite a lot of bushes have got buds on and there are putative narcissi everywhere. In my garden, there is one single dwarf narcissus blooming and I saw a single daffodil on a verge as we were going along. I have a bush that’s covered in blossom but have no idea what it is. I will photograph tomorrow. Apparently, it’s going to get much colder again next week, with temperatures back down to almost freezing, so this mild spell has been a bit of a false hope. It’s still February, after all, but it feels like a very long winter.

After making some spicy vegetable soup for a late lunch, I went in to Bishop’s Lydeard to buy some supplies, which included a visit to the fabulous butcher’s. Everyone in there is always chatting away, so there were many apologies for keeping me waiting but it gave me time to look at what I wanted to buy. So instead of the single chop for tonight’s supper, I also came away with a free range chicken and some Exmoor blue cheese, which I haven’t tried before. I love the slower pace of things down here. Even in the Co-op, the staff are slower. In London, they are in such a rush to get to the next person in the queue that I end up feeling so slow and clumsy, fiddling around with my purse and my Onya bag, while the assistant taps her nails impatiently, as though I were about 105. There’s just no sense of actually ‘serving’ the customer there; it’s just all about taking their money and moving on the the next, so it feels like such an indulgence to shop here.

A hen chicken (Gallus gallus)

This is rather a long ramble and not a very interesting one, so I hope you’ll forgive me. So I’ll end with something that has been exercising me a bit today, given that I’m in the adoption mood. Through Twitter I came upon a farmer who has had to give up his business because the supermarkets are paying so little for his eggs; he needs to sell off all his laying hens before the end of March. His daughter has made a great video about them in the hope that they can be sold rather than sent for slaughter. Shame I really can’t have chickens… (There’s also some nice music.)

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Qualms, qualms

This is so embarassing. After my last post, there was this odd clerical slip-up, where my email to the dog rescue didn’t get through. So after two days of feeling very bereft and sad, I suddenly got driving directions to the place where Angel Dog, henceforth to be known as Tilly, is currently fostered. From the way this just put me straight back into the previous quandary, I realised that I do want to go ahead with the adoption.

So I’ve pulled myself together, have bought her a harness for the long trip back from Yorkshire and our fortnightly drives to Somerset, have Googled dog walkers and discovered that it shouldn’t be a problem to find someone to help me cope with the additional family member. So now it’s all systems go. Here she is on the Westies in Need site – scroll down until you get to Jill.

I’m still feeling slightly queasy about losing my independence again but I think the benefits will outweigh that. I’ll definitely keep you posted.

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Small sad postscript

After meeting the lovely, quite angelic dog, I was all set to adopt her for a couple of days. Then I had a very sleepless night yesterday, which led to the realisation that it just really isn’t the right time for me to do this, however much I want to.

I’m feeling very sad and disappointed. I have, however, made a donation to Westies in Need as an act of contrition for messing the wonderful Mo around by being so indecisive this weekend. I’m sure that she would welcome others if anyone is of a mind to be generous.

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Last summer I thought I had a cobnut hedge at the back of the garden between the field and the lawned garden. There it is on the left.

back garden

Before that I thought it was beech (having not paid any attention to its lack of wintry leaf), now I’m not so sure that it’s not hazel, which is, of course, very similar to cobnut. At any rate, it looked like this on Saturday, which was very pretty. And that’s all I’m prepared to say about it!

hedge detail

Actually, what this post is all about is displacement activity, as the adoption of a dog has suddenly become something of a reality. After searching for many months, I’ve found a my ideal dog, a seven year-old West Highland White Terrier, in a rescue in North Yorkshire and now I’m tussling with the logistics of changing all my weekend plans, which include a friend’s birthday party, my own birthday and the Boy’s birthday, in order to drive up there to pick her up. It’s so exciting and at the same time a bit terrifying. Tomorrow, I have to decide.

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I had to smile when I saw this lichen on Saturday:

lichen shaped like a heart

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With no real plans for the day, I set off today to Nether Stowey – home of the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, for a time during the 18th century. I’ve been there before lots of times but this morning, I wanted to check out Cricketer Farm, makers of local cheddar cheese, which has a farm shop.

The farm I live next door to, and which Spring Cottage was once part of, in the days when the farm belonged to the Enmore Castle estate, is a dairy farm with over 700 head of cattle. Every day, morning and early evening, an enormous tanker hurtles past the cottage and the windows, which face straight out onto the lane, grow momentarily dark. The milk is on its way to Cricketer Farm, where it is made into cheese. The benefit of this daily disturbance is that the lane is always kept passable, even in the worst weather, and this is well worth putting up with.

packet of cheddar cheeseCricketer Farm looks like a popular destination (it’s on the A39) with quite a sizeable car park and a cafe attached. The shop sells locally baked bread, pasties (potatoey, rather than meaty – which, if I can’t get a proper Cornish steak pasty, I prefer to a gristly filling of processed meat), local ham and other meats, eggs, vegetables, fruit pies, cakes and the like. There’s also an array of condiments and preserves, such as you’d find in the ‘special selection’ of a supermarket or in a delicatessen. I stocked up for the weekend with ham, gala pie, cheddar, some spelt and honey bread, and a pasty for lunch.

On my way home again, after an hour or so touring Nether and Over Stowey taking photographs, I noticed a little sign for an organic farm shop at Halsey Cross, which I hadn’t properly absorbed before. So, in today’s guise of farm shop critic, I drove in down a long drive, past some gorgeous, black, red beaked, free range hens and into a proper farmyard. No marked out parking bays or any visitor conveniences, just a sign saying ‘farm shop’ and a room full of produce. You help yourself, weigh and pay, leaving your money in an honesty box. They have bread every Friday, eggs (although they were all gone) and a variety of seasonal vegetables ranging from squashes to purple sprouting broccoli. Marvellous.

farm shop I had fun using the electronic scales without anyone or thing telling me that I was doing it wrong (eat your heart out hated, supermarket self checkouts) and I’ll definitely be going back there for more muddy veg. What a great complement to this morning’s shop at Cricketer.

I also bought the first cut daffodils of the season and, on my return home, opened the door onto the smell of hyacinths, which had been warming themselves in the shafts of afternoon sunlight on the windowsill. So lovely!

daffodils in vase and pictures in frames

Postscript: Nether Stowey Reserve is delicious, by the way. Nicer than the usual West Country farmhouse cheddar that I buy from the supermarket. It’s somehow got a fuller, rounder flavour without any bitter tang.

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I’m actually going to get dressed and get out of the house on this beautiful morning but, before I do, here’s a picture of a pheasant that I snapped in my pyjamas (me, not it, in the pyjamas). It was surprising that I could get so close because the stupid creatures usually scuttle off at the slightest disturbance. The wind must have been in the right direction, for once. I just love their plumage.

pheasant in the sun

In the last few days, I’ve been so struck by the beauty of the robin’s song. Such a small bird with a lovely varied voice – here is the little bird below recorded on my phone today. He or she carried on for ages this morning, adding to the springlike feel of the day.

robin singing

Will say more about the simply delightful hoards of snowdrops in the gardens and other signs of spring soon. Although, if you see the article below, you’ll wonder if this is wise.

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Postscript: 13 Feb 1,774 more or less – pen was hard to write with in the rain.

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Just thought I’d share some pictures I took one weekend in 2009,  that I’m about to print and frame in some lovely picture frames I bought from The White Company in the sale. I used to make picture frames myself, having learnt the craft at an evening class, but these days rarely frame anything unless it’s something very special.

sea with sailing boat and stormy sky

The sea off the coast at Watchet, Somerset.

Thatched cottage

Cottage at Aisholt, Somerset.

Marine heathland

Heathland near Dead Woman’s Ditch, Quantock HIlls.

Have a lovely weekend!

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hellebores in flowerFirst, I have to apologise for the quality of this photo, which I took as I was leaving for work this morning. I’d forgotten to have a look at my urban hellebores for a few days, so it’s a very last-minute snap with my phone, while my other hand was holding back the shrubs with which helleboreland is normally shrouded.

Then, I have to apologise for the fact that this post is also about my ignorance but I’ve just discovered something that amazes me: quite how many of my favourite plants are members of the same species.

I should preface what comes next (although once you’ve read this you’ll have realised anyway) by saying I know nothing much about gardening, other than what I’ve learnt from my own experiences and those of a few people I know. I also had a phase of reading my old Reader’s Digest Encyclopaedia of Garden Plants virtually from cover to cover; it, and the ensuing gardening frenzy, was the only therapy that realy helped me get over my father’s death many years ago. Apart from having no index of common names, I think it’s a brilliant book for learning what things are and how to look after them. When I was a child I used to sit on the floor in the corridor of our flat and leaf through my parents’ set of encyclopedias, reading entry after entry, so it’s probably just the way I think, but I find this kind of info-browsing very relaxing. Of course, these days, I look everything up online and have a permanent squint from never looking into the far distance.

Anyhow, I just looked up hellebore, then looked up Ranuculuaceae and discovered that all of the following favourites of mine are members of the same species (please write in and tell me this isn’t the right term, if it isn’t…): clematis, anemone, ranunculus, hellebore, aquilegia, delphinium, nigella and the humble buttercup. And I have them all in my garden, apart from ranunculus.

aquilegia at Spring Cottage

aquilegia at Spring Cottage

anemone at spring cottage

anemone at Spring Cottage

Honestly, who would have thought it? Not me, for sure.

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Not many words from me today; just a few images of life in the country.

flock of birds in the sky

Taking advantage of thermals

sheep in the fields

Black sheep

close up of tree

Hazel? Someone tell me please...

Bridle path with tree

Bridle path

Evening sky

Somerset sky

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As someone who has devoted many, many hours to knitting and has made all kinds of things from intricate Patricia Roberts patterns to traditional Fair Isle woollies, I can appreciate a fine pattern. Indeed, my first, brief job after university, was working in this very shop, which I’m rather amazed to find still exists. I’ve also never thrown out anything that I’ve made, which means that I have a whole cupboard devoted to knitwear spanning from the 1970s (Guernseys) through the 1980s (mostly Pat Roberts) to the Noughties (mainly Rowan and Kaffe Fassett). These days, all I make are rather barmy kids hats and the odd pair of socks.

However, I don’t think I never imagined seeing knitting on a wall. Someone who could visualise just this, though, is contemporary Korean designer, Chae Young Kim, who has created a series of designs under the theme of urban camouflage; one of which (see picture below) – Knitted Room – is available as prints, murals and blinds from Surface View Two. I’m not entirely sure I could live with this but I am rather taken by the idea of their ‘Just Stick it Up’ collection of remountable, adhesive wall decorations based on the designs, particularly this pale, knitted background piece, which would make a lovely panel in a large, light and airy, white room. The scale of the stitches is astonishingly large and reminds me of Sussex flint walls. But please note that I have taken the liberty of rotating the design below sideways – the panel is actually tall and thin. 

This post is dedicated to my father, who died 19 years ago today.

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