Saturday, May 30, 2009

Seasonal Pleasures

Strawberries, lettuce from the greenhouse, asparagus and Jersey Royal potatoes - just a few of the delicious delights in season now; so what will we be eating this evening? Asparagus quiche with new potatoes and salad followed by strawberries with a dollop of Yeo Valley fat free strawberry yoghurt.

Mushroom and Asparagus Flan from a recipe in 'Vegetarian Meals' my other cook book by Rosamond Richardson.

In the garden, of course.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Staying Local

On Saturday morning we decided to walk just a few miles away from home at Dimmings Dale. This is a great place to walk and it was such a lovely morning; so pleasant after all the rain of the last week.

We followed the waymarked path from the side of the well known Rambler's Retreat. I'll tell you more about this wonderful place later in the post.

We left the path above just beyond the wall and took a narrow path which lead to another one on the opposite side of the lake.

On the lake geese were making their loud 'honking' noise and the ducks were chasing one another whilst Mum and Dad Coot were protective of their little offspring.

The rhododendrons on the side of the lake looked a stunning colour against the shimmering water in the early morning light.

We left the main path and followed a smaller one down into the woods - the light effects under the trees were beautiful.

As were the reflections of the trees in the stream which we later crossed via a small bridge and then climbed higher and higher into the woods.

At the end of the woodland path was a gate into a meadow which as an ancient hill pasture had been designated a site of special scientific interest by the Forestry Commission; it was full of wildflowers, mosses and grasses and was buzzing with insects.

We sat for a while on a seat by this lovely stone wall. Looking across the meadow and out over the trees we could see the towers of the house at Alton which was formerly the residence of the Earls of Shrewsbury.

Better known now as the theme park Alton Towers. You can see one of the rides - I think it may be 'Oblivion' or 'Air' but I'm not really sure as I've only ever been in there once when we first came to live in this area, we rode in on the the mono rail from the car park and then out again - as we were looking for Alton Castle on a heritage weekend - a long story but we did find it eventually and see the lovely Pugin designed building and the wonderful wall paintings inside! Thanks once again to Paul and his camera for this close up view.

We walked along the meadow and joined another footpath through the woods which lead back down to the main footpath on which we had started our walk - it was time for coffee and delicious, freshly baked scones at the Ramblers Retreat.

We sat in the garden which was full of covered seating areas and gazebos surrounded by wonderful flowers. The owner came to speak to us and showed us his herb garden and raised vegetable beds and inside the main restaurant and told us a little about the history of the house. When they bought the house it was nearly derelict and most of it was rebuilt, just the front of the early 19th century, Italian style house remains. It was built as a lodge with a lake on what was known as the Earl's Drive leading to the main house at Alton. He told us that his grandmother remembered standing on the corner waving a flag to welcome the new King Edward VII on a visit to the house in 1901.

I can't find the words to say how magical the gardens were, how peaceful at that time in the morning; bees were buzzing around the flowers and the birds were flitting about. Before we left we visited the bird hide and watched various woodland birds feeding. We didn't see the woodpeckers though; the owner told us that they visit much later in the day.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scenes from a Wet Garden

It's been well over a week since we've been able to do anything in the garden. The lawns need cutting but they are squelching under foot. The laurel hedge at the front needs trimming but it is too wet. The areas around the raised beds are full of puddles and the pond is ready to overflow. I love rain but not this much. In an ideal world we would have two days of rain out of seven or soft rain through the night and dry days, but of course, we don't, so whilst I wait to get on with some gardening here are some photos of our rain drenched garden.

Yes, that is a cat's tail you can see - they always move just as you click the shutter!

I love to see the raindrops on the Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla Mollis).

The pond water is very close to the top. Happy frogs and newts!

Hmm! If you don't turn off this rain I'm going to get very wet and muddy and come in and dry myself on your lap.

The Solomon's Seal is sheltered by next door's leylandii tree.

The peony looks gorgeous regardless of the weather.

And so does Madam Chloe!

The three water butts we installed after one very hot, dry summer haven't been needed for the last couple of years. How I hope we need to use them this coming summer.

We do have a badger in the neighbourhood; as you know from a previous post one of my neighbours thought she saw it earlier this year and we had frog spawn taken out of the pond and more recently huge holes have been dug in our raised beds - far too large for a cat. Two nights ago another neighbour was woken by her fence rattling and banging and thought an intruder was coming over into her garden but when she looked out of the window she saw quite a large badger coming through the fence and running up her lawn towards our garden. I long to see it myself so I think we are going to have to organise a badger watch over the weekend. Last but not least, I've finally cracked how to put photos on here that you can enlarge by clicking on them - takes a long time for the penny to drop sometimes!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Special Lunch

On Friday, twelve of us gathered around a table, in our own private room, eating wonderful food served by attentive and friendly staff. Some of us knew each other of old, some had met more recently and some didn't know each other at all but were aware of each other from conversations with the mutual friend who had gathered us all together in a wonderful gesture to join with him in celebrating his special birthday. As I sat at the table where people were chatting and laughing and eating and relaxing I gazed towards the end of the room where the arched windows overlooked the old church and thought what a wonderful setting it was in which to celebrate such a special occasion.

Langar Country Hotel and Restaurant is in the village of Langar and close to Cropwell Bishop in the Vale of Belvoir. The house itself was built in 1837 to replace the original 18th century house, owned by Admiral Howe, which was destroyed by fire. You will see the setting of the house more clearly from the photo on the welcome page of the hotel's website (link above) I was standing as far back as I dare to take the photo above, one inch further backwards and I would have disappeared, probably rather inelegantly, into the Ha-Ha which was just behind me.

The church of St Andrew stands at the side of the house and the grounds too, are lovely.

These are statues of either ostrich or emu, not sure which.

Views across the fields from the car park area, the hotel grows and rears a lot of its own produce as you can see from their blog

A gorgeous laburnum tree.

Cottages on the lane around to the church which we visited after lunch.

The flowers displays were very pretty and natural with flowers from the kitchen garden and verges - using plants like aliums, cow parsley, aquilegias and ceanothus.

Inside the church was simple and plain with just the minimum of decoration.

The photo below is courtesy of Paul whose camera takes better close ups than mine - it is taken from one of the illustrations on the pulpit.

The churchyard was quiet and peaceful, a typical country churchyard - with cowslips growing in profusion amongst the grass.

The heavy rain of the morning had dissipated as we sat around the lunch table and the first few rays of sun glinted through the windows of the dining room, just right for a stroll around the grounds and the church afterwards.

The lunch was long, entertaining and satisfying. I passed on a starter and had a beautifully presented portion of stuffed aubergine with a hummus quenelle with a butter bean and chick pea coulis, follwed by a summer berry Eton mess with stawberries and blueberries - my first strawberry of the season. The most popular dishes amongst our party seemed to be crab cakes, steak and ale pie and spring lamb, just two others as well as me chosing the vegetarian option. It was all delicious.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Useful Flower

At the moment the bees are busy buzzing around the perennial cornflowers (centaurea montana) in our garden. Apparently these are wildflowers, originally from the mountain regions of France and Germany, but we have always had loads of them in our garden; they spread so easily and sometimes, when the first flowers are over, they will return later with more. I think they are really pretty and encourage them. They are early blooming this year, when we first came here thirteen years ago they didn't start to flower until mid June now they appear in mid-May.

As well as attracting bees and butterflies the flower has other uses too, I've never tried it but apparently you can (as with nasturtium flowers - which I have eaten) put them into salads. You can also (see links) make tea with them and they are supposed to have soothing and astringent qualities that can be used for natural medicines. This seems to apply to both types of cornflower. What a very useful plant to have in the garden.

An added bonus is that there are so many of them that you don't feel guilty taking one or two from the bees to put indoors.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Happy Cats and Sneaky Snails

For most of this week it seems to have been a constant battle with the wind. I keep having to rescue plant pots and plastic chairs from strange places.

It is another constant battle trying to keep these sneaky snails -

away from the lupins and sweet peas. I keep finding them tucked up under the rims of the plant pots where they think I can't find them!

There are plenty of on going projects in and around the garden - a work in progress you might say.

At least the cats are happy with their lot! The wind though, makes them very skittish

as they roll around and then dash, hither and thither, disappearing under bushes, behind the shed and up the trees!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

It's Lilac Time!

All of a sudden the lilac seems to be out; is it a little earlier this year, I wonder? I love lilac, both the lilac and the white varieties, as it reminds me of my childhood. We used to have a huge lilac tree in our front garden when I was a child and I loved its colour and fragrance. The flowers though, don't seem to last for very long but oh how gorgeous they are for a few magic days. We don't have a tree in our garden, the one in the photo above was taken at the Dorothy Clive garden last year. The one below I spotted in the gardens at Bridgemere Garden World on Sunday. There were many others but the sun was always too bright to take any decent photographs.

I took one or two other photos around the gardens as well - I though this hand sculpture was interesting.

This was called the Red Avenue, again the sun is at the wrong angle but the colours were stunning.

There was also a Vintage Vehicle display. I'm not an avid car lover, but I did like this one,

very Inspector Maigret I thought whereas the one below is probably more Miss Marple.

I have another childhood memory involving lilac - it is of my mother singing this song:-
We'll gather lilacs in the spring again,
And walk together down an endless lane,
Until our hearts have learned to sing again,
When you come home once more.
And in the evening by the firelight glow,
You'll hold me close and never let me go,
Your eyes will tell me all I want to know,
When you come home once more.
It's from the show 'Perchance to Dream' written by Ivor Novello in 1945, the words always bring a lump to my throat and a prickle to my eyes because some of them didn't come home, and for those that did life was never quite the same again.