Thames Barrier Park is one of those slightly random places in London that I tend to read about and never visit.
Built in 2001, next to, you guessed it, the Thames Barrier, it’s a really cutting edge bit of garden design and I’ve seen photos of it in magazines, online, and, frequently, in lectures at my garden design course.
And yet, it always seemed so far away and hard to reach that I’d never had quite enough impetus to go and visit. And that’s coming from someone who already lives in London.
But at the end of July, we had a scheduled visit on my course, so I hit the jubilee line and then the DLR and set off for Pontoon Dock, the station beside the park. (Side note: Pontoon Dock! What a fabulous name!)
My reservations about travelling so far must be shared by others. It was a gloriously sunny day, but the park was all but deserted, apart from my gaggle of eager garden designers to be.
The park is surrounded by a huge amount of new buildings and new building work, bordered at one edge by the river and the barriers, and at the other by the DLR line, and directly under the flight path of City Airport, with planes taking off and landing every few minutes. Yet, despite the noise and the bustle, it’s a surprisingly relaxing place to be.
At the centre of the design is the sunken garden: the one you’ll probably already recognise from photos. Clipped hedges of yew are shaped into huge rows of undulating waves, the long lines leading your eye all the way down the barriers. Interspersed with the green yew is a range of colourful perennials and grasses which, when we visited, were at peak bloom.
It’s an impressive and innovative spectacle, no doubt, but maintenance issues were apparent when we visited (and, I think, all the time) as the clipped forms need constant care and were growing straggly in places and had even died off completely in others.
You can walk down into the garden and wander along the lines of plants, but it’s really designed to be viewed from one of the bridges that cross over its width.
Around the main area, is a swathe of wildflower meadows, interspersed with a grid of birch trees and, I have to confess, I found this a more enjoyable place to sit and spend time. The semi-natural environment provided more of a relief from all the construction and hard lines around, and it was lovely to watch the grasses waft in the wind and the bees landing on the flowers.
I would say it’s well worth a visit if you’re already in the area, but that begs the question who would be in the area and why? I wondered exactly why such a contemporary garden had been built here and whether the original intention was to draw people to this rather neglected part of the docklands simply to come and see it? If so, I’m not sure it’s been successful, but I’d love to hear your thoughts if you’ve visited…
I am delighted to say I am joining in with Annie Spratt’s wonderful How does your garden grow once again. Annie’s has long been one of my fave blogs to visit and I was really sad when Annie announced her decision to stop blogging recently, and over the moon when she decided to resurrect HDYGG again. Do go over and visit everyone else’s posts, there’s always some great inspiration to be found…
The big news is that we did get our mortgage valuation approved last week, so we’re (theoretically) good to buy our new house. Hurrahs all round. On a slightly less exciting note, we’re now involved in protracted wranglings with a six-person chain about a moving date. Five of the six have agreed on a date, but the bottom of the chain keep making ludicrous demands and changing their minds every few minutes about when they can / can’t complete. It’s been exhausting. We’re supposed to be exchanging today but we’ll wait and see if they can jump on board with everyone else date-wise. Never, ever let me move house again!
I’ve also been trotting round our neighbourhood looking for a rental property we can take on for six months while we do building work to the new house. Man, I had forgotten how utterly dingy rental property can be. I looked round a house yesterday where the ceiling of the bathroom was flaking off and covered in mould. The second bedroom ceiling had huge chunks of plaster missing. The estate agent said that they were going to re-do the ceilings and was utterly certain we’d be fine to move in within a few weeks. Hmmm. Anyway, I think I have found somewhere now, I’m just waiting to hear if they will take us as tenants!
On a calmer note (sort of) the sproglet’s fourth birthday party went off swimmingly last weekend. Thanks to all who left comments wishing him a good one! The pictures above are of the cake and the cake banner I made — his name, of course, is not Sadie, that was for his friend, but in my vague attempt to keep his private info off the internet, I didn’t photograph the one with his name on too… I made two cakes, this berry-topped Victoria sponge, and then a whole selection of bug-shaped cupcakes in chocolate and carrot. They were a huge hit. As was the bug hunt we organised (hidden bug toys around the park, and magnifying glasses for all the kids to go off and search for them) and the “pin the tail on the ladybird” that my friend organised for them all. A great party, where we had too much fun to take any pictures.
The boys are obsessed with watching kids music videos on YouTube. I’ve been shattered this week, so a lot of time has been spent with them in the positions above, while I lie on the sofa with my eyes shut trying to gather the energy to sit up. This was happening yesterday when a nighttime song came on (along the lines of, “sleep tight, night night, I love you very much”…) when the oldest suddenly burst into tears and came running over to me sobbing, “That song makes me so sad, Mummy.” I hugged him, asked why it made him sad and, between huge sobs, he replied, “Sometimes music just does…” An artistic soul.
Instagram stories. Have you seen? I don’t get it. I think the whole mini video revolution has entirely passed me by. (YouTube is used only for the children and the odd knitting tutorial in this house…) But honestly, I find most of the “stories” I’ve looked at overwhelmingly boring – someone I don’t know’s view out of a car window as they drive past somewhere or other, or a talking head saying good morning to me is just not what I want to spend my time watching. Am I alone here?
Goodness, but it’s been a long time since we first got our chickens and I’ve been meaning to introduce them to you ever since.
Turns out, though, that chickens are seriously hard to photograph. I guess it’s all that pecking about. Getting them to stand still long enough for me to take a photo has proved almost impossible and so, seven months after I first started trying, I admit defeat and bring you some chicken chat along with some far from perfect photos.
Friends, Romans, countrymen and blog readers, let me finally introduce you to Blanco, Ginger, Polka and Dot.
As you might remember, the chickens were a Christmas present for the boys last year. Or rather, on Christmas day, they unwrapped a giant, empty chicken coop and a card saying, “we’re going to get pet chickens!” Turns out a three-year-old doesn’t think this is much of a present at all, so rather than waiting til the Spring, as we had planned, we set off a week later and bought our first three chooks in the cold months of early Jan, delighted to welcome Blanco, Ginger and Nero to our family.
I did quite a bit of research into breeds beforehand, as I knew I wanted something good with kids (obviously), who would make good pets and also, ideally, that wouldn’t cause too much damage in the garden.
Pekin bantams seemed the best bet and luckily we found a breeder relatively close by with some to sell.
They’re very small, compared to most chickens, and as a pure breed they don’t lay every day, year-round. (Hybrids have been bred who will lay almost constantly, even in the winter, but they stop earlier and die younger, which seems a bit of a shame to me…)
They’re insanely cute, with beautiful feathers, and fluffy feet, which means they’re not as keen as pecking around in flowerbeds as other breeds can be. And they’re very docile and good-natured, so they’re great with children.
Their home is an Eglu Up, with an extended run, made by Omlet. It’s a ridiculously expensive system, but easy-to-clean, well insulated in the winter and fox proof. Ideal for an urban chicken keeper.
We had planned to put them straight onto the grass, but the breeder told us that they don’t like getting muddy in winter (those feet feathers again) so instead, for a good few months, they sat on our newly-laid patio, crapping all over it, and staining the sandstone with little white circles. We loved them so much, we didn’t care…
I used to let them free-range all day long, sitting watching them from the window inside on days when it was really cold. The three of them loved nothing more than to perch on our kitchen windowsill, fluffing up their feathers, picking off the occasional grub and having a little chat.
Until one day, in February, a fox darted into the garden and ran off with Nero, escaping over the back fence in the time it took me to run out, shouting, and trying to chase it away.
As a newbie, non-hardened, chicken keeper, I was completely devastated and spent most of the afternoon in floods of tears and, needless to say, the chickens now stay inside their run, unless we’re physically in the garden with them.
A few months later, we bought two new hens: Polka and Dot. It was slightly stressful trying to make sure they were integrated happily (I read countless horror stories about new chickens being pecked to death when they joined an older flock) but after a bit of abuse from Blanco in the first weeks, they now all rub along together really well.
Since the destruction of the gigantic greenhouse, we’ve moved the coop to a dedicated area at the back of the garden, where they have a layer of bark on top of bare earth, which I’m sure they’re much more happy about.
And now that it’s much warmer, it’s been much easier to let them free range, as I’m out in the garden on sunny days anyway. They peck about on the grass and seem to have a good line in eating weeds and not any precious plants, for which I’m pretty grateful.
But, of course, one of the biggest benefits of chickens are the daily eggs. After an eager wait, all four chickens are now laying and, on a good day, we get four gorgeous little browny-white eggs that, quite genuinely, taste far better than anything you could buy in the shops.
Popping out to the coop a few times a day and checking on the eggs has become a really enjoyable part of my day. There is something so utterly miraculous about the whole process.
But, that’s not to say chicken keeping has been 100 per cent plain sailing. One thing I didn’t appreciate before we got the chickens was what a pain it would be when they “go broody”.
Blanco has done so twice so far this year, meaning she sits on an egg, refusing to move and hoping, fruitlessly, to hatch a chick from it. (On our one-day chicken keeping course that we attended just after buying them, I naively enquired how you know if there is a chick inside an egg. The woman looked at me, a little bit surprised and said, “well, it depends if they’ve met a cockerel, doesn’t it?”)
We’ve yet to find a good way to solve the broody situation, despite trying a range of approaches from letting her get on with it (if they really were hatching eggs, the chick would appear in three weeks so they should snap out of it by then) to more aggressive things like putting her in a “broody buster” where she sits in a wire cage all day long which keeps her cool and doesn’t allow her to sit down.
None of them seem to have worked especially well, but the issue of chicken broodiness is a huge one, perhaps for another post.
Also, especially since Nero was snatched, I find the fox issue quite stressful. If I am in the garden with them and have to pop inside for a moment I spend the whole time worrying that a fox is seconds away from rushing off with them and every little noise implies imminent chicken doom. As a result, I tend not to let them out of their run unless I know I will be able to sit outside for a good stretch of time. And then, instead, I feel guilty that they’re not as free range as we had originally planned.
Basically, it’s maternal guilt all over again, just with chooks.
But, hey, I guess that shows you just how much I love them, right?!
To the Thames, on Wednesday, for the sproglet’s fourth birthday. His favourite thing ever in London is the “big wheel” (aka the London Eye) – he is seriously excited whenever we spot it from the window of a train, or see it in a photo. So, as a birthday treat, we took him on a circuit, preceded by a river boat trip along the Thames. It was raining and grey and I got terrible boat sickness (must be a pregnancy thing, as I’ve never suffered before), and couldn’t talk or move for an hour after the boat trip. But all that aside, a fun day in the centre of town!
His birthday present from us was a scooter. I know, I know, seriously late to the game, most kids are on them from birth these days, but I’ve been wary of them since a friend’s son broke his thigh bone falling off one when he was three, years ago. He was in a full leg cast for a month and couldn’t move from the sofa. It was a stationary fall. But I’ve finally given in to pressure, along with the realisation that in a few months I will be carting three children up and down the roads on the school / nursery run, and it would be handy if one of them at least could get along under their own steam power without constant whining about being tired or the need to hold my hand. So far, it’s been a great success; he scooted off to nursery with glee the past few days.
Said scooter is red. Another slight bone of contention. For me, anyway. The sprog requested a pink one because, well, pink is his favourite colour and his best friend’s scooter is pink. (She’s a girl.) For the past four years, I’ve been railing against the ridiculous gender stereotyping of pink vs blue. If I ever encounter some item which for absurd reasons you can only buy in pink or blue (from fuzzy memory, I have been in shops where you could only buy sippy cups, bath mats or cutlery in those two colours) then I always buy pink for the boys because I think the whole thing is so insane. And yet. And yet. With the sprog starting school in September (and already very young in his year, quite shy and very small for his age) I had all these horrid thoughts of him getting teased by much bigger boys for turning up on a girl’s scooter. So we bought him a red one, which went down fine, but I was very aware that all my ideals had been completely compromised in the face of some imaginary bullying from a five year old. Is this how it goes from now on? Ideals are all good and worthy, until you worry they might stop your children making friends?!
His party, joint with a friend from nursery, is on Sunday. It’s going to have a bug theme. I have purchased a gazillion wind up bugs and finger puppet mini beasts to hide around the park and we’re sending them on a bug hunt, with mini magnifying glasses. There will be up to 20 children aged four and under. I am feeling slightly apprehensive about the whole thing. But, actually, there is little time for apprehension tomorrow, as my to do list is as long as your arm, starting with making a bug birthday cake. Maybe next year, we’ll do a quiet day trip with one friend…
In non-sproglet related news, we are on tenterhooks today, waiting to hear back if our proposed new house has been signed off by the mortgage company. If you can’t remember all the convoluted details; in short, our mortgage was turned down last month because they said the house had serious subsidence, though the structural engineer told us he thought it was perfectly mortgageable. It was the day after Brexit, so we wonder if uncertainty about the future led to a clamp down on lending. We’ve now applied for a mortgage through a new company and yesterday was the survey valuation. We wait to hear their thoughts on the (only slightly falling down) house we’ve fallen in love with…
So, that’s my week! Hope you’ve had nice ones. Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday.
When I first got into gardening, I was always slightly embarrassed by my own garden in the middle of summer. Springtime tended to be luscious and green, Autumn was russet-toned and lovely but in the very middle of summer… …well, quite often not much seemed to be going on.
Where were the flowers? Should the grass be that brown? Why did everything look like it might be about to shuffle off this mortal coil?
In fact, since learning a bit more about horticulture, I realise that high summer is one of the trickier times in the garden. Lots of the earlier blooming flowers are over, those that wait for the cooler days of Autumn are yet to impress, and everything tends to be in good need of a large drink of water.
Thankfully, I’ve also learnt it’s not that tricky to resolve the situation, so here are six easy tricks for sprucing up your garden.
I used to dismiss bedding as old fashioned, blousy and, frankly a bit naff. If someone mentioned “plugging up the gaps in your beds with bedding” I’d immediately think of petunias or marigolds. Garish flowers that would look perfect in an Victorian park, with head gardeners wasting endless supplies of water keeping them alive, only to rip them up at the end of the season and start again.
Actually, though, there’s plenty of tasteful, beautiful, non-garish and even modern bedding around.
Technically speaking, bedding can refer to any plant that’s an annual, or lives only for a year. Because it’s just a one season thing, it’s cheaper to buy than perennials (nobody has had to look after it for years before it blooms) and often easy to grow from seed.
Some of my favourites, all of which should be available in a good plant shop near you, are cosmos, snapdragons, sweet peas and Nicotiana alata. The last of these has the most incredible scent in the evening, but is fairly toxic, so make sure you plant it towards the back of a bed if you have kids or animals roaming around.
The best thing to do if you’re planning on buying bedding, though, is just taking a browse at a garden centre or (even better) a plant nursery and grabbing anything that takes your fancy and is looking good right now. Remember that it won’t be around next year, so make sure it looks like it’s got a good bit of flower production still left for the season and then just plant it anywhere that needs an extra dash of interest…
This is the quickest win of all when it comes to gardening. Buy some plants already in flower (bedding, or perennials) and put them in a pot in a prominent position.
Gardens Illustrated always has brilliant combinations for plants in containers if you need inspiration, or just follow your heart and choose things you think look nice.
The really great thing about pots is that you can move them around, so once a display is over, put the pot into a hidden corner to wait until next year, or dig up the plants, re-plant in your garden if appropriate and put something new in.
I know, sorry, what a boring option! But if you’ve not got the time / money / inclination to re-paint fences or furniture, then just giving them a really good scrub can often work wonders to perking up the whole look of your garden.
Endless spring showers (and often summer ones too) mean that tables and chairs can get dirty and everything can start to look a bit drab and brown.
This is especially true if you have a very modern-looking white-rendered wall style of garden, where every stain and mark shows up. A friend of mine who works as maintenance gardener once described working in these gardens as being a bit like an outdoor cleaner: more often than pruning shrubs or weeding, she found that cleaning the walls made the biggest difference to how everything looked.
Mow the lawn
I am constantly, constantly amazed what a huge difference it makes to my garden once we’ve given the grass a good mow. Suddenly, everything looks neater and more intentional when set against the backdrop of a finely trimmed sward
Choose some lighting
High summer is prime time for late night suppers in the garden. In an ideal world, we’d all have atmospheric mood lighting to accompany the event. You know the kind: dramatic uplighters highlighting a stately tree trunk, or a string of romantic bare bulbed lights over our eating area. In real life, this is often a fairly expensive option for the rare evenings in this country where we want to be sitting in the garden at night.
But mood lighting can be simple (and cheap) too; candles for eating dinner are perfect. Perhaps a hurricane lamp strung from a tree. Or just some outdoor fairy lights festooning a fence. Anything that twinkles, basically, is a good bet…
6. Add some fabrics
I can sometimes be guilty of not bothering to carry things outside to the garden, because I know I’ll just have to take them back inside at the end of the day.
But a picnic blanket, some cushions, a hammock strung between the trees: these are the things of comfort and relaxation and long days spent soaking up the sun. Our kids love their red and white striped teepee and can spend hours minutes sitting inside quite happily on their own and pretending it’s a space rocket.
Do you have any other tips for quick fixes to make your garden look inviting? Do share them below…
The photos above are from last weekend’s trip to Herefordshire. My friend’s family own a house there that is the very stuff of watery-eyed English nostalgia. A huge mansion, surrounded by formal gardens, giving way to fields of cows, sheep and hay bales as far as the eye can see. In the distance, a church spire peeps out, a river rolls past and you sit, sighing, watching the sun set and feel as if all is right with the world.
The house itself is a spectacular mansion, 300 years old, and charming in that slightly crumbling way that English manor houses do so well. I coveted the peeling William Morris-style wallpaper in the bathrooms, the study filled with dark paneling and, most of all, the amazing huge windows letting in the glorious light.
It was a group of my school friends staying, with all our families and dogs, and everyone got on perfectly. We wandered a nearby castle one day, ate late into the night in the fabulous dining room while the kids (mostly) slept above, and generally caught up on life from the past few years where we’ve all been too busy for more than the occasional meal or rushed telephone call.
If it all sounds a bit vomitously perfect, I’m afraid it was rather. One of those weekends where everything, including the English weather, just pans out perfectly. (Oh and I did get actually copiously vomited on by the littlest on Saturday night after he accidentally consumed some cheese, just to bring matters back to a slightly more realistic level…)
I have finally, finally sorted out that phone upgrade and am now the proud owner of an iPhone 6s. It only took me four months to get round to it. So my photos work again, the phone doesn’t freeze whenever I try to download an app and I am back on instagram once more. If you’re over there too, do say hello: @wolvesinlondon. In my absence, all those weird instagram changes have happened and I’m not sure if I’m really seeing everyone’s posts anymore (or, indeed, if they’re seeing mine) but I’m sure I’ll start to remember all those little insta-foibles like relevant tagging soon.
The sproglet was back in nursery yesterday after his enforced two weeks away, following his tonsil op. Good god, two weeks of child-rearing without pause is tiring. I am soaking up two days a week to myself again, especially as my garden design course is on summer hols, so Thursday doesn’t mean schlepping over to Regent’s Park anymore. (Just sitting at home and working on all the assignments due in in November, aka, the same time as my due date, ha ha.)
Both boys are off to Minnis Bay in Kent on a nursery trip today. Do you know it? I googled it to take a look at their destination and it looked rather heavenly. I liberally sun-creamed them up this morning, and sent them off with reminders to wear their hats and think about going to the loo long before they need to take their swimming costumes off. I have a feeling it might be a rather chaotic day for the nursery staff…
And I can’t let this week go by without officially mentioning the heat! It’s been hot, hasn’t it?! We’ve been outside in the paddling pool most days, the boys splashing around while I quietly perspire on the grass. I need to get a comfortable outdoor chair, that’s for sure…
Hope your weeks have been brilliant and here’s to a sunny weekend!
Hello! Phew! Goodness, it’s been a busy few weeks. I’ll try and sum it all up in five salient points…
It’s been a fortnight of hospitals. Last week, the sproglet had his tonsils and adenoids removed, which meant a day at St Thomas’s and then a whole week of quarantine at home. He was pretty brave, for a boy not yet four, but groggy as anything after the general anaesthetic. He’s not quite back to full health, but talks fondly about his time at “Thomas hospital” — I think he thinks it belongs to a certain tank engine. I find it too adorable to correct him.
The other major hospital visit was to Kings for my 22 week scan because yes, not content with an already somewhat hectic life, we’ve decided to add another sprog to the mix. All was well and, apart from being exhausted most of the time and huger than I have ever been in pregnancy before, it’s been the easiest pregnancy so far. The other two are looking forward to having a baby in the house and (mostly) remembering not to jump up and down on my tummy.
Do you remember all the dilemmas about our house move? (You know, the one that has been ongoing for about five months now?) Well, our mortgage got refused on the house we were trying to buy because of suspected subsidence. After finally deciding not to leave London, it now looks a bit like we might have to leave London after all.. If we can’t manage to find another way to buy this house that we want, everything else round our area has got insanely expensive and moving locally just isn’t an option anymore. We’ve applied for a mortgage with someone else that we have some (scant) reason to suspect might be more inclined to lend on that house, so it’s just a waiting game, now, to find out if it will go through. Keep your fingers crossed for us.
Today was the last day of my garden design course for the summer. We spent it walking round Canary Wharf and then the Thames Barrier Park looking at gardens. Actually, I started the day sitting on the floor of a Jubilee line tube in tears because I was so fed up that nobody had offered me a seat for the whole journey and I had just lost the will to battle with all the self-absorbed suited-bastards who rushed past me to grab the seats and stare at their Blackberrys for hours. It was deeply embarrassing, I have to say. (See above, for pregnancy hugeness and exhaustion and also a reason why I’m perhaps slightly more emotional than normal, ha ha…) I feel obliged to point out that even when I was sitting sobbing on the floor, nobody still offered up a seat. A commute into Canary Wharf is enough to make you give up on any belief in human decency.
On a more relaxing note, we’re off for a long weekend in Herefordshire this weekend, staying with a whole bunch of my school friends and their families in a beautiful Georgian manor house. I am hoping for some long walks, long meals and general pottering around. Oh and for some sunshine, of course.
‘Til next week. Hope you all have wonderful weekends…
There isn’t, of course, time to give you my full, frank review on every single one of these, so instead a brief sentence on each one. A Twitter review, if you will.
And to make things really straightforward, I’ve listed them in the order I most enjoyed them:
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
How did I miss the hype the first time round? Peters out at the end, but brilliant, compelling, sharp, intriguing and fantastically-written. If you somehow also failed to read it when it came out, then do so now…
Twenty thousand streets under the sky by Patrick Hamilton
Epitomises the London of a foggy, cold day. Fabulous, bleak, fascinating, unrelentingly “real.”
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt
A story about two contract killers in California during the Gold rush. If that doesn’t sound like something you’d ever read, ditto. Read it anyway. I adored the rather literal narrator’s voice and the prosaic catalogue of bizarre events that ensued.
The complete works of Marian Keyes (re-read)
One week I became obsessed with re-reading everything written by Marian Keyes. It’s chick lit for those who (like me) don’t usually like chick lit. Trashy, yes, but also extremely funny and very much un-put-downable.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
She’s a fantastic writer, there’s no doubt, but that couldn’t quite make me ignore the fact I never love a modern re-working of a classic. If you’ve never read Sittenfeld before, then seek out American wife instead, which remains one of my all-time favourite reads.
The stranger’s child by Alan Hollinghurst
I found The line of beauty one of the most over-hyped books I had ever read, but really very much enjoyed this book, Hollinghurst’s fifth novel. Set in five different decades, I vastly preferred the earlier (1913 and 1920s) sections to the modern day ones. But overall, definitely worth a read…
The man of my dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld
Sparks of brilliance, but a slightly unfulfilling plot. See above…
Under the Tuscan sun by Frances Mayes
Practically porn for a property-fiend and Italophile like me. Will almost certainly make you sell your children in order to finance the purchase of a falling down house in Italy.
The versions of us by Laura Barnett
Has been compared to One Day, which seems fair to me. An enjoyable read, but not something I would remember in five years time. A good holiday book.
Oxygen by Patrick Miller
Perfectly readable holiday literature. Almost instantly forgettable.
The Elena Ferrante Neapolitan novels
Page turners, undoubtedly, but I didn’t find them the great literary feat everyone else seemed to. I preferred the descriptions of Naples to the musings on friendship and relationships.
Number 11 by Jonathan Coe
Good god, I thought this was tedious. A “satire” on modern culture (which actually felt especially topical after the referendum), but though I agree with the politics, I found the writing and humour rather schoolboyish. And (*spoiler alert, look away now*) at the very end a giant spider eats all of the bad capitalist conservatives. I kid you not.
Well, wasn’t the last week of June utterly depressing. Like so many, I was knocked for six with the results of the referendum.
I find the whole thing terrifying and bleak. The result itself, the reports of increased racism that have peppered the news this past week, the furious packpedalling of the Leave campaigners, the Leave voter regretters, but also the really unpleasant bile and accusations that have been rife on my Facebook feed ever since — predominantly from those who share my political views and also voted to remain.
Yes, I agree, it is bloody miserable that more people said leave than stay, but I don’t think that justifies branding half the population either racist or moronic. Nor do I feel much empathy for those who want to take London out of the UK (erm, doesn’t that kind of go against the whole point of staying stronger together?) or moan about how they’ll no longer be able to retire to a lovely villa in Spain.
Anyway, let’s hope that something comes up to stop us actually following through and leaving and that the unpleasant racism and Facebook fighting dies down and maybe, just maybe, we can all stand up against a political system filled with lies and nonsense pedalled merely as a desire for personal gain, irrespective of the good of the country.
In the meantime, pottering in the garden has provided me with some respite from the bleak outlook. June is often a bit of a “flower gap” in my garden, a time when the Spring blooms are over, but high Summer is yet to hit its peak. But there’s just enough of interest to keep me wandering around between all the rainstorms.
My complete obsession at the moment are my stunning thalictrum plants. They’re Thalictrum delavayi ‘album’ and the flower buds form perfect white circles that bob about on slender stems, before opening to reveal delicate yellow stamens. I have about nine plants dotted throughout the garden and I just adore them. They were newly planted in the Autumn, but I shall put them in every garden I ever own from now on…
Another favourite is this scabious; I love watching it unfold from tightly packed bud to luscious flower and then into a rather glorious seedhead. I planted it next to some salvia argentea, which is a huge fat-leaved, hairy silver plant, that looked absolutely amazing for about a week. And then the slugs devoured every last bit of it. Three plants, completely munched through, with only the leaf veins left. Grrrr.
Regular reads might chuckle to know that, yes, my wallflower is — as ever — in full bloom. Not only does it flower pretty much continuously for 11 months of the year, but the bees love it. It’s a garden staple, I think, if a little unglamorous.
I planted a beautiful pittosporum towards the back of the garden, but it has become a breeding ground for aphids. Every time I see a ladybird anywhere in the garden, I put it on the pittosporum in the hope it will munch those little pests right up. But, a few minutes later, there will be no sign of the ladybird and hundreds more of the little black dots multiplying in front of my eyes. I think I need a more effective form of control, but the hose doesn’t reach that far down the garden to blast them away, and I always feel a little queasy, I have to confess, about wiping them off between my fingers.
There is lots on the verge of flowering at the moment too. Some poppies that have grown from seed that I asked the sproglet to chuck liberally across the flower beds are growing well. I can no longer remember what type we sowed, so I watch them every day in eager anticipation, waiting to see what colour the flowers will be. And my newly-planted echinops is getting taller and taller, the flower buds fattening. I can’t wait for them all to burst open.
Finally, a rather crappy shot of the garden as viewed from the patio looking away from the house. It’s not quite as short as it appears in the photo, but we cleared all the plastic kids crap away to put up the much more attractive fabric tent last weekend, so I thought it needed a quick snap. You can just make out the chicken house and the veg beds at the far end…
So, roll on July. Here’s to less rain, more flowers and, hopefully, a little more optimism in the whole political situation. Fingers tightly crossed.
Am I alone in having good intentions that frequently outshine my actions? Surely not.
Though I’ve thought (and written) much about our intentions to live as sustainably as possible, in real life, time or cost often win out against worthy ideals.
So, yes, I grow a lot of veg and get a weekly organic veg box, but (whispers it) I also do a monthly online Tesco food shop. Even though I hate Tesco and everything they stand for, without a car we can’t do a regular big shop ourselves and Tesco is currently the only supermarket who will cheerfully deliver to us without plastic bags and carry the crates of food all the way through to the kitchen.
But with our country move delayed, and, with it, plans of a more self-sufficient lifestyle also put on hold for a few years, I am determined to try and be more conscious about the food we consume as a family.
So I’ve done a bit of research into the current trends in sustainable eating! (Because, let’s face it, this is an area of ever shifting sands and ever new heroes. Who can forget the Apprentice acai berry show?!)
And, my goodness, what a lot there was to discover…
I’ve long been a fan of quinoa, so the promise of Teff, a new “supergrain” from Ethiopia creates a strong lure. The gluten-free seeds, used in place of wheat flour, have been growing in popularity in recent years, even leading the grain teff to be placed at 4 to 1 odds as the next big superfood…
Though we’re not a gluten free household, I am aware that almost everything the kids like to consume is packed full of the stuff (pasta, bread, cakes and biscuits making up pretty much the entire list of foods that will be allowed past their lips) and I’m always looking for ways to vary this unending wheat onslaught.
Plus, of course, the promise of a large exporting foodstuffs market in Ethiopia, if managed effectively, would be a huge boon to a nation that is currently on the UN’s list of least-developed countries.*
Teff flour is currently available in the UK from Planet Organic and, in smaller more expensive quantities, from Sainsburys. Expect it to start appearing on the shelves of other supermarkets soon…
Did you watch the Jamie Oliver expose on pullet eggs last year on Jamie and Jimmy’s Farm Feast? For anyone who missed it, the short story is that huge numbers of small eggs, known as pullet eggs, are discarded because the supermarkets don’t want to buy them. As with so many things (wonky veg and so on) there is no real rationale behind this – a pullet egg, laid by a young chicken who has only just started making eggs, tastes just as good as a normal sized one and, in fact, the yolk-white ratio is higher so it’s arguably even better! (Read more about it on Jamie Oliver’s website here: eggs and animal welfare.)
I’m quite passionate about this subject for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the farm that Jamie visited is owned by the hubby’s relations, who are just as brilliant and fun as they seemed on TV and do an amazing job of running an organic farm and spreading the message about pullet eggs.
Secondly, since owning our own chickens and watching, with astonishment, when they first started laying these adorable little tiny eggs, I can tell: you they taste bloody brilliant! How anyone could discard such an insanely tasty egg simply because it is a bit smaller than usual strikes me as pure insanity.
Anyway, it is now possible to buy pullet eggs, either direct from The Mac’s Farm in Sussex, if you happen to live close by, or via FarmDrop if you’re London based, and nationwide from Abel & Cole (where they’ve called them “petite eggs”).
Surely one of the most iconic sights of Africa, the baobab tree casts such a mythical hold that it’s unsurprising its fruit has gripped public attention. And with health benefits that are seemingly un-ending (it contains more vitamin C than an orange, just for a start) baobab powder has been popular in health food stores for some time now.
In past years, though, baobab production has really taken off, with a number of sustainable initiatives starting in a range of African countries. Many of the organisations involved with the trade of baobab to the west are conscious of the need to address issues of monoculture and deforestation that have been rife with popularity of other crops.
I’m yet to test the baobab and, I have to confess, I remain sceptical about endless health claims from any one food, but with a huge range of baobab foods available in the UK now, I’m going to search out some baobab rich snacks and see if it’s something I can incorporate into my diet. Check out Planet Organic’s range for a huge choice!
*There’s a fascinating article in the Guardian all about teff, and the growing conditions in Ethiopia, here: Move over quinoa