Tuesday, 11 August 2020

hidcote manor

I feel somewhat reluctant to share this garden with you. It has been my most favourite place for many years and often one does not feel like sharing one's favourite place in order to protect it from being engulfed by the masses. But, seeing as my readership is very small, I don't think this will have too adverse an effect!

Hidcote Manor is perched high up in the Cotswolds above Chipping Campden with views out across to Warwickshire in one direction, Oxfordshire in another and back home towards Worcestershire in the other. My first memory of visiting Hidcote was when I was very little. Mum, my brother and I explored the gardens, raced up the grassy, hornbeam-lined avenue and dipped our fingers into the cool water fountain. My brother leapt across the Ha-ha, almost giving my mum and her friend a heart attack as we didn't know if there were spikes in its bottom but thankfully he emerged safe and unharmed. After, we picked raspberries in the next door PYO farm. Since that visit we have gone back every summer; I adore it. 

This summer I pre-booked some tickets (as this is the new norm now) and Mum, Ian and I headed over in the searing heat for this year's visit. Though a little wilder than previous years (the gardeners were all furloughed), it is still as magical and beautiful. My interest in gardens has grown tenfold in recent years and now I often wonder whether I missed my vocation as a gardener. Perhaps one day I can give it a go, once I've learnt a few more plant names. 

^^ Beautiful dahlias smiling up at us

Does anyone know what this is? Mum wasn't sure but they were like big clouds of bubblegum in the softest pink. 

Sunning ourselves in the heatwave!

^^ These phlox flowers were everywhere in all kinds of colours; lilac, as above, whites and hot pinks. We have some at home called Laura, which is very apt for Mum.

^^ This beautiful rambling plant was growing on the facade of the house - is it a clematis? The flowers were huge and trumpet like in both purple and cream. We had never seen it before so if you recognise it, please let me know! 

Another successful visit, despite the strange circumstances! 


time in the country

With a potentially long stretch of furlough ahead of me, we decided to head back to my parents for a stint in the countryside. We packed up the car with tomato plants and the lettuces and headed off for some time away from the hot city and crowded parks. Ian is still working so set up camp at home and I spent time cooking and enjoying having more space and lots of garden to play with. We explored new walking routes and even walked the majority of the Malvern Hills and climbed Bredon Hill. We even tried wild swimming in the River Avon on one particularly hot evening. It was all pretty idyllic.


A good thing to have come from this global pandemic has been the confirmation that we want to move out of London in the near-ish future and return to the countryside. I think we've both realised that we're country mice - though London will always hold a very special place in our hearts. 


Thursday, 11 June 2020

gardening in june

And just like that it's June and we're halfway into the year. Now seems like a good point to update you with the garden. After a scorching May with no rain at all, the plants have grown plenty and the vegetable garden is beginning to take shape. Thankfully, we are now experiencing some cooler weather and hopefully a week of rain which will really help both my little garden patch in London and Dad's whole farm at home.

Let's start with the tomatoes and cucumbers. These are doing really well, though the cucumbers have fallen victim to snails however, Ian and I managed to overcome this with various repellents including sheep wool pellets which expand when wet and create a rough surface for the snails to slide over and egg shells. Unfortunately this didn't seem to repel them enough so we then built this rather large box around the plants, which has a copper strip around the parameter (which supposedly gives off a static shock when they get near) and we covered it in some leftover mosquito netting. I've now taken the netting off as they were growing so quickly and I didn't want to stunt them. So far, this concoction seems to be working... touch wood! 

The tomato have been very happy and are growing very quickly. They are just beginning to produce some flowers so I am hopeful for an abundant crop later in the summer. 

The cucumber plants are also flowering and are producing embryonic fruit which means they are female. These will need to be pollinated to set fruit so I am hoping all the bees flying around have been doing this! 

My next planter is looking a bit like a war zone and this is due to the pesky snails again. I think they enjoy living in the woven willow and despite all my efforts for picking them off and surrounding the plants with defence systems, they still manage to come out of the wood work. 

In both of these pots (an old fromage fraiche pot and an old milk carton, both complete with copper tap!), I have my runner beans, which were so successful last year. They have taken a very long time to germinate but are finally making a show. The one on the right has been nibbled somewhat but I am confident that now I have the milk carton protecting it, the rest of the plant with push through. I will get rid of the egg shells soon so I don't encourage any vermin (though the shells have all been thoroughly washed). At the front of the beans are some more lettuces which just started germinating this week. 

Under the netting is some redbor kale that I bought in seed form from Sarah Raven. These are slowly growing and did fall victim to the snails but I am hopeful that they are now safe and sound under their netting. They seem to be slow growers but are surely making progress. The basil is now flourishing and will hopefully fill up that space up to the overflowing thyme next to it. 

In the plastic pots, from left to right, there are: a sunflower, mixed cosmos, a courgette plant (the other one is in a much larger pot growing on nicely) and a geranium I managed to propagate. I'd like to replace all the plastic pots with terracotta ones soon but when I went to the garden centre last week the selection of pots was very limited. That will be my task throughout the rest of summer, to replace the plastic pots with nicer terracotta ones. Once everything starts to flower, I think think this section will bring a lovely flourish of colour. We have ample amounts of mint so alongside fresh mint tea, we will also be making mojitos!

My ladder was built by Ian two years ago and is a great way to make the most of vertical height. At the moment is is mostly filled with remainder tomato plants which I am hoping to bring home to my parents', whenever that may be. I've also got some sweet peas which need larger pots and caning and my spring onion trough, of which there are both white and purple varieties. 

Last of the vegetables are these butterhead lettuces which have taken on a red/purple shade, though I am assured they are green butterheads! These have done amazingly well on my kitchen window sill which benefits from strong sunlight for much of the day. We've already started eating them and I will continue to sow them throughout the season to make the most of them. I'd recommend lettuces to anyone trying to start small, or even easier cut and come again leaves. 

I would like more flowers in the garden and I am sure I will get there but at the moment I am a little limited with not having a car in London (and me needing to buy more pots and compost!). Ideally I'd like to buy a few large pots and fill them with various flowers. I saw a story on Gardener's World the other week where they visited a woman's garden which was solely made up of pots and it was spectacular! I also joined an online lecture with Aaron Bertelsen, head gardener at Great Dixter, who discussed how to grow vegetables and flowers in pots. Both situations were on small patios so I know it's possible with a bit of planning and dedication. 

Anyway, now I am rambling so I will leave it there. How is your garden growing?


Wednesday, 3 June 2020

a walk into town

We've become quite ambitious with our walking during lockdown. Without a car - an our desire to walk further than our usual loop around the common - we have decided to wear comfortable shoes, slather on the suncream and enjoy a good 4 hour walk most weekends. We've covered Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park and so our eyes were set on something a little different this weekend. We decided to walk into Mayfair, to explore the area before it got busy again. When else would we see empty streets other than on Christmas Day?! 

So, on Sunday morning we had a good breakfast and set off for Green Park. Meandering along the river side, we crossed into Chelsea and drooled over the houses along Cheyne Walk and spied into the back of Chelsea Physic Garden (which coincidentally is firmly on my list of gardens to visit once lockdown is over). The weather couldn't have been more perfect with crystal blue skies humming above our heads and relatively few people along the roads to dodge. The Royal Hospital looked perfectly preened with a few residents ambling around the grounds like something from Georgian Britain.

Heading up Pimlico Road we took a quick stop to ogle to antiques and interior shop window displays. I love the Pimlico Road - as someone who works in the interiors world, this street is mecca, lined with all the big names and dreamy window displays. Colefax & Fowler have taken gardening expert, Alexander Hoyle, under their wing this year and he regularly updates the doorway display. The woven baskets overflowing with lupins, foxgloves and rambling roses; a heavenly vision that I would love to recreate in my own patio. 

From here we cut across Belgravia and mused about what its residents do aside from robbing banks to afford the white fronted villas and townhouses. Before we knew it we were rounding the Royal Mews, gave a quick wave to the ponies and took the opportunity to take a snap of Buck Pal whilst the crowds were relatively quiet - there were more people there than I thought there would be but it was still manageable and not too overwhelming. 

And one shot looking down The Mall. 

By this point I was getting rather peckish and we were in need of a break. We decided that since we had walked all this way, a Tesco sarnie wouldn't cut it so Fortnum it would have to be! We wound our way up Pall Mall and towards Piccadilly, enjoying the empty streets where it was possible to stand in the road for a picture or two. 

Picking up sausage rolls from F&M we found a spot in the dabbled shade of Green Park which was being visited by a v chic ice cream van. 

Restored, it was time to make the journey home and rather than do the exact reverse of our inbound journey we decided to cut across Belgravia, across Eaton Gate and to Sloane Square before walking up the King's Road and hitting Cheyne Walk once again (I just can't get enough of those houses!!). 

For anyone looking for something to do on a Sunday morning, I'd really recommend walking into town. Of course the glorious weather helped as whilst I write this, it seems the sun has disappeared, but I reckon even on a cloudy day this would still be a fantastic walk and it feels very special and rare to be able to enjoy London this quiet. 


Monday, 18 May 2020

food for thought

I've grown up loving cooking and food. Weekends were spent sitting at the kitchen table happily drawing and painting away whilst mum whipped up a weekend cake, a succulent beef joint or an oozing fruit crumble. We'd join forces with fairy cakes and I remember so well how much I enjoyed teaspooning the batter into cake cases and then watching on triumphantly as they came out the oven golden and fresh, waiting to be decorated with coloured icing and sprinkles. My childhood memories of being in the kitchen are mostly of baking and yet today I would say that cooking is actually my forte and baking less so. Part of me thinks this is because I loathe maths and baking requires an accurate eye and ability to be patient. I much prefer to toss ingredients together and hope for the best than measure out dry and wet ingredients but alas, baking rather requires this dedication. And so cooking is my real love and something I can find hours of my time doing. 

At university I discovered my true cooking colours and made great friends in fellow foodies and cooks. A few weeks ago a bunch of us had an evening drinks Zoom party (such is life now that we find ourselves Zooming to catch up) and we all eagerly discussed the foods we are cooking and the challengingly bakes we're setting aside for the weekends and the restaurants we're looking to visit once lockdown is lifted and normality can return. Now I find myself furloughed (or is it "on furlough" or "in furlough"?) I have even more time to dedicate to exploring food and the joy it brings me. I've been going through recipe books, magazines and newspapers and bookmarking all that I want to try. These include a poached chicken with spring greens from Margot Henderson, semolina and orange syrup cake from Yotam Ottolenghi, sausage and fennel stuffed tomoatoes, Korean style lamb chops with sweet potato, rosemary focaccia... the list goes on. 

I've also enjoyed reading articles and comment pieces about food. Marina O'Loughlin 'critiqued' Orasay a few weekends ago having experienced the Notting Hill restaurant at home in her garden via delivery. Her writing smacked of flavour and I felt a complete sense of excitement as she described sipping on Campari fizzes whilst waiting for the doorbell to ring. I've yet to order from a restaurant during lockdown but this comment piece certainly inspires me to do so. 

Duncan Campbell also wrote about the joy of food and cooking this week and has seemingly spent hours making fresh pasta and sourdough (I actually draw the line at sourdough, there's something very boring about that to me). I love the idea of spending much of the day crafting a multi-course dinner and long for the moment I too can have friends over; pressing chilled fizz bottles into the hands of friends who can serve up drinks and nibbles whilst other, more kitchen-blessed pals, can assist with the last few foodie items. My god that first dinner party is going to be a riot; it might last two days and I suspect we will all need the day off after festivities are over. 

Finally, Grace Dent wrote a nostalgic piece about Pizza Express and how she misses it - not necessarily the sub-standard pizza and dough bites you order, but the inevitable last-minute decision to soak up Friday night's wine with friends. Reading this made me yearn for the time when we can meet up again, chat nonsense and laugh at each others silly stories. I cannot wait for that day. 

But whilst we wait for that time to come, I'll continue here baking and cooking my way through Coronavirus, a new recipe a week. There's something very soothing about it and provides a constant stream of photo sharing between myself and my mum. 

Ginger biscuits.

Friday night pizzas and negronis. This seems to be becoming a regular event!

A VE Day afternoon tea, complete with smoked salmon sandwiches, ham and piccalilli sandwiches, homemade scones and biscuits. Very English!

Perhaps one of my best creations yet - poached chicken with hand-podded broad beans (this took bloody ages!), leeks and a fresh herb salsa. Served simply with new potatoes and a glass of white wine. A real Sunday evening treat.

My birthday carrot and pecan cake, pre cream cheese icing. This was a Paul Hollywood recipe and was absolutely delicious! I shall be making this again!


Friday, 24 April 2020

garden update

With this glorious spring weather we've been experiencing, my little London garden is growing from strength to strength. Every day something else seems to have grown another inch so I thought I'd give you an update. 

Let's start with my two vegetable planters. Back in November I filled them with spring bulbs. I actually planted them the day after my wonderful university friend very suddenly died. For some reason, I decided that planting spring bulbs would prove soothing so on a very bleak and sad Saturday, I filled the two planted with crocuses, daffodils and tulips.Every time a new bulb has flowered I've been reminded of Joe and they have brought me so much joy. First came the crocuses in a peppery purple haze, then came elegant and tall daffs and now finally, my sunny yellow tulips are coming into full bloom. I love how they open up each day and show off their creamy stripe before closing up again as the temperature dips over night. Rather clever, I think. 

When the tulips have gone over I will allow the straggly green bits to die down into the soil and I'll give the beds a top up of compost and manure. With any luck, the bulbs will flourish again next year. Once the beds are ready I think I'll be able to transplant some of my seedlings into them. They have been dutifully growing on the sidelines in various pots.

I know what you're saying... why on earth have you planted carrots in such a shallow tray?! Well, dear reader, I think mostly because I wasn't concentrating and I was just so pleased to be reusing a Charlie Bingham container. But don't worry, I have plans to transplant them into a much deeper pot when they are bigger and stronger. I watched a similar situation on Gardener's World the other day so I hope I can transplant these guys without disturbing them too much. 

The courgettes were only planted the other day so hopefully we'll see some growth soon. I have stacks of tomato plants, of which I will only need two, so once this lockdown is lifted please let me know if you'd like a healthy little tom plant! 

This is my second attempt at lettuces as my first batch became very leggy so I have higher hopes for these. 

The spring onions were transplanted at the weekend too and seem to have adapted well. I'm hoping they'll now spend a happy summer getting bigger and sweeter. There's a mixture of purple and white ones in here so colourful salads are on the way!

The two cucumber plants have also been moved to bigger pots and this one seems to be the healthier of the two. I realise this looks like someone has been nibbling the right leaf but it's actually just fine, just curling over away from the camera. Realistically I'll only need one plant for the two of us so hopefully I'll have another spare plant needing a new home at the end of lockdown too! Get your orders in now!

The basil is homegrown but admittedly the parsley is not. This was a shop bought plant that I hope to keep alive for a while yet. Just like cut and come again leaves, this seems to have a good life-cycle. The two pots on either side have some sweet pea seeds in them. A few are just poking up their heads now - the sunny weather should encourage them to come out more over the next week. 

I fear all this beautiful weather in April will mean a wet May and whilst a decent rain shower or two would be helpful, I really hope it doesn't last too long. My birthday is in May and it seems to have rained on every birthday I've ever had but maybe this year will be the exception?! ( I say this every year and yet it continues to rain on the 12th). 

Hoping you are all keeping well, healthy and happy!


Tuesday, 7 April 2020

homemade cards & morning walks

Somewhat pleasingly, the weeks are galloping by as usual. I was so worried they'd drag but work has been steady and busy meaning my working week flashes by in a blur of emails and calls. I'm trying to bullet point the week with consistent events, or habits, in order to a) remind me what the day is and b) keep the week moving forward. So, on Wednesdays we have a regular coffee and cake break with our friends Tim and Jo via FaceTime, Fridays is Takeaway Friday (and also Champagne Fridays, because why not) and Saturdays are baking days. In between I am doing home workout videos with Ian which are both hilariously fun and horribly hard. Last week I ended up lying on the kitchen floor whimpering after the 45 minute session. Things can only improve.

We've also been experimenting with what time to go out for our lockdown walk. Our closest park gets very busy during the day and later in the evening so we've decided to go first thing in the morning instead. This morning we'd hit the road by 7am and it was so much better. The parakeets were out in force, dipping and diving amongst the trees and the only other people out were the very keen runners and those walking dogs. We were back in time for cups of tea and breakfast before starting the workday. 

^^ The horse chestnuts near us are just coming into leaf now. Give this another week and the roads should be shaded by a green canopy.

^^ I love this cherry blossom, the flowers look so juicy and delicious to me, especially against the very bright blue sky.

This week I've also been getting back into crafting. As a child I would spend hours painting, drawing and making things. But now, as an adult, I find I have very little creative inspiration in me and rarely find myself getting the paints out, despite having a plentiful supply of them at home. However, this week I did and I decided to paint little Easter cards to send to family and friends. I'm starting small but maybe in a few more weeks I'll have graduated to my school age industrial level of painting and making.

I wonder how long this lock-down will last? However long it may be, I have no doubt I have enough things to keep me occupied with for a while yet. So long as I can carry on walking outside each day. So please, don't flout the rules and ruin it for the rest of us.