Sunday, 26 July 2009

It was a butterfly sort of day

The weather has been atrocious lately. We had summer for two un-seasonably hot weeks in June. We have returned to the rather more typical English summer weather of continuous rain and grey skies.

But the forecast was for a nice day yesterday - rare that it should occur at a weekend too. So we decided to mark this special occasion with a proper day out. I didn't want to be anywhere there were drunk chavs lighting barbecues with flame throwers or to be serenaded by obnoxious, undisciplined children. I wanted fresh air, trees, peace and quiet. I wanted to hear nothing but the sound of bird song, bees going about their business and the breeze through the trees rustling leaves. I wanted a nice walk to blow out the cobwebs and ideally I wanted some photo opportunities. I wanted somewhere suitable to eat our picnic and warm sun with a cool breeze. So we didn't want much really.

We consulted maps for location, packed the picnic basket and cold box and by the time we left we had everything we needed, except one key factor - the weather wasn't quite as nice as we both hoped and expected. The sky was grey and threatening and the breeze was certainly cooling - a bit too cooling.

But the day gradually improved and in the end, by the time we were walking, it turned out incredibly pleasant. We found ourselves near the Stocks Reservoir in the Forest of Bowland (in north west England for overseas readers) and spent some time walking around the perimeter of the water and found a bird hide on the water's edge and spent an enjoyable time in there with binoculars. We found a nice picnic table in the sun and enjoyed a leisurely lunch al fresco - although I did have to correct Mr Boo from thinking that 'al fresco' meant nekkid.

A view from the bird watching hide we spent some time in.

Part of the path we walked was through some marshland with vegetation growing to chest height - and there were as many insects as I've ever seen in one place, it was positively humming with bees and butterflies. Below are some of my photos from the day - which ended up at Beacon Fell, a lifelong favourite spot of ours. Most of the photographs were taken with my compact camera, I decided against carrying my DSLR as we walked - a sure way to ensure plenty to see - although my little camera, with some coaxing, performed pretty well.

Please click the photos to see a larger, sharper view -
they don't display that well here on the page.

The start of our walk, I love to see old gateposts - no one would bother with that sort of effort these days.

I think these 'butterflies' are possibly large skippers.

There is a cluster of paragliders above the distant hill enjoying the last warm thermals of the day.

A Painted Lady butterfly - they travel all the way from North Africa to fetch up in Lancashire - astounding that something so delicate can make the trip. This was taken with my DSLR in the low evening sun.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The biggest raspberry in the world . . .

. . . or the one that got away!

I've hardly had chance to get out into the garden this week - there has been torrential rain with a stiff breeze, punctuated by short - very short - spells of bright sunshine. No sooner to get I get my clogs on and head out of the door, than the heavens dump on me again.

But this afternoon I got a decent interval to catch up on some outdoor chores when it remained dry and the air was nice and warm.

As blogged previously, I have some raspberry canes which have done better at actually producing fruit this year than in recent years, largely due to the warm sunny spell we had a week or two ago - I think that was the summer of 2009 and is nothing but a distant memory now. So I had a few fruits to pick that I could see through the foliage. After the poor performance of my canes in recent summers, I planted two new pots of a different variety and the fruits they produce are fabulous - they're huge, succulent, sweet and flavoursome.

One pot is in a slightly different position than the others and doesn't seemingly get quite as much full sun and I didn't help it by putting the least mature canes in that spot. Consequently, the fruit is somewhat behind the rest of my crop (I use this term very loosely, a handful a day hardly qualifies) and I haven't yet picked any from that pot.
I haven't grown sweet peas for years and these are my first blooms this year.
They're such a vibrant colour that you would think it was man-made.

But the largest raspberry that was furthest on had reached absolute perfection today - it was perfectly ripe, flawless and absolutely mahoosive. This was perhaps the largest raspberry I've ever seen - absolutely gi-huge - certainly the largest I've grown by a significant margin. It was displaying itself proudly at the front of the bough, with a perfect bright green leaf either side of it and a cluster of smaller paler fruits behind. This needed to be recorded for posterity. Whilst my camera was to hand, the memory card was in the card reader upstairs.

This is not the raspberry in question, I took this a while ago to show the average size of the fruits these new canes produce. My fabulous specimen was at least twice this size.

So I returned a little while later with my card, grabbed the camera and headed outside to record this behemoth specimen of raspberry-dom. I actually did a physical double take. I took a few steps back and re-traced my steps, wondering if it had been on the other pot, not the one I was looking at. My prize raspberry was nowhere to be seen. All that remained was a shiny cream coloured hull and two or three pink drupelets of the fruit remaining.

Stop thief!

Someone had stolen my raspberry! I would have taken a photo of the crime scene, but I was too flabbergasted to think to at the time. I can only assume a bird has taken it, but there's not really anywhere for a bird to perch whilst harvesting the booty and I rarely get birds in that garden because it is so enclosed within steep walls.

So now no one will believe how truly fabulous it was - but I swear - it was . . . . this . . . big!

Thankfully my tomatoes are still right where they should be.
But I shall be organising surveillance as they ripen.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

One thing tends to lead to another

For me, a banana has a very narrow window of perfect ripeness for eating. Under-ripe and they're shiny and not a good taste - over-ripe and they're soft and have a tendency to cause indigestion. I suspect, for me at least, the window of banana perfection is only about 24 hours or so. But when you get it right, they're just fabulous.

So looking at the handful of large bananas on the kitchen windowsill, I was sure that window had passed. But I hate waste, so wondered what I could cook with them in - cake was the most obvious answer, but I can't think that I've ever made a banana cake before.

As a diabetic, I don't bake very often, only usually if entertaining other people and consequently, I don't keep much in the way of supplies on hand - in fact my usual practice is to stock up on sugar and a cheap margarine tub that will freeze, before Christmas and very often this lasts most of the year - I perhaps buy 3 bags of sugar a year - and two of those will be dark ones for rum butter and the like for the festivities.

Please click the photo for a larger view.
Shame I can't blog the smell for you.

So I was going to have to find a recipe with a minimal ingredient list and not taking long to prepare. Inspection of the fridge and cupboards found 3 eggs with a 'use by' date that has passed at the beginning of the week, an open bag each of pecans and brazil nuts and some raisins - those I do keep in as I like them on my breakfast.

As I had 3 eggs and the recipe required only 1, I decided to double up the quantity and go for a loaf and some muffins - it suggested that either would work. But now I didn't really have enough bananas, so I ended up using the final egg as the mixture felt a little dry and solid.

By the time I'd added some raisins and chopped nuts , the volume of mix was sufficient for two loaves and a dozen small bun tin muffins. So what started out as trying not to waste five bananas ended up with a pile of baked goods - I have to hope that I can make some room in the freezer. I really enjoyed making it, I haven't baked like that for a long time.

Please click the photo for a larger view.

Monday, 6 July 2009

One piece at a time . . .

. . . and it didn't cost him a dime. My garden furniture being removed, that is.

I blogged a couple of months ago about opening the back door to find the early stages of a wasps nest being built against the door frame and how last summer I had watched one particular wasp come to one of my timber seats regularly to strip off the wood for one such nest.

They seemingly take timber from convenient nearby sources and basically chew it into pulp for the paper that goes to make the fascinating many layered paper dome shaped nest - rather like a large paper onion - they inhabit.

Well, there we were on Sunday, enjoying a mid-afternoon brew in the garden between tasks and another wasp landed on the back of the bench I was on and started doing his timber stripping routine. The one I'd watched last year was a little more self-conscious - he didn't like an audience and if he became aware of me, he'd sidle off down the back of the chair to harvest his building materials unseen.

But this chap wasn't quite so precious about his task, he quite brazenly worked a few inches from me, the rhythmical sound of his timber work alerting me to his arrival. He would fly off with his cargo and return shortly for some more. It's fascinating that they return to exactly the spot they left, literally continuing the stripping from where he left off - the whole garden to work in and he flies back to the very fibres he had got to on his last trip, the same as I'd witnessed last summer.

I was also interested that the wasp last year and this fellow had different techniques. Last year he would meticulously roll up the 2mm wide strip he removed as he worked and once it had become quite a bulky chunk under his chin, he'd secure it and fly off. This chap on Sunday was somewhat more haphazard in his technique. He seemingly stripped fibres off loosely and when he was satisfied he had a decent quantity, he'd rear up on his back legs, sort it out with his front legs, tucking it into a loose bundle and when he was happy it was safely gathered together, he'd fly off.

I suspect that he's young and still has learning to do - he didn't appear quite as efficient as his predecessor.

He seemed to gather it loosely, then rear up on his hind legs in order to secure his load with his front legs, before take off. Please click the photo for a larger view.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

My garden may be small . . .

. . . but it's a source of great joy to me. I sit out in it at all times of year - I have thermal mats and insulated coffee cups especially so that I can enjoy it in winter too.

I have one particularly spectacular hosta this year, bought as an end of season bargain last year in a sorry state. This has half a dozen lovely flower spikes - although it's a shame they don't last longer. Click the photo for a larger view.

Our house is a stone cottage of about 140 years old. It was the managers house for the adjacent mill, originally a calico printers. It's a rather unusual looking house - long and thin and tall and thin. It has a very steep pitched roof and the upstairs of the house is already within the slope of the roof area, the top floor is completely within roof space. The rooms are all tall and the windows set low. It's almost as if after designing and building the outside, they decided to put one less floor in to save money (it has 4 if you count the cellar), so re-distributed those they were building - leading to windows at shin level upstairs.

An overall view of the garden, divided into two areas; the closer section as a more utility area, where we keep the bins, hang washing out and I do my gardening work and the farther seating garden. It's the nearest thing I have to a dining room.
Please click any of the photos for a larger view.

We have two small gardens. The house sits in a vaguely square plot, which has been divided into three long thin rectangles - two long thin gardens sandwiching a long thin house. The garden I am referring to is actually the back garden - and as the house is in fact back to front, this puts it on the street side of the house.

Just inside the trellis dividers in the dining area. The black ceramic figurine on the left is my alter ego Boo. I saw her in the garden centre and joked that she looked to have been modelled on me. She came to live with us that Christmas. ;-)

For a number of years after moving here, we used it as originally intended - minus the outside facilities - as a place for the bins, hanging out washing and for some years, a substantial run for 3 rabbits we had. It was a large expanse of poor quality concrete and some ugly stone and brick exterior walls. I grew a few plants in pots, but as time passed, we wanted a proper garden - an exterior room to eat in and sit out in. So we saved up some money for a complete make over and started drawing sketches.

I never did take any 'before' photos, but I have taken photos each year as it has developed. The greenery is now significantly more substantial than it started, gradually expanding and developing into a proper garden as the years passed - it must be about 8 years since we started the work.

Everything is grown in pots - the original concrete base is still there, but was of such poor quality, we bought a great pile of small grade decorative gravel and just covered it. The colour has faded over the years and there's a lot of moss growing on it now, but it has withstood wear better than we expected. Because everything is grown in a pot, we can largely move the smaller things round, but the down side is that some plants don't do as well as they would in open ground, so we probably don't get as many years from a plant. But if you pay five pounds for a plant and you enjoy it for 2 years, you can't really complain at the value it represents.

Each season I have a particular favourite area - where the planting works especially well, or things grow nicely. This year this is my favourite spot - around one of the stone seats we built from rescued slabs in the cellar and a large stone pear - another Christmas present.

The intention was always to have it as an outdoor room, so there are several seats and places to perch - I think the ones I am most pleased with are two substantial stone slabs we've set on blocks as seats and a way to give some height to the planting. These were both in the cellar, we think originally as work benches, if the wear marks on the undersides are any guide. So they cost us very little, but a great deal of sweat and effort getting them from the cellar to their current positions - which needed to be chosen very carefully, they're not something you could move a few inches easily if you weren't sure you liked where they were!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

The best thing about summer . . .

. . . when we get one that is, is getting out in the garden and using it as an extension of the house.

The hot weather lately has made me thankful that I work from home, the house is relatively cool as we don't get much sun direct into rooms and the thick stone walls of our old cottage ensure that the house stays relatively cool.

I love being able to work with the door to the garden open and my habit is to perch on a bench by the back door frequently during the day as I work, as it remains in shade until about 3pm and is right in the path of any breeze we get.
Please click any of the photos for a larger view.

The hot weather has brought the garden on in leaps and bounds in the last couple of weeks and going outside to peg some washing out just now, I was surprised at how much difference there was since yesterday morning. I've been watching the progress of some fuchsia buds about to open - a week ago they appeared as little cream/green bulges and they fattened and the colour developed as the days have passed. When I watered the garden last night, they were still all buds and this morning, several have already opened.

Please click on the photos for a better view - they look rather dark and fuzzy here on the page.

My favourite fruit is raspberries, so having a very limited garden, all of which is grown in pots, I have treated myself to a few pots of canes - in fact the very first one was a Christmas present from my husband - at which time, it was a black plastic bag of earth with a few sticks protruding.

They haven't done so well over the last two summers and I cut a lot of them down to nothing and bought new ones too. I think perhaps that was more to do with the quality of the weather than the quality of the plants as they've thrived this year and as you can see, the fruit is plentiful and large.

I wonder how long those will last in the fridge today?

I am also trying growing tomatoes this year - two varieties - to see how they do. I have a decent showing of flowers and now some green tomatoes of various sizes;

A friend visited a couple of summers ago on a nice day and I suggested we take our drinks in the garden. His comment; "I knew you said you had a small garden, but I didn't think it was this small!" It always irritates me when gardening programmes offer ideas for small gardens and modest budgets, both of which are usually substantially bigger than my own understanding of small.

Despite our circumstances not allowing us to spend much on the garden this year and the plans to develop one end of it to be scrapped for now, I think we made the tiny budget (£25 - not the £15K that Chelsea designated a modest budget for a garden) give quite a good showing by making the best of what we had and planting new things carefully in between.

Some of my favourite things didn't even cost money. In the photograph above, there is a piece of driftwood. We found that recently propped against a wall in our favourite car park alongside Thirlmere in the Lake District. By it's smoothness, it has been bobbing about in the lake for a while and someone either retrieved it for themselves but subsequently decided not to take it, or a it had been thrown for a dog. But we decided if they didn't want it, we'd give it a home. I have lots of such pieces of driftwood in the garden - I love the lovely sculpture mother nature gives us to enjoy.


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