Thursday, 22 November 2012

Sad songs of Autumn mirth

Food for the birds

Putting the garden to bed for the winter is almost complete.
The borders have been tidied, the roses pruned and leaves raked from the lawn. The final garden bin of 2012 is full to overflowing. Tubs are full of winter pansies and primroses and under-planted with the spring promise of miniature daffodils and iris reticulata. 

Michaelmas daisies going over

The final garden task remains – the planting of tulips. I’ve not yet decided whether to plant them directly into the borders or, as friend Avril does, plant them in tubs. Experts recommend digging up tulips after flowering with a view to replanting the following year. I’m too lazy to do this and usually try to plant them quite deeply with the hope that they’ll survive another year.

Digging at the allotment is now complete and the Japanese onion sets have finally been planted. Spring cabbage, Durham Earlies, are surviving – just - hopefully protected from marauding rabbits by protective netting. Fingers crossed! 

Statuesque artichoke flowers at the allotment

The strawberry bed is finally weed-free and I’ve decided to concentrate on growing perennial flowers, rather than vegetables, in an area which is permanently dry - being affected by roots of the nearby ash tree - beginning with a white form of echinacea, courtesy of fellow allotmenteer, Chris.

Everyone agrees that this has been a dreadful year for growing and will result in substantial rises in the costs of vegetables in the shops. 

Make a New Year Resolution to grow your own next year!

Today I think
Autumn colour of quince leaves
Only with scents – scents dead leaves yield,
And bracken, and wild carrot’s seed,
And the square mustard field;

Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the root of trees,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;

The smoke’s smell too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.

It is enough
To smell, to crumble the dark earth,
While the robin sings over again
Sad songs of Autumn mirth.

                                     Edward Thomas

Monday, 5 November 2012

Remember Remember

The fifth of November

I love bonfire night and am so pleased that Spennymoor, my home town, is one of the few places to hold its annual firework display on 5th November, no matter which day of the week it falls.

The bonfire used to be held in Jubilee Park. My aunt would have baked potatoes in the coal oven and we’d all set off for the celebrations with pockets stuffed full of the hot potatoes which both warmed cold hands and were a delight to eat while firework-watching. Once the excitement of the display was over we’d hurry home to a feast of hot dogs and home-made toffee apples. Those were the days...

This year, however, the supper will be pumpkin soup made from a pumpkin grown on the allotment.

Cinderella for the use of ...

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Serves 4

600g (1lb 5oz) pumpkin flesh, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks chopped
1 garlic clove ditto
1tsp each of ground cumin and coriander
800ml (1 pint 7fl oz) vegetable stock
200ml (7fl oz) coconut milk

Put pumpkin flesh into a food processor and whiz for 30 seconds until almost smooth.
Add celery, garlic and spices and whiz for another 30 seconds.
Empty into a large pan.
Add the stock and coconut milk, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for c15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and blend until smooth.
Check the seasoning and ladle into warmed soup bowls.
Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and freshly ground black pepper.
Serve with crusty bread

We always used to burn our garden rubbish on 5th November and it was amazing how many times neighbours took the opportunity to volunteer extra items to add to the conflagration! The ash contains potash and is excellent for sprinkling around fruit trees. These days bonfires aren’t encouraged any more. Although still allowed at the allotment, strict rules are enforced so very few allotmenteers burn rubbish, preferring to compost as much as possible.

Beechwood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year:
Chestnuts only good they say
If for years ‘tis stored away:
Birch and firwood burn too fast,
Blaze too bright and do not last.
But ashwood green and ashwood brown,
Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown.

Oaken logs, if dry and old
Keep away the winter’s cold:
Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke:
Elmwood burns like churchyard mould,
Even the very flames are cold:
Applewood will scent the room:
Pearwood smells like flowers in bloom:
But ashwood wet and ashwood dry,
A King may warm his slippers by.

Tree man seen at The Floriade

Bearing in mind the latest threat to Britain’s ash trees, we may all be very warm this winter!

Friday, 2 November 2012


No warmth, no cheerfulness, no helpful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member
 No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds – November!
                                                                             Thomas Hood

When north winds do blow...
Madness! With a covering of snow at the end of October, albeit fleetingly, and now on this morning, 2nd November – All Soul’s Day,  the day set aside by the church for praying for souls in purgatory – hailstones bouncing off the ground outside the French windows.

The clocks have gone back and the luxury of that extra hour in bed is almost forgotten as we head towards the dark days before Christmas. Many dread the dark nights and prefer to virtually hibernate until the days begin to lengthen. No longer having to turn out on frosty mornings or de-ice the car before leaving work for home, I can take advantage and appreciate the charm of the shortening days.

Autumn leaves

There is still much to see and enjoy in the autumn garden and the leaf colour has been a joy. I’ve refrained from cutting back many perennial plants to aid wildlife cope with the deprivations of the winter garden but have been using some of the startling red stems of euphorbia fireglow and solidago for example as foliage for autumn flower arrangements. A few stems of honesty, aided and abetted by Chinese lanterns -  courtesy of friend Brenda -  need very few flowers to produce a pleasing splash of colour in the home. (Witness previous pumpkin arrangement).

Autumn colour in Auckland Castle park