20 August 2013

Heucheras : My Guilty Pleasure

I love Heucheras. Absolutely love them.

I appreciate that when first glanced at the plant as a whole can appear dull (where's the flower?) and sometimes a little too fleshy, but when you sit next to them when drinking your coffee and study them up close their true intricacy and subtlety becomes apparent.

I think they have an affinity with light.  Evening light in particular makes them come alive. Something magical happens when it bounces off the underside of the leaf and the whole plant glows with colour. The plant in these photos (Plum Pudding I think) has an amazing raspberry red character to it that you wouldn't know about on a dull day. I have another plant with yellow leaves that flashes a cheery pink.

And just look at the metallic sheen to these leaves. Purple and silver at the same time. You sort of expect it on an insect or bird wing, but are there many plants that are truly shiny?

However, there is a down side to Heucheras: they are so easily hybridized that the huge number of varieties available does give a commercial taint to their character. At the RHS Tatton show there were a few nurseries specialising in Heuchera. I stood salivating at the generous displays. There were vibrant fresh greens, dark velvety purples, shiny oranges - a sweet shop of delights. But they had such awful names: Cafe Ole, Berry Beauty, Gypsy Dancer, Southern Comfort. Where's the dignity?! Where's the respect?! Obviously where I see soul and beauty others see sponsership deals and sentimentality.

To answer your unspoken rejoinder if I grew a line of plants I'd simply number them. 'Purple65' summat like that.

Some Heuchera facts:

They were named after Johann Heinrich von Heucher, a professor of medicine and botany and a friend of Linnaeus (he of taxonomy fame). Herr von Heucher was an Austrian and his name was pronounced 'Hoyker', which is why the 'ch' in heuchera is a hard sound rather than the soft 'sh' sound that I used until put right by a cross nursery owner.

The plant is native to America, growing in different environments from woodlands, to mountains, and dry areas. Its common name is alumroot, or coral bells.

They are of the saxifrage family which includes Bergenia, Tiarella, Saxifrage, and Rodgersia (see below).

It was only in the 1980s that the major hybridization programme began.

18 August 2013

Broad Bean and Bacon Soup Recipe

broad bean and bacon soup

You can't call yourself a proper blog if you don't have a recipe or two in your archives. So here is Garden65's:

Broad Bean and Bacon Soup


Bacon - from fridge
Onion - from allotment
Garlic - from allotment
Olive Oil - from cupboard
Courgettes - from allotment
Celery (about 4 inches worth) - from bottom of fridge
Vegetable Stock - from the other cupboard
Broad Beans - from allotment
Pepper - from the far end of the work surface, next to the salt

Cut bacon with scissors into little bits. Start to fry in saucepan, then bung in chopped onion, garlic and celery with a  dollop of oil to stop it all sticking to the bottom. Wait for onion and celery to soften and the fat on the bacon to disappear (and the garlic smell to change from 'up your nose' to 'French restuarant').

Meanwhile you have been lightly simmering your broad beans in a separate saucepan. Don't do this for too long because you don't want them to go mushy, but I can't tell you exactly how long. My method is to wait until I can hear myself say 'oops, too long.'

Pour the stock into first main saucepan. Judge the volume of stock by a guess at how much you need to fill your soup bowls. Simmer for a bit.

Drain broad beans, then slip them out of their skins. Remember this is the fun bit of the recipe and not a chore.

Throw them into the main soup pan and let them warm up again.

Take pan off the heat and give the contents a short whizz with a hand blender, or mash with a potato masher, or fork, or go the whole hog and put it in a proper blender.

Pour soup into bowls and sprinkle on some pepper.

Serve with bread liberally buttered with butter.


5 August 2013

Shiny Blowfly

Green blow fly

I know! I too go all shivery looking at this fly. I'd rather not, but he happened to sit still long enough for me to take a close up, so we might as well. Knowledge is power and all that.

To start with, yes he is a common greenbottle (as opposed to bluebottle), and he is unfortunately a blowfly. Which is a bit worrying because they lay their eggs on dead things. I'm concerned that Garden 65 is littered with the poor little bodies of dead mice and birds. I hope not.

On the plus side he has an interesting binomial name: Lucilia ceasar, which means Shining Ceasar. This name was given by Carl Linaeus, the founder of the modern taxonomy system. I wonder what it was about this nasty fly that reminded Carl of imperialist Rome.

Here's the science bit:

you notice his thorax (the top bit that we can see is called a scutum) has lots of bristles (setae) on it? Well, apparently that patterning of those bristles is how those who take an interest in flies (diptera) manage to distinguish one species from another. Now I've gone cross-eyed trying to find the definitive explanation of our fly's bristles (I mean, setae) but can't find it, so I shall report back on what I've found so far.

That first deep groove behind the head and before the wings is called the transverse suture. There are many names for the position of the bristles (ah! setae) but lets keep it simple and say our fly has lots of postsutural dorsocentral setae.

I'm sure you'll be able to impress someone with that observation next time you see a shiny fly.

A Bit Too Much

However much I love Garden65, and we know I do, this time of year it does begin to feel a little oppressive.

It's all that green fecundity ... the moist air ... the general loucheness. Earlier in the year the thrusting is done in a cheery, optimistic way. There is youth and possibilities, but now there is an air of dissoluteness - an overindulgence of chlorophyll and sappiness. Long leaves are flopping over with the effort of it all, and edges are fraying.  We are far from the elegant noble decay of autumn.

The micro world under the bamboo, with its jungle floor, primitive pottery (the kids made way too much when they were young), and artfully placed mirror reminds me of a 1950s war film set in Java with William Holden in some short shorts and Deborah Kerr in a wimple- don't know why - not sure that film even exists - but it does.

your intrepid reporter
your intrepid reporter

Here is further clarification of the particular short shorts I was alluding to. This is David Farrar in Black Narcissus:

However, William was no slouch in that department either (Love Is A Many Splendored Thing):

Strangely I'm enjoying this blog post more than I had expected

Stop it! this is a serious gardening blog (as if!)

3 August 2013

Short Witchy Story

I visited a country house the other day. The gardens were lovely, though there wasn't much to buy there.  While walking round the walled vegetable garden (which reminded me of Heligan) I found these pages scrunched up under the leaves of a courgette plant. I thought you might be interested, so I've typed them up for you. ;-)

[ This is a link to the Scribd version which may be easier to read. I would also like to experiment with sending the whole document to those of my many readers (!) whose email addresses I have - but I'll do that in a few days time.]

"Dear Friend (I’m always a little shocked to have one to be honest),

Dear Friend,

I find myself with some time to kill. Having exhausted one’s repertoire of songs to sing in idle moments, and having dug the dirt from under my nails, and re-laced the boots into a different left over right, right over left pattern I can no longer bare the tedium of this enforced period of stillness. One doesn’t want to bore you with my boredom, but I’m afraid the only activity now available to me that has any chance of preventing my head exploding is to scratch out a few words to you.

Can’t imagine how a pencil found its way in here, or this scrap of paper, but let’s count our blessings and carry on ...

Perhaps I should explain where I am and why indeed I am not tweeting or Facebooking the (in)action in real time. Darling, I left in such a hurry without a thought as to what would happen next, that it never occurred to my silly little head to bring the damn smartphone. Oh, impetuosity is as always my downfall. Before I flung myself out of the window I really should have collected a few supplies. A spare pair of socks would have been on top of the list, a torch not far below and lastly ... the bloody front door keys. When will I learn? Before rushing off into the night a little forethought would pay dividends. But then, hey, when Adventure calls we must obey without hesitation, mustn’t we?

So here I am, in the dark, writing and not tappy tapping on a screen. How retro of me. Come to think of it the whole situation feels Robinson Crusoe-ish. Wonder if there are some sticks round her to light a fire. Not that being marooned on a desert island is comparable to squatting in your own garden. My predicament is far from noble. Having said that, the unexpected appearance of Man Friday would certainly chase away any ennui. ;-).

How did I get here? Yes, that’s what I’ve been pondering too. What began as a simple idea has ended up bit of a pear-shaped disaster.

You see, I just could not not hear that man’s insufferable voice going on and on. Even in the tower room of the west wing (you know the one ... the one with the alembic and all that gubbins in it, not the east wing tower where the taxidermy collection is) I could hear him droning on; and Aunt Morganna witlessly encouraging him with her girly giggles. You would think an 83 year old crone would know better. Can’t imagine she was interested in Uncle Jeremy’s exposition on wines of the Alsace region. We’d already been through how soil types affect acidity levels and the naming of all thirteen grapes in Ch√Ęteauneuf du Pape. When Uncle Nigel chipped in with a speech on migrant grape pickers I thought the tide had turned, but no, on Uncle Jeremy ploughed, invigorated now the EU was fair game.

I don’t know why he thought we would be interested. When I visit Andre who runs my own vineyards I say ‘give me the wine and the profits, I don’t need to know the tannin levels’. It makes life so much simpler. We both know where we stand. I get the alcohol and the money; he gets to ponce about with his dipstick.

Being too polite (you know me and my impeccable manners) to say “Oh put a sock in it Jeremy”, I tried a cold hard stare, but I think he mistook it for my natural Bitchy Resting Face and just carried on.

I had to leave the room to find somewhere in the mansion where I couldn’t hear that pompous bass rumble. At first I went to the kitchen but the Aga was pumping out heat into the already hot air. The deep cold walls of the pantry seemed a good place to escape, but they were no match for this extraordinary summer heat, and the Gorgonzola was overpoweringly humming.

I headed upstairs, but not before overhearing an alarming exchange between the various relatives.

“Where’s she gone?”
“Didn’t she say she was going to the lavvy?”
“She’s been gone a while.”
“Yes, do you think she is having trouble?”
“I did think she left in a hurry.”
“It’s the fish course. I didn’t like the look of that fish. I must say, I didn’t eat mine.”
“Told you. What was it anyway? Pollack? Gurnard?”
“Not pleasant, whatever it was.”
“Poor woman. She has been a while. Do you think I should go and offer help?”
“Good God, no. You don’t want to have to deal with that.”

Maybe I should have gone back in, but couldn’t face the explanations and denials. The need to discuss my bowel movements with Uncle Jeremy was all the more reason to hide upstairs.

I tried the linen cupboard first, but the close darkness brought the sweat out on my upper lip and it really was a childish place to hide. Of course the bathrooms were off limits, and the bedrooms were too hot. Those velvet drapes may be opulent but they do cling on to heat. At last I climbed up into the west wing tower and stood quietly amongst the alchemy equipment.

I could still hear his voice; not distinct words, but the drone was inescapable. I pulled up a chair by an open casement window and looked out into the dark, enjoying the cool breeze. Suddenly a flash of light lit up the garden and two elephants later thunder cracked. Rain began to fall. This was the first rain for weeks. I leaned out further and sniffed the new freshness. It was beautiful. If I stretched my arm out into the night air I could feel raindrops prickle my sweaty palm. Delicious. Standing up I tipped as far as I could out of the window. The rush of the summer storm blew around my face eliciting a little whoop of joy. With my head out of the window I couldn’t hear Uncle Jeremy, and I was free from the stifling heat of the house.

“I would rather be out there,” I thought.

Which is when the trouble began.

The sensible, more adult response would have been to go back downstairs, clear up the diarrhoea misunderstanding, then clearly state my intention to walk in the rain. However, as I say, impetuosity is my downfall.

The broomstick was downstairs, so flying out was not possible, but, I don’t know if you noticed when you last visited, there is a tall fir tree growing very close to the tower. Jumping across to the tree and then shimmying down did look achievable. I’m not scared of heights, I reasoned, and leaps of faith into the air are my stock in trade. It was a tight squeeze through the window, and the skirts had to be bunched up around the legs, but I managed to balance on the window sill. Helpfully another flare of lightning lit up the tree. I judged the distance and leapt.

The manoeuvre was successful. I finished clinging to the main trunk, fifty or so feet up, at last free of the fetid mansion. Now, I may be a master of herb lore, but my arboreal knowledge is somewhat lacking. What I had not anticipated were the thousands of sharp needles sticking into my every inch. Ouch. The momentum of the jump had driven them though my clothes. My arms were pierced and they had managed to get passed the armoury of the corset. My inner thighs, so tightly clung to the trunk, were hedgehogged with them. The climb down then was excruciating. Once down I did my best to shake the little beggars free but for the rest of the night, in fact, right now as I write, every move was torture.

Still, ‘yer makes yer choices’ and all that, this hard won freedom was here to be enjoyed. I ran into the rain arms out wide, exalting in the cool air and the drama of nature. It was marvellous.

All of a sudden a shaft of lightning hit one of the weathercocks on the tower. Roof tiles crashed down. It was so near the force of it pushed me backwards. I stopped exalting and ran under a nearby horse chestnut tree, but then remembered the most dangerous place to be in a storm is under a tree, so I dashed back out in to the open, then remembered that being in the open was also a perilous place to be, so I scurried under a rose arbour, having some thoughts on standing in doorways during an earthquake, but then another fork of lightning hit a dovecot (the white one, not the green one), blowing it up and frazzling a few doves, so thoroughly freaked out by this point I darted across the lawn, zigzagging as though to dodge the bullets of a sniper, into the safety of the potting shed.

And here I remain, crouching amongst the pots and spiders, waiting for the storm to pass, scribbling my pickle to you, and trying to compose an explanation of my dishevelled state to the relatives."

1 August 2013

Some People Are So Nice

fog lane park wildflowers

In Fog Lane Park a magnificent display of wildflowers has appeared in the abandoned rose beds.

fog lane park wildflowers

A laminated sign accompanies them saying the flowers are part of the mix used in the Olympic Village last year.

fog lane park wildflowers

The sign also says they were planted by Dave and Liz with weeding help from Elizabeth, Alex and Tiger.

fog lane park wildflowers

And that is all the information - no surnames, no website, no ideology. I assume they are local people who thought it would be a nice thing to do.

fog lane park wildflowers

How fantastic, and what a contrast to the nut planting done last year by a local community group (as grumbled about in this post). There is no nonsense about sustainability and carbon footprints. Here is a genuinely heartfelt gesture by people who simply want to make their local park look good. Now that's real community spirit.

Thank you Dave and Liz, Elizabeth, Alex and Tiger.