Sunday, 31 August 2014

This week

This has been the final week of the summer holidays, and I have tried to dispel the yearly sense of gloom by trying to make the most of it. My youngest and I will be back to school and work next week, and in a couple of weeks or so my two older ones will be heading off to the first and final years of university. I have always found this to be a bittersweet time of year, as I mourn the passing of summer, but absolutely adore early autumn with its ripeness and abundance. So, despite the rain and having a bad back this week, I have managed to cross a few things off my seasonal 'to do' list.

1) I have been picking small bunches of flowers from my garden, as well as sweet peas which are still going strong, and roses which are in their second flush.

2) Windfalls from our little apple tree have started to litter the lawn, and I have used them to make Norwegian Apple cake from Mia's excellent recipe. Served with creme fraiche, it was delicious, and my good friend Jane and I enjoyed a slice with a cup of tea when we had one of our creative get-togethers.

 3) Inspired by another blogger, Sue at The Quince Tree, I made Damson Gin. I have been talking about making sloe/blackberry/damson gin for years, and am very pleased with myself, now that I've finally got around to it. The damsons came from the local farm shop.

I love the fact that in just three days in it's already gone a lovely rich colour.

4) With the rest of the damsons I made damson ice cream which was yummy, and very pink.

5) I am working madly on a granny square blanket that I'm making for my son when he starts university. Not long to go now, and it's not as far along as I'd hoped. Oh well, he won't need it yet as it's not too chilly.

6) Despite the rain I've been popping out in the garden to pick blackberries and raspberries which are ripening fast now. The raspberries also seem to be having a second flush, as I already picked lots back in June.

7) The roses and peonies which, like the lavender, I dried in the airing cupboard, make very pretty pot-pourri. The colours do fade quite quickly, and I add a few drops of essential oil, but they are a lovely reminder of summer.

I love the intense colour and crinkliness (if that's a word) of these dried roses.

8) This morning (Sunday) is wonderfully warm and sunshiney after all that rain, so I've taken time to sit on my favourite bench in the garden with a cup of tea. Despite the garden being a bit untidy in that end-of-summer way, I'm concentrating on how good it feels to be almost in September - bring it on!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


If you were expecting this post to be a bit racy, fear not - its subject is the rather gorgeous passiflora, or passion flower. Our passion flower has been thriving this year since some trees which were overshadowing it were cut back. It's a climber which originally comes from South America and looks incredibly exotic in British gardens. This variety is the most winter-hardy one, but there are other beautiful varieties which are better grown in greenhouses. Think I bought this one in a supermarket a few years ago.

I marvel at the complexities of the flower, so completely different to anything else growing in our garden. Just look at the centre with its amazing structures. It gets its name from the Passion of Christ and a great deal of religious symbolism has been attached to the numbers and arrangement of  petals, sepals, stigmas and anthers. In it's natural habitat the flowers are pollinated by large bees, hummingbirds and wasps.

I love all of those thin blue, white and purple filaments radiating out from the centre. They really are very striking.

Another interesting feature of the passion flower is its tendrils which reach out as it climbs and wrap themselves around whatever's available to hold it in place. You can see one down at the bottom of the picture in the centre.

In close up it's an incredible little spring, ready to uncoil and wind itself around another plant, like the honeysuckle that it's growing with.

In a warm summer the passion flower produces these egg-shaped fruits which will turn orange when they are ripe.

Mine haven't produced these fruits for a couple of years, but this summer they have, as you can see. Apparently, although they are not the same variety as the ones you can buy in the supermarket, they are still edible but not very tasty. Think I'll just admire them instead.

Even on a drab, grey, wet summer's day (like today) these exotic plants bring a taste of the tropics into the garden, and I love them for that.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Day Trips 4 - Wales

Two weeks ago we decided to go to Aberystwth for the day. It's a good long way from here, and barely day-trippable, but we set our alarms early, and off we went. On leaving home the weather was awful - persistent rain all the way through Bristol and South Wales. Just look at that sky.

As we got deeper into the Welsh countryside the low-lying clouds and water-vapour became very picturesque.

Then it slowly started to clear. The landscape looked very beautiful, with conifer plantations and little streams running down from the mountains.

After a long morning's drive we finally spotted the sea - hooray! We'd reached our destination.

Firstly we visited the University perched high on the hill above the town, and looked around the famous National Library of Wales. The university was set in a lovely campus and the library is very impressive. We stopped to look at the Dylan Thomas exhibition which I really enjoyed as I'm a fan of his poetry. My husband took this photo out of the library across the town and towards the sea. 

After lunch we drove down to the town centre and seafront. At once I was struck by the colourful, painted houses everywhere.

Some quite deep shades ...

... and lots of lovely pastels.

The sky was still a bit overcast, but it was very warm, and the view from the beach was gorgeous: a high rocky headland called Constitution Hill

towering impressively over the town

and its attractive pebbly beach.

I liked the slatey grey colours of the rocks on the beach.

After a dip in the sea we had a stroll along the promenade, just as the sun came out.

The seafront positively glowed in the sunshine.

Looking in the opposite direction towards the pier I enjoyed the angles created by the white railings, and the greeny-blue of the sea.

Finally we set off for the long drive home after our afternoon by the Irish Sea, having eaten pasties and doughnuts on the seafront. As we left the town the road rose higher and higher into the beautiful Cambrian Mountains, and I saw lots of familiar Welsh sheep.

By now it was early evening and the sunshine was glorious, making the short grass of the mountains look softly green.

I breathed in the fresh air as we drove, savouring every last moment of the beautiful Welsh landscape.  Above us circled several red kites, a bird I'd seen on TV and read about, but never seen in real life. The perfect end to a lovely day.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Day Trips 3 - London

Well, having spent the last two 'holiday at home' posts delighting in heather, bracken and moorland, it's now (in the words of Monty Python) time for something completely different. The big city! I'm not in general a lover of lots of concrete and traffic, but I do enjoy a visit to a lovely city. We don't get to London as a family that often, so we decided that it'd make a nice change to spend two days there. 
On the way we sped past Stonehenge, an amazing heritage site that I haven't actually been to since I was a child. You could actually touch the stones back in those days.

We were staying in lovely, leafy west London and took a train into the centre. After a couple of stressful (for me) tube changes we emerged above ground at Canary Wharf. Oh my goodness, what a culture shock! I'm not a great fan of this sort of urban landscape, but it is amazing. I love the clouds reflected in the glass windows.

Just look at these buildings. I was a bit awestruck, and walked around looking up, trying not to trip over or lose the rest of my family.

A quick trip on the Docklands Light Railway, and we arrived at our destination - Greenwich. 

We've talked about going to Greenwich for years, having 'done' the Tower of London, museums, etc with our children when they were younger, but have been curious to see this famous maritime site. When we turned a corner and the Cutty Sark came into view we were delighted. Such a beautiful ship, and so well preserved. I loved the figurehead, graceful and elegant.

This view shows just how much rigging there is on a ship like this.

After a quick picnic we walked along the river Thames, and it was pretty busy with different kinds of craft.

Here's the Old Royal Naval College, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. In the sunlight the ornate white buildings and Baroque landscape positively sparkled.

The compass dial on this tower reflected a clock on the opposite one.

A great place for following lines of perspective, the sheer size of the grounds and buildings is impressive.

I just loved these ornate gilded gates in front of the Queen's House. With their twirly bits and symmetry, they traced intricate patterns on the sky behind them.

The house itself had gorgeous curving flights of steps at the front entrance, bordered on either side by spiral topiary.

From here we walked up the hill to the Royal Observatory. Lots of people were picnicking lazily on the grass or strolling around admiring the views.

As we climbed the hill we looked back at the view. I really liked the elegant proportions: all of that green space in front of the beautiful 17th century buildings, and then another layer behind of modern London and high-rise Canary Wharf.

Finally we arrived at the Royal Observatory, and my husband and son decided to do the tour which included seeing the famous Meridian line. It was a hot day and we'd done a lot of walking by then so my youngest daughter and I (oldest daughter couldn't come, sadly, as she has a summer job) decided to find somewhere to sit and relax.

We quickly found the very pleasant Pavillion Cafe and sat outside in its gardens. So pretty, I even spotted some gorgeous roses.

An exquisite old rose in a delicate shade somewhere between pink and peach.

These cold drinks were very refreshing in the heat and we recharged our batteries for a bit more walking.

Right on top of the hill, that view just got better and better.

We walked back down to Greenwich town centre and decided to visit the market which is full of stalls selling food, jewellery and crafts of all sorts, a very nice place for a spot of retail therapy.

Back on the train again and at one of our changes I emerged onto the platform to be greeted by this amazing view of the Shard, towering over us - wow! Like me , all the other tourists on the train stopped to take photos there and then on the platform.

We were staying overnight, and the next morning was very wet and windy with the tail-end of hurricane Bertha passing over. We waited for the worst of the rain to subside and headed out to one of our favourite places nearby, Bushy Park. We've been here many times and it's one of London's great parks, such valuable green spaces in a heaving city. Given to Henry VIII as a deer park (the beautiful Hampton Court Palace is nearby), water gardens were then added by Charles I and now it is home to a fantastic array of flora and fauna. Both red and fallow deer roam freely and the park is always full of people walking, cycling and picnicking.
As the rain eased we walked through the beautiful Chestnut Walk and tried to spot deer. 

They were a bit reticent that morning - this rather blurry photo is the best I could do.

After lunch in the very lovely Pheasantry Cafe we went for a gentle wander, first in the Woodland Gardens.

We were delighted to spot this very sweet fluffy duckling.

And this rather lovely Orange Balsam plant.

And this exotic-looking Egyptian Goose.

Back out into the main part of the park again, we walked under trees and through long grass, and I felt my shoulders drop as I began to relax. London is the most wonderful place with so much to see and do, endlessly exciting and new, and it is wonderful to have these green spaces to unwind in.

The sun even came out, making the grass a more golden-yellow.

Look - I even found some brackeny ferns to enjoy!

As we started the drive home we circled the beautiful Diana Fountain, glinting in the sunlight.

I relaxed into the journey, looking forward to returning to our little corner of Somerset and reflected on our visit. London is truly a fabulous place to visit with so much to offer - I'm sure we'll be back again soon