Simple pleasures…

As we get older, I think we become more aware of ‘simple’ pleasures’, well I know I do! The smell of coffee brewing, freshly cut grass or hearing an owl hoot – all simple things that give immense pleasure.

I read the other day that Vita Sackville-West (she of Sissinghurst Garden fame, amongst other things…) used the term ‘through leaves’ to describe simple pleasures enjoyed by her family. She coined the phrase after “the small but intense pleasure of kicking through leaves while out walking”, which I thought was rather lovely.

Another classic, that I expect almost all of us know, are the lyrics to the song ‘My favourite things’ from the Sound of Music, including whiskers on kittens, warm woollen mittens and brown paper packages tied up with string.

It’s so easy to think that pleasures have to be big and expensive, like holidays, or fancy clothes… but I think we start to appreciate the simple things the more we experience life. You often hear people who have survived cancer, or cheated death in an accident or natural disaster, say how they appreciate every day, every moment, and are more aware of what’s around them.

I had a think about my ‘through leaves’ moments, and came up with the following list:

  • The smell of baking bread (thanks to Richard and his bread maker!)
  • Little Grace running towards me with her arms open
  • A beautiful sunset (or dawn, but that’s rare!)
  • Hearing my daughters say a casual I love you
  • Finishing a card and sitting back and thinking – that’s a keeper!

My co-author Julia was here (we were busy having a book signing session!) and I asked her, for her ‘Through leaves’ moments and she said:

  • Standing in the middle of her runner bean arch(!)
  • Being greeted by her dog, Moss, in the morning
  • Watching beech leaves unfurl in spring
  • Walks on frosty mornings
  • Birdsong

So what are your ‘through leaves’ moments? Do let me know… smiles, Joanna

 

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Moon gazing…

As a child, I was never quite sure if the moon was made of cheese, or whether there was a man living in it, these were both tales I remember being told on numerous occasions! Despite being old enough to watch the moon landing in 1969, I think I still harboured a romantic dream that there just might be cheese up there… or that there was an old man hiding in a crater!

I am sure we have all gazed at the moon, enjoyed its beautiful silvery light on a clear frosty night, or marvelled at how huge a supermoon appears to be. But the moon is a lot more than just a pretty face, it affects our everyday lives – our very existence, in fact. The moon’s gravitational pull produces the ocean tides, something I always find fascinating.

I didn’t realise that there was still so much mystery surrounding the moon. Scientists think it was formed from debris left over from a huge collision between the Earth and another body, but they don’t know for sure. But we do know it is egg shaped, not round, and is moving very slowly away from the Earth…

The moon plays a part in many ancient cultures that developed lunar calendars, Christianity being one of them. Originally, the moon was regarded as being a symbol of wisdom and justice but this later changed to signify madness, or lunacy – from ‘luna’ the Latin word for the moon. Ever since the Middle Ages, epileptic fits were believed to be triggered by the full moon. There is also an old wives tale that warned people not to have surgery around a full moon, as they would bleed excessively – ugh!

There are many myths and tales about the moon and its influence, but no real scientific evidence to back them up, sadly. Dogs are often said to howl at a full moon (I can’t say any of mine have!) and then of course, there’s the whole werewolf scenario! People are still fascinated by the effect of the full moon on human behaviour and it even has its own term, ‘Transylvania Hypothesis’!

There are so many romantic moon-related terms, I thought I’d list a few of them here. The lovely sounding ‘harvest moon’ and ‘hunter’s moon’ are traditional terms for the full moons that we see during late summer and in the autumn, and nowadays we also talk about a supermoon – a full moon or a new moon that coincides with the closest distance that the moon reaches to Earth giving a larger-than-usual apparent size of the lunar disk. The Americans, however, seem to have made an art out of romantic-sounding moon terms, so here are some examples for you:

  • January: Wolf Moon, Old Moon
  • February: Snow Moon, Hunger Moon
  • March: Crow Moon, Sap Moon
  • April: Pink Moon, Egg Moon, Fish Moon
  • May: Milk Moon, Flower Moon
  • June: Strawberry Moon, Rose Moon
  • July: Hay Moon, Thunder Moon
  • August: Corn Moon, Sturgeon Moon
  • September: Harvest Moon, Full Corn Moon
  • October: Hunter’s moon, Blood Moon
  • November: Beaver Moon, Frosty Moon
  • December: Cold Moon, Long Night’s Moon

I love the idea of looking up in the middle of a barbecue and saying, sagely: “Ah yes, it’s a Strawberry Moon tonight!”

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And so, September…

The trusty hydrangea, attractive whatever stage it’s at!

I always feel September really is the turn of the year. There’s that Autumnal nip in the air, the earth smells different – richer somehow – and the days become noticeably shorter. It’s a time of year when you could start to feel melancholy if you weren’t careful. But rather than feel a gathering gloom, reflect and take a moment to savour… and then think of it as a time to plan ahead. The children have started their new school year and it’s harvest festival time, so that means home made harvesting projects like jams and preserves – so there’s plenty to do!

I used to find my garden looking rather forlorn at this time of year. To counter this, I made a point of ensuring I had plenty of plants that come into their own in the Autumn.

Fuchsia, always so pretty.

Hydrangeas became terribly unfashionable a few years ago, but I have always loved them – they are such good value! They go on and on flowering well into September and, nowadays there are so many stunning varieties to choose from, you are spoilt for choice. Allow the final flower heads of the year to stay on the plant, to provide winter interest… and I am sure I don’t need to tell you how wonderful they are dried in arrangements, or sprayed silver and gold for Christmas.

Fuchsias, so very pretty (I thought they looked like ballerinas when I was a child) cannot fail to brighten any garden. Make sure you choose a late-flowering variety such as ‘Marinka’ and you’re guaranteed extra autumn colour.

Japanese anemones.

I have become a recent convert to Japanese anemones, they look so elegant and delicate, yet they flower from August until late October and look fabulous at every stage. Whether tight bud, long-lasting flower or neatly spherical seed head, the Japanese anemone manages it perfectly. There are lots of lovely colours to choose from they are a really uplifting choice!

Try not to be too enthusiastic with the shears and secateurs (I know it’s tempting!) there are lots of flower heads you can leave on over winter to add interest. Here’s a few to leave and admire:

  • Hydrangeas (obviously!)
  • Teasels
  • Nigella
  • Nigella seed head.

    Echinops

  • Eryngiums
  • Artichokes
  • Poppies

And if you are still looking for positive things to do… start planting your spring bulbs!

 

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Tree-mendous!

Trees are such a familiar part of our countryside that I think we often take them for granted. Not only are trees ‘the lungs’ of our world they are also incredibly beautiful, varied and inspiring. People write poetry about them, paint them and hug them.

I am lucky in that I live quite a rural life and Devon has a reasonable amount of woodland. However, I was somewhat surprised to read that the UK has one of the lowest tree cover rates in Europe, just 13% compared to a European average of 37%.

The Woodland Trust has launched an ambitious plan to plant 64 million trees by 2025 and they want us all to help. They are offering a free pack of seeds containing rowan, dog rose, alder, buckthorn and holly, and it comes with full planting instructions and care advice. What a great idea! They will also offer help and advice as your seedlings germinate and grow.

The seeds they send you will be kept moist with compost to help them germinate. This means it will be harder to tell the different seeds apart when they arrive. If you would like to try and identify the seeds you’re planting you can wash the compost off but then the seeds must be sown immediately. It will be much easier to identify your seedling once it has germinated. To claim your free seed pack click on the link here.

I think this is an absolutely brilliant scheme and the more of us that get involved the better. I will be claiming my pack today.

If you are lucky enough to already have trees in your garden, have you ever considered collecting seeds from them, propagating the seedlings and then either planting more yourself or perhaps giving them away as gifts?

The top four methods for seed collection used on the UK National Tree Seed Project (UKNTSP) are easily remembered through the handy acronym SEED:

Shake tree over a large laid out tarpaulin

Extra-long pole to prune off seeds clusters

Encase branch ends in a cotton fine-meshed bag to collect small wind-dispersed seed

Delicately hand-pick fleshy berries

When collecting seeds it’s best not to collect from the ground, to avoid collecting old seeds from previous years. Never take more than 20% of the seed crop, remember seeds create the next generation of plants and sustain wildlife. There are lots of good reasons to collect seeds and you can read all about it here.

So, the next time you’re out collecting seeds or growing them in your garden, just think of the extraordinary journey their counterparts are on. Heading towards the ultimate goal of ensuring your great-great grandchildren can have the same experience you’re having. The simple yet irreplaceable delights of planting and watching your own seed grow from a tiny speck into a monumental tree.

The Woodland Trust is well worth supporting, and its website is full of interesting facts. Do have a look if you have a moment…

All photos copyright Julia Wherrell. Top illustration – The Woodland Trust.

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The not so humble cabbage

Today, I feel inspired to write about the cabbage! Many people think of the cabbage as a bit of a poor relation in the veg world, a dull old veg and one that many of us were presented with at school in a disgustingly overcooked state. This is very unfair as cabbages are versatile, great to grow in your veg plot and good for you.

Cabbages come in many different shapes, sizes and colours and every variety has its own character, texture and flavour. With a little planning it’s possible to pick them fresh nearly every day of the year in your garden. They can be used raw in salad or coleslaw, and as ingredients in soup, boiled, steamed or braised.

The savoy cabbage, a wonderful dark green and heavily textured individual, is wonderful when slowly braised with onion and finished off with a dash of cream. You can also give it a quick plunge in boiling salted water and then toss it with butter and black pepper, simple but so delicious.

Other thick-leaved cabbages, such as January kings, are excellent for using as wrapping and making parcels for meat stuffings.

The pale green pointed spring cabbages have sweet, delicate leaves that are tender enough to stir fry or even char on a griddle.

In contrast, red cabbage is sturdy and tightly packed and traditionally used for pickling. Braised red cabbage has become immensely popular as a Christmas vegetable when cooked slowly with red wine, cinnamon, apples or cranberry. It is also superb for adding some colour to a boring winter salad when shredded finely.

Last, but not least… the classic white cabbage! A tightly packed, football-sized bundle of excellence it is the mainstay of coleslaw, a popular healthy salad at any time of the year and certainly one of my favourites.

Cabbage is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and is a good source of fibre, so it’s a good way to fill yourself up for very little calories. What’s more, it is a good source of vitamin C and vitamin K. We all know how important vitamin C is in our diet, while vitamin K makes bones stronger, healthier and delays osteoporosis. Like other green vegetables, cabbage helps provide many essential vitamins such as riboflavin, pantothenic acid and thiamine that we need for a balanced diet.

So if you tend to think cabbage is a bit of a dullard, please think again and, if you can, try growing some yourself – they taste even better!

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