Where has the year gone?

A summer’s day on Dartmoor.

I am sure I say this every year… but where has the year gone? I am writing this on 21st June, the Summer Solstice, the longest day. As of tomorrow, the days will start getting shorter.

When I woke up this morning (it gets light so early) I almost felt like jumping out of bed and yelling: “STOP!” I am just not ready for July to arrive. I feel as if the year has only just got going and we are already at the halfway point. I know it is ridiculous but, as you get older, time does seem to fly. I can remember my school summer holidays feeling endless whereas now, Spring has passed in the blink of an eye and Summer seems over before it’s begun. Ah well… it was ever thus, and I must make the most of the good weather and find some time to appreciate my garden.

June 24th is Midsummer Day; traditionally the midpoint of the growing season – halfway between planting and harvesting – and my garden is certainly looking blousy and full. My roses are looking fabulous, so it will be no surprise to know that the rose is the birth flower for June. Actually, there are TWO flowers for June – the rose and the honeysuckle. A rose generally indicates love or desire. Specific roses may relate other messages, for example, a white rose may mean ‘new beginnings,’ while a yellow rose signifies ‘jealousy.’ The honeysuckle denotes the bonds of love or generous and devoted affection. All in all, June is a luscious and loving month and very popular for weddings!

I visited an open gardens event in a nearby village last weekend, it was inspiring to see all these different gardens so lovingly tended. You cannot fail to pick up at least one design idea or spot a plant that you absolutely must have… if only you could think of the name of it! The colour and scent of the roses in bloom in these gardens were fabulous. From climbers making beautiful arches to rambling roses draped over old sheds and barns, to a stunning standard rose, the like of which I haven’t seen since I was a child. Roses seemed to go out of fashion for a while, but they certainly seem to be back with a vengeance now.

Roses feature a lot in my cards, in artwork as well as dies, and they must surely be one of, if not THE, most popular flower in this country – we talk about a beautiful woman as being an ‘English rose’ after all. So, make the most of flaming June while you still can and let’s keep our fingers crossed that the remainder of the Summer is mild and gentle too.

 

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Peppa Pig World!

Peppa Pig was never meant to be this big!

I thought it would be fun to post a little story about our recent trip to Peppa Pig World. Richard and I went with my daughter Pippa (no not Peppa!), her husband Dave and of course little Grace – who at 4 was, I felt, at a perfect age to try some gentle rides and meet Peppa Pig ‘in person’!

Well, let’s start with the initial greeting from the star herself – a giant Peppa Pig standing poised on a balcony to meet the children as they arrived. She was very big and, of course, being up high made her even bigger. I introduced Grace whose lip quivered and she wailed: “She’s too big I’m scared”… so that wasn’t such a good start!

A nice little tame ride with Mummy and Daddy…

There were several little rides (VERY tame) with 20+ minute queues and, it has to be said, it was a very hot day, Grace got quieter and quieter and then said she had a tummy ache. I translated this as anxiety developing and was sad that our day didn’t seem to be working out as planned. So, we wandered away from the safe rides and over to a VERY tall and (to my eyes) scary looking wavy slide where you got nice and wet and Richard asked her if she was brave enough to go on. Overprotective Granny here wouldn’t have suggested it for the world but yup, apparently Grandpa knows best and she trusts him.

Standing at the bottom with her parents I waited anxiously – 50% of the children leaving the slide were screaming and scared. I had now given up on anything working out that day. HOWEVER… Grace was beaming from ear to ear as she left the slide and could only say “Again, again!”

This was a bit more exciting as it involved water!

This was the start of a very smiley little girl’s day – we ventured into the main park and, all pretence at keeping to the small safe rides having gone – she was extremely happy. The highlight of the day was a ride on a fearsome looking roller coaster – you know the kind where you are strapped in and your feet dangle? Again Granny sat at the base and quivered, counting the seconds until all the rest of the family got off the ride and worrying about Grace… “Again, again!” she said and went on the ride with Grandpa!

It seems at age 4 ¾ we have a budding roller coaster junkie – bodes well for a trip to Disney in the future – and Richard is very happy to have company on scary rides. I am such a wuss, the teacups make me feel queasy, tall rides, fast rides – whatever it is I am just rubbish!

This Granny-scary roller coaster was deemed the most exciting hing ever!

So I was delighted that it turned out to be the happiest of days! I will also add that if you are going with extremely small children, the toilet facilities, feeding and changing rooms were amazing. I have never seen such a clean place – well done Peppa Pig World!

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Perfect drying weather!

We have been enjoying some terrific weather down here in Devon, and I think most of the rest of the country has too. It has been what my Mother would have called ‘perfect drying weather’ – warm and sunny but with just enough breeze to move the washing about on the line.

There are lots of positives to working from home (although quite a few minuses too!) and being able to hang washing out – and being around to take it in if it starts raining – is most definitely a positive. I always find it an immensely uplifting chore, in fact hardly a chore at all. The smell of fresh line-dried bed linen is definitely high on my list of ‘top smells’! It is also, of course, a very great deal better than drying them in a cash-guzzling tumble drier. If it does start to rain, don’t despair, it is claimed that rainwater acts as a fabric conditioner.

I was thinking about washing lines the other weekend (yes, I know, I am a sad person…) when I was at a lovely local garden event. Alongside plant stalls and garden ornaments were lots of stalls selling upcycled, recycled and traditional products, including one that was selling the old-fashioned ‘wooden dolly’ clothes pegs. Instant nostalgia trip for me! I can remember my Mother using these pegs and having a dolly made from one of them – such a simple toy, a little headscarf, painted face and bit of cloth for a dress wrapped around the peg. I’m not sure granddaughter Grace would thank me for one of them, but hey, we enjoyed our simple pleasures back then!

Another stall at the event was run by a young lady who had very cleverly recycled some old metal garden chairs into unusual planters. She had planted Sempervivum, or house leeks, within the decorative metalwork. Sempervivums are survivors by nature and originate in mountainous and arid regions of southern Europe and North. Their succulent leaves arranged in rosettes enable them to survive for long periods without water as they store it in their thick leathery leaves. This makes them useful plants for containers that get only occasional water, to fill crevices in the rock garden and to create imaginative arrangements with very little soil. Perfect for this unusual and very pretty planting idea – very clever I thought!

What a clever and attractive idea!

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Tina’s Travels – a piece of cake!

Warning – this article could seriously damage your waistline!

I am always fascinated by the crafts, cultures and cooking of other countries and now that Tina Dorr has moved to France we have a perfect ‘on the spot’ reporter to share some local specialities with us. Today Tina has written a piece about cakes… cakes yum, who can resist? Well, I do try to but these look amazing!

Galette Des Rois

“When you think of France, many things come to mind, Paris, French wines, cheeses, and of course patisseries. The patisseries are wonderful places to visit and to just stare at all the stunning creations on show –  they truly are amazing.

I would like to share just a few of the magnificent cakes with you and will start with Galette Des Rois – or King Cake. This is a huge thing in January when you will find them everywhere, from boulangeries to supermarkets. Here in the North of France, they are made with puff pastry and filled with almond paste or apple. Each cake has a paper crown and inside is a ‘charm’ that someone will find in his or her slice.

Opera Cake

One of my favourites is Opera Cake. You can buy this as a large cake to share, or by the slice in most patisseries. This is made from layers of coffee-soaked almond sponge, coffee buttercream, ganache and a chocolate glaze. It all sounds very rich, and it is, but it’s great to share.

If you have a really sweet tooth then you would love a Religieuse, which means nun and it is made to look like one. There are two choux pastries, one larger than the other, filled with crème patissiere, usually coffee or chocolate flavour. The smaller one is put on top of the larger, covered in ganache and joined with buttercream. It really is very sweet.

Religieuse – two little nuns!

The Paris–Brest Cake is named after a cycle race. This is a layered French cake in the shape of a wheel, made from a ring of choux dough and filled with hazelnut and praline cream, then topped with sliced almonds – delicious.

Other popular little cakes you will find everywhere in France are the Madeleines, a small light cake in a shell shape, and the Macarons, very sweet meringue-based cakes made with egg white, icing sugar, granulated sugar, almond powder and lovely pastel shades of food colouring. If you are in the Bordeaux region (or most places nowadays) you will find Canelés, a hard caramel-covered cake with custard inside and flavoured with rum and vanilla. Produced in numerous sizes, they can be eaten for breakfast, for snacks, and as a dessert. Canelés can be paired with red wine and all sorts of other many other drinks.

There are so many beautiful cakes and desserts in France, I could go on forever! If you visit France, try and make time to call into any little café or patisserie and try some of these for yourself.

Left to right: Canelés, Macarons, baking Madeleines and the wheel-shaped Paris-Brest Cake.

 

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The merry merry month of May!

Forgive me if I am repeating myself… but I LOVE May! It is the month when spring reaches its zenith and summer just starts to sneak in with (hopefully!) some extra warmth…

This year has been very odd with a horribly cold and wet early spring meaning the poor trees and plants seem to have gone into overdrive to get established and then produce their blossom over a very short period of time in an attempt to catch up. Not only does this show the adaptability of Mother Nature, it has also resulted in some spectacular amounts of blossom. As the saintly Monty Don said on Gardener’s World last week, he has never seen so much blossom in his lifetime – and he is in his early 60s. Amazing – the blossom I mean, not his age!

Wisterias are looking as if they will swamp entire buildings and the scent is just amazing! Fruit trees burst into a great froth of blooms – and then seemed over in a flash. All sorts of wildflowers have been flowering together, resulting in some gorgeous colour mixes and amazing vistas. Bluebells, while prolific this year, have run into the emergence of the ferns. The new bright green ferns shooting up among them are diluting their magnificent purple/blue colour somewhat. Different – but no less stunning.

Not knowing much about it, I can only assume the effect on insects and wildlife will be equally ‘rearranged’ by this topsy-turvy weather. I’ve heard more cuckoos this year than I have before and there seem to be a great many swallows about… which I guess must mean more insects thanks to the masses of blossom! And so it goes around.

As long as mankind doesn’t interfere too much with its chemicals and denuding of the countryside, we can rely on Mother Nature to sort it all out for herself. If only other problems in the world could be managed in the same way

PS. Just had to add that I thought the flowers at the royal wedding were absolutely stunning! The entrance to St George’s Chapel was fantastic! What did you think?

 

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