Summers like they used to be!

Well, what a summer we are having here in the UK! It seems only a few weeks ago that the weather forecasters were telling us we had 10 years of wet cold summers to look forward to, and then suddenly 30ºc for almost two weeks, extraordinary. 

I haven’t really had time to sit out and enjoy the sunshine, but gazing out onto my (parched!) garden through a heat haze, my mind has wandered back to the summer holidays of my childhood. I don’t think you ever forget that wonderful feeling at the end of the school year when you knew you had six weeks of summer holidays stretching ahead of you with nothing more taxing than which game to play, ice lolly to choose or summer frock to put on. Hey ho, how wonderful it was to be young and carefree…

We used to have proper ‘bucket and spade’ British holidays – I think everyone did back then –  this was before the advent of package holidays. So it was donkey rides, with your skirt tucked into your knickers, ice cream cornets (usually with sand in them) and peppermint rock (I broke a tooth on some once). Why did we all clamour for it so much – I suppose it looked fun and the writing through the middle was definitely the best bit. 

Particular aromas always transport me back to the seaside of my childhood in an instant. The smell of Ambre Solaire suntan cream is so evocative, oh and candyfloss – marvellous! But I guess the smell of the sea has to be the overlying one. Some people hate it, I know, but I love that salty, tangy air, so healthy and bracing, it instantly makes me think of rock pools, beach huts and egg and cress sandwiches – and getting changed in that oh so British ritual, under your beach towel. I am sure people aren’t as modest now but on pain of death would an unnecessary square inch of flesh appear from under that towel!

Did any of you have a Ladybird brand ruched nylon bathing costume? I thought I was the bees knees in mine with a white bathing hat on! And then there were all the fathers wearing a shirt and tie on the beach –what’s that all about? Definitely no T–shirt or shorts for my father or grandfather!

Well, I won’t be on the beach much myself this summer but for all those of you that are, do enjoy it and remember to slap on the sunscreen!

So what are your childhood memories of summer holidays…? Do share, it’s always so lovely when I get to hear all your own memories!

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A summer soup…

My foraging friend Julia Horton-Powdrill is always introducing new seasonal recipes for either things she’s grown in her veg garden or foraged from some passing hedgerow, beach or field margin.

She currently has an excellent pea crop and, while they are delicious cooked and cooled and added to a green salad, she has also used them in a lovely soup that can be enjoyed hot or cold. It combines the sweetness of the peas with the zing of wild mint! As you will know, mint is a terribly over-enthusiastic plant, so either grow in a pot to try and contain it, or find some growing wild, as Julia has done here.

Wild mint & pea soup

Ingredients: 

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + extra for serving
  • 25g butter
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced or/and wild garlic leaves
  • 750g fresh peas, shelled (frozen peas are great!!)
  • 75g wild mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preparation:

Gently heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan, add the chopped onion and cook on a gentle heat for 10 minutes or until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the garlic (if using) and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Add 3/4 of the peas, the chopped mint leaves, the wild garlic leaves (if using) and 3/4 stock. Cover the saucepan with a tight fitting lid and cook on a medium boil for 10 minutes.

Blend the soup in a food processor; you will have a thick purée. Return the purée to the pan, season with salt and pepper and add the remaining peas and stock. Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with crusty, fresh bread.

This soup is absolutely delicious hot or cold.

You can find out more about Julia’s foraging courses here.

 

 

 

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Peonies & clematis… a little bit different!

Much as I love looking at my flowers in the garden, it seems a shame that so many of them are out of sight when you are in the house and so I really enjoy bringing them indoors even if they are likely to be short lived.

I have this arrangement on my desk and it brings me huge pleasure every time I look at it. Peonies are such an amazing flower – and the stems of clematis wrapped around the arrangement just bring a careless country feel to it.

Start with a glass cube vase – they’re endlessly useful and can be bought from garden centres, Ikea and numerous other household type places. Soak some green Oasis in water for an hour or so while you are picking the flowers. Then place the well soaked Oasis in the cube and top up with a couple of inches of water. Take a large wide leaf – it could be a fern, an exotic plant in the garden like a banana leaf or a palm. We are lucky down here and the temperate climate (sometimes!) allows these plants to flourish.  Fix it with a folded hairpin of wire. Then place the peonies low and spread across the vase – in this arrangement I used six. I would usually stick to an odd number but I just couldn’t fit the seventh one in so put it in a bud vase!

The freesias in the arrangement were not from the garden, I cheated as I saw a small bunch in the supermarket and couldn’t resist! Finally cut some long strands of clematis and wind around the vase, again holding in place with wire. I made the clematis into a sort of mini wreath and then lowered it over the flowers and tucked just one long wire hairpin into the oasis to make sure it didn’t slip.

Just something pretty and a little bit different!

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My Top 10 TV Series…

Richard and I seem to watch a fairly small amount of TV – it’s the old problem of nothing being on when we want to sit and watch and then missing really good things because we are away or working. So we have started buying whole TV series or recording them to watch when it suits us – here are my Top Ten TV series that I have been watching lately – all of them are available on DVDs so you can buy them fairly cheaply on eBay or Amazon!

  1. Castle – a detective series where the two detectives fall in love…. the actor Nathan Fillion is rather nice looking too!
  2. Nashville – a relatively new series based in Nashville about country music – lovely actors and the soundtrack is wonderful – can you tell I am a country fan?Well it seems lots of other people liked it too as they have commissioned a second series.
  3. House – a medical puzzle series with Hugh Laurie. I have long been a fan of his, and this is just wonderful!
  4. The Good Wife – a series about a strong woman. Lovely actress Julianna Margulies plays a lawyer and we were fascinated by this one.
  5. The Big Bang Theory – if you have a geeky husband and relations as I do, this makes me laugh over and over, far too close for comfort on some of the characters! It’s about a group of scientists that share a flat and friendships, while working at a university in the research departments.
  6. Grey’s Anatomy – another medical drama. I am watching this one currently and really enjoying it, another good looking actor to spot, Patrick Dempsey. There are umpteen (well nine) series so far, so it must be well-loved.
  7. Game of Thrones – when Richard first started watching this I thought I would do some crafting and keep out of the way but I found myself drawn into it and really enjoyed it.
  8. Merlin – the best ever portrayal of the Arthurian legend in my opinion – I just love it! 
  9. The Inspector Morse series – I know these are quite old, but they were beautifully written, filmed and acted and I still enjoy them. Wasn’t John Thaw an amazing actor?
  10. The Blackadder series – last but not least! I have to include Blackadder – old and often watched, but I still laugh and the comedians are all such world-class talented guys. Very British humour and priceless!

Do you have any favourites?

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Go on – get out there!

The garden is a riot of colour at last! It’s been a funny year with some plants doing incredibly well (poppies, lupins) and others hardly getting started before they are over (alliums and dicentra).

In among the riot of colour are, of course, large quantities of weeds! I try not to be ‘weedist’ and leave quite a few of them alone as they are attractive in their own right. Everything has its merits after all and, as Monty Don reminded me recently on Gardeners’ World, the stinging nettle is a marvellous thing in so many ways. He demonstrated how you can pick nettles (stout gloves being worn of course), cram them into a bucket, top up with water and, in two weeks’ time, you get a really good nitrogen-rich, liquid plant food.

It’s easy to look at your garden at this time of year and have a feeling of sheer panic as everything suddenly takes off and sprouts in all directions. What do you tackle first? When should you prune? When do you need to feed? But these days, there’s really no need for panic – the internet is full to bursting with useful gardening tips.

I follow both the RHS and Gardeners’ World online and they pop up every week and remind me what I need to be doing in the garden at that time. They even include links to a huge range of ‘how to’ videos on everything from plant propagation to building decking. They also cater for large and small gardens and there’s lots of really interesting tips about container gardening for those of you with small gardens or balconies.

Have a Google around, find a site that you like, and sign up to it. It’s a great way to get new ideas and inspiration and even old hands can pick up lots of useful tips. I still get a rebellious sense of joy when I water my garden whenever I jolly well like, having spent years restricted by the myth that watering in sunshine burns plants’ leaves – it doesn’t! That’s an old wives tale I debunked in a blog last year along with several other gardening myths.

Whether you are new to gardening or an old hand, there’s plenty of advice out there. It really is such a ‘positive’ pastime – there’s lots of evidence that gardening is really good for you – I do recommend you get out there and have a go!

Gardeners’ World

Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)

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