Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Nice ices for a heatwave

It's hard to believe that a few weeks back the gardeners among us were bemoaning the long long long winter and longing for some sun to warm the soil. Then in a flash Spring came and here we are past midsummer and in the hottest of heatwaves for, well, ages!!! I know some of you live in places where 30C is a pleasant warm day, but here in the UK we go through a giddy happy phase, then get pink and sweaty and a tad stressed, then we can't sleep (because we don't have fans and air-con and stuff like that) and then the government issues a health warning and we worry we all might die.

Anyhow, back to the plot . . . the soft fruit plot to be precise;  our currants have loved the soaking they got last year followed by a good old fashioned snowy winter, so that when the warm weather came they blossomed and the recent heat ripened the fruits that hang like strings of pearls, rubies and jet beads in the bushes.

I had protected the White Versailles Currants from the birds with a wire mesh cage . . . there is just one bush - it's fruits are precious.

We have many Red Currant bushes, an unknown variety that was in the garden when we moved here; I planted the prunings and they all grew! This year we didn't net them, the larder is still stacked with jars of red currant jelly from last year, so I was happy to share them with the local Blackbirds.

The Black Currants are another unknown variety that came with the garden and my enthusiastic growing from cuttings! The berries are HUGE! The Blackbirds prefer the Red Currants, so there is no need to net them.

On Saturday afternoon I spent a few happy hours picking currants while listening to TMS on my iPhone headphones via wifi. I had found the perfect recipe for some of our currants on Fenland Lottie's blog – Frozen Fruit Yogurt :-)

First I had to clean and de-stalk the currants, cook and pur̩e them Рthree times for the three separate colours (this took a lot longer than I thought!). I don't have an ice-cream maker, but neither did Fenland Lottie (her's had broken) so as the three tubs of mixture started to freeze I had to take them out of the freezer and beat them. Then I realized the White and Red Currant ices were way too tart (mouth puckeringly so!) so I tipped them into mixing bowls, added honey and beat them thoroughly before re-freezing.

It all took a long long time.

And a lot of energy . . . my energy – I worked hard for these ices!

Tonight we tasted them – they were worth all the effort!

And when the thermometer soars again tomorrow I know how I can cool off ;-)


Thursday 18 July 2013

As UN-alike as peas in a pod

Here is the promised review of the peas growing in the Pigeon Proof Pen, I've introduced them in their flowering stage: Curruther's and Robinson; Shiraz and Tutankhamun; and Salmon Flowered.

Here are their pods . . . definitely not all alike!

Let's start with the green pods . . . 
Tutankhamun's pods all develop near the top of the plant, the pods are medium sized, straight and usually in pairs. The pale green peas inside are beautifully sweet and have a classic pea flavour - perfect to sprinkle in a salad without even needing to cook.
If you want to win a prize at the village show, grow Robinson! the pods are magnificent – they grow singly on long stalks, the pod is attractively long and curved and contains up to a dozen beautiful bright green peas which have an excellent fresh garden-pea flavour.

After the clusters of gorgeous flowers, the petite pods of the Salmon Flowered pea, develop in clusters at the top of the plants. These are perfect pea pods in miniature and when young the peas are sweet and very flavoursome. Older pods will contain firm round peas which are lovely added to pot-cooked pork or chicken dishes.

Shiraz is the first purple podded pea commercially marketed as a 'mangetout', these pods here have gone over – you need to catch them young before the peas start to swell to use them as 'mangetout' but I can confirm that stir-fried or steamed the young pods remain blue-purple in colour but don't have the flavour of a classic green mangetout like Carouby de Maussane. At this later stage the peas can be shelled - they are sweetish but lacking in a good pea flavour. Next year I will grow a green mangetout alongside so I can use a mix of the two and have the flavour and the novelty colour to use together.

Curruther's is an old fashioned purple podded variety with tough leathery pods – these are translucent and become more red as they age, with a pale bloom on the outside. The peas inside are pale pea-green and tightly pack the pod; even at this stage the peas taste sweet with only a slight mealiness. Cooked, the peas change to sage-green in colour but don't be put off - the flavour remains very good.

I can't resist snacking on a few pods of peas when I check the Pigeon Proof Pen, and there are plenty for using in our suppers. I will of course be saving a few pods for seed for next season . . . the new pea in the pen, Robinson, is a keeper and I'll save most of this year's modest trial harvest to sow next year.


Sunday 14 July 2013

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

Thanks to Lucy and Ecover, I 'won' two tickets to the RHA Hampton Court Palace Flower Show – it's probably 15 years since we last went to one of the big garden shows, so Cliff and I were looking forward to our day out at Hampton Court.

The weather has turned from what seems like perpetual winter to a scorcher of a summer, I needed something cool and comfortable to wear so I ordered a dress - but on the evening before our day out 'Track'n'Trace' said my Emergency Frock was still in Plymouth. Imagine my surprise the next morning when I discovered the parcel was now at the local Post Office and ready for delivery! Unfortunately the minutes ticked by and there was no sign of the postman – we really needed to set off, it's a 100 mile drive to Hampton Court from Suffolk; we'd got to the outskirts of the village when the red post van was sighted, so I leapt out of the car, ambushed the postman, got the cheery blue polka-dot package and did a quick change in the passenger seat as we sped along!

Once we'd reached "leafy Surrey" we used the Park&Ride for the final part of the journey - well worth the £5 and very efficient.

So here are my thoughts on the show . . .

This is the garden that Lucy helped to plant, I appreciate it had to have a connection with Ecover products and branding but to me they did look a bit like props that had been plonked among a very lovely frothy blue-and-white-with-a-hint-of-pink plantscape. All very pretty . . . it one 'Best in Show'.

My favourite parts of the Ecover Garden were the shady bits at the back, which had some beautiful ferns – in fact ferns popped up in lots of the show gardens (I would love more and different varieties, in the shady areas of our garden.)

This was one of the 'concept gardens' and I think the most successful because the idea was clear but not over-played; I loved the planting and attention to detail – even down to sound effects and smoke. There was clever use of Foxtail Lilies and Kangaroo Paws to depict flames and embers gradually merging through ash grey foliage and grasses to lush green new growth.

One of many gardens with a 'we're all doomed' message (if the weather had been rubbish it would have been rather depressing) however, I loved the colours in the ground cover planting around the tombstones, which were a bit too school-project-like for me.

Cliff and I both liked this design inspired by the flora of a limestone pavement; it is like a sculpture with shade-loving ferns (again) in the cool dark gaps between the blocks. The strong sunlight and heat on Friday demonstrated exactly how this environment works.

As we walked around the show gardens it was obvious that some plant choices more than others attracted insects – the bees, hover-flies and dragonflies (you can just see a flash of turquoise on the left of the photo) were loving this mix – grasses, foxgloves, burnet and campion – just like a roadside verge but re-interpreted in subtle rusty colours dotted with white. Wouldn't it be great if there were a prize for the garden design that attracted the most insect life during the show?!

It was even hotter inside the marquees, we could only bear to be inside them for a few minutes at a time before needing to recover outside where the temperature was 'only' 29C. The Foxtail Lilies caught our eyes again – I've never grown these, but fancy giving them a try – I love tall spires and the amber and cream ones were particularly beautiful.

This display of Alliums by Warmenhoven really stood out from the others in the huge Foral Marquee – it had such style and confidence and was meticulously finished.

So, did I buy anything?

I very nearly didn't, but in the floral marquee I spotted a stand of scented-leaf and species pelargoniums and couldn't resist having some to add to my collection.

I was a long hot day, after flicking through the official catalogue of the show and seeing some of the BBC coverage and other blogs, I realise there was lots we missed – but at the time, finding a patch of shade and having a rest from the heat and enjoying an ice-cream were priorities over making sure we'd 'done' everything . . . and we did enjoy having a day out together in the sunshine.

The weather forecast hints at a month or so of hot, dry sunny days ahead – it looks like the Emergency Frock has been a good investment!


Monday 8 July 2013

Pick flowers . . . Be happy!

Have you noticed? There's a quiet but ever growing revolution happening . . . British grown cut flowers are back in fashion!

When I was small, my world was filled with buckets of flowers – my grand-parents grew flowers commercially, my Grandma dis-budded carnations for other growers and grew Sweet-Williams on her allotment, the whole village seemed to be surrounded by fields of flowers! During the 1980s and 90s the flower fields disappeared and British cut flower growers almost disappeared. 

So when I discovered (via Twitter) more and more cut-flower growers popping up across the country, my cut-flower genes woke-up – I felt the need to grow flowers to fill a bucket!

Some of you already know flower grower and seed peddlar Ben aka Mr Higgledy Garden – his first flower patch was a short distance from our garden, one day he and his talented assistant visited me shortly before Ben relocated to flower fields new in Cornwall; and I can tell you that Ben is as bonkers handsome and charming in real-life as he is on the web.

You don't have to wait until next spring to start sowing your flower seeds, there are flowers that do best if sown the previous autumn.

In the Flowery Revolution there aren't any rules – annuals, biennials, perennials, weeds and vegetables gone to seed – if the flowers are pretty enough for a posy then use them!

My bucket of flowers includes:
Sweet Peas: 'King's High Scent' and 'Beaujolais' - seeds from King's Seeds)
Ammi Majus and Cornflower 'Black Ball' - seeds from Higgledy Garden
Astrantia major, Alchemilla Mollis, Lychnis chalcedonica, Anthemis 'E C Buxton' – all perennials growing in our garden
Ox-Eye Daisies, Linaria (self-seeded 'weeds') and Scorzonera (a root veg that keeps resurrecting!) all flowering in the vegetable garden

If you buy flowers from a florist, ask for British Grown flowers.
Look out for a local flower farmer near you (many of them or on Twitter #britishflowers).
Or grow you own.

And be happy!

Friday 5 July 2013

Cambridge on a sunny afternoon

Hello, have you been enjoying the rather fabulous summer weather? Have you been watching some loooong loooong matches at Wimbledon?

This afternoon I heard snippets of the tennis commentary as I drove into Cambridge, the Tardis laden with bags and bags of old magazines. I don't know what possessed me to hang on to them for so long, almost 15 years of RHS The Garden mags. I used to read every page and keep them for future reference (in the days before Google) but they got stashed in the far corner of the room we rarely go into and forgotten. A few years ago I tried to find someone who may have a use for them, without success.

Feeling in a decluttering frame of mind I announced on Twitter that all The Garden mags would go in the paper recycling bin unless someone spoke up sharpish . . .

"Squeaky Gate wants them!"

So . . . that's where they've gone . . . to the lovely people at Squeaky Gate in Cambridge, a charity that works with people who have slipped outside the education system for whatever reason and need a helping hand to regain their confidence and believe in themselves and the skills they have through music, performance AND this summer through a very exciting garden design project. They are getting lots of help from the talented gardeners at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens and an eminent garden designer . . . my mountain of magazines will be cut up and used to inspire their garden ideas.

Happy that I'd got rid of my clutter and met some lovely people along the way, I headed out of the scorching city centre to the leafy lanes of Grantchester to rendezvous with Rachel - you may remember we collaborated on a collection of silver and enamel jewellery designs. Most of the pieces have been sold and we decided to end our joint venture, today we settled up the final payments between us over afternoon tea at The Orchard Tea Garden in Grantchester. If ever a place is the epitome of tranquil academe on a sunny afternoon then it is here - where the ghosts of Rupert Brooke and his languid friends stretch out on green canvas deck chairs under the twisted boughs of apple trees, just a stones throw from Grantchester church . . .

In this timeless corner of England, it always will.


PS this blog is brought to you from a tent in our garden, I'll add links later - blogger app won't let me do them on my iPad

PPS has Andy Murray won yet?

PPPS Now with added links x