vegetables

California Dreaming (and other weekend notes)

haake-map_california

Are you having a lovely weekend? We’ve had a blissfully relaxed one after another hectic week, and have managed to plan a getaway for later in the year – to California! We had an amazing time in New England last October so have pooled airmiles and co-ordinated dates and this time we’re heading for the west coast; I’m already ridiculously excited.  We’ll fly in and out of San Francisco in late October but beyond that we have 12 days of completely free time to explore the coast and travel around.  As always, if you have any tips or recommendations I would love to hear; particularly for unusual or interesting places to stay or must-visit stops along the route.  We’re planning to travel at least some of the way between SF and LA, but beyond that have no fixed ideas.

Holiday-plannng aside, it’s been a rambling weekend of small domestic pleasures, enhanced by the sunshine and luxury of open doors and ambient breezes.  Like these peonies; surely the ultimate summer flower, which have been slowly unfurling on my bedside table and making me smile…

peonies

…and Saturday morning’s traditional baking foray; this week I adapted a basic sponge cake recipe by adding a cup of desiccated coconut and a generous handful of raspberries, and christening my new bundt pan; it produced a deliciously more-ish cake which was photo-bombed by a small and hungry footballer even as I arranged these shots;

raspberry bundt cake

bundt thief

So then we all had to have a slice…

bundt crumbs

The conservatory continues to be a source of endless pleasure and new discoveries; this week the mouse melons had a growth spurt so I potted them up into old tin cans which I decorated, and handed out to friends;

Mouse Melons

…and I continued to sporadically photo and document the growth of everything else whenever I had the camera to hand… we tried deep-frying courgette/zucchini flowers for the first time and felt very cosmopolitan (though lest you think this typical of our weeknight-suppers, let me point you back to the old baked bean cans above, of which we have an embarrassing number..)

Cucumber F1 Botanical Journal

Zuccini flowers

And finally we went adventuring, setting up camp in a local forest for a couple of hours and having a spontaneous picnic whilst keeping a weather eye out for the myriad of friendly dogs who appeared every time we rustled the sandwich bag.  I took along Harry’s IKEA play canopy (a steal at about £8, and used relentlessly for all different kinds of activities).

picnic in the woods

And now we still have the evening left, perhaps a warm enough one to sit outside with a glass of wine and unfurl our newly purchased map of California, savouring the last few hours of the weekend. I hope yours has been a good one too.

Kate

Illustrated map (top) by the wonderful Martin Haake

A Modern-Day Botanical Journal

Botanical Journal 1

As a child I remember being briefly transfixed by the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady; a beautifully illustrated journal of all-things-country, penned by a fragrant, gentile lady who paused to capture nature at its most bountiful with her ever-ready paint palette.  I think I must have imagined myself doing the same one day, in blissful naivety.

Now, of course, I know that parenthood seldom allows you to pause for long enough to finish a cup of tea in a single sitting, let alone daub consistently beautiful watercolours (most of my painting is done under cover of darkness, which makes capturing the nuances of plant life somewhat tricky).  Also, that the chances of producing two beautiful sketches on adjoining pages of a notebook are slim to say the least, and that the inevitable ripping out of false-starts could render any diary very thin by the time I’d found my stride.

Instead, I decided to capture the ever-growing life in the conservatory with a kind of photo-diary; wandering around during these still-light evenings and taking a weekly snapshot of tendrils, buds, seedlings and even – most exciting of all! – the emergence of mini-vegetables.  If I manage to stay the course by both a) managing not to kill all the plants through ignorance and neglect, and b) taking some decent photos along the way, then I think I’ll make them up into a photo book like this one at the end of the year… but one step at a time.

This week; the first flurry of peas arrived; mini-cucumbers began to gain weight and dangle enticingly; the courgette plant swung into bloom and I acquired a lovely old watering can from a junk shop; both functional and – to me – beautiful…

Botanical Journal 4

Botanical Journal 2

Botanical Journal 3

Botanical Journal 5

Botanical Journal Week 1

Pea Shoots

For those who wonder about these things, I shot these photos very simply with a regular Canon DSLR and lens,  wandering around the conservatory holding a square sheet of Tim Holtz craft paper behind or alongside the plants to make for an interesting, arty picture (a behind-the-scenes shot of this below);

Behind the scenes pic

The paper takes on a very different tone in the differing lights and corners of the room, and the texture pools and melts away when I’m shooting close-up like with this vibrant-yet-poisonous Gloriosa Lily, which sits high on a shelf away where it can be admired from afar;

Gloriosa Lily

In other news; it’s been half-term this week, so a week of family time and an altogether slower pace of life; fewer early-morning alarm clocks and a very laissez-faire approach to planning each day.  Picnics in the forest, local excursions and lots of serious preparation from Harry for the first ever school Sports Day which looms on the horizon (his godmother has been coaching him for the egg-and-spoon race, professing her expertise – though she resorted this weekend to using a less conventional falafel-on-a-fork in the absence of hard-boiled eggs; we are nothing if not versatile in our approach).

There’s a back-to-school feeling for all of us this evening as uniforms and work clothes are laid out ready for the morning; but we’re drawing out the remains of the day for as long as we can.

Have a wonderful week, and enjoy the final moments of the weekend.

Kate

 

Seedlings, soil and a spot of light toil…

I’m feeling all green-fingered again. I’ve been swept away by a tidal wave of good intention and the recurrent vision of becoming a self-sufficient, kaftan-wearing earth mother who harvests dinner every night from her Kitchen Garden and whose offspring can name every variety of tomato under the sun. Like most fantasies, alas, this is impossibly far from the truth.  The kaftan-wearing bit in particular is just never going to happen.

Still, a well-lived life is one of constant reinvention, as I’m sure someone must have said as it sounds very profound.  Harry and I have duly cracked open the Dorling Kindersley Guide to Gardening for Complete Amateurs, and begun sowing in earnest.  Initially we’ve just planted lettuce, carrots, radishes and salad onions. The DK guide warns me ominously that carrots are plagued by the psila rosae Carrot Fly and must always be planted alongside onions, which will, it promises, have the same effect as Kryptonite on Superman or garlic to Dracula, thus ensuring that the evil weevils keep a flight exclusion zone around our precious harvest.  This is just as well, as I wouldn’t be able to identify a psila rosae if it fell into my gin and tonic.  Especially then, in fact.

I found this rather cool and slightly more macho planter for Harry (below), and once he’d wedged himself into it a couple of times and ascertained that it achieved a max speed of about 2km/hour when pushed along, he was happy to plant it up instead, bashing each tender seedling heavily with the spade for good measure.

And finally, what I’m hoping will be the most verdant and productive of all; this grafted tomato, which the garden centre has led me to believe is the genetic equivalent of Usain Bolt and will deliver such a bountiful harvest that even the sight of a tomato, come September, will make us feel a little queasy.

It must deliver on its promise, as I have a title to uphold; last year my very undersized efforts scooped the ‘Most Artistic Tomato’ prize in my friend’s annual Tomato Festival (a deliciously drunken garden party where tomatoes feature loosely, and other equally tenuous categories include ‘Best shop-bought tomato’ and ‘Best wine to drink with tomatoes’..).  I strung a handful of dwarf cherry toms together to form a fetching necklace and earring set which I duly wore (below); it did the trick – and works a treat when you get hungry and the canapés are far away – but I think that substance is going to have to trump style this year if I am to retain my title…

And in closing; a gratuitous montage of some of the most distracting spring blooms in the rest of the garden.  One of our great pastimes (having moved into our house in the depths of winter) is watching to see what bursts into bud, then flower, as the weather turns.  All helpful advice on identifying and naming the varieties of beauties below is more than welcome…