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Coldest Day of The Year

30/1/2020

You can always rely on the British climate for variety. We have gone from mild T-shirt wearing weather, to bitter, damp, cold in the space of 24 hours! It was clear that today was not an outside day, so after cleaning and feeding Pecky, and retrieving another egg from the bag of bedding shredding (is this the new nesting/roosting area?), I retreat inside. We are back at the weekend, so DIY is back on the agenda. Patrick is in the living room puzzling over panels and cupboard construction, ably assisted by Diane. James and Aideen are in her bedroom trying to make some progress before Aideen is sent crazy with frustration…she wants to start painting. Poor Meave has to continue working as she has a deadline to meet and I decide to continue with my quilt, I am now starting on the second patchwork panel. I hear Mary Portas on the radio praising the fact that so many people have become more creative during lockdown with various artistic projects including sewing…well that is certainly true. There are some advantages to being shut away for weeks and months on end with no work…it is an opportunity to have a go at all those things that I’ve wanted to do for years but would never normally have had the time. There is a long list; memory quilt, painting (not just decorating), writing a book, sorting out photos, sorting out all of the hundreds of cards/children’s paintings/programmes into scrapbook/albums, not to mention reading numerous books… I might need to be locked down for a decade!

Another nice by-product of extra time at home is cooking. I’ve always cooked from scratch for the family but I was ‘time limited’ as I worked every evening. It is lovely to be able to take more time and experiment with new things and this doesn’t just apply to me. Aideen keeps making scones and last night, Meave made ‘proper’ Jerk chicken, with her own rice and peas, home-made coleslaw and sweetcorn, this was spicy, but absolutely delicious. For tonight’s dinner, I brought in Brussel sprouts and red cabbage to have with chicken casserole, with carrots, mushrooms and peaches topped with sliced potato.



Plants that bully, plants that nurse!


31/1/2021

Today would have been my mum’s 80th birthday, had she not died so tragically early at just 54. I get dad up and we talk about how impossible it is to imagine mum aged 80, as she was such a youthful person, in looks and character. Quite possibly, mum and dad would still have been living together in Ruislip and she would have been caring for dad, who was 9 years older than her. Instead, dad has lived with us for 17 years and become part of our family unit, it is very strange how things work out.

It is still very cold but I do intend to go outside, at least for a while. My plan is to do some work on the herb garden, as one bed in particular – ‘The Household Medicinal Bed’- has got rather out of hand! The herb garden was planted in 2017 and is a small area of ornamentally arranged brick raised beds intended for more unusual and interesting herbs. The more normal herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme, parsley, chives and bay, grow prolifically throughout the garden. There are 7 beds at different heights, arranged around a central brick path made of tiny hand made bricks, salvaged from the stable/living room floor at the start of the restoration.



There are certain plants in the medicinal/household bed that are displaying ‘thug’ like tendencies! The main culprit is Artemisia ‘Oriental Limelight’. This has a very attractive variegated young foliage but it is invasive, and is busy trying to take over the entire bed! Other offenders are Tansy, (which spreads everywhere, I’ve even found it on the vine mount!), Camphor and Old Warrior/Roman Wormwood. These stronger plants are trying to crowd out other more delicate plants such as Ladies Bedstraw, Lady’s Maid and Bugle, although I’m pleased to say the Soapwort is putting up a good fight! I decide to be firm and dig out a lot of the roots of the dominant plants. I know they will grow back but they will be reduced and I will keep them cut back through the year.

When I go inside for the day I come across a box set of miniature Penguin classics called ‘English Journeys’. This consists of 20 slim reprints of the writings of various classic English authors, including the likes of Vita Sackville West and A.E Housman. Amongst these little books was ‘The Beauties of a Cottage Garden’ by Gertrude Jekyll. I looked up the chapter titled ‘The Primrose Garden’ looking for further insight about my plan for mass primrose planting in the nuttery – inspired by Vita Sackville-West at Sissinghurst who in turn had been inspired by Gertrude Jekyll at Munstead Wood. She talks about breeding her own varieties of primula/polyanthas and dividing plants. She also discusses the primrose’s preference for growing in the environs of nut trees… “the finest Primrose plants are often nestled close into the base of the nut stool.” She also says, “I always think of the Hazel as a kind nurse to Primroses, in the copses they generally grow together.” This reinforces my ambition to create our own primrose garden at Church Gardens, I’ve certainly got enough ‘nurse’ nut trees! Tonight is another big quiche night with a very large salad…yes it looks like our tomatoes will still be with us in February!


Vaccination day!


1/2/21

Today is a very important day, we are receiving our Covid Vaccinations. Grandad has been waiting for a home visit because he is in no state to attend a vaccination centre. It has also been decided that I should be vaccinated because I am my dad’s registered carer, and also, Patrick because he has been on the shielded list. This is fantastic news and I get dad up bright and early to be prepared for his jab, which could happen any time between 9am-4pm. I wait rather nervously in the music room all morning because I’m so worried that I might not hear them knock at the door. Two nurses arrive at about lunchtime but there is some confusion because they only have me on their list. This was very worrying but the lovely nurse promised to sort out the problem. Several hours later, she called back to say they would be coming back to vaccinate Dad and Patrick. This was a huge relief and we are all enormously grateful for our AZ jabs.

I spend the remainder of the day quietly working on my patchwork panel, one would think this would be a gentle and safe way to occupy my time, except I manage to jab myself for the second time that day with a needle in my tummy when I leant over my sewing! I even surprise myself sometimes with my own clumsiness and tendency to be accident prone.



Tonight’s dinner is an invention, I make a tomato based sauce containing onion, garlic, peppers, chorizo, olives and butternut squash and I make a potato dauphinoise. When they are both ready, I spoon the chorizo/tomato mixture on top of the potato dauphinoise, cover the top in grated cheese and bake in the oven. I serve this with lots of different coloured kale and a loose leaved cabbage from the garden, combined with some left over cauliflower sautéed in butter with lots of garlic. The experiment went down well, nothing leftover!





Surrounded by Orchids


2/2/21

Today will be a quieter day as I am feeling a bit off colour after the jab. I spend most of the day in the extension working on the patchwork before I start teaching at 5:30pm. The extension is an extremely nice place to spend your time, especially at the moment because Aideen’s orchids are flowering. Aideen started her orchid collection when she was given one after a performance she gave of the Mozart Flute and Harp Concerto in 2019. Having successfully looked after this initial orchid she started to collect more and now she has 17! Almost all of them are coming into bloom and they are quite beautiful, mainly shades of pink, maroon and white, but my especial favourite has pale yellow petals with pink veins. I am very impressed that Aideen has mastered the correct watering method for these exotic plants and is able to successfully bring them back into bloom from their dormant periods. I, by comparison, am completely useless when it comes to house plants!



Aideen looked at me quizzically yesterday and commented “you don’t belong indoors mum, you are definitely an ‘outdoors person’”. I do not disagree with this statement in any way and I think it is getting worse as I get older. Patrick is the same which is why we work well together. It certainly explains why we have lived in an unfinished house for more than twenty years!

One job that Diane and I completed today, before my teaching started, was putting family photos up on the wall in our bedroom. It was lovely to see the photos finally on the wall as they have been crowded on a mantel piece, largely obscured, for years. I definitely appreciate the improvements in the house in recent months, it is lovely to be able to see photos and paintings on view, to have proper storage for clothes and enough shelves for books…but I would still prefer to be in the garden!




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