Today the weather was terrible, unless you are a duck, it rained all day long. In some ways, this was quite fortuitous as it convinced me to stay inside which meant that I could venture forth with my quince cheese making and theoretically, I could continue writing my talk.
First, the quinces. I have heard several things about quinces, one, they are hard to cut and two, they smell beautiful whilst being cooked…both of these things are true. When I picked them yesterday, I left some on the tree because I thought I would have too many to use in one go.
When I looked at my generous bowl this morning it occurred to me that I already had too many! I decided it was probably advisable to stick to precise measurements, not something I normally do. I am generally an instinctive cook and I would normally be tempted to just ‘bung’ all of the quinces in the pan! I restrained myself and weighed them. The first step was to peel and core the quinces – not an easy task as they are quite tough, and then simmer the peel and cores with some water for an hour whilst weighing and reserving the flesh. My plan was to work on my talk whilst the different stages of quince preparation took place. The next stage was to press the core/peel pulp through a sieve. Then simmer the pulp, the reserved flesh, juice of a lemon and water for an hour. Then liquidise the resulting concoctions and then mix it with sugar (the same weight as the original flesh) and simmer for two hours until thick and dark red. The resulting substance looked and smelt very nice but did not seem thick enough, did I accidentally add too much water? I allowed it to simmer for a least another two hours before pouring into shallow non-stick baking tray.
Whilst my all day cooking marathon was proceeding I sat at the extension table and took the opportunity to order my Autumn sown garlic, onions and shallots, numerous exciting varieties of sweet peas and some wasabi flavoured rocket. Then I wrote until I was rudely interrupted by the loud engine noise of a motorbike. At first I thought it was James, but then I saw a motorbike shoot across the field footpath and disappear behind the top of our garden. We do have regular problems with ‘off-roading’ motorbikes in our surrounding fields. However, recently, it has been blissfully peaceful, apparently due to HS2 providing a site for off-road bikes to deal with the problem. It is also unusual to see a motorbike ride so blatantly straight along the footpath used by so many dog walkers. The bike then returned at speed retracing its previous route and I gained the distinct impression that the rider knew that I could see them. I then heard the engine cut out at the bottom of our drive and I went to investigate. Diane had run ahead of me and was already running back up the drive in some alarm telling me to stop and not go down. The rider had been aggressive and threatened her when she had suggested politely that he did not ride deliberately all over the newly sown grass. He said (not very politely) that he would do as he please and that his job was ‘killing animals\ and he would ‘kill her family’. This was not the usual joy riding motorcyclist and he continued to try to plough up our grass. I (probably foolishly) said I’m not having that and continued down the drive and shouted at him to go away whilst Diane called the police.
Luckily, he then rode away, although, I did half expect him to ride at me. Why are people so horrible sometimes, we went back inside. Shortly after this, we spotted a white car charging up the side of the same field stopping just short of our wall. It did feel as if this was linked to the same threatening motor cyclist. Diane rang the police again and her and Patrick drove out in the car to see what was going on. They found nothing, but did speak to the police who were determined to pass it off as the normal troublesome motorcyclists who have pestered the neighbourhood for the past 8 years. I am not so sure.
The weather continues to be very bad with heavy persistent rain. The garden, particularly the Pampas plumes, look sodden. One bright spot of colour, standing up well to the rain are the nerines, blooming gracefully on either side of the back door. At least you can stand at the open door and admire them without getting too wet.
I inspect my quince cheese, which has set but still seems quite moist and jelly like. I attempt to remove it from the baking tray and to my delight, it drops intact and shiny onto my grease proof paper. I sprinkle it with sugar and consider cutting it into pieces but it doesn’t look as if it is the correct consistency…maybe it needs to dry out, so I wrap it in grease proof paper for the time being.
My plan today is to plough on with the talk and hopefully finish it. When I started writing I was not entirely sure where I would take our story up to….should I continue to the present day or should I maybe stop at our first NGS Open Day. My decision is soon made for me, I am running out of word count – I’m supposed to be writing 6750 words for a 45 minute talk.
It has been a very interesting exercise retracing our restoration journey with Church Gardens to the beginning. The first 2 and a half years was easy because there are diaries and photos, then up to about 2007 there are photos and planting diaries, and then the photos went online. I think looking back over what we have done is very positive, because it does remind you of what has been achieved and sometimes we are so focused on what needs to be done that this can be forgotten. Now I have to collect together all of the photos we want to include.
There is some improvement in the weather in the afternoon so Patrick, Aideen, Diane and James go outside to re-build the scaffolding for Mickey to work on the next section of wall next week.
Computers are not for me!
The wet weekend continues, which is no bad thing because I need to stay inside and add all the images to the ‘talk’ with Aideen and I know it will take ages!
Before this marathon begins I go out to find Patrick who is digging a hole for a wall buttress foundation in the rain. He is in the furthest corner of the orchard, behind the fence that blocks off the fallen section of wall, beyond the section that Mickey has repaired. The wall at this point, which has to retain about a three foot depth of soil level outside the orchard, already has several existing buttresses on the orchard side. One of these has come away from the wall and will need to be tied in securely. The buttresses on the other side of the wall have gone. Yesterday Patrick, James, Aideen and Diane tried to start digging out a foundation hole for one and the ground was horrible, very hard to dig. They found a foundation for the other buttress which is good because they can build on top of it. Today Patrick finds the other buttress base, this is good news as it reduces the work.
After a family meeting, Aideen convinces Patrick to stay inside to work on the Church Gardens planning application for our next round of work, which includes rebuilding sections of wall.
Aideen and I then realise we will have to join him in the office in order to scan the photos etc. into the talk.
How do people sit in front of computers all day? Admittedly, Aideen and I are working on the talk for hours, but the thought of having to look at a screen all day, everyday, fills me with horror. Patrick does not last long at his drawing board rain or no rain it is the weekend, and he wants to be outside! He soon departs to continue with his hole and to try and find someone to help put up scaffolding!
It is unbelievably time consuming to find all of the pictures that we want and then scan them, trim off unwanted edges and insert them in the script. I am surrounded by about 10 photo albums, numerous packets of photos and then we have to try and find the more recent images on Patricks computer. We make good progress but needless to say, we do not finish. We stop at 10pm because that is when I put grandad to bed, but we will have to continue tomorrow. The talk is taking a great deal of preparation but I am hoping, like the guidebook, that once it is done it will be a useful resource that can be reused many times.
Finally, a rather damp Patrick returns to the office, but he is then distracted by looking at some of the packs of photos that we are using! Aideen comments to us both, “don’t you look at these pictures and think how on earth did we do it?”, I look at Patrick and it is hard to answer. The pictures record massive jobs which took weeks and months of hard labour. They look incredibly daunting, but at the time, you just go day by day, bit by bit and it’s amazing what you can achieve if you are determined enough!
The Kitchen Garden when we first moved in
Down with the cardoons!
It is with some relief that sunshine is spotted breaking through the clouds this morning. Dad’s behaviour has started to be erratic again, he buzzed at 3:30am to ‘communicate’, which was quite frustrating and he tried to get himself up this morning because he thinks there are lots of people in the house ‘coming and going’, however, this appears to be in his imagination rather than reality. I am praying that he hasn’t got another UTI. I spent a bit of time walking around the garden this morning to clear my head. I don’t cope well with being cooped up inside which has been the situation over the weekend due to the weather and trying to finish the talk. Everything is quite bedraggled and I am relieved that I had cut down the big achilleas and the Artemisia in the herb garden before the rain. However, despite the weather, the garden still looks lovely. I pop down into the mushroom house and I am surprised to see one tiny white mushroom trying to grow on one of the beds that failed to sprout during the summer. I turn up the heater a little and leave it in peace. After getting dad up, Aideen and I finish off finding pictures for the talk and then with great delight I escape outside for a couple of hours before I start teaching.
I am in ‘tidying mode’ at the moment, I cut back some cornus that was poking through my painted organ pipes and some ceonothus that was trying to grow in front of them. I then spy the cardoons which are now towering dead stems and cut them all down, they are now producing new growth at the base which looks nice and fresh. Removing cardoons soon fills the big green barrow and makes pulling it to the compost heap quite uncomfortable because the giant prickly thistle heads hang over the barrow and keep banging into my hands and arms.
On the way to the compost I call into see Aideen, in her boat and check on progress, she has now removed almost everything from the inside, including the battery and wiring. Before leaving the garden for the day I dead head hundreds of cosmos.
The Big Dig!
Things are not great with dad today. his main problems are bowel related and every few weeks we go through massive over activity in that area which is not much fun for either of us. I am beginning to see a correlation between this and his more erratic mental state. It seems the bowel problems appear to have the same effect as a UTI. The combination of the physical and mental issues mean that getting dad ready to face the day takes about three times as long as usual. After this difficult start to the day I am desperate to be outside. I have a lovely breakfast of apple, guava berries and rather soggy raspberries with Greek yoghurt and honey. It is unfortunate that raspberries are not more ‘waterproof’, they are quite badly affected by rain. Water slides of other fruit and berries but raspberries tend to absorb it! On my morning perambulation, I am delighted to still see the odd Peacock Tiger and gladioli still blooming, nobody could feel fed up for long walking around the garden! Another thing which I have noticed is how exceptional the zinnias have been on the mount and they are still giving a fantastic display. The flowers are very large and the colours, particularly the reds and oranges are incredibly intense. I am wondering if this wonderful performance is something to do with the compost that went into the terraces.
Aideen, very helpfully, suggested that she could start digging over the area next to our newly restored wall in the orchard and I come out to join her.
We dig companionably for several hours before I have to start teaching. This area is going to be the site of our new forest gardening/medicinal plant border. This will be a big naturally shaped border about 60m long and a minimum of 3m wide, but often curving out to be 6m wide. This will give me a huge new area to plant with a wide variety of interesting shrubs, perennials and small trees and I will also train some trees on the wall, maybe Perry Pears, persimmons, Japanese plum, date plum, hardy citrus, cherry plum, almond and damson. This will depend on what is available but it is very, very exciting! What is not so exciting is digging over the whole area. This is to dig up the roots of perennial weeds such as nettles and docks and we will obviously not be able to remove everything but we can improve things. In the past I would have dealt with this situation by covering the soil with black plastic to kill of the weeds, however, this system needs a long time to be effective and I want to get on with this area, so digging it is! I think we managed about 1/10 of the bed!