Thursday 28 April 2016

Cliff Top Bluebells!

I should have taken my walking boots to tackle the steep, rocky, and often dangerous cliffs that I scrambled up so easily as a youngster!!!
The cliff top bluebells may have escaped my lens, but extravagant displays of primroses caught my attention. They decorated babbling brooks, gave lacey edges to the hedgerows, prettified grassy banks along Devon's narrow lanes, and scattered their pale lemon faces all around the village churchyards. 

We stayed in Soar Mill Cove, accessible only by foot from our hotel or across the clifftops, and by canoe from the sea

Part way up the cliff - it's starting to become very rocky and dangerous -  time to turn round and go back down
past the tangled web of Gorse bush branches 

to safety
In the next post our journey takes us along

Devon's narrow roads, then across a headland 
to visit a subtropical garden

Thursday 21 April 2016

British Bluebells

Up and down the country British broadleaf woodlands are once again magically carpeted in a haze of blue. It is widely acknowledged that our bluebells require their dappled woodland shade in order to prosper and thrive.  However, some of our bluebells also flourish on clifftops where they grow without shade and open to the elements. I first saw them growing on Devon clifftops as a child, and have no answer as to how or why they manage to suvive in what for them must be a hostile environment.
I can't answer this conundrum but I am setting off with 'high hopes' of seeing these clifftop bluebells once again.  
But before I leave I want to remind you of the differences between our native British bluebell and other bluebells generically known as Spanish bluebells.

British bluebell 
Our bluebells have narrow leaves, deep blue (very occasionally white, very rarely pink) narrow, tube-like flowers, with the tips curled right back. The flowers are mainly to one side of the stem and droop or nod. Their scent is sweet, and the anthers inside the flowers are cream.
British bluebells are a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 - they cannot be picked or removed from their habitat.  However, because we love bluebells in our gardens, Garden Centres have imported the Spanish variety to fulfil those desires

Spanish bluebell
Spanish bluebells have broad leaves, and pale blue (quite often pink and white), conical or bell-shaped flowers that have spread-out tips. Their flowers are all round the upright stem, have almost no scent, and the anthers inside the flowers are blue.
The Spanish bluebell is now sadly causing problems up and down the country as it is much more vigorous and can crossbreed with our native bluebell creating a fertile hybrid. They are threatening the native flower as they corrupt and dilute its unique characteristics. If you look at a bluebell to check which one it is, and you find a mixture of characteristics then you have found a hybrid. If we end up with a population of hybrids then we will loose the original genetic material forever.
If you have Spanish bluebells or hybrids in your garden and live within bee pollinating distance of a British bluebell wood then there is a serious danger that cross pollination will be taking place. 
The swallows are back
Swallows hunting insects on the wing 
We saw them swooping across clear blue skies in Malta five weeks ago, so knew that they were on their way.
They have travelled from S. Africa, over the Sahara to Morocco, down eastern Spain, across the Pyrenees, through western France before crossing the Channel to come back home to us. Here they will spend the summer and raise their young.  This epic journey will be repeated in reverse towards the end of September, and on arrival in S. Africa they will then raise yet another brood. 

Sunday 17 April 2016

How Green is my Valley?

The cyclical wheel keeps turning - sap rises, awakening trees and hedgerows from their winter slumbers; Mother Nature decks them out in luminous shades of green, her seasonal choice, chartreuse, a glorious sight to see.
Accessorised in pinks
and whites
imperial gold and purple at their feet

"It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living." David Attenborough

Friday 15 April 2016


I can't remember whether it was in Greece or Turkey that I first tasted Halva - an Arabic/Middle Eastern confection made from tahini (sesame). It tends to be eaten with a cup of coffee rather than having a biscuit, but I also recall seeing it at some hotels in Turkey served on the 'help yourself buffet table' at breakfast time. It is delicious but the flavour and texture are both difficult to describe, and although it is a confection it is not overly sweet. The Halva I like is filled with nuts - pistachio or almonds, but it comes in many different flavours.  
I had been unable to track it down in the UK, that is, until I noticed that Lidl were having a "Greek Week" and there on the shelves blocks of Halva appeared. They had three types: chocolate flavoured, Macedonian honey, and roasted almonds. I noticed that they still have some blocks left this week as I suspect that many people do not know what it is. I am just enjoying the last slice of halva with a cup of coffee, but will be watching out for it again during their next "Greek Week".
p.s By the way I am not in cohoots with Lidl 

Tuesday 12 April 2016

Saffron worth its weight in gold

Last year a small pot of prized Kashmiri saffron returned home in my luggage. Purple Crocus sativus, commonly known as saffron crocus or autumn crocus. It is the only flower of the crocus genus that yields these precious threads.

As the sun rises in early November, the people of Pampore, a small town about 10 miles from Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar, head out to the nearby purple draped valleys, their backdrop the foothills of the Himalayas. 
Saffron use originated in Greece, and is also cultivated in Iran and Spain, but the fragrant Kashmiri Mongra strain is the most prized.

After the flowers have been picked they are spread around on low tables where nimble fingered women pluck the three dark red stigmas from each flower. It takes 500 of these stigmas roughly 165 flowers to produce a single gram of saffron - it is this painstaking extraction process that pushes the price so high. Following this they are dried in the shade for five days and then subjected to a rigorous selection process that separates them into four grades: the ultra rare Shahi, then the first grade Mongra, which is what I purchased, followed by the second grade supermarket quality Lachha, and the sweepings, which are sold as Zarda.

 It is easy to tell the difference: Mongra consists of thick, glossy strands, almost the colour of dried blood, and there will be no yellow present as in cheaper grades
To use your saffron 
For 4 people take 125mg of Saffron, soak in 20ml of warm water or milk, stir well and leave for 30 minutes. Add to your recipe along with the soaked threads as they continue to release aroma, flavour and colour.

Friday 8 April 2016

Fritillaria meleagris

I was taken by surprise as I wandered around the garden and discovered that the snake's head fritillaries were already in flower - it had slipped my mind that their arrival was imminent.

It was a relief to see their pretty faces once more - I had been under the impression that our visiting female deer was feasting on them. Having now looked closely at the area where they grow and where she feeds, I see that the naughty furry lady has been dinning out on our dormant cyclamen plants, but hopefully they have enough time to recover before their autumn flowering.

There are many clumps yet to open, but here you can clearly see where their common name 'snakes head' is derived from. I shall have to watch out for the Red Lily Beetle - she is rather partial to them too

You were designed to tease -
art deco inspiration

with uncanny stylised
chequer boards
magenta pixel dashes
a playful coyness
toying with our notions
of botanical convention
 Stephanie Goodacre

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Adieu Malta

Windows and balconies
Traditionally painted fishing boats in the bay at Marsaxlokk

Door and wall furniture
Above this door is the distinctive ecclesiastical hat of a Roman Catholic cleric. The hat is called a galero and was originally worn when on pilgrimage. The galero is ornamented with tassels called houppes which shows the cleric's current rank in the hierarchy - the Arms shown here with ten dark green tassels on each side of the hat indicates an archbishop
What's in a Maltese garden?

The first pink blossom tree is Cercis siliquastrum - judas tree - mine will not be in flower until June
The gold trumpet is Solandra grandiflora - golden chalice vine
"Who'd be a statue? - just look at what I have to contend with"

Queen Victoria
and Churchill  
Clever trompe l'oeil in Mellieħa created on five steps adjoining a wall - I didn't photograph it at the correct angle so the cat has a strange snout!