Saturday, 20 July 2019

Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, Lavender's green

When you are king, dilly dilly, I shall be queen.
Lavender's blue is an 'olde' English folk song which originated almost four hundred years ago.

As the early evening sunlight lit up the Lavender in our garden, we were reminded that now could be the perfect moment to see a Lavender crop before harvesting begins in earnest. There are several English Lavender farms around the country, but the one we visited is local to us in the Cotswolds. 
Growing Lavender in England is a tradition going back for more than two thousand years. Lavender is a mediterranean crop brought here by the Romans. It has always been highly prized for its antiseptic and healing qualities, as well as for it's unique fragrance. 

The day of our visit was very warm, the bees and insects were busy, 
and the air was enveloped in the balmy fragrance of Lavender - it was lovely.
I think this is the rather diminutive Leafcutter bee with it's black facemask. I was delighted to have some Leafcutter bees nesting in my 'Solitary Bee Hotel' last year. It is easy to tell what type of bee has arrived as the other two solitary bees that tend to come are the Red Mason bee and the Blue Mason bee both of which block off their entrance/exit hole using mud. Whereas the Leafcutter lines the tubes with leaves and also uses cut leaves to block of the entrance when it has finished the task. So far no Leafcutter bees have visited, but I have not given up hope as there are still six more weeks to go before their nesting season ends.
Forager and trailer
The foragers and attached trailers are all GPS guided. On the first harvest run they cut off the sides of the plants and then trim the tops of the plants on the second run.  When the trailer is filled with 5 tons of Lavender flowers it is taken into the distillery. The flowers remain in the trailer whilst hot steam is passed through it. The steam then passes through a condenser, and finally the condensate is sent away to have the essential oils and perfume extracted. The harvest and process is quick and efficient, and the newly cut and trimmed plants are ready for next year's growth.

When the Romans left England, Lavender was principally grown by monks in their physic gardens where it provided them with a whole range of herbal remedies. 
Lavender became entwined within English folklore. A lavender cross was often hung on the door to ward off evil spirits. In the 16th century it was effectively used to guard against cholera, and during the Great Plague in the 17th century people would tie Lavender bunches to their wrists to guard against infection. 

For the past three years the farm has been growing Camomile which thrives well on the free draining soil here in the Cotswolds.
The first recorded uses of Camomile was in ancient Egypt where it was used to treat fever. Crushed flowers were rubbed on the skin as a cosmetic, and its oil was used to embalm deceased pharaohs.
Throughout history Camomile has been used to treat a variety of ailments. In medieval times Camomile was thought to be almost a cure all. The most common way of enjoying Camomile's benefits today is in tea, especially just before bedtime. Camomile soaps, moisturisers and room fragrances are also popular ways to enjoy its properties.
The Camomile is harvested in the late summer when the flowers are at their peak. The crop is mown and allowed to dry for a day. It is harvested using a forager which gently lifts the crop before chopping it into short lengths and blowing it into the attached trailer. It is then steam distilled inside the trailers in the same way as the Lavender flowers.
But it's not only Lavender and Camomile! 
The farm grows several small meadow areas of wildflowers which create a lovely colourful display attracting a wide range of insects. 

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Part 2 Westbury Court Garden & the River Severn

To learn more about Westbury Court Garden and it's history see Part 1. 

The first pineapple to reach Europe arrived on a ship sailed by Columbus in 1496. From that moment the pineapple became a fruit of legend, highly prized and beyond the reach of everyone but royalty. The cult of pineapples grew, it became a familiar motif of both baroque and Neo-Classical architecture representing wealth and good taste.
Acanthus plants were in flower creating a juxtaposition

with the Acanthus leaves on the pillars to the garden pavilion.
The symbolism and meaning associated with the Acanthus leaf is that of enduring life. 

Planted in 1638 a huge Liridendron tulipifera was showing off it's distinctive tulip shaped flowers.

A wooden bridge over a tributary leads from the garden affording a way down to the River Severn itself.
The pathway skirts around the edge of newly mown hay meadows, whose sweet fragrance was attracting dozens of dancing butterflies.
Small Tortoiseshell - Aglais urticae
In the hedgerows the future blackberry harvest showed signs of being bountiful.

The mighty River Severn. 
Here the Severn has cut through the hillside to form a cliff exposing layers of Triassic white and red marl, and fragments of Ichthyosaurs fossils. 
Rising in the Welsh Cambrian Mountains, the River Severn is the longest river in Britain.
It flows in a semi-circular route through the Welsh county of Powys and the English counties of Shropshire, Worcestershire and finally Gloucestershire.
At it's widest the estuary is 30 miles wide forming a physical boundary between England and Wales - in medieval days it was known as The Severn Sea. It's journey continues through the Bristol Channel until it finally joins the North Atlantic Ocean. 
The Gloucestershire section of the river is tidal and regularly experiences tidal ranges of up to 15 metres (49 feet). The world's largest tidal range of 16.3 metres (53.5) occurs in the Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia, Canada, which incidentally I saw whilst on a visit there in the early 1990s.
The incoming tide on the River Severn also creates a natural phenomenon 'the Severn Bore'. There are 60 bore locations around the world the Severn Bore is the second highest. The highest being in China.
The bore is an exciting event for both onlookers and surfers.
The largest bores are classed as 5* and
there are only two due for the rest of this year on the 29th and 30th September. However, both are scheduled to arrive during the late evening at around 21.30 - 22.45 hours. 
Unfortunately 'bores' tend to arrive either early in the morning or late at night. 
courtesy quintinlake

Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Apricots Galore

There are plenty of cheap luscious apricots in the shops right now (costing roughly £3 per kilo) so why not make yourself some delicious French Apricot Conserve.
one kilo apricots,
750 grams sugar,
Wash and split apricots,
cover them with all of the sugar, 
leave to macerate for 18 hours.
That's all - it's so simple
18 hours later, the sugar will have disappeared and
replaced by lots of lovely viscous juice. Now they are ready to cook.
Gently bring to the boil and simmer for
20 - 25 mins.
Finally pour the conserve into warm sterilised jars, filling them to the top, 
screw on the lids, 
then turn the jars upside,
 to form a good seal
 until they cool. 
What could be easier?


Friday, 5 July 2019

Part 1 - Westbury Court Garden.......

was laid out during the years 1696-1705

Engraving dated 1712 by Johannes Kip 
Westbury Court is a formal Dutch water garden created in a style that became fashionable during the reign of William and Mary. The fact that the garden has survived intact, whilst still retaining its unique charm and beauty, makes it a very rare survivor. Other similar water gardens were completely destroyed or have mere fragments of them left. Many were replaced by the more naturalistic school of landscape gardens introduced and popularised by Capability Brown in the late c18th. 

A veritable forest of artichokes 
As well as being a pleasant place to be, the garden was designed to be productive. Flowers were planted alongside beds of vegetables, water canals stocked with fish and a rabbit warren all supplied food for the table. 

A fish seen in one of the water canals but what a huge mouth he has!

The walls are lined with cordoned fruit trees - apples, pears, cherries, plums and peaches - the fruit, and flowers in the garden are all authentic to the style and period of garden.
Rhubarb Forces 
Forcing rhubarb was first discovered by a gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1817 when he accidentally covered newly emerging rhubarb crowns with heaps of soil as he dug a nearby ditch. The pink, sweet, tender stems quickly shot upwards much to his surprise. 

Part 2 - the journey will continue in Westbury Court Garden but then we shall depart along a pathway which leads from the garden down to the mighty River Severn.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Down in Devon

The invitation was to a Greek mid-summers evening party, situated in the middle of lush countryside somewhere between Exeter and the SW coast. Forests of huge trees, very high banked narrow country lanes and quaint little hamlets of thatched cob cottages make loosing your way easy - even our sat. nav. found the terrain confusing.
The wife of our friend is a Greek Cypriot - there were Greek chefs cooking typical varieties of Greek specialities out on their terrace, and as the evening progressed, the stars came out, the music commenced, and the Greek dancing began.

We stayed on a farm situated close to the party where we had our own small self contained outbuilding which had once been the boot and saddle room.
However, it was not completely self contained as every morning a delicious hot English breakfast was kindly delivered. It arrived in a large wicker basket filled with their own delicious farm produce together with freshly baked bread.
The farm dog 'Flo' was a delight, she really wanted us to stay throwing sticks and stones for her all day long, but it was not to be. A lovely sunny day had us making our way down to the coast, here we found a grassy sand dune where we could sit and gaze out to sea and watch the waves roll in. 
Suddenly we spotted a small girl busily exploring her surroundings. We watched as she wriggled her toes down into the sand and saw the puddles of sea water appear around her feet as if by magic. Her curiosity was palpable and a pleasure for us to watch her totally unobserved. The innocence and curiosity of early childhood is very special but so brief.

At the Seaside
When I was down beside the sea
A wooden spade they gave to me
To dig the sandy shore.

My holes were empty like a cup.
In every hole the sea came up,
Till it could come no more.
Robert Louis Stevenson