Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

Find out more.


recent | random





Thursday 9 August 2007

August, a month in the garden

[Strawberry ‘Honeoye’]

You know, I’ve not written one of my infamous gardening guides for ages now, so I thought I’d get back into the swing. After all, as lovely as photos are, there has to be something else, other than pretty flowery photos, right? Okey-dokey, lets get going!

August, if the weather is good, can be a lovely month but usually not that conducive to heavy gardening, and although this year, it probably won’t be the baking heat keeping you indoors, it’s still not really a month that you can get much done. Summer in the garden, is typically a restful sit-back and relax time, the frenetic activity takes place in the Spring and Autumn, but there is still much to be done!

[A borlotti bean pod!]

Lets start with the flower beds…

  • Thin those annuals! If you, like me, grow masses of wonderful annuals, now is a great time to thin them out. You should, in theory, have been doing this every few weeks, but the weather hasn’t made this easy. As we’ve had quite a few nice days, intermingled with some wet ones, annuals like cornflowers, godetia and snapdragons have shot up to record sizes, meaning they swamp everything else, including your prized perennials! This has to stop, so select any that are looking past their best and thin them out, or trim them down. Make sure that your perennials have plenty of light and air around them, otherwise you’ll start to have problems with downy mildew and aphids.
  • Weed the beds! The weeds this year have been prodigious, especially dandelions, milkweed and sow-thistles. And as yet I’ve not really been able to do very much about it. But now is an excellent time to start. A cool evening is the perfect time to explore all of those nooks and crannies, and to attack those weeds with a hoe. I prefer a pair of stout rubber gloves for gardening, and though it may look a bit domestic-goddessy in the garden, they are marvellous at avoiding the stings of nettles, the prick of bramble thorns and the rough and tumble of the garden.
  • Excavate the compost heap! We decided to do this the other weekend and we finally got to come face-to-face with my little garden-friend, our compost mouse. We apologised for the intrusion, and hope she’s forgiven us for taking apart her little home, with 4 nests and lots of little tunnels criss-crossing the heap, but it really needed a good empty in there, and what better an opportunity than a lovely warm day? We used our compost to fertilise the beds we had cleared and to…
  • Mulch the beds! When it’s dry vegetables need a little helping hand, and homemade compost acts as a brilliant mulch on just about everything. Banana skins work wonders placed at the base of roses, and homemade compost has tons of great stuff in it. It saves lots of fruit and vegetable waste from going into landfill, thus saving the planet!
  • Dead-head your flowers! There is nothing sadder than the sight of a rose with lots of dead flowerheads on it. Not only does it hold back repeat-flowering, it causes the roses to put all their energy into making fruit, rather than luscious posies of the prettiest colours and scents. Some roses don’t repeat, but help those that do by dead-heading! You can also give roses a tidy by giving them a quick ‘summer prune’. David Austen recommends that:

After each flush of flowers has finished, cut back the flowering stems to two or three sets of leaves. You may also notice that the occasional new long, strong stem will appear from the base of the shrub, or sometimes grows higher up from older branches. These can grow quickly above the frame of the plant and look a little out of place at first. These stems are in fact very beneficial, forming strong, healthy new stems which will flower next season. We recommend that you trim these new stems back slightly when carrying out summer pruning, just enough to maintain the nicely rounded shape of the shrub.

  • Don’t forget the wildlife! Red squirrels find their food sources are greatly diminished in Summer and often stuggle to find food, so putting out a good source of protein and nuts is fantastic. Peanuts are relatively mineral and vitamin-deficient, and other sources such as walnuts and hazel nuts are much better, and are guaranteed to be loved by your little fluffy-red thing. If you have grey squirrels, why don’t you consider getting a nice air rifle and having some dinner? Grey squirrels are bad (for our cute little native red squirrel), but at this time of year are nice and plump, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Giles Coren have both enjoyed a meal from them, apparently tasting a bit chickeny and a bit porky! You shouldn’t forget birds too, who may not be suffering a lack of food (if the thrush I saw demolishing my reserve of the plumpest blackberries is anything to go by…) but in hot weather they do struggle to get a drink. Putting water bowls and bird-baths out is fundamental for the little feathered folk who inhabit the garden!
  • Don’t cut the lawn too short! This is a serious point. Our lawn, after weeks of not being cut from the horrid rain we’d had, loved it when we gave it a harsh cut, but now that it’s dried out, treat it delicately and put it on a high (long) setting. This will help your lawn stay green and not die off in the heat.
  • Crop your vegetables! Onions, runner beans, the last peas and potatoes are all at their best this month. Lay the onions, freshly picked, onto the hot Summer soil and they should dry out, leaving you able to plait them and store for the long months ahead. I’ve just plucked some real beauties, which shows how much difference the rain has made from the tiny shallot-types we had last year! If you’ve got any peas that have “gone over”, they make a wonderful soup along with any lettuce that has bolted – H F-W has the recipe, Pea, Lettuce and Lovage soup. Just as well we have a towering lovage plant!
  • Feed those tomatoes! Feed your tomatoes with a good-quality, organic food every week for the rest of their lives. This will keep them happy, and water often (twice a day!) to avoid blossom-end rot, which although unsightly doesn’t change the tomato too much, as long as you cut the rotten bit off – it just looks horrid. And speaking of feeding vegetables squashes and pumpkins need to be given a jolly good feed. They are hungry, piggy things and need as much food as you can throw at them!

So that’s my month in the garden. Next month we start the mammoth job of clearing beds and starting to plan for next year’s crop. And we’ll hopefully have some tomatoes to make passata with. But until then, enjoy!

Friday 6 July 2007


I think I blog more when the sun is out and about. Yesterday was the first and only day this week that we’ve had any ‘significant’ amount of sun at all – my poor peas are not swelling, because they don’t have access to much sun, and my potatoes in pots became waterlogged and literally rotted in their skins. If you haven’t smelled liquified potatoes, I can liken the smell to rotting meat ~ a putrid smell that took 5 hand-washes to remove, and which has left me wondering just how I can remove the plants, and where they’ll go.

Our roof is leaking too. The constant dripping is a bit like water torture, though the rhythmic noise of the splis-splash in the bucket is strangely cathartic and reassuring – mainly because it hasn’t (yet) been replaced by the noise of the ceiling collapsing. Our insurance company is so busy taking care of the “flood refugees” in parts of Yorkshire, Worcestershire and Lincolnshire that any claim will take a while to sort out. I don’t begrudge the insurance company for prioritising the most urgent cases, I do begrudge them that they lost our claim and that we’ll have to wait another week to get anyone to talk to us about sorted it out! But we are very, very lucky that we’re not one of the thousands of people whose homes were submerged. I can live with a bit of a drip.

[Monarda Didyma “Cambridge Scarlet“]

And then there’s the car which has had to be serviced and MOT‘d, but they found things that needed repairing – cars are not cheap things to run, even diddy ones like mine.

But when I’ve been able to get out without needing my lovely poncho, I have found no small amount of solace in the harvest of vegetables and flowers which have kept us fed and our minds happy. Never underestimate the scent of a rose or the taste of a freshly-picked courgette to uplift the senses. I managed all this in just a few minutes, hunting around the blackcurrant bush, raiding the nest-box and giving the rainbow chard a haircut. Yum.

And if all else fails, how about a scone? These are the best scones I’ve ever made ~ I don’t know what I did differently but they are heavenly. Yum. Cup of Steenbergs’ Tippy Darjeeling anyone?

And I will try, my very hardest to get around to everyone and comment, ok? :)

P.s. Did you notice the little Gallery widget on my sidebar? If not, have a look! It’s nifty, you can click and have a look at my most recent pictures (or click random, you’ll get a medly!) – handcrafted by my husband, he is a clever bunny!

Friday 22 June 2007

Middle of the Hill

I have so much to do, and such little time to do it. I should be ironing, making cakes, nursing Indy and spending time with my husband, but I had to give you a quick post! I’ve been treated to a wonderful few days, starting on Thursday my husband got time off work so we’ve had a whole 3 days to spend together. This is unusual as I work on Sundays and only get a Saturday to spend the whole day together. Yesterday Alnwick, today Cragside – tomorrow? The housework!

But what amazes me more is how everything is moving onwards, and I feel a bit taken aback, a bit slow in the face of movement. It was March only a few weeks ago (in my head at least) – now we have strawberries and I made potato dauphinoise with our own grown potatoes (and eggs from our hens), we ate salad from the garden and our courgettes are lush and ripening. Where is the time going?

So until I finish the answers and questions post, here are some things I couldn’t hold back – things I really had to share! I think the rest speaks for itself… Hummed to the tune of “My Favourite Things” from that rather annoying (?) musical The Sound of Music (Mary Poppins was infinitely better, in my humble opinion…).

Newly-opened flowers, to wow the spectators…

The blue of the Borage and white of the ‘taters… (sorry!)

Golden grasses and fields of pure wheat…

These are the things that I see from my seat…

White, gold and green, that cure all your headaches…

Tiny white flowers that bring in the new day…

Green pods, hanging on the vine…

These are the things that make it divine…

Ok, I won’t make you listen to any more of that! Enjoy the rest, and thanks to every single person who congratulated us on our first year of wedded bliss!

Friday 1 June 2007

Supply and Demand: Ethical Shopping and How To Go About It.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIt’s one of the most popular pasttimes – everyone does it, usually once a week, and it costs big bucks. It saps a good chunk of our wages each month, and we really need them to survive – or do we? I am of course, talking about supermarkets and our complete reliance on them as a nation to be our food providers. From the early days of relying on either our own abilities to grow food ourselves and cook it (late 1800’s), to buying from small, local co-operatives (pre-war) we now need supermarkets more than ever. One supermarket in the UK boasts a store in every single postcode barring one (now being developed) and in every £8 we spend in the UK, £1 is being spent in their shops, and as a consequence they now make billions not millions in profits. Though nowadays they are not looked upon as modern-day wonders, people are starting to see their true colours – as the nastier underbelly of consumerism, which as a nation we’d rather not look at. But why, despite this knowledge, do the public still flock to them in their thousands, daily, for their fix of factory-farmed chicken and sweat-shop-produced clothing? There is one very simple reason: the cost. Why pay £10 for a t-shirt which is organic, when you can buy one for £2? Same colour, same look but one is a fifth of the price. And in this sad world, money really is everything. We now buy more than we ever did, yet the money we pay year-on-year for that shopping is actually decreasing.

When I started becoming interested in green issues, it was more about hidden chemicals in products than the wider shopping-sphere at large. I shopped at supermarkets and enjoyed the consumer-driven life as before, I just bought ecologically-friendly items from healthfood shops rather than buying the supermarket equivalent. Interest spurred me on to find out more than just the basics of chemicals in cosmetics – what about chemicals in our food? My finds were again shocking, but not surprising in the slightest, and short of eating completely organically, what on earth could I do? I began making lists of vegetables which weren’t heavily-sprayed with chemicals, I ate seasonally, and was a staunch vegetarian. It was when I started looking at the whole process holistically – from the farm the food was grown at, to the supermarkets and eventually the end-user – that I saw inherent flaws in every step. Farmers weren’t being paid enough to take care of their land and livestock properly, the supermarkets were squeezing every last drop of profitability possible (with as many underhanded methods as possible…) and the consumers were making this happen by supplying the most important thing: demand. There would be no supermarkets at all if there was no demand for them. Supermarkets would close virtually overnight if no-one went to their shops for a week. But the likelihood of that happening are almost non-existant.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMy friend who made the comment which triggered my Sanity Mechanisms post said that supermarkets by their nature would never be “green” or “compassionate”, as big businesses (or at least businesses who were to succeed) weren’t made big by being kind. It would be foolhardy to think that this wasn’t true – business is ruthless and if you have a compassionate chink in your armour a competitor will exploit this. There is always a bad-guy somewhere. But as in the sanity mechanisms post before, it is the consumers’ ultimate choice as to whether we continue down this route of “cheap is best” or whether we are willing to pay more to get an ethical product.

So with my eyes opened even further, I started looking at supermarkets themselves. If they wouldn’t change their ethical stance, then I’d change mine – and therefore start making the changes that will be necessary for everyone to make if they really do want to make a difference. If you have or want to shop in a supermarket, your choices that you make whilst shopping control the demand aspect. If no one is buying battery-farmed chickens, the supermarkets will stop selling them. Try small things at first, always always always use your own bags-for-life (strong re-usable bags made of anything – jute, hemp, plastic or cotton) and reduce waste created. If you know you’re not going to eat 4 heads of lettuce – for heavens’ sake, STOP BUYING it!

When it comes to buying food (in supermarkets) we have a few basic guidelines that are adhered-to at all times. They are as follows:

  • We don’t buy fruit or vegetables that can be grown in the UK but aren’t – for instance, potatoes from Israel. There is no need for this.
  • We do not ever buy fruit or veg from a foreign country – it’s UK or nothing. No Spanish strawberries in December or Peruvian asparagus in February. This also means an end to bananas and tropical fruits. The two exceptions to this rule are lemons and oranges. They both come from countries which are within the EU (typically Spain, Italy and France), are more than likely to be shipped in by sea rather than plane and pesticide use is small.
  • Source fair-trade and organic food where possible, but buying locally produced food should always trump this – trade is fairer than with a third-world country who are open to exploitation, less food miles (most of our seasonal veg came from 7 miles away!) and less pollution.
  • Learn about the supermarkets’ individual ethical policies and shop accordingly – see below.
  • Avoid anything GM – not because it’ll give you three heads, but because it has been shown to enhance resistance of bacteria to antibiotics, amongst many other things. It is really bad to mess with nature, this is no exception.
  • We don’t buy any pre-prepared food. I cannot remember the last time we had a ready-meal (we don’t have a microwave!), it must’ve been at least 5 years ago.
  • Eat seasonally – in Winter root vegetables, parsnips, carrots, cabbages, potatoes, onions and swedes are the way to go – in Summer let loose, eat yourself silly on strawberries (English of course), lettuces, tomatoes and peas. This is how our bodies were designed to work!
  • Be aware of which animals are naturally free-ranging and which is always intensively reared. Lamb is always free-ranging because it needs to build muscle and eat grass, pork on the other hand is kept in appalling conditions in darkened sheds, living in their own faeces and sometimes attacking each other out of boredom.
  • Stay away from American rice and corn, if it’s not GM (most American corn is GM) it will definitely have been shipped a minimum of 4000 miles. There was afood scare about American GM rice a year ago, the EU has banned its use in many things now.
  • Avoid buying from countries whose political regime is cause for concern – such countries for us include China, Viet Nam, Israel and the US.

I will proceed the list by saying that although we shop in a supermarket, we only do so for a small number of items which are either ethically produced or local (dog food, 100% recycled toilet rolls, tinned tomatoes etc). For the last two years we’ve bought almost all of our meat and milk from our local farm-shop, which we’ve found to be not only cheaper than supermarkets in some cases, but the stuff they sell is of amazing quality. I’ve seen the cows and pigs myself. I know I also harp on about growing your own vegetables, but even making a dent in your supermarket shopping bill has to be a good thing. It is so easy to bung a few potatoes in a pot and cover with soil, even the newest gardeners can’t fail to have a crop of yummy potatoes within a couple of months. Add some tomato plants, some courgettes, salad leaves, peas and beans – the easiest vegetables to grow – and you’ve got a variety of homegrown, organic vegetables to feed your family. It isn’t hard, but it takes a willingness to do it.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
When it comes to the ethics of individual supermarkets, a quick search online will yield results. Apart from recent scandals which usually make the headlines, dig a bit deeper and you can find some rather interesting stuff. One such Interesting Thing is the link between Lord Sainsbury (yes, of the same supermarket chain) and his interests in GM research. Although his supermarket chain refuse to sell anything with GM in it – and were one of the first to rebuke GM in a big way, he has big stakes in companies which are trying to work on some sort of “gene patent”. Now I do not believe that GM is going to give us three heads (although if they thought it’d make money, they’d have a go…) but it has shown that the possibility for new strains of antibiotic-resistant genes to be created, possibly transferring to human beings. All we need is another MRSA or Clostridium difficile type outbreak in our hospitals – except this time it might be more potent and cause many more problems. That is why nature really shouldn’t be meddled with – we are opening Pandora’s boxes left, right and centre without giving due thought to the consequences. So Sainsbury’s aren’t on my list of “ok supermarkets”, but they are much higher up the chain than… Asda and Tesco – Asda for being associated with Walmart, possibly the worst supermarket chains in the history of supermarket chains (they even made a film about it – with a really good website), and Tesco for being so profit-conscious that it won’t do good for its industry, even though it has the power to.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThere are good things in the pipeline though, going green isn’t the hippy option anymore, and you’re considered rather draconian or “backward” if you don’t use energy-saving lightbulbs and ecologically-friendly options, which is a good thing. The un-friendly alternative should always be made as difficult to use as possible, which is why I’m all for taxing of 4×4’s and stopping selling traditional lightbulbs etc. It surprised me no end that shops such as New Look and Evans are both (excuse the pun) cottoning-on to the Organic ideal, and whilst most of their clothing isn’t organic and does come from sweat-shops (but I’m guessing a Nike sweatshop is worse than an Evans sweatshop, although I could be wrong…) it’s a huge step forward to see them stocking this stuff. It means that they know demand is there, and will hopefully start to integrate the organic fibres into their normal lines. Plus looking at the stuff, I prefer the organic designs.

Many are put off by the prices that they perceive farmshops to charge – and this is the bit that gets me the most. I have met people who are completely unwilling to spend any more than they absolutely have to, to get the food they want. It’s not about where it comes from, or what suffering the food or the planet has had to go through to get it – as long as it’s there and it’s cheap. The only way we’re going to make a difference to those people who ignore morals and ethics in persuit of price is to make farmshops and growing-your-own easier and more publicised than the supermarkets. The price they charge is a fair one – and it’s the price we should pay for our food.

But my words here are very much preaching to the converted – those who are educated enough to read blogs, are usually savvy in their shopping and pretty eco-friendly, it’s the people who currently shop at Tesco and Asda who need the kick up their backsides – and short of mounting some sort of publicity-grabbing protest antic, I’m not sure there’s much I can do outside of my words… Which leads me on to ask you all a question – what do you think I can do to get the message across to the people of the world to start being responsible in their actions? Any ideas?

— images courtesy of BBC news and Getty Images.

Thursday 24 May 2007

In the garden

The garden is a really beautiful place to be at the moment, the grass is growing, the chickens are clucking and the vegetables are all green and healthy. It rained solidly when we were in Scotland – thankfully not on us – but on the garden back at home, which meant when we arrived home every plant, weed, bud, blossom and flower had doubled in size toreveal a damp, lush garden of delights.

Even the weeds are proving to be a useful, yummy source of pleasure – the dandelions are in short supply these days as we pluck them of their leaves for the chickens, who think that the most divine food (apart from slugs…) is a fat, juicy dandelion leaf. And the nettles get whipped up into my own version of nettle gnocchi, which was surprisingly delicious, even though I completely made the recipe up as I went along (it involved potato, eggs, nettles, cream cheese, sweet potato and a helluva lot of semolina – and was stunning!).

This year the beds are full of perennials because I’ve had the time and the inclination to get the ‘pretty’ end of the garden properly ‘prettified’ – something that doesn’t necessarily come easily to someone who prefers function over aesthetics (most of the time!).

But now I can see the gentle, delicate play on colours (like a play on words) of the silvery cornflower foliage and the brash black foliage of the Lysimachia [Firecracker], the vivacious geum-red [Mrs. Bradshaw] next to the calm, lacy sweet cicely [Myrrhis odorata]. For the first time I feel I’m learning and loving the garden we’ve moulded more than ever.

We have already harvested our first fodder from the VintagePretty veg-plot, and although it’s only small – it is a taste of things to come.

All in all, a very nice place to be! If you’re interested, clicking on an image will take you to its folder in the Gallery – so you can browse around at your leisure, almost all images have captions and where applicable, plant names!

Saturday 21 April 2007

Wooden heart

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Another part of my mysterious package that came yesterday.

And today? Heck it’s going to be a busy one!

I was so excited and restless that at 5:50am this morning I was wide awake… A bit like a child at christmas (…what do I mean child?!).

Friday 20 April 2007

Gentle whispers of things to come…

Shhhhh. (Whispers) I can’t tell you anything about it yet, but there are some very exciting things afoot!

It involves wood, recycled and reused wood from an old rickety fence at the bottom of the garden.

It also involves a day’s agony in the form of a strained muscle from a whole afternoon’s sawing.

And no, it’s not finished, but it’s a start!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

It also involves one of these (I’m not showing you the whole thing – lest you should guess quite what it is!) – and a rather big delivery today. I’m excited, and everyone else should be too (no really, you should!).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Next Page »