Sunday, 16 August 2009

Midsummer sun and sunflowers

The Met office has sheepishly apologised for predicting a 'barbecue summer' that has been resoundingly rained off. I have to say I don't understand why they feel personally responsible for the maverick weather we get in this country - but all the same it's quite enjoyable watching them eat humble pie when they get it wrong.

I am not sure whether to moan about this summer's weather or not. It has been warm enough to ripen tomatoes, peppers and chilis outside in August, whereas I can remember previous years where even in Autumn I have been desperately holding out for some sun to ripen crops. In addition, the watering duties have been negligible compared to the usual fretting every other day. Crops have swelled beautifully, although weeds and lawns have needed more maintenance. The humidity has made blight more likely, which has been devastating for those affected.

But for me one of the mixed blessings of gardening is that each year brings its successes and failures. One plant's meat is another plant's poison, and I quite like having gluts of different crops each year (and of course courgettes every year), and I accept the outright failures.

This week's surprise bonus was the sunflowers, which have done really well. They can be seen here towering over the roof of the wendy house.

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The beans and courgettes have gone over while we were away, but the outdoor tomatoes, chillis and peppers have been an unexpected bonus. I can't claim any credit for this, but hats off to Jamie for a fantastic year.

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Unfortunately haven't been to the Warren yet since coming back from hols, because of a heavy cold. It is bad enough to worry it might be Swine Flu, but not bad enough so that I feel like I am going to die, which as I remember is a giveaway sign of actual flu. So another false alarm probably.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Inspirations from the Champagne region

Well, we just got back from our road trip to France in a VW campervan. Not recommended for the faint hearted, with two small children, but what an experience! We travelled down through the Champagne region staying in Troyes, then on to Burgundy and back through Nancy, Brussels and Bruges. It was so amazing to see the regional differences, all united by a common language. From a medieval timber city, through dusty French villages and grand gothic cathedrals to the tidy topiarised landscape of Belgium, there were a lot of contrasts.

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One of the most interesting parts of the journey was travelling through the Champagne region. Before the introduction of the 'method champenoise' the local wines were apparently not renowned for quality at all. It seems that over the years a huge mystique has been created around the wine in Champagne, which is more to do with the skill of the wine makers, blenders and marketeers than any inherent quality of the climate or soil. Within the region, you can buy for 95p a bottle of sparkling wine that tastes very similar to anything coming out of the grand Champagne houses.

You have to admire them for it, but as we have a similar soil and climate here on the chalk hills of Surrey, I felt a tinge of envy at their ingenuity, mixed with the extremely tantilising prospect of making our own sparkling white. Denbies vineyard near Dorking have based their enterprise on the similarity of the soil and climate to the Champagne region. We have already started planting vines at the Warren, so watch this space....

Allotment July 5th 001

The plants in the photo above aren't actually our vines, but the ones at Fanny's Farm Shop in Merstham. Having said that, with many local producers like these starting to emerge in this area, who knows, one day Surrey vintages could be just as famous as Champagne?

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Down house (Charles Darwin's home)

The other day we went to visit Down House near Orpington in Kent, where Charles Darwin made his family home. He was an avid nature-watcher and collector, and loved this quiet location in the Kent Downs. It was apparently 'relatively cheap' in its time, which meant he could concentrate on his work as a naturalist, rather than taking on another career. As I consider taking some time off to look after my little girls, I can really empathise with that philosophy.

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I very rarely get 'house envy'. Yes it was a bigger house than mine, but you can only really experience one room at any one time, so I never feel particularly envious of more space.

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Nor garden envy. My small patch of earth on the allotment gives me all the growing space I need, and the small garden at the back of our house is plenty for us to maintain.

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Having said all this, I have to admit getting greenhouse envy at this place. It was one of those fabulous Victorian lean-to greenhouses, part brick, part wood. Painted the most gorgeous turquoise blue colour. I wonder whether the colour was a twentieth century development, or whether this was the view that Darwin had as he pondered the origins of life on earth.

Down House photos 008

Either way, it has stuck in my mind as something that one day I would like to imitate.

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And actually, even a turquoise cold frame would probably satisfy me.

By the way, I am in the running for the dorset cereals blog awards.

There are lots of other great blogs on there to look at, so it is worth a browse, and you can vote for your favourite.