30 June 2010

beans and booth

As usual, I forgot to sow my broad bean seeds in November and resorted to buying some young plants that went into the ground in March. We only bought a couple of strips which was plenty for two little blocks, one put in with the brassicas under netting, and another planted in front of the strip of garden, slightly shaded as time has gone on by next door's vine. Inevitably they succumbed to blackfly, the netted plants much less so than those out in the open.  Even so, they yielded a respectable number of pods before the blackfly won out. And they tasted delicious.

There is a little back story to the plants.  We bought them on a visit to Hadleigh Castle. At the top of the hill overlooking the castle and the estuary there is a large cafe, not particularly cosy, and the food is more 60's canteen than any modern cupcakey. emporium.  It does, however, provide stunning views across the estuary and you can understand why it was such a good position for a castle to keep an eye on invaders creeping through the marshes. The invader in this picture is John.

The cafe and farm are part of a settlement run by the Salvation Army and provides training and employment for people with special needs who will serve you with grace and efficiency. There is also a modest rare breeds farm).  The "colony" was first established by William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, to fulfill his vision of providing work and skills to the poor and destitute of East London, restoring health and spirits.

I am full of admiration for the energy of the General and his army, his belief in the restorative properties of work on the land, his vision of equality.  His legacy lasted around here for a long time - young benefit supervisors (but not this one) like me soon became familiar with the Sally Army's hostels. Whitechapel Road has not one but two statues of the General pointing the way to righteousness.

So there we are.  In a roundabout way, we have General Booth to thank for our broad beans this year.  And the bean-podder.

28 June 2010

staying cool

Remember the swan sitting on her nest with her mate standing watch?  This is the family out and about.  It took me a while to come across them - they were never around during the day, though I did see them one night.  Anyway, I'm glad they had such a respectable brood after all that vigilance. Today there were looking delectably cool in the shade of some overhanging tree.  I, on the other hand, was trying to dodge along shadowy places to stay out of the sun - enjoying the shade under avenues of plane trees and canal bridges.  It is simply too hot for me - I'm good up to about 25 degrees  but after that I go to pieces.  One day this week I even resorted to staring to clear the cellar as it was so invitingly cool compared to the rest of the house.

So it seems that most of my weekend has been devoted to staying cool. Yesterday, I had my first delicious dip in the sea.  Later, we had supper on the beach, prepared in a pal's beach hut and served on proper table, with plates and napkins, and chairs to sit on, watched the sun setting over the water as the temperature dropped.

Today I have been trying to create a cool haven on the allotment.   Inspired by a one night display  from the archives at the V&A last Friday of "garden escapes" - if you have a chance pop in and see some of the structures in Architects Build Small Spaces -  I set up my deckchair striped camp, soaking my feet in a bowl of water to stay cool, sitting and stitching hexagons out of the sun until it was cool enough to gather the day's haul - courgettes, broad beans, and three kinds of lettuce. Dazzle, a red leaved cos, has looks that live  up to its name, but is already starting to bolt with the hear.  My Little Gems are living up to theirs too, catch-cropped with the broccoli, they are staying cool under the larger leaves of the brassicas.

It was a decent haul, eaten when we got home with some of our first earlies and a bit of goat's cheese.

Pretty cool, I reckon.

PS Many thanks for all the encouraging comments on the last post.  I will do better.

20 June 2010


I always find it rather alarming when fellow bloggers go missing - especially when they disappear forever without any explanation.  So I am a little dismayed to find that it is nearly two weeks since I have signed in here.  Apologies.  I am still alive.  It's just that I've been busy preparing for a trip to Paradise.  So there has been lots of weighing up,  and washing up,

and saving stuff to feed the worms

Tonight - this morning - I am caked out.  I've tried to get the Dark Chocolate Berry Cake right - third attempt - but still it isn't quite right. And my fairy cakes seem to have been infected by goblins.  So I have resorted to background noise from Radio 7 and a solitary glass of wine and hope that my equanimity will be restored.  And if it is you will be the first to know.

06 June 2010

felix culpa

The story of how we ended up in Felixstowe yesterday is not an especially happy one.  It was hot and  I wanted to escape from tree pollen, so we decided that a quick trip to the North Kent coast would meet all  our criteria for a good day out.  Not so.  The southbound Blackwall Tunnel, just five minutes from home, was closed.  So we turned for Essex instead.  Mersea we thought, then, an hour later, missed the turning off the A12, took the next one, got caught in an accident induced traffic jam, turned back on the main road -in  the wrong direction - and thought, well, we haven't been to Felixstowe for many years. (This is a summary - I have spared you the silent pauses when swearwords simmered beneath the surface of civility).

It turned out to be a happy accident, an adventure, a re-discovery of the best aspects of a British seaside resort.  Perfect weather helped - warm but not hot, a slight breeze, a soft milkiness in the light.  We sheltered behind the boulder groynes, tested the North Sea (chilly) and, after a while, and in a better mood, we walked along the prom.  The clock on the top of Manning's Amusement Park played "I do like to be beside the seaside" on the hour - we were - and everyone was in a good humour, lots of handholding and smiling.  We carried on past the ice cream stalls, crazy golf, fish and chip and seaside rock sheds, the pier and the most bizarre Neptune I've ever seen, though top marks for the imaginative use of houseleeks on the tentacles.   It was understated, slightly decayed and at the same time almost perfect.

In the high street, a proper knick-knack free high street, we bought some essential ribbons and fabric at a well stocked haberdashers and admired the cafe ,but opted to take our egg and cress sandwiches down to the Spa Gardens overlooking the sea.

The Edwardian splendour of the gardens was rather jaded, and more than overgrown in places with valerian and arboreal ivy.  John made plans for restoration - yuccas, agaves, succulents.

We carried on down to the Landguard Nature Reserve, a shingle peninsula with the impressive looming Port of Felixstowe and the estuary on one side and the North Sea on the other.  The shingle was packed with crambe maritima.

There were Martello towers, redundant gun emplacements, mystery stairways, linnets, white campion.  And is that viper's bugloss?  By now the sun had disappeared and light was starting to fade a little. It felt like rain.

It was a long way home.  Must buy a new road atlas and remember that sometimes the best roads are the ones seldom travelled. 

04 June 2010


The allotment is absolutely blooming.  Just last week, the weedy looking plants, grown in my backyard  without a greenhouse and subjected to the chilly spring weather, were looking as if they were unlikely to survive let alone thrive.  Now, in the course of a matter of days, warm days interspersed with some rain, there has been a huge growth spurt.  These lovely, delicate opium poppies must have turned up in the compost.  I'm often brutal but like to leave a few poppies, not too many because they become impossible to manage. I'm glad I eased off with these.

I noticed more poppies in the "wild" meadows in Mile End Park as I was cycling along the canal this morning.  There are all sorts in here - daisies, buttercups, pink campion, the odd cornflower, and red poppies standing out loudly among the rest of the flowers.

The sowing of meadow plants have been a great success in the park, no doubt because they prefer a poor, starved ground, growing as they are on areas that were once old houses and scrapyards.  With a strong imagination, you might even be able to pretend you are in a new poppyland,

Whatever.  All I know is that something - possibly some hay fever medication - has been acting like a narcotic on me.  One nap is indulgent, two positively decadent.  And now,  just thinking about those poppies again,  I can hardly keep my eyes open.