29 August 2012

a big moon and a cup of raspberries

Every year. like clockwork, my mum says to me that the nights seem to be drawing in early this year.   And every year it reminds me how delicious that short space between day and night can be.  I especially like to go to the plot when everyone has gone home and squeeze in half an hour of pottering and picking just before sunset.  Like tonight, when we arrived just before eight as the moon was rising.  There was enough light to find easily the overgrown courgettes, the patty pans hiding between the leaves like crashed flying saucers, the prickly cucumbers, nasturtium leaves and flowers, and little gem lettuces going to seed too early. Runner beans are always more of a challenge with the long beans hiding among the leaves.

As the light gets lower, a bit more care is needed to avoid the residual thorniness of the sprawling raspberries.  The gentlest cupping of the fruiting tips in the hand helps to separate the ripe fruits from those that need to be left behind.  Even after eating the roundest, softest fruits, there were still enough to half fill a cup to bring home.

Everything else is fat and green, notwithstanding some pathetic beetroot shaded by asparagus fern. I'm feeling smug that those little plants that looked so isolated early in July have now filled the gaps so lushly. And I'm pleased that we let some beds do their own thing - borage, nasturtiums, calendula, and red amaranth* - all running on the rampage. Such luxuriant laziness.

At heart I'm a pretty slack gardener, I know that.  This year, the early coolness and the soaking hasn't been so bad after all, it seems.  Watering cans are standing redundant and for once my aching bones aren't down to lugging heavy watering cans - oh, so delicate are our sensibilities that we could not possibly contemplate the lightness of plastic, my dears.

All's well that ends well...yet again.  And there's half a cup of raspberries to eat yet.

* Has anyone ever eaten amaranth?  I know it's edible and the red leaves and tassels are so striking too. But what does it actually taste like?

28 August 2012

still (here)

Still.  It's a rich word, full of potentially contradictory meaning.  An adjective - motionless, noiseless, calm, hushed, inert; peaceful, placid, serene, silent, stationary, tranquil; verb - quiet, calm, hush, pacify, quieten, silence, soothe,  subdue; adverb - to this time, yet; even; but, nevertheless, notwithstanding; noun - photograph.

Take the hare.  We saw him/her sitting low, very quietly nibbling away at the grass. We were driving along very slowly at Elmley RSPB reserve on Sheppey, and there he was.  None of the birds that we normally see were around, just a marsh harrier away in the distance and a heron nearby.  All was still.  At one point s/he sat up high to check around.  Still but definitely not inert, taking it all in.

And so it has been very still here too.  Far from the expected frenzy associated with the Games just along the way, the roads have been much quieter than usual.  Families disappeared for the month and those that stayed laid low.  We spent a few days at the seaside, then came back to calm, hushed days, drier, warmer, more tranquil than normal.  Some harvesting, weeding, general maintenance, gentle activity.  Some outings to the seaside, a bit of communal sewing, making more rhubarb and fig jam and courgette chocolate cake, picking blackberries for vinegar.  

But. Yet. Neverthless.  I could not understand why I had such low energy levels until reaching down to the books at the side of the bed one day, unable even to think about reading anything new, I opened Sara Maitland's Book of Silence at random and chanced upon page 198 where she describes her visit to the Sinai desert in search of a deeper silence where she might hear the spinning of the universe.  "Up in my desert eyrie I had another potentially more dangerous experience.  As the day wore on just as silently and even hotter, I would find  myself slipping into a kind of lassitude that made the effort to do very simple things, like drinking, feel immense."  Desert lassitude apparently.

So I find myself relishing the slow drying of the leaves, the gentle rustling of wind in the trees that signals the end of summer, the cooling of the air in the morning when I manage to stir myself early enough, a definite restlessness, the itching of a new season, a realisation that to shrug off my listlessness I need to take some action. 

Maybe make a list as a first step.

03 August 2012


Suddenly, we have a crop.  I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see a courgette on the sad little plants, cautiously planted several feet away from each other and separated by cold, dark matter for the last several weeks. Now, after a week away, I find the gaps are filling up with leaves, one fruit has ballooned into a zeppelin, and Black Beauties and Sunburst are shooting ahead.  The Black Shetland have been dug up, a lovely dark purple but hardly prolific, early Rosabelle have superseded the specky shop bought spuds, and the Charlotte are in the queue for the plate.  Fat, juicy bulbs of garlic are drying off in the shed and the sweetcorn, sown straight into the ground and resilient against the onslaught of  slugs and snails, are coming on very nicely. The peppers have been less lucky, and the tomatoes, begged from friends and bought from market stalls, are full of leaf and fruit - and a touch of blight if I'm not mistaken.

But there are beans to be had instead, pretty yellow dwarf french beans for now, lots of them, to eat with leaf chard and spring onions.  And soon, notwithstanding a plague of locusts or flooding - who knows this year? - there will be a glut of runner beans.  I don't think I have ever seen so many scarlet flowers.  Not satisfied with their wigwam, the tendrils are even starting to colonise the neighbouring asparagus fern, itself as high and dense as a hedge.

The topping out of the wigwam has to be one of my favourite milestones in the growing season, the sheer abundance and promise they hold.  Just like poppies, you can never quite capture the brilliance of the flowers, bleached out by the light even when you wait until evening to snap them.  A couple of months back, my friend and I were interviewed by Felix for her Sonic Wallpaper exploration of the collection of Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture and we saw some beautiful beanstalk wallpaper which perfectly captured the scarlet against the green.   I spent a very happy hour this week listening to what everybody had to say about the different wallpapers, and the sounds that Felix had so deftly woven in to the observations to create a sound picture. I especially like the runner bean sonic wallpaper which for me perfectly captures the sounds of this summer.  If you want to hear the chatter of beanstalk lovers, including opinionated me, or the fantasy of my own still room brought on by another beautiful wallpaper, you can listen to the recording here and here.

Suddenly I find that I am thinking about pickles and chutney and jams. Yet again.  And because the sun has come up while I've been writing this I'm off to bed to dream about them for an hour or two.