Thursday, 25 May 2017

On the cusp of summer

I feel this week signals the tipping point from spring to summer around here. Though, I might retract this statement when the week-long rain that is forecast for next week arrives.The air is very warm, and it smells of grass and moisture, in the way that early summer always does. 

27 C is our predicted high today. I am making the most of the clear and warm days by drying a few loads of washing, opening all the windows and the French doors, as well as walking barefoot around our courtyard garden to admire the English lavender I just planted. I have plans for lavender ice cream, and almond & lavender cake too. Dining al fresco is on the cards. Lemon-spiked G&Ts are already a regular occurrence. 

The garden is in a little lull- the blossoms and bulbs of spring have long faded- but the summer blooms haven't quite arrived yet. The honeysuckle and climbing rose at the front of the cottage will burst very soon. As will the elderflower tree at the bottom of the garden. I have tall spires putting out as-yet mystery flower heads. I think they'll be larkspur. But they might be delphinium. It's a waiting game.

Mr Red-breasted Robin is giving himself afternoon dust baths below his beloved hawthorn tree. He's rather flighty. I try to photograph him, but he's very shy and much too fast. I'm hoping if I start putting seed out he'll allow me to make friends with him.

In late March I sowed a box of 'mixed blue garden' flower seeds. Who knows what was actually in it, but the seedlings are pushing up at quite a rate now. I'm hoping there will be forget-me-nots and cornflowers in there somewhere. 

Kate  x 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Courts Garden, Holt

One of the very best things Alex and I have done since moving to England is become members of the National Trust. The Trust is a charity organisation taking on the monumental task of preserving some 500+ homes, gardens, churches, nature reserves and stretches of coastline for now and future generations. I am consistently amazed at the work they do with the money they raise. If you ever get the opportunity to take a preservation tour at one of the properties, I recommend doing it. You will come away with a renewed respect for the task at hand. I did the tour of the Abbey at Lacock this way and I left feeling very proud that my membership contributed to the work, but equally that the membership fee is woefully small for the service the National Trust is providing for the nation and our heritage. 

There is a bit of an assumption that membership is for people of a certain age, ie. retirees with lots of time on their hands. As 20-something-year-olds, we can honestly say that day trips to National Trust properties are some of our favourite days. Lucky for us, we have one or two on our doorstep and many more within easy reach. As I write, we've visited eleven properties in the eight months that we've been living in the UK. 

A couple of weeks ago whilst out furniture shopping we stumbled across The Courts Garden in Holt. It is within easy drive of where we live, but we had intended to visit at a later date because our priority at the time was furnishing the home we now live in. I am so glad we decided to actually visit the garden that day though, because it was such a perfect spring day, and the garden was magical to see in its spring time flush. I had left my good camera at home, thinking we'd just be traipsing around antique and collectables stores and not pretty gardens. Nevertheless, I managed to capture some of the beauty of the seven acres of gardens on my i-phone.

This is the path visitors take when entering the property. The house is a grade II listed 18th Century manor, built from local Bath stone. The manor house is not open to the public as it is still lived in by the owners of the estate. It's beautiful from the outside, and sits in the grounds so wonderfully. It is 'very happily situated', to borrow a line from Elizabeth Bennet. 

At the rear of the manor is a handsome lawn surrounded by hedging and herbaceous borders, from here the garden leads on to other garden rooms, the kitchen garden and eventually the orchard and a three-acre arboretum. 

I really love a good arbour grown using trees. I imagine this is an ornamental pear or similar, but I can't be sure. I wish I'd seen it when it was in full blossom. As it establishes and matures it will be very beautiful. A lot of work, but so timeless.

The apple blossom in the orchard part of the arboretum was really at its peak. I could have happily picnicked underneath it all afternoon. So English, isn't it? 

See how well the house sits in its surroundings? Each yew-hedged garden room is so beautiful in its own right, but collectively the garden has been so well designed. The vista back to the house from numerous points around the property showcase the grandeur of the house and quirkiness of the garden layout.

The site was once home to a 19th Century woollen mill, and apparently some of the features from this industrial past have shaped and dictated how the garden has been constructed- crooked borders, skewed paths etc. The lily pond, above, was brimming with tadpoles.

The Pillar Lawn is a lovely formal space, contrasting well against the relative 'softness' of the neighbouring lily pond and dye pool.

I'll admit, I'd love to poke around inside. Given the exquisiteness of the garden, I imagine the interior is equally impeccable. Perhaps the garden benefits greatly from the house being closed though? Sometimes the money and effort needed to preserve great crumbling country piles means the attached gardens and parklands suffer, but given that this property is still privately occupied maybe means the emphasis is on the garden?

In any case, it is well worth a visit if you love formal gardens. 

Kate  x

Monday, 8 May 2017

Wisteria watch

April 21st

The wisteria was slow to show its pale purple beauty in Castle Combe. It felt as though it really blossomed a good month behind London and the east of England. Some vines in the village are still colouring up now, yet to show their full flush. This particular vine is tucked in on the side of a cottage in the village, its backdrop is a mysterious door to I don't know where...

I thought it would be interesting to photograph this vine as it coloured up and bloomed. It was lovely in all stages, and is currently at its peak.

April 28th

The lovely late evening light has been magical, and lent a warm golden glow to the scene. I think I am really going to love British summer time.

May 7th

Here she is in all her beauty! The scent was just as magical as that enveloping golden hour light on our post-dinner walk. After a long stretch of chilly temperatures, it is nice to thaw out, walk of an evening and watch as the earth comes back to life. It never ceases to amaze me, the seasons ebb and flow in such a remarkable but dependable way.

And on the topic of seasons. I just booked our Christmas break. I know! This post is all about spring and blossom and daylight savings, and yet the seasons march on... I don't want to leave our festive season plans until the last minute again this year. Time and Christmas waits for no man.

I hope my premature Christmas talk doesn't scare you too much.

Kate  x

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The law of attraction

I'm not sure I buy into the idea that simply imagining your wants and desires will bring them to fruition in reality.

But weirdly, in a round about sort of way, I think I might have imagined us into this very village we now call home. Or, I might be clutching at straws.

Last year on my birthday, January 12th, Alex took me to dinner at Jamie's Italian and told me his boss wanted him to take on the task of expanding the UK office of the company, and how would I feel about moving to England for a few years. My gut reaction was 50% "I've been waiting my whole life to live in England" and 50% "No! I have just signed up to do my masters degree, moving will make completing it messy and difficult, and I want to just buy a cottage in the Southern Highlands and never have to move again. We've moved enough!"

So, for about a month I said an emphatic, No! But it niggled at me. I was saying no to something I had spent a long time wanting to experience, I just hadn't been brave enough to make happen under my own steam.

A couple of weeks later, sometime in late January, I mindlessly posted this image on my tumblr. Then promptly forgot about it. I had no idea what the image was of, where it might be capturing, or really that it was even somewhere I'd ever want to live. I just liked the image.

A gorgeous scene, isn't it?

I was scrolling through my tumblr archive the other week and I was stopped in my tracks when I saw this image. It is in fact the village we now live in. I recognised this view instantly. It is the view we get each and every time we drive into our village. 

Strange, huh?

Here is a photograph of the village, taken by me at golden hour a month or so ago. A different perspective, but equally gorgeous.

We are quite at home with village life. We love wandering along the street to our two local pubs, going for walks in the surrounding woodland, foraging spring greens from the roadsides and undergrowth, and photographing picture postcard perfect scenes, all the while pinching ourselves. 

The law of attraction at work, or just plain coincidence?
I guess that depends on who you ask.

Kate  x

Now, I wonder if that questionable dream I had the other night about me and the Harrison Ford lookalike on a submarine will become reality too? Not sure I'd actually cope very well on a submarine...

Friday, 28 April 2017

Snail snacks

The village and surrounding woodlands are well and truly blooming. We've had a recent cold snap (a tiny frost on the car one morning too), but the warmth of early April brought many flowers with it. I don't think we'll be lighting the fire anytime soon.

The roadsides are flagged by cow parsley and dandelions, the woodland is carpeted in wild garlic and bluebells, and our garden is brimming with gorse, blue and whitebells, and lily of the valley. A plump little red breasted robin sings most days from his perch in the hawthorn, and sparrows dart around our outdoor table eating the bread I put out for them.

There are tiny seedlings popping up, and the vines covering the front of our cottage are unfurling and beginning to bud. These are all signs of new, and as yet unidentified, life. Until they make themselves known, I was going to leave the lily of the valley flowering in the garden so that there would be some pretty things to look at when I pad outside, barefoot, with my cup of tea. In the end I snipped them and brought them inside to sit on my nightstand. A selfless act, actually, because they were being mercilessly munched by snails. I think it would have been an altogether bigger crop of lily of the valley had it not been for the snails. A lot of the new tender leaves were gobbled up and damaged beyond hope earlier in the season.

A small posy was all I got. Still, better me than the snails.

We are eagerly watching and waiting for the wisteria to bloom and cover the village in cascades of purple. It seems very slow to begin flowering here in the south west. London and the east seems to be awash with wisteria hysteria already. I know it will be worth the wait though.

Until then I'll enjoy my tiny posy of lily of the valley with a scent that defies its delicate size.

Kate  x

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Foraged woodland garlic

Before spring really got underway, I had been impatiently anticipating the appearance of woodland garlic, or ramsons. It is not something we have in Australia, but I had seen photos of beautiful and vast carpets of wild garlic in flower in woodland undergrowth. I couldn't wait to see, smell and pick it for myself. The day we moved into the cottage I could smell the subtle scent of garlic on the breeze. It wasn't hard to identify the fresh leaves of wild garlic shooting up from the sodden earth. I crouched down, plucked a leaf and crushed it between my fingers. It is unmistakeable. Our village is surrounded by it, in the woods, by the roadsides and on the banks of the brook. 

Although the leaves have been pushing up for well over a month now, the white flower heads are just beginning to open en masse. It won't be long before that woodland undergrowth is a sea of white.

Wild garlic is vibrant, lush and glossy, and such a welcome sight after the depths of winter. The most wonderful thing about wild garlic though, is that it is an abundant and delicious wild food, perfect for harvesting and using in everyday cooking. I am losing count of the ways I have been incorporating it in our meals. 

I've chopped the leaves up and stirred them through scrambled eggs. I've spiked mayonnaise with it for using in homemade sushi. We've used our food processor to turn pocketfuls of leaves into pesto. That pesto has served as a dip with crackers, has been spooned over jacket potatoes with sour cream, and been stirred through pea risotto. I am yet to have it on pizza or pasta, but I am sure it will happen soon enough. It is really very versatile. Imagination is the only limitation.

I am planning to make a few batches of pesto in the coming weeks. It freezes very well, and I'd like to have a supply of it to use in cooking come the autumn and next winter.

Wild Garlic Pesto

wild garlic leaves
toasted pine nuts
olive oil
parmesan cheese

Use a food processor to mix these ingredients in quantities to suit your taste and achieve your own desired consistency. Be sure that you are harvesting wild garlic though. The leaves are quite similar to those of lily of the valley- which is poisonous to humans.

Kate  x

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Blue eggs and bluebells

Spring is really making its presence felt now. Yesterday we had a top of twenty degrees. I managed to dry a load of washing outside in one afternoon. These 'little' things are still things to rejoice in. I can see the wild woodland garlic beginning to push up their flower heads. There is constant birdsong, even at 9pm. The bluebells have appeared, seemingly overnight. Magnolia trees are aburst. And one or two gangly heron sit next to the brook quite often, soaking up the afternoon sunshine.

Blue eggs seemed appropriate for the new season, and the beginning of all things Easter. I bought a half dozen of blue and a half dozen of white. The blue came in such a beautiful range of hues. Some much more green than blue, and others the perfect shade of 'duck egg blue'.

I know I should leave the bluebells in the garden for the bees. But they are such a wonderful sight for me, being my first English spring and all. I snipped a couple to put on my nightstand. In any case, over the weekend I sowed a box full of mixed 'blue garden' flower seeds for me the bees. I'm hoping for cornflowers and forget-me-nots to pop their heads up come summer time, but it is such a lucky-dip box of seeds, we'll have to wait and see.

Kate  x

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Thoughts on nesting

I am a nester through and through. There's no place I would rather be than at home, pottering, and fluffing my nest. So, after a little over five months of nomadic-like living since moving to England, I am bursting at the seams at the thought of finally moving into a little Cotswold cottage to call home for a while. There's still a week to go, but I can just about hear those keys jangling in the lock. For the months we've been waiting for this lease to start I've had a hard time suppressing a feeling of dread that something, for some reason, would prevent us moving in at the last moment...So far, touch wood, it all seems to be tied up and a 'sure thing'. Even typing out that thought seems like tempting fate.

I read a quote online the other day.

Everyone has,
I think,
In some quiet corner
Of his mind,
An ideal home waiting
To become reality.

-Paige Renee

For me, this cottage is that home. If I could draw to save myself, and someone had asked me to illustrate my ideal home upon moving to England, it would have looked a lot like this place. Almost identical. I might have dreamed it into existence. Right down to the farmhouse kitchen sink.

We didn't realise we would end up living so far west when we arrived, but we've fallen deeply in love with the West Country, the wide, green farmland of Wiltshire, the darling little villages of the Cotswolds that time seems to have forgotten. I am in a real-life rural idyll out here, like I've somehow stumbled into a life befitting Beatrix Potter (albeit a long way south of the Lake District). 

The village that fate has gifted us nestles into a small valley, a brook babbles past the cottages, and the whole settlement is surrounded by ancient beech woodland. There is no shop, no newsagent, or petrol station. Just two village pubs. Some people would baulk at not being able to pop around the corner for milk. Or be unnerved that there is no grocery store to do a thrice weekly shop at within five minutes of home.

I, on the other hand, am relishing the idea that I will have to live more thoughtfully. I will need to have a fully stocked larder, make use of my slow-cooker, bulk cook, and freeze emergency meals. I am hoping this makes me more mindful of the ebb and flow of the seasons, the beginning and the end of each day, to slow down and notice how the light is different from month to month. I will have to exist contentedly in a little village free from modern trappings. No neon lights, no billboards or advertisements of any kind. Not any street lamps (I must buy a torch asap), or even numbers on the houses for the postman. Just the village noticeboard outside the churchyard. 

I know as an Australian (even one raised by English parents, with centuries of British blood in me) I am probably guilty of romanticising the English countryside and village life. The thing is, the line between romance and reality is so thin in this part of the world, I almost doubt its existence. It is very possible to drive through a Cotswold village and be completely convinced you've accidentally stumbled across a film set. Every English cliche is right before you at one time or another; gentlemen in tweed suits, bunting flapping in the breeze, woodland brimming with the latest seasonal offering- snowdrops, wild garlic, bluebells.

My nesting heart is going to be so full and satisfied once we get those keys. It might be a while before I come up for air...

Kate  x

Thursday, 2 March 2017

St David's Day daffs

The first of March means we can now look towards the arrival of spring. 
Early daffodils are here, with their sunny disposition they stand determined, blooming and smiling in the frigid breeze.

Alex came home with ingredients for Shrove Tuesday pancakes last night, with two bunches of daffodils clasped in his hand. I've clearly trained him well.

Their trumpet-like blooms are bursting open and bringing lots of cheer with them. I put them on my new (to me) Edwardian oak plant stand, the first furniture purchase I have made for the cottage we move into next week.

This move can't come soon enough, until then, the daffs are keeping me occupied.

Kate  x

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Parrot tulips

Just when all of the spring flowers started to appear, the weather regressed back to its wintery ways.

These peachy, coral coloured parrot tulips have brought with them some spring cheer in between the gale force winds and the rain lashing down.

The winter revival can't last forever, St David's Day is almost upon us, and right on cue the daffodils are opening at a spring-like rate now.

It's so wonderful how the seasons unfold, time after time, bringing their own bounty with them.

Kate  x

Monday, 20 February 2017

From heat waves to snowdrops

I am back in the UK to very pleasant temperatures of around 11 degrees. That won't sound particularly pleasant to many people, but having just been plunged back into an unbearably hot Australian summer with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees for days on end, I am relishing the late winter/early spring days now that I am back in England.

What I am not relishing is the lingering jet lag. I just can't seem to shake it and get back to a sensible sleeping pattern. It didn't help that I landed at 6am on Friday after 24 hours of near-sleepless travel. I was full of good intentions to stay awake as much as possible and limit myself to a two hour nap...

Nine hours later, I woke at 8.20pm. Disaster. 

So on Saturday we devised a masterplan to get out in the cool, fresh air, admiring snowdrops as they come into their best. Crisp, clean, country air is a cure all. The snowdrops were a very pretty added bonus.

This is Cerney House Gardens in Gloucestershire. The woodland walk here is magical during snowdrop season. Great swaths of their pretty little blooms carpet the undergrowth, spilling down alongside muddy paths, and ring the bottom of ancient beech trees. 

I have great admiration for snowdrops. They defy the freezing overnight temperatures to be the first flower to bloom each year. The thick, sodden, decaying layer of autumn leaf and winter debris on the ground can't hold them back, they push through it all, heralding that spring is surely not too far away 

Just about every churchyard in England is visited by snowdrops at this time of the year. It makes for a lovely atmospheric and poignant scene. The Victorians associated snowdrops with death, owing to the way the little bell-shaped flowers bow their heads just above graves, appearing to mimic mourners in churchyards. 

England, once again, delights as it shifts through the seasons. I thought my first autumn here was beautiful and surely couldn't be beaten. I can't imagine what true spring has in store.

Kate  x

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Visiting home

 A little over two weeks ago we swapped the harsh January frosts for a visit back home to Australia (technically not a holiday as such, Alex had to come back for work and I tagged along- so a holiday for me, I guess). Alex flew off to go snowboarding in Japan on his way back to England, but I stayed down under to soak up some summer sunshine and walk barefoot outdoors as much as I possibly could. The vitamin D hit has been lovely, although the temperatures have been a little extreme at times- 40 degrees is just too much. Too stifling. Too scary. I shudder to think how much higher Australian record temperatures can reach...

Still, many days were conducive to being in the garden, and other people's gardens.

I fly back to England tomorrow. I am more than a little excited to get back. It's currently snowdrop season, and I can't wait to watch as the frosts give way to be replaced with more and more spring bulbs, new life, and new growth.

Kate  x

Friday, 10 February 2017

177 years ago

If you saw my collection of books on the subject of Queen Victoria, you would probably think- Kate, you really couldn't possibly need another book about Vic- and you might be right. But I just received a belated birthday gift, and guess what?

Julia Baird has written a really insightful, fascinating and easy to digest book about my favourite historical figure. I've been devouring it in recent days, and I just realised as I got to the chapters on Victoria's wedding and marriage to Prince Albert that today, February 10th, I am reading about these events on the 177th anniversary of their wedding. That is of course if my maths is correct...

The Anthropologist and History lover in me adores real life stories and facts much more than fiction, so here's some lovely little tid bits I've learnt.

Victoria was steadfast in her decision to leave the word "obey" in her wedding vows. Baird writes, 'It was not, for her, a call to subservience, but a reminder that she could not, or perhaps would not, dominate the man she married, as she did the rest of her household, her Cabinet, and her millions of subjects.'

The pattern for Victoria's wedding gown was promptly destroyed after the wedding so that it could never be copied. In attempt to boost the struggling lace industry, Victoria commissioned a large amount of hand-made Honiton lace.

Victoria's white gown popularised bridal white. She chose white mostly to show off the delicate lace detail of her gown. White was a rare and costly colour (bleaching had not yet been perfected) for brides. Her colour choice reflected her wealth, and was not a symbol of purity. 

So, cheers to Vicky and Bertie. 
And cheers to great books for holiday reading!

Kate  x