The following is an article written by my wife Corinne…
A garden is never complete without herbs. Not only are they attractive but they also provide us with the joy and satisfaction of bringing deep flavours to home-made meals.
I regard an herb garden as a wonderful source of inspiration. There I can dream: Moroccan mint tea for breakfast; steamed potatoes with butter and parsley for lunch; thyme and rosemary to accompany a hearty stew, and lemon balm or verbena as a soothing bed-time tea. My imagination runs wild.
Lavenders take me to my birth-place in Southern France in a haze of deep intense blues under the sun. Aromatic thyme and sultry sage reminds me of the parched rocky banks of Crete, whilst the enchanting fragrance of the jasmine climbing on the wall of my patio transports me to mystical India!
The choice is yours how you may want to design your herb patch: a cluster of terracotta pots will enliven any empty corner very nicely, bringing the sunny Mediterranean or Mogul feel so sought after. Alternatively, you might choose to plant your herbs in formal neat rows or patterned designs.
My Grandfather who lived in Bordeaux, in France, used to grow a large row of emerald-green curly parsley in his well-tended garden, to supply us with this vital ingredient to French cuisine. Rich in iron and vitamin C, it would bring a distinctive flavour and texture to the simplest of dishes, from starters and soups to salads seasoned with olive oil, garlic and mustard, accompanied with fresh crusty bread and cheese.
And those who enjoy eating garlic might like to know that parsley is well-known for refreshing the breath!
The sky is the limit where your passion of herbs takes you. Growing more domesticated herbs on the window-sill will bring a multitude of cooking options: basil for salads, pasta and tomato dishes and coriander for curry and dhal, without forgetting always to keep fresh garlic and ginger at hand!
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The plum tree has never won any beauty competitions. On the edge of the estate grows one such, its ungainly and neglected branches reaching skywards. The fruit are still not ripe except for a few to be seen at the top of the tree, plump and deep maroon, but tantalizingly too high to reach even with the ladders.
In the orchard the plum and gage trees are pruned to a more sensible size. Silver leaf disease is the risk of pruning any hard-stoned fruit under damp conditions but on a sunny day like this one feels able to prune with impunity. As ever, any branches growing inwards to the centre or crossing one another are cut out and the remaining branches are reduced in height so that the fruit can be reached by step-ladder. Inevitably the pruning involves removing some of the fruit but this is no bad thing since the trees are cropping so well.
Wasps have been few and far between this summer but they have suddenly emerged from nowhere and started burrowing into the first-fruits. Wasp traps are available but there is such a large harvest this year that sharing a certain percentage seems fair enough.
In the hedgerows the blackberries are beginning to ripen up but the dry summer has left them small and barely worth picking. In the corner of a field though, not too far from here, grows a bush that must be fed by an underground spring and facing south it catches the sun all day long. The berries are ripe and oozing with taste and goodness. The whereabouts though is a treasured and sacred secret.
Heavy rain is forecast and when a few drops fall on my head I grab my radio and pullover and scarper for the potting sheds only to emerge sheepishly five minutes later. The rain clouds have gone their way without releasing their bounty and sunshine has returned to warm the day. Later that night torrential rains beat against the window as we sleep.
A gravel pathway one yard in width runs between two borders flanked by Hidcote lavender bushes that flop merrily over to meet in the middle. Every butterfly and bumblebee for miles around seems drawn to these lavenders and to walk through the middle is to cause a veritable cloud of wings to rise in the air. There is no such thing as a common butterfly, for each one is a unique miracle in design. Amongst them though I spotted one not often seen here that rested briefly, long enough for me to marvel at but not long enough alas to capture on film. A hasty flurry through my butterfly book has me reckoning that a Holly Blue has visited our garden this afternoon.
There is trouble brewing in the village. At a parish council meeting some time ago it was decided to invest some funds into restoring the church tower so that the bells would be safe to ring, partly because bell-ringing is a noble tradition but mostly because the neighbouring village of ‘D’ doesn’t have bells and any chance to get one over them is not to be overlooked.
The work has been done and now the bells ring out triumphantly but not everyone is impressed. Some of the retired folk whose delight is to lounge unashamedly in their gardens are rather perturbed at being woken up every fifteen minutes by the peel of bells. It seems that for these elderly residents the inevitable passage of time is something they would prefer to ignore rather than be reminded of.
Worse still, it turns out that up and down the country there are teams of bell-ringers whose aim is to ring out the bells in towns and villages in an alphabetical order. But for many of these teams the stumbling block has been finding a village church endowed with bells starting with the letter ‘Z’. That is where we come in since we meet both requirements. Apparently our village has been posted on all the campanology internet forums as the place to go and teams are queuing up to throw themselves at the ropes and ring out the peals or whatever. An emergency parish meeting has been convened and militancy has not been ruled out…
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