Tag Archives: garden

Thyme for action

Every since we moved in, Jerry and I have been chomping at the bit to get started in the garden. Unable to really tackle much inside the house by ourselves until the bigger works have been done, the jungle surrounding our flint and brick beauty seemed a good place to start, especially as we were beginning to lose the children amongst the foliage.  The first job – tackling knee high grass.  Typically, as soon as we started using the sit on mower we inherited, it proved to be beyond repair and so with 3.5 acres of grass to mow, it was time to bite a rather expensive bullet.  Jerry fell in love with a green and yellow number in two seconds flat when he heard the word ‘mulch’, having only just finished professing undying love for an old Massey Ferguson which belongs to a neighbour.  Honestly, he’ll be coveting their combine next, dear Reader!

First step, turning the paddocks back into….well….paddocks.  Our lovely farming neighbours helped out with that one since we didn’t have any clue as to how and when to bale.  It was a race against time to get it all topped, dried and then baled before the rains came and we were hugely grateful for all their help.  “Bale in June…silver spoon”.  With a rather long list of repair jobs to be done inside and out, we could do with it raining a bit of silver.  Answers on a postcard as to how long you’re supposed to wait until that happens, dear Reader…..

We bid a sad farewell to the giant 100 year old willow tree that was growing into the water course, burrowing under the house and blocking out all the light.  Never easy to make the decision to fell a beautiful tree but the damage it would continue to do if allowed would mean that our poor little house might not stay upright for very long.

Fret not dear Reader, we will be planting more trees elsewhere to honour its passing and the hundreds of logs we now have as a result will keep us warm and cosy for years to come, once seasoned.  All part of the countryside cycle.

Raspberries were found in the undergrowth and quickly gobbled up by Poppy and Primrose, alongside literally baskets full of gooseberries – traces of a long lost fruit cage.

Squirrels moved in shortly after this discovery and stripped all the apples, plums and one lonely pear from the elderly fruit trees.  I asked neighbours what to do about them, thinking they’d have some ancient country wisdom to impart such as burying hair at the base of each trunk which features in a battered countryside almanac I found in an old bookshop.  The resounding answer to dealing the squirrel issue?  An air rifle.  It seems that that may well be next on the list, dear Reader.

Then there was the small matter of a whole field of lavender just outside the back door.  At first glance, the mounds buried under large patches of grass looked altogether done in.  Cue, Margot’s new toy.  A shiny strimmer.  Well Jerry can’t have all the fun, dear Reader!  Two weeks of daily strimming later and the lavender finally started to look more like a lavender field again. I can’t tell you the joy of seeing it all turn varying hues of purple and blue.  I’d better not mention the fact that not a lot else got done in those two weeks….including all the work I was supposed to be doing.  Let’s not dwell on that too much, dear Reader, or the fact that I very nearly strimmed my legs off at several points as the soporific heady scent in the midday sun reduced me to what I am now calling ‘strimmer’s coma’.  I did however perfect a new summer look…..farmer’s arms.  It’s all about the swings and roundabouts, isn’t it, dear Reader?

So with the lavender now well on its way to becoming a slice of Provence in Hampshire, we’ve taken to picnicking in the rows at tea time.  Heavenly hours spent in the sunshine with bees buzzing and butterflies wafting around us.  I am trying not to think about the harvest, dear Reader.  It would be fair to say that so far lavender bags will be featuring heavily under the Christmas tree this year.

A timely day out from the slog of the garden work at the launch of the Hampshire Food Festival with Hampshire Fare saw Jerry and I green with envy at the marvellous kitchen garden at Chewton Glen.

With a month of events to enjoy, producers and suppliers to go and visit and tours of vineyards, breweries orchards and farms on the menu, make sure if you’re in Hampshire that you get out and about to enjoy our county’s fabulous bounty.  With canapés with Masterchef’s Jane Devonshire and Juanita Hennessey on offer as well as Gin masterclasses at Berry Bros & Rudd or four courses in a Riverside Yurt, there’s something for everyone.  Still to come and top of my list?

Vineyards of Hampshire 5th Annual Wine Festival

Pop up Picture House with Rick Stein

Cherry Orchard Tours and Cherry Market at Blackmoor Estate

‘Sausage and Mash’ at  Parsonage Farm Charcuterie  and  

Hampshire Summer Fizz at Gilbert White

With the last two weeks of the Festival left, get your diary out and book away, dear Reader!

Inspired by Chewton Glen’s marvellous veg patch, I now have even grander plans for our own.  I seem to have spent half my life recently trawling through Pinterest thinking of ways to create a pretty allotment patch for our new smallholding life!  You can imagine Jerry rolling his eyes already, can’t you dear Reader? Grand schemes afoot, the hens are doing a sterling job of preparing the land for us already.   Scratching up moss and laying the foundations of good soil with their manure.  I would like to say that we’ll be digging the soil pretty soon, ready for planting up with some autumn and winter vegetable seedlings but Jerry tells me that this is wishful thinking.  To be honest, getting the earth moving will be a much needed distraction in the next month as the scaffolding goes up and roof repair work begins.  Jerry and I won’t have any hair or nails left at this rate.  The last few days of monsoon weather have had us reaching for the buckets and umbrellas inside again.

To keep up with our five-a-day habit in the meantime, a lovely local supplier Brimfields have been impressing us with stunning veg boxes full to bursting with deliciously fresh fruit and vegetables. Such a plentiful box for £12 had me whooping with delight when Ross from Brimfields delivered it to our front door for the first time – seasonal, fresh, local and the perfect amount for the week without the need to top up as I’ve often found with veg box schemes in the past.  I’m not sure Ross was quite as delighted to encounter a Margot with no makeup and a towel on my head having just stepped out of the shower though!

Brimfields deliver in and around Winchester but if you’re not on their delivery route, then pop down to their Veg Shed in Kings Worthy, at the King Charles pub just off Lovedon Lane, to stock up.

They are open two days a week – Wednesdays from 08:30 until 12:30pm and Fridays from the same times.  There you’ll find fresh local free-range eggs, fresh bread as well as lots of lovely local produce like Hill Farm Apple Juice and The Tomato Company passata, ketchup, chutney, relish and juice, alongside local jam, honey and cakes.  Well worth a visit.

Summer holidays in full swing, I shall have Poppy and Primrose joining the ground force team at HQ – that’s if I can tear them away from their latest den building expedition.  It looks like I shall have to bribe them with a few more of these if I’m ever going to get them to help me pick the lavender, dear Reader.

As for my motivation?  I’m already plotting something altogether more Margot, dear Reader….. Anyone for lavender gin?

Peeking into the Secret Garden

Rock & Roam Launch Dinner (76 of 280)

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

Indulge me for a moment, dear Reader.  Picture a beautiful sunset falling into the water at the end of the jetty, wild ponies grazing in the distance, a winding pathway lit with candles and lanterns.  We are met by a lady who hands us a small key.  A key that will lead us into the Secret Garden.

Jerry and I have had some wonderful invitations to events in the past but when Emma Forsyth of Rock & Roam, a new style social club for New Forest residents and weekenders, invited us to her launch party at Gins Barn, near Beaulieu (one of New Forest Escapes’ luxury lets) I jumped at the chance to attend.

A Secret Garden supper crafted by Emma’s team and the fair hands of critically acclaimed London chefs and designers, Edible Stories – just the sound of it was enough to take me back to reading Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic for the first time as a little girl.

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

What a garden it was too, dear Reader.  With such a stunning venue styled with flowers tumbling from the rafters, branches and leaves strewn across tables, candlelight, superb theatre created with sumptuous course after course and even a singing canary in the corner too, the story of little Mary Lennox and the magic of the Secret Garden unfolded.

Secret garden4

From Mary’s days of the Raj with a taste of India served in tiffins, followed by a Bitter Mary to depict orphan Mary, sour and rude, leaving her home to come to England….

Secret garden5

to the loneliness Mary experiences at Lord Craven’s Misselthwaite Manor where she meets a robin, as she explores the grounds, who will lead her to an overgrown doorway

Secret garden3

to reveal the untouched beauty of the deserted garden behind the walls as Mary turns the key

Secret garden2

and the final joy of making the garden bloom with her own hands, bringing her uncle and cousin together again.

Rock & Roam Launch Dinner (47 of 280)

Image courtesy of Rock & Roam

I’m still hoping that every supper I go to is as beautiful as this was.  Judging by the oohs and aahs in the room coming from Emma’s other guests, I imagine that I am not the only one!  Truly a magical evening – a feast for all the senses.  Wonder if the team from Edible Stories would like to set up camp in my kitchen, dear Reader?

Secret garden 6

Rock & Roam’s aim is to host pop up events, tastings and experiences that are imaginative, informative, fun and unique so that members and their guests can enjoy the best of New Forest with like-minded locals.  From beekeeping to field photography, gin masterclasses or wild sea swimming, Emma works with a varied team of specialists to put together a calendar full of workshops throughout the year too.  To be honest, dear Reader, if Rock & Roam’s Secret Garden launch supper is anything to go by, then the club’s members are in for a real treat.  This is one for the black book list of Margot loves.

Secret garden 7



Walk on the wild side


Could this be Cock Robin?

Wildlife is not usually something that I boast about in our suburban garden but this week we seem to have taken a leaf out of Lou Reed’s songbook.  Foxes scampering along the back wall, sightings of squirrels and then something which has had the girls and I glued to the window for days now.  On a grey and dismal January day, Primrose, Poppy and I whooped with delight at the darting flashes of crimson which we spied as we consumed our porridgey breakfast at the kitchen table.  A sweet little pair of robins seem to be building a nest in Jerry’s shed.  When I say ‘shed’, it could more accurately be described as a garden cupboard – far too close to the house, has to be opened by jimmying a booted foot towards the sky and has a dodgy door with panels which fall forward suddenly and forcefully, giving a mild concussion if one is not wise to their evil plan.  One might say that it was a perfect nesting place for our red breasted lovebirds, not least because Jerry uses it but once a year when he makes us all clear the garden ready for firing up his barbecue.  Something which he hasn’t done in at least 2 years I might add.  However, dear Reader, I am sure you can imagine that Jerry was none to pleased to hear about our feathered friends’ choice of shelter.  The phrase “It’s my shed.  They should find their own”, was used and comparisons were drawn with recent evictions at Dale Farm.  To be honest (and I must confess to never having shown much interest in birds other than as food) the whole thing has been rather fascinating.  Primrose has taken to sketching them and Poppy, SW London’s mini Dr Doolittle, stands by the window, talking away and the dear little birds seem to obligingly tweet back.  I wonder if she has let them know that her father would rather that they moved on?..  We now have a makeshift hide (Primrose has erected a mini tent by the door) for ‘RobinWatch’ and we observe as both Mr and Mrs R take turns sitting on the back door handle, chirping away and showing us their nesting materials!  After rather a hot debate with both Jerry and my dear Mamma, I delved into some research on how to identify male from female.  I was ‘surprised’ (and smug as I was almost entirely sure I was right in the first place!) to find out that both Mr and Mrs have a vibrant red breast and according to the RSPB, are almost identical.  There was some talk of V shaped breasts for females and U shapes for males but I gave up in the end as the website kept churning out irritating birdcalls.  Ooh with all the birdwatching shenanigans, dear Reader, I felt like Michaela Strachan poised to turn to camera and utter commentary in a hushed whisper as Primrose, Poppy and I waited for the daily to-ing and fro-ing from the shed to begin every morning.  I half imagined our little cottage garden appearing on ‘SpringWatch’ with Chris Packham’s lispy banter in the background and me in the foreground, sporting my best kaftan……..”and now we turn to a little corner of SW London where Margot, our rather glamourous naturalist, awaits ready to talk us through the daily habits of a pair of robins nesting in her outdoor cupboard, sometimes known as a shed”….  (Dear Reader, as I wrote naturalist, I had to just double check that I wasn’t accidentally misrepresenting myself as one of those nudist fellows.  Apparently, they go by the name of ‘naturists’.  Very confusing.  One can see how an unsuspecting birdwatcher might become entangled in a rather embarrassing scandal if they got that one wrong on the way to a nature reserve).

Primrose's observational drawing - rather good I think!

Primrose’s observational drawing – rather good I think!

Bitten by the birdwatching bug, I took Primrose and Poppy on a little jaunt to the London Wetlands Centre.  A Twitchers’ haven – I am reliably informed.  This was quickly evidenced by sightings of several anorak types with binoculars, consulting notebooks and wearing those stomping Gore-tex boots.  Far too much breathable fabric for my liking.  The river and reedbeds did not disappoint, however.  I cannot think of the last time I experienced such tranquility outside of the countryside.  Not one single distinguishable sound could be detected that would give away the hubbub of daily grind in the Big Smoke from the other side of the river bank.  Primrose, Poppy and I sat in a hide, mesmerised and rendered silent.  A rarity for all three of us I can assure you, dear Reader.  Kenneth Grahame’s  The Wind in the Willows came to mind and I was overcome with the memory of many meandering river walks that were the reason Jerry and I moved to this little corner of suburbia in the first place some 6 years ago.

“By the side of the river he trotted as one trots, when very small, by the side of a man who holds one spell-bound by exciting stories; and when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.” (The Wind in the Willows, Chp 1 by Kenneth Grahame)

Those birds must be in heaven!

A tiny slice of quiet in a corner of SW London – who would have thought it?

Primrose ended the silence first with “You promised me a hot chocolate, Mummy”, which of course I had (Primrose is never wrong.  Wonder where she gets that from?), so off we trotted.  Mole and Ratty were not to be found bobbing along the bank but we did manage to catch a glimpse of a family of otters who have a permanent ‘holt’ at the Wetlands Centre.

Messing about on the river...

Messing about on the river…

On the way home, Primrose and I speculated about creatures we might encounter in our new country garden.  Primrose is desperate to meet her first ‘hedgepig’ and I have never seen a badger.  Poppy delights in all manner of wildlife from a ‘squiggle’ to a ‘tweet’ and will, no doubt, find some way of communing with anything that lives at the bottom of the garden!  For now though, we must all be content with watching the robins and their resplendent vermillion.  Hating to disappoint my darling girls, I simply couldn’t resist creating a spiky friend for Primrose and Poppy at suppertime.  Do not worry dear Reader, I do know how to identify a real hedgehog but everyone knows that the only hedgehogs around these parts look like this!


Mango anyone?

Home Grown Ham

Delicious garden edibles on offer

Don’t worry dear readers, I haven’t gone completely mad and bought myself a pig.  Although, if I am completely honest that really would be one of my top ten ‘must-haves’ on my journey towards becoming a country bumpkin.  I have always harboured a soft spot for the perfect little Ginger pig, a Tamworth.  One which is wonderfully well behaved, devoid of mud, doesn’t require mucking out and could be decked out in Cath Kidston of course….  Sadly no pigs matching this description were found on my jaunts this week.  No, the ‘Ham’ to which I am referring is the rather large and elegant Ham House.

The perfect backdrop for indulging in some tasting

Having been members of the National Trust for years and only used the membership a handful of times, Jerry and I decided to get out and enjoy the autumn sunshine with a trip to one of our nearest NT gems.  We stumbled upon a wonderful event hosted by Ham House this weekend.  Nestled in the stunning and rather enviable 17th century kitchen garden, ‘Home Grown at Ham’ brought together lovers of fruit, vegetables, plants and artisan products.  I was determined to learn something about growing my own fruit and veg but in reality, I was seriously sidetracked by the glorious garden, tasted a lot of cheese (we found a favourite in Sussex Slipcote), sampled some ‘Hammy’ goodies from the Giggly Pig and had a chat with a very nice lady from Ruben’s Bakehouse about the demise of the cottage loaf.  Why has the shape of this loaf fallen out of favour?  Maybe I should attempt to bring it back if I can ever get the hang of breadmaking?!  Last breadmaking attempt resulted in the need for a tooth to be crowned!

Thank you Ruben’s Bakehouse!

Primrose even delighted in the largely forgotten arts of apple bobbing and posy making as well as testing out her food knowledge with a trip on the Slow Food Kids’ Taste adventure.

Apart from all the eating…..I found out some interesting uses for aloe vera jelly.  Did you know that you can use it for treating burns?  Definitely something for the kitchen clumsiness.  The number of times I have burnt my fingers on the oven, I might as well get my own patch of aloe plants!  Inspiration did come in the form of some tempting recipes from the cooking demonstrations and I admired the manicured patch of lawn recreated in the image of the floor of the Great Hall and cut each year using scissors!  This has to be my absolute favourite of the day though so hats off to Quack’s Pickles – you have compelled me to have a go at making my own specimens!

Jerry, what do you mean we can’t afford a house like this?