In terms of flowers per square inch nothing beat the Leatherwood (Eucryphia). When they are in full flower they are stunning, with their pure white flowers standing out against the dark green leaves. If the weather is hot the flowers will turn brown quickly but in a cool, overcast August like this one, they will survive for a good fortnight. The flowers always seem to be covered in wasps but, strangely, never bees. The best variety is Eucryphia x nymanensis, of which we, greedily, have four in this garden. Two are in the shade and they tend to burst into flower a week or two after the others and keep their flowers for longer.
Jack Gott, the Dahlia guru, who so generously named his stunning new “petite” Dahlia after his colleague’s baby daughter (see yesterday’s posting) has developed another stunner, pictured here. We have named it “Yewbarrow Black”. Black is the Holy Grail for plant breeders, because a true black is difficult to achieve. Most “blacks” are in fact deep purples or reds. This Dahlia is exceptionally dark. The most popular dark-leafed Dahlia is the Bishop of Llandaff, which we grow here, together with other dark-leafed varieties.
This photo is of a new kind of Dahlia, one you don’t see very often, but one which is going to become very popular, I’d guess. There are several names for it – petite; dwarf; patio; container and I’m sure that in due course one of these will become the norm. The Dahlia in the photo is very rare indeed; it is a new variety, only just registered with the RHS at Wisley and has been given the name Lilianna W.
This shocking photo shows the awful state of the box hedging in our kitchen garden. We only put it in ten years ago and very handsome it looked too, but now it has succumbed to box blight and we are in the middle of the heart breaking and back breaking job of digging it all out. Of the several hundred plants only about three dozen are unaffected, and these we have potted up in the hope we can save them. Box blight is said to be incurable, but I was given a ray of hope today in a chance conversation with Margaret Robinson of The Mammoth Onion.
The Italian Restaurateur Antonio Carluccio ia campaigning to have “mediterranean cuisine” given World Heritage status by UNESCO. Good luck to him. In doing so he argues that a love of food is part of the Italian soul whereas the English don’t care a fig about food and never have done. In throwing scorn on the English he trots out the old saw that when Elizabeth David published her book “Italian Food” in 1954 you could only get olive oil in England by going to the chemist, where it was sold as a treatment for ear-ache.
The Rice Paper Plant (Tetrapanax Papyrifer Rex) is one of the best looking plants in my garden, with its massive pinnate leaves. I first saw it at Crug Farm, near Anglesea and bought one immediately. I was warned that it was tender, so I planted it in a sheltered corner below the house, where it has thrived ever since and has grown into a small tree. Encouraged by this success I planted several more, risking them in more exposed positions, but this was a mistake as the winters of the the last two years have seen them off.
I first grew Tree Spinach (Cenopodium Giganteum) because I was attracted by the description in the Chiltern Seeds catalogue- “a vigorous plant with smooth stems striped red and green producing leaves of a brilliant magenta colour- height 6-8ft”. Definitely a “must-have” plant and it didn’t disappoint. It is dead easy to grow from seed and you will only have to buy one packet in your lifetime as it is the most prolific self-seeder. The plant in the photo is growing in a border fully 50 yards from any of the others and has already reached 7 feet in height.
In 1840, when Grange was a mere village, the postal service was charmingly organised, as this description from The North Lonsdale Magazine shows:
“The postman was an old man who walked over from Lindale carrying the letters in the crown of his capacious hat. We frequently lay in wait for him but on asking him if there were any letters for us he always replied: Naay, naay, ladies oi can’t tell, yo mun e’en choose for yourselbes”, off came his hat and we searched for our letters in this unique mailbag, much to the relief of the poor postman, whose inability to read or write absolved him, he felt, from any responsibility as to the sorting and delivering of the letters to their proper recipients.”
Although I have no interest in maths I was enthralled by Alex Bellos’ book “Alex’s Adventures in Numberland”. In fact I couldn’t put it down and read all 410 pages in one weekend. I was telling Glen Isaac-Welcome how the abacus can be faster than a calculator and it turned out that this wasn’t news to him as he too has become fascinated by the abacus. Glen’s job is teaching children who have been excluded from school, many of whom don’t even have basic learning skills, and he had the idea of teaching them to do maths by using an abacus.
As we were coming out of the Chinese restaurant in Grange a car pulled up, the driver put his head out of the window and spoke to Glen, very politely- “I hope you don’t mind me asking but didn’t I see you on Channel 4- “How The Other Half Live”?”. Glen and I, Sara and Dominique still find ourselves being stopped by strangers almost every day, even though it is three months since the programme went out.
It was a brilliant move by Simon Rogan to take over the lease of Howbarrow Farm in Cartmel and secure control of the supply of organic produce to L’Enclume. Raymond Blanc has a kitchen garden at Le Manoir, which supplies his restaurant. He is forever on TV seen plucking a baby carrot from the ground and gazing at it with intense Gallic admiration.
Our garden backs onto Yewbarrow Wood, which covers 60 acres. Red squirrels used to live there; the previous owner of our house was so proud of the fact that there is a picture of a red squirrel on the entrance sign to the house. Alas, that sign is the only trace of red squirrels here now as they have long since been replaced by the greys. Does it matter?
Our tree ferns sit under a canopy of yews, which give them protection, much as the eucalyptus trees would protect tree ferns in their native New Zealand. We never wrap them in winter because the fronds look good all winter long and it would be a shame to make them ugly with wrapping, especially as they are close to the house and we see them every day. Last winter, for the first time, the fronds were hit by the frost and snow and turned brown long before any new fronds emerged. Some of the tree ferns were so battered that they didn’t get round to producing any new fronds until mid-July. It’s a good lesson never to give up on a plant.
We gave these Yuccas a protective covering of polythene last winter, which probably saved them by keeping them dry, rather than from keeping off the cold, as their biggest enemy is the wet. Their beauty come from their lovely stems and I think they look well as centre-pieces in the gravel garden. In the past their spot has been taken by the Cycads, which became very bedraggled after a few winters in the cold and damp and by the purple Ensette murilliis, which have to be brought in for the winter.
These are the flowers of the Pineapple Guava (Acca sellowiana or Feijoa) as pretty as anything you’ll find in the garden. They grow on a small evergreen tree which has lovely gaucous green leaves. In its native Brazil it will reach 25ft, but will struggle to get above one third of that height here. The flowers are edible and are quite tasty, so they are brilliant at decorating a salad. In its native habitat the Pineapple Guava produces fruit which look like an elongated lime, although my specimen, which flowers very freely, has never produced any fruit. I’m told that if you keep it in a container, with the roots restricted, it has a better chance of fruiting. In spite of its exotic appearance it does seem to be hardy.
It seems that everywhere you turn just now there’s some-one promoting the Slow Life. Today its the turn of Alastair Sawday, who has published a new book called “Eat Slow Britain”. It’s the author’s personal selection of producers, pubs and restaurants which adhere to Slow Food principles. I picked up a copy at the Lunesdale Arms which is one of only a handful of places which the author has chosen in our neck of the woods.
The Perrier Awards are now called the Fosters Awards, after the makers of the Australian brand of non-beer, who have taken over from the French brand of non-water. Fosters have announced a new award which will be open to a public vote, for the best ever Edinburgh Festival comedy act. The eligible acts are any who have been short-listed for a Best Award or Best Newcomer award. Ross Noble was among those tipped to win and this prospect so enraged comedian Stewart Lee that in response to a press release from Fosters he wrote: “
Christopher Lloyd admired the splendid tall red stems of the Lobelia Tupa. But he regretted that because the winters were so cold at Great Dixter, which is 7 miles from the Sussex coast, he couldn’t grow them there. This has always been a source of satisfaction to me, because they thrive in Grange. After last winter’s extreme cold I was convinced they would be gonners, but to my great relief they have emerged as strongly as before, splendidly exotic; just as Christopher Lloyd would have liked them.
In all the time I’ve been raising pigs I’ve never had any great success with bacon. So when Jasper Ackroyd, who makes a living from curing bacon, offered to come to the Damson Dene Hotel to give a master class to my chefs, I couldn’t have been more chuffed. I provided him with the carcase of a Saddleback pig, split into two, including the head and the tail.
Jasper Ackroyd doesn’t just dream of the Slow Life- he lives it. His home is a Yurt on an organic farm in Wiltshire. He lives “off the grid”, relying on a gas-fired generator and solar panels for electricity, but the generator will soon be replaced by a wind turbine. He eats vegetables grown on the farm and drinks unpasteurised milk straight from the cow. He rises with the birds and goes to sleep with the birds, so that in winter he lives in what he calls a state of semi-hibernation.
Margaret picked 26 lbs of plums today from one tree. The crop this year has been better than ever, not just of plums, but of most fruit. Why is this? My guess is that it is the combination of these circumstances: 1. A hard preceding winter, which allows the tree to be dormant and kills off pests and diseases 2. Mild conditions during blossom time, so that the blossom isn’t damaged by frost 3. Abundant summer rainfall, so that the fruit can swell and the tree isn’t put under stress by drought. There’s a drawback to the summer rain, in that we have lost a lot of fruit to mould, but overall the conditions have been good, even though there hasn’t been much sun.
This Passion Flower climbs up the stone wall of the gazebo in the gravel garden. It was cut right back by the exceptional frosts of last winter and I didn’t expect to see it again. The flowers are so exotic that it seemed just plain daft to expect it to survive several weeks of sub-zero temperatures. The plant showed no sign of life until June this year and then, just like the Aloe (see July 6th), it sprang into life and is now in full flower. Even more remarkably a nearby Protea, which is supposed to be a glasshouse plant, has also sprung into life.
“Cold! If the thermometer had been an inch longer we’d all have frozen to death” (Mark Twain) It felt like that last winter in our garden, with night after night at minus 10 C. Dahlias aren’t supposed to survive cold like that. Although we lift the dahlias in our display beds we leave the dahlias in the borders in the ground over the winter.
Here is a story which I found profoundly shocking. 30 years ago Alan ‘Tutty’ Brough bought some Shetland ponies for his four daughters. When his daughters outgrew them he released the ponies onto Caldbeck common where they thrived, bred and multiplied and their numbers grew to 102.
Raspberries are very good at concealing themselves behind leaves, which is why raspberry picking is best done en famille so that there are pickers of differing heights who can spot the berries from every angle. This year the crop would have been excellent if the weather hadn’t become so wet just as they started to ripen, sand we have lost at least a third of the crop because of mould. We have used most of the raspberries in summer puddings this year, and there isn’t much left over for making jam, but this doesn’t really matter as we made 265 jars last year and there’s still plenty left.
The idea of Slow Life is to take the principles of Slow Food, which are “good, clean and fair”, and extend them to life in general.
Here in the Lake District, the air is clean, the pace is slow and the atmosphere is calm. If we don’t grow food ourselves, we can buy it in friendly small shops, where you know the quality is going to be the best.
This blog is a celebration of the Slow Life, with forays into the world of design, music, the arts, gardens, and my particular weakness, Japan.