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I wish I could bottle the fragrance of my garden in Hertfordshire, South East England. When I open the windows, front or back doors the perfume of lavender and roses wafts through the air. I have introduced biodiversity into the garden which bees, butterflies and hoverflies visit.
Unfortunately slugs and snails also inhabit my garden. I garden veganically and combat their attacks on the vegetable patches by encouraging wildlife – flat stones on which thrushes can smash the shells of snails and a garden pond – an old bathtub sunk into the ground – where frogs breed and a bird table to attract blue tits and other birds that relish pests.
My garden is generous. I have three compost bins, the contents of which enrich the soil that produces and abundance of fruit, herbs and vegetables.
Yesterday, while I harvested blackberries I thought about kitchen gardens in times past and tossed ideas about a historical novel in which a garden is central. My heroine would be responsible for the kitchen garden with its seeds, fruit, vegetables, roots, pot herbs and medicinal herbs.
According to A Little History of British Gardening by Jenny Uglow my heroine would keep a Receipt Book in which, amongst other things, she would note the best times for sowing and transplanting herbs and vegetables. According to Elinor Fettiplace of Oxfordshire in the sixteenth century “in midsummer at the waning of the moon, one should sow ‘all manner of potherbs, and they willbee greene for winter; also Lettice seeds sown at this time and removed when they bee of a prettie bignes at the full willbee good and hard Lettice at Michaelmas’.” So far, I have not sown according to the waxing and waning of the moon but I have read modern advocates of doing so. One day I might not be able to resist trying this although I’d hate the neighbours to think I am some sort of modern day witch.
According to Jenny Uglow in Chapter Nine titled Wife into thy Garden, “Grandmothers and mothers handed on country skills…many women kept their own household books, filling the creamy pages over the years with recipes, details of cures and tip’s for the garden. An elegant version, purporting to be Henrietta Maria’s own (hardly likely) household book of secrets, was published as The Queen’s Closet Opened in 1655. Recently, I have been considering keeping a modern day Receipt Book. I would record the successes and failures in my garden and note recipes and the use to which I put herbs. For example, yesterday evening I was hungry and tired. I needed a quick meal before I popped round the corner to baby sit my daughter’s young sons. So I put some organic brown spaghetti into a saucepan of boiling water. While it cooked I liquidized fresh basil, parsley, marjoram and time with pine nuts, parmesan cheese, pepper and olive oil. When the pasta was ready I drained it and stirred in the sauce. A delicious meal that took me ten minutes from start to finish.
The herbs from my garden add taste and subtlety to most dishes and it gives me great pleasure to view them in their terracotta pots from my office window.
From the window I can see the path that divides the garden enclosed by a mixture of native English hedging and conifers which filter the wind. At the end of the path is bird bath which, as well as the bird table, attracts a large variety of my feathered friends, including fat wood pigeons that peck at the leaves of my cabbages, cauliflowers and broccoli.
Despite the woodpigeons that are so fat that their chests wobble as the strut down the path or flutter onto the roof of the garden shed my cauliflowers are nearly ready to crop. As well as the cauliflowers I have enjoyed an abundance of different varieties of crisp lettuce, spinach and courgettes. My greenhouse is full of green tomatoes and the outdoor ones are doing well and so are the carrots, beetroot, brussel sprouts, carrots, greenhouse cumbers, French beans, leeks, mizuna and radishes.
The other day I wrote a shopping list and added fruit and vegetables to it. I shook my head and wondered why on earth I needed to buy any vegetables other than green peppers, which did not thrive this year, and tomatoes. As for fruit, there’s plenty of soft fruit in the garden and neighbouring hedgerows. There are two large bags of homegrown gooseberries in the freezer waiting to be made into gooseberry chutney, fruit fool, jam, and a pie. There are five pounds of succulent blackberries in the fridge with which, over the next two days, I shall make pickled blackberries – delicious with cheese and crusty bread – blackberry and apple jam and blackberry and apple chutney. Later in the month I will pick more blackberries and make blackberry cordial, blackberry and apple pies and fruit crumbles.
As a vegetarian my garden is very important. For the first time I am growing Chinese greens such as mizuna for stir fries and intend to increase the quantity of produce through the use of raised beds.
Why, you may ask, in this day and age do I grow my own? Well, if you’re not a vegetable gardener or if you don’t have a garden try growing a pot or two of cherry tomatoes in pots – you’ll be delighted by the superior taste. And you could also grown herbs from seed which is uncontaminated by chemicals. Today as it did in times past their fragrance delights the senses, they enhance our food – try crusty bread drizzled with olive oil with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and fresh basil – and contribute to health. Black peppermint tea tastes delicious and soothes the stomach.
By this time next year I hope to add a peach tree in a sheltered corner to my mini orchard, a cooking apple tree, three eating apple trees, two plum trees, two pear trees and a cherry tree. And I hope to add black currants, blue berries and more strawberry plants to my soft fruits – redcurrants from which I make redcurrant jelly – delicious on creamy rice pudding, on ice cream or plain yoghurt as well as in a sandwich – strawberries and gooseberries.
Today, with so many modern tools and aids gardening is much easier than it was for the heroine I think about while tending my garden. However, I am certain that both of us say Grace in thanksgiving for the bounty we receive, rejoice in our successes and mourn our failures and take equal pleasure in our gardens. To reinforce this I only have to walk along the path to the front door which is edged with fuchsias and geraniums in terracotta pots and look at the cottage garden behind them full of lavender, lupins, foxgloves, Californian poppies, nasturtiums, dainty cranesbill geranims and many other delights according to season,
Tangled Hearts set in Queen Anne’s England – 1702 -1714 available now.
A Writer’s Plans for a Summer Day
Two of my interests in life are writing fiction and gardening. These activities complement each other. For the first I need a fertile imagination, for the second fertile soil suitable for the requirements of various plants. Sometimes I think that I would be happy if I had nothing more to do than write and garden.
So far, this morning has been typical of an early summer day. Here in Hertfordshire, England the sun is shining but the air is cool. As soon as I woke up I hurried downstairs and started the dishwasher and washing machine to take advantage of cheap rate electricity called Economy 7. I then unearthed the ice cream maker from a kitchen cupboard and put the bowl in the freezer so that I can make mango ice cream later on. Next I turned on the sprinkler to give one of the vegetable patches a good watering.
For the first time in many years I have not grown runner beans. The bees have suffered a disease which has reduced their numbers so the flowers were not pollinated. Instead, I’m growing French Beans. The butternut squash is slow to take off but the beetroot, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, swiss chard, courgettes, cucumbers, new potatoes, different varieties of lettuce, spinach and the outdoor and indoor tomatoes are flourishing and so are the herbs, soft and stone fruit.
The miniature water lily in my garden pond is also flourishing. Pond is a grandiose name for an old bathtub sunk in the ground. My youngest son and I went to a garden centre to buy a pre-formed pond. Those on sale were too shallow. On our way home we saw a bathtub in a skip. All I wanted was a pond to attract wildlife so we asked for and were granted the bathtub. The builder said he would deliver it later and my son excavated a hole for it. Later the builder knocked on my door. ‘Thought you might need these,’ he said and handed me the bath fittings obviously pleased with his good deed for the day. The dear man thought I am too poor to afford a bathtub.
Edged with paving stones my pond looks great. At one time I kept goldfish and the pond became home to a refugee. One night my daughter-in-law woke and screamed. Something wet had flapped on her face. Capri, her tortoiseshell cat had brought her the gift of a large goldfish. My son woke and put the fish in the bathtub. On the following day he put it in my pond. Sadly, another cat or – maybe – a fox caught all my fish.
Near the pond are my potted herbs. While I walk back down the garden path to the house I imagine gardens in times past when herbs were essential for health and flavouring.
When I moved into my house the garden was overgrown and subconsciously it fired my imagination. In my novel Tangled Hearts set in England in 1702 during Queen Anne’s reign, the heroine, Richelda, has inherited a neglected manor house with unkempt grounds which I use to emphasise her situation.
“Dudley opened the lichen-stained wooden gate. They entered the weed-infested drive, on either side of which only the hardiest of the untended ornamental plants survived.
Back straight, head held high, Richelda strode past parallel orchards towards Bellemont House. Embarrassed because she had declared her love, she battled against the urge to weep.”
After turning on the tap and checking the sprinkler was working properly I went upstairs to a small book-lined bedroom converted into an office. This week I will blog, e-mail and tell people about Tangled Hearts. (You can read the first chapters on my website and my blog.) Sometime this week I will work on part Three of my brief history of the Cinderella princess who became Queen Anne.
On most mornings I work from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. with a very short break for breakfast. Today will be no exception. I plan to dig over a patch in the front garden which resembles a cottage garden filled with lupins, roses, delphiniums, cranes bill geraniums and many self–seeded plants such as love-in-the-mist and Californian poppies. I will then mix my home made compost with fertiliser and dig it in before planting a dozen strawberry plants which have fruit on them, pale mauve cranes bill geraniums and penstemons which I bought at the summer fete at my grandson’s primary school. And I hope to find time to pot up some scarlet and white geraniums, lupins and Gardenrs Delight tomatoes which I grew from seed.
Compared to our ancestors we are fortunate to enjoy a wide variety of plants and gooks.
After a lunch of new potatoes and lettuce from the garden with cucumbers, baby tomatoes and a vegeburger followed by mango ice cream I’ll put my feet up and read.
At the moment I’m re-visiting old favourites Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass by Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) which was made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. And I will catch up on some research A little History of British Gardening by Jenny Uglow, The English Rococco Garden by Michael Symes and A Taste of History 10,000 years of food in Britain published by English Heritage.
Currently, I’m revising several novels and short stories for which I will seek publishers. On most days I return to the computer at about 4 p.m and work until 6 30.p.m. After dinner I then work until 8 or 9 p.m. by which time I yawn and watch television or read before I nod off to sleep after another happy day.
Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men. My daughter phoned to ask if she and her children, boys aged 6 and 2 and three quarters may have dinner with us. So I’ll pull a homemade macaroni cheese out of the freezer and serve it with new potatoes, garden peas and gravy. They’ll come round about 4 p.m. when I’ll let the boys help me to make the mango ice cream which I’m sure they will enjoy.
All the best,
Tangled Hearts available now.
Just popping in to say “Hi” and see what you have been up to lately!
Visit the storefront where I sell my books:
Africa’s Amazing ABC (children’s)
African Dust on the Soles Of my Feet (poetry)
Great to be with you.
Nice to see you here :)
Kenneth McGhee – Author
Teamwork – Moving Beyond Teambuilding Exercises
When I agreed to give up my divinity and be born in the flesh, I did so very willingly. I looked forward to the time when we, you and us, could all be together and share in everything that is. I looked forward to loving you, hugging you, comforting you and encouraging you so that, when your life gets tough, you will feel secure and supported enough to face whatever you have to face. I looked forward to being the one you could rely upon unconditionally for that strength, comfort and encouragement whenever and however you need it.
Not only that, I looked forward to sharing with you that we created you to love you, and that we so hoped and desired that you would love us back. We want you in our life, and we love it when you want us in yours. It was so exciting when I could turn to my disciples and expand our relationship to include friendship and true fellowship. I offer that friendship and fellowship to you today as well, and I look forward to your inviting me into your life in that way.
You can see there are many reasons why I came in the flesh so many years ago. There’s more! I also wanted to set you free from thoughts and behaviors that hurt you emotionally and spiritually. If you were hurt by people or experienced hard times in your life and lost things like your health, relationships, or your way of life because of disaster or unemployment, I wanted to give you the tips and tools as well as the encouragement to recover emotionally and spiritually from who or what hurt you so you could have the kind of life I want you to enjoy.
Most of you understand why I sacrificed my life for you and what an act of love that was. It is my hope that this letter will help you understand how very much more my life and ministry were to accomplish. I look forward to expanding our relationship now and forever.
Copyright Encouraging Words Ministries 2007, All Rights reserved
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