Smudging

Seven weeks in lockdown hasn’t been that bad. Truly. Yet the lack of a focus for three teens who have had their examinations cancelled and their holiday plans dashed and two parents working flat out from home could possibly stir emotions and make them bubble up periodically. It’s natural.

This morning I cut back a hefty bunch of sage which had been overhanging the garden path and it’s now drying in the kitchen. I think I may do some smudging around the house in the near future.

Before you roll your eyes and think I’ve lost the plot or reverted to my Druidic ancestry there is some science behind this traditional practice of cleansing your home of negative and stagnant energy. It releases negative ions that fight against dust and pollution. Research has also shown that it can clear 94% of bacteria (for up to 24hrs) which is why it’s great to use when you’ve been feeling a little under the weather.

Here’s how. You can buy beautifully packaged but slightly expensive white sage smudging sticks or make your own from cuttings of garden sage. Bind round the leaves with string so that you have a tight bundle. Gather together a flameproof bowl, matches and the sage bundle. Open the windows, light the end of your stick and blow out the flame, leaving it smoking gently. Then make your way around your house carrying the sage bundle over the bowl, wafting the smoke into all areas as you progress. You’re  aiming for gentle puffs not thick black fumes that leave your neighbours phoning the fire brigade and all the smoke alarms ringing out.

It works. And no do I look like I would do this when the teens are around to engage in friendly banter about mum’s bonkersness (is that a word?). First thing in the morning is a golden opportunity. Teenagers in lockdown don’t rise at 6am, unlike their working parents.

May Day

I can hardly believe it’s the beginning of May but the winter squash on the kitchen windowsill and the lush growth in the garden is proof that it is. For the first time in years my seed sowing is more organised than sporadic. I have peas, beans of various varieties, beetroot, rocket, chard, carrots, lettuce and spinach growing in amongst the flowers and shrubs.

I’ve written about May Day before but this one is different. No trips out to National Trust properties, no May Fairs, no picnics, except in our own garden and no fire – although when I get that fire basket for the terrace we will be able to sit outside and chat in the chill of the evening.

I love a bit of tradition, as you know. Staying out all night, watching the sunrise and bathing your face in morning dew appealed to my younger self; dressing a tree and making a floral crowns and baskets was the stuff of parenting toddlers.

Now I’m drawn to making Hawthorn Brandy, much more sedate for a woman of mature years. You will need a bottle of brandy and at least one cup of hawthorn flowers, plus a little sugar to taste. Mix the ingredients together and leave away from direct light, for at least two weeks. Shake occasionally. Strain, bottle and enjoy. Hawthorn is renowned as a tonic for the heart.

May is a good time to start a new project. It will be good to fuel my energies into a new enterprise after weeks of lockdown but I have welcomed the time to reflect and plan rather than rushing into anything whilst continuing the business of teaching my students remotely and spending time with my family. I’ll share progress soon.

 

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Easter highlights

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No trip to Stourhead followed by a coffee and cake, no egg hunts, no sunrise walk around the village fields, no church service.

It’s been a different kind of Easter this year but there was some chocolate eating, home-baked cake, a family roast dinner and gardening.

It’s been great to catch up virtually with what friends have been doing. These beautiful photographs tell me what is important about this time of year – new life and renewal.

Packets of potential

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The postman’s called and it’s almost time to sow a few seeds outdoors. I’ve got a few peas, beans and beetroot in already but I tend to wait to sow annual flowers, salad, spinach and squash until later in the month. I don’t mess about much with sowing in seed trays any more. Seeds that are sown direct soon catch up.

Now that we’re in lockdown, growing your own has never been so popular. There’s quite a dig for victory vibe going on. I love that families are looking to dig up bits of their garden and grow their own veg and there’s always room for a few flowers in a cutting patch.

There’s plenty of advice online for newbies as well as more experienced gardeners. My grandad always said you should hold off on outdoor sowing until the soil is warm enough to drop your trousers and place your bare backside on it comfortably. I’d suggest a less extreme measure. Just wait until the annual weeds begin to sprout, hoe them off and then away you go. I deploy old CDs on string as bird scarers to keep my seedlings safe from the pigeons. Other birds don’t seem to scavenge as much.

I’m partial to lettuce varieties with interesting names. Last year’s was ‘Drunken Woman’. This year’s is ‘Elf’s Ears’ courtesy of the very lovely folks at Vital Seeds, whose strapline is packets of potential.

They certainly are. Potential for growth in the future.

I think we need that right now.

Shout if you need any advice.

Lunar living

Pop out into your garden at around 3.35am tomorrow morning and you’ll see a beautiful pink supermoon. It seems particularly significant whilst many of us are isolated from our wider family and friends. The moon is one of the few constants right now. When you look up at the moon, wherever you are in the world you can be sure that your loved ones can see that same  moon. It’s a way of bringing us together when we feel disconnected.

I’ve more than dabbled with biodynamics or sowing, pruning, mulching and harvesting according to the phases of the moon in the garden for a number of years. Read about it here. Times are tough but looking up at the moon always makes me feel connected.

Spring flowers

The sun’s out, the sky’s blue and our tulips are blooming. I love a tulip but there was a time when I wasn’t quite so enamoured. When they are planted in groups in the borders they tend to flop and look a tad untidy. I had a Damascene moment when I decided only to plant tulips in pots (like Nigel Slater, who has been tweeting pics of his beautifully structured garden where pot after pot of tulips flank a gravel path) or close together in trenches for harvesting.

I order mine from Peter Nyssen during the summer holidays. I prefer to order from a specialist bulb merchant rather than a garden centre. The bulbs seem more reliable and they arrive in timely fashion to be stowed away in the garden shed until November, when I plant them. Tulips need a period of cold in the ground to grow long stalks. Even though last Winter wasn’t particularly cold, these have done okay – but they wouldn’t win prizes in a show.

They are good enough for my kitchen table jug nevertheless.

Pop a note to order tulips on your calendar in July or August when, God willing,  today will be a memory only. And not a wholly bad one if we focus on the sun, the blue sky and the tulips.

When life gives you dandelions….

I know many people are feeling out of kilter. Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Or are you just doing your best in difficult circumstances? When you see dandelions in your lawn do you enjoy their pretty showiness or bemoan a less than perfect lawn?

Me? Well I leave some for the bees and harvest some to make dandelion petal jelly. Just like a did a few years ago. Here’s how. 

A perfect creative make to do with or without your children when you’re cooped up and want a little bit of sunshine in your life.

And yes to me a lawn is wasted growing space, never perfect but a concession to the rest of the family. I might replace the weeds. moss and rye grass with one made of chamomile this year.

Watch this space.

Friday Night leftovers

I used to shop on Saturdays for food and so Friday night In this house is leftovers night. Since the lockdown we’ve had some pretty weird supper combos, but tonight’s roast dinner was extraordinary. Not for the ingredients this time, but because a Friday night roast is a first. I have never had the energy to face cooking this after a week in the classroom. But life in the topsy-turvy world of COVID19 can offer opportunities as well as restrictions and uncertainty.

This week I am grateful for the time I got to spend with my family, to cook, to potter in the garden, to watch theatre productions live streamed to my pc and to reflect on my teaching practice. I’ve even signed up for some online courses to make me a better and more informed teacher. I haven’t had time for that for years,

There are still leftovers in the form of some over-ripe bananas so my daughter whipped up a quick banana loaf after supper. It’s easy – 140g each of butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour, a couple of eggs, 2tsp of baking powder and a couple of very ripe bananas whizzed together and baked at 160 c for half an hour in a fan oven.

And now I can relax in front of Gardener’s World, watching Rachel de Thame start her walled kitchen garden project.

One day that will be me.

 

Hopefulness

Week two of lockdown.

I made the mistake of looking at social media this morning – full of Jeremiahs quoting doom-ridden stats. I’m not sure  of the origin of what was being quoted and am realistic about the situation but what I need to get me through the next few weeks is hope …..and gardening.

So I planted some peas. A few sticks, a packet of Kelvedon Wonder, some homespun bird scarers fashioned from old CDs and string. The soil was well-worked so I used a hoe to create a shallow drill, sprinkled in the peas, covered them over, created a frame for them to scramble up et voila!. This is a perfect activity to do with your children. Mine are past the excitement of gardening but no doubt it will return to them in a few years – as indeed it did with me when we rented our first house and all those years of experience on the allotment with my dad kicked in.

The sweet peas have popped up nearby and the harbingers of high spring  – tulips, daffodils, cowslips, primroses, herbs have put in an appearance too.

I’d rather idle away an hour in the garden than on social media.

I have a yearning for wild garlic pesto and I know just the place to find some within a stone’s throw of home. That’s tomorrow’s job.

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