Our Cottage Garden

This is what I would like our garden to look like.

This book, The Cottage Gardener’™s Companion, paints an idyllic picture of the typical English Cottage Garden:

‘œ’¦ where there is a feeling of freedom and exuberance, leisure and opportunity to potter, to water, to contemplate. ‘¦ Flowers, vegetables and fruit are mingled together in the epitome of the cottage garden, where bounty may be gathered at every season. The cottage gardener makes salads, apple jelly, herbal medicine, plum and damson jam from her garden; there is even something in midwinter when parsnips and turnips, brussels sprouts and leeks come into their own.’

Oh, if only that were so. This cottage garden has some of those things. There are fruit trees – a cherry tree, with bitter morello cherries that the birds love. I make pies and cherry sauce, if I can pick them before the birds eat them. There are two little espalier apple trees, which last summer produced a lot of fruit (more pies and crumble) and there is a plum tree that produced so much that it was rotting on the tree before I could pick them all.

There are some flowers ‘“ the primroses are doing really well, so well that I’ve put a photo of some of them on the blog header. There is a climbing rose that seems to be dying, maybe because of my efforts at pruning, despite reading ‘œPruning‘ in the Garden Guides series and any other books on pruning that I can find. I’™m doing something wrong, but what I don’™t know. I’™ve managed to plant and grow a lovely camellia – that had an abundance of flowers last year and a fuchsia that was quite tall and spindly, but it did have some flowers. The other plant that does well, however I mangle it with my pruning is a potentilla, covered in yellow flowers for most of last summer. And the aubretia spreads itself all over the wall in the front garden whatever I do to it ‘“ it’™s just starting to flower now.

We have a rambling honeysuckle growing up the fence, mingling in with a berberis, which has shiny red berries later in the year, privet and a rampant Russian vine, which threatens to swamp everything. There are violets and aquilegia which self-seed and appear in different places in the garden. There are other plants as well, shrubs and bushes that I occasionally prune back and trees ‘“ a flowering cherry tree, a pussy willow and a couple of conifers.

But the plant that grows really well in our garden is the bindweed ‘“ it gets everywhere. We have a good amount of ivy as well, growing up the fences and throttling whatever it can find. Just now it is beginning to pop up through the soil. I wish we could eradicate it completely!

I went out this morning to try to take control and did some pruning, whether I’™ve killed more plants remains to be seen. I noticed that the daffodils and tulips are coming on nicely, the bluebells in the front garden are coming up well, and there is a new little holly that has planted itself in one of the borders. The rosemary bush looks strong and healthy; it grows vigorously and I always have to chop it back.

We like herbs and in the past have failed to grow basil ‘“ not enough sun here I suppose, even the basil I buy in a pot and keep on the kitchen windowsill doesn’™t do very well! We had sage and mint in pots on the patio, but as they’™ve got very straggly and thin we decided to start again and yesterday went to a garden centre where we bought some pots of thyme, sage, flat leaf parsley and mint. We also bought a rhubarb plant, as I do like it. I hope these will survive.

Playing Editor – Booking Through Thursday

Suggested by John :

How about a chance to play editor-in-chief? Fill in the blanks:

__________ would have been a much better book if ______________________.

I can’™t limit this to just one book.

The Brothers Karamazov would have been a much better book if Dostoyevsky hadn’™t been such a pessimist. Of course it wouldn’™t have been so powerful and intense but it would have been a lot happier and more joyful.

War and Peace would have been a much better book if it weren’™t so long. Tolstoy could have reduced the battle scenes, or better still left them out all together.

Ulysses would have been a much better book if Joyce could have organised his sentences so that they read coherently, instead of being a stream of consciousness monologue. (I shouldn’™t really comment, as I haven’™t read the book!)

This is of course written with tongue in cheek. I love The Brothers K, even though they have such long names and it took me ages to read it and War and Peace is one of my favourite books – I wish I’d could have written it! Ulysses is still a closed book.

How to Cross the Road – Hanoi Style

Carla and I left work last year. Whilst I’™ve stayed at home she’™s been travelling the world’“ she’™s been to New York, Niagara, Chicago, Flagstaff, Yosemite, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Cook Island, New Zealand, Australia (Great Barrier Reef etc), Tasmania, Whitesunday Islands, Bangkok, Koh Tao ‘“ diving in the Gulf of Thailand, Cambodia, to mention just a few places. I’™m sure I missed out loads. I’™ve been seeing the world through Carla’™s eyes and her blog.

At present she’™s in Hanoi and her latest entry is about the road crossings there. She says that the only reason you go for the crossings is that you stand out as less of a target ,,, the mantra to remember is “keep the same pace, never stop (it confuses the drivers) and always imagine a big white forcefield around you’¦ ‘œ

I’™m never going to complain again about the traffic here after seeing this.

Dante’s Florence Week 5 Part One

By the end of the 13th century Florence was a bustling and prosperous city. We looked at a painting by Lord Leighton – Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence, 1853-1855. The Victorians had an intense interest in Dante. In this painting, which was bought by Queen Victoria, Cimabue’™s painting of the Madonna, a hugh altarpiece is carried through the streets of Florence. Giotto, a pupil of Cimabue, is shown in white, with Dante on the far right.

In week 4 we had looked at the new city walls designed by Arnolfo Di Cambio. Di Cambio’™s crowning achievement was, however, his design for a new cathedral. The old cathedral was considered to be too small and too coarse. As the population of the city increased the new cathedral was designed with a hugh interior space to accommodate the whole population. Dedicated to Santa Maria del Fiore, it was started in 1296 and took many years to complete. Old buildings were knocked down to make way for it, including the hospital and the old cathedral, dedicated to Santa Reparata.

It seems that Di Cambio originally planned a wooden dome, but this was replaced by Brunelleschiժs dome which was completed in 1436. We looked at a copy of his outline plan for the cathedral (the original of the drawing is in the Museo dellժOpera del Duomo) and also at Poccettiժs drawing (c. 1587) of the fa̤ade of the Duomo, which shows the fa̤ade as it was before it was covered over in the 19th century by the current fa̤ade. This shows the mosaics, reliefs and statues designed by Di Cambio.

The illustration (copied from the course handout) is not very clear but does give an impression of what the façade was like. Only a few of the original sculptures have survived, including the ‘˜Madonna of the Glass Eyes’™, the Annunciation to the Shepherds and a statue of Pope Boniface VIII, the luxury loving, warrior pope whom Dante opposed. these are now in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

I particularly like the story of Dante’™s stone ‘“ the Sasso di Dante – where Dante is supposed to have sat and watched the cathedral being built. A plaque embedded in the wall of one of the houses opposite the cathedral was placed in memory of his special seat.

This was one of the places of pilgrimage during the 19th century for the nobility on the Grand Tour of Europe.

Under the shadow of a stately Pile,
The dome of Florence, pensive and alone,
Nor giving heed to aught that passed the while,
I stood, and gazed upon
a marble stone,
The laurelled Dante’s favourite seat. ‘¦

From Wordsworth, Memorials of a tour in Italy, 1837 At Florence

Di Cambio also began the design of the Palazzo Vecchio, a very important building that housed the Priors, the governors of the city and is now the town hall and a museum. The crenulated Arnolfo Tower is characteristic of a fortified building. Uberti family buildings were demolished to make way for the Palazzo.

Dante’s Exile in Week 5 Part Two

The Pulitzer Project

I’™ve decided to join the The Pulitzer Project. The beauty of this is that it’™s a project not a challenge and I expect that it will take me a long time. The Pulitzer Prizes are awarded in 21 categories, but this project only relates to the Fiction Prize, which is awarded for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. It has been awarded since 1948 replacing the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel, which was awarded between 1918 and 1947. The 2008 Prizes will be announced on 7 April. Some years no awards were made but this is still a long list of books. So far I have only read:

1940 – The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
1972 – Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
1988 ‘“ Beloved, Toni Morrison
1995 – The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields
1999 – The Hours, Michael Cunningham
2006 ‘“ March, Geraldine Brooks

Apart from Angle of Repose I read these books before I started writing my blog. I wrote about Angle of Repose here. I read The Grapes of Wrath whilst at school, so I may have to re-read this sometime. The rest I’™ve read over the last two years apart from Beloved (which I loved), which I read about 10 years ago. I have a copy of The Color Purple by Alice Walker, so I think I’™ll read that first and it will fit into the What’™s In a Name? Challenge as a book with a colour in its title. I’™m already reading Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, so that will be two books in that category.

Two Caravans

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka, published in hardback by Fig Tree Penguin Books in 2007, 310 pages (paperback published by Penguin 6 March 2008)

I read and enjoyed A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian in February 2007. When Two Caravans was first published I read somewhere that it wasn’™t as good as her first book, which made me pause before reading it. It’™s just as well I took no notice because I think it’™s better and shows that you should make your own mind up about a book.

The book begins by describing a beautiful setting in the English countryside:

‘œ There is a field ‘“ a broad south-sloping field sitting astride a long hill that curves away into a secret leafy valley. It is sheltered by dense hedges of hawthorn and hazel threaded through with wild roses and evening-scented honeysuckle. In the mornings, a light breeze carries up over the Downs, just enough to kiss the air with the fresh salty tang of the English Channel. In fact so delightful; is the air that, sitting up here, you might think you were in paradise.’

From that delightful scene the book soon descends into the depths of hell, as the shocking conditions experienced by the migrant workers are revealed. The group of strawberry pickers – the Ukrainian miner’™s son, Andriy, the Poles – voluptuous Yola and her religious niece, Marta, and guitar playing Tomasz; two Chinese girls, Emmanuel an orphan from Malawi looking for his sister and Vitaly from somewhere in Eastern Europe ‘“ are joined by Irina from Kiev. They’™re all hoping to make some money and enjoy a better way of life than in their home countries and are doomed to disappointment, disillusion and danger. Not only are they exploited by their employers but also threatened by gangsters with guns.

The narrative moves between the characters and at first I had to concentrate on who was who, but I soon worked it out as each character has their own individual style. Accompanied by Dog, a stray who adopts them, they move from strawberry picking to catching fish, to waiting on tables, to the horrors of the chicken farm and slaughterhouse where the chickens are processed and packed for the supermarkets. The Chinese girls are packed off to Amsterdam and are not heard from again ‘“ their nightmare fate can only be a guess! Dog is a unique character, whose innermost thoughts/instincts are given throughout the book in capital letters ‘“ I AM DOG I RUN I RUN I SMELL EARTH AND WATER ‘¦’ I suppose this could be considered irritating, but Dog soon came to life for me through such simple characterisation as he sees off danger and sniffs out food for himself and the humans.

I don’™t know if I shall ever be able to look at a punnet of strawberries again without picturing how they were picked and remembering the pittance that the workers are paid. Nor can I possibly eat supermarket chicken again. The vision conjured up by this description of the supervisor in charge of packaging the chicken portions is just too much:

‘œShe had a distasteful habit of spitting on her fingers as she reached for the chicken pieces coming down the line ‘¦’

Add to this the nightmare of catching and loading the chickens to take to the slaughterhouse, the brutal scenes in the slaughterhouse and the appalling working and living conditions of the migrant workers and I’™m seriously thinking of never eating chicken again.

This book is not all doom and gloom, however, as there is a joy in how the characters manage to maintain their dignity, despite the dodgy dealings, abuse and hardships. And there is a love story as well. I also liked the brief cameo appearance at the care home of Nikolai, the author of the tractor history in Lewycka’™s first book. He is still looking for a wife and proposing marriage to both the old ladies in the home and to Irina.

I can’™t say that I found Two Caravans to be a funny or a comic book, although at times the scenes are reminiscent of slapstick and farce. But then I don’™t find slapstick and farce funny either. Although the situations are dramatic and outside my sphere of knowledge and experience I found the story and the characters to be real and believable. It’™s a touching, thought-provoking and moving book about topical issues. I’™m really glad I read it.

Pets Please – Post No. 200

I thought I’™d write something different for this, my 200th post. I’™ve been looking through some photos for pictures of our pets. These are just a few I found, bringing back lots of memories.

Suki was the first cat D and I had. D took this photo in the garden of our first house. We had another cat, Candy, soon after but at the moment I can’™t find a photo of her, although I know there are some.

We had a series of cats later on and eventually we got a dog. This was a big thing for me as I had always been frightened of dogs as a child and was still very unsure about them. We got Zoe, a beautiful golden retriever, the softest dog you could ever imagine.

Then we got another dog, Ben a border collie/labrador cross. He was so small when we got him that he could run underneath Zoe’s legs. Here he is fully grown, still a small dog. He had lots of health problems and died of diabetes. I had to give him an insulin injection every morning. Another amazing thing I never thought I’d do. He never complained.

Here they both are chasing a stick. They loved running.

After the dogs died we weren’t going to have any more pets, but we soon decided we couldn’t live without an animal in the house. So we got Lucy. Here she is as a kitten.

Stretching in the garden.

Then we added George, who had been D’s dad’s cat.

Finally, here is Lucy in the garden. She’s 14 this month and still behaves like a kitten most of the time.