Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Heat Wave

Heat Wave.

A day of baking heat and glare.
Now heavy on the evening air
hang odours from the tranquil lake of summer growth
that make perfume of scents both rank and dank,
particular to place,
of memories just out of reach.
Round ripples fade
where lazy fish and insect meet
and all are drugged to silence by the heat.
Movement is slow,
and when we wake
shall say, although it's just one day,
By the lake in summer?"

I Don't Understand.

The fishermen bring everything beside the lake.
Then wait.
Bivouacked against the weather,
sprawled on loungers, breakfast sizzling in the pan,
fag on the go,
the radio,
landing net and camera ready to record  'the big one'.
"Had him last week!"
The scars are recognised
All the gear.

I used to tickle trout.
No string, no pin,
just my fingers in the water, rippling.
And the taste, cooked in the pan with butter!

The fishermen bring everything beside the lake.
They eat sausages and bacon, crisps and pies.
No fish ever dies.

I don't understand.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Soft fruit.

We are gorging on strawberries and the blackbirds are doing their best to match our consumption. I have been making Eton Mess; crumbled meringue, whipped double cream and a generous amount of cut strawberries, gently combined - indulgence in a dish!

Just as we become tired of picking and eating them, the crop comes to an end and the raspberries take over. Raspberries are an obliging fruit, they don't involve so much bending and they freeze well.
My parents grew copious amounts of raspberries which my mother made into jam. The canes had been ordered from Scotland and were excellent stock. They were planted in a far corner of the garden, beyond the orchard and left to grow into a veritable jungle. In summer I would come home from school to an empty house and know that my  diminutive mother, all five foot four inches of her, would be out there somewhere, hidden among the fruit canes, happily picking away.

I used to go each year to the fields in Cheddar and help to pick strawberries to sell at the junior school fete. One year I took my small daughter to 'help'. She started the morning neatly dressed but it was so hot on the south-sloping fields that after a while she took off her dress and picked fruit in her white cotton vest and pants. When we had filled a sufficient number of trays we took them to be weighed. I think that my daughter must have eaten more fruit than she had picked because the front of her vest was completely stained with juice. We were quite relieved that they chose not to weigh her!

The year that I was pregnant for the second time I was excused strawberry picking duties but my friend Audrey brought  a large bowl of fruit from the fields for us to enjoy. They were delicious. I ate too many and got stomach ache. Really! Stomach ache? Oh, no, they were contractions.  Daughter number two was born a few hours later.


It is July
the blackbirds cry,
"Open the fruit cage, we have eaten well."
The currants swell.
I mend the net
and yet the sparrows say,
"Open the cage, we've eaten all we want today."
Redcurrants hang like jewels from their stalks
and small birds watch their ripening like hawks.
Blackcurrant berries glistening like jet
are well caged in
and yet,
and yet,
those blasted birds are somehow in the cage
and won't stay out, however much I rage.


Midsummer is the best time to sit in the arbour when it is draped with long strands of buddleja alternifolia (alternate leaved butterfly bush), whose sweetly scented flowers last for such a short time. The blossom hangs in lilac clusters like beads on a necklace.

The strands are fine and pliable and can be used 
as decorative ribbons around a cake
 or the brim of a summer hat.

There is no perfume from the 'Iceberg' rose that clambers through the buddlejas branches, but it is worth growing for its purity of colour and its ability to flower continually throughout the summer months. A honeysuckle, that came as a rooted cutting from my mother-in-law, creates a solid wall of flower and heady scent.

The arbour faces east, overlooking the vegetable patch to the boundary fence, where the rose, 'Paul's Himalayan Musk', like the buddleja,  gives a short but magnificent display. 

It is such a sturdy rose and came as a small cutting from our previous house. Once the flowers have faded it will be cut hard back, becoming an anonymous piece of hedgerow for the remainder of the year.


They've cut the neighbouring field
and perfumed grass lies in concentric circles
like a maze.
I walk the crew cut edge.
Scythed grass for centuries has smelled this sweet,
it lies in ribbons green,
threaded with flowers still bright.
And my delight
with this one field in sunshine
shared only by a buzzard
high above
floating in mirrored circles
on the scented air.

Saturday, 26 June 2010


Have you seen those plastic terriers for sale, the ones with just a rear end and a tail in the air?
I don't need to buy one, I've got the real thing. She's a smooth fox terrier and she gets as much enjoyment out of the garden as I do, only in a different way. She's allowed to dig in the area kept for bonfires and does so energetically and with imagination, head cocked, listening for a mole or a mouse that isn't there. Then follows frantic action with soil sent flying from under her front paws. In no time at all she looks the very model of  half a plastic dog.
The garden is her territory and she is on constant patrol, anything that moves would be wise to consider moving well out of her way; seeing off blackbirds, pigeons, squirrels, cats and the postman, her duties never stop.

The clump of creeping thyme is in flower and this is her favourite place to doze in good weather. Luckily it's a resilient plant. Sometimes she runs round the house and garden at speed, dizzy with delight or dances on the lawn in the moonlight.

Moon Dancing

Like an astronaut
in darkness
her white body leaps
and the worms hear her
rise from their sleep
up through the earth
they come to see
running and jumping 
across the lawn
my small dog dancing
in the moonlight.

After all that action she's ready to fall asleep in her basket.

Friday, 25 June 2010

How much time?

How much time should  a grown woman spend hunting for caterpillars? I'm sure I've had my quota and am about to abandon green principles and blast the little rotters with something chemical.
I've been waging war for months after finding that the leaves on my citrus trees had been cunningly folded to hide small, green, inoffensive-looking caterpillars. But what damage they've done! I love my citrus trees. My father bought the first one, a 'Meyer' lemon bush, which has produced small, sweet, thin-skinned fruit for many years. The other trees have come as hand luggage from holidays in Majorca and Corfu, causing merriment at airline check ins. Now they have been put outside for the summer and I'm happy to see that the bluetits have taken over my role and are busy in the branches searching for food.
Parsley is seeding beside the asparagus bed. The two plants look lovely together, making a delicate tracery of green.
But what do I see?
Ugly, grey caterpillars hard at work stripping the asparagus leaves. They obviously taste bad because the birds make no attempt to eat them.
Bug spray, here I come!

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Alban's garden.

In Alban's garden on the NGS open day, whether you were looking up at the chimney pots and bunting,
 (which is Angela and Alban's surname)


or down on the ground


where Charlotte's post office was being very efficiently managed,
there was so much to see and enjoy.

Well executed flights of fancy are everywhere in this garden,
 areas for work and places for play.

Whatever your mood there is somewhere suitable to sit

 in royal splendour while others discuss crop rotation

queue for the garderobe or sit pretty in pink

in hats in the shade of the gazebo

while the music plays

What a lovely afternoon.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Almost a Spell.

Almost a spell I can tell you-
how to capture summer in a bottle
uncork the sweet perfume of where you walked
far from the traffic with its poisoned fumes
that spread their toxin on the blooms.
Don't take those heads
but choose instead a quiet hedge
in sunshine.
Thirty heads of lace,
place in a bowl with lemons
two, sliced thin.
Then in the bowl you sprinkle acid,
drown with boiling water.
And, because it is a spell, you stir
twice every day
five days
and chant, if you wish,
while the infusion,
the beautiful potion strengthens,
scents the air.
And then you capture it -
summer in a bottle.

Recipe for elderflower cordial.
30 elderflower heads, picked in sunshine for the best flavour.
2 sliced lemons.
4 lbs sugar.
2  and a half oz citric acid.
2 and a half pints boiling water.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Open Garden

                          This afternoon our friends Angela and Alban opened their
                          garden for charity under the National Gardens Scheme.
                          As always, it was a joyful affair.

Their garden is very special because Alban
 is a skilled craftsman and wonderfully inventive -
 who else has a garden toilet within a 'Norman' tower!


He has built playhouses, although that word does not properly describe their magnificence, for each of his  grandchildren.
  Small children and adults alike are in heaven.

The weather was warm and flowers and sun hats were on show. The gazebo provided shade, music was made, and a plaster cast was no hindrance to a good tune being played on a fiddle.


 The waitress provided style
 along with cream teas
 and sinful cakes.

We know how to enjoy ourselves 
 in the South West of England!


Friday, 18 June 2010

Vegetable garden

Is it possible to eulogize about potatoes? If your surname is Murphy and you grow your own, yes, it is.
We are digging up the first earlies, 'Foremost' variety. They do not have quite the same flavour that I remember from childhood but the texture is sublime - plot to plate cannot be beaten!

There were good pickings from the rhubarb last month, the bright pink of the early forcing is always the most appetising. Now I'm leaving the clump to replenish.

My favourite recipe is Rhubarb and Orange Meringue.

1lb forced rhubarb  cut into short lengths and place in 2 pint dish
1  orange                  grate and squeeze and make up to 3/4 pint with water
2oz sugar                 add to liquid
1oz cornflour          add to liquid, place in pan and bring to the boil,
                                  stir for 3 mins.
2 eggs                       separate, add yolks to mixture when cooled slightly
                                  Pour sauce over rhubarb and cook for 20 minutes,
                                  gas mark 2.
3oz castor sugar.   Whisk egg whites with sugar until stiff and dry.
                                 Spread meringue over rhubarb mixture
                                 and cook further 20 minutes until golden.

I grew up in the West Riding of Yorkshire, home of rhubarb forcing sheds, long, low, windowless buildings where ranks of fruit grew rapidly, pink and tender in the dark. The rhubarb was described as, 'speaking' as it squeaked and rustled in its stretch and search for light.

The first flowering of chives has been cut back but will soon be up again. I grow them in a decorative strip along the vegetable plot. They look pretty and the bees love them, although I don't know what their pollen will do to the taste of any honey. A case of je ne sais quoi or ruination?

Squash , chard and lettuce  are all coming along nicely and the peas look promising, there are never enough as it is impossible to pick them without eating as you work down the rows.

'Charlotte' potatoes, our main crop with, hopefully, the years supply of onions and garlic in the foreground.

Everything promises in June!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Garden Visit

On Spring Bank Holiday we went to a village fete in aid of the local church. It was held at Parsonage Farm and was a thoroughly English affair. We parked in a nearby field and walked down the farm drive to the jaunty sound of a small fairground organ. All the usual attractions were there; a plant stall, second-hand books for sale, cream teas and guess the weight of the cake.

But the main pleasure of Parsonage Farm is its garden. The house is set on a hillside and looks down over fields and hedgerows to a distant view of the church. It has a secret woodland valley with narrow pathways and bridges winding down past wonderful displays of azaleas and rhododendrons.

It was a lovely afternoon, one of those kind, still, warm days just made for print dresses, panama hats and tea on the lawn.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Welcome to my Garden


Two visits to the city of Bristol in early May made me want to start this blog. On the first occasion I went to a private view in the upper part of town. Although it was a Sunday afternoon it was, as usual, difficult to park the car. I walked through several streets to reach the gallery. The paintings on show were by three local artists on the theme of nature. I went back to the car through a small square where pink cherry blossom was blowing from the trees, the petals collecting in drifts in the gutter. The ground looked like the aftermath of an Indian wedding and I walked my way along the ribbon of bright colour as happily as when I kick my way through fallen leaves in autumn in the woods near my home.

My second visit was for a mid-week appointment in the centre of town and this time I took the sensible option and went on the park and ride. Here was no sign of spring; there were bikinis and sarongs in the shops but no heart lifting, flowering evidence of nature anywhere on the streets. It was cold and could have been any time of year. I thought of my garden, bursting with growth and promise, how much pleasure it gives me and how miserable I would be without it. So, if you long for a garden, come and share mine.

Here’s the gate. Come in! Welcome!

Now you are in an unruly but much loved garden in the South West of England. I’m Rosemary, the gardener, but don’t look for expert information, I’m an enthusiastic amateur. My garden contains past, present and future. There is always a lot of hope in the future that the plants will thrive, the slugs diminish and the crops in the vegetable plot be plentiful.

But first take a look at my past. I can’t tell you the name of this tree peony that’s flowering its socks off by the gate, because the label has been lost. I bought it as a birthday present for my father, one of many garden gifts that we exchanged. When he died, ten years ago, I spoke to it nicely and transplanted it from his home in North Yorkshire. This is its best year. It only ever gave my dad the benefit of one bloom each spring. He would phone up and tell me when the peony was flowering and say how beautiful it looked.

Quite a number of plants in the garden are from family and friends. Because of this they are especially precious. My Aunt Elsie died last month, the last family member of my parents’ generation, but the clump of white drumstick primulas that came from her garden in Kilcreggan flourish, and will do so, I hope, for many years to come. Their flowering acts as a seasonal jog to my memory of holidays by the Clyde and they bring the absurd remembered image of my rotund uncle only just afloat in his small, overburdened rowing boat.

I did not start this garden from scratch; it has a past of it’s own. The previous owners planted with care, but with many shrubs and plants that I would not have chosen because they flower in my least favourite colours of orange and yellow. But, although I dislike orange intensely, I have come to appreciate the colour yellow because it enhances the blues and whites of flowers that I love.

There are people who positively hate the strident fields of rape, but I think that these brilliant blocks of yellow excite the eye and display the structure of the trees and hedgerows. The colour fades soon enough to leave us with the usual soft palette of greens.


A brilliant yellow on the land.

Some hate it; others think it grand.

Rape in the fields that shocks the eye,

makes noses run and people cry,

awakes my senses, makes me stare,

observe the subtle with the glare,

soft English green and grey and blue

enlivened by this startling hue.


After a spring of drought a skylark sings

high in the moist, grey sky.

The brilliant chrome of rape

displays the geometry of fields,

makes eye alert

The landscape freshly seen

and distance fades to purple hue.

Deep carpeted in blue the woodland walk

where bluebells now have drunk their fill

and cherry blossom drifts on violets.

How joyful, after winter’s gloom,

this colour,

this delight.


It is the yellow month.

Flags bloom around the lake.

One thousand lily pads send up their periscopes

and watch

as ducklings in neat crocodiles

traverse their space,

It is the growing month.

Sunshine and rain.

The earth sprouts enamel-petaled buttercups.

in the tilled earth neat rows of green

growing, almost as you watch.

The lanes are filled with lace

and everything promises.

It’s almost June.

The irises are giving a wonderful display. They are mostly un-named and came as gifts from other people’s gardens. The delicate dark blue came from my father’s friend, so I call it, ‘Mr. Pick’. The prolific mid-blue bearded iris came from Constable Burton Hall in Yorkshire when Bruce, the butler, was getting to grips with the large, overgrown iris bed. It is a really, ‘good do-er’, and many of my friends now have a sturdy, showy clump of their own.