Sunday 29 August 2010

Dahlia catalogue

Faithful followers of this blog will know that I'm fond of Dahlias as a garden plant. I like the bright flowers, and I like taking cuttings of them in the Springtime, to enlarge my stock. It's a bit of a pain to have to dig up the tubers in Autumn so that they can overwinter free of frost, but I think they're worth it.

Last year I carefully labeled up the tubers with their commercial names before storing them away, only to find by Spring that I had forgotten what colours and sizes of plant the names represent. So this year I have made a catalogue of the flowers against the names that I will call them, so I don't forget what they are next year when it comes to planting them.

Here it is.

This one's called Arabian Night. It's a lot more of a blood red colour than appears here, and it's the first Dahlia I bought for the garden in France. Consequently I have lots of it, even after giving quite a few away.

This isn't actually called Edinburgh, but it's exactly like one that I used to have in England of that name. So if I call it Edinburgh I'll know what colour it is. The red is very close to that of Arabian Night and they go well together.

I bought this one, Dark Star, this year. I'm not sure it's a success. i think it's supposed to have more petals than this, but perhaps the drought caused it to grow poorly. I'll give it another go lext year because it goes well with the previous two.

These two, this Lilac one and the lilac one with white flecks go well together. I call the lilac one Lilac, and for some reason I can remember the name of the one with flecks, it's Bristol Panaché. Panaché seems to be French for variegated, and I think the English name is Bristol Variegated or something similar.

This one was donated as a tuber by my mum's boyfriend Ron, so I call it Ron's Orange. Thanks, Ron.

Ron's Orange will go well with this one, called Summer Festival, so I will plant them together next year.

They both go well with this Short Orange Water-Lilly flowered one, too.

This yellow cactus Dahlia was the second one I bought for here, so I have lots of it too. It doesn't really go with any of the others so next year I will plant it separately.

However, I planted some seed from a packet of bedding Dahlias, and these two lemon yellow ones were among those that flowered. One is pure lemon, the other has white tips to the petals. I might keep them for next year since they go with the yellow cactus.

Finally, three odd-ones-out. The orange ball is new this year, nice, but doesn't really go with any of the others. I'll keep it because it's really pretty, but it needs a place of its own.

I'm not too sure about this purple pom-pom. It's a tiny flower only about an inch and a half diameter. That means a lot of plant for not much flower. I will think about this one.

And finally, this small pink cactus flower. Again, pretty, but needs a place of its own.

Come back!

Can you see anything out of place in this picture?

Yep. The boomerang on the roof.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Nostalgic flight

I took a flight to Manchester recently, to attend a flute convention. I had a fabulous time, seeing old friends, making some new ones and getting immersed in flute music. There were some truly fabulous players and performances.

But the flight is what brought back some memories. The skies were clear, and the flight stopped over in Southampton, so we flew over a few areas I know quite well. I didn't have my camera with me so i couldn't take pictures of them, so Google maps will have to provide the necessary.

We flew out over St Malo, and then followed the western edge of the Cherbourg peninsula. St Malo is our preferred port of entry to France: you get a civilised crossing from Portsmouth overnight. We did our house-hunting via this port.

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Coming in to Southampton we flew over Calshot Spit, where I used to windsurf. One spectacular day we were there with friends, and it was blowing and raining so hard that I was the only one who would venture out. The other three sat in the dry car and used the windscreen wipers to wave at me when i was near enough to see them

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There was a good view of Warsash, on the other side of The Solent from Calshot Spit. I used to ride my bike there from home, via Titchfield, walk back to Hill Head along the sea front, and bike back from there. The first girl I ever kissed lived in Hill Head, in Knight's Bank Road.

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We flew up past Southampton and then turned South to land, coming in past Winchester, with a good view of the cathedral, flying along the course of the river Itchen as it weaves past Eastleigh. When I was at grammar school, I was in a group of friends who were pleased to call ourselves the "North Fareham Rambling Association" Basically a group of 6th-formers who went on a long walk to a pub on Sundays. One day we walked to Winchester from Eastleigh, Southampton, along the river Itchen. It was a long way and we were exhausted, arriving at Winchester railway station for the train back. And the train was a London commuter, full to the brim with nowhere to sit.

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We flew out of Southampton on the way back, right over Woodmill. The river Itchen becomes tidal at Woodmill, and as a nipper I would fish the last freshwater stretch with my dad, between Woodmill Lane and Mansbridge. It seemed to long from one end to the other! But it's only a few hundred yards. You can click and drag the map, to see, just off to the right, the old Mansbridge, that used to carry the A27. It was too narrow for two cars at the same time.

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I got rhythm!

Passed this cow drinking from an automated water trough the other day. I just like the rhythm, is all!

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Italian Plum Peeled Tomatoes

One of the Great British Breakfasts is bacon and tomatoes. Here is a recipe. You need:

Enough really good smoked streaky bacon for everybody
Enough tomatoes for everybody
About 1/2 cup of really stewed tea per person (the dregs in the pot will do - don't add milk or lemon juice)
Nice bread for toast, and butter for the toast

Cut any rind off the bacon and remove any bone. Leave the fat on. Cut it into bite-sized pieces and fry it until it's done, but not crisp. You can add a small amount of oil to the pan if you need to.

You can use tinned tomatoes if you like, but fresh ones are better, and if you use fresh ones you can peel them or not as you choose. If you don't peel them, cut them into pieces so that the bits of skin are not too big. Add the tomatoes to the bacon in the frying pan. This way all the flavour of the bacon mixes into the tomatoes. Simmer until the tomatoes are a thick paste.

Add the tea and reduce again. Taste the mixture before and after adding the tea so you can see what a difference it makes. Add salt if you need to, but usually the bacon has enough of its own.

Serve on hot plates, with buttered toast. Don't put the bacon and tomatoes on the toast because all that happens is the toast goes soggy, so why bother toasting it?

The tinned tomatoes that you can usually get are described on the tin as "Italian Plum Peeled Tomatoes", and have been described like that for as long as I can remember. The word order is wrong. It should be "Peeled Italian Plum Tomatoes". Why the word order needs to be like that I don't know, and I wouldn't be able to explain it to a French person, for example. My Estonian friend who speaks perfect English, tells me that this is because I don't know my English grammar, and that there is a set order for adjectives in English. e.g. "Blue 19th Century porcelain Ming vase"

As it happens I am growing Italian plum tomatoes in the garden this year. They are deep red, fleshy, full of flavour and big, like a sweet pepper, but longer. And tomato-y. I used some in a bacon and tomato breakfast the other day. They're OK, but a bit too sweet for use in this recipe. Better are the round ones.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Painters departed

I do like it when people come here to run courses. I like to see what's going on, and share the enthusiasm of the participants for their subject. The painting course of the last week is coming to a close, and here are a few pictures that I took.

Our large room was converted into a studio for the duration of the course. Students displayed their work and used to opportunity to do the finishing touches.

The weather had turned a bit during the week. Although it is a relief to see the garden getting a bit of water, it wasn't so good for the painters. But that doesn't mean that the sunflowers were any less bright, and the light was still good. We went to a field nearby, and found some willing subjects.

The village of St Suzanne is not far away, and has just been awarded the status of "One of the most beautiful villages in France" A well-deserved title in my view, not only for the pretty streets of the main town, or the peaceful mill cottages down the hill by the river, but also for this view from the cliffs opposite. You just can't come here and not paint this view....

We got special permission from the Duchess, through our friend who lives in a house in her grounds, to paint her castle at Mésangers. It touches on a beautiful lake that makes a wonderful foreground to the pictures. I'm told that water is hard to paint so it was also a good challenge for the students. I'm quite pleased with this photo of a couple of coots on the lake, even though it's a bit blurry. I think you could make a nice impressionistic painting from it.

Two of our painters are participating in the painting in the streets competition at St Pierre today. On my way back from organising our tickets for the evening meal, I took the opportunity to snap this gate. It replaces the one that was nicked earlier in the year, and was hand-made by Jean-Claude. I think he did a good job, it's a nice-looking gate. The plan is to stain the lighter members to match the dark horizontal ones, which I think is a shame. This time, it can't be nicked simply by lifting it off the hinges. You need a spanner. That'll be safe then.

And two pictures for free.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Bygone sounds - the Evron grinder

We have a group of artists staying with us doing a painting course. Great fun. We went with them to Evron market today where this grinder was plying his trade. I have not seen him before, but I am told that he is now there every week.

Here he is. There are three sounds, I think. The murmur of gossip in the market, the noise of his little 4-stroke engine, and the swish of the knife on the wheel as he sharpens it.

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Well, well, well

There is a well in my garden, just inside the front gate. With the drought that has been afflicting us recently, and bearing in mind that there have been several in recent years, I'm looking seriously at whether the well can be brought back into use.

The well is 27 metres deep. An old guy who used to work on the farm here told me that originally they had a handle that you cranked, that drove a series of buckets on a chain to bring the water up. Later on, they built a small pillar to hold a mechanism that was driven by a donkey walking round and round.

Today there remains the pillar, and there is a small hole in a slab of concrete, normally covered by a heavy wooden beam, that leads down to the water. I am testing the depth of the water, to see if it is worth buying a pump to pump it up.

This pillar, covered in ivy, used to hold the cranking handle, and more recently the mechanism for the donkey.

This is the small hole in the concrete slab, leading down to the water.

You can see the surface of the water if you shine a bright torch down the well, but the camera flash barely captures it. (If you click on the picture, in the enlarged version you can just about see a circle of light spots around the bright reflection, delineating the edge of the water.)

To test the level of water I lowered this iron bar down the well until it hit the mud at the bottom. It looks to hold a little over 1.3 metres depth of water. This is after 6 weeks without rain, so I take it as a positive sign.

As I am doing this work, the old nursery rhyme that starts "Ding, dong, bell, Pussy's in the well" enters my head. The last lines run:

What a naughty boy was that,
To drown poor pussy cat,
Who ne'er did any harm,
But killed all the mice in the farmer's barn.

I had trouble understanding these lines, since they meant to me that the only harm the cat did was kill all the mice, and I always thought that mice were a nuisance, so killing them was a benefit. It took me many years to work out that the use of "but" was in the sense of "but by contrast" as in Othello; the man who loved not wisely, but too well.

I suppose, strictly speaking, if it had meant the former, the verb would be kill not killed. But I was young.

Oh well.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

More butterflies and a moth

Here's a few more pictures of some butterflies that are congregating at my Buddleja. Even I can identify the Red Admiral and the Swallowtail, but there is also what I understand to be a moth, that flies just like a hummingbird but which is about as long as the tip knuckle on my little finger. As you will see, it's hard to capture in a photograph. Any ideas as to its identity?


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