Happy days and helicopters

It’s been such a beautiful week and we have had a happy, happy time in the garden. The weather is gorgeous, the air full of bees, butterflies and birdsong. Although there are many bare patches of earth waiting to be planted, there is a real feeling of things leafing up and filling out; it’s all starting to look rather pretty.

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We gave the roses a severe hacking back in autumn and it seems to have done them a power of good. I think we are in for quite a show over the next few weeks.

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There are plenty of other little beauties blooming, too, including the Californian poppies which  flowered all winter but have suddenly decided to add a few different colours to their repertoire.

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The first of my little geraniums on the steps is flowering.

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The flower ‘borders’ along the lane are starting to colour up and giving a taste of what they (hopefully) should look like eventually: a splash of colour on the approach to the house.

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The clematis montana ‘Elizabeth’ seems happy in her third home and as for the Welsh poppies, well – try stopping them! I suspect that this time next year they will be everywhere. (Although this little stowaway flowering so beautifully in the middle of an asparagus plant really will have to go.)

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At the business end of things, Roger has finished digging the polytunnel patch. This has been a mammoth task, I can’t even begin to describe how much stone he has lifted out of there and as for the piles of domestic rubbish four spade depths down – well, I will never understand that kind of behaviour. Still, it’s dug and mucked and flat – yes, that’s FLAT. Oh joy, I just want to stand on it and celebrate.

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However, a far more sensible use is of course to plant it ; as we don’t intend putting the tunnel up until October, we might as well use the planting space. Roger has put in a block of sweetcorn, something we haven’t grown for years, so that will be a treat (as long as we can keep the wild boar out). There will be room for other things later, possibly some peas or beans. Watching all the bird activity in the garden a couple of weeks ago, we remembered that we had brought a couple of birdboxes with us which were still packed in a box in the shed. Roger put them up and within three days the bluetits had moved in, not remotely phased by him spending all that time digging in their neighbourhood. There has certainly been a lot of ‘business’ going on in the box, it seems to involve pieces of my garden twine that are supposed to be supporting the sweet peas – are they making themselves a sisal carpet, I wonder?

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Every time I wander around the garden, the beginnings of another terrace wall seem to have miraculously appeared!

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In terms of long-term heavy croppers, the Sutherland kale and purple-sprouting broccoli have been real troopers, but like all good things they have come to an end so I have been pulling out the plants and clearing the spaces for planting other things. It’s been quite hard-going: the plants have been in the ground for many, many months so the soil was very compacted and hasn’t been cultivated as much as the rest of the patch. I’ve lifted buckets of stone (nothing quite big enough for Obelix’s walls, unfortunately) and the usual selection of rubbish.

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The bottom corner was also full of perennial weeds and there were even a couple of the original fence-hanging plastic bottle lurking in there. Oh, happy memories.

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Anyway, I now have an official climbing bean patch to plant with maybe enough space for a few sunflowers, too. I’m leaving one patch of broccoli for now: there’s no rush for the space so why not let the insects enjoy the flowers?

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With the kale and brokkers gone, we’re in that ‘hungry gap’ with nothing in the garden to eat except fresh herbs. The good thing about this gardening lark, though, is that there’s always something waiting in the wings. The ‘Douce Provence’ peas are podding up rapidly and really won’t be too much longer.

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Some hooligan or other (Sonja suggested blackbirds and I think she’s right) have been having a whale of a time pulling the other peas out of the ground; not eating them, you understand, just pulling them up root, seed and shoot and leaving them on the surface. Aaargh! Instead of netting them, we’ve put up a barrier of boards – not very pretty, I grant you, but they seem to be enough to stop the antisocial ones from having their fun and so the peas have rallied a bit this week.

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Having flowered for months, the broad beans at long last look like they’re doing something in the pod line, too.

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The lettuce plants that looked so tiny when they went in are going well and we have several patches about the place so there will be salad a-plenty in a short while.

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The ‘Senshyu Yellow’ onions are swelling beautifully and the ‘Tendergreen’ French beans are up.

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In the salad patch, little rows of chard and beetroot seedlings have appeared.

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In the ‘nursery’, everything is hardened off and growing well in preparation for planting in their final positions fairly soon. We won’t be hungry for long.

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Many of the trees here are fully out in their summer foliage already. The figs and kiwi are leafing up rapidly, and the walnuts are just bursting their coppery buds and fat catkins.

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Here is one of the happiest sights: flower buds on that poor little lemon tree that was blasted in the storm but is making a rapid recovery.

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Now for a not-so-happy moment. You can probably see from the garden pictures just how dry the ground is here; we haven’t had any significant rain for a long while and the garden really could do with a good dollop. Sadly, we woke on Tuesday to see one of the mountains further down the valley literally in flames. Our neighbours have told us what a problem forest fires can be in August, no surprise really that in the heat of summer the eucalyptus forests go up like a tinderbox. This was grass and heathland burning, sending huge plumes of smoke into the sky and spreading rapidly: through binoculars, we could see flames as high as trees at one point. Two helicopters worked tirelessly for several hours, dropping water bombs on the fire and surrounding land to try and bring it under control. What a task. (See Postscript below.)

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Sticking with fires but on a much happier note, I love the fact that we eat outdoors here far more than indoors, and this week has been no exception. We don’t barbecue every day but love to cook over wood whenever we can. Having indulged in boquerones (fresh anchovies) and octopus from the fishmonger last week, this week we went for mackerel again as they are just so fresh and good. We barbecued them on a bed of bay using this recipe from River Cottage: Mackerel barbecued over bay  Truly, truly delicious! 🙂

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Postscript: Having published this post, I went outside to eat lunch and found the air once again reverberating with the sound of helicopters. Another fire, this time a mountain behind us and much, much closer to home. Three helicopters are currently working to bring the fire under control, including a huge double-rotored machine that carries a much bigger load of water than the others. I have  nothing but respect and admiration for the people fighting the fire on the ground and in the air, on a day when the region is enjoying a sunny public holiday. It is such dangerous work, and terrifying to learn that these fires can be started deliberately. My mind can only boggle at the thought processes behind such an action.

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4 thoughts on “Happy days and helicopters

  1. You’ve been blogging up a storm! Had a visitor for a week and just now catching up. I hope you’ve got some of that much-needed rain in the meantime. Yes, the hungry gap is coming up here, too, with the kale starting to flower and the broccoli thinking about it. I highly recommend the Daubenton’s kale, which is going strong here now, and the Good King Henry, which is just starting as the chard is bolting away. And next year, you’ll have globe artichokes at this time, too. Quite a decadent hungry gap really. Glad to see your broad beans are forming. Hopefully that means my polytunnel ones will be shortly. Your polytunnel site looks great, lovely prep.

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  2. Yes, it’s been a bit of a blogathon, mainly because I’ve separated all my woolly madness from everything else, otherwise there’s just too much in one post. Also, we’re pretty much on top of the garden and can’t do anything else to the house until the roof is done so I have plenty of time on my hands . . . but that will change. We’ve never grown Daubenton’s kale, will have a look for next year. Hopefully with the tunnel up and running we will be able to plug the gap with early salad leaves if nothing else, also some earlier peas and broad beans outside – still getting our heads round the seasons here! 🙂

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