Thursday, September 27, 2007

Autumn Harvest in the Kitchen Garden

Autumn is a wonderful time of year in the kitchen garden as so much is waiting to be harvested. There are grapes and pears
and .......????
Any idea what those are? Tatties! Yep, that's right those are potatoes but not ordinary ones as they are small and purple too, something you cannot see yet as they've just been harvested and the fat clay is still sticking to them. I'll leave them outside to dry for a few days so most of the earth will fall off, before I bring them into my kitchen.
There are still yummy strawberries waiting to be eaten. I've been picking them since May this year, almost non stop. And that's not the only crop I've been picking since early May;
I'm also very happy with the lovely flowers my garden has provided me with for months on end now. One of the things I'd like to do most in the garden, is pick a nice bunch of flowers and then arrange them in a sweet little bouquet. I always put in some scented flowers as it is nice to please your nose as well as your eyes. It's a pity really that you can so rarely buy a bouquet of scented flowers in the shops. Why is it that shop bought roses don't have a scent?

The last of the blackberries are ready to be turned into jam in my bread baking machine. I've made quite a few pots of jam already. They will be a nice reminder of summer during wintertime when we'll be eating the blackberry jam.
The last of the tomatoes are waiting to be picked and eaten. I shall miss my lovely tomatoes come winter and wish I could grow them all year long. The shop bought tomatoes don't taste half as good as the ones you grow yourself.

But it's not only fruit, flowers and potatoes we're harvesting at Bliss, there are lots of veggies ready for harvest too. There are leeks,
and red cabbages,
and sweet black peppers,
and the quintessential autumn harvest of pumpkins too of course. What would autumn be without them? I'm already looking forward to eating a nice hot bowl of pumpkin soup with some home baked bread. And I'll be baking the odd pumpkin pie or two in the coming months as well.

But at Bliss we always have a surprise or two up our sleeve and here they are:
and limes. And no, the Netherlands doesn't have a tropical climate, far from it I'd say. No, these little trees live in my conservatory during the cold months (from October to May) and outside in the garden when the danger of frost has passed. There's a lemon tree and a kumquat as well. I'm very proud of my little tropical forest; it gives me so much pleasure all year round with the lovely scented flowers and all the fruit it bears. Simply wonderful! And really not that difficult to grow. Contrary to what people may think I do not really have green thumbs but so far I've managed not to kill any of my tropical fruit trees and some have been living with me for over 5 years now. So, if I can do it, you can do it too even when, like me, you're not living in some tropical paradise or other.

As I was working in my kitchen garden today, as it was an unexpected glorious autumn day full of sunshine, I suddenly noticed some sweet peas still in flower. Such a lovely surprise from my garden! Of course I had to pick them and bring them in for maximum enjoyment. I also found another little surprise, a climbing nasturtium still had a few flowers as well. The little cow that is carrying this mini bouquet on her back is drooling with pleasure. I know how she feels! ;-)

My garden is the place to be
Peace to dream
Plant or read
Potter leisurely.
Glen Philips, 'My Garden'

Monday, September 24, 2007

Nature and Culture

When I was on holiday in Denmark last August it was a very agreeable surprise to see how many wildflowers were growing there. I love wildflowers so this was such a wonderful treat for me. I found little blue Campanula's, blue Scabiosa, wild roses, heather, clover, clematis, honeysuckle, brambles and many other wild flowers I don't know the name of.
And I came upon this plethora of wildflowers rather unexpectedly as we were going for a walk on the beach with the doggies. Thinking of beaches you think of sand or pebbles and the sea, not of wildflowers. Well, I don't.
The walk along the beach was something that my friend Maria, the Bliss under-gardener, me and the doggies, Bamba and Pluto, enjoyed very much. So relaxing to walk along the beach, hearing the sound of the softly crashing waves and not meet a soul.
Two ecstatic little doggies having a truly blissfully happy time.

So there we were on the beach, walking along the shore, breathing in the fresh sea air, the sun on our backs, watching the dogs frolic in the shallows, in short having a great time. I was looking around, as you do, and when I turned my back to the sea I noticed this,

a lovely forest, lots of heather and a profusion of beautiful wildflowers. The wildflowers made me as happy as Bamba and Pluto on the previous pic. And all that wildflower bliss was, totally unexpectedly, found not 10 meters from the sea.
In my own country, the Netherlands, nothing grows either on the beach or very close by it. It's only in the dunes, a long way behind the beach, that you find some very tough plants and grasses and not much else. So I was in wildflower heaven that day on the Solrod beach in Denmark.

Denmark is known for its wonderful beaches, some are sandy, others are pebbled and all are, without fail, beautiful. One of my favorite things to do in Denmark is driving along the coastal road from Copenhagen to Gilleleje, also known as the Gold Coast (see map). This is a must-do for everyone who visits Denmark. I mean, who doesn't love jaw dropping sea views, gorgeous houses and cottages, beautiful forests, picturesque little villages and great bakeries (scrumptious danish pasties, cakes, tarts and pies)? Well, if you don't like those things you must be a very hard person to please and I don't want to have anything to do with you, so please go away and hang your head in shame somewhere else!
And driving along that coastal road you come across some great museums too. There is the Louisiana museum for modern art which is worth a visit for its beautiful gardens with stunning sea views alone.

The under-gardener and my friend Maria in the gardens of the Louisiana museum.
A stunning sea view from the garden of the Louisiana museum.

If you like modern art then it really is something you must see and if you're not sure whether or not you like modern art, have a go at it anyway. My friend Maria wasn't keen on visiting this museum but she surprised herself (and us) by enjoying herself very much indeed in the Louisiana museum. She even went so far as to buy two gorgeous reproductions of some of the modern art on display there.

After we had visited Louisiana we drove further along the coast in beautiful sunny weather. For most of the time we could see the coast of nearby Sweden as well, as it was such a clear day. The next stop was
the Karen Blixen museum. Her lovely house was, after her death, turned into a museum. I have visited this museum lots of times as I so enjoy looking at all the lovely rooms where Karen Blixen used to live. The oldest surviving part of the house dates from 1680. Karen Blixen is still well known today for her book "Out of Africa" but she wrote many, many more in her lifetime, usually under the name Isaak Dinesen. Karen Blixen was nominated for the Nobel Literature prize more than once.
Karen Blixen was not only known for her writing but also for the gorgeous bouquets and flower arrangements she made with the flowers from her own garden. I was amused to see that all the flower arrangements were made with flowers that grow in my garden too.
Unfortunately visitors are not allowed to enter Karen's flower garden so I had to take these pictures from a distance. Note the metal edge surrounding the flower garden.

The flower garden is situated at the back of the property. Here's a pic of Karen's house from the back. As you can see there's a big pond there, teeming with wildlife. The rest of the grounds (mainly woods) have been turned into a bird sanctuary as Karen Blixen was very keen on birds. It's a nice walk and there are lots of very old , 200 to 300 years, beech trees to admire.
From the front garden you look towards the sea. Right in front of the museum is a little harbour with mainly sailing boats, as you can see here.
In 1962 Karen Blixen was laid to rest, as she requested, underneath this beautiful old beech tree in her bird sanctuary, where nature and culture have, at last, become one.

If someone tells me that he is a keen gardener, I ask to see his garden in February.
Sir Frederick Gibberd

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Last Day of Summer

Or so my calender informs me. Autumn is approaching and there's a nip in the air, early in the morning and late at night, that wasn't there before. But today it is still Summer and as it is such a lovely day we'll do a spot of gardening.
During the day, when the sun is out, it's still very nice and warm, around 18 to 23 C. That's an ideal temperature for working; neither too hot nor too cold. But before we start work, let's have a look at the garden first.
I love those dark, almost black Holly Hocks, they look great!
Sedum Autumn Joy, who would be without this little trooper? Not me, that's for sure. Such a nice sturdy plant, that hardly needs any looking after, and flowers its heart out year after year during a time when the garden is, slowly but surely, winding down. I also pick the Sedum flowers to put in a vase; they last for 3 weeks or more, not bad, eh?
The Conference pears are almost ready for picking. Well, I think they're almost ready, somebody else already had a bite or two, as you can see here.
I leave the pears that have fallen down there as so many of my garden friends enjoy them: birds, butterflies and bees, to name a few. So bon appetit mes amies! I'll wait a bit longer until the pears are ripe and juicy. :-)
The borders next to my conservatory are still going strong and have been looking good since early March. Hopefully I'll get to enjoy my borders for yet some more weeks to come.
On the table near the pear tree there are 2 Cyclamen, one white and one pink. Both I've sown from seed. Soon I'll put them inside so I can enjoy them during the winter months. I always put my Cyclamen outside in the garden (if it's not freezing of course), once they've finished flowering inside. I totally ignore them for a month or two and then hey presto, they start making flower buds again and I can either put them back inside or let them flower in the garden.
The Japanese Anemones are flowering their little hearts out for me. Such wonderful plants and so very reliable. At the moment I have 2, one single white one and one double pink. Both look great at this time of year. They both started flowering last August and we'll be getting a few more weeks of blooms from them yet.

On the pergola I've hung some bird feeders filled with seeds and nuts; the birds will be needing a bit of extra feeding soon. I hung one feeder in front of the cat room (Merlijn, Surprise, Dolly and Kadootje sleep there during the night) so that my cats will have some amusing live TV to watch.

Right, let's go to the potager aka kitchen garden because that needs a bit of work right now. I've got some sowing to do and some harvesting as well.
Heart wrenching though it is, those Nasturtiums have got to come out. I need this bed for sowing Winter Purslane or Miner's Lettuce (winterpostelein), Claytonia perfoliata.
So out it all came and then I put it in my compost bin. I have two compost bins, they were made by the under-gardener, and both are almost stuffed to the gills, as you can see.
And here's the bed cleared and sown with Winter Purslane. The big flower in the middle turns round and round in the breeze. This helps to keep both the neighbourhood cats out of this freshly sown bed and also the birds. I don't want the cats from our hood digging in this bed, I much prefer them to do that in the gardens of their own guardians, not in mine. My own kittycats never go to the toilet in my garden, they are far too civilised for that and use litter trays instead.

While I was busy in the potager I met my friend Macavity, a stray cat, there. I've been looking after him for almost a year now and during that year I have slowly earned his trust. It took a long time as he was very afraid of people. But today a miracle happened, I put Macavity on my lap and he stayed there for at least 10 minutes!!! Wow! And this from a cat that was at first so terribly afraid that I was barely allowed to stroke him while he was eating. Now he's asking for cuddles and allowing me to put him on my lap, isn't that just wonderful?
But all is not right in Macavity's little world. If you look closely you'll notice that he has a nasty wound on his left cheek. That's from all the fighting he's doing as he's an entire male and needs to defend his territory and compete for females with other entire male cats. I've counted at least 5 entire males in my neighbourhood, which is so sad, to say the least. I wish people would take care of their pets in a responsible way. Cats need to be neutered before they are old enough to bring more kittens into this world that nobody wants or needs.
I hope that Macavity will soon be ready (mentally) for a visit to my vet. He needs to have some tests done and his vaccinations, and be neutered. This year he has been wounded at least 7 times, this can't go on as I don't want him to lose an eye or get hurt in some other way. I want my boy to be happy, healthy and safe; he deserves it. I don't think he will ever be an indoor kitty but we have the garden cottage waiting for him. That could be his little house for the rest of his life.

After a few more cuddles with Macavity I cleared another bed. Onions had been growing there but I've harvested them and then the Elderberry was seeding itself in this bed. All those seedlings need to come out as I have quite enough Elderberry in my garden, thankyouverymuch!
There, all done now. In here I've just sown Salad Rocket 'Frastagliata' (Eruca sativa or Rucola coltiva).
I also cleared a third bed, it was full of weeds. My potatoes Red Duke of York had been growing here this year. Now I've sown some Winter Spinach. After I'd sown the seeds I watered them in carefully. All they need to do now is germinate and grow! It's nice to have a bit of green on your plate from your own garden during winter time. In my Victorian greenhouse I've sown some lettuce, so hopefully I'll have some of that on my plate soon too.
This Pink had grown a lot this year and it was now ready to be "harvested". Here you can see what I mean by that.
The earth is still warm enough for the cuttings to grow and root, and come Spring next year, if all goes well, I'll have a nice little row of Pinks to cheer up this part of my potager with their bright pink colour and wonderful scent.
As usual, there was something to harvest in my kitchen garden; there (almost) always is. I've picked ripe but also some unripe tomatoes. The ripe ones will go in a salad, with the green ones I will do something else. I have already eaten those grapes and they were nice and sweet. The hot red peppers always come in handy in the kitchen as I love spicy food. It's really nice to harvest something in the kitchen garden after all that work I put in this morning. So satisfying and tasty too!

Today is a bit special as this is my 101 post since I started blogging last February. So far over 18000 visitors have found my blog and they come from all over the world as you can see here. Most visitors are from the USA, closely followed by those from Europe, but I've visitors from South America, Asia, Australia and Africa too.
So what can I say except: welcome to Bliss, thanks for visiting and please come again!

La fleur est courte, mais la joie qu'elle a donnée une minute
N'est pas de ces choses qui ont commencement ou fin.
Paul Claudel (1868-1959)