Apples and pears


A few years ago I played badminton every Monday evening. I loved this weekly leaping around the court, playing sport while laughing. We were all of a roughly similar standard (average to quite good) and none of us took it too seriously. Everyone was supportive and encouraging, there was a healthy rivalry and a lot of teasing. We had great fun.

One evening, one of the chaps bought along a bag of enormous pears from a tree in his garden. He didn’t know what variety it was but it was a heavy cropper. I was one of the lucky recipients of a few of these fruits. They were definitely not to be eaten raw, he said. Peel them, chop them and bake them for an hour or longer in a medium oven, were the instructions. The flesh will turn pink, he said, but that’s good. So I took them home and duly followed his advice. Well! The smell that drifted through the house as the pears baked was amazing. The flesh did indeed turn a gorgeous pink and I have to say that they were quite possibly the most divine pears I have ever tasted. Fragrant, the perfect combination of sweet and acidic, melt-in-the-mouth-delicious. Sadly, I moved away before the next pear harvest but, ever since, I’ve been trying to find out what variety these pears might have been and get my hands on some more. I look for large pears at markets and keep an eye out for anything resembling them. But no luck. Until this weekend…

We went along to the annual Apple Festival at Brogdale (home of the National Fruit Collection near Faversham) on Sunday morning. Apples, hundreds of varieties of apples, lined tables and benches in a barn, all labelled with lovely names like ‘Coo’s River Beauty’ and others that seemed completely made-up, like ‘Vlaanderens Roem Rode Boskoop’. There were also a few pears but no big cookers. I asked one of the guys behind the counter whether he knew about pears – he didn’t but he pointed us towards a portakabin and said there were a couple of people inside who did.

These people turned out to be Jim Arbury, fruit expert at the RHS, and  Joan Morgan, pomologist (yes, that is a word) and author of The Book of Apples and the highly acclaimed The Book of Pears. We had a nice chat about my mystery pear and they both agreed that it is probably an old cooking variety called ‘Catillac’. Sometimes also known as Pound Pears, because they’re so big – some weighing in at 1lb or over – they cannot be eaten raw and keep well because they remain hard until you cook them.

I might not have managed to get hold of any of the actual pears, but a ‘Catillac’ tree is now top of our wish-list and there are fabulous cooking pears in my future! This tree is a triploid so we will need two other pear trees for it to pollinate. We already have one, which I think is ‘Conference’, but we’ll need another. Any suggestions?

In other news… Life continues to whizz by at an alarming speed. It’s half term next week and we’re off to the Lake District for a week of blowing away the cobwebs, long walks in the fells and hearty pub dinners. I can’t wait. Have a good week.

In a Vase on Monday: Pink





There’s an old wooden sideboard opposite the door to the coat/shoe lobby by our front door. We bought it at a local auction not long after we’d moved here, when didn’t have enough furniture to fill the house. It houses dog-walking paraphernalia, torches, the sat-nav, and assorted random stuff. Mostly assorted random stuff; we have a lot of that. There’s a pewter bowl on top where we keep our keys. We use three sets of these keys regularly and I’m not sure what all the others are for. Some of them could be from sheds-gone-by but we daren’t throw any away just in case. Anyway, I digress. As the sideboard is the first thing you see when you come into the kitchen, I like to have a jug of flowers there and any other treasures from my walks or from the garden. This is often where my Monday vases end up after I’ve photographed them so I thought I’d show you this weeks in situ.

My vase (jug) today is an amalgamation of leftovers from last week’s (the feathery Stipa tenuisima,  sedum and aster) with a few more stems of aster – the four large plants in the back garden looking lovely right now – a few sprigs of lavender (from trimmings) and a few cosmos flowers. The cosmos plants have perked up following the recent rain and are sending out more vibrant blooms, which seems like an autumnal gift. I do love this annual – it gives you loads of bang for your buck. You can just see a small yellow flower to the left of the bunch – the surviving ‘Valentine’ sunflower sent out one final flower last week, too tiny to develop into a seedy feast for the birds so I snipped it off for the vase.

The overall effect is very pink.  There’s not a lot of pink in this house so it adds a little vibrancy and warmth, and makes me smile. I’m off to have a look at Cathy’s Monday vase and a few others while I drink my coffee.

Wishing you a good week.

Blustery days and bara brith




Yep, it’s definitely autumn. There’s a nip in the easterly wind and this morning I needed a warm coat for the first time since spring; collar up, hands shoved deep into pockets, purposeful stride. Cassie gets a little frisky when it’s windy. She’s easily spooked by a falling pine cone or a sudden flurry of leaves. Our cats go a bit silly, too. Skittish. They’ll leap at the sight of their tail, zoom past and out through the cat flap and back in again a few seconds later. I feel a little skittishness (is that a word?) is rubbing off on me. I can’t settle. There’s a long list of Stuff To Do and I’m avoiding doing it. A teacher friend once told me that teaching young children on a windy day is like herding grasshoppers – they’re excitable, unpredictable. I like that. The thought that humans are deeply connected to forces of nature appeals to me. That’s one of the reasons I love living here; that feeling of connectedness with nature that you don’t get in the city. Here you see the weather coming; you experience it.*

My children’s appetites seem to have stepped up a gear. You wouldn’t believe the amount of milk we’re getting through. I buy four x four-pinters at a time and within a few days we’re running out. In an effort to keep them well-fed, I’ve been baking a lot of cakes for after-school tea. Mary Berry’s Ultimate Cake Book is my most-used recipe book for straightforward, reliably delicious cakes. She’s gone up even more in my estimation since Great British Bake Off-gate. That woman has integrity.

Anyway…  In the cake tin this week we have Gingerbread Traybake (the quantities of syrup, treacle and sugar would make you shudder but, boy, it’s scrumptious) and the ‘award-winning’ (!) Bara Brith. Far be it from me to mess with Mary’s recipes but I use less sugar than the recipe states. And I use a mix of dark muscovado and light. It is the easiest cake to bake, you just need to remember to soak your fruit the night before. Makes 1 x 2lb (900g) loaf.

175g currants
175g sultanas
175g muscovado sugar (I use a mix of dark and light. Mary’s recipe calls for 225g light)
300ml strong hot tea
275g self-raising flour
1 egg, beaten

Put the dried fruit and sugar into a mixing bowl, pour over the hot tea, cover and leave to soak overnight.
Preheat your oven to 150 degrees C. Grease and line your loaf tin. (I use those brilliant loaf-tin liners you can get here.)
Stir the flour and egg into the soaked fruit/sugar and mix thoroughly. Scrape into your prepared tin, pop it in the oven and bake for one-and-a-half to one-and-three-quarter hours. It should look risen and a little cracked on top and be firm to the touch.
Serve sliced with butter. You can be generous with the butter on top as there’s none in it🙂



* I know there is a nasty amount of wind currently rampaging in the Caribbean and south eastern US. I don’t mean to be flippant about it. If you are affected, I do hope you’re ok.


In a Vase on Monday: October offering

img_1129 img_1120img_1124img_1123img_1122img_1128img_1137img_1135img_1140

Oh, it is a glorious day out there today – blue sky, barely any wind, sparkling sea and there’s that soft, autumnal light. And it is warm, almost hot, in the most sheltered spots in the early afternoon sunhine. I thought I wouldn’t find much material for a vase today but the sunshine beckoned, so I nipped outside earlier with my coffee and scissors just in case. Cathy, who hosts this weekly gathering of vases, encourages us to get outside and see what we can find to bring indoors. As she says, there’s always something…

I try not to use the same flowers for weeks on end but the Japanese anemones are still on the rampage and I’m happy to snip off more flowers. I also cut three little stems from a large clump of a sedum that appeared out of new topsoil that we bought last year and a couple of stems of a lovely pink aster (can’t remember it’s name…). This didn’t flower last autumn but it’s grown well this year and is now flowering away. For greenery, there are some tendrils of Clematis tangutica and a few seedheads of one of my favourite grasses, Stipa tenuissima.

Finally, there are two stalks cut from an old fuchsia that is in full bloom at the bottom of the garden. Now, I do not like fuchsias. They’re down there with rhododendrons, azaleas, kniphofias, and ornamental lilies on my list of least favourite plants. But when you look at the flowers close-up, I’ll admit there is a certain charm to them. They have pretty little ballerina-like shapes and the colour of this one does add a richness to the vase. Bees don’t care what plants look like and there are plenty buzzing around the bush, making the most of the late nectar, so that’s a big tick in its favour. It can stay a while longer.

Do visit Cathy’s Rambling in the Garden blog to have a look at what’s made the cut for her vase this week and find links to other vases around the world.

Have a lovely week.

My neighbour’s kniphofia


Kniphofia, otherwise known as Red hot poker, is not a plant that I’m usually drawn to. I’ve often seen it looking rather forlorn, a tatty garden plant that looks out of place and uncomfortable in its surroundings. But one of my nearby neighbours has planted them along her south-facing verge and they’re thriving. I think this is K. rooperi but it might be K. uvaria; I’m not familiar with the varieties.

Hailing from the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Kniphofias are tough, hardy evergreen or herbaceous perennials. They like a sunny site, well-drained, fertile soil, and will cope with dry areas such as the base of a hedge, as here. The RHS website says they prefer acid to neutral soil, but the soil here is alkaline and they don’t seem to mind.

They flower from late summer to winter – I remember these flowering well into deep winter last year; it was extremely mild. I love they way they glow in the autumn sunshine and look, well, rather magnificent. I might have to change my mind about them.

(The photos were taken with my phone and don’t bear close inspection.)


In a Vase on Monday and a garden catch-up

img_1097 img_1112

Instead of my usual approach to IaVoM (when I pick a bunch of whatever’s flowering well and a few sprigs of greenery and plonk them in a suitable vase), this week I’d like to show you Ammi visnaga ‘White’ in detail – a study from the flowerhead as it fades and goes to seed. Sorry for the dull lighting in the photos – it’s a grey old day today and the light is low. You can see much brighter pictures of the cut flowerheads used in a vase here.

img_1101 img_1100 img_1102img_1104

You can see all the tiny seeds at the end of the curled stems.


I grew this hardy annual from seed for the first time this year, sowing in March and planting outside in early July. As you know, we live by the sea and it can get a little breezy; it’s also been an incredibly dry summer. Top marks, then, to this plant which has coped with pretty tough growing conditions and provided loads of lovely, domes and plate-like heads of minute white flowers. I know I’ve extolled the virtues of it before but it really has been wonderful for attracting insects and a magnet for bees and hoverflies. It adds a certain drama to a vase of cut flowers but there’s one thing that slightly lets it down: the smell. It’s meant to be unscented but it does have one – it’s hard to describe but let’s just say it’s bordering on unpleasant. You do have to get close to catch a whiff of it, though, so I do allow it in the house🙂

I’m joining in as usual with Cathy at Rambling in the Garden where you’ll find some gorgeous colourful blooms and links to many other lovely vases.


I’ve not had much time for gardening lately but I did get outside yesterday to take some photographs, have a proper look at what’s going on and make a mental to-do list.

This Salvia ‘Hot Lips’ is about three years old and I love the relaxed, airy habit. Not all the flowers are the red-and-white that they should be, quite a few are all-white, which I actually prefer. Salvias seem happy here and I’d like to grow lots more.
Verbena rigida – another favourite plant. I love this and V. bonariansis.
A load of Gaura lindheimeri ‘The Bride’ looking rather floppy and wind-blown.
This unknown penstemon has produced a second flush of flowers after being cut back in mid-August.
Nasturium ‘Jewel Charry Rose’ has romped away covering a grotty area by the garden tap. There are loads of seed pods, so I’ll collect some for sowing next year. I’m sure it’ll sow itself too.
I filled several pots with geraniums three summers ago – they’ve survived each winter since and still flower away even though they’re hardly ever watered. I dead-head them occasionally and cut them back each late spring. Brilliant, value-for-money plants.
Verbena bonariensis close-up – in my opinion, no garden can have too much of this wonderful plant.
An illustration of why Japanese anemone is a weed in our garden – it’s growing up through the front steps; it’s on the march…
Cosmos seed – plants for next year for free.
One of the Anemone coronarias still flowering.
Cyclamen that we transplanted last year.
The pink Japanese anemone isn’t as determined to take over the garden as the white one.
Water lilies now flowering in the pond, thanks to my mother-in-law clearing it out earlier in the summer.


Have a good week.

Georgia, and a surprise in the laundry


I whizzed up to London on Tuesday to see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at Tate Modern (which is on until 30th October). I was familiar with some of her paintings – the big flowers and skulls – but I didn’t know that she also painted cityscapes when she lived in New York and some amazing landscapes when she lived in New Mexico. Anyway, the exhibition was fab, and it was wonderful to have some time in London (taking the bus over Blackfriars Bridge, watching the world go by) but the best thing about the day was that I met up with fellow blogger, Jenny from Duver Diary. It was the first time I’d met a blogging friend in Real Life and I confess to being slightly apprehensive beforehand (I realised on the train that I had no idea what she even looked like!). But I needn’t have worried; she’s lovely and we got on like a house on fire and didn’t run out of things to talk about. Blogging, hey? So many benefits.

Back to domestic life – picture the following scene, if you will – there I was last night, calmly folding laundry that I’d brought in from the washing line in the late afternoon, chatting to my eldest, when he stopped mid-sentence. “Mum, those pants are buzzing…” They were indeed. A soft buzzing. I gave them a slight shake thinking a bee might have settled inside for a nap and been rudely awakened. Nothing came out. The buzzing got louder. I shook them more vigorously. The buzzing sounded distinctly cross. I put the pants (my husband’s underpants, if you’re wondering) on the kitchen table and carefully looked inside. Nope, I couldn’t see the source of the buzzing so I opened them out. A pair of antennae appeared. “Mum, that’s not a bee.” No indeedy, it was most definitely not a bee… It was an enormous hornet – a very cross hornet. “Quick, put something over it NOW!” I grabbed a glass and managed to capture the angry insect, trapping one of its legs in the process. It was REALLY angry now. I manoeuvred the glass and carefully slid a card underneath, carried it outside and laid it gently on the patio table. Then I grabbed the glass, scarpered indoors and shut the door quickly. Needless to say we didn’t stop to take a photograph(!) but this is what a hornet looks like:

hornet-md And it was about this size. Well, that may be a slight exaggeration🙂 (Only ‘slight’, mind you.) So, let that be a cautionary tale. Check your pants for dozing hornets….