Category Archives: flowers

Hattie, Harvey and Hopton Hall

IMG_8376.JPGA list of three! And they alliterate.  What more could I want?

First of all, an apology to Hattie.  We arranged to meet one another last week and she was hoping for snow.  It was a beautiful weekend but no hint of snow.  Today on the other hand it hasn’t stopped snowing all day.  We’ve had field fares, a linnet and ten blue tits at the feeder.  All I can say is that I will try and plan better next time!

Beatrix_Potter,_Two_Bad_Mice,_Frontispiece.pngHarvey is our lodger.  He’s small, brown and lives in the garage.  Naomi feels that I’ve travelled into a parallel Beatrix Potter universe on account of the fact that I see our bachelor harvest mouse as living a solitary winter existence before scampering back out to the meadows in the spring to find himself a lady wife.  Naomi, who offered me the mouse equivalent of zyklon b, is of the opinion that where there’s one mouse there are probably many more and I don’t think she was envisaging Hunca Munca or Tom Thumb, though I could be mistaken.  She has a point but he- and until evidence proves otherwise Harvey is a he- does look harmless as he scampers across the back wall of the garage when we take the car out.  He has very elegant tapering feet, a white tummy and a big ears.  My original plan was that as soon as the weather showed any sign of warming that HWIOO would be on hand with wire wool to block Harvey’s return after he exits one warm morning before a mouse’s fancy turns to whatever mice minds turn to in the spring as even I’m prepared to concede that two mice is one too many mice.

However, Hattie having seen Harvey had a tale to tell and I would have to say that just as soon as the snow goes, so does Harvey.  Apparently Hattie’s son had a mouse in the garage but rather than making himself snug – possibly in a miniature box bed with hand stitched quilt during the cold season- his mouse made himself at home in the workings of the car, had a gnaw on some rather expensive cables and eventually popped up one morning, through an external air vent,  as Hattie’s son was driving along the motorway.

The sight of a mouse scampering up the bonnet of the car before being spreadeagled, arms outstretched, nose whiffling on the windscreen must have been disconcerting.  There followed a mano a mano or rather mano a mouseo face-off until the vehicle was halted, a photo taken as proof that it wasn’t a hallucination and then the stowaway was ejected into the hedgerow – where it presumably needed a lay down and a strong cup of tea.

Having done my homework it appears that if you catch mice by friendly methods (and I’m not sure that the windscreen is an approved method) that you should deposit them at least half a mile from home or else they’ll probably get back before you do.

We’ve tried old fashioned moth balls which apparently act as a mouse deterrent and we have sonic mouse repellers – Harvey ignores them, apparently because harvest mice hear at a different frequency to the sonic devices.  I am equally informed that the garage will be a spider free zone at the moment. If blocking up the exit doesn’t work we will, as Fagin says, “review the situation” and perhaps consider Naomi’s solution, in the meantime the Mater has suggested that I might want to take pen and paintbrush in hand in order to tell the tale of Harvey. The Right Little Madam, on the other hand, is contemplating the hand stitched quilt and a bowl of food for our guest. We will not be mentioning traps, poison or even cats in her hearing.

Which brings me, last but not least, to our alphabet of delights – Hopton Hall in Derbyshire.  It has a rather lovely display of snowdrops and aconites during the early spring. We decided that we would go and have a look last Saturday.  The sun shone, pheasants showed off their plumage, birds sang – one of them sounded like a train going over points. I asked what it was and HWIOO said it was a lesser spotted ASLEF bird- and it was all very pleasant.  We shall return to look at the roses and to sample the delights of their cafe in due course.  There was, we noted, quite a substantial play park and we have added it to our list of possible places to take the Little Madams.

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Elderflower Cordial

DSCF2293.JPGElderflower cordial – how summery is that? My mother used to make it when I was a child. There was one memorable occasion when we made it, bottled it and then put it a little too close to the central heating boiler for comfort. The cordial fermented, the pressure built, the screw top untwisted and zipped across the room with rather a loud ping resulting in a half hour search until someone encountered a sticky pool of elderflower cordial and deduced what had happened. Note: think cool dark storage space.

 

Living as high up as we do the elderflower is only just coming into full bloom although the general guidance is that elderflower blooms from May to June – so if you’re reading this in the lowlands south: it’s too late to make your own cordial this year. I’ve been keeping an eye on the elderflowers for the last fortnight whenever we go for HWIOO’s afternoon perambulation.

 

A couple of afternoons ago, in between showers, we toddled off with a basket of Miss Marple proportions and a pair of scissors having already purchased 20z of citric acid from the local health food shop. It came in a plain plastic wrapper. I am so pleased we weren’t stopped on the way home! The citric acid is for preserving the cordial. It also gives the sour taste in lemons and turns up in dishwasher detergents (lovely). There are recipes that don’t contain citric acid – after all we’ve only been using it in it’s chemical formulae as a preservative for the last hundred years and presumably the lemon is also a preservative. Next year I may well not use the citric acid.  I’ll have a look and see what Mrs Beeton has to say on the subject.  Jamie Oliver and Rivercottage also have variations on the recipe.

 

Here’s what to do and not to do.  First gather 35 heads of elderflower. Give them a good shake to get rid of insects. I rinsed mine when I got home. Place in a large bowl. Add zest of four lemons. Chop and add lemons.  Other recipes use a mixture of lemons and an orange.

 

Place 1.3 kg of sugar and  2 1/2 pints of water in a pan. Dissolve. Add sugar water to the elder flowers and lemons. Stir well. Add citric acid. Stir again. Cool, cover, leave over night. Remove stray insects.

DSCF2295.JPGUse a muslin to drain the liquid off and then place it into sterilised bottles having removed the last of the stray insects should there be any. There should be a 2.5cm gap at the top of the bottles.  My book – The Hedgerow Cookbook for the Wild at Heart- suggested further sterilisation by means of a water bath  to prolong the life of the cordial.  It the bottles are old fashioned stopper bottles they have to be completely sealed and if they’re screw top then the bottles should be loosely closed. You place a trivet or folded tea towel in the bottom of the pan, then your bottles, standing upright.  Fill the pan with water until the bottles are completely submersed. Heat the water until it’s simmering and keep it simmering for 20 minutes. You may wish to look at it nervously every so often. Then turn off the heat, leave the bottles for five minutes before removing them very carefully so that you don’t burn yourselfDSCF2296.jpg.  Place the bottles on another folded tea towel or a wooden surface or else the bottles may crack – generally speaking a shower of hot glass and hot sugary cordial is not to be recommended.  Tighten the screw tops.  Unfortunately I don’t have a pan that’s large enough so probably shouldn’t have even attempted the process (note to self – find a very large pan for future cordial making activities.) However, I did and consequentially discovered that overfilling the bottles is not a terribly good idea as there is expansion (yes I did get a physics O level but clearly didn’t apply my learning in this context), a build up of pressure and then the laws of physics took over without any help from Scotty from Star Trek! There was a rather unpleasant cracking sound and one of the bottles broke in mid simmer resulting in hot, glass filled elderflower cordial which is not, generally speaking, to be recommended. My tea towel also decided that simmering wasn’t good for colour fastness.

 

 

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Gottcha…a pleasing adventure with a camera

IMG_7091The sparrowhawk likes our garden and some of you will be aware he had been a bit coy about showing his face.  Today, HWIOO was awake rather early and as this photo demonstrates the early bird not only catches the worm but is more prepared to have his photograph taken.  I think he may have been a bit optimistic as there are fewer and fewer birds feeding from the feeder due to the large number of insects providing food on the wing.

Then, when I got home from work we went purple orchid hunting.  Note to self: if possible photograph flowers on a still day!  And wear your glasses!  I took mine off when I was fiddling with the lens and consequentially half my photographs came out rather badly blurred because I forgot to put them back on but let me assure you that they were perfectly focused when I viewed the images before snapping the shutter.

DSC_0017I have now established that it’s an early purple orchid (Orchis macula) that I’ve been crawling around on my hands and knees trying to photograph.  Apparently these little flowers were used as ingredients for love potions during the seventeenth century and feature in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as part of Ophelia’s garland of flowers after she is found drowned.  As well as having purple flowers there are purple blotches on the leaves.  If you like your folklore this is because they grew at the foot of the Cross and are representative of the drops of Christ’s blood that fell on them.  Apparently two of its common names are Cain and Able  and Adam and Eve.  Sue Clifford and Angela King in their book entitled Journeys Through England on Foot identify the orchid as “Granfer Griggles.”

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Just for the record we also saw the mandatory dandelions, nettles, celandines, cowslips and the little blue flowers that I’ve always know as shirt buttons but which I think might be germander speedwell if I’ve matched them correctly with the image in my wild flower book.

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From dandelions via orchids to daisies.

Early-purple-orchids-in-Cressbrook-Dale.jpgWhere do the weeks go?  Today we went for a walk pausing only so HWIOO could check that the weed and feed was killing the dandelions in the lawn.  He was  bit down hearted to note that the three or four in the lawn are nothing compared to the many many yellow flowers in the verge.

When we finally arrived at our chosen venue the sun was shining and initially we had the place to ourselves apart from two sheep and a gentleman who was either contemplating life and the universe in the sun or rehearsing a role as a garden ornament. As we wandered along I found cowslips and a purple orchid.  I think I may have a new interest!  Of course, I didn’t take my camera so double click on the image to find out more about the Peak District as this was where I did find a picture.  However, I think its safe to say I will be returning with my camera to take my own photographs at some point. I’ve also discovered that there are many other varieties including the bee orchid and the frog orchid – what’s not to like?

We hadn’t planned on a walk on account of the fact that the weather forecast on Friday suggested that we’d be experiencing wind, rain and the other delights of an English spring.  I’m not complaining but next time I go to the seaside I’m definitely bringing a piece of seaweed home.  It might be more reliable.

In other news the Right Little Madam appears to be taking an interest in geology (better rocks than snails in my humble opinion.)  This is thanks to the new patio and gravel path that have been installed in the Number One Daughter’s garden.  And like me the Right Little Madam appears to be something of a collector. I think you either are a collector or you’re not.  I’m currently hunting down every book I can find on blackwork embroidery as well as Royal Doulton Harry Potter figures having found three in a little vintage shop for a very reasonable price.  I think it may be the thrill of the chase and, incidentally, searching on Ebay is cheating in my opinion.

Anyway back to the Right Little Madam, having inspected the gravel and found the prettiest stones she’s now scouring the route to and from school for stones to extend the collection and apparently add to the path which isn’t terribly pleasing to the Number One Daughter who also has to contend with the Littlest Madam pausing to pick every daisy in sight.  If you’re lucky she’ll hand them to you with aplomb and then expect you to treasure them which is why my handbag sometimes looks like there’s been an unfortunate accident in a potpourri shop.

This picking habit is, of course, going to have to be severely curtailed before I take the Littlest Madam anywhere near an orchid let alone a site of scientific interest.  Perhaps we should get her a camera as well. I’m not sure she’ll be convinced.