gowns, gardeners and gongs

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Advice I was given yesterday.

  • Don’t eat the black pudding (ignored that already at breakfast today)
  • Be nice (excellent tenet)
  • Don’t work for anyone you don’t like (I will add a codicil of “unless you have no choice”, rent and food are not luxuries)
  • Say yes (presumably unless you don’t like the person asking)

Notwithstanding the fact that these are huge generalisations and there will be plenty of exceptions to prove the rule, I have added some of my own already, as far as advice for graduates as well as mere Certificate holders such as me they are more succinct and more relevant than much of the stuff that has been doled out to me over my many years in many very different educational institutions.

I rather wish I had a video of the man in question during his talk / speech / stand up routine, as James Alexander Sinclair , reknowned stand up comedian, garden designer has a wicked twinkle in his eye that belies his sober appearance and is an accomplished choreographer, taking control of the stage that we, the graduates had merely marched across, certificates in hand, only moments earlier.  However, pop over to his website for a photo – he looks rather good in a floral headress, and perhaps read his blog to get a little taste of his way with words.

My journey to the lecture hall at RBGE on 12th September began something like this.

Me (observing husband deep in contemplation of expensive fishing tackle on a well-known on-line auction site):  Do you remember how helpful you found the herbal healing salve I made you?

Him (not looking up from piscatorial porn): Hmmmm

Me: I wondered if I should apply for that course at the Edinburgh Botanics I was telling you about.

Him: Hmmm

I signed up on the spot.  And so I morphed from Mum to Professor Smellie Sprout and have never looked back.  Regular and observant readers will know that in October 2020 I take the next step in my herbal journey and start training with Nicki Durrell at The Plant Medicine School in Cork with a view to becoming a fully fledged medical herbalist.  I certainly didn’t see that coming when I told my school careers advisor (in all seriousness) that I wanted to be a spy, or as a fall back, an actress.

And so,  almost a year later Stuart and I arrived at Edinburgh airport from ten days in northern Spain at some silly o’clock hour and crashed out in our Airbnb, chosen to be within walking distance from RGBE, we didn’t think we were going to be up to much travelling the following day!

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Dress (suitably botanical) ironed, hair tamed as best I could I presented myself for registration.  Gosh, there were a lot of people, and they all looked as if they were very knowledgeable.  I was in awe of those that held little tickets that declared they had completed a course in botanical illustration, what witchery is that?!  But lo, I spied a handful of my fellow Herbalogy Certificators (?) and then there we were, clutching our order numbers seated alphabetically by course ready for the off.

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I have been to a number of graduations of my own and more speech days and prize givings than I care to remember.  There were three speakers …..

But the Herbology Gods were smiling, nay they were laughing. First up was David.  If ever there was a perfect example of why Garden Design (new career) is better for the soul than Banking (previous career) it was David.  Pim followed with a wonderful pictorial summary of the MSc in Biodiversity and Taxonomy of Plants which left me wondering if there was room for a Colombian field trip in the Herbology Certificate too!

Next up was Mr Sinclair above and then suddenly it was all over and we were being marshalled for photographs.

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Health and safety alive and well – this was our photographer in the aptly named cherry picker.

It perhaps says something about our particular group that we had all noticed that there we had two drink tokens per person for the reception, and there was rocky road.  I believe there were other nibbles but champagne and rocky road did it for me.

And now  …. ?  Well who knows but for the time being I shall keep saying yes and see what happens.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

siege, vows, pipes and drums

Only three hundred people,  mostly women and children leave the fortress of Hondarribia after a siege lasting two months.  Over 16,000 canon rounds have been fired and the city is almost destroyed.  But those three hundred people walk out, the city does not surrender and the French, all 27,000 men plus two warships are forced to scuttle away.  After two months the Spanish army relieves a city that has been defended only by local men, women and children.

This was three hundred and sixty one years ago.  However the gratitude of the people of Hondarribia to the people that helped defend the town resulted in a vow to the Virgin of Guadalupe (the patron saint of Hondarribia) to continue to thank her for her intervention during the resistance, siege and ultimate relief of the town.  That vow is kept to this day.

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We arrived on day one.  The first night we saw a single band, last night there were maybe two or three, this evening we lost count.

All marching and preparing, I hesitate to say practicing, because they are march and note perfect for the grand Alarde on 8th September.

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Three hundred years ago the defenders arrived playing pipes and drums and carrying what weapons they had from pitchforks to guns.

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Today they leave the guns and pitchforks behind but keep the pipes and drums.  Each night this week the town is filled with more and more people and more and more bands leading up to the grand finale the Alarde, when the bands march up to the old city and a great feast of celebration begins.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to have unexpectedly been part of these celebrations.  Thank you Hondarribia.

Love Gillie x

 

pipes and pintxos

It’s always the French air traffic controllers.  I wouldn’t be the least surprised to discover that Brexit is actually the result of a French air traffic controllers’ strike.  For reasons that I will explain shortly I googled “French air traffic controller strike” and discovered there is actually a website that gives you a full list of planned French transport strike action for the year ahead.  FOR THE YEAR AHEAD!

“Allo Henri, what have we got planned for November 2019?  Nothing? Sacre Bleu!  Who is next on the rota?  Channel ports?  Excellent, a perfect match for le Brexit.”

Whether the French transport unions handily give out a list so that you can avoid travelling or so that you can pack up your picnic and sit on the sidelines and watch is not clear.  However, on Sunday 1st September there was a big blank spot next to French air traffic controllers.  Why then, I wondered, were we sitting on a Ryanair plane at Edinburgh airport while the captain patiently explained that due to an issue with French air traffic control we were going to be sitting on said plane for at least three more hours before take off.2019-09-01 07.01.53

On this occasion the French air traffic controllers got a bonus in their holiday chaos bingo game.  It was a technical fault.  Whilst we were bemoaning the fact that we had had to get up at silly o’clock to be on a 6.55 flight, in the long term it worked in our favour as I gather that many of the flights after us were cancelled.

So it was that we arrived in Santander a little later than planned, but we arrived nonetheless.  Car hire sorted and we were on the road to Hondarribia in the Basque Country.  Rolling green countryside (it is the wettest part of Spain earning the  nickname of Green Spain) made the somewhat longer journey that we had expected quite pleasant.

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Lo and behold we had arrived at the start of what is transpiring to be a never ending festival!  When confronted by hordes of happy celebrating people dressed in green we did a bit of internet searching and found that Sunday was the culmination of a Pelota cup and it would seem that Hondarribia had won.  The band marched around town (several times).

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Led by a young lady spinning her fan and protected by two burly but grinning chaps!

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So we settled down in a bar with a glass of Txakoli (Basque sparkling wine) and a few pintxos (a sort of tapas unique to the Basque Country of which more in another post) and  soaked up the atmosphere under the red geraniums.

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The following evening we headed back into town and the joint was jumping again.  This time, the brass and drums had been replaced by pipes played by young men and women in the red beret of the Basque Country.

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Clearly the celebrations were continuing, which was fine by us!  This time a rather good glass of red and some baked camembert and garlic.

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Twenty four hours later as I write this I can hear the pipes again.  I think it may be another lively evening in Hondarribia.

Love Gillie x

dog days with a dog

In the early toddler days of summer I took you on a photographic tour of my garden after a couple of days of heavy and relentless rain.  Despite, or perhaps because of the downpour there was unexpected beauty to be found everywhere.

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I love this leaf.  Has it arrived, or is it about to embark?

The toddler is now grown and the musty, earthy smell of the early  morning indicates the arrival of autumn.  So before the season fully turns please join me on a wander around the late summer garden.

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Fuchsia, or as I called them when I was a child – Dancing Ladies.

2019-08-26 15.26.26The last of the summer lettuce.

2019-08-26 15.28.22Hide and seek playing sweet pea.

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Waiting for the grapes to ripen.

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Green, grassy-smelling hops.

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The sunflower hedge, heads up and soaking up the rays.

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Peppermint in flower.

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Not long now.

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Hawthorn berries bring colour to the hedges.

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Wild Carrot, open and closed.

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Blowsy dahlia.

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Agapanthus dancing in the breeze.

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The beginning and the end of the roses.

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Peppery nasturtiums.

2019-08-26 15.29.34Francine and Mylie waiting for me to move out of their way.

Enjoy the dog days of summer.  Maybe even with a dog …

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Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

much mushroom mmmmm

Summer took its time, yesterday I wore my first sundress of the season!  But who cares about sundresses when we can have mushrooms?  One of the advantages of lots of damp weather followed by the glorious warmth of the past few days is the massive growth in fungi in the woods.

The first was the chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), one of the few edible bracket fungi.

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Then the boletes (Boletus sp.) and puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum)

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As with all foraging only collect what you know and can positively identify.  After many years of foraging there are only a handful of mushrooms I will pick unless I am on a formal course/led walk.  These are boletes, chanterelles, jelly ear, puffball and shaggy ink cap.  There are plenty of others I am fairly confident in identifying but it is too easy to be confident and wrong so I leave them be.  The most useful advice I have ever been given, by a professional forager and chef, is to learn one mushroom at a time.  Learn everything you can about it until you can identify it and explain why you can identify it and distinguish it from any other potentially inedible or poisonous mushroom and then, and only then, start to learn about another one.  The same advice works well for any plant you might forage from aerial parts to berries to roots.

Many of the boletes have been sliced and popped in the dehydrator for use throughout the year.

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But when there is an abundance of fresh fungi then you can be sure it will be on the dinner table.

The boletes and puffballs were just sliced and fried in seasoned butter with lots of garlic.

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Delicious, but not quite as utterly yummy as the chicken of the woods.  A solid and meaty fungus with a strong, very chickeny  flavour, it is one of my favourites.  Today I chopped it into large bite sized pieces.

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Dipped into beaten egg and then seasoned flour with lots of paprika.  Fried in butter it is hard to stop sneaky fingers stealing it straight from the pan.

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A friend also suggests frying larger pieces without the egg and flour coating and then covering with grated cheese and popping under the grill.  It also pickles very well, holding its shape and flavour (use a lightly seasoned vinegar with with additional sugar and maybe some thyme and oregano).

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

professor smellie sprout

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I have several nicknames, my husband endearingly calls me the Septic Ferret, this has nothing to do with my personal hygiene but was a result of his response to me calling him a lazy old goat at precisely the moment during an episode of Blackadder in which Baldrick had clearly done something unspeakable.  Such billet doux as we send each other (please remember to feed the dog/electrician arrives at midday/we are out of  milk) are invariably signed off sfx or luvlog.   Beat that Cyrano de Bergerac.

However, it is  my most recently acquired nickname that is relevant today.  Professor  Smellie Sprout.  Again this has nothing to do with overcooked Christmas vegetables.  This name was given to me by my knitting group on hearing that I had recently completed a certificate course in Herbology at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.  .

[Oh and I got a distinction by the way] 

Much mirth ensued until I cured a very swollen ankle with my sore muscle salve , and offers of beatification followed.  Sainthood is not my thing, I couldn’t keep up the good behaviour for a start,  but herbs most certainly are.

[Did I tell you I got a distinction?]

So in October 2020 I start fours years of training to become a fully fledged, officially registered Smellie Sprout at the School of Plant Medicine in Cork.  In the meantime I need to keep my hand in so I have been writing up  my Materia Medica.  I imagine most people write up theirs electronically.  I don’t, not least, because come the apocalypse when the internet is but a dimly lit memory my Materia Medica will still be going strong.

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Even its box is a thing of beauty, and apparently an office appliance no less.

On one of the first mornings when I could wander around the garden without the need for wellies and waterproofs I began to take photographs to attach to the notes.  It’s surprising how much medicine you can plant in your garden.

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Verbena officinalis  Vervain.  The subject of my first monograph.  One of the oldest sacred herbs for the Romans, Greeks and Druids.  Useful for tension headaches, migraine and may also have a role, in conjunction with some antibiotics, in the control of MRSA.

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Hypericum perforatum  St John’s Wort.  Well known as an antidepressant it is also an important external wound healer.

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Tanacetum parthenium Feverfew.  Best known for the treatment of migraine (and its ability to self seed with gay abandon) it is also an anti-inflammatory and is used in the alleviation of arthritis pain.

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Borago officinalis  Borage.  One of my favourite garden herbs, so pretty and a delicious addition to summer drinks.  A cooling herb it was once called “cool-tankard”.  “Borage for courage” is an oft-quoted expression indicating its ability to restore life and vitality to the  downhearted and those weighed down by mental exhaustion.

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Artemisia verlotiorum  Chinese Mugwort.  One of the many medicinal Artemisia, one of the digestive bitters and strongly linked to the female reproductive system.

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Artemisia absinthium  Wormwood.  Forever to be linked to the era of Toulouse Lautrec and the apparent hallucinations brought on drinking copious amounts of absinthe.  The hallucinations were believed to be the result of the high levels of thujone in the plant, although that has now been debunked.  Today its extreme bitterness makes it a valuable member of the digestive bitters group of herbs and may also help the body cope with infection and fever.

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Verbascum thapsus  Mullien.  Unsurprisingly also known as Aaron’s rod, it provides dramatic structure in the garden both when flowering and as a dry autumnal stem.  Primarily a respiratory remedy, reducing inflammation and increasing fluid production. During a long and nasty viral infection this summer I drank mullein tea every day and can confirm that it is an excellent expectorant and soothing plant.

2019-08-23 08.45.08Leonurus cardiaca  Motherwort.  A member of the mint family, the clue is in the common name, motherwort has a long association with the female reproductive system and motherhood.  Its Latin name indicates its use as a cardiac tonic.

2019-08-23 08.45.30Foeniculum vulgare Fennel.  Almost ready to harvest the seeds.  A carminative, aiding digestion, antispasmodic and often used to relieve colic.

2019-08-23 08.41.17Matricaria chamomilla  Roman Chamomile.  This isn’t doing quite as well this year since the husband “weeded” my original plants earlier this summer.  These are the replacements and with only two flowers thus far my  harvest will be very low this year!

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Lavendula sp Lavender complete with friend.  I’ve been cutting and drying all summer, we have about six bushes which have been very productive this year.

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And here it is drying in the kitchen.

Time to write up all the notes now.

Love Gillie x

clean sweep

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I started this blog in order to be transparent about our decluttering journey.  That was six years ago.  We have a lot less unnecessary stuff now than we did then and are quite a lot better about what we let across our threshold in the first place.  But one area where I have always had a problem is my studio.

It doesn’t usually look like this!  This is the “I have pulled everything out and now need to sort it” photo.  Which is the method that works best for me – get it out, sort it.  I know it doesn’t work for everyone but each to their own and if I had to give advice I would counsel choosing one area (a room, a cupboard, a drawer – the size doesn’t matter) and emptying it all out.  It does look a mess, it may seem insurmountable, but seeing it all in one place both shocks you into action and, strange as it may seem, is easier and quicker to address than pulling out items one by one and considering them individually.  You can make sweeping sorting decisions and then tackle each pile in more detail.  Also when you see it all in one place it is easier to spot multiple duplicates and far easier to let go of the ones you don’t need.

But back to craft rooms/studios/cupboards.  For me this is always an area of rapid accumulation because I can always justify keeping fabric oddments, clothes that are past repairing but the fabric is gorgeous, yarn ends etc. because I may be able to use them in a project later and hey I am upcycling/reusing so that’s good isn’t it?  No it isn’t because nine times out of ten those oddments never do get used by me.  They (a) take up space  and (b) could be taken by somebody who actually will use them.

Taking up space: my kist was full of fabric and yarn.  Not only was it a nightmare trying to find something I knew was in there, half the time I didn’t know what was in there.  I found both distressing and stressful and made me feel terribly guilty.

Somebody else will use them:  I hope that the people who did take them (via Freegle) will use the yarn and fabric and it won’t just fill up one of their cupboards, but I can’t police that.  I hope that somebody gets some pleasure out of them, I hope that they find a new life and new use and are appreciated.

A couple of samples of the oddments that went to new homes.

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Everything from cashmere to acrylic.  Including several balls from the same dye batch.

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Hi-Vis to Harris Tweed.

My kist is now half as full.  I know what is in there and am shocked by how much yarn I have accumulated and didn’t really know about because it was buried under bags of stuff .  I went to a wonderful wool festival last weekend and had a fabulous time admiring the indie dyed yarn and batts.  I attended two extremely good workshops and had a fun time with friends at the evening event, but I bought nothing.  I have started to allocate my yarn stash to specific projects and not only do I not need any  more yarn, actually I don’t want any.  I want to use and appreciate what I have first.

My studio now

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Finally fired up by success in my studio I spent a day whizzing around the house and removing the stuff that had been in my eyeline for departure for far too long.  My friend’s charity is very pleased to have received all this, and my house is breathing a little more easily now.

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Love Gillie x