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.

2019-08-28 09.46.08Teasel head

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

mint and roses

At last, we have sun!  I have been itching to harvest the herbs and flowers in the garden and hedgerows but it has been far too wet.  So today I am in overdrive and the house smells divine.

First was the rosewater (recipe here)

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The roses are heavy with flowers and there are plenty more buds so I picked about 200g and the kitchen is filled with Radio 4 and the smell of rose petals!

Next was the mint.  I have peppermint, spearmint, apple mint and chocolat emint.  First was the peppermint

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I have already made a large jar of mint sauce and have one jar dried.  But that won’t last the winter so in went another batch and I had a cup of tea as well.

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The meadowsweet it out, there are fresh nettles growing around the hen house and the lemon balm is going wild as well …

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…but there is only so much I can get in the dehydrator.  However lemon balm is a good insect repellent, as is basil, which is also going rampant.    Their insect repelling action is due to the presence of citronellal (in lemon balm) and citronellal, estragole, limonene and nerolidol, all of which affect the pesky little biters’ sensors and their ability to find their target – namely us.

So while I wait for the mint to finish in the dehydrator here is my very simple insect repellent recipe:

  • jar
  • vodka (or witchazel)
  • Lemon balm leaves
  • Basil leaves

This is just a basic tincture recipe, and I would normally used vodka to make tinctures and make separate tinctures (simples) and mix later. However, as this is a predetermined mix which  will be sprayed on the skin and witch hazel has a soothing effect on the skin I have opted to used it instead of vodka and mix the herbs in the jar.

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Pack the herbs into the jar, cover with witch hazel, seal and label and date (you will not remember what it is, I promise you) and leave for two weeks in a cool dark cupboard.  Then strain and keep in a dark jar.  When needed fill a small spray bottle half full with the herb tincture, top up with water, that is it!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

an english country garden

… in the rain

I seriously considered putting on wellies just to walk round to the orchard to let out Mylie and Francine.  Seen here in sunnier days at Easter

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Francine on the right and Mylie on the left.

The rain seems to be endless and I wonder if I will ever sit outside with a book and enjoy the garden.  But let’s be honest, the long, hot summer of 2018 was an aberration and this is a more traditional English summer.  So here are some pictures of the beauty of an English country garden in its more usual “habitat” … the rain.

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The flagstones under the garden table, where we will not be eating supper tonight.

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Rosa rugosa holding up against the rain, not so delicate after all!

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Leaf sailing on across the overflowing water butt.

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Snail hiding in the fallen rose petals.

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Bounty in the garden.  Woad, fennel, motherwort, mugwort, artichoke (globe and Jerusalem), runner beans, peas, yarrow.

It may be wet, but it’s still beautiful.

Love Gx

reclaim your garden

Excess photo alert: the sun doesn’t often show his face around here!

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Here in the UK the sun has been out for three whole days.  That is little short of a miracle and in true British fashion, the weather is pretty much the number one topic of conversation.  It is wonderful, I am a summer person, I hate wearing lots of clothes and can’t wait to be in flip flops loose tops and cut off trousers and leggings.  It certainly makes deciding what to wear in the morning much easier when you only need to wear two items!

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Yesterday I took the day off, no work whatsoever.  I lay in the hammock all afternoon and read.  At the perfectly appointed time The Boss came out with a large glass of Pinot Gris.  At this point for fear of wasting the Pinot by inadvertently watering the grass with it I moved to the table and continued to read, sip and listen to the birdsong.

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What has made this year in the garden so wonderfully easy is that we decluttered all the outbuildings two years ago.  We no longer have half a deckchair hanging around just in case.  Boxes of garden toys that the girls have grown out of have gone.  In fact yesterday morning the trampoline frame (the pad had long gone) was picked up by a chap who is going to use it to make a polytunnel (Freegle is wonderful for letting things go to new and better homes).  We now use our hammock and deck chairs, I sit out in the courtyard with a cup of tea, we play ping pong in the meadow.

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Dolly enjoying a doze in the sun.

It is so easy to stuff seasonal things away where you can’t see them out of season, but then come summer (or winter and where are the snow chains?) and the effort of digging through all the rubbish is so depressing that it is easy to be tempted by those special offers and just go out and by some new chairs or ping pong bats.

Remember the Hanging Gardens of Brancepeth?  Now look at them.

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It’s lovely out there, take advantage of that, clear out one bit of one garage/outbuilding/shed.  Reclaim your summer.

Love Gillie x

potagers, physic gardens and whirling topiary

Yesterday I got up exceptionally early (actually an hour earlier than I needed to because I couldn’t read the clock) to head down to London for the Chelsea Flower Show.  Despite an hour of extra time to get ready I  managed to leave my phone at home so all the photos here are courtesy of the lovely Caroline who acted as my official snapper.

I was rather disappointed with the show gardens.  I appreciate that everything comes in cycles and that fashions change, but I got rather bored of endless firs, sparse plantings and large blocks of concrete and metal.  I mean, I took one look at the metal slabs in the Best in Show Telegraph garden and the first thing I thought was “of course, mountains”??  Meanwhile I rather liked  the comment I overheard at the L’Occitane garden “I might like it when it’s finished”!  Indeed, it was an excellent reproduction of a pretty and arid scene somewhere in the south of France.  But it wasn’t a a garden.  Certainly there were precious few that I would say, “oh yes, I’d like to sit out in that.”  But then I suspect I am rather old fashioned.

This came to be proven when we came across the Harrods Garden.  Plentiful and stunning planting, we weren’t the only ones to think so, it was one of the most crowded gardens I have seen in Chelsea for years.

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It was rather eccentric as every 15 minutes the topiary began to whirl and bob, the garden spun around the folly, and the window boxes rose up to the second floor (I rather liked the idea of being able to take your window boxes to bed with you).  But the planting, it was a dream.

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The other garden I loved, was similar in style, the RHS Greening the Gray garden, again plentiful planting (I particularly liked the idea of planting roses amongst the annuals, so often they are made to stand alone).  This was unusual as you could walk through it and enjoy it as a garden rather than merely spectate.  Vegetables in pots on the roof of the sheds, traditional mixing of veg and flowers and plenty of bee friendly plants.  In both gardens I was so impressed by the lupins, delphiniums and foxgloves so tall and straight!

We are fortunate enough to have enough space to grow pretty much what we want, north of England weather and chickens permitting.  I am very keen to build a physic garden and really want to do the Foundation Course at Dilston Physic Garden.  I wanted to do it this year, but I can’t make the dates so have blocked out the dates for next year already!

In the meantime I  need to start to plan the plants and compare to what I already have and where I have them.  At Chelsea I saw these  by Bacsac

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They are lovely, but more than I can afford.  So this bank holiday weekend the Boss and I are going into design mode.  Actually the design is less of a problem it’s the material, but we have an idea.  Watch this space to see if it works.

Love Gillie

 

 

 

the hanging gardens of Brancepeth

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I cannot take credit for these.  I first saw them on a friend’s blog, it wasn’t her idea either!  But now I pass them on to you, let there be hanging gardens around the world.

Quick diversion, anyone reading this who went to a PNEU school will have had a class called From Ur to Rome.  It was based on a book of the same name and was tolerably interesting.  However, the sections on the ziggurats and on the hanging gardens of Babylon transfixed me.  I was frequently in trouble for flicking back to them and thus having no idea what the rest of the class was discussing!

You will need LOTS of plastic milk bottles (2l) or detergent bottles (the bulk 3l ones).  Unless you are a family of 20 who each drink a litre of milk a day collecting these will be the hardest part.  You need to raid your friends’ recycling bins.

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Place the bottle in front of you sideways on with the handle on the left then cut out a square shape from the opening at the top down about 4-6 inches depending on the size of your bottle.  Next attach some two by two to your chosen wall.  The number you will need will depend on how long you plan on making your garden.  You will need a new support every 3ft or so.

Now insert a large round hook in each support.  Thread the appropriate length of dowling through the handle of each milk bottle, rest the dowling in the hook and hey presto your very own hanging garden.

We have planted salad greens, summer herbs, carrots, strawberries, nasturtiums