Monday, 2 September 2013

Summer's End

Rose tinted window of the past
There comes time in the year where there is no denying the obvious - the change in the day length, the change in the morning temperature, the coolness of the evening and the sudden realisation that you may have to stop wearing sandals and flip flops very soon and revert to  the toe suffocating shoes of colder times. Yep, autumn is upon us - but what a summer! We were busy the whole way through it - seems like everyday brings its own jobs that in your head will take only a few minutes but once the gardening gloves come on, time seems to go into a different dimension entirely and next thing you know the sun is setting and you need to start thinking about dinner! 

I wonder sometimes what we would be working on if we weren't grappling with caterpillars, weeds, slugs and overgrowing trees and roses that can become giants in the blink of a fine summer's growth? But it's all worth it - the hard work followed by the watching and learning, and understanding on a deeper level the turning of the seasons and how that is reflected in our own turnings. And for the next six months I get to spend more time than just Saturdays and Sundays reflecting on that and hopefully without too much navel gazing - although I'm sure a newborn won't allow for that - I'll be able to appreciate it even more. 

Any ideas??
So what's happening out there? Take a virtual walk around the Holly Cottage garden - starting at the top - and an entire mesocosm is unfolded. The sunflowers are the first to be taken in - there is a particular one out there now that is covered in fourteen (yes, fourteen) flower heads - wow. Such golden yellow and such golden joy. Then the cover of trailing nasturtiums over the Mediterranean lavenders and the outdoor larder of fragrant herbs - mint, oregano, chives, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, parsley, basil - all frequent visitors to de Holly Cottage pot. And all of that in a space about 2m x 2m. Plants will enjoy any space available, in my experience they're really not all that picky - except the fussy ones, so don't get hung up on those (funny how that lesson translates right across the boards of life!). 

The readiness is all*
Walk a bit further past the bountiful strawberry bed, past the tall sweetcorn that brought a north American feel to the garden this summer, past the peas covered by the Holly dog-proof fence (it doesn't work - she'd put the pink panther to shame with her stealthy prowess), past the bright purple turnips, the inconspicuous parsnips, the tender carrots and the un-assuming beetroot all buried in the ground for now - and down to the corner covered in the dusky pink rose that brought such a sweet fragrance to summer evenings. Here - in the farthest corner of the tiny plot - the last few days have witnessed a transformation. Where once there was no light, there is an illuminated composting area newly built - all clean and shiny as shown here on the day of its making - and ready to take on the stalks of cabbages, spuds, leggy rocket and giant Brussels sprout stems and whatever else gets cast aside in the next few months from the bounty of 2013. 

On the other side of the garden is fruit alley - the scene of raspberry, blackcurrant, apple, pear and cherry tree. This spot was definitely a feasting table for the blackbirds and the Holly dog - we only got a handful of raspberries and blackcurrants, but then we had the strawberries all to ourselves! All the fruit trees and bushes are cut back now and it's Gladioli flower time - long stalks of green that find it difficult to hold their heads with all the lavish pink and red and purple decorating their stems, and that continue to fall under the weight of all that beauty - a bit like the sunflowers!

Flowering frenzy
Moving a bit further around I find myself in the greenhouse - miraculously in one piece after two battering winters - and I am lost in a jungle of chili plants, sweet peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I only have to smell the leaf of the tomato to realise the taste of the vine-ripened red fruits - add a leaf of basil and a touch of balsamic and Michelin star quality arrives in the Holly Cottage kitchen ;) After all, good food is about good ingredients. We'll cut the pumpkin today and see how that is - it's a bit early for scaring the neighbours yet but we will chance roasting the sweet orange flesh for dinner after some long day spent watering and picking and tending. The onions are already resting in the shed for the winter - red and white,  fragrant and sweet - and the Cork apples are tantalising the wasps that lost their home in the big clearance of the side hedge. Not to worry, it's been a great year for bees and wasps - the champions of honey production and of keeping other un-wanted aphid pests in check. 

And so, all this can't go on forever. And the heralds of September tell us that it's time to start packing up and readying for colder, darker days - hopefully with their own ample share of sunshine. This summer we were comforted with heat - maybe this year we will be blessed with sunny autumn days and crisp winter mornings, and just a dash of rain every now and then to keep us thankful. In the meantime we must ensure that the kitchen cupboards are full of sweet relishes, chutneys and jams to make the taste of summer last throughout the year. And we are ready on another front too - ready for maybe the greatest adventure of all - but we will have to keep ye posted on that front, no rush! 

This weekend's chutney foray was of the apple variety - a recipe borrowed from a Dublin chef one winter's night. The cooking of it fills the kitchen with the most fabulous of aromas - sweet Middleton apples diced, Asian cinnamon, mixed spice, crushed juniper berries, Californian raisins, Holly Cottage onions and sticky soft brown sugar sweetness all mixed with several glugs of cider vinegar and simmered down for a couple of hours. Now there's a tangy complement to sweet and creamy Wexford cheddar to brighten any winter lunchtime - and it will ;)

Happy Birthday Holly!
On another note - it's Holly's birthday today - all of three eventful years today. And bold as ever - thief of garden peas, lover of rocket and new potatoes, champion of stick fetching and wood foraging, patron of hugs and ear scratches and all-round trickster that can test your will yet charm you endlessly at the same time. Happy Birthday Holly!

*drawing inspiration from Hamlet Act V, Scene II

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