Enjoying The Fruits of Our Labours

A while back I wrote a post about Liz’s garden and all the things that were growing there. Now we’re in September it might be a good time to look again and see how things are.

The tomatoes have done well. There are not too many to show you because we both love tomatoes and between us we’ve scoffed a great deal. We’ve had some fried with bacon, sausage and eggs and some in my favourite salad; tomato and onion with plenty of olive oil.

We didn’t get many peas or broad beans but I’m guessing if we did Liz and daughter Zoë would have soon eaten those too. They like to eat them raw, nibbling on them as they pass by.

The cauliflower are not looking great as they have been the victim of some serious nibbling by the garden’s indigenous insect population. The insects can’t have been that keen on the celeriac as even though they were planted right next door to the cauliflower they are looking well.

We had a good crop of strawberries this year but they too have been harvested and eaten. We like them served with raspberries and some Greek yoghurt.

The padron peppers are looking good. I’ve seen padron peppers on the tapas menu in Lanzarote in the past but I’ve never tried them. This year we’ve had plenty of peppers on the barbecue and I have to say, I’ve got to really like them.

I grew some chilli pepper plants from seeds. Most have not done too well except for one which has resided on the kitchen window sill throughout the summer. That plant has a few chillies just waiting to be added to either a good chilli con carne or any one of a number of spicy dishes served in our household like Liz’s hot goats’ cheese with spinach and chilli. Another chilli plant, one that came direct from the garden centre sale is doing really well, that’s it in the picture above.

There is some garlic too, over on the far side of the garden which comes in pretty handy for curries and all sorts of spicy dishes. We sometimes add some to our tomato and onion salads too.

I’ve got two olive trees and both seem to have fruit on them, whether they will become fully rounded olives is another story. Some nice black olives would come in pretty handy as they are really nice when added to the tomato and onion salad I mentioned earlier.

It’s been nice to see that the apple pips I planted earlier this year have sprouted into two small plants about six inches high. Might be a few years before I see any apples though. that’s one of the apple plants in the collage below, bottom right.

Some years ago, I grew some lemon plants from pips. I really do love growing things from pips. It’s like having a close up of nature renewing itself. My lemon trees are probably about three years old now and according to the internet, they have to be three to five years old to produce fruit. That’s if they will produce fruit. The thing is if they did produce fruit, if they did actually produce a lemon for me that would be so wonderful, I’d be over the moon.

I’d probably cut a big slice of my lemon -my future lemon- and drop it into a gin and tonic with a whole lot of ice or maybe even a Bacardi and Pepsi Max. Then I’d savour it and quietly thank my tree for giving me a lemon. Once, Liz and I rented a villa in Spain and in the gardens were a whole bunch of lemon trees so we could pick one whenever we wanted.

I do have another lemon tree, a shop bought lemon tree. It’s only small but is obviously grafted and came with a few lemons already growing on it. After a few days my two small lemons dropped off and that was that. I’ve had it for about a year but I’ve watered it regularly, letting it dry out just like they say in those how to do it YouTube videos and blogs that I’ve been researching. I’ve fed it too with the correct fertilizers and nutrients. The other day I noticed something on one of the branches, something that at first glance seemed like a small bit of fluff or something that had been blown in on the breeze but it wasn’t. It was a flower and the beginning of a small lemon!

September has never been one of my favourite months. The days are getting shorter and cooler but last week here in the north west UK we had something of a mini heatwave so rather than go out to a restaurant or eat inside, it was time to crank up our very handy mini gas barbeque. As usual we started off with a tomato and onion salad. Slice your home grown tomatoes and place them in a dish, sprinkle with finely chopped red onions, pour over a glug of good olive oil and season well and if you fancy, throw in a few black olives and even some garlic; lovely.

Another addition is a tomato, chive and rice salad and some homemade slaw. We usually add a bag of salad leaves and we’ll nibble on all that while Liz slaps on our first course, small kebabs made from beef lorne sausages seasoned with cumin and some salt and pepper.

Next up on the little barbeque are some padron peppers, home grown of course, just simply seasoned and rubbed with olive oil.

A couple of homemade burgers go on the grill and I like them served up in a toasted bun with some of my tomatoes and onions and a nice portion of either mustard or tomato sauce. Final course, a small steak served medium for me and medium rare for Liz. Glass of wine? Don’t mind if I do!


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How Does Your Garden Grow?

Whichever way you look at it, the Coronavirus pandemic has been a real pain in the neck. I’m pretty lucky I suppose as I’ve not been furloughed because I work for a government agency. I’ve not lost any loved ones to the virus either but like I say, generally speaking, the whole experience is one I’d rather forget.

Things are looking up a little bit here in the UK. We can now go out and visit the pub, table service only though mind, no standing at the bar chatting. What really gets on my nerves about table service is that when the pubs opened up last time before the second wave there always seemed to be plenty of staff about to take your order and bring over your beer which was actually pretty nice. In one particular pub where the service has always been dreadful, the service actually improved. Now, every pub I go into they seem to just want you to order via the app.

Now not long ago I deleted a lot of apps from my phone. I just had too many of them. Now, pubs don’t want to serve you in the traditional way, they just want you to use the app and order online. How hard can it be to sort out proper table service? Let’s say two staff members behind the bar and one touring the pub taking orders. Sounds easy to me.

The person who takes your order goes to the bar and hands in the order, two pints of bitter please or whatever, the barman pulls the drinks while the waiter is at another table. He comes back for order #1, hands in order #2 for table B and takes the drinks to table A while the bar guy is pulling table B’s pints. The second bar guy can either take orders or collect glasses or just help out with serving or pulling pints whenever necessary. Sounds simple enough to me. What actually happens is a bunch of people are pouring drinks and after fumbling about with the app someone will turn up with the beers. ‘Carlsberg and an Ice Breaker’ announced our server the other evening. ‘A What? I didn’t ask for an Ice Breaker!’ ‘Yes you did’ said the server confidently. ‘Look, I didn’t order an Ice Breaker whatever that is’ I say but the guy only believes me when I show him my app which clearly states Carlsberg and IPA. So off the guy goes to fetch a pint of IPA which comes back a few minutes later. That’s technology for you, it’s only as good as the people who use it.

Anyway, enough moaning for now. The pandemic has actually forced us to turn inwards. Less going out, more staying in and when we get tired of the TV what else can we do? Well, we can go into the garden for a start.

Big or small, the garden can be a little pool of tranquillity and even if it is just a small balcony and a window box, plants and flowers can bring a little extra something into your life.

What I’d thought I’d do for this post is to take a few pictures of the garden and write a little about each one. I should say that’s its not really my garden, it’s actually Liz’s garden. My only contribution is to cut the grass and to light the barbecue but anyway, here we go.

This first picture is of Mr Blackbird. That’s him up there in the eucalyptus, shot with my Nikon D100 and zoom lens. He and Mrs Blackbird have started a nest in a clump of bushes not far from our breakfast table just by the back door. The eggs have been hatched and he goes out many times each day returning with some juicy worms for his chicks. He’s a wily fellow. First he lands on the big tree and does a quick survey. If the coast is clear he will fly into the small patio and land on the fence before hopping down to the breakfast table or one of the chairs. Then if all is still clear, he’ll hop down and fly up to his nest in the bushes.

There’s a distinct hum in the background. Yes, it’s the local bees. This garden seems to attract them and here at the beginning of summer there are plenty of bees about landing on flowers and looking for nectar and just doing what bees generally do.

As we’re not far from Blackpool airport there are other objects flying around like light aircraft and helicopters, I love both, especially the sound of small aircraft, that lovely lazy drone that you can hear from many small airfields. Up above there is a yellow helicopter that I see regularly and one afternoon I managed to put down my book and snap a few frames off with my camera. I have the feeling that the pilot actually knows I want to photograph his aircraft because when I leave my camera inside, that’s when he comes by flying low right above our house and when I have the camera just by, he always does a wide berth.

Back to the garden and out by the breakfast table Liz has planted tomatoes, peas, mange tout, broad beans and potatoes. There are also some cabbages and purple sprouting broccoli down there and a couple of herb pots with sage, thyme, chives and rosemary to name but a few. Next door is some garlic. Over by the table the large pot of strawberries are doing pretty well with some berries just about to change from green to red. Also over there is a chilli plant grown from the seeds of a chilli. In other parts of the garden are raspberries, runner beans, carrots, cauliflower, celeriac, aubergine, green peppers, sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes, butternut squash, padron peppers, globe artichokes and asparagus.

My lemon plants are doing pretty well. (Top right of the montage picture further up)They were grown from lemon pips a few years back but sadly have not yet borne any fruit. This year I’m feeding them with bone meal fertilizer and I’m firmly hoping that one day I might just grow a lemon. It does take at least three years for a lemon plant to fruit but I’m hoping this might be the year.

Years ago Liz and I stayed at a rented villa in Spain. The owner was an elderly chap named André, he was a Frenchman of Russian heritage and in his garden were many lemons and oranges. Spain of course is the perfect climate for citrus trees; perhaps I need to get myself a green house or perhaps even move to Spain!

I do have two olive trees, both of which were gifts and they are both looking good and I do love olives, not that either tree has provided me with any yet.

In the picture above we’ve got cabbage, potatoes and butternut squash.

Further down the garden we have a barbecue and it is so wonderful to light it up and cook outside on summer afternoons. It’s almost like being in France. Well, almost, but not quite. We have a big outdoor table down at that end of the garden and usually I’ll light the barbecue and we’ll start off with salad while the coals heat up. Tomato and onion salad with olive oil is my favourite and recently we have also had home made coleslaw and a rice, chive and cherry tomato salad. A typical meal might be homemade chicken kebabs (chicken marinated in lemon juice, chilli and garlic with a touch of tamarind sauce and cooked on skewers with peppers and onions), sausages, steak and of course burgers. Liz makes her own burgers from minced steak mixed with chopped onion and seasoned well. I like to serve mine on a lightly toasted bread bun with tomatoes, onions and mustard or tomato sauce.

A frequent visitor when we barbecue is this fella above. He or she always appears just at eating time. He makes his presence known by giving us a regular squawk and if nothing happens he will just carry on making a racket until Liz leaves some bit of meat on the garden fence for him. He’ll do a cocky sort of strut along the fence, pretty much like you’d expect a seabird version of Mussolini to do and then he’ll gobble up whatever we have left for him or if he doesn’t like the big guy getting too close and snapping away with his Nikon he’ll take it across to the adjacent roof and sort it out at his leisure. What he does for food when we are not barbecuing, I really don’t know.

When the food has been eaten it’s time to settle back with a glass of red and take a last peek at my book before packing up and going inside. As usual I’ve got a few books on the go. I’m reading the second volume of Sarah Miles’ autobiography, Serves Me Right. Sarah is an actress you might remember from Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines or Ryan’s Daughter. At the same time I’ve started the first volume in the Hamish Macbeth series, Death of a Gossip which I turn to when I fancy something a little lighter.

As usual I’ve tried to think of a link to books and films, bit of a tough task with the subject of gardens but here we go. Being There was a short book I read years ago by Jerzy Kosinski. It’s about a gardener, a pretty simple guy called Chance who has spent his life working for the owner of a large house and when the owner dies, Chance is left homeless. He knows nothing about the world except for the garden but he becomes popular as his simple observations about gardens are mistaken for great wisdom. After a random series of events, he even gets to tell the President of the United States his solutions for world problems, based on his understanding of gardens. You may not have read the book but it was made into a film starring Peter Sellers. Sellers based his own performance on a combination of his own gardener and Stan Laurel, a comedian that Sellers admired greatly.

So, how does your garden grow?

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells, and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.


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