Summer Insomnia

It’s not all bad.

I was trying to take photographs of the moon on the night of the eclipse and supposed blood-moon. It was the one day we had cloud cover and thunderstorms. I could hardly begrudge that!

I’m not much of a photographer, but the arrangement of Venus and the Moon over the pines  was beguiling.

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A little murky, sadly, but I could see it with my eyes, and it was magical.

 

After spending the night with the moon, it would be rude not to hang around for the sun.

6th August

Well, what have I been up to in my absence? Battling with sun-baked clay, mostly.

 

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There’s not a whole lot you can do for the larger areas of ground, unless you have money and machinery (we have neither). The fissures turn into cracks, the soil turns into dust, the most worrying thing is that the rain pours down into the crevices and undermines the structural integrity of the ground, but I suspect this all part of some perfectly legitimate plan the earth has, so I don’t interfere. I’ll probably disappear into a sink hole one of these days!

With beds, I do try to intervene as best I can: mulching like it’s the end of the world and covering the topsoil with a dense layer of wood chips: I use it like sunblock, hoping the earth underneath will stay moist and protected (wood-chips sweat something chronic en masse), and it will all rot down to provide some much needed hummus. I’m hoping it will retain what little rain we get instead of letting it run straight through into those terrible dry gunnels as well.

 

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Having clay soil can be a little like having concrete when you get sudden downpours, so we get flooding, even though we’re surrounded by hedgerows and trees to drink it up. Inventing ways to slow down the water and retain it is an exciting prospect, and so-called ‘rain gardens’ are very fashionable in these parts for exactly this purpose.

Half of me wants to collect it for the dry seasons to come, but I can’t help wonder what effect that might have on the wider landscape? Dry rivers and streams need the run off, I’m not sure me hoarding it is the best course of action…

Anyway, for now, I just work on slowing it down rather than stopping it moving altogether.

I dug over two of the small beds and beefed them up with some home-made compost, but I was forced to use a bit more of the grass compost than I wanted, so I’m waiting to see now if that’s a bit too acidic.

The herbs seem alright, the verbenas are managing, the shrubs are fine, and really it’s only the roses which seem a bit bothered by it. I’m surprised because I’ve never known a rose to mind anything!

Still, even on a bad day, you’re guaranteed to get something.

 

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July 10th

We are not amused.

It is too hot.

I am an English gardener, not a sun worshipper – not a sitter-on-beaches or a basker-in-parks interloper. I should be at rest only during the harshest winter (after a long year’s work), and yet, here I am, not in the garden…

I hide in shade or lurk in cold baths, flashing mossy fangs at people suggesting social events during daylight hours. I don’t mind a summer thunderstorm – how can one resist the decadence of storms? When the cling-film sunshine is overcome by the velvet of actual weather? – But the sun these days is a bully.

Like the grass, I turn brittle in the heat. A newt left out on a paving slab. A dry seed-head rattled by the kick of a leaping grasshopper – legs scraping like nails on a comb. Everything papery and stubbled.

We islanders talk a good game about craving the sunshine, but we still need our regular watering…

I begin to dream seriously of Elsewhere.

 

The soul makes a katabasis. The mind dips deep below the surface, and in a cool place, shimmers. For everything there is a waiting time. Enforced stillness. Lessons whispered in the breath between phrases.

 

This, I suppose, makes the intensity lovely.

 

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A Cheeky Look Back at Spring…

June 17th 2018 – Purple Lace

 

A few left over photographs of stunning summer grasses I can’t get let go to waste…

 

Honey Garlic

 

With great thanks to Audrey, who correctly identified my mystery plant – this charming Honey Garlic (Allium Siculum) has been very shy coming out, so I can’t wait until all her bells have all opened…

 

June 11th 2018 – Neglect

Let us swear an oath, and keep it with equal mind,
In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind…

Tennyson

 

A neglected garden tells its own story. Sometimes happy, sometimes sad. Almost always there is still beauty to be found.

 

May 15th 2018 – Any Ideas?

Sometimes, even the best laid plans get sidelined. You can be philosophical about irritating set-backs, as the chess master Patrick Wolff says: ‘If you try to over-control what you think you will achieve, you’ll miss what you can actually accomplish.’

Nice, right? I like to find smarter people than me to excuse/substantiate/embellish what would otherwise come under the category of ‘total disaster’.

Anyway, whatever the reasons, when you can’t get out and do respectable gardener’s gardening, you just have to go with the flow and enjoy the weeds.

How about buttercups, dandelions, and wild chives sweetening a sunny evening?

 

 

A few other surprises have popped up to remind me that last October I went on a bulb planting frenzy and just put every bulb I found languishing about the shed in the ground to see what happened. Most of them didn’t emerge, but some came up marvelous!

Unfortunately, I may have been a tad slapdash towards the end, because I certainly remember planting Alliums to pop up under the kitchen window…

 

 

But I don’t remember planting them so close to the Astilbes…

 

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Whoops! Never mind. The alliums will have orbited away before the pink and white plumes come out, and then I’ll dig them up and move them along – trying to remember that the bald patches will yield foxgloves next year. I’ve got plenty of plants to fill the gaps waiting for me when I have the opportunity to get my hands dirty again.

This is the thing when you don’t stick to a rigid plan in the garden. You set yourself up some lovely surprises!

Speaking of which… does anybody know what these two strapping green sentinels are most likely to be when they pop open?

 

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I feel like there should be a sweepstake…

 

April 26th 2018 – Intrigue and Mystery

As I’ve been investigating plant properties of late, and as I am something of a bibliophile, I’ve been nosing about all sorts of source material in my research.

From botanical journals to old wives’ lore, and those periodicals of note in between where plant and myth meet – the carry-on between thinking and planting is complex, and hearty.

The gardener might naturally take particular interest in any writings on nature, plants and the garden itself, but there’s always a new context to consider and steal from. Have you heard of a shadow garden, for example? A midnight garden? A physic garden in the front, with a hawthorn portal into various alternative dimensions in the back..? I mean, the design potential is inexhaustible…

I came across a concept recently, which I’ve doubtless read a hundred times before, but for some reason (probably my parallel literary research) it’s got my creative juices flowing.

This was the idea of something called The Hallow.

‘The Hallow is an old concept that retains the idea of an ancient center of equilibrium. It is unchanged by anything that has ever had contact with it […] No theology, religion or spiritual system has ever influenced its existence.

‘The Hallow stands between the material reality and non-material reality. It is neither, and it makes it possible for both dimensions to interact without collapsing either one.’

Raven Grimassi

Well, colour me intrigued.

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Ideas and concepts about in-betweenness – the liminal, the uncanny, the unnamable, the abject and obscure – have always been a personal fascination of mine (my favourite art is that which either manages to, or at least tries to, express the inarticulate). But the idea of this as a place is just thrilling. Especially as a place you can access! Not so much go to, perhaps, but draw from. What a sensation!

And it makes perfect sense.

Have you ever found yourself lost in a wild place? That sensation of being very much somewhere – surrounded by the natural, the real, the solid, the temporal – yet the creeping fear comes from a sensation of exactly the opposite?

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Gorgeous stuff.

Never judge a book by its cover! If you’re into plants, you might as well go really into plants. Good luck with it!

(As an aside, if you’re interested in gardens you can truly get lost in, I’ll be posting something about a genuinely terrifying garden at the weekend if I get round to it!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 22nd – The Best of Bitterness

As promised, some notes on my research on bitter plants and their healing properties.

I wonder if the bitter flavour is under-represented in most folks’ diets simply because it’s harder to identify than sweet, salty, spicy and sour? Or if it’s more of an evolutionary accident because too much bitterness often indicates something is dangerous or poisonous? Whatever the reason, I, like many, haven’t been getting enough of the important active ingredients in bitter plants, and this might be at the heart of some of my inner and outer problems.

Signs of toxicity in the skin, under-active digestion, gathering weight and joint pains – these are all indications of a system not operating at peak function – and it’s been fascinating for me to understand the relationship between my body’s complex functions and the active ingredients of some of the humblest plants in the garden!

 

Photo by Yamtan for Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

We need bitterness in life! This shouldn’t surprise the balance-minded gardener at all. To everything there is a season…

(Before we go any further, I feel obliged to shock you by revealing that I’m not a doctor. I have a very sad digestive tract which is finally getting some TLC, so my foray into bitters is just a journey of discovery – and not in the least bit backed by qualifications! If you’re not sure what a plant is, don’t taste-test it. Lots of things that are bitter are in fact really quite bad for you! I’m not going to mention the dangerous ones, because I don’t need to enter into real apothecary territory, I just want to boost my daily diet! So if you want to get more bitters, do your research!)

What are bitter plants?

 

 

Even the shortest glance at the list will start to form a familiar picture – these are standard apothecary plants, whether you’re visiting a health shop, or looking at the ingredients in an over-the-counter digestive aid in any pharmacy: aniseed, fennel, licorice, peppermint…

If the medicinal ones are more familiar to you as medicine rather than every day food, it might be a sign you’re not getting enough either.

Leafy greens,
chicory,
artichoke leaf,
basil,
fennel (seed and plant),
endive,
kale,
spinach,
chard,
rocket (Arugula across the pond),
dandelion leaves, (that’s why I grow them deliberately, all over my lawn, obviously. Ahem),
bitter melon and gourd,
turmeric,
fenugreek seeds,
barley,
nettle,
lettuce,
aloe vera, etc, etc

Some bitter herbs and spices: ginger, pepper, cardamom, thyme, marjoram, lovage, rosemary, tarragon, bay leaves, sorrel, sage.

Really, we should be getting bitters into our meals every single day for a happy, healthy gut and a functioning digestive system, and up until relatively recently, the only bitter I was getting every single day was coffee. And I’ll stand by that. Life is nice with coffee.

So, how have I been experiencing the joys of bitterness?

Some things, like camomile tea and salads, are easy no-brainers. But home-cooking is the best way. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from the East, where digestion is frequently the main focus of a meal.

ICHItsukemono-56a30e743df78cf7727ba01fSanbaizu Tsukemono (Japanese Pickle)
Image from: The Spruce.

From memories of my time in Japan – when I felt so good eating pickles and rice for breakfast – I’ve taken the idea of eating pre-meal ginger, and accompanying teas. The meals in a traditional Japanese onsen reflect the practice of separating the elements of a meal and letting the eyes feast first. An appreciation of food before scoffing it is more than an ascetic concern, it is a practical aspect of healthy digestion!

 

(Horribly blurry photos from my 2012 Japan trip – but especially worth sharing for vegans because Japan is a delicious place to visit!)

 

From India and Ayurvedic medicine I’ve gathered some gentle and wholesome recipes that help a struggling gut to get back on its feet, and in my own garden I’m starting to plot out a dedicated bitters larder!

I know there are some wonderful cooks out there, so if you have any recipes to share using bitter plants, do let me know!

Below are just a couple of quick recipes I’ve either tried, or will be trying soon (Including a rather pleasant unisex anti-bacterial face mask!)

I hope this has been interesting to you- and if you do have any tips, please share them!

If you’re interested in especially gentle-but-satisfying recipes for sad digestion, do let me know. I have found some in my searches which I quite like and I’m supremely lazy about cooking, so they’re nice and easy too!

Recipes


To Start

An Ayurvedic Appetizer

Eating this 20 mins before meals increases the digestive process – also bitter and astringent tastes battle bad bacteria so it’s a good way of preparing the guts for efficiently digesting food rather than dealing with internal weeding!

Ingredients: 

  1. 2 inches of fresh ginger
  2. 1 whole Lime
  3. 2 Pinches of salt

Prep:

  1. Slice ginger into long, thin strips & place in a jar
  2. Cover with lime juice & salt to marinate
  3. Eat 1 strip 20 mins before meal

 


 

Main Course 1

Nettle Pesto

You can use nettles in place of any green veggies like spinach and kale, so there are hundreds of recipes to utilise these free and abundant greens!

I like nettle pesto because I’m quite a lazy cook, basically. I also used to drink nettles in hot water instead of green tea, because nettles have a much subtler flavour and I found it a lot less astringent and drying.

 

Nettles by Yamtan for Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

 

I go to my nettle lardar (ahem) and pick the freshest, broadest, brightest leaves – wearing gloves of course – and cut them from the plant into a bag or a colander. Wash them with gloves on too. The sting is neutralised by either cooking them, or by crushing of them. For the pesto, either blitz them in a blender or a good old fashioned pestle and mortar if you’re feeling like it.

Add your favourite oil, lightly toasted pine nuts, maybe some garlic and/or almonds, or a cheese like parmesan (there are vegan parmesan alternatives that are actually more pungent than the real thing!) and hey-pesto!

It’s nice and simple and takes virtually no effort at all. Like all the weeding you didn’t do which allowed you to be nettle rich the whole summer through…


 

Main Course 2

Slow-cooked Fennel with Lemon
from Waitrose

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I’d love to eat seasonally all the time, but lemons really do brighten life up! If it’s still cold where you are, this warm, roasted wholesomeness and bright, fresh lemon plate of loveliness is just what you need to blow the cobwebs!

Preparation time: 10 minutes, plus cooling
Cooking time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes, plus cooling
Serves: 6

Ingredients
3 large fennel bulbs (about 300g each), trimmed, fronds reserved
2  lemons
75ml olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
3 bay leaves
4 tbsp roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
3 mint sprigs, leaves picked

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C, gas mark 4. Halve the fennel bulbs lengthways through the core, then cut each half into 3 wedges, keeping the core intact. Put in a roasting tray in a single layer. Pare large strips of lemon zest over the fennel, then squeeze over the lemon juice. Pour over the olive oil and 50ml water, then add the sliced garlic and bay leaves; season.

2. Give the tray a shake to coat the fennel in the juice, then cover tightly with foil. Roast for about 1 hour, until the fennel is soft, removing the foil 10 minutes before the end of cooking time. Set aside to cool.

3. Spread the cooled fennel on a serving plate with its juices (discard the bay leaves). Sprinkle over the chopped parsley, mint leaves and fennel fronds.


 

Aprés!

Don’t forget your face!

If you’re not getting enough bitters, you’re likely showing it in your face, with break-outs due to toxic build ups, age spots, and all sorts of crummy stuff.

This topaz daydream is what I’m putting on my face once a week (after I’ve given it a shake obviously).

Photo by Yamtan for Notes from a Compulsive Gardener

 

Three ingredients:

  • 1/2 Cup of Extra virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/4 Cup of Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup of water

The water dilutes the grease of the oil and the acid of the vinegar,
the oil hydrates and balances the skin
and the vinegar kills bacteria and sorts out discoloration.

Don’t leave this on as a moisturiser! You’ll be tempted by the lush feeling, but you’ll smell like a pungent salad dressing… (which this is also excellent as by the way!), but wash it off after about 10-15mins with tepid water, and pat yourself dry very delicately.

Don’t you feel much better about putting things on your skin when you know you can safely eat them as well? Who needs chemicals and preservatives when you can use your lunch to make you gorgeous?