We were in the middle of watching an episode of Grand Designs when Marek looked out the window and saw the sky lighting up with pinks and oranges. The tide was coming in and it all just came together for an evening sunset kayak. So we turned everything off and out went. Here is a taster of that sunset feeling.
Amidst the angst, anger, and anxiety of the last few days I have been comfort-preserving. Here are a few highlights.
The first stages of rose petal syrup
Pistachio meringues (not preserving but delightful)
Sea Thrift or Sea Pinks
This time of year the sea thrift carpets the marsh with low pink flowers. They seem to thrive here, even in areas that flood. I love watching the incoming tide creep between them and form a pool so that only the flowering tip is tall enough to poke out from the water!
In the verge the elder is now in full bloom and syrup seems to be the obvious choice to save this flavour for colder days. Cakes, cocktails, ice cream. We want to get a bit more adventurous than just cordial this year.
The poppies that brought this area the name ‘Poppyland’ in Victorian times are in their prime as well. This year the field of corn behind Blakeney is full of it. Not sure how the farmer feels about it but it is beautiful!
The avocets should be hatching and they have the cutest chicks. We haven’t spotted any yet but last year there were a few down the Cley channel so we may need to make a trip to look for them and experience the new harbour in all its opened up glory!
The garden has exploded and the red hot pokers, Marek’s favourite, are having a good year. They thrust themselves out from the background of geranium, clematis, lavender, nasturtiums, and California poppies. In the courtyard the roses are performing well. We have four varieties, but my favourites are the lemon scented yellow rose and the sugar scented rambling magenta rose. The succulents are back out full time as the only plants that will survive on my south facing table.
In the allotment high winds flattened some of the artichokes but they were getting a bit too thick anyway, and they have been made into mulch. The strawberries are coming in thick and fast now after some actual sun! The ox eye daisies are rife and self seeding so may need the chop. The squash didn’t make it through the torrential rains but I have put in seeds direct and they seem to have taken. Only a minor delay!
The cutting garden has been producing well this time of year for the first time. The verbascum have always been glorious but they are now also profuse. We have also added a cultivated red scabious and the ranunculus has come up for the first time. I have never had much luck with these until now. I almost gave up, but here they are and I now understand why florists love them so.
On the dinner table steamed fish with a lemony asparagus risotto was a real treat! The samphire keeps coming and grilled sea bass sandwiches are now a staple, if only we had caught them ourselves! Oh well, a little longing is good. You can’t have everything.
On evenings when high tide coincides with sunset we make a special effort to get out in the kayak. So peaceful. Takes away the cares of the day and is a perfect way to get ready to sleep.
Marek’s birthday, on the same day as our friend George, is usually an outdoor affair. This year we had a beach BBQ with our friends from Oystercatcher Catering. A simple affair with sea bass, crab, and an oyster bar (of sorts) on Cley beach. Of course no beach party is complete without a swim!
Start of Summer
This is the time of year when ‘firsts’ and favourites come thick and fast and it is easy to forget to be mindful and take it all for granted. The Japanese natural calendar marks this past season as ‘the beginning of summer’. Britain’s calendar keeps this until the Solstice at the end of June but I am going with now! Maybe I am just impatient. Maybe it is the harbour walks barefoot and the year’s first swim that convince me that it’s close enough.
In the courtyard the large frogs have been joined by a multitude of tiny frogs. I celebrate them for eating the slugs! The last of the tulips are fading and give way to the plethora of summer. I can see the first heads of allium waiting to take their place.
Out in the larger gardens the lilacs are in flower followed closely by the never to be out done laburnums. The elderflower a are only just starting but we await them eagerly to start preserving. Even the horse chestnuts are in flower. Their stately blooms remind me of the queen’s hat perched on the grand dame’s head.
On the allotment things are coming on by leaps and bounds the last two weeks, especially the weeds! In the cutting garden things have diversified from tulips only to ranunculus, white verbascum, iris, cerinthe, and red scabious.
We also spent a long Saturday digging over and building a windbreak for the tomatoes. We think it looks whimsical using scavenged marsh drift wood to keep costs down. Very pleased to keep things super-local. And super-economical!
One of the quintessential Blakeney activities is the harbour walk. When the tide goes out a veritable canine (and human) playground opens up. We went on a slight variation of our regular route this weekend. We enter the cut on the slipway in the car park and head out to the harbour, turning left and down towards Morston. This time we kept to the left and crossed banks of sand, mud and ,”Blakeney Blurghey” as our nephew Tom calls it.
At Morston we waded the channel and continued down to check out the boats in the Pit. Normally when we walk down this far we are aiming for Blakeney Point and the seals. Today we followed the marsh and got down the the old mussel lays.
We explored the Morston Meals, and entered the Freshes Creek by a subsidiary and headed over to the house boats. This section is lovely and secluded. The boats are tucked away with a patina from years of exposure to the North Wind.
Since our last update the acid green buds on the the trees have mellowed to an apple green. Blossom flutters in the air; the sloes are putting on a good show this year. We walked down the lane from Wiveton to the coast road and the petals snowed down on our heads from above.
Everything is starting to fill out and become lush. The vivid blue ceanothus clouds glow from garden walls. The long-awaited dark pink blossom on the corner of Saxlingham road has finally come out: warm magenta hues.
The air is now full of birdsong. The nightingales’ serenade can now be heard. The odd cry of the Northern lapwing calls over Blakeney and Cley marsh. The first swan pair glide down Cley Channel.
Barefoot season has started with a walk down the harbour at low tide! I always say there are two halves to the year in Blakeney, barefoot season and welly season. So pleased! We have also had our first BBQ’s on Cley beach. Fishing and sea bass sandwiches! This also leads us to start work by on the boat again and planning for a launch date!
In the allotment the squash seeds have gone in. Sweet pea seedlings go along the dahlia walk. I can’t wait for their sweet scent to fill the house all summer. In the kitchen, the smell of slow cooked gammon hocks over lentils permeates. Rhubarb, rhubarb, and more rhubarb! Crumble with Banana! With pomegranate in cheesecake. Allotment produce is increasingly finding its way onto the table. Locally caught crab from Andy’s Crab Shed on toast with pea shoots and avocado! Delicious.
And the tulips continue their show in the courtyard, on the allotment, and at East Ruston Old Vicarage. A must see!
The long awaited tulip season has begun with the first early bulbs bursting into bloom. Our new bulbs from Pieter Nyssan have come out and the monte orange was a flamboyant opener to the season. It was followed by Royal Acres and then Princess Irene and Cardinal Red. The bunches picked on the allotment are filling the house with their musky honey scent. In the courtyard, last years pink tulips in the central bed glow in the evening light. At the same time some of our new bulbs, apricot parrot tulips and belle epoch, have filled the troughs under the window with a warm glow during the day.
Elsewhere in the garden the Rosemary is flowering and the peony shoots have surfaced. On the allotment we have scattered Cosmo seeds in preparation for the floating flowers of Autumn and summers final call.
Under the magnolias and on the hill sides swathes of blue bells flourish. On our walk behind Blakeney Downs on Kettlehill Plantation their soft scent fills the air.
In Blakeney Cut the first tips of samphire can be seen just a few millimetres above the mud, a teaser of samphire on sourdough breakfasts to come. We have resumed our nightly visits to Mariners Hill, or Sunset Hill as we call it, to start the sunset season which lasts until October. The sun now sets North of Wells Pines and over the marsh in it yearly migration to The Point for the solstice. While not yet warm enough to sit with a cocktail, the colours of the evening sky make the trip magical.
Inland the rape fields are vibrant yellow and the countryside seems to glow in their warm reflection. All around wildlife pairs up and this pageant is played out most formally by the bowing pigeons on the rooftops and tree branches. In Holkham Hall’s deer park, and my driveway, the Tawny owls start to roost; their haunting calls drifting in the twilight.
In the kitchen gorse wine is set down, locking the coconut flavours in for a winters day. It will be at least nine months until it is ready.
The Equinox brings with it the return of longer days, seemingly all of a sudden. The clocks go forward and the evening is extended, so much so that we are now able to take the dog out for his evening walk after work. This treat lasts only six months for me between the Equinox.
The boats start to return to Blakeney Quay around Easter. In fact it marks quite a few things. My birthday being this time of year we usually have a rather elaborate tea with more cake than sense. Easter brings with it Mothering Sunday and daffodil walks. The world is bursting into bloom and bud. Blakeney Quay awakens and the tourists return for the first “busy” days of the season. (It feels busy compared to February but I suppose we are never as busy as the south coast, even in August)
The gorse is in full bloom and just to be on the Heath above Kelling or Salthouse is to walk through a cloud of coconut fragrance. Cuckoos have arrived on the marsh, and we found frog spawn in the garden. In the hedges primrose blooms and wild garlic unfurls.
This leads to many a tasty Spring treat. This year we have made wild garlic aioli, mayonnaise, and focaccia. (Try this recipe!) we were also advised to substitute the wild garlic in for leeks in potato soup by chef friend Jackson Campbell. For Easter we had 7 Hour Lamb which was amazingly tender.
In the garden the magnolias are in bloom and we all pray there are no frosts to spoil their glory. Itss fragility may make it all the sweeter. Winter jasmine adds to the yellow overtones of the floral season along with the daffs and primrose. In addition to the ipheion bulbs, our first tulips start to colour. It’s the start of a month or two of drama in the tulip beds.
Finally April brings with it some truly warm days, so long as you stay out of the wind. We often have our first picnics and BBQ’s on the beach and in the garden. The dunes at Burnham Overy Staithe provide good shelter, or under the cliffs at Weybourne.
This season is one of renewal and rebirth in nature. The Japanese calendar refers to it as “awakening of the hibernated (insects)”, but I like to think of in terms of colour; lime. A bright acid green is common to many new shoots before they mature into the various shades of green for the summer, and spring has it in abundance.
On of my favourite bright green plants of the this time of year is the Alexander. Last year we made a delicious chutney with aniseed flavours, but waited a bit too late when the stems had gone woody. This year we are doing it earlier. It is the first foraging produce of the year in our calendar.
The animals are awaking as well with the first frogs in the courtyard and driveway. Around the middle of the month the Great Tit returned to the birch over the courtyard to serenade us with his call. On the marsh, the swallows return as well as the chiffchaff.
The bulbs are in full swing with daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, and snowdrops filling the gardens and churchyards of the area. Adding to the spectacle are leucojum. The afternoon sun has some warmth in it and we enjoyed our first afternoons sitting the courtyard in the swing. My favorite place to relax. And at the end of the season we can see the first tulip shoots, a sure sign of warmer weather on its way.
With all the bulbs out the large gardens have started to open to the public and for Mother’s Day we visited RHS Wisley this year.
The seedlings for the upcoming allotment year are soldiering on, adding the bright green tone of the season.
Holidays: Mother’s Day (UK)
Events: East Ruston Old Vicarage Gardens open for daffodil season/Mother’s Day, 6/3/16 http://www.e-ruston-oldvicaragegardens.co.uk/pages/view/564/home.htm
Chestnut Farm snowdrop walk 3/3/16 and 6/3/16 http://www.ngs.org.uk/gardens/find-a-garden/garden.aspx?id=17225
Beginning of Spring
This time of year can have quite unpredictable weather. Year to year, and even day to day. The Japanese calendar labels this time with respect to rain water. While rain certainly features, I would describe the last two weeks as, changeable. One day I can find the warm earth under my hands in the garden, followed by snow and hail the next.
The geese continue to migrate, and birdsong can be heard in the afternoons. The current season from March 1-5 is named ‘Grass sprouts, trees bud’ on the 72 Season calendar and I couldn’t agree more. What a wonderful site, the new growth on trees. In the hedges the blackthorn is in blossom and on the verge the alexanders are starting to bud.
In the garden when I look around it does not surprise me the yellow and purple are the colors of Easter. The Grape hyacinths and Anenome blanda are out in the courtyard. And on the road sides is another plant common this time of year that I just call ‘purples’. Their lack of official name does not diminish the joy they give when you see them. Meanwhile, in the cutting garden the first Daffodils have bloomed and are now adorning my dining room table.
Work in the allotment has begun in earnest. Tomatoes, Marigolds, and Leeks are going through the propagator. The earth is warming and we have started digging over the scanty winter weeds before they take hold. It is just too tempting to plant seeds on warm days. After digging over last years cosmo bed I scattered Nigella “White lady” seeds, only to have it snow the following day! All this work justifies a trip to the Cley Deli for their delicious pies for a hearty lunch, and a slice of their cake to follow. In the evenings, beef seasoned for a week and slow cooked for 8 hours, is a weekend treat.
When we aren’t scratching around in dirt, the weekends find us on long walks with a warm breeze, but still dressed for winter.
The kayak comes back into regular use and gives us an upclose look the the birdlife on the marsh. As the boating season approaches, mooring maintenance becomes a priority in preparation.
I am filled with anticipation of warm weather and new life.
Events: Daffodil and Snowdrop Walks at Bagthorpe Hall 22/2 and Horsted House 21/2
Holidays: St. David’s Day, March 1st.