It’s all gone off on the allotment this past month. Yesterday we took in our first redcurrent harvest to joint the cacophony of strawberries. But there is also a list of greens to join in as well. Artichokes, mange tout, broadbeans, and our first onions. Now just holding our breath for some tomatoes and squash!
Ah the Solstice and the start of Summer! So much! So much… Too much? No. It’s just a wonderful time of year. Preserving starts, the allotment is lush (too lush), and the days are longer to take it all in!
To start, the Solstice itself is often a night we try and celebrate outdoors. Two years ago we walked from Sherringham to Blakeney towards the sunset. It was magical. Last year we feasted in Salthouse at the Dun Cow, and did the same. We swam in dark off the quay when we got home.
This year we went the other way. In the kayak. Leaving the cut we headed towards The Point. The sky was dappled in clouds backlit by a rainbow sky. We seemed to glide over the rippling water. It was breathtaking.
Then we landed on the point and walked up the biggest dune to have a No.4 cocktail (Gin, honey, cardamom, and black pepper with rosemary sprigs) and watched the sun set. The wildflowers glowed in the dusk as we walked back to the kayak. On the return journey we were treated to a large strawberrymoon rising over Cley! What a sight! What an evening. And all on a Tuesday night.
At home the allium has raised their heads in time for the 4th of July (you can take the girl out of America…) The staghorn sumac is flowering above and the lavender is blooming below. The garden is thick and lush with globe thistle, roses, and california poppies.
On the allotment is it artichoke season! The 50mph winds did go some way towards thinning our crop but there are so many there is more than enough! The broadbeans have been harvested for hummus, and the strawberries are rampant. We have already picked 4kg and so many more to come!
In the hedges the dog roses are in bloom with their classic delicate fragrance. The elderflower too has come out fully. Of course this can only mean one thing! Preserving!
The kitchen has been a hive of activity! Rose and lavender syrup for cocktail experiments. Elderflower cordial for the same, but also cakes. The strawberries have been put to good use in Eton mess with pistachio meringues and honey…. And jam. So. Much. Jam. Some with rhubarb and vanilla. The house smells sweet and sticky and floral with it.
The house is also fragrant with sweet peas from the cutting garden. The first posey of many we hope. With all the rain they look strong this year. But the delphiniums are the drama queens of my cutting garden at the moment. They are both dramatic and delicate and are putting on quite the show in their second year. And let’s not forget the charming country cousin the ox eye daisy. Fresh and cheerful they sit for weeks in a vase looking amazing.
With so much going on it is even more important to sit and reflect on each tiny joy on its own to full appreciate what is going on around us.
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.
The first swim of the year will always be cold. That’s half the point, surely? After a winter and chilly spring bundled in layers and coats, there’s something cathartic about the burning freshness of the North Sea, still carrying it’s memories of January’s churning, grey waves.
We cheated a little. Instead of tackling the open sea from Blakeney Point, we walked down the harbour at low tide to a favourite swimming hole. Even when the water is out, there’s enough depth left to swim a few laps.
A weekend of warm sunshine had taken the edge off that first plunge, but there’s still a degree of steeling oneself for a ritual which soon becomes second nature as the season progresses. Clothes off, don’t wait too long in the chill of the wind, tell the dogs to sit, dive under and then call them in: leaping with all their Labrador enthusiasm to save their floundering humans from their folly.
It’s never as cold as you expect and you never regret the decision to go for it.
There’s nothing like the feeling of the sea on your skin and I notice it especially on days when work has called me to the big city. There’s no better way to reconnect with life on the coast than returning home from a day of meetings, cycling to the beach and diving into the waves.
Emboldened by that first foray, I woke early the next day to find the sun already shining and a big tide rushing in past the quay. What better way to work up an appetite for breakfast than another swim? I walked down to the sheltered spot where the channel turns on its way to Morston and dived off the ramshackle old wooden platform.
Without the benefit of a full day’s sunshine to warm it, the morning tide felt much, much colder than before. Puffing against the incoming flow, I managed a few quick strokes of front crawl back up the channel, then let the tide wash me back down to where I’d started, escaping up the ladder to a towel and hearty breakfast.
It’ll get warmer every day. By September, there will be evenings when the water seems to melt into a liquid sunset around you and night swims glow with phosphoresence.
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.