|Fraxinus angustifolia 'Raywood' and Rhus typhina in Chippenham yesterday|
Wednesday, 26 October 2016
Tuesday, 25 October 2016
|Our part of the score, with my annotations above the score line on how it should be performed on the day.|
My head is still stuffed with the most wonderful music today, so it's time to take a break from my usual bloggage.
On Sunday I sang the chorales in Bach's St John Passion at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon, as part of a project put together by English Touring Opera (ETO). Our performance was reviewed in The Guardian yesterday, which has kept the music in my head and the good feelings going well into today.
I must admit I was a bit daunted at first. I can't read music, it's a challenging piece, and it's not the kind of thing I usually perform or listen to. However, the WMC Choir component was a scratch choir, so there would be plenty of people like me there. It was too good an opportunity to miss.
Can a scratch choir perform to the standards expected by ETO with just four rehearsals? It seems we can, as long as you do your homework. There were practice tracks to sing along to courtesy of Cyberbass and the whole thing is available on YouTube. The latter looks like a classical music version of karaoke, with the various components of the score moving along to the music, and a translation line running underneath.
Scrolling version of St John Passion on YouTube - this is the opening chorus, Herr, unsere Herr.
The left shows the sung parts, the middle is the strings and organ, and the right the other instruments.
The fourth rehearsal on Sunday was with the ETO and my first experience of performing with classically trained musicians. Jonathan Peter Kenny, the conductor, gave us no quarter despite having an imperfect piece but with a huge chunk of soul in mind. This would take the performance back to Bach's original intention, when it was sung in church as a community witness of faith with the congregation singing the chorales. It truly is a piece for the masses rather than the hoi polloi, but that didn't mean a sloppy performance was expected of us.
"You sang beautifully, but it might have been in Zulu, which I can't understand", was a typical remark from him. I giggled at this point as I have sung in Zulu. "Remember, text, text, text. I want the audience to hear what you're saying and be involved with the performance, yes? Look at them and draw them into the piece."
He was also a very dramatic and energetic conductor, roaming amongst us during the rehearsal and we took bets on whether he might fall off the stage later that evening. Sadly, he was a little more restrained in the performance.
The opera singers were a revelation. As a soprano I was drawn to Susanna Fairbairn's technique. I noticed she relaxed and bent her knees slightly for the trickier parts of the score, and when she stood next to me, I could hear her emphasis on the consonants like 'b' and 'p'. It sounded like she was spitting them out. As for mezzo-soprano Katie Bray, I never knew so much sound could be expelled from so tiny a frame.
|Part of the running order, with our instructions for when to sit and stand without making a noise|
I was particularly struck by the lute with an enormous neck, which is called a theorbo. I also spoke to one of the flute players during the interval. Hers was a wooden, less complicated instrument compared to today's, like a cross between a flute and a recorder. She told me it's her favourite instrument to play and the silver rings are purely for decoration. It seems even musical instruments can have a bit of bling.
At the end everyone was in tears - choirs, audience, orchestra, and our conductor. As I left the building to come home, I overheard a couple of the audience say "That was amazing!" That's a good enough review for me.
A lot is written about the inaccessibility of opera. The cost of tickets is high, you need to dress for the occasion, and it's usually sung in a foreign language. I'm glad those criticisms - and my preconceptions - were blown apart by this amazing project. Around 30 local choirs will be involved in the tour around the country, including a gospel choir. I'd love to hear that.
Friday, 21 October 2016
|You can read the whole of Robert Frost's wonderful After Apple Picking here.|
This year marks a change in how I'll use some of my harvest. The bulk is for eating fresh or squirreling away in the freezer to extend the time I can add chopped apple to my daily porridge. The difference lies in what I'll be doing with the remainder: in the past windfall cake and apple jelly were our staple fare, but now we're trying to reduce the amount of refined sugar in our diet.
As a result, a smart, shiny new juicer awaits these apples in my kitchen. I agonised for ages over whether to invest in this or a press. In the end I decided I'm not quite ready for a bulk approach to juicing, nor do I have the freezer space or bottles needed to store them. Smaller amounts freshly prepared to accompany our meals are sufficient for our needs... for now at least.
If you want to find an Apple Day celebration, then the People's Trust for Endangered Species' website has taken over the mantle pioneered by Common Ground. Their Apple Day section is the page you need, and their Traditional Orchard and Orchard Network campaigns have a wealth of useful information on all things apple.
Tuesday, 18 October 2016
Here's a nice surprise from last week's mail. I wrote the above article for Suffolk Plant Heritage Journal early this year and then promptly forgot about it. Click to enlarge the picture if needed.
|'Washfield Double' hellebore|
They rewarded me with a surprise flowering in late spring which shows they must be settling in well. These forms were bred by Elizabeth Strangman, who raised them from double flowers of Helleborus x hybridus she found growing wild in Yugoslavia.
They're beginning to make themselves known again, now that summer's foliage is beginning to die back. So far I have a couple of creamy speckled ones, and I may find I have white, yellow, light or dark pink ones too. It's good to know I have some new treats and a few surprises in store for when winter takes hold of the garden.
We also have a University of Bath Gardening Club member who is well-known for the hellebores she breeds in her garden on the edge of Bath. I'm looking forward to visiting one of her open days next year. Who knows what might follow me home from there...
Which plants have you decided not to grow, only for them to seduce you into thinking again?
Saturday, 15 October 2016
Earlier in Blooms Day I talked about the concept of Sleep, Creep, Leap which allows plants to take time - around three years - to establish themselves before they show their full glory. I've also blogged about surprise returns to the garden after a long absence - yes, I'm looking at you, Fuchsia 'Garden News' and you, Anemone 'Hadspen Abundance'.
Little did I know there was an even bigger garden surprise awaiting me, in the shape of the pictured nerine. I planted it in a sunny gravel area at the side of my garden seven years ago; the best spot for it, or so I thought. Most years it's deigned to show a couple of untidy sprawling leaves and this year it's actually flowered for the first time.
My last job often took me to Dublin, where it seemed every front garden hosted a border or two of the more familiar pink nerine at this time of the year. I felt they'd lined up in welcome, with their heads nodding approvingly in the breeze as I made my way into the heart of the city. I decided to honour that notion, but with a twist to make it my own.
When I researched this post I found the probable reason why my nerine has taken so long to flower. I thought it was a relatively hardy Nerine bowdenii, but the RHS website shows it as Nerine undulata (Flexuosa Group) 'Alba' instead. The details say its hardiness is H3, thus only suited to milder areas in the UK. Perhaps last year's relatively mild winter is why my bulb has flowered at last.
Was it worth the wait? I think so. I love the frosted sheen of the petals, which remind me of icing sugar. Now I've found my bulb is tender, perhaps it's time for some Dublin-inspired lipstick-pink ones instead.
What's been the biggest surprise in your garden this autumn?
Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.
Wednesday, 12 October 2016
|A host of golden daffodils: a chance sighting at St James's Park, London in March|
Now there's the opportunity to try again as NAH - in Drastic Gardener guise again - has started to cut back some of the unwanted vegetation (mainly suckering blackthorn and bramble from the public land), thus letting more light onto our patch. The overgrown dogwood still needs taking in hand, but my mind is set on a host of dancing daffodils again.
In the meantime, I've treated myself to some of the daintier ones to cheer next spring. These are mainly in pots, so I can admire them from the patio. I tried this a few years ago and was surprised one evening to find the most amazing scent outside our bedroom window. It was the year of the freakishly warm March and I'd opened the windows wide to cool down. The voluptuous scent of N. 'Thalia' drifting upwards on the air was my reward.
So some more 'Thalia' went on my shopping list, along with 'Jack Snipe', 'Topolino', plus a species one, Narcissus lobularis. I've found the smaller narcissi to be the most rewarding daffodils of those gracing my garden. I also have a large bag of mixed bulbs (a garden centre club member freebie) which I shall add to those I've guerrilla gardened along the public path at the side of the house. Here the more robust, taller varieties rule the roost, making it easy for the residents of the local care home to see when they're taken out for a spot of fresh air.
I love many varieties (see below), and by picking a diverse range their display usually brightens my garden from February to early May... or in the case of last year, from December until May.
The best spot for them is in sunshine, or a place that receives at least 3 hours of sunshine per day. This can include some surprisingly summer-shady spots if the overhead canopy is deciduous. If the leaves have time to die down for 6 to 8 weeks after flowering before the leaf canopy closes overhead, it's worth giving them a try.
Deadhead spent flowers (so the plant concentrates on food stores rather than seeds) and allow the leaves to die down naturally after flowering. I quickly learned by tying them up or cutting them back to neaten the border was a surefire way to guarantee no flowers next spring. Plants need as much leaf area as possible to help them store sufficient food back in the bulb to power next season's flowering.
Plant firm, healthy looking bulbs; if any of them are soft or have signs of mould, they should be discarded. I've found sprouted ones are fine, as long as the rest of the bulb remains firm. Problems may include slug or snail damage, Narcissus basal rot, and Narcissus bulb fly.
- 'Geranium' (scented)
- 'Tete a Tete'
- 'Cheerfulness' (highly scented)
- 'St Patrick's Day'
- 'Ice Follies'
- 'Pheasant's Eye'
You can propagate daffodils, but they are usually so plentiful and cheap in the shops, it'd be rude not to buy them. Some varieties are good at propagating themselves - a big clue is when the blurb says 'good for naturalising' or 'clump forming'.
You could also try breeding your own daffodil variety. If this takes your fancy, Lia Leendertz's article on Ron Scamp - daffodil breeding supremo - will be of interest.
You may also like
- Breaking the Rules: Bulbs - in which I explain all is not lost if you - like me most years - don't manage to plant your daffodils this month
- Brightness Amongst Winter's Decay - last winter's record breaking flower count, including my earliest blooming daffodil, ever
- Bunches of Daffodils - one of my favourite views of our estate in spring
- Guerrilla Tactics - evidence of some of my guerrilla gardening
- London Surprises - which shows the bank of daffodils planted by the Tower of London. Imagine a bank like this with some trees and that's how my front side garden will look *crosses fingers*
- Miracle on St David's Day - my Muse Day post which introduces a quite different poem on the theme of daffodils
- The Lent Lily - another poem for Muse Day which uses one of the daffodil's common names
- Tippity Top Daffy Down Dillys - what to look for when buying daffodils (always my winter treat), courtesy of some of our fabulous British flower farmers
- University Research Garden - a show garden from RHS Cardiff, which highlights the varied research carried out at the university, including the role daffodils may play in the treatment of Alzheimer's
- The RHS' guide to daffodils, includes pictures of the 13 Divisions used to classify them and how to propagate them if you'd like to have a go
- Wikipedia's Narcissus entry has a lot of information on daffodil taxonomy, habitat, distribution, uses etc.
- Wikipedia's list of daffodils awarded the RHS' Award of Garden Merit (AGM) - seven of my favourites are included, plus 'Jack Snipe' I've just planted
- The American Daffodil Society has a useful website and includes a list of FAQs plus information on exhibiting in the USA. Alternatively, Great Britain's Daffodil Society has been going strong since 1898
- The National Collection of pre-1930s daffodils is held by Croft 16 in Scotland. The best time to view is in April and by appointment. Another part of the National Collection is held by Brodie Castle, a National Trust for Scotland property
- Wordsworth's Daffodils is one of our best-loved poems. Did you know there are two versions of it? No, I didn't either until I wrote this Plant Profile. Wordsworth's Daffodils reveals all...
Monday, 10 October 2016
I've stuck with Friday's windowsill theme for today's post, but moved upstairs this time. I've just rescued my tomatoes from the patio as I spotted the first signs of blight yesterday. Like most resistant tomatoes, my trial 'Mountain Magic' does eventually succumb to the dreaded disease, though at a much slower pace. It means I've had enough time to harvest the remaining fruit.
I picked 6 large punnets: 2 each of 'ready to eat now' and 'needs a little more ripening', plus 1 each of 'needs a lot more ripening' and 'not sure if they have blight'. I've found tomatoes tend to develop a warning translucence before blight reveals itself. You can see some potential candidates I'm keeping an eye on in the above photo.
At this point, most people would share their favourite recipe for green tomato chutney, but we're not great eaters of it here at VP Gardens. Instead, I spread out my tomatoes on windowsills on the sunny side of the house where the ripening ones kick start the green ones into action. A daily inspection means I can spot any developing troubles and dispose of them before they affect their neighbours.
The ripening process can be slow, often going on into late November/early December, but that's fine by us. It means we'll continue to eat tomatoes the way we prefer them, in our autumn/winter salads. Eating them out of season makes them taste better somehow.
How do you preserve or ripen your rescued fruit and vegetables?
Friday, 7 October 2016
|Before: evidence of my shameful treatment of Aloe vera|
"... What's that doing on my seat?", I asked NAH.
"It's getting in the way, and I'm fed up. What is it anyway?"
"It's Aloe vera. I keep it there in case we have a burn to treat."
"And how many times have you used it?"
"Er, none," was my shamefaced reply, "that's why it's got rather out of hand."
Aloe vera is a tough succulent suitable for growing indoors in the UK. That pictured little lot goes back well over nine years, as I was given an offshoot to pot up by my GNO friend H well before I left my last permanent job. The only care I've taken since then was to pot up the pictured three pots of them grown from the original offshoot, and to trim the dead ends and leaves from time to time.
I'm shocked by my own neglect, yet pleased NAH in his Drastic Gardener guise has stirred me into action.
|After: two small offshoots of Aloe vera flanked by two different Plectranthus species|
Barbara gave me another two Plectranthus species, related to the coleus we looked at in my Keep it Simple front garden recently.
She thinks the plant on the left is Plectranthus habrophyllus, but can't say for sure as she herself received it as a cutting. It's an aromatic plant, which has a quite a minty overtone when I gently crush a leaf.
On the right we have Plectranthus amboinicus, another aromatic plant with a host of common names e.g. country borage, French thyme, Indian mint, Mexican mint, and Spanish thyme. Barbara called it Cuban oregano and I'd say it has more of an oregano/thyme aroma than mint. The leaves are fleshy and fairly hairy, and the plant grows quickly on my sunny south facing windowsill.
It doesn't seem to mind being chopped back quite severely, so I'm going to experiment with using it as an alternative to basil and oregano in my pasta dishes this winter. Basil in particular does not grow at this time as there's insufficient light, so it'll be interesting to see what my new plant brings to the kitchen table.
Note: if you're wondering where the windowsill referred to in the title is, I've spared you the sight of it as my windows need cleaning.
Latin without tears
- Aloe derived its name from the Arabic word alloeh meaning bitter, because of the bitter liquid found in the leaves
- vera means true or genuine in the context of being the most effective healer in the case of Aloe vera
- habrophyllus is derived from the Greek habros meaning graceful, and phyllus for leaf. The frilled leaves of Plectranthus habrophyllus are quite pretty in my view
- amboinicus means 'of or from Ambon (or Amboina), the name of both the island and the capital of the Indonesian Spice Islands in the Maluku island group' (source: Plantlives)
Tuesday, 4 October 2016
I had the first rummage through my stored shallots recently and found some had started to sprout or were on the verge of going soft. Quick action was needed to save this part of my crop.
I separated out the suspect shallots, plus the teeny tiny ones which are always fiddly to deal with and found I had half a kilo to play with. Onion jam or marmalade is quite trendy, so I decided to have a go at making the equivalent using my shallots.
I've kept the ingredients list quite simple, using some oil for the initial softening, sugar for the middle cameralisation, then balsamic vinegar for the final preservation. A little water is needed at the final stage to give the flavours enough time to combine together nicely.
I struck lucky with my chosen ingredients and amounts, thank goodness. I'm confident it'll work just as well with onions, though I'd probably add a touch more sugar to the recipe as shallots are quite sweet in the first place.
NAH's verdict: Cor, that's really good!
- 1 tablespoon good olive oil
- 500g shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons sugar (I used golden granulated - use what you have to hand, though I don't think any of the stronger flavoured brown sugars would work well)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 4 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon = 20ml
- Heat the oil in a large saucepan, then add the shallots
- Continue to heat the pan gently and stir the shallots with a wooden spoon until they are softened and look transparent - around 10-15 minutes
- Add the sugar to the pan, and continue to stir the shallots until they are caramelised and brown - about another 5 minutes
- Add the balsamic vinegar and water and reduce the mixture down over the heat, until it is thick and gorgeously sticky - about another 5 minutes
- Spoon the mixture into a pre-warmed jar with a lid that won't be affected by the vinegar. Screw or tighten the lid on firmly and allow the jar to cool
- Store in a dark place, or in the fridge when opened. Eat within a month, and within 2-3 days after opening
Makes 1 jar. Serve as an accompaniment to cold meats, cheese, pate; or in a steak sandwich
Update: there's a lot more information about shallots and oodles of recipes on the UK shallots website.
Update: there's a lot more information about shallots and oodles of recipes on the UK shallots website.
Saturday, 1 October 2016
This is the last verse from 'Autumn Fires' published in A Child's Garden of Verses in 1885.
It's good to be reminded there's a positive side to the dying of the light that autumn brings. As a result I've resolved to plant lots of daffodils this month and to think sunshiny thoughts centred around the promise of their yellow cheerfulness in spring. I'm also focusing on plans, projects and experiments for 2017, accompanied by toasted marshmallows from a suitable bonfire.
What are your thoughts and plans for October?
You may also like
Last week I came across Poetry for the Autumn Equinox on Radio 4's website. What a treat to have readings of some of our most famous autumnal poems.