(Semi) Silent Sunday: Showtime

It was our town carnival and garden show last weekend. Very tacky in places, very expensive when you have three children who want to ride the rides, very exciting when you win a prize in the craft show (I got a first for my pink crochet bag, my rhubarb chutney, a black and white portrait of The Middle Miss and a second for my hanging heart decoration) and generally very good, old fashioned fun. Are these shows a British (and ex-colonial) eccentricity or do other cultures do them too I wonder?

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IMG_8242Three cupcakes (children’s class – 3rd prize)

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IMG_3452Winner: Best fancy dress, dog and handler (not best behaved dog though)

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52 weeks of happy 17/52

I can’t really complete this week’s post because I haven’t been very trigger happy with the camera. I can only really give you one thing to be happy about – SPRING IS SLOWLY ARRIVING. It has been windy, it has been cold but the plants are finally getting the message. It’s good to see some green gradually starting to appear. It’s even better to see some yellow and purple too.IMG_6997

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There’s a bank holiday coming up so no doubt the weather will take a turn for the worst but until then I’m just going to enjoy the flowers and be grateful for any sunshine we get.

Autumn Outings: Part One – Durham

The weather has been reasonably kind over the last few weeks, allowing us some autumn outings.

In the first week of the month, Son Number One went on a school trip to Durham Botanical Gardens. The following weekend we decided to have a family trip there as he was keen to show us around. It was a perfect day to appreciate a garden in autumn.

I bet every visitor to the garden photographed this tree

Bright blue skies and golden leaves, warm enough to leave your coat behind but cool enough to be autumnal.

There were still lots of lovely bedding plants around and I couldn’t help taking lots of pictures of the dahlias.

Although it was hard at times not to imagine the pleasure of a child free visit to these gardens, the real joy of this trip was watching Son Number One. He helped his sister do all the clues on the ‘quiz trail’ and guided us around the garden in a very confident fashion.

By a complete coincidence we met some of our best friends there, though they were almost ready for leaving when we arrived. It didn’t stop the children exploring the greenhouses together. One houses a small collection of ‘minibeasts’ (well, the spiders weren’t so mini, they were big and hairy) and a fish pond, one houses the cactus collection, one houses a ‘tropical rainforest’ complete with spray and one houses a large tank containing giant lily pads (somehow I managed to miss this). The boys had a great time trying to photograph the minibeasts. I won’t scare you with the results but I will give you Son Number One’s fish photo’s because I think they are quite pretty.

I should probably mention that a large part of the garden is accessible with a push chair. We took our Phil and Ted’s 3 wheeler and managed to go ‘off road’ quite a bit. All in all, we had a lovely afternoon out. We should visit Durham more often as it really is on our doorstep. It was funny to be there on one of the first afternoons of the new university term. The Husband and I felt quite old as we watched swathe after swathe of students go to and from the playing fields. They all looked so young and full of vim and vigour. It seems incredible that is is almost 20 years since we began our university careers. Son Number One is closer to University age than we are. Scary thought.

We’re Weathering the Weather….

I think I am getting used to this weather now. Slowly, my mindset is beginning to change. I am now resigned to the fact that summer has ‘failed to install’ as the image doing the rounds of Facebook jokes. I no longer expect sunshine so I am no longer disappointed when I wake up to rain. I do worry about my poor in-laws though. Will they ever be able to get any silage or hay made on their farm? How will they feed their cattle over winter without a harvest of summer grass?

The children all have new wet weather gear courtesy of sales, eBay and the hand-me-down box so whatever happens, we can get out and about. At 18 months, Babykins doesn’t have a concept of what summer should be like. He just wants to get out and explore. Last Friday night he dragged me to the front door  and practically demanded that I put his wellies on and take him outside. We trooped up and down the street, jumping in the epic puddles that had appeared. I couldn’t help but laugh at his outfit – shorts, wellies and a wooly hat. It could only be appropriate in a British Summer.

Dark skies are a bit depressing but they somehow allow the colour and beauty of summer flowers to shine. I hope that wherever you are, you can find something to enjoy in this terrible summer we’re having.

The Joy of……Elderflowers

I was introduced to the delights of elderflower by the Husband’s paternal Grandma. She used to make a slightly fizzy elderflower drink that I suppose was a version of the elderflower champagne that we have taken to making.  I’d like to tell you that I noted down her recipe and picked up her top tips but alas, I did not think that far ahead. The only thing I can remember her saying was that it was not a good idea to pick elderflowers from busy road sides. Bearing in mind where she lived, in deepest Westmorland, I’m surprised she could find a busy roadside.

The Husband and I only started brewing with elderflowers last year. Perhaps it was acquiring this book that did it?

We made two batches of elderflower champagne and it worked really well. We used the majority of it for a toast after we had all three children baptised. However, the trouble with (amateur) elderflower champagne is that it won’t keep indefinitely. We had to drink up the remainder fairly quickly. All ‘essence of elderflower’ was gone from the house before the summer holidays arrived.

This year, I have made elderflower cordial. I hope that doing this will give me a stock of summer flavours to last much longer.

If you’ve never had a go at making these drinks, I would highly recommend it. I think the cordial is the easiest and less likely to go wrong. You don’t even need to bottle it, you can keep it in the freezer. I haven’t tried this because I’ve got a bit of a thing for bottling. I imagine that you could freeze it in ice cube trays and then bag it up. When you want a drink, voila, just take a cube out of the freezer and add it to water, still or sparkling.

There are plenty of recipes around on the internet for example, here and here. The one I used is more like the former of these two. I’m going to try the River Cottage version next because I’m interested to see what the addition of orange juice does. If you do decide to make the champagne, consider bottling it in plastic pop bottles. Glass ones have been known to explode!

Although my cordial is bottled up and ready to drink, I have also got a batch of champagne maturing. Pop back in a couple of weeks to see if it has worked. It’s temperamental stuff, a bit like the British Summer it’s so evocative of.

The flowers in my garden

On Sunday night I went out in to the garden to take a picture for a post I am working on. I hadn’t intended to go around taking pictures of the flowers in my garden but that’s what I did. Since the rain has returned and the garden now looks like this…

I thought it would be nice to be cheered up by some bright blooms. Here they are…

Turning left out of the back door The Husband has his collection of new lavender and peiris plants.

Moving along the patio to the left you reach our climbing frame (you can see it in my second picture). We purchased this from Activity Toys a local company based on a diversified farm. It’s a great place to visit if you want outdoor toys because they have a field with lots of different play frames set up. This was essential to us as we had a really awkward space to fill and we needed to get the tape measure out. They also sell ‘seconds’ usually with a hefty discount. Our frame was £100 less than the normal retail price.

I think we bought the climbers and clematis in the autumn of 2009, not long after we purchased the frame. They were all quite small and were on offer in Aldi. I have no idea what varieties they are. As this is a small, family garden we have gone for climbers more than anything else. I dont think herbaceous perennials would stand much chance.

This mauve clematis is one of three we have growing up our climbing frame. It’s done quite well this year, reaching right up to the crossbar where the swing is suspended.

I think this is some sort of Jasmine that is also growing up the climbing frame. It’s doing a good job of covering up the bare wooden poles. Unlike the purple clematis below.

This bright pink clematis is growing around our garden seat (see second picture). It has only produced one bloom and sadly, it can’t be seen from the house.

The same flower but close up.

At the right hand side of our garden we have quite a lot of climbing, rambling plants that were there when we moved in. They are not very dramatic but I like the green-ness of them compared to the relatively bare fence on the left. They contain a few things that encourage wildlife into the garden. For example there is a flowering cherry that looks lovely when it blooms earlier in the spring. It is now providing food for all the starlings that are about. Lower down we have cotoneaster and honeysuckle growing together.

Bees love them both.

My final picture is a sneak peak at what I went outside to photograph in the first place. Can you work out what it is?