Tuesday, 30 June 2009

'Tis the season for openings and being feted!

Yes, it's that time of year when flower shows proliferate, fetes abound, and all over the country, gardens little and large are being opened by their proud, and sometimes timid, owners. And it's the latter type of opening I thought I would concentrate on this time, so maybe you'd like to come with me on a visit to some of the gardens around where I live. If so, grab your straw hat, your purse, and follow me, for I have the map of gardens open. I would love to have filled this posting with fab photos, but sadly, not all the owners were happy about having their gardens shown on a blog, even a modest one like mine, and it seemed unfair to display some, and not others. So you have to make do with just two photos... the above is self-explanatory, created by Maisie, the grand-daughter of one of Phoebe's neighbours and adorned with flowers. As was the little girl herself, who proudly sat next to the sign, wearing a wreath on her head of flowers from the garden, and handing out copies of the little map that she had helped Phoebe draw.

Those of you who follow the blog will know that Phoebe is seen by many as a little eccentric,
and not generally known for her love of children or patience with them, but for some reason she and little Maisie, aged nine, have struck up a friendship. Maybe it's the fact that Maisie visits only about twice a year which helps. Anyway, Maisie can often be seen wandering around the garden alongside Phoebe, with one of the cats following on behind, both of them often silent as they go from copse to vegetable patch, to herb garden and orchard. Occasionally Maisie will stoop to look closely at something, look up at Phoebe, who will then bend down and presumably answer the question posed. Nobody has mentioned this new friendship to Phoebe, they would only be met with stony glances and mutterings of 'What's it got to do with you? not always delivered quietly. And in case you are wondering, BIRD'S EYE was safely shut away in the lean-to, from where he could be heard blaspheming occasionally.
In fact the villagers were amazed that Phoebe agreed to open her garden in aid of a local charity. Unlike those gardens listed in the famous Yellow Book, where 'every garden must provide enough interest to engage the visitor for 45 minutes', there was no such stipulation here. Gardens of all sizes were open, some like Phoebe's taking that 45 minutes to walk around and enjoy, others just glanced from over a small front garden wall, with no invitation to step inside. More of which later.
In Phoebe's garden, what you see is what you get.. the plastic flowers are there still, and Maisie invented a little game, details on the map, where people had to spot the falsies from the real thing. No prizes, but as Maisie said, it was more for those who didn't really much care for gardening but were being dragged out to accompany someone who did! Nor had Phoebe bothered to weed and make it all pristine, to her mind if that was what you wanted well, there were some very famous manicured gardens not far from here to suit your tastes. In her garden, it was a work in progress still (after more years than we care to number!), it was a real garden where weeds grew, and some things got overgrown, others covered in mildew or aphids. Whilst all the people were visiting, she tended to keep out of the way, leaving it to Maisie to take the money, along with the Major who insisted on acting as chaperone!
In Mr Bartholomew's garden some visitors were amazed to see what went on round the back. Being familiar with the front of his house, the roses and honeysuckle surrounding the front door, the scent of old-fashioned pinks and lavender bushes, up till now, the only people who had even caught a glimpse of the back were his friends, or those who nosied through the yews in the churchyard. Not everyone wants to be seen doing that of course, so to be amongst the beautiful vegetable garden, which at this time of year was productive with salad crops and beans, to see the lovely old fashioned wigwams made of branches from his fruit trees in the orchard beyond, reached via a gate set into a well-clipped hedge, was a joy. There were pots of flowers too, on a little terrace where he took his meals in the summer, beneath a wonderfully old, faded umbrella, patched in places it was so old. Hanging baskets of tumbling tomatoes and some filled with petunias. He told me that he was thinking of getting a beehive, to put in the orchard, because of the plight of the honey bee at present.
From here we can meander along to Elsie Drew's garden. Now it may come as something of a revelation to know she has one, some cattier person than I might wonder that she has time to tend it, what with being the purveyor of village news and all! But Elsie's late father was a keen gardener, and their house was built at a time when houses came with big back gardens, with space to keep chickens and even a pig, to grow all the vegetables to feed a family, and so from a young age she was used to going and picking fresh produce. Although her garden may only be the size of a back yard, she has it full of pots of vegetables, anything that can be grown in a pot and then picked and eaten, she has a go with it. Her front garden is just a very small paved area as well, but with pots of geraniums to liven it up, so it doesn't take long to look at her little space, and she is one of those who is not charging, just happy to let people have a look at her garden and see there is another side to her nature. And of course, whilst people are looking, they often have private little chats, about this and that, so you never know what 'news' you might pick up!
Pru and Leonard wanted very much to open up their garden as well, but they haven't had time to work on it yet, but she has promised next year, a strawberry tea!
Some of the owners lay on refreshments of course, included in the price of admission. The most anyone charges is a couple of pounds, and they tend to be those offering tea and scones. In one garden, belonging to Laurie, she has taken advantage of extra people being around, and laid out some of her smaller pottery pieces in a little tented gazebo, and Rowena has done something similar with small knitted items... tea cosies, egg cosies, fingerless gloves, little knitted dolls. Hers are laid out in her summerhouse, a rather wonderful log cabin affair with TWO rooms! And a small verandah! Inside it is cool, a fan working to keep the air moving on this warm day, so it is a welcome retreat for a few minutes. She is serving iced tea and fairy cakes in her not inconsiderable conservatory, made in the kitchen by her sister and husband.
But there are those gardens where you just look without entering... small front gardens, thankfully not taken over as car parking spaces. One is set out as a giant chess board, the pieces laid out, and an elderly couple sitting on benches across from each other, playing. At night, the pieces, which are on casters, move into a special wooden crate-type of affair, locked away for safety down the side of the house, on the inside of the side gate, out of sight. Another garden is new, you can tell by the pristine way the gravel is laid with not an indentation from a foot, and the plants look so perfect. All grasses, different colours, and you can see, that as time goes on and they grow, often into each other, on a day with a little breeze, they will sway and move elegantly. It all looks elegant in fact... until you glance into the far corner, away from the front door, where in the shade of a Stipa Gigantica sits a carved wooden mushroom, about two feet high and at its widest point, and underneath, two small fairy sculptures, made from iron, sitting and having a chat. Not visible easily from the street, certainly not to the casual passer-by but in full view of the sitting room window, where no doubt this bit of whimsy brings a smile to the viewers face, as it does to ours, now.
One small front garden has been given over to nature, with a small pond, wild flowers seeding themselves everywhere, plants beneficial to bees and other insects, a little log pile in one corner, a rest home for bees to overwinter, and one for ladybirds too. This garden probably doesn't take too much looking after, nature does it for you, and it had people sitting on the wall, waiting to see if the frogs would make an appearance... everyone knows there are frogs in this pond, at night, at the right time of year, you can hear the males calling to their loved ones. I guess you'd have to be a female frog to appreciate it!
But it's not only gardens that are open, for the local allotment society have opened up their patch. Here you can talk to the owners of the plots, and as with the gardens, there is so much variety. Some are growing a mix of fruit and veg, others just one or the other, the most colourful being those who grow flowers in there too. There are those belonging to a couple of young mothers, feeding their families and seeing this purely as a larder, then at the other end of the scale are Sue and Norman, growing for prestige, to see who can get the longest carrot, the heaviest marrow, with all manner of weird and wonderful growing methods involving drain pipes and so on. You can get advice on growing, even purchase some of the produce, and later in the evening, the barbecue will be lit and people will sit and socialise over a burger or banger, a glass of cooled cider or beer, or home made hedgerow wine, elderflower champagne maybe if you are very lucky.
Not only are we helping a local charity by visiting these gardens, but it gets you meeting and chatting to people you might otherwise not have a chance to see. People you have perhaps passed in the street, nodded to out of politeness, and now, you know their names and can maybe spend a little time having a mardle. You come home perhaps lighter in purse, but with jars of' home made preserves, or a cake or two as well, having spent a lovely summer's afternoon.
I hope you enjoyed this brief visit to some local gardens... maybe we'll do it again next year? Or maybe, just maybe, I might open my own? This photo below isn't it, sadly, but the front of one of my favourite places for a holiday, in cider-growing country. I just like the photo!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Village tittle-tattle, news from Orchard Farmhouse and hearts a-fluttering!

When you want to know what's going on in a village there are several ways to go about it - you can join a group like the WI, stay behind after church for coffee in the vestry, hang around the post office on pensions day, sit at a table in the local and earwig barside conversations, stand at the village school gates - although in these times it's best to do this if you have a child to collect or drop off, or be with someone who does - browse the magazines in the newsagent, or the shelves in the village shop when there's a queue built up. Better yet, in our village life is made so much easier... you just ask Elsie Drew. No need for introductions to this lady, you've heard me mention her before!

So it was thanks to Elsie that we heard Hugh (Mr Bartholomew to her) had been seen driving Tilly (that's Miss Asquith to her) and her cousin, who arrived last month to help look after Tilly while her ankle repaired itself, around quite a bit. Elsie says he must have hated having that gooseberry of a cousin, but that things are back to normal and he is still spending an awful lot of time at Tilly's cottage. How Elsie knows this, we aren't sure, for they live at opposite ends of the village. But we know from past experience it's best not to ask how she knows. Someone did once ask 'But how do you really KNOW this for sure?' to which Elsie's response was to turn her head slightly to the left, wink with the right eye, tap the side of her nose and then make a closing zip movement across her lips. Which probably means she doesn't really KNOW anything at all doesn't it?

It was Elsie who told us about the possible strife in the village band, all thanks to a flighty young piece called Marilyn, who has big blonde hair and plays the cornet. Now for most of us the band is just something that's always been a part of this village for the last couple of decades or so, playing at the fete, local fundraisers and travelling to other villages in the area to do the same. It also plays carols at Christmas here and outside the village, and occasionally has been known to take part in competitions. But as to the mechanics of how a band works, the hierarchy and so on, most of us are ignorant. Not Elsie of course, and how she knows all this, or even if it's correct... who knows? But apparently this young woman, single, in her twenties, plays the cornet and is in line to be next principal cornetist. The significance of this was lost on us, but apparently this exalted position is usually combined with being the head of the band, so it is a position that most young members dream of and aspire to. Marilyn came into the band and within a month was made up to principle cornetist. So, we asked, does this mean she will be the band leader soon? Elsie shook her head. This was apparently what was so mystifying and in her book, and 'I'm not alone in this thinking I'll have you know', it was just a ploy on the part of the present leader of the band to ingratiate himself with her. Royston, for that is his name, is a bit of a fusspot, a figure of mirth to many younger members of the community - the older ones are more discreet about how they feel! He is inordinately proud of what is really a very boring looking uniform, and struts about the place, full of his own importance. It was reported that one day, when he had taken his nets down at the living room window to wash them, he was seen hoovering the walls of that room!

When Elsie heard this, she nodded her head and said it came as no surprise to her. She was in the village shop at the time, and Daisy asked her what she meant, despite getting a warning look from Esme which loosely interpreted itself as PLEASE DON'T ASK. 'Well, that sort are always a bit fussy about their house aren't they?' Again Daisy just couldn't stop herself... 'What sort?' she asked. 'Them homosapiens' said Elsie, seriously. Daisy had to excuse herself into the back room where she put a cushion over her face and laughed uproariously. In the shop Esme had a slight uplift at the corner of her usually downturned mouth as she informed Elsie about what homo sapiens meant. Any further speculation and discussion was brought to an abrupt halt by the arrival of Reverend Green, shared vicar of several small parishes in this area, and one of the few single men who was safe from Daisy's clutches, as she said she could never be serious about a man who wore a long dress sometimes.

On to things we do know for sure, and that is that Gerry-the-yurt-dweller has moved on. As swiftly and ignominiously as he arrived, only this time in the dead of night. Pru and Leonard went to bed and the yurt was just visible through the trees; got up the next morning, opened the bedroom curtains and no yurt. They hastened down to the orchard to see what sort of a mess had been left, but apart from the indentation where the yurt had stood, the flattened and shortened grass, there was no sign that anyone had been there at all. Sighs of relief all round, and seen by Pru as the icing on the cake of their imminent move into the farmhouse. They expect to move in at the end of the month, and have planned a big party with marquee (not yurt!), lots of food and drink, in the garden and orchard, with music too.. though from a music system, not the band, about which Royston apparently feels a bit miffed... according to Elsie!

Since the economic downturn, the property market has been very quiet as we all know. There are quite a number of houses in the village that have been for sale for over a year, but also several have sold in recent months. One of them was a rather sad looking end of terrace cottage down one of the quiet dead end roads leading off the village green. Unlike the rest of the terrace, which consisted of five other houses, this one was double fronted, and one could see that in it's time, it must have been a very pretty little place. There is an old wisteria which still puts out masses of purpley flowers each year, a couple of roses clamber across the front wall and around the front door, and there is a lilac tree at the end of the drive. This cottage has a private drive, the one at the other end of the terrace has a drive which allows access for the people who live in the middle three, to get around to their parking space and garage behind the terrace, so it is seen as the most desirable of the terrace. It was lived in by a retired school teacher, Harold, who had a stroke and needed to go into a residential home this year, when it became clear he couldn't really look after himself.

And so his home, Lime Tree Cottage named for the lime tree that stands at the bottom of his back garden, went on the market. Inside it hadn't been maintained properly for years and there was a lot of work that needed doing, though nothing major or structural really. The heating needed bringing up to date, windows changed, new electrics and a whole lot of cleaning out and decorating, and it was priced accordingly. It had only been on the market three weeks when the SOLD sticker was placed across the FOR SALE board erected in the front garden by a local agent. Being where it was, you couldn't see what was going on unless you lived in the terrace, so it was only when a new face appeared in the village shop one Saturday morning, and then in the newsagent on the Sunday, that people knew who had moved in. Well, he didn't have a sign on his back saying he was the new owner of Lime Tree Cottage, no, someone in the newsagents asked was he a visitor as they'd not seen him before. No, he told them, he had just bought Lime Tree Cottage. Elsie was quick to get to church and couldn't wait for morning coffee after the service!

He is tall, blonde and with grey eyes, wears silver rimmed glasses, well-built though not muscly or fat, very nicely spoken but with a definite Norfolk twang underneath, and age is about late forties. No wedding ring so obviously not married, and he only bought masculine newspapers, a small pack of cigars and a bottle of milk that Sunday. Elsie has a remarkable memory, and I am sure it won't be long before she knows his name, occupation, where he was born, does he have family, a wife, prefer tea or coffee..... and when Daisy sees him her heart will definitely be a-fluttering.