Light in August

As the season turns, a tale of two allotments – one grand, one homely. The first is the kitchen garden at Packwood House, near Lapworth, where they do things on a lavish scale – with the help of, well, the Help.

As any gardener knows, the main ingredient in successful growing is the work put in – in Marx’s words, mixing your labour with the earth. This makes labour sound like compost – which it is, in a sense: composted time. A lot of compost goes into Packwood.

After touring the gardens, we began a walk from Packwood toward its sister estate, Baddesley Clinton, passing other labourers on the way.

The other allotment of the week past is of course our own. The 2016 season has been alternately slow and accelerated in the Midlands, with a long cold spring followed by brief heatwaves and cool cloudy weeks punctuated by tropical downpours. Comme d’habitude pour l’Angleterre, at least in the age of global warming.

With August comes a change of light. Sweetpeas fading, sunflowers bigging up, verbena bonariensis glowing at the edges. Labour stays in the picture.


Hi(gh) summer

It’s been a while. We’ve missed documenting an eventful 2015, and are now deep into a turbulent 2016. But blog is not dead. So here’s a brief overview of our growing year, from earliest January to mid-July.


New year’s amaryllis


From Emily Jacir’s show at the Whitechapel Gallery this winter


Adorno’s urban allotment, Frankfurt, mid-January


Camellia on display at Frankfurt Botanical Garden


That’s its name, yes


Our new home (a fixer-upper)


The allotment on 17 April


First fruits


27 April


Bluebell walk, 8 May


The allotment at Chastleton House (Wolf Hall in the BBC series)


Zoe communing with the watchful Rollright Stones on her birthday in May


Allotment border on 9 June


Hollywood lighting, looming storm system – 24 June


West Sands St Andrews – a kelp allotment


The English Garden in Berlin’s Tiergarten – how English is it?


Encounter on Milburngate Bridge, Durham, mid-July

Return of the blog

It’s been a while. Seeing as how we’re in the late stage of one of those rare, near-perfect summers in the middle of middle England, though, it’s time to re-boot and take stock. First a look back at the interim since September 2013, beginning with a sample from last year’s harvest:


Boltardy, Crimson King, Golden


Borlotti beans

An October chestnut gathering expedition to Crackley Wood, with transatlantic help:

IMG_4485Isobel with chestnut

Putting the allotment to bed in November:

Putting allotment to bed

Seasonal cheer in the dark days:

Community hut Xmas tree

Inauguration of the new community hut, an idea of Volutina’s carried to completion with the help of many hands

N & K at Saxon Mill


The ritual New Year’s hail to the light from a hilltop in Ilmington:

Ilmington shadows

Spring visitors:



Late January, Aston Cantlow. Thanks for visiting, Aunt Gretchen!


Glad too that Erika and John could visit. Herewith the album cover for our new band, Vichy Douche Slab (name inspired by object in the spa museum, Leamington). We will literally rock you.

The allotment in mid-April:


New fruit trees, apple and pear


A lichtsome Easter voyage up to Glasgow, the isle of Mull and Iona, to see our friends before the oil wars break out at Gretna Green after this September’s referendum:


Bird? Plane? Independence?


Sketching en plein air


This may be the solution for our shed roof


Hebrides or the Med?


Front garden in Iona


Fragment of the abbey on Iona


Our column outside the Iona PO

An early May gathering at the new community hut:


Constructing an insect house with Bonnie’s help

Later in the month we stayed in London courtesy of visiting grandparents, checking out this year’s borders at Kew Gardens:


In June an al fresco supper of peas, beans and strawberries:


And harvesting sweet peas in July.


English Walk

Yes, I’m still alive! Apologies for being absent from this blog for so long.

Today was such an absolute stunner of a day, that there was no other option but to go a wandering in the English countryside (after all the sun doesn’t show itself all that often on this island so we better make the most of it). Of course I took my camera, thinking if I got bored I could at least have some photo opportunities. As it turns out, it was a very successful walk through the fairy-like woods at this time of year filled to the brim with bluebells.

There was a brief (ahem) stop at the local garden centre.

There was a brief (ahem) stop at the local garden center.

She's got the shades.

She’s got the shades.

It was super dry.

It was super dry.

Magical fairyland.

Magical fairyland.

A beauty amongst beauty.

A beauty amongst beauty.

A sea.

A sea.

Why, hello there.

Why, hello there.


So, the weather

Consider the word ‘seasonal‘ – what meaning does it have in our Anthropocene-era, world-out-of-balance corner of the Eurasian landmass? Two months ago we had ourselves some seasonally appropriate snowfall – and availed ourselves of it:

Sledding on January 20th – that's cool

Sledding on January 20th – that’s cool

And last week, after long weather delays, we had the seasonally appropriate snow-along-the-bough effect of ornamental plum blossom:

Loveliest of trees, barring the cherry

Loveliest of trees, barring the cherry

But now we’re enjoying the longest sustained cold snap of the winter, except the first day of spring arrived last Wednesday. So it’s déjà-vu all over again:

Où sont les neiges d'antan? Right here

Où sont les neiges d’antan? Right here

We’re not alone, however, as friends in the US assure us:

This is how we do it Stateside

This is how we do it Stateside

And more than once, on the trudge across Old Milverton hillside, we found ourselves murmuring: ‘Just like in the old country.’ Viz., sledding now –


And then –

Digital StillCamera

We even came across a wolf, which appeared to have wandered out of the Canadian taiga –


And it was clear she was reveling in her element.


As were other creatures of the snowy wastes.


The traveller owns the grateful sense
Of sweetness near, he knows not whence,
And, pausing, takes with forehead bare
The benediction of the air.

(Whittier, Snow-Bound)



Winter Respite

Last week, from a train window, I gazed at snow coating the fields, reflecting cold light back onto a grey, February sky. A classic winter scene. When I arrived in Oxford, the snow was nowhere to be found, though the air remained frosty and the impressive college architecture seemed to echo a seasonally-approriate chilly solemnity.


The highlight of this quick day trip was certainly the opportunity to meet and catch up with sister-in-law Kate! A wonderful, and all-too-brief, treat.

Afterwards, I wandered down High Street to find the University’s Botanic Garden. Many plants in the outdoor beds were still sleeping, but harbingers of spring provided elegant splashes of color.



A distinctly unseasonal treat awaited me inside the glass houses where warm, moist air enveloped leafy fronds of jungle foliage –

IMAG0478Where crops were ready to harvest –

Cotton plant

Cotton plant

And ripe fruit (in season?) tempted the passerby.

IMAG0476In the next room, dry heat (equally exotic) bathed cacti and aloes of all shapes and sizes –

IMAG0474I thoroughly enjoyed the brief encounter with exotic climes – just a short train journey away. Now back to ordering and chitting potatoes and pruning fruit bushes. Spring is coming!

Plumbing the depths, then rising to new heights

Ringing in the New Year - with a new, and exhilarating, ramble.

Ringing in the New Year – with a new, and exhilarating, ramble.

Two more wonderful winter walks punctuated the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.

The first, an annual holiday tradition cherished by the girls, saw us donning our wellies on Christmas day to squelch over the sodden fields to the old Saxon mill – turned pub – for festive hot chocolates, mulled cider, and a local beer on draft for Dad. A short walk over well-known, and very muddy, terrain. Not particularly exciting, one would think, undertaken more out of ritual habit than any particular expectation of revelation. But the heavy rains that transformed the fields into brown ooze had also swelled the River Avon. The flood waters poured over the elevated path that led to the pub and suddenly our walk became an exciting adventure.

Flood waters cover the river banks.

Flood waters spread beyond the river’s banks, rushing over the elevated walkway to the mill. Isobel turns for a moment, unsure of whether we can wade through it. 

Though not deep, the water rushed quickly over the stones. We mounted the fence to make our way across.

Though not deep, the water rushed quickly over the stones. We mounted the fence to make our way across.

Excited to have forged our way, we doubly enjoyed our Christmas libations, and then forded the torrent one more time to make our way home.

Excited to have reached our destination, we doubly enjoyed our Christmas libations. Then we forded the torrent one more time to make our way home.

In contrast, our New Year’s Day walk found us high above the rolling Cotswold countryside on Broadway Hill.

The path runs through a series of fields, some populated with sheep, and connects the picturesque village of Broadway with the folly on top of the hill.

The path runs through a steep series of fields and connects the picturesque village of Broadway with its famous folly on top of the hill.

Clouds scudded quickly across the dramatic sky, while the land beneath appeared an undulating quilt in many shades of green.

Clouds scudded quickly across the dramatic sky, while the land beneath appeared an undulating quilt in many shades of green.

At the summit, Broadway Tower glows in the setting sun. On we go, into 2013!

At the summit, Broadway Tower glows in the setting sun. On we go, into 2013!