Back to it. Isobel off to Stratford, Zoe off to Sixth Form at Kenilworth. Let the great work begin, as Angels in America has it.
A week on this aromatic island off the Ionian coast, where every morning we woke up to this view of Ithaka:
“Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.”
The recent theory is that our view did not take in Ithaka, Homer’s Ithaka, after all (it’s now supposed to have been the Paliki peninsula on the western side of Kefalonia itself). No worries; we were in no hurry to actually get to Ithaka. Not when there were limestone shingle beaches like this one to explore:
Or tavernas like this one, in Agia Efimia:
Or cave lakes like Melissani to circumnavigate: ‘Visitors can tour the lake on a boat and admire the wonderful colours in the water, which constantly change as the sunlight falls on it through the aperture in the roof above.’
One thing a picture can’t convey is the island’s soundscape: a ceaseless rasp of cicadas in the noon heat, together with the tinkle of bells from goats grazing on the hillsides. No wonder some of us drowsed off while chilling on the veranda.
From the town of Assos we climbed to the Venetian castle on the peninsula above (once used as a prison – but with views to die for).
Kefalonia’s recent history is marked by two traumas: the massacre of 3,000 Italian soldiers of the Aqui Division by invading Germans in 1943 (inspiring a novel and the inevitable Hollywood treatment), and an earthquake a decade later, which leveled most of the island’s Venetian buildings. Today it builds its economy on the export of Med staples: olive oil, wine (Robola is the native grape) and tourism.
The most intriguing historical angle on the island may be its hosting of an early Christian gnostic sect, the Carpocratians. Who they, you ask? Groupies of Carpocrates, who made Kefalonia his base in the 2nd century CE. Irenaeus wrote disapprovingly that Carpocratians claimed themselves to be above Mosaic law, believing differences of class and property ownership to be unnatural, and also that in order to leave the earthly realm behind one had license to do ‘all those things which we dare not either speak or hear of.’ Early Ionian hippie commies, in other words.
In the end, though, it’s the sea we’ll remember: turquoise and acquamarine, translucent to a depth of over twenty feet, saltier than the Atlantic and warm as bathwater.
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:
An October chestnut gathering expedition to Crackley Wood, with transatlantic help:
Putting the allotment to bed in November:
Seasonal cheer in the dark days:
The ritual New Year’s hail to the light from a hilltop in Ilmington:
The allotment in mid-April:
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:
An early May gathering at the new community hut:
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.
What a difference a year makes. I’m not much better a gardener today than I was last year at this time, but if you measured my success by “vegetal output” you might think I was. For instance, in 2012 my tomatoes, so lovingly mulched with grass clippings and fed on homemade comfrey tea (vile-smelling but richly nutritious), lay withered on the vines, besieged and vanquished by fungal blight. We managed to harvest about five in total, which turned out to be wan and watery.
Consequently this year I transplanted my overgrown tomato seedlings into a patch of earth with few expectations. I didn’t mulch them, nor did I feed them with any kind of specially prepared sludge. Beyond tying them to a few stakes, I left them alone to fend for themselves. Who wants to get too attached to something that’s going to fail? Besides, I swore last year (see prior posts) that I would stop bothering to grow tomatoes outdoors because it always ends in disappointment here in England. I was going to content myself with peas and potatoes and kale. So what was I even doing chucking a few into the ground now?
Well. We came back from our summer holiday to find the tomato plants had grown into a jungle. With no one to nip out the side shoots and re-stake them, they had become massive sprawling plants, dripping with clusters of ripening fruits and festooned with yellow blossoms. Even more amazingly, several plants had seeded themselves in other beds and were just as vibrant. I cut off the growing tips and tried to strip a few leaves from the lower branches, but basically I’ve left the plants as is (as you’d see them in the New World, their native environment).
Now, blight might still be around the corner. Surely not all those green clusters will get to ripen in September sunshine before frost and falling light levels put an end to them. But hey, this year we can say we harvested tomatoes: piles of yellow (Ildi) and red (Gardener’s Delight) cherry tomatoes, and several luscious Marmandes. And they’re delicious.
How susceptible we gardeners are to the vagaries of weather. Despite our efforts to protect and cosset plants, it really comes down to light levels and temperature and hydration. I experimented with miniature polytunnels this year for the first time – and will do so as we head into autumn and winter – but I know that this kind of environmental manipulation only gets you so far. What you really need is good weather – and good luck!
After a month away, the garden has transformed. Sun and warmth have worked their magic (and friends have deployed the watering cans). A proper summer at last.
Had a recent trip to the allotment to take some snaps (while it’s fully robust and simply an elegant escape). One of the most enchanting plants there, are of course, the sweet peas – bursting with fragrance and splashes of colour. You wouldn’t expect much less from the sweet pea winner of 2012 now would you?
Finally we are having some glorious, hot sunny weather, without a cloud in the sky, an unheard-of heatwave, and brown lawns! We in England all welcome the fine weather and hope it stays till we fly to the States!
A few days ago, Dad and I were sitting at our table under the umbrella in the back garden, writing and reading. Dad was reading the London Review of Books and I was writing a fairytale called ‘The Blue Rose’. We had our notebook out, mainly used for shopping lists, and Dad decided to capture the summer glory with a haiku. Here is our haiku exchange for July 2013; maybe we’ll do more. Dad writes first, then I do, back and forth.
Apricot rose, pink foxglove
Mum in mint-green pants
Swaying in the sultry breeze
Birdsong in the air
A hush in the breeze
Pigeon sits, unflappable
Nightgown on the line
Like spectacular trumpets
Peachy roses sway
Buckyball world out of joint
Shade kisses sunlight
Daddy’s watch ticks time away
Ticks summer away
A starling’s scolding
A lawn-mower is grumbling
A girl is writing
Bees drinking pollen
Dad reading the newspaper
The sun is setting