Friday, 26 February 2010

Welcome to my world

An unexpected side effect of writing this blog has been that it has inadvertently improved my geography.  Despite having O’ Level Geography it never was my strongest subject. Yet I have found myself tracking the global location of “hits” using the site meter.  

I have regular hits from America and readers from US states including Georgia, California, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Connecticut, Texas, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oklahoma, Florida and Virginia. I was puzzled by one regular hit from California until I discovered it was actually the Google search engine. Mountain View California had sounded so exotic up until that point.

I have received “hits” from Canada and, for the very first time this week, one from South America in the shape of someone from Peru. New Zealand and Australia have also registered on my site meter as has Scandinavia and most of Europe including former Eastern bloc countries such as Poland,  the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Rather intriguingly I have also had hits from Hong Kong, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore.

However, the most fascinating for me has been from Yerevan in Armenia. Not only is Yerevan the capital, it is also one of the world’s oldest continuously occupied cities, dating back to 800 b.c.  In one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, the Armenian people were targeted by the Ottoman Empire for deportation and massacre. The current Republic of Turkey has vigorously refuted the idea that genocide ever took place. Their political stance has been deemed by some modern scholars to be mere semantics. The deaths of so many hundreds of thousands (and some believe the death toll runs into well over a million  and a half Christian Armenians gives the lie to the idea that only Muslim countries have shown religious tolerance towards other faiths within their own borders as opposed to Christian countries.

Tate Modern is currently holding an exhibition of the work of the influential American artist, Arshile Gorky (c.1904-1948). An Armenian exile, Gorky survived the enforced march to the then Russian Yerevan, where his mother later died of starvation. The poster for the Tate exhibition shows one of Gorky’s most haunting works. Entitled The Artist and his mother” it was inspired by  a precious photograph that Gorky took with him into exile of his 12 year old self and his doomed parent. Having seen a recent documentary about the artist, I am determined to visit the exhibition myself. It is on at Tate Modern until 3rd May 2010.  Arshile Gorky at Tate Modern

What lies beneath.

I have just spent several hours gardening for the first time since the autumn. I turned over the soil, cleared away leaves and other garden debris from around the plants, went mad with the secateurs and pulled up two shrubs to make way for three old fashioned tea-rose bushes, which are said to yield a delightful fragrance when in bloom. The latter are currently soaking in my bathroom basin. Consequently, every time I go into there I risk being scratched by the thorns and at night feel as if I have stumbled upon the set of the Day of the Triffids.
Now that I have prepared the ground, I need to pop along to the garden centre and buy more soil and plant food for the roses. At least this year I know what works in my garden: most of the shrubs have survived as have the herbs. I shall grow tomatoes and chillies indoors again and cucumbers outside. Courgettes and aubergines I shall give a miss as being more trouble than they are worth. The aubergines only produced a tiny vegetable, ditto the courgettes. Even the Partridge’s brother, a trained landscape gardener, only managed to grow a single, albeit, large and very tasty courgette in his substantial garden. I shall grow strawberries in a planter instead of in the ground so that I can ensure they get plenty of sun as opposed to being in the shade of the ancient cherry tree. I had put out a miniature orange tree in the garden and the all fruit was snaffled overnight by squirrels. Talk about taking the pith, they left behind a single scrap of orange skin after their raid. Not wishing to see a repeat of such day light robbery I shall buy netting to cover the fruit with. Last season the strawberries were as rare as truffles and I allowed only one per favoured house guest.

I have changed my mind about the courgettes after  remembering that although I was unable to grow a reasonable amount of courgettes, I was able to produce an abundance of courgette flowers, which I filled with mozzarella cheese, fresh tarragon and honey and fried in olive oil.   

The gooseberry bushes are in leaf. I hope both they and the loganberry produce fruit this year, having survived the unusually cold winter we have just endured. Mind you, the gooseberries are a Finnish variety and therefore should survive the vagaries of the English weather. I kept my fingers resolutely crossed when I used the past tense about the weather. I am praying that we don’t get any more snow to put paid to all my efforts today. The purple sprouted broccoli grew strong plants which are still in leaf but did not sprout broccoli. I have garlic bulbs given to me by a friend’s mother, which I intend to plant in a pot outside. I never did find out whether my spring onions would have flourished as they failed to recover after a neighbour pulled them up thinking they were weeds, even though I had a label bearing both the inscription ‘spring onions’ and a colour photograph of the plant in question by them. Despite the temptation I did not bury him under the flower bed.

I have started to tidy up the herb garden. My lemon thyme, bay, laurel, oregano, mint, sage and rosemary have all survived the exceedingly cold weather as has some lemon verbena. I have been using the oregano, rosemary and sage throughout the winter. I bake potatoes brushed with olive oil, dusted with sea salt and sprinkled with fresh rosemary. The sage leaves I use along with water, onion and carrots when roasting chicken. One of my favourite dishes is an aubergine cut in half, the flesh scored with a knife and then dribbled with olive oil and baked in the oven until the flesh is tender. I then remove the flesh and mix with chopped fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and fresh oregano. Just occasionally something that is good for you can taste delicious too. I have some French parsley indoors which I shall take outside next week. The tarragon in the kitchen seems to have sprouted a number of green shoots recently which looks promising.

I  planted poppies last year as they were a stalwart of the medieval medicinal garden I was trying to recreate in miniature. Rather perplexingly none of them flowered. I came across some growing in a wheat field when I looked after my friends’ greyhound in the summer. At the end of my stay, I was green with envy when I found a. large clump of them growing at the back of my friends’ garden. They also had a number of sweet peas growing. I discovered that you have to keep picking the flowers to stop the plant from seeding and bringing the blooms to a premature close. Thus, I felt no qualms about helping myself to a large bouquet of them to take back with me.

When raking over the soil earlier, I discovered a number of bulbs had grown green shoots. Ditto bulbs I had thrown to one side last autumn, intending to put them in the former coal cellar to dry. They have all been replanted and I am hoping to get some unexpected spring flowers in a few months time. I have moved the hydrangea forward to give it more space as it seemed rather cramped last summer  and trimmed the lavender bush back to make it more compact. The remaining mature shrubs I have rigorously pruned in order to provide more space and light for the additional flowers I intend to plant there and to allow them to be watered by the rain, instead of laboriously by hand. The Partridge told me that one of her relatives refused to venture far from home during the growing season, lest his plants pine away without his daily ministrations. When I found myself dashing off to look after the Partridge’s brother in July, I tried to find an effective watering system for all my plants. I ended up investing in capillary matting, which worked up to a fashion. The garden itself I had to leave to the mercy of a neighbour and the elements. The former claimed to have regularly watered my plants but one or two, which looked suspiciously wilted on my return made a miraculous recovery within hours of my watering them again.

Having spent so much time in the vegetable and flower beds today, I think I shall need to retire early to my own bed to recover.