There are certain flowers that I have been aware of all my life. I’m not sure if that proves that I was an extremely sensitive child or whether it is just because my parents and other relatives only ever talked about gardening. I can still see pansies growing in the circular bed beneath the apple tree and shrub roses either side of the archway that led to the vegetable garden. The strawberries grew along the right hand fence and the rhubarb in front of the chicken run and yet we moved from that house when I was just nine years old. But there is one thing that bothers me: I can recall the Iris, dark blue, growing tall and strong but I can’t remember if they were in the front or back garden. It doesn’t really matter, of course, but it seems odd that I can’t picture them when I can clearly remember my father telling me enthusiastically that “they come in all the colours of the rainbow.” Despite his passion for them he only ever grew the one colour (which is perhaps odder still) and it was only when I had a garden of my own that more and more colours started to creep in.
I have kept poultry since childhood ever since returning with my parents from a farm on Exmoor with a box containing half a dozen bantams smuggled into the back of their car. When one laid an egg en route and started cackling, my mother was furious. Fortunately we were too far into our journey for them to be taken back. In time, she became equally fond of them and even allowed them to wander into the house to be given scraps of food.
The original bantams were farmyard mongrels but since I came to live in the secret valley I have kept Lavender Pekins. These are allowed to wander the fields, even though they become supper for the fox, for there is nothing more delightful than to see happy hens striding down to the river or up the valley and (hopefully) back again.
Bantams – or Cochins, as they are called in Canada and the USA – are ideal as garden birds for they do very little damage unlike their full sized relatives. We keep those too but they are – with difficulty – kept firmly beyond the fence. I have written about the bantams in an earlier post and this can be seen by clicking here.
The other day I came across a couple of abandoned bantam eggs put them into a basket, kept them warm and waited to see what happened.
What a result! An hour later it was dry and fluffy ….. and making even more noise!
We have been back to Wales for a week’s holiday staying in a remote converted chapel belonging to a friend. It is good to be back for the isolation is complete – no cars, no houses, no roads, no broadband and no television. Well, there is television but being rather impatient with non-living things (and also quite a number of people that just might fall into that category) I cannot be bothered to work out just which of the several remote controls switch it on. But best of all – and rather surprisingly considering all the dire warnings we have been given by the weathermen – no snow.
Last winter when we were here, a blizzard struck the day we arrived. Gradually, as the supply of logs and oil for heating dwindled and the water supply froze resulting in our collecting it from the stream outside, our resolve and sense of fun also started to diminish. Put it down to advancing years: in my twenties or thirties I would have considered it to be ‘quite a laugh’. Not so these days – I could cope with the water and lack of central heating but I am not so good when the wood burner isn’t blazing away. However, we saw Snowdonia last year as few visitors do; a snow covered landscape with more falling so thickly that it was difficult to see, when out walking, where either my partner – or more importantly She-dog – was even though they were just yards ahead of me.
This year it was different, we left home with the (as it turned out, innacurate) knowledge that we were driving into blizzards and we hoped that we would reach our destination before being marooned, despite having to travel over two high passes and up a track steep enough to make a mountain goat think twice before tackling it. This time we came prepared with a vast amount of food and with three times the amount of warm clothing that any two people could wear over an entire winter. As we reached the town of Shrewsbury the forecast rain began to fall; it would only be a matter of time as we entered Wales and gradually climbed in height that it would change to snow. The rain grew steadily heavier and the road ever steeper until we reached the first summit and, surprise, there was not a hint of whiteness anywhere. The second pass, higher still, was similar although the surrounding peaks did have a dusting of snow. We reached our destination with the rain still falling and the temperature ever rising – it was now fifteen degrees warmer than when we had left home in the Cotswolds, further south and many hundreds of feet lower.
The next morning we woke to sunshine, having no guilt about not getting out of bed in darkness at some ridiculously early hour as every other day of our lives. Looking out of the bedroom window, the surrounding mountains still wore their apology of snow – it was a scene from the end of March or even April. The calls from concerned Cotswold friends telephoning (we still have one piece of technology that works here) to confirm our safe arrival quickly turned to irritation when they discovered we were fine and they were blanketed in five inches of overnight snowfall. It was hardly our fault that they had to work twice as hard at looking after our chickens and horses in our absence and, it seems, my suggestion that carrying buckets of unfrozen drinking water out into the fields was a good daily exercise did not help.
Last year She-dog had a thoroughly enjoyable holiday here as well. Like most dogs, she revels in human company and snow and her days were spent in a mix of snowy walks and long uninterrupted periods of sleep in front of the fire. This time we are here on our own. It has been commented on that She-dog has not featured much in recent posts – all that is about to change for she has gone away on an adventure of her own: if all goes well, in about ten weeks time she will be having puppies once again and, this time, we might just keep one for ourselves.
Last Sunday turned out to be a glorious day after twenty four hours of much needed rain. Thank goodness it did for a friend had organised that most English of traditions – a posh picnic on the lawns of a large country house, followed by a concert in the music room.
And so we found ourselves eating smoked salmon sandwiches, coronation chicken, salads, ending with strawberries and cream, all washed down with an endless supply of champagne. But our friend didn’t just do us proud with the picnic, she had invited an eclectic mix of guests. There was an art historian, an art restorer, an explorer, a porcelain restorer, myself a garden designer amongst others. And we were international as well, for amongst the guests was an American, a Persian, myself part Polish – but the pure bred Brits did outnumber us….
According to one tradition, the first Pekins were smuggled out of China and presented to Queen Victoria in 1837, the year of her coronation. Whether this is true or not is immaterial – it just makes for a nice story. The first Pekins (I have read that in the States and Canada the breed is known as Cochins) presented to me were a gift from a friend several years ago and we have been breeding them ever since, concentrating on the more unusual lavender coloured variety.
Life is always so hectic – rushing here, there and everywhere – that it is all too easy to forget to take time out, do nothing but contemplate …..