I'm sitting here listening to the rain, wondering of it will stop for long enough for us to follow our usual Sunday routine - over the allotment for a few hours, plus some garden work (mostly seed sowing). Truth is, the rain is most welcome, as it will soften the ground to help Howard prepare more beds for planting, and will top up the pond with water that doesn't need to sit to release the chlorine before being added.
Tomorrow sees the start of the first full five day working week for what seems like an age. Only three weeks for me, but for Howard much longer as he was off sick prior to the Easter break. Fortunately he's recovered fully from the chest virus, but he's discovered he now has sciatica as well (almost a year to the week since I had the work accident that triggered mine), and his cholesterol levels are slightly elevated. That last problem has meant he temporarily took the role of food police in the house and out shopping, but having read the ingredients and the processing methods of so called "healthy" spreads, he has decided to stick with butter, use slightly less and up his tomato, apples, and oats intake. He also uses the bike he brought down from his parents for solo errands in the local area. We're lucky to have an excellent GP at our surgery, who advised doing everything possible before prescribing pills. We'll see how things go in a few months.
The last two extended weekends have allowed us to get plenty of time in at the allotment, as well as run a few errands and have "adventures". The rhubarb bed has finally been extended onto one half of the site of the old compost bins. We picked a prodigious amount from the existing crowns, and ended up swapping some with another plotholder who had an excess of asparagus! So over Easter weekend we had asparagus for dinner three days out of four - steamed, griddled and finally as a puree.
The other half of the old composting area (included the site of my old leaf mould bin) has finally been turned into a new raspberry bed. The old canes I had taken from our previous allotment didn't thrive in the move, so I bought some more this year. When I was removing some of the canes from the pot I bought them in, a little newt popped out! I gather it up and placed it in the damp undergrowth in the wood. Hopefully it will have made its way to the brook or a pond, and maybe return once we have our ponds in place.
Having little interest in staying to two people we don't know personally get married, we spent the day at the allotment. Howard admitted that like me, he would like to see the flypast, but as we live on their usual route out of London, we could see in from the shed. Just our luck that this year they flew so low that the were the other side of the woods, below the treeline. Still, I have the memory of an evening last February when the helicopter carrying Obama flew over our house.
The Friday morning had started in spectacular fashion. Just before 8am, I was sorting out the hens, when I heard a commotion in the next street. Unidentified high pitched bird shrieks, and then the cause came into view - a Red Kite, being mobbed by a Carrion Crow and a Ring-Necked Parakeet! Last year we saw a Buzzard above the garden, high on the thermals, and we've seen Buzzards a few miles away in Cockfosters & Potters Bar. But the Kite was flying low enough to see its markings, let alone identify it by the tail shape. It may well have been roosting nearby, and just taken to the air. Eventually it flew off in the direction of Chase Farm and the M25. Don't know if it was a one-off, but a couple of days later I saw another Kite low over the M25 between London Colney & the A1.
Kites are a special bird to me. As a child, my family holidayed mostly in mid-Wales. I saw Kites in the wild when their population was at its lowest. One of my classmates' fathers worked for the RSPB, so he knew seeing Red Kites at that time was a big deal. When we travel "out west", we try to keep count of the number we see on our journey, and we have had to start the counting earlier on each journey. Let's hope they keep advancing.
Last Saturday we set out on one of our regular jaunts - the first Sarah Raven open day at Perch Hill for this year. The equivalent even last year was cold & bleak, with very few of the feature plants - tulips - more than in bud. This year it was warm, brilliant sunshine and the alliums had taken the baton from all but the late flowering tulips. We were both very taken with a Clematis growing over an arch - Clematis montana "Elizabeth" - pink flushed white flowers, with a gorgeous vanilla/chocolate scent. Made a note of it for the future, then had an excellent lunch of frittata and mixed salads. Despite having an excess of eggs at home (total 95 from 4 hens for April), we still plump for a healthy egg dish when dining out.
By now it was too late in the day to make for the coast, so we took a detour to another garden spot nearby - Merriments, an excellent garden centre, with display gardens and a tea room. Last time we had been there was on the way to Bexhill to see Band Of Horses in February, when there had been storm force winds that kept us under cover. This time we sat outside to have afternoon tea, before strolling round the plant sales area. First thing we passed were the Clematis, and I found the variety we admired at Sarah Raven!
May Day proper we were off on another jaunt - to the Grow Your Own show at Loseley House, near Guildford. A gorgeous setting and a good mix of stalls - some of my favourite seed suppliers (Thomas Etty & Pennard Plants), useful bits of kit, poultry and livestock to admire, and good food. Our lunch was an Ostrich burger, followed by Losely ice cream. The exotic burger stand was also selling Kangaroo and Zebra burgers, but I'm not sure how many of them were sold. As is our habit at country shows such as this, we replenished our sausage stock (having brought a chiller bag with this in mind). Also sampled, and then splashed out on some gorgeous chocolates, flavoured with fruit and herbs grown or gathered by the maker, plus honey from her own hives. Howard was allowed to try her "special reserve" - Seville orange zest left over from marmalade making, crystallised and coated in dark chocolate. He's already counting the days till mid-January so he can have a go himself.
There was a cheese stand, stocking product from local producers, including the makers of my current favourite British cheese, Saint Giles - High Weald Dairy. Tried their newest addition, Brother Michael, a more pungent version of Saint Giles. Another top notch cheese - lovely texture and a good kick to it. Ideal for a restorative nibble after a hard day's commute.
Bank Holiday Monday was spent over the allotment, including me managing to cook a Full English Breakfast (including mug of tea & toast) on a single ring camping stove! had a mid afternoon nap in the van we'd hired, and on waking spotted the first Swift of the year. Summer IS a coming in!