Sunday 30 March 2014

Busy in the garden

I am having to use the laptop as I've got problems with a freezing cursor (mouse problems) and of course, all my Florence photos are on the main computer and not on here.

So I shall tell you about my busy weekend in the garden.  I have been putting in 6 or 7 hours a day out there and made great strides in getting it spring-cleaned (all those jobs I should have done last Autumn, really, or to be totally honest, the PREVIOUS Autumn!)

I recently got two big trays of Primulas (buy one, get one free) so I've put these in along the top of the wall and in the little log planters by the gate, for some instant colour.

This used to - laughingly - be called the Herb Garden.  As you can see, it has got completely choked with grass, weeds and other garden thugs planted in it to attract the bees.  One of my friends from down the road kindly came and gave me a couple of mornings' help and we broke the back of cleaning it - all edged now, and more than 3/4 cleared, although I need to dig over again and drag up as many grass roots at I can.

We put up the remains of my small plastic greenhouse on Saturday.  I thought I had a lovely brand new cover for it (for just 50p in the Lidl one day sale last year) but although the width was right, it was too short by about 3 feet, and has gone back in the shed, and the old ripped cover put back on.  I ran out of compost yesterday, but not before I had potted up lots of dahlia tubers (two bags of 3 came from Lidl recently, for just £4 for 6 tubers).  Lidl ones are "Bora Bora", "Star Elite" (both red and yellow and pink and yellow combinations), 2 Cactus dahlias "Purple Gem" and a single (more expensive!) Bishop of Llandaff which is Scarlet with bronze leaves.  I start them in pots or else they get nobbled by the slugs . . .  I also have a Peony started off (Sarah Bernhart), two Phlox - a pink one called "Bright Eyes" and a red one.  These are dessicated roots, so I hope they grow.  Mum used to grow Phlox and Dahlias (and roses) so I think I am turning into her as a gardener.  She always had Nasturtiums too, and I started off some home-grown seed yesterday.  A couple of weeks ago I bought another Morrison Clematis, only £2 I think - a red one, "Earnest Markham",  I finally got around to putting that in a big pot yesterday, but don't know where it will go permanently.

Last year's seed packs from Wilko's autumn sale included several packet of Sarah Raven seeds (which I can't afford full price, but at 75% off were do-able).  So yesterday I sowed Cleome "Violet Queen", Verbena bonariensis, and Mixed Cut Flowers.  In a corner I have two Moneymaker tomato plants which I bought from our local PO at the weekend for 70p each.  I prefer to buy ones that someone else has had the bother of growing as without a proper greenhouse, I struggle growing from seed.

As soon as I have more compost, I will get my runner beans in trays (I grow "Scarlet Emperor" from home-saved seed).

Anyway, yesterday I weeded a bit more of the stone pathway to the greenhouse, and started to straighten the edge of the driveway, which is covered by stone chippings at the top, where we had several tons delivered a few years back.  What I uncover in my straightening up, then gets spread on the pathway.

I carried on with the soft fruit patch - clearing all the brambles and weeds, covering in weed-surpressing membrane and then No. 2 muckheap for food and mulch.  I've done some of the blackcurrants and redcurrants, and yesterday started on the harder job of clearing around the young fruit trees and the very-overgrown raspberries.  I got two strips done and a lot of bramble scratches up my bare arms (it was T-shirt weather - around 70 deg. and WONDERFUL).

Whilst I worked, I thought.  I conjured up pictures of Florence, walking round its cobbled Medieval streets; the shop windows (ALL that leatherwork - jackets,coats, wallets, belts and the most wonderful handbacks - I'm not a handbag person, but I could have bought quite a few!  One afternoon we walked for 40 minutes in search of the little Patisserie where we had seen some gorgeous pastries with fresh fruit which was the only thing I REALLY fancied eating that day.  Eventually we tracked it down and there was one fruit pie left - it was DIVINE.  M&S's alternative bought on our return was very disappointing . . .  I thought of the religious artwork we had seen in the galleries and in Sante Croce (another post to come, photo heavy).  I debated the significance of the religious symbolism I had seen, including the theme of the Christ-child holding a bird - usually a Goldfinch - and when I researched this on my return, I discovered that it was symbolic of the Resurrection to come.  Birds like the Goldfinch, Linnet and Robin were used - their splashes of red colouring denoting the splashes of blood from Christ's crown of thorns which the little bird had tried to remove.  See link..

Moving away from Florence - though the sun reminded me of our time there - my mind moved to the book about artist A J Munnings I had just finished, and thoroughly enjoyed and which I can recommend: "Summer in February". (I have asked for the DVD for my birthday).  It tells of his time in Cornwall, in an artists' colony at Lamorna, a spin-off of the one at Newlyn, and his marriage which ended up in his wife's suicide.  Her first attempt had been on the honeymoon so something was obviously VERY wrong with their relationship.  I pondered that a lot as I pulled out handfuls of grass and chopped brambles into small pieces for ease of disposal.  Was it the shock of sex?  Did she have second thoughts about their relationship?  He sounded a rather abrupt and strong-tempered man in the book (I don't know if that was the case in real-life, but the author, Jonathan Smith, had obviously done plenty of research and read biographies as well as Munnings' biographies.  Was she in love with someone else - as suggested in the book - and didn't realize her mistake in marrying Munnings until it was too late?  We will probably never know . . .

As my OH had cut the lawns, my final hour out in the garden was spend starting to edge them, and weed.  I started at one margin of the pond and made good progress, though I am still trying to eradicate the thuggish stripey "decorative" grass I foolishly planted out there . . .  it gets EVERYWHERE, and particularly enjoys growing inbetween the stones creating the pond margins. . .

Last week my OH cut down one of the diseased ash trees at the bottom of the yard, so we are already drying next winter's firewood (not that we hope to be here to USE IT!!!)

Meanwhile, having woken at 3.30 a.m. and risen at 4 a.m., I am still trying to spin out these extra hours by keeping busy, and have the slow cooker full of a huge pan of Vegetarian Chilli (well, Vegan actually) with tomatoes, mixed beans and kidney beans, sweetcorn, carrots, red pepper, onion, garlic, and spices.  Tea tonight is now sorted, and I shall portion up the rest for the freezer.

Anyway, we phone the new agent today and put the house back on the market, so it's all hands to the pump to get the last couple of jobs done internally, the new polished slate house nameplate up and the garden looking spick and span.  Cross your fingers for an early sale please : )

Thursday 27 March 2014

Florence - Part 3 - Italian Markets

Pictures rather than words this time:

This could have been stock from a certain Junky Antique Shop we know or most car boot sales, come to that.  A Fleamarket stall in Pisa.  Nothing worth having . . .

A corner of an antique shop window, rather than a market stall, but I took it as a couple of things there to interest my husband.

This was a stall at the Permanent Fleamarket - though there is a much much bigger one set up each month  - but of course we missed that.  Some nice glass lighting, but beyond our means and difficult to pack!

My husband loves Windsor chairs, and has a small collection.  Somehow these two very English Windsor chairs ended up in Florence - I ouldn't see a price though and the shop was still shut.  My husband says they are North Country in style - well, north of Nottingham, going up through Lancs.  Nice chairs.

Gelato anyone?  They were SUPERB.  We had one in Pisa and then queued to go to the best Gelato shop in Florence later in the week, and had a double decker Pear and Salted Caramel.  Ice cream is never going to taste the same again . . .

A corner of the general market stocked bedding - imported quilts made in the Far East included.  There were also lots of 2nd hand and vintage clothing stalls, which Tam enjoyed looking through (but not the prices!)

There were many similar stalls offering fresh meat and vast quantities of Charcuterie.

We bought our lunch from Paolo's stall (Thursday) - huge fresh cold pananis with Parma ham, local cheese, and salad, washed down with a mouthful of excellent red wine.

Part of the offerings at the Fish Market.  Tam said she saw one of the stallholders cutting up a small shark!

More good produce, lots of cheese, and salt cod as well.

The fruit and vegetables were so fresh and tempting and we just HAD to buy Blood Oranges when we got home after seeing them here.  We passed them by on the day as oranges are just so messy to picnic on!  There were lots of baby courgettes still with their flowers on, huge strawberries which we meant to buy then got distracted.  Artichoke heads, chicory, huge aubergines, peppers - everything you could need.

One of the stalls at the Farmer's Market, which was equally stuffed with goodies.  I don't like Olives, but the Olive bread looked fabulous.

Further along the same stall - some wonderful Marzipan fruits, and to the left, gigantic doughnuts.

Selections of regional cheeses, above and below.  

The Pugliese cheese is made from sheep's milk, and has a very intense flavour - it's usually grated to accompany other regional dishes.  HERE'S A LINK about regional Italian cooking and food.

A great selection of fresh bread to accompany any meal.

Last but not least - a fabulous array of crystalized fruits of every description.  

The bitter irony of all this largesse was that I wasn't really tempted by anything, because I was brewing this infection.  I lived on water, and had to force down food.  The only good meal I ate was pizza on the first day there and then I went downhill!  A wonderful plate of pasta bolognese (fifteen euros) and I managed just four mouthfuls before I was completely full up.  I managed a little better with an (overcooked) Sea Bream the next night, and really enjoyed the beef in red wine on the final night, only we were sat outside, and there was a brisk and cold wind which rendered everything on my plate stone cold within minutes, but I managed half of it . . .  So I had better get on and do some recreating here hadn't I?!

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Florence - Part 2

I have to say, our first day in Florence was pretty intensive.  Our Eco B&B was out of the city centre (about a mile and a half).  We thought we had left good time to walk in to visit the Uffizi Gallery (pictured above from the other side of the River Arno), but realized by the time we got to the Train Station that we might not make our timed slot (we had booked in advance, which is MUCH recommended if you ever go there - the non-booked queues were immense, even first thing in the morning).  Anyway, we ended up hailing a taxi which seemed to go all round the houses (Medieval street planning did not think ahead to cars and scooters) and cost an arm and a leg (though public transport is VERY cheap in Italy).

We made our time slot and spent the next 3 hours or so looking at the most amazing paintings.  I was a little disgruntled to find my darling daughter had NOT warned me about the steps as the Gallery starts at the TOP of the Uffizi and it was like mountaineering!  She had also not disclosed to me that there were 100 rooms of paintings.  Mostly of the Religious persuasion, and whilst I admired the skill of the artistry and that I was seeing very famous paintings I had only seen as book illustrations or parts of highbrow tv programmes until then, your eyes do tend to glaze over after you have seen umpteen renderings of the Madonna and Child or the Annunciation, or Christ on the Cross (all commissioned by the Church, hence the choice of topic).  At fifteen euros for entrance, I felt I needed to read all the information boards beside the paintings to try and understand their significance (and which artist painted them of course!), as we weren't going to be going back in again in a hurry!

At the very top of the Uffizi building is an open-air cafe, and a rooftop garden, where we were able to enjoy the sunshine (it was 23 degrees) - a view across the city here, across the River Arno.

This is the Renaissance palace of the famous Medici family, next door to the Uffizi building (which was originally the adinistrative offices).  Its proper name is the Palazzo Vecchio (oops, I got it wrong first time, but Tam has just put me right.).  It was designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo for Cosimo de' Medici, and built between 1444 and 1484.  There is a beautiful inner courtyard (see the Wikepedia entry for further details and photos).  A visitor described the Palazzo thus:

"decorated on every side with gold and fine marbles, with carvings and sculptures in relief, with pictures and inlays done inperspective by the most accomplished and perfect of masters even in the very benches and floors of the house; tapestrties and household ornaments of gold and silk silverware and bookcases that are endless . . . then a garden done in the finest of polished marbles, with diverse plants, which seems a thing not natural but painted . . . " (Many thanks to Wikipedia.)

View of the Duomo and Belltower from the roof garden.

This was the best view of the Ponte Vecchio bridge across the Arno.  It probably dates right back to Roman times, but was destroyed by a flood and rebuilt as we see it now, in 1333, with sturdy stone arches and supports.  In the 15th Century, the shops across the bridge were Butchers, Fishmongers, Greengrocers and I believe Tanners, but the bad smells caused Ferdinando I replaced them with goldsmiths.  The small square windows on the upper floor show the Corridor built by Vasari, where the Medici family would cross to the Pitti Palace, above the smelly crowds of city folk

Above and below, views on the bridge.

This is the Casa Guidi, where the poets Elizabeth Barret Browning and her husband (and son) lived from 1847 to 1861 (when Elizabeth died, following a lifetime of ill health).  After their elopement and clendestine marriage in London, the Barret Brownings first travelled to Paris, where they spent a brief honeymoon, and then spent 6 months in Pisa, close to the Cathedral, but Pisa proved too quiet a backwater for them, hence their move to Florence.

They rented a suite of rooms here, in this building which had formerly been one half of the Palazzo Guidi, and dates from the 15th C.  From The Victorian Web, I have copied the following:

"From Florence Elizabeth wrote excitedly to Anna Jameson in August 1847, "we are settled magnificently in this Palazzo Guidi on a first floor in an apartment which looks quite beyond our means, and would be except in the dead part of the season." From the undeniably "dreary entrance" (McMahan 15), stone stairs led up to "a suite of spacious rooms opening on a little terrace and furnished elegantly — rather to suit our predecessor the Russian prince than ourselves" (Letters I: 334). The Brownings were eventually able to take out a long-term lease on it, and soon rechristened it "Casa Guidi," a homelier, less pretentious name that suited their republican sympathies. They furnished the place themselves, redecorating the drawing room in the colours of the forbidden Italian Risorgimento flag — red, white and green (see Bolton and Holloway 508). The fireplace and mirror now in the room are original, and the paintings and furnishings are either copies of or similar to what would have been there during their residence. The drawing room was the heart of the suite."

In memory of the two great Victorian poets.  For further information about them, and the Casa Guidi,  please go to The Browning Society website.  You can even holiday in the Casa Guidi, as the Landmark Trust is now in charge of it, I believe - they lease it from Eton College, which owns it.  Ahem, NOT cheap though!

This square behind the Casa Guidi would have been well-known to the Barret Brownings, and was where Tam and I had our lunch (Pizza Napoli).  In the footsteps of literary giants . . .

More tomorrow  as the day was yet young . . .

Monday 24 March 2014

Florence - part 1

Our flight was from Bristol airport to Pisa, and of course we had to take advantage of this fact, and go and see the Leaning Tower.  It was quite impressive!!!  It is actually a free-standing belltower (or campanile) and its tilt began in the early stages of being built, when they discovered that the foundation being inadequate on one side, and built on sinking ground to boot.  Over the centuries it was partly-stablized, although it wasn't until the 20th and 21st centuries that it was finally stablized properly and the lean lessened.  At its worst it leaned 5.5 degrees, but now is at 3.99.  Work began on it in 1173!  but the 7th floor not completed until 1319.

It looks almost straight here, but when you see it against other buildings the lean looks unsafe!

This is the wonderful Pisa Baptistry.

And of course, Pisa cathedral.  Unfortunately we didn't have time to go inside either building.  (I will try and add more details tomorrow.)

One of the residents . . .

This stunning building was on the way back to catch the bus.

Over the doorway of one Medieval building was this beautiful wooden carving of Madonna and child.

Back with more tomorrow.

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Off to Florence in the morning

Just a quick line to say I shall be absent from my computer for a few days, as Eldest Daughter and I are off to Italy (Florence to be exact!), somewhere I have wanted to visit since first seeing it when I was 18 or so, and they shot the film of Romeo and Juliet there (the ancient one starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey).  I can't quite believe I shall be going yet, and so getting excited is only very slowly happening.

Anyway, a quick photo of the Malvern quilt, on our line:

As you can see, it's unfinished (still has ancient paper templates in the back around the edges - Woman's Weekly probably!)  An unusual design though, and unique to this lady.

Last week I came down to the kitchen first thing, and found "someone" in residence on a kitchen chair . . .  Someone in possession of all his Crown Jewels . . . and he knew how to use them on occasion!  I am afraid he got bundled into a cat carrier and taken off to the vet's for the kindest cut of all and Ghengis is now more Bagpuss . . .

Expect one or two (hundred!) photos of Florence on my return.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Another month, another trip to Malvern!

Sunday morning saw us up at 5 a.m. and on our way to the Malvern Antiques and Collectors Fair by 6 a.m.  Here is a view through the car window of the day starting over the Brecon Beacons.  I wish I had been able to stop lots and take photos as the scenery was just absolutely amazing in the sunshine.

We stopped to change drivers and I managed to get a quick photo of the Usk valley.  I only wish I have not been the designated driver, or that we were in a hurry, as I wanted to stop so many times and capture the early morning light across the mountains.  Everywhere was bathed in a soft sleepy light.

We did the outside stalls first.  I think you can safely say this was a stall set up by a Bloke who didn't have strong artistic skills . . .  Note juxtaposition of goggles and fox - he missed a real design opportunity there!

Strong manly lines in this stall too, but at least you could see what was on offer and there was a definite oriental theme.

I was drawn to this colourful plate, but told myself sternly, that I had enough plates . . .

Inside were the Antiques stalls, and this pretty - feminine! - one really caught my eye.  The pots of flowers made such a difference to it.

I was very tempted by this cheerful Staffordshire cat, and he was affordable too . . .  but I stayed my hand.  However, if he is there next time, I may have changed my mind, as he wasn't dear.

Some lovely quilts and linen on this stall.  The stall-holder said that the quilts were largely the work of two sisters, who just lived to make quilts, by hand and by machine, and just kept going.


A close-up of the hand-quilted in red quilt.  I'd have loved to have bought this (though I didn't dare enquire the price!) as it is just like a cushion-cover (also worked in red) that I made when my children were small, back in the late 1980s.  Happy memories, and such skill went into this one.

Another stunning piece, heavily embroidered on velvet, and which I would have loved to have brought home with me.  My hand is now itching to do something like this, but the garden is calling VERY loudly right now.

Three dogs wait patiently behind a stall.  Their owner said they were very good, but not averse to the odd Bonio to help pass the time!

A hugely detailed school book from Edwardian times, when children really WANTED to learn - I should think this was a gifted teenager who came from a family who could afford extended education.

Crocodile foot purse anyone?  Only £48 . . .

Isn't this gorgeous?  Ribbon work and embroidery.  I had to walk away!  It was on that beautiful stall with all the flowers that I showed earlier.

We had one last wander round outside (which REALLY paid off for my husband, as he found a very old hunting knife, very cheap!)  I had a look at this lovely vintage quilt top (unfinished, and still with the paper liners of Woman's Weekly or something inside around the edge.  I shook it out, had a good look at it.  We had a little stroll, and I went back and haggled, and it came home with me.  I'll take a picture of it on a bed and show you it properly tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the garden is calling - SHOUTING in fact!  Progress has been made . . .