Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Christopher Columbus meets Walt Disney in the Orchard

There is a curious pattern of behaviour prevalent among gardeners whereby we garden for relaxation, yet we are incapable of sitting down and relaxing in our gardens because some little task will catch our attention and before we know it, we are gardening again. In our house it is known as Gardeners' Relaxation Aversion Syndrome (GRAS). 

Christopher Columbus took the vital first step towards remedying GRAS in Europe by introducing the hammock. When lolling in a hammock, the gardener's eyes are diverted skywards and away from all those little gardening tasks and should a weed be detected, the effort of exiting a hammock in haste is enough to subdue any desire to spring into action. The indigenous people of Middle and South America called the hammock the “cradle of the gods”; I like to think of it as the “cradle of the gardener”. 

A hammock with a view in Tuscany
My own research, involving rigorous relaxation in hammocks and more than a few extremely pleasant garden visits, suggests that the most effective treatment for GRAS involves a combination of hammock and orchard, so in the name of research (along with a passion for growing food and a love of orchards), I have been planting more fruit trees. 

Last year I popped a medlar in the farmhouse garden. I did this because in the seventeenth century, Culpeper credited the medlar with "making joyful mothers". It's a pretty enough thing, but I can't say there has been a significant increase in maternal joy in our house. Perhaps that will change when it fruits. To add to the medlar, we now have apples, pears, plums, gages, cherries, mulberries and quince in the orchard. Anyone might think that Walt Disney was directing the planting, which was overseen by a wise owl

with a pheasant surveying posts

and Sprout doing the fetching and carrying....(and no, we didn’t whistle while we worked). 

Planting trees is an investment in the future. These saplings are unlikely to support fruit for a year or two, let alone a hammock cradling a chocoholic welly-shod gardener, so I am going to plant a couple of sturdy, highly secured posts adorned with honeysuckle to support my cradle. Of course, the probability of finding my dream cradling device - the heated hammock - is about the same as the likelihood of the pheasant fitting on the seed feeder, but we shall both remain optimistic.

Come spring, I will lie in my hammock in an orchard filled with bird song and apple blossom. Mr and Mrs Pheasant and their jolly brood of young will parade past Sprout as he slumbers contentedly in the meadow grass under the watchful gaze of the wise owl. I will close my eyes and give thanks for Christopher Columbus' discovery and its soothing influence on GRAS, before leaping from my cradle in an ungainly fashion as GRAS reminds me that the lawn needs mowing. 

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Alhambra, Generalife and a Thermo Compost Bin

It is late 1990 in a nightclub in London. She takes one look at the stranger at the bar and is absolutely certain that he is the man she will marry. He smiles and asks her to tell him a joke. Without a second thought she launches into a tale of dubious cleanliness involving a famous snooker player of the time. 

The moral of this story? Learn one joke very well as you never know where it will lead you. For us, it led to the Alhambra in Spain, where we celebrated twenty years of marriage (yes, she was right about the stranger at the bar).

Chaenomeles speciosa and citrus fruits
at the Generalife
Call me a quitter, but no words or photos I can publish here will ever do justice to the Alhambra and Generalife. Information about this fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site abounds, so instead I thought I would show you something rather clever I saw there which we might be able to adapt to our own gardens. Imagine you are taking this photo (yes I know it’s not as good as one you would take, but in my defence, it was a dull day and I was in a heightened state of emotion). You are at the Alhambra and looking across to the Generalife (you can just spot the clipped hedges of the Lower Generalife Gardens towards the centre of the photo). There is quite a distance between where you are standing and those hedges.  

Now imagine you are standing just above the clipped hedges of the Lower Generalife Gardens which we saw in the previous photo and you are looking back across the valley towards the Alhambra. Look at the way those hedges are used architecturally and how they mimic and support the view beyond. 

The hedge hugging the tower in the next photo is on your side of the valley, not on the side where the tower stands. The distance between the Alhambra and the Generalife appears reduced and the buildings and the hedges on either side of the valley blend beautifully. Now the question is, how am I going to apply this to my garden? In truth, it could be quite a challenge as Norfolk isn't famed for its hills and there is a woeful lack of towers and palaces on our little farm, but it has to be worth playing with a few ideas.

Our wedding anniversary shares a date with the first anniversary of the start of our barn conversion and to mark the occasion I decided to indulge in a minor construction project of my own: a new compost bin. Historically, I have been a bit of a traditionalist on the compost front - all New Zealand bins with a brief, ill-judged foray into tumblers, but I have decided to let my hair down this year and branch out into the world of thermo bins. I am now watching the speed of decomposition with great interest - if this had been my opening line in the nightclub, we certainly wouldn't be celebrating twenty years of marriage, although one of us might have celebrated winning a prize for the hastiest exit from a nightclub in 1990... and where would that have left me? Probably staring at an abandoned drink on the bar and toying with the idea of taking it home for use in slug traps. 

Happy first anniversary to our barn conversion

Information about the Alhambra and the Generalife can be found at www.alhambradegranada.org  We booked our tickets early by following a link from this website. It was worth doing - even though it was February, I saw people missing out on a visit because they were too late to purchase tickets.