Seen at The Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden - Chinese proverb

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Monday, 29 September 2014

Powis Castle: At a Gallop

This is a writing experiment involving a story within a story. You can either read the pictures and their captions, or the plain text in between. You comments on whether this works for you are much appreciated - I wanted you to share in my garden visit and read about how it happened...

Part of the walk through the Powis Castle estate from Welshpool. This is a quieter (if slower) way to approach
the garden judging by the number of people I saw vs. the number of cars in the car park. There is also the
opportunity to spot deer and wildlife along the way and to understand the castle in its surrounding landscape.

We always have a fair share in deciding what to do on holiday. There are common interests to explore - such as looking at industrial heritage and drinking real ale - plus the selection of our own choices to visit together. I like NAH's noisy steam and he enjoys the peaceful contrast of a garden visit.

So our recent holiday in Shropshire saw us taking a return tootle up the line at the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway for him, plus a visit to Stockton Bury Gardens* for me.

A good starting point is to neatly sidestep the garden's entrance and peer cautiously over the low wall
which is found in the castle green area, where teas are also served. You can really appreciate how the
garden drops steeply away from the castle and how it dominates the surrounding countryside.

NAH was so keen to get going on the Welshpool and Llanfair visit he completely overlooked our day was in danger of ending just after lunch. That was until I pointed out the tickets were day rover ones. I could tell NAH was keen to swap stories with the friendly train guard we'd met, so my company would really be surplus to requirements.

We agreed to part for the afternoon whilst he rode the train again and I walked into Welshpool to get to know the town a little better. I was just debating where to have my afternoon coffee and cake, when I spotted some rather grand looking gates and sign at the bottom of a side street.

Once in the garden, the terraced borders have pictures of how Powis Castle looked in various
decades, so you can compare and contrast with today's view. It's garden history without tears.

It was the entrance to Powis Castle estate...

... with a sign saying it was just a mile's walk to the castle and therefore the garden. I had just one and a half hours before I had to meet NAH off the train...

... so what's a girl to do when presented with the opportunity for an unscheduled extra garden visit?

Naturally, I took a leaf out of Charlotte's book and went round at a gallop.

The terrace borders certainly had the wow factor, even in mid-September. I found huge cannas, bananas and
aeoniums sitting comfortably alongside the late season stalwarts such as dahlias, salvias and fuchsias.

I decided to focus on the terraced part of the garden. The bumpily shaped giant yews leaning comfortably over the walls always give me a fit of the giggles and the late season borders were magnificent. NAH and I had thoroughly visited this garden** on a previous holiday in Wales, so I didn't feel I was being short changed.

Besides it also gave me the opportunity to examine the glorious pots more closely. These had only just been planted up when we last visited on a June day. I think you'll agree September is a fine month to see them.

Yes, those fuchsias are in pots - burgeoning isn't a sufficiently descriptive word for Powis's pots.

My walking and admission time may have cut my visit down to a mere 45 minutes, but it was still worth it.

Whilst most of my views of the garden suggests it was still summer,
this view in the opposite direction showed autumn wasn't too far away.

* = the season's ended at Stockton Bury for 2014, so there'll be a delay before I blog about it.

** = Powis Castle is a rather poignant place for us as this is where we received the call to say my MIL did indeed have dementia. It was one of those calls where you never forget where you were at the time. As this was in the part of the garden I didn't have time to visit - even at a gallop - I'm a bit relieved I didn't need to face that particular demon.

A final look at some of the gigglesome yews and a tantalising glimpse of the formal
gardens beyond the steep terraces. A place to take you the next time we visit.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Salad Days: My Simple 4-Step Salad Guide

In the early days of The 52 Week Salad Challenge, I asked the question What is a salad? I didn't have the definitive answer back then and I've since realised there isn't really one. The key question to ponder is What makes a great salad for me?

One of the reasons I started the Challenge 3 years ago was to prove to NAH salads needn't be boring and I believe I've done that many times over. I've found it takes just four simple steps to ensure we have a great tasting salad every time. All ingredients are raw, unless stated otherwise.

Step 1 - Make a large base layer of seasonal greens

Choose from:
  • Lettuce
  • Rocket, especially wild
  • Watercress
  • Land cress (aka American cress)
  • Nasturtium leaves
  • Foraged greens e.g. hairy bittercress, fat hen, young dandelions
  • Winter purslane
  • Lamb's lettuce
  • Kale
  • Pea shoots
  • Oriental leaves e.g mustards, pak choi
  • Endive or chicory
  • Sorrel - small amounts give a deliciously lemony kick to a salad (thanks Janet for reminding me)

Step 2 - Add colour contrast(s)

  • Red lettuce e.g. Lollo Rosso, Relic, Red Salad Bowl
  • Radicchio
  • Beetroot - leaf and/or root, especially 'Bull's Blood' for leaves
  • Rainbow chard
  • Tomatoes - especially sweet cherry types such as Sungold or Gardener's Delight
  • Carrots - grated, cubed or sliced
  • Pumpkin or squash - cooked (I like them roasted), then sliced or cubed
  • Radishes
  • Peppers (not green - I especially like the elongated type for their flavour)
  • Fruit e.g. orange segments, pomegranate *
  • Edible flowers

Step 3 - Make it crunchy
  • Cucumber
  • Salad onions
  • Sprouted seeds and pulses
  • Sliced green beans (or whole French), shelled peas (or mangetout), or broad beans (all lightly cooked first)
  • Bulb fennel
  • Pulses cooked al dente e.g. chick peas, puy lentils
  • Toasted nuts & seeds e.g. sunflower, pumpkin, peanuts
  • Sliced or grated fruit e.g. apple, pear *

Step 4 - Intensify the taste
  • Herbs - e.g. basil, chives, coriander, chervil, dill, mint
  • Microgreens
  • Capers
  • Oils, vinegars (as they are, or flavoured - like the above preparations for making raspberry vinegar) or a dressing
  • Dried fruit e.g raisins, apricots *
* = select just one of these, or not at all e.g. if orange segments are selected for colour contrast, don't use other fruit to add crunch or intensify the taste.

The amounts used gets progressively smaller - at least half of the salad is selected from step 1 and the smallest amount is added from the list in step 4. The amounts and numbers used in each step depends on what you like and have to hand that's in season. The final size of the salad is up to you, depending on your appetite.

Mix all the ingredients together to accompany a serving of cheese (e.g. feta crumbled through for a classic Greek salad) or an omelet, or grilled meat or fish. We only occasionally have a slice of quiche for a change as we're trying to avoid having too much pastry.

How do you make your ideal salad?
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