It’s working. Two years ago with Susie’s help, I planted a B&Q buy-one-get-one-free special offer of miniature narcissus round the stone cairn built by Richard. Moss is doing a great job of covering the stone but the ground was a bit of a problem: too many weeds and it was difficult to mow the grass round the cairn. So we tacked a bit of plastic sheeting round the base, more like dressmaking than gardening, and planted the bulbs into it. And for once one of my planting schemes has actually done what I intended.
The most successful parts of my garden usually don’t have much to do with me at all. I lack the kind of mind that makes mathematical plans on paper – if a nice curve appears in the grass after Ray has driven the tractor over it that’s where the next border will be.
Last year I was excited to discover a beautifully artless approach to planting in Berlin. All the public parks and gardens looked so natural they seemed to be self-sown. I would love to achieve that look at Pond Cottage but I’m sure it is much harder than it looks.
I’ll come back to explore this subject a bit more when I have finished my week’s work on the new border(slightly to the left of this picture). My aim is to move as much self-sown stuff into cleared ground as I can – using gifts from Nature rather than spending loads of money in the garden centre. I have transplanted a crop of accidental foxgloves from the vegetable plot, I’ve got geraniums to split, and more periwinkle to dig up and I hope that last summer’s mulleins have seeded themselves under the trees, they looked great in autumn like ghostly grey figures lurking in the mist.
Admittedly I am topping up with an order of wild flowers from the excellent Alba trees nursery but I tried to pick only plants that would seed themselves around the place (geraniums, primulas, loosestrife) so that I don’t have to keep on planting.
I have to face it, I’m just the kind of gardener who likes to wander round the place, cup or glass in hand, congratulating the plants on looking after themselves. But I am quite chuffed that the gardener can take some credit when I wander as far as the stone cairn. And thanks to Susie too.
March 29th, 2008
“Many of the smaller ones perched on my hat, and when I carried my gun on my shoulder would sit on the muzzle. During my stay I killed forty-five all of which I skinned carefully.”
I really wish I hadn’t read that extract from David Douglas’s diary describing the birds he killed during his few days on the Galapagos Islands in 1824. Douglas happens to be a bit of a hero of mine. I get a powerful kick looking up into the huge trees he brought back from his travels in what was then the wild woods of the Pacific North West. He went to such trouble to collect seed without destroying the forest it is sad to discover he was blasting eagles and owls and other grand feathered things off the face of the mountain. But I guess no-one is perfect.
Re-reading two biographies of this strange Scot, I feel there is a lot more digging to be done into the psyche of the man who seemed to burn himself out in his relentless search for new plants. Seeds he could pack in tin trunks. Shooting was the best way he could find to collect birds for research back home. Oh, and yes of course, he had to eat as he was climbing the mountains through warring tribes. Roast eagle anyone?
But when you compare Douglas with the rest of the guys he met on his travels, he seems far ahead of his time. He was critical of the Hudson’s Bay Company for its scorched earth approach to hunting: they trapped beavers to extinction and ruthlessly secured the dependence of native Americans by trading in alcohol. Douglas preferred to trade in tobacco, learned the languages of different tribes and seemed to get on well with quite a few chiefs.
The first time I read the story I saw some black humour in his bizarre death in a pit dug to trap wild bulls on Hawaii. This time it seems simply tragic – his eyes were so badly damaged by snow blindness they bled when he was climbing volcanoes on the island but he still kept going. He was 35 when he died and he left only a brother. And thousands of trees and garden plants.
I have all this in mind because I’m working with Anna on a new guide book for Dawyck Botanic Garden, a wonderful place full of plants grown from seed collected in the (fast disappearing) wild including the stuff Douglas sent back from his travels up the Columbia River. Hard not to get a thrill looking at the old Douglas firs at Dawyck and maybe there is some poetic justice in the fact that the garden is full of birds. Even the odd eagle.
Read more: David Douglas Explorer and Botanist and All for a handful of seed
March 18th, 2008
Welcome to the first Global Gossip of 2008. I’ve been pestering Dougal for this for ages but he had work to do in Brazil. And Glasgow. As if that was any excuse. Anyway well worth the wait to see why Dougal Perman thinks we should choose Indonesia for a holiday (and remember, for some it’s destination of choice for weddings too). Photographs by Andrea McCarthy of My Talking Dog (see more on Flickr)
“Taxi? For tomorrow?”
A line of men sitting on the pavement try to entice us to rent their cab. There are many taxi drivers here in Ubud, a beautiful world heritage village in the centre of Bali, Indonesia. But not many tourists.
Indonesia is one of the most beautiful, interesting and exciting places on earth yet people don’t visit in the same numbers as they do in Thailand, Malaysia, or Vietnam. In two weeks travelling around Bali, Java and Sumatra, I saw incredible places and met wonderful people. I just wish, for the country’s sake, more tourists would come.
Waiting for sunrise on Mount Bromo, not as lonely as it looks
Despite tens of thousands of islands in the archipelago, Indonesia is well set up to accommodate tourists. Hopping islands by plane or boat is inexpensive and on land, buses or taxis can take you wherever you want to go. In cities the becak bicycle taxis are very cheap and good fun. There are so many taxi and becak drivers that competition is high and prices low. You have to haggle but there are so few tourists drivers have very little to do all day and they are happy to wait around to take travellers from one place to the next. In Jogjakarta, three young guys took us from street stall for dinner to a bar then a club, waiting several hours in-between each trip. If you don’t want to take a becak the best response is “jelang jelang, aja” which means “just walking around.” This is a common reply and acceptable pastime.
Private enterprise is everywhere. In towns and cities, hawkers sell almost everything from food to counterfeit goods but they can be surprisingly trusting. On the commercial stretch of Kuta beach, Andrea decided to get her nails done. Three ladies pounced on her and did nails, eyebrows and feet too, refusing to take “no” for an answer. She didn’t have enough change to pay for this mini makeover so waited patiently for Paddy and I to get back from the DVD store with more money. Meanwhile the ladies moved on to work on someone else, trusting her to find them when she could pay.
I did spot one gap in the market: no one was selling batteries.
On top of Mount Bromo, an active volcano best viewed at sunrise, I was amazed by the variety of things to buy. Following a very early morning jeep journey to the summit, we found stalls selling hot drinks, soup and snacks, warm clothes, waterproofs and souvenirs. Up on the viewing hill, which provides a great view of the smoking mouth of the volcano as the sun comes up, people wove between the spectators selling disposable cameras, film, hats and other bits and pieces. I did spot one gap in the market, though: no one was selling batteries, which would have been very useful. An opportunity there.
After we had photographed the sunrise, one man approached me with his camera. He was a teacher and was with his history class. I thought he wanted me to take a photo of him with his students but instead found they wanted to snap Andrea, Paddy and me. Amused, we agreed and then the paparazzi ensued: teacher, students and families all took turns to pose with us. Paddy told us that he’s been in remote tribal villages and seen pictures of random Westeners on the walls. Tourists – a novelty here – are welcomed and appreciated everywhere. And everybody smiles, almost all the time.
Dougal surrounded by new friends
The people are amazing: hospitable, kind and genuinely interested in meeting visitors. “Welcome to Indonesia!” one old man greeted us, bowing slightly, as we passed by in the front seat of a becak in Jogja. On the same journey, another passer by asked our driver where we were going. “The bird market”, he informed the passer by. “Ah,” he replied, “enjoy!”
Internal tourism is relatively healthy as people explore their incredible country on holiday. In Bali we encountered lots of Australians, Italians and Japanese, who all visit fairly often. But hardly any tourists visit Aceh, in North Sumatra, the area worst hit by the 2004 tsunami.
Paddy is working in social development and conflict resolution projects in areas like Aceh, where although peace agreements have been made between rebels and rulers, fighting can break out at any time. Although the area is politically unstable it is a fascinating place. Seeing the lasting effects of the tsunami and efforts to rebuild communities near Banda Aceh was moving and inspiring.
Risks, threats and dangers are responsible for declining tourism to Indonesia over the past ten years. The tsunami, like the Bali bombing, cannot be forgotten. Yet none of these reasons should deter people from visiting an incredible country. Terrorism can occur anywhere – we have all been aware of increasing activity in the West since 2001. Natural disasters can happen anywhere too. (An earthquake shook books of shelves in Rugby last week).
In places such as Vietnam or Thailand, many travellers seek out “unspoilt” areas to feel they are getting “off the beaten track”. While I usually seek the solace of solo sightseeing, I was so impressed by the beauty of the people and their culture and moved by the country waiting for the tourists who don’t come, that I would urge everybody to consider Indonesia as a holiday destination. I am lucky enough to be going back soon for Paddy’s wedding [that's Paddy on the left]. I can’t wait!
Mount Bromo, Monkey Sanctuary, and sunset over Ubud
Next time you are picking a holiday, check out Indonesia. There’s loads to see and do, people are welcoming, the land is fascinating, travel, accommodation, food and drink are all cheap and until people overcome their reservations and begin to visit again in more significant numbers, you’ll never have to wait long for a taxi!
Dougal is programme director of new media production company Inner Ear Ltd
March 4th, 2008
“Is that you blogging again?” The tone is teasing but perhaps just a tad reproachful. As if I am always up here blogging which of course is not true. After two weeks away from my blog (been too busy blogging elsewhere) I spent yesterday doing something much more productive.
Home made marmalade. There is really nothing quite like it. I’m not much good at making jam. Getting it to set is the really difficult bit. But last year I actually managed to make marmalade that set well enough to stay on the toast without being as tough as toffee. I decided to have another go this year but nearly missed the boat.
Seville oranges are hard to come by because they actually have a season (they seem to be one of the very few fruits growers haven’t hybridised into constant production) which is why they taste so real. This year they seemed particularly elusive. No sign in Waitrose or Sainsbury’s (not when we looked anyway) and Tesco sent me blood oranges instead. Ray finally tracked some down in Real Foods and brought back 3kilos of them.
So yesterday, instead of blogging a rant about Delia’s new book How to Cheat at Cooking – which admittedly would be a cheek since I haven’t read it, and nor do I intend to – I set about making a first batch of marmalade
And this time, though I say so myself, it has worked so well I must try and work out what I did so I can repeat the trick next year. Or even next week.
As before I used the basic recipe for Seville orange marmalade you can find in most good cook books (Jane Grigson’s classic Fruit or the very good Jocasta Innes Pauper’s Cookbook and I dare say Delia has it covered too). But this time I discovered three secrets for success.
First, the knife Dougal gave me for my birthday. So big and sharp I managed to chop the cooked oranges into nice chunky pieces (without adding bits of my fingers) surprisingly quickly.
Second, the cook’s thermometer showed when the gloop in the pot reached setting point (none of that tricky business trying to test little blobs of liquid on an ice cold saucer) reminding me that when I was at school cooking was taught as ‘domestic science’.
And third, I cheated and bought special jam sugar with added pectin which meant the marmalade reached setting point on the thermometer in less than 10 minutes and took less sugar to get there (2.5 kilos rather than the 3 kilos recommended in the recipe). So the taste is fresh and beautifully bitter. Cheating like Delia maybe but not a tin of mince in sight.
Just one problem. This year’s marmalade tastes so good it is very tempting to have more than one piece of toast. Bugger it. This is Mother’s Day so I can have another bit of toast. And blog about it after breakast too!
March 2nd, 2008