Monday, 30 June 2008

First Fruits

The Summer is racing past me - it's the last day of June already, and I haven't blogged the garden since the last day of May. O mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! So what has June brought us?

We have been tasting the first fruits of the harvest.

We ate the first of our own new potatoes two nights ago, a fine variety called Charlotte, and they are very good. From now on we should be able to eat our own potatoes until the end of autumn at least: first the Charlotte, then an old early variety we brought back from France called Belle de Fontanay, and finally the main-crop Pink Fir Apple, knobbly but with an incomparable flavour. I can't wait.

We've also been able to pig out on raspberries for the first time, which is my favourite fruit - much better than strawberries to my taste. I foolishly neglected the soft fruit bed since I planted it six years ago, and allowed goat willow seedlings to grow up, saying to myself that the raspberries and red and black currants wouldn't mind, because they are woodland plants in nature. But this year the willows reached a good 12 feet and I have learned my lesson: without human intervention this garden would revert to Shannon-side willow scrub in less than ten years. I cut the willows down to the ground, and the fruit has instantly responded, though we won't get decent black currants till they fruit on the new wood next year, and I shall be constantly pulling the shoots from the willow stumps for years to come. The birds got the red currants, so I suppose I have to consider installing a fruit cage.

We've been doing well on globe artichokes too, really just an excuse to eat butter of course. I've had enough to give away. They are a mixture of green and purple grown from seed by Suzanna, so they are all more or less spiny and need to be trimmed with a scissors before eating. I must try to scrounge a root or two of the proper old variety without spines that my father used to grow when I was a child. The recent gales have been strong enough to blow some of the plants over despite their stout stems, so perhaps I shall try to pickle some of the small heads as the Italians do.

But the finest fruit of the season is my new Grandson Jonah!

Last weekend Suzanna and I flew to London to meet him for the first time. He is a little dote! At two months he is already half again as heavy as his birth weight; he constantly tracks the world around him with his lovely blue eyes; he is starting to enjoy making noises and playing games; and he is a very happy little chap, which is a great tribute to my daughter Ellie and her husband-to-be Darren, who are clearly wonderful parents. God bless all three of them! We also went with Ellie to show him off to some of my oldest and dearest friends from Cambridge, with whom I shared a flat in Ladbroke Grove all but 40 years ago. What warm welcomes we had, what wonderful teas, and what a pleasure to see my old friends holding the baby of the baby they had held when we all were young, what seems so short a time ago!

I offer this prayer of thanksgiving, adapted from the Prayerbook:

God my loving Father
maker of all that is living,
I praise you for the wonder and joy of creation.
I thank you for the life of Jonah,
for his and Ellie's safe delivery,
and for the privilege of being a grandparent.
Accept my thanks and praise
through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

When we got back from London, though, I contemplated murder. The hare had returned with leverets while I was away. They had eaten all the young French bean plants, and they were just starting in on the peas. My neighbour Geof has the same problem and is almost in tears about it. I searched the web for advice. The New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture says that night shooting is the only effective control, but I don't have the heart for that. Other sites say fencing with chicken wire is the only defence. A company in England markets a spray caller Grazers, but their Irish agent has not responded to emails - I shall try to order some on the web. Every time I see a hare in the garden - several times a day - I run out shouting and waving my hands in an attempt to frighten it into a more sharing disposition. Meanwhile ever practical Suzanna has been to the hardware merchant and built chicken-wire fences around her raised beds and salad pots.

The rest of the graden is looking very well, particularly the rambling roses. 'Neige d'Avril' is frothing over the patio arch, alongside 'Goldfinch'. The extraordinary petals of 'Veilchenblau' fade from an intial purple to violet grey beside shocking pink 'American Pillar'. Pink 'Belvedere', named for the great house near Mullingar in West Meath where it originated, is just starting by the gate, where it always attracts admiring comments from passers-by. I think I have finally identified the lovely repeat-flowering noisette I got from my mother as 'Champney's Pink Cluster', bred in America in 1811, though it might be it's child 'Blush Noisette', introduced in France in 1817.

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