Tuesday at Two (July 16th) and Hollyhock Rust

Beautiful weather again. If we could just have a good rain one night it would be perfect!

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Down in the rockery a hollyhock has bloomed, and is looking fairly healthy still.

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However, the dreaded rust is already attacking its leaves. I shall have to remove them and dispose of them, as I would hate it to spread to the nearby Hibiscus. Do you have any plants affected by rust? Does anyone have a cure for it? I’d love to hear your suggestions!

The RHS website www.rhs.org.uk has some useful tips on dealing withhollyhock rust here.

Book Review: Bring Up The Bodies

Bring Up The Bodies

by Hilary Mantel

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This is a review I’ve been meaning to post for some time now. Even if you haven’t read Wolf Hall, the first in this (what promises to be a) trilogy, Bring up the Bodies is an excellent read. Perfect for your summer holidays! I thought Wolf Hall was fantastic, but the sequel was much easier to get into at the beginning, and focussed immediately on the court of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. I enjoyed it immensely.

Hilary Mantel takes you back to the early sixteenth century, when Henry VIII still hasn’t had a legitimate son to succeed him on the throne of England. The death of his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and the “imprisonment” of his daughter Mary, later to become Queen Mary, coincide with the increasing discomfort within the royal court at Anne Boleyn’s behaviour. At the head of this, advising the king and controlling all the strings it seems, is Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell’s political deeds and manipulations are revealed with exquisite detail. In fact, despite clearly using a lot of imagination and fantasy, Mantel sticks to details such as dates and places with fastidious precision.

As the book progresses England’s isolation from the Catholic Church becomes clearer and the fate of the monasteries is hinted at. With this backdrop, the future of Henry’s monarchy is considered to be at risk and an heir is the absolute priority. Henry is by this time besotted with Jane Seymour. Cromwell’s role here is to ensure that Anne is removed from the throne legally, so that Jane may be accepted as the new Queen, while at the same time various families and connections useful to his and the king’s own future are secured. He is a genius. And yet somehow we suspect that as his net is spun, he may also fall victim to his own cunning plans… in fact we may even begin to wish he does…

Extremely well written and powerfully compelling to the last page. Different to other historical novels, I feel – as you are drawn into the dialogues and characters so genuinely and transported immediately into the court of Henry and into Cromwell’s head. I am now hoping the third novel will be out soon. And will it remain at a trilogy? I thoroughly recommend this book, and if you have the time to read Wolf Hall first, all the better, but not a necessity.

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By the way, Hilary Mantel won The Man Booker Prize for both these novels, making her the first woman to win the prize twice.

Lemon and Strawberry Muffins

Time for tea!

“A Proper Tea is much nicer than a Very Nearly Tea, which is one you forget about afterwards.” 

(A.A. Milne)

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Eating outdoors in the evenings is not feasible at the moment due to the mosquitoes, but in the daytime a breezy area in the shade of our giant fir tree is the perfect spot for afternoon tea… and these muffins are so light and summery they are the ideal bite to serve on a hot afternoon.

Lemon and Strawberry Muffins

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  • 280g (2 1/4 cups) plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 120g (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 240ml (1 cup) buttermilk
  • 60ml (1/4 cup) lemon juice (about 1 large lemon)
  • 90ml (2/5 cup) vegetable oil
  • a few strawberries and/or a few teaspoons of lemon curd

Preheat oven to 190°C (375°F). Prepare 12 to 16 muffin cases. (I like these a little smaller than regular muffins and got 14).

Sift the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl beat the egg lightly and stir in the buttermilk, lemon juice and oil. Mix into the dry ingredients just enough to incorporate the flour, but don’t overmix. Spoon half into the cases. Then add a dollop of lemon curd and/or a couple of small strawberry pieces. Spoon the rest of the batter over the tops and bake for 20-25 minutes.

To be enjoyed outdoors with a cup of tea… but they taste good indoors too if it’s raining where you are! 😉

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Have you been able to eat outdoors this summer?

Tuesday at Two (9th July)

We are currently enjoying some gorgeous summer sunshine, with a warm breeze and the occasional fluffy white cloud bringing relief from the strong sun. And the forecast for the whole week is more of the same. Perfect!

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The Sempervivum has been keeping me on tenterhooks, and then when I went to take the two o’clock photo I found this…

The Fate of the Sempervivum

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I think the heat got to it! It was thus propped up ceremoniously….

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…as I wanted to show you the first little flower that has opened. (A drum roll please!)

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Its little cousin also opened yesterday, completely surprising me…

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And these also look like they will open soon…

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Has anything surprised you in your garden recently?

😉

Geranium robertianum

This weed has been a feature of my garden since moving here.

Geranium robertianum

(Herb Robert)

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Pretty isn’t it? But I’m afraid I can’t get to like it. Why? Well, despite its pretty pink flowers and its delicate foliage which turns from lime green to dark green and then to pinky red and orange … it smells! Only if I disturb it of course, but since it also spreads like wildfire, popping up in the most inappropriate places such as in the centre of a lavender bush, or among my Nigella seedlings, it has to go. Its revenge is a pungent smell that reminds me of tomcats, or foxes…. need I say more.

Recently I decided to read up about it when I accidentally discovered that this plant, also known as Herb Robert, or “Stinking Bob”(!), is actually a mosquito repellent. Hmmm. What’s worse – the smell, or a mosquito bite? Another common name, Storksbill, suggests a link to its ancient use as a fertility herb. It was also used as a remedy for toothache, gout, bruises, nosebleeds….  And apparently it is good luck to carry some around with you… although its smell may repel more than just the mosquitoes!

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The delicate pale to deep pink flowers have five petals and are able to self-fertilise if they are not pollinated. The leaves also look quite delicate and are mostly pale green, but as the plant ages, or in very hot or very cold weather, they turn to a lovely pinkish red, and then to a burnt orange. Herb Robert first appears here in April or May and lasts until the frosts. I have even seen it under the snow. It supposedly likes shade best, but in my garden it also spreads very happily across the sunny and dry south-facing rockery. It is easy to remove, but prolific.

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Have you seen this herb/weed in your garden? Or perhaps some other type of wild Geranium?