Plum Chutney

Whilst we had enough of our own plums for eating, we had no need to preserve any.


However, our neighbours have a larger tree and ask us to harvest its crop every year otherwise the unpicked fruit attracts wasps.


Some of the plums have this crystallised substance oozing from them which, I think, means there is a grub inside. The fruit are all quartered before cooking anyway, so anything untoward can be removed.


Last year we made plum jam but I've never been a jam fan so this year we made plum chutney. Usually we make chutney with peaches but another neighbour - who asks us to harvest her rowan berries which otherwise fall and make her path slippery - is allergic to them so this was a good opportunity to make some she could eat.


It takes all day,


but there is something very, very lovely about a huge pot bubbling


and spending a rainy afternoon filling the pantry with jars of produce is surprisingly thrilling.


At Christmas - when it's mellowed -  we'll give a jar of plum chutney back in return.

The Secret Herb Garden

There is a lovely place, at the foot of the Pentland hills, that has become something of a pilgrimage site amongst the women I know.


The Secret Herb Garden is a nursery with sofas in the greenhouse, 


and a café selling herb-laced cakes and quiches covered in flowers.


You see how that appeals? Will power is required to resist the gorgeous vintagey garden tools and beeswax candles but should, of course, be abandoned in regard to the herbs themselves. 


Hence I have half a dozen new mints, lavenders and violas to add to my collection.

Badger Naps

Sharing the sofa


with Billy No Mates,


with Mummy,


and in Mummy's bed.

Micro Gardens

I love these little self-seeded gardens that spring up on the edges of our paths and walls.

Blood sorrel, Welsh onions, Welsh poppy, creeping wood sorrel, nine star broccoli and dandelion

Rocket and chives with a tiny rosemary and thyme

Lord of the Druplets

My favourite breakfast at the moment is full-fat, organic, live yoghurt from the Loch Arthur Creamery, soaked almonds and chopped hazelnuts (fresh, wet cob nuts aren't ready for picking yet) and berries from the garden.


Blackberries are best when the drupelets are huge and swollen and the juice has just started to ferment and taste like perfume.


In our garden the place where these are most often found is on the inaccessible far side of the pond, about an inch above the water. This adds a frisson of excitement to the morning, especially when you're forced to adopt a variation on Lord of the Dance Pose wearing nothing but your husband's flannel shirt.

Gee, Your Ferret Smells Terrific

Is your mustelid a little musky? Top tip!


Give him a trug of freshly cut grass to dig and roll in...et voilà! People will now be queueing up* to inhale the summery scent of his ferrety fur. 


*Not guaranteed.

Wildlife Lessons Learnt

'Let me out!'

The most important things I've picked up from the training days at the wildlife hospital so far are:

1. Don't handle it. This is blindingly obvious but has to be ruthlessly self-enforced because animals are cute and people (especially 38 year old women) have hormones. Injured and orphaned wildlife gains absolutely no comfort from being cuddled or spoken to. Human contact is extremely stressful and unpleasant for it and dramatically reduces its chances of survival. Do not show it to your kids/neighbours/dog. Put it in a dark box somewhere very quiet and LEAVE IT THE HELL ALONE. Even if you are rehabilitating wildlife long-term you need to expose it to the absolute bare minimum of contact in order to facilitate successful release. Deliberately taming wildlife is illegal and immoral and will almost certainly result in the animal's death.

2. Don't put it in a container where it will slip and slide about, especially if it's being transported, has an injury or is a bird. Cardboard boxes are much better for birds than cat carriers because feathers can become damaged by the bars and damaged flight feathers can take many more months to grow back than a broken wing does to heal. Cover the bottom with newspaper and then make a loose nest from an old piece of fleece or towel.

3. Don't feed it anything. Until a casualty is warm and hydrated, don't feed it because feeding it will probably kill it. Digestion requires energy that isn't yet available. A heat pad and 24 hours on rehydration solution is the priority before feeding.

Wildlife Hospital: Hand Rearing
Wildlife Hospital: Owls and Raptors
Wildlife Hospital: Hedgehogs

Edinburgh Promenade

Cramond Island

I like edges. Admittedly not so much mountain ridges with two thousand feet sheer drops on either side nor harbour walls with deep water and no railings, just places where one thing meets another: forest clearings; riversides; coastlines. I love walking coastal paths and it was frequently frustrating to me that the John Muir Way kept deviating from the coast, leaving it entirely at Musselburgh and not returning until Cramond, thereby completely bypassing Edinburgh's shoreline. We were at Cramond for a day with friends this week so I took the opportunity to join the dots and walk back along the coast - not all the way because we walk the Leith to Musselburgh section at least weekly anyway - but from Cramond Island to Leith Links, a mere 8 miles so feasible as an end of day walk.

Silverknowes

I haven't gone beyond Newhaven for years so was surprised to see signs at Silverknowes for 'Edinburgh Promenade' which I had never heard of before. They showed an uninterrupted 17km coastal path running Cramond-Silverknowes-Granton-Newhaven-Leith-Portobello-Joppa (just before Musselburgh) which intrigued me. I was confused though because I still have to leave the coast regularly along the industrial areas around Leith. I wondered if perhaps I had been missing some secret pathway and continued expectantly. However, at Granton, Edinburgh's Promenade came to an abrupt and unexplained halt and dumped us onto the road until Newhaven again. The same happened at Leith.

Granton

When I got home I looked up 'Edinburgh Promenade' and found that although the Cramond to Granton section - now with brass rubbing trail - had been completed five years ago, there was still a lot to do. In fact: 'It is probable that the delivery of some sections of the Promenade may be up to 30 years away'. This because of the privately-owned docklands sections. Sigh. Perhaps I'll get to walk it before I'm 70 then.

Ferret Love



Bumblebees on Cardoons

Every year the bees go demented for these neon purple cardoon flowers.


They are the only reason I keep the evil plants whose giant thorns regularly penetrate my flesh an inch, leaving the sort of huge black bruises you would think only a sociopathic veterinary nurse with a hypodermic pachyderm needle could inflict.


It's not unusual for there to be four or five bees on each flower, bottoms up and drugged drowsy on pollen.


More strangely, I often find dead ones. Possibly it is more to do with the time of year than the flower: 
As the season progresses nests begin producing offspring which are not workers. New queens (females) and males are produced in order to allow the colony to reproduce. The male bees leave the nest and do not normally return. They do not collect pollen and spend their time feeding on nectar from flowers and trying to mate. New queens leave the nest and mate soon after. Mating behaviour varies between species but typically involves several males competing in one way or another. Most males never mate."

I have heard this described as a bunch of guys sitting in a bar all day and that's certainly how they appear.

Comfrey Feed

I have a big comfrey patch because it is impossible to have a small comfrey patch. That said, I do use Bocking 14 which has sterile seeds, otherwise I would have a small comfrey garden.


The plants grow to about six feet then dramatically collapse all over each other like chain-smoking, teenage girls after an enforced cross-country run.


When I notice that things in the garden are starting to look similarly weak and feeble, I rip up some comfrey leaves,


wrap them in a muslin cloth


and dump them in the water butt like a giant tea bag. How many? Enough. How long for? Enough. Until you can't get within a metre of the putrid liquid without retching is a good guide, I think. Weeks, not days, certainly. It doesn't need diluting in these amounts and I pour a full watering can on a young tree. I have literally not the foggiest if that is an appropriate quantity or not but I have had increasing yields of fruit each year so it seems likely.


I poured this into a drinking glass to show the colour but I must caution you against doing so because my mum, for some batty old person reason, (I jest, she is a mere 72 and I have actual crushes on men of 72 - possibly only because my dad has been dead for well over a decade and I have issues but still - I realise 72 is neither old nor batty and that her problem is more likely genetic insanity...) ended up taking a gulp of it despite the overwhelming stench. She then attempted to nullify this horror by drinking several pints of tap water in order to 'dilute the germs'. Crone wisdom right there for you. She's currently working on sea air vs. Ebola if anyone wants to fund her.

Pond, A Year On


Full of water snails, pond skaters and diving beetles. We planted irises and forget-me-nots around the edge.


Gooseberry Meringue Roulade


Someone, I can't remember who, asked me if gooseberries will grow in shade. Two of mine are doing very well in semi-shade, this one next to an east-facing wall, under a crab apple. The other two I transplanted last winter from full shade to full sun and they still seem to be recovering from the move, so this year's fruit all came from the original pair.


I am not a fan of gooseberries but I know and love people who are and one has to indulge them, however blatantly wrong they may be.


I am hoping enough of the green ones will be kept back from ghastly jam-making so that I can have a sauce for mackerel or game. Sometimes it does feels like my garden produces only numerous condiments for meat and fish, but I am a big fan of condiments.


Also proper mayonnaise. The best thing about having chickens was knowing the raw eggs were laid freshly that day. We developed a serious aioli habit.


Subsequently, as well as housing pounds and pounds of soft fruit awaiting preservation, our freezers always look a bit like they belong in a fertility clinic: full of small containers of egg white. Perhaps if we were Californian we might make hideous low-fat omlettes from them, but we are English and egg whites mean delicious, chewy meringues. I can attest that a gooseberry roulade contains sufficient sugar and cream for even the most reluctant to force down a few of the tart fruit. Actual gooseberry lovers may experience hitherto unprecedented levels of pleasure.

Plums and Prunes


This year, my little fanned cherry tree was loaded down with bunches of unripe fruit...for about five minutes before something ate every last one, leaving only the forlorn bare stalks. I may have to net it next year. But whatever liked the cherries doesn't have a taste for plums, at least.


I was not a plum fan. Or rather, I was not a fan of hard, refrigerated plums from the supermarket (William Carlos Williams' poem makes no sense in Scotland: 'icebox'? 'So cold'??) These Opals - sun-warmed and straight from the tree - are amazing. My kids eat them by the dozen.


I have tried to fan the plum tree too but one side is overshadowed by an ornamental I forget the name of, that the bees love. So it's a sort of half-fan; a quarter of a pizza.

Plum is the dark green tree against the wall, with the pink flowered one crowding it. In front of it to the right is a standard quince, in the foreground to the left is a standard cherry and behind it on the wall to the left is the fanned cherry. All are under-planted with gooseberries, blueberries, strawberries, rhubarb, sea kale and globe artichokes.

 I have to prune it now* and I have no idea what I'm doing anymore. I hate pruning. If my gardening expert neighbour - who thinks I should be prosecuted for neglect of a quince - sees me fannying around, trimming a centimetre here and there, she comes over and lops off half the tree while I watch in horror. I wish so much that I had learnt about the no prune technique before I started. However, it's too late now and I suspect her hard prune was why my Blenheim Orange apple tree has now borne fruit for the first time ever after I was sure she'd killed it...

*Soft fruits like plum and cherry need to be pruned in summer, unlike their harder neighbours.

UPDATE: I have pruned/killed it. Only time will tell which.

Wildlife Hospital: Hedgehogs

Today I weighed baby hedgehogs,


learnt about 'pop off syndrome'


and was surprised how much hedgehog shit looks and smells like ferret shit.


Also there was a bonus baby weasel.