Tag Archives: roses

A rose is a rose is a hose !

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This was supposed to be a picture of a rose. When I developed it, it turned out to be a picture of a hose. I was shocked. How could I have been so one-eyed, and not seen what was shouting at me in a loud turquoise voice? I only see what I want to see, and eliminate even the obvious, it seems.

So when I went for my walk in the summer evening, I reminded myself to actually look, and not to assume or to expect. I wanted to see what was there, not what I thought was there. Down near the harbour where I usually turn around I always end up by a bougainvillaea sprawling through the trees, and just out its reach, a queen of the night holding her own. Braving bougainvillaea prickles, I can just reach the greenery-yallery sprigs of tiny flowerheads.

Two nights ago I broke one off and carried it back with me, sniffing the glorious fragrance, and ending up sitting on the warm marble bench in the cemetery at the other end of the peninsula, still smelling the sweet blossoms. I did what I’d never thought of doing before, and took it in and put it in a glass in the bed-room. The scent filled the whole room, and whenever I turned over in my sleep, the scent was drifting past.

The next day the tiny pale green flowers closed up, and the sprig sat nondescriptly on the window- sill all day, before bursting into glorious scent in the evening again. So now I plan to keep a permanent supply of these modest blossoms that don’t look big enough to be able to scent a whole room… The scent lasts for three nights I’ve discovered.

Walking back tonight with a fresh sprig of blossom, I passed a big shrub on the road where it dips and there’s a muddy spring.  Before now I’ve smelt its fragrance, but not given it a passing glance. Its reputation as a deadly poison and hallucinogen had somehow got in the way of me actually seeing this innocent plant. Tonight I looked at it, and ended up gently holding one incredibly beautiful flower-head after another, each one slightly different, gazing at their two layers of frilly white petals, and seeing deep inside the long white tube, white stamens pushing their way up to the light. The pendulous buds are so yellow it’s a surprise that the flowers are so white

The slender pale green calyx was smooth and soft and somehow tender to touch and to hold, and ended where the green- veined white trumpet – shaped flower began. Its ugly official name is brugmansia, but its folk name is angels trumpets. Angels trumpets spread their scent so far that long before I get there I can smell them.

Enchanted now with the idea of white scented flowers, I noticed the exquisite waxy looking candle-shaped buds of the king magnolia further down the road, the dark shiny leaves supporting each smooth creamy bud like a candlestick. Only one flower had opened, but it was enough. The scent of just one flower wafted past me.

I walked down the long drive to some friends’ house, knowing they were not there, but that they wouldn’t mind me visiting the frangipani plant flourishing by their veranda. The scent of frangipani takes me back to Singapore when it was still an eastern city and I was a girl, where all the alleys were hung with long bamboo poles suspended from every window on each floor, drying thin cotton tropical clothes in the brilliant un-ending sunshine.

We were staying in a hotel just around the corner from the famous Raffles Hotel, and the entrance was flanked with rows of frangipani trees.  Their fragrance followed us into the hotel courtyard and drifted in through the big open bedroom windows where we slept with no air conditioners, but beneath draped mosquito nets.

And when the velvet tropical night had fallen promptly at six thirty, every night in the darkness I would look down from the bedroom and see small groups of people squatting on the pavement in a circle. They would have tiny flickering lights and little spirit stoves in their midst to cook their dinner, delicious smells rising tantalisingly through the frangipanis, and I would hear their soft chatter and their laughter.

There were no blossoms on the frangipani growing here in New Zealand… wrong time of year perhaps. Back home, there was one white gardenia open.  I savoured the perfume before bringing it inside and putting it in a shallow bowl, floating on the water. So though no angels trumpets, I have queen of the night, gardenia and creamy honeysuckle from the porch scenting the house – even the names are poetry.

I don’t know whether I did what I intended when I began my walk, or whether I saw what was really there, but just by looking – truly looking at the beautiful angels trumpets – unnoticed before –  the walk turned into something else – a successful quest for white scented flowers. And like all successful quests, that was good enough.

And I wonder if this is how life is… we set off in one direction and find that imperceptibly we’ve drifted down other unsuspected paths; and looking back, we see that it was the perfect journey, and our travelling had a purpose, and was not random at all.

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Friends for dinner before they left after the summer holiday to go back to the city. On a summer evening cold food seemed appropriate. So we had chicken with curry mayonnaise on rice salad. The cooked chicken chopped and mixed into a bowl of good bought mayonnaise, with about a big tablesp of golden syrup and desert sopn of curry powder to taste… I taste until I like it. Stir through enough cream to make it a soft consistency to stick to the chicken.

Cold basmati rice is jollied up with a vinaigrette dressing with salt, plenty of freshly ground black pepper, mustard, and sugar. Add to the rice generous helpings both of peas and sultanas soaked in boiling water, lots of crunchy chopped almonds lightly toasted in a frying pan, and lots of chopped parsley. Nice with a salad and chilled pinot gris .

In deference to our French connections we now have the cheese course before the pudding! This was some of our plums cooked to Nigella’s lovely recipe in red wine, one star anise, two cloves, teasp of cinnamon and a bay leaf, plus honey to taste. We had them with a mix of plain yogurt, whipped cream and runny honey stirred gently together, and a little shortbread biscuit.

 

Food for thought

That mighty power that sways the tides and works the million miracles of spring is ranged forever on the side of love.

The writer: known only to God .  Seen on an embroidered sampler hanging over a bedroom fireplace in an English cottage

 

 

 

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A perfumed garden and an old gardener

100_0497The white wisteria wafts its scent across the veranda. I can smell it as I sit here writing with the French doors open. The pale purple blossoms of the melia tree, sometimes called the Persian lilac, are scenting the night air too, this tree being the nearest we can get to the real thing in this too temperate climate. Lilac is my favourite shrub, I keep meaning to order a root from afar – actually the South Island – and pile ice around it in winter to fool it into thinking it’s living in a cold climate. I miss not having any lilac.

The cabbage tree- not an attractive name – puts out long stems of blossom at this time of year covered with the sweetest smelling tiny flowers, which turn a creamy brown when dried, with black stems; like the melia tree the scent seems strongest in the evening. Sweet alyssum wafts its fragrance in sunshine, and best of all, my precious Reine de Violette rose in the pot by the front door is now blooming.

I’ve carried it in a big square terracotta pot from garden to garden, and its scent pervades the little courtyard by the door for the month that its deep pinky-purple tightly layered petalled heads bloom. So many petals – between 50 and 75 – according to the official description, and bred in France in 1860. Grown from a cutting given by a friend.  Later in the summer, the blue petunias in pots will send their sweet smell through the garden, also strongest at night. My summer garden would be incomplete if I didn’t have masses of foaming pale blue petunias in pots – Cambridge blue is their description. And in midsummer we’ll have the strong, night scent of queen of the night, and the datura tree growing in the wilderness part of the garden which spreads its pervasive sweetness when the sun is going down.

In a few weeks fragrant star jasmine will be blooming, it’s crawling up the walls below the veranda, sprawling over the arch with pink Albertine roses and ivy, and growing outside the bathroom window. And I’ve topiary-ed it so it billows out of two big blue pots the same blue as the petunias, just outside the French doors. The scent will drift everywhere… I’d love to have the exquisite perfume of sweet peas in the garden, but alas, I’ve never been able to grow them successfully.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve whittled down the elements I want in my garden, and top of the list is fragrance, closely followed by white flowers which show up in the dusk. So apart from my blue petunias and pink roses, there are always plenty of white lilies, white geraniums, Shasta daisies, fragrant syringa, white Japanese anemones, marguerites, self-seeded valerian, white agapanthus as well as blue, and my favourite white climbing rose Alberic Barbier. That isn’t to say that there aren’t blue hydrangeas shimmering under the trees, a glorious pale gold rose called Crepuscule clambering up a telegraph pole out on the road,( see above) or pink beauties like Jean Ducher which bloom palely all the year. And then there’s Mutatibilis rose which looks like a bush covered in deep pink butterflies about to take flight.

There are two other requirements for my garden – masses of green – so ivy everywhere, box plants and acanthus, and I also ask my long-suffering plants to be undemanding and easy-care, though I contract to water them through the droughts. It’s not a tidy or orderly garden, but an exuberant, prolific little plot, with wilful self-seeded plants welcomed wherever they choose to settle, and every chosen flower and shrub scrambling into its neighbours, cosying up, sharing their space, flaunting their freedom.

Rampant growers like honeysuckle and ivy are allowed to enjoy themselves, instead of wilting under the criticism of real gardeners who despise them for being so invasive. Wandering flaming red and orange nasturtiums have even turned themselves into climbers and threaded themselves through the climbing rose up to the roof, and entangled themselves in an orgy of colour among the pinks and blues of ageratum and lavatera down below in the garden. If it grows, it’s welcome… so though I’m not a discriminating gardener, I am a grateful one!

I learned about flowers from our appropriately named gardener called Mr Appleby.  I was nine, and we were living in a rambling Tudor house in Yorkshire while waiting to go to post-war Germany. It had been a monastery before Henry VIII’s Dissolution, and behind it stretched a high walled garden,  built of weathered rose-coloured bricks. On either side of the lawn were deep herbaceous beds, the fashion of those times, and indeed, since Edwardian times. At the end, sheltered by the high wall was the vegetable garden, and after we had been to see Bertram Mills circus and I had fallen in love with the trapeze artist, Lady Elizabeth, I tried to practise my rudimentary trapeze skills on top of this wall, unseen from the house.

The end of the lawn was dominated by a big pear tree, where we sat in striped deckchairs in its shade having afternoon tea, and where my step-grandfather would sit on summer evenings reading the Times while he smoked a cigar, it’s rich aroma  reaching my bedroom window as I peeped out.

I didn’t go to school while we lived there, and had lessons in the afternoon. In the morning it was my job to arrange the flowers in every room throughout the beautiful old house, and keep them freshly topped up and watered. It was bliss. I had carte blanche to pick flowers! Mr Appleby tended to guard his glorious peonies from me, but let me have enough to keep the vases looking quite ravishing. He taught me the names of his precious plants, and became a great buddy. From his big saggy pockets, he would drag out for me giant gooseberries from his garden, pinkish with long soft hairs all over them, his biggest strawberries, juicy, golden William’s pears, yellow-fleshed purple Victoria plums and red russet apples. I used to hide in the pear tree so as not to have to share these treats.

He told me the names of the tall, smoky blue delphiniums, rosy hollyhocks, pink foxgloves, serried ranks of pastel coloured lupins, and golden rod. They were massed at the back of the borders. Then there were the middling sized flowers, lavender, peonies, pink and white and deep red, dahlias, (I didn’t pick them, too many earwigs crawling around inside) purple irises, stocks and phlox and larkspurs, day lilies in deep maroon, snapdragons massed in mixed jewel colours, delicate grannies bonnets, scented sweet Williams; in the front of the borders were clusters of cat-mint, the soft, furry sage-coloured leaves and pink flowers of lambs lugs,(the country term for ears), yellow cotton lavender and clumps of pinks, the fluffy ones with a gorgeous pepperminty smell.

Then there was purple ajuga and harebell-blue campanula, and snow-in-summer nestling in crevices among the stone flags of the terrace. The names felt like poetry. And smothering the trellis which hid the dustbins outside the kitchen door were pink Dorothy Perkins roses.

Mr Appleby was a weather-beaten, wiry little Yorkshire-man, who wore battered old trousers and an unbuttoned jacket which in novels would be called rusty black, with a grubby white shirt with no collar – in those days you changed the collar, not the shirt, using collar studs, front and back. On his head he wore a flat cap, and he had bright, beady black eyes. He spoke with a broad Yorkshire accent that was hard to understand. Sometimes he took me on walks around the countryside where I learned the North country lingo of becks and scars and fells, which I later learned were the ancient Viking words for stream and cliff and moor. Once he showed me a tiny field mouse peeping out of its miniature nest which was a round grass ball, slung between the top of the stems of two cornstalks growing amidst a forest of other golden stalks, blue cornflowers and red poppies.

Those things I learned from Mr Appleby one summer nearly sixty five years ago have never been forgotten. Who knows what we ourselves unwittingly leave in the memory of the children we encounter? What words, what thoughts, unconscious sharing of experience, spontaneous gifts given without intent, moments that lingered down the years… what imperishable knowledge that helped to lighten ignorance and enlarge understanding, what fragments of fact that sparked a child’s consciousness ?  To be the person behind those memories  … that must be a very special sort of immortality.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

This is a filling meal I make for my husband when I can’t think of anything to give him! Dr de Pomiane, the French-Polish food writer adapted it from a French peasant dish, and this recipe is a much dollied up version of his solid peasant dish. Remove the skin and pips from a medium sized tomato (soaking the tomato in boiling water loosens the skin).

Toast two thick slices of sour dough bread on one side. Spread the untoasted sides with Dijon mustard, grate two ounces of cheese – Gruyere is recommended for purists – I usually use cheddar which is in the fridge – and pile the cheese mixed with the tomato on the mustard side of the bread.  Grill until the cheese goes golden, then lay a couple of rashers of streaky bacon on the cheese mixture. Grill until the bacon starts to brown, and serve with black pepper. (De Pomiane didn’t use bacon or tomato – instead when thick slices of cheese had been grilled, he put butter ON the melted cheese!)

 

Food for thought

“The characteristics of the English are largely unsensational, and since they do not readily fire the imagination they easily slip the memory, but they are nevertheless fundamental and formidable. A love of law and order and a respect for government by consent. A belief in honest administration. A dislike of hurting people and if a hurt be done a great effort to put it right. A tolerant people, offering a hand to victims of intolerance. Skill in devising ways of improving the lot of mankind but a dreadful inability to follow those ideas through. A sweet countryside, but appalling ways of cooking what that countryside produces.”

President Truman describing the English, on being honoured with an honorary degree at Oxford after his retirement.    Dreadfully honest, I suppose you could call this somewhat measured and restrained tribute !

 

 

 

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