Monday, 30 September 2013

A tale of the unexpected

I had a big jug of chicken stock in the fridge and decided to make a minestrone for supper over the weekend.  We love big soupy suppers.  You can pile lots of bits and pieces into them without the recipe losing too much of its integrity!  They can lean in the general direction of all sorts of places - Thailand, the American North Eastern seaboard or the deep South amongst others, and of course Italy.  A generous grating of Parmesan, a drizzle of good olive oil and some fresh basil or pesto on top and you are away.  I like to put shredded cabbage in my minestrones and I noticed recently that the farm shop just outside the village has started PYO veg.  Just the ticket.

We had a lovely family walk with the dogs on Belhaven Beach.  It was warm and sunny and, as always, we came back with all sorts of bits and pieces in our pockets, most of which ended up on my ever-increasing pile of shells, rocks and driftwood.  

On our way back from the beach our young weekend guest and I dropped in to the farm shop.  I was looking forward to having a nosy around the vegetable field.  I was armed with my camera. Vegetables are just as beautiful and varied as fruit and flowers and, as the afternoon was wearing on, the light was changing to that lovely late September gold.
We were having a wander amongst the fennel and french beans when a very engaging young man appeared on the scene and offered to show us to the Savoy cabbage patch.  Who could possibly resist such an unexpected bonus to our visit!  We were given a wonderful guided tour through the array of vegetables on offer, broccoli with heads the size of cauliflowers, cabbages the size of footballs, beautiful purple kale, pumpkins, Cavolo Nero, lemon basil, chervil, celariac, and we tried a slither each of three kinds of beetroot - candy, golden and original and a munch on a Chantennay carrot.  
 I now know where to come in four weeks or so when Halloween comes around!
We jested that a bride could easily hold a head of broccoli as she walked down the aisle.  It would save a lot of faffing around with wiring and balancing of blooms.  The bride would have to be careful when tossing her bouquet away though, she could knock a bridesmaid out with one of these!  You could feed a small family for a week and all for 80p!  Brilliant!
I hadn't expected such an array of produce and certainly more than enough to convince me that I will be a regular visitor from now on.  It is an Aladdin's cave of veg and I am delighted to have all this on our doorstep.  The best part is that we can eat with the seasons and the food miles amount to about 3.  What could be better.

Little Sparta

Last week we enjoyed the wonderful company of my cousin from South Devon.  It's always so good to see her and our time together is always happily spent.

When you are in the company of a kindred spirit it is an excellent incentive to go and do things that perhaps we don't get round to doing at any other time.  For many years I have been meaning to visit Little Sparta, an inspirational and unusual garden in Lanarkshire.  My cousin's visit provided the perfect opportunity to make the effort and go.  

To reach Little Sparta, just outside Dunsyre, we drove first from East Linton to West Linton which sits just inside the Borders.  It is a place with a lot of history and some interesting characters.  In the churchyard we saw a monumental headstone to a local poet Robert Sanderson (1836-1902).   It is not easy to find much of his poetry but I have excavated this little extract from a series of verses he wrote in dedication to the River Lyne which runs through the village.

Here where I frame my humble hymn, 
Here where I wake my lowly lays, 
I seat me 'mong the yellow broom, 
The bonny broom on Leadlaw's braes. 

While from the dense, deep, woody maze 
Embosoming the streamlet clear, 
Lyne's waters, murmuring, gently raise 
Their ceaseless song to soothe the ear. 

I can imagine the writer sitting in the sun, flanked by the rich yellow broom and maybe the coconut scent of gorse in the warm air around him with the sound of the gurgling river in the background. 

West Linton also boasts an accomplished stonemason and sculptor, James Gifford, who carved this beautiful panel around 1660.  There are quite a few pieces of his work to be seen in the village street.
We drove on to find Little Sparta (, the garden of the late Ian Hamilton Findlay.  Do look at the website to find out a lot more about this wonderful place and its creator.  I am just going to show some of my favourite things in the garden, much of which centred around the words and sentiments as well as the artefacts.
There are several themes running through the sculptures and artworks on display in the garden. The French Revolution is one of them and I think 'Les Femmes de la Revolution' might be a book written in 1854 by a French historian called Jules Michelet.  He is a rather interesting man and it's worth reading up a little about him.(
There are many classical references throughout the garden.  Apollo and Daphne are clearly very much at home here and were having a spirited chase through an area of woodland as we passed.
There are pools with wonderful reflections
and a small loch with a rowing boat.  From the photo below you can see how the top of the garden just drifts from the loch off into the surrounding landscape.  This is my favourite part of Little Sparta.  It is high up with beautiful views, heather, interesting sculptures and pieces to see.  Just lovely.
We had a peaceful and inspirational time exploring, and sitting and gazing out over the surrounding countryside.  The garden had a lot of meadowsweet which is the most delicious wild flower and herb.  Although it flowers from June through until September it was all over when we visited but another time I would go earlier in the summer to be able to enjoy the impact the plant must have on the garden.  I love its spicy smell and frothy creamy flowers.  

There are so many dimensions to Little Sparta and the man whose inspiration it is.  Do visit if you can.  You will not be disappointed, and indeed probably enchanted as we were.

PS : I would like to thank The Hawthorn Press for their permission to publish the photographs I took during my visit to Little Sparta.  Thank you.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

A new challenge

I have embarked on a new journey in life - as a part-time art student.  It's a real challenge for me but one which, I think, will allow me to dig around and find out how deep my ability to draw and paint really goes.  I am attending a one day a week painting and drawing class at the Leith School of Art.  We are blessed with two outstanding tutors and currently they have us spending time in Port Seton.  We were there last week and will visit again this Thursday and once more the week after.  

Port Seton is a fishing community along the Firth of Forth coastline, east of Edinburgh.  It is a sprawling village, dominated by the now decommissioned power station at Cockenzie.  The two chimneys from the plant dominate the skyline from miles around.  It is not a beautiful building by any stretch of the imagination but the towering chimneys have a curious grace and certainly a presence which adds a very significant dimension to almost any drawing you might undertake. The power station draws you in, if you will pardon the pun, and I would be surprised if many of our group do not find a place for the two chimneys in their final piece.  
I really like this view of Arthur's Seat and Edinburgh Castle, and the geometric pattern of the pier stretching out into the water from the power station.
I spent last Thursday morning sitting on the seagull poo spattered ground, leaning against a red painted cast iron bollard on the quayside in Port Seton.  I started off trying to draw some of the trawling paraphernalia which lies in piles against the sea wall.  It is an impenetrable mesh of fishing nets, necklaces of small black floats strung along heavy gauge wire, buoys, rusting chains and metal plates, cleats and heaps of other stuff.  It is almost impossible to draw but I just keeping coming back to it.  I love the colours, the flow of the journey the ribbons of ropes and wire take as they weave their way through the discarded heaps.  I can't imagine any of it will ever be used again.  It would take a lifetime to unravel.  I think, in the end, I am going to have to settle for my photographs to satisfy my need to record these chaotic tangles of fishing tackle.
I have been thinking around the drawings I did last Thursday and I went back to Port Seton yesterday in the hope that one of the trawlers would be tied up where it was beforehand.  Unfortunately it wasn't but maybe it will be again, because I have something in mind and would like to pursue it further.


Look what I found on one of the kitchen cupboard doors yesterday morning.
If there is a pot of gold lurking around nearby, it's mine!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Ling and sprouts

I took the above photograph on our walk this afternoon.  You can see the ever present North Berwick Law in the background.  It would not be an East Lothian landscape without it!  In the foreground is small patch of heather.  Now is its time and the Scottish hills, moors and mountains are softly purple with ling.  I just recalled that ling is another name for heather and I rather like it.  Ling. Wikipedia has a very good entry for Calluna vulgaris (  It's a plant with an interesting history and, in my opinion, produces the best flavoured honey in the world.  Just a whiff from the honey pot and I am transported to the moors.  Delicious.  

We walked past a huge field of young Brussel sprouts.  They are also beautiful plants and quite statuesque.   Tiny young sprouts are beginning to form on the stems, sweet and nutty.  

Sunny September Sunday

It is a gloriously sunny morning.  I have just had a wander in the vegetable garden and it was a very enjoyable interlude, lovely warm sunshine, a washed clear blue sky and a rewarding haul.
It's amazing what goes on when you turn your back for a few windy, grey days.
Vegetables are a thing of beauty as well as diverse and delicious flavour.  I can't wait to tuck into this lot!  Some of them will accompany a joint of pork I have put in the oven, to slow roast with fennel seeds and lemon, which should be wonderful by this evening.

It's low tide at the moment so we are off to the beach.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Late summer colour

The weather has definitely changed today!   It's pretty miserable outside but the garden will be welcoming the rain.  Everything is so dry, even the leaves on trees are drooping which I don't think I have ever seen before.  In the fields around here the farmers are harvesting like mad, trying to get everything in before the weekend because the forecast is not good.  

I have tried to keep up with the sweet peas in the garden.  They have been blooming for weeks now and I have lost count of how many heavenly smelling bunches I have picked.  We have had some strong winds over the last week so I have had to put some extra stakes in the ground to stop the cloud of colour from blowing over.  So far so good.
Two or three sturdy sunflower plants have sprung up in the garden, sewn by the birds taking seeds from the feeders earlier in the year.  They have grown in random places but this one chose to grow next to the sweet peas.
I have been blackberrying again and today made some jelly.  Two pounds of beautiful berries plus three cooking apples have made nearly four pounds of gloriously jewel-like jelly.
 A steaming cauldron of luscious colour
bottled to serve as a lovely reminder, later in the year, of a happy time spent picking berries on a hot, late summer's day.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Turning heads

Look at these dancing girls!  
It's been blowing a gale for the last couple of days and today I drove past this lovely row of sunflowers and as the wind was whipping across their field they looked like a troupe of dancers, heads being thrown back and forth, up and down.  They couldn't keep still for two seconds!