Friday, 20 November 2009

Looking good at the moment...

Crocus sativus
There is nothing quite like the pale purple-blue of this crocus, appearing as it does at the fag-end of the flowering season when pretty much all else is over and done.
It's a delicate thing, and can struggle in the gusts and heavy rain of late autumn, but with a few days of still weather and sunshine it's possible to get a great show. Pushing through the fallen leaves of a magnolia, this bloom shows the close-up loveliness of the flower, with the orange stamens glowing in the heart of it.
The stamens are the valuable culinary spice, saffron, and for this reason the bulb has been cultivated for centuries. Valuable for two reasons - the labour involved in harvesting any amount worth having is intensive, and the flavour is unique: there is no substitute for this curious warm, fragrant spice, nothing comparable for adding to cakes, bread, stews, puddings.
Highly prized in Northern Europe during the medieval period, when mixtures of savoury and sweet were all the rage, the spice was cultivated on a large scale around, for instance, Saffron Walden in Essex. Also essential in the cookery of the Levant, saffron is grown all around the Mediterranean, featuring heavily in the cuisines of Spain, Morocco and the Middle East - the finest spice is now grown in Spain, on the plains of La Mancha. Never buy ground saffron - like all valuable powders it is easily adulterated - but look for the whole dried stamens. Steer well clear, in particular, of the huge mounds of orange powder paint on display in the souks of Marrakech and markets of Spain, which clearly cannot be what the vendor claims. Invest well, enjoy the flowers and then relish your own saffron in a bouillabaisse, tagine, paella or humble saffron bun.

Thursday, 12 November 2009


It's time for those of us who fancy our chances in the International Garden Photographer of the Year competition to get busy. The deadline for entries is in a couple of weeks, with cash prizes and the glory of winning up for grabs.
I entered a number of images last year, with little expectation of success, and my expectations were fully realised. However, with my great new kit and a lot more practice I'm finding that I am starting to produce images that I feel have some real worth. I have much higher hopes this year, with one or two photos really standing out for me - the collage above shows some of my entries, but you can get a clearer view by visiting my photostream at Flickr, where most of the photos are grouped in their own set.
Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A Sunny Courtyard

This is an image from the computer model of the design for my own garden, which is currently under construction.
The design on the ground is ridiculously simple, but it amazes me how much editing is necessary to achieve the end result - in a garden as small as this every element has to earn its right to be there. The key to the design is the large water tank in Cor-ten steel, completed yesterday and just starting to weather in the lashing rain today. This three metre long cistern anchors the whole garden, and the small gravel terrace is linked directly to it, establishing these two elements in a direct relationship. The water will be still - in such a limited space the sound of running water will be inescapable, and therefore irritating to me, in the same way those ghastly wind chimes clank incessantly.
The balcony to the first floor is being extended to the full width of the house, and beneath it will be a timber-clad 'room', increasing the usable space in the ground floor on fine days. From this projects a timbered catwalk, which will be the only access into the body of the garden, this linking to the little terrace. Enclosure and privacy will be subliminally implied by the elevated beam structure surrounding the terrace.
The temptation in a small space is to cram in all the features of bigger gardens, but on a reduced scale, but this just results in a fussy, over-elaborated space with insufficient room for anything to work well.
The only other element to this garden will be the planting, surrounding all these landscape features in a sea of vegetation, which will be the subject of future posts.