There is a tradition in my Bohemian family I rather like. For every decade of life, a whole day’s celebration – the older one gets the more drawn-out the festivities. So far I’ve had five days, a party in Germany in April, followed by one in Edinburgh, followed by an intimate one at home, followed by the official party at the end of June, followed by an impromptu one last Sunday. It was a bit of a whirlwind weekend, with scores of visitors, including our much-missed “Chinese” friends, a session with Shetland conservation volunteers (more on that in August), several bottles of bubbly (must book myself into the Priory) and a highly eclectic impromptu dinner, proof that many cooks improve and significantly speed up the broth, rather than spoil it.
Our fabulous supper ended with elderflower pancakes, and here’s how to make them: pick lots of fully-open flower heads. Make a pancake batter, dip the flower heads into it, one at a time, place them into a hot, lightly oiled frying pan then quickly snip off the hard stalks (leave the little tender ones) and cover with a thin layer of batter. Turn the pancake and serve immediately with a sprinkling of sugar and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.
We’ve had a week of glorious summer weather up here and I have a new friend – a young frog that lies, well-camouflaged, in wait for insects a stone’s throw from my pond bench, where I watch my three-channel (fish, bird, frog) al-fresco television.
There I sat the other morning – everything was wonderful, the hum of the lawnmower in the distance – our volunteer was cutting the grass – woodpigeons calling from the shelterbelt: “my toe hurts, Betty, my toe hurts, Betty…”, a pair of rain geese (red-throated divers) heading north beneath a blue sky, siskins feeding on the grasses, two fish kissing amongst the water lilies, a blackbird bathing in the shallows and my little frog on full, tense alert as soon as a fly landed nearby. He hurled himself vertically up into the air, fell back to the ground and smacked his lips twice, as he swallowed his prey. Within an hour he made six attempts, two of them successful. An hour of pure bliss as I watched and wished I had wide-angle eyes.
There was the odd moment when I wondered why that lawn mower hadn’t come any closer, as the path from the car park to the pond isn’t all that long. But then, it hadn’t been cut for some time – no mowing while the tiny frogs emigrate – perhaps our helper was making a very thorough job of it?
Later that morning, I selected some shrubs from the nursery to be planted alongside the drive, when I heard the noise of the mower again, coming – seemingly – from roughly the same direction, and went to investigate. Instead of mowing the path, our volunteer ( a child of the city) had cut (or rather minced) an entire hay meadow with the lawnmower, and was about to start on the second one. I’m sure this must be some kind of record and, a possible business opportunity: premium hay for geriatric (toothless) sheep – no chewing necessary.
A well-cut lawn does set off borders and beds, and every bit of grass (apart from the hay meadows minced or virginal) looks smooth and very green. A job finished just as the much longed-for (I speak for my plants rather than myself) rain set in. There are no manicured lawns at Lea Gardens, and no weed killers are used to eliminate white clover, creeping buttercup, and other undesirables from the turf. It was strange, and rather anxiety provoking, to find several large frogs the mower hat gone over completely unharmed. The place was hopping with tiny froglets, all thankfully still with four legs and a head once all the grass had been cut.
Trimming edges is a tedious job, but very little of that goes on at Lea Gardens since we started using thick, maritime ropes to stop the grass from creeping into beds and borders. It’s a pain, and a strain on one’s back to first remove and then replace them in their exact positions, but they leave a perfect mowing groove, just wide enough for a front and back wheel to fit. They do a great job and the little edging left to be done where the mower has flattened rather than cut some long grass, I take care of with a sturdy pair of kitchen scissors.
All is in bloom, the first old roses are out, the osteospermums are excelling themselves, clove-scented pinks flank the thyme steps, the lime bed is a blaze of colour, and rather than going on about the individuals or groups that catch my eye at present, I’ll just download their pictures.