Better late than never

Better late than never

This is not only my way of – sort of – apologizing for my delay, but also the theme of this week’s offering.

“…walk and talk in gardens all wet with rain….” Dear old Van Morrison would’ve been hard pressed to walk, let alone talk in my garden during last Saturday’s deluge. Everything that had been more or less upright the day before was bent or flattened; the broadest walks reduced to bachelor’s paths by arching, dripping herbage and woodage intruding from all sides. In some places, progress was possible only in reptilian fashion, and in single file. I tried, but found it impossible to hold a conversation in such trying circumstances.

calm restored

Things improved, as they usually do in August, dramatically the next day, and we’ve had several days of real summer since.

Calm has been restored to the pond thanks to wise old Trotsky, my oldest and largest fish. At first, he kept a low profile during “the troubles”, but as the bullying continued, he appeared from nowhere and snaked between victim and pursuer with a breath-taking, casual elegance, restoring peace and tranquillity. – late in the day, but highly effective nonetheless. He vanishes as fast as he appears, and has, so far, thwarted all my attempts to capture him in camera.

Small fry, much later than usual, has appeared in the pond. The last time the goldfish bred was in 2009, and all the offspring was a uniform purplish-brown, known as “invisible fish” at Lea Gardens. This year, and rather late in the season, a few pink and blue babies have put in an appearance. I’m trying to fatten them up, to give them a better chance to survive the winter.

making hay

But my time at the pond has been rather limited of late. As July turned into August there was real crofting to be done; hay to be made, sheep to be clipped, cider to be drunk. Even old “Spot”, wise hog (castrated ram) and family pet, submitted willingly to the indignity of being plunked down on his bottom to have his old wool removed. He must be about 16 years old now, and has no teeth left in his mouth. (He looks like a well-groomed teenager since his haircut.)

Falko clipping his first sheep

All the hay is in – hurrah. It’s actually a double hurrah, because most years it has to be –half-cured and/or salted – piled artistically and labour-intensively into picturesque stacks on wooden tripods before it can be stored in the loft. Thanks to Falko, our present wwoofer and his concerted wuffling and turning efforts from dawn to dusk, this nerve-racking stage (some of it invariably gets wet again) could be skipped.

There was soft fruit to be picked; the last of the strawberries – a rather pathetic crop because of the changeable weather, raspberries on the shelpet (sour) side, and black currants the blackbirds had gallantly left for us.

Spot, the hog

It’s the same every year. After all is done we start with the good intentions for next year: we must start much earlier, cut the first hay at the end of June when the days are long and dew falls are light etc., etc.

Another good intention, shelved year after year, was to make some of those delectable liquors out of our garden berries, and this year, for the first time, I have succeeded, and here are my recipes:

Mina’s Raspberry Liquor

500g of fully ripe raspberries

200g sugar, or a little more, if the raspberries are on the sour side during a bad summer

1 litre vodka or similar clear, neutral-tasting spirit

raspberry, vintage 2011

Place the raspberries in a large glass jar with tight-fitting lid, add the sugar and vodka, and leave on a sunny windowsill for 6-8 weeks. Strain, then place the raspberries in muslin cloth and squeeze out every drop of juice. Bottle.

Drink chilled or top up a measure of liquor with Champagne ( if you’re one of those lucky sods who can afford it) or Cava.

Shetland Crème de Cassis

500g fully ripe blackcurrants

1 litre vodka or similar (see above)

250g sugar

125ml water

Place the berries and the vodka into a large glass jar (as above) and infuse on a sunny windowsill for 3-4 weeks. Remove the berries with a slotted spoon and place them with the sugar and water in a saucepan with a tightly fitting lid, seal the lid with parcel tape to prevent the alcohol from escaping,  and bring to the boil briefly, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until berries are soft. Strain through a muslin-lined sieve, then squeeze as much liquid out of the berries as you can, before adding it to the vodka. Bottle, drink chilled on its own or as Kir Royale, topped up with fizz.

Achillea Mystery Red

Propagation windows keep opening, or rather more apropriate in my case, yawn, all through the growing season. With the nursery on the backburner, I’d managed to ignore most of them this year, but I rushed out to take some cuttings a couple of days ago: the best of the Dianthus ‘Allwoodii Alpinus’ bunch, delectable clove-scented Dianthus ‘Brympton Red’, all the osteospermums, and last but by no means least, achilleas and anthemis. None live very long in my garden, probably due to excessive winter wet, and their cuttings should’ve been taken while their growth was vigorous in late May or June but, as the heading says, better late than never.

Achillea Flannel Petticoat

Commercially available plants can always be replaced, but in the case of my achilleas, there are two I can’t replace if I lose them: a striking, but sadly name-less crimson one, and Achillea “Flannel Petticoat”. The latter, a pale, subtle salmon pink, turned up as a chance seedling and was initially christened “Pink Undies” by my late, and much missed friend Gunnie Moberg. At present it frolics on a south-facing slope in lime-rich, well-drained soil, but one can never be sure when it comes to the longevity of achilleas in the Shetland climate…

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