Wednesday, 27 June 2012

No Dramas, Only Llamas!

On the edge of the Ashdown forest in 32 acres of rolling English parkland, overlooking a neo-Gothic Victorian manor house, one hundred Llamas and Alpacas quietly munch their way through lush green delicious pastures avoiding buttercups as they go.

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We arrived at Ashdown Forest Llama Park last weekend for a morning of trekking across the hills of East Sussex. This was to be my first encounter with a Llama since seeing them in a zoo as a child so it was great to see them sauntering around in large fields, the wind blowing their long tresses and lots of space to roam.

Llamas have a prominent set of banana shaped ears to aid their superior hearing and present themselves with a spectacular array of carefree eyebrows and monobrows.

Alpacas are half the size of a Llama, (more lamb-y and a little less camel-y!) with long lean necks and have a much finer coat than their chunkier cousins. Our visit happened to coincide with a parade of newly shorn Alpacas sporting some very groovy bangs.

The ancestors of domesticated Llamas and Alpacas still live wild in South America. The Guanaco wears a cashmere style coat and wanders widespread mountainous regions. The smaller and now endangered Vicuna whose fleece is said to be the finest in the world skips gracefully through the Alpine areas of the Andes munching on its favourite grasses.

Upon being approached by one of these inquisitive creatures the first thing that sprung to mind was that she was limbering up to drool or slobber over me and goo was not the look I was going for.
I was surprised to find that she was just giving me the once over in quite a chilled out fashion, obviously to see what ensemble I had put together that morning. I knew we were instantly friends when she fluttered her long eyelashes at me. Now what was her name again? Oh yes,......... Lionel !

After spending a very pleasant morning in the Sussex countryside with the charming company of our very well behaved new found furry friends, we waved goodbye to Tom, Lionel, Abigail, Leroy, Edna, Florence and Patricia who at this point had completely lost interest in us anyway!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Like a circle in a spiral....

Whilst pottering in the garden this afternoon grey stormy skies threatened to unleash yet another torrential downpour so I retreated to the conservatory with an armful of freshly cut flowers.
I reached for the radio and Dusty began singing 'The windmills of your mind' so, I placed a flower within a flower.............

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Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Return to West Green House

Hidden away behind the twisting, ancient hedgerow-lined country lanes of Hampshire lies a secret garden we revisited this weekend where water lilies emerge from box parterres, fancy chickens dine from willow patterned porcelain and where Alice plays chequers with the Queen of hearts.

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These are just some of the botanical delights that await at West Green House and Garden. A charming 18th century baroque Manor house which was once home to the Duchess of Wellington who lived there with her friend Yvonne Fitzroy, now owned by garden visionary Marylyn Abbott who has revived and perfected the garden with her enchanting and theatrical designs.

Four of us arrived for our second visit this year and enjoyed a civilised picnic in the orchard outside the main gate before heading inside for the afternoon. The walled garden is entered through a wisteria clad doorway that beckons you to duck and sweep its elongated fragrant blooms aside in a secret garden manner to enter. The first part of the garden is laid out with immaculate diagonally striped lawns surrounded by fluffy herbaceous borders and slender inviting paths.

Beyond the lawns a beautifully planted potager is found. Colourful obelisks stand to attention, waiting patiently to be clothed in the tendrils and twining stems of peas and beans alongside towers of rhubarb flowers soaring skywards from their voluminous green gowns.

Topiary forms an integral part of the designs throughout West Green's gardens.  The two inner gardens are both enclosed by eighteenth-century walls and are devoted to parterres. The first is a whimsical 'Alice Garden' which features Wonderland inspired Buxus and Hedera topiary embroidered with white and red roses. The second is the 'Chicken Garden' which houses a fanciful collection of plucky bantams and chickens in a willow patterned pagoda that race to greet you in the hope of a tasty titbit or just sheer nosiness. Here the parterres hide a patchwork of water lily tanks from which unexpected graceful flowers magically appear.

The gardens are cleverly designed to lead you of in all manner of directions from a fragrant border billowing with roses to Lutyens benches in secluded microgardens, from a fading orangery to a mellow woodland garden traversed by elegant bridges, the eye is constantly invited and entertained.

The north westerly path entices you to step through the iconic moon gate, framed with delicate silver ribbons of moving water which rush down steps to guide you to a magical Nymphaeum garden. Here the more formal planting style of Marylyn Abbott sits beneath a majestic Quinlan Terry fountain inspired by the Santa Maria della Scala in Trastevere, Rome.

West Green House is a great place for children to explore. Upon entering 'The Paradise Garden' we overheard the adventures of two young seafaring children who welcomed each other in pirates voices to "The Treasure Island" before racing off brandishing invisible cutlasses.

Just outside the walled garden sits a tranquil medieval lake that reflects the sky and encourages relaxation. The only distractions here were wildfowl taking shortcuts to an island and the amorous entwining of Koi carp at the water's edge.

I have no idea why West Green House Garden had escaped my radar until this year it has already become a firm favourite.  Marylyn Abbott's clever design has a formal yet friendly familiarity that we shall enjoy returning to rediscover once more.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Slice of Linley Giveaway Winners

The three winners drawn using for the
Slice of Linley Giveaway are comment numbers 2, 8 & 20

Congratulations to

Donna at Conghaile Cottage
Patricia at PVE
Vicki at French Essence
Your giftboxed Linley goodies will be winging their way to you shortly


Monday, 4 June 2012

Adventures on Brownsea Island

Twenty Minutes by boat from Poole in Dorset on the south coast lies Brownsea Island. A five hundred acre magical island consisting of pine, mixed woodland, heathland and salt marshes full of wildlife and adventure. 

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We hopped aboard a ferry on a blissfully sunny afternoon last weekend weaving our way through a multitude of sailing vessels en route to the island. Brownsea Island Ferries have been operating a service from Poole Quay to the island for over a hundred years.

Brownsea's most famous claim to fame happened on an August morning in 1907 when Robert Baden Powell held his first camp on the island. Twenty-two children began their island adventure with the sounding of an African kudu horn followed by a glass of milk and a biscuit, 30 minutes exercise and prayers before being put into groups of Wolves, Bulls, Curlews and Ravens ready to begin their tasks as the first members of what would become the International Scout Movement.

The primary objective for this visit was to see a rare red squirrel, a creature we are so fond of we even have squirrels in our wreath designs. A creature hardly seen on the mainland of Great Britain due to being driven out by their more successful grey cousin. There are about 200 red Squirrels that live on Brownsea Island. Very shy creatures with their tufty ears and little pale furry tummies that they love to fill with pine seeds, acorns, hazelnuts and chestnuts that grow on the island.

I was told that the hot weather was not ideal for squirrel spotting and that the chance of seeing one in June was very rare. I was determined to put all my knowledge gathered from growing up reading the Observer's Book of British Wildlife into action to search for my illusive ginger friend. An afternoon of wandering through the woods ensued, we saw rabbits, creepy crawlies, a million midges, birds of all shapes colours and sizes, chickens, peacocks and deer.

As we slowly walked and chatted, keeping our eyes on the canopy above, my eye was drawn down to the flick of a tail on the ground a hundred yards away from us. Walking deeper into the forest watching the flickering tail,  looking through the viewfinder and carefully traversing a fallen log I got as close as was possible. I took several quick shots and then stepped on a dry twig, SNAP! the ginger blighter shot up a tree stopping briefly to pose for one last portrait and then raced out of sight.

With our mission accomplished we made our way back to catch the last boat. The return journey to the mainland included an hour long narrated tour around the entire island taking in its history and that of it's neighbouring islands.

Waving goodbye to the island, we vowed to return to Brownsea in autumn when the red squirrels are more active and easier to see. I haven't finished with you yet, little monkeys. I'll be back!

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Elderflower Champagne Day One

Ingredients to make Six Litres of Elderflower Champagne: 

  • 4 litres hot water
  • 2 litres cold water
  • 700g sugar
  • The juice and the zest of 4 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • About 16 elderflower heads, in full bloom
  • A pinch of yeast (you may not need this)

  • Method to make Elderflower Champagne
    1. In a spotlessly clean clear or white container, dissolve your sugar in 4 litres of hot water, stir and then add 2 extra litres of cold water.
    2. Stir the Elderflower heads. Vinegar, Lemon juice and zest into your water and sugar mixture.
    3. Cover with a clean piece of muslin, leave to ferment in a cool, airy place for a couple of days, check fermentation then leave for a further 5-7 days.
    4. Prepare 6 x 1 Litre bottles preferably with swingtop lids or large plastic torpedo shaped bottles ready to decant your fizz into in about a week's time.

    At last the Elderflowers were ready to pick a few days ago and so the alchemy began. We are actually at day three in the process and tiny bubbles are appearing on the surface of the brew to which I did add a tiny pinch of yeast to kickstart fermentation on day two. So far I think all is going well and I shall now put the solution away and wait until next week when we should be at bottling stage. Stay tuned for the next scintillating episode of Moonshiners! We'll have to wait until October to see the finished result....!