A HOUSE FULL OF HERBS

Just lately it’s all been about herbs, harvesting them from the garden, drying them, putting them in oil, making powder and so fort. It has been a busy but rewarding time. I’ve learnt a lot more about Dandelion plants and this means that the Dandelion is now been promoted to a primary plant in our garden. Luckily we have a lot of them as I’ve always been reluctant to pull them up from among the other vegetables. Now they have gained a firm status of valuable nutritional source. So far I have dried roots and leaves. The roots are for tea and the leaves are for either a soak in water overnight making a cool drink, or to be grinded into powder to add a touch to soups. I am looking forward to spring when I will use some of the flowers when baking biscuits, only some though as they are earmarked mainly as food for the bees. Nettles are another good source of minerals and they have been growing so well this past summer in our garden. I’ve harvested many and again grinded some into powder for the soups and will use the leaves for a green drink.

Dandelion leaves
Sometimes I hang my herbs, but mostly now I dry them in the oven with the pilot light on and the oven door a little ajar.

Just recently I had bought the long desired book by Rosalee De La Foret: ‘Alchemy of Herbs’, and I am finding it a brilliant work. So much information, and beautiful photography too. As well as this book I have once again signed on to Herb mentor from Learning Herbs, it’s an amazing informative website and course, a hands on type of learning which is great fun as well as being very interesting. (It’s online; https://learningherbs.com/herbmentor/)

A start in making use of Dandelions in different ways.
I’ve got two different types of Oregano and they grow so very well. There is the variegated Mediterranean type with white flowers, so loved by the bees, and the all green regular one with the pink flowers, which this one is. A lovely herb.

All these herbs are humble plants, many of them are even considered to be weeds by some people. I’m so very grateful that they come growing in my garden. Some, like the Yarrow, plantain and violets grow in the boreen close to where we live. On my walks I always keep an eye out for useful wild plants in case I should ever need them, then I know where to find them.

We may be very thankful for the wealth of wild plants and herbs in our gardens.

A SINGULAR BEAUTY

This is a flower of one of the hypericums and it came growing in our front garden sharing a tub with another shrub. I only discovered it a few days ago and it’s made me very happy because I thought that this plant, which I used to grow many years ago, had totally disappeared from our garden. My flower identification app tells me that it is hypericum perforatum. A first I could not see the little perforations in the leaves and there was no reddish juice to be seen when I crushed a leaf. So there was a question of whether the identification was right. But when I enlarged my photos of the leaves I could clearly see the little perforations, so yes I agree that it is H.perforatum. Decades ago I used to make hypericum oil and we used to use it for nerve pain in the legs, the hypericum would colour the oil slightly red. I love this little plant and I think that it will turn out to be very useful.
Its leaves.

LATE SUMMER COLOURS

In the hedgerows the colours of the heathers and other wild flowers are adding spice to the landscape.
Finally my Mexican Tarragon is flowering. The leaves are very fragrant and it’s a lovely plant.
A collage of the colours of our garden at present, and a late small tortoiseshell butterfly.

A LATE SUMMER EVENING SKY

When summer gathers up her robes of glory, And, like a dream, glides away.     
Sarah Helen Whitman

I took a walk this evening and felt a real bit of a chill in the air, but it was still lovely and the breeze was actually refreshing after I spent the day painting inside. And I did find some time to check a few herbs in the garden. I also include a couple of photos from a few days ago. I’m busy with my new herb course. I am also learning more about the wild plants that come growing into the garden, at this time of year the woundwort is still in full bloom and much desired by the bumblebees, lots of them. The flower bud on my ginger plant has not changed for the past two weeks, I wonder if it will reach actual flowering but I fear not as already there is not enough sunshine and we are slowly heading into the fall season.

Stachys palustris – Marsh Woundwort
Tagetes Lucida, Mexican marigold ~ I think.
Our endive plants are flowering, a lovely blue display.

ON A HUMID SUNDAY AFTERNOON

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour.”
― William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

There is a light breeze gently moving the tops of the trees, but otherwise it is very quiet on this restful day. West Cork has seen warmer than usual weather recently, though the last two days we have also seen very much rain. The humidity is high of course and I quite like that. You go outside in the garden and the scents and colours are intense, everything is fresh from the rain and the heat makes it almost feel as if steam is rising from all the plants and foliage. The garden is very lush at this time and I counted very many bees, hoverflies and some butterflies while I was out earlier. Autumn is actually not far off and the garden spiders are busy. Some of the decorative trees are already shedding their leaves. The hawthorn and the chestnut tree are beginning to look a lot like autumn too. The ‘turning of the seasons’ is starting to happen.

Ian is back home, his troubles are not over yet but he is slowly feeling better. It’s great to have him home, he’s my soulmate and the best of companions.

“KEEPING THE HEAD”

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE

Sitting under our hawthorn tree, drinking a cup of tea, surrounded by our vegetables and flowering shrubs, my mind focused on what I was reading on my mobile phone.

Last week Ian was brought to hospital and has been there since. The answer to his health problems seems to be a long way off. Doctors are working on it. I receive messages or calls via my phone so it never really leaves my hands much.

Having said that, I have delighted in getting lots of maintenance work done around the house and garden and we have been having summer weather for a change which is absolutely great.

“Keeping the head” which to me says; ‘Staying calm and pragmatic’, this is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as ‘to remain calm in a difficult situation’. I guess that as well as ‘keeping the head’ it’s important to ‘keep the head up’ too.

There are of course lots of ways to keep positive. I find that my gardening is helping me to de-stress at times like this. And of course counting my blessings helps very much, and we have so much to be thankful for. I have to wait to hear results of tests, meanwhile doing some research too, going on what Ian tells me. As he also has a very enquiring mind we both try and look for answers as well as looking for professional help, and help from our extended families who have great medical expertise, all in their own fields.

All in good time I will be more inspired to write and blog about our natural surroundings and life in West Cork. Right now my mind is too preoccupied.

EARLY IN THE MORNING ~ LENTICULAR CLOUDS

It was very early in the morning about a week ago that upon opening the curtains I saw this surreal sky out of my bedroom window. I had been hoping to see Lenticular clouds for a long time and I still don’t know what woke me that morning and gave me this amazing spectacle, because everywhere I looked I saw that the sky was dotted with these shaped clouds, I am not sure why Salvador Dali came to mind.

And so I walked out in the early morning air to check over the garden. Lots of lush growth has been happening since the rains started some weeks ago, the more delicate flowers and the lavender have been affected, but there are plenty of new flowers opening.

Some of the landscape around the lovely little town of Skibbereen, how beautiful it really is.

And so the summer is passing quite fast. We are not cocooning anymore but life is not yet back to normal. Nicest of all is that our grandchildren have been allowed to visit us again, and as we just heard that schools are to start again next month we are making the most of our times together.

At the moment I am working on an inventory of everything that grows in our garden, firstly because parts of it is very overgrown and I want an overview in order to plan better for next season. And secondly I like doing stuff like that. I find creating a word document with added photos works well, and I print out a page per raised bed and some pages besides for the rest of the garden. It’s a nice little project. I plan to grow at least some more flowering shrubs and right now I am checking out which ones would be most suitable for our smallish garden. I’m reading up on pruning too to look after the shrubs that I set last year. It’s such an absorbing activity. When I think of it my garden is my gym, it gives me a cardiac workout, it gives me fresh air, sunshine (sometimes), it de-stresses me and gives me plenty of possibility to meditate and enjoy its beauty and it even gives us organic and delicious vegetables.

What a fantastic blessing.

REMEMBERING

On this beautiful, calm and wind still morning the garden has been transformed into what reminds me of fairy land, the reflexion of light in the dew drops makes the spider webs shimmer and reminds me of fairy lights, or even the Christmas tree and brings me back to early childhood days, to innocence and happiness. I wander around the garden taking in this beauty and allowing these feelings to be. Autumn leaves have been brushed up yesterday, but it is the spider webs that really herald the beginning of autumn here in West Cork. There is not a sound to be heard, all the neighbours are still asleep, then a robin takes the floor and cheerfully sings its heart out.
Wind still and glorious, another day has begun.
My heart fills with gratitude.

I wrote these words some years ago but because we have recently been living with so many raindrops, not dewdrops, and we are all quite saturated with the damp and the darkness ~ I decided to give life to this post again as the beauty of watery drops really is something incredible and we might as well enjoy them.

A WALKING HOLIDAY IN NAXOS

Some years ago I partook of a wonderful holiday in Naxos, the largest but least touristic island of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, where with some friends we walked the ancient Donkey trails. And because of it being spring time, the whole of the island was covered in the blooms of wild flowers and herbs, a wonderful sight to behold! The fragrance of Oregano, Thyme, Chamomile, Lavender, and Melissa were a daily delight.

The island is also very rich in archaeological finds and remains as it has been lived on constantly for the past 3000 years.
Simple but beautiful Byzantine churches and monasteries are to be found all over the island, many containing icons of great artistic value, covered in gold leaf and intricate painting, some are also half covered in silver to protect the paintings. The architecture of these churches, while simple, I found very graceful and atheistically pleasing, painted in brilliant white with some of the domes in Greek blue, and the older ones, of which we saw quite a few, are built in natural stone, even the roofs are.

The highest mountain on the island is called Zas and is 1004 metres high; I only ever saw it with its head in the clouds. Some people believe that Zeus was born here while others think that he was born on Crete and grew up here. Naxos is supposed to be the island where Theseus left behind the Cretan princess Ariadne after she helped him escape from the labyrinth where he had killed the Minotaur. Ariadne is then supposed to have fallen in love with Dionysus. Mythology abounds in the Greek islands and it was just lovely to see with my own eyes things that I would have read about long ago.

Gosh, the food was marvellous and I enjoyed eating every Greek dish. So I had lots of salads made with organic and sun ripened tomatoes, olives, and cucumbers and covered in the most delicious local feta cheese and olive oil. Then there were the goat and lamb dishes, the bean and tomato dishes, absolutely mouth watering, and always the fried potatoes.
People are fond there too of sweet things, lots of honey and sesame seeds and almonds, all this baked scrumptiously wrapped in filo pastry and served with strong Greek coffee in tiny cups. My favourite was some sort of sweetmeat covered in powdered icing sugar and with a delicate flavour of pure rose essence. Not to forget the drinks, the Ozo I found overrated and did not take to, but there is another drink, a liquor made from the leaves of a tree, a hybrid between lemon and grapefruit, it is called Citron and pronounced Kitron, they come in three different colours, supposed to be three different strengths but the Naxiots were unclear which colour was the strongest! I fancied them all as this drink gave me a nice gentle sense of lightness of being.

The meal that I can remember as being the most wonderful, we ate at a tavern in a remote village after a long strenuous walk through the mountains. Rosemarie, our guide, knew the people and we were all welcomed with open arms. The nice woman of the house served us a lovely goats stew flavoured with the sort of aromatic herbs we had been walking through, there were long, podgy, green beans in a tomato sauce, potatoes fried in olive oil and rice wrapped in olive leaves and tasting real good. This same lady happen to be very fond of roses and not only did she have lovely old scented roses in vases all over the place, they were also on the napkins and tablecloths.

The town of Naxos or Hora as it is called and where we had our accommodation is built on a hill forming a natural acropolis, on top of which is a fortress, dating from the occupation by the Venetians. Along the sides is a labyrinth of streets, narrow and stepped, the houses are a brilliant white and the doors and windows blue, arches are everywhere and some are very low so that even I had to bend down to pass through them. Here and there geraniums and bougainvillea flowers throw a lovely dash of added colour making the whole a beautiful place full of photo opportunities. Word has it that the town was built in this way to fool the pirates and give the town folk the chance to escape when being attacked, apparently the arches connected from house to house, who knows. It is a delightful town and I got lost several times in the labyrinth but enjoyed finding my way out again eventually.

One of the first days we passed the main Greek orthodox cathedral, built on the site of an earlier small church (Zoodochos Pighi), it took its present form in 1780-7, and it is dedicated to St.Nicodemus the Athonite and to St.Nektarios. Large quantities of materials from ancient temples were used in its construction! Its solid granite pillars are supposed to have come from the ruins of Delos. Anyway, we were curious as to what was going on inside as we could hear the singing of a low male voice. At our entrance we were invited in to take part of the baptism of a child. The priest, with a long white beard, was singing and doing his rituals. There was the scent of incense, and candles were lit all over the place. The child was totally undressed as it would then be dressed in a whole set of elaborate new clothes. The church looked interesting; it was covered in icons some of which were exquisite art.

Along the promenade there were the many restaurants, most of them for the tourists but some were clearly the haunts of the locals, mainly the men sitting drinking their Ozo and talking, or is it philosophising, while overhead the octopus were hanging to dry on wooden sticks in the sun.

The walks took us over hills and rocks and through meadows and even over a small river in one valley. The views were magnificent, especially the white villages hugging the mountainsides, Filotis being one of the nicest and nearest to Mount Zas. We passed the olive groves along the valleys. And went along the rocky mountain paths were we would come across herds of goats, we also saw ducks and a lone turkey. We noticed that there are very few cattle here on the island.
There was a lot more that we were delighted to see; there was the Kouros, an ancient statue never fully erected and still lying in its ancient quarry. The marble quarries and the emery and obsidian stone. The ruins of the temple to Demetre. The colour of the deep blue of the Aegean Sea. The interesting looking moths, butterflies, lizards and beetles. The beautiful sunsets. The lovely little shops full of copies of artefacts, some of which I saw in the local archaeological museum, very ancient remnants of life in Naxos and the Cyclades.

I came home very energised and happy, and with lots of photos and some stone samples. On our way back we stopped for one day in Athens and visited the Acropolis. I must say that I was surprised at the effect it had on me, I was very impressed. We also saw the change of the guards which I thought was very funny! We saw the remains of the temple to Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. Our hotel was very close to this area and the evening of our arrival we hung out in the colourful Plaka district, little streets, some paved in marble, full of life, shops looking vibrant and lively and very full of all sorts of souvenirs but also local produce and stunning Greek tunics and other clothing and jewellery, they were pulsating with the laughter of Greeks and tourists alike all of whom seemed excited to be alive! There was music, and in line with Greek tradition, carnations thrown all over the place.
There is lovely architecture to be seen here too in the houses, so this is a great place for an evening walk.

This visit to Naxos and Athens took place many years ago but I still have great memories of the beauty and the sheer delight of seeing some of the monuments that I had read about. It is another one of these places where I can go in my mind and be delighted.