Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

I’ve just returned from a visit to eastern Australia and have become gaga about gum trees. There’s something about trees that shed their bark, from the delicate horizontal strips of silver birches in northern europe to the plane trees in London to these combat camouflage characters seen in the Royal Botanic gardens Sydney, that enchants me. It’s as if they’re saying to us “Use this to heal, rub it on wounds, burn it as a fragrance in your homes” and in the case of the cork oak Quercus suber, “squeeze me into the top of a wine bottle to keep it fresh”. Useful stuff bark.

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IMG_4664Without wanting to sound like Marie Antoinette who played at farming whilst her peasants did all the real work, five of us girls set out the other morning to help with the almond harvest on our hillside. The real work is carried out by our steadfast neighbour Juan who can reach the trees on  the dangerous slopes, so all we had to do collect were the easy pickings from the paths. The only requirements are suncream, strong shoes and IMG_6555an IKEA bag

Although I find marzipan is an acquired taste,  almonds themselves are incredibly versatile. They make a delicious andalusian cold soup called Ajo Blanco, the best recipe for which is in Helen Bartlett’s book, Vegan Pure, see Helen is a real talent, creating modern Andalusian recipes that update the Moro style. I love her cooking!

Almonds are also the main ingredient of some sweet biscuits I made that went down a treat at the Womens Equality Party fundraising. It could be because I make them breast shape, with an almond nipple in the middle. They sold for £2 each.

Finally, a delicious almond and orange cake taught me by my good friend Nova, made with whole oranges and melt in your mouth.IMG_6340

There are five stages to making an orange and almond cake on our hillside. 1. Pick the almonds from the low hanging branches and take off the brown husk. 2. Shell the almonds  with a small hammer delicately so as not to break the nut. 3. Stop for a cold beer on the terrace (my favourite bit). 4. Blanch the nut in boiling water for one to two minutes to soften the skins. 5.  Squeeze the nut out of its skin, sending them flying across the room (My second favourite bit). 6. Pick the oranges and bake the cake.




Audio book on the way, yay!

My mother is losing her sight.  The downside is that the world she loves is slowly disappearing. The upside, she tells me, is that she no longer knows when she has a dirty kitchen, so now she rarely feels the need to clean. Another downside is that she can’t read much any more but the upside is that she has discovered audio books.

new cover The Garden that Mended a MarriageSo with this in mind, I commissioned an audio book version of The Gardens That Mended a Marriage and what an interesting experience this is turning out to be. Guided step by step by Amazon through their process, I wrote a spec, invited actors to audition, listened to each one narrate the first chapter, chose one, contracted a deal with her. She then went away and narrated my book, chapter by chapter and sent it to me for comment. We’re currently going through the process of editing. I’m listening to each word, sending her back my comments and she will re-record certain extracts taking my edits into account.

So if you enjoyed the book, and want to recommend it to someone who can’t read or is too busy to read or simply prefers to listen rather than to read, then watch out here for the launch of the audio book sometime soon.

Capability Brown and the Temple of Friendship

Stowe_Park_Palladian_bridgeMy dear friend Catherine offered to take me to Stowe, Lancelot (Capability) Brown’s first major garden last month. As most readers will know, he designed his parks with follies, temples, pavilions, bridges and connected them with sculpted woodlands, lawns, lakes, faux rivers, avenues and paths. The result was beautiful views of extensive landscapes, intended to look like some natural arcadia but in fact, completely artificial. stowe templeBut who cares? It’s a contrivance we’re happy to accept.

The best thing about this garden is that Brown’s client, the Viscount Cobham, whose surname was Temple, commissioned James Gibbs and William Kent to build a number of classical pavilions and temples around the garden. There’s a Gothic temple, which you can rent out for an eccentric weekend, a Temple of Ancient Virtue, which we IMG_5829didn’t go into in case we sullied it with our modern ways and a Temple of British Worthies, which we instantly repopulated with famous women from history since the only female amongst Shakespeare, Newton and his fellows was Elizabeth I. But our favourite of the day was the Temple of Friendship – for obvious reasons. I love this picture! A random Asian tourist took it for us. As a treasured memento of the day, it shall remain in my file of best garden visits, ever.

Rainbow eucalyptus

IMG_5834 (1)This is why I will vote to stay in the EU: because after a year of searching across the world for rainbow eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta) trees, in Florida, Australia and South Africa, I have found them up the road here in the UK, received them in the post, repotted them in my kitchen and sent them in a van with my husband and some furniture to Spain where they are sitting in my shed waiting to be planted. Easy! No customs, no quarantine, no paperwork, no borders.

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If you’ve never seen a Eucalyptus deglupta, let me assure you, they look unreal. The multi-coloured trunks look like they’ve been painted. Of course, the two small ones I took delivery of this week will take some time to grow, but won’t they be worth it?