Thursday, September 10, 2020

Driving down the tiny, rural lanes in Cornwall means you often end up reversing or finding a spot to pull over when you meet another car in the road.

But sometimes, you might end up reversing because you saw the most incredible burst of color and you just had to find out what it was. Luckily, I had checked in my rearview mirror before doing this.

In early August, during our UK staycation in Cornwall, I was driving near Penzance and happened to see this flash of color which turned out to be a field of dahlias by the National Dahlia Collection. This garden features more than 1,600 different varieties of dahlias and is free to visit from June to September. It is impressive!

You can even see St. Michael's Mount located in Marazion in the distance here.

This collection was first established in 1983 in Oxfordshire by a private collector, David Brown, who wanted to preserve dahlias when the flowers were growing out of fashion in the 80s and 90s. Over the years, the collection moved until it happened at is current location. If you are a keen gardener, you can even order dahlia tubers and garden ready plants online or at the collection when it is open.

Dahlias are one of those flowers that blooms prolifically from late summer to autumn. I’ve always admired these flowers, but I don’t have much room at our London flat to grow much more than some potted herbs and veggies.

But the English have long loved dahlias especially during the Victorian era. When the Horticultural Society (later RHS) started regular flower shows in 1831, its September event was dedicated entirely to dahlias. In 1881, the National Dahlia Society was started in the UK.

  • Did you know that by the 1930s – at the height of their popularity – there were 14,000 named dahlia varieties?
  • And did you know that dahlias are the national flower of Mexico? Dahlias are wildflowers in Mexico and Central America but were brought to Europe by a Spanish expedition in the late 1700s and later cultivated.

·      On our trip, I spent about an hour at the garden taking dozens and dozens of photos of the colorful blooms and trying to capture the honeybees in action. Now, if only, I could have my own garden like this.

Pompon Dahlias

Decorative Dahlias

Waterlilly Dahlias

Misc Dahlias


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Day Trip from London

Even though I love living in a city like London, I do miss my country roots at times. 

So to recreate my Nebraska life, I recently gathered a few girlfriends and we set off for a pick-your-own farm about an hour's drive southwest of London for a day trip. Without having hired a rental car for an entire month due to Covid restrictions, we never would have reached the Crockford Bridge Farm, a family farm near Weybridge, Surrey. But what a delightful farm! 

We had a small map of the farm and the different crops we were able to pick that day. I ended up with a kilo of plump raspberries, some strawberries and 6 ears of corn. I also helped my girlfriends pick runner beans and I bought a few other goodies at the farm shop. 

We had a fun day out from London and brought back some farm goodies to cook with at home.
Homemade gelato for lunch and plenty of jams and spreads at the farm shop.


Friday, July 31, 2020

On a recent Thursday in London, I took the train into the city – but this was my first time on public transport in more than 120 days.

Life post Covid19 is a bit odd. I felt anxious being on the train. I wore a face mask, which is mandatory on all London public transport. My train carriage was empty most of the time, so I felt pretty safe. However, I always had my hand sanitizer and antibacterial wipes ready – just in case.

I took the London Overground train from Clapham Junction to Shoreditch – so I could get a haircut. Beauty salons in the UK were able to reopen on July 4th and I waited a week just to give it some time before I scheduled a haircut. I hadn’t had a haircut since September last year – nearly 10 months ago.

Shoreditch was eerie. Gone were the bustling streets. Brick Lane was devoid of any tourists and really any people at all. There were no street vendors. Gone was a lot of the more artistic street art – only to be replaced with tagging and graffiti art. Everything felt different and odd.

Here’s a glimpse of what my journey into Shoreditch looked like.

Gotta wear a face mask - might as well look good!

Monday, June 1, 2020

Along many of London’s cycle paths and rivers, you will find an abundance of tiny, white clusters of elderflowers blooming right now.

Elder trees seem to be quite common in the London area as well as the rest of the UK. The elder tree (‘Sambucus nigra’) is common everywhere except the far north of Scotland and frequently grows along hedgerows and woodlands. These trees produce lovely, lightly perfumed blossoms beginning in May through June. By August, those flowers will have transformed into deep claret elder berries, which are often cooked down with sugar and used to make jams, syrups and even wine. 

One of the best areas that I have found elderflowers in London is along the River Wandle, which is a tributary of the Thames in the southwest part of the city. There’s a wonderful cycle/walking path that mostly follows the river and runs for about 12.5 miles (20km) from East Croydon Station to the Thames Path near Wandsworth Town train station. (See map of Wandle Valley Trail.) 
If you decide to go foraging for elderflowers, here’s my advice:

·      * Bring a plastic bag and scissors or small gardening trimmers.

·       *Pick the flowers on a dry, sunny day because the scent will be the strongest then.

·       *Cut the stalks carefully and keep the flowers upright so you don’t lose the precious pollen, which is the source of that unique flavor and fragrance.

·       *Place the flowers carefully into your plastic bag and inspect them later once you are home. Do not wash the flower heads.

·      * Wear long pants. Most of the elder trees I have found are nestled in between tons of nettle plants, which cause an itchy rash if you rub up against them.

Last year, I made a huge pot of elderflower cordial, and I did the same thing just a few weeks ago. Brits seems to love using elderflower cordial in fizzy drinks, cocktails and desserts. So I’ve wholeheartedly adopted this custom while living here. I enjoy topping up my sparkling water with a spoonful or two of homemade elderflower cordial.

While researching recipes for elderflower cordial, I found a variety of recipes involving all lemons or sometimes a mix of lemons and limes. This year, I used the zest and the juice from one lime and two huge Sicilian lemons, which yielded a pale-yellow color in my cordial and a delicate taste. Last year, I used a more equal mix of lemons and limes and I think the flavor was stronger. However, I think I prefer the taste of using a greater quantity of lemons.

Homemade Elderflower Cordial
1.5       L.         water
750      g.         granulated or caster sugar
40        g.         citric acid
1          ea.       zest and juice of a lime
6-8       ea.       zest and juice of lemons
20        ea.       large elderflower heads (If small, use two or three to yield 1 flower head.)

1. Place the water and sugar into a large pot and bring to a boil. Cook until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the citric acid. Remove from the heat.
2. Add the elderflowers and citrus zest and juice.
3. Cover the pot with a lid and leave out at room temperature to let the flowers steep for at least 24 hours.
4. When ready, pass the cordial through a sieve lined with a muslin cloth to catch any debris and the discarded zest.
5. Pour the cordial into clean bottles and store in the fridge.

This recipe will yield about 2 liters, so it’s perfect for gift-giving a few bottles to your friends.


Thursday, April 30, 2020

A Detailed Post on Where to Find Wisteria Blooms in Battersea

Spring in London follows a fairly consistent pattern: snowdrops, crocus, magnolia trees, cherry blossoms and then the vibrant, purple wisteria vines.

While you’ll often find older wisteria vines climbing up fancy Victorian houses in posh areas such as Chelsea, Kensington, Holland Park and Hampstead Heath, I’ve found plenty of lovely wisteria in my own neighborhood of Battersea. Wisteria in London usually blooms during April and part of May.

Living here for nearly four years means I’ve seen the seasons change and have found plenty of opportunities to walk or cycle around – even under Covid19 lockdown conditions. I took most of these photos over the last two years, but a few I took during the past month. Keeping mainly safe at home means I’m also pining for sunny days when I used to cycle around the city and the English countryside. Hence, my desire to peruse old photos and write a new post on my nearly forgotten blog. 

I miss other things in life that used to be more consistent – like going to work, finding flour, going to the pub. Sigh, but such is life.

Anyways, perusing through my photo archives unearthed these wisteria photos for you. Enjoy!

Battersea Park
Battersea is a mix of architecture. During the late 1800s, many factories were set up along the Thames and near the railway, so housing estates – containing numerous small rowhouses – were built for workers. You’ll still find many of these old rowhouses west of Battersea Park and south of the main railway lines, running east to west. 
Wisteria on Battersea Bridge Road
Wisteria often grows over doorways like in these photos near Battersea Park.

Interestingly, many of the two-storied rowhouses along and surrounding Eversleigh Road have plaques dating to 1873 and 1874 on the facades.
Now, it’s not all cute rowhouses in Battersea. Post-World War II, a large part of this area was swept away in a vast municipal re-building plan. Ugly public housing estates and high-rises were built once the heavily bombed debris was cleared away. And then, there are the more modern, concrete high-rises built in recent years that also lack any botanical life.

But, there are still plenty of streets that I enjoy passing by in Battersea.

Clapham Common
As I cycled closer to Clapham Common, I found larger, more stately-looking Victorian houses. Most of the houses along Clapham Common North Side are swathed in gorgeous wisteria vines. Also, feel free to take a wander along Orlando Road, Macaulay Road, The Chase and Victoria Rise. Technically, most of Clapham falls in the Lambeth borough, but it’s not too far away.
One of my fav photos: pink on purple located on Oralndo Road in Clapham.
English Architect Sir Charles Barry, best known for his role in designing the Houses of Parliament during the mid-19th century, lived at The Elms, 29-32 Clapham Common North Side. The building is currently used as part of the Royal Trinity Hospice.

Wandsworth Common
Then west of Clapham Common towards Wandsworth Common, you’ll find another style of architecture. Most of these Victorian houses are three-stories tall and free-standing, meaning not attached to the neighboring houses like the rowhouses. Obviously, there is more money in this part of the neighborhood, with the stretch of Northcote Road nicknamed “Nappy Valley” for the “yummy mummies” that patrol the area with their prams.
Still, this is a nice area to cycle or walk through. Sometimes, I’ll cycle down own street and then make a loop onto the next street so I can take photographs in the neighborhood. You’ll find quite a few houses along Bolingbroke Grove that are covered with wisteria vines as well as some houses just south of Wandsworth Common.
Sigh…Flowers keep on giving no matter what is happening in the world!

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