Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Amateur Theatricals

We recently went to see a play at the little theatre near Shoestring Cottage.  I am no expert where dramatic performances are concerned but the local theatre has been in operation for a very long time and the walls in the lobby are papered with photos of past triumphs.  As far as I am concerned, anybody who has the gumption to get up on stage and perform deserves all the support and admiration we can give them – I wouldn’t want to attempt it!  We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and will try to go along to the forthcoming productions.
It is great to see the tradition of involvement in community affairs; it seems to be one of the things which makes small town life special.  In a couple of weeks we will be attending Miss Peaceable Kingdom’s annual ballet recital and recently the A&P show was held.  There is always something going on; in fact the first weekend we moved into Shoestring we were surprised upon flinging open the bedroom curtains to see hundreds of lycra clad cycling enthusiasts assembled in our street, ready for the annual cycle race.  Just across the road a community garden has opened and individual plots are yielding crops of vegetables and also lots of flowers.  Seeing the community garden made me want to do a spot of guerrilla gardening in town and geranium cuttings are dotted around the place in preparation for this.  Hopefully they will all strike and I will be able to scurry out and plant them around the city.      

Mr Shoestring made a starling house with some leftover scraps of wood one weekend.  We were not hopeful that it would be used because it was already nesting season and a library books we read pointed out that birds like a fairly lengthy period of investigation before they decide a new nesting box is safe to use.  How exciting it was this weekend to see this starling spend his days investigating, flying down, looking all around and eventually popping inside.
 Look at me!  Look at me!
I am a paragon of manly attributes!

So far he has not brought any prospective female with him so I hope he isn’t a bachelor.  Feeling like a desperate real estate agent, I dashed out and filled up the bird bath and hoped he noticed the plum tree nearby laden with ripening fruit.

Actually the bird house Mr Shoestring made is only a rough prototype knocked together very quickly.  As I watched Mr Starling darting in and out of it I formed an ambitious plan whereby the back wall would have lots of starling houses and they would all be painted in different pretty shades, with lots of architectural styles including a villa with ornate scrollwork.  I mentioned this to Mr Shoestring but he didn’t seem as enthusiastic as I had hoped.  Men can be somewhat lacking in imagination sometimes, don't you find that?

The sparrows have finally figured out how to use the seed bells we put out for them and they had a bonanza this weekend, feasting on the seed.

The kereru have returned and are gorging themselves on the fruits of the flowering cherry tree.  In the garden the sweet peas are continuing to blossom and you can see from this photo how few pink ones there are in spite of the fact that I planted all "pink" seedlings – but I have to admit that I am happy with the mixture and their scent is heavenly.  The best thing about sweet peas is that the more you pick them the more flowers you will get and it is very satisfying to strip the plants of their pretty sugared almond coloured flowers.

My mum has been so helpful in the search for plants.  When she heard of the plan for a scented back garden she found this honeysuckle – brighter coloured than the usual one, it seems happy so far in the far corner of the garden. 

I have planted nasturtiums on one of the archways left behind by the previous owners.  If they go to seed at the end of the season we might have more of them next year.  It would be good to put in the sort with darker leaves and darker flowers if I can find some seed.

The ladies mantle (alchemilla mollis) are looking happy.  English gardening books always claim that they become a nuisance and seed themselves all through the garden but I never find this; in fact just getting them to survive our dry hot summers is as much as I hope for. 

Jack (number four offspring) had his birthday this weekend and we had the customary birthday dinner with his favourite meals.  Being a boy there was not much in the way of vegetables on the menu, his favourite dishes being Crunchy Lunchy Munchy Pasta and Chocolate Mousse.  The chocolate mousse recipe is added to the recipe list at the side.  It is dead easy to make and always receives rave reviews. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Pelargoniums - Are They The Gardener's Best Friend?

I have to admit that I used to look down upon pelargoniums.  (We all call them geraniums, but they are not geraniums.  Geraniums look like this and are another very useful plant, but more about them another time.)  

Not to put too fine a point on things, they are decidedly common – you see them everywhere!  But I have realised there is a good reason for this – they are the most hard working and least labour intensive garden plant I can think of for our conditions. 

When we started gardening at Shoestring the narrow strip at the front of the fence looked as though it was going to be a bit of a problem, rather hot, dry and sunbaked.  I decided to fill this area with the “cheap and cheerful” variety of plants, daisies and tough perennials, things which were virtually indestructible and capable of looking after themselves.  No coddling or pampering here, thank you very much!  It has turned out to be the most colourful part of the garden and the results have been great for so little work. 

The most surprising thing has been the way that the pelargoniums have all thrived and prospered.  Most of them have been unceremoniously plonked in the earth as cuttings and as if to give thanks for their chance at life they have without exception survived and flowered madly.  They are happy to rub along with all the other plants and there are climbers, sprawlers and upright bushy ones.  They come in so many forms and colours, and of course there are the ones with the variegated leaves – my personal favourites.

Also the blood red one looks spectacular. 

I am not so keen on the mauve climber but any plant is a good plant in the front garden and none of them will be excluded. 

The fragrant ones have perfumed leaves – for instance, rose, peppermint and nutmeg scented.  Plant them by a doorway or path where you pass by often and can release the fragrance easily by picking and crushing a leaf or two.

 Rose scented

They are great for drying and using to scent linen and instead of sulking if you give them a vigorous prune they take it as a compliment and grow back better and bushier than before.    

Now that I have developed a cunning plan for guerrilla gardening in the city I am taking lots of cuttings from the pelargoniums at Shoestring and will transplant them when they have taken root, I can’t wait.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

An Embarrassment Of Riches

This weekend there were so many bargains to be had that I hardly know where to start.  I have been wanting to plant a grapevine at Shoestring almost since we moved in, and finally found one which fits the stringent financial criteria.  ($2 at the local Anglican bring and buy.)

Of course there was no indication as to what sort of grape it may be, but as the fruit will most likely be scoffed by greedy birds that is not much of an issue.  Another interesting plant was one which is apparently a clematis , but not the usual climbing type.  It is a herbaceous plant and has brilliant blue flowers and I have popped it in on the shady side of the house hoping it will be happy there. 

This idea was suggested by my mum Bobbie (aka Wobblie) when I was telling her how sad the venerable old cherry tree was looking where it had had various limbs lopped off, resulting in large round sawn off areas daubed with green paint.  She thought hanging plates on the bare areas would be a nice idea and it turned out to be such a hit that I now want to scatter plates, and possibly cups and saucers, through the whole garden.

It is easy to find small plates cheaply priced but the larger ones tend to be a bit more expensive so it was a bonus to find two large ones this weekend (the top and bottom ones above).  Then when I spotted the smaller ones I felt I had to take them home, they looked so forlorn the poor things.  What to do with them though?  Onto the trellis they went, soon they should be surrounded by climbing peas and beans, plus a rose which is about to flower beside them.

Also thanks to Bobbie I finally have a Philadelphus Virginalis (mock orange blossom), so the ambitious plan for a white/scented back garden is finally under way.

Next on the shopping list is a Michelia figo (port wine magnolia) which has insignificant flowers, but with an  intense scent of winegums. 

And on the same stall as the plates was this old print which had a very spotty glass.  Fortunately that cleaned up well and Mr Shoestring has painted the frame for me also.  It will look lovely in the colourful gypsy room. 

Last but not least, no foraging expedition is quite complete without a bit of fabric as the icing on the cake.  This week I found a brilliant old silk blouse which will be perfect for crazy quilts.  It has such a wide variety of patterns included in the print that I will be able to use it in lots of different blocks.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Complete Hostess

This week my dear friend Fran presented me with a book she found on the "free" table when she was out and about fossicking for treasure in a Hospice Shop.  I am sure she did not mean to imply that my hostess skills are lacking; even those of us who shine in the firmament of hospitality givers can do with some helpful hints from time to time.  I am not sure when this book was published, for some reason this is not recorded in the front pages, but the author (Nell Heaton) had also published volumes entitled Shell Fish, Cooking Dictionary and The Complete Cook.

Tea Time

Since Mr Shoestring was preparing a curry feast and we had invited Mr and Mrs Peaceable around for dinner before an outing to the local playhouse I eagerly consulted my new book for useful advice.  It has several colour plates, most of which depict violently colourful dishes which appear strangely unappetising.

 Stuffed Eggs

Banana Pancakes

But I had to admit that there are many useful recipes included, particularly if you are planning to feed 50 people.  I was rather surprised when I read the section about "The Temporary Help" to discover that the "help" should have "No perfume, no nail varnish, and not plastered with jewellery."  If this book had been written in recent times it could more accurately have suggested that tattoos and body piercings be as unobtrusive as possible, and not too much midriff bared.

The section on Uses For Macaroni was rather uninspiring by today's standards.  For some reason the idea of serving macaroni cold with raw grated carrot, cheese and celery, garnished with lettuce just did not appeal.  Likewise serving spaghetti in a milk pudding did not have me licking my lips in anticipation.

By far the most interesting section though was the one about table etiquette.  I will never again cut a bread roll, it must be crumbled.  (I think I remember being instructed on this point as a child but blithely ignoring it.)  Also must remember that the over hang on my table cloth should be 12 - 15 inches.  I had already put my cloth on the table and it fell woefully short of this measurement; despair was setting in.  But I was relieved to learn that crescent shaped salad plates are not essential - apparently this is entirely according to the taste of the hostess.  When I came to the section on napkin folding I almost began to chew my nails - like origami but even more confusing, if possible.  Eventually sighed and flicked past this part.

All in all I was pleased Mr Shoestring was pulling out all the stops in the kitchen, I realised I would never have what it takes to be a good hostess but he can whip up a mean curry.  He made his beef rendang, a butter chicken, popadoms, raita and all the trimmings.  Mr and Mrs Peaceable were very polite and never complained about the service, the table settings or the lack of cocktails or sherry before dinner.  They are the soul of discretion and all that is to be desired in dinner guests!  Even when I brought out my new wine glasses (50 cents each at the Anglican Bring and Buy and not identical) there were no complaints.  

Monday, November 7, 2011

Return of the Rain

Though we were looking forward to spending time at the cottage this weekend, the weather had the last laugh.  It was once again cold and rainy but as a compensation the local monthly country market was celebrating its 10th birthday and there were some great bargains to be had.  The best from my perspective was the fact that one hosta grower was quitting his entire stock, and he had a wide selection of different varieties for only $5 per plant.  He and I did have a minor disagreement because when I pointed out the specimens I wished to purchase he mocked me!  Yes, he did!  I know, I couldn't believe it either!  He scornfully remarked, "You people are all the same.  I don't know why you do it!  You always go for the variegated ones and the plain coloured ones are much better."  When  I asked him why he thought that he assured me that en masse the plain ones were much more effective, rather than creating a spotty effect as the multi coloured ones would do.  I nearly weakened, in fact I was so startled that I was about to say, "Well then, if you're so clever which ones do you think I should buy?"  But at the last moment I resisted him and stuck with my initial choice - and I don't care how spotty they are, to me they are very beautiful.

  At the church shop there were also irises at knock down prices - but who knows what colours they will turn out to be?  All part of the fun of gardening on a shoestring.  We found a gas barbecue for $2.  Needless to say Mr Shoestring was the person who sniffed out this bargain.  He almost had a conniption because another prospective purchaser was all ready to cough up her money and make off with the bargain, but for some reason at the last moment she abandoned the idea and did not buy after all.  Perhaps it was Mr Shoestring's hot breath blowing over the back of her neck which put her off?  Mr Shoestring was on fine form this weekend on the bargain front, actually.  He found a lovely wooden curtain rod with turned ends for $5.  It was a bit of a struggle for him to drag all his treasures back to the car, actually.

More of the roses are coming into bloom

and the first of the sweet peas are flowering.

The problem there is that though I only put in pink plants, already I can see that there are mauve and pink flowers and I am wondering if all sorts of other shades will turn out to be present.  Never mind, they will give a verycolourful if spotty effect, much like the hostas.

On the way to the cottage we called in to visit my dear mama, and saw the tuis all feasting on the nectar in one of the trees in her back garden.

 At the cottage the sparrows have finally mastered the art of eating the seed from the seed bells I hung in the garden - ah happy day!  They seem to be working cooperatively; one bird hangs on the bell and flicks off all the seed and the others happily hop about underneath, gobbling up all the seed which rains down on them.

Because the weather was disappointing we spent time indoors.  Mr Shoestring beavered away altering the pretty door with a stained glass insert which will soon be ready for hanging - it just needs a new lock.  I sewed myself a new dress using left overs from another project and was very pleased with the result.  The bodice is watered silk and the skirt is covered with sweet pea blossoms - a bit hard to see here.