Saturday, 2 November 2013

Quinces and Marriage

Britta Huegel

(In 2010 I have posted this essay - slightly altered - before. But: I had quinces before - and you are new readers, so: why not?)

When I enter my study the whole room wraps me in a fragrance that is beyond comparison. I had put on my desk some quinces! Lovingly I had polished that fluffy fur away which sits on their hard skin and now they shine bright yellow. And scent! Yes, you can really smell that they actually belong to the rose family, rosacea.
"Cydonic apple," apple from Crete, so the quince is called in Greece. Cydonia oblong chez nous. But mine are pear-shaped, which means they are even more aromatic than their chubby sisters.
Quinces need to be cooked - although I have a Turkish recipe where I mix finely grated (peeled) raw quince (almost a mousse) with equal parts of runny honey and whipped cream - delicious! It is the favourite dessert of Husband, but I don't serve it often (though I have quinces en masse) - because I want him to stay the tall slim man he is now and not get the belly of a sultan in 'Thousand and One Nights'.
Another speciality is my 'North German Quince Compote' - which also brims over with calories (well - winter comes, you need some strength!) Here it is:
First you boil the peeled quince pieces in thick sugar syrup, the quince-pieces have to remain still a little bit firm (not mushy), and when they have cooled down you add your best Armagnac in which they bathe for six weeks (in a closed glass - and don't put it into the sun!). Then they turn deeply red and then, served on a plate, they cry out for a little bit of walnut-ice-cream with whipped cream...
But the quince is not only a beautiful canvas on which you can paint with calories - it is also a carrier of deep meanings. So prescribed Solon the Athenean 600 years before Christ a marriage ritual: the engaged couple had to eat a raw quince before the wedding night.
Plutarch interpreted this ritual by saying that the sweet smell and the lovely taste with the acerbic addition were "a forecast of the suffering and sweetness of marriage". (Interesting that he mentions the suffering first...)
And the Silesian preacher Johann Colerus jeered that by this ritual young women were shown "that they now must bite into some sour apples - on behalf of a man." But I think, as they had to do that both of them, husband and wife, maybe that's why we say in Germany: "Now we are even" = Jetzt sind wir quitt" - because the German word for quince is 'Quitte').
But that might be very simple 'popular' false etymology. I interpret the quince-biting my way: the character of a spouse is as difficult to see through as a quince is difficult to cut.
Or: do not rely on the shiny exterior of a just-married lover alone, but work hard to keep that love alive and sweet - you have to work on a quince to be able to enjoy it... And you yourself have to add sugar to your marriage - "Nothing comes from nothing." Ha!
Anyhow: I will have to think thoroughly whom I bestow the great masses of quinces in this harvest upon, because "the gift of a quince ... always is seen as a declaration of love."
OH!! Fancy a quince, dear??

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Garden Boors?

You told me in your comments on 'Blue Gardens', that especially in Australia, Ipomoea is a wicked weed .(See also Rosemary's lovely post
Now I read in Barbara Damrosch's 'Garden Primer' - a no-nonsense book - about the Perennial Pea - under a headline I don't like very much: "Perennials That Spread". She writes: 
'Perennial Pea. Lathyrus lotifolius. The flowers are handsome and long-blooming clusters in shades of pink, lavender and white.' 
The following sentence has a somewhat threatening undertone, which pleases me even less: 
"Its evils are described on page 145.' 
Fluttering I leaf through: 
' But if someone offers you Lathyrus lotifolius (...) say "Thanks but no thanks.: it does not just crowd other plants - it obliterates them. Once perennial sweet pea is established, you will never get all of its roped roots of your garden.' 
THAT Gertrude J. hasn't told me. She praises the white Perennial Pea (see above), which she planted in a very tricky procedure under the delphinium that - once it has withered - makes a sort of climbing aid. Of course I had imitated that immediately, but the slugs munched away the delphiniums, and the perennial pea disappeared after two years. 
But pink coloured ones climb behind my realization of Vita Sackeville-West's Sweet Briar Hedge. Should I now cry "Thanks but no thanks!" Or is that too late, and my garden is doomed and utterly infiltrated by roped roots? 
And that is not the only garden plague - on page 145 I find quite a lot of my other darlings which had filled me with gardener's pride and joy because they were so vigorous. Till now... 
As there are: 
The evening primrose. The bushy aster. (At least I hadn't bought scarlet monarda, because I never liked her). I tried to remove 'Bouncing Bet', saponaria officinalis, without success, as three pale pink clusters of flowers in a bed show. Damrosch cautions against coneflowered rudbeckia - though I love her heart- warming yellow in autumn. But why does she not speak about sunchoke (Helianthus tuberosus), also called Jerusalem artichoke? That is really VERY vigorous. When I bought it in a garden center, a customer warned me, but I thought: "Oh, that's good - the more the merrier." Now I saw at the farmers' market as a last resort that you can eat the tubers, but I still hesitate. 
But let's go on with Barbar Damrosch's list of plants, which I now secretly call 'boors in the garden'. There is 'campanula rapunculoides'. The 'Ribbon Grass', which the English call fanciful 'Gardener's Garter'. It is this pretty light-green-blue grass with the white stripe. Of course I have that too, though it gets less and less. And of course Centrantus ruber, which by now foams all around the house. Viola odorata - oh yes, that's true... And - because I don't own it, I am pleased by the combative spirit of 'The Confederate Violet':
"It will march through your garden faster than Robert E. Lee." says Barbara. 
Here his troops haven't arrived. 
Not yet.     

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Kitchen gardens and Dig for Victory gardens

Brigitta Huegel

When today  I saw the post "Student vegetable plots" on the blog 'What ho Kew?' it reminded me of a text I wrote 14 years ago. 

"Why", asked son, "don't you have a kitchen garden?" (which in Germany is called a Nutzgarten - profit or utility garden). 
I am surprised. Son has French cousins, but this would be the first French character trait I was about to discover: 
"A glimpse into French gardens shows you the equal concern of the Frenchman of his country and of cooking. Fruit and vegetable have priority over flowers and ornamental shrubs", 
writes Brigitte Tillney in her book "Culinary pleasures from the French Kitchen Garden". 
Under the text we see the photograph of a rather sullen looking little French boy, aged maybe 5, loaded with courgettes. 
Well, definitely son had beamed much more when he, at the same age, hold our harvest in his hands: a lot of cocktail tomatoes from a single plant at the warm wall of the house (where now vine and clematis grow). These tomatoes had impressed him so much that he almost couldn't wait for the day to come back from our holidays! In my diary I found this entry about our arrival home: 
"But first he  ran into the garden: he had spoken of it so often in Amrum, even dreamed of and asked: "Maybe a very fat pumpkin will block the garden gate - what will you think then?" 
I haven't forgotten the year before when he had sold a splendid kohlrabi and a few courgettes to the neighbours in our street - with the distinct reminder "These are organic vegetables!" (The amused neighbours told me). 
The shallots were safe, though: we had entwisted them into long plaits, and they lasted the whole winter. Now the organic farmers offer them at the market, and that's why I don't plant them anymore. Besides, there is almost any place here, everywhere flowers are on the rampant. 
                Under the sun shade the gaze of son becomes speculative. "I would turn all this into a kitchen garden." 
I grow pale: "You can do that - when the garden belongs to you. But I will come at night and spook, I will point with pallidly glowing fingers to those prosaic heads of cabbage and hollowly ask: 'What have you done to my flowers?!?
That does not impress him because he already thinks out a perfect sprinkler system for long rows of planned beans and peas - for the "optimum gain". He reminds me of de La Quintine, who gave up jurisprudence to become Royal Gardener in Versailles. (Till now son always wanted to study law. But maybe he'll fall in love with a flower garden in advanced age?)  
As a compromise I now suggest an English cottage garden, where at least vegetable and flowers live harmoniously in the same bed, even to the benefit of both. 
And tell him of wartime (which, being born thank God later, I hadn't to experience), in which in England hungry people dug up the lanes to plant potatoes. And President Roosevelt recommended the Americans to lay out 'Victory gardens', and not to waste anything, and the American women really accomplished to earn over a million tons of vegetable, which was half of what the home front consumed. 
This impresses our son. 
But I am glad that nowadays we don't have any 'Victory' but only 'peace' gardens. Full of flowers.
Just beautiful.    

PS: In 2013 I have to add that son studied successfully law. And read Churchill's biography. The love of gardens will follow, I'm sure of that. 

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Sage - and Balance

Brigitta Huegel

I don't know what to make of this: the sage in my garden is getting scrubby. 
There will be enough leaves for Saltim bocca, but it makes me nervous that - on a higher level - it foretells change in hierarchical order. 
We have two sage-bushes: the one near the house seems a bit lackadaisical this year. The second bush has almost disappeared in the sea of evening primroses at the back of the garden: where I was too polite to say "No!" to the evening primroses, they now whisper in a soft moonlight yellow voice "No!" to me and block even the way to the red currants. (Only the birds are happy about that). 
And so this year the sage didn't grow as ample as usually. 
That makes me fret - somewhere I've read that there is an English saying: 
"If the sage thrives and grows, 
The Master's not the Master and he knows." 
A colleague of mine is utterly convinced that women who are more leading in life will become the mothers of sons. I do have a son. And surely I'm not a meek little flower. 
But since I stand in front of two full-grown 2 meter-men (husband: 1.98m; son 2.02m; both lithe and lissom and as pretty as a picture, but I deviate...), sometimes I feel a little bit ... reduced. 
Does the sage sense this? Where is my sceptre, where my crown? 
Speaking of crowns I think of the Quenn and then again of mothers. 
Sage, salvia officinalis, is the Queen Mum of all herbs. It is utterly versatile: it helps against a sore throat, as a herbal tea it shall reduce strong perspiration, and because of its hormone-adequate substances it is traded as a secret weapon against climacteric disorders. 
It sounds like a miracle drug, and actually one of the questions at the Medical School of Salerno in the 14th century was: 
"Why shall a man die, in whose garden sage is growing?" (Cur moriatur homo, cui Salvia crecit in horto?) 
Why indeed? 
As I discovered this interesting question, I rushed to buy another pot of sage at the farmer's market - just in case... 
Alas - then I had to discover that this question sadly was only a rhetorical one. 
The answer was: "Because against death there is no cure." (In Germany we say: "Against death there grows no herb.") 
So there bursts the bubble of the dream of immortality! 

But I can recommend the divine recipe of Saltim bocca - as comfort food

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Dipsomaniac Hedgehogs

In TV they said that quite a lot of English hedgehogs have a real problem: dipsomania
Though poets like Shakespeare and von Schiller praise  "the milk of human kindness", these British hedgehogs, instead of lapping up that sort of milk from Hyacinth Bucket's 'Royal Doulton hand-painted periwinkle' plates, inspect the gardener's cunning beer traps for slugs and drink that amber nectar in one go. Or enjoy a little sip here, a little sip there, taking the slug-trap as a punch bowl with added slugs instead of strawberries. As likely as not they then will run zigzag across the carefully cultivated lawns, bawl loud soccer songs and tumble utterly pisseded on theirs pricky sides, slurring "I'm your mate, and I will stand by you..."
The German Hedgehog Society (that is not an invention of mine - they really do exist!) state that these stories must be utterly untrue - shocking horror stories invented by gutter press . They demand proof - evidently a German hedgehog doesn't drink beer. (You bet...) 
But I can understand the British: nowadays you have to search a long time to find milk that tastes delicious and not like the cardboard box it comes in.
Maybe when milk tastes like milk again, the hedgehogs will become teetotallers and abstain from beer - although, come to think of it: why should they?

Britta Hill

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

At the Wayside

Britta Hill

I found a little present at the wayside. Husband also, another one. At our evening stroll we passed a heap of large trash. An old wardrobe, a few cheerless empty drawers, two big blue bin bags, one of them already torn open – and a cardbox with books.
When Husband sees books nothing can stop him. He climbed down the rampart to join another couple that already rummaged busily through the books. I stood in loftily distance on the rampart. But when Husband merrily waved a thick volume about “Women at Goethe’s Time”, I faltered. Curiosity won and I climbed down, wondering why they hadn't given these book to a jumble sale?
And then I became a bit melancholy, because these were evidently the last remaining possessions of a deaconess. It is not much that we leave behind when we go forever… 
When my glance fell on a small volume with white-green stripes and I saw the first part of the title, “Flowers”, that was enough to turn me into a hunter too. I reached out for the small Inselbändchen, No 281. Inside stood a name and a date, “Strasbourg, June 6, 1941”. Apparently a relative had ripped out the adornment page with a dedication – but otherwise it was as good as new. Inside were quite delicate drawings of  a whole year of wildflowers – snowdrops, daisies, anemones, march violets and others. Drawn very naturalistic, yet representing the style of its origin period, theThirties. Beneath its title “The Little Flower Book” was proudly typed: “In many colours”. And down to the present day the colours are as fresh as morning dew. They were used sparingly, yet expressive. Two sorts of green for the stem and leaves of a marguerite, and the petals not just white but shaded delicately by soft blue.
Some little flowers I welcomed like dear old acquaintances: the pink Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) that I loved so much as a child! (At the same time shuddering when “spit of cuckoo” stuck on it – which is the foam wrapper of a little cicada).
Most of those flowers I still know from growing wild in nature - then, but I can't show them to son...  
But lately one can find again some of the field-flowers at the edges of wheatfields: thick rows of corn poppy, and crown-of-the field (Agrostemma githado), and cornflowers, too. Which makes me very happy – though formerly the farmers hated it. The field-flowers belonged to the “Schabab” – the ‘herbs in a basket’ – and to these three (German) K’s (Klatschmohn, Kornrade and Kornblume) was added the chicory, common yarrow, ragwort and drug eyebright too. When a young man got these herbs from his Adored, he knew that he was rejected (in Germany we say: “To give someone a basket” if we refuse to see him).
Superstition warns not to bring cornflowers (accused to make bread mouldy) nor crowns-of-the-field (make the roof struck by lightning) into the house, and no Englishman will bring hawthorn over his threshold. A colleague put the fear of God into me when she explained that the little bunch of heather I had brought into our flat would bring us early death.
But that was many, many years ago, and nothing happened, Thank God!
But then: one day Death will come, after all, and then such a flower book lies at the wayside.
                                            And delights somebody else

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Chance and Flower sellers

Chances and flower sellers

At our farmer’s market we have two flower stalls, and one of them had cosmos for bedding out. Really beautiful high plants, with vigorous stems. The colour of the stem tells you which colour the blossoms will be: dark red have a much darker red stem than pink ones, and the stems of the whites are just green. And so I snapped the chance and bought 30 plants, although I carried already quite a lot of shopping. But I have learned this in the years of gardening: when the opportunity arises, one has to clasp it, no matter how packed one is. This is true for everyday life, too, you can’t say: “Luck, today doesn’t suit me, I have already so much to carry – please come again next week, on Thursday, at about 12:15 pm, then it will be more convenient for me.” Then luck will walk away and knock at another door.
The other flower stall I passed by quickly, because I have an unexpressed problem with the flower seller.
First I bought a lot from her, because her perennials come out of her private garden and so are from local soil. I was a garden greenhorn then – and at that time she gave me the advice, neither to fertilize nor to water - that would only pamper and wet-nurse the plants. I thought: “Wow, that sounds nice – then I have a lot less to do.”
But in the course of time I realized that the roses sometimes need a little fertilizer although our earth is rich, the lilies, too – and when once in a blue moon the sun shines four weeks without end one has to water too.
Well, and that flower seller, whose garden must be a wasteland by now, demands for her nameless perennials a lot of money. “45 Euro I must have for that peony”, she says for example with slightly pursed lips. Always it is: “I must have”, as if a Supreme Being dictates her the price. (But a number of the hardened delphiniums I bought from her made an ascension to heaven in the same way as the so-called weaklings of the commercial trader did).
Because for a while I have been such a good customer she now looks at me expectantly when I come to the farmer’s market, and that gnaws at my conscience, and I feel as Doctor Vaes’ wife in Timmermann’s novel “St. Nicholas in Trouble” might have felt, when she didn’t buy the luxurious chocolate ship “The Congo” but only two gingerbread cocks on a stick – “and then long time no see” …
I too rush past the flower-seller to the unemotional ‘commercial’ trader, who sells me hardened plants for a fair prices.
And the flower seller follows me with her eyes like Timmermann's Trinchen Mutzer, “whose heart had fallen into a thornbush”…

Sunday, 30 June 2013

The Reading Cultivator: on Tussie-Mussies

Britta Hill

'A dear neighbour brought me a tussie-mussie this week. The dictionary defines tuzzy-muzzy, or tussie mussie, as "a bunch or posy of flowers, a nosegay," and then disobligingly adds that the word is obsolete. I refuse to regard it as obsolete. It is a charming word; I have always used it and shall continue to use it, whatever the great Oxford Dictionary may say.'
- Vita Sackville-West

Britta say: I own lots and lots of little vases - the one above is made of two kinds of glass - and use them often - so easy to bind a beautiful little tussie-mussie, so hard to steal from one's big garden too many flowers.

Friday, 28 June 2013

The Garden at Hampton Court Palace

Britta Hill

At first Anne and I feared that we would see the gardens only through window panes (though I love the picture of these apple trees dearly): dark clouds were approaching, first drops fell, and the outdoor visitors opened their umbrellas and fled inside.
But ten minutes later everything had changed, and we got the most remarkable impressions:
                                           the same apple trees - but in plain air:

Britta Hill

                                                              The park:

Britta Hill

                                                                 A huge arcade:

Britta Hill

                                               Wisterias over beautiful gardens:

Britta Hill

                                                             A knot garden:

Britta Hill

Beautiful in their simplicity was the Elizabethan garden - tiny and modest and gay.
And then the Great Vine, planted in 1768 for King George III by Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, the head gardener of Hampton Court Palace. Can you imagine that this glasshouse is filled by only one plant? It has the Guinness World Record: the largest vine - with a circumfence of 3.8m (12 ft 5 in) and branches typically measuring to 33m (108 ft) long. The longest measures 75m (246 ft) long in January 2005. In front of the glass house they keep a large acre free - because the roots of the Great Vine extend beneath this area and need all the moisture and nutrients they can get. (The grapes are only for eating - no wine is pressed).

Britta Hill

'Even up until 1920 Hampton Court grapes were kept strictly for the royal family only, with the vine keepers guarding them closely with numbering each bunch!' (I will not have that much trouble this year: the vine on my balcony bears exactly two bunches - very manageable.)
When the sun came out, we walked a while inside the gardens looking at the Thames.
And the view to Hampton Court Palace gave us a real Italian feeling:

Britta Hill

Britta Hill

Britta Hill

Thursday, 13 June 2013

100. RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Britta Huegel

You might like to have a look at my post on (there you'll also find one post on the Darden Museum London).

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

'Strawberries' by Edwin Morgan

Britta Huegek

There were never strawberries 
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps
the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates 
laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed
and I bent towards you
sweet in that air
in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory
lean back again
let me love you

let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

The (Rea-)Wee-ding Cultivator: Elizabeth von Arnim on Happiness

Britta Huegel

Elizabeth von Arnim writes:

"Oh!" cried Mrs. Wilkins.
All the radiance of April in Italy lay gathered together at her feet. The sun poured in on her. (...)
She stared. Such beauty; and she there to see it. Such beauty; and she alive to feel it. Her face was bathed in light. Lovely scents came up to the window and caressed her. A tiny breeze gently lifted her hair. (...) How beautiful, how beautiful. Not to have died before this... to have been allowed to see, breathe, feel this... She stared, her lips parted. Happy? Poor, ordinary, everyday word. But what could one say, how could one describe it? It was as though she could hardly stay inside herself, it was as though she were too small to hold so much joy, it was as though she were washed through with light. And how astonishing to feel this shere bliss, for here she was, not doing and not going to do a single unselfish thing, not going to do a thing she didn't want to do. According to everybody she had ever come across she ought at least to have twinges. She had not one single twinge.'
The Enchanted April, 1922

Britta thinks: 'Perfect bliss!', humming:  '...ain't it good to be alive?' 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

The Herbage Cartwheel (text by me)

Britta Huegel

Looking back I would file my "herbage cartwheel" under the heading “super tips that turned out rubbish”. I am easily impressed and I do have a vivid imagination, so my bolder sisters rapidly win me over when they call “Come, Britta!”
Especially convincing is the late Vita Sackville-West, whose garden-columns I devoured over and over. Vita tempted me to a lot of thrilling garden experiments, for example I planted the hedge of wild roses, so powerful described by her, at the edge of Mr. Avaricious’ garden, ordering the whole bunch of Scottish briars at Jensen's nursery.
I have to admit that those roses have grown, at least in height: long gigantic spiky spears aim at the sky, and in summer, after a shower of rain the foliage of the Sweet Briars smells absolutely wonderful. But their flowers last only very short, and the colours are not especially bewitching - though maybe I’m too spoilt, too hard to please to appreciate the simplicity of the tiny blossoms enough?
Anyhow, husband is nagging that the thorn-armoured-ones should disappear, because they are looking so untidy (as if order ever has been my aim in the garden…).
Well, and another idea of Vita is the Herbage Cartwheel. You need an old wooden cartwheel - which I discovered promptly at a local bootsale. Husband carted it to our garden, and I painted it a deep crimson. We put it at the back of a border, and into each segment of the spokes I planted a different kitchen herb.
For a while it looked perfectly pretty and practical. But then the herbs began to develop very differently; especially an estragon of Russian origin, who acted rather tasteless in the kitchen, and the luscious lovage that I couldn’t use in any food grew out of hand, while I had no luck with dill: hardly surprising because then the huge spruce still overshadowed everything and threw its needles onto the ground - which reacted quite sourly to that. Only the chives sprouted rampant; the parsley disappeared completely after no time at all, and an English peppermint, covered with wonderful soft hairs was on the run. 
And while the beloved ones moved away, some strange fairy ring mushrooms arrived as uninvited visitors, remained like clingy relations all over the summer, and return with aplomb every year. 

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The (Rea-)Wee-ding Cultivator: Vita Sackville-West on Apples and Youth

Britta Huegel

Vita Sackville-West writes:

'I had had occasion to drive across ten miles of Kent, through the orchard country. The apple-blossom was not yet fully out; and it was still in that fugitive precious stage of being more of a promise than a fulfilment. Apple-blossoms too quickly become overblown, wheras its true character is to be as tightly youthful as an eighteen-year-old poet. There they were, the closed buds just flushing pink, making a faintly roseate haze over the old trees grey with age; closed buds of youth graciously blushing as youth must blush in the presence of age, knowing very well that withing a few months they themselves would turn into apples of autumnal fruit.'
(written 1948, published 1951)

Britta thinks: These days you have to go a long way to find blushing youth in the presence of age :-) 
As a gardener, you will have noticed instantly that my photo is of a crabapple (Malus floribunda), which stands on my balcony table.

Monday, 29 April 2013

The (Rea) Wee-ding Cultivator: Lafcadio Hearn on Flower Arranging

Lafcadio Hearn writes:

'I have come to understand the unspeakable loveliness of a solitary spray of blossoms arranged as only a Japanese expert knows how to arrange it - not simply poking the spray into a vase, but by perhaps one whole hour's labor of trimming and posing and daintiest manipulation - and therefore I cannot think now of what we Occidentals call a "bouquet" as anything but a vulgar murdering of flowers, an outrage upon the color sense, a brutality, an abomination.'

Britta thinks: Why judge so harshly? I see beauty in many bouquets - as well as in a single spray of blossoms. And sometimes nature is a wonderful expert in arranging its offers - here in front of a shop in Berlin.