Saturday, July 23, 2011

No Shrinking Violet...

Violet (Viola odorata) a species of the Viola family native to Europe and Asia, but was also introduced to America and Australsia. It is commonly known as Sweet Violet or English Violet, or in India as Banafsa or Banaksa, where it is commonly used as a sore throat remedy.

The sweet, unmistakable scent of this flower has proved popular throughout history, particularly in the Victorian period where, along with Lavender, it was used in the production of many cosmetic fragrances and perfumes, such as my own personal favourite, Trumper's shaving cream.

and Laduree's Violet Talcum Powder

The French are also known for their violet syrup and liquors, most commonly made from an extract of viola odorata.

But my personal favourites, which Peter brings me back every time he goes to London, are Charbonnel et Walker Violet Creams...

Each chocolate bonbon is decorated with a crystalised Rose or Violet, which are pretty simple to make...

How to Crystalise Violets (or any edible flower)

Old fashioned egg-white version:

  • Violet flowers, with stems still attached for ease of handling.
  • 1 egg white
  • Caster/fine sugar

Sugar and water version (no egg-white):

  • Violet flowers, with stems still attached for ease of handling.
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract or 1 tsp Rosewater (optional)
  • Caster/fine sugar (to sprinkle)
Wash flowers gently and allow to dry on baking tray or baking paper. Carefully paint each flower with egg white and then dust evenly with fine icing sugar (confectioner's sugar). Remove the stems and then allow them to dry for 24 hours in a warm place before storing them in an air tight container (ideally with a sachet of dessicant if available). Alternatively you can make up a thick sugar syrup from sugar and water, allowing adequate time for all the sugar to dissolve, and plenty of time for the solution to cool to room temperature. Dip each flower in the solution by its stem and allow to drip dry, then leave in a warm dry place for 24 hours to complete the drying process.

I found a patch of wild Violets recently, which happened to be odorata, so I took several rooted cuttings and have carpeted the oak grove by the lake with them. In a year or two we should be able to get an abundant harvest of flowers to try to make our own bonbons and violet liquor (with the still I was given for my birthday last year). In the meantime I would like to finish with [the beginning of] a story about a little Violet with a big voice: Violetta from La Traviata.

Here is a scene from one of my favourite operas, La Traviata. This wonderfull performance was at Covent Garden with my beloved Verdi Heroine, Angela Gheorghiu, playing Violetta. This aria is from act one: In her Paris salon, the courtesan Violetta Valéry greets party guests, including Flora Bervoix, the Marquis d'Obigny, Baron Douphol, and Gastone, who introduces a new admirer, Alfredo Germont. This young man, having adored Violetta from afar, joins her in a drinking song (Brindisi: "Libiamo"). An orchestra is heard in the next room, but as guests move there to dance, Violetta suffers a fainting spell, sends the guests on ahead, and goes to her parlor to recover. Alfredo comes in, and since they are alone, confesses his love ("Un dì felice"). At first Violetta protests that love means nothing to her. Something about the young man's sincerity touches her, however, and she promises to meet him the next day. After the guests have gone, Violetta wonders if Alfredo could actually be the man she could love ("Ah, fors'è lui"). But she decides she wants freedom ("Sempre libera"), though Alfredo's voice, heard outside, argues in favor of romance...



Sempre libera degg´io
folleggiare di gioia in gioia,
vo´che scorra il viver mio
pei sentieri del piacer.
Nasca il giorno, o il giorno muoia,
sempre lieta ne´ ritrovi,
a diletti sempre nuovi
dee volare il mio pensier

Amor è palpito dell´universo intero,
misterioso, altero,
croce e delizia al cor.

Oh! Oh! Amore!
Follie! Gioir!

English Translation

Free and aimless I frolic
From joy to joy,
Flowing along the surface
of life's path as I please.
As the day is born,
Or as the day dies,
Happily I turn to the new delights
That make my spirit soar.

Love is a heartbeat throughout the universe,
mysterious, altering,
the torment and delight of my heart.

Oh! Oh! Love!
Madness! Euphoria!

Below: The actual patch of wild Violets I found...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Great Country Estates of Britain Series. Part Nine: Harewood House...

Harewood house was built from 1759 to 1771 for Edwin Lascelles, whose family had bought the estate after making its fortune in the West Indies through Customs positions, slave trading and lending money to plantation owners.

The house was designed by the architects John Carr and Robert Adam.

Above: John Carr

John Carr's other buildings are all of a very similar style...

Above: A Yorkshire Courthouse

Below: A Yorkshire castle

Above: Basildon Park

Below: The plans for Thorsby Park

But I digress. Harewood is not only known for its architecture, but more so for its furniture , much of which is by the famed eighteenth century English furniture designer Thomas Chippendale, who came from nearby Otley.

When Harewood House was built, a State Bedroom was regarded as an essential status symbol. It was reserved for visiting royalty and fitted out in the most sumptious manner. Thomas Chippendale was commissioned to furnish the state bedroom at Harewood. By the time Sir Charles Barry carried out major improvements at Harewood in the 1840s, State Bedrooms had passed out of fashion and this chamber became a sitting room for the 3rd Countess. Chippendale's spectacular bed was dismantled and stored in the Stable Block where it lay, half-forgotten, until being rediscovered in the 1970s.

In the 1990s, with the financial assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund, restoration work began. Expert advisers, carvers and gilders, mattress makers, silk weavers, seamstresses and craftsmen and women all over the country worked to restore this masterpiece of English furniture to its former glory.

Chippendale was responsible for the complete suite of furniture in the room. The Diana and Minerva commode with its ivory inlay and nobility of line is often referred to as his finest creation.

Lancelot 'capability' Brown designed the grounds to which Sir Charles Barry added a grand terrace, in 1844 (below). Barry is best known as the architect of the Houses of Parliament in London. The Terrace is the largest of his projects at Harewood, which also included major alterations and improvements to the house commissioned by the formidable Louisa, Countess of Harewood:

Above: Harewood House from A Complete History of the County of York by Thomas Allen (1828–30), showing the house before Barry altered the facades and added an extra storey to the pavilions.

The Terrace is on two levels and commands views over idyllic countryside. Below is the parterre which was restored in 1994 and comprises stately fountains and symmetrical flowerbeds outlined by clipped box hedging over a mile in length. More than 20,000 plants and bulbs are planted in the Parterre every year, creating a mass of colour from spring to autumn...

The stone statues in the fountains at either end of the Parterre are part of Barry’s original design, but the bronze figure in the central fountain (‘Orpheus’ by Astrid Zydower) was added in 1984 when the original statue collapsed. Herbaceous borders with perennials, tender exotics, roses and climbing plants complement the neo-classical architecture of the house...

The most notable occupant of Harewood was Princess Mary, who along with her husband, Henry, Viscount Lascelles, who became the sixth Earl of Harewood in 1929, lived at Harewood House from 1930 until his death in 1947.

Above: Mary and Henry out for a hack.

On the accession to the title by the present Earl, her elder son, George, the Princess continued to live in the house until her death in 1965. She is buried in Harewood Church.

Another less notable, more notorious person associated with Harewood was Lady Worsley (depicted by Sir Josua Reynolds above). Born Seymour Flemming, she married Sir Richard Worsley at Harewood house, where her mother was chatelaine. Richard Worlsey was comptroller of the King's household, an MP and governor of the Isle of Wight. She was notorious because she was said to have taken at least 27 lovers after fufilling her 'duty' of providing Worsley with an heir. Apart from her regular lovers there were evidently many more dalliances, and unseemly stories, such as her throwing parties a Harewood, where she thew her male guest's britches out of the ballrooom windows! The Reynolds painting above forms part of Harewood.s art collection today.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Tee 4 Me...

This weekend I want to give a shout out to my very creative friend Arifah and her brilliant new business Tee 4 Me! Here is a snippett from her website Tee 4 Me...

How it started

When my son turned two he became obsessed with fire trucks and police cars. One night after his bath he refused to wear his nappy as it had a picture of a duck on it. His dad got a marker pen and drew a fire truck over the top of the duck. Suddenly it was the coolest nappy in the world!

This instantly became a nightly occurrence. It no longer mattered what was originally on the nappy, only what was drawn on the nappy. Sometimes he'd request a fire truck, sometimes a police car, sometimes an entire row of them and heaven forbid if his dad drew one wrong! After dad did get it right we had another problem on our hands, our son would be so attached to his personalised nappy that he would often refuse to remove it the next morning! This went on for months and there were many great, and many not so great, drawings. I often thought there had to be a way to save and display these creations that my son was so smitten with.

Tee 4 Me

This company and our shirts are a result of those drawings and the deeply personal connections they created. My number one priority was for the child to be the artist and for me to just provide a template or a starting point of some kind. Children are so creative and have such wonderful imaginations that I wanted to strongly encourage this. By having a picture that they can colour in themselves, they could then make up their own story about the picture and make it truly their own. And by being on a t-shirt, they can proudly wear their very personal shirt for everyone to see!

This is what Tee 4 Me is about, encouraging children to experiment and express themselves. Put simply they are the artist and the t-shirt becomes uniquely theirs. Colour it, Wear it.

What a great idea, and so good to nurture a child's creative talents. Stop by her website for the perfect gift for the special little ones in your life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Potager Progress Part One...

I thought in this post I would show some photos of the progress, albeit slow, that We have made over the last 18 months in trying to turn a bare piece of weed-strewn field into a traditional potager garden.

When we started the field was dense with buttercup and wild grasses, running up to a neighbouring tennis court which had badly rotten netting and a rotten ashfelt surface...

Above: A view along the back border of the potager when it was just a paddock, as it was being marked out and measured.

Below: The same view today. Our neighbours have put in a smart new tennis court with new ashfelt and very spiffing black netting. The Fejoa hedge has gone from 6" tall to almost 3' tall and bushed out quite a bit. It shall form a silvery backdrop to the purple and blue border. Forgive the rainy, muddy winter view - I look forward to sharing the blooming, colourful summer view in Potager Progress Part Two, in a few months. You can see some of the roses waiting to be planted when it dries out a bit, and also more polythene matting waiting to be covered with limestone chip.

Before we made any of the beds, the first thing we did was plant the boundary with a dense Hornbeam hedge. You can see the hedge below, seemingly running down the middle of a paddock.

Above: The Hornbeam hedge 1 year after planting, and newly re-mulched.

Below: The same hedge 6 months later, with new growth and newly created garden beds.

This is probably a good time to introduce our garden angel, emanuensis extraordinaire and general factotem, Jackie (below). Jackie has helped so much with the gardening at Willowbrook. She is currently recovering from a broken hand - get well soon!

Then we constructed the raised beds and carefully placed them in situ according to our plan (at very top of the post).

Above: The newly created potager beds put in place

Below: The same beds filled with soil and some temporary planting. You can also see the temporary runner duck coop, no longer required now they have a good sense of 'home'. The space in the middle where all the timber is, is where we are going to build the potting shed (another job to get around to!).

Below: The Polythene paths being laid down, over which the lime chip shall be leveled. At this stage there was still a lot of grass around. We have since sprayed that off. We shall re-sow the feature lawns with a good compact lawn seed, rather than the wild grass.

Above: A view of one of the newly placed pots in a bed

Once the border has been planted this spring, and the ground work is completed, we shall continue embellishing with further architectural features, the first one being blue painted obelisks...


Obelisks are a fairly traditional, geometric feature, and are a part of so many garden designs.

They can really make a statement, as in these last two photos, and I hope we can achieve this in our little garden.

It has been slow progress, but we have done all the work ourselves in our 'spare time', which does give one a sense of pride! Stay tuned for our next post when we will bring you part nine of "The Great Country Estates of Britain Series".

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Willowbrook Winter...

The day starts off with a frosty morning...

But it soon clears up, and by the afternoon, the ducks are out and about paddling on the lake...

Above and Below: Our Indian Runner Ducks on the lake, with some wild Mallards.

By 4pm the sun is getting low in the sky, but it is still quite warm. The blue sky is a welcome sight after a few weeks of rain, as is the first flower of the 300 Iris bulbs we planted...

Below: The rowboat that I plan to restore (when I get enough time), and the jetty.
We have ordered the waterlilies for the lake, but they will not be ready until spring.

Across the park, over at the Lime walk...

Above: Diana and Apollo guard the entrance to The Lime Walk

Below: Another view out of the lime walk towards a focal point of established trees by the lake.
Just of of view on either side of this avenue are our Nuttery (right) and our Truffiere (left).

It is very hard to see the lime trees, but you can see the wooden boxes of mulch around them. The limes started off last winter as 6 inch sticks, and are now 3 foot sticks.

Below: A new urn, looking rather 'plonked' in the centre of the Nymphaeum, is waiting for the box hedge to establish itself around the wooden tulip bed upon which the urn is sitting...

Across the park again, this time to the potager...

Below: A photo of the hornbeam hedge in winter with the sun setting on its dried brown leaves. The leaves remain on all winter until they are pushed off by new growth in the spring.

The first of our Spring Bulbs are starting to come through...

Below: The first vegetables to sprout in The Potager (well, it is Winter after all), peas...

Below: The view through the arch from the potager into The Orchard,
towards where The Orangery will be (note the citrus trees in pots in the background).

The black polythene matting has been laid down, but we have yet to do the back-breaking work of barrowing the lime chip onto it to get that traditional continental garden path result.

Below: One of the Std Mandarins, 'Richards Special', in a pot on the site of the orangery.

The grass in the orchard is quite high, as it has been too wet to mow it (and a trial of sheep 'mowing' proved too dangerous for the smaller trees).

Just as the light starts to fade I spot some Bramleys in the Orchard...

With the pigs fed, the sheep shifted, and a job list as long as my arm still to complete, I head home for supper and bed.

I look forward to sharing the progress of the potager garden over the past 18 months in our next post - Potager Progress Part One.
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