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Today’s Treasures Wollerton Old Hall Garden

Today’s Treasures

Wollerton Old Hall Garden

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I was invited to visit this intriguing garden by Jane Bebbington of Dearnford (now Alderford) Lake.  We were talking about gardens and she said:  “What?  You’ve never been to Wollerton Old Hall?  Then I’ll take you.”  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon in late Spring and I was absolutely stunned by the sheer artistry of the garden.  Every step you take there is a different vista of flowers, rainbows of colours, framed by oak gateways and wrought iron arches, sculptured trees and manicured hedges – it feels like walking through a living art gallery.

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John, my husband, is an artist and I longed to show him the garden – we finally visited this summer and he, like me, was enchanted.  From the moment you step inside the garden you feel like Alice in Wonderland – you can almost imagine a Cheshire Cat smiling down at you from an oak tree – then vanishing into thin air.

The variety of flowers is amazing – and changes with every twist and turn – lavenders and roses, heliotropes and hostas interspersed with foxgloves and hollyhocks; beds of lilies, immaculate lawns border phlox and salvias dotted with verbena and mulleins; white and blue agapanthus have a whole border to themselves.

Sundials stand immobile as the sun shadows the hours, and time stands still as you pause in wonder at the rainbows of colours, the honey scent of stocks fading to the delicate perfume of roses as another wrought iron gate opens a new page, a whole new landscape of colours and shapes.

Clematis and roses scramble over archways, pergolas and ancient brick walls, with shady benches to relax, close your eyes for a moment, and immerse yourself in the sheer tranquillity of growing things.

When your senses are totally saturated with nature’s palette of colours and scents, you can relax in the café and enjoy home-made cakes and proper afternoon tea in real china cups.

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Although Wollerton Hall is a 16th Century House, the garden has been recently designed and developed by Lesley and John Jenkins who bought the hall and its 4 acres in 1983. For more information visit www.wollertonoldhallgarden.com

Or better still see the real thing

Wollerton Old Hall Garden, Wollerton, Market Drayton TF9 3NA

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This article was published in the August edition of the Whitchurch Gossip and the Drayton Gossip

Ducks Go a Dabbling

The ducklings are now so big I can’t tell them apart from Arthur and Martha.  Love this clip, reminds me of Wind in the Willows – Ducks Ditty:
All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling,
Up tails all!

I cleaned the duck pond out today and filled it with clean water.  It’s only a plastic ornamental pond and not very big but the ducks love it – especially when it’s full of clean water.  Love this clip.

https://barbararainford.co.uk/ducks-are-a-dabbling

 

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Today’s Treasures: The 9.22 Stockport to Stalybridge – one way only

On the 9.22 train from Stockport to Stalybridge

Last year, on my way to Wakefield for a conference, I inadvertently caught the 9.22 Stockport to Stalybridge once a week train. I say inadvertently because then I wasn’t aware that it is a unique train and only goes to Stalybridge once a week – and it doesn’t come back – you have to return via Manchester.

The track gets quite overgrown between Reddish South and Denton as this is the only train that visits these stations. It’s a Parliamentary line and, although it is many years since the workers from Oldham Battery Company went on their annual trips to Blackpool, it would take a vote by MPs to close Denton station – which is why it is still here.

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The train looks quite lonely waiting patiently in Stockport station for its weekly outing to Stalybridge. I felt it should have a name –like Thomas – or Toby – with coaches called Annie and Clarabelle – like in the Thomas the Tank Engine stories.  The doors creak open and I climb aboard, the diesel engine leaps eagerly into life and we chug along the overgrown track heading for Stalybridge. The train travels so sedately that I can identify the wildflowers populating the tracks – toadflax, foxgloves and evening primrose –hedges rambling with honeysuckle and wild roses and the white trumpets of bindweed climbing over crumbling drystone walls.

The old-fashioned train ambles along through tunnels hewn in the hillside, rocky sides and ancient stone walls sprouting moss and ferns, then we trundle over viaducts crossing rivers and cobblestone roads. Stone bridges cross canals that remember the days before the railways, when horses plodded quietly along the towpath bringing coal to the mills and delivering wool to the busy market towns.  These canals now guide tourists past lonely mills and warehouses with empty windows staring blankly at the world, haunted by the clamour of looms and treadmills creating endless patterns – and the tired hands that wove them.

Past towns whose spires pierce the sky and chimneys interrupt the skyline, warehouses old and new, wonderful old buildings now transformed into health clubs and conference centres.

Wheat fields marked with rain soaked patterns, sheep peacefully grazing hilltops they now share with telegraph poles and radio masts.

We stop at toy town stations with carefully tended flower beds, one person gets off, two people get on – the conductor knows them all as they are regular travellers – once a week!

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Finally we arrive at Stalybridge (where I am told you can get a really proper English breakfast) but I don’t have time to find out as I am jolted back to the present boarding the TransPennine Express to Leeds – and on to Wakefield.

 

Published in the July edition of the Whitchurch Gossip and the Drayton Gossip

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Freeze mint ready for mint sauce

Freezing mint ready to make mint sauce later in the year.

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There’s nothing like fresh mint sauce, made with freshly chopped mint – and freshly frozen mint is almost as good.  If your mint bed is is thriving, now is a good time to pick some and freeze it.  Just chop it and seal it in plastic bags.  You can do the same with parsley ready for parsley sauce.  I also freeze small quantities of basil, oregano, marjoram, coriander and tarragon for adding to meals like spaghetti bolognese and curries.

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I have two varieties of mint in my garden, apple mint (on the left) and peppermint (on the right).

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I find apple mint is the best variety to add to early potatoes to get that ‘new potato taste’ and to make mint sauce.  Peppermint leaves are delicious with Pimms, mixed with lemonade, lemon slices, cucumber slices, strawberries and ice.

To make mint sauce:

Mix together in a jug:
1 tblsp chopped mint leaves (fresh or frozen)
1 tblsp malt vinegar
hot water (ideally cabbage water)
1 tsp sugar

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Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

Often you don’t have to go very far to find Today’s treasures

June is a delicious month, a time of strawberries, new potatoes flavoured with apple mint, and the first broad beans melting with butter.  And the gardens are alive with colours – yellow flag irises decorate ponds, azaleas brighten up patios, rhododendrons mist the hillsides with a purple haze and poppies startle you with their brilliant red blooms.

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Butterflies and damselflies flex their wings and the heady scents of honeysuckle and wild roses fill the hedgerows.  Bees are busy investigating every single foxglove flower and the buttercups dance their golden heads in the summer breeze.

The bird table is alive with hatchlings, families of blue tits and great tits vie for space on the feeders – and the swallows return from far off places, wheeling and diving across our skies.  Alas, gone are the times when the cuckoo called across our fields and the skylarks sang high above our heads – we need to go further into the wilds of Wales to hear these birds now, but we get more visitors to our bird table – goldfinches, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers love peanuts and sunflower seeds.

June is also the time to make elderflower champagne (not really champagne – and in fact not alcoholic at all if you drink it soon enough – but it tastes delicious).  Iced elderflower cordial is the perfect complement for summer lunches – these traditional recipes were handed down to me by two elderly aunts – handwritten on yellowing paper, now immortalised on my website:  visit www.barbararainford.co.uk/recipes

So quite often, you don’t have to go very far for Today’s Treasures, you can always find something new in your own back yard – a blackbird’s liquid notes heralding the dawn, daisies opening up their petals to the sun’s rays, a glimpse of the first wild rose, the sweetness of strawberries, or honeysuckle’s saturating scent – stimulating all our senses.  As our very own Shropshire A.E. Housman said:  “What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?”  Take a moment to enjoy Today’s Treasures.

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Published in the June edition of the Whitchurch Gossip

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New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes

New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes

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I had the most wonderful day on Sunday. All 12 baby rabbits went to new homes and will become breeding rabbits.  One breeding trio (one buck and two does) will be going to Portugal with their new owner in September.  Brendon was telling me about his smallholding and how much he is looking forward to retiring there – and he will be taking Eny and Holly’s babies with him.  He said he has had to build a really strong fence to protect his livestock – the foxes are bigger there – and there are golden eagles and otters that eat rabbits and poultry.

This is the first time I have had two litters from different parents so they can be sold as breeding pairs – but I discovered it’s quite complicated working out the best way to pair them off.  It sounds simple but one breeder wanted one buck and one doe and Malcolm wanted two bucks and two does (from different litters) to increase the number of wild white rabbits that visit his Manor House garden.  He realised that my rabbits would not be used to being outside so he has built a pen for them as an interim stage to ‘going wild’.  It was so lovely to see them hopping about on the grass.  My breeding bucks and does live in pens outside most of the time but it’s too dangerous for the babies.  All sorts of things eat them – not least our cats – Lunar and Sooty – who are the same size as my bucks and eat wild rabbits for fun!

Eny and Holly are both due to have new litters next weekend.  If everything goes as well as last time, I shall be delighted.

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Eny’s babies 10 weeks old

 

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Eny

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Country Wisdom and Folklore Diary

Country widsom and folklore diary

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From the Country Wisdom and Folklore Diary www.talkingtreesbooks.co.uk

I found inspiration for this website from a diary I was given at a social enterprise networking meeting held in Atcham village hall.  When visiting Avebury earlier this year, I was delighted to find a 2017 version in the Avebury village shop and was very pleased to be able to buy it – and give something back – for the motivation to start my own website – and for help with ideas for the content.

I have always been interested in our Pagan beginnings, ancient traditions and folklore,  the Druids, ancient stone circles and ley lines connecting earth energies.  In these times of fast paced living and the stresses and strains of modern day life, these diaries are full of calming ideas connecting us back to nature, recognising the beauty of trees and plants and the rituals our ancestors shared celebrating country traditions and the phases of the sun and moon.

There are some wonderful illustrations in the diaries – like the one above.

If you would like your own Country Wisdom and Folklore Diary visit www.talkingtreesbooks.co.uk

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Humphrey the Scarecrow

Humphrey The Scarecrow

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This year I decided to make a scarecrow.  We lost our little Betsy dog last year – she was always with me when I was in the garden and I was feeling a bit lonely.   I thought a scarecrow might offer some company – at least I wouldn’t be talking to myself!  I was quite pleased with the result – an old mop was perfect to start with and, at first, he looked so real that he kept making me jump.

I’ve called him Humphrey – and, amazingly, he works!  I usually have to cover my baby peas with fleece to stop the pigeons eating them but Humphrey has proved to be an excellent deterrent.  The peas are bigger now and protected by privet twigs so I have moved Humphrey to the strawberry bed to stop the blackbirds pinching my strawberries. So far it seems to be working.  But, strictly speaking, Humphrey is a scare-pigeon or a scare-blackblackbird!

Elderflower Cordial

Elderflower Cordial

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20 large elderflower heads
2 lemons- rind and juice
2 pints boiling water

2 oz citric acid  (available from Healing Thyme, Whitchurch High Street, SY13 1AZ www.healing-thyme.co.uk)
2 lb granulated sugar

1/2 Camden tablet*

Sterilised bottles (stand in oven for 10 minutes at a temperature of 140°C and use whilst warm.)

You will need 2 large clean 5 pint containers – one to make the cordial in and another to strain the cordial into.
Remove flower petals from elderflower heads (just rub the flowers off the stalks – it’s not critical if some stalks get in as well) and put in a bucket with rind and juice of 2 lemons.

Pour over boiling water and stir well.

Leave overnight to infuse.

Strain through a stocking held over a sieve or colander into the second bucket.

Add sugar and stir well.

Add citric acid, stir.
Leave 24 hours.

Add 1/2 crushed Camden tablet (dissolved in a small amount of hot water) per half gallon, stir, leave for an hour then stir again to make sure Camden tablet has dissolved properly,

then bottle in screw top bottles.

It should be ready to drink once it has cooled.  To serve, dilute to taste.

Elderflower cordial tinkling with ice is the best summer drink ever – on rainy days you can close your eyes and imagine the sun shining on the elderflower petals, blackbirds serenading from the topmost branches, sunshine, rainbows and summer strawberries – the magical taste of summertime.

*For years I made Elderflower Cordial with this recipe with no problems, then, this year, it went fizzy.  The solution is to add one Camden tablet per gallon which kills any wild yeast – thank you to www.ashridgetrees.co.uk for this solution:

Storage:
With no acids or tablets – 3-4 weeks in the fridge. Freeze in plastic bottles for longer storage.
With the citric or tartaric acid it will keep for 3-4 months in the fridge.
With the Camden tablets, elderflower cordial keeps almost indefinitely in a cool, dark place.

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Arthur and Martha and The Duck Song by Whalebone

We called our ducks Arthur and Martha after the Duck Song by Whalebone

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We went to see Whalebone during their Mirabillia Tour at a Shropshire Wildlife Trust evening and were enchanted by the musicians and their special brand of folk music.  They also play a spellbinding rendition of Stairway to Heaven.  Our Martha has just decided to go broody so we might have some baby Arthurs and Marthas by the end of the month.

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Martha nestled on her eggs, closely watched by Arthur, standing guard