Tag Archives: seasonal

Hunting signs of spring

Today is the equinox and the official beginning of spring. Signs of it are catching hold all across East Anglia. Yesterday I popped into the gardens at Blickling Hall to see their lovely dell full of hellebores – if the weather holds this weekend will be the perfect time to visit them.

It’s a blowsy spring joy seeing so many together among other spring plants and set off by the elegant browns of last autumn’s fallen leaves. There are some more daring combinations to – hellebores with black grass – is that Ophiopogon Nigrescens?

Even more unexpected – hellebores with tree ferns, which I would never have thought of but looked beautiful, somehow anchoring the alien form of the tree ferns into this very english garden.

The rest of the garden is laid out on impeccable classical lines, with a great deal of attention paid to vistas opening up and focal points as you move through the garden. If, like me, you fetishise lichen-covered urns and centuries old  mellow brick walls, then this garden is heaven.

It wasn’t until I turned back to the house that I realised there is a whole lake there as well. The views are so controlled for when you approach the front of the house onwards that you just don’t see it until you turn back on yourself.It’s still a little early in the year, but the bones of the perennial garden are beautiful and everywhere there are green shoots thrusting through the mulch. Definitely one to visit in full summer as well.

The house is a delight too – unlike many National Trust properties it is built on a properly domestic scale so you can actually imagine living there, with bright, cosy rooms, low ceilinged enough to heat and not so large you would have to shout to people at the opposite side of the living room. Add in beautiful decorative ceilings and wallpapers, and a glorious Long Gallery it’s a place to spend a little time. Everything is open Wednesday to Sunday at the moment, more in the summer.

Blickling, Norwich, Norfolk NR11 6NF
Telephone: 01263 738030
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Not Scotland but Suffolk

The thrilling sound of Red Deer calling through the mist, the locking of antlers, the majesty of a succesful male. Like an apocalyptic version of birdwatching, the stag rutting season is a seasonal event that comes to Suffolk as well as the Scottish mountains.

Red deer are native to the area around RSPB Minsmere, and the staff there have set up a viewing post so visitors can experience the weird excitement of rutting deer, as the males intimidate each other with strange calls and try and hang on to their harem of does in the face of opposition, bashing heads those who oppose them. Those taking children may have a little explaining to do about why they are motivated to do this… 

Via the Eastern Daily Press website
The viewpoint will be open daily until November 2, from 3pm to dusk. RSPB staff and volunteers will be on hand and telescopes and binoculars will be available. For more information, call the reserve on 01728 648281.
To get there, leave the A12 at Blythburgh. At Westleton, turn left on to the Dunwich Road. Drive straight on and the RSPB’s trailer is on the right hand side with car parking further up on the left.

Forage in the hedgerows

After the first hard frost it is sloe picking time. They grow on blackthorns – easy to spot because they grow the same size as hawthorns but with oval leaves and really quite ferociously long thorns. They aren’t as ubiquitous as hawthorns, but most country walks in East Anglia are likely to throw up several.

This is a typical thorn. Our sloe picking expedition was punctuated by a quiet chorus of ouches.


The ripe berries are beautiful on a sunny autumn afternoon


It didn’t take long for us to collect a whole bowl, leaving plenty of less accessible berries for the birds. Then spit spot back home, and we put them in the freezer overnight to simulate a hard frost – we’ve only had a couple of light ones so far. Apparently you can make sloe jam or eat them fresh fresh from the tree, but we saved all ours for infusing in gin – find the method in good old wikipedia. It should be ready in time for christmas. An extra tip is when you have drunk the gin, try infusing the leftover berries in sherry. I haven’t tried this yet but it sounds lovely.

Available for free in a hedgerow near you. You can eat the berries but not the leaves of the Blackthorn tree.


Local, seasonal, delicious

The Elbournes have been growing orchard fruit for five generations. Their farm shop in Meldreth has been there since 1967, but is only open in season – pretty much August to February. The apples there smell so much more apply than those in the supermarket – the orchards are around Meldreth and the next village, Melbourn, so they don’t have far to come and can be picked when properly ripe.

It’s a treat to drop in to the shed and pick out some interesting apple varieties from the wooden crates.

They have been very proactive in planting and selling heritage varieties. South Cambridgeshire was traditionally always an apple and plum growing area, famous for it, and they are carrying on the tradition and growing varieties I, an apple lover, have never heard of. 


They do well known varieties as well, generally at less than supermarket prices, and full flavoured apple juice pressed from single varieties, which is also available in farm shops around the area. Have a look for it if you are in the South Cambridgeshire area. Also, occasionally homemade apple muffins still warm from the oven appear on the cash desk.

There were two but one got eaten before I could take a photo…

Do seek them out and remember what apples should taste like – a touch tarter and more complex than the modern commercial varieties and perfect with Wensleydale cheese from the Hawes Creamery.

NB the shop is now closed until the season starts again in August.

Cam Valley Orchards Farm Shop
25 Whitecroft Road, Meldreth,
Royston, Herts SG8 6ND
07770 461 685
Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday only, 9AM to 6PM, August – February
No website