Kent Wildlife Trust ‘Wild about Gardens’ award scheme

I began turning our bare concrete balcony into a garden in spring 2010. We’d moved in the previous November and I saw the potential to create a garden which, although only measuring one metre by three, could be an enjoyable space and attract wildlife.

I brought in various different containers, hauling them up the stairwell and through my flat to the balcony, and gradually covered the concrete with greenery. At some point around this time, a colleague mentioned to me that the Kent Wildlife Trust were advertising a gardening award scheme, and half-jokingly suggested that I should enter it. So I did.

Fast forward to this week, and I’ve just managed to win a gold award from the ‘Wild about Gardens’ scheme for the third year running. I should mention here that they give out lots of awards in each of the gold, silver and bronze categories, but I’m still chuffed to bits to have achieved the hat trick. In 2010, I also won the first prize in the ‘Best balcony, container or small garden’ category and was presented with a big metal plaque along with my certificate and smaller plaque given for the gold award.

The idea of the scheme is to encourage people to adapt their gardens to attract as much wildlife as possible, as well as conserving water and generally being environmentally friendly. Volunteers come out to look round the gardens which have been entered, and give advice as well as judging the competition. They look at the plants that have been grown to attract wildlife, provisions for birds (such as feeders and baths), what habitats have been created (such as ponds, log piles and bird and bat boxes), how wisely water is used and how compost waste is used. Obviously I can’t really install, say, a pond on my tiny balcony, so they take into account the resources available and how well gardeners have maximised the potential. They also look at how entrants have documented the wildlife visiting their garden.

I know my awards aren’t exactly up there with winning first prize at the Chelsea Flower Show, but it’s still worth remembering the importance of keeping green corridors open to wildlife. Even if all you have is a window box or a tiny balcony like mine, with a bit of imagination you can still make a difference.

So, in celebration of my achievement, I thought I’d post some of my favourite photographs from my balcony garden this year:

Snake’s head fritillary- one of my favourite flowers.

Unidentified caterpillar

Borage

Coriander flowers

Dill flowers

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Yorkshire (part two): York

After saying farewell to Pickersgill Manor Farm, we headed to York for two nights. We’d been watching the reports on the news showing the flooding in York which had resulted from the wet weather on previous days and didn’t really know what to expect. However, we were staying on the outskirts of York city centre and it was mainly right down by the River Ouse where the worst of the flooding was. The racecourse (which we passed on the bus on the way into town) had also suffered badly in the rain and looked like a lake. The birds seemed to be enjoying it, but I can’t imagine how horrible it must be to have your home flooded (as some were down by the river).

Anyway, as we got to York fairly early on our first day there, it meant we effectively had two days to explore the city. Everyone I’d spoken to before going said that York was lovely, and they were right. It’s a lot like Canterbury, which happens to be my favourite town (well, city) in Kent. We also just happened to be there while the York Food Festival was on, so there was even more to see and eat than usual.  There were cakes, champagne tents, meats, preserves, and all manner of other local Yorkshire goodies on show, and I feel very foolish for not having taken any proper pictures of them…

We got lunch from York Hog Roast on our second day there. As well as their two places in York city centre they also had a stall at the food festival. I had the works- roast pork, crackling, stuffing and apple sauce. It was gooood. As we’d stuffed our faces with hog roast at lunch time, we didn’t want an enormous dinner, so we opted for tapas at Ambiente on Goodramgate. I know tapas isn’t exactly traditional Yorkshire grub, but it was probably one of the best meals we’d had while we were away. Ambiente is a small place and they could only accommodate us in the bar area, but it was just right (and an interesting challenge to fit all of our tapas plates on the tiny bar table!) The caramelised chorizo and potato and the mushrooms with caramelised shallots and tarragon cream were particular highlights. It’s worth mentioning that the restaurant has a good vegetarian and vegan selection- not just a few token dishes. I’ve had better calamari but I’m not complaining- the food went down well with a nice glass of red (or pint of light, refreshing Cruzcampo in Owen’s case) and it was a nice way to end the holiday.

Our other York-centric activities included visiting the Jorvik Viking centre, walking the walls (all of them) and visiting the (alleged) grave of Dick Turpin. And, of course, here are some photos…

Flooding in a park by the River Ouse.

Walking the walls

The Shambles: For centuries, this street was lined with butchers’ shops. Butchers’ waste such as offal and guts would be discarded into the middle of the street. Lovely!

York Minster in the evening.

Lavender ice cream

A few months ago, I impulse-purchased an ice cream machine (as if there’s any other way to buy an ice cream machine). It wasn’t an impulse purchase in the sense that I just decided to buy it on the spot, but more that I managed to convince myself over the course of about five days that this was something I needed in my life and, after looking at lots of online reviews, finally bought one on Amazon. Sadly, I’ve only actually used it once up until now (to make lemon and elderflower sorbet).

I think the idea when you own an ice cream machine is to try out lots of weird and wonderful flavours because, let’s face it, if you want vanilla or mint choc chip then you may as well nip to Sainsbury’s and buy a decent tub of it instead of faffing around waiting for it to churn at home. With this in mind, I borrowed this book from the library the other day:

This is the official book released by The Icecreamists, who sell ice cream from their base in Covent Garden. They’re the ones who ‘controversially’ sold breast milk ice cream under the name of ‘Baby Gaga’ and incurred the wrath of Lady Gaga as a result. (Personally, I’d have called it ‘Simply the Breast’, but I suppose that would risk pissing off Tina Turner and nobody needs that kind of hassle.)

This book is worth getting your hands on even if it’s just for the photography alone- it’s like ice cream porn. It’s also got lots of interesting ideas for flavours with catchy names such as ‘Doughnut Stop Believin’ (jammy doughnut), Glastonberry (seasonal berries) and ‘Lenin and Lime’ (gin and tonic). I chose to try their lavender ice cream first as I’ve wanted to make lavender ice cream for a while. We also happen to have a lavender farm in Kent called Castle Farm, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to use some local produce and support a local business. They have an online shop as well as a farm shop, and I ordered some lavender essence as well as some nice ‘sleepy’ lavender tea. I would have bought the lavender honey from here as well, but they only sell it in the actual farm shop and I haven’t had chance to visit in person yet- I may wait until next summer and do a proper tour of the farm (which I know sounds really boring to most people but I love a bit of that kind of thing). Besides, I can get lavender honey in Sainsbury’s so it’s not the end of the world. The Sainsbury’s lavender honey comes from Spain though, so there goes any sense of smugness I originally had about buying local. Also, my desire to make my ice cream look all posh and inviting in the photos led me to buy some culinary lavender to scatter over the top of it. While this came from a local health food shop, the lavender itself came from the Cotswolds, so again, not as locally sourced as it could be. Never mind…

So here’s the recipe, adapted slightly from the one in The Icecreamists’ book:

Ingredients

  • 250ml full fat milk (And I definitely mean full fat)
  • 125ml double cream
  • 2 egg yolks, from fresh, free range eggs (you can freeze the whites to be used in something else)
  • 88g caster sugar
  • Four drops of lavender essence
  • 1 tablespoonful of lavender honey
  • Purple food colouring (optional- I didn’t bother)

Put the milk and cream in a pan and heat very gently on a low heat until it’s just starting to steam, but not boil. Take off the heat and set aside.

In a bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until they’re pale and fluffy. Very gradually add the warm cream/ milk mixture, whisking as constantly as you can to stop the eggs scrambling. I’d say it would be best to make sure your eggs are at room temperature before you start, but mine came straight from the fridge on this occasion and they were okay. Perhaps I was just lucky though.

Add the mixture back to the pan and put on a low heat again (without allowing it to boil). Add the lavender essence, honey and food colouring (if using) and stir until dissolved. I found that where I’d been whisking the mixture, it had frothed up on the top a bit. I’m not sure how to avoid this, but I skimmed the froth off with a spoon and carried on from there. Once you’ve turned off the heat, put the mixture in a bowl and cover with cling film. When the mixture has cooled sufficiently, put it in the fridge until thoroughly chilled.

When your mixture is chilled, put it in your ice cream maker and churn according to the instructions. I have one of these Kenwood ones and I keep the bowl in the freezer so it’s ready whenever I want to make ice cream (which I’ve promised myself I will do more often). This ice cream took about 25-30 minutes to churn. If you don’t have an ice cream machine, put the mixture in a tub and freeze. About once an hour or so, churn the mixture with a spatula to remove any ice crystals.

Once the ice cream is looking smooth and ice cream-y and looks like it has increased in size, scrape it into a tub with a lid and pop it in the freezer for a few hours. Take it out of the freezer a few minutes before you want to serve it so that it’s a good scooping consistency. Decorate with lavender flowers if you’re that way inclined (I was).

The verdict

I was actually really pleased with how this turned out. I was a bit concerned that I’d end up with something that either tasted like the inside of an old lady’s knicker drawer or of nothing at all. However, the four drops of lavender essence and spoonful of honey seemed to give just the right hint of lavender flavour without being overwhelming. This was nice as it was, but I think it would also be nice with some lavender honey or melted dark bitter chocolate drizzled over it.

The Maidstone Mela 2012

The weather has been fabulous this weekend and we made the most of it by going to the Maidstone Mela, which is held in Mote Park in Maidstone one weekend a year in September. We’ve been to the Mela on and off for the last few years (we don’t always get to go because of holidays or rubbish weather) and had a lovely afternoon there today.

Apparently ‘Mela’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘gathering’ or ‘to meet’, and that’s exactly what it is- an event celebrating music, dance, food, local business, local produce and multiculturalism. There was a stage with an itinerary which included performances by local dance schools, a steel drum band and a choir from St Petersburg. There were also stalls representing lots of local businesses and organisations.

I did take my camera, but rather foolishly hardly took any pictures, hence the lack of photographic illustration here. I think I probably just got side tracked by the food, which I did actually take some pictures of. Some of the food we had included pakoras (which I love- I always end up eating too many of them) and some tasty chicken satay:

Not the best pakoras I’ve ever had, but tasty nonetheless.

Chicken satay

We also tried jalebi, which is a sweet treat made by deep frying a kind of batter in a squiggly shape. We weren’t really sure what they were (I had to Google them later to find out what they were made of), but were intrigued watching them being made and when someone we were with bought some we thought we’d give them a go. They were alright- they mainly just tasted of sugar. I don’t think I could have managed a whole one…

Jalebi, in all its shiny orange glory.

Slipper limpet stack

We found this slipper limpet stack on Whitstable beach earlier this week. I remember hearing about these on Springwatch– slipper limpets live in a stack with the bottom limpet fixed to a rock. The bottom one is female and all the others are male. When the bottom one dies, the next one up becomes female and the cycle continues, like some kind of bizarre game of Nature Tetris (or ‘sequential hermaphroditism’, if you want to give it it’s official name). And you thought your family was weird…

Apologies for those of you who are eating your dinner or who thought this was a nice seafood recipe of some sort. It’s not the most appetizing looking thing in the animal kingdom.

Fun-geness

*Blows dust off blog*

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything on here, but our recent purchase of a spangly new DSLR camera has given me a reason to start posting again, as it enables me to take half decent photos despite my lack of skill in the photography department.

We recently went to Dungeness to have a play around with the new camera and to take in one of Kent’s more unusual landscapes. I had high hopes of spotting some birds of prey (perhaps a hobby or marsh harrier) at the RSPB nature reserve there, but, alas, we didn’t see any. We did see lots of other things though, and took lots of pictures. (Unfortunately, some really nice pictures of a great crested grebe and a lovely close up of a blue dragonfly were lost as we had the camera on the wrong setting, but you live and learn.)

While we were there, we also popped into The Pilot, a well-known pub on Dungeness seafront. We weren’t hungry enough for one of their famous fish suppers, but we did snaffle some tasty whitebait which kept us going for our (extremely windy) walk down on the shingle beach.

Caterpillar babies in a bush.

Viper’s bugloss

Dungeness nuclear power station

The Pegwell Bay Sperm Whale

In the early hours of the 3rd March, an enormous sperm whale beached at Pegwell Bay near Ramsgate. You can read about it here on the Kent Online website. (Warning: Reading the comments on this article may destroy your faith in mankind.)

I found myself fascinated by this story as I used to live in Ramsgate and this is quite an unusual event. How did it get there? Was it ill, or thrown off course for some reason, or hit by a boat? Does this mean, as some have suggested, that the Apocalypse is nigh? (Er… No.)

It seems the people from the Natural History Museum are going to investigate and try to find out what happened to it. I’m not one to get overly emotional about this sort of thing (and from a practical point of view I certainly don’t envy the task faced by Thanet District Council of removing five tons of dead whale from the beach), but it does make you think- one minute you’re happily swimming about in the big blue ocean, looking all majestic, and the next you find yourself dumped on a beach- in Thanet, of all places. Poor creature.