Kay’s secret garden

Kay Thomson’s beautiful garden. She worked together with Nicholas Wood-Glover, the designer.

Last week my one trip outside the house was when a friend drove me to Muswell Hill to see Kay Thomson’s beautiful garden, open under the National Garden Scheme. I’d met Kay through my friend over a cup of coffee in winter and heard about her garden so was looking forward to this. It had been scorching all week and being gardeners of course we hoped for rain, but not during this afternoon! As luck would have it the rain held off and the temperature was balmy. An extremely tidy side return leads into a long garden divided into sections. But first of all we admired the profusion of flowers on this Trachelospermum jasminoides scrambling on the back wall of the house. And of course we took in the scent which is divine. It must be a good year for this climber as my own has done better than ever, clambering all over an east-facing brick extension right outside my bedroom window.

Trachelospermum jasminoides

A lawned area is surrounded by borders which Kay has planted up to represent astrological colours – reds, greens, whites and blues representing fire, earth, air and water. This red salvia represents fiery Aries, my own sign.

Aries area of the border – red salvia

And the large white valerian below represents air.

Capricorn area – Valerian

Kay has some unusual plants and trees, including this guava tree which I’ve never seen in the UK. If you look closely you can see the purple and white flowers, although Kay says she’s never seen them turn into fruit.

Mature guava tree with blossom

A pergola leads to the pond area.

Pergola

A quirky feature is this metal boat complete with oars and rope and artful planting.

Boat

It leads to this large wildlife pond.  It has a few goldfish but I wonder how long before a heron discovers a tasty meal! At one entrance is a running stream, something I lack in my own pond.

Wildlife pond – lilies in full swing
Babbling brook
Fine specimen of Equisetum

Scattered throughout the garden are some lovely sculptures which are enhanced by the surrounding plants.

Sleeping cat
Cheeky duck

Beyond the pond is a mirror serving to extend the garden.

Clever use of a mirror

And any garden showing under the National Gardens Scheme would not be complete without the statutory tea and cakes.  What a display – worthy of the Women’s Institute!  My friend bought me a raspberry sponge cake and a tea and we sat down at one of the many tables and chairs scattered throughout Kay’s garden.  A real treat of an afternoon – thanks to my friend for taking me.

Tea and cakes

Kay will happily show you her garden by appointment.  Get in touch with her at kaythomson378@gmail.com

Summer of Love Local

I had second thoughts about writing this post about last Saturday’s celebration of Stroud Green Road. There were lots of celebrations in the area, what with this Stroud Green Day and also various events to celebrate Jo Cox’s Great Get Together. And then on Sunday – the terrorist attack on worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque and Muslim Welfare House. But I thought I would talk about the event as a way of showing a strong sense of community spirit.

I followed a shop trail of 21 shops and pubs. First off I visited The White Lion to collect my map and to visit Kiran Sidiki’s jewellery stall.

Kiran Sidiki with her jewellery display

I backtracked to Vittorio’s Deli to chat to Michele. It wasn’t quite lunch time, so I didn’t indulge but I often do. Among my favourites are the arancini, the salads, and of course the Italian cheeses.  A great recent addition to our street.

Michele at Vittorio’s Deli

Then southwards to Boulangerie Bon Matin at Tollington Park. Tempted I was with the glorious selection of cakes, I held off for the time being, but the place is a good one for coffee and cake, as you can see.

Window display of Boulangerie Bon Matin

Next was the estate agent Davies and Davies, from where I bought my flat 21 years ago! This used to be some kind of men’swear shop I think and the display cabinets are still there at the back of the shop. I chatted for a while, extolling the virtues of my flat and garden and learned that they do a lot for the community, in particular sponsoring Pedal Power, which I featured on one my posts a few weeks ago.

Not being a beer drinker I’d never visited Clapton Craft, a recent addition to the street with every imaginable craft beer on its shelves, and beer on tap to boot. I’d thought it was just beer from a local micro brewery, but no – Martyn, the manager told me that he sourced the beer from all over and there are several other branches in London. And there’s even wine at the back for us wine drinkers.

Martyn of Clapton Craft

Then to Pretty Shiny Shop.  Again this is a fairly new shop selling all kinds of gifts including bags, scarves, cards, candles.  I must admit to being a bag lady myself and so just before Christmas I purchased an all purpose black shoulder bag with many compartments.  Usually I switch my bags for the occasion but the last winter I was mostly seen with my black bag.

Bag display at Pretty Shiny Shop

One of the most intriguing and specialist shops on the street is Top Balloon.  I spoke to John, the manager there and Caroline, his assistant. They sell balloons for all occasions,: foil, latex, message balloons, glitter balloons, bubble balloons.

John and Caroline with their balloons

Now it really was lunch time, so I went to another favourite, the Deli at 80. Brigitte, a local neighbour, set this up a couple of years ago and it’s been a success with a range of deli goods, excellently kept cheeses as well as sandwiches, cakes, coffee and other drinks to eat in or take away.  If you’re quick on the uptake there’s usually Portuguese pasteis de nata but they sell out fast. I ordered a salmon and cream cheese sandwich and sat outside in the sun to enjoy it. I watched a pop-up tarot reader and her client engrossed in conversation (I couldn’t hear them though).

Wares displayed at the Deli at 80

Somewhat refreshed, although this was a VERY hot day, I popped in next door to Snow White Dry Cleaners for a chat.  Here there was a very satisfied customer who comes all the way from King’s Cross for her cleaning, a good recommendation I thought. The manager was chatty.  I thought I would give it a go sometime as I have some clothes alterations to be done.

From there I went into Mosey Home, selling mid 20th century items.  It also had a display of pretty hangers by Studio GBD.

Hanger by Studio GBD

Across the road I visited Stefan Alexander, a designer clothes sample shop.  It’s been here longer than I have, so it’s quite an institution.

Stefan Alexander, designer samples

On the corner of Stroud Green and Lennox Roads is a large Crisis shop where I stopped to chat to the volunteers.  Here’s a photo of me in a wig and heart-shaped glasses! The shop is large and well set out with a range of clothes and  household items. They urgently require donations of clothing, shoes, bags, belts, jewellery, homeward, books, DVDs, CDs and Vinyl.

Me dressed up by a volunteer!

Round the corner is the John Jones Arts Building where I attended a talk by Barry Venning of the Arts Society who spoke about the making of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album in 1967. There were about three of us in the audience who remembered its release but the younger audience was captivated.

Next I visited the new Walnut restaurant.  The summer spritzes looked good to me. It’s only just opened but the lunch and dinner menus look enticing. So that’s one to try soon.

Wines at Walnut

Now I really did need a bit of rest so I claimed my free drink (for visiting at least ten shops on the trail) at my very favourite restaurant La Fabrica. I’ve been a patron since it opened a few years ago and it’s never disappointed.  I had a little glass of something cool and rested.

Alejandro serving me at La Fabrica

In came Ensemble Moliere, a relatively new music ensemble specialising in Baroque music.  They played a selection from their upcoming performance of Rameau’s little opera, Pygmalion which was great fun.  I lingered a while, ordering a plate of Spanish cheeses for sustenance.

Refreshed, I ploughed on back up to the Stapleton Hall Road end of the street to visit the last stop of the day: the Aladdin’s cave that is X-it. Always bright with lanterns you go in and there are cards, candles, mugs, but its real speciality is in fireworks.  I bought a set of indoor fireworks for last year’s New Year party.  Thoroughly recommended!

Nicos and his wares at X-it

Well, what a day! I was exhausted after that, but what a great way to celebrate our lovely street.

Crouch End Festival

The Crouch End Festival is in full swing running from 9th to 18th June. We decided to make a morning of it on Saturday 10th. First up was a lovely pop-up concert at Hornsey Library with an all-women trio: two singers and lute playing the most exquisite Dowland songs. Attendance was good and the acoustics excellent. This was organised by Clare Norburn of the Stroud Green Festival (yes we have festivals galore this week!).

I love our brutalist designed Hornsey Library with its canopy and the fountain in the forecourt. The woman in the fountain was decorated with Festival banners.

Lady in the Fountain: Hornsey Library

Next was the fair on the green outside Hornsey Town Hall. Food and drink stalls were there, and information stalls too. My very favourite group, the Friends of Parkland Walk were showcasing the Wildlife Trail, about which I’ve written before. And the baking women of Stroud Green Women’s Institute were selling their cakes. I’d brought an empty box so was able to buy three cakes: pear and almond, bakewell tart – and an incredible gluten free cake with lots of fruit and rum – courtesy of Georgina, of From the Larder.

Stroud Green Women’s Institute and their cakes

I visited Virle Archer’s glass stall. I’ve known Virle, a local stained-glass artist, for some time since I commissioned her to design and install two small glass panes with a leaf design for the top of my kitchen windows. She also sells lovely glass jewellery. I love her earrings that twinkle in the light and change colour as you move your head.

Virle Archer and her stall

We then headed into Hornsey Town Hall for the Craft Fair. Lots of stalls selling jewellery, scarves, dresses, toys, candles and even cactus in this art deco hall.

I was tempted by some lovely chunky silver and zinc jewellery and my friend persuaded me to buy a bracelet for a very reasonable price.

My companion was attracted by a stall of silk scarves and took a card while I looked at Maria Cabrera’s stall. A native of Colombia, Maria also is interested in Japanese glazing techniques as she studied in Nagoya on a six month scholarship. I’ve bought her mugs before and think her colours and delicate designs lovely.

Well, we were tired after all this shopping and retired for a well earned coffee to Broadway’s new Crouch End Cellars which has an open courtyard at the back (more of this in another blog).

I look forward to participating in further events at the Festival in the coming week. Do check out the programme and come along!

Stroud Green Music Festival

Unsung heroine Clare Norburn, organiser of the Festival (picture by Robert Piwko / www.robertpiwko.co.uk)

It’s almost time for the 4th Stroud Green Music Festival. Organised by Clare Norburn, who is a wonderful singer with a pure, clear soprano voice, it’s running from 8-25th June. Clare first set up an early music festival in Brighton when she was involved in a music group there and wondered whether something similar might work here in Stroud Green, where she lives.

Clare used to run the fundraising team for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and while she was there she met Tamara Romanyk, who introduced her to Father Patrick of the Holy Trinity Church, Stroud Green, and his wife Irena Henderson, both keen musicians who have organised local concerts at the church.

“There were already good local music connections and a real keenness to do more concerts. All it needed was someone to pull things together,” Clare told me.

This year the programme kicked off in April with a fundraising concert for the Festival. Shakespeare’s Musick was great fun, featuring 17th and 18th century settings of Shakespeare’s poetry by composers such as Purcell, Arne and Locke, including a rare performance of songs by a little-known composer called Defesch who was drafted to write songs for a production of the Tempest, to replace Thomas Arne who had had a disagreement with the actress playing Ariel who went on to sack him. Actors Davis Timson and Patience Tomlinson read extracts from the plays and sonnets and performed a very fine version by Garrick of the final scene from Romeo and Juliet. Many of the musicians were local, including my very own neighbour Naomi Anderson, flautist.

This year’s Festival is very varied with a good community focus. There’s folk, jazz and classical. Consortium 5 will be running recorder workshops – both for the public – and also for children from St Aidan’s school, culminating in a concert on 16th June.

I’m looking forward to the bite-sized family-friendly version of Rameau’s opera Pygmalion (two shows on 18 June by the Little Baroque Company), a sort of Rom-Com 45 minute opera, complete with a dancer and an animated film where the singers interact with the animation. And Baroque with Bite sounds fun too – 18th century cantatas by John Stanley with the singers in costume, all while you’re eating tea and cake (17 June).

There are lots of local partners and sponsorship from local businesses too. As Clare says, “I like all the connections. I’m a big champion for the Small is Beautiful. In this world where chains are taking over someone has to stand up for the smaller guys.”

The programme is here

See you there.

Little Baroque company: Baroque with Bite
Ensemble Moliere

Going for gold – in North London

I didn’t manage to get tickets for the Chelsea Flower Show this year so here’s my own Chelsea garden in Stroud Green. I love the bronzes and purples of the heuchera, astrantia, cirsium and acer against the greens and whites in this border.

And here is the same border as an aerial view showing the different textures of the plants.

Astrantia
Cirsium rivulare atropurpureum

Here’s another border. Geranium Johnson’s Blue, aquilegia (I think Nora Barlow?) and self-seeded Alchemilla mollis and valerian.

Cottage garden border

Another border fringed with the ever-multiplying Alchemilla mollis! It’s so pretty with raindrops on but I couldn’t get a photo of those rare drops.

Alchemilla mollis – the little tramp!

I’m keen on geraniums, especially blue ones. Here’s the lovely Geranium Rozanne, much beloved, and deservedly so, by Carol Klein. It’s out from June till October, but this is a very early flower.

Geranium Rozanne

I’ve also just discovered a newer relation to Rozanne – Geranium azure rush which I’m told has a more compact form and is even more long-flowering.  I bought mine from Claire Austin which came in excellent condition.

Geranium azure rush

I haven’t got many roses, but who could fail to love the Rambling Rector – a cascade of unruliness, just like some unkempt Victorian vicar’s garden.

Rambling rector rose

Another rose I bought at this time from David Austin is New Dawn, which after several years has come into its own. Its a modern rose and flowers repeatedly and has the most delicate fragrance.  Worth waiting for.

New Dawn

At the end of my garden is a pond with various planting around it.  Here is a rush with some fish sculpture from Crocus floating above.

Rush with fish

And lastly a picture of my pond.  It looks tranquil but I have many newts, water snails, water boatmen and damsel and dragonflies. I even have a daily visit from a sparrow hawk sipping from the pond.  There’s been a pair nesting in the trees on the railway at the bottom of our gardens for several years now.

Wildlife pond

Cast your clouts!

Cow parsley on the Parkland Walk

A quick post today as I’m stuck at home.

I was out in my favourite place, the Parkland Walk, a few days ago. This time a couple of us were identifying the flowers that were out in May. The most profuse was the cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris). There it was frothing away at the sides of the path leading up to the walkway beside the bridge at Stapleton Hall Road. I don’t know why it’s called cow parsley – as far as I know the cows don’t eat it. It’s variously known as Queen’s Anne lace, wild chervil or (in Yorkshire) keks. But one of the most evocative names is mother’s dead or mother’s die, or even the less sexist deadman’s flourish, based on its similarity with hemlock, which is poisonous.

On the Stroud Green meadowland, a steep bank sloping towards Florence Road, we identified a number of ‘damned yellow composites’ (the equivalent of the ‘little brown job’ in birding terms!), those dandelion-like composite flowers of the Asteraceae family. Aside from dandelions there was a coltsfoot (Tussilaga farfara) and a cat’s ear (Hypercaeris radicata)- the latter is similar to the dandelion but has hairy basal leaves with the shape and feel of a cats’ ears. Just as we were ready to leave the meadow we came across a single yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon pratensis), also known as meadow salsify or more intriguingly Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon on account of its tendency to open its flowers in the morning sunshine. It has rather spectacular bracts which encase the petals.

We looked at bushes and shrubs too just to see what species were emerging in the meadow. At the bottom of the slope towards the Florence Road gardens are more substantial trees and shrubs, including a mature hawthorn tree, or may, which was fully out. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phrase, ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’. There seems to be a dispute about whether this means not taking off your jacket until the may blossom is out, or until the month of May is out. Which one I do not know, but it was a rather nice day so we did consider casting our clouts.

Cow parsley
Dandelion
Coltsfoot
A photo of an original antique illustration by John Sowerby published in 1860s in The English Botany.
Goats beard or Jack-go-to-bed-at-noon
Ne’er cast a clout till May be out

Pedal Power

Janet and Louisa at the Emirates Stadium

I can’t ride a bike so when David, one of the staff at Pedal Power, offered to teach me I was somewhat sceptical. Pedal Power is a club for cyclists with learning disabilities running sessions at the Emirates Stadium and in Finsbury Park. “But my feet fall off the pedals,” I said. “Then we’ll start you off on a scooter,” he replied. So there I was scooting round the Emirates Stadium with one foot hovering above the ground in case I fell off. It was slightly scary but by the end of the circuit I was able to scoot for longer periods with both feet on the scooter.

Pedal Power was founded twelve years ago by Jo Roach. “My daughter, Suzie, who has a learning disability, has been cycling since she was four and is a good cyclist,” Jo told me. “Suzie lives independently but can only ride when she visits me. I looked for an appropriate cycling club but there was none available. So I sought advice from the London Sports Forum and they suggested I start one myself. I’d already got some starter money from running a tea party at Christmas. I love baking and my tea parties are always successful. After all, the more you cycle, the more cake you can eat,” Jo said with a twinkle in her eye.

With the cake money and some money for bikes from Waltham Forest Council, Jo set up the club at the Eastway Cycle Circuit, but when this was demolished to build the Olympic Park she looked for another venue. Fortunately she was able to find a regular slot at Finsbury Park, and later on Islington Council got in touch and commissioned her to start sessions at the Emirates.

“I see so much success,” said Jo. “It’s so rewarding seeing people riding for the first time when others say they could never do it. It’s about fun, freedom and fitness.”

The following Tuesday I attended a session at the Finsbury Park running track. It was a fine sunny day and cyclists of all ages were out in force – from four years old to 70! Jo told me that about 100 people would attend throughout the morning. She pointed out one of the cyclists, Pete (not his real name), looking very cool in his bright blue helmet. “Pete’s been coming for a year and was shaking all over when he first got on the trike but now all he needs is a bit of support to mount, and he’s off.”

The variety of bikes and trikes is amazing – who knew there were so many? I was especially impressed by the variety of trikes, some of which could be ridden independently and others with a support worker either at the side or at the back, tandem style. There’s even the Velo, a Dutch built trike, used to carry wheelchairs.

At the end of the session I met Phyllis who was riding her trike with confidence. “I’ve raised money for Race for Life through Centre 404 [a centre for people with learning disabilities and their families in North London]. That was a five kilometre race and I raised £84. This year I want to do a ten kilometre race,” she said with pride.

The club couldn’t do without the part-time workers who are qualified cycle trainers, the many volunteers – and of course the funders.

I heard about the club through a friend who told me that her colleague, John Thorne was running the Shakespeare Marathon at Stratford-upon-Avon on Sunday 7th May in aid of Pedal Power. John works for Islington Council’s Leisure Team and helps funds Pedal Power’s Emirates sessions with help from Sport England. I’ve sponsored John and hope you can donate too by getting in touch with him on john.thorne@islington.gov.uk. Donations can be taken for some time after his marathon.

Pedal Power sessions take place at Finsbury Park (10am to 1pm on Tuesdays and 12-4pm on alternate Saturdays) and the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal (10am to 2pm on Thursdays).

Jo Roach: founder of Pedal Power
Phyllis on the Finsbury Park track
Cycle trainer with one of the magnificent trikes
Cycling on the track at Finsbury Park

Dawn Chorus in Coldfall Wood

 

Cheeky robin

I crept out of the house at 4.30 am on Sunday to get to Coldfall Wood, one of Haringey’s ancient woodlands, for a Dawn Chorus Walk led by birdman David Darrell-Lambert for the Friends of Coldfall Wood. I’ve been on quite a few of these walks over the years – local ones as well as one at Minsmere in Suffolk – but this was quite the best.  It was as if David were conducting a choir.  ‘There’s a blackbird over here and one answering there. A wren on that bush. And a robin just above us.’ He could hear each bird in the chorus and taught us to focus on screening out the birds we knew so that we could concentrate on learning a new song. Below the fluting of the blackbird and trill of the wren I learned to identify the chiffchaff – an example of onomatopoeia if ever there was one. We heard a great spotted woodpecker drumming and as it became lighter we saw one of the old nesting holes pecked in a tree.

There’s a sequence to the dawn chorus, with the blackbirds, robins and wrens amongst the first to sing, and the song thrush usually coming in slightly later. By 6 am we could hear the tiniest of British birds – the goldcrest, along with the chiffchaff, nuthatch and blue, great and coal tits. Blackcaps sing a bit later. They are a type of warbler and I’ve seen them in my own garden, but I was really impressed when David identified a willow warbler whose habitat is mixed or deciduous woodland. We heard both stock doves and wood pigeons. Nothing remarkable about those but their song reminded me of a ditty taught by a friend: ‘My feet hurt Betty,’ calls the wood pigeon. ‘My feet hurt,’ says the collared dove. Whereas the stock dove just shouts ‘My feet! My feet!’ Just as we were leaving the woods at about 7 am we heard a chaffinch sing. I know the song of the chaffinch, which can be likened to a cricket bowler running up to the crease and letting go of the ball.

Birds sing in the spring to proclaim their territory and/or to find a mate. At this time, most birds are already breeding but some lonely ones will still be looking for a mate. By late June the birds are quieter and the chorus reduced.

David not only identified the songs but also gave us snippets of interesting information. I can’t remember hearing a dunnock on this walk but David told us that it’s just been discovered that it’s the female that sings, rather the male, which I think might be quite unusual amongst birds. We talked about migration. Even wood pigeons, the most common bird in my garden, are known to migrate – possibly short distance within the UK or maybe to France. There’s not been a tracking device attached to a woodie as far as I know. I love stories of bird migration. The longest migration recorded is of the bar-tailed godwit flying nonstop from its summer breeding ground in Alaska to New Zealand, a distance of over 7000 miles, in nine days.

David is leading two more local Dawn Chorus Walks in Queens Wood on Sunday 30th April at 5 am and 9 am. You can book here.

The wonderful bird photos are by my photographer friend Mike Reid.

Dawn just breaking at 5 am
Coldfall Wood at 7 am
Blackbird – one of the first to sing in the Dawn Chorus
Woodie: my feet hurt, Betty!
Great spotted woodpecker
Chiffchaff
Great tit
Blue tit
Male chaffinch
Female chaffinch – she has no need to sing

Parkland Walk Wildlife Trail

Silver-washed fritillary butterfly

I used to work with the Conservation Volunteers in my student days in Scotland. Many are the rhododendron ponticum shrubs I’ve dug up to make way for native Scottish plants, and once I spent an idyllic two weeks camping on the beach at St Cyrus near Montrose, building a cliff path. So I was pleased when I met a group of Conservation Volunteers constructing a Wildlife Trail at the Highgate end of the Parkland Walk.

I chatted with Simon Olley, who chairs the Friends of the Parkland Walk: “The idea for the Wildlife Trail came out of a conversation I had with Ian Holt, the conservation officer at Haringey Council, about 18 months ago,” he said. “The idea came to fruition when we were successful with the Tesco Bags of Help grant which gave us £10,000 to spend on fencing and materials.”

The Trail area consists of about 3000 square metres of gently sloping land just off the main path. The idea is to create pockets of interest and a variety of habitats around a meandering path. Information boards, mainly aimed at young children, will help identify the flora and fauna. The lower section will be completely accessible to those with mobility issues and work is being done to improve access to the sloping area so that they can use the whole site with some assistance.

The Trail is really shaping up with mixed hedging of hawthorn, blackthorn, guelder rose, field maple and dogwood forming the boundaries. As well as forming a habitat of its own, the hedging will also act as protection for neighbouring houses. The path is already set out but is awaiting a covering of woodchip which can be sourced from the sycamores that are due to be felled. “There’s a bit of a controversy about the felling,” Simon explained. “Some people think nature conservation is about conserving the status quo and find it hard to understand why a woodland has to be managed. But a healthy woodland has a much lower density of mature trees. The current woodland area is crowded which means the trees compete for light and grow up towards it becoming unbalanced. Originally in Haringey’s wild woods there would have been wild boar and deer keeping the saplings at bay and creating open glades where wildflowers could thrive. We must explain this to local people so they come on board with us.” Simon also told me that sycamore is a non-native tree and only hosts about six varieties of native insect, whereas oak can host 200-400 different varieties.

There were about ten volunteers working when I arrived. I met Sarah who was looking for trees marked with orange dots. She would cut back about a third of the ivy on these trees to reduce the weight of ivy so they would prosper. “I come out with the Conservation Volunteers most weeks,” Sarah told me. “It’s addictive and I’ve worked at sites all over Haringey.” Other volunteers were clearing a patch of ground ready to plant the wildflower seeds donated by Kew Gardens under its Grow Wild initiative, a campaign bringing people together to transform local spaces by growing native pollinator-friendly wildflowers and grasses. This mixture should attract a wide variety of insects and butterflies such as common blues, silver-washed fritillaries and small tortoiseshells.

I asked Simon what made him become interested in the Parkland Walk. “I think, like a lot of people living in densely populated towns, I’ve got more and more interested in green spaces. I’ve always been interested in gardening and I walk my dogs regularly in the Muswell Hill section of the Parkland Walk. It gives me the opportunity to stop and listen to birdsong and take in all the colours of the plants and the activity of the wildlife. I wanted to put back something I’ve gained so I contacted the Friends. I’ve been on the Committee now for six years and what I bring to being the Chair is my encouragement to get more people involved.”

That’s certainly true, as Simon has now signed me up to become a litter picker on the section of the Parkland Walk near to me!

Lunchtime with the Conservation Volunteers
Ivy arch
New hedging
Ivy-clad tree
Grow Wild seeds

Easter Baking

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A groaning table

It’s Easter so it must be baking time.  I’m a member of Stroud Green Women’s Institute and we’ve formed a Cake Club where we meet every six weeks or so to bring, bake and, of course, eat cakes. Last week we baked a variety of Easter cakes from all over Europe.

First up was La Mona de Pascua from Catalan. It’s a Genoese sponge with an apricot jam filling and a rich custard topping with no fewer than 15 egg yolks mixed with icing sugar. Traditionally the cake is made with hard-boiled eggs embedded in the centre, but the modern recipe is somewhat plainer!

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Putting the finishing touches to La Mona de Pascua
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A slice of delicious Catalan cake

We tried Russian Paska, a tower of cream, ricotta cheese and cream cheese mixed with nuts, glace cherries and crystallized ginger. Unfortunately it didn’t come out quite like the one demonstrated on Mary Berry’s Easter show last week, but it tasted delicious.

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Russian Paska

Of course we sampled Simnel cake, a fruit cake layered with marzipan and topped by twelve eggs representing the twelve apostles.

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Simnel cake with its 12 apostles

One member made a fertility cake, Fruchtbärkeit torte, using a recipe from her Austrian aunt.  The sponge is mixed with copious amounts of poppy seeds, a traditional symbol of fertility. It reminded me of the poppy seed cake my mother used to bring home from a Polish deli when we lived in Birmingham in the 60s. This fertility cake was filled with a custard flavoured with a generous amount of Tia Maria and was topped with chocolate and flaked almonds.

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Fertility cake
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Poppy seeds: a symbol of fertility

Lastly there were chocolate truffle scotch eggs with a creme egg filling.

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Scotch eggs with creme egg centres

Good job I didn’t have any dinner beforehand.