The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Home grown presents and the joy of radio

Photo: Lily of the Valley

Photo: Lily of the Valley

I’m working for a very sparky couple at the moment. I’ve been with them on and off for years now. They were the first people to employ me as a professional decorator – I painted their stables. On the way to do the initial quote I had to pull over in Jalopy to get my breath. I was really nervous. This summer I’ll repeat the exercise but six years later I have got a lot faster, so it will be the same price!

Swallows nest in their stables in summer and add a dash of added wildlife enjoyment. Swallows are so elegant and beautiful to watch.

Every three years or so, the Georgian windows and doors on the main house need to be painted inside and out. There are thirty eight windows and doors.  This equates to 266 coats of paint. Alarming if I think about it – it’s a long steady treck. Inside it’s two undercoats and one top coat (eggshell). Outside it’s two primer undercoats and two top coats (Sadolin Superdec). I’m grateful for the work but fit it in atound other bookings so that I don’t loose momentum.

My sports digital headset radio is the tiny friend that helps keep me sane. In the past I have watched wagtails and green woodpeckers as I listened to Thomas Hardy’s “The Woodlanders” on digital OneWord. I had studied this novel for ‘O’ level, ‘A’ level and at university. But suddenly it came alive as I stood in the cherry picker and surveyed the estate. A wonderful tale to hear against the backdrop of secluded rural England.

OneWord is now sadly defunct. These days it’s Radio 4 or Radio 7 so I can breeze through the kitchen with news bulletins. But I do miss someone reading books to me all day.

Even though I read English and Drama at university, I have yawning gaps. Gradually, OneWord filled these and I was transported into hundreds of other worlds.  As Hugh Grant stated when he was caught in a tricky situation and asked whether he would now go into therapy, he replied
“The English don’t do therapy. They read novels .”

OneWord was a joy and I was very sad when it went off air. There were no news breaks, which was great when I wanted to ostrich out from a crisis. I loved the readings. They also made a lot of humungous boobs which tickled me. Once instead of the rather dry biography of Beethoven we had an episode from The Borrowers. Topped and tailed with a Beethoven introduction and relevant goodbye.

I exchange small presents with my clients who own the estate. Mine are usually ‘morning fresh’ eggs, home cured bacon or cucumbers later in the season. My hostess gives me much more imaginative presents. A fresh handful of bay leaves, a bunch of fragrant Lily of The Valley (I just can’t seem to grow this plant). A couple of weeks ago she gave me the violet “Freckles” alongside an aquilegia. I love both.  And this week, three bunches of superb asparagus from their beds, tied carefully with string and ready to drop into the asparagus steamer . I would almost kill for fresh asparagus as we don’t grow it yet.

I’ve tried in the past to raise asparagus in the cottage garden. I planted three crowns in a neglected space. Disaster. They threw up heads that were so thin that I didn’t even notice them. Since then I’ve discovered that you need to plant at least 20 crowns for a decent harvest each time that you cut. Also, you are looking at a three year time frame and preparing a squeaky clean, weed free bed. Weeding has to be minimal when the crowns are in place. Bindweed could scupper even the best laid plans.

Last night I suggested that we dug up some of our herbaceous borders to dedicate to asparagus. Danny was not over enthused.
“It takes up so much space and the season is so short. If we had a bigger garden I’d give it some room. But not now.”

In my terms we have a big garden. I’m very tempted to use some of the unused space in our front garden. Next Spring Danny could be delighted with a small harvest of knitting needle sized spears. And in three years time we could be cutting sizeable stalks that would be ultra fresh and tasty.

As my mum says. “You always thrive on a challenge.”

Watch this space.

  Leave a reply


  1. Belinda

    Fiona, I too love asparagus & wish to grow it so I will be reading with interest. I keep being tempted by the seed though.. that really would be a long term plan I think.

    Im interested in S.o.L’s recycle boxes.. would large polystyrene veg boxes do the trick?

    I have strawberry’s in one big box as everytime I put them in the ground the bugs ate the crop. Im having better luck in my new veg patch with strawberry though.

  2. Pamela

    I like listening to books too. You could always borrow them on CD from the library and put them onto an mp3 player to listen to while you work. You could just listen to them on a CD player but it would be more cumbersome than an mp3 player. I used to listen to talking books in the car when I regularly drove down to my sister’s in Kent. I’m not very fond of noise being fed directly into my head via an ear-piece. Also you can’t eavesdrop on the train if you have music drowning everything else out. Tess of the D’Urbervilles is my favourite Hardy.

  3. Diane

    Lily of the valley is a pernicious invasive alien weed around here (albeit with a delightful scent). It is reinvading from the edges of my yard and so powerful it is coming up in the middle of my driveway, running under yards of asphalt! It is also a favorite haunt of dog ticks (the kind that carry Rocky Mtn. spotted tick fever, which is more prevalent here than in the Rocky Mtns.) Oh do I wish I could send it your way. FYI, it seems to really like the shadiest parts of the yard and we have pretty acid soil. It’s also quite damp here (in Rhode Island). And we have hot summers. Hope that helps.

  4. S.o.L

    Lily of the valley hates me. But asparagus grows like no bodies business in my recycling boxes. Just plain old compost and then I throw on top of it tea leaves. Works a charm. You must not cut asparagus before the third year. It isnt even worth it till then!

    do you have room to make a raised bed? This could be the answer

  5. kate (uk)

    I’ve had no luck with Lily of the Valley either, but I keep trying.
    The Woodlanders is my favourite Hardy. One Word was excellent for painting to- I miss it.
    Our Swifts arrived on Saturday- might be regretting it today!

  6. Danette

    I have just found your blog,argg where have I been to have not found it earlier,its wonderful :o)
    I was searching for onion gravy on google & came via your friend Annas super recipe :o)
    I adore listening to books,the Woodlanders is one of my favourites,I had read it before but when we moved here it was the first book,just by chance,that I picked up & ploughed into. The difference in reading it here deep in the countryside was astonishing. I felt our little hamlet here to be indeed the same as Martys :o) alas my hair is not nearly as lovely :O)

    Would you mind if I put your blog in a link on the sidebar on mine?
    GTM x

  7. Michelle in NZ

    I too am an avid radio listener, here to Radio NZ National – I think is similar to radio 4. Even follow my dear Mum’s example from years back, and leave the radio on when I’m out as company for the cat!

    Your spring is sounding so lovely, and asparagus too. I enjoy it here when our spring brings the asparagus – the season usually lasts into January so asparagus is a regular part of our Christmas dinner. That must have been a wonderfull asparagus feast.

    The Grand Potato Race has me enthralled – must be my 1/4 Irishness!

    care and huggles,

    Michelle and Zebbycat

    (Zeb – nose buried once more in a fluffy scarf he’s pinched from me, while his eyes don’t miss a move I make)

  8. Veronica

    Have you considered audio books, Fiona? You can download them from the likes of Audible and Naxos and listen to them on an MP3 player. More expensive than radio though 🙁

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