This Year’s Rhododendrons

Friday, 2nd June, 2023

This year’s rhododendrons have not been the best. They suffered terribly during last summer’s drought. Some of the bushes have refused to flower at all. The pale pink one is now very old, bent and frail. It may not survive much longer, but it certainly gave a good show.

Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Monday, 15th May, 2023

Today, the wisteria blooms are already faded. This photo was taken on Saturday, 13th May, two days ago, just before the blooms started to wilt. These blooms last only a very few days. As a symbol of life’s transience, I dedicate them to the memory of my mother who died on 13th May seven years ago, and to my very good friend Catherine who died on the day when this photo was taken.

Blooms in May

Thursday, 11th May, 2023

The rhododendrons this year are probably not going to give us a good display. They suffered terribly in last summer’s drought. Many died and others have not fully recovered and are reluctant to open their sparse buds. I hope there will be something to show later this month. On the other hand, the wisteria is thriving. These are the blooms to the left of the front door, which is just beyond the right edge of the picture. There is a mirror image on the other side of the door! Once the blooms have faded, there follows vigorous growth of leaves and fronds throughout the whole summer and autumn. These require weekly trimming, taming and tying back. This wisteria dates back to at least 1948, when the house was restored after a lightning strike set fire to it and destroyed its upper storey. Who knows whether it was planted before that fire?

A Better Loaf

Monday, 1st May, 2023

I make bread several times a week, alternating between white and brown. My sourdough starter dates from 2009, and if I don’t keep making bread, it will die. The same principle goes for yoghurt, but my yoghurt starters tend to last a couple of years before gradually weakening and needing to be replaced. This year, because of high electricity prices, I have been experimenting with more economical ways of baking bread. To switch on the big oven for 50 minutes just to bake a single loaf seems very extravagant. So I’ve been using my mini-oven. Unfortunately, this doesn’t result in as good a loaf as baking it in the big oven. The top of the loaf gets overcooked and the rest of it dries out too much before being cooked through. Baking it at a lower temperature for longer does not work. In search of a solution, I stumbled on this lidded ceramic  bread pan from the French brand Emile Henry. Reviews were mixed and it’s an expensive product, but I decided to order it anyway and try it out. The results far exceeded my expectations. That lid, with its all-important holes, is what produces the magic. It traps just enough moisture inside the receptacle to produce a good rise and prevent dehydration, but not so much that the loaf would come out soggy. I now have the most perfect loaves I could possibly wish for, cooked in my mini-oven. I wish I’d discovered this wonderful earthenware bread baker earlier. My lidless metal loaf tins will now all go to recycling.


Colin’s Circles

Wednesday, April 5th, 2023

March was wet and cold, and April is brighter, but still very cold. Undeterred, the grass is growing apace and Colin the gardener decided to make his lawn artwork as neat and perfect as possible when I told him I needed a photo item for the website to reassure visitors that we hadn’t gone into total hibernation. “I’ll do a double cut,” he said. “One cut today and another tomorrow.” So this is the result, viewed from upstairs yesterday evening. I’m sure you could take a compass to it and Colin’s geometry would be pretty accurate. This morning, however, the frozen dew had painted the circles white.

The rear of the property looks very different. It is an active builders’ yard, with a team of half a dozen workers, who work from 8am until 4pm. They do not disturb B&B guests, whose rooms are on the south and east sides of the house. The building work is on the north and west sides, well away from guest bedrooms and the breakfast room. The Annexe was essentially demolished during March, leaving little more than a bare brick shell. At the beginning of this month the joists for the upper storey were put in place, which immediately makes it look more like a house.



Raise the Roof

Tuesday, February 28th, 2023

February always races by, thank goodness, as it is my least favourite month. Tomorrow work officially starts on the annexed cottage. The architect’s drawing shows what it will look like in seven months’ time and the photo below shows its current, dilapidated state. One minor change to the drawing is the window under the porch roof on the left. This will be removed and replaced by a new dedicated front door to the cottage, which is at present accessed by a door at right-angles to it. There will be two matching doors, one for the cottage and one for the service areas of the main house. The current crazily  spread-out bungalow will become a compact two-storey west wing, joined to the main house but also neatly blocked off to conform with fire regulations and also to enhance privacy on both sides instead of the current arrangement whereby the cottage’s kitchen protrudes into and under the main house via a long corridor, creating a lot of wasted space and a major heating problem for the cottage.

The roof of the central part of the cottage will be raised to make space for two bedrooms and a spacious bathroom. The chimney will be replaced by a modern flue serving a wood-burning stove. The internal walls of the cottage’s ground floor will be removed, creating a vast open-plan ground floor living space from what is currently a living-room, a small corridor and two bedrooms. The cottage’s new kitchen will be at the northern end, which will retain its current single-storey status. The cottage’s old kitchen and associated corridor will revert back to the main house and will be repurposed as a much-needed storage area, utility/laundry room and boot room. I will be able to relocate one washing machine, a dryer and my rotary iron and linen press there. I will also be able to set up a large sheet-folding table, which will be much better than using a bed as a folding surface for superking sized sheets.

In days gone by, the main house did not have a kitchen. The cottage was built as servants’ quarters, and its occupants (groundskeeper husband and cook/housekeeper wife) were expected to cook meals for their masters in their own kitchen and pass it through the serving hatch (which still exists) into the pantry, whence it would be taken to the dining room. This room, along with most others in the house, still has a bell to summon the servants. The bellboard still works in parts and is in the pantry. The pantry, with its original swing door, is now the secondary kitchen, which is used by B&B guests to eat takeaways or to have early self-service breakfasts if they want to check out at crack of dawn.

I will post updates and photos of the works to the cottage over the next seven months.

Winter Warmth

Sunday, January 1st, 2023

Before Bressenden starts to prepare for its sixth year of hosting B&B guests, the quiet, largely guest-free period of the dark weeks around the solstice provides an opportunity to reorganise the wood shed and use up old stock, particularly as a fair number of trees came down during the recent storm. There are now new piles of logs dotted about all over the garden that will need to be collected, seasoned and stored. At this time of ridiculously high energy prices, a log fire is no longer an occasional treat but an all-day provider of heat. With long nights, short days, cold temperatures and often atrocious weather, the temptation is simply to hibernate. But this winter’s favourite pastime involves beating the hell out of enormous slices of tree trunk with an axe and a mallet. One learns by trial and error. It is strangely satisfying to go out in all weathers with thick leather gloves, protective goggles and tough shoes (essential to avoid toe injuries from falling steel, iron and heavy logs) and get to work in the sheltered space of the wonderful shed that Robert Ghent rebuilt for us. A second axe and a couple of heavy wedges are essential accessories and valued friends when an axe head gets stuck fast in an unyielding piece of wood. How satisfying, though, to wield these traditional tools with their smooth hickory handles and then to enjoy the fruits of one’s labours at the end of the day. Colin the gardener says that those who chop wood get warm twice. How true!

A Cold and Frosty Morning

Friday, December 16th, 2022

This photo was taken at 11 a.m., one hour before the sun would reach its highest point for the day in the azure sky. The moon is visible just above the treetops. It shows how little sunlight we have at this time of year, and a possible temperature of minus nine degrees Centigrade is forecast for tonight. The challenge is to prevent water pipes from freezing in one part of the house that lacks heating — the laundry room. It certainly is unusually cold for mid-December. Elsewhere in the garden the tree surgeons are busy felling trees and branches that have snapped under the weight of the snow.

White pre-Christmas

Monday, December 12, 2022

Thick snow fell last night, bringing an unusual realism to scenes usually depicted on Christmas cards, but seldom seen in real life in the south of England until at least January. The freezing temperatures and accompanying power cuts were not so welcome.

Paving the Way

Thursday, September 22nd, 2022

During the days that followed the death of Queen Elizabeth II, when the late summer weather acquired a noticeable chill, here at Bressenden we had the main part of our paved terrace repointed and the wobbly steps repaired and cemented into place. The paving slabs were pressure-washed earlier in the summer, which cleaned the pavement thoroughly but also had the effect of dislodging much of the old and loose mortar. Now it looks all of a piece and there is much less risk of slipping and tripping. There should no longer be unsightly weeds growing in the gaps — at least for a year or two. Phase 2 of this large job, the long path past the sun dial down to the pond, will be done later. Part of it will have to be relaid on a rebuilt base, The mill wheel outside the front door looks much better too.