Friday, August 29, 2008

Aside From Black Dahlia

white "cactus-type" dahlia in our garden

I like dahlias. They are generous in giving flowers which last a long time. Even when used as cut flowers, the blooms keep their beauty for a number of days, even weeks (photo below on the right: our bi-colored dahlia). In planting dahlia tubers, one just has to watch out for slugs and snails. These gastropods are voracious eaters of dahlias' young stems and leaves (and other soft-stemmed plants). And if you don’t take precautions, you will end up having no dahlias at all. We usually use ashes in preventing gastropods from eating our marigold, lettuce and dahlia. So far, it's quite effective. Ash is also a good source of potassium, calcium, sodium and phosphorous for plants. But if there are too many gastropods (particularly slugs) in your garden, coupled with a rainy summer, maybe iron phosphate-based anti-slug granules could be a lot of help. One can also trap slugs by putting beer on a shallow cup and leaving it near the plants they eat. They would be attracted to the smell of beer and drown in it in their greediness to drink it *winks*.

With our first try of growing dahlias last year, we weren't able to have many flowers. This year is a little better (hurray! hurray!). But I still think our plants could have given more, especially considering that dahlias have a big potential of giving numerous, long-lasting flowers given the right conditions. Maybe I still need to loosen more our soil --- ours is so compact and we usually add compost to our vegetable and flower plots.

But one thing I’m happy about is that from the flowers last year, I was able to collec
t seeds from the white "cactus-type" dahlia. And when I planted them, some of them grew! *proud smile* In general, the surest way to grow dahlias is to plant tubers (especially for beginners). And I’m really happy that I was able to grow some from the seeds I collected *grins*.

(even the backside of the flowers looks charming. Now, do you understand why I like them a lot? *smiles*)

Well, the plants haven’t given any flowers yet, most probably because they’re trying to grow tubers first. But it’s a start. And I wouldn't feel too bad if by the end of autumn there are no tubers when I try to uproot them (the tubers are cold sensitive and will get rotten if left planted during winter months). After all, it’s just a try and I got them for free. I’m still trying to see if I can get some seeds from the bi-colored dahlia we have. But so far, I haven’t seen any from the wilted ones (maybe it’s still to early for them to form). Well, I guess I just have to wait and see *hopeful grin*.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Week That Was

apples which have fallen from my in-laws' apple trees

We have been away for about a week. Then when we came back, we had some friends over, plus I had some personal stuff to attend to. Result: this blog hasn’t been updated for quite some time (once more… *apologetic grin*). But it’s good to get away from the usual routine from time to time --- and just wake up late, eat, take short walks or naps, or just lie down and read *giggles*. But of course, once you get back home, there are a number of household chores and personal errands you have to do. Oh well… the important thing is we were able to get a change of environment and routine, even for a short period.

And thanks to my in-laws whom we visited last week, we now have our third batch of lettuce to plant. The seedlings are ready to be re-planted, meaning, we were able to save a few weeks of waiting (seeds take time to grow, especially with the lukewarm-rainy summer we are having). We also have a few parsley and celery to go with them. We also got the chance to eat vegetables freshly-picked from their garden --- aside from lettuce, we had wax beans, green peas, potatoes, carrots… even onions are from their garden. And for dessert, I had raspberries (too bad there weren’t many strawberries left).

Now that we’re back, I guess I will be able to update this site regularly… well, that is, if my tasks here wouldn’t keep me too occupied. I hope so, because for about two months now, I have been slack in posting. But hey, “summer” only comes once in a year (even if it isn’t always sunny, at least the temperature is not freezing) so we try to spend some time outdoors, even just in our garden. And speaking of gardens, with autumn just around the corner, there will be a lot of things to do --- clean used pots and utensils, rake dried leaves, protect non-hardy plants from the coming winter cold, etc. Oh well, I’ll just do my best in writing a new entry every chance I get *cross fingers*.

Friday, August 15, 2008

A Note Of Provence

lavender and a busy bee in our garden

Aside from the warm weather, Roman vestiges like the Pont de Gard (a roman aqueduct) and the centuries-old arena at Arles, hilltop villages and the blue Mediterranean sea, Provence (a region in the southeast of France) is also known for its lavender fields. A cloak of blue–violet color covering a vast track of land with a stone cottage (and a cypress or two) in the middle against green rolling hills and a blue sky is the subject of many Provençal postcards and watercolor paintings. The fields, with its hue and the undulating movement created by rows and rows of lavender shrubs give me the impression of an inland sea coquettishly beckoning tourists and locals alike to immerse themselves in its delightfully aromatic universe.

We have our own piece of
this fragrant oasis in our garden. Even bees find our lavender bushes a haven in their quest for nectar. No need to go to the South to experience that marvelous assault on one’s visual and olfactory senses by the scent and beauty of lavender flowers. All I have to do is go outside, look at our row of nard (another name for lavender) and on a clear sunny day, I already feel like being transported to the warm, breezy Provence. Of course, nothing beats the real thing. But then, I’m quite content with having just a whiff of that delectable fragrance that evokes visions of balmy summer days, of afternoons spent outside under a shade of a tree, of traditional recipes and cures of yesteryears.

And speaking of popular remedies, lavender has been known for its therapeutic uses since ancient times. The Romans used it in their baths in the belief that the scent/essence would restore the skin; hence a pound of lavender is equivalent to a farm laborer’s monthly salary. And in Grasse (a town in Southeastern France, also known as the perfume capital) lavender oil was used in gloves with the intention of warding off The Plague. This idea seems sound for the scent repels fleas, and fleas are responsible for transmitting the disease.

And I think this belief has persisted for lavender is traditionally used in the modern times as an anti-clothing moth. Well, moth is different from fleas, but then, maybe lavender scent has the same effect on the former, especially for clothings made of wool. As for us, we harvest our lavender, preserve them in small sachets and put them inside our closets. Even if this is not very effective, I still do this. At least our clothes would smell good, especially those which are kept for long periods of time.

We still have yet to harvest our lavender flowers for this year. In the meantime, I’m letting the bees do their own “harvesting.” (Selerines, I don't have a picture of a rose with a bee on it. But I have these ones. They are not photos of roses, but lavender flowers have their own kind of beauty and bees love them).

Thursday, August 14, 2008

An Afternoon In The Past

The castle's barbican viewed from the kitchen door on a rainy afternoon

When we went to Dordogne three months ago, we visited Château de Beynac-Cazenac. While visiting the castle, there was a heavy downpour, forcing us to stay longer inside the castle. But it was worth it for I have experienced how the medieval inhabitants must have felt during a hard rain. We were in one of the oldest part of the castle (around nine centuries old) --- the old mess hall-cum-kitchen.

(big oil lamps in metal cages suspended from the ceiling)

The kitchen, like other parts of the castle open to visitors, neither has modern lighting nor heating --- hence the room was quite nippy and dank. And it must be worse during winter for the people in the middle ages --- most probably, they were chilled to the bone. The lord, his family and their retainers were likely not to have this problem for they wore clothes of fine wool. But those in the lower echelons of the system like scullery maids, stable boys and the likes, life must be really difficult during winter/rainy season. I don’t think they were able to wear warm enough clothes to ward off the chill and dampness. Or if they wore wool, it would be of the coarsest kind. There are always big fireplaces in kitchens but I believe it’s not enough to warm them, let alone the entire room. Besides, I think they have a limited supply of wood for their own use. Just imagine having to do one's daily tasks on a wintry day!

(the village houses seen from one of the narrow latticed windows of the kitchen)

Life during the middle ages might sound exciting and colorful for us living in modern times based on the chivalric stories we read and hear. This may be so, but I believe it was also hard and full of insecurities --- life is always threatened by wars, famine, plague. That’s why I couldn’t help admiring the marvelous works of art and engineering they left behind. Despite the hardships, the lack of modern amenities and the intermittent hostilities between baronies and kingdoms, they were still able to build admirable metalwork and stone structure, create inspiring works of literature, and lead, if not a full life, at least a semblance of a “normal” life at that time.

(Château de Beynac-Cazenac part I)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

White Dog Rose (Rosa canina) in our garden

There is a lot of beauty in simplicity.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

On Gowns, Queens, and Escape

photo of a painting of Marie de Medici and Louis XIII as a child at Château de Blois

This is a photo of a painting at château de Blois (Blois Castle) of Marie de Medici and Louis XIII as a child. I believe the painting is on permanent display, so when you visit the castle, you’ll be able to see it. Marie de Medici acted as regent for her eldest child when Henry IV was assassinated in 1610. But when her son came of age to rule, she wouldn’t relinquish her position, forcing Louis XIII to send her on exile in château de Blois.

Marie de Medici never liked it in Blois. First, maybe it’s because Blois a little bit far from Paris where the seat of power is located. Second, the castle is in the forest of Sologne (the royal hunting grounds) which might have given here the impression of being in the outback, contrary to the glitz and glamour of the capital. And third, it’s quite an obvious reminder of her exile and having her regency wrestled from her hands by her own son. Well, these are just my assumptions. But she definitely detested being in Blois for she tried and managed to escape by descending down a rope from her apartment to the ground (source: Châteaux de la Loire, Sélection du Reader’s Digest, 1997). I believe it was quite a feat for a queen! Marie de Medici was on the overweight side at that time, plus all those layers of clothing a queen usually wore (she might be desperate to escape but I don’t think she went down the rope in her undergarments *winks*) --- I assume it wasn’t an easy task, no matter how desirable it is. But then, as they say, “when there’s a will, there’s a way”.

Here is Louis XIII as a child. In case you’re wondering why he was painted wearing a gown, well, during those times, male toddlers were made to wear dresses due to practical reasons. First, such garments are practical for toilet training and second, clothes are expensive at that time. Gowns leave enough room for growth and I believe many mothers would agree with me that kids grow at a fast rate during their toddler years. So by wearing gowns, people save money, not to mention the convenience they provide for the child’s toilet training. In paintings, male infants were given something “masculine” to hold or to wear like swords, batons, bow and jewelries (if they are worn) are in darker colors to distinguish them from female children. And when young boys reach the “age of reason” (usually around two to seven years of age) they were allowed to wear trousers or breeches. Their first time to wear such clothing (called breeching) is a celebrated event. (source: wikipedia on breeching). I guess it’s because it is symbolic of a male child entering the world of men; from being an infant into being an adult, so to speak; from being dependent into being independent.

I find paintings such as this interesting, not only for their aesthetic value but also for giving a glimpse of old customs and a window to the past. Well, I am not hoping to find any codes or hidden meaning in many of them, but if ever there is one, I guess that would be quite exciting *winks*.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

After A Rain

I would say that the month of July is a month of extremes --- when it’s sunny, the hot dry air seems to lull you into a drowsy state with the world standing still; and when it rains, it really pours, with episodes of, thunder, lightning and gusty wind to boot. And August shows signs of being not different from the previous month. So far, the month started with a blast… literally and negatively. A tornado hit a town (Hautmont) in the northern part of France 4 days ago (August 3) which is quite a rare occurrence. Hailstorms in May are becoming a “normal” phenomenon here. But a tornado? I believe the last one struck the country around 40 years ago and there are around 5 documented tornado outbreaks (including the most recent one) in the last millennium. Many families lost their homes and I hope they will be able to have a roof over their heads before winter comes. And even if it is summer now, housing for the disaster victims can still be a problem because of the rains we periodically experience, especially since the northern part is known for being the “wet” region of France.

I am more a "sunny day" person than a rain-loving one. But with the exception of calamitous weather conditions which, of course, bring about catastrophes, I think there’s something fetching in the air after an afternoon drizzle and the sun starts to reclaim its rightful place in the sky. It seems that the rain had washed away everything clean, turning things back in their pristine state. Grass appears to be greener, the air fresher, trees and flowers sparkle as water droplets glint in the sunlight. And everything looks to have attained a certain amount of clarity and richness that were dulled by the heavy, humid, stifling atmosphere before a thunderstorm. It’s like being reborn --- wonderfully seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling things as if for the first time…

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Not-So-Wordless Wednesday

Château de Chambord, Loir-et-Cher Department, France

This is château de Chambord with its reflection on the moat in the early evening. It is reputedly one of the famous castles, if not the most famous, in France. Chambord castle and its park is located around 30 km from our place, thus we have visited the place several times (picture was taken last week). But each time, I cannot help but marvel at its elaborate design, its grandeur, its beauty. It took around 25 years to complete the château. But I guess François I found it worth the wait, in the same way many tourists have felt upon laying eyes on this marvelous work of architecture and engineering.

I’ll write more about Chambord (including more photos) in the coming days. I know I already said the same thing about other castles I posted here. But sometimes, when faced with such beautiful and history-filled structures, it’s difficult to find where to start describing them. All I can do is feast my eyes on them and marvel at the hands and minds of men and women who created and turned them into fascinating reminders of the past.

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