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That Elusive Dream…


You know how every gardener secretly dreams of having that dark, loamy soil that they talk about on gardening shows? Well, I have that. I am located in one of the most fertile parts of Denmark, farming-wise, and my soils shows why.

It’s black and rich and almost greasy to the touch.

When I cross the field (the farmer has told me I can do so, otherwise I’d never walk through a field of crops!) downhill towards the bog and the lake, the soil turns a lighter colour in the field, which is probably because it has been so intensely cultivated for centuries, but then when I get down towards the bog it becomes soggy and dark.

It really is amazing to have this sort of soil to work with. In the old garden I had perhaps 4 inches of decent top soil and then a thick layer of clay, but here the loamy soil just goes on and on as you dig. It retains moisture, but it doesn’t become waterlogged as the old garden tended to do, and I don’t think I could imagine better conditions for growing just about anything I would want.

Yesterday while walking around the garden with the dog I’ve borrowed for the weekend (the owners think I’m doing them a favour, but really it’s the other way around!), I realised my garden is virtually infested with shrews. There are small holes all over the lawn, in the beds and under the shrubs. It’s a protected species here in Denmark, so I’m quite pleased to see so many signs that they are happy in my garden. Sure, they might eat some roots of some of my projects, but I can live with that – after all, the shrews were here first!

The wildlife is really going to be an important part of my garden. Having the bog and lake nearby means I don’t really NEED to do much to create a local wildlife habitat, but obviously I want the wildlife to come to me… Of course I want the cute little birds, but I also want the bugs, the insects, the frogs and newts and yes, the shrews.

When I ordered my load of berry shrubs for my Eastern Hedge, I also ordered the materials needed to “build” a pond. A square liner for the pond itself, as well as a stretch of narrow liner to create a small stream through the garden. The stream needs to be carefully arranged, since it will be powered by a solar pump and won’t flow on cloudy days – so I need to somehow create levels of standing water if I don’t go for the “dry creek” look.

The pond itself will be around three-four metres across and just over a meter deep, while the stream will be around 20-25 metres long, meandering down through the garden and collecting rain water from the greenhouse and shed roofs. I’ve also ordered a roll of coconut matting that will line the stream so in time it will become a sort of muddy, natural surface, rather than a black liner…

The exact location of the pond, though, remains to be determined. There are no plans of the drainage system from the gutters and the septic tank, so I guess I just need to start digging and see what happens… Which pretty much sums up my gardening philosophy!

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The Berry Project


Last week there was an evening when I was kind of bored, sitting in my Copenhagen apartment and not really knowing what to do. But then, there’s always the internet, right?

By the end of the evening I had ordered the following:

  • A white currant
  • A red currant
  • A black currant
  • A red gooseberry
  • A yellow gooseberry
  • A red raspberry
  • A yellow raspberry
  • A blackberry
  • A boysenberry
  • A black-leaved elder (“black lace”)

There’s a decent hedge along the West edge of the garden, but the East side only has a wire fence. It’s not that I really need a hedge for privacy reasons, considering that the nearest neighbour is nearly half a mile away, but first of all the wire fence just isn’t all that attractive and second of all I rather like the idea of a garden as an enclosed space, especially since I am surrounded by open fields.

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On my recent Tour de Denmark, visiting family and friends across the Great Belt on Funen and in Jutland, my mother offered me an additional berry shrub. I actually wanted jostaberries, but because they are still fairly rare the prices were just too high for what I wanted to pay – but my mother’s shrub had several branches that had arched down to the ground and rooted, so I came away with three cuttings with fully developed root systems.

They look a bit puny right now, but so did my mother’s when we planted it 2 years ago – and now hers is a full shrub 5ft high and 7ft wide, so I feel pretty certain that my three little twigs will be a good start to my hedge.

The jostaberry is not very well-known, perhaps because it only became commercially available in 1977. It’s a hybrid between a gooseberry and a black currant, so it gives very large berries that have a gooseberry flavour when not-quite-ripe and a black currant flavour when fully ripe. And it gives LOTS of berries… In many ways it’s surprising that it hasn’t become more mainstream, considering that it’s a thorn-less berry shrub that gives an ample harvest and can be cut back more or less as much as you want to.

It feels good to have made my first REAL stamp on the garden. The East edge is one of the long sides of the garden (around 230ft), so planting that up with berry shrubs will be a very visible alteration to the garden – but still in keeping with the original scheme, since the vegetable garden is also on that side.

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In other news, snowdrops are popping out all over the place, even in the lawn. They are all over the garden; in the borders, under shrubs, in the lawn… There are also a few clumps of aconites, but the snowdrops are really a favourite of mine, so I am very pleased to see so many of them.

Another welcome resident of the garden is this:

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I love day lilies, and this one is probably my favourite, considering the history of the garden. It’s very likely to be the common, orange day lily, since it has been a common feature of Danish country gardens for the best part of a century. That’s the one my grandmother has in her present garden – and had when they lived on the farm – and also the one my parents had in my childhood garden. There might be prettier varieties out there, but this is the one I love for sentimental reasons.

Tomorrow I might have a look around the garden to see if there’s an obvious spot to plant some of the day lilies; it looks like the clump could do with being divided, and anyway it’s sort of in a bad position, nestled beneath some fuchsia shrubs. Not only will the colours clash violently, but I also think the day lilies would like to live somewhere where there aren’t overhanging shrubs…

Tomorrow I’ll also have my first ever guest in the house. That’s a “little bit” daunting! I love this place so much, but I am realistic enough to acknowledge that it’s quite a mess at present. And yet I want guests to see what I see; potential! If I get the kitchen looking decent and provide a nice bedroom for my guest, perhaps the rest will seem like “potential”?

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New Beginnings


I’m moving out of my little shoe box apartment in Copenhagen and into my own apartment that I’ve had rented out while I was married. (I’m kind of glad I kept it now, even though at times it was a financial drain.)

However, I’ve decided that most of my belongings should go to the house, rather than the apartment, so today a man and two women came and moved it all for me.

IMG_6297 Most of the boxes are books, so they will remain boxed-up until I have renovated the sitting room (floor, walls and ceiling) and can get a nice book case to cover the entire end wall. There are just under 3,000 books in my library, so I kind of need a large book case. (Preferably with excess space, as my books tend to breed – or else I just happen to buy new books all the time.)

So far I have the impression that my furniture really fits the house. It is sort of old-ish (1890’s to 1960’s), and though most of it’s dark wood – oak, mahogany, teak – it is all in a scale where it will not overpower the space when the walls have been done up and there’s a wooden floor. It will be a bright and airy house, with plenty of open floor space – and perhaps very much a Scandinavian house.

In other news, the snow has melted:

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There are little aconites and snowdrops all over the garden, and this pleases me immensely.

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There are also several groups of arum italicum which I love, and the hellebores are fiercely large – though probably of the Easter-blooming variety. I have a feeling this garden and I will get along very well…

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Objects In The Garden


“I’m lucky enough to have inherited several garden gnomes with my new garden… Most of them have accidentally ended up in the trash, but one of them is 4ft high (including his pedestal) and made of solid concrete. He remains in situ until I get somebody to help me get rid of that dreadful thing… There’s also a lion holding a crest by the drive – perhaps suitable for a grander house, but hardly for a rather modest house in the countryside.

I believe you might have given me the inspiration for a new post…”

The above was my comment on a post in Jean’s Garden, and I could have gone on and on – but didn’t want to make a rambling, long comment about my own garden on her blog. Her post was about art objects in the garden, and while I dare say my garden gnomes are hardly art – nor remotely pretty – it made me think about something I’ve long wanted in the old garden, but that would be too costly.

I love stones and rocks… But in the old garden on a fjord meadow they didn’t seem appropriate. I placed some smaller stones around the garden – souvenirs from around the world – but didn’t buy actual large stones in.

The new garden, though, is surrounded by fields, and boulders seem to crop up in them out of nowhere. The recent freeze has pushed several boulders out of the ground, so I need to get in touch with the farmer and ask him if he would mind if I took them (he obviously won’t), or if he would place them by my rear garden gate when he removes them himself, which he will definitely have to do pretty soon before his winter barley gets too high and begins hiding them in spring.

Using local boulders – that sprung from the ground a mere, well, stone’s throw from the garden really appeals to me, because I want the garden to be firmly anchored in it’s surroundings. Most are in sizes I can carry – or at least lift into the wheelbarrow on my own – and some are just large enough that I can’t – but can roll them over the lawn to where I want them. So I could manage on my own – which is important.

They will mainly fit in around the pond when I get that dug out – and as obstructions in the small stream I’m planning. Not large features, but semi-submerged remnants from the landscape around the garden and reminders of how the landscape was formed during the last ice age. And how it apparently still moves and shifts under the surrounding fields!

I think local, natural stones will fit in better in my garden than actual pieces of art. After all, the house is enough of a man-made statement in the garden for me.

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Slowly, Slowly…


Things are progressing very slowly at my house in the country. Not frustratingly so, but rather lazily and relaxed.

I am still working on the walls of the small sitting room, and that’s okay; it’s a labour of love, and I don’t want it to be stressful. Still, I am looking forward to the day when I can stand in a finished room, look around me and say to myself “Yes, this is just as it should be!”

Perhaps that’s reflected in my latest purchase:

Kanvas

27 yards of canvas???

It’s for curtains for the house, and that greyish sage green, coarse fabric should, I hope, look good against rough walls of white, rendered bricks. The reason I ordered so much fabric is that I want the same curtains throughout the house, and a) there are a lot of windows in a house compared to a small apartment and b) it is a cheap fabric, so I’d rather have too much than too little of it so I don’t run out and find they don’t make the exact same colour or texture any more.

It will be quite a project, turning this huge pile of fabric into curtains, but there’s no rush. After all, I can live without curtains as long as I’m working on the house – and then get a friend down to help me with the task of cutting up this vast swathe of fabric and turning it into separate panes. Yeah, real men make their own curtains, right?

Planning such a thing as curtains helps me see the house as it will be, and it will be lovely! As I look around me at the salmon-coloured walls of the large sitting room, the room transforms itself inside my head; the walls change colour and texture, the dropped faux-wood ceiling disappears and exposes the beams, the mangy old carpet turns into wooden flooring. Over there by the fire is where my great-grandmother’s sofa and armchairs will go, down here in the far end is where the large book case will cover the end wall and my desk will stand just there by the window. Under the desk will be my woollen rug so my feet are nice and warm when I sit there, and under the sofa arrangement will be a new rug that I haven’t quite imagined yet.

Bord

I’ve also bought the dining table for my large kitchen (when the wall to the small sitting room is knocked down): Solid oak, contemporary but still rustic. When the leaves are added to the ends it becomes nearly 10 feet long and easily seats 12-14 if needed, but it will also be my main work space in the kitchen – hence the need for something sturdy! And it came with a set of 12 solid oak chairs, though the chairs are lighter and more organic in their shape; somehow more welcoming to sit on than if they had had the same square, heavy style as the table.

Stole

The curves of the solid wood are so nice to touch…

All these pieces of the puzzle are still only put together in my mind – the dining table and the chairs are currently stored in the garage, my great-grandmother’s sofa set is in my aunt’s attic and so on, but I can somehow see it all coming together as a coherent, relaxed space.

Oh, and I bought myself another little trinket…

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Yes, Mr. I-Hate-Cars has bought a car. It’s a pretty, little thing – and would have felt dangerously small on Houston highways between pick-up trucks and SUVs, but in Denmark it fits in better. And 40 miles per gallon fits in nicely with my wallet…

A car simply makes it easier to have a house in the country. Easier to get down here, and easier to get around while I’m down here. Easier to bring a few friends down here – though of course I’d need a small bus if I were to provide transport for enough people to fill my dining table!

But… This house… I am so in love with it still! The project has expanded from merely redecorating to a rather more full-scale restoration with historic building materials and a “softly, softly” approach, so it will take me years to finish it – and that’s okay. Initially I thought I could have the internal walls repainted and the floors changed by Easter, but that’s not happening – and I really don’t mind. All delays are my own, and there are things I need to learn from scratch in order to achieve my vision (like rendering un-fired brick walls with lime-based render) but unskilled people have been working with these materials for thousands of years, so surely I can too!

(I won’t, though, be turning 27 yards of fabric into curtains by hand-sewing them! There must be limits, even for me…)

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OK for Christmas?


I may have just ordered a goose for my Christmas dinner…

Goose

A 12-pounder, to be exact… I do hope I will have some guests for dinner, because otherwise I’ll be eating confit of goose, goose paté, goose rillette and so on for ages to come! Though I suppose worse things could happen…

The goose will, though, be delivered quite dead and without feathers. (Or so I hope!)

In Denmark Christmas is in the evening on the 24th and really begins with the big Christmas dinner. It can be roast duck, roast pork or roast goose. The trimmings are the same: Braised and pickled red cabbage, boiled potatoes, caramelized small potatoes, gravy. And then you can add on as you like with other roast dinner trimmings. I like to do English roast potatoes instead of the boiled potatoes (because they’re SO much better, especially when roasted in goose fat), roasted Brussels sprouts, apple and prune stuffing for the goose, and maybe a waldorf salad.

After the roast comes dessert, which is risalamande, a Danish way of saying the French “riz á l’amande” – rice with almonds – though it has absolutely nothing to do with France. It’s a rice pudding with chopped almonds in it,and one whole almond that earns the winner of the almond a prize. The pudding is served with a warm cherry sauce, and I preserved some sour cherries just for this sauce in autumn after helping my uncle with his cherry harvest. Depending on who my Christmas guests are, the sauce will either be made with the cherries preserved in rum or the cherries preserved in syrup.

You see, I’m not quite sure who my guests will be… I’ve volunteered as a “Christmas host” with the Red Cross, so my guests could be lonely people who don’t have anybody to spend Christmas with, people who can’t afford to celebrate Christmas themselves or for that matter a group from the local refugee camp. (Hence the two options for the cherry sauce; Muslims are welcome at my rather secular Christmas where the star on the tree is really the only religious symbol, and that’s a fairly subtle one.)

I bought a tree last week, actually. It’s a bit smaller than what I got for Christmas in the old Copenhagen apartment, but my ceilings are lower and I still need room for the top star – and a safe distance from the upper-most candles on the tree to the ceiling! I mean, you didn’t expect me to put electric lights on my tree, did you?

It will still be around 7′, though, so not a tiny thing. It’s currently standing in the unheated garden room to keep fresh and will be taken inside in the morning of the 24th and decked out with paper ornaments of various forms – woven hearts, woven stars, woven cones for candy or cookies – and candles. I’ve been looking for nice baubles for a while but just didn’t find any that were my style, but I did find the perfect candle holders, which is more important.

Oh, how I look forward to Christmas… Even if spending Christmas with strangers turns out to be a nightmare I can always just put fresh candles on my tree and celebrate a second Christmas alone, and there’s BOUND to be some left-over goose!

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I’ve started tearing into my house. Literally.

Because I’ll be having guests for Christmas (part of a Red Cross scheme where you can offer to host Christmas for people who are either lonely or can’t afford to celebrate), the large front room will be left as-is for now. The carpet is ugly, the wallpapering poorly executed and the painting erratic, but it works as a large room to host a big dinner party with rooms for couches at one end.

So I am tackling the small sitting room off the kitchen first; the one I want to knock through into, so I don’t have to bee too careful.

6 layers of wallpaper… 6! Then a layer of wooden fibreboard – not ideal wall cladding in terms of fire hazards – and behind that half an inch of polystyrene as insulation – even worse in terms of fire hazards! Then another two layers of wall paper, a layer of concrete render to make the walls even and then…

So far I’ve only made a couple of 5″-diameter exploratory holes in the concrete render, but behind the concrete is an uneven, whitewashed wall. And it looks beautiful!

Tomorrow I plan to scratch off the whitewash to see what the actual fabric of the internal wall is, but this house is definitely rich in character and has the potential to become something quite amazing.

It feels so surreal to have actually peeled back the internal surface to the original wall, even if it’s just a few small holes so far. Attacking a house with a crowbar feel so violent, but it is also an act of love, because I want to know this house and make it as beautiful as it can be. Who knows what hides above the lowered ceilings!

The project is much bigger than expected, though, because there are so many layers before the actual wall. It will not be quick work, and it will not be easy.

So I’ve made a plan… There’s a gas cooker and a sink in the scullery, so if I start with the small sitting room and then move on to the kitchen I’ll still have a fully functioning house with a sitting room, cooking space and bedroom while I create my dream farmhouse kitchen. Bit by bit, this can be done.

I am so in love with this house. The generous space inside, the lovely garden outside and – of course – the views… Those views… When I stand in the shower I can see the local lake! Also when I do the dishes (NOT in the shower, obviously.) And the front room has a view of a field with a small clump of trees midway on its crest…

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