My vivacious neighbour Alyson is not my husband’s favourite person. Alyson is a travel agent and furniture importer who specialises in exotic India (this year she brought home a shipping container load of ornate wrought-iron gates, most of which are now installed at Foggydale Farm, hence my hubby’s nervousness at the mere mention of her name!)
Anyway, Alyson and I have put together a blooming awesome itinerary for a two-week fully escorted tour of India next March, taking in all the sights from the Taj Mahal to the Valley of Flowers. Think Eat, Pray, Love… plus Gorgeous Gardens!
Here’s the basic itinerary: 13 nights/14 days, departing Auckland on 20 March 2017, flying Singapore Airlines.
Day 1: Arrive in Mumbai, transfer to our hotel for a two night stay. (Accommodation 4* Deluxe + 5* Heritage Property.) Relax and enjoy some leisure time together.
Day 2: After breakfast, we’ll board a ferry to Elephanta Island, for a 1-hour cruise affording picturesque seaside views. Thereafter, enjoy the city tour of Mumbai visiting Gateway of India (a triumphal arch to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary) with its turrets and intricate latticework carved into yellow basalt stone. We’ll check out the treasures at the Prince of Wales Museum (carefully preserved, this mid-Victorian Gothic-style building was built in 1904 with beautiful gardens); visit Dhobi Ghat and Crawford market.
Day 3: After breakfast, we’ll fly to Jaipur and check into our hotel for a two-night stay. The evening is free to relax at the hotel or explore the Jaipur Bazaar, famous for textiles, jewellery, bangles etc.
Day 4: After an early breakfast, we’ll head out on an excursion to the majestic Amber Fort with a photo stop at Hawa Mahal, poetically known as the “Palace of Winds”. Continue to Amber Fort, the former ancient capital of Jaipur state, a superb example of Rajput architecture. The most enthralling experience of Amber Fort is the gaily decorated elephant ride to the Amber Fort. Later, well take a guided tour of Jaipur city starting with the City Palace Museum, registered in the Guinness Book of Records to contain the biggest silver objects in the world. Conclude your sightseeing with a visit to Jantar Mantar. One of the famed observatories built by Sawai Jai Singh, it is a complex of astronomical instruments, chiselled out of stone.
Day 5: After breakfast, we’ll travel to Agra for a two-night stay. Agra is home to India’s most famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. En-route we’ll visit Abhaneri Stepwell, an ancient village in Rajasthan renowned for its early medieval monuments.
Day 6: We’ll take an early morning visit to the Taj Mahal (closed on Fridays), the epitome of love. Standing on the banks of the river Yamuna, it was built in the 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shahjahan. This magnificent monument is built around a Charbagh or ‘four garden’ plan, split by watercourses, and reflects the influence of Persian architectural style. Come back to hotel for breakfast, followed by a sightseeing tour of the Agra Fort, built by Emperor Akbar; Itimad-ud-Daulah, nicknamed Baby Taj; a marble factory and then explore the colourful markets.
Day 7: After a leisurely breakfast, check out and travel to Delhi for a two night stay, with the rest of the day at your leisure.
Day 8: Take a guided sightseeing tour of Old & New Delhi. Begin with Old Delhi with a drive past Red Fort Palace to reach Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, built from red sandstone. Between the mosque and Chandni Chowk is a narrow shop-lined street along which you will be transported by cycle rickshaws on your most photogenic journey of the tour. We’ll also visit Khari Baoli, a street in Delhi famous for its wholesale grocery and Asia’s largest wholesale spice market, selling all kinds of spices, nuts, herbs and other food products. In the afternoon, explore New Delhi, which will include photo opportunities at some of the following attractions: the exterior of the Parliament House, the War Memorial Arch (India Gate) and residence of the President of India in New Delhi. Conclude your day with visit to Qutub Minar; being one of the most important landmarks of Delhi, with calligraphically decorated interiors and also inscriptions of verses of the Holy Quran.
Day 9: After breakfast we’ll fly to Srinagar, and be transferred to a traditional Kashmiri houseboat anchored on the prime location of Dal Lake, our accommodation for the next five nights.
Day 10: We travel to Gulmarg, Meadows of Flowers, situated 2,730 metres above sea level. The spring season starts by mid-March so it’s the best time visit Gulmarg. In spring, we will witness the meadows dotted with countless colourful bluebells, daisies, forget-me-nots and buttercups. Gulmarg is a wondrous mountain resort with the world’s highest golf course and also India’s premier ski resort. It’s a relaxed day to soak up the scenic beauty. On arrival, proceed for a local sightseeing tour of Gulmarg that includes a visit to famous nearby attractions. If you’re brave, take the gondola ride… Gulmarg is home to the world’s second highest cable car ride. In the evening, we’ll return to our houseboat.
Day 11: Explore the Dal-Lake, Waterways, Back Waters, Canals, Floating Garden, flower Garden, Vegetable Gardens of the lake area.
Day 12: We’re off to the Srinagar Tulip Festival – Asia’s biggest Tulip garden, on the shores of the famous Dal Lake. The garden looks like a silken carpet of bright coloured sprawling tulips over 5 hectares. The garden now boasts more than 2 million bulbs. Cultural programs, Kashmiri folk songs, sale of local handicrafts, and preparation of traditional Kashmiri cuisine forms an eminent part of the entertainment of visitors during the festival.
Day 13: The morning is free to explore the Tulip Garden, while later in the afternoon we explore the old city and visit Jama Masjid, originally built in 1394 and restored in 1672. As the largest mosque in Kashmir, Jama Masjid has 378 wooden pillars supporting the structure and is so large that it can accommodate thousands of devotees. Another great attraction is the Shah-e-Hamdan situated on the banks of River Jhelum.
Day 14: Enjoy breakfast together at our hotel. The tour concludes with a direct transfer to the Srinagar airport to board our Singapore Airlines flight home.
How much does it cost? A single room is $9790; double is $8490; internal flights $550 and tipping kitty approx $275 per person. For full details, talk to Alyson. Phone 09 292 4400, 021948508 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m chuffed to announce that advance copies of my new book have just landed, (though I suspect my husband isn’t so chuffed about me chucking all his gear out of our red barn so I could clear enough space to store them!).
Foggydale Farm Jam Sessions is a 50:50 mix of growing and harvesting advice… and recipes for preserving all your homegrown harvests in homemade jams, jellies, compotes & chutneys, just like my Nanas used to make.
You can order copies for $55 (including free P&P anywhere in NZ) and I’ll personally autograph them for good measure. You can pay by credit card, internet banking or post a good old-fashioned cheque.
For more information and to see sample pages from the book, check out my little online store: www.foggydalefarm.co.nz
Happy preserving this summer!
I’ve had a few emails this week about the column I wrote in the Sunday Star-Times about my attempt to make tomato sauce that tastes just like the red stuff. Here’s the story (including the recipe) if you missed it:
It went down like an episode of Breaking Bad. Having made contact with a sympathetic small-town pharmacist, I sidled up to the counter and was handed a paper bag containing a disposable plastic syringe and a small bottle of acetic acid.
I went home, donned a pair of latex gloves, sterilised my stainless steel jam pan, sharpened a knife and embarked on an afternoon of bloody carnage. Obviously I wasn’t cooking a batch of crystal meth but something equally addictive: homemade Wattie’s Tomato Sauce.
In our house, nothing is safe from it. Not a sausage (especially a sausage). Not steak and chips. Not mince on toast. Not bacon and eggs. Not mashed potato nor fried rice nor pasta, including free-range fettuccine from the ovaries of our own chooks.
My husband and children go through a large bottle of Wattie’s Tomato Sauce every week. They are ferociously brand loyal. Not only does Heinz have no place in our home, every time I’ve tried to fob them off with homemade ketchup, they’ve shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm.
These days, you can find recipes for almost anything on the internet, from Coca Cola to Colonel Sanders’ 11 secret herbs and spices (paprika, onion, celery salt, sage, garlic, allspice, oregano, chilli, black pepper, basil and marjoram, apparently). But on the subject of Wattie’s Tomato Sauce, the world wide web was all but silent.
My search took me deep into the archives of foodlovers.co.nz, where, at 10.59pm on Thursday 7 February, 2008, a lady named Diane shared her half-century-old method with a glowing endorsement: “This IS like Wattie’s and is pure tomato!”
I weighed out Diane’s ingredients on a set of vintage imperial Salter scales: 12lb tomatoes, 2lb sugar, 3oz whole allspice, 3oz salt and 1.5oz glacial acetic acid from the chemist.
The method was just 16 words long: “Boil all except acid for 3 hours then put through blender/mouli. Add acid and bottle.”
Now for a quick chemistry lesson: acetic acid, which Wikipedia hilariously warns against confusing with the ascetic pursuit of abstinence from worldly pleasures, is the compound that makes vinegar smell sharp and taste sour. The acetic acid in vinegar comes from ethanol fermentation – white vinegar is made from leftover lactose from the dairy industry, malt vinegar from barley, cider vinegar from apples, balsamic from grapes, and so on – and is up to 5 per cent acetic acid, whereas glacial acetic acid is 99 per cent pure.
Why this matters, I have now learned, is that when you make sauces and chutneys with vinegar, it takes hours to boil off all that extra liquid, resulting in a dark brown sauce rather than a sea of red. But if you deseed the tomatoes first (the seeds and gel-like pulp also turn brown when boiled for any length of time), and add only two small spoonfuls of acetic acid as opposed to an entire bottle of vinegar, the sauce retains all of its colour and concentrated tomato flavour.
You must, of course, begin with only the beefiest, beautiful tomatoes. I acquired four crates of ‘Spanish Red’tomatoes from Curious Croppers in Clevedon – horticulturists to the stars, or at least the stars of the Auckland restaurant scene. I sliced each meaty tomato in half, plunging my fingers deep into their blood-red flesh and squeezing sensuously until the seedy pulp ejaculated into a bowl (strain and save the juice for Bloody Marys).
I also tinkered a bit with Diane’s recipe, halving the amount of salt and glacial acetic acid (history tells me that Digby Law and his ilk were rather more fond of vinegar than our modern palates) and adding a tablespoon of citric acid just before bottling in hot jars.
Then I assembled a panel of experts for a blind taste test. My husband, self-confessed sauce connoisseur, couldn’t tell the difference, though the kids remained suspicious until I decanted my DIY version into an empty Wattie’s sauce bottle.
“Profit is sweet,” said Sophocles, “even if it comes from deception.”
Remember that childhood game – was it called Memory? – where you were presented with a plate with a bunch of random things on it, then you were given a minute to memorise everything on it before reeling them off to score points?I’d be hopeless playing an adult version of this game with the flowers in my garden. Somehow, the more beautiful something is in bloom, the more likely it is that, while staring point-black at it, I won’t be able to recall its jolly name.
This afternoon, I took a little tiki-tour around my garden with my secateurs, and this is what I found:
1. Blood red abutilons, or Chinese lanterns. Such fabulously underrated shrubs for tucking into the gaps under deciduous trees, and easy to strike from cuttings (according to Julian Matthews). I wonder why these gorgeous, if a little gangly, plants aren’t easier to buy. They must have fallen out of fashion.
2. Annual blue forget-me-nots. Jason’s ex-girlfriend planted these under the silver birches at the end of the driveway, and they return year after year in a chintzy carpet of baby blue. I adore them.
3. Bluebells. The perfect companion for forget-me-nots, with the same provenance.
4. I think this is the cute wee Australian wax flower, Eriostemon myoporoides ‘Profusion’, but I wouldn’t stake my life on it.
5. Dainty white thrift, Armeria maritima ‘Alba’.
6. Dinky English daisies, Bellis perennis. I love, love, love them, even if they hate, hate, hate Auckland’s humid climate.
7. Pansies. Aww, look at their happy little faces.
8. The last of the winter-flowering Primula malacoides.
9. I have no idea what variety these creamy rhododendrons are, but by summer they’re so riddled with thrips that it looks like someone spraypainted their leaves white.
10. Apple blossoms. (We have so many apple trees that I figured I could sacrifice one bunch of ‘Gala’ for a photograph.)
11. False or Mexican orange blossom, Choiysa ternata. Horrible smelling beast, but rather lovely in my white garden. It reminds me that I must seek out a few plants of its posh sibling ‘Aztec Pearl’, which has smaller flowers but millions more of them.
12. It’s one of Murphy’s Laws of Gardening that the more you try to kill something, the stronger and healthier it will grow just to spite you. This pale lilac clematis fits into that category. It was here when I came and I moved it twice, with no thought for its welfare, but each time it bounced back. Meanwhile, every flamboyant ‘Nellie Moser’ and ‘Fireworks’ vine I have bought has met an untimely fate before its first season was out.
13. That teeny tiny blue flower is the very first bud to open on Sisyrinchium ‘Devon Skies’, a grassy little perennial that looks like a constellation of starry blue blooms in full flight in summer.
14. My friend Fiona gave me this one, and I think she said it was a fothergilla?
15. I bought this ti-tree last week because its name is Lynda. Well, close enough. It’s Leptospermum ‘Wiri Linda’, bred by Jack Hobbs.
16. Self-sown honeywort, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens’. I have a veritable forest of this stuff, and the bees are going bonkers for it.
17. Gah. Ranunculus. I’m giving up on them. This is my best bloom from over 100 corms. (For scale, notice how it is as small as a sprig of freesias.) I don’t know what the secret to big fat ranunculus is, but I wish someone would tell me!
18. Fabulously fragrant freesias. I have them in red, yellow, white and lilac.
19. Perennial ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ wallflowers are in bloom year-round in the garden in front of our stables. They’re so lovely. A favourite of my Grandma Clarice.
20. Purple-flowered honesty, beloved for its papery moon-like seed heads.
21. The deciduous azalea ‘Sweet Inspiration’, which has a daft name but oodles of beauty in spring. (And fragrance to boot!)
22. False Queen Anne’s Lace, Ammi majus. I’m going to try to dry some of this in summer; apparently the trick is to hang it upright through a mesh screen so that the lacy umbrella-like heads hold their shape.
23. My all-time favourite spring flower, Orlaya grandiflora. A hardy annual that self-seeds like the world’s prettiest weed every year. I wouldn’t be without it.
24. The first of my granny’s bonnets (Aquilegia) to bloom. Can never have too many of these tucked into the corners.
25. This giant white iberis or candytuft is a cracker of a plant. Mine were a gift from a group of generous Taranaki gardeners (when they visited my place a few years back, they “paid” one plant each!)
26. The giant Madeira geranium, Geranium maderense, most commonly has garish hot-pink flowers but this is the refined, and rare, white form. It grows into a 1m-wide bush one year, then smothers itself in flowers the next. Then, more often than not, the blimming thing carks it. You can get it from Terry Hatch at Joy Plants.
27. The first of my (million or so) sweet williams. Yay! I have heaps of old-fashioned tall dianthus for picking.
28. Here’s a show-off shrub. A posh shrub. A fancy-pants, bet-no-one-else-has-it sort of shrub. It’s Calycanthus ‘Hartlage Wine’ and it’s divine. It’s deciduous, so when the spring foliage comes out it’s lavishly lush and lime-green, with sultry blooms of darkest claret. Mine cost $50 each, and were worth every cent. They’re just coming into bloom now.
29. Viburnum ‘Summer Snowflake’, a compact viburnum that gets better every year. I’ve gone a bit mad for viburnums this year, with six new plants sitting in the driveway awaiting planting.
30. The red geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ is an oldie but a goodie, but its new double-flowered electric orange cousin ‘Fireball’ is even better. I think it’s fabulous.
31. The snowball tree, Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile’ has flowers of lime that age to pure white. I wish it lasted better in the vase. I suspect you need to treat the stems somehow because mine always hang their heads in shame by the following morning.
32. You’d have to be a miserable so-and-so not to melt a little at the sight of spring poppies. Mine (all self-sown) are mostly red, but also come in baby pink, white, orange and scarlet.
33. One of the very first perennials I ever fell in love with was Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum multiflorum. It grows like a weed in Mum’s garden, and I’m thrilled to report that it’s finally, after a couple of years of desperate coaxing, heading in that direction here too. So graceful it is, like a ballerina but with several dozens pairs of white slippers slung over each arm.
34. Fond. Yes, I’m very fond of the little perennial viola ‘Maggie Mott’. Not awestruck or smitten or infatuated or anything stronger than fond, but there’s nothing wrong with fondness!
35. Verbenas do well here in summer. At least, the ones that Jack Frost doesn’t murder do well. Not sure how these two escaped his attentions last winter.
36. At the end of our driveway there’s an anonymous red carpet rose that manages to bloom in the gloom beneath a copper beech tree. It looks very much like Flower Carpet Red in bloom, except the single flowers are borne from these perfect buttonhole buds.
37. ‘Souvenir de Mme. Leonnie Viennot’ – an old-fashioned rambling rose that’s the perfect choice for any farm gate.
38. The ornamental cherry Prunus ‘Shimidsu Sakura’ has these flouncy fat blossoms, but it’s hit and miss here. My two trees only have about half a dozen clusters of blossoms each because the rotten rosellas eat them.
39. This is the best dark purple lavender. And I’d love to tell you its name but I can’t because I’ve forgotten it. I think it was in the Bee series. But then again, perhaps it was just a random purchase. I’ll never know.
40. Another wallflower, sold to me as ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ but quite a bit paler.
41. Self-sown viper’s bugloss, Echium vulgare. It’s a weed, frankly, and bristly.
42. Another dainty delight from Fiona. It’s a spiraea of some sort. (Or if not, it’s something similar!)
43. And the lucky last? Dark burgundy aquilegias from the ‘Tower Double’ series. They look like multi-layered Victorian ladies’ bustles and seem to come true-ish from seed, as they’re popping up all through my paths. Gotta love a freebie!
(ps. Click on the photo above to enlarge it)
Gosh, time flies when you’re having… ahem, babies.
It has been almost 18 months since I last updated this blog. Suffice to say that when you’re juggling a writing career, a bit of broadcasting, a ridiculously large garden, two toddlers, a husband (not that I could actually juggle mine, what with him being 6ft4in tall and tipping the scales at 115kg), two kunekune pigs, eight chooks, four cats, two dogs, some cattle and a dozen or so sheep… life gets a bit busy for blogging too.
But my youngest son, Lachie, turned two yesterday, and when he blew out the candles on his (storebought) birthday cake, I was sure I could see the light at the end of the toddler time-evaporating tunnel (I’ve even ceremoniously biffed the high chair and given the cot away), so I’m back.
Apologies to all of you who have asked unanswered questions in my absence (though I’m not so sorry about the 278,853 spam messages in my trash). And with that in mind, I thought we could kick things off with a free-for-all gardening advice session. Got a tricky question? Hit me with it!
Here’s a perplexing problem of my own. In my absence, I also developed a serious contact allergy to tomato plants. (I know, who has ever heard of a gardening writer who was allergic to tomatoes?) But I can’t touch them without my hands swelling up and erupting in an angry, and insanely itchy, rash of blisters. I should know better, but this morning I picked a lovely basket of self-sown ‘Tomatoberry’ cherry tomatoes. And I thought I was careful, but I wasn’t careful enough, which is why I am up late on the computer instead of sleeping. It’s either type or scratch my hands off.
Last year I was late getting my freesia bulbs in. Quite late. Indeed, it was spring before their wrinkly bottoms saw any soil. As a consequence, they came up late, refused to flower and then struggled on miserably during the drought, making me feel guilty every time I walked down the hill path. I figured it would be my own fault if I lost the lot, but this year they all came back up and flowered beautifully. More than beautifully. They have been astonishing, astounding, sensationally stunning… you get the picture. They are – and isn’t this the true measure of success in a flower border? – every bit as pretty and perfect and strong-stemmed as the commercial cut flower varieties you see in florist’s shops. Perhaps there’s some sense in not letting them flower in their first year.
The varieties I planted were both doubles: hot pink ‘Cassis’ (it looks more red in this photo, but it’s a deep magenta) and lavender-blue ‘Purple Rain’. I ordered both from www.nzbulbs.co.nz.