30 March 2013

Hot Cross Buns

Imagine my delight
when I first laid eyes
on mythical 'hot cross buns'
sold in our grocery store

Thinking they only existed in a nursery rhyme,
they've been available in stores a few weeks now
to be consumed on Good Friday or Easter

The dough is spiced and fruited
and a cross is cut into it

According to a Church of England spokesperson,
'You have got the bread, as per communion,
you have got the spices that represent the spices Jesus was wrapped in the tomb,
and you have got the cross
They are fairly full of Christian symbolism'

And they cost more than a penny ;)

Happy Easter

- photo by me -
Source: BBC

21 March 2013

A Day In The Houses Of Parliament

Claude Monet's The Houses of Parliament, Sunset (1903)

A gorgeous Gothic landmark with a famous Clock Tower,
I was really excited to see inside the Palace of Westminster

Once a royal medieval palace and now a major center of politics,
this building holds a lot of dramatic history
including the unsuccessful Gunpowder Plot in 1605,
a gruesome ending for Oliver Cromwell in 1661,
a major fire in 1834,
and many bombings during World War II

The interior of the Houses Of Parliament
is just as stunning as its exterior

After my tour, I was inspired to contact my local Member of Parliament (MP)
to request tickets for Question Time

Every Wednesday for thirty minutes,
MPs fire questions at the Prime Minister in the House of Commons

Wow - we have nothing like this in the US

Reminding me of a schoolyard,
fingers are pointed,
the Speaker of the House yells 'Order!'
gasps, cheers and outbursts come from all political parties
in response to David Cameron's answers

And they do it every week

Ranging from housing benefits to Alzheimers to poaching in Africa to Syria,
it made me realize how numerous and vast the issues are
and that these are mere mortals working on the state of affairs
within the same 24 hours the rest of us have

Interestingly, David Cameron often referred to other politicians by saying,
'As my friend ___ rightly said...'
which made me realize

these (mostly) men have been groomed to be politicians from an early age,
often attending the same boarding schools and universities
(Oxford or Cambridge)

Which means, there is not a huge diversity in upbringing
and it means they have known each other a long time
perhaps with old lunchroom grudges
or as dorm room buddies

It made me appreciate the diversity of our US politicians,
many whom have not met each other until their first day on Capitol Hill
and cover a wide scope of professional backgrounds

I was very impressed how solid David Cameron was throughout Question Time
He seemed very prepared and did not seem flustered by the jeers

It would be fascinating to see American politicians grilled the same way
in such a format

While the debates were lively, I'm not sure how much was accomplished
as they moved to the next topic quickly

it was a huge privilege to see
including the three gentlemen wearing old-fashioned white wigs :)

For anyone interested in history or politics,
the Houses of Parliament tour is a must see

If you are looking for amazing verbal jousting and quick comebacks,
Question Time is a must do

Images 2-4 via Parliament website
(A non-sponsored post)

15 March 2013

English Garden Tips & Trends

With Spring taking it's time this year
to show its lovely face,
I am chomping at the bit for some warmth and sunshine :)

I've collected pages from magazines and such over the years
to remember English garden tricks and tips
for when I return 'home' to a garden I can play in

Here's a few ideas...

- Plant 'biodynamically' by checking the lunar calendar
to see when the water table will be closer to the surface
similar to the ocean tides

This makes for better root development and
requires less 'watering in' new plantings

- If growing seeds, place a used tea bag at the bottom of each pot
to hold moisture and to give trace nutrients
Use more tea bags for larger pots

- Dig a square planting hole, not round, for better root development

- Liquid feed all berry and flowering plants with tomato fertilizer, which contains potash,
to improve flowering and productivity

- Square pots are less tippy than round ones in the wind

- Consider the 3 R's: Repeat, Rhythm, Regularity when planting a new border
Limit color and number of species used
Mirror plantings across pathways when possible

- Pebbled and stoned areas are more rain-friendly than harder surfaces
Not only do they look more attractive, but also allow rain to soak right through them
(England has mastered rain-management here)

Here's a list of current trends:

Peat moss is harvested from bogs and fens 
in the Republic of Ireland (70%) and within the United Kingdom (32%)

Peat has been THE affordable and reliable growing medium in the UK since the 1940s,
but with an increased awareness of the importance of peatlands
and its unique supporting habitat,
gardeners and nurseries search for better alternatives

Although I believe xeriscape is a newer idea here than in the US,
there has been a need for it,
as parts of the country were in a drought last summer with a 'hosepipe' ban 

The roots of this movement seem to be from Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf

Increasingly popular prairie or meadow gardens
grow grasses and North American natives such as
California Poppies and Echinacea/coneflower

Other European influences are obvious in grander gardens,
such as French potagers (kitchen gardens)
and Italian parterres with ornate clipped topiaries

In the last month, the Royal Horticultural Society rolled out its
revised RHS Plant Hardiness Rating System based on extreme temperatures
America has something similar with their USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map

RHS gives plants distinguished 'Award of Garden Merit' (AGM) based on local trials
This label helps customers select reliable plants with good general performance and form,
are reasonably resistant to pests and diseases, and are fairly easy to grow

AGM Trial Site at RHS Wisley Garden

RHS members can order seeds for a minimal price,
with over 700 varieties from which to choose
including annuals, shrubs and trees
The list varies annually

Such a brilliant way to keep quality plants in circulation around the country

The elderly population grew up during World War II 
and endured difficult living conditions post-war as well
They had their hands in the soil to grow their own food,
and this generation is the keen gardener of today

They are the members of local garden clubs in villages

There is some concern that the gardening enthusiasm will wane 
as the older generation passes on
Efforts are being made to foster gardening interest in the younger generations

In a local garden, children planted up shower caps, socks, and pajama bottoms

Adopt a beehive, grapevinelavender row, or cherry orchard
to support local farmers and to receive product

The US and the UK share similar trends, such as
an effort to use fewer pesticides/go organic, a concern about the drop in bee population,
and more mindful planting to attract birds, bees, and insects to the garden

In America,
you find permanent sprinklers, mulched gardens,
and almost no use of peat

In the UK, you see 'water butts' collecting rainwater,
more use of top dressing (easier when there is no mulch to move aside),
moss in the lawn (I think its pretty, but I guess it is undesirable),
nurseries selling annuals in styrofoam containers (?!),
and garden-waste-only bins for curbside trash pickup

Growing in bags is seen in England, but not in the US

With England's perfect growing conditions
of cool summer temperatures, frequent rain,
and long daylight hours (closer to the North Pole)
it is no wonder this is the Garden Island

But no matter where you live
there is no question gardening is
food for the eyes
and the soul

Do you have any unusual garden tips to share?

- all photos by me -

Related Posts:
England, The Garden Island (incl gardens to visit)
A Rose By Any Other Name... (different name, same plant)

(an unsponsored post)

06 March 2013

England, The Garden Island

When I first moved to England
I was disappointed front gardens lacked the beauty
I'd expected from the Garden Island

But now I know care and attention is put into back gardens,
often a hidden oasis and private gem behind home facades

So a plain looking home unsuspectingly could have
the most magnificent garden behind its fence

Why isn't more attention put toward the front garden in England?
Perhaps it is due to the English sense of privacy while gardening,
no need to spend effort in an area where they won't be hanging-out,
or it is too showy to have an impressive garden in the front

Nonetheless, this is THE Garden Island

First of all, let's talk English garden centers

They look very similar to American ones
with cement floors, nothing-fancy display stands, and simple signage

But the local garden center offers much, much more

It may include a
tea room (almost always)
book shop
gift shop
farm shop
outerwear clothing shop
pet supplies
fake flowers
outdoor vintage antiques
picnic benches to eat your lunch on
a playset for children to use

On a whole other level,
offers not just lovely outdoor plants
and vintage home decor 
but even a cafe which was awarded a Michelin Star in 2011
and is known for celebrity spotting
(not too far from London, if you come for a visit)

But you don't need to own a garden
to enjoy one

You can see some of England's most gorgeous gardens here:

If you seek gardens belonging to royalty,
you can see Prince Charles's Highgrove Garden
and Buckingham Palace Gardens

Henry VIII's Hampton Court

RHS 'Britain In Bloom' is the country's most popular horticultural campaign
with over 1,100 cities, towns, and villages 
competing against each other 
as to which has the most beautiful public spaces

Such a great community builder,
free seeds and support are provided by
the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)
to registered groups

Affordable allotment plots (community gardens)
 are seen in almost every village,
used mostly for growing edible crops

Believe it or not,
Indiana Jones-type plant hunters 
continue to scour the planet for undiscovered flora to bring to the garden,
such as Tom Hart-Dyke who was kidnapped in Colombia
while hunting for rare orchids in 2000

'Garden love' spreads
with informal plant and seed swaps between gardeners

Countless garden courses are offered around the country,
including by Sarah Raven who has a Martha Stewart like status here

On the most formal level,
RHS hosts the annual Chelsea Flower Show,
which is the catwalk for flowers and garden design
attracting competitors and visitors worldwide

What are some of the trends and tips from English gardeners?
Don't miss my next post :)

- all photos by me -
Related posts:

(an unsponsored post)

05 March 2013

Crime in England vs US

I witnessed a crime yesterday

Actually, I witnessed 3 brave men chase down 
a burglar who was fleeing by bike

I think he had stolen something from the small corner grocery store

When they got him off his bike,
they held him on the street while they waited for the police to arrive

Curiously, it was the policewoman who calmly talked to the perpetrator,
not one of the three policemen
Perhaps policewomen are seen as non-threatening?
I hadn't thought about this important role before

The streets were filled with pedestrians when the whole thing happened
Sadly I saw many elderly people stand frozen, shocked, to see the event unfold
Clearly they were traumatized by what they saw
I hope they slept okay last night
I know I didn't

Petty crime feels more pervasive in England than in the US

As an expat said to me about her home country,
when third hand stories about crime start to become first hand stories with frequency,
you know there is a problem

In the US, I never knew anyone who came eye to eye with a criminal in the act

Here, I have a handful of friends who either witnessed a high street burglary
or were victims of home invasions

I know that America looks like the Wild West with our ownership of guns
but I do think a potential burglar thinking someone *might* have a gun at home
prevents many home invasions in America
(guns are illegal in England - police don't even carry them)

Early on I was given the advice that if someone is burglarizing my home in England,
do not intervene - just let them carry on and they won't hurt you

In America, you can use whatever means to protect your home and family

Yet here, the news reports crime victims being prosecuted for harming a perpetrator
- intentionally or not -
It makes one feel defenseless

Do I feel safer in the US or in England?
I feel less likely to witness or be a victim of a crime in the US,
but if I do, it would be more violent

So I guess my safety-o-meter feels about the same, just different
Either way, not that safe

01 March 2013

Sherlock Holmes In London

Determined this year
to walk in the footsteps of famous British authors,
I started my quest with Sherlock Holmes,
created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Wall Tiles at Baker Street Tube Station

Sherlock Holmes continues to be on bookshelves today,
as The Hound of the Baskervilles
was awarded 128th place in the BBC's Big Read
as a treasured book by three quarters of a million voters

Did you know Sherlock Holmes's Deerstalker cap is not mentioned in any of the books?
It is one of many Holmes's trademarks created by actors and/or illustrators

An interesting fact about Doyle is
he was a Scottish physician without many patients
so he starting writing stories and novels in his office
in Portsmouth and later in London

(I love examples when an apparently bad situation 
turns out to be a good thing)

Original gas lights from Doyle's era are still dotted around London

Conan Doyle was first published in 1886
and continued to write until after World War I

As a playwright, Doyle also brought his popular Sherlock Holmes to the stage
(including to the Adelphi Theater seen here)

Sherlock Holmes was a unique idea at the time
with his character reappearing repeatedly
in novels and short stories

Not only were his contemporary readers 
entranced by Holmes and his sidekick Watson,
but Doyle was clever to throw in tidbits 
that would have been current, possibly to the week,
in his stories published in The Strand Magazine

Previous entrance to The Strand Magazine office, which closed in 1950
The clock would have indicated wealth

which gives Sherlock Holmes and Watson 
completely different personas from the film, 'Sherlock Holmes' (2009)

The book is a short, quick read
which I would definitely recommended if you are looking for a classic
(I had no idea there were quagmires in Dartmoor!)

As for Sherlock Holmes locations in London,
there is no shortage :)

- all photos by me -
(an unsponsored post)