Rocks on the road

Well, I’ve not written a blog for a goodly long time. This has not been a result of not brewing, on the contrary I have brewed two Belgian ales and two British ales. Bottle conditioning as I write is an American Pale Ale, which I have high hopes for (o.k, I have high hopes for all my brews…) It really should be a very decent ale.

My most recent brew, is an Extra Special Bitter. Very nice it is too. Just needs a little more crystal malt to add some sweetness to round it off. Like I say, the journey is a learning curve. The area that was lacking has been addressed in my next Pale Ale which, though a different type of ale, has a malty backbone to it.

Anyway, outside of my brewing obsession, life has not been so simple. Moving back here from my home country, the UK, was always a risk. I have wobbled a lot and have many times said to myself and those close to me, that the move was a mistake. This has sadly resulted in problems, which to be fair were present anyway. To cut a long story short, I’m not sure what will happen from here on in. The storm is yet to make landfall in that sense, but it has been brewing off-shore for a very long time. I will be keeping up my brewing though, whatever happens.

Sadly, too my wife’s great grandfather looks as if he will be passing away in the next few days. We have always got along very well. Though he speaks a very strong dialect, which I can’t understand, and he is deaf in one ear, so can’t even hear me most of the time, we have always had great conversations. He has this special link to my own grandfather. Though they fought on opposite sides in WWII, they were both for a time anti-aircraft gunners defending their respective capital cities. They both told me the same story about their jobs. Basically, they both told me what a nonsense their roles were, as the shells they fired exploded at hundreds of feet, when the aircraft they were ‘firing’ at were flying at thousands of feet.

He has reached the grand age of 96, quite a good innings, and he has had the pleasure of seeing and spending time with great-grandchildren, which many of his generation will have never experienced. He has always been so cheerful and full of gratitude and therefore an inspiration. He will be terribly missed.

The weather like my private-life has been tumultuous. We had a close encounter with a typhoon in early August. We battended down the hatches for a few days and were then given the most amazing light show when the storm eventually passed. The cover picture shows the most extraordinary rainbow. All the more amazing because the sun (and only light source) was setting behind me. I’m not sure how the glow was generated, but I can assure you it is a not some trick photography. This was taken with a smart phone and has not been re-touched at all. Weird eh.

My anti-mosquito garden is seemingly having some kind of effect. I really do perceive less mosquitoes than before. I was not expecting such a strong effect. It could be an independent factor, of course, and therefore a coincidence. However, the result is the same, markedly less mosquitoes. So, growing chrysanthemums, marigolds, lavender, lemon grass, thyme and mints does seem to work somehow.

My brewery plan has hit serious skids due to legislation that will limit new brewery start-ups to producing volumes of beer which will not be possible with the kind of small scale investment I had in mind. I have a friend who is on-board and investigating the options of investors, but it is a long-shot. In any case, given my bumpy trajectory, I may not be around to develop this idea further here anyway.

Sorry, that this is not an entirely happy blog. Heh, that’s life, ups and downs.


Beauty amongst the mire

It’s been a very challenging and difficult time for the Green Man. Not only have their been heartless attacks in his homeland, but he also lost a dear colleague to cancer. I am only just recovering from these hammer blows, to be honest.

However, amongst the misery some relief has emerged and in keeping with the subject of this blog it is related to ale, and more specifically, the Green Man’s home crafted ale. If you have read previous blogs, you’ll know that just brewing beer has involved a long wait, a long trip and some serious persistence. I have brewed four ales and I am now drinking the third of these, an American Pale Ale (or so I had intended).

My first two brews were a very steep learning curve and though drinkable were tainted by the ‘homebrew twang’. This taste can best described as a yeasty, banana, fruity twang. Having drunk homebrew in my youth I know this taste well enough. For me, it is not satisfying to brew beers with this element. It is not the high quality beer that I am gunning for. If that is all I can do, I can save myself the effort and buy cheap beers from a shop without the hassle and disappointment.

Anyway, my third effort has required some investment to control temperatures. Due to a change in style it also used a different yeast and more hops. But, what a difference! I am now drinking something which I would be prepared to pay for in a pub, and if I did, would have no complaints about. I am not one to blow my own trumpet, but my word this is good. I am flabbergasted. I had heard that brewing high quality beer at home was possible, but was beginning to sense that there was an element of brinkmanship to it and that actually the message should really be ‘you can brew really good beer…for homebrew’. But no, I can vouch that it is actually true. You really can brew IPA (for this is the type of ale I have had success with) at home, as good as you can buy.

My first two brews I counted as minor successes, but this one I can genuinely be proud of. My only regret is that I only have nine bottles of it, such is my brew set-up. Next on the horizon is a Belgian-style blonde ale and then a stronger version of the same ale, with minor tweaks. This will be another interesting ‘learning journey’. Before that I will have another IPA (my fourth effort) to try. I can only hope that this brew is a new norm and not an exception.

Needless to say I am really enjoying the journey and it is providing very welcome relief and distraction from a lot of what is going on in the my wider world at the moment.

The Green Man as ever is reminded that he should remain focused on the mantra ‘Be open to the positive, never stop trying and you will be rewarded’. Well, something like that…

Goodbye Banana!

This blog is all about challenge. I’m cataloguing how I’m overcoming those to brew decent ale in a climate which is just not suited to it. I am also investigating very seriously the possibility of opening a brewery here too, but first things first, brew great ale! It is with great satisfaction that I blog today about a significant challenge that I have made in-roads with i.e the elimination of the ‘homebrew twang’ or as friend has noted ‘banana-taste’.

Brewing beer is fun. You get to design the beer you want, choose your ingredients and come brew day you have all the excitement and challenge of putting it all together (and it is a challenge, keeping everything at the right temperature!). The only snag is that it takes a month to see if tweaks and improvements to the process have worked, since that’s how long it takes to go from Brew Day to Drinking Day. Of course you have sneak peaks, like at Bottling Day (2-weeks in).

The other issue is that any mistakes you have made take a while to come to fruition and by the time you see them you may have made the same mistake with the following batch. A bit frustrating, to say the least. I could wait a month between Brew Days, but due to my very small batches (5 litres) I would run out of beer and that is not a situation I am willing to contemplate.

Anyway, there is method in my madness. I do not want to brew 10 or more litres of horrible beer and have to drink it all! So, I am going to stick with my current method, albeit slightly flawed and frustrating. It has already yielded some great lessons. My first two batches were tainted by the ‘Homebrew Twang’, a taste noted by a friend as ‘Banana’. This was down to me pitching the yeast at too high a temperature and not controlling the subsequent temperature well. My plans to put it all in my mini-cellar just didn’t work. So I have invested in a ‘Wine Cellar’ which can fit my small fermenter and a batch of bottles. See below.

Wine cellar

Wine cellar inside

As I mentioned above, one window to see if any changes have had any impact is at Bottling Day when you get to drink your gravity reading sample. Well, to be quite blunt, I was blown away! What I tasted was a citrusy and hoppy IPA! Not a banana in sight, none that I could taste at any rate. So it would seem the dreaded, brew ruining ‘banana and homebrew twang’ have gone (or have been sufficiently masked by lots of hops, can’t say 100% which yet). It’s also worth noting that I changed the yeast to the American style one and this too may have had an impact.

Is the brew perfect? Absolutely not. Sadly, I made another error in my Dry Hopping (adding hops to the fermenter after fermentation). I had read about people just adding hop pellets directly to the fermenter with out any bag. So rather than put the pellets in a bag I just dropped them straight in. Well, the aroma of the beer and the taste is something to behold, it truly is, but the sight of little flecks of green floating in your beer isn’t. Plus, during bottling the hop material blocked the spigot (tap outlet) and caused lots of dribbling and erratic flow. As a result, I lost about half a bottle at least and had a sticky, messy floor. Lesson learned, bag your pellet hops!

In addition, this time I started my next brew and did the bottling in the down time (waiting for Mash and Boil). It seemed to work pretty well and is very time efficient. The only issue was that I didn’t adequately check my tap on the fermenter and when I poured my wort into it, I hadn’t noticed the tap was open until I saw wort running down the bathroom floor into the drain! So if I had a small batch to begin with, now I have a tiny batch. Nevermind, ‘all good things…’.

There were other tweaks to the IPA, such as Munich Malt, which I haven’t used before. I didn’t use Oats in it either, I simply forgot to buy them… We will see how it stands up to the American Pale Ale body-wise and head-wise. It will make an interesting comparison anyway. I also ramped up my hop additions and used Nugget hops for the first time. The result, in a months time, will be interesting. It should be a very hop-forward IPA set against a malty background. At least I’ll have American Pale Ale to drink in the meantime, once I have strained it to stop the tiny leaf particles ending up in my glass… Hope those don’t ruin what should be an excellent ale in the meantime!

Brew 2, kind feedback and my first taste of a Lambic!

Well, Brew 2 is ready and has been consumed! Some friends of a friend have been very eager to try the products of my labour and it was not without great trepidation that I let them a have bottle of both Brew 1 and Brew 2. I couldn’t have been more surprised by the reception! They liked it! Before they put glass to mouth, I was full of apologies about the ‘fruity homebrew twang’, preparing them for what was to come. To my complete surprise they were really quite impressed. To be honest with you, I don’t think they have experienced Homebrew before so they lack the reference point of those who have, but still it was interesting to see how my beer held up ‘in it’s own right’, as it were.

Actually, in many ways they are probably bigger beer connoisseurs than me! Later that evening we tried a sour beer, a Lambic, no less, and a very good, aged Chimay too (more about those later). So they know a bit about beer. Don’t get me wrong though, I don’t think that my beer was received as a fantastic ale, but rather as ‘quite nice’. Where I recognised ‘fruity, homebrew twang’ they noted similarities to yeasty Belgian ales. Interesting, how our preconceptions drive our opinions. Of course, my second brew is nowhere near something I would be happy enough to sell to anyone else. Still, it is a marked improvement on Brew 1 in every respect and I’m happy with that. I was very flattered with the kind comments and their interest. They were genuinely shocked that I made it from grain, water and hops in a pasta pot!

Anyway, back to Brew 2. When you get used to ‘the twang’ you can taste the caramel notes from medium crystal malt and the cascade bitterness and citrus hops. The hops aren’t particularly powerful, but that is the English Pale Ale-style. If only it didn’t have ‘the twang’! Never mind, valuable lessons have been learned and applied to Brew 3, which is currently fermenting at a steady 18 degrees. The yeast was pitched at 20 degrees and so I’m hopeful for an absence of ‘the twang’. I have also decided to ‘Dry Hop’ this brew too. I’m going to use 5 grams of Nugget and 10 grams of cascade. This brew is going to be an American Pale Ale, so I’m not going completely overboard with the hops but it needs the ‘dry hop’ boost more though to be accurately described as American. The use of ‘Nugget’ should really give the hop element a kick, since it is pretty potent. I have also used American Ale yeast, which should deliver the dryness associated with the American style. I can’t wait, really can’t wait. Should be bottling it next weekend. So my Final Gravity reading (and my subsequent drinking of the sample) will tell me whether I have successfully finally seen off ‘the twang’.

In the meantime, I have ordered my ingredients for the next brew, an American IPA. I will be going overboard with the hops this time and am going to add some Munich Malt, alongside the medium crystal malt. This with the oats and a touch of honey and a secret ingredient should make the IPA something to behold (assuming I can eliminate ‘the twang’).

However, I need to divulge my experience with the Lambic! Wow! Talk about a completely new taste experience. Thanks to my new interest and reading, I know something about Lambics and how they are made. From what I can make out, as a home brewer you try your best to keep nasty yeast and bacteria from the environment entering your beer. Reserving the fermentation for your favoured yeast. With the Lambic, the fermenting vessels are left open to allow naturally occurring yeasts to enter the beer and ferment it. To most people it is ‘off’ and ‘gone’. With ale you would use the word ‘infected’. I’m not going to pretend that it is a session-able drink, it really isn’t. That doesn’t stop me from appreciating it though. It was mightily sour with a sharp edge, going beyond vinegar into a whole new world of flavour. I cannot describe it, words utterly fail me. It is definitely something to be experienced to be adequately appreciated.

The Chimay, pictured below was an amazing beer. But such was the nature of this that actually it felt more like a wine-ale hybrid. I suppose you could describe it as a dark, refined, porter-esque, barley wine. Of course it was a beer, but much stronger, deeper and more elegant. You can see the colour of the ale, very dark and very dry. Like the Lambic, this isn’t a beer for quaffing, it’s an experience. There may be a chance of me producing something like a Chimay, which is a Trappiste beer. We shall have to see.

Chimay Grande Reserve

During the evening with my beer buddies we discussed the Brew-Pub and brewery concept and I found out that there are ‘rocks on the road’ which I hadn’t been aware of. The journey is possibly more challenging than even I had considered. More of this later.


This blog covers the other front in my headlong charge to make something from my new hobby (but, very old passion!). From the beginning, my vision for ‘Brewery-dom’ involves some vertical integration i.e from raw materials to pub. On my way I have fallen in and out of love with parts of this concept, but the one part I have not allowed to fall by the way-side is the growing and using of my own hops.

As you may know, I was very kindly given some hop rhizomes of three types: Chinook, Cascade and Centennial. They are all American hops and will impart the citrusy taste to more or lesser degrees. I have read somewhere that Chinook has a taste that has been described as ‘dank’. That doesn’t exactly sound inviting, but I’m sure it refers to some very potent flavour profile. We shall see…if I ever get any hop-cones from it…

I planted the rhizomes on land that has been lent to me by very kindly relatives. So already you can see that the ‘hop journey’ has been nurtured and made possible by the ‘kindness of others’. Quite simply, amazing! Hopefully, the wider family, including children, can get involved in the harvest and have a great weekend in August or September (typhoons pending). Us adults will also be able to enjoy the fruits of the labour in the form of some good brews. Presuming I have been successful in completely getting control of the fermentation temperatures with my new ‘Wine Cooler/Cellar’, which is due any moment.

Anyway, back to the hops. They have not exactly stormed out of the gates and only the Chinook rhizome and one Centennial have put in appearances. Annoyingly, there is an invading weed with some hop-like characteristics which I will have to watch. With the temperatures here starting to really climb, plants and seeds of all types are starting to grow all over the plot. I have been raking over the ground to unseat baby weeds and expose their roots. But, alas the life-force here is strong and I will have my work cut out just to keep on top of the plot throughout the summer.

Weeds are not my only challenge. Hops growing habit is something to behold. They climb and, to be honest, I think they are in competition with NASA. They make a bid for the stars! So, they will need some support on their skyward journey. This will be no mean feat. I have already designed the support trellis (more like a frame, really) and ordered the timber. The timber is now ready, needs paying for and collecting. Then I simply have to make my fairly large structure, which thankfully my kindly relatives are ok with.

Here is a sneak peek at the hop-patch. Not much to look at, I know, but you can see where the hop rhizomes are by the locations of the mounds of earth (or ‘hop-hills’ as they are called, apparently).

The hop plot

The benefits of gardening are great. I love being outside with the sound of life around me. I find the smell of soil and plants up-lifting. Though maintaining the plot adds to my already pretty long day, it is something that will energise me and keep me happy. It may well also be a source of frustration, but that is what this journey is all about, finding solutions to problems and not giving up.

Brew Day 3 this weekend with the new brew bucket (sorry Fermentation Vessel) and my singing and dancing Wine Cooler Cabinet! Will it be the end of the ‘Homebrew taste’? We shall have to see.

Brew 2 and anti-Banana taste measures!

Here is an update on the journey so far. I have finally brewed and now tasted my first brew. I have also got a second opinion on it, which was invaluable. Today, I bottled Brew2, which involved me sampling the flat beer (in order for me to bottle it, you understand).

First things first. Last weekend, I visited a friend’s bar and took a couple of bottles for us to sample (behind closed doors). His reaction was that this beer was quite raw. I’m not convinced he had ever tried homebrew before (otherwise he would have recognised the taste). However, this is actually a good thing, since I’m not aiming to make good homebrew, I’m aiming at making good beer in it’s own right. Anyway, the taste that I identified as ‘yeasty-homebrew’ taste he recognised as fruity (‘a bit like bananas’). This was very useful and I could look up that particular off-flavour. Turns out that my pitching the yeast at 24 degrees C and thinking ‘that’s all fine’ wasn’t. This flavour is a by-product of fermenting at too high a temperature. Lesson learned. Too late for Brew2 sadly, as I made the same mistake with it. I still think Brew1 is a pretty astounding homebrew, so Brew2 can’t be worse. That said, as I stated above ‘good homebrew’ is not my end-game. ‘Astounding beer in it’s own right’ is what I’m gunning for and from what I have read, I know that it is achievable.

Getting back to ‘Banana-taste’ issues though, I could recognise this taste when I had to create a syphon for bottling. I am generally hopeful that my addition of a proper level of sugar this time will kick start the second fermentation (aka ‘conditioning’) which may not have ever got going with Brew1. With a bit of luck, this will mop-up this off-flavour to some degree. We will have to see. My screw-up with Brew1 at the bottling stage was very sloppy addition of sugar to the bottles. This time it was much more measured and accurate…he says. So, along with the potential for mopping up the ‘banana-factor’ I should also get some fizz and, I daresay, some head. I didn’t realise it, but using medium crystal malt should help with the ‘head-factor’ too.

Research into the ‘perfect brew’ has led me to consider adding oats in my next brew. This should make it feel silkier to drink (a fuller ‘mouthfeel’). So this and the American-Ale yeast may well be my changes. I might add a little bit of Green Tea too, just to see what impact it has on flavour (if any).

However, how do I aim to ferment at the right temperature when the weather here is getting warmer all the time and will hit 29 degrees C tomorrow? If you have read any of my other blogs, you will know that the ‘Green Man’ is not one to shrink away from challenges. This is no different and, to be honest with you, I knew that this would be one of my larger headaches from the outset.

I thought about and considered all kinds of ways to deal with the temperature problem, but they all involve having water around the fermenter. This means the potential for mould and/or rot problems in our wooden house. However, it just so happens that on my visit to my mate’s bar, he showed me his ‘wine cellar’ (I think ‘Wine Cooler’ is a better description). It is a very inexpensive cabinet with fans (no nasty chemicals) and you can set temperatures up-to about 20 degrees C. It only keeps the cabinet about 15 degrees below the external temperature, but for my needs that is going to be fine. The order is in and I’m expecting it mid-week. I also ordered a second fermenter (10 litres) which will fit in this cabinet. With any luck, it will be ‘bye-bye Banana-taste!’ for Brew3.

Still, Banana-taste or no, I am eager to try Brew2. The suspense is killing me already.

By the way, apologies for the hopeless photo. Despite being out of focus, you can see that Brew2 is beautifully clear. Oh and I nearly forgot, Brew2 is a hefty 6%. I think this a result of using the medium crystal malt and mashing at 66 degrees.

Brew 1 is ready!

The moment I have been eagerly waiting for finally arrived last night. I could wait no longer and cracked open my first bottle of Brew 1. It made a reassuring hiss sound, letting me know that there was some carbonation/ secondary fermentation in the bottle (also known as conditioning).

I poured it out into the glass and it was soon apparent that the hiss was all the carbonation that I was going to get. It had no head to speak of, just a few bubbles. Well, worst things have happened to brews, I’m sure. My bottling process was a real mess with this brew and I have got my eyes on a better method for Brew 2. More on that later.

As for colour, it was much darker than I was expecting. I really thought Pale Malt would deliver a very pale drink, but as you can see that wasn’t the case. The ale wasn’t cloudy and was quite clear considering I hadn’t used ‘Irish Moss’ or finings to clear it. It had a lot of time though, 1 month in total. The yeast, Safale 04, also makes a good solid yeast sediment at the bottom of the glass.

How did it taste? A lot, lot better than the drinks I remember from my university days. There was a slight yeasty edge but overall, it tasted like a Pale Ale. There was a hoppy aroma and bitterness to it. It’s actually a little too bitter, still very drinkable though. This slight over-bitterness is due to me putting a third of my hops in way too early. This was thanks to my mis-reading of the recipe I was using. The longer hops are in the wort during the boil the more bitterness they deliver. So, my mis-reading of ’15 mins’ in the recipe as being from the start, as opposed to from the end was crucial. If I was making a IPA and adding loads more hops nearer the end of the boil I would have gotten away with it, but sadly I wasn’t. Despite this it is still very drinkable and I think I have drunken similar in pub gardens over the years. I have rectified my hop error with Brew 2 and am hoping for a much improved ale.

Anyway, I am much heartened by first ale. It really is pretty good considering I made it in an old (but spotless) pasta pot on my stove in the kitchen. I have higher hopes for my following brews though. I have my sights firmly fixed on quality brews that match professional breweries.

My attitude here reminds me of something I was told by an African lady once. She said this “If you aim high you can always come half-way up”. It was something like that, you get the rough idea anyway.

Suntory, Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi, I’m coming for you. “Be afraid, be very afraid”.

Brew Day 2!

Oh yes, we are brewing again. On Saturday I was joined by a potential fellow journeyman and I ran through the process with him which was much smoother than Brew Day 1.

I had hoped to brew 10 litres by doubling my malt and hops and liquoring back in the cooling stage. In the end I didn’t risk it and opted for the same method, but with the addition of medium crystal malt and a better job of ‘mashing in’ (steeping the grains, a bit like you would tea). This time I found I could hold the temperature at 66 degrees for the whole hour, which should give a much silkier and maltier taste than Brew 1.

I used the remaining half of the yeast (Safale-04, an English ale yeast) and again pitched at 24 degrees, which is officially too warm. Again time constraints dictated the pace. The temperature dropped to better levels fairly quickly last time and it didn’t seem to cause any problems. I will however, adjust my volumes next time, so that I can add more cool water to hit 18-22 degrees before I pitch the yeast for my next brew. This simply means that I’ll mash and boil with less water and make up the difference by adding chilled water at the cooling stage. All good in theory…

Next brew I will probably do exactly the same, but will use Safale-05. This yeast is used for American Ales and will give a drier ale and may accentuate the hops more. Who knows? By only changing the yeast, it will be very interesting to see the result (presuming I can keep all other variables the same…see below). I might also add a secret local adjunct (special ingredient) to add a unique taste element.

The weather is now perfect for brewing with temperatures hovering around those that are ideal for yeast and fermentation (16-22 degrees Celsius). By the time of my next brew I am likely to face my first climate-related challenge and will have to employ my grey matter to solve it. The temperatures are only going to get warmer now. But, this journey is all about challenges.

By the way, the picture is of my mini-cellar. It is located below the floorboards. It is the coolest place in the house, bar the fridge/freezer. I am running out of space though and may need to find another solution soon…

Will the journey be walked alone?

As you may know I am on a journey towards founding a brewery. This is an all encompassing journey and entails a great many challenges on a wide number of fronts. I am starting by crafting my own brews 5 litres at a time at home, in what was our old pasta pot. So far I have brewed two ales and one mead. None of these is yet ready for consumption, though my first ale will be ready this Saturday. Watch this space.

However, being focused, persistent and enthusiastic has attracted others to the journey and I now find myself with a few potential travellers who are at least willing to wave me along on the road I am taking. At first, I thought “no one is going to be interested in this idea, it is simply too full of obstacles and is too ambitious”. However, as I have progressed along the road and stubbornly dug-up more information and added more aspects to this goal, others have been attracted to the vision. Of course, I am no closer to guaranteed brewery-dom than before, but I feel I am taking the necessary baby-steps toward it.

Last Saturday I had my second brew day (more details given below). This time I was not alone. One of my potential travellers wanted to see the process in action and also confessed to having an idea for a stall selling the brews at a local tourist hot-spot. He then went to research a potential location for a Brew-Pub (which I have since been advised as the way to go). It seems that my dream has inspired him and got his imagination going. Great news, I will need fellow visionaries to make a real go of this.

Another friend, who already owns a bar and loves ale himself is chomping at the bit to try my first attempt this weekend and has suggested that he too is interested in my adventure. I will be trying my first brew this Saturday night in his bar behind closed doors. Not selling my beers, of course. This really would be foolish. Not only is it of entirely unknown quality, but it is also illegal and may jeopardise the journey.

Then there is a relative who has owned and ran a successful bar and restaurant in his time who is also showing an interest, albeit a slightly more aloof and detached interest. He has already been the source of some great information of exactly the kind of volumes I can hope to shift together with some sage advice. The latter being that I should nurture my inner-turtle and rein back the hare until I’m sure my recipes are good and I can consistently make a decent pint.

The broader message of todays blog, for me at least, is that to inspire and motivate others, it seems that fancy speeches and big words are not necessary. Simply, being positive, genuine, enthusiastic and persistent may be enough. Perhaps it is a case where ‘actions’ really do speaker louder than ‘words’.

A garden full of meaning

As you may know, my project of starting a brewery also entails developing a garden where I can drink my experimental brews without being pestered by mosquitoes. However, todays post touches on this, but focuses on something that just struck me this evening. The garden is imbued with meaning! Sound strange? Read on.

As far as defeating mosquitoes are concerned, the garden is progressing nicely, but as I mentioned above a lot more is going on.

A couple of years ago my daughter started playing piano (stay with me) and one of the tunes that came up was ‘Lavenders Blue’. Though I am English, I had never heard the tune before, but immediately fell in love with it. Anyway, we were watching the recent real-life incarnation of ‘Cinderella’ on Friday night and this tune featured in the Ball scene. So, today I have been playing it on the fiddle and my daughter has been singing it non-stop. We have two Lavenders (ok, so they are French Lavenders) growing in the garden, part of the natural anti-flying menace barricade. But, it is so much more than just a plant. It is a tangible link to our family’s English heritage, a song and a shared musical experience. All in a plant!

The sweet peas growing in the background are from seeds I took from our garden last year when we lived in Tonbridge, UK. The parent plants were a fantastic feature of our small garden and provide memories of that significant and treasured experience. They will soon provide colour and important nitrogen for future plants next year. Again, far from just a plant!


The potatoes I planted with my youngest son and daughter are now coming up and look very healthy. They too are not simply plants, they represent a whole experience for the children. Something small that you plant, see grow and eventually harvest and eat. It is the same plot that recently had some Japanese badger footprints (also the culprit of the mysterious case of ‘the disappearing cabbage leaves’, no doubt!). You can see peas in the background which like the sweet peas will be good for the soil and give the children a rich experience of eating produce direct from the garden.

The sunflowers I planted with my son are also just coming up and now need supports. I love sunflowers, not just for there bright, massive, gaudy flowers, but also because standing tall they also remind me of growing children. There are tiny Marigold seedlings in the foreground that I planted at the same time. As you can probably guess these are indeed part of the fortress experiment.

Chrysanthemums April.JPG

The Chrysanthemums have really gone crazy since I cut them back. They are also a part of the anti-mosquito curtain, which may yet prove as effective as the Maginot line, but they also are more. As it happens they are the national flower of the country we now call home and provides a great deal of colour when they get going, to boot.

Would any of this even occurred to me a few years ago? I can’t say. Is my ability to even think about a garden like this related to my adoption of Mindfulness and stepping back from pre-occupations and just letting life and consciousness flow, who knows?

Just a garden? Think again.