Summer Fruits, Friends and Gardens…

Summer Fruits, Friends and Gardens…

There’s nowhere better than the English countryside in the summer when the weather is good and in Dorset, at the moment, the sun is shining and the breeze is warm. My friend Jan from Bristol, came to stay for a night while The Man was away visiting London including a quick visit to Brand’s Hatch with FMS racing.

herbaceous border

We decided to visit Forde Abbey near Chard, which I’ve been itching to visit since we first arrived in Dorset. Originally a Cistercian monastery and dissolved by order of Henry VIII in 1539, the estate has changed hands many times over the years. The first private owners were the Prideux family in 1649 and the design of the house and gardens have been added to and altered over the years. We took a walk around the impressive gardens commenting on what a pleasure it was to be able to walk on the well groomed grass and appreciate the fantastic herbaceous borders. They were full of multitudinous colours, scents and a variety of flowers too numerous to mention (actually I hadn’t a clue what many of them were, but let’s not go there). I have only recently become interested in plants and flowers as we do have a small but attractive cottage garden with lawn and flower beds. This year has been a bit of a discovery waiting to see what came up but I did plant half a dozen roses, some of which are turning out to be wonderful and a couple that have been drowned out by some enormous perennial dahlias … at least I think that’s what they are. Any gardening tips would be most welcome.

Hard to tell the difference between my garden and Forde Abbey really…(NOT)

There is something about water that is mesmerising and I love rivers, streams, the sea, in fact water in any form. Strange, because I’m not good in boats and I’m not a great swimmer, I suppose I just love being nearby this basic element. At Forde Abbey we sat for a while by the Long Pond and watched the magnificent Centenary Fountain on Mermaid Lake close by. The fountain was installed in 2005 to celebrate 100 years of ownership by the Roper family. It is the tallest powered fountain in England reaching 150 ft. They don’t have it running permanently but for about fifteen minutes several times a day.


The Centenary Fountain


The Long Pond

After our tour of the garden we entered the house via the Grand Hall. There was an overwhelming smell of beeswax and carpets, not unpleasant at all but evoking memories of my childhood when I took ballet lessons in an old mansion in Eastcote Middlesex. Forde Abbey is not an enormous house and not at all museum-like, but it does have some great pieces of old furniture and several bedrooms with four poster beds and grand soft furnishings. Jan and I decided we could easily live in the place – for a couple of weeks anyway, but after that it might be a bit difficult just sitting and sewing samplers and not doing the odd job around the house or cooking the meals. Actually Jan said she would be quite happy not having to think of what to cook for dinner every day, but I pointed out that she’d probably still have to think of meal plans but then leave it to someone else to prepare, which would suit me!

frontof house

Front of the House

It wasn’t hard to imagine life for the women in the families who had lived in the house in the past. We could visualise them strolling across the lawns with lace parasols keeping their delicate fair skin from burning in the mid afternoon sun. From one smaller bedroom at the back of the house, I could picture a young seventeen-year old girl in the 19th century, sitting on the deep wooden window sill gazing down to the kitchen garden below and eyeing the muscular, tanned figure of a young gardener, possibly stripped to the waist…Mills and Boon here I come!


The Kitchen Garden and Back of the House

Forde Abbey has a ‘pick your own’ farm about a mile or so from the main house and grounds so we jumped in our cars and headed off to gather some fruit for jam. Sadly, the strawberries had come to an end but there were plenty of raspberries, if you looked for them.
‘Lots of people don’t bother but if you lift up the branches you’ll find loads underneath’ suggested the girl at the farm shop and she was right. ‘Walk right down to the last two rows’, she added.
It was a fair way to walk but not for hardened pickers like Jan and I who have, for the last few seasons, spent our time in October picking olives. Raspberries are a bit easier and obviously we could just harvest what we wanted with the added bonus of being able to eat them as we went. Definitely something you cannot do with an olive!

And finally…..

The Jam!


Oops…forgot to mention that we had a lovely lunch in the cafe, at Forde Abbey, jacket potato for me and quiche for Jan with salad…all from kitchen garden.  We looked but sadly we never saw any young, muscular gardeners…I think they keep them hidden from visitors. 🙁

Thailand in December…

Olivespastavino went on a trip to Thailand for a couple of weeks. This post is more about photos than writing, enjoy.

This is the house of our host (my son) absolutely beautiful….

We stayed in The Dog House in his garden….


and then in The White House  200 metres away….

The White House
The White House…on the Romance Resort…

Thoughts on Thailand.

pretty cow

Cow Bells


sunny afternoon

Misty cool mornings and sunny hot afternoons…


Street food, barbecued pork and chicken, squid on a stick.

Fried Insects
Fried Insects

Pancakes, chai-tea, fruit smoothies, fried insects…yes really!


Coconut flavours and coconuts everywhere, banana trees,(tiny sweet bananas),


fruit growing in abundance, mangoes, durian, papaya and more.


Bananas for the …….


Elephants – a little sad as not in a sanctuary but more a tourist industry.

Chickens, stray dogs, tropical birdsong.

A sleeping stray dog…they don’t move, not for anything…
night market
Night Market in Pai


Laundries, open fronted shops, jewellery, cheesecloth clothing, aging hippies left over from times past. Modern day hippies, young, tattooed.
7/11 stores and oh….in Chiangmai there was…..


Tescos…Hmm, Tesco/Lotus –

Wall of Rice
Wall of Rice

the largest store I’ve ever seen with a wall full of different types of rice in mega large packets.


Love the Thai food….

Flip flops…the most popular footwear for Pai.

Flip Flops

Busy Chiang Mai town. Mopeds, tuk-tuks, red taxis. A singing language impossible to interpret,
Sawadii (hello), mai pen rai (it doesn’t matter), sabai (chill/relax).

One of many Temples

Music and chanting from the temples can be heard for miles around, the sound travelling across the valleys.

Smiling faces. Barefoot children.
Hard working Thai people, on the land in the rice paddy fields. Heads covered in straw conical hats or headscarves. Many wear face masks to avoid breathing in the fumes from the hundreds of vehicles buzzing around town.

Colourful Hats
Colourful Hats

Colours, primary and bright, plastic trinkets in contrast to the local crafts and colours of the long neck tribes.


Water – everywhere. Pouring down from the hills. Jungle terrain except where cleared. Winding roads, 762 bends between Chiangmai and Pai and don’t we know it! We travelled the road 4 times.


I miss you Pai and Thailand, looking forward to the next visit already…don’t know when – but it will happen.






Last Sunday we went to the market in Rubianello, a small valley town about 5k from Petritoli. The sun was shining and I wanted to buy another pair of cheap comfy trousers to keep me going until the summer comes at which point I can’t bear to wear anything but a loose fitting lightweight dress.

The market people travel from place to place so you often see the same stalls in different towns. The stalls are varied; don’t think food with tempting pastries, pasta and other delights. These markets are functional, mostly clothes, household items, fruit and vegetables, flowers, shoes, haberdashery.

It’s a time for all the locals to passeggiare stroll and chattare chat to friends, take a coffee and browse the stalls. There’s lots of laughter and of course a great deal of gesticulating. It often seems when the Italians speak that they are in the throws of a massive argument as voices are raised and hands fly in every direction but usually it’s friendly banter, probably about football or husbands.

We bumped into a couple of people we know and did our own bit of chatting and we saw ‘our honey man’ from Petritoli. His small table was heavy with boxes of miele in favo honeycomb, several jars of different varieties of miele, honey, also beeswax and small jars of pollen. I’m not at all sure what you’re supposed to do with pollen it looks like a jar of Dijon mustard.

We wandered over to the fruit and vegetable stall as I spied some rather delicious looking strawberries from Sicily. They were only €1 a punnet. The stallholder then cajoled us into buying some red oranges; actually, he cajoled The Man as I am never easily persuaded to part with my money. It always seems when The Man comes shopping we spend twice as much and come home with too many treats!


The flowers looked fantastic, so many bright colours, mostly pansies and primulas but there were a few early geraniums. We bought half a dozen daisy things to put in the pots outside the front door. It cheers up the place so much and it really feels as though Spring has arrived!


Markets in Italy are well supported by vendors and buyers, I hope they continue to thrive even though there are now more out of town hypermarkets opening up. I love strolling down to our local market twice a month, chatting with locals, buying my honey and taking a coffee or two. It’s a great pace of life here in Le Marche. No hurry, there’s always tomorrow.

NOTE: I haven’t blogged for over two weeks…my ribs have been hurting, they’re much better now but that’s not the only reason I haven’t posted a blog. I am inundated with emails telling me that there is a [New post] from Bladiblabla – blog or whatagreatwriterIam – blog…Sometimes as many as three times a week! I think if you post too many times people get turned off but maybe I’m just jealous because I don’t seem to be able to blog regularly even once a week and on occasion not even once a month! Oh, It’s Wednesday again so teaching this afternoon, better put a bottle of wine in the fridge to cool ready for when I get back. 🙂

Delicious oranges and strawberries
Delicious oranges and strawberries

A Walk on the Wild Side…

mountains Escursione guidato nel parco fra erbe ed olive in fase di raccolta
Guided hike in the park between herbs and olives at harvest (literal translation)

Each Sunday during October and November Petritoli celebrates herbs and olive oil with the Erba Olio Festival. It is the time for picking the olives and taking them to the press, I’ll blog about that soon as we’re in the middle of our harvest now. The Comune (local council, pronounced co-moon-nay) organise events at different venues. They usually involve a talk about wild herbs and then a meal incorporating herbs and olives/olive oil in some way.

Last Sunday with friends, I decided to take part in a guided woodland walk before a substantial lunch priced at € 22 a head including wine, coffee and liquers. at Parco Galeano, a local Agriturismo. An Agriturismo is usually in the countryside, it will have a restaurant, accommodation (B&B), possibly a shop and a proportion of the food served must be their own produce and the remainder must originate within a very short distance (within 20k I think).

The walk and talk was supposed to start at 10am but when I rang to book they said to come closer to 10.30 which my two friends and I duly did. Of course, this is Italy so there was not another soul to be seen. They were working hard in the kitchen preparing our lunch but no-one had yet arrived for the walk…so…we sat in the glorious sunshine, it was about 25 degrees. We waited…and waited…A lady in a tracksuit, anorak, boots and hat arrived after about 20 mins, she carried with her a large bag, she was Italian, we knew she was Italian because of the amount of clothing she was wearing. As it’s October it’s obligatory to wear autumnal/winter clothing regardless of the ambient temperature. We expats of course were in T-shirt and light-weight trousers. We did sport our trainers in preparation for the ‘hike’. This well clad woman definitely didn’t need a guided walk as she proceeded immediately to fill her bag with all types of green foliage and it was soon bursting with a huge scrumptious feast for… a bunny maybe? At least that’s what we thought then, but later we would be so much wiser.

At last our guide Lino (pronounced Leeno) arrived. He was delightful and after introductions and lots of jolly laughter he looked around asked where everyone else was. We shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘solo noi,’ (only us) and pointed also to the bag lady, but she was bottom up in the corner of the abandoned vineyard, digging up some root or other. Lino must have realised immediately that she was ‘on her own’.

Me, the girls and our guide Lino
Me, the girls and our guide Lino

My Italian is not so bad, my understanding is better than my speaking and my two friends Helen and Jan, knew some and a little Italian respectively. It was going to be an interesting walk.  To look the part I wore my walking shoes and my small back pack. ‘Lets get going then! Andiamo!’ I pointed to the track leading down to the woods and parkland. We moved less than a metre, in fact the whole ‘hike’ took us no further than 25 metres from start to finish. Which I suppose is impressive when you consider I took over 60 photographs of different types of herbs, grasses, fruits and other plants, all with varying degrees of health giving properties, ailment fixers, de-toxing thingies, I mean this small area had more goodies in it than any health food shop or whole food store. Gosh and golly it was awesome!

One small area with many different herbs and grasses.
One small area with many different herbs and grasses.

The trouble was there were so many diverse plants with Latin names, family names, common names, nicknames etc., and they often looked very, very similar. I cannot remember a single one…oh I lie I can remember Rucolo Romana (Roman Rocket) with a white flower, but I didn’t photograph that. I already knew the wild rocket with a yellow flower, dandelion, cornflower and blackberry, that was about it. Shepherd’s purse I had heard of but would not have been able to identify. Lino told us it was called Shepherd’s purse because of the triangular shape of the seed pod, shaped like a Shepherd’s purse. Am I repeating myself here rather too much? I absolutely loved every second of Lino’s interesting talk, he knew so much and wanted to share his knowledge with us. We tried hard and he wrote lots of notes down for us in Italian or Latin but at the end all I could remember was,

Non mangiare. Va bene mangiare. Buono per cucinare. Non raccogliere (Don’t eat. Okay to eat, Good for cooking. Do not pick.)

DONT eat this!
DONT eat this!
Not good to cook!
Not good to cook!

Wild Rocket...okay to eat!Wild Rocket…okay to eat!

I’m sorry to say that I couldn’t walk through the fields now and identify many of the ‘va bene mangiare’ and experimenting would not be a good idea. I wrote down the number of each photograph on my piece of paper with the plant name beside it, but when I uploaded the photos I think I must have made a mistake somewhere as I had the blackberry bush identified as Corbezzotto Arbutus Unedo…WRONG as you will all know…the blackberry is Robus Hulmifolius…so there! (hope I’ve got that correct!)

There was one other category this was for the plants that were good for the ‘suocera’ (mother-in-law!) Hmm…

Don't know what this was...maybe one for the mother-in-law?
Don’t know what this was…maybe one for the mother-in-law?
Lino didn't know much about mushrooms and toadstools but he thought this one was okay.
Lino didn’t know much about mushrooms and toadstools but he thought this one was okay.
Cornflower..."put this in the ice cube" Lino suggested.
Cornflower…”put this in the ice cube” Lino suggested.
"veronica" she gets everywhere!
“veronica” she gets everywhere!
Edible fruit, tastes like custard with the consistency of blancmange.  Sounds weird? It was strange but okay.
Edible fruit, tastes like custard with the consistency of blancmange. Sounds weird? It was strange but okay.
Blanket of something delicious (I believe)
Blanket of something delicious (I believe)

Next blog will be about the lunch! Watch this space…..:)

Summer’s Arrived in Le Marche

Beautiful Rose (Peace)
Beautiful Rose (Peace)

The roses are blooming the grass is growing faster than we can cut it. Summer has definitely arrived in Le Marche. It did have to be dragged out of hiding this year though, April and the beginning of May were very changeable. The kind of weather where you have to prepare for anything and everything before you go out for the day, taking with you, raincoat, umbrella, wellies, cardigan, T-shirt, sandals, suncream and sunhat. Get the idea?

Last week I mentioned the growth in the orto (vegetable garden) and it hasn’t slowed down. Today we’re going to pick most of the peas and broad beans, although the beans don’t look too healthy, some of them have black leaves and inside the pods is a sticky black substance…anyone enlighten me? if you didn't know
Peas…as if you didn’t know

In 2012 the apricots were prolific but, this year, two of the trees appear to be yielding nothing and the other tree just a few. I managed to make over thirty pots of chutney and several jars of jam last summer but this year there will be very few. Pity I gave so many away. Looks like there’s only one of each left in the larder.

One Jar Apricot Chutney One Jar Apricot Jam
One Jar Apricot Chutney
One Jar Apricot Jam

The cherries are looking good though so we’ll be harvesting them this afternoon too before the birds get them. So cherry jam will be on the boil later this evening. Such a fag taking out all those stones though.





May is a very beautiful time here, it’s warm enough to eat breakfast outside on the terrace but not so hot during the day to be unbearable. The mosquitoes are still sleeping so we don’t have to cover ourselves in deet. The evenings are drawing out and only goes a little chilly after the sun has completely gone, which, at the moment is around 20.45.


If you fancy trying out Le Marche there are some lovely places to visit and to stay. You could check out this link If you decide to try them then mention olivespastavino blog when you book, you will be sure to get a favourable rate!

The Bougainvillea has survived the winter and is blooming!
The Bougainvillea has survived the winter and is blooming!