There is never a bad time nor season to eat cake, but as spring explodes all around us with the force of the warming earth cheered by the zest of birdsong I love baking things that reflect the season and speak of chirpiness. This lemon and poppy seed cake is a good example. I prefer using square cake tins and cutting little squares of cake, but you could use a 20 cm round cake tin if you prefer triangular slices.


I love using edible flowers. For this cake I used cornflower and marigold petals I grew in my allotment, which I dried in my Rayburn last summer and stored for a special occasion. I also used pretty violas I keep in pots in the garden.




175g self-raising flour (Preferable wholemeal)

1 teaspoon baking power

175 g good quality butter, softened.

175 g caster sugar

3 large free-range eggs

40 g poppy seeds


125 g cream cheese

30 g butter, softened

250 g icing sugar

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

lemon zest




Pre-heat the oven to 180c gas mark 3

18 cm round square tin, greased and paper lined.




Begin by sifting the flour and baking powder into a bowl with room to manoeuvre, giving it a good airing. Add the softened butter, sugar, lemon zest, eggs and the lemon juice. I like to use a wooden spoon to mix my cakes but an electric whisk can work very well. Mix to a creamy consistency, which is free of lumps, and gradually add the poppy seeds.


Spoon the mixture into the tin, using a spatula, and even it out before putting in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the centre is firm and bouncy. Remove from the cake tin and allow to cool.


Beat the cream cheese with the butter in a bowl until combined. Add the sugar and a bit of the lemon juice. Gradually add the rest and check for consistency of a spread. put back in the fridge.


When the cake has reached room temperature, spread the frosting and decorate with your edible flowers.


IMG_5605When I was a little girl, Easter was something I looked forward to. Often staying at my grandparents house in the hills, in La Granja, my mother and grandma will make Roscas de Pascua, a sort of braided brioche with surprises and we would get chocolate Easter eggs. Bunnies were also quite a feature. For a couple of years at least, there lived in the pile of hardwood logs used to light the bakery’s oven, a family of rabbits. Not wild rabbits, but rabbits that had managed to escape from a domestic setting and lived hidden in this enormous wooden labyrinth , with it seem, nothing else to do, but breed. There were hundreds, and I am not exaggerating. With my siblings and cousins, We would spend hours and hours trying to catch bunnies, and we succeeded most of the time. Nothing better than to hold a lovely baby bunny, soft and docile. Sometimes we took two or three with us back to the city where we kept them in boxes and fed them carrots and then we returned them back to their family at the weekend. I remember that letting them go gave me as much joy as catching them. When I look back at my childhood in the countryside, I get a real sense of having been time, no clocks, no rushing, slow hours of trying to find things to do, how to entertain ourselves, and it was creative and exciting.
One of my favourite things as a child, because I always loved food, was to visit Doña Graciela, a friend of the family from Poland who lived in the most romantic house and always fasted for lent. She cooked a lot too, building up a feast for Easter Sunday. I still remember her beautiful table, her pristine tablecloth, the tiny vases with flowers and plates of cakes and biscuits she had baked with her own eggs, with poppy seeds from her garden. I would walk around that table and soak up the laborious effort, admire the aesthetics, delight in the taste of her love.
This year we organised an Easter Monday extravaganza with friends at Plaster Pitts. The house is still being renovated but Hugo and I put back the old dining room together so that I could set the sweets table. We went to the farmers market where I was happy to come across the lady from York who grows organic flowers that I sometimes buy in Alligator. She had the most spectacular tulips, and I bought three bunches. So different from the ones you buy in the shops, this were bigger and so magnificent in both strength and colour. I picked some cow parsley from the garden and sweet honesty from home.  I think I was trying to re create Doña Graciela’s table, but I was not fasting and I only cooked two enormous trays of brownies, one with raspberries and the other with salted caramel and meringue, but everyone brought sweets and cakes and the table began to fill up with the most delicious things. Apple cake, german rhubarb cake, small cakes topped with exotic berries, tiny easter eggs, cookies, chocolate gateaux.
It was lovely to watch the kids and grown up’s faces as they approached the table, and as soon as we gave the green light for pudding time, it wasn’t long before there were only crumbs left on the cake stands.



Image Piece that appears in the New Chan Forum no. 48 spring 2014


The preliminary tasks and days ahead of cooking on a retreat at the Maenll- wyd are laborious and intensive. Sourcing ingredients to cook lovely meals requires time, care and attention. My style of practice means that I do not plan a specific menu for a retreat. This allows me to awaken the creative muses, and to be playful and spontaneous whilst gauging the mood of the retreat, the changes of weather, and the call of the pantry. All the same, I have to think very carefully about quantities, produce and variety. I have frequent nightmares in which I arrive to cook a retreat in Wales without food and all the shops in the vicinity are shut.

Some of the preparations are dull, like buying loo roll and cleaning products, packing my bag for the week; but I love to source the food, particularly to pick neatly packed boxes of fresh vegetables and fruit, stack them in the boot of my chock-a-block car, and mix them with bags of sundries and condiments, bunches of seasonal flowers and herbs, like a promise of a thousand delicious feasts.

The prospect of cooking for a ten-day retreat was a bit daunting, almost hard to contemplate, but the fact that it took place in September made it more appealing. I adore early autumn: the light, the colour and the crops. Autumn has its own energy, livened up by the hyperkinesia of the migratory birds frantically fuelling up before their voyages, the leaves browning, berries bursting on branches, the pinking of apples, pumpkins and squashes splashing yellows and oranges on earth ruts. There is so much to savour, like the sharp and perfumed taste of plums, pears, quinces or sweet roots like parsnips and beets.

The day before I left, I spent the afternoon picking fruit from the orchard at the farm, a small stretch of land that oozes plenty through its ancient trees, some planted over a hundred years ago. I filled a big box with plums, anticipating them stewed in a perfect marriage with porridge, or atop a cake sprinkled with cinnamon. I found some tiny speckle pears and many old English apple varieties, which quickly filled my wooden crates. Along with the glorious feeling that I get from harvesting and foraging, I love the action of gathering that connects me, humbly, with my humanity. The orchard looked like a postcard of generosity, like the start of a sonnet; the trees offering treasure with open arms with the sun shining for short moments, the light, musical.

On my journey I realised that my summer had been plagued by worry and dread, the type of horror arising from fear of the future, which feels connected with moments of sudden uncertainty throughout my life. I am going through some fundamental transformations in my domestic life and I notice that I cling to what I know and I fear the prospect of letting go. I lose trust in my self, I become suspicious, and rapidly my mind becomes a hell realm and I have to try hard to step out of it. It makes me and those around me suffer. I know I have a lot of work to do, both literally and metaphorically, but I arrive on retreat without an agenda.

Once on retreat and after settling in on the first day, I managed a walk up the hill at tea time. The sheep were grazing and the light had the quality of September. So did the colours of the trees, the valleys below reflecting the change of season. I often try to breathe in colour, invite it in, and let it infuse me. Rain suddenly started pouring, what a drag, so I ran back.

On my way down, I heard a tree. I stopped. There was a cacophony of sound coming from it, so strident, and although I knew it was from all the birds resting and nesting in its branches, it was as if the tree was the one making the noise. I could not see the birds but the tree stood there like a party host, like a holder of fun, rumpus-filled. A few steps later I found a beautiful branch that had broken off one of the silver birches at the side of the track. It had no leaves and the wood had interesting red tints and half a dozen wispy branches. I picked it and took it with me. By the time I got back to the house I was soaked.

The kitchen at the Maenllwyd had enjoyed another round of renovations. The last rayburn was never very efficient, so it was removed and a gas range was placed in its corner. The wooden counter underneath the window, which I know most cooks really missed, had returned, The newly installed gaslights were a delight, with a light quality similar to the Tilley lamps, but without the endless fuss and leakages. In the sitting room an enormous wood-burning stove roared constantly and welcomed the giant kettles on its top, keeping them warm. For those fearful of feeling cold on retreat, like me, things were looking up. I admit that I was reluctant to accept these changes, but the task is to find beauty regardless. The same magic energy of transmission that I felt existed in that kitchen nearly ten years ago still exists in its new, modernised state if you open up to it; the heart of the kitchen beats at the rhythm of the cook’s heart, like a perfect archetype.

One morning, at 5 am, I went to retrieve some milk from the stream. The sky was dark and filled with stars, yet the rain poured heavily. Throughout the morning the sun shone and I cooked, baked, cleaned, wrote a bit. As I sat for lunch I noticed that swallows and martins were still clutching their stay. Birds and trees were connected to whatever was brewing in me. Then Simon gave out the koans. This huatou picked me:

When the tree withers and the leaves fall – what then?

I managed to find an area not too far away to make a phone call to confirm my mid week order from a Welsh Cooperative. Food was running out fast. Standing under the dense foliage of trees, I heard a woodpecker. Toc-Toc, Toc-Toc. As I lingered trying to catch a signal, I also found a sheep corpse lying on top of the roots of a giant tree hidden away from the view of the flock. I collected moss and branches. Near the hut, I picked rosebay willowherb flowers, which looked like pink fairies, for Padmasambava’s altar. I felt that I was cooking something else, something to do with that hullabaloo tree, that branch, something to do with nests and migrations, with change, as a metaphor of my circumstances and me.

Practice has helped me to re acquaint myself with nature, finding beauty and meaning in that which surrounds me: plants and insects, the sky, the soil, the mountain. Cooking is training and it is practice, it is training in bodhicitta practice. As the retreat progresses a very strong sense of joy in the simple tasks arises, and I notice how I begin to open up to my fundamental goodness. My mind quietens but the kitchen remains tempestuous and active, with everything that needs to be done plus all my conflicting emotions that arise unexpectedly, as I stir a pot, or line a baking tray, as I find myself sobbing whilst I decant the chocolate cake batter, as I smudge the edges with a spatula. But there is a sense of trust in the practice and in the process that expands, enabling me to experience myself in a state of happiness that is blissful because it is connected to my nature.

This is a hungry group with a high male: female ratio and there is a sense of intense hard work in the Chan Hall. The more I cook the more they eat. The kitchen feels energetic, pure action meditation. Outside the ground is slicked by rain, and in that tiny space I am cooking and roasting, baking, chop- ping, toasting, grinding, salting, steaming, I am stir frying, stirring, smelling, watching, waiting, kneeling, standing, trotting backwards and forwards to the refectory. I am testing and tasting and watching people savour, I am setting, re-arranging, cleaning. I make teas and stocks, I boil kettles, I am resting and reading and jotting down notes. I feel joyful. I inhabit the kitchen and each moment. It feels beautiful.

The abundant bread plates have to be replenished sometimes during a meal, the jars of preserves and condiments are scraped clean and replaced on a daily basis. I hardly have any left overs and have to put signs on the cake for people not to take more than one (generous) slice. For a cook there is no better compliment than people eating and appreciating the cooking, I love to provide delicious and abundant food whilst I gauge their process. If people need to eat, you provide the food; you begin each dish with an offer and a wish, for it to be beneficial to those who eat it. I remember a monk once saying to me that if you take food as a medicine, no matter what it is, it cannot harm you. This retreat needs fuel. I make brownies that have magic restorative qualities. Each soup has a vegetable as the star. The spice rack is working alongside me.

I took a walk to the hilltop; the wind had a retching quality, like sea spasms. The flocks of birds seem to have gone; the landscape is rapidly yellowing. I took a trip to both Rhayader and Llanidloes to collect the midweek order. I brought back brown paper bags filled with fresh bread, and boxes of veg- etables grown in the Welsh valleys. A proper autumn harvest: I had a box of oddly shape carrots and different coloured beets, swede, cabbages, wonderful mucky celeriac with wriggly tails. I was eager to cook it all and devised a plan for the new arrivals. Lentil cottage pie with pink root mash, lemony baby courgette pasta, carrot cake with cardamom icing, stuffed aubergines with North African flavours…

I began to create nests for the silver birch branch with moss and wool I found on my walks. The rosebay willowherb flowers were turning to seeds that looked furry, like the feathers of a young baby bird. I placed the nests on the branch, which stood by the fireplace in the refectory, each a ritual of setting up a home, of providing warmth and shelter, of comfort. I hung little twigs and seeds held by cotton string. Feathers. Each walk was part of a creative process of recreating that tumultuous tree-home, in silence. My concerns and worries for the future had begun to dissipate; the huatou had begun to question What then? In an almost angry tone, as if saying, why are you asking that now? Stop worrying about then. Be now.

The work periods were a real community effort; the kitchen crew helped me so much in the production of meals and in the general keeping of the different parts of the house. The garden was slowly being transformed. Beautifully dug earth furrows, raked grasses and roots transplantations, mulched flowerbeds. The woodpile in the sitting room was relentlessly replenished, up to the ceiling; the logs lined up and ready to feed the hungry stove. The loos sparkled. There was also a lot of spontaneous laughter from a retreatant; it felt contagious. On one of my journeys back from the stream, I noticed the window of the tool shed with the rows of redundant paraffin lamps. They were lined up and left out, and I could hear them say, we want to play too. It made me sad.

The last full day was one of glory, sunshine, warmth, and that sense to- wards the end of a retreat when faces are glowing and people are beginning to come down, yet the intensity lingered. I had stewed the speckle pears the night before, pears the size of a soupspoon; I had decided to stew them just sliced in half. No peeling and no coring, I also left the stalk. I stewed them in a medium size pot with a bit of water and sugar, a cinnamon stick, all on a light boil. They were so delicious but above all, they were enchanting to look at and taste. I also made another plum cake with ground almonds and spices. The back kitchen felt barren. Things began to go back to their storage places, and as I felt that I was getting ready to go home, I realised that practice makes me feel comfortable with uncertainty, with the uncertainty of my future, with the not knowing where am I going next. The prospect of future becomes flexible and fearless because the future is not distant, it is the next second and it feels continuous, it is here, it is now.


Plum and Almond cake.

250 grams of butter
250 grams of brown sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon of good quality vanilla
4 eggs
125 grams wholemeal self raising flour 175 grams of ground almonds
pinch of baking powder

100 grams of almonds
15 plums
Mixed spice
1 tablespoon of muscovado sugar. A pinch of sea salt

First heat the oven at 180C. Place the almonds on a tray and toast lightly. Chop them roughly and set them in a bowl. Add the muscovado sugar, the mixed spice and pinch of sea salt and mix together. Cut the plums in half and remove the stones. Turn the oven up to 220C.

Line a rectangular baking tray. I used a 16’ by 12’. In a big bowl mix the butter and sugar until soft and sugar has been dissolved. Add vanilla and eggs and beat the batter until homogeneous. Add the ground almonds and sift in the flour and a pinch of baking powder. Mix well. Decant onto the baking tray and arrange the plums face down evenly and close to each other. Sprinkle with the almonds, muscovado sugar, mixed spice and salt mix. Bake in the oven for at least 30 min. You might need to turn the oven down slightly. The almond topping will brown and caramelise the plums. You can make it with pears, apricots, or peaches.



York’s zen cook FLORENCIA CLIFFORD suggests a sunny, meat-free curry.

IN January we should be cooking healthy and colourful food, invoking sunshine through our dishes, but with the awareness that we need energy to endure the cold weather.

Although I am an advocate of seasonal produce, it all goes out of the window during the first few months of the year as all I want is fresh vegetables and fruits and there is not much left in my allotment.

A good approach to healthier eating is to cut down on meat and increase the number of vegetarian dishes in our weekly menu plan.

A recent trip to India made me fall in love with Keralan food and one of the dishes that I had to learn to make was fresh pineapple curry.

Spicy and sweet, it held the key to the exotic, evoking centuries of spice-trade obsession, and tasted like a tropical sunset beach in each mouthful. You can get semi-ripe pineapples for this dish or even use green bananas instead.

The secret is in the spice mix. Another advantage is that it cooks in minutes.

3 Elephants Keralan Pineapple Curry

Serves 4


Three tablespoons of coconut oil or sunflower oil
1 medium onion, chopped.
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
A tablespoon of fresh grated ginger
1 green chilli
1 heaped teaspoon of turmeric powder
A handful of fresh curry leaves (or dried ones)
A small pineapple, chopped in cubes
1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of black mustard seeds
Half a cup of water
200 ml coconut milk
300 ml low fat natural yogurt
Sea salt


In a medium casserole pan, heat up the oil and fry the onions, garlic and ginger for a minute or two, then add the rest of the spices followed by the pineapple and fresh curry leaves.

After a few minutes stirring on medium heat, add the turmeric and fry for a couple of minutes.

Add the water and simmer for three to four minutes.

Add the coconut milk and yogurt and cook for a further five minutes. Adjust seasoning.

Leave it to rest for as long as you can as flavours will intensify with time.

For added protein, you can toast a handful of raw cashew nuts and sprinkle them on the curry before you serve it.

Serve hot with basmati rice, a couple of chapattis and a simple green salad with some fresh coriander leaves.


• Cook’s note: The best places to buy fresh whole spices in York are Alligator Wholefoods in Fishergate, or Rafi’s Spicebox in Goodramgate.


This month I wrote a piece for the NCF. It will be published as A cook’s meditation and it is about my own personal experience, and the cooking during the wonderful 10 day Koan retreat  last September, led by Simon Child. The piece will appear in the next New Chan Forum Journal and these are a few photographs to accompany the piece of writing…


ImageTiny Pears

ImageMaenllwyd Trees

ImageImage Image

Fruit Chutney

ImageBrowniesImageWOnderful Welsh ProduceImageBeetroot and FennelImageThe orchard’s bountyImageCeleriac

Preparing BreakfastImageiImagePlum CakeImagePink Lentil Cottage PieImageImageImageStuffed AuberginesImageWalksImageAfternoonsImageA window to cloudsImageWe want to play too…

ImageImageImageAutumnImageImagetiny pear compoteImagenutty roastImageImageImageImageDawnImageImageImageImageSalad


Late September is often when we get the best weather, foliage colours are rapidly turning and the visit of warm sun gives a kick to the ripening of things that are still hanging on tress or buried in soil.

I just got back from cooking on a 10 day retreat in Wales ( post and recipes to follow) and still benefiting from high energy and open heart, so every detail in the landscape moves me, makes me smile.


After a day of catching up with friends I have hardly seen all summer, a free lunch at Wagamamas and a round of Maté tea at home, we went to Mariela’s allotment yesterday, where she proudly showed me her wonderful bounty. She has been transforming this big plot into a lush ever-growing wonder of edible plants and flowers, vegetables and the new dug up patch where she and some friends are planning a small orchard.


I picked borage and marigold flowers which I am currently drying on a colander on top of the Rayburn for some late summer colour in winter dishes…


Every plant was fat with fruit, some parts turning into seed. Plump squashes loitering  the ground as we walked, basking in the late afternoon sun. Big towers of runner beans which multiplied as we plucked them. Beautiful fragrant celery bunches with deep dark green leaves which tasted of the earth.  ImageImage

We picked giant marrows, and discussed ways of making them taste by stuffing them. Small courgettes  and flowers with their prickly softness. The herb and flower beds she planted to attract bees and butterflies were so alive and inviting.


Towering sunflowers the colour of autumn. Sweet peas in pyres with heaven scent. Marigolds scattered around everywhere. Bliss.


The sky light was turning, dusky pinks and blues, the ending of the day.



At night, when I got home, I cooked a light supper, using some of the vegetables. I look forward to blanching and freezing some of the beans today. Image


My affair with farm life began last year, and although I am not deep buried in it, I love to tip toe into the wonderfulness of an environment that is not only beautiful but so actively produces food and energy. From willow harvests to drying up wheat in the dusty yard, to sitting on a tractor ploughing a field with a hundred seagull groupies. I treasure the time I spend there, I soak it up, after all, I get the most lovely company and learn something new every day. I am an observer who is still wondering if I’ve got what it takes, it is romantic, but also harsh. It invites me and at the same time overwhelms me.

When I am there, I love the simple things. I love watching hares with their reddish fur playing hide seek with my dog Pirate, who also mimics and blends with the straw left on the ground after the wheat has been reaped. Being a few good miles away from York helps me notice the way the sky changes, I spend time regarding insects, picking flowers or feathers, experiencing textures, hearing the silence in the early evening broken by the hoot of the tiny owl that lives in the Dutch Barn, or watching the hyperkinetic swallows doing their last dances before flying off to Africa. Hugo, who has been at the farm on and off most of his life, says the day the swallows leave is the saddest day of the year. How lovely, I thought, even in its sorrowful tone, the marking of the change of season, from summer to autumn is not only beautiful, but the most poetic. Image

Yesterday we went to collect fruit so I could take some on retreat. Running parallel to the formal garden there is a Victorian Orchard with some old English varieties of apples and pears. The plum tree which is fairly young was laden with the most beautiful pinkish plums. Apart from the glorious sentiment that picking fruit provokes in me, that evocative action of gathering that connects me  humbly with my humanity,  the place looked like a postcard of abundance, like a sonnet, the trees were offering treasure with open arms, the sun was shining for a while, the light was musical.


Hugo and Ian brought a big ladder and we spent some time watching a spider eating a moth in one of the steps. Then, we literally went around the mulberry tree, and filled a small bag with ripe and semi-ripe mulberries. We moved to the apples, filling some old wooden vegetable boxes which I treasure and which made the fruit look even more appealing and beautiful.ImageImageImage

Then we found some tiny pears, with very tough skin which are probably good for stewing. A variety of Insects were thriving on the fallen fruit half rotting on the ground, Spiders were making webs in the lower brunches taking advantage of the attraction, Wasps were fighting us for plums, it was all alive and pulsating, vibrant. It was also fun. I love the change of season, I love the smell of fire, making apple crumbles and chutney, fresh savoy cabbages, the produce.

When I get back from retreat the quinces will probably be ready and I will make quince cheese and maybe we will get that cider press we planned last year. Until then, I thought I’d share this beautiful poem which for me, speaks of the transition and all the beauty that is there, at this very moment, in front of our eyes, as the season changes.

To Autumn by John Keats

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats


A few days ago we decided to turn the  Rayburn back on. Almost  overnight  the temperature has changed, it feels cold, darker, and we already lit a fire in the living room.  Autumn is here, colours are turning. Rather than sadness, I feel happy about the summer we  had, grateful, a gift and a good reminder that we can all bask in Britain sometimes, drop the coats and woollies, walk barefoot, get kissed by the sun.

So rather than a grim farewell, here are some of my summer highlights…


Small naps floating on buttercup fields…


The first borage flowers…


English Cottage gardens..


June Wedding at the farm… Wildflowers!


Summer Solstice


Sofia’s Prom


Car Boot Sale!


The need for Watermelon…


Quail Egg lunch


rolling hay…




more visitors…and peonies!!!




Western Zen Retreat…


Summer in Wales…


Day at the beach / Devon…


Someone loves the lovage…


Double Rainbows in Devon


So many butterflies…


Light fragrant lunches


Foodies in London … Broadway Market , courgette flower tempura, and edible flowers, sister fun.


An attempt to Glamping…


Luncheons with eccentrics


A reading of Feeding Orchids to the Slugs at the wonderful Arts Barge Tent at Galtres Festival


Biggest Thunder Storm I have ever experienced in England.. didn’t stop Sofia having fun at Leeds festival!



Not a very good one I’m afraid.


Awesome late summer evenings, (YORK STATION)


Birthday celebrations… SUMMER chocolate cake.


Bale Stacking and clearing fields for Ploughing…



Hot summer’s day. Watermelon. Flashback to hot summer afternoons in La Granja, in Argentina, where we’d sit in the shade and wait for my grandmother to slice the gigantic fregetable (it is not clear whether it is a fruit or a vegetable). We would sit around her patio and bite into the sweet crimson flesh. Sometimes she would scoop out the seeds first depending on whether it was possible. We would drip juice everywhere and a bucket or two of water would be thrown afterwards with a few drops of creosote to keep the flies away.

We would have likely have bought on a stall by the side of the road which also sold enormous squashes and gourds, sweetcorn by the sack.
Watermelon is thirst quenching and satisfies that sweet cravings I get in the early afternoon. Its often hard to find good watermelon in England, as it has been probably picked green and unripe and lacks the taste of sunshine but I buy them and leave them for a few days in a warm room.

My grandmother, who grew up in a farm, told us how her family harvested watermelon solely for their own consumption, hundreds of them, engorged by the constant heat and sun-rays of the long summer days. They would only consume the heart, the sweet flesh from the centre, and feed the rest to the chickens.

On Tuesday, we were baling hay at the farm in one of the hottest days we have had in the last few years.  I arrived, with a picnic for lunch of potato and courgette fritatta, tomato and basil salad and boiled globe artichokes from the vegetable patch, ready to help with the tractor driving from field to field collecting the hay bales, I noticed that there was a watermelon in the car. It had been there for a few days, with time to mature, and when we opened it in the afternoon, it was pure colour and joy. I sliced it into a tray and we sat in the garden whilst having the only break of the afternoon. Delicious and sugary. A ruby prize for the day’s hard labour.


Last week we drove out to a small village in South Yorkshire to visit friends.  It was a stormy afternoon, but by the time we arrived at the house, the sun had come out and it felt warm. I was immediately enchanted by the spirit of their garden.

The big cottage-like house belonged to a sweet eccentric woman who passed away last year, she was in her 90’s and tended the garden until she died. From the sounds of birds and bees, to the colours and the scent everything in it spoke of summer, of England, of the types of afternoons that we all dream about, and I found myself caught in a bit of an identity dilema. Has my imaginary ideal of flowers and gardens slowly, with the years, become British? I hark back to Palo Borracho flowers and bougainvillaea visited by hummingbirds, but it is the peonies and old roses, sweet peas, and herbaceous borders in bloom that make me giddy…

My passion for gardening started in this country, with the purchase of our first house in 1995 which had just a patch of lawn and no plants. I became an obsessive grower of flowers, and I loved the build up of anticipation to the seasons and to the different flowering plants I had planted. We always grew our own vegetables in an allotment and flowers were sown alongside lettuces and potatoes. In the allotment we grew cutting flowers, at home I grew shrubs and cottage perennials. I guess my love of gardens developed in this country so there is undoubtedly a connection, and that intrinsic hope for summer that seeps into you as you settle into your life in this water washed Islands.

I strolled around the beautiful garden, taking pictures and smelling roses, feeling the sun tingle in my arms. Nothing better, I thought, than a beautiful English Garden in June…nothing better than a June afternoon in the garden in the sun.