dreaming spires inspiration

Where do the days go? It is February already, the birds are singing, snowdrops are flowering in the garden, catkins shake and shimmer in  every hedgerow hereabouts. Yep, Spring is in the air. At least here, today.

Saturday, however, was decidedly wintry, as VP and I visited Oxford, Matthew Arnold’s “city of dreaming spires”, to listen to a talk given by Paolo Arriga entitled “From seed to plate.” The author has an Italian heritage and his talk extolled the variety of regional vegetables grown in Italy, leading to the variety in Italian cooking. Paola is an enthusiastic cook and runs Seeds of Italy. I can recommend them heartily, and if you haven’t tried any of their varieties, it might well be the season to give them a go. Franchi seeds are widely available and the website is well illustrated.

Part of the talk consisted of the author making pesto from scratch. Inspired by the smell (as well as the delicious flavour-we all got to try the pesto) I made some in my heavy granite pestle and mortar this evening for supper.  It was lovely.

After the talk we walked in the Botanic Gardens where the snowdrops are coming into full bloom, especially in the shelter of the old walls where they are planted in large drifts. It was a cheerless afternoon with a biting wind coming over the river, but on this my first visit to Oxford Botanic gardens, I was immensely cheered by the sight of this magnificent Pinus Nigra, an Austrian pine planted in 1800 and in the full glory of its maturity.

I thought the tree was one of the finest specimens I have seen in a long time, with textured bark and sinuous limbs and following a little research it seems it was a favourite of the author JRR Tolkien who was at college nearby. Tempting to think of it being an inspiration behind ents, isn’t it? There is a lovely picture, faded but eloquent, here of JRR himself in old age beneath this very tree. I feel proud to be in such good company in liking it.


2 thoughts on “dreaming spires inspiration

  1. I can almost smell that pesto. I harbour ambitions to grow lots of basil and parsley this year, not the piddling little amounts I tend to content myself with, just so that I can make my own pesto. We’ll see, last year all but one of my many, many basil seedlings failed. Talk sounded good but I love the tree. I love trees anyway, but trees with stories are hard to beat, and that one has a most magnificent shape to boot.

  2. Hi Janet-I am inspired to grow lots of basil this year too, if I can keep the slugs off it! I am going to try successional sowings in large pots to see if that works.
    The tree was truly astonishing. I imagine it has many stories to tell if we could but hear them.

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