Sunday, 26 June 2011


I am told the Czech news has been full of doom and gloom about a failure in fruit this year - no cherries, no plums, no apples and pears. But they clearly haven't been in my orchard.

The branches on my early cherry tree have been weighed down with deep red fruit or they were until I and the birds relieved them of their treasure. The freezer is now full of bags of cherries and in the cupboard jars of cherries preserved in a mixture of gin and sugar are sitting waiting for my return from England in August.

Then there are the strawberries - my friend Hannah loved her strawberries and grew them both at her Krumlov riverside house and the house she was restoring by the lake. I have keeping an eye on both houses, as the slow business of Czech probate proceeds, and I pay myself in soft fruit - strawberries and raspberries.

But the greatest of fruits are the ones that no one plants or tends. They have a special richness that comes from God or Nature being their gardener. The wild strawberries are magnificent this year in their size and abundance. Usually there are too few even to survive the trip to the basket and certainly not to the house, but this year there have been so many that there are bags full in the freezer.

And what shall I drink with these fruits? Of course it is a drink made from another harvest. I have two bottles of elderflower syrup sitting in my cupboard. An easy drink to make and a delicious one that speaks of early summer. My method is simply to layer the flowers with sugar in a jug and leave for a day or two, then simply add bowling water and hey presto - elixir.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Green Guerilla Strikes

In a covert operation Cesky Krumlov's very own Green Guerilla has struck a blow for all those who opposed the Town Council's and River Authority's destruction of a verdant island in the middle of the Vltava near the base of the castle cliffs.

In the early hours a few days ago the Green Guerilla in an action similar to that of the old Milk Tray advert hero scaled natural and man-made barriers to plant willow trees in the silt near the artificial island installed half-heartedly in response to the many protests of local people. It is unclear whether he abseiled in from the bridge or even a helicopter or whether he forded the roaring torrents, but unseen by drunken passers-by he planted a total of eight willows. Earlier reconnaisance missions (from the windows of a nearby shop) had revealed that despite the Council's vandalism of last year the river is already beginning to reinstate the island in full as a silt bank builds in the centre of the river. The willows' roots will aid this island's formation. His work done the Green Guerilla disppeared into the shadows.

"All because the lady loved her duck island"

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Voice of a Bird - Iva Bittova

Firstly my apologies for the slight break in my posts. I have been busy running a Czech arts tour for a lovely bunch of Australians and so have not had time to blog while I was doing that. I will be putting up a number of posts about the tour - we did some fab things, even if I do say so myself.

But today I will blog briefly about what I did last night by way of a reward and that was to attend a concert by Czech singer and musician Iva Bittova in Ceske Budejovice. It took some doing - no one in the information centre knew anything about it nor in the main music shop. Eventually I found the box office for the venue only to discover that its opening hours were restricted to Mons to Fris 4pm to 6pm. As I arrived on a Saturday I was forced to come back on the Monday, the day of the concert. I arrived at 4pm to make sure of a ticket. But I needn't have bothered - even though the venue must have had a capacity of about only 200 and Bittova is a major international artist when the show began there were still empty seats. So I found myself with a central aisle seat six rows back!

I can honestly say that the hour and half that followed were some of the most enjoyable of my life. Listening to Bittova on cd or even watching videos is nothing to seeing and hearing her in person. She so clearly enjoys what she is doing that there is an excitement that spills into the hall. Although she can do emotion (just listen to her singing in Godar's Mater), there were also some wonderful moments of Czech whimsical humour. I don't know of any other singer who can use their voice as completely and in so many ways as she does. Just watch this video - and see how she has the voice of a bird as well as that of a human.

So powerful was the impression on me that I found myself crying with delight, something that has never happened to me before at a concert. Although I confess that my tears were also for my friend who loved Bittova and who had wanted to come with me next time Bittova played locally.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Birdwatching At Home in the Czech Republic

Our area of the Czech Republic is rightly famous as a destination for birdwatchers. There are several internationally recognised areas where ornithologists can see many unusual and common European birds. I am going to do a post or two about my birdwatching trips, but I actually don't need to go anywhere as the birds just come to me.

I am surrounded by birds and birdsong every time I work in the garden and orchard. The most common bird is the redstart (shown here in photo taken from Wikipedia) and it is as cheeky as any robin. In fact it is so friendly that the other day one arrived in my house, fluttering around the living room and bumping into the window. Then a few days later a swallow expertly flew through a crack at the top of my window, took a swing around the house, decided there was nothing worth investigation before equally expertly flying out again.

Other regular avian visitors to the garden are treecreepers who explore the rough granite stone walls of the barn for insects, woodpeckers (green, spotted and the non-British grey-headed), fieldfares, nuthatches, wagtails, tits, finches of various types,(including serins, siskins, and bramblings) and the ubiquitous magpies. A friend of mine has had the stunning scarlet rosefinch in her garden, but she lives closer to the forest edge.

Birds of prey are also to be seen from my garden. As I have said in a previous post we sometimes see black kites here and buzzards (common and rough-legged) are usually circling somewhere. The other day I saw three birds of prey being attacked by one brave magpie. The two larger birds (buzzards) ignored it, but the smaller of the three suddenly responded with a hurtling dive at the pesky magpie. You could almost hear the magpie cry, "Shit!!! It's a sparrowhawk." as it fled. 


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