Sheep garden blog: picking blackcurrants

Tiffany Daneff / 29 July 2015

After two weeks away, Tiffany returns to the Sheep Garden to find a bumper crop of blackcurrants, but not the flora and fauna she had grown used to in Sri Lanka.

I woke this morning to find a handful of sheep enjoying breakfast on our neighbour’s lawn so rushed downstairs to close our gate before they decided the grass was greener over this side.

After a couple of weeks’ in Sri Lanka I’ve gone a bit cold on sheep. Over there it’s elephants that come galumphing through fences and ransacking vegetable gardens after a fragrant lemongrass frond or a bunch of juicy bananas, of which the island has about 20 different varieties. Or so the Sri Lankans say. And, as well as cows, water buffalo, with their curlicue horns and blue back skin, wander the fields and nonchalantly cross the roads to find a new water hole to wallow in.

The garden here looks so parochial – even the giant golden stipa heads and the about to bud buddleia – by comparison with waving palms and forests of teak. One house we visited, which belonged to our guide, contained pretty much everything his family needed including a 30 foot deep well.

This garden in Jaffna, a town that’s got just the one set of traffic lights and where many buildings were destroyed or stand pock marked by the violent 30 year civil war with the Tamil Tigers, contains avocado, lime, banana, bread fruit, mango, papaya, curry leaves and more. But I have blackcurrants in Northamptonshire.

I tried explaining to our guide what currants were – but they had nothing with which to compare them other than the strawberries that are grown in the hill country. Try explaining the flavour of blackcurrant when all you have to go on is pineapple and rambutan.

And what currants! We came back from holiday to find a truly bumper crop. This is the second season since the bushes were planted and they are all ‘Ben’ varieties which are known for producing abundance.

Despite the fringe of nettles and thistles around the fruit cage the weeds haven’t gone that mad thanks to the coating of bark chippings we laid last year.

We used quite coarse bark which seems to be doing the trick. Within under ten minutes I’d picked a good three pounds of fruit which I’m going to boil up into blackcurrant jam today along with another large punnetful which I picked this morning before the rain came. The white currant is frilled with berries, the red currant too. Only the gooseberry has been a bit backward producing barely a pound of fruit. I wonder if this is because it is young?

I was just picking the last mini-handful of fraise des bois – those tiny but magically fragrant strawberries – when, out of the corner of my left eye, something whisked past.

After days of spotting toque macacques and langur monkeys, swinging out of the trees, and straining to see hornbills and pied kingfishers, a miserable grey squirrel was something of a comedown. It was, however, INSIDE the cage. After a lot of stomping and shouting and knocking the wire walls of the cage the wretch decided it had had enough and exited through the door.

Still, at least it wasn’t an elephant.

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