The weather has turned really cold here. We’ve had high winds and hail. I’ll be sorting through my seed box and making plans for next year this weekend. And keeping warm. All my tender plants have been stored in the greenhouse and poly tunnel, safe from freezing temperature. What gardening tasks have you been doing recently?
I grow a huge number of bedding pelargonium plants – better known as geraniums- for containers in the summer. They flower non-stop from June to November. They are little trouble and all I do is give them some potash liquid fertiliser once a week, and regularly dead-head them
These are tender evergreen perennials and can be kept over winter in a frost free place. This year I have nearly 100 4” pots, full of cuttings which will be kept in my heated greenhouse. This is a space-saving method to keep them from one year to the next. If you don’t have a greenhouse, a bright windowsill indoors is suitable. As long as the cuttings are kept frost-free they will fine. The secret is not to overwater them. In the greenhouse, I only water pots once when the cuttings are taken, and then I don’t water them again until next February when I want to start them back into growth. Cuttings kept indoors in the house will be watered very minimally as the temperatures indoors are higher than in the greenhouse. Full-size plants can carry on flowering all year round if they are brought indoors. Check them for pests and diseases before bringing them in and top the pots with horticultural grit to keep the surface of the compost dry. Wet compost promotes grey mould. Remove any damaged or diseased leaves. When watering, make sure to keep leaves as dry as possible by aiming the water at the base of the plants.
My father in law used to keep his prize-winning pelargoniums in the garage. He dug up his plants in autumn, shook off all the compost, removed all of the leaves and wrapped the remaining stumps and roots in newspaper. They were kept cool, dry and frost free until the spring. I’ve tried this method, but only found it partially successful as my potting shed got damp in winter.
Are you planning to keep your pelargoniums over the winter? Or do you sow yours from scratch each spring? Or buy them ready to plant from the garden centre in early summer?
This year I grew all my bedding plants, including some new varieties of pelargonium, from packets of seed. I was amazed how many pelargoniums could be grown from such tiny dust-like seeds. It was a money-saving option that worked out well.
Some more photos from my greenhouse and garden to brighten your day:
A collection of bedding pelargonium plants making a display in the greenhouse.
Common names can be confusing. Most people use the word geranium when they are talking about pelargoniums. But geraniums are a different plant genus. So to avoid confusion, people refer to them as ‘hardy geraniums’ – the sort you grow in beds and borders, as ground cover amongst other plants, and ‘tender geraniums’ (pelargoniums) grown in hanging baskets and containers.
A variety I’ve kept going for more than 20 years, taken from a cutting from my grandfather. It was his favourite pelargonium.
A miniature pelargonium which flowers all year round. This one came from Fibrex Nurseries, a specialist grower, highly recommended. https://www.fibrex.co.uk/. Miniature pelargoniums are wondrous things. I’ll write a new blog post explaining how to grow them. They are easy to grow and once you’ve grown one, you’ll want to start a collection. I warn you, they are addictive!
If you listen in to BBC Radio Leicester, the gardening programme has moved to Saturdays at 11am. Josie Hutchins and I take it in turns to answer phone-in questions and talk about what gardening jobs we are doing each week. If you have a question, please get in touch with The producer, Dale. We are one of the few local stations now offering gardening advice on the radio.
Dahlias have been fabulous this year, giving masses of cut flowers from mid June until November. We’ve had unseasonably mild weather, which means we still have flowers today. But other areas in the county have had night-time frosts. So now is the time to dig up and protect your dahlia tubers for the winter.
There are two methods for saving dahlias for next year. You can either dig them up and store them in a frost-free place, or you can leave them in the ground and cover them with dry leaves, straw or horticultural fleece. Leaving them in the ground is only possible is you have well-drained soil. In heavy clay, and or where gardens flood, the tubers will rot.
Method 1. Digging them up:
If you are planning to dig them up, wait until the foliage has been frosted. This makes the dahlias absorb goodness back into the tubers and sends instructions to become dormant.
Using a fork, carefully dig up the tubers, taking care not to damage them. Remember to keep any labels with the tubers. Brush off the soil if you can. If they are wet and muddy you can wash off the soil and use a soft brush to clean them up. Or you can put them in a shed to dry and brush the soil off in a week or two. Washing and brushing helps to remove slugs and earwigs and other soil-borne pests and diseases .
Cut back the stems leaving about 3”. Turn the tubers upside down so moisture drains out of the stems. After a week, turn the tubers the right way up and store them in pots or seed trays. You can use dry compost or horticultural fleece to cover them. Keep them in a cool, dry frost free place such as a garage or potting shed.
Tip: You can plant tulips in the space left behind in the garden. I dig up the tulips next spring to make way for the dahlias again.
Method2. Leaving them in the ground:
If you have well-drained soil, you can try to leave some dahlias in the ground. In a very cold, wet winter, this is risky.
To leave them in the ground, do not cut off the stems. Fold the stems over and collapse them back onto the tubers, this will stop the stems becoming like ‘straws.’ Cut stems will direct water straight to the tubers, causing rotting.
Cover the tubers with a thick layer of dried leaves, straw or horticultural fleece. I usually try to keep them dry by covering them with sheets of recycled corrugated plastic or old compost bags. Plastic cloches can also be used.
Tubers will be started back into growth next spring.
Here’s some dahlias from my plot. Nuit D’Ete with cosmos and persicaria.
My favourite orange dahlia, David Howard, shown here with chrysanthemum Swan.
Dahlia Evelyn with carnations and senecio grey foliage from the plot.
Dahlias can also be started from seed in early spring . This was from a mixed packet which included lots of jewel-like colours. This summer I’ve grown the ‘Bishop’s Children’ range which has lovely bright reds, purple and orange with attractive, dark-coloured foliage.
How have your dahlias fared this year? Which method are you using to save them over the winter? Do you have any further tips to share?
Thanks for reading my blog, and listening in to BBC Radio Leicester for the gardening show on Saturdays at 11am. If you have any questions for either me or Josie, please leave a message here or get in touch with producer Dale. We are very pleased to still have a gardening programme when many other stations have now cancelled them.
I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.
Winter is just around the corner and there’s a feeling of urgency to get on with gardening jobs, before the weather turns cold. I’m always rushing around. There’s tender plants to bring under cover, pots to plant and bulbs to sort out. There’s never enough time to do everything. However, gardening tasks can end in accidents causing painful injuries. Here’s a reminder to take extra care this autumn and winter when working in the garden.
We were all shocked to hear news that Tamsin Westhorpe had suffered a fractured spine in a recent gardening accident. Tamsin is a writer, and editor and works as a gardener at her family’s farm, Stockton Bury Gardens, in Herefordshire. I wrote about Tamsin last year when she published her country diary book. Here’s a link: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/02/22/diary-of-a-modern-country-gardener/
I asked Tamsin to tell me what happened when she had her accident in the garden, and here’s what she said:
It was a sunny Saturday at the start of September. I had a rare day off from work, so I was determined to make a mark on my much-ignored home plot. My day job is to help my uncles garden their four-acre open garden, so my plot gets pushed to the back of the priority list.
What task were you doing when the accident happened? I have a row of six aronia trees that I like to keep to a manageable height of about 9ft. My aim was to remove the very enthusiastic young growth and give them a neater shape. To reach the centre branches I needed a ladder. In my haste a grabbed a lightweight A frame ladder and headed down the garden armed with enthusiasm and secateurs. I was on a mission to get as much done in a day as possible.
Describe what happened next. Standing on one of the top steps I simply leant forward to reach a central branch and the ladder went from under me. It happened so quickly, and I found myself flat on my back on the lawn in agony.
What were your first thoughts? My first thoughts were for the garden. Who would lift my dahlias and plant the tulips? Being part of a small family business, I was concerned how the other members of the family would be impacted. Physical fitness is essential for my work. My second thought was that I’d been a complete idiot and should’ve waited for someone to hold the ladder. To say I was cross with myself was an understatement.
How did you get help? My garden is in a rural location and not looked over by any other houses. I shouted but no one came as my family were out. I know only too well that you shouldn’t try and move if you have an accident, but I was struggling to breath, so somehow struggled to the house to get my phone. How long this took and how I can’t recall.
What were your injuries? My spine has a stable fracture and I cut the back of my leg quite badly. However, I have been incredibly lucky. I’m so thankful that my spinal cord wasn’t damaged, and I didn’t hit my head. As far as I’m concerned, I have had a very lucky escape. When working from a ladder in future I’m going to ensure that the pots and tools are placed well out of the way and I always have a friend or family at the foot of the ladder.
How long will your recovery take? All being well I will make a full recovery in about 12 weeks. I should be able to plant my own tulips this year! For now, I’m not lifting anything and I’m focusing on doing all the right things to speed up my return to the garden. I’ve already seen the impact of trying to rush things so I’m not about to make the same mistake twice.
Anything happened like this before? I’ve been gardening since the age of 16, spending time as a parks gardener, greenkeeper and interior landscaper. In all those years I have only succumbed to one nasty incident with a pair of secateurs (again caused by trying to rush a job) and a few splinters. So, all in all I’ve been lucky and don’t see gardening as a dangerous hobby – far from it in fact. Gardening has kept me physically fit for decades. I’m the only danger! By being impatient and trying to garden at speed I’ve caused this accident to happen and only have myself to blame. Having said all that I think my steel toe capped boots have saved my toes on many occasions.
How do you feel now, mentally and physically? I am feeling better by the day and although I can’t do anything for long, I’m seeing improvements in my physical heath. A gardening friend suggested I put comfrey oil on my back to help with the healing process. I have no idea if it is working but I love the idea of a plant being involved in my recovery. Having not experienced an accident of this nature before I was surprised at how much shock has an impact on your mental wellbeing. It’s been difficult having to scratch out events in my diary, but I have the good fortune that I will recover. The messages from fellow gardeners have been a great help and I’ve been thrilled to hear from many who say they now won’t go up a ladder without an ‘assistant’. I’m glad that my accident might prevent others from having a similar experience. This time has made me feel such concern for those who won’t recover from an accident or can’t tend their garden due to old age. I can only imagine how frustrating and devastating this must be. I’ve also experienced the healing power of nature. Thanks to a wonderfully warm September I have been able to recover under a blue sky outside. Watching the birds and insects flutter around me has been just the best medicine. It’s given me time to realise how important gardening is to me and my health.
What advice would you give other gardeners? Invest in a proper gardening ladder for one. Secondly never use power tools and climb ladders when on your own in the garden. Thirdly keep your mobile phone in your pocket but put it on silent so your gardening time is undisturbed. But, the most important thing is to never rush gardening – sip it like a good glass of wine and savour every moment. It’s not a race.
Update: Tamsin has made a good recovery, and is now back at Stockton Bury making a start on light gardening duties.
Here’s some photos of Stockton Bury taken when I visited the garden this summer.
Have you any experiences to share involving injuries while gardening? Please share any advice and suggestions.
Please feel free to share this item on social media. Thank you for reading my blog.
Latest news from the plot. Click on the photo to enlarge the print. There’s never enough room for all the photos I take. So here’s a selection of pictures to go with the diary recently published in Garden News Magazine.
I’m looking forward to growing this Limonium Pink Pokers next spring. The photo above was taken at Mr Fothergill’s seed trial grounds in August. I love the two-tone flowers and their delightful habit of twisting and turning as they grow towards the sun. They remind me of fireworks. I’ll start seed sowing indoors in February at 20C in a propagator and plant them out in June. They will be perfect for my jam jar posies. In addition, flowers can be hung up to dry. It will be useful to have flowers for winter decorations. Limonium, a half hardy annual, grows to 80cm and flowers from June to October. Available from Johnson’s seed, the premium range from Mr Fothergill’s.
In the article above, I mention growing dahlias from seed. I’ve been so delighted with the success of my seed-sown dahlias this year. I’ve had outstanding flowers, large single blooms with bright, jewel-like colours. It’s a money-saving option too. My Mum manages to fill her back garden with dahlias grown from a packet of seed. Started early in February, seedlings make small tubers and grow to full-size plants by mid-summer. There’s a non-stop supply of flowers for our vases. Plus bees love them too, so it’s an wildlife-friendly option. Pollinators have easy access to the flat, open centres of these flowers. You can sometimes see the ‘bee lines’ showing pollinators the way to the centre. If you don’t have any storage space for dahlia tubers over winter, don’t worry. You can get excellent results by starting from seed in spring.
I mention the new Home Florists’ range of roses specially bred for cut flower gardens. I’ve been amazed by the sheer number of flowers these provided. Such good quality flowers which last a week in a vase, if water is refreshed each day. The scent is reminiscent of old roses, particularly old-fashioned bourbon roses. The roses, by Wharton’s Nursery, can be found in most good garden centres, or on line. Look out for Timeless Purple and Timeless Cream. Both recommended.
In amongst my cut flowers, I grow vegetables such as peas, climbing beans, courgettes, sweet corn and beetroot. I’m growing Valido peas, a new maincrop variety which is disease resistant. Luckily it is resistant to mildew which means the plants keep cropping right through to the autumn. Often pea plants turn brown as leaves and stems die back. Valido copes with anything the summer weather can throw at it, and produces a heavy crop of delicious peas. I’ve saved some of my seed for growing in seed trays over the winter. Pea shoots will be harvested just a few weeks from sowing – and won’t have cost me a penny. Lovely nutritious shoots to add to my salads and stir fries.
Monty Kitten is more like a dog than a cat. He follows me around the garden and likes to get involved in everything I’m doing. He followed me out onto the grass verge when I put my jam jar flowers out for sale.
Finding newts in the garden is always a cause for celebration. It’s reassuring to find them under stones by my mini-pond, and in the greenhouse and polytunnel. They must be attracted by the moisture. I only use natural seaweed-type feeds, diluted in a watering can, to feed my fruit, vegetables and cut flowers on the patch.
Fruit and vegetables have grown well this year. In my basket there’s white-stem chard, perpetual spinach, herbs, white-flowered runner bean variety ‘Moonlight’ onions, tomatoes Blaby, Marmande and cherry types. There’s been a steady flow of blueberries from the plot. Ivanhoe is growing in a large 40cm diameter pot.
This is made by Martin and Jill Fish who provide cookery talks and demonstrations and have written a favourite book ‘Gardening on the Menu’ with advice on growing fruit and veg, and how to cook and preserve them.
Thank you for reading my blog, and my diary in Garden News Magazine. If you also listen to BBC Radio Leicester, the gardening show has moved from Wednesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 11.35. If you get in touch with the producers, I’ll answer any questions live on the show.
Thanks again to everyone who left comments. There will be more book and product reviews in the next few weeks. I’m very grateful to book publishers for sending out giveaway copies. Have a great gardening week everyone.
The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment at the end of this review, and one name will be randomly selected on Sunday 31st October 6pm.
Books have a power to move. To tears, to joy, to despair. Sometimes they transport you to another place. James Golden takes you by the hand and leads you through the garden he’s created, and it’s one of the most beautiful, inspiring journeys you’ll ever take. In his new book, The View from Federal Twist, he describes what it’s like to create a garden from scratch in western New Jersey, USA. His garden is set in a clearing in the woods. He made a conscious decision not to improve the land. Instead he ‘listened to the site,’ placed large competitive plants into rough grass and watched and waited as sustainable plant communities emerged. The result is a magical place, a naturalistic garden -with a difference.
James describes the book as a retelling of the making of his ‘first serious garden.’ It’s a triumph of ecological planting and clear design aims. James is part philosopher, part experimental horticulturist. The result has such an emotional power- it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Evocative photographs capture the effects of light shining through the canopy of trees, grasses and shrubs. Just the scale of planting is mesmerising.
“I am Federal Twist,’’ says James. He realised this when he looked at photos of the garden from above. He put the images side by side with those taken from ground level. “When I put the two images side by side, my reaction was immediate- and astonishing. I felt icy fear. The drone image showed a flat piece of earth totally devoid of feeling, offering no comfort, no warmth, no humanity, no place for me. I felt as if I were seeing with the eyes of an alien being. In contrast, the ground-level photography held me firmly within the garden; it gave me a place to be, a protected place under trees; it made me feel a part of the landscape. I felt comforted, and a sense of belonging.”
Later, he writes “…my life and emotions are closely bound with this place I call my garden. I understand physics well enough to know that my physical body intersects with the garden, interacts with the garden, responds to the garden in some kind of mutual way. I ‘live’ the garden every day. I am Federal Twist.”
Thank you for reading my review. I believe some books come into your life at just the right moment. It’s almost as if they were ‘written’ for you. To give you joy, to give you inspiration; to give you hope. I haven’t been able to write for a while. Grief affects people in different ways. I’ve sat with grieving friends and relatives and they’ve wanted to talk non-stop for hours. Others write sonnets, pen poems, write books. Grief suddenly and unexpectedly silenced me. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to write, I am someone who tries to make things better for everyone. Perhaps I just didn’t want to make anyone else feel sad. There’s no easy path back from grief, it takes time. But reading this book has helped. It’s put into words how I feel about my own garden- how my little plot has kept me afloat these past few months. I, too, feel I ‘live’ my garden. It responds to me; it’s like enfolding arms around me, lifting me up and helping to turn my face to the sun again.
If you are attending Gardeners’ World Live this week, look out for the ‘Make Do and Mend’ garden by High Ground rehabilitation centre. It may only be 3m by 3m, but it’s packed with interest and colour – and everything has been created from recycled materials.
Andy Wright, therapeutic gardens manager, said 22 patients of the military rehabilitation centre were involved in creating the gold medal- winning garden. The garden has been designed and built with sustainability in mind. All of the hard landscaping and most of the plants will return to Stanford Hall, Leicestershire, where they will be used for the benefit of patients.
A former Royal Engineer created the shed out of packing crates from an MRI scanner delivered to the centre, and the path though the middle of the garden is made from end blocks of pallets.
Pallets were also used to make a picket fence at the front of the garden, and there’s a wooden bug hotel and shelving unit.
A poppy sculpture made out of wire and metal stands at the front of the garden. It was made by a serviceman injured in Afghanistan.
All the plants for the garden have been grown from seed and cuttings by patients.
HighGround charity was launched in 2013 by Anna Baker Cresswell and uses horticulture as a therapy and to improve the wellbeing and employment prospects of former members of HM Forces.
This garden was one of my favourites at the NEC Birmingham show. It was the one I most wanted to tiptoe into, and I could see myself sitting in front of the beautiful little shed. Even though it was only tiny, there were hidden features such as the bug hotel that drew you into the space. And the next time I get hold of a pallet, I’m going to take it apart and create a block path like this one. It’s simply stunning!
Are you going to BBC Gardeners’ World Live Show this year? If so, let me know which gardens are your favourites too. And good luck to Cathy, who won my prize draw a few weeks ago and has won two tickets for the show. After all the cancellations last year, it’s a relief to see shows like this going ahead again this summer.
Enjoy this month’s column from the Garden News Magazine. I love sharing all my ups and downs, growing cut flowers and vegetables. And if I can get a mention for Monty kitten and the hens, then that’s a bonus.
Here’s some additional photos to go with the write up.
Thanks for reading, and have a great gardening week!
It’s almost two years since we’ve been allowed to take flowers into care homes. Any flowers, shop-bought or home-grown, were deemed a covid risk and banned. But this weekend the rules changed, and suddenly flowers are allowed again. I am beyond excited and relieved as flowers from my garden have a special meaning for my mother-in-law Joan.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy as I was this weekend wandering around my plot choosing flowers for Joan. It’s been such a sad time not being able to visit, or send flowers. I started growing cut flowers when Joan began showing signs of vascular dementia. Flowers have always been our special connection. We loved arranging them together. I realised she would one day forget who I was, but hoped the flowers would always remind her of me. And for many years it worked. Even when she forgot my name I was ‘someone who brought flowers.’ While she was still in her own home, I took armfuls of flowers- one of everything in flower- and foliage as well, to give a flavour of what was growing in my garden. I didn’t make them into arrangements, they were just loosely tied with string. Then Joan would spend the day creating her own posies, selecting vases and deciding where to place them- one in the front window to cheer up passers-by, one on the hall table to welcome carers who came twice a day, a few vases for the fireplace. We sat and surveyed her work, ate home-made cake, sipped tea and marvelled at the beauty of flowers, noting all the different colours and shapes. I included lavender, mint and rosemary for scent and the memories they evoked. Joan remembered a lavender bed at her childhood home and the Sunday meals with mint sauce and rosemary. It’s strange how childhood memories are the last to fade. We talked for hours about the flowers, fruit and vegetables her father grew. They had bee hives at the bottom of the garden, and the taste of honey took her right back to those happy times. There have been many heartbreaking moments, but one I particularly remember is Joan thinking her father was just upstairs. I had the choice of going along with it, or telling Joan her father had died many years ago. Neither was an easy choice, and whatever I said, five minutes later, we’d have to go through the same conversation. Flowers were a welcome distraction and something we could both agree on. Eventually, Joan lost the ability to arrange her own flowers. I did them for her and raged at the disease for stealing something that Joan so much enjoyed. Dementia, bit by bit, destroys all happiness as the processes for even the smallest task are completely forgotten. And people too, are forgotten, even those who’ve been very close and much loved. It’s so sad to watch someone desperately fighting to hold on to names and relationships. Joan would say, “I know you are someone dear to me, but tell me who you are and who am I to you.” When Joan moved to the care home, I continued the tradition with the flowers. But the pandemic meant the home was locked down for almost all of last year. Leicester remained in lockdown when other cities were released from restrictions. There were 16 deaths at Joan’s care home. Just a few weeks ago we were all set to visit when the home was locked down again due to another covid outbreak. This weekend the all clear was given and we were allowed in, and here’s some of the flowers I took with me.
I’m so pleased to be able to join in with Cathy and ‘In a Vase on Monday’ meme again as you’ve all followed my journey from the beginning. It’s been a comfort to write about my ups and downs here on the blog. There’s been laughter at times- there have been quite a few predicaments as you can imagine- and many challenges. I can’t pretend there haven’t been many tears too, and rage and sadness. But now there’s a kind of acceptance and peace. Joan doesn’t have the faintest idea who I am, but she does think I’m a ‘very nice lady’ come to visit her, and I can live with that. And the flowers still give us something cheerful to talk about.
Thank you for reading my blog. I hope my story helps if you are going through a similar situation. At any rate, keep trying, because any small kindness will always be appreciated. Even if it’s just a few flowers.
I chose bright red dahlias as Joan’s husband used to grow these for flower shows and at one time almost all the back garden was given over to straight rows of dahlias and chrysanthemums.
I took jam jars filled with sweet peas. Joan recognised these immediately as they had once been grown by her father, and she remembers picking them and arranging them in vases for chapel. It’s so sad that dementia is almost like a time travelling disease. It transports Joan back to when she was a young girl, but completely erases the past 80 years and with it her husband, three children, grandchildren and two new great grandchildren. She’s left walking amongst the ghosts of long dead relatives- her mother and father, cousins and school friends. It’s a tragedy for her, and all of us trying, and loosing a battle to keep her in the present.
Rudbeckias, calendula and green seed heads from Ammi majus
Joan loves sunflowers, but they aren’t quite ready in my garden yet. These rudbeckias grown from a mixed packet of seed look just as bright and cheerful.
These calendulas are seedlings of C. Snow Princess, a lovely pale butter -yellow flower. They bloom from May to October if deadheaded regularly. Very good for attracting bees and butterflies.
Flowering marjoram, rosemary and mint add a lovely fragrance. As soon as you lightly touch the posies, the herbs release their scent, and unlock all the memories associated with them.
A photo of Joan on her wedding day carrying a bouquet of carnations and asparagus fern. The photo is in a metal Players cigarette box frame my father-in-law made to protect the picture while he carried it around during National Service in Korea in the 1950s. He didn’t smoke, I hasten to add, but he was good at recycling and ‘making-do’ all through his life.
There’s nothing nicer than being able to give someone a gift of flowers you’ve grown yourself. Are any of you growing flowers for cutting this year? I feel as if I haven’t any other weapons in my battle to defeat dementia. Flowers are holding us together, that little bit longer. Let’s hope they continue to work a kind of magic. I’m hopeful they will. I’ll keep you updated.
Well, it’s been a really exciting week at Bramble Garden! My nephew John Gimson and team mate Anna Burnet won silver in the Nacra 17 race in Japan. To say we are all overjoyed is an understatement. To be selected to represent Britain was exciting enough, but the cherry on the cake was winning that silver medal. Here’s some photos of them. Their happiness shines through and you can’t help smiling back at them. Determination and hard work certainly pays off.
John wrote the above message on his social media accounts.
We send huge congratulations to the pair. I’m a very proud aunt indeed. We can’t wait to see John and Anna and hope there’s a family celebration soon!
You’ve got until 8th August to submit your Big Butterfly Count survey results. So far I’ve had mostly cabbage white butterflies, a few Meadow Browns, two Commas, two Tortoiseshell, two Peacock butterflies, two Holly Blue, one Painted Lady, and a stunning Ghost Moth! You can also submit reports for moths you encounter during your 15 minute survey. Let me know how you get on with yours. My figures were disappointing compared with last year and the year before. However, even poor numbers are worth recording as Butterfly Conservation, who are organising the event, says the citizen science survey is ‘like taking the pulse of nature.’ It’s an indication of how insects are coping with our changing climate.
Are you taking part in the Big Butterfly Count this year? I’m just about to settle down with a cup of tea and count the butterflies in my garden.
Wildlife specialists, Vivara, are sponsoring the count this year and sent me this butterfly house to promote the citizen science project.
I’ve placed the house in a sunny sheltered spot in the cut flower and vegetable garden. I’ve put some twigs inside the house and hopefully butterflies will use it to shelter from bad weather. If I’m lucky, some might use it to overwinter in my garden. Last year we had peacock butterflies hibernating in the hen house and the potting shed. Adults overwinter in dark places such as sheds, bird boxes and holes in trees, and left undisturbed, they will be dormant until spring. As soon as the weather starts to warm up, they emerge and look for nectar-rich plants to feed on.
The butterfly house has a hook on the back and a screw and rawl plug for hanging it up.
I always look for the FSC mark on any wooden product which shows it’s been made from materials sourced from well managed forests. The butterfly house is a sturdy product which should last for years.
Vivara have one butterfly house to give away. Leave a comment at the end of this piece and a winner will be randomly selected.
Butterflies need all the help they can get. Numbers are falling drastically. The Butterfly Conservation charity which runs the Big Butterfly Count says last year a record 145,000 counts were submitted, but worryingly 2020 saw the lowest average numbers of butterflies logged since the event began 12 years ago.
Cold, wet spring weather is thought to be a factor. Here in Leicestershire we had a cold, dry April, followed by the wettest May for 50 years. It rained every day, and right at the end May, we had a week of frost with temperatures dipping to -4C. This week we’ve had flash floods with 15mm of rain in one day, and hail stones the size of marbles.
Taking part in the Big Butterfly Count helps scientists assess the health of our environment, and helps us understand how the climate is affecting butterflies.
To take part, spend 15 minutes counting the maximum number of each species you can see at a single time. You can do this in a garden, school grounds, or public park. Go on to the Butterfly Conservation website and record your findings, or download the i- record App. There’s a downloadable wall chart showing all the different butterflies which helps identify them.
Here’s some butterflies I spotted in my garden:
Five Ways You Can Help Butterflies:
1. Join Butterfly Conservation. It’s half price until 8th August. There’s magazines and leaflets on gardening for butterflies. Also, invitations to local guided walks, and conservation volunteering days.
2. Run an event on behalf of Butterfly Conservation. Every little helps. You could host a coffee morning, a plant sale, a sponsored activity.
3. Volunteer for Butterfly Conservation. There’s office and outdoor work available.
4. Grow something for butterflies. They need nectar-rich plants for food, but also trees, shrubs and plants for caterpillars.
5. Take part in the Big Butterfly Count which runs until August 8th. It’s the biggest survey of butterflies in the world and provides a valuable insight into the health of our UK butterfly species.
Plants I grow to attract butterflies:
Buddleja is the one everyone knows about. Literally called the ‘butterfly bush.’ There’s some new miniature varieties for growing in small spaces and in containers. Look out for the Buzz series in lavender, magenta and white.
Lavender. Hidcote is my favourite as it is compact and doesn’t sprawl. Of all the lavenders, this one seems to cope with wet winters better than most. It needs well-drained soil and a sunny site.
Perennial wallflower- Bowles Mauve. Rarely out of flower all spring and summer. It’s a good idea to have a variety of plants from early spring through to autumn so there’s always something in flower for butterflies.
Marjoram. I discovered this when I let some marjoram or oregano plants escape from a pot. They grew to 60cm and scrambled through the bottom of a sunny hedge, providing pink/purple flowers all summer.
I also grow a selection of plants for caterpillars. Fruit trees, alder buckthorn, holly, blackthorn, oak, broom, lady’s smock or Cardamine pratensis, nettles, bird’s foot trefoil, all important caterpillar food.
Thank you for reading my blog. And thank you for all your kind comments on here and via other social media, letting me know how much my posts have cheered you up during the past two very difficult years. It’s much appreciated. Good luck in the prize draw! I’ll announce a winner on Sunday evening, 1st August, 2021.
Something cheerful to report. My nephew, John Gimson is sailing for Britain in the Olympics in Japan.
Here he is, with team mate Anna Burnet, flying the flag in the Olympic mixed multihull Nacra 17 class.
We’ve been cheering from home and sending lots of love and encouragement. There have been a few tense moments, but so far John and Anna have won two races and come second in the third.
We’ve been wowed by these photos posted by the British Sailing Team on social media. It’s so wonderful to see John out there in Enoshima doing what he loves best. Particularly as the Olympics were cancelled last year. It’s been hard for all sports people to keep training to such a high level for another year.
This is a photo of John and Anna when they became World Champions in February last year in Geelong, Victoria. No doubt their home sailing club at Rudyard Lake in Cheshire, where John learned to sail, will be delighted to see how well they are doing.
We are incredibly proud of John and Anna. It’s been humbling to watch their determination to reach the top. And it’s fabulous to be watching the Olympics, knowing my nephew is competing. I’m a very proud aunt indeed.
You can join in and watch live coverage on Eurosport player or Discovery+. The BBC is providing daily reports at 4.30pm and hopefully the medal races next week will be live on the BBC.
Also follow on Instagram @britishsailing. And for John it’s @teamgbnacra. Search for the hashtag #britishsailingteam. I’ll send updates as soon as we know more.
Isn’t it exciting to be watching all our fabulous sportspeople excelling in their chosen fields. Are you enjoying watching the Olympics this year? Get in touch and let me know.
Thanks, as ever for reading my blog, and for all the kind messages on here and via email letting me know how much you enjoy reading my posts. I’m so pleased to hear that my gardening stories have cheered you up these last few years when things have not been easy for any of us. Admittedly, today this isn’t a gardening post, but I thought I would share it as it’s something happy to celebrate. Take care and have a good weekend.
I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.
This week’s ramblings from the plot. If you click on the photo you should be able to zoom in to read the column. I’ve been writing about my garden for a year and a half. I love sharing the ups and downs of growing fruit, veg and cut flowers. Not everything goes according to plan. But it’s good to share the disasters as well as successes, so everyone can learn from it.
So pleased to see Monty kitten gets a mention. We always send eight photos each time and never know which ones will be used. It depends on the layout. As you can see, Monty is turning into the best ever gardening cat. He is always by my side, whatever job I’m doing in the garden. He takes an interest in everything and likes to get involved. To be honest, I’m sure he thinks he’s a dog and not a cat, as he’s so loyal and often likes to come for a walk with us along the back field footpaths. If we get too far from home, I pick him up and carry him back, as I’d hate him to suddenly dart into a hedge and be lost. All our previous cats have been rather aloof and independent. Monty is one of a kind.
I’m getting on well with the paper mulch. It’s saving so much time. I can’t understand how I never heard of this product before, but now I know, I’ll be using it every summer under my dahlias, courgettes, cosmos and pumpkins. It saves so much hoeing and back-breaking hands and knees weeding.
And finally, I loved taking part in the social media event, GardenDayUK where we all made a flower crown, and spent some time reading, resting, having a tea party, enjoying being in our gardens, and sharing our gardens with the hashtag #GardenDayUK. This was the first time I’d joined in, and I enjoyed being a part of the celebrations.
Next time, I’m writing about butterflies, the new Rose of the Year ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ a visit to Stockton Bury Gardens in Herefordshire, and my success with my sweet pea pavement flower sales for charity. I hope you are having a great gardening week. Thank you, as ever, for taking the time to read my blog. It’s much appreciated.
Thank you everyone who joined in with the prize draw for tickets for this year’s Gardeners’ World Live Show. Names were put into a computer random generator and the winner is Cathy from Rambling in the Garden. Congratulations Cathy and enjoy your day out! My next prize draw is for a summer reading bumper box of gardening books. There’s been some stunning books published this summer and the publishers often send me an extra copy to give away. More details to follow. Thank you again for reading my blog. Have a great week! Karen G.
Gardeners’ World Live is a favourite show. I get the chance to see stunning show gardens, buy plants and meet friends for a catch up. Luckily, it’s a relatively short car journey to the NEC in Birmingham – there’s no travelling into London and battling for space on a seat on the underground. It’s a fairly straightforward journey and easy parking. It’s always a lovely relaxing experience, with plenty of space to move about.
The organisers have kindly offered two free tickets in a prize draw for readers of this blog. The tickets are for Sunday 29 August only, with an entry slot from 12pm onwards. To enter, just leave a comment below and your entry will be put into a computer random name generator to select the winner. Please note, if you wish to park, there is a charge. The prize only relates to the show entry ticket. Details below for parking. There is no cash alternative, and the organiser’s decision is final.
Here’s some photos I took when I last attended the GWL show in 2019. Enjoy the virtual tour!
The Watchmaker’s Garden won best in show in 2019. My sister in law Rozanne and her husband Paul grew some of the plants for the award-winning garden, including the watercress shown in the stone tank by the front door.
Prize winners will be announced on the blog on Monday evening 5th July. Please be aware of scams. No one will contact you about this, other than a message on my blog. It’s sad we have to worry about these things, but we just have to be careful.
Regarding parking, the organisers provided the following information:
Prize winners will need to redeem their e ticket by 19 August to attend on the 29th August.
I always seem to have a bowl of orchids somewhere in the house, usually on the hall cupboard or kitchen table. They are easy to grow and often flower for several months with minimal care and attention. Love Orchids have sent a sample box to try out. I haven’t paid for this orchid, but in common with other bloggers, I’ve accepted their gift in return for an honest opinion. Maybe you would like to treat yourself, or want to send a gift to someone for a birthday or other celebration. In which case, you might find the review helpful in deciding whether to buy and send orchids mail order.
I’ve chosen a white and pink orchid in an oval white ceramic container. Plants arrived in good condition, well packaged and there’s plenty of flowers and buds for more blooms to follow. My orchid was already planted in its container and flower stems were well staked. The pot was topped with moss which is a pretty finishing touch.
The ordering process online was simple to follow and straightforward. Plants arrived promptly in a sturdy cardboard box. The parcel delivery company handled the box carefully and it had obviously travelled the right way up- which always helps! It wasn’t just dropped from a height on to the doorstep, but carefully set down, which I much appreciated.
The box is designed to open out, so no pulling plants out the top and potentially damaging them, which I’ve done in the past in poorly-designed boxes.
Plant pots are securely held in another box taped to the base. There was also a spare pack of orchid compost as the company supplies extras for your own potting- up purposes.
Orchids are wrapped carefully in cellophane. I must admit, a compostable wrapper would be preferable, and I would be willing to pay more for a more eco-friendly material. However I just decided to use it to cover my cuttings and seed trays to maintain humidity, so mine will be re-used and won’t be put in the bin.
As you can see, the flowers spread out as soon as they were unwrapped.
There are three plants in my container, with eight flower stems. I’ve brought the pot outside simply to take advantage of the light in order to take photographs. It was too dark in the house. However, my orchids will live indoors, out of direct sunshine.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I like to highlight and support family businesses. The Stevenson family have been growing plants at their New Forest nursery for more than 60 years. When the pandemic struck, the family launched an on-line company, Love Orchids, to market and sell plants via mail order.
The family say they started out ‘with little more than a few glasshouses and a can-do attitude.’ They have grown and developed into a multi-generation business and say they are the largest growers of phalaenopsis orchids in the UK.
For sustainability, they use a biomass boiler, turning waste wood products into heat for the greenhouses.
Here’s some care tips provided by the nursery :
I signed up for a newsletter and received a discount code for future purchases. In fact, I sent an orchid to a friend for her birthday, and one to a relative who recently suffered a bereavement. Both sent photos of their orchids and were delighted with them. Orchids last much longer than a bunch of flowers and the plants from Love Orchids are top quality and expertly grown. The range of good quality containers also means there’s plenty of options for everyone.
For more information, here are the links for Love Orchid:
Have you tried mail order plants before? Get in touch and let me know of any recommendations. We are all finding new ways to obtain our plants and gardening materials. It’s good to share news and views when we find an excellent supplier.
Life seems to have been incredibly busy these past few months. Two family members have been desperately ill. I’ve sat by their beds and held their hands. Willed them to stay with us. One emerged from a deep deep coma, and returned to us. The other one passed away, peacefully in his sleep. And so, I sit in the garden now and think of them. Hoping the one returned to us as fragile as a butterfly, will spread his wings and fly, and mourning for the one who did not, although it was his time to go and we must celebrate a life well lived, well loved, happy and fruitful. The garden, as ever, becomes a place of solace. I’ve ground to a halt after months of literally running from one place to the next, almost in a permanent panic. Back here, in the shade of the trees, there’s peace and calm. Whilst I’ve been busy, the nesting birds have raised their young, and many have fledged. A highlight of a particularly difficult and stormy day was suddenly finding six long-tailed tits, newly emerged from the nest- all gathered along a hazel branch, at eye level, fluffing up feathers, preening, eager darting eyes. Almost like pom poms on a string. What a day to fledge! We had 40 mile per hour winds and torrential rain. With the storm coming from the south east, the westerly edge of our wood was weirdly still and silent, and this is where our little flock gathered. The parents desperately calling to them, ‘tsuk, tsuk, tsuk’ but the chicks totally unafraid, studied me as much as I studied them. In all the excitement of leaving the nest, I was just one of the new wonders for them to discover. I’ve stored up this moment as a happy memory during a difficult time. It’s amazing the little things that give you hope in times of need. You never know when or where these moments will come from, do you. And often it’s the simplest things that provide a balm.
Enjoy this week’s views of the garden and ramble along the back field footpath where there’s masses of white cow parsley and the last of the hawthorn blossom now festooned with ribbons of fragrant dog roses. Thank you for reading my blog.
White Roses. Pearl Drift requires minimal pruning and no chemicals. It is resistant to blackspot due to it’s LeGrice breeding. Grows to 4ft and is reliably repeat-flowering. Highly recommended.
Semi-double flowers allow bees to access the pollen. Sweetly scented.
Dianthus Mrs Sinkins. Another highly-scented flower in the June garden. Repeat flowers if cut back and dead-headed. Grows in the overspill gravel alongside the drive.
White campion – Silene latifolia alba- arrived by itself and grows amongst the cow parsley. Much less rampant than the pink variety.
Wild dog roses, great big swathes, overhang from the top of the high hawthorn hedges. There will be plenty of bright red rosehips.
Along the holloway walk. The pathway is edged with snowdrops in winter, and white starry stitchwort in summer. I’m adding white foxgloves for next year.
I’ve left gaps in the trees to look out from the pathway, towards the back fields, this year planted with spring wheat. I’m looking forward to having a golden backdrop for the garden. Wheat and barley are my favourites.
Step out of the top five bar gate, and on to the lane. The cow parsley has never looked as lovely. Or maybe, I just haven’t had time to stand and survey the scene before.
Looking across the fields towards Bunny Wood. There’s an ancient footpath to the woods.
A well-trodden path, very popular with hikers and dog walkers. We sometimes see deer. Usually there’s hares – more this year than usual. At dusk we watch the barn owls quarter the fields. At the moment they are out in the day as well as at night, which means they are probably feeding young. Tawny owls also call out across the fields at night.
A hawthorn ‘archway.’ A favourite viewing point.
Plenty of cow parsley. As pretty as any florists’ flower.
Thank you for reading my blog. Let me know what gardening jobs you are doing at the moment. I’m catching up on planting and weeding. Everything is very late this year, but I expect things will catch up in time. Have a peaceful happy week.
Salvias provide such a welcome zing of colour from mid summer to first frosts. In my garden, pale blue and white ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’ was still in full flower on Christmas Day. Specialist growers, Middleton Nurseries, have sent me a collection of new varieties to try out. I haven’t paid for these, but in common with other bloggers, I’m happy to trial plants and products in return for giving my honest opinion. Here’s some of the plants they sent.
Plants arrive via mail order and were carefully handled by the delivery company. I always think it’s worth giving a good report when plants and products are delivered in a good condition and the drivers have taken the trouble to ensure the contents are undamaged. The box was also placed on the doorstep the right way up! These things always help somewhat. It’s exasperating when ‘this way up’ arrow stickers are not heeded.
Plants are snugly nestled inside a sturdy cardboard box and as you can see arrived in good condition even though temperatures were very high.
The cardboard container is easily folded open so plants are not pulled about when extricating them from the packaging. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve nearly decapitated a plant trying to get it out of the box. Some thought and care has gone into the design of this one, and it’s appreciated.
Plants are carefully tied to supporting canes and plastic bags are wound around the plant pots to stop compost drying out. My only criticism would be that the plastic bags could be biodegradable instead of single use. However, I’ve reused these on top of pots of cuttings to maintain humidity. So mine won’t be thrown away, and will be kept in the potting shed and reused time and time again.
There’s a very useful plant care leaflet included in the box, and a discount code for further purchases. I’ve signed up for more discounts, special offers and gardening club newsletters.
Each plant has a label which is packed full with information. It’s great to see the Union Jack flag on the label, indicating the plants are grown in Britain. I like to support British nurseries as much as I can.
I love this pretty, pale variety Salvia microphylla Delice Fiona. It has rich green leaves, pale pink flowers with a deeper pink centre. Instructions say it can be grown in part shade to full sun, requires moderate to occasional watering and grows 60-90cm high. Can be grown in containers.
Another pink variety is Salvia greggii Shell dancer with large pink flowers with the basal tubes and base of the lower lip coloured deep rose. The outer portions of the lower lip start with ‘hot salmon’ shading then lighten to nearly cream as it ages. The label says the plant is ‘seldom completely out of flower.’ That’s my experience of salvias, they do have a long-flowering period, which makes them such good value.
If you like the paler salvias, this one’s stunning. It’s from a new ‘So Cool’ range. This one is Salvia So Cool Pale Cream. Utterly captivating. New for 2021. Compact-growing, 30-40cm tall.
The first salvias I grew were blue. I love this variety, microphylla Delice Feline. The plant label says the flowers are deep violet with a white centre, flowers profusely until autumn and grows 60 -90cm tall. A new hybrid for 2020.
Another 2020 hybrid is Salvia microphylla Suzanne which has bright red upright flowers with white markings. 60-90cm tall.
And finally, Salvia microphylla Carolus has pretty mauve flowers which look striking set against the darker almost black stems and dark coloured basal tubes. Has a smaller-spreading habit than most microphylla varieties.
I can wholeheartedly recommend Middleton Nurseries for mail-order plants. I’m delighted with my parcel of new and very pretty hybrids. High quality plants, well-grown and expertly packaged. I’ll be posting photos throughout the summer to let you know how they develop.
Here’s some more information about the nursery:
Middleton Nurseries are located in the village of Middleton in Staffordshire and have been growing plants since 1975. The nursery is dedicated to growing a wide range of new and unusual herbaceous, perennials and rare breeds of salvias. Middleton Nurseries was started in 1975 by Stephan Zako and at first grew ‘pick-your-own’ strawberries. John Zako went into the family business after leaving Pershore College with a National Diploma in Horticulture. Using his expertise he slowly transformed the business into ‘one of the leading plant specialist nurseries’ with an extensive block of greenhouses.
In April 2012, the family sold the retail/ garden centre portion of the business and kept the nursery which enabled John to focus on his true passion of growing and breeding plants. The nursery specialises in salvias which they sell up and down the country at RHS gardening shows each year. Since 2021, Middleton Nurseries has become a third-generation family business after John’s son, James, joined the business.
Are you growing any salvias this year? Are you as passionate about them as I’ve become? Get in touch and let me know how you are getting on with your gardening and growing this summer. Thank you, as ever, for reading my blog.
Thank you to everyone who read my review and left a comment. The prize draw randomly selected a winner. Sarah from the “Garden Deli” has won the book. Thanks again for joining in. Keep an eye out for more books to follow.
Open the pages of The Flower Yard and you’ll enter a world full of exotic parrot tulips, jewel-coloured dahlias- and flamingos…
You’ll learn much about creating flamboyant Venetian-coloured containers, but you’ll also hear about Caribbean flamingos. For the author, Arthur Parkinson, once had the choice between becoming a zookeeper and horticulture. He chose gardening, and a year’s training at Kew. But in his strange and colourful book, he says he hopes one day to go back to more zoological rather than horticultural pursuits.
To my mind, his latest book seems to combine the two loves of his life. The exotic parrot tulips, feathery grasses and plume-like dahlias are as colourful as birds. And to add to the effect, there’s often a fancy bantam – his other passion in life- nestled in amongst the plants.
Even his words have an avian ring to them. Parkinson talks about planting ‘a flock of dolly tubs’ in preference to acres of land.
“I am not, however, desperate for a larger garden. I find the challenge of conquering the restrictions of an urban environment hugely thrilling. I love small town gardens, by which I mean gardens where plants come first in abundance. I have no desire for endless herbaceous borders, which so easily become tired and full of perennial weeds. Give me a flock of dolly tubs any day, ideally on old bricks or York stone. An old orchard would be, admittedly, heaven though, for hens.”
Back on the subject of birds, Parkinson writes about his choice of colour for plants. Pink, he says can be too light and sickly: “Before you know it, pink can make the garden verge into the Barbie-doll section of Toys “R”Us, outcompeting the other colours.”
Parkinson’s garden was once described by a friend as ‘a path of pots.’ It is, in fact, only 5m (16ft) long and filled ‘cheek by jowel’ with containers on either side, leading to the front door. The book follows a year of growing to create specific displays of plants – one for each season.
One chapter is headed ‘Archipelagos of galvanised metal and terracotta’ and Parkinson says: “I garden in pots because I do not have a choice, but I rarely resent this as it is like having great living vases of growing flower arrangements. You can fill pots easily, cramming them with colour and textures, creating islands of flamboyance.”
I’ve made lists of all the tulips and dahlias to grow for next spring and summer. I love the dark, rich colours he chooses. And now I need to nip out and find a supply of galvanised containers ASAP. Quite honestly, what Arthur Parkinson doesn’t know about planting in dolly tubs isn’t worth knowing. He’s opened a whole new beguiling world of colour, and I can’t wait to create my own ‘islands of flamboyance.’ If I can add the odd flamingo or two in there as well, I will.
The publishers have kindly sent one extra copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave comments below and one name will be randomly selected by computer. Thank you for reading.
Please note, my I-phone photos of the pages do not adequately capture the bright colours and brilliance of the original photos which were taken by the author.
Please check back at 6pm Sunday to see who has won the prize draw copy.
I’m trying out a sample roll of paper mulch in an attempt to cut down on weeding in the flower and vegetable garden. I haven’t paid for this product, but in common with other bloggers, the agreement is to unconditionally try it out and give an honest opinion.
Monty kitten was keen to help. To be honest, he gave more help than was strictly necessary, getting in and under the paper roll. He’s such good company in the garden, always by my side, climbing in and out of my wheelbarrow and tool bag. But paper’s a new attraction for him!
Instructions say place a heavy stone on each corner as you start to unroll the paper, and toss soil along both edges to prevent wind from blowing it away. Monty jumped all over it, which kept it in place nicely until I’d sorted out stones and compost.
I used a Hori-Hori to cut the paper to length, then set out the plants. I’m trying the mulch for dahlias and cosmos in the cut flower beds , and for courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, and strawberries in the veg beds. It would be good for garlic and chard too.
These are the cuttings I’ve been taking since February from dahlias overwintered in the potting shed. They are exact clones of the parent plants, so I now have about 100 new plants for free. All my favourite varieties.
I used my Hori-Hori knife to cut a cross in the paper and then dug out planting holes for the dahlias. A new sharp-pointed trowel made the task quick and easy.
The paper is thick enough to block out light, and therefore suppress weeds, but there are microscopic holes to let air and water permeate. Plants are so far growing well. I’m having to do much less watering than usual.
This product is supplied by Mulch Organic, a family business which offers environmentally-friendly alternatives to black plastic for mulching. They say the products are natural, made from renewable sources and eliminate the need for chemical herbicides. The paper mulch is 100 percent organic and biodegradable. It should last a whole growing season, and at the end of the year, can simply be tilled into the soil to decompose naturally.
There’s also a crepe version, with expansion ribs to allow for stretch for use over mounded beds. These also work well with drip irrigation systems, and can be used in poly tunnels.
As well as the paper rolls, there’s a mulch film made from cornstarch.
Here’s one last photo of Monty. We were out in the garden until 10pm as the temperatures were too hot in the day. I’m hoping the mulch will save time – giving me more time to spend sitting in the garden reading, with Monty on my knee. That’s the plan anyway. I’ll let you know if it works out!
Here’s some of the dahlias I’m growing again this year. This one is Nuit d’Ete.
Dahlia David Howard. A lovely deep orange flower. Cut flowers last 10 days in a vase.
Eveline is a lovely white decorative dahlia with a delicate blush pink centre and tips to the petals.
Thank you for reading the blog. Have you tried any products to combat weeds? Let me know how you are getting on with your gardening projects.
I’ve been out! Actually out in the car, driving to a garden. It’s only the second time I’ve been out for a garden visit in 16 months. A few weeks ago I visited Belvoir Castle, and this week, I chose Goldstone Hall for my floral excursion. It seems so strange to be out and about, meeting up with friends. Everyone’s experience of the pandemic has been different. Some say their lives changed very little, they continued to travel to work and managed to get out and about when lockdown eased. Others, like me, had to stay at home. Anyway, I’m picking and choosing which outings to go on, and slowly emerging back into a normal life. Here’s a slide show of photos I provide when I’ve been out. Goldstone Hall in North Shropshire didn’t disappoint. It’s a beautifully- designed and immaculately-managed 5 acre garden surrounding a pretty Georgian manor house. Although I didn’t stay overnight, (there are 12 bedrooms) I am planning to return with my Mum for a short break soon. The idea of waking up early, and quietly wandering around the masses of roses, vegetables and herbs, definitely appeals.
This Abutilon vitifolium is one of the first shrubs you see when you step into the garden. It’s a fast-growing shrub from Chile with vine-like leaves and abundant pale mauve flowers. It flowers mainly in spring and early summer, but can flower all summer long if happy in a sheltered warm position. It can easily be grown from seed and cuttings.
The main flower border runs along a sunny wall. There’s roses and clematis all along the walls, with perennials and grasses in front.
Here’s another view of the wall, taken from the front of the border. Some pretty wine-coloured aquilegias grow in patches all along the border. This one looks like the variety Bordeaux Barlow.
Lupins in the cutting garden look particularly lovely in early June. There’s masses of sweet peas, cornflowers, sunflowers and gladioli to follow.
A herb walk is a scented pathway with 100 different herbs planted alongside heritage vegetables, salads and heirloom fruit trees and bushes.
The polytunnel is packed with produce. I am going to copy the idea for growing strawberries in lengths of guttering with a drip watering system attached. Would keep the plants off the ground and away from slugs- and it would be much easier to pick fruit.
Not an inch of space is wasted in the poly tunnel.
After a head-gardener tour of the grounds, we enjoyed a delicious lunch in this open-sided oak pavilion. Perfect for a lovely warm summer’s day.
We had new potatoes, freshly dug from the plot, a spinach and asparagus quiche, and salad – all grown in the gardens we had just walked around.
Here’s the recipe for the panna cotta we enjoyed.
The view of the garden from one of the reception rooms in the hotel. There’s a sense of peace and tranquility here.
More information about Goldstone Hall.
Goldstone Hall is an Royal Horticultural Society ( RHS) partner garden, and opens for the National Gardens Scheme and for garden group tours. There’s more on the website at https://goldstonehallhotel.co.uk/.
The winner is: Darran Jaques. Names were put into a random generator and computer selected.
The next book up for review and giveaway is the stunning and unusual The Flower Yard by Arthur Parkinson. Pages are full of exotic tulips and jewel-coloured dahlias and, it has to be said, lovely little bantam hens! Coming soon…
Meanwhile, here’s some more photos of lilies from Naomi’s book, as quite honestly one can’t have enough pictures of lilies to drool over. They are absolutely glorious. Enjoy your week everyone, and thanks for reading my blog and getting in touch. It’s always appreciated.
Lilies is published by Pavilion RRP £25. Photographs by Georgianna Lane.
It’s a while since I’ve joined in with the Six on Saturday meme. Caring for family members has had to come first. However, here’s a few photos from my garden diary today. Have a great bank holiday weekend. The sun has decided to shine at last, and there’s no rain, so we can all start to get on in the garden.
The last of the tulips. My favourite white tulip, Mount Tacoma.
Double tulips seem to last longer than singles. Petals keep opening out until the flowers are almost flat. Some tulips are better at coming back into flower each year and this one is reliable here, planted in a sunny border, baked dry in the summer. This is the secret of keeping tulip bulbs going. Plant them in maximum sun where the soil will dry out to give them a dormant period. You can also plant them at the base of deciduous trees, which will also give them a dry period, as trees take all the moisture in summer. Tulips will flower the following year before the trees come into leaf. Tulips planted in rich soil are pulled up, stored dry over summer, and replanted in November. I’ve also tried planting them in plastic pond containers, which are simply lifted out of the ground and stored at the back of the shed for the summer. The holes left in the ground are then filled with tender salvias which have been stored in the poly tunnel over winter.
Double – late flowering tulip Carnival de Nice is sometimes mistaken for a peony. Red and white striped petals slowly unfold until the flowers are flat. Lasts 10 days in a vase as a cut flower.
Here’s some more tulips still in flower today. Cold temperatures and rain virtually every day in May has suited tulips. They have provided a much-needed cheerful display all through spring.
The last tulip to flower here is Bleu Aimable. This single late tulip has lavender, mauve and blue shades. Flower colour improves with age. A great way to end the tulip season with a flourish.
Thank you for reading my blog. Are you heading out into the garden this weekend to catch up on jobs? The weeds have got away from me here, as it’s been so wet. But with lots of tea and cake and a determined list of tasks, I’m hoping to get on top of them. Have a great weekend!
Hardback. 240 pages. Photographs by Georgianna Lane
Published May 2021. RRP £25
For many years, all down the sides of my greenhouse, I grew tall pots of lilies. My favourites were the towering, elegant trumpet lilies, African Queen. They grew to 5ft and produced masses of rich apricot flowers with rose garnet blush shades on the reverse of the petals. Stunning to look at, and the scent was equally wonderful. That spicy, heady scent drifted all around the orchard, wild flower meadow and up through the mini-woodland. Beautiful, intoxicating and memorable.
It was lovely to stand in the greenhouse and see the flowers reaching almost the roofline. A good background for my summer container display within the greenhouse where rows of scented pelargoniums lined up amongst the citrus trees.
Naomi’s new book is a celebration of all kinds of lilies. There’s an introduction, a section on the history and botany of lilies, followed by detailed instructions on growing and caring for lilies. Advice is given on where to buy bulbs, how to prepare the soil and plant, and how to water, feed and deadhead lilies. There’s enough information for beginners to get started, and enough detail for more experienced gardeners to have a go at propagating and preparing lilies for shows. Everything you need to know to get the best out of these lovely summer bulbs.
The lilies chosen for in-depth study are split into sections; Elegant and Dainty, Wild and Wonderful, Fiery and Fabulous, and Majestic and Magnificent.
Mascara is a black Asiatic hybrid featured in the Fiery and Fabulous section. It grows to 1m with upward and outward-facing blooms. It will grown in any good garden soil and makes a stunning cut flower.
Helvetia is in the Elegant and Dainty section. Upward-facing with reflexed petals, these lilies grow to 1- 1.2m tall and are highly fragrant. Recommend for the front of a border and containers. Would make a wonderful cascading wedding bouquet.
Another very pretty white flower is Polar Star. I’ve grown this in pots many times. 25 bulbs in a large Italian terracotta pot makes a stunning summer display. These have large fully-double upward and outward-facing flowers and grows to 70-100cm tall. Very long lasting in a vase.
lilium leichtlinii is one I haven’t grown before. It is not that common in cultivation, says Naomi. But well worth seeking out. Small pendant flowers with reflexed petals, growing to 1-1.4m tall. Unscented. Suitable for a naturalistic garden. Sophisticated in a vase.
Another lily with swept back petals is Ariadne. This Turks cap type grows to 1.2-1.8m with small pale, dusty rose flowers. Good for the back of the border and set against a foil of dark foliage, or a contrasting painted surface. Could be used for cut flowers, but you’d need a tall vase.
Georgianna Lane is a leading floral, garden and travel photographer whose work has been widely published. She captures the timeless elegance and beauty of this summer garden favourite.
Naomi Slade is a well-known figure in the world of gardening media. She writes and broadcasts about horticulture, design, environment and lifestyle. Lilies is beautifully well-written. A book you’ll delve into time and time again, and it’s so full of joy it will make you smile every time.
The publishers have one copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below and names will be put in a hat and a winner randomly selected next Sunday.
Thank you for reading my reviews and for taking the time to comment. The comment box is below the hashtags at the bottom of the page. Or click on ‘comments’ next to the title.
Thank you to the publishers, Hardie Grant Books, for supplying a free copy for the prize draw. The book is hardback, 159 pages. Lucy creates 19 projects and shows how anyone can grow pretty much anything in their back garden, courtyard, balcony or kitchen- or even right by their work desk. There are unusual and inspirational growing ideas for herbs, fruit and vegetables, and all look as beautiful as any ornamental garden. Living walls, hydroponics and daylight spectrum grow lights are all explained with step-by-step instructions.
Windowsill growing space for herbs, fruit and vegetables.
Thank you again for reading my blog. It’s much appreciated.
It’s 14 months since I set foot in a garden open to the public. I’ve missed getting out and about, seeing friends and taking photos. But this week I was invited to a media day for the Belvoir Flower and Garden Show, and it feels great to be back visiting gardens and getting inspiration for my own little plot.
As part of the media day, we were given a guided tour of the castle gardens. Here’s a ‘slide show’ of photos from my first day trip out. I hope you are managing to get out and about a bit more now. Get in touch and let me know what you’ve seen and where you’ve been. I don’t know about you, but I’m raring to go!
A particularly blowsy tree peony. Unknown variety. Much loved by bees.
Back past the topiary yew to the castle for afternoon tea. After all that walking, tea and cake is very much appreciated.
Thank you for reading. Please search past the hashtags to reach the comments box, or click comments alongside the title name.
Growing fruit, vegetables and herbs doesn’t require acres of ground. In fact, you can grow virtually anything in pots, on a balcony and even indoors- if you just have the right techniques and equipment. In Lucy Hutchings’ new book, Get Up and Grow, there’s tips on everything you need to step up your gardening to a new level and grow whatever you fancy in a fresh and exciting way. Judging by the photos in Lucy’s book, the results will not only be a feast for the table, but a feast for the eyes too. Everything looks absolutely stunning.
Here’s a selection of my favourite projects from the book:
More projects from the book. Lucy, a former couture jewellery designer, is @shegrowsveg on instagram and writes a blog at http://www.shegrowsveg.com
The book covers the basics of potting up, using lights, feeding, watering and trouble-shooting. Perfect for beginners, or more experienced gardeners looking for a bright and modern new way to garden. The ‘suppliers list’ at the end of the book is also quite a revelation with lots of suggestions I’d never even thought of. I can’t wait to get started on my own growing projects. With Lucy’s step-by-step illustrations and clear instructions, I should soon be growing kokedama oranges, having a go at hydroponics and making a ‘living wall.’ I’ll report back on my progress!
Thanks for reading my blog.
The publishers have kindly offered one copy for a prize draw. Please leave comments below to be included in the draw. A name will be randomly drawn on Sunday, 23 May at 6pm. There will be nothing to pay and I will contact you from my e mail which is email@example.com.
It’s time to celebrate Garden Day UK again. Garden Day, on May 9th, is a chance to down tools and just enjoy what you’ve achieved on your plot. It’s one day when you don’t have to do anything really. Just sit in the garden, allow yourself a moment to pause and reflect.
One of the lovely features of Garden Day is the wearing of a flower crown. Take photos of your crown, and upload them to social media. Tag @GardenDayUK to share photos of your creation.
I’ve been sent this beautiful crown to wear tomorrow. It’s made from miniature cream roses and pink and blue statice. There’s some gorgeously-scented herbs, rosemary and thyme, and some grey foliage as a background foil for all the flowers.
Flower crowns are really easy to make. Take a length of florists’ wire, wrap it around your head to check the length. Add about 8” so you’ll be able to twist the ends together. Add a circle of olive foliage, or lengths of rosemary as a background. Make little bunches of flowers, any you fancy, from your own garden or from the florists. Lay each bunch along the wire and bind in with thin florists’ wire, paper-covered wire, or string. When you have covered the circle, check the crown fits, and twist the bare lengths of wire together to form the crown.
I’m looking forward to sharing my day with my Mum. Whatever the weather, we will be either sitting in the orchard, or if it’s raining, in the greenhouse.
How will you be spending Garden Day tomorrow? Do share photos of your garden on social media. It’s a good way to connect with other keen gardeners and to share ideas and gain inspiration on growing plants.
Here’s some photos of my garden today:
Finally, we will be accompanied by Daphne ( speckled hen) Daisy and Dot, and Merlin the cockerel, as they search for slugs in the cut flower patch. If we are very lucky, there will be eggs for tea!
Happy Garden Day everybody!
Thanks, as ever, for reading my blog. Please leave comments in the box below the hashtags, right at the bottom of this post. Or click on ‘comments’ under the headline and the box will drop down.
Published by Quadrille, an imprint of Hardie Grant Publishing
RRP £26 Published spring 2021. Hardback. 272 pages
ISBN 978 1 78713 6359
At about five or six, I was given the task of ‘collecting the mint.’ My grandmother, who was cooking lunch, had a huge patch of mint in her farm garden. Basket in hand, I carefully plucked the sprigs of mint and laid them neatly in rows, tips all the same way. No higgledy piggledy stems for me. Even at that young age, I took things seriously. Given a task, I wanted to do it right. I smile now, looking back at what a serious little girl I was. The first grandchild, surrounded by adults, there were no siblings or cousins for five years. I listened intently to all the adults talking and took in every word. Through their conversations, I formed a view of the world. Many years later I can still hear their voices quietly reporting the day’s events, whispering a neighbour’s misfortune, a sadness, a death. Murmuring sorrow for some, and joy for another- a wedding, a birth, some good fortune achieved. Conversations at the kitchen table brought the world into the home. I listened and learned, but cocooned in the routine of work, gardening, farming, cooking and eating, nothing appeared to change for us. It seemed as if everything happened to other people, but my world stayed the same, stable and safe.
The scent of fresh-picked mint still has the power to transport me back to happy childhood days. My mint was sprinkled over home grown new potatoes, tiny and white, as shiny as pebbles, with creamy home-churned butter and a sprinkle of grainy salt. Something so simple, delicious and ultimately, memorable.
This last 12 months, many of us have found comfort in baking. Focussing on the past, perhaps I’ve attempted to bring back the security and safety I felt as a child. I’ve found myself cooking hearty soups, casseroles, and vegetable pies. The spicy, buttery Welsh cakes my Welsh grandmother cooked on a griddle. Rice puddings, fruit crumbles and sponge cakes. Separated from family and friends, these old favourite recipes have been a comforting presence. Sights, sounds and scents of cooking, recalled as if they were only yesterday.
However, we have now emerged from lockdown, and I’m looking for a new way forward. I’m keen to try new recipes and new ideas. I’m eager to welcome family and friends back into my home and garden and I’m looking forward to making new memories for them- and for me. While not forgetting all the echoes from the past.
Mark Diacono’s new book ‘Herb, a cook’s companion’ is a good starting place. Recipes such as Lemon Thyme and Leek Tart have a rich butter and egg pastry base with a leek and cream filling. Lemon thyme leaves and nutmeg add a delicious twist to a familiar recipe.
Here’s my first attempt. I must admit, it’s not perfect. My pastry needed to be folded over more firmly, as the lovely egg filling escaped over the side. My second attempt was better and everything held firm. I’ve never thought of adding herbs to the pasty base before, and it was a triumph. The lovely buttery lemon-thyme pastry melts in the mouth. A perfect complement to the leek and creme fraiche filling. Again, adding nutmeg and bay leaves lifts this recipe out of the ordinary. It looks beautiful too. Presentation is something I’m trying to improve on. This looks as good as it tastes and received thumbs up from the family.
Greek Herb Pie.
Mark says: “This Greek summer favourite, aka Spanakopita, is so worth making a delicious regular. Heavy with spinach, salty feta and crisp laminations of filo, it’s as good cold as hot, early in the day as late. This version nudges the spinach (which can be a bit of a grump at times) towards the cheerful with the brightness of dill and mint in generous quantities, and parsley anchoring the leeks to the cheese. A delight.”
Herb Soda Bread
A buttermilk, oat and wholemeal flour bread, with a small bunch of chives or sweet cicely, or either of the savories, finely chopped.
Lemon Lavender Meringues
A twist on the usual meringue recipe. Between 5 and 8 lavender heads are whizzed with caster sugar in a spice grinder and added to whisked egg whites and lemon zest.
Fig Leaf and Lemon Verbena Rice Pudding.
Even my family favourite rice pudding is given a new lease of life with the addition of fig-leaf infused milk and lemon verbena leaves. Such a lovely change from the usual.
The book covers how to grow and harvest herbs and how to preserve them in sugar, vinegar, oil and salt, and how to dry and freeze them.
There’s comprehensive coverage of choosing what to grow, how to grow herbs from seed, taking cuttings, propagation and planting out. There’s full plant descriptions of many popular herbs such as anise hyssop, Korean mint, basil, bay, chervil, chives and parsley for example. Then there’s suggestions for more unusual plants such as shiso or perilla – which I’ve always grown as a purple ornamental bedding plant. Seems it can be added to salads and used with recipes containing aubergines, grilled or barbecue prawns, and with eggs and avocado. I shall experiment!
Following the growing section, there’s recipes featuring soups and side dishes, main meals, puddings, biscuits and drinks. There’s something surely to please everyone – especially people like me, looking for a special dish to make for friends and family, as we start to reconnect.
The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment in the box below to be included in the prize draw. A winner will be randomly selected. International entries are welcome.
Please look back on Wednesday 5th May to check if you have won a copy. I’ll announce it on the blog. (Please do not give out your address or any other details to anyone. Be aware of scams.)
Have you found cooking a source of comfort over the lockdown times? Are you, like me, looking to try something new this year, as we start to feel more positive and move forward. Get in touch and let me know your thoughts. And thank you, as ever, for reading my blog. It’s always appreciated.
* comments box is right at the bottom of the blog, past all the hashtags. Or click on ‘comments’ under the headline.
Here’s a quick link to the recipe mentioned in this week’s Garden News Magazine. Let me know if you make my peach crumble cake. The recipe is great with tinned or fresh peaches, apples, plums, cherries, rhubarb and blueberries- anything you have to hand. Thanks for reading my garden diary column and for all your lovely kind comments and encouragement. It’s always appreciated.
Some more photos from my April garden diary. Enjoy the spring flowers- and new additions to the garden, Merlin the cockerel, and Daphne, Daisy and Dot bantam hens.
Here they are, enjoying a dust bath. They soon found a cosy corner in the garden where I’d piled some old compost. Perfect for their favourite daily activity. I love the contented little sounds they make as they swoosh compost into the air in all directions. Hens are certainly messy creatures.
Here’s Merlin, searching for slugs, snails and grubs in the veg plot. I’m hoping they will help me with my organic gardening, no chemicals- approach.
I’m not forgetting Monty kitten, looking quite windswept as he sits on his favourite look-out post on top of the boat cover.
The greenhouse – with barely and inch to spare. I can just about still get in there.
The poly tunnel swathed in fleece as we hit -3.5C two nights in a row. It’s currently 7C at lunchtime with a freezing icy wind and sleet. The old peach trees are flowering despite the cold. I’ll have to pollinate them with a paintbrush. There’s no bees about in these cold temperatures.
Despite the cold, daffodils are looking lovely. So cheerful.
My favourite narcissus Snow Baby looking lovely in spring pots planted three years ago and still going strong.
My new spring pot with ‘instant’ plants from the garden centre. Cheering up the front doorstep.
Wild anemones flowering in the mini woodland garden. Bluebells are just starting to raise their heads above big strappy leaves and potted Lily of the Valley is scenting the potting shed.
A few flowers fresh picked from the veg plot.
My wild Tenby daffodils, flowering around the pond, still look good at dusk. These are planted in memory of my Welsh grandmother, HM Foulds. A very reliable and hardy daffodil, highly recommend.
Bulbs and spring bedding plants are making me smile, after such a long, cold winter. I couldn’t get out last autumn to buy any plants, so I’ve reached spring with nothing to put into containers. But restrictions have lifted- and I’ve had my jab (hurray!) and I’m able to get out there! I can’t adequately describe the shear delight of actually being able to visit a plant nursery and buy a few flowers. Never in my life did I think such a simple thing as going out and buying plants would be so joyful- and appreciated. I’ll never take it forgranted again. Never.
I bought some potted anemone blanda, Bridal Crown narcissus and bellis daisies. I didn’t go mad with my first trip out. Every plant was savoured, the scent enjoyed, the colours marvelled at. I set the Bridal Crown in the centre of a favourite terracotta pot, and nestled the anemones and bellis daisies around the edge. Bridal Crown is perfect for a centrepiece as it’s multi -headed, which means it flowers for a long time. The stems twist and turn in different directions, giving a fountain-like centre to any pot. Anemones have a charming habit of scrambling between the narcissus stems and filling the gaps. Bellis daisies are just so cheerful. I particularly love the double pomponette types. All in all, my plants have provided a much-needed breath of spring, and the containers are cheering up my front doorstep and all the garden table tops, just in case we have visitors, which is now allowed. It will feel strange to have friends and family walking around my plot, after a whole 12 months without anyone visiting.
Here’s this week’s Garden News article, mentioning my treasured plant pots.
And more photos of the containers, which have survived two windswept nights of -3.5C temperatures.
The scent is wonderful.
Just planted. Instant plants can be put together to make a colourful display. No one would know the containers hadn’t been planted last autumn.
Anemone blanda, mixed blues and whites.
I popped in two large anemone coronaria. I would usually grow all these bulbs myself, starting them off in September and October. But there’s so much choice at the garden centres, you can easily catch up now, and they don’t cost a fortune.
Here’s the Superseed Trays I mention in the article. I’m trying to reduce my use of flimsy plastic trays which are not recyclable. The plastic breaks down to smaller and smaller pieces and gets into rivers and streams and out to the ocean.
I love trying new products and I’m always amazed by the ingenuity of new business enterprises.
I’ve adopted a rescue cockerel. His days were numbered as there were too many cockerels where he came from. Sadly, if you hatch out chicks, some of them with obviously be cockerels and then they become unwanted. I’ve named him Merlin because he has the most gorgeous petrol -coloured feathers. And he has magiced his way into my life, just when I needed something to make me smile again. He’s now been joined by three beautiful bantam hens, so he’s in heaven here.
And finally, the latest photo of my lockdown kitten Monty. He’s been a constant source of joy since arriving here last summer. Hasn’t he grown into a beautiful boy. He’s enormous and very fluffy, but he has such a kind and gentle temperament. And he’s always by my side, keeping me company in the garden.
How are you all doing? Are any of you managing to get out and about and see friends and family again? It’s a while since I last wrote on here. We had several very sad deaths amongst friends and family. The latest being a dear friend, Jo, who died just six weeks after a diagnosis of cancer. We will be attending her virtual funeral on Friday, and I’ll be planting a tree in her memory.
Take care everyone, and thank you for reading and for your friendship and kind comments. This has not been an easy time for any of us, but there’s always hope for the future.
Temperatures are reaching 16C here today, just a week after snow and lows of -5. I’m working in the garden in shirt sleeves. Heavy coats and warm jumpers are left indoors. My lemon trees in the greenhouse have started to grow and I’m feeding and watering them now. They have been relatively dry over the winter. To promote more flower and fruit, I’m harvesting all the lemons and making cakes and biscuits. Spare fruit can easily be frozen whole and microwaved when juice and zest is needed.
Here’s a tasty recipe for a February pick-me-up. You can eat these lemon crunch triangles on their own with a cup of tea, or add vanilla icecream. They can also be frozen. I’m making some for now, and a batch for when we can open up the garden for visits from friends and family. I can hardly wait to see everyone! This has been a long winter and one we will never forget. I’m making videos of the garden to send to my mum, and to relatives and staff in the care home, to give them a flavour of spring. They can’t get out to see any flowers are the moment, so the videos of our snowdrops, hellebores and crocus are an escape to the outdoors for them. You can see the videos over on instagram where I am karengimson1.
Let me know what spring flowers are growing in your gardens. Are you cooking anything new this week? Freezing temperatures are due to return by the weekend, so I won’t be putting anything delicate outdoors just yet. But it’s lovely to see all these jewel-like spring flowers, and fresh lemons from greenhouse are very welcome indeed.
Here’s a link to my recipe for lemon crunch triangles:
I’m making these again today. I opened the kitchen cupboards and there was literally nothing cheerful in there! No biscuits, chocolate, cake. We’ve run out of everything. I wonder if we will look back on these times and ponder how we lived through this pandemic and learned to appreciate the simple things in life. I shall certainly never take for granted being able to just pop to the shops. Everything has to be so well organised. Lists on top of lists. All food is being delivered, for which I’m extremely grateful. But, oh, the dismay at discovering that I’ve forgotten something- just as I’ve pressed the button to order supplies. It’ll be a week before I can get another delivery. We do see an end in sight with vaccines on the way, so keep going everyone. Keep smiling. And make pastries, as there’s nothing nicer to cheer you up than the sight of these lovely tasty treats. Any fruit can be used, they are just as lovely with apples, frozen plums, raspberries, tinned peaches – any combination you like. Let me know what recipes are keeping you cheered up, and report back if you make any of these delicious pastries too.
And a photo of spring flowers to bring some joy as well:
White primulas. My favourites. Though I have seen some deep red double varieties mixed in with burnt orange which might look lovely in a blue China casserole dish…. if only I could get out to buy some.
Narcissi Geranium and cut flower collection tulips from last spring. All my tulips are poking through the ground now, and daffodils are in bud and flowering early. The veg patch is covered in forgetmenots. I use them as a green mulch to protect the soil and keep down weeds. Some are potted up to stand on the summerhouse steps. They are very easy to dig up as they have a shallow, fibrous root system. They do well when lifted and grown on in containers.
Daffodils make a very welcome return. I’ve watered them with potash or tomato fertiliser, having taken advice from a medal-winning grower. The liquid feed helps to strengthen the stems and enhances the colour, making them stronger and brighter. A good tip as we regularly seem to be getting stormy spring weather. It’s so sad to see daffodils flattened by the wind.
Eranthis hyemalis – winter aconite in the woodland garden. They won’t last long as temperatures are currently 13C.
Green-tipped Galanthus Viridapice looking pretty on the potting shed window. Snowdrops too have been a very welcome and joyous sight. But in the mild weather, they have opened right out and will be going over sooner than usual. I shall water these too with weak tomato fertiliser in the hope of boosting the size of the bulbs and increase the number of flowers for next year.
Have a lovely weekend everyone.
*I’m trying something new- doing Instagram live sessions from the greenhouse every day, essentially to keep in touch with my Mum and MIL Joan, and also to show my daughters how to grow plants from seed. Under normal circumstances I would be by their side helping them with their new houses and first gardens. But I can’t while we are in lockdown, so I’m doing what I can from home. I’m karengimson1 on instagram.
If you are reading this week’s Garden New Magazine (February 6 edition) here is the recipe I mention for apple crumble cakes. Our stored apples usually last until the end of February, but the autumn, and winter up until Christmas, was so mild the fruit started to go soft. I sliced and froze some of the apples, and turned the rest into delicious little cakes. These too can be frozen and will thaw within a few minutes, or defrost in a microwave. Let me know if any of you try the recipe, and how you get on with it. I’ve added frozen blackberries and raspberries to my cakes. Or you can just make them with apples on their own. All equally tasty. It’s lovely to have something reminding us of summer – right in the middle of winter.
You’ll need three or four apples, and a handful of berries, if using them. Use what you have. Equally good using tinned or fresh peaches, plums, blueberries, apricots, pears. It’s a very versatile recipe, using up store cupboard and frozen fruit.
I’ve made mine in silicone muffin trays, but you could just make one large cake and slice it. Use oat milk and egg substitute for vegans.
Muffins cook in 25 to 30 minutes. But check they are cooked through.
We store the apples wrapped in newspaper in the unheated glass porch and potting shed.
There was a good harvest from the orchard last autumn. Plenty of apples and pears.
I’ve been making apple crumbles all winter. Such a simple dish, so lovely and warming on a cold day.
Thanks for reading and getting in touch. I’ve started doing live videos from the greenhouse over on instagram as a way of keeping in touch with family and friends.
I’m karengimson1 on instagram
And @kgimson on twitter
Update: Sue Appleton on twitter used blackberry jam instead of berries and sent this message:
I thought you’d like a calming walk around the garden today. We’ve had snow for two days now, but it is starting to melt. It’s currently 3C and rain is forecast. Snow covers a multitude of sins. You can’t see the brambles or stinging nettles. I’ve made a start on tackling the thickets- they have grown up in only three years of neglect. It’s interesting to see how nature is always trying to reclaim the garden. Always trying to take back what we’ve borrowed. We only carve out this place for a short while.
Bellis daisies. In flower despite the cold. We planted some in pots years ago and they’ve seeded about the plot. They pop up in borders, the gravel paths, and in small colonies in the lawn. I rather like them for their tenacity. Stamp on them (accidentally) and they do not flinch.
By the front door there’s a patch of Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis). It grows in the gravel spilling over from the path. There is no soil here. And yet, with minimum fuss and no maintenance, it flowers its heart out from October to March. Friends say it can be difficult to grow, so I’m grateful for my little patch of thriving iris. Last year it produced this pretty lilac sport. The mother plant is deep purple. I love it when plants suddenly do the unexpected. Don’t you?
The bank of wild cherry trees look like charcoal drawings in the snow. They are full of buds. I’ll cut a few twiggy branches and bring them into the house. They’ll flower readily in the heat of the kitchen. One way to bring spring forwards a little. It’s cheating, I know, but I can’t resist.
More trees surround the wildlife pond. It’s wonderful to think we are only four weeks to seeing frogspawn in the pond. Spring always starts for me when we see frogs again. You can learn more about frogs by following Froglife, a wildife charity dedicated to the conservation of frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.
We are seeing a lot more deer in our area. We think they might be Sitka deer. Sometimes I just catch sight of them out of the corner of my eye. They are almost like ghosts, drifting silently along the dark hedgerows. They seem to blend into the shadows and become part of the landscape. Sometimes, in spring, if we are really lucky, we’ll come across a fawn in the long grass. The mother is never far away, and we tiptoe quietly away, so as not to startle her.
We’ve turned the summerhouse towards the sun. Amazingly, it’s quite warm in there. Such a well-made building, insulated with thick, wavy-edge oak. They knew how to build in the 1930s. We are grateful for our sturdy and peaceful sanctuary. It’s the perfect place to sit for a while and read, or watch the birds. Sometimes we see a fox. At dusk, a barn owl quarters the back field. They hunt methodically, searching for prey by flying back and forth. We worry when the weather is stormy and wet, as it increasingly is nowadays. Barn owls have no waterproofing. Their soft feathers help them to fly almost silently, but it’s at the expense of being weatherproof. They struggle to hunt and find food in the rain. One heartbreaking evening last summer, we saw the female out in heavy rain. She looked off balance, her flight hampered by the wind. We watched as she wobbled and barely made it over the top of the hedge. Desperation must have driven her out in poor weather. She had two chicks to feed. Later, the farmer who checks the nests, found only one chick had survived.
I’ll leave you with two happy photos. Snowdrops always make me feel hopeful. They return every year, whatever is happening in the world around them.
And this beautiful glass ‘vase’ of flowers- a present from a kind friend. Certainly. We are all looking for anything that brings joy at the moment. Thank goodness for kindness, friends and family. And for flowers which always make us smile.
Let me know how you are all getting on. Are you managing to sow any seeds or do any gardening yet. Take care everyone. And thank you for reading.
I’m on instagram at karengimson1 and twitter @kgimson. Come over and say hello!
One of the ways I’m keeping upbeat at the moment is reading blogs. Barbara Segall writes about the Japanese rice recipe Seven Herbs of Spring in her ‘Garden Post’ blog. I was immediately inspired to go out into the garden and find seven herbs to make my own revitalising rice dish.
Barbara explains that the severn herb dish is a kind of porridge eaten during the first weeks of January as a way of detoxing and giving the digestive system a boost. Simple food after all the excesses of Christmas. I didn’t quite have the herbs Barbara mentions, but rather than just giving up, I searched out and used what I could find. I was delighted to discover small amounts of mint, fennel, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, Welsh onion, and chervil. Most were in self-watering containers placed in the greenhouse for winter protection. Rosemary grows by the back door, and perennial Welsh onions are in the polytunnel. They are a good source of fresh onion-flavouring when chives have died back for the season.
Just searching about the plot and discovering small amounts of herbs was a joy. The scents released as I snipped the herbs into a colander made me think of summer when I planted these containers. I perhaps use fresh herbs more in summer than I do in winter. It requires more of an effort to go out in the cold, ice crunching underfoot and wrapped up against the chill wind. Much easier to reach for the dried herbs (dare I admit to using such a thing). But the taste was worth it. Every mouthful was a burst of flavour – transporting me back to sunshine and summer heat.
I boiled some organic long grain brown rice to go with my herbs. A nice easy meal, in contrast to all the complicated, lengthy cooking of the festive season. The rice was ready in 25 minutes. I roughly chopped the herbs and sprinkled them over the steaming rice. I found some tiny emerging spring broccoli and nasturtium leaves to add to the dish and yellow broccoli flowers, which are edible and should not be wasted.
Delicious! Using what I have about the place and keeping things simple. It made me feel as if I was looking after myself. Which is no bad thing just at the moment when we are all rather stressed and in lockdown.
Do read Barbara’s blog and learn more about Japanese cooking traditions. Barbara’s writing is like silk. It’s a joy to read. And you never know, it might inspire you to grow more herbs and cook something delicious and good for you. Let me know if you do!
Here I am, pottering about in my garden again. I must say, the weeks fly by and it’s soon time to write another column for Garden News Magazine.
I hope you enjoy today’s article. I’ve had some lovely letters of support from readers saying my ‘potterings’ have kept them upbeat and busy during the pandemic. I’m pleased to see many readers have been inspired to have a go at different gardening techniques, or decided to grow something new. And many say the recipes are tasty, and always turn out well. What a relief!
Here’s some additional photos the editor didn’t use for the column. It’s fascinating to see which ones they choose. I submit about 10 for them to select from. It takes about a day to decide what to write about, take the photos and then actually sit down and compose the piece. It’s 350 words – which is actually quite a challenge. I try to say a lot in not many words. I edit it three times before I send it, taking out any spare words each time. What a luxury it is to write the blog. No one is checking the word count on here.
My hazel plant supports in the snow. New rods have replaced any that snapped, and have been woven along the centre to add strength. We seem to be getting stormier summers, so plant supports have to be extra sturdy.
Some sweet peas I grew last summer. I’ve sown some in autumn, but the second sowing now will provide plants that flower right through to November. Successional sowing extends the season.
Here’s a photo of ‘Sunshine’ climbing French beans. Highly recommended, easy to grow and prolific. We have a freezer full, and they only take a few minutes to cook from frozen. All the flavour and goodness is captured for tasty winter meals. I’ll be starting my bean seed in May. Don’t start them off too early as they cannot be planted out until the first week of June. If sown too early, they become leggy and weak. They are very fast growing.
Here’s a larger photo of the willow heart flower arrangement in the potting shed window. It’s made from Paperwhite narcissi, alstroemeria from the poly tunnel and dried gypsophila and honesty seeds from summer. The foliage is eucalyptus saved from Christmas floral arrangements. Flowers are held in a jam jar covered in moss which has garden string twined around it, kokadama -style. We are all trying to do without florists’ foam, and using jam jars, and tiny glass test tubes works really well.
Just a few of my favourite things. Send vouchers if you can’t get deliveries in time. After the 12 months we have had, I’m looking through and choosing a few items for myself. But I think we all deserve a treat or two. Don’t you agree?
Feel free to add your favourites in the comments below, and I’ll add them too. I’ve not been paid to recommend anything. Views, as usual, are my own. Keep this list handy all year round. I’ll be adding to it from time to time.
EASTON WALLED GARDENS
Easton Walled Gardens. Sells lovely little tins of sweet pea seed including heritage varieties, gardening gloves, twine, plant supports and all manner of gardening treats. There’s tickets for the snowdrop festival- or why not buy an annual pass. Worth more than one visit, all year round.
Orchids by post. High quality plants from the UK’s largest grower of phalaenopsis orchids. I like to support UK growers and these have proved to be reliable suppliers. Plants are well-grown and carefully packaged for posting. Beautifully displayed in glass vases and troughs.
Why not buy a voucher for a veg patch- whatever size of plot you have. I’ve had plants from Pippa Greenwood before and they are beautifully fresh and well packaged. The best aspect of buying from Pippa is the e mail guides that accompany the kits giving expert hints and tips on getting the best out of your plants. Highly recommended. Good value.
Floristry courses, how to be a flower farmer, growing wedding flowers, and a multitude of other wonderful inspirational floral courses are on offer at Common Farm Flowers. Georgie Newbery is running the courses in person in Somerset, and delightfully, you can now also join in from anywhere in the world, via zoom courses.
Cotswold-based Genus Gardenwear has been making quality clothing and accessories since 2013. Well respected amongst gardeners, the clothing helps keep us warm and dry. Well made and long lasting. Above is the women’s Eden gardening jersey. There’s also silk liner gloves, merino wool wrist and neck warmers- amongst other clothing items. Also on the website, there’s Japanese secateurs and Hori Hori tools.
Beautiful seed packets and greeting cards. Gift cards start at £10.
Advance tickets are on sale for the Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Show. A lovely event held alongside the picturesque lake, set in the Capability Brown landscape. Plants and gardening equipment on sale, gardens to view, and horticultural talks to enjoy. A highlight of the summer calendar. 17-18 July 2021.
Warm and waterproof clothing for gardeners. I haven’t tried these yet, but they are on my Christmas wish list. One thing I hate is to be cold and wet when I’m out and about. These look well made and stylish too.
I’ve followed Tom and Jenny’s progress from start to finish creating a dream retreat at their beautiful North Wales home. I’ve earmarked a visit for myself and Mum as soon as we can travel. Vouchers for a holiday would be a welcome present for anyone, particularly garden-lovers, as Jenny has a dream garden alongside the roundhouse retreat.
This is what I used for my greenhouse and cut flower garden this year, and the results were fabulous. Everything grew robustly and flowers seemed to last longer. Using organic feed is important to me. I don’t want to kill beneficial insects, or poison the hedgehogs. Because plants were well grown and healthier, they were better able to fight off pest and diseases, and I didn’t need to use any chemicals. I’ll be ordering more for next season.
The NGS has had a difficult year with most garden visits cancelleddue to covid. Oneway to help is to buy something from the website. There’s cards, notebooks, aprons and tea towels, for example. Also look out for zoom lectures of NGS gardens. It all helps the NGS support nursing charities. I’ll be giving a zoom lecture next spring, talking about how to get colour and interest in the garden 12 months of the year.
Rainbows Hospice helps children and young peoplewho have life-limiting illnesses. They are £1 million down on fund raising due to covidlockdown and restrictions. Buy something from their website, or make a donation in the name of a friendor family member. You’ll be helping a wonderful charitydoing essential work.
I’ve found these to be the best gardening gloves available. The gauntlets protect my hands from brambles and thorns. Comfortable and hard wearing. They make gardening a pleasurewhen there’s painful weeds to tackle, or rambling roses to prune.
I found this small, compact and lightweight lawnmower a dream to use. No pull cord start. No electric cable to trip over. No running-out-of-petrol to worry about. Just an easy to use battery -powered machine. The 48V machine has a 35cm cutting pathand a 40ltr grass collector. It has a fold-down handle for easy storage. It will cut 250m2 on a single charge. The battery can be used for 21 other tools in the Greenworks range, including a hedge trimmer, line trimmer, and leaf blower. More are listed on the website. As regular readers know, my youngest daughter is a nurse, often working on covid wards. To protect us, she could not come homeat all. Luckily she managed to buy her own house this summer, and we gave her this mower to help her look after her first garden.It makes cutting the grass a quick and easy task, which is really important if you’ve spent 12.5 hours on your feet working.https://www.greenworkstools.co.uk/product/40v-35cm-lawn-mower/