In a Vase on Monday- a peek inside my potting shed

This week I’ve potted up some prepared hyacinths. I started them off in a cold, dark potting shed in September. The bulbs were put through a cold treatment before I bought them – to trick them into thinking they had gone through winter. Putting them in a dark cupboard for 10 weeks completes the treatment. They grow fabulous roots in the dark and form a strong flower shoot. Some hyacinths were brought on in warmer conditions to flower for Christmas. But spare bulbs have been kept cold and dry to stagger the flowering display.

I grow them individually in 3″ pots. To create a display, I simply choose bulbs that have flower spikes about the same size.

I love the green edge on these Carnegie white hyacinths and the scent cheers up the potting shed. It’s a joy to work in there at the moment.

My grandfather Ted Foulds gave me these terracotta Sankey plant pots. I love using them and always think of him. Happy memories – I had a carefree childhood. For which I’m very grateful. They were simpler times then, when we made our own entertainment. Mud pie gardens, surrounded with stones and topped with flower heads. Making gardens in a biscuit tin lid, with tin foil ponds and tiny twig “trees.” Keeping snails as pets and feeding them lettuce; and great delight when the snails produced eggs, hatching into a family of miniature baby snails with translucent shells.

Here’s some hyacinths that have been flowering in the greenhouse for several weeks. They are such great value. Below, I’ve used foliage from the garden, dogwood stems, salix catkins and hazel lambs tails, with a single pink hyacinth flower and some double snowdrops.

And finally, in my mother-in-law Joan’s posy, there’s white hellebores, and the first daffodils, surrounded with ivy, and twigs and some green foliage which is actually a weed. It’s known as shepherd’s purse, and has tiny hearts all along the stem.

Thank you to Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden for hosting this meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and using for their flower arrangements this week. As you can see, you don’t have to use a vase. Any container will do.

I hope you enjoyed a peek inside my potting shed. Get in touch and let me know what you are growing.

Garden Restoration Plans for Holme Pierrepont Hall

There’s nothing more cheerful than turning up at a favourite garden to find everyone happy and smiling. This week I visited Holme Pierrepont Hall to find the owners and gardeners busy with renovation plans. Funds from a Heritage Lottery grant and the Country Houses Foundation means work can start on restoring garden walls which date back to the 16th century.

The funding will also enable research into the site’s history. During my tour of the gardens, I learned the topiary courtyard once housed aviaries for tropical birds, and a monkey house in the centre. I can’t wait to see what else is revealed when historical documents are studied by experts.

Built in 1500, the hall is thought to be the oldest brick building in Nottinghamshire and is still lived in by descendants of the Pierrepont family. Three generations of the family live here now, Robin and Elizabeth, Robert and Charlotte and their children Oliver and Cicely. Elizabeth, whose great grandmother was Lady Mary Pierrepont, moved here in 1969 and undertook some major restoration work in the house and garden. Today, the new conservation work is being led by Robert and Charlotte. And their enthusiasm is catching. It’s easy to get caught up in the optimistic atmosphere at Holme Pierrepont. They love their home, and genuinely enjoy sharing it with visitors. It’s heartening to hear plans to open on more days in the future. Currently the house and garden opens Sunday to Wednesday, February and March, and Sundays in April, 2-5pm. (Closed Easter Sunday). New for this year, there’s additional garden open days in May and June. Dates and times are on the website http://www.holmepierreponthall.com

As well as the courtyard, the hall is famous for its Spring Walk, featuring daphne, hamamelis, rhododendrons and acers, underplanted with hellebores, primula and masses of early bulbs. To help visitors identify the varieties, a guide has been produced and new signs installed in the garden.

Scent is important in the garden and mature hamamelis and daphnes are fabulous at this time of the year. This one is Daphne Jacqueline Postill.

There are several Hamamelis planted alongside the pathways. Hamamelis mollis, Diana and Westerstede, (pictured below) among them. It’s good to have a guidebook and new signs to be able to identify them correctly.

Snowdrops, these pictured below, are Galanthus Sam Arnott, are looking spectacular at the moment in the spring garden, and also in the Woodland Walk.

New signs direct you through the old walled orchard and on to the woodland where there’s also large drifts of wild Tulipa Sylvestris. These have been growing in the grounds since the 17th century. They were apparently first planted in the main garden, and then seemingly “thrown out” in to the woodland – where they’ve thrived.

It’s a peaceful walk, amongst the Jacob sheep, now occupying the walled orchard. There’s a possibility in the future these kitchen gardens might be restored.

The old walls curve around the orchard at the back of the hall. So many layers of history in those beautiful red bricks. I’d love to know what the research reveals about them.

There’s a circular walk around the woods, which were opened up to visitors in 2011. You’ll find evidence the family’s young children enjoy this space. There’s various dens and piles of sticks and vegetation made into bug hotels and wildlife habitats.

It’s inspiring to meet the gardeners and volunteers ( pictured below) and all the other experts working on the restoration project. Their enthusiasm and obvious love for this special place is evident. I was pleased to hear students from Brooksby College will be involved in the scheme, and will be learning conservation brickwork skills. I’m in favour of passing traditional skills on to young people. And opportunities like this are all too scarce today.

Until 29th April, visitors can view an art exhibition at the hall, made possible by the new funding. There are paintings by the last Countess Manvers, Marie-Louise Pierrepont, and also a relative, Georgina Brackenbury. Georgina, a militant suffragette, is renowned for her painting of Emmeline Pankhurst which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London. You can learn more about the exhibition at http://www.holmepierreponthall.com/georgina-brackenbury/.

Many thanks to Robert and Charlotte for inviting me to visit the hall and for taking the time to explain the plans. It’s an exciting time ahead and I wish them all the very best with their conservation project, preserving the garden for future generations- and visitors as well.

Contact details: http://www.holmepierreponthall.com e.mail: rplb@holmpierreponthall.com Tell: 0115 9332371

BBC Radio Leicester Gardeners’ phone-in recipes

CITRUS MARMALADE AND ORANGE FLAPJACK

February is a cold, dark, short month. But everywhere there’s signs of spring. Wild violets and the first primroses pop up by the front gate. And snowdrops cheer up the hedgerow, pushing up through hats of curled, brown leaf mould.

It’s traditionally a month of self-denial and fasting. Many people give up something for Lent – chocolate, wine, or favourite foods. Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day is a way of using up egg supplies before the fasting period begins. I make orange curd to use up eggs and butter.

But I also like to make marmalade now. An antidote to winter. I line up pots of marmalade along my kitchen window. A kind of ribbon of orange light. My own stained glass window. Here’s my favourite recipe, which I make with Seville oranges – and some citrus fruits from my heated greenhouse. Tucked up indoors and standing over a steaming pan of oranges makes for a heart-sing moment. And we need plenty of those in February. My grandmother’s old saying is usually true. As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens. I highly recommend staying indoors, keeping warm and making marmalade.

ORANGE MARMALADE

2lb or 900g fruit ( I used Seville oranges, and some kumquats and calamondin fruit from the greenhouse.)

1 lemon

4lb or 1.8kg granulated sugar, warmed

4 pints water

6 x 1lb jam jars

Square of muslin

Cut the lemon and oranges in half and squeeze out the juice. Put any pips or pith that cling to the squeezer into a square of muslin placed over a pudding bowl. Now cut the peel into quarters. Scrape off the pith and add to the muslin. Cut the quarters into thin shreds. Add the juice and peel to the water in a heavy-based preserving pan. Tie up the muslin square and tie loosely to the pan handle with the bag suspended in the water. The pith contains pectin which will help the marmalade set. Simmer gently uncovered for 2 hours until the peel is completely soft. Remove the muslin bag and set aside to cool. Put a plate in the freezer. Pour in the sugar and heat gently until the sugar crystals have melted. Squeeze the muslin bag to extract the jelly-like pectin. I used plastic gloves, or you can press it between two saucers. Increase heat. As soon as the mixture reaches a fast boil, start timing. After 15 minutes, spoon a little of the marmalade onto the cold plate and pop in the fridge. If it has a “set” the marmalade will crinkle when you push it with your finger. If not, continue to boil for another 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stand for 20 minutes. Add a tsp butter to disperse scum. Pop the jam jars in the oven to warm for five minutes. Pour the marmalade into jars with the aid of a funnel, cover with wax disks and seal while still hot. Label pots- and enjoy!

A visit to my mother-in-law’s house would always find us searching the pantry for the cake tin. Over the past 50 years, you could pretty much guarantee to find some flapjack in there. Joan recently gave me all her treasured recipe books. Here’s my own version, adapted from Joan’s family favourite. It travels well and is ideal for picnics.

ORANGE AND WALNUT FLAPJACK

250g or 9oz unsalted butter, chopped into pieces

250g or 9oz golden caster sugar

175g or 6oz golden syrup

425g or 15oz porridge oats

50g or 2oz walnut halves,slightly crushed.

Grated zest of 1 orange.

3 tbsp orange marmalade

160C gas / mark 4 for 30 minutes

28cm x 18cm shallow baking tin

Melt together in a microwave the butter, sugar, and golden syrup. Stir into the oats, walnuts, and orange zest. Tip the mixture into a lined tin and level it off. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the centre is still slightly soft. It will firm up as it cools. Mark into 12 pieces while it’s still warm. Leave to cool and then brush the top with melted orange marmalade. Keeps for a week in an airtight tin.

Each week on BBC Radio Leicester there’s a Gardeners’ Phone-in programme between 11am and 12 noon. I like to take in a posy from my garden, showing what’s in flower all year round. And I also take in something I’ve made using produce from my plot. This week it was a jar of marmalade and some flapjack. Tune in on the i player to listen to the programme which starts at 2.11.31 on the timeline at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05t8n69. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a photo of my greenhouse from last summer. A reminder of lovely warm weather to come.

End of Month View – January 2018

Reasons to be cheerful. The first spring lamb has been born in crossroads field at the bottom of our lane. It’s been a daily ritual, walking downhill to check on the flock. Each time, we are hopeful. And then today, we stand at the gate and scan the field. And there, by the hedge, one tiny white lamb. Newborn and softly steaming in early morning sunshine. A joy. A reassurance. After all the family illness of the past few months, worry and fretting, one tiny lamb sends a subliminal message- all will be well. The season moves on and the familiar sights and sounds of our daily life returns to normal. We have weathered the storm and spring is coming.

There’s been some catching up to do in the potting shed. Seed packets are inspected, catalogues perused, and a list produced. It’s a start. Little pots of snowdrops are dotted along the windowsill. I marvel at the variety of markings. Those little green hearts. I could quite easily become a galanthophile.

Hyacinths, set in a dark cupboard in September and brought out in December, are in full flower now. And what a scent! Carnegie, my favourite white variety, brightens the gloom.

On one glorious sunny day, with temperatures reaching 12 degrees, a red-tailed bumblebee sleepily blunders in through the shed door and buries itself in a potted hellebore. I gently shoo her out for fear she’ll be caught in a spiders web indoors. And at any rate, there’s plenty of pollen outside with sarcococca, viburnum and winter flowering honeysuckle in full flower.

Sarcococca humilis attracts bees – and hoverflies. These, I’m told are Eristalis hoverflies, mimicking a bee. They had me fooled.

On sunny days, the snowdrops have a wonderful honey scent. I must admit, I didn’t know this fact until a few years ago when I visited Easton Walled Gardens. We stood at the top of a sunny bank, and the fragrance drifted up. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Sadly, a dull wet day doesn’t produce the same scent. And many snowdrop garden visits since have been on cloudy days. So I’ll just have to hold on to that memory.

This is my “Hodsock” corner at home. Each year we visit Hodsock Priory and buy one little pot of snowdrops for a couple of pounds. It’s amazing how quickly they bulk up. It’s a nice reminder of a lovely day out.

The potting shed makes an ideal reading retreat. It’s so peaceful in there. High in the tops of the overhanging beech trees, songbirds are singing, staking their claim to spring territories. A cheeky robin is taking an interest in the shelving at the back of the shed. There will probably be a nest.

Thanks to Steve at Glebe House blog for hosting this meme and for encouraging me to write. Go over and have a look what his garden looks like at the end of the month and visit some of the others joining in, from all around the world. What signs of spring are you seeing in your gardens at the moment?

In a Vase on Monday- Sweet scented flowers and shrubs.

For the past few weeks my bedside table has contained little jam jars of water, into which small posies of “twigs” have been placed. Never have I been so grateful for a garden full of winter-flowering shrubs. For the twigs are smothered with tiny flowers- bursting with scent. Top of my list of favourites is Sarcococca Purple Stem, also known as sweet box. This one, in a pot by my front door, has shiny evergreen leaves and pink and white spidery flowers. A joy at any time between December and March, but particularly welcome when you are stuck in bed with the flu.

Here’s a quick peek in my potting shed. I’m sad to report that I’ve only managed to visit the potting shed twice since Christmas. Something I intend to remedy now that I’m up and about and almost, but not quite, back to normal.

The sugar pink flowers are Viburnum Dawn. In the centre there’s Hamamelis Jelena, and on the right, winter flowering honeysuckle, Lonicera purpusii. There’s also some daphne and to add more cheer, pussy willow catkins and hazel or corylus “lambs tails.” The Hamamelis was a bargain basement purchase for just a few pounds, but didn’t have any labels. Cathy – who hosts the IAVOM meme – writes about Hamamelis this week and I learned that Jelena is named after Mrs Jelena De Belder, and Diane is named after her daughter. You can read all about Cathy’s Hamamelis collection Here .

Covered with snow, it looks spectacular. The delicate scent is noticeable on a sunny day, or when twigs are brought into a warm room. I think the yellow- flowering Hamamelis have perhaps a stronger scent though.

Just getting into its stride is Daphne odora Aureomarginata. When fully open this will scent the whole garden and perfume will drift through open windows and in through the front door.

In my vase this week I’ve added some hellebore Jacob which has been in flower since mid- December. And also some hyacinths. These were prepared bulbs planted and put in a cold, dark cupboard in the potting shed for 10 weeks and then grown on in a polytunnel for another 22 days. Gradually I brought them into a warmer room as they came into flower. Slow, cool growing conditions ensures the flower bud forms properly, and prolongs the display.

I love the velvet blue colour and white edge. I’ll plant the bulbs out in the garden when I’ve harvested the flowers.

Here’s a pot I forgot about. I’ve only just taken it out of the dark cupboard and you can see the bulbs are really well rooted. The roots are climbing out of the sides. And the flower spikes are well formed. These are going to be pure white. Something to look forward to over the coming weeks, a good two or three months before the ones in the garden start to flower.

Hiding amongst the flowers are some stems of Pelargonium Tomentosum from the heated greenhouse. The hairy leaves have a lovely fresh minty scent when they are crushed.

On my potting shed window are little terracotta pots of honey-scented snowdrops, flowering a few weeks earlier than the ones in the ground. The Sankey pots came from my Grandad Ted Foulds. I love to use them and think that he held them in his hands. It’s a reminder of happy times. He loved visiting my garden each week and giving me hints and tips on what to grow and how. I still miss him. But I have his garden tools and his plant pots. And my whole garden is planted with little seedlings and divisions from his garden. So I feel as if he is still here with me really, keeping an eye on me and my family. I like to think so anyway.

Thank you to Cathy for hosting IAVOM meme. Go over and have a look at what Cathy is putting in her vase this week, and then have a look what others are growing and cutting from their gardens – all around the world. It’s a fascinating story and one I love being a part of.

Blackcurrant Cheesecake

Just dashed in from the garden. Picked some hellebores for the kitchen table. Now for some cooking……

I’m standing at the cooker stirring a cauldron of blackcurrants. Outside the temperature has dipped to 1C and there’s a bitter north wind. But in the kitchen, it’s summer again. The scent of the blackcurrants transports me back to sunnier times. I’m making blackcurrant syrup. It is roughly equal amounts of fruit and sugar. The blackcurrants are first cooked and sieved. And then the sugar is added and the mixture simmers for 15 minutes. Add the justice of a lemon. When cooled, it can be added to yogurt, fruit sponges, or made into jam tarts. Today I’m making lemon cheesecake and topping it with the rich, full of flavour syrup. It will do us the world of good. We have been ill since Christmas, and the thought of all that vitamin C is cheering me up already.

Blackcurrant Cheesecake

500g packet of digestive biscuits

4oz or 113g butter. 1/3 cup in USA

4oz or 113g cottage cheese. 1/3 cup

8oz or 227g cream cheese. 2/3 cup

1/4pint or 142ml double cream.

3oz or 85g sugar. 1/4 cup

Juice and rind of one lemon

First whizz the biscuits in a food processor. Melt the butter and add the crushed biscuits. Press this mixture into the bottom of a glass Pyrex flan dish.

Sieve the cottage cheese and add the cream cheese and sugar. Whisk the double cream until it is firm and fold in to the mixture. Add the lemon juice and rind. Spoon the mixture on top of the biscuit base.

Drizzle the blackcurrant syrup over the top. Or you can add any fruit you like. It is lovely with strawberries, peaches, pineapple, raspberries, blueberries- anything you have spare.

Place in the fridge for at least four hours to set.

Growing Blackcurrants

Blackcurrants are easy to grow. The fruit forms on young wood, so now is a good time to prune out some of the old stems. I remove about 1/3 of the stems each year, leaving around 7 of the newer stems to develop. Mulch with well rotted compost, manure or mushroom compost. Blackcurrants can be grown in sun or semi-shade, but they hate being too dry. Incorporating humus into the soil will help. Plant deeply- about 6cm deeper than the plants were growing in their pots. I’ve found the best varieties to grow are anything with the prefix “Ben” – so Ben Connan, Ben Sarek, Ben Hope and Ben Lomond.

Today’s syrup was made from frozen fruit. They freeze well and are free flowing, so you only need to defrost a few at a time. A tip for preparing them. Freeze them straight from the garden. And when they are frozen, take them out and roll them carefully in a tea towel. All the stems and bottoms will come off easily and you can pop the fruit back in the freezer before they thaw out. This is much easier than trying to top and tail fresh, squashy fruit.

I’ll leave you with another view from the garden just now. I’ll be glad when the light returns. Meanwhile, every time I look in the freezer there’s a reminder of summer. It’s like opening a box of jewels.

End of Month View December 2017

Tucked up in bed with the flu, I have my i-pad balanced on a heap of rugs. I am shivering like a new born lamb. My garden in December isn’t making me feel any warmer. Snow features in most of the photos. I won’t attempt to add too many words. I doubt they would make much sense at the moment. I just want to send a cheery wave to you and wish you a wonderful, Happy New Year. Wishing all your dreams for a peaceful, happy and prosperous new year come true. Much love- karen xx

Luckily, just when I need some cheer, there’s viola odorata flowering at the garden gate. A much loved cutting from my Grandfather Ted Foulds. They are all over my garden now. A happy reminder of such a lovely man.

By the front door there’s more flowers. Iris unguicularis. A reliable winter-flowering joy.

There’s plenty of Paperwhite Narcissi. I planted them in tall glass vases for Christmas. I wrote about them Here .

And then there was snow. And -7C temperatures. Our windswept top of the hill garden took a battering. Here’s the frozen pond.

View through the pergola to the shady shelter.

And the view from the end of the garden.

Looking towards the village

Trees on the ridge. A favourite view.

And after all that snow, here’s what I’m hoping for in 2018- lots of colour; roses and peonies, tulips and daffodils and cut flowers galore!

The scent! Roses from my plot and a wreath for the summerhouse.

Thanks to Steve at glebehouse garden for hosting this meme. Go over and see what others are posting for their end of month view.

Enjoy your New Year’s celebrations! Much love- karen xx

In a Vase on Monday – Happy Christmas everyone!

Wishing you all a wonderfully happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Anyone visiting Bramble Garden this week would have found me covered in flour. Mince pies emerged from the oven at regular intervals. Hot pies disappeared before they had time to cool. In between all that cooking, I dashed around the garden gathering armfuls of foliage; sprigs of rosemary, Scott’s pine, some wild Clematis and willow; and wove them into wreaths.

I added some dried hydrangea flowers. I love the faded antique pink and cream hues. And some willow stems with the grey catkins just starting to emerge. A welcome sign that spring is just around the corner.

I twisted some Clematis Montana stems into a circle and decorated our five bar gate. Some festive cheer for anyone walking along our country lane on Christmas and Boxing Day. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas holiday. Thank you as always to Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden for the IAVOM meme. I always love to see what you are all growing and using for flower arrangements, all around the world. So many inspiring ideas. Meanwhile, I’m off to make some more mince pies. It is Christmas, after all!