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!

Fact Sheet- BBC Down to Earth gardening programme -recipes and home-made presents

From the latest BBC Radio Leicester Christmas Party programme. Each week I take in something I’ve made, using produce from my garden. It’s usually cake, or a vegetable pie, jam or preserves. This week it is festive Beetroot and Spice Cake. I sowed a 1.3m by 3m plot with mixed beetroot seeds in August and September. The mild autumn means I’ve now got a bumper crop, and I’m trying all different kinds of recipes to use them.

Here’s a link to the programme. You can listen again on your computer or i-pad, or live each Sunday 12-1pm on Freeview 721. http://bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05nbmln The programme starts at 06.06 on the timeline,

This is a lovely moist cake with a spicy lemon tang. The recipe came via a shout out on twitter where I am known as @kgimson. I must credit The Propagator @cavershamjj for this wonderful recipe.

Beetroot cake

3 small beetroot 250g

250g Butter

1 lemon -grated rind and juice

1 cup caster sugar -220g

4 free range eggs

1 cup – 150g dried currants or mixed dried fruit

1 cup- 150g plain flour

1 cup- 150g SR. Flour

Pinch mixed spice

Caster sugar for dusting

20cm deep cake tin, lined with greaseproof paper

Method :

Peel and coarsely grate the beetroot.

Use a hand whisk or food processor to mix sugar, butter and lemon rind.

Add the eggs a little at a time. Mixture might curdle, but it will come back again.

Fold in flour, mixed spice and currants.

Add the beetroot and lemon juice.

Cook for one and half hours in a moderate oven, 160 to 180 degrees. Cover with baking parchment after 15 minutes, to prevent burning.

When cooked and cool, sprinkle with icing sugar. Can be frozen for 3 months. Lasts one week in a sealed container.

Cherry marzipan chocolates

As it’s Christmas, I took in these home-made chocolates. So easy to make. I preserved my home-grown cherries in alcohol in the summer. Here’s the recipe

Cherries preserved in alcohol and drained- or glacé cherries soaked overnight in cherry brandy.

Block of marzipan

Bar of Bourneville dark chocolate or similar 70 percent cocoa butter chocolate.

Method:

Slightly warm the marzipan in the microwave so that it is mouldable. Drain the cherries and dry on paper towel. Make a small circle of marzipan in your hand and enclose the cherry. Roll the marzipan cherries in melted chocolate and place in the fridge to cool. These make delicious home-made presents.

Family favourite – Aunty Doris – Crispy Cakes

Something we make every Christmas. Much loved by all the family- as was our Aunty Doris. Hopefully, writing this here preserves this recipe for my children, should they ever come looking in the future. It’s good to have traditions that pass from one generation to another.

The recipe is very simple. It is equal amounts of butter, marshmallows and dairy toffee, all melted together in a heavy-based jam pan. When melted, add Kellogg’s Rice Crispies until all the melted mixture is coated. Pour out into a shallow metal tray and leave to cool slightly. Cut into squares before it cools completely.

I also like to use materials from my garden for home-made presents. The team got some of these fir cone bird feeders.

Simply melt a block of lard in a heavy based jam pan. Add bird seed, grated cheese, breadcrumbs, apple peelings, dried fruit and crushed peanuts. You can spoon the mixture onto the fir cones. It makes a marvellously messy project for young children. If time is short, you can simply add the fir cones to the pan and stir around. The mixture gets caught up in the open fir cone scales. Tie with a piece of festive ribbon, or some string and wrap in foil to dry. I’ve hung mine on the tips of my beech tree. Squirrels so far can’t get to them because the tips of the branches are too springy for them. I’ve also dangled them along my office window where a little robin comes each day for treats.

Each week I take in flowers I’ve grown in my garden. For Christmas I’ve harvested some Annabelle hydrangea seed heads and sprayed them silver. I wrote about these arrangements Here.

It certainly brightened up the radio station for the afternoon. And costs nothing, apart from a quick blast of florists spray.

Wishing you all a wonderful, happy Christmas. Down to Earth will be back on air in the New Year with lots of exciting ideas for what to grow in your garden, and the whole team giving help and advice to get the most from your plot. Thanks for listening in during 2017. I’ve enjoyed being the new girl on the team.

(I am not representing the BBC. Views are my own, and not necessarily those of the BBC.)

In A Vase On Monday -Christmas flowers and foliage from the garden

One of the joys of winter is mooching around the garden and still finding flowers and foliage to bring indoors. This week’s mooching produced hydrangea Annabelle flower heads. They have dried to a beautiful pale parchment colour.

In late summer, Hydrangea Annabelle has creamy white flower heads, often the size of footballs. I leave them to create architectural shapes in winter. They look fabulous with a topping of frost or snow. At Christmas I cut a few for the house. A quick spray of silver gives them a festive flourish. I use Oasis floral spray for my arrangements. It dries in seconds and gives a good finish. You don’t need to use very much to give foliage and flowers a silver sheen. I love the way it highlights the veins on the back of the petals.

In keeping with the silver theme, I’ve added some willow twigs. They are just starting to produce soft, furry grey catkins. A welcome sight and a reminder that spring won’t be far away. Some fluffy seed heads add texture. These are Clematis tangutica orientalis Engelina, also know as My Angel. It scrambles up through the hawthorn hedge and produces the most beautiful, delicate flowers in autumn. I wrote about it Here.

Adding a touch of colour is my Mum’s Chinese lanterns, Physalis alkegengi. This grows by Mum’s front door and is always such a cheerful welcome to any visitors. It’s rather a rampant plant and to be honest it looks like it’s trying to get in through the front door. Every autumn we pick a few of the seed heads to dry, leaving most of them to provide a glowing approach all along the front drive.

I’ve added some Scott’s pine, Pinus sylvestris, complete with beautiful resin-scented cones. A little pile of cones stands beside our fireplace ready to be thrown into the fire. Along with some precious apple tree logs, saved for Christmas. The scent drifts through the house to the kitchen where I’m making spiced ginger biscuits.

Thank you to Cathy at ramblinginthegarden for hosting this, my favourite meme. Go over and have a look what Cathy and all the other gardeners are doing for their IAVOM this week. You can also follow me on twitter @kgimson and Instagram karengimson1 and on iPlayer at BBC radio Down to Earth.

Have a wonderful Christmas. Thank you all of you for reading and sending such lovely, encouraging comments each week. It is always appreciated. Love from Karen x

Last minute Christmas Present Ideas for Gardeners

I am always so pleased to be asked for my opinions on anything garden-related. After working in horticulture for 25 years, it is very nice to be asked by magazines, newspapers and the BBC. This week I was on the radio again, giving recommendations for Christmas present ideas. Have a listen in to BBC Radio Down to Earth programme to hear my suggestions. Here’s a link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05n7fh1 The programme starts at 9 minutes 10 on the timeline.

I’m practically living in these RHS Gold Leaf Gloves. They are so comfortable to use, and beautiful too. Here’s the link for more information at RHS shops. I absolutely love them. They are so practical – and pretty. British made, quality material, they have a padded palm, and little tabs to get them on and off easily. Well designed and well priced.

There are three designs, iris, rose and poppy, based on artwork from the RHS Lindley Library.

Mike Salotti – Brooksby College lecturer and DTE team member recommends Adopt a Vine Scheme as a great present idea for wine lovers. Here’s the details for the Hanwell Scheme. Hanwell Estate

My second suggestion is handmade soap from Cooks Lane Herbs, a Leicestershire company run by Sian and Richard. All natural ingredients, not tested on animals, and the packaging is recyclable. The scent is fabulous. They can be purchased mail order, or locally from farmers markets. Here’s the website link for Cooks Lane Herbs .

My third suggestion is an Urbalive worm composter from Wiggly wigglers .

Can be used in the greenhouse, garden shed, potting shed or kitchen even. The resulting liquid feed will be diluted down and used all around the garden next spring and summer. A great way to compost kitchen waste, and make free compost.

I wrote about my trial composter Here.

My fourth suggestion is Making Winter by Emma Mitchell, a creative guide for surviving the winter months, published by Michael O’Mara books. A delight from cover to cover. The photography is a mood-lifter to start with. I could just sit looking at the beautiful pictures to be honest. There’s crafts, cooking and activities to while away the winter months and survive cold, grey rainy days.

Recipes include Plum, Orange and Ginger Blondies. Delicious!

There’s knitting and crochet scarves to create.

A feast for the senses. Click on the Link to read read more about the book.

There are more great ideas on the rest of the hour-long programme. There’s suggestions for garden lighting, seeds, weather stations and bird feeders. Have a listen and let me know what you think of our ideas.

In a Vase on Monday….almost

Caught out by the snow, I’m lagging behind with my festive floral arrangements. I have to admit – the foliage I’m hoping to use is still on the trees and shrubs! However, I thought you might like a quick tour of my garden and I’ll show you what I’m planning. The hydrangeas have been hanging up in the potting shed roof for a few weeks to dry.

Update : managed to add photos, but each one took 10 goes. Internet speeds are terrible here! I’m starting to upload, and then going for a cup of tea….

To get round the problem, I linked with photos already posted on Instagram. Here’s a link to Instagram https://www.instagram.com/karengimson1/

photo 2: Isn’t the vase beautiful. A kind relative noticed my lack of vases and has given this to me. The mark on the base says Arthur Wood, Made in England. A quick search in the internet comes up with the name Victory for the pattern and the dates look to be between 1930 and 1940. I’d love to know more. It will be perfect for my 1930s turntable summerhouse.

Photo 2 shows a close up of the vase with interesting relief pattern of leaves and flowers. Anyone know what flowers these are meant to be?

Photo 3: A close- up of the hydrangea -which I bought for £1 from a National Garden Scheme sale. Open gardens are such good value and most Sundays in the summer Mum and I visit an NGS garden, have tea and cake, and buy something from the plant sales table. It’s a great way to support cancer charities. Lovely to have such a cheery colour in the middle of winter.

Photo 4. I’ll be using lots of paperwhite narcissi in my Christmas arrangements. Here’s one I planted a few weeks ago. I wrote about it here. Click on this link to see how it was planted Here .

Photo 5: As you can see, I’ve brought them out of the dark potting shed for today’s photo, and the garden is looking very snowy.

photo 6: Close up of the Paperwhites. I love the scent. The potting shed smells gorgeous at the moment.

Photo7: Paperwhite roots look so pretty growing in ornamental gravel and the tall vase helps to support the leaves.

Photo 8: Still yet to be harvested for my arrangements, these are enormous sealing wax hips, the size of marbles. The rose is called Scarlet Fire and has huge single deep red roses with very prominent yellow stamens. Bees adore it. So do I.

Photo 9: There are plenty of hips this year. The birds don’t seem to eat these first. They go for the tiny wild rose hips first.

Photo 10: I’ll be collecting lots of catkin stems to use in my arrangements. It’s so heartening to see them growing at this time of year. The catkins- or lambs tails- as we call them are 2″ long already. A welcome sign of spring to come. A cheerful sight is the sunshine catching the tops of cherry and willow trees at the far end of the garden.

Photo 11: A view of the garden, looking from the greenhouse. Plenty of twigs and evergreen to be harvested here.

Photo 12: I shall be cutting back the ivy on the spiders web pergola and weaving it around my wreaths. The spiders web was made by my husband and marks the centre of the horseshoe pergola that goes from the backof the house right round to the front drive. It is full of wrens nests, which we leave as life-saving winter roosts.

Photo 13: This year I’m spraying seed heads silver. Stepping outside my garden gate, I’ll be picking some lace cap cow parsley heads. But just at the moment they look like This.

Photo 14: And I’ll be picking some grass seed and rosebay willow herb seed heads to spray. They look so pretty at the moment.

Photo 15: Looking down the lane from my garden gate today, it looks like this.

Photo 16: At the end of the paddock we look across ploughed fields. There’s pheasants, partridge and hares there today. I’ll throw some grain out for the birds.

Photo 17: A favourite view across the fields. Such a beautiful place. I never feel the need to travel to be honest. I’m quite happy to look out at this view each day and note the changing seasons. No two days are ever alike.

Photo 18: For a change I’m showing a view looking the other way, towards the village. We always walk this way at dusk to catch the sunset. In the morning we walk the other way to catch the sunrise.

Photo 19: Here’s a photo of the 1930s summerhouse I mentioned earlier. It spins around on a turntable so we can sit and look at the fields, the garden, or the mini woodland and pond. I always hang some mistletoe above the door. A kiss is always lucky 🙂

Sorry for the delay posting photos. I was determined not to be defeated, so initially came up with the idea of using Instagram as well. I’m trying not to think uncharitable thoughts about BT!

How are you faring in the snow? Hope you are all keeping safe and warm. Sending my love to you all xx

Thanks to Cathy at ramblinginthegarden for hosting this meme. Go over and see what everyone is displaying in their vases this week.

What’s New in My Greenhouse- A Review of Urbalive Worm Farm

I have a natural inclination to feed people. Visitors to Bramble Garden will more than likely find me in the kitchen cooking something -usually with produce just harvested from the plot. There will be cake and home made biscuits aplenty- accompanied by steaming pots of tea. My urge to feed everyone in sight extends to pets- my own – and any waifs and strays I encounter. Wild and tame are all nurtured here. For the past month I have also been feeding my own little “farm.” The creatures contained in the farm are worms.

It has become a strangely compelling task. I’m chopping apple cores and peelings at the moment for them. I’m making fruit pies for the freezer using our glut of Bramley apples. And while the pies are cooking, I’ll run up the garden path to feed the peelings to the worms. They are a thriving little colony of creatures turning all my kitchen waste into free compost for the garden. And it’s a project I’m really enjoying.

The Urbalive worm farm comes in kit form. It’s very simple to put together. The wooden legs are first screwed into the base, and there’s a tap to attach as well. The composter will provide valuable liquid plant food when it’s established. I’ll dilute it down 1:10 with water to feed house plants and for growing on seedlings and plants I’ve propagated.

The worm composter comes with everything needed, an easy to read set-up guide and starter worm food.

There’s even a bag of Worm Treat, a special mix of all the things that worms love to eat, in pellet form.

To get things going, soak the coir block in a bowl of warm water for a couple of hours.

The coir expands to form a starter home for the worms. This bedding goes into the first of two stacking trays.

Then you can add the pack of live worms which comes with the kit.

Add your kitchen scraps, peelings, left over food. Teabags are brilliant, as apparently the worms lay their eggs in them. Crushed egg shells help with digestion. A little bit of cardboard is a special treat. After a week, I’m virtually writing menus for the worms. I care about them. Are they getting a balanced diet? Are they warm enough? Do they have enough moisture? They have virtually become pets! When I lift the lid one morning and find baby worms, well, I can’t stop smiling, to be honest. Such a little thing makes me happy.

For winter, the wormery will be quite happy in the greenhouse. But I’m going to move it to the potting shed in the summer when things warm up. It’s such a pretty design, I could probably put it in the kitchen to be honest.

My Urbalive worm farm composter came from Wiggly Wigglers and was supplied as a free trial, in return for an honest review. The composters come in lime green or stone grey colours. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the kit. It was easy to put together and works well. It does what it says on the box- turning kitchen waste into free compost for the garden. The mail order process was quick. My farm arrived within two days of ordering.

There is only one word of warning. It becomes a totally engaging occupation. But on the plus side- it will definitely make you smile.

My Garden Right Now and End of the Month View – Dec 3rd 2017

I’m joining in with Michelle with #my-garden-right-now and Steve Glebe House #End-of-month-view. Enjoy a slideshow of photos from my garden today. There’s still plenty of colour thanks to the alstroemerias and chrysanthemums in the open-ended ploy tunnel. Keeping the rain off the flowers helps to make them last until Christmas.

I talked about mouldable fairy lights Here. You can listen in to BBC Radio Leicester Down to Earth programme here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05mf51m where we talk about my cut flowers, grown all the year round for friends and family.

The alstroemerias from Viv Marsh postal Plants grow in 40cm pots and flower nearly 12 months of the year. Choose the long stem varieties if you are growing for cut flowers.

White Stallion chrysanthemums came from Chrysanthemums Direct Nursery as cuttings at the RHS Malvern show last autumn. The yellow chrysanthemums are cuttings from my father in law and have been grown in the family since the 1950s. Originally they came from an Aunty Doris. It’s lovely to keep up the tradition of growing these cheerful plants.

The mouldable lights came from Wilco Christmas range and cost £3.50 including the batteries. I’ve wound them around the lemon trees And plant pots to give a cheerful glow.

Just two weeks ago, the view from the greenhouse and potting shed was this :

Now the golden beech trees are bare and the view from the potting bench -where I’m planting up hyacinth bowls for Christmas and putting amaryllis bulbs in terracotta pots -looks like this:

Luckily there’s some early hellebores in flower to brighten things up. This one is called Jacob.

And still on the white theme, this beautiful rose Pearl Drift is in flower today. What a star. It blooms all summer and is free of black spot. I can highly recommend this easy modern shrub rose. It is delicately scented too.

I’m keeping an eye on these huge red rose hips for my Christmas decorations. Rosa Scarlet Fire is another disease resistant variety with large open single red roses and hips the size of marbles. Birds don’t seem to bother with them, probably due to their enormous size.

Something that is also in flower now- and not waiting until Christmas- are these Paperwhite narcissi. I wrote about planting them in jam jars and tall glass vases a few weeks back. Well, November has been so mild with above average temperatures that forced bulbs like these are weeks ahead of schedule. The scent is truly glorious.

This week I also appeared on the Ben Jackson radio show talking about making Christmas presents from items collected from the garden. Here’s my succulent /cacti in a jam jar idea. I used pea gravel, a recycled jam jar and an offset from one of my plants to make this simple display.

Pimpernel Press sent me this award-winning book to review. Head Gardeners by Ambra Edwards would make an ideal Christmas present. It’s full of behind-the-scenes tips and glorious photos. An inspiring insight into what motivates head gardeners at some of the country’s most beautiful gardens. Photos are by Charlie Hopkinson and the book won Inspirational Book of the Year at the recent Garden Media Guild Awards. I rarely sit down and read a book cover to cover- but I just couldn’t put this one down. It is fascinating to hear the voices of the head gardeners. I kept nodding agreement, and scribbling down notes. It’s one of my favourites this year. Easy to see why it is a winner.

To be honest, it was dark by the time I stepped out of the potting shed.

Just in time to see the tawny owls that hatched in our garden this summer. What a wonderful end to a beautiful winter’s day.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my garden in December. Go over to Michelle at Vegplotting to see what others are posting for #my-garden-right-now. And also Steve at glebehouse for the #end-of-month-view. It would be great to see what you are getting up to on your plot just now.

How to Plant Prepared Hyacinths. Fairy Lights for the Greenhouse- and an update from this week’s BBC radio programme for gardeners

It’s amazing how a few little touches can make all the difference. In defiance of the cold, dark days, I’ve brightened up the greenhouse with mouldable lights. These are tiny fairy lights on a copper wire. They can be twisted around floral arrangements and basically they hold their shape without damaging the flowers. I’ve used chrysanthemums from the poly tunnel for this display. It makes a lovely warm glow at a time when we all need some winter cheer.

I’ve chosen indoor battery-powered lights from the Christmas range at Wilco . The 2.2m cable contains 20 warm white lights for £3.50 and includes the battery. I’m going to wrap them around plant pots in the greenhouse next.

We talked about mouldable lights on this week’s BBC radio gardener’s phone-in programme. You can listen in on your phone or computer on the i-player. I wrote about how to tune in Here. https://bramblegarden.com/tag/radiogardening-howto-i-player-bbc/.

You can listen to any radio programme for 28 days after the broadcast. And there are special programme clips and podcasts too. The gardeners’ phone-in is on BBC Radio Leicester every Wednesday between 11am and 12 noon on 104.9 FM and digital. And on Sunday there’s local radio’s longest-running gardening programme, Down to Earth hosted by Dave Andrews, between 12 and 1pm. We will be taking phone calls live in the studio this coming Sunday, December 3rd.

Here’s a link to this week’s Wednesday programme hosted by Ben Jackson. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05m8p6x. Move the timeline round to 2.07.57 where the programme starts. We talk about making Christmas presents from materials found in the garden- including jam jar succulents and cacti, and making bird feeders with fir cones. And our mid-morning studio treat, for all the staff, was Chocolate Tiffin made with fresh autumn raspberries from the plot.

Here’s some details on the prepared hyacinths we mentioned. These are some I grew to flower for Christmas 2016.

You will need to buy “prepared” hyacinths which means they have been put into cold storage to fool the bulbs into thinking they have had winter already. To complete the treatment at home, place the bulbs in John Innes No2 compost in 3″ pots. Put the pots in a cold dark cupboard in the potting shed, garage or basement. Or put them into a black plastic bag. Store them for 9 to 10 weeks at 9C. Water just once. At the end of 10 weeks, check over the pots and those with about an inch of leaves and a flower tip showing can be brought out into a cool bright place to grow on. You can make up displays for Christmas by selecting bulbs that look about the same height and putting them into larger plant pots together. Don’t bring them straight into a centrally heated house or the flowers won’t develop properly. The bulbs need to be grown on in cool conditions for another 22 days.

Here’s some hyacinths and forced narcissi I used to create an early spring display this year. You can also bring twigs of cherry blossom into the house and they will give an earlier flowering too. I wrote about forcing Paperwhites Here.

The scent is quite glorious. Interestingly, different varieties of hyacinths need varying periods of cold/dark treatment. The variety Pink Pearl needs 10 weeks, but Anna Marie needs just 8. So experimentation is needed if you wish to mix the varieties in a display. I would set the 3″ pots at weekly intervals and grow more than I needed so that I could select the right number of plants for my display. Just a reminder- always wear gloves when handling bulbs as they can cause skin irritation.

A very quick and cheap Christmas present idea we mentioned was jam jar succulents. Here’s the materials I took into the studio. You will need a small recycled jam jar, handful of ornamental washed shingle, small amount of moss from the garden, and a succulent or cacti from the garden centre. Mine is an offset from one of my own plants. You half fill the jar with shingle, wrap the succulent stem with moss and plant. Finish the present with a ribbon. Plants need virtually no water over the winter. In summer, water once a week with a tablespoon of water. Tip the jar up to allow any excess water to drain out. Do not allow the succulent to become waterlogged.

This one has been in the jam jar for two years.

Talking of Christmas presents ideas I love these RHS Gold Leaf Gloves. I’m practically living in them, they are so comfortable. I may be a fairly scruffy gardener, with old trousers and holes in my jumpers, but my hands are glamorous.

Here’s a quick peek of Ben’s garden, which we talk about on the show. It’s a 2.5 by 2m raised bed, a bit overshadowed and plagued by slugs. But we’ve planted winter veg, salads and flowers – to see how much we can grow in a small, less than perfect plot. The kale and chard keeps growing through the cold weather. You just harvest the outer leaves, leaving the growing tips to keep going. I’ll keep popping by now and again to see how Ben’s getting on with the project. I’ve got a matching plot at home so we can compare progress. I have to say, Ben’s is looking better than mine at the moment. My plot is on a windswept ridge, and his is in a pretty, walled garden.

And after all that talking- we tucked into my Chocolate and Raspberry Tiffin. I wrote the recipe the recipe Here. Click on the link to see the recipe.

Do you have any recipes to share – or ideas for Christmas presents using materials from your garden? I’d love to hear your views.

Bee Brick on Trial

Solitary bees are responsible for around a third of all food we eat. But they are under threat. Numbers are dropping alarmingly and the jury’s out on the reasons why. Some say chemicals used by gardeners and farmers are causing the crisis. But there’s also a loss of habitat. More intensive farming methods and building and renovation work are having a detrimental effect on bees.

We can do our bit to help. Not using sprays such as weed and insect killer is a start. Planting pollen rich plants- all year round can help. And providing a suitable habitat can also give bees a helping hand.

I’ve been sent this Bee Brick from Green & Blue to try out. I had never seen one before, so was intrigued. It’s such a simple idea. Basically, when you are undertaking any construction work, you can incorporate this bee brick into the design. They come in three different sizes and can be stacked together or used individually. They can also be used free-standing.

Female bees collect pollen and lay a single egg in one of the brick cavities. They seal it off with mud or cut leaves – usually rose or wisteria. The pollen parcel is essential. The eggs develop into larvae and stay in the nest feeding until the following spring when they emerge and start to collect their own food. If the flowers have been sprayed with anything, the poison could be carried into the nest and affect the developing bee.

There are more than 250 species of solitary bees in the UK and these pollinate a range of plants including early spring flowers such as cherries, currants, rosemary, and peas. They are less temperature sensitive than honeybees and can forage much earlier in the season. Honey bees can’t fly in temperatures below about 13C. Their flight muscles do not work if it is too cold. But did you know that bumble bees can shiver to warm up.

Above is the bee brick incorporated into a planter. Such an unusual idea,and a win, win situation for the bees if you plant pollen rich plants in the top. In my garden I’ve planted lavender, herbs and daisy-type flowers for bees. They particularly love echinaceas. The plants pictured below were a magnet to all kinds of bees all summer.

Brightly-coloured zinnias have also been popular.

And verbena bonariensis has been fabulous for bees and butterflies too. I am sure I have never seen such a fluffy bee before.

You can make your own solitary bee homes out of logs, drilling a selection of different sized holes and then hanging the log in a warm sheltered place. Bumble bees often over-winter in old mouse nests. You can help them out by providing artificial bumble bee homes. Place an upturned terracotta plant pot in the ground with a piece of hose pipe into it. Cover the top with a slate to keep out the rain. If you can obtain some used pet mouse bedding from a pet shop you can place it inside the plant pot. If not, some straw will suffice. For more information on bees contact Bumble Bee Conservation here.

I was sent this bee block from Green and Blue free of charge in return for an honest review. Opinions are my own and I haven’t been paid to write about this product.

Green and Blue won an innovation award from the Soil Association. You can read about it here.

Have you made any habitats for bees in your garden? Please share your ideas here.

In A Vase on Monday- a view from the potting shed

Sorry isn’t a very good word to start a blog with. But yet again, I’m a day late. We simply do not have any broadband signal at home. So, having given up yesterday, I’m posting this from the Waitrose cafe! At least there’s tea and cake here. Anyway, please forgive me for always being late. Here’s some photos from my potting shed -taken on Monday.

In my vase this week there’s my yellow Aunty Doris chrysanthemums -still going strong, and a beautiful white variety called Swan. This one starts with a green centre which gradually over several days fades to pure white to match the outer petals. It is a thing of beauty, just like its namesake.

Here’s where I’m growing my chrysanthemums- in a 20 foot second-hand poly tunnel. It’s suddenly turned really cold -going down to freezing- so I’ve covered the flowers with fleece. The doors at both ends stay open to reduce condensation which damages the flowers. They can cope with the cold, but not the rain. Having said that, I’ve experimented this year and grown some outdoors. They were fine for early cropping and even coped with a couple of nights of frost. So I’ll do that again next year. The ones in the poly tunnel last until Christmas. Grace cat is on mouse duty! My seedling sweetpeas are in the Vitopod propagator.

Just as I’m starting to despair at the dark nights, these hazel trees burst into life. A million catkins to bring cheer. We called them lambs tails when we were little. They are a sign that spring is not far off really.

And so I’ve cut a few twigs to incorporate into this week’s Vase on Monday. And I’ve brought the vase into the greenhouse, as it’s getting quite gloomy in the potting shed. I’m putting up fairy lights in there next week!

Back in the potting shed, I’ve got a lot of rosemary clippings to use. The shed smells wonderful. And they a perfect partner to pink geraniums and cosmos.

Even a tiny posy for the kitchen window is welcome at this time of year.

And the rosemary helps support the very lax stems of chrysanthemum Lolypop. Mild autumn temperatures have made the stems grow long, so I’ve propped them up with greenery.

There’s a few chrysanthemum Sound nestling in the middle.

Such a pretty double chrysanthemum, Lolypop lasts for about a fortnight in a vase. The flowers just keep getting fluffier by the day. I love the slightly picotee edge to the petals.

And finally, there are a few begonia Pink Petticoat flowers left. Just one in a glass dish is enough to cheer up the kitchen breakfast table. I can’t stop gazing at the ruffled loveliness. How can anything be so pretty and delicate. Aren’t flowers cheerful- especially in late November.

Thanks to Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden for hosting this meme. Go over and see what everyone else is growing and cutting to create their vases on a Monday. It’s fascinating to see what everyone is growing- all over the world.

And if anyone knows the solution to broadband problems out in the sticks, please let me know. I’m thinking of ditching BT and going over to an EE mobile version called hawk or owl, or some-such other bird. If anyone has any experience of these please let me know. Meanwhile, you can find me at… Waitrose!

Chocolate Fridge Tiffin- with Autumn Raspberries

On the first day we’ve had snow, I’m sharing my favourite chocolate recipe. Guaranteed to bring cheer, for anyone struggling with the onset of cold weather. Like all my recipes, it’s quick to make and uses produce from the garden. Autumn Bliss raspberries are still producing fruit. An unbelievably long cropping season this year. I’m still picking a few for my breakfast porridge each day. And think of all that vitamin C. Makes this recipe seem almost healthy! Go on, treat yourself.

Chocolate Tiffin

100g Butter

2 mars bars- chopped

2 tbsp golden syrup

240g milk or dark chocolate

5 digestive biscuits

9 rich tea biscuits

One and a half teacups rice crispies

15g glacé cherries

Three quarters of a cup of sultanas

120g chocolate for the top. I used Cadbury’s Bournville.

Melt the chocolate, mars bars, syrup and butter together in the microwave.

Mix with the crushed biscuits, crispies and dried fruit. Cool slightly and add a handful of fresh raspberries.

Spread in a 9″x9″ foil or paper-lined tray.

Cover top with melted chocolate

Place in the fridge.

Cut into slices and serve with fresh raspberries.

Will last three days in a cool place. If you can resist them that long.

Wrapped in cellophane and ribbon, they make a lovely home-made present.

Have a listen in to the BBC Down to Earth radio programme where we answer gardeners’ questions on the live phone-in. We are all sitting in the studio – munching my chocolate tiffin- this week. Here’s the link for the radio i-player http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05l50wv

I wrote about how to listen to radio programmes on the I-player at https://bramblegarden.com/2017/11/08/how-to-listen-to-gardening-programmes-on-the-bbc-i-player/

Do you have any favourite recipes for cold weather?

For more inspiration – read Making Winter- a creative guide for surviving the winter months, by Emma Mitchell. Published by LOM Art, an imprint of Michael O’Mara Books. Emma’s mouthwatering recipes and pretty craft ideas turn even the bleakest wintery day into a warm and cheerful celebration. The book is like a warm hug on a frosty day.

I can highly recommend it. There’s a link Here .

There’s recipes for chocolate fondant, lemon and ginger bars and even hawthorn gin. Ideas for things to make include a crochet shawl and matching scarf, and knitted wrist warmers. Perfect for coping with the winter chill ahead.

Baking a cake always makes me feel better when it’s freezing outdoors. Emma’s guide entices you to embrace the drab days and fill them with “baked goodness.” I wholeheartedly agree with her there.

#wordlesswednesday – Smoke

Gardener’s Cottage at dusk at Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire.

Visiting the Food Fair in the courtyard. Famous for its jam and chutney, fudge and cake. The gardens look fabulous. Wonderful to see the topiary pruned and the beds prepared – all ready for Snowdrops 17-25 February. A highlight of our winter calendar. The photo below was taken this February.

Meanwhile. Some more autumn photos to brighten your day:

I worked here, the winter before last. Such a beautiful place. Historic gardens dating back 400 years. Visit the website to see more photos. Sadly the house was demolished after the war.

The terraces and walled gardens have been lovingly restored.

A special place to visit at any time of the year. Do you have a favourite garden you like to visit to see the changing seasons?

In a Vase on Monday- in the Pink

We’ve had a few overnight frosts, so these are the very last of my deep red cactus dahlias, Nuit de Ete. Cascading branches of a small plum tree protected flowers from the worst of the weather. But today, the remaining buds are mush. They have served me well over the summer, providing a few flowers every time I’ve run up the plot. The posy this time is for my Mum.

There are a few cosmos left. These are ones that survived my late-summer cull. Plants that got to 6ft with very healthy fern-like foliage – but no sign of flower buds-were chopped down. I wish I had not been so impatient! Friends who kept their monster plants say they are smothered in flowers. A lesson learned for next summer.

From now until Christmas I shall be picking chrysanthemums grown in the poly tunnel, plus alstroemerias in huge pots. Just behind the cosmos you can see one of my favourite chrysanthemums, Lollypop.

These chrysanthemums, pictured below, are called Sound. I love the bright cheery pink flowers, and prominent button-yellow centres.

A favourite white chrysanthemum is called Swan. Such a pretty double flower with a green-white centre. It is well named, I think.

Both chrysanthemums and alstroemerias last a long time in a vase. Such good value plants. The alstroemerias throw up a few flower stems all year round.

Sticking with the pink theme, I’ve added these cerise bedding geraniums. I’ve cut the flower heads back ready to put the plants in a frost free greenhouse for the winter.

At this time of the year, pink nerines look so lovely growing in free draining soil alongside the drive. They are a pretty addition to my November bouquet.

I shall miss the dahlias over the winter. This one came from Wilkinson’s in the spring and cost £1. Great value, in my opinion. I shall wait until the foliage is blackened, and then dig them up and turn them upside down to drain. I plan to store them in the frost- free potting shed in boxes of sand or vermiculite. I’ll keep a check over winter to remove any that have perished, and also to ensure the tubers are dry- but not too desiccated. It’s a delicate balance. They will be started off again in February in the heated greenhouse, and I shall take cuttings to increase my stock.

Looking around – here’s the view from the top paddock gate. Muted autumn tones in surrounding trees and hedges. Today the oak leaves fluttered down in a steady stream, and lay in ribbon stripes across the lane. A beautiful, if transient, scene.

As always, thank you to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden blog for hosting the IAVOM meme. I love seeing what everyone is growing and picking from their plots each week in gardens all over the world. Go over and have a look and join in. It’s a very friendly community of gardeners. I always enjoy taking part.

Working in the Garden- using battery powered machines 

Bramble Garden

I’m re-blogging this today as I’m currently trialling Stihl’s latest addition to the compact cordless range, a cute little lawn mower, MA 235. It should really be given a pet name. It’s such a delight to use, weighing only 14kg, and with no cable to get wrapped around your legs and trip you up! It is perfect for small to medium lawns up to 200m2. The grass box capacity is 30ltrs, and the machine is extremely easy to use. I’m in favour of anything lightweight. I don’t have to ask anyone for help. Plus, being battery powered it is quiet. It doesn’t scare the cat, or the wildlife I’ve been so keen to attract to the garden. More photos to follow. I’ve been given these machines by Stihl in exchange for an honest review. All views are my own and if I say nice things about them it’s because I…

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Help, I Need a Marquee………

Faulkener 019

The conversation went something like “Hello, I need a marquee.”  The reply was “That’s ok. For how many and what’s your budget.”  “About 40 people. Er… there’s a problem with the budget. There’s isn’t one.”

I expected the phone line to go dead. But to my  amazement, Richard  from Storer Smith Events laughed and told me to go on.  He wanted to know more.

There followed a somewhat embarrassing account.  I was organising my first ever fund-raising event.   I’d failed to keep track of ticket sales. Now there were 46 people coming – and the venue could only comfortably take 25.  I was having sleepless nights. People were going to turn up for a posh afternoon tea- dressed in their Sunday best. What on earth was I going to do?

There was a silence on the end of the phone. Then a sigh. Then the words, “Well, I’d better help you out then.”    I don’t think I have ever been so relieved. My bacon had well and truly been saved.

Richard – I’ll forever think of him as my knight in shining armour -saved the day. He provided a 6m by 9m marquee,  with carpet, tables, chairs, and also a monster  (almost) fire-breathing heater –  complete with gas. A team of workers to put it up- and take it down.  All free of charge.

Thanks to Richard,  we had a fabulous marquee for our vintage afternoon  tea- all in aid of Rainbows Hospice.  We enjoyed a  wonderful talk  and slide show from celebrated author Barbara Segall   who was speaking about her newly-launched book, Secret Gardens of East Anglia. I wrote a review about the book here .    Gary from Rainbows talked about the wonderful facilities and work at the hospice for children. Such a heartwarming, inspiring afternoon.

We served six types of posh sandwiches, and tomato and thyme tarts. Followed by a mountain of cakes, mostly made by my wonderful Mum. And gallons of tea in pretty mismatched china.

It all worked beautifully and I’m pleased ( and mightily relieved ) to report that we made almost £1,000 for Rainbows.

I’m so grateful to Richard for his kindness. It is a relief to know that wonderful people like him still exist when there is so much bad news in the world.

There’s a whole roll call of people to thank for helping to make the event a success. But chiefly, I want to thank Richard, for his kind and generous help.  Also Barbara Segall, who refused a fee for her talk. My friend Alison Levey from blackberrygarden.co.uk  blog who fetched, carried and was fab at selling raffle tickets. Geary’s Craft Bakeries provided the bread ( thank you Charles Geary). The co-op at East Leake supplied the fillings for the sandwiches. The Printers in Loughborough provided posters and tickets.

For the goody bags for each person who attended, Lady Ursula at Easton Walled Gardens provided 50 complimenatry tickets to visit the gardens.  Burgon and Ball gave me beautiful tins of string. Mr Fothergills gave me  packets of  flower seed. Cooks Lane Herbs gave me gorgeously-wrapped, wonderfully-scented handmade Red Clover and Honey Soap. Seedball   sent tins of wildflower seed.

For the raffle, books came from Alison Levey, Frances Lincoln (Quarto Homes) publishers, wine from the Round Robin, East Leake, flowers and plants from Googie’s Flowers , East Leake, calendars from The Calender Club, Loughbrough, Chocolates from Thorntons. Six Acre Nursery at Costock gave a lovely hellebore plant.

The photos are examples of marquees provided by Storer Smith Events. As you can imagine, I wish everyone would now rush out and book him up for the next 10 years. Such a good-hearted soul has won my loyalty for life!  Contact Richard at info@storersmithevents.co.uk. Phone 01889 563200. He’s at Uttoxeter ST14 5AP but supplies marquees all around the country.

In a Vase on Monday – my fund-raiser flowers.

Table flowers are a joy. They set the scene for leisurely lunches, or cosy friends-and-family dinners. Even a picnic has to have flowers. Usually I linger over the selection and mooch around the garden searching for material. This weekend, I ran round the plot at a gallop. The flowers thrown into jam jars in haste. I was planning an afternoon tea for 45 people! I just had time to gather these gloriously sunny chrysanthemums. I picked variegated ivy flowers and some beech and oak leaves. Here are the chrysanthemums, not looking very glamorous, in the corner of my poly tunnel.

Variegated ivy Glorie de Marengo covers one end of my 40 foot pergola. It provides cutting material all year round. I particularly love the starry flowers at this time of the year. The huge beech tree in the middle of the lawn casts a golden glow and its autumn leaves look so cheerful in amongst my Aunty Doris chrysanthemums.

I threw the lot into a wicker basket on the potting shed window while I searched for suitable jam jars. You can see my garden, the beech, cherry and maple trees around the pond, reflected in the potting shed windows.

Then I left the peace and quiet of the potting shed to head over to Spring Barrow Lodge near Coalville. It’s the home of my garden design clients Pat and John Stanley, where we were hosting my afternoon tea and gardeners’ talk for Rainbows Hospice. Author Barbara Segall kindly agreed to come and present a talk and slide show on her newly-launched book Secret Gardens of East Anglia.

And I thought you’d like see the flowers on the tables- arranged so hurriedly. They contain the Aunty Doris chrysanthemums I wrote about last year Here

Barbara’s talk transported us all to the fabulous gardens contained in her wonderful book. I wrote a review here. I am so grateful to Barbara for her kindness in agreeing to come and help me stage this event- my first ever fund-raiser for charity. I am still counting the proceeds. But I think the admission tickets, book sales, raffle tickets and generous donations from people who could not attend but wanted to support us, amounts to just short of £1,000. To say I’m over the moon, is an under statement! I’ll write more tomorrow when I have gathered my thoughts. At the moment, I am still on cloud nine to be honest. There’s so many people to thank……

But I wanted to join in and congratulate Cathy at rambling in the garden for her 4th anniversary of In a Vase on Monday. Every week, I look in to see what everyone is growing, picking and arranging in their gardens- all around the world. It’s a fascinating blog, and I love joining in when I can. Go over and have a look. For the anniversary celebration the theme was any container- but a vase. So I was delighted to be able to join in with my great Aunty Betty’s Kilner jars, wicker baskets and simple glass jam jars. Thank you Cathy for hosting such a lovely meme, and for the friendship the blog has created amongst our growing and gardening community. I certainly appreciate all you do.

For more on Rainbows Hospice, click on the link here. All other highlighted words contain further information and are not affiliate links.

How to listen to gardening programmes on the BBC i-Player

There’s a lot of new technology that goes right over my head. My potting shed radio is 30 years old- and still working, I might add. But recently I made a rare impulse buy. I invested in an Apple i-pad and soon discovered I could create my own radio play list. I can download gardening programmes from all over the country and listen to them at my leisure.

Here’s how to do it. First search on line for http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio. Press “search” and type in the name of a programme on the menu.

This one shows Ben Jackson on BBC Radio Leicester. Every Wednesday between 11am and 12 there’s a gardeners’ phone-in. Quite often I’m the one in the hot seat answering all kinds of questions. It’s live and we don’t get the questions in advance. I’m new to all this, but Ben is extremely kind and takes the time and trouble to explain radio matters to me. I still haven’t quite got the hang of it.

On the right of the screen you can see some ticks. You can download the programme to listen off line. You can add to “My Radio” which allows you to easily find more from Ben Jackson. You can also share the programme by e mail, or social media. If you click the little arrow bottom right, the following screen comes up:

So now you can whizz the little red line round to 2.07.51 on the timeline where you will come to 11am and the garden phone-in. The beauty of this is that you can stop and start the programme, go back by pressing the -20, or go forward by pressing +20. So if you want to hear the name of a plant again, of write down some information it is easy to do. I must admit, I use those buttons to whizz past the news and travel and some of the music.

If you type Down to Earth in the search section you will find Radio Leicester’s hour long gardening programme which is on every Sunday between 12 and 1pm hosted by Dave Andrews. It celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Amazing to think that a programme has been running that long. I’ve been one of the team answering questions for about two years. Two of the panel members, Derek Cox and John Smith have been on the programme almost from the start. You can have a listen in to a recent programme where we were out and about giving advice in front of an audience at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05hv08r. In the studio, I often take in cakes made with produce from my garden. Recently I made chocolate pots with autumn raspberries. The recipe was on the blog- a few weeks back.

I also take in posies from my cut flower patch. If just one person is encouraged to grow flowers or fruit and veg, I shall be happy, to be honest. Here’s this week’s flowers on the potting shed window ledge.

Do you have any favourite radio programmes? Anyone else out there using the i-Player? Let me know if you have any hints or tips on listening to the radio with i-pads, computers and mobile phones. There’s no stopping me now. I can listen in whatever I’m doing, even while I’m gardening.

Recipes and Christmas present ideas from this week’s radio programme

Well, no one’s perfect. That’s what I’ve been trying to convince myself, after this week’s disastrous start to the gardeners’ phone-in programme. Last week I wrote about my battles with the studio head phones. This week- I am still searching for the right size headphones -when the programme starts. You can have a listen in and a chuckle. You’ll hear me riffling through the headphones in a panic- as presenter Ben Jackson starts without me! What I also learn quite quickly is the show must go on- even if you are feeling mortified. Luckily no one can see embarrassed, red faces on the radio.

Anyway, this week the recipe is Apple and Almond slice – and the Christmas present idea is a parcel of herbs to throw in the bath or hang in the shower. Here’s what you’ll need:

Herb Bath Parcel

Square of fine horticultural netting from any garden centre or Harrod Horticulture

Herbs from the garden: lavender, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint

Few calendula petals

Few sprigs of lavender

String or ribbon

Simply make a parcel with the herbs and calendula, tie tightly with string or ribbon. Tuck some lavender flowers into the ribbon at the front. Simple as that. The herb parcels can be hung under the taps on the bath, or shower, and will scent the water as it flows through. It makes a pretty present for not much money. And the scent is very soothing after a hard day spent in the garden. You can also use muslin instead of netting, but you won’t be able to see the calendula petals as well.

I added some borage flowers to the one I made today. I also discovered that it’s possible to sew the mesh to make larger herb pillows which could be used as pomanders for wardrobes.

Takes only minutes to make. Everything I do has to be quick and cheap to create. I’ve dried some scented pelargonium leaves and flowers to include in this one pictured below. The ribbon came from Georgie at Common Farm Flowers where I learned how to grow cut flowers and make door wreaths. I can highly recommend Georgie’s courses. They are fun and informative. I’m so grateful for all her advice and support over the past few years. It’s given me confidence to charge customers for my floral arrangements.

Let me know if you make any of these parcels, and what ingredients you put in to yours. It’s good to share ideas, isn’t it.

Apple and Almond Slice

180g Butter

140g golden caster sugar

1tspn vanilla extract

3 eggs

100g flaked or ground almonds

150g SR flour

1tpsn baking powder

80ml milk

4 small eating apples, chopped

Whizz all ingredients- apart from apples-together in a food processor. Put the cake mixture on top of the chopped apples. I used two silicone loaf tins from Lakeland. You can use a 20cm cake tin, greased and lined with parchment paper. Cook for 30 mins at 170c gas mark 3. Check half way through cooking, and put parchment paper on top to prevent burning. The cake is cooked when a knife comes out clean.

Suitable for afternoon tea and picnics. You can sprinkle the top with flaked almonds or icing sugar. It’s deliciously moist and tasty. A good use of apples from my orchard at home.

What recipes have you got to share to make the best use of the apple harvest? Do get in touch and let me know.

You can listen in to Radio Leicester’s gardeners’ phone-in on the i-player at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05jmv5h Whizz the time round to 2.07.51 for the start of the programme. You can press the plus button in the centre of the dial if you want to go past the music. Don’t forget to laugh. We could all do with more laughter, and I don’t mind. Honestly. But next time, I shall be sat down in front of the microphone ready to go. I promise!

End of Month View – as October closes.

Determined to spend every last minute of good weather outdoors, I piled blankets and cushions on our old garden chairs. It makes a cosy place to read and survey the autumn colours. A place to rest and have a cup of tea after all that apple picking!

Here’s a kind of ‘slide show’ of photos from my garden, taken over the past couple of weeks. I take photos as a record of what’s in flower and looking good at different times of the year. At the end of each month I sit down and make notes of what needs moving, pruning, changing around.

Alongside the drive, in a rubble-filled spot I planted one eucomis bulb a few years ago. These love the well-drained, sunny conditions. This year the bulbs have increased and we have eight flower stems, making a lovely colourful display. The photo shows the top of the plant, which is as beautiful as the flower spike. It’s nice to have something as exotic as this at the tail-end of the growing season.

Next to the drive we have a dogwood called Midwinter Flame, sometimes sold as Midwinter Fire. Just now it is taking centre stage as the leaves turn a beautiful bright yellow and the shrub is smothered in delicate white flowers. Late foraging solitary bees and Red Admiral butterflies are enjoying the plentiful supply of pollen today. The dogwood has bright orange stems all winter. A stunning sight covered in frost and snow. I find this dogwood doesn’t need such a drastic cut-to-the-ground approach that I use for Cornus Westonbirt planted nearby. In fact, I just take out a few stems every year to encourage new growth, and I tip back the ends to stop it encroaching on the driveway.

In the hedgerows surrounding the garden, common wild dogwood, Cornus sanguinea, is literally glowing with deep purple leaves and black berries. In full sun, the stems turn an electric red for winter. But in shade the stems remain a mossy green. Berries provide valuable food for small mammals and birds, as well as floristry material for my cut flower posies and door wreaths.

This door wreath made from my hedgerow foraging has ivy, dogwood, sloe berries, rosehips and crab apples. It cheered up the potting shed door for a week and cost £0 to make. A lovely sight to come home to.

I thought I would share the view from the back fields behind my garden. I took this photo whilst I was collecting materials for the door wreath. The gap is where an elm tree stood, before it succumbed to the dreaded Dutch elm disease. The elm managed to get to about 10 feet tall, and we always hope they will somehow develop a resistance to the disease. But every year another one dies. It’s a favourite gap-in-the-hedge view which changes so much with the seasons.

I garden on a windswept ridgeway. It’s cold and unprotected. But the views are glorious. I particularly love this viewing point, 20 paces from my paddock gate. There’s a woodpecker in that tree, taking no notice of me while I’m taking this photo. And high above us, a family of buzzards are circling and calling to each other with their curious mewing cry. When we first moved here, I spent hours searching for a cat I was sure had been abandoned in the hedgerow. Eventually realising it was a buzzard we could hear. Mind you, over the years, because of where we live in an isolated spot along a country lane, we have had to rescue quite a few sadly abandoned pets. All have found safe refuge here.

This is turning into a bit of a country walk. But I thought you’d like to see what I look at – just across the lane from where I live. We make daily trips to look at these cows. They are so tame and very well cared for. It’s rare to see calves allowed to stay with their mothers nowadays. Further along the lane, the cows can look thorough the fence to see me working in my orchard. They seem as curious about me as I am about them. Good company for me, indeed.

The grass verges here are full of wild flowers and what would be weeds in a garden setting. These rosebay willow herb plants grow in drifts and their colourful pink spikes provide nectar in summer for bees and butterflies. I watched some goldfinches enjoying the seed heads. A thing of beauty, caught in the sunlight.

Back in the garden, these seed heads are looking glorious at the moment. I’ve forgotten the name of them. If anyone knows, please remind me. The leaves look like burnt toffee at the moment. I’ve got a feeling sky rocket is in the name somewhere?

The hamamelis leaves are also turning colour now, and I’m excited to see the tiny flower buds just starting to form. I’m hoping for a colourful display right in the middle of winter when we all need cheering up.

I’m still looking for the name for this fungi. Autumn wouldn’t be the same without this beauty in the mini woodland part of the wild garden. I went back the next day to take some more photos and it had been eaten. We have a thriving colony of short-tailed voles living in the long grass there. Just wondering if they eat mushrooms. There’s so much to learn, isn’t there.

As we started with reading, I’ll leave you with this view of the potting shed. I’m tidying it up to give me somewhere to mooch to over the winter. Much perusing of seed catalogues and plotting and planning will go on in there on cold, wet days. I try to make it as cosy as I can with a kettle and toaster. Anyway, thank you for joining me on a walk around bramble garden.

Thank you to Steve at Glebe House who has taken up the mantle of EOMV from Helen at Patient Gardener who launched the meme eight years ago. Go over and have a look what other gardeners are doing at this time of the year. It’s fascinating to see what everyone is growing around the world.

Leave a comment and let me know what is looking good in your garden right now. I haven’t shown you all the weeds or brambles. There are many, I can promise you.

#wordlesswednesday -bulbs and roots

Update on the Paperwhite narcissi. Planted just a fortnight ago. Being grown in a cool, bright, frost free north facing porch. Hoping it will flower by Christmas. A joy to check up on each day. I wrote about planting these bulbs here.

How are your potted bulbs coming along? I’ve got forced hyacinths in a dark cupboard in the potting shed. They need 10 weeks at 9 degrees and then I’ll bring them out into the cool porch to grow on. I’ll bring them into a warm room when they have formed good flower spikes. Cool but frost free growing conditions are the secret for success.

Flowers in a Vase

We all need more sunshine and smiles. And these multi-headed sunflowers have provided both this summer. Regular readers will know that I grow flowers for my mother in law Joan as a way of keeping her connected with me and my garden. Joan, who is 88, can’t come to visit as often as she would like, and so each week I run round the garden and gather a sample of everything in flower. Joan enjoys flower arranging. She did the chapel flowers for 65 years. She loves arranging my bundles of flowers and filling every window ledge and hall cupboard with colour.

I’ve had the best year yet with these sunflowers from Mr Fothergills seeds. Some of the multi-headed varieties provided 9 flowers per stem. Almost a bouquet in themselves. I will be growing varieties Halo, Buttercream, and Solar Flash again next year. I’ll start them off in the spring and plant out in May, using Slug Gone wool pellets to protect them from being nibbled. This year I grew morning glory up the stems, and under-planted them with calendulas.

I have been in love all summer with new Calendula Snow Princess. In truth, it’s a very pale cream, not white. But so frilly. It reminds me of a tutu. And so prolific. Every time I’ve walked up the plot there’s been a handful of stems to pick. Such a pretty flower, and accommodating as it didn’t mind being planted under sunflowers.

No two plants are alike, but I particularly love this one with the delicate caramel picotee edging. Lasts for 7 days in a vase. I’ve just planted out some for next year. If you have a spare bit of ground or a few large pots, there’s still time to sow some from seed. There’s also time to sow other hardy annuals- cornflowers, nigella, larkspur, poppies. They will grow slowly over winter and provide early flowers next spring.

in just about every bouquet of flowers this summer I managed to include one of these white water lily dahlias. This tuber cost £1 from Wilkinson’s in the spring. I started it off in a pot in the greenhouse and planted it out end of May. It grew to nearly 5 feet and has been smothered in flowers. I will pay better attention to earwigs next year, putting plant pots of straw or corrugated cardboard on canes amongst the plants. As I don’t like to kill anything, the straw etc will be shaken out in a wild part of the garden every morning. Interestingly, the earwigs didn’t attack a deep red cactus-flowering dahlia growing right along side.

Another stalwart of my summer cut flower garden is rudbeckia. These were gown from a packet of seeds called All Sorts Mixed from Thompson and Morgan. I love the twisty edges of this one, and the lime green stripe on the back of the petals. Truly scrumptious.

Rudbeckia Marmalade from Mr Fothergills seed has beautiful shiny, chocolate-coloured centres.

Rudbeckias last for at least 7 days in a vase and brighten any posy of flowers. I grow mine in semi-shade under a plum tree, as that’s the only space I have. Seed packets cost just a couple of pounds each, and Mum and I share a packet between us as there are too many seeds for one garden.

Fitting in with the daisy theme are these Snow White asters which flower reliably every October under my old plum tree.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this gallery of photos of my MIL’s flowers this week. I love to join in with Cathy and her meme In a Vase on Monday. But my flowers are always picked on Saturdays and Sundays when we go over to the in laws to do their gardening, shopping and look after them. However, I always read what the others are growing and picking in their gardens- all over the world. Go over and have a look. It’s fascinating to see how many are growing the same plants in different climates.

Do you grow cut flowers for your home or friends and family? I have 10 1.2m by 3m beds with little paths between. Four of them are filled with flowers, and the others are packed with kale, beetroot, chard, onions and strawberries. There’s quite a few weeds too! Leave a comment and let me know what you are growing right now, or what plans you have for next spring. Flowers have certainly kept everyone cheerful here this summer. And you can never have too many smiles, can you.

Paperwhite narcissi for Christmas – and my apple cake recipe

My wonderfully wise Welsh grandmother used to say speaking before thinking would get me into trouble one day. And she was right. The predicaments I get myself into! I’m always agreeing to something, without thinking it through first. If she was here now, she would be having a good laugh.

Just one of those “now, why-did-I-agree-to-do-that” moments came earlier this year when the BBC rang and asked if I would sit in on the gardeners’ phone-in for local radio.

All I would have to do was sit in a studio, answer a few questions, they would play a bit of music, and job’s done. Easy as that, I think they said. I should have known better, as my grandmother would have said. Since then, every other Wednesday morning between 11 and 12, I’ve been in the hot seat. It’s live – and there’s no time to think about the answers. Anyway, if you want a good laugh- and we all need more laughter in our lives- have a listen in. And you can feel sorry for me if you like, I won’t mind, as I struggle to remember the name of that illusive plant, or I try to identify some pest or disease, by mere description only! I can tell you, the headphones are always falling off my head, the studio chair is too high -and my feet are dangling in the air. But the people who work there are so cheerful and a delight to be with, and it’s a complete change from what I do all week. So I’ll keep going- until they find someone who can speak a bit faster and not um and ah quite as much as me!

This week I talked about home-made Christmas presents and promised to put the details on the blog. So here’s everything you need.

It’s time to plant Paperwhite narcissi if you want them to flower by Christmas. You don’t need to use compost. You can simply put the bulbs in a glass jar, vase or tank, and they will grow and flower in about nine weeks.

I used Shingle Beach decorative chippings by Meadow View Stone from my local garden centre. A large bag costs about £5 and I used about 1kg in the bottom of the vase.

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The gravel fills about one third of the 25cm x 12cm glass cylinder vase. Similar vases can be purchased from Oasis floral supplies.

Simply place the bulbs on top of the chippings, making sure the bulbs aren’t touching. Fill the container with water to just below the bulbs. The roots will grow down into the gravel.

Paperwhite narcissi have a habit of growing tall and floppy. If you decide to plant some in compost, you have to use thin canes to support them. You can also use willow or hazel twigs, which look pretty. But the beauty of growing them in tall vases or tanks is that the glass sides help to support the stems.

You won’t have to feed the plants. Spring bulbs are like mini-batteries, packed with all the power they need to flower in the first year. So there you have a money-saving present you can make now, and stand in a cool, frost-free, bright place to grow on. I can promise you, the scent will be amazing.

Apple and Raspberry Crumble Cake.

Each week, I take in something I’ve made using produce from the garden. My aim is to spread the message, you don’t need a huge space to grow food. The autumn raspberries were a bumper crop this year. It’s nice to have something for us all to eat at tea break time. Here’s the recipe. The cake can be served hot or cold and is perfect for a picnic- even one in a radio studio.

You will need :

4 eating apples – sliced and cooked for several minutes in 1tspn butter or margarine in a frying pan. Put to one side.

—-

For the cake base- mix together

175g margarine

150g caster sugar

3 eggs

60ml or 4tbsp creme fraiche – or full cream milk

Stir in :

200g self-raising flour

5ml or 1 teaspoon baking powder

Spoon cake mixture into a 23cm Pyrex dish, or 12 hole silicone muffin tray.

Top with the sliced apples and 150g of raspberries and the crumble mixture.

To make the crumble mix

50g margarine

75g self-raising flour

50g demerara sugar

Cook for about 1 hour at 180c or 350f gas mark 4. Check After 40 minutes. Cover with foil if the top is browning before the centre is cooked. The muffins will cook more quickly than the larger cake.

The best autumn raspberries are Autumn Bliss More information from the RHS here.

Look out for new varieties Malling Happy and Malling Passion from Lubera. Let me know how you get on with the cakes. Do you have any ideas or tips I might be able to share on the radio? I’d be grateful if you would let me know. I’m only really doing this because it might just prompt even one person to have a go at growing fruit and flowers. And you never know, I might eventually be able to identify the odd pest and disease now and then.

Win a copy of Secret Gardens of East Anglia- and here’s an update on my fund-raising plans

Bramble Garden

I have always believed people are amazingly kind and generous. Now I have the proof.

A week ago I wrote here about combining my gardening skills to raise money for Rainbows Children’s Hospice. And the response has been overwhelming. I wrote about giving talks to garden groups- and hosting open gardens. And immediately my lovely garden design customers Pat and John Stanley agreed to help. And best-selling writer Barbara Segall offered to give a talk on her new book Secret Gardens of East Anglia.

Here’s a poster for the event.

As soon as I mentioned Rainbows, Fiona from The Printers company in Loughborough offered to do the artwork and produce the posters for me. Thank goodness she did, as my first attempts were very amateurish and you’d have laughed to see them! Here’s Fiona, left with her assistant Maggie, right.

As soon as I had my posters, I whizzed…

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#WorldMentalHealthDay

For anyone out there who’s feeling blue today. Remember, the Perennial charity gives help and support. Contact them on 0800 093 8543. E mail at services@perennial.org.uk. It’s the first step- but it might make all the difference. Don’t keep problems to yourself. Someone will be able to help.

I found this iris flowering by the front doorstep today. It’s early this year. Iris Unguicularis , or Algerian iris, flowers on and off right through the winter. It grows in gravel at the base of a south facing wall. I try to plant flowers for winter cheer. We all need as much of that as we can get.

I wrote about Perennial earlier in the summer at https://bramblegarden.com/2017/07/04/rhshampton-Perennial-charity-sanctuary-garden- If you need help, contact them Here. And support their work, if you can.

Sending you all my best wishes and love today. x

Win a copy of Secret Gardens of East Anglia- and here’s an update on my fund-raising plans

I have always believed people are amazingly kind and generous. Now I have the proof.

A week ago I wrote here about combining my gardening skills to raise money for Rainbows Children’s Hospice. And the response has been overwhelming. I wrote about giving talks to garden groups- and hosting open gardens. And immediately my lovely garden design customers Pat and John Stanley agreed to help. And best-selling writer Barbara Segall offered to give a talk on her new book Secret Gardens of East Anglia.

Here’s a poster for the event.

As soon as I mentioned Rainbows, Fiona from The Printers company in Loughborough offered to do the artwork and produce the posters for me. Thank goodness she did, as my first attempts were very amateurish and you’d have laughed to see them! Here’s Fiona, left with her assistant Maggie, right.

As soon as I had my posters, I whizzed around local shops and businesses asking them to put them in their front windows. Not one person turned me down. Here’s Googie in her shop – Googie’sFlowers at East Leake, near Loughborough. And as well as letting all her customs know, Googie has offered some gifts for the raffle.

The response on social media has been truly wonderful and supportive. On the day I announced my fund-raising plans, writer and gardener Gill Heavens sent the most fabulous card wishing me all the best with my projects. Such lovely, encouraging words. It actually made me cry, to be honest. I was so grateful for her generous donation as well, which I just kept looking at, as I couldn’t believe that I had set in motion a series of events that would lead to kind people sending money for Rainbows. Gill is also on twitter @GillHeavens which is where we first met.

Writer and blogger Alison Levey of blackberrygarden.co.uk @papaver on twitter very kindly offered to give Barbara accommodation for the night. I’m so grateful, as our spare room doesn’t bear inspection at the moment! It is in need of a complete renovation. I feel another blog post coming on…..

My dear friend and neighbour Charles Geary from award-winning Leicestershire company Geary’s Bakeries has promised to donate all the bread for our afternoon tea. And my amazing and ever-supportive Mum is making the cakes! Our local Co-op supermarket at East Leake is supplying the tea, sugar and milk.

I wrote a review of Barbara’s book Here . Publishers Frances Lincoln, part of the Quarto Publishing Group, have offered two copies to give away to readers of my blog. To win a copy please post a comment below and two will be picked out at random. Terms and conditions: The competition closes on 12th November. Entries after this time will not be counted.Open to readers world wide. Prize cannot be exchanged for a cash alternative. Winners chosen at random and will be contacted via the blog or on twitter. Winners to provide their postal address and books will be sent in the post via Frances Lincoln. Secret Gardens of East Anglia can also be purchased from amazon Here. Please also say in your comment if you don’t wish to be included in the give-away. Good luck everyone! And never underestimate the power of a smile 😊

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Raising funds for Rainbows Children’s Hospice and Garden

Photo:A young supporter runs a fund-raising sponsored “hand print” wall at Rainbows open day.

Regular readers will know I’ve been mulling over ways to use my gardening skills to raise money for Rainbows, our local children’s hospice. And I’ve come up with a plan. I’m giving slide shows and talks to local garden groups. And I’ve asked some of my garden design customers to open their gardens for afternoon teas and guided tours – with all proceeds going to the hospice. Within a week of announcing my plans, I’ve got two talks booked, and one open garden. Times, dates and further details to follow! It’s a start!

Rainbows recently held their annual open day. Hundreds of people turned up to support the charity, and I joined them on a tour of the facilities. With Rainbows’ permission, I’m sharing photos here, to show you why I’ve decided to raise money for this amazing charity. The hydrotherapy pool, above, is used by children, their siblings and families. The key message I learned on my first visit is that Rainbows is a place to have fun. All members of the family are welcome. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, brothers and sisters come to the centre to spend time with poorly children. They all benefit from specialist care and support so they can spend precious time together- and make memories.

A key part of Rainbows’ work is symptom control and pain relief. This helps children enjoy and make the most of the time they have left. Rainbows provides a wide range of therapies and there are a number of dedicated rooms to help relieve pain and improve comfort. The multi-sensory room, has interactive light tubes, floor pads, and fibre optic features.

For children in wheelchairs, there’s a chance to take part in a cycle ride with this specially adapted bike.

Young people have their own rooms where they can chill out, use computers, watch tv, do some cooking or use a sewing machine with specially adapted equipment and aids.

No matter how small a movement a child is able to make, there’s a special piece of equipment or an instrument which will allow them to make music. Music therapy is accessible to all. Again the emphasis is on having fun, building memories for families, and enabling children to express themselves and relieve frustration.

The rainbows garden is a place for fun and games for children- and for peace and quiet and contemplation for parents, relatives and staff. I would be really pleased if some of the money I raise goes towards maintaining and developing the garden.

Rainbows provides respite, palliative and end of life care for babies, children, teenagers and young people who have life-shortening conditions. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to be told their child will die before them. But for the families who come to rainbows, and an estimated 20,000 families across the uk each year, this is a reality.

I have pledged to do all I can to support the work of this amazing hospice.

Wherever I went within the hospice and surrounding gardens, I found a positive attitude -and plenty of smiles. The staff are fabulous and deserve all the help we can give them. Overwhelmingly there’s a message of love and hope.

I found this sunflower in the Hospice garden. I think it sums up the sunshine spread though their fantastic work.

I’ve never launched a fund-raising campaign before- and I’m not sure how good I will be at it. But I believe every little helps. Just by reading this blog you have helped. You can spread the message about Rainbows and help to raise their profile even further.

I still panic at the sight of an audience. I am terribly shy at heart, and quietly spoken. I shall need a loud microphone and plenty of Bach Flower remedies to calm my nerves. Wish me luck!

Read more about the hospice at www.rainbows.co.uk

rainbows.co.uk/giftsthatgive

@rainbowshospice on twitter and instagram

@rainbowsfanpage on Facebook

Chocolate and raspberry pots -Family Favourite Recipes- and how to plant autumn raspberries

Autumn raspberries are easy to grow and so prolific. I’m growing a variety called Polka – much earlier, and larger fruiting, than Autumn Bliss. Now is the perfect time to plant raspberries. They are sold bare-rooted, mail order, or from nurseries and garden centres. They are grown in nursery fields and lifted for sale at this time of the year. In garden centres, you’ll find them bundled together and plunged into 10″ pots with some compost to keep the roots moist. Tip up the plants and separate them out. Roots are fibrous and need to be planted shallowly in well-drained soil. I plant mine no deeper than 2″ and incorporate lots of well rotted home-made compost to improve drainage. It’s possible to buy soil improvers in bags from garden centres. There’s also composted maize fertilisers which I recommend as they are easy to use and weed free. Plant Grow is the one I use most often at Bramble Garden. Choose a sunny, or semi-shaded site and plant the canes 2ft apart, with rows 6ft apart. If space is limited, it’s no problem to grow them in pots on the patio. There’s dwarf varieties bred specially for containers and small raised beds. New variety Yummy grows to 45cm and fruits on the first year’s wood. There’s also a new variety called Ruby Falls which is very compact and prolific.

Here’s a favourite recipe, quick to make and cooks in just a few minutes in the microwave. It’s great not to have to turn on the oven, saving electricity or gas. It’s ready in a flash.

INGREDIENTS

3oz SR flour

3oz caster sugar

3oz butter (or vegetable margarine for a vegan recipe)

1 egg (or 2 tbsp oat milk for vegans)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp milk (or milk substitute)

1 tbsp cocoa powder

Handful of fresh or frozen raspberries

You can use small mugs, cups – or a deep glass Pyrex soufflé dish as long as they are microwaveable.

METHOD

Throw all ingredients apart from raspberries in a food processor and whizz, or use a hand whisk to incorporate.

Place some raspberries in the base of the containers and top with the sponge mixture. Reserve some raspberries for the top.

Cook for 3 minutes. Open the door promptly and let steam escape. The sponge carries on cooking for another 2 minutes. They will be cooked when the sponge shrinks slightly from the sides of the dish. Use a skewer to check the mixture has cooked. If the skewer is clean, they are ready. If the skewer comes out with some liquid mixture, pop the dishes back in the microwave for another minute.

Serve hot with custard or double cream. Or allow to cool, sprinkle with reserved raspberries and icing sugar.

Makes a wonderful recipe for picnics and parties. Easily transported. Can be dressed up for a party with chocolate leaves.

This recipe can be used for any fruit. I use blueberries, pear, apple, blackberries, mandarins, whatever you can get your hands on. If you have no fruit, the sponge on its own is wonderful, or you can add a spoon of berry jam at the base instead as a change. To change it again slightly, omit the cocoa powder and you have a plain vanilla sponge. Add golden syrup to the base, if you like. Quick, easy and affordable. Just what’s needed to get us through this difficult time and with winter on the horizon.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if you make the recipe and how it turns out.

I’m talking on BBC Radio Leicester every other Wednesday at 1.10 am just after the news. Have a listen in on BBC Sounds, or DAB.

I’m also on twitter @kgimson and karengimson1 on instagram

More reading! I also write for Garden News Magazine. Here’s my most recent column.

Some listening as well….. Garden Chat At 13.12 on the timeline on BBC radio Leicester with Rupal Rajani. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08v54lm

Links:

Raspberry canes Six Acre Nurseries : https://www.sixacrenurseries.co.uk/

Plant Grow fertiliser: https://www.plantgrow.co.uk/shop

Greenfingers charity : https://www.greenfingerscharity.org.uk/

Rainbows hospice for children: https://www.rainbows.co.uk/

Open gardens NGS: https://ngs.org.uk/

Garden News magazine: https://www.greatmagazines.co.uk/garden-news-magazine?gclid=Cj0KCQjwreT8BRDTARIsAJLI0KI75BpU1bb-p70Y54fdPoRq0TWoQw5dLmfJxEBPn2reluyg7pQCC70aAuWtEALw_wcB

What’s new for gardeners- what I’ve spotted at Glee

I am always on the look out for the latest gadget to make life easier in the garden. So I was really pleased to be invited to the garden industry event called Glee. Sadly there’s no singing and dancing – like the American tv show my daughters love to watch. Honestly, I didn’t think there would be….but I was hoping! Instead, there’s an array of new products you’ll get to see in garden centres, high street stores and supermarkets over the next 12 months.

Here’s what caught my eye at the sneak preview -held at the NEC in Birmingham this week.

Top of my list at Number 1 is a new nematode product from Neudorff. It controls chafer grubs, leatherjackets and vine weevils- but doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge. Neudorff is the first company to develop a nematode product that has a long shelf life- up to six months. This will make life so much easier. Currently, we have to order on line, or buy a voucher in a shop or garden centre, then wait for the nematodes to arrive in the post. Nematodes normally have to be stored in the fridge and used within a few weeks. I had an expensive failure when they were delivered by mistake to a neighbour, who was on holiday. By the time they arrived home, the nematodes were dead. Nematodes are a safe, natural biological control of pests and we are all trying to use them in preference to chemicals. Neudorff won the award for the best new garden care product at Glee.

No. 2 on my top list is this self-watering fruit and vegetable tower. I’m always on the look out for space-saving ideas, and this would be great for people with small gardens or patios. I’m going to grow strawberries, herbs and salads in mine. There’s a new compact blackberry that I might grow in there, called Little Black Prince, from the Lubera breeding programme. The self-watering tower was a runner up in the growing accessories awards category.

No. 3 on my list: Also from Haxnicks is this water saucer with a wick. You stand your container on top, feed the wick through the bottom of the pot – and off you go on holiday. No coming home to dead or wilting plants. Such a simple idea – and it works.

No. 4 on my list is this cream plastic container from elho. It has a see-through lid which makes it great for starting off seedlings in the spring. But the selling point for me is the integral hooks. The container will balance on a fence, or balcony rail. I’m going to use these at a school where they will brighten up a playground fence. The Green Basics Growhouse Flowerbridge won first place in the growing accessories category at Glee.

No. 5 on my list is this new weeding tool from Burgon and Ball. I never use chemicals on my lawn, and I don’t mind the primroses and self heal that flourish there. But I need to keep an eye on dandelions and thistles. So I’ve ordered one of these to keep a balance between weeds and grass. I’m hoping it will be better for my back, as less bending will be needed. The Wonder Weed Puller won first place in the new tools and machinery category.

No. 6 is this pretty and practical pin board, also from Burgon and Ball. Regular readers will know that I have a little potting shed at home. You might also have noticed a lack of photos recently from said potting shed. It is a complete mess in there. After a very busy summer, all my tools and equipment are in a heap and I can’t find the string. I’m determined to restore order and a pin board for keys, flower snips, string and my “jobs to-do” list would be just the thing.

N0. 7 on my list is this snazzy apron with lots of pockets- also from, you’ve guessed it- Burgon and Ball. To be honest, I could have just brought home the whole stand from Burgon and Ball. I loved everything from their new range at the show. The apron would be useful for me because I am always losing things. Tonight I’ve got to go outdoors and upturn five green recycling bins in search of the secateurs- last seen balancing on a wheelbarrow full of weeds. Sigh.

Also on show, and winning the home, gifts and clothing section, were some super comfy new gardening gloves from a company called Gold Leaf. The RHS Collection poppy, rose and Iris decorated gloves would be perfect for Christmas or birthday presents. I’ve made strong hints to my family. Several, in fact. No photos here I’m afraid, as the stand was so busy, I couldn’t get near it. Which is a good sign indeed for the company.

No. 8 are these new ceramic planters from……Burgon and Ball. I said I liked that company, didn’t I. I think it’s just become my new favourite. I was impressed B&B knew the plant names too. This one apparently is a rhipsalis – or mistletoe cactus. Isn’t it gorgeous. I hope they send me a cutting – and the pot! Fingers crossed.

Yes, I could really see these swinging from the potting shed roof. It would certainly draw attention away from the messy compost-strewn floor.

No. 9 Now, I can really picture this little oven outside my potting shed door. It would be great for impromptu snacks for visitors to my shack. Isn’t it adorable. It’s a fire pod- from the company with the same name called The Fire Pod. It won best new product in the outdoor entertaining category. I am not at all surprised. I love it.

Not on my list -but to give you a taste of what else is in store for autumn 2017/18 – I spotted these. Not at all sure where I would put them to be honest. I would love to know which gardens they are destined for. There seems to be a bit of a giraffe theme going on here.

However, at no. 10 on my must-buy list is this. Well, it really made me laugh. And who doesn’t need a baby dragon in their garden. It would be quite happy next to the fire pod, no doubt.

What do you think of my selection from Glee? Which are your favourites from the new product line-up. I’m just heartened to see money being invested in innovation. It’s good news for gardeners and also for the gardening industry.

Taking Mum to the Dahlia Show

Regular readers will know that Mum and I spend every Sunday visiting gardens -especially NGS gardens raising money for charity. But this week – we had a change in our routine, we visited a dahlia show.

We marvelled over the blousy, dinner plate- size flowers. None were nibbled by slugs or dashed by the weather, like mine have been.

We loved these huge white flowers, Kenora Challenger. They won the prize for best exhibit in show. They were literally perfect.

Here’s a slide show of our favourites. I loved this coral pink cactus dahlia.

Mum loved this single ruby collarette-type dahlia called Mills Purple Velvet.

My favourite was this small cactus dahlia with needle-like petals. Such a pretty delicate pink.

The show by Leicestershire Dahlia Society was held at Palmers Plant Nursery in Enderby. Mum and I have signed up for more information and will go along to talks and events to find out more. And in November there’s an event where members sell off their spare tubers. I’ve earmarked a few for my cut flower patch.

Best of all- at the end of the show, the flowers were sold off in an auction. I came home with armfuls for my MIL Joan. All her window ledges are now bursting with colour. Happy memories of when my dear Father-in-law had an allotment full of cut flowers- dahlias and chrysanthemums – and regularly came home with an array of first prize awards.

Have you attended -or entered any produce or flowers in any shows this year? I’d love to know how you got on.

#wordlesswednesday: Update on hedgehogs in the garden…..

Just a quick update on my baby hedgehogs. I wrote about them last week Here. I can report back that the Hogilo hedgehog house is a huge success. Three of the babies are in there this evening, and the roof is keeping them nice and dry.

I got in touch with the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to find out more about them. My babies need to weigh 600 grams before they can successfully hibernate. I will be weighing them tomorrow. Meanwhile I am feeding them up. Here’s a list of what we can give them.

Meat-based dog or cat food

Dried mealworms- not too many

Unsalted chopped or crushed peanuts

Sunflower hearts

Specially made hedgehog dried food- bought from pet shops and supermarkets.

Most importantly- they need a dish of fresh water. Not milk, which gives them stomach problems.

In the wild, my hedgehogs are eating the following:

Worms, beetles, earwigs, caterpillars, leatherjackets, millipedes, frogs, slugs, and fallen fruit. I know for a fact, they absolutely love windfall apples and plums.

Here are two of them with their dinner. They soon tucked in when I retreated to the house.

I was shocked to learn we have lost one third of our hedgehog population since the Millennium. The severe decline has been caused by the following:

Use of pesticides, reducing the number of invertebrates that make up the hedgehogs’ diet

Larger field sizes, making it difficult for them to move about

Mechanical hedge trimming which leaves gappy hedge bottoms and leads to poor nesting opportunities

Permanent pasture being lost to crops

Impenetrable fencing, limiting the area of connected land available for foraging

Gardens being lost to car parking, decking, etc, reducing the land available for foraging

Busy roads

Increased development

Over managed / tidied gardens reducing hibernation opportunities

Pesticide and slug pellet use, poisons invertebrates

Ponds. Hedgehogs are excellent swimmers, but they can’t get out of straight-sided ponds.

What we can do to help:

Leave untidy corners in our gardens with piles of logs and twigs.

Leave some fallen leaves, dry fern foliage, straw which can be used as nesting material.

Make or buy hedgehog shelters. Old wine crates can be converted, with the addition of a 30cm long tunnel entrance, to keep out predators, and a waterproof roof. Put the nesting material alongside as hedgehogs will carry it in themselves.

Create a safe, dry feeding area out of a clear plastic storage box with 13cm entrance hole.

Cut holes in fences so that hedgehogs can forage over a large area. The hole needs to be 13cm wide and 13cm high.

Use organic methods to protect plants. The Slug Gone wool pellets are really effective deterrents.

Make sure all ponds have a shallow beach made of stones at one end, or a plank wrapped in chicken wire, so that hedgehogs can escape.

I hope you’ve found this quick mini-guide useful. Certainly our hedgehogs need all the help they can get. It’s a sad fact that some children have never even seen a hedgehog- they were a very common sight when we were growing up.

I love this photo of a ceramic hedgehog 3,800 years old, found in an Egyptian tomb. It would be sad if they became extinct on our watch.

Photo credit : Brooklyn Museum and Big Hedgehog Map project where you can log sightings of hedgehogs in your area and find out more about them.

#mygardenrightnow: the autumn edition

If you ever visited my garden, you wouldn’t describe it as “lovely.” You’d probably shake your head and walk round muttering “what a flipping mess!” Waist-high stinging nettles and thickets of brambles are definitely an acquired taste. But despite its terrible weedy bits and uncontrollable corners- I love my garden and like nothing better than to ramble about picking a few flowers here and there and munching on blackberries (there are plenty).

So I’m joining Michelle at Veg Plotting again for #mygardenrightnow meme. Enjoy the view, but remember, I only show you the flowery bits. Behind the scenes- there is chaos!

Flowers from the veg plot are still going strong. New Calendula Snow Princess is a firm favourite. So prolific and pretty.

Jam jar flowers include annual chrysanthemums, white dahlias,verbascum and grasses from the hedgerow bottom. Here’s a posy I took into BBC Radio Leicester recently. I’m sitting in the reception area- waiting to join Ben Jackson for the gardeners’ phone-in programme. You can have a listen in at http://bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05btvd7 whiz past the news to 2.08.10 on the timeline. I’ll never get used to wearing headphones. They never seem to fit me. But Ben and the production team are very kind and let me mess about with the height of the chair and plug and unplug the headphones until I’m comfortable. Then the only thing to worry about is the fact that it’s live….and we never know the questions in advance. It’s an awful long time since I attended horticultural college. I might need a refresher course to be honest!

The sweet peas have been amazing this year. I used some new Plant Grow fertiliser which seems to have kept them going for months. Plus they are still healthy. Usually by now they are getting brown and mildewy. I’ll definitely be using Plant Grow again next spring.

In between the sweet peas I’m growing some white and pale blue gladioli. To save the trouble of staking them, I just tie them up with the sweet peas and grow them down the middle of my hazel rod wigwam. It doesn’t matter what the weather throws at them, they still grow upright. Much less trouble.

I love the way the flowers open from the bottom of the stems and work their way up. They last for two weeks in a vase.

My £1 cactus dahlia Chat Noir from Wilkos has been such a bargain. It’s 6ft tall and full of glorious flowers. I do love a bargain.

Mum grew trays of pansies to pop in amongst the vegetables. They are perfect under tall brassicas such as kale and Brussels. We both love these jet black ones. They remind us of velvet.

It’s not just us appreciating the cut flower patch. This has to be the fluffiest bee ever to visit the garden.

In compensation for all these overgrown weeds and brambles, we had five baby hedgehogs born in the garden this summer. They are currently living under the rose pergola by the back door, and I’m trying to feed them up in time for their winter hibernation. Of all the things I’ve ever grown in my garden, I am the most overjoyed with these beautiful hedgehogs.

The hedgehog house was half price too. I’m sure it will keep them warm and dry over the winter. Do feel free to join in with Michelle’s meme and share your news on what your garden looks like this weekend. It’s fun to see what we are all getting up to in our gardens all over the country- and also abroad!

#wordlesswednesday- Mum’s garden -grown from seed

A gallery from Mum’s garden today, to show how a plot can be filled -just by growing seeds. Most of the seed packets came free from garden magazines. Our favourites are Amateur Gardening and Garden News. All we needed was some compost and seed trays, and both our gardens are currently overflowing with colour. Everyone knows I am a thrifty gardener. Do you have any money saving tips?

Dahlias grown from seed last year have overwintered in the ground. These are supposed to be annuals, but the mild winters mean we get two years out of the plants.

I love this deep red dahlia, part of a mixed colour packet of seed.

This double white dahlia shines out in a semi-shady spot under some trees.

Morning Glory climbs up through the standard roses and mini fruit trees in Mum’s garden. Great for attracting beneficial pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

We have pale blue and white varieties flowering this year, as well as the usual deep blue ipomoea.

Rudbeckia. We think this is Marmalade. Grown from a mixed variety pack. Bees absolutely love this plant and it flowers until first frosts.

New to us this year, this is Osteospermum Limpopo or African Daisy. This is a lovely mixed white, yellow and apricot pack from Mr Fothergill’s Seeds – free in Amateur Gardening Magazine.

Another Mr Fothergill’s seed, Chrysanthemum Eastern Star, in a range of colours – yellow, white with a yellow centre ring, and lemon. So beautiful, and lasts two weeks in a vase. Our new favourite cut flower and one we will grow again next year.

Mum’s garden looks so sunny with these annual chrysanthemums, sown in the spring and planted out in early summer. We think they will flower until October at least.

Our Thompson and Morgan Zinnia Candy Cane Mixed have been delighting us all summer. Such a fabulous range of colours and sizes. We love the mini flowers in the centre of each bloom. Truly beautiful. This packet came free from Garden News.

Cosmos Seashells make good cutting flowers. We love the intricate petals on these flowers.

More Chrysanths. We’ve never grown such a lovely range of colours before.

Rudbeckias mixed varieties. These often over-winter if the weather is not too severe.

Love this delicate cosmos Seashells. Such a pretty petal shape.

Have you grown any flowers from seed this year? What are your favourites? I hope there’s not too many photos in my gallery. I got rather over excited because Mum has a good internet connection and photos only take seconds to load. Sadly at my house it takes about 15 minutes per photo, and even then it sometimes all disappears before I get the chance to post my news. Sigh.

Peaches and Plums – Crumble and Plum Jam

It’s been a brilliant year for stone fruits. We’ve had a record number of plums and peaches at home. They are the easiest fruit to grow- just plant them and harvest delicious home-grown organic produce.

Here’s my favourite recipe for fruit crumble cake. You can use any fruit – peaches, plums apricots, apples. Takes only minutes to make, and can be frozen. The mini crumbles look fantastic for a party- or even a picnic.

FRUIT CRUMBLE CAKE

350g self-raising flour

2 level teaspoons mixed spice

175g butter

150g golden caster sugar

8 tablespoons milk (buttermilk if you have it)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

5 peaches or a handful of plums

Icing sugar for dusting

A 12 hole pan, or 18 x 28cm tin lined with baking paper, or any 7″ pie dish

20 mins at 190c /gas mark 5

Using only 3 tablespoons of the milk – Put all the ingredients – apart from fruit- in a food processor and whizz to form crumbs.

Tip out into a bowl, and put two thirds of the mixture- and the rest of the milk- back in the machine. Blend to create a smooth cake-consistency.

Spoon the cake mixture into the pans and arrange chopped fruit over the top. Add the reserved crumble mixture on top, leaving some of the fruit uncovered.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cut into chunky squares, if using the tin. Dust with icing sugar.

Note: You can used canned or frozen fruit, if fresh isn’t available

PLUM JAM

900g fruit

900g sugar

150ml water

Put all ingredients in a jam pan and cook gently until all the sugar is absorbed and the plums are soft. Gradually bring to a rolling boil. Check carefully to see that the jam isn’t burning on the bottom of the pan. After about 10 minutes put a tablespoon of the mixture onto a cold plate from the fridge. Leave to cool slightly and press with your finger or a spoon to see if the jam ripples. If it ripples it will set. If it stays soft and liquid it needs more boiling. This will fill about 4 or 5 jars which have been very thoroughly washed and warmed in the oven before filling. There are recipes with larger amounts of fruit, but this one works for me and is a manageable amount to cope with in one go.

Enjoy! Have you had a good year for fruit in your garden? And don’t forget to share your favourite recipes in the comments below.

#wordlesswednesday – Garden Table Flowers

I love a jam jar of flowers on the garden table- as much as indoors. I am trying to have breakfast, lunch and tea outdoors every day- while the sunshine lasts. So I set our old wooden bench with a red checked table cloth and sling cheap bed quilts over the rickety old chairs. Instant transformation! I hope you are all enjoying your summer and getting to spend time in the garden.

Have you got any favourite places you like to sit in the garden? Mine is under this stately beech tree, in the middle of our back garden lawn. It’s always a nice shady spot. A good place to sit and read. Or just survey the garden.

Words and Pictures

SECRET GARDENS OF EAST ANGLIA

 

Barbara Segall. Photography by Marcus Harpur

Frances Lincoln £20. Hardback.  Published 7th September 2017.

It’s impossible to resist dipping into the pages of any book with the words “secret” and “garden” in the title.

We all love peering over the garden gate  to get a glimpse of other people’s property.

And in Secret Gardens of East Anglia, Barbara Segall is our excellent guide, taking us straight down the drive and through the front gates of 22 privately owned gardens.

It is quite a revelation. We see sumptuous planting, grand sculpture, rose parterres, moated gardens,  and wildflower meadows galore! A real  treat – in words and pictures.

Here is just a flavour of some of the glorious gardens featured.

Wyken Hall, Stanton, Suffolk

Wyken Hall - Suffolk 1.jpg

Photo credit Marcus Harpur. Perfectly co-ordinated, one of Wyken Hall’s peacocks is poised beneath a blue wooden pergola covered in climbing Rosa Blairii Number Two. The pergola is reminiscent of one at Bodnant in Wales. Owners Kenneth and Carla Carlisle have created a sumptuous rose garden, favouring highly-scented old rose varieties with soft coloured perennials such as delphiniums, astrantia and artemisia. The sound of water and the scent of roses always draws  me in. I could picture myself sitting in this beautiful garden on a hot, sunny summer’s day. Yes, I would be quite happy here!

Columbine Hall, Stowupland, Suffolk

Col Hall.jpg

Photo credit Marcus Harpur. In my opinion, the most romantic of the gardens featured.  I’ve long been entranced by the walled kitchen garden which I first spotted on twitter. Head gardener and estate manager Kate Elliott ( @columbinehall) has worked here for 20 years and rightly describes the garden as her “pride and joy.”  Blue-grey paintwork used for gates, bridges and obelisks caught my eye, along with the planting scheme of silver and blue-mauve through to pink. Purple kales such as Cavolo Nero, Redbor and Rouge de Russie are set amongst  the silver leaves of globe artichokes.  I wasn’t surprised to read the owners’ comments :”We pick from the Kitchen Garden only with Kate’s permission, so as not to upset the colour co-ordinations or symmetry.”  A rare glimpse behind the scenes into the work and dedication that goes into creating a garden such as this.

 

Elton Hall, Elton, Cambridgeshire

Elton Hall - Cambridgeshire 1.jpg

Photo credit Marcus Harpur. Home to Sir William and Lady Proby who chose to make a modern garden, rather than recreate the past.  The stately house has been in the Proby family for more than 300 years. It’s  fascinating to see how the contemporary design of the fountain and the pyramid topiary is set against a Gothic style house with turrets and castellations.  Proof that a modern style can work in a setting that’s steeped in history.

Wood Farm, Gipping, Suffolk

Wood Farm 2 b.jpg

Photo credit Marcus Harpur.    The photograph shows irises, cornflowers, mounds of lavender and box. On the other side of the property, the house appears to drift on a sea of white ox-eye daisies. The golden centres of the daisies are an exact match with the colour of the 500 year old Suffolk farmhouse. A very pretty house and garden and I would love to have the chance to ramble along that  garden path.

I must mention Ulting Wick, Ulting, Essex. Long on my  special-places-to-visit list, the owners Bryan and Philippa Burrough  have planted 10,000 tulips in the Old Farmyard garden. A particular feature of the garden is the bold and jewel-like colours set against the black paintwork of three listed barns. In spring, the bulbs take centre stage, but in late summer, it is the dahlias and bronze-leaved Ensete that turn up the heat. The garden has opened to the public for the past 14 years in aid of the National Gardens Scheme. After reading Barbara’s book you will want to follow  Philippa’s garden tweets @UltingWick. The sheer amount of work that goes into creating a garden such as this is highlighted in the stunning photos in the book.

Secret Gardens of East Anglia cover.jpg

Barbara is a most entertaining “host” on what feels like the best holiday road trip /garden visit tour- ever.  Reading this beautiful book is like walking alongside Barbara. She expertly points out the secret areas and the special treasures in each garden.  The history and the background information is fascinating. And it feels such a treat to be “let in”  to these treasured, private spaces.

It’s a joy to read the stories behind the gardens and  to “meet” the people who own them.  And if the book has whetted your appetite- all but one of the 22 gardens are open to visit – on selected days of the year or by appointment only.

BARBARA SEGALL is a well-known horticulturist and garden writer. I’ve always looked out for her writing in the English Garden Magazine and also on the Richard Jackson’s Garden website. She is editor of The Horticulturist,  the journal of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, also editor of Herbs magazine for the Herb Society. Barbara lives in Suffolk and her first book for Frances Lincoln was Gardens by the Sea with photos by Marcus Harpur’s father, Jerry.  Barbara’s blog is http://www.thegardenpost.com.

MARCUS HARPUR . I’ve know Marcus since about 1992 when he left book publishing to join his father to form the Harpur Garden Library.  Sadly , Marcus died on August 6th this year after 18 months of illness. He saw finished copies of the book, but poignantly didn’t live to see it go on sale. When I spoke to him last, he described working on the book as “A joyful and satisfying project.”  He was a much loved and well respected photographer whose  skill in capturing the light and beauty in a garden is plain for all to see in this his final book.

Pre-order on Amazon at  amzn.to/2oqHgM2

Thank you to Frances Lincoln/ Quarto Group Books for supplying this advance copy for review.

 

 

 

 

 

Art in the garden- a visit to Cathy’s glorious plot.

When Cathy Lyon-Green wanted a garden room – she set to and built it herself. "Building really is as simple as laying one brick on top of another- and checking the levels regularly." And the result is stunning- a pink painted summerhouse with grey windows and pretty pantile roof. It's the perfect place to sit and survey Cathy's extraordinary garden.

Readers might recognise Cathy's name from the popular meme In a Vase on Monday and Rambling in the Garden blog. I've enjoyed joining in with the meme for about a year, so when I saw Cathy's garden would be open for the National Garden Scheme for the first time, I couldn't resist a visit. Mum and I were in for a real treat. Everything about Cathy's garden is out of the ordinary. There's a surprise around every corner. Quite honestly, I got out my notebook and started writing down ideas for my own plot. We loved these photo canvasses which brighten up the garden walls.

We spotted these pretty metal plant supports with jewel-like flowers.

Simple ideas are often best, and we loved finding little painted stones around the garden. Some said, empathy – peace, and love. Mum and I pondered what our stones might say. Mum said "giving," and "caring." Mine would say "sharing," and "loyalty." Doesn't it make you think.

You never know what you are going to find next in Cathy's garden. Nestled against the shed wall we found this character. Mum and I had an argument as to whether it was a male or a female of the species. We both agreed it was friendly though.

We thought this beautiful metal sculpture reminded us of wild flowers and cow parsley in particular.

These two birds on top of the garden wall made us laugh. Are they pigeons or crows? We couldn't decide. Just about everything in the garden sparks a debate. It's all a talking point.

I am always looking for new ideas- especially if they save money. So I loved this idea for a cane- topper. It's a painted wooden cube. So simple, but is a brilliant way to protect eyes, and make a statement. The cubes were in bright fuchsia pink and purple shades. They looked gorgeous contrasting with the lime green leaves, and popping up through the cottage garden flowers.

I might copy this idea on my cut flower and veg plot. The plant supports would also be a good idea to hold up the netting over the cabbages etc.

For once, Mum and I were in total agreement on something. This message.

It's always lovely to see items saved and re-purposed in the garden. We loved this little stained glass window set into one of the garden walls.

We found plenty of places to sit and relax in the garden. This cosy seat is enveloped in a pink planting scheme of astrantia, geranium and alliums. We loved the little green checked cushions which were a feature on all benches and seats throughout the garden.

And finally, after much backtracking and going round the garden several times to make sure we hadn't missed anything, we found the terrace in front of the garden room that Cathy describes as her sitooterie.

"I have always 'made' things, and if something is needed, I will want to make it if at all possible. I built my first low brick wall about 40 years ago, but my great interest in bricklaying was well and truly kick-started when we were constructing the extension in 1998 and I have created many more opportunities to continue bricklaying since then. The opportunity for the sitooterie came about when we dismantled the original greenhouse that was on the site. "

I asked Cathy how long it had taken her to create the garden. "We didn't really do anything in the garden except cut the grass until about 2000, then gradually we began reducing the grass by creating beds over the next few years, before coming to a standstill when work well and truly got in the way. Listening to my heart instead of my head and retiring in 2011 was when I was able to focus on the garden as a whole and consolidate or improve on what had been done up until then. There was still no overall plan, and many of the best ideas were created as a response to something that just wasn't working, or something that would otherwise have been a waste- such as the shrub border which came about because our neighbour was filling a skip with topsoil!"

We can report back that the home-made cakes were all delicious and Cathy's helpers Janet and Chris made us feel very welcome. We sat for quite a long time, making mental notes of all the planting combinations we loved and all the little touches that made this such an inspirational garden. Driving home, we kept saying to each other "and did you notice that……," and "what about that……." But neither of us could say how big the garden was because it was so deceptive. The little paths twist and turn through shady fern- filled corners and out into a stream- filled glade. We looked on the NGS website when we got home and it stated- one third of an acre. The blurb also says 'Plant-lovers garden, full of surprises." Mum and I nodded our heads in agreement!

Cathy's garden, East View Cottages, Tamworth, Warwickshire, will be open again for the Yellow Book NGS towards end of June next summer. Cathy had a good turn out for her first ever open gardens. 155 people in total over two days. Click on the highlighted words for more information.

#wordlesswednesday At Pensthorpe, Norfolk

I'm still trying to identify this fluffy bee. Spotted in the glorious wildlife garden at Pensthorpe.

The plant is a purple coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. Recommended on the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list.

Echinacea fact file:

Common name: hedgehog plant, coneflower

Family: Asteraceae

Genus: Echinacea. Clump forming, rhizomatous perennials with simple, pinnately-lobed leaves. Long-stemmed daisy-like flowers with prominent conical centre.

Height: 0.5-1.5m with a spread of 0.1-0.5m There are some low-growing varieties such as Kim's Knee High (60cm). See RHS info link here.

Grows in: Full sun, tolerates some shade.

Aspect: Prefers south facing. Can cope with sheltered or exposed conditions. Any really well-drained soil.

Propagate: From seed. Available from Chiltern Seeds. Or divisions in spring.

Recommended: Elton Knight, Magnus, Ruby Giant, Pallida (drooping petals), White Swan, Green Envy and Green Jewel (lime). I haven't found the orange, yellow and apricot-coloured hybrids to be very long-lived.

Tips: Avoid damp spots for planting and don't heavily mulch over the crown in the winter. Add plenty of grit when planting to improve drainage. The cold weather doesn't seem to bother them, it's the mild, prolonged wet spells that kills them.

Anyone know the name of my bee?

A peek at my week. What I’ve seen- where I’ve been

Took Mum to Norfolk to see East Ruston Old Vicarage. A feast for the eyes. Loved this sunny wild flower meadow.


Got lots of container planting inspiration. Much scribbling down of names and taking of photos went on. Just look at the size of that brugmansia! You can see why it is called angel’s trumpets. The scent is out of this world. It’s underplanted with yellow argyranthemum, purple verbena, and lobelia. There’s even a grey-leaved melianthus squeezed in. Such an enticing entrance to an archway. 


Every second word we used had “exotic” in front of it! Loved this avenue of cannas planted with blue verbena bonariensis and orange tagetes. 

Saw two sumptuous deep red dahlias. Sadly no labels so we don’t know the names. I’m searching books though, so will post an update when I know for certain. 


I grow this tender purple-leaved Aeonium plant in the greenhouse at home. I might set it outdoors for the summer, now I’ve seen how lovely it looks. 

Also have this blue-tinged echeveria in a pot in my greenhouse. And I’ve got this Stewart Garden low planter which looks like stone, but is actually plastic. Much lighter to carry in and out of the greenhouse. 


Should NOT  have looked at the plant sales area. Fell in love with these two dahlias. Can’t wait to get home to plant them in my cut flower patch. 


Here’s a quick look at the barn we stayed in. It gets a five star rating from us. More information to follow. 


Do get in touch and let me know what you have been up to this week. It’s been sunny and hot in Norfolk and I’m expecting to arrive home to a lot of weeding and dead heading on the plot! 

#wordlesswednesday

Transporting you to California. For anyone who needs a little sunshine…


Known as California Glory, Fremontodendron Californicum, is looking stunning at the moment. It’s an evergreen shrub best grown against a warm south-facing wall. It flowers from May to September. Prune back side shoots to between two and four buds after flowering to control growth.  I’ll probably never travel to California, but I can enjoy a little of its sunshine here. Plant one and just bask in its sunny glow. 

A Peek at my week. What I’ve seen, where I’ve been….

What I’ve Seen:

This glorious sunset from the lane where I live. We can see these trees from our field gate. 



VISITED  some fabulous gardens at Smeeton Westerby near Market Harborough, open in aid of GEMS Charity. GEMS was founded in June 2012 by Sally and Andy Anderson after they had accompanied four close friends on weekly visits to the Osbourne Chemotherapy Suite at Leicester Royal Infirmary.
  Inspired by the hard work and dedication of the nurses, and the courage of their four friends, they set out to raise funds to make patients and supporters more comfortable during their treatment. The  funds have been used to buy specialist treatment chairs and refurbishing the waiting room. 

This is the view from one of the open gardens, Highfields. Green undulating countryside in the distance. 


Chocolate box thatched cottage, overlooking the allotments in the village. Full of colourful plants including this wine-coloured hollyhock. 


Mooched around the allotments. Got lots of ideas for companion planting.


Mum and I sat in this pretty summerhouse, enjoying the peaceful scene.




Sat on a bench encircled by water, under a shady tree. Heavenly.


Saw this beautiful late summer-flowering Clematis recta. A floppy, sprawling variety which looks good amongst perennials and wild flowers. Bees love it too.


Laughed at this cheerful sight. Even the scarecrows in Smeeton Westerby are posh. This one is wearing Le Chameau welly boots!


Back home to spot two fledgling tawny owls in the wild garden. Made our day to find them in the cherry trees around the horseshoe pond. Watched them until dusk as they bumbled from one branch to another, flexing unfamiliar wings.  

More info on GEMS charity at www.gemscharity.com  

Donate online at virginmoneygiving.com

Email: gemscharity@gmail.com. 0116 279 3814 

#wordlesswednesday  Frilled. 


Cut flowers from my garden today. Carnations, sweet peas, dahlias and alstroemerias. Have a listen at 2.08.20 on the timeline for the gardeners’ phone in programme. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p056qg0d. Regular readers will know that I joined the BBC’s Down to Earth programme about a year ago. The programme has been running for 50 years. I’m not a natural speaker. Much happier listening to be honest. But I’ve been given this opportunity to encourage others to grow flowers, food, fruit. So I push myself out of my comfort zone. Today I did my second weekday gardeners’ phonin programme. Sadly there was only one caller – right at the end. So if I sound a bit nervous, that is the reason why. A whole hour to fill is rather a daunting  prospect! Somehow, I survived. But I feel as if I’ve lost a stone in weight! 


Brownfield Metamorphosis at Hampton Court Flower Show

We are all captivated by projects such as the High Line in New York  where  former industrial spaces are transformed into havens for wildlife.
Martyn Wilson’s garden at Hampton Court this year is all about nature taking over. Rubble and decay is replaced by trees and self-seeded plants amongst the rusting monolithic steel structures. 

“Inspiration came from places such as the High Line in New York and the Landschaft Park in Druisburg, Germany, and also the regeneration of the former MG Rover site in Longbridge, Birmingham.  The High Line is an example of a successful project, turning  a derelict brownfield site into a thriving contemporary space. The  public is invited into what was a forbidden and dangerous space.  

“For the Hampton Court garden, sculpted  steel and  concrete blocks form the structure. I wanted to soften the urban features by introducing grasses, ferns, perennials, self-seeded annuals and shrubs such as buddleja.” 


In amongst the silver birches – multi-stemmed Betula pendula are Buddleja davidii Wisteria Lane and white-stemmed Rubus cockburnianus. The perennial plant list features golden Achillea Walther Funcke, Terracota and softer yellow moonshine. 


Herbs thyme, fennel and origanum  mix in with verbena bonariensis, scabious, leucanthmums and umbellifers.  Grasses such as the quaking grass Briza media mingle with Deschampsia cespitosa and flexuosa and Festuca amethystina. 


Annuals featured in the garden are Dauca carota Dara, Californian poppies, eschscholzia Sun Shades and Red Chief, poppy Peshawar White and albiflora, and poppy rhoeas.


Wild flower orange Hawkweed, Pilosella aurantiaca- also known as fox and cubs- stands out against the crushed concrete scree and monolithic steel structures which were designed by Ledbury-based sculptor Simon Probyn.



Martyn Wilson’s garden shows a new approach to weaving our industrial heritage into new landscapes for the benefit of wildlife and people. He wants us to see the beauty in these spaces-  not just walk on by without a second thought. 

For me, I understood his “beauty in decay and regeneration,” theme. With some show gardens, the ideas behind them can be puzzling to say the least. But this one was obvious. A new approach which celebrates the relics of our past, to create flower-filled spaces for wildlife, insects and people. 




The garden, which was awarded a gold medal, was sponsored by St Modwen Properties PLC and raises awareness for UCARE  urology cancer charity  www.ucare-oxford.org.uk.

Simon Probyn http://www.simonprobyn.co.uk    sculptures

The Pot Company http://www.thepotcompany.com

Easymix http://www.easymixconcrete.com

Smiths of Bletchington http://www.smithsbletchington.co.uk

Louis Masai- London-based artist outdoor murals for the hoardings http://www.louismasai.com

hortus Loci plants http://www.hortusloci.co.uk

Cotswold gardening School http://www.cotswoldgardeningschool.co.uk

Keyscapes Ltd http://www.keyscapes-easigrass.co.uk

If you visited Hampton Court  this year, or watched the television coverage, which gardens caught your eye? Have any of you visited the High Line garden? It’s on my must-visit list. Thank you for reading, and for taking the time to comment. 

#wordlesswednesday- RHS Hampton Court

I wish you could smell these Malmaison carnations. They are old fashioned glorious! 


More like a rose than a carnation, these historic flowers were displayed by Jim Marshall at RHS Hampton Court this week. They rightly  won Gold and Best in Show in the plant heritage section of the floral marquee.


They remind me of buttonholes, Floris soap, and country house glasshouses. Such a romantic clove-like scent, and a story of rescue and revival. The Malmaison carnation originated in France as a chance seedling. It was named Souvenir de la Malmaison after the rose grown in the Empress Josephine’s garden and quickly became fashionable. Nurserymen started to breed new forms in a sumptuous range of colours. Favourites of English country houses until the Second World War,  they gradually died out due to disease and labour intensive requirements. Malmaison carnations are prone to damping off disease and red spider and need constant renewal by cuttings and layering. 

Grower Jim Marshall has made it his life’s work to save the carnation and now uses micro-propagation to improve vigour and disease resistance. Plant supplies for sale are still in relatively short supply and favourite colours soon sell out. They are a bit of a challenge, but well worth the effort for the beautiful colours and unforgettable scent.

For more information contact Plant Heritage,  jim@malmaisons.plus.com. 01473822400 Hullwood Barn, Bolton Lane,Shelley, Ipswich IP75RE. 

#RHSHampton – Perennial Charity Sanctuary Garden

You can’t fail to be drawn in to Tom Massey’s vibrant garden at RHS Hampton Court. The colourful planting is like a magnet,  and who can resist a spiral path which leads to an oasis of calm. 


Tom’s Sanctuary Garden – for the charity Perennial- is all about the emotional journey a person makes from crisis to safety. Perennial is the only charity dedicated  to supporting everyone in the horticulture industry- and is therefore a cause close to my heart. I have made a living from horticulture for the last 25 years in one way or another. So a charity which helps the people I work with, is something I’m going to shout about. 


Tom’s garden is a colour wheel, 18 metres in diameter. The changing palette  poignantly symbolises the journey people face with difficulties such as illness, injury, poverty and debt.  At its outer edge, the plants are hot colours, representing the chaos of being at crisis point. Following the winding gravel path, plants fade to calmer colours of blue and green. It’s a representation of what happens when Perennial steps in to offer a helping hand- guiding people from tough times to safety. 


Hemerocallis Crimson Pirate, Helenium Moerheim Beauty, Crocosmia Lucifer and Dahlia Mystic Enchantment feature in the hot colour scheme.

 

As you walk though the garden, the planting becomes taller and more immersive with the colour scheme moving to stimulating yellows and oranges, representing hope.


Achillea millefolium Terracotta, Helenium Mardi Gras and Geum Totally Tangerine  are woven with grasses Molinia caerulea Poul Peterson and stipa  to form the orange swathe. The yellow planting band includes Kniphofia Lemon Popsicle and varieties of helianthus and helenium. 


I don’t think anyone could miss the message of hope in the sunflowers. They sing out amongst the grasses. 



Moving through the spiral of colours,  you come to restful purples and blues. It has a calming influence after the whirlpool of emotions you feel as you walk though this garden. I found it hard not to cry. 


Purple plants are  Veronicastrum virginicum Fascination (above) Nepeta Six Hills Giant and Verbena bonariensis. Blue shades feature Agapanthus Navy Blue (below) Agastache Black Adder and Blue Fortune, and Centurea cyanus Blue Boy.


Grasses in the blue section are Calamagrostis x acutiflora Karl Foerster.


And finally as you follow the spiral path you reach the sanctuary of a green oasis. The sounds of the outside garden fade and it feels like a place of safety. 


Tom’s design highlights the difference Perennial makes to thousands of horticulturalists each year. It’s humbling to read the case studies. Heartbreaking accidents leaving families in dire circumstances. Perennial – a charity many people may not have heard of before- helps with financial arrangements, navigating the benefits system and being there as emotion support. A lifeline for anyone in need. 

Find out more about Perennial here . Click on the highlighted words or on http://www.perennial.org.uk&nbsp;

Buy Products to support the charity at shop.perennial.org.uk

Get involved. Raise money at www.hortaid.org.uk

More about Tom Massey here. http://www.tommassey.co.uk

The garden was built by www.landformconsultants.co.uk 

Plants supplied by www.hortusloci.co.uk 

Stone bench www.londonstone.co.uk

Additional suppliers : Linden Turf, water feature The Pot Company, self binding gravel and steel edging AllGreen Group

More about RHS Hampton Court 

In a Vase on Monday 

I’m cheating this week- as I’m on a train to London to visit the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show. So I haven’t even got a jam jar with me. But, as always, I’ve picked a bunch of flowers from home to keep me company on my journey. There’s a comfort in a reminder from home.


The scent of my sweetpeas is an antidote to diesel fumes and the ever -louder tannoy announcements. I enjoyed wandering around the veg plot at dawn picking  these flowers.
This year I’m growing a variety of new and heritage varieties. My favourites are High Scent, Albutt Blue and Mrs Collier white. I love the small flowered heirloom type. They seem to have the strongest scent. Here’s a slideshow from my garden this morning.

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I wish you could smell the sweet peas. It’s the scent of summer. As always i’m grateful to Cathy from Rambling in the Garden for hosting this meme. Go and have a look at what Cathy’s growing and showcasing in a Vase this week.
Meanwhile…. I’ve made it to Hampton Court. What a trek! ….here’s a taster of the gardens …..



#wordlesswednesday- wild geraniums on the march.

Wild geraniums billow in the long grass on the lane outside my house. Back lit, they look like mini- stained glass windows. This pretty white seedling turned up on its own- probably a hybrid with one of my garden plants. I am thanking the bees for this little beauty. 


The common name, cranesbill, comes from the shape of the seedhead which resembles the long tapering beak of a bird. Meadow cranesbill, or Geranium pratense, comes in a range of colours from white to deep blue. I love the violet-blue veins and the dark plum anthers. The flowers glisten in the sun as if they’ve been coated in sugar.


A favourite of mine is this pale violet flower with delicate silver veins. I ought to be getting on with my work, but I spend more time than I should just gazing at these beauties, comparing their hues and pondering on the wonders of nature.


And luckily for me, these gorgeous plants have drifted in through the front gate and settled in the garden- all along the path to my front door. It’s a wonderful welcome home- and I haven’t done a thing to create it. It’s happened all on its own. Isn’t nature grand. 

I’ve found a beautiful violet form called Beth Chatto  on the RHS website. Click on the highlighted word to find out more. Geraniums can be grown from seed. Flowers appear from June to September and plants grow to about 70cm in sun or slight shade. Perfect for grass meadows- or you can plant in drifts in amongst shrubs and perennials. Highlighted in the RHS Perfect for Pollinators list. Bees and butterflies will certainly thank you for planting geraniums.

In a Vase on Monday….er…Friday 

Having tried and failed to upload this from home, I’ve finally given up on our dodgy internet connection and decamped to Mum’s house. We haven’t got fibre optic cables to our village yet. And we live a mile down a single track lane. So there’s really no hope for us. The only up-side to this story is that mum made a cake. And regular readers know how much I love cake! As I’ve said before, I grow and pick flowers for my MIL Joan as a way of keeping her connected with me and my garden- showing her what’s in flower 52 weeks of the year. But this time I also picked a bouquet for a friend who is having an operation today. Hopefully the sweet williams, alstroemeria and first sweet peas of the season will brighten her day. Flowers do have the power to calm and reassure. 


Pink alstroemeria -from Viv Marsh Postal Plants, flowers virtually all year round in my unheated poly tunnel. I grow them in 60cm pots, as the roots have a reputation for spreading. Growing them under cover protects them from the weather and also from snail and slug damage. Flowers last  for about three weeks in a vase. Easy to grow, repeat flowering, and long lasting. They are no trouble at all. Please excuse the state of my poly tunnel, which needs a good clean. I’ve bought some special detergent from LBS Horticulture, which apparently just needs spraying on. Will report back when I’ve tried it. The one problem with poly tunnels is the algae. It’s not like having glass which can easily be washed down. And it builds up on the inside and outside surfaces. Still, it was cheap to put up and gives me a dry working area in the winter. 

I planted these sweet williams last summer. They arrived in a parcel as a twitter plant swop. I love free plants, and always have loads of my own to spare. I’m quite often posting margarine containers full of little seedlings all around the country. You can see my rather rickety hazel A-frame structure for sweet peas in the background. I just hope it doesn’t blow over in a storm. 

I love the jewel-like colours of these sweet williams. They last for ages in a vase and produce large quantities of flower in a small space. I’ve just sown some more to plant out in the autumn. The seeds germinated in two days in all the hot weather we’ve been having, and there are hundreds of little seedlings to prick out.

My sweet peas have just started flowering. I had a disaster with the autumn-sown seed. A mouse got in the propagator and snaffled the lot in one night. There was just a sea of snapped off stems. Not to be deterred, I planted the stems as if they were cuttings, and amazingly they carried on growing. Another tip if you are growing sweet peas is to use the pinched-out tips as cuttings. They will produce plants that will flower right up until November. I discovered this by accident when I left the pinched-out tips on a tray of moist compost and they rooted down and planted themselves.  Aren’t plants just amazing.

I’m growing High Scent, a good reliable sweet pea variety- and it really does have a wonderful old fashioned scent. It was raised by Keith Hammett and introduced in 2003. It has a creamy  ruffled flower with a delicate lilac edge. I’m also growing Albutt Blue, a very pretty pale blue flower with a deeper blue picotee rim.  It was raised by Harvey Albutt and introduced by Eagle Seeds in 1999. It’s been a favourite of mine ever since. I buy seed from Easton Walled Gardens, Roger Parsons and Eagles. If you don’t have  facilities to grow your own, you can buy mail order plants in the spring from Easton. Also, Mum and I spotted some really great sweet pea plants at Coton Manor garden nursery in Northampton in May, for just a few pounds each.  It’s good to have a back up plan. 

I always put lemon ba