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.


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.

31 thoughts on “Paperwhite narcissi for Christmas – and my apple cake recipe

  1. Pingback: In a Vase on Monday….almost | Bramble Garden

  2. Karen to such a strong person and knowing so many things a radio studio should not make you nervous. Imagine that you are in the favorite corner of your garden sitting on one of your beautiful garden chairs. That is all. And you’ve invited some people to talk with you and ask questions about gardening in case you can help them, but all quietly taking the tea with the apple and raspberry crumble cake you’ve made today and say “eat me ” Thinking like that, your nerves will go away. What a pity that I from Spain can not hear your precious radio program, I would love it. It’s a great idea to make a gift with the Paperwhite Daffodils and a crystal vase: it’s original and beautiful. Karen I can not help you with recipes for pies or cakes, I’m a terrible baker. Thank you very much for everything you give us. Memories to your Mother. Greetings with love from Margarita.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Margarita! I shall try to do what you say. It is an excellent plan! It is such a shame you can’t get the i-player in Spain. I would love you to hear all the fun. You would laugh at the predicaments I am sure. We can never have too much laughter in our lives. I don’t mind at all if I am the cause! Memories to your Mother too. With love and greetings from Karen and Mum. Xx


  3. Pingback: #wordlesswednesday -bulbs and roots | Bramble Garden

  4. You must be getting to be quite an old hand at it now Karen! Will it have a break over the winter? At least with being on the radio you are less likely to be recognised – despite your encounter in the supermarket 😉 I am rarely successful when trying to grow bubs in water (but I now have a lovely collection of vintage hyacinth vases!) and started narcissi in pots a week or so ago – not Paperwhites, but similar and less smelly! A second batch is in the frisdge for a few weeks before they too get started.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How lovely to have vintage hyacinth vases. They will look wonderful over the winter. My potted hyacinths are in a dark place in the potting shed. Something cheerful to look forward to after Christmas. Thanks for reading and getting in touch. xx


      • Yes, fortunately the vases look good even without hyacinths. This is the first year in ages I haven’t bought any hyacinths at all, as my potted ones did not do very well last year either

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Karen all of your cakes are lovely and fill my mouth every time we meet in the studio. I agree about paper white’s, but do tell people that being grown in gravel they will, unless fed on a liquid nutriment, be usless as flowering bulbs the following year. Love Derek.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Derek. Glad you like my cakes. Everything’s got apples in it at the moment. I’m even looking at an apple soup! Still got loads of autumn raspberries too. Haven’t they been fabulous this year. It’s amazing how much food can be produced from a small veg plot. Thanks for getting in touch. See you soon 🙂 x


    • Forgot to tell you, last Wednesday, half way through the phone-in, Ady whispered, “stop messing with your headphones. It sounds like you’ve got nits.” I didn’t dare touch them for the rest of the programme. Thought that would make you laugh 🙂 x

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, it’s great to start the day laughing, and your comments have made me laugh out loud. I’m just wondering about this fame business as I spent 20 minutes in our local shop doing a mini -gardeners question time for someone who suddenly produced a string of questions while I was standing in the frozen food aisle. After all that, he said he’d have to check up on two of my answers and get back to me. I might have to find another shop. Anyway I’m still laughing. Thanks for your kind words Brian.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh Gill, you would so laugh at my struggles. This week the producer helpfully put through “John, who has a question on pruning apple trees.” Two seconds later, it was John, who’d just buried his “best friend” and wanted to know what to grow on the grave. It took me a while to work out it was a dog, and had nothing to do with apples, trees, or pruning! I will be ready for that one next time though!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I do wish I was brave! The narcissi are putting down little roots already. I keep going and have a look at them. It must be simple things like that make me happy! We grew hyacinths when the children were little using special glass jars. Thanks for reading and for getting in touch. x

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A nice post and lovely pictures. Well done on your weekly radio spot. I keep forgetting to grow paperwhites but did remember hyacinths this year. The apple and raspberry looks and sounds delicious. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your kind comments Mike. I spotted those paperwhites at reduced price at the garden centre. I shall be planting a few every week until Christmas. That way I’ll have flowers right through the winter for my cut flowers for Mum and MIL. Have a good week. It’s windy and raining here, but I’ve got a pile of paperwork to do, so I’ll manage to stay dry. x

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Anne. I keep reminding myself that I’m there to encourage people to grow more of their own food and flowers. I just wish I could think faster under pressure. The minute I sit down, all plant names desert me! But someone said they weren’t afraid to ring in and speak to me- because I get in a flap, like they do. That made my day to be honest. Thanks for taking the time to read and get in touch. x


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