In a Vase On Monday – 27 April 2020

I’m sure spring flowers are more beautiful than they’ve ever been. We’ve had no rain for six weeks. It’s a problem in the veg garden where I’m trying to get broad beans and potatoes to grow. But for spring flowers, tulips and daffodils, it means they are looking pristine. And blossom has lasted longer than usual. Here’s a selection of flowers for my vase this week. Get in touch and let me know what’s looking cheerful in your garden just now.

Sometimes luck has a lot to do with gardening. I spend time trying to work out clever combinations of colours. Then nature goes and does it better. Here is tulip Blushing Apeldoorn with the softest primrose yellow flowers. Overlapping petals are edged with a picotee orange. It’s a perfect match for narcissi Pheasant’s Eye. The tiny cup in the centre of the flower is rimmed with the exact same bright orange. It’s a picture, don’t you agree? And it has happened just by chance. I’ve taken note, and next year there will be several rows of these beauties lining my cut flower beds.

I love the way the light shines through the petals. It reminds me of a stained glass window in a church.

I’m also using an old favourite, Narcissi Geranium. The tangerine orange centre remind me of egg yolk, enhanced by pure white petals. The scent is a dream. Utterly gorgeous. I’d never be without this pretty, old- fashioned daffodil.

Forget-me-nots are such a good filler for any posy. The bright blue flowers seem to match the intensity of the sky this spring. And the yellow button ‘eye’ matches the daffodils.

Have you noticed how blue the sky is this spring? Climate scientists at Reading University say the reduction in traffic on roads has led to a fall in pollution, which is affecting the appearance of the sky. There’s fewer planes too. Skies look a richer brighter blue, much like you’d see over a tropical island. I’m enjoying the combination of blossom, spring bulbs and azure sky.

Thank you for reading. Get in touch by leaving a comment at the bottom of the page. And feel free to share these photos on any social media platform, kindly linking back to at the same time. You might ask, what’s the point of flowers at the moment with a covid pandemic going on. I’m just trying to focus on something positive and remind myself that nature often shows us the way to cope with all kinds of crisis in our lives. And cope we must, for some time to come, until the risks deminish enough for us to safely emerge and socialise again. When that will be, none of us can predict. Until then, I shall garden, plant my veg, pick my flowers and try to keep as upbeat as I can. You are very welcome to join me, virtually at least, at anytime you like.

Links : In A Vase on Monday. Cathy, thanks for hosting my favourite meme.

Six on Saturday- A walk around my garden 25 April 2020

Bluebells. These came from my grandfather Ted Foulds’ garden originally. A lovely reminder of him. There was only a small patch to start with. Now they run from the front to the back garden. It’s surprising how fast they spread, without any help from me. There’s some wild garlic in amongst them too, which I’m trying to control a little this year.

Trees are leafing up so quickly in the sunshine and heat this year. The bluebells will have to be quick to flower and set seed before they are shaded out. This is the path past the summerhouse to the pond.

The view from the summerhouse. It looks like a jungle already. There’s oak, beech, hornbeams, cherry, willow and ash in the mini-wood. All the trees came as saplings from the borough council when we moved here 30 years ago. There was a scheme to plant trees on farmland. I think it was linked to the woodland trust. We applied, and they delivered 260 saplings for us to plant. The whole family set to and helped us plant them in a day or so.

All along the woodland paths there’s a lovely white starry flower, I think it’s called stitchwort. I didn’t plant it, but it’s very welcome here.

It seems to be all green and white shades today. May blossom or hawthorn is suddenly in flower.

Such a beautiful sight at dawn. These flowers were just in bud yesterday. The hedgerow is so beautiful just now with sections of crab apple, maple, hazel and viburnum all in a hurry to wake from their winter sleep. The scent from the crab apple blossom is something I’ve never noticed before. I think the heat is enhancing the scent.

Oops, that eight photos. I’m sure no one’s counting…..

Enjoy your weekend. Here’s a view through my ‘gap in the hedge.’ I didn’t make this portal, nature did. I love to peer through and watch the wildlife. There’s always something happening in the back fields. Lovely to see some green shoots in the fields too. Fields have been bleak and bare all winter, after the flooding.

Links: Six on Saturday :

Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page. The comments box is below all the hashtags and social media sharing buttons. Please feel free to share too. Thank you.

BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour 22 April 2020

If you were listening in to BBC Radio Leicester for Gardens Hour today, I’ve written some notes to accompany the programme.

I’m working from home at the moment. The oak tree above has just burst into leaf. I can see the tree from the top of the paddock. The swallows returned here last Wednesday, and we’ve seen pipistrelle bats over the garden.

Blossom has been fabulous this year, with no rain to spoil the flowers. I’m sitting under this Prunus Kanzan cherry tree today to answer questions and talk about my gardening tasks.

We had a question about an apple tree failing to establish.

If your tree is failing to thrive, it usually indicates a problem with the growing conditions. Poor growing conditions will stunt any tree or shrub.

Water any newly -planted trees well. Soil may be dry around the roots even when the surface appears moist. Check with a trowel to see how far the water is penetrating the ground.

Weeds and grass compete with trees for moisture. Keep a weed and lawn -free zone at least 1m in diameter around the plant.

Mulch locks in the moisture and helps feed the tree. Apply a mulch a good couple of inches deep around the tree, avoiding the trunk. (mulch piled up against the trunk can cause ‘drowning,’ so take care it doesn’t get pushed up against the tree).

You can use your own home-made compost or composted bark for the mulch. Do not apply to dry ground, as it can also lock -in drought.

You can place a drainage pipe in the ground alongside the tree at planting time, which helps water reach the roots. However, take care, as too much water can cause water logging, which is also detrimental.

Feed with a potash fertiliser, which promotes fruit and flowers.

Salix Flamingo – wiki commons photo.

We had a question about a Salix Flamingo willow tree failing to thrive. The tree has come into leaf and the leaves have shrivelled.

I’ve found this tree difficult to grow. It’s grown for its new, shrimp pink leaves which emerge in April. These leaves are delicate and easily damaged by cold winds and frost. Too much direct sunshine on emerging leaves can also cause them to shrivel. We have had a combination of high daytime temperatures, cold east winds, and plummeting night time temperatures. In a sheltered garden you would have no problems, but in a slightly more exposed spot, the tree struggles. Also, being from the willow family it requires plenty of moisture. We haven’t had any rain for several weeks and the ground is parched- despite all the record-breaking amounts of rain we’ve had over autumn and winter.

Usually, the tree recovers and produces a new set of leaves to replace the ones that have shrivelled. Watering and throwing some fleece over at night usually nurses it along until we get more even growing conditions in early summer. I’ve known them to suffer from a type of rust, and also canker. But apart from that, they are very pretty trees. They either like you, or they don’t though!

We had a question about a montana clematis failing to flower. This is my clematis Montana Wilsonii. The one the caller had was a pink variety, planted last year and growing in a pot next to an archway. The clematis on the other side of the arch was doing well.

Clematis montana flowers on the previous season’s wood. The caller hadn’t pruned it, but sometimes a montana clematis will take 2-3 years to settle into flowering as its first thought is to grow to the top of the archway.

Clematis don’t do as well in pots, unless they are a really good size and you can keep up with the watering requirements. So it would be best to plant the clematis in the ground and keep it well fed and watered. Potash feed, again, for flowers. And prune immediately after flowering, although I hardly prune my montana clematis to be honest. It’s pretty low maintenance, once established.

And finally, we had a caller wanting to buy a Venus fly trap. They are usually sold at local garden centres, which of course, are not open at the moment. However several are making deliveries, so it’s worth ringing round to source supplies of plants. I’ve found this one on line from QVC. I’ve bought various plug plants, bedding and bird food from QVC and found the service to be quick and reliable. However, I’ve never bought any fly trap plants from them, so can’t say more than I have managed to find a supplier.

I hope you’ve found these notes useful. Please listen in on Wednesdays at 12.30 with Ben Jackson and on Sundays (usually) with Dave Andrews at 1pm on your smart speaker, DAB 104.9FM or on BBC Sounds.

It’s great to be involved with local radio gardening and we try to offer something for experienced gardeners wanting to try new varieties and grow for shows, and also for those who have never grown anything before. All questions welcome. We will try our best to help. I am part of an experienced team.

Comments box is right at the bottom of the page, below hashtags, social media sharing and links.

BBC Sounds to listen back: At 2.37.30 on the timeline.

Links :

BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour 19 April 2020

Notes for anyone listening to BBC Radio Leicester today. You can send e mails, texts and messages for free gardening advice. I’ve been a travelling head gardener and a garden designer for 25 years. I write for weekly Garden News Magazine. I grow my own fruit, veg and flowers at home on a one acre plot created from a ploughed field. Currently, I’m speaking each week from the potting shed during the corona virus epidemic. Here’s the view from the potting shed, for anyone who likes blossom. Turn up the sound to hear the birdsong.

We cater for everyone. So if you’ve never gardened before and want some essential tips to get started, get in touch. We can help experienced gardeners wanting to grow the latest varieties or try something new. Maybe you want to grow more salads and veg for the family. Or you might fancy the challenge of growing for a “virtual” flower show. We can help.

This week we talk about growing tomatoes. I’m growing classic beefsteak variety Marmande for cooking, and tasty cherry tomato, Tumbling Tom for salads. My plants are 12cm (5″) tall and the roots are coming out of the bottom of the pots, so I’m potting them on. They’ve been growing in 7.5cm (3″) pots and I’m moving them up to 12.5cm (5″) pots. They will eventually go into 25cm (10″) pots and window boxes, but they have to be moved up in stages as tomatoes don’t like lots of cold wet compost around their roots.

Tomatoes like plenty of warmth, so I’ll keep mine indoors until the end of May. Tomato leaves turning yellow could be an indication the plants are getting too cold overnight, especially if they are right next to the greenhouse glass. Move them to the middle of the greenhouse and create a fleece tent to keep temperatures more stable between night and day. Remove fleece promptly in the morning. Alternatively, yellow leaves could mean the plants are running out of feed. Composts usually contain feed for about six weeks. But yellow leaves indicate a lack of nitrogen, so feed with a very dilute tomato fertiliser. Move plants on promptly when the roots have filled the pots. Don’t over water as plants also hate cold wet feet. Use tepid water. Bring the watering can in to the greenhouse to warm up. Cold water causes shock. Tomatoes need warm steady growing conditions and don’t like swings in temperature. Try to water them in the morning so they are not left cold and wet at night. Aim the watering can at the roots and keep the foliage dry.

While I’m stuck at home, I’m looking about to see what I can do to keep connected with the outside world. One thing I’m doing is joining in with the Rainbows 5K challenge.

Rainbows is a hospice in Loughborough, supporting children and young people with life-limiting conditions. They receive only 15 percent of their funding from the government and everything else has to come from donations. The corona virus lockdown means they can’t run all the usual fund-raising events. But the 5K challenge is one way everyone can help out.

You can take part anytime between now and May 31st. I’ll be logging my walking while I’m mowing the grass, weeding, raking, hoeing and plodding about the plot between the greenhouse and potting shed. I am sure digging also counts!

You can also help by tagging rainbows on social media to keep them in the public’s eye by posting photos on Facebook @rainbowsfanpage and on twitter and Instagram @rainbowshospice.

Children and all ages can take part. You can walk, run, hop, skip, cycle. Think of me weeding and cutting the grass for hours on end. At least the garden will look lovely, and it’s all in a good cause!

The National Gardens Scheme is also a charity close to my heart. Mum and I usually spend every Sunday visiting an NGS garden, having a cup of tea and piece of cake and buying a few plants. The lockdown means no gardens are open this summer. But the charity has launched a ‘Support Our Nurses’ campaign with virtual tours and JustGiving pages.

There are three gardens so far featured in leicestershire: Brook End in Wymeswold, with spring blossom, tulips and daffodils and ponds. There’s also Donna’s Garden at Snowdrop Ridge in Market Harborough, which should have opened for the first time this summer. There’s a wonderfully calming goldfish pond video.

Also a ‘walk through’ at Oak House, South Kilworth.

Donations support nurses working for MacMillan and Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Carers Trust, The Queens Nursing Institute. The NGS also helps Parkinson’s UK, Perennial and Horatio’s Garden for spinal injuries.

During the programme I mention our concerns for growers, garden centres and nurseries which are not allowed to open during the lockdown. There are fears many might go out of business with plants having to be skipped. Livelihoods are on the line.

I mention the Garden Centre Association #SupportYourLocalGardencentre campaign at There’s a list of garden centres providing local deliveries.

Val and Steve Bradley from BBC Radio Kent, the Sun newspaper, have created a list of growers and nurseries offering mail order and/ or deliveries.

I’ve provided a limited and ever-changing list for Leicestershire here: If you want to be added, please get in touch.

Thank you for joining us at BBC Radio Leicester. These are strange and difficult times for all of us, but we can keep connected through social media and listening to the radio. It’s amazing how we can all help by taking little steps at a time. They all join up to a giant leap forward, don’t you agree. Get in touch and let me know what’s looking good in your garden and how you are getting on during this lockdown time. Are you managing to get on with your gardening? Is your garden providing a calm sanctuary. I know mine is right now.


Rainbows 5K Challenge :

National Gardens Scheme

Garden Centre Association lists :

Val and Steve Bradley nurseries/growers list:

You can follow me on twitter @kgimson

On instagram @karengimson1

And Pinterest @karengimson

Some photos from my garden:

Seedlings in the greenhouse, tomatoes, cosmos, onions, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers.

Planting out calendula Snow Princess grown in plug trays.

We had some winter storms and dead elms in the hedgerow.

The whole garden is scented by this viburnum. Planted in front of white cherry tree, prunus avium, and pink cherry Prunus Kanzan.

Pheasants Eye narcissi, still looking good in the cut flower beds.

Not all things go according to plan.

Cherry blossom. Stella. Lots of fruit, hopefully. Have never seen blossom like it. A good year for fruit trees.

Pear blossom. I’m keeping an eye on the weather. Fleece will be thrown over at night if there’s a frost.

Thank you for reading!

Rhubarb Cakes- Family Favourite Recipes

Here’s a quick and simple recipe using the first rhubarb of the season. We have literally run out of all treats in the house. I suddenly realised, if I wanted to have something nice for tea, I’d have to make it myself. Luckily the rhubarb clump we saved from Joan and Keith’s garden, now growing in a huge pot, is producing a daily supply of delicious fruit for baking. Enjoy!


For the base:

25g butter or vegan spread

50g light brown sugar

400g approx rhubarb, or whatever you have in stock. Can be peaches, apples, mandarin, pears, cherries.

For the topping :

50g butter or vegan alternative

150g sugar

3 eggs or alternative

190g SR flour

120g plain yoghurt

Few drops vanilla essence

Icing sugar to dust the tops

Oven temperature 180C

A pie dish, or loose-bottom cake tin. I used a 12 hole silicone muffin pan. Use a circle of greaseproof paper if you are not using silicone.


Melt the butter and sugar base ingredients together in the microwave. Take care not to burn it. Place in the bottom of the dish or muffin pans.

Remove the skin of the rhubarb and chop the sticks into small pieces.

Place rhubarb on top of the base mixture

Cream together the topping mixture butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs.

Fold in the flour and yoghurt.

Spoon the mixture over the rhubarb.

Cook for 35- 40 minutes or until the cakes slightly shrink from the sides, and a knife comes out clean. It will be less time for muffin cakes.

Leave to cool. Turn out onto a plate, upside down, and dust with icing sugar.

Keeps for three days in an airtight tin. Or can be frozen. Lovely with icecream, custard or just as they are with a cup of coffee at tea break time.


In a Vase on Easter Monday 13 April 2020

Finding comfort in familiar things, I’m posting my usual In a Vase on Monday. This time, it’s flowers from a friend. Narcissi from the Scilly Isles.

Scilly flowers arrive in the post in a well-packed box.

The label is smudged because I sprayed it with antibac before bringing the parcel in the house.

Beautifully wrapped in green tissue and brown paper. And there is a lovely card from my friend, Barbara.

There was enough for a display for the kitchen table and for the summerhouse. I used a vase that belonged to my mother-in-law Joan. I took a photo of the flowers and sent a card and letter to Joan and Keith. We haven’t seen them for three weeks. I’m worried Joan won’t know who I am when we can finally get out to see them. Very sad to hear they have to stay in their own rooms and can’t even see each other, let alone have visitors. I’m very grateful to the staff who are keeping our loved ones safe though. I hope we will be through this crisis soon.

Today’s flowers are Narcissi Geranium, cream flowers with an orange cup, and double cream Winston Churchill.

The scent is just glorious. They are a perfect combination.

Just beautiful for spring. Especially for Easter, when we usually fill the house with flowers and have lots of visitors.

I’ve made a writing and reading space in the summerhouse. We’ve had lovely weather this past week. Hoping it’s sunny where you are today.

In my baskets I’ve got gladioli bulbs. I’m planting these today in between the sweet peas through the hazel A frame on the veg plot. The hazel rods will help support the tall gladioli spikes. It’s good to be thinking about summer flowers. And hopefully we will all be able to get out and about to visit gardens, and our families in due course.

Get in touch and let me know what’s looking lovely in your gardens right now. How are you coping with the corona virus lockdown?

I’m joining with Cathy for her #IAVOM meme. Why not go over and see what everyone’s growing and arranging in their vases today, all over the world.

And finally, Happy Easter Monday to you all. Keep smiling. x

Cathy :

Six on Saturday – views from my garden April 11 2020

Tulip Mount Tacoma and forget-me-nots.

My favourite Italian terracotta pot near my front door. So sad there are no visitors to enjoy this lovely sight. I’m including it here, so you can all share in the magic of spring flowers. Fairly new introduction Exotic Emperor, a double form of the classic and popular Purissima. Has peony-like petals that curve and twist as they open, revealing a flash of green. Very lovely and my favourite. This is a fosteriana tulip, and here in the Midlands, it always flowers through April. Planted with Narcissus Geranium an heirloom bulb dating back to pre 1930. Beautiful, delicate fragrance. Perfect for cut flowers. I have a row in the veg garden for cutting. Multi-headed – some of the bulbs have four flowers to a stem. I love mixing the old with the new. I’m fond of traditional plants, but I love trying something new.

I’ve always grown the white Purissima tulip, so I thought I would try the new sport, Flaming Purissima, another fosteriana tulip. It is such a joy, with all shades of pink and red ‘flames’ over an ivory white background. Beautiful under a white cherry blossom tree. I’ve planted these in a trench on the veg plot for cut flowers. They last a week in a vase, and watching them turn from tight buds to open, flat, almost water lily-like flowers is a joy. These were introduced in 1999, and they reliably come through the winter and flower each spring for me.

So comforting to know we will have masses of cherries this summer. We leave the trees unpruned. Blackbirds enjoy the crop at the top of the tree, and there’s more than we can use around the downward – arching lower branches. I’ve planted narcissus Pheasants Eye under the trees as an experiment. They flower at the same time. They look so glorious, I’ll fill the orchard with them next spring. They cost very little and are a joy to behold. I’ve taken photos of the garden and made notes to remind myself to order bulbs in July and plant in September. If I don’t make a note, I seem to forget!

In the wild garden around the pond we have this un-named beauty. We planted these 30 years ago. I wish I’d recorded the name as I’d love to plant more as pretty and reliable as these. They have a wonderful scent too. Petals glisten and remind me of sugar coated violets. I wonder if you know what I mean.

And finally, a humble bellis daisy, growing in the cracks between the paving by the back door. I’ve been imploring (nagging) the family not to step on them all winter. I have a little patch 60cm square of delightful little daisies. There’s absolutely no soil there. I feel they deserve to live, having made such an effort to survive.

Enjoy your weekend everyone. This is not to say that we are not all desperately worried by what’s going on in the world, and in our own country. But I’m thinking this sharing of garden photos may help someone keep calm and carry on. There is really nothing else we can do at the moment. Stay at home, help the NHS, stay safe. And look around you and enjoy the beauty of nature. When this is all over, our gardens will still be there waiting for us.

Links: all bulbs were bought from

The bellis daisies came originally from my Mum in a little pot stood on the patio all summer. Seeds can be bought from

Please leave comments below and let me know what’s flowering in your garden this Easter time.

What’s flowering in the garden 7th April 2020 -BBC Radio #SowAlong #BBCRadioSowAlong

If you have been listening in to Gardens Hour on Wednesdays on BBC Radio Leicester, you’ll have heard our ‘ten minute tips’ recorded in Ben Jackson’s garden. I always come home and plant the same varieties in my windswept country garden. Ben’s plot is in a lovely sheltered walled garden in a village. His soil is beautifully free-draining, in a garden which must have been worked for 100 years. Mine is cold wet clay, created from farm land over the past 30 years. It’s an interesting contrast and I love to see how plants perform in both our gardens.

Here’s an update on plants, showing what they are looking like today.

We planted tulips for cut flowers on 29th October. These are Exotic Emperor, a new early-flowering tulip, a double form of the popular White Emperor. It has a long flowering period with delicately green flamed cream petals. Looks good for nearly six weeks.

We planted a ‘cut flower mix’ and mine included this lovely Tulip Flaming Purissima. This comes in a range of creams and pinks. Very pretty and reminiscent of the old fashioned flame tulips made famous in the Tulip-Fever era. Very long lasting, and weather resistant.

We planted bulbs ‘lasagna’ style in layers. Here’s my big Italian pot by my front door. This had snowdrops and dwarf iris in January, dwarf tete a tete daffodils in February, and now today has Hyacinth Blue Jacket, Exotic Emperor tulips and scented Geranium narcissi. When these are over, I’ll replant the pot with scented -leaved geraniums for summer.

In both our gardens we planted a range of daffodils to flower from February right through till the end of April. Here’s my pheasants eye narcissi planted under the cherry trees in the orchard. I’m so pleased with these, I’ll mass plant them in September for an even better display this time next year. I’ve gone round the garden making notes and taking photos to remind me where there are gaps and what changes I want to make. If I didn’t make notes, I’d forget by the time September arrives.

Talking about daffodils, we planted these Paperwhite narcissi on December 2nd. Some flowered at Christmas, but I held some pots back in the cold potting shed and brought them out a week apart so that I could have flowers for vases right through to the end of a March. Flowering times are dictated by amounts of daylight and heat. So plants can be manipulated to flower over a period of time.

We planted up our dahlias on 31st January. These were overwintered in a frost-free shed. I took 2″ cuttings in February and these have rooted in the propagator in 3″ pots at 18C. Above are the dahlias making really good growth in their seed trays, half filled with compost to start them off. They will stay in the greenhouse until the end of May.

We sowed our tomatoes on 28 February, and I pricked them out mid March. They are growing nicely just out of the propagator and on the greenhouse benches. I keep the greenhouse heated at 6C.

On 9th March we planted our tiny plug plants which cost about 60p each. We planted them individually in 3″ pots and put them on a sunny windowsill.

They have grown really well, and I’ve managed to take three lots of cuttings from the mother plants, which means lots of bedding plants for free. Taking cuttings makes them grow strong and bushy too, instead of tall and spindly.

We also planted up some impatiens plugs into 3″ pots. These are now in flower and I’m putting them into their summer containers to grow on. I didn’t pay for these plants. They were free samples from the grower, Ball Colgrave.

If you are listening in today, Wednesday 8th April, this is where I’m talking from because I’m isolating due to covid. I’ve got 100 cosmos seedlings in 3″ pots including a new variety Apricot Lemonade. I’m also growing calendula pot marigolds which are great for bees and butterflies. I’m growing the very pale lemon Snow Princess, and pretty calendula Orange Flash.

I’ve just planted my new potatoes, Charlotte and Lady Christl in two of the divided beds. They are planted 12″ (30cm) apart, 4″ (9cm) deep.

I’ve also planted my broad beans, De Monica which is a new variety specially bred for spring sowing. I’ve sown double rows, with plants and seeds 9″ (23cm) apart. Seeds were planted 2″ (5cm) deep.

And this is the view from the greenhouse and potting shed. Turn up the sound to hear the birdsong. There’s a bank of wild cherry trees on two sides of the garden.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my greenhouse and garden. Hopefully the photos have jogged your memory about what we’ve been growing for our ‘ten minute tips.’ I’ll keep you posted on the progress of all these plants. I’m hoping the garden is going to be quite productive and very colourful this summer. That’s three uses of the word ‘hope,’ but under the circumstances, I think we all need some hope, don’t we.

Links : BBC radio Leicester Gardening – Sundays 1-2pm and Wednesdays 12.30 -1pm at the moment, subject to change due to covid.

DAB 104.9FM and at BBCSounds. Ask your smart speaker to tune in to BBC Radio Leicester.

Update: today’s programme starts at 2.36.23 on the timeline.

Contacts and Information to help you through Corona Virus Lockdown

On BBC Radio Leicester, I talk about my garden, what I’m growing, and try to answer listeners’ phone-in and text queries.

Local radio is helping me find food and supplies whilst I’m in lockdown at home and cannot get out. This week I heard about a catering company delivering fresh food boxes around Leicestershire. I’ve given up attempting to get a delivery slot with supermarkets. Instead I’m going to support small companies, farm shops and cafes which are trying to keep their businesses going by adapting to current needs.

I’ve compiled a list of sources of help and advice you might need -to get you through the corona virus crisis. The BBC’s motto at the moment is #BBCMakeADifference. Here’s the people I think are making a difference right now. And I am mostly focusing on the gardening world. Please add anything you feel might be helpful, in the comments below and I’ll update this list and repost it. Please keep checking back for additions.


We are unable to get out to visit gardens, but we can still view them on the computer and help charities. It’s good to look at something cheerful at the moment.

The NGS raises money for Marie Curie and Macmillan Nurses, among others, and stands to lose 90 percent of its income this year, with all gardens closed for the foreseeable future. Nurses are needed more than ever, so this is a disaster for the famous much-loved Yellow Book charity. I’ve joined the county team to help them publicise on-line events this year.

What they are doing: posting you tube videos of gardens and asking supporters to make a small donation via the just giving pages.



How to obtain plants for our gardens through the corona lockdown:

With the closure of garden centres and other retail outlets, sales of ornamental plants are being badly hit. Growers are seeing orders cancelled and staff are being laid off. Some growers say they will go out of business. The Horticulture Trade Association (HTA) is calling on the government to offer general and financial support. Meanwhile, in an effort to support smaller nurseries who currently don’t sell on line, social media app Candide is listing nurseries and creating an interactive map which will take you to nursery websites. Candide has 300,000 members.

Rosy Hardy from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants is helping nurseries with advice on sustainable packaging and hints and tips on selling mail order and on line.

Alan E Down is presenting online Candide Garden Club Talks starting on Tuesday April 7 at 6pm -7pm. There will be ‘what to do in the garden’ tips and a question and answer session on Zoom app. This talk will be free.


ALISON LEVEY is showing videos of her garden with a link to a just giving page, in aid of the NGS :

30 DAYS OF WILD PARENTING is suggesting ways we can all engage with nature at this stressful time. Feeding the birds and learning more about them is one idea on the blog.

THE THREE GROWBAGS, three sisters with a #DigYourOwnaForCorona daily posts on gardening and how to create a veg patch. A light-hearted guide to lift your spirits during this worrying time:

SALLY WICKS is writing an on-line diary about her gardening life. She is keen for us all to grow flowers this summer to fill our windowsills with colour and joy. Lots of expert help and advice on all aspects of growing.

GARDEN NINJA provides you tube guides for people who are self isolating. Gardening tips for any level of skill for any size space. Explains the theory and shows practical elements of gardening.

GROWING FAMILY is a website packed full of ideas and resources for gardening with children. Lots of ideas to get the whole family out there growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. Craft activities, and projects for all ages.

MIKE PALMER uses Facebook and Instagram live to share his garden and to answer questions on improving your garden and on planting and garden design ideas.

@mikepalmer01 on instagram

LIFE ON PIG ROW Working with AGENTS OF FIELD to show you what you can grow, cook and eat. #whydontyou hashtag. Asking people to share favourite recipes, hobbies, crafts and skills. It’s all about finding the positives at home and in the garden right now.

TAMSIN WESTHORPE Has published a free, down-loadable daily wall planner for children called ’30 Days of Fun in the Garden This April’ in conjunction with Orphans Publishing. It offers affordable ideas suitable for windowsill gardening. You don’t need any special skills or equipment. A boon for any parent with children at home at the moment.

ANNMARIE POWELL is providing a garden design show at lunchtimes, live on instagram @myrealgarden. There’s also a Facebook page where you can ask advice. And a blog post listing nurseries supplying gardening plants and materials.


This is obviously an ever-changing situation according to demand and government advice.

Brooklea Nursery, Rothley : 07599 515689

Goscote Nursery, Cossington: 01509 812 121

Six Acre Nursery, Costock. See website for details.

This page will be updated daily. Please let me know if you’d like anything adding which you think might be helpful.

Thank you for listening in to the gardening shows on BBC Radio Leicester. It’s not the easiest situation at the moment with me on the phone in the potting shed – separated from the team. But I’m cheerfully carrying on, and hope that you are finding the advice helpful at the moment.

Radio Leicester is on your smart speaker, DAB and 104.9FM and on BBC Sounds to listen again.


A much-loved parkland in our county. Home of Lady Jane Grey, the ‘nine days queen.’ Jane was the great grand daughter of Henry Vll through his younger daughter Mary. She was queen from 10 July to 19 July 1553. She died in the Tower of London 12 February 1554. Here’s a virtual tour though the park created in response to the covid crisis.

The Secret Lives of Garden Bees- Book Review


Hardback 191 pages

RRP £25

ISBN 978 1 52671 186 1

Published by Pen and Sword/ White Owl Books. Foreword by Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Photo from my garden. White-tailed bumble bee on Echinacea White Swan.

Last spring and early summer, we woke every morning to the glorious sound of bees. From dawn till dusk, bumble bees buzzed around the bedroom windows – flung open to welcome warm weather. There is nothing more soothing that waking up to the low hum of bees. We revelled in the sound. We lay there and just listened. There seemed to be nothing more important in the world than listening to ‘our’ bees. And we watched them too. We tried to count them. There were too many to count. Our bees made a nest in the eaves of the house. And they thrived. At one stage we thought we had a swarm. Their fairly relaxed comings and goings suddenly turned frantic. We fretted. What was wrong. Had we read Jean Vernon’s new book – The Secret Lives of Garden Bees – we would have realised our colony was the Tree Bumble Bee, (Bombus hypnorum). And we would have realised their behaviour was perfect normal. They were not under attack, or ill, or annoyed! The sudden frantic behaviour with bees apparently “boiling” out of the nest was perfectly natural. The sudden melee was caused by hundreds of hopeful male bees looking to mate with the newly-hatched queens. Jean’s beautiful book would have been a reassurance. If our bees return again this year we will be armed with more knowledge and will be able to enjoy them all the more.

In Jean’s book we learn that the Tree Bumblebee is a relative newcomer to the British Isles, first appearing here in 2001. It’s a common bee now, making nests under house eaves and in garden bird boxes. It’s an early-emerging bee, with overwintering queens first appearing in February. If nests are disturbed, the Tree Bumblebee can create a real buzz and bees can sting anyone nearby, giving them a bit of a reputation for being aggressive. We had no trouble with ours, but, on the other hand, we didn’t interfere with them, respecting their space and keeping away. Occasionally some would get stuck on this side of the glass, but they were easy to shoo out of the window.

Photo: my i-phone pic of Jean’s photo in her book. The lovely Tree Bumblebee. A relative newcomer to the UK.

Jean’s book gives tips on identifying our garden bees. There are, apparently “cuckoo bees” that look just like the bee species they affect. Cuckoo bees lay eggs in their host bee’s nest, who unsuspectingly raise the cuckoo bee’s young. Luckily, our Tree Bumblebee doesn’t seem to have a cuckoo species that affects it in the UK, but in Europe there is one, Bombus norvegicus.

Hints and tips on helping bees include which plants to grow; plenty of summer flowering varieties, and not forgetting plants that flower in late winter and autumn too. For our Tree Bumblebee, Jean suggests putting up a nest box about 3 metres high in a sheltered place.

Photo: Bumble bees can be trapped in acanthus flowers. Photo from the book by Jean Vernon.

Jean’s book is split in to eight chapters, covering types of bees, bee behaviour, bee food, good plants to grow, and also plants that are deadly for bees. I had no idea acanthus flowers can become a trap. Bees climb inside the flower attracted by the nectar flow, and cannot escape. Late-emerging queen bumblebees caught in this way will deprive the garden of a whole generation of bees. A sobering thought.

Generally speaking ‘good plants’ to grow would be vipers bugloss (echium vulgare) lavender, foxgloves, and other long tubular flowers such as penstemons, comfrey and salvias. Members of the pea family, vetches and birds foot trefoil are also recommended.

Photo: perennial borage loaded with nectar. Photo in the book is by Martin Mulchinock.

Photo: bee look-alike, common drone fly. Original photo by Martin Mulchinock.

There’s plenty of surprises in Jean’s book, including news that we have a bumble bee that looks like a panda – the black and white Ashy Mining Bee (Andrena cineraria). Who knew?

We have tiny bee mimicks called bee flies (Bombylius discolor), which look totally adorable. I’ve been very fond of these fluffy creatures all these years. There’s a thriving colony of them in the garden. However, I am horrified to read they flick their eggs into the nests of poor unsuspecting Ashy mining bee and parasitise them. How could anything so cute be so deadly. I shall look at them in quite a different light from now on!

Meanwhile, I’ll read and enjoy the detailed growing section focusing on phacelia, cosmos, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, currants, borage etc. Luckily I have all those growing this summer for my enjoyment, and now I’ll also be reassured I’m looking after bees as well.

Do you see many bumble bees in your gardens at all? Please leave a comment below and the publishers will randomly select a name to send out a free copy of Jean’s book. I enjoyed every page. It’s a joy to have something as wonderful as bees to focus on. It’s a beautifully-written and well-illustrated book. And there was a message for me. Bees are under attack from poisons, predators, disease. And us- destroying their natural nesting sites. And yet they persist. We must do the same. Thank you for reading the blog. Please keep in touch. Karen.

Pecan Coffee Bites. Cheer-me-up Recipes for Covid

I managed to find a catering company sending out boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables for my Mum. Such a huge relief. On-line shopping is hopeless and there’s a three week wait. I listened in to BBC Radio Leicester, and heard an announcement about small companies trying to survive the covid crisis, and help. And amazingly, the catering company is in the next village to Mum! I’d never heard of them, but I listened as they described filling boxes with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, butter, eggs and delivering them around the county. Their livelihoods are at risk, all public events, parties and wedding are cancelled for this year. It’s a huge comfort to know Mum will have fresh food without having to go out. Anyway at home here, we have now run out of nice treats such as chocolate, biscuits and cakes. I never realised how many times I just popped to the shops for the odd item here and there. Not being able to go out is difficult. To say the least. I’m sharing my recipe for coffee pecan bites as they may be just the cheer-up you need today. Keep positive and focus on all the good everyone is doing. Lots of love to you all. Xx


For the cakes:

50g self-raising flour

50g low fat spread, can be vegan spread

1 tbsp cocoa powder

2.5 tbsp sugar or granulated sweetener

1 tsp baking powder

1tbsp instant coffee powder

Pecan halves to decorate

Pinch of salt

2 large eggs ( or 1 mashed banana, or 4 tbsp oat milk, or vegan egg substitute)

You will need reusable silicone fairy cake cases. Ours came from Lakeland Plastics.


This is suitable for any cakes or biscuits you might make


25g butter, or margarine, low fat spread ( can be vegan sunflower spread )

50g icing sugar

1tsp cocoa powder

1tsp coffee powder.


Set the oven to 190c / gas 5

Place all the cake ingredients, apart from the pecans, in a bowl and mix with an electric hand whisk. The mixture should be light, smooth and fluffy with lots of air incorporated from the whisking.

Place a tablespoon of mixture in each cake case. Stand the cake cases on a metal baking tray.

Place the cakes in a pre-heated oven and cook for 16 minutes.

Cakes will slightly shrink from the sides of the cakes cases when cooked and a knife will come out clean.

Set aside to cool


Mix the buttercream ingredients together. If using butter, slightly warm in the microwave to incorporate. Pile 1 tsp of buttercream on top of the cakes and add 1 pecan half for decoration. You can use any nuts if you don’t have pecans. It’s very nice with almond slices or hazel nuts.


Can be stored in airtight container for 3 days. Or can be frozen before adding the buttercream.

Perfect with morning coffee, or as a sweet for a main meal. Place one on top of any fruit, such as sliced pears, to create a simple pudding. Pear and coffee/ chocolate make a tasty combination.

What recipes are you turning to to help you through this current crisis? Are you managing to obtain all the shopping items you need? I can highly recommend listening to your local radio station. They have a campaign called BBCMakingADifference. And I think they are doing so. Thank goodness.