In a Vase on Monday- Autumn Jewels

It always seems as if flowers in mid November shine brighter than at any other time of the year. They are making a last ditch attempt to attract attention.

Dahlia David Howard, a glorious marmalade orange, takes centre stage. It’s on borrowed time. All the foliage is tipped black, touched by frost. Just a few flowers have escaped. For now.

The first pair of my 3 metre long cut flower beds lie under a weeping plum tree. The branches hang down almost to the ground. The canopy of branches gives just enough protection from the frost to extend the flowering season.

Making a backdrop to the beds is a small but prolific orchard. There’s two cherry trees, three apples, two pears- and a new quince tree that’s provided it’s first proper harvest this year.

It looks like this from the far side of the orchard. There’s plenty of pruning to do this winter.

My ten flower and veg beds are 3 metres long, by about 1.3 metres wide, with narrow paths between. I now garden on a no-dig system, following the principals made famous by Somerset farmer Charles Dowding. When each crop is finished, I don’t disturb the soil. I simply add two inches of compost and plant straight through. That way, weeds aren’t brought to the surface and the worms and mini- creatures living in my soil are not chopped into pieces. It seems to be working a treat, and my back appreciates being let off all that digging!

Dotted about, in amongst the kale and the cabbages, are patches of flowers. I wrote about annual chrysanthemum rainbow mixed https://bramblegarden.com/tag/chrysanthemums/ here. Seeds from Mr Fothergills cost £1.75 and were sown in March and planted out in May. They have been providing non-stop flowers since.

I particularly love this orange chrysanthemum. It is a perfect match for the autumn hues in this little bunch of flowers.

I’m lucky enough to be given new seeds to try out. This summer, my favourite calendula was Orange Flash from Mr Fothergills. It’s been an outstanding performer. http://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Calendula-Seed/Calendula-Orange-Flash.html#.W-nyCyenyfA

There are a few tiny coreopsis left. And yellow, orange and burgundy nasturtium flowers. Very welcome in posies – and the salad bowl where nasturtiums add a lovely peppery tang to the winter mizuna, mustard and miners lettuce. Such a treat as the weather turns cold.

I rarely take part in prize draws, but this week, on a whim, I joined in with one from the English Garden Magazine. It must have been my lucky day as I won! Now I’ve got some new music to garden to. Just as well, as I’ve found some more tulips I’d ordered and forgotten about. That’s my job for tomorrow sorted.

David Howard dahlias came from https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/dahlias/dark-leaved-dahlias/dahlia-david-howard.

As always, I’m linking with Cathy for this week’s IAVOM. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and picking for their flower vases this week. And don’t forget to let me know what plants are still in flower in your garden this autumn. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/.

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway

Book Review

Kate Bradbury. Published by Bloomsbury Wildlife. Hardback £16.99

It’s been a difficult year. I’m only just getting over serious illness myself, and then three relatives have been ill. I’ve been stretched to the limits trying to help everyone. So when I picked up Kate Bradbury’s book, it seemed to have been written specially for me. There’s a message of hope on every page.

Kate’s struggling too. Some kind of crisis. A broken heart. She ends up homeless, sleeping on friends’ sofas. She has to leave London and make a new home in a damp dark, basement flat. Even worse, the garden is a dead place. Decked over and full of rubbish. And yet, Kate’s book is not a tale of woe. It’s about struggling and striving. But ultimately, there’s a message of hope. After pain and suffering there can be triumphs and happiness again. It’s a message I needed to hear. I made myself a reading corner in the greenhouse and tried to absorb the positive vibes. It’s not easy when you are in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes I’d read the same paragraph over and over again, without registering the words. Stress is such a debilitating thing.

Kate turns her decked-over garden into a wildlife paradise. She makes a pond, puts up bird boxes and revels in every creature that comes to live in her tiny plot. It’s not just a book about rescuing a garden, it’s about rescuing a person too. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit. We may be bowed down and almost defeated by life’s events, but we will triumph. Nature, wildlife and gardens are a balm. Wouldn’t you agree.

I particularly love Kate’s descriptions of making a bee hotel and building a pond. I learn that a pond doesn’t need to be more than 30cm deep to be of value to wildlife. I could manage that. There’s plenty of places where I could fit a pond. And her tales of rescuing bees. I’d heard about giving bees spoons of sugar. Kate talks about finding an exhausted bumblebee on the pavement. She pops it in her pocket to keep it warm while she walks home. I’d never thought of doing that. She puts the red-tailed bee in a box with a pop bottle lid full of sugar water. It’s too cold and wet for the bee to go outside, so Kate gently places some shredded paper in the box to make a cosy nest until the morning. Apparently, some bees can be helped by gently stroking their thorax. I looked it up. That’s the part of the body between the wings. I can have a go at that too, if needed. Kate gives me confidence to try. Next day, Kate releases the revived and now grumbling bee. She searches for a mahonia plant to give the bee the best chance of survival.

There are lots of hints and tips sprinkled through the book for anyone wanting to make a wildlife garden.

Regular readers will know that we planted a mini-wood when we moved here, and I grow flowers and plants for pollinators. Now I have a few more good ideas for helping wildlife in my garden. Kate’s inspiring book and joyful message was just the pick-me-up I needed, to be honest.

The publishers have kindly given one free book as a prize for readers of this blog. Usual rules apply. One name will be randomly selected in the prize draw. There’s no cash alternative. Publishers decision is final. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw. Sorry, UK entries only.

Late October Blooms

I love the way the garden provides a last-minute rush of colour. Late October flowers have such magic. A message of hope. Winter is on the way, but spring will return – and so will the flowers.

Today’s flowers are like jewels. They are as welcome as the intermittent bursts of sunshine. There’s little warmth in the sun’s rays, but these flowers light up any room.

Shining brightly in the middle of the posy is rudbeckia. I believe this variety is Goldsturm. A reliable plant that flowers on and off all summer and then puts on a show stopping display in October. Goldsturm is a perennial form with flowers growing to 60cm tall. I love its dark brown central cone which sets off the yellow flowers a treat. It’s great for pollinators too. In my garden, the flowers are covered in bees and hoverflies.

Another daisy flower I’m particularly fond of is the white argyranthemum. Sadly the name has been lost in the mists of time. Perhaps someone will read this and let me know what it’s called. It’s been growing here for 30 years, so I can attest to its longevity! The centre for the flower starts off greeny-yellow and fades to pure swan white. Flowers last for at least a fortnight in a vase. Such a good value, reliable plant.

Adding a shot of blue is this wonderful aster- now renamed tongue-twisting symphyotrichum. I think I’ll be sticking with the original name to be honest.

October roses are so precious. Of course, they are glorious in the heat of mid summer. But they really are a joy just as the weather turns cold and miserable. I appreciate the scent more now than in June. In summer I’m always rushing around, too busy to smell the roses. By October, I’m slowing down. I drink in the scent, knowing I’ve got to hold on to that memory right through the cold days ahead. I’m kind of winter-proofing myself. Looking for a floral armoury to protect me from winter.

This hybrid tea rose is called Special Occasion. It has a fruity scent and is easy to grow and disease resistant. It’s a rose I can highly recommend.

There’s two varieties of anemone in today’s posy. One is pink, possibly September Charm, and one white, Honerine Joubert. You need plenty of space to grow anemones. We divide them every three years to keep them compact. There’s always plenty of spare plants to give to friends.

Fuchsias and salvias provide a splash of pink, and there’s a few Blueboy cornflowers too. There hasn’t been a week when the cornflowers haven’t provided a few flowers. They’ve been fabulously prolific, despite the heat and drought.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my slide show of today’s flowers. As always, I’m joining Cathy for her In a Vase on Monday meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and putting in their vases this week.

And let me know what plants you are growing at the moment. Are you, like me, winter-proofing yourself in some way. The colours of my October flowers remind me of a stained glass window. Wouldn’t you agree.

In a Vase on Monday

Today’s posy is for restless hands. Hands that once embroidered, sewed, knitted, baked. Soothed small children. Typed. Wrote. Created. And now they are restless.

Hands clasping and unclasping. Reaching for mine and leading me to the door. Beseeching. “Lets go home. We’ll leave a note. They won’t notice we’ve gone.”

We cannot go home. We are here for tests. She’s in hospital for the first time in her life. And I am mesmerised by the hands. Literally, the ringing of hands.

While I wait in a corridor, I look for “hand-wringing.” Noun. Cambridge Dictionary. “If you wring your hands, you show that you are worried or unhappy.”

Collins English Dictionary: “Expressing or showing feelings. When you are expressing sorrow that a situation is so bad, but are saying you are unable to change it.”

‘Hand-wringing: the repeated clasping and unclasping or squeezing of the hands as a symptom of distress. In the face of a dilemma or crisis.”

An example of use is given:” No amount of hand wringing can change the situation.”

Powerless. Great distress. Confusion. The words go round my head.

I hold those hands. And in my desperation to know what to do I supply all that I can think of to soothe and comfort. A small posy of herbs; rosemary and lavender for memory. Scented pelargonium tomentosum. Leaves as gentle as velvet. Sunflowers for joy. Calendula for healing. A tiny hand posy. A corsage for courage. There’s no need for armfuls of flowers. What’s needed right now is the small, the familiar. Something to hold. As I work the flowers back and forth, binding and sealing in moisture and life, my hands echo hers. Twisting and turning. Clasping. Unclasping. Until we are finally both still. Calm. Patient. Accepting. Still.

Alzheimers.org.uk

In a Vase on Monday – Cathy at ramblinginthegarden

Sunflowers for Joan

I’m glad I planted sunflowers on every spare inch of ground this summer. Somehow, I must have known we would need them.

When my mother-in-law Joan was diagnosed with Alzheimers a few years ago, I started a cut flower garden. Each week I’d run round picking twigs from shrubs and flowers from the patch, anything to give her an idea of what my garden looked like- and keep her connected to me.

In my heart, I knew that one day I would simply be, the girl who brings flowers.

Nothing could have prepared me for the heartbreak when that moment arrived. It was literally overnight. One minute, I was her Karen, married to her son for 30 years. Mum to her two granddaughters. With all our shared memories of the ups and downs of family life; illnesses overcome, failures commiserated, success celebrated. The pain and triumphs of ordinary family life. A life shared. And the next, I was just someone. Someone who brought flowers.

The sense of loss is overwhelming. I’m standing on their front doorstep, flowers in my hand, and she doesn’t really know who I am. I have to remind myself to breathe. I’m literally holding my breath, hoping I’m wrong.

I stay overnight – we’ve all been taking it it turns. I’m part of a large and very supportive family. Everyone has stepped in over the past few years to help out. No one could have done more. Next morning, I find Joan standing by my bed. “Tell me who you are, and who am I to you?” she asks. I try not to cry. It wouldn’t help. I say we’ll have tea and toast and over breakfast I’ll explain everything. I can’t face the task without a cup of tea. Simple things. One step at a time. We have a really lovely breakfast together. There’s hand embroidered table cloths and pretty china cups. Joan tells me she loves honey because her father kept bees at the bottom of the garden when she was little. I didn’t know that. She likes honey every day because it reminds her of him. After breakfast I get out the family photo album and explain who everyone is. She’s delighted to have such a large happy family. Joan was an only child and always wanted a big family. Her three children have produced five grandchildren and one great grandson. And she’s always been very close to all of them. And yet. On this day. She can’t remember any of them. Only her father who she says is upstairs. Did I know he was there, she asks? I gently explain he’s been dead a long time. Five minutes later, we are still taking about her Dad. I can’t face telling her again that he’s not here. Joan seems to be going back in time. A parallel universe. I’m going forward, she’s going back. Only when we talk about flowers are we in the same world. The sunflowers look so cheerful, she says. It’s the only thing we can both agree on.

The cruelty of the illness is that it is like a bereavement. I’ve “lost” someone who always backed me up. Someone I could always turn to for help and support. A recipe, a knitting pattern. A costume for my daughter when she came home from school and cheerfully announced she needed a reindeer outfit for the play- the next day. Joan had a brown zip up suit she’d made for her son when he was eight. She’s kept it safe, and could put her hand on it straight away. How I love her resourcefulness. Make do and mend. Help everyone if you can. Nothing wasted. A lesson in life for all of us.

Now Joan needs our help and support and love. And luckily there are a lot of us willing and able to give it. The family have been amazing. But this blog is just about my thoughts and feelings and how I face challenges in life. And so I only mention what I am doing. Their stories are their own to speak about. But I want to make clear that everyone has played their part and been unstinting in their help.

I’m not the kind of person to be defeated by anything. So I have a new challenge now. My cut flower bouquets will fill the window ledges of the care home Joan’s just moved to. She’s there with her wonderful husband of 65 years. There will be flowers for the dining room tables, and flowers for the reception hall. I’ve sowed hardy annual seeds. Larkspur, calendula, love-in-a-mist, cornflowers. And I’ve ordered my sunflower seed for next spring.

I read somewhere about living in the “now” and creating moments of joy. My beloved Joan has a life made up of lots of moments of joy. We are all helping her find reasons to smile. And who can fail to smile when they see a sunflower.

Thank you to Cathy and everyone from IAVOM who have supported me these last few years when I’ve posted my posies for Joan. And for all the kind messages these past few weeks. They have been much appreciated.

For more information look on the Alzheimers Society website Here

These sunflowers were grown from Mr Fothergills All Sorts Mix. Click on the link to see the varieties. Sown in March in a propagator. Pricked out in April and planted out the first week of June. They’ve been providing multi-headed flowers all summer long.

Book Review winner – The Almanac by Lia Leendertz.

Thank you everyone who commented on my review for Lia Leendertz’ New Almanac for 2019. The review was published Here

The winning name selected is https://watchingthedaisies.com.

Thanks again to everyone who read the review and took part in the prize draw. I’m grateful to the publishers for supplying a copy to give away.

I shall be buying several copies for Christmas presents. A little bit of joy for every day of the year. Lovely to dip into to keep pace with the seasons.

Here’s my gap-in-the-hedge view from the top field. A lovely spot to stand and gaze at nature, while gathering rosehips and crab apples for autumn preserves. There are lots of enticing seasonal recipes in the new Almanac. A good excuse to try something new.

In a Vase on Monday

Few words will accompany today’s IAVOM. Regular readers will know that each week I run round my garden and make a bouquet from everything in flower. Today these flowers are sent to cheer anyone who’s ill, in pain or suffering.

Today I’m sitting by the hospital bed of someone I love. Someone I’ve known all my life. The hospital staff are like angels. So compassionate, caring, patient. I’m overwhelmed by everything they do. They care for me too, reassure me, prop me up when I start to sink.

For the past few months, I’ve been visiting my relatives – I won’t name them to protect their privacy- virtually every other day, becoming more and more concerned and not knowing what to do for the best.

On Sunday, I called an ambulance. And nothing now will be the same again.

I will have to live with the guilt, as they didn’t want to go. We arrived at hospital at 4pm. They were on the ward in a bed by 6pm. So relieved the stories of lying in hospital corridors for hours on end did not happen to us.

Today, I’m on automatic pilot. Flowers are picked. There’s a comfort in familiar things. The flowers have gone on the relatives’ window ledges as usual. There’s no one there to see them. But passers-by will enjoy them. The front garden is weeded and the grass neat and tidy.

Flowers have the power to soothe and comfort. And there’s never been a time when they’ve been needed more. I’m thinking of all the years these posies have given joy to my relatives and all the carers and visitors to their home. A cheerful welcome at their front door. And flowers always on the mantelpiece and kitchen window.

Sending my best wishes to you all.

The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2019

Book Review

Lia Leendertz. Illustrated by Celia Hart

Octopus Books/ Mitchell Beazley. Hardback £10. September 6 2018.

Captivated from the first page, I keep dipping into the new Almanac, published this week. I loved Lia Leendertz’ first seasonal guide created for 2018. The new version for 2019 is just as magical, if not better.

I’ve made a kind of nest in the summerhouse, heaping cushions and old quilts on a comfy armchair. It’s peaceful in here, only the sound of thrushes tap taping snail shells on the stone path. It’s just the place to settle down and delve into Lia’s book.

There’s something comforting about being in tune with the natural world around us. Checking the times for sunrise and sunset, sea temperatures, tides, moon phases. I haven’t tried planting by the moon, but there’s dates and times to get me started. It seems to make perfect sense. I love the little moments of joy. Reading that day length increases by 1 hour and eight minutes during the course of January. It gives hope when it’s needed most. Here’s the page for January. Plough Monday is included in the dates listed. I heard my grandfather talk of Plough Monday- traditionally the start of the agricultural year. The book is like a siren call leading me back through time to my farming family ancestors. A reminder to keep in my heart their customs and celebrations.

There’s recipes such as Epiphany tart, a kind of jam pastry, with a star made with overlapping triangles and each “well” containing a different flavour. I hadn’t heard of this; it sounds delicious. There’s a tradition dating back to the 1600s of creating tarts with intricate pastry patterns, coloured with different jams. I wonder if my great grandmother Annie Foulds – who was head cook at Bradgate House- would have made such a dish. She made the most delicious cakes at home at Carters Rough Cottage, Groby.

Lia’s writing is perfectly complemented by illustrations from artist Celia Hart. The prints are so beautiful they draw you in, much as a photograph of a glorious scene makes you want to step into the landscape. It’s impossible not to stare longingly at Celia’s drawings- and wish you could step into the page. I’d like to see those swifts and swallows soaring above my head and turn over the seashells she so wonderfully captures.

A mesmerising read, totally spellbinding. A beautiful month by month companion for me. For anyone, like me, who tries to weave the stories of the past into the journey to the future.

The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below if you’d like to be included in the prize draw. The publishers will pick a name and send out a copy. The publisher’s decision is final. Sorry UK entries only.

Please share this review on any social media platform you like. Thank you.

Here is the Amazon Link for The Almanac.

In a Vase on Monday – cut flowers from my garden

Despite the drought, my cut flower beds provide a steady flow of blooms for my MIL Joan and my Mum Marion. Here are a few of my favourites for this week’s IAVOM.

Chrysanthemum Rainbow Mixed- from Mr Fothergill’s – were sown in March, planted out at the end of May, and flower right through June to October. Seeds cost £1.75 a packet. I’m always looking for good value for money and these fit the bill.

In this tiny posy, I’ve placed them with cosmos, fringed dianthus, and sprigs of blue agapanthus. They’ll last five days in a vase.

Colours range from white and pale pink to red, all with lovely chocolate coloured centres.

Looks good with white goat’s rue, Galega Alba from Chiltern Seeds. Pure white spikes of pea-like flowers from June to September.

With white Catanache alba from Mr fothergill’s seeds.

With fringed pinks, meant to be grown as annuals, but are in their second year. Chiltern Seeds have a pretty frilly variety here.

Add in some easy to grow cosmos. This one is Seashells from Thompson and Morgan. Ferny foliage is an added bonus and excellent for making button holes or filling out bouquets.

Looks fabulous with Verbena Pink Spires, a perennial plant from Miles Nurseries, Hoby, Leicestershire. Never seems to be out of flower.

I wrote about my cut flower garden – and sharing the plot with hedgehogs and other wildlife Here.

Thanks to Cathy for hosting this IAVOM meme. Why not take a look to see what Cathy and all the others are growing and displaying. It’s fascinating to see that sometimes we are growing the same varieties in different countries all around the world.

Please kindly share this via any social media you like, and don’t forget to leave a comment in the box below.

BBC Radio #SundaySupplement flowers/ hedgehogs/ my garden, 12 August programme

Some photos to accompany today’s BBC Radio Leicester gardening Sunday Supplement programme. It was my turn to sit in and answer listeners’ gardening queries on the phone-in today.

As always, I ran round the garden and picked some flowers for my mother-in-law Joan and my Mum Marion to take in to the programme. Despite the heat and drought, my cut flower patch hasn’t let me down. There’s plenty of colour just now.

In the pink and blue theme posy there’s zinnia, Mophead hydrangea, cosmos seashells and white wild goats rue. The green umbels are actually parsley that’s gone to seed, and the whole bouquet is wreathed with blue borage. The pink whirls are Diascia Hopleys. Plants have grown to 5ft and been in flower for 8 weeks. There’s just one glorious inky-blue gladioli, and one annual pink chrysanthemum (Tricolor Mixed) which are only just starting to flower.

In the orange-theme bouquet there’s calendula, rudbeckia, spikes of verbascum, and seed heads from love-in-a-mist. White jasmine provides a wonderful scent, even if there are only two sprigs included here. Any more would be overpowering.

I could talk for hours about flowers, but the conversation steered towards wildlife in my garden. So for anyone wondering how my hedgehogs are getting on, we have four precious babies this year, one less than last summer. They are a month later than last year, but very healthy and active. I am feeding them with Spike hedgehog food to try to build them up for the winter. Fresh water is also really important and in scare supply, so lots of little dishes are placed all around the garden.

So far these hoglets are just 5″ long. I’ll keep an eye on them to ensure they meet the target weight of 650g by winter hibernation time.

I wrote about last summer’s hedgehogs Here. There’s also hints and tips on helping hedgehogs on the highlighted link.

Radio Leicester Sunday Supplement is available on i-player. There’s a link Here. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06fs2mb . Gardening starts at 1.09.31. Put your feet up and have a listen in.

Let me know what flowers are doing well in your garden right now, and do any of you have hedgehogs nesting in the garden this summer?

Please kindly share this on any social media platform, and don’t forget to say hello in the comment box below.