Christmas Flowers -In a Vase on Monday

There’s something very appealing about rooting around in ditches, searching for moss covered twigs and pieces of crumbly old bark. I like nothing better than finding bits and pieces that might come in handy for floral arrangements. It brings out the inner ‘Borrower’ in me. I suppose it’s the same as beachcombing for pretty shells and driftwood. Very soothing and satisfying.

It takes me an hour or so to gather enough twigs, moss, ivy and rosehips for today’s projects. The hedges are thick with swags of ivy all adorned with clusters of glossy green berries. These will ripen and turn black in time and provide a feast for the birds. Luckily, there’s enough for everyone to share. I never take too much from any one area.

Wild roses have taken years to climb to the top of the hedges and rosehips form great cascading arches right down to the ground in some places. Meg, my little puppy digs and burrows around in the ditch. She loves this occupation even better than I do, always keen to help, emerging with mouthfuls of sticks and an eager expression. By the end of the morning, my baskets are full, and Meg is happily muddy. We head home, mission accomplished. Setting the finds on the potting shed table, I’ve plenty of red-berried plain green holly, some trailing larch branches festooned with tiny gold fir cones, tendrils of old man’s beard or wild clematis and a pile of wild cherry stems, thick with flower buds already. These stems go into water and straight into the house where the warmth will bring them into flower by Christmas, if I’m lucky. I stand and survey the haul for quite some time. Then I wind willow and silver birch stems into hearts and circles and start to weave in the hedgerow bounty, adding crab apples and dried cow parsley seed heads which remind me of shooting stars. Meg sleeps on my coat in a box under the table, satisfied with her morning’s work. Occasionally, there’s a huge yawn, but mostly deep breathing, like a well fed baby. And in the peace and quiet, I can get on with my tasks.

White alstroemeria and tiny white Stallion chrysanthemum from the poly tunnel pots, adding colour to the hedgerow greens. White gypsophila, dried from the summer.

Hedgerow finds with dried hydrangea flowers and pine.

Teasels and Garryia elliptica on the field gates.

Hydrangea Annabelle with a clematis Montana and willow circle.

Hydrangea and old man’s beard clematis catching the sunlight.

A simple willow heart and ivy.

Christmas hellebore. One of the Gold Collection varieties. A welcome addition to seasonal arrangements. Slit the stem lengthways for 4″ and stand in water right up to the flower head, before using in arrangements.

Summerhouse posy. Holly, lavender and fir.

Rosy hydrangea flowers, wild clematis and pine.

Willow, dogwoods, skimmia and conifer stems.

Potting shed window. Rosehips, crab apples and cow parsley seeds.

Links : In a Vase on Monday. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/12/09/in-a-vase-on-monday-spike-revisited/

A Walk Around My Garden and Back Fields -7 December 2019

Can there be anything more cheerful in winter. Hyacinths, planted in October and grown in the dark, now brought out into the light. Roots climbing out of the pots. Emerald green flower spikes. The promise of flowers- and scent- at a time when we need promise. I potter about all day in the sunshine, planting bulbs, poking about in plant pots, looking for life. I find snowdrops. The tiny white flowers, tight closed. But soon they will be lighting up the garden.

In the greenhouse, the miniature iris bulbs are through. I’m growing Iris reticulata Harmony, a lovely deep inky blue; Katherine Hodgkin, pale blue, and a new variety, Katherine’s Gold, a sport which is a pretty pale yellow form.

These pots will be placed on garden tables in spring, but for now, they’ll stay protected in the greenhouse. Mice are very partial to bulbs.

All jobs completed- pots tidied for recycling, and a few leaves raked into piles to be turned into leafmould- I set off for my daily walk out though the top gate and along the hedgerow path.

Oak trees and hedgerows are almost bare now. A chance to enjoy the beautiful intricate structure of branches. Hidden views are revealed, and if we are lucky, we see a barn owl, hunting in the late afternoon as food becomes scarce.

Just a few crab apples remain on trees. Blackbirds and mice have had a feast this year. It’s been a record harvest.

I find a patch of oak leaves turning a glorious gold. But why haven’t the winter gales blown the leaves across the field, like the rest of them.

Looking closely, I find leaf galls on the undersides of the leaves. They are types of Oak Spangle galls. I wonder if they can somehow manipulate the chemical composition of the leaf to delay senescence. I have seen tiny insects, mine caterpillars, do this in my beech leaves. There are so many mysteries, so much more to learn. Who knows if this will be useful to humans in some way in the future.

On my beech tree leaves, a tiny green oasis remains. Evidence of tunnelling by the moth larvae of Stigmella tityrella. Have you ever noticed these on your trees before?

I find a hazel leaf cozily wrapped around a twig. I gently peep inside. Who could resist? A tiny cluster of ladybirds are snuggled at the base. I carefully fold the leaf back and hope they stay safe and sound until spring.

Turning back, the sun is starting to set. I can see our trees in the distance. A blackbird sings in the hedge. It sounds so loud on a still afternoon when there’s no one else around to hear it. Just me. It will be dark soon, so I hurry across the fields. Suddenly it feels cold. How quickly a sunny day can turn to dusk. Luckily I know the path well and could find the way with my eyes closed. Which is just as well, as it’s pitch black by the time I reach home.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share my blog and help me spread the word. Are you managing to get any gardening done at the moment. Get in touch and let me know.

Links: More than Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/07/six-on-saturday-07-12-2019/

Stigmella tityrella :http://www.leafmines.co.uk/html/Lepidoptera/S.tityrella.htm

Moths: https://ukmoths.org.uk/species/stigmella-tityrella

Galls: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/07/galls-to-spot-this-year/

Hozelock Tuffhoze – on Test at Bramble Garden

Prize Draw for readers.

*update: Mary Thomas has won the prize draw. Thank you everyone for leaving a comment.

Having been sent a new Hozelock hosepipe to try out, I discovered there’s a limit to my artistic talents. I just couldn’t think of any fancy ways to photograph said hosepipe! So here it is, piled on my garden bench. Even the cat is looking quizzically at me.

Anyway, my trial went much better than my picture-taking. I can confirm that the new Tuffhoze is a wonder. It’s lightweight and doesn’t twist, kink or trip you up.

As you can see, my old hosepipe has a leak, which means you get sprayed up the back every time you switch it on. It also almost causes a hernia when you need to manoeuvre it. It’s heavy and cumbersome, and wastes precious water.

Whereas the Tuffhoze is light enough to be carried on one arm. And here I am – arm outstretched, holding the hosepipe. I don’t think they will give me a job in their promotional department, but I’m trying very hard to make a hosepipe exciting!

As you can see from the box, the new hosepipe is a hybrid combining the best of two types of hose technologies; traditional pvc and textile. With a good 30 year guarantee, it should be hard wearing and long lasting.

I was delighted to be asked to try out the new hose and give it 10 out of 10 for being easy to use and light weight. I am always looking for ways to make gardening easier, and this addition to the garden will be a boon next summer.

I used the hosepipe to give my plant pots a clean, as there’s not much watering needed at this time of the year. All my spare plant pots are going to Dobbies garden centres where a new recycling scheme has just been launched. All plastic pots of any size and colour, and also trays are being accepted – but not polystyrene containers. Dobbies say the plant pots will be turned into pellets which will then be recycled into new plastic items. They say the pots will not end up in landfill. There are 34 garden centres in the UK and all are taking part in the recycling scheme. They just ask that the pots have been given a quick wash first, as too much soil will hamper the process.

So to sum up, the main plus points for Tuffhoze, for us gardeners, are:

* Easy to move about and lightweight

* Doesn’t kink

*UV resistant and hardwearing

* Good quality, leak free fittings

*Easy to clean

*Coils up neatly, making it easy to store. Can be wound on to a cart, but mine went back in the box.

*Comes with a jet nozzle with variable sprays.

*Has a tap converter, with two types of thread.

Fresh water is a luxury, and so, all the water I used to clean the plant pots was saved and will be used to water the poly tunnel over the winter. I didn’t need much as the powerful sprayer washed the pots really well.

Please leave a comment below if you would like to have your name put into a prize draw. The prize draw ends on Sunday 8th December.

Hozelock are running the competition and a name will be randomly selected. All the usual rules apply, there’s no cash alternative and Hozelock’s decision is final. I’m not sure what size hose they will be sending out, to be honest. It will either be 15m or 25m. Probably after Christmas now. Good luck!

Please help me spread the word about bramblegarden.com by sharing this post with a friend, a neighbour or via any social media platform you like. Thank you.

Christmas Recipes -Chocolate Panettone

Family Favourite Recipes

The most delicious panettone you’ll ever taste. These individual tins make lovely Christmas presents. I’m sharing this recipe now, to give you time to save enough tins. These went to all the children in the family. Adults had tins decorated with sprigs of rosemary and holly leaves with tiny hand stamped labels. If you make them, do share photos of yours.

INGREDIENTS

125ml milk

125ml water

600g strong white bread flour

7g sachet of dried yeast

1/2 tsp salt

75g mixed candied peel

75g sultanas and raisins

3tbsp sweet sherry (optional)

2 large free range eggs

2 large egg yolks ( save the whites for meringues)

75g golden caster sugar

Zest of large orange

150g butter

75g good quality dark chocolate, chopped, or use chocolate buttons

1 egg, beaten for brushing the tops

Soup tins, washed and dried and lined with baking parchment, 1″ higher than the top of the tin.

METHOD

Place the mixed peel, dried fruit, orange juice and sherry in a bowl to soak for 30 minutes. Set aside.

Heat the milk and water until just warm. Not hot.

Combine flour with the yeast and salt.

Add the liquid to the flour mix.

Add the butter a bit at a time, sugar, whole eggs and egg yolks

Put the mixture into a bread making machine and set on ‘dough ‘ only. You are making an ‘enriched’ dough.

Or, thoroughly mix the dough and kneed for 10 minutes. Leave in a warm place to rise with a towel over the bowl.

When risen, tip the dough into a large bowl and add the dried fruit mixture and orange zest, fold in the chocolate. Kneed to incorporate. Add a small amount of extra flour if the mixture is too wet.

Place a circle of grease proof paper or baking parchment in the bottom of the tins. Line the sides with a rectangle of paper.

Divide the dough into pieces weighing 150g. Roll into balls. Drop the dough balls into the tin cans.

Place the tins on a baking tray in a low temperature oven with the door open, until the dough has doubled in size.

Brush the risen dough with the beaten egg.

Bake at 200C for between 15-25 minutes. Keep an eye on the dough. It should be golden brown on top.

Allow to cool in the tins and sprinkle with icing sugar, if liked. I didn’t bother, as the golden tops look pretty on their own.

Go to town on the decorations around the tin; ribbons, raffia, string, rosemary, lavender, pine or holly leaves! Enjoy!

Do you have any family favourite recipes? Let me know what you are making for the festive season.

A Walk Around My Garden – 23rd November 2019

If I could only have one tree, it would be a field maple. At this time of the year, there’s a golden carpet of leaves covering the whole garden. Even dark corners and shady woodland walks are glowing yellow. Much needed cheer, when the days are short and turning cold and dark. We must find our own warmth from nature, whenever we can.

This year, I’m experimenting with the boundary. Thin branches are laid horizontally to form a ‘fedge,’ a cross between a fence and a hedge. This creates a habitat and shelter for mice and hedgehogs, birds and insects. Smaller twigs are put through my new shredding machine to create woodland paths and mulch. The idea is to make use of everything in the garden and do away with the need for bonfires, which are bad for the environment. Sunflower and cow parsley stems will be woven into the ‘fedge’ creating useful hibernation sites for beetles, ladybirds and lacewings. Even earwigs are welcome here, useful predators of vine weevils and many orchard pests.

Looking up, you can see there’s plenty of twiggy growth in this garden. I rather like the pattern of black stems and yellow maple leaves. It looks like a pen and ink drawing and someone has ‘scribbled’ across the skyline.

Temperatures suddenly dropped below zero for the first time this autumn. We’ve been relatively mild until now, with record amounts of rain. The hazel trees responded by dropping all their leaves in one go- as if in fright. Overnight, puddles of ‘gold’ appeared all over the garden.

Searching for more gold, I found a dogwood, Midwinter Fire.

This dogwood is beautiful all year round, but particularly shines in November. When the leaves drop, bright orange stems will catch the winter sunlight. A wonderful sight in snow and frost. Well worth planting in any border, in full sun, or part shade. Needs minimal pruning, unlike the red-stemmed varieties which can be pruned to the 3″.

Mooching about the garden, I find a mini potted fruit tree with its first apple. This is a desert apple, Malini, growing on a dwarfing root stock. I’m growing it in a 12″ pot and it will go with my youngest daughter when she flies the nest. I have a patio full of tiny fruit trees, to form a fledgling orchard, for her first home.

Into the poly tunnel, I find some pretty chrysanthemums coming into flower. These are the hardy Stallion variety. They can cope with the cold, but do better if protected from rain. They are grown in 10″ pots, stood outdoors all summer, and brought under cover in October.

There’s plenty of yellow chrysanthemums too. We call these Aunty Dorris, as cuttings were given to my father law by his aunt in the 1950s. Much treasured in our family.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your walk around my garden this week. Are you searching for colour at this time of the year. What are you finding that’s cheering you up at the moment?

Finally, as a change from gold, I find these beautiful – and very late roses in the front garden hedge. I believe they are the Ballerina Rose, a really good, disease-resistant variety. It flowers on and off all summer- and right up until Christmas. In fact, these roses will be going into my Christmas door wreaths, along with rosehips, old man’s beard wild clematis, fir cones and crab apples. Guaranteed to bring good cheer.

Links :

Field Maple, Acer campestre https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/field-maple/

Hazel : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/hazel/

Dogwood https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/57639/i-cornus-sanguinea-i-midwinter-fire/details

Apple trees: http://www.lubera.co.uk/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAw4jvBRCJARIsAHYewPOyG2A6Q46HJPng2Xsb2BEURZuS09DZ69up4PWKOAp7k10agvT6HVgaAuxQEALw_wcB

Rose Ballerina: https://www.classicroses.co.uk/ballerina-shrub-rose.html

More than Six on Saturday : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/11/30/six-on-saturday-30-11-2019/

Chocolate Fridge Bars – Family Favourite Recipes

A rather rich and indulgent treat. Perfect for Christmas. I’m decorating my summerhouse for Christmas. No doubt I’ll be serving these bars as we sit and read gardening books and chat, with warm welsh woollen blankets on our knees, and lots of hot tea. Enjoy 😊

INGREDIENTS

2 mars bars, chopped

100g butter

2. Tbsp golden syrup

5 digestive biscuits

9 rich tea biscuits

1.5 teacups rice crispies (breakfast cereal) approx

240g milk chocolate

15g cherries

3/4 teacup sultanas

120g chocolate for the top.

METHOD

Melt chocolate, butter, Mars Bars together in the microwave

Crush biscuits with a rolling pin

Add dry ingredients to melted chocolate mixture

Spread mixture in a foil-lined 9″ x 9″ tray

Cover top with melted chocolate

Score the tray into fingers

Decorate with more cherries if you like

Place in the fridge to set

When cold, cut into fingers and serve

This is such an easy recipe, it’s perfect to make with grandchildren. I have very fond memories of making this with my two young daughters. I’m recording the recipes here in case they want to make them with their children in the future. I’m sure they won’t be able to find the recipes written on tiny scraps of paper. Hopefully, writing them here records them for posterity.

To vary the recipe, you can add mint chocolate if you like. Mint Aeros are particularly yummy.

In a Vase on Monday- 25th November 2019

Flowers from my garden. For Joan.

Today’s flowers feature my father-on-law’s hardy yellow chrysanthemums. We don’t know the proper name for them, but in our family they are known as ‘Aunty Dorris.’ My father-in-law had been growing them since Aunty Dorris gave him a cutting in the 1950s. He grew them for his wife Joan, who particularly loved the sunny yellow flowers. Now the cuttings have been passed to me, and I’m keeping up the tradition of growing flowers for Joan.

The flowers have a gorgeous lime green centre which sets off the bright yellow petals. They last at least three weeks in a vase, with water refreshed every day.

Variegated ivy with golden flower heads provide foliage for my chrysanthemum posy.

Oak and beech leaves gathered from the garden add some lovely warm burnished tones.

Autumn trees across the horseshoe pond are reflected in the potting shed windows.

There are rows of beech trees all around the garden, remnants of an old hedgerow. Trees stand bare all winter, but juvenile foliage at the base provides copper-coloured leaves through until next May.

Chrysanthemums are often winter hardy, but the flowers are spoiled by rain, so I grow them in many 12″ pots. They stand outdoors on the paving all summer, and are brought in to an unheated poly tunnel around first week of November. After very mild temperatures, we had one night of -2C so I covered the flowers to protect them from the sudden chill. They were uncovered the next day, and night time temperatures have been 8 to 11C since then. The pots will supply a steady flow of flowers until the new year. Plenty for Christmas. And plenty for Joan, who is now living in a care home with Keith. I’m glad to be keeping up our family tradition. I often think of Aunty Dorris and wonder if she realised her cutting would lead to so much joy shared down through the years.

Here’s a photo of Joan on her wedding day, standing on the steps of Cosby Methodist Chapel. Joan did the flowers for the chapel for 65 years and Keith played the organ for weddings and chapel services. This photo, in a home-made metal frame, is a little battered as Keith carried it all around Korea for his army national service.

Thank you for reading. Please share this blog on any social media platform, share with your friends and neighbours and help me spread the word. Hopefully I’ll inspire someone to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables. It’s really simple, if you have a few pointers and little hints and tips along the way. Enjoy your garden.

Links: In a Vase on Monday https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

Egg Free Chocolate Chip Banana Bread (Vegan)

Family favourite recipes

Absolutely delicious cake. Good for anyone with egg / nut allergies.

INGREDIENTS

3 very ripe bananas

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 tsp vanilla essence

1 cup sugar

2 cups plain flour

1 tsp salt

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda ( baking soda in the USA)

1 cup vegan chocolate chips

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 350F/ 170C. Line a loaf tin with non stick paper.

Mash the bananas well. Add in the oil, vanilla and sugar. Mix well. Add flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda.

Add chocolate chips.

Mix until incorporated. Do not over mix.

Pour the mixture into the loaf pan.

Cook for between 45 and 60 minutes. Cover the cake if it is browning too much. Check with a knife to see if the cake is cooked right through.

Cool for 10 minutes in the tin and then carefully turn out on to a cooling rack.

Options :

You can omit the chocolate chips and just have banana cake.

You can add nuts – pecans, walnuts.

Enjoy 😊

Here’s a useful conversion chart for American cup measurements. It’s from the Doves Farm flour website. https://www.dovesfarm.co.uk/hints-tips/cheat-sheets/us-cups-conversion-table

Egg Free, Fat Free, Sugarless Cake Recipe- Family Favourites (vegan)

I’m gathering another recipe here for my children. This is a much -loved recipe I’ve made for open gardens, picnics and school cake sales. It is suitable for vegans, vegetarians and people who are allergic to eggs. It’s so simple to make and the kitchen smells delicious when it’s being cooked. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

6oz brown SR flour ( if using plain flour, add 3 tsp baking powder)

2oz ground almonds (omit if allergic to nuts, and use ground oatmeal instead.)

2 tsp mixed spice

1lb mixed fruit

4 oz dates, finely chopped

4 oz apricots, finely chopped

Rind of 1 orange or lemon

1/2 pint water (you can use tea)

2 tbsp orange juice

METHOD

Soak the dried fruit in the liquid overnight.

Add the dried ingredients and fold in.

Bake in a 2lb loaf tin for 1.5 hours at 160C. Cover the cake for the last half an hour to prevent the top burning.

Check with a knife to ensure the cake is cooked.

Enjoy 😊 x

Garlic Wash Recipe for Hostas. Defeating Slugs…

On Sunday, we had a question on protecting hostas from slugs – on the BBC radio gardening programme I sit in on.

My panel team mate Nick Turrell and I talked about using Strulch Mulch – a mineralised straw mulch that’s got a scratchy surface that slugs don’t like.

We also mentioned a garlic wash spray we have both tried and tested. We found it works a treat. It deters slugs, but does not poison them. This means the slugs are left available as food for birds and mammals such as hedgehogs. You’ll need to repeat the treatment regularly, especially after rain. I put my mixture in a 3l Hozelock sprayer and leave it in the potting shed ready to treat them. I’ve found it also deters aphids and is good for spraying roses.

The recipe comes from Sienna Hosta, a multi- gold medal winning nursery specialising in hostas. They do not use any other chemical treatments.

Here is a snapshot of their website showing their recipe for the garlic spray.

Here’s a link to their website.

https://www.siennahosta.co.uk/pages/garlic-wash-recipe

We also talked about no-dig gardening, protecting soils and coping with flooding. Charles Dowding is the expert on no-dig.

https://charlesdowding.co.uk/courses/

Here’s the link for Strulch Mulch.

https://www.strulch.co.uk/

Here’s a link to the radio programme BBC Radio Leicester’s Sunday Supplement. We are the middle hour of Dave Andrews’ show.

At 1.09.16 on the timeline at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07sc852

We also mentioned our appeal for hedgehog food from Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital. They have 260 hedgehogs in their care and are taking in around 10 a day. Hedgehogs are either ill, underweight or injured having been washed out of their nests in the floods. Hedgehogs eat meaty dog food, the solid loaf -type, and not containing gravy, jelly, or made with fish. They also desperately need puppy milk for the babies, and heat pads and incubators. They have an amazon wish list and an appeal fund.

http://www.leicesterwildlifehospital.org/

And also we talked about Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Festival which was launched this week :

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/belvoir-castle-flower-and-garden-show-tickets-77976360393