Last minute Christmas Present Ideas for Gardeners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wrote about my trial composter Here.

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

Recipes include Plum, Orange and Ginger Blondies. Delicious!

There’s knitting and crochet scarves to create.

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

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

In a Vase on Monday….almost

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

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

To get round the problem, I linked with photos already posted on Instagram. Here’s a link to Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fairy Lights for the Greenhouse- and an update from this week’s BBC radio programme for gardeners

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

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

We talked about mouldable lights on this week’s BBC radio gardener’s phone-in programme. You can listen in on your phone or computer on the i-player. I wrote about how to tune in Here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bee Brick on Trial

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brightly-coloured zinnias have also been popular.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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