Pear and Almond Pastries- family favourite recipes

It’s been a bumper year for fruit. There’s crates of pears in the spare room, and little piles of rosy red apples all along the windowsills. The whole house smells like pear and apple crumble! I’ve never managed to reach the top of the fruit trees before. Our old ladders were too wobbly. But this year I’ve a fabulous new addition to the garden- a Henchman tripod ladder. It’s made everything easier – and safer. All the best, tastiest fruit- always at the top of the tree- has been harvested. This year, more than ever, it feels as if nothing should be wasted. Spare fruit has been distributed to friends and family in little paper bags. Damaged, over-ripe fruit has been enjoyed by hedgehogs and blackbirds, so wildlife has not been forgotten either.

One of our favourite autumn recipes is Pear and Almond Pastries. As usual, just a few ingredients are needed, and the little parcels of tasty pears only take minutes to make. Have a go at making them, and let me know how you get on.

INGREDIENTS

1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry

3 or 4 ripe pears

1 tbsp dark brown sugar

3 tbsp ground almonds

1 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2tbsp flaked almonds for the top

1 egg, beaten (optional- use almond milk for vegans)

Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Baking tray with baking paper or silicone sheet.

190C oven 15-20 minutes

METHOD

Unroll the pastry and cut into squares. Lay them on the baking tray.

Peel and halve the pears. Place slices on top of the pastry squares.

In a bowl, mix the sugar, ground almonds, ground cloves, cinnamon together. Pile spoonfuls of the mixture on top of the pears.

Take the corners of the pastry and draw them together to make a rough parcel. The pastries will stretch and turn out all shapes, and it doesn’t matter. They will still taste the same.

Brush the top with beaten egg (or almond milk) and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.

Cook in a preheated oven for 15 -20 minutes. Check them after 10 minutes to see how brown they are. The pastries will be ready when they are risen and light brown. They burn easily, so keep an eye on them. 20 minutes might be too long for fast ovens. Dust with icing sugar, if you have some.

Can be eaten cold or warm. Can be frozen for 3 months. Delicious with clotted cream, or custard. We also love them with home-made vanilla icecream.

Thanks for reading. Have a great gardening week and keep in touch.

Links: Henchman ladders https://www.henchman.co.uk/

Fruit trees: Six Acre Nursery, Costock, Leicestershire.

Silicone sheets are reusable from http://www.kitchenrangecookshop.com/

Photos above show two packets of puff pastry.

Gooseberry Crumble- family favourite recipes

When I was a teenager, I was taken on as a trainee reporter at the Melton Times weekly newspaper. One of our jobs was to go out into the town and obtain comments from residents. These were called ‘doing a vox pop.’ We would ask for views on local planning applications, council proposals, and any controversial subjects the editor could think of. There were no mobile phones in those days, so with no-one keeping track of us, we would be out about about for hours. Vox pops were one of my favourite jobs because I loved chatting to people. We just knocked on doors, said who we were, where we were from, and people let us in! Two hours later, we would leave, with our one paragraph comments, nicely replenished with home-made cake and numerous cups of tea. One elderly gentleman that stays in my memory was called Albert. I can’t remember what the vox pop was about, but when I knocked on the door, he took me straight through to the garden where he showed me his fruit and vegetables. He had rows and rows of gooseberries- green ones, yellow, and red, glistening in the sunshine as if they had been polished. The pruning demonstration and growing advice took an hour, and at the end we sat down and had the most delicious crumble I’ve ever eaten, gooseberries flavoured with elderflower syrup and crunchy almonds on top. At that moment, I was happy. I think we store up such moments in our memories, and come back to them from time to time. I have a picture in my head of me, sitting on a dining room chair brought out into the garden, enjoying the sunshine, eating delicious food. Albert, a widower in his 90s, lived alone. For one afternoon, he had someone’s rapt attention while he talked about his passion for growing fruit. I was very glad that I’d knocked on his door. In those few short hours, I learned about the generosity of gardeners, how a love of growing things, and sharing with others, drives some people. And kindness. I learned a lot about kindness. Looking back, I’m grateful and relieved to say most people I’ve chanced to meet have been kind. I’ve tried to honour their memory in this blog.

Here’s my Gooseberry Crumble Recipe – with grateful thanks to Albert, and his two ginger cats, who made me equally welcome in their garden.

RECIPE – CRUMBLE TOPPING

8oz (225g) plain flour

5oz (150g) soft light brown sugar

3oz (75g) butter or dairy alternative

2 tbsp flaked almonds (optional)

1 level tsp. baking powder

METHOD

Place the flour and baking powder in a large bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until it has all been dispersed fairly evenly and the mixture looks crumbly. Add the sugar and almonds and stir well to combine.

GOOSEBERRY CRUMBLE

Use 2lb (900g) gooseberries

2 tbsp elderflower syrup or cordial

Top and tail the fruit and place in a large pie dish. Sprinkle over the elderflower syrup and cover with the crumble mixture.

Bake in the centre shelf of an oven at 350F/ 180C/ gas mark 4 for 30- 40 minutes. Check to see if the topping is getting too brown after 30 minutes and cover with foil to finish cooking.

Keeps three days in a fridge, or can be portioned up and frozen for three months. Thaw before reheating.

Serve with custard, or thick double cream.

Enjoy!

My crumble mixture. Without almonds as a guest had an allergy to nuts.

All that was left of our family gooseberry crumble. I was lucky to have this piece left for the photo!

Gooseberries from my garden.

I recommend Hinnomaki Red, green Invicta, and yellow Early Sulphur. These can be grown in a shaded position. Like many fruit that is ‘tart,’ sunshine isn’t needed to make high sugar levels. So you can grow gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries and sour cherries such as Morello in shade.

Gooseberries will grow in full sun, but they are tolerant of shade, so it’s much better to save your sunny beds and borders for peaches, sweet cherry (Celeste is a good variety) gages and plums.

Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you enjoy the recipes. Have a great gardening week. Karen ❤️

Links: You might like to read https://bramblegarden.com/2018/07/26/summer-fruit-harvest-and-making-garden-jam/

Also: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/20/plum-crumble-family-favourite-recipes/

Gooseberries: https://www.chrisbowers.co.uk/category/gooseberries/

Talking on the radio – notes and photos for wednesday 22 July, BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour

I’m still talking on the radio once a fortnight – from the peace and quiet of my potting shed. It’s lovely to be at home rather than having to drive into Leicester. And when the music is playing between chats, I get on with a bit of watering or prick out a few seedlings, and nobody knows.

This week we talk about sweet peas. I’m growing new variety, Ripple Mixed, pictured above. It has mauve, pink, and purple markings on a pale pink background. The scent is strong, and stems are nice and long, making them ideal for cut flower posies. One to keep on my list for autumn sowing. I’m ordering seeds now to ensure I get the varieties I want. This year’s experience of buying plants and seeds – and the long delays receiving them- has taught me to plan ahead and order early.

Here’s a selection of sweet peas I’m putting in jam jars on the village green to raise money for Rainbows Hospice for children and young people. Rainbows cares for children with life-limiting illnesses and nearly all its funding comes from donations. The hospice has lost almost £1 million in fund raising this year, due to events being cancelled because of covid. I put leaflets alongside the flowers, hoping it might encourage someone to learn more about the hospice and make a regular donation. Every little helps.

Here’s the Wiltshire Ripple variety I mention, with its delicate picotee edge. I wouldn’t be without this one. Always a good strong performer.

This is Mayflower 400, another new variety, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers sailing to the New World. It’s highly-scented and a good strong grower. Long stems, and flowers last a week in a vase.

After talking about flowers, we move on to what I’m growing and harvesting from the plot. Plums are prolific again this year. This is Victoria, delicious and reliable. I’m making jam. It’s such a treat in winter to have a taste of summer. I stand the jars along the kitchen window and admire them. It’s like looking through pink stained glass. Very cheerful on a cold, dark day.

The recipe for plum crumble cakes and plum jam is here : https://bramblegarden.com/2017/08/22/peaches-and-plums-crumble-and-jam/

When my children were little, we fed them apple purée as their first solid food. BBC Radio Leicester programme host Naomi Kent is having a baby in two months, so we talk about the varieties of apple trees she might plant in her new garden.

I’m growing Spartan, a gorgeous deep red apple with a sweet honey taste. Apples are small and numerous, the perfect size for children’s lunch boxes. Lovely for juicing which is a somewhat messy process, but worth the effort.

I also grow Greensleeves (above) for cooking and eating. It’s sweet enough on its own, so you won’t need to add sugar for cakes, purée and puddings. Kept somewhere cool, apples will store until February.

Supermarkets often only sell a few apple varieties, typically Cox, Golden Delicious and Braeburn. Often they’ve been grown abroad and flown in. Sometimes they are coated with chemicals to improve their keeping qualities. And yet, in the UK, we have perfect conditions to grow your own apples. Traditionally, apple trees would have been 6m tall, but plant breeders have produced some compact varieties for small gardens and containers. Lubera have a range of ‘column’ fruit trees which have short side shoots and a narrow, vertical growing habit. I’m growing Malini Top Model which looks as if it will be about 50cm wide and eventually 3m tall. I’m growing it in a large plant pot and it has a good crop of apples in its third year. Lubera also have column types of pear, cherry and plum varieties on their website.

We had record amounts of cherries this year. I’ve been freezing them and preserving them in alcohol for winter treats. There’s a cherry marzipan chocolate recipe mentioned in the links at the end.

My cherry tree is Stella, a self fertile variety bred in Canada and introduced to Britain in the 1960s.

If you’ve got a small garden, opt for a cherry tree on dwarfing Gisela rootstock, which makes a compact tree. It’s much easier to protect trees from frost, if they are small enough to cover with fleece or an old bed sheet.

Good varieties to try include self-fertile Sunburst, Summer Sun and Celeste.

I’m fond of pears too. I have a Conference pear which provides plenty of fruit. If you are short of space, pears are easily trained along a fence or wall, in an espalier shape. Pears need more sunshine and warmth than apples, so it is a good idea to give them the protection of a warm wall. I’m going to plant a Concorde pear on the south wall of the house. Concorde is possibly a more reliable cropper than Conference.

If you have a more shadier garden, and you want to grow fruit, I’ve found success with Morello cherries, damson and quince, and crab apples for making jelly.

As well as apples, pears, plums and cherries, I wouldn’t be without my mini peach trees. I’m growing dwarfing variety Garden Lady and Bonanza in 45cm pots. We don’t get very many peaches yet, but the taste is so delicious and sweet. It’s a special treat to have home- grown ripe and tasty peaches.

I’d love to grow my own apricots. I’ve seen compact varieties Aprigold and Isabelle at nurseries. Our neighbour, Arthur, at our first house, had a fan-trained Moorpark apricot. He never did any other gardening, leaving it all to his wife Dorothy, but every day he fussed over his apricot tree, watered it and covered it up on cold nights. When it produced a magnificent crop each summer, he gave bags of fruit to his neighbours all along the little row of terraced houses. Happy memories of wonderful, kind neighbours. We have been so lucky to always have lovely people living next door.

So, to sum up, you don’t need a huge garden to grow fruit. It is possible to have a whole orchard- in pots on your patio. No need for rolling acres. Dwarfing varieties designed for growing in containers, some large pots, 45cm diameter, and John Innes no3 compost is all you’ll need. Set up an automatic drip watering system, or water the pots every day in summer. I add potash-rich seaweed feed every fortnight, and I refresh the top of the pots, taking out a small amount of compost and adding in some new compost, every year.

What fruit trees are you growing at home. Have you any recommendations for small gardens. Get in touch and let me know how you are getting on with your growing this summer.

Links:

Sweet pea seeds: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Tall_3/Sweet-Pea-Ripple-Mixed-Seeds.html#.XxrSvBB4WfA

Mayflower 400 : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Mayflower-400.html#.XxrS4hB4WfA

My plum jam recipe : https://bramblegarden.com/2017/08/22/peaches-and-plums-crumble-and-jam/

Apple and Almond Slice Recipe: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/11/07/apple-and-almond-slice-family-favourite-recipes/

Cherry marzipan chocolates: https://bramblegarden.com/2018/12/04/family-favourite-recipes-chocolate-marzipan-cherries/

BOOKS TO READ:

An Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/09/27/an-orchard-odyssey-book-review-and-prize-draw/

The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty

https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

BBC Radio Leicester : https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08jzr94. Gardening starts at 3.11.48 on the timeline.

Strawberry Cheesecakes- vegan family favourite recipes from my daughter, Clare

Try these tasty treats. They are perfect for summer picnics and special occasions. And vegan friends and relatives will love them.

INGREDIENTS

Makes 3 small ramekins. We re-use the glass ones from Gu.

Base:

190g cashew nuts

1 tbsp. vegan margarine

1 to 2 tbsp. maple syrup

Topping:

150g Creamy Violife – original flavour (cream cheese substitute)

1 tbsp. icing sugar

1 tbsp. caster sugar

1/4 tsp. Vanilla essence

1 tbsp. soya milk

strawberries to decorate

1 tbsp. maple syrup to drizzle over strawberries.

METHOD

For the Base:

Roast the cashew nuts in the oven at 190C for 5 to 10 minutes. Keep checking and remove from the oven when the nuts have turned light brown. They easily burn, so keep an eye on them.

Whizz the cashew nuts in a food processor. Add the margarine and maple syrup.

Spoon the mixture into glass ramekins and place in the fridge to cool.

For the topping.

Cream all the ingredients together and spoon on top of the base.

Slice the strawberries and place on top of the cream mixture. Drizzle the maple syrup over the top.

Delicious! And very quick to make. The cashew nut base makes a change from biscuits and is healthier.

Enjoy!

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 gca.org. 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: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/04/05/contacts-and-information-to-help-you-through-corona-virus-lockdown/ 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.

Links:

Rainbows 5K Challenge : https://www.rainbows.co.uk/events/rainbows-virtual-5k-2020

National Gardens Scheme https://ngs.org.uk/virtual-garden-visits/

Garden Centre Association lists : https://gca.org.uk/

Val and Steve Bradley nurseries/growers list: https://47flt.r.ag.d.sendibm3.com/mk/cl/f/nsnLPDyBJajPGKKpPRt5x9TOx4tu9x1Dz-v5FiKvBC10LYC0JB45oC3rcwqKse2n5D7aQhdwFnOZEulP7NPET4tRxtfv-n5eUr7mNx6H7gjRIWSVXN-QVsXdmRICgr44KOhL_NeHecmmxD8URqGk4-jf5QBzcACiRe7I8jdByhWKnFH9LN4d2C-sA4qsiNVzl4nQDttx7wgdEKWIS89NuNt-XaZCrrIiTT3B

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!

INGREDIENTS

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.

METHOD

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.

Enjoy!

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 https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

The bellis daisies came originally from my Mum in a little pot stood on the patio all summer. Seeds can be bought from https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Bellis-Goliath-Mixed.html

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. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/live:bbc_radio_leicester

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. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p087sjhn.

Comfort Food for a crisis – five minute microwave fruit pudding

If you’re struggling to put your mind to much at the moment, here’s a fast pudding you can make with store cupboard ingredients. You don’t even need to switch the oven on. It’s cooked in the microwave and is ready in five minutes.

INGREDIENTS

3oz margarine ( we use palm-oil free Lurpack)

3oz sugar

5oz SR flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg

4 tbsp milk

Sprinkle of mixed dried fruit (optional)

1 apple (optional)

Sprinkle of Demerara sugar for the top.

METHOD

Use an electric hand whisk or food processor to mix the sugar, margarine, egg and milk. Add the flour, baking powder and dried fruit and whizz to incorporate.

Chop one apple and place in the bottom of a glass Pyrex deep dish. You can use any fruit you like. This is also nice with drained tinned peaches, apricots, mandarins, pears, pineapple. Or you don’t have to use any fruit at all, just the sponge mixture.

If using fruit, place the sponge mixture on top.

Cook in a microwave for five minutes. Remove promptly or the pudding will steam. The pudding will carry on cooking for a few minutes after you’ve taken it out of the microwave. Insert a knife into the centre to check that it’s cooked. The knife will be clean if cooked. If not put back for another minute. The pudding shrinks from the sides of the dish as another clue to check whether it’s cooked.

Sprinkle a tablespoon of golden or Demerara sugar over the top. Place under a hot grill for a minute to caramelise and brown the top.

Serve with ice cream, custard, fresh cream.

Serves 6 people and lasts 2 days if kept cool.

VARIATIONS

Instead of dried fruit add 1 heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder. You do not need the Demerara sugar topping as the cake will be brown. This is delicious with mandarins.

This recipe came from my mum and is a family favourite. I’m especially sharing this here for my youngest daughter who is buying a house in the middle of this corona crisis. As if life wasn’t stressful enough. And she will be cooking in her own kitchen for the first time in two weeks. Good luck Rachel xx

Fred, from the FrenchGardener blog (see comments below) suggests making caramel before adding the apples.

150g sugar and 50cl water in the dish for 2.30m to 3 minutes on 900w power. Then add the chopped apples followed by the sponge mixture, sounds delicious. Thanks for the idea.

Easton Walled Gardens -Open for Snowdrops Today- Sunday 23 February 2020

Last chance today to see the snowdrops at Easton Walled Gardens. Opens 11am -4pm. I visited last week for a preview and if you listen in to BBC Radio Leicester you might have heard me talking about the history of the gardens.

Here’s a slide show of my photos from the event.

There’s a link to the website for more information: https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/gardens/snowdrops

Daffodils are just starting to flower at the same time as snowdrops. It’s been very mild and wet they year.

Yellow cornus mas (cornelian cherry) and white snowdrops. A perfect combination.

The summerhouse and spring flowers. You can hire the venue for an afternoon. Lovely spot for tea and cakes.

A favourite view of the walled garden. Sweet peas will be grown along the sunny walls this summer.

Looking across the terraces for a view of the steps and topiary yew.

Apple tree pruning in progress. I love the shaped apple trees and heritage varieties at Easton. I watched carefully how the pruning is managed. Might have a go at home. Lots of inspiration in this garden.

The finished topiary apple tree. Trained around a circle. Looks architectural and productive. Very pretty with apple blossom and bright red fruit to follow.

Spring bulbs in the woodland near to the gatehouse. The hellebores are looking fabulous at the moment.

I particularly liked this pretty hellebore with a ruffled centre.

Stone troughs look beautiful planted with spring bulbs. I might copy this idea. I have a small stone sink covered in moss with nothing growing in it at the moment. Was just waiting to decide what to do with it.

I can never go home without buying a pot or two of bulbs. The cyclamen coum are looking very cheerful. I fell in love with the dwarf iris. There’s a pale blue one called Painted Lady. I couldn’t resist.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slide show of photos. Even if you can’t get there today, bookmark the gardens for a visit in spring, and make a note of the dates for the sweet pea festival, which is always a lovely day out.

I wrote about Easton Walled Gardens here : https://bramblegarden.com/2017/02/13/happy-valentines-day-with-a-tour-of-easton-walled-gardens/

And here : https://bramblegarden.com/2016/05/20/a-visit-to-easton-walled-gardens/

As you can see, it’s a favourite of mine. Enjoy!