Apple and Almond Slice- Family Favourite Recipes

At this time of year, my kitchen work surfaces are covered with piles of apples. Little pyramids of golden cooking apples, tiny rosy red eating apples, giant Bramleys. My family complain. There’s nowhere for anyone to put anything down. I usually store them wrapped in newspaper in the potting shed, but I’m still trying to evict the mice, making many trips back and forth to the woods with my tunnel-like humane traps baited with peanut butter. I can’t kill them. They will take their chances in the leaf litter under the trees. I’m trying to ignore the tawny owl fledglings in the branches above, still being fed by harassed parents. I feel slightly guilty. But watching the mice run when I let them out, I think they stand a fair chance of surviving.

Meanwhile, I’m steadily working my way through the apples. My mother always says, if you’ve got an apple, you’ve got a pudding. It can be an apple pie, a crumble, a cake, or if you are pressed for time, just apple purée with lashings of creamy custard, or Devon clotted cream. A special treat.

Today’s recipe is another family favourite, an apple tray bake which is quick and easy to make and tastes of autumn. As usually, I’m recording it here for my children, in case they can’t find the scraps of paper these recipes are written on. It’s so lovely to see my grandmother’s best copper plate hand writing, as she lovingly wrote these recipes for me. Food, and cooking, bring back such special memories, don’t they.

 

APPLE AND ALMOND SLICE:

INGREDIENTS – FOR THE TOPPING

 

30g butter or vegan margarine

30g SR flour

25g golden caster sugar

2 tbsp. Jumbo oats

1/2 tsp cinnamon

25g flaked almonds

METHOD

Mix the butter, flour and sugar together. Fold in the cinnamon, oats and flaked almonds to make a crumble topping. Place in the fridge while you make the base.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE BASE

150g SR flour

200g golden caster sugar

200g butter or margarine

3 eggs ( or use 6 tbsp. soya oat drink if vegan)

100g ground almonds

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp almond extract

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 large apples slices and tossed in lemon juice

100g any other fruit you have; blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, plums,

METHOD

Mix the flour, baking power , sugar and butter together. Whisk. Fold in the ground almonds and cinnamon. Add the beaten eggs.

Put half the mixture in the base of the tin. Put apples on top. Add the rest of the base moisture. Press the blackberries or other fruit on the top.

Cover with the crumble topping mixture.

Cook for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer come out clean.

Gas mark 4, 180C oven, or 160C fan oven.

You’ll need a 20cm tray bake tin, at least 4cm deep, lined with baking parchment.

Put baking paper on top if it is browning too quickly. Leave to cool and slice into fingers.

Can be frozen for 3 months.

Enjoy!

 

You might also like : Review of Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade here :

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

 

Also The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

I’ll leave you with a photo of my 1930s summerhouse, looking autumnal today. There’s heaps of blankets to keep us warm when the temperatures start to dip. It’s quite cosy in here though.

The Flower Market Year – Book Review and Prize Draw

12 MONTHS AT NEW COVENT GARDEN FLOWER MARKET

By SIMON LYCETT

Published by Simon J Lycett Ltd

Hardback 192 pages, £21 approx

ISBN 978-1-9160912-0-7

Book photography by Michelle Garrett

Blog photos: bramblegarden

Florist Simon Lycett thinks nothing of working with 20,000 stems of roses for a wedding. I am trying to picture the scene, and finding it hard to imagine 20,000 flowers. Then Simon tells me this isn’t a one off. It’s something he gets to do on a very regular basis. I’m lucky enough to have a window on his extraordinary life, for just one day. I am visiting the New Covent Garden Flower Market, and Simon is my guide.

It’s still dark outside as I set off at 6am to meet Simon at the Flower Market in Nine Elms, London. We are standing amongst more flowers than I’ve ever seen, and we are inspecting the roses. Simon who has written a book about the market, explains that his customers have “magical weddings, the world over.” He loves the buzz of creating “magical settings in a world where everything is possible and the words ‘can’t do’ are never uttered.” It’s a revealing conversation, as he explains his customers expect total perfection. “They must have the best of everything. They’ll notice a little mark on the petal, and that’s no good. Utter perfection is what counts. The client is king.”

Simon, who regularly appears on television and radio, explains that everything starts with the selection of flowers at the market. And it’s clear that his relationship with the flower sellers is key. They seem almost like family, and it’s not surprising as Simon has been buying from the same people for 30 years.

We are introduced to Dennis Edwards who has been getting up at 2am to sell flowers for 54 years. His family are porters and sellers of fruit and vegetables. He’s the only one in his family to go into the flower market business. He describes it as a passion, rather than job. A life’s work to supply the creme de la creme.

In his book, The Flower Market Year, Simon says Dennis always has a few “specials” – buckets and trays of unusual items which he sets aside and keeps for Simon. “Dennis was the first person to ever serve me when, as a timid 20 year old, I ventured into the Flower Market for the first time. Dennis was then, and still is now, a Flower Market institution, always going above and beyond to find the very finest flowers and foliage, and ever in search of the unusual and the innovative, wanting to offer the largest, the biggest and the best blooms in the building.

“Born in Drury Lane, Dennis has worked in all three of the Flower Markets, firstly in the original Covent Garden Market, then, when it moved in 1974 to Vauxhall, in the New Covent Garden Flower Market, and now in the current (interim) market site a little further along Nine Elms Lane. In 2022, when all development is complete and he moves into the ‘New’ Covent Garden Market, he will be a record breaker!”

It’s fascinating to watch them talking. It’s as if each one knows already what the other is thinking. It’s clear Dennis instinctively knows which flowers Simon will need for his projects, and as I look around, perfection is key. I can’t fault anything. I’ve never seen flowers of such superb quality. It’s a scene that stays in the memory like a photograph because it’s so out of the ordinary.

Simon set out to record the workings of the flower market to “capture a real sense of the place,” with its salesmen and women, customers, porters, buyers and suppliers.

His book captures month by month what he’s seen and bought, and what’s inspired him to create floral decorations for his clients, for weddings, parties and corporate events. Simon doesn’t mention it, but on his website there are ‘thank you’ letters relating to HRH Princess Eugenie’s wedding (state entrance, grand staircase and reception room “absolutely stunning”) and also the marriage of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall (reception flowers, “magnificent”). Simon simply says “From humble beginnings we have grown into one of the most sought-after and well known names in the industry.”

Although Simon wrote the book to highlight the flower market year, his own fascinating life story is woven into the pages. Talking about buckets of blackberries, for example, he writes: ” When I worked at Pulbrook and Gould, stems of blackberries sold for the same price as spray roses and I will never forget the posies and arrangements created by the workroom there, featuring jewel-like bright berries glistening amongst stems of Oceana and Doris Ryker roses.

“Having left Pulbrook and Gould to become a freelance florist, I started to travel about the country, as much of my work was outside the city. For several summers when visiting my family in Warwickshire, or staying as I often did with friends in Northamptonshire, I used to fill the boot with anything I could gather from friends and family and sell it to one or more of the foliage suppliers in New Covent Garden Flower Market. The stems of blackberries that I cut and bunched used to pay for my petrol each week, and the car tax was funded by the branches of rosehips, damsons and wild apples that I crammed into the car before heading up the A40. ”

Selecting flowers from the market, Simon provides 30 ideas for flower arrangements, with step-by-step photographs and instructions. My favourites are the rose heart, the sweet peas in tins, and the artichoke bowl.

Having seen photos of his wedding and party flowers, it’s interesting to see the preferred choice for his own flowers- for his Scottish Highlands holiday home- is simple bottles filled with tiny sprigs of flowers and a few pebbles from the beach. Truly, he can make anything look special.

I’ve had a wonderful time with Simon, seeing the flower market in all its glory. What I’ve learned is that Simon relishes the magical weddings and corporate events with the ‘wow factor’ flowers. But he also sees the beauty in the simple things -a bunch of narcissi- the first of the season from the Scilly Isles. The scent of the flowers will always remind me of a lovely day spent at the market with a truly inspirational florist.

There’s one copy of the book to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw. Names will be randomly pulled out of a hat. International entries are welcome, as well as the UK. The publisher’s decision is final. There’s no cash alternative. Usual rules apply.

Links : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Flower-Market-Year-2019-Months/dp/1916091202

https://www.simonlycett.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Florist/Simon-Lycett-Ltd-1503980453205762/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Local-Business/bramblegarden/posts/

Garden Media Guild events https://www.gardenmediaguild.co.uk/

@kgimson on twitter.

Karengimson1 on instagram.

Thank you to my amazingly loyal and growing band of readers. I appreciate your taking the time to read my blog, and for leaving comments.

Winners….

Many thanks for reading my book and product reviews. Here are the names of recent winners:

An Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade : won by 30 Days of Wild Parenting, Joshua Johnson.

Clip garden gloves: won by Wilma Wilson

Dancing with Bees by Brigit Strawbridge Howard won by Debi Holland.

Incognito insect sprays and sun cream collection won by Suella.

The Good Bee Book, won by Florasforum.

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

Clip Gloves: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/09/15/clip-glove-on-trial/

Dancing with Bees https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/04/dancing-with-bees-a-journey-back-to-nature/

Incognito https://bramblegarden.com/?s=Incognito+

Good Bee Book https://bramblegarden.com/?s=Good+bee+book

Thanks again for reading and taking part. New Books to Follow: Wilding by Stephen Rutt. We Made a Meadow, Yvette Verner. The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare. There’s also new watering hosepipes from Hozelock and a biomix plant feed maker. Are there any new products/ books you would recommend?

Gardening On the Menu -Book Review

MARTIN AND Jill FISH

2QT Ltd (Publishing ) rrp £15.99 -or £12.95 plus £3.95 postage direct from Martin.

ISBN: 9781912014569

This week I made the most delicious chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted, and it had a surprising ingredient: Beetroot! You couldn’t taste the beetroot, but it created a really moist and flavoursome cake.

Here’s the recipe, taken from Martin and Jill Fish’s new book Gardening on the Menu.

Ingredients

30g cocoa powder

180g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

225g caster sugar

Pinch of salt

225g beetroot, boiled until tender and left to cool

200ml sunflower oil

1tsp vanilla essence

3 eggs, beaten

100g plain chocolate, chopped small in a food processor

2lb loaf tin, greased and lined.

Method

Sieve the flour, salt and cocoa powder together in a bowl. Stir in sugar and chocolate.

Peel and finely grate the betteroot. I whizzed it in a food processor then added the oil, eggs and vanilla essence and whizzed some more.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in the beetroot mixture. Fold in slowly and don’t over-work.

Pour the batter into a prepared loaf tin and cook at 180C, 160C (fan oven) gas 4 , for 1- 1 1/4 hours. It is cooked when a skewer comes out clean. I placed tin foil over the cake after 45 mins as it was burning on top. Leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, then turn out on a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle top with icing sugar.

I found mine kept for 2 days – it was so tasty everyone dived in and ate it! I froze some to see if that worked, and it was fine.

Here I am adding the beetroot mixture to the dry ingredients.

Looks a lovely colour

lovely for a picnic in the garden. Travels well, wrapped in foil.

I’m going to try the next recipe in the book – beetroot chutney, which looks delicious.

Martin Fish, who ran his own nursery, and presents gardening programmes on tv and radio, gives talks all around the country on growing all kinds of fruit and vegetables. For the last few years, his wife Jill has joined him for a talk called Gardening on the Menu. The cookery and gardening book is based on their talk.

Martin has been growing vegetables since he was a teenager and he draws on his many years of practical experience to give easy-to-follow tips and advice on getting the best from your crops.

Jill shares her selection of family favourites with recipes including roasted feta stuffed onions, red onion marmalade, parsnip cake, chilli jam, apple flapjack trifle, and raspberry chocolate pots.

Strawberry and Chocolate Muffins with a Cheesecake Topping

Toffee Apple Pie

Tomato Soup

Martin gives expert advice on choosing the varieties to grow, and how to get the best crops. There’s useful advice on what to do when things go wrong including how to deal with pests and diseases.

Here they are, giving a growing/ cookery talk and demonstration. I met them last summer when they spoke at a Rainbows Hospice fund-raising festival lunch.

Photo credit: the last five photos are by Jill and Martin Fish.

A really useful book, helping you grow better crops and showing you what to do with bountiful harvests. Highly recommended.

Links: www.martinfish.com

E mail : Martin@martinfish.com

Martin was show director for Harrogate Flower Show for five years, and now writes for various publications including the weekly Garden News and broadcasts for the BBC Radio Nottingham and BBC Radio York.

I have one free copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be included. Do also say if you don’t want to be included in the draw. All comments are welcome. Please feel free to share this post.

The Cotswold Wildlife Park – A Celebration of the Gardens

BOOK REVIEW

By Harriet Rycroft and Tim Miles

Produced by Reef Publishing for Cotswold Wildlife Park

£18 inc p&p.

Looking through the mansion window, I see a pretty stone terrace, balustrading covered in rambling roses, mighty English oak trees in the distance. And a rhinoceros. Or two. I’m at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and it’s not your traditional garden view!

I can hear blackbirds, robins -and yes, there’s a lion’s roar, and black siamang gibbons “whooping.” I’m having a special behind the scenes tour with head gardener Tim Miles and gardener and writer Harriet Rycroft.

Tim and Harriet have spent the past 18 months working on a new book The Cotswold Wildlife Park- A Celebration of the Gardens. And there’s plenty to celebrate. The gardens are a paradise of exotic plants, special trees and shrubs, and wild flowers.

Photo: Front cover.

There are more than 250 species of animals and birds living at the wildlife park where important conservation and breeding work is being undertaken. The star attraction is undoubtably the white rhinos – saved from poachers in Africa, and now producing offspring.

Photo: my i-phone pic of page 60 in the book. Original photo credit: Harriet Rycroft.

Rhinos appear to have free rein in the parkland setting, but in fact, their paddock is ringed by a ha ha. It means there are no fences. They can clearly be seen from all surrounding paths. When I say “clearly seen,” I might add that the paths meander around flower beds containing thousands of ornamental onions, Allium hollandicum Purple Sensation, and grasses such as Stipa gigantea (giant oat grass) and cultivars of Miscanthus and Cortaderia (pampas grass). It’s rather a wonderful combination. Rhinos and alliums. You’ll not see that anywhere else in the world.

Planting provides browse material for many species, but also, importantly, shelter for the animals. This might be shade from summer sunshine, or protection from wind and rain. Planting must, of course, let visitors see into enclosures, but it is so exhuberant that the the lines are blurred between visitors, animals and the wider landscape.

I did manage to get a good look at African Spoonbills and Madagascan Teal. But if they wanted to hide from me, they could.

It is interesting to see trained fruit trees along the walled garden enclosures. There’s a perfectly-pruned fig, and around the corner there are espalier cherry and pear trees, fruiting kiwi and grape vines. Bamboo, a favourite fodder for many animals, grows inside and outside of the enclosures, again blurring the boundaries between them.

In the Tropical House I spy a Linne’s Two-towed Sloth. It’s the first time I’ve seen one. He’s nestled in amongst the foliage, rubber plants (Ficus elastica) cheese plants (Monstera deliciosa) and bromeliads and orchids. Branches of oak provide “perches” and there’s an illusion that house plants have “escaped” to take root in this mini-jungle. In a fascinating insight into the relationship between keepers and gardeners Tim explains that any plant plagued with pests such as greenfly, is given to the keepers to be placed in the Tropical House. Exotic birds clean up the plants by eating the pests. A win-win situation all round. Natural pest control at its best.

Continuing the tropical theme, in the protection of the Walled Garden, there’s palm trees, bananas and cannas interplanted with dahlias, Begonia luxurians and Begonia fuchsioides. Plants overspill onto the paving so you don’t notice the concrete kerbs. Creeping plants such as Tradescantia, Plectranthus and Verbena cascade and intermingle.

Phormiums, banana plants and bedding such as geraniums and coleus (solenostenum) provide a contrast in form, colour and texture.

Container planting features fuchsias, begonias, scented pelargoniums, trailing Scaevola Sapphire, twining Thunbergia African Sunset, nemesia- and even a Protea cynaroides (king protea). It’s rightly described as a “theatre with plants.”

There’s a conservatory- leading to the Bat House and Reptile House- where I spotted a pretty pink Cantua buxifolia.

Some sort of pink grevillea also thrives in the protection of the glass.

I’m still searching for the name of this pretty blue flowering plant. Let me know if you have a name for it. It’s rather lovely to visit a garden and find something you haven’t seen before.

No surface seems to be left without cover. This is the end wall of the rhino house, smothered in golden-flowering Fremontodendron California Glory.

We just throw our weeds in a compost bin, but certain weeds growing at the park provide food for the animals. Giant tortoises love stinging nettles, and goose grass or cleavers are relished by some of the herbivorous reptiles. Banana leaves are popular with stick insects and locusts, but are also given to squirrel monkeys. Honey treats are stuck to the leaves. The monkeys have fun picking off the treats, and then spend time cleaning themselves of the delicious sticky honey.

Gardeners don’t just get requests for plant material for food and nesting; prunings such as lavender and rosemary provide useful enrichment / active entertainment for the lions. Keepers fill bags with the clippings to make giant catnip toys.

With so many rare and glorious plants, the gardens at Cotswold Wildlife Park are a delight to visit all year round. Visiting transports you to another world. A world that’s been created with imagination and passion. There’s nowhere else quite like it.

All pics, apart from the front cover and the baby rhino, are i-phone photos from my head gardener tour.

Links:

Harriet and Tim’s book is available from Cotswold Wildlife Park https://shop.myonlinebooking.co.uk/cotswoldwildlifepark/shop/product-list.aspx?catid=8

Death in the Garden – Book Review

Poisonous Plants & Their Use Throughout History

Michael Brown

Pen and Sword Books. Paperback £16.99

ISBN 1526708388

I once turned up at a client’s garden to find foxgloves growing amongst the cut-and- come-again lettuce. Horrified, I carefully weeded them out, but decided I couldn’t be sure I’d found them all. The whole plot had to be dug up and replanted. Growing flowers in the veg plot has become fashionable. But mixing flowers with salads and veg can be deadly. We know foxgloves or digitalis has links with modern medicine to treat heart disorders. All parts of the plant are, however, highly poisonous. Michael Brown, in his book Death in the Garden, says on a toxicity scale of 1 to 20, with 1 being the most lethal, foxgloves are at number 3. The difference between a beneficial and lethal dose being minute.

Foxgloves are just one of the plants listed in Brown’s fascinating book. I’ve grown up knowing about the dangers of deadly and woody nightshade, and giant hogweed. But who knew that aquilegia could be poisonous.

Brown describes how powdered aquilegia seeds were used historically as medicine for jaundice and liver problems right up until the early nineteenth century. The plant, apparently high in vitamin C, was also rather dubiously used to treat scurvy. Luckily, modern medicine has moved on and the plant has reverted back to being used just to decorate our gardens.

Other plants I’ll look at in a different light in future include autumn crocus, bindweed, broom, cherry laurel, daffodils, morning glory and celandine, to name but a few.

And as for basil, I’ll not be able to eat it again without thinking of Brown’s rather bizarre and gory murder story involving a severed head and a pot of herbs! His book is a mixture of fact and fiction – all revolving around plants and poisons. Highly entertaining as well as informative. But you might not be able to sleep at night after reading it.

The book cover says :” Mankind has always had a morbid fascination with poisonous plants; how their poisonous properties were discovered and developed will most likely be left unknown. Over the centuries poisonous plants have been used to remove garden pests, unwanted rivals, and deceitful partners. They have also been used for their medicinal qualities, as rather dangerous cosmetics, even to help seduce a lover, when perceived as an aphrodisiac.

“Death in the Garden is based on Michael Brown’s most popular talk, popular as this subject holds a strange interest, for many will enjoy learning about these treacherous and peculiar plants, their defensive and deadly traits as well as the folklore that has grown around them. ”

Michael Brown has been a head gardener, a college lecturer and designed the medieval gardens at Prebendal Manor, Nassington. He now gives talks and demonstrations on historical gardening .

The publishers have one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below to be included. Comments without wishing to be in the draw are also fine.

Please do not try any of the “recipes” or remedies mentioned in the book.

DISCLAIMER: All the plants mentioned in this blog piece and the above book can cause death or injury. The contents of the review and book are for interest only and the author and publisher accept no liability for any injury caused by the use of the plants.

Links : kindle https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Death-in-the-Garden-Kindle/p/14944

Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Death-Garden-Poisonous-Throughout-History/dp/1526708388

Congratulations to the Winner of The Wild Remedy Prize Draw

Congratulations to Kathy Lewington who has won my prize draw for a copy of Emma Mitchell’s wonderful new book The Wild Remedy.

The publishers Michael O’ Mara Books kindly offered one copy to give away.

I wrote a review of Emma’s book here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/14/the-wild-remedy-book-review/

I love the book and can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve always enjoyed Emma’s drawings and photographs on social media. To have them in a book I can look at every day of the year is a special treat. A treasury of nature.

Thank you to everyone to read my review and left a comment. There will be many more books and gardening products to follow.

Links : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/14/the-wild-remedy-book-review/

Amazon :https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Remedy-Nature-Mends-Diary/dp/1789290422

Michael O’Mara Books https://www.mombooks.com/

Review of Making Winter https://bramblegarden.com/2017/12/16/last-minute-christmas-present-ideas-for-gardeners/

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

Prize draw winners – The Immortal Yew

Tony Hall

Kew Publishing. Hardback. £25

ISBN : 978 1 84246 658 2

One of the pleasures of writing a blog is sharing a love of gardening with like-minded people. Books are also a passion of mine, particularly anything with a horticultural theme. So I was happy to be invited to write a review of The Immortal Yew, written by Kew Gardens manager Tony Hall. Stories of myths and legends surrounding yews dating back 2,000 years had me glued to the pages from start to finish. I was drawn in by the sight of the “lion’s paw” yews flanking the doors at St Edward’s Church, Stow-on-the-wold, a sight said to have inspired JRR Tolkien when he was writing about the gateway to Moria in Lord of the Rings. A photo of these strange, ancient yews provides the cover picture for the book. The publishers, Kew Publishing, very generously offered three copies for a prize draw on the blog. The winners, randomly selected, are Sharon Moncur, Philippa Burrough and Alison Levey. Thanks to everyone who left comments on the blog. If you didn’t win, please keep reading as there are many more books to follow over the next few weeks, including The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell, Island Gardens by Jackie Bennett, the English Country House Garden, George Plumptre, Oxford College Gardens, Tim Richardson, and The Christmas Tree by Barbara Segall. Winter is a great time to catch up with reading, before tasks in the garden entice us outdoors again.

To read my review, please click here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/25/the-immortal-yew-book-review/

What books would you recommend to gardening friends? What are your favourite books?

Links : Immortal Yew https://www.amazon.co.uk/Immortal-Yew-Tony-Hall/dp/1842466585/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1548966993&sr=1-1

Kew Gardens https://www.kew.org/

Kew Publishing https://www.kew.org/files/kew-publishingjpg

Sharon Moncur https://renaissancegardener.org/

Philippa Burrough http://www.ultingwickgarden.co.uk/

Alison Levey https://www.blackberrygarden.co.uk/

Please feel free to share this blog on any social media platform, linking back to this site https://bramblegarden.com/

The Immortal Yew- Book Review

Tony Hall

Kew Publishing. Hardback. £25

ISBN: 978 1 84246 658 2

I’ve often walked under cathedral-like arches of ancient yew trees and wondered what stories they could tell. Their dense evergreen canopy means low light levels- adding an air of drama and mystery. It’s easy to let imagination run wild. No wonder the yew is linked to so many strange myths and legends.

Here’s my view of the yew walk at Melbourne Hall in Derbyshire on a cold January day a few weeks back. Almost a living sculpture. Hundreds of years of history captured in every twist and turn. I stood and marvelled at its strangeness and beauty.

Tony Hall, Manager at Kew, started on a quest to record our ancient yew trees after a visit to Devon where he found a huge male yew tree in a churchyard in Kenn. He was amazed by its immense size, and wondered just how many other trees there were like this. He set out to travel around Britain and Ireland in search of these venerable trees, and The Immortal Yew is the resulting book.

The book profiles 75 publicly-accessible yews, with details on their appearance, location, folklore and history, accompanied by 100 colour photographs. Each tree has its own story to tell- from fragmented, sprawling trunks, to ones you can sit inside. And there are some that have possibly inspired writers.

Author J.R.R. Tolkien is said to have found inspiration for the gateway to Moria in the Lord of the Rings from visiting the two guardian yews at Stow- on-the -Wold. The two yews flank the door at St Edward’s Church, like a pair of giant lion’s paws. Their photo makes a stunning cover picture for the book.

The Ankerwycke Yew near Wraysbury, Middlesex, is thought to be up to 2,500 years old, making it the oldest known tree on National Trust land. It’s possible the tree was the one under which the Magna Carta was agreed. And where Henry VIII courted the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. In 2002 it was chosen as one of the ’50 Great British Trees,’ to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Not far from the tree are the remains of St Mary’s Priory, a Benedictine convent built in the 12th century in the reign of Henry II. The yew would already have been a notable ancient landmark, substantially more than 1,000 years old, when the priory was built.

Much Marcle Yew, in St Bartholomew’s Church, Ledbury, Herefordshire has an unusual feature. The hollow interior is fitted with wooden benches which seat 12 people and were installed in the 18th century. The bulbous, fluted trunk has a circumference of over 9m. Some of the lower branches are still held up by old Victorian gas lamp columns.

A timeline highlights some key dates in the history of the yew. I have selected just a few of the dates which caught my attention.

  • 140 million years ago Taxaceae (yew family) fossils formed
  • 200BC Herbalist Nikander describes the painful death caused by yew toxin
  • 1066 Battle of Hastings: King Harold killed by an arrow that supposedly pierced his eye, fired from a Norman yew longbow.
  • 1215 Magna Carta signed under the Ankerwycke Yew

More modern dates include

  • 1986 anti-cancer drug Docetaxel, extracted from the leaves of European yew, was patented and later approved for medicinal use.
  • 1994 synthetic cancer drug Taxol was developed.
  • This book is a wonderful celebration of our native yew trees, and all the stories that go with them. It would be a fabulous starting point to a journey around Britain and Ireland. I for one would love to have the opportunity to visit these trees and stand and wonder at their beauty. Perhaps one day I will get the chance to set out on an grand tour. For now though, I’ll dip into Tony’s book and enjoy all the fascinating stories of mythology and folklore. It’s a journey into the past. And also, it would be interesting to see what scientists discover in the future, as I’m sure we haven’t learned all there is to know about these strange and much-valued trees.

    Tony Hall is Manager of the Arboretum and Gardens at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, where he has worked for the past 17 years. His fascination with natural history began at a young age. He has been working in horticulture for 40 years. Tony is author of Wild Plants of Southern Spain (Kew Publishing, 2017 ).

    The publishers have one free copy to give away in a prize draw for readers of this blog. Please leave a comment below, by Sunday 27th Jan, to be included in the draw. The publisher’s decision is final and there is no cash alternative. UK and international entries are welcome.

    Here is the Amazon link for Tony’s latest book: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Immortal-Yew-Tony-Hall/dp/1842466585/ref=sr_1_1/258-7276364-2203519?ie=UTF8&qid=1548447890&sr=8-1&keywords=the+immortal+yew

    Have you any favourite yew trees? I regularly visit Easton Walled Gardens near Grantham, where evidence of the Tudor-style walks and walls indicate there has been a garden on the site for at least 400 years. The yew tree tunnel is a much-photographed focal point of this historic restoration project started in 2001.

    Links:

    Melbourne Hall Gardens https://www.melbournehallgardens.com/

    Easton Walled Gardens https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

    Kew Gardens https://www.kew.org/

    Kew publishing https://www.kew.org/about-our-organisation/business-services

    Book prize draw winner- The Creative Kitchen

    It’s been a good year for new books. One of my favourites recently arrived in the potting shed is The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty.

    The publishers kindly offered one free copy for a prize draw for this blog. I’m always grateful for a chance to pass on goodies to readers. And I’m delighted to announce that the winner is June at https://thecynicalgardener.com/ .

    Please take a look at the discount code on my review which gets you the book for £16 including postage. Here’s the link for the review https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

    I’m making peppermint creams for Christmas presents using Stephanie’s idea for mint sugar. The kitchen smells divine, and the mints look really pretty.

    Thank you for reading this blog. Keep popping back for more news. A whole pile of books have just arrived in the potting shed and I’m just starting to work my way through them, so keep an eye open for more prize draws and offers.

    Are you making any Christmas presents this year? Get in touch and share your favourite recipes and ideas for gardeners and cooks. It’s great to share hints and tips with each other.

    I always look forward to your comments. Please also feel free to share this blog on any social media platform you like. It all helps to spread the news.