Chocolate and Mandarin Crispy Cake Bars

Family Favourite Recipes.

Here’s the recipe for today’s BBC Radio Leicester cakes. I always take some home made cakes in each week for the Sunday staff. Our gardening programme is on at lunchtimes and we all get very hungry.

https://bramblegarden.com/tag/family/

This week’s recipe has the addition of some mandarins from the greenhouse. Add some zest to the mixture and place mandarin segments on top before the chocolate sets. Quite delicious for a cold wet day. You could also add Terry’s Chocolate Orange segments if you like.

My cakes and home made treats relate to what I’m growing in the garden. This week I was talking about starting to water my citrus trees, feeding them and looking under the leaves for scale insects. You can sometimes find little flat insects attached to the leaves, and there might be black mould as well which is caused by their sugary excretions. You can scrape the scale insects off with a damp loofah sponge. Use horticultural soft soap to clean off the mould.

Scale insect on a citrus leaf

Citrus flower. Gloriously ~highly scented.

Links: https://bramblegarden.com/tag/family/

Citrus trees: https://www.victoriananursery.co.uk/Citrus-Fruits/

Caring for citrus trees https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=94

A Walk Around my Garden Saturday 8th February 2020

Welcome again to a peaceful walk around my garden. Enjoy the sunshine and spring flowers. The temperature today is 9C. There was frost overnight. It’s still too wet to garden, so I’m continuing to tidy the potting shed and mooch in the greenhouse. I expect all the spring jobs will come at once and I’ll soon be dashing about. But for now, it’s a slow meander around the pathways, taking in every tiny jewel-like flower, breathing in the honey-scent of snowdrops. Looking in the pond for signs of life- no frogspawn yet. Soon though. There are stirrings. I peer into the water trough and watch a tiny water boatman. I watch like a child in a trance as the tiny oar-like legs propel the boatman around its miniature world. A world I created. A simple metal tank, with a few spare oxygenating plants thrown in. I marvel at how easy it is to help wildlife. I quietly whisper ” I made this for you.” The water boatman dips and dives and delights in its domain. And I revel in every second of quiet and calming observation, with no other purpose than to just enjoy this moment.

White primulas on the garden tables. We’ve had honey bees looking for pollen, and a few sleepy bumble bees ‘bumbling’ about crashing around the garden. I’ve rescued a few, utterly helpless and disorientated, and set them upon a patch of wild primroses.

Aconites, or gold coins, as we call them, are spreading nicely in the far corners of the garden, undisturbed. This is the first year they have had to fight with cowparsley leaves, emerging early due to warm temperatures. I might have to intervene.

There’s more cowparsley at the top of the garden. I’ve never seen it look so lush in February. The hellebores will have a race to flower and set seed before being over-run by the pretty but invasive weeds.

At the top of the garden we store our wood ready for chopping for the fire. I stood and marvelled at the beauty of this red-stained heartwood. Sadly the tree succumbed to disease and died. But it will have another purpose for a year or two as a home for spiders, woodlice, springtails, beetles – insects that will in turn provide food for mammals such as hedgehogs, and birds. Blackbirds and robins thrive in this garden.

Snowdrops are spreading along the leafmould paths. Each year I divide them and move them further along the tree-lined tracks.

Snowdrop corner. Filling out nicely. Snowdrops come from Easton Walled Gardens, Hodsock Priory and National Garden Scheme open garden days.

Snowdrops look cheerful placed on the potting shed windowsill where I can look out and see them while I’m working indoors.

I’m very fond of this snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis Viridapice. Such delicate green-tipped petals.

I bought just three Madeline snowdrops three years ago from Thenford gardens. It must be happy, as now there’s nine flowers. It grows in nice moist leaf-mould soil under deciduous trees.

But I’m just as happy with my plain native snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, growing all along the hedgerow between the garden and the lane.

Regular readers know that after a ramble around the garden, I always take you out of the top gate and along the ridgeway footpath behind my plot. It’s good to see the changing seasons in the countryside. Our neighbouring farmer has finally managed to plough the field. It’s the first time he’s been able to get on the land due to the record amounts of rain we’ve had here over autumn and winter. Ditches are still full, and overflowing at the bottom of the hill.

There’s still a few crab apples lying in the hedgerow. We had a record harvest last autumn. Good news for all the birds and mammals eating them through the winter.

Some welcome signs of spring. Blackthorn blossom is starting to emerge.

And elderflower leaves are unfurling. The hedgerow is waking up.

Almost hidden in the brambles is a concrete trig point. A reminder of the past. Measurements were taken from theodolites placed on top. This one dates back to around 1936. They were built between the 1930s and 1962 and sited on the peaks of hills. It’s no wonder our garden is so windswept. We are at the highest point for miles around.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your walk around my garden. Leave me a message to let me know what’s flowering in your garden right now. And thank you for reading. I’ve checked the ‘stats’ and I am amazed to see 140,000 views for the piece on the dangers of sepsis and gardening injuries, and 70,000 views of these quiet rambles around my garden. I’m very grateful for every single reader.

Links: Six on Saturday- I follow this blog and like to join in. https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/02/08/six-on-saturday-08-02-2020/

In a Vase on Monday- another blog I enjoy: https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/02/03/ina-vase-on-monday-in-the-queue-for-green/

Waterboatman: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/invertebrates/bugs/lesser-water-boatman

Snowdrops, Easton https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

Snowdrop festival NGS :https://ngs.org.uk/snowdrop-festival-brings-first-signs-of-spring/

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

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

All about the history of trig points : https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-36036561

In a Plant Pot on Wednesday – 5th February 2020

It’s a wonderful moment when potted spring bulbs suddenly flower. They seem to be in bud for weeks. Then virtually overnight, all the iris and dwarf daffodils burst into life. Colour at last. It’s much appreciated on a dark cold February day.

I planted shallow pans of bulbs on October 12th last year. Dwarf iris Katherine Hodgkin is a pale blue beauty with markings resembling blue ink pen lines. Each winter I try something new, and this time I’ve chosen iris reticulata Blue Note, very striking with deep indigo flowers and white markings on purple black falls.

Bulbs are grown on in the protection of the greenhouse over winter, but as soon as they flower I carry the pots about and set them on the garden tables. It’s so cheerful to look out of the house windows and see something colourful.

I’ve used pussy willow and hazel catkins to prop up the paper white narcissi. They have a habit of flopping everywhere, but look lovely with a few stems supporting them. On the right of the table there’s some cherry stems in a Kilner jar. Picked now and brought indoors they will open early for a glorious pink blossom display.

Scented paper whites might be too strong for indoors, but on the garden tables they are perfect. The creamy white flowers are a pretty accompaniment to emerging fluffy grey willow catkins.

A large Sankey terracotta plant pot of Narcissus February Gold makes a centrepiece for the picnic table. Hazel twigs are used for supports.

Here’s how I started out in October with a selection of terracotta plant pots, many inherited from my grandfather Ted Foulds.

I use a mix of 50/50 peat free compost and grit for good drainage. Bulbs are planted half way down the pots. They are watered once and placed on the greenhouse staging.

Pots are topped with extra grit to finish them off. This keeps the flowers clean and stops them being splashed with soil when watering.

Hyacinths are almost perched on the top of compost in individual 4″ pots. These are placed in a huge plant pot under the potting shed bench in dark, cool, frost free conditions and brought out just before Christmas when flower spikes are showing.

Here’s the view from the potting shed in October as I’m planting all these bulbs. A lovely reminder of all the sunny autumn days we had.

For contrast, here’s an oak tree from the lane where I live. Just as beautiful. Like a charcoal pencil drawing.

Have your spring bulbs started to flower this week? Are you trying anything new, like me, as well as sticking to a few old favourites too.

Get in touch and let me know what’s happening in your garden at the moment.

I am @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram

Links: I like to join in with Cathy for #IAVOM In a vase on Monday, but this week is was working, and my flowers are in pots! But I’ve read and caught up with everyone’s postings

https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/02/03/ina-vase-on-monday-in-the-queue-for-green/

Bulbs came from Gee Tee bulbs. https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

Compost from Dalefoot : https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/our-products.aspx

A Walk Around My Garden Saturday 1st February 2020

Suddenly we go from sorting seeds, writing lists and thinking about gardening- to actually getting out there and making a start. It’s a wonderful feeling to be outdoors. I can happily mooch about all day. This week I made a new sweet pea support out of hazel poles.

Usually I use our own hazel material, but I cut them down last year and I’m leaving them to grow taller for a pergola project. There’s always something planned for the future. For this year’s sweet pea frame I visited a local farm fencing suppliers and bought two bundles of rods. These are sold as binders for hedge laying, but make perfect pea and bean poles.

I push the rods into the ground in two rows 60cm apart, with 30cm between each pole. The ground is still very wet and it’s relatively easy to push them in. I tie each pair of rods at a height of 180cm and then weave more hazel and twiggy stems along the top and also at waist height to strengthen the frame.

Here’s my supports from last summer. I love the natural rustic look and sweet peas easily twine around the hazel poles without too much attention and minimal tying in. These supports will last about three years if they are reinforced each year. At the end of their useful life, they’ll be composted. For local supplies try https://coppice-products.co.uk/

Sweet pea seeds are growing well, but there’s still time to start yours now. Planted in early February, they will make good strong plants to flower from July until first frosts. I’m growing a mixture of heritage varieties from Easton Walled Gardens and some new ones from Mr Fothergill’s including Mayflower 400 celebrating 400 years since the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to The New World. There’s nothing like the scent of sweet peas. It’s difficult to buy them from florists, but luckily for us, they are cheap and easy to grow at home.

I’ve written about making a sweet pea support for the weekly Garden News Magazine. There will be photos from my garden in the 11th February edition. I’ve also written about starting my dahlias into growth to take cuttings, and refreshing the compost in my lemon tree pots and starting feeding and watering them. With temperatures being unusually mild for winter, I’m making the best of the sunshine and getting a head start for spring.

What projects have you got planned for 2020. Are you growing anything new, or sticking with old favourites. Get in touch and let me know what’s happening in your garden.

I am @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram

Links : SOS I like to join in with #sos at https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/02/01/six-on-saturday-01-02-2020/

And also with Cathy at #IAVOM https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/01/27/in-a-vase-on-monday-a-good-spread/

Hazel supplies https://coppice-products.co.uk/

Mr Fothergills seeds http://blog.mr-fothergills.co.uk/mr-fothergills-launches-new-sweet-pea-mayflower-400/

Easton walled garden https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

Blue Monday in My Garden and Ridgeway Walk – 20th January 2020

Lace-edge primulas, looking glorious in January

Today I’m celebrating. I’ve spent the first full day in the garden for three years. There was much to do! Brambles and nettles have invaded the boundaries, and I couldn’t get down the side of the poly tunnel. Something needed to be done. And luckily my strength and energy levels have returned and I can be outdoors all day. Something I took for granted until becoming seriously ill in 2016. So happily, it’s not Blue Monday for me- it’s three cheers, and hello garden, here I come!

This area round the back of the potting shed and alongside the poly tunnel looks a mess. It’s out of sight and out of mind- until I need to clean the poly tunnel plastic covering. Then I can’t get access. So I set to and cut back all the nettle stems and blackberries. Some of the trailing stems are 4m long. Vicious, thorny things!

There’s a wheelbarrow under there.

Despite wearing tough clothing the brambles manage to ‘get me.’ But I fight back and win. It takes me a couple of hours, much longer than it used to, but I’ve learned to pace myself and celebrate every small achievement. By chipping away at the task the area is cleared, pots washed and neatly stacked and order restored. It’s such a nice feeling, to take back control.

I make a start on mulching the borders. Some of the boundary borders have become over run with plants such as geranium and euphorbia. Perennials like these can be rather too successful. Before 2016, the whole garden was planted with tender perennials, salvias, penstemons, exotics galore. Mum and I would visit rare plant fairs to seek out small treasures. But these require cosseting. I discovered there’s a good reason they are rare. They need splitting, dividing or they disappear. Cuttings require overwintering in a heated greenhouse. They are gone in a flash without tender loving care. I will replant, but hardier varieties are being selected. Newly acquired tender beauties will remain in plant pots, easily scooped up and swept into the greenhouse at the first sign of frost. I’m not giving up on delicate plants, just readjusting the balance.

A whole border of hellebores had to be dug up last autumn. The plants had become overrun with couch grass and weeds. We moved them to the woodland walk where the grass will die out eventually. And I’m delighted to report that hellebores can be moved and thrive. These are looking fabulous. Every one survived in the well-mulched wonderful leaf-mould soil. So pleased, as these were grown from seedlings given to me by a friend.

Another cause for celebration. My new potatoes for winter have been fabulous. We planted these on 7th August in recycled compost bags. Well watered through late summer, they grew like triffids. As soon as the weather turned cold, the bags were hauled into the greenhouse to be kept frost free. Since Christmas we’ve had a steady supply of tasty potatoes fresh from the greenhouse. There is nothing more cheerful than new potatoes in the depths of winter. I’ll be repeating the procedure again this year, with double the number of bags.

As always, after a hearty gardening session, as a reward, I head out of the top field gate and walk along the ridgeway path. Is there any finer sight than an oak tree set against a bright blue sky. It’s a sight I’ll never tire of.

A quick peek though the gap-in-the hedge. I wasn’t quick enough to take photos of the pheasants in the ditch on the other side. A magnificent thrill to see them skimming low across the field, their feathers rich and glowing in the late afternoon sun.

Hazel catkins, a welcome sign of spring. I cut a few twigs to prop up my amaryllis bulbs in the greenhouse. Flowers and catkins always bring cheer.

It’s a circular walk- along the path, down the lane and back home. This is the hedgerow alongside the lane. My favourite oak, on the ridgeway walk, is almost in the centre of this photo.

I stand and admire this 300 year old oak, one of a row. And I think about the farmer who planted them and didn’t live to see them grow to maturity. It’s such a generous act to plant a tree. It’s not for yourself, but for future generations to come. There are some gaps along the lane where elms have died. Perhaps I’ll ask the farmer if I can plant some replacement oaks. And someone else will stand before them, in time, and marvel at their beauty, like I do.

After a cup of tea, I potter about, collecting up plant labels – there are many- and wind-blown pots. I check the greenhouse, first tapping on the door to warn the wrens. They roost on the slider and if I don’t warn them, there’s a sudden flapping of wings around my head. I don’t mind sharing my greenhouse. It might mean the difference between survival and death, in a cold winter.

Turning for home, I notice the time is 5.05pm. It’s a wonderful sunset. And there’s still enough light to mooch about and easily find my way to the back door. Spring is on the way. And I feel ready for all the gardening challenges to come.

Have you spent any time in the garden today? What’s looking good or coming into flower on your plot. Get in touch and let me know.

Links : special primroses from Piecemeal Plants http://www.piecemealplants.co.uk/

Polytunnels, mine was second hand. New ones from https://www.firsttunnels.co.uk/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAvJXxBRCeARIsAMSkApqtMjv4FjaWKWNJbY1MEf_7o_CBJK1XrGe3UABgLDs1weAGIcT3A6caAk26EALw_wcB

I’m using mulch from https://www.bloominamazing.com/.

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

And https://www.plantgrow.co.uk/products/

I wrote about growing new potatoes for winter here :https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/07/im-growing-new-potatoes-for-christmas/

Compost from https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/our-products.aspx

Seed potatoes from https://taylors-bulbs.com/

Oak trees https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/english-oak/

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

I am @kgimson on twitter, karengimson1 on instagram.

In a Vase on Monday – Jan 6 2020

I’m back to work today, so I’m posting a review of my past #IAVOM projects, one for each month of the year.

Good luck to everyone who’s back to work, school or college today. The days are getting lighter, ever so slightly, so we’ll be able to spend our evenings in the garden again soon.

Meanwhile, enjoy my ‘slide show’ of photos from my garden, though the year.

JANUARY

Paperwhite narcissi, black hellebores, pittosporum and eucalyptus foliage. Decorating a willow wreath with flowers in a jam jar hidden inside a moss kokadama ball.

FEBRUARY

Snowdrops, crocus, cyclamen coum, puschkinia.

MARCH

Tulip Exotic Emperor, Narcissi Geranium, hyacinth, orange wallflower, and Westonbirt dogwood stems.

APRIL

Hyacinth Woodstock, pink hellebore, pink comfrey, daphne and forget-me-nots.

MAY

Forget me nots and Jack by the Hedge( Alliaria petiolata)

JUNE

Roses, Gertrude Jekyll and Constance Spry with a lace frill edge of wild elder flower.

JULY

White daisies and larkspur, Blue Boy cornflower, with a frill of Ammi majus.

AUGUST

Sweet peas, carnations and verbena bonariensis.

SEPTEMBER

Blue shades gladioli, cosmos and dahlia Nuit deEte.

October (early)

Sunflowers and calendula Snow Princess.

October (late)

All of the garden, fuchsia, salvia,rudbeckia, aster, cornflower, white anemone, sedum, argyranthemum.

NOVEMBER

Dahlia David Howard and blue borage.

DECEMBER

Sedum wreath on a moss-filled wire heart. No flower foam has been used again this year. Flowers are pressed into moss or plunged into tiny test tubes hidden amongst the foliage.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

I am on twitter @kgimson

On instagram at karengimson1

On BBC Radio Leicester on Sundays and Wednesdays

At Garden News Magazine every month.

Links: In a Vase on Monday :https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/12/30/in-a-vase-on-monday-hazel-and-hazel/. Thanks to Cathy for hosting #IAVOM

Bulbs and corms from Gee Tee Bulbs : https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

Seeds from Mr Fothergills : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/

Sweet pea seeds: https://www.kingsseeds.com/Products/Flowers-N-Z/Sweet-Pea

Heritage sweet peas and garden to visit : https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/gardens/sweet-peas

Flower farmer courses and willow wreath-making at Common Farm Flowers: https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/workshops.html

Six on Saturday- Flowers from my Garden 4th Jan 2020

Winter flowers are more precious to me than summer blooms. In summer there’s an abundance of riches, and sometimes flowers go unnoticed with too much rushing about, keeping on top of the weeding. But in winter there’s time to stop and pause, and jewel-like colours lift the mood. Today I’ve picked my favourite blue Algerian iris. How can anything so delicate survive the cold! It looks like it is made of silk. I have a huge untidy patch of Iris unguicularis right by my front door. All summer we trip over the long strap-like leaves, and constantly threaten to dig it up. But from November to May there’s a daily flush of flowers, arriving in ones and twos. They last for a week, brought indoors. Perfect for a tiny Victorian glass vase. Iris unguicularis likes to be planted at the base of a south-facing wall. Heat and drought seem to suit it well.

My iris naturally flowers in winter, but there are also roses in flower, quite out of season. This is Rosa Phyllis Bide, a wonderful rambler which reliably puts on a show from early summer right through to autumn. I’ve also managed to find some Viburnum Dawn and Lisarose, and a sprig or alstroemeria from the poly tunnel. A cheerful, scented posy for the kitchen table.

After meandering around the plot I head for the garden gate and set off along the ridgeway walk. Fortunately it’s a dry day and the footpath conditions are improving. It’s been the wettest autumn for 50 years and farmers struggled to get in the harvest or sow autumn crops. In the distance there’s field after field of maize still standing. As far as the eye can see, fields stand fallow. There’s no lovely green shoots of winter wheat, barley or oil seed.

There’s only two crab apples left. Mammals and birds have had a feast. There’s been an abundance of fruit and berries this winter. Rosehips dripped like blood from the hedgerow. Huge flocks of fieldfares fly overhead and alight on the hedges to strip them bare. Resident blackbirds try their best to defend their ‘larder,’ but they are defeated by the noisy, marauding visitors. Luckily I’ve a store of cooking apples at home and I’ll throw a few out every day if the weather turns cold. Sometimes this bounty, regularly distributed, is the difference between life and death for birds. I generally rely on planting berried shrubs in the garden to provide natural food. But if it turns really icy, I’ll buy some mealworms, nuts and seeds.

As usual, I look for signs of spring. I know there’s a months of cold weather to come, but it’s heartening to find fat buds on the oak trees, above, and grey catkins on willow. Back home, the winter-flowering honeysuckle is in bloom and the scent wafts around the garden. It’s always a surprise to find such a delicious scent emanating from such insignificant flowers. I’ve wound some stems through a silver birch wreath, along with fluffy wild clematis seed heads. After Christmas I miss the decorations. I keep the festive feeling going, but swap to spring flowers instead. This will look lovely and cheerful over the summerhouse door.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden and along the ridgeway today. What flowers have you seen in bloom already? Get in touch and let me know what’s bringing you joy in your garden over the winter.

Links: iris unguicularis https://www.woottensplants.com/product/iris-unguicularis/?gclid=CjwKCAiAjMHwBRAVEiwAzdLWGOy0g3Obpt8I_71GTzDsIURPiShw3RWDCpwp4RC80YOuRaFAqW3ikRoCDakQAvD_BwE

Rose Phyllis Bide: https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/phyllis-bide?gclid=CjwKCAiAjMHwBRAVEiwAzdLWGOQWws_A5vY11U8becLKemzBaIcwDJ3IzRUq2t10myMB88ssr2Rx4RoC2H0QAvD_BwE

Wild crab apples: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/crab-apple/

Lonicera winter flowering : https://www.crocus.co.uk/plants/_/lonicera-fragrantissima/classid.4101/

Fieldfares: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/species-focus/fieldfare

Happy Christmas Everyone!

I’ve escaped from the house for half an hour. There’s two dozen mince pies in a tin. All my cooking is done. Icing sugar is liberally sprinkled all over the kitchen table. But clearing up can wait. I need to get outside into the garden. Surely, no one will miss me for 30 minutes…..

I’ve been saving crab apples for Christmas decorations. There’s Red Sentinel, Jelly King, Transitoria, and the common malus sylvestris which grows wild in hedgerows around here.

I’m trying to use less plastic and wire in the garden. So as an experiment I’m using cocktail sticks to secure my apples. I’m not using floral foam either. Flowers can be tucked into little glass jars and test tubes. Foliage can be woven into willow. It just takes a bit of forward planning. And I’m pleased with the results.

Wild clematis, old man’s beard, highlights the rosy red apples and rosehips. Such a joy to use what’s to hand in the garden. Within a few minutes I’ve gathered everything I need.

I planted dozens of rosa canina when we made a garden here and rosehips are plentiful this year. I never take all of them from one place. Always leave some for the birds. They’ll need them to get through a cold wet winter.

My willow and crab apple wreath cheers up the summerhouse for Christmas. I’ve heaped woollen blankets in there and created a little library of favourite books. A peaceful place to rest and survey the garden birds. We’ve plenty of robins and blackbirds in the garden. They will be looking for nesting sites soon. Behind the summerhouse, the fields lie fallow this year. It’s been too wet to plough and sow any winter crops. Winter barley and wheat would usually be providing bright green shoots by now. It’s sad to see the ground so waterlogged and unproductive. However, birds and mammals are finding ‘leavings’ from the summer crops. Today we saw 300 field fares land in the field. They must be finding left over seeds and grains.

This is the field gate we walk through as we set off across the back fields. There’s a footpath along the hedgerow. Usually, there’s only us rambling along, but at Christmas the lane attracts a great many walkers. I like to decorate all the garden gates with willow and foliage. It only takes a few minutes to twist six willow stems into a heart and wind in some holly and garrya elliptica. Some dried hydrangea Annabelle makes a focal point, and hides the string tying everything together. Three crab apples glow yellow in the afternoon sunshine. It’s a constantly changing arrangement as birds peck at the hydrangea and apples. I don’t mind. It’s wonderful to watch them enjoying the juicy fruit. I can easily add some more. I enjoy the birds as much as the arrangements to be honest.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s walk around my garden. Thank you for all your lovely, kind and encouraging comments all year. Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all. See you in 2020, when there will be some exciting new developments at bramble garden to show you. Enjoy your gardening as well as your festivities. Now, back to the icing sugar and that messy kitchen table….. there’s trifles still to make. And Christmas puddings to steam.

My prize draw poinsettia- and new potatoes for Christmas – on the radio this week.

I’ve been a bit poorly this week. Two days in bed with a virus. Then one day on the sofa; puppy, Meg, on my feet and Grace cat on my knee keeping me toasty warm. Boy did I feel awful. And you can imagine how panicky I was, with so much to do. You can’t exactly put Christmas off for another week! Anyway, I’m always saying for every down there is an up, and a big cheer-me-up arrived in the post, a beautiful huge bright red poinsettia. It’s the biggest brightest poinsettia I’ve ever seen.

I won this gorgeous plant in a prize draw run by the Garden Media Guild and Marks and Spencers. It has 12 red bracts and lovely healthy dark green foliage. I’ve not had flowers or plants from M&S before, but can say wholeheartedly the quality is superb. The plants come well packed in eco friendly cardboard boxes. This one has a pretty wicker basket hiding the plastic plant pot. Plants are nice and fresh. You can tell by looking at the tiny greenish-yellow flowers in the centre of the bracts. If they are open with still some buds to come, then the plant is fresh. If the flowers have all gone over, then the plant will have been hanging around for a lengthy time and will probably be past its best.

I’m going to keep it in a nice warm room at 13C, water it sparingly with tepid tap water and protect it from droughts. It needs bright, filtered light. A windowsill would be too cold as temperatures are likely to drop overnight.

Poinsettias were one of the subjects we talked about on BBC Radio gardening this week. I do a ten minute tip every week, and this time it was how to buy and take care of poinsettias.

You can listen in here : https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07v92c9. The section starts at 1. 14. 47 on the timeline.

We also tip out our new potato sacks to see if we have managed to grow anything for Christmas. I am mightily relieved- and amazed to see we have 42 potatoes – grown from three tubers. We started these off the first week of August using special seed potatoes held back for autumn planting.

I write about growing potatoes for Christmas here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/07/im-growing-new-potatoes-for-christmas/

The section on potatoes follows on from the poinsettia at 1.20.21. Do have a listen in and let me know what you think of the idea of growing potatoes for Christmas. I shall definitely be doing it again next year, but with more bags to have a supply right through January. A little bit of success at something is really encouraging, isn’t it.

Here’s some of my just-harvested Charlotte potatoes. They taste so sweet. There’s nothing like that new potatoes taste in the middle of winter to cheer you up no end.

I don’t have to skin them, just give them a quick wash and cook for a few minutes. Smothered in butter and parsley. Salt and pepper. Delicious!

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

Marks and Spencers https://www.marksandspencer.com/gift-wrapped-poinsettia/p/p21041358

New potato seed : https://taylors-bulbs.com/new-potatoes-in-december-heres-how/

We used Dalefoot compost https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/

A walk around my garden Tuesday December 17 2019

Photo taken February 2019.

Something I love to do is pot up a lot of bulbs to make a table display. Bulbs are fantastic value right now. Today I bought two sacks of daffodils reduced from £24 to £3. They were virtually giving them away. I just couldn’t resist. So the morning was spent cramming them into 6″ pots with recycled compost saved from summer. As pots of compost are not very inspiring, I’m sharing a photo of my table display from February this year. Isn’t it cheerful to think we will be looking at all this colour in just a few months.

From left to right, there’s white Carnegie hyacinths, yellow tete a tete daffodils, Blue Jacket hyacinths, white Joan of Arc crocus, and various bright and wonderfully scented primulas and primroses. The perfume carries all around the veg garden. Such a joy after a cold, wet autumn and winter.

Some bulbs just starting to come into flower are Paper White narcissi. I started these off a few months ago in 10″ pots in the cold poly tunnel. There will be a steady stream of highly -scented pure white flowers for the next three months. Fabulous for cut flower displays for the potting shed and house. My favourites.

This week I harvested some of the new potatoes grown in recycled compost bags for Christmas.

I wrote about planting them here :https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/07/im-growing-new-potatoes-for-christmas/

There were a few critical comments on social media when I posted this. Some people said it was a waste of time, there wouldn’t be much of a crop, the potatoes just didn’t grow for them. I was quite down-hearted for a while, thinking I might have wasted my money on the seed potatoes. But, this week, I tentatively plunged my hand into the compost bags, and found these beauties. There’s lots more to harvest. The good thing about growing them in bags is you can just take a few at a time. So I’m glad I didn’t listen to negative comments and give up. I’ll certainly grow them again for next Christmas, and I’ll double the number of bags; that new potato taste is absolutely wonderful in the middle of winter. A special treat. Which is what gardening is all about, pushing the boundaries and trying something new. A little bit of success is so encouraging.

Another winter task I love is making plant labels from twigs. I’ve lots of self-sown ash and hazel trees in the garden with nice straight stems. A good way to control them and make something useful from the wood is to cut them into 8″ -10″ lengths and shave off one side for the writing. It’s a lovely soothing job when you’ve spent time battling through crowds for Christmas shopping. Restores balance and good humour!

Following a wander around my garden, there’s always a trip through the top gate and out on to the back fields. These trees are much admired every day of the year. There’s usually a buzzard perched in this first one. It flies along to the next tree, keeping just ahead of me, as I amble along. Quite often there’s a pheasant in the ditch. Meg almost catches the tail feathers as they leave it until the very last moment to fly away. She is being trained to stop and do no harm. But the pheasants don’t know they aren’t in any danger. They make quite a noisy fuss, skimming low over the fields right to the other side and safety.

Along our walk today we visit the sunflower field. Great clouds of small birds rise out of the crop. The sunflowers are like statues- all facing south, their heads frozen in time, but determinedly facing the sun. Backs to the north wind. Like us really. Today, I’m facing south and trying to catch any slight rays of sunshine I can.

I find lambs’ tails. Hazel catkins. That’s sunshine to me. Soon be spring, they seem to be saying.

What signs of spring have you found in your garden today? Have you got snowdrops showing through yet? Here they are poking through the ground, tiny milky white buds like the eye of a needle.

I like to read Six on Saturday. Mine are always more than six, and I can’t always take part on the right day. Life is too short to worry about these things. https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/14/six-on-saturday-14-12-2019/