Thank you to everyone who read my review of Andrew Timothy O’Brien’s new book ‘To Stand and Stare’ published by Dorling Kindersley. The publishers kindly gave me two copies to give away.
The winners are Anna, and also Gill Watson. Please could you e mail me your addresses for the copies to be sent out. firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a long time since I shared any photos of my lockdown kitten, Monty. No longer a kitten, but known to everyone as Monty K. He’s got ‘standing and staring’ down to a fine art. He’s still such a good companion in the potting shed and garden and follows me around everywhere. We hadn’t intended to get another cat, but when vets cancelled all the spaying operations there was an explosion of kittens in our village and surrounding area. We only got to see photos of Monty before he arrived, due to the covid rules, and we had no idea he would be a long-haired cat! Isn’t he gorgeous. A lot of brushing goes on with that coat! Otherwise, there’s brambles and dried grass all in a tangle around his ears.
I’ve ‘adopted’ two cats at Shropshire Cat Rescue. We can’t have any more here as Monty wouldn’t tolerate another feline, so I’m sending money to support two of the charity’s resident cats. More about this later!
Meanwhile… here’s a few Monty kitten photos, which is an indulgence really, but a nice reminder of when he arrived.
Have a great gardening week everyone! Thanks again for reading the blog and keeping in touch. It’s always appreciated. Karen.
If you are looking for a special dish for New Year celebrations, I can highly recommend this recipe. It’s a really tasty onion, mushroom and nut filling encased in golden puff pastry. It’s easy to make and serves 7-8. You can also make it ahead and re-heat it, or cut it into portions to freeze. We have it for Christmas every year, served alongside roast potatoes and honey roast parsnips, greens and onion gravy. wishing you all a very happy Christmas and wonderful New Year! Thanks as ever for following the blog and leaving your comments.
Take the pastry out of the fridge so that it comes to room temperature while you make the filling.
Heat the butter, sugar and onions in a frying pan. Gently cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, until caramelised and soft. Allow to cool
Use the same frying pan to cook the red onion in the 1 tbsp olive oil. When they are soft – which takes about 20 minutes on a low heat- add the chopped mushrooms, herbs, lemon juice and vegetable stock.
Cook on a low heat for 10 minutes.
Chop the nuts in a food processor very briefly. Add the mushroom mixture and process for a few seconds to incorporate. Leave it chunky, but well mixed
Add the breadcrumbs and seasoning and stir.
Mix in half the beaten egg. The other half will be for glazing the top.
To assemble, unroll the pastry on a baking tray, using the paper covering as a non-stick parchment
Spoon the caramelised onions down the centre of the pastry
Add the mushroom nut filling on top.
Cut the pastry sides into diagonal strips about 2cm wide and fold these one at a time over the filling to form a plait.
Brush the top with the reserved half beaten egg or oat milk for vegetarians.
Cook for about 40 minutes until the pastry has risen and turned golden and the filling has heated through.
Can be made the day before and reheated in foil in the oven. Also nice cold of there are any leftovers, served with jacket potatoes and salad. Enjoy!
The finished roast. Sprinkle some fresh herbs over, if you like.
Christmas only really starts for me when I plant my amaryllis bulbs. For as long as I can remember, there’s been amaryllis bulbs flowering over the festive season at my family’s home. And I like to keep up the tradition by having them in my own home. If you listened in to this week’s BBC Radio Leicester show, you will have heard me talking about the amaryllis varieties I’m planting at the moment. Some are for me, and some will be given as Christmas presents.
Carmen is the deep velvety red single-flowering bulb I mentioned on the show. I was potting them up as we talked. The box kits from Taylors Bulbs contain a plant pot and compost which makes life easier. Everything needed is contained in one box.
This beautiful double white amaryllis is Marilyn. I love the lime green centre of the flowers.
This is the pink and white striped double amaryllis I’ve chosen. It’s called Lady Jane. Which is quite a fancy name for quite a fancy flower!
Amaryllis Rilona has wonderful deep apricot single flowers with a darker eye. The flowers are edged in white, and if you look closely you can see darker orange stripes or veins radiating from the centre of the flowers to the tips.
When choosing bulbs, always go for the largest you can find. The larger the bulb, the more flower spikes will be produced. Usually one single spike is followed by a second, or even a third, if you are very lucky.
I asked Taylors Bulbs for some planting and general care advice:
How To Plant Amaryllis In Pots/Containers:
1. Soak the dry roots (not the bulb) in lukewarm water for about 45mins. Make sure to cut off any damaged roots before potting. 2. Fill the base of your pot (at least 20cm) with multi-purpose compost, covering the drainage hole. 3. Feed the roots into the pot, spreading them out onto the compost and fill in around them with more compost. 4. Bury the bottom half of the bulb, so that it is secure in the pot. Water sparingly. 5. Stand the pot in a well-lit position and keep the compost moist, but do not over water.
* Amaryllis are great for the windowsill. Remember to turn the pot regularly to prevent the stems bending towards the light.
* Once your Amaryllis flowers have faded, cut the whole stem off as close to the base as possible. * Water and feed them with a balanced fertiliser every few weeks to help build up strength for next year. * Make sure to give them plenty of light, as this helps the leaves generate energy. * To help encourage them to flower next year cut any old foliage back to the neck of the bulb. Move them into a warm position and continue to water them.
Re-potting Amaryllis Bulbs:
* After every two to three years it’s a good idea to re-pot amaryllis bulbs for continued good displays. * Amaryllis tend to grow best in small pots, so don’t be tempted to re-pot into a larger pot. * After flowering, remove the bulbs from the compost and gently remove the compost around the roots. Then refill your pot with fresh compost and replant the bulb.
About Taylors Bulbs:
Taylors Bulbs are a fourth generation family business, growing and supplying flower bulbs and associated products since 1919.
Daffodils are grown on our farm in Holbeach, Lincolnshire where we also design and pack a large range of products predominantly for the UK and Irish markets.
Still a thriving family business employing over 200 staff at peak times, we pride ourselves on the award winning service we offer our customers.
Here’s some more amaryllis I’ve grown at Christmas. In the second year, they often flower either very early in November, or as late as May. Either way they are very welcome at a time when there are few flowers to enjoy in the garden. Indoor bulbs fill the gap.
Thanks for reading the blog, and for listening in to the radio. I also write a weekly column for Garden News Magazine, so I’m either talking or writing about flowers every day of the week. Happy gardening everyone!
Flower Carpet Pink is the 18th rose to be inducted into the World Federation of Rose Societies prestigious Rose Hall of Fame. Who knew there was such a thing as a Rose Hall of Fame! Or that there were 17 other roses mentioned there already. I learn something new every day. The announcement came at the Word Rose Congress held in Adelaide earlier this month. I’m going to show my complete ignorance here and say that I didn’t even know there was a World Rose Congress either. However, for what it’s worth, I have always loved the Flower Carpet roses for their disease resistance. As an organic gardener, roses that don’t need spraying are a blessing. Ones that repeat flower and don’t need much pruning are even more welcome. I use the pink rose in garden design projects, but at home I have Flower Carpet Coral which grows amongst white peonies, hellebores, and blue campanula in a semi-shaded border. The blue and the coral colours look wonderful together.
It’s fascinating to know the history behind these plants. Flower Carpet Pink was Bred by Noack Roses in 1988 and introduced in the UK in 1991. Like many gardeners, I appreciate its glossy foliage, abundance of flowers and easy-care characteristics.
Rose grower Robert Wharton, licensee for Noack Roses in the UK says ‘With environmental consideration such as water and chemical reduction increasing in importance Flower Carpet with its excellent drought tolerance and superb health will be a feature in gardens and green spaces well into the future.’
Creator of Flower Carpet Pink, Werner Noack passed away recently and his son Reinhard accepted the award from Henrianne de Briey President of the WFRS. Reinhard said ‘Such a success is not the merit of only one person – three generations of the Noack family, our employees and national and international partners have all contributed to make Flower Carpet Pink a true rose of the world’.
The Flower Carpet collection won 11 gold medals and 14 awards in rose trials held around the world. Both Reinhard and his son Steffen continue Werner’s work in creating both beautiful and useful roses, including Cherry, the latest addition to the Flower Carpet family.
The Flower Carpet collection has combined sales of over 100 million plants globally since the launch of Flower Carpet Pink.
The World Federation of Rose Societies, World Hall of Fame was established in 1976. There have been 18 inductees over the past 46 years, with Rose Peace being the first. There is also an Old Rose Hall of Fame which celebrates the popular historical roses and roses of genealogical importance.
Flower Carpet® is grown in the UK by Whartons Garden Roses and is available from garden centres and nurseries.
Here’s some more roses from the Flower Carpet series.
These make good roses for flower arranging, and in the open-centred roses, bees love the pollen. Are any of you growing roses from the Flower Carpet Range? Thank you for reading the blog and leaving your comments in the box below.
Jane Wightman is the lucky winner of the prize draw for Barbara Segall’s new book. Thank you to to everyone who read my review and left comments. And thank you to the publishers Frances Lincoln/ Quarto for offering a free book to readers of my blog.
Thank you for reading the blog and leaving your comments. Look out for more book reviews and give-aways later this week. Suddenly there’s a steady stream of top quality gardening books arriving in the potting shed for tea break reading. To be honest, I’ve never seen such a wonderful array of subjects covered and superb garden writing. Tea breaks are getting longer and longer at bramble garden! I’ll keep you posted.
Published by White Owl, imprint of Pen and Sword Books
Published summer 2022
Please leave a comment at the end of the review if you would like to be put into the publisher’s prize draw for one copy of the book. Names will be chosen randomly.
Right by my front door, on a warm, sunny south-facing wall, we have a selection of bee ‘houses’ some home-made from cardboard tubes and garden canes, and some purchased at a local supermarket. These are a source of wonder and joy as clouds of solitary bees hatch out and start to forage in the front garden. Watching a new, baby bee hatching out of its winter cocoon is such an exciting and magical moment. Thanks to a new book on attracting pollinators to our gardens, I’ve been able to identify our bees. They are red mason bees; solitary bees that nest in wall cavities and readily use bee houses like ours. In Jean Vernon’s book I’ve learned these bees are fond of fruit tree nectar and pollinate apples, pears and other spring and summer-flowering trees. So I’m expecting a bumper crop of fruit this year. And I’ve learned these bees, like most solitary bees, do not sting, so there’s no danger to me or any visitors walking past the bees to get to the front door. Reading on, I learn that one way to help my bees is to leave a mud patch nearby so there’s plenty of material to seal their eggs cells. It’s completely calming and relaxing watching the bees going about their daily lives, and I want to do all I can to help them. It would be terrible to think of these bees emerging into the world and not finding anything nearby to eat. Jean points out that some solitary bees will only travel a few metres from their nests to find sustenance and they will starve if there’s not enough suitable plants flowering at the right moment.
Here’s a photo of a red mason bee in Jean’s book. (photo by Liam Olds).
Jean’s book is split into chapters on identifying and learning about specific pollinators such as butterflies, moths, bees, and hoverflies among others, and advice on which plants to grow to help pollinators.
Photo of Jean by Hannah McVicar.
If you’ve been listening to BBC Radio Leicester you’ll know that Attracting Garden Pollinators has twice been my Book of the Week. I’m happy to recommend such an easy to read and information-packed book. Jean writes in a friendly and accessible way. Her passion for nature and wildlife shines through and you can’t help but get caught up and carried along by her enthusiasm for the subject. Simple ways to help pollinators are suggested, and you don’t need a huge garden to make a difference. Even a windowbox or container can be a five star diner!
I wrote about Jean’s other best-selling book here:
Please leave a comment in the box below if you would like to enter the publisher’s prize draw for one copy of the book. Names will be randomly drawn. I will only contact you on this page and no payment of any kind will be asked for. Please be aware of scams. Please also feel free to leave a comment if you don’t want to be included in the draw. Just let me know.
Thank you for reading my blog and book reviews. Are you growing any plants with pollinators in mind? Have you tried making a bee house? I was fascinated to read you can buy red mason bee cocoons to hatch out in your garden. Alternatively, invest in some special mason bee tubes and install them in a nesting box . You can replace the tubes each year to keep the nest free from pests and parasites.
BOOK REVIEWAND MY BBC LOCAL RADIO BOOK OF THE WEEK
Published by Laurence King, March 2022
Hardback, 192 pages, £19.99
A Greener Life is much more than a ‘how-to-garden’ book, it’s actually a revealing diary of the writer’s journey from a stressful life and illness, to peace and calm through creating a garden and connecting with nature.
Jack Wallington writes how he struggled to sleep, was regularly ill and felt as if he’d ‘lost his way’ as he tried to keep up, and be available 24/7. “I thought the feeling of dissatisfaction was normal, to be waited out until retirement.” The turning point was the day Jack and his partner Chris planted the first trees, shrubs and bulbs in their new garden. “My worries briefly melted away, and a spark of happiness ignited.”
Jack says childhood memories trickled back, memories of sowing tomato and nasturtium seeds and taking cacti cuttings to sell for pocket money.
Through simply planting a garden he was better able to deflect stresses and anxieties and seemingly insurmountable problems at work . “Life, all life, the thing I had loved as a boy, that had been around me all along, was helping my world make sense. I had euphoric moments when discovering other gardens and visiting countryside. I began to feel connected to something bigger than me, and that somehow the things I planted and cared for were making a real contribution. The more I planted in the garden, the more insects and birds visited. Inviting nature back into my life gave a peace I hadn’t experienced for thirty years, and opened my eyes to the responsibility I had to the ecosystem I was nurturing.”
Jack’s book contains seven chapters. The first chapter outlines nine steps to a greener gardening life, and is almost a book in itself. Chapter two is about ‘getting started’ easy planting guides and essential tools you’ll need. Chapter three, encouraging beautiful ecosystems. Chapter four focuses on creating a wildlife -friendly garden, bringing soil to life and attracting and sustaining insect life.
Chapter five focuses on greening indoor spaces and greening workspaces.
Chapter six talks about herbs for wellness, growing vegetables, fruit and edible flowers.
Chapter seven is about connecting with nature, exploring wild areas in the city and countryside. There’s a section on using binoculars, cameras, smartphones and field guides and magnifying glasses- a useful guide to equipping yourself to delve deeper into the natural world.
A Greener Life is an honest, well-written account of self-discovery, and Jack’s voice comes over loud and clear in this beautifully put together book. You’ll certainly learn how to create nature-friendly gardens, but you will also perhaps pause for thought at what good can come from connecting with gardens and wildlife. In these stressful and strife-ridden days, this can only be a very good thing indeed.
Jack’s book is really everything you’d ever need to be a greener gardener. It’s written from the heart, from someone who’s found out for himself that gardens, gardening and being in touch with nature really can make a difference. Jack says “ We’re part of the natural world and to save it is to save ourselves. We all benefit from a greener life.”
The publishers have kindly given one copy to give away. Leave a message in the comments box below and one name will be selected randomly by 26 March. Sorry, the offer is only open to readers in the UK.
I’ve never kept a gardening diary before, but I’m enjoying making daily notes in my new Sarah Raven diary. The diary is sturdy enough to take outdoors; the paper is thick, good quality so can stand up to being taken into the greenhouse and potting shed. I’m making lists of seeds I want to sow, dahlias I want to pot up, and general maintenance jobs about the garden. I love making lists- and I love ticking things off the lists! There’s a sense of satisfaction in ticking them off, especially when the list seems never-ending.
There are some beautiful and inspiring photos relevant to each month in the diary. For January, there’s a winter container planting of a terracotta long tom pot with Sarah’s favourite hellebore ‘Maestro’ which is often seen in her flower arrangements.
For March, there’s Fritillaria ‘Early Sensation’ which has a pale, greeny- yellow flower, much more delicate and easy to site than the brash bright golden variety usually found. It’s growing here in a galvanised metal container next to a patch of rosemary.
September’s photo is bright and cheerful. Just what’s needed for a cold, windswept February day as I’m making plans for lots of summer colour. Here’s Zinnia ‘Giant Dahlia Mix’, Tagetes ‘Linnaeus’ and Thunbergia alata ‘African Sunset.’
There’s recipe suggestions for each month. I’ve made these spiced ginger and oat biscuits and can report they are absolutely delicious. The family demolished them in just one day. They are quick and easy to make, which is just as well as I’ve have had another request for some more. I made the vegan version by using dairy-free margarine.
I used the chickpeas for a red onion hummus dip, which is also fast to make. Just cook a sliced red onion in 1 tbsp olive oil, add a tin of chick peas and 150ml water. Simmer for 10 minutes with the lid off. Add 2 tbsp lemon juice, garlic salt and pepper. Few tbsp of fresh parsley and chives if you have any. Whizz in a food processor and serve with toast or on jacket potatoes. Another recipe suitable for vegans, if you have any in the family as we do, or unexpected visitors. Which we also often have. They sit around the kitchen table while I quickly make this dish.
Here’s my spiced oat biscuits. Delicious with a cup of tea or coffee.
I’m intrigued by this basil icecream recipe for summer. As Sarah says, it sounds odd, but I’m going to give it a try and report back.
I’m going to have a go at these dried allium and poppy seed head decorations as well. Such a beautiful and cheerful Christmas scene from the fireplace at Perch Hill.
Other features of the book I liked: The fold-out ‘when and how’ guide on seed sowing for cut flowers. The guide to sowing and planting edibles, wild flowers, fruit, potatoes, herbs and salads. A guide to sowing and planting ‘pollinator super’ plants to attract bees and butterflies. There’s a useful ruler for seed sowing spacing. And the metal ring binder design means the diary can easily be folded back on itself.
There are not many books I carry around with me all the time, but the Sarah Raven diary is robust enough to slip into my garden tool kit bag, and is proving a joy to dip into on a daily basis.
Sarah Raven also sent me a wall calendar to try, and this too has beautiful photos for each month and plenty of space to write appointments and events. Both will be ordered for 2023 as I’m thoroughly enjoying using the calendar and diary.
Do any of you write a garden diary? My father in law used to keep a perpetual diary. Sadly he died last summer, but he gave me his diary with all the daily notes about sowing dates and varieties he preferred. I check each day to see if I am keeping up with his impeccable timetable. It’s a lovely way to remember him and a reminder of all the flowers he grew for his wife Joan, and the fruit and vegetables he grew for the family.
Here’s some links to the recipes I mentioned today, and ideas for home-made and home-grown Christmas decorations and presents.
Thanks to everyone who listens in on a Saturday morning at 11am, and thank you also for all your kind and encouraging comments. Many thanks to Tracey from Melton who says she feels like rushing out into the garden to do some gardening every time she hears us talking on the radio. It’s much appreciated.
We talked about:
As regular readers know, I love to save money. If you wait until December, many tulips have been reduced in price. If you are looking for a bargain, try well-respected suppliers. I recommend:
Dutch Grown: (now sold out- but keep a note for next year)
If you are buying from garden centres, tulips will be sold in plastic bags with a cardboard front showing the photo of the variety and information about growing them. These are usually hanging up on racks. Gently squeeze the bulbs to make sure they are firm. Any soft mushy bulbs will fail to grow. They need to be firm and dry. Don’t buy any with a blue mould growing on them. Nice large, plump bulbs with the brown papery skin intact are best. I wouldn’t buy any that have been stored and displayed outside either, incase they’ve got frosted or wet. Choose ones stored inside the garden centre instead.
Here’s some inspiration for bulb planting from a previous blog I wrote. I’ll be planting my tulips up until the first week of January:
Dogwood hearts are really easy to make. Take two pencil thin stems of dogwood or coloured willow. Bend each side over to form the heart. Tie with florists’ reel wire or string to secure. Decorate with foliage and berries. I’ve used cotoneaster here. Add some fluffy seed heads, such as. ‘old man’s beard’ or wild Clematis Vitalba. I’ve used string, but you can use any type of ribbon to hang the decoration. These hearts can be any size. I make a giant one with four stems to create a double heart for decorating our five bar farm gate.
Some more ideas for using natural materials from the garden. I’ve threaded inexpensive, mouldable wire lights from Wilkos to these dogwood and willow stems. I sprayed hydrangea heads with florists’ silver spray.
My front door wreath also has flowers and foliage from the garden. The flowers are hellebores from the Gold Collection. There’s a whole range of them, all recommended. Hellebore Jacob flowers for Christmas and is pure white. This one is Winter Gold, with white hydrangea flowers which have dried lime green.
I learned how to make these willow wreaths on a course by the highly respected florist, author and social media/ you tube star Georgie Newbery. Workshops in flower farming, creating a cut flower patch, growing sweet peas, and floristry, are highly recommended. Would make a perfect present for a gardener. There are also many on-line courses. Have a look at the you tube channel and on instagram to get some wonderful, original ideas.
We talked about growing beetroot today. Most of my beetroot is stored in dry sand or recycled, dry compost over winter in the frost free potting shed. I grew it in the spring and summer. I’ve left some in the ground, but it’s easier to lift and store, as it can’t be harvested from frozen ground. The best variety to grow is Bolthardy, which does what it says; it grows well without bolting or running to seed. Did you know you can eat the leaves? You can use them in salads and stir fries. You can grow just leaves now on the windowsill. Look out for Bulls Blood variety sold as windowsill growing seeds. Mr Fothergills (Johnson’s seed) sell them on-line and in garden centres. You can grow them in 9cm pots on a sunny window and harvest shoots and leaves when they are 4” tall. They will re-grow several times, making a tasty addition to salads and sandwiches.
We talked about baking with beetroot and making chocolate beetroot cake. Here’s my recipe for a rich fruit/ beetroot cake. It’s tasty and good for you!
Regular readers will know that my much loved wonderful mother-in-law Joan is in a care home in Oadby, Leicestershire. She suffers from mixed dementia. Before she became ill, I wrote down all the family favourite recipes and at Christmas I make them for her children, grand children and great grandchildren. It’s a wonderful way to ‘keep her with us’ even though, sadly, she can’t remember who we are.
Here’s the link for the blog piece with the recipe
We talked about cutting grass in winter. Twenty or thirty years ago we used to send our lawn mowers off to be serviced in October and we didn’t see them again until March. It’s an indication of climate change that nowadays we are cutting our lawns all year round. Grass grows when the temperature is above 6C. There is no harm in ‘topping’ grass if it needs it, providing the conditions are dry. Set the cutters high for winter, and don’t scalp the lawn. We don’t cut the grass if the ground is wet or frozen, as it damages the lawn and makes muddy skid patches where weeds will grow. Never walk on frozen lawns as it damages the base of the grass stems and leads to fungal diseases. I would collect clippings over the winter too, and not leave them lying on the grass. Best not to walk on very wet ground as it causes compaction, which grass doesn’t like. Remember to leave some areas of the garden with long grass as a winter habitat for caterpillars and insects – these will be food for frogs, birds and mammals. Just a strip down the edge of the lawn will help.
HOME MADE CHRISTMAS PRESENTS
I mentioned my mint sugar and rosemary salt recipes which make lovely home made presents. Nearly all my presents are made from things grown in the garden.
Take 5 stems of mint, thoroughly dry leaves on kitchen towel. Strip leaves from the stems and layer them in a clean jam jar with 350g sugar. Stir every day for two weeks. Tip the contents into a sieve and remove the leaves. Pour sugar into clean jam jars and use within a year. Lovely for hot chocolate and cakes.
I recommend Stephanie Hafferty’s book The Creative Kitchen for seasonal plant-based recipes for meals, drinks, garden and self care.
And finally, Arun mentioned that I had been shortlisted for Columnist of the Year for my Garden News magazine column, and Blog of the Year by the prestigious Garden Media Guild. I was delighted to be shortlisted in two categories. A really wonderful end to another challenging year. Thank you, every one of you, for reading this blog, listening to the radio on Saturdays, getting in touch and leaving encouraging comments, it is truly appreciated. Have a great gardening weekend!
You can listen back to the gardening show on BBC Sounds. It’s at 11.12.35 on the timeline. Or ask your smart speaker to tune in to BBC Radio Leicester on Saturdays from 11am. Questions are welcome via e mail, phone, text or WhatsApp. Start your message with the word Leicester, else it goes to other radio stations.
The weather has turned really cold here. We’ve had high winds and hail. I’ll be sorting through my seed box and making plans for next year this weekend. And keeping warm. All my tender plants have been stored in the greenhouse and poly tunnel, safe from freezing temperature. What gardening tasks have you been doing recently?
I grow a huge number of bedding pelargonium plants – better known as geraniums- for containers in the summer. They flower non-stop from June to November. They are little trouble and all I do is give them some potash liquid fertiliser once a week, and regularly dead-head them
These are tender evergreen perennials and can be kept over winter in a frost free place. This year I have nearly 100 4” pots, full of cuttings which will be kept in my heated greenhouse. This is a space-saving method to keep them from one year to the next. If you don’t have a greenhouse, a bright windowsill indoors is suitable. As long as the cuttings are kept frost-free they will fine. The secret is not to overwater them. In the greenhouse, I only water pots once when the cuttings are taken, and then I don’t water them again until next February when I want to start them back into growth. Cuttings kept indoors in the house will be watered very minimally as the temperatures indoors are higher than in the greenhouse. Full-size plants can carry on flowering all year round if they are brought indoors. Check them for pests and diseases before bringing them in and top the pots with horticultural grit to keep the surface of the compost dry. Wet compost promotes grey mould. Remove any damaged or diseased leaves. When watering, make sure to keep leaves as dry as possible by aiming the water at the base of the plants.
My father in law used to keep his prize-winning pelargoniums in the garage. He dug up his plants in autumn, shook off all the compost, removed all of the leaves and wrapped the remaining stumps and roots in newspaper. They were kept cool, dry and frost free until the spring. I’ve tried this method, but only found it partially successful as my potting shed got damp in winter.
Are you planning to keep your pelargoniums over the winter? Or do you sow yours from scratch each spring? Or buy them ready to plant from the garden centre in early summer?
This year I grew all my bedding plants, including some new varieties of pelargonium, from packets of seed. I was amazed how many pelargoniums could be grown from such tiny dust-like seeds. It was a money-saving option that worked out well.
Some more photos from my greenhouse and garden to brighten your day:
A collection of bedding pelargonium plants making a display in the greenhouse.
Common names can be confusing. Most people use the word geranium when they are talking about pelargoniums. But geraniums are a different plant genus. So to avoid confusion, people refer to them as ‘hardy geraniums’ – the sort you grow in beds and borders, as ground cover amongst other plants, and ‘tender geraniums’ (pelargoniums) grown in hanging baskets and containers.
A variety I’ve kept going for more than 20 years, taken from a cutting from my grandfather. It was his favourite pelargonium.
A miniature pelargonium which flowers all year round. This one came from Fibrex Nurseries, a specialist grower, highly recommended. https://www.fibrex.co.uk/. Miniature pelargoniums are wondrous things. I’ll write a new blog post explaining how to grow them. They are easy to grow and once you’ve grown one, you’ll want to start a collection. I warn you, they are addictive!
If you listen in to BBC Radio Leicester, the gardening programme has moved to Saturdays at 11am. Josie Hutchins and I take it in turns to answer phone-in questions and talk about what gardening jobs we are doing each week. If you have a question, please get in touch with The producer, Dale. We are one of the few local stations now offering gardening advice on the radio.
Dahlias have been fabulous this year, giving masses of cut flowers from mid June until November. We’ve had unseasonably mild weather, which means we still have flowers today. But other areas in the county have had night-time frosts. So now is the time to dig up and protect your dahlia tubers for the winter.
There are two methods for saving dahlias for next year. You can either dig them up and store them in a frost-free place, or you can leave them in the ground and cover them with dry leaves, straw or horticultural fleece. Leaving them in the ground is only possible is you have well-drained soil. In heavy clay, and or where gardens flood, the tubers will rot.
Method 1. Digging them up:
If you are planning to dig them up, wait until the foliage has been frosted. This makes the dahlias absorb goodness back into the tubers and sends instructions to become dormant.
Using a fork, carefully dig up the tubers, taking care not to damage them. Remember to keep any labels with the tubers. Brush off the soil if you can. If they are wet and muddy you can wash off the soil and use a soft brush to clean them up. Or you can put them in a shed to dry and brush the soil off in a week or two. Washing and brushing helps to remove slugs and earwigs and other soil-borne pests and diseases .
Cut back the stems leaving about 3”. Turn the tubers upside down so moisture drains out of the stems. After a week, turn the tubers the right way up and store them in pots or seed trays. You can use dry compost or horticultural fleece to cover them. Keep them in a cool, dry frost free place such as a garage or potting shed.
Tip: You can plant tulips in the space left behind in the garden. I dig up the tulips next spring to make way for the dahlias again.
Method2. Leaving them in the ground:
If you have well-drained soil, you can try to leave some dahlias in the ground. In a very cold, wet winter, this is risky.
To leave them in the ground, do not cut off the stems. Fold the stems over and collapse them back onto the tubers, this will stop the stems becoming like ‘straws.’ Cut stems will direct water straight to the tubers, causing rotting.
Cover the tubers with a thick layer of dried leaves, straw or horticultural fleece. I usually try to keep them dry by covering them with sheets of recycled corrugated plastic or old compost bags. Plastic cloches can also be used.
Tubers will be started back into growth next spring.
Here’s some dahlias from my plot. Nuit D’Ete with cosmos and persicaria.
My favourite orange dahlia, David Howard, shown here with chrysanthemum Swan.
Dahlia Evelyn with carnations and senecio grey foliage from the plot.
Dahlias can also be started from seed in early spring . This was from a mixed packet which included lots of jewel-like colours. This summer I’ve grown the ‘Bishop’s Children’ range which has lovely bright reds, purple and orange with attractive, dark-coloured foliage.
How have your dahlias fared this year? Which method are you using to save them over the winter? Do you have any further tips to share?
Thanks for reading my blog, and listening in to BBC Radio Leicester for the gardening show on Saturdays at 11am. If you have any questions for either me or Josie, please leave a message here or get in touch with producer Dale. We are very pleased to still have a gardening programme when many other stations have now cancelled them.
I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.
Winter is just around the corner and there’s a feeling of urgency to get on with gardening jobs, before the weather turns cold. I’m always rushing around. There’s tender plants to bring under cover, pots to plant and bulbs to sort out. There’s never enough time to do everything. However, gardening tasks can end in accidents causing painful injuries. Here’s a reminder to take extra care this autumn and winter when working in the garden.
We were all shocked to hear news that Tamsin Westhorpe had suffered a fractured spine in a recent gardening accident. Tamsin is a writer, and editor and works as a gardener at her family’s farm, Stockton Bury Gardens, in Herefordshire. I wrote about Tamsin last year when she published her country diary book. Here’s a link: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/02/22/diary-of-a-modern-country-gardener/
I asked Tamsin to tell me what happened when she had her accident in the garden, and here’s what she said:
It was a sunny Saturday at the start of September. I had a rare day off from work, so I was determined to make a mark on my much-ignored home plot. My day job is to help my uncles garden their four-acre open garden, so my plot gets pushed to the back of the priority list.
What task were you doing when the accident happened? I have a row of six aronia trees that I like to keep to a manageable height of about 9ft. My aim was to remove the very enthusiastic young growth and give them a neater shape. To reach the centre branches I needed a ladder. In my haste a grabbed a lightweight A frame ladder and headed down the garden armed with enthusiasm and secateurs. I was on a mission to get as much done in a day as possible.
Describe what happened next. Standing on one of the top steps I simply leant forward to reach a central branch and the ladder went from under me. It happened so quickly, and I found myself flat on my back on the lawn in agony.
What were your first thoughts? My first thoughts were for the garden. Who would lift my dahlias and plant the tulips? Being part of a small family business, I was concerned how the other members of the family would be impacted. Physical fitness is essential for my work. My second thought was that I’d been a complete idiot and should’ve waited for someone to hold the ladder. To say I was cross with myself was an understatement.
How did you get help? My garden is in a rural location and not looked over by any other houses. I shouted but no one came as my family were out. I know only too well that you shouldn’t try and move if you have an accident, but I was struggling to breath, so somehow struggled to the house to get my phone. How long this took and how I can’t recall.
What were your injuries? My spine has a stable fracture and I cut the back of my leg quite badly. However, I have been incredibly lucky. I’m so thankful that my spinal cord wasn’t damaged, and I didn’t hit my head. As far as I’m concerned, I have had a very lucky escape. When working from a ladder in future I’m going to ensure that the pots and tools are placed well out of the way and I always have a friend or family at the foot of the ladder.
How long will your recovery take? All being well I will make a full recovery in about 12 weeks. I should be able to plant my own tulips this year! For now, I’m not lifting anything and I’m focusing on doing all the right things to speed up my return to the garden. I’ve already seen the impact of trying to rush things so I’m not about to make the same mistake twice.
Anything happened like this before? I’ve been gardening since the age of 16, spending time as a parks gardener, greenkeeper and interior landscaper. In all those years I have only succumbed to one nasty incident with a pair of secateurs (again caused by trying to rush a job) and a few splinters. So, all in all I’ve been lucky and don’t see gardening as a dangerous hobby – far from it in fact. Gardening has kept me physically fit for decades. I’m the only danger! By being impatient and trying to garden at speed I’ve caused this accident to happen and only have myself to blame. Having said all that I think my steel toe capped boots have saved my toes on many occasions.
How do you feel now, mentally and physically? I am feeling better by the day and although I can’t do anything for long, I’m seeing improvements in my physical heath. A gardening friend suggested I put comfrey oil on my back to help with the healing process. I have no idea if it is working but I love the idea of a plant being involved in my recovery. Having not experienced an accident of this nature before I was surprised at how much shock has an impact on your mental wellbeing. It’s been difficult having to scratch out events in my diary, but I have the good fortune that I will recover. The messages from fellow gardeners have been a great help and I’ve been thrilled to hear from many who say they now won’t go up a ladder without an ‘assistant’. I’m glad that my accident might prevent others from having a similar experience. This time has made me feel such concern for those who won’t recover from an accident or can’t tend their garden due to old age. I can only imagine how frustrating and devastating this must be. I’ve also experienced the healing power of nature. Thanks to a wonderfully warm September I have been able to recover under a blue sky outside. Watching the birds and insects flutter around me has been just the best medicine. It’s given me time to realise how important gardening is to me and my health.
What advice would you give other gardeners? Invest in a proper gardening ladder for one. Secondly never use power tools and climb ladders when on your own in the garden. Thirdly keep your mobile phone in your pocket but put it on silent so your gardening time is undisturbed. But, the most important thing is to never rush gardening – sip it like a good glass of wine and savour every moment. It’s not a race.
Update: Tamsin has made a good recovery, and is now back at Stockton Bury making a start on light gardening duties.
Here’s some photos of Stockton Bury taken when I visited the garden this summer.
Have you any experiences to share involving injuries while gardening? Please share any advice and suggestions.
Please feel free to share this item on social media. Thank you for reading my blog.
Latest news from the plot. Click on the photo to enlarge the print. There’s never enough room for all the photos I take. So here’s a selection of pictures to go with the diary recently published in Garden News Magazine.
I’m looking forward to growing this Limonium Pink Pokers next spring. The photo above was taken at Mr Fothergill’s seed trial grounds in August. I love the two-tone flowers and their delightful habit of twisting and turning as they grow towards the sun. They remind me of fireworks. I’ll start seed sowing indoors in February at 20C in a propagator and plant them out in June. They will be perfect for my jam jar posies. In addition, flowers can be hung up to dry. It will be useful to have flowers for winter decorations. Limonium, a half hardy annual, grows to 80cm and flowers from June to October. Available from Johnson’s seed, the premium range from Mr Fothergill’s.
In the article above, I mention growing dahlias from seed. I’ve been so delighted with the success of my seed-sown dahlias this year. I’ve had outstanding flowers, large single blooms with bright, jewel-like colours. It’s a money-saving option too. My Mum manages to fill her back garden with dahlias grown from a packet of seed. Started early in February, seedlings make small tubers and grow to full-size plants by mid-summer. There’s a non-stop supply of flowers for our vases. Plus bees love them too, so it’s an wildlife-friendly option. Pollinators have easy access to the flat, open centres of these flowers. You can sometimes see the ‘bee lines’ showing pollinators the way to the centre. If you don’t have any storage space for dahlia tubers over winter, don’t worry. You can get excellent results by starting from seed in spring.
I mention the new Home Florists’ range of roses specially bred for cut flower gardens. I’ve been amazed by the sheer number of flowers these provided. Such good quality flowers which last a week in a vase, if water is refreshed each day. The scent is reminiscent of old roses, particularly old-fashioned bourbon roses. The roses, by Wharton’s Nursery, can be found in most good garden centres, or on line. Look out for Timeless Purple and Timeless Cream. Both recommended.
In amongst my cut flowers, I grow vegetables such as peas, climbing beans, courgettes, sweet corn and beetroot. I’m growing Valido peas, a new maincrop variety which is disease resistant. Luckily it is resistant to mildew which means the plants keep cropping right through to the autumn. Often pea plants turn brown as leaves and stems die back. Valido copes with anything the summer weather can throw at it, and produces a heavy crop of delicious peas. I’ve saved some of my seed for growing in seed trays over the winter. Pea shoots will be harvested just a few weeks from sowing – and won’t have cost me a penny. Lovely nutritious shoots to add to my salads and stir fries.
Monty Kitten is more like a dog than a cat. He follows me around the garden and likes to get involved in everything I’m doing. He followed me out onto the grass verge when I put my jam jar flowers out for sale.
Finding newts in the garden is always a cause for celebration. It’s reassuring to find them under stones by my mini-pond, and in the greenhouse and polytunnel. They must be attracted by the moisture. I only use natural seaweed-type feeds, diluted in a watering can, to feed my fruit, vegetables and cut flowers on the patch.
Fruit and vegetables have grown well this year. In my basket there’s white-stem chard, perpetual spinach, herbs, white-flowered runner bean variety ‘Moonlight’ onions, tomatoes Blaby, Marmande and cherry types. There’s been a steady flow of blueberries from the plot. Ivanhoe is growing in a large 40cm diameter pot.
This is made by Martin and Jill Fish who provide cookery talks and demonstrations and have written a favourite book ‘Gardening on the Menu’ with advice on growing fruit and veg, and how to cook and preserve them.
Thank you for reading my blog, and my diary in Garden News Magazine. If you also listen to BBC Radio Leicester, the gardening show has moved from Wednesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 11.35. If you get in touch with the producers, I’ll answer any questions live on the show.
Thanks again to everyone who left comments. There will be more book and product reviews in the next few weeks. I’m very grateful to book publishers for sending out giveaway copies. Have a great gardening week everyone.
The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment at the end of this review, and one name will be randomly selected on Sunday 31st October 6pm.
Books have a power to move. To tears, to joy, to despair. Sometimes they transport you to another place. James Golden takes you by the hand and leads you through the garden he’s created, and it’s one of the most beautiful, inspiring journeys you’ll ever take. In his new book, The View from Federal Twist, he describes what it’s like to create a garden from scratch in western New Jersey, USA. His garden is set in a clearing in the woods. He made a conscious decision not to improve the land. Instead he ‘listened to the site,’ placed large competitive plants into rough grass and watched and waited as sustainable plant communities emerged. The result is a magical place, a naturalistic garden -with a difference.
James describes the book as a retelling of the making of his ‘first serious garden.’ It’s a triumph of ecological planting and clear design aims. James is part philosopher, part experimental horticulturist. The result has such an emotional power- it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Evocative photographs capture the effects of light shining through the canopy of trees, grasses and shrubs. Just the scale of planting is mesmerising.
“I am Federal Twist,’’ says James. He realised this when he looked at photos of the garden from above. He put the images side by side with those taken from ground level. “When I put the two images side by side, my reaction was immediate- and astonishing. I felt icy fear. The drone image showed a flat piece of earth totally devoid of feeling, offering no comfort, no warmth, no humanity, no place for me. I felt as if I were seeing with the eyes of an alien being. In contrast, the ground-level photography held me firmly within the garden; it gave me a place to be, a protected place under trees; it made me feel a part of the landscape. I felt comforted, and a sense of belonging.”
Later, he writes “…my life and emotions are closely bound with this place I call my garden. I understand physics well enough to know that my physical body intersects with the garden, interacts with the garden, responds to the garden in some kind of mutual way. I ‘live’ the garden every day. I am Federal Twist.”
Thank you for reading my review. I believe some books come into your life at just the right moment. It’s almost as if they were ‘written’ for you. To give you joy, to give you inspiration; to give you hope. I haven’t been able to write for a while. Grief affects people in different ways. I’ve sat with grieving friends and relatives and they’ve wanted to talk non-stop for hours. Others write sonnets, pen poems, write books. Grief suddenly and unexpectedly silenced me. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to write, I am someone who tries to make things better for everyone. Perhaps I just didn’t want to make anyone else feel sad. There’s no easy path back from grief, it takes time. But reading this book has helped. It’s put into words how I feel about my own garden- how my little plot has kept me afloat these past few months. I, too, feel I ‘live’ my garden. It responds to me; it’s like enfolding arms around me, lifting me up and helping to turn my face to the sun again.
If you are attending Gardeners’ World Live this week, look out for the ‘Make Do and Mend’ garden by High Ground rehabilitation centre. It may only be 3m by 3m, but it’s packed with interest and colour – and everything has been created from recycled materials.
Andy Wright, therapeutic gardens manager, said 22 patients of the military rehabilitation centre were involved in creating the gold medal- winning garden. The garden has been designed and built with sustainability in mind. All of the hard landscaping and most of the plants will return to Stanford Hall, Leicestershire, where they will be used for the benefit of patients.
A former Royal Engineer created the shed out of packing crates from an MRI scanner delivered to the centre, and the path though the middle of the garden is made from end blocks of pallets.
Pallets were also used to make a picket fence at the front of the garden, and there’s a wooden bug hotel and shelving unit.
A poppy sculpture made out of wire and metal stands at the front of the garden. It was made by a serviceman injured in Afghanistan.
All the plants for the garden have been grown from seed and cuttings by patients.
HighGround charity was launched in 2013 by Anna Baker Cresswell and uses horticulture as a therapy and to improve the wellbeing and employment prospects of former members of HM Forces.
This garden was one of my favourites at the NEC Birmingham show. It was the one I most wanted to tiptoe into, and I could see myself sitting in front of the beautiful little shed. Even though it was only tiny, there were hidden features such as the bug hotel that drew you into the space. And the next time I get hold of a pallet, I’m going to take it apart and create a block path like this one. It’s simply stunning!
Are you going to BBC Gardeners’ World Live Show this year? If so, let me know which gardens are your favourites too. And good luck to Cathy, who won my prize draw a few weeks ago and has won two tickets for the show. After all the cancellations last year, it’s a relief to see shows like this going ahead again this summer.
It’s almost two years since we’ve been allowed to take flowers into care homes. Any flowers, shop-bought or home-grown, were deemed a covid risk and banned. But this weekend the rules changed, and suddenly flowers are allowed again. I am beyond excited and relieved as flowers from my garden have a special meaning for my mother-in-law Joan.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy as I was this weekend wandering around my plot choosing flowers for Joan. It’s been such a sad time not being able to visit, or send flowers. I started growing cut flowers when Joan began showing signs of vascular dementia. Flowers have always been our special connection. We loved arranging them together. I realised she would one day forget who I was, but hoped the flowers would always remind her of me. And for many years it worked. Even when she forgot my name I was ‘someone who brought flowers.’ While she was still in her own home, I took armfuls of flowers- one of everything in flower- and foliage as well, to give a flavour of what was growing in my garden. I didn’t make them into arrangements, they were just loosely tied with string. Then Joan would spend the day creating her own posies, selecting vases and deciding where to place them- one in the front window to cheer up passers-by, one on the hall table to welcome carers who came twice a day, a few vases for the fireplace. We sat and surveyed her work, ate home-made cake, sipped tea and marvelled at the beauty of flowers, noting all the different colours and shapes. I included lavender, mint and rosemary for scent and the memories they evoked. Joan remembered a lavender bed at her childhood home and the Sunday meals with mint sauce and rosemary. It’s strange how childhood memories are the last to fade. We talked for hours about the flowers, fruit and vegetables her father grew. They had bee hives at the bottom of the garden, and the taste of honey took her right back to those happy times. There have been many heartbreaking moments, but one I particularly remember is Joan thinking her father was just upstairs. I had the choice of going along with it, or telling Joan her father had died many years ago. Neither was an easy choice, and whatever I said, five minutes later, we’d have to go through the same conversation. Flowers were a welcome distraction and something we could both agree on. Eventually, Joan lost the ability to arrange her own flowers. I did them for her and raged at the disease for stealing something that Joan so much enjoyed. Dementia, bit by bit, destroys all happiness as the processes for even the smallest task are completely forgotten. And people too, are forgotten, even those who’ve been very close and much loved. It’s so sad to watch someone desperately fighting to hold on to names and relationships. Joan would say, “I know you are someone dear to me, but tell me who you are and who am I to you.” When Joan moved to the care home, I continued the tradition with the flowers. But the pandemic meant the home was locked down for almost all of last year. Leicester remained in lockdown when other cities were released from restrictions. There were 16 deaths at Joan’s care home. Just a few weeks ago we were all set to visit when the home was locked down again due to another covid outbreak. This weekend the all clear was given and we were allowed in, and here’s some of the flowers I took with me.
I’m so pleased to be able to join in with Cathy and ‘In a Vase on Monday’ meme again as you’ve all followed my journey from the beginning. It’s been a comfort to write about my ups and downs here on the blog. There’s been laughter at times- there have been quite a few predicaments as you can imagine- and many challenges. I can’t pretend there haven’t been many tears too, and rage and sadness. But now there’s a kind of acceptance and peace. Joan doesn’t have the faintest idea who I am, but she does think I’m a ‘very nice lady’ come to visit her, and I can live with that. And the flowers still give us something cheerful to talk about.
Thank you for reading my blog. I hope my story helps if you are going through a similar situation. At any rate, keep trying, because any small kindness will always be appreciated. Even if it’s just a few flowers.
I chose bright red dahlias as Joan’s husband used to grow these for flower shows and at one time almost all the back garden was given over to straight rows of dahlias and chrysanthemums.
I took jam jars filled with sweet peas. Joan recognised these immediately as they had once been grown by her father, and she remembers picking them and arranging them in vases for chapel. It’s so sad that dementia is almost like a time travelling disease. It transports Joan back to when she was a young girl, but completely erases the past 80 years and with it her husband, three children, grandchildren and two new great grandchildren. She’s left walking amongst the ghosts of long dead relatives- her mother and father, cousins and school friends. It’s a tragedy for her, and all of us trying, and loosing a battle to keep her in the present.
Rudbeckias, calendula and green seed heads from Ammi majus
Joan loves sunflowers, but they aren’t quite ready in my garden yet. These rudbeckias grown from a mixed packet of seed look just as bright and cheerful.
These calendulas are seedlings of C. Snow Princess, a lovely pale butter -yellow flower. They bloom from May to October if deadheaded regularly. Very good for attracting bees and butterflies.
Flowering marjoram, rosemary and mint add a lovely fragrance. As soon as you lightly touch the posies, the herbs release their scent, and unlock all the memories associated with them.
A photo of Joan on her wedding day carrying a bouquet of carnations and asparagus fern. The photo is in a metal Players cigarette box frame my father-in-law made to protect the picture while he carried it around during National Service in Korea in the 1950s. He didn’t smoke, I hasten to add, but he was good at recycling and ‘making-do’ all through his life.
There’s nothing nicer than being able to give someone a gift of flowers you’ve grown yourself. Are any of you growing flowers for cutting this year? I feel as if I haven’t any other weapons in my battle to defeat dementia. Flowers are holding us together, that little bit longer. Let’s hope they continue to work a kind of magic. I’m hopeful they will. I’ll keep you updated.
Well, it’s been a really exciting week at Bramble Garden! My nephew John Gimson and team mate Anna Burnet won silver in the Nacra 17 race in Japan. To say we are all overjoyed is an understatement. To be selected to represent Britain was exciting enough, but the cherry on the cake was winning that silver medal. Here’s some photos of them. Their happiness shines through and you can’t help smiling back at them. Determination and hard work certainly pays off.
John wrote the above message on his social media accounts.
We send huge congratulations to the pair. I’m a very proud aunt indeed. We can’t wait to see John and Anna and hope there’s a family celebration soon!
You’ve got until 8th August to submit your Big Butterfly Count survey results. So far I’ve had mostly cabbage white butterflies, a few Meadow Browns, two Commas, two Tortoiseshell, two Peacock butterflies, two Holly Blue, one Painted Lady, and a stunning Ghost Moth! You can also submit reports for moths you encounter during your 15 minute survey. Let me know how you get on with yours. My figures were disappointing compared with last year and the year before. However, even poor numbers are worth recording as Butterfly Conservation, who are organising the event, says the citizen science survey is ‘like taking the pulse of nature.’ It’s an indication of how insects are coping with our changing climate.
Something cheerful to report. My nephew, John Gimson is sailing for Britain in the Olympics in Japan.
Here he is, with team mate Anna Burnet, flying the flag in the Olympic mixed multihull Nacra 17 class.
We’ve been cheering from home and sending lots of love and encouragement. There have been a few tense moments, but so far John and Anna have won two races and come second in the third.
We’ve been wowed by these photos posted by the British Sailing Team on social media. It’s so wonderful to see John out there in Enoshima doing what he loves best. Particularly as the Olympics were cancelled last year. It’s been hard for all sports people to keep training to such a high level for another year.
This is a photo of John and Anna when they became World Champions in February last year in Geelong, Victoria. No doubt their home sailing club at Rudyard Lake in Cheshire, where John learned to sail, will be delighted to see how well they are doing.
We are incredibly proud of John and Anna. It’s been humbling to watch their determination to reach the top. And it’s fabulous to be watching the Olympics, knowing my nephew is competing. I’m a very proud aunt indeed.
You can join in and watch live coverage on Eurosport player or Discovery+. The BBC is providing daily reports at 4.30pm and hopefully the medal races next week will be live on the BBC.
Also follow on Instagram @britishsailing. And for John it’s @teamgbnacra. Search for the hashtag #britishsailingteam. I’ll send updates as soon as we know more.
Isn’t it exciting to be watching all our fabulous sportspeople excelling in their chosen fields. Are you enjoying watching the Olympics this year? Get in touch and let me know.
Thanks, as ever for reading my blog, and for all the kind messages on here and via email letting me know how much you enjoy reading my posts. I’m so pleased to hear that my gardening stories have cheered you up these last few years when things have not been easy for any of us. Admittedly, today this isn’t a gardening post, but I thought I would share it as it’s something happy to celebrate. Take care and have a good weekend.
I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.
Thank you everyone who joined in with the prize draw for tickets for this year’s Gardeners’ World Live Show. Names were put into a computer random generator and the winner is Cathy from Rambling in the Garden. Congratulations Cathy and enjoy your day out! My next prize draw is for a summer reading bumper box of gardening books. There’s been some stunning books published this summer and the publishers often send me an extra copy to give away. More details to follow. Thank you again for reading my blog. Have a great week! Karen G.
Gardeners’ World Live is a favourite show. I get the chance to see stunning show gardens, buy plants and meet friends for a catch up. Luckily, it’s a relatively short car journey to the NEC in Birmingham – there’s no travelling into London and battling for space on a seat on the underground. It’s a fairly straightforward journey and easy parking. It’s always a lovely relaxing experience, with plenty of space to move about.
The organisers have kindly offered two free tickets in a prize draw for readers of this blog. The tickets are for Sunday 29 August only, with an entry slot from 12pm onwards. To enter, just leave a comment below and your entry will be put into a computer random name generator to select the winner. Please note, if you wish to park, there is a charge. The prize only relates to the show entry ticket. Details below for parking. There is no cash alternative, and the organiser’s decision is final.
Here’s some photos I took when I last attended the GWL show in 2019. Enjoy the virtual tour!
The Watchmaker’s Garden won best in show in 2019. My sister in law Rozanne and her husband Paul grew some of the plants for the award-winning garden, including the watercress shown in the stone tank by the front door.
Prize winners will be announced on the blog on Monday evening 5th July. Please be aware of scams. No one will contact you about this, other than a message on my blog. It’s sad we have to worry about these things, but we just have to be careful.
Regarding parking, the organisers provided the following information:
Prize winners will need to redeem their e ticket by 19 August to attend on the 29th August.
I always seem to have a bowl of orchids somewhere in the house, usually on the hall cupboard or kitchen table. They are easy to grow and often flower for several months with minimal care and attention. Love Orchids have sent a sample box to try out. I haven’t paid for this orchid, but in common with other bloggers, I’ve accepted their gift in return for an honest opinion. Maybe you would like to treat yourself, or want to send a gift to someone for a birthday or other celebration. In which case, you might find the review helpful in deciding whether to buy and send orchids mail order.
I’ve chosen a white and pink orchid in an oval white ceramic container. Plants arrived in good condition, well packaged and there’s plenty of flowers and buds for more blooms to follow. My orchid was already planted in its container and flower stems were well staked. The pot was topped with moss which is a pretty finishing touch.
The ordering process online was simple to follow and straightforward. Plants arrived promptly in a sturdy cardboard box. The parcel delivery company handled the box carefully and it had obviously travelled the right way up- which always helps! It wasn’t just dropped from a height on to the doorstep, but carefully set down, which I much appreciated.
The box is designed to open out, so no pulling plants out the top and potentially damaging them, which I’ve done in the past in poorly-designed boxes.
Plant pots are securely held in another box taped to the base. There was also a spare pack of orchid compost as the company supplies extras for your own potting- up purposes.
Orchids are wrapped carefully in cellophane. I must admit, a compostable wrapper would be preferable, and I would be willing to pay more for a more eco-friendly material. However I just decided to use it to cover my cuttings and seed trays to maintain humidity, so mine will be re-used and won’t be put in the bin.
As you can see, the flowers spread out as soon as they were unwrapped.
There are three plants in my container, with eight flower stems. I’ve brought the pot outside simply to take advantage of the light in order to take photographs. It was too dark in the house. However, my orchids will live indoors, out of direct sunshine.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I like to highlight and support family businesses. The Stevenson family have been growing plants at their New Forest nursery for more than 60 years. When the pandemic struck, the family launched an on-line company, Love Orchids, to market and sell plants via mail order.
The family say they started out ‘with little more than a few glasshouses and a can-do attitude.’ They have grown and developed into a multi-generation business and say they are the largest growers of phalaenopsis orchids in the UK.
For sustainability, they use a biomass boiler, turning waste wood products into heat for the greenhouses.
Here’s some care tips provided by the nursery :
I signed up for a newsletter and received a discount code for future purchases. In fact, I sent an orchid to a friend for her birthday, and one to a relative who recently suffered a bereavement. Both sent photos of their orchids and were delighted with them. Orchids last much longer than a bunch of flowers and the plants from Love Orchids are top quality and expertly grown. The range of good quality containers also means there’s plenty of options for everyone.
For more information, here are the links for Love Orchid:
Have you tried mail order plants before? Get in touch and let me know of any recommendations. We are all finding new ways to obtain our plants and gardening materials. It’s good to share news and views when we find an excellent supplier.
Thank you to everyone who read my review and left a comment. The prize draw randomly selected a winner. Sarah from the “Garden Deli” has won the book. Thanks again for joining in. Keep an eye out for more books to follow.
I’m trying out a sample roll of paper mulch in an attempt to cut down on weeding in the flower and vegetable garden. I haven’t paid for this product, but in common with other bloggers, the agreement is to unconditionally try it out and give an honest opinion.
Monty kitten was keen to help. To be honest, he gave more help than was strictly necessary, getting in and under the paper roll. He’s such good company in the garden, always by my side, climbing in and out of my wheelbarrow and tool bag. But paper’s a new attraction for him!
Instructions say place a heavy stone on each corner as you start to unroll the paper, and toss soil along both edges to prevent wind from blowing it away. Monty jumped all over it, which kept it in place nicely until I’d sorted out stones and compost.
I used a Hori-Hori to cut the paper to length, then set out the plants. I’m trying the mulch for dahlias and cosmos in the cut flower beds , and for courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, and strawberries in the veg beds. It would be good for garlic and chard too.
These are the cuttings I’ve been taking since February from dahlias overwintered in the potting shed. They are exact clones of the parent plants, so I now have about 100 new plants for free. All my favourite varieties.
I used my Hori-Hori knife to cut a cross in the paper and then dug out planting holes for the dahlias. A new sharp-pointed trowel made the task quick and easy.
The paper is thick enough to block out light, and therefore suppress weeds, but there are microscopic holes to let air and water permeate. Plants are so far growing well. I’m having to do much less watering than usual.
This product is supplied by Mulch Organic, a family business which offers environmentally-friendly alternatives to black plastic for mulching. They say the products are natural, made from renewable sources and eliminate the need for chemical herbicides. The paper mulch is 100 percent organic and biodegradable. It should last a whole growing season, and at the end of the year, can simply be tilled into the soil to decompose naturally.
There’s also a crepe version, with expansion ribs to allow for stretch for use over mounded beds. These also work well with drip irrigation systems, and can be used in poly tunnels.
As well as the paper rolls, there’s a mulch film made from cornstarch.
Here’s one last photo of Monty. We were out in the garden until 10pm as the temperatures were too hot in the day. I’m hoping the mulch will save time – giving me more time to spend sitting in the garden reading, with Monty on my knee. That’s the plan anyway. I’ll let you know if it works out!
Here’s some of the dahlias I’m growing again this year. This one is Nuit d’Ete.
Dahlia David Howard. A lovely deep orange flower. Cut flowers last 10 days in a vase.
Eveline is a lovely white decorative dahlia with a delicate blush pink centre and tips to the petals.
Thank you for reading the blog. Have you tried any products to combat weeds? Let me know how you are getting on with your gardening projects.
The winner is: Darran Jaques. Names were put into a random generator and computer selected.
The next book up for review and giveaway is the stunning and unusual The Flower Yard by Arthur Parkinson. Pages are full of exotic tulips and jewel-coloured dahlias and, it has to be said, lovely little bantam hens! Coming soon…
Meanwhile, here’s some more photos of lilies from Naomi’s book, as quite honestly one can’t have enough pictures of lilies to drool over. They are absolutely glorious. Enjoy your week everyone, and thanks for reading my blog and getting in touch. It’s always appreciated.
Lilies is published by Pavilion RRP £25. Photographs by Georgianna Lane.
Thank you to the publishers, Hardie Grant Books, for supplying a free copy for the prize draw. The book is hardback, 159 pages. Lucy creates 19 projects and shows how anyone can grow pretty much anything in their back garden, courtyard, balcony or kitchen- or even right by their work desk. There are unusual and inspirational growing ideas for herbs, fruit and vegetables, and all look as beautiful as any ornamental garden. Living walls, hydroponics and daylight spectrum grow lights are all explained with step-by-step instructions.
Windowsill growing space for herbs, fruit and vegetables.
Thank you again for reading my blog. It’s much appreciated.
Temperatures are reaching 16C here today, just a week after snow and lows of -5. I’m working in the garden in shirt sleeves. Heavy coats and warm jumpers are left indoors. My lemon trees in the greenhouse have started to grow and I’m feeding and watering them now. They have been relatively dry over the winter. To promote more flower and fruit, I’m harvesting all the lemons and making cakes and biscuits. Spare fruit can easily be frozen whole and microwaved when juice and zest is needed.
Here’s a tasty recipe for a February pick-me-up. You can eat these lemon crunch triangles on their own with a cup of tea, or add vanilla icecream. They can also be frozen. I’m making some for now, and a batch for when we can open up the garden for visits from friends and family. I can hardly wait to see everyone! This has been a long winter and one we will never forget. I’m making videos of the garden to send to my mum, and to relatives and staff in the care home, to give them a flavour of spring. They can’t get out to see any flowers are the moment, so the videos of our snowdrops, hellebores and crocus are an escape to the outdoors for them. You can see the videos over on instagram where I am karengimson1.
Let me know what spring flowers are growing in your gardens. Are you cooking anything new this week? Freezing temperatures are due to return by the weekend, so I won’t be putting anything delicate outdoors just yet. But it’s lovely to see all these jewel-like spring flowers, and fresh lemons from greenhouse are very welcome indeed.
Here’s a link to my recipe for lemon crunch triangles:
One of the ways I’m keeping upbeat at the moment is reading blogs. Barbara Segall writes about the Japanese rice recipe Seven Herbs of Spring in her ‘Garden Post’ blog. I was immediately inspired to go out into the garden and find seven herbs to make my own revitalising rice dish.
Barbara explains that the severn herb dish is a kind of porridge eaten during the first weeks of January as a way of detoxing and giving the digestive system a boost. Simple food after all the excesses of Christmas. I didn’t quite have the herbs Barbara mentions, but rather than just giving up, I searched out and used what I could find. I was delighted to discover small amounts of mint, fennel, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, Welsh onion, and chervil. Most were in self-watering containers placed in the greenhouse for winter protection. Rosemary grows by the back door, and perennial Welsh onions are in the polytunnel. They are a good source of fresh onion-flavouring when chives have died back for the season.
Just searching about the plot and discovering small amounts of herbs was a joy. The scents released as I snipped the herbs into a colander made me think of summer when I planted these containers. I perhaps use fresh herbs more in summer than I do in winter. It requires more of an effort to go out in the cold, ice crunching underfoot and wrapped up against the chill wind. Much easier to reach for the dried herbs (dare I admit to using such a thing). But the taste was worth it. Every mouthful was a burst of flavour – transporting me back to sunshine and summer heat.
I boiled some organic long grain brown rice to go with my herbs. A nice easy meal, in contrast to all the complicated, lengthy cooking of the festive season. The rice was ready in 25 minutes. I roughly chopped the herbs and sprinkled them over the steaming rice. I found some tiny emerging spring broccoli and nasturtium leaves to add to the dish and yellow broccoli flowers, which are edible and should not be wasted.
Delicious! Using what I have about the place and keeping things simple. It made me feel as if I was looking after myself. Which is no bad thing just at the moment when we are all rather stressed and in lockdown.
Do read Barbara’s blog and learn more about Japanese cooking traditions. Barbara’s writing is like silk. It’s a joy to read. And you never know, it might inspire you to grow more herbs and cook something delicious and good for you. Let me know if you do!
Here I am, pottering about in my garden again. I must say, the weeks fly by and it’s soon time to write another column for Garden News Magazine.
I hope you enjoy today’s article. I’ve had some lovely letters of support from readers saying my ‘potterings’ have kept them upbeat and busy during the pandemic. I’m pleased to see many readers have been inspired to have a go at different gardening techniques, or decided to grow something new. And many say the recipes are tasty, and always turn out well. What a relief!
Here’s some additional photos the editor didn’t use for the column. It’s fascinating to see which ones they choose. I submit about 10 for them to select from. It takes about a day to decide what to write about, take the photos and then actually sit down and compose the piece. It’s 350 words – which is actually quite a challenge. I try to say a lot in not many words. I edit it three times before I send it, taking out any spare words each time. What a luxury it is to write the blog. No one is checking the word count on here.
My hazel plant supports in the snow. New rods have replaced any that snapped, and have been woven along the centre to add strength. We seem to be getting stormier summers, so plant supports have to be extra sturdy.
Some sweet peas I grew last summer. I’ve sown some in autumn, but the second sowing now will provide plants that flower right through to November. Successional sowing extends the season.
Here’s a photo of ‘Sunshine’ climbing French beans. Highly recommended, easy to grow and prolific. We have a freezer full, and they only take a few minutes to cook from frozen. All the flavour and goodness is captured for tasty winter meals. I’ll be starting my bean seed in May. Don’t start them off too early as they cannot be planted out until the first week of June. If sown too early, they become leggy and weak. They are very fast growing.
Here’s a larger photo of the willow heart flower arrangement in the potting shed window. It’s made from Paperwhite narcissi, alstroemeria from the poly tunnel and dried gypsophila and honesty seeds from summer. The foliage is eucalyptus saved from Christmas floral arrangements. Flowers are held in a jam jar covered in moss which has garden string twined around it, kokadama -style. We are all trying to do without florists’ foam, and using jam jars, and tiny glass test tubes works really well.
For my daughters, who are making their own Christmas cakes this year.
I stand on this lane, and what I want more than anything else in the world is to see your cars driving this way. But it is not to be. We must all keep to our own homes, until we’ve had a vaccine, which hopefully will be soon. I’m so proud of you both. Not a single complaint has been heard this year. Things have not been easy for you, but you’ve taken everything in your stride and met every challenge with courage and determination. I’m so heartened to see you have both turned into such capable young women. Keep strong, as I know you will. And look forward to the day when we can all be together again, around our table, with grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, celebrating all the occasions we’ve missed this past year. Love Mum xx
Grandma’s Christmas Cake Recipe
9″ loose bottom cake tin, 4″ deep
Baking paper to line. Foil for the top
Oven preheated at 140C
2oz glacé cherries, cut in half
2oz mixed peel
Soak all the above ingredient in 3tbsp brandy overnight.
8oz plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp mixed spice
2oz chopped or flaked almonds
2oz ground almonds
8oz soft brown sugar
1 tbsp black treacle ( run spoon under boiling water so treacle won’t stick)
8 oz unsalted butter or vegetable margarine (vegan)
4 eggs, or egg substitute (vegan) lightly beaten.
1 lemon rind
1 orange rind
Sift flour, and all dry ingredients together.
Soften butter in microwave and mix with black treacle.
Mix all ingredients together using a wooden spoon.
Make a wish!
Spoon into the prepared cake tin and place a double layer of foil on top.
Cook for 3.5 – 4 hours and check with a skewer to see if it’s cooked. The skewer will come out clean if cooked. Cook for another 30 minutes if not ready. Leave in the tin to cool for several hours or overnight. Re-wrap with fresh foil and place in a tin in a cool dry place. You can ‘feed’ the cake with table spoons of Sherry or more brandy. Make holes with a skewer and drip the alcohol over.
This cake is best made in November, but will be fine make now and iced nearer to Christmas. Add ready rolled marzipan, icing and decorate.
Have a wonderful first Christmas in your own homes. Hopefully, you’ll remember all the happy times growing up here with simple pleasures. They are always the best.
If you’ve received your copy of Garden News Magazine this week, here’s the recipes I mention in my column. Above is the summerhouse where I write my pieces, and where I sit and make my cherry marzipan chocolates.
The recipe link for Cherry Marzipan Chocolates is here :
They are very quick to make and children love creating them. They make tasty home-made presents for Christmas.
I also write about Chocolate and Orange Panettone. Start saving your tins now to make these delicious treats. They are very easy to make and look beautiful. Get the children to make potato stamp labels. Be as creative as you like. Everyone can get involved.
I write about turning my satsumas from the greenhouse into a liqueur. The recipe comes from Bob Flowerdew, replying to me on twitter when I asked what I could do with this year’s prolific harvest. It’s been a good summer for growing citrus. Bob always has great suggestions for what to do with produce from the garden, and is generous with his advice.
Here’s Bob’s recipe for Satsuma Liqueur :
And finally, I was talking on the radio last week, when I mentioned I was making Sloe Gin. Here’s the recipe, with thanks to garden writer Barbara Segall, who inspires me on a daily basis to try something new.
450g sloe berries -or whatever you can find. If you only have 300g, use those.
350g caster sugar
Kilner jar or lidded jar
Place the ripe sloe berries in the freezer to break the skins. Add all ingredients to a large kilner jar. Swirl the contents every day for a week, every week for a month, and every month for a year. Strain the gin. Use the berries for cakes or trifle.
It’s wonderful to have a bottle on the north-facing kitchen windowsill. Mine has changed colour now and it’s a joy to see. Almost like a stained glass window.
Chrysanthemums are in full flower in the poly tunnel. They’ll provide cut flowers from now until January. I grow hardy varieties in 10″ pots. They stand out on the gravel paths, next to the greenhouse all summer. Chrysanths can cope with the cold, but wet weather spoils the flowers, so I lift the pots into the unheated poly tunnel the first week of November.
I don’t know the name of this bright yellow chrysanthemum. It came from my father-in-law Keith. He had been growing it since the 1950s, having been given a cutting from Aunty Dorris. When Keith was no longer able to garden, I took over the tradition on growing the yellow flowers for his wife, Joan. Until this year, I’ve managed to supply Joan with a bunch each week through November and December. They are her favourites. This year, covid has interrupted our plans – and I’ve had to e mail photos of the flowers instead.
I’m growing these pretty little white chrysanthemums too. These are called Stallion. They are multi -headed and last at least a fortnight, sometimes three weeks, in a vase. Flowers have a bright yellow button centre, and take on pink tinges as they age. Very useful as a filler in a bouquet.
We’ve had a message from the care home saying one family member can visit before Christmas. They will have to take a rapid covid test, sit in their car for half an hour to wait for the results, and then spend 30 minutes visiting our relatives in their own rooms. We can’t visit any communal spaces. And we still can’t take flowers, for some reason. But we can take tins of biscuits and jars of jam- anything that can be disinfected before being giving to the residents. I’m writing about it here because the blog has become a record of our times, living through this covid pandemic, and the effect it’s had on people living in care homes.
Hopefully, soon we will be able to have the vaccine and this nightmare will come to an end. I’m hopeful it won’t be long now.
Thank you for reading. I’m celebrating reaching the milestone 100,000 readers on the blog. When I started writing, I had no idea so many would read my potting shed musings. Thanks for being one of them. Have a calm and happy week.
As a few of you know, I talk on the radio once a fortnight, chatting about what I’m doing in my vegetable and cut flower plot. This week, I tried valiantly to make a few twigs from my garden sound exciting. It really tested my powers of description! Anyway, if you were listening in, here are the photos to go with my interview with Ben Jackson. I was waving my arms around, explaining how you can gather foliage and off-cuts from the garden, make them into a twiggy bouquets, add lights, and plunge them in a pot. I do hope it enthused a few people to have a go and make their own Christmas decorations.
Willow stems, dried oak twigs, pine foliage and Hydrangea Annabelle flower heads with orange lanterns, Physalis alkekengi.
I decorated the hydrangea heads with some florists’ silver spray from Oasis. You only need a tiny amount.
Some old man’s beard, wild clematis vitalba adds a fluffy texture and movement to the arrangement.
Mouldable copper wire fairy lights from supermarkets only costs a few pounds. Mine came from Wilkos and use rechargeable batteries.
Tiny flowers from the hydrangea heads flutter down around me. I scoop them up and use them as table decorations. They are like nature’s confetti.
Wire lights can be threaded through dogwood stems and any greenery from the garden. This ‘bouquet’ of twigs is pushed into a plant pot of garden soil and stood by the front door. It looks like a container full of expensive plants, but in truth, it has cost me nothing. Stems will stay fresh until after Christmas due to cold and wet weather. They can be composted in the new year. So there’s no waste to go into bins.
I’ve used pine, spare Christmas tree stems (the tree was too tall), ivy, dogwood and willow to give height, and skimmia at the front. You could pop some hellebores and white heather either side to cover the base of the pot. If you have plastic pots, why not cover them with hessian to give them a natural look.
Here’s some more ideas using willow. Wind the willow or dogwood into a rough circle and keep adding more stems. Eventually you can pull it into shape and secure it with thin lengths of willow. Kept dry in the shed, wreaths will last for years. Each Christmas, I add new foliage, pine and rosemary for scent, rosy-hued hydrangea heads and clematis seeds. These are simply fed in amongst the willow stems and secured with string or florists’ reel wire.
You can add rosehips and crab apples to the willow frame. Birds tend to enjoy them, so I have to replenish the decorations every day. We were very excited to see some very small birds, possibly long-tailed tits enjoying the clematis seeds. It becomes almost a cross between a Christmas decoration and a bird feeder.
Add whatever you can find in the garden and hedgerow. In this silver birch wreath, I’ve added ivy, with green and black ivy berries, and dried cow parsley seed heads. The wind sometimes blows the clematis across the back fields, but there’s plenty more in the potting shed, ready for the festive season.
These willow stems have been folded over to form a heart. Hold ten stems in one hand. Bend half of them over and tie in the middle. Bend the other half over to form the other side of the heart, and tie in. Tie further up the stems to keep the heart shape secure. Disguise the ties -or the mechanics, as we call them- with a mini bouquet of foliage. Here I’ve used Holly, ivy, Garrya elliptica, hydrangea flowers and a few crab apples.
Willow wreaths don’t always need any decorations at all. A pretty ribbon is all that’s used on this wreath for a simple shepherd’s hut.
I decorate five bar gates around the plot. A single heart is often all that’s needed. It will cheer any Christmas Day revellers, walking along the lane. From this gate we can hear the church bells ringing. The sound carries far across the fields. It’s a wonderful spot to stand and listen for a few moments, mug of tea in hand.
Let me know what decorations you are putting up in your house and garden this year. Will it be old favourites, like mine, or something new? Get in touch and let me know, and thanks, as ever, for reading. Today, I’m celebrating my milestone 100,000 blog visitors. When I started writing, I thought just a handful of people might see my posts. I’m absolutely thrilled to see 100,000 have read about my little plot. Have a great weekend everyone.
This year, more than ever before, we are rolling out the Christmas family favourite recipes. It seems more important than ever to have reminders of all the happy celebrations from the past.
Candied orange peel is easy to make and fills the kitchen with a wonderful, comforting scent. If you need to get into the Christmas spirit, take some oranges and sugar and turn them into these irresistible treats. You can add dark chocolate and give them as little gifts to friends and family. You can’t buy anything as good. Honestly.
4 large oranges (unwaxed if available)
300g caster sugar
Granulated sugar to coat
Dark chocolate (optional)
Scrub the oranges in hot water, especially if they have been waxed.
Peel wedges of orange skin from the top to the bottom of the fruit.
They should be 5mm thick and include the pith as well as the skin.
Lay the wedges down and flatten. Cut them into matchsticks 7mm wide.
Place peel in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Drain and throw away the water.
Cover peel with fresh water and simmer for 30 minutes.
Drain and reserve the liquid. You’ll need about 300ml. Add 300ml of sugar and heat until dissolved.
If you have more peel, the ratio is always 100ml of water to 100g of sugar.
Return the peel to the syrup (sugar/water mix) and simmer for 30 minutes.
Drain and place the orange peel on a wire rack set above some baking paper to catch drips. Put the rack and paper in an oven on the lowest setting for approx 30 minutes to dry.
You can use the reserved syrup in orange drizzle cakes, sponges and trifles.
Put some granulated sugar in a basin and add a few strips of peel at a time. Use a fork to toss them in the sugar and liberally coat. Lay on a clean wire rack to dry in a warm kitchen.
Optional: after adding the sugar, you can coat half of the sticks in dark chocolate which makes a delicious treat. Wrap in little packets of foil to give as home-made presents.
Variation: use lemon. Simmer and discard the water three times to remove bitterness.
Store candied peel in an airtight container. It will keep for 6-8 weeks.
Use for Christmas cakes, or toppings for sponge cakes, muffins and biscuits. Or just on their own as a teatime treat with hot chocolate or coffee. Utterly delicious. Enjoy 😊
Let me know what family favourite recipes you are cooking this year.
We have decided not to mix the households – even though the rules say we can. We can’t risk the health of elderly relatives. Especially when there’s a vaccine on the horizon. We must just be patient for a little longer. Everyone must decide what is best for them. Visits to the care home are still currently barred as we are still in tier 3. No flowers can be sent to my darling mother-in-law, J. But we can send jars of jam and home made treats and chocolates. So I’m concentrating on making this a Christmas we will all remember- and hopefully the last one we have to spend separated from one another.
I’m catching up here. This is in fact last week’s IAVOM. Internet and computer problems defeated me. We are on the old copper wire telephone line, and not the new super duper cable -type. It’s too expensive for BT to extend the cable down our lane, so we are stuck with speeds that are too slow to upload photos or do internet banking. Anyway, the internet may have set me back, but I wasn’t to be defeated by the imminent national lockdown, I just managed to get this posy of flowers to my mum in time. Dahlias have been the stars of the cut flower garden this year. They have flowered non-stop since June. Pictured above is Dahlia Nuit d’Ete. It’s a semi-cactus type with long twisting, curling petals. Such a rich deep red. Flowers last ten days in a vase. The centre keeps opening out and the flowers curve back until they look a little like sea urchins.
Here are the dahlias tucked in amongst the last of the cosmos, salvia, scented white carnations, with grey senecio foliage and plum coloured Physocarpus Diabolo.
The carnation is Dianthus Bridal Star. Highly scented, but requires staking as it has a floppy- growing habit. I grow it in the greenhouse as rain spoils the flowers. Worth growing though for constant flowers from June to November.
Salvia viridis blue, (centre of photo) an annual, sown in March and planted out end of May. I grow these at the base of the sweet pea A-frame which makes good ground cover.
There are also pink and white varieties of this annual salvia. Masses of flowers from a £2 packet of seed. Well worth growing.
A surprise discovery this summer was eucomis flower spikes. These got knocked over by the cat and puppy playing football….. I’m sure the cat thinks it’s a dog, as it joins in with all the ball games, and tries to come for a walk down the lane with us. We usually end up carrying him home. Anyway, Eucomis Sparkling Burgundy, known as the pineapple lily, lasts 4 weeks in a vase. They make wonderful centre pieces. I shall grow some specially for flower arranging next year.
Another surprise came from a row of sweet williams, planted out last month. They have decided to flower in November. I’ve cut the flowers for the house, and I’m hoping they will flower again next spring. They look good, strong plants, grown from seed in June. Perhaps the unusually mild autumn has confused them.
I found one last white dahlia flower, Eveline. This decorative dahlia has beautiful pink-tipped edges to the petals.
As with everything I do now, Monty likes to join in. He’s recovering from a small operation. As you can see, he’s doing really well and gaining weight nicely, after a troublesome start in life. Just look at those whiskers. And those chubby paws. You can tell he’s much loved. Adored in fact. He’s made such a difference and is helping to keep our spirits up during the pandemic.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this whistle-stop tour of my cut flower bouquet-making, even if it is a week late!
How are you all coping with the lockdown? I’m getting the veg plot ready for next year. It will be the first time I’ve managed to get all the jobs done by Christmas. Really, I’m not going anywhere at the moment.
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.
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
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.
Sunflowers have been the stars of the autumn garden. This one is multi-headed Helianthus Black Magic. I sowed seeds in March in 3″ pots and planted them out the first week of June. They survived high winds and torrential rain, even hailstones mid-summer. Summer now seems to see a pattern of stormy weather with winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Plants have to be sturdy to survive- and well supported, with a scaffolding of 6ft hazel poles. Many times I’ve feared for my sunflowers and tall-growing cosmos and salvias. They were bowed down, but never beaten. Much like us, really. With all our covid worries.
White dahlia My Love, with a mixed selection of sunflowers, rudbeckias and calendula, grown from seed from Mr Fothergills and Burpees Europe. This summer I took part in a social media campaign with the hashtag #GrowSomeSunshine. We grew sunflowers and made a donation to the NHS, posting photos of our flowers on twitter and instagram. The campaign, run by gardening journalist, David Hurrion, raised £3,175. I’m hoping David will repeat the campaign next summer. It’s been a cheerful way to support our wonderful nurses, doctors and NHS volunteers. I’ve had sunflowers right across the front garden, lining the path to the front door. People passing by the garden gate lean in and smile. Garden gate conversations have become a ‘thing,’ with friends from surrounding villages walking along footpaths to visit us and chat. Only two people have actually been in the garden. On sunny days, I set out chairs 2 metres apart and served biscuits in individual little wrappings. They brought their own flasks of tea. Small dispensers of hand gel sat neatly amongst the potted plants on the garden coffee tables. Things like this are starting to feel more normal now. I’m writing this here as a reminder in the future, when I want to look back and see how we lived in the summer of 2020.
I love the range of colours in modern sunflowers. This one grew from a packet of seed called All Sorts Mixed. Well-named as there were eight different sunflowers in the mix.
This one is almost pink. A lovely range from a packet of Helianthus Evening Sun. plenty of pollen. A magnet for bees. As pretty as a stained glass window.
And another photo of Black Magic, which starts off a deep, dark chocolate colour, and fades to beautiful bronze.
Scrumptious. Almost good enough to eat. Which is what will happen to them over the winter. I’ve saved seed heads and dried them on the greenhouse staging. A few will be brought out each day over winter. A feast for the birds. Sunflower stems are hollow, and make homes for ladybirds and lacewings. I’ll bundle stems together and stuff them in my ‘twiggery’ which is just a pile of twigs and stems, left in a quiet corner for insects to hibernate.
What’s looking good in your garden right now? Join in with the #SixOnSaturday hashtag on twitter and instagram and look to see what other gardeners are growing in the UK and around the world. I use it to plot and plan what to grow next year. There’s plenty of good ideas from keen gardeners. A cheerful way to spend an hour or two on a rainy autumn Saturday.
Such a lot has changed since Mum and I sat, side by side, watching Monty Don’s American Gardens television series over the winter. Little did we know corona virus was on the way, and we wouldn’t see each other for most of the spring and summer. One of our simple pleasures in life is to watch the gardening programmes mum has recorded the week before. Enjoying our home-made cake and cups of tea, we would um and ah over the gardens- much more fun than watching alone. We were unanimous in our admiration of glorious, colourful, plant-filled gardens, and sternly, dismissively critical of others. And laughter. There was much laughter. Such fun. Just watching in companionable silence too. I miss those moments. Mum has to be extremely careful. So our fledgling visits to each other’s gardens have been cautious and metres apart. Indoors, and television -watching, is rationed. I touch nothing and keep a distance. This is how it will be until we have faster, easier corona virus testing. Or a vaccine.
Just as I’m mulling over all the changes to our lives, and trying to solve a few impossible problems, Monty’s new book arrives. And I sit down and read it. From cover to cover. Monty Don asks, ‘What is an American garden.’ Well, if he can be as bold as to attempt to find the answer to that question, I’m sure I can overcome one or two tricky dilemmas of my own. I clearly remember Monty saying “The belief you can do anything, if you believe in it enough, is what defines the American Garden.” Reading his new book transports you to another place where anything is possible. And that’s certainly a message we all need right now.
Here’s some of the gardens I picked out to show you, and ones I enjoyed in his new book.
The Federal Twist garden, Stockton, New Jersey is one that stands out.
I’m still chuckling over the quote from owner James Golden, who says,”I forgot to mention that I hate gardening.”
Monty notes “It was probably a well-rehearsed line but, given the extraordinarily beautiful garden he has created and the deep pleasure that it clearly gives him, an effective show-stopper. Why? I asked. ‘I hate getting my hands dirty. I hate struggling to separate roots and then digging a hole. I have someone to do that for me. I place the plants, pull plants out. I’m constantly working out what I need and where to move things. I don’t feel it necessary to dig or plant to be fully engaged with the garden.’ I suspect that the British, and in this I include myself, fetishise the actual process of gardening too much, sometimes to the extent that the hardworking, skilful means justify the rather dull ends.”
A revealing portrait of the gardener, and of the garden visitor, Monty Don.
These are my i-phone photos of the book taken in the potting shed, and do not do justice to the clarity of the stunning photography by Derry Moore.
The swimming pool at the Bob Hope House, Palm Springs.
Inside the Amazon Spheres in Seattle.
Climbing fig (Ficus pumila) in the orangery at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC.
Vizcaya, Miami, Florida. The house reflected in the Tuscan-inspired pool.
Prairie Garden Trust, New Bloomfield, Missouri. A field of coneflowers.
Central Park, New York City. The two towers of the San Remo apartment building designed by Emery Roth in 1930.
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
Monty sitting under a banyan tree. He looks lost in thought. The sheer scale of the trees and the landscape. It’s mesmerising.
You’ll have to read the book to see what conclusions Monty arrives at. I found it a joy to read in these troubled times. If humans can create gardens such as these, surely it gives us hope. Anything is possible. And at the end of the day, that’s what we need most of all at the moment. Hope.
Leave a comment in the box at the bottom of the page, and Prestel will select one reader to receive a free copy. Sorry, uk addresses only at the moment. I’ll run another draw when the book is published in America. It would make a wonderful Christmas present. It’s certainly a ‘wow’ production, with glossy double page spreads of photographs and thought-provoking writing.
Last Monday I wrote about my mother-in-law Joan and the flowers I take to her each week from my garden. Covid meant the care home where she’s living stopped all visits for almost six months to protect residents from infection. We had just resumed visiting and were meeting in the garden in 30 minute appointment slots.
The day after writing my piece, we received an e mail cancelling all further visits due to rising covid numbers in the UK. We can stand in the car park and wave through a window. Or we can attempt video calling.
I’m writing now to say thank you to all of you who’ve got in touch with kind messages and helpful suggestions. You’ve generally bolstered me up at a difficult time. I’m writing this blog as a diary of my gardening life, and also as a record of the times we are all going through, and the situation for the elderly, especially those with dementia who cannot ‘see’ their families in person. No criticism is meant for the care home. They are doing an unimaginably difficult job keeping everyone safe, and we are enormously grateful for everything.
Here’s some photos of Joan with my bouquets of flowers from the garden. The photos were taken when she was still living in her own home.
The flowers were loosely tied so that Joan could spend a few happy hours arranging them in assorted vases and fill the windowsills with colour. She especially loved having flowers in the house as carers would always comment on how cheerful they were and how much they enjoyed visiting Joan and her husband Keith. The carers said the couple were their favourites, and I’m sure it was because Joan and Keith tried to be as little trouble as possible -and there was always chocolates, biscuits and cake for them. They tried to look after the carers, and show their appreciation. A very special couple, and I’m proud to call them my in-laws.
This is a favourite photo of Joan on her wedding day on the steps of Cosby Methodist Chapel. Joan arranged the flowers for the chapel, while keith played the organ twice on a Sunday and for weddings and funerals, for more than 60 years.
I found this old photo in a family album. Florence May, Joan’s mother, is on the left, with Florence’s sisters, Jess, Hattie and Marion. All of them were to suffer from dementia. I stare at this photo and feel so sad. These young girls had no idea what was ahead of them. None of us ever do.
I started growing cut flowers, and writing about them, when my mother-in-law-Joan was diagnosed with dementia. Joan loved flower arranging- she did the Methodist chapel flowers for 65 years. It was a passion we both shared. I instinctively knew Joan would start to forget me, and by taking flowers each week, I hoped to hold on to her for as long as possible. To keep a connection going. It was all I could think of. Before lockdown, Joan started to forget my name. But she never forgot the names of the flowers, and my posies gave us something cheerful to talk about. It gave Joan confidence. She could chat about a subject she understood when everything else in her life was confusing. Lockdown was an agony. I tried to send letters. Phone calls were too distressing, Joan couldn’t understand exactly why we couldn’t visit. Hearing loss caused further upset. I sent photos and updates about the family and her grandchildren. Leicester remained in localised lockdown, and the care home where Joan lives with her husband Keith, was within the extended lockdown area. So it was more than six months before we were able to visit.
And these are the flowers I took to Joan. Daisies have always been her favourites. The yellow rudbeckias came from some roots I saved when we had to sell their house. They lived in the same house, brought up three children, and enjoyed their garden for 63 years. The whole family worked together to help them live at home for as long as possible. But dementia not only steals memories of friends and family, eventually it takes away the ability to do even simple tasks. It was heartbreaking to watch Joan try to make a cup of tea. And yet she still wanted to try, because she loved looking after us. I really looked forward to popping around for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Her cake tin -before dementia- was always full of flapjack, coconut chocolate squares, and fruit cake. I often write the recipes here on the blog so they are not lost in time. Joan made my life happier. She always cared, backed me up and sympathised, helped where she could. I miss it. I miss having someone who would always stop what they were doing and just listen. Some things in life cannot be changed, but to have a sympathetic ear makes all the difference. To have someone always on your side. I’ve been lucky, I know. I was so determined to hold on to Joan, but covid defeated me. On our visit, I could hardly breathe, hoping Joan would recognise me. But she had no idea who I was. And I wasn’t even allowed to give her the flowers. It’s against the rules. Even a simple bunch of flowers could be deadly. The virus could be on the stems where I’ve touched them. So after showing her my flowers, the care home staff asked me to lay them on the garden path, where they stayed, looking as lost and forlorn as I felt. I don’t disagree with the rules- the staff have an unimaginable job to keep everyone safe. But I feel sad that my small bunch of flowers couldn’t go on Joan’s bedside table to bring her some joy at this difficult time. I’m updating you all, as you have followed my journey these past few years and kept me company whilst I’ve pottered about my garden and tied up my bunches of flowers for Joan. It’s been a comfort to share my thoughts on here. I’ll not give up, of course. As soon as I’m allowed, I’ll take flowers again. There will be hellebores and scented hyacinths at Christmas, catkins and forget-me-nots in spring, and roses and daisies all summer. In a care home, it’s easy to lose touch with the seasons and Joan loved visiting my garden. She enjoyed the beauty of flowers and the countryside around us. Let’s hope we can make up for lost time soon.
Rudbeckia Goldsturm (black-eyed Susan) flowers from July to October and cut flowers last ten days in a vase.
Verbascum nigrum grows to 1.5m on the vegetable and cut flowers plot. Spikes of bright yellow flowers emerge all summer. Pollinators love the flowers too.
Achillea millefolium (yarrow) grows in a small patch of wild flowers, sown from a packet of mixed seed last summer.
There’s oxeye daisies, with wild carrot flowers as a pretty filler. The carrot turns green as it goes to seed, perfectly matching the green rim around the centre of the daisy flowers.
If you look carefully, you can see the tiny hearts of Capsella bursa-pastoris or Shepherd’s purse. There’s hope, and lots of love, in this small bunch of flowers.
Suddenly, at this time of the year, the kitchen windowsill is covered with tomatoes. All sizes from giant heritage beefsteak Marmande to tiny cherry types such as Sweet Million and Red Robin. Some are bright sealing-wax red, soft and ready to eat. Some shine like emeralds, green and firm. They will ripen over the coming weeks.
Here’s a favourite recipe, perfect for utilising your tomato harvest. As usual, it’s a quick and simple idea. It takes 10 minutes to make, and 15 minutes to cook. Tomato and herb tarts travel well and are suitable for picnics too. Enjoy!
1 pack ready rolled puff pastry
1 egg yolk -beaten
7oz /200g cheese ( can be Cheddar, gruyere-or whatever you have)
14oz /400g tomatoes, thickly sliced
Few sprigs of thyme – leaves only
1tbsp olive or rapeseed oil
Salt and black pepper
Preheat the oven to 210C /190C fan/ gas mark 7
Cover two baking trays with either re-usable silicone sheets or baking parchment to prevent the tarts sticking.
Roll out the pastry. Use a 7” tea plate as a template. Lay the plate on the pastry and use a sharp knife to cut a circle.
You’ll get two 7” round tarts, or one 7” and four 4” tarts from a roll of pastry. The off-cuts of pastry can be used for cheese straws. Just add grated cheese and twist to incorporate.
Transfer the circles of pastry to the baking trays. Use a blunt knife to score an edge to each circle, 1.5cm or 1/2” wide.
Brush each border with the beaten egg. Use a fork to prick over the base of the tarts to stop them rising.
Pile grated cheese into the centre of the circles. Take care not to get any filling on the edges, or they won’t rise.
Arrange slices of tomato in concentric circles on top of the cheese.
Season with salt and pepper and scatter over the thyme leaves.
Drizzle over a few drops of olive or rapeseed oil
Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the pastry edges have risen and are golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Garnish with some fresh herbs.
Can be served warm or cold. Can be frozen.
For a vegan alternative, omit the egg and use melted vegetable margarine and use vegan cheese.
My Marmande tomatoes were prolific this year. I sowed seeds in February, pricked seedlings out in March and planted them in their final 12” pots in May. I grew mine in an open-ended poly tunnel, which protected them from the worst of the weather.
I listened to a podcast called Fresh from the Pod this week. Gardener and writer Tamsin Westhorpe was interviewing Chris Collins. Tamsin is the gardening world’s version of Michael Parkinson, in my opinion. It’s fascinating to get a real insight into the lives of our gardening personalities. Anyway, half way through the interview, Tamsin says she never turns any opportunities down. She never says no to anything. Always has a go, because you never know where it might lead. So, this gave me courage to try something new this week. As you know, I love cooking. My happiest memories are sitting around a table with my parents and grandparents and just being fed the most delicious meals. Just that feeling of being loved and cared for. It lives on in my memory like an indelible photo album. Well, it’s gradually become my turn to produce memories for other people. I’ve loved cooking for my children and the recipes here are written down for them, incase they ever need them. And today I also recorded my first “grow it, cook it, eat it” for Ben Jackson at BBC Radio Leicester. They have a ‘Food Friday’ segment which I’ve always wanted to have a go at. Remembering Tamsin’s words, I ventured forth! It was a shaky start, as we were cooking outdoors (social distancing) and the wind was blowing my bits of baking parchment about. The cat wanted to join in. He usually “helps” when we are gardening. And the neighbour’s dog started barking. Ah well, nothing is perfect in real life, is it. It was a fun thing to do and I hope you enjoy listening. It’ll make you laugh, I’m sure.
It’s been a challenging few weeks. We wanted rain. And we got it. A month’s worth in four days. Followed by Storm Ellen and 40 mile per hour winds. Anything not firmly staked, flopped over. Sunflowers and cosmos took a bashing. It’s taken a couple of days to prop up plants, tie them in, and sweep up twigs and leaf litter. I sometimes wish I was passionate about interior design instead of gardening. Wouldn’t it be lovely to create a scene, and have nothing smash it to pieces. But, sadly, I’m not remotely interested in being indoors. I’m only really happy when I’m outside, in the fresh air. Anyway, to cheer us all up, here’s some photos of what’s in flower in my garden today.
My new rose, Belle de Jour. Rose of the Year for 2021. Flowers open clear, bright yellow and fade to sunset shades of peaches and cream. There’s a delicate fruity scent and plenty of pollen for bees. Nice healthy green leaves, which is good for an organic garden like mine.
I think we can definitely say these flowers stand up to the weather. Some roses ‘ball’ in the rain. They fail to open and turn to mush. Luckily, Belle de Jour copes with a deluge; there’s not a mark on the petals. My rose came, by post, from Roses UK which promotes the British rose trade. I’m sure the new rose will be a huge success. It’s looking lovely in my garden already. And I’m always pleased to support British nurseries.
I’m growing a new variety of courgette, ‘Summer Holiday.’ Isn’t it pretty. I don’t know why, but this photo makes me so happy. It looks such a gorgeous little thing, bright yellow, with a twisty green stem. It’s a joy. And so easy to grow. I’m in favour of anything easy, this summer. Everything seems to have been hard work, so a highly productive trouble-free plant is very welcome. There’s a recipe for courgette and cream cheese soup to follow. It only takes ten minutes to cook.
Courgette flowers look beautiful too. They only last a day, but are a sunny, joyful sight. I’ve planted courgette and squash all along the base of my climbing bean frame. They make good ground cover and smother weeds.
Here’s the beans I’m growing this year. Don’t they look colourful.
Yellow: Climbing French bean ‘Sunshine’. A new variety.
Green: Climbing French bean ‘Limka’.
Purple: Dwarf French bean ‘Red Swan’.
All growing together along the hazel A-frame support, with blue morning glory intertwined. The dwarf French beans grow to around 122cm (4ft). Climbing beans are around 2.5m (8ft). Every day, I’m gleefully throwing handfuls of beans into the freezer. They will be such a treat mid-winter when fresh greens are in short supply.
I have a newly-planted border all along the path to the front door. It was infested with couch grass. Over the winter I dug out all the plants and turned over the soil, searching for every scrap of tiny white couch grass roots. I had to do this four times before getting on top of the problem. In May, I planted the border with annuals; sunflowers, nicotiana, cosmos, and underplanted them with salvias, which I treat as bedding plants as they are not very hardy here.
I favour dark dusky-coloured sunflowers. This one pictured above is ‘Black Magic.’ It’s a multi-headed sunflower the colour of dark chocolate. Bees love it, and the seed will feed birds in winter. I won’t bother growing ‘Italian White’ again. The first sign of a gale and the petals curled up and dropped off. Not hardy enough for my windswept plot.
If you like yellow sunflowers you would love these, growing in the back fields behind my garden. We cheered when we saw the farmer sowing the seeds in spring. It’s a wildlife -friendly mix to attract pollinators, and the seedheads feed birds and mammals over winter.
The ridgeway footpath goes all along the side of the sunflower field. We walk along it twice a day, as we are still in the habit of our lockdown exercise regime. And some of us are still not venturing far, as we can’t take any risks. I’m still getting over a serious illness from three years ago, and although surgeons gave me a second chance, I’m not strong enough to fight off infection. Doctors nowadays are forthright. And mine, straight to the point, said a ventilator wouldn’t be an option. So there we are. I have to be careful. I’m not dwelling on it. I’m just grateful for small mercies, sunflowers included, as I can gaze at them and feel happy. I don’t know how, but I can.
We still have swallows flying here. They must be finding plenty of insects. I’ll miss them when they go. I think of the journey they have to make, such tiny birds. Such a long way. It’s always an anxious time waiting for them to return in spring. Maybe, I’m going to have to get my courage up, and be like the swallows. Set off into the unknown. I can’t stay here forever, as lovely as it is, and as tempting as it’s become to say how well I’m coping. Someday soon, I have to set forth. Wish me luck!
On the footpath, going home, I pass by this old crab apple tree. It must be 100 years old, the size of its trunk. It makes a natural arch over the pathway. I like to gaze into the distance and wonder how the view might have changed over the past century. Probably not a lot as it’s still all farmland round here. But the people who’ve passed by this tree, their lives would have been very different 100 years ago. We have so much to be grateful for.
Nearing home, by our field gate, you can see the row of trees we planted 30 years ago when we were in our 20s. We never thought those little saplings would grow into a wood. And we didn’t know how much joy they would give us, watching the leaves change through the seasons, and giving a home to birds and wildlife. This summer, these daisies suddenly appeared. On sunny days, they have a strong chamomile scent. They may only be weeds, but they are a lovely sight, even so. Don’t you agree.
How has your garden fared this summer with the heatwave, drought and storms? It feels like we have faced many challenges, all round. Let me know what’s looking good in your garden right now, and whether you are managing to get out and about yet, or like me, waiting for your moment.
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
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.
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.
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 ❤️