Thank you to everyone who read my review of Jean Vernon’s latest book. To celebrate my return to blogging, I’m sending out four books to readers who left comments. Names were randomly selected, and the winners are Menhir1, Kate Elliott, Pauline (Lead Up the Garden Path) and Gill. I’ve sent the winners messages in the replies section, but if you are reading this please send your addresses to email@example.com and I’ll get books sent out to you. Thank you again to everyone who reads my blog and takes the time to leave a comment. It’s always much appreciated.
Here’s some more excerpts from the book. There’s chapters advising on the best plants to grow to help pollinators. I grow both the blue and the white form of borage. The blue variety has flowers the colour of a Mediterranean sky. I use flowers in salad dishes and also to decorate cakes.
Cosmos is another favourite plant in my garden. Not only is it very useful for cut flowers, it also attracts a wide range of bees and butterflies. There’s plenty of space for more than one bee or butterfly to land and feed.
Here’s a photo from my garden with Cosmos Seashells providing plenty of pollen for these bumblebees.
My home-made bee hotel. These are made from cardboard tubes and garden canes. Nearly all of the canes contain cocoons. The bees plug the ends of the canes with mud to protect the cocoons over winter. I’m now looking into buying special bee chambers with removable paper tubes. These can be replaced and refreshed each year to help prevent diseases.
I also have some bee bricks which are specially made to integrate into buildings, replacing a normal brick with one containing nesting holes of varying sizes. These also seem very popular with solitary bees.
The back cover of Jean’s latest book.
Information about the author.
Jean with her new book. Photo by Hannah McVicar.
I was very pleased to take part in the blog tour launch of this beautiful and very special book which has an important message for all of us. Helping garden pollinators ultimately helps us too. Bees, butterflies, moths and other insects all help to pollinate our fruit and vegetables. Help them, and we are ultimately helping ourselves. More pollinators equals higher productivity and therefore more food. It makes sense to do all we can to provide the best habitat we can for pollinators.
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.
Ukraine is constantly in my thoughts. I will not say much, as I’m sure you have arrived here for gardens, flowers, peace and tranquility – much needed in current times. But rest assured, although I am small and insignificant I am doing all I can in the background to support the people of Ukraine in any way I can. It’s easy to think that we are powerless, but often if many people come together then their efforts can be great. Think of one small thing you could do today to make a difference. We are not helpless- and we are not without hope.
Meanwhile, here’s some photos of my garden today for anyone who needs the restorative power of plants. Here’s Galanthus Madeline at the foot of the willow and hazel trees.
Wild primroses poking through the leafmould path. The scent is honey-like and delicate. The very essence of spring.
Wild daffodils are just emerging too. This one is Narcissus pseudonarcissus. There are drifts of the Welsh wild flower, the Tenby daffodil, in honour of my Welsh grandmother. But the little lobularis daffodil is the first to open.
The winter aconites are just going over now. The are making a nice swathe of colour in the woodland corner at the end of the pergola.
Cyclamen Coum flowers are popping up all over the garden- not necessarily where I planted them. Apparently the seeds have a sticky substance much-loved by ants which then carry the seed far and wide. They must have carried them off into the back fields as there’s a thriving collection of plants on the other side of the fence.
Some of the cyclamen have come up with these bright silvery-leaves. These are worth growing for the foliage alone. Both white and purple flowers are emerging from the leaves.
There’s also Cyclamen persicum flowering in the greenhouse. These have been making a display since last October; really good value long-lasting plants. They are not hardy in my garden, coming from the Eastern Mediterranean region. But they thrive in a greenhouse or cool room, just watering them when they droop – and not before.
While we are in the greenhouse, I’ll show you the citrus trees which have produced the best ever crop of lemons and oranges here. We have had a relatively mild winter and the plants have been kept at 4C in the heated greenhouse. To be honest, the heater has hardly been on. A well insulated cedar-wood greenhouse keeps plants cosy. I’m just starting to water them again and top dressing with fresh compost. They are too big now to be repotted, but topdressing with new compost and adding liquid fertiliser in the watering can will perk them up and bring them into flower again.
And this is what I made with the orange zest; citrus shortbread. The recipe will be in Garden News Magazine next week, and I’ll copy and paste the article here for anyone who would like it. It’s part of my new ‘family favourites’ column for the magazine. Quick recipes anyone can make. There won’t be long lists of ingredients and fancy products you have to search high and low for. It’s mostly about simple ingredients and home grown produce, and all the recipes that have been passed down to me from my mother and my grandparents and friends.
Strawberry scones will feature in the coming weeks too, as I’m talking about bringing my strawberry plants, growing in containers, into the greenhouse to get an early crop. I grow my strawberries in 10” pots and windows boxes. They are easy to pick up and move under cover. Also easy to protect the fruit from birds and slugs as well.
Daphne and the other hens have just started laying again, so there will be plenty of eggs for cooking. The bantams are undercover in a new run, specially made to protect them from the bird flu epidemic. Usually they would be out foraging in the orchard by now, but until we have the all-clear they have to be kept in.
Walking from the hen run, out past the fruit trees and along the perimeter fence, there are more snowdrops. These are double and single types.
The doubles flower just a few weeks before the singles.
These have green tips. I believe they are a variety called Viridapice.
This one is called Walrus. It has elongated, green-marked outer petals.
A small patch of Galanthus Robin Hood.
It’s called Robin Hood because of the crossbow markings on the inner petals.
A small patch of Galanthus Jessica. I bought these because I have a niece called Jessica.
Have you all seen the news about the most expensive snowdrop ever? I think I would have been crying if I’d paid £1,850 for a single bulb of Golden Tears. Pretty as it is, it’s a staggering amount to pay. I saw the above photo on the Alpine Garden Society social media pages.
Here’s the view through the gap in the hedge. The field has been sown with winter wheat. I think the variety is Skyfall which is hardy and disease resistant and therefore requires less spraying.
And finally, just a few steps from my garden gate, here’s the view on the lane, looking across the back fields to ancient Bunny Woods on the horizon. Sometimes we walk across the footpaths to the woods. Today, I’m taking this photo in a welcome gap in the rain, but the clouds still look ominous, so I hurry home for a warming cup of tea. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my garden and surrounding fields. Take care everyone and keep safe and well. And let me know what spring flowers are emerging in your gardens today.
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?
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.
I’ve been out! Actually out in the car, driving to a garden. It’s only the second time I’ve been out for a garden visit in 16 months. A few weeks ago I visited Belvoir Castle, and this week, I chose Goldstone Hall for my floral excursion. It seems so strange to be out and about, meeting up with friends. Everyone’s experience of the pandemic has been different. Some say their lives changed very little, they continued to travel to work and managed to get out and about when lockdown eased. Others, like me, had to stay at home. Anyway, I’m picking and choosing which outings to go on, and slowly emerging back into a normal life. Here’s a slide show of photos I provide when I’ve been out. Goldstone Hall in North Shropshire didn’t disappoint. It’s a beautifully- designed and immaculately-managed 5 acre garden surrounding a pretty Georgian manor house. Although I didn’t stay overnight, (there are 12 bedrooms) I am planning to return with my Mum for a short break soon. The idea of waking up early, and quietly wandering around the masses of roses, vegetables and herbs, definitely appeals.
This Abutilon vitifolium is one of the first shrubs you see when you step into the garden. It’s a fast-growing shrub from Chile with vine-like leaves and abundant pale mauve flowers. It flowers mainly in spring and early summer, but can flower all summer long if happy in a sheltered warm position. It can easily be grown from seed and cuttings.
The main flower border runs along a sunny wall. There’s roses and clematis all along the walls, with perennials and grasses in front.
Here’s another view of the wall, taken from the front of the border. Some pretty wine-coloured aquilegias grow in patches all along the border. This one looks like the variety Bordeaux Barlow.
Lupins in the cutting garden look particularly lovely in early June. There’s masses of sweet peas, cornflowers, sunflowers and gladioli to follow.
A herb walk is a scented pathway with 100 different herbs planted alongside heritage vegetables, salads and heirloom fruit trees and bushes.
The polytunnel is packed with produce. I am going to copy the idea for growing strawberries in lengths of guttering with a drip watering system attached. Would keep the plants off the ground and away from slugs- and it would be much easier to pick fruit.
Not an inch of space is wasted in the poly tunnel.
After a head-gardener tour of the grounds, we enjoyed a delicious lunch in this open-sided oak pavilion. Perfect for a lovely warm summer’s day.
We had new potatoes, freshly dug from the plot, a spinach and asparagus quiche, and salad – all grown in the gardens we had just walked around.
Here’s the recipe for the panna cotta we enjoyed.
The view of the garden from one of the reception rooms in the hotel. There’s a sense of peace and tranquility here.
More information about Goldstone Hall.
Goldstone Hall is an Royal Horticultural Society ( RHS) partner garden, and opens for the National Gardens Scheme and for garden group tours. There’s more on the website at https://goldstonehallhotel.co.uk/.
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:
I’m making these again today. I opened the kitchen cupboards and there was literally nothing cheerful in there! No biscuits, chocolate, cake. We’ve run out of everything. I wonder if we will look back on these times and ponder how we lived through this pandemic and learned to appreciate the simple things in life. I shall certainly never take for granted being able to just pop to the shops. Everything has to be so well organised. Lists on top of lists. All food is being delivered, for which I’m extremely grateful. But, oh, the dismay at discovering that I’ve forgotten something- just as I’ve pressed the button to order supplies. It’ll be a week before I can get another delivery. We do see an end in sight with vaccines on the way, so keep going everyone. Keep smiling. And make pastries, as there’s nothing nicer to cheer you up than the sight of these lovely tasty treats. Any fruit can be used, they are just as lovely with apples, frozen plums, raspberries, tinned peaches – any combination you like. Let me know what recipes are keeping you cheered up, and report back if you make any of these delicious pastries too.
And a photo of spring flowers to bring some joy as well:
White primulas. My favourites. Though I have seen some deep red double varieties mixed in with burnt orange which might look lovely in a blue China casserole dish…. if only I could get out to buy some.
Narcissi Geranium and cut flower collection tulips from last spring. All my tulips are poking through the ground now, and daffodils are in bud and flowering early. The veg patch is covered in forgetmenots. I use them as a green mulch to protect the soil and keep down weeds. Some are potted up to stand on the summerhouse steps. They are very easy to dig up as they have a shallow, fibrous root system. They do well when lifted and grown on in containers.
Daffodils make a very welcome return. I’ve watered them with potash or tomato fertiliser, having taken advice from a medal-winning grower. The liquid feed helps to strengthen the stems and enhances the colour, making them stronger and brighter. A good tip as we regularly seem to be getting stormy spring weather. It’s so sad to see daffodils flattened by the wind.
Eranthis hyemalis – winter aconite in the woodland garden. They won’t last long as temperatures are currently 13C.
Green-tipped Galanthus Viridapice looking pretty on the potting shed window. Snowdrops too have been a very welcome and joyous sight. But in the mild weather, they have opened right out and will be going over sooner than usual. I shall water these too with weak tomato fertiliser in the hope of boosting the size of the bulbs and increase the number of flowers for next year.
Have a lovely weekend everyone.
*I’m trying something new- doing Instagram live sessions from the greenhouse every day, essentially to keep in touch with my Mum and MIL Joan, and also to show my daughters how to grow plants from seed. Under normal circumstances I would be by their side helping them with their new houses and first gardens. But I can’t while we are in lockdown, so I’m doing what I can from home. I’m karengimson1 on instagram.
I thought you’d like a calming walk around the garden today. We’ve had snow for two days now, but it is starting to melt. It’s currently 3C and rain is forecast. Snow covers a multitude of sins. You can’t see the brambles or stinging nettles. I’ve made a start on tackling the thickets- they have grown up in only three years of neglect. It’s interesting to see how nature is always trying to reclaim the garden. Always trying to take back what we’ve borrowed. We only carve out this place for a short while.
Bellis daisies. In flower despite the cold. We planted some in pots years ago and they’ve seeded about the plot. They pop up in borders, the gravel paths, and in small colonies in the lawn. I rather like them for their tenacity. Stamp on them (accidentally) and they do not flinch.
By the front door there’s a patch of Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis). It grows in the gravel spilling over from the path. There is no soil here. And yet, with minimum fuss and no maintenance, it flowers its heart out from October to March. Friends say it can be difficult to grow, so I’m grateful for my little patch of thriving iris. Last year it produced this pretty lilac sport. The mother plant is deep purple. I love it when plants suddenly do the unexpected. Don’t you?
The bank of wild cherry trees look like charcoal drawings in the snow. They are full of buds. I’ll cut a few twiggy branches and bring them into the house. They’ll flower readily in the heat of the kitchen. One way to bring spring forwards a little. It’s cheating, I know, but I can’t resist.
More trees surround the wildlife pond. It’s wonderful to think we are only four weeks to seeing frogspawn in the pond. Spring always starts for me when we see frogs again. You can learn more about frogs by following Froglife, a wildife charity dedicated to the conservation of frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.
We are seeing a lot more deer in our area. We think they might be Sitka deer. Sometimes I just catch sight of them out of the corner of my eye. They are almost like ghosts, drifting silently along the dark hedgerows. They seem to blend into the shadows and become part of the landscape. Sometimes, in spring, if we are really lucky, we’ll come across a fawn in the long grass. The mother is never far away, and we tiptoe quietly away, so as not to startle her.
We’ve turned the summerhouse towards the sun. Amazingly, it’s quite warm in there. Such a well-made building, insulated with thick, wavy-edge oak. They knew how to build in the 1930s. We are grateful for our sturdy and peaceful sanctuary. It’s the perfect place to sit for a while and read, or watch the birds. Sometimes we see a fox. At dusk, a barn owl quarters the back field. They hunt methodically, searching for prey by flying back and forth. We worry when the weather is stormy and wet, as it increasingly is nowadays. Barn owls have no waterproofing. Their soft feathers help them to fly almost silently, but it’s at the expense of being weatherproof. They struggle to hunt and find food in the rain. One heartbreaking evening last summer, we saw the female out in heavy rain. She looked off balance, her flight hampered by the wind. We watched as she wobbled and barely made it over the top of the hedge. Desperation must have driven her out in poor weather. She had two chicks to feed. Later, the farmer who checks the nests, found only one chick had survived.
I’ll leave you with two happy photos. Snowdrops always make me feel hopeful. They return every year, whatever is happening in the world around them.
And this beautiful glass ‘vase’ of flowers- a present from a kind friend. Certainly. We are all looking for anything that brings joy at the moment. Thank goodness for kindness, friends and family. And for flowers which always make us smile.
Let me know how you are all getting on. Are you managing to sow any seeds or do any gardening yet. Take care everyone. And thank you for reading.
I’m on instagram at karengimson1 and twitter @kgimson. Come over and say hello!
I need little excuse to send cards to friends and relatives. I love keeping in touch with cheerful notes, and this year it seems even more important that usual to try to keep a connection. But I’m usually disappointed with the cards I see for sale. They are often single -use items, covered with embellishments and glitter. Not always recyclable. So I was happy to see a sample pack of eco-friendly stationery from the Little Green Paper Shop.
Founded by Ana in Cheshire in 2014, the online shop stocks a range of beautiful cards made from such intriguing substances as elephant dung and cotton fibre, and apparently, reindeer droppings. The elephant dung paper is hand-made in India and provides a source of income for elephant sanctuaries which the makers support.
Ana started by supplying wedding stationery, but has branched out to provide cards, crackers and wrapping paper for Christmas and other special occasions. Ana designs, prints, cuts and packages the items, and it’s very much a family affair with her husband and two sons helping out.
The samples I received are so delightful – and made me smile- I have placed an order for Christmas, and I’m planning to have some business cards printed. I fancy the idea of having cards made from seed paper which can be planted and will grow. Truly something earth-friendly and worth giving. Quite different from the throw-away cards you usually see.
Kitten Monty likes them too! And cats, as you know, are never wrong.
Please leave a comment in the box at the bottom of the page and Ana will select one person to receive a sample pack of cards and paper.
I didn’t pay for my samples, but as usual, there’s no obligation to write about them, and I only say nice things when I want to, and in this case, I think the cards are unusual and truly special. I’m happy to recommend the Little Green Paper Shop.
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.
Peach and blue tones feature in my garden diary this week. Dahlia David Howard is usually a much brighter colour than the flower pictured above. But we’ve had sweltering temperatures the past few days and heat has faded some of the blooms. I rather like this delicate hue. I’ve waited until dusk to take my photos. The dahlia bed is next to the orchard, and I can hear hedgehogs shuffling through the dry twigs and grass in the undergrowth. If I wait quietly, they will come out and feast on fallen plums. I never knew how much they loved plums until a few years back when we had a massive harvest and, each night, five baby hedgehogs turned up. It was magical to watch them enjoying the ripe and juicy fruit. In the day, there are butterflies sipping the juice, meadow browns and peacocks in abundance this year. Not so many painted lady butterflies as last year though.
Here’s my second ‘peach’ photo. Rosa Phyllis Bide. It’s a medium-size rambler with large sprays of semi-double flowers 6cm wide. I grow it because it is disease resistant and doesn’t need spraying with chemicals. All my roses have to be tough. If you choose carefully, there are many varieties less likely to suffer from the fungal disease black spot. Phyllis Bide is easy and trouble-free, and repeat flowers from June to November. There are sometimes a few blooms in December, eagerly snapped up for Christmas table decorations. Flowers are gorgeous set amongst creamy white beeswax candles. Bees also love the pollen, and catering for wildlife and pollinators is often at the heart of everything I do. In my garden, Phyllis Bide grows up a wooden post and into a lilac tree, adding interest when the lilac is out of flower. It’s about 2.5m tall with a 1.5m spread.
This is a late-flowering Phyllis Bide rose, covered in snow on 11th December. Sunshine soon melted the ice, and the flower was still perfect. Isn’t it beautiful. A heart-sing moment, captured with an old i-phone camera.
My third photo is from the polytunnel. I’m growing pots of dwarf peach and nectarines. This one is Prunus Nectarella. It grows to about 1.5m by 1m in a 60cm container. I’m also growing Garden Lady and Bonanza. Planted in pots, they can be carried into the greenhouse or poly tunnel over winter, which helps protect early flowers from frost. They flower in February when there’s few pollinators about, so blossom has to be pollinated with a soft paintbrush. It’s a lovely calming occupation on a cold winter’s day, and gives hope spring is not far away.
Peaches and nectarines suffer from a disease called peach leaf curl. It’s a fungus which infects leaves causing them to distort and blister. It results in early leaf fall, reducing vigour. Wet conditions are needed for the disease to thrive, so keeping them indoors over winter helps to protect them. All the effort of growing them is worth it. Eating a peach or nectarine that’s been allowed to ripen naturally on the tree is a delight. Shop-bought fruit just can’t compare.
I wrote about my peach crumble cake recipe here. Do try it – with any fruit you have, apples, pears, plums- or peaches, and let me know what you think. It’s become a family favourite here.
Now for the ‘blue’ photos this week. I’ve chosen morning glory, Ipomoea purpurea. This is a seedling from a selection I’ve grown for years. Morning glory is an annual climber reaching 4-5m given a warm sunny fence or wall. Mine grow up through my climbing French beans. I’m hoping the flowers will attract pollinators which will benefit my vegetables. You can see the nectar guides in this photo. Flowers have visible and UV guides or lines directing bees to the nectary. Sunshine has highlighted the lines. It’s almost mesmerising. I save my seed each summer and store it in a cool, dark place over winter. I’ll start them off again in 3″ pots on the kitchen windowsill in February. Recommended varieties include Star of Yelta, Grandpa Ott and Heavenly Blue. All easy to grow, and once you’ve bought a packet of seed, you’ll have morning glory for ever more. Such a lovely thought!
My second ‘blue’ photo is gladioli. Another summer treat. This one came in a blue-mix assortment from Gee-Tee Bulbs. I plant them down the centre of my hazel rod sweet pea A-frame, where they grow quite happily without needing stakes. As soon as the heads pop out of the side of the frame, I harvest them for my cut flower posies. Gladioli can grow tall and floppy, and in the high winds we seem to be getting more and more, they often end up crashing to the ground. Grown with sweet peas, or though a climbing bean frame, they’ll get plenty of support. Corms are lifted in autumn when I pull up sweet peas. I let the leaves die back naturally and then I take off the little offset corms which grow beneath the ‘mother’ corm. I’ll keep them dry and frost free over winter and replant them next spring. If you have lovely, free draining soil you could leave the gladioli in over winter. But I have cold, heavy clay which seems to be flooded every winter now. Corms would rot in the wet. Links for bulb suppliers are at the end of this piece.
And finally, my sixth photo is meadow cranesbill or Geranium pratense. Again, you can see the violet and silver bee guides. So delicate, it reminds me of a butterfly wing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s voyage around my garden. My plot has kept me up-beat during the covid pandemic, giving me something cheerful to focus on. Thank you for all your kind messages. It’s lovely to hear so many of you feel you’ve have had a brief respite from worry, just for a few minutes, reading my blog and virtually ‘walking’ around the plot with me. Keep in touch, and let me know what has helped you through this difficult time. Have you grown anything new, or found comfort in familiar things. Thanks for reading. It’s much appreciated.
Bluebells. These came from my grandfather Ted Foulds’ garden originally. A lovely reminder of him. There was only a small patch to start with. Now they run from the front to the back garden. It’s surprising how fast they spread, without any help from me. There’s some wild garlic in amongst them too, which I’m trying to control a little this year.
Trees are leafing up so quickly in the sunshine and heat this year. The bluebells will have to be quick to flower and set seed before they are shaded out. This is the path past the summerhouse to the pond.
The view from the summerhouse. It looks like a jungle already. There’s oak, beech, hornbeams, cherry, willow and ash in the mini-wood. All the trees came as saplings from the borough council when we moved here 30 years ago. There was a scheme to plant trees on farmland. I think it was linked to the woodland trust. We applied, and they delivered 260 saplings for us to plant. The whole family set to and helped us plant them in a day or so.
All along the woodland paths there’s a lovely white starry flower, I think it’s called stitchwort. I didn’t plant it, but it’s very welcome here.
It seems to be all green and white shades today. May blossom or hawthorn is suddenly in flower.
Such a beautiful sight at dawn. These flowers were just in bud yesterday. The hedgerow is so beautiful just now with sections of crab apple, maple, hazel and viburnum all in a hurry to wake from their winter sleep. The scent from the crab apple blossom is something I’ve never noticed before. I think the heat is enhancing the scent.
Oops, that eight photos. I’m sure no one’s counting…..
Enjoy your weekend. Here’s a view through my ‘gap in the hedge.’ I didn’t make this portal, nature did. I love to peer through and watch the wildlife. There’s always something happening in the back fields. Lovely to see some green shoots in the fields too. Fields have been bleak and bare all winter, after the flooding.
When I planted this walkway of trees, I never knew how essential they were going to be. I must meander along these paths at least 20 times a day, lost in thought.
I’m sharing as many cheerful photos as I can find today. The covid crisis initially knocked me for six. I am desperately worried about all our elderly relatives. For all those expecting babies in the summer. For my young daughters, one a newly qualified nurse, working with desperately ill patients right now. If I could solve everything with walking, I would have worn out my shoes. It’s the first time in my life I have no answers. I can’t do anything to make it ‘right.’ Normally I can think of something. In every other crisis, I have found a solution. Something to make things better.
So I am turning to what I know. Gardening. Giving out advice to anyone who needs it. Families have struggled to buy fresh salads and veg these past few weeks. I certainly haven’t managed to obtain what I’ve needed. I couldn’t find bread, flour or milk. It’s made me feel vulnerable and determined to be more self reliant when it comes to fruit and veg at least. So anyone who needs grow-your-own advice can contact me and I will help. For specific individual garden design advice, how to start a cut flower garden, grow a meadow, deal with a shady border, I am asking for a donation to Rainbows Hospice direct, any amount and I don’t need to know how much. All my garden club talks have been cancelled, and as you know, all my fees go to Rainbows. The clubs have all rebooked for next year, but I wanted to do something for this year to help. So anyone interested, please e mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. I am learning to Skype and FaceTime live, and also using the phone and computer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as my grandparents used to say. Funny how their little sayings come back to you in times of trouble. It’s as if they are trying to help you, even though they are no longer here.
Enjoy the slide show of photos. I hope it lifts your spirits and makes a difference. From now on, I am solely focusing on people who are doing good, sharing information about what they are doing, supporting them in any way I can. That really is the only way forward for me.
I took this video from the garden gate last night. It’s so heartening to see farmers out and about working their fields after such a dire autumn and winter. If they are out there preparing seed beds, then we can too in our own gardens. I shall be glad to see the green shoots of seedlings after a winter of brown, barren fields.
Hedgerow blossom. This looks like a shooting star to me. Such a beautiful sight. A heart-sing moment. The hawthorn too is coming into leaf. Soon there will be clouds of May blossom to cheer us along.
Lots of daffodils at the top of the paddock. These were a sack I bought from Dobbies at Christmas, reduced from £24 to £3. I couldn’t resist the bargain price, and took a risk. They’d been stored cool and dry so were in good condition. I didn’t expect flowers this year, but they are looking stunning. Every bulb has come up. I’ll water with a potash liquid to feed the bulbs for next year. And if I see another £3 sack, I’ll certainly buy it!
Yellow flowers symbolise friendship, and that is certainly what we all need right now to get us through this crisis. I’m relying on phone calls and my twitter friends to keep upbeat. I’ve just added my name to a list of local volunteers to ring round anyone who lives alone and needs someone to chat to once a day.
Today, the wild cherry trees (prunus avium) started to flower. What a wonderful sight. These trees only flower for a week or two, but we will sit under them with our cups of tea, have picnics outdoors and revel in every single moment they are in bloom.
My cut flower tulips are in bud. Tulips in the sunny front garden are already flowering early. I’ll cut a huge bunch of daffodils and tulips for the front windows. Vases of flowers will cheer up anyone passing by, even though they can’t call in to visit.
These double creamy tulips, Mount Tacoma, are favourites. They remind me of swan feathers. So graceful.
Scented narcissi, Geranium and Pheasants Eye, are starting to flower. Fabulous with yellow hyacinths and the first wallflowers.
In the greenhouse, the succulents are starting to glow. I’ve started to water everything, and I’m pleased this aeonium has come through the winter.
There’s plenty of citrus fruit coming along. I’ll be able to make orange cakes and lemon meringues soon.
Would you believe it, my new Polar Bear snowdrop is still in flower – at the end of March. It’s a new elwesii type of snowdrop with huge rounded petals and short pedicels which make the flowers look up and out rather than hang down. It looks rather surprised to be out in the spring sunshine amongst daffodils. I wonder if next year it will flower much earlier.
There’s life in the pond. The tadpoles are forming. Lots of pond skaters, some newts, and we’ve even spotted a grass snake, on our new wildlife camera set up on bank.
I’ve mounted the camera on a log, so I can move it about the garden without it being knocked over. Tonight we are hoping to catch sight of the hedgehogs. They are out and about at dusk, making nests in the bottom of the ‘fedge’ and under the old disused hen house.
Ladybirds are much in evidence. Here they are on the phlomis. My army of pest control workers. I’ve left twiggy piles of stems all around the garden to give insects a place to hibernate. Hopefully they will repay me by eating the aphids.
And there’s plenty of bees, thankfully. Bumble bees and solitary bees of all shapes and sizes. I have a new book to review, The Secret Lives of Garden Bees by Jean Vernon. I can think of nothing better than sitting under my cherry trees and loosing myself in a book. It will be something soothing and calming. Much needed at the moment.
Here’s an enormous bumble bee on the wild anemones. It’s lovely to have a book you can go to to learn more about the bees visiting your garden. And look at ways you can help them to thrive. Something positive to focus on.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk around my garden today. The sun is shining and it’s 30C in the greenhouse. All the windows and doors are thrown open. Get in touch and let me know what’s looking lovely in your garden today. And if you are feeling alone or sad, let me know. We are in this together. And be reassured that lots of people are doing wonderful things to help one another. You just have to look for the positives in life. As ever.
One of the joys of gardening is sharing my plot with wildlife. When I see hedgehogs, it makes my day. When the same hedgehogs emerge from the shrubbery with a family of babies, well, I couldn’t be happier. I’ve given them a home, and it’s simply wonderful to see them thriving.
Today I received a wildlife observation camera to try out on the plot. It took me 20 minutes to read the instructions and set it up, and it has been a constant source of joy all afternoon- and into the evening. There’s an infra red camera to watch after dark.
I set up the camera by the horseshoe pond and placed a suet block in front. It took birds a few hours to find the food, and they were suspicious at first. Then a robin and bluetit tucked in to the treat. The picture is really clear, and you can switch on the sound as well. It’s lovely to hear birdsong while you are working indoors.
The wildlife observation camera comes from Wildlife World. Everything is packed in eco friendly cardboard. The little postcard with a ‘thank you for your order’ message is a nice touch. We enjoyed the chocolates while fathoming out the instructions.
This is what’s in the box. There’s the wire-free outdoor camera, a box with a mounting bracket, a user guide, some screws, batteries, and a USB cable for charging.
The only assembly I needed to do was screwing the mounting bracket to the bottom of the camera. The batteries were already installed. I expect the camera could be attached to a house wall to watch a bird table, or near a nest box to watch birds and hatchlings. I want to watch a particular blackbird that comes to the pond in late afternoon every day. It spends a good ten minutes splashing around in the shallows. And I’m hoping to catch sight of the hedgehogs as I know they also visit the pond at night.
Here’s what the picture looks like at dusk. If we are very lucky, we might even see the barn owl flying along the boundary. He visits us every evening, silently gliding along the hedgerow like a ghost.
These are screen shots from my i-pad. I haven’t worked out how to share videos from the camera yet, but it’s early days and I’ll have to read through the instructions again.
At about 9pm, great excitement! A grass snake slithered over the stones and into the water. I hadn’t realised they were out and about just yet. But we’ve had two days with sunshine and warm weather. All evening I was glued to the screen watching a tiny mouse dart back and forth hoovering up bird feed crumbs. I took the suet block in for the night in case it attracted rats. And also I didn’t want the hedgehogs to eat it. They have their own special meaty-type food.
Here’s a sample of the instructions for setting it up. I had to go on to the App Store, find ‘ToSee’ and download the free app. It took about ten minutes to sort that out. I was quite pleased with myself, as I’m hopeless with any kind of technology. It was fairly straightforward and the camera connected with the app first time. I then carried the camera outdoors and set it down by the pond. Tomorrow I might move it to another location. When you close down the i-pad or phone, the camera sends a signal if it detects any animal movements. It’s quite a distraction from work!
Overall, I’m delighted with the ease of setting up, the quality of the picture and the welcome little extras such as sound and night time viewing. I have no hesitation recommending the Wildlife World observation camera. It is powered by rechargeable battery and has motion detection by PIR sensor.
I’m working from home now for the foreseeable future. The wildlife camera is part of my ‘coping with panic’ strategy. Corona virus is very much uppermost in my mind, as it is for all of you, I’ve no doubt. But I’ve decided to try to think of something each day that will bring me joy and ease my worries. Concentrating on gardening and nature soothes and heals. I’ve found this to be true twice before when I’ve been seriously ill. And now, like many, I must find coping strategies again, and ways to stay positive when there just seems to be bad news every day.
Please leave a comment below to be included in the prize draw for a wildlife observation camera. Names will be randomly selected by the company. Sorry it’s UK entries only. There’s no cash alternative. Camera types may vary. Wildlife World company decisions are final. Usual rules apply. Please also comment if you don’t want to be entered in the draw and let me know.
Keep safe, and I hope you can all get out and enjoy your gardens too. xx
We had beautiful sunny weather for precisely ten minutes today. I ran out, opened the summerhouse doors, took some deep breaths of lovely fresh air. And then it snowed. That was the end of my time in the garden. Me and the cat ran back inside.
I’m sharing six photos of snowdrops, as this is the last day for them here. The snow will finish the snowdrop season in my garden, but it has been a lovely long spell. Snowdrops opened early in the mild temperatures, and they’ve stood up well to the rain, being under flood water several times in the past few weeks.
My favourite snowdrop Galanthus Madeleine has been stunning again this year. I bought it three years ago from Thenford Gardens. I shared a pot of six bulbs with a friend. It’s the most I’ve ever paid for a pot of snowdrops, but it was worth it. This year, I had nine flowers and plenty of extra leaves which shows it is happy and spreading. Pictured above are some of them on show in the potting shed. I love the way the petals fold around each other like the wings of a bee. So delicate.
Here is Madeleine fully open on the potting shed windowsill. It’s a very pretty snowdrop at all stages. The yellow markings are brighter in sunnier situations, and bulbs don’t like to be too wet.
Viridapice is another snowdrop I love. It has such pretty delicate lime green markings. Another good do-er. It is spreading nicely under the ash trees in the wild garden.
Living on the boundary between Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, I felt I had to have Galanthus Robin Hood. I’ve been many times to Sherwood Forest where Robin and his merry men are said to have lived. This snowdrop got its name from the crossbow X- shape green markings. It’s a very tall snowdrop and I have it at the top of the garden so you’ll pass by on the way to the back fields footpath. I have Galanthus Little John nearby, and I’m searching for a snowdrop called Maid Marian to complete the trio. They make me smile every time I see them.
Regular readers will know that I’m a bit lackadaisical with labelling. Sadly I’ve lost the name of this beauty. Maybe a reader will know what it’s called. Isn’t it striking though, with three petals spreading out like wings.
Quite honestly, I’m just as happy with our native snowdrop Galanthus nivalis. Plain and simple. It’s gorgeous.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this weekend snowdrop tour. I also hope you are having better weather than us at the moment. We’ve had a week with 12 Environment Agency flood alerts in one day. The greenhouse has flooded more times than I can count. I just keep sweeping the mud and water out of the door. I’ve never known a winter like it.
Please leave a message below to let me know what your gardens look like right now. How are you coping with the deluge?
Thank you for reading and please feel free to share on any social media platform as it all helps. I don’t pay for any promotions of any kind. I simply rely on your kindness in commenting and spreading the word. Scroll down for the comments box, right at the bottom of the blog post.
Secrets for Every Season Straight From the Potting Shed
By Tamsin Westhorpe
Orphans Publishing ISBN 9781903360422
Hardback. 248 pages. £20
Illustrations by Hannah Madden
Book review and prize draw. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw.
We are all standing at our house windows gazing on waterlogged, storm lashed gardens, aching to be outside gardening. It’s doesn’t matter what kind of gardening, anything, as long as we can run some compost through our fingers and see green shoots emerging. It’s been a long wet winter.
Luckily Tamsin Westhorpe has a beautiful new book which transports us immediately to gardening heaven- Stockton Bury in Herefordshire. It is a very welcome and timely escape.
Tamsin is the 5th generation to garden at her family’s farm. The four acre garden within the farm has fruit and vegetable plots, a stream and pond, ‘rooms’ with different planting themes and a dovecote dating back to the time of Henry 1. The land has been worked by the family for more than 100 years, and the much-acclaimed garden is open to the public.
In her new book, Diary of a Modern Country Gardener, Tamsin lets us into her world as we see her facing all kinds of gardening challenges, accompanied by lots of laughter.
There’s expert advice on growing cut flowers, staging summer garden parties, selecting and planting trees, planting bulbs, storing produce, keeping chickens, coppicing hazel and more. I particularly like the ‘tool kit’ panels detailing equipment and materials needed for the list of jobs suggested each month. A useful reminder before getting going on tasks. There’s nothing worse than starting something, and then having to stop to search for forgotten items to complete the project.
I also like the list of ‘must-have’ plants for each month. January suggests Cornus mas, crocus tommasinianus, cyclamen coum, eranthis hyemalis, hamamelis, hellebores, iris reticulata, mahonia, snowdrops, viburnum Dawn and narcissus Bowles Early Sulphur. You can almost smell these spring delights. There’s something cheerful on every page.
As we follow her daily life there’s lots of hints and tips on what to do and when. But this is much more than a ‘how to’ book. It’s a book about solving problems, dealing with gardening conundrums, interacting with people, and simply enjoying every single moment.
I love books where you can really hear the author’s voice. Tamsin’s voice is loud and clear and full of humour. Her stories are compelling. She makes you want to jump in a car and drive over to see what she’s getting up to today. You’d have a real good natter, and come away smiling and fired up with ideas to get going on your own plot. She’s that kind of person who makes anything feel possible.
Her diary does exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a daily insight into the workings of a country garden. There are plenty of ‘secrets’ to be told. I won’t spoil them by retelling them here. But there’s a very interesting story about what she wears in the garden! Apparently her mother set the trend. You’ll have to read the book to find out more. It’s perfect escapism. And the one place you’ll all want to be is in Tamsin’s garden.
The book is beautifully produced and bound by well-respected Orphans Publishing, accompanied by truly gorgeous illustrations by artist Hannah Madden. A thing of beauty. Highly recommended. You’ll soon forget all about the weather! I promise.
Tamsin going through the proofs at Herefordshire Orphans Publishing.
Tamsin and Hannah Madden celebrating their first copy of the book.
Some pages from the book, taken with my i-phone camera. The quality of the photography is much better than I’ve managed to capture here.
About the author, taken with my i-phone camera.
Excerpts from the book for March
Excerpts for June
Tamsin Westhorpe’s diary was my book of the week on BBC Local Radio Gardening. It would make an excellent BBC Radio 4 read-aloud Book of the Week. A best seller, I think.
Thank you to Orphans Publishing for offering a free copy for our prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be entered in the draw. Please also comment if you do not wish to be entered in the competition, and let me know. Some of you may have already ordered a copy. The publishers will randomly select a winner. No cash prize alternative and usual rules apply.
Welcome again to a peaceful walk around my garden. Enjoy the sunshine and spring flowers. The temperature today is 9C. There was frost overnight. It’s still too wet to garden, so I’m continuing to tidy the potting shed and mooch in the greenhouse. I expect all the spring jobs will come at once and I’ll soon be dashing about. But for now, it’s a slow meander around the pathways, taking in every tiny jewel-like flower, breathing in the honey-scent of snowdrops. Looking in the pond for signs of life- no frogspawn yet. Soon though. There are stirrings. I peer into the water trough and watch a tiny water boatman. I watch like a child in a trance as the tiny oar-like legs propel the boatman around its miniature world. A world I created. A simple metal tank, with a few spare oxygenating plants thrown in. I marvel at how easy it is to help wildlife. I quietly whisper ” I made this for you.” The water boatman dips and dives and delights in its domain. And I revel in every second of quiet and calming observation, with no other purpose than to just enjoy this moment.
White primulas on the garden tables. We’ve had honey bees looking for pollen, and a few sleepy bumble bees ‘bumbling’ about crashing around the garden. I’ve rescued a few, utterly helpless and disorientated, and set them upon a patch of wild primroses.
Aconites, or gold coins, as we call them, are spreading nicely in the far corners of the garden, undisturbed. This is the first year they have had to fight with cowparsley leaves, emerging early due to warm temperatures. I might have to intervene.
There’s more cowparsley at the top of the garden. I’ve never seen it look so lush in February. The hellebores will have a race to flower and set seed before being over-run by the pretty but invasive weeds.
At the top of the garden we store our wood ready for chopping for the fire. I stood and marvelled at the beauty of this red-stained heartwood. Sadly the tree succumbed to disease and died. But it will have another purpose for a year or two as a home for spiders, woodlice, springtails, beetles – insects that will in turn provide food for mammals such as hedgehogs, and birds. Blackbirds and robins thrive in this garden.
Snowdrops are spreading along the leafmould paths. Each year I divide them and move them further along the tree-lined tracks.
Snowdrop corner. Filling out nicely. Snowdrops come from Easton Walled Gardens, Hodsock Priory and National Garden Scheme open garden days.
Snowdrops look cheerful placed on the potting shed windowsill where I can look out and see them while I’m working indoors.
I’m very fond of this snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis Viridapice. Such delicate green-tipped petals.
I bought just three Madeline snowdrops three years ago from Thenford gardens. It must be happy, as now there’s nine flowers. It grows in nice moist leaf-mould soil under deciduous trees.
But I’m just as happy with my plain native snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, growing all along the hedgerow between the garden and the lane.
Regular readers know that after a ramble around the garden, I always take you out of the top gate and along the ridgeway footpath behind my plot. It’s good to see the changing seasons in the countryside. Our neighbouring farmer has finally managed to plough the field. It’s the first time he’s been able to get on the land due to the record amounts of rain we’ve had here over autumn and winter. Ditches are still full, and overflowing at the bottom of the hill.
There’s still a few crab apples lying in the hedgerow. We had a record harvest last autumn. Good news for all the birds and mammals eating them through the winter.
Some welcome signs of spring. Blackthorn blossom is starting to emerge.
And elderflower leaves are unfurling. The hedgerow is waking up.
Almost hidden in the brambles is a concrete trig point. A reminder of the past. Measurements were taken from theodolites placed on top. This one dates back to around 1936. They were built between the 1930s and 1962 and sited on the peaks of hills. It’s no wonder our garden is so windswept. We are at the highest point for miles around.
I hope you’ve enjoyed your walk around my garden. Leave me a message to let me know what’s flowering in your garden right now. And thank you for reading. I’ve checked the ‘stats’ and I am amazed to see 140,000 views for the piece on the dangers of sepsis and gardening injuries, and 70,000 views of these quiet rambles around my garden. I’m very grateful for every single reader.
Today I’m celebrating. I’ve spent the first full day in the garden for three years. There was much to do! Brambles and nettles have invaded the boundaries, and I couldn’t get down the side of the poly tunnel. Something needed to be done. And luckily my strength and energy levels have returned and I can be outdoors all day. Something I took for granted until becoming seriously ill in 2016. So happily, it’s not Blue Monday for me- it’s three cheers, and hello garden, here I come!
This area round the back of the potting shed and alongside the poly tunnel looks a mess. It’s out of sight and out of mind- until I need to clean the poly tunnel plastic covering. Then I can’t get access. So I set to and cut back all the nettle stems and blackberries. Some of the trailing stems are 4m long. Vicious, thorny things!
There’s a wheelbarrow under there.
Despite wearing tough clothing the brambles manage to ‘get me.’ But I fight back and win. It takes me a couple of hours, much longer than it used to, but I’ve learned to pace myself and celebrate every small achievement. By chipping away at the task the area is cleared, pots washed and neatly stacked and order restored. It’s such a nice feeling, to take back control.
I make a start on mulching the borders. Some of the boundary borders have become over run with plants such as geranium and euphorbia. Perennials like these can be rather too successful. Before 2016, the whole garden was planted with tender perennials, salvias, penstemons, exotics galore. Mum and I would visit rare plant fairs to seek out small treasures. But these require cosseting. I discovered there’s a good reason they are rare. They need splitting, dividing or they disappear. Cuttings require overwintering in a heated greenhouse. They are gone in a flash without tender loving care. I will replant, but hardier varieties are being selected. Newly acquired tender beauties will remain in plant pots, easily scooped up and swept into the greenhouse at the first sign of frost. I’m not giving up on delicate plants, just readjusting the balance.
A whole border of hellebores had to be dug up last autumn. The plants had become overrun with couch grass and weeds. We moved them to the woodland walk where the grass will die out eventually. And I’m delighted to report that hellebores can be moved and thrive. These are looking fabulous. Every one survived in the well-mulched wonderful leaf-mould soil. So pleased, as these were grown from seedlings given to me by a friend.
Another cause for celebration. My new potatoes for winter have been fabulous. We planted these on 7th August in recycled compost bags. Well watered through late summer, they grew like triffids. As soon as the weather turned cold, the bags were hauled into the greenhouse to be kept frost free. Since Christmas we’ve had a steady supply of tasty potatoes fresh from the greenhouse. There is nothing more cheerful than new potatoes in the depths of winter. I’ll be repeating the procedure again this year, with double the number of bags.
As always, after a hearty gardening session, as a reward, I head out of the top field gate and walk along the ridgeway path. Is there any finer sight than an oak tree set against a bright blue sky. It’s a sight I’ll never tire of.
A quick peek though the gap-in-the hedge. I wasn’t quick enough to take photos of the pheasants in the ditch on the other side. A magnificent thrill to see them skimming low across the field, their feathers rich and glowing in the late afternoon sun.
Hazel catkins, a welcome sign of spring. I cut a few twigs to prop up my amaryllis bulbs in the greenhouse. Flowers and catkins always bring cheer.
It’s a circular walk- along the path, down the lane and back home. This is the hedgerow alongside the lane. My favourite oak, on the ridgeway walk, is almost in the centre of this photo.
I stand and admire this 300 year old oak, one of a row. And I think about the farmer who planted them and didn’t live to see them grow to maturity. It’s such a generous act to plant a tree. It’s not for yourself, but for future generations to come. There are some gaps along the lane where elms have died. Perhaps I’ll ask the farmer if I can plant some replacement oaks. And someone else will stand before them, in time, and marvel at their beauty, like I do.
After a cup of tea, I potter about, collecting up plant labels – there are many- and wind-blown pots. I check the greenhouse, first tapping on the door to warn the wrens. They roost on the slider and if I don’t warn them, there’s a sudden flapping of wings around my head. I don’t mind sharing my greenhouse. It might mean the difference between survival and death, in a cold winter.
Turning for home, I notice the time is 5.05pm. It’s a wonderful sunset. And there’s still enough light to mooch about and easily find my way to the back door. Spring is on the way. And I feel ready for all the gardening challenges to come.
Have you spent any time in the garden today? What’s looking good or coming into flower on your plot. Get in touch and let me know.
Winter flowers are more precious to me than summer blooms. In summer there’s an abundance of riches, and sometimes flowers go unnoticed with too much rushing about, keeping on top of the weeding. But in winter there’s time to stop and pause, and jewel-like colours lift the mood. Today I’ve picked my favourite blue Algerian iris. How can anything so delicate survive the cold! It looks like it is made of silk. I have a huge untidy patch of Iris unguicularis right by my front door. All summer we trip over the long strap-like leaves, and constantly threaten to dig it up. But from November to May there’s a daily flush of flowers, arriving in ones and twos. They last for a week, brought indoors. Perfect for a tiny Victorian glass vase. Iris unguicularis likes to be planted at the base of a south-facing wall. Heat and drought seem to suit it well.
My iris naturally flowers in winter, but there are also roses in flower, quite out of season. This is Rosa Phyllis Bide, a wonderful rambler which reliably puts on a show from early summer right through to autumn. I’ve also managed to find some Viburnum Dawn and Lisarose, and a sprig or alstroemeria from the poly tunnel. A cheerful, scented posy for the kitchen table.
After meandering around the plot I head for the garden gate and set off along the ridgeway walk. Fortunately it’s a dry day and the footpath conditions are improving. It’s been the wettest autumn for 50 years and farmers struggled to get in the harvest or sow autumn crops. In the distance there’s field after field of maize still standing. As far as the eye can see, fields stand fallow. There’s no lovely green shoots of winter wheat, barley or oil seed.
There’s only two crab apples left. Mammals and birds have had a feast. There’s been an abundance of fruit and berries this winter. Rosehips dripped like blood from the hedgerow. Huge flocks of fieldfares fly overhead and alight on the hedges to strip them bare. Resident blackbirds try their best to defend their ‘larder,’ but they are defeated by the noisy, marauding visitors. Luckily I’ve a store of cooking apples at home and I’ll throw a few out every day if the weather turns cold. Sometimes this bounty, regularly distributed, is the difference between life and death for birds. I generally rely on planting berried shrubs in the garden to provide natural food. But if it turns really icy, I’ll buy some mealworms, nuts and seeds.
As usual, I look for signs of spring. I know there’s a months of cold weather to come, but it’s heartening to find fat buds on the oak trees, above, and grey catkins on willow. Back home, the winter-flowering honeysuckle is in bloom and the scent wafts around the garden. It’s always a surprise to find such a delicious scent emanating from such insignificant flowers. I’ve wound some stems through a silver birch wreath, along with fluffy wild clematis seed heads. After Christmas I miss the decorations. I keep the festive feeling going, but swap to spring flowers instead. This will look lovely and cheerful over the summerhouse door.
I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden and along the ridgeway today. What flowers have you seen in bloom already? Get in touch and let me know what’s bringing you joy in your garden over the winter.
Something I love to do is pot up a lot of bulbs to make a table display. Bulbs are fantastic value right now. Today I bought two sacks of daffodils reduced from £24 to £3. They were virtually giving them away. I just couldn’t resist. So the morning was spent cramming them into 6″ pots with recycled compost saved from summer. As pots of compost are not very inspiring, I’m sharing a photo of my table display from February this year. Isn’t it cheerful to think we will be looking at all this colour in just a few months.
From left to right, there’s white Carnegie hyacinths, yellow tete a tete daffodils, Blue Jacket hyacinths, white Joan of Arc crocus, and various bright and wonderfully scented primulas and primroses. The perfume carries all around the veg garden. Such a joy after a cold, wet autumn and winter.
Some bulbs just starting to come into flower are Paper White narcissi. I started these off a few months ago in 10″ pots in the cold poly tunnel. There will be a steady stream of highly -scented pure white flowers for the next three months. Fabulous for cut flower displays for the potting shed and house. My favourites.
This week I harvested some of the new potatoes grown in recycled compost bags for Christmas.
There were a few critical comments on social media when I posted this. Some people said it was a waste of time, there wouldn’t be much of a crop, the potatoes just didn’t grow for them. I was quite down-hearted for a while, thinking I might have wasted my money on the seed potatoes. But, this week, I tentatively plunged my hand into the compost bags, and found these beauties. There’s lots more to harvest. The good thing about growing them in bags is you can just take a few at a time. So I’m glad I didn’t listen to negative comments and give up. I’ll certainly grow them again for next Christmas, and I’ll double the number of bags; that new potato taste is absolutely wonderful in the middle of winter. A special treat. Which is what gardening is all about, pushing the boundaries and trying something new. A little bit of success is so encouraging.
Another winter task I love is making plant labels from twigs. I’ve lots of self-sown ash and hazel trees in the garden with nice straight stems. A good way to control them and make something useful from the wood is to cut them into 8″ -10″ lengths and shave off one side for the writing. It’s a lovely soothing job when you’ve spent time battling through crowds for Christmas shopping. Restores balance and good humour!
Following a wander around my garden, there’s always a trip through the top gate and out on to the back fields. These trees are much admired every day of the year. There’s usually a buzzard perched in this first one. It flies along to the next tree, keeping just ahead of me, as I amble along. Quite often there’s a pheasant in the ditch. Meg almost catches the tail feathers as they leave it until the very last moment to fly away. She is being trained to stop and do no harm. But the pheasants don’t know they aren’t in any danger. They make quite a noisy fuss, skimming low over the fields right to the other side and safety.
Along our walk today we visit the sunflower field. Great clouds of small birds rise out of the crop. The sunflowers are like statues- all facing south, their heads frozen in time, but determinedly facing the sun. Backs to the north wind. Like us really. Today, I’m facing south and trying to catch any slight rays of sunshine I can.
I find lambs’ tails. Hazel catkins. That’s sunshine to me. Soon be spring, they seem to be saying.
What signs of spring have you found in your garden today? Have you got snowdrops showing through yet? Here they are poking through the ground, tiny milky white buds like the eye of a needle.
There’s something very appealing about rooting around in ditches, searching for moss covered twigs and pieces of crumbly old bark. I like nothing better than finding bits and pieces that might come in handy for floral arrangements. It brings out the inner ‘Borrower’ in me. I suppose it’s the same as beachcombing for pretty shells and driftwood. Very soothing and satisfying.
It takes me an hour or so to gather enough twigs, moss, ivy and rosehips for today’s projects. The hedges are thick with swags of ivy all adorned with clusters of glossy green berries. These will ripen and turn black in time and provide a feast for the birds. Luckily, there’s enough for everyone to share. I never take too much from any one area.
Wild roses have taken years to climb to the top of the hedges and rosehips form great cascading arches right down to the ground in some places. Meg, my little puppy digs and burrows around in the ditch. She loves this occupation even better than I do, always keen to help, emerging with mouthfuls of sticks and an eager expression. By the end of the morning, my baskets are full, and Meg is happily muddy. We head home, mission accomplished. Setting the finds on the potting shed table, I’ve plenty of red-berried plain green holly, some trailing larch branches festooned with tiny gold fir cones, tendrils of old man’s beard or wild clematis and a pile of wild cherry stems, thick with flower buds already. These stems go into water and straight into the house where the warmth will bring them into flower by Christmas, if I’m lucky. I stand and survey the haul for quite some time. Then I wind willow and silver birch stems into hearts and circles and start to weave in the hedgerow bounty, adding crab apples and dried cow parsley seed heads which remind me of shooting stars. Meg sleeps on my coat in a box under the table, satisfied with her morning’s work. Occasionally, there’s a huge yawn, but mostly deep breathing, like a well fed baby. And in the peace and quiet, I can get on with my tasks.
White alstroemeria and tiny white Stallion chrysanthemum from the poly tunnel pots, adding colour to the hedgerow greens. White gypsophila, dried from the summer.
Hedgerow finds with dried hydrangea flowers and pine.
Teasels and Garryia elliptica on the field gates.
Hydrangea Annabelle with a clematis Montana and willow circle.
Hydrangea and old man’s beard clematis catching the sunlight.
A simple willow heart and ivy.
Christmas hellebore. One of the Gold Collection varieties. A welcome addition to seasonal arrangements. Slit the stem lengthways for 4″ and stand in water right up to the flower head, before using in arrangements.
Summerhouse posy. Holly, lavender and fir.
Rosy hydrangea flowers, wild clematis and pine.
Willow, dogwoods, skimmia and conifer stems.
Potting shed window. Rosehips, crab apples and cow parsley seeds.
If I could only have one tree, it would be a field maple. At this time of the year, there’s a golden carpet of leaves covering the whole garden. Even dark corners and shady woodland walks are glowing yellow. Much needed cheer, when the days are short and turning cold and dark. We must find our own warmth from nature, whenever we can.
This year, I’m experimenting with the boundary. Thin branches are laid horizontally to form a ‘fedge,’ a cross between a fence and a hedge. This creates a habitat and shelter for mice and hedgehogs, birds and insects. Smaller twigs are put through my new shredding machine to create woodland paths and mulch. The idea is to make use of everything in the garden and do away with the need for bonfires, which are bad for the environment. Sunflower and cow parsley stems will be woven into the ‘fedge’ creating useful hibernation sites for beetles, ladybirds and lacewings. Even earwigs are welcome here, useful predators of vine weevils and many orchard pests.
Looking up, you can see there’s plenty of twiggy growth in this garden. I rather like the pattern of black stems and yellow maple leaves. It looks like a pen and ink drawing and someone has ‘scribbled’ across the skyline.
Temperatures suddenly dropped below zero for the first time this autumn. We’ve been relatively mild until now, with record amounts of rain. The hazel trees responded by dropping all their leaves in one go- as if in fright. Overnight, puddles of ‘gold’ appeared all over the garden.
Searching for more gold, I found a dogwood, Midwinter Fire.
This dogwood is beautiful all year round, but particularly shines in November. When the leaves drop, bright orange stems will catch the winter sunlight. A wonderful sight in snow and frost. Well worth planting in any border, in full sun, or part shade. Needs minimal pruning, unlike the red-stemmed varieties which can be pruned to the 3″.
Mooching about the garden, I find a mini potted fruit tree with its first apple. This is a desert apple, Malini, growing on a dwarfing root stock. I’m growing it in a 12″ pot and it will go with my youngest daughter when she flies the nest. I have a patio full of tiny fruit trees, to form a fledgling orchard, for her first home.
Into the poly tunnel, I find some pretty chrysanthemums coming into flower. These are the hardy Stallion variety. They can cope with the cold, but do better if protected from rain. They are grown in 10″ pots, stood outdoors all summer, and brought under cover in October.
There’s plenty of yellow chrysanthemums too. We call these Aunty Dorris, as cuttings were given to my father law by his aunt in the 1950s. Much treasured in our family.
I hope you’ve enjoyed your walk around my garden this week. Are you searching for colour at this time of the year. What are you finding that’s cheering you up at the moment?
Finally, as a change from gold, I find these beautiful – and very late roses in the front garden hedge. I believe they are the Ballerina Rose, a really good, disease-resistant variety. It flowers on and off all summer- and right up until Christmas. In fact, these roses will be going into my Christmas door wreaths, along with rosehips, old man’s beard wild clematis, fir cones and crab apples. Guaranteed to bring good cheer.
It’s a cold, misty start to today’s walk around my garden and back fields. Peering through the gap in the hedge, the old oak tree looks golden. We see a fox crossing the field, so brazen in the morning light. Fox and field blend into one. All autumnal tones merge today. The fox heads for the ditch, sending a pheasant flying into the next field. In the hedge where I’m standing, blackbirds and robin start up their alarm call. I think it must be the fox causing the upset. But then a buzzard glides low overhead- silent at first, then making a plaintive mewing cry. I shiver. Magnificent. Deadly. Owning the sky.
We walk along the ridgeway path. It’s been a slow start to autumn here. Field maples usually yellow-up by mid to end of October. Suddenly today, as temperatures dip below zero, the hedgerow takes on a golden hue. It reminds me of a patchwork quilt. ‘Squares’ of black dogwood stitched together with patches of golden maple. Such a pretty view. I gaze at it, and hold it in my memory. A few autumn gales and the magic will be gone. A whole year before we see such sights again.
Blackberries. The bane of my life this year. They have taken over my garden and this winter there will be serious chopping back. Meanwhile, leaves glow a glorious red. Quite pretty, if they were not so determined to take over the world.
It’s been wet here. So far this month there’s been 42mm of rain. In October we had 146mm, and in September, 118mm. The ground is waterlogged, ditches overflowing. We follow a path where horses have trod. The ground is so soft there’s deep hoof prints, full of water. It’s calming following footprints, the sky reflected in the little pools of water.
A dip in the hedge reveals our trees on the left. I can hardly believe we planted them, all those years ago, when I was in my 20s. They’ve been a source of joy ever since. On the right in the distance stands Polly’s Wood. I have a dream to join the two woods together- a corridor for wildlife. One day, perhaps. We shall see. Dreams do sometimes come true.
Back through the garden gate, on our boundary, there’s a green corridor running down past the pond to the summerhouse beyond. Autumn and spring are my favourite times for this part of the garden. In spring, the lime green new shoots are bright and cheerful. At this time of the year, field maples and cherry trees create a golden tunnel.
If you look carefully, you can just see our 1930s summerhouse, hidden amongst the trees.
Thank you for all your kind words last week, following our cousin’s funeral. It’s seems I am not alone in turning to nature as a balm when there are sorrows. Perhaps we all find solace and hope in nature all around us. And gardening is something we all turn to in moments of need. This week after walking for miles, and gardening all hours, I feel restored and ready to face whatever life brings. No doubt there will be many more ups and downs to deal with. Nothing stands still in life, or in gardening, for that matter. Does it.