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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

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

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

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

BOOKS TO READ:

An Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade

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

The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty

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

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

Niwaki winner… prize draw

Thank you to everyone who read my Niwaki garden tools review. I got a message from WordPress saying my ‘stats were booming!’ Whatever that means! I am very grateful for all your support.

The winner for the prize draw for the Niwaki garden snips is Gardening Alice.

Keep an eye out for more reviews and prize draws. There’s plenty more to come…. Thank you again. And thanks to Niwaki for providing the garden snips.

You can read the review here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/07/10/niwaki-tools-review-and-some-garden-snips-to-give-away-gardening/

Niwaki : https://www.niwaki.com/

Niwaki Jake : https://www.niwaki.com/jakehobson/

Gardening Alice https://gardeningalice.wordpress.com/

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. And karen gimson on Pinterest.

Do come over and say hello. There’s a thriving and supportive gardening network on social media. I don’t know what I would have done without my twitter friends these past five months. They have distracted me from worrying and helped me focus on gardening-related matters. It’s been like team work.

Niwaki tools review – and some garden snips to give away

I don’t use chemicals in my garden. Some weeds are allowed to thrive, if they are useful to insects and pollinators. Dandelions are particularly good for bees, especially in early spring when pollen is scarce. There are some types of solitary bee that only feed on dandelions. I wouldn’t want to deprive them of their vital sustenance. But, I don’t want a lawn predominantly covered in dandelions. It’s all about striking a balance, so I start to thin them out in mid-summer. Niwaki sent a Hori Hori knife for a trial and It’s perfect for deep-rooted weeds such as dandelions. I was using a trowel before, which often didn’t get to the bottom of the tap root, and was hard work over a large area. The Hori Hori is sharp enough to easily slice through grass, and strong enough to gently lever weeds out of the soft wet ground. I notice, on the website, it says the knife is: “Mighty, but not invincible. It’s best not to stick it in heavy clay and yank back hard.”

When I’ve removed the dandelions, plantains and thistles, I pop a Seedball into the hole that’s left. Seedballs are wildflower seeds encased in clay. They can simply be scattered around the garden. They come in selections named bee, butterfly, poppy, urban, bat, bird and beetle. Hopefully, in time, I’ll end up with a flowering lawn, full of cowslips, self heal, wild marjoram and primroses. I’m aiming for a tapestry carpet effect.

The Hori Hori has a strong canvas holster which I think could be attached to a belt. The hand-forged carbon steel blade runs right through the handle, for strength. Tough and strong, it seems built to last. The handle is FSC beech wood and the blade is 7″ 17cm long.

As well as digging up weeds in the lawn, my knife is great for removing weeds from between paving slabs. I also spent a happy hour digging up ‘free’ plants which had self-seeded in the gravel. I found bellis daisies, perennial geraniums, sedums, erigeron daisies and several seedling trees- silver birch, maple and mountain ash. Much easier to lever them out with a sharp blade than using a trowel.

Bellis daisies seed readily around and make lovely bedding plants for borders and plant pots. Free plants are always welcome here.

Here’s a seedling mountain ash rescued from the gravel path. Beautiful spring flowers for bees, and autumn berries for birds. Great for any wildlife garden.

Erigeron karvinskianus also seeds readily between paving and in gravel. Another ‘free plant,’ dug up and transplanted into a 9cm pot.

My Hori Hori has quickly become a tool I reach for whatever task I’m doing, planting, weeding, slashing bramble roots. It’s comfortable to use and makes life much easier. And that’s what gardening is all about for me, managing the weeds, not totally obliterating them, just tipping the balance, and keeping me in charge, rather than always rushing around desperately trying to keep up.

I’ve asked the team at Niwaki to offer a reader prize. They have currently sold out of Hori Hori knives, probably due to the upsurge of interest in gardening over the covid period. So they are offering some forged garden snips instead. Keep an eye on the blog, and when they send me another item to try, the Hori Hori will probably be back in stock for a prize at a later date.

Meanwhile, to enter for the garden snips, just leave a comment in the box below and Niwaki will randomly select a name. Usual rules apply. Niwaki’s decision is final and there’s no cash alternative.

A winner will be announced on Monday. Please check back. Thank you.

Do you have any favourite garden tools. Nearly all of mine belonged to my grandfather Ted Foulds. And some belonged to his father, so they date back to the 1930s. They have certainly stood the test of time, and I wouldn’t be without them.

Links : Niwaki https://www.niwaki.com/store/hori-hori/

Seedball : https://seedball.co.uk/product/bee-matchbox/

I write for Garden News Magazine: https://www.gardennewsmagazine.co.uk/minimag

Online Hand Tie Posy Course with Georgie Newbery

Flowers for my Mum.

Finally, after four months, I can take flowers to my Mum. It’s been the hardest part of Covid, being separated from our families. It’s the first time in my life, I haven’t had her by my side. She’s usually there in everything I do, supporting me, encouraging me, passing on her knowledge. My setbacks and sorrows are hers. My successes and triumphs are hers. We are linked by invisible ties. If I stumble she is there to catch me. We are a team.

And we share a love of flowers. Mum has always helped me in the garden, bringing seedlings, divisions and cuttings from her plot. I grow them on, and take them back to her in simple bunches of flowers each week. It’s something I have really missed these past few months.

Luckily restrictions are easing and we can meet up again in the garden. And my little bunches of flowers are going with me.

And to add to my joy, I was invited to take part in a zoom lesson by flower farmer Georgie Newbery -just in time to make my first flower posy for mum.

I sat in my summerhouse with my i-pad on my knee- and just for an hour, forgot all about the desperate worries of the last few months. I’m sure I’m not alone in having fears for frail elderly relatives – and for youngsters. My youngest daughter is a newly qualified nurse, and my eldest works at a children’s hospice. No one is safe. The danger has been on my mind day and night. It’s been unrelenting worry. And yet, I’ve got through, concentrating on all the good people are doing- the inventiveness, finding ways to cope, the kindness.

Georgie is one such kind soul. I’m grateful for the invitation to join her first zoom session. She is launching online courses this summer, and asked me to be on a trial panel for the first lesson. I can’t tell you how excited I was to have something to put on my calendar, something to look forward to. It meant a lot.

Georgie, who runs Common Farm in Somerset, started the course by talking about the flowers chosen for the day’s arrangement. There’s the most sumptuous coral – pink Boscobel rose partnered with pink penstemon and a pretty mixed ‘ripple’ sweet pea. Purple fennel was added for scent. I could almost smell them from here! A dark chocolate-coloured Physocarpus Diabolo provided complementary foliage.

Georgie gave tips on harvesting flowers. They are cut early in the morning and plunged straight into cold fresh water while still out in the field. Leaves are stripped as flowers are picked. That’s a tip I’ll use to save time in future. And there’s a bucket of fresh water alongside which Georgie uses to plunge her hands and arms into. Sap from plants such as Alchemilla mollis and Ammi majus can cause an allergic reaction. Washing them straight away helps prevent painful sores.

There’s a special way to hold the flowers between thumb and finger, and something called a ‘florists twist’ which essentially means adding stems at 45 degrees and making a quarter turn with each additional new stem. The result is a posy that has flowers all the way round. And with a bit of practice your creation will stand up on its own, with all the flowers spiralling out like a beautiful layered ball gown. Georgie describes it as being a bit like “Painting with flowers.”

And here’s what I made with my own cut flowers after one session with Georgie on zoom:

The posy was swiftly popped into a glass vase of water. But I was so pleased to see my creation passed the ‘stand-up-alone’ test. The first time I’ve managed to do this.

In my posy, I have Cosmos Apricot Lemonade, a new variety I’m trying this year. The colour is a delicate pale lemon, with purple shades on the back of the petals. A perfect partner to Verbena Bonariensis.

I’m using pot marigold Calendula Snow Princess, a new variety launched three years ago. It has delicate pale overlapping petals that look as if they have been cut with pinking shears. I love the tiny stars in the centre of the flower. Beautiful in bud and at all stages of flowering.

I’m growing calendula down the centre of my sweet pea ‘A-frame.’ This creates weed-suppressing ground cover, and encourages the flower stems to grow tall, making them more suitable for floristry. I’m also growing butterfly gladioli down the middle. I tried this last year and it worked well. It saves time as there’s no need to mess about with canes and bits of string. The frame keeps them upright. They all seem to work well with sweet peas. Cosmos grows at the front of the border, tied in to the hazel frame to stop them flopping over the path.

It’s a jumble of flowers and vegetables. Not posh, or tidy, but I love meandering around the little paths, weaving in and out of the herbs, flowers billowing out of the borders.

One bed is full of wild flowers. You don’t have to have a meadow to enjoy them. My bed is 3.5m long by 1.3m wide. There’s pink campion, oxeye daisies and quaking grass.

Oxeye daisies make a lovely addition to any flower arrangements. They are good for bees and butterflies too. I like to attract pollinators to the plot.

There’s blue Campanula poscharskyana, Phlox Blue Paradise, Nigella love-in-a-mist, and yellow Verbascum in my posy.

Tomorrow, I’m attempting a much larger posy with 30 stems. Georgie advises to take flowers straight from the bucket, and not set them out on a table in a row -which is how I’ve been doing it until now. I’ve always wondered why my flowers look flat on one side. It takes some practice, but the results are amazing.

My hour or so was packed with information on growing the best cut flower varieties, how to condition stems, what materials to use, how to create everything from kitchen table flowers, to ‘all of the garden’ huge bouquets. There’s a chance to ask questions, and Georgie provides a fact sheet to accompany courses.

Georgie has new online courses on 10th and 17th July. Here’s the link to the website for more information: https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/workshops.html.

David Austin Boscobel Rose: https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/boscobel

Calendula Snow Princess : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Calendula-Seed/Calendula-Snow-Princess-Seeds.html#.Xvz8kxB4WfA

Phlox Blue Paradise: https://www.claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk/products/phlox-paniculata-blue-paradise

How are you finding ways to cope with Covid and social distancing? I’d love to know if gardening has been a saving for you, as it has for me. I don’t know what I would have done without my garden to keep me busy. Thanks for reading my blog.

Winners! Thank you for entering the prize draws on this blog. Here are the recent winners’ names:

Hydrangeas by Naomi Slade.

Hydrangeas by Naomi Slade was won by Shirley . If she would kindly e mail me, I’ll ask the publishers to forward a copy of this gorgeous new book. k.gimson@btinternet.com.

Review : https://bramblegarden.com/2020/06/05/hydrangeas-book-review-and-1-copy-to-give-away/

Blagdon Pond-in-a-box : won by Jacksb50. Who was also sent some Blagdon pond clean pods to try out.

Review: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/05/07/blagdon-pond-in-a-box-review-and-prize-draw/

Corokia -My Adventrue by Mona Abboud. Won by Suella, who also won a bundle of new products including : Activearth sample.

https://bramblegarden.com/2020/03/29/corokia-my-adventure-my-bbc-garden-hour-book-of-the-week-book-review/

https://bramblegarden.com/?s=Activearth

Hozelock Pure Bokashi composter was won by Lucy Corrander.

Review: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/03/21/hozelock-pure-bokashi-composter-on-trial-and-one-to-give-away-saturday-21-march-2020/

Hozelock Tuffhoze was won by Mary Thomas.

Review: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/12/05/hozelock-tuffhoze-on-test-at-bramble-garden/

Wildlife World Wildlife Observation Camera was won by Sean.

Review: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/03/17/wildlife-watching-camera-on-trial-and-prize-draw-for-readers/

Diary of A Modern Country Gardener by Tamsin Westhorpe, won by Cathy Lyon -Green

Review: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/02/22/diary-of-a-modern-country-gardener/

I’m very grateful to all the gardening suppliers and companies offering prizes for readers. I love trying new ideas. I’ll try anything, providing it is suitable for organic gardening and doesn’t harm any living creature. I never accept payment for trying the samples. I prefer to be free to give my honest opinion.

Thank you also for reading and for leaving comments. Look out for more gardening books on the horizon, a Hozelock liquid feed kit, some Japanese Niwaki garden secateurs and some new organic pest and weed control products. It’s interesting to see what’s available for gardeners in modern times. My grandfather would have been amazed by the wide choice of products. He would have loved trialling them as much as I do. Things certainly have changed since he gardened in the 1940s and 1950s. Many products make life a lot easier, all round.

Hydrangeas – book review and 1 copy to give away

HYDRANGEAS

By Naomi Slade

Published by Pavilion Books 9th July

RRP £25.00 hardback 239 pages

Photography: Georgianna Lane

ISBN 978-1-911641-23-0

Photo: my i-phone photo of Hydrangea Bluebird from Naomi Slade’s new book.

Having a beautiful book to read has helped me cope with the Covid Lockdown. Learning about favourite plants, and how to grow them, has given me something positive to focus on. And there is nothing more colourful and wonderfully inspiring than ‘Hydrangeas’ by Naomi Slade.

Photo: Hydrangea Polestar.

Naomi brings the subject of hydrangeas right up to date by focussing on the very latest plant breeding successes. Polestar, for example, only grows to a height of 50cm and is compact enough for a container. It’s one of the earliest to flower, and in my garden it’s in bloom from early June and continues right through to October. Even in winter, the papery, dried flower heads hold interest, as snow and frost settle on them. Truly, if you can have only one hydrangea, this would be the one. It would even fit in a window box or balcony garden.

Photo: Runaway Bride Snow White.

Runaway Bride Snow White, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant of the Year in 2018, produces flowers at the tips of the stems, like most other hydrangeas, and also from every leaf node along the stem. Naomi describes it as “airy and graceful, the modest green shrub adorned with pearls and strewn with confetti; a vision of purity that starts off a fresh, green-tinted white, and blushes to pink as maturity takes hold.”

I’ve always wanted to know the background to all these lovely varieties. Naomi selects the best hydrangeas and reveals how they were developed. Runaway Bride is the work of Japanese breeder Ushio Sakazaki who created many bedding plants, including the popular Surfinia petunias. He turned his attention to hydrangeas when he found a remote Asian species in the wild and, seeing its potential, crossed it with common Hydrangea macrophylla. The resulting plant produces wispy ‘lacecap’ flowers from late spring until Autumn. It makes a striking container plant, or would happily cascade over the top of a low wall.

As well as showcasing the latest hydrangeas, Naomi highlights heritage varieties such as the beautiful pale blue Otaksa. This cultivar dates back to the 1820s and was, rather romantically, named by Philipp Franz von Siebold after his Japanese wife. It is suggested the variety might have been naturally occurring and was discovered while Philipp worked as a physician and scientist for the Dutch East India Company in Japan. The couple had a daughter, Kusumoto Ine, who also became a practicing doctor – thought to be the first Japanese woman to have received medical training at this level.

It’s fascinating to learn then, that one of my favourite sky blue hydrangeas, Generale Vicomtesse de Vibraye, is a hybrid of H.m. ‘Otaksa’ crossed with H.m. ‘Rosea.’ Bred by Emile Mouillere in 1909.

The back story of how hydrangeas were discovered, hybridised, and sent to Britain as early as in the 1700s, adds interest to a plant that I’ve always loved, but rather taken for-granted. Naomi’s easy-to-read writing style carries you along and takes you on an international journey from North America, Japan, Korea, China and through Europe. And along the way you’ll learn that in Victorian times, a bunch of hydrangeas left on your doorstep implied the sender thought you a braggart! A rejected suitor might similarly send hydrangeas as a floral slap in the face and accusations of frigidity. Nothing surely would rescue the breakdown in that relationship!

Naomi captures the very essence of hydrangeas and what makes them special. I shall look at my own plants and appreciate them all the more, knowing where they have come from and what work has gone into growing them for today’s gardeners to enjoy.

NOTES: The publishers have one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below to be included in the prize draw. Names will be randomly selected by Pavilion Books.

Naomi Slade is a writer, broadcaster, author, consultant, speaker and photographer. A biologist by training, a naturalist by inclination, and with a lifelong love of plants, she writes regularly for national newspapers, magazines and other gardening media.

Georgianna Lane is a leading floral, garden and travel photographer whose work has been widely published internationally in books, magazines, calendars and greetings cards.

Hydrangeas features 50 of the most beautiful varieties from the elegant and airy to the bold and brilliant. There’s tips on growing in pots, hydrangeas as houseplants, feeding, propagating, pruning, and dealing with pests and diseases.

These are i-phone photos of pages of the book for the purposes of the review and, as such, do not do justice to the quality of the photography. Copyright of original photos: Georgianna Lane.

https://www.pavilionbooks.com/book/hydrangeas/

Naomi has a web book shop where there’s signed copies of all her books. There’s a 20 percent off offer on Hydrangeas at the moment, and books are available ahead of the 9th July publication date : http://www.naomislade.com/shop

Walk Around My Garden Saturday 30 May 2020 #SixOnSaturday

Rose Constance Spry. Planted when my youngest daughter was born. Roses speak of celebration, and this one really shouts a welcome -to-the-world for Rachel. It flowers for three weeks in early June and fills the garden with a glorious fruit-salad perfume.

Where I am today. Up a ladder. Trying to control the tangle of clematis, jasmine and ivy. This has been allowed to run wild for four years. Little and often might be my approach to tackling the problem. Otherwise, it seems an impossible task. The pergola runs from the back garden to the front drive. A shady walkway in the heat. I’m not going to rush the task. Luckily I’ve got a new Henchman ladder to help with the task. No more wobbling on unstable step ladders.

Alongside the pergola there’s a wedding cake tree, Cornus controversa variegata. Some of the layers have deteriorated. I need to take advice on pruning to try to get it back in shape. Pruning the pergola will give it more light. Behind, climbing to the top of a mature ash tree is Rosa Cerise Bouquet which flowers on and off right through the summer into October.

Another rose looking lovely at the moment is Rhapsody in Blue which has been moved three times. Just goes to show, you can move roses, despite what it says in the books. Highly recommended. Disease resistant and free flowering. Lovely scent and unusual colour.

My grandfather’s rose, Zephirine Drouhin. He gave me this before he died. It’s wonderful to have something from his garden to remember him by. I know it was a favourite of his. I’m sure he knew it would give years of joy. And especially at the moment when everything seems uncertain and Covid has caused so much stress. It is as if he is still helping me, through all the plants coming into flower now. A reminder that life goes on, the seasons keep going. So must we.

My grandfather grew all his fruit and vegetables. People did in those days. Luckily, I watched, followed like a shadow and learned. And he gave me some of his garden tools, so when I’m hoeing the garden, I think of him, working his veg plot and feeding his family. I wonder what he was thinking while he was hoeing his garden. Did he find the peace that I’m finding right now. Was it a comfort to him, as it is to me, through all the trials and tribulations life throws at you.

Foxgloves have seeded in one of the veg plot beds. I’m digging these up and putting them in the wild garden, to make room for winter greens, Brussels sprouts and kale. Flowers will be picked for jam jar posies. I’m putting flowers on the village green again this summer to raise money for Rainbows Hospice for children. There will be an honesty box for donations.

The first sweet peas. Always popular in my jam jar posies. These were sown in root trainers in October. I’ve just sown some more for late flowering through to November. This one is from a packet of seed called Wiltshire Ripple Mixed. All have speckled flowers and a picotee edge. The scent is just wonderful.

As usual, when we’ve walked around the garden, there’s a short ramble along the ridgeway path to my ‘hole in the hedge’ porthole. It’s a viewing point I discovered a few years back. I didn’t make it, nature did, and I watch deer, rabbits, foxes, birds, owls, and hares, quietly and unnoticed.

Today, the May blossom has gone over, but there’s beautiful dogwood flowers framing the view. In an ancient hedge, there’s always something of interest. A tapestry of flowers, rosehips, crab apples, and seeds.

It’s just a humble wild dogwood. But it is as beautiful to me as any ornamental and expensive cornus tree.

And finally, after all that walking, sit a while in my 1930s summerhouse -on-a turntable. In the heat, it’s turned to the shade, facing the wood and pond. A perfect place to contemplate life and all the reasons to be grateful. All the things I value are not the things that can be bought. Hopefully my grandfather would be proud of the person I have become. I’d love to tell him how things have turned out. And that I’ve been happy, thanks to his good advice.

Links : I like to read and join in with the hashtag Six on Saturday why not go over and see what other gardens look like today, all over the world. https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/category/six-on-saturday/

Henchman ladders like mine: https://www.henchman.co.uk/?gclid=CjwKCAjwiMj2BRBFEiwAYfTbCgG1JcfaQwtYjZ_lj7F3XBMAvXjIpri5d5vqMGjRlDY0i6E414m6RBoCRQMQAvD_BwE

Roses : https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/?gclid=CjwKCAjwiMj2BRBFEiwAYfTbCtnJOqLRzmev76pY_7u5maadGtrLFXf09qHEGmx4mHw71JE0ccaxkxoClDQQAvD_BwE

Sweet peas :https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/#.XtIkQBB4WfA

ACTIVEARTH soil conditioner – product review

I’m extremely careful with products I bring into my garden. I’m mindful of the creatures that share this patch of earth with me. There’s the obvious: birds, hedgehogs, hares, rabbits, frogs, toads, grass snakes and newts. Then there’s the less noticeable, all the insects and beetles which fascinate me and play their part in the food chain for all the other inhabitants here. So I don’t use chemicals. No fertilisers, weed killers or poisonous pest and disease sprays are used. And yet, the garden thrives and is beautiful and productive. Flowers and food crops do well.

It’s well known I’m an organic gardener, so I’m often asked to try out new products. Recently I had a delivery of Envii Activearth an organic ‘soil fertility activator.’ This contains nutrients and beneficial bacteria which helps to enrich poor soil and encourages worm activity. I care about my earthworms, so the product was ‘sold’ to me when the makers said it would benefit them.

I sprinkled the granules around in my veg plot, especially where I’m growing some beans which need good fertile conditions to do well.

The product smells pleasantly of chocolate. A small sachet goes a long way. I spread it at about 40g per square metre. I saw on the packet the product is also suitable for flower borders and lawns. It contains magnesium, calcium, hydrogen and potassium.

I was pleased to see the packaging can be composted and doesn’t have to go into landfill. Mine went into my green compost bin.

Here’s a peaceful stroll around my garden. Aren’t the birds loud this spring, I can’t ever remember so much birdsong. Or perhaps I have just always been too busy to stop and properly listen. If you love cow parsley you’ll enjoy my woodland walk at the moment. The paths are lined with gorgeous lacy white flowers. I’m planting white foxgloves amongst them just now for next spring’s display.

There’s a patch of wild garlic and three-cornered leek too. I’ve tried making soup with the garlic. Very useful when there’s little in the cupboards at the moment. I’m still not getting out and about, keeping safe and busy at home. I’m resisting attempts to call me back into the world for work. I’m quite happy mooching here in the potting shed. It’s so peaceful here.

This is the view from the potting shed. A favourite layered viburnum. Possibly Viburnum plicatum Mariesii. There were wild violets all around the base. They are still there, hiding under the stinging nettles. I’m working on reducing some of the nettles and adding wild flowers this summer.

We planted these foxgloves, Pam’s Choice, last summer. They brighten up a shady patch round the back of the pond. They stand up to high winds, which is just as well as we’ve had gales gusting 42 knots (says my husband – who is a sailor).

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s ramble around the garden. What’s looking good in your gardens today, and what plans have you for new plantings this summer?

Disclaimer: I didn’t pay for my sample product, but in common with most other bloggers, I only accept samples for review if there’s no payment given, and I can freely give my honest opinion.

Links : https://www.envii.co.uk/shop/activearth/

Blagdon Pond-In-A-Box. Review and prize draw

The sight of goldfish takes me back to my early 20s when I travelled several times to China. I was lucky to get the chance to visit many gardens, while working for a newspaper. The Leicester Mercury was invited to send a representative to the army base of the Leicestershire Regiment, stationed at Stanley Fort in Hong Kong. Luckily, the editor chose me. And while there, I flew back and forth all over China, including to Shanghai and Guilin to view the gardens. It was the experience of a lifetime, something I’ll never forget. Some of the gardens had huge ceramic bowls of water, filled with goldfish. I’ve always wanted a goldfish pool, to remind me of those fabulous care-free days of travel. Here at bramble garden, we have a large horseshoe pond with a stone and gravel beach. But it is mainly for wildlife and it’s away from the main house, in the paddock. I thought it would be lovely to have a pond right by the back door, under the kitchen window.

I’d heard of the pond-in-a-box concept, and recently, Blagdon asked if I would like to try one of their ‘Affinity’ ponds. This has been a wonderful project to work on during the covid lockdown. It’s given us something lovely to work on together. And the calming sound of water is very welcome. We haven’t finished our project. There’s no fish or pond plants available at the moment. But I thought I would share this with you now, especially as Blagdon have offered a smaller ‘ Affinity corner pond’ as a prize.

So here’s what arrives in the post:

It’s hard to believe that everything for the pond arrives in one box! The word ‘Tardis’ springs to mind.

There does seem to be an overwhelming number of parts to start with. But if you can put together a piece of furniture from IKEA, you can manage to make a pond. The instructions are clear, and after the initial panic, sorting all the parts into little piles and working methodically through the assembly leaflet, it’s possible to make the pond in just a few hours. We didn’t have any difficulty once we settled down to follow the step-by-step guide.

We first created a framework. We did this in the lounge in front of the fire. It might be much easier to work out on the patio. And a lot less overheated! Luckily we were able to turn it sideways and get it out of the doorway, which we hadn’t thought about when we started!

The side panels slide into the frame. I’d say this is easier with two pairs of hands. But you would manage, if you were on your own. A feature of the pond is the ‘porthole’ insets. Children will love being able to view the fish through the sides.

Here it is taking shape.

When it is all put together, there’s a liner that fits inside. Then it is just a case of carefully dropping in the pond pump. There’s lots of fountain and /or waterfall options. We started off with a sort of mushroom and played around with it until I found the gentle burble effect I was after.

There’s an LED spotlight that comes on automatically at dusk. And the Blagdon Inpond filters the water and keeps it clean. You can find out more about it on the website.

Here’s what it looks like at night. I must admit, sitting next to it at dusk, watching the fountain and hearing the splash of water is very soothing, especially in these troubled, stressful times.

Like any new feature, it can stand out and look quite stark at first. But I ‘dressed’ the sides of the pond with acers, ferns, hostas, grasses and rosemary plants. It blended in with the patio furniture then, and didn’t look so harsh. This is no criticism of the product, except to say that it is very new and fresh, and therefore stands out against ‘old’ paving and walls. Foliage definitely softens the hard edges. Pond plants would also help. There are planting pockets included in the package.

Luckily, I’ve got a few large potted grasses, which match the woven panels perfectly. I must admit, we forgot to remove the protective film from the portholes. The view is much clearer now!

I’m delighted with my pond-in-a-box. It’s been a fun project to focus on during a difficult time, and I’ve got all the pleasure of choosing fish and new pond plants to come. And finally I’ll have something that reminds me of those interesting times trekking all around China!

For the chance to win an ‘Affinity View’ corner pond, similar to mine, but with three woven front panels with viewing port holes, please leave a comment in the box below, right at the bottom of the page. A winner will be randomly selected by Blagdon. No purchase is necessary, and the usual rules apply. There’s no cash alternative and Blagdon’s decision is final.

Disclosure: I have not paid for my pond, or been paid to write about it. Views are my own and I’m free to comment as I wish.

Update: Two pond skaters, a water beetle and a water boatman have moved in! Within one day of setting it up. And a blackbird has decided it is a perfect place for a dip, balanced in the planting baskets at the side.

Links. Read all about Blagdon here: https://www.blagdonwatergardening.co.uk/Products/Ponds/Affinity-Pools-Complete-Kits

Available from all good aquatic retailers and also online.

Hozelock Pure Bokashi Composter on Trial- and one to give away- Saturday 21 March 2020

During these stressful and uncertain times, I swing between trying to keep things normal, and sitting pondering the dire straits we are in.

I’ve asked all my contacts in the gardening world to supply prizes for readers of this blog. I am determined to keep our spirits up! I’m very grateful everyone has so far responded with overwhelming generosity, and there will be a steady stream of little gifts to give away.

Today’s prize is a Hozelock bokashi home composter. I’ve never tried one of these before, but it seems a great idea. We will perhaps all be trying to grow at least some food this spring and summer. The best way to feed our crops is with home-made compost. Not everyone has space for a large compost bin. This one can sit in the kitchen, porch, garage or garden shed.

Compost is made by adding bran to food waste and peelings every day. The lid is tight fitting and there’s no smells from the composter.

The lid reminds me of those Tupperware containers you used to be able to buy. It’s tight- fitting, but easy to get on and off.

Inside the composter there’s some bran, a scoop and and container to catch the liquid feed that comes from the tap.

There’s a leaflet giving comprehensive instructions. The bottom of the bucket has a colander type filter to stop waste dropping down into the liquid feed collection area.

There’s a reservoir at the base of the bin to collect the liquid.

There’s a tap at the base of the composter. Liquid feed is rich in nutrients. It can be diluted down 1 to 10 with water and used to feed tomatoes, salads and vegetables. And it’s free. That’s the beauty of composting, you are using your waste peelings and food and turning it into something useful for the garden.

All is explained in the leaflet contained in the box. Resulting compost is apparently called ‘digestate.’ How it is made is magical indeed, and I am constantly amazed by nature. The resulting compost is very high value and good for the garden.

I would use the liquid feed for my orange trees, which are starting to produce this summer’s crop in the greenhouse. Just in time for orange cakes and marmalade.

Please leave a comment below if you would like to be entered in the prize draw for a bokashi composter. Hozelock will choose a winner, randomly selected. Usual rules apply, there’s no cash alternative. Prizes may vary from the ones shown. Sorry it’s for UK entries only due to postage costs. Good luck everyone.

I realise composting might not be uppermost in everyone’s minds just now, but we have to keep going. Gardening is certainly keeping me sane at the moment when there seems to be everything to worry about. Please let me know what you are growing, and what methods you are using to keep motivated!

Lots of love, karen x