Thank you to everyone who read my review of Andrew Timothy O’Brien’s new book ‘To Stand and Stare’ published by Dorling Kindersley. The publishers kindly gave me two copies to give away.
The winners are Anna, and also Gill Watson. Please could you e mail me your addresses for the copies to be sent out. firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a long time since I shared any photos of my lockdown kitten, Monty. No longer a kitten, but known to everyone as Monty K. He’s got ‘standing and staring’ down to a fine art. He’s still such a good companion in the potting shed and garden and follows me around everywhere. We hadn’t intended to get another cat, but when vets cancelled all the spaying operations there was an explosion of kittens in our village and surrounding area. We only got to see photos of Monty before he arrived, due to the covid rules, and we had no idea he would be a long-haired cat! Isn’t he gorgeous. A lot of brushing goes on with that coat! Otherwise, there’s brambles and dried grass all in a tangle around his ears.
I’ve ‘adopted’ two cats at Shropshire Cat Rescue. We can’t have any more here as Monty wouldn’t tolerate another feline, so I’m sending money to support two of the charity’s resident cats. More about this later!
Meanwhile… here’s a few Monty kitten photos, which is an indulgence really, but a nice reminder of when he arrived.
Have a great gardening week everyone! Thanks again for reading the blog and keeping in touch. It’s always appreciated. Karen.
Andrew Timothy O’Brien describes planting a tulip as ‘like planting hope and promise.’ I rather like this idea. In fact, the whole book suits me, with its gentle, encouraging, quiet style of gardening. There is nothing shouty about this book. It’s something to take to a corner, curl up, forget the world, and just ‘be’ for a while, immersed in the glory of plants, gardening and the process of growing beauty.
The title is part of the ‘how-to’ message in the book. There’s how to sow a seed, how to water a plant, deadhead a rose, hear a bird. And of course there’s how to ‘stand and stare.’ It’s a contrast to all the urgent, bossy, fast-paced, singing and dancing, ‘must-do’ messages we see every day on social media. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up. It’s hard not to feel left behind and out of touch. O’Brien, with his gentle philosophy reminds us to reflect on why and how we garden. It’s not to compete and keep up, but to find the joy in growing food and flowers -our way.
O’Brien writes; “ When it came to writing this book, I didn’t think the world needed another ‘How to Garden’ title- there’s a wealth of information out there expounding upon the many tasks that it’s all to easy to make your garden about. But there’s not so much about how you might like to be when you’re out there, at one with the plants and the wildlife and the weather. I’ve come to appreciate that an understanding of natural processes is the key to accessing the transformative power of the garden, and replacing feelings of confusion, overwhelm, and stress with focus, a sense of inner peace, and an increased facility to deal with what life throws at us on a daily basis. With a view to this, over the next few hundred pages, I’m going to invite you to think like a plant. And we are going to start from the ground up.”
When planting bulbs, O’Brien reminds us to “Breathe in, hold for a moment then, slowly and with some noise, breathe out. Open the bag; by rights it should be labelled ‘Hope & Promise’, but something like ‘Tulips’ or ‘Lilies’ is perhaps more likely and, really it’s all the same.”
O’Brien strikes just the right note in a world full of conflict and worry. I can conjure up the scenes he creates. I’m happy to stand and stare with him. It’s a balm for our times, and very soothing for the soul. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
“A pause. A breath. A moment for a thought.” Wise words. Don’t you agree?
The publishers have offered one copy for readers of this blog. Please leave a comment below to be entered in the prize draw. Thank you, as ever, for coming to my blog and reading my reviews and musings. It’s much appreciated. You are among 300 people taking a look here each day. And I’m am very grateful for your time.
A warm welcome to all new readers who’ve attended my garden club, or U3A talks. Here’s a selection of photos from my talks to accompany the plant lists. I’m available in the East Midlands area for talks. If you’ve enjoyed one of my talks, please pass my details on to neighbouring clubs and societies. I give a donation to charity with each talk. My e mail is email@example.com.
I’ve been a garden designer for 25 years. Pollinators- bees and butterflies- are always a priority when choosing plants.
Here’s where I grow my plants. I have a second hand 20ft Alton Cedar greenhouse which cost £260 30 years ago. I’ve painted it black and made matching staging. Alongside is a 20ft poly tunnel. We bought the hoops from a nursery closing down. The metal hoops cost £20 on condition we took down a 40ft tunnel and cleared the site. It took us a day to take it down and a week to install the poly tunnel at home. The new plastic covering cost about £140. You can just see the potting shed which replaced one made from pallets which lasted 20 years! This one is made from recycled wood and 1920s window frames which came from a house in the village having double glazing fitted. The roof is black onduline which is fairly cheap and easy to build with. My luxury, having saved money on second hand items, is an electricity supply to the potting shed and greenhouse. At the moment the greenhouse is heated to just above freezing. Orange and lemon trees thrive there.
In front of the greenhouse there’s 10 beds with 2x2ft slab paths between. The beds are about 1.2m wide by 3m long . Vegetables and flowers are mixed together. One bed contains wild flowers. Two beds have hazel A-frames made from hazel rods. These rods come from farm suppliers and are used as binders for hedge laying. They are fairly cheap and last three years if repaired every spring. Natural string is used to tie them together, so at the end of their life, the whole lot can be shredded and composted.
Sweet peas are sown in October and February and planted out in April. Down the centre of the A- frames are gladioli and lilies. Perennial argyranthemums and annual Ammi are interplanted and calendula set at the front. The frame supports all the flowers and no further staking is needed, which saves time.
I grow new varieties and heritage types. Above is a new one called Wiltshire Ripple from Mr Fothergill’s. Highly fragrant and with long stems ideal for cut flowers. Try their new Suffolk Punch sweet pea, launched this year to support the Suffolk Punch Trust which is helping to conserve this heritage working horse breed.
Here’s a posy with dark blue sweet peas, Ammi, argyranthemums and lavender Hidcote. There’s always mint and rosemary in all my arrangements for the gorgeous scent. The grey foliage is Seneccio Vira Vira from Coton Manor Nursery.
Here’s the argyranthemums made into a mossy wreath with ivy, Ammi and Blue Boy cornflowers.
My wreaths end up on the 1920s summerhouse which is on a turntable to follow the sun.
Here’s a rose wreath with highly-scented Constance Spry, David Austin’s first rose, and Mme Isaac Periere, a heritage rose dating back to 1841.
Inside the potting shed. The wreath is made from a metal frame covered in moss. 10cm lengths of Ivy are poked into the moss all around the outside and inside of the ring. Roses and stems of elderflower are added on top. These will last a week if sprayed with water every day.
These roses are new from Whartons. They are a home-florists’ range for cut flowers. This one is Timeless Cream. Highly scented, with few thorns, long stems and it also repeat-flowers through summer to autumn. You can find out more about British rose growers from Roses UK which promotes the industry and spreads the word about new and heritage roses. http://www.rosesuk.com/
It goes well with carnation Bridal Star, white Antirrhinum Royal Bride, Ammi, and cosmos Psyche White. Blue gladioli (Pheasant Acre Plants) mint and Agapanthus Fireworks (Wyvale Nurseries) compete the posy.
Cosmos Psyche White. Mr Fothergill’s seed. Started in February and planted out end of May. Flowers from June to November.
Agapanthus Fireworks, a new variety which flowers all summer.
Calendula, a seedling from Touch of Red. Mr Fothergill’s seed.
If you’ve attended one of my talks, I hope you’ve enjoyed this reminder of some of the flowers mentioned. Your leader will e mail a comprehensive plant list, and I look forward to returning next year with a different talk on another gardening subject.
Seed potatoes have been placed in a bright, cool, frost free place to chit. Chitting just means to start them into growth. Small shoots will grow from the eyes, which have been placed upwards. When the shoots are 2cm the potatoes will be planted in containers on top of 20cm of compost. As the leaves grow, handfuls of compost will be added to cover them, until the leaves pop out of the top of the containers. I’ll water sparingly until the containers are half full of compost – by which time the potatoes will be growing strongly. Too much water in the early stages causes the potatoes to rot. When the leaves emerge out of the top, watering will be stepped up to make the tubers grow.
I’ll be harvesting these in about 100 days for earlies, and 120 days for main crop potatoes.
What plans have you got for growing potatoes this summer? It’s exciting to think about spring and summer harvests after such a long, cold grey winter isn’t it.
Potato House have kindly given me a code to offer to readers of bramblegarden. This is an offer independent from my blog, and Potato House will be responsible for all discussions regarding orders.
Amy from Potato House writes: Here is a 10% code for your readers for seed potatoes for orders over £15
BRAMBLE T&C 10% Voucher valid till 31/4/23 for SEED orders over £15, includes all 6 tuber, 1 kg nets. Excludes 10kg, 25kg sacks, gift cards, patio sets, grow bags and our To Eat range. Coupon cannot be used in conjunction with other coupons. One discount per email. Usual discounts still apply. Usual web T&C apply.
For listeners of today’s BBC Radio Leicester gardening. Here’s what I was talking about today. This advice comes from Glenn Facer, who has worked in the gardens at Chatsworth House for 33 years. Glenn has been growing fruit and vegetables in the kitchen garden for 14 years and grows produce for the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Glenn supplies the family in the main house and also the restaurants, cafes and hotels on the estate.
Glenn says: “I force the rhubarb by lifting small clumps off the rows out on the beds from November until about the end of march, leaving the roots on top of the ground to be frosted for a few days. This aids the forcing process.
In dustbins, I place a layer of compost in the bottom and place the clumps on top, filling round with more compost but not covering the crown. Then lightly water and replace the lid to exclude light.
The dustbins are placed in a heated glasshouse for a quicker crop, but can be placed in a cold greenhouse or shed. They are usually ready to harvest in about 3 to 4 weeks time.
I usually dispose of the crowns after forcing, as they are worn out and would take a while to crop again.
The varieties I use are Victoria , Timperley Early and Champagne.”
Recipes we talked about on the radio. These were published in the Garden News Magazine in 2022. I write a column each week focussing on what I’m growing and how I’m using the produce in the kitchen.
1/2 cup cooked, cooled rhubarb
1 teaspoon sugar ( optional) or maple syrup or honey
1.5 cups plain yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
Or pinch of dried ginger
Add icecream to serve (optional)
Cut the rhubarb into 2cm pieces. Wash and place in a saucepan with just the water clinging to the stems. Cook until soft. Add the sugar or sugar substitutes if using. Cool. Add the other ingredients and whizz in a food processor. Adjust the taste/ consistency by adding milk/cream/ or a scoop of vanilla ice cream according to taste.
I’ve often thought it would be a great idea to try out different varieties before committing to ordering and growing seed potatoes. Well now you can do just that. Potato House are selling ready-to-eat varieties of heritage, coloured, rare and organic spuds!
I ordered five varieties, Arran Victory, Blue Annelise, Heidi Red, Pink Fir Apple and one simply called ‘Chips’ for cooking chips and wedges.
The coloured potatoes really appealed to me, as it’s not easy to buy them locally. I like the idea of keeping heritage varieties going, and it’s lovely to try something new. Potatoes arrived promptly after ordering. I was delighted with the quality. The potatoes are a good size and beautiful condition.
Amy from Potato House says
“We are renowned for our colourful range of seed potatoes. These look and taste amazing. The best thing about growing your own produce is experimenting with colours that are not readily available in supermarkets.
We grow the purples, pinks and the in-between with multi-coloured skin for you to experiment with in your gardens and allotments.
In some varieties it is only the skin which is coloured and in some, the colour goes beyond the skin for vibrant additions to any plate. Think blue mash, purple chips and red crisps!
Unusual colours on your plate is a talking point – whether it is toddlers or friends round for a meal – everyone is impressed. The toddlers get told that the blue mash has superpowers and the adults will check if blue potatoes have superpowers!
Nutritional values are the same although there are some studies which indicate that a range of food colours is better for you.
Growing and cooking coloured potatoes takes no extra skill. You grow according to the maturity and then cook according to the potato type. So if you have a second early, smooth, blue seed potato such as Salad Blue, it will grow like any other second early taking about 14 weeks to mature and then will be delicious as a mash!
Try some home made chips and crisps – a lot easier than you would think!
Some of these varieties have been around for a long time – your grandparents would have had some, and others have been bred more recently giving protection against diseases.
Our range of seed potatoes comes in 6-tuber nets and 1kg nets (as well as larger sizes) and discounts start when you buy only 5 nets of any combination. Our range of ready-to-eat potatoes comes in 5k, 10kg, and 15kg bags. Both are delivered direct to you from our farm.
We do, of course, have white skin and flesh seed potatoes too. We’re here to help you decide so let us know if you have any questions.” https://www.potatohouse.co.uk/
I’m using some of my potatoes for Christmas, but I’m also looking through my cookery books to decide what else to make with them. I probably won’t be able to resist buying all of them as seed potatoes too. To have beautiful varieties like these coming out of the veg plot next year is a very cheerful prospect indeed.
Are any of you looking through catalogues and on-line deciding what varieties to grow right now? What potatoes would you recommend, and have any of you tried the more unusual red, blue and black varieties? Thanks for reading my blog. Happy gardening! And happy cooking too!
Christmas only really starts for me when I plant my amaryllis bulbs. For as long as I can remember, there’s been amaryllis bulbs flowering over the festive season at my family’s home. And I like to keep up the tradition by having them in my own home. If you listened in to this week’s BBC Radio Leicester show, you will have heard me talking about the amaryllis varieties I’m planting at the moment. Some are for me, and some will be given as Christmas presents.
Carmen is the deep velvety red single-flowering bulb I mentioned on the show. I was potting them up as we talked. The box kits from Taylors Bulbs contain a plant pot and compost which makes life easier. Everything needed is contained in one box.
This beautiful double white amaryllis is Marilyn. I love the lime green centre of the flowers.
This is the pink and white striped double amaryllis I’ve chosen. It’s called Lady Jane. Which is quite a fancy name for quite a fancy flower!
Amaryllis Rilona has wonderful deep apricot single flowers with a darker eye. The flowers are edged in white, and if you look closely you can see darker orange stripes or veins radiating from the centre of the flowers to the tips.
When choosing bulbs, always go for the largest you can find. The larger the bulb, the more flower spikes will be produced. Usually one single spike is followed by a second, or even a third, if you are very lucky.
I asked Taylors Bulbs for some planting and general care advice:
How To Plant Amaryllis In Pots/Containers:
1. Soak the dry roots (not the bulb) in lukewarm water for about 45mins. Make sure to cut off any damaged roots before potting. 2. Fill the base of your pot (at least 20cm) with multi-purpose compost, covering the drainage hole. 3. Feed the roots into the pot, spreading them out onto the compost and fill in around them with more compost. 4. Bury the bottom half of the bulb, so that it is secure in the pot. Water sparingly. 5. Stand the pot in a well-lit position and keep the compost moist, but do not over water.
* Amaryllis are great for the windowsill. Remember to turn the pot regularly to prevent the stems bending towards the light.
* Once your Amaryllis flowers have faded, cut the whole stem off as close to the base as possible. * Water and feed them with a balanced fertiliser every few weeks to help build up strength for next year. * Make sure to give them plenty of light, as this helps the leaves generate energy. * To help encourage them to flower next year cut any old foliage back to the neck of the bulb. Move them into a warm position and continue to water them.
Re-potting Amaryllis Bulbs:
* After every two to three years it’s a good idea to re-pot amaryllis bulbs for continued good displays. * Amaryllis tend to grow best in small pots, so don’t be tempted to re-pot into a larger pot. * After flowering, remove the bulbs from the compost and gently remove the compost around the roots. Then refill your pot with fresh compost and replant the bulb.
About Taylors Bulbs:
Taylors Bulbs are a fourth generation family business, growing and supplying flower bulbs and associated products since 1919.
Daffodils are grown on our farm in Holbeach, Lincolnshire where we also design and pack a large range of products predominantly for the UK and Irish markets.
Still a thriving family business employing over 200 staff at peak times, we pride ourselves on the award winning service we offer our customers.
Here’s some more amaryllis I’ve grown at Christmas. In the second year, they often flower either very early in November, or as late as May. Either way they are very welcome at a time when there are few flowers to enjoy in the garden. Indoor bulbs fill the gap.
Thanks for reading the blog, and for listening in to the radio. I also write a weekly column for Garden News Magazine, so I’m either talking or writing about flowers every day of the week. Happy gardening everyone!
Many people listen to radio on the i-player now. It’s so convenient to be able to listen when it suits you. You can stop the recording and go back if you didn’t hear a plant name correctly. You can have a cup of tea in the middle of the programme. I love listening to the radio through my i-pad or on the phone when I’m driving along.
This week we talked about sweet peas. My plants are 5” tall now and I’m pinching out the tops to make bushier plants. Sweet peas flower on side shoots, so more shoots equal more flowers.
I’m growing my sweet peas in root trainers. These are long cell trays which allow deep rooting. They open at the sides like a book so the roots aren’t disturbed when you plant them out. I use a 50/ 50 compost and grit or vermiculite mix for good drainage. There’s still time to sow your sweet peas now. Seeds packets are reduced in some local garden centres and on-line.
My sweet peas are for jam jar posies. I’m growing Wiltshire Ripple, High Scent, Albutt Blue and Chatsworth. I’m also growing about five different types of white sweet peas for my trial to grow wedding flowers for my daughter. She’s not getting married until summer 2024, but next summer will be a try-out for the flowers.
I particularly love the ripple series of sweet peas. Here shown with some sweet william.
We also talked about taking salvia cuttings.
I have a collection of really beautiful salvias, some in the ground and some in pots. They are not a hundred percent hardy, so I take ‘insurance policy’ cuttings now. Look down the sides of the plants and find some shoots that haven’t flowered. Pull gently down and they will come away with a tiny heel. Tidy up the heel with a knife and insert the cutting around the edge of a 3” pot of gritty compost. They will overwinter in a greenhouse, cold frame or house windowsill.
Here’s a pot full of salvia cuttings. I leave them in the same pot all winter and separate them in spring. This takes up less space than dividing cuttings and potting them on in winter.
They separate out into new little plants which can be grown on in their own 3” pots and planted out in summer.
Thanks for listening in, if you live in the Leicestershire area, and thanks for reading the blog. It’s great to share what we are all growing in our gardens all year round. There’s something new to learn every
As a family, we’ve always supported the RNLI, so when their Christmas gifts popped up in a PR e mail, I decided to highlight them here on the blog. Why not help a good cause? I’ve not received or asked for any gifts, I just wanted to share some fantastic options for anyone looking for Christmas present ideas for keen gardeners.
Brighten up your décor with this beautiful flowerpot, in a blue, pink, teal and purple abstract floral pattern. For indoor use. £10
Love the style? Check out the rest of our exclusive RNLI Garden Range, which features a candle, diffuser, shopping bag, scarf, garden kneeler and cosmetics bag in the same pattern.
Here’s some more details from the RNLI PR team:
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) offers a wide range of gardening products, perfect for the gardeners in your life. Shop with the RNLI this Christmas and help save lives at sea.
From unique planters and outdoor ornaments to essential garden kneelers and handy tools, the RNLI offers the perfect Christmas gifts for gardeners.
Christmas shopping for the gardener in your life doesn’t have to be a chore this year as the RNLI has gift-giving all wrapped up. Whether you’re looking to spruce up your space or get practical with your plant planning, the RNLI has something to offer.
Should any of you want to read a book which makes you laugh from start to finish, look no further than Tamsin Westhorpe’s new memoir ‘Grasping the Nettle.’
Tamsin spent her childhood mostly outdoors, by all accounts and her weekends, and after-school activities were often spent collecting snails and creepy crawlies, some she kept as pets. It was the perfect start in life for someone who would make horticulture their career. And what a career she’s had, starting with work on a plant nursery, time as an interior plant landscaper, and after college, a spell as a gardener for Bournemouth parks department and bowling greens.
Along the way, she writes about the colourful characters she meets, and the scrapes she gets into. I’m still holding my breath after reading about the clapped-out Land Rover she bought which would only start from the top of a hill, and had virtually no brakes!
Tamsin bought the rust bucket Land Rover from Southampton docks where it had been used for ferrying fish. Consequently, well you can imagine the pong!
“Fortunately for me and my newest fishy acquisition, the bungalow was at the top of a steep gravel drive. Without it I’d never have got to college. The Land Rover, which I had affectionately and very appropriately named Delilah (‘Why, why, why did I buy you?), regularly wouldn’t start but releasing the hand brake on the slope and turning the key seemed to do the trick. However stressful this daily event was, I couldn’t help but feel happy sitting in the driving seat looking over the bonnet. Now that the fishmonger’s logo had been removed, I felt like a proper horticultural student. On arrival at college- thankfully only about a mile from home- I would never experience actually turning the engine off. Stalling just as I reached my parking space was the norm. It wasn’t until I had a proper car that I realised how poor the brakes were, but thankfully I never went very far or fast.”
We’ve all had trouble starting pull-cord lawnmowers and machines. During her time at Bournemouth Parks department, Tamsin had a bit of trouble with a very heavy cantankerous leaf blower. Trying to start it while being watched by an audience of dog walkers and families heading to the beach was embarrassing to say the least.
“There was no way I could fail, so I learned to be determined and discovered how to cope with a flooded engine. I also understood why steel toe-capped boots are important- to kick power tools! On some days when the blower just wouldn’t start, instead of admitting my failings I would go hell for leather with the witch’s broom. Looking back now, I suspect I fooled no one as the engine was cold to the touch when my colleagues loaded it up into the Transit.”
Tamsin continues her story weaving in all the characters and places she’s worked, from college as a horticultural teacher, to Japan as a lecturer, on to writing for a magazine and becoming an editor. All along the way, the story is peppered with delightful observations, showing Tamsin’s joyful sense of humour and determination to succeed, whatever obstacles are put in her way, mechanical, human or animal.
Bringing things up to date, Tamsin is now a hands-on gardener at her family garden Stockton Bury in Herefordshire which regularly features in the round-up of the best UK open gardens. Tamsin also writes for newspapers and magazines and lectures at home and abroad- making her audiences laugh with tales of life spent doing something she’s completely passionate about- gardening. I think we all know that feeling of being happiest with our hands in the soil.
Congratulations, Tamsin on writing such a sparkling, charming, thought-provoking read. It had me in stitches from start to finish. I haven’t laughed so much in ages. And I learned a lot more about what it’s like to make your way in the world when you choose a life outdoors.
I’m sure Tamsin has started many more people on the path to horticulture through her wit and passion for the subject. It’s a delightfully realistic and thoroughly inspiring book.
Thank you for reading my review. There’s one copy to give away. Please leave your comments below and a name will be randomly selected by Sunday 6pm.
I’ve just realised that I never cut any flowers for myself. They are always for friends and relatives, all the pleasure being in the giving. It’s nice to have something home-grown to give away. However, I’ve been ill for a few weeks and stuck indoors. How frustrating it’s been looking out from my bed while the sun shone on the garden. I made lists of all the jobs needed doing, which didn’t help at all. But when I felt a bit better, I wobbled outdoors and cut these flowers for my bedside table.
The star of my little bouquet is this highly-scented rose from a new home-florists’ range. Timeless Purple has long stems with very few thorns. Flowers have an ‘old rose’ appearance and wonderful myrrh- scent. Modern breeding means it repeat flowers and is disease resistant. Flowers stand up to the weather. Old roses tend to ‘ball’ in the rain, where buds fail to open and drop off. Such a disappointment if you’ve eagerly waited for the rose buds to open, to see them going mouldy and wilting. These flowers shrug off the raindrops, and flowers aren’t marked by the weather.
The heatwave and drought meant there were virtually no flowers in my garden all summer, but autumn has brought a bonanza. Plants seem determined to make up for lost time. The argyranthemums grown from seed by my Mum have come into flower mid-October. Who doesn’t love a daisy? The cheerful white flowers go so well with the roses and salvias.
Dahlias also suffered in the summer heat, but are coming into flower now. The first frost will finish the display, but for now, I’m just enjoying this unexpected bounty.
It’s not easy to photograph salvias. Their colours are so vibrant they tend to blur with an ordinary camera phone. This is one of the many salvias that came from https://middletonnurseries.co.uk/
Their jewel-like colours are very welcome at this time of the year, and look so wonderful set against golden autumn foliage. Stems have a delicious blackcurrant scent.
Talking of foliage, I picked some stems of my dogwood, Cornus Westonbirt. Leaves are turning a lovely plum colour, and the bright red stems will provide interest all winter, especially when the sun shines through them. These are such easy shrubs to grow, they simply need a prune to the ground each spring as the most colourful stems are produced on new growth.
My grey foliage plants came from Coton Manor nursery in Northampton. Annoyingly, I can’t remember the name, but I have the label in the greenhouse and will just edit the name in tomorrow. I’m still suffering from terrible brain fog after being ill.
Fuchsias, also from Coton Manor, have decided to flower a month later than usual. They are growing in huge pots and I’ll just lift them into the greenhouse to protect them from frost. They flower till Christmas, given some protection.
Cosmos Psyche White has also decided to put on a show now. This is my favourite cosmos. It’s a messy double white with long stems and good repeat flowering. It lasts a fortnight in a vase. I’ve tried some of the new apricot cosmos, but they didn’t do well for me here, so I won’t bother with them again. I need tried and tested varieties that won’t let me down.
In the greenhouse I found this lovely pink Passion flower which was in keeping with my colour-theme posy, so I picked it an added it to the jam jar. I grow this in a 10” pot which is carried outside for the summer and brought in again before the first frosts. Usually there are one or two flowers right through winter.
Well, I hope this little posy of flowers has given you some inspiration for what to grow to have something to pick in late October. I try to have something to pick every day of the year. Sometimes there’s more foliage than flowers, but it’s lovely to bring the garden indoors, so to speak.
After being stuck in my room for so long, it did me the world of good to wander about outdoors picking a few flowers. For once, they are just for me, and I’m thoroughly enjoying them. Have a great weekend. Keep safe and well and enjoy your gardening.
If you are just starting to think about Christmas presents for gardeners, here are some great ideas. This year, more than ever, I’m only buying from tried and trusted suppliers- people I’ve bought from before and found to provide good value. I’ve long been a fan of Burgon and Ball. Everything I have bought from them has been good quality and long lasting. This is not an advert. I’ve not been given any samples. There’s no obligation to promote them. I just want to pass on their latest products because I believe they are worthwhile. Have a look though my selection and let me know what you think.
This sturdy full-size watering can in galvanized steel is ideal for the serious gardener looking for a long-lasting, high-performance and stylish full-size watering can. With a five-year guarantee, this is a gift which will be used and loved. RRP £49.99.
Burgon & Ball was founded in 1730 in Sheffield, England, and is the UK’s longest-established manufacturer of garden tools and accessories, with hundreds of years of expertise in toolmaking. From its earliest years it manufactured the world’s finest sheep shears, exporting all over the world. At its peak, the annual production of its top-selling cast steel shear topped 300,000 pairs. By the 1920s gardening tools had overtaken agricultural tools as the main focus of the business, and in 2010 the company’s core ranges were awarded endorsement by Royal Horticultural Society. Today Burgon & Ball is a leading name in garden tools and giftware, enjoying an enviable reputation for quality and innovation.
Products are available from good garden centres, gift outlets and at www.burgonandball.com There’s a present idea for everyone who loves their garden.
Burgon and Ball were one of the companies that supported my Rainbows Hospice show garden at Belvoir Castle. They provided children’s kneelers in ladybird and bumblebee colours, and also children’s hand tools for gardening. Here’s a link to the story:
One of my favourite things is to jump in the car and travel to a garden I’ve not seen before. It doesn’t matter if the garden is large or small, there’s always some planting combination or landscaping idea I jot down in a notebook, hoping to replicate it in my own garden one day.
The gardens of the South East of England are still a mystery to me. My car hasn’t ventured that far yet. But I’ve just read Barbara Segall’s exciting new book featuring 20 gardens in that region, and I’m getting out the map book already!
One particular garden in the book struck a chord with me. Balmoral Cottage in Benenden, Kent, where the owners grew many of the plants from divisions and cuttings from their parents’ gardens. Charlotte and Donald Molesworth bought the cottage nearly 40 years ago. Barbara tells the story of how Donald, a professional gardener, had been working next door at The Grange, the former home of Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram – the plant hunter credited with returning endangered cherries to Japan.
Barbara writes, “That moment when you meet your future down a little lane, see a gate and opening it find the rest of time ahead of you…..? Well, that is literally what happened when Charlotte and Donald Molesworth found and bought Balmoral Cottage in Benenden in 1983.
For eight years Charlotte had been living in and teaching art at Benenden School, and on walks around the village, often stepped along the rough track leading to this tiny house, which had the best sunsets imaginable. Probably named Balmoral to celebrate a visit of Queen Victoria to Benenden, it was the gardener’s cottage for the Grange.
The Molesworths brought with them to Balmoral Cottage the first of many animals to share their garden lives, including bees, rescue dogs, donkeys (there have been nine) and companion sheep, hens and a cockerel.
They knew that they would need plenty of plants to make their garden and, being thrifty and resourceful they brought many plants from their parents’ gardens. From Donald’s family came woodland trilliums, dog’s-tooth violets and narcissus pseudonarcissus which have self-seeded and spread down each side of that original track. Charlotte’s mother’s garden was packed with old fashioned roses, cottage-garden plants and topiary, so her contributions included double white primroses and several thousand box cuttings.”
I love the fact they have created a special and unusual garden on a shoestring. They avoid buying anything new, scouring reclamation yards for potential items for recycling. “It’s our policy for helping Mother Earth,” they say. It’s resulted in a garden that makes you feel anything is possible. It’s not dependent on how much money you have, but on ingenuity, patience and skill. A very reassuring message for any would-be gardener, and one I welcome entirely.
I’ve picked out just one of the 20 stunning gardens explored by Barbara Segall in this richly detailed book. There’s a lovely mix of the extremely grand to the small and intimate. All are privately owned. Some have been in the possession of the same family for many generations, whilst others have recently been acquired and transformed by new owners. There’s a wonderful diversity of landscaping styles and a range of planting from traditional herbaceous borders to fashionable and contemporary prairies.
Barbara is a totally engaging writer who draws you into the gardens and skilfully sifts out the essence of what makes them special. Not a word is wasted and reading her books is so easy. It’s a pleasure to skip through the pages and be transported to these glorious places.
The book includes visitor information about the gardens profiled as well as several others in this garden-rich area of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Some open for the popular National Gardens Scheme, while others are open privately, and in some cases, for just the occasional day for charity.
Special mention must be made of the photographs by Clive Boursnell who initially visited 40 gardens and travelled 12,500 miles for this stunning project. Sadly, only 20 could be included in the book. But he talks about the warm welcome he received at every garden, as he travelled about in his camper van, capturing the atmospheric dawn and dusk photos. He turned up during a daughter’s wedding that was taking place in one garden. The owners, not phased by his appearance in the middle of a celebration, made sure he could get his photos of a particular rose trellis at its peak. Such small details and asides give an insight into the characters behind the gardens, their passions and their personalities.
Barbara writes: “I hope you will find much pleasure in the book and visit the gardens when possible…opening garden gates to find untold beauty.”
I know that I enjoyed every page and can’t wait to investigate the gardens further.
The publishers are giving away one book in a prize draw to readers who leave comments below. One name will be randomly selected. Sorry, only open to UK entries due to postage costs. The draw closes at 6pm on 21st October.
The best view of Melbourne Hall is from the ornate Bird Cage on the other side of the lake. But during August the house and the garden is open every afternoon, so there’s a chance to get a closer look and step inside this beautiful historic building.
When you arrive you enter by the Carriage Ring driveway, and step inside the Billiard Room, a conservatory-style addition built in 1911 by Lord Walter Kerr to add a glass roof over the area between the two wings of the house. In winter, this structure houses potted lemon trees, and mince pies and mulled wine are served to visitors on special opening dates. Last time I visited in winter, the family placed a Christmas tree in the conservatory which looked very pretty with all the tree lights and decorations reflected in the glass. It’s a very special experience to be able to look through the house windows out to the landscape and gardens beyond. It gives a totally different perspective on the planting and layout.
This is the oak panelled Dining Room. The walnut high back chairs are particularly striking. Some celebrate the return of the monarch in 1660 by having a crown carved into them. Beautiful tapestry seats have been embroidered by the Kerr family for chairs which date back to the time of William and Mary.
There are seven ground floor rooms to view. The hall opens at 2pm and there are guided tours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays. Or you can have a leisurely wander about on your own. Guides are also on duty in the rooms, able to answer any questions. Admission tickets can be purchased online, or from the entrance hall on the day of your visit.
It’s fascinating hearing about all the characters who’ve lived in this special place. Head tour guide Gill Weston has lots of interesting stories to tell.
After visiting the house, there’s beautifully-planted gardens to enjoy. Oxeye daisies are planted in long grass in the meadow. Currently in flower in the Paulownia border beside the Millstream you’ll find Eucomis, or pineapple lilies, alongside pink hydrangea arborescence Invincible Spirit.
Thanks to Gill Weston for the stories, and thanks also to Andrea Jones for kindly sharing photos. Melbourne Hall is a very special place and one of my favourite gardens. Do take the chance to glimpse inside the hall, while it’s open for August. It’s a historic house with lots of character.
In a recent prize draw on the blog, Tickets to visit the garden were won by Suella.
Thank you for reading my blog and leaving your comments in the box below. It’s very much appreciated. You are among 200 people who read the blog each day, and although I haven’t been able to write very much lately , it’s a comfort to see so many people reading past blog posts and finding useful information and recipes there. Happy gardening everyone.
Sunflowers seem quite appropriate for one of the hottest July’s on record. Temperatures reached 40C here on Tuesday. The garden burned to a crisp with virtually everything in flower turning brown. So I haven’t anything from my own garden to share today. These flowers were created by Jonathan Moseley during a demonstration at Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Show last weekend. Jonathan is a celebrity florist, writer and broadcaster and ambassador for British flowers. He’s well-known for his appearance as expert floral judge on the BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge programme. After watching his demo at Belvoir, I had to buy this gorgeous arrangement for my Mum. Here’s some photos of what the arrangement contained.
The stand-out element of this arrangement is the gorgeous sunflowers grown in the UK by a company which also specialises in growing plants for bird food. There are 11 stems in this arrangement.
Jonathan uses this galvanised metal bucket with a liner to contain the water. Some chicken wire is scrunched up and placed in the bottom of the bucket. Jonathan says he mostly uses eco-friendly techniques rather than flower foam. Many of his other arrangements were created using mini milk bottles, urns and glass jars.
He added nine stems of lemon scented conifer. These are 55cm long. And five stems of viburnum from his own garden. I’ve taken some cuttings of the conifer as it’s such a vibrant bright lime green and has a lovely fresh scent. Virtually anything will root in this heat, given plenty of misting to keep the foliage hydrated.
Next he added three varieties of eryngium. This is a new variety, not available to home-growers yet, but sold via florists. It’s a beautiful multi-headed type and I’ll be looking out for it when it becomes available in garden centres. I think the variety is called Orion.
Eryngiums or ornamental thistles like these can be dried and used for winter decorations and on flower wreaths for doors and tables. Great value plants. Jonathan mentioned a variety called Big Blue. These are a magnet for bees and butterflies and flower for a very long time.
Eryngiums start out a lovely silver grey colour and turn blue as flowers open. I love the combination of grey, blue and yellow. They look such cheerful colours, don’t you think?
Next into the mix is this blue limonium, or statice, which is another flower which can be dried and is very easy to grow as an annual at home. This variety is called Misty Blue. Mr Fothergill’s have seeds in mixed colours which I’ve grown in the past and had success with.
Mum is thrilled with her gorgeous arrangement- even more delighted because it was made by Jonathan who we both think a lot of. We like his eco-friendly techniques and his determination to support local independent floristry growers and suppliers. No air miles go into his creations. Quite often the flowers are sourced near his home – or in fact home grown. In another arrangement, he used branches of Ballerina roses which looked like bouquets in themselves without any other flowers needed. He uses special foliage stripper tools to remove leaves and thorns on roses. Much better than getting them in your hands and fingers.
Jonathan recommended herbs to add to arrangements. A marjoram called Hopleys has buds which are almost black. These open to sprays of scented lilac flowers.
Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed viewing these beautiful flowers and have got some ideas for future floristry projects. Do look out for Jonathan Moseley’s talks. He appears at all the major shows, and also hosts special floristry workshops near his home at Christmas time. https://www.jonathan-moseley.com/category/events/upcoming/courses/
How has your garden fared in this heat? Mine looks stricken at the moment, but I’ve cut back all the perennial flowers by half and with some watering, they should flower again next month. I’ve sowed foxgloves, sweet williams and wallflowers for next year. They germinated virtually overnight in the heat and I’m busy pricking them out into seeds trays. I keep looking around the garden and feeling rather sad and dismayed at the damage, but there’s always next year to look forward to. That’s the beauty of gardening. There’s always next year to focus on. And it will be bigger, better and more flower-filled than this year, I’m certain.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Photos kindly provided by award-winning photographer Andrea Jones.
Melbourne Hall’s newsletter pops into my inbox on a regular basis and makes me want to jump in the car and drive straight over. The spring display is truly magical as ancient trees bust into leaf and there’s colour everywhere with beautiful bulbs and blossom.
The gardens were laid out in the formal French style by landscape designers George Loudon and Henry Wise in the early 18th century. There’s a beautiful pool, known as The Great Basin, at the heart of the garden, and paths lead off to less formal areas; the dell, arboretum, mill stream borders, and kitchen garden.
There’s a picture-postcard view from the Bird Cage across the pool towards Melbourne Hall. I particularly love the reflection of the trees in the water. To the left of the hall there’s a magnificent Atlas Cedar, Cedrus atlantica, native to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, just as happy on the terrace at Melbourne.
Here’s a closer view of the house with Melbourne Church in the backdrop. To the far left of the gardens, there’s a 20 acre lake and picturesque mill house and weir. You can walk along one side of the lake and look back towards the church and hall for another stunning view.
I always marvel at the beauty of the cloud-pruned hedges surrounding the pool. There’s quite a skill in maintaining such a feature. The Bird Cage provides a striking focal point across the pool, looking out from the house opposite.
Following the paths radiating from the main garden, there’s a series of mill stream borders planted with moisture-loving plants. The pale pink flowers are Persicaria bistorta, a rhizomatous perennial which thrives in damp conditions and flowers for a long period. Its common name is Easter giant. There’s also a bank of hostas, candelabra primulas and ground cover geraniums with Purple Dream tulips adding to the pink and magenta theme.
Looking across from the other side of the bridge, there’s a mature yellow tree peony and a bank of pale blue camassia and blue iris.
Further along the stream, there’s scented azalea luteum and a purple acer, underplanted with hostas and camassia.
Corydalis solida, known as fumewort, a low-growing tuberous perennial which can cope with some shade and is good for underplanting of spring trees and shrubs.
Following the path round, you come to the Kitchen Garden. This pretty peach ‘Peregrine’ is beautifully trained along the walls, getting some protection from the weather. It produces tasty, white-fleshed fruit in August and September. In the Melbourne Hall newsletter there’s a recipe for ‘baked toffee peaches’ with amaretti biscuits, muscovado sugar and butter by Jane Lovett.
Reflections in the water are mesmerising. Melbourne Hall is an RHS Partner garden and is taking part in The Garden of the Year competition. The theme of this year’s competition is ‘Feel Good’ reflecting on how beneficial it is to have a connection with nature and exercise in beautiful gardens and outdoor spaces. You can vote for Melbourne and find out more here: https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/partner-gardens/rhs-partner-garden-of-the-year
Here’s the website link giving all the details of opening times and events at Melbourne Hall. Look out for special food events in the Courtyard, and celebrity appearances and live music in the Walled Rose Garden.
Please leave a comment, and names will be put into a computer generated draw to randomly select one winner for two free tickets for entry to the garden. Sorry, this doesn’t include travel costs. The draw will be made at 6pm on Monday 18th April. P
Please feel free to comment even if you don’t wish to be entered in the draw, and let me know what you think of the gardens. Thank you for reading the blog and for getting in touch.
BOOK REVIEWAND MY BBC LOCAL RADIO BOOK OF THE WEEK
Published by Laurence King, March 2022
Hardback, 192 pages, £19.99
A Greener Life is much more than a ‘how-to-garden’ book, it’s actually a revealing diary of the writer’s journey from a stressful life and illness, to peace and calm through creating a garden and connecting with nature.
Jack Wallington writes how he struggled to sleep, was regularly ill and felt as if he’d ‘lost his way’ as he tried to keep up, and be available 24/7. “I thought the feeling of dissatisfaction was normal, to be waited out until retirement.” The turning point was the day Jack and his partner Chris planted the first trees, shrubs and bulbs in their new garden. “My worries briefly melted away, and a spark of happiness ignited.”
Jack says childhood memories trickled back, memories of sowing tomato and nasturtium seeds and taking cacti cuttings to sell for pocket money.
Through simply planting a garden he was better able to deflect stresses and anxieties and seemingly insurmountable problems at work . “Life, all life, the thing I had loved as a boy, that had been around me all along, was helping my world make sense. I had euphoric moments when discovering other gardens and visiting countryside. I began to feel connected to something bigger than me, and that somehow the things I planted and cared for were making a real contribution. The more I planted in the garden, the more insects and birds visited. Inviting nature back into my life gave a peace I hadn’t experienced for thirty years, and opened my eyes to the responsibility I had to the ecosystem I was nurturing.”
Jack’s book contains seven chapters. The first chapter outlines nine steps to a greener gardening life, and is almost a book in itself. Chapter two is about ‘getting started’ easy planting guides and essential tools you’ll need. Chapter three, encouraging beautiful ecosystems. Chapter four focuses on creating a wildlife -friendly garden, bringing soil to life and attracting and sustaining insect life.
Chapter five focuses on greening indoor spaces and greening workspaces.
Chapter six talks about herbs for wellness, growing vegetables, fruit and edible flowers.
Chapter seven is about connecting with nature, exploring wild areas in the city and countryside. There’s a section on using binoculars, cameras, smartphones and field guides and magnifying glasses- a useful guide to equipping yourself to delve deeper into the natural world.
A Greener Life is an honest, well-written account of self-discovery, and Jack’s voice comes over loud and clear in this beautifully put together book. You’ll certainly learn how to create nature-friendly gardens, but you will also perhaps pause for thought at what good can come from connecting with gardens and wildlife. In these stressful and strife-ridden days, this can only be a very good thing indeed.
Jack’s book is really everything you’d ever need to be a greener gardener. It’s written from the heart, from someone who’s found out for himself that gardens, gardening and being in touch with nature really can make a difference. Jack says “ We’re part of the natural world and to save it is to save ourselves. We all benefit from a greener life.”
The publishers have kindly given one copy to give away. Leave a message in the comments box below and one name will be selected randomly by 26 March. Sorry, the offer is only open to readers in the UK.
I’ve never kept a gardening diary before, but I’m enjoying making daily notes in my new Sarah Raven diary. The diary is sturdy enough to take outdoors; the paper is thick, good quality so can stand up to being taken into the greenhouse and potting shed. I’m making lists of seeds I want to sow, dahlias I want to pot up, and general maintenance jobs about the garden. I love making lists- and I love ticking things off the lists! There’s a sense of satisfaction in ticking them off, especially when the list seems never-ending.
There are some beautiful and inspiring photos relevant to each month in the diary. For January, there’s a winter container planting of a terracotta long tom pot with Sarah’s favourite hellebore ‘Maestro’ which is often seen in her flower arrangements.
For March, there’s Fritillaria ‘Early Sensation’ which has a pale, greeny- yellow flower, much more delicate and easy to site than the brash bright golden variety usually found. It’s growing here in a galvanised metal container next to a patch of rosemary.
September’s photo is bright and cheerful. Just what’s needed for a cold, windswept February day as I’m making plans for lots of summer colour. Here’s Zinnia ‘Giant Dahlia Mix’, Tagetes ‘Linnaeus’ and Thunbergia alata ‘African Sunset.’
There’s recipe suggestions for each month. I’ve made these spiced ginger and oat biscuits and can report they are absolutely delicious. The family demolished them in just one day. They are quick and easy to make, which is just as well as I’ve have had another request for some more. I made the vegan version by using dairy-free margarine.
I used the chickpeas for a red onion hummus dip, which is also fast to make. Just cook a sliced red onion in 1 tbsp olive oil, add a tin of chick peas and 150ml water. Simmer for 10 minutes with the lid off. Add 2 tbsp lemon juice, garlic salt and pepper. Few tbsp of fresh parsley and chives if you have any. Whizz in a food processor and serve with toast or on jacket potatoes. Another recipe suitable for vegans, if you have any in the family as we do, or unexpected visitors. Which we also often have. They sit around the kitchen table while I quickly make this dish.
Here’s my spiced oat biscuits. Delicious with a cup of tea or coffee.
I’m intrigued by this basil icecream recipe for summer. As Sarah says, it sounds odd, but I’m going to give it a try and report back.
I’m going to have a go at these dried allium and poppy seed head decorations as well. Such a beautiful and cheerful Christmas scene from the fireplace at Perch Hill.
Other features of the book I liked: The fold-out ‘when and how’ guide on seed sowing for cut flowers. The guide to sowing and planting edibles, wild flowers, fruit, potatoes, herbs and salads. A guide to sowing and planting ‘pollinator super’ plants to attract bees and butterflies. There’s a useful ruler for seed sowing spacing. And the metal ring binder design means the diary can easily be folded back on itself.
There are not many books I carry around with me all the time, but the Sarah Raven diary is robust enough to slip into my garden tool kit bag, and is proving a joy to dip into on a daily basis.
Sarah Raven also sent me a wall calendar to try, and this too has beautiful photos for each month and plenty of space to write appointments and events. Both will be ordered for 2023 as I’m thoroughly enjoying using the calendar and diary.
Do any of you write a garden diary? My father in law used to keep a perpetual diary. Sadly he died last summer, but he gave me his diary with all the daily notes about sowing dates and varieties he preferred. I check each day to see if I am keeping up with his impeccable timetable. It’s a lovely way to remember him and a reminder of all the flowers he grew for his wife Joan, and the fruit and vegetables he grew for the family.
Here’s some links to the recipes I mentioned today, and ideas for home-made and home-grown Christmas decorations and presents.
Thanks to everyone who listens in on a Saturday morning at 11am, and thank you also for all your kind and encouraging comments. Many thanks to Tracey from Melton who says she feels like rushing out into the garden to do some gardening every time she hears us talking on the radio. It’s much appreciated.
We talked about:
As regular readers know, I love to save money. If you wait until December, many tulips have been reduced in price. If you are looking for a bargain, try well-respected suppliers. I recommend:
Dutch Grown: (now sold out- but keep a note for next year)
If you are buying from garden centres, tulips will be sold in plastic bags with a cardboard front showing the photo of the variety and information about growing them. These are usually hanging up on racks. Gently squeeze the bulbs to make sure they are firm. Any soft mushy bulbs will fail to grow. They need to be firm and dry. Don’t buy any with a blue mould growing on them. Nice large, plump bulbs with the brown papery skin intact are best. I wouldn’t buy any that have been stored and displayed outside either, incase they’ve got frosted or wet. Choose ones stored inside the garden centre instead.
Here’s some inspiration for bulb planting from a previous blog I wrote. I’ll be planting my tulips up until the first week of January:
Dogwood hearts are really easy to make. Take two pencil thin stems of dogwood or coloured willow. Bend each side over to form the heart. Tie with florists’ reel wire or string to secure. Decorate with foliage and berries. I’ve used cotoneaster here. Add some fluffy seed heads, such as. ‘old man’s beard’ or wild Clematis Vitalba. I’ve used string, but you can use any type of ribbon to hang the decoration. These hearts can be any size. I make a giant one with four stems to create a double heart for decorating our five bar farm gate.
Some more ideas for using natural materials from the garden. I’ve threaded inexpensive, mouldable wire lights from Wilkos to these dogwood and willow stems. I sprayed hydrangea heads with florists’ silver spray.
My front door wreath also has flowers and foliage from the garden. The flowers are hellebores from the Gold Collection. There’s a whole range of them, all recommended. Hellebore Jacob flowers for Christmas and is pure white. This one is Winter Gold, with white hydrangea flowers which have dried lime green.
I learned how to make these willow wreaths on a course by the highly respected florist, author and social media/ you tube star Georgie Newbery. Workshops in flower farming, creating a cut flower patch, growing sweet peas, and floristry, are highly recommended. Would make a perfect present for a gardener. There are also many on-line courses. Have a look at the you tube channel and on instagram to get some wonderful, original ideas.
We talked about growing beetroot today. Most of my beetroot is stored in dry sand or recycled, dry compost over winter in the frost free potting shed. I grew it in the spring and summer. I’ve left some in the ground, but it’s easier to lift and store, as it can’t be harvested from frozen ground. The best variety to grow is Bolthardy, which does what it says; it grows well without bolting or running to seed. Did you know you can eat the leaves? You can use them in salads and stir fries. You can grow just leaves now on the windowsill. Look out for Bulls Blood variety sold as windowsill growing seeds. Mr Fothergills (Johnson’s seed) sell them on-line and in garden centres. You can grow them in 9cm pots on a sunny window and harvest shoots and leaves when they are 4” tall. They will re-grow several times, making a tasty addition to salads and sandwiches.
We talked about baking with beetroot and making chocolate beetroot cake. Here’s my recipe for a rich fruit/ beetroot cake. It’s tasty and good for you!
Regular readers will know that my much loved wonderful mother-in-law Joan is in a care home in Oadby, Leicestershire. She suffers from mixed dementia. Before she became ill, I wrote down all the family favourite recipes and at Christmas I make them for her children, grand children and great grandchildren. It’s a wonderful way to ‘keep her with us’ even though, sadly, she can’t remember who we are.
Here’s the link for the blog piece with the recipe
We talked about cutting grass in winter. Twenty or thirty years ago we used to send our lawn mowers off to be serviced in October and we didn’t see them again until March. It’s an indication of climate change that nowadays we are cutting our lawns all year round. Grass grows when the temperature is above 6C. There is no harm in ‘topping’ grass if it needs it, providing the conditions are dry. Set the cutters high for winter, and don’t scalp the lawn. We don’t cut the grass if the ground is wet or frozen, as it damages the lawn and makes muddy skid patches where weeds will grow. Never walk on frozen lawns as it damages the base of the grass stems and leads to fungal diseases. I would collect clippings over the winter too, and not leave them lying on the grass. Best not to walk on very wet ground as it causes compaction, which grass doesn’t like. Remember to leave some areas of the garden with long grass as a winter habitat for caterpillars and insects – these will be food for frogs, birds and mammals. Just a strip down the edge of the lawn will help.
HOME MADE CHRISTMAS PRESENTS
I mentioned my mint sugar and rosemary salt recipes which make lovely home made presents. Nearly all my presents are made from things grown in the garden.
Take 5 stems of mint, thoroughly dry leaves on kitchen towel. Strip leaves from the stems and layer them in a clean jam jar with 350g sugar. Stir every day for two weeks. Tip the contents into a sieve and remove the leaves. Pour sugar into clean jam jars and use within a year. Lovely for hot chocolate and cakes.
I recommend Stephanie Hafferty’s book The Creative Kitchen for seasonal plant-based recipes for meals, drinks, garden and self care.
And finally, Arun mentioned that I had been shortlisted for Columnist of the Year for my Garden News magazine column, and Blog of the Year by the prestigious Garden Media Guild. I was delighted to be shortlisted in two categories. A really wonderful end to another challenging year. Thank you, every one of you, for reading this blog, listening to the radio on Saturdays, getting in touch and leaving encouraging comments, it is truly appreciated. Have a great gardening weekend!
You can listen back to the gardening show on BBC Sounds. It’s at 11.12.35 on the timeline. Or ask your smart speaker to tune in to BBC Radio Leicester on Saturdays from 11am. Questions are welcome via e mail, phone, text or WhatsApp. Start your message with the word Leicester, else it goes to other radio stations.
The weather has turned really cold here. We’ve had high winds and hail. I’ll be sorting through my seed box and making plans for next year this weekend. And keeping warm. All my tender plants have been stored in the greenhouse and poly tunnel, safe from freezing temperature. What gardening tasks have you been doing recently?
Dahlias have been fabulous this year, giving masses of cut flowers from mid June until November. We’ve had unseasonably mild weather, which means we still have flowers today. But other areas in the county have had night-time frosts. So now is the time to dig up and protect your dahlia tubers for the winter.
There are two methods for saving dahlias for next year. You can either dig them up and store them in a frost-free place, or you can leave them in the ground and cover them with dry leaves, straw or horticultural fleece. Leaving them in the ground is only possible is you have well-drained soil. In heavy clay, and or where gardens flood, the tubers will rot.
Method 1. Digging them up:
If you are planning to dig them up, wait until the foliage has been frosted. This makes the dahlias absorb goodness back into the tubers and sends instructions to become dormant.
Using a fork, carefully dig up the tubers, taking care not to damage them. Remember to keep any labels with the tubers. Brush off the soil if you can. If they are wet and muddy you can wash off the soil and use a soft brush to clean them up. Or you can put them in a shed to dry and brush the soil off in a week or two. Washing and brushing helps to remove slugs and earwigs and other soil-borne pests and diseases .
Cut back the stems leaving about 3”. Turn the tubers upside down so moisture drains out of the stems. After a week, turn the tubers the right way up and store them in pots or seed trays. You can use dry compost or horticultural fleece to cover them. Keep them in a cool, dry frost free place such as a garage or potting shed.
Tip: You can plant tulips in the space left behind in the garden. I dig up the tulips next spring to make way for the dahlias again.
Method2. Leaving them in the ground:
If you have well-drained soil, you can try to leave some dahlias in the ground. In a very cold, wet winter, this is risky.
To leave them in the ground, do not cut off the stems. Fold the stems over and collapse them back onto the tubers, this will stop the stems becoming like ‘straws.’ Cut stems will direct water straight to the tubers, causing rotting.
Cover the tubers with a thick layer of dried leaves, straw or horticultural fleece. I usually try to keep them dry by covering them with sheets of recycled corrugated plastic or old compost bags. Plastic cloches can also be used.
Tubers will be started back into growth next spring.
Here’s some dahlias from my plot. Nuit D’Ete with cosmos and persicaria.
My favourite orange dahlia, David Howard, shown here with chrysanthemum Swan.
Dahlia Evelyn with carnations and senecio grey foliage from the plot.
Dahlias can also be started from seed in early spring . This was from a mixed packet which included lots of jewel-like colours. This summer I’ve grown the ‘Bishop’s Children’ range which has lovely bright reds, purple and orange with attractive, dark-coloured foliage.
How have your dahlias fared this year? Which method are you using to save them over the winter? Do you have any further tips to share?
Thanks for reading my blog, and listening in to BBC Radio Leicester for the gardening show on Saturdays at 11am. If you have any questions for either me or Josie, please leave a message here or get in touch with producer Dale. We are very pleased to still have a gardening programme when many other stations have now cancelled them.
I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.
The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment at the end of this review, and one name will be randomly selected on Sunday 31st October 6pm.
Books have a power to move. To tears, to joy, to despair. Sometimes they transport you to another place. James Golden takes you by the hand and leads you through the garden he’s created, and it’s one of the most beautiful, inspiring journeys you’ll ever take. In his new book, The View from Federal Twist, he describes what it’s like to create a garden from scratch in western New Jersey, USA. His garden is set in a clearing in the woods. He made a conscious decision not to improve the land. Instead he ‘listened to the site,’ placed large competitive plants into rough grass and watched and waited as sustainable plant communities emerged. The result is a magical place, a naturalistic garden -with a difference.
James describes the book as a retelling of the making of his ‘first serious garden.’ It’s a triumph of ecological planting and clear design aims. James is part philosopher, part experimental horticulturist. The result has such an emotional power- it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Evocative photographs capture the effects of light shining through the canopy of trees, grasses and shrubs. Just the scale of planting is mesmerising.
“I am Federal Twist,’’ says James. He realised this when he looked at photos of the garden from above. He put the images side by side with those taken from ground level. “When I put the two images side by side, my reaction was immediate- and astonishing. I felt icy fear. The drone image showed a flat piece of earth totally devoid of feeling, offering no comfort, no warmth, no humanity, no place for me. I felt as if I were seeing with the eyes of an alien being. In contrast, the ground-level photography held me firmly within the garden; it gave me a place to be, a protected place under trees; it made me feel a part of the landscape. I felt comforted, and a sense of belonging.”
Later, he writes “…my life and emotions are closely bound with this place I call my garden. I understand physics well enough to know that my physical body intersects with the garden, interacts with the garden, responds to the garden in some kind of mutual way. I ‘live’ the garden every day. I am Federal Twist.”
Thank you for reading my review. I believe some books come into your life at just the right moment. It’s almost as if they were ‘written’ for you. To give you joy, to give you inspiration; to give you hope. I haven’t been able to write for a while. Grief affects people in different ways. I’ve sat with grieving friends and relatives and they’ve wanted to talk non-stop for hours. Others write sonnets, pen poems, write books. Grief suddenly and unexpectedly silenced me. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to write, I am someone who tries to make things better for everyone. Perhaps I just didn’t want to make anyone else feel sad. There’s no easy path back from grief, it takes time. But reading this book has helped. It’s put into words how I feel about my own garden- how my little plot has kept me afloat these past few months. I, too, feel I ‘live’ my garden. It responds to me; it’s like enfolding arms around me, lifting me up and helping to turn my face to the sun again.
If you are attending Gardeners’ World Live this week, look out for the ‘Make Do and Mend’ garden by High Ground rehabilitation centre. It may only be 3m by 3m, but it’s packed with interest and colour – and everything has been created from recycled materials.
Andy Wright, therapeutic gardens manager, said 22 patients of the military rehabilitation centre were involved in creating the gold medal- winning garden. The garden has been designed and built with sustainability in mind. All of the hard landscaping and most of the plants will return to Stanford Hall, Leicestershire, where they will be used for the benefit of patients.
A former Royal Engineer created the shed out of packing crates from an MRI scanner delivered to the centre, and the path though the middle of the garden is made from end blocks of pallets.
Pallets were also used to make a picket fence at the front of the garden, and there’s a wooden bug hotel and shelving unit.
A poppy sculpture made out of wire and metal stands at the front of the garden. It was made by a serviceman injured in Afghanistan.
All the plants for the garden have been grown from seed and cuttings by patients.
HighGround charity was launched in 2013 by Anna Baker Cresswell and uses horticulture as a therapy and to improve the wellbeing and employment prospects of former members of HM Forces.
This garden was one of my favourites at the NEC Birmingham show. It was the one I most wanted to tiptoe into, and I could see myself sitting in front of the beautiful little shed. Even though it was only tiny, there were hidden features such as the bug hotel that drew you into the space. And the next time I get hold of a pallet, I’m going to take it apart and create a block path like this one. It’s simply stunning!
Are you going to BBC Gardeners’ World Live Show this year? If so, let me know which gardens are your favourites too. And good luck to Cathy, who won my prize draw a few weeks ago and has won two tickets for the show. After all the cancellations last year, it’s a relief to see shows like this going ahead again this summer.
You’ve got until 8th August to submit your Big Butterfly Count survey results. So far I’ve had mostly cabbage white butterflies, a few Meadow Browns, two Commas, two Tortoiseshell, two Peacock butterflies, two Holly Blue, one Painted Lady, and a stunning Ghost Moth! You can also submit reports for moths you encounter during your 15 minute survey. Let me know how you get on with yours. My figures were disappointing compared with last year and the year before. However, even poor numbers are worth recording as Butterfly Conservation, who are organising the event, says the citizen science survey is ‘like taking the pulse of nature.’ It’s an indication of how insects are coping with our changing climate.
Are you taking part in the Big Butterfly Count this year? I’m just about to settle down with a cup of tea and count the butterflies in my garden.
Wildlife specialists, Vivara, are sponsoring the count this year and sent me this butterfly house to promote the citizen science project.
I’ve placed the house in a sunny sheltered spot in the cut flower and vegetable garden. I’ve put some twigs inside the house and hopefully butterflies will use it to shelter from bad weather. If I’m lucky, some might use it to overwinter in my garden. Last year we had peacock butterflies hibernating in the hen house and the potting shed. Adults overwinter in dark places such as sheds, bird boxes and holes in trees, and left undisturbed, they will be dormant until spring. As soon as the weather starts to warm up, they emerge and look for nectar-rich plants to feed on.
The butterfly house has a hook on the back and a screw and rawl plug for hanging it up.
I always look for the FSC mark on any wooden product which shows it’s been made from materials sourced from well managed forests. The butterfly house is a sturdy product which should last for years.
Vivara have one butterfly house to give away. Leave a comment at the end of this piece and a winner will be randomly selected.
Butterflies need all the help they can get. Numbers are falling drastically. The Butterfly Conservation charity which runs the Big Butterfly Count says last year a record 145,000 counts were submitted, but worryingly 2020 saw the lowest average numbers of butterflies logged since the event began 12 years ago.
Cold, wet spring weather is thought to be a factor. Here in Leicestershire we had a cold, dry April, followed by the wettest May for 50 years. It rained every day, and right at the end May, we had a week of frost with temperatures dipping to -4C. This week we’ve had flash floods with 15mm of rain in one day, and hail stones the size of marbles.
Taking part in the Big Butterfly Count helps scientists assess the health of our environment, and helps us understand how the climate is affecting butterflies.
To take part, spend 15 minutes counting the maximum number of each species you can see at a single time. You can do this in a garden, school grounds, or public park. Go on to the Butterfly Conservation website and record your findings, or download the i- record App. There’s a downloadable wall chart showing all the different butterflies which helps identify them.
Here’s some butterflies I spotted in my garden:
Five Ways You Can Help Butterflies:
1. Join Butterfly Conservation. It’s half price until 8th August. There’s magazines and leaflets on gardening for butterflies. Also, invitations to local guided walks, and conservation volunteering days.
2. Run an event on behalf of Butterfly Conservation. Every little helps. You could host a coffee morning, a plant sale, a sponsored activity.
3. Volunteer for Butterfly Conservation. There’s office and outdoor work available.
4. Grow something for butterflies. They need nectar-rich plants for food, but also trees, shrubs and plants for caterpillars.
5. Take part in the Big Butterfly Count which runs until August 8th. It’s the biggest survey of butterflies in the world and provides a valuable insight into the health of our UK butterfly species.
Plants I grow to attract butterflies:
Buddleja is the one everyone knows about. Literally called the ‘butterfly bush.’ There’s some new miniature varieties for growing in small spaces and in containers. Look out for the Buzz series in lavender, magenta and white.
Lavender. Hidcote is my favourite as it is compact and doesn’t sprawl. Of all the lavenders, this one seems to cope with wet winters better than most. It needs well-drained soil and a sunny site.
Perennial wallflower- Bowles Mauve. Rarely out of flower all spring and summer. It’s a good idea to have a variety of plants from early spring through to autumn so there’s always something in flower for butterflies.
Marjoram. I discovered this when I let some marjoram or oregano plants escape from a pot. They grew to 60cm and scrambled through the bottom of a sunny hedge, providing pink/purple flowers all summer.
I also grow a selection of plants for caterpillars. Fruit trees, alder buckthorn, holly, blackthorn, oak, broom, lady’s smock or Cardamine pratensis, nettles, bird’s foot trefoil, all important caterpillar food.
Thank you for reading my blog. And thank you for all your kind comments on here and via other social media, letting me know how much my posts have cheered you up during the past two very difficult years. It’s much appreciated. Good luck in the prize draw! I’ll announce a winner on Sunday evening, 1st August, 2021.
This week’s ramblings from the plot. If you click on the photo you should be able to zoom in to read the column. I’ve been writing about my garden for a year and a half. I love sharing the ups and downs of growing fruit, veg and cut flowers. Not everything goes according to plan. But it’s good to share the disasters as well as successes, so everyone can learn from it.
So pleased to see Monty kitten gets a mention. We always send eight photos each time and never know which ones will be used. It depends on the layout. As you can see, Monty is turning into the best ever gardening cat. He is always by my side, whatever job I’m doing in the garden. He takes an interest in everything and likes to get involved. To be honest, I’m sure he thinks he’s a dog and not a cat, as he’s so loyal and often likes to come for a walk with us along the back field footpaths. If we get too far from home, I pick him up and carry him back, as I’d hate him to suddenly dart into a hedge and be lost. All our previous cats have been rather aloof and independent. Monty is one of a kind.
I’m getting on well with the paper mulch. It’s saving so much time. I can’t understand how I never heard of this product before, but now I know, I’ll be using it every summer under my dahlias, courgettes, cosmos and pumpkins. It saves so much hoeing and back-breaking hands and knees weeding.
And finally, I loved taking part in the social media event, GardenDayUK where we all made a flower crown, and spent some time reading, resting, having a tea party, enjoying being in our gardens, and sharing our gardens with the hashtag #GardenDayUK. This was the first time I’d joined in, and I enjoyed being a part of the celebrations.
Next time, I’m writing about butterflies, the new Rose of the Year ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ a visit to Stockton Bury Gardens in Herefordshire, and my success with my sweet pea pavement flower sales for charity. I hope you are having a great gardening week. Thank you, as ever, for taking the time to read my blog. It’s much appreciated.
Gardeners’ World Live is a favourite show. I get the chance to see stunning show gardens, buy plants and meet friends for a catch up. Luckily, it’s a relatively short car journey to the NEC in Birmingham – there’s no travelling into London and battling for space on a seat on the underground. It’s a fairly straightforward journey and easy parking. It’s always a lovely relaxing experience, with plenty of space to move about.
The organisers have kindly offered two free tickets in a prize draw for readers of this blog. The tickets are for Sunday 29 August only, with an entry slot from 12pm onwards. To enter, just leave a comment below and your entry will be put into a computer random name generator to select the winner. Please note, if you wish to park, there is a charge. The prize only relates to the show entry ticket. Details below for parking. There is no cash alternative, and the organiser’s decision is final.
Here’s some photos I took when I last attended the GWL show in 2019. Enjoy the virtual tour!
The Watchmaker’s Garden won best in show in 2019. My sister in law Rozanne and her husband Paul grew some of the plants for the award-winning garden, including the watercress shown in the stone tank by the front door.
Prize winners will be announced on the blog on Monday evening 5th July. Please be aware of scams. No one will contact you about this, other than a message on my blog. It’s sad we have to worry about these things, but we just have to be careful.
Regarding parking, the organisers provided the following information:
Prize winners will need to redeem their e ticket by 19 August to attend on the 29th August.
I always seem to have a bowl of orchids somewhere in the house, usually on the hall cupboard or kitchen table. They are easy to grow and often flower for several months with minimal care and attention. Love Orchids have sent a sample box to try out. I haven’t paid for this orchid, but in common with other bloggers, I’ve accepted their gift in return for an honest opinion. Maybe you would like to treat yourself, or want to send a gift to someone for a birthday or other celebration. In which case, you might find the review helpful in deciding whether to buy and send orchids mail order.
I’ve chosen a white and pink orchid in an oval white ceramic container. Plants arrived in good condition, well packaged and there’s plenty of flowers and buds for more blooms to follow. My orchid was already planted in its container and flower stems were well staked. The pot was topped with moss which is a pretty finishing touch.
The ordering process online was simple to follow and straightforward. Plants arrived promptly in a sturdy cardboard box. The parcel delivery company handled the box carefully and it had obviously travelled the right way up- which always helps! It wasn’t just dropped from a height on to the doorstep, but carefully set down, which I much appreciated.
The box is designed to open out, so no pulling plants out the top and potentially damaging them, which I’ve done in the past in poorly-designed boxes.
Plant pots are securely held in another box taped to the base. There was also a spare pack of orchid compost as the company supplies extras for your own potting- up purposes.
Orchids are wrapped carefully in cellophane. I must admit, a compostable wrapper would be preferable, and I would be willing to pay more for a more eco-friendly material. However I just decided to use it to cover my cuttings and seed trays to maintain humidity, so mine will be re-used and won’t be put in the bin.
As you can see, the flowers spread out as soon as they were unwrapped.
There are three plants in my container, with eight flower stems. I’ve brought the pot outside simply to take advantage of the light in order to take photographs. It was too dark in the house. However, my orchids will live indoors, out of direct sunshine.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I like to highlight and support family businesses. The Stevenson family have been growing plants at their New Forest nursery for more than 60 years. When the pandemic struck, the family launched an on-line company, Love Orchids, to market and sell plants via mail order.
The family say they started out ‘with little more than a few glasshouses and a can-do attitude.’ They have grown and developed into a multi-generation business and say they are the largest growers of phalaenopsis orchids in the UK.
For sustainability, they use a biomass boiler, turning waste wood products into heat for the greenhouses.
Here’s some care tips provided by the nursery :
I signed up for a newsletter and received a discount code for future purchases. In fact, I sent an orchid to a friend for her birthday, and one to a relative who recently suffered a bereavement. Both sent photos of their orchids and were delighted with them. Orchids last much longer than a bunch of flowers and the plants from Love Orchids are top quality and expertly grown. The range of good quality containers also means there’s plenty of options for everyone.
For more information, here are the links for Love Orchid:
Have you tried mail order plants before? Get in touch and let me know of any recommendations. We are all finding new ways to obtain our plants and gardening materials. It’s good to share news and views when we find an excellent supplier.
Salvias provide such a welcome zing of colour from mid summer to first frosts. In my garden, pale blue and white ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’ was still in full flower on Christmas Day. Specialist growers, Middleton Nurseries, have sent me a collection of new varieties to try out. I haven’t paid for these, but in common with other bloggers, I’m happy to trial plants and products in return for giving my honest opinion. Here’s some of the plants they sent.
Plants arrive via mail order and were carefully handled by the delivery company. I always think it’s worth giving a good report when plants and products are delivered in a good condition and the drivers have taken the trouble to ensure the contents are undamaged. The box was also placed on the doorstep the right way up! These things always help somewhat. It’s exasperating when ‘this way up’ arrow stickers are not heeded.
Plants are snugly nestled inside a sturdy cardboard box and as you can see arrived in good condition even though temperatures were very high.
The cardboard container is easily folded open so plants are not pulled about when extricating them from the packaging. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve nearly decapitated a plant trying to get it out of the box. Some thought and care has gone into the design of this one, and it’s appreciated.
Plants are carefully tied to supporting canes and plastic bags are wound around the plant pots to stop compost drying out. My only criticism would be that the plastic bags could be biodegradable instead of single use. However, I’ve reused these on top of pots of cuttings to maintain humidity. So mine won’t be thrown away, and will be kept in the potting shed and reused time and time again.
There’s a very useful plant care leaflet included in the box, and a discount code for further purchases. I’ve signed up for more discounts, special offers and gardening club newsletters.
Each plant has a label which is packed full with information. It’s great to see the Union Jack flag on the label, indicating the plants are grown in Britain. I like to support British nurseries as much as I can.
I love this pretty, pale variety Salvia microphylla Delice Fiona. It has rich green leaves, pale pink flowers with a deeper pink centre. Instructions say it can be grown in part shade to full sun, requires moderate to occasional watering and grows 60-90cm high. Can be grown in containers.
Another pink variety is Salvia greggii Shell dancer with large pink flowers with the basal tubes and base of the lower lip coloured deep rose. The outer portions of the lower lip start with ‘hot salmon’ shading then lighten to nearly cream as it ages. The label says the plant is ‘seldom completely out of flower.’ That’s my experience of salvias, they do have a long-flowering period, which makes them such good value.
If you like the paler salvias, this one’s stunning. It’s from a new ‘So Cool’ range. This one is Salvia So Cool Pale Cream. Utterly captivating. New for 2021. Compact-growing, 30-40cm tall.
The first salvias I grew were blue. I love this variety, microphylla Delice Feline. The plant label says the flowers are deep violet with a white centre, flowers profusely until autumn and grows 60 -90cm tall. A new hybrid for 2020.
Another 2020 hybrid is Salvia microphylla Suzanne which has bright red upright flowers with white markings. 60-90cm tall.
And finally, Salvia microphylla Carolus has pretty mauve flowers which look striking set against the darker almost black stems and dark coloured basal tubes. Has a smaller-spreading habit than most microphylla varieties.
I can wholeheartedly recommend Middleton Nurseries for mail-order plants. I’m delighted with my parcel of new and very pretty hybrids. High quality plants, well-grown and expertly packaged. I’ll be posting photos throughout the summer to let you know how they develop.
Here’s some more information about the nursery:
Middleton Nurseries are located in the village of Middleton in Staffordshire and have been growing plants since 1975. The nursery is dedicated to growing a wide range of new and unusual herbaceous, perennials and rare breeds of salvias. Middleton Nurseries was started in 1975 by Stephan Zako and at first grew ‘pick-your-own’ strawberries. John Zako went into the family business after leaving Pershore College with a National Diploma in Horticulture. Using his expertise he slowly transformed the business into ‘one of the leading plant specialist nurseries’ with an extensive block of greenhouses.
In April 2012, the family sold the retail/ garden centre portion of the business and kept the nursery which enabled John to focus on his true passion of growing and breeding plants. The nursery specialises in salvias which they sell up and down the country at RHS gardening shows each year. Since 2021, Middleton Nurseries has become a third-generation family business after John’s son, James, joined the business.
Are you growing any salvias this year? Are you as passionate about them as I’ve become? Get in touch and let me know how you are getting on with your gardening and growing this summer. Thank you, as ever, for reading my blog.
Open the pages of The Flower Yard and you’ll enter a world full of exotic parrot tulips, jewel-coloured dahlias- and flamingos…
You’ll learn much about creating flamboyant Venetian-coloured containers, but you’ll also hear about Caribbean flamingos. For the author, Arthur Parkinson, once had the choice between becoming a zookeeper and horticulture. He chose gardening, and a year’s training at Kew. But in his strange and colourful book, he says he hopes one day to go back to more zoological rather than horticultural pursuits.
To my mind, his latest book seems to combine the two loves of his life. The exotic parrot tulips, feathery grasses and plume-like dahlias are as colourful as birds. And to add to the effect, there’s often a fancy bantam – his other passion in life- nestled in amongst the plants.
Even his words have an avian ring to them. Parkinson talks about planting ‘a flock of dolly tubs’ in preference to acres of land.
“I am not, however, desperate for a larger garden. I find the challenge of conquering the restrictions of an urban environment hugely thrilling. I love small town gardens, by which I mean gardens where plants come first in abundance. I have no desire for endless herbaceous borders, which so easily become tired and full of perennial weeds. Give me a flock of dolly tubs any day, ideally on old bricks or York stone. An old orchard would be, admittedly, heaven though, for hens.”
Back on the subject of birds, Parkinson writes about his choice of colour for plants. Pink, he says can be too light and sickly: “Before you know it, pink can make the garden verge into the Barbie-doll section of Toys “R”Us, outcompeting the other colours.”
Parkinson’s garden was once described by a friend as ‘a path of pots.’ It is, in fact, only 5m (16ft) long and filled ‘cheek by jowel’ with containers on either side, leading to the front door. The book follows a year of growing to create specific displays of plants – one for each season.
One chapter is headed ‘Archipelagos of galvanised metal and terracotta’ and Parkinson says: “I garden in pots because I do not have a choice, but I rarely resent this as it is like having great living vases of growing flower arrangements. You can fill pots easily, cramming them with colour and textures, creating islands of flamboyance.”
I’ve made lists of all the tulips and dahlias to grow for next spring and summer. I love the dark, rich colours he chooses. And now I need to nip out and find a supply of galvanised containers ASAP. Quite honestly, what Arthur Parkinson doesn’t know about planting in dolly tubs isn’t worth knowing. He’s opened a whole new beguiling world of colour, and I can’t wait to create my own ‘islands of flamboyance.’ If I can add the odd flamingo or two in there as well, I will.
The publishers have kindly sent one extra copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave comments below and one name will be randomly selected by computer. Thank you for reading.
Please note, my I-phone photos of the pages do not adequately capture the bright colours and brilliance of the original photos which were taken by the author.
Please check back at 6pm Sunday to see who has won the prize draw copy.
I’m trying out a sample roll of paper mulch in an attempt to cut down on weeding in the flower and vegetable garden. I haven’t paid for this product, but in common with other bloggers, the agreement is to unconditionally try it out and give an honest opinion.
Monty kitten was keen to help. To be honest, he gave more help than was strictly necessary, getting in and under the paper roll. He’s such good company in the garden, always by my side, climbing in and out of my wheelbarrow and tool bag. But paper’s a new attraction for him!
Instructions say place a heavy stone on each corner as you start to unroll the paper, and toss soil along both edges to prevent wind from blowing it away. Monty jumped all over it, which kept it in place nicely until I’d sorted out stones and compost.
I used a Hori-Hori to cut the paper to length, then set out the plants. I’m trying the mulch for dahlias and cosmos in the cut flower beds , and for courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, and strawberries in the veg beds. It would be good for garlic and chard too.
These are the cuttings I’ve been taking since February from dahlias overwintered in the potting shed. They are exact clones of the parent plants, so I now have about 100 new plants for free. All my favourite varieties.
I used my Hori-Hori knife to cut a cross in the paper and then dug out planting holes for the dahlias. A new sharp-pointed trowel made the task quick and easy.
The paper is thick enough to block out light, and therefore suppress weeds, but there are microscopic holes to let air and water permeate. Plants are so far growing well. I’m having to do much less watering than usual.
This product is supplied by Mulch Organic, a family business which offers environmentally-friendly alternatives to black plastic for mulching. They say the products are natural, made from renewable sources and eliminate the need for chemical herbicides. The paper mulch is 100 percent organic and biodegradable. It should last a whole growing season, and at the end of the year, can simply be tilled into the soil to decompose naturally.
There’s also a crepe version, with expansion ribs to allow for stretch for use over mounded beds. These also work well with drip irrigation systems, and can be used in poly tunnels.
As well as the paper rolls, there’s a mulch film made from cornstarch.
Here’s one last photo of Monty. We were out in the garden until 10pm as the temperatures were too hot in the day. I’m hoping the mulch will save time – giving me more time to spend sitting in the garden reading, with Monty on my knee. That’s the plan anyway. I’ll let you know if it works out!
Here’s some of the dahlias I’m growing again this year. This one is Nuit d’Ete.
Dahlia David Howard. A lovely deep orange flower. Cut flowers last 10 days in a vase.
Eveline is a lovely white decorative dahlia with a delicate blush pink centre and tips to the petals.
Thank you for reading the blog. Have you tried any products to combat weeds? Let me know how you are getting on with your gardening projects.
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/.
The winner is: Darran Jaques. Names were put into a random generator and computer selected.
The next book up for review and giveaway is the stunning and unusual The Flower Yard by Arthur Parkinson. Pages are full of exotic tulips and jewel-coloured dahlias and, it has to be said, lovely little bantam hens! Coming soon…
Meanwhile, here’s some more photos of lilies from Naomi’s book, as quite honestly one can’t have enough pictures of lilies to drool over. They are absolutely glorious. Enjoy your week everyone, and thanks for reading my blog and getting in touch. It’s always appreciated.