Honda Cordless Lawn Mower- Product Trial

I’ll be honest, cutting the lawn is not one of my favourite tasks. We have an old petrol mower which is a bit of a beast. It has a pull-cord start, and my arms are just not long enough. After the first painful attempt, I usually wheel the machine back in the shed and wait for help. So frustrating! I hate having to wait for someone stronger to help me. I feel defeated. Then along comes Honda with an offer to try out one of their new battery power machines. I must admit, I cheered.

Honda’s delivery driver arrived promptly with two boxes containing a lawn mower and a hedge trimmer. There was also a brand new Honda racing motorbike in the back of the van. My heart skipped a beat. Sadly I couldn’t persuade him to leave it behind ….. I tried. It’s 30 years since we had a motorbike. We had a British Triumph Bonneville- which took us all over Europe, up through Scotland, and all around the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. Before children arrived. And after that, we decided we should be sensible and sell it. Couldn’t really fit two babies on the back. Anyway, I digress. Back to lawn mowers…. So we sold the motorbike and settled down in a family home with an acre garden. Since then, we’ve had a division of power here. Mr B cuts the lawns, and I plant, weed and prune, grow flowers, fruit and veg. The problem comes when Mr B goes sailing- which is very often. He and his whole family are sailing-mad. We have a nephew John Gimson who is currently World Champion and part of the British Olympic Sailing Team (NACRA) sailing a catamaran. Mr B in the past has supported John by driving the racing boats across Europe on a low loader. Something he loves doing. Meanwhile, at home, the grass get longer and longer and starts to look messy.

This autumn, I wanted to cut the grass in the orchard really short, and sow wild flower seeds in the bare patches where there’s been molehills. With the new lawn mower, I was able to do it without asking for help. Independence at last!

Here’s a run down of the things I like about the new cordless mower.

1.

To start it, all you have to do is press the yellow button on the side of the handle. No shoulder-wrenching pull cord.

2.

To make the mower go forward, you just press the bar towards the handle. As a safety feature, if you let go, the mower stops. There’s no way it can run off with you ( like my old petrol -driven monster mower.)

3.

Another safety feature is the little turn key, which isolates the battery if you need to turn the mower on its side to remove excess grass from around the blades. I would also quickly remove the battery too. Fast and simple operations.

4.

The battery slides easily into the front of the machine. There’s three types of batteries with different run times.

The cheapest, battery, number 4, cuts for about 35 minutes and takes 35 minutes to charge. To be honest, 35 minutes was enough for me. I had a cup of tea and a rest while the battery was charging, and then we were off again. The handbook says this battery covers 365m2 lawn area.

Number 6 battery covers 485m2.

Number 9 battery covers 730m2 on one charge.

The battery charger is note-worthy. It has its own cooling fan and various flashing lights to tell you how it’s doing. It looks rather impressive.

5.

There’s a simple handle to change the cutting height. Easy to operate.

6.

There’s a pressed steel powder-coated deck. This made the whole machine look robust and substantial. Yet the weight was push-able at 22.5kg for the machine and 1.3kg for the battery. I didn’t struggle at all, and didn’t feel totally worn out after ten minutes, like I do with our petrol mower. Plus, it’s clean, there’s no petrol fumes, and the mower is relatively quiet. The handbook says the noise range is 91bB(a). I’m comparing it with the petrol mower, which we wear safety ear protectors with, and battery powered is much quieter. A small thing, but important to me, the battery powered machine didn’t scare off all the birds. We have a small stand of trees, and all summer we’ve had a tawny owl fledgling here. It’s such an joy to have these birds in the garden. I would hate to scare them away.

Above: Some of the wild flowers I’ve planted in the orchard. I hope they will spread and form a golden carpet in spring.

I thoroughly enjoyed my two-month trial with Honda’s new mower. There’s two available in the range. This one, the HRG416XB, has a 16 inch cut and there’s a larger machine which has an additional mulching option. There’s also a hedge trimmer, brush cutter and leaf blower in the new cordless range- and all use the same battery.

I haven’t been paid to write anything about the mower. I’m free to give my honest opinion. But I can say, I’ve enjoyed having the freedom to cut my lawn when I want to, and the Honda mower was a dream to use. I’ve still got my heart set on test driving the Honda racing motorbike though…… watch this space!

Thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend.

Links: New Honda range of cordless machines: https://www.honda.co.uk/lawn-and-garden/products/cordless/overview.html?gclid=Cj0KCQiAnb79BRDgARIsAOVbhRpdTbjHM8G3wFtmzG8qaxoynM9oOb6lgjVh7uT99NKRN4saKFpurlYaApo8EALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

I’m @kgimson on twitter, and karengimson1 on Instagram.

A video I made for instagram :

Pear and Almond Pastries- family favourite recipes

It’s been a bumper year for fruit. There’s crates of pears in the spare room, and little piles of rosy red apples all along the windowsills. The whole house smells like pear and apple crumble! I’ve never managed to reach the top of the fruit trees before. Our old ladders were too wobbly. But this year I’ve a fabulous new addition to the garden- a Henchman tripod ladder. It’s made everything easier – and safer. All the best, tastiest fruit- always at the top of the tree- has been harvested. This year, more than ever, it feels as if nothing should be wasted. Spare fruit has been distributed to friends and family in little paper bags. Damaged, over-ripe fruit has been enjoyed by hedgehogs and blackbirds, so wildlife has not been forgotten either.

One of our favourite autumn recipes is Pear and Almond Pastries. As usual, just a few ingredients are needed, and the little parcels of tasty pears only take minutes to make. Have a go at making them, and let me know how you get on.

INGREDIENTS

1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry

3 or 4 ripe pears

1 tbsp dark brown sugar

3 tbsp ground almonds

1 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2tbsp flaked almonds for the top

1 egg, beaten (optional- use almond milk for vegans)

Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Baking tray with baking paper or silicone sheet.

190C oven 15-20 minutes

METHOD

Unroll the pastry and cut into squares. Lay them on the baking tray.

Peel and halve the pears. Place slices on top of the pastry squares.

In a bowl, mix the sugar, ground almonds, ground cloves, cinnamon together. Pile spoonfuls of the mixture on top of the pears.

Take the corners of the pastry and draw them together to make a rough parcel. The pastries will stretch and turn out all shapes, and it doesn’t matter. They will still taste the same.

Brush the top with beaten egg (or almond milk) and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.

Cook in a preheated oven for 15 -20 minutes. Check them after 10 minutes to see how brown they are. The pastries will be ready when they are risen and light brown. They burn easily, so keep an eye on them. 20 minutes might be too long for fast ovens. Dust with icing sugar, if you have some.

Can be eaten cold or warm. Can be frozen for 3 months. Delicious with clotted cream, or custard. We also love them with home-made vanilla icecream.

Thanks for reading. Have a great gardening week and keep in touch.

Links: Henchman ladders https://www.henchman.co.uk/

Fruit trees: Six Acre Nursery, Costock, Leicestershire.

Silicone sheets are reusable from http://www.kitchenrangecookshop.com/

Photos above show two packets of puff pastry.

Little Green Paper Shop- Review

I need little excuse to send cards to friends and relatives. I love keeping in touch with cheerful notes, and this year it seems even more important that usual to try to keep a connection. But I’m usually disappointed with the cards I see for sale. They are often single -use items, covered with embellishments and glitter. Not always recyclable. So I was happy to see a sample pack of eco-friendly stationery from the Little Green Paper Shop.

Founded by Ana in Cheshire in 2014, the online shop stocks a range of beautiful cards made from such intriguing substances as elephant dung and cotton fibre, and apparently, reindeer droppings. The elephant dung paper is hand-made in India and provides a source of income for elephant sanctuaries which the makers support.

Ana started by supplying wedding stationery, but has branched out to provide cards, crackers and wrapping paper for Christmas and other special occasions. Ana designs, prints, cuts and packages the items, and it’s very much a family affair with her husband and two sons helping out.

The samples I received are so delightful – and made me smile- I have placed an order for Christmas, and I’m planning to have some business cards printed. I fancy the idea of having cards made from seed paper which can be planted and will grow. Truly something earth-friendly and worth giving. Quite different from the throw-away cards you usually see.

Kitten Monty likes them too! And cats, as you know, are never wrong.

Please leave a comment in the box at the bottom of the page and Ana will select one person to receive a sample pack of cards and paper.

Notes:

I didn’t pay for my samples, but as usual, there’s no obligation to write about them, and I only say nice things when I want to, and in this case, I think the cards are unusual and truly special. I’m happy to recommend the Little Green Paper Shop.

https://littlegreenpapershop.com/

Thanks for reading. I’m @kgimson on twitter, and karengimson1 on instagram, so do say hello there as well.

Book Review: American Gardens

By Monty Don

photos by Derry Moore

Published by Prestel

Hardback 223 pages

ISBN: 9783791386751

Published autumn 2020

£35

Such a lot has changed since Mum and I sat, side by side, watching Monty Don’s American Gardens television series over the winter. Little did we know corona virus was on the way, and we wouldn’t see each other for most of the spring and summer. One of our simple pleasures in life is to watch the gardening programmes mum has recorded the week before. Enjoying our home-made cake and cups of tea, we would um and ah over the gardens- much more fun than watching alone. We were unanimous in our admiration of glorious, colourful, plant-filled gardens, and sternly, dismissively critical of others. And laughter. There was much laughter. Such fun. Just watching in companionable silence too. I miss those moments. Mum has to be extremely careful. So our fledgling visits to each other’s gardens have been cautious and metres apart. Indoors, and television -watching, is rationed. I touch nothing and keep a distance. This is how it will be until we have faster, easier corona virus testing. Or a vaccine.

Just as I’m mulling over all the changes to our lives, and trying to solve a few impossible problems, Monty’s new book arrives. And I sit down and read it. From cover to cover. Monty Don asks, ‘What is an American garden.’ Well, if he can be as bold as to attempt to find the answer to that question, I’m sure I can overcome one or two tricky dilemmas of my own. I clearly remember Monty saying “The belief you can do anything, if you believe in it enough, is what defines the American Garden.” Reading his new book transports you to another place where anything is possible. And that’s certainly a message we all need right now.

Here’s some of the gardens I picked out to show you, and ones I enjoyed in his new book.

The Federal Twist garden, Stockton, New Jersey is one that stands out.

I’m still chuckling over the quote from owner James Golden, who says,”I forgot to mention that I hate gardening.”
Monty notes “It was probably a well-rehearsed line but, given the extraordinarily beautiful garden he has created and the deep pleasure that it clearly gives him, an effective show-stopper. Why? I asked. ‘I hate getting my hands dirty. I hate struggling to separate roots and then digging a hole. I have someone to do that for me. I place the plants, pull plants out. I’m constantly working out what I need and where to move things. I don’t feel it necessary to dig or plant to be fully engaged with the garden.’ I suspect that the British, and in this I include myself, fetishise the actual process of gardening too much, sometimes to the extent that the hardworking, skilful means justify the rather dull ends.”

A revealing portrait of the gardener, and of the garden visitor, Monty Don.

These are my i-phone photos of the book taken in the potting shed, and do not do justice to the clarity of the stunning photography by Derry Moore.

Federal Twist.

Federal Twist.

The swimming pool at the Bob Hope House, Palm Springs.

Inside the Amazon Spheres in Seattle.

Climbing fig (Ficus pumila) in the orangery at Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC.

Vizcaya, Miami, Florida. The house reflected in the Tuscan-inspired pool.

Prairie Garden Trust, New Bloomfield, Missouri. A field of coneflowers.

Central Park, New York City. The two towers of the San Remo apartment building designed by Emery Roth in 1930.

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

Monty sitting under a banyan tree. He looks lost in thought. The sheer scale of the trees and the landscape. It’s mesmerising.

You’ll have to read the book to see what conclusions Monty arrives at. I found it a joy to read in these troubled times. If humans can create gardens such as these, surely it gives us hope. Anything is possible. And at the end of the day, that’s what we need most of all at the moment. Hope.

Links:

Leave a comment in the box at the bottom of the page, and Prestel will select one reader to receive a free copy. Sorry, uk addresses only at the moment. I’ll run another draw when the book is published in America. It would make a wonderful Christmas present. It’s certainly a ‘wow’ production, with glossy double page spreads of photographs and thought-provoking writing.

Prestel publishing: https://prestelpublishing.randomhouse.de/book/American-Gardens/Monty-Don/Prestel-com/e570814.rhd

Federal Twist garden: https://federaltwist.com/

I’m @kgimson on twitter and on instagram https://www.instagram.com/karengimson1/?hl=en.

Thank you for reading.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

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

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

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

BOOKS TO READ:

An Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade

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

The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty

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

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

Niwaki winner… prize draw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Niwaki tools review – and some garden snips to give away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Online Hand Tie Posy Course with Georgie Newbery

Flowers for my Mum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hydrangeas by Naomi Slade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hozelock Pure Bokashi composter was won by Lucy Corrander.

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

Hozelock Tuffhoze was won by Mary Thomas.

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

Wildlife World Wildlife Observation Camera was won by Sean.

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

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

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

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

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

Hydrangeas – book review and 1 copy to give away

HYDRANGEAS

By Naomi Slade

Published by Pavilion Books 9th July

RRP £25.00 hardback 239 pages

Photography: Georgianna Lane

ISBN 978-1-911641-23-0

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

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

Photo: Hydrangea Polestar.

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

Photo: Runaway Bride Snow White.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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