Six on Saturday – views from my garden April 11 2020

Tulip Mount Tacoma and forget-me-nots.

My favourite Italian terracotta pot near my front door. So sad there are no visitors to enjoy this lovely sight. I’m including it here, so you can all share in the magic of spring flowers. Fairly new introduction Exotic Emperor, a double form of the classic and popular Purissima. Has peony-like petals that curve and twist as they open, revealing a flash of green. Very lovely and my favourite. This is a fosteriana tulip, and here in the Midlands, it always flowers through April. Planted with Narcissus Geranium an heirloom bulb dating back to pre 1930. Beautiful, delicate fragrance. Perfect for cut flowers. I have a row in the veg garden for cutting. Multi-headed – some of the bulbs have four flowers to a stem. I love mixing the old with the new. I’m fond of traditional plants, but I love trying something new.

I’ve always grown the white Purissima tulip, so I thought I would try the new sport, Flaming Purissima, another fosteriana tulip. It is such a joy, with all shades of pink and red ‘flames’ over an ivory white background. Beautiful under a white cherry blossom tree. I’ve planted these in a trench on the veg plot for cut flowers. They last a week in a vase, and watching them turn from tight buds to open, flat, almost water lily-like flowers is a joy. These were introduced in 1999, and they reliably come through the winter and flower each spring for me.

So comforting to know we will have masses of cherries this summer. We leave the trees unpruned. Blackbirds enjoy the crop at the top of the tree, and there’s more than we can use around the downward – arching lower branches. I’ve planted narcissus Pheasants Eye under the trees as an experiment. They flower at the same time. They look so glorious, I’ll fill the orchard with them next spring. They cost very little and are a joy to behold. I’ve taken photos of the garden and made notes to remind myself to order bulbs in July and plant in September. If I don’t make a note, I seem to forget!

In the wild garden around the pond we have this un-named beauty. We planted these 30 years ago. I wish I’d recorded the name as I’d love to plant more as pretty and reliable as these. They have a wonderful scent too. Petals glisten and remind me of sugar coated violets. I wonder if you know what I mean.

And finally, a humble bellis daisy, growing in the cracks between the paving by the back door. I’ve been imploring (nagging) the family not to step on them all winter. I have a little patch 60cm square of delightful little daisies. There’s absolutely no soil there. I feel they deserve to live, having made such an effort to survive.

Enjoy your weekend everyone. This is not to say that we are not all desperately worried by what’s going on in the world, and in our own country. But I’m thinking this sharing of garden photos may help someone keep calm and carry on. There is really nothing else we can do at the moment. Stay at home, help the NHS, stay safe. And look around you and enjoy the beauty of nature. When this is all over, our gardens will still be there waiting for us.

Links: all bulbs were bought from https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

The bellis daisies came originally from my Mum in a little pot stood on the patio all summer. Seeds can be bought from https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Bellis-Goliath-Mixed.html

Please leave comments below and let me know what’s flowering in your garden this Easter time.

What’s flowering in the garden 7th April 2020 -BBC Radio #SowAlong #BBCRadioSowAlong

If you have been listening in to Gardens Hour on Wednesdays on BBC Radio Leicester, you’ll have heard our ‘ten minute tips’ recorded in Ben Jackson’s garden. I always come home and plant the same varieties in my windswept country garden. Ben’s plot is in a lovely sheltered walled garden in a village. His soil is beautifully free-draining, in a garden which must have been worked for 100 years. Mine is cold wet clay, created from farm land over the past 30 years. It’s an interesting contrast and I love to see how plants perform in both our gardens.

Here’s an update on plants, showing what they are looking like today.

We planted tulips for cut flowers on 29th October. These are Exotic Emperor, a new early-flowering tulip, a double form of the popular White Emperor. It has a long flowering period with delicately green flamed cream petals. Looks good for nearly six weeks.

We planted a ‘cut flower mix’ and mine included this lovely Tulip Flaming Purissima. This comes in a range of creams and pinks. Very pretty and reminiscent of the old fashioned flame tulips made famous in the Tulip-Fever era. Very long lasting, and weather resistant.

We planted bulbs ‘lasagna’ style in layers. Here’s my big Italian pot by my front door. This had snowdrops and dwarf iris in January, dwarf tete a tete daffodils in February, and now today has Hyacinth Blue Jacket, Exotic Emperor tulips and scented Geranium narcissi. When these are over, I’ll replant the pot with scented -leaved geraniums for summer.

In both our gardens we planted a range of daffodils to flower from February right through till the end of April. Here’s my pheasants eye narcissi planted under the cherry trees in the orchard. I’m so pleased with these, I’ll mass plant them in September for an even better display this time next year. I’ve gone round the garden making notes and taking photos to remind me where there are gaps and what changes I want to make. If I didn’t make notes, I’d forget by the time September arrives.

Talking about daffodils, we planted these Paperwhite narcissi on December 2nd. Some flowered at Christmas, but I held some pots back in the cold potting shed and brought them out a week apart so that I could have flowers for vases right through to the end of a March. Flowering times are dictated by amounts of daylight and heat. So plants can be manipulated to flower over a period of time.

We planted up our dahlias on 31st January. These were overwintered in a frost-free shed. I took 2″ cuttings in February and these have rooted in the propagator in 3″ pots at 18C. Above are the dahlias making really good growth in their seed trays, half filled with compost to start them off. They will stay in the greenhouse until the end of May.

We sowed our tomatoes on 28 February, and I pricked them out mid March. They are growing nicely just out of the propagator and on the greenhouse benches. I keep the greenhouse heated at 6C.

On 9th March we planted our tiny plug plants which cost about 60p each. We planted them individually in 3″ pots and put them on a sunny windowsill.

They have grown really well, and I’ve managed to take three lots of cuttings from the mother plants, which means lots of bedding plants for free. Taking cuttings makes them grow strong and bushy too, instead of tall and spindly.

We also planted up some impatiens plugs into 3″ pots. These are now in flower and I’m putting them into their summer containers to grow on. I didn’t pay for these plants. They were free samples from the grower, Ball Colgrave.

If you are listening in today, Wednesday 8th April, this is where I’m talking from because I’m isolating due to covid. I’ve got 100 cosmos seedlings in 3″ pots including a new variety Apricot Lemonade. I’m also growing calendula pot marigolds which are great for bees and butterflies. I’m growing the very pale lemon Snow Princess, and pretty calendula Orange Flash.

I’ve just planted my new potatoes, Charlotte and Lady Christl in two of the divided beds. They are planted 12″ (30cm) apart, 4″ (9cm) deep.

I’ve also planted my broad beans, De Monica which is a new variety specially bred for spring sowing. I’ve sown double rows, with plants and seeds 9″ (23cm) apart. Seeds were planted 2″ (5cm) deep.

And this is the view from the greenhouse and potting shed. Turn up the sound to hear the birdsong. There’s a bank of wild cherry trees on two sides of the garden.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my greenhouse and garden. Hopefully the photos have jogged your memory about what we’ve been growing for our ‘ten minute tips.’ I’ll keep you posted on the progress of all these plants. I’m hoping the garden is going to be quite productive and very colourful this summer. That’s three uses of the word ‘hope,’ but under the circumstances, I think we all need some hope, don’t we.

Links : BBC radio Leicester Gardening – Sundays 1-2pm and Wednesdays 12.30 -1pm at the moment, subject to change due to covid. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/live:bbc_radio_leicester

DAB 104.9FM and at BBCSounds. Ask your smart speaker to tune in to BBC Radio Leicester.

Update: today’s programme starts at 2.36.23 on the timeline. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p087sjhn.

Contacts and Information to help you through Corona Virus Lockdown

On BBC Radio Leicester, I talk about my garden, what I’m growing, and try to answer listeners’ phone-in and text queries.

Local radio is helping me find food and supplies whilst I’m in lockdown at home and cannot get out. This week I heard about a catering company delivering fresh food boxes around Leicestershire. I’ve given up attempting to get a delivery slot with supermarkets. Instead I’m going to support small companies, farm shops and cafes which are trying to keep their businesses going by adapting to current needs.

I’ve compiled a list of sources of help and advice you might need -to get you through the corona virus crisis. The BBC’s motto at the moment is #BBCMakeADifference. Here’s the people I think are making a difference right now. And I am mostly focusing on the gardening world. Please add anything you feel might be helpful, in the comments below and I’ll update this list and repost it. Please keep checking back for additions.

THE NATIONAL GARDEN SCHEME

We are unable to get out to visit gardens, but we can still view them on the computer and help charities. It’s good to look at something cheerful at the moment.

The NGS raises money for Marie Curie and Macmillan Nurses, among others, and stands to lose 90 percent of its income this year, with all gardens closed for the foreseeable future. Nurses are needed more than ever, so this is a disaster for the famous much-loved Yellow Book charity. I’ve joined the county team to help them publicise on-line events this year.

What they are doing: posting you tube videos of gardens and asking supporters to make a small donation via the just giving pages.

Links: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/leicestershire-nationalgardenscheme?fbclid=IwAR0UW5cYh126xhGQIVD-fQv8W8ER37KIpe95RkZJh8bXODYuUcBTC4TSihM

CANDIDE APP HELPS NURSERIES

How to obtain plants for our gardens through the corona lockdown:

With the closure of garden centres and other retail outlets, sales of ornamental plants are being badly hit. Growers are seeing orders cancelled and staff are being laid off. Some growers say they will go out of business. The Horticulture Trade Association (HTA) is calling on the government to offer general and financial support. Meanwhile, in an effort to support smaller nurseries who currently don’t sell on line, social media app Candide is listing nurseries and creating an interactive map which will take you to nursery websites. Candide has 300,000 members.

http://candide.gardening.com

Rosy Hardy from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants is helping nurseries with advice on sustainable packaging and hints and tips on selling mail order and on line.

http://www.hardysplants.co.uk/

Alan E Down is presenting online Candide Garden Club Talks starting on Tuesday April 7 at 6pm -7pm. There will be ‘what to do in the garden’ tips and a question and answer session on Zoom app. This talk will be free.

https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tjQtcuusrzkq1bwnEZ03ag-djA51Yjmw

BLOGGERS OFFERING GARDEN AND GROWING ADVICE

ALISON LEVEY is showing videos of her garden with a link to a just giving page, in aid of the NGS :

https://www.blackberrygarden.co.uk/

30 DAYS OF WILD PARENTING is suggesting ways we can all engage with nature at this stressful time. Feeding the birds and learning more about them is one idea on the blog.

https://30daysofwildparenting.wordpress.com/

THE THREE GROWBAGS, three sisters with a #DigYourOwnaForCorona daily posts on gardening and how to create a veg patch. A light-hearted guide to lift your spirits during this worrying time:

https://the3growbags.com/

SALLY WICKS is writing an on-line diary about her gardening life. She is keen for us all to grow flowers this summer to fill our windowsills with colour and joy. Lots of expert help and advice on all aspects of growing.

http://www.sallywicks.com

GARDEN NINJA provides you tube guides for people who are self isolating. Gardening tips for any level of skill for any size space. Explains the theory and shows practical elements of gardening.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuhMHrXyf2bvga2Mq0DJvwQ

GROWING FAMILY is a website packed full of ideas and resources for gardening with children. Lots of ideas to get the whole family out there growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. Craft activities, and projects for all ages.

http://www.growingfamily.co.uk

MIKE PALMER uses Facebook and Instagram live to share his garden and to answer questions on improving your garden and on planting and garden design ideas.

http://www.mike-palmer.com

@mikepalmer01 on instagram

LIFE ON PIG ROW Working with AGENTS OF FIELD to show you what you can grow, cook and eat. #whydontyou hashtag. Asking people to share favourite recipes, hobbies, crafts and skills. It’s all about finding the positives at home and in the garden right now.

https://lifeonpigrow.blogspot.com/

TAMSIN WESTHORPE Has published a free, down-loadable daily wall planner for children called ’30 Days of Fun in the Garden This April’ in conjunction with Orphans Publishing. It offers affordable ideas suitable for windowsill gardening. You don’t need any special skills or equipment. A boon for any parent with children at home at the moment.

https://www.orphanspublishing.co.uk/30-days-of-fun-in-the-garden-this-april/

ANNMARIE POWELL is providing a garden design show at lunchtimes, live on instagram @myrealgarden. There’s also a Facebook page where you can ask advice. And a blog post listing nurseries supplying gardening plants and materials.

http://www.ann-mariepowell.com/

LEICESTERSHIRE NURSERIES DELIVERING PLANTS OR MAIL ORDER

This is obviously an ever-changing situation according to demand and government advice.

Brooklea Nursery, Rothley : 07599 515689

Goscote Nursery, Cossington: 01509 812 121

Six Acre Nursery, Costock. See website for details.

This page will be updated daily. Please let me know if you’d like anything adding which you think might be helpful.

Thank you for listening in to the gardening shows on BBC Radio Leicester. It’s not the easiest situation at the moment with me on the phone in the potting shed – separated from the team. But I’m cheerfully carrying on, and hope that you are finding the advice helpful at the moment.

Radio Leicester is on your smart speaker, DAB and 104.9FM and on BBC Sounds to listen again. https://www.google.com/search?q=bbc%20radio%20leicester

VIRTUAL TOUR -BRADGATE PARK, LEICESTERSHIRE

A much-loved parkland in our county. Home of Lady Jane Grey, the ‘nine days queen.’ Jane was the great grand daughter of Henry Vll through his younger daughter Mary. She was queen from 10 July to 19 July 1553. She died in the Tower of London 12 February 1554. Here’s a virtual tour though the park created in response to the covid crisis.

http://sfm.lboro.ac.uk/bradtour2/

The Secret Lives of Garden Bees- Book Review

BY JEAN VERNON

Hardback 191 pages

RRP £25

ISBN 978 1 52671 186 1

Published by Pen and Sword/ White Owl Books. Foreword by Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Photo from my garden. White-tailed bumble bee on Echinacea White Swan.

Last spring and early summer, we woke every morning to the glorious sound of bees. From dawn till dusk, bumble bees buzzed around the bedroom windows – flung open to welcome warm weather. There is nothing more soothing that waking up to the low hum of bees. We revelled in the sound. We lay there and just listened. There seemed to be nothing more important in the world than listening to ‘our’ bees. And we watched them too. We tried to count them. There were too many to count. Our bees made a nest in the eaves of the house. And they thrived. At one stage we thought we had a swarm. Their fairly relaxed comings and goings suddenly turned frantic. We fretted. What was wrong. Had we read Jean Vernon’s new book – The Secret Lives of Garden Bees – we would have realised our colony was the Tree Bumble Bee, (Bombus hypnorum). And we would have realised their behaviour was perfect normal. They were not under attack, or ill, or annoyed! The sudden frantic behaviour with bees apparently “boiling” out of the nest was perfectly natural. The sudden melee was caused by hundreds of hopeful male bees looking to mate with the newly-hatched queens. Jean’s beautiful book would have been a reassurance. If our bees return again this year we will be armed with more knowledge and will be able to enjoy them all the more.

In Jean’s book we learn that the Tree Bumblebee is a relative newcomer to the British Isles, first appearing here in 2001. It’s a common bee now, making nests under house eaves and in garden bird boxes. It’s an early-emerging bee, with overwintering queens first appearing in February. If nests are disturbed, the Tree Bumblebee can create a real buzz and bees can sting anyone nearby, giving them a bit of a reputation for being aggressive. We had no trouble with ours, but, on the other hand, we didn’t interfere with them, respecting their space and keeping away. Occasionally some would get stuck on this side of the glass, but they were easy to shoo out of the window.

Photo: my i-phone pic of Jean’s photo in her book. The lovely Tree Bumblebee. A relative newcomer to the UK.

Jean’s book gives tips on identifying our garden bees. There are, apparently “cuckoo bees” that look just like the bee species they affect. Cuckoo bees lay eggs in their host bee’s nest, who unsuspectingly raise the cuckoo bee’s young. Luckily, our Tree Bumblebee doesn’t seem to have a cuckoo species that affects it in the UK, but in Europe there is one, Bombus norvegicus.

Hints and tips on helping bees include which plants to grow; plenty of summer flowering varieties, and not forgetting plants that flower in late winter and autumn too. For our Tree Bumblebee, Jean suggests putting up a nest box about 3 metres high in a sheltered place.

Photo: Bumble bees can be trapped in acanthus flowers. Photo from the book by Jean Vernon.

Jean’s book is split in to eight chapters, covering types of bees, bee behaviour, bee food, good plants to grow, and also plants that are deadly for bees. I had no idea acanthus flowers can become a trap. Bees climb inside the flower attracted by the nectar flow, and cannot escape. Late-emerging queen bumblebees caught in this way will deprive the garden of a whole generation of bees. A sobering thought.

Generally speaking ‘good plants’ to grow would be vipers bugloss (echium vulgare) lavender, foxgloves, and other long tubular flowers such as penstemons, comfrey and salvias. Members of the pea family, vetches and birds foot trefoil are also recommended.

Photo: perennial borage loaded with nectar. Photo in the book is by Martin Mulchinock.

Photo: bee look-alike, common drone fly. Original photo by Martin Mulchinock.

There’s plenty of surprises in Jean’s book, including news that we have a bumble bee that looks like a panda – the black and white Ashy Mining Bee (Andrena cineraria). Who knew?

We have tiny bee mimicks called bee flies (Bombylius discolor), which look totally adorable. I’ve been very fond of these fluffy creatures all these years. There’s a thriving colony of them in the garden. However, I am horrified to read they flick their eggs into the nests of poor unsuspecting Ashy mining bee and parasitise them. How could anything so cute be so deadly. I shall look at them in quite a different light from now on!

Meanwhile, I’ll read and enjoy the detailed growing section focusing on phacelia, cosmos, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, currants, borage etc. Luckily I have all those growing this summer for my enjoyment, and now I’ll also be reassured I’m looking after bees as well.

Do you see many bumble bees in your gardens at all? Please leave a comment below and the publishers will randomly select a name to send out a free copy of Jean’s book. I enjoyed every page. It’s a joy to have something as wonderful as bees to focus on. It’s a beautifully-written and well-illustrated book. And there was a message for me. Bees are under attack from poisons, predators, disease. And us- destroying their natural nesting sites. And yet they persist. We must do the same. Thank you for reading the blog. Please keep in touch. Karen.

Pecan Coffee Bites. Cheer-me-up Recipes for Covid

I managed to find a catering company sending out boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables for my Mum. Such a huge relief. On-line shopping is hopeless and there’s a three week wait. I listened in to BBC Radio Leicester, and heard an announcement about small companies trying to survive the covid crisis, and help. And amazingly, the catering company is in the next village to Mum! I’d never heard of them, but I listened as they described filling boxes with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, butter, eggs and delivering them around the county. Their livelihoods are at risk, all public events, parties and wedding are cancelled for this year. It’s a huge comfort to know Mum will have fresh food without having to go out. Anyway at home here, we have now run out of nice treats such as chocolate, biscuits and cakes. I never realised how many times I just popped to the shops for the odd item here and there. Not being able to go out is difficult. To say the least. I’m sharing my recipe for coffee pecan bites as they may be just the cheer-up you need today. Keep positive and focus on all the good everyone is doing. Lots of love to you all. Xx

INGREDIENTS

For the cakes:

50g self-raising flour

50g low fat spread, can be vegan spread

1 tbsp cocoa powder

2.5 tbsp sugar or granulated sweetener

1 tsp baking powder

1tbsp instant coffee powder

Pecan halves to decorate

Pinch of salt

2 large eggs ( or 1 mashed banana, or 4 tbsp oat milk, or vegan egg substitute)

You will need reusable silicone fairy cake cases. Ours came from Lakeland Plastics.

FOR THE BUTTERCREAM

This is suitable for any cakes or biscuits you might make

INGREDIENTS

25g butter, or margarine, low fat spread ( can be vegan sunflower spread )

50g icing sugar

1tsp cocoa powder

1tsp coffee powder.

METHOD

Set the oven to 190c / gas 5

Place all the cake ingredients, apart from the pecans, in a bowl and mix with an electric hand whisk. The mixture should be light, smooth and fluffy with lots of air incorporated from the whisking.

Place a tablespoon of mixture in each cake case. Stand the cake cases on a metal baking tray.

Place the cakes in a pre-heated oven and cook for 16 minutes.

Cakes will slightly shrink from the sides of the cakes cases when cooked and a knife will come out clean.

Set aside to cool

METHOD FOR BUTTERCREAM

Mix the buttercream ingredients together. If using butter, slightly warm in the microwave to incorporate. Pile 1 tsp of buttercream on top of the cakes and add 1 pecan half for decoration. You can use any nuts if you don’t have pecans. It’s very nice with almond slices or hazel nuts.

TIP

Can be stored in airtight container for 3 days. Or can be frozen before adding the buttercream.

Perfect with morning coffee, or as a sweet for a main meal. Place one on top of any fruit, such as sliced pears, to create a simple pudding. Pear and coffee/ chocolate make a tasty combination.

What recipes are you turning to to help you through this current crisis? Are you managing to obtain all the shopping items you need? I can highly recommend listening to your local radio station. They have a campaign called BBCMakingADifference. And I think they are doing so. Thank goodness.

Corokia- My Adventure. My BBC Garden Hour Book of the Week. Book Review

By MONA ABBOUD

Published by Wood Vale Publishing

144 pages. RRP £9.99

ISBN 978-1-5272-5591-3

Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw for a copy of the book.

Having something beautiful to focus on is a blessing at the moment. This week I’m learning all about Corokias, thanks to a new book by passionate gardener Mona Abboud. Corokias are New Zealand plants with leaves that resemble Mediterranean olives. They can be grown as low hedges, as a replacement for box hedging that’s been ravaged by blight or box tree caterpillar. As well as being useful, they are quite beautiful with names such as Frosted Chocolate, Sunsplash, Red Wonder, Silver Ghost, and my favourite, Coco. The undersides of leaves are always silver, but the colour of the surface of the leaf can be plum, bronze, silver and yellow. There are also very pretty variegated leaves.

Corokia Sunsplash -lit up with tiny yellow flowers.

Corokias produce small star-like flowers in spring and pea-size red, orange or nearly black berries in autumn.

Mona has appeared on BBC1 and More4 with her much-acclaimed garden created in Muswell Hill, London. She has a collection of 40 species of corokia and is a Plant Heritage National Collection holder. Her unusual and beautiful garden has won a gold medal from the London Gardens Society.

Mona has travelled all over the world in search of plants in what she describes as her “corokia adventure.” It’s impossible not to be caught up and swept along by her enthusiasm for these “largely unknown and undervalued” plants. Her passion for corokias endears her to growers and plant hunters in the uk and abroad. And it’s not surprising to hear her talk of being given rare and treasured plants and rooted cuttings of special varieties. Who could resist her. Mona’s enthusiasm is heartwarming and palpable.

Many of the photographs in Mona’s book come from her own remarkable garden. It’s amazing to see that the plants can be cloud pruned, topiarised, grown as parasols, or used as hedges and screens. I particularly like the idea of growing them as a multi-stem shrub, with spring bulbs and perennials as ground cover.

The well-illustrated book features sections on the history of corokias, uses and cultivation, the story of Mona’s garden, a study of her national collection and an in-depth description of the genus.

Mona’s determined quest to collect as many varieties as she could started in 2001 when she fell in love with Corokia x virgata Red Wonder growing in a friend’s garden by the sea in Suffolk. She says: “My passion for the genus has grown steadily since then, along with my collection, and this book is the latest manifestation of my evangelism for the genus.

“The aquisition of all forty currently available species and cultivars has certainly taken me on a fascinating and winding journey. ”

I highly recommend you join Mona on her journey via her stunning new book. It’s certainly an amazing adventure, and she is a lively and knowledgeable guide.

Books available from monasgarden.co.uk, and Amazon.

Please leave a comment below and names will be randomly selected for one free copy. So sorry, it’s uk only, due to postage costs.

Notes : Mona has written articles on corokias for the RHS magazines The Garden and The Plantsman, helping to spread the word about this attractive plant.

Monasgarden.co.uk : https://monasgarden.co.uk/?utm_source=monasgardencouk&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=urlredirect

A Walk Around My Country Garden -27 Mar 2020

When I planted this walkway of trees, I never knew how essential they were going to be. I must meander along these paths at least 20 times a day, lost in thought.

I’m sharing as many cheerful photos as I can find today. The covid crisis initially knocked me for six. I am desperately worried about all our elderly relatives. For all those expecting babies in the summer. For my young daughters, one a newly qualified nurse, working with desperately ill patients right now. If I could solve everything with walking, I would have worn out my shoes. It’s the first time in my life I have no answers. I can’t do anything to make it ‘right.’ Normally I can think of something. In every other crisis, I have found a solution. Something to make things better.

So I am turning to what I know. Gardening. Giving out advice to anyone who needs it. Families have struggled to buy fresh salads and veg these past few weeks. I certainly haven’t managed to obtain what I’ve needed. I couldn’t find bread, flour or milk. It’s made me feel vulnerable and determined to be more self reliant when it comes to fruit and veg at least. So anyone who needs grow-your-own advice can contact me and I will help. For specific individual garden design advice, how to start a cut flower garden, grow a meadow, deal with a shady border, I am asking for a donation to Rainbows Hospice direct, any amount and I don’t need to know how much. All my garden club talks have been cancelled, and as you know, all my fees go to Rainbows. The clubs have all rebooked for next year, but I wanted to do something for this year to help. So anyone interested, please e mail me at k.gimson@btinternet.com for more information. I am learning to Skype and FaceTime live, and also using the phone and computer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as my grandparents used to say. Funny how their little sayings come back to you in times of trouble. It’s as if they are trying to help you, even though they are no longer here.

Enjoy the slide show of photos. I hope it lifts your spirits and makes a difference. From now on, I am solely focusing on people who are doing good, sharing information about what they are doing, supporting them in any way I can. That really is the only way forward for me.

I took this video from the garden gate last night. It’s so heartening to see farmers out and about working their fields after such a dire autumn and winter. If they are out there preparing seed beds, then we can too in our own gardens. I shall be glad to see the green shoots of seedlings after a winter of brown, barren fields.

Hedgerow blossom. This looks like a shooting star to me. Such a beautiful sight. A heart-sing moment. The hawthorn too is coming into leaf. Soon there will be clouds of May blossom to cheer us along.

Lots of daffodils at the top of the paddock. These were a sack I bought from Dobbies at Christmas, reduced from £24 to £3. I couldn’t resist the bargain price, and took a risk. They’d been stored cool and dry so were in good condition. I didn’t expect flowers this year, but they are looking stunning. Every bulb has come up. I’ll water with a potash liquid to feed the bulbs for next year. And if I see another £3 sack, I’ll certainly buy it!

Yellow flowers symbolise friendship, and that is certainly what we all need right now to get us through this crisis. I’m relying on phone calls and my twitter friends to keep upbeat. I’ve just added my name to a list of local volunteers to ring round anyone who lives alone and needs someone to chat to once a day.

Today, the wild cherry trees (prunus avium) started to flower. What a wonderful sight. These trees only flower for a week or two, but we will sit under them with our cups of tea, have picnics outdoors and revel in every single moment they are in bloom.

My cut flower tulips are in bud. Tulips in the sunny front garden are already flowering early. I’ll cut a huge bunch of daffodils and tulips for the front windows. Vases of flowers will cheer up anyone passing by, even though they can’t call in to visit.

These double creamy tulips, Mount Tacoma, are favourites. They remind me of swan feathers. So graceful.

Scented narcissi, Geranium and Pheasants Eye, are starting to flower. Fabulous with yellow hyacinths and the first wallflowers.

In the greenhouse, the succulents are starting to glow. I’ve started to water everything, and I’m pleased this aeonium has come through the winter.

There’s plenty of citrus fruit coming along. I’ll be able to make orange cakes and lemon meringues soon.

Would you believe it, my new Polar Bear snowdrop is still in flower – at the end of March. It’s a new elwesii type of snowdrop with huge rounded petals and short pedicels which make the flowers look up and out rather than hang down. It looks rather surprised to be out in the spring sunshine amongst daffodils. I wonder if next year it will flower much earlier.

There’s life in the pond. The tadpoles are forming. Lots of pond skaters, some newts, and we’ve even spotted a grass snake, on our new wildlife camera set up on bank.

I’ve mounted the camera on a log, so I can move it about the garden without it being knocked over. Tonight we are hoping to catch sight of the hedgehogs. They are out and about at dusk, making nests in the bottom of the ‘fedge’ and under the old disused hen house.

Ladybirds are much in evidence. Here they are on the phlomis. My army of pest control workers. I’ve left twiggy piles of stems all around the garden to give insects a place to hibernate. Hopefully they will repay me by eating the aphids.

And there’s plenty of bees, thankfully. Bumble bees and solitary bees of all shapes and sizes. I have a new book to review, The Secret Lives of Garden Bees by Jean Vernon. I can think of nothing better than sitting under my cherry trees and loosing myself in a book. It will be something soothing and calming. Much needed at the moment.

Here’s an enormous bumble bee on the wild anemones. It’s lovely to have a book you can go to to learn more about the bees visiting your garden. And look at ways you can help them to thrive. Something positive to focus on.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk around my garden today. The sun is shining and it’s 30C in the greenhouse. All the windows and doors are thrown open. Get in touch and let me know what’s looking lovely in your garden today. And if you are feeling alone or sad, let me know. We are in this together. And be reassured that lots of people are doing wonderful things to help one another. You just have to look for the positives in life. As ever.

Love Karen xx

Home Grown – salads and veg for quick return during Covid-19

The following notes accompany the BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour between 1 and 2pm on Sundays, on your smart speaker, DAB, 104.9FM and BBC Sounds. I’m writing this in advance so you can follow what seeds I might be talking about.

It’s been difficult over the past week getting hold of any fresh fruit and veg. Quite dismaying to see empty supermarket shelves. I didn’t stockpile, so we are literally running out of everything.

After a bit of a panic, I’ve settled down to this plan of action. Here’s what I’m growing.

Microgreens and Sprouting Seeds

All you need is a kitchen windowsill to grow sprouting seeds. This tiered growing kit comes from Johnsons Seeds, but you could just use a plate with moist kitchen paper, or a shallow tray with compost for the microgreens. Cheap and easy to grow, adds nutrients to soups stews and sandwiches. Perhaps you’ve done this before with children, growing cress and mustard. It’s the same principle.

I’m growing:

Radish Mino Early

Microgreens Gourmet Garnish

Basil

Beetroot for leaves

Mung beans for stir fries.

Microgreens are grown until they are a couple of inches tall, and then trimmed using scissors. You can repeat this process a few times.

Bean sprouts and seeds are grown for 3-5 days and harvested when approx 2.5cm long

Mixed cut and come again salad

I like the idea of these pre-sown mats. All you have to do is pop the mats on top of a pot of compost snd water them. Fuss-free growing. Pick leaves from the outside when they are 5cm (2″) high, leaving the centre of the plants to carry on growing. Anyone can use these. They are great for children too.

PEASHOOTS

I’m growing peas in shallow trays. They will be harvested when the shoots are 4″. The plants will regrow snd you can repeat the process several times. After this, I plant the peas in a 10″ pot in the greenhouse and they grow on to produce a good crop of pea pods. Any edible pea variety can be used. Friends have even used dried peas from the supermarket.

Herbs in Pots

I’ll sow herbs in individual cells, a few seeds per cell. The cells will be moved on to 5″ pots and eventually they will stand on a sunny patio. Meanwhile, I will just keep pinching out the tips to use to liven up pasta and rice dishes, and this will also make the plants bushy.

Spring Onions

Spring onions will be sown in 10″ pots and kept in the cold polytunnel. They are ideal for growing in containers. They are quick growing and can be sown successionally from March to September. One item I do have is a huge bag of potatoes, luckily. Some mashed potato topped with grated cheese and chopped spring onions turns a simple dish into a tasty treat.

SPINACH

Baby leaf spinach is a favourite here, full of vitamins and goodness. I’ll grow these in recycled polystyrene boxes from a delicatessen, garden centre cafe. You could also use window boxes, or 10″ pots.

DILL

Nano is a new dwarf variety perfect for containers. A few clippings of dill turns any dish into a feast. I make a sauce with mayonnaise, butter and dill to add to fish. Totally delicious and full of vitamins. I’ll sow this 3 or 4 seeds to a cell and then the plants will be moved into window boxes.

CARROTS

Round carrots, such as Paris Market or Rondo are perfect for containers and are relatively fast growing. You can also clip some of the leaves to use in salads without it depleting the roots.

TOMATOES – more long term, but starting now …

I’ve a selection of dwarf cherry tomatoes for eventually growing in pots on the patio. These won’t need tall canes for support and won’t need pinching out. They naturally branch into small bushy plants. Started now in a warm window or a propagator at 18C, I’ll be eating tomatoes in June. Hopefully.

CUCUMBERS

I like baby cucumbers for summer salads. I’m growing Beth and La Diva. I’m also trying a new variety, Swing this year. Half fill a 3″ pot with compost and place the seed on edge. Water with tepid tap water. Keep warm at 18-21C. As soon as the seeds grow out of the top of the pot, add more compost around the stem. Harden off carefully, putting the delicate plants in the propagator over night and out in the greenhouse in the day to prevent damping off disease. Keep warm until June. I’m planning to grow some outdoor and some in the poly tunnel.

SOMETHING FOR CHILDREN

With children off school, cress seeds will be a winner. And also start off sunflowers, not to eat, but to brighten the garden and maybe for a competition to see who can grow the tallest.

My propagator glowing in the dark

It’s been a challenging time where stress levels have been through the roof here. But I feel calmer with a plan of action. Just sowing a few seeds has given me some respite from worries. It’s been a welcome distraction from covid troubles.

Let me know how you are getting on. Have you found it difficult to buy supplies. What are you growing their spring?

Links : seeds from Mr Fothergills https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/

Johnson’s Seeds: https://www.johnsons-seeds.com/Home_4/Oriental-Seed_3/Sprouting-Seeds-Sunflower.html#.XnaUjoGnyfA

Little Gardeners https://www.johnsons-seeds.com/Home_4/Oriental-Seed_3/Sprouting-Seeds-Sunflower.html#.XnaUjoGnyfA

Plants of distinction : http://www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of love, karen x

Comfort Food for a crisis – five minute microwave fruit pudding

If you’re struggling to put your mind to much at the moment, here’s a fast pudding you can make with store cupboard ingredients. You don’t even need to switch the oven on. It’s cooked in the microwave and is ready in five minutes.

INGREDIENTS

3oz margarine ( we use palm-oil free Lurpack)

3oz sugar

5oz SR flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg

4 tbsp milk

Sprinkle of mixed dried fruit (optional)

1 apple (optional)

Sprinkle of Demerara sugar for the top.

METHOD

Use an electric hand whisk or food processor to mix the sugar, margarine, egg and milk. Add the flour, baking powder and dried fruit and whizz to incorporate.

Chop one apple and place in the bottom of a glass Pyrex deep dish. You can use any fruit you like. This is also nice with drained tinned peaches, apricots, mandarins, pears, pineapple. Or you don’t have to use any fruit at all, just the sponge mixture.

If using fruit, place the sponge mixture on top.

Cook in a microwave for five minutes. Remove promptly or the pudding will steam. The pudding will carry on cooking for a few minutes after you’ve taken it out of the microwave. Insert a knife into the centre to check that it’s cooked. The knife will be clean if cooked. If not put back for another minute. The pudding shrinks from the sides of the dish as another clue to check whether it’s cooked.

Sprinkle a tablespoon of golden or Demerara sugar over the top. Place under a hot grill for a minute to caramelise and brown the top.

Serve with ice cream, custard, fresh cream.

Serves 6 people and lasts 2 days if kept cool.

VARIATIONS

Instead of dried fruit add 1 heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder. You do not need the Demerara sugar topping as the cake will be brown. This is delicious with mandarins.

This recipe came from my mum and is a family favourite. I’m especially sharing this here for my youngest daughter who is buying a house in the middle of this corona crisis. As if life wasn’t stressful enough. And she will be cooking in her own kitchen for the first time in two weeks. Good luck Rachel xx

Fred, from the FrenchGardener blog (see comments below) suggests making caramel before adding the apples.

150g sugar and 50cl water in the dish for 2.30m to 3 minutes on 900w power. Then add the chopped apples followed by the sponge mixture, sounds delicious. Thanks for the idea.