Tomato and Thyme Tart – family favourite recipes

Suddenly, at this time of the year, the kitchen windowsill is covered with tomatoes. All sizes from giant heritage beefsteak Marmande to tiny cherry types such as Sweet Million and Red Robin. Some are bright sealing-wax red, soft and ready to eat. Some shine like emeralds, green and firm. They will ripen over the coming weeks.

Here’s a favourite recipe, perfect for utilising your tomato harvest. As usual, it’s a quick and simple idea. It takes 10 minutes to make, and 15 minutes to cook. Tomato and herb tarts travel well and are suitable for picnics too. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

1 pack ready rolled puff pastry

1 egg yolk -beaten

7oz /200g cheese ( can be Cheddar, gruyere-or whatever you have)

14oz /400g tomatoes, thickly sliced

Few sprigs of thyme – leaves only

1tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

Salt and black pepper

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 210C /190C fan/ gas mark 7

Cover two baking trays with either re-usable silicone sheets or baking parchment to prevent the tarts sticking.

Roll out the pastry. Use a 7” tea plate as a template. Lay the plate on the pastry and use a sharp knife to cut a circle.

You’ll get two 7” round tarts, or one 7” and four 4” tarts from a roll of pastry. The off-cuts of pastry can be used for cheese straws. Just add grated cheese and twist to incorporate.

Transfer the circles of pastry to the baking trays. Use a blunt knife to score an edge to each circle, 1.5cm or 1/2” wide.

Brush each border with the beaten egg. Use a fork to prick over the base of the tarts to stop them rising.

Pile grated cheese into the centre of the circles. Take care not to get any filling on the edges, or they won’t rise.

Arrange slices of tomato in concentric circles on top of the cheese.

Season with salt and pepper and scatter over the thyme leaves.

Drizzle over a few drops of olive or rapeseed oil

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the pastry edges have risen and are golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Garnish with some fresh herbs.

Can be served warm or cold. Can be frozen.

For a vegan alternative, omit the egg and use melted vegetable margarine and use vegan cheese.

Some of the 4” tarts, fresh from the oven

My Marmande tomatoes were prolific this year. I sowed seeds in February, pricked seedlings out in March and planted them in their final 12” pots in May. I grew mine in an open-ended poly tunnel, which protected them from the worst of the weather.

Pictured above, some of the tomatoes we’ve grown here. Recommended varieties include blight -resistant Crimson Crush. Also Gardeners Delight, Tumbling Tom, Sweet Million and Golden Sunrise.

I listened to a podcast called Fresh from the Pod this week. Gardener and writer Tamsin Westhorpe was interviewing Chris Collins. Tamsin is the gardening world’s version of Michael Parkinson, in my opinion. It’s fascinating to get a real insight into the lives of our gardening personalities. Anyway, half way through the interview, Tamsin says she never turns any opportunities down. She never says no to anything. Always has a go, because you never know where it might lead. So, this gave me courage to try something new this week. As you know, I love cooking. My happiest memories are sitting around a table with my parents and grandparents and just being fed the most delicious meals. Just that feeling of being loved and cared for. It lives on in my memory like an indelible photo album. Well, it’s gradually become my turn to produce memories for other people. I’ve loved cooking for my children and the recipes here are written down for them, incase they ever need them. And today I also recorded my first “grow it, cook it, eat it” for Ben Jackson at BBC Radio Leicester. They have a ‘Food Friday’ segment which I’ve always wanted to have a go at. Remembering Tamsin’s words, I ventured forth! It was a shaky start, as we were cooking outdoors (social distancing) and the wind was blowing my bits of baking parchment about. The cat wanted to join in. He usually “helps” when we are gardening. And the neighbour’s dog started barking. Ah well, nothing is perfect in real life, is it. It was a fun thing to do and I hope you enjoy listening. It’ll make you laugh, I’m sure.

At 2.08.26 in the timeline. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08nvhpx

A Walk Around My Garden and Back Fields -7 December 2019

Can there be anything more cheerful in winter. Hyacinths, planted in October and grown in the dark, now brought out into the light. Roots climbing out of the pots. Emerald green flower spikes. The promise of flowers- and scent- at a time when we need promise. I potter about all day in the sunshine, planting bulbs, poking about in plant pots, looking for life. I find snowdrops. The tiny white flowers, tight closed. But soon they will be lighting up the garden.

In the greenhouse, the miniature iris bulbs are through. I’m growing Iris reticulata Harmony, a lovely deep inky blue; Katherine Hodgkin, pale blue, and a new variety, Katherine’s Gold, a sport which is a pretty pale yellow form.

These pots will be placed on garden tables in spring, but for now, they’ll stay protected in the greenhouse. Mice are very partial to bulbs.

All jobs completed- pots tidied for recycling, and a few leaves raked into piles to be turned into leafmould- I set off for my daily walk out though the top gate and along the hedgerow path.

Oak trees and hedgerows are almost bare now. A chance to enjoy the beautiful intricate structure of branches. Hidden views are revealed, and if we are lucky, we see a barn owl, hunting in the late afternoon as food becomes scarce.

Just a few crab apples remain on trees. Blackbirds and mice have had a feast this year. It’s been a record harvest.

I find a patch of oak leaves turning a glorious gold. But why haven’t the winter gales blown the leaves across the field, like the rest of them.

Looking closely, I find leaf galls on the undersides of the leaves. They are types of Oak Spangle galls. I wonder if they can somehow manipulate the chemical composition of the leaf to delay senescence. I have seen tiny insects, mine caterpillars, do this in my beech leaves. There are so many mysteries, so much more to learn. Who knows if this will be useful to humans in some way in the future.

On my beech tree leaves, a tiny green oasis remains. Evidence of tunnelling by the moth larvae of Stigmella tityrella. Have you ever noticed these on your trees before?

I find a hazel leaf cozily wrapped around a twig. I gently peep inside. Who could resist? A tiny cluster of ladybirds are snuggled at the base. I carefully fold the leaf back and hope they stay safe and sound until spring.

Turning back, the sun is starting to set. I can see our trees in the distance. A blackbird sings in the hedge. It sounds so loud on a still afternoon when there’s no one else around to hear it. Just me. It will be dark soon, so I hurry across the fields. Suddenly it feels cold. How quickly a sunny day can turn to dusk. Luckily I know the path well and could find the way with my eyes closed. Which is just as well, as it’s pitch black by the time I reach home.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share my blog and help me spread the word. Are you managing to get any gardening done at the moment. Get in touch and let me know.

Links: More than Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/07/six-on-saturday-07-12-2019/

Stigmella tityrella :http://www.leafmines.co.uk/html/Lepidoptera/S.tityrella.htm

Moths: https://ukmoths.org.uk/species/stigmella-tityrella

Galls: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/07/galls-to-spot-this-year/

A Walk Around My Garden – 23rd November 2019

If I could only have one tree, it would be a field maple. At this time of the year, there’s a golden carpet of leaves covering the whole garden. Even dark corners and shady woodland walks are glowing yellow. Much needed cheer, when the days are short and turning cold and dark. We must find our own warmth from nature, whenever we can.

This year, I’m experimenting with the boundary. Thin branches are laid horizontally to form a ‘fedge,’ a cross between a fence and a hedge. This creates a habitat and shelter for mice and hedgehogs, birds and insects. Smaller twigs are put through my new shredding machine to create woodland paths and mulch. The idea is to make use of everything in the garden and do away with the need for bonfires, which are bad for the environment. Sunflower and cow parsley stems will be woven into the ‘fedge’ creating useful hibernation sites for beetles, ladybirds and lacewings. Even earwigs are welcome here, useful predators of vine weevils and many orchard pests.

Looking up, you can see there’s plenty of twiggy growth in this garden. I rather like the pattern of black stems and yellow maple leaves. It looks like a pen and ink drawing and someone has ‘scribbled’ across the skyline.

Temperatures suddenly dropped below zero for the first time this autumn. We’ve been relatively mild until now, with record amounts of rain. The hazel trees responded by dropping all their leaves in one go- as if in fright. Overnight, puddles of ‘gold’ appeared all over the garden.

Searching for more gold, I found a dogwood, Midwinter Fire.

This dogwood is beautiful all year round, but particularly shines in November. When the leaves drop, bright orange stems will catch the winter sunlight. A wonderful sight in snow and frost. Well worth planting in any border, in full sun, or part shade. Needs minimal pruning, unlike the red-stemmed varieties which can be pruned to the 3″.

Mooching about the garden, I find a mini potted fruit tree with its first apple. This is a desert apple, Malini, growing on a dwarfing root stock. I’m growing it in a 12″ pot and it will go with my youngest daughter when she flies the nest. I have a patio full of tiny fruit trees, to form a fledgling orchard, for her first home.

Into the poly tunnel, I find some pretty chrysanthemums coming into flower. These are the hardy Stallion variety. They can cope with the cold, but do better if protected from rain. They are grown in 10″ pots, stood outdoors all summer, and brought under cover in October.

There’s plenty of yellow chrysanthemums too. We call these Aunty Dorris, as cuttings were given to my father law by his aunt in the 1950s. Much treasured in our family.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your walk around my garden this week. Are you searching for colour at this time of the year. What are you finding that’s cheering you up at the moment?

Finally, as a change from gold, I find these beautiful – and very late roses in the front garden hedge. I believe they are the Ballerina Rose, a really good, disease-resistant variety. It flowers on and off all summer- and right up until Christmas. In fact, these roses will be going into my Christmas door wreaths, along with rosehips, old man’s beard wild clematis, fir cones and crab apples. Guaranteed to bring good cheer.

Links :

Field Maple, Acer campestre https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/field-maple/

Hazel : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/hazel/

Dogwood https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/57639/i-cornus-sanguinea-i-midwinter-fire/details

Apple trees: http://www.lubera.co.uk/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAw4jvBRCJARIsAHYewPOyG2A6Q46HJPng2Xsb2BEURZuS09DZ69up4PWKOAp7k10agvT6HVgaAuxQEALw_wcB

Rose Ballerina: https://www.classicroses.co.uk/ballerina-shrub-rose.html

More than Six on Saturday : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/11/30/six-on-saturday-30-11-2019/

In a Vase on Monday- 25th November 2019

Flowers from my garden. For Joan.

Today’s flowers feature my father-on-law’s hardy yellow chrysanthemums. We don’t know the proper name for them, but in our family they are known as ‘Aunty Dorris.’ My father-in-law had been growing them since Aunty Dorris gave him a cutting in the 1950s. He grew them for his wife Joan, who particularly loved the sunny yellow flowers. Now the cuttings have been passed to me, and I’m keeping up the tradition of growing flowers for Joan.

The flowers have a gorgeous lime green centre which sets off the bright yellow petals. They last at least three weeks in a vase, with water refreshed every day.

Variegated ivy with golden flower heads provide foliage for my chrysanthemum posy.

Oak and beech leaves gathered from the garden add some lovely warm burnished tones.

Autumn trees across the horseshoe pond are reflected in the potting shed windows.

There are rows of beech trees all around the garden, remnants of an old hedgerow. Trees stand bare all winter, but juvenile foliage at the base provides copper-coloured leaves through until next May.

Chrysanthemums are often winter hardy, but the flowers are spoiled by rain, so I grow them in many 12″ pots. They stand outdoors on the paving all summer, and are brought in to an unheated poly tunnel around first week of November. After very mild temperatures, we had one night of -2C so I covered the flowers to protect them from the sudden chill. They were uncovered the next day, and night time temperatures have been 8 to 11C since then. The pots will supply a steady flow of flowers until the new year. Plenty for Christmas. And plenty for Joan, who is now living in a care home with Keith. I’m glad to be keeping up our family tradition. I often think of Aunty Dorris and wonder if she realised her cutting would lead to so much joy shared down through the years.

Here’s a photo of Joan on her wedding day, standing on the steps of Cosby Methodist Chapel. Joan did the flowers for the chapel for 65 years and Keith played the organ for weddings and chapel services. This photo, in a home-made metal frame, is a little battered as Keith carried it all around Korea for his army national service.

Thank you for reading. Please share this blog on any social media platform, share with your friends and neighbours and help me spread the word. Hopefully I’ll inspire someone to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables. It’s really simple, if you have a few pointers and little hints and tips along the way. Enjoy your garden.

Links: In a Vase on Monday https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

A walk Around My Garden – 16 November 2019

Today’s photos have a golden theme running through them. For a few short weeks, everything glows. It’s a last gift from the garden before we descend into cold dark days. And it’s a very welcome gift. Even the flowers are golden. The last dahlias make a cheerful posy for the garden table. Tubers of favourite David Howard dahlia are tucked up under a foot of dry leaves now. Here I’ve found some blue borage and a few nasturtiums to go with the solo dahlia bloom. I feast my eyes on the sight. It will be another 9 months before I see dahlia flowers again.

Luckily, in the poly tunnel, my ‘Aunty Dorris’ chrysanthemums are coming into flower. My father in law has been growing these since the 1950s after receiving cuttings from his aunt. Sadly he’s had to leave his garden, and the precious plants have come my way. I’m determined to keep them going, in memory of Aunty Dorris and as a tribute to their shared love of gardening. There will be a steady flow of flowers to the care home where my relatives now live, right up until Christmas time.

White Swan chrysanthemums are also flowering. I grow them in 12″ pots in an open-ended poly tunnel. They don’t mind the cold, but the rain spoils their flowers. There’s often enough for Christmas table decorations.

Stepping out of the poly tunnel door, this is the scene. A bank of wild cherry trees make a golden veil. Next spring there will be snowy white cherry blossom, followed by luscious red fruit. There’s always something to look forward to. Nothing stays the same. I remind myself this, when there’s bare stems and cold dark days ahead. Winter is not my favourite time of the year, but I store up memories of the past, and at the same time, look to the future. My garden provides a kind of winter armoury.

Alongside the greenhouse, there’s a group of hazel trees. We harvest a few cob nuts each year, but squirrels take most of them. It’s cheerful to see catkins – or lambs tails- forming already.

Through the hazel and maple trees, you can just spy the summerhouse. Fallen leaves make a golden footpath leading the way.

Tall golden beech trees make a backbone for the summerhouse. It will be six months before we see lime green shoots and new leaves again.

Surrounding trees and the back fields are reflected in the summerhouse windows. Sunset is a favourite time to sit here and ponder on the growing year coming to a close. And also think about all the flowers, fruit and veg I’ll be growing next year.

What plans have you for your garden next spring? Are you enjoying the autumn colours just now, as we are here in the Midlands? Get in touch and let me know how things are going in your garden right now.

While you are looking at these photos there’s some music to go with them. Here’s the link to Yellow (Coldplay) sung by Jodie Whittaker for Children in Need. It’s very appropriate for my post this week. At 1.35.09 on the timeline. Or number 12 on the playlist.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07sc6bw

Children in Need; https://www.bbcchildreninneed.co.uk/shows/got-it-covered/

Links : SOS. I like to join in with Six on Saturday, but always have more than six to share https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/11/16/six-on-saturday-16-11-2019/

Six on Saturday- A Walk Around My Garden and Back Fields- 9th Nov 2019

It’s a cold, misty start to today’s walk around my garden and back fields. Peering through the gap in the hedge, the old oak tree looks golden. We see a fox crossing the field, so brazen in the morning light. Fox and field blend into one. All autumnal tones merge today. The fox heads for the ditch, sending a pheasant flying into the next field. In the hedge where I’m standing, blackbirds and robin start up their alarm call. I think it must be the fox causing the upset. But then a buzzard glides low overhead- silent at first, then making a plaintive mewing cry. I shiver. Magnificent. Deadly. Owning the sky.

We walk along the ridgeway path. It’s been a slow start to autumn here. Field maples usually yellow-up by mid to end of October. Suddenly today, as temperatures dip below zero, the hedgerow takes on a golden hue. It reminds me of a patchwork quilt. ‘Squares’ of black dogwood stitched together with patches of golden maple. Such a pretty view. I gaze at it, and hold it in my memory. A few autumn gales and the magic will be gone. A whole year before we see such sights again.

Blackberries. The bane of my life this year. They have taken over my garden and this winter there will be serious chopping back. Meanwhile, leaves glow a glorious red. Quite pretty, if they were not so determined to take over the world.

It’s been wet here. So far this month there’s been 42mm of rain. In October we had 146mm, and in September, 118mm. The ground is waterlogged, ditches overflowing. We follow a path where horses have trod. The ground is so soft there’s deep hoof prints, full of water. It’s calming following footprints, the sky reflected in the little pools of water.

A dip in the hedge reveals our trees on the left. I can hardly believe we planted them, all those years ago, when I was in my 20s. They’ve been a source of joy ever since. On the right in the distance stands Polly’s Wood. I have a dream to join the two woods together- a corridor for wildlife. One day, perhaps. We shall see. Dreams do sometimes come true.

Back through the garden gate, on our boundary, there’s a green corridor running down past the pond to the summerhouse beyond. Autumn and spring are my favourite times for this part of the garden. In spring, the lime green new shoots are bright and cheerful. At this time of the year, field maples and cherry trees create a golden tunnel.

If you look carefully, you can just see our 1930s summerhouse, hidden amongst the trees.

Thank you for all your kind words last week, following our cousin’s funeral. It’s seems I am not alone in turning to nature as a balm when there are sorrows. Perhaps we all find solace and hope in nature all around us. And gardening is something we all turn to in moments of need. This week after walking for miles, and gardening all hours, I feel restored and ready to face whatever life brings. No doubt there will be many more ups and downs to deal with. Nothing stands still in life, or in gardening, for that matter. Does it.

Links : More about buzzards and listen to their call :https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/buzzard/

Field Maples : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/field-maple/

Apple and Almond Slice- Family Favourite Recipes

At this time of year, my kitchen work surfaces are covered with piles of apples. Little pyramids of golden cooking apples, tiny rosy red eating apples, giant Bramleys. My family complain. There’s nowhere for anyone to put anything down. I usually store them wrapped in newspaper in the potting shed, but I’m still trying to evict the mice, making many trips back and forth to the woods with my tunnel-like humane traps baited with peanut butter. I can’t kill them. They will take their chances in the leaf litter under the trees. I’m trying to ignore the tawny owl fledglings in the branches above, still being fed by harassed parents. I feel slightly guilty. But watching the mice run when I let them out, I think they stand a fair chance of surviving.

Meanwhile, I’m steadily working my way through the apples. My mother always says, if you’ve got an apple, you’ve got a pudding. It can be an apple pie, a crumble, a cake, or if you are pressed for time, just apple purée with lashings of creamy custard, or Devon clotted cream. A special treat.

Today’s recipe is another family favourite, an apple tray bake which is quick and easy to make and tastes of autumn. As usually, I’m recording it here for my children, in case they can’t find the scraps of paper these recipes are written on. It’s so lovely to see my grandmother’s best copper plate hand writing, as she lovingly wrote these recipes for me. Food, and cooking, bring back such special memories, don’t they.

 

APPLE AND ALMOND SLICE:

INGREDIENTS – FOR THE TOPPING

 

30g butter or vegan margarine

30g SR flour

25g golden caster sugar

2 tbsp. Jumbo oats

1/2 tsp cinnamon

25g flaked almonds

METHOD

Mix the butter, flour and sugar together. Fold in the cinnamon, oats and flaked almonds to make a crumble topping. Place in the fridge while you make the base.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE BASE

150g SR flour

200g golden caster sugar

200g butter or margarine

3 eggs ( or use 6 tbsp. soya oat drink if vegan)

100g ground almonds

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp almond extract

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 large apples slices and tossed in lemon juice

100g any other fruit you have; blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, plums,

METHOD

Mix the flour, baking power , sugar and butter together. Whisk. Fold in the ground almonds and cinnamon. Add the beaten eggs.

Put half the mixture in the base of the tin. Put apples on top. Add the rest of the base moisture. Press the blackberries or other fruit on the top.

Cover with the crumble topping mixture.

Cook for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer come out clean.

Gas mark 4, 180C oven, or 160C fan oven.

You’ll need a 20cm tray bake tin, at least 4cm deep, lined with baking parchment.

Put baking paper on top if it is browning too quickly. Leave to cool and slice into fingers.

Can be frozen for 3 months.

Enjoy!

 

You might also like : Review of Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade here :

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

 

Also The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

I’ll leave you with a photo of my 1930s summerhouse, looking autumnal today. There’s heaps of blankets to keep us warm when the temperatures start to dip. It’s quite cosy in here though.

Six on Saturday – A Walk Around My garden and Back Fields 2nd November 2019

It’s a rather somber walk around my garden and back fields today. We are mourning the loss of a cousin, taken too soon. It’s shaken us all. Someone our age, who should have lived another 30 years at least. These things are not within our power to change. A feeling of sorrow overwhelms me as I walk under leaden skies, the weather and landscape echoing my sadness.

This is a favourite view from the top of the back fields immediately behind my garden. It’s a view I stand and gaze at every day. You can see for miles. The fields that looked so golden all summer, so productive with wheat and barley, lay fallow today, waiting for the next phase. Waiting, like me, to see ‘what next.’ I’m thinking about my life today, and my cousin’s. I feel as if today is some kind of turning point.

Walking usually clears my thoughts. I make a lot of plans while putting one foot in front of the other. Just along from my garden there’s a ridgeway path. I’m usually in a hurry, marching, heart beating fast. Much better than sweating away in a gym. Today, I’m on a go-slow. Thoughts lost in the mist in the distance.

It’s been so wet here of late. Fields flooded, pond overflowing. We’ve had double the normal amounts of rain. Five months worth in five weeks. My spring bulbs, ordered in excitement and anticipation in July, lay still in their boxes in the potting shed. Waiting. If the ground doesn’t dry up soon, I shall have to throw them all into plant pots.

And yet, there is a glimmer of hope. Nature always supplies something to hearten, even something small and relatively insignificant. I find rosehips in abundance. Glowing red and spangled with raindrops. Food for the birds. I care about the birds and their survival, and am glad to see the rosehips and hedges full of hawthorn berries.

There’s crab apples too. Food for birds and mammals. A tiny mouse scampers and hides under a tussock of grass. We move away to allow it to feast in peace. It’ll need to build up reserves to get through the winter. Just behind the hedge, we see a family of roe deer, three adults and two fawn, this year’s young. They are like shadows, so quiet and calm. They melt away into a tangle of trees, unconcerned by our intrusion. A highlight of summer, we came upon one of the babies, left in the long grass by Polly’s Wood. Such a beautiful, heart-sing sight. Taught to stay still as a statue, it didn’t flinch, and we moved quietly away, knowing the mother was watching nearby.

I find a birds nest in the hedge. A mossy thing of beauty. How do they manage to create such intricate structures, merely using beak and claw. There are many wonders.

The hedgerow provides another message of hope. Hazel catkins or lambs tails. A reminder that spring will surely come. As it always has. The seasons carry on regardless.

Maple leaves are turning golden. Providing ‘sunshine’ – whatever the weather.

Back through the garden gate, dogwood Midwinter Fire is glowing in its autumn glory. Soon the orange stems will be revealed, a glorious sight through until spring.

Here’s a view of the potting shed from across the pond. I find myself standing gazing out of the potting shed window, thinking, planning, mulling things over. Then I set to and fill my grandfather’s old Sankey terracotta plant pots with compost. Thinking of him, and all my much-loved and sadly missed relatives, I plant my bulbs for spring. Spring will return and life goes on. We have to look forward, while not forgetting the past. And gardening thoughts and tasks will help to ease the pain. As it always has.

In A Vase on Monday- 28th October 2019

The first frost sees me running up the garden, collecting dahlia flowers in buckets. Even slightly faded, tatty flowers are harvested. Every bloom has suddenly become precious. It will be a whole nine months before we have any more of these glories.

In amongst the dark blood red dahlias are these interlopers. I didn’t plant them. I’ve been growing cactus dahlia Nuit d’Ete for around 20 years. Alongside, there’s some white dahlias called My Love. Could they have crossed to produce this striped flower? It’s a mystery. A very pretty interloper, even so. It can stay.

Frost means the end of tender flowers such as dahlias. Plants will collapse virtually overnight. Last year I left the tubers in the ground and covered them with a foot of dried leaves and a cloche. The secret is to keep them relatively dry. However, this year I will lift them all. The ground is sodden. We’ve had 266mm of rain over the past two months, double the usual amount. Five months worth of rain in the past five weeks. There’s no way I’m going to be able to keep the dahlias from rotting, unless I lift them.

So, using very sharp florists’ scissors, I collect buckets of flowers for the house, before tackling the tubers. Tubers are carefully lifted to avoid bruising. They are cut off leaving 3″ of stem. Turned upside down to drain. Then put in a dark, cool, frost free shed. After a week or two, I’ll wrap them in newspaper, or put them into pots of dry compost to overwinter. They will be started back into growth in the greenhouse in February, cuttings will be taken, and the whole cycle of planting and harvesting will go round again.

I also picked some verbena bonariensis, diascia, the last of the Nicotiana Mutabilis, some very late gladioli, and herbs such as rosemary and lavender.

There is one last flower from Dahlia Obsidian, a tuber I bought from East Ruston Garden in Norfolk a few years ago. I like to buy a few plants when I’m on holiday to remind me of the visit. This one is particularly good for pollinators, being an open, single flower.

Added some Amaranthus, love lies bleeding. I have grown the red and the white form this year.

And this is what the flowers look like, all put together. I had enough flowers for four or five vases.

I put the verbena mixture in a Kilner jar that used to belong to my great aunt Betty. She was a keen cook and preserved everything in those jars. She gave me about 100 when I first set up home. Happy memories; I use them every day and think of her.

It’s warm and sunny enough to sit in the garden today. After all that rain, I’m not spending a second shut indoors! I’ve even written this sitting outside on an old garden chair covered with a cosy woollen blanket. My feet are getting cold, so I’ve put a few bricks under them as a makeshift foot stool. No doubt there will be more frost ahead, but I’m determined to get outdoors as much as I can this winter and not get stuck by the fire.

Have you had a frost in your area yet? Are you leaving your dahlias in the ground or lifting them, like me? Let me know how things are growing in your part of the world.

Links : Cathy IAVOM https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/10/28/in-a-vase-on-monday-not-fade-away-2/

Dahlia Nuit d-Ete https://www.peternyssen.com/nuit-d-ete.html

East Ruston Old Vicarage http://www.e-ruston-oldvicaragegardens.co.uk/pages/view/564/home.htm

Dahlia Obsidian https://www.sarahraven.com/dahlia-verrones-obsidian.htm

I am @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram.

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Six on Saturday- 26 October 2019

The last of the sunflowers. This one, above, looks like it can’t decide whether to open or not. It’s been wet here, 142mm of rain this month. Twice the usual amount. However, flowers coped well with the deluge. Dahlias love the rain. They just tip forward slightly to drain. Sunflowers have also thrived. My sunflowers are a mixture of Infrared and Allsorts Mix from Mr Fothergills. I sow them in seed compost in March in 9cm pots, grow on in the greenhouse until they have two pairs of leaves, and then plant out after all danger of frost has passed. I use Strulch mulch to protect from slugs. It’s a scratchy kind of mineralised straw mulch which slugs and snails don’t like. It helps to retain moisture and feeds the soil as it rots down. I also spray everything with home-made garlic liquid. The recipe comes from Sienna Hosta nursery. If it’s good enough for a multi- gold medal winning nursery, it’s good enough for me. It works, with the proviso that you have to spray repeatedly, especially after rain. I’ve got a 3L Hozelock sprayer set up ready, which makes life easier. It’s worth it to protect delicate seedlings from slugs, without resorting to chemicals. The garlic spray doesn’t kill slugs, but deters them, leaving them available as a food source for birds and mammals.

Seed merchants used to mostly supply yellow sunflowers, but in recent years there’s been a big increase in varieties available. I love the chocolate -coloured flowers and the mini-sunflowers, such as Teddy Bear, which can be grown in a container and only grows to 1m with 12cm wide very double ‘fluffy’ yellow flowers.

Glowing red, this sunflower reminds me of rich dark chocolate. This was the darkest flower in a packet of Velvet Queen seeds. Truly scrumptious.

Plenty of pollen for bees, and I leave the seeds on the plants for the birds to enjoy over winter. Insects hibernate in the sunflower stems.

Lovely markings on these sunflowers from the Allsorts Mix.

And finally, Thompson and Morgan produced a new and exclusive multi-branching sunflower which repeat flowers from spring until Christmas, if protected from frost. It has rather an unwieldy name- SunBelievable Brown-Eyed Girl. It’s perfect for containers. My potted sunflower was amazingly prolific, and produced about 100 flowers over the season. Plenty for mini flower arrangements like this one which has calendulas, and herbs mixed in with the sunflowers. It lasts about a week in a vase.

Tonight we put the clocks back and the evenings will gradually close in. We’ll just have to make our own sunshine- and grow more flowers. Don’t you agree?

Which plants have you grown this summer? Let me know which have been a success for you. It’s good to share ideas and information, and help one another- especially as winter draws near and we all need a bit of colour to keep our spirits up.

Links : SOS six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/10/26/six-on-saturday-26-10-2019/

Mr Fothergills Infrared https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sunflower-Infrared-F1-Seeds.html#.XbSrg4zTWfA

Allsorts Mix https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sunflower-Allsorts-Seeds.html#.XbSrtYzTWfA

Velvet Queen https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sunflower-Velvet-Queen-Seeds.html#.XbStyozTWfA

Thompson and Morgan https://www.thompson-morgan.com/p/sunflower-sunbelievabletrade-brown-eyed-girl/tka1036TM

Calendula Orange Flash https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Calendula-Seed/Calendula-Orange-Flash.html#.XbSvAozTWfA

Garlic wash spray, Sienna Hosta Nursery https://www.siennahosta.co.uk/pages/garlic-wash-recipe

Karengimson1 on instagram

@kgimson on twitter

GardenMediaGuild member

In a Vase on Thursday 10th October 2019

Rich Venetian shades. Just the joy we need for October days. Temperatures are dipping and nights drawing in, but the cut flower patch is blazing with colour.

Dahlia Nuit d’Ete is flowering well, standing up to the wind and the rain. We had the wettest September for 20 years. And October doesn’t look like it’s getting any drier. We’ve had 134mm of rain in ten days. That amount usually falls in two and a half months! With swamp-like conditions it’s impossible to work on the borders. Luckily my cut flower patch is divided by little slabbed paths, so I never need to step on the soil.

Alstroemeria Laguna and Serenade

In amongst the dahlias there’s pink and red alstroemerias grown in pots. If you pull the flower stems out of the compost when you pick them, more blooms will follow. Pull instead of cut is the message. It seems destructive, but promotes further flowering. These are tall varieties suitable for cutting. I accidentally bought some dwarf types once, which looked pretty in the borders, but were hopeless for flower arranging. So take care when choosing plants.

Dahlia Arabian Night

An old favourite I’ve grown for years. Very reliable and doesn’t seem troubled by rain and wind. Earwigs don’t seem to go for the darker shades, preferring the whites and pale-flowered dahlias. If your plants are being nibbled by earwigs, place upturned pots of straw or corrugated cardboard on canes near the flowers. In the morning you can tip the earwigs and their bedding into a wildlife corner, or amongst fruit trees. Earwigs are voracious predators of aphids and vine weevils. Worth relocating away from your dahlias.

Amaranthus cordatus

Love lies bleeding. An easy to grow annual. Produces pendant tassel-like flowers. It’s also known as velvet flower, foxtail and prince’s feather. Sow seeds in half seed trays in March/April. Prick out seedlings into 9cm pots or full seed trays and plant out after frosts. Flowers all summer until the end of October and sometimes into November, depending on temperatures.

Penstemon Plum Jerkum.

A short-lived perennial. This came as a cutting from a friend. It’s a good idea to take insurance-policy cuttings in late summer. These plants are not totally hardy. It’s the winter wet that defeats them, so plant in well drained soil in full sun and protect from the worst of the weather with fleece. Take cuttings in July and August from non-flowering shoots. Cut below a pair of leaves, where there’s a concentration of hormones to promote rooting. Remove all but the top two leaves. Place the cuttings around the edges of a 9cm pot filled with 50/ 50 horticultural grit and compost. The edges of the pot provide the most free draining position for the cuttings, which helps roots to form.

Verbena Bonariensis

Another short-lived perennial requiring a sunny spot in well-drained soil. I lost all my plants in the Beast for the East big freeze last year. Luckily, it grows really well from seed and cuttings. Sow seed in the spring in half trays and prick out, as above. Or take cuttings in late summer. There are tiny side shoots just above a pair of leaves. Gently pull these down and you will have a short cutting.

Aeonium Zwartkop

Aeoniums are evergreen succulents with a shrubby growth habit. My plants collapsed in the wind and some of the stems broke off. They make a lovely, unusual addition to flower arrangements. It’s all about using what you’ve got in the garden. When I take the posy apart, I’ll cut the bottom few inches from the stems and stick them in a pot of very gritty compost. Kept frost free, the cuttings will readily root and I’ll have new plants to stand out on the patio next summer.

Trifolium pratense red clover

The lovely pink rounded flower on the left is just common clover. This year I grew a patch of wild flower meadow in a raised windowbox on legs. I’m always saying you don’t need acres of land to grow food, flowers, and veg. So I put it to the test. It worked a treat. I filled the containers with Dalefoot seed compost and sowed seeds direct in spring. Red clover flowered all summer, alongside blue harebells, yellow birds foot trefoil, scabious, corncockle, and vipers bugloss. It’s been a joy to watch bees, hoverflies and butterflies visiting my little patch of “meadow.”

Nicotiana mutabilis.

The pretty tubular flowers are colour-changing tobacco plants. These were sown and planted last year. They self-sowed over the winter, and have come up stronger and more beautiful this summer. I’m hoping they will do the same for next year, but I’ve saved seed and sown some more, just in case. Stems grow to 1.5m and produce clouds of trumpet-like flowers. They change colour as they age through various shades of white, pink and lilac. Glorious, and highly recommended. I’ll never be without it now I’ve seen it flower all summer long.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my Venetian shades bouquet, photographed on a windswept day in the garden. Golden beech tree leaves were swirling past my head as I was tying up the flowers. It seems autumn is on a fast forward setting. What is it like in your garden right now?

Links: I love to join in with Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday meme. But Mondays are my busiest working day. So I’m just going to post photos when I can. I’ll be reading all your posts when I get home from work.

IAVOM : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

Dahlias : https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/search-results?s=Dahlias+

Alstroemerias: http://www.postalplants.co.uk/catalogue.asp

Amaranthus :https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Amaranthus-Love-Lies-Bleeding-Seeds.html

Penstemon : https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/162416/Penstemon-Pensham-Plum-Jerkum-(Pensham-Series)/Details

Verbena Bonariensis; https://higgledygarden.com/2011/11/21/verbena-bonariensis/

Aeonium: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/details%3Fplantid%3D64

I’m @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. Please feel free to share this post, linking back to bramblegarden.com

Clearing Out the Greenhouse & Taking Pelargonium Cuttings – Sunday September 15

I start off with good intentions. Each spring, I determine to keep the greenhouse tidy. By September, all manner of clutter- bits of string, old labels, empty plant pots and dead plants- trip me up. It looks a mess. So this weekend I’ve emptied all the plants and swept right through. Phew. It doesn’t get any easier. It’s a 20 foot Alton cedar greenhouse, bought second hand and painted black. First I take out all the pelargoniums. The one above is called Tomcat. It’s like burgundy velvet. It flowers non stop from March through to November. In a mild winter it carries on flowering for 12 months. This year, I’ve decided to cut everything back and keep all the plants as cuttings in 9cm pots. The mother plants, several years old and getting leggy, have been composted. It’s hard to do. I tend to hang on to plants even when they are past their best.

There’s still a lot of colour, but the cooler temperatures and damp atmosphere creates mould. Botrytis is a killer of tender plants such as pelargoniums. Cutting them back and reducing the watering helps to combat the problem.

I’ve got an ancient wood and metal garden nursery trolley which I station outside the greenhouse doors to hold the plants temporarily.

Luckily, it’s a beautiful sunny day with temperatures around 21C. We’ve had one night of frost, but no damage so far. Night time temperatures are dipping into single figures though, so there’s no time to waste.

I quickly snip off 3″ cuttings from non-flowering shoots and pile them in my trug. To take cuttings, I cut above a pair of leaves to start with. Then I use a sharp knife to cut below a leaf joint where there’s a concentration of hormones to aid rooting. I use my fingers to snap off all but three leaves at the top. Any large leaves are cut in two to reduce moisture loss. The soft, tiny winged growth on the stems is rubbed off as they attract mould. I gently rub over the leaves to check for aphids.

I fill 9cm pots with 50% peat-free multi-purpose compost and 50% grit or perlite for drainage. Tap the pots on the table to settle the compost. Cuttings need air as well as moisture to grow, so I don’t squash the compost down.

It’s still warm enough to work in the potting shed. There’s a robin in the eaves, quietly twittering away. Sometimes robins can be incredibly loud, at other times its almost a whisper. It’s as if they are singing to comfort themselves. It comforts me as well to have such calm and joyful company.

All potted up, I water them once and set them somewhere cool, bright and frost free to root. The west-facing potting shed window will do for now, out of direct sunshine. They will spend their winter in the greenhouse though with a fan heater set at 6C. Next spring, I’ll tip them out and pot them into individual 9cm pots.

Back in the greenhouse, all the staging is cleared and jet washed down. Any spiders are relocated to the poly tunnel. I can’t kill anything. Slugs and snails go into a dry ditch beyond the boundary hedge. Food for other creatures, I hope.

When I’ve cleaned the glass and repaired the sliding door mechanism, I’ll push the citrus trees back in for the winter. It’s been a good summer for lemons and oranges. A few lemon cakes and orange marmalade might be in order….

Winter salads and micro veg are springing up in shallow terracotta pans. There will be more room now I’ve cleared out the huge pelargonium pots.

Luckily, there’s a few pots of colour left. This orange gerbera has been flowering for months. And my purple bougainvillea usually flowers into December. I haven’t quite finished polishing the glass, or replacing the comfy armchair, the biscuit tin and the radio. That will be tomorrow’s finishing touches. For today, after all that work, I’m collapsing in the summerhouse with a nice cup of tea and mulling over the autumn and winter season to come. I’m ready for anything the weather might throw at us.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share this post.

Follow me on twitter @kgimson

On instagram at karengimson1

On #sixonsaturday with https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/14/six-on-saturday-14-09-2019/

On #IAVOM with Cathy https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/09/09/in-a-vase-on-monday-daisies-and-an-infiltrator-2/

Pelargoniums https://www.fibrex.co.uk/collections/pelargoniums/ivy-leaved?page=4

Six on Saturday. Joining in for the first time.

Six photos from my garden and potting shed this week.

Catching the light in my potting shed window: Old Man’s Beard, wild clematis vitalba. Commonly called traveller’s joy. I stand on tip toe, reaching into hedgerows to harvest long stems with silver seed heads. They’re a lovely addition to winter flower arrangements.

Silver coins. Honesty seeds. Hanging from the rafters to dry. They will be tucked in amongst rosehips, holly and ivy for Christmas decorations.

Chinese lanterns, harvested in October. I love the various shades of orange. They fade to a delicate papery apricot colour. And left long enough, they become transparent.

My potting shed window looks out onto the wild garden. So heartening to see hazel branches with lambs-tail catkins. A welcome reminder that spring will return. The twigs make useful supports for my paperwhite narcissi and hyacinths which are in the dark under my point shed bench at the moment.

The last few golden leaves are fluttering in the breeze. Hazel, maple, ash trees make a mini woodland. I’ve planted 200 foxgloves in the wild garden. We sowed the seed in mid summer, pricked them out in August, and planted out, they will sit making roots over winter. I’m growing Sutton’s Apricot, a glorious silky, peach- coloured foxglove, and Pam’s Choice- white with a blackcurrant thumb print in each flower.

It’s dusk before I finish planting. I stand by the pond watching blackbirds taking a last-minute bath. I wonder how they can stand the cold water. I expect it keeps their feathers in good condition. A tawny owl glides silently along the field hedge. Short-tailed voles live in the long grass here. Within minutes, it’s dark. It’s not like in summer, where there’s enough moonlight to potter around. November dark is cold, pitch black. Time to go indoors, light a fire and make hot chocolate.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden with me tonight. I’m joining https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/ for his Six on Saturday meme. What jobs are you doing in your garden this weekend?

In a Vase on Monday – flowers for a christening.

Pink roses for a baby girl. Just the right flower. That’s what I decided when a friend asked me to make a door wreath for her granddaughter’s christening.

Setting out with a wicker basket, I spend a happy hour searching the hedgerows around the garden. I’m looking for ivy leaves, and their lime green and black flower heads and seeds. The perfect background for any circle of flowers. I find jewel-like Euonymus europaeus, or spindle tree, growing wild amongst the ivy, dogwood and hawthorn. Their bright pink fruit split apart to reveal orange seeds inside. Leaves turn a burnished bronze and then red. I add them to the basket. It’s like finding treasure.

I find some silver coins. Well, they look like coins. Honesty seed heads have turned a glorious silvery grey. Perfect for tucking in amongst the flowers. I love the way they catch the light. No need for fairy lights here.

I search around for some sprigs of a newly- planted viburnum. This winter-flowering gem is called Viburnum tinus Lisarose. Clusters of small pink and white flowers look lovely at all stages from bud to fully open. It flowers from November to April, just when we most need some cheer.

It’s my lucky day. I’ve found some late-flowering roses. My favourites, The Fairy and Pearl Anniversary. They have small clusters of pearly pink semi-double flowers. Both are compact, easy to grow varieties. Mine are thriving in containers and are moved into the greenhouse to provide flowers right up until Christmas. Pearl Anniversary is a compact, patio rose, and The Fairy is a small shrub rose. Both are repeat flowering and disease resistant.

Roses make the perfect focal point at the top of the wreath. Not many are needed to make a display.

Rosehips. So glossy they look as if they’ve been dipped in varnish. They cascade from the top of the hedgerows. The birds will have a feast. I harvest some for today, and some for Christmas, not taking them all. It’s best to share. I weave them in and out of the ivy. It’s a happy combination of hedgerow and garden. Just perfect for a baby girl’s special day.

Each week I join Cathy for her IAVOM Meme. Luckily flowers don’t have to be in a vase to be included. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and harvesting for their flower arrangements this week. Let me know if you have ever made flowers for a special occasion like I have. It’s lucky when the garden and hedgerow provides such bounty, even in November.

Cathy : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/

The Creative Kitchen – Book Review

By Stephanie Hafferty

Published by Permanent Publications. November 2018

*Win a free copy in the prize draw by leaving a comment at the end of the blog. And there’s a discount code for readers.

New reading in the potting shed this week is Stephanie Hafferty’s latest book on seasonal recipes for meals and drinks and making items for the garden and home.

I have to admit, I have a passion for cookery books. Many of my favourites have been handed down through the family. I’ve got Bero baking books from my grandma Betty, which bring back happy memories of delicious cakes. She never ate them herself, but just liked to make everyone smile. All our trips to the seaside- and local beauty spots such as Bradgate Park – would be accompanied by her butterfly fairy cakes. Her trifles were liberally sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. And I bet my brothers remember her home-made toffee apples. It’s amazing our teeth survived, but they did.

When you think about it, many of our strongest memories relate to sitting around a table together, sharing food. All our celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries- and Christmas being the highlight of the year- revolve around food.

With my own family and friends, I’ve tried to carry on the cooking and nurturing tradition. Although, it’s not always easy to get everyone together at the same time. We live such busy lives. When I do manage to corral the family together, I’ll usually make a massive pot of soup, a casserole, a cheese and potato pie, a vegetable lasagne, or similar. And for afters, there’s nearly always something involving apples- we have them in store all winter, and they’re free.

My cooking revolves around what I’m growing. And this is where Stephanie’s new book comes in handy; all the recipes are seasonally based. So they are relevant to what I’m growing all year round. I always start with what I’ve got available, rather than choosing a recipe. Stephanie helps by suggesting what I can do with the gluts of the season. I often have that “what-on-earth-am-I-going-to-do-with-all-this-kale” moment. Hearty bean and vegetable soup might be the answer.

I’m very keen on throwing everything in a pan together and just leaving it to cook. It gives me more time to garden- and chat. My two favourite pastimes! Stephanie must have written this book specially for me. Her Bean Stew with Red Wine is simple to make, fabulously tasty, and looks pretty too.

Alongside the main meals, soups and salads, there’s recipes for store cupboard ingredients such as flavoured salts, vinegars, herb mixes, and infused sugars. I’m definitely going to try making mint sugar. Imagine adding it to hot chocolate. Such a treat on a freezing cold day.

I’ve been thinking about what to do about vegetable stock powers since my favourite brand decided to add palm oil to its ingredients. There will be no palm oil in my house. Apart from not trusting the “ethically sourced” statement, we do not want or need palm oil. Only if we reject it will the rainforests be saved. I am just one person, but it seems the message is getting stronger. People are picking up packets of food and reading the labels and realising that palm oil has insidiously crept into so many food and household products. Anyway, now I can make my own stock powers with Stephanie’s recipes for wild herb, mushroom and tomato bouillon. And there’s a fruit bouillon for adding to yoghurts, cakes and biscuits. Such a clever idea, and easily do-able.

I’ve had a go at making herb teas, but never tried gin or brandy recipes. Stephanie’s Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Gin sounds- and looks glorious. And wouldn’t it make a fabulous present for someone.

Sugar Plum Brandy looks equally divine. Apparently, this makes a lovely after dinner liqueur as well as a cocktail base. I’d probably add it to fruit cakes as well.

You wouldn’t think you could fit so many good ideas into one book, but Stephanie seems to have thought of everything. I particularly love her Gardeners’ Hand Scrub, Floral Bath Bombs, and Herb Candles. I’m going to be busy for the next few weeks, trying all the recipes and making presents for friends. And I’m going to enjoy every single minute of it.

Stephanie’s book is paperback and £19.95 from https://shop.permaculture.co.uk. There’s a discount code for blog readers purchasing from the shop which is BRAMBLE. Apply the code in the discount section at checkout to obtain the book for £16. Postage is extra. The book is also available via Amazon here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Kitchen-Seasonal-Recipes-Drinks/dp/1856233235 . There’s one copy available in the prize draw. Names will be randomly selected. Publisher’s decision is final. There’s no cash alternative. Worldwide delivery, for a change. Usually it’s UK only. Nice to have an international prize.

Meanwhile, the view from the potting shed is sunny today. As well as reading, I’ll be deciding what to grow next year, and Stephanie’s book will come in handy while I’m making my seed lists. What books are you enjoying at the moment? What are you planning to grow on your plots for 2019? Get in touch and let me know.

In a Vase on Monday- Autumn Jewels

It always seems as if flowers in mid November shine brighter than at any other time of the year. They are making a last ditch attempt to attract attention.

Dahlia David Howard, a glorious marmalade orange, takes centre stage. It’s on borrowed time. All the foliage is tipped black, touched by frost. Just a few flowers have escaped. For now.

The first pair of my 3 metre long cut flower beds lie under a weeping plum tree. The branches hang down almost to the ground. The canopy of branches gives just enough protection from the frost to extend the flowering season.

Making a backdrop to the beds is a small but prolific orchard. There’s two cherry trees, three apples, two pears- and a new quince tree that’s provided it’s first proper harvest this year.

It looks like this from the far side of the orchard. There’s plenty of pruning to do this winter.

My ten flower and veg beds are 3 metres long, by about 1.3 metres wide, with narrow paths between. I now garden on a no-dig system, following the principals made famous by Somerset farmer Charles Dowding. When each crop is finished, I don’t disturb the soil. I simply add two inches of compost and plant straight through. That way, weeds aren’t brought to the surface and the worms and mini- creatures living in my soil are not chopped into pieces. It seems to be working a treat, and my back appreciates being let off all that digging!

Dotted about, in amongst the kale and the cabbages, are patches of flowers. I wrote about annual chrysanthemum rainbow mixed https://bramblegarden.com/tag/chrysanthemums/ here. Seeds from Mr Fothergills cost £1.75 and were sown in March and planted out in May. They have been providing non-stop flowers since.

I particularly love this orange chrysanthemum. It is a perfect match for the autumn hues in this little bunch of flowers.

I’m lucky enough to be given new seeds to try out. This summer, my favourite calendula was Orange Flash from Mr Fothergills. It’s been an outstanding performer. http://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Calendula-Seed/Calendula-Orange-Flash.html#.W-nyCyenyfA

There are a few tiny coreopsis left. And yellow, orange and burgundy nasturtium flowers. Very welcome in posies – and the salad bowl where nasturtiums add a lovely peppery tang to the winter mizuna, mustard and miners lettuce. Such a treat as the weather turns cold.

I rarely take part in prize draws, but this week, on a whim, I joined in with one from the English Garden Magazine. It must have been my lucky day as I won! Now I’ve got some new music to garden to. Just as well, as I’ve found some more tulips I’d ordered and forgotten about. That’s my job for tomorrow sorted.

David Howard dahlias came from https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/dahlias/dark-leaved-dahlias/dahlia-david-howard.

As always, I’m linking with Cathy for this week’s IAVOM. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and picking for their flower vases this week. And don’t forget to let me know what plants are still in flower in your garden this autumn. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/.

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway

Book Review

Kate Bradbury. Published by Bloomsbury Wildlife. Hardback £16.99

It’s been a difficult year. I’m only just getting over serious illness myself, and then three relatives have been ill. I’ve been stretched to the limits trying to help everyone. So when I picked up Kate Bradbury’s book, it seemed to have been written specially for me. There’s a message of hope on every page.

Kate’s struggling too. Some kind of crisis. A broken heart. She ends up homeless, sleeping on friends’ sofas. She has to leave London and make a new home in a damp dark, basement flat. Even worse, the garden is a dead place. Decked over and full of rubbish. And yet, Kate’s book is not a tale of woe. It’s about struggling and striving. But ultimately, there’s a message of hope. After pain and suffering there can be triumphs and happiness again. It’s a message I needed to hear. I made myself a reading corner in the greenhouse and tried to absorb the positive vibes. It’s not easy when you are in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes I’d read the same paragraph over and over again, without registering the words. Stress is such a debilitating thing.

Kate turns her decked-over garden into a wildlife paradise. She makes a pond, puts up bird boxes and revels in every creature that comes to live in her tiny plot. It’s not just a book about rescuing a garden, it’s about rescuing a person too. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit. We may be bowed down and almost defeated by life’s events, but we will triumph. Nature, wildlife and gardens are a balm. Wouldn’t you agree.

I particularly love Kate’s descriptions of making a bee hotel and building a pond. I learn that a pond doesn’t need to be more than 30cm deep to be of value to wildlife. I could manage that. There’s plenty of places where I could fit a pond. And her tales of rescuing bees. I’d heard about giving bees spoons of sugar. Kate talks about finding an exhausted bumblebee on the pavement. She pops it in her pocket to keep it warm while she walks home. I’d never thought of doing that. She puts the red-tailed bee in a box with a pop bottle lid full of sugar water. It’s too cold and wet for the bee to go outside, so Kate gently places some shredded paper in the box to make a cosy nest until the morning. Apparently, some bees can be helped by gently stroking their thorax. I looked it up. That’s the part of the body between the wings. I can have a go at that too, if needed. Kate gives me confidence to try. Next day, Kate releases the revived and now grumbling bee. She searches for a mahonia plant to give the bee the best chance of survival.

There are lots of hints and tips sprinkled through the book for anyone wanting to make a wildlife garden.

Regular readers will know that we planted a mini-wood when we moved here, and I grow flowers and plants for pollinators. Now I have a few more good ideas for helping wildlife in my garden. Kate’s inspiring book and joyful message was just the pick-me-up I needed, to be honest.

The publishers have kindly given one free book as a prize for readers of this blog. Usual rules apply. One name will be randomly selected in the prize draw. There’s no cash alternative. Publishers decision is final. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw. Sorry, UK entries only.

In a Vase on Monday

Today’s posy is for restless hands. Hands that once embroidered, sewed, knitted, baked. Soothed small children. Typed. Wrote. Created. And now they are restless.

Hands clasping and unclasping. Reaching for mine and leading me to the door. Beseeching. “Lets go home. We’ll leave a note. They won’t notice we’ve gone.”

We cannot go home. We are here for tests. She’s in hospital for the first time in her life. And I am mesmerised by the hands. Literally, the ringing of hands.

While I wait in a corridor, I look for “hand-wringing.” Noun. Cambridge Dictionary. “If you wring your hands, you show that you are worried or unhappy.”

Collins English Dictionary: “Expressing or showing feelings. When you are expressing sorrow that a situation is so bad, but are saying you are unable to change it.”

‘Hand-wringing: the repeated clasping and unclasping or squeezing of the hands as a symptom of distress. In the face of a dilemma or crisis.”

An example of use is given:” No amount of hand wringing can change the situation.”

Powerless. Great distress. Confusion. The words go round my head.

I hold those hands. And in my desperation to know what to do I supply all that I can think of to soothe and comfort. A small posy of herbs; rosemary and lavender for memory. Scented pelargonium tomentosum. Leaves as gentle as velvet. Sunflowers for joy. Calendula for healing. A tiny hand posy. A corsage for courage. There’s no need for armfuls of flowers. What’s needed right now is the small, the familiar. Something to hold. As I work the flowers back and forth, binding and sealing in moisture and life, my hands echo hers. Twisting and turning. Clasping. Unclasping. Until we are finally both still. Calm. Patient. Accepting. Still.

Alzheimers.org.uk

In a Vase on Monday – Cathy at ramblinginthegarden

My Garden Right Now and End of the Month View – Dec 3rd 2017

I’m joining in with Michelle with #my-garden-right-now and Steve Glebe House #End-of-month-view. Enjoy a slideshow of photos from my garden today. There’s still plenty of colour thanks to the alstroemerias and chrysanthemums in the open-ended ploy tunnel. Keeping the rain off the flowers helps to make them last until Christmas.

I talked about mouldable fairy lights Here. You can listen in to BBC Radio Leicester Down to Earth programme here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05mf51m where we talk about my cut flowers, grown all the year round for friends and family.

The alstroemerias from Viv Marsh postal Plants grow in 40cm pots and flower nearly 12 months of the year. Choose the long stem varieties if you are growing for cut flowers.

White Stallion chrysanthemums came from Chrysanthemums Direct Nursery as cuttings at the RHS Malvern show last autumn. The yellow chrysanthemums are cuttings from my father in law and have been grown in the family since the 1950s. Originally they came from an Aunty Doris. It’s lovely to keep up the tradition of growing these cheerful plants.

The mouldable lights came from Wilco Christmas range and cost £3.50 including the batteries. I’ve wound them around the lemon trees And plant pots to give a cheerful glow.

Just two weeks ago, the view from the greenhouse and potting shed was this :

Now the golden beech trees are bare and the view from the potting bench -where I’m planting up hyacinth bowls for Christmas and putting amaryllis bulbs in terracotta pots -looks like this:

Luckily there’s some early hellebores in flower to brighten things up. This one is called Jacob.

And still on the white theme, this beautiful rose Pearl Drift is in flower today. What a star. It blooms all summer and is free of black spot. I can highly recommend this easy modern shrub rose. It is delicately scented too.

I’m keeping an eye on these huge red rose hips for my Christmas decorations. Rosa Scarlet Fire is another disease resistant variety with large open single red roses and hips the size of marbles. Birds don’t seem to bother with them, probably due to their enormous size.

Something that is also in flower now- and not waiting until Christmas- are these Paperwhite narcissi. I wrote about planting them in jam jars and tall glass vases a few weeks back. Well, November has been so mild with above average temperatures that forced bulbs like these are weeks ahead of schedule. The scent is truly glorious.

This week I also appeared on the Ben Jackson radio show talking about making Christmas presents from items collected from the garden. Here’s my succulent /cacti in a jam jar idea. I used pea gravel, a recycled jam jar and an offset from one of my plants to make this simple display.

Pimpernel Press sent me this award-winning book to review. Head Gardeners by Ambra Edwards would make an ideal Christmas present. It’s full of behind-the-scenes tips and glorious photos. An inspiring insight into what motivates head gardeners at some of the country’s most beautiful gardens. Photos are by Charlie Hopkinson and the book won Inspirational Book of the Year at the recent Garden Media Guild Awards. I rarely sit down and read a book cover to cover- but I just couldn’t put this one down. It is fascinating to hear the voices of the head gardeners. I kept nodding agreement, and scribbling down notes. It’s one of my favourites this year. Easy to see why it is a winner.

To be honest, it was dark by the time I stepped out of the potting shed.

Just in time to see the tawny owls that hatched in our garden this summer. What a wonderful end to a beautiful winter’s day.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my garden in December. Go over to Michelle at Vegplotting to see what others are posting for #my-garden-right-now. And also Steve at glebehouse for the #end-of-month-view. It would be great to see what you are getting up to on your plot just now.

How to Plant Prepared Hyacinths. Fairy Lights for the Greenhouse- and an update from this week’s BBC radio programme for gardeners

It’s amazing how a few little touches can make all the difference. In defiance of the cold, dark days, I’ve brightened up the greenhouse with mouldable lights. These are tiny fairy lights on a copper wire. They can be twisted around floral arrangements and basically they hold their shape without damaging the flowers. I’ve used chrysanthemums from the poly tunnel for this display. It makes a lovely warm glow at a time when we all need some winter cheer.

I’ve chosen indoor battery-powered lights from the Christmas range at Wilco . The 2.2m cable contains 20 warm white lights for £3.50 and includes the battery. I’m going to wrap them around plant pots in the greenhouse next.

We talked about mouldable lights on this week’s BBC radio gardener’s phone-in programme. You can listen in on your phone or computer on the i-player. I wrote about how to tune in Here. https://bramblegarden.com/tag/radiogardening-howto-i-player-bbc/.

You can listen to any radio programme for 28 days after the broadcast. And there are special programme clips and podcasts too. The gardeners’ phone-in is on BBC Radio Leicester every Wednesday between 11am and 12 noon on 104.9 FM and digital. And on Sunday there’s local radio’s longest-running gardening programme, Down to Earth hosted by Dave Andrews, between 12 and 1pm. We will be taking phone calls live in the studio this coming Sunday, December 3rd.

Here’s a link to this week’s Wednesday programme hosted by Ben Jackson. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05m8p6x. Move the timeline round to 2.07.57 where the programme starts. We talk about making Christmas presents from materials found in the garden- including jam jar succulents and cacti, and making bird feeders with fir cones. And our mid-morning studio treat, for all the staff, was Chocolate Tiffin made with fresh autumn raspberries from the plot.

Here’s some details on the prepared hyacinths we mentioned. These are some I grew to flower for Christmas 2016.

You will need to buy “prepared” hyacinths which means they have been put into cold storage to fool the bulbs into thinking they have had winter already. To complete the treatment at home, place the bulbs in John Innes No2 compost in 3″ pots. Put the pots in a cold dark cupboard in the potting shed, garage or basement. Or put them into a black plastic bag. Store them for 9 to 10 weeks at 9C. Water just once. At the end of 10 weeks, check over the pots and those with about an inch of leaves and a flower tip showing can be brought out into a cool bright place to grow on. You can make up displays for Christmas by selecting bulbs that look about the same height and putting them into larger plant pots together. Don’t bring them straight into a centrally heated house or the flowers won’t develop properly. The bulbs need to be grown on in cool conditions for another 22 days.

Here’s some hyacinths and forced narcissi I used to create an early spring display this year. You can also bring twigs of cherry blossom into the house and they will give an earlier flowering too. I wrote about forcing Paperwhites Here.

The scent is quite glorious. Interestingly, different varieties of hyacinths need varying periods of cold/dark treatment. The variety Pink Pearl needs 10 weeks, but Anna Marie needs just 8. So experimentation is needed if you wish to mix the varieties in a display. I would set the 3″ pots at weekly intervals and grow more than I needed so that I could select the right number of plants for my display. Just a reminder- always wear gloves when handling bulbs as they can cause skin irritation.

A very quick and cheap Christmas present idea we mentioned was jam jar succulents. Here’s the materials I took into the studio. You will need a small recycled jam jar, handful of ornamental washed shingle, small amount of moss from the garden, and a succulent or cacti from the garden centre. Mine is an offset from one of my own plants. You half fill the jar with shingle, wrap the succulent stem with moss and plant. Finish the present with a ribbon. Plants need virtually no water over the winter. In summer, water once a week with a tablespoon of water. Tip the jar up to allow any excess water to drain out. Do not allow the succulent to become waterlogged.

This one has been in the jam jar for two years.

Talking of Christmas presents ideas I love these RHS Gold Leaf Gloves. I’m practically living in them, they are so comfortable. I may be a fairly scruffy gardener, with old trousers and holes in my jumpers, but my hands are glamorous.

Here’s a quick peek of Ben’s garden, which we talk about on the show. It’s a 2.5 by 2m raised bed, a bit overshadowed and plagued by slugs. But we’ve planted winter veg, salads and flowers – to see how much we can grow in a small, less than perfect plot. The kale and chard keeps growing through the cold weather. You just harvest the outer leaves, leaving the growing tips to keep going. I’ll keep popping by now and again to see how Ben’s getting on with the project. I’ve got a matching plot at home so we can compare progress. I have to say, Ben’s is looking better than mine at the moment. My plot is on a windswept ridge, and his is in a pretty, walled garden.

And after all that talking- we tucked into my Chocolate and Raspberry Tiffin. I wrote the recipe the recipe Here. Click on the link to see the recipe.

Do you have any recipes to share – or ideas for Christmas presents using materials from your garden? I’d love to hear your views.

Chocolate Fridge Tiffin- with Autumn Raspberries

On the first day we’ve had snow, I’m sharing my favourite chocolate recipe. Guaranteed to bring cheer, for anyone struggling with the onset of cold weather. Like all my recipes, it’s quick to make and uses produce from the garden. Autumn Bliss raspberries are still producing fruit. An unbelievably long cropping season this year. I’m still picking a few for my breakfast porridge each day. And think of all that vitamin C. Makes this recipe seem almost healthy! Go on, treat yourself.

Chocolate Tiffin

100g Butter

2 mars bars- chopped

2 tbsp golden syrup

240g milk or dark chocolate

5 digestive biscuits

9 rich tea biscuits

One and a half teacups rice crispies

15g glacé cherries

Three quarters of a cup of sultanas

120g chocolate for the top. I used Cadbury’s Bournville.

Melt the chocolate, mars bars, syrup and butter together in the microwave.

Mix with the crushed biscuits, crispies and dried fruit. Cool slightly and add a handful of fresh raspberries.

Spread in a 9″x9″ foil or paper-lined tray.

Cover top with melted chocolate

Place in the fridge.

Cut into slices and serve with fresh raspberries.

Will last three days in a cool place. If you can resist them that long.

Wrapped in cellophane and ribbon, they make a lovely home-made present.

Have a listen in to the BBC Down to Earth radio programme where we answer gardeners’ questions on the live phone-in. We are all sitting in the studio – munching my chocolate tiffin- this week. Here’s the link for the radio i-player http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05l50wv

I wrote about how to listen to radio programmes on the I-player at https://bramblegarden.com/2017/11/08/how-to-listen-to-gardening-programmes-on-the-bbc-i-player/

Do you have any favourite recipes for cold weather?

For more inspiration – read Making Winter- a creative guide for surviving the winter months, by Emma Mitchell. Published by LOM Art, an imprint of Michael O’Mara Books. Emma’s mouthwatering recipes and pretty craft ideas turn even the bleakest wintery day into a warm and cheerful celebration. The book is like a warm hug on a frosty day.

I can highly recommend it. There’s a link Here .

There’s recipes for chocolate fondant, lemon and ginger bars and even hawthorn gin. Ideas for things to make include a crochet shawl and matching scarf, and knitted wrist warmers. Perfect for coping with the winter chill ahead.

Baking a cake always makes me feel better when it’s freezing outdoors. Emma’s guide entices you to embrace the drab days and fill them with “baked goodness.” I wholeheartedly agree with her there.

In a Vase on Monday- in the Pink

We’ve had a few overnight frosts, so these are the very last of my deep red cactus dahlias, Nuit de Ete. Cascading branches of a small plum tree protected flowers from the worst of the weather. But today, the remaining buds are mush. They have served me well over the summer, providing a few flowers every time I’ve run up the plot. The posy this time is for my Mum.

There are a few cosmos left. These are ones that survived my late-summer cull. Plants that got to 6ft with very healthy fern-like foliage – but no sign of flower buds-were chopped down. I wish I had not been so impatient! Friends who kept their monster plants say they are smothered in flowers. A lesson learned for next summer.

From now until Christmas I shall be picking chrysanthemums grown in the poly tunnel, plus alstroemerias in huge pots. Just behind the cosmos you can see one of my favourite chrysanthemums, Lollypop.

These chrysanthemums, pictured below, are called Sound. I love the bright cheery pink flowers, and prominent button-yellow centres.

A favourite white chrysanthemum is called Swan. Such a pretty double flower with a green-white centre. It is well named, I think.

Both chrysanthemums and alstroemerias last a long time in a vase. Such good value plants. The alstroemerias throw up a few flower stems all year round.

Sticking with the pink theme, I’ve added these cerise bedding geraniums. I’ve cut the flower heads back ready to put the plants in a frost free greenhouse for the winter.

At this time of the year, pink nerines look so lovely growing in free draining soil alongside the drive. They are a pretty addition to my November bouquet.

I shall miss the dahlias over the winter. This one came from Wilkinson’s in the spring and cost £1. Great value, in my opinion. I shall wait until the foliage is blackened, and then dig them up and turn them upside down to drain. I plan to store them in the frost- free potting shed in boxes of sand or vermiculite. I’ll keep a check over winter to remove any that have perished, and also to ensure the tubers are dry- but not too desiccated. It’s a delicate balance. They will be started off again in February in the heated greenhouse, and I shall take cuttings to increase my stock.

Looking around – here’s the view from the top paddock gate. Muted autumn tones in surrounding trees and hedges. Today the oak leaves fluttered down in a steady stream, and lay in ribbon stripes across the lane. A beautiful, if transient, scene.

As always, thank you to Cathy at Rambling in the Garden blog for hosting the IAVOM meme. I love seeing what everyone is growing and picking from their plots each week in gardens all over the world. Go over and have a look and join in. It’s a very friendly community of gardeners. I always enjoy taking part.

Help, I Need a Marquee………

Faulkener 019

The conversation went something like “Hello, I need a marquee.”  The reply was “That’s ok. For how many and what’s your budget.”  “About 40 people. Er… there’s a problem with the budget. There’s isn’t one.”

I expected the phone line to go dead. But to my  amazement, Richard  from Storer Smith Events laughed and told me to go on.  He wanted to know more.

There followed a somewhat embarrassing account.  I was organising my first ever fund-raising event.   I’d failed to keep track of ticket sales. Now there were 46 people coming – and the venue could only comfortably take 25.  I was having sleepless nights. People were going to turn up for a posh afternoon tea- dressed in their Sunday best. What on earth was I going to do?

There was a silence on the end of the phone. Then a sigh. Then the words, “Well, I’d better help you out then.”    I don’t think I have ever been so relieved. My bacon had well and truly been saved.

Richard – I’ll forever think of him as my knight in shining armour -saved the day. He provided a 6m by 9m marquee,  with carpet, tables, chairs, and also a monster  (almost) fire-breathing heater –  complete with gas. A team of workers to put it up- and take it down.  All free of charge.

Thanks to Richard,  we had a fabulous marquee for our vintage afternoon  tea- all in aid of Rainbows Hospice.  We enjoyed a  wonderful talk  and slide show from celebrated author Barbara Segall   who was speaking about her newly-launched book, Secret Gardens of East Anglia. I wrote a review about the book here .    Gary from Rainbows talked about the wonderful facilities and work at the hospice for children. Such a heartwarming, inspiring afternoon.

We served six types of posh sandwiches, and tomato and thyme tarts. Followed by a mountain of cakes, mostly made by my wonderful Mum. And gallons of tea in pretty mismatched china.

It all worked beautifully and I’m pleased ( and mightily relieved ) to report that we made almost £1,000 for Rainbows.

I’m so grateful to Richard for his kindness. It is a relief to know that wonderful people like him still exist when there is so much bad news in the world.

There’s a whole roll call of people to thank for helping to make the event a success. But chiefly, I want to thank Richard, for his kind and generous help.  Also Barbara Segall, who refused a fee for her talk. My friend Alison Levey from blackberrygarden.co.uk  blog who fetched, carried and was fab at selling raffle tickets. Geary’s Craft Bakeries provided the bread ( thank you Charles Geary). The co-op at East Leake supplied the fillings for the sandwiches. The Printers in Loughborough provided posters and tickets.

For the goody bags for each person who attended, Lady Ursula at Easton Walled Gardens provided 50 complimenatry tickets to visit the gardens.  Burgon and Ball gave me beautiful tins of string. Mr Fothergills gave me  packets of  flower seed. Cooks Lane Herbs gave me gorgeously-wrapped, wonderfully-scented handmade Red Clover and Honey Soap. Seedball   sent tins of wildflower seed.

For the raffle, books came from Alison Levey, Frances Lincoln (Quarto Homes) publishers, wine from the Round Robin, East Leake, flowers and plants from Googie’s Flowers , East Leake, calendars from The Calender Club, Loughbrough, Chocolates from Thorntons. Six Acre Nursery at Costock gave a lovely hellebore plant.

The photos are examples of marquees provided by Storer Smith Events. As you can imagine, I wish everyone would now rush out and book him up for the next 10 years. Such a good-hearted soul has won my loyalty for life!  Contact Richard at info@storersmithevents.co.uk. Phone 01889 563200. He’s at Uttoxeter ST14 5AP but supplies marquees all around the country.

In a Vase on Monday – my fund-raiser flowers.

Table flowers are a joy. They set the scene for leisurely lunches, or cosy friends-and-family dinners. Even a picnic has to have flowers. Usually I linger over the selection and mooch around the garden searching for material. This weekend, I ran round the plot at a gallop. The flowers thrown into jam jars in haste. I was planning an afternoon tea for 45 people! I just had time to gather these gloriously sunny chrysanthemums. I picked variegated ivy flowers and some beech and oak leaves. Here are the chrysanthemums, not looking very glamorous, in the corner of my poly tunnel.

Variegated ivy Glorie de Marengo covers one end of my 40 foot pergola. It provides cutting material all year round. I particularly love the starry flowers at this time of the year. The huge beech tree in the middle of the lawn casts a golden glow and its autumn leaves look so cheerful in amongst my Aunty Doris chrysanthemums.

I threw the lot into a wicker basket on the potting shed window while I searched for suitable jam jars. You can see my garden, the beech, cherry and maple trees around the pond, reflected in the potting shed windows.

Then I left the peace and quiet of the potting shed to head over to Spring Barrow Lodge near Coalville. It’s the home of my garden design clients Pat and John Stanley, where we were hosting my afternoon tea and gardeners’ talk for Rainbows Hospice. Author Barbara Segall kindly agreed to come and present a talk and slide show on her newly-launched book Secret Gardens of East Anglia.

And I thought you’d like see the flowers on the tables- arranged so hurriedly. They contain the Aunty Doris chrysanthemums I wrote about last year Here

Barbara’s talk transported us all to the fabulous gardens contained in her wonderful book. I wrote a review here. I am so grateful to Barbara for her kindness in agreeing to come and help me stage this event- my first ever fund-raiser for charity. I am still counting the proceeds. But I think the admission tickets, book sales, raffle tickets and generous donations from people who could not attend but wanted to support us, amounts to just short of £1,000. To say I’m over the moon, is an under statement! I’ll write more tomorrow when I have gathered my thoughts. At the moment, I am still on cloud nine to be honest. There’s so many people to thank……

But I wanted to join in and congratulate Cathy at rambling in the garden for her 4th anniversary of In a Vase on Monday. Every week, I look in to see what everyone is growing, picking and arranging in their gardens- all around the world. It’s a fascinating blog, and I love joining in when I can. Go over and have a look. For the anniversary celebration the theme was any container- but a vase. So I was delighted to be able to join in with my great Aunty Betty’s Kilner jars, wicker baskets and simple glass jam jars. Thank you Cathy for hosting such a lovely meme, and for the friendship the blog has created amongst our growing and gardening community. I certainly appreciate all you do.

For more on Rainbows Hospice, click on the link here. All other highlighted words contain further information and are not affiliate links.

Recipes and Christmas present ideas from this week’s radio programme

Well, no one’s perfect. That’s what I’ve been trying to convince myself, after this week’s disastrous start to the gardeners’ phone-in programme. Last week I wrote about my battles with the studio head phones. This week- I am still searching for the right size headphones -when the programme starts. You can have a listen in and a chuckle. You’ll hear me riffling through the headphones in a panic- as presenter Ben Jackson starts without me! What I also learn quite quickly is the show must go on- even if you are feeling mortified. Luckily no one can see embarrassed, red faces on the radio.

Anyway, this week the recipe is Apple and Almond slice – and the Christmas present idea is a parcel of herbs to throw in the bath or hang in the shower. Here’s what you’ll need:

Herb Bath Parcel

Square of fine horticultural netting from any garden centre or Harrod Horticulture

Herbs from the garden: lavender, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint

Few calendula petals

Few sprigs of lavender

String or ribbon

Simply make a parcel with the herbs and calendula, tie tightly with string or ribbon. Tuck some lavender flowers into the ribbon at the front. Simple as that. The herb parcels can be hung under the taps on the bath, or shower, and will scent the water as it flows through. It makes a pretty present for not much money. And the scent is very soothing after a hard day spent in the garden. You can also use muslin instead of netting, but you won’t be able to see the calendula petals as well.

I added some borage flowers to the one I made today. I also discovered that it’s possible to sew the mesh to make larger herb pillows which could be used as pomanders for wardrobes.

Takes only minutes to make. Everything I do has to be quick and cheap to create. I’ve dried some scented pelargonium leaves and flowers to include in this one pictured below. The ribbon came from Georgie at Common Farm Flowers where I learned how to grow cut flowers and make door wreaths. I can highly recommend Georgie’s courses. They are fun and informative. I’m so grateful for all her advice and support over the past few years. It’s given me confidence to charge customers for my floral arrangements.

Let me know if you make any of these parcels, and what ingredients you put in to yours. It’s good to share ideas, isn’t it.

Apple and Almond Slice

180g Butter

140g golden caster sugar

1tspn vanilla extract

3 eggs

100g flaked or ground almonds

150g SR flour

1tpsn baking powder

80ml milk

4 small eating apples, chopped

Whizz all ingredients- apart from apples-together in a food processor. Put the cake mixture on top of the chopped apples. I used two silicone loaf tins from Lakeland. You can use a 20cm cake tin, greased and lined with parchment paper. Cook for 30 mins at 170c gas mark 3. Check half way through cooking, and put parchment paper on top to prevent burning. The cake is cooked when a knife comes out clean.

Suitable for afternoon tea and picnics. You can sprinkle the top with flaked almonds or icing sugar. It’s deliciously moist and tasty. A good use of apples from my orchard at home.

What recipes have you got to share to make the best use of the apple harvest? Do get in touch and let me know.

You can listen in to Radio Leicester’s gardeners’ phone-in on the i-player at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05jmv5h Whizz the time round to 2.07.51 for the start of the programme. You can press the plus button in the centre of the dial if you want to go past the music. Don’t forget to laugh. We could all do with more laughter, and I don’t mind. Honestly. But next time, I shall be sat down in front of the microphone ready to go. I promise!

End of Month View – as October closes.

Determined to spend every last minute of good weather outdoors, I piled blankets and cushions on our old garden chairs. It makes a cosy place to read and survey the autumn colours. A place to rest and have a cup of tea after all that apple picking!

Here’s a kind of ‘slide show’ of photos from my garden, taken over the past couple of weeks. I take photos as a record of what’s in flower and looking good at different times of the year. At the end of each month I sit down and make notes of what needs moving, pruning, changing around.

Alongside the drive, in a rubble-filled spot I planted one eucomis bulb a few years ago. These love the well-drained, sunny conditions. This year the bulbs have increased and we have eight flower stems, making a lovely colourful display. The photo shows the top of the plant, which is as beautiful as the flower spike. It’s nice to have something as exotic as this at the tail-end of the growing season.

Next to the drive we have a dogwood called Midwinter Flame, sometimes sold as Midwinter Fire. Just now it is taking centre stage as the leaves turn a beautiful bright yellow and the shrub is smothered in delicate white flowers. Late foraging solitary bees and Red Admiral butterflies are enjoying the plentiful supply of pollen today. The dogwood has bright orange stems all winter. A stunning sight covered in frost and snow. I find this dogwood doesn’t need such a drastic cut-to-the-ground approach that I use for Cornus Westonbirt planted nearby. In fact, I just take out a few stems every year to encourage new growth, and I tip back the ends to stop it encroaching on the driveway.

In the hedgerows surrounding the garden, common wild dogwood, Cornus sanguinea, is literally glowing with deep purple leaves and black berries. In full sun, the stems turn an electric red for winter. But in shade the stems remain a mossy green. Berries provide valuable food for small mammals and birds, as well as floristry material for my cut flower posies and door wreaths.

This door wreath made from my hedgerow foraging has ivy, dogwood, sloe berries, rosehips and crab apples. It cheered up the potting shed door for a week and cost £0 to make. A lovely sight to come home to.

I thought I would share the view from the back fields behind my garden. I took this photo whilst I was collecting materials for the door wreath. The gap is where an elm tree stood, before it succumbed to the dreaded Dutch elm disease. The elm managed to get to about 10 feet tall, and we always hope they will somehow develop a resistance to the disease. But every year another one dies. It’s a favourite gap-in-the-hedge view which changes so much with the seasons.

I garden on a windswept ridgeway. It’s cold and unprotected. But the views are glorious. I particularly love this viewing point, 20 paces from my paddock gate. There’s a woodpecker in that tree, taking no notice of me while I’m taking this photo. And high above us, a family of buzzards are circling and calling to each other with their curious mewing cry. When we first moved here, I spent hours searching for a cat I was sure had been abandoned in the hedgerow. Eventually realising it was a buzzard we could hear. Mind you, over the years, because of where we live in an isolated spot along a country lane, we have had to rescue quite a few sadly abandoned pets. All have found safe refuge here.

This is turning into a bit of a country walk. But I thought you’d like to see what I look at – just across the lane from where I live. We make daily trips to look at these cows. They are so tame and very well cared for. It’s rare to see calves allowed to stay with their mothers nowadays. Further along the lane, the cows can look thorough the fence to see me working in my orchard. They seem as curious about me as I am about them. Good company for me, indeed.

The grass verges here are full of wild flowers and what would be weeds in a garden setting. These rosebay willow herb plants grow in drifts and their colourful pink spikes provide nectar in summer for bees and butterflies. I watched some goldfinches enjoying the seed heads. A thing of beauty, caught in the sunlight.

Back in the garden, these seed heads are looking glorious at the moment. I’ve forgotten the name of them. If anyone knows, please remind me. The leaves look like burnt toffee at the moment. I’ve got a feeling sky rocket is in the name somewhere?

The hamamelis leaves are also turning colour now, and I’m excited to see the tiny flower buds just starting to form. I’m hoping for a colourful display right in the middle of winter when we all need cheering up.

I’m still looking for the name for this fungi. Autumn wouldn’t be the same without this beauty in the mini woodland part of the wild garden. I went back the next day to take some more photos and it had been eaten. We have a thriving colony of short-tailed voles living in the long grass there. Just wondering if they eat mushrooms. There’s so much to learn, isn’t there.

As we started with reading, I’ll leave you with this view of the potting shed. I’m tidying it up to give me somewhere to mooch to over the winter. Much perusing of seed catalogues and plotting and planning will go on in there on cold, wet days. I try to make it as cosy as I can with a kettle and toaster. Anyway, thank you for joining me on a walk around bramble garden.

Thank you to Steve at Glebe House who has taken up the mantle of EOMV from Helen at Patient Gardener who launched the meme eight years ago. Go over and have a look what other gardeners are doing at this time of the year. It’s fascinating to see what everyone is growing around the world.

Leave a comment and let me know what is looking good in your garden right now. I haven’t shown you all the weeds or brambles. There are many, I can promise you.

Win a copy of Secret Gardens of East Anglia- and here’s an update on my fund-raising plans

I have always believed people are amazingly kind and generous. Now I have the proof.

A week ago I wrote here about combining my gardening skills to raise money for Rainbows Children’s Hospice. And the response has been overwhelming. I wrote about giving talks to garden groups- and hosting open gardens. And immediately my lovely garden design customers Pat and John Stanley agreed to help. And best-selling writer Barbara Segall offered to give a talk on her new book Secret Gardens of East Anglia.

Here’s a poster for the event.

As soon as I mentioned Rainbows, Fiona from The Printers company in Loughborough offered to do the artwork and produce the posters for me. Thank goodness she did, as my first attempts were very amateurish and you’d have laughed to see them! Here’s Fiona, left with her assistant Maggie, right.

As soon as I had my posters, I whizzed around local shops and businesses asking them to put them in their front windows. Not one person turned me down. Here’s Googie in her shop – Googie’sFlowers at East Leake, near Loughborough. And as well as letting all her customs know, Googie has offered some gifts for the raffle.

The response on social media has been truly wonderful and supportive. On the day I announced my fund-raising plans, writer and gardener Gill Heavens sent the most fabulous card wishing me all the best with my projects. Such lovely, encouraging words. It actually made me cry, to be honest. I was so grateful for her generous donation as well, which I just kept looking at, as I couldn’t believe that I had set in motion a series of events that would lead to kind people sending money for Rainbows. Gill is also on twitter @GillHeavens which is where we first met.

Writer and blogger Alison Levey of blackberrygarden.co.uk @papaver on twitter very kindly offered to give Barbara accommodation for the night. I’m so grateful, as our spare room doesn’t bear inspection at the moment! It is in need of a complete renovation. I feel another blog post coming on…..

My dear friend and neighbour Charles Geary from award-winning Leicestershire company Geary’s Bakeries has promised to donate all the bread for our afternoon tea. And my amazing and ever-supportive Mum is making the cakes! Our local Co-op supermarket at East Leake is supplying the tea, sugar and milk.

I wrote a review of Barbara’s book Here . Publishers Frances Lincoln, part of the Quarto Publishing Group, have offered two copies to give away to readers of my blog. To win a copy please post a comment below and two will be picked out at random. Terms and conditions: The competition closes on 12th November. Entries after this time will not be counted.Open to readers world wide. Prize cannot be exchanged for a cash alternative. Winners chosen at random and will be contacted via the blog or on twitter. Winners to provide their postal address and books will be sent in the post via Frances Lincoln. Secret Gardens of East Anglia can also be purchased from amazon Here. Please also say in your comment if you don’t wish to be included in the give-away. Good luck everyone! And never underestimate the power of a smile 😊

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Wordless Wednesday 

Still mild enough to sit in the summerhouse. Heaps of cosy woollen blankets to hide under. So I made an autumn wreath out of beech leaves, rosehips and cowparsley seed heads.


My wreath is made from a woven willow base. I learned how to make them from  Georgie Newbery at Common Farm Flowers. I can highly recommend the courses. I attended one for creating a cut flower patch and posy tying. I’ve never had to buy any flowers for my house and family since. I’m planning to attend one next year on growing flowers for weddings and special occasions. I’ve already bought my voucher for the course. It’s great to have something to look forward to as winter starts to bite.




The Persian ironwood shrub, Parrotia Persica still looks like a bonfire of colour.


Orange tulips, a present from a friend- the view inside the summerhouse today.

Have you got a favourite place you like to sit in the garden?

The Tuesday View- 25th October 

Autumn has always been my favourite season. Nature seems to gather up its glories for one last burst of beauty.  


The beech trees make a golden backdrop for the wedding cake tree – Cornus Controversa Variegata. Cotinus Grace is  starting to turn from chocolate to a glowing red.


Left to right, the wedding cake tree , prunus Kojo no Mai, and Parrotia Persica. Backbone shrubs that stand out in spring and autumn. Summer colour is woven through these plants.


Looking like it’s been varnished – Parrotia is also called the Persian ironwood tree. Its bark is a  beautiful mottled  iron grey.


Summerhouse in the mist. The field-side border contains eucalyptus, magnolia, flower carpet rose, and two matching crataegus prunifolia mop -headed trees  framing  the view. The 1920s summerhouse is on a turntable and facing the ploughed field today. Beyond the summerhouse is a small copse of trees where  a Spotted woodpecker nested this summer. 

My ancestors would have used different words for the seasons. 

Until the 1500s, autumn was called harvest. The word comes from the old Norse word for haust- which means to gather or pluck. 

The French gave us automne. And the Romans gave us the Latin name autumnus. But “autumn”didn’t come into common English usage until the 18th century.  

Cathy at Words and Herbs  Hosts the Tuesday View. Go along and see what’s happening in her garden and feel free to join in with photos of your garden too.