Lemon Crunch Triangles – family Favourite recipes

If you were listening to Radio Leicester this week for the Gardens Hour, you will have heard us munching on Lemon Triangles. It’s a nice quick recipe that everyone seems to love. It keeps for a week in a tin, or can be frozen. But to be honest, it disappears quite fast in our house ( and at the radio station). Lemons come straight from my greenhouse. It’s been a good winter for them, with plenty continuing to grow and ripen. Now is the time to re-pot them or if they are in the maximum size pots, remove the top inch or so of soil and top dress them with fresh compost. Start to increase watering and add feed every time. I’m still battling scale insect. It’s a slow task of removing them with a washing up sponge and warm soapy water. I just turn on the radio and settle down to the task. At least it’s warm in the greenhouse. And the citrus flowers smell divine.

INGREDIENTS

175g butter or margarine

175g soft light brown sugar

175g self raising flour

2 medium eggs

Grated rind of 1 lemon

TOPPING

Juice of 1 lemon

100g caster sugar.

METHOD

Heat oven to 180C gas mark 4. Grease and line a 19cm x 29cm shallow tin.

  1. Melt butter and sugar together in a saucepan and stir to incorporate.
  2. Remove from heat and beat in the flour, rind and eggs using a wooden spoon, until smooth.
  3. Pour into the tin and bake for 25-30 minutes.
    Stand for a few minutes and then remove the grease proof paper. Return cake to the tin and cool slightly.
    Mix juice and sugar together and pour evenly over the cake. When cold, cut the cake into squares, and then halve to make triangles. Perfect for morning coffee, or afternoon tea.

I wrote about my citrus trees and greenhouse here https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/02/six-on-saturday-photos-from-my-garden/.

Announcing my prize draw winner. CJ Wildlife bird feeder.

I’m pleased to announce that Chloris has won my prize draw for a bird feeder kindly donated by CJ Wildlife.

Thank you to everyone who left a comment and took part in this draw.

Look out for my next prize draw which will be for a copy of Emma Mitchell’s new book The Wild Remedy. I’m enjoying reading this beautiful book, and a review will follow shortly.

Shropshire company CJ Wildlife kindly send a selection of bird feeders and nest boxes for me to try out,

The items arrived well packed in a cardboard box, with recyclable shredded cardboard and paper packaging inside.

Inside the box was an Apollo feeder, HighEnergy No-Mess feed, a Shannon peanut butter feeder and jar of special Peanut Butter for Birds. Also some suet and seed hearts. And a bird table scraper and some disinfectant to keep everything safe and hygienic.

APOLLO FEEDER

The Apollo feeder is made from UV stabilised polycarbonate materials which should be long lasting. I found the feeder easy to disassemble in seconds, with no tools needed, making it simple to clean and refill. There is ventilation in the lid part, which prevents condensation in the tube, helping to keep food fresh for longer.

My feeder has three port holes. There are five and seven-hole- types available. The distance between ports ensures birds don’t feel stressed by being too close together. I like the perching rings which allow birds to feed in a forward facing position.

HIGH ENERGY NO-MESS FEED

This was very popular with the birds in my garden and disappeared quite quickly. The seeds have been de-husked which minimises wastage and mess. This is great for ground, seed feeders, and bird tables. It contains kibbled sunflower hearts, kibbled peanuts, yellow millet, and pinhead oatmeal. It’s interesting to see that 100g gives 550 K/Cal energy. Some other feeds have a lower energy value.

SHANNON PEANUT BUTTER FEEDER

This feeder made from polypropylene hangs in a wall, fence or tree. Mine is on the front of the potting shed. The Peanut Butter for Birds jar slides under the roof. I found this was very popular with bluetits and great tits. There is a perch for them so they can feed in a forward -facing position. Simple to use, and clean, with no mess.

CJ Wildlife have a variety of peanut cakes containing seeds and insects, berries and mealworms. The robins love the little heart suet and seed cakes.

BIRD FEEDING TIPS

Common garden birds can be divided into three groups: seed eaters, insect eaters, and birds that eat both. Seed eaters such as sparrows and finches love food that consists of sunflower seed, corn, oats, and chopped peanuts. Insect eaters such as robins will prefer food containing mealworms or dried fruit. Tits are among the group of birds that will eat both seeds and insects.

Birds have an energetic lifestyle and need lot of calories each day just to survive. By providing high energy food we can help them through difficult times, such as when there’s bad weather, and when they are building nests or feeding their young. Sunflower hearts and peanuts have a high energy value.

Most seeds have a kernel- the part the birds are going to eat- surrounded by a tough outer case that is discarded by the bird. In some feeds the outer case is removed, meaning there is less waste. If you buy sunflower seeds for example that haven’t been shelled, birds use more effort to take the husks off and don’t get as much energy.

In a recent BBC Gardeners’ World magazine report it was revealed that we spend, as a nation, a staggering £813,698 a day on bird food. The figures come from the Horticultural Trades Association.

I was surprised to read, in the magazine investigation by Marc Rosenberg, the RSPB claim that dried peas, beans and small pieces of dog biscuits can be added to low-end mixes. It says birds will not choose to eat them. If you see coloured pieces in the mix, red, green and yellow, it might possibly be reconstituted dog biscuits.

So, from now on, I shall buy from reputable suppliers. I’ll choose kibbled sunflower seeds, knowing that birds lose energy removing the husks. I’ll clean the feeders out once a week, using hot water or bird- safe disinfectant, rather than just topping up the feeders as they get low. And I’ll remember to put out fresh water each day. Birds need water to keep their plumage in good condition and it’s fun to watch them splashing about.

I wrote about my low bird count for the RSPB BigGardenBirdWatch here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/30/nest-boxes-and-bird-feeders-for-the-garden/

Climate change is having an impact on all our wildlife. Caterpillars are not emerging until later in the season due to cold, wet spring conditions. This is having an impact on birds such as bluetits who hunt caterpillars to feed their young.

I’ll certainly be doing all I can to provide a lifeline for all the birds visiting my garden. I just hope numbers increase before too long.

Nest Boxes and Bird Feeders for the Garden

#BigGardenBirdWatch – My survey results.

Looking out of my potting shed window, I can see plenty of pigeons and a few robins. But where have all the song birds gone? Last weekend I took part in the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, and I was shocked by the results. Hardly any birds in my garden.

The Big Garden Birdwatch is in its 40th year, starting out in 1979. Over half a million people take part; it’s the world’s largest garden wildlife survey. But what it has shown over the years is a downward trend, a drastic decline in the number of thrushes, starlings and sparrows.

Results show:

  • Song thrushes down 75 percent
  • Starlings down 80 percent
  • Blackbirds down 41 percent
  • House sparrows down 57 percent
  • Greenfinches down 57 percent
  • Robins down 31 percent

Birds on the increase are

  • Wood pigeons up 950 percent
  • Collard doves up 307 percent.

In my one hour survey I spotted:

1 great tit

3 blackbirds

2 robins

1 wren

1 pheasant

1 chaffinch

5 pigeons

It’s about five years since we heard the tap- tapping of a song thrush breaking open a snail shell on the garden path. And I can’t remember the last time we spotted a sparrow. It must be 10 years at least.

So, with plummeting numbers, what can we do to help. One positive action is to put up a nest box. Loss of habitat might be a factor in the decline of the sparrow. We are all keeping our homes in better repair, meaning there are fewer gaps under the tiles where sparrows like to nest.

I asked Shropshire company CJ Wildlife for advice on buying and siting a nest box and here’s some hints and tips I’ve gathered.

Each bird has its preference for a particular nest box. The entrance opening is a determining factor.

  • 28mm hole- suitable for blue tit, coal, great, crested, marsh and willow tits, pied flycatcher and tree sparrow
  • 32mm – house sparrow, tree sparrow, great tit, crested tit, nuthatch
  • Oval entrance hole – house sparrow, nuthatch and redstart.
  • Open fronted box- well hidden in foliage- robin, wren, spotted flycatcher, redstart, black redstart, pied and grey wagtail, song birds.

Buying a bird box

  • Choose one made from high quality wood, up to 18mm thick, for insulation.
  • Look for an FSC label – certified products contain wood in accordance with Forest Stewardship Council regulations. The council promotes responsible forest management
  • Birds will often return year after year to the same box, choose one that is going to last. WoodStone is a mix of wood and concrete which has good insulating properties and a long life. A 10 year guarantee is given.
  • Metal or some ceramic nests might not be suitable, as they could have low insulation properties.
  • The best bird boxes come with a metal plate protecting the entrance hole from predators. These plates can also be purchased for a few pounds to protect existing boxes that don’t have this feature.

Maintenance of bird boxes

Bird boxes should be emptied every year between the end of October and January 31st. This will help to prevent parasites building up. Wear gloves and a dust mask. Wash the bird box in hot soapy water, or use bird-safe cleaners. Leave to dry for a few days in a garage or shed, and return the bird box to its original position.

Bird boxes can be painted, outside only, with non-toxic water- based paint.

Siting a bird box

  • Chose a north or east- facing position, as bright sunshine will overheat and possibly kill young birds
  • If mounting bird box on a tree, use the dry side and avoid the side where water rushes down in heavy rainfall.
  • Choose a secluded place, away from patios and barbecues
  • Site near vegetation so that young birds making their first flight will have some cover
  • Protect open nest boxes with thorny vegetation around them
  • The best height for bird boxes is between 1.5m and 5.5m
  • A clear flight path into the box is needed
  • Avoid sites such as the top of a fence, where predators can easily access the bird box.

In my garden, I’ve started off with boxes for robins, sparrows and great tits. And I’m hoping to attract a nuthatch or two. I’ll keep you posted on how I get on. I’m saving up for one that has a camera inside. I’d love to watch nesting birds in action.

Many thanks to CJ Wildlife for supplying bird food, and feeders, which I’ll talk about next time, and substantial, high quality nest boxes. I’m looking forward to attracting more birds to my plot, and doing my bit towards reversing the downward trend in garden bird numbers.

Here are some links you might find useful.

BTO https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw

Woodland Trust https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/animals/birds/

CJ Wildlife https://www.birdfood.co.uk/bird-feeders.html

CJ Wildlife nest boxes https://www.birdfood.co.uk/nest-boxes.html

Big Garden Birdwatch https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/birdwatch/

 

 

Please leave a comment below to be included in a prize draw for a Jupiter feeder and 1k suet pack, currently on sale for £18.99. Names will be randomly selected and there’s no cash alternative. Sorry, UK entries only. CJ Wildlife decision is final.

Photos of birds credit :CJ Wildlife.

Don’t forget to use the hashtag #BigGardenBirdWatch and #Winterwatch on social media to share your findings and stories from your weekend survey. And please feel free to share this blog piece on any social media platform. It all helps. Thank you.

BBC Radio #SundaySupplement flowers/ hedgehogs/ my garden, 12 August programme

Some photos to accompany today’s BBC Radio Leicester gardening Sunday Supplement programme. It was my turn to sit in and answer listeners’ gardening queries on the phone-in today.

As always, I ran round the garden and picked some flowers for my mother-in-law Joan and my Mum Marion to take in to the programme. Despite the heat and drought, my cut flower patch hasn’t let me down. There’s plenty of colour just now.

In the pink and blue theme posy there’s zinnia, Mophead hydrangea, cosmos seashells and white wild goats rue. The green umbels are actually parsley that’s gone to seed, and the whole bouquet is wreathed with blue borage. The pink whirls are Diascia Hopleys. Plants have grown to 5ft and been in flower for 8 weeks. There’s just one glorious inky-blue gladioli, and one annual pink chrysanthemum (Tricolor Mixed) which are only just starting to flower.

In the orange-theme bouquet there’s calendula, rudbeckia, spikes of verbascum, and seed heads from love-in-a-mist. White jasmine provides a wonderful scent, even if there are only two sprigs included here. Any more would be overpowering.

I could talk for hours about flowers, but the conversation steered towards wildlife in my garden. So for anyone wondering how my hedgehogs are getting on, we have four precious babies this year, one less than last summer. They are a month later than last year, but very healthy and active. I am feeding them with Spike hedgehog food to try to build them up for the winter. Fresh water is also really important and in scare supply, so lots of little dishes are placed all around the garden.

So far these hoglets are just 5″ long. I’ll keep an eye on them to ensure they meet the target weight of 650g by winter hibernation time.

I wrote about last summer’s hedgehogs Here. There’s also hints and tips on helping hedgehogs on the highlighted link.

Radio Leicester Sunday Supplement is available on i-player. There’s a link Here. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06fs2mb . Gardening starts at 1.09.31. Put your feet up and have a listen in.

Let me know what flowers are doing well in your garden right now, and do any of you have hedgehogs nesting in the garden this summer?

Please kindly share this on any social media platform, and don’t forget to say hello in the comment box below.

Summer fruit harvest and making garden jam

What a summer! My poor garden is burned to a crisp and everything’s wilting, including me. But the fruit garden is producing bumper crops. You’d think they would shrivel in 32C heat, but the black and red currants, gooseberries and blackberries are sweet and juicy.

Last night I wandered round the garden collecting a basket of fruit to make jam. I had planned to make strawberry jam from the pots of runners planted in April. But the tiny plants only yielded a handful of fruit. So delicious though. The plants only cost 60p each, mail order. I wrote about planting them Here. I’m hopeful of larger crops next summer.

The blackberries were the best I’ve ever seen though. A bumper crop and large fruit. Sometimes wild blackberries are so tiny they are hardly worth picking. But these soon filled a basket.

I threw the whole lot in a heavy based pan to make garden jam. Wow, what a scent. If it’s possible to capture sunshine and summer in a jar, this is the way to do it.

Garden Jam

To make 2 jars I used 500g fruit, 500g sugar 75ml water, juice of 1 lemon.

Method:

Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the setting point later.

Put fruit, water and lemon juice in a heavy based pan. Cook the fruit gently until soft.

Add sugar and simmer carefully until all the sugar crystals are absorbed.

Increase the heat to a rolling boil. After 10- 15 minutes, put a teaspoon of jam on the plate and gently push. If it wrinkles, it has reached setting point. If not, cook for another 5 minutes, taking care not to burn the jam.

Stand for 15 minutes

Pot into sterilised and warmed jars.

Fresh scones :

3oz butter

1lb plain flour

Pinch salt

1oz caster sugar

1.5 tsp. baking power

2 eggs and 6floz milk beaten together.

Add all the dry ingredients and rub together. Add liquids and mix carefully. Don’t over handle the mixture

Roll out thickly and cut into circles. Brush top with a little of the reserved egg/ milk mixture.

Bake for 10 mins until golden, oven temp. 230C, gas mark 8

Eat whilst still warm – or as soon as possible. Can be frozen as soon as cooled, to keep fresh.

I often ask twitter friends for recipes and gardening advice. Here’s a reply that came from Bob Flowerdew. I’m looking forward to trying his recipe.

And this came from June Girvin, which is similar to the recipe I ended up with. It’s absolutely delicious.

After all that foraging and cooking, we sat in the 1930s summerhouse, turned to face the cool woodland and pond and feasted on the jewels of the garden.

Surrounding us, there’s sounds of harvesting and baling. There’s a scent of new hay and oats on the breeze, and we watch entranced as barn owls swoop across the empty fields, like ghosts. They don’t notice us sitting quietly amongst the trees.

Here’s this week’s Garden Hour on BBC Radio Leicester where I chat away about what’s happening in my garden. Put your feet up and have a listen in sometime. The programme starts at 2.10.27 on the timeline. And the music’s not bad this week too.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06cd1bd

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. Please share this on any social media platform you like, and don’t forget to leave a comment below. Thank you.

We made a garden for Rainbows Hospice : Belvoir Show 2018

My very wise Welsh grandmother was full of quaint little sayings. I used to laugh at the time. “Pick yourself up, dust yourself down; ” and “Something good always comes out of adversity.” But I didn’t heed them at the time. Then two years ago, suddenly, out of the blue, I became seriously ill. In the middle of the crisis, those words came back to me.

While I was lying in my hospital bed, I decided, if I survived, I would raise money for Rainbows Hospice for children. Being so ill was frightening, and it took all my inner resources to cope. How much worse, I thought, must it be for a child to be ill and in pain. Since then, I’ve been hosting garden club talks, afternoon teas and book launch events. But my biggest challenge came last weekend when I helped build a show garden.

And this is how it started. Over the bridge is the lake-side setting for the first ever Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Festival. It’s a glorious Capability Brown landscape with rolling hillsides and ancient oak plantations.

We had four and a half days to make a garden. It’s a historic site, so we couldn’t dig down or hammer anything into the ground. Everything had to be built up from a protective ground cover.

We had no budget. Everything was begged or borrowed. Any money, I thought, should go to Rainbows.

David Greaves co-designed the garden and donated all the labour for the build. While I concentrated on the plants, David co-ordinated all the materials and deliveries we would need.

First the garden was marked out. Lewis lays the foundation for the dry stone wall. Alfie’s on the cement mixer.

The first stone is laid.

The beautiful honey -coloured stone was donated by Goldholme Stone.

A lorry load of topsoil arrives, a donation from Richard Fenton.

Such a stunning setting for a garden. Everyone works at breakneck speed, in 28C heat. There’s Sam, Pete, Gareth and David cracking on, mindful of the deadline.

Parents told me being given devastating news your children are not going to live long and full lives is like a hammer blow. They feel as if they’ve been knocked down and can’t get back up. One mother said she felt like Rainbows “picks you up and gives you a hug. ” Something she said was most needed when you’re at your lowest ebb. So I made a seating area in the shape of open arms, or a hug.

This is the artist’s impression of the garden. We designed the garden in two halves. On one side is a parent’s garden with the hug-shape seat set in a woodland glade with native trees and plants. It’s a calm haven. The idea was to highlight the message that Rainbows isn’t just for children; it’s for parents, relatives and siblings who need help, counselling and support.

Parents said, when told their child had a life-limiting illness, all their hopes and dreams for the future collapse. They can’t see what lies ahead. The future is clouded. The Perspex screens puts their words into our garden.

On the other side of the screens is the children’s garden, giving an idea of what it’s like at Rainbows; an insight for anyone who has never visited. There’s a music therapy corner, bird watching hide and wildlife area, water play wall, and a quiet retreat with swing seat covered in rainbow-coloured cushions.

I’ve been going back and forth to the hospice for months, helping the children and young people to grow their own plants for the containers. I loved working with them. I wanted them to share in telling the Rainbows story. Here’s my daughter Clare helping with the planting of seeds and bulbs.

Although nothing was said, I realised some of the children couldn’t see. They enjoyed the feel of dry compost running through their fingers and they spent a long time turning over and feeling the different shaped bulbs- gladioli, lily and begonia. It was an experience I will never forget.

The containers were sited in the middle of the chidren’s garden, and also all around a fund-raising marquee set up by Rainbows alongside our garden.

All the beautiful trees, shrubs and perennials were grown by Miles Nurseries Hoby Leicestershire. Thanks to Tom, Bel and Lawson for providing such fabulous plants. And for all your deliveries to the site. We could not have built the garden without your kind support.

Our water play and music wall.

Here’s the Duchess of Rutland viewing our garden, with David Greaves explaining the design. The good news is we won Best in Show. And even better, the garden is going to be re-built in the castle grounds.

The duchess tried out the drum kit in the music therapy corner.

My Mum, who’s been very ill too this year, recovered enough to come and see the garden. That really made my day to be honest.

This little visitor to the show was enchanted by the butterflies that arrived as soon as we’d planted the garden.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my diary of building a show garden. We raised several thousand pounds with donations, pledges and people joining the Rainbows lottery. Here’s the link if you would like to support the work of this amazing hospice.

Rainbows Hospice – Ways you can help.

With many thanks to all our sponsors: David Greaves Landscape Design and Construction for co-design and build , Miles Nurseries for all trees, shrubs and plants, Bagforce Aggregates , William Hercock Builders Merchants , CED paving and stone Belvoir Saw Mill, Chris Cooper-Hayes for artists impression, Goldholme Stone , David Musson Fencing , Motorpoint for perspex screens and leaflets, Richard Fenton for topsoil ,Melcourt for compost and bark, Burgon and Ball children’s tools and kneeling pads, Mr Fothergill’s Seeds for children’s pots, Gee Tee Bulbs for children’s container bulbs, Elho for children’s containers and plant pots, CJ Wildlife for bird and wildlife corner supplies, Cooks Lane Herbs , Sitting Spiritually swing seat, Pete Brown Carpentry, Libby Greaves for planning and co-ordination, publicity and planting.

Also many thanks to Soo Spector, Marissa Ewing-Gerrard, Clive Gimson for planting and Gary and Alison at Rainbows for helping me; Emma Scarborough for mentoring, and Sue Blaxland who taught me everything at Brooksby College.

Please share this on twitter, facebook, and any other social media platform, and don’t forget to say hello below.

REVIVE YOUR GARDEN book review

Nick Bailey. Photography by Jonathan Buckley

Kyle Books £25 Hardback. Published spring 2018

My garden blends seamlessly with the surrounding countryside. If you drive along our country lane, you wouldn’t be able to tell anyone lived there. The garden shelters behind mature hawthorn hedges with scented wild roses and honeysuckle. I love its wildness. But there comes a point where the wild garden starts to get the upper hand; some paths are no longer accessible. The woodland is expanding and cow parsley taking over. And don’t even mention the brambles.

Just in time, Nick Bailey has produced a book that seems to be written specially for me! Revive Your Garden is a step by step guide to restoring order.

When a garden has got out of control, the task to get it back into shape seems overwhelming. It’s difficult to know where to start. This book sets out a sensible plan of action, starting with a section on “understanding the opportunities and limitations” of your plot.

Next there’s a back-to-basics approach on pruning. I should really know when and how

to prune my shrubs, but Nick’s guide gives me reassurance that I’m doing it right. There’s a master class on renovation pruning with plenty of photographs to illustrate different techniques.

For beginners, there’s a very good section on identifying the difference between weeds and useful plants worth saving. My daughters found this particularly good – as they are starting to look for their first-time homes. All the houses we’ve looked at in their (low) price range have terrible, ramshackle gardens.

There’s a section on renovating lawns. Mine have been attacked by all kinds of creatures, gouging holes in the grass. I just need a nudge in the right direction to tackle the eyesore.

One idea in the book I’ve copied involves taking photos of the garden and laying tracing paper over the top. Draw on the changes you’d like to make. In my case, I want to create a new breakfast terrace near the summerhouse; a sunny spot first thing in the morning. Drawing it out first gives an impression of what it would look like- before you’ve spent any money on the scheme, and you can play around with various options.

Practical advice on restoring paving, reviving gravel and fences is followed by a section called “How to Wow.” I need to revamp some of my planting areas- once I’ve hacked back the brambles.

Revive Your Garden gives you confidence to tackle any garden work, whether it’s bringing a tired and neglected garden back into shape, or putting your own stamp on a newly acquired plot. It’s written in an enthusiastic way. You can definitely hear Nick’s voice as he explains the techniques. It’s just the encouragement you need to get going.

Here’s some photos of my garden, before I start work on our renovation project. Wish me luck. I might be out there for a while!

There’s a path through there……

And there.

Honestly, there’s a path through there. Leading to the outside world, and this view.

NICK BAILEY, a regular presenter on BBC2’s Gardeners’ World, has worked as a professional horticulturalist for more than 20 years and won silver gilt for his first show garden at Chelsea Flower Show in 2016. Until recently he was head gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden.

In a Vase on Monday ….. er Wednesday.

Defeated by torrential rain, I’d given up on gardening until today. Here’s a brief glimpse into my day.

A quick peek in the greenhouse before I go off to work. And it’s sunny in here. At last. Yippee!!! Windows opened. Wonderful scent. Just love primulas. So cheerful.

Second year hyacinths are never as good. But they still have a value. I love the intense blue of this one, set against the yellow of the dwarf daffodils. I’m growing Tete-a-tete in pots for picking. And in honour of my wonderful Welsh grandmother, Tenby daffodils, which grow wild in Wales.

Love my newly acquired plant pots. The green one on the left is from Burgon and Ball , and the one on the right is from new company Plant Furniture.

After a quick snip of flowers for the show, I’m off to Radio Leicester for the Gardeners’ phone-in, 11-12 on a Wednesday. A fun place to work. Sophie and Jack the producers look after me. I’m always so grateful for all the encouragement and support they give. I probably couldn’t do it without their kindness to be honest.

We chatted about growing tomatoes. I’m growing bush tomatoes in containers and hanging baskets alongside programme host Ben Jackson. We’ve got cherry tomatoes from Mr Fothergill’s, Suttons and Thompson and Morgan to try out. And we’ll be growing them in Dalefoot sheep wool and bracken compost as an alternative to peat. It’s always more fun growing something with another person. I haven’t got an allotment, for example, where you would have neighbours to chat with and share hints and tips. so I’m going to grow along with Ben, and we’ll share seeds and compost and compare results. It will be a fun project to do over the summer.

We always have a laugh on the gardeners’ programme. If I see something a bit unusual, I’ll take it in to show the team. Today I took in these Badger Paw gloves. I spotted them at the Garden Press Event a few weeks ago and thought they looked interesting. The event showcases new ideas, new seeds, tools and machinery, containers and plant pots- all heading for supermarkets, garden centres and nurseries this summer. The Badger Paw is said to be perfect for preparing soil, planting, weeding and clearing roots. It’s made by Creative Products and has breathable stretchy fabric. What we couldn’t work out though was why the claw is only on one hand. It’s an interesting concept and I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

My posy of flowers this week also contains hyacinths – which just seem to keep on flowering. They love the cold weather. Tucked inside my paper wrapping are iris reticulata, hellebores, snowdrops, and dogwood twigs from my new florists’ “Hedge-in-a-Box” kit from Hopes Grove Nurseries. I spotted their ingenuous hedge kit for gin makers at the GPE. On the stand there was a sign saying make any suggestions for new hedge kits. So I asked if they could design a hedge for florists with coloured stems and flowers for all year round picking. And my wonderful “hedge-in-a-box”arrived on Monday! I’m really thrilled with it.

Thanks for joining me today. Thanks also to Cathy for hosting this meme and kindly allowing me to join in later in the week when either the internet – or the weather – has let me down.

Click on the highlighted words for more information. They are not affiliate links.

BBC Radio Leicester Gardeners’ phone-in recipes

CITRUS MARMALADE AND ORANGE FLAPJACK

February is a cold, dark, short month. But everywhere there’s signs of spring. Wild violets and the first primroses pop up by the front gate. And snowdrops cheer up the hedgerow, pushing up through hats of curled, brown leaf mould.

It’s traditionally a month of self-denial and fasting. Many people give up something for Lent – chocolate, wine, or favourite foods. Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day is a way of using up egg supplies before the fasting period begins. I make orange curd to use up eggs and butter.

But I also like to make marmalade now. An antidote to winter. I line up pots of marmalade along my kitchen window. A kind of ribbon of orange light. My own stained glass window. Here’s my favourite recipe, which I make with Seville oranges – and some citrus fruits from my heated greenhouse. Tucked up indoors and standing over a steaming pan of oranges makes for a heart-sing moment. And we need plenty of those in February. My grandmother’s old saying is usually true. As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens. I highly recommend staying indoors, keeping warm and making marmalade.

ORANGE MARMALADE

2lb or 900g fruit ( I used Seville oranges, and some kumquats and calamondin fruit from the greenhouse.)

1 lemon

4lb or 1.8kg granulated sugar, warmed

4 pints water

6 x 1lb jam jars

Square of muslin

Cut the lemon and oranges in half and squeeze out the juice. Put any pips or pith that cling to the squeezer into a square of muslin placed over a pudding bowl. Now cut the peel into quarters. Scrape off the pith and add to the muslin. Cut the quarters into thin shreds. Add the juice and peel to the water in a heavy-based preserving pan. Tie up the muslin square and tie loosely to the pan handle with the bag suspended in the water. The pith contains pectin which will help the marmalade set. Simmer gently uncovered for 2 hours until the peel is completely soft. Remove the muslin bag and set aside to cool. Put a plate in the freezer. Pour in the sugar and heat gently until the sugar crystals have melted. Squeeze the muslin bag to extract the jelly-like pectin. I used plastic gloves, or you can press it between two saucers. Increase heat. As soon as the mixture reaches a fast boil, start timing. After 15 minutes, spoon a little of the marmalade onto the cold plate and pop in the fridge. If it has a “set” the marmalade will crinkle when you push it with your finger. If not, continue to boil for another 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stand for 20 minutes. Add a tsp butter to disperse scum. Pop the jam jars in the oven to warm for five minutes. Pour the marmalade into jars with the aid of a funnel, cover with wax disks and seal while still hot. Label pots- and enjoy!

A visit to my mother-in-law’s house would always find us searching the pantry for the cake tin. Over the past 50 years, you could pretty much guarantee to find some flapjack in there. Joan recently gave me all her treasured recipe books. Here’s my own version, adapted from Joan’s family favourite. It travels well and is ideal for picnics.

ORANGE AND WALNUT FLAPJACK

250g or 9oz unsalted butter, chopped into pieces

250g or 9oz golden caster sugar

175g or 6oz golden syrup

425g or 15oz porridge oats

50g or 2oz walnut halves,slightly crushed.

Grated zest of 1 orange.

3 tbsp orange marmalade

160C gas / mark 4 for 30 minutes

28cm x 18cm shallow baking tin

Melt together in a microwave the butter, sugar, and golden syrup. Stir into the oats, walnuts, and orange zest. Tip the mixture into a lined tin and level it off. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the centre is still slightly soft. It will firm up as it cools. Mark into 12 pieces while it’s still warm. Leave to cool and then brush the top with melted orange marmalade. Keeps for a week in an airtight tin.

Each week on BBC Radio Leicester there’s a Gardeners’ Phone-in programme between 11am and 12 noon. I like to take in a posy from my garden, showing what’s in flower all year round. And I also take in something I’ve made using produce from my plot. This week it was a jar of marmalade and some flapjack. Tune in on the i player to listen to the programme which starts at 2.11.31 on the timeline at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05t8n69. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a photo of my greenhouse from last summer. A reminder of lovely warm weather to come.

Fact Sheet- BBC Down to Earth gardening programme -recipes and home-made presents

From the latest BBC Radio Leicester Christmas Party programme. Each week I take in something I’ve made, using produce from my garden. It’s usually cake, or a vegetable pie, jam or preserves. This week it is festive Beetroot and Spice Cake. I sowed a 1.3m by 3m plot with mixed beetroot seeds in August and September. The mild autumn means I’ve now got a bumper crop, and I’m trying all different kinds of recipes to use them.

Here’s a link to the programme. You can listen again on your computer or i-pad, or live each Sunday 12-1pm on Freeview 721. http://bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05nbmln The programme starts at 06.06 on the timeline,

This is a lovely moist cake with a spicy lemon tang. The recipe came via a shout out on twitter where I am known as @kgimson. I must credit The Propagator @cavershamjj for this wonderful recipe.

Beetroot cake

3 small beetroot 250g

250g Butter

1 lemon -grated rind and juice

1 cup caster sugar -220g

4 free range eggs

1 cup – 150g dried currants or mixed dried fruit

1 cup- 150g plain flour

1 cup- 150g SR. Flour

Pinch mixed spice

Caster sugar for dusting

20cm deep cake tin, lined with greaseproof paper

Method :

Peel and coarsely grate the beetroot.

Use a hand whisk or food processor to mix sugar, butter and lemon rind.

Add the eggs a little at a time. Mixture might curdle, but it will come back again.

Fold in flour, mixed spice and currants.

Add the beetroot and lemon juice.

Cook for one and half hours in a moderate oven, 160 to 180 degrees. Cover with baking parchment after 15 minutes, to prevent burning.

When cooked and cool, sprinkle with icing sugar. Can be frozen for 3 months. Lasts one week in a sealed container.

Cherry marzipan chocolates

As it’s Christmas, I took in these home-made chocolates. So easy to make. I preserved my home-grown cherries in alcohol in the summer. Here’s the recipe

Cherries preserved in alcohol and drained- or glacé cherries soaked overnight in cherry brandy.

Block of marzipan

Bar of Bourneville dark chocolate or similar 70 percent cocoa butter chocolate.

Method:

Slightly warm the marzipan in the microwave so that it is mouldable. Drain the cherries and dry on paper towel. Make a small circle of marzipan in your hand and enclose the cherry. Roll the marzipan cherries in melted chocolate and place in the fridge to cool. These make delicious home-made presents.

Family favourite – Aunty Doris – Crispy Cakes

Something we make every Christmas. Much loved by all the family- as was our Aunty Doris. Hopefully, writing this here preserves this recipe for my children, should they ever come looking in the future. It’s good to have traditions that pass from one generation to another.

The recipe is very simple. It is equal amounts of butter, marshmallows and dairy toffee, all melted together in a heavy-based jam pan. When melted, add Kellogg’s Rice Crispies until all the melted mixture is coated. Pour out into a shallow metal tray and leave to cool slightly. Cut into squares before it cools completely.

I also like to use materials from my garden for home-made presents. The team got some of these fir cone bird feeders.

Simply melt a block of lard in a heavy based jam pan. Add bird seed, grated cheese, breadcrumbs, apple peelings, dried fruit and crushed peanuts. You can spoon the mixture onto the fir cones. It makes a marvellously messy project for young children. If time is short, you can simply add the fir cones to the pan and stir around. The mixture gets caught up in the open fir cone scales. Tie with a piece of festive ribbon, or some string and wrap in foil to dry. I’ve hung mine on the tips of my beech tree. Squirrels so far can’t get to them because the tips of the branches are too springy for them. I’ve also dangled them along my office window where a little robin comes each day for treats.

Each week I take in flowers I’ve grown in my garden. For Christmas I’ve harvested some Annabelle hydrangea seed heads and sprayed them silver. I wrote about these arrangements Here.

It certainly brightened up the radio station for the afternoon. And costs nothing, apart from a quick blast of florists spray.

Wishing you all a wonderful, happy Christmas. Down to Earth will be back on air in the New Year with lots of exciting ideas for what to grow in your garden, and the whole team giving help and advice to get the most from your plot. Thanks for listening in during 2017. I’ve enjoyed being the new girl on the team.

(I am not representing the BBC. Views are my own, and not necessarily those of the BBC.)