Garden News Magazine recipes for December

If you’ve received your copy of Garden News Magazine this week, here’s the recipes I mention in my column. Above is the summerhouse where I write my pieces, and where I sit and make my cherry marzipan chocolates.

The recipe link for Cherry Marzipan Chocolates is here :

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

They are very quick to make and children love creating them. They make tasty home-made presents for Christmas.

I also write about Chocolate and Orange Panettone. Start saving your tins now to make these delicious treats. They are very easy to make and look beautiful. Get the children to make potato stamp labels. Be as creative as you like. Everyone can get involved.

Here’s the link: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/12/02/christmas-recipes-chocolate-panettone/

I write about turning my satsumas from the greenhouse into a liqueur. The recipe comes from Bob Flowerdew, replying to me on twitter when I asked what I could do with this year’s prolific harvest. It’s been a good summer for growing citrus. Bob always has great suggestions for what to do with produce from the garden, and is generous with his advice.

Here’s Bob’s recipe for Satsuma Liqueur :

And finally, I was talking on the radio last week, when I mentioned I was making Sloe Gin. Here’s the recipe, with thanks to garden writer Barbara Segall, who inspires me on a daily basis to try something new.

Sloe Gin

450g sloe berries -or whatever you can find. If you only have 300g, use those.

350g caster sugar

710ml gin

Kilner jar or lidded jar

Place the ripe sloe berries in the freezer to break the skins. Add all ingredients to a large kilner jar. Swirl the contents every day for a week, every week for a month, and every month for a year. Strain the gin. Use the berries for cakes or trifle.

It’s wonderful to have a bottle on the north-facing kitchen windowsill. Mine has changed colour now and it’s a joy to see. Almost like a stained glass window.

Barbara Segall has written many garden books, all highly recommended. One of my favourites is The Christmas Tree. A beautiful stocking-filler. Find out more here : https://thegardenpost.com/category/christmas-tree-book/

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/The-Christmas-Tree-book-by-Barbara-Segall-NEW-/174501320740?_trksid=p2349624.m46890.l49292

For more suggestions on books, I also recommend The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty. I reviewed the book here:

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

Here’s a link for Georgie Newbery at Common Farm Flowers for growing cut flowers, floristry and Christmas wreath workshops and courses, in person, and on-line. Vouchers make a great present for any gardener. https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/collections/workshops

Thanks for reading! Have a great week.

Turning Garden Twigs into Christmas Decorations

As a few of you know, I talk on the radio once a fortnight, chatting about what I’m doing in my vegetable and cut flower plot. This week, I tried valiantly to make a few twigs from my garden sound exciting. It really tested my powers of description! Anyway, if you were listening in, here are the photos to go with my interview with Ben Jackson. I was waving my arms around, explaining how you can gather foliage and off-cuts from the garden, make them into a twiggy bouquets, add lights, and plunge them in a pot. I do hope it enthused a few people to have a go and make their own Christmas decorations.

Willow stems, dried oak twigs, pine foliage and Hydrangea Annabelle flower heads with orange lanterns, Physalis alkekengi.

I decorated the hydrangea heads with some florists’ silver spray from Oasis. You only need a tiny amount.

Some old man’s beard, wild clematis vitalba adds a fluffy texture and movement to the arrangement.

Mouldable copper wire fairy lights from supermarkets only costs a few pounds. Mine came from Wilkos and use rechargeable batteries.

Tiny flowers from the hydrangea heads flutter down around me. I scoop them up and use them as table decorations. They are like nature’s confetti.

Wire lights can be threaded through dogwood stems and any greenery from the garden. This ‘bouquet’ of twigs is pushed into a plant pot of garden soil and stood by the front door. It looks like a container full of expensive plants, but in truth, it has cost me nothing. Stems will stay fresh until after Christmas due to cold and wet weather. They can be composted in the new year. So there’s no waste to go into bins.

I’ve used pine, spare Christmas tree stems (the tree was too tall), ivy, dogwood and willow to give height, and skimmia at the front. You could pop some hellebores and white heather either side to cover the base of the pot. If you have plastic pots, why not cover them with hessian to give them a natural look.

Here’s some more ideas using willow. Wind the willow or dogwood into a rough circle and keep adding more stems. Eventually you can pull it into shape and secure it with thin lengths of willow. Kept dry in the shed, wreaths will last for years. Each Christmas, I add new foliage, pine and rosemary for scent, rosy-hued hydrangea heads and clematis seeds. These are simply fed in amongst the willow stems and secured with string or florists’ reel wire.

You can add rosehips and crab apples to the willow frame. Birds tend to enjoy them, so I have to replenish the decorations every day. We were very excited to see some very small birds, possibly long-tailed tits enjoying the clematis seeds. It becomes almost a cross between a Christmas decoration and a bird feeder.

Add whatever you can find in the garden and hedgerow. In this silver birch wreath, I’ve added ivy, with green and black ivy berries, and dried cow parsley seed heads. The wind sometimes blows the clematis across the back fields, but there’s plenty more in the potting shed, ready for the festive season.

These willow stems have been folded over to form a heart. Hold ten stems in one hand. Bend half of them over and tie in the middle. Bend the other half over to form the other side of the heart, and tie in. Tie further up the stems to keep the heart shape secure. Disguise the ties -or the mechanics, as we call them- with a mini bouquet of foliage. Here I’ve used Holly, ivy, Garrya elliptica, hydrangea flowers and a few crab apples.

Willow wreaths don’t always need any decorations at all. A pretty ribbon is all that’s used on this wreath for a simple shepherd’s hut.

I decorate five bar gates around the plot. A single heart is often all that’s needed. It will cheer any Christmas Day revellers, walking along the lane. From this gate we can hear the church bells ringing. The sound carries far across the fields. It’s a wonderful spot to stand and listen for a few moments, mug of tea in hand.

Let me know what decorations you are putting up in your house and garden this year. Will it be old favourites, like mine, or something new? Get in touch and let me know, and thanks, as ever, for reading. Today, I’m celebrating my milestone 100,000 blog visitors. When I started writing, I thought just a handful of people might see my posts. I’m absolutely thrilled to see 100,000 have read about my little plot. Have a great weekend everyone.

Links:

Listen to Radio Leicester, Christmas decorations, at 3.16.57 on the timeline on BBC Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08ymt0t

I learned how to make my wreaths at Common Farm Flowers with Georgie Newbery. Georgie is running online courses and sells wreath -making kits.

https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/collections/workshops

I wrote about Georgie’s courses here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/07/01/online-hand-tie-posy-course-with-georgie-newbery/

There’s also lots of Christmas recipes on the blog. Just scroll down to view them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

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

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

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

BOOKS TO READ:

An Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade

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

The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty

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

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

BBC Radio Leicester Gardening show. Link to the programme. Starts at 3.14.50

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08dnt84

Talking from the potting shed again, working from home, for the BBC Radio Leicester gardening programme. The gardening section starts at 3.14.50 on the timeline. We had questions from Ash about growing lemon trees. And a question from Christine about growing foxgloves from seed.

Here’s a video from my greenhouse this week. Some of the citrus need cleaning up, but the bees are enjoying the flowers at the moment. The trees will be moved outdoors next week when this unusual cold spell passes and we return to higher temperatures and sunshine. They will do well outdoors in a sheltered place.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy your week. Karen

In a Vase on Monday – revisiting RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Well, we should all be at the Chelsea Flower Show today. But it’s been cancelled, like most spring and summer events. So instead I’m sharing photos from last year. Plants and flower arrangements I made a note of, for my own garden. Enjoy this dip into my photo album.

Kelways Peonies. I love Lemon Chiffon, (cream) Seashell, (pink) Avalanche, (white) Nymph, (pink).

They don’t last long, but such a glorious sight in mid May. I wouldn’t be without peonies.

Lupins from West Country Lupins. Just perfection. I bought this one

And this one. Lupin Masterpiece. Such a glorious plum colour.

David Austin Roses. This one is new variety, Tranquility. Very calming colour.

And new rose Desdemona. Beautiful at all stages from tight bud to wide open. Gorgeous scent. Stands up to the weather really well. Flowers shrug off rain and don’t ‘ball.’ Recommended.

Pinks. This is the new Tequila Sunrise. Lovely changes of colour as the flower ages. Amazing scent.

It’s wonderful to have the pinks side by side so you can compare them. The scent is just amazing in the heat, and contained by the roof of the marquee. A lingering memory of Chelsea.

Some of the amazing flower arrangements at the show. It really is a florists’ paradise.

These were still being created on press day. I stood for a long time watching the process.

This tower of flowers was spectacular.

Close -up detail of the flower-filled tower.

This explosion of foxgloves and cow parsley is my favourite.

Details for this lovely arrangement.

I also studied this arrangement created using test tubes. Really simple and lovely. Simple is what I always go for. As you know.

So I came home and made this from flowers in my garden. Inspired by all the lovely blooms I’d seen at Chelsea. There’s wild daisies, blue corn flowers and cow parsley as a background with green ivy covering the mossy wreath.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this re-visit of last year’s Chelsea Flower Show. I’m going to be watching all the on-line and televised content. This year, it is all about finding ways around problems and learning how to enjoy the things we love. Gardening – growing food and flowers- has been a saving for me. It’s kept me occupied and stopped my thoughts running away. It’s kept be grounded and focussed on keeping calm and helping others. Gardening is also a shared joy. Although we can’t see our friends and family, we can still talk about our gardens and share photos. It keeps us connected, and reminds us we are not alone.

If you listen in to BBC Radio Leicester, send your photos to mid-morning host Ben Jackson. Sharing our gardens is a lovely thing to do. And I’ll be talking about what I’m growing on Wednesdays and Thursdays, alternating with my gardening team member Josie Hutchinson. And also now and again on BBC Radio London.

Links: RHS Virtual Chelsea Show https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show

Kelways Nursery : https://www.kelways.co.uk/category/peonies/1/

West Country lupins : https://www.westcountrylupins.co.uk/index.html

David Austin Roses :https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/delivery

Join in with the In a Vase on Monday meme and see what eveyone is growing and putting into vases this week, all over the world. : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/05/18/in-a-vase-on-monday-the-jewels-and-the-crown/

BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour 22 April 2020

If you were listening in to BBC Radio Leicester for Gardens Hour today, I’ve written some notes to accompany the programme.

I’m working from home at the moment. The oak tree above has just burst into leaf. I can see the tree from the top of the paddock. The swallows returned here last Wednesday, and we’ve seen pipistrelle bats over the garden.

Blossom has been fabulous this year, with no rain to spoil the flowers. I’m sitting under this Prunus Kanzan cherry tree today to answer questions and talk about my gardening tasks.

We had a question about an apple tree failing to establish.

If your tree is failing to thrive, it usually indicates a problem with the growing conditions. Poor growing conditions will stunt any tree or shrub.

Water any newly -planted trees well. Soil may be dry around the roots even when the surface appears moist. Check with a trowel to see how far the water is penetrating the ground.

Weeds and grass compete with trees for moisture. Keep a weed and lawn -free zone at least 1m in diameter around the plant.

Mulch locks in the moisture and helps feed the tree. Apply a mulch a good couple of inches deep around the tree, avoiding the trunk. (mulch piled up against the trunk can cause ‘drowning,’ so take care it doesn’t get pushed up against the tree).

You can use your own home-made compost or composted bark for the mulch. Do not apply to dry ground, as it can also lock -in drought.

You can place a drainage pipe in the ground alongside the tree at planting time, which helps water reach the roots. However, take care, as too much water can cause water logging, which is also detrimental.

Feed with a potash fertiliser, which promotes fruit and flowers.

Salix Flamingo – wiki commons photo.

We had a question about a Salix Flamingo willow tree failing to thrive. The tree has come into leaf and the leaves have shrivelled.

I’ve found this tree difficult to grow. It’s grown for its new, shrimp pink leaves which emerge in April. These leaves are delicate and easily damaged by cold winds and frost. Too much direct sunshine on emerging leaves can also cause them to shrivel. We have had a combination of high daytime temperatures, cold east winds, and plummeting night time temperatures. In a sheltered garden you would have no problems, but in a slightly more exposed spot, the tree struggles. Also, being from the willow family it requires plenty of moisture. We haven’t had any rain for several weeks and the ground is parched- despite all the record-breaking amounts of rain we’ve had over autumn and winter.

Usually, the tree recovers and produces a new set of leaves to replace the ones that have shrivelled. Watering and throwing some fleece over at night usually nurses it along until we get more even growing conditions in early summer. I’ve known them to suffer from a type of rust, and also canker. But apart from that, they are very pretty trees. They either like you, or they don’t though!

We had a question about a montana clematis failing to flower. This is my clematis Montana Wilsonii. The one the caller had was a pink variety, planted last year and growing in a pot next to an archway. The clematis on the other side of the arch was doing well.

Clematis montana flowers on the previous season’s wood. The caller hadn’t pruned it, but sometimes a montana clematis will take 2-3 years to settle into flowering as its first thought is to grow to the top of the archway.

Clematis don’t do as well in pots, unless they are a really good size and you can keep up with the watering requirements. So it would be best to plant the clematis in the ground and keep it well fed and watered. Potash feed, again, for flowers. And prune immediately after flowering, although I hardly prune my montana clematis to be honest. It’s pretty low maintenance, once established.

And finally, we had a caller wanting to buy a Venus fly trap. They are usually sold at local garden centres, which of course, are not open at the moment. However several are making deliveries, so it’s worth ringing round to source supplies of plants. I’ve found this one on line from QVC. I’ve bought various plug plants, bedding and bird food from QVC and found the service to be quick and reliable. However, I’ve never bought any fly trap plants from them, so can’t say more than I have managed to find a supplier.

I hope you’ve found these notes useful. Please listen in on Wednesdays at 12.30 with Ben Jackson and on Sundays (usually) with Dave Andrews at 1pm on your smart speaker, DAB 104.9FM or on BBC Sounds.

It’s great to be involved with local radio gardening and we try to offer something for experienced gardeners wanting to try new varieties and grow for shows, and also for those who have never grown anything before. All questions welcome. We will try our best to help. I am part of an experienced team.

Comments box is right at the bottom of the page, below hashtags, social media sharing and links.

BBC Sounds to listen back: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p088w205. At 2.37.30 on the timeline.

Links : https://www.qvcuk.com/Thompson%26-Morgan-Dionaea-Muscipula-%28Venus-Fly-Trap%29-9cm-Pot-x3.product.518780.html?sc=Froogle&ref=fgl&source=froogle&utm_source=google&utm_medium=base&utm_campaign=base&cm_mmc=PPCSHOPPING-_-Google_Shopping-_-SmartShopping-_-Garden&Leisure&gclid=CjwKCAjw1v_0BRAkEiwALFkj5nSbQtMrf4di1C69MLikRT3XMgWNUhDGsymlRFAS-4yMUnqRnj5vxRoCm6AQAvD_BwE&

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Microgreens and Sprouting Seeds

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

I’m growing:

Radish Mino Early

Microgreens Gourmet Garnish

Basil

Beetroot for leaves

Mung beans for stir fries.

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

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

Mixed cut and come again salad

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

PEASHOOTS

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

Herbs in Pots

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

Spring Onions

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

SPINACH

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

DILL

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

CARROTS

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

TOMATOES – more long term, but starting now …

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

CUCUMBERS

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

SOMETHING FOR CHILDREN

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

My propagator glowing in the dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort Food for a crisis – five minute microwave fruit pudding

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

INGREDIENTS

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

3oz sugar

5oz SR flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg

4 tbsp milk

Sprinkle of mixed dried fruit (optional)

1 apple (optional)

Sprinkle of Demerara sugar for the top.

METHOD

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

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

If using fruit, place the sponge mixture on top.

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

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

Serve with ice cream, custard, fresh cream.

Serves 6 people and lasts 2 days if kept cool.

VARIATIONS

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

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

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

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

In a Vase on Monday- flowers from my plot 9th March 2020

Finding comfort in familiar things, I’m joining in with my favourite IAVOM theme today.

Spring flowers always bring hope. And we need plenty of hope at the moment, don’t we.

Here’s my flowers, picked fresh from the garden. They are in an unusual location, the drinks holder of my car. The perfect place for a jam jar of flowers, on their way to my mother’s house (via Radio Leicester, where I talk about what’s growing on my plot).

There’s some shoots of Japanese cherry, Prunus Kojo-no-mai, at the back of the posy. Some lace-edged heritage primulas, Pulmonaria Sissinghurst White, plum coloured Hellebores, and one very pretty bellis daisy.

The daises have grown all by themselves in the gaps between paving slabs at my back door. Something so pretty, just growing from seed carried on the wind. They have given me as much joy as anything I’ve planted and tended, probably because they have survived against the odds. There’s no soil there. And no loving care. But they have thrived. A message to us all, about resilience, maybe.

I love the slightly messy, many petaled flowers of bellis daisies. There are single and double forms. Seed packets cost a couple of pounds. Once you have them, they will always be with you. But not necessarily growing where you put them!

In my mother’s garden, the daisies romp delightfully across the lawn and into the border. She mows around them. It’s obvious where I get my empathy with plants from. My lovely mum has always been my greatest influence in life.

Wishing you all a peaceful, happy and successful week. I’d love to see what you are all sowing and growing in your garden just now. It’s very busy here, with plenty to do in the garden, as always. Hoping for some sunshine and nice weather – soon.

Links: In a Vase on Monday https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/03/02/in-a-vase-on-monday-pillaged/

Bellis Daisy: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Bellis-Goliath-Mixed.html#.XmZXWoGnyfA

BBC Radio Leicester, gardening starts at 1pm every Sunday with Dave Andrews https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002zx56. Listen back on Sounds, or ask your smart speaker to tune in to BBC Radio Leicester

Please share via any social media platform. I do not pay for any advertising, and I’m always grateful to anyone who spreads the word and signs up to follow, via e mail. Thank you. 🙂 🌱

Note: I was not driving when I took the photos in my car. Naturally.

Chocolate and Mandarin Crispy Cake Bars

Family Favourite Recipes.

Here’s the recipe for today’s BBC Radio Leicester cakes. I always take some home made cakes in each week for the Sunday staff. Our gardening programme is on at lunchtimes and we all get very hungry.

https://bramblegarden.com/tag/family/

This week’s recipe has the addition of some mandarins from the greenhouse. Add some zest to the mixture and place mandarin segments on top before the chocolate sets. Quite delicious for a cold wet day. You could also add Terry’s Chocolate Orange segments if you like.

My cakes and home made treats relate to what I’m growing in the garden. This week I was talking about starting to water my citrus trees, feeding them and looking under the leaves for scale insects. You can sometimes find little flat insects attached to the leaves, and there might be black mould as well which is caused by their sugary excretions. You can scrape the scale insects off with a damp loofah sponge. Use horticultural soft soap to clean off the mould.

Scale insect on a citrus leaf

Citrus flower. Gloriously ~highly scented.

Links: https://bramblegarden.com/tag/family/

Citrus trees: https://www.victoriananursery.co.uk/Citrus-Fruits/

Caring for citrus trees https://www.rhs.org.uk/advice/profile?PID=94

Happy New Year Everyone! Some news from my garden 31 December 2019

Photo: Paperwhite narcissi and pink alstroemeria from my greenhouse today. Gypsophila and honesty seed heads saved from the summer. Eucalyptus foliage and willow heart. Flowers are in a jam jar covered with moss and twine, kokadama-style. Lovely to have home-grown flowers for the New Year.

I love surprises. My grandmother used to say you can never predict what’s going to happen, so don’t worry about tomorrow. Concentrate on today. I’ve pretty much tried to follow her good advice. And just about everything she said has turned out to be true. So, I’ve been writing this blog for three years- not knowing where it would take me. And the biggest surprise is that it’s followed by a growing number of readers. I set out thinking I’d be pleased if just one person read it and was inspired to grow something from seed. Well, I’m amazed and pleased to say the blog was shortlisted this year for the Garden Media Guild Awards. The awards ceremony was quite a glitzy affair at the Savoy in London- not somewhere I ever expected to visit. It was hosted by Nick Bailey, and I sat next to Pippa Greenwood- someone I’ve always admired. Rachel DeThame and Anne Swithinbank were on the next table. Alan Titchmarsh won an award for practical gardener, and Carol Klein was given a lifetime achievement award, presented by Roy Lancaster. Marc Rosenberg won news journalist of the year. Bramblegarden didn’t win the blog category, but just to be a finalist was quite something for me. It took me right out of the potting shed and out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing, now and again, isn’t it.

My second lovely surprise came when the weekly Garden News magazine asked me to write about my garden, and the first of my articles is out this week!

Mum and I have been subscribers for about 20 years. Never in a million years did I think I would be sharing my garden with readers. But that’s what’s happened and they’ve asked me to write and send photos of what I’m growing on a regular basis.

There was a bit of a panic when they asked for photos of the garden. It’s not looking its best in winter, and the rain means I’m very behind with tasks. But I made an immediate decision not to have a frantic tidy up. My garden is what it is. There are too many brambles and stinging nettles, and those will be addressed over the winter. But, apart from that, it will be as it is, a rather messy garden with zones of productivity. I’ve got 10 beds, 1.3m wide by 3m long with little paving slab paths between. This means I never have to stand on the soil. For the past three years the whole garden has been ‘no-dig’ following the principles of Charles Dowding. There’s a 20ft Alton cedar greenhouse I’ve painted black, and alongside, a matching 20ft poly tunnel. The rest of the one acre garden is mostly trees, and low maintenance shade planting. It’s left to the owls, grass snakes and hedgehogs. I’m delighted to share space with them all.

Across the centre of the veg plot there’s a hazel wigwam or A-frame trellis. This has been patched up for the past two years and will be renewed this winter, ready for spring planting.

The hazel frame is perfect for growing sweet peas. The plants just scramble up by themselves. I don’t have much tying in to do. I plant gladioli down the middle of the structure to utilise the space. These grow about 1m tall and usually need staking, but the hazel frame supports them instead.

This is my favourite Wiltshire Ripple variety, which has a fabulous scent.

Here’s how I make my newspaper pots, using a spice jar to form the tube.

I stand the newspaper tubes in terracotta pans. It’s a good task to do when the ground is too wet to work on, which has been the situation here for the past three months.

Albutt Blue. It’s wonderful to be thinking about sweet peas – in the middle of winter.

I wish I could share the scent from all these flowers. Sweet peas are the essence of summer.

What plans have you for growing in 2020? Are you planting old favourites, or trying something new. Get in touch and let me know.

And remember, if you are writing a blog, you never know who might be reading, or what opportunities might come your way. Just enjoy your blogging.

Wishing you all a happy, peaceful and healthy New Year. Happy Gardening!

I am on twitter at https://mobile.twitter.com/kgimson/status/1149241935502225408

On instagram at https://www.instagram.com/karengimson1/?hl=en

Links: Garden News magazine: https://www.greatmagazines.co.uk/garden-news-magazine?gclid=Cj0KCQiAgKzwBRCjARIsABBbFujlf4tfcbFd4OxHcjvuH6NR9Uk54A_wVM0S9IDq_ZeSvA0FtiofT0oaAg9_EALw_wcB

Garden Media Guild: https://www.gardenmediaguild.co.uk/awards

Sweet peas Mr Fothergills https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/#.Xgur1YGnyfA

Sweet Peas Easton Walled garden https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/whats-on

Higgledy Garden Seeds https://higgledygarden.com/

Savoy London https://all.accor.com/hotel/A597/index.en.shtml?utm_term=mafm&gclid=Cj0KCQiAgKzwBRCjARIsABBbFujh9QGSEjYNiJ8ON9HjLVkRMH3UNhpD8tpccFO4povH1E6R5zr5qXIaAikZEALw_wcB&utm_campaign=ppc-ach-mafm-goo-uk-en-uk-exa-sear-a&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=uk-en-GB-V2352&utm_source=google

I like to join in with In a Vase on Monday, although it’s usually a different day : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

And Six on Saturday : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/

Garlic Wash Recipe for Hostas. Defeating Slugs…

On Sunday, we had a question on protecting hostas from slugs – on the BBC radio gardening programme I sit in on.

My panel team mate Nick Turrell and I talked about using Strulch Mulch – a mineralised straw mulch that’s got a scratchy surface that slugs don’t like.

We also mentioned a garlic wash spray we have both tried and tested. We found it works a treat. It deters slugs, but does not poison them. This means the slugs are left available as food for birds and mammals such as hedgehogs. You’ll need to repeat the treatment regularly, especially after rain. I put my mixture in a 3l Hozelock sprayer and leave it in the potting shed ready to treat them. I’ve found it also deters aphids and is good for spraying roses.

The recipe comes from Sienna Hosta, a multi- gold medal winning nursery specialising in hostas. They do not use any other chemical treatments.

Here is a snapshot of their website showing their recipe for the garlic spray.

Here’s a link to their website.

https://www.siennahosta.co.uk/pages/garlic-wash-recipe

We also talked about no-dig gardening, protecting soils and coping with flooding. Charles Dowding is the expert on no-dig.

https://charlesdowding.co.uk/courses/

Here’s the link for Strulch Mulch.

https://www.strulch.co.uk/

Here’s a link to the radio programme BBC Radio Leicester’s Sunday Supplement. We are the middle hour of Dave Andrews’ show.

At 1.09.16 on the timeline at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07sc852

We also mentioned our appeal for hedgehog food from Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital. They have 260 hedgehogs in their care and are taking in around 10 a day. Hedgehogs are either ill, underweight or injured having been washed out of their nests in the floods. Hedgehogs eat meaty dog food, the solid loaf -type, and not containing gravy, jelly, or made with fish. They also desperately need puppy milk for the babies, and heat pads and incubators. They have an amazon wish list and an appeal fund.

http://www.leicesterwildlifehospital.org/

And also we talked about Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Festival which was launched this week :

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/belvoir-castle-flower-and-garden-show-tickets-77976360393

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.

Apricot and Almond Flapjack- Family Favourite Recipes

My mother-in-law Joan used to make these flapjacks. It’s amazing how quickly a tray of them can disappear. Fresh apricots are in the shops now, and British growers have had a record-breaking crop this year. You can also grow your own fruit. There’s several new varieties for growing in small spaces, such as Compacta. Moorpark is traditionally grown, but there’s a newer apricot, USA-bred Goldcot recommended for flavour and hardiness. Tomcot produces large apricots, and there’s also New Large Early and Isabelle. Golden Glow is a delicious apricot variety, discovered in the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire.

FLAPJACK

Ingredients

400g fresh apricots. Other fruits can be used such as peaches/ plums/ raspberries/ strawberries. Roughly chopped. I didn’t have quite enough fresh apricots, so added 5 dried apricots to my mixture.

2 tablespoon lemon juice

130g light brown soft sugar

230g butter or margarine (use soya for vegan recipe)

100g golden syrup

100g blanched almonds

350g rolled porridge oats

Three quarter teaspoon of cinnamon

Half teaspoon of salt

20cm baking tray, lined with parchment

Recipe

Preheat the oven to 200C gas mark 6.

Place the apricots, lemon juice and 30g of the sugar in a saucepan and simmer gently until cooked. Stir occasionally. It will form a thick purée. Almost like jam.

Place the remaining sugar, butter or margarine and golden syrup in a saucepan and melt together on gentle heat.

Mix all the dry ingredients together and pour in the melted liquid ingredients. Mix together until all the oats are coated.

Place half of the mixture in the baking tray and level. Cover with a layer of the fruit purée. Top the fruit with spoonfuls of the oat mixture. Carefully level the topping, using a pallet knife or silicone spatula.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until the topping is brown. Check after 15 minutes and cover with parchment if it is turning too brown.

Cool completely and cut into fingers.

Can be kept for 3 days in a tin.

Enjoy! 🙂

I topped my flapjack with nasturtium flowers, which are edible. Take care when using flowers to decorate food to check that they are edible and haven’t been sprayed with any chemicals.

Links: Apricot trees : https://www.chrisbowers.co.uk/category/apricots/

Nasturtium Tip Top Apricot : https://www.chilternseeds.co.uk/item_1261g_tropaeolum_majus_tip_top_apricot_seeds

I’m Growing New Potatoes for Christmas.

New potatoes are more than just a treat for early summer, you can enjoy them into the winter too. Started now, they will be ready to eat by Christmas. Here’s how I’m growing mine.

Special seed potatoes are available online, in catalogues and in garden centres now. I’m growing Charlotte and Pentland Javelin which are favourites for taste. You can also buy Nicola and Maris Peer. These are cold stored potatoes, primed ready to plant in August. You can also hold back some of your spring-bought seed potatoes, but you have to keep them in the bottom of the fridge until now, before planting.

Royal Horticultural Trials at Wisley showed that potatoes grow best in bags rather than rigid-sided plastic plant pots. You can buy special potato sacks, but I’m re-using compost bags. It’s a good way to recycle them.

I’m using Dalefoot salad and vegetable compost. Roll the tops down to form a collar, spike the bags to give good drainage, and fill them with 30cm of loosened compost.

Sit the seed potatoes on top of the compost. Ensure they are not touching, place them about 20cm apart.

Cover the potatoes with 5cm compost and water well. Place outdoors on a sunny patio. As the shoots start to grow, cover them with more compost and roll up the compost collar. Keep doing this until there is a 5cm gap left at the top for watering. What you are doing is “earthing up” the potatoes, without all the effort involved on growing them in the ground.

Move the bags, before the first frosts, into a greenhouse, porch or conservatory. By now the top growth will have died back and can be removed. Stop watering and keep the potatoes stored in the dry compost until you want to cook them. Because they have not been harvested and exposed to sunlight and air, the potatoes will not form hard skins and will retain that new potato taste and texture. In the past growers would have stored them in damp sand. My grandfather used to make “clamps” for vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, when vegetables had to last right through the winter without the availability of fridges and freezers.

I use soil association-approved Dalefoot Compost which is made from sheeps wool and bracken. It gives farmers in the Lake District an income for their wool which might otherwise go into landfill. It’s 100 percent natural and peat free, and contains a source of potash which makes fruit and flowers grow well.

My summer potatoes did well this year. I’m hoping for a small but tasty crop of new potatoes just in time for my Christmas dinner.

After planting my potatoes, I am sitting in my summerhouse with Grace cat, enjoying sunny weather and 23C temperatures, thinking of winter days ahead. I’m sure those tasty treats will be so welcome when the days are cold and wet.

You can listen in to my 10 minute gardening tips during BBC Gardens Hour today at 1.40.47 on the timeline on Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07hst9m Each week we try something new, do pruning, take cuttings, grow something from seed, help wildlife. Sometimes our projects work, sometimes they fail, but it’s a lot of fun trying, aiming to get the best from our garden plots.

Links: Seed potatoes https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taylors-Autumn-Planting-Potatoes-Christmas/dp/B008M4MHFC

Dalefoot compost : https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/

Karen twitter : https://mobile.twitter.com/kgimson/status/1149241935502225408

Karen on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karengimson1/?hl=en

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

You might also like to read: https://bramblegarden.com/about/

And : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/04/dancing-with-bees-a-journey-back-to-nature/

Response on twitter. @bimblegarden said:

Summer Lemon Biscuits Recipe

If you were listening in to the radio for Garden Hour, these are the biscuits I took in for the team. I made the lemon and white chocolate version yesterday. Today I made them with dark chocolate. Delicious!

Recipes featured here use produce from my garden. I’m always looking for ways to use up my citrus fruit from the greenhouse. This is a favourite recipe. It only takes ten minutes to make. Perfect if friends turn up unexpected and you want to give them a quick home-made treat.

Ingredients

180g biscuits ( I’ve used home-made Scottish shortbread, but you can use any biscuits. Custard creams are delicious, as are chocolate bourbons.)

3 tbsp lemon curd. Home-made (recipe below) is totally delicious, but any will do.

100g best quality dark chocolate, or white chocolate.

Few bits of fine lemon peel for decoration

Recipe

Crush the biscuits in a food processor, or in a plastic bag, bashing them with a rolling pin.

Add the lemon curd and mix to combine.

Use a melon baller or a 7.5ml measuring scoop to form balls. Press them slightly while in the scoop so they hold together.

Tap out on to a tray covered with foil. Place in a fridge.

Melt the chocolate in a Pyrex bowl suspended over a pan of boiling water. Ensure the water doesn’t get into the chocolate mixture. Or melt in a microwave in several 10 second bursts. Take care not to over cook.

Drizzle the chocolate over the biscuits in long lines. Add some fine lemon peel to decorate. Return to the fridge to set.

Will keep in the fridge for 3 days. But they won’t last that long. They are truly delicious!

Lemon Curd Recipe

Makes 1.15kg

Ingredients

6-8 large lemons (unwaxed, organic, or home-grown)

225g butter

575g caster sugar

5 large eggs

Recipe

Grate the zest from the lemons on the finest setting. Squeeze the juice and strain into a jug. You will need 300ml of juice.

Cut the butter into small pieces and put into a glass bowl along with the sugar, zest and juice. Set over a pan of hot water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. The bottom of the bowl must not touch the water which must simmer and not boil.

Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl but don’t whisk them. Strain the eggs through a sieve into the lemon mixture. Simmer on a low heat, sitting continuously until the mixture thickens. Will take about 20 minutes. Do not allow to boil or it will curdle.

Pour into warmed sterilised jars. (pop the washed jars in an oven for 10 minutes until sterilised).

Place wax disk over the lemon curd ( wax -side down). Smooth down the disk to remove any air.

Cover with dampened cellophane circles, label and store in the fridge.

Makes a lovely filling for cakes and scones.

Can also be orange, lime or grapefruit curd.

Enjoy!

BBC Gardeners’ World Live- Photos of Show Gardens

I’ve written about the Watchmaker’s Garden, which has a family connection, here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/06/14/bbc-gardeners-world-live/

The Watchmaker’s Garden by Alexandra Froggatt.

Here are some of the other show gardens I saw on preview day this week.

Onward and Upward

Designer: Andy Tudbury

Andy’s 10th Show garden for BBC Gardeners’ World Live highlights the benefits of horticultural therapy, pioneered by the charity HighGround. A pathway takes you through the edge of a birch stand and wild flower meadow area, past a sculpture by Simon Probyn. The journey represents hope, re-birth and a new beginning. The path then leads you “Onward and Upward” to the recovery and leisure areas. HighGround focuses on horticultural therapy as rehabilitation for injured service personnel. They are based at a new DNRC centre at Stanford Hall near Loughborough, Leicestershire.

We watched the filming with Joe Swift on Andy’s garden.

Sculpture by Simon Probyn during the build for Onward and Upward.

Andy Tudbury http://www.halcyondays.biz/

HighGround https://highground-uk.org/

Canal & River Trust Garden- Making Life Better by Water

Designer: Chris Myers

Construction: Canal and River Trust volunteers

Inspired by ideas from trust volunteers David and Hilary Godbehere, lock keepers on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. The garden surrounds a central canal with a veg plot and flower garden alongside. The charity is dedicated to caring for 2,000 miles of canals and rivers in England and Wales.

High Line

Designer: Lucy Bravington

Contractor Dan Ryan of Design It Landscapes

Based on the elevated public park in New York where Lucy visited last year. Features Corten steel, industrial elements and naturalistic planting with three focal point trees, grasses and ferns.

A Glimpse of South East Asia

Designer: Robyn Brookes

Contractor Timotay Landscapes

Inspired by South East Asian adventures, the garden combines a tropical planting palette with a simple selection of natural hard landscaping materials. Antique silver paving, yellow paddle stones and Caledonian boulders contrast with charred timber. Water cascades into a shallow pool, creating a feeling of calm.

Oasis of Peace

Designer: Anna Pawlowska

Contractor: Morgan Oates

A space inspired by Moroccan and Mediterranean style. You can slip your shoes off and cool your feet in the rill on a hot summer’s day. Water encloses an island to create the feeling of a relaxing hideaway.

Gadd Brothers Garden Getaway

Designers : Dr Catherine Macdonald and Rhiannon Williams

Contractor: Gadd Brothers

Garden for a young professional couple who have recently had an extension to their period style home. It’s designed to suit a small linear garden which is accessed by simple sliding doors. Height comes from the multi-stem trees and wood and metal pergola. There’s a water feature and two seating areas.

Revelation

Designer Mike Baldwin of Derby College

Mike designed the garden based on a combination of scripture and garden history. The four horses charging out of metal gates (Revelation and Versailles) flanked by an avenue of photinia Red Robin. The middle section of the garden was inspired by “In my father’s house are many rooms, ” (Hidcote and Sissinghurst-esqe).

The Macmillan Legacy Garden

Designer Martyn Wilson

Contractor: Big Fish Landscapes

Inspired by the gifts left in wills to Macmillan Cancer Support and celebrates the idea of leaving a legacy. These vital legacy donations make up over a third of its funding and help support people living with cancer. The “presents” in Martyn’s garden will each contain a different species of tree and symbolise gifts left in wills to Macmillan.

The Home Solutions by John Lewis Garden

Designer; Waitrose partner Shaun Beale

Contractor : Golden Gardens and the APL

Takes its inspiration from the beautiful gardens within the Leckford Estate and combines them with a contemporary functional, useable space. The John Lewis Home Solutions service aims to give customers access to a wide range of tradespeople, all of whom have the John Lewis seal of approval.

Harborne Botanics

Designer: Toby Pritchard

Contractor : Creative Roots

Marshalls Symphony paving takes you from the house to the patio. Matching paving takes you along the rill and on to the hardwood decking. The planting features a variety of leaf shapes and sizes, suggesting a more exotic location than the British climate can always offer. Walling and charred timber create surrounding screens.

The Dahlia Garden

Designer Jon Wheatley

Contractor Stonebarn Landscapes

Below is a fruit, vegetable and flower garden. It was fascinating watching the filming. Although I didn’t stand and stare, as it must be hard enough to remember what to say without an audience watching! Needless to say, the plants in this garden are total perfection. An amazing array and such an achievement after a very difficult growing season.

BBC Gardeners’ World Live runs until June 16.

https://www.bbcgardenersworldlive.com/whats-on

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.)

Last minute Christmas Present Ideas for Gardeners

I am always so pleased to be asked for my opinions on anything garden-related. After working in horticulture for 25 years, it is very nice to be asked by magazines, newspapers and the BBC. This week I was on the radio again, giving recommendations for Christmas present ideas. Have a listen in to BBC Radio Down to Earth programme to hear my suggestions. Here’s a link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05n7fh1 The programme starts at 9 minutes 10 on the timeline.

I’m practically living in these RHS Gold Leaf Gloves. They are so comfortable to use, and beautiful too. Here’s the link for more information at RHS shops. I absolutely love them. They are so practical – and pretty. British made, quality material, they have a padded palm, and little tabs to get them on and off easily. Well designed and well priced.

There are three designs, iris, rose and poppy, based on artwork from the RHS Lindley Library.

Mike Salotti – Brooksby College lecturer and DTE team member recommends Adopt a Vine Scheme as a great present idea for wine lovers. Here’s the details for the Hanwell Scheme. Hanwell Estate

My second suggestion is handmade soap from Cooks Lane Herbs, a Leicestershire company run by Sian and Richard. All natural ingredients, not tested on animals, and the packaging is recyclable. The scent is fabulous. They can be purchased mail order, or locally from farmers markets. Here’s the website link for Cooks Lane Herbs .

My third suggestion is an Urbalive worm composter from Wiggly wigglers .

Can be used in the greenhouse, garden shed, potting shed or kitchen even. The resulting liquid feed will be diluted down and used all around the garden next spring and summer. A great way to compost kitchen waste, and make free compost.

I wrote about my trial composter Here.

My fourth suggestion is Making Winter by Emma Mitchell, a creative guide for surviving the winter months, published by Michael O’Mara books. A delight from cover to cover. The photography is a mood-lifter to start with. I could just sit looking at the beautiful pictures to be honest. There’s crafts, cooking and activities to while away the winter months and survive cold, grey rainy days.

Recipes include Plum, Orange and Ginger Blondies. Delicious!

There’s knitting and crochet scarves to create.

A feast for the senses. Click on the Link to read read more about the book.

There are more great ideas on the rest of the hour-long programme. There’s suggestions for garden lighting, seeds, weather stations and bird feeders. Have a listen and let me know what you think of our ideas.

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!

Hoby Open Gardens

On a still summer’s evening, the church bell sounded the hour, and a flock of geese took flight from the lake. 

I was standing on the edge of the ha ha at Glebe House,  looking over the pasture lands that would once have been owned by the clergy. It’s a sight that gladdens the heart. Undulating wildflower meadows with contented sheep asleep in the shade  of ancient oak and lime trees. 

This is the perfect place to stand and survey the garden. Scent drifts from the roses planted all along the old brick walls. And there’s a tantalising view through an archway, wreathed with honeysuckle and climbing roses. 


Rosa Shot Silk makes a glorious background for the drifts of allium Purple Sensation. 
The hypocaust wall would have once had peaches, apricots and figs. Food for the clergy at the rectory next door.  Owners Steve and Diane  Horsfield say the clergy would have had rather a nice life here. They dined on shellfish from fishponds in the meadows below. The couple have been digging up quantities of shells all around the garden ever since they moved in. 


Rosa Mutabilis with euphorbia, alliums and nepeta. There’s a first floor garden room to take in the views.

 


The views from the ha ha. 


Rosa Crown Princess Margareta in the foreground.

Crown Princess Margareta. 

Glebe House in Hoby, Leicestershire, will be open on Saturday and Sunday 18th and 19th June 2016 from 11am t0 5pm along with 11 other gardens to raise funds for All Saints Church. Tickets cost £5.  There will be lunch in the village hall and cream teas at Glebe House and Redwood. Pimms, ice creams and  a plant stall  can be found around the village, and an art exhibition in the church. The car park will be in Thrussington Road (LE14 3EB) 

I was lucky enough to have a preview of the gardens when I joined the BBC Radio Leicester Down to Earth gardening team. You can hear more on the programme today  (12th June) at 12 noon on 104.9FM and on i player. 

A favourite of mine was Clematis Cottage.The Montana clematis (I think it’s Marjorie) seems to be trying to climb in through the bedroom window. Just heavenly! Don’t you agree?