In a Vase on Monday – 10th June 2019

It’s the much-awaited summer. And it’s raining. It’s pouring. And it’s 9C. So only one photo today for my Vase- and it’s sweet williams and sweet peas again. They are loving the cool temperatures and moisture. I must admit, I am not.

My dark red sweet williams, Dianthus barbatus Sooty, are suddenly providing buckets of flowers. Sweet williams are such good value plants. For a couple of pounds for a packets of seed, you can have a steady supply of flowers three months or more. They are like dark velvety chocolate. Dark colours don’t show up in photos very well, so I’ve screen shot the picture and homed in on the flowers.

There’s a few forget me nots left to go with the love in a mist. And sweet peas are also flowering faster than I can pick them.

Calendulas are looking fab with peach butterfly antirrhinums, and blue chives are being thrown in every bowl of salad, as well as every vase of flowers. Such a versatile perennial herb to grow. The antirrhinums are flowering for their second year, but I’ll sow some more seed for next summer, just in case they don’t overwinter. They last for nearly a fortnight in a vase, if you change the water each day.

I do hope the weather is better where you are. Hopefully we will all get some sunshine again soon. Meanwhile, it’s dark clouds and white cow parsley -aplenty!

Links :

I’ve been to visit the Cotswold Wildlife Park. Here’s a blog I wrote about it: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/06/10/the-cotswold-wildlife-park-a-celebration-of-the-gardens/

Here’s my recent blog listing the varieties of sweet peas I’m growing: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/06/03/in-a-vase-on-monday-3-june-2019/

Don’t forget to leave a comment on my blog review of Hansford Coil spring garden chairs- there’s one chair to win in our prize draw competition. They are wonderfully comfortable and easy to carry about the garden: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/05/31/product-review-hansford-coil-spring-chair/

In a Vase on Monday : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/06/10/in-a-vase-on-monday-the-very-pink-of-perfection/

In a Vase on Monday -27th May 2019

It’s been raining on and off all day, so by 8.30pm it was now or never to pick my Monday Vase. I just caught the last of the light. But the flowers are full of raindrops.

There’s a “first and last” theme to tonight’s posy. It’s the last of the forget me nots. They have been glorious for months, providing a blue accompaniment to all the spring bulbs. And it’s the last of the wallflowers. Their wonderful scent has drifted across the veg plot for weeks. The variety is Persian Carpet, and I’m just about to sow some more seed for next year’s display.

It’s a first for the dianthus barbatus ( sweet williams). I have some self-seeded magenta flowers, and some rows of a new dark red, almost black variety, called Sooty.

There’s the first flowers from the sweet peas too. I’ve got heritage varieties, Mrs Collier (white) and Dorothy Eckford (cream) – alongside modern varieties High Scent and Wiltshire Ripple, and new this year, Capel Manor.

It’s also first for the blue love-in-a-mist and Blue Diadem cornflower. The cornflowers will flower right through to October. Seed was sown last October and plants were over-wintered in the poly tunnel. To be honest, the flowers only seem a week or two earlier than the ones grown outdoors, so I probably won’t bother trying to over-winter them again. They took up a lot of space and needed a lot of watering. Too much trouble for something that grows so readily outside.

Self-seeded pot marigolds are putting on an early show. I love these pale orange flowers, sisters of a variety called Orange Fizz. I’ll definitely grow these again. I’ve just planted some tiny plug plants to flower until the first frosts. Variety unknown, as they came from my Mum. Her labelling system is worse than mine! I’m not complaining, as she’s also brought annual pinks, stocks, cosmos and some kind of daisies. I can’t wait to see what they look like. We hoed out a trench and planted them in rows, mum passing me the plants and me setting them in the ground. We got a system going and planted them in half an hour.

The last of the winter pansies have grown long and leggy. Perfect for jam jar flowers at this time of the year. I’ve just sown some new black varieties. They look as sumptuous as velvet on the seed packets.

As soon as I’d picked my flowers, the light began to fade. How lovely to still be able to wander about in the garden in the evening though. If I’m lucky I’ll catch sight of the barn owl again.

Links : In a Vase on Monday: https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/05/27/in-a-vase-on-monday-more-sweeties/

Links : Dianthus Sooty https://www.chilternseeds.co.uk/item_450K_dianthus_barbatus_sooty

Six on Saturday. What’s in flower today.

Enjoy a tour of my garden on a rainy Saturday. The temperature feels mild at 8C. I can hear a woodpecker in the orchard. Our farming neighbour is cutting the field hedge across the lane. We’ll be able to see the cows more clearly in spring. Speaking of spring…I was surprised to find so many flowers today.

Calendula Orange Flash. Grown from seed last summer. Supplied by Mr Fothergills. I’ll be growing these again in the cut flower/ veg patch. They last a week in a vase.

Calendula Fiesta seedling. Mr Fothergills again. Fades from lemon to white. Very pretty. The edges of the petals look like they’ve been cut with pinking shears.

Snowdrops. Earliest they have ever flowered here. Galanthus Elwesii variety. Originally from snowdrop festival sales at Hodsock Priory, Nottingham. It will soon be time to make a visit again. I always take my Mum, and we usually stay over in the converted stables. A little bit of luxury, midwinter. Does you no harm at all.

In my unheated poly tunnel, Chrysanthemum White Stallion is providing a few flowers for jam jar posies. Bought as tiny £2 cuttings from Chrysanthemums Direct at the RHS Malvern Show three years ago. The weather is so mild, the plants are starting to shoot early. I’m taking new cuttings today. Well worth growing. I also recommend Arctic White and Lollipop. They produce masses of blooms. All grow in 10″ pots, John Innes compost. Stand them outdoors all summer. Take in before frosts, to protect flowers. My father in law used to stand the pots in a glass-roofed corridor between the kitchen and the garage. A cold frame would also be suitable.

Alstroemeria from the poly tunnel. Just keeps on flowering. To force them into growth, pull all the flowers and leaves in September. Stop watering for three weeks, then feed and water well. The dormant period seems to encourage them to flower from November to February. Just when we all need something cheerful.

I love growing cut flowers for friends and family. I learned how to grow -for all seasons- on a course at Common Farm Flowers. Never has £100 been so well spent. I learned which varieties to grow and how to get the best out of my poly tunnel and greenhouse. I grow cosmos and sweet peas in the summer in 10 3m by 1.2m beds with little herb-edged paths in between. This year I’m growing love-in-a-mist, chrysanthemums, carnations, ammi majus, cornflowers and poppies.

And finally, I love green flowers and Helleborus foetidus is a favourite. I was just about to pick some flowers, when I spotted these ladybirds. Just shows how mild the weather has been recently. I left them undisturbed.

I’m joining in with Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/12/six-on-saturday-12-01-2019/ . Thanks to the Propagator for hosting this meme. Please feel free to join us.

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In a Vase on Monday- Autumn Jewels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunflowers for Joan

I’m glad I planted sunflowers on every spare inch of ground this summer. Somehow, I must have known we would need them.

When my mother-in-law Joan was diagnosed with Alzheimers a few years ago, I started a cut flower garden. Each week I’d run round picking twigs from shrubs and flowers from the patch, anything to give her an idea of what my garden looked like- and keep her connected to me.

In my heart, I knew that one day I would simply be, the girl who brings flowers.

Nothing could have prepared me for the heartbreak when that moment arrived. It was literally overnight. One minute, I was her Karen, married to her son for 30 years. Mum to her two granddaughters. With all our shared memories of the ups and downs of family life; illnesses overcome, failures commiserated, success celebrated. The pain and triumphs of ordinary family life. A life shared. And the next, I was just someone. Someone who brought flowers.

The sense of loss is overwhelming. I’m standing on their front doorstep, flowers in my hand, and she doesn’t really know who I am. I have to remind myself to breathe. I’m literally holding my breath, hoping I’m wrong.

I stay overnight – we’ve all been taking it it turns. I’m part of a large and very supportive family. Everyone has stepped in over the past few years to help out. No one could have done more. Next morning, I find Joan standing by my bed. “Tell me who you are, and who am I to you?” she asks. I try not to cry. It wouldn’t help. I say we’ll have tea and toast and over breakfast I’ll explain everything. I can’t face the task without a cup of tea. Simple things. One step at a time. We have a really lovely breakfast together. There’s hand embroidered table cloths and pretty china cups. Joan tells me she loves honey because her father kept bees at the bottom of the garden when she was little. I didn’t know that. She likes honey every day because it reminds her of him. After breakfast I get out the family photo album and explain who everyone is. She’s delighted to have such a large happy family. Joan was an only child and always wanted a big family. Her three children have produced five grandchildren and one great grandson. And she’s always been very close to all of them. And yet. On this day. She can’t remember any of them. Only her father who she says is upstairs. Did I know he was there, she asks? I gently explain he’s been dead a long time. Five minutes later, we are still taking about her Dad. I can’t face telling her again that he’s not here. Joan seems to be going back in time. A parallel universe. I’m going forward, she’s going back. Only when we talk about flowers are we in the same world. The sunflowers look so cheerful, she says. It’s the only thing we can both agree on.

The cruelty of the illness is that it is like a bereavement. I’ve “lost” someone who always backed me up. Someone I could always turn to for help and support. A recipe, a knitting pattern. A costume for my daughter when she came home from school and cheerfully announced she needed a reindeer outfit for the play- the next day. Joan had a brown zip up suit she’d made for her son when he was eight. She’s kept it safe, and could put her hand on it straight away. How I love her resourcefulness. Make do and mend. Help everyone if you can. Nothing wasted. A lesson in life for all of us.

Now Joan needs our help and support and love. And luckily there are a lot of us willing and able to give it. The family have been amazing. But this blog is just about my thoughts and feelings and how I face challenges in life. And so I only mention what I am doing. Their stories are their own to speak about. But I want to make clear that everyone has played their part and been unstinting in their help.

I’m not the kind of person to be defeated by anything. So I have a new challenge now. My cut flower bouquets will fill the window ledges of the care home Joan’s just moved to. She’s there with her wonderful husband of 65 years. There will be flowers for the dining room tables, and flowers for the reception hall. I’ve sowed hardy annual seeds. Larkspur, calendula, love-in-a-mist, cornflowers. And I’ve ordered my sunflower seed for next spring.

I read somewhere about living in the “now” and creating moments of joy. My beloved Joan has a life made up of lots of moments of joy. We are all helping her find reasons to smile. And who can fail to smile when they see a sunflower.

Thank you to Cathy and everyone from IAVOM who have supported me these last few years when I’ve posted my posies for Joan. And for all the kind messages these past few weeks. They have been much appreciated.

For more information look on the Alzheimers Society website Here

These sunflowers were grown from Mr Fothergills All Sorts Mix. Click on the link to see the varieties. Sown in March in a propagator. Pricked out in April and planted out the first week of June. They’ve been providing multi-headed flowers all summer long.

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.

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!

#wordlesswednesday  Frilled. 


Cut flowers from my garden today. Carnations, sweet peas, dahlias and alstroemerias. Have a listen at 2.08.20 on the timeline for the gardeners’ phone in programme. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p056qg0d. Regular readers will know that I joined the BBC’s Down to Earth programme about a year ago. The programme has been running for 50 years. I’m not a natural speaker. Much happier listening to be honest. But I’ve been given this opportunity to encourage others to grow flowers, food, fruit. So I push myself out of my comfort zone. Today I did my second weekday gardeners’ phonin programme. Sadly there was only one caller – right at the end. So if I sound a bit nervous, that is the reason why. A whole hour to fill is rather a daunting  prospect! Somehow, I survived. But I feel as if I’ve lost a stone in weight!