Six on Saturday. Simple Christmas Decorations from the Garden.

I should be making mince pies. Or cleaning the house. Instead, I creep outside and lose an hour or two, messing about with twigs and foliage. I am happy.

This simple wreath is made from silver birch twigs, twisted in a circle and bound with twine. It’s an ever-changing scene. Ephemeral. A fleeting beauty. Blackbirds feast on the rosehips. Gusts of wind carry off the old man’s beard, back to the hedgerow where it belongs. It mirrors nature. Nothing is static. I add fresh ivy leaves, Scots pine, crab apples. Dried hydrangea flowers amongst cow parsley “stars.”

For the front door, I’m copying an American idea. I’m mocking up a container. I cut some branches of blue fir and pine and stand them in a favourite terracotta plant pot.

Scrunched- up newspaper holds everything in place. I add coloured willow and dogwood stems. In front, I place a potted skimmia, as a focal point. You could add a white hellebore, or white cyclamen if you wish. A few hazel branches with cheerful early catkins complete the display.

A collar of moss hides the newspaper. It’s a cross between gardening and floristry and no one will know I’ve just used twigs and not splashed out on lots of new plants.

As a final flourish, I add mouldable fairy lights with thin copper wire. They cost £2.50 from Wilkinson’s and can be used with rechargeable batteries.

I’m joining in with Six on Saturday, https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/22/six-on-saturday-22-12-201/. Why not go over and see what others are doing in their garden at this time of the year.

As it’s Christmas, I’m sure no one will mind if I add a bonus photo. I made this heart from two willow stems. Hold them both in one hand, bend the first one over and then hold in the middle. Bend the second one over, and secure with twine. Easy, and costs nothing to make.

I’m heading indoors now to make those mince pies! I feel so much better for spending time in fresh air, and the house, garden – and me – are all ready for Christmas!

Have a wonderful, peaceful and happy Christmas. Try to make some time to “escape” to the garden, when you can.

Karen

Last Minute Christmas Presents for Gardeners

Here’s my last minute recommendations. I would love to receive any of these. They all last longer than Christmas Day. Prices vary, depending on special offers and discounts.

1. Vouchers for a course at Common Farm Flowers.

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

I joined the Grow Your Own Cut Flower Patch course a few years ago, and I’m self-sufficient in flowers for my friends and family. There was enough information to grow plants commercially, if I had wanted to. I’m delighted to be able to wander about my garden at any time of the year and create beautiful hand tied bouquets and pretty jam jar posies. There’s something special about home-grown flowers. It’s all a matter of planning and knowing what varieties to grow. Georgie is an excellent teacher. After attending one of her courses, you feel as if you can conquer the world. It’s a rather wonderful feeling!

Courses on offer range from £15 for a garden tour to £290 for a painting course.

Courses: Flower Farming, encouraging wildlife, social media for small businesses, starting a kitchen table business, grow your own wedding flowers, hand tied bouquets.

2. RHS Membership. From £61.

Develop your gardening skills with an RHS membership package. Membership includes unlimited entry to RHS gardens, discounts for show tickets, personalised advice, and entry to 200 partner gardens. The RHS magazine,The Garden, is worth the membership price alone. It is packed full of inspiring ideas and information. Written by experts we all trust. I always look forward to my copy, and it keeps me up to date with new plants, ideas for recycling, using less plastic in the garden and information on the latest research into plant diseases. It’s great to see The Garden magazine will be delivered in recyclable paper packaging instead of single-use plastic next spring.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shop/special-offers/active-offers/rhs-gift-membership-offer

3. Support the Woodland Trust with a membership package. £48.

Explore 1,000 Woodland Trust woods. A walk in a wood lifts your mood and re-energises you. It will do you a power of good.

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/membership/

4. Membership for St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital. £36.

We all rely on our wildlife, hedgehogs in particular, to help us combat slugs. This is a wonderful way to support wildlife and learn more about them.

https://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/top-navigation/help-us/membership.html

5. Join The Hardy Plant Society. £17 a year.

A great way to discover more about hardy plants, find like- minded gardeners and join in with events such as talks and slide shows, conservation and plant sales. There’s two issues of the The Hardy Plant magazine a year, free advice and a chance to take part in the free seed distribution scheme.

http://www.hardy-plant.org.uk/whyjoinus

6. Charles Dowding No-dig course. Various prices. Approx £150 a day.

Learn all about growing all kinds of vegetables and fruit, productively and with less effort. Charles has helped me to garden with a poorly back. I fractured my spine in a car crash 15 years ago. Without his advice, I would probably have had to give up my one acre garden. With his no-dig techniques, I have managed to keep on top of weeds, and grow all the fruit, veg and flowers I want to, without aggravating my spinal injuries.

I hope these last-minute suggestions have been useful. If not for Christmas, they make a lovely birthday present.

What’s the best course, or membership, you would recommend? Let me know so I can share your ideas too.

Coming up in the new year, I’ve been invited to try out some weekend holidays for gardeners. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’ll be taking my Mum with me, of course. Something to look forward to in 2019.

Six on Saturday -Making Light

Midwinter. I love saying the word. It’s like a sigh. Midwinter. Dark and gloom until 21st of December – and then the days get lighter. Hurray! Meanwhile, to bring some cheer, there’s fairy lights.

It’s mild today, 9C but windy, so I wrap up warm and head off down the lane to forage for foliage. Sound seems to carry further in winter. I can hear our neighbouring farmer calling his cows. They are as tame as pets, and well tended. The calves line up along the hedge to watch me.

I find willow stems; soft grey catkins breaking through already. There’s plenty of twigs with dried oak leaves. On one side the hedges have been trimmed. But across the lane, the hedges are high. Dog roses wind around the trees and mingle with wild clematis. I have a basket to carry the findings home. There’s fluffy seed heads from Clematis vitalba, and rosehips as red as sealing wax.

Scott’s pine and trailing ivy will be useful evergreen. Above my head, a robin sings, quite unconcerned by my intrusion. It’s good to see a young hare in the field. He crouches down in the long grass when he spots me, but I can still see his ears.

Back through the field gate. A pheasant has taken up residence in our paddock this winter. He’s a joy to see, strutting around and flying into the cherry trees to roost at night. I hope he survives the winter – and evades the hunters. We can hear the guns from our garden. Glad to provide a sanctuary to any creature needing safety.

I’ve decorated the five bar gate with a circle of dried clematis stems. Not a perfect circle. Not a perfect gate. We’ve had it since we moved here. It’s covered in moss and creaking loudly, but I can’t bear to replace it. I get attached to old familiar things. Dried hydrangea heads make a focal point, and there’s always rosemary for scent.

Back to the potting shed to make my arrangements.

I’ve saved some Chinese’s lanterns, physalis, from the garden. It’s hanging from the rafters to dry, along with hydrangea heads. To add a bit of glitz (unusual for me, I know) I give the hydrangea heads some silver spray. It highlights the delicate flowers of hydrangea Annabel. So beautiful in summer, and winter too. It’s a favourite of mine. The fairy lights are mouldable wire florists lights from Wilkos. You can use rechargeable batteries.

I turn around and there’s a robin and two wrens in the potting shed roof. I shall have to leave the door open for them. They can stay, as long as they don’t eat all of my rosehips.

Luckily there’s a kettle in the potting shed. Time for tea, and a piece of Mum’s fruit cake. I hope you’ve enjoyed this ramble around my garden and down the lane. I’m joining with with https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/six-on-saturday-08-12-2018/ for his SixOnSaturday. Feel free to look around at my other posts while you are here. Catch up with you next Saturday.

Family Favourite Recipes – Chocolate Marzipan Cherries.

When I started this blog, my intention was to write down all our family favourite recipes in one place. It occurred to me that our much loved recipes exist on tatty pieces of paper. My children might want to find Aunty Betty’s toffee apple recipe, or the Gimson Christmas trifle. Stained and ripped pieces of paper might be difficult to find. So recipes are deposited here for future reference. Today I’m sharing my home made cherry chocolate recipe that I make every year. It’s a money saving recipe if you use your own fruit. And it’s simple to make. Even little children can have a go.

Ingredients

Home grown cherries, preserved in brandy. Choose good quality fruit that is slightly under ripe. Only preserve the best fruit, and none that has any blemishes.

Or

200g glacé cherries

500g marzipan

200g good quality dark chocolate.

Method

Soak the glacé cherries in cherry brandy overnight. Drain and reserve the liquid for adding to cakes.

If using your own preserved cherries, drain and gently pat dry with a clean tea towel.

Break the block of marzipan into four, and microwave for a few seconds to soften.

Take tablespoons of marzipan (about 13g).

Roll into a ball, and then flatten to enclose a cherry. Roll gently in the palm of your hand to smooth the marzipan. Leave to dry for a few hours.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave. Drop each marzipan cherry into the chocolate and use a spoon to roll them about to coat.

Stand the chocolates on foil until set.

Keeps for about 1 week in a cool dry place. If you can resist them that long!

Enjoy 😊

I made mine in the summerhouse, with the radio on and sunshine streaming through the open doors. It’s amazingly mild for December. We’ve had 12C for days, although last night it was -2 and we woke to a frost.

Here’s the ingredients. It’s a really simple recipe. Wonderful if you have a cherry tree in the garden.

I used white marzipan, but you can use golden if you like.

Drop into the chocolate. Make sure you don’t get any water in the chocolate, or it will go dull.

They take about an hour to set. The recipe makes about 35 cherry chocolates. There’s enough marzipan and chocolate to make another 30 if you buy more cherries. Or make 30 almond marzipan chocolates.

Simply enclose one whole blanched almond in the marzipan as above, and coat in the chocolate. Delicious! You can also use whole Brazil nuts and use milk or plain chocolate.

How to Preserve Cherries

450g cherries

75g sugar

2 drops almond essence

600ml brandy.

Remove the cherry stalks and stones and prick all over with a sterilised needle or cocktail stick.

Layer the cherries with the sugar in a large sterilised preserving jar, fill to within 2.5cm of the top. Add almond essence.

Pour the brandy to cover the cherries. Seal the jar and shake well.

Keep in a cool, dark place for at least three months to allow the flavours to develop. Shake the jar from time to time.

Strain the cherries through a funnel lined with muslin. Put the cherry brandy into sterilised bottles to give as presents. Use the cherries in the chocolate marzipan recipe above, or in pastries, ice cream and other winter treats. Enjoy 😊

Book prize draw winner- The Creative Kitchen

It’s been a good year for new books. One of my favourites recently arrived in the potting shed is The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty.

The publishers kindly offered one free copy for a prize draw for this blog. I’m always grateful for a chance to pass on goodies to readers. And I’m delighted to announce that the winner is June at https://thecynicalgardener.com/ .

Please take a look at the discount code on my review which gets you the book for £16 including postage. Here’s the link for the review https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

I’m making peppermint creams for Christmas presents using Stephanie’s idea for mint sugar. The kitchen smells divine, and the mints look really pretty.

Thank you for reading this blog. Keep popping back for more news. A whole pile of books have just arrived in the potting shed and I’m just starting to work my way through them, so keep an eye open for more prize draws and offers.

Are you making any Christmas presents this year? Get in touch and share your favourite recipes and ideas for gardeners and cooks. It’s great to share hints and tips with each other.

I always look forward to your comments. Please also feel free to share this blog on any social media platform you like. It all helps to spread the news.

End of Month View December 2017

Tucked up in bed with the flu, I have my i-pad balanced on a heap of rugs. I am shivering like a new born lamb. My garden in December isn’t making me feel any warmer. Snow features in most of the photos. I won’t attempt to add too many words. I doubt they would make much sense at the moment. I just want to send a cheery wave to you and wish you a wonderful, Happy New Year. Wishing all your dreams for a peaceful, happy and prosperous new year come true. Much love- karen xx

Luckily, just when I need some cheer, there’s viola odorata flowering at the garden gate. A much loved cutting from my Grandfather Ted Foulds. They are all over my garden now. A happy reminder of such a lovely man.

By the front door there’s more flowers. Iris unguicularis. A reliable winter-flowering joy.

There’s plenty of Paperwhite Narcissi. I planted them in tall glass vases for Christmas. I wrote about them Here .

And then there was snow. And -7C temperatures. Our windswept top of the hill garden took a battering. Here’s the frozen pond.

View through the pergola to the shady shelter.

And the view from the end of the garden.

Looking towards the village

Trees on the ridge. A favourite view.

And after all that snow, here’s what I’m hoping for in 2018- lots of colour; roses and peonies, tulips and daffodils and cut flowers galore!

The scent! Roses from my plot and a wreath for the summerhouse.

Thanks to Steve at glebehouse garden for hosting this meme. Go over and see what others are posting for their end of month view.

Enjoy your New Year’s celebrations! Much love- karen xx

In a Vase on Monday – Happy Christmas everyone!

Wishing you all a wonderfully happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Anyone visiting Bramble Garden this week would have found me covered in flour. Mince pies emerged from the oven at regular intervals. Hot pies disappeared before they had time to cool. In between all that cooking, I dashed around the garden gathering armfuls of foliage; sprigs of rosemary, Scott’s pine, some wild Clematis and willow; and wove them into wreaths.

I added some dried hydrangea flowers. I love the faded antique pink and cream hues. And some willow stems with the grey catkins just starting to emerge. A welcome sign that spring is just around the corner.

I twisted some Clematis Montana stems into a circle and decorated our five bar gate. Some festive cheer for anyone walking along our country lane on Christmas and Boxing Day. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas holiday. Thank you as always to Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden for the IAVOM meme. I always love to see what you are all growing and using for flower arrangements, all around the world. So many inspiring ideas. Meanwhile, I’m off to make some more mince pies. It is Christmas, after all!

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.)

In A Vase On Monday -Christmas flowers and foliage from the garden

One of the joys of winter is mooching around the garden and still finding flowers and foliage to bring indoors. This week’s mooching produced hydrangea Annabelle flower heads. They have dried to a beautiful pale parchment colour.

In late summer, Hydrangea Annabelle has creamy white flower heads, often the size of footballs. I leave them to create architectural shapes in winter. They look fabulous with a topping of frost or snow. At Christmas I cut a few for the house. A quick spray of silver gives them a festive flourish. I use Oasis floral spray for my arrangements. It dries in seconds and gives a good finish. You don’t need to use very much to give foliage and flowers a silver sheen. I love the way it highlights the veins on the back of the petals.

In keeping with the silver theme, I’ve added some willow twigs. They are just starting to produce soft, furry grey catkins. A welcome sight and a reminder that spring won’t be far away. Some fluffy seed heads add texture. These are Clematis tangutica orientalis Engelina, also know as My Angel. It scrambles up through the hawthorn hedge and produces the most beautiful, delicate flowers in autumn. I wrote about it Here.

Adding a touch of colour is my Mum’s Chinese lanterns, Physalis alkegengi. This grows by Mum’s front door and is always such a cheerful welcome to any visitors. It’s rather a rampant plant and to be honest it looks like it’s trying to get in through the front door. Every autumn we pick a few of the seed heads to dry, leaving most of them to provide a glowing approach all along the front drive.

I’ve added some Scott’s pine, Pinus sylvestris, complete with beautiful resin-scented cones. A little pile of cones stands beside our fireplace ready to be thrown into the fire. Along with some precious apple tree logs, saved for Christmas. The scent drifts through the house to the kitchen where I’m making spiced ginger biscuits.

Thank you to Cathy at ramblinginthegarden for hosting this, my favourite meme. Go over and have a look what Cathy and all the other gardeners are doing for their IAVOM this week. You can also follow me on twitter @kgimson and Instagram karengimson1 and on iPlayer at BBC radio Down to Earth.

Have a wonderful Christmas. Thank you all of you for reading and sending such lovely, encouraging comments each week. It is always appreciated. Love from Karen x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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