Planting Amaryllis. BBC Radio Leicester gardening show notes. Christmas present ideas.

Amaryllis Carmen (photos Taylors Bulbs)

Christmas only really starts for me when I plant my amaryllis bulbs. For as long as I can remember, there’s been amaryllis bulbs flowering over the festive season at my family’s home. And I like to keep up the tradition by having them in my own home. If you listened in to this week’s BBC Radio Leicester show, you will have heard me talking about the amaryllis varieties I’m planting at the moment. Some are for me, and some will be given as Christmas presents.

Carmen is the deep velvety red single-flowering bulb I mentioned on the show. I was potting them up as we talked. The box kits from Taylors Bulbs contain a plant pot and compost which makes life easier. Everything needed is contained in one box.

This beautiful double white amaryllis is Marilyn. I love the lime green centre of the flowers.

Lady Jane

This is the pink and white striped double amaryllis I’ve chosen. It’s called Lady Jane. Which is quite a fancy name for quite a fancy flower!

Amaryllis Rilona has wonderful deep apricot single flowers with a darker eye. The flowers are edged in white, and if you look closely you can see darker orange stripes or veins radiating from the centre of the flowers to the tips.

When choosing bulbs, always go for the largest you can find. The larger the bulb, the more flower spikes will be produced. Usually one single spike is followed by a second, or even a third, if you are very lucky.

I asked Taylors Bulbs for some planting and general care advice:

How To Plant Amaryllis In Pots/Containers:

1. Soak the dry roots (not the bulb) in lukewarm water for about
45mins. Make sure to cut off any damaged roots before potting.
2. Fill the base of your pot (at least 20cm) with multi-purpose
compost, covering the drainage hole.
3. Feed the roots into the pot, spreading them out onto the compost and fill in around them with more compost.
4. Bury the bottom half of the bulb, so that it is secure in the pot.
Water sparingly.
5. Stand the pot in a well-lit position and keep the compost moist, but
do not over water.

Extra Tips:

* Amaryllis are great for the windowsill. Remember to turn the pot
regularly to prevent the stems bending towards the light.

* Once your Amaryllis flowers have faded, cut the whole stem off as
close to the base as possible.
* Water and feed them with a balanced fertiliser every few weeks to
help build up strength for next year.
* Make sure to give them plenty of light, as this helps the leaves
generate energy.
* To help encourage them to flower next year cut any old foliage back
to the neck of the bulb. Move them into a warm position and continue to water them.

Re-potting Amaryllis Bulbs:

* After every two to three years it’s a good idea to re-pot amaryllis
bulbs for continued good displays.
* Amaryllis tend to grow best in small pots, so don’t be tempted to
re-pot into a larger pot.
* After flowering, remove the bulbs from the compost and gently remove the compost around the roots. Then refill your pot with fresh compost and replant the bulb.

About Taylors Bulbs:

Taylors Bulbs are a fourth generation family business, growing and supplying flower bulbs and associated products since 1919.

Daffodils are grown on our farm in Holbeach, Lincolnshire where we also design and pack a large range of products predominantly for the UK and Irish markets.

Still a thriving family business employing over 200 staff at peak times, we pride ourselves on the award winning service we offer our customers.

Here’s some more amaryllis I’ve grown at Christmas. In the second year, they often flower either very early in November, or as late as May. Either way they are very welcome at a time when there are few flowers to enjoy in the garden. Indoor bulbs fill the gap.

This white single flower has a lovely red edge. I think it is called Picotee and I’ve had it for 10 years.
Another lovely single white flower. Possibly called Lemon and Lime, however I’ve lost the label as it’s been here many years.
Sadly, I can’t remember the name of this beauty, but again, it’s been here for several years.

Thanks for reading the blog, and for listening in to the radio. I also write a weekly column for Garden News Magazine, so I’m either talking or writing about flowers every day of the week. Happy gardening everyone!



Award for Flower Carpet Pink Rose

Flower Carpet Pink is the 18th rose to be inducted into the World Federation of Rose Societies prestigious Rose Hall of Fame. Who knew there was such a thing as a Rose Hall of Fame! Or that there were 17 other roses mentioned there already. I learn something new every day. The announcement came at the Word Rose Congress held in Adelaide earlier this month. I’m going to show my complete ignorance here and say that I didn’t even know there was a World Rose Congress either. However, for what it’s worth, I have always loved the Flower Carpet roses for their disease resistance. As an organic gardener, roses that don’t need spraying are a blessing. Ones that repeat flower and don’t need much pruning are even more welcome. I use the pink rose in garden design projects, but at home I have Flower Carpet Coral which grows amongst white peonies, hellebores, and blue campanula in a semi-shaded border. The blue and the coral colours look wonderful together.

Flower Carpet Coral

It’s fascinating to know the history behind these plants. Flower Carpet Pink was Bred by Noack Roses in 1988 and introduced in the UK in 1991. Like many gardeners, I appreciate its glossy foliage, abundance of flowers and easy-care characteristics.

Rose grower Robert Wharton, licensee for Noack Roses in the UK says ‘With environmental consideration such as water and chemical reduction increasing in importance Flower Carpet with its excellent drought tolerance and superb health will be a feature in gardens and green spaces well into the future.’

Creator of Flower Carpet Pink, Werner Noack passed away recently and his son Reinhard accepted the award from Henrianne de Briey President of the WFRS. Reinhard said ‘Such a success is not the merit of only one person – three generations of the Noack family, our employees and national and international partners have all contributed to make Flower Carpet Pink a true rose of the world’.

The Flower Carpet collection won 11 gold medals and 14 awards in rose trials held around the world. Both Reinhard and his son Steffen continue Werner’s work in creating both beautiful and useful roses, including Cherry, the latest addition to the Flower Carpet family.

Flower Carpet Cherry

The Flower Carpet collection has combined sales of over 100 million plants globally since the launch of Flower Carpet Pink.

Flower Carpet Gold


The World Federation of Rose Societies, World Hall of Fame was established in 1976. There have been 18 inductees over the past 46 years, with Rose Peace being the first. There is also an Old Rose Hall of Fame which celebrates the popular historical roses and roses of genealogical importance.

Flower Carpet® is grown in the UK by Whartons Garden Roses and is available from garden centres and nurseries.

Here’s some more roses from the Flower Carpet series.

Flower Carpet Amber
Flower Carpet Ruby
Flower Carpet Sunset
Flower Carpet Sunshine
Flower Carpet White

These make good roses for flower arranging, and in the open-centred roses, bees love the pollen. Are any of you growing roses from the Flower Carpet Range? Thank you for reading the blog and leaving your comments in the box below.

Flowers from my garden- a week later….

Last week I posted an ‘all of the garden’ bouquet with everything in flower. I thought you might like to see how the flowers look seven days later. I visited my Mum today and took all the flowers out of the vase and cut four inches off the bottom of the stems. I cleaned the jam jar and added fresh water.

What a joy to see Alstroemeria Indian Summer still looking fresh and colourful. As I said last week, I bought this new plant from Mary Thomas who has a nursery in my area. Mary lives in Sutton Bonington and opens her garden for the NGS. She also has a plant nursery, Piecemeal Plants and has a stall at the Belvoir Castle Flower Show where I treated myself to one or two special plants. To have them still in flower in mid-November is making me very happy indeed!

Chrysanthemums give good value in a cut flower garden and will last three weeks in a vase, if looked after by refreshing the water and just trimming the base of the stems slightly every few days. Mum hadn’t touched her flowers for the week, but they still looked as fresh as newly picked. This variety is Swan. The pure white petals surround a green centre which eventually fades to white to match the outer petals. A good value plant. We bought cuttings from the RHS Malvern Show a few years ago. I think I shared a batch of cuttings with a friend. There was a special offer of 12 cuttings of different types. The price for the offer worked out at about 80p per cutting. Plants are grown in 10”pots stood outdoors all summer. Usually I take them in the poly tunnel or greenhouse in November as frost and rain might spoil the petals, but this year we have had such mild conditions, the plants are still outdoors.

This is the very last David Howard dahlia of the year. It’s my favourite dahlia and goes really well with the alstroemeria, as if they were meant to be together as a pair.

The petals of the rudbeckias have dropped off, but I decided to keep the stems as the dark brown stamens made interesting ‘buttons’ of colour and shape. A contrast to the flowers.

This little rudbeckia is hanging on, grown from a mixed packet of seed from Mr Fothergills. I just couldn’t throw it out. It might not last another week, but we shall see.

I was surprised and delighted to see the little wild flower Oxeye daisy still hanging on. Such a lovely reminder of the banks of white flowers which flower all summer here. It’s so strange to see them blooming in November as the days grow dark. But welcome even so.

As usual, foliage is important in my jam jar flowers. This is a lime green bedding plant I keep going from one year to the next by taking lots of cuttings and keeping them in 3” pots over the winter. They are popular for hanging baskets and containers, but also make very good foliage for cut flowers. And I’ve temporarily forgotten the name. Perhaps you know it? There’s also a grey version, but I prefer the lime green.

There’s also rosemary which goes into every posy I create. Everything I do has a meaning and rosemary is for remembrance, as you probably know. I’m surprised to see the huge 4ft high plant I have in the veg plot in full flower today. Such beautiful Mediterranean blue flowers and gorgeously -scented leaves. I couldn’t be without it.

I couldn’t be without my senecio viravira which also goes into every single posy I create. It’s such a pretty leaf and sets off all the other colours. Plants are not always hardy so again I’ve taken cuttings in 3” pots, just in case.

Also, not easy to photograph, but Salvia Phyllis’s Fancy is as fresh as the day I picked it.

A slightly better photo. You can also see the red stems of dogwood which give colour to autumn arrangements.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this weekend’s updated photos. It only took me ten minutes to rearrange the flowers and refresh them. It’s so rewarding to see how long home-grown flowers can last. And my mum’s kitchen window is full of autumn colour and scent for another week. A worthwhile project and it makes me – and my lovely Mum very happy.

Have a lovely gardening week. And thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment below. Follow Cathy for the ‘In a Vase on Monday’ meme. She has a very special anniversary tomorrow, so many congratulations Cathy! And thanks for hosting such a lovely, friendly meme with members growing and arranging flowers all around the world for the past nine years.

https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2022/11/07/in-a-vase-on-monday-life-more-sweet/

November flowers for my Mum

Monday 7th November 2022

Surely, these must be the last flowers for cutting this year…. I keep going out expecting to see foliage blackened by frost and buds turned to mush. But no, the garden is still blooming!

Star of the show must be these marmalade orange flowers, Dahlia David Howard. Plants have done nothing all summer, but suddenly a month ago, after some rain, new leaves appeared and flower buds. I didn’t think they would come to anything as it’s so late in the season.

Coming into flower again is my new alstroemeria Indian Summer which I brought in July from my friend nursery owner Mary Thomas. It was in flower when I bought it, and it’s decided to get going again now. Doesn’t it look wonderful alongside the David Howard dahlias.

They look as if they are meant to be together in a bouquet. Such a pretty combination, don’t you think?

Another surprise is this red and white dahlia. It arrived all by itself. I bought a white one and a red one several years ago, and together they have produced a seedling baby combining the two colours. It’s rather pretty and flamboyant. I love the open centre as it has plenty of pollen for bees. I probably enjoy bees and butterflies as much as the flowers in my garden to be honest.

I sowed the seed for these sunflowers speculatively in August. I sowed them direct, in amongst the cosmos and calendula. Temperatures were so hot in the 30s for days on end that seeds germinated almost overnight. The result is a bed full of miniature sunflowers only 4” across. I don’t suppose this will ever happen again as we are unlikely to have another summer like this one.

Another mixed up sunflower, or it could actually be a rudbeckia. It has a very pretty chocolate coloured centre. I love any daisy-type flower.

Not a perfect flower, it’s slightly nibbled around the edges, but this is an ox-eye daisy which usually flowers in mid-summer. We have these wild flowers dotted about the whole garden, especially along gravel paths where seedlings flourish. I’m digging some up this week and moving them to a new patch of bare ground around the pond.

More white flowers just starting to bloom now are the chrysanthemums. This one is called Swan. It opens with a green and cream centre and fades to pure white. Very long-lasting in a vase, it will keep for nearly three weeks if you change the water daily. Highly recommended. I grow it in 10” pots stood outdoors for the summer and brought under cover in winter.

Verbena Bonariensis is a pretty filler for these bouquets. We often have flowers right through until Christmas, although they are starting to diminish. They are still worthy of close inspection even when there are more seeds than tiny flowers.

Also joining the last-minute party is salvia Phyllis’s Fancy. I bought this for the name as much as the flower. I’d love to know who Phyllis is. It certainly is fancy. Salvias are quite hard to photograph. I have a new camera which doesn’t seem to understand exactly what I want to focus on, but the photo is striking even with most of the flowers blurred. It’s the most wonderful purple and lavender flower.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my last-minute flowers. Can you spot the abutilon poking out of the bottom on the right. I think this is Kent Belle. Three stems of red dogwood (Westonbirt) add structure to the arrangement.

I learned from Georgie Newbery of Common Farm Flowers to add stems in a spiral by holding the bouquet in one hand and giving it a quarter turn before adding another stem. This way the arrangement looks good on both sides, and will actually stand up on its own. It’s a satisfying moment when it does!

Thanks for reading my blog. Flowers are for my lovely Mum this week. After a six week absence due to illness, I’m owing her quite a few bouquets! Join Cathy over on ‘In a Vase on Monday’ to see what others are cutting and arranging for their vases this week. It’s interesting to see the variety of flowers from all around the world. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2022/10/31/in-a-vase-on-monday-spooky/

Flowers from the garden 31st October 2022

Who would think it was the last day of October? My dahlias didn’t have any flowers during August, September and the first half of October. But they have suddenly decided to put on a display. And what a display. They are all producing glorious stained-glass hues. The colours seem brighter and more glowing than previous years. They are so welcome after such a disappointing summer.

Labels have been scratched up by the hens and misplaced, but I think this is Dahlia Karma Choc, a decorative type with velvety dark red flowers. It got left behind in the garden last autumn, while most of the dahlias were dug up and stored in the potting shed. To be honest, it has done just as well as the others, so I’m going to risk it this winter, and leave them all out. I’ll cover them with a foot of dried beech leaves, a plastic cloche and recycled compost bags. They should stay fairly dry and be protected from frost. And if they don’t survive, I’ll have a rethink in the cut flower garden next summer. I might try something less trouble that doesn’t get nibbled by slugs, need staking and then can’t cope with a drought.

Karma Choc with grey foliage of Senecio viravira, known as Dusty Miller. I’ve taken lots of cuttings of the senecio as it’s not totally hardy. I’d be lost without it as it provides foliage for my jam jar arrangements all year round.

Dahlia David Howard has also decided to flower. These apricot orange blooms are much smaller than usual. Foliage is dark, bronze almost black. Plants were originally bred by nurseryman David Howard who spotted a promising seedling in 1960. It went on to win an RHS AGM, Award of Garden Merit. David founded Howard Nurseries in Wortham, near Diss and had a passion for dahlias and chrysanthemums. By the age of 16, he was supplying plants to Covent Garden while selecting and breeding his own varieties. The nursery thrived with David and a business partner buying first four, then 12 then 24 acres to expand. They gained such a renowned reputation that they supplied plants to the Chelsea Flower Show, and also to the Queen Mother and Prince Charles. David died aged 81 in 2019, and his daughter Christine now runs the nurseries.

This beautiful white dahlia flower reminds me of swan feathers. Sadly, I don’t know the name as this was given to me by a friend, but I’ll take cuttings next spring and increase my numbers because it’s such a lovely cut flower. The heads usually get quite heavy and dangle down, but Georgie Newbery of Common Farm Flowers showed me how to twist the stem around and turn the dahlia flowers into the centre of the bouquet which seems to work. The red stems you can see in the first photo are dogwood, Cornus Westonbirt, which also help support heavy flower heads.

Tucked in amongst the dahlias are a few teeny sunflowers. They never grew more than a few inches across! However, their bright yellow flowers are very welcome now, even in miniature.

This sunflower grown from a mixed packet of seed from Mr Fothergill’s has burnt orange flowers and a chocolate centre. Bees love them, and the seed heads are good for birds.

A beautiful double yellow sunflower with my favourite dark brown centre.

Cosmos also eventually decided to flower. I think this is Candy Stripe from Mr Fothergill’s. Another good flower for bees. And with daytime temperatures still at 18C we still have bumblebees and solitary bees out and about.

Argyranthemums braved the heatwave in summer and produced a few blooms, but now the plants have decided to go for it and plants are smothered in large white daisies. These last for two weeks in a vase, so I’m very grateful to see them in flower.

Cerise red dahlias, possibly Arabian Night, with red salvias which are also having their moment now.

And tucked in the middle is this fimbriated cactus dahlia, possibly Apache, which came from Gee-Tee Bulbs. Foliage is always important to me and in my bouquet today I have one stem each of mint, rosemary and lemon-scented santolina.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these bright jewel-like colours. I must admit, I usually prefer pastel shades. But after the summer we’ve had, any colour is certainly welcome. These flowers are for my Mum, who I haven’t seen for six weeks due to illness, so a joyful reunion, and I am pleased to have something lovely and cheerful to take from my garden.

Is your garden behaving strangely like mine, and deciding it’s summer all over again? Let me know if it’s just me, or if your flowers are blooming again. Have a great gardening week. Karen

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

Chocolate and Beetroot Muffins- family favourite recipes

Beetroot was one of the few vegetables that did well this summer. Climbing beans were a disaster. Flowers failed to set and immature beans dropped off the plants. Very disappointing to see. But beetroot didn’t seem to mind the heat and drought. I write a weekly column for Garden News Magazine all about the fruit and vegetables I’ve harvested in the garden and what I’m making with them. It’s a fun project and I really look forward to my cooking and recipe-writing sessions. Sometimes the recipes come from my Mum who is a fabulous cook. Sometimes I delve into a lovely archive of recipes shared by my late mother-in-law Joan. Many happy memories swirl around as I make her famous flapjack and fruit cake recipes. Joan never came to visit without having a cake in her shopping bag. And we always looked forward to seeing what she’d got in her cake tin in the pantry at home. Some of the recipes are just ones I’ve devised for feeding my family of four (although the girls are grown up now and have homes of their own). Nothing too fancy or with too many ingredients. In fact, most recipes can be made with a few basic store-cupboard ingredients and what vegetables you might have in the veg basket or fridge. They don’t take hours to make either. I’ve always been frantically busy, so recipes have to be quick and easy. I’ve had some lovely letters and e mails from Garden News readers thanking me for the recipes which they say are simple to follow and tasty without taking too long to cook.

Here’s a recent column featuring deliciously moist beetroot and chocolate muffins. Have a go at making them and let me know how you get on. I freeze batches of beetroot in quantities required for these cakes, so I always have the ingredients to hand.

You can freeze the little cakes and they thaw out within minutes.

These photos were taken in the back-of-the house glass porch, the only sunny place at the time, and my pressed glass cake stand is balanced on top of an upturned laundry wicker basket! No one will know….

Beetroot from the garden
I grow a pinch of seed every 10-15cm and I let the beetroot grow in clusters. I carefully harvest the largest beetroot when needed, but leave the smaller ones to carry on growing.
When I was searching my i-pad archives for photos of beetroot, the computer offered these hyacinths. Just shows you, machines and computers still aren’t as clever as humans….yet! It made me laugh. I hope it makes you smile too. Enjoy your gardening week.

For the avoidance of doubt, please don’t eat hyacinths! They are poisonous.

Cut Flowers from my garden mid-October

Rosa Timeless purple

I’ve just realised that I never cut any flowers for myself. They are always for friends and relatives, all the pleasure being in the giving. It’s nice to have something home-grown to give away. However, I’ve been ill for a few weeks and stuck indoors. How frustrating it’s been looking out from my bed while the sun shone on the garden. I made lists of all the jobs needed doing, which didn’t help at all. But when I felt a bit better, I wobbled outdoors and cut these flowers for my bedside table.

The star of my little bouquet is this highly-scented rose from a new home-florists’ range. Timeless Purple has long stems with very few thorns. Flowers have an ‘old rose’ appearance and wonderful myrrh- scent. Modern breeding means it repeat flowers and is disease resistant. Flowers stand up to the weather. Old roses tend to ‘ball’ in the rain, where buds fail to open and drop off. Such a disappointment if you’ve eagerly waited for the rose buds to open, to see them going mouldy and wilting. These flowers shrug off the raindrops, and flowers aren’t marked by the weather.

The heatwave and drought meant there were virtually no flowers in my garden all summer, but autumn has brought a bonanza. Plants seem determined to make up for lost time. The argyranthemums grown from seed by my Mum have come into flower mid-October. Who doesn’t love a daisy? The cheerful white flowers go so well with the roses and salvias.

Dahlias also suffered in the summer heat, but are coming into flower now. The first frost will finish the display, but for now, I’m just enjoying this unexpected bounty.

It’s not easy to photograph salvias. Their colours are so vibrant they tend to blur with an ordinary camera phone. This is one of the many salvias that came from https://middletonnurseries.co.uk/

I wrote about my trial growing salvias here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/06/18/new-plants-on-trial-salvias-from-middleton-nurseries/

Their jewel-like colours are very welcome at this time of the year, and look so wonderful set against golden autumn foliage. Stems have a delicious blackcurrant scent.

Talking of foliage, I picked some stems of my dogwood, Cornus Westonbirt. Leaves are turning a lovely plum colour, and the bright red stems will provide interest all winter, especially when the sun shines through them. These are such easy shrubs to grow, they simply need a prune to the ground each spring as the most colourful stems are produced on new growth.

Cornus Westonbirt

My grey foliage plants came from Coton Manor nursery in Northampton. Annoyingly, I can’t remember the name, but I have the label in the greenhouse and will just edit the name in tomorrow. I’m still suffering from terrible brain fog after being ill.

Fuchsias, also from Coton Manor, have decided to flower a month later than usual. They are growing in huge pots and I’ll just lift them into the greenhouse to protect them from frost. They flower till Christmas, given some protection.

Cosmos Psyche White has also decided to put on a show now. This is my favourite cosmos. It’s a messy double white with long stems and good repeat flowering. It lasts a fortnight in a vase. I’ve tried some of the new apricot cosmos, but they didn’t do well for me here, so I won’t bother with them again. I need tried and tested varieties that won’t let me down.

Cosmos Psyche White

In the greenhouse I found this lovely pink Passion flower which was in keeping with my colour-theme posy, so I picked it an added it to the jam jar. I grow this in a 10” pot which is carried outside for the summer and brought in again before the first frosts. Usually there are one or two flowers right through winter.

I wrote about the Timeless florists’ range here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/11/01/diary-for-garden-news-magazine/

Join in with Cathy for her In a Vase on Monday here : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

Well, I hope this little posy of flowers has given you some inspiration for what to grow to have something to pick in late October. I try to have something to pick every day of the year. Sometimes there’s more foliage than flowers, but it’s lovely to bring the garden indoors, so to speak.

After being stuck in my room for so long, it did me the world of good to wander about outdoors picking a few flowers. For once, they are just for me, and I’m thoroughly enjoying them. Have a great weekend. Keep safe and well and enjoy your gardening.

Book Review: Secret Gardens of the South East- A Private Tour. My BBC Local Radio book of the week

By Barbara Segall

Photos by Clive Boursnell

Published by Frances Lincoln, autumn 2022

Hardback RRP £22

ISBN 978-0-7112-5260-8

One of my favourite things is to jump in the car and travel to a garden I’ve not seen before. It doesn’t matter if the garden is large or small, there’s always some planting combination or landscaping idea I jot down in a notebook, hoping to replicate it in my own garden one day.

The gardens of the South East of England are still a mystery to me. My car hasn’t ventured that far yet. But I’ve just read Barbara Segall’s exciting new book featuring 20 gardens in that region, and I’m getting out the map book already!

Balmoral Cottage, Kent. Topiary created from cuttings.

One particular garden in the book struck a chord with me. Balmoral Cottage in Benenden, Kent, where the owners grew many of the plants from divisions and cuttings from their parents’ gardens. Charlotte and Donald Molesworth bought the cottage nearly 40 years ago. Barbara tells the story of how Donald, a professional gardener, had been working next door at The Grange, the former home of Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram – the plant hunter credited with returning endangered cherries to Japan.

Barbara writes, “That moment when you meet your future down a little lane, see a gate and opening it find the rest of time ahead of you…..? Well, that is literally what happened when Charlotte and Donald Molesworth found and bought Balmoral Cottage in Benenden in 1983.

For eight years Charlotte had been living in and teaching art at Benenden School, and on walks around the village, often stepped along the rough track leading to this tiny house, which had the best sunsets imaginable. Probably named Balmoral to celebrate a visit of Queen Victoria to Benenden, it was the gardener’s cottage for the Grange.

The Molesworths brought with them to Balmoral Cottage the first of many animals to share their garden lives, including bees, rescue dogs, donkeys (there have been nine) and companion sheep, hens and a cockerel.

They knew that they would need plenty of plants to make their garden and, being thrifty and resourceful they brought many plants from their parents’ gardens. From Donald’s family came woodland trilliums, dog’s-tooth violets and narcissus pseudonarcissus which have self-seeded and spread down each side of that original track. Charlotte’s mother’s garden was packed with old fashioned roses, cottage-garden plants and topiary, so her contributions included double white primroses and several thousand box cuttings.”

I love the fact they have created a special and unusual garden on a shoestring. They avoid buying anything new, scouring reclamation yards for potential items for recycling. “It’s our policy for helping Mother Earth,” they say. It’s resulted in a garden that makes you feel anything is possible. It’s not dependent on how much money you have, but on ingenuity, patience and skill. A very reassuring message for any would-be gardener, and one I welcome entirely.

Gravetye Manor, East Grinstead, West Sussex

I’ve picked out just one of the 20 stunning gardens explored by Barbara Segall in this richly detailed book. There’s a lovely mix of the extremely grand to the small and intimate. All are privately owned. Some have been in the possession of the same family for many generations, whilst others have recently been acquired and transformed by new owners. There’s a wonderful diversity of landscaping styles and a range of planting from traditional herbaceous borders to fashionable and contemporary prairies.

Sussex Prairie Garden, near Henfield, West Sussex
Sussex Prairie Garden. Curving paths through the grand spiral of the borders bring you up-close so you can experience the undulation of the plants and their blocks of colour from within.

Barbara is a totally engaging writer who draws you into the gardens and skilfully sifts out the essence of what makes them special. Not a word is wasted and reading her books is so easy. It’s a pleasure to skip through the pages and be transported to these glorious places.

Town Place, near Sheffield Park, East Sussex

The book includes visitor information about the gardens profiled as well as several others in this garden-rich area of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Some open for the popular National Gardens Scheme, while others are open privately, and in some cases, for just the occasional day for charity.

Arundel Castle, Arundel, West Sussex. Caught in the early morning mist, the windows of Arundel Cathedral provide a dramatic borrowed landscape to the annual allium, rose and salvia extravaganza.
Arundel Castle team and bulb-filled borders sweeping up to the battlements. I particularly liked seeing the teams of gardeners included in the book. Credit is due for the wonderful work they undertake, looking after these special places.

Special mention must be made of the photographs by Clive Boursnell who initially visited 40 gardens and travelled 12,500 miles for this stunning project. Sadly, only 20 could be included in the book. But he talks about the warm welcome he received at every garden, as he travelled about in his camper van, capturing the atmospheric dawn and dusk photos. He turned up during a daughter’s wedding that was taking place in one garden. The owners, not phased by his appearance in the middle of a celebration, made sure he could get his photos of a particular rose trellis at its peak. Such small details and asides give an insight into the characters behind the gardens, their passions and their personalities.

Long Barn, Sevenoaks, Kent. The barn wall provides a strong backdrop as well as a hotspot for California glory (Fremontodendron californicum). Together with the lime-green touches of Euphorbia characias subs. wulfenii, they offer a counterpoint to the closely clipped hedging and lawns on the main lawn.

Barbara writes: “I hope you will find much pleasure in the book and visit the gardens when possible…opening garden gates to find untold beauty.”

I know that I enjoyed every page and can’t wait to investigate the gardens further.

Clinton Lodge Gardens, Fletching, East Sussex. The view through the Cloister Walk arcades, clad with white wisteria and Clematis alba Luxurians, to the Wild Garden, with its spring tide of Narcissus poeticus Pheasant’s Eye and white tulips.
Munstead Wood and the Quadrangle, Godalming, Surrey. The main flower border, some 61 metres long, blooms in waves of colour following Gertrude Jekyll’s original iconic, complicated drawing.
87 Albert Street, Whitstable, Kent.
Malthouse Farm Garden, Hassocks, East Sussex.

The publishers are giving away one book in a prize draw to readers who leave comments below. One name will be randomly selected. Sorry, only open to UK entries due to postage costs. The draw closes at 6pm on 21st October.

I wrote about Barbara here:

https://bramblegarden.com/2021/01/10/herbs-cooking-and-reading-blogs-keeping-cheerful-through-lockdown/

And Barbara’s previous books:

https://bramblegarden.com/2017/08/14/words-and-pictures-3/

https://bramblegarden.com/2017/10/13/win-a-copy-of-secret-gardens-of-east-anglia-and-heres-an-update-on-my-fund-raising-plans-2/

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you enjoy these words and photos from Barbara’s latest book. It was my book of the week on local radio gardening shows earlier this summer.

Melbourne Hall – a chance to glimpse inside the house.

Photo credit: Andrea Jones.

The best view of Melbourne Hall is from the ornate Bird Cage on the other side of the lake. But during August the house and the garden is open every afternoon, so there’s a chance to get a closer look and step inside this beautiful historic building.

When you arrive you enter by the Carriage Ring driveway, and step inside the Billiard Room, a conservatory-style addition built in 1911 by Lord Walter Kerr to add a glass roof over the area between the two wings of the house. In winter, this structure houses potted lemon trees, and mince pies and mulled wine are served to visitors on special opening dates. Last time I visited in winter, the family placed a Christmas tree in the conservatory which looked very pretty with all the tree lights and decorations reflected in the glass. It’s a very special experience to be able to look through the house windows out to the landscape and gardens beyond. It gives a totally different perspective on the planting and layout.

This is the oak panelled Dining Room. The walnut high back chairs are particularly striking. Some celebrate the return of the monarch in 1660 by having a crown carved into them. Beautiful tapestry seats have been embroidered by the Kerr family for chairs which date back to the time of William and Mary.

There are seven ground floor rooms to view. The hall opens at 2pm and there are guided tours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays. Or you can have a leisurely wander about on your own. Guides are also on duty in the rooms, able to answer any questions. Admission tickets can be purchased online, or from the entrance hall on the day of your visit.

It’s fascinating hearing about all the characters who’ve lived in this special place. Head tour guide Gill Weston has lots of interesting stories to tell.

After visiting the house, there’s beautifully-planted gardens to enjoy. Oxeye daisies are planted in long grass in the meadow. Currently in flower in the Paulownia border beside the Millstream you’ll find Eucomis, or pineapple lilies, alongside pink hydrangea arborescence Invincible Spirit.

Thanks to Gill Weston for the stories, and thanks also to Andrea Jones for kindly sharing photos. Melbourne Hall is a very special place and one of my favourite gardens. Do take the chance to glimpse inside the hall, while it’s open for August. It’s a historic house with lots of character.

Here’s a link to https://www.andreajones.co.uk/

For more information: https://www.melbournehall.com/

In a recent prize draw on the blog, Tickets to visit the garden were won by Suella.

Thank you for reading my blog and leaving your comments in the box below. It’s very much appreciated. You are among 200 people who read the blog each day, and although I haven’t been able to write very much lately , it’s a comfort to see so many people reading past blog posts and finding useful information and recipes there. Happy gardening everyone.

Flowers in memory of Joan

Rosa Compassion

This blog records my gardening life, growing fruit and vegetables for the family, and flowers for friends and relatives. Over the past five years, I’ve written about growing flowers for my mother-in-law Joan as a way of keeping a connection when she started to suffer from dementia. Joan and I shared a love of flowers and flower arranging. When she no longer knew my name, she still enjoyed my flowers and knew I was someone close to her. Sadly, Joan died earlier this year. All bereavements are difficult to recover from, but I’ve been surprised just how much I’ve been affected by Joan’s death. I didn’t feel like talking, didn’t feel like writing, didn’t feel like gardening. All the activities I usually enjoy didn’t seem to make any difference. I suppose, all these years I’ve been able to ‘do something.’ There’s been a purpose to all the work of growing sweet peas, dahlias and roses for cut flowers. Just to see Joan smile and feel as if I was keeping a connection with her, made it all worthwhile. It felt like an impossible challenge sometimes when she got so muddled she couldn’t remember her children or grandchildren. But challenges drive you on and force you to try harder. I was absolutely determined that dementia wouldn’t get the better of us and destroy the special friendship we had. But in the end it did. I feel as if it stole the last few years of her life and any comfort she could enjoy from knowing she had a large and loving family. Dementia took her into a parallel universe where we just didn’t exist. And Joan’s death has left such a hole in our lives, it will take time to readjust and refocus. As a start, I’ve decided to post some flowers in Joan’s memory. Thank you to all the readers who have sent supportive messages over the past five years and have been with me on this journey. I’m a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of person, so I’m thinking what good can come out of this experience and what I can do next to help families with relatives suffering from dementia. I’ll keep you updated on my plans. Meanwhile enjoy these flowers. I hope they bring you joy, as they did for Joan for many years.

I started with the galvanised bucket which came from Jonathan Moseley and contained sunflowers last week. I wrote about them here: https://bramblegarden.com/2022/07/25/sunflowers-for-my-mum-in-a-vase-on-monday/

Jonathan put crumpled chicken wire in the bucket to help support the stems. We are trying to use water and containers instead of florists’ foam containing plastic which contaminates the environment. https://www.jonathan-moseley.com/

Jonathan used lemon-scented conifer as the foliage element for the flower arrangement. I’m using purple-leaved Physocarpus Diabolo which is one of the few plants looking good in the heat at the moment. I used seven stems.

Physocarpus is worth growing for its white flower heads which are followed by these glossy maroon-red seed heads.
I thought these Persian ironwood, or Parrotia leaves would add texture. They are turning pink already. Usually they turn red and then orange in the autumn.

I only had about ten flower stems to put in the arrangement. The whole garden has suffered in the heat. Sweet peas have gone over, the earliest I can ever remember. Anything in flower when the temperature hit 40C was bleached out and dried. However, the roses have been the first plants to throw out new flower buds. This one is Compassion, a gorgeous climbing rose with a fruit-salad scent.

This is a new shrub rose called ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ – Rose of the Year 2021. I wrote about it here : https://bramblegarden.com/2021/08/23/this-months-diary-for-garden-news-magazine/

These roses are perfect for floristry as they are long-lasting and disease resistant. Stems are virtually thorn free, and the scent is a cross between melon and pineapple, fresh and summery.

I found two stems of this gorgeous gladioli growing down the middle of the sweet pea A-frame. The willow frame means I don’t have to stake the gladioli and it makes good use of the bare space in the centre. These are butterfly gladioli which are smaller in stature than the usual cottage varieties. They are also called nanus, or small-flowered gladioli. These are more reliable in difficult conditions because you need much smaller corms to obtain flowers. The large-flowering gladioli have to have good, fertile soil which is also well-drained and you must start with top-size corms. I recommend Pheasant Acre nursery for supplies. https://www.pheasantacreplants.co.uk/

Gladioli flower for a good two weeks and are the right scale to go with cosmos and argyranthemums. I recommend Atom, Carine, Alba, Charming Beauty and Nathalie. Pheasants Acre Nursery sells collections at summer shows and are worth seeking out as there are often special offers.

I added a few stems of an argyranthemum my mum grew from seed. These grow to about 1.5 metres here and are good, reliable plants for summer floristry. Bees and butterflies love them too.

There is just one stem of dahlia Nuit D’Ete. Dahlias hated the heat and are now struggling in the drought. I haven’t watered them. It would be impossible to keep watering them as temperatures are still heading for 30C. I’m hoping they are just sitting there semi-dormant, waiting for the temperatures to dip and rain to come.

My plan of action for next year is to increase the mulching with home-made compost and sheep wool and bracken clay-breaker compost. I will also buy more builders’ bags of maize-based Plant Grow fertiliser. Plant Grow is helping plants cope with the extreme heat. But where I ran out of money and didn’t mulch, the beds are suffering. It just goes to show the power of mulch to hold moisture in during the summer and combat flooding in the winter. I recently visited Chatsworth for a head gardener tour to see the new Arcadia garden planted last year. Interestingly, all the new perennials, and the new rose garden, were planted into 6” of soil improver from Veolia. A no-dig project on a massive scale. I’ll be going back soon to see how the plants have coped with the heat. I’m also liaising with the gardeners as one of many people sharing experiences of working with different types of peat-free compost. All of us are mixing our own additives to try to find something that works well for us. I’ll share our findings when I know more.

I’ve added just two stems of highly-scented Bridal Star carnation. These are recommended for home-grown cut flowers. Plants repeat flower all summer. I’m growing mine in 10” containers in the doorway of the polytunnel. Flowers get some protection from the rain, tucked just inside the door.

This flower was a surprise. It’s a spring onion, gone to seed! I might grow some on purpose, as they make large 4” diameter flowers, later in the season than most ornamental alliums.

My wild flower patch produced these flat-headed creamy white achillea. Another plant which doesn’t mind the heat. These started out as a packet of mixed wild flower seeds from Mr Fothergill’s.

These lime green flower heads are from parsnips allowed to go to seed. Jonathan Moseley allows some of his herbs and vegetables to run to seed and they make striking and unusual additions to his flower arrangements. The white flower in the photo is Cosmos Psyche White. A tall-growing, reliable cosmos. I grew the new cosmos Lemonade last summer, but it didn’t do well for me and was a bit of a disappointment. This year I’ve gone back to tried and tested white cosmos.

There are a couple of stems of blue drumstick echinops. These perennials are probably Taplow Blue, and originally came as divisions from Joan’s garden.

How is your garden faring in the heat. Have you had any rain, or are you parched like we are?

Thanks to Cathy for hosting the In a Vase on Monday meme. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2022/08/01/ina-vase-on-monday-glad-all-over/

Sunflowers for my Mum – In a Vase on Monday

Sunflowers seem quite appropriate for one of the hottest July’s on record. Temperatures reached 40C here on Tuesday. The garden burned to a crisp with virtually everything in flower turning brown. So I haven’t anything from my own garden to share today. These flowers were created by Jonathan Moseley during a demonstration at Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Show last weekend. Jonathan is a celebrity florist, writer and broadcaster and ambassador for British flowers. He’s well-known for his appearance as expert floral judge on the BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge programme. After watching his demo at Belvoir, I had to buy this gorgeous arrangement for my Mum. Here’s some photos of what the arrangement contained.

The stand-out element of this arrangement is the gorgeous sunflowers grown in the UK by a company which also specialises in growing plants for bird food. There are 11 stems in this arrangement.

Jonathan uses this galvanised metal bucket with a liner to contain the water. Some chicken wire is scrunched up and placed in the bottom of the bucket. Jonathan says he mostly uses eco-friendly techniques rather than flower foam. Many of his other arrangements were created using mini milk bottles, urns and glass jars.

He added nine stems of lemon scented conifer. These are 55cm long. And five stems of viburnum from his own garden. I’ve taken some cuttings of the conifer as it’s such a vibrant bright lime green and has a lovely fresh scent. Virtually anything will root in this heat, given plenty of misting to keep the foliage hydrated.

Next he added three varieties of eryngium. This is a new variety, not available to home-growers yet, but sold via florists. It’s a beautiful multi-headed type and I’ll be looking out for it when it becomes available in garden centres. I think the variety is called Orion.

Eryngiums or ornamental thistles like these can be dried and used for winter decorations and on flower wreaths for doors and tables. Great value plants. Jonathan mentioned a variety called Big Blue. These are a magnet for bees and butterflies and flower for a very long time.

Eryngiums start out a lovely silver grey colour and turn blue as flowers open. I love the combination of grey, blue and yellow. They look such cheerful colours, don’t you think?

Next into the mix is this blue limonium, or statice, which is another flower which can be dried and is very easy to grow as an annual at home. This variety is called Misty Blue. Mr Fothergill’s have seeds in mixed colours which I’ve grown in the past and had success with.

Here’s the link for seeds: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Statice-Special-Mixed

I love these tiny button chrysanthemums in such a pretty butter lemon. These are extremely easy to grow at home. I grow a white form called Stallion. Cuttings came from an online source https://www.chrysanthemumsdirect.co.uk/index.html

Mum is thrilled with her gorgeous arrangement- even more delighted because it was made by Jonathan who we both think a lot of. We like his eco-friendly techniques and his determination to support local independent floristry growers and suppliers. No air miles go into his creations. Quite often the flowers are sourced near his home – or in fact home grown. In another arrangement, he used branches of Ballerina roses which looked like bouquets in themselves without any other flowers needed. He uses special foliage stripper tools to remove leaves and thorns on roses. Much better than getting them in your hands and fingers.

Jonathan recommended herbs to add to arrangements. A marjoram called Hopleys has buds which are almost black. These open to sprays of scented lilac flowers.

Some alliums he mentioned as being the longest flowering are these: https://www.farmergracy.co.uk/products/allium-sphaerocephalon-bulbs-uk

Also for seed heads, he recommends Jerusalem Sage or Phlomis https://www.bethchatto.co.uk/conditions/plants-for-dry-conditions/phlomis-fruiticosa.htm

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed viewing these beautiful flowers and have got some ideas for future floristry projects. Do look out for Jonathan Moseley’s talks. He appears at all the major shows, and also hosts special floristry workshops near his home at Christmas time. https://www.jonathan-moseley.com/category/events/upcoming/courses/

How has your garden fared in this heat? Mine looks stricken at the moment, but I’ve cut back all the perennial flowers by half and with some watering, they should flower again next month. I’ve sowed foxgloves, sweet williams and wallflowers for next year. They germinated virtually overnight in the heat and I’m busy pricking them out into seeds trays. I keep looking around the garden and feeling rather sad and dismayed at the damage, but there’s always next year to look forward to. That’s the beauty of gardening. There’s always next year to focus on. And it will be bigger, better and more flower-filled than this year, I’m certain.

I wrote about my sunflowers here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/10/10/six-on-saturday-10th-october-2020-photos-from-my-garden/

And here: https://bramblegarden.com/2018/09/30/sunflowers-for-joan/

Info about the Belvoir show here: https://belvoircastleflowerandgardenshow.co.uk/speakers/

With thanks to Cathy for hosting In a Vase on Monday meme which I’ve been enjoying for five years. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2022/07/25/in-a-vase-on-monday-cooler/

Daffodils in memory of Joan

Polar Ice from Bulbs.co.uk

Regular readers will know how often I mentioned my wonderful mother-in-law Joan over the years, and particularly the flowers I took to her from my garden. Sadly, I’m sorry to tell you, Joan has passed away. When I saw these daffodils, I thought of Joan. She loved spring flowers, and daffodils in particular. I’ve some very happy memories of flower arranging side by side with Joan. She was a very special, kind and wonderful person. There are very few truly good people in the world, and she was one in a million. I’ve been quite heartbroken to lose someone who always stood by my side in whatever I was doing in life and supported me. These daffodils remind me of the times when the children were little and we used to take them for a walk around the village. With Joan pushing my baby in the pram and me holding a toddler’s hand, we stopped at all the front gardens with daffodils and exclaimed how beautiful each one was and marvelled at the differences between varieties. We were on our way to visit the village pond to feed the ducks, a weekly treat for the children, and at the same time, it gave us a chance to admire all the flowers along the way. Simple pleasures. It made us happy. I shall never forget. I’ve waited to make this announcement so that I could find something happy to say. Joan would not have wanted me to be sad. So I hope you’ll enjoy these few photos here, and smile and remember all the flowers we shared on the blog over the years.

Sailboat

Avalanche
Arctic Bells
Arctic Bells
Emerald Green
Pistachio
Euphony
Ice Wings

Envoy
Rainbow

Galantamine is a substance which comes from daffodils and is being researched for the treatment of Alzheimers. Joan suffered from mixed dementia, so another reason why I think of her and daffodils at the same time. Here’s a link to the government article about the research. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/welsh-grown-daffodils-help-tackle-alzheimers

Here’s a recent update from the BBC : https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-61081542

My selection of daffodils comes from Bulbs.co.uk also known for its Walkers Daffodil Collection which won 26 consecutive gold medals at Chelsea Flower Show and numerous Premier awards at Harrogate Spring Show over the decades. This is the mail order subsidiary of Taylors Bulbs established since 1919 and farming 150ha of daffodils. Over 3000 tonnes of bulbs pass through their yard each summer. They have just launched a new website with a more comprehensive collection. There are 435 different varieties of daffodils listed, as well as many other types of bulbs. Here’s the link:

https://bulbs.co.uk/

I wrote about Joan, joining in with Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday meme for many years. The blog became almost a diary cataloguing what it’s been like having relatives in care homes during these pandemic years. There were many challenges. Here’s what I wrote in 2020.

https://bramblegarden.com/2020/12/07/in-a-vase-on-monday-virtual-flowers-for-joan/

https://bramblegarden.com/2020/09/21/in-a-vase-on-monday-flowers-for-joan/

https://bramblegarden.com/2018/09/30/sunflowers-for-joan/

https://bramblegarden.com/2021/08/17/in-a-vase-on-monday-flowers-for-the-care-home-at-last/

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/11/26/in-a-vase-on-monday-25th-november-2019/

Thank you for reading the blog. I’ll be posting flowers from my garden in memory of Joan on the IAVOM meme on a more regular basis now. Thank you for bearing with me. There have been very few write ups since Christmas as visiting Joan and looking after other family members has taken priority. I’m delighted to see about 100 of you read the blog every day, even when I don’t post anything new. It’s a comfort to see readers looking back through the archives.

Melbourne Hall -news and photos from the gardens- and two free tickets to give away.

Photos kindly provided by award-winning photographer Andrea Jones.

Fritillaria meleagris or snake’s head fritillary. Naturalises in grass; grows well in fertile, humus-rich soil and will seed around in time.

Melbourne Hall’s newsletter pops into my inbox on a regular basis and makes me want to jump in the car and drive straight over. The spring display is truly magical as ancient trees bust into leaf and there’s colour everywhere with beautiful bulbs and blossom.

Magnolia Caerhays Belle

The gardens were laid out in the formal French style by landscape designers George Loudon and Henry Wise in the early 18th century. There’s a beautiful pool, known as The Great Basin, at the heart of the garden, and paths lead off to less formal areas; the dell, arboretum, mill stream borders, and kitchen garden.

There’s a picture-postcard view from the Bird Cage across the pool towards Melbourne Hall. I particularly love the reflection of the trees in the water. To the left of the hall there’s a magnificent Atlas Cedar, Cedrus atlantica, native to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, just as happy on the terrace at Melbourne.

Here’s a closer view of the house with Melbourne Church in the backdrop. To the far left of the gardens, there’s a 20 acre lake and picturesque mill house and weir. You can walk along one side of the lake and look back towards the church and hall for another stunning view.

I always marvel at the beauty of the cloud-pruned hedges surrounding the pool. There’s quite a skill in maintaining such a feature. The Bird Cage provides a striking focal point across the pool, looking out from the house opposite.

Following the paths radiating from the main garden, there’s a series of mill stream borders planted with moisture-loving plants. The pale pink flowers are Persicaria bistorta, a rhizomatous perennial which thrives in damp conditions and flowers for a long period. Its common name is Easter giant. There’s also a bank of hostas, candelabra primulas and ground cover geraniums with Purple Dream tulips adding to the pink and magenta theme.

Looking across from the other side of the bridge, there’s a mature yellow tree peony and a bank of pale blue camassia and blue iris.

Further along the stream, there’s scented azalea luteum and a purple acer, underplanted with hostas and camassia.

Corydalis solida, known as fumewort, a low-growing tuberous perennial which can cope with some shade and is good for underplanting of spring trees and shrubs.

Following the path round, you come to the Kitchen Garden. This pretty peach ‘Peregrine’ is beautifully trained along the walls, getting some protection from the weather. It produces tasty, white-fleshed fruit in August and September. In the Melbourne Hall newsletter there’s a recipe for ‘baked toffee peaches’ with amaretti biscuits, muscovado sugar and butter by Jane Lovett.

Reflections in the water are mesmerising. Melbourne Hall is an RHS Partner garden and is taking part in The Garden of the Year competition. The theme of this year’s competition is ‘Feel Good’ reflecting on how beneficial it is to have a connection with nature and exercise in beautiful gardens and outdoor spaces. You can vote for Melbourne and find out more here: https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/partner-gardens/rhs-partner-garden-of-the-year

Here’s the website link giving all the details of opening times and events at Melbourne Hall. Look out for special food events in the Courtyard, and celebrity appearances and live music in the Walled Rose Garden.

https://www.melbournehall.com/

Church Square, Melbourne, Derbyshire, DE73 8EN

With grateful thanks to Andrea Jones for allowing the use of her photos for the blog. Copyright https://www.andreajones.co.uk/.

Please leave a comment, and names will be put into a computer generated draw to randomly select one winner for two free tickets for entry to the garden. Sorry, this doesn’t include travel costs. The draw will be made at 6pm on Monday 18th April. P

Please feel free to comment even if you don’t wish to be entered in the draw, and let me know what you think of the gardens. Thank you for reading the blog and for getting in touch.

A previous post on the hall: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/08/winter-walk-at-melbourne-hall/

A Greener Life – by Jack Wallington

BOOK REVIEW AND MY BBC LOCAL RADIO BOOK OF THE WEEK

Published by Laurence King, March 2022

Hardback, 192 pages, £19.99

ISBN: 978-085782-893-4

A Greener Life is much more than a ‘how-to-garden’ book, it’s actually a revealing diary of the writer’s journey from a stressful life and illness, to peace and calm through creating a garden and connecting with nature.

Jack Wallington writes how he struggled to sleep, was regularly ill and felt as if he’d ‘lost his way’ as he tried to keep up, and be available 24/7. “I thought the feeling of dissatisfaction was normal, to be waited out until retirement.” The turning point was the day Jack and his partner Chris planted the first trees, shrubs and bulbs in their new garden. “My worries briefly melted away, and a spark of happiness ignited.”

Jack says childhood memories trickled back, memories of sowing tomato and nasturtium seeds and taking cacti cuttings to sell for pocket money.

Through simply planting a garden he was better able to deflect stresses and anxieties and seemingly insurmountable problems at work . “Life, all life, the thing I had loved as a boy, that had been around me all along, was helping my world make sense. I had euphoric moments when discovering other gardens and visiting countryside. I began to feel connected to something bigger than me, and that somehow the things I planted and cared for were making a real contribution. The more I planted in the garden, the more insects and birds visited. Inviting nature back into my life gave a peace I hadn’t experienced for thirty years, and opened my eyes to the responsibility I had to the ecosystem I was nurturing.”

Jack’s book contains seven chapters. The first chapter outlines nine steps to a greener gardening life, and is almost a book in itself. Chapter two is about ‘getting started’ easy planting guides and essential tools you’ll need. Chapter three, encouraging beautiful ecosystems. Chapter four focuses on creating a wildlife -friendly garden, bringing soil to life and attracting and sustaining insect life.

Chapter five focuses on greening indoor spaces and greening workspaces.

Chapter six talks about herbs for wellness, growing vegetables, fruit and edible flowers.

Chapter seven is about connecting with nature, exploring wild areas in the city and countryside. There’s a section on using binoculars, cameras, smartphones and field guides and magnifying glasses- a useful guide to equipping yourself to delve deeper into the natural world.

A Greener Life is an honest, well-written account of self-discovery, and Jack’s voice comes over loud and clear in this beautifully put together book. You’ll certainly learn how to create nature-friendly gardens, but you will also perhaps pause for thought at what good can come from connecting with gardens and wildlife. In these stressful and strife-ridden days, this can only be a very good thing indeed.

Jack’s book is really everything you’d ever need to be a greener gardener. It’s written from the heart, from someone who’s found out for himself that gardens, gardening and being in touch with nature really can make a difference. Jack says “ We’re part of the natural world and to save it is to save ourselves. We all benefit from a greener life.”

The publishers have kindly given one copy to give away. Leave a message in the comments box below and one name will be selected randomly by 26 March. Sorry, the offer is only open to readers in the UK.

End of the month review. Some photos from my garden and thoughts for Ukraine

Early Crocus Tommasinianus and Galanthus nivalis in the front woodland garden

Ukraine is constantly in my thoughts. I will not say much, as I’m sure you have arrived here for gardens, flowers, peace and tranquility – much needed in current times. But rest assured, although I am small and insignificant I am doing all I can in the background to support the people of Ukraine in any way I can. It’s easy to think that we are powerless, but often if many people come together then their efforts can be great. Think of one small thing you could do today to make a difference. We are not helpless- and we are not without hope.

Meanwhile, here’s some photos of my garden today for anyone who needs the restorative power of plants. Here’s Galanthus Madeline at the foot of the willow and hazel trees.

Wild primroses poking through the leafmould path. The scent is honey-like and delicate. The very essence of spring.

Wild daffodils are just emerging too. This one is Narcissus pseudonarcissus. There are drifts of the Welsh wild flower, the Tenby daffodil, in honour of my Welsh grandmother. But the little lobularis daffodil is the first to open.

The winter aconites are just going over now. The are making a nice swathe of colour in the woodland corner at the end of the pergola.

Cyclamen Coum flowers are popping up all over the garden- not necessarily where I planted them. Apparently the seeds have a sticky substance much-loved by ants which then carry the seed far and wide. They must have carried them off into the back fields as there’s a thriving collection of plants on the other side of the fence.

Some of the cyclamen have come up with these bright silvery-leaves. These are worth growing for the foliage alone. Both white and purple flowers are emerging from the leaves.

There’s also Cyclamen persicum flowering in the greenhouse. These have been making a display since last October; really good value long-lasting plants. They are not hardy in my garden, coming from the Eastern Mediterranean region. But they thrive in a greenhouse or cool room, just watering them when they droop – and not before.

While we are in the greenhouse, I’ll show you the citrus trees which have produced the best ever crop of lemons and oranges here. We have had a relatively mild winter and the plants have been kept at 4C in the heated greenhouse. To be honest, the heater has hardly been on. A well insulated cedar-wood greenhouse keeps plants cosy. I’m just starting to water them again and top dressing with fresh compost. They are too big now to be repotted, but topdressing with new compost and adding liquid fertiliser in the watering can will perk them up and bring them into flower again.

And this is what I made with the orange zest; citrus shortbread. The recipe will be in Garden News Magazine next week, and I’ll copy and paste the article here for anyone who would like it. It’s part of my new ‘family favourites’ column for the magazine. Quick recipes anyone can make. There won’t be long lists of ingredients and fancy products you have to search high and low for. It’s mostly about simple ingredients and home grown produce, and all the recipes that have been passed down to me from my mother and my grandparents and friends.

Strawberry scones will feature in the coming weeks too, as I’m talking about bringing my strawberry plants, growing in containers, into the greenhouse to get an early crop. I grow my strawberries in 10” pots and windows boxes. They are easy to pick up and move under cover. Also easy to protect the fruit from birds and slugs as well.

Daphne and the other hens have just started laying again, so there will be plenty of eggs for cooking. The bantams are undercover in a new run, specially made to protect them from the bird flu epidemic. Usually they would be out foraging in the orchard by now, but until we have the all-clear they have to be kept in.

Walking from the hen run, out past the fruit trees and along the perimeter fence, there are more snowdrops. These are double and single types.

The doubles flower just a few weeks before the singles.

These have green tips. I believe they are a variety called Viridapice.

This one is called Walrus. It has elongated, green-marked outer petals.

A small patch of Galanthus Robin Hood.

It’s called Robin Hood because of the crossbow markings on the inner petals.

A small patch of Galanthus Jessica. I bought these because I have a niece called Jessica.

Have you all seen the news about the most expensive snowdrop ever? I think I would have been crying if I’d paid £1,850 for a single bulb of Golden Tears. Pretty as it is, it’s a staggering amount to pay. I saw the above photo on the Alpine Garden Society social media pages.

Here’s the view through the gap in the hedge. The field has been sown with winter wheat. I think the variety is Skyfall which is hardy and disease resistant and therefore requires less spraying.

And finally, just a few steps from my garden gate, here’s the view on the lane, looking across the back fields to ancient Bunny Woods on the horizon. Sometimes we walk across the footpaths to the woods. Today, I’m taking this photo in a welcome gap in the rain, but the clouds still look ominous, so I hurry home for a warming cup of tea. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my garden and surrounding fields. Take care everyone and keep safe and well. And let me know what spring flowers are emerging in your gardens today.

Sarah Raven’s Grow, Cook, Eat Diary – Book Review

From Sarahraven.com

ISBN: 9 781529816617

I’ve never kept a gardening diary before, but I’m enjoying making daily notes in my new Sarah Raven diary. The diary is sturdy enough to take outdoors; the paper is thick, good quality so can stand up to being taken into the greenhouse and potting shed. I’m making lists of seeds I want to sow, dahlias I want to pot up, and general maintenance jobs about the garden. I love making lists- and I love ticking things off the lists! There’s a sense of satisfaction in ticking them off, especially when the list seems never-ending.

There are some beautiful and inspiring photos relevant to each month in the diary. For January, there’s a winter container planting of a terracotta long tom pot with Sarah’s favourite hellebore ‘Maestro’ which is often seen in her flower arrangements.

For March, there’s Fritillaria ‘Early Sensation’ which has a pale, greeny- yellow flower, much more delicate and easy to site than the brash bright golden variety usually found. It’s growing here in a galvanised metal container next to a patch of rosemary.

September’s photo is bright and cheerful. Just what’s needed for a cold, windswept February day as I’m making plans for lots of summer colour. Here’s Zinnia ‘Giant Dahlia Mix’, Tagetes ‘Linnaeus’ and Thunbergia alata ‘African Sunset.’

There’s recipe suggestions for each month. I’ve made these spiced ginger and oat biscuits and can report they are absolutely delicious. The family demolished them in just one day. They are quick and easy to make, which is just as well as I’ve have had another request for some more. I made the vegan version by using dairy-free margarine.

I used the chickpeas for a red onion hummus dip, which is also fast to make. Just cook a sliced red onion in 1 tbsp olive oil, add a tin of chick peas and 150ml water. Simmer for 10 minutes with the lid off. Add 2 tbsp lemon juice, garlic salt and pepper. Few tbsp of fresh parsley and chives if you have any. Whizz in a food processor and serve with toast or on jacket potatoes. Another recipe suitable for vegans, if you have any in the family as we do, or unexpected visitors. Which we also often have. They sit around the kitchen table while I quickly make this dish.

Here’s my spiced oat biscuits. Delicious with a cup of tea or coffee.

I’m intrigued by this basil icecream recipe for summer. As Sarah says, it sounds odd, but I’m going to give it a try and report back.

I’m going to have a go at these dried allium and poppy seed head decorations as well. Such a beautiful and cheerful Christmas scene from the fireplace at Perch Hill.

Other features of the book I liked: The fold-out ‘when and how’ guide on seed sowing for cut flowers. The guide to sowing and planting edibles, wild flowers, fruit, potatoes, herbs and salads. A guide to sowing and planting ‘pollinator super’ plants to attract bees and butterflies. There’s a useful ruler for seed sowing spacing. And the metal ring binder design means the diary can easily be folded back on itself.

There are not many books I carry around with me all the time, but the Sarah Raven diary is robust enough to slip into my garden tool kit bag, and is proving a joy to dip into on a daily basis.

https://www.sarahraven.com/products/sarah-raven-diary-2021

Sarah Raven also sent me a wall calendar to try, and this too has beautiful photos for each month and plenty of space to write appointments and events. Both will be ordered for 2023 as I’m thoroughly enjoying using the calendar and diary.

Do any of you write a garden diary? My father in law used to keep a perpetual diary. Sadly he died last summer, but he gave me his diary with all the daily notes about sowing dates and varieties he preferred. I check each day to see if I am keeping up with his impeccable timetable. It’s a lovely way to remember him and a reminder of all the flowers he grew for his wife Joan, and the fruit and vegetables he grew for the family.

Latest news from the plot from Garden News magazine

To expand the photo to read, if using an i-pad or phone, place two fingers on the pic and spread thumb and finger. The picture will expand so you can read it easily.

Here’s the link for the recipe this week. It’s apple crumble cake, making use of the windfall apples.

https://bramblegarden.com/2017/10/22/paperwhite-narcissi-for-christmas-and-my-apple-cake-recipe/

Here’s the link for Fiona Cumberpatch art work and botanical tea towels:

https://fionacumberpatch.com/

Some more photos from the plot:

Monty Kitten keeping me company in the garden while I sweep up leaves.
It’s been a productive year, growing fruit and veg in the poly tunnel raised beds. I grew Pot Black aubergines in Dalefoot sheep wool and bracken compost. I created some grow bags by cutting holes in the top of the compost bags for two plants per bag. The compost has comfrey leaves, which adds potash-rich nutrients. Drainage holes were spiked through the bottom of the bags.
Book recommended this week. It’s a thought provoking read, with lots of ideas for making our gardens more insect-friendly places. As insects are part of the wider food chain, we are helping all wildlife by attracting them to our gardens.
The garden is surrounded by mature beech trees. They turn a lovely golden hue in autumn.
Stepping out of the top gate, this is the view of the lane in all its misty autumn colours.

The weather has turned really cold here. We’ve had high winds and hail. I’ll be sorting through my seed box and making plans for next year this weekend. And keeping warm. All my tender plants have been stored in the greenhouse and poly tunnel, safe from freezing temperature. What gardening tasks have you been doing recently?

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Accidents in the Garden

Winter is just around the corner and there’s a feeling of urgency to get on with gardening jobs, before the weather turns cold. I’m always rushing around. There’s tender plants to bring under cover, pots to plant and bulbs to sort out. There’s never enough time to do everything. However, gardening tasks can end in accidents causing painful injuries. Here’s a reminder to take extra care this autumn and winter when working in the garden.

TAMSINS STORY

Tamsin Westhorpe. A photo I took in 2018 at Chelsea Flower Show where Tamsin was one of the judges.

We were all shocked to hear news that Tamsin Westhorpe had suffered a fractured spine in a recent gardening accident. Tamsin is a writer, and editor and works as a gardener at her family’s farm, Stockton Bury Gardens, in Herefordshire. I wrote about Tamsin last year when she published her country diary book. Here’s a link: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/02/22/diary-of-a-modern-country-gardener/

Tamsin at her book launch at Hatchards, London.

I asked Tamsin to tell me what happened when she had her accident in the garden, and here’s what she said:


It was a sunny Saturday at the start of September. I had a rare day off from work, so I was determined to make a mark on my much-ignored home plot. My day job is to help my uncles garden their four-acre open garden, so my plot gets pushed to the back of the priority list.

What task were you doing when the accident happened?
I have a row of six aronia trees that I like to keep to a manageable height of about 9ft. My aim was to remove the very enthusiastic young growth and give them a neater shape. To reach the centre branches I needed a ladder. In my haste a grabbed a lightweight A frame ladder and headed down the garden armed with enthusiasm and secateurs. I was on a mission to get as much done in a day as possible.

Describe what happened next.
Standing on one of the top steps I simply leant forward to reach a central branch and the ladder went from under me. It happened so quickly, and I found myself flat on my back on the lawn in agony.

What were your first thoughts?
My first thoughts were for the garden. Who would lift my dahlias and plant the tulips? Being part of a small family business, I was concerned how the other members of the family would be impacted. Physical fitness is essential for my work.
My second thought was that I’d been a complete idiot and should’ve waited for someone to hold the ladder. To say I was cross with myself was an understatement.

How did you get help?
My garden is in a rural location and not looked over by any other houses. I shouted but no one came as my family were out. I know only too well that you shouldn’t try and move if you have an accident, but I was struggling to breath, so somehow struggled to the house to get my phone. How long this took and how I can’t recall.

What were your injuries?
My spine has a stable fracture and I cut the back of my leg quite badly. However, I have been incredibly lucky. I’m so thankful that my spinal cord wasn’t damaged, and I didn’t hit my head. As far as I’m concerned, I have had a very lucky escape.
When working from a ladder in future I’m going to ensure that the pots and tools are placed well out of the way and I always have a friend or family at the foot of the ladder.

How long will  your recovery take?
All being well I will make a full recovery in about 12 weeks. I should be able to plant my own tulips this year! For now, I’m not lifting anything and I’m focusing on doing all the right things to speed up my return to the garden. I’ve already seen the impact of trying to rush things so I’m not about to make the same mistake twice.

Anything happened like this before?
I’ve been gardening since the age of 16, spending time as a parks gardener, greenkeeper and interior landscaper. In all those years I have only succumbed to one nasty incident with a pair of secateurs (again caused by trying to rush a job) and a few splinters. So, all in all I’ve been lucky and don’t see gardening as a dangerous hobby – far from it in fact. Gardening has kept me physically fit for decades. I’m the only danger! By being impatient and trying to garden at speed I’ve caused this accident to happen and only have myself to blame.
Having said all that I think my steel toe capped boots have saved my toes on many occasions.

How do you feel now, mentally and physically?
I am feeling better by the day and although I can’t do anything for long, I’m seeing improvements in my physical heath. A gardening friend suggested I put comfrey oil on my back to help with the healing process. I have no idea if it is working but I love the idea of a plant being involved in my recovery.
Having not experienced an accident of this nature before I was surprised at how much shock has an impact on your mental wellbeing. It’s been difficult having to scratch out events in my diary, but I have the good fortune that I will recover. The messages from fellow gardeners have been a great help and I’ve been thrilled to hear from many who say they now won’t go up a ladder without an ‘assistant’. I’m glad that my accident might prevent others from having a similar experience.
This time has made me feel such concern for those who won’t recover from an accident or can’t tend their garden due to old age. I can only imagine how frustrating and devastating this must be. I’ve also experienced the healing power of nature. Thanks to a wonderfully warm September I have been able to recover under a blue sky outside. Watching the birds and insects flutter around me has been just the best medicine. It’s given me time to realise how important gardening is to me and my health.


What advice would you give other gardeners?
Invest in a proper gardening ladder for one. Secondly never use power tools and climb ladders when on your own in the garden. Thirdly keep your mobile phone in your pocket but put it on silent so your gardening time is undisturbed. But, the most important thing is to never rush gardening – sip it like a good glass of wine and savour every moment. It’s not a race.

Update: Tamsin has made a good recovery, and is now back at Stockton Bury making a start on light gardening duties.

Here’s some photos of Stockton Bury taken when I visited the garden this summer.


Clematis Prince of Wales
The stream and pond garden
Turks cap lily with rodgersias.

Have you any experiences to share involving injuries while gardening? Please share any advice and suggestions.

Please feel free to share this item on social media. Thank you for reading my blog.

The View From Federal Twist- Book review

By James Golden

Published by Filbert Press

UK publication day 28 October 2021 £40

ISBN: 9 781999 734572

The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment at the end of this review, and one name will be randomly selected on Sunday 31st October 6pm.

Books have a power to move. To tears, to joy, to despair. Sometimes they transport you to another place. James Golden takes you by the hand and leads you through the garden he’s created, and it’s one of the most beautiful, inspiring journeys you’ll ever take. In his new book, The View from Federal Twist, he describes what it’s like to create a garden from scratch in western New Jersey, USA. His garden is set in a clearing in the woods. He made a conscious decision not to improve the land. Instead he ‘listened to the site,’ placed large competitive plants into rough grass and watched and waited as sustainable plant communities emerged. The result is a magical place, a naturalistic garden -with a difference.

James describes the book as a retelling of the making of his ‘first serious garden.’ It’s a triumph of ecological planting and clear design aims. James is part philosopher, part experimental horticulturist. The result has such an emotional power- it’s breathtakingly beautiful. Evocative photographs capture the effects of light shining through the canopy of trees, grasses and shrubs. Just the scale of planting is mesmerising.

A view of garden taken from a drone. The stone circle is the largest structure in the garden. It’s made of a hard local mudstone called argillite ( ‘blue jingle’ in the local argot, because the stones ring when hit together) that is ubiquitous in this area. Here the circle is like a plant dam, preventing spillover of the prairie into one of the few open spaces in the garden. Like the rest of the garden, James says, it has no utility. It exists to add visual weight, atmosphere and to serve as a stopping place, perhaps to “sit, observe, or let your mind wander.”
James writes: “Further along the terrace, towards its sunny eastern end, this small rectangular reflecting pool makes an elegant contrast with the surrounding naturalistic plantings. The juxtaposition of the sharply defined pool, the repeated domes of miscanthus, and the flowing vegetation give this part of the garden a ‘designed’ look not typical of the garden as a whole.”
Views through the seasons
Planting the garden.
Clockwise from top: Hosta sieboldiana, Iris virginica ‘Contrabrand Girl’ Cephalanthus occidentalis, the canal pond, the bare garden in spring after cutting back, Euphorbia palustris, Dryopteris erythrosora, Maianthemum racemosum – about to flower.
The garden in winter.
A clearing in the woods. The Federal Twist road is not well-known. It’s hidden in the woods above the Delaware and is only four miles long. James says “I accepted a very ungarden-like place as my garden destiny.”

The book is dedicated to Philip.
Front cover

“I am Federal Twist,’’ says James. He realised this when he looked at photos of the garden from above. He put the images side by side with those taken from ground level. “When I put the two images side by side, my reaction was immediate- and astonishing. I felt icy fear. The drone image showed a flat piece of earth totally devoid of feeling, offering no comfort, no warmth, no humanity, no place for me. I felt as if I were seeing with the eyes of an alien being. In contrast, the ground-level photography held me firmly within the garden; it gave me a place to be, a protected place under trees; it made me feel a part of the landscape. I felt comforted, and a sense of belonging.”

Later, he writes “…my life and emotions are closely bound with this place I call my garden. I understand physics well enough to know that my physical body intersects with the garden, interacts with the garden, responds to the garden in some kind of mutual way. I ‘live’ the garden every day. I am Federal Twist.”

Thank you for reading my review. I believe some books come into your life at just the right moment. It’s almost as if they were ‘written’ for you. To give you joy, to give you inspiration; to give you hope. I haven’t been able to write for a while. Grief affects people in different ways. I’ve sat with grieving friends and relatives and they’ve wanted to talk non-stop for hours. Others write sonnets, pen poems, write books. Grief suddenly and unexpectedly silenced me. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to write, I am someone who tries to make things better for everyone. Perhaps I just didn’t want to make anyone else feel sad. There’s no easy path back from grief, it takes time. But reading this book has helped. It’s put into words how I feel about my own garden- how my little plot has kept me afloat these past few months. I, too, feel I ‘live’ my garden. It responds to me; it’s like enfolding arms around me, lifting me up and helping to turn my face to the sun again.

Home. Sunshine lighting up the field maples. There’s tiny hazel catkins forming in the native hedgerow. They will sit there and wait till spring. Rosehips and sloe berries for the birds. Viburnum and hawthorn berries shine, sealing wax red. Life goes on.

This month’s diary for Garden News Magazine

Enjoy this month’s column from the Garden News Magazine. I love sharing all my ups and downs, growing cut flowers and vegetables. And if I can get a mention for Monty kitten and the hens, then that’s a bonus.

Here’s some additional photos to go with the write up.

My beautiful new rose, It’s a Wonderful Life. Rose of the year for 2022. Available to buy from October. It’s proving to be a good strong, disease resistant rose. Flowers stand up to the rain and it’s a repeat flowering rose. Highly recommended.
Pearl Drift. Another long-flowering disease resistant rose. No sprays are needed to keep it healthy.
Clematis Prince of Wales growing over a mature olearia shrub at Stockton Bury Gardens, Herefordshire, where the Rose of the Year was launched.
The view from the cafe at Stockton Bury Gardens. We enjoyed a lovely lunch outdoors, watching the sheep grazing in the orchards. Highly recommended for a day trip out.
I mentioned starting off new house plants from cuttings grown in vases of water. I was delighted to see new roots on my cuttings. I’ve potted the plants up and they are thriving. I haven’t tried this technique before for house plants and I’m pleased it’s worked out well. My daughter gave me the cuttings and it’s a great money-saving idea.
And finally, here’s a photo of Monty kitten, inspecting my flowers. He’s offering free purrs with every bunch of flowers sold. He’s much loved by everyone visiting Bramble Garden.

Thanks for reading, and have a great gardening week!

Monty -enjoying the shade along the woodland walk in the garden.

Flowers for the care home, at last….

Cosmos and dahlias from my plot

It’s almost two years since we’ve been allowed to take flowers into care homes. Any flowers, shop-bought or home-grown, were deemed a covid risk and banned. But this weekend the rules changed, and suddenly flowers are allowed again. I am beyond excited and relieved as flowers from my garden have a special meaning for my mother-in-law Joan.

Dahlia Nuit d’Ete grows to 1.2m with deep red semi-cactus flowers.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy as I was this weekend wandering around my plot choosing flowers for Joan. It’s been such a sad time not being able to visit, or send flowers. I started growing cut flowers when Joan began showing signs of vascular dementia. Flowers have always been our special connection. We loved arranging them together. I realised she would one day forget who I was, but hoped the flowers would always remind her of me. And for many years it worked. Even when she forgot my name I was ‘someone who brought flowers.’ While she was still in her own home, I took armfuls of flowers- one of everything in flower- and foliage as well, to give a flavour of what was growing in my garden. I didn’t make them into arrangements, they were just loosely tied with string. Then Joan would spend the day creating her own posies, selecting vases and deciding where to place them- one in the front window to cheer up passers-by, one on the hall table to welcome carers who came twice a day, a few vases for the fireplace. We sat and surveyed her work, ate home-made cake, sipped tea and marvelled at the beauty of flowers, noting all the different colours and shapes. I included lavender, mint and rosemary for scent and the memories they evoked. Joan remembered a lavender bed at her childhood home and the Sunday meals with mint sauce and rosemary. It’s strange how childhood memories are the last to fade. We talked for hours about the flowers, fruit and vegetables her father grew. They had bee hives at the bottom of the garden, and the taste of honey took her right back to those happy times. There have been many heartbreaking moments, but one I particularly remember is Joan thinking her father was just upstairs. I had the choice of going along with it, or telling Joan her father had died many years ago. Neither was an easy choice, and whatever I said, five minutes later, we’d have to go through the same conversation. Flowers were a welcome distraction and something we could both agree on. Eventually, Joan lost the ability to arrange her own flowers. I did them for her and raged at the disease for stealing something that Joan so much enjoyed. Dementia, bit by bit, destroys all happiness as the processes for even the smallest task are completely forgotten. And people too, are forgotten, even those who’ve been very close and much loved. It’s so sad to watch someone desperately fighting to hold on to names and relationships. Joan would say, “I know you are someone dear to me, but tell me who you are and who am I to you.” When Joan moved to the care home, I continued the tradition with the flowers. But the pandemic meant the home was locked down for almost all of last year. Leicester remained in lockdown when other cities were released from restrictions. There were 16 deaths at Joan’s care home. Just a few weeks ago we were all set to visit when the home was locked down again due to another covid outbreak. This weekend the all clear was given and we were allowed in, and here’s some of the flowers I took with me.

Cosmos Psyche White. Ruffled, semi-double flowers. Grows to 1.2m and flowers from June to October.

I’m so pleased to be able to join in with Cathy and ‘In a Vase on Monday’ meme again as you’ve all followed my journey from the beginning. It’s been a comfort to write about my ups and downs here on the blog. There’s been laughter at times- there have been quite a few predicaments as you can imagine- and many challenges. I can’t pretend there haven’t been many tears too, and rage and sadness. But now there’s a kind of acceptance and peace. Joan doesn’t have the faintest idea who I am, but she does think I’m a ‘very nice lady’ come to visit her, and I can live with that. And the flowers still give us something cheerful to talk about.

A scented-leaf pelargonium I’ve kept going from a cutting my father-in-law gave me.

Thank you for reading my blog. I hope my story helps if you are going through a similar situation. At any rate, keep trying, because any small kindness will always be appreciated. Even if it’s just a few flowers.

I chose bright red dahlias as Joan’s husband used to grow these for flower shows and at one time almost all the back garden was given over to straight rows of dahlias and chrysanthemums.

I took jam jars filled with sweet peas. Joan recognised these immediately as they had once been grown by her father, and she remembers picking them and arranging them in vases for chapel. It’s so sad that dementia is almost like a time travelling disease. It transports Joan back to when she was a young girl, but completely erases the past 80 years and with it her husband, three children, grandchildren and two new great grandchildren. She’s left walking amongst the ghosts of long dead relatives- her mother and father, cousins and school friends. It’s a tragedy for her, and all of us trying, and loosing a battle to keep her in the present.

Rudbeckias, calendula and green seed heads from Ammi majus

Joan loves sunflowers, but they aren’t quite ready in my garden yet. These rudbeckias grown from a mixed packet of seed look just as bright and cheerful.

These calendulas are seedlings of C. Snow Princess, a lovely pale butter -yellow flower. They bloom from May to October if deadheaded regularly. Very good for attracting bees and butterflies.

Flowering marjoram, rosemary and mint add a lovely fragrance. As soon as you lightly touch the posies, the herbs release their scent, and unlock all the memories associated with them.

White snapdragon, Antirrhinum Royal Bride. Joan knew to press the sides of the flowers together. A favourite childhood game was to make the flowers open like a mouth. We used to call them bunny flowers, she said.

A photo of Joan on her wedding day carrying a bouquet of carnations and asparagus fern. The photo is in a metal Players cigarette box frame my father-in-law made to protect the picture while he carried it around during National Service in Korea in the 1950s. He didn’t smoke, I hasten to add, but he was good at recycling and ‘making-do’ all through his life.

There’s nothing nicer than being able to give someone a gift of flowers you’ve grown yourself. Are any of you growing flowers for cutting this year? I feel as if I haven’t any other weapons in my battle to defeat dementia. Flowers are holding us together, that little bit longer. Let’s hope they continue to work a kind of magic. I’m hopeful they will. I’ll keep you updated.

Notes and links:

For more information and help with dementia: https://www.dementiauk.org/

Calendula: Mr Fothergill’s https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Calendula-Seed/Calendula-Snow-Princess-Seeds.html#.YUMiaxB4WfA

Cosmos: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Cosmos-Seed/Cosmos-Psyche-White-Seeds.html#.YUMi9hB4WfA

Rudbeckias: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Rudbeckia-Seed/Rudbeckia-Rustic-Dwarfs-Mixed.html#.YUMlPhB4WfA

Rudbeckias: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Rudbeckia-Seed/Rudbeckia-Gloriosa-Daisies.html#.YUMlmRB4WfA

Sweet peas: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Tall_3/Sweet-Pea-Horizon-Mixed-Seeds.html#.YUMmLRB4WfA

Heritage sweet peas: https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/shop/easton-walled-gardens-sweet-pea-mix/

Ammi: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/A-Z-Flower-Seeds/Ammi-majus_2.html#.YUMmeRB4WfA

Herbs from https://www.pepperpotherbplants.co.uk/

Dahlias from https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/product-category/summer-bulbs/dahlias

Peat free compost I use is from https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/

Plant mulch and feed I use from https://www.plantgrow.co.uk/

You can also find me @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.

Vivara Butterfly House Review and Giveaway. #BigButterflyCount #ButterflyConservation

*Gifted item.

Are you taking part in the Big Butterfly Count this year? I’m just about to settle down with a cup of tea and count the butterflies in my garden.

Wildlife specialists, Vivara, are sponsoring the count this year and sent me this butterfly house to promote the citizen science project.

I’ve placed the house in a sunny sheltered spot in the cut flower and vegetable garden. I’ve put some twigs inside the house and hopefully butterflies will use it to shelter from bad weather. If I’m lucky, some might use it to overwinter in my garden. Last year we had peacock butterflies hibernating in the hen house and the potting shed. Adults overwinter in dark places such as sheds, bird boxes and holes in trees, and left undisturbed, they will be dormant until spring. As soon as the weather starts to warm up, they emerge and look for nectar-rich plants to feed on.

The butterfly house has a hook on the back and a screw and rawl plug for hanging it up.

I always look for the FSC mark on any wooden product which shows it’s been made from materials sourced from well managed forests. The butterfly house is a sturdy product which should last for years.

Vivara have one butterfly house to give away. Leave a comment at the end of this piece and a winner will be randomly selected.

A Comma butterfly on an echinacea plant in my garden.

Butterflies need all the help they can get. Numbers are falling drastically. The Butterfly Conservation charity which runs the Big Butterfly Count says last year a record 145,000 counts were submitted, but worryingly 2020 saw the lowest average numbers of butterflies logged since the event began 12 years ago.

Cold, wet spring weather is thought to be a factor. Here in Leicestershire we had a cold, dry April, followed by the wettest May for 50 years. It rained every day, and right at the end May, we had a week of frost with temperatures dipping to -4C. This week we’ve had flash floods with 15mm of rain in one day, and hail stones the size of marbles.

Taking part in the Big Butterfly Count helps scientists assess the health of our environment, and helps us understand how the climate is affecting butterflies.

To take part, spend 15 minutes counting the maximum number of each species you can see at a single time. You can do this in a garden, school grounds, or public park. Go on to the Butterfly Conservation website and record your findings, or download the i- record App. There’s a downloadable wall chart showing all the different butterflies which helps identify them.

Here’s some butterflies I spotted in my garden:

A Holly Blue butterfly on calendula
Cabbage White butterfly on echeveria flowers in the greenhouse
Red Admiral on verbena bonariensis
Tortoiseshell on the salad crop

Five Ways You Can Help Butterflies:

1. Join Butterfly Conservation. It’s half price until 8th August. There’s magazines and leaflets on gardening for butterflies. Also, invitations to local guided walks, and conservation volunteering days.

2. Run an event on behalf of Butterfly Conservation. Every little helps. You could host a coffee morning, a plant sale, a sponsored activity.

3. Volunteer for Butterfly Conservation. There’s office and outdoor work available.

4. Grow something for butterflies. They need nectar-rich plants for food, but also trees, shrubs and plants for caterpillars.

5. Take part in the Big Butterfly Count which runs until August 8th. It’s the biggest survey of butterflies in the world and provides a valuable insight into the health of our UK butterfly species.

Plants I grow to attract butterflies:

Buddleja is the one everyone knows about. Literally called the ‘butterfly bush.’ There’s some new miniature varieties for growing in small spaces and in containers. Look out for the Buzz series in lavender, magenta and white.

Lavender. Hidcote is my favourite as it is compact and doesn’t sprawl. Of all the lavenders, this one seems to cope with wet winters better than most. It needs well-drained soil and a sunny site.

Perennial wallflower- Bowles Mauve. Rarely out of flower all spring and summer. It’s a good idea to have a variety of plants from early spring through to autumn so there’s always something in flower for butterflies.

Marjoram. I discovered this when I let some marjoram or oregano plants escape from a pot. They grew to 60cm and scrambled through the bottom of a sunny hedge, providing pink/purple flowers all summer.

I also grow a selection of plants for caterpillars. Fruit trees, alder buckthorn, holly, blackthorn, oak, broom, lady’s smock or Cardamine pratensis, nettles, bird’s foot trefoil, all important caterpillar food.

Thank you for reading my blog. And thank you for all your kind comments on here and via other social media, letting me know how much my posts have cheered you up during the past two very difficult years. It’s much appreciated. Good luck in the prize draw! I’ll announce a winner on Sunday evening, 1st August, 2021.

Links: https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies

Vivara: https://www.vivara.co.uk/wildlife/bees-insects

This Week’s Garden News Magazine Column -July 10 2021

This week’s ramblings from the plot. If you click on the photo you should be able to zoom in to read the column. I’ve been writing about my garden for a year and a half. I love sharing the ups and downs of growing fruit, veg and cut flowers. Not everything goes according to plan. But it’s good to share the disasters as well as successes, so everyone can learn from it.

So pleased to see Monty kitten gets a mention. We always send eight photos each time and never know which ones will be used. It depends on the layout. As you can see, Monty is turning into the best ever gardening cat. He is always by my side, whatever job I’m doing in the garden. He takes an interest in everything and likes to get involved. To be honest, I’m sure he thinks he’s a dog and not a cat, as he’s so loyal and often likes to come for a walk with us along the back field footpaths. If we get too far from home, I pick him up and carry him back, as I’d hate him to suddenly dart into a hedge and be lost. All our previous cats have been rather aloof and independent. Monty is one of a kind.

I’m getting on well with the paper mulch. It’s saving so much time. I can’t understand how I never heard of this product before, but now I know, I’ll be using it every summer under my dahlias, courgettes, cosmos and pumpkins. It saves so much hoeing and back-breaking hands and knees weeding.

I wrote about the mulch here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/06/10/products-on-trial-weed-control-paper-mulch/

I’ve taken lots of cuttings of my new salvia collection. They seem to flower virtually non-stop from june to first frosts. Such beautiful colours and so easy to grow. The cuttings will ensure they survive over the winter, as they are not always hardy in my cold wet clay. I wrote about new salvia varieties here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/06/18/new-plants-on-trial-salvias-from-middleton-nurseries/

And finally, I loved taking part in the social media event, GardenDayUK where we all made a flower crown, and spent some time reading, resting, having a tea party, enjoying being in our gardens, and sharing our gardens with the hashtag #GardenDayUK. This was the first time I’d joined in, and I enjoyed being a part of the celebrations.

Next time, I’m writing about butterflies, the new Rose of the Year ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ a visit to Stockton Bury Gardens in Herefordshire, and my success with my sweet pea pavement flower sales for charity. I hope you are having a great gardening week. Thank you, as ever, for taking the time to read my blog. It’s much appreciated.

My Garden Diary -June 2021

Life seems to have been incredibly busy these past few months. Two family members have been desperately ill. I’ve sat by their beds and held their hands. Willed them to stay with us. One emerged from a deep deep coma, and returned to us. The other one passed away, peacefully in his sleep. And so, I sit in the garden now and think of them. Hoping the one returned to us as fragile as a butterfly, will spread his wings and fly, and mourning for the one who did not, although it was his time to go and we must celebrate a life well lived, well loved, happy and fruitful. The garden, as ever, becomes a place of solace. I’ve ground to a halt after months of literally running from one place to the next, almost in a permanent panic. Back here, in the shade of the trees, there’s peace and calm. Whilst I’ve been busy, the nesting birds have raised their young, and many have fledged. A highlight of a particularly difficult and stormy day was suddenly finding six long-tailed tits, newly emerged from the nest- all gathered along a hazel branch, at eye level, fluffing up feathers, preening, eager darting eyes. Almost like pom poms on a string. What a day to fledge! We had 40 mile per hour winds and torrential rain. With the storm coming from the south east, the westerly edge of our wood was weirdly still and silent, and this is where our little flock gathered. The parents desperately calling to them, ‘tsuk, tsuk, tsuk’ but the chicks totally unafraid, studied me as much as I studied them. In all the excitement of leaving the nest, I was just one of the new wonders for them to discover. I’ve stored up this moment as a happy memory during a difficult time. It’s amazing the little things that give you hope in times of need. You never know when or where these moments will come from, do you. And often it’s the simplest things that provide a balm.

Enjoy this week’s views of the garden and ramble along the back field footpath where there’s masses of white cow parsley and the last of the hawthorn blossom now festooned with ribbons of fragrant dog roses. Thank you for reading my blog.

Cow parsley and wild three cornered leek, where snowdrops bloomed in winter.

Viburnum plicatum at the edge of the horseshoe pond. Layers of flat white flowers, covered in bees.

White Roses. Pearl Drift requires minimal pruning and no chemicals. It is resistant to blackspot due to it’s LeGrice breeding. Grows to 4ft and is reliably repeat-flowering. Highly recommended.

Semi-double flowers allow bees to access the pollen. Sweetly scented.

Dianthus Mrs Sinkins. Another highly-scented flower in the June garden. Repeat flowers if cut back and dead-headed. Grows in the overspill gravel alongside the drive.

White campion – Silene latifolia alba- arrived by itself and grows amongst the cow parsley. Much less rampant than the pink variety.

Wild dog roses, great big swathes, overhang from the top of the high hawthorn hedges. There will be plenty of bright red rosehips.

Along the holloway walk. The pathway is edged with snowdrops in winter, and white starry stitchwort in summer. I’m adding white foxgloves for next year.

I’ve left gaps in the trees to look out from the pathway, towards the back fields, this year planted with spring wheat. I’m looking forward to having a golden backdrop for the garden. Wheat and barley are my favourites.

Step out of the top five bar gate, and on to the lane. The cow parsley has never looked as lovely. Or maybe, I just haven’t had time to stand and survey the scene before.

Looking across the fields towards Bunny Wood. There’s an ancient footpath to the woods.

A well-trodden path, very popular with hikers and dog walkers. We sometimes see deer. Usually there’s hares – more this year than usual. At dusk we watch the barn owls quarter the fields. At the moment they are out in the day as well as at night, which means they are probably feeding young. Tawny owls also call out across the fields at night.

A hawthorn ‘archway.’ A favourite viewing point.

Plenty of cow parsley. As pretty as any florists’ flower.

Thank you for reading my blog. Let me know what gardening jobs you are doing at the moment. I’m catching up on planting and weeding. Everything is very late this year, but I expect things will catch up in time. Have a peaceful happy week.

Products On Trial – Weed Control Paper Mulch

I’m trying out a sample roll of paper mulch in an attempt to cut down on weeding in the flower and vegetable garden. I haven’t paid for this product, but in common with other bloggers, the agreement is to unconditionally try it out and give an honest opinion.

Monty kitten was keen to help. To be honest, he gave more help than was strictly necessary, getting in and under the paper roll. He’s such good company in the garden, always by my side, climbing in and out of my wheelbarrow and tool bag. But paper’s a new attraction for him!

Instructions say place a heavy stone on each corner as you start to unroll the paper, and toss soil along both edges to prevent wind from blowing it away. Monty jumped all over it, which kept it in place nicely until I’d sorted out stones and compost.

I used a Hori-Hori to cut the paper to length, then set out the plants. I’m trying the mulch for dahlias and cosmos in the cut flower beds , and for courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, and strawberries in the veg beds. It would be good for garlic and chard too.

These are the cuttings I’ve been taking since February from dahlias overwintered in the potting shed. They are exact clones of the parent plants, so I now have about 100 new plants for free. All my favourite varieties.

I used my Hori-Hori knife to cut a cross in the paper and then dug out planting holes for the dahlias. A new sharp-pointed trowel made the task quick and easy.

The paper is thick enough to block out light, and therefore suppress weeds, but there are microscopic holes to let air and water permeate. Plants are so far growing well. I’m having to do much less watering than usual.

This product is supplied by Mulch Organic, a family business which offers environmentally-friendly alternatives to black plastic for mulching. They say the products are natural, made from renewable sources and eliminate the need for chemical herbicides. The paper mulch is 100 percent organic and biodegradable. It should last a whole growing season, and at the end of the year, can simply be tilled into the soil to decompose naturally.

There’s also a crepe version, with expansion ribs to allow for stretch for use over mounded beds. These also work well with drip irrigation systems, and can be used in poly tunnels.

As well as the paper rolls, there’s a mulch film made from cornstarch.

Here’s one last photo of Monty. We were out in the garden until 10pm as the temperatures were too hot in the day. I’m hoping the mulch will save time – giving me more time to spend sitting in the garden reading, with Monty on my knee. That’s the plan anyway. I’ll let you know if it works out!

Here’s some of the dahlias I’m growing again this year. This one is Nuit d’Ete.

Dahlia David Howard. A lovely deep orange flower. Cut flowers last 10 days in a vase.

Eveline is a lovely white decorative dahlia with a delicate blush pink centre and tips to the petals.

Thank you for reading the blog. Have you tried any products to combat weeds? Let me know how you are getting on with your gardening projects.

Here’s the links for more information: https://mulchorganic.co.uk/

I wrote about the Hori-Hori here https://bramblegarden.com/2020/07/10/niwaki-tools-review-and-some-garden-snips-to-give-away-gardening/

The trowel I’m using is this one: https://marshallsgarden.com/products/kent-and-stowe-capability-trowel-10907234?variant=32599100424243&currency=GBP&ds_rl=1278790&ds_rl=1284267&ds_rl=1278790&ds_rl=1284267&gclid=Cj0KCQjw8IaGBhCHARIsAGIRRYoqnS-u91aeS1AJK273Nb2YXeLUfNBNiKVEBso0HNaTi-PeyK5Fiq4aAp6zEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

Views from my garden 29 May 2021

It’s a while since I’ve joined in with the Six on Saturday meme. Caring for family members has had to come first. However, here’s a few photos from my garden diary today. Have a great bank holiday weekend. The sun has decided to shine at last, and there’s no rain, so we can all start to get on in the garden.

The last of the tulips. My favourite white tulip, Mount Tacoma.

Double tulips seem to last longer than singles. Petals keep opening out until the flowers are almost flat. Some tulips are better at coming back into flower each year and this one is reliable here, planted in a sunny border, baked dry in the summer. This is the secret of keeping tulip bulbs going. Plant them in maximum sun where the soil will dry out to give them a dormant period. You can also plant them at the base of deciduous trees, which will also give them a dry period, as trees take all the moisture in summer. Tulips will flower the following year before the trees come into leaf. Tulips planted in rich soil are pulled up, stored dry over summer, and replanted in November. I’ve also tried planting them in plastic pond containers, which are simply lifted out of the ground and stored at the back of the shed for the summer. The holes left in the ground are then filled with tender salvias which have been stored in the poly tunnel over winter.

Double – late flowering tulip Carnival de Nice is sometimes mistaken for a peony. Red and white striped petals slowly unfold until the flowers are flat. Lasts 10 days in a vase as a cut flower.

Here’s some more tulips still in flower today. Cold temperatures and rain virtually every day in May has suited tulips. They have provided a much-needed cheerful display all through spring.

We think this is Pink Diamond. It came in a cut flower collection from Gee Tee Bulbs. Extremely long-lasting flowers. Strong and resilient.
Flamboyant Parrot tulip, Texas Flame. Looks lovely amongst the blue love-in-a-mist flower buds just opening. These are enormous flowers when fully open, almost the size of my hand.
There are still some parrot tulips in bud.
The darkest plum coloured tulip is Queen of the Night. Some varieties offered under this name can be almost black. But they have a habit of ‘melting’ in wet conditions. And they don’t always come back the next year. I like this velvety deep red strain from Taylors Bulbs. Flowers are long lasting and cope with the rain. They have reliably returned for four years now, and seem to be increasing in number too.

The last tulip to flower here is Bleu Aimable. This single late tulip has lavender, mauve and blue shades. Flower colour improves with age. A great way to end the tulip season with a flourish.

Thank you for reading my blog. Are you heading out into the garden this weekend to catch up on jobs? The weeds have got away from me here, as it’s been so wet. But with lots of tea and cake and a determined list of tasks, I’m hoping to get on top of them. Have a great weekend!

Garden Day UK 2021

My flower crown for Garden Day UK, made by Bloom.co.uk

It’s time to celebrate Garden Day UK again. Garden Day, on May 9th, is a chance to down tools and just enjoy what you’ve achieved on your plot. It’s one day when you don’t have to do anything really. Just sit in the garden, allow yourself a moment to pause and reflect.

One of the lovely features of Garden Day is the wearing of a flower crown. Take photos of your crown, and upload them to social media. Tag @GardenDayUK to share photos of your creation.

I’ve been sent this beautiful crown to wear tomorrow. It’s made from miniature cream roses and pink and blue statice. There’s some gorgeously-scented herbs, rosemary and thyme, and some grey foliage as a background foil for all the flowers.

Flower crowns are really easy to make. Take a length of florists’ wire, wrap it around your head to check the length. Add about 8” so you’ll be able to twist the ends together. Add a circle of olive foliage, or lengths of rosemary as a background. Make little bunches of flowers, any you fancy, from your own garden or from the florists. Lay each bunch along the wire and bind in with thin florists’ wire, paper-covered wire, or string. When you have covered the circle, check the crown fits, and twist the bare lengths of wire together to form the crown.

I’m looking forward to sharing my day with my Mum. Whatever the weather, we will be either sitting in the orchard, or if it’s raining, in the greenhouse.

How will you be spending Garden Day tomorrow? Do share photos of your garden on social media. It’s a good way to connect with other keen gardeners and to share ideas and gain inspiration on growing plants.

Here’s some photos of my garden today:

There’s still some Pheasant’s Eye narcissus under the cherry trees.
There’s white bluebells under the beech trees. These are albino flowers, lacking the pigment that makes the traditional flowers a rich purple/blue. They have creamy-coloured pollen and a delicious scent.
Narcissus Geranium in the cut flower patch. Lovely white flowers with a deep yellow centre. The scent is glorious. Something to look forward to each spring. Reliably comes back each year. Lasts at least a week in a vase.
Creamy white quince flowers. Chaenomeles Yukigoten. A sprawling shrub which is best trained along a sheltered wall. Flowers are sadly not frost-hardy and have to be protected with sheets of fleece. Good for pollinators. Worth the effort of protecting the blooms.
Lady’s smock, or Cardamine pratensis. In flower in the boggy area around the horseshoe pond. This year we have seen more orange tip butterflies than ever before. Lady’s smock is a food plant for the caterpillars. Also known as milk maids, moon flower and cuckoo flower. Sadly, there are no cuckoos again this year. The last time we heard them was five years ago.
Cowslips have taken over from daffodils, flowering in the leafmould under the field maple trees in the wild garden.
For a few glorious days, emerging field maple leaves glow a bright emerald green. It’s a sight to gladden the heart.

Finally, we will be accompanied by Daphne ( speckled hen) Daisy and Dot, and Merlin the cockerel, as they search for slugs in the cut flower patch. If we are very lucky, there will be eggs for tea!

Happy Garden Day everybody!

Thanks, as ever, for reading my blog. Please leave comments in the box below the hashtags, right at the bottom of this post. Or click on ‘comments’ under the headline and the box will drop down.

Prize draw winner: ‘herb/a cook’s companion’ by Mark Diacono

Thank you everyone for reading my review of Mark Diacono’s latest book and for taking part in the prize draw.

The winner is Suzanne! Names were placed in a hat and the winning name was selected randomly.

There are more book give-aways to follow and some gardening tools and equipment too. Thanks again for reading and leaving comments.

My book review was posted here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/04/30/herb-a-cooks-companion-book-review/

Some photos from the book: Herbs to grow. Fenugreek
Bread and butter pudding- with a herb twist to the recipe
Ice cream

Herb/ a cook’s companion. Book Review

By Mark Diacono

Published by Quadrille, an imprint of Hardie Grant Publishing

RRP £26 Published spring 2021. Hardback. 272 pages

ISBN 978 1 78713 6359

Reading corner in the orchard, currently under cherry and pear blossom

At about five or six, I was given the task of ‘collecting the mint.’ My grandmother, who was cooking lunch, had a huge patch of mint in her farm garden. Basket in hand, I carefully plucked the sprigs of mint and laid them neatly in rows, tips all the same way. No higgledy piggledy stems for me. Even at that young age, I took things seriously. Given a task, I wanted to do it right. I smile now, looking back at what a serious little girl I was. The first grandchild, surrounded by adults, there were no siblings or cousins for five years. I listened intently to all the adults talking and took in every word. Through their conversations, I formed a view of the world. Many years later I can still hear their voices quietly reporting the day’s events, whispering a neighbour’s misfortune, a sadness, a death. Murmuring sorrow for some, and joy for another- a wedding, a birth, some good fortune achieved. Conversations at the kitchen table brought the world into the home. I listened and learned, but cocooned in the routine of work, gardening, farming, cooking and eating, nothing appeared to change for us. It seemed as if everything happened to other people, but my world stayed the same, stable and safe.

The scent of fresh-picked mint still has the power to transport me back to happy childhood days. My mint was sprinkled over home grown new potatoes, tiny and white, as shiny as pebbles, with creamy home-churned butter and a sprinkle of grainy salt. Something so simple, delicious and ultimately, memorable.

This last 12 months, many of us have found comfort in baking. Focussing on the past, perhaps I’ve attempted to bring back the security and safety I felt as a child. I’ve found myself cooking hearty soups, casseroles, and vegetable pies. The spicy, buttery Welsh cakes my Welsh grandmother cooked on a griddle. Rice puddings, fruit crumbles and sponge cakes. Separated from family and friends, these old favourite recipes have been a comforting presence. Sights, sounds and scents of cooking, recalled as if they were only yesterday.

However, we have now emerged from lockdown, and I’m looking for a new way forward. I’m keen to try new recipes and new ideas. I’m eager to welcome family and friends back into my home and garden and I’m looking forward to making new memories for them- and for me. While not forgetting all the echoes from the past.

Mark Diacono’s new book ‘Herb, a cook’s companion’ is a good starting place. Recipes such as Lemon Thyme and Leek Tart have a rich butter and egg pastry base with a leek and cream filling. Lemon thyme leaves and nutmeg add a delicious twist to a familiar recipe.

Here’s my first attempt. I must admit, it’s not perfect. My pastry needed to be folded over more firmly, as the lovely egg filling escaped over the side. My second attempt was better and everything held firm. I’ve never thought of adding herbs to the pasty base before, and it was a triumph. The lovely buttery lemon-thyme pastry melts in the mouth. A perfect complement to the leek and creme fraiche filling. Again, adding nutmeg and bay leaves lifts this recipe out of the ordinary. It looks beautiful too. Presentation is something I’m trying to improve on. This looks as good as it tastes and received thumbs up from the family.

Greek Herb Pie.

Mark says: “This Greek summer favourite, aka Spanakopita, is so worth making a delicious regular. Heavy with spinach, salty feta and crisp laminations of filo, it’s as good cold as hot, early in the day as late. This version nudges the spinach (which can be a bit of a grump at times) towards the cheerful with the brightness of dill and mint in generous quantities, and parsley anchoring the leeks to the cheese. A delight.”

Herb Soda Bread

A buttermilk, oat and wholemeal flour bread, with a small bunch of chives or sweet cicely, or either of the savories, finely chopped.

Lemon Lavender Meringues

A twist on the usual meringue recipe. Between 5 and 8 lavender heads are whizzed with caster sugar in a spice grinder and added to whisked egg whites and lemon zest.

Fig Leaf and Lemon Verbena Rice Pudding.

Even my family favourite rice pudding is given a new lease of life with the addition of fig-leaf infused milk and lemon verbena leaves. Such a lovely change from the usual.

The book covers how to grow and harvest herbs and how to preserve them in sugar, vinegar, oil and salt, and how to dry and freeze them.

There’s comprehensive coverage of choosing what to grow, how to grow herbs from seed, taking cuttings, propagation and planting out. There’s full plant descriptions of many popular herbs such as anise hyssop, Korean mint, basil, bay, chervil, chives and parsley for example. Then there’s suggestions for more unusual plants such as shiso or perilla – which I’ve always grown as a purple ornamental bedding plant. Seems it can be added to salads and used with recipes containing aubergines, grilled or barbecue prawns, and with eggs and avocado. I shall experiment!

Following the growing section, there’s recipes featuring soups and side dishes, main meals, puddings, biscuits and drinks. There’s something surely to please everyone – especially people like me, looking for a special dish to make for friends and family, as we start to reconnect.

The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment in the box below to be included in the prize draw. A winner will be randomly selected. International entries are welcome.

Please look back on Wednesday 5th May to check if you have won a copy. I’ll announce it on the blog. (Please do not give out your address or any other details to anyone. Be aware of scams.)

Have you found cooking a source of comfort over the lockdown times? Are you, like me, looking to try something new this year, as we start to feel more positive and move forward. Get in touch and let me know your thoughts. And thank you, as ever, for reading my blog. It’s always appreciated.

* comments box is right at the bottom of the blog, past all the hashtags. Or click on ‘comments’ under the headline.

Quick link for Garden News Magazine Readers – Peach Crumble Cake- and spring flowers 10 April 2021

Here’s a quick link to the recipe mentioned in this week’s Garden News Magazine. Let me know if you make my peach crumble cake. The recipe is great with tinned or fresh peaches, apples, plums, cherries, rhubarb and blueberries- anything you have to hand. Thanks for reading my garden diary column and for all your lovely kind comments and encouragement. It’s always appreciated.

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

Some more photos from my April garden diary. Enjoy the spring flowers- and new additions to the garden, Merlin the cockerel, and Daphne, Daisy and Dot bantam hens.

Here they are, enjoying a dust bath. They soon found a cosy corner in the garden where I’d piled some old compost. Perfect for their favourite daily activity. I love the contented little sounds they make as they swoosh compost into the air in all directions. Hens are certainly messy creatures.

Here’s Merlin, searching for slugs, snails and grubs in the veg plot. I’m hoping they will help me with my organic gardening, no chemicals- approach.

I’m not forgetting Monty kitten, looking quite windswept as he sits on his favourite look-out post on top of the boat cover.

The greenhouse – with barely and inch to spare. I can just about still get in there.

The poly tunnel swathed in fleece as we hit -3.5C two nights in a row. It’s currently 7C at lunchtime with a freezing icy wind and sleet. The old peach trees are flowering despite the cold. I’ll have to pollinate them with a paintbrush. There’s no bees about in these cold temperatures.

Despite the cold, daffodils are looking lovely. So cheerful.

My favourite narcissus Snow Baby looking lovely in spring pots planted three years ago and still going strong.

My new spring pot with ‘instant’ plants from the garden centre. Cheering up the front doorstep.

Wild anemones flowering in the mini woodland garden. Bluebells are just starting to raise their heads above big strappy leaves and potted Lily of the Valley is scenting the potting shed.

A few flowers fresh picked from the veg plot.

My wild Tenby daffodils, flowering around the pond, still look good at dusk. These are planted in memory of my Welsh grandmother, HM Foulds. A very reliable and hardy daffodil, highly recommend.

You might like to read my last post here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/04/08/garden-news-column-spring-flowers-and-peach-crumble-cake-april-8-2021/

Thanks for reading. Enjoy your weekend, and hopefully the weather will improve where you are soon.

I’m @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram live.

Garden News Column, Spring Flowers and Peach Crumble Cake. April 8 2021.

Bulbs and spring bedding plants are making me smile, after such a long, cold winter. I couldn’t get out last autumn to buy any plants, so I’ve reached spring with nothing to put into containers. But restrictions have lifted- and I’ve had my jab (hurray!) and I’m able to get out there! I can’t adequately describe the shear delight of actually being able to visit a plant nursery and buy a few flowers. Never in my life did I think such a simple thing as going out and buying plants would be so joyful- and appreciated. I’ll never take it forgranted again. Never.

I bought some potted anemone blanda, Bridal Crown narcissus and bellis daisies. I didn’t go mad with my first trip out. Every plant was savoured, the scent enjoyed, the colours marvelled at. I set the Bridal Crown in the centre of a favourite terracotta pot, and nestled the anemones and bellis daisies around the edge. Bridal Crown is perfect for a centrepiece as it’s multi -headed, which means it flowers for a long time. The stems twist and turn in different directions, giving a fountain-like centre to any pot. Anemones have a charming habit of scrambling between the narcissus stems and filling the gaps. Bellis daisies are just so cheerful. I particularly love the double pomponette types. All in all, my plants have provided a much-needed breath of spring, and the containers are cheering up my front doorstep and all the garden table tops, just in case we have visitors, which is now allowed. It will feel strange to have friends and family walking around my plot, after a whole 12 months without anyone visiting.

Here’s this week’s Garden News article, mentioning my treasured plant pots.

Peach Crumble Cake Recipe can be found here:

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

And more photos of the containers, which have survived two windswept nights of -3.5C temperatures.

The scent is wonderful.

Just planted. Instant plants can be put together to make a colourful display. No one would know the containers hadn’t been planted last autumn.

Anemone blanda, mixed blues and whites.

I popped in two large anemone coronaria. I would usually grow all these bulbs myself, starting them off in September and October. But there’s so much choice at the garden centres, you can easily catch up now, and they don’t cost a fortune.

Bulbs and corms usually from https://taylors-bulbs.com/

Blue anemone coronaria. I love the inky black centres. Bees love them too.

Bellis Daisy. I usually grow these from seed. Mr Fothergills have this variety: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Bellis-Goliath-Mixed.html?ccode=F21PGP&gclid=CjwKCAjw07qDBhBxEiwA6pPbHkNeoDM1SLR8gcldYQP_rNdLZWfQ9HtAJHyWNs49sqz6to8sDiHbthoCV0oQAvD_BwE

Here’s the Superseed Trays I mention in the article. I’m trying to reduce my use of flimsy plastic trays which are not recyclable. The plastic breaks down to smaller and smaller pieces and gets into rivers and streams and out to the ocean.

https://superseedtrays.co.uk/

Behind them there’s a Bustaseed tray, made from recyclable plastic. Again, with divided module cells which can be lifted out without disturbing plant roots. These will be useful for taking cuttings.

https://www.bustaseed.com/

More details of Whinnypoo manure Tea. Very easy to use and it’s making my lemon trees green up beautifully after a long cold winter.

https://www.whinnypoo.com/

I love trying new products and I’m always amazed by the ingenuity of new business enterprises.

I’ve adopted a rescue cockerel. His days were numbered as there were too many cockerels where he came from. Sadly, if you hatch out chicks, some of them with obviously be cockerels and then they become unwanted. I’ve named him Merlin because he has the most gorgeous petrol -coloured feathers. And he has magiced his way into my life, just when I needed something to make me smile again. He’s now been joined by three beautiful bantam hens, so he’s in heaven here.

And finally, the latest photo of my lockdown kitten Monty. He’s been a constant source of joy since arriving here last summer. Hasn’t he grown into a beautiful boy. He’s enormous and very fluffy, but he has such a kind and gentle temperament. And he’s always by my side, keeping me company in the garden.

How are you all doing? Are any of you managing to get out and about and see friends and family again? It’s a while since I last wrote on here. We had several very sad deaths amongst friends and family. The latest being a dear friend, Jo, who died just six weeks after a diagnosis of cancer. We will be attending her virtual funeral on Friday, and I’ll be planting a tree in her memory.

Take care everyone, and thank you for reading and for your friendship and kind comments. This has not been an easy time for any of us, but there’s always hope for the future.

I’m @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram.

Lemon Crunch Triangles Recipe

Temperatures are reaching 16C here today, just a week after snow and lows of -5. I’m working in the garden in shirt sleeves. Heavy coats and warm jumpers are left indoors. My lemon trees in the greenhouse have started to grow and I’m feeding and watering them now. They have been relatively dry over the winter. To promote more flower and fruit, I’m harvesting all the lemons and making cakes and biscuits. Spare fruit can easily be frozen whole and microwaved when juice and zest is needed.

Here’s a tasty recipe for a February pick-me-up. You can eat these lemon crunch triangles on their own with a cup of tea, or add vanilla icecream. They can also be frozen. I’m making some for now, and a batch for when we can open up the garden for visits from friends and family. I can hardly wait to see everyone! This has been a long winter and one we will never forget. I’m making videos of the garden to send to my mum, and to relatives and staff in the care home, to give them a flavour of spring. They can’t get out to see any flowers are the moment, so the videos of our snowdrops, hellebores and crocus are an escape to the outdoors for them. You can see the videos over on instagram where I am karengimson1.

Let me know what spring flowers are growing in your gardens. Are you cooking anything new this week? Freezing temperatures are due to return by the weekend, so I won’t be putting anything delicate outdoors just yet. But it’s lovely to see all these jewel-like spring flowers, and fresh lemons from greenhouse are very welcome indeed.

Here’s a link to my recipe for lemon crunch triangles:

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/08/lemon-crunch-triangles-family-favourite-recipes/

February Recipes : Pear and Almond Pastries

I’m making these again today. I opened the kitchen cupboards and there was literally nothing cheerful in there! No biscuits, chocolate, cake. We’ve run out of everything. I wonder if we will look back on these times and ponder how we lived through this pandemic and learned to appreciate the simple things in life. I shall certainly never take for granted being able to just pop to the shops. Everything has to be so well organised. Lists on top of lists. All food is being delivered, for which I’m extremely grateful. But, oh, the dismay at discovering that I’ve forgotten something- just as I’ve pressed the button to order supplies. It’ll be a week before I can get another delivery. We do see an end in sight with vaccines on the way, so keep going everyone. Keep smiling. And make pastries, as there’s nothing nicer to cheer you up than the sight of these lovely tasty treats. Any fruit can be used, they are just as lovely with apples, frozen plums, raspberries, tinned peaches – any combination you like. Let me know what recipes are keeping you cheered up, and report back if you make any of these delicious pastries too.

Here’s the link for the recipe: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/11/02/pear-and-almond-pastries-family-favourite-recipes/

And a photo of spring flowers to bring some joy as well:

White primulas. My favourites. Though I have seen some deep red double varieties mixed in with burnt orange which might look lovely in a blue China casserole dish…. if only I could get out to buy some.

Narcissi Geranium and cut flower collection tulips from last spring. All my tulips are poking through the ground now, and daffodils are in bud and flowering early. The veg patch is covered in forgetmenots. I use them as a green mulch to protect the soil and keep down weeds. Some are potted up to stand on the summerhouse steps. They are very easy to dig up as they have a shallow, fibrous root system. They do well when lifted and grown on in containers.

Daffodils make a very welcome return. I’ve watered them with potash or tomato fertiliser, having taken advice from a medal-winning grower. The liquid feed helps to strengthen the stems and enhances the colour, making them stronger and brighter. A good tip as we regularly seem to be getting stormy spring weather. It’s so sad to see daffodils flattened by the wind.

Eranthis hyemalis – winter aconite in the woodland garden. They won’t last long as temperatures are currently 13C.

Green-tipped Galanthus Viridapice looking pretty on the potting shed window. Snowdrops too have been a very welcome and joyous sight. But in the mild weather, they have opened right out and will be going over sooner than usual. I shall water these too with weak tomato fertiliser in the hope of boosting the size of the bulbs and increase the number of flowers for next year.

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

*I’m trying something new- doing Instagram live sessions from the greenhouse every day, essentially to keep in touch with my Mum and MIL Joan, and also to show my daughters how to grow plants from seed. Under normal circumstances I would be by their side helping them with their new houses and first gardens. But I can’t while we are in lockdown, so I’m doing what I can from home. I’m karengimson1 on instagram.

Apple and Berry Crumble Cakes – Recipe

If you are reading this week’s Garden New Magazine (February 6 edition) here is the recipe I mention for apple crumble cakes. Our stored apples usually last until the end of February, but the autumn, and winter up until Christmas, was so mild the fruit started to go soft. I sliced and froze some of the apples, and turned the rest into delicious little cakes. These too can be frozen and will thaw within a few minutes, or defrost in a microwave. Let me know if any of you try the recipe, and how you get on with it. I’ve added frozen blackberries and raspberries to my cakes. Or you can just make them with apples on their own. All equally tasty. It’s lovely to have something reminding us of summer – right in the middle of winter.

You’ll need three or four apples, and a handful of berries, if using them. Use what you have. Equally good using tinned or fresh peaches, plums, blueberries, apricots, pears. It’s a very versatile recipe, using up store cupboard and frozen fruit.

I’ve made mine in silicone muffin trays, but you could just make one large cake and slice it. Use oat milk and egg substitute for vegans.

Muffins cook in 25 to 30 minutes. But check they are cooked through.

We store the apples wrapped in newspaper in the unheated glass porch and potting shed.

There was a good harvest from the orchard last autumn. Plenty of apples and pears.

I’ve been making apple crumbles all winter. Such a simple dish, so lovely and warming on a cold day.

Thanks for reading and getting in touch. I’ve started doing live videos from the greenhouse over on instagram as a way of keeping in touch with family and friends.

I’m karengimson1 on instagram

And @kgimson on twitter

Update: Sue Appleton on twitter used blackberry jam instead of berries and sent this message:

A walk around my garden 26 Jan 2021

I thought you’d like a calming walk around the garden today. We’ve had snow for two days now, but it is starting to melt. It’s currently 3C and rain is forecast. Snow covers a multitude of sins. You can’t see the brambles or stinging nettles. I’ve made a start on tackling the thickets- they have grown up in only three years of neglect. It’s interesting to see how nature is always trying to reclaim the garden. Always trying to take back what we’ve borrowed. We only carve out this place for a short while.

Bellis daisies. In flower despite the cold. We planted some in pots years ago and they’ve seeded about the plot. They pop up in borders, the gravel paths, and in small colonies in the lawn. I rather like them for their tenacity. Stamp on them (accidentally) and they do not flinch.

By the front door there’s a patch of Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis). It grows in the gravel spilling over from the path. There is no soil here. And yet, with minimum fuss and no maintenance, it flowers its heart out from October to March. Friends say it can be difficult to grow, so I’m grateful for my little patch of thriving iris. Last year it produced this pretty lilac sport. The mother plant is deep purple. I love it when plants suddenly do the unexpected. Don’t you?

The bank of wild cherry trees look like charcoal drawings in the snow. They are full of buds. I’ll cut a few twiggy branches and bring them into the house. They’ll flower readily in the heat of the kitchen. One way to bring spring forwards a little. It’s cheating, I know, but I can’t resist.

More trees surround the wildlife pond. It’s wonderful to think we are only four weeks to seeing frogspawn in the pond. Spring always starts for me when we see frogs again. You can learn more about frogs by following Froglife, a wildife charity dedicated to the conservation of frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.

Here’s the link https://www.froglife.org/

We are seeing a lot more deer in our area. We think they might be Sitka deer. Sometimes I just catch sight of them out of the corner of my eye. They are almost like ghosts, drifting silently along the dark hedgerows. They seem to blend into the shadows and become part of the landscape. Sometimes, in spring, if we are really lucky, we’ll come across a fawn in the long grass. The mother is never far away, and we tiptoe quietly away, so as not to startle her.

We’ve turned the summerhouse towards the sun. Amazingly, it’s quite warm in there. Such a well-made building, insulated with thick, wavy-edge oak. They knew how to build in the 1930s. We are grateful for our sturdy and peaceful sanctuary. It’s the perfect place to sit for a while and read, or watch the birds. Sometimes we see a fox. At dusk, a barn owl quarters the back field. They hunt methodically, searching for prey by flying back and forth. We worry when the weather is stormy and wet, as it increasingly is nowadays. Barn owls have no waterproofing. Their soft feathers help them to fly almost silently, but it’s at the expense of being weatherproof. They struggle to hunt and find food in the rain. One heartbreaking evening last summer, we saw the female out in heavy rain. She looked off balance, her flight hampered by the wind. We watched as she wobbled and barely made it over the top of the hedge. Desperation must have driven her out in poor weather. She had two chicks to feed. Later, the farmer who checks the nests, found only one chick had survived.

I’ll leave you with two happy photos. Snowdrops always make me feel hopeful. They return every year, whatever is happening in the world around them.

And this beautiful glass ‘vase’ of flowers- a present from a kind friend. Certainly. We are all looking for anything that brings joy at the moment. Thank goodness for kindness, friends and family. And for flowers which always make us smile.

Let me know how you are all getting on. Are you managing to sow any seeds or do any gardening yet. Take care everyone. And thank you for reading.

I’m on instagram at karengimson1 and twitter @kgimson. Come over and say hello!

January in the Garden

Here I am, pottering about in my garden again. I must say, the weeks fly by and it’s soon time to write another column for Garden News Magazine.

I hope you enjoy today’s article. I’ve had some lovely letters of support from readers saying my ‘potterings’ have kept them upbeat and busy during the pandemic. I’m pleased to see many readers have been inspired to have a go at different gardening techniques, or decided to grow something new. And many say the recipes are tasty, and always turn out well. What a relief!

Here’s some additional photos the editor didn’t use for the column. It’s fascinating to see which ones they choose. I submit about 10 for them to select from. It takes about a day to decide what to write about, take the photos and then actually sit down and compose the piece. It’s 350 words – which is actually quite a challenge. I try to say a lot in not many words. I edit it three times before I send it, taking out any spare words each time. What a luxury it is to write the blog. No one is checking the word count on here.

My hazel plant supports in the snow. New rods have replaced any that snapped, and have been woven along the centre to add strength. We seem to be getting stormier summers, so plant supports have to be extra sturdy.

Some sweet peas I grew last summer. I’ve sown some in autumn, but the second sowing now will provide plants that flower right through to November. Successional sowing extends the season.

Seeds come from https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/#.X_dxARDfWfA.

And https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/shop/gardening/seeds/easton-walled-gardens-mix.

Here’s a photo of ‘Sunshine’ climbing French beans. Highly recommended, easy to grow and prolific. We have a freezer full, and they only take a few minutes to cook from frozen. All the flavour and goodness is captured for tasty winter meals. I’ll be starting my bean seed in May. Don’t start them off too early as they cannot be planted out until the first week of June. If sown too early, they become leggy and weak. They are very fast growing.

Bean seeds come from https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Pea-and-Bean-Seeds/Climbing-Bean-Seeds/Climbing-French-Bean-Sunshine.html#.X_dw0hDfWfA

Here’s a larger photo of the willow heart flower arrangement in the potting shed window. It’s made from Paperwhite narcissi, alstroemeria from the poly tunnel and dried gypsophila and honesty seeds from summer. The foliage is eucalyptus saved from Christmas floral arrangements. Flowers are held in a jam jar covered in moss which has garden string twined around it, kokadama -style. We are all trying to do without florists’ foam, and using jam jars, and tiny glass test tubes works really well.

See more ideas, join zoom -and in person lessons- with Georgie Newbery at Common Farm Flowers : https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/collections/workshops

Paperwhites came from Gee-Tee Bulbs https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

Gypsophila and honesty seeds from https://higgledygarden.com/

I mention new birds boxes. I wrote about CJ Wildlife supplies here: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/30/nest-boxes-and-bird-feeders-for-the-garden/

The RSPB nesting material is from: https://shopping.rspb.org.uk/nest-box-accessories/nesting-wool-refill.html

And finally, the rhubarb upside down cake recipe can be found here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/04/18/rhubarb-cakes-family-favourite-recipes/

Thank you for reading and getting in touch. It’s much appreciated. And a very Happy New Year to you all.

I’m @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram

Do say hello on social media.

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.