Paperwhite narcissi for Christmas – and my apple cake recipe

My wonderfully wise Welsh grandmother used to say speaking before thinking would get me into trouble one day. And she was right. The predicaments I get myself into! I’m always agreeing to something, without thinking it through first. If she was here now, she would be having a good laugh.

Just one of those “now, why-did-I-agree-to-do-that” moments came earlier this year when the BBC rang and asked if I would sit in on the gardeners’ phone-in for local radio.

All I would have to do was sit in a studio, answer a few questions, they would play a bit of music, and job’s done. Easy as that, I think they said. I should have known better, as my grandmother would have said. Since then, every other Wednesday morning between 11 and 12, I’ve been in the hot seat. It’s live – and there’s no time to think about the answers. Anyway, if you want a good laugh- and we all need more laughter in our lives- have a listen in. And you can feel sorry for me if you like, I won’t mind, as I struggle to remember the name of that illusive plant, or I try to identify some pest or disease, by mere description only! I can tell you, the headphones are always falling off my head, the studio chair is too high -and my feet are dangling in the air. But the people who work there are so cheerful and a delight to be with, and it’s a complete change from what I do all week. So I’ll keep going- until they find someone who can speak a bit faster and not um and ah quite as much as me!

This week I talked about home-made Christmas presents and promised to put the details on the blog. So here’s everything you need.

It’s time to plant Paperwhite narcissi if you want them to flower by Christmas. You don’t need to use compost. You can simply put the bulbs in a glass jar, vase or tank, and they will grow and flower in about nine weeks.

I used Shingle Beach decorative chippings by Meadow View Stone from my local garden centre. A large bag costs about £5 and I used about 1kg in the bottom of the vase.

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The gravel fills about one third of the 25cm x 12cm glass cylinder vase. Similar vases can be purchased from Oasis floral supplies.

Simply place the bulbs on top of the chippings, making sure the bulbs aren’t touching. Fill the container with water to just below the bulbs. The roots will grow down into the gravel.

Paperwhite narcissi have a habit of growing tall and floppy. If you decide to plant some in compost, you have to use thin canes to support them. You can also use willow or hazel twigs, which look pretty. But the beauty of growing them in tall vases or tanks is that the glass sides help to support the stems.

You won’t have to feed the plants. Spring bulbs are like mini-batteries, packed with all the power they need to flower in the first year. So there you have a money-saving present you can make now, and stand in a cool, frost-free, bright place to grow on. I can promise you, the scent will be amazing.

Apple and Raspberry Crumble Cake.

Each week, I take in something I’ve made using produce from the garden. My aim is to spread the message, you don’t need a huge space to grow food. The autumn raspberries were a bumper crop this year. It’s nice to have something for us all to eat at tea break time. Here’s the recipe. The cake can be served hot or cold and is perfect for a picnic- even one in a radio studio.

You will need :

4 eating apples – sliced and cooked for several minutes in 1tspn butter or margarine in a frying pan. Put to one side.

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For the cake base- mix together

175g margarine

150g caster sugar

3 eggs

60ml or 4tbsp creme fraiche – or full cream milk

Stir in :

200g self-raising flour

5ml or 1 teaspoon baking powder

Spoon cake mixture into a 23cm Pyrex dish, or 12 hole silicone muffin tray.

Top with the sliced apples and 150g of raspberries and the crumble mixture.

To make the crumble mix

50g margarine

75g self-raising flour

50g demerara sugar

Cook for about 1 hour at 180c or 350f gas mark 4. Check After 40 minutes. Cover with foil if the top is browning before the centre is cooked. The muffins will cook more quickly than the larger cake.

The best autumn raspberries are Autumn Bliss More information from the RHS here.

Look out for new varieties Malling Happy and Malling Passion from Lubera. Let me know how you get on with the cakes. Do you have any ideas or tips I might be able to share on the radio? I’d be grateful if you would let me know. I’m only really doing this because it might just prompt even one person to have a go at growing fruit and flowers. And you never know, I might eventually be able to identify the odd pest and disease now and then.