Tomato and Thyme Tart – family favourite recipes

Suddenly, at this time of the year, the kitchen windowsill is covered with tomatoes. All sizes from giant heritage beefsteak Marmande to tiny cherry types such as Sweet Million and Red Robin. Some are bright sealing-wax red, soft and ready to eat. Some shine like emeralds, green and firm. They will ripen over the coming weeks.

Here’s a favourite recipe, perfect for utilising your tomato harvest. As usual, it’s a quick and simple idea. It takes 10 minutes to make, and 15 minutes to cook. Tomato and herb tarts travel well and are suitable for picnics too. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

1 pack ready rolled puff pastry

1 egg yolk -beaten

7oz /200g cheese ( can be Cheddar, gruyere-or whatever you have)

14oz /400g tomatoes, thickly sliced

Few sprigs of thyme – leaves only

1tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

Salt and black pepper

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 210C /190C fan/ gas mark 7

Cover two baking trays with either re-usable silicone sheets or baking parchment to prevent the tarts sticking.

Roll out the pastry. Use a 7” tea plate as a template. Lay the plate on the pastry and use a sharp knife to cut a circle.

You’ll get two 7” round tarts, or one 7” and four 4” tarts from a roll of pastry. The off-cuts of pastry can be used for cheese straws. Just add grated cheese and twist to incorporate.

Transfer the circles of pastry to the baking trays. Use a blunt knife to score an edge to each circle, 1.5cm or 1/2” wide.

Brush each border with the beaten egg. Use a fork to prick over the base of the tarts to stop them rising.

Pile grated cheese into the centre of the circles. Take care not to get any filling on the edges, or they won’t rise.

Arrange slices of tomato in concentric circles on top of the cheese.

Season with salt and pepper and scatter over the thyme leaves.

Drizzle over a few drops of olive or rapeseed oil

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the pastry edges have risen and are golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Garnish with some fresh herbs.

Can be served warm or cold. Can be frozen.

For a vegan alternative, omit the egg and use melted vegetable margarine and use vegan cheese.

Some of the 4” tarts, fresh from the oven

My Marmande tomatoes were prolific this year. I sowed seeds in February, pricked seedlings out in March and planted them in their final 12” pots in May. I grew mine in an open-ended poly tunnel, which protected them from the worst of the weather.

Pictured above, some of the tomatoes we’ve grown here. Recommended varieties include blight -resistant Crimson Crush. Also Gardeners Delight, Tumbling Tom, Sweet Million and Golden Sunrise.

I listened to a podcast called Fresh from the Pod this week. Gardener and writer Tamsin Westhorpe was interviewing Chris Collins. Tamsin is the gardening world’s version of Michael Parkinson, in my opinion. It’s fascinating to get a real insight into the lives of our gardening personalities. Anyway, half way through the interview, Tamsin says she never turns any opportunities down. She never says no to anything. Always has a go, because you never know where it might lead. So, this gave me courage to try something new this week. As you know, I love cooking. My happiest memories are sitting around a table with my parents and grandparents and just being fed the most delicious meals. Just that feeling of being loved and cared for. It lives on in my memory like an indelible photo album. Well, it’s gradually become my turn to produce memories for other people. I’ve loved cooking for my children and the recipes here are written down for them, incase they ever need them. And today I also recorded my first “grow it, cook it, eat it” for Ben Jackson at BBC Radio Leicester. They have a ‘Food Friday’ segment which I’ve always wanted to have a go at. Remembering Tamsin’s words, I ventured forth! It was a shaky start, as we were cooking outdoors (social distancing) and the wind was blowing my bits of baking parchment about. The cat wanted to join in. He usually “helps” when we are gardening. And the neighbour’s dog started barking. Ah well, nothing is perfect in real life, is it. It was a fun thing to do and I hope you enjoy listening. It’ll make you laugh, I’m sure.

At 2.08.26 in the timeline. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08nvhpx

Garden Diary for ‘Six on Saturday’ – 8th August 2020

Peach and blue tones feature in my garden diary this week. Dahlia David Howard is usually a much brighter colour than the flower pictured above. But we’ve had sweltering temperatures the past few days and heat has faded some of the blooms. I rather like this delicate hue. I’ve waited until dusk to take my photos. The dahlia bed is next to the orchard, and I can hear hedgehogs shuffling through the dry twigs and grass in the undergrowth. If I wait quietly, they will come out and feast on fallen plums. I never knew how much they loved plums until a few years back when we had a massive harvest and, each night, five baby hedgehogs turned up. It was magical to watch them enjoying the ripe and juicy fruit. In the day, there are butterflies sipping the juice, meadow browns and peacocks in abundance this year. Not so many painted lady butterflies as last year though.

Here’s my second ‘peach’ photo. Rosa Phyllis Bide. It’s a medium-size rambler with large sprays of semi-double flowers 6cm wide. I grow it because it is disease resistant and doesn’t need spraying with chemicals. All my roses have to be tough. If you choose carefully, there are many varieties less likely to suffer from the fungal disease black spot. Phyllis Bide is easy and trouble-free, and repeat flowers from June to November. There are sometimes a few blooms in December, eagerly snapped up for Christmas table decorations. Flowers are gorgeous set amongst creamy white beeswax candles. Bees also love the pollen, and catering for wildlife and pollinators is often at the heart of everything I do. In my garden, Phyllis Bide grows up a wooden post and into a lilac tree, adding interest when the lilac is out of flower. It’s about 2.5m tall with a 1.5m spread.

This is a late-flowering Phyllis Bide rose, covered in snow on 11th December. Sunshine soon melted the ice, and the flower was still perfect. Isn’t it beautiful. A heart-sing moment, captured with an old i-phone camera.

My third photo is from the polytunnel. I’m growing pots of dwarf peach and nectarines. This one is Prunus Nectarella. It grows to about 1.5m by 1m in a 60cm container. I’m also growing Garden Lady and Bonanza. Planted in pots, they can be carried into the greenhouse or poly tunnel over winter, which helps protect early flowers from frost. They flower in February when there’s few pollinators about, so blossom has to be pollinated with a soft paintbrush. It’s a lovely calming occupation on a cold winter’s day, and gives hope spring is not far away.

Peaches and nectarines suffer from a disease called peach leaf curl. It’s a fungus which infects leaves causing them to distort and blister. It results in early leaf fall, reducing vigour. Wet conditions are needed for the disease to thrive, so keeping them indoors over winter helps to protect them. All the effort of growing them is worth it. Eating a peach or nectarine that’s been allowed to ripen naturally on the tree is a delight. Shop-bought fruit just can’t compare.

I wrote about my peach crumble cake recipe here. Do try it – with any fruit you have, apples, pears, plums- or peaches, and let me know what you think. It’s become a family favourite here.

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

Now for the ‘blue’ photos this week. I’ve chosen morning glory, Ipomoea purpurea. This is a seedling from a selection I’ve grown for years. Morning glory is an annual climber reaching 4-5m given a warm sunny fence or wall. Mine grow up through my climbing French beans. I’m hoping the flowers will attract pollinators which will benefit my vegetables. You can see the nectar guides in this photo. Flowers have visible and UV guides or lines directing bees to the nectary. Sunshine has highlighted the lines. It’s almost mesmerising. I save my seed each summer and store it in a cool, dark place over winter. I’ll start them off again in 3″ pots on the kitchen windowsill in February. Recommended varieties include Star of Yelta, Grandpa Ott and Heavenly Blue. All easy to grow, and once you’ve bought a packet of seed, you’ll have morning glory for ever more. Such a lovely thought!

My second ‘blue’ photo is gladioli. Another summer treat. This one came in a blue-mix assortment from Gee-Tee Bulbs. I plant them down the centre of my hazel rod sweet pea A-frame, where they grow quite happily without needing stakes. As soon as the heads pop out of the side of the frame, I harvest them for my cut flower posies. Gladioli can grow tall and floppy, and in the high winds we seem to be getting more and more, they often end up crashing to the ground. Grown with sweet peas, or though a climbing bean frame, they’ll get plenty of support. Corms are lifted in autumn when I pull up sweet peas. I let the leaves die back naturally and then I take off the little offset corms which grow beneath the ‘mother’ corm. I’ll keep them dry and frost free over winter and replant them next spring. If you have lovely, free draining soil you could leave the gladioli in over winter. But I have cold, heavy clay which seems to be flooded every winter now. Corms would rot in the wet. Links for bulb suppliers are at the end of this piece.

And finally, my sixth photo is meadow cranesbill or Geranium pratense. Again, you can see the violet and silver bee guides. So delicate, it reminds me of a butterfly wing.

I wrote about my wild geraniums here. https://bramblegarden.com/2017/06/28/wordlesswednesday-wild-geraniums-on-the-march/

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s voyage around my garden. My plot has kept me up-beat during the covid pandemic, giving me something cheerful to focus on. Thank you for all your kind messages. It’s lovely to hear so many of you feel you’ve have had a brief respite from worry, just for a few minutes, reading my blog and virtually ‘walking’ around the plot with me. Keep in touch, and let me know what has helped you through this difficult time. Have you grown anything new, or found comfort in familiar things. Thanks for reading. It’s much appreciated.

Links:

Dahlia David Howard. https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/dahlias

Rose Phyllis Bide: https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/products/phyllis-bide

Peaches, apricots and nectarines: https://www.chrisbowers.co.uk/dwarf.php

Morning glory: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Morning-Glory-Seed/#.Xy_rxhB4WfA

Gladioli: https://taylors-bulbs.com/summer-flowering-bulbs-advice/

Geranium pratense: https://www.naturescape.co.uk/product/meadow-cranesbill-plugs/

I am @kgimson on Twitter, karengimson1 on instagram.

Six on Saturday is a meme where gardeners from all around the world post six or more photos of what’s growing on their plots each week. It’s fascinating to see what’s looking good. Sometimes it’s the same plant as I’m growing, but in another country millions of miles away. https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Six on Saturday. A walk around my garden 11 July 20209

Phacelia is a bee magnet. I’m growing it around the edges of the vegetable plot. It’s an annual, but self-seeds readily. It can also be grown as a green manure crop, but for this use, it has to be turned into the soil before it flowers. I’ve been re-reading Jean Vernon’s Secret Lives of Garden Bees. Writing about Phacelia, she says: ” Look closely at foraging bees and you’ll notice the blue pollen balls that they collect from these flowers. ”

Geranium pratense. Meadow cranesbill. A native wild flower found along the grass verges here. Seed has blown into the garden and it grows along the hedgerows and amongst ornamentals. It’s very welcome.

Occasionally it throws up a white variant, and also flowers in delicate shades of lilac. I love the green ‘veins’ on the flowers. It reminds me of the markings on a butterfly wing.

Over on the veg plot, I found these flowers this week. They are potato flowers from the Shetland Black tubers growing in compost sacks. Aren’t they beautiful. You can tell the potatoes are part of the deadly nightshade family. I’ve never grown black potatoes before, so I’m eagerly awaiting the harvest.

Dianthus cathusianorum. In the gravel edges on the front drive, these bright pink flowers wave about on 50cm stems. They must love the free-draining conditions. We have to remember to drive around them. The scent is wonderful. Spicy. Heady. Memorable.

And finally, sweet peas. These are from a range called ‘Ripple Mixed.’ I’ve grown Wiltshire Ripple for many years, but the mixed pink and purple- striped flowers are fast becoming new favourites. Highly scented. Nice long stems. Long lasting in a vase. Recommended.

That’s my six for today. What’s looking good in your garden this weekend?

Why not go over to the propagator’s blog and see what everyone is selecting for their six today. It’s fascinating to see what everyone is growing, all around the world.

Links: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/category/six-on-saturday/

Phacelia :https://www.chilternseeds.co.uk/item_977A_phacelia_tanacetifolia

Geranium: https://www.naturescape.co.uk/product/meadow-cranesbill-plugs/

Shetland Black potatoes :https://marshallsgarden.com/products/shetland-black-seed-potatoes-10506756

Dianthus: https://www.claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk/products/dianthus-carthusianorum-ruperts-pink

Sweet peas: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Tall_3/Sweet-Pea-Ripple-Mixed-Seeds.html#.XwowbBB4WfA

https://bramblegarden.com/2020/04/02/the-secret-lives-of-garden-bees-book-review/http://addictedtobees.com/. Jean Vernon

Don’t forget to read the next blog down, all about Niwaki garden tools. There’s some Niwaki garden snips to win.

Six on Saturday- Peachy Shades- July 4th 2020.

We are not going to the Caribbean this year. Or any year, I should imagine. I’m frankly not planning to go further than the the next village. However, I can bring a bit of sunshine into the garden with my planting. This nasturtium is a seedling from a range called Caribbean Crush. It has predominately pink, apricot and peachy shades. A lovely change from the usual bright orange and yellows. This plant is an overwintered seedling, so it flowered early. It hid away in a raised bed of brassicas in the unheated poly tunnel. It’s been wonderful to have one or two flowers all winter. Leaves and flowers are edible and add a peppery taste to salads. And a few stems in a jam jar make a pretty posy for the kitchen table. If I save seeds from this plant, the offspring will be variable. But, I want to keep this particular unusual pale peach colour. So I’ll take shoot cuttings and put them into jars of water to root. Shot glasses are the ideal size. I take cuttings about 9cm (3.5″) long from the tips of healthy plants. I’ll carefully cut off all but four small leaves so the cutting doesn’t lose too much moisture. The glasses are placed under the staging in the greenhouse, out of direct sun, but in a warm and sheltered place. A north-facing window indoors would also be fine. Cuttings will root within two to three weeks and then I’ll put each cutting in a 9cm pot in gritty compost. I use peat-free compost with a handful of grit to improve drainage. When roots emerge from the bottom of the pot, I’ll plant them outdoors – and some will be put into a large terracotta pot to be kept frost- free over the winter. This ‘rooting in water’ technique can also be used for salvias, mint, and all types of impatiens. A good way to preserve special varieties and an insurance policy against winter losses.

Here’s a link for Tropaeolum majus Caribbean Crush : https://www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk/edible-flowers/edible-flowers/nasturtium-caribbean-crush-1947a

Looking around, here’s some more plants in lovely shades of peach and apricot. Enjoy this week’s tour of the garden.

Pot marigold, Calendula Sunset Buff. Petals look like they have been cut with pinking shears. There are pretty striped markings on the back of the petals too.

https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Calendula-Seed/CALENDULA-Sunset-Buff.html#.XwDgKBB4WfA

Unknown dahlia – purchased from East Ruston Old Vicarage. A lovely memory of a Norfolk holiday. Maybe someone reading this will know what it is called.

Update: Chloris from The Blooming Garden (see comments) confirms the dahlia is Wine Eyed Jill. I shall duly label it, and take cuttings next spring to increase my stock. It is such a gorgeous colour. Thank you Chloris.

https://www.peternyssen.com/dahlia-wine-eyed-jill.html

http://www.e-ruston-oldvicaragegardens.co.uk/pages/view/564/home.htm

Seedlings from Pollie’s Daylillies. Pollie Maasz has been growing daylilies at her nursery in the New Forest, Hampshire, for almost 20 years. She has 1500 cultivars and breeds new hybrids, specialising in unusual and spider forms.

The spider daylilies have a more open flower than the usual trumpet-types, and petals twist and turn. Very eye-catching. They seem to dance about in the breeze. They are my favourites.

You can buy new un-named seedlings which produce some exciting and unusual flowers. It’s like a lucky dip! And as a bonus, you can name them yourselves.

https://www.polliesdaylilies.co.uk/

I’ve forgotten the name of this rose. My new year’s resolution is to improve the labelling system in the garden. I’m terrible for planting something and forgetting to label it properly. Very frustrating when friends come to visit and want to know what something is called. Perhaps someone reading this will know the name.

It’s either from David Austin or Peter Beales Roses.

Update: Peter Beales have helped me out and found the name. It’s the beautifully-scented climbing rose, Gloire de Dijon. Very free flowering in June and repeat flowers in late summer. Grows 12′ x 8′ ( 3.6m x 2.4m) has large, tea-scented flowers, and by the time I’d written this, I’d also found the label in the potting shed. I really must get some nice labels to hang on the shrubs. White plastic ones never look good. Maybe you could recommend something? I’d welcome any suggestions.

https://www.classicroses.co.uk/gloire-de-dijon-climbing-rose.html

But I do know this rose. It’s new. For Your Eyes Only. Repeat flowers all summer. Disease resistant and good for pollinators. Lovely in a bouquet. Lasts well as a cut flower.

https://www.classicroses.co.uk/for-your-eyes-only-bush-rose.html

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed my peach selection this week. What’s looking colourful in your garden at the moment? Have you got a favourite plant or favourite colour right now. Leave a comment at the bottom of the page and let me know.

Six (or more) on Saturday: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/07/04/six-on-saturday-04-07-2020/

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram, should you feel like reading more. Thank you for reading this blog and getting in touch. Karen

Walk Around My Garden Saturday 30 May 2020 #SixOnSaturday

Rose Constance Spry. Planted when my youngest daughter was born. Roses speak of celebration, and this one really shouts a welcome -to-the-world for Rachel. It flowers for three weeks in early June and fills the garden with a glorious fruit-salad perfume.

Where I am today. Up a ladder. Trying to control the tangle of clematis, jasmine and ivy. This has been allowed to run wild for four years. Little and often might be my approach to tackling the problem. Otherwise, it seems an impossible task. The pergola runs from the back garden to the front drive. A shady walkway in the heat. I’m not going to rush the task. Luckily I’ve got a new Henchman ladder to help with the task. No more wobbling on unstable step ladders.

Alongside the pergola there’s a wedding cake tree, Cornus controversa variegata. Some of the layers have deteriorated. I need to take advice on pruning to try to get it back in shape. Pruning the pergola will give it more light. Behind, climbing to the top of a mature ash tree is Rosa Cerise Bouquet which flowers on and off right through the summer into October.

Another rose looking lovely at the moment is Rhapsody in Blue which has been moved three times. Just goes to show, you can move roses, despite what it says in the books. Highly recommended. Disease resistant and free flowering. Lovely scent and unusual colour.

My grandfather’s rose, Zephirine Drouhin. He gave me this before he died. It’s wonderful to have something from his garden to remember him by. I know it was a favourite of his. I’m sure he knew it would give years of joy. And especially at the moment when everything seems uncertain and Covid has caused so much stress. It is as if he is still helping me, through all the plants coming into flower now. A reminder that life goes on, the seasons keep going. So must we.

My grandfather grew all his fruit and vegetables. People did in those days. Luckily, I watched, followed like a shadow and learned. And he gave me some of his garden tools, so when I’m hoeing the garden, I think of him, working his veg plot and feeding his family. I wonder what he was thinking while he was hoeing his garden. Did he find the peace that I’m finding right now. Was it a comfort to him, as it is to me, through all the trials and tribulations life throws at you.

Foxgloves have seeded in one of the veg plot beds. I’m digging these up and putting them in the wild garden, to make room for winter greens, Brussels sprouts and kale. Flowers will be picked for jam jar posies. I’m putting flowers on the village green again this summer to raise money for Rainbows Hospice for children. There will be an honesty box for donations.

The first sweet peas. Always popular in my jam jar posies. These were sown in root trainers in October. I’ve just sown some more for late flowering through to November. This one is from a packet of seed called Wiltshire Ripple Mixed. All have speckled flowers and a picotee edge. The scent is just wonderful.

As usual, when we’ve walked around the garden, there’s a short ramble along the ridgeway path to my ‘hole in the hedge’ porthole. It’s a viewing point I discovered a few years back. I didn’t make it, nature did, and I watch deer, rabbits, foxes, birds, owls, and hares, quietly and unnoticed.

Today, the May blossom has gone over, but there’s beautiful dogwood flowers framing the view. In an ancient hedge, there’s always something of interest. A tapestry of flowers, rosehips, crab apples, and seeds.

It’s just a humble wild dogwood. But it is as beautiful to me as any ornamental and expensive cornus tree.

And finally, after all that walking, sit a while in my 1930s summerhouse -on-a turntable. In the heat, it’s turned to the shade, facing the wood and pond. A perfect place to contemplate life and all the reasons to be grateful. All the things I value are not the things that can be bought. Hopefully my grandfather would be proud of the person I have become. I’d love to tell him how things have turned out. And that I’ve been happy, thanks to his good advice.

Links : I like to read and join in with the hashtag Six on Saturday why not go over and see what other gardens look like today, all over the world. https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/category/six-on-saturday/

Henchman ladders like mine: https://www.henchman.co.uk/?gclid=CjwKCAjwiMj2BRBFEiwAYfTbCgG1JcfaQwtYjZ_lj7F3XBMAvXjIpri5d5vqMGjRlDY0i6E414m6RBoCRQMQAvD_BwE

Roses : https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/?gclid=CjwKCAjwiMj2BRBFEiwAYfTbCtnJOqLRzmev76pY_7u5maadGtrLFXf09qHEGmx4mHw71JE0ccaxkxoClDQQAvD_BwE

Sweet peas :https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/#.XtIkQBB4WfA

Six on Saturday – A walk around my garden 16 May 2020

A seedling sorbus mountain ash. Sometimes nature delivers such beautiful surprises. We didn’t plant this tree, it arrived all by itself. We allow plants to grow and any that fit in with our wildlife-centred scheme of things are allowed to stay. This seedling produces beautiful creamy white flowers. Much loved by bees. Then in the autumn, rich orange berries. Much loved by blackbirds. My youngest daughter Rachel has just bought her first house. What a time to be negotiating a house purchase, in the middle of a pandemic. It’s been extremely stressful. But holding on to our hats and keeping calm, between us we have steered our daughter through choppy waters. And she and her boyfriend Sam have a (rather scruffy) old house with a very large garden. So today I’m digging up a few sorbus seedlings and potting them up for her new plot. I’ll also search out for some wild cherry, maple and oak saplings. The same size as those we planted when we moved here 30 years ago, our heads full of dreams to create a lovely home and have children. Now we are watching the youngsters cross the threshold of their first home, and it brings back all our memories. History repeating itself. We get to re-live our joy, as we watch them start their lives together.

As you can see, our little saplings have grow tall. The mini-wood is carpeted in bluebells and patches of wild garlic and three cornered leak.

Here’s the view from the pond. The turntable summerhouse is turned to the garden today to catch the morning sun.

The leaf-mould paths are lined with white lacy cow parsley. A favourite time of the year.

Wild flowers sweep along the edges of the paths. These are starry stitchwort, or stellaria.

Our little plot provides all the firewood we need for our log burner. A habitat for hedgehogs and beetles, insects and grass snakes too.

By the pond there’s a huge mature viburnum. I believe it is Viburnum plicatum Mariesii. It looks beautiful all year round. In May, it’s covered in flat creamy white flowers, and in winter the snow and ice settles in layers on the branches.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s walk around my garden. I’ve made a sunny place to sit and read in the front garden. Just right for mulling over the past, and looking forward to the future. I’m sure you’ll all raise a glass and join us in wishing Rachel and Sam many congratulations. Good luck with everything, and always be happy. Life’s not always a bed of roses, but if you stick together, help one another and always be kind, you’ll have a wonderful life together.

Karen xx

Links SOS : A favourite blog. Why not go over and see what photos other gardeners are sharing from their plots today, all over the world. https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/05/16/six-on-saturday-16-05-2020/

Please leave a comment at the end of the blog, and feel free to share this blog on any social media platform . Thanks for reading.


Blagdon Pond-In-A-Box. Review and prize draw

The sight of goldfish takes me back to my early 20s when I travelled several times to China. I was lucky to get the chance to visit many gardens, while working for a newspaper. The Leicester Mercury was invited to send a representative to the army base of the Leicestershire Regiment, stationed at Stanley Fort in Hong Kong. Luckily, the editor chose me. And while there, I flew back and forth all over China, including to Shanghai and Guilin to view the gardens. It was the experience of a lifetime, something I’ll never forget. Some of the gardens had huge ceramic bowls of water, filled with goldfish. I’ve always wanted a goldfish pool, to remind me of those fabulous care-free days of travel. Here at bramble garden, we have a large horseshoe pond with a stone and gravel beach. But it is mainly for wildlife and it’s away from the main house, in the paddock. I thought it would be lovely to have a pond right by the back door, under the kitchen window.

I’d heard of the pond-in-a-box concept, and recently, Blagdon asked if I would like to try one of their ‘Affinity’ ponds. This has been a wonderful project to work on during the covid lockdown. It’s given us something lovely to work on together. And the calming sound of water is very welcome. We haven’t finished our project. There’s no fish or pond plants available at the moment. But I thought I would share this with you now, especially as Blagdon have offered a smaller ‘ Affinity corner pond’ as a prize.

So here’s what arrives in the post:

It’s hard to believe that everything for the pond arrives in one box! The word ‘Tardis’ springs to mind.

There does seem to be an overwhelming number of parts to start with. But if you can put together a piece of furniture from IKEA, you can manage to make a pond. The instructions are clear, and after the initial panic, sorting all the parts into little piles and working methodically through the assembly leaflet, it’s possible to make the pond in just a few hours. We didn’t have any difficulty once we settled down to follow the step-by-step guide.

We first created a framework. We did this in the lounge in front of the fire. It might be much easier to work out on the patio. And a lot less overheated! Luckily we were able to turn it sideways and get it out of the doorway, which we hadn’t thought about when we started!

The side panels slide into the frame. I’d say this is easier with two pairs of hands. But you would manage, if you were on your own. A feature of the pond is the ‘porthole’ insets. Children will love being able to view the fish through the sides.

Here it is taking shape.

When it is all put together, there’s a liner that fits inside. Then it is just a case of carefully dropping in the pond pump. There’s lots of fountain and /or waterfall options. We started off with a sort of mushroom and played around with it until I found the gentle burble effect I was after.

There’s an LED spotlight that comes on automatically at dusk. And the Blagdon Inpond filters the water and keeps it clean. You can find out more about it on the website.

Here’s what it looks like at night. I must admit, sitting next to it at dusk, watching the fountain and hearing the splash of water is very soothing, especially in these troubled, stressful times.

Like any new feature, it can stand out and look quite stark at first. But I ‘dressed’ the sides of the pond with acers, ferns, hostas, grasses and rosemary plants. It blended in with the patio furniture then, and didn’t look so harsh. This is no criticism of the product, except to say that it is very new and fresh, and therefore stands out against ‘old’ paving and walls. Foliage definitely softens the hard edges. Pond plants would also help. There are planting pockets included in the package.

Luckily, I’ve got a few large potted grasses, which match the woven panels perfectly. I must admit, we forgot to remove the protective film from the portholes. The view is much clearer now!

I’m delighted with my pond-in-a-box. It’s been a fun project to focus on during a difficult time, and I’ve got all the pleasure of choosing fish and new pond plants to come. And finally I’ll have something that reminds me of those interesting times trekking all around China!

For the chance to win an ‘Affinity View’ corner pond, similar to mine, but with three woven front panels with viewing port holes, please leave a comment in the box below, right at the bottom of the page. A winner will be randomly selected by Blagdon. No purchase is necessary, and the usual rules apply. There’s no cash alternative and Blagdon’s decision is final.

Disclosure: I have not paid for my pond, or been paid to write about it. Views are my own and I’m free to comment as I wish.

Update: Two pond skaters, a water beetle and a water boatman have moved in! Within one day of setting it up. And a blackbird has decided it is a perfect place for a dip, balanced in the planting baskets at the side.

Links. Read all about Blagdon here: https://www.blagdonwatergardening.co.uk/Products/Ponds/Affinity-Pools-Complete-Kits

Available from all good aquatic retailers and also online.

BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour 22 April 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salix Flamingo – wiki commons photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six on Saturday – views from my garden April 11 2020

Tulip Mount Tacoma and forget-me-nots.

My favourite Italian terracotta pot near my front door. So sad there are no visitors to enjoy this lovely sight. I’m including it here, so you can all share in the magic of spring flowers. Fairly new introduction Exotic Emperor, a double form of the classic and popular Purissima. Has peony-like petals that curve and twist as they open, revealing a flash of green. Very lovely and my favourite. This is a fosteriana tulip, and here in the Midlands, it always flowers through April. Planted with Narcissus Geranium an heirloom bulb dating back to pre 1930. Beautiful, delicate fragrance. Perfect for cut flowers. I have a row in the veg garden for cutting. Multi-headed – some of the bulbs have four flowers to a stem. I love mixing the old with the new. I’m fond of traditional plants, but I love trying something new.

I’ve always grown the white Purissima tulip, so I thought I would try the new sport, Flaming Purissima, another fosteriana tulip. It is such a joy, with all shades of pink and red ‘flames’ over an ivory white background. Beautiful under a white cherry blossom tree. I’ve planted these in a trench on the veg plot for cut flowers. They last a week in a vase, and watching them turn from tight buds to open, flat, almost water lily-like flowers is a joy. These were introduced in 1999, and they reliably come through the winter and flower each spring for me.

So comforting to know we will have masses of cherries this summer. We leave the trees unpruned. Blackbirds enjoy the crop at the top of the tree, and there’s more than we can use around the downward – arching lower branches. I’ve planted narcissus Pheasants Eye under the trees as an experiment. They flower at the same time. They look so glorious, I’ll fill the orchard with them next spring. They cost very little and are a joy to behold. I’ve taken photos of the garden and made notes to remind myself to order bulbs in July and plant in September. If I don’t make a note, I seem to forget!

In the wild garden around the pond we have this un-named beauty. We planted these 30 years ago. I wish I’d recorded the name as I’d love to plant more as pretty and reliable as these. They have a wonderful scent too. Petals glisten and remind me of sugar coated violets. I wonder if you know what I mean.

And finally, a humble bellis daisy, growing in the cracks between the paving by the back door. I’ve been imploring (nagging) the family not to step on them all winter. I have a little patch 60cm square of delightful little daisies. There’s absolutely no soil there. I feel they deserve to live, having made such an effort to survive.

Enjoy your weekend everyone. This is not to say that we are not all desperately worried by what’s going on in the world, and in our own country. But I’m thinking this sharing of garden photos may help someone keep calm and carry on. There is really nothing else we can do at the moment. Stay at home, help the NHS, stay safe. And look around you and enjoy the beauty of nature. When this is all over, our gardens will still be there waiting for us.

Links: all bulbs were bought from https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

The bellis daisies came originally from my Mum in a little pot stood on the patio all summer. Seeds can be bought from https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Bellis-Goliath-Mixed.html

Please leave comments below and let me know what’s flowering in your garden this Easter time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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