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

A Walk Around My Garden, Sunday 23 August 2020

It’s been a challenging few weeks. We wanted rain. And we got it. A month’s worth in four days. Followed by Storm Ellen and 40 mile per hour winds. Anything not firmly staked, flopped over. Sunflowers and cosmos took a bashing. It’s taken a couple of days to prop up plants, tie them in, and sweep up twigs and leaf litter. I sometimes wish I was passionate about interior design instead of gardening. Wouldn’t it be lovely to create a scene, and have nothing smash it to pieces. But, sadly, I’m not remotely interested in being indoors. I’m only really happy when I’m outside, in the fresh air. Anyway, to cheer us all up, here’s some photos of what’s in flower in my garden today.

My new rose, Belle de Jour. Rose of the Year for 2021. Flowers open clear, bright yellow and fade to sunset shades of peaches and cream. There’s a delicate fruity scent and plenty of pollen for bees. Nice healthy green leaves, which is good for an organic garden like mine.

I think we can definitely say these flowers stand up to the weather. Some roses ‘ball’ in the rain. They fail to open and turn to mush. Luckily, Belle de Jour copes with a deluge; there’s not a mark on the petals. My rose came, by post, from Roses UK which promotes the British rose trade. I’m sure the new rose will be a huge success. It’s looking lovely in my garden already. And I’m always pleased to support British nurseries.

I’m growing a new variety of courgette, ‘Summer Holiday.’ Isn’t it pretty. I don’t know why, but this photo makes me so happy. It looks such a gorgeous little thing, bright yellow, with a twisty green stem. It’s a joy. And so easy to grow. I’m in favour of anything easy, this summer. Everything seems to have been hard work, so a highly productive trouble-free plant is very welcome. There’s a recipe for courgette and cream cheese soup to follow. It only takes ten minutes to cook.

Courgette flowers look beautiful too. They only last a day, but are a sunny, joyful sight. I’ve planted courgette and squash all along the base of my climbing bean frame. They make good ground cover and smother weeds.

Here’s the beans I’m growing this year. Don’t they look colourful.

Yellow: Climbing French bean ‘Sunshine’. A new variety.

Green: Climbing French bean ‘Limka’.

Purple: Dwarf French bean ‘Red Swan’.

All growing together along the hazel A-frame support, with blue morning glory intertwined. The dwarf French beans grow to around 122cm (4ft). Climbing beans are around 2.5m (8ft). Every day, I’m gleefully throwing handfuls of beans into the freezer. They will be such a treat mid-winter when fresh greens are in short supply.

I have a newly-planted border all along the path to the front door. It was infested with couch grass. Over the winter I dug out all the plants and turned over the soil, searching for every scrap of tiny white couch grass roots. I had to do this four times before getting on top of the problem. In May, I planted the border with annuals; sunflowers, nicotiana, cosmos, and underplanted them with salvias, which I treat as bedding plants as they are not very hardy here.

I favour dark dusky-coloured sunflowers. This one pictured above is ‘Black Magic.’ It’s a multi-headed sunflower the colour of dark chocolate. Bees love it, and the seed will feed birds in winter. I won’t bother growing ‘Italian White’ again. The first sign of a gale and the petals curled up and dropped off. Not hardy enough for my windswept plot.

If you like yellow sunflowers you would love these, growing in the back fields behind my garden. We cheered when we saw the farmer sowing the seeds in spring. It’s a wildlife -friendly mix to attract pollinators, and the seedheads feed birds and mammals over winter.

The ridgeway footpath goes all along the side of the sunflower field. We walk along it twice a day, as we are still in the habit of our lockdown exercise regime. And some of us are still not venturing far, as we can’t take any risks. I’m still getting over a serious illness from three years ago, and although surgeons gave me a second chance, I’m not strong enough to fight off infection. Doctors nowadays are forthright. And mine, straight to the point, said a ventilator wouldn’t be an option. So there we are. I have to be careful. I’m not dwelling on it. I’m just grateful for small mercies, sunflowers included, as I can gaze at them and feel happy. I don’t know how, but I can.

We still have swallows flying here. They must be finding plenty of insects. I’ll miss them when they go. I think of the journey they have to make, such tiny birds. Such a long way. It’s always an anxious time waiting for them to return in spring. Maybe, I’m going to have to get my courage up, and be like the swallows. Set off into the unknown. I can’t stay here forever, as lovely as it is, and as tempting as it’s become to say how well I’m coping. Someday soon, I have to set forth. Wish me luck!

On the footpath, going home, I pass by this old crab apple tree. It must be 100 years old, the size of its trunk. It makes a natural arch over the pathway. I like to gaze into the distance and wonder how the view might have changed over the past century. Probably not a lot as it’s still all farmland round here. But the people who’ve passed by this tree, their lives would have been very different 100 years ago. We have so much to be grateful for.

Nearing home, by our field gate, you can see the row of trees we planted 30 years ago when we were in our 20s. We never thought those little saplings would grow into a wood. And we didn’t know how much joy they would give us, watching the leaves change through the seasons, and giving a home to birds and wildlife. This summer, these daisies suddenly appeared. On sunny days, they have a strong chamomile scent. They may only be weeds, but they are a lovely sight, even so. Don’t you agree.

How has your garden fared this summer with the heatwave, drought and storms? It feels like we have faced many challenges, all round. Let me know what’s looking good in your garden right now, and whether you are managing to get out and about yet, or like me, waiting for your moment.

Links:

Karengimson1 on instagram and @kgimson on twitter

Roses UK: https://www.rosesuk.com/

Rosa Belle De Jour: https://www.apuldramroses.co.uk/

Summer Holiday courgette: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Vegetable-Seeds/Courgette-Seed/Courgette-Summer-Holiday_2.html#.X0GQChB4WfA

Beans: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Pea-and-Bean-Seeds/Climbing-Bean-Seeds/#.X0GQPhB4WfA

Sunflowers : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sunflower-Black-Magic-F1-Seeds.html#.X0GQbRB4WfA

Six on Saturday meme : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/08/22/six-on-saturday-22-08-2020/

Gooseberry Crumble- family favourite recipes

When I was a teenager, I was taken on as a trainee reporter at the Melton Times weekly newspaper. One of our jobs was to go out into the town and obtain comments from residents. These were called ‘doing a vox pop.’ We would ask for views on local planning applications, council proposals, and any controversial subjects the editor could think of. There were no mobile phones in those days, so with no-one keeping track of us, we would be out about about for hours. Vox pops were one of my favourite jobs because I loved chatting to people. We just knocked on doors, said who we were, where we were from, and people let us in! Two hours later, we would leave, with our one paragraph comments, nicely replenished with home-made cake and numerous cups of tea. One elderly gentleman that stays in my memory was called Albert. I can’t remember what the vox pop was about, but when I knocked on the door, he took me straight through to the garden where he showed me his fruit and vegetables. He had rows and rows of gooseberries- green ones, yellow, and red, glistening in the sunshine as if they had been polished. The pruning demonstration and growing advice took an hour, and at the end we sat down and had the most delicious crumble I’ve ever eaten, gooseberries flavoured with elderflower syrup and crunchy almonds on top. At that moment, I was happy. I think we store up such moments in our memories, and come back to them from time to time. I have a picture in my head of me, sitting on a dining room chair brought out into the garden, enjoying the sunshine, eating delicious food. Albert, a widower in his 90s, lived alone. For one afternoon, he had someone’s rapt attention while he talked about his passion for growing fruit. I was very glad that I’d knocked on his door. In those few short hours, I learned about the generosity of gardeners, how a love of growing things, and sharing with others, drives some people. And kindness. I learned a lot about kindness. Looking back, I’m grateful and relieved to say most people I’ve chanced to meet have been kind. I’ve tried to honour their memory in this blog.

Here’s my Gooseberry Crumble Recipe – with grateful thanks to Albert, and his two ginger cats, who made me equally welcome in their garden.

RECIPE – CRUMBLE TOPPING

8oz (225g) plain flour

5oz (150g) soft light brown sugar

3oz (75g) butter or dairy alternative

2 tbsp flaked almonds (optional)

1 level tsp. baking powder

METHOD

Place the flour and baking powder in a large bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until it has all been dispersed fairly evenly and the mixture looks crumbly. Add the sugar and almonds and stir well to combine.

GOOSEBERRY CRUMBLE

Use 2lb (900g) gooseberries

2 tbsp elderflower syrup or cordial

Top and tail the fruit and place in a large pie dish. Sprinkle over the elderflower syrup and cover with the crumble mixture.

Bake in the centre shelf of an oven at 350F/ 180C/ gas mark 4 for 30- 40 minutes. Check to see if the topping is getting too brown after 30 minutes and cover with foil to finish cooking.

Keeps three days in a fridge, or can be portioned up and frozen for three months. Thaw before reheating.

Serve with custard, or thick double cream.

Enjoy!

My crumble mixture. Without almonds as a guest had an allergy to nuts.

All that was left of our family gooseberry crumble. I was lucky to have this piece left for the photo!

Gooseberries from my garden.

I recommend Hinnomaki Red, green Invicta, and yellow Early Sulphur. These can be grown in a shaded position. Like many fruit that is ‘tart,’ sunshine isn’t needed to make high sugar levels. So you can grow gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries and sour cherries such as Morello in shade.

Gooseberries will grow in full sun, but they are tolerant of shade, so it’s much better to save your sunny beds and borders for peaches, sweet cherry (Celeste is a good variety) gages and plums.

Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you enjoy the recipes. Have a great gardening week. Karen ❤️

Links: You might like to read https://bramblegarden.com/2018/07/26/summer-fruit-harvest-and-making-garden-jam/

Also: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/20/plum-crumble-family-favourite-recipes/

Gooseberries: https://www.chrisbowers.co.uk/category/gooseberries/

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/

Introducing Monty. 7th August 2020 – a new addition to Bramble Garden

I am typing this one-handed. The other hand is wrapped around a tiny tabby kitten. Usually, this blog is all about my garden and what I’m growing. I share with you my trials and tribulations as I coax seedlings into growth, set them out and watch over them. Just about everything seems determined to munch on, peck at and generally stunt my treasured seedlings. Gardening certainly teaches patience. Well, this time I am nurturing a kitten. We have called him Monty. And the process is rather like growing a delicate seedling. It requires plenty of patience. He has been a heap of trouble!

Monty had a life-threatening condition which wasn’t apparent until he arrived here. On his first morning, he was lively enough, but as the day wore on it was like watching a wind-up toy running out of power. He sort of wound down and stopped. I noticed he wasn’t eating anything, or using his litter tray. Luckily, I’d booked a vets appointment for vaccinations, but instead of getting his jabs he was put on a drip and given antibiotics. His problem turned out to be a blocked bowel.

While he was with his mother, in a familiar place, with his siblings, he survived. The mother’s milk sustained him. But taken away from his mother and moved to a new home, he crashed. I had never heard of this happening before and the vets warned kittens can sometimes die unexpectedly. The owner wouldn’t have known anything was wrong, so there’s absolutely no criticism being made here.

The crisis spurred me into full-speed rescue mode. Special baby milk arrived from the vets, complete with little bottles and teats. Monty became so weak he couldn’t lap the milk, so I measured out tiny amounts, 10ml at a time, and tipped him on his back. It was a struggle. Every few hours, I’d boil the kettle and mix the powder into a paste and then into a liquid. Any little lumps, and he wouldn’t drink it. Too cold, he’d refuse. He wasn’t at all helpful in this campaign. But I was determined he would survive.

There’s been so much I’ve not been able to change these past five months, so many things out of my control. I’m used to being able to do something to make things better. With covid, I felt I could do little to make a difference. But when Monty came along, I put all my efforts into encouraging him to live – it was something positive to do.

Now, after a few weeks, he is lapping milk and starting to eat.

Prescription kitten mousse arrived from the vets. Tiny amounts offered on the tip of my finger, to start with. Then I tapped the edge of the plate to encourage him.

After all this nursing, back and forth to the vets for subcutaneous fluids, Monty, is starting to thrive and is gaining weight. He’s still on the baby milk, and I’m reading -and re-reading the ‘ kitten paediatric weaning’ leaflets given to me by the vets to work out how to move him on to dried food. I’ve realised that nothing is going to be easy.

Carrying him around, and literally willing him to live, he is bonded to me now. I know all his funny little ways, and I expect he knows mine too.

He likes to lie down the side of the armchair in the summerhouse, rather than on my knee. He is somewhat squashed in, but I assume he feels safe there.

Monty has been as much trouble to nurture as a rare and exotic flower. But just as rewarding as anything I’ve ever ‘grown.’

I hope you’ve enjoyed this diversion from the usual tour of the garden. Have you ever had to nurture something as much as I have with Monty? Isn’t it rewarding – and exhausting. But so worthwhile. Thanks, as ever, for reading the blog and keeping in touch through these difficult times. It is much appreciated.

Talking on the radio – notes and photos for wednesday 22 July, BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour

I’m still talking on the radio once a fortnight – from the peace and quiet of my potting shed. It’s lovely to be at home rather than having to drive into Leicester. And when the music is playing between chats, I get on with a bit of watering or prick out a few seedlings, and nobody knows.

This week we talk about sweet peas. I’m growing new variety, Ripple Mixed, pictured above. It has mauve, pink, and purple markings on a pale pink background. The scent is strong, and stems are nice and long, making them ideal for cut flower posies. One to keep on my list for autumn sowing. I’m ordering seeds now to ensure I get the varieties I want. This year’s experience of buying plants and seeds – and the long delays receiving them- has taught me to plan ahead and order early.

Here’s a selection of sweet peas I’m putting in jam jars on the village green to raise money for Rainbows Hospice for children and young people. Rainbows cares for children with life-limiting illnesses and nearly all its funding comes from donations. The hospice has lost almost £1 million in fund raising this year, due to events being cancelled because of covid. I put leaflets alongside the flowers, hoping it might encourage someone to learn more about the hospice and make a regular donation. Every little helps.

Here’s the Wiltshire Ripple variety I mention, with its delicate picotee edge. I wouldn’t be without this one. Always a good strong performer.

This is Mayflower 400, another new variety, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers sailing to the New World. It’s highly-scented and a good strong grower. Long stems, and flowers last a week in a vase.

After talking about flowers, we move on to what I’m growing and harvesting from the plot. Plums are prolific again this year. This is Victoria, delicious and reliable. I’m making jam. It’s such a treat in winter to have a taste of summer. I stand the jars along the kitchen window and admire them. It’s like looking through pink stained glass. Very cheerful on a cold, dark day.

The recipe for plum crumble cakes and plum jam is here : https://bramblegarden.com/2017/08/22/peaches-and-plums-crumble-and-jam/

When my children were little, we fed them apple purée as their first solid food. BBC Radio Leicester programme host Naomi Kent is having a baby in two months, so we talk about the varieties of apple trees she might plant in her new garden.

I’m growing Spartan, a gorgeous deep red apple with a sweet honey taste. Apples are small and numerous, the perfect size for children’s lunch boxes. Lovely for juicing which is a somewhat messy process, but worth the effort.

I also grow Greensleeves (above) for cooking and eating. It’s sweet enough on its own, so you won’t need to add sugar for cakes, purée and puddings. Kept somewhere cool, apples will store until February.

Supermarkets often only sell a few apple varieties, typically Cox, Golden Delicious and Braeburn. Often they’ve been grown abroad and flown in. Sometimes they are coated with chemicals to improve their keeping qualities. And yet, in the UK, we have perfect conditions to grow your own apples. Traditionally, apple trees would have been 6m tall, but plant breeders have produced some compact varieties for small gardens and containers. Lubera have a range of ‘column’ fruit trees which have short side shoots and a narrow, vertical growing habit. I’m growing Malini Top Model which looks as if it will be about 50cm wide and eventually 3m tall. I’m growing it in a large plant pot and it has a good crop of apples in its third year. Lubera also have column types of pear, cherry and plum varieties on their website.

We had record amounts of cherries this year. I’ve been freezing them and preserving them in alcohol for winter treats. There’s a cherry marzipan chocolate recipe mentioned in the links at the end.

My cherry tree is Stella, a self fertile variety bred in Canada and introduced to Britain in the 1960s.

If you’ve got a small garden, opt for a cherry tree on dwarfing Gisela rootstock, which makes a compact tree. It’s much easier to protect trees from frost, if they are small enough to cover with fleece or an old bed sheet.

Good varieties to try include self-fertile Sunburst, Summer Sun and Celeste.

I’m fond of pears too. I have a Conference pear which provides plenty of fruit. If you are short of space, pears are easily trained along a fence or wall, in an espalier shape. Pears need more sunshine and warmth than apples, so it is a good idea to give them the protection of a warm wall. I’m going to plant a Concorde pear on the south wall of the house. Concorde is possibly a more reliable cropper than Conference.

If you have a more shadier garden, and you want to grow fruit, I’ve found success with Morello cherries, damson and quince, and crab apples for making jelly.

As well as apples, pears, plums and cherries, I wouldn’t be without my mini peach trees. I’m growing dwarfing variety Garden Lady and Bonanza in 45cm pots. We don’t get very many peaches yet, but the taste is so delicious and sweet. It’s a special treat to have home- grown ripe and tasty peaches.

I’d love to grow my own apricots. I’ve seen compact varieties Aprigold and Isabelle at nurseries. Our neighbour, Arthur, at our first house, had a fan-trained Moorpark apricot. He never did any other gardening, leaving it all to his wife Dorothy, but every day he fussed over his apricot tree, watered it and covered it up on cold nights. When it produced a magnificent crop each summer, he gave bags of fruit to his neighbours all along the little row of terraced houses. Happy memories of wonderful, kind neighbours. We have been so lucky to always have lovely people living next door.

So, to sum up, you don’t need a huge garden to grow fruit. It is possible to have a whole orchard- in pots on your patio. No need for rolling acres. Dwarfing varieties designed for growing in containers, some large pots, 45cm diameter, and John Innes no3 compost is all you’ll need. Set up an automatic drip watering system, or water the pots every day in summer. I add potash-rich seaweed feed every fortnight, and I refresh the top of the pots, taking out a small amount of compost and adding in some new compost, every year.

What fruit trees are you growing at home. Have you any recommendations for small gardens. Get in touch and let me know how you are getting on with your growing this summer.

Links:

Sweet pea seeds: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Tall_3/Sweet-Pea-Ripple-Mixed-Seeds.html#.XxrSvBB4WfA

Mayflower 400 : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Mayflower-400.html#.XxrS4hB4WfA

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

Apple and Almond Slice Recipe: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/11/07/apple-and-almond-slice-family-favourite-recipes/

Cherry marzipan chocolates: https://bramblegarden.com/2018/12/04/family-favourite-recipes-chocolate-marzipan-cherries/

BOOKS TO READ:

An Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/09/27/an-orchard-odyssey-book-review-and-prize-draw/

The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty

https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

BBC Radio Leicester : https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08jzr94. Gardening starts at 3.11.48 on the timeline.

Six on Saturday – my garden 18 July 2020

Calendula Snow Princess. Starts off butter yellow and fades to cream. Edges look as if they have been dipped in chocolate. Each flower is different. Such a pretty thing.

I talk about my calendulas in this week’s Garden News magazine. It’s quite a challenge to say a lot in just 350 words. But luckily I like a challenge. And I’m getting some lovely feedback from readers who say they enjoy hearing what I’m getting up to on my plot.

I have to weave in and out of the calendulas along the path. Verbascum provides a lot of flowers for minimum space. If cut back repeatedly, it flowers until first frosts, and certainly brings in plenty of pollinators.

Sweet peas are in full production. There’s Wiltshire Ripple in the foreground, and Mayflower 400 behind.

We’ve had four hoglets born in the garden this summer, one less than last year. They are all thriving and putting on weight. I’m remembering to put water out for them every night. They drink from the tiny bucket pond on the veg plot and the horseshoe wildlife pond. Early- ripening plums are falling to the ground in the orchard, providing a feast for the hedgehogs. Luckily there’s enough for all of us to share.

And my sixth picture this week, isn’t strictly speaking from the garden, but this little kitten has come to live here and is currently keeping me company in the potting shed. He’s slept all day in a fruit crate, having kept us awake half the night with fun and games. We haven’t decided on a name yet. Suggestions welcome. He’s very bossy. Brave and intrepid. We’ve never had a kitten before. All our cats have been adults or seniors from the RSPCA. But this little fellow is here because of covid. Vets cancelled all neutering operations, and the inevitable happened when the mother cat managed to get out. I like to think that he is something positive to have come out of this challenging time. Certainly we will never forget the year he was born. And he’s making us all smile -when we haven’t really had much to smile about recently. Honestly, who could resist!

Let me know what’s making you happy this weekend. How’s your garden looking at the moment? Have you managed to meet up with family and friends? Get in touch and let me know.

Niwaki winner… prize draw

Thank you to everyone who read my Niwaki garden tools review. I got a message from WordPress saying my ‘stats were booming!’ Whatever that means! I am very grateful for all your support.

The winner for the prize draw for the Niwaki garden snips is Gardening Alice.

Keep an eye out for more reviews and prize draws. There’s plenty more to come…. Thank you again. And thanks to Niwaki for providing the garden snips.

You can read the review here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/07/10/niwaki-tools-review-and-some-garden-snips-to-give-away-gardening/

Niwaki : https://www.niwaki.com/

Niwaki Jake : https://www.niwaki.com/jakehobson/

Gardening Alice https://gardeningalice.wordpress.com/

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. And karen gimson on Pinterest.

Do come over and say hello. There’s a thriving and supportive gardening network on social media. I don’t know what I would have done without my twitter friends these past five months. They have distracted me from worrying and helped me focus on gardening-related matters. It’s been like team work.

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.

Niwaki tools review – and some garden snips to give away

I don’t use chemicals in my garden. Some weeds are allowed to thrive, if they are useful to insects and pollinators. Dandelions are particularly good for bees, especially in early spring when pollen is scarce. There are some types of solitary bee that only feed on dandelions. I wouldn’t want to deprive them of their vital sustenance. But, I don’t want a lawn predominantly covered in dandelions. It’s all about striking a balance, so I start to thin them out in mid-summer. Niwaki sent a Hori Hori knife for a trial and It’s perfect for deep-rooted weeds such as dandelions. I was using a trowel before, which often didn’t get to the bottom of the tap root, and was hard work over a large area. The Hori Hori is sharp enough to easily slice through grass, and strong enough to gently lever weeds out of the soft wet ground. I notice, on the website, it says the knife is: “Mighty, but not invincible. It’s best not to stick it in heavy clay and yank back hard.”

When I’ve removed the dandelions, plantains and thistles, I pop a Seedball into the hole that’s left. Seedballs are wildflower seeds encased in clay. They can simply be scattered around the garden. They come in selections named bee, butterfly, poppy, urban, bat, bird and beetle. Hopefully, in time, I’ll end up with a flowering lawn, full of cowslips, self heal, wild marjoram and primroses. I’m aiming for a tapestry carpet effect.

The Hori Hori has a strong canvas holster which I think could be attached to a belt. The hand-forged carbon steel blade runs right through the handle, for strength. Tough and strong, it seems built to last. The handle is FSC beech wood and the blade is 7″ 17cm long.

As well as digging up weeds in the lawn, my knife is great for removing weeds from between paving slabs. I also spent a happy hour digging up ‘free’ plants which had self-seeded in the gravel. I found bellis daisies, perennial geraniums, sedums, erigeron daisies and several seedling trees- silver birch, maple and mountain ash. Much easier to lever them out with a sharp blade than using a trowel.

Bellis daisies seed readily around and make lovely bedding plants for borders and plant pots. Free plants are always welcome here.

Here’s a seedling mountain ash rescued from the gravel path. Beautiful spring flowers for bees, and autumn berries for birds. Great for any wildlife garden.

Erigeron karvinskianus also seeds readily between paving and in gravel. Another ‘free plant,’ dug up and transplanted into a 9cm pot.

My Hori Hori has quickly become a tool I reach for whatever task I’m doing, planting, weeding, slashing bramble roots. It’s comfortable to use and makes life much easier. And that’s what gardening is all about for me, managing the weeds, not totally obliterating them, just tipping the balance, and keeping me in charge, rather than always rushing around desperately trying to keep up.

I’ve asked the team at Niwaki to offer a reader prize. They have currently sold out of Hori Hori knives, probably due to the upsurge of interest in gardening over the covid period. So they are offering some forged garden snips instead. Keep an eye on the blog, and when they send me another item to try, the Hori Hori will probably be back in stock for a prize at a later date.

Meanwhile, to enter for the garden snips, just leave a comment in the box below and Niwaki will randomly select a name. Usual rules apply. Niwaki’s decision is final and there’s no cash alternative.

A winner will be announced on Monday. Please check back. Thank you.

Do you have any favourite garden tools. Nearly all of mine belonged to my grandfather Ted Foulds. And some belonged to his father, so they date back to the 1930s. They have certainly stood the test of time, and I wouldn’t be without them.

Links : Niwaki https://www.niwaki.com/store/hori-hori/

Seedball : https://seedball.co.uk/product/bee-matchbox/

I write for Garden News Magazine: https://www.gardennewsmagazine.co.uk/minimag