Attracting Garden Pollinators – by Jean Vernon. Prize draw winners.

Thank you to everyone who read my review of Jean Vernon’s latest book. To celebrate my return to blogging, I’m sending out four books to readers who left comments. Names were randomly selected, and the winners are Menhir1, Kate Elliott, Pauline (Lead Up the Garden Path) and Gill. I’ve sent the winners messages in the replies section, but if you are reading this please send your addresses to k.gimson@btinternet.com and I’ll get books sent out to you. Thank you again to everyone who reads my blog and takes the time to leave a comment. It’s always much appreciated.

Here’s some more excerpts from the book. There’s chapters advising on the best plants to grow to help pollinators. I grow both the blue and the white form of borage. The blue variety has flowers the colour of a Mediterranean sky. I use flowers in salad dishes and also to decorate cakes.

Cosmos is another favourite plant in my garden. Not only is it very useful for cut flowers, it also attracts a wide range of bees and butterflies. There’s plenty of space for more than one bee or butterfly to land and feed.

Here’s a photo from my garden with Cosmos Seashells providing plenty of pollen for these bumblebees.

My home-made bee hotel. These are made from cardboard tubes and garden canes. Nearly all of the canes contain cocoons. The bees plug the ends of the canes with mud to protect the cocoons over winter. I’m now looking into buying special bee chambers with removable paper tubes. These can be replaced and refreshed each year to help prevent diseases.

I also have some bee bricks which are specially made to integrate into buildings, replacing a normal brick with one containing nesting holes of varying sizes. These also seem very popular with solitary bees.

The back cover of Jean’s latest book.

Information about the author.

Jean with her new book. Photo by Hannah McVicar.

I was very pleased to take part in the blog tour launch of this beautiful and very special book which has an important message for all of us. Helping garden pollinators ultimately helps us too. Bees, butterflies, moths and other insects all help to pollinate our fruit and vegetables. Help them, and we are ultimately helping ourselves. More pollinators equals higher productivity and therefore more food. It makes sense to do all we can to provide the best habitat we can for pollinators.

I wrote about Jean’s new book here:

https://bramblegarden.com/

Jean’s previous book is reviewed here:

https://bramblegarden.com/?s=Secret+lives+of+bees

Attracting Garden Pollinators – by Jean Vernon.

Book review and one copy to give away.

Published by White Owl, imprint of Pen and Sword Books

Published summer 2022

Hardback. £25

ISBN 1526711907

Please leave a comment at the end of the review if you would like to be put into the publisher’s prize draw for one copy of the book. Names will be chosen randomly.

Right by my front door, on a warm, sunny south-facing wall, we have a selection of bee ‘houses’ some home-made from cardboard tubes and garden canes, and some purchased at a local supermarket. These are a source of wonder and joy as clouds of solitary bees hatch out and start to forage in the front garden. Watching a new, baby bee hatching out of its winter cocoon is such an exciting and magical moment. Thanks to a new book on attracting pollinators to our gardens, I’ve been able to identify our bees. They are red mason bees; solitary bees that nest in wall cavities and readily use bee houses like ours. In Jean Vernon’s book I’ve learned these bees are fond of fruit tree nectar and pollinate apples, pears and other spring and summer-flowering trees. So I’m expecting a bumper crop of fruit this year. And I’ve learned these bees, like most solitary bees, do not sting, so there’s no danger to me or any visitors walking past the bees to get to the front door. Reading on, I learn that one way to help my bees is to leave a mud patch nearby so there’s plenty of material to seal their eggs cells. It’s completely calming and relaxing watching the bees going about their daily lives, and I want to do all I can to help them. It would be terrible to think of these bees emerging into the world and not finding anything nearby to eat. Jean points out that some solitary bees will only travel a few metres from their nests to find sustenance and they will starve if there’s not enough suitable plants flowering at the right moment.

Here’s a photo of a red mason bee in Jean’s book. (photo by Liam Olds).

Jean’s book is split into chapters on identifying and learning about specific pollinators such as butterflies, moths, bees, and hoverflies among others, and advice on which plants to grow to help pollinators.

Hoverflies are amongst the types of pollinators highlighted in the book.
Butterflies and bees sharing the same plant.
Even small spaces can accommodate plants for pollinators. This year, I’ve taken Jean’s advice and planted my hanging baskets with calendula, lavender, nasturtium and marjoram.
Borage is one of the ‘plants for pollinators’ highlighted in the book.
Cosmos is another favourite of mine and it’s good to know it will provide food for pollinators all through summer from June to October. Flat daisy-like flowers are good because there’s plenty of room for several insects to land and feed at the same time.

Photo of Jean by Hannah McVicar.

If you’ve been listening to BBC Radio Leicester you’ll know that Attracting Garden Pollinators has twice been my Book of the Week. I’m happy to recommend such an easy to read and information-packed book. Jean writes in a friendly and accessible way. Her passion for nature and wildlife shines through and you can’t help but get caught up and carried along by her enthusiasm for the subject. Simple ways to help pollinators are suggested, and you don’t need a huge garden to make a difference. Even a windowbox or container can be a five star diner!

I wrote about Jean’s other best-selling book here:

https://bramblegarden.com/?s=Secret+lives+of+bees

Please leave a comment in the box below if you would like to enter the publisher’s prize draw for one copy of the book. Names will be randomly drawn. I will only contact you on this page and no payment of any kind will be asked for. Please be aware of scams. Please also feel free to leave a comment if you don’t want to be included in the draw. Just let me know.

Signed copies of both books are available from the author’s website here : https://thegreenjeanie.com/shop/

Thank you for reading my blog and book reviews. Are you growing any plants with pollinators in mind? Have you tried making a bee house? I was fascinated to read you can buy red mason bee cocoons to hatch out in your garden. Alternatively, invest in some special mason bee tubes and install them in a nesting box . You can replace the tubes each year to keep the nest free from pests and parasites.

Daffodils in memory of Joan

Polar Ice from Bulbs.co.uk

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

Sailboat

Avalanche
Arctic Bells
Arctic Bells
Emerald Green
Pistachio
Euphony
Ice Wings

Envoy
Rainbow

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

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

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

https://bulbs.co.uk/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos kindly provided by award-winning photographer Andrea Jones.

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

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

Magnolia Caerhays Belle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.melbournehall.com/

Church Square, Melbourne, Derbyshire, DE73 8EN

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

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

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

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

A Greener Life – by Jack Wallington

BOOK REVIEW AND MY BBC LOCAL RADIO BOOK OF THE WEEK

Published by Laurence King, March 2022

Hardback, 192 pages, £19.99

ISBN: 978-085782-893-4

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter five focuses on greening indoor spaces and greening workspaces.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Crocus Tommasinianus and Galanthus nivalis in the front woodland garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The doubles flower just a few weeks before the singles.

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

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

A small patch of Galanthus Robin Hood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Sarahraven.com

ISBN: 9 781529816617

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Info from today’s BBC Radio Leicester Gardening Show -Saturday 4 December 2021

Here’s some links to the recipes I mentioned today, and ideas for home-made and home-grown Christmas decorations and presents.

Thanks to everyone who listens in on a Saturday morning at 11am, and thank you also for all your kind and encouraging comments. Many thanks to Tracey from Melton who says she feels like rushing out into the garden to do some gardening every time she hears us talking on the radio. It’s much appreciated.

We talked about:

Planting tulips

As regular readers know, I love to save money. If you wait until December, many tulips have been reduced in price. If you are looking for a bargain, try well-respected suppliers. I recommend:

Dutch Grown: (now sold out- but keep a note for next year)

https://www.dutchgrown.co.uk/collections/tulips

GeeTee Bulbs

https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

Peter Nyssen

https://www.peternyssen.com/autumn-planting/tulips.html

If you are buying from garden centres, tulips will be sold in plastic bags with a cardboard front showing the photo of the variety and information about growing them. These are usually hanging up on racks. Gently squeeze the bulbs to make sure they are firm. Any soft mushy bulbs will fail to grow. They need to be firm and dry. Don’t buy any with a blue mould growing on them. Nice large, plump bulbs with the brown papery skin intact are best. I wouldn’t buy any that have been stored and displayed outside either, incase they’ve got frosted or wet. Choose ones stored inside the garden centre instead.

Here’s some inspiration for bulb planting from a previous blog I wrote. I’ll be planting my tulips up until the first week of January:

https://bramblegarden.com/tag/tulips-parrottulips/

MAKING CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS FROM THE GARDEN

Dogwood hearts are really easy to make. Take two pencil thin stems of dogwood or coloured willow. Bend each side over to form the heart. Tie with florists’ reel wire or string to secure. Decorate with foliage and berries. I’ve used cotoneaster here. Add some fluffy seed heads, such as. ‘old man’s beard’ or wild Clematis Vitalba. I’ve used string, but you can use any type of ribbon to hang the decoration. These hearts can be any size. I make a giant one with four stems to create a double heart for decorating our five bar farm gate.

Some more ideas for using natural materials from the garden. I’ve threaded inexpensive, mouldable wire lights from Wilkos to these dogwood and willow stems. I sprayed hydrangea heads with florists’ silver spray.

My front door wreath also has flowers and foliage from the garden. The flowers are hellebores from the Gold Collection. There’s a whole range of them, all recommended. Hellebore Jacob flowers for Christmas and is pure white. This one is Winter Gold, with white hydrangea flowers which have dried lime green.

I learned how to make these willow wreaths on a course by the highly respected florist, author and social media/ you tube star Georgie Newbery. Workshops in flower farming, creating a cut flower patch, growing sweet peas, and floristry, are highly recommended. Would make a perfect present for a gardener. There are also many on-line courses. Have a look at the you tube channel and on instagram to get some wonderful, original ideas.

https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/

BEETROOT

We talked about growing beetroot today. Most of my beetroot is stored in dry sand or recycled, dry compost over winter in the frost free potting shed. I grew it in the spring and summer. I’ve left some in the ground, but it’s easier to lift and store, as it can’t be harvested from frozen ground. The best variety to grow is Bolthardy, which does what it says; it grows well without bolting or running to seed. Did you know you can eat the leaves? You can use them in salads and stir fries. You can grow just leaves now on the windowsill. Look out for Bulls Blood variety sold as windowsill growing seeds. Mr Fothergills (Johnson’s seed) sell them on-line and in garden centres. You can grow them in 9cm pots on a sunny window and harvest shoots and leaves when they are 4” tall. They will re-grow several times, making a tasty addition to salads and sandwiches.

BEETROOT CAKE

We talked about baking with beetroot and making chocolate beetroot cake. Here’s my recipe for a rich fruit/ beetroot cake. It’s tasty and good for you!

https://bramblegarden.com/2017/12/21/fact-sheet-bbc-down-to-earth-gardening-programme-recipes-and-home-made-presents/

JOAN’S CHRISTMAS APPLE CHUTNEY RECIPE

Regular readers will know that my much loved wonderful mother-in-law Joan is in a care home in Oadby, Leicestershire. She suffers from mixed dementia. Before she became ill, I wrote down all the family favourite recipes and at Christmas I make them for her children, grand children and great grandchildren. It’s a wonderful way to ‘keep her with us’ even though, sadly, she can’t remember who we are.

Here’s the link for the blog piece with the recipe

https://bramblegarden.com/2020/11/21/joans-christmas-apple-chutney-recipe/

CUTTING GRASS IN WINTER

We talked about cutting grass in winter. Twenty or thirty years ago we used to send our lawn mowers off to be serviced in October and we didn’t see them again until March. It’s an indication of climate change that nowadays we are cutting our lawns all year round. Grass grows when the temperature is above 6C. There is no harm in ‘topping’ grass if it needs it, providing the conditions are dry. Set the cutters high for winter, and don’t scalp the lawn. We don’t cut the grass if the ground is wet or frozen, as it damages the lawn and makes muddy skid patches where weeds will grow. Never walk on frozen lawns as it damages the base of the grass stems and leads to fungal diseases. I would collect clippings over the winter too, and not leave them lying on the grass. Best not to walk on very wet ground as it causes compaction, which grass doesn’t like. Remember to leave some areas of the garden with long grass as a winter habitat for caterpillars and insects – these will be food for frogs, birds and mammals. Just a strip down the edge of the lawn will help.

HOME MADE CHRISTMAS PRESENTS

I mentioned my mint sugar and rosemary salt recipes which make lovely home made presents. Nearly all my presents are made from things grown in the garden.

Take 5 stems of mint, thoroughly dry leaves on kitchen towel. Strip leaves from the stems and layer them in a clean jam jar with 350g sugar. Stir every day for two weeks. Tip the contents into a sieve and remove the leaves. Pour sugar into clean jam jars and use within a year. Lovely for hot chocolate and cakes.

I recommend Stephanie Hafferty’s book The Creative Kitchen for seasonal plant-based recipes for meals, drinks, garden and self care.

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

More recipes from the garden:

https://bramblegarden.com/2020/12/08/garden-news-magazine-recipes-for-december/

And finally, Arun mentioned that I had been shortlisted for Columnist of the Year for my Garden News magazine column, and Blog of the Year by the prestigious Garden Media Guild. I was delighted to be shortlisted in two categories. A really wonderful end to another challenging year. Thank you, every one of you, for reading this blog, listening to the radio on Saturdays, getting in touch and leaving encouraging comments, it is truly appreciated. Have a great gardening weekend!

You can listen back to the gardening show on BBC Sounds. It’s at 11.12.35 on the timeline. Or ask your smart speaker to tune in to BBC Radio Leicester on Saturdays from 11am. Questions are welcome via e mail, phone, text or WhatsApp. Start your message with the word Leicester, else it goes to other radio stations.

Latest news from the plot from Garden News magazine

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

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

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

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

https://fionacumberpatch.com/

Some more photos from the plot:

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

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

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

Overwintering pelargonium (geranium ) plants – BBC Radio Leicester phone-in questions for Saturday 6th November 2021

Scented leaf pelargoniums in my summer containers

I grow a huge number of bedding pelargonium plants – better known as geraniums- for containers in the summer. They flower non-stop from June to November. They are little trouble and all I do is give them some potash liquid fertiliser once a week, and regularly dead-head them

These are tender evergreen perennials and can be kept over winter in a frost free place. This year I have nearly 100 4” pots, full of cuttings which will be kept in my heated greenhouse. This is a space-saving method to keep them from one year to the next. If you don’t have a greenhouse, a bright windowsill indoors is suitable. As long as the cuttings are kept frost-free they will fine. The secret is not to overwater them. In the greenhouse, I only water pots once when the cuttings are taken, and then I don’t water them again until next February when I want to start them back into growth. Cuttings kept indoors in the house will be watered very minimally as the temperatures indoors are higher than in the greenhouse. Full-size plants can carry on flowering all year round if they are brought indoors. Check them for pests and diseases before bringing them in and top the pots with horticultural grit to keep the surface of the compost dry. Wet compost promotes grey mould. Remove any damaged or diseased leaves. When watering, make sure to keep leaves as dry as possible by aiming the water at the base of the plants.

My father in law used to keep his prize-winning pelargoniums in the garage. He dug up his plants in autumn, shook off all the compost, removed all of the leaves and wrapped the remaining stumps and roots in newspaper. They were kept cool, dry and frost free until the spring. I’ve tried this method, but only found it partially successful as my potting shed got damp in winter.

Here’s a blog post I wrote about overwintering my pelargoniums: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/09/15/clearing-out-the-greenhouse-taking-pelargonium-cuttings-sunday-september-15/

Are you planning to keep your pelargoniums over the winter? Or do you sow yours from scratch each spring? Or buy them ready to plant from the garden centre in early summer?

This year I grew all my bedding plants, including some new varieties of pelargonium, from packets of seed. I was amazed how many pelargoniums could be grown from such tiny dust-like seeds. It was a money-saving option that worked out well.

Some more photos from my greenhouse and garden to brighten your day:

This is a Rosebud pelargonium

A collection of bedding pelargonium plants making a display in the greenhouse.

Common names can be confusing. Most people use the word geranium when they are talking about pelargoniums. But geraniums are a different plant genus. So to avoid confusion, people refer to them as ‘hardy geraniums’ – the sort you grow in beds and borders, as ground cover amongst other plants, and ‘tender geraniums’ (pelargoniums) grown in hanging baskets and containers.

A variety I’ve kept going for more than 20 years, taken from a cutting from my grandfather. It was his favourite pelargonium.

A miniature pelargonium which flowers all year round. This one came from Fibrex Nurseries, a specialist grower, highly recommended. https://www.fibrex.co.uk/. Miniature pelargoniums are wondrous things. I’ll write a new blog post explaining how to grow them. They are easy to grow and once you’ve grown one, you’ll want to start a collection. I warn you, they are addictive!

If you listen in to BBC Radio Leicester, the gardening programme has moved to Saturdays at 11am. Josie Hutchins and I take it in turns to answer phone-in questions and talk about what gardening jobs we are doing each week. If you have a question, please get in touch with The producer, Dale. We are one of the few local stations now offering gardening advice on the radio.

Accidents in the Garden

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

TAMSINS STORY

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

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

Tamsin at her book launch at Hatchards, London.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

Diary for Garden News Magazine

Latest news from the plot. Click on the photo to enlarge the print. There’s never enough room for all the photos I take. So here’s a selection of pictures to go with the diary recently published in Garden News Magazine.

I’m looking forward to growing this Limonium Pink Pokers next spring. The photo above was taken at Mr Fothergill’s seed trial grounds in August. I love the two-tone flowers and their delightful habit of twisting and turning as they grow towards the sun. They remind me of fireworks. I’ll start seed sowing indoors in February at 20C in a propagator and plant them out in June. They will be perfect for my jam jar posies. In addition, flowers can be hung up to dry. It will be useful to have flowers for winter decorations. Limonium, a half hardy annual, grows to 80cm and flowers from June to October. Available from Johnson’s seed, the premium range from Mr Fothergill’s.

In the article above, I mention growing dahlias from seed. I’ve been so delighted with the success of my seed-sown dahlias this year. I’ve had outstanding flowers, large single blooms with bright, jewel-like colours. It’s a money-saving option too. My Mum manages to fill her back garden with dahlias grown from a packet of seed. Started early in February, seedlings make small tubers and grow to full-size plants by mid-summer. There’s a non-stop supply of flowers for our vases. Plus bees love them too, so it’s an wildlife-friendly option. Pollinators have easy access to the flat, open centres of these flowers. You can sometimes see the ‘bee lines’ showing pollinators the way to the centre. If you don’t have any storage space for dahlia tubers over winter, don’t worry. You can get excellent results by starting from seed in spring.

Another beauty- grown from a mixed packed of seed. I also grew some ‘Bishop’s Children’ types
this year with very good results. Each plant had dark leaves which set off the bright flowers a treat.

I mention the new Home Florists’ range of roses specially bred for cut flower gardens. I’ve been amazed by the sheer number of flowers these provided. Such good quality flowers which last a week in a vase, if water is refreshed each day. The scent is reminiscent of old roses, particularly old-fashioned bourbon roses. The roses, by Wharton’s Nursery, can be found in most good garden centres, or on line. Look out for Timeless Purple and Timeless Cream. Both recommended.

In amongst my cut flowers, I grow vegetables such as peas, climbing beans, courgettes, sweet corn and beetroot. I’m growing Valido peas, a new maincrop variety which is disease resistant. Luckily it is resistant to mildew which means the plants keep cropping right through to the autumn. Often pea plants turn brown as leaves and stems die back. Valido copes with anything the summer weather can throw at it, and produces a heavy crop of delicious peas. I’ve saved some of my seed for growing in seed trays over the winter. Pea shoots will be harvested just a few weeks from sowing – and won’t have cost me a penny. Lovely nutritious shoots to add to my salads and stir fries.

Monty Kitten is more like a dog than a cat. He follows me around the garden and likes to get involved in everything I’m doing. He followed me out onto the grass verge when I put my jam jar flowers out for sale.

Finding newts in the garden is always a cause for celebration. It’s reassuring to find them under stones by my mini-pond, and in the greenhouse and polytunnel. They must be attracted by the moisture. I only use natural seaweed-type feeds, diluted in a watering can, to feed my fruit, vegetables and cut flowers on the patch.

Fruit and vegetables have grown well this year. In my basket there’s white-stem chard, perpetual spinach, herbs, white-flowered runner bean variety ‘Moonlight’ onions, tomatoes Blaby, Marmande and cherry types. There’s been a steady flow of blueberries from the plot. Ivanhoe is growing in a large 40cm diameter pot.

Here’s the link for the blueberry French toast recipe I mention: https://www.martinfish.com/in-the-kitchen/super-blueberries-in-julys-kitchen/

This is made by Martin and Jill Fish who provide cookery talks and demonstrations and have written a favourite book ‘Gardening on the Menu’ with advice on growing fruit and veg, and how to cook and preserve them.

Thank you for reading my blog, and my diary in Garden News Magazine. If you also listen to BBC Radio Leicester, the gardening show has moved from Wednesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 11.35. If you get in touch with the producers, I’ll answer any questions live on the show.

Have a great gardening week!

Rosa Timeless Cream (Home Florists’ Range)

The View From Federal Twist- Book review

By James Golden

Published by Filbert Press

UK publication day 28 October 2021 £40

ISBN: 9 781999 734572

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

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

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

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

The book is dedicated to Philip.
Front cover

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

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

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

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

BBC Gardeners’ World Live Show 2021

If you are attending Gardeners’ World Live this week, look out for the ‘Make Do and Mend’ garden by High Ground rehabilitation centre. It may only be 3m by 3m, but it’s packed with interest and colour – and everything has been created from recycled materials.

Andy Wright, therapeutic gardens manager, said 22 patients of the military rehabilitation centre were involved in creating the gold medal- winning garden. The garden has been designed and built with sustainability in mind. All of the hard landscaping and most of the plants will return to Stanford Hall, Leicestershire, where they will be used for the benefit of patients.

A former Royal Engineer created the shed out of packing crates from an MRI scanner delivered to the centre, and the path though the middle of the garden is made from end blocks of pallets.

Pallets were also used to make a picket fence at the front of the garden, and there’s a wooden bug hotel and shelving unit.

A poppy sculpture made out of wire and metal stands at the front of the garden. It was made by a serviceman injured in Afghanistan.

All the plants for the garden have been grown from seed and cuttings by patients.

HighGround charity was launched in 2013 by Anna Baker Cresswell and uses horticulture as a therapy and to improve the wellbeing and employment prospects of former members of HM Forces.

This garden was one of my favourites at the NEC Birmingham show. It was the one I most wanted to tiptoe into, and I could see myself sitting in front of the beautiful little shed. Even though it was only tiny, there were hidden features such as the bug hotel that drew you into the space. And the next time I get hold of a pallet, I’m going to take it apart and create a block path like this one. It’s simply stunning!

Are you going to BBC Gardeners’ World Live Show this year? If so, let me know which gardens are your favourites too. And good luck to Cathy, who won my prize draw a few weeks ago and has won two tickets for the show. After all the cancellations last year, it’s a relief to see shows like this going ahead again this summer.

*Cathy is at https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

This month’s diary for Garden News Magazine

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

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

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

Thanks for reading, and have a great gardening week!

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

Flowers for the care home, at last….

Cosmos and dahlias from my plot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rudbeckias, calendula and green seed heads from Ammi majus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes and links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Butterfly House winner….…

Holly Blue butterfly on my calendula

Kate Elliott has won the butterfly house in the Vivara prize draw. Thank you to everyone who read the blog and left a comment.

Here’s the link to the blog post: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/07/31/vivara-butterfly-house-review-and-giveaway-bigbutterflycount-butterflyconservation/

Painted Lady butterfly on Budleja

You’ve got until 8th August to submit your Big Butterfly Count survey results. So far I’ve had mostly cabbage white butterflies, a few Meadow Browns, two Commas, two Tortoiseshell, two Peacock butterflies, two Holly Blue, one Painted Lady, and a stunning Ghost Moth! You can also submit reports for moths you encounter during your 15 minute survey. Let me know how you get on with yours. My figures were disappointing compared with last year and the year before. However, even poor numbers are worth recording as Butterfly Conservation, who are organising the event, says the citizen science survey is ‘like taking the pulse of nature.’ It’s an indication of how insects are coping with our changing climate.

Female Ghost Moth

Vivara wildlife suppliers

Butterfly Conservation: https://butterfly-conservation.org/

Vivara Butterfly House Review and Giveaway. #BigButterflyCount #ButterflyConservation

*Gifted item.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Comma butterfly on an echinacea plant in my garden.

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

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

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

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

Here’s some butterflies I spotted in my garden:

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

Five Ways You Can Help Butterflies:

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

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

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

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

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

Plants I grow to attract butterflies:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gardeners World Live – two tickets to give away

Gardeners’ World Live is a favourite show. I get the chance to see stunning show gardens, buy plants and meet friends for a catch up. Luckily, it’s a relatively short car journey to the NEC in Birmingham – there’s no travelling into London and battling for space on a seat on the underground. It’s a fairly straightforward journey and easy parking. It’s always a lovely relaxing experience, with plenty of space to move about.

The organisers have kindly offered two free tickets in a prize draw for readers of this blog. The tickets are for Sunday 29 August only, with an entry slot from 12pm onwards. To enter, just leave a comment below and your entry will be put into a computer random name generator to select the winner. Please note, if you wish to park, there is a charge. The prize only relates to the show entry ticket. Details below for parking. There is no cash alternative, and the organiser’s decision is final.

Here’s some photos I took when I last attended the GWL show in 2019. Enjoy the virtual tour!

The Watchmaker’s Garden won best in show in 2019. My sister in law Rozanne and her husband Paul grew some of the plants for the award-winning garden, including the watercress shown in the stone tank by the front door.

I wrote about the show garden here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/06/14/bbc-gardeners-world-live/

Here’s some more photos from the show:

A canal-side cottage garden.

A contemporary garden.
A rill water garden.
A garden with en elevated seating area.

Prize winners will be announced on the blog on Monday evening 5th July. Please be aware of scams. No one will contact you about this, other than a message on my blog. It’s sad we have to worry about these things, but we just have to be careful.

Regarding parking, the organisers provided the following information:

Prize winners will need to redeem their e ticket by 19 August to attend on the 29th August.

Thank you for reading my blog. Enjoy the weekend.

Plants on Trial – from Love Orchids

I always seem to have a bowl of orchids somewhere in the house, usually on the hall cupboard or kitchen table. They are easy to grow and often flower for several months with minimal care and attention. Love Orchids have sent a sample box to try out. I haven’t paid for this orchid, but in common with other bloggers, I’ve accepted their gift in return for an honest opinion. Maybe you would like to treat yourself, or want to send a gift to someone for a birthday or other celebration. In which case, you might find the review helpful in deciding whether to buy and send orchids mail order.

I’ve chosen a white and pink orchid in an oval white ceramic container. Plants arrived in good condition, well packaged and there’s plenty of flowers and buds for more blooms to follow. My orchid was already planted in its container and flower stems were well staked. The pot was topped with moss which is a pretty finishing touch.

The ordering process online was simple to follow and straightforward. Plants arrived promptly in a sturdy cardboard box. The parcel delivery company handled the box carefully and it had obviously travelled the right way up- which always helps! It wasn’t just dropped from a height on to the doorstep, but carefully set down, which I much appreciated.

The box is designed to open out, so no pulling plants out the top and potentially damaging them, which I’ve done in the past in poorly-designed boxes.

Plant pots are securely held in another box taped to the base. There was also a spare pack of orchid compost as the company supplies extras for your own potting- up purposes.

Orchids are wrapped carefully in cellophane. I must admit, a compostable wrapper would be preferable, and I would be willing to pay more for a more eco-friendly material. However I just decided to use it to cover my cuttings and seed trays to maintain humidity, so mine will be re-used and won’t be put in the bin.

As you can see, the flowers spread out as soon as they were unwrapped.

There are three plants in my container, with eight flower stems. I’ve brought the pot outside simply to take advantage of the light in order to take photographs. It was too dark in the house. However, my orchids will live indoors, out of direct sunshine.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I like to highlight and support family businesses. The Stevenson family have been growing plants at their New Forest nursery for more than 60 years. When the pandemic struck, the family launched an on-line company, Love Orchids, to market and sell plants via mail order.

The family say they started out ‘with little more than a few glasshouses and a can-do attitude.’ They have grown and developed into a multi-generation business and say they are the largest growers of phalaenopsis orchids in the UK.

For sustainability, they use a biomass boiler, turning waste wood products into heat for the greenhouses.

Here’s some care tips provided by the nursery :

I signed up for a newsletter and received a discount code for future purchases. In fact, I sent an orchid to a friend for her birthday, and one to a relative who recently suffered a bereavement. Both sent photos of their orchids and were delighted with them. Orchids last much longer than a bunch of flowers and the plants from Love Orchids are top quality and expertly grown. The range of good quality containers also means there’s plenty of options for everyone.

For more information, here are the links for Love Orchid:

https://www.Facebook.com/LoveOrchidsUK

https://instagram.com/loveorchidsuk

And on the website https://www.loveorchids.co.uk/

Have you tried mail order plants before? Get in touch and let me know of any recommendations. We are all finding new ways to obtain our plants and gardening materials. It’s good to share news and views when we find an excellent supplier.

I also mentioned Love Orchids in my Christmas, birthday, anytime present list here : https://bramblegarden.com/tag/loveorchids/

My Garden Diary -June 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A hawthorn ‘archway.’ A favourite viewing point.

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

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

The Flower Yard. Book Review and Giveaway

By Arthur Parkinson

Published by Kyle Books

Hardback, 208 pages. RRP £22

ISBN 978-0-85783-917-6

Open the pages of The Flower Yard and you’ll enter a world full of exotic parrot tulips, jewel-coloured dahlias- and flamingos…

You’ll learn much about creating flamboyant Venetian-coloured containers, but you’ll also hear about Caribbean flamingos. For the author, Arthur Parkinson, once had the choice between becoming a zookeeper and horticulture. He chose gardening, and a year’s training at Kew. But in his strange and colourful book, he says he hopes one day to go back to more zoological rather than horticultural pursuits.

To my mind, his latest book seems to combine the two loves of his life. The exotic parrot tulips, feathery grasses and plume-like dahlias are as colourful as birds. And to add to the effect, there’s often a fancy bantam – his other passion in life- nestled in amongst the plants.

Even his words have an avian ring to them. Parkinson talks about planting ‘a flock of dolly tubs’ in preference to acres of land.

“I am not, however, desperate for a larger garden. I find the challenge of conquering the restrictions of an urban environment hugely thrilling. I love small town gardens, by which I mean gardens where plants come first in abundance. I have no desire for endless herbaceous borders, which so easily become tired and full of perennial weeds. Give me a flock of dolly tubs any day, ideally on old bricks or York stone. An old orchard would be, admittedly, heaven though, for hens.”

Back on the subject of birds, Parkinson writes about his choice of colour for plants. Pink, he says can be too light and sickly: “Before you know it, pink can make the garden verge into the Barbie-doll section of Toys “R”Us, outcompeting the other colours.”

Parkinson’s garden was once described by a friend as ‘a path of pots.’ It is, in fact, only 5m (16ft) long and filled ‘cheek by jowel’ with containers on either side, leading to the front door. The book follows a year of growing to create specific displays of plants – one for each season.

One chapter is headed ‘Archipelagos of galvanised metal and terracotta’ and Parkinson says: “I garden in pots because I do not have a choice, but I rarely resent this as it is like having great living vases of growing flower arrangements. You can fill pots easily, cramming them with colour and textures, creating islands of flamboyance.”

Arthur Parkinson’s brick path to the front door features rows of galvanised pots full of seasonal colour.
Frizzle-feathered bantams feature in many of the garden photos. I believe Parkinson takes some of these with him when he travels to give flower arranging and planting demonstrations. The author appeared on BBC Gardeners’ World, and also assists Sarah Raven with her floristry. He previously worked for potter Emma Bridgewater, designing her acclaimed garden at the factory in Stoke-on-Trent.
Photo shows ‘Amazing Parrot’ tulips in full flight with tulips ‘Black Hero’, ‘Antraciet’ and ‘Black Parrot’ giving striking contrast.
Sweet peas for summer
Peony ‘Rubra Plena’ supported by woven hazel with a pigeon-sized and ‘very talkative’ little Belgian Barbu d’Uccle Millefleur bantam hen. The breed’s beard-like plumes often need to be washed!
An Instagram posting with the dahlia ‘Emory Paul’ which the author says, is “Like a flamingo wonderland croquet mallet, gorgeous in some ways but its flowers do look almost painfully ridiculous with some reaching the size of useless footballs upon what are quite tall stems.”

I’ve made lists of all the tulips and dahlias to grow for next spring and summer. I love the dark, rich colours he chooses. And now I need to nip out and find a supply of galvanised containers ASAP. Quite honestly, what Arthur Parkinson doesn’t know about planting in dolly tubs isn’t worth knowing. He’s opened a whole new beguiling world of colour, and I can’t wait to create my own ‘islands of flamboyance.’ If I can add the odd flamingo or two in there as well, I will.

The publishers have kindly sent one extra copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave comments below and one name will be randomly selected by computer. Thank you for reading.

Please note, my I-phone photos of the pages do not adequately capture the bright colours and brilliance of the original photos which were taken by the author.

Please check back at 6pm Sunday to see who has won the prize draw copy.

Views from my garden 29 May 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Up and Grow: book giveaway winner…

Announcing the winner of my prize draw for Get up and Grow by Lucy Hutchings. The winner is Kate Elliott. Thanks so much to everyone for reading my review and leaving a comment.

The next book up for review and giveaway will be ‘Lilies’ by Naomi Slade.

My review for get up and Grow is here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/05/16/get-up-and-grow-book-review-and-giveaway/

Thank you to the publishers, Hardie Grant Books, for supplying a free copy for the prize draw. The book is hardback, 159 pages. Lucy creates 19 projects and shows how anyone can grow pretty much anything in their back garden, courtyard, balcony or kitchen- or even right by their work desk. There are unusual and inspirational growing ideas for herbs, fruit and vegetables, and all look as beautiful as any ornamental garden. Living walls, hydroponics and daylight spectrum grow lights are all explained with step-by-step instructions.

Lucy’s farm desk project
Kokedama citrus plants make a striking statement planting.
Indoor growing space, using a clothes hanger as a trellis frame.
Another indoor growing space using an adapted IKEA cabinet.

Windowsill growing space for herbs, fruit and vegetables.

Thank you again for reading my blog. It’s much appreciated.

You might also be interested in reading:

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/07/05/gardening-on-the-menu-book-review/

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

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

Garden Day UK 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s some photos of my garden today:

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

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

Happy Garden Day everybody!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herb/ a cook’s companion. Book Review

By Mark Diacono

Published by Quadrille, an imprint of Hardie Grant Publishing

RRP £26 Published spring 2021. Hardback. 272 pages

ISBN 978 1 78713 6359

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greek Herb Pie.

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

Herb Soda Bread

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

Lemon Lavender Meringues

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

Fig Leaf and Lemon Verbena Rice Pudding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few flowers fresh picked from the veg plot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peach Crumble Cake Recipe can be found here:

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

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

The scent is wonderful.

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

Anemone blanda, mixed blues and whites.

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

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

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

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

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

https://superseedtrays.co.uk/

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

https://www.bustaseed.com/

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

https://www.whinnypoo.com/

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

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

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

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

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

I’m @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram.

Lemon Crunch Triangles Recipe

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

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

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

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

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

Apple and Berry Crumble Cakes – Recipe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m karengimson1 on instagram

And @kgimson on twitter

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

A walk around my garden 26 Jan 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herbs, cooking and reading blogs. Keeping cheerful through lockdown.

One of the ways I’m keeping upbeat at the moment is reading blogs. Barbara Segall writes about the Japanese rice recipe Seven Herbs of Spring in her ‘Garden Post’ blog. I was immediately inspired to go out into the garden and find seven herbs to make my own revitalising rice dish.

Barbara explains that the severn herb dish is a kind of porridge eaten during the first weeks of January as a way of detoxing and giving the digestive system a boost. Simple food after all the excesses of Christmas. I didn’t quite have the herbs Barbara mentions, but rather than just giving up, I searched out and used what I could find. I was delighted to discover small amounts of mint, fennel, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, Welsh onion, and chervil. Most were in self-watering containers placed in the greenhouse for winter protection. Rosemary grows by the back door, and perennial Welsh onions are in the polytunnel. They are a good source of fresh onion-flavouring when chives have died back for the season.

Just searching about the plot and discovering small amounts of herbs was a joy. The scents released as I snipped the herbs into a colander made me think of summer when I planted these containers. I perhaps use fresh herbs more in summer than I do in winter. It requires more of an effort to go out in the cold, ice crunching underfoot and wrapped up against the chill wind. Much easier to reach for the dried herbs (dare I admit to using such a thing). But the taste was worth it. Every mouthful was a burst of flavour – transporting me back to sunshine and summer heat.

I boiled some organic long grain brown rice to go with my herbs. A nice easy meal, in contrast to all the complicated, lengthy cooking of the festive season. The rice was ready in 25 minutes. I roughly chopped the herbs and sprinkled them over the steaming rice. I found some tiny emerging spring broccoli and nasturtium leaves to add to the dish and yellow broccoli flowers, which are edible and should not be wasted.

Delicious! Using what I have about the place and keeping things simple. It made me feel as if I was looking after myself. Which is no bad thing just at the moment when we are all rather stressed and in lockdown.

Do read Barbara’s blog and learn more about Japanese cooking traditions. Barbara’s writing is like silk. It’s a joy to read. And you never know, it might inspire you to grow more herbs and cook something delicious and good for you. Let me know if you do!

Thank you for reading. Take care.

Barbara’s blog is here : https://thegardenpost.com/a-new-dawn-and-it-is-2021/

January in the Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram

Do say hello on social media.

Garden News Magazine recipes for December

If you’ve received your copy of Garden News Magazine this week, here’s the recipes I mention in my column. Above is the summerhouse where I write my pieces, and where I sit and make my cherry marzipan chocolates.

The recipe link for Cherry Marzipan Chocolates is here :

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

They are very quick to make and children love creating them. They make tasty home-made presents for Christmas.

I also write about Chocolate and Orange Panettone. Start saving your tins now to make these delicious treats. They are very easy to make and look beautiful. Get the children to make potato stamp labels. Be as creative as you like. Everyone can get involved.

Here’s the link: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/12/02/christmas-recipes-chocolate-panettone/

I write about turning my satsumas from the greenhouse into a liqueur. The recipe comes from Bob Flowerdew, replying to me on twitter when I asked what I could do with this year’s prolific harvest. It’s been a good summer for growing citrus. Bob always has great suggestions for what to do with produce from the garden, and is generous with his advice.

Here’s Bob’s recipe for Satsuma Liqueur :

And finally, I was talking on the radio last week, when I mentioned I was making Sloe Gin. Here’s the recipe, with thanks to garden writer Barbara Segall, who inspires me on a daily basis to try something new.

Sloe Gin

450g sloe berries -or whatever you can find. If you only have 300g, use those.

350g caster sugar

710ml gin

Kilner jar or lidded jar

Place the ripe sloe berries in the freezer to break the skins. Add all ingredients to a large kilner jar. Swirl the contents every day for a week, every week for a month, and every month for a year. Strain the gin. Use the berries for cakes or trifle.

It’s wonderful to have a bottle on the north-facing kitchen windowsill. Mine has changed colour now and it’s a joy to see. Almost like a stained glass window.

Barbara Segall has written many garden books, all highly recommended. One of my favourites is The Christmas Tree. A beautiful stocking-filler. Find out more here : https://thegardenpost.com/category/christmas-tree-book/

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/The-Christmas-Tree-book-by-Barbara-Segall-NEW-/174501320740?_trksid=p2349624.m46890.l49292

For more suggestions on books, I also recommend The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty. I reviewed the book here:

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

Here’s a link for Georgie Newbery at Common Farm Flowers for growing cut flowers, floristry and Christmas wreath workshops and courses, in person, and on-line. Vouchers make a great present for any gardener. https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/collections/workshops

Thanks for reading! Have a great week.

In a Vase on Monday- virtual flowers for Joan

Chrysanthemums are in full flower in the poly tunnel. They’ll provide cut flowers from now until January. I grow hardy varieties in 10″ pots. They stand out on the gravel paths, next to the greenhouse all summer. Chrysanths can cope with the cold, but wet weather spoils the flowers, so I lift the pots into the unheated poly tunnel the first week of November.

I don’t know the name of this bright yellow chrysanthemum. It came from my father-in-law Keith. He had been growing it since the 1950s, having been given a cutting from Aunty Dorris. When Keith was no longer able to garden, I took over the tradition on growing the yellow flowers for his wife, Joan. Until this year, I’ve managed to supply Joan with a bunch each week through November and December. They are her favourites. This year, covid has interrupted our plans – and I’ve had to e mail photos of the flowers instead.

I’m growing these pretty little white chrysanthemums too. These are called Stallion. They are multi -headed and last at least a fortnight, sometimes three weeks, in a vase. Flowers have a bright yellow button centre, and take on pink tinges as they age. Very useful as a filler in a bouquet.

We’ve had a message from the care home saying one family member can visit before Christmas. They will have to take a rapid covid test, sit in their car for half an hour to wait for the results, and then spend 30 minutes visiting our relatives in their own rooms. We can’t visit any communal spaces. And we still can’t take flowers, for some reason. But we can take tins of biscuits and jars of jam- anything that can be disinfected before being giving to the residents. I’m writing about it here because the blog has become a record of our times, living through this covid pandemic, and the effect it’s had on people living in care homes.

Hopefully, soon we will be able to have the vaccine and this nightmare will come to an end. I’m hopeful it won’t be long now.

Thank you for reading. I’m celebrating reaching the milestone 100,000 readers on the blog. When I started writing, I had no idea so many would read my potting shed musings. Thanks for being one of them. Have a calm and happy week.

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

Turning Garden Twigs into Christmas Decorations

As a few of you know, I talk on the radio once a fortnight, chatting about what I’m doing in my vegetable and cut flower plot. This week, I tried valiantly to make a few twigs from my garden sound exciting. It really tested my powers of description! Anyway, if you were listening in, here are the photos to go with my interview with Ben Jackson. I was waving my arms around, explaining how you can gather foliage and off-cuts from the garden, make them into a twiggy bouquets, add lights, and plunge them in a pot. I do hope it enthused a few people to have a go and make their own Christmas decorations.

Willow stems, dried oak twigs, pine foliage and Hydrangea Annabelle flower heads with orange lanterns, Physalis alkekengi.

I decorated the hydrangea heads with some florists’ silver spray from Oasis. You only need a tiny amount.

Some old man’s beard, wild clematis vitalba adds a fluffy texture and movement to the arrangement.

Mouldable copper wire fairy lights from supermarkets only costs a few pounds. Mine came from Wilkos and use rechargeable batteries.

Tiny flowers from the hydrangea heads flutter down around me. I scoop them up and use them as table decorations. They are like nature’s confetti.

Wire lights can be threaded through dogwood stems and any greenery from the garden. This ‘bouquet’ of twigs is pushed into a plant pot of garden soil and stood by the front door. It looks like a container full of expensive plants, but in truth, it has cost me nothing. Stems will stay fresh until after Christmas due to cold and wet weather. They can be composted in the new year. So there’s no waste to go into bins.

I’ve used pine, spare Christmas tree stems (the tree was too tall), ivy, dogwood and willow to give height, and skimmia at the front. You could pop some hellebores and white heather either side to cover the base of the pot. If you have plastic pots, why not cover them with hessian to give them a natural look.

Here’s some more ideas using willow. Wind the willow or dogwood into a rough circle and keep adding more stems. Eventually you can pull it into shape and secure it with thin lengths of willow. Kept dry in the shed, wreaths will last for years. Each Christmas, I add new foliage, pine and rosemary for scent, rosy-hued hydrangea heads and clematis seeds. These are simply fed in amongst the willow stems and secured with string or florists’ reel wire.

You can add rosehips and crab apples to the willow frame. Birds tend to enjoy them, so I have to replenish the decorations every day. We were very excited to see some very small birds, possibly long-tailed tits enjoying the clematis seeds. It becomes almost a cross between a Christmas decoration and a bird feeder.

Add whatever you can find in the garden and hedgerow. In this silver birch wreath, I’ve added ivy, with green and black ivy berries, and dried cow parsley seed heads. The wind sometimes blows the clematis across the back fields, but there’s plenty more in the potting shed, ready for the festive season.

These willow stems have been folded over to form a heart. Hold ten stems in one hand. Bend half of them over and tie in the middle. Bend the other half over to form the other side of the heart, and tie in. Tie further up the stems to keep the heart shape secure. Disguise the ties -or the mechanics, as we call them- with a mini bouquet of foliage. Here I’ve used Holly, ivy, Garrya elliptica, hydrangea flowers and a few crab apples.

Willow wreaths don’t always need any decorations at all. A pretty ribbon is all that’s used on this wreath for a simple shepherd’s hut.

I decorate five bar gates around the plot. A single heart is often all that’s needed. It will cheer any Christmas Day revellers, walking along the lane. From this gate we can hear the church bells ringing. The sound carries far across the fields. It’s a wonderful spot to stand and listen for a few moments, mug of tea in hand.

Let me know what decorations you are putting up in your house and garden this year. Will it be old favourites, like mine, or something new? Get in touch and let me know, and thanks, as ever, for reading. Today, I’m celebrating my milestone 100,000 blog visitors. When I started writing, I thought just a handful of people might see my posts. I’m absolutely thrilled to see 100,000 have read about my little plot. Have a great weekend everyone.

Links:

Listen to Radio Leicester, Christmas decorations, at 3.16.57 on the timeline on BBC Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08ymt0t

I learned how to make my wreaths at Common Farm Flowers with Georgie Newbery. Georgie is running online courses and sells wreath -making kits.

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

I wrote about Georgie’s courses here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/07/01/online-hand-tie-posy-course-with-georgie-newbery/

There’s also lots of Christmas recipes on the blog. Just scroll down to view them.

Candied Orange Peel for Christmas

This year, more than ever before, we are rolling out the Christmas family favourite recipes. It seems more important than ever to have reminders of all the happy celebrations from the past.

Candied orange peel is easy to make and fills the kitchen with a wonderful, comforting scent. If you need to get into the Christmas spirit, take some oranges and sugar and turn them into these irresistible treats. You can add dark chocolate and give them as little gifts to friends and family. You can’t buy anything as good. Honestly.

INGREDIENTS

4 large oranges (unwaxed if available)

300g caster sugar

Water

Granulated sugar to coat

Dark chocolate (optional)

METHOD

Scrub the oranges in hot water, especially if they have been waxed.

Peel wedges of orange skin from the top to the bottom of the fruit.

They should be 5mm thick and include the pith as well as the skin.

Lay the wedges down and flatten. Cut them into matchsticks 7mm wide.

Place peel in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Drain and throw away the water.

Cover peel with fresh water and simmer for 30 minutes.

Drain and reserve the liquid. You’ll need about 300ml. Add 300ml of sugar and heat until dissolved.

If you have more peel, the ratio is always 100ml of water to 100g of sugar.

Return the peel to the syrup (sugar/water mix) and simmer for 30 minutes.

Drain and place the orange peel on a wire rack set above some baking paper to catch drips. Put the rack and paper in an oven on the lowest setting for approx 30 minutes to dry.

You can use the reserved syrup in orange drizzle cakes, sponges and trifles.

Put some granulated sugar in a basin and add a few strips of peel at a time. Use a fork to toss them in the sugar and liberally coat. Lay on a clean wire rack to dry in a warm kitchen.

Optional: after adding the sugar, you can coat half of the sticks in dark chocolate which makes a delicious treat. Wrap in little packets of foil to give as home-made presents.

Variation: use lemon. Simmer and discard the water three times to remove bitterness.

Store candied peel in an airtight container. It will keep for 6-8 weeks.

Use for Christmas cakes, or toppings for sponge cakes, muffins and biscuits. Or just on their own as a teatime treat with hot chocolate or coffee. Utterly delicious. Enjoy 😊

Let me know what family favourite recipes you are cooking this year.

We have decided not to mix the households – even though the rules say we can. We can’t risk the health of elderly relatives. Especially when there’s a vaccine on the horizon. We must just be patient for a little longer. Everyone must decide what is best for them. Visits to the care home are still currently barred as we are still in tier 3. No flowers can be sent to my darling mother-in-law, J. But we can send jars of jam and home made treats and chocolates. So I’m concentrating on making this a Christmas we will all remember- and hopefully the last one we have to spend separated from one another.

More recipes to try:

Chocolate Panatone https://bramblegarden.com/2019/12/02/christmas-recipes-chocolate-panettone/

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

Apple Chutney: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/11/21/joans-christmas-apple-chutney-recipe/

Joan’s Christmas Apple Chutney Recipe

It’s going to be Christmas-with-a-difference this year. We are all going to stay at home and not mix the households. After making this sad decision, it’s full speed ahead to make this Christmas full of our usual food and special treats. We will just be enjoying them in our own homes – and not all together around the same table.

Here’s a recipe my mother-in-law Joan used to make every Christmas for as long as I can remember. The aroma of apples, spice and vinegar instantly makes me think of Christmas preparations. I feel quite tearful, standing here chopping the apples on my own. It only feels like yesterday when I was standing in Joan’s tiny kitchen chatting away, watching her cook. We were the ‘young couple’ then in our 20s, too busy to cook, with such a lot to talk about. Such busy lives. So much to say. We never stopped talking. Now I suddenly realise how silent I’ve become. Still busy lives, but somehow I have become the ‘listener’, and my children and their partners, the ‘young couples.’ I really hope it’s not too long before they can be here, standing in my kitchen, bringing the world into my home, with all their news and conversation again.

INGREDIENTS

900g eating apples

450g onions

225g sultanas

450g brown sugar

1tsp each of ground ginger, salt, cinnamon, mixed spice.

1tbsp whole pickling spice -tied in a muslin bag (optional)

450ml vinegar

METHOD

Chop the apples and onions into small 2cm pieces. Put all ingredients in a large saucepan or jam pan and bring to the boil. Gently simmer until the apples and onions are cooked ( about 35- 45 minutes). Remove the muslin bag of spices. Pour into clean sterilised jam jars.

This chutney keeps for about 1 year and is a perfect for cheese and festive meals. It’s a lovely quick-to-make present too.

For Joan and Keith, it will be Christmas at the care home for them this year, when they should be sat at the head of a very large table full of children, grandchildren, and two new great-grandchildren- born in the last few months. We are not allowed to visit, and they are not allowed out. Such a sad state of affairs for us, as it must be for many. But there’s hope on the horizon with news about a vaccine. And that’s what I’m holding on to this year. Hope.

What traditions are you keeping this Christmas? Do you have favourite recipes that make you think of Christmases past. Take care, and thank you for reading.

Joan’s favourite Christmas decoration that she’s treasured since she was a child. She’s 91 now. The little bell inside still rings.

Honda Cordless Lawn Mower- Product Trial

I’ll be honest, cutting the lawn is not one of my favourite tasks. We have an old petrol mower which is a bit of a beast. It has a pull-cord start, and my arms are just not long enough. After the first painful attempt, I usually wheel the machine back in the shed and wait for help. So frustrating! I hate having to wait for someone stronger to help me. I feel defeated. Then along comes Honda with an offer to try out one of their new battery power machines. I must admit, I cheered.

Honda’s delivery driver arrived promptly with two boxes containing a lawn mower and a hedge trimmer. There was also a brand new Honda racing motorbike in the back of the van. My heart skipped a beat. Sadly I couldn’t persuade him to leave it behind ….. I tried. It’s 30 years since we had a motorbike. We had a British Triumph Bonneville- which took us all over Europe, up through Scotland, and all around the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. Before children arrived. And after that, we decided we should be sensible and sell it. Couldn’t really fit two babies on the back. Anyway, I digress. Back to lawn mowers…. So we sold the motorbike and settled down in a family home with an acre garden. Since then, we’ve had a division of power here. Mr B cuts the lawns, and I plant, weed and prune, grow flowers, fruit and veg. The problem comes when Mr B goes sailing- which is very often. He and his whole family are sailing-mad. We have a nephew John Gimson who is currently World Champion and part of the British Olympic Sailing Team (NACRA) sailing a catamaran. Mr B in the past has supported John by driving the racing boats across Europe on a low loader. Something he loves doing. Meanwhile, at home, the grass get longer and longer and starts to look messy.

This autumn, I wanted to cut the grass in the orchard really short, and sow wild flower seeds in the bare patches where there’s been molehills. With the new lawn mower, I was able to do it without asking for help. Independence at last!

Here’s a run down of the things I like about the new cordless mower.

1.

To start it, all you have to do is press the yellow button on the side of the handle. No shoulder-wrenching pull cord.

2.

To make the mower go forward, you just press the bar towards the handle. As a safety feature, if you let go, the mower stops. There’s no way it can run off with you ( like my old petrol -driven monster mower.)

3.

Another safety feature is the little turn key, which isolates the battery if you need to turn the mower on its side to remove excess grass from around the blades. I would also quickly remove the battery too. Fast and simple operations.

4.

The battery slides easily into the front of the machine. There’s three types of batteries with different run times.

The cheapest, battery, number 4, cuts for about 35 minutes and takes 35 minutes to charge. To be honest, 35 minutes was enough for me. I had a cup of tea and a rest while the battery was charging, and then we were off again. The handbook says this battery covers 365m2 lawn area.

Number 6 battery covers 485m2.

Number 9 battery covers 730m2 on one charge.

The battery charger is note-worthy. It has its own cooling fan and various flashing lights to tell you how it’s doing. It looks rather impressive.

5.

There’s a simple handle to change the cutting height. Easy to operate.

6.

There’s a pressed steel powder-coated deck. This made the whole machine look robust and substantial. Yet the weight was push-able at 22.5kg for the machine and 1.3kg for the battery. I didn’t struggle at all, and didn’t feel totally worn out after ten minutes, like I do with our petrol mower. Plus, it’s clean, there’s no petrol fumes, and the mower is relatively quiet. The handbook says the noise range is 91bB(a). I’m comparing it with the petrol mower, which we wear safety ear protectors with, and battery powered is much quieter. A small thing, but important to me, the battery powered machine didn’t scare off all the birds. We have a small stand of trees, and all summer we’ve had a tawny owl fledgling here. It’s such an joy to have these birds in the garden. I would hate to scare them away.

Above: Some of the wild flowers I’ve planted in the orchard. I hope they will spread and form a golden carpet in spring.

I thoroughly enjoyed my two-month trial with Honda’s new mower. There’s two available in the range. This one, the HRG416XB, has a 16 inch cut and there’s a larger machine which has an additional mulching option. There’s also a hedge trimmer, brush cutter and leaf blower in the new cordless range- and all use the same battery.

I haven’t been paid to write anything about the mower. I’m free to give my honest opinion. But I can say, I’ve enjoyed having the freedom to cut my lawn when I want to, and the Honda mower was a dream to use. I’ve still got my heart set on test driving the Honda racing motorbike though…… watch this space!

Thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend.

Links: New Honda range of cordless machines: https://www.honda.co.uk/lawn-and-garden/products/cordless/overview.html?gclid=Cj0KCQiAnb79BRDgARIsAOVbhRpdTbjHM8G3wFtmzG8qaxoynM9oOb6lgjVh7uT99NKRN4saKFpurlYaApo8EALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

I’m @kgimson on twitter, and karengimson1 on Instagram.

A video I made for instagram :

In a Vase on Monday- flowers for my Mum

I’m catching up here. This is in fact last week’s IAVOM. Internet and computer problems defeated me. We are on the old copper wire telephone line, and not the new super duper cable -type. It’s too expensive for BT to extend the cable down our lane, so we are stuck with speeds that are too slow to upload photos or do internet banking. Anyway, the internet may have set me back, but I wasn’t to be defeated by the imminent national lockdown, I just managed to get this posy of flowers to my mum in time. Dahlias have been the stars of the cut flower garden this year. They have flowered non-stop since June. Pictured above is Dahlia Nuit d’Ete. It’s a semi-cactus type with long twisting, curling petals. Such a rich deep red. Flowers last ten days in a vase. The centre keeps opening out and the flowers curve back until they look a little like sea urchins.

Here are the dahlias tucked in amongst the last of the cosmos, salvia, scented white carnations, with grey senecio foliage and plum coloured Physocarpus Diabolo.

The carnation is Dianthus Bridal Star. Highly scented, but requires staking as it has a floppy- growing habit. I grow it in the greenhouse as rain spoils the flowers. Worth growing though for constant flowers from June to November.

Salvia viridis blue, (centre of photo) an annual, sown in March and planted out end of May. I grow these at the base of the sweet pea A-frame which makes good ground cover.

There are also pink and white varieties of this annual salvia. Masses of flowers from a £2 packet of seed. Well worth growing.

A surprise discovery this summer was eucomis flower spikes. These got knocked over by the cat and puppy playing football….. I’m sure the cat thinks it’s a dog, as it joins in with all the ball games, and tries to come for a walk down the lane with us. We usually end up carrying him home. Anyway, Eucomis Sparkling Burgundy, known as the pineapple lily, lasts 4 weeks in a vase. They make wonderful centre pieces. I shall grow some specially for flower arranging next year.