Plum Cake. Family Favourite Recipes

These delicious little cakes travel well and are perfect for picnics and parties. We always make them if we are invited round to a friend’s house. They are quick and easy to make and really tasty.

INGREDIENTS

Makes 12

12 plums, stones removed and fruit chopped into chunks.

For the sponge:

85g (3oz )sugar

85g (3oz ) margarine or butter.( I use Lurpack which doesn’t contain palm oil.)

1 egg

113g (4oz) self raising flour

1 level teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract

Few blanched almonds for the top.

METHOD

Cream together the sugar, margarine and egg with an electric hand whisk. Add the flour and baking powder and whisk. Add the milk and vanilla extract, and whisk.

Place the chopped plums in the base of a silicon cup cake mold which has 12 ‘cups.’

Top with the sponge mixture. It will be about one large heaped tablespoon per cup. Sprinkle blanched almonds on top.

Cook for approx 15 mins at 180C, 356F gas mark. They are cooked when a knife comes out clean from the sponge. Take csre not to burn the almonds.

Leave to cool in the trays. Use a pallet knife to remove them. Sprinkle with sugar. Serve warm or cold.

Can also be frozen on the day of baking.

Enjoy!

You might also like Plum Crumble : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/20/plum-crumble-family-favourite-recipes/

Please feel free to share this on any social media. Thank you.

Incognito Insect Repellent- Review and Prize Draw

Working in the garden, I’m often trying to fend off flies and mosquitoes intent on biting me. Flapping my arms around is my usual method of defence. It doesn’t always work. And as I found out recently, a bite or sting can turn into a nasty infection – or even blood poisoning.

I wrote about a recent accident in the garden here :

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/07/05/infection-a-warning-to-gardeners/

Readers replied with their own stories – as well as those who suffered serious infections from insect bites.

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/07/19/infection-update-19th-july-2019-gardening/

My write-up has been viewed 122,000 and liked, retweeted and commented on 31,000 times. It’s obviously a subject that resonates with many gardeners.

Since then, I’ve been careful to always wear gloves. I’ve got different gloves for the various jobs in the garden. And I make sure I cover my arms and legs – and use insect repellent.

Through Twitter, I learned about UK company Incognito and sent off for some samples to try out.

I love the anti- mosquito spray which is quick and easy to apply first thing in the morning, under and over clothing. Mosquitoes and other blood sucking insects home in on ears, wrists and ankles where blood vessels are nearer the surface. So I pay particular attention to those areas.

I’m liberally spraying the insect repellent over my clothing as well to repel ticks.

Here’s a summary of what I liked about Incognito insect repellent:

* Deet Free

* 100 percent natural ingredients

* Protects against malaria, dengue and zika-carrying mosquitos

* Recommended by NHS Public Heath England for use anywhere in the world

* Easy to apply and doesn’t leave skin feeling sticky or greasy

* Pleasant citrussy scent (oil of lemon eucalyptus )

*Protection lasts up to 4 hours against daytime biting. Easy to reapply for extended evening coverage.

I found the products to be easy and pleasant to use, and I can report that a horsefly and a whole cloud of mosquitoes were sharing my gardening space, and didn’t come anywhere near me. Also, I spent a day working alongside a lake, a situation I usually dread in the summer. And again, no bites while using the spray and creams.

I tried out the combined sun cream and insect repellent. Very useful for SPF 30 requirements. And there’s a natural moisturiser too, containing avocado, chamomile and geranium. I haven’t had a chance to try the incense sticks yet, but we are planning a family party in the garden soon where they will be very useful. They are non-toxic and have a lemony aroma.

Incognito is offering a prize of a 100ml anti-mosquito spray, and a 150ml insect repellent suncream. Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw. No purchase is necessary. Incognito will draw the winning name “out of a hat” and post the prize direct. Please also say if you don’t want to be included in the draw. All comments are very welcome.

Please feel free to share this blog post on any platform.

I am https://mobile.twitter.com/kgimson?lang=en on twitter

Also https://www.instagram.com/karengimson1/?hl=en

Links : Incognito https://lessmosquito.com/

NHS advice re insect bites : https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insect-bites-and-stings/

NHS advice re sepsis : https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sepsis/

UK Sepsis Trust https://sepsistrust.org/

You might also like my recent posts : https://bramblegarden.com/

About: https://bramblegarden.com/about/

* Currently (25 July) the repellent spray and roll-on are buy one,get one half price at Boots.

In a Vase on Monday – 15th July 2019

I’ve discovered, by accident, the magical effect of a sunset on sweet peas. It turns them into mini “stained glass” windows.

Picking them at 9pm, I suddenly find it’s too dark to take photos. Nights are rapidly drawing in. Mid-summer lulls you into a relaxed state of mind. Surely there will always be time to meander round the garden. Then, quite soon after the solstice, everything changes. There’s no streetlights here; dusk means picking your way through tall corridors of dark trees, along grassy paths, past the horseshoe wildlife pond. If you are lucky, you’re accompanied by a barn owl, sweeping along the hedge in eerie silence. You’ll marvel how such a large bird can ever catch any prey without being seen. But they make not the slightest sound and pass by like a shadow. If they see you, they don’t panic and madly swerve as some birds would. They barely acknowledge your intrusion, calmly changing direction and floating over the hedge to continue on the other side. They seem not to flap their wings, but soar and glide as if carried by the wind.

Our boundaries are made from farm posts and galvanised pig wire. We like to keep a connection with the surrounding fields. After all, our garden was once part of the farmland. We’ve simply borrowed the ground to grow fruit and flowers.

There are 10 beds, 1.3m wide by 3m long, divided by narrow slab paths. This year it’s a muddle of potatoes, broadbeans, Sweet williams, daisies and verbascum. A rickety A-frame of hazel rods runs through the centre, for sweet peas. This year I’m growing a combination of heritage types from Easton Walled garden and Higgledy Garden, and new varieties on trial from Mr Fothergills.

Amethyst and rubies; sweet pea flowers shine like jewels in the sunset.

My flowers are being sold at Six Acre Nursery, Costock, Leicestershire, with all proceeds going to Rainbows Hospice for children and young people. I am a voluntary fund-raising ambassador for Rainbows, and I also give slide shows and talks to garden groups for charity.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peaceful walk around my garden at dusk. There’s much to see, even in the gloom.

Links : Cathy In a Vase on Monday : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/07/15/in-a-vase-on-monday-think-pink/

Easton Walled Gardens : https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

Higgledy Garden Seeds. https://higgledygarden.com/

Mr Fothergill’s Seeds https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/

Barn Owl Trust https://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/barn-owl-facts/

Notes: Most birds make a flapping, swooping sound when they fly. Owls have special edges to the front of the wing that breaks the air into small streams of wind that rolls to the end of the wing. Comb-like feathers further break down the air into even more smaller streams to create almost silent flight.

In a Vase on Monday- All White

I’m practicing for wedding flowers. You never know when you might need some….

White larkspur and Ammi majus. Such a simple combination. I’d probably add white sweet peas for scent. I’ve got heritage variety Mrs Collier growing on the hazel A frame. And some white love-in-a-mist. The bouquet would be tied with white satin and pearl pins, and not grey twine. But you get the idea.

Larkspur White King was sown on 4th September in 12″ pots in the polytunnel. I used a 50 /50 mixture of peat- free multi purpose compost and John Innes no 2 compost with some added grit for drainage. I used Sarah Raven/ Johnsons Seed, sown thinly, covered with a sprinkle of compost and left to grow on without pricking them out.

I also chose seeds from Higgledy Garden. These were part of a cut flower patch kit. Very good value and nice fresh seed. Everything germinated and grew well. Highly recommended. Plus, I like to support independent companies such as Ben’s.

White “cow parsley” type flowers in my bouquet are Higgledy Garden’s Ammi majus. This lovely airy flower always does better from an autumn sowing. Once you start cutting them lots of side shoots appear and you can harvest flowers right through the summer.

Higgledy’s larkspur mix contains some beautiful ice blue flowers, shell pinks and whites. All packets of seeds cost between £1 and £2.50 each. I probably spent less than £10.

Once I’d sown the seeds, I laid the packets on the pots and took photos to remind me what I’d grown and when. Labels have a habit of moving – all by themselves- on my plot!

Seedlings germinated by 21st September.

I had a bit of a problem with mice. Luckily they just thinned the seedlings for me. I put down peanuts and bird food for them, which they preferred. Hopefully the barn owl will have helped me out over the summer. I know she is feeding fledglings as we see her most nights, and we hear them calling for food. Loudly.

Those few pots of plants have been supplying me with posies for a several weeks now. I’m not sure they produce blooms any sooner than plants grown outdoors; but they have super long stems with plenty of flowers and haven’t been damaged by rain.

I particularly love the green markings on the back of the petals.

Green-tinged buds make a lovely contrast to the white flowers.

If anyone wants to get married next summer- I have the perfect plan for the flowers! Just saying.

links : Cathy IAVOM : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/06/24/in-a-vase-on-monday-respite/

Sarah Raven / Johnsons Seeds : https://www.johnsons-seeds.com/Flower-Seed_0/Annuals_3/Larkspur-White-King.html#.XRDKaGfTWfA

Higgledy Garden, Ben Ranyard : https://higgledygarden.com/

Cut flower growing and arrangements -courses and books: Georgie at https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/

First Polytunnels :https://www.firsttunnels.co.uk/

Dalefoot peat free composts :https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/

Twine : https://nutscene.com/collections/twines/products/candytwist-twine-nutscenes-bakers-twine-large-spools

Please feel free to share this post on any social media platform.

You might also like to read :

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/06/23/prize-draw-winner-hansford-coil-spring-chair/

And

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/06/20/ngs-garden-visit-oak-tree-house/

Or

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/06/15/six-on-saturday-a-walk-around-my-garden-15-june-2019/

Thank you 😊

Last Minute Christmas Presents for Gardeners

Here’s my last minute recommendations. I would love to receive any of these. They all last longer than Christmas Day. Prices vary, depending on special offers and discounts.

1. Vouchers for a course at Common Farm Flowers.

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

I joined the Grow Your Own Cut Flower Patch course a few years ago, and I’m self-sufficient in flowers for my friends and family. There was enough information to grow plants commercially, if I had wanted to. I’m delighted to be able to wander about my garden at any time of the year and create beautiful hand tied bouquets and pretty jam jar posies. There’s something special about home-grown flowers. It’s all a matter of planning and knowing what varieties to grow. Georgie is an excellent teacher. After attending one of her courses, you feel as if you can conquer the world. It’s a rather wonderful feeling!

Courses on offer range from £15 for a garden tour to £290 for a painting course.

Courses: Flower Farming, encouraging wildlife, social media for small businesses, starting a kitchen table business, grow your own wedding flowers, hand tied bouquets.

2. RHS Membership. From £61.

Develop your gardening skills with an RHS membership package. Membership includes unlimited entry to RHS gardens, discounts for show tickets, personalised advice, and entry to 200 partner gardens. The RHS magazine,The Garden, is worth the membership price alone. It is packed full of inspiring ideas and information. Written by experts we all trust. I always look forward to my copy, and it keeps me up to date with new plants, ideas for recycling, using less plastic in the garden and information on the latest research into plant diseases. It’s great to see The Garden magazine will be delivered in recyclable paper packaging instead of single-use plastic next spring.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shop/special-offers/active-offers/rhs-gift-membership-offer

3. Support the Woodland Trust with a membership package. £48.

Explore 1,000 Woodland Trust woods. A walk in a wood lifts your mood and re-energises you. It will do you a power of good.

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/membership/

4. Membership for St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital. £36.

We all rely on our wildlife, hedgehogs in particular, to help us combat slugs. This is a wonderful way to support wildlife and learn more about them.

https://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/top-navigation/help-us/membership.html

5. Join The Hardy Plant Society. £17 a year.

A great way to discover more about hardy plants, find like- minded gardeners and join in with events such as talks and slide shows, conservation and plant sales. There’s two issues of the The Hardy Plant magazine a year, free advice and a chance to take part in the free seed distribution scheme.

http://www.hardy-plant.org.uk/whyjoinus

6. Charles Dowding No-dig course. Various prices. Approx £150 a day.

Learn all about growing all kinds of vegetables and fruit, productively and with less effort. Charles has helped me to garden with a poorly back. I fractured my spine in a car crash 15 years ago. Without his advice, I would probably have had to give up my one acre garden. With his no-dig techniques, I have managed to keep on top of weeds, and grow all the fruit, veg and flowers I want to, without aggravating my spinal injuries.

I hope these last-minute suggestions have been useful. If not for Christmas, they make a lovely birthday present.

What’s the best course, or membership, you would recommend? Let me know so I can share your ideas too.

Coming up in the new year, I’ve been invited to try out some weekend holidays for gardeners. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’ll be taking my Mum with me, of course. Something to look forward to in 2019.

In a Vase on Monday. White and Green.

A slide show of flowers from my garden. Paperwhite narcissi, Hellebore Jacob Royal, white heather, Ice Princess. Variegated pittosporum, hebe, juniper, ivy, conifers, Mossy green apple twigs, woven in.

It’s 12C today. No wonder the Paperwhites won’t wait until Christmas. I’ve planted more, a fortnight apart in 10″ pots in the poly tunnel.

There’s still some bees and hoverflies about. But the wasps have stopped coming. They left an empty paper nest in the long grass in the wild garden. We knew they were there and kept a respectful distance. We’ve had no trouble with aphids all summer; wasps have zoomed in and feasted on them with relish.

Dusk seems to descend all of a sudden. One moment I am mooching in the greenhouse, the next I’m plunged into darkness. I’ve strung some mouldable wire fairy lights through the lemon trees. They make little heat and will only be left on for an hour or so. Enough to cheer me through the gloom of December days to come.

Winter sunsets are glorious though. I stay out until the very last minute. Hopefully, I’ll spot a tawny owl before it’s time to go indoors.

Thanks to Cathy https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/ for this IAVOM meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and arranging this week. Let me know what’s looking good in your garden at the moment too.

Six on Saturday. A peek in my greenhouse

On such a horrible wet day, the only place to be is in my greenhouse.

Cacti and succulents rule on the top shelf. They virtually look after themselves. I won’t water them until the end of February. Perfect for anyone with a busy life.

There’s always baby plants to pot up. I’m using these in a Christmas wreath next week. I’ll make a circle of willow, cover it in sheet moss, and wire in the succulent cuttings. They’ll soon root into the moss and grow on. I’ll post some how-to photos as I go. The wreath can hang on the front door, or become a table setting with a candle in the middle.

The temperature in here is 10C today. A Parwins electric fan heater is set to 5C. Providing I keep the plants on the dry side, they survive the winter. It’s the wet that kills more plants than the cold. This pinky orange bougainvillea remains colourful right through until spring. I’ll prune it right back next March and it will produce fresh bracts on the new season’s growth. This one is being trained into a pyramid and I’ve also got a purple one trained into a ball.

Down the left of the greenhouse is a row of potted citrus plants. These are fabulous for making cakes. I never use chemicals, so the zest is safe to use. There’s oranges, tangerines, lemons and limes. I’m searching for something called a Buddhas Hand which apparently produces large quantities of peel for jams and marmalade.

I bring pots of herbs and annuals into the greenhouse in October to overwinter. My nasturtiums are still flowering. I’ll use the flowers and leaves in salads. Anything to cheer up dark and rainy days of December.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my whistle-stop tour of my greenhouse. I love to have somewhere to mooch when it’s horrible outdoors. What’s growing in your greenhouses, coldframes or porches this winter? Get in touch and let me know what you are nurturing, indoors.

Joining in with https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2018/12/01/six-on-saturday-01-12-2018/. Why not go over and see what the the others have chosen for their Six on Saturday slideshow photos.

In a Vase on Monday – flowers for a christening.

Pink roses for a baby girl. Just the right flower. That’s what I decided when a friend asked me to make a door wreath for her granddaughter’s christening.

Setting out with a wicker basket, I spend a happy hour searching the hedgerows around the garden. I’m looking for ivy leaves, and their lime green and black flower heads and seeds. The perfect background for any circle of flowers. I find jewel-like Euonymus europaeus, or spindle tree, growing wild amongst the ivy, dogwood and hawthorn. Their bright pink fruit split apart to reveal orange seeds inside. Leaves turn a burnished bronze and then red. I add them to the basket. It’s like finding treasure.

I find some silver coins. Well, they look like coins. Honesty seed heads have turned a glorious silvery grey. Perfect for tucking in amongst the flowers. I love the way they catch the light. No need for fairy lights here.

I search around for some sprigs of a newly- planted viburnum. This winter-flowering gem is called Viburnum tinus Lisarose. Clusters of small pink and white flowers look lovely at all stages from bud to fully open. It flowers from November to April, just when we most need some cheer.

It’s my lucky day. I’ve found some late-flowering roses. My favourites, The Fairy and Pearl Anniversary. They have small clusters of pearly pink semi-double flowers. Both are compact, easy to grow varieties. Mine are thriving in containers and are moved into the greenhouse to provide flowers right up until Christmas. Pearl Anniversary is a compact, patio rose, and The Fairy is a small shrub rose. Both are repeat flowering and disease resistant.

Roses make the perfect focal point at the top of the wreath. Not many are needed to make a display.

Rosehips. So glossy they look as if they’ve been dipped in varnish. They cascade from the top of the hedgerows. The birds will have a feast. I harvest some for today, and some for Christmas, not taking them all. It’s best to share. I weave them in and out of the ivy. It’s a happy combination of hedgerow and garden. Just perfect for a baby girl’s special day.

Each week I join Cathy for her IAVOM Meme. Luckily flowers don’t have to be in a vase to be included. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and harvesting for their flower arrangements this week. Let me know if you have ever made flowers for a special occasion like I have. It’s lucky when the garden and hedgerow provides such bounty, even in November.

Cathy : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway

Book Review

Kate Bradbury. Published by Bloomsbury Wildlife. Hardback £16.99

It’s been a difficult year. I’m only just getting over serious illness myself, and then three relatives have been ill. I’ve been stretched to the limits trying to help everyone. So when I picked up Kate Bradbury’s book, it seemed to have been written specially for me. There’s a message of hope on every page.

Kate’s struggling too. Some kind of crisis. A broken heart. She ends up homeless, sleeping on friends’ sofas. She has to leave London and make a new home in a damp dark, basement flat. Even worse, the garden is a dead place. Decked over and full of rubbish. And yet, Kate’s book is not a tale of woe. It’s about struggling and striving. But ultimately, there’s a message of hope. After pain and suffering there can be triumphs and happiness again. It’s a message I needed to hear. I made myself a reading corner in the greenhouse and tried to absorb the positive vibes. It’s not easy when you are in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes I’d read the same paragraph over and over again, without registering the words. Stress is such a debilitating thing.

Kate turns her decked-over garden into a wildlife paradise. She makes a pond, puts up bird boxes and revels in every creature that comes to live in her tiny plot. It’s not just a book about rescuing a garden, it’s about rescuing a person too. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit. We may be bowed down and almost defeated by life’s events, but we will triumph. Nature, wildlife and gardens are a balm. Wouldn’t you agree.

I particularly love Kate’s descriptions of making a bee hotel and building a pond. I learn that a pond doesn’t need to be more than 30cm deep to be of value to wildlife. I could manage that. There’s plenty of places where I could fit a pond. And her tales of rescuing bees. I’d heard about giving bees spoons of sugar. Kate talks about finding an exhausted bumblebee on the pavement. She pops it in her pocket to keep it warm while she walks home. I’d never thought of doing that. She puts the red-tailed bee in a box with a pop bottle lid full of sugar water. It’s too cold and wet for the bee to go outside, so Kate gently places some shredded paper in the box to make a cosy nest until the morning. Apparently, some bees can be helped by gently stroking their thorax. I looked it up. That’s the part of the body between the wings. I can have a go at that too, if needed. Kate gives me confidence to try. Next day, Kate releases the revived and now grumbling bee. She searches for a mahonia plant to give the bee the best chance of survival.

There are lots of hints and tips sprinkled through the book for anyone wanting to make a wildlife garden.

Regular readers will know that we planted a mini-wood when we moved here, and I grow flowers and plants for pollinators. Now I have a few more good ideas for helping wildlife in my garden. Kate’s inspiring book and joyful message was just the pick-me-up I needed, to be honest.

The publishers have kindly given one free book as a prize for readers of this blog. Usual rules apply. One name will be randomly selected in the prize draw. There’s no cash alternative. Publishers decision is final. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw. Sorry, UK entries only.

Tour of MrFothergill’s Seed Trial Grounds

Photo : Silene Blue Angel. New for 2018/19

Growing plants from seed is a passion for me. It’s an affordable way to bulk up annual, perennial and biennial displays in the garden. And each year I try something new, as well as sticking with tried and trusted old favourites.

Next spring, I’ll be adding Silene Blue Angel to my seed sowing plans. It’s one of the new varieties on offer at Mr Fothergill’s. And this week I was absolutely delighted to be invited to view the trial grounds at the company’s headquarters in Suffolk.

These are the plants that caught my eye. The silene was top of my list. A hardy annual, sown in March and planted out in early June. Plants form neat cushions 25cm tall. For a continuous display, I’ll sow a few seeds at two to three week intervals. I’m picturing drifts of electric blue flowers running through the borders and flowering all summer long.

Brachycome Blue Star is another new variety available for 2019. I’m going to partner it with this one I spotted from the Brachycome Blue/White Mix range. I’ve always loved any kind of daisy flower.

Regular readers know I also love sweet peas. I grow a range of heritage and modern varieties along a rather wonky hazel wigwam structure. Next year I will be adding new variety Capel Manor to the garden. It’s a pretty pinky blue and has a delicate, though not overpowering scent.

I always plant cosmos in the cut flower garden. They are easy to grow and provide flowers from early summer right through to the first frosts. I spotted this beautiful new white variety called Snow Puff. Bees seem to love cosmos, so that’s a bonus too. I’m always trying to find ways to help pollinators.

Here’s some photos of the trial grounds. It was fabulous to wander about amongst so many beautiful flowers, jotting down names for future planting plans. The scent in the heat of the day just added to the wow factor.

Mr Fothergill’s is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In May, the company won Product of the Year at RHS Chelsea for its new Optigrow range of seeds. Optigrow is a revolutionary non-chemical seed priming treatment that uses only water and air to get the seeds biologically ready for germination. I’ll be trying out some of the 19 vegetable varieties available – including tricky to grow parsnips- next spring. I’ll need to write another post about all the new vegetable varieties. There are quite a few I’ve made a note of. And there are many more new flower varieties. I’ve just picked out a few. I’ll definitely have to write another post soon….

Please share this via any social media you like, and don’t forget to say hello in the comments box below. Let me know what new seed you are planing to try out for the spring growing season. I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.