Blue Monday in My Garden and Ridgeway Walk – 20th January 2020

Lace-edge primulas, looking glorious in January

Today I’m celebrating. I’ve spent the first full day in the garden for three years. There was much to do! Brambles and nettles have invaded the boundaries, and I couldn’t get down the side of the poly tunnel. Something needed to be done. And luckily my strength and energy levels have returned and I can be outdoors all day. Something I took for granted until becoming seriously ill in 2016. So happily, it’s not Blue Monday for me- it’s three cheers, and hello garden, here I come!

This area round the back of the potting shed and alongside the poly tunnel looks a mess. It’s out of sight and out of mind- until I need to clean the poly tunnel plastic covering. Then I can’t get access. So I set to and cut back all the nettle stems and blackberries. Some of the trailing stems are 4m long. Vicious, thorny things!

There’s a wheelbarrow under there.

Despite wearing tough clothing the brambles manage to ‘get me.’ But I fight back and win. It takes me a couple of hours, much longer than it used to, but I’ve learned to pace myself and celebrate every small achievement. By chipping away at the task the area is cleared, pots washed and neatly stacked and order restored. It’s such a nice feeling, to take back control.

I make a start on mulching the borders. Some of the boundary borders have become over run with plants such as geranium and euphorbia. Perennials like these can be rather too successful. Before 2016, the whole garden was planted with tender perennials, salvias, penstemons, exotics galore. Mum and I would visit rare plant fairs to seek out small treasures. But these require cosseting. I discovered there’s a good reason they are rare. They need splitting, dividing or they disappear. Cuttings require overwintering in a heated greenhouse. They are gone in a flash without tender loving care. I will replant, but hardier varieties are being selected. Newly acquired tender beauties will remain in plant pots, easily scooped up and swept into the greenhouse at the first sign of frost. I’m not giving up on delicate plants, just readjusting the balance.

A whole border of hellebores had to be dug up last autumn. The plants had become overrun with couch grass and weeds. We moved them to the woodland walk where the grass will die out eventually. And I’m delighted to report that hellebores can be moved and thrive. These are looking fabulous. Every one survived in the well-mulched wonderful leaf-mould soil. So pleased, as these were grown from seedlings given to me by a friend.

Another cause for celebration. My new potatoes for winter have been fabulous. We planted these on 7th August in recycled compost bags. Well watered through late summer, they grew like triffids. As soon as the weather turned cold, the bags were hauled into the greenhouse to be kept frost free. Since Christmas we’ve had a steady supply of tasty potatoes fresh from the greenhouse. There is nothing more cheerful than new potatoes in the depths of winter. I’ll be repeating the procedure again this year, with double the number of bags.

As always, after a hearty gardening session, as a reward, I head out of the top field gate and walk along the ridgeway path. Is there any finer sight than an oak tree set against a bright blue sky. It’s a sight I’ll never tire of.

A quick peek though the gap-in-the hedge. I wasn’t quick enough to take photos of the pheasants in the ditch on the other side. A magnificent thrill to see them skimming low across the field, their feathers rich and glowing in the late afternoon sun.

Hazel catkins, a welcome sign of spring. I cut a few twigs to prop up my amaryllis bulbs in the greenhouse. Flowers and catkins always bring cheer.

It’s a circular walk- along the path, down the lane and back home. This is the hedgerow alongside the lane. My favourite oak, on the ridgeway walk, is almost in the centre of this photo.

I stand and admire this 300 year old oak, one of a row. And I think about the farmer who planted them and didn’t live to see them grow to maturity. It’s such a generous act to plant a tree. It’s not for yourself, but for future generations to come. There are some gaps along the lane where elms have died. Perhaps I’ll ask the farmer if I can plant some replacement oaks. And someone else will stand before them, in time, and marvel at their beauty, like I do.

After a cup of tea, I potter about, collecting up plant labels – there are many- and wind-blown pots. I check the greenhouse, first tapping on the door to warn the wrens. They roost on the slider and if I don’t warn them, there’s a sudden flapping of wings around my head. I don’t mind sharing my greenhouse. It might mean the difference between survival and death, in a cold winter.

Turning for home, I notice the time is 5.05pm. It’s a wonderful sunset. And there’s still enough light to mooch about and easily find my way to the back door. Spring is on the way. And I feel ready for all the gardening challenges to come.

Have you spent any time in the garden today? What’s looking good or coming into flower on your plot. Get in touch and let me know.

Links : special primroses from Piecemeal Plants http://www.piecemealplants.co.uk/

Polytunnels, mine was second hand. New ones from https://www.firsttunnels.co.uk/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAvJXxBRCeARIsAMSkApqtMjv4FjaWKWNJbY1MEf_7o_CBJK1XrGe3UABgLDs1weAGIcT3A6caAk26EALw_wcB

I’m using mulch from https://www.bloominamazing.com/.

And also https://www.strulch.co.uk/.

And https://www.plantgrow.co.uk/products/

I wrote about growing new potatoes for winter here :https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/07/im-growing-new-potatoes-for-christmas/

Compost from https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/our-products.aspx

Seed potatoes from https://taylors-bulbs.com/

Oak trees https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/english-oak/

Hazel https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/hazel/

I am @kgimson on twitter, karengimson1 on instagram.

Six on Saturday 11th January 2020- Flowers in my Garden

I love surprises. This beautiful lilac flower suddenly appeared in amongst my clump of deep blue iris. I’ve grown this plant by the front door for 20 years. The colour has always been rich indigo blue.

It’s a bit of an untidy grower. Long strappy leaves splay everywhere, tripping us up. I’ve threatened to dig it out many times. But then, midwinter, it starts to flower, and what a joy it is. The flowers resemble silk. Surely, too delicate to cope with frost and snow. But no, it shrugs off the cold, providing a steady supply of blooms right through from November to March. Planted in front of a south facing wall, with its roots in rubble, it thrives.

And then something wonderful happens. A sport perhaps, or a seedling. I don’t have the answer. I’m just in amazement at the beauty and wonder of plants.

I hope it’s a stable sport and will repeat flower through the winter. Maybe it’s a completely new variety. We shall have to wait and see.

You can find out more about iris unguicularis or Algerian iris at : https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/24998/Iris-unguicularis/Details

Here’s some more flower photos from my garden today. We currently have 10C night-time temperatures. Unheard of for January. Consequently, all winter flowering shrubs are having a field day; the whole garden is suffused with a wonderful vanilla scent. It’s totally delicious.

Violets by the front gate. These came from my grandfather, Ted Foulds. They started off from one small pot. Now there are drifts of them under all the deciduous trees and shrubs.

Cyclamen Coum. These are seeding nicely in the woodland in a bed of leafmould.

There’s also various types of viburnum. Deep pink viburnum Dawn being my favourite.

What’s in flower in your garden today? Are you having a mild spell, like we are? Get in touch and let me know.

Links: Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/01/11/six-on-saturday-11-01-2020/

In a Vase on Monday – Jan 6 2020

I’m back to work today, so I’m posting a review of my past #IAVOM projects, one for each month of the year.

Good luck to everyone who’s back to work, school or college today. The days are getting lighter, ever so slightly, so we’ll be able to spend our evenings in the garden again soon.

Meanwhile, enjoy my ‘slide show’ of photos from my garden, though the year.

JANUARY

Paperwhite narcissi, black hellebores, pittosporum and eucalyptus foliage. Decorating a willow wreath with flowers in a jam jar hidden inside a moss kokadama ball.

FEBRUARY

Snowdrops, crocus, cyclamen coum, puschkinia.

MARCH

Tulip Exotic Emperor, Narcissi Geranium, hyacinth, orange wallflower, and Westonbirt dogwood stems.

APRIL

Hyacinth Woodstock, pink hellebore, pink comfrey, daphne and forget-me-nots.

MAY

Forget me nots and Jack by the Hedge( Alliaria petiolata)

JUNE

Roses, Gertrude Jekyll and Constance Spry with a lace frill edge of wild elder flower.

JULY

White daisies and larkspur, Blue Boy cornflower, with a frill of Ammi majus.

AUGUST

Sweet peas, carnations and verbena bonariensis.

SEPTEMBER

Blue shades gladioli, cosmos and dahlia Nuit deEte.

October (early)

Sunflowers and calendula Snow Princess.

October (late)

All of the garden, fuchsia, salvia,rudbeckia, aster, cornflower, white anemone, sedum, argyranthemum.

NOVEMBER

Dahlia David Howard and blue borage.

DECEMBER

Sedum wreath on a moss-filled wire heart. No flower foam has been used again this year. Flowers are pressed into moss or plunged into tiny test tubes hidden amongst the foliage.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

I am on twitter @kgimson

On instagram at karengimson1

On BBC Radio Leicester on Sundays and Wednesdays

At Garden News Magazine every month.

Links: In a Vase on Monday :https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/12/30/in-a-vase-on-monday-hazel-and-hazel/. Thanks to Cathy for hosting #IAVOM

Bulbs and corms from Gee Tee Bulbs : https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

Seeds from Mr Fothergills : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/

Sweet pea seeds: https://www.kingsseeds.com/Products/Flowers-N-Z/Sweet-Pea

Heritage sweet peas and garden to visit : https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/gardens/sweet-peas

Flower farmer courses and willow wreath-making at Common Farm Flowers: https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/workshops.html

Six on Saturday- Flowers from my Garden 4th Jan 2020

Winter flowers are more precious to me than summer blooms. In summer there’s an abundance of riches, and sometimes flowers go unnoticed with too much rushing about, keeping on top of the weeding. But in winter there’s time to stop and pause, and jewel-like colours lift the mood. Today I’ve picked my favourite blue Algerian iris. How can anything so delicate survive the cold! It looks like it is made of silk. I have a huge untidy patch of Iris unguicularis right by my front door. All summer we trip over the long strap-like leaves, and constantly threaten to dig it up. But from November to May there’s a daily flush of flowers, arriving in ones and twos. They last for a week, brought indoors. Perfect for a tiny Victorian glass vase. Iris unguicularis likes to be planted at the base of a south-facing wall. Heat and drought seem to suit it well.

My iris naturally flowers in winter, but there are also roses in flower, quite out of season. This is Rosa Phyllis Bide, a wonderful rambler which reliably puts on a show from early summer right through to autumn. I’ve also managed to find some Viburnum Dawn and Lisarose, and a sprig or alstroemeria from the poly tunnel. A cheerful, scented posy for the kitchen table.

After meandering around the plot I head for the garden gate and set off along the ridgeway walk. Fortunately it’s a dry day and the footpath conditions are improving. It’s been the wettest autumn for 50 years and farmers struggled to get in the harvest or sow autumn crops. In the distance there’s field after field of maize still standing. As far as the eye can see, fields stand fallow. There’s no lovely green shoots of winter wheat, barley or oil seed.

There’s only two crab apples left. Mammals and birds have had a feast. There’s been an abundance of fruit and berries this winter. Rosehips dripped like blood from the hedgerow. Huge flocks of fieldfares fly overhead and alight on the hedges to strip them bare. Resident blackbirds try their best to defend their ‘larder,’ but they are defeated by the noisy, marauding visitors. Luckily I’ve a store of cooking apples at home and I’ll throw a few out every day if the weather turns cold. Sometimes this bounty, regularly distributed, is the difference between life and death for birds. I generally rely on planting berried shrubs in the garden to provide natural food. But if it turns really icy, I’ll buy some mealworms, nuts and seeds.

As usual, I look for signs of spring. I know there’s a months of cold weather to come, but it’s heartening to find fat buds on the oak trees, above, and grey catkins on willow. Back home, the winter-flowering honeysuckle is in bloom and the scent wafts around the garden. It’s always a surprise to find such a delicious scent emanating from such insignificant flowers. I’ve wound some stems through a silver birch wreath, along with fluffy wild clematis seed heads. After Christmas I miss the decorations. I keep the festive feeling going, but swap to spring flowers instead. This will look lovely and cheerful over the summerhouse door.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden and along the ridgeway today. What flowers have you seen in bloom already? Get in touch and let me know what’s bringing you joy in your garden over the winter.

Links: iris unguicularis https://www.woottensplants.com/product/iris-unguicularis/?gclid=CjwKCAiAjMHwBRAVEiwAzdLWGOy0g3Obpt8I_71GTzDsIURPiShw3RWDCpwp4RC80YOuRaFAqW3ikRoCDakQAvD_BwE

Rose Phyllis Bide: https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/phyllis-bide?gclid=CjwKCAiAjMHwBRAVEiwAzdLWGOQWws_A5vY11U8becLKemzBaIcwDJ3IzRUq2t10myMB88ssr2Rx4RoC2H0QAvD_BwE

Wild crab apples: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/crab-apple/

Lonicera winter flowering : https://www.crocus.co.uk/plants/_/lonicera-fragrantissima/classid.4101/

Fieldfares: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/species-focus/fieldfare

Happy New Year Everyone! Some news from my garden 31 December 2019

Photo: Paperwhite narcissi and pink alstroemeria from my greenhouse today. Gypsophila and honesty seed heads saved from the summer. Eucalyptus foliage and willow heart. Flowers are in a jam jar covered with moss and twine, kokadama-style. Lovely to have home-grown flowers for the New Year.

I love surprises. My grandmother used to say you can never predict what’s going to happen, so don’t worry about tomorrow. Concentrate on today. I’ve pretty much tried to follow her good advice. And just about everything she said has turned out to be true. So, I’ve been writing this blog for three years- not knowing where it would take me. And the biggest surprise is that it’s followed by a growing number of readers. I set out thinking I’d be pleased if just one person read it and was inspired to grow something from seed. Well, I’m amazed and pleased to say the blog was shortlisted this year for the Garden Media Guild Awards. The awards ceremony was quite a glitzy affair at the Savoy in London- not somewhere I ever expected to visit. It was hosted by Nick Bailey, and I sat next to Pippa Greenwood- someone I’ve always admired. Rachel DeThame and Anne Swithinbank were on the next table. Alan Titchmarsh won an award for practical gardener, and Carol Klein was given a lifetime achievement award, presented by Roy Lancaster. Marc Rosenberg won news journalist of the year. Bramblegarden didn’t win the blog category, but just to be a finalist was quite something for me. It took me right out of the potting shed and out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing, now and again, isn’t it.

My second lovely surprise came when the weekly Garden News magazine asked me to write about my garden, and the first of my articles is out this week!

Mum and I have been subscribers for about 20 years. Never in a million years did I think I would be sharing my garden with readers. But that’s what’s happened and they’ve asked me to write and send photos of what I’m growing on a regular basis.

There was a bit of a panic when they asked for photos of the garden. It’s not looking its best in winter, and the rain means I’m very behind with tasks. But I made an immediate decision not to have a frantic tidy up. My garden is what it is. There are too many brambles and stinging nettles, and those will be addressed over the winter. But, apart from that, it will be as it is, a rather messy garden with zones of productivity. I’ve got 10 beds, 1.3m wide by 3m long with little paving slab paths between. This means I never have to stand on the soil. For the past three years the whole garden has been ‘no-dig’ following the principles of Charles Dowding. There’s a 20ft Alton cedar greenhouse I’ve painted black, and alongside, a matching 20ft poly tunnel. The rest of the one acre garden is mostly trees, and low maintenance shade planting. It’s left to the owls, grass snakes and hedgehogs. I’m delighted to share space with them all.

Across the centre of the veg plot there’s a hazel wigwam or A-frame trellis. This has been patched up for the past two years and will be renewed this winter, ready for spring planting.

The hazel frame is perfect for growing sweet peas. The plants just scramble up by themselves. I don’t have much tying in to do. I plant gladioli down the middle of the structure to utilise the space. These grow about 1m tall and usually need staking, but the hazel frame supports them instead.

This is my favourite Wiltshire Ripple variety, which has a fabulous scent.

Here’s how I make my newspaper pots, using a spice jar to form the tube.

I stand the newspaper tubes in terracotta pans. It’s a good task to do when the ground is too wet to work on, which has been the situation here for the past three months.

Albutt Blue. It’s wonderful to be thinking about sweet peas – in the middle of winter.

I wish I could share the scent from all these flowers. Sweet peas are the essence of summer.

What plans have you for growing in 2020? Are you planting old favourites, or trying something new. Get in touch and let me know.

And remember, if you are writing a blog, you never know who might be reading, or what opportunities might come your way. Just enjoy your blogging.

Wishing you all a happy, peaceful and healthy New Year. Happy Gardening!

I am on twitter at https://mobile.twitter.com/kgimson/status/1149241935502225408

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

Links: Garden News magazine: https://www.greatmagazines.co.uk/garden-news-magazine?gclid=Cj0KCQiAgKzwBRCjARIsABBbFujlf4tfcbFd4OxHcjvuH6NR9Uk54A_wVM0S9IDq_ZeSvA0FtiofT0oaAg9_EALw_wcB

Garden Media Guild: https://www.gardenmediaguild.co.uk/awards

Sweet peas Mr Fothergills https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/#.Xgur1YGnyfA

Sweet Peas Easton Walled garden https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/whats-on

Higgledy Garden Seeds https://higgledygarden.com/

Savoy London https://all.accor.com/hotel/A597/index.en.shtml?utm_term=mafm&gclid=Cj0KCQiAgKzwBRCjARIsABBbFujh9QGSEjYNiJ8ON9HjLVkRMH3UNhpD8tpccFO4povH1E6R5zr5qXIaAikZEALw_wcB&utm_campaign=ppc-ach-mafm-goo-uk-en-uk-exa-sear-a&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=uk-en-GB-V2352&utm_source=google

I like to join in with In a Vase on Monday, although it’s usually a different day : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

And Six on Saturday : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/

Happy Christmas Everyone!

I’ve escaped from the house for half an hour. There’s two dozen mince pies in a tin. All my cooking is done. Icing sugar is liberally sprinkled all over the kitchen table. But clearing up can wait. I need to get outside into the garden. Surely, no one will miss me for 30 minutes…..

I’ve been saving crab apples for Christmas decorations. There’s Red Sentinel, Jelly King, Transitoria, and the common malus sylvestris which grows wild in hedgerows around here.

I’m trying to use less plastic and wire in the garden. So as an experiment I’m using cocktail sticks to secure my apples. I’m not using floral foam either. Flowers can be tucked into little glass jars and test tubes. Foliage can be woven into willow. It just takes a bit of forward planning. And I’m pleased with the results.

Wild clematis, old man’s beard, highlights the rosy red apples and rosehips. Such a joy to use what’s to hand in the garden. Within a few minutes I’ve gathered everything I need.

I planted dozens of rosa canina when we made a garden here and rosehips are plentiful this year. I never take all of them from one place. Always leave some for the birds. They’ll need them to get through a cold wet winter.

My willow and crab apple wreath cheers up the summerhouse for Christmas. I’ve heaped woollen blankets in there and created a little library of favourite books. A peaceful place to rest and survey the garden birds. We’ve plenty of robins and blackbirds in the garden. They will be looking for nesting sites soon. Behind the summerhouse, the fields lie fallow this year. It’s been too wet to plough and sow any winter crops. Winter barley and wheat would usually be providing bright green shoots by now. It’s sad to see the ground so waterlogged and unproductive. However, birds and mammals are finding ‘leavings’ from the summer crops. Today we saw 300 field fares land in the field. They must be finding left over seeds and grains.

This is the field gate we walk through as we set off across the back fields. There’s a footpath along the hedgerow. Usually, there’s only us rambling along, but at Christmas the lane attracts a great many walkers. I like to decorate all the garden gates with willow and foliage. It only takes a few minutes to twist six willow stems into a heart and wind in some holly and garrya elliptica. Some dried hydrangea Annabelle makes a focal point, and hides the string tying everything together. Three crab apples glow yellow in the afternoon sunshine. It’s a constantly changing arrangement as birds peck at the hydrangea and apples. I don’t mind. It’s wonderful to watch them enjoying the juicy fruit. I can easily add some more. I enjoy the birds as much as the arrangements to be honest.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s walk around my garden. Thank you for all your lovely, kind and encouraging comments all year. Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all. See you in 2020, when there will be some exciting new developments at bramble garden to show you. Enjoy your gardening as well as your festivities. Now, back to the icing sugar and that messy kitchen table….. there’s trifles still to make. And Christmas puddings to steam.

My prize draw poinsettia- and new potatoes for Christmas – on the radio this week.

I’ve been a bit poorly this week. Two days in bed with a virus. Then one day on the sofa; puppy, Meg, on my feet and Grace cat on my knee keeping me toasty warm. Boy did I feel awful. And you can imagine how panicky I was, with so much to do. You can’t exactly put Christmas off for another week! Anyway, I’m always saying for every down there is an up, and a big cheer-me-up arrived in the post, a beautiful huge bright red poinsettia. It’s the biggest brightest poinsettia I’ve ever seen.

I won this gorgeous plant in a prize draw run by the Garden Media Guild and Marks and Spencers. It has 12 red bracts and lovely healthy dark green foliage. I’ve not had flowers or plants from M&S before, but can say wholeheartedly the quality is superb. The plants come well packed in eco friendly cardboard boxes. This one has a pretty wicker basket hiding the plastic plant pot. Plants are nice and fresh. You can tell by looking at the tiny greenish-yellow flowers in the centre of the bracts. If they are open with still some buds to come, then the plant is fresh. If the flowers have all gone over, then the plant will have been hanging around for a lengthy time and will probably be past its best.

I’m going to keep it in a nice warm room at 13C, water it sparingly with tepid tap water and protect it from droughts. It needs bright, filtered light. A windowsill would be too cold as temperatures are likely to drop overnight.

Poinsettias were one of the subjects we talked about on BBC Radio gardening this week. I do a ten minute tip every week, and this time it was how to buy and take care of poinsettias.

You can listen in here : https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07v92c9. The section starts at 1. 14. 47 on the timeline.

We also tip out our new potato sacks to see if we have managed to grow anything for Christmas. I am mightily relieved- and amazed to see we have 42 potatoes – grown from three tubers. We started these off the first week of August using special seed potatoes held back for autumn planting.

I write about growing potatoes for Christmas here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/07/im-growing-new-potatoes-for-christmas/

The section on potatoes follows on from the poinsettia at 1.20.21. Do have a listen in and let me know what you think of the idea of growing potatoes for Christmas. I shall definitely be doing it again next year, but with more bags to have a supply right through January. A little bit of success at something is really encouraging, isn’t it.

Here’s some of my just-harvested Charlotte potatoes. They taste so sweet. There’s nothing like that new potatoes taste in the middle of winter to cheer you up no end.

I don’t have to skin them, just give them a quick wash and cook for a few minutes. Smothered in butter and parsley. Salt and pepper. Delicious!

Links: Garden Media Guild https://www.gardenmediaguild.co.uk/

Marks and Spencers https://www.marksandspencer.com/gift-wrapped-poinsettia/p/p21041358

New potato seed : https://taylors-bulbs.com/new-potatoes-in-december-heres-how/

We used Dalefoot compost https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/

A walk around my garden Tuesday December 17 2019

Photo taken February 2019.

Something I love to do is pot up a lot of bulbs to make a table display. Bulbs are fantastic value right now. Today I bought two sacks of daffodils reduced from £24 to £3. They were virtually giving them away. I just couldn’t resist. So the morning was spent cramming them into 6″ pots with recycled compost saved from summer. As pots of compost are not very inspiring, I’m sharing a photo of my table display from February this year. Isn’t it cheerful to think we will be looking at all this colour in just a few months.

From left to right, there’s white Carnegie hyacinths, yellow tete a tete daffodils, Blue Jacket hyacinths, white Joan of Arc crocus, and various bright and wonderfully scented primulas and primroses. The perfume carries all around the veg garden. Such a joy after a cold, wet autumn and winter.

Some bulbs just starting to come into flower are Paper White narcissi. I started these off a few months ago in 10″ pots in the cold poly tunnel. There will be a steady stream of highly -scented pure white flowers for the next three months. Fabulous for cut flower displays for the potting shed and house. My favourites.

This week I harvested some of the new potatoes grown in recycled compost bags for Christmas.

I wrote about planting them here :https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/07/im-growing-new-potatoes-for-christmas/

There were a few critical comments on social media when I posted this. Some people said it was a waste of time, there wouldn’t be much of a crop, the potatoes just didn’t grow for them. I was quite down-hearted for a while, thinking I might have wasted my money on the seed potatoes. But, this week, I tentatively plunged my hand into the compost bags, and found these beauties. There’s lots more to harvest. The good thing about growing them in bags is you can just take a few at a time. So I’m glad I didn’t listen to negative comments and give up. I’ll certainly grow them again for next Christmas, and I’ll double the number of bags; that new potato taste is absolutely wonderful in the middle of winter. A special treat. Which is what gardening is all about, pushing the boundaries and trying something new. A little bit of success is so encouraging.

Another winter task I love is making plant labels from twigs. I’ve lots of self-sown ash and hazel trees in the garden with nice straight stems. A good way to control them and make something useful from the wood is to cut them into 8″ -10″ lengths and shave off one side for the writing. It’s a lovely soothing job when you’ve spent time battling through crowds for Christmas shopping. Restores balance and good humour!

Following a wander around my garden, there’s always a trip through the top gate and out on to the back fields. These trees are much admired every day of the year. There’s usually a buzzard perched in this first one. It flies along to the next tree, keeping just ahead of me, as I amble along. Quite often there’s a pheasant in the ditch. Meg almost catches the tail feathers as they leave it until the very last moment to fly away. She is being trained to stop and do no harm. But the pheasants don’t know they aren’t in any danger. They make quite a noisy fuss, skimming low over the fields right to the other side and safety.

Along our walk today we visit the sunflower field. Great clouds of small birds rise out of the crop. The sunflowers are like statues- all facing south, their heads frozen in time, but determinedly facing the sun. Backs to the north wind. Like us really. Today, I’m facing south and trying to catch any slight rays of sunshine I can.

I find lambs’ tails. Hazel catkins. That’s sunshine to me. Soon be spring, they seem to be saying.

What signs of spring have you found in your garden today? Have you got snowdrops showing through yet? Here they are poking through the ground, tiny milky white buds like the eye of a needle.

I like to read Six on Saturday. Mine are always more than six, and I can’t always take part on the right day. Life is too short to worry about these things. https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/14/six-on-saturday-14-12-2019/

Christmas Flowers -In a Vase on Monday

There’s something very appealing about rooting around in ditches, searching for moss covered twigs and pieces of crumbly old bark. I like nothing better than finding bits and pieces that might come in handy for floral arrangements. It brings out the inner ‘Borrower’ in me. I suppose it’s the same as beachcombing for pretty shells and driftwood. Very soothing and satisfying.

It takes me an hour or so to gather enough twigs, moss, ivy and rosehips for today’s projects. The hedges are thick with swags of ivy all adorned with clusters of glossy green berries. These will ripen and turn black in time and provide a feast for the birds. Luckily, there’s enough for everyone to share. I never take too much from any one area.

Wild roses have taken years to climb to the top of the hedges and rosehips form great cascading arches right down to the ground in some places. Meg, my little puppy digs and burrows around in the ditch. She loves this occupation even better than I do, always keen to help, emerging with mouthfuls of sticks and an eager expression. By the end of the morning, my baskets are full, and Meg is happily muddy. We head home, mission accomplished. Setting the finds on the potting shed table, I’ve plenty of red-berried plain green holly, some trailing larch branches festooned with tiny gold fir cones, tendrils of old man’s beard or wild clematis and a pile of wild cherry stems, thick with flower buds already. These stems go into water and straight into the house where the warmth will bring them into flower by Christmas, if I’m lucky. I stand and survey the haul for quite some time. Then I wind willow and silver birch stems into hearts and circles and start to weave in the hedgerow bounty, adding crab apples and dried cow parsley seed heads which remind me of shooting stars. Meg sleeps on my coat in a box under the table, satisfied with her morning’s work. Occasionally, there’s a huge yawn, but mostly deep breathing, like a well fed baby. And in the peace and quiet, I can get on with my tasks.

White alstroemeria and tiny white Stallion chrysanthemum from the poly tunnel pots, adding colour to the hedgerow greens. White gypsophila, dried from the summer.

Hedgerow finds with dried hydrangea flowers and pine.

Teasels and Garryia elliptica on the field gates.

Hydrangea Annabelle with a clematis Montana and willow circle.

Hydrangea and old man’s beard clematis catching the sunlight.

A simple willow heart and ivy.

Christmas hellebore. One of the Gold Collection varieties. A welcome addition to seasonal arrangements. Slit the stem lengthways for 4″ and stand in water right up to the flower head, before using in arrangements.

Summerhouse posy. Holly, lavender and fir.

Rosy hydrangea flowers, wild clematis and pine.

Willow, dogwoods, skimmia and conifer stems.

Potting shed window. Rosehips, crab apples and cow parsley seeds.

Links : In a Vase on Monday. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/12/09/in-a-vase-on-monday-spike-revisited/

A Walk Around My Garden and Back Fields -7 December 2019

Can there be anything more cheerful in winter. Hyacinths, planted in October and grown in the dark, now brought out into the light. Roots climbing out of the pots. Emerald green flower spikes. The promise of flowers- and scent- at a time when we need promise. I potter about all day in the sunshine, planting bulbs, poking about in plant pots, looking for life. I find snowdrops. The tiny white flowers, tight closed. But soon they will be lighting up the garden.

In the greenhouse, the miniature iris bulbs are through. I’m growing Iris reticulata Harmony, a lovely deep inky blue; Katherine Hodgkin, pale blue, and a new variety, Katherine’s Gold, a sport which is a pretty pale yellow form.

These pots will be placed on garden tables in spring, but for now, they’ll stay protected in the greenhouse. Mice are very partial to bulbs.

All jobs completed- pots tidied for recycling, and a few leaves raked into piles to be turned into leafmould- I set off for my daily walk out though the top gate and along the hedgerow path.

Oak trees and hedgerows are almost bare now. A chance to enjoy the beautiful intricate structure of branches. Hidden views are revealed, and if we are lucky, we see a barn owl, hunting in the late afternoon as food becomes scarce.

Just a few crab apples remain on trees. Blackbirds and mice have had a feast this year. It’s been a record harvest.

I find a patch of oak leaves turning a glorious gold. But why haven’t the winter gales blown the leaves across the field, like the rest of them.

Looking closely, I find leaf galls on the undersides of the leaves. They are types of Oak Spangle galls. I wonder if they can somehow manipulate the chemical composition of the leaf to delay senescence. I have seen tiny insects, mine caterpillars, do this in my beech leaves. There are so many mysteries, so much more to learn. Who knows if this will be useful to humans in some way in the future.

On my beech tree leaves, a tiny green oasis remains. Evidence of tunnelling by the moth larvae of Stigmella tityrella. Have you ever noticed these on your trees before?

I find a hazel leaf cozily wrapped around a twig. I gently peep inside. Who could resist? A tiny cluster of ladybirds are snuggled at the base. I carefully fold the leaf back and hope they stay safe and sound until spring.

Turning back, the sun is starting to set. I can see our trees in the distance. A blackbird sings in the hedge. It sounds so loud on a still afternoon when there’s no one else around to hear it. Just me. It will be dark soon, so I hurry across the fields. Suddenly it feels cold. How quickly a sunny day can turn to dusk. Luckily I know the path well and could find the way with my eyes closed. Which is just as well, as it’s pitch black by the time I reach home.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share my blog and help me spread the word. Are you managing to get any gardening done at the moment. Get in touch and let me know.

Links: More than Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/07/six-on-saturday-07-12-2019/

Stigmella tityrella :http://www.leafmines.co.uk/html/Lepidoptera/S.tityrella.htm

Moths: https://ukmoths.org.uk/species/stigmella-tityrella

Galls: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/07/galls-to-spot-this-year/