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 email@example.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.
Published by White Owl, imprint of Pen and Sword Books
Published summer 2022
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 alwaysstood 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.
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:
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.
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.
Photos kindly provided by award-winning photographer Andrea Jones.
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.
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.
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.
BOOK REVIEWAND MY BBC LOCAL RADIO BOOK OF THE WEEK
Published by Laurence King, March 2022
Hardback, 192 pages, £19.99
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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)
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:
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thanks again to everyone who left comments. There will be more book and product reviews in the next few weeks. I’m very grateful to book publishers for sending out giveaway copies. Have a great gardening week everyone.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Thanks for reading, and have a great gardening week!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Thank you everyone who joined in with the prize draw for tickets for this year’s Gardeners’ World Live Show. Names were put into a computer random generator and the winner is Cathy from Rambling in the Garden. Congratulations Cathy and enjoy your day out! My next prize draw is for a summer reading bumper box of gardening books. There’s been some stunning books published this summer and the publishers often send me an extra copy to give away. More details to follow. Thank you again for reading my blog. Have a great week! Karen G.
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:
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.
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.
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.
Salvias provide such a welcome zing of colour from mid summer to first frosts. In my garden, pale blue and white ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’ was still in full flower on Christmas Day. Specialist growers, Middleton Nurseries, have sent me a collection of new varieties to try out. I haven’t paid for these, but in common with other bloggers, I’m happy to trial plants and products in return for giving my honest opinion. Here’s some of the plants they sent.
Plants arrive via mail order and were carefully handled by the delivery company. I always think it’s worth giving a good report when plants and products are delivered in a good condition and the drivers have taken the trouble to ensure the contents are undamaged. The box was also placed on the doorstep the right way up! These things always help somewhat. It’s exasperating when ‘this way up’ arrow stickers are not heeded.
Plants are snugly nestled inside a sturdy cardboard box and as you can see arrived in good condition even though temperatures were very high.
The cardboard container is easily folded open so plants are not pulled about when extricating them from the packaging. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve nearly decapitated a plant trying to get it out of the box. Some thought and care has gone into the design of this one, and it’s appreciated.
Plants are carefully tied to supporting canes and plastic bags are wound around the plant pots to stop compost drying out. My only criticism would be that the plastic bags could be biodegradable instead of single use. However, I’ve reused these on top of pots of cuttings to maintain humidity. So mine won’t be thrown away, and will be kept in the potting shed and reused time and time again.
There’s a very useful plant care leaflet included in the box, and a discount code for further purchases. I’ve signed up for more discounts, special offers and gardening club newsletters.
Each plant has a label which is packed full with information. It’s great to see the Union Jack flag on the label, indicating the plants are grown in Britain. I like to support British nurseries as much as I can.
I love this pretty, pale variety Salvia microphylla Delice Fiona. It has rich green leaves, pale pink flowers with a deeper pink centre. Instructions say it can be grown in part shade to full sun, requires moderate to occasional watering and grows 60-90cm high. Can be grown in containers.
Another pink variety is Salvia greggii Shell dancer with large pink flowers with the basal tubes and base of the lower lip coloured deep rose. The outer portions of the lower lip start with ‘hot salmon’ shading then lighten to nearly cream as it ages. The label says the plant is ‘seldom completely out of flower.’ That’s my experience of salvias, they do have a long-flowering period, which makes them such good value.
If you like the paler salvias, this one’s stunning. It’s from a new ‘So Cool’ range. This one is Salvia So Cool Pale Cream. Utterly captivating. New for 2021. Compact-growing, 30-40cm tall.
The first salvias I grew were blue. I love this variety, microphylla Delice Feline. The plant label says the flowers are deep violet with a white centre, flowers profusely until autumn and grows 60 -90cm tall. A new hybrid for 2020.
Another 2020 hybrid is Salvia microphylla Suzanne which has bright red upright flowers with white markings. 60-90cm tall.
And finally, Salvia microphylla Carolus has pretty mauve flowers which look striking set against the darker almost black stems and dark coloured basal tubes. Has a smaller-spreading habit than most microphylla varieties.
I can wholeheartedly recommend Middleton Nurseries for mail-order plants. I’m delighted with my parcel of new and very pretty hybrids. High quality plants, well-grown and expertly packaged. I’ll be posting photos throughout the summer to let you know how they develop.
Here’s some more information about the nursery:
Middleton Nurseries are located in the village of Middleton in Staffordshire and have been growing plants since 1975. The nursery is dedicated to growing a wide range of new and unusual herbaceous, perennials and rare breeds of salvias. Middleton Nurseries was started in 1975 by Stephan Zako and at first grew ‘pick-your-own’ strawberries. John Zako went into the family business after leaving Pershore College with a National Diploma in Horticulture. Using his expertise he slowly transformed the business into ‘one of the leading plant specialist nurseries’ with an extensive block of greenhouses.
In April 2012, the family sold the retail/ garden centre portion of the business and kept the nursery which enabled John to focus on his true passion of growing and breeding plants. The nursery specialises in salvias which they sell up and down the country at RHS gardening shows each year. Since 2021, Middleton Nurseries has become a third-generation family business after John’s son, James, joined the business.
Are you growing any salvias this year? Are you as passionate about them as I’ve become? Get in touch and let me know how you are getting on with your gardening and growing this summer. Thank you, as ever, for reading my blog.
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.”
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.
I’m trying out a sample roll of paper mulch in an attempt to cut down on weeding in the flower and vegetable garden. I haven’t paid for this product, but in common with other bloggers, the agreement is to unconditionally try it out and give an honest opinion.
Monty kitten was keen to help. To be honest, he gave more help than was strictly necessary, getting in and under the paper roll. He’s such good company in the garden, always by my side, climbing in and out of my wheelbarrow and tool bag. But paper’s a new attraction for him!
Instructions say place a heavy stone on each corner as you start to unroll the paper, and toss soil along both edges to prevent wind from blowing it away. Monty jumped all over it, which kept it in place nicely until I’d sorted out stones and compost.
I used a Hori-Hori to cut the paper to length, then set out the plants. I’m trying the mulch for dahlias and cosmos in the cut flower beds , and for courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, and strawberries in the veg beds. It would be good for garlic and chard too.
These are the cuttings I’ve been taking since February from dahlias overwintered in the potting shed. They are exact clones of the parent plants, so I now have about 100 new plants for free. All my favourite varieties.
I used my Hori-Hori knife to cut a cross in the paper and then dug out planting holes for the dahlias. A new sharp-pointed trowel made the task quick and easy.
The paper is thick enough to block out light, and therefore suppress weeds, but there are microscopic holes to let air and water permeate. Plants are so far growing well. I’m having to do much less watering than usual.
This product is supplied by Mulch Organic, a family business which offers environmentally-friendly alternatives to black plastic for mulching. They say the products are natural, made from renewable sources and eliminate the need for chemical herbicides. The paper mulch is 100 percent organic and biodegradable. It should last a whole growing season, and at the end of the year, can simply be tilled into the soil to decompose naturally.
There’s also a crepe version, with expansion ribs to allow for stretch for use over mounded beds. These also work well with drip irrigation systems, and can be used in poly tunnels.
As well as the paper rolls, there’s a mulch film made from cornstarch.
Here’s one last photo of Monty. We were out in the garden until 10pm as the temperatures were too hot in the day. I’m hoping the mulch will save time – giving me more time to spend sitting in the garden reading, with Monty on my knee. That’s the plan anyway. I’ll let you know if it works out!
Here’s some of the dahlias I’m growing again this year. This one is Nuit d’Ete.
Dahlia David Howard. A lovely deep orange flower. Cut flowers last 10 days in a vase.
Eveline is a lovely white decorative dahlia with a delicate blush pink centre and tips to the petals.
Thank you for reading the blog. Have you tried any products to combat weeds? Let me know how you are getting on with your gardening projects.
I’ve been out! Actually out in the car, driving to a garden. It’s only the second time I’ve been out for a garden visit in 16 months. A few weeks ago I visited Belvoir Castle, and this week, I chose Goldstone Hall for my floral excursion. It seems so strange to be out and about, meeting up with friends. Everyone’s experience of the pandemic has been different. Some say their lives changed very little, they continued to travel to work and managed to get out and about when lockdown eased. Others, like me, had to stay at home. Anyway, I’m picking and choosing which outings to go on, and slowly emerging back into a normal life. Here’s a slide show of photos I provide when I’ve been out. Goldstone Hall in North Shropshire didn’t disappoint. It’s a beautifully- designed and immaculately-managed 5 acre garden surrounding a pretty Georgian manor house. Although I didn’t stay overnight, (there are 12 bedrooms) I am planning to return with my Mum for a short break soon. The idea of waking up early, and quietly wandering around the masses of roses, vegetables and herbs, definitely appeals.
This Abutilon vitifolium is one of the first shrubs you see when you step into the garden. It’s a fast-growing shrub from Chile with vine-like leaves and abundant pale mauve flowers. It flowers mainly in spring and early summer, but can flower all summer long if happy in a sheltered warm position. It can easily be grown from seed and cuttings.
The main flower border runs along a sunny wall. There’s roses and clematis all along the walls, with perennials and grasses in front.
Here’s another view of the wall, taken from the front of the border. Some pretty wine-coloured aquilegias grow in patches all along the border. This one looks like the variety Bordeaux Barlow.
Lupins in the cutting garden look particularly lovely in early June. There’s masses of sweet peas, cornflowers, sunflowers and gladioli to follow.
A herb walk is a scented pathway with 100 different herbs planted alongside heritage vegetables, salads and heirloom fruit trees and bushes.
The polytunnel is packed with produce. I am going to copy the idea for growing strawberries in lengths of guttering with a drip watering system attached. Would keep the plants off the ground and away from slugs- and it would be much easier to pick fruit.
Not an inch of space is wasted in the poly tunnel.
After a head-gardener tour of the grounds, we enjoyed a delicious lunch in this open-sided oak pavilion. Perfect for a lovely warm summer’s day.
We had new potatoes, freshly dug from the plot, a spinach and asparagus quiche, and salad – all grown in the gardens we had just walked around.
Here’s the recipe for the panna cotta we enjoyed.
The view of the garden from one of the reception rooms in the hotel. There’s a sense of peace and tranquility here.
More information about Goldstone Hall.
Goldstone Hall is an Royal Horticultural Society ( RHS) partner garden, and opens for the National Gardens Scheme and for garden group tours. There’s more on the website at https://goldstonehallhotel.co.uk/.
The winner is: Darran Jaques. Names were put into a random generator and computer selected.
The next book up for review and giveaway is the stunning and unusual The Flower Yard by Arthur Parkinson. Pages are full of exotic tulips and jewel-coloured dahlias and, it has to be said, lovely little bantam hens! Coming soon…
Meanwhile, here’s some more photos of lilies from Naomi’s book, as quite honestly one can’t have enough pictures of lilies to drool over. They are absolutely glorious. Enjoy your week everyone, and thanks for reading my blog and getting in touch. It’s always appreciated.
Lilies is published by Pavilion RRP £25. Photographs by Georgianna Lane.
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.
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!
Hardback. 240 pages. Photographs by Georgianna Lane
Published May 2021. RRP £25
For many years, all down the sides of my greenhouse, I grew tall pots of lilies. My favourites were the towering, elegant trumpet lilies, African Queen. They grew to 5ft and produced masses of rich apricot flowers with rose garnet blush shades on the reverse of the petals. Stunning to look at, and the scent was equally wonderful. That spicy, heady scent drifted all around the orchard, wild flower meadow and up through the mini-woodland. Beautiful, intoxicating and memorable.
It was lovely to stand in the greenhouse and see the flowers reaching almost the roofline. A good background for my summer container display within the greenhouse where rows of scented pelargoniums lined up amongst the citrus trees.
Naomi’s new book is a celebration of all kinds of lilies. There’s an introduction, a section on the history and botany of lilies, followed by detailed instructions on growing and caring for lilies. Advice is given on where to buy bulbs, how to prepare the soil and plant, and how to water, feed and deadhead lilies. There’s enough information for beginners to get started, and enough detail for more experienced gardeners to have a go at propagating and preparing lilies for shows. Everything you need to know to get the best out of these lovely summer bulbs.
The lilies chosen for in-depth study are split into sections; Elegant and Dainty, Wild and Wonderful, Fiery and Fabulous, and Majestic and Magnificent.
Mascara is a black Asiatic hybrid featured in the Fiery and Fabulous section. It grows to 1m with upward and outward-facing blooms. It will grown in any good garden soil and makes a stunning cut flower.
Helvetia is in the Elegant and Dainty section. Upward-facing with reflexed petals, these lilies grow to 1- 1.2m tall and are highly fragrant. Recommend for the front of a border and containers. Would make a wonderful cascading wedding bouquet.
Another very pretty white flower is Polar Star. I’ve grown this in pots many times. 25 bulbs in a large Italian terracotta pot makes a stunning summer display. These have large fully-double upward and outward-facing flowers and grows to 70-100cm tall. Very long lasting in a vase.
lilium leichtlinii is one I haven’t grown before. It is not that common in cultivation, says Naomi. But well worth seeking out. Small pendant flowers with reflexed petals, growing to 1-1.4m tall. Unscented. Suitable for a naturalistic garden. Sophisticated in a vase.
Another lily with swept back petals is Ariadne. This Turks cap type grows to 1.2-1.8m with small pale, dusty rose flowers. Good for the back of the border and set against a foil of dark foliage, or a contrasting painted surface. Could be used for cut flowers, but you’d need a tall vase.
Georgianna Lane is a leading floral, garden and travel photographer whose work has been widely published. She captures the timeless elegance and beauty of this summer garden favourite.
Naomi Slade is a well-known figure in the world of gardening media. She writes and broadcasts about horticulture, design, environment and lifestyle. Lilies is beautifully well-written. A book you’ll delve into time and time again, and it’s so full of joy it will make you smile every time.
The publishers have one copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below and names will be put in a hat and a winner randomly selected next Sunday.
Thank you for reading my reviews and for taking the time to comment. The comment box is below the hashtags at the bottom of the page. Or click on ‘comments’ next to the title.
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.
Windowsill growing space for herbs, fruit and vegetables.
Thank you again for reading my blog. It’s much appreciated.
It’s 14 months since I set foot in a garden open to the public. I’ve missed getting out and about, seeing friends and taking photos. But this week I was invited to a media day for the Belvoir Flower and Garden Show, and it feels great to be back visiting gardens and getting inspiration for my own little plot.
As part of the media day, we were given a guided tour of the castle gardens. Here’s a ‘slide show’ of photos from my first day trip out. I hope you are managing to get out and about a bit more now. Get in touch and let me know what you’ve seen and where you’ve been. I don’t know about you, but I’m raring to go!
A particularly blowsy tree peony. Unknown variety. Much loved by bees.
Back past the topiary yew to the castle for afternoon tea. After all that walking, tea and cake is very much appreciated.
Thank you for reading. Please search past the hashtags to reach the comments box, or click comments alongside the title name.
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:
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.
Published by Quadrille, an imprint of Hardie Grant Publishing
RRP £26 Published spring 2021. Hardback. 272 pages
ISBN 978 1 78713 6359
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.