Thank you to everyone who read my review of Andrew Timothy O’Brien’s new book ‘To Stand and Stare’ published by Dorling Kindersley. The publishers kindly gave me two copies to give away.
The winners are Anna, and also Gill Watson. Please could you e mail me your addresses for the copies to be sent out. firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a long time since I shared any photos of my lockdown kitten, Monty. No longer a kitten, but known to everyone as Monty K. He’s got ‘standing and staring’ down to a fine art. He’s still such a good companion in the potting shed and garden and follows me around everywhere. We hadn’t intended to get another cat, but when vets cancelled all the spaying operations there was an explosion of kittens in our village and surrounding area. We only got to see photos of Monty before he arrived, due to the covid rules, and we had no idea he would be a long-haired cat! Isn’t he gorgeous. A lot of brushing goes on with that coat! Otherwise, there’s brambles and dried grass all in a tangle around his ears.
I’ve ‘adopted’ two cats at Shropshire Cat Rescue. We can’t have any more here as Monty wouldn’t tolerate another feline, so I’m sending money to support two of the charity’s resident cats. More about this later!
Meanwhile… here’s a few Monty kitten photos, which is an indulgence really, but a nice reminder of when he arrived.
Have a great gardening week everyone! Thanks again for reading the blog and keeping in touch. It’s always appreciated. Karen.
Andrew Timothy O’Brien describes planting a tulip as ‘like planting hope and promise.’ I rather like this idea. In fact, the whole book suits me, with its gentle, encouraging, quiet style of gardening. There is nothing shouty about this book. It’s something to take to a corner, curl up, forget the world, and just ‘be’ for a while, immersed in the glory of plants, gardening and the process of growing beauty.
The title is part of the ‘how-to’ message in the book. There’s how to sow a seed, how to water a plant, deadhead a rose, hear a bird. And of course there’s how to ‘stand and stare.’ It’s a contrast to all the urgent, bossy, fast-paced, singing and dancing, ‘must-do’ messages we see every day on social media. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up. It’s hard not to feel left behind and out of touch. O’Brien, with his gentle philosophy reminds us to reflect on why and how we garden. It’s not to compete and keep up, but to find the joy in growing food and flowers -our way.
O’Brien writes; “ When it came to writing this book, I didn’t think the world needed another ‘How to Garden’ title- there’s a wealth of information out there expounding upon the many tasks that it’s all to easy to make your garden about. But there’s not so much about how you might like to be when you’re out there, at one with the plants and the wildlife and the weather. I’ve come to appreciate that an understanding of natural processes is the key to accessing the transformative power of the garden, and replacing feelings of confusion, overwhelm, and stress with focus, a sense of inner peace, and an increased facility to deal with what life throws at us on a daily basis. With a view to this, over the next few hundred pages, I’m going to invite you to think like a plant. And we are going to start from the ground up.”
When planting bulbs, O’Brien reminds us to “Breathe in, hold for a moment then, slowly and with some noise, breathe out. Open the bag; by rights it should be labelled ‘Hope & Promise’, but something like ‘Tulips’ or ‘Lilies’ is perhaps more likely and, really it’s all the same.”
O’Brien strikes just the right note in a world full of conflict and worry. I can conjure up the scenes he creates. I’m happy to stand and stare with him. It’s a balm for our times, and very soothing for the soul. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
“A pause. A breath. A moment for a thought.” Wise words. Don’t you agree?
The publishers have offered one copy for readers of this blog. Please leave a comment below to be entered in the prize draw. Thank you, as ever, for coming to my blog and reading my reviews and musings. It’s much appreciated. You are among 300 people taking a look here each day. And I’m am very grateful for your time.
A warm welcome to all new readers who’ve attended my garden club, or U3A talks. Here’s a selection of photos from my talks to accompany the plant lists. I’m available in the East Midlands area for talks. If you’ve enjoyed one of my talks, please pass my details on to neighbouring clubs and societies. I give a donation to charity with each talk. My e mail is email@example.com.
I’ve been a garden designer for 25 years. Pollinators- bees and butterflies- are always a priority when choosing plants.
Here’s where I grow my plants. I have a second hand 20ft Alton Cedar greenhouse which cost £260 30 years ago. I’ve painted it black and made matching staging. Alongside is a 20ft poly tunnel. We bought the hoops from a nursery closing down. The metal hoops cost £20 on condition we took down a 40ft tunnel and cleared the site. It took us a day to take it down and a week to install the poly tunnel at home. The new plastic covering cost about £140. You can just see the potting shed which replaced one made from pallets which lasted 20 years! This one is made from recycled wood and 1920s window frames which came from a house in the village having double glazing fitted. The roof is black onduline which is fairly cheap and easy to build with. My luxury, having saved money on second hand items, is an electricity supply to the potting shed and greenhouse. At the moment the greenhouse is heated to just above freezing. Orange and lemon trees thrive there.
In front of the greenhouse there’s 10 beds with 2x2ft slab paths between. The beds are about 1.2m wide by 3m long . Vegetables and flowers are mixed together. One bed contains wild flowers. Two beds have hazel A-frames made from hazel rods. These rods come from farm suppliers and are used as binders for hedge laying. They are fairly cheap and last three years if repaired every spring. Natural string is used to tie them together, so at the end of their life, the whole lot can be shredded and composted.
Sweet peas are sown in October and February and planted out in April. Down the centre of the A- frames are gladioli and lilies. Perennial argyranthemums and annual Ammi are interplanted and calendula set at the front. The frame supports all the flowers and no further staking is needed, which saves time.
I grow new varieties and heritage types. Above is a new one called Wiltshire Ripple from Mr Fothergill’s. Highly fragrant and with long stems ideal for cut flowers. Try their new Suffolk Punch sweet pea, launched this year to support the Suffolk Punch Trust which is helping to conserve this heritage working horse breed.
Here’s a posy with dark blue sweet peas, Ammi, argyranthemums and lavender Hidcote. There’s always mint and rosemary in all my arrangements for the gorgeous scent. The grey foliage is Seneccio Vira Vira from Coton Manor Nursery.
Here’s the argyranthemums made into a mossy wreath with ivy, Ammi and Blue Boy cornflowers.
My wreaths end up on the 1920s summerhouse which is on a turntable to follow the sun.
Here’s a rose wreath with highly-scented Constance Spry, David Austin’s first rose, and Mme Isaac Periere, a heritage rose dating back to 1841.
Inside the potting shed. The wreath is made from a metal frame covered in moss. 10cm lengths of Ivy are poked into the moss all around the outside and inside of the ring. Roses and stems of elderflower are added on top. These will last a week if sprayed with water every day.
These roses are new from Whartons. They are a home-florists’ range for cut flowers. This one is Timeless Cream. Highly scented, with few thorns, long stems and it also repeat-flowers through summer to autumn. You can find out more about British rose growers from Roses UK which promotes the industry and spreads the word about new and heritage roses. http://www.rosesuk.com/
It goes well with carnation Bridal Star, white Antirrhinum Royal Bride, Ammi, and cosmos Psyche White. Blue gladioli (Pheasant Acre Plants) mint and Agapanthus Fireworks (Wyvale Nurseries) compete the posy.
Cosmos Psyche White. Mr Fothergill’s seed. Started in February and planted out end of May. Flowers from June to November.
Agapanthus Fireworks, a new variety which flowers all summer.
Calendula, a seedling from Touch of Red. Mr Fothergill’s seed.
If you’ve attended one of my talks, I hope you’ve enjoyed this reminder of some of the flowers mentioned. Your leader will e mail a comprehensive plant list, and I look forward to returning next year with a different talk on another gardening subject.
Seed potatoes have been placed in a bright, cool, frost free place to chit. Chitting just means to start them into growth. Small shoots will grow from the eyes, which have been placed upwards. When the shoots are 2cm the potatoes will be planted in containers on top of 20cm of compost. As the leaves grow, handfuls of compost will be added to cover them, until the leaves pop out of the top of the containers. I’ll water sparingly until the containers are half full of compost – by which time the potatoes will be growing strongly. Too much water in the early stages causes the potatoes to rot. When the leaves emerge out of the top, watering will be stepped up to make the tubers grow.
I’ll be harvesting these in about 100 days for earlies, and 120 days for main crop potatoes.
What plans have you got for growing potatoes this summer? It’s exciting to think about spring and summer harvests after such a long, cold grey winter isn’t it.
Potato House have kindly given me a code to offer to readers of bramblegarden. This is an offer independent from my blog, and Potato House will be responsible for all discussions regarding orders.
Amy from Potato House writes: Here is a 10% code for your readers for seed potatoes for orders over £15
BRAMBLE T&C 10% Voucher valid till 31/4/23 for SEED orders over £15, includes all 6 tuber, 1 kg nets. Excludes 10kg, 25kg sacks, gift cards, patio sets, grow bags and our To Eat range. Coupon cannot be used in conjunction with other coupons. One discount per email. Usual discounts still apply. Usual web T&C apply.
For listeners of today’s BBC Radio Leicester gardening. Here’s what I was talking about today. This advice comes from Glenn Facer, who has worked in the gardens at Chatsworth House for 33 years. Glenn has been growing fruit and vegetables in the kitchen garden for 14 years and grows produce for the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Glenn supplies the family in the main house and also the restaurants, cafes and hotels on the estate.
Glenn says: “I force the rhubarb by lifting small clumps off the rows out on the beds from November until about the end of march, leaving the roots on top of the ground to be frosted for a few days. This aids the forcing process.
In dustbins, I place a layer of compost in the bottom and place the clumps on top, filling round with more compost but not covering the crown. Then lightly water and replace the lid to exclude light.
The dustbins are placed in a heated glasshouse for a quicker crop, but can be placed in a cold greenhouse or shed. They are usually ready to harvest in about 3 to 4 weeks time.
I usually dispose of the crowns after forcing, as they are worn out and would take a while to crop again.
The varieties I use are Victoria , Timperley Early and Champagne.”
Recipes we talked about on the radio. These were published in the Garden News Magazine in 2022. I write a column each week focussing on what I’m growing and how I’m using the produce in the kitchen.
1/2 cup cooked, cooled rhubarb
1 teaspoon sugar ( optional) or maple syrup or honey
1.5 cups plain yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
Or pinch of dried ginger
Add icecream to serve (optional)
Cut the rhubarb into 2cm pieces. Wash and place in a saucepan with just the water clinging to the stems. Cook until soft. Add the sugar or sugar substitutes if using. Cool. Add the other ingredients and whizz in a food processor. Adjust the taste/ consistency by adding milk/cream/ or a scoop of vanilla ice cream according to taste.
If you are looking for a special dish for New Year celebrations, I can highly recommend this recipe. It’s a really tasty onion, mushroom and nut filling encased in golden puff pastry. It’s easy to make and serves 7-8. You can also make it ahead and re-heat it, or cut it into portions to freeze. We have it for Christmas every year, served alongside roast potatoes and honey roast parsnips, greens and onion gravy. wishing you all a very happy Christmas and wonderful New Year! Thanks as ever for following the blog and leaving your comments.
Take the pastry out of the fridge so that it comes to room temperature while you make the filling.
Heat the butter, sugar and onions in a frying pan. Gently cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, until caramelised and soft. Allow to cool
Use the same frying pan to cook the red onion in the 1 tbsp olive oil. When they are soft – which takes about 20 minutes on a low heat- add the chopped mushrooms, herbs, lemon juice and vegetable stock.
Cook on a low heat for 10 minutes.
Chop the nuts in a food processor very briefly. Add the mushroom mixture and process for a few seconds to incorporate. Leave it chunky, but well mixed
Add the breadcrumbs and seasoning and stir.
Mix in half the beaten egg. The other half will be for glazing the top.
To assemble, unroll the pastry on a baking tray, using the paper covering as a non-stick parchment
Spoon the caramelised onions down the centre of the pastry
Add the mushroom nut filling on top.
Cut the pastry sides into diagonal strips about 2cm wide and fold these one at a time over the filling to form a plait.
Brush the top with the reserved half beaten egg or oat milk for vegetarians.
Cook for about 40 minutes until the pastry has risen and turned golden and the filling has heated through.
Can be made the day before and reheated in foil in the oven. Also nice cold of there are any leftovers, served with jacket potatoes and salad. Enjoy!
The finished roast. Sprinkle some fresh herbs over, if you like.
I’ve often thought it would be a great idea to try out different varieties before committing to ordering and growing seed potatoes. Well now you can do just that. Potato House are selling ready-to-eat varieties of heritage, coloured, rare and organic spuds!
I ordered five varieties, Arran Victory, Blue Annelise, Heidi Red, Pink Fir Apple and one simply called ‘Chips’ for cooking chips and wedges.
The coloured potatoes really appealed to me, as it’s not easy to buy them locally. I like the idea of keeping heritage varieties going, and it’s lovely to try something new. Potatoes arrived promptly after ordering. I was delighted with the quality. The potatoes are a good size and beautiful condition.
Amy from Potato House says
“We are renowned for our colourful range of seed potatoes. These look and taste amazing. The best thing about growing your own produce is experimenting with colours that are not readily available in supermarkets.
We grow the purples, pinks and the in-between with multi-coloured skin for you to experiment with in your gardens and allotments.
In some varieties it is only the skin which is coloured and in some, the colour goes beyond the skin for vibrant additions to any plate. Think blue mash, purple chips and red crisps!
Unusual colours on your plate is a talking point – whether it is toddlers or friends round for a meal – everyone is impressed. The toddlers get told that the blue mash has superpowers and the adults will check if blue potatoes have superpowers!
Nutritional values are the same although there are some studies which indicate that a range of food colours is better for you.
Growing and cooking coloured potatoes takes no extra skill. You grow according to the maturity and then cook according to the potato type. So if you have a second early, smooth, blue seed potato such as Salad Blue, it will grow like any other second early taking about 14 weeks to mature and then will be delicious as a mash!
Try some home made chips and crisps – a lot easier than you would think!
Some of these varieties have been around for a long time – your grandparents would have had some, and others have been bred more recently giving protection against diseases.
Our range of seed potatoes comes in 6-tuber nets and 1kg nets (as well as larger sizes) and discounts start when you buy only 5 nets of any combination. Our range of ready-to-eat potatoes comes in 5k, 10kg, and 15kg bags. Both are delivered direct to you from our farm.
We do, of course, have white skin and flesh seed potatoes too. We’re here to help you decide so let us know if you have any questions.” https://www.potatohouse.co.uk/
I’m using some of my potatoes for Christmas, but I’m also looking through my cookery books to decide what else to make with them. I probably won’t be able to resist buying all of them as seed potatoes too. To have beautiful varieties like these coming out of the veg plot next year is a very cheerful prospect indeed.
Are any of you looking through catalogues and on-line deciding what varieties to grow right now? What potatoes would you recommend, and have any of you tried the more unusual red, blue and black varieties? Thanks for reading my blog. Happy gardening! And happy cooking too!
Christmas only really starts for me when I plant my amaryllis bulbs. For as long as I can remember, there’s been amaryllis bulbs flowering over the festive season at my family’s home. And I like to keep up the tradition by having them in my own home. If you listened in to this week’s BBC Radio Leicester show, you will have heard me talking about the amaryllis varieties I’m planting at the moment. Some are for me, and some will be given as Christmas presents.
Carmen is the deep velvety red single-flowering bulb I mentioned on the show. I was potting them up as we talked. The box kits from Taylors Bulbs contain a plant pot and compost which makes life easier. Everything needed is contained in one box.
This beautiful double white amaryllis is Marilyn. I love the lime green centre of the flowers.
This is the pink and white striped double amaryllis I’ve chosen. It’s called Lady Jane. Which is quite a fancy name for quite a fancy flower!
Amaryllis Rilona has wonderful deep apricot single flowers with a darker eye. The flowers are edged in white, and if you look closely you can see darker orange stripes or veins radiating from the centre of the flowers to the tips.
When choosing bulbs, always go for the largest you can find. The larger the bulb, the more flower spikes will be produced. Usually one single spike is followed by a second, or even a third, if you are very lucky.
I asked Taylors Bulbs for some planting and general care advice:
How To Plant Amaryllis In Pots/Containers:
1. Soak the dry roots (not the bulb) in lukewarm water for about 45mins. Make sure to cut off any damaged roots before potting. 2. Fill the base of your pot (at least 20cm) with multi-purpose compost, covering the drainage hole. 3. Feed the roots into the pot, spreading them out onto the compost and fill in around them with more compost. 4. Bury the bottom half of the bulb, so that it is secure in the pot. Water sparingly. 5. Stand the pot in a well-lit position and keep the compost moist, but do not over water.
* Amaryllis are great for the windowsill. Remember to turn the pot regularly to prevent the stems bending towards the light.
* Once your Amaryllis flowers have faded, cut the whole stem off as close to the base as possible. * Water and feed them with a balanced fertiliser every few weeks to help build up strength for next year. * Make sure to give them plenty of light, as this helps the leaves generate energy. * To help encourage them to flower next year cut any old foliage back to the neck of the bulb. Move them into a warm position and continue to water them.
Re-potting Amaryllis Bulbs:
* After every two to three years it’s a good idea to re-pot amaryllis bulbs for continued good displays. * Amaryllis tend to grow best in small pots, so don’t be tempted to re-pot into a larger pot. * After flowering, remove the bulbs from the compost and gently remove the compost around the roots. Then refill your pot with fresh compost and replant the bulb.
About Taylors Bulbs:
Taylors Bulbs are a fourth generation family business, growing and supplying flower bulbs and associated products since 1919.
Daffodils are grown on our farm in Holbeach, Lincolnshire where we also design and pack a large range of products predominantly for the UK and Irish markets.
Still a thriving family business employing over 200 staff at peak times, we pride ourselves on the award winning service we offer our customers.
Here’s some more amaryllis I’ve grown at Christmas. In the second year, they often flower either very early in November, or as late as May. Either way they are very welcome at a time when there are few flowers to enjoy in the garden. Indoor bulbs fill the gap.
Thanks for reading the blog, and for listening in to the radio. I also write a weekly column for Garden News Magazine, so I’m either talking or writing about flowers every day of the week. Happy gardening everyone!
Many people listen to radio on the i-player now. It’s so convenient to be able to listen when it suits you. You can stop the recording and go back if you didn’t hear a plant name correctly. You can have a cup of tea in the middle of the programme. I love listening to the radio through my i-pad or on the phone when I’m driving along.
This week we talked about sweet peas. My plants are 5” tall now and I’m pinching out the tops to make bushier plants. Sweet peas flower on side shoots, so more shoots equal more flowers.
I’m growing my sweet peas in root trainers. These are long cell trays which allow deep rooting. They open at the sides like a book so the roots aren’t disturbed when you plant them out. I use a 50/ 50 compost and grit or vermiculite mix for good drainage. There’s still time to sow your sweet peas now. Seeds packets are reduced in some local garden centres and on-line.
My sweet peas are for jam jar posies. I’m growing Wiltshire Ripple, High Scent, Albutt Blue and Chatsworth. I’m also growing about five different types of white sweet peas for my trial to grow wedding flowers for my daughter. She’s not getting married until summer 2024, but next summer will be a try-out for the flowers.
I particularly love the ripple series of sweet peas. Here shown with some sweet william.
We also talked about taking salvia cuttings.
I have a collection of really beautiful salvias, some in the ground and some in pots. They are not a hundred percent hardy, so I take ‘insurance policy’ cuttings now. Look down the sides of the plants and find some shoots that haven’t flowered. Pull gently down and they will come away with a tiny heel. Tidy up the heel with a knife and insert the cutting around the edge of a 3” pot of gritty compost. They will overwinter in a greenhouse, cold frame or house windowsill.
Here’s a pot full of salvia cuttings. I leave them in the same pot all winter and separate them in spring. This takes up less space than dividing cuttings and potting them on in winter.
They separate out into new little plants which can be grown on in their own 3” pots and planted out in summer.
Thanks for listening in, if you live in the Leicestershire area, and thanks for reading the blog. It’s great to share what we are all growing in our gardens all year round. There’s something new to learn every
Flower Carpet Pink is the 18th rose to be inducted into the World Federation of Rose Societies prestigious Rose Hall of Fame. Who knew there was such a thing as a Rose Hall of Fame! Or that there were 17 other roses mentioned there already. I learn something new every day. The announcement came at the Word Rose Congress held in Adelaide earlier this month. I’m going to show my complete ignorance here and say that I didn’t even know there was a World Rose Congress either. However, for what it’s worth, I have always loved the Flower Carpet roses for their disease resistance. As an organic gardener, roses that don’t need spraying are a blessing. Ones that repeat flower and don’t need much pruning are even more welcome. I use the pink rose in garden design projects, but at home I have Flower Carpet Coral which grows amongst white peonies, hellebores, and blue campanula in a semi-shaded border. The blue and the coral colours look wonderful together.
It’s fascinating to know the history behind these plants. Flower Carpet Pink was Bred by Noack Roses in 1988 and introduced in the UK in 1991. Like many gardeners, I appreciate its glossy foliage, abundance of flowers and easy-care characteristics.
Rose grower Robert Wharton, licensee for Noack Roses in the UK says ‘With environmental consideration such as water and chemical reduction increasing in importance Flower Carpet with its excellent drought tolerance and superb health will be a feature in gardens and green spaces well into the future.’
Creator of Flower Carpet Pink, Werner Noack passed away recently and his son Reinhard accepted the award from Henrianne de Briey President of the WFRS. Reinhard said ‘Such a success is not the merit of only one person – three generations of the Noack family, our employees and national and international partners have all contributed to make Flower Carpet Pink a true rose of the world’.
The Flower Carpet collection won 11 gold medals and 14 awards in rose trials held around the world. Both Reinhard and his son Steffen continue Werner’s work in creating both beautiful and useful roses, including Cherry, the latest addition to the Flower Carpet family.
The Flower Carpet collection has combined sales of over 100 million plants globally since the launch of Flower Carpet Pink.
The World Federation of Rose Societies, World Hall of Fame was established in 1976. There have been 18 inductees over the past 46 years, with Rose Peace being the first. There is also an Old Rose Hall of Fame which celebrates the popular historical roses and roses of genealogical importance.
Flower Carpet® is grown in the UK by Whartons Garden Roses and is available from garden centres and nurseries.
Here’s some more roses from the Flower Carpet series.
These make good roses for flower arranging, and in the open-centred roses, bees love the pollen. Are any of you growing roses from the Flower Carpet Range? Thank you for reading the blog and leaving your comments in the box below.
Last week I posted an ‘all of the garden’ bouquet with everything in flower. I thought you might like to see how the flowers look seven days later. I visited my Mum today and took all the flowers out of the vase and cut four inches off the bottom of the stems. I cleaned the jam jar and added fresh water.
What a joy to see Alstroemeria Indian Summer still looking fresh and colourful. As I said last week, I bought this new plant from Mary Thomas who has a nursery in my area. Mary lives in Sutton Bonington and opens her garden for the NGS. She also has a plant nursery, Piecemeal Plants and has a stall at the Belvoir Castle Flower Show where I treated myself to one or two special plants. To have them still in flower in mid-November is making me very happy indeed!
Chrysanthemums give good value in a cut flower garden and will last three weeks in a vase, if looked after by refreshing the water and just trimming the base of the stems slightly every few days. Mum hadn’t touched her flowers for the week, but they still looked as fresh as newly picked. This variety is Swan. The pure white petals surround a green centre which eventually fades to white to match the outer petals. A good value plant. We bought cuttings from the RHS Malvern Show a few years ago. I think I shared a batch of cuttings with a friend. There was a special offer of 12 cuttings of different types. The price for the offer worked out at about 80p per cutting. Plants are grown in 10”pots stood outdoors all summer. Usually I take them in the poly tunnel or greenhouse in November as frost and rain might spoil the petals, but this year we have had such mild conditions, the plants are still outdoors.
This is the very last David Howard dahlia of the year. It’s my favourite dahlia and goes really well with the alstroemeria, as if they were meant to be together as a pair.
The petals of the rudbeckias have dropped off, but I decided to keep the stems as the dark brown stamens made interesting ‘buttons’ of colour and shape. A contrast to the flowers.
This little rudbeckia is hanging on, grown from a mixed packet of seed from Mr Fothergills. I just couldn’t throw it out. It might not last another week, but we shall see.
I was surprised and delighted to see the little wild flower Oxeye daisy still hanging on. Such a lovely reminder of the banks of white flowers which flower all summer here. It’s so strange to see them blooming in November as the days grow dark. But welcome even so.
As usual, foliage is important in my jam jar flowers. This is a lime green bedding plant I keep going from one year to the next by taking lots of cuttings and keeping them in 3” pots over the winter. They are popular for hanging baskets and containers, but also make very good foliage for cut flowers. And I’ve temporarily forgotten the name. Perhaps you know it? There’s also a grey version, but I prefer the lime green.
There’s also rosemary which goes into every posy I create. Everything I do has a meaning and rosemary is for remembrance, as you probably know. I’m surprised to see the huge 4ft high plant I have in the veg plot in full flower today. Such beautiful Mediterranean blue flowers and gorgeously -scented leaves. I couldn’t be without it.
I couldn’t be without my senecio viravira which also goes into every single posy I create. It’s such a pretty leaf and sets off all the other colours. Plants are not always hardy so again I’ve taken cuttings in 3” pots, just in case.
Also, not easy to photograph, but Salvia Phyllis’s Fancy is as fresh as the day I picked it.
A slightly better photo. You can also see the red stems of dogwood which give colour to autumn arrangements.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this weekend’s updated photos. It only took me ten minutes to rearrange the flowers and refresh them. It’s so rewarding to see how long home-grown flowers can last. And my mum’s kitchen window is full of autumn colour and scent for another week. A worthwhile project and it makes me – and my lovely Mum very happy.
Have a lovely gardening week. And thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment below. Follow Cathy for the ‘In a Vase on Monday’ meme. She has a very special anniversary tomorrow, so many congratulations Cathy! And thanks for hosting such a lovely, friendly meme with members growing and arranging flowers all around the world for the past nine years.
Surely, these must be the last flowers for cutting this year…. I keep going out expecting to see foliage blackened by frost and buds turned to mush. But no, the garden is still blooming!
Star of the show must be these marmalade orange flowers, Dahlia David Howard. Plants have done nothing all summer, but suddenly a month ago, after some rain, new leaves appeared and flower buds. I didn’t think they would come to anything as it’s so late in the season.
Coming into flower again is my new alstroemeria Indian Summer which I brought in July from my friend nursery owner Mary Thomas. It was in flower when I bought it, and it’s decided to get going again now. Doesn’t it look wonderful alongside the David Howard dahlias.
They look as if they are meant to be together in a bouquet. Such a pretty combination, don’t you think?
Another surprise is this red and white dahlia. It arrived all by itself. I bought a white one and a red one several years ago, and together they have produced a seedling baby combining the two colours. It’s rather pretty and flamboyant. I love the open centre as it has plenty of pollen for bees. I probably enjoy bees and butterflies as much as the flowers in my garden to be honest.
I sowed the seed for these sunflowers speculatively in August. I sowed them direct, in amongst the cosmos and calendula. Temperatures were so hot in the 30s for days on end that seeds germinated almost overnight. The result is a bed full of miniature sunflowers only 4” across. I don’t suppose this will ever happen again as we are unlikely to have another summer like this one.
Another mixed up sunflower, or it could actually be a rudbeckia. It has a very pretty chocolate coloured centre. I love any daisy-type flower.
Not a perfect flower, it’s slightly nibbled around the edges, but this is an ox-eye daisy which usually flowers in mid-summer. We have these wild flowers dotted about the whole garden, especially along gravel paths where seedlings flourish. I’m digging some up this week and moving them to a new patch of bare ground around the pond.
More white flowers just starting to bloom now are the chrysanthemums. This one is called Swan. It opens with a green and cream centre and fades to pure white. Very long-lasting in a vase, it will keep for nearly three weeks if you change the water daily. Highly recommended. I grow it in 10” pots stood outdoors for the summer and brought under cover in winter.
Verbena Bonariensis is a pretty filler for these bouquets. We often have flowers right through until Christmas, although they are starting to diminish. They are still worthy of close inspection even when there are more seeds than tiny flowers.
Also joining the last-minute party is salvia Phyllis’s Fancy. I bought this for the name as much as the flower. I’d love to know who Phyllis is. It certainly is fancy. Salvias are quite hard to photograph. I have a new camera which doesn’t seem to understand exactly what I want to focus on, but the photo is striking even with most of the flowers blurred. It’s the most wonderful purple and lavender flower.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my last-minute flowers. Can you spot the abutilon poking out of the bottom on the right. I think this is Kent Belle. Three stems of red dogwood (Westonbirt) add structure to the arrangement.
I learned from Georgie Newbery of Common Farm Flowers to add stems in a spiral by holding the bouquet in one hand and giving it a quarter turn before adding another stem. This way the arrangement looks good on both sides, and will actually stand up on its own. It’s a satisfying moment when it does!
Thanks for reading my blog. Flowers are for my lovely Mum this week. After a six week absence due to illness, I’m owing her quite a few bouquets! Join Cathy over on ‘In a Vase on Monday’ to see what others are cutting and arranging for their vases this week. It’s interesting to see the variety of flowers from all around the world. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2022/10/31/in-a-vase-on-monday-spooky/
As a family, we’ve always supported the RNLI, so when their Christmas gifts popped up in a PR e mail, I decided to highlight them here on the blog. Why not help a good cause? I’ve not received or asked for any gifts, I just wanted to share some fantastic options for anyone looking for Christmas present ideas for keen gardeners.
Brighten up your décor with this beautiful flowerpot, in a blue, pink, teal and purple abstract floral pattern. For indoor use. £10
Love the style? Check out the rest of our exclusive RNLI Garden Range, which features a candle, diffuser, shopping bag, scarf, garden kneeler and cosmetics bag in the same pattern.
Here’s some more details from the RNLI PR team:
The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) offers a wide range of gardening products, perfect for the gardeners in your life. Shop with the RNLI this Christmas and help save lives at sea.
From unique planters and outdoor ornaments to essential garden kneelers and handy tools, the RNLI offers the perfect Christmas gifts for gardeners.
Christmas shopping for the gardener in your life doesn’t have to be a chore this year as the RNLI has gift-giving all wrapped up. Whether you’re looking to spruce up your space or get practical with your plant planning, the RNLI has something to offer.
Who would think it was the last day of October? My dahlias didn’t have any flowers during August, September and the first half of October. But they have suddenly decided to put on a display. And what a display. They are all producing glorious stained-glass hues. The colours seem brighter and more glowing than previous years. They are so welcome after such a disappointing summer.
Labels have been scratched up by the hens and misplaced, but I think this is Dahlia Karma Choc, a decorative type with velvety dark red flowers. It got left behind in the garden last autumn, while most of the dahlias were dug up and stored in the potting shed. To be honest, it has done just as well as the others, so I’m going to risk it this winter, and leave them all out. I’ll cover them with a foot of dried beech leaves, a plastic cloche and recycled compost bags. They should stay fairly dry and be protected from frost. And if they don’t survive, I’ll have a rethink in the cut flower garden next summer. I might try something less trouble that doesn’t get nibbled by slugs, need staking and then can’t cope with a drought.
Karma Choc with grey foliage of Senecio viravira, known as Dusty Miller. I’ve taken lots of cuttings of the senecio as it’s not totally hardy. I’d be lost without it as it provides foliage for my jam jar arrangements all year round.
Dahlia David Howard has also decided to flower. These apricot orange blooms are much smaller than usual. Foliage is dark, bronze almost black. Plants were originally bred by nurseryman David Howard who spotted a promising seedling in 1960. It went on to win an RHS AGM, Award of Garden Merit. David founded Howard Nurseries in Wortham, near Diss and had a passion for dahlias and chrysanthemums. By the age of 16, he was supplying plants to Covent Garden while selecting and breeding his own varieties. The nursery thrived with David and a business partner buying first four, then 12 then 24 acres to expand. They gained such a renowned reputation that they supplied plants to the Chelsea Flower Show, and also to the Queen Mother and Prince Charles. David died aged 81 in 2019, and his daughter Christine now runs the nurseries.
This beautiful white dahlia flower reminds me of swan feathers. Sadly, I don’t know the name as this was given to me by a friend, but I’ll take cuttings next spring and increase my numbers because it’s such a lovely cut flower. The heads usually get quite heavy and dangle down, but Georgie Newbery of Common Farm Flowers showed me how to twist the stem around and turn the dahlia flowers into the centre of the bouquet which seems to work. The red stems you can see in the first photo are dogwood, Cornus Westonbirt, which also help support heavy flower heads.
Tucked in amongst the dahlias are a few teeny sunflowers. They never grew more than a few inches across! However, their bright yellow flowers are very welcome now, even in miniature.
This sunflower grown from a mixed packet of seed from Mr Fothergill’s has burnt orange flowers and a chocolate centre. Bees love them, and the seed heads are good for birds.
A beautiful double yellow sunflower with my favourite dark brown centre.
Cosmos also eventually decided to flower. I think this is Candy Stripe from Mr Fothergill’s. Another good flower for bees. And with daytime temperatures still at 18C we still have bumblebees and solitary bees out and about.
Argyranthemums braved the heatwave in summer and produced a few blooms, but now the plants have decided to go for it and plants are smothered in large white daisies. These last for two weeks in a vase, so I’m very grateful to see them in flower.
Cerise red dahlias, possibly Arabian Night, with red salvias which are also having their moment now.
And tucked in the middle is this fimbriated cactus dahlia, possibly Apache, which came from Gee-Tee Bulbs. Foliage is always important to me and in my bouquet today I have one stem each of mint, rosemary and lemon-scented santolina.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these bright jewel-like colours. I must admit, I usually prefer pastel shades. But after the summer we’ve had, any colour is certainly welcome. These flowers are for my Mum, who I haven’t seen for six weeks due to illness, so a joyful reunion, and I am pleased to have something lovely and cheerful to take from my garden.
Is your garden behaving strangely like mine, and deciding it’s summer all over again? Let me know if it’s just me, or if your flowers are blooming again. Have a great gardening week. Karen
Should any of you want to read a book which makes you laugh from start to finish, look no further than Tamsin Westhorpe’s new memoir ‘Grasping the Nettle.’
Tamsin spent her childhood mostly outdoors, by all accounts and her weekends, and after-school activities were often spent collecting snails and creepy crawlies, some she kept as pets. It was the perfect start in life for someone who would make horticulture their career. And what a career she’s had, starting with work on a plant nursery, time as an interior plant landscaper, and after college, a spell as a gardener for Bournemouth parks department and bowling greens.
Along the way, she writes about the colourful characters she meets, and the scrapes she gets into. I’m still holding my breath after reading about the clapped-out Land Rover she bought which would only start from the top of a hill, and had virtually no brakes!
Tamsin bought the rust bucket Land Rover from Southampton docks where it had been used for ferrying fish. Consequently, well you can imagine the pong!
“Fortunately for me and my newest fishy acquisition, the bungalow was at the top of a steep gravel drive. Without it I’d never have got to college. The Land Rover, which I had affectionately and very appropriately named Delilah (‘Why, why, why did I buy you?), regularly wouldn’t start but releasing the hand brake on the slope and turning the key seemed to do the trick. However stressful this daily event was, I couldn’t help but feel happy sitting in the driving seat looking over the bonnet. Now that the fishmonger’s logo had been removed, I felt like a proper horticultural student. On arrival at college- thankfully only about a mile from home- I would never experience actually turning the engine off. Stalling just as I reached my parking space was the norm. It wasn’t until I had a proper car that I realised how poor the brakes were, but thankfully I never went very far or fast.”
We’ve all had trouble starting pull-cord lawnmowers and machines. During her time at Bournemouth Parks department, Tamsin had a bit of trouble with a very heavy cantankerous leaf blower. Trying to start it while being watched by an audience of dog walkers and families heading to the beach was embarrassing to say the least.
“There was no way I could fail, so I learned to be determined and discovered how to cope with a flooded engine. I also understood why steel toe-capped boots are important- to kick power tools! On some days when the blower just wouldn’t start, instead of admitting my failings I would go hell for leather with the witch’s broom. Looking back now, I suspect I fooled no one as the engine was cold to the touch when my colleagues loaded it up into the Transit.”
Tamsin continues her story weaving in all the characters and places she’s worked, from college as a horticultural teacher, to Japan as a lecturer, on to writing for a magazine and becoming an editor. All along the way, the story is peppered with delightful observations, showing Tamsin’s joyful sense of humour and determination to succeed, whatever obstacles are put in her way, mechanical, human or animal.
Bringing things up to date, Tamsin is now a hands-on gardener at her family garden Stockton Bury in Herefordshire which regularly features in the round-up of the best UK open gardens. Tamsin also writes for newspapers and magazines and lectures at home and abroad- making her audiences laugh with tales of life spent doing something she’s completely passionate about- gardening. I think we all know that feeling of being happiest with our hands in the soil.
Congratulations, Tamsin on writing such a sparkling, charming, thought-provoking read. It had me in stitches from start to finish. I haven’t laughed so much in ages. And I learned a lot more about what it’s like to make your way in the world when you choose a life outdoors.
I’m sure Tamsin has started many more people on the path to horticulture through her wit and passion for the subject. It’s a delightfully realistic and thoroughly inspiring book.
Thank you for reading my review. There’s one copy to give away. Please leave your comments below and a name will be randomly selected by Sunday 6pm.
Jane Wightman is the lucky winner of the prize draw for Barbara Segall’s new book. Thank you to to everyone who read my review and left comments. And thank you to the publishers Frances Lincoln/ Quarto for offering a free book to readers of my blog.
Thank you for reading the blog and leaving your comments. Look out for more book reviews and give-aways later this week. Suddenly there’s a steady stream of top quality gardening books arriving in the potting shed for tea break reading. To be honest, I’ve never seen such a wonderful array of subjects covered and superb garden writing. Tea breaks are getting longer and longer at bramble garden! I’ll keep you posted.
Beetroot was one of the few vegetables that did well this summer. Climbing beans were a disaster. Flowers failed to set and immature beans dropped off the plants. Very disappointing to see. But beetroot didn’t seem to mind the heat and drought. I write a weekly column for Garden News Magazine all about the fruit and vegetables I’ve harvested in the garden and what I’m making with them. It’s a fun project and I really look forward to my cooking and recipe-writing sessions. Sometimes the recipes come from my Mum who is a fabulous cook. Sometimes I delve into a lovely archive of recipes shared by my late mother-in-law Joan. Many happy memories swirl around as I make her famous flapjack and fruit cake recipes. Joan never came to visit without having a cake in her shopping bag. And we always looked forward to seeing what she’d got in her cake tin in the pantry at home. Some of the recipes are just ones I’ve devised for feeding my family of four (although the girls are grown up now and have homes of their own). Nothing too fancy or with too many ingredients. In fact, most recipes can be made with a few basic store-cupboard ingredients and what vegetables you might have in the veg basket or fridge. They don’t take hours to make either. I’ve always been frantically busy, so recipes have to be quick and easy. I’ve had some lovely letters and e mails from Garden News readers thanking me for the recipes which they say are simple to follow and tasty without taking too long to cook.
Here’s a recent column featuring deliciously moist beetroot and chocolate muffins. Have a go at making them and let me know how you get on. I freeze batches of beetroot in quantities required for these cakes, so I always have the ingredients to hand.
You can freeze the little cakes and they thaw out within minutes.
These photos were taken in the back-of-the house glass porch, the only sunny place at the time, and my pressed glass cake stand is balanced on top of an upturned laundry wicker basket! No one will know….
For the avoidance of doubt, please don’t eat hyacinths! They are poisonous.
I’ve just realised that I never cut any flowers for myself. They are always for friends and relatives, all the pleasure being in the giving. It’s nice to have something home-grown to give away. However, I’ve been ill for a few weeks and stuck indoors. How frustrating it’s been looking out from my bed while the sun shone on the garden. I made lists of all the jobs needed doing, which didn’t help at all. But when I felt a bit better, I wobbled outdoors and cut these flowers for my bedside table.
The star of my little bouquet is this highly-scented rose from a new home-florists’ range. Timeless Purple has long stems with very few thorns. Flowers have an ‘old rose’ appearance and wonderful myrrh- scent. Modern breeding means it repeat flowers and is disease resistant. Flowers stand up to the weather. Old roses tend to ‘ball’ in the rain, where buds fail to open and drop off. Such a disappointment if you’ve eagerly waited for the rose buds to open, to see them going mouldy and wilting. These flowers shrug off the raindrops, and flowers aren’t marked by the weather.
The heatwave and drought meant there were virtually no flowers in my garden all summer, but autumn has brought a bonanza. Plants seem determined to make up for lost time. The argyranthemums grown from seed by my Mum have come into flower mid-October. Who doesn’t love a daisy? The cheerful white flowers go so well with the roses and salvias.
Dahlias also suffered in the summer heat, but are coming into flower now. The first frost will finish the display, but for now, I’m just enjoying this unexpected bounty.
It’s not easy to photograph salvias. Their colours are so vibrant they tend to blur with an ordinary camera phone. This is one of the many salvias that came from https://middletonnurseries.co.uk/
Their jewel-like colours are very welcome at this time of the year, and look so wonderful set against golden autumn foliage. Stems have a delicious blackcurrant scent.
Talking of foliage, I picked some stems of my dogwood, Cornus Westonbirt. Leaves are turning a lovely plum colour, and the bright red stems will provide interest all winter, especially when the sun shines through them. These are such easy shrubs to grow, they simply need a prune to the ground each spring as the most colourful stems are produced on new growth.
My grey foliage plants came from Coton Manor nursery in Northampton. Annoyingly, I can’t remember the name, but I have the label in the greenhouse and will just edit the name in tomorrow. I’m still suffering from terrible brain fog after being ill.
Fuchsias, also from Coton Manor, have decided to flower a month later than usual. They are growing in huge pots and I’ll just lift them into the greenhouse to protect them from frost. They flower till Christmas, given some protection.
Cosmos Psyche White has also decided to put on a show now. This is my favourite cosmos. It’s a messy double white with long stems and good repeat flowering. It lasts a fortnight in a vase. I’ve tried some of the new apricot cosmos, but they didn’t do well for me here, so I won’t bother with them again. I need tried and tested varieties that won’t let me down.
In the greenhouse I found this lovely pink Passion flower which was in keeping with my colour-theme posy, so I picked it an added it to the jam jar. I grow this in a 10” pot which is carried outside for the summer and brought in again before the first frosts. Usually there are one or two flowers right through winter.
Well, I hope this little posy of flowers has given you some inspiration for what to grow to have something to pick in late October. I try to have something to pick every day of the year. Sometimes there’s more foliage than flowers, but it’s lovely to bring the garden indoors, so to speak.
After being stuck in my room for so long, it did me the world of good to wander about outdoors picking a few flowers. For once, they are just for me, and I’m thoroughly enjoying them. Have a great weekend. Keep safe and well and enjoy your gardening.
If you are just starting to think about Christmas presents for gardeners, here are some great ideas. This year, more than ever, I’m only buying from tried and trusted suppliers- people I’ve bought from before and found to provide good value. I’ve long been a fan of Burgon and Ball. Everything I have bought from them has been good quality and long lasting. This is not an advert. I’ve not been given any samples. There’s no obligation to promote them. I just want to pass on their latest products because I believe they are worthwhile. Have a look though my selection and let me know what you think.
This sturdy full-size watering can in galvanized steel is ideal for the serious gardener looking for a long-lasting, high-performance and stylish full-size watering can. With a five-year guarantee, this is a gift which will be used and loved. RRP £49.99.
Burgon & Ball was founded in 1730 in Sheffield, England, and is the UK’s longest-established manufacturer of garden tools and accessories, with hundreds of years of expertise in toolmaking. From its earliest years it manufactured the world’s finest sheep shears, exporting all over the world. At its peak, the annual production of its top-selling cast steel shear topped 300,000 pairs. By the 1920s gardening tools had overtaken agricultural tools as the main focus of the business, and in 2010 the company’s core ranges were awarded endorsement by Royal Horticultural Society. Today Burgon & Ball is a leading name in garden tools and giftware, enjoying an enviable reputation for quality and innovation.
Products are available from good garden centres, gift outlets and at www.burgonandball.com There’s a present idea for everyone who loves their garden.
Burgon and Ball were one of the companies that supported my Rainbows Hospice show garden at Belvoir Castle. They provided children’s kneelers in ladybird and bumblebee colours, and also children’s hand tools for gardening. Here’s a link to the story:
One of my favourite things is to jump in the car and travel to a garden I’ve not seen before. It doesn’t matter if the garden is large or small, there’s always some planting combination or landscaping idea I jot down in a notebook, hoping to replicate it in my own garden one day.
The gardens of the South East of England are still a mystery to me. My car hasn’t ventured that far yet. But I’ve just read Barbara Segall’s exciting new book featuring 20 gardens in that region, and I’m getting out the map book already!
One particular garden in the book struck a chord with me. Balmoral Cottage in Benenden, Kent, where the owners grew many of the plants from divisions and cuttings from their parents’ gardens. Charlotte and Donald Molesworth bought the cottage nearly 40 years ago. Barbara tells the story of how Donald, a professional gardener, had been working next door at The Grange, the former home of Collingwood ‘Cherry’ Ingram – the plant hunter credited with returning endangered cherries to Japan.
Barbara writes, “That moment when you meet your future down a little lane, see a gate and opening it find the rest of time ahead of you…..? Well, that is literally what happened when Charlotte and Donald Molesworth found and bought Balmoral Cottage in Benenden in 1983.
For eight years Charlotte had been living in and teaching art at Benenden School, and on walks around the village, often stepped along the rough track leading to this tiny house, which had the best sunsets imaginable. Probably named Balmoral to celebrate a visit of Queen Victoria to Benenden, it was the gardener’s cottage for the Grange.
The Molesworths brought with them to Balmoral Cottage the first of many animals to share their garden lives, including bees, rescue dogs, donkeys (there have been nine) and companion sheep, hens and a cockerel.
They knew that they would need plenty of plants to make their garden and, being thrifty and resourceful they brought many plants from their parents’ gardens. From Donald’s family came woodland trilliums, dog’s-tooth violets and narcissus pseudonarcissus which have self-seeded and spread down each side of that original track. Charlotte’s mother’s garden was packed with old fashioned roses, cottage-garden plants and topiary, so her contributions included double white primroses and several thousand box cuttings.”
I love the fact they have created a special and unusual garden on a shoestring. They avoid buying anything new, scouring reclamation yards for potential items for recycling. “It’s our policy for helping Mother Earth,” they say. It’s resulted in a garden that makes you feel anything is possible. It’s not dependent on how much money you have, but on ingenuity, patience and skill. A very reassuring message for any would-be gardener, and one I welcome entirely.
I’ve picked out just one of the 20 stunning gardens explored by Barbara Segall in this richly detailed book. There’s a lovely mix of the extremely grand to the small and intimate. All are privately owned. Some have been in the possession of the same family for many generations, whilst others have recently been acquired and transformed by new owners. There’s a wonderful diversity of landscaping styles and a range of planting from traditional herbaceous borders to fashionable and contemporary prairies.
Barbara is a totally engaging writer who draws you into the gardens and skilfully sifts out the essence of what makes them special. Not a word is wasted and reading her books is so easy. It’s a pleasure to skip through the pages and be transported to these glorious places.
The book includes visitor information about the gardens profiled as well as several others in this garden-rich area of Kent, Sussex and Surrey. Some open for the popular National Gardens Scheme, while others are open privately, and in some cases, for just the occasional day for charity.
Special mention must be made of the photographs by Clive Boursnell who initially visited 40 gardens and travelled 12,500 miles for this stunning project. Sadly, only 20 could be included in the book. But he talks about the warm welcome he received at every garden, as he travelled about in his camper van, capturing the atmospheric dawn and dusk photos. He turned up during a daughter’s wedding that was taking place in one garden. The owners, not phased by his appearance in the middle of a celebration, made sure he could get his photos of a particular rose trellis at its peak. Such small details and asides give an insight into the characters behind the gardens, their passions and their personalities.
Barbara writes: “I hope you will find much pleasure in the book and visit the gardens when possible…opening garden gates to find untold beauty.”
I know that I enjoyed every page and can’t wait to investigate the gardens further.
The publishers are giving away one book in a prize draw to readers who leave comments below. One name will be randomly selected. Sorry, only open to UK entries due to postage costs. The draw closes at 6pm on 21st October.
Flowers are the first thing we think of when we want to pay tribute to someone. Today’s flowers are in tribute to the Queen, and also my mother-in-law Joan. Two people from the same generation, both in their 90s, both sharing the same values in their love for their families and their sense of duty, loyalty and service to the community. Very different lives lived, but the same values and beliefs.
For the past six years I’ve been writing about growing cut flowers for my wonderful Joan who suffered from dementia. We shared a love of flowers and flower arranging, and my hope was to keep a connection for as long as possible. Flowers were my only weapon against dementia. There’s no effective medical treatment. It’s the cruellest of illnesses. It deprives the sufferer of one of the main comforts of old age, the knowledge that they have a close and loving family. Faces and names are simply forgotten. There was such sadness when new grandchildren arrived and Joan could not join in our excitement and joy in the latest additions to the family.
I want it written down, as a record of our times living through the covid pandemic, that we struggled to keep a connection with our relatives suffering from dementia in care homes. During lockdown, we couldn’t visit at all, and agonisingly, Leicester stayed in lockdown for months after the rest of the country opened up. Then, after lockdown was over, we stood in car parks, waving through the care home windows. We were not allowed in. I’ve got these moments indelibly printed like postcards in my brain. Memories I can’t seem to forget. When we were eventually allowed to visit, it was in the garden only, with everyone wearing plastic aprons, blue plastic gloves, masks and face shields. It’s no wonder anyone with dementia would fail to recognise the person sitting two metres away, not allowed to hug, voices muffled from the masks. Time limited to half an hour. For someone with poor eyesight and hearing, it really must have been impossible to understand. Saddest of all, was the decision that no presents could be taken in, flowers included in this rule, such was the fear of passing on the virus. So my last tiny hope of Joan recognising me was gone. There is absolutely no criticism of the care home. They didn’t make the rules. They cared for our relatives in the most magnificent way, and we will always be grateful for everything they did. Life for care home staff must have been unbelievably hard as they tried to keep everyone safe.
So today, the connection between the Queen and Joan springs to mind. The Queen because of her 70 years of service to her country. She was someone I greatly admired. Steadfast, loyal and hardworking. Joan too, from the same generation, cared first and foremost for her family, but also quietly and without fuss or expectation of reward, undertook charity work. Joan volunteered for Age Concern until her late 80s and she also helped with fundraising at the Methodist Chapel in Cosby. Joan particularly loved creating flower arrangements for the chapel and her husband Keith played the organ for every Sunday service and for weddings and funerals. It must have been over 60 years of service for them both. Joan was always making cakes or knitting something for chapel fund-raising. She knitted hundreds of teddy bears when the chapel launched an appeal for sick children of Chernobyl. She wanted them to have something to give them comfort during their suffering.
Today, the Queen leaves her home, Buckingham Palace, for the last time as her coffin travels to Westminster Hall for ‘lying in state’ ahead of her funeral on Monday. Joan too is making her last journey today. Her ashes are being conveyed to Skiddaw in the Lake District. She will join her husband Keith at last. His ashes were taken there in August last year. A wild and beautiful landscape they both loved. May they all rest in peace.
Thank you for following my flower-growing journey. I have been a bit lost these past few months. I felt as if grief knocked me to the ground, and I haven’t been able to get up. However, I’ve watched fascinated at the activity following the Queen’s death. There have been so many ceremonies and procedures, her children and grandchildren haven’t had time to stop and think. Maybe this is the answer and a way to deal with death- keep busy and do something. When Joan died, I felt defeated. After so many years of trying to ‘think of something’ there was nothing else I could do. Now I’m ready to start again. Maybe I could volunteer at the care home in the garden. I’ve already put together a box of seeds and plants to donate to the garden.
And my flower-growing will continue, but for a different, happier reason. My youngest daughter is getting married! I have decided to grow and arrange the flowers for the wedding, and I can’t wait to get started. I hope you’ll continue to join me on this new journey I’m making in life. And I hope you have enjoyed the flowers I’ve grown and arranged, shared here as my tribute to the Queen and Joan today.
The best view of Melbourne Hall is from the ornate Bird Cage on the other side of the lake. But during August the house and the garden is open every afternoon, so there’s a chance to get a closer look and step inside this beautiful historic building.
When you arrive you enter by the Carriage Ring driveway, and step inside the Billiard Room, a conservatory-style addition built in 1911 by Lord Walter Kerr to add a glass roof over the area between the two wings of the house. In winter, this structure houses potted lemon trees, and mince pies and mulled wine are served to visitors on special opening dates. Last time I visited in winter, the family placed a Christmas tree in the conservatory which looked very pretty with all the tree lights and decorations reflected in the glass. It’s a very special experience to be able to look through the house windows out to the landscape and gardens beyond. It gives a totally different perspective on the planting and layout.
This is the oak panelled Dining Room. The walnut high back chairs are particularly striking. Some celebrate the return of the monarch in 1660 by having a crown carved into them. Beautiful tapestry seats have been embroidered by the Kerr family for chairs which date back to the time of William and Mary.
There are seven ground floor rooms to view. The hall opens at 2pm and there are guided tours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays. Or you can have a leisurely wander about on your own. Guides are also on duty in the rooms, able to answer any questions. Admission tickets can be purchased online, or from the entrance hall on the day of your visit.
It’s fascinating hearing about all the characters who’ve lived in this special place. Head tour guide Gill Weston has lots of interesting stories to tell.
After visiting the house, there’s beautifully-planted gardens to enjoy. Oxeye daisies are planted in long grass in the meadow. Currently in flower in the Paulownia border beside the Millstream you’ll find Eucomis, or pineapple lilies, alongside pink hydrangea arborescence Invincible Spirit.
Thanks to Gill Weston for the stories, and thanks also to Andrea Jones for kindly sharing photos. Melbourne Hall is a very special place and one of my favourite gardens. Do take the chance to glimpse inside the hall, while it’s open for August. It’s a historic house with lots of character.
In a recent prize draw on the blog, Tickets to visit the garden were won by Suella.
Thank you for reading my blog and leaving your comments in the box below. It’s very much appreciated. You are among 200 people who read the blog each day, and although I haven’t been able to write very much lately , it’s a comfort to see so many people reading past blog posts and finding useful information and recipes there. Happy gardening everyone.
This blog records my gardening life, growing fruit and vegetables for the family, and flowers for friends and relatives. Over the past five years, I’ve written about growing flowers for my mother-in-law Joan as a way of keeping a connection when she started to suffer from dementia. Joan and I shared a love of flowers and flower arranging. When she no longer knew my name, she still enjoyed my flowers and knew I was someone close to her. Sadly, Joan died earlier this year. All bereavements are difficult to recover from, but I’ve been surprised just how much I’ve been affected by Joan’s death. I didn’t feel like talking, didn’t feel like writing, didn’t feel like gardening. All the activities I usually enjoy didn’t seem to make any difference. I suppose, all these years I’ve been able to ‘do something.’ There’s been a purpose to all the work of growing sweet peas, dahlias and roses for cut flowers. Just to see Joan smile and feel as if I was keeping a connection with her, made it all worthwhile. It felt like an impossible challenge sometimes when she got so muddled she couldn’t remember her children or grandchildren. But challenges drive you on and force you to try harder. I was absolutely determined that dementia wouldn’t get the better of us and destroy the special friendship we had. But in the end it did. I feel as if it stole the last few years of her life and any comfort she could enjoy from knowing she had a large and loving family. Dementia took her into a parallel universe where we just didn’t exist. And Joan’s death has left such a hole in our lives, it will take time to readjust and refocus. As a start, I’ve decided to post some flowers in Joan’s memory. Thank you to all the readers who have sent supportive messages over the past five years and have been with me on this journey. I’m a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of person, so I’m thinking what good can come out of this experience and what I can do next to help families with relatives suffering from dementia. I’ll keep you updated on my plans. Meanwhile enjoy these flowers. I hope they bring you joy, as they did for Joan for many years.
Jonathan put crumpled chicken wire in the bucket to help support the stems. We are trying to use water and containers instead of florists’ foam containing plastic which contaminates the environment. https://www.jonathan-moseley.com/
Jonathan used lemon-scented conifer as the foliage element for the flower arrangement. I’m using purple-leaved Physocarpus Diabolo which is one of the few plants looking good in the heat at the moment. I used seven stems.
I only had about ten flower stems to put in the arrangement. The whole garden has suffered in the heat. Sweet peas have gone over, the earliest I can ever remember. Anything in flower when the temperature hit 40C was bleached out and dried. However, the roses have been the first plants to throw out new flower buds. This one is Compassion, a gorgeous climbing rose with a fruit-salad scent.
These roses are perfect for floristry as they are long-lasting and disease resistant. Stems are virtually thorn free, and the scent is a cross between melon and pineapple, fresh and summery.
I found two stems of this gorgeous gladioli growing down the middle of the sweet pea A-frame. The willow frame means I don’t have to stake the gladioli and it makes good use of the bare space in the centre. These are butterfly gladioli which are smaller in stature than the usual cottage varieties. They are also called nanus, or small-flowered gladioli. These are more reliable in difficult conditions because you need much smaller corms to obtain flowers. The large-flowering gladioli have to have good, fertile soil which is also well-drained and you must start with top-size corms. I recommend Pheasant Acre nursery for supplies. https://www.pheasantacreplants.co.uk/
Gladioli flower for a good two weeks and are the right scale to go with cosmos and argyranthemums. I recommend Atom, Carine, Alba, Charming Beauty and Nathalie. Pheasants Acre Nursery sells collections at summer shows and are worth seeking out as there are often special offers.
I added a few stems of an argyranthemum my mum grew from seed. These grow to about 1.5 metres here and are good, reliable plants for summer floristry. Bees and butterflies love them too.
There is just one stem of dahlia Nuit D’Ete. Dahlias hated the heat and are now struggling in the drought. I haven’t watered them. It would be impossible to keep watering them as temperatures are still heading for 30C. I’m hoping they are just sitting there semi-dormant, waiting for the temperatures to dip and rain to come.
My plan of action for next year is to increase the mulching with home-made compost and sheep wool and bracken clay-breaker compost. I will also buy more builders’ bags of maize-based Plant Grow fertiliser. Plant Grow is helping plants cope with the extreme heat. But where I ran out of money and didn’t mulch, the beds are suffering. It just goes to show the power of mulch to hold moisture in during the summer and combat flooding in the winter. I recently visited Chatsworth for a head gardener tour to see the new Arcadia garden planted last year. Interestingly, all the new perennials, and the new rose garden, were planted into 6” of soil improver from Veolia. A no-dig project on a massive scale. I’ll be going back soon to see how the plants have coped with the heat. I’m also liaising with the gardeners as one of many people sharing experiences of working with different types of peat-free compost. All of us are mixing our own additives to try to find something that works well for us. I’ll share our findings when I know more.
I’ve added just two stems of highly-scented Bridal Star carnation. These are recommended for home-grown cut flowers. Plants repeat flower all summer. I’m growing mine in 10” containers in the doorway of the polytunnel. Flowers get some protection from the rain, tucked just inside the door.
This flower was a surprise. It’s a spring onion, gone to seed! I might grow some on purpose, as they make large 4” diameter flowers, later in the season than most ornamental alliums.
My wild flower patch produced these flat-headed creamy white achillea. Another plant which doesn’t mind the heat. These started out as a packet of mixed wild flower seeds from Mr Fothergill’s.
These lime green flower heads are from parsnips allowed to go to seed. Jonathan Moseley allows some of his herbs and vegetables to run to seed and they make striking and unusual additions to his flower arrangements. The white flower in the photo is Cosmos Psyche White. A tall-growing, reliable cosmos. I grew the new cosmos Lemonade last summer, but it didn’t do well for me and was a bit of a disappointment. This year I’ve gone back to tried and tested white cosmos.
There are a couple of stems of blue drumstick echinops. These perennials are probably Taplow Blue, and originally came as divisions from Joan’s garden.
How is your garden faring in the heat. Have you had any rain, or are you parched like we are?
Sunflowers seem quite appropriate for one of the hottest July’s on record. Temperatures reached 40C here on Tuesday. The garden burned to a crisp with virtually everything in flower turning brown. So I haven’t anything from my own garden to share today. These flowers were created by Jonathan Moseley during a demonstration at Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Show last weekend. Jonathan is a celebrity florist, writer and broadcaster and ambassador for British flowers. He’s well-known for his appearance as expert floral judge on the BBC’s Big Allotment Challenge programme. After watching his demo at Belvoir, I had to buy this gorgeous arrangement for my Mum. Here’s some photos of what the arrangement contained.
The stand-out element of this arrangement is the gorgeous sunflowers grown in the UK by a company which also specialises in growing plants for bird food. There are 11 stems in this arrangement.
Jonathan uses this galvanised metal bucket with a liner to contain the water. Some chicken wire is scrunched up and placed in the bottom of the bucket. Jonathan says he mostly uses eco-friendly techniques rather than flower foam. Many of his other arrangements were created using mini milk bottles, urns and glass jars.
He added nine stems of lemon scented conifer. These are 55cm long. And five stems of viburnum from his own garden. I’ve taken some cuttings of the conifer as it’s such a vibrant bright lime green and has a lovely fresh scent. Virtually anything will root in this heat, given plenty of misting to keep the foliage hydrated.
Next he added three varieties of eryngium. This is a new variety, not available to home-growers yet, but sold via florists. It’s a beautiful multi-headed type and I’ll be looking out for it when it becomes available in garden centres. I think the variety is called Orion.
Eryngiums or ornamental thistles like these can be dried and used for winter decorations and on flower wreaths for doors and tables. Great value plants. Jonathan mentioned a variety called Big Blue. These are a magnet for bees and butterflies and flower for a very long time.
Eryngiums start out a lovely silver grey colour and turn blue as flowers open. I love the combination of grey, blue and yellow. They look such cheerful colours, don’t you think?
Next into the mix is this blue limonium, or statice, which is another flower which can be dried and is very easy to grow as an annual at home. This variety is called Misty Blue. Mr Fothergill’s have seeds in mixed colours which I’ve grown in the past and had success with.
Mum is thrilled with her gorgeous arrangement- even more delighted because it was made by Jonathan who we both think a lot of. We like his eco-friendly techniques and his determination to support local independent floristry growers and suppliers. No air miles go into his creations. Quite often the flowers are sourced near his home – or in fact home grown. In another arrangement, he used branches of Ballerina roses which looked like bouquets in themselves without any other flowers needed. He uses special foliage stripper tools to remove leaves and thorns on roses. Much better than getting them in your hands and fingers.
Jonathan recommended herbs to add to arrangements. A marjoram called Hopleys has buds which are almost black. These open to sprays of scented lilac flowers.
Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed viewing these beautiful flowers and have got some ideas for future floristry projects. Do look out for Jonathan Moseley’s talks. He appears at all the major shows, and also hosts special floristry workshops near his home at Christmas time. https://www.jonathan-moseley.com/category/events/upcoming/courses/
How has your garden fared in this heat? Mine looks stricken at the moment, but I’ve cut back all the perennial flowers by half and with some watering, they should flower again next month. I’ve sowed foxgloves, sweet williams and wallflowers for next year. They germinated virtually overnight in the heat and I’m busy pricking them out into seeds trays. I keep looking around the garden and feeling rather sad and dismayed at the damage, but there’s always next year to look forward to. That’s the beauty of gardening. There’s always next year to focus on. And it will be bigger, better and more flower-filled than this year, I’m certain.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.