Pecan Coffee Bites. Cheer-me-up Recipes for Covid

I managed to find a catering company sending out boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables for my Mum. Such a huge relief. On-line shopping is hopeless and there’s a three week wait. I listened in to BBC Radio Leicester, and heard an announcement about small companies trying to survive the covid crisis, and help. And amazingly, the catering company is in the next village to Mum! I’d never heard of them, but I listened as they described filling boxes with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, butter, eggs and delivering them around the county. Their livelihoods are at risk, all public events, parties and wedding are cancelled for this year. It’s a huge comfort to know Mum will have fresh food without having to go out. Anyway at home here, we have now run out of nice treats such as chocolate, biscuits and cakes. I never realised how many times I just popped to the shops for the odd item here and there. Not being able to go out is difficult. To say the least. I’m sharing my recipe for coffee pecan bites as they may be just the cheer-up you need today. Keep positive and focus on all the good everyone is doing. Lots of love to you all. Xx

INGREDIENTS

For the cakes:

50g self-raising flour

50g low fat spread, can be vegan spread

1 tbsp cocoa powder

2.5 tbsp sugar or granulated sweetener

1 tsp baking powder

1tbsp instant coffee powder

Pecan halves to decorate

Pinch of salt

2 large eggs ( or 1 mashed banana, or 4 tbsp oat milk, or vegan egg substitute)

You will need reusable silicone fairy cake cases. Ours came from Lakeland Plastics.

FOR THE BUTTERCREAM

This is suitable for any cakes or biscuits you might make

INGREDIENTS

25g butter, or margarine, low fat spread ( can be vegan sunflower spread )

50g icing sugar

1tsp cocoa powder

1tsp coffee powder.

METHOD

Set the oven to 190c / gas 5

Place all the cake ingredients, apart from the pecans, in a bowl and mix with an electric hand whisk. The mixture should be light, smooth and fluffy with lots of air incorporated from the whisking.

Place a tablespoon of mixture in each cake case. Stand the cake cases on a metal baking tray.

Place the cakes in a pre-heated oven and cook for 16 minutes.

Cakes will slightly shrink from the sides of the cakes cases when cooked and a knife will come out clean.

Set aside to cool

METHOD FOR BUTTERCREAM

Mix the buttercream ingredients together. If using butter, slightly warm in the microwave to incorporate. Pile 1 tsp of buttercream on top of the cakes and add 1 pecan half for decoration. You can use any nuts if you don’t have pecans. It’s very nice with almond slices or hazel nuts.

TIP

Can be stored in airtight container for 3 days. Or can be frozen before adding the buttercream.

Perfect with morning coffee, or as a sweet for a main meal. Place one on top of any fruit, such as sliced pears, to create a simple pudding. Pear and coffee/ chocolate make a tasty combination.

What recipes are you turning to to help you through this current crisis? Are you managing to obtain all the shopping items you need? I can highly recommend listening to your local radio station. They have a campaign called BBCMakingADifference. And I think they are doing so. Thank goodness.

Corokia- My Adventure. My BBC Garden Hour Book of the Week. Book Review

By MONA ABBOUD

Published by Wood Vale Publishing

144 pages. RRP £9.99

ISBN 978-1-5272-5591-3

Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw for a copy of the book.

Having something beautiful to focus on is a blessing at the moment. This week I’m learning all about Corokias, thanks to a new book by passionate gardener Mona Abboud. Corokias are New Zealand plants with leaves that resemble Mediterranean olives. They can be grown as low hedges, as a replacement for box hedging that’s been ravaged by blight or box tree caterpillar. As well as being useful, they are quite beautiful with names such as Frosted Chocolate, Sunsplash, Red Wonder, Silver Ghost, and my favourite, Coco. The undersides of leaves are always silver, but the colour of the surface of the leaf can be plum, bronze, silver and yellow. There are also very pretty variegated leaves.

Corokia Sunsplash -lit up with tiny yellow flowers.

Corokias produce small star-like flowers in spring and pea-size red, orange or nearly black berries in autumn.

Mona has appeared on BBC1 and More4 with her much-acclaimed garden created in Muswell Hill, London. She has a collection of 40 species of corokia and is a Plant Heritage National Collection holder. Her unusual and beautiful garden has won a gold medal from the London Gardens Society.

Mona has travelled all over the world in search of plants in what she describes as her “corokia adventure.” It’s impossible not to be caught up and swept along by her enthusiasm for these “largely unknown and undervalued” plants. Her passion for corokias endears her to growers and plant hunters in the uk and abroad. And it’s not surprising to hear her talk of being given rare and treasured plants and rooted cuttings of special varieties. Who could resist her. Mona’s enthusiasm is heartwarming and palpable.

Many of the photographs in Mona’s book come from her own remarkable garden. It’s amazing to see that the plants can be cloud pruned, topiarised, grown as parasols, or used as hedges and screens. I particularly like the idea of growing them as a multi-stem shrub, with spring bulbs and perennials as ground cover.

The well-illustrated book features sections on the history of corokias, uses and cultivation, the story of Mona’s garden, a study of her national collection and an in-depth description of the genus.

Mona’s determined quest to collect as many varieties as she could started in 2001 when she fell in love with Corokia x virgata Red Wonder growing in a friend’s garden by the sea in Suffolk. She says: “My passion for the genus has grown steadily since then, along with my collection, and this book is the latest manifestation of my evangelism for the genus.

“The aquisition of all forty currently available species and cultivars has certainly taken me on a fascinating and winding journey. ”

I highly recommend you join Mona on her journey via her stunning new book. It’s certainly an amazing adventure, and she is a lively and knowledgeable guide.

Books available from monasgarden.co.uk, and Amazon.

Please leave a comment below and names will be randomly selected for one free copy. So sorry, it’s uk only, due to postage costs.

Notes : Mona has written articles on corokias for the RHS magazines The Garden and The Plantsman, helping to spread the word about this attractive plant.

Monasgarden.co.uk : https://monasgarden.co.uk/?utm_source=monasgardencouk&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=urlredirect

A Walk Around My Country Garden -27 Mar 2020

When I planted this walkway of trees, I never knew how essential they were going to be. I must meander along these paths at least 20 times a day, lost in thought.

I’m sharing as many cheerful photos as I can find today. The covid crisis initially knocked me for six. I am desperately worried about all our elderly relatives. For all those expecting babies in the summer. For my young daughters, one a newly qualified nurse, working with desperately ill patients right now. If I could solve everything with walking, I would have worn out my shoes. It’s the first time in my life I have no answers. I can’t do anything to make it ‘right.’ Normally I can think of something. In every other crisis, I have found a solution. Something to make things better.

So I am turning to what I know. Gardening. Giving out advice to anyone who needs it. Families have struggled to buy fresh salads and veg these past few weeks. I certainly haven’t managed to obtain what I’ve needed. I couldn’t find bread, flour or milk. It’s made me feel vulnerable and determined to be more self reliant when it comes to fruit and veg at least. So anyone who needs grow-your-own advice can contact me and I will help. For specific individual garden design advice, how to start a cut flower garden, grow a meadow, deal with a shady border, I am asking for a donation to Rainbows Hospice direct, any amount and I don’t need to know how much. All my garden club talks have been cancelled, and as you know, all my fees go to Rainbows. The clubs have all rebooked for next year, but I wanted to do something for this year to help. So anyone interested, please e mail me at k.gimson@btinternet.com for more information. I am learning to Skype and FaceTime live, and also using the phone and computer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as my grandparents used to say. Funny how their little sayings come back to you in times of trouble. It’s as if they are trying to help you, even though they are no longer here.

Enjoy the slide show of photos. I hope it lifts your spirits and makes a difference. From now on, I am solely focusing on people who are doing good, sharing information about what they are doing, supporting them in any way I can. That really is the only way forward for me.

I took this video from the garden gate last night. It’s so heartening to see farmers out and about working their fields after such a dire autumn and winter. If they are out there preparing seed beds, then we can too in our own gardens. I shall be glad to see the green shoots of seedlings after a winter of brown, barren fields.

Hedgerow blossom. This looks like a shooting star to me. Such a beautiful sight. A heart-sing moment. The hawthorn too is coming into leaf. Soon there will be clouds of May blossom to cheer us along.

Lots of daffodils at the top of the paddock. These were a sack I bought from Dobbies at Christmas, reduced from £24 to £3. I couldn’t resist the bargain price, and took a risk. They’d been stored cool and dry so were in good condition. I didn’t expect flowers this year, but they are looking stunning. Every bulb has come up. I’ll water with a potash liquid to feed the bulbs for next year. And if I see another £3 sack, I’ll certainly buy it!

Yellow flowers symbolise friendship, and that is certainly what we all need right now to get us through this crisis. I’m relying on phone calls and my twitter friends to keep upbeat. I’ve just added my name to a list of local volunteers to ring round anyone who lives alone and needs someone to chat to once a day.

Today, the wild cherry trees (prunus avium) started to flower. What a wonderful sight. These trees only flower for a week or two, but we will sit under them with our cups of tea, have picnics outdoors and revel in every single moment they are in bloom.

My cut flower tulips are in bud. Tulips in the sunny front garden are already flowering early. I’ll cut a huge bunch of daffodils and tulips for the front windows. Vases of flowers will cheer up anyone passing by, even though they can’t call in to visit.

These double creamy tulips, Mount Tacoma, are favourites. They remind me of swan feathers. So graceful.

Scented narcissi, Geranium and Pheasants Eye, are starting to flower. Fabulous with yellow hyacinths and the first wallflowers.

In the greenhouse, the succulents are starting to glow. I’ve started to water everything, and I’m pleased this aeonium has come through the winter.

There’s plenty of citrus fruit coming along. I’ll be able to make orange cakes and lemon meringues soon.

Would you believe it, my new Polar Bear snowdrop is still in flower – at the end of March. It’s a new elwesii type of snowdrop with huge rounded petals and short pedicels which make the flowers look up and out rather than hang down. It looks rather surprised to be out in the spring sunshine amongst daffodils. I wonder if next year it will flower much earlier.

There’s life in the pond. The tadpoles are forming. Lots of pond skaters, some newts, and we’ve even spotted a grass snake, on our new wildlife camera set up on bank.

I’ve mounted the camera on a log, so I can move it about the garden without it being knocked over. Tonight we are hoping to catch sight of the hedgehogs. They are out and about at dusk, making nests in the bottom of the ‘fedge’ and under the old disused hen house.

Ladybirds are much in evidence. Here they are on the phlomis. My army of pest control workers. I’ve left twiggy piles of stems all around the garden to give insects a place to hibernate. Hopefully they will repay me by eating the aphids.

And there’s plenty of bees, thankfully. Bumble bees and solitary bees of all shapes and sizes. I have a new book to review, The Secret Lives of Garden Bees by Jean Vernon. I can think of nothing better than sitting under my cherry trees and loosing myself in a book. It will be something soothing and calming. Much needed at the moment.

Here’s an enormous bumble bee on the wild anemones. It’s lovely to have a book you can go to to learn more about the bees visiting your garden. And look at ways you can help them to thrive. Something positive to focus on.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk around my garden today. The sun is shining and it’s 30C in the greenhouse. All the windows and doors are thrown open. Get in touch and let me know what’s looking lovely in your garden today. And if you are feeling alone or sad, let me know. We are in this together. And be reassured that lots of people are doing wonderful things to help one another. You just have to look for the positives in life. As ever.

Love Karen xx

Home Grown – salads and veg for quick return during Covid-19

The following notes accompany the BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour between 1 and 2pm on Sundays, on your smart speaker, DAB, 104.9FM and BBC Sounds. I’m writing this in advance so you can follow what seeds I might be talking about.

It’s been difficult over the past week getting hold of any fresh fruit and veg. Quite dismaying to see empty supermarket shelves. I didn’t stockpile, so we are literally running out of everything.

After a bit of a panic, I’ve settled down to this plan of action. Here’s what I’m growing.

Microgreens and Sprouting Seeds

All you need is a kitchen windowsill to grow sprouting seeds. This tiered growing kit comes from Johnsons Seeds, but you could just use a plate with moist kitchen paper, or a shallow tray with compost for the microgreens. Cheap and easy to grow, adds nutrients to soups stews and sandwiches. Perhaps you’ve done this before with children, growing cress and mustard. It’s the same principle.

I’m growing:

Radish Mino Early

Microgreens Gourmet Garnish

Basil

Beetroot for leaves

Mung beans for stir fries.

Microgreens are grown until they are a couple of inches tall, and then trimmed using scissors. You can repeat this process a few times.

Bean sprouts and seeds are grown for 3-5 days and harvested when approx 2.5cm long

Mixed cut and come again salad

I like the idea of these pre-sown mats. All you have to do is pop the mats on top of a pot of compost snd water them. Fuss-free growing. Pick leaves from the outside when they are 5cm (2″) high, leaving the centre of the plants to carry on growing. Anyone can use these. They are great for children too.

PEASHOOTS

I’m growing peas in shallow trays. They will be harvested when the shoots are 4″. The plants will regrow snd you can repeat the process several times. After this, I plant the peas in a 10″ pot in the greenhouse and they grow on to produce a good crop of pea pods. Any edible pea variety can be used. Friends have even used dried peas from the supermarket.

Herbs in Pots

I’ll sow herbs in individual cells, a few seeds per cell. The cells will be moved on to 5″ pots and eventually they will stand on a sunny patio. Meanwhile, I will just keep pinching out the tips to use to liven up pasta and rice dishes, and this will also make the plants bushy.

Spring Onions

Spring onions will be sown in 10″ pots and kept in the cold polytunnel. They are ideal for growing in containers. They are quick growing and can be sown successionally from March to September. One item I do have is a huge bag of potatoes, luckily. Some mashed potato topped with grated cheese and chopped spring onions turns a simple dish into a tasty treat.

SPINACH

Baby leaf spinach is a favourite here, full of vitamins and goodness. I’ll grow these in recycled polystyrene boxes from a delicatessen, garden centre cafe. You could also use window boxes, or 10″ pots.

DILL

Nano is a new dwarf variety perfect for containers. A few clippings of dill turns any dish into a feast. I make a sauce with mayonnaise, butter and dill to add to fish. Totally delicious and full of vitamins. I’ll sow this 3 or 4 seeds to a cell and then the plants will be moved into window boxes.

CARROTS

Round carrots, such as Paris Market or Rondo are perfect for containers and are relatively fast growing. You can also clip some of the leaves to use in salads without it depleting the roots.

TOMATOES – more long term, but starting now …

I’ve a selection of dwarf cherry tomatoes for eventually growing in pots on the patio. These won’t need tall canes for support and won’t need pinching out. They naturally branch into small bushy plants. Started now in a warm window or a propagator at 18C, I’ll be eating tomatoes in June. Hopefully.

CUCUMBERS

I like baby cucumbers for summer salads. I’m growing Beth and La Diva. I’m also trying a new variety, Swing this year. Half fill a 3″ pot with compost and place the seed on edge. Water with tepid tap water. Keep warm at 18-21C. As soon as the seeds grow out of the top of the pot, add more compost around the stem. Harden off carefully, putting the delicate plants in the propagator over night and out in the greenhouse in the day to prevent damping off disease. Keep warm until June. I’m planning to grow some outdoor and some in the poly tunnel.

SOMETHING FOR CHILDREN

With children off school, cress seeds will be a winner. And also start off sunflowers, not to eat, but to brighten the garden and maybe for a competition to see who can grow the tallest.

My propagator glowing in the dark

It’s been a challenging time where stress levels have been through the roof here. But I feel calmer with a plan of action. Just sowing a few seeds has given me some respite from worries. It’s been a welcome distraction from covid troubles.

Let me know how you are getting on. Have you found it difficult to buy supplies. What are you growing their spring?

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

Johnson’s Seeds: https://www.johnsons-seeds.com/Home_4/Oriental-Seed_3/Sprouting-Seeds-Sunflower.html#.XnaUjoGnyfA

Little Gardeners https://www.johnsons-seeds.com/Home_4/Oriental-Seed_3/Sprouting-Seeds-Sunflower.html#.XnaUjoGnyfA

Plants of distinction : http://www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk/

Hozelock Pure Bokashi Composter on Trial- and one to give away- Saturday 21 March 2020

During these stressful and uncertain times, I swing between trying to keep things normal, and sitting pondering the dire straits we are in.

I’ve asked all my contacts in the gardening world to supply prizes for readers of this blog. I am determined to keep our spirits up! I’m very grateful everyone has so far responded with overwhelming generosity, and there will be a steady stream of little gifts to give away.

Today’s prize is a Hozelock bokashi home composter. I’ve never tried one of these before, but it seems a great idea. We will perhaps all be trying to grow at least some food this spring and summer. The best way to feed our crops is with home-made compost. Not everyone has space for a large compost bin. This one can sit in the kitchen, porch, garage or garden shed.

Compost is made by adding bran to food waste and peelings every day. The lid is tight fitting and there’s no smells from the composter.

The lid reminds me of those Tupperware containers you used to be able to buy. It’s tight- fitting, but easy to get on and off.

Inside the composter there’s some bran, a scoop and and container to catch the liquid feed that comes from the tap.

There’s a leaflet giving comprehensive instructions. The bottom of the bucket has a colander type filter to stop waste dropping down into the liquid feed collection area.

There’s a reservoir at the base of the bin to collect the liquid.

There’s a tap at the base of the composter. Liquid feed is rich in nutrients. It can be diluted down 1 to 10 with water and used to feed tomatoes, salads and vegetables. And it’s free. That’s the beauty of composting, you are using your waste peelings and food and turning it into something useful for the garden.

All is explained in the leaflet contained in the box. Resulting compost is apparently called ‘digestate.’ How it is made is magical indeed, and I am constantly amazed by nature. The resulting compost is very high value and good for the garden.

I would use the liquid feed for my orange trees, which are starting to produce this summer’s crop in the greenhouse. Just in time for orange cakes and marmalade.

Please leave a comment below if you would like to be entered in the prize draw for a bokashi composter. Hozelock will choose a winner, randomly selected. Usual rules apply, there’s no cash alternative. Prizes may vary from the ones shown. Sorry it’s for UK entries only due to postage costs. Good luck everyone.

I realise composting might not be uppermost in everyone’s minds just now, but we have to keep going. Gardening is certainly keeping me sane at the moment when there seems to be everything to worry about. Please let me know what you are growing, and what methods you are using to keep motivated!

Lots of love, karen x

Comfort Food for a crisis – five minute microwave fruit pudding

If you’re struggling to put your mind to much at the moment, here’s a fast pudding you can make with store cupboard ingredients. You don’t even need to switch the oven on. It’s cooked in the microwave and is ready in five minutes.

INGREDIENTS

3oz margarine ( we use palm-oil free Lurpack)

3oz sugar

5oz SR flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg

4 tbsp milk

Sprinkle of mixed dried fruit (optional)

1 apple (optional)

Sprinkle of Demerara sugar for the top.

METHOD

Use an electric hand whisk or food processor to mix the sugar, margarine, egg and milk. Add the flour, baking powder and dried fruit and whizz to incorporate.

Chop one apple and place in the bottom of a glass Pyrex deep dish. You can use any fruit you like. This is also nice with drained tinned peaches, apricots, mandarins, pears, pineapple. Or you don’t have to use any fruit at all, just the sponge mixture.

If using fruit, place the sponge mixture on top.

Cook in a microwave for five minutes. Remove promptly or the pudding will steam. The pudding will carry on cooking for a few minutes after you’ve taken it out of the microwave. Insert a knife into the centre to check that it’s cooked. The knife will be clean if cooked. If not put back for another minute. The pudding shrinks from the sides of the dish as another clue to check whether it’s cooked.

Sprinkle a tablespoon of golden or Demerara sugar over the top. Place under a hot grill for a minute to caramelise and brown the top.

Serve with ice cream, custard, fresh cream.

Serves 6 people and lasts 2 days if kept cool.

VARIATIONS

Instead of dried fruit add 1 heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder. You do not need the Demerara sugar topping as the cake will be brown. This is delicious with mandarins.

This recipe came from my mum and is a family favourite. I’m especially sharing this here for my youngest daughter who is buying a house in the middle of this corona crisis. As if life wasn’t stressful enough. And she will be cooking in her own kitchen for the first time in two weeks. Good luck Rachel xx

Fred, from the FrenchGardener blog (see comments below) suggests making caramel before adding the apples.

150g sugar and 50cl water in the dish for 2.30m to 3 minutes on 900w power. Then add the chopped apples followed by the sponge mixture, sounds delicious. Thanks for the idea.

Wildlife Watching – camera on trial and prize draw for readers

One of the joys of gardening is sharing my plot with wildlife. When I see hedgehogs, it makes my day. When the same hedgehogs emerge from the shrubbery with a family of babies, well, I couldn’t be happier. I’ve given them a home, and it’s simply wonderful to see them thriving.

Today I received a wildlife observation camera to try out on the plot. It took me 20 minutes to read the instructions and set it up, and it has been a constant source of joy all afternoon- and into the evening. There’s an infra red camera to watch after dark.

I set up the camera by the horseshoe pond and placed a suet block in front. It took birds a few hours to find the food, and they were suspicious at first. Then a robin and bluetit tucked in to the treat. The picture is really clear, and you can switch on the sound as well. It’s lovely to hear birdsong while you are working indoors.

The wildlife observation camera comes from Wildlife World. Everything is packed in eco friendly cardboard. The little postcard with a ‘thank you for your order’ message is a nice touch. We enjoyed the chocolates while fathoming out the instructions.

This is what’s in the box. There’s the wire-free outdoor camera, a box with a mounting bracket, a user guide, some screws, batteries, and a USB cable for charging.

The only assembly I needed to do was screwing the mounting bracket to the bottom of the camera. The batteries were already installed. I expect the camera could be attached to a house wall to watch a bird table, or near a nest box to watch birds and hatchlings. I want to watch a particular blackbird that comes to the pond in late afternoon every day. It spends a good ten minutes splashing around in the shallows. And I’m hoping to catch sight of the hedgehogs as I know they also visit the pond at night.

Here’s what the picture looks like at dusk. If we are very lucky, we might even see the barn owl flying along the boundary. He visits us every evening, silently gliding along the hedgerow like a ghost.

These are screen shots from my i-pad. I haven’t worked out how to share videos from the camera yet, but it’s early days and I’ll have to read through the instructions again.

At about 9pm, great excitement! A grass snake slithered over the stones and into the water. I hadn’t realised they were out and about just yet. But we’ve had two days with sunshine and warm weather. All evening I was glued to the screen watching a tiny mouse dart back and forth hoovering up bird feed crumbs. I took the suet block in for the night in case it attracted rats. And also I didn’t want the hedgehogs to eat it. They have their own special meaty-type food.

Here’s a sample of the instructions for setting it up. I had to go on to the App Store, find ‘ToSee’ and download the free app. It took about ten minutes to sort that out. I was quite pleased with myself, as I’m hopeless with any kind of technology. It was fairly straightforward and the camera connected with the app first time. I then carried the camera outdoors and set it down by the pond. Tomorrow I might move it to another location. When you close down the i-pad or phone, the camera sends a signal if it detects any animal movements. It’s quite a distraction from work!

Overall, I’m delighted with the ease of setting up, the quality of the picture and the welcome little extras such as sound and night time viewing. I have no hesitation recommending the Wildlife World observation camera. It is powered by rechargeable battery and has motion detection by PIR sensor.

I’m working from home now for the foreseeable future. The wildlife camera is part of my ‘coping with panic’ strategy. Corona virus is very much uppermost in my mind, as it is for all of you, I’ve no doubt. But I’ve decided to try to think of something each day that will bring me joy and ease my worries. Concentrating on gardening and nature soothes and heals. I’ve found this to be true twice before when I’ve been seriously ill. And now, like many, I must find coping strategies again, and ways to stay positive when there just seems to be bad news every day.

Please leave a comment below to be included in the prize draw for a wildlife observation camera. Names will be randomly selected by the company. Sorry it’s UK entries only. There’s no cash alternative. Camera types may vary. Wildlife World company decisions are final. Usual rules apply. Please also comment if you don’t want to be entered in the draw and let me know.

Keep safe, and I hope you can all get out and enjoy your gardens too. xx

Links: Wildlife World https://www.wildlifeworld.co.uk/product/wirelesswildlifeobservationcamera/

In a Vase on Monday -March 16 2020

On the first warm, sunny day of the year, I’ve made a comfy place in the garden. I sit here, surrounded by familiar things: flowers, fresh from the garden, favourite books, magazines, tea, and mum’s lemon cake. And for a few minutes, I forget my worries. I am determined to enjoy the garden, birds singing all around, frogspawn in the pond. Trees bursting into leaf. I watch a wren creeping along the eaves of the house, searching for spiders. Spiders webs are used to glue their nests together, so I never clear them away. All of nature carries on, oblivious to the crisis we humans are facing. My small ginger spaniel Meg sleeps at my feet. My cat, Grace, chases a fly. They too are unconcerned. And yet I am a boiling cauldron of concerns. One minute panic stricken by the ‘what ifs’ the next, in warrior mode ready to fight. If only I knew exactly what I’m fighting. I return to voices, advice from my childhood, that some things cannot be changed and what will be, will be. I desperately try to remember comforting phrases from the past. I know my family, going back in time, suffered many illnesses and setbacks and survived. The suffering though. Those photos are etched on my mind. We, in modern times, have had it easy. Until now. And now, none of us know what’s going to happen. To give some respite from my thoughts, I turn to familiar things. For comfort I walk around my garden picking spring flowers, as I have done for the 30 years we’ve lived here. I’m posting them for you to enjoy, hoping they will bring you some comfort too, and for a few moments give you something else to think about. Stay safe all of you and keep in touch. Our gardens and our gardening community have never been needed more than they are today.

Dark, plum-toned Hellebore Rachel, with ruby hyacinth Woodstock, surrounded by Prunus Kojo-no-mai, ribes, Viburnum Eve Price, and pink comfrey.

The first of the wild cherry blossom. Simply beautiful. Pure and bright.

The last of the paperwhite narcissi and some skimmia. Deliciously scented.

Keep in touch and let me know what you are doing in your garden. Are you managing to get any seeds sown yet?

Sending love, hope and good wishes to you all. xx

Links: In a vase on Monday: https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/03/16/in-a-vase-on-monday-change-of-plan/

Last of the late snowdrops – and snowy pictures of my garden

Patience often pays off. I’ve been watching the prices for this new and expensive snowdrop. Then, when most of the flowers had gone over, the garden centre reduced the price! It was my lucky day. Galanthus Polar Bear is my new favourite snowdrop, and it’s a quite a beauty, isn’t it.

I managed to find a pot with flowers still in bud. It’s a very late flowering type with short pedicels, making the flowers fling out and look up at you. So unusual, as most snowdrops bow their heads and look down. It’s got a lot of charm, and is the star of my potting shed windowsill at the moment.

While we are still talking about snowdrops, I thought I’d show you some snowy photos of the garden. It’s been the mildest wettest winter on record here, and this is the first, and only snow we’ve had so far. It makes the garden look magical and hides all imperfections (fortunately.) No weeds are on show, and brambles look ornamental with an iced topping of snow. Here you can see my greenhouse, polytunnel and potting shed set up, all close together to save walking too far between them. In front of the potting shed there’s some renovated 1930s plant nursery trolleys. Very useful for moving plant pots about, and for staging potted displays. My second-hand poly tunnel has doors both ends which is great for good air circulation. The 20ft Alton Cedar greenhouse is also second-hand and renovated by my husband. We painted it black, and made matching black staging inside. Beyond is my cut flower and veg patch and then the orchard, before you reach the paddock gate leading to the ridgeway footpath.

In the exotic border in front of the potting shed, I’ve left stems and seed heads intact for birds to eat and insects to find shelter. These innula seeds look pretty with a topping of snow.

The horseshoe pond can viewed from the potting shed windows. There’s a gently-sloping boulder beach to stand on, and this gives easy access for hedgehogs, frogs, newts and grass snakes. It’s very calming to stand and watch the ripples from raindrops. Today the pond is a cauldron of frogs, mating and producing frog spawn.

From the pond you can see the cut flower and veg patch. My hazel sweet pea supports have weathered three named storms on consecutive weekends. Really, if they can cope with all that, I think they will stand firm and strong for the summer display. There’s little slab paths between the plots so I don’t have to walk on the soil. It’s a no-dig garden inspired by Charles Dowding who’s been a patient and valued mentor these last few years, along with his partner Stephanie Hafferty. They’ve both given me lots of advice and I’ve got more value out of my plot thanks to their suggestions.

At the end of the veg plot there’s a small orchard, rather neglected. We’ve pruned it this winter which means we might lose some of the crop in the summer. But over a few years we will get the trees back into shape and down to a manageable size for harvesting. Under the trees I’m planning a wild flower patch. I’m going to leave some grass and see what happens, I will sow some plug plants in another area, and finally I’ll try a wild flower lawn, ready seeded. I’ll report back on the project.

Finally here’s the view down the field hedge tunnel. This path is made from bark and brushwood chippings from the garden, put through my new Stihl electric shredder. It saves a fortune on bagged bark supplies, plus helps me recycle waste from the garden.

Thank you for reading. Please share on any social media platform , and get in touch and let me know what your garden looks like just now. Comments box is right at the bottom of the page.

Links: Stihl shredders : https://www.stihl.co.uk/STIHL-Products/099364/Garden-shredders.aspx

Polar bear : https://www.avonbulbs.co.uk/spring-planted-bulbs-and-snowdrops/galanthus-snowdrops/collectors-snowdrops/galanthus-polar-bear

In a Vase on Monday- flowers from my plot 9th March 2020

Finding comfort in familiar things, I’m joining in with my favourite IAVOM theme today.

Spring flowers always bring hope. And we need plenty of hope at the moment, don’t we.

Here’s my flowers, picked fresh from the garden. They are in an unusual location, the drinks holder of my car. The perfect place for a jam jar of flowers, on their way to my mother’s house (via Radio Leicester, where I talk about what’s growing on my plot).

There’s some shoots of Japanese cherry, Prunus Kojo-no-mai, at the back of the posy. Some lace-edged heritage primulas, Pulmonaria Sissinghurst White, plum coloured Hellebores, and one very pretty bellis daisy.

The daises have grown all by themselves in the gaps between paving slabs at my back door. Something so pretty, just growing from seed carried on the wind. They have given me as much joy as anything I’ve planted and tended, probably because they have survived against the odds. There’s no soil there. And no loving care. But they have thrived. A message to us all, about resilience, maybe.

I love the slightly messy, many petaled flowers of bellis daisies. There are single and double forms. Seed packets cost a couple of pounds. Once you have them, they will always be with you. But not necessarily growing where you put them!

In my mother’s garden, the daisies romp delightfully across the lawn and into the border. She mows around them. It’s obvious where I get my empathy with plants from. My lovely mum has always been my greatest influence in life.

Wishing you all a peaceful, happy and successful week. I’d love to see what you are all sowing and growing in your garden just now. It’s very busy here, with plenty to do in the garden, as always. Hoping for some sunshine and nice weather – soon.

Links: In a Vase on Monday https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/03/02/in-a-vase-on-monday-pillaged/

Bellis Daisy: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Bellis-Goliath-Mixed.html#.XmZXWoGnyfA

BBC Radio Leicester, gardening starts at 1pm every Sunday with Dave Andrews https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p002zx56. Listen back on Sounds, or ask your smart speaker to tune in to BBC Radio Leicester

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Note: I was not driving when I took the photos in my car. Naturally.