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

Diary of a Modern Country Gardener

Secrets for Every Season Straight From the Potting Shed

By Tamsin Westhorpe

Orphans Publishing ISBN 9781903360422

Hardback. 248 pages. £20

Illustrations by Hannah Madden

Book review and prize draw. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw.

We are all standing at our house windows gazing on waterlogged, storm lashed gardens, aching to be outside gardening. It’s doesn’t matter what kind of gardening, anything, as long as we can run some compost through our fingers and see green shoots emerging. It’s been a long wet winter.

Luckily Tamsin Westhorpe has a beautiful new book which transports us immediately to gardening heaven- Stockton Bury in Herefordshire. It is a very welcome and timely escape.

Tamsin is the 5th generation to garden at her family’s farm. The four acre garden within the farm has fruit and vegetable plots, a stream and pond, ‘rooms’ with different planting themes and a dovecote dating back to the time of Henry 1. The land has been worked by the family for more than 100 years, and the much-acclaimed garden is open to the public.

In her new book, Diary of a Modern Country Gardener, Tamsin lets us into her world as we see her facing all kinds of gardening challenges, accompanied by lots of laughter.

There’s expert advice on growing cut flowers, staging summer garden parties, selecting and planting trees, planting bulbs, storing produce, keeping chickens, coppicing hazel and more. I particularly like the ‘tool kit’ panels detailing equipment and materials needed for the list of jobs suggested each month. A useful reminder before getting going on tasks. There’s nothing worse than starting something, and then having to stop to search for forgotten items to complete the project.

I also like the list of ‘must-have’ plants for each month. January suggests Cornus mas, crocus tommasinianus, cyclamen coum, eranthis hyemalis, hamamelis, hellebores, iris reticulata, mahonia, snowdrops, viburnum Dawn and narcissus Bowles Early Sulphur. You can almost smell these spring delights. There’s something cheerful on every page.

As we follow her daily life there’s lots of hints and tips on what to do and when. But this is much more than a ‘how to’ book. It’s a book about solving problems, dealing with gardening conundrums, interacting with people, and simply enjoying every single moment.

I love books where you can really hear the author’s voice. Tamsin’s voice is loud and clear and full of humour. Her stories are compelling. She makes you want to jump in a car and drive over to see what she’s getting up to today. You’d have a real good natter, and come away smiling and fired up with ideas to get going on your own plot. She’s that kind of person who makes anything feel possible.

Her diary does exactly what it says on the tin; it’s a daily insight into the workings of a country garden. There are plenty of ‘secrets’ to be told. I won’t spoil them by retelling them here. But there’s a very interesting story about what she wears in the garden! Apparently her mother set the trend. You’ll have to read the book to find out more. It’s perfect escapism. And the one place you’ll all want to be is in Tamsin’s garden.

The book is beautifully produced and bound by well-respected Orphans Publishing, accompanied by truly gorgeous illustrations by artist Hannah Madden. A thing of beauty. Highly recommended. You’ll soon forget all about the weather! I promise.

Tamsin going through the proofs at Herefordshire Orphans Publishing.

Tamsin and Hannah Madden celebrating their first copy of the book.

Some pages from the book, taken with my i-phone camera. The quality of the photography is much better than I’ve managed to capture here.

About the author, taken with my i-phone camera.

Excerpts from the book for March

Excerpts for June

August

Tamsin Westhorpe’s diary was my book of the week on BBC Local Radio Gardening. It would make an excellent BBC Radio 4 read-aloud Book of the Week. A best seller, I think.

Thank you to Orphans Publishing for offering a free copy for our prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be entered in the draw. Please also comment if you do not wish to be entered in the competition, and let me know. Some of you may have already ordered a copy. The publishers will randomly select a winner. No cash prize alternative and usual rules apply.

Links: Tamsin Westhorpe https://www.tamsinwesthorpe.co.uk/

Orphans Publishing https://www.orphanspublishing.co.uk/

Stockton Bury http://www.stocktonbury.co.uk/

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

Karen gimson on twitter @kgimson

On instagram karengimson1 and Pinterest.

Thank you for reading. I am very grateful for your 150,000 page views, all kind follows and shares. Please share this on any social media platform. It all helps me immensely.

Dahlias -Overwintering Dilemmas- 19 November 2019

I’m not usually a ditherer. I have a plan of action and I just get on with it. But the weather this autumn has put a spanner in the works. Unprecedented amounts of rain mean we are five weeks behind schedule with all jobs in the garden. And I am only now managing to sort out and store my precious dahlia collection.

This year, I’ve decided to leave half in the ground – in a raised bed with free-draining soil- and bring half indoors. This way, I’ve cut my losses. I’ll have some plants indoors to take cuttings from next spring, even if the ones outdoors fail to survive.

Here’s what I’ve done with the ‘outdoor’ dahlias:

OVERWINTERING DAHLIAS IN THE GROUND

1. I’ve waited until all the foliage has been blackened by frost. This sends the plant instructions to go into dormancy.

2. I’ve removed half of the foliage and dead flower heads. The remaining foliage has been folded over to cover the plant. Stems are hollow, so if you cut back stems and leave them upright they act like straws, directing rainwater down to the tuber.

3. I’ve put a 3″ deep mulch of compost over the tubers, followed by 6″ of dry leaves or straw.

4. Dahlias need to be kept dry and frost free, so I’ve covered the bed with some cloches, and packed the ends with dried leaves. These 1.3m by 3m beds are mounded up like ridge and furrow farm land. They are no-dig which also seems to aid drainage over winter by protecting the soil structure. No-dig basically means adding a few inches of compost every time you harvest a crop, and simply re-planting through the compost. No back-breaking digging is required.

LIFTING DAHLIAS FOR INDOOR STORAGE

For my indoor ‘insurance policy’ dahlias I’ve done the following:

1. Waited until the frost has blacked the foliage. Checked the soil. It is like suet pudding, wet and claggy. Heavy clay. This is an area of garden due a lot of compost mulch over the winter.

2. I’ve gently dug out the dahlias, being careful not to bruise them. Wounds are vulnerable to rotting, so care needs to be taken.

3. I’ve cut the stems back to 3″ and turned the tubers upside down to drain. They will go into a frost free potting shed.

4. When drained, I’ll store the tubers in dry vermiculite, straw, or compost, in the dark, under the potting shed table. Temperatures need to be 2-3C. Dahlias will survive a few degrees of frost- if they are dry. If it gets very cold, I’ll throw some fleece or old blankets over the tubers.

In February, I’ll place the tubers in seed trays of compost in gentle heat to bring them back to life. When they have shoots 1″ tall, I will split the large tubers in half with a sharp knife, making sure both halves have some stem.

I’ll also take basal softwood cuttings when shoots are 1″ tall, using a sharp knife and taking a small sliver of tuber with the cutting. These will be grown on in a frost free greenhouse and planted out end of May. Cuttings will make good size tubers and will flower in one season.

You can lift and save tubers from seed-grown dahlias as well. Just save the best ones, as seed produces very variable results.

Which option are you taking with your dahlias?

A BIT ABOUT HISTORY

It’s fascinating to hear that dahlias have been grown in Europe for 200 years. They originally came from Mexico and were grown in the botanic gardens in Madrid towards the end of the 18th century.

Dahlias are named after Andreas Dahl, a Swedish botanist, scientist and environmentalist. Plants come in every colour -apart from blue! The smallest are the Lilliput Series and the largest are dinner plate sized, a foot in diameter.

Dahlias are categorised by their appearance; there are waterlily, Pompom, collarette and cactus types. Something for everyone, really.

Here’s some of my favourites from my cut flower garden.

Arabian Night. Deep, dark velvety red. A stunning dahlia for cut flower work.

Nuit de’Ete, a lovely deep red cactus type. Lasts two weeks in a vase.

Nuit de’Ete amongst cosmos, persicaria and Ammi.

An pretty un-named variety grown from a packet of seed. Single flowers are much loved by bees and butterflies.

Dahlia David Howard. The best orange variety. Strong growing with long lasting flowers. Very beautiful in low autumn sunshine.

A very good book on dahlias has been written by Naomi Slade. Highly recommended. Just beautiful to sit and peruse over the cold winter months to come. When we will all need something cheerful to look at.

There’s a review of the book here : https://bramblegarden.com/2018/06/24/dahlias-beautiful-varieties-for-home-and-garden/

My dahlia tubers come from Gee Tee Bulbs: https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/dahlias

Links: National Dahlia Society: https://www.dahlia-nds.co.uk/

In a Vase on Monday ( although this is Tuesday- I still like to join in when I can ) https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

Follow me on twitter @kgimson

On instagram at karengimson1

Thank you for reading. Please leave a comment below and let me know what you are growing in your garden at the moment.

And, a photo I haven’t shared before. A picture of my mother in law Joan. Regular readers will know that I grow my cut flowers to keep a connection with Joan. It’s something we both love and it’s a way of sharing my garden with her now she is living in a care home.

Apple and Almond Slice- Family Favourite Recipes

At this time of year, my kitchen work surfaces are covered with piles of apples. Little pyramids of golden cooking apples, tiny rosy red eating apples, giant Bramleys. My family complain. There’s nowhere for anyone to put anything down. I usually store them wrapped in newspaper in the potting shed, but I’m still trying to evict the mice, making many trips back and forth to the woods with my tunnel-like humane traps baited with peanut butter. I can’t kill them. They will take their chances in the leaf litter under the trees. I’m trying to ignore the tawny owl fledglings in the branches above, still being fed by harassed parents. I feel slightly guilty. But watching the mice run when I let them out, I think they stand a fair chance of surviving.

Meanwhile, I’m steadily working my way through the apples. My mother always says, if you’ve got an apple, you’ve got a pudding. It can be an apple pie, a crumble, a cake, or if you are pressed for time, just apple purée with lashings of creamy custard, or Devon clotted cream. A special treat.

Today’s recipe is another family favourite, an apple tray bake which is quick and easy to make and tastes of autumn. As usually, I’m recording it here for my children, in case they can’t find the scraps of paper these recipes are written on. It’s so lovely to see my grandmother’s best copper plate hand writing, as she lovingly wrote these recipes for me. Food, and cooking, bring back such special memories, don’t they.

 

APPLE AND ALMOND SLICE:

INGREDIENTS – FOR THE TOPPING

 

30g butter or vegan margarine

30g SR flour

25g golden caster sugar

2 tbsp. Jumbo oats

1/2 tsp cinnamon

25g flaked almonds

METHOD

Mix the butter, flour and sugar together. Fold in the cinnamon, oats and flaked almonds to make a crumble topping. Place in the fridge while you make the base.

INGREDIENTS FOR THE BASE

150g SR flour

200g golden caster sugar

200g butter or margarine

3 eggs ( or use 6 tbsp. soya oat drink if vegan)

100g ground almonds

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp almond extract

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 large apples slices and tossed in lemon juice

100g any other fruit you have; blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, plums,

METHOD

Mix the flour, baking power , sugar and butter together. Whisk. Fold in the ground almonds and cinnamon. Add the beaten eggs.

Put half the mixture in the base of the tin. Put apples on top. Add the rest of the base moisture. Press the blackberries or other fruit on the top.

Cover with the crumble topping mixture.

Cook for 40-50 minutes, or until a skewer come out clean.

Gas mark 4, 180C oven, or 160C fan oven.

You’ll need a 20cm tray bake tin, at least 4cm deep, lined with baking parchment.

Put baking paper on top if it is browning too quickly. Leave to cool and slice into fingers.

Can be frozen for 3 months.

Enjoy!

 

You might also like : Review of Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade here :

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/09/27/an-orchard-odyssey-book-review-and-prize-draw/

 

Also The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

I’ll leave you with a photo of my 1930s summerhouse, looking autumnal today. There’s heaps of blankets to keep us warm when the temperatures start to dip. It’s quite cosy in here though.

The Light in the Dark- book review and prize draw

The Light in the Dark- A Winter Journal

Horatio Clare

Published by Elliott&Thompson

£9.99 ISBN: 978-1-78396-462-8

There have been times when I’ve stood and stared in despair at the depths of human cruelty. One winter, in a muddy field on the boundaries of our village, I came upon a heartbreaking sight. Four ponies lay, dumped, one on top of the other, their necks broken, legs tangled. Filthy, caked in mud, flea ridden, they had literally been tipped out of a truck and left in a pile. Such sickening callousness. It’s a sight that will never leave me. Sadly, the perpetrators were never found. I raged for a long time. Such a senseless act. Why couldn’t they just have handed them over to someone who’d care. It made me unhappy for a very long time. Then one day on twitter, I saw an appeal for a pony called Eggsy. He’d been abandoned, left to starve, and was in a very poor state. But this time, the story has a happy ending. Carol Caton rescued him and set up a Go Fundme page for support. Since then, I’ve been regularly sending funds their way. I couldn’t help the ponies dumped as if they were unwanted trash. But I can help Carol. There’s a link at the bottom of the blog if you’d like to learn more.

What has prompted me to tell you this story? Well, in Horatio Clare’s new book, The Light in the Dark, he writes about his own sad discovery. I won’t spoil the book by revealing the details. Suffice to say he describes the discovery as “a nauseous thump in the gut, and a sudden hard drum of the heart as the world narrows, my vision tunnelling.” Travelling to his mother’s farm to face the crisis he says “Somewhere between Newtown and Llandrindod a rage bursts in the pit of me, a howling, violent thing exploding, and the furies come screaming out, and I roar in the car.”

But, the book is not all about grief and tragedy. It is a story of hope. It’s about overcoming the pain and sadness in life, and finding a way through the dark.

“Let grief be a fallen leaf, at the dawning of the day. Let grief be a fallen leaf, I think. There is much to do. And indeed, the days that followed the winds blew, the leaves fell and winter’s occupation began. ”

The Light in the Dark is a journal written from October to March. It’s a deeply moving account of surviving depression. Seasonal sadness, the winter blues, depression are widespread in the cold, dark months. Horatio Clare struggles to eat, to sleep, to work. But by “looking outwards, by being in and observing nature,” we can all learn to celebrate winter. It is magical to witness how the natural world becomes his salvation.

It’s impossible to put the book down. We are travelling on Clare’s journey, sharing moments of despair and joy. Beautiful words carry us along.

The book more than shines a light in winter, it beams! A brilliant, radiant, glowing light. For many, it will be a beacon of hope, leading the way to spring.

Please feel free to share this post. Leave a comment if you’d like to be included in the prize draw. The publishers have one copy to give away. Names will be randomly selected.

Links : https://eandtbooks.com/book/light-dark-winter-journal

Eggsy : https://www.gofundme.com/f/z8gpxg

Eggsy on twitter https://twitter.com/eggsypony

An Orchard Odyssey- Book Review and Prize Draw

By Naomi Slade

Published by Green Books

Hardback 224 pages £24.99

ISBN: 978-0-85784-326-5

There are many things in life I’m not able to change at the moment. I’m sure some of you will be feeling the same. I am worried and unsettled by what’s happening in the UK, and around the world. I feel as if I’m just watching and waiting for people in power to start making some sensible decisions- or decisions I understand at least.

Focussing on something positive, I’ve decided to plant fruit trees. Reading through Naomi Slade’s book, An Orchard Odyssey, there’s hope written on every page. To plant a tree is to believe in a better future. I’m planning a community orchard. Something to bring people together. Sharing and caring is the way forward. I’ve been mulling this over for a while, and Naomi’s book gives me the answers I need to take the first steps.

It’s fascinating and reassuring to hear about restoration projects for old orchards. There’s a renewed interest in traditional methods of orchard management and on locally grown and heritage fruit . “Orchards are increasingly being reclaimed by communities and used in new ways. Not only are they a social resource, but as an archetype of sustainable agriculture there is also potential for enterprise, skills acquisition and learning activities- all on the back of biodiversity.”

I’m keen to know more about newly- planted orchards providing a shared resource and the book has a section on how to make a community orchard happen. There’s tips on creating a plan, getting local support, forming a group and thinking about management. There are activities for children and encouraging wildlife with log piles and bee hotels. Using the site as an exhibition area for local artwork sounds inspiring too.

I’ve been involved with many school gardens, designing and project managing builds. It’s something I loved doing. Naomi gives many fresh ideas, practical suggestions on planting and selecting varieties. What she also emphasises is that anyone can grow fruit. With modern dwarfing root stocks, fruit trees can be grown in small spaces. There are types which can be grown in a pot. You don’t even need a garden, some varieties can be grown on a balcony.

Naomi’s beautifully- illustrated book is packed with practical advice written with enthusiasm and passion. Sections on the history of orchards, the origins of apples, and gardening through the ages, contrast with modern breeding projects to develop new varieties and ways to combat pests and diseases.

Reading Naomi’s book should really be on prescription. It’s a joy. A few hours reading and my feeling of calm and sense of equilibrium has returned. Of course, the problems of the world have not gone away. But I feel as if I can do something to make a difference – even if it is planting just one tree. We have to believe small gestures, kindness, a willingness to make things better, actually work. I believe it works magic. What do you say?

The publishers have offered one copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be included. No purchase is necessary, there’s no cash alternative and the publisher’s decision is final. Names will be randomly selected.

links: Green Books https://www.greenbooks.co.uk/an-orchard-odyssey

Dancing with Bees – A Journey Back to Nature

by Brigit Strawbridge Howard

Book Review – and prize draw copy to win.

Chelsea Green Publishing

Hardback £20

Publication date: September 5th 2019

Photo: bees in my garden on a seashells cosmos flower.

In early spring, the first sound we hear when we wake up is the hum of bumble bees. They nest in the eaves above our bedroom window, and their comings and goings are a constant source of joy and interest. We worry when it’s cold and wet and they don’t emerge till late. We know when it’s going to be warm and sunny -they are up and about at dawn. Our bees are our own little barometers, and we would miss them if they didn’t arrive each year. Yet we realise we know little about them. We are ashamed to say we don’t know what type of bees they are. My grandfather, who loved nature and worked the land, would have known all about them. How I dearly wish I could ring him up and ask him 50 questions, as I did when I was a child.

Like so many others, we have been preoccupied with work, mortgages, family, children’s schoolwork, then university – then watching our children leave and make their way in the world. Suddenly we realise we have become somehow disconnected with the natural world. We haven’t had time to stop and study. It’s all going on around us, we just haven’t been taking enough notice.

Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s latest book, Dancing with Bees, is a heartwarming story about reconnecting with nature. Bridget regularly used to walk to work, up and over the Malvern Hills from West Malvern to Great Malvern along well-trodden paths edged with wild flowers. But she describes being “So preoccupied with the chattering in my own mind, and getting to work on time, that I was oblivious to the abundant and diverse wildlife afforded by this wonderful mosaic habitat that surrounded me.

“How had I fallen so out of touch with the natural world that I now noticed the changing seasons more by how many layers of clothing I needed to wear to keep me warm ( or cool) than by how many leaves the trees were wearing?”

Brigit is shocked to find she cannot confidently name more than half a dozen of the trees she has just walked past on her way to work. She has “stopped noticing them.”

Her well-written book documents Brigit’s personal journey to make up for lost time and re-embrace nature. Facts about nature- and bees in particular – are woven into a diary of her daily life, making a garden and planting an allotment. Brigit describes some of the bees she identifies and watches them as they forage for food and make nests.

“Having a relationship with the rest of nature is about opening our hearts, our minds, and ourselves, knowing that we can, if we wish, rekindle our lost connections, because somewhere deep inside us all, there lives a little spark of ‘wild’ just waiting to be ignited.”

Dancing with Bees is an engaging book, written from the heart. We can’t fail to be swept along by Brigit’s enthusiastic endeavour. We want to learn more, and she gives us the information we need in an easy to read format. At the same time, it’s a very personal story, and one we might all recognise. We could, and should, take more notice of our surroundings and take time out from our frantic busy lives to reconnect with the natural world around us. It’s a message I’m certainly going to take note of.

Notes:

About the author: Brigit Strawbridge Howard is a wildlife gardener and naturalist. Brigit writes, speaks and campaigns to raise awareness of the importance of native wild bees and other pollinating insects. She lives in North Dorset with her husband Rob.

Links: Dancing with Bees https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dancing-Bees-Brigit-Strawbridge-Howard/dp/1603588485

ISBN: 978 1 60358 848 5

Leave a comment below to be included in a prize draw for one copy of Dancing with Bees. A name will be randomly selected, “pulled out of a hat” by the publishers and sent out by them. Please also leave a message if you do not want to be included. All comments are welcome. Please feel free to share this blog post. Thank you.

Gardening On the Menu -Book Review

MARTIN AND Jill FISH

2QT Ltd (Publishing ) rrp £15.99 -or £12.95 plus £3.95 postage direct from Martin.

ISBN: 9781912014569

This week I made the most delicious chocolate cake I’ve ever tasted, and it had a surprising ingredient: Beetroot! You couldn’t taste the beetroot, but it created a really moist and flavoursome cake.

Here’s the recipe, taken from Martin and Jill Fish’s new book Gardening on the Menu.

Ingredients

30g cocoa powder

180g plain flour

2 tsp baking powder

225g caster sugar

Pinch of salt

225g beetroot, boiled until tender and left to cool

200ml sunflower oil

1tsp vanilla essence

3 eggs, beaten

100g plain chocolate, chopped small in a food processor

2lb loaf tin, greased and lined.

Method

Sieve the flour, salt and cocoa powder together in a bowl. Stir in sugar and chocolate.

Peel and finely grate the betteroot. I whizzed it in a food processor then added the oil, eggs and vanilla essence and whizzed some more.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Pour in the beetroot mixture. Fold in slowly and don’t over-work.

Pour the batter into a prepared loaf tin and cook at 180C, 160C (fan oven) gas 4 , for 1- 1 1/4 hours. It is cooked when a skewer comes out clean. I placed tin foil over the cake after 45 mins as it was burning on top. Leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, then turn out on a wire rack to cool. Sprinkle top with icing sugar.

I found mine kept for 2 days – it was so tasty everyone dived in and ate it! I froze some to see if that worked, and it was fine.

Here I am adding the beetroot mixture to the dry ingredients.

Looks a lovely colour

lovely for a picnic in the garden. Travels well, wrapped in foil.

I’m going to try the next recipe in the book – beetroot chutney, which looks delicious.

Martin Fish, who ran his own nursery, and presents gardening programmes on tv and radio, gives talks all around the country on growing all kinds of fruit and vegetables. For the last few years, his wife Jill has joined him for a talk called Gardening on the Menu. The cookery and gardening book is based on their talk.

Martin has been growing vegetables since he was a teenager and he draws on his many years of practical experience to give easy-to-follow tips and advice on getting the best from your crops.

Jill shares her selection of family favourites with recipes including roasted feta stuffed onions, red onion marmalade, parsnip cake, chilli jam, apple flapjack trifle, and raspberry chocolate pots.

Strawberry and Chocolate Muffins with a Cheesecake Topping

Toffee Apple Pie

Tomato Soup

Martin gives expert advice on choosing the varieties to grow, and how to get the best crops. There’s useful advice on what to do when things go wrong including how to deal with pests and diseases.

Here they are, giving a growing/ cookery talk and demonstration. I met them last summer when they spoke at a Rainbows Hospice fund-raising festival lunch.

Photo credit: the last five photos are by Jill and Martin Fish.

A really useful book, helping you grow better crops and showing you what to do with bountiful harvests. Highly recommended.

Links: www.martinfish.com

E mail : Martin@martinfish.com

Martin was show director for Harrogate Flower Show for five years, and now writes for various publications including the weekly Garden News and broadcasts for the BBC Radio Nottingham and BBC Radio York.

I have one free copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be included. Do also say if you don’t want to be included in the draw. All comments are welcome. Please feel free to share this post.

The Cotswold Wildlife Park – A Celebration of the Gardens

BOOK REVIEW

By Harriet Rycroft and Tim Miles

Produced by Reef Publishing for Cotswold Wildlife Park

£18 inc p&p.

Looking through the mansion window, I see a pretty stone terrace, balustrading covered in rambling roses, mighty English oak trees in the distance. And a rhinoceros. Or two. I’m at the Cotswold Wildlife Park and it’s not your traditional garden view!

I can hear blackbirds, robins -and yes, there’s a lion’s roar, and black siamang gibbons “whooping.” I’m having a special behind the scenes tour with head gardener Tim Miles and gardener and writer Harriet Rycroft.

Tim and Harriet have spent the past 18 months working on a new book The Cotswold Wildlife Park- A Celebration of the Gardens. And there’s plenty to celebrate. The gardens are a paradise of exotic plants, special trees and shrubs, and wild flowers.

Photo: Front cover.

There are more than 250 species of animals and birds living at the wildlife park where important conservation and breeding work is being undertaken. The star attraction is undoubtably the white rhinos – saved from poachers in Africa, and now producing offspring.

Photo: my i-phone pic of page 60 in the book. Original photo credit: Harriet Rycroft.

Rhinos appear to have free rein in the parkland setting, but in fact, their paddock is ringed by a ha ha. It means there are no fences. They can clearly be seen from all surrounding paths. When I say “clearly seen,” I might add that the paths meander around flower beds containing thousands of ornamental onions, Allium hollandicum Purple Sensation, and grasses such as Stipa gigantea (giant oat grass) and cultivars of Miscanthus and Cortaderia (pampas grass). It’s rather a wonderful combination. Rhinos and alliums. You’ll not see that anywhere else in the world.

Planting provides browse material for many species, but also, importantly, shelter for the animals. This might be shade from summer sunshine, or protection from wind and rain. Planting must, of course, let visitors see into enclosures, but it is so exhuberant that the the lines are blurred between visitors, animals and the wider landscape.

I did manage to get a good look at African Spoonbills and Madagascan Teal. But if they wanted to hide from me, they could.

It is interesting to see trained fruit trees along the walled garden enclosures. There’s a perfectly-pruned fig, and around the corner there are espalier cherry and pear trees, fruiting kiwi and grape vines. Bamboo, a favourite fodder for many animals, grows inside and outside of the enclosures, again blurring the boundaries between them.

In the Tropical House I spy a Linne’s Two-towed Sloth. It’s the first time I’ve seen one. He’s nestled in amongst the foliage, rubber plants (Ficus elastica) cheese plants (Monstera deliciosa) and bromeliads and orchids. Branches of oak provide “perches” and there’s an illusion that house plants have “escaped” to take root in this mini-jungle. In a fascinating insight into the relationship between keepers and gardeners Tim explains that any plant plagued with pests such as greenfly, is given to the keepers to be placed in the Tropical House. Exotic birds clean up the plants by eating the pests. A win-win situation all round. Natural pest control at its best.

Continuing the tropical theme, in the protection of the Walled Garden, there’s palm trees, bananas and cannas interplanted with dahlias, Begonia luxurians and Begonia fuchsioides. Plants overspill onto the paving so you don’t notice the concrete kerbs. Creeping plants such as Tradescantia, Plectranthus and Verbena cascade and intermingle.

Phormiums, banana plants and bedding such as geraniums and coleus (solenostenum) provide a contrast in form, colour and texture.

Container planting features fuchsias, begonias, scented pelargoniums, trailing Scaevola Sapphire, twining Thunbergia African Sunset, nemesia- and even a Protea cynaroides (king protea). It’s rightly described as a “theatre with plants.”

There’s a conservatory- leading to the Bat House and Reptile House- where I spotted a pretty pink Cantua buxifolia.

Some sort of pink grevillea also thrives in the protection of the glass.

I’m still searching for the name of this pretty blue flowering plant. Let me know if you have a name for it. It’s rather lovely to visit a garden and find something you haven’t seen before.

No surface seems to be left without cover. This is the end wall of the rhino house, smothered in golden-flowering Fremontodendron California Glory.

We just throw our weeds in a compost bin, but certain weeds growing at the park provide food for the animals. Giant tortoises love stinging nettles, and goose grass or cleavers are relished by some of the herbivorous reptiles. Banana leaves are popular with stick insects and locusts, but are also given to squirrel monkeys. Honey treats are stuck to the leaves. The monkeys have fun picking off the treats, and then spend time cleaning themselves of the delicious sticky honey.

Gardeners don’t just get requests for plant material for food and nesting; prunings such as lavender and rosemary provide useful enrichment / active entertainment for the lions. Keepers fill bags with the clippings to make giant catnip toys.

With so many rare and glorious plants, the gardens at Cotswold Wildlife Park are a delight to visit all year round. Visiting transports you to another world. A world that’s been created with imagination and passion. There’s nowhere else quite like it.

All pics, apart from the front cover and the baby rhino, are i-phone photos from my head gardener tour.

Links:

Harriet and Tim’s book is available from Cotswold Wildlife Park https://shop.myonlinebooking.co.uk/cotswoldwildlifepark/shop/product-list.aspx?catid=8