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

Prize draw winners – The Immortal Yew

Tony Hall

Kew Publishing. Hardback. £25

ISBN : 978 1 84246 658 2

One of the pleasures of writing a blog is sharing a love of gardening with like-minded people. Books are also a passion of mine, particularly anything with a horticultural theme. So I was happy to be invited to write a review of The Immortal Yew, written by Kew Gardens manager Tony Hall. Stories of myths and legends surrounding yews dating back 2,000 years had me glued to the pages from start to finish. I was drawn in by the sight of the “lion’s paw” yews flanking the doors at St Edward’s Church, Stow-on-the-wold, a sight said to have inspired JRR Tolkien when he was writing about the gateway to Moria in Lord of the Rings. A photo of these strange, ancient yews provides the cover picture for the book. The publishers, Kew Publishing, very generously offered three copies for a prize draw on the blog. The winners, randomly selected, are Sharon Moncur, Philippa Burrough and Alison Levey. Thanks to everyone who left comments on the blog. If you didn’t win, please keep reading as there are many more books to follow over the next few weeks, including The Wild Remedy by Emma Mitchell, Island Gardens by Jackie Bennett, the English Country House Garden, George Plumptre, Oxford College Gardens, Tim Richardson, and The Christmas Tree by Barbara Segall. Winter is a great time to catch up with reading, before tasks in the garden entice us outdoors again.

To read my review, please click here : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/25/the-immortal-yew-book-review/

What books would you recommend to gardening friends? What are your favourite books?

Links : Immortal Yew https://www.amazon.co.uk/Immortal-Yew-Tony-Hall/dp/1842466585/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1548966993&sr=1-1

Kew Gardens https://www.kew.org/

Kew Publishing https://www.kew.org/files/kew-publishingjpg

Sharon Moncur https://renaissancegardener.org/

Philippa Burrough http://www.ultingwickgarden.co.uk/

Alison Levey https://www.blackberrygarden.co.uk/

Please feel free to share this blog on any social media platform, linking back to this site https://bramblegarden.com/