Thank you to everyone who read my review of Andrew Timothy O’Brien’s new book ‘To Stand and Stare’ published by Dorling Kindersley. The publishers kindly gave me two copies to give away.
The winners are Anna, and also Gill Watson. Please could you e mail me your addresses for the copies to be sent out. firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s a long time since I shared any photos of my lockdown kitten, Monty. No longer a kitten, but known to everyone as Monty K. He’s got ‘standing and staring’ down to a fine art. He’s still such a good companion in the potting shed and garden and follows me around everywhere. We hadn’t intended to get another cat, but when vets cancelled all the spaying operations there was an explosion of kittens in our village and surrounding area. We only got to see photos of Monty before he arrived, due to the covid rules, and we had no idea he would be a long-haired cat! Isn’t he gorgeous. A lot of brushing goes on with that coat! Otherwise, there’s brambles and dried grass all in a tangle around his ears.
I’ve ‘adopted’ two cats at Shropshire Cat Rescue. We can’t have any more here as Monty wouldn’t tolerate another feline, so I’m sending money to support two of the charity’s resident cats. More about this later!
Meanwhile… here’s a few Monty kitten photos, which is an indulgence really, but a nice reminder of when he arrived.
Have a great gardening week everyone! Thanks again for reading the blog and keeping in touch. It’s always appreciated. Karen.
Andrew Timothy O’Brien describes planting a tulip as ‘like planting hope and promise.’ I rather like this idea. In fact, the whole book suits me, with its gentle, encouraging, quiet style of gardening. There is nothing shouty about this book. It’s something to take to a corner, curl up, forget the world, and just ‘be’ for a while, immersed in the glory of plants, gardening and the process of growing beauty.
The title is part of the ‘how-to’ message in the book. There’s how to sow a seed, how to water a plant, deadhead a rose, hear a bird. And of course there’s how to ‘stand and stare.’ It’s a contrast to all the urgent, bossy, fast-paced, singing and dancing, ‘must-do’ messages we see every day on social media. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up. It’s hard not to feel left behind and out of touch. O’Brien, with his gentle philosophy reminds us to reflect on why and how we garden. It’s not to compete and keep up, but to find the joy in growing food and flowers -our way.
O’Brien writes; “ When it came to writing this book, I didn’t think the world needed another ‘How to Garden’ title- there’s a wealth of information out there expounding upon the many tasks that it’s all to easy to make your garden about. But there’s not so much about how you might like to be when you’re out there, at one with the plants and the wildlife and the weather. I’ve come to appreciate that an understanding of natural processes is the key to accessing the transformative power of the garden, and replacing feelings of confusion, overwhelm, and stress with focus, a sense of inner peace, and an increased facility to deal with what life throws at us on a daily basis. With a view to this, over the next few hundred pages, I’m going to invite you to think like a plant. And we are going to start from the ground up.”
When planting bulbs, O’Brien reminds us to “Breathe in, hold for a moment then, slowly and with some noise, breathe out. Open the bag; by rights it should be labelled ‘Hope & Promise’, but something like ‘Tulips’ or ‘Lilies’ is perhaps more likely and, really it’s all the same.”
O’Brien strikes just the right note in a world full of conflict and worry. I can conjure up the scenes he creates. I’m happy to stand and stare with him. It’s a balm for our times, and very soothing for the soul. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
“A pause. A breath. A moment for a thought.” Wise words. Don’t you agree?
The publishers have offered one copy for readers of this blog. Please leave a comment below to be entered in the prize draw. Thank you, as ever, for coming to my blog and reading my reviews and musings. It’s much appreciated. You are among 300 people taking a look here each day. And I’m am very grateful for your time.
Should any of you want to read a book which makes you laugh from start to finish, look no further than Tamsin Westhorpe’s new memoir ‘Grasping the Nettle.’
Tamsin spent her childhood mostly outdoors, by all accounts and her weekends, and after-school activities were often spent collecting snails and creepy crawlies, some she kept as pets. It was the perfect start in life for someone who would make horticulture their career. And what a career she’s had, starting with work on a plant nursery, time as an interior plant landscaper, and after college, a spell as a gardener for Bournemouth parks department and bowling greens.
Along the way, she writes about the colourful characters she meets, and the scrapes she gets into. I’m still holding my breath after reading about the clapped-out Land Rover she bought which would only start from the top of a hill, and had virtually no brakes!
Tamsin bought the rust bucket Land Rover from Southampton docks where it had been used for ferrying fish. Consequently, well you can imagine the pong!
“Fortunately for me and my newest fishy acquisition, the bungalow was at the top of a steep gravel drive. Without it I’d never have got to college. The Land Rover, which I had affectionately and very appropriately named Delilah (‘Why, why, why did I buy you?), regularly wouldn’t start but releasing the hand brake on the slope and turning the key seemed to do the trick. However stressful this daily event was, I couldn’t help but feel happy sitting in the driving seat looking over the bonnet. Now that the fishmonger’s logo had been removed, I felt like a proper horticultural student. On arrival at college- thankfully only about a mile from home- I would never experience actually turning the engine off. Stalling just as I reached my parking space was the norm. It wasn’t until I had a proper car that I realised how poor the brakes were, but thankfully I never went very far or fast.”
We’ve all had trouble starting pull-cord lawnmowers and machines. During her time at Bournemouth Parks department, Tamsin had a bit of trouble with a very heavy cantankerous leaf blower. Trying to start it while being watched by an audience of dog walkers and families heading to the beach was embarrassing to say the least.
“There was no way I could fail, so I learned to be determined and discovered how to cope with a flooded engine. I also understood why steel toe-capped boots are important- to kick power tools! On some days when the blower just wouldn’t start, instead of admitting my failings I would go hell for leather with the witch’s broom. Looking back now, I suspect I fooled no one as the engine was cold to the touch when my colleagues loaded it up into the Transit.”
Tamsin continues her story weaving in all the characters and places she’s worked, from college as a horticultural teacher, to Japan as a lecturer, on to writing for a magazine and becoming an editor. All along the way, the story is peppered with delightful observations, showing Tamsin’s joyful sense of humour and determination to succeed, whatever obstacles are put in her way, mechanical, human or animal.
Bringing things up to date, Tamsin is now a hands-on gardener at her family garden Stockton Bury in Herefordshire which regularly features in the round-up of the best UK open gardens. Tamsin also writes for newspapers and magazines and lectures at home and abroad- making her audiences laugh with tales of life spent doing something she’s completely passionate about- gardening. I think we all know that feeling of being happiest with our hands in the soil.
Congratulations, Tamsin on writing such a sparkling, charming, thought-provoking read. It had me in stitches from start to finish. I haven’t laughed so much in ages. And I learned a lot more about what it’s like to make your way in the world when you choose a life outdoors.
I’m sure Tamsin has started many more people on the path to horticulture through her wit and passion for the subject. It’s a delightfully realistic and thoroughly inspiring book.
Thank you for reading my review. There’s one copy to give away. Please leave your comments below and a name will be randomly selected by Sunday 6pm.
The winner is: Darran Jaques. Names were put into a random generator and computer selected.
The next book up for review and giveaway is the stunning and unusual The Flower Yard by Arthur Parkinson. Pages are full of exotic tulips and jewel-coloured dahlias and, it has to be said, lovely little bantam hens! Coming soon…
Meanwhile, here’s some more photos of lilies from Naomi’s book, as quite honestly one can’t have enough pictures of lilies to drool over. They are absolutely glorious. Enjoy your week everyone, and thanks for reading my blog and getting in touch. It’s always appreciated.
Lilies is published by Pavilion RRP £25. Photographs by Georgianna Lane.
Growing fruit, vegetables and herbs doesn’t require acres of ground. In fact, you can grow virtually anything in pots, on a balcony and even indoors- if you just have the right techniques and equipment. In Lucy Hutchings’ new book, Get Up and Grow, there’s tips on everything you need to step up your gardening to a new level and grow whatever you fancy in a fresh and exciting way. Judging by the photos in Lucy’s book, the results will not only be a feast for the table, but a feast for the eyes too. Everything looks absolutely stunning.
Here’s a selection of my favourite projects from the book:
More projects from the book. Lucy, a former couture jewellery designer, is @shegrowsveg on instagram and writes a blog at http://www.shegrowsveg.com
The book covers the basics of potting up, using lights, feeding, watering and trouble-shooting. Perfect for beginners, or more experienced gardeners looking for a bright and modern new way to garden. The ‘suppliers list’ at the end of the book is also quite a revelation with lots of suggestions I’d never even thought of. I can’t wait to get started on my own growing projects. With Lucy’s step-by-step illustrations and clear instructions, I should soon be growing kokedama oranges, having a go at hydroponics and making a ‘living wall.’ I’ll report back on my progress!
Thanks for reading my blog.
The publishers have kindly offered one copy for a prize draw. Please leave comments below to be included in the draw. A name will be randomly drawn on Sunday, 23 May at 6pm. There will be nothing to pay and I will contact you from my e mail which is email@example.com.
Published by Quadrille, an imprint of Hardie Grant Publishing
RRP £26 Published spring 2021. Hardback. 272 pages
ISBN 978 1 78713 6359
At about five or six, I was given the task of ‘collecting the mint.’ My grandmother, who was cooking lunch, had a huge patch of mint in her farm garden. Basket in hand, I carefully plucked the sprigs of mint and laid them neatly in rows, tips all the same way. No higgledy piggledy stems for me. Even at that young age, I took things seriously. Given a task, I wanted to do it right. I smile now, looking back at what a serious little girl I was. The first grandchild, surrounded by adults, there were no siblings or cousins for five years. I listened intently to all the adults talking and took in every word. Through their conversations, I formed a view of the world. Many years later I can still hear their voices quietly reporting the day’s events, whispering a neighbour’s misfortune, a sadness, a death. Murmuring sorrow for some, and joy for another- a wedding, a birth, some good fortune achieved. Conversations at the kitchen table brought the world into the home. I listened and learned, but cocooned in the routine of work, gardening, farming, cooking and eating, nothing appeared to change for us. It seemed as if everything happened to other people, but my world stayed the same, stable and safe.
The scent of fresh-picked mint still has the power to transport me back to happy childhood days. My mint was sprinkled over home grown new potatoes, tiny and white, as shiny as pebbles, with creamy home-churned butter and a sprinkle of grainy salt. Something so simple, delicious and ultimately, memorable.
This last 12 months, many of us have found comfort in baking. Focussing on the past, perhaps I’ve attempted to bring back the security and safety I felt as a child. I’ve found myself cooking hearty soups, casseroles, and vegetable pies. The spicy, buttery Welsh cakes my Welsh grandmother cooked on a griddle. Rice puddings, fruit crumbles and sponge cakes. Separated from family and friends, these old favourite recipes have been a comforting presence. Sights, sounds and scents of cooking, recalled as if they were only yesterday.
However, we have now emerged from lockdown, and I’m looking for a new way forward. I’m keen to try new recipes and new ideas. I’m eager to welcome family and friends back into my home and garden and I’m looking forward to making new memories for them- and for me. While not forgetting all the echoes from the past.
Mark Diacono’s new book ‘Herb, a cook’s companion’ is a good starting place. Recipes such as Lemon Thyme and Leek Tart have a rich butter and egg pastry base with a leek and cream filling. Lemon thyme leaves and nutmeg add a delicious twist to a familiar recipe.
Here’s my first attempt. I must admit, it’s not perfect. My pastry needed to be folded over more firmly, as the lovely egg filling escaped over the side. My second attempt was better and everything held firm. I’ve never thought of adding herbs to the pasty base before, and it was a triumph. The lovely buttery lemon-thyme pastry melts in the mouth. A perfect complement to the leek and creme fraiche filling. Again, adding nutmeg and bay leaves lifts this recipe out of the ordinary. It looks beautiful too. Presentation is something I’m trying to improve on. This looks as good as it tastes and received thumbs up from the family.
Greek Herb Pie.
Mark says: “This Greek summer favourite, aka Spanakopita, is so worth making a delicious regular. Heavy with spinach, salty feta and crisp laminations of filo, it’s as good cold as hot, early in the day as late. This version nudges the spinach (which can be a bit of a grump at times) towards the cheerful with the brightness of dill and mint in generous quantities, and parsley anchoring the leeks to the cheese. A delight.”
Herb Soda Bread
A buttermilk, oat and wholemeal flour bread, with a small bunch of chives or sweet cicely, or either of the savories, finely chopped.
Lemon Lavender Meringues
A twist on the usual meringue recipe. Between 5 and 8 lavender heads are whizzed with caster sugar in a spice grinder and added to whisked egg whites and lemon zest.
Fig Leaf and Lemon Verbena Rice Pudding.
Even my family favourite rice pudding is given a new lease of life with the addition of fig-leaf infused milk and lemon verbena leaves. Such a lovely change from the usual.
The book covers how to grow and harvest herbs and how to preserve them in sugar, vinegar, oil and salt, and how to dry and freeze them.
There’s comprehensive coverage of choosing what to grow, how to grow herbs from seed, taking cuttings, propagation and planting out. There’s full plant descriptions of many popular herbs such as anise hyssop, Korean mint, basil, bay, chervil, chives and parsley for example. Then there’s suggestions for more unusual plants such as shiso or perilla – which I’ve always grown as a purple ornamental bedding plant. Seems it can be added to salads and used with recipes containing aubergines, grilled or barbecue prawns, and with eggs and avocado. I shall experiment!
Following the growing section, there’s recipes featuring soups and side dishes, main meals, puddings, biscuits and drinks. There’s something surely to please everyone – especially people like me, looking for a special dish to make for friends and family, as we start to reconnect.
The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment in the box below to be included in the prize draw. A winner will be randomly selected. International entries are welcome.
Please look back on Wednesday 5th May to check if you have won a copy. I’ll announce it on the blog. (Please do not give out your address or any other details to anyone. Be aware of scams.)
Have you found cooking a source of comfort over the lockdown times? Are you, like me, looking to try something new this year, as we start to feel more positive and move forward. Get in touch and let me know your thoughts. And thank you, as ever, for reading my blog. It’s always appreciated.
* comments box is right at the bottom of the blog, past all the hashtags. Or click on ‘comments’ under the headline.
Would SHIRLEY please get in touch. You left a comment on the blog for Naomi Slade’s new book Hydrangeas and you have won a copy. Many thanks for taking part in the prize draw. The publishers selected your name in a random draw. All the best, Karen at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m very grateful to all the gardening suppliers and companies offering prizes for readers. I love trying new ideas. I’ll try anything, providing it is suitable for organic gardening and doesn’t harm any living creature. I never accept payment for trying the samples. I prefer to be free to give my honest opinion.
Thank you also for reading and for leaving comments. Look out for more gardening books on the horizon, a Hozelock liquid feed kit, some Japanese Niwaki garden secateurs and some new organic pest and weed control products. It’s interesting to see what’s available for gardeners in modern times. My grandfather would have been amazed by the wide choice of products. He would have loved trialling them as much as I do. Things certainly have changed since he gardened in the 1940s and 1950s. Many products make life a lot easier, all round.
Photo: my i-phone photo of Hydrangea Bluebird from Naomi Slade’s new book.
Having a beautiful book to read has helped me cope with the Covid Lockdown. Learning about favourite plants, and how to grow them, has given me something positive to focus on. And there is nothing more colourful and wonderfully inspiring than ‘Hydrangeas’ by Naomi Slade.
Photo: Hydrangea Polestar.
Naomi brings the subject of hydrangeas right up to date by focussing on the very latest plant breeding successes. Polestar, for example, only grows to a height of 50cm and is compact enough for a container. It’s one of the earliest to flower, and in my garden it’s in bloom from early June and continues right through to October. Even in winter, the papery, dried flower heads hold interest, as snow and frost settle on them. Truly, if you can have only one hydrangea, this would be the one. It would even fit in a window box or balcony garden.
Photo: Runaway Bride Snow White.
Runaway Bride Snow White, the Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant of the Year in 2018, produces flowers at the tips of the stems, like most other hydrangeas, and also from every leaf node along the stem. Naomi describes it as “airy and graceful, the modest green shrub adorned with pearls and strewn with confetti; a vision of purity that starts off a fresh, green-tinted white, and blushes to pink as maturity takes hold.”
I’ve always wanted to know the background to all these lovely varieties. Naomi selects the best hydrangeas and reveals how they were developed. Runaway Bride is the work of Japanese breeder Ushio Sakazaki who created many bedding plants, including the popular Surfinia petunias. He turned his attention to hydrangeas when he found a remote Asian species in the wild and, seeing its potential, crossed it with common Hydrangea macrophylla. The resulting plant produces wispy ‘lacecap’ flowers from late spring until Autumn. It makes a striking container plant, or would happily cascade over the top of a low wall.
As well as showcasing the latest hydrangeas, Naomi highlights heritage varieties such as the beautiful pale blue Otaksa. This cultivar dates back to the 1820s and was, rather romantically, named by Philipp Franz von Siebold after his Japanese wife. It is suggested the variety might have been naturally occurring and was discovered while Philipp worked as a physician and scientist for the Dutch East India Company in Japan. The couple had a daughter, Kusumoto Ine, who also became a practicing doctor – thought to be the first Japanese woman to have received medical training at this level.
It’s fascinating to learn then, that one of my favourite sky blue hydrangeas, Generale Vicomtesse de Vibraye, is a hybrid of H.m. ‘Otaksa’ crossed with H.m. ‘Rosea.’ Bred by Emile Mouillere in 1909.
The back story of how hydrangeas were discovered, hybridised, and sent to Britain as early as in the 1700s, adds interest to a plant that I’ve always loved, but rather taken for-granted. Naomi’s easy-to-read writing style carries you along and takes you on an international journey from North America, Japan, Korea, China and through Europe. And along the way you’ll learn that in Victorian times, a bunch of hydrangeas left on your doorstep implied the sender thought you a braggart! A rejected suitor might similarly send hydrangeas as a floral slap in the face and accusations of frigidity. Nothing surely would rescue the breakdown in that relationship!
Naomi captures the very essence of hydrangeas and what makes them special. I shall look at my own plants and appreciate them all the more, knowing where they have come from and what work has gone into growing them for today’s gardeners to enjoy.
NOTES: The publishers have one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below to be included in the prize draw. Names will be randomly selected by Pavilion Books.
Naomi Slade is a writer, broadcaster, author, consultant, speaker and photographer. A biologist by training, a naturalist by inclination, and with a lifelong love of plants, she writes regularly for national newspapers, magazines and other gardening media.
Georgianna Lane is a leading floral, garden and travel photographer whose work has been widely published internationally in books, magazines, calendars and greetings cards.
Hydrangeas features50 of the most beautiful varieties from the elegant and airy to the bold and brilliant. There’s tips on growing in pots, hydrangeas as houseplants, feeding, propagating, pruning, and dealing with pests and diseases.
These are i-phone photos of pages of the book for the purposes of the review and, as such, do not do justice to the quality of the photography. Copyright of original photos: Georgianna Lane.
Naomi has a web book shop where there’s signed copies of all her books. There’s a 20 percent off offer on Hydrangeas at the moment, and books are available ahead of the 9th July publication date : http://www.naomislade.com/shop
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.
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 email@example.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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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.
You might also like : Review of Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade here :
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2QT Ltd (Publishing ) rrp £15.99 -or £12.95 plus £3.95 postage direct from Martin.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.