Herb/ a cook’s companion. Book Review

By Mark Diacono

Published by Quadrille, an imprint of Hardie Grant Publishing

RRP £26 Published spring 2021. Hardback. 272 pages

ISBN 978 1 78713 6359

Reading corner in the orchard, currently under cherry and pear blossom

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.

Garden News Magazine recipes for December

If you’ve received your copy of Garden News Magazine this week, here’s the recipes I mention in my column. Above is the summerhouse where I write my pieces, and where I sit and make my cherry marzipan chocolates.

The recipe link for Cherry Marzipan Chocolates is here :

https://bramblegarden.com/2018/12/04/family-favourite-recipes-chocolate-marzipan-cherries/

They are very quick to make and children love creating them. They make tasty home-made presents for Christmas.

I also write about Chocolate and Orange Panettone. Start saving your tins now to make these delicious treats. They are very easy to make and look beautiful. Get the children to make potato stamp labels. Be as creative as you like. Everyone can get involved.

Here’s the link: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/12/02/christmas-recipes-chocolate-panettone/

I write about turning my satsumas from the greenhouse into a liqueur. The recipe comes from Bob Flowerdew, replying to me on twitter when I asked what I could do with this year’s prolific harvest. It’s been a good summer for growing citrus. Bob always has great suggestions for what to do with produce from the garden, and is generous with his advice.

Here’s Bob’s recipe for Satsuma Liqueur :

And finally, I was talking on the radio last week, when I mentioned I was making Sloe Gin. Here’s the recipe, with thanks to garden writer Barbara Segall, who inspires me on a daily basis to try something new.

Sloe Gin

450g sloe berries -or whatever you can find. If you only have 300g, use those.

350g caster sugar

710ml gin

Kilner jar or lidded jar

Place the ripe sloe berries in the freezer to break the skins. Add all ingredients to a large kilner jar. Swirl the contents every day for a week, every week for a month, and every month for a year. Strain the gin. Use the berries for cakes or trifle.

It’s wonderful to have a bottle on the north-facing kitchen windowsill. Mine has changed colour now and it’s a joy to see. Almost like a stained glass window.

Barbara Segall has written many garden books, all highly recommended. One of my favourites is The Christmas Tree. A beautiful stocking-filler. Find out more here : https://thegardenpost.com/category/christmas-tree-book/

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/The-Christmas-Tree-book-by-Barbara-Segall-NEW-/174501320740?_trksid=p2349624.m46890.l49292

For more suggestions on books, I also recommend The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty. I reviewed the book here:

https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

Here’s a link for Georgie Newbery at Common Farm Flowers for growing cut flowers, floristry and Christmas wreath workshops and courses, in person, and on-line. Vouchers make a great present for any gardener. https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/collections/workshops

Thanks for reading! Have a great week.

Turning Garden Twigs into Christmas Decorations

As a few of you know, I talk on the radio once a fortnight, chatting about what I’m doing in my vegetable and cut flower plot. This week, I tried valiantly to make a few twigs from my garden sound exciting. It really tested my powers of description! Anyway, if you were listening in, here are the photos to go with my interview with Ben Jackson. I was waving my arms around, explaining how you can gather foliage and off-cuts from the garden, make them into a twiggy bouquets, add lights, and plunge them in a pot. I do hope it enthused a few people to have a go and make their own Christmas decorations.

Willow stems, dried oak twigs, pine foliage and Hydrangea Annabelle flower heads with orange lanterns, Physalis alkekengi.

I decorated the hydrangea heads with some florists’ silver spray from Oasis. You only need a tiny amount.

Some old man’s beard, wild clematis vitalba adds a fluffy texture and movement to the arrangement.

Mouldable copper wire fairy lights from supermarkets only costs a few pounds. Mine came from Wilkos and use rechargeable batteries.

Tiny flowers from the hydrangea heads flutter down around me. I scoop them up and use them as table decorations. They are like nature’s confetti.

Wire lights can be threaded through dogwood stems and any greenery from the garden. This ‘bouquet’ of twigs is pushed into a plant pot of garden soil and stood by the front door. It looks like a container full of expensive plants, but in truth, it has cost me nothing. Stems will stay fresh until after Christmas due to cold and wet weather. They can be composted in the new year. So there’s no waste to go into bins.

I’ve used pine, spare Christmas tree stems (the tree was too tall), ivy, dogwood and willow to give height, and skimmia at the front. You could pop some hellebores and white heather either side to cover the base of the pot. If you have plastic pots, why not cover them with hessian to give them a natural look.

Here’s some more ideas using willow. Wind the willow or dogwood into a rough circle and keep adding more stems. Eventually you can pull it into shape and secure it with thin lengths of willow. Kept dry in the shed, wreaths will last for years. Each Christmas, I add new foliage, pine and rosemary for scent, rosy-hued hydrangea heads and clematis seeds. These are simply fed in amongst the willow stems and secured with string or florists’ reel wire.

You can add rosehips and crab apples to the willow frame. Birds tend to enjoy them, so I have to replenish the decorations every day. We were very excited to see some very small birds, possibly long-tailed tits enjoying the clematis seeds. It becomes almost a cross between a Christmas decoration and a bird feeder.

Add whatever you can find in the garden and hedgerow. In this silver birch wreath, I’ve added ivy, with green and black ivy berries, and dried cow parsley seed heads. The wind sometimes blows the clematis across the back fields, but there’s plenty more in the potting shed, ready for the festive season.

These willow stems have been folded over to form a heart. Hold ten stems in one hand. Bend half of them over and tie in the middle. Bend the other half over to form the other side of the heart, and tie in. Tie further up the stems to keep the heart shape secure. Disguise the ties -or the mechanics, as we call them- with a mini bouquet of foliage. Here I’ve used Holly, ivy, Garrya elliptica, hydrangea flowers and a few crab apples.

Willow wreaths don’t always need any decorations at all. A pretty ribbon is all that’s used on this wreath for a simple shepherd’s hut.

I decorate five bar gates around the plot. A single heart is often all that’s needed. It will cheer any Christmas Day revellers, walking along the lane. From this gate we can hear the church bells ringing. The sound carries far across the fields. It’s a wonderful spot to stand and listen for a few moments, mug of tea in hand.

Let me know what decorations you are putting up in your house and garden this year. Will it be old favourites, like mine, or something new? Get in touch and let me know, and thanks, as ever, for reading. Today, I’m celebrating my milestone 100,000 blog visitors. When I started writing, I thought just a handful of people might see my posts. I’m absolutely thrilled to see 100,000 have read about my little plot. Have a great weekend everyone.

Links:

Listen to Radio Leicester, Christmas decorations, at 3.16.57 on the timeline on BBC Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08ymt0t

I learned how to make my wreaths at Common Farm Flowers with Georgie Newbery. Georgie is running online courses and sells wreath -making kits.

https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/collections/workshops

I wrote about Georgie’s courses here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/07/01/online-hand-tie-posy-course-with-georgie-newbery/

There’s also lots of Christmas recipes on the blog. Just scroll down to view them.

Talking on the radio – notes and photos for wednesday 22 July, BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour

I’m still talking on the radio once a fortnight – from the peace and quiet of my potting shed. It’s lovely to be at home rather than having to drive into Leicester. And when the music is playing between chats, I get on with a bit of watering or prick out a few seedlings, and nobody knows.

This week we talk about sweet peas. I’m growing new variety, Ripple Mixed, pictured above. It has mauve, pink, and purple markings on a pale pink background. The scent is strong, and stems are nice and long, making them ideal for cut flower posies. One to keep on my list for autumn sowing. I’m ordering seeds now to ensure I get the varieties I want. This year’s experience of buying plants and seeds – and the long delays receiving them- has taught me to plan ahead and order early.

Here’s a selection of sweet peas I’m putting in jam jars on the village green to raise money for Rainbows Hospice for children and young people. Rainbows cares for children with life-limiting illnesses and nearly all its funding comes from donations. The hospice has lost almost £1 million in fund raising this year, due to events being cancelled because of covid. I put leaflets alongside the flowers, hoping it might encourage someone to learn more about the hospice and make a regular donation. Every little helps.

Here’s the Wiltshire Ripple variety I mention, with its delicate picotee edge. I wouldn’t be without this one. Always a good strong performer.

This is Mayflower 400, another new variety, celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers sailing to the New World. It’s highly-scented and a good strong grower. Long stems, and flowers last a week in a vase.

After talking about flowers, we move on to what I’m growing and harvesting from the plot. Plums are prolific again this year. This is Victoria, delicious and reliable. I’m making jam. It’s such a treat in winter to have a taste of summer. I stand the jars along the kitchen window and admire them. It’s like looking through pink stained glass. Very cheerful on a cold, dark day.

The recipe for plum crumble cakes and plum jam is here : https://bramblegarden.com/2017/08/22/peaches-and-plums-crumble-and-jam/

When my children were little, we fed them apple purée as their first solid food. BBC Radio Leicester programme host Naomi Kent is having a baby in two months, so we talk about the varieties of apple trees she might plant in her new garden.

I’m growing Spartan, a gorgeous deep red apple with a sweet honey taste. Apples are small and numerous, the perfect size for children’s lunch boxes. Lovely for juicing which is a somewhat messy process, but worth the effort.

I also grow Greensleeves (above) for cooking and eating. It’s sweet enough on its own, so you won’t need to add sugar for cakes, purée and puddings. Kept somewhere cool, apples will store until February.

Supermarkets often only sell a few apple varieties, typically Cox, Golden Delicious and Braeburn. Often they’ve been grown abroad and flown in. Sometimes they are coated with chemicals to improve their keeping qualities. And yet, in the UK, we have perfect conditions to grow your own apples. Traditionally, apple trees would have been 6m tall, but plant breeders have produced some compact varieties for small gardens and containers. Lubera have a range of ‘column’ fruit trees which have short side shoots and a narrow, vertical growing habit. I’m growing Malini Top Model which looks as if it will be about 50cm wide and eventually 3m tall. I’m growing it in a large plant pot and it has a good crop of apples in its third year. Lubera also have column types of pear, cherry and plum varieties on their website.

We had record amounts of cherries this year. I’ve been freezing them and preserving them in alcohol for winter treats. There’s a cherry marzipan chocolate recipe mentioned in the links at the end.

My cherry tree is Stella, a self fertile variety bred in Canada and introduced to Britain in the 1960s.

If you’ve got a small garden, opt for a cherry tree on dwarfing Gisela rootstock, which makes a compact tree. It’s much easier to protect trees from frost, if they are small enough to cover with fleece or an old bed sheet.

Good varieties to try include self-fertile Sunburst, Summer Sun and Celeste.

I’m fond of pears too. I have a Conference pear which provides plenty of fruit. If you are short of space, pears are easily trained along a fence or wall, in an espalier shape. Pears need more sunshine and warmth than apples, so it is a good idea to give them the protection of a warm wall. I’m going to plant a Concorde pear on the south wall of the house. Concorde is possibly a more reliable cropper than Conference.

If you have a more shadier garden, and you want to grow fruit, I’ve found success with Morello cherries, damson and quince, and crab apples for making jelly.

As well as apples, pears, plums and cherries, I wouldn’t be without my mini peach trees. I’m growing dwarfing variety Garden Lady and Bonanza in 45cm pots. We don’t get very many peaches yet, but the taste is so delicious and sweet. It’s a special treat to have home- grown ripe and tasty peaches.

I’d love to grow my own apricots. I’ve seen compact varieties Aprigold and Isabelle at nurseries. Our neighbour, Arthur, at our first house, had a fan-trained Moorpark apricot. He never did any other gardening, leaving it all to his wife Dorothy, but every day he fussed over his apricot tree, watered it and covered it up on cold nights. When it produced a magnificent crop each summer, he gave bags of fruit to his neighbours all along the little row of terraced houses. Happy memories of wonderful, kind neighbours. We have been so lucky to always have lovely people living next door.

So, to sum up, you don’t need a huge garden to grow fruit. It is possible to have a whole orchard- in pots on your patio. No need for rolling acres. Dwarfing varieties designed for growing in containers, some large pots, 45cm diameter, and John Innes no3 compost is all you’ll need. Set up an automatic drip watering system, or water the pots every day in summer. I add potash-rich seaweed feed every fortnight, and I refresh the top of the pots, taking out a small amount of compost and adding in some new compost, every year.

What fruit trees are you growing at home. Have you any recommendations for small gardens. Get in touch and let me know how you are getting on with your growing this summer.

Links:

Sweet pea seeds: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Tall_3/Sweet-Pea-Ripple-Mixed-Seeds.html#.XxrSvBB4WfA

Mayflower 400 : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Mayflower-400.html#.XxrS4hB4WfA

My plum jam recipe : https://bramblegarden.com/2017/08/22/peaches-and-plums-crumble-and-jam/

Apple and Almond Slice Recipe: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/11/07/apple-and-almond-slice-family-favourite-recipes/

Cherry marzipan chocolates: https://bramblegarden.com/2018/12/04/family-favourite-recipes-chocolate-marzipan-cherries/

BOOKS TO READ:

An Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade

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

The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty

https://bramblegarden.com/2018/11/18/the-creative-kitchen-book-review/

BBC Radio Leicester : https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08jzr94. Gardening starts at 3.11.48 on the timeline.

BBC Radio Leicester Gardening show. Link to the programme. Starts at 3.14.50

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08dnt84

Talking from the potting shed again, working from home, for the BBC Radio Leicester gardening programme. The gardening section starts at 3.14.50 on the timeline. We had questions from Ash about growing lemon trees. And a question from Christine about growing foxgloves from seed.

Here’s a video from my greenhouse this week. Some of the citrus need cleaning up, but the bees are enjoying the flowers at the moment. The trees will be moved outdoors next week when this unusual cold spell passes and we return to higher temperatures and sunshine. They will do well outdoors in a sheltered place.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy your week. Karen

In a Vase on Monday – revisiting RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Well, we should all be at the Chelsea Flower Show today. But it’s been cancelled, like most spring and summer events. So instead I’m sharing photos from last year. Plants and flower arrangements I made a note of, for my own garden. Enjoy this dip into my photo album.

Kelways Peonies. I love Lemon Chiffon, (cream) Seashell, (pink) Avalanche, (white) Nymph, (pink).

They don’t last long, but such a glorious sight in mid May. I wouldn’t be without peonies.

Lupins from West Country Lupins. Just perfection. I bought this one

And this one. Lupin Masterpiece. Such a glorious plum colour.

David Austin Roses. This one is new variety, Tranquility. Very calming colour.

And new rose Desdemona. Beautiful at all stages from tight bud to wide open. Gorgeous scent. Stands up to the weather really well. Flowers shrug off rain and don’t ‘ball.’ Recommended.

Pinks. This is the new Tequila Sunrise. Lovely changes of colour as the flower ages. Amazing scent.

It’s wonderful to have the pinks side by side so you can compare them. The scent is just amazing in the heat, and contained by the roof of the marquee. A lingering memory of Chelsea.

Some of the amazing flower arrangements at the show. It really is a florists’ paradise.

These were still being created on press day. I stood for a long time watching the process.

This tower of flowers was spectacular.

Close -up detail of the flower-filled tower.

This explosion of foxgloves and cow parsley is my favourite.

Details for this lovely arrangement.

I also studied this arrangement created using test tubes. Really simple and lovely. Simple is what I always go for. As you know.

So I came home and made this from flowers in my garden. Inspired by all the lovely blooms I’d seen at Chelsea. There’s wild daisies, blue corn flowers and cow parsley as a background with green ivy covering the mossy wreath.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this re-visit of last year’s Chelsea Flower Show. I’m going to be watching all the on-line and televised content. This year, it is all about finding ways around problems and learning how to enjoy the things we love. Gardening – growing food and flowers- has been a saving for me. It’s kept me occupied and stopped my thoughts running away. It’s kept be grounded and focussed on keeping calm and helping others. Gardening is also a shared joy. Although we can’t see our friends and family, we can still talk about our gardens and share photos. It keeps us connected, and reminds us we are not alone.

If you listen in to BBC Radio Leicester, send your photos to mid-morning host Ben Jackson. Sharing our gardens is a lovely thing to do. And I’ll be talking about what I’m growing on Wednesdays and Thursdays, alternating with my gardening team member Josie Hutchinson. And also now and again on BBC Radio London.

Links: RHS Virtual Chelsea Show https://www.rhs.org.uk/shows-events/rhs-chelsea-flower-show

Kelways Nursery : https://www.kelways.co.uk/category/peonies/1/

West Country lupins : https://www.westcountrylupins.co.uk/index.html

David Austin Roses :https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/delivery

Join in with the In a Vase on Monday meme and see what eveyone is growing and putting into vases this week, all over the world. : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/05/18/in-a-vase-on-monday-the-jewels-and-the-crown/

BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour 22 April 2020

If you were listening in to BBC Radio Leicester for Gardens Hour today, I’ve written some notes to accompany the programme.

I’m working from home at the moment. The oak tree above has just burst into leaf. I can see the tree from the top of the paddock. The swallows returned here last Wednesday, and we’ve seen pipistrelle bats over the garden.

Blossom has been fabulous this year, with no rain to spoil the flowers. I’m sitting under this Prunus Kanzan cherry tree today to answer questions and talk about my gardening tasks.

We had a question about an apple tree failing to establish.

If your tree is failing to thrive, it usually indicates a problem with the growing conditions. Poor growing conditions will stunt any tree or shrub.

Water any newly -planted trees well. Soil may be dry around the roots even when the surface appears moist. Check with a trowel to see how far the water is penetrating the ground.

Weeds and grass compete with trees for moisture. Keep a weed and lawn -free zone at least 1m in diameter around the plant.

Mulch locks in the moisture and helps feed the tree. Apply a mulch a good couple of inches deep around the tree, avoiding the trunk. (mulch piled up against the trunk can cause ‘drowning,’ so take care it doesn’t get pushed up against the tree).

You can use your own home-made compost or composted bark for the mulch. Do not apply to dry ground, as it can also lock -in drought.

You can place a drainage pipe in the ground alongside the tree at planting time, which helps water reach the roots. However, take care, as too much water can cause water logging, which is also detrimental.

Feed with a potash fertiliser, which promotes fruit and flowers.

Salix Flamingo – wiki commons photo.

We had a question about a Salix Flamingo willow tree failing to thrive. The tree has come into leaf and the leaves have shrivelled.

I’ve found this tree difficult to grow. It’s grown for its new, shrimp pink leaves which emerge in April. These leaves are delicate and easily damaged by cold winds and frost. Too much direct sunshine on emerging leaves can also cause them to shrivel. We have had a combination of high daytime temperatures, cold east winds, and plummeting night time temperatures. In a sheltered garden you would have no problems, but in a slightly more exposed spot, the tree struggles. Also, being from the willow family it requires plenty of moisture. We haven’t had any rain for several weeks and the ground is parched- despite all the record-breaking amounts of rain we’ve had over autumn and winter.

Usually, the tree recovers and produces a new set of leaves to replace the ones that have shrivelled. Watering and throwing some fleece over at night usually nurses it along until we get more even growing conditions in early summer. I’ve known them to suffer from a type of rust, and also canker. But apart from that, they are very pretty trees. They either like you, or they don’t though!

We had a question about a montana clematis failing to flower. This is my clematis Montana Wilsonii. The one the caller had was a pink variety, planted last year and growing in a pot next to an archway. The clematis on the other side of the arch was doing well.

Clematis montana flowers on the previous season’s wood. The caller hadn’t pruned it, but sometimes a montana clematis will take 2-3 years to settle into flowering as its first thought is to grow to the top of the archway.

Clematis don’t do as well in pots, unless they are a really good size and you can keep up with the watering requirements. So it would be best to plant the clematis in the ground and keep it well fed and watered. Potash feed, again, for flowers. And prune immediately after flowering, although I hardly prune my montana clematis to be honest. It’s pretty low maintenance, once established.

And finally, we had a caller wanting to buy a Venus fly trap. They are usually sold at local garden centres, which of course, are not open at the moment. However several are making deliveries, so it’s worth ringing round to source supplies of plants. I’ve found this one on line from QVC. I’ve bought various plug plants, bedding and bird food from QVC and found the service to be quick and reliable. However, I’ve never bought any fly trap plants from them, so can’t say more than I have managed to find a supplier.

I hope you’ve found these notes useful. Please listen in on Wednesdays at 12.30 with Ben Jackson and on Sundays (usually) with Dave Andrews at 1pm on your smart speaker, DAB 104.9FM or on BBC Sounds.

It’s great to be involved with local radio gardening and we try to offer something for experienced gardeners wanting to try new varieties and grow for shows, and also for those who have never grown anything before. All questions welcome. We will try our best to help. I am part of an experienced team.

Comments box is right at the bottom of the page, below hashtags, social media sharing and links.

BBC Sounds to listen back: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p088w205. At 2.37.30 on the timeline.

Links : https://www.qvcuk.com/Thompson%26-Morgan-Dionaea-Muscipula-%28Venus-Fly-Trap%29-9cm-Pot-x3.product.518780.html?sc=Froogle&ref=fgl&source=froogle&utm_source=google&utm_medium=base&utm_campaign=base&cm_mmc=PPCSHOPPING-_-Google_Shopping-_-SmartShopping-_-Garden&Leisure&gclid=CjwKCAjw1v_0BRAkEiwALFkj5nSbQtMrf4di1C69MLikRT3XMgWNUhDGsymlRFAS-4yMUnqRnj5vxRoCm6AQAvD_BwE&

BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour 19 April 2020

Notes for anyone listening to BBC Radio Leicester today. You can send e mails, texts and messages for free gardening advice. I’ve been a travelling head gardener and a garden designer for 25 years. I write for weekly Garden News Magazine. I grow my own fruit, veg and flowers at home on a one acre plot created from a ploughed field. Currently, I’m speaking each week from the potting shed during the corona virus epidemic. Here’s the view from the potting shed, for anyone who likes blossom. Turn up the sound to hear the birdsong.

We cater for everyone. So if you’ve never gardened before and want some essential tips to get started, get in touch. We can help experienced gardeners wanting to grow the latest varieties or try something new. Maybe you want to grow more salads and veg for the family. Or you might fancy the challenge of growing for a “virtual” flower show. We can help.

This week we talk about growing tomatoes. I’m growing classic beefsteak variety Marmande for cooking, and tasty cherry tomato, Tumbling Tom for salads. My plants are 12cm (5″) tall and the roots are coming out of the bottom of the pots, so I’m potting them on. They’ve been growing in 7.5cm (3″) pots and I’m moving them up to 12.5cm (5″) pots. They will eventually go into 25cm (10″) pots and window boxes, but they have to be moved up in stages as tomatoes don’t like lots of cold wet compost around their roots.

Tomatoes like plenty of warmth, so I’ll keep mine indoors until the end of May. Tomato leaves turning yellow could be an indication the plants are getting too cold overnight, especially if they are right next to the greenhouse glass. Move them to the middle of the greenhouse and create a fleece tent to keep temperatures more stable between night and day. Remove fleece promptly in the morning. Alternatively, yellow leaves could mean the plants are running out of feed. Composts usually contain feed for about six weeks. But yellow leaves indicate a lack of nitrogen, so feed with a very dilute tomato fertiliser. Move plants on promptly when the roots have filled the pots. Don’t over water as plants also hate cold wet feet. Use tepid water. Bring the watering can in to the greenhouse to warm up. Cold water causes shock. Tomatoes need warm steady growing conditions and don’t like swings in temperature. Try to water them in the morning so they are not left cold and wet at night. Aim the watering can at the roots and keep the foliage dry.

While I’m stuck at home, I’m looking about to see what I can do to keep connected with the outside world. One thing I’m doing is joining in with the Rainbows 5K challenge.

Rainbows is a hospice in Loughborough, supporting children and young people with life-limiting conditions. They receive only 15 percent of their funding from the government and everything else has to come from donations. The corona virus lockdown means they can’t run all the usual fund-raising events. But the 5K challenge is one way everyone can help out.

You can take part anytime between now and May 31st. I’ll be logging my walking while I’m mowing the grass, weeding, raking, hoeing and plodding about the plot between the greenhouse and potting shed. I am sure digging also counts!

You can also help by tagging rainbows on social media to keep them in the public’s eye by posting photos on Facebook @rainbowsfanpage and on twitter and Instagram @rainbowshospice.

Children and all ages can take part. You can walk, run, hop, skip, cycle. Think of me weeding and cutting the grass for hours on end. At least the garden will look lovely, and it’s all in a good cause!

The National Gardens Scheme is also a charity close to my heart. Mum and I usually spend every Sunday visiting an NGS garden, having a cup of tea and piece of cake and buying a few plants. The lockdown means no gardens are open this summer. But the charity has launched a ‘Support Our Nurses’ campaign with virtual tours and JustGiving pages.

There are three gardens so far featured in leicestershire: Brook End in Wymeswold, with spring blossom, tulips and daffodils and ponds. There’s also Donna’s Garden at Snowdrop Ridge in Market Harborough, which should have opened for the first time this summer. There’s a wonderfully calming goldfish pond video.

Also a ‘walk through’ at Oak House, South Kilworth.

Donations support nurses working for MacMillan and Marie Curie, Hospice UK, Carers Trust, The Queens Nursing Institute. The NGS also helps Parkinson’s UK, Perennial and Horatio’s Garden for spinal injuries.

During the programme I mention our concerns for growers, garden centres and nurseries which are not allowed to open during the lockdown. There are fears many might go out of business with plants having to be skipped. Livelihoods are on the line.

I mention the Garden Centre Association #SupportYourLocalGardencentre campaign at gca.org. There’s a list of garden centres providing local deliveries.

Val and Steve Bradley from BBC Radio Kent, the Sun newspaper, have created a list of growers and nurseries offering mail order and/ or deliveries.

I’ve provided a limited and ever-changing list for Leicestershire here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/04/05/contacts-and-information-to-help-you-through-corona-virus-lockdown/ If you want to be added, please get in touch.

Thank you for joining us at BBC Radio Leicester. These are strange and difficult times for all of us, but we can keep connected through social media and listening to the radio. It’s amazing how we can all help by taking little steps at a time. They all join up to a giant leap forward, don’t you agree. Get in touch and let me know what’s looking good in your garden and how you are getting on during this lockdown time. Are you managing to get on with your gardening? Is your garden providing a calm sanctuary. I know mine is right now.

Links:

Rainbows 5K Challenge : https://www.rainbows.co.uk/events/rainbows-virtual-5k-2020

National Gardens Scheme https://ngs.org.uk/virtual-garden-visits/

Garden Centre Association lists : https://gca.org.uk/

Val and Steve Bradley nurseries/growers list: https://47flt.r.ag.d.sendibm3.com/mk/cl/f/nsnLPDyBJajPGKKpPRt5x9TOx4tu9x1Dz-v5FiKvBC10LYC0JB45oC3rcwqKse2n5D7aQhdwFnOZEulP7NPET4tRxtfv-n5eUr7mNx6H7gjRIWSVXN-QVsXdmRICgr44KOhL_NeHecmmxD8URqGk4-jf5QBzcACiRe7I8jdByhWKnFH9LN4d2C-sA4qsiNVzl4nQDttx7wgdEKWIS89NuNt-XaZCrrIiTT3B

You can follow me on twitter @kgimson

On instagram @karengimson1

And Pinterest @karengimson

Some photos from my garden:

Seedlings in the greenhouse, tomatoes, cosmos, onions, cucumbers, aubergines, peppers.

Planting out calendula Snow Princess grown in plug trays.

We had some winter storms and dead elms in the hedgerow.

The whole garden is scented by this viburnum. Planted in front of white cherry tree, prunus avium, and pink cherry Prunus Kanzan.

Pheasants Eye narcissi, still looking good in the cut flower beds.

Not all things go according to plan.

Cherry blossom. Stella. Lots of fruit, hopefully. Have never seen blossom like it. A good year for fruit trees.

Pear blossom. I’m keeping an eye on the weather. Fleece will be thrown over at night if there’s a frost.

Thank you for reading!

What’s flowering in the garden 7th April 2020 -BBC Radio #SowAlong #BBCRadioSowAlong

If you have been listening in to Gardens Hour on Wednesdays on BBC Radio Leicester, you’ll have heard our ‘ten minute tips’ recorded in Ben Jackson’s garden. I always come home and plant the same varieties in my windswept country garden. Ben’s plot is in a lovely sheltered walled garden in a village. His soil is beautifully free-draining, in a garden which must have been worked for 100 years. Mine is cold wet clay, created from farm land over the past 30 years. It’s an interesting contrast and I love to see how plants perform in both our gardens.

Here’s an update on plants, showing what they are looking like today.

We planted tulips for cut flowers on 29th October. These are Exotic Emperor, a new early-flowering tulip, a double form of the popular White Emperor. It has a long flowering period with delicately green flamed cream petals. Looks good for nearly six weeks.

We planted a ‘cut flower mix’ and mine included this lovely Tulip Flaming Purissima. This comes in a range of creams and pinks. Very pretty and reminiscent of the old fashioned flame tulips made famous in the Tulip-Fever era. Very long lasting, and weather resistant.

We planted bulbs ‘lasagna’ style in layers. Here’s my big Italian pot by my front door. This had snowdrops and dwarf iris in January, dwarf tete a tete daffodils in February, and now today has Hyacinth Blue Jacket, Exotic Emperor tulips and scented Geranium narcissi. When these are over, I’ll replant the pot with scented -leaved geraniums for summer.

In both our gardens we planted a range of daffodils to flower from February right through till the end of April. Here’s my pheasants eye narcissi planted under the cherry trees in the orchard. I’m so pleased with these, I’ll mass plant them in September for an even better display this time next year. I’ve gone round the garden making notes and taking photos to remind me where there are gaps and what changes I want to make. If I didn’t make notes, I’d forget by the time September arrives.

Talking about daffodils, we planted these Paperwhite narcissi on December 2nd. Some flowered at Christmas, but I held some pots back in the cold potting shed and brought them out a week apart so that I could have flowers for vases right through to the end of a March. Flowering times are dictated by amounts of daylight and heat. So plants can be manipulated to flower over a period of time.

We planted up our dahlias on 31st January. These were overwintered in a frost-free shed. I took 2″ cuttings in February and these have rooted in the propagator in 3″ pots at 18C. Above are the dahlias making really good growth in their seed trays, half filled with compost to start them off. They will stay in the greenhouse until the end of May.

We sowed our tomatoes on 28 February, and I pricked them out mid March. They are growing nicely just out of the propagator and on the greenhouse benches. I keep the greenhouse heated at 6C.

On 9th March we planted our tiny plug plants which cost about 60p each. We planted them individually in 3″ pots and put them on a sunny windowsill.

They have grown really well, and I’ve managed to take three lots of cuttings from the mother plants, which means lots of bedding plants for free. Taking cuttings makes them grow strong and bushy too, instead of tall and spindly.

We also planted up some impatiens plugs into 3″ pots. These are now in flower and I’m putting them into their summer containers to grow on. I didn’t pay for these plants. They were free samples from the grower, Ball Colgrave.

If you are listening in today, Wednesday 8th April, this is where I’m talking from because I’m isolating due to covid. I’ve got 100 cosmos seedlings in 3″ pots including a new variety Apricot Lemonade. I’m also growing calendula pot marigolds which are great for bees and butterflies. I’m growing the very pale lemon Snow Princess, and pretty calendula Orange Flash.

I’ve just planted my new potatoes, Charlotte and Lady Christl in two of the divided beds. They are planted 12″ (30cm) apart, 4″ (9cm) deep.

I’ve also planted my broad beans, De Monica which is a new variety specially bred for spring sowing. I’ve sown double rows, with plants and seeds 9″ (23cm) apart. Seeds were planted 2″ (5cm) deep.

And this is the view from the greenhouse and potting shed. Turn up the sound to hear the birdsong. There’s a bank of wild cherry trees on two sides of the garden.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my greenhouse and garden. Hopefully the photos have jogged your memory about what we’ve been growing for our ‘ten minute tips.’ I’ll keep you posted on the progress of all these plants. I’m hoping the garden is going to be quite productive and very colourful this summer. That’s three uses of the word ‘hope,’ but under the circumstances, I think we all need some hope, don’t we.

Links : BBC radio Leicester Gardening – Sundays 1-2pm and Wednesdays 12.30 -1pm at the moment, subject to change due to covid. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/live:bbc_radio_leicester

DAB 104.9FM and at BBCSounds. Ask your smart speaker to tune in to BBC Radio Leicester.

Update: today’s programme starts at 2.36.23 on the timeline. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p087sjhn.

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

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

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

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

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

Microgreens and Sprouting Seeds

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

I’m growing:

Radish Mino Early

Microgreens Gourmet Garnish

Basil

Beetroot for leaves

Mung beans for stir fries.

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

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

Mixed cut and come again salad

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

PEASHOOTS

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

Herbs in Pots

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

Spring Onions

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

SPINACH

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

DILL

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

CARROTS

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

TOMATOES – more long term, but starting now …

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

CUCUMBERS

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

SOMETHING FOR CHILDREN

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

My propagator glowing in the dark

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort Food for a crisis – five minute microwave fruit pudding

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

INGREDIENTS

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

3oz sugar

5oz SR flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 egg

4 tbsp milk

Sprinkle of mixed dried fruit (optional)

1 apple (optional)

Sprinkle of Demerara sugar for the top.

METHOD

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

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

If using fruit, place the sponge mixture on top.

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

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

Serve with ice cream, custard, fresh cream.

Serves 6 people and lasts 2 days if kept cool.

VARIATIONS

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year Everyone! Some news from my garden 31 December 2019

Photo: Paperwhite narcissi and pink alstroemeria from my greenhouse today. Gypsophila and honesty seed heads saved from the summer. Eucalyptus foliage and willow heart. Flowers are in a jam jar covered with moss and twine, kokadama-style. Lovely to have home-grown flowers for the New Year.

I love surprises. My grandmother used to say you can never predict what’s going to happen, so don’t worry about tomorrow. Concentrate on today. I’ve pretty much tried to follow her good advice. And just about everything she said has turned out to be true. So, I’ve been writing this blog for three years- not knowing where it would take me. And the biggest surprise is that it’s followed by a growing number of readers. I set out thinking I’d be pleased if just one person read it and was inspired to grow something from seed. Well, I’m amazed and pleased to say the blog was shortlisted this year for the Garden Media Guild Awards. The awards ceremony was quite a glitzy affair at the Savoy in London- not somewhere I ever expected to visit. It was hosted by Nick Bailey, and I sat next to Pippa Greenwood- someone I’ve always admired. Rachel DeThame and Anne Swithinbank were on the next table. Alan Titchmarsh won an award for practical gardener, and Carol Klein was given a lifetime achievement award, presented by Roy Lancaster. Marc Rosenberg won news journalist of the year. Bramblegarden didn’t win the blog category, but just to be a finalist was quite something for me. It took me right out of the potting shed and out of my comfort zone, which is a good thing, now and again, isn’t it.

My second lovely surprise came when the weekly Garden News magazine asked me to write about my garden, and the first of my articles is out this week!

Mum and I have been subscribers for about 20 years. Never in a million years did I think I would be sharing my garden with readers. But that’s what’s happened and they’ve asked me to write and send photos of what I’m growing on a regular basis.

There was a bit of a panic when they asked for photos of the garden. It’s not looking its best in winter, and the rain means I’m very behind with tasks. But I made an immediate decision not to have a frantic tidy up. My garden is what it is. There are too many brambles and stinging nettles, and those will be addressed over the winter. But, apart from that, it will be as it is, a rather messy garden with zones of productivity. I’ve got 10 beds, 1.3m wide by 3m long with little paving slab paths between. This means I never have to stand on the soil. For the past three years the whole garden has been ‘no-dig’ following the principles of Charles Dowding. There’s a 20ft Alton cedar greenhouse I’ve painted black, and alongside, a matching 20ft poly tunnel. The rest of the one acre garden is mostly trees, and low maintenance shade planting. It’s left to the owls, grass snakes and hedgehogs. I’m delighted to share space with them all.

Across the centre of the veg plot there’s a hazel wigwam or A-frame trellis. This has been patched up for the past two years and will be renewed this winter, ready for spring planting.

The hazel frame is perfect for growing sweet peas. The plants just scramble up by themselves. I don’t have much tying in to do. I plant gladioli down the middle of the structure to utilise the space. These grow about 1m tall and usually need staking, but the hazel frame supports them instead.

This is my favourite Wiltshire Ripple variety, which has a fabulous scent.

Here’s how I make my newspaper pots, using a spice jar to form the tube.

I stand the newspaper tubes in terracotta pans. It’s a good task to do when the ground is too wet to work on, which has been the situation here for the past three months.

Albutt Blue. It’s wonderful to be thinking about sweet peas – in the middle of winter.

I wish I could share the scent from all these flowers. Sweet peas are the essence of summer.

What plans have you for growing in 2020? Are you planting old favourites, or trying something new. Get in touch and let me know.

And remember, if you are writing a blog, you never know who might be reading, or what opportunities might come your way. Just enjoy your blogging.

Wishing you all a happy, peaceful and healthy New Year. Happy Gardening!

I am on twitter at https://mobile.twitter.com/kgimson/status/1149241935502225408

On instagram at https://www.instagram.com/karengimson1/?hl=en

Links: Garden News magazine: https://www.greatmagazines.co.uk/garden-news-magazine?gclid=Cj0KCQiAgKzwBRCjARIsABBbFujlf4tfcbFd4OxHcjvuH6NR9Uk54A_wVM0S9IDq_ZeSvA0FtiofT0oaAg9_EALw_wcB

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

Sweet peas Mr Fothergills https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/#.Xgur1YGnyfA

Sweet Peas Easton Walled garden https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/whats-on

Higgledy Garden Seeds https://higgledygarden.com/

Savoy London https://all.accor.com/hotel/A597/index.en.shtml?utm_term=mafm&gclid=Cj0KCQiAgKzwBRCjARIsABBbFujh9QGSEjYNiJ8ON9HjLVkRMH3UNhpD8tpccFO4povH1E6R5zr5qXIaAikZEALw_wcB&utm_campaign=ppc-ach-mafm-goo-uk-en-uk-exa-sear-a&utm_medium=cpc&utm_content=uk-en-GB-V2352&utm_source=google

I like to join in with In a Vase on Monday, although it’s usually a different day : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

And Six on Saturday : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/

Garlic Wash Recipe for Hostas. Defeating Slugs…

On Sunday, we had a question on protecting hostas from slugs – on the BBC radio gardening programme I sit in on.

My panel team mate Nick Turrell and I talked about using Strulch Mulch – a mineralised straw mulch that’s got a scratchy surface that slugs don’t like.

We also mentioned a garlic wash spray we have both tried and tested. We found it works a treat. It deters slugs, but does not poison them. This means the slugs are left available as food for birds and mammals such as hedgehogs. You’ll need to repeat the treatment regularly, especially after rain. I put my mixture in a 3l Hozelock sprayer and leave it in the potting shed ready to treat them. I’ve found it also deters aphids and is good for spraying roses.

The recipe comes from Sienna Hosta, a multi- gold medal winning nursery specialising in hostas. They do not use any other chemical treatments.

Here is a snapshot of their website showing their recipe for the garlic spray.

Here’s a link to their website.

https://www.siennahosta.co.uk/pages/garlic-wash-recipe

We also talked about no-dig gardening, protecting soils and coping with flooding. Charles Dowding is the expert on no-dig.

https://charlesdowding.co.uk/courses/

Here’s the link for Strulch Mulch.

https://www.strulch.co.uk/

Here’s a link to the radio programme BBC Radio Leicester’s Sunday Supplement. We are the middle hour of Dave Andrews’ show.

At 1.09.16 on the timeline at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07sc852

We also mentioned our appeal for hedgehog food from Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital. They have 260 hedgehogs in their care and are taking in around 10 a day. Hedgehogs are either ill, underweight or injured having been washed out of their nests in the floods. Hedgehogs eat meaty dog food, the solid loaf -type, and not containing gravy, jelly, or made with fish. They also desperately need puppy milk for the babies, and heat pads and incubators. They have an amazon wish list and an appeal fund.

http://www.leicesterwildlifehospital.org/

And also we talked about Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Festival which was launched this week :

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/belvoir-castle-flower-and-garden-show-tickets-77976360393

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.

Plum Cake. Family Favourite Recipes

These delicious little cakes travel well and are perfect for picnics and parties. We always make them if we are invited round to a friend’s house. They are quick and easy to make and really tasty.

INGREDIENTS

Makes 12

12 plums, stones removed and fruit chopped into chunks.

For the sponge:

85g (3oz )sugar

85g (3oz ) margarine or butter.( I use Lurpack which doesn’t contain palm oil.)

1 egg

113g (4oz) self raising flour

1 level teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract

Few blanched almonds for the top.

METHOD

Cream together the sugar, margarine and egg with an electric hand whisk. Add the flour and baking powder and whisk. Add the milk and vanilla extract, and whisk.

Place the chopped plums in the base of a silicon cup cake mold which has 12 ‘cups.’

Top with the sponge mixture. It will be about one large heaped tablespoon per cup. Sprinkle blanched almonds on top.

Cook for approx 15 mins at 180C, 356F gas mark. They are cooked when a knife comes out clean from the sponge. Take csre not to burn the almonds.

Leave to cool in the trays. Use a pallet knife to remove them. Sprinkle with sugar. Serve warm or cold.

Can also be frozen on the day of baking.

Enjoy!

You might also like Plum Crumble : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/20/plum-crumble-family-favourite-recipes/

Please feel free to share this on any social media. Thank you.

I’m Growing New Potatoes for Christmas.

New potatoes are more than just a treat for early summer, you can enjoy them into the winter too. Started now, they will be ready to eat by Christmas. Here’s how I’m growing mine.

Special seed potatoes are available online, in catalogues and in garden centres now. I’m growing Charlotte and Pentland Javelin which are favourites for taste. You can also buy Nicola and Maris Peer. These are cold stored potatoes, primed ready to plant in August. You can also hold back some of your spring-bought seed potatoes, but you have to keep them in the bottom of the fridge until now, before planting.

Royal Horticultural Trials at Wisley showed that potatoes grow best in bags rather than rigid-sided plastic plant pots. You can buy special potato sacks, but I’m re-using compost bags. It’s a good way to recycle them.

I’m using Dalefoot salad and vegetable compost. Roll the tops down to form a collar, spike the bags to give good drainage, and fill them with 30cm of loosened compost.

Sit the seed potatoes on top of the compost. Ensure they are not touching, place them about 20cm apart.

Cover the potatoes with 5cm compost and water well. Place outdoors on a sunny patio. As the shoots start to grow, cover them with more compost and roll up the compost collar. Keep doing this until there is a 5cm gap left at the top for watering. What you are doing is “earthing up” the potatoes, without all the effort involved on growing them in the ground.

Move the bags, before the first frosts, into a greenhouse, porch or conservatory. By now the top growth will have died back and can be removed. Stop watering and keep the potatoes stored in the dry compost until you want to cook them. Because they have not been harvested and exposed to sunlight and air, the potatoes will not form hard skins and will retain that new potato taste and texture. In the past growers would have stored them in damp sand. My grandfather used to make “clamps” for vegetables such as potatoes and carrots, when vegetables had to last right through the winter without the availability of fridges and freezers.

I use soil association-approved Dalefoot Compost which is made from sheeps wool and bracken. It gives farmers in the Lake District an income for their wool which might otherwise go into landfill. It’s 100 percent natural and peat free, and contains a source of potash which makes fruit and flowers grow well.

My summer potatoes did well this year. I’m hoping for a small but tasty crop of new potatoes just in time for my Christmas dinner.

After planting my potatoes, I am sitting in my summerhouse with Grace cat, enjoying sunny weather and 23C temperatures, thinking of winter days ahead. I’m sure those tasty treats will be so welcome when the days are cold and wet.

You can listen in to my 10 minute gardening tips during BBC Gardens Hour today at 1.40.47 on the timeline on Sounds https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07hst9m Each week we try something new, do pruning, take cuttings, grow something from seed, help wildlife. Sometimes our projects work, sometimes they fail, but it’s a lot of fun trying, aiming to get the best from our garden plots.

Links: Seed potatoes https://www.amazon.co.uk/Taylors-Autumn-Planting-Potatoes-Christmas/dp/B008M4MHFC

Dalefoot compost : https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/

Karen twitter : https://mobile.twitter.com/kgimson/status/1149241935502225408

Karen on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karengimson1/?hl=en

Please feel free to share this blog post. Thank you for reading!

You might also like to read: https://bramblegarden.com/about/

And : https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/04/dancing-with-bees-a-journey-back-to-nature/

Response on twitter. @bimblegarden said:

Lemon Crunch Triangles – family Favourite recipes

If you were listening to Radio Leicester this week for the Gardens Hour, you will have heard us munching on Lemon Triangles. It’s a nice quick recipe that everyone seems to love. It keeps for a week in a tin, or can be frozen. But to be honest, it disappears quite fast in our house ( and at the radio station). Lemons come straight from my greenhouse. It’s been a good winter for them, with plenty continuing to grow and ripen. Now is the time to re-pot them or if they are in the maximum size pots, remove the top inch or so of soil and top dress them with fresh compost. Start to increase watering and add feed every time. I’m still battling scale insect. It’s a slow task of removing them with a washing up sponge and warm soapy water. I just turn on the radio and settle down to the task. At least it’s warm in the greenhouse. And the citrus flowers smell divine.

INGREDIENTS

175g butter or margarine

175g soft light brown sugar

175g self raising flour

2 medium eggs

Grated rind of 1 lemon

TOPPING

Juice of 1 lemon

100g caster sugar.

METHOD

Heat oven to 180C gas mark 4. Grease and line a 19cm x 29cm shallow tin.

  1. Melt butter and sugar together in a saucepan and stir to incorporate.
  2. Remove from heat and beat in the flour, rind and eggs using a wooden spoon, until smooth.
  3. Pour into the tin and bake for 25-30 minutes.
    Stand for a few minutes and then remove the grease proof paper. Return cake to the tin and cool slightly.
    Mix juice and sugar together and pour evenly over the cake. When cold, cut the cake into squares, and then halve to make triangles. Perfect for morning coffee, or afternoon tea.

I wrote about my citrus trees and greenhouse here https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/02/six-on-saturday-photos-from-my-garden/.

BBC Radio #SundaySupplement flowers/ hedgehogs/ my garden, 12 August programme

Some photos to accompany today’s BBC Radio Leicester gardening Sunday Supplement programme. It was my turn to sit in and answer listeners’ gardening queries on the phone-in today.

As always, I ran round the garden and picked some flowers for my mother-in-law Joan and my Mum Marion to take in to the programme. Despite the heat and drought, my cut flower patch hasn’t let me down. There’s plenty of colour just now.

In the pink and blue theme posy there’s zinnia, Mophead hydrangea, cosmos seashells and white wild goats rue. The green umbels are actually parsley that’s gone to seed, and the whole bouquet is wreathed with blue borage. The pink whirls are Diascia Hopleys. Plants have grown to 5ft and been in flower for 8 weeks. There’s just one glorious inky-blue gladioli, and one annual pink chrysanthemum (Tricolor Mixed) which are only just starting to flower.

In the orange-theme bouquet there’s calendula, rudbeckia, spikes of verbascum, and seed heads from love-in-a-mist. White jasmine provides a wonderful scent, even if there are only two sprigs included here. Any more would be overpowering.

I could talk for hours about flowers, but the conversation steered towards wildlife in my garden. So for anyone wondering how my hedgehogs are getting on, we have four precious babies this year, one less than last summer. They are a month later than last year, but very healthy and active. I am feeding them with Spike hedgehog food to try to build them up for the winter. Fresh water is also really important and in scare supply, so lots of little dishes are placed all around the garden.

So far these hoglets are just 5″ long. I’ll keep an eye on them to ensure they meet the target weight of 650g by winter hibernation time.

I wrote about last summer’s hedgehogs Here. There’s also hints and tips on helping hedgehogs on the highlighted link.

Radio Leicester Sunday Supplement is available on i-player. There’s a link Here. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06fs2mb . Gardening starts at 1.09.31. Put your feet up and have a listen in.

Let me know what flowers are doing well in your garden right now, and do any of you have hedgehogs nesting in the garden this summer?

Please kindly share this on any social media platform, and don’t forget to say hello in the comment box below.

Summer fruit harvest and making garden jam

What a summer! My poor garden is burned to a crisp and everything’s wilting, including me. But the fruit garden is producing bumper crops. You’d think they would shrivel in 32C heat, but the black and red currants, gooseberries and blackberries are sweet and juicy.

Last night I wandered round the garden collecting a basket of fruit to make jam. I had planned to make strawberry jam from the pots of runners planted in April. But the tiny plants only yielded a handful of fruit. So delicious though. The plants only cost 60p each, mail order. I wrote about planting them Here. I’m hopeful of larger crops next summer.

The blackberries were the best I’ve ever seen though. A bumper crop and large fruit. Sometimes wild blackberries are so tiny they are hardly worth picking. But these soon filled a basket.

I threw the whole lot in a heavy based pan to make garden jam. Wow, what a scent. If it’s possible to capture sunshine and summer in a jar, this is the way to do it.

Garden Jam

To make 2 jars I used 500g fruit, 500g sugar 75ml water, juice of 1 lemon.

Method:

Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the setting point later.

Put fruit, water and lemon juice in a heavy based pan. Cook the fruit gently until soft.

Add sugar and simmer carefully until all the sugar crystals are absorbed.

Increase the heat to a rolling boil. After 10- 15 minutes, put a teaspoon of jam on the plate and gently push. If it wrinkles, it has reached setting point. If not, cook for another 5 minutes, taking care not to burn the jam.

Stand for 15 minutes

Pot into sterilised and warmed jars.

Fresh scones :

3oz butter

1lb plain flour

Pinch salt

1oz caster sugar

1.5 tsp. baking power

2 eggs and 6floz milk beaten together.

Add all the dry ingredients and rub together. Add liquids and mix carefully. Don’t over handle the mixture

Roll out thickly and cut into circles. Brush top with a little of the reserved egg/ milk mixture.

Bake for 10 mins until golden, oven temp. 230C, gas mark 8

Eat whilst still warm – or as soon as possible. Can be frozen as soon as cooled, to keep fresh.

I often ask twitter friends for recipes and gardening advice. Here’s a reply that came from Bob Flowerdew. I’m looking forward to trying his recipe.

And this came from June Girvin, which is similar to the recipe I ended up with. It’s absolutely delicious.

After all that foraging and cooking, we sat in the 1930s summerhouse, turned to face the cool woodland and pond and feasted on the jewels of the garden.

Surrounding us, there’s sounds of harvesting and baling. There’s a scent of new hay and oats on the breeze, and we watch entranced as barn owls swoop across the empty fields, like ghosts. They don’t notice us sitting quietly amongst the trees.

Here’s this week’s Garden Hour on BBC Radio Leicester where I chat away about what’s happening in my garden. Put your feet up and have a listen in sometime. The programme starts at 2.10.27 on the timeline. And the music’s not bad this week too.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06cd1bd

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. Please share this on any social media platform you like, and don’t forget to leave a comment below. Thank you.

We made a garden for Rainbows Hospice : Belvoir Show 2018

My very wise Welsh grandmother was full of quaint little sayings. I used to laugh at the time. “Pick yourself up, dust yourself down; ” and “Something good always comes out of adversity.” But I didn’t heed them at the time. Then two years ago, suddenly, out of the blue, I became seriously ill. In the middle of the crisis, those words came back to me.

While I was lying in my hospital bed, I decided, if I survived, I would raise money for Rainbows Hospice for children. Being so ill was frightening, and it took all my inner resources to cope. How much worse, I thought, must it be for a child to be ill and in pain. Since then, I’ve been hosting garden club talks, afternoon teas and book launch events. But my biggest challenge came last weekend when I helped build a show garden.

And this is how it started. Over the bridge is the lake-side setting for the first ever Belvoir Castle Flower and Garden Festival. It’s a glorious Capability Brown landscape with rolling hillsides and ancient oak plantations.

We had four and a half days to make a garden. It’s a historic site, so we couldn’t dig down or hammer anything into the ground. Everything had to be built up from a protective ground cover.

We had no budget. Everything was begged or borrowed. Any money, I thought, should go to Rainbows.

David Greaves co-designed the garden and donated all the labour for the build. While I concentrated on the plants, David co-ordinated all the materials and deliveries we would need.

First the garden was marked out. Lewis lays the foundation for the dry stone wall. Alfie’s on the cement mixer.

The first stone is laid.

The beautiful honey -coloured stone was donated by Goldholme Stone.

A lorry load of topsoil arrives, a donation from Richard Fenton.

Such a stunning setting for a garden. Everyone works at breakneck speed, in 28C heat. There’s Sam, Pete, Gareth and David cracking on, mindful of the deadline.

Parents told me being given devastating news your children are not going to live long and full lives is like a hammer blow. They feel as if they’ve been knocked down and can’t get back up. One mother said she felt like Rainbows “picks you up and gives you a hug. ” Something she said was most needed when you’re at your lowest ebb. So I made a seating area in the shape of open arms, or a hug.

This is the artist’s impression of the garden. We designed the garden in two halves. On one side is a parent’s garden with the hug-shape seat set in a woodland glade with native trees and plants. It’s a calm haven. The idea was to highlight the message that Rainbows isn’t just for children; it’s for parents, relatives and siblings who need help, counselling and support.

Parents said, when told their child had a life-limiting illness, all their hopes and dreams for the future collapse. They can’t see what lies ahead. The future is clouded. The Perspex screens puts their words into our garden.

On the other side of the screens is the children’s garden, giving an idea of what it’s like at Rainbows; an insight for anyone who has never visited. There’s a music therapy corner, bird watching hide and wildlife area, water play wall, and a quiet retreat with swing seat covered in rainbow-coloured cushions.

I’ve been going back and forth to the hospice for months, helping the children and young people to grow their own plants for the containers. I loved working with them. I wanted them to share in telling the Rainbows story. Here’s my daughter Clare helping with the planting of seeds and bulbs.

Although nothing was said, I realised some of the children couldn’t see. They enjoyed the feel of dry compost running through their fingers and they spent a long time turning over and feeling the different shaped bulbs- gladioli, lily and begonia. It was an experience I will never forget.

The containers were sited in the middle of the chidren’s garden, and also all around a fund-raising marquee set up by Rainbows alongside our garden.

All the beautiful trees, shrubs and perennials were grown by Miles Nurseries Hoby Leicestershire. Thanks to Tom, Bel and Lawson for providing such fabulous plants. And for all your deliveries to the site. We could not have built the garden without your kind support.

Our water play and music wall.

Here’s the Duchess of Rutland viewing our garden, with David Greaves explaining the design. The good news is we won Best in Show. And even better, the garden is going to be re-built in the castle grounds.

The duchess tried out the drum kit in the music therapy corner.

My Mum, who’s been very ill too this year, recovered enough to come and see the garden. That really made my day to be honest.

This little visitor to the show was enchanted by the butterflies that arrived as soon as we’d planted the garden.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my diary of building a show garden. We raised several thousand pounds with donations, pledges and people joining the Rainbows lottery. Here’s the link if you would like to support the work of this amazing hospice.

Rainbows Hospice – Ways you can help.

With many thanks to all our sponsors: David Greaves Landscape Design and Construction for co-design and build , Miles Nurseries for all trees, shrubs and plants, Bagforce Aggregates , William Hercock Builders Merchants , CED paving and stone Belvoir Saw Mill, Chris Cooper-Hayes for artists impression, Goldholme Stone , David Musson Fencing , Motorpoint for perspex screens and leaflets, Richard Fenton for topsoil ,Melcourt for compost and bark, Burgon and Ball children’s tools and kneeling pads, Mr Fothergill’s Seeds for children’s pots, Gee Tee Bulbs for children’s container bulbs, Elho for children’s containers and plant pots, CJ Wildlife for bird and wildlife corner supplies, Cooks Lane Herbs , Sitting Spiritually swing seat, Pete Brown Carpentry, Libby Greaves for planning and co-ordination, publicity and planting.

Also many thanks to Soo Spector, Marissa Ewing-Gerrard, Clive Gimson for planting and Gary and Alison at Rainbows for helping me; Emma Scarborough for mentoring, and Sue Blaxland who taught me everything at Brooksby College.

Please share this on twitter, facebook, and any other social media platform, and don’t forget to say hello below.

Fact sheet for growing strawberries /recipe for ten minute strawberry jam biscuits

If you listened in to the gardeners’ phone-in programme this week on BBC Radio Leicester you’ll have heard us giving hints and tips on planting and growing strawberries. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to get the best from home grown crops.

Buying bare-rooted runners, or root stock, is an affordable way to buy strawberries online or via seed and plant catalogues. It’s a good way to buy named varieties and virus free stock.

I’ve chosen the Plant Heritage Collection from Marshalls. 30 runners for around 66p each.

Royal Sovereign : A well-known mid season strawberry famed for flavour. Large juicy fruit. Crops in early summer- and again in autumn.

Cambridge Favourite : Reliable and popular variety. Good for jams and preserves.

Red Gauntlet: Mid season, heavy cropper. Fruit is held well above the ground. Good for damper soil, or for growing under cloches or in tunnels. Some resistance to botrytis.

1. When the plants arrive, take them straight out of the Jiffy bag and either plant into 3″ pots or straight into the garden, if soil and weather conditions are suitable.

2. Choose a sunny, well drained spot – not in a frost pocket

3. Enrich the soil with well rotted garden compost, organic Plantgrow fertiliser, or peat-free sheeps wool and bracken compost from Dalefoot Compost.

4. Planting depth is crucial to success of the runners. The crown, the thickened area where the leaves are attached to the roots, should be resting at soil level. Too high and the plants will dry out. Too deep, and they will drown.

5. Don’t plant where tomatoes, chrysanthemums or potatoes have been grown. The soil may harbour wilt disease.

6. Watering techniques are important. Do not drench the leaves and leave them wet overnight. The plants are more likely to suffer from moulds and the fruit will rot. Either use a leaky pipe, or push the watering can through the leaves to water at ground level.

7. Feed every 7-14 days with a high potash liquid fertiliser. I use seaweed extract, but you can also use tomato fertiliser. Plantgrow also has a handy liquid fertiliser in its range.

8. Protect the flowers from frost using a layer of fleece. The flowers are easily damaged and turn black. A whole crop can be lost to frost overnight.

9. Cut back all leaves and remove straw mulch after fruiting to prevent a build up of pests and diseases. We use chopped mineralised Strulch.

10. The plants will naturally produce runners. Stems will arch over and where they touch the ground, new plants will grow. Pot these up and renew your strawberry beds every 3-4 years. The old plants are best discarded after this length of time as pests and diseases start to take hold.

11. Vine weevils love strawberry plants. There’s a new organic nematode treatment that can be bought off the shelf. Previously treatments had to be posted out and used fairly quickly. The new nematodes from Neudorff are easier to buy and use.

STRAWBERRY JAM ALMOND BISCUITS

These are a family favourite and only take 10 minutes to make. Lovely with morning coffee, or for afternoon tea.

Ingredients: whizz together

200g caster sugar

115g butter

115g ground almonds

115g plain flour

1tspn baking power.

1 egg

3 drops almond essence.

Rest dough in the fridge for one hour if you want biscuits to retain their round shape. I was in too much of a hurry, so mine turned out flat.

Take teaspoons full of dough and roll in the palm of your hand. Place on a baking tray. Make a well in the centre with a spoon handle or little finger. Fill with strawberry jam. Top with slivers of almond.

Cook in oven at 200C for 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as they soon burn.

Will last for three days in a sealed container. If you can resist them that long.

Here’s a link to the radio programme. Have a listen in at 2.08.18 on the timeline.

bbcleicester http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p063rcnf

Here’s some fruit tarts I also made with the home-made jam. Totally delicious! Wonderful after a hard day working in the garden.

Click on the highlighted links for more information. These are not affiliate links.

What new plants are you trying out this spring and summer?

In a Vase on Monday ….. er Wednesday.

Defeated by torrential rain, I’d given up on gardening until today. Here’s a brief glimpse into my day.

A quick peek in the greenhouse before I go off to work. And it’s sunny in here. At last. Yippee!!! Windows opened. Wonderful scent. Just love primulas. So cheerful.

Second year hyacinths are never as good. But they still have a value. I love the intense blue of this one, set against the yellow of the dwarf daffodils. I’m growing Tete-a-tete in pots for picking. And in honour of my wonderful Welsh grandmother, Tenby daffodils, which grow wild in Wales.

Love my newly acquired plant pots. The green one on the left is from Burgon and Ball , and the one on the right is from new company Plant Furniture.

After a quick snip of flowers for the show, I’m off to Radio Leicester for the Gardeners’ phone-in, 11-12 on a Wednesday. A fun place to work. Sophie and Jack the producers look after me. I’m always so grateful for all the encouragement and support they give. I probably couldn’t do it without their kindness to be honest.

We chatted about growing tomatoes. I’m growing bush tomatoes in containers and hanging baskets alongside programme host Ben Jackson. We’ve got cherry tomatoes from Mr Fothergill’s, Suttons and Thompson and Morgan to try out. And we’ll be growing them in Dalefoot sheep wool and bracken compost as an alternative to peat. It’s always more fun growing something with another person. I haven’t got an allotment, for example, where you would have neighbours to chat with and share hints and tips. so I’m going to grow along with Ben, and we’ll share seeds and compost and compare results. It will be a fun project to do over the summer.

We always have a laugh on the gardeners’ programme. If I see something a bit unusual, I’ll take it in to show the team. Today I took in these Badger Paw gloves. I spotted them at the Garden Press Event a few weeks ago and thought they looked interesting. The event showcases new ideas, new seeds, tools and machinery, containers and plant pots- all heading for supermarkets, garden centres and nurseries this summer. The Badger Paw is said to be perfect for preparing soil, planting, weeding and clearing roots. It’s made by Creative Products and has breathable stretchy fabric. What we couldn’t work out though was why the claw is only on one hand. It’s an interesting concept and I’ll let you know how I get on with it.

My posy of flowers this week also contains hyacinths – which just seem to keep on flowering. They love the cold weather. Tucked inside my paper wrapping are iris reticulata, hellebores, snowdrops, and dogwood twigs from my new florists’ “Hedge-in-a-Box” kit from Hopes Grove Nurseries. I spotted their ingenuous hedge kit for gin makers at the GPE. On the stand there was a sign saying make any suggestions for new hedge kits. So I asked if they could design a hedge for florists with coloured stems and flowers for all year round picking. And my wonderful “hedge-in-a-box”arrived on Monday! I’m really thrilled with it.

Thanks for joining me today. Thanks also to Cathy for hosting this meme and kindly allowing me to join in later in the week when either the internet – or the weather – has let me down.

Click on the highlighted words for more information. They are not affiliate links.

How to Plant Prepared Hyacinths. Fairy Lights for the Greenhouse- and an update from this week’s BBC radio programme for gardeners

It’s amazing how a few little touches can make all the difference. In defiance of the cold, dark days, I’ve brightened up the greenhouse with mouldable lights. These are tiny fairy lights on a copper wire. They can be twisted around floral arrangements and basically they hold their shape without damaging the flowers. I’ve used chrysanthemums from the poly tunnel for this display. It makes a lovely warm glow at a time when we all need some winter cheer.

I’ve chosen indoor battery-powered lights from the Christmas range at Wilco . The 2.2m cable contains 20 warm white lights for £3.50 and includes the battery. I’m going to wrap them around plant pots in the greenhouse next.

We talked about mouldable lights on this week’s BBC radio gardener’s phone-in programme. You can listen in on your phone or computer on the i-player. I wrote about how to tune in Here. https://bramblegarden.com/tag/radiogardening-howto-i-player-bbc/.

You can listen to any radio programme for 28 days after the broadcast. And there are special programme clips and podcasts too. The gardeners’ phone-in is on BBC Radio Leicester every Wednesday between 11am and 12 noon on 104.9 FM and digital. And on Sunday there’s local radio’s longest-running gardening programme, Down to Earth hosted by Dave Andrews, between 12 and 1pm. We will be taking phone calls live in the studio this coming Sunday, December 3rd.

Here’s a link to this week’s Wednesday programme hosted by Ben Jackson. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05m8p6x. Move the timeline round to 2.07.57 where the programme starts. We talk about making Christmas presents from materials found in the garden- including jam jar succulents and cacti, and making bird feeders with fir cones. And our mid-morning studio treat, for all the staff, was Chocolate Tiffin made with fresh autumn raspberries from the plot.

Here’s some details on the prepared hyacinths we mentioned. These are some I grew to flower for Christmas 2016.

You will need to buy “prepared” hyacinths which means they have been put into cold storage to fool the bulbs into thinking they have had winter already. To complete the treatment at home, place the bulbs in John Innes No2 compost in 3″ pots. Put the pots in a cold dark cupboard in the potting shed, garage or basement. Or put them into a black plastic bag. Store them for 9 to 10 weeks at 9C. Water just once. At the end of 10 weeks, check over the pots and those with about an inch of leaves and a flower tip showing can be brought out into a cool bright place to grow on. You can make up displays for Christmas by selecting bulbs that look about the same height and putting them into larger plant pots together. Don’t bring them straight into a centrally heated house or the flowers won’t develop properly. The bulbs need to be grown on in cool conditions for another 22 days.

Here’s some hyacinths and forced narcissi I used to create an early spring display this year. You can also bring twigs of cherry blossom into the house and they will give an earlier flowering too. I wrote about forcing Paperwhites Here.

The scent is quite glorious. Interestingly, different varieties of hyacinths need varying periods of cold/dark treatment. The variety Pink Pearl needs 10 weeks, but Anna Marie needs just 8. So experimentation is needed if you wish to mix the varieties in a display. I would set the 3″ pots at weekly intervals and grow more than I needed so that I could select the right number of plants for my display. Just a reminder- always wear gloves when handling bulbs as they can cause skin irritation.

A very quick and cheap Christmas present idea we mentioned was jam jar succulents. Here’s the materials I took into the studio. You will need a small recycled jam jar, handful of ornamental washed shingle, small amount of moss from the garden, and a succulent or cacti from the garden centre. Mine is an offset from one of my own plants. You half fill the jar with shingle, wrap the succulent stem with moss and plant. Finish the present with a ribbon. Plants need virtually no water over the winter. In summer, water once a week with a tablespoon of water. Tip the jar up to allow any excess water to drain out. Do not allow the succulent to become waterlogged.

This one has been in the jam jar for two years.

Talking of Christmas presents ideas I love these RHS Gold Leaf Gloves. I’m practically living in them, they are so comfortable. I may be a fairly scruffy gardener, with old trousers and holes in my jumpers, but my hands are glamorous.

Here’s a quick peek of Ben’s garden, which we talk about on the show. It’s a 2.5 by 2m raised bed, a bit overshadowed and plagued by slugs. But we’ve planted winter veg, salads and flowers – to see how much we can grow in a small, less than perfect plot. The kale and chard keeps growing through the cold weather. You just harvest the outer leaves, leaving the growing tips to keep going. I’ll keep popping by now and again to see how Ben’s getting on with the project. I’ve got a matching plot at home so we can compare progress. I have to say, Ben’s is looking better than mine at the moment. My plot is on a windswept ridge, and his is in a pretty, walled garden.

And after all that talking- we tucked into my Chocolate and Raspberry Tiffin. I wrote the recipe the recipe Here. Click on the link to see the recipe.

Do you have any recipes to share – or ideas for Christmas presents using materials from your garden? I’d love to hear your views.