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.

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.

BBC Radio Leicester Gardeners’ phone-in recipes

CITRUS MARMALADE AND ORANGE FLAPJACK

February is a cold, dark, short month. But everywhere there’s signs of spring. Wild violets and the first primroses pop up by the front gate. And snowdrops cheer up the hedgerow, pushing up through hats of curled, brown leaf mould.

It’s traditionally a month of self-denial and fasting. Many people give up something for Lent – chocolate, wine, or favourite foods. Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day is a way of using up egg supplies before the fasting period begins. I make orange curd to use up eggs and butter.

But I also like to make marmalade now. An antidote to winter. I line up pots of marmalade along my kitchen window. A kind of ribbon of orange light. My own stained glass window. Here’s my favourite recipe, which I make with Seville oranges – and some citrus fruits from my heated greenhouse. Tucked up indoors and standing over a steaming pan of oranges makes for a heart-sing moment. And we need plenty of those in February. My grandmother’s old saying is usually true. As the days lengthen, the cold strengthens. I highly recommend staying indoors, keeping warm and making marmalade.

ORANGE MARMALADE

2lb or 900g fruit ( I used Seville oranges, and some kumquats and calamondin fruit from the greenhouse.)

1 lemon

4lb or 1.8kg granulated sugar, warmed

4 pints water

6 x 1lb jam jars

Square of muslin

Cut the lemon and oranges in half and squeeze out the juice. Put any pips or pith that cling to the squeezer into a square of muslin placed over a pudding bowl. Now cut the peel into quarters. Scrape off the pith and add to the muslin. Cut the quarters into thin shreds. Add the juice and peel to the water in a heavy-based preserving pan. Tie up the muslin square and tie loosely to the pan handle with the bag suspended in the water. The pith contains pectin which will help the marmalade set. Simmer gently uncovered for 2 hours until the peel is completely soft. Remove the muslin bag and set aside to cool. Put a plate in the freezer. Pour in the sugar and heat gently until the sugar crystals have melted. Squeeze the muslin bag to extract the jelly-like pectin. I used plastic gloves, or you can press it between two saucers. Increase heat. As soon as the mixture reaches a fast boil, start timing. After 15 minutes, spoon a little of the marmalade onto the cold plate and pop in the fridge. If it has a “set” the marmalade will crinkle when you push it with your finger. If not, continue to boil for another 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stand for 20 minutes. Add a tsp butter to disperse scum. Pop the jam jars in the oven to warm for five minutes. Pour the marmalade into jars with the aid of a funnel, cover with wax disks and seal while still hot. Label pots- and enjoy!

A visit to my mother-in-law’s house would always find us searching the pantry for the cake tin. Over the past 50 years, you could pretty much guarantee to find some flapjack in there. Joan recently gave me all her treasured recipe books. Here’s my own version, adapted from Joan’s family favourite. It travels well and is ideal for picnics.

ORANGE AND WALNUT FLAPJACK

250g or 9oz unsalted butter, chopped into pieces

250g or 9oz golden caster sugar

175g or 6oz golden syrup

425g or 15oz porridge oats

50g or 2oz walnut halves,slightly crushed.

Grated zest of 1 orange.

3 tbsp orange marmalade

160C gas / mark 4 for 30 minutes

28cm x 18cm shallow baking tin

Melt together in a microwave the butter, sugar, and golden syrup. Stir into the oats, walnuts, and orange zest. Tip the mixture into a lined tin and level it off. Bake for 30 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the centre is still slightly soft. It will firm up as it cools. Mark into 12 pieces while it’s still warm. Leave to cool and then brush the top with melted orange marmalade. Keeps for a week in an airtight tin.

Each week on BBC Radio Leicester there’s a Gardeners’ Phone-in programme between 11am and 12 noon. I like to take in a posy from my garden, showing what’s in flower all year round. And I also take in something I’ve made using produce from my plot. This week it was a jar of marmalade and some flapjack. Tune in on the i player to listen to the programme which starts at 2.11.31 on the timeline at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05t8n69. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a photo of my greenhouse from last summer. A reminder of lovely warm weather to come.

Blackcurrant Cheesecake

Just dashed in from the garden. Picked some hellebores for the kitchen table. Now for some cooking……

I’m standing at the cooker stirring a cauldron of blackcurrants. Outside the temperature has dipped to 1C and there’s a bitter north wind. But in the kitchen, it’s summer again. The scent of the blackcurrants transports me back to sunnier times. I’m making blackcurrant syrup. It is roughly equal amounts of fruit and sugar. The blackcurrants are first cooked and sieved. And then the sugar is added and the mixture simmers for 15 minutes. Add the justice of a lemon. When cooled, it can be added to yogurt, fruit sponges, or made into jam tarts. Today I’m making lemon cheesecake and topping it with the rich, full of flavour syrup. It will do us the world of good. We have been ill since Christmas, and the thought of all that vitamin C is cheering me up already.

Blackcurrant Cheesecake

500g packet of digestive biscuits

4oz or 113g butter. 1/3 cup in USA

4oz or 113g cottage cheese. 1/3 cup

8oz or 227g cream cheese. 2/3 cup

1/4pint or 142ml double cream.

3oz or 85g sugar. 1/4 cup

Juice and rind of one lemon

First whizz the biscuits in a food processor. Melt the butter and add the crushed biscuits. Press this mixture into the bottom of a glass Pyrex flan dish.

Sieve the cottage cheese and add the cream cheese and sugar. Whisk the double cream until it is firm and fold in to the mixture. Add the lemon juice and rind. Spoon the mixture on top of the biscuit base.

Drizzle the blackcurrant syrup over the top. Or you can add any fruit you like. It is lovely with strawberries, peaches, pineapple, raspberries, blueberries- anything you have spare.

Place in the fridge for at least four hours to set.

Growing Blackcurrants

Blackcurrants are easy to grow. The fruit forms on young wood, so now is a good time to prune out some of the old stems. I remove about 1/3 of the stems each year, leaving around 7 of the newer stems to develop. Mulch with well rotted compost, manure or mushroom compost. Blackcurrants can be grown in sun or semi-shade, but they hate being too dry. Incorporating humus into the soil will help. Plant deeply- about 6cm deeper than the plants were growing in their pots. I’ve found the best varieties to grow are anything with the prefix “Ben” – so Ben Connan, Ben Sarek, Ben Hope and Ben Lomond.

Today’s syrup was made from frozen fruit. They freeze well and are free flowing, so you only need to defrost a few at a time. A tip for preparing them. Freeze them straight from the garden. And when they are frozen, take them out and roll them carefully in a tea towel. All the stems and bottoms will come off easily and you can pop the fruit back in the freezer before they thaw out. This is much easier than trying to top and tail fresh, squashy fruit.

I’ll leave you with another view from the garden just now. I’ll be glad when the light returns. Meanwhile, every time I look in the freezer there’s a reminder of summer. It’s like opening a box of jewels.

Fact Sheet- BBC Down to Earth gardening programme -recipes and home-made presents

From the latest BBC Radio Leicester Christmas Party programme. Each week I take in something I’ve made, using produce from my garden. It’s usually cake, or a vegetable pie, jam or preserves. This week it is festive Beetroot and Spice Cake. I sowed a 1.3m by 3m plot with mixed beetroot seeds in August and September. The mild autumn means I’ve now got a bumper crop, and I’m trying all different kinds of recipes to use them.

Here’s a link to the programme. You can listen again on your computer or i-pad, or live each Sunday 12-1pm on Freeview 721. http://bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05nbmln The programme starts at 06.06 on the timeline,

This is a lovely moist cake with a spicy lemon tang. The recipe came via a shout out on twitter where I am known as @kgimson. I must credit The Propagator @cavershamjj for this wonderful recipe.

Beetroot cake

3 small beetroot 250g

250g Butter

1 lemon -grated rind and juice

1 cup caster sugar -220g

4 free range eggs

1 cup – 150g dried currants or mixed dried fruit

1 cup- 150g plain flour

1 cup- 150g SR. Flour

Pinch mixed spice

Caster sugar for dusting

20cm deep cake tin, lined with greaseproof paper

Method :

Peel and coarsely grate the beetroot.

Use a hand whisk or food processor to mix sugar, butter and lemon rind.

Add the eggs a little at a time. Mixture might curdle, but it will come back again.

Fold in flour, mixed spice and currants.

Add the beetroot and lemon juice.

Cook for one and half hours in a moderate oven, 160 to 180 degrees. Cover with baking parchment after 15 minutes, to prevent burning.

When cooked and cool, sprinkle with icing sugar. Can be frozen for 3 months. Lasts one week in a sealed container.

Cherry marzipan chocolates

As it’s Christmas, I took in these home-made chocolates. So easy to make. I preserved my home-grown cherries in alcohol in the summer. Here’s the recipe

Cherries preserved in alcohol and drained- or glacé cherries soaked overnight in cherry brandy.

Block of marzipan

Bar of Bourneville dark chocolate or similar 70 percent cocoa butter chocolate.

Method:

Slightly warm the marzipan in the microwave so that it is mouldable. Drain the cherries and dry on paper towel. Make a small circle of marzipan in your hand and enclose the cherry. Roll the marzipan cherries in melted chocolate and place in the fridge to cool. These make delicious home-made presents.

Family favourite – Aunty Doris – Crispy Cakes

Something we make every Christmas. Much loved by all the family- as was our Aunty Doris. Hopefully, writing this here preserves this recipe for my children, should they ever come looking in the future. It’s good to have traditions that pass from one generation to another.

The recipe is very simple. It is equal amounts of butter, marshmallows and dairy toffee, all melted together in a heavy-based jam pan. When melted, add Kellogg’s Rice Crispies until all the melted mixture is coated. Pour out into a shallow metal tray and leave to cool slightly. Cut into squares before it cools completely.

I also like to use materials from my garden for home-made presents. The team got some of these fir cone bird feeders.

Simply melt a block of lard in a heavy based jam pan. Add bird seed, grated cheese, breadcrumbs, apple peelings, dried fruit and crushed peanuts. You can spoon the mixture onto the fir cones. It makes a marvellously messy project for young children. If time is short, you can simply add the fir cones to the pan and stir around. The mixture gets caught up in the open fir cone scales. Tie with a piece of festive ribbon, or some string and wrap in foil to dry. I’ve hung mine on the tips of my beech tree. Squirrels so far can’t get to them because the tips of the branches are too springy for them. I’ve also dangled them along my office window where a little robin comes each day for treats.

Each week I take in flowers I’ve grown in my garden. For Christmas I’ve harvested some Annabelle hydrangea seed heads and sprayed them silver. I wrote about these arrangements Here.

It certainly brightened up the radio station for the afternoon. And costs nothing, apart from a quick blast of florists spray.

Wishing you all a wonderful, happy Christmas. Down to Earth will be back on air in the New Year with lots of exciting ideas for what to grow in your garden, and the whole team giving help and advice to get the most from your plot. Thanks for listening in during 2017. I’ve enjoyed being the new girl on the team.

(I am not representing the BBC. Views are my own, and not necessarily those of the BBC.)

In A Vase On Monday -Christmas flowers and foliage from the garden

One of the joys of winter is mooching around the garden and still finding flowers and foliage to bring indoors. This week’s mooching produced hydrangea Annabelle flower heads. They have dried to a beautiful pale parchment colour.

In late summer, Hydrangea Annabelle has creamy white flower heads, often the size of footballs. I leave them to create architectural shapes in winter. They look fabulous with a topping of frost or snow. At Christmas I cut a few for the house. A quick spray of silver gives them a festive flourish. I use Oasis floral spray for my arrangements. It dries in seconds and gives a good finish. You don’t need to use very much to give foliage and flowers a silver sheen. I love the way it highlights the veins on the back of the petals.

In keeping with the silver theme, I’ve added some willow twigs. They are just starting to produce soft, furry grey catkins. A welcome sight and a reminder that spring won’t be far away. Some fluffy seed heads add texture. These are Clematis tangutica orientalis Engelina, also know as My Angel. It scrambles up through the hawthorn hedge and produces the most beautiful, delicate flowers in autumn. I wrote about it Here.

Adding a touch of colour is my Mum’s Chinese lanterns, Physalis alkegengi. This grows by Mum’s front door and is always such a cheerful welcome to any visitors. It’s rather a rampant plant and to be honest it looks like it’s trying to get in through the front door. Every autumn we pick a few of the seed heads to dry, leaving most of them to provide a glowing approach all along the front drive.

I’ve added some Scott’s pine, Pinus sylvestris, complete with beautiful resin-scented cones. A little pile of cones stands beside our fireplace ready to be thrown into the fire. Along with some precious apple tree logs, saved for Christmas. The scent drifts through the house to the kitchen where I’m making spiced ginger biscuits.

Thank you to Cathy at ramblinginthegarden for hosting this, my favourite meme. Go over and have a look what Cathy and all the other gardeners are doing for their IAVOM this week. You can also follow me on twitter @kgimson and Instagram karengimson1 and on iPlayer at BBC radio Down to Earth.

Have a wonderful Christmas. Thank you all of you for reading and sending such lovely, encouraging comments each week. It is always appreciated. Love from Karen x

Last minute Christmas Present Ideas for Gardeners

I am always so pleased to be asked for my opinions on anything garden-related. After working in horticulture for 25 years, it is very nice to be asked by magazines, newspapers and the BBC. This week I was on the radio again, giving recommendations for Christmas present ideas. Have a listen in to BBC Radio Down to Earth programme to hear my suggestions. Here’s a link http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05n7fh1 The programme starts at 9 minutes 10 on the timeline.

I’m practically living in these RHS Gold Leaf Gloves. They are so comfortable to use, and beautiful too. Here’s the link for more information at RHS shops. I absolutely love them. They are so practical – and pretty. British made, quality material, they have a padded palm, and little tabs to get them on and off easily. Well designed and well priced.

There are three designs, iris, rose and poppy, based on artwork from the RHS Lindley Library.

Mike Salotti – Brooksby College lecturer and DTE team member recommends Adopt a Vine Scheme as a great present idea for wine lovers. Here’s the details for the Hanwell Scheme. Hanwell Estate

My second suggestion is handmade soap from Cooks Lane Herbs, a Leicestershire company run by Sian and Richard. All natural ingredients, not tested on animals, and the packaging is recyclable. The scent is fabulous. They can be purchased mail order, or locally from farmers markets. Here’s the website link for Cooks Lane Herbs .

My third suggestion is an Urbalive worm composter from Wiggly wigglers .

Can be used in the greenhouse, garden shed, potting shed or kitchen even. The resulting liquid feed will be diluted down and used all around the garden next spring and summer. A great way to compost kitchen waste, and make free compost.

I wrote about my trial composter Here.

My fourth suggestion is Making Winter by Emma Mitchell, a creative guide for surviving the winter months, published by Michael O’Mara books. A delight from cover to cover. The photography is a mood-lifter to start with. I could just sit looking at the beautiful pictures to be honest. There’s crafts, cooking and activities to while away the winter months and survive cold, grey rainy days.

Recipes include Plum, Orange and Ginger Blondies. Delicious!

There’s knitting and crochet scarves to create.

A feast for the senses. Click on the Link to read read more about the book.

There are more great ideas on the rest of the hour-long programme. There’s suggestions for garden lighting, seeds, weather stations and bird feeders. Have a listen and let me know what you think of our ideas.

What’s New in My Greenhouse- A Review of Urbalive Worm Farm

I have a natural inclination to feed people. Visitors to Bramble Garden will more than likely find me in the kitchen cooking something -usually with produce just harvested from the plot. There will be cake and home made biscuits aplenty- accompanied by steaming pots of tea. My urge to feed everyone in sight extends to pets- my own – and any waifs and strays I encounter. Wild and tame are all nurtured here. For the past month I have also been feeding my own little “farm.” The creatures contained in the farm are worms.

It has become a strangely compelling task. I’m chopping apple cores and peelings at the moment for them. I’m making fruit pies for the freezer using our glut of Bramley apples. And while the pies are cooking, I’ll run up the garden path to feed the peelings to the worms. They are a thriving little colony of creatures turning all my kitchen waste into free compost for the garden. And it’s a project I’m really enjoying.

The Urbalive worm farm comes in kit form. It’s very simple to put together. The wooden legs are first screwed into the base, and there’s a tap to attach as well. The composter will provide valuable liquid plant food when it’s established. I’ll dilute it down 1:10 with water to feed house plants and for growing on seedlings and plants I’ve propagated.

The worm composter comes with everything needed, an easy to read set-up guide and starter worm food.

There’s even a bag of Worm Treat, a special mix of all the things that worms love to eat, in pellet form.

To get things going, soak the coir block in a bowl of warm water for a couple of hours.

The coir expands to form a starter home for the worms. This bedding goes into the first of two stacking trays.

Then you can add the pack of live worms which comes with the kit.

Add your kitchen scraps, peelings, left over food. Teabags are brilliant, as apparently the worms lay their eggs in them. Crushed egg shells help with digestion. A little bit of cardboard is a special treat. After a week, I’m virtually writing menus for the worms. I care about them. Are they getting a balanced diet? Are they warm enough? Do they have enough moisture? They have virtually become pets! When I lift the lid one morning and find baby worms, well, I can’t stop smiling, to be honest. Such a little thing makes me happy.

For winter, the wormery will be quite happy in the greenhouse. But I’m going to move it to the potting shed in the summer when things warm up. It’s such a pretty design, I could probably put it in the kitchen to be honest.

My Urbalive worm farm composter came from Wiggly Wigglers and was supplied as a free trial, in return for an honest review. The composters come in lime green or stone grey colours. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like about the kit. It was easy to put together and works well. It does what it says on the box- turning kitchen waste into free compost for the garden. The mail order process was quick. My farm arrived within two days of ordering.

There is only one word of warning. It becomes a totally engaging occupation. But on the plus side- it will definitely make you smile.

My Garden Right Now and End of the Month View – Dec 3rd 2017

I’m joining in with Michelle with #my-garden-right-now and Steve Glebe House #End-of-month-view. Enjoy a slideshow of photos from my garden today. There’s still plenty of colour thanks to the alstroemerias and chrysanthemums in the open-ended ploy tunnel. Keeping the rain off the flowers helps to make them last until Christmas.

I talked about mouldable fairy lights Here. You can listen in to BBC Radio Leicester Down to Earth programme here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05mf51m where we talk about my cut flowers, grown all the year round for friends and family.

The alstroemerias from Viv Marsh postal Plants grow in 40cm pots and flower nearly 12 months of the year. Choose the long stem varieties if you are growing for cut flowers.

White Stallion chrysanthemums came from Chrysanthemums Direct Nursery as cuttings at the RHS Malvern show last autumn. The yellow chrysanthemums are cuttings from my father in law and have been grown in the family since the 1950s. Originally they came from an Aunty Doris. It’s lovely to keep up the tradition of growing these cheerful plants.

The mouldable lights came from Wilco Christmas range and cost £3.50 including the batteries. I’ve wound them around the lemon trees And plant pots to give a cheerful glow.

Just two weeks ago, the view from the greenhouse and potting shed was this :

Now the golden beech trees are bare and the view from the potting bench -where I’m planting up hyacinth bowls for Christmas and putting amaryllis bulbs in terracotta pots -looks like this:

Luckily there’s some early hellebores in flower to brighten things up. This one is called Jacob.

And still on the white theme, this beautiful rose Pearl Drift is in flower today. What a star. It blooms all summer and is free of black spot. I can highly recommend this easy modern shrub rose. It is delicately scented too.

I’m keeping an eye on these huge red rose hips for my Christmas decorations. Rosa Scarlet Fire is another disease resistant variety with large open single red roses and hips the size of marbles. Birds don’t seem to bother with them, probably due to their enormous size.

Something that is also in flower now- and not waiting until Christmas- are these Paperwhite narcissi. I wrote about planting them in jam jars and tall glass vases a few weeks back. Well, November has been so mild with above average temperatures that forced bulbs like these are weeks ahead of schedule. The scent is truly glorious.

This week I also appeared on the Ben Jackson radio show talking about making Christmas presents from items collected from the garden. Here’s my succulent /cacti in a jam jar idea. I used pea gravel, a recycled jam jar and an offset from one of my plants to make this simple display.

Pimpernel Press sent me this award-winning book to review. Head Gardeners by Ambra Edwards would make an ideal Christmas present. It’s full of behind-the-scenes tips and glorious photos. An inspiring insight into what motivates head gardeners at some of the country’s most beautiful gardens. Photos are by Charlie Hopkinson and the book won Inspirational Book of the Year at the recent Garden Media Guild Awards. I rarely sit down and read a book cover to cover- but I just couldn’t put this one down. It is fascinating to hear the voices of the head gardeners. I kept nodding agreement, and scribbling down notes. It’s one of my favourites this year. Easy to see why it is a winner.

To be honest, it was dark by the time I stepped out of the potting shed.

Just in time to see the tawny owls that hatched in our garden this summer. What a wonderful end to a beautiful winter’s day.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour of my garden in December. Go over to Michelle at Vegplotting to see what others are posting for #my-garden-right-now. And also Steve at glebehouse for the #end-of-month-view. It would be great to see what you are getting up to on your plot just now.

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.