Pear and Almond Pastries- family favourite recipes

It’s been a bumper year for fruit. There’s crates of pears in the spare room, and little piles of rosy red apples all along the windowsills. The whole house smells like pear and apple crumble! I’ve never managed to reach the top of the fruit trees before. Our old ladders were too wobbly. But this year I’ve a fabulous new addition to the garden- a Henchman tripod ladder. It’s made everything easier – and safer. All the best, tastiest fruit- always at the top of the tree- has been harvested. This year, more than ever, it feels as if nothing should be wasted. Spare fruit has been distributed to friends and family in little paper bags. Damaged, over-ripe fruit has been enjoyed by hedgehogs and blackbirds, so wildlife has not been forgotten either.

One of our favourite autumn recipes is Pear and Almond Pastries. As usual, just a few ingredients are needed, and the little parcels of tasty pears only take minutes to make. Have a go at making them, and let me know how you get on.

INGREDIENTS

1 pack of ready rolled puff pastry

3 or 4 ripe pears

1 tbsp dark brown sugar

3 tbsp ground almonds

1 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2tbsp flaked almonds for the top

1 egg, beaten (optional- use almond milk for vegans)

Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Baking tray with baking paper or silicone sheet.

190C oven 15-20 minutes

METHOD

Unroll the pastry and cut into squares. Lay them on the baking tray.

Peel and halve the pears. Place slices on top of the pastry squares.

In a bowl, mix the sugar, ground almonds, ground cloves, cinnamon together. Pile spoonfuls of the mixture on top of the pears.

Take the corners of the pastry and draw them together to make a rough parcel. The pastries will stretch and turn out all shapes, and it doesn’t matter. They will still taste the same.

Brush the top with beaten egg (or almond milk) and sprinkle over the flaked almonds.

Cook in a preheated oven for 15 -20 minutes. Check them after 10 minutes to see how brown they are. The pastries will be ready when they are risen and light brown. They burn easily, so keep an eye on them. 20 minutes might be too long for fast ovens. Dust with icing sugar, if you have some.

Can be eaten cold or warm. Can be frozen for 3 months. Delicious with clotted cream, or custard. We also love them with home-made vanilla icecream.

Thanks for reading. Have a great gardening week and keep in touch.

Links: Henchman ladders https://www.henchman.co.uk/

Fruit trees: Six Acre Nursery, Costock, Leicestershire.

Silicone sheets are reusable from http://www.kitchenrangecookshop.com/

Photos above show two packets of puff pastry.

Little Green Paper Shop- Review

I need little excuse to send cards to friends and relatives. I love keeping in touch with cheerful notes, and this year it seems even more important that usual to try to keep a connection. But I’m usually disappointed with the cards I see for sale. They are often single -use items, covered with embellishments and glitter. Not always recyclable. So I was happy to see a sample pack of eco-friendly stationery from the Little Green Paper Shop.

Founded by Ana in Cheshire in 2014, the online shop stocks a range of beautiful cards made from such intriguing substances as elephant dung and cotton fibre, and apparently, reindeer droppings. The elephant dung paper is hand-made in India and provides a source of income for elephant sanctuaries which the makers support.

Ana started by supplying wedding stationery, but has branched out to provide cards, crackers and wrapping paper for Christmas and other special occasions. Ana designs, prints, cuts and packages the items, and it’s very much a family affair with her husband and two sons helping out.

The samples I received are so delightful – and made me smile- I have placed an order for Christmas, and I’m planning to have some business cards printed. I fancy the idea of having cards made from seed paper which can be planted and will grow. Truly something earth-friendly and worth giving. Quite different from the throw-away cards you usually see.

Kitten Monty likes them too! And cats, as you know, are never wrong.

Please leave a comment in the box at the bottom of the page and Ana will select one person to receive a sample pack of cards and paper.

Notes:

I didn’t pay for my samples, but as usual, there’s no obligation to write about them, and I only say nice things when I want to, and in this case, I think the cards are unusual and truly special. I’m happy to recommend the Little Green Paper Shop.

https://littlegreenpapershop.com/

Thanks for reading. I’m @kgimson on twitter, and karengimson1 on instagram, so do say hello there as well.

Niwaki tools review – and some garden snips to give away

I don’t use chemicals in my garden. Some weeds are allowed to thrive, if they are useful to insects and pollinators. Dandelions are particularly good for bees, especially in early spring when pollen is scarce. There are some types of solitary bee that only feed on dandelions. I wouldn’t want to deprive them of their vital sustenance. But, I don’t want a lawn predominantly covered in dandelions. It’s all about striking a balance, so I start to thin them out in mid-summer. Niwaki sent a Hori Hori knife for a trial and It’s perfect for deep-rooted weeds such as dandelions. I was using a trowel before, which often didn’t get to the bottom of the tap root, and was hard work over a large area. The Hori Hori is sharp enough to easily slice through grass, and strong enough to gently lever weeds out of the soft wet ground. I notice, on the website, it says the knife is: “Mighty, but not invincible. It’s best not to stick it in heavy clay and yank back hard.”

When I’ve removed the dandelions, plantains and thistles, I pop a Seedball into the hole that’s left. Seedballs are wildflower seeds encased in clay. They can simply be scattered around the garden. They come in selections named bee, butterfly, poppy, urban, bat, bird and beetle. Hopefully, in time, I’ll end up with a flowering lawn, full of cowslips, self heal, wild marjoram and primroses. I’m aiming for a tapestry carpet effect.

The Hori Hori has a strong canvas holster which I think could be attached to a belt. The hand-forged carbon steel blade runs right through the handle, for strength. Tough and strong, it seems built to last. The handle is FSC beech wood and the blade is 7″ 17cm long.

As well as digging up weeds in the lawn, my knife is great for removing weeds from between paving slabs. I also spent a happy hour digging up ‘free’ plants which had self-seeded in the gravel. I found bellis daisies, perennial geraniums, sedums, erigeron daisies and several seedling trees- silver birch, maple and mountain ash. Much easier to lever them out with a sharp blade than using a trowel.

Bellis daisies seed readily around and make lovely bedding plants for borders and plant pots. Free plants are always welcome here.

Here’s a seedling mountain ash rescued from the gravel path. Beautiful spring flowers for bees, and autumn berries for birds. Great for any wildlife garden.

Erigeron karvinskianus also seeds readily between paving and in gravel. Another ‘free plant,’ dug up and transplanted into a 9cm pot.

My Hori Hori has quickly become a tool I reach for whatever task I’m doing, planting, weeding, slashing bramble roots. It’s comfortable to use and makes life much easier. And that’s what gardening is all about for me, managing the weeds, not totally obliterating them, just tipping the balance, and keeping me in charge, rather than always rushing around desperately trying to keep up.

I’ve asked the team at Niwaki to offer a reader prize. They have currently sold out of Hori Hori knives, probably due to the upsurge of interest in gardening over the covid period. So they are offering some forged garden snips instead. Keep an eye on the blog, and when they send me another item to try, the Hori Hori will probably be back in stock for a prize at a later date.

Meanwhile, to enter for the garden snips, just leave a comment in the box below and Niwaki will randomly select a name. Usual rules apply. Niwaki’s decision is final and there’s no cash alternative.

A winner will be announced on Monday. Please check back. Thank you.

Do you have any favourite garden tools. Nearly all of mine belonged to my grandfather Ted Foulds. And some belonged to his father, so they date back to the 1930s. They have certainly stood the test of time, and I wouldn’t be without them.

Links : Niwaki https://www.niwaki.com/store/hori-hori/

Seedball : https://seedball.co.uk/product/bee-matchbox/

I write for Garden News Magazine: https://www.gardennewsmagazine.co.uk/minimag

Winners! Thank you for entering the prize draws on this blog. Here are the recent winners’ names:

Hydrangeas by Naomi Slade.

Hydrangeas by Naomi Slade was won by Shirley . If she would kindly e mail me, I’ll ask the publishers to forward a copy of this gorgeous new book. k.gimson@btinternet.com.

Review : https://bramblegarden.com/2020/06/05/hydrangeas-book-review-and-1-copy-to-give-away/

Blagdon Pond-in-a-box : won by Jacksb50. Who was also sent some Blagdon pond clean pods to try out.

Review: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/05/07/blagdon-pond-in-a-box-review-and-prize-draw/

Corokia -My Adventrue by Mona Abboud. Won by Suella, who also won a bundle of new products including : Activearth sample.

https://bramblegarden.com/2020/03/29/corokia-my-adventure-my-bbc-garden-hour-book-of-the-week-book-review/

https://bramblegarden.com/?s=Activearth

Hozelock Pure Bokashi composter was won by Lucy Corrander.

Review: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/03/21/hozelock-pure-bokashi-composter-on-trial-and-one-to-give-away-saturday-21-march-2020/

Hozelock Tuffhoze was won by Mary Thomas.

Review: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/12/05/hozelock-tuffhoze-on-test-at-bramble-garden/

Wildlife World Wildlife Observation Camera was won by Sean.

Review: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/03/17/wildlife-watching-camera-on-trial-and-prize-draw-for-readers/

Diary of A Modern Country Gardener by Tamsin Westhorpe, won by Cathy Lyon -Green

Review: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/02/22/diary-of-a-modern-country-gardener/

I’m very grateful to all the gardening suppliers and companies offering prizes for readers. I love trying new ideas. I’ll try anything, providing it is suitable for organic gardening and doesn’t harm any living creature. I never accept payment for trying the samples. I prefer to be free to give my honest opinion.

Thank you also for reading and for leaving comments. Look out for more gardening books on the horizon, a Hozelock liquid feed kit, some Japanese Niwaki garden secateurs and some new organic pest and weed control products. It’s interesting to see what’s available for gardeners in modern times. My grandfather would have been amazed by the wide choice of products. He would have loved trialling them as much as I do. Things certainly have changed since he gardened in the 1940s and 1950s. Many products make life a lot easier, all round.

A Walk Around My Country Garden -27 Mar 2020

When I planted this walkway of trees, I never knew how essential they were going to be. I must meander along these paths at least 20 times a day, lost in thought.

I’m sharing as many cheerful photos as I can find today. The covid crisis initially knocked me for six. I am desperately worried about all our elderly relatives. For all those expecting babies in the summer. For my young daughters, one a newly qualified nurse, working with desperately ill patients right now. If I could solve everything with walking, I would have worn out my shoes. It’s the first time in my life I have no answers. I can’t do anything to make it ‘right.’ Normally I can think of something. In every other crisis, I have found a solution. Something to make things better.

So I am turning to what I know. Gardening. Giving out advice to anyone who needs it. Families have struggled to buy fresh salads and veg these past few weeks. I certainly haven’t managed to obtain what I’ve needed. I couldn’t find bread, flour or milk. It’s made me feel vulnerable and determined to be more self reliant when it comes to fruit and veg at least. So anyone who needs grow-your-own advice can contact me and I will help. For specific individual garden design advice, how to start a cut flower garden, grow a meadow, deal with a shady border, I am asking for a donation to Rainbows Hospice direct, any amount and I don’t need to know how much. All my garden club talks have been cancelled, and as you know, all my fees go to Rainbows. The clubs have all rebooked for next year, but I wanted to do something for this year to help. So anyone interested, please e mail me at k.gimson@btinternet.com for more information. I am learning to Skype and FaceTime live, and also using the phone and computer. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, as my grandparents used to say. Funny how their little sayings come back to you in times of trouble. It’s as if they are trying to help you, even though they are no longer here.

Enjoy the slide show of photos. I hope it lifts your spirits and makes a difference. From now on, I am solely focusing on people who are doing good, sharing information about what they are doing, supporting them in any way I can. That really is the only way forward for me.

I took this video from the garden gate last night. It’s so heartening to see farmers out and about working their fields after such a dire autumn and winter. If they are out there preparing seed beds, then we can too in our own gardens. I shall be glad to see the green shoots of seedlings after a winter of brown, barren fields.

Hedgerow blossom. This looks like a shooting star to me. Such a beautiful sight. A heart-sing moment. The hawthorn too is coming into leaf. Soon there will be clouds of May blossom to cheer us along.

Lots of daffodils at the top of the paddock. These were a sack I bought from Dobbies at Christmas, reduced from £24 to £3. I couldn’t resist the bargain price, and took a risk. They’d been stored cool and dry so were in good condition. I didn’t expect flowers this year, but they are looking stunning. Every bulb has come up. I’ll water with a potash liquid to feed the bulbs for next year. And if I see another £3 sack, I’ll certainly buy it!

Yellow flowers symbolise friendship, and that is certainly what we all need right now to get us through this crisis. I’m relying on phone calls and my twitter friends to keep upbeat. I’ve just added my name to a list of local volunteers to ring round anyone who lives alone and needs someone to chat to once a day.

Today, the wild cherry trees (prunus avium) started to flower. What a wonderful sight. These trees only flower for a week or two, but we will sit under them with our cups of tea, have picnics outdoors and revel in every single moment they are in bloom.

My cut flower tulips are in bud. Tulips in the sunny front garden are already flowering early. I’ll cut a huge bunch of daffodils and tulips for the front windows. Vases of flowers will cheer up anyone passing by, even though they can’t call in to visit.

These double creamy tulips, Mount Tacoma, are favourites. They remind me of swan feathers. So graceful.

Scented narcissi, Geranium and Pheasants Eye, are starting to flower. Fabulous with yellow hyacinths and the first wallflowers.

In the greenhouse, the succulents are starting to glow. I’ve started to water everything, and I’m pleased this aeonium has come through the winter.

There’s plenty of citrus fruit coming along. I’ll be able to make orange cakes and lemon meringues soon.

Would you believe it, my new Polar Bear snowdrop is still in flower – at the end of March. It’s a new elwesii type of snowdrop with huge rounded petals and short pedicels which make the flowers look up and out rather than hang down. It looks rather surprised to be out in the spring sunshine amongst daffodils. I wonder if next year it will flower much earlier.

There’s life in the pond. The tadpoles are forming. Lots of pond skaters, some newts, and we’ve even spotted a grass snake, on our new wildlife camera set up on bank.

I’ve mounted the camera on a log, so I can move it about the garden without it being knocked over. Tonight we are hoping to catch sight of the hedgehogs. They are out and about at dusk, making nests in the bottom of the ‘fedge’ and under the old disused hen house.

Ladybirds are much in evidence. Here they are on the phlomis. My army of pest control workers. I’ve left twiggy piles of stems all around the garden to give insects a place to hibernate. Hopefully they will repay me by eating the aphids.

And there’s plenty of bees, thankfully. Bumble bees and solitary bees of all shapes and sizes. I have a new book to review, The Secret Lives of Garden Bees by Jean Vernon. I can think of nothing better than sitting under my cherry trees and loosing myself in a book. It will be something soothing and calming. Much needed at the moment.

Here’s an enormous bumble bee on the wild anemones. It’s lovely to have a book you can go to to learn more about the bees visiting your garden. And look at ways you can help them to thrive. Something positive to focus on.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this walk around my garden today. The sun is shining and it’s 30C in the greenhouse. All the windows and doors are thrown open. Get in touch and let me know what’s looking lovely in your garden today. And if you are feeling alone or sad, let me know. We are in this together. And be reassured that lots of people are doing wonderful things to help one another. You just have to look for the positives in life. As ever.

Love Karen xx

Hozelock Tuffhoze – on Test at Bramble Garden

Prize Draw for readers.

*update: Mary Thomas has won the prize draw. Thank you everyone for leaving a comment.

Having been sent a new Hozelock hosepipe to try out, I discovered there’s a limit to my artistic talents. I just couldn’t think of any fancy ways to photograph said hosepipe! So here it is, piled on my garden bench. Even the cat is looking quizzically at me.

Anyway, my trial went much better than my picture-taking. I can confirm that the new Tuffhoze is a wonder. It’s lightweight and doesn’t twist, kink or trip you up.

As you can see, my old hosepipe has a leak, which means you get sprayed up the back every time you switch it on. It also almost causes a hernia when you need to manoeuvre it. It’s heavy and cumbersome, and wastes precious water.

Whereas the Tuffhoze is light enough to be carried on one arm. And here I am – arm outstretched, holding the hosepipe. I don’t think they will give me a job in their promotional department, but I’m trying very hard to make a hosepipe exciting!

As you can see from the box, the new hosepipe is a hybrid combining the best of two types of hose technologies; traditional pvc and textile. With a good 30 year guarantee, it should be hard wearing and long lasting.

I was delighted to be asked to try out the new hose and give it 10 out of 10 for being easy to use and light weight. I am always looking for ways to make gardening easier, and this addition to the garden will be a boon next summer.

I used the hosepipe to give my plant pots a clean, as there’s not much watering needed at this time of the year. All my spare plant pots are going to Dobbies garden centres where a new recycling scheme has just been launched. All plastic pots of any size and colour, and also trays are being accepted – but not polystyrene containers. Dobbies say the plant pots will be turned into pellets which will then be recycled into new plastic items. They say the pots will not end up in landfill. There are 34 garden centres in the UK and all are taking part in the recycling scheme. They just ask that the pots have been given a quick wash first, as too much soil will hamper the process.

So to sum up, the main plus points for Tuffhoze, for us gardeners, are:

* Easy to move about and lightweight

* Doesn’t kink

*UV resistant and hardwearing

* Good quality, leak free fittings

*Easy to clean

*Coils up neatly, making it easy to store. Can be wound on to a cart, but mine went back in the box.

*Comes with a jet nozzle with variable sprays.

*Has a tap converter, with two types of thread.

Fresh water is a luxury, and so, all the water I used to clean the plant pots was saved and will be used to water the poly tunnel over the winter. I didn’t need much as the powerful sprayer washed the pots really well.

Please leave a comment below if you would like to have your name put into a prize draw. The prize draw ends on Sunday 8th December.

Hozelock are running the competition and a name will be randomly selected. All the usual rules apply, there’s no cash alternative and Hozelock’s decision is final. I’m not sure what size hose they will be sending out, to be honest. It will either be 15m or 25m. Probably after Christmas now. Good luck!

Please help me spread the word about bramblegarden.com by sharing this post with a friend, a neighbour or via any social media platform you like. Thank you.

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 Thursday 10th October 2019

Rich Venetian shades. Just the joy we need for October days. Temperatures are dipping and nights drawing in, but the cut flower patch is blazing with colour.

Dahlia Nuit d’Ete is flowering well, standing up to the wind and the rain. We had the wettest September for 20 years. And October doesn’t look like it’s getting any drier. We’ve had 134mm of rain in ten days. That amount usually falls in two and a half months! With swamp-like conditions it’s impossible to work on the borders. Luckily my cut flower patch is divided by little slabbed paths, so I never need to step on the soil.

Alstroemeria Laguna and Serenade

In amongst the dahlias there’s pink and red alstroemerias grown in pots. If you pull the flower stems out of the compost when you pick them, more blooms will follow. Pull instead of cut is the message. It seems destructive, but promotes further flowering. These are tall varieties suitable for cutting. I accidentally bought some dwarf types once, which looked pretty in the borders, but were hopeless for flower arranging. So take care when choosing plants.

Dahlia Arabian Night

An old favourite I’ve grown for years. Very reliable and doesn’t seem troubled by rain and wind. Earwigs don’t seem to go for the darker shades, preferring the whites and pale-flowered dahlias. If your plants are being nibbled by earwigs, place upturned pots of straw or corrugated cardboard on canes near the flowers. In the morning you can tip the earwigs and their bedding into a wildlife corner, or amongst fruit trees. Earwigs are voracious predators of aphids and vine weevils. Worth relocating away from your dahlias.

Amaranthus cordatus

Love lies bleeding. An easy to grow annual. Produces pendant tassel-like flowers. It’s also known as velvet flower, foxtail and prince’s feather. Sow seeds in half seed trays in March/April. Prick out seedlings into 9cm pots or full seed trays and plant out after frosts. Flowers all summer until the end of October and sometimes into November, depending on temperatures.

Penstemon Plum Jerkum.

A short-lived perennial. This came as a cutting from a friend. It’s a good idea to take insurance-policy cuttings in late summer. These plants are not totally hardy. It’s the winter wet that defeats them, so plant in well drained soil in full sun and protect from the worst of the weather with fleece. Take cuttings in July and August from non-flowering shoots. Cut below a pair of leaves, where there’s a concentration of hormones to promote rooting. Remove all but the top two leaves. Place the cuttings around the edges of a 9cm pot filled with 50/ 50 horticultural grit and compost. The edges of the pot provide the most free draining position for the cuttings, which helps roots to form.

Verbena Bonariensis

Another short-lived perennial requiring a sunny spot in well-drained soil. I lost all my plants in the Beast for the East big freeze last year. Luckily, it grows really well from seed and cuttings. Sow seed in the spring in half trays and prick out, as above. Or take cuttings in late summer. There are tiny side shoots just above a pair of leaves. Gently pull these down and you will have a short cutting.

Aeonium Zwartkop

Aeoniums are evergreen succulents with a shrubby growth habit. My plants collapsed in the wind and some of the stems broke off. They make a lovely, unusual addition to flower arrangements. It’s all about using what you’ve got in the garden. When I take the posy apart, I’ll cut the bottom few inches from the stems and stick them in a pot of very gritty compost. Kept frost free, the cuttings will readily root and I’ll have new plants to stand out on the patio next summer.

Trifolium pratense red clover

The lovely pink rounded flower on the left is just common clover. This year I grew a patch of wild flower meadow in a raised windowbox on legs. I’m always saying you don’t need acres of land to grow food, flowers, and veg. So I put it to the test. It worked a treat. I filled the containers with Dalefoot seed compost and sowed seeds direct in spring. Red clover flowered all summer, alongside blue harebells, yellow birds foot trefoil, scabious, corncockle, and vipers bugloss. It’s been a joy to watch bees, hoverflies and butterflies visiting my little patch of “meadow.”

Nicotiana mutabilis.

The pretty tubular flowers are colour-changing tobacco plants. These were sown and planted last year. They self-sowed over the winter, and have come up stronger and more beautiful this summer. I’m hoping they will do the same for next year, but I’ve saved seed and sown some more, just in case. Stems grow to 1.5m and produce clouds of trumpet-like flowers. They change colour as they age through various shades of white, pink and lilac. Glorious, and highly recommended. I’ll never be without it now I’ve seen it flower all summer long.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my Venetian shades bouquet, photographed on a windswept day in the garden. Golden beech tree leaves were swirling past my head as I was tying up the flowers. It seems autumn is on a fast forward setting. What is it like in your garden right now?

Links: I love to join in with Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday meme. But Mondays are my busiest working day. So I’m just going to post photos when I can. I’ll be reading all your posts when I get home from work.

IAVOM : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

Dahlias : https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/search-results?s=Dahlias+

Alstroemerias: http://www.postalplants.co.uk/catalogue.asp

Amaranthus :https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Amaranthus-Love-Lies-Bleeding-Seeds.html

Penstemon : https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/162416/Penstemon-Pensham-Plum-Jerkum-(Pensham-Series)/Details

Verbena Bonariensis; https://higgledygarden.com/2011/11/21/verbena-bonariensis/

Aeonium: https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/details%3Fplantid%3D64

I’m @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. Please feel free to share this post, linking back to bramblegarden.com

Dancing with Bees- prize draw winner. And The Good Bee Review. New books

Thank you everyone who left a comment on my review of Brigit Strawbridge Howard’s new book, Dancing with Bees. All names were put in a hat and a winner randomly selected. A copy will be posted to Debi Holland when it’s published on 5th September.

photo: Bees loving Echinacea White Swan in my cut flower patch.

I wrote about Brigit’s new book here: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/04/dancing-with-bees-a-journey-back-to-nature/

Chelsea Green Publishing. Publication date: 5th September. £20, hardback.

Meanwhile, more new books….I have one prize draw copy to give away of :

The Good Bee- A Celebration of Bees and How to Save Them

by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum.

Published by Michael O’Mara Books, 2019.

Hardback. £9.99

It’s a delightful little book, full of insights into the secret lives of bees. The section on gardening for bees is particularly helpful. There are five simple steps to start helping bees:

* plant year round flowers, shrubs and trees

*provide nesting sites and materials

*ditch the weedkiller and bug sprays

*leave the mower in the shed

*create a bee watering hole.

There’s ideas for making DIY bee hotels and info on where to site them. A charming, well-written book packed full of interesting facts. It would make a perfect stocking -filler present for anyone wanting to know more about bees.

Alison Benjamin and Brian McCallum discovered their passion for bees and beekeeping twelve years ago. Since then they’ve set up Urban Bees, working with communities, charities, businesses and the public to raise awareness about all bees and support bee populations through education. They established a number of apiaries around London, including in Regent’s Park. They have written three books together, including their bestseller, A World Without Bees.

Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw. No purchase is necessary. A name will be randomly selected by the publishers. There’s no cash alternative.

Links:

The Good Bee : https://www.mombooks.com/book/the-good-bee/

Dancing with Bees : https://www.chelseagreen.com/product/dancing-with-bees/

Next Review coming up, with a prize draw copy is:

The Garden Jungle, or Gardening to Save the Planet, by Dave Goulson.

https://www.penguin.co.uk/authors/1070593/dave-goulson.html

It’s been a fantastic summer for books- for wildlife-friendly gardeners.

Incognito Insect Repellent- Review and Prize Draw

Working in the garden, I’m often trying to fend off flies and mosquitoes intent on biting me. Flapping my arms around is my usual method of defence. It doesn’t always work. And as I found out recently, a bite or sting can turn into a nasty infection – or even blood poisoning.

I wrote about a recent accident in the garden here :

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/07/05/infection-a-warning-to-gardeners/

Readers replied with their own stories – as well as those who suffered serious infections from insect bites.

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/07/19/infection-update-19th-july-2019-gardening/

My write-up has been viewed 122,000 and liked, retweeted and commented on 31,000 times. It’s obviously a subject that resonates with many gardeners.

Since then, I’ve been careful to always wear gloves. I’ve got different gloves for the various jobs in the garden. And I make sure I cover my arms and legs – and use insect repellent.

Through Twitter, I learned about UK company Incognito and sent off for some samples to try out.

I love the anti- mosquito spray which is quick and easy to apply first thing in the morning, under and over clothing. Mosquitoes and other blood sucking insects home in on ears, wrists and ankles where blood vessels are nearer the surface. So I pay particular attention to those areas.

I’m liberally spraying the insect repellent over my clothing as well to repel ticks.

Here’s a summary of what I liked about Incognito insect repellent:

* Deet Free

* 100 percent natural ingredients

* Protects against malaria, dengue and zika-carrying mosquitos

* Recommended by NHS Public Heath England for use anywhere in the world

* Easy to apply and doesn’t leave skin feeling sticky or greasy

* Pleasant citrussy scent (oil of lemon eucalyptus )

*Protection lasts up to 4 hours against daytime biting. Easy to reapply for extended evening coverage.

I found the products to be easy and pleasant to use, and I can report that a horsefly and a whole cloud of mosquitoes were sharing my gardening space, and didn’t come anywhere near me. Also, I spent a day working alongside a lake, a situation I usually dread in the summer. And again, no bites while using the spray and creams.

I tried out the combined sun cream and insect repellent. Very useful for SPF 30 requirements. And there’s a natural moisturiser too, containing avocado, chamomile and geranium. I haven’t had a chance to try the incense sticks yet, but we are planning a family party in the garden soon where they will be very useful. They are non-toxic and have a lemony aroma.

Incognito is offering a prize of a 100ml anti-mosquito spray, and a 150ml insect repellent suncream. Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw. No purchase is necessary. Incognito will draw the winning name “out of a hat” and post the prize direct. Please also say if you don’t want to be included in the draw. All comments are very welcome.

Please feel free to share this blog post on any platform.

I am https://mobile.twitter.com/kgimson?lang=en on twitter

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

Links : Incognito https://lessmosquito.com/

NHS advice re insect bites : https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/insect-bites-and-stings/

NHS advice re sepsis : https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/sepsis/

UK Sepsis Trust https://sepsistrust.org/

You might also like my recent posts : https://bramblegarden.com/

About: https://bramblegarden.com/about/

* Currently (25 July) the repellent spray and roll-on are buy one,get one half price at Boots.

The Cotswold Wildlife Park – A Celebration of the Gardens

BOOK REVIEW

By Harriet Rycroft and Tim Miles

Produced by Reef Publishing for Cotswold Wildlife Park

£18 inc p&p.

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

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

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

Photo: Front cover.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

Mastergrip Gloves on Trial.

Review and prize draw for gardening gloves.

I’m not keen on cold wet hands, so I always wear gloves in the garden. Town and Country sent me some new Mastergrip gloves to try out.

The problem with gloves is you’ve often got a choice of wearing gloves- or doing some gardening. They aren’t always very flexible. So I’m often taking them on and off- and losing them.

In the past, I’ve just worn kitchen rubber gloves, but they are not ideal. They get hot and uncomfortable, and are easily damaged. However, Mastergrip have the advantage of being flexible and breathable.

I used them for dead heading in the greenhouse.

Pricking out and transplanting the delicate cherry tomatoes.

Weeding around the pot marigolds. These are seedlings of last year’s Calendula Orange Fizz.

The gloves are flexible enough to pick out tiny weeds. I’m not using any chemicals, so trying to keep on top of weeds is important for me.

Usually, I have to take my gloves off to do fiddly jobs like tying in the sweet peas. Luckily these gloves were easy to wear and stayed on for the whole morning while I was working in the veg plot, cut flower patch and greenhouse.

The information that comes with them says the palm and fingers have a latex coating. The back of the gloves are made from a breathable material for comfort and flexibility.

Mastergrip gloves, for everyday tasks, costs £6.99. There’s also Mastergrip Pro for tougher tasks, A thermal version for winter warmth, and a Mastergrip Patterns version for lighter tasks. There’s also versions for children, which is great. I’m always keen to get youngsters involved in gardening. They don’t usually take much persuading.

Town and Country sent these gloves unconditionally for a trial. I didn’t pay for them. However, I’ve been delighted with them, and I’m happy to recommend them.

The company has offered one pair for a prize draw. Please leave a comment below to be included in the draw. No purchase is necessary; names will be randomly selected by the company, and their decision is final. There’s no cash alternative. The deadline is Sunday 12th May, 8pm. Please also say if you don’t want to be included in the draw as all comments are welcome here. Enjoy your weekend gardening.

Links : https://www.townandco.com/

The Creative Kitchen – Book Review

By Stephanie Hafferty

Published by Permanent Publications. November 2018

*Win a free copy in the prize draw by leaving a comment at the end of the blog. And there’s a discount code for readers.

New reading in the potting shed this week is Stephanie Hafferty’s latest book on seasonal recipes for meals and drinks and making items for the garden and home.

I have to admit, I have a passion for cookery books. Many of my favourites have been handed down through the family. I’ve got Bero baking books from my grandma Betty, which bring back happy memories of delicious cakes. She never ate them herself, but just liked to make everyone smile. All our trips to the seaside- and local beauty spots such as Bradgate Park – would be accompanied by her butterfly fairy cakes. Her trifles were liberally sprinkled with hundreds and thousands. And I bet my brothers remember her home-made toffee apples. It’s amazing our teeth survived, but they did.

When you think about it, many of our strongest memories relate to sitting around a table together, sharing food. All our celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries- and Christmas being the highlight of the year- revolve around food.

With my own family and friends, I’ve tried to carry on the cooking and nurturing tradition. Although, it’s not always easy to get everyone together at the same time. We live such busy lives. When I do manage to corral the family together, I’ll usually make a massive pot of soup, a casserole, a cheese and potato pie, a vegetable lasagne, or similar. And for afters, there’s nearly always something involving apples- we have them in store all winter, and they’re free.

My cooking revolves around what I’m growing. And this is where Stephanie’s new book comes in handy; all the recipes are seasonally based. So they are relevant to what I’m growing all year round. I always start with what I’ve got available, rather than choosing a recipe. Stephanie helps by suggesting what I can do with the gluts of the season. I often have that “what-on-earth-am-I-going-to-do-with-all-this-kale” moment. Hearty bean and vegetable soup might be the answer.

I’m very keen on throwing everything in a pan together and just leaving it to cook. It gives me more time to garden- and chat. My two favourite pastimes! Stephanie must have written this book specially for me. Her Bean Stew with Red Wine is simple to make, fabulously tasty, and looks pretty too.

Alongside the main meals, soups and salads, there’s recipes for store cupboard ingredients such as flavoured salts, vinegars, herb mixes, and infused sugars. I’m definitely going to try making mint sugar. Imagine adding it to hot chocolate. Such a treat on a freezing cold day.

I’ve been thinking about what to do about vegetable stock powers since my favourite brand decided to add palm oil to its ingredients. There will be no palm oil in my house. Apart from not trusting the “ethically sourced” statement, we do not want or need palm oil. Only if we reject it will the rainforests be saved. I am just one person, but it seems the message is getting stronger. People are picking up packets of food and reading the labels and realising that palm oil has insidiously crept into so many food and household products. Anyway, now I can make my own stock powers with Stephanie’s recipes for wild herb, mushroom and tomato bouillon. And there’s a fruit bouillon for adding to yoghurts, cakes and biscuits. Such a clever idea, and easily do-able.

I’ve had a go at making herb teas, but never tried gin or brandy recipes. Stephanie’s Rhubarb and Sweet Cicely Gin sounds- and looks glorious. And wouldn’t it make a fabulous present for someone.

Sugar Plum Brandy looks equally divine. Apparently, this makes a lovely after dinner liqueur as well as a cocktail base. I’d probably add it to fruit cakes as well.

You wouldn’t think you could fit so many good ideas into one book, but Stephanie seems to have thought of everything. I particularly love her Gardeners’ Hand Scrub, Floral Bath Bombs, and Herb Candles. I’m going to be busy for the next few weeks, trying all the recipes and making presents for friends. And I’m going to enjoy every single minute of it.

Stephanie’s book is paperback and £19.95 from https://shop.permaculture.co.uk. There’s a discount code for blog readers purchasing from the shop which is BRAMBLE. Apply the code in the discount section at checkout to obtain the book for £16. Postage is extra. The book is also available via Amazon here https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creative-Kitchen-Seasonal-Recipes-Drinks/dp/1856233235 . There’s one copy available in the prize draw. Names will be randomly selected. Publisher’s decision is final. There’s no cash alternative. Worldwide delivery, for a change. Usually it’s UK only. Nice to have an international prize.

Meanwhile, the view from the potting shed is sunny today. As well as reading, I’ll be deciding what to grow next year, and Stephanie’s book will come in handy while I’m making my seed lists. What books are you enjoying at the moment? What are you planning to grow on your plots for 2019? Get in touch and let me know.

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway

Book Review

Kate Bradbury. Published by Bloomsbury Wildlife. Hardback £16.99

It’s been a difficult year. I’m only just getting over serious illness myself, and then three relatives have been ill. I’ve been stretched to the limits trying to help everyone. So when I picked up Kate Bradbury’s book, it seemed to have been written specially for me. There’s a message of hope on every page.

Kate’s struggling too. Some kind of crisis. A broken heart. She ends up homeless, sleeping on friends’ sofas. She has to leave London and make a new home in a damp dark, basement flat. Even worse, the garden is a dead place. Decked over and full of rubbish. And yet, Kate’s book is not a tale of woe. It’s about struggling and striving. But ultimately, there’s a message of hope. After pain and suffering there can be triumphs and happiness again. It’s a message I needed to hear. I made myself a reading corner in the greenhouse and tried to absorb the positive vibes. It’s not easy when you are in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes I’d read the same paragraph over and over again, without registering the words. Stress is such a debilitating thing.

Kate turns her decked-over garden into a wildlife paradise. She makes a pond, puts up bird boxes and revels in every creature that comes to live in her tiny plot. It’s not just a book about rescuing a garden, it’s about rescuing a person too. It’s about the resilience of the human spirit. We may be bowed down and almost defeated by life’s events, but we will triumph. Nature, wildlife and gardens are a balm. Wouldn’t you agree.

I particularly love Kate’s descriptions of making a bee hotel and building a pond. I learn that a pond doesn’t need to be more than 30cm deep to be of value to wildlife. I could manage that. There’s plenty of places where I could fit a pond. And her tales of rescuing bees. I’d heard about giving bees spoons of sugar. Kate talks about finding an exhausted bumblebee on the pavement. She pops it in her pocket to keep it warm while she walks home. I’d never thought of doing that. She puts the red-tailed bee in a box with a pop bottle lid full of sugar water. It’s too cold and wet for the bee to go outside, so Kate gently places some shredded paper in the box to make a cosy nest until the morning. Apparently, some bees can be helped by gently stroking their thorax. I looked it up. That’s the part of the body between the wings. I can have a go at that too, if needed. Kate gives me confidence to try. Next day, Kate releases the revived and now grumbling bee. She searches for a mahonia plant to give the bee the best chance of survival.

There are lots of hints and tips sprinkled through the book for anyone wanting to make a wildlife garden.

Regular readers will know that we planted a mini-wood when we moved here, and I grow flowers and plants for pollinators. Now I have a few more good ideas for helping wildlife in my garden. Kate’s inspiring book and joyful message was just the pick-me-up I needed, to be honest.

The publishers have kindly given one free book as a prize for readers of this blog. Usual rules apply. One name will be randomly selected in the prize draw. There’s no cash alternative. Publishers decision is final. Please leave a comment to be included in the draw. Sorry, UK entries only.

Book Review winner – The Almanac by Lia Leendertz.

Thank you everyone who commented on my review for Lia Leendertz’ New Almanac for 2019. The review was published Here

The winning name selected is https://watchingthedaisies.com.

Thanks again to everyone who read the review and took part in the prize draw. I’m grateful to the publishers for supplying a copy to give away.

I shall be buying several copies for Christmas presents. A little bit of joy for every day of the year. Lovely to dip into to keep pace with the seasons.

Here’s my gap-in-the-hedge view from the top field. A lovely spot to stand and gaze at nature, while gathering rosehips and crab apples for autumn preserves. There are lots of enticing seasonal recipes in the new Almanac. A good excuse to try something new.

The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2019

Book Review

Lia Leendertz. Illustrated by Celia Hart

Octopus Books/ Mitchell Beazley. Hardback £10. September 6 2018.

Captivated from the first page, I keep dipping into the new Almanac, published this week. I loved Lia Leendertz’ first seasonal guide created for 2018. The new version for 2019 is just as magical, if not better.

I’ve made a kind of nest in the summerhouse, heaping cushions and old quilts on a comfy armchair. It’s peaceful in here, only the sound of thrushes tap taping snail shells on the stone path. It’s just the place to settle down and delve into Lia’s book.

There’s something comforting about being in tune with the natural world around us. Checking the times for sunrise and sunset, sea temperatures, tides, moon phases. I haven’t tried planting by the moon, but there’s dates and times to get me started. It seems to make perfect sense. I love the little moments of joy. Reading that day length increases by 1 hour and eight minutes during the course of January. It gives hope when it’s needed most. Here’s the page for January. Plough Monday is included in the dates listed. I heard my grandfather talk of Plough Monday- traditionally the start of the agricultural year. The book is like a siren call leading me back through time to my farming family ancestors. A reminder to keep in my heart their customs and celebrations.

There’s recipes such as Epiphany tart, a kind of jam pastry, with a star made with overlapping triangles and each “well” containing a different flavour. I hadn’t heard of this; it sounds delicious. There’s a tradition dating back to the 1600s of creating tarts with intricate pastry patterns, coloured with different jams. I wonder if my great grandmother Annie Foulds – who was head cook at Bradgate House- would have made such a dish. She made the most delicious cakes at home at Carters Rough Cottage, Groby.

Lia’s writing is perfectly complemented by illustrations from artist Celia Hart. The prints are so beautiful they draw you in, much as a photograph of a glorious scene makes you want to step into the landscape. It’s impossible not to stare longingly at Celia’s drawings- and wish you could step into the page. I’d like to see those swifts and swallows soaring above my head and turn over the seashells she so wonderfully captures.

A mesmerising read, totally spellbinding. A beautiful month by month companion for me. For anyone, like me, who tries to weave the stories of the past into the journey to the future.

The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment below if you’d like to be included in the prize draw. The publishers will pick a name and send out a copy. The publisher’s decision is final. Sorry UK entries only.

Please share this review on any social media platform you like. Thank you.

Here is the Amazon Link for The Almanac.

Winner of Dahlias book by Naomi Slade

Congratulations to June at The Cynical Gardener who has won my prize draw for a copy of Naomi Slade’s new book, Dahlias.

I wrote a review of the book Here.

I absolutely love the book, and find I’m dipping into it whenever I sit down and rest a moment in my potting shed armchair.

The book features mouth-watering photographs by Georgianna Lane. It’s easy to read and there are lots of hints and tips on getting the best out of your dahlias.

Who could resist these lovely, brightly-coloured single varieties.

Here’s some photos of my own dahlias in my cut flower patch. I’m looking forward to trying out some of the newer varieties highlighted in the book. I’m particularly keen to try the dark red and chocolate types, as well as the cheerful sounding “happy” series.

Some of mine have been grown from seed. They produce good size plants in one year.

Dahlias will be published by Pavilion Books on 2nd August, RRP price £25. Here’s the Amazon link for more information.

Please kindly share this blog on twitter, Pinterest, facebook or any other social media platform. Thank you. And don’t forget to say hello in the comments below.

REVIVE YOUR GARDEN book review

Nick Bailey. Photography by Jonathan Buckley

Kyle Books £25 Hardback. Published spring 2018

My garden blends seamlessly with the surrounding countryside. If you drive along our country lane, you wouldn’t be able to tell anyone lived there. The garden shelters behind mature hawthorn hedges with scented wild roses and honeysuckle. I love its wildness. But there comes a point where the wild garden starts to get the upper hand; some paths are no longer accessible. The woodland is expanding and cow parsley taking over. And don’t even mention the brambles.

Just in time, Nick Bailey has produced a book that seems to be written specially for me! Revive Your Garden is a step by step guide to restoring order.

When a garden has got out of control, the task to get it back into shape seems overwhelming. It’s difficult to know where to start. This book sets out a sensible plan of action, starting with a section on “understanding the opportunities and limitations” of your plot.

Next there’s a back-to-basics approach on pruning. I should really know when and how

to prune my shrubs, but Nick’s guide gives me reassurance that I’m doing it right. There’s a master class on renovation pruning with plenty of photographs to illustrate different techniques.

For beginners, there’s a very good section on identifying the difference between weeds and useful plants worth saving. My daughters found this particularly good – as they are starting to look for their first-time homes. All the houses we’ve looked at in their (low) price range have terrible, ramshackle gardens.

There’s a section on renovating lawns. Mine have been attacked by all kinds of creatures, gouging holes in the grass. I just need a nudge in the right direction to tackle the eyesore.

One idea in the book I’ve copied involves taking photos of the garden and laying tracing paper over the top. Draw on the changes you’d like to make. In my case, I want to create a new breakfast terrace near the summerhouse; a sunny spot first thing in the morning. Drawing it out first gives an impression of what it would look like- before you’ve spent any money on the scheme, and you can play around with various options.

Practical advice on restoring paving, reviving gravel and fences is followed by a section called “How to Wow.” I need to revamp some of my planting areas- once I’ve hacked back the brambles.

Revive Your Garden gives you confidence to tackle any garden work, whether it’s bringing a tired and neglected garden back into shape, or putting your own stamp on a newly acquired plot. It’s written in an enthusiastic way. You can definitely hear Nick’s voice as he explains the techniques. It’s just the encouragement you need to get going.

Here’s some photos of my garden, before I start work on our renovation project. Wish me luck. I might be out there for a while!

There’s a path through there……

And there.

Honestly, there’s a path through there. Leading to the outside world, and this view.

NICK BAILEY, a regular presenter on BBC2’s Gardeners’ World, has worked as a professional horticulturalist for more than 20 years and won silver gilt for his first show garden at Chelsea Flower Show in 2016. Until recently he was head gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden.

Visit to Bowood House and Gardens

My invitation read: “Come and visit Bowood’s famous spring planting; and Lord Lansdowne will lead a tour of his woodland garden.”

Who could resist such a missive. Not me! So I set off for Wiltshire- dreaming of camellias, magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas galore!

And what I found was one of the best spring gardens I’ve ever visited. Over two miles of paths meander through the 30 acre garden- set within a former quarry. A stream runs through the valley with banks of ferns, candelabra primroses and bluebells either side.

Now, I’ve been on these garden visits before, where tours are promised. The owner is often there for a welcoming reception- but then frequently hands over to staff for the tour itself. So I was surprised and pleased to see Lord Lansdowne standing by his offer and giving us a walking tour of his garden – and one that ran an hour longer than planned.

If you come to visit my garden, I’ll take you around, show you the tree I planted when we moved here, my favourite seat, my favourite shrub and the plants I inherited from my grandparents’ garden. To be honest, our visit to Bowood felt just like that; a keen gardener showing us around his plot – with all his favourite trees and shrubs and viewing points. As soon as we arrived, Lord Lansdowne pointed to a group of cornus dogwood trees and described them as his “pride and joy.” And then followed a chat about how difficult they are to grow, and how “wonderful” they look when the white bracts appear in spring. His enthusiasm is something we all share as gardeners. We nurture and plant something, and then stand back and admire it, and want to share that moment with fellow gardeners. It’s something I recognise and understand.

One thing I haven’t got though (ok, there’s no rolling acres and stately home either) is a rhododendron named after me. This one is Lord Lansdowne’s – it’s rather lovely, with peachy cream petals and pink buds.

I can see why this is one of his favourite views, looking out from the garden. We are standing on the mausoleum steps looking out across the tops of the rhododendrons through a gap in the trees.

Some of the rhododendrons are called Bowood Hybrids, and Lord Lansdowne showed us the nursery beds where his selected seedlings are planted. He said they could be sitting there for 10 years before he’d know if they were something special or not. Patience is obviously a virtue when you are growing new varieties like these.

I must admit, there were a dizzying array of variety names as we walked through the woods. I should have written them down, but I was just listening to the commentary and enjoying what turned out to be a most unusual and special day. I mean, how often can you report that you were meandering through the woods and suddenly there on the path is the celebrated plantsman Roy Lancaster!

Roy, who is writing about the gardens, stopped for a chat and joined our group for a photo. It was fascinating to hear the two friends talking, the Latin names flying back and forth. And later, we visited a patch called Roy’s Corner, where specimens brought back from Roy’s plant-finding expeditions are being nurtured. Altogether, it had been, a day like no other.

Bowood Woodland Garden opens from 28th April until early June. Check the website for details. http://www.bowood.org

No wonder the owner admits he spends every Saturday lunchtime having a picnic in the gardens. I think I would too.

Many thanks to the Garden Media Guild for organising this visit to Bowood. If you work in horticulture, you can become an associate member. Membership is open to anyone working in garden writing, broadcasting and photography. Probationary membership may also be available for new starters in the profession and there are training courses and mentoring schemes available.

In a Vase on Monday -Snow, and then spring!

What a week! Temperatures over the past seven days have gone from -12c to 14c. Luckily nothing seems to have been lost. The snow creates an insulating blanket. Plants can still photosynthesize through the snow. I just gently tap some of the snow-laden branches of conifers and acers. The weight can cause splaying and damage. Here’s a slide show of photos showing my garden from last Monday to today. Flowers are in plant pots and jam jars in the greenhouse and potting shed this week.

My 20-year-old Parwins electric heater has been working full time keeping the greenhouse cosy. A second-hand Alton Cedar greenhouse copes really well with the weather. The wood seems to expand in the winter, excluding any draughts. At night, I didn’t disturb the wrens nestling in a row on the door slider. There were eight snuggled together, keeping warm.

Scented pelargoniums have never been more welcome than on a freezing cold day. I picked some to put in tiny vases for my bedside table.

Iris reticulata bulbs are still in flower. They last longer in cold weather. Such a delicate scent. Much appreciated when there’s a foot of snow outside.

As there’s so few flowers this week, I’m showing some photos of my greenhouse, Polytunnel, potting shed set up. All within a few paces of each other. The polytunnel was second hand from a nursery closing down sale. You can see my Dalefoot Compost piled up in front of the potting shed, all ready for sowing seeds and growing fruit, veg and flowers. I started off some tomato seeds mid week. It’s the first time ever I’ve had to put hot water bottles on the compost bags before sowing seeds.

I’m keen to try this sheeps wool and bracken compost. I’ve been peat free for a while now, but composts have been variable to say the least. Dalefoot promises to be water retentive and cheaper to use, as no added fertilisers are needed. Apparently the bracken is naturally high in potash- needed for fruit and flower production. And the sheeps wool continues to act as a kind of slow release fertiliser during the whole growing season. Dalefoot have given me the compost to try out. As usual, opinions are my own and I’ll give an honest appraisal of the product in due course.

A quick peek in my potting shed and there’s still some white hyacinths, yellow tete-a-tete daffodils, with green hellebores and fluffy willow catkins. This time the vases didn’t freeze solid, thankfully. The view from the potting shed is white over. As is the view from the back door, below.

I didn’t go far to be honest. The roads around here were pretty dire.

But then – thankfully, the temperatures started to rise. And today has been the warmest day of the year.

Hope it’s sunny where you are at the moment.

Thanks to Cathy for hosting this IAVOM meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy is growing and putting in her vases this week.

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.

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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.)

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.

Chocolate Fridge Tiffin- with Autumn Raspberries

On the first day we’ve had snow, I’m sharing my favourite chocolate recipe. Guaranteed to bring cheer, for anyone struggling with the onset of cold weather. Like all my recipes, it’s quick to make and uses produce from the garden. Autumn Bliss raspberries are still producing fruit. An unbelievably long cropping season this year. I’m still picking a few for my breakfast porridge each day. And think of all that vitamin C. Makes this recipe seem almost healthy! Go on, treat yourself.

Chocolate Tiffin

100g Butter

2 mars bars- chopped

2 tbsp golden syrup

240g milk or dark chocolate

5 digestive biscuits

9 rich tea biscuits

One and a half teacups rice crispies

15g glacé cherries

Three quarters of a cup of sultanas

120g chocolate for the top. I used Cadbury’s Bournville.

Melt the chocolate, mars bars, syrup and butter together in the microwave.

Mix with the crushed biscuits, crispies and dried fruit. Cool slightly and add a handful of fresh raspberries.

Spread in a 9″x9″ foil or paper-lined tray.

Cover top with melted chocolate

Place in the fridge.

Cut into slices and serve with fresh raspberries.

Will last three days in a cool place. If you can resist them that long.

Wrapped in cellophane and ribbon, they make a lovely home-made present.

Have a listen in to the BBC Down to Earth radio programme where we answer gardeners’ questions on the live phone-in. We are all sitting in the studio – munching my chocolate tiffin- this week. Here’s the link for the radio i-player http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05l50wv

I wrote about how to listen to radio programmes on the I-player at https://bramblegarden.com/2017/11/08/how-to-listen-to-gardening-programmes-on-the-bbc-i-player/

Do you have any favourite recipes for cold weather?

For more inspiration – read Making Winter- a creative guide for surviving the winter months, by Emma Mitchell. Published by LOM Art, an imprint of Michael O’Mara Books. Emma’s mouthwatering recipes and pretty craft ideas turn even the bleakest wintery day into a warm and cheerful celebration. The book is like a warm hug on a frosty day.

I can highly recommend it. There’s a link Here .

There’s recipes for chocolate fondant, lemon and ginger bars and even hawthorn gin. Ideas for things to make include a crochet shawl and matching scarf, and knitted wrist warmers. Perfect for coping with the winter chill ahead.

Baking a cake always makes me feel better when it’s freezing outdoors. Emma’s guide entices you to embrace the drab days and fill them with “baked goodness.” I wholeheartedly agree with her there.

Help, I Need a Marquee………

Faulkener 019

The conversation went something like “Hello, I need a marquee.”  The reply was “That’s ok. For how many and what’s your budget.”  “About 40 people. Er… there’s a problem with the budget. There’s isn’t one.”

I expected the phone line to go dead. But to my  amazement, Richard  from Storer Smith Events laughed and told me to go on.  He wanted to know more.

There followed a somewhat embarrassing account.  I was organising my first ever fund-raising event.   I’d failed to keep track of ticket sales. Now there were 46 people coming – and the venue could only comfortably take 25.  I was having sleepless nights. People were going to turn up for a posh afternoon tea- dressed in their Sunday best. What on earth was I going to do?

There was a silence on the end of the phone. Then a sigh. Then the words, “Well, I’d better help you out then.”    I don’t think I have ever been so relieved. My bacon had well and truly been saved.

Richard – I’ll forever think of him as my knight in shining armour -saved the day. He provided a 6m by 9m marquee,  with carpet, tables, chairs, and also a monster  (almost) fire-breathing heater –  complete with gas. A team of workers to put it up- and take it down.  All free of charge.

Thanks to Richard,  we had a fabulous marquee for our vintage afternoon  tea- all in aid of Rainbows Hospice.  We enjoyed a  wonderful talk  and slide show from celebrated author Barbara Segall   who was speaking about her newly-launched book, Secret Gardens of East Anglia. I wrote a review about the book here .    Gary from Rainbows talked about the wonderful facilities and work at the hospice for children. Such a heartwarming, inspiring afternoon.

We served six types of posh sandwiches, and tomato and thyme tarts. Followed by a mountain of cakes, mostly made by my wonderful Mum. And gallons of tea in pretty mismatched china.

It all worked beautifully and I’m pleased ( and mightily relieved ) to report that we made almost £1,000 for Rainbows.

I’m so grateful to Richard for his kindness. It is a relief to know that wonderful people like him still exist when there is so much bad news in the world.

There’s a whole roll call of people to thank for helping to make the event a success. But chiefly, I want to thank Richard, for his kind and generous help.  Also Barbara Segall, who refused a fee for her talk. My friend Alison Levey from blackberrygarden.co.uk  blog who fetched, carried and was fab at selling raffle tickets. Geary’s Craft Bakeries provided the bread ( thank you Charles Geary). The co-op at East Leake supplied the fillings for the sandwiches. The Printers in Loughborough provided posters and tickets.

For the goody bags for each person who attended, Lady Ursula at Easton Walled Gardens provided 50 complimenatry tickets to visit the gardens.  Burgon and Ball gave me beautiful tins of string. Mr Fothergills gave me  packets of  flower seed. Cooks Lane Herbs gave me gorgeously-wrapped, wonderfully-scented handmade Red Clover and Honey Soap. Seedball   sent tins of wildflower seed.

For the raffle, books came from Alison Levey, Frances Lincoln (Quarto Homes) publishers, wine from the Round Robin, East Leake, flowers and plants from Googie’s Flowers , East Leake, calendars from The Calender Club, Loughbrough, Chocolates from Thorntons. Six Acre Nursery at Costock gave a lovely hellebore plant.

The photos are examples of marquees provided by Storer Smith Events. As you can imagine, I wish everyone would now rush out and book him up for the next 10 years. Such a good-hearted soul has won my loyalty for life!  Contact Richard at info@storersmithevents.co.uk. Phone 01889 563200. He’s at Uttoxeter ST14 5AP but supplies marquees all around the country.

Recipes and Christmas present ideas from this week’s radio programme

Well, no one’s perfect. That’s what I’ve been trying to convince myself, after this week’s disastrous start to the gardeners’ phone-in programme. Last week I wrote about my battles with the studio head phones. This week- I am still searching for the right size headphones -when the programme starts. You can have a listen in and a chuckle. You’ll hear me riffling through the headphones in a panic- as presenter Ben Jackson starts without me! What I also learn quite quickly is the show must go on- even if you are feeling mortified. Luckily no one can see embarrassed, red faces on the radio.

Anyway, this week the recipe is Apple and Almond slice – and the Christmas present idea is a parcel of herbs to throw in the bath or hang in the shower. Here’s what you’ll need:

Herb Bath Parcel

Square of fine horticultural netting from any garden centre or Harrod Horticulture

Herbs from the garden: lavender, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint

Few calendula petals

Few sprigs of lavender

String or ribbon

Simply make a parcel with the herbs and calendula, tie tightly with string or ribbon. Tuck some lavender flowers into the ribbon at the front. Simple as that. The herb parcels can be hung under the taps on the bath, or shower, and will scent the water as it flows through. It makes a pretty present for not much money. And the scent is very soothing after a hard day spent in the garden. You can also use muslin instead of netting, but you won’t be able to see the calendula petals as well.

I added some borage flowers to the one I made today. I also discovered that it’s possible to sew the mesh to make larger herb pillows which could be used as pomanders for wardrobes.

Takes only minutes to make. Everything I do has to be quick and cheap to create. I’ve dried some scented pelargonium leaves and flowers to include in this one pictured below. The ribbon came from Georgie at Common Farm Flowers where I learned how to grow cut flowers and make door wreaths. I can highly recommend Georgie’s courses. They are fun and informative. I’m so grateful for all her advice and support over the past few years. It’s given me confidence to charge customers for my floral arrangements.

Let me know if you make any of these parcels, and what ingredients you put in to yours. It’s good to share ideas, isn’t it.

Apple and Almond Slice

180g Butter

140g golden caster sugar

1tspn vanilla extract

3 eggs

100g flaked or ground almonds

150g SR flour

1tpsn baking powder

80ml milk

4 small eating apples, chopped

Whizz all ingredients- apart from apples-together in a food processor. Put the cake mixture on top of the chopped apples. I used two silicone loaf tins from Lakeland. You can use a 20cm cake tin, greased and lined with parchment paper. Cook for 30 mins at 170c gas mark 3. Check half way through cooking, and put parchment paper on top to prevent burning. The cake is cooked when a knife comes out clean.

Suitable for afternoon tea and picnics. You can sprinkle the top with flaked almonds or icing sugar. It’s deliciously moist and tasty. A good use of apples from my orchard at home.

What recipes have you got to share to make the best use of the apple harvest? Do get in touch and let me know.

You can listen in to Radio Leicester’s gardeners’ phone-in on the i-player at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05jmv5h Whizz the time round to 2.07.51 for the start of the programme. You can press the plus button in the centre of the dial if you want to go past the music. Don’t forget to laugh. We could all do with more laughter, and I don’t mind. Honestly. But next time, I shall be sat down in front of the microphone ready to go. I promise!

What’s new for gardeners- what I’ve spotted at Glee

I am always on the look out for the latest gadget to make life easier in the garden. So I was really pleased to be invited to the garden industry event called Glee. Sadly there’s no singing and dancing – like the American tv show my daughters love to watch. Honestly, I didn’t think there would be….but I was hoping! Instead, there’s an array of new products you’ll get to see in garden centres, high street stores and supermarkets over the next 12 months.

Here’s what caught my eye at the sneak preview -held at the NEC in Birmingham this week.

Top of my list at Number 1 is a new nematode product from Neudorff. It controls chafer grubs, leatherjackets and vine weevils- but doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge. Neudorff is the first company to develop a nematode product that has a long shelf life- up to six months. This will make life so much easier. Currently, we have to order on line, or buy a voucher in a shop or garden centre, then wait for the nematodes to arrive in the post. Nematodes normally have to be stored in the fridge and used within a few weeks. I had an expensive failure when they were delivered by mistake to a neighbour, who was on holiday. By the time they arrived home, the nematodes were dead. Nematodes are a safe, natural biological control of pests and we are all trying to use them in preference to chemicals. Neudorff won the award for the best new garden care product at Glee.

No. 2 on my top list is this self-watering fruit and vegetable tower. I’m always on the look out for space-saving ideas, and this would be great for people with small gardens or patios. I’m going to grow strawberries, herbs and salads in mine. There’s a new compact blackberry that I might grow in there, called Little Black Prince, from the Lubera breeding programme. The self-watering tower was a runner up in the growing accessories awards category.

No. 3 on my list: Also from Haxnicks is this water saucer with a wick. You stand your container on top, feed the wick through the bottom of the pot – and off you go on holiday. No coming home to dead or wilting plants. Such a simple idea – and it works.

No. 4 on my list is this cream plastic container from elho. It has a see-through lid which makes it great for starting off seedlings in the spring. But the selling point for me is the integral hooks. The container will balance on a fence, or balcony rail. I’m going to use these at a school where they will brighten up a playground fence. The Green Basics Growhouse Flowerbridge won first place in the growing accessories category at Glee.

No. 5 on my list is this new weeding tool from Burgon and Ball. I never use chemicals on my lawn, and I don’t mind the primroses and self heal that flourish there. But I need to keep an eye on dandelions and thistles. So I’ve ordered one of these to keep a balance between weeds and grass. I’m hoping it will be better for my back, as less bending will be needed. The Wonder Weed Puller won first place in the new tools and machinery category.

No. 6 is this pretty and practical pin board, also from Burgon and Ball. Regular readers will know that I have a little potting shed at home. You might also have noticed a lack of photos recently from said potting shed. It is a complete mess in there. After a very busy summer, all my tools and equipment are in a heap and I can’t find the string. I’m determined to restore order and a pin board for keys, flower snips, string and my “jobs to-do” list would be just the thing.

N0. 7 on my list is this snazzy apron with lots of pockets- also from, you’ve guessed it- Burgon and Ball. To be honest, I could have just brought home the whole stand from Burgon and Ball. I loved everything from their new range at the show. The apron would be useful for me because I am always losing things. Tonight I’ve got to go outdoors and upturn five green recycling bins in search of the secateurs- last seen balancing on a wheelbarrow full of weeds. Sigh.

Also on show, and winning the home, gifts and clothing section, were some super comfy new gardening gloves from a company called Gold Leaf. The RHS Collection poppy, rose and Iris decorated gloves would be perfect for Christmas or birthday presents. I’ve made strong hints to my family. Several, in fact. No photos here I’m afraid, as the stand was so busy, I couldn’t get near it. Which is a good sign indeed for the company.

No. 8 are these new ceramic planters from……Burgon and Ball. I said I liked that company, didn’t I. I think it’s just become my new favourite. I was impressed B&B knew the plant names too. This one apparently is a rhipsalis – or mistletoe cactus. Isn’t it gorgeous. I hope they send me a cutting – and the pot! Fingers crossed.

Yes, I could really see these swinging from the potting shed roof. It would certainly draw attention away from the messy compost-strewn floor.

No. 9 Now, I can really picture this little oven outside my potting shed door. It would be great for impromptu snacks for visitors to my shack. Isn’t it adorable. It’s a fire pod- from the company with the same name called The Fire Pod. It won best new product in the outdoor entertaining category. I am not at all surprised. I love it.

Not on my list -but to give you a taste of what else is in store for autumn 2017/18 – I spotted these. Not at all sure where I would put them to be honest. I would love to know which gardens they are destined for. There seems to be a bit of a giraffe theme going on here.

However, at no. 10 on my must-buy list is this. Well, it really made me laugh. And who doesn’t need a baby dragon in their garden. It would be quite happy next to the fire pod, no doubt.

What do you think of my selection from Glee? Which are your favourites from the new product line-up. I’m just heartened to see money being invested in innovation. It’s good news for gardeners and also for the gardening industry.

Words and Pictures

SECRET GARDENS OF EAST ANGLIA

 

Barbara Segall. Photography by Marcus Harpur

Frances Lincoln £20. Hardback.  Published 7th September 2017.

It’s impossible to resist dipping into the pages of any book with the words “secret” and “garden” in the title.

We all love peering over the garden gate  to get a glimpse of other people’s property.

And in Secret Gardens of East Anglia, Barbara Segall is our excellent guide, taking us straight down the drive and through the front gates of 22 privately owned gardens.

It is quite a revelation. We see sumptuous planting, grand sculpture, rose parterres, moated gardens,  and wildflower meadows galore! A real  treat – in words and pictures.

Here is just a flavour of some of the glorious gardens featured.

Wyken Hall, Stanton, Suffolk

Wyken Hall - Suffolk 1.jpg

Photo credit Marcus Harpur. Perfectly co-ordinated, one of Wyken Hall’s peacocks is poised beneath a blue wooden pergola covered in climbing Rosa Blairii Number Two. The pergola is reminiscent of one at Bodnant in Wales. Owners Kenneth and Carla Carlisle have created a sumptuous rose garden, favouring highly-scented old rose varieties with soft coloured perennials such as delphiniums, astrantia and artemisia. The sound of water and the scent of roses always draws  me in. I could picture myself sitting in this beautiful garden on a hot, sunny summer’s day. Yes, I would be quite happy here!

Columbine Hall, Stowupland, Suffolk

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Photo credit Marcus Harpur. In my opinion, the most romantic of the gardens featured.  I’ve long been entranced by the walled kitchen garden which I first spotted on twitter. Head gardener and estate manager Kate Elliott ( @columbinehall) has worked here for 20 years and rightly describes the garden as her “pride and joy.”  Blue-grey paintwork used for gates, bridges and obelisks caught my eye, along with the planting scheme of silver and blue-mauve through to pink. Purple kales such as Cavolo Nero, Redbor and Rouge de Russie are set amongst  the silver leaves of globe artichokes.  I wasn’t surprised to read the owners’ comments :”We pick from the Kitchen Garden only with Kate’s permission, so as not to upset the colour co-ordinations or symmetry.”  A rare glimpse behind the scenes into the work and dedication that goes into creating a garden such as this.

 

Elton Hall, Elton, Cambridgeshire

Elton Hall - Cambridgeshire 1.jpg

Photo credit Marcus Harpur. Home to Sir William and Lady Proby who chose to make a modern garden, rather than recreate the past.  The stately house has been in the Proby family for more than 300 years. It’s  fascinating to see how the contemporary design of the fountain and the pyramid topiary is set against a Gothic style house with turrets and castellations.  Proof that a modern style can work in a setting that’s steeped in history.

Wood Farm, Gipping, Suffolk

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Photo credit Marcus Harpur.    The photograph shows irises, cornflowers, mounds of lavender and box. On the other side of the property, the house appears to drift on a sea of white ox-eye daisies. The golden centres of the daisies are an exact match with the colour of the 500 year old Suffolk farmhouse. A very pretty house and garden and I would love to have the chance to ramble along that  garden path.

I must mention Ulting Wick, Ulting, Essex. Long on my  special-places-to-visit list, the owners Bryan and Philippa Burrough  have planted 10,000 tulips in the Old Farmyard garden. A particular feature of the garden is the bold and jewel-like colours set against the black paintwork of three listed barns. In spring, the bulbs take centre stage, but in late summer, it is the dahlias and bronze-leaved Ensete that turn up the heat. The garden has opened to the public for the past 14 years in aid of the National Gardens Scheme. After reading Barbara’s book you will want to follow  Philippa’s garden tweets @UltingWick. The sheer amount of work that goes into creating a garden such as this is highlighted in the stunning photos in the book.

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Barbara is a most entertaining “host” on what feels like the best holiday road trip /garden visit tour- ever.  Reading this beautiful book is like walking alongside Barbara. She expertly points out the secret areas and the special treasures in each garden.  The history and the background information is fascinating. And it feels such a treat to be “let in”  to these treasured, private spaces.

It’s a joy to read the stories behind the gardens and  to “meet” the people who own them.  And if the book has whetted your appetite- all but one of the 22 gardens are open to visit – on selected days of the year or by appointment only.

BARBARA SEGALL is a well-known horticulturist and garden writer. I’ve always looked out for her writing in the English Garden Magazine and also on the Richard Jackson’s Garden website. She is editor of The Horticulturist,  the journal of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture, also editor of Herbs magazine for the Herb Society. Barbara lives in Suffolk and her first book for Frances Lincoln was Gardens by the Sea with photos by Marcus Harpur’s father, Jerry.  Barbara’s blog is http://www.thegardenpost.com.

MARCUS HARPUR . I’ve know Marcus since about 1992 when he left book publishing to join his father to form the Harpur Garden Library.  Sadly , Marcus died on August 6th this year after 18 months of illness. He saw finished copies of the book, but poignantly didn’t live to see it go on sale. When I spoke to him last, he described working on the book as “A joyful and satisfying project.”  He was a much loved and well respected photographer whose  skill in capturing the light and beauty in a garden is plain for all to see in this his final book.

Pre-order on Amazon at  amzn.to/2oqHgM2

Thank you to Frances Lincoln/ Quarto Group Books for supplying this advance copy for review.

 

 

 

 

 

Words and Pictures

THE GARDEN PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP

Andrea Jones (Timber Press £17.99)

The postman arrived to find me wobbling at the top of a step ladder, peering through a piece of black cardboard with a square cut out of the middle. “I’m composing photos of my garden,” I heard myself saying. Oh dear. How mad does that sound! I rather sheepishly climbed down and made him a cup of tea while he chuckled away. 

Over tea and biscuits in the potting shed, I explained that my new photography workbook recommended using a piece of card to practise framing a view.  It works close up, as well as for landscape views. I just had to learn how to squint through the cut out square- while up a ladder, and while keeping my balance. The postman declared it could all end in tears.

Anyway, as he continued his round, laughing as usual, I went back to my new book. Andrea Jones has produced a fabulous masterclass giving hints and tips on the best ways of capturing the garden. 


 Some of the ideas were a complete revelation. I had never heard of making a viewfinder to try out different angles. And I had never thought of looking down on my garden- or looking up.  Most of my photos are straight shots, taken from a standing position. So I tried it out on these tiny species rockery tulips. Looking down: 


Looking up. A worm’s-eye view. 

I haven’t quite got the best shot. They are so tiny, I needed to move some of the stems out of the way.  But it’s still an interesting view. I shall work on the idea. 

And here’s another photo I took from a standing position. A glorious garden at Burghley House near Stamford, open for the NGS scheme. 


And the worm’s-eye view, crouching down amongst the flowers: 

Over the past 25 years, Andrea has built an international reputation for her photography of landscapes, gardens and plants. Among the many awards, she was voted Photographer of the Year by her peers at the Garden Media Guild. Her website for more information is andreajones.co.uk

Andrea suggests making a plan of action- rather than just casually wandering  around the garden taking random shots (like I do now). Some of the best ideas I gathered from the book include:

Use a compass – a smart phone has a compass app- to get an idea of the light direction and potential shadows.

The best light for taking photos is the “golden hour” the first hour after the sun rises and the last hour of light before the sun sets. Use an online sunrise and sunset app to estimate the time. 

Tripods make a world of difference for taking good photos. But if, like me, you are using a camera phone, a small piece of tack or Plasticine can be used to position a phone temporarily on a secure surface to avoid camera shake. I tried this on top of the garden gate. 

If taking shots in bright, contrasty light, use your body to create a shadow and reduce the amount of light reaching the plant or subject of the photo.

Other headings in the book include: Photography in all Seasons, Photographing Pets and Wildlife, Working with Weather, Light, Macro, Micro, and Close-up, Essential Kit, and Catching the Moment. 

I am working my way through the rest of the book. There are 10 inspiring gardens featured with step-by-step lessons on observation, storytelling, composing, and editing. Andrea’s book helps you take your photography to another level, whether you are using a smart phone like me, or have the latest DSLR. It’s a master course on capturing the magic of gardens. 

Unfurling. My Black Parrot Tulip. A favourite this spring. Except, my foot is also in the photo. Sigh. I still have some work to do then. 


Thank you to Timber Press  for supplying The Garden Photography Workshop-  in exchange for an honest review. I will leave you with my cat Grace who shares my home- and garden- and who sits very patiently while I practise my new photography skills. 


Do you enjoy taking photographs of your garden?