My Garden Diary -June 2021

Life seems to have been incredibly busy these past few months. Two family members have been desperately ill. I’ve sat by their beds and held their hands. Willed them to stay with us. One emerged from a deep deep coma, and returned to us. The other one passed away, peacefully in his sleep. And so, I sit in the garden now and think of them. Hoping the one returned to us as fragile as a butterfly, will spread his wings and fly, and mourning for the one who did not, although it was his time to go and we must celebrate a life well lived, well loved, happy and fruitful. The garden, as ever, becomes a place of solace. I’ve ground to a halt after months of literally running from one place to the next, almost in a permanent panic. Back here, in the shade of the trees, there’s peace and calm. Whilst I’ve been busy, the nesting birds have raised their young, and many have fledged. A highlight of a particularly difficult and stormy day was suddenly finding six long-tailed tits, newly emerged from the nest- all gathered along a hazel branch, at eye level, fluffing up feathers, preening, eager darting eyes. Almost like pom poms on a string. What a day to fledge! We had 40 mile per hour winds and torrential rain. With the storm coming from the south east, the westerly edge of our wood was weirdly still and silent, and this is where our little flock gathered. The parents desperately calling to them, ‘tsuk, tsuk, tsuk’ but the chicks totally unafraid, studied me as much as I studied them. In all the excitement of leaving the nest, I was just one of the new wonders for them to discover. I’ve stored up this moment as a happy memory during a difficult time. It’s amazing the little things that give you hope in times of need. You never know when or where these moments will come from, do you. And often it’s the simplest things that provide a balm.

Enjoy this week’s views of the garden and ramble along the back field footpath where there’s masses of white cow parsley and the last of the hawthorn blossom now festooned with ribbons of fragrant dog roses. Thank you for reading my blog.

Cow parsley and wild three cornered leek, where snowdrops bloomed in winter.

Viburnum plicatum at the edge of the horseshoe pond. Layers of flat white flowers, covered in bees.

White Roses. Pearl Drift requires minimal pruning and no chemicals. It is resistant to blackspot due to it’s LeGrice breeding. Grows to 4ft and is reliably repeat-flowering. Highly recommended.

Semi-double flowers allow bees to access the pollen. Sweetly scented.

Dianthus Mrs Sinkins. Another highly-scented flower in the June garden. Repeat flowers if cut back and dead-headed. Grows in the overspill gravel alongside the drive.

White campion – Silene latifolia alba- arrived by itself and grows amongst the cow parsley. Much less rampant than the pink variety.

Wild dog roses, great big swathes, overhang from the top of the high hawthorn hedges. There will be plenty of bright red rosehips.

Along the holloway walk. The pathway is edged with snowdrops in winter, and white starry stitchwort in summer. I’m adding white foxgloves for next year.

I’ve left gaps in the trees to look out from the pathway, towards the back fields, this year planted with spring wheat. I’m looking forward to having a golden backdrop for the garden. Wheat and barley are my favourites.

Step out of the top five bar gate, and on to the lane. The cow parsley has never looked as lovely. Or maybe, I just haven’t had time to stand and survey the scene before.

Looking across the fields towards Bunny Wood. There’s an ancient footpath to the woods.

A well-trodden path, very popular with hikers and dog walkers. We sometimes see deer. Usually there’s hares – more this year than usual. At dusk we watch the barn owls quarter the fields. At the moment they are out in the day as well as at night, which means they are probably feeding young. Tawny owls also call out across the fields at night.

A hawthorn ‘archway.’ A favourite viewing point.

Plenty of cow parsley. As pretty as any florists’ flower.

Thank you for reading my blog. Let me know what gardening jobs you are doing at the moment. I’m catching up on planting and weeding. Everything is very late this year, but I expect things will catch up in time. Have a peaceful happy week.

New Plants on Trial – Salvias from Middleton Nurseries

Salvia microphylla Delice Fiona

Salvias provide such a welcome zing of colour from mid summer to first frosts. In my garden, pale blue and white ‘Phyllis’ Fancy’ was still in full flower on Christmas Day. Specialist growers, Middleton Nurseries, have sent me a collection of new varieties to try out. I haven’t paid for these, but in common with other bloggers, I’m happy to trial plants and products in return for giving my honest opinion. Here’s some of the plants they sent.

Plants arrive via mail order and were carefully handled by the delivery company. I always think it’s worth giving a good report when plants and products are delivered in a good condition and the drivers have taken the trouble to ensure the contents are undamaged. The box was also placed on the doorstep the right way up! These things always help somewhat. It’s exasperating when ‘this way up’ arrow stickers are not heeded.

Plants are snugly nestled inside a sturdy cardboard box and as you can see arrived in good condition even though temperatures were very high.

The cardboard container is easily folded open so plants are not pulled about when extricating them from the packaging. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve nearly decapitated a plant trying to get it out of the box. Some thought and care has gone into the design of this one, and it’s appreciated.

Plants are carefully tied to supporting canes and plastic bags are wound around the plant pots to stop compost drying out. My only criticism would be that the plastic bags could be biodegradable instead of single use. However, I’ve reused these on top of pots of cuttings to maintain humidity. So mine won’t be thrown away, and will be kept in the potting shed and reused time and time again.

There’s a very useful plant care leaflet included in the box, and a discount code for further purchases. I’ve signed up for more discounts, special offers and gardening club newsletters.

Each plant has a label which is packed full with information. It’s great to see the Union Jack flag on the label, indicating the plants are grown in Britain. I like to support British nurseries as much as I can.

I love this pretty, pale variety Salvia microphylla Delice Fiona. It has rich green leaves, pale pink flowers with a deeper pink centre. Instructions say it can be grown in part shade to full sun, requires moderate to occasional watering and grows 60-90cm high. Can be grown in containers.

Another pink variety is Salvia greggii Shell dancer with large pink flowers with the basal tubes and base of the lower lip coloured deep rose. The outer portions of the lower lip start with ‘hot salmon’ shading then lighten to nearly cream as it ages. The label says the plant is ‘seldom completely out of flower.’ That’s my experience of salvias, they do have a long-flowering period, which makes them such good value.

If you like the paler salvias, this one’s stunning. It’s from a new ‘So Cool’ range. This one is Salvia So Cool Pale Cream. Utterly captivating. New for 2021. Compact-growing, 30-40cm tall.

The first salvias I grew were blue. I love this variety, microphylla Delice Feline. The plant label says the flowers are deep violet with a white centre, flowers profusely until autumn and grows 60 -90cm tall. A new hybrid for 2020.

Another 2020 hybrid is Salvia microphylla Suzanne which has bright red upright flowers with white markings. 60-90cm tall.

And finally, Salvia microphylla Carolus has pretty mauve flowers which look striking set against the darker almost black stems and dark coloured basal tubes. Has a smaller-spreading habit than most microphylla varieties.

I can wholeheartedly recommend Middleton Nurseries for mail-order plants. I’m delighted with my parcel of new and very pretty hybrids. High quality plants, well-grown and expertly packaged. I’ll be posting photos throughout the summer to let you know how they develop.

Here’s some more information about the nursery:

Middleton Nurseries are located in the village of Middleton in Staffordshire and have been growing plants since 1975. The nursery is dedicated to growing a wide range of new and unusual herbaceous, perennials and rare breeds of salvias. Middleton Nurseries was started in 1975 by Stephan Zako and at first grew ‘pick-your-own’ strawberries. John Zako went into the family business after leaving Pershore College with a National Diploma in Horticulture. Using his expertise he slowly transformed the business into ‘one of the leading plant specialist nurseries’ with an extensive block of greenhouses.

In April 2012, the family sold the retail/ garden centre portion of the business and kept the nursery which enabled John to focus on his true passion of growing and breeding plants. The nursery specialises in salvias which they sell up and down the country at RHS gardening shows each year. Since 2021, Middleton Nurseries has become a third-generation family business after John’s son, James, joined the business.

Here’s a link for the nursery website: https://middletonnurseries.co.uk/

Are you growing any salvias this year? Are you as passionate about them as I’ve become? Get in touch and let me know how you are getting on with your gardening and growing this summer. Thank you, as ever, for reading my blog.

The Flower Yard. Book Review and Giveaway

By Arthur Parkinson

Published by Kyle Books

Hardback, 208 pages. RRP £22

ISBN 978-0-85783-917-6

Open the pages of The Flower Yard and you’ll enter a world full of exotic parrot tulips, jewel-coloured dahlias- and flamingos…

You’ll learn much about creating flamboyant Venetian-coloured containers, but you’ll also hear about Caribbean flamingos. For the author, Arthur Parkinson, once had the choice between becoming a zookeeper and horticulture. He chose gardening, and a year’s training at Kew. But in his strange and colourful book, he says he hopes one day to go back to more zoological rather than horticultural pursuits.

To my mind, his latest book seems to combine the two loves of his life. The exotic parrot tulips, feathery grasses and plume-like dahlias are as colourful as birds. And to add to the effect, there’s often a fancy bantam – his other passion in life- nestled in amongst the plants.

Even his words have an avian ring to them. Parkinson talks about planting ‘a flock of dolly tubs’ in preference to acres of land.

“I am not, however, desperate for a larger garden. I find the challenge of conquering the restrictions of an urban environment hugely thrilling. I love small town gardens, by which I mean gardens where plants come first in abundance. I have no desire for endless herbaceous borders, which so easily become tired and full of perennial weeds. Give me a flock of dolly tubs any day, ideally on old bricks or York stone. An old orchard would be, admittedly, heaven though, for hens.”

Back on the subject of birds, Parkinson writes about his choice of colour for plants. Pink, he says can be too light and sickly: “Before you know it, pink can make the garden verge into the Barbie-doll section of Toys “R”Us, outcompeting the other colours.”

Parkinson’s garden was once described by a friend as ‘a path of pots.’ It is, in fact, only 5m (16ft) long and filled ‘cheek by jowel’ with containers on either side, leading to the front door. The book follows a year of growing to create specific displays of plants – one for each season.

One chapter is headed ‘Archipelagos of galvanised metal and terracotta’ and Parkinson says: “I garden in pots because I do not have a choice, but I rarely resent this as it is like having great living vases of growing flower arrangements. You can fill pots easily, cramming them with colour and textures, creating islands of flamboyance.”

Arthur Parkinson’s brick path to the front door features rows of galvanised pots full of seasonal colour.
Frizzle-feathered bantams feature in many of the garden photos. I believe Parkinson takes some of these with him when he travels to give flower arranging and planting demonstrations. The author appeared on BBC Gardeners’ World, and also assists Sarah Raven with her floristry. He previously worked for potter Emma Bridgewater, designing her acclaimed garden at the factory in Stoke-on-Trent.
Photo shows ‘Amazing Parrot’ tulips in full flight with tulips ‘Black Hero’, ‘Antraciet’ and ‘Black Parrot’ giving striking contrast.
Sweet peas for summer
Peony ‘Rubra Plena’ supported by woven hazel with a pigeon-sized and ‘very talkative’ little Belgian Barbu d’Uccle Millefleur bantam hen. The breed’s beard-like plumes often need to be washed!
An Instagram posting with the dahlia ‘Emory Paul’ which the author says, is “Like a flamingo wonderland croquet mallet, gorgeous in some ways but its flowers do look almost painfully ridiculous with some reaching the size of useless footballs upon what are quite tall stems.”

I’ve made lists of all the tulips and dahlias to grow for next spring and summer. I love the dark, rich colours he chooses. And now I need to nip out and find a supply of galvanised containers ASAP. Quite honestly, what Arthur Parkinson doesn’t know about planting in dolly tubs isn’t worth knowing. He’s opened a whole new beguiling world of colour, and I can’t wait to create my own ‘islands of flamboyance.’ If I can add the odd flamingo or two in there as well, I will.

The publishers have kindly sent one extra copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave comments below and one name will be randomly selected by computer. Thank you for reading.

Please note, my I-phone photos of the pages do not adequately capture the bright colours and brilliance of the original photos which were taken by the author.

Please check back at 6pm Sunday to see who has won the prize draw copy.

Products On Trial – Weed Control Paper Mulch

I’m trying out a sample roll of paper mulch in an attempt to cut down on weeding in the flower and vegetable garden. I haven’t paid for this product, but in common with other bloggers, the agreement is to unconditionally try it out and give an honest opinion.

Monty kitten was keen to help. To be honest, he gave more help than was strictly necessary, getting in and under the paper roll. He’s such good company in the garden, always by my side, climbing in and out of my wheelbarrow and tool bag. But paper’s a new attraction for him!

Instructions say place a heavy stone on each corner as you start to unroll the paper, and toss soil along both edges to prevent wind from blowing it away. Monty jumped all over it, which kept it in place nicely until I’d sorted out stones and compost.

I used a Hori-Hori to cut the paper to length, then set out the plants. I’m trying the mulch for dahlias and cosmos in the cut flower beds , and for courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, and strawberries in the veg beds. It would be good for garlic and chard too.

These are the cuttings I’ve been taking since February from dahlias overwintered in the potting shed. They are exact clones of the parent plants, so I now have about 100 new plants for free. All my favourite varieties.

I used my Hori-Hori knife to cut a cross in the paper and then dug out planting holes for the dahlias. A new sharp-pointed trowel made the task quick and easy.

The paper is thick enough to block out light, and therefore suppress weeds, but there are microscopic holes to let air and water permeate. Plants are so far growing well. I’m having to do much less watering than usual.

This product is supplied by Mulch Organic, a family business which offers environmentally-friendly alternatives to black plastic for mulching. They say the products are natural, made from renewable sources and eliminate the need for chemical herbicides. The paper mulch is 100 percent organic and biodegradable. It should last a whole growing season, and at the end of the year, can simply be tilled into the soil to decompose naturally.

There’s also a crepe version, with expansion ribs to allow for stretch for use over mounded beds. These also work well with drip irrigation systems, and can be used in poly tunnels.

As well as the paper rolls, there’s a mulch film made from cornstarch.

Here’s one last photo of Monty. We were out in the garden until 10pm as the temperatures were too hot in the day. I’m hoping the mulch will save time – giving me more time to spend sitting in the garden reading, with Monty on my knee. That’s the plan anyway. I’ll let you know if it works out!

Here’s some of the dahlias I’m growing again this year. This one is Nuit d’Ete.

Dahlia David Howard. A lovely deep orange flower. Cut flowers last 10 days in a vase.

Eveline is a lovely white decorative dahlia with a delicate blush pink centre and tips to the petals.

Thank you for reading the blog. Have you tried any products to combat weeds? Let me know how you are getting on with your gardening projects.

Here’s the links for more information: https://mulchorganic.co.uk/

I wrote about the Hori-Hori here https://bramblegarden.com/2020/07/10/niwaki-tools-review-and-some-garden-snips-to-give-away-gardening/

The trowel I’m using is this one: https://marshallsgarden.com/products/kent-and-stowe-capability-trowel-10907234?variant=32599100424243&currency=GBP&ds_rl=1278790&ds_rl=1284267&ds_rl=1278790&ds_rl=1284267&gclid=Cj0KCQjw8IaGBhCHARIsAGIRRYoqnS-u91aeS1AJK273Nb2YXeLUfNBNiKVEBso0HNaTi-PeyK5Fiq4aAp6zEALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

Visit to Goldstone Hall Hotel and Gardens – 7 June 2021

I’ve been out! Actually out in the car, driving to a garden. It’s only the second time I’ve been out for a garden visit in 16 months. A few weeks ago I visited Belvoir Castle, and this week, I chose Goldstone Hall for my floral excursion. It seems so strange to be out and about, meeting up with friends. Everyone’s experience of the pandemic has been different. Some say their lives changed very little, they continued to travel to work and managed to get out and about when lockdown eased. Others, like me, had to stay at home. Anyway, I’m picking and choosing which outings to go on, and slowly emerging back into a normal life. Here’s a slide show of photos I provide when I’ve been out. Goldstone Hall in North Shropshire didn’t disappoint. It’s a beautifully- designed and immaculately-managed 5 acre garden surrounding a pretty Georgian manor house. Although I didn’t stay overnight, (there are 12 bedrooms) I am planning to return with my Mum for a short break soon. The idea of waking up early, and quietly wandering around the masses of roses, vegetables and herbs, definitely appeals.

This Abutilon vitifolium is one of the first shrubs you see when you step into the garden. It’s a fast-growing shrub from Chile with vine-like leaves and abundant pale mauve flowers. It flowers mainly in spring and early summer, but can flower all summer long if happy in a sheltered warm position. It can easily be grown from seed and cuttings.

The main flower border runs along a sunny wall. There’s roses and clematis all along the walls, with perennials and grasses in front.

Here’s another view of the wall, taken from the front of the border. Some pretty wine-coloured aquilegias grow in patches all along the border. This one looks like the variety Bordeaux Barlow.

Lupins in the cutting garden look particularly lovely in early June. There’s masses of sweet peas, cornflowers, sunflowers and gladioli to follow.

A herb walk is a scented pathway with 100 different herbs planted alongside heritage vegetables, salads and heirloom fruit trees and bushes.

More herbs are planted within a parterre of box plants. The creeping thyme looks colourful in Summer.

The polytunnel is packed with produce. I am going to copy the idea for growing strawberries in lengths of guttering with a drip watering system attached. Would keep the plants off the ground and away from slugs- and it would be much easier to pick fruit.

Not an inch of space is wasted in the poly tunnel.

After a head-gardener tour of the grounds, we enjoyed a delicious lunch in this open-sided oak pavilion. Perfect for a lovely warm summer’s day.

We had new potatoes, freshly dug from the plot, a spinach and asparagus quiche, and salad – all grown in the gardens we had just walked around.

Here’s the recipe for the panna cotta we enjoyed.

The view of the garden from one of the reception rooms in the hotel. There’s a sense of peace and tranquility here.

More information about Goldstone Hall.

Goldstone Hall is an Royal Horticultural Society ( RHS) partner garden, and opens for the National Gardens Scheme and for garden group tours. There’s more on the website at https://goldstonehallhotel.co.uk/.

I wrote about Belvoir Castle here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/05/21/visit-to-belvoir-castle-gardens/

Many thanks to the Garden Media Guild for organising our tour.

Thank you for reading the blog and getting in touch. Enjoy your gardens during this spell of lovely sunny weather we are having.

Lilies: New Book Giveaway Winner

Many thanks to everyone who read my review of Naomi Slade’s new book, Lilies – beautiful varieties for home and garden. I wrote the review here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/05/25/lilies-book-review-and-giveaway/

The winner is: Darran Jaques. Names were put into a random generator and computer selected.

The next book up for review and giveaway is the stunning and unusual The Flower Yard by Arthur Parkinson. Pages are full of exotic tulips and jewel-coloured dahlias and, it has to be said, lovely little bantam hens! Coming soon…

Meanwhile, here’s some more photos of lilies from Naomi’s book, as quite honestly one can’t have enough pictures of lilies to drool over. They are absolutely glorious. Enjoy your week everyone, and thanks for reading my blog and getting in touch. It’s always appreciated.

Lilium Mascara
Lilium African Queen

African Queen
Kuchibeni

Lilies is published by Pavilion RRP £25. Photographs by Georgianna Lane.

Six on Saturday -my garden 29 May 2021

It’s a while since I’ve joined in with the Six on Saturday meme. Caring for family members has had to come first. However, here’s a few photos from my garden diary today. Have a great bank holiday weekend. The sun has decided to shine at last, and there’s no rain, so we can all start to get on in the garden.

The last of the tulips. My favourite white tulip, Mount Tacoma.

Double tulips seem to last longer than singles. Petals keep opening out until the flowers are almost flat. Some tulips are better at coming back into flower each year and this one is reliable here, planted in a sunny border, baked dry in the summer. This is the secret of keeping tulip bulbs going. Plant them in maximum sun where the soil will dry out to give them a dormant period. You can also plant them at the base of deciduous trees, which will also give them a dry period, as trees take all the moisture in summer. Tulips will flower the following year before the trees come into leaf. Tulips planted in rich soil are pulled up, stored dry over summer, and replanted in November. I’ve also tried planting them in plastic pond containers, which are simply lifted out of the ground and stored at the back of the shed for the summer. The holes left in the ground are then filled with tender salvias which have been stored in the poly tunnel over winter.

Double – late flowering tulip Carnival de Nice is sometimes mistaken for a peony. Red and white striped petals slowly unfold until the flowers are flat. Lasts 10 days in a vase as a cut flower.

Here’s some more tulips still in flower today. Cold temperatures and rain virtually every day in May has suited tulips. They have provided a much-needed cheerful display all through spring.

We think this is Pink Diamond. It came in a cut flower collection from Gee Tee Bulbs. Extremely long-lasting flowers. Strong and resilient.
Flamboyant Parrot tulip, Texas Flame. Looks lovely amongst the blue love-in-a-mist flower buds just opening. These are enormous flowers when fully open, almost the size of my hand.
There are still some parrot tulips in bud.
The darkest plum coloured tulip is Queen of the Night. Some varieties offered under this name can be almost black. But they have a habit of ‘melting’ in wet conditions. And they don’t always come back the next year. I like this velvety deep red strain from Taylors Bulbs. Flowers are long lasting and cope with the rain. They have reliably returned for four years now, and seem to be increasing in number too.

The last tulip to flower here is Bleu Aimable. This single late tulip has lavender, mauve and blue shades. Flower colour improves with age. A great way to end the tulip season with a flourish.

Thank you for reading my blog. Are you heading out into the garden this weekend to catch up on jobs? The weeds have got away from me here, as it’s been so wet. But with lots of tea and cake and a determined list of tasks, I’m hoping to get on top of them. Have a great weekend!

Lilies: Book Review and Giveaway

By Naomi Slade

Published by Pavilion Books

Hardback. 240 pages. Photographs by Georgianna Lane

Published May 2021. RRP £25

ISBN: 978-1-911663-00-3

Lilium African Queen. An outward-facing trumpet lily. Suitable for large pots, planting at the back of the border, and for cut flower gardens.

For many years, all down the sides of my greenhouse, I grew tall pots of lilies. My favourites were the towering, elegant trumpet lilies, African Queen. They grew to 5ft and produced masses of rich apricot flowers with rose garnet blush shades on the reverse of the petals. Stunning to look at, and the scent was equally wonderful. That spicy, heady scent drifted all around the orchard, wild flower meadow and up through the mini-woodland. Beautiful, intoxicating and memorable.

It was lovely to stand in the greenhouse and see the flowers reaching almost the roofline. A good background for my summer container display within the greenhouse where rows of scented pelargoniums lined up amongst the citrus trees.

African Queen is just one of the many varieties featured in Naomi Slade’s new book, Lilies. The book is written in the same style as Naomi’s 2018 publication, Dahlias. I wrote a review of Dahlias here : https://bramblegarden.com/2018/06/24/dahlias-beautiful-varieties-for-home-and-garden/

Naomi’s new book is a celebration of all kinds of lilies. There’s an introduction, a section on the history and botany of lilies, followed by detailed instructions on growing and caring for lilies. Advice is given on where to buy bulbs, how to prepare the soil and plant, and how to water, feed and deadhead lilies. There’s enough information for beginners to get started, and enough detail for more experienced gardeners to have a go at propagating and preparing lilies for shows. Everything you need to know to get the best out of these lovely summer bulbs.

The lilies chosen for in-depth study are split into sections; Elegant and Dainty, Wild and Wonderful, Fiery and Fabulous, and Majestic and Magnificent.

Mascara is a black Asiatic hybrid featured in the Fiery and Fabulous section. It grows to 1m with upward and outward-facing blooms. It will grown in any good garden soil and makes a stunning cut flower.

Helvetia is in the Elegant and Dainty section. Upward-facing with reflexed petals, these lilies grow to 1- 1.2m tall and are highly fragrant. Recommend for the front of a border and containers. Would make a wonderful cascading wedding bouquet.

Another very pretty white flower is Polar Star. I’ve grown this in pots many times. 25 bulbs in a large Italian terracotta pot makes a stunning summer display. These have large fully-double upward and outward-facing flowers and grows to 70-100cm tall. Very long lasting in a vase.

lilium leichtlinii is one I haven’t grown before. It is not that common in cultivation, says Naomi. But well worth seeking out. Small pendant flowers with reflexed petals, growing to 1-1.4m tall. Unscented. Suitable for a naturalistic garden. Sophisticated in a vase.

Another lily with swept back petals is Ariadne. This Turks cap type grows to 1.2-1.8m with small pale, dusty rose flowers. Good for the back of the border and set against a foil of dark foliage, or a contrasting painted surface. Could be used for cut flowers, but you’d need a tall vase.

Georgianna Lane is a leading floral, garden and travel photographer whose work has been widely published. She captures the timeless elegance and beauty of this summer garden favourite.

Naomi Slade is a well-known figure in the world of gardening media. She writes and broadcasts about horticulture, design, environment and lifestyle. Lilies is beautifully well-written. A book you’ll delve into time and time again, and it’s so full of joy it will make you smile every time.

The publishers have one copy to give away in a prize draw. Please leave a comment below and names will be put in a hat and a winner randomly selected next Sunday.

Thank you for reading my reviews and for taking the time to comment. The comment box is below the hashtags at the bottom of the page. Or click on ‘comments’ next to the title.

Get Up and Grow: book giveaway winner…

Announcing the winner of my prize draw for Get up and Grow by Lucy Hutchings. The winner is Kate Elliott. Thanks so much to everyone for reading my review and leaving a comment.

The next book up for review and giveaway will be ‘Lilies’ by Naomi Slade.

My review for get up and Grow is here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/05/16/get-up-and-grow-book-review-and-giveaway/

Thank you to the publishers, Hardie Grant Books, for supplying a free copy for the prize draw. The book is hardback, 159 pages. Lucy creates 19 projects and shows how anyone can grow pretty much anything in their back garden, courtyard, balcony or kitchen- or even right by their work desk. There are unusual and inspirational growing ideas for herbs, fruit and vegetables, and all look as beautiful as any ornamental garden. Living walls, hydroponics and daylight spectrum grow lights are all explained with step-by-step instructions.

Lucy’s farm desk project
Kokedama citrus plants make a striking statement planting.
Indoor growing space, using a clothes hanger as a trellis frame.
Another indoor growing space using an adapted IKEA cabinet.

Windowsill growing space for herbs, fruit and vegetables.

Thank you again for reading my blog. It’s much appreciated.

You might also be interested in reading:

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/07/05/gardening-on-the-menu-book-review/

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

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

Visit to Belvoir Castle Gardens

View of Belvoir Castle from the rose garden terrace. There’s a gorgeous new collection of tree peonies to complement the last of the tulips.

It’s 14 months since I set foot in a garden open to the public. I’ve missed getting out and about, seeing friends and taking photos. But this week I was invited to a media day for the Belvoir Flower and Garden Show, and it feels great to be back visiting gardens and getting inspiration for my own little plot.

The show, on 17 and 18 July, is held on the banks of a grand and picturesque Capability Brown lake in the grounds of Belvoir Castle. All the details are on the new show website: https://belvoircastleflowerandgardenshow.co.uk/

As part of the media day, we were given a guided tour of the castle gardens. Here’s a ‘slide show’ of photos from my first day trip out. I hope you are managing to get out and about a bit more now. Get in touch and let me know what you’ve seen and where you’ve been. I don’t know about you, but I’m raring to go!

A close up of one of the gorgeous tree peonies on the terrace. I must ask the garden designer David Stevens what varieties he has planted, and report back when I find out.
There’s a collection of wisterias all along the sunny side of the castle walls. The scent is just glorious, reminiscent of lilies and wallflowers, and drifts right down the terraces to the woodland garden.
Wisteria is one of the glories of the late spring and early summer garden. Chinese Wisteria sinensis produces flowers on bare wood, and stems twine anticlockwise. Japanese W. floribunda twines in a clockwise direction and produces flowers and leaves at the same time. Many garden forms have been developed from Japanese varieties. At college, we were taught to make the letter J for Japan with our finger, which naturally curves round into a clockwise shape. Drawing the C- shape in the air turns our fingers anticlockwise. A simple way to remember which way to train and tie in our wisteria stems!
Good varieties to look out for include mauve-purple Wisteria sinensis ‘Amethyst, and beautifully-scented Wisteria floribunda ‘multijuga.’ It’s best to buy wisteria in flower so you can see what you are getting. They will flower better on south facing walls, protected from late spring frosts.
After moving on from the rose terrace, I wandered down through the Japanese Woodland Garden. There are new all-weather paths, which makes it easier to get to the heart of the valley garden.
It’s been a bad year for camellias. Nearly all the plants in the village gardens near me have been damaged by frost. But the flowers in the Belvoir woodland garden were looking at their best, protected by a wide-spreading canopy of 400 year old native trees.
Azaleas thrive in the dappled shade and provide a gloriously-perfumed walk.
An avenue of new trees has been planted. These all seem to be types of ornamental cherry. Some were still in flower, although the trees are only a few years old.
This one had a label attached. Prunus Beni-Tamanshiki, meaning ‘spring snow.’ A Matsumae cherry with red ball-like buds opening to double white flowers with a hint of pink.
The cherry trees line a path down to a natural pond. There’s a picturesque pink cottage on the other side of the water.
In a quiet spot, I found this pet graveyard. I rather liked the sound of Perky, a grey cat. ‘Beloved friends to the manners family.’
Retracing my steps, I found these box ball shapes grown together to form a ‘caterpillar.’ Box looks wonderful with new bright green leaves catching the spring sunshine. Luckily they don’t seem to suffer from the dreaded box blight, and box tree caterpillar hasn’t managed to find its way to Leicestershire yet.
Midway along the path, there’s this folly on a mound with argyranthemum daisies at the base, and climbing roses and honeysuckle around the archway entrance.
Here’s the view from the little summerhouse on top of the mound.
Finally, I had a last look around the rose terrace where these tulips were still flowering. If anyone knows the variety name, please let me know.
These tulips look particularly fine alongside emerging pink peonies .

A particularly blowsy tree peony. Unknown variety. Much loved by bees.

Even the peony foliage is attractive.

Back past the topiary yew to the castle for afternoon tea. After all that walking, tea and cake is very much appreciated.

And the spread didn’t disappoint! we had a selection of finger sandwiches with very fresh artisan bread. Followed by plates of tiny cakes, profiteroles, strawberry cheesecakes, carrot cake, chocolate cake and chocolate pots, and to round off… some fresh scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Vegetarians are catered for, thankfully. There was so much on offer, we asked for some little boxes to take the spare cakes home to family. Nothing was too much trouble and the friendly service, cakes and tea (decaffeinated for me) were all first class. We felt it was a safe environment with covid safety taken seriously. I’ll be back soon, accompanied by my mother, to view the roses when they flower. And we are also booked to attend the Belvoir Flower and Garden Show in July.

Thank you for reading. Please search past the hashtags to reach the comments box, or click comments alongside the title name.

I wrote about Belvoir Castle here : https://bramblegarden.com/2018/07/22/we-made-a-garden-for-rainbows-hospice-belvoir-show-2018/

Get Up and Grow- book review and giveaway

By Lucy Hutchings

Published by Hardie Grant Books

Hardback 159 pages

ISBN 978-1-78488-392-8

Growing fruit, vegetables and herbs doesn’t require acres of ground. In fact, you can grow virtually anything in pots, on a balcony and even indoors- if you just have the right techniques and equipment. In Lucy Hutchings’ new book, Get Up and Grow, there’s tips on everything you need to step up your gardening to a new level and grow whatever you fancy in a fresh and exciting way. Judging by the photos in Lucy’s book, the results will not only be a feast for the table, but a feast for the eyes too. Everything looks absolutely stunning.

Here’s a selection of my favourite projects from the book:

An indoor greenhouse, made from a glass display cabinet and fitted with full spectrum grow lights. IKEA sell similar cabinets or you could recycle some furniture.
I love this idea – growing microgreens in self-adhesive window trays. These are the sort you can buy for showers. Usually they are used for storing shampoo and soap. Ingenious idea, using them for growing nutritious microgreens.
Lucy also shows you how to convert an over-door hanging storage rack into a window herb garden. These can be moved around the house, or can be hung on a sunny wall or fence outdoors in the summer. Lucy has one hanging on her greenhouse sliding door, making use of all available space.
A salad garden on wheels! It can be moved around the home to make the most of natural light, or be wheeled out on to the patio on sunny days.

More projects from the book. Lucy, a former couture jewellery designer, is @shegrowsveg on instagram and writes a blog at http://www.shegrowsveg.com

The book covers the basics of potting up, using lights, feeding, watering and trouble-shooting. Perfect for beginners, or more experienced gardeners looking for a bright and modern new way to garden. The ‘suppliers list’ at the end of the book is also quite a revelation with lots of suggestions I’d never even thought of. I can’t wait to get started on my own growing projects. With Lucy’s step-by-step illustrations and clear instructions, I should soon be growing kokedama oranges, having a go at hydroponics and making a ‘living wall.’ I’ll report back on my progress!

Thanks for reading my blog.

The publishers have kindly offered one copy for a prize draw. Please leave comments below to be included in the draw. A name will be randomly drawn on Sunday, 23 May at 6pm. There will be nothing to pay and I will contact you from my e mail which is k.gimson@btinternet.com.

Garden Day UK 2021

My flower crown for Garden Day UK, made by Bloom.co.uk

It’s time to celebrate Garden Day UK again. Garden Day, on May 9th, is a chance to down tools and just enjoy what you’ve achieved on your plot. It’s one day when you don’t have to do anything really. Just sit in the garden, allow yourself a moment to pause and reflect.

One of the lovely features of Garden Day is the wearing of a flower crown. Take photos of your crown, and upload them to social media. Tag @GardenDayUK to share photos of your creation.

I’ve been sent this beautiful crown to wear tomorrow. It’s made from miniature cream roses and pink and blue statice. There’s some gorgeously-scented herbs, rosemary and thyme, and some grey foliage as a background foil for all the flowers.

Flower crowns are really easy to make. Take a length of florists’ wire, wrap it around your head to check the length. Add about 8” so you’ll be able to twist the ends together. Add a circle of olive foliage, or lengths of rosemary as a background. Make little bunches of flowers, any you fancy, from your own garden or from the florists. Lay each bunch along the wire and bind in with thin florists’ wire, paper-covered wire, or string. When you have covered the circle, check the crown fits, and twist the bare lengths of wire together to form the crown.

I’m looking forward to sharing my day with my Mum. Whatever the weather, we will be either sitting in the orchard, or if it’s raining, in the greenhouse.

How will you be spending Garden Day tomorrow? Do share photos of your garden on social media. It’s a good way to connect with other keen gardeners and to share ideas and gain inspiration on growing plants.

Here’s some photos of my garden today:

There’s still some Pheasant’s Eye narcissus under the cherry trees.
There’s white bluebells under the beech trees. These are albino flowers, lacking the pigment that makes the traditional flowers a rich purple/blue. They have creamy-coloured pollen and a delicious scent.
Narcissus Geranium in the cut flower patch. Lovely white flowers with a deep yellow centre. The scent is glorious. Something to look forward to each spring. Reliably comes back each year. Lasts at least a week in a vase.
Creamy white quince flowers. Chaenomeles Yukigoten. A sprawling shrub which is best trained along a sheltered wall. Flowers are sadly not frost-hardy and have to be protected with sheets of fleece. Good for pollinators. Worth the effort of protecting the blooms.
Lady’s smock, or Cardamine pratensis. In flower in the boggy area around the horseshoe pond. This year we have seen more orange tip butterflies than ever before. Lady’s smock is a food plant for the caterpillars. Also known as milk maids, moon flower and cuckoo flower. Sadly, there are no cuckoos again this year. The last time we heard them was five years ago.
Cowslips have taken over from daffodils, flowering in the leafmould under the field maple trees in the wild garden.
For a few glorious days, emerging field maple leaves glow a bright emerald green. It’s a sight to gladden the heart.

Finally, we will be accompanied by Daphne ( speckled hen) Daisy and Dot, and Merlin the cockerel, as they search for slugs in the cut flower patch. If we are very lucky, there will be eggs for tea!

Happy Garden Day everybody!

Thanks, as ever, for reading my blog. Please leave comments in the box below the hashtags, right at the bottom of this post. Or click on ‘comments’ under the headline and the box will drop down.

Prize draw winner: ‘herb/a cook’s companion’ by Mark Diacono

Thank you everyone for reading my review of Mark Diacono’s latest book and for taking part in the prize draw.

The winner is Suzanne! Names were placed in a hat and the winning name was selected randomly.

There are more book give-aways to follow and some gardening tools and equipment too. Thanks again for reading and leaving comments.

My book review was posted here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/04/30/herb-a-cooks-companion-book-review/

Some photos from the book: Herbs to grow. Fenugreek
Bread and butter pudding- with a herb twist to the recipe
Ice cream

Herb/ a cook’s companion. Book Review

By Mark Diacono

Published by Quadrille, an imprint of Hardie Grant Publishing

RRP £26 Published spring 2021. Hardback. 272 pages

ISBN 978 1 78713 6359

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

At about five or six, I was given the task of ‘collecting the mint.’ My grandmother, who was cooking lunch, had a huge patch of mint in her farm garden. Basket in hand, I carefully plucked the sprigs of mint and laid them neatly in rows, tips all the same way. No higgledy piggledy stems for me. Even at that young age, I took things seriously. Given a task, I wanted to do it right. I smile now, looking back at what a serious little girl I was. The first grandchild, surrounded by adults, there were no siblings or cousins for five years. I listened intently to all the adults talking and took in every word. Through their conversations, I formed a view of the world. Many years later I can still hear their voices quietly reporting the day’s events, whispering a neighbour’s misfortune, a sadness, a death. Murmuring sorrow for some, and joy for another- a wedding, a birth, some good fortune achieved. Conversations at the kitchen table brought the world into the home. I listened and learned, but cocooned in the routine of work, gardening, farming, cooking and eating, nothing appeared to change for us. It seemed as if everything happened to other people, but my world stayed the same, stable and safe.

The scent of fresh-picked mint still has the power to transport me back to happy childhood days. My mint was sprinkled over home grown new potatoes, tiny and white, as shiny as pebbles, with creamy home-churned butter and a sprinkle of grainy salt. Something so simple, delicious and ultimately, memorable.

This last 12 months, many of us have found comfort in baking. Focussing on the past, perhaps I’ve attempted to bring back the security and safety I felt as a child. I’ve found myself cooking hearty soups, casseroles, and vegetable pies. The spicy, buttery Welsh cakes my Welsh grandmother cooked on a griddle. Rice puddings, fruit crumbles and sponge cakes. Separated from family and friends, these old favourite recipes have been a comforting presence. Sights, sounds and scents of cooking, recalled as if they were only yesterday.

However, we have now emerged from lockdown, and I’m looking for a new way forward. I’m keen to try new recipes and new ideas. I’m eager to welcome family and friends back into my home and garden and I’m looking forward to making new memories for them- and for me. While not forgetting all the echoes from the past.

Mark Diacono’s new book ‘Herb, a cook’s companion’ is a good starting place. Recipes such as Lemon Thyme and Leek Tart have a rich butter and egg pastry base with a leek and cream filling. Lemon thyme leaves and nutmeg add a delicious twist to a familiar recipe.

Here’s my first attempt. I must admit, it’s not perfect. My pastry needed to be folded over more firmly, as the lovely egg filling escaped over the side. My second attempt was better and everything held firm. I’ve never thought of adding herbs to the pasty base before, and it was a triumph. The lovely buttery lemon-thyme pastry melts in the mouth. A perfect complement to the leek and creme fraiche filling. Again, adding nutmeg and bay leaves lifts this recipe out of the ordinary. It looks beautiful too. Presentation is something I’m trying to improve on. This looks as good as it tastes and received thumbs up from the family.

Greek Herb Pie.

Mark says: “This Greek summer favourite, aka Spanakopita, is so worth making a delicious regular. Heavy with spinach, salty feta and crisp laminations of filo, it’s as good cold as hot, early in the day as late. This version nudges the spinach (which can be a bit of a grump at times) towards the cheerful with the brightness of dill and mint in generous quantities, and parsley anchoring the leeks to the cheese. A delight.”

Herb Soda Bread

A buttermilk, oat and wholemeal flour bread, with a small bunch of chives or sweet cicely, or either of the savories, finely chopped.

Lemon Lavender Meringues

A twist on the usual meringue recipe. Between 5 and 8 lavender heads are whizzed with caster sugar in a spice grinder and added to whisked egg whites and lemon zest.

Fig Leaf and Lemon Verbena Rice Pudding.

Even my family favourite rice pudding is given a new lease of life with the addition of fig-leaf infused milk and lemon verbena leaves. Such a lovely change from the usual.

The book covers how to grow and harvest herbs and how to preserve them in sugar, vinegar, oil and salt, and how to dry and freeze them.

There’s comprehensive coverage of choosing what to grow, how to grow herbs from seed, taking cuttings, propagation and planting out. There’s full plant descriptions of many popular herbs such as anise hyssop, Korean mint, basil, bay, chervil, chives and parsley for example. Then there’s suggestions for more unusual plants such as shiso or perilla – which I’ve always grown as a purple ornamental bedding plant. Seems it can be added to salads and used with recipes containing aubergines, grilled or barbecue prawns, and with eggs and avocado. I shall experiment!

Following the growing section, there’s recipes featuring soups and side dishes, main meals, puddings, biscuits and drinks. There’s something surely to please everyone – especially people like me, looking for a special dish to make for friends and family, as we start to reconnect.

The publishers have kindly offered one copy to give away. Please leave a comment in the box below to be included in the prize draw. A winner will be randomly selected. International entries are welcome.

Please look back on Wednesday 5th May to check if you have won a copy. I’ll announce it on the blog. (Please do not give out your address or any other details to anyone. Be aware of scams.)

Have you found cooking a source of comfort over the lockdown times? Are you, like me, looking to try something new this year, as we start to feel more positive and move forward. Get in touch and let me know your thoughts. And thank you, as ever, for reading my blog. It’s always appreciated.

* comments box is right at the bottom of the blog, past all the hashtags. Or click on ‘comments’ under the headline.

Quick link for Garden News Magazine Readers – Peach Crumble Cake- and spring flowers 10 April 2021

Here’s a quick link to the recipe mentioned in this week’s Garden News Magazine. Let me know if you make my peach crumble cake. The recipe is great with tinned or fresh peaches, apples, plums, cherries, rhubarb and blueberries- anything you have to hand. Thanks for reading my garden diary column and for all your lovely kind comments and encouragement. It’s always appreciated.

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

Some more photos from my April garden diary. Enjoy the spring flowers- and new additions to the garden, Merlin the cockerel, and Daphne, Daisy and Dot bantam hens.

Here they are, enjoying a dust bath. They soon found a cosy corner in the garden where I’d piled some old compost. Perfect for their favourite daily activity. I love the contented little sounds they make as they swoosh compost into the air in all directions. Hens are certainly messy creatures.

Here’s Merlin, searching for slugs, snails and grubs in the veg plot. I’m hoping they will help me with my organic gardening, no chemicals- approach.

I’m not forgetting Monty kitten, looking quite windswept as he sits on his favourite look-out post on top of the boat cover.

The greenhouse – with barely and inch to spare. I can just about still get in there.

The poly tunnel swathed in fleece as we hit -3.5C two nights in a row. It’s currently 7C at lunchtime with a freezing icy wind and sleet. The old peach trees are flowering despite the cold. I’ll have to pollinate them with a paintbrush. There’s no bees about in these cold temperatures.

Despite the cold, daffodils are looking lovely. So cheerful.

My favourite narcissus Snow Baby looking lovely in spring pots planted three years ago and still going strong.

My new spring pot with ‘instant’ plants from the garden centre. Cheering up the front doorstep.

Wild anemones flowering in the mini woodland garden. Bluebells are just starting to raise their heads above big strappy leaves and potted Lily of the Valley is scenting the potting shed.

A few flowers fresh picked from the veg plot.

My wild Tenby daffodils, flowering around the pond, still look good at dusk. These are planted in memory of my Welsh grandmother, HM Foulds. A very reliable and hardy daffodil, highly recommend.

You might like to read my last post here: https://bramblegarden.com/2021/04/08/garden-news-column-spring-flowers-and-peach-crumble-cake-april-8-2021/

Thanks for reading. Enjoy your weekend, and hopefully the weather will improve where you are soon.

I’m @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram live.

Garden News Column, Spring Flowers and Peach Crumble Cake. April 8 2021.

Bulbs and spring bedding plants are making me smile, after such a long, cold winter. I couldn’t get out last autumn to buy any plants, so I’ve reached spring with nothing to put into containers. But restrictions have lifted- and I’ve had my jab (hurray!) and I’m able to get out there! I can’t adequately describe the shear delight of actually being able to visit a plant nursery and buy a few flowers. Never in my life did I think such a simple thing as going out and buying plants would be so joyful- and appreciated. I’ll never take it forgranted again. Never.

I bought some potted anemone blanda, Bridal Crown narcissus and bellis daisies. I didn’t go mad with my first trip out. Every plant was savoured, the scent enjoyed, the colours marvelled at. I set the Bridal Crown in the centre of a favourite terracotta pot, and nestled the anemones and bellis daisies around the edge. Bridal Crown is perfect for a centrepiece as it’s multi -headed, which means it flowers for a long time. The stems twist and turn in different directions, giving a fountain-like centre to any pot. Anemones have a charming habit of scrambling between the narcissus stems and filling the gaps. Bellis daisies are just so cheerful. I particularly love the double pomponette types. All in all, my plants have provided a much-needed breath of spring, and the containers are cheering up my front doorstep and all the garden table tops, just in case we have visitors, which is now allowed. It will feel strange to have friends and family walking around my plot, after a whole 12 months without anyone visiting.

Here’s this week’s Garden News article, mentioning my treasured plant pots.

Peach Crumble Cake Recipe can be found here:

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

And more photos of the containers, which have survived two windswept nights of -3.5C temperatures.

The scent is wonderful.

Just planted. Instant plants can be put together to make a colourful display. No one would know the containers hadn’t been planted last autumn.

Anemone blanda, mixed blues and whites.

I popped in two large anemone coronaria. I would usually grow all these bulbs myself, starting them off in September and October. But there’s so much choice at the garden centres, you can easily catch up now, and they don’t cost a fortune.

Bulbs and corms usually from https://taylors-bulbs.com/

Blue anemone coronaria. I love the inky black centres. Bees love them too.

Bellis Daisy. I usually grow these from seed. Mr Fothergills have this variety: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Bellis-Goliath-Mixed.html?ccode=F21PGP&gclid=CjwKCAjw07qDBhBxEiwA6pPbHkNeoDM1SLR8gcldYQP_rNdLZWfQ9HtAJHyWNs49sqz6to8sDiHbthoCV0oQAvD_BwE

Here’s the Superseed Trays I mention in the article. I’m trying to reduce my use of flimsy plastic trays which are not recyclable. The plastic breaks down to smaller and smaller pieces and gets into rivers and streams and out to the ocean.

https://superseedtrays.co.uk/

Behind them there’s a Bustaseed tray, made from recyclable plastic. Again, with divided module cells which can be lifted out without disturbing plant roots. These will be useful for taking cuttings.

https://www.bustaseed.com/

More details of Whinnypoo manure Tea. Very easy to use and it’s making my lemon trees green up beautifully after a long cold winter.

https://www.whinnypoo.com/

I love trying new products and I’m always amazed by the ingenuity of new business enterprises.

I’ve adopted a rescue cockerel. His days were numbered as there were too many cockerels where he came from. Sadly, if you hatch out chicks, some of them with obviously be cockerels and then they become unwanted. I’ve named him Merlin because he has the most gorgeous petrol -coloured feathers. And he has magiced his way into my life, just when I needed something to make me smile again. He’s now been joined by three beautiful bantam hens, so he’s in heaven here.

And finally, the latest photo of my lockdown kitten Monty. He’s been a constant source of joy since arriving here last summer. Hasn’t he grown into a beautiful boy. He’s enormous and very fluffy, but he has such a kind and gentle temperament. And he’s always by my side, keeping me company in the garden.

How are you all doing? Are any of you managing to get out and about and see friends and family again? It’s a while since I last wrote on here. We had several very sad deaths amongst friends and family. The latest being a dear friend, Jo, who died just six weeks after a diagnosis of cancer. We will be attending her virtual funeral on Friday, and I’ll be planting a tree in her memory.

Take care everyone, and thank you for reading and for your friendship and kind comments. This has not been an easy time for any of us, but there’s always hope for the future.

I’m @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram.

Lemon Crunch Triangles Recipe

Temperatures are reaching 16C here today, just a week after snow and lows of -5. I’m working in the garden in shirt sleeves. Heavy coats and warm jumpers are left indoors. My lemon trees in the greenhouse have started to grow and I’m feeding and watering them now. They have been relatively dry over the winter. To promote more flower and fruit, I’m harvesting all the lemons and making cakes and biscuits. Spare fruit can easily be frozen whole and microwaved when juice and zest is needed.

Here’s a tasty recipe for a February pick-me-up. You can eat these lemon crunch triangles on their own with a cup of tea, or add vanilla icecream. They can also be frozen. I’m making some for now, and a batch for when we can open up the garden for visits from friends and family. I can hardly wait to see everyone! This has been a long winter and one we will never forget. I’m making videos of the garden to send to my mum, and to relatives and staff in the care home, to give them a flavour of spring. They can’t get out to see any flowers are the moment, so the videos of our snowdrops, hellebores and crocus are an escape to the outdoors for them. You can see the videos over on instagram where I am karengimson1.

Let me know what spring flowers are growing in your gardens. Are you cooking anything new this week? Freezing temperatures are due to return by the weekend, so I won’t be putting anything delicate outdoors just yet. But it’s lovely to see all these jewel-like spring flowers, and fresh lemons from greenhouse are very welcome indeed.

Here’s a link to my recipe for lemon crunch triangles:

https://bramblegarden.com/2019/02/08/lemon-crunch-triangles-family-favourite-recipes/

February Recipes : Pear and Almond Pastries

I’m making these again today. I opened the kitchen cupboards and there was literally nothing cheerful in there! No biscuits, chocolate, cake. We’ve run out of everything. I wonder if we will look back on these times and ponder how we lived through this pandemic and learned to appreciate the simple things in life. I shall certainly never take for granted being able to just pop to the shops. Everything has to be so well organised. Lists on top of lists. All food is being delivered, for which I’m extremely grateful. But, oh, the dismay at discovering that I’ve forgotten something- just as I’ve pressed the button to order supplies. It’ll be a week before I can get another delivery. We do see an end in sight with vaccines on the way, so keep going everyone. Keep smiling. And make pastries, as there’s nothing nicer to cheer you up than the sight of these lovely tasty treats. Any fruit can be used, they are just as lovely with apples, frozen plums, raspberries, tinned peaches – any combination you like. Let me know what recipes are keeping you cheered up, and report back if you make any of these delicious pastries too.

Here’s the link for the recipe: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/11/02/pear-and-almond-pastries-family-favourite-recipes/

And a photo of spring flowers to bring some joy as well:

White primulas. My favourites. Though I have seen some deep red double varieties mixed in with burnt orange which might look lovely in a blue China casserole dish…. if only I could get out to buy some.

Narcissi Geranium and cut flower collection tulips from last spring. All my tulips are poking through the ground now, and daffodils are in bud and flowering early. The veg patch is covered in forgetmenots. I use them as a green mulch to protect the soil and keep down weeds. Some are potted up to stand on the summerhouse steps. They are very easy to dig up as they have a shallow, fibrous root system. They do well when lifted and grown on in containers.

Daffodils make a very welcome return. I’ve watered them with potash or tomato fertiliser, having taken advice from a medal-winning grower. The liquid feed helps to strengthen the stems and enhances the colour, making them stronger and brighter. A good tip as we regularly seem to be getting stormy spring weather. It’s so sad to see daffodils flattened by the wind.

Eranthis hyemalis – winter aconite in the woodland garden. They won’t last long as temperatures are currently 13C.

Green-tipped Galanthus Viridapice looking pretty on the potting shed window. Snowdrops too have been a very welcome and joyous sight. But in the mild weather, they have opened right out and will be going over sooner than usual. I shall water these too with weak tomato fertiliser in the hope of boosting the size of the bulbs and increase the number of flowers for next year.

Have a lovely weekend everyone.

*I’m trying something new- doing Instagram live sessions from the greenhouse every day, essentially to keep in touch with my Mum and MIL Joan, and also to show my daughters how to grow plants from seed. Under normal circumstances I would be by their side helping them with their new houses and first gardens. But I can’t while we are in lockdown, so I’m doing what I can from home. I’m karengimson1 on instagram.

Apple and Berry Crumble Cakes – Recipe

If you are reading this week’s Garden New Magazine (February 6 edition) here is the recipe I mention for apple crumble cakes. Our stored apples usually last until the end of February, but the autumn, and winter up until Christmas, was so mild the fruit started to go soft. I sliced and froze some of the apples, and turned the rest into delicious little cakes. These too can be frozen and will thaw within a few minutes, or defrost in a microwave. Let me know if any of you try the recipe, and how you get on with it. I’ve added frozen blackberries and raspberries to my cakes. Or you can just make them with apples on their own. All equally tasty. It’s lovely to have something reminding us of summer – right in the middle of winter.

You’ll need three or four apples, and a handful of berries, if using them. Use what you have. Equally good using tinned or fresh peaches, plums, blueberries, apricots, pears. It’s a very versatile recipe, using up store cupboard and frozen fruit.

I’ve made mine in silicone muffin trays, but you could just make one large cake and slice it. Use oat milk and egg substitute for vegans.

Muffins cook in 25 to 30 minutes. But check they are cooked through.

We store the apples wrapped in newspaper in the unheated glass porch and potting shed.

There was a good harvest from the orchard last autumn. Plenty of apples and pears.

I’ve been making apple crumbles all winter. Such a simple dish, so lovely and warming on a cold day.

Thanks for reading and getting in touch. I’ve started doing live videos from the greenhouse over on instagram as a way of keeping in touch with family and friends.

I’m karengimson1 on instagram

And @kgimson on twitter

Update: Sue Appleton on twitter used blackberry jam instead of berries and sent this message:

A walk around my garden 26 Jan 2021

I thought you’d like a calming walk around the garden today. We’ve had snow for two days now, but it is starting to melt. It’s currently 3C and rain is forecast. Snow covers a multitude of sins. You can’t see the brambles or stinging nettles. I’ve made a start on tackling the thickets- they have grown up in only three years of neglect. It’s interesting to see how nature is always trying to reclaim the garden. Always trying to take back what we’ve borrowed. We only carve out this place for a short while.

Bellis daisies. In flower despite the cold. We planted some in pots years ago and they’ve seeded about the plot. They pop up in borders, the gravel paths, and in small colonies in the lawn. I rather like them for their tenacity. Stamp on them (accidentally) and they do not flinch.

By the front door there’s a patch of Algerian iris (Iris unguicularis). It grows in the gravel spilling over from the path. There is no soil here. And yet, with minimum fuss and no maintenance, it flowers its heart out from October to March. Friends say it can be difficult to grow, so I’m grateful for my little patch of thriving iris. Last year it produced this pretty lilac sport. The mother plant is deep purple. I love it when plants suddenly do the unexpected. Don’t you?

The bank of wild cherry trees look like charcoal drawings in the snow. They are full of buds. I’ll cut a few twiggy branches and bring them into the house. They’ll flower readily in the heat of the kitchen. One way to bring spring forwards a little. It’s cheating, I know, but I can’t resist.

More trees surround the wildlife pond. It’s wonderful to think we are only four weeks to seeing frogspawn in the pond. Spring always starts for me when we see frogs again. You can learn more about frogs by following Froglife, a wildife charity dedicated to the conservation of frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards.

Here’s the link https://www.froglife.org/

We are seeing a lot more deer in our area. We think they might be Sitka deer. Sometimes I just catch sight of them out of the corner of my eye. They are almost like ghosts, drifting silently along the dark hedgerows. They seem to blend into the shadows and become part of the landscape. Sometimes, in spring, if we are really lucky, we’ll come across a fawn in the long grass. The mother is never far away, and we tiptoe quietly away, so as not to startle her.

We’ve turned the summerhouse towards the sun. Amazingly, it’s quite warm in there. Such a well-made building, insulated with thick, wavy-edge oak. They knew how to build in the 1930s. We are grateful for our sturdy and peaceful sanctuary. It’s the perfect place to sit for a while and read, or watch the birds. Sometimes we see a fox. At dusk, a barn owl quarters the back field. They hunt methodically, searching for prey by flying back and forth. We worry when the weather is stormy and wet, as it increasingly is nowadays. Barn owls have no waterproofing. Their soft feathers help them to fly almost silently, but it’s at the expense of being weatherproof. They struggle to hunt and find food in the rain. One heartbreaking evening last summer, we saw the female out in heavy rain. She looked off balance, her flight hampered by the wind. We watched as she wobbled and barely made it over the top of the hedge. Desperation must have driven her out in poor weather. She had two chicks to feed. Later, the farmer who checks the nests, found only one chick had survived.

I’ll leave you with two happy photos. Snowdrops always make me feel hopeful. They return every year, whatever is happening in the world around them.

And this beautiful glass ‘vase’ of flowers- a present from a kind friend. Certainly. We are all looking for anything that brings joy at the moment. Thank goodness for kindness, friends and family. And for flowers which always make us smile.

Let me know how you are all getting on. Are you managing to sow any seeds or do any gardening yet. Take care everyone. And thank you for reading.

I’m on instagram at karengimson1 and twitter @kgimson. Come over and say hello!

Herbs, cooking and reading blogs. Keeping cheerful through lockdown.

One of the ways I’m keeping upbeat at the moment is reading blogs. Barbara Segall writes about the Japanese rice recipe Seven Herbs of Spring in her ‘Garden Post’ blog. I was immediately inspired to go out into the garden and find seven herbs to make my own revitalising rice dish.

Barbara explains that the severn herb dish is a kind of porridge eaten during the first weeks of January as a way of detoxing and giving the digestive system a boost. Simple food after all the excesses of Christmas. I didn’t quite have the herbs Barbara mentions, but rather than just giving up, I searched out and used what I could find. I was delighted to discover small amounts of mint, fennel, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, Welsh onion, and chervil. Most were in self-watering containers placed in the greenhouse for winter protection. Rosemary grows by the back door, and perennial Welsh onions are in the polytunnel. They are a good source of fresh onion-flavouring when chives have died back for the season.

Just searching about the plot and discovering small amounts of herbs was a joy. The scents released as I snipped the herbs into a colander made me think of summer when I planted these containers. I perhaps use fresh herbs more in summer than I do in winter. It requires more of an effort to go out in the cold, ice crunching underfoot and wrapped up against the chill wind. Much easier to reach for the dried herbs (dare I admit to using such a thing). But the taste was worth it. Every mouthful was a burst of flavour – transporting me back to sunshine and summer heat.

I boiled some organic long grain brown rice to go with my herbs. A nice easy meal, in contrast to all the complicated, lengthy cooking of the festive season. The rice was ready in 25 minutes. I roughly chopped the herbs and sprinkled them over the steaming rice. I found some tiny emerging spring broccoli and nasturtium leaves to add to the dish and yellow broccoli flowers, which are edible and should not be wasted.

Delicious! Using what I have about the place and keeping things simple. It made me feel as if I was looking after myself. Which is no bad thing just at the moment when we are all rather stressed and in lockdown.

Do read Barbara’s blog and learn more about Japanese cooking traditions. Barbara’s writing is like silk. It’s a joy to read. And you never know, it might inspire you to grow more herbs and cook something delicious and good for you. Let me know if you do!

Thank you for reading. Take care.

Barbara’s blog is here : https://thegardenpost.com/a-new-dawn-and-it-is-2021/

January in the Garden

Here I am, pottering about in my garden again. I must say, the weeks fly by and it’s soon time to write another column for Garden News Magazine.

I hope you enjoy today’s article. I’ve had some lovely letters of support from readers saying my ‘potterings’ have kept them upbeat and busy during the pandemic. I’m pleased to see many readers have been inspired to have a go at different gardening techniques, or decided to grow something new. And many say the recipes are tasty, and always turn out well. What a relief!

Here’s some additional photos the editor didn’t use for the column. It’s fascinating to see which ones they choose. I submit about 10 for them to select from. It takes about a day to decide what to write about, take the photos and then actually sit down and compose the piece. It’s 350 words – which is actually quite a challenge. I try to say a lot in not many words. I edit it three times before I send it, taking out any spare words each time. What a luxury it is to write the blog. No one is checking the word count on here.

My hazel plant supports in the snow. New rods have replaced any that snapped, and have been woven along the centre to add strength. We seem to be getting stormier summers, so plant supports have to be extra sturdy.

Some sweet peas I grew last summer. I’ve sown some in autumn, but the second sowing now will provide plants that flower right through to November. Successional sowing extends the season.

Seeds come from https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sweet-Pea-Seed/#.X_dxARDfWfA.

And https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/shop/gardening/seeds/easton-walled-gardens-mix.

Here’s a photo of ‘Sunshine’ climbing French beans. Highly recommended, easy to grow and prolific. We have a freezer full, and they only take a few minutes to cook from frozen. All the flavour and goodness is captured for tasty winter meals. I’ll be starting my bean seed in May. Don’t start them off too early as they cannot be planted out until the first week of June. If sown too early, they become leggy and weak. They are very fast growing.

Bean seeds come from https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Pea-and-Bean-Seeds/Climbing-Bean-Seeds/Climbing-French-Bean-Sunshine.html#.X_dw0hDfWfA

Here’s a larger photo of the willow heart flower arrangement in the potting shed window. It’s made from Paperwhite narcissi, alstroemeria from the poly tunnel and dried gypsophila and honesty seeds from summer. The foliage is eucalyptus saved from Christmas floral arrangements. Flowers are held in a jam jar covered in moss which has garden string twined around it, kokadama -style. We are all trying to do without florists’ foam, and using jam jars, and tiny glass test tubes works really well.

See more ideas, join zoom -and in person lessons- with Georgie Newbery at Common Farm Flowers : https://www.commonfarmflowers.com/collections/workshops

Paperwhites came from Gee-Tee Bulbs https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/

Gypsophila and honesty seeds from https://higgledygarden.com/

I mention new birds boxes. I wrote about CJ Wildlife supplies here: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/01/30/nest-boxes-and-bird-feeders-for-the-garden/

The RSPB nesting material is from: https://shopping.rspb.org.uk/nest-box-accessories/nesting-wool-refill.html

And finally, the rhubarb upside down cake recipe can be found here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/04/18/rhubarb-cakes-family-favourite-recipes/

Thank you for reading and getting in touch. It’s much appreciated. And a very Happy New Year to you all.

I’m @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram

Do say hello on social media.

Christmas Cake Recipe

For my daughters, who are making their own Christmas cakes this year.

I stand on this lane, and what I want more than anything else in the world is to see your cars driving this way. But it is not to be. We must all keep to our own homes, until we’ve had a vaccine, which hopefully will be soon. I’m so proud of you both. Not a single complaint has been heard this year. Things have not been easy for you, but you’ve taken everything in your stride and met every challenge with courage and determination. I’m so heartened to see you have both turned into such capable young women. Keep strong, as I know you will. And look forward to the day when we can all be together again, around our table, with grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, celebrating all the occasions we’ve missed this past year. Love Mum xx

Grandma’s Christmas Cake Recipe

9″ loose bottom cake tin, 4″ deep

Baking paper to line. Foil for the top

Oven preheated at 140C

INGREDIENTS

1lb currants

6oz sultanas

6oz raisins

2oz glacé cherries, cut in half

2oz mixed peel

Soak all the above ingredient in 3tbsp brandy overnight.

8oz plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2tsp salt

1/4 tsp nutmeg

1/2 tsp mixed spice

2oz chopped or flaked almonds

2oz ground almonds

8oz soft brown sugar

1 tbsp black treacle ( run spoon under boiling water so treacle won’t stick)

8 oz unsalted butter or vegetable margarine (vegan)

4 eggs, or egg substitute (vegan) lightly beaten.

1 lemon rind

1 orange rind

METHOD

Sift flour, and all dry ingredients together.

Soften butter in microwave and mix with black treacle.

Mix all ingredients together using a wooden spoon.

Make a wish!

Spoon into the prepared cake tin and place a double layer of foil on top.

Cook for 3.5 – 4 hours and check with a skewer to see if it’s cooked. The skewer will come out clean if cooked. Cook for another 30 minutes if not ready. Leave in the tin to cool for several hours or overnight. Re-wrap with fresh foil and place in a tin in a cool dry place. You can ‘feed’ the cake with table spoons of Sherry or more brandy. Make holes with a skewer and drip the alcohol over.

This cake is best made in November, but will be fine make now and iced nearer to Christmas. Add ready rolled marzipan, icing and decorate.

Have a wonderful first Christmas in your own homes. Hopefully, you’ll remember all the happy times growing up here with simple pleasures. They are always the best.

Garden News Magazine recipes for December

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

The recipe link for Cherry Marzipan Chocolates is here :

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Bob’s recipe for Satsuma Liqueur :

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

Sloe Gin

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

350g caster sugar

710ml gin

Kilner jar or lidded jar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading! Have a great week.

In a Vase on Monday- virtual flowers for Joan

Chrysanthemums are in full flower in the poly tunnel. They’ll provide cut flowers from now until January. I grow hardy varieties in 10″ pots. They stand out on the gravel paths, next to the greenhouse all summer. Chrysanths can cope with the cold, but wet weather spoils the flowers, so I lift the pots into the unheated poly tunnel the first week of November.

I don’t know the name of this bright yellow chrysanthemum. It came from my father-in-law Keith. He had been growing it since the 1950s, having been given a cutting from Aunty Dorris. When Keith was no longer able to garden, I took over the tradition on growing the yellow flowers for his wife, Joan. Until this year, I’ve managed to supply Joan with a bunch each week through November and December. They are her favourites. This year, covid has interrupted our plans – and I’ve had to e mail photos of the flowers instead.

I’m growing these pretty little white chrysanthemums too. These are called Stallion. They are multi -headed and last at least a fortnight, sometimes three weeks, in a vase. Flowers have a bright yellow button centre, and take on pink tinges as they age. Very useful as a filler in a bouquet.

We’ve had a message from the care home saying one family member can visit before Christmas. They will have to take a rapid covid test, sit in their car for half an hour to wait for the results, and then spend 30 minutes visiting our relatives in their own rooms. We can’t visit any communal spaces. And we still can’t take flowers, for some reason. But we can take tins of biscuits and jars of jam- anything that can be disinfected before being giving to the residents. I’m writing about it here because the blog has become a record of our times, living through this covid pandemic, and the effect it’s had on people living in care homes.

Hopefully, soon we will be able to have the vaccine and this nightmare will come to an end. I’m hopeful it won’t be long now.

Thank you for reading. I’m celebrating reaching the milestone 100,000 readers on the blog. When I started writing, I had no idea so many would read my potting shed musings. Thanks for being one of them. Have a calm and happy week.

In a Vase on Monday : Cathy https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/category/gardens/in-a-vase-on-monday/

Turning Garden Twigs into Christmas Decorations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

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

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

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

Candied Orange Peel for Christmas

This year, more than ever before, we are rolling out the Christmas family favourite recipes. It seems more important than ever to have reminders of all the happy celebrations from the past.

Candied orange peel is easy to make and fills the kitchen with a wonderful, comforting scent. If you need to get into the Christmas spirit, take some oranges and sugar and turn them into these irresistible treats. You can add dark chocolate and give them as little gifts to friends and family. You can’t buy anything as good. Honestly.

INGREDIENTS

4 large oranges (unwaxed if available)

300g caster sugar

Water

Granulated sugar to coat

Dark chocolate (optional)

METHOD

Scrub the oranges in hot water, especially if they have been waxed.

Peel wedges of orange skin from the top to the bottom of the fruit.

They should be 5mm thick and include the pith as well as the skin.

Lay the wedges down and flatten. Cut them into matchsticks 7mm wide.

Place peel in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Drain and throw away the water.

Cover peel with fresh water and simmer for 30 minutes.

Drain and reserve the liquid. You’ll need about 300ml. Add 300ml of sugar and heat until dissolved.

If you have more peel, the ratio is always 100ml of water to 100g of sugar.

Return the peel to the syrup (sugar/water mix) and simmer for 30 minutes.

Drain and place the orange peel on a wire rack set above some baking paper to catch drips. Put the rack and paper in an oven on the lowest setting for approx 30 minutes to dry.

You can use the reserved syrup in orange drizzle cakes, sponges and trifles.

Put some granulated sugar in a basin and add a few strips of peel at a time. Use a fork to toss them in the sugar and liberally coat. Lay on a clean wire rack to dry in a warm kitchen.

Optional: after adding the sugar, you can coat half of the sticks in dark chocolate which makes a delicious treat. Wrap in little packets of foil to give as home-made presents.

Variation: use lemon. Simmer and discard the water three times to remove bitterness.

Store candied peel in an airtight container. It will keep for 6-8 weeks.

Use for Christmas cakes, or toppings for sponge cakes, muffins and biscuits. Or just on their own as a teatime treat with hot chocolate or coffee. Utterly delicious. Enjoy 😊

Let me know what family favourite recipes you are cooking this year.

We have decided not to mix the households – even though the rules say we can. We can’t risk the health of elderly relatives. Especially when there’s a vaccine on the horizon. We must just be patient for a little longer. Everyone must decide what is best for them. Visits to the care home are still currently barred as we are still in tier 3. No flowers can be sent to my darling mother-in-law, J. But we can send jars of jam and home made treats and chocolates. So I’m concentrating on making this a Christmas we will all remember- and hopefully the last one we have to spend separated from one another.

More recipes to try:

Chocolate Panatone https://bramblegarden.com/2019/12/02/christmas-recipes-chocolate-panettone/

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

Apple Chutney: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/11/21/joans-christmas-apple-chutney-recipe/

Joan’s Christmas Apple Chutney Recipe

It’s going to be Christmas-with-a-difference this year. We are all going to stay at home and not mix the households. After making this sad decision, it’s full speed ahead to make this Christmas full of our usual food and special treats. We will just be enjoying them in our own homes – and not all together around the same table.

Here’s a recipe my mother-in-law Joan used to make every Christmas for as long as I can remember. The aroma of apples, spice and vinegar instantly makes me think of Christmas preparations. I feel quite tearful, standing here chopping the apples on my own. It only feels like yesterday when I was standing in Joan’s tiny kitchen chatting away, watching her cook. We were the ‘young couple’ then in our 20s, too busy to cook, with such a lot to talk about. Such busy lives. So much to say. We never stopped talking. Now I suddenly realise how silent I’ve become. Still busy lives, but somehow I have become the ‘listener’, and my children and their partners, the ‘young couples.’ I really hope it’s not too long before they can be here, standing in my kitchen, bringing the world into my home, with all their news and conversation again.

INGREDIENTS

900g eating apples

450g onions

225g sultanas

450g brown sugar

1tsp each of ground ginger, salt, cinnamon, mixed spice.

1tbsp whole pickling spice -tied in a muslin bag (optional)

450ml vinegar

METHOD

Chop the apples and onions into small 2cm pieces. Put all ingredients in a large saucepan or jam pan and bring to the boil. Gently simmer until the apples and onions are cooked ( about 35- 45 minutes). Remove the muslin bag of spices. Pour into clean sterilised jam jars.

This chutney keeps for about 1 year and is a perfect for cheese and festive meals. It’s a lovely quick-to-make present too.

For Joan and Keith, it will be Christmas at the care home for them this year, when they should be sat at the head of a very large table full of children, grandchildren, and two new great-grandchildren- born in the last few months. We are not allowed to visit, and they are not allowed out. Such a sad state of affairs for us, as it must be for many. But there’s hope on the horizon with news about a vaccine. And that’s what I’m holding on to this year. Hope.

What traditions are you keeping this Christmas? Do you have favourite recipes that make you think of Christmases past. Take care, and thank you for reading.

Joan’s favourite Christmas decoration that she’s treasured since she was a child. She’s 91 now. The little bell inside still rings.

Honda Cordless Lawn Mower- Product Trial

I’ll be honest, cutting the lawn is not one of my favourite tasks. We have an old petrol mower which is a bit of a beast. It has a pull-cord start, and my arms are just not long enough. After the first painful attempt, I usually wheel the machine back in the shed and wait for help. So frustrating! I hate having to wait for someone stronger to help me. I feel defeated. Then along comes Honda with an offer to try out one of their new battery power machines. I must admit, I cheered.

Honda’s delivery driver arrived promptly with two boxes containing a lawn mower and a hedge trimmer. There was also a brand new Honda racing motorbike in the back of the van. My heart skipped a beat. Sadly I couldn’t persuade him to leave it behind ….. I tried. It’s 30 years since we had a motorbike. We had a British Triumph Bonneville- which took us all over Europe, up through Scotland, and all around the Ring of Kerry in Ireland. Before children arrived. And after that, we decided we should be sensible and sell it. Couldn’t really fit two babies on the back. Anyway, I digress. Back to lawn mowers…. So we sold the motorbike and settled down in a family home with an acre garden. Since then, we’ve had a division of power here. Mr B cuts the lawns, and I plant, weed and prune, grow flowers, fruit and veg. The problem comes when Mr B goes sailing- which is very often. He and his whole family are sailing-mad. We have a nephew John Gimson who is currently World Champion and part of the British Olympic Sailing Team (NACRA) sailing a catamaran. Mr B in the past has supported John by driving the racing boats across Europe on a low loader. Something he loves doing. Meanwhile, at home, the grass get longer and longer and starts to look messy.

This autumn, I wanted to cut the grass in the orchard really short, and sow wild flower seeds in the bare patches where there’s been molehills. With the new lawn mower, I was able to do it without asking for help. Independence at last!

Here’s a run down of the things I like about the new cordless mower.

1.

To start it, all you have to do is press the yellow button on the side of the handle. No shoulder-wrenching pull cord.

2.

To make the mower go forward, you just press the bar towards the handle. As a safety feature, if you let go, the mower stops. There’s no way it can run off with you ( like my old petrol -driven monster mower.)

3.

Another safety feature is the little turn key, which isolates the battery if you need to turn the mower on its side to remove excess grass from around the blades. I would also quickly remove the battery too. Fast and simple operations.

4.

The battery slides easily into the front of the machine. There’s three types of batteries with different run times.

The cheapest, battery, number 4, cuts for about 35 minutes and takes 35 minutes to charge. To be honest, 35 minutes was enough for me. I had a cup of tea and a rest while the battery was charging, and then we were off again. The handbook says this battery covers 365m2 lawn area.

Number 6 battery covers 485m2.

Number 9 battery covers 730m2 on one charge.

The battery charger is note-worthy. It has its own cooling fan and various flashing lights to tell you how it’s doing. It looks rather impressive.

5.

There’s a simple handle to change the cutting height. Easy to operate.

6.

There’s a pressed steel powder-coated deck. This made the whole machine look robust and substantial. Yet the weight was push-able at 22.5kg for the machine and 1.3kg for the battery. I didn’t struggle at all, and didn’t feel totally worn out after ten minutes, like I do with our petrol mower. Plus, it’s clean, there’s no petrol fumes, and the mower is relatively quiet. The handbook says the noise range is 91bB(a). I’m comparing it with the petrol mower, which we wear safety ear protectors with, and battery powered is much quieter. A small thing, but important to me, the battery powered machine didn’t scare off all the birds. We have a small stand of trees, and all summer we’ve had a tawny owl fledgling here. It’s such an joy to have these birds in the garden. I would hate to scare them away.

Above: Some of the wild flowers I’ve planted in the orchard. I hope they will spread and form a golden carpet in spring.

I thoroughly enjoyed my two-month trial with Honda’s new mower. There’s two available in the range. This one, the HRG416XB, has a 16 inch cut and there’s a larger machine which has an additional mulching option. There’s also a hedge trimmer, brush cutter and leaf blower in the new cordless range- and all use the same battery.

I haven’t been paid to write anything about the mower. I’m free to give my honest opinion. But I can say, I’ve enjoyed having the freedom to cut my lawn when I want to, and the Honda mower was a dream to use. I’ve still got my heart set on test driving the Honda racing motorbike though…… watch this space!

Thanks for reading and have a lovely weekend.

Links: New Honda range of cordless machines: https://www.honda.co.uk/lawn-and-garden/products/cordless/overview.html?gclid=Cj0KCQiAnb79BRDgARIsAOVbhRpdTbjHM8G3wFtmzG8qaxoynM9oOb6lgjVh7uT99NKRN4saKFpurlYaApo8EALw_wcB&gclsrc=aw.ds

I’m @kgimson on twitter, and karengimson1 on Instagram.

A video I made for instagram :

In a Vase on Monday- flowers for my Mum

I’m catching up here. This is in fact last week’s IAVOM. Internet and computer problems defeated me. We are on the old copper wire telephone line, and not the new super duper cable -type. It’s too expensive for BT to extend the cable down our lane, so we are stuck with speeds that are too slow to upload photos or do internet banking. Anyway, the internet may have set me back, but I wasn’t to be defeated by the imminent national lockdown, I just managed to get this posy of flowers to my mum in time. Dahlias have been the stars of the cut flower garden this year. They have flowered non-stop since June. Pictured above is Dahlia Nuit d’Ete. It’s a semi-cactus type with long twisting, curling petals. Such a rich deep red. Flowers last ten days in a vase. The centre keeps opening out and the flowers curve back until they look a little like sea urchins.

Here are the dahlias tucked in amongst the last of the cosmos, salvia, scented white carnations, with grey senecio foliage and plum coloured Physocarpus Diabolo.

The carnation is Dianthus Bridal Star. Highly scented, but requires staking as it has a floppy- growing habit. I grow it in the greenhouse as rain spoils the flowers. Worth growing though for constant flowers from June to November.

Salvia viridis blue, (centre of photo) an annual, sown in March and planted out end of May. I grow these at the base of the sweet pea A-frame which makes good ground cover.

There are also pink and white varieties of this annual salvia. Masses of flowers from a £2 packet of seed. Well worth growing.

A surprise discovery this summer was eucomis flower spikes. These got knocked over by the cat and puppy playing football….. I’m sure the cat thinks it’s a dog, as it joins in with all the ball games, and tries to come for a walk down the lane with us. We usually end up carrying him home. Anyway, Eucomis Sparkling Burgundy, known as the pineapple lily, lasts 4 weeks in a vase. They make wonderful centre pieces. I shall grow some specially for flower arranging next year.

Another surprise came from a row of sweet williams, planted out last month. They have decided to flower in November. I’ve cut the flowers for the house, and I’m hoping they will flower again next spring. They look good, strong plants, grown from seed in June. Perhaps the unusually mild autumn has confused them.

I found one last white dahlia flower, Eveline. This decorative dahlia has beautiful pink-tipped edges to the petals.

As with everything I do now, Monty likes to join in. He’s recovering from a small operation. As you can see, he’s doing really well and gaining weight nicely, after a troublesome start in life. Just look at those whiskers. And those chubby paws. You can tell he’s much loved. Adored in fact. He’s made such a difference and is helping to keep our spirits up during the pandemic.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this whistle-stop tour of my cut flower bouquet-making, even if it is a week late!

How are you all coping with the lockdown? I’m getting the veg plot ready for next year. It will be the first time I’ve managed to get all the jobs done by Christmas. Really, I’m not going anywhere at the moment.

Thanks for reading. Keep in touch.

Links : In A Vase on Monday with Cathy and everyone all around the world. See what everyone is growing and putting into their vases this week: https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/11/09/in-a-vase-on-monday-7th-anniversary-still-life-with-pine-cone-rosehip-and-moss/

Dahlias: https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/allium?ppc_keyword=%2B%20allium%20%2B%20bulbs&matchtype=b&device=t&gclid=Cj0KCQiA7qP9BRCLARIsABDaZzjX1CDLqCmHVfZXKQlhD0CgIxy3R5bxaKm3UIyfWzGuTFZJ5Is0LLoaAqNFEALw_wcB

Salvias, sweet william and cosmos: Mr Fothergills https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Plants/Cut-Flowers/Salvia-Viridis.html#.X6lKQRDfWfA

https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Cosmos-Seed/Cosmos-Sensation-Mixed-Seeds.html#.X6lKiRDfWfA

Eucomis: https://www.sarahraven.com/flowers/bulbs/lilies/eucomis-sparkling-burgundy.htm?productid=689&gclid=Cj0KCQiA7qP9BRCLARIsABDaZzgFVGUJMTSL17KryADlTz-BWn7zWK6g3JRwHxL2vD2xbEcARt05zcYaAgr-EALw_wcB

Physocarpus Diabolo: https://www.thompson-morgan.com/p/physocarpus-opulifolius-diabolo/T66380TM?of_opi=MFRWG5B5GM2DEJTGMVSWISLEHUYSM4DSN5SESZB5GE2DMNJX&source=FreeClick&gclid=Cj0KCQiA7qP9BRCLARIsABDaZzhpPm3ixsjzH8Lwf5pyOaN1DVftZ3xzb0-1ygsnWCs-irSEzWd8CcMaAnyaEALw_wcB

Carnation: Six Acre Nursery https://www.sixacrenurseries.co.uk/

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.

Six on Saturday – 10th October 2020 -photos from my garden

Sunflowers have been the stars of the autumn garden. This one is multi-headed Helianthus Black Magic. I sowed seeds in March in 3″ pots and planted them out the first week of June. They survived high winds and torrential rain, even hailstones mid-summer. Summer now seems to see a pattern of stormy weather with winds gusting up to 40 miles per hour. Plants have to be sturdy to survive- and well supported, with a scaffolding of 6ft hazel poles. Many times I’ve feared for my sunflowers and tall-growing cosmos and salvias. They were bowed down, but never beaten. Much like us, really. With all our covid worries.

White dahlia My Love, with a mixed selection of sunflowers, rudbeckias and calendula, grown from seed from Mr Fothergills and Burpees Europe. This summer I took part in a social media campaign with the hashtag #GrowSomeSunshine. We grew sunflowers and made a donation to the NHS, posting photos of our flowers on twitter and instagram. The campaign, run by gardening journalist, David Hurrion, raised £3,175. I’m hoping David will repeat the campaign next summer. It’s been a cheerful way to support our wonderful nurses, doctors and NHS volunteers. I’ve had sunflowers right across the front garden, lining the path to the front door. People passing by the garden gate lean in and smile. Garden gate conversations have become a ‘thing,’ with friends from surrounding villages walking along footpaths to visit us and chat. Only two people have actually been in the garden. On sunny days, I set out chairs 2 metres apart and served biscuits in individual little wrappings. They brought their own flasks of tea. Small dispensers of hand gel sat neatly amongst the potted plants on the garden coffee tables. Things like this are starting to feel more normal now. I’m writing this here as a reminder in the future, when I want to look back and see how we lived in the summer of 2020.

I love the range of colours in modern sunflowers. This one grew from a packet of seed called All Sorts Mixed. Well-named as there were eight different sunflowers in the mix.

This one is almost pink. A lovely range from a packet of Helianthus Evening Sun. plenty of pollen. A magnet for bees. As pretty as a stained glass window.

And another photo of Black Magic, which starts off a deep, dark chocolate colour, and fades to beautiful bronze.

Scrumptious. Almost good enough to eat. Which is what will happen to them over the winter. I’ve saved seed heads and dried them on the greenhouse staging. A few will be brought out each day over winter. A feast for the birds. Sunflower stems are hollow, and make homes for ladybirds and lacewings. I’ll bundle stems together and stuff them in my ‘twiggery’ which is just a pile of twigs and stems, left in a quiet corner for insects to hibernate.

What’s looking good in your garden right now? Join in with the #SixOnSaturday hashtag on twitter and instagram and look to see what other gardeners are growing in the UK and around the world. I use it to plot and plan what to grow next year. There’s plenty of good ideas from keen gardeners. A cheerful way to spend an hour or two on a rainy autumn Saturday.

Thank you for reading.

Links for more info :

Six on Saturday :https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/10/10/six-on-saturday-10-10-2020/

Black Magic https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sunflower-Black-Magic-F1-Seeds.html#.X4G00xB4WfA

Evening Sun: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sunflower-Evening-Sun-Seeds.html#.X4G08xB4WfA

GrowSomeSunshine https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/grow-some-sunshine

Burpee Europe seeds https://www.burpeeeurope.com/sunflower-pikes-peak/

Allsorts Mixed https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sunflower-Allsorts-Seeds.html#.X4G1dhB4WfA

Rudbeckia mixed https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Rudbeckia-Seed/Rudbeckia-Rustic-Dwarfs-Mixed.html#.X4G1nRB4WfA

My Love Dahlia https://www.peternyssen.com/my-love.html

Update: Flowers for Joan. September 2020

Last Monday I wrote about my mother-in-law Joan and the flowers I take to her each week from my garden. Covid meant the care home where she’s living stopped all visits for almost six months to protect residents from infection. We had just resumed visiting and were meeting in the garden in 30 minute appointment slots.

The day after writing my piece, we received an e mail cancelling all further visits due to rising covid numbers in the UK. We can stand in the car park and wave through a window. Or we can attempt video calling.

I’m writing now to say thank you to all of you who’ve got in touch with kind messages and helpful suggestions. You’ve generally bolstered me up at a difficult time. I’m writing this blog as a diary of my gardening life, and also as a record of the times we are all going through, and the situation for the elderly, especially those with dementia who cannot ‘see’ their families in person. No criticism is meant for the care home. They are doing an unimaginably difficult job keeping everyone safe, and we are enormously grateful for everything.

Here’s some photos of Joan with my bouquets of flowers from the garden. The photos were taken when she was still living in her own home.

The flowers were loosely tied so that Joan could spend a few happy hours arranging them in assorted vases and fill the windowsills with colour. She especially loved having flowers in the house as carers would always comment on how cheerful they were and how much they enjoyed visiting Joan and her husband Keith. The carers said the couple were their favourites, and I’m sure it was because Joan and Keith tried to be as little trouble as possible -and there was always chocolates, biscuits and cake for them. They tried to look after the carers, and show their appreciation. A very special couple, and I’m proud to call them my in-laws.

This is a favourite photo of Joan on her wedding day on the steps of Cosby Methodist Chapel. Joan arranged the flowers for the chapel, while keith played the organ twice on a Sunday and for weddings and funerals, for more than 60 years.

I found this old photo in a family album. Florence May, Joan’s mother, is on the left, with Florence’s sisters, Jess, Hattie and Marion. All of them were to suffer from dementia. I stare at this photo and feel so sad. These young girls had no idea what was ahead of them. None of us ever do.

Thank you for reading.

This is what I wrote last week : https://bramblegarden.com/2020/09/21/in-a-vase-on-monday-flowers-for-joan/

And here : https://bramblegarden.com/2018/09/30/sunflowers-for-joan/

Thank you to Cathy for her #IAVOM meme, which I first joined in with when Joan was diagnosed with dementia and I started growing cut flowers to take to her.

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

A video from the care home. https://www.facebook.com/MHAaigburth/videos/1565414246976429/. Please do not view this video if you are feeling overwhelmed with sadness at this time. Wait until you are feeling stronger.

UPDATE FRIDAY 2 OCTOBER. ‘Window’ visits have now also been cancelled, due to the rising covid numbers. Thank you again for reading my blog.

In a Vase on Monday- Flowers for Joan

I started growing cut flowers, and writing about them, when my mother-in-law-Joan was diagnosed with dementia. Joan loved flower arranging- she did the Methodist chapel flowers for 65 years. It was a passion we both shared. I instinctively knew Joan would start to forget me, and by taking flowers each week, I hoped to hold on to her for as long as possible. To keep a connection going. It was all I could think of. Before lockdown, Joan started to forget my name. But she never forgot the names of the flowers, and my posies gave us something cheerful to talk about. It gave Joan confidence. She could chat about a subject she understood when everything else in her life was confusing. Lockdown was an agony. I tried to send letters. Phone calls were too distressing, Joan couldn’t understand exactly why we couldn’t visit. Hearing loss caused further upset. I sent photos and updates about the family and her grandchildren. Leicester remained in localised lockdown, and the care home where Joan lives with her husband Keith, was within the extended lockdown area. So it was more than six months before we were able to visit.

And these are the flowers I took to Joan. Daisies have always been her favourites. The yellow rudbeckias came from some roots I saved when we had to sell their house. They lived in the same house, brought up three children, and enjoyed their garden for 63 years. The whole family worked together to help them live at home for as long as possible. But dementia not only steals memories of friends and family, eventually it takes away the ability to do even simple tasks. It was heartbreaking to watch Joan try to make a cup of tea. And yet she still wanted to try, because she loved looking after us. I really looked forward to popping around for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. Her cake tin -before dementia- was always full of flapjack, coconut chocolate squares, and fruit cake. I often write the recipes here on the blog so they are not lost in time. Joan made my life happier. She always cared, backed me up and sympathised, helped where she could. I miss it. I miss having someone who would always stop what they were doing and just listen. Some things in life cannot be changed, but to have a sympathetic ear makes all the difference. To have someone always on your side. I’ve been lucky, I know. I was so determined to hold on to Joan, but covid defeated me. On our visit, I could hardly breathe, hoping Joan would recognise me. But she had no idea who I was. And I wasn’t even allowed to give her the flowers. It’s against the rules. Even a simple bunch of flowers could be deadly. The virus could be on the stems where I’ve touched them. So after showing her my flowers, the care home staff asked me to lay them on the garden path, where they stayed, looking as lost and forlorn as I felt. I don’t disagree with the rules- the staff have an unimaginable job to keep everyone safe. But I feel sad that my small bunch of flowers couldn’t go on Joan’s bedside table to bring her some joy at this difficult time. I’m updating you all, as you have followed my journey these past few years and kept me company whilst I’ve pottered about my garden and tied up my bunches of flowers for Joan. It’s been a comfort to share my thoughts on here. I’ll not give up, of course. As soon as I’m allowed, I’ll take flowers again. There will be hellebores and scented hyacinths at Christmas, catkins and forget-me-nots in spring, and roses and daisies all summer. In a care home, it’s easy to lose touch with the seasons and Joan loved visiting my garden. She enjoyed the beauty of flowers and the countryside around us. Let’s hope we can make up for lost time soon.

Rudbeckia Goldsturm (black-eyed Susan) flowers from July to October and cut flowers last ten days in a vase.

Verbascum nigrum grows to 1.5m on the vegetable and cut flowers plot. Spikes of bright yellow flowers emerge all summer. Pollinators love the flowers too.

Achillea millefolium (yarrow) grows in a small patch of wild flowers, sown from a packet of mixed seed last summer.

There’s oxeye daisies, with wild carrot flowers as a pretty filler. The carrot turns green as it goes to seed, perfectly matching the green rim around the centre of the daisy flowers.

If you look carefully, you can see the tiny hearts of Capsella bursa-pastoris or Shepherd’s purse. There’s hope, and lots of love, in this small bunch of flowers.

Thanks for reading.

In a Vase on Monday : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/09/21/in-a-vase-on-monday-also-rans/

Tomato and Thyme Tart – family favourite recipes

Suddenly, at this time of the year, the kitchen windowsill is covered with tomatoes. All sizes from giant heritage beefsteak Marmande to tiny cherry types such as Sweet Million and Red Robin. Some are bright sealing-wax red, soft and ready to eat. Some shine like emeralds, green and firm. They will ripen over the coming weeks.

Here’s a favourite recipe, perfect for utilising your tomato harvest. As usual, it’s a quick and simple idea. It takes 10 minutes to make, and 15 minutes to cook. Tomato and herb tarts travel well and are suitable for picnics too. Enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

1 pack ready rolled puff pastry

1 egg yolk -beaten

7oz /200g cheese ( can be Cheddar, gruyere-or whatever you have)

14oz /400g tomatoes, thickly sliced

Few sprigs of thyme – leaves only

1tbsp olive or rapeseed oil

Salt and black pepper

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 210C /190C fan/ gas mark 7

Cover two baking trays with either re-usable silicone sheets or baking parchment to prevent the tarts sticking.

Roll out the pastry. Use a 7” tea plate as a template. Lay the plate on the pastry and use a sharp knife to cut a circle.

You’ll get two 7” round tarts, or one 7” and four 4” tarts from a roll of pastry. The off-cuts of pastry can be used for cheese straws. Just add grated cheese and twist to incorporate.

Transfer the circles of pastry to the baking trays. Use a blunt knife to score an edge to each circle, 1.5cm or 1/2” wide.

Brush each border with the beaten egg. Use a fork to prick over the base of the tarts to stop them rising.

Pile grated cheese into the centre of the circles. Take care not to get any filling on the edges, or they won’t rise.

Arrange slices of tomato in concentric circles on top of the cheese.

Season with salt and pepper and scatter over the thyme leaves.

Drizzle over a few drops of olive or rapeseed oil

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the pastry edges have risen and are golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Garnish with some fresh herbs.

Can be served warm or cold. Can be frozen.

For a vegan alternative, omit the egg and use melted vegetable margarine and use vegan cheese.

Some of the 4” tarts, fresh from the oven

My Marmande tomatoes were prolific this year. I sowed seeds in February, pricked seedlings out in March and planted them in their final 12” pots in May. I grew mine in an open-ended poly tunnel, which protected them from the worst of the weather.

Pictured above, some of the tomatoes we’ve grown here. Recommended varieties include blight -resistant Crimson Crush. Also Gardeners Delight, Tumbling Tom, Sweet Million and Golden Sunrise.

I listened to a podcast called Fresh from the Pod this week. Gardener and writer Tamsin Westhorpe was interviewing Chris Collins. Tamsin is the gardening world’s version of Michael Parkinson, in my opinion. It’s fascinating to get a real insight into the lives of our gardening personalities. Anyway, half way through the interview, Tamsin says she never turns any opportunities down. She never says no to anything. Always has a go, because you never know where it might lead. So, this gave me courage to try something new this week. As you know, I love cooking. My happiest memories are sitting around a table with my parents and grandparents and just being fed the most delicious meals. Just that feeling of being loved and cared for. It lives on in my memory like an indelible photo album. Well, it’s gradually become my turn to produce memories for other people. I’ve loved cooking for my children and the recipes here are written down for them, incase they ever need them. And today I also recorded my first “grow it, cook it, eat it” for Ben Jackson at BBC Radio Leicester. They have a ‘Food Friday’ segment which I’ve always wanted to have a go at. Remembering Tamsin’s words, I ventured forth! It was a shaky start, as we were cooking outdoors (social distancing) and the wind was blowing my bits of baking parchment about. The cat wanted to join in. He usually “helps” when we are gardening. And the neighbour’s dog started barking. Ah well, nothing is perfect in real life, is it. It was a fun thing to do and I hope you enjoy listening. It’ll make you laugh, I’m sure.

At 2.08.26 in the timeline. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p08nvhpx

A Walk Around My Garden, Sunday 23 August 2020

It’s been a challenging few weeks. We wanted rain. And we got it. A month’s worth in four days. Followed by Storm Ellen and 40 mile per hour winds. Anything not firmly staked, flopped over. Sunflowers and cosmos took a bashing. It’s taken a couple of days to prop up plants, tie them in, and sweep up twigs and leaf litter. I sometimes wish I was passionate about interior design instead of gardening. Wouldn’t it be lovely to create a scene, and have nothing smash it to pieces. But, sadly, I’m not remotely interested in being indoors. I’m only really happy when I’m outside, in the fresh air. Anyway, to cheer us all up, here’s some photos of what’s in flower in my garden today.

My new rose, Belle de Jour. Rose of the Year for 2021. Flowers open clear, bright yellow and fade to sunset shades of peaches and cream. There’s a delicate fruity scent and plenty of pollen for bees. Nice healthy green leaves, which is good for an organic garden like mine.

I think we can definitely say these flowers stand up to the weather. Some roses ‘ball’ in the rain. They fail to open and turn to mush. Luckily, Belle de Jour copes with a deluge; there’s not a mark on the petals. My rose came, by post, from Roses UK which promotes the British rose trade. I’m sure the new rose will be a huge success. It’s looking lovely in my garden already. And I’m always pleased to support British nurseries.

I’m growing a new variety of courgette, ‘Summer Holiday.’ Isn’t it pretty. I don’t know why, but this photo makes me so happy. It looks such a gorgeous little thing, bright yellow, with a twisty green stem. It’s a joy. And so easy to grow. I’m in favour of anything easy, this summer. Everything seems to have been hard work, so a highly productive trouble-free plant is very welcome. There’s a recipe for courgette and cream cheese soup to follow. It only takes ten minutes to cook.

Courgette flowers look beautiful too. They only last a day, but are a sunny, joyful sight. I’ve planted courgette and squash all along the base of my climbing bean frame. They make good ground cover and smother weeds.

Here’s the beans I’m growing this year. Don’t they look colourful.

Yellow: Climbing French bean ‘Sunshine’. A new variety.

Green: Climbing French bean ‘Limka’.

Purple: Dwarf French bean ‘Red Swan’.

All growing together along the hazel A-frame support, with blue morning glory intertwined. The dwarf French beans grow to around 122cm (4ft). Climbing beans are around 2.5m (8ft). Every day, I’m gleefully throwing handfuls of beans into the freezer. They will be such a treat mid-winter when fresh greens are in short supply.

I have a newly-planted border all along the path to the front door. It was infested with couch grass. Over the winter I dug out all the plants and turned over the soil, searching for every scrap of tiny white couch grass roots. I had to do this four times before getting on top of the problem. In May, I planted the border with annuals; sunflowers, nicotiana, cosmos, and underplanted them with salvias, which I treat as bedding plants as they are not very hardy here.

I favour dark dusky-coloured sunflowers. This one pictured above is ‘Black Magic.’ It’s a multi-headed sunflower the colour of dark chocolate. Bees love it, and the seed will feed birds in winter. I won’t bother growing ‘Italian White’ again. The first sign of a gale and the petals curled up and dropped off. Not hardy enough for my windswept plot.

If you like yellow sunflowers you would love these, growing in the back fields behind my garden. We cheered when we saw the farmer sowing the seeds in spring. It’s a wildlife -friendly mix to attract pollinators, and the seedheads feed birds and mammals over winter.

The ridgeway footpath goes all along the side of the sunflower field. We walk along it twice a day, as we are still in the habit of our lockdown exercise regime. And some of us are still not venturing far, as we can’t take any risks. I’m still getting over a serious illness from three years ago, and although surgeons gave me a second chance, I’m not strong enough to fight off infection. Doctors nowadays are forthright. And mine, straight to the point, said a ventilator wouldn’t be an option. So there we are. I have to be careful. I’m not dwelling on it. I’m just grateful for small mercies, sunflowers included, as I can gaze at them and feel happy. I don’t know how, but I can.

We still have swallows flying here. They must be finding plenty of insects. I’ll miss them when they go. I think of the journey they have to make, such tiny birds. Such a long way. It’s always an anxious time waiting for them to return in spring. Maybe, I’m going to have to get my courage up, and be like the swallows. Set off into the unknown. I can’t stay here forever, as lovely as it is, and as tempting as it’s become to say how well I’m coping. Someday soon, I have to set forth. Wish me luck!

On the footpath, going home, I pass by this old crab apple tree. It must be 100 years old, the size of its trunk. It makes a natural arch over the pathway. I like to gaze into the distance and wonder how the view might have changed over the past century. Probably not a lot as it’s still all farmland round here. But the people who’ve passed by this tree, their lives would have been very different 100 years ago. We have so much to be grateful for.

Nearing home, by our field gate, you can see the row of trees we planted 30 years ago when we were in our 20s. We never thought those little saplings would grow into a wood. And we didn’t know how much joy they would give us, watching the leaves change through the seasons, and giving a home to birds and wildlife. This summer, these daisies suddenly appeared. On sunny days, they have a strong chamomile scent. They may only be weeds, but they are a lovely sight, even so. Don’t you agree.

How has your garden fared this summer with the heatwave, drought and storms? It feels like we have faced many challenges, all round. Let me know what’s looking good in your garden right now, and whether you are managing to get out and about yet, or like me, waiting for your moment.

Links:

Karengimson1 on instagram and @kgimson on twitter

Roses UK: https://www.rosesuk.com/

Rosa Belle De Jour: https://www.apuldramroses.co.uk/

Summer Holiday courgette: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Vegetable-Seeds/Courgette-Seed/Courgette-Summer-Holiday_2.html#.X0GQChB4WfA

Beans: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Pea-and-Bean-Seeds/Climbing-Bean-Seeds/#.X0GQPhB4WfA

Sunflowers : https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sunflower-Black-Magic-F1-Seeds.html#.X0GQbRB4WfA

Six on Saturday meme : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/08/22/six-on-saturday-22-08-2020/

Gooseberry Crumble- family favourite recipes

When I was a teenager, I was taken on as a trainee reporter at the Melton Times weekly newspaper. One of our jobs was to go out into the town and obtain comments from residents. These were called ‘doing a vox pop.’ We would ask for views on local planning applications, council proposals, and any controversial subjects the editor could think of. There were no mobile phones in those days, so with no-one keeping track of us, we would be out about about for hours. Vox pops were one of my favourite jobs because I loved chatting to people. We just knocked on doors, said who we were, where we were from, and people let us in! Two hours later, we would leave, with our one paragraph comments, nicely replenished with home-made cake and numerous cups of tea. One elderly gentleman that stays in my memory was called Albert. I can’t remember what the vox pop was about, but when I knocked on the door, he took me straight through to the garden where he showed me his fruit and vegetables. He had rows and rows of gooseberries- green ones, yellow, and red, glistening in the sunshine as if they had been polished. The pruning demonstration and growing advice took an hour, and at the end we sat down and had the most delicious crumble I’ve ever eaten, gooseberries flavoured with elderflower syrup and crunchy almonds on top. At that moment, I was happy. I think we store up such moments in our memories, and come back to them from time to time. I have a picture in my head of me, sitting on a dining room chair brought out into the garden, enjoying the sunshine, eating delicious food. Albert, a widower in his 90s, lived alone. For one afternoon, he had someone’s rapt attention while he talked about his passion for growing fruit. I was very glad that I’d knocked on his door. In those few short hours, I learned about the generosity of gardeners, how a love of growing things, and sharing with others, drives some people. And kindness. I learned a lot about kindness. Looking back, I’m grateful and relieved to say most people I’ve chanced to meet have been kind. I’ve tried to honour their memory in this blog.

Here’s my Gooseberry Crumble Recipe – with grateful thanks to Albert, and his two ginger cats, who made me equally welcome in their garden.

RECIPE – CRUMBLE TOPPING

8oz (225g) plain flour

5oz (150g) soft light brown sugar

3oz (75g) butter or dairy alternative

2 tbsp flaked almonds (optional)

1 level tsp. baking powder

METHOD

Place the flour and baking powder in a large bowl and add the butter. Using your fingertips, rub in the butter until it has all been dispersed fairly evenly and the mixture looks crumbly. Add the sugar and almonds and stir well to combine.

GOOSEBERRY CRUMBLE

Use 2lb (900g) gooseberries

2 tbsp elderflower syrup or cordial

Top and tail the fruit and place in a large pie dish. Sprinkle over the elderflower syrup and cover with the crumble mixture.

Bake in the centre shelf of an oven at 350F/ 180C/ gas mark 4 for 30- 40 minutes. Check to see if the topping is getting too brown after 30 minutes and cover with foil to finish cooking.

Keeps three days in a fridge, or can be portioned up and frozen for three months. Thaw before reheating.

Serve with custard, or thick double cream.

Enjoy!

My crumble mixture. Without almonds as a guest had an allergy to nuts.

All that was left of our family gooseberry crumble. I was lucky to have this piece left for the photo!

Gooseberries from my garden.

I recommend Hinnomaki Red, green Invicta, and yellow Early Sulphur. These can be grown in a shaded position. Like many fruit that is ‘tart,’ sunshine isn’t needed to make high sugar levels. So you can grow gooseberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries and sour cherries such as Morello in shade.

Gooseberries will grow in full sun, but they are tolerant of shade, so it’s much better to save your sunny beds and borders for peaches, sweet cherry (Celeste is a good variety) gages and plums.

Thank you for reading this blog. I hope you enjoy the recipes. Have a great gardening week. Karen ❤️

Links: You might like to read https://bramblegarden.com/2018/07/26/summer-fruit-harvest-and-making-garden-jam/

Also: https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/20/plum-crumble-family-favourite-recipes/

Gooseberries: https://www.chrisbowers.co.uk/category/gooseberries/

Garden Diary for ‘Six on Saturday’ – 8th August 2020

Peach and blue tones feature in my garden diary this week. Dahlia David Howard is usually a much brighter colour than the flower pictured above. But we’ve had sweltering temperatures the past few days and heat has faded some of the blooms. I rather like this delicate hue. I’ve waited until dusk to take my photos. The dahlia bed is next to the orchard, and I can hear hedgehogs shuffling through the dry twigs and grass in the undergrowth. If I wait quietly, they will come out and feast on fallen plums. I never knew how much they loved plums until a few years back when we had a massive harvest and, each night, five baby hedgehogs turned up. It was magical to watch them enjoying the ripe and juicy fruit. In the day, there are butterflies sipping the juice, meadow browns and peacocks in abundance this year. Not so many painted lady butterflies as last year though.

Here’s my second ‘peach’ photo. Rosa Phyllis Bide. It’s a medium-size rambler with large sprays of semi-double flowers 6cm wide. I grow it because it is disease resistant and doesn’t need spraying with chemicals. All my roses have to be tough. If you choose carefully, there are many varieties less likely to suffer from the fungal disease black spot. Phyllis Bide is easy and trouble-free, and repeat flowers from June to November. There are sometimes a few blooms in December, eagerly snapped up for Christmas table decorations. Flowers are gorgeous set amongst creamy white beeswax candles. Bees also love the pollen, and catering for wildlife and pollinators is often at the heart of everything I do. In my garden, Phyllis Bide grows up a wooden post and into a lilac tree, adding interest when the lilac is out of flower. It’s about 2.5m tall with a 1.5m spread.

This is a late-flowering Phyllis Bide rose, covered in snow on 11th December. Sunshine soon melted the ice, and the flower was still perfect. Isn’t it beautiful. A heart-sing moment, captured with an old i-phone camera.

My third photo is from the polytunnel. I’m growing pots of dwarf peach and nectarines. This one is Prunus Nectarella. It grows to about 1.5m by 1m in a 60cm container. I’m also growing Garden Lady and Bonanza. Planted in pots, they can be carried into the greenhouse or poly tunnel over winter, which helps protect early flowers from frost. They flower in February when there’s few pollinators about, so blossom has to be pollinated with a soft paintbrush. It’s a lovely calming occupation on a cold winter’s day, and gives hope spring is not far away.

Peaches and nectarines suffer from a disease called peach leaf curl. It’s a fungus which infects leaves causing them to distort and blister. It results in early leaf fall, reducing vigour. Wet conditions are needed for the disease to thrive, so keeping them indoors over winter helps to protect them. All the effort of growing them is worth it. Eating a peach or nectarine that’s been allowed to ripen naturally on the tree is a delight. Shop-bought fruit just can’t compare.

I wrote about my peach crumble cake recipe here. Do try it – with any fruit you have, apples, pears, plums- or peaches, and let me know what you think. It’s become a family favourite here.

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

Now for the ‘blue’ photos this week. I’ve chosen morning glory, Ipomoea purpurea. This is a seedling from a selection I’ve grown for years. Morning glory is an annual climber reaching 4-5m given a warm sunny fence or wall. Mine grow up through my climbing French beans. I’m hoping the flowers will attract pollinators which will benefit my vegetables. You can see the nectar guides in this photo. Flowers have visible and UV guides or lines directing bees to the nectary. Sunshine has highlighted the lines. It’s almost mesmerising. I save my seed each summer and store it in a cool, dark place over winter. I’ll start them off again in 3″ pots on the kitchen windowsill in February. Recommended varieties include Star of Yelta, Grandpa Ott and Heavenly Blue. All easy to grow, and once you’ve bought a packet of seed, you’ll have morning glory for ever more. Such a lovely thought!

My second ‘blue’ photo is gladioli. Another summer treat. This one came in a blue-mix assortment from Gee-Tee Bulbs. I plant them down the centre of my hazel rod sweet pea A-frame, where they grow quite happily without needing stakes. As soon as the heads pop out of the side of the frame, I harvest them for my cut flower posies. Gladioli can grow tall and floppy, and in the high winds we seem to be getting more and more, they often end up crashing to the ground. Grown with sweet peas, or though a climbing bean frame, they’ll get plenty of support. Corms are lifted in autumn when I pull up sweet peas. I let the leaves die back naturally and then I take off the little offset corms which grow beneath the ‘mother’ corm. I’ll keep them dry and frost free over winter and replant them next spring. If you have lovely, free draining soil you could leave the gladioli in over winter. But I have cold, heavy clay which seems to be flooded every winter now. Corms would rot in the wet. Links for bulb suppliers are at the end of this piece.

And finally, my sixth photo is meadow cranesbill or Geranium pratense. Again, you can see the violet and silver bee guides. So delicate, it reminds me of a butterfly wing.

I wrote about my wild geraniums here. https://bramblegarden.com/2017/06/28/wordlesswednesday-wild-geraniums-on-the-march/

I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s voyage around my garden. My plot has kept me up-beat during the covid pandemic, giving me something cheerful to focus on. Thank you for all your kind messages. It’s lovely to hear so many of you feel you’ve have had a brief respite from worry, just for a few minutes, reading my blog and virtually ‘walking’ around the plot with me. Keep in touch, and let me know what has helped you through this difficult time. Have you grown anything new, or found comfort in familiar things. Thanks for reading. It’s much appreciated.

Links:

Dahlia David Howard. https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/dahlias

Rose Phyllis Bide: https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/products/phyllis-bide

Peaches, apricots and nectarines: https://www.chrisbowers.co.uk/dwarf.php

Morning glory: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Morning-Glory-Seed/#.Xy_rxhB4WfA

Gladioli: https://taylors-bulbs.com/summer-flowering-bulbs-advice/

Geranium pratense: https://www.naturescape.co.uk/product/meadow-cranesbill-plugs/

I am @kgimson on Twitter, karengimson1 on instagram.

Six on Saturday is a meme where gardeners from all around the world post six or more photos of what’s growing on their plots each week. It’s fascinating to see what’s looking good. Sometimes it’s the same plant as I’m growing, but in another country millions of miles away. https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2017/09/18/six-on-saturday-a-participant-guide/

Introducing Monty. 7th August 2020 – a new addition to Bramble Garden

I am typing this one-handed. The other hand is wrapped around a tiny tabby kitten. Usually, this blog is all about my garden and what I’m growing. I share with you my trials and tribulations as I coax seedlings into growth, set them out and watch over them. Just about everything seems determined to munch on, peck at and generally stunt my treasured seedlings. Gardening certainly teaches patience. Well, this time I am nurturing a kitten. We have called him Monty. And the process is rather like growing a delicate seedling. It requires plenty of patience. He has been a heap of trouble!

Monty had a life-threatening condition which wasn’t apparent until he arrived here. On his first morning, he was lively enough, but as the day wore on it was like watching a wind-up toy running out of power. He sort of wound down and stopped. I noticed he wasn’t eating anything, or using his litter tray. Luckily, I’d booked a vets appointment for vaccinations, but instead of getting his jabs he was put on a drip and given antibiotics. His problem turned out to be a blocked bowel.

While he was with his mother, in a familiar place, with his siblings, he survived. The mother’s milk sustained him. But taken away from his mother and moved to a new home, he crashed. I had never heard of this happening before and the vets warned kittens can sometimes die unexpectedly. The owner wouldn’t have known anything was wrong, so there’s absolutely no criticism being made here.

The crisis spurred me into full-speed rescue mode. Special baby milk arrived from the vets, complete with little bottles and teats. Monty became so weak he couldn’t lap the milk, so I measured out tiny amounts, 10ml at a time, and tipped him on his back. It was a struggle. Every few hours, I’d boil the kettle and mix the powder into a paste and then into a liquid. Any little lumps, and he wouldn’t drink it. Too cold, he’d refuse. He wasn’t at all helpful in this campaign. But I was determined he would survive.

There’s been so much I’ve not been able to change these past five months, so many things out of my control. I’m used to being able to do something to make things better. With covid, I felt I could do little to make a difference. But when Monty came along, I put all my efforts into encouraging him to live – it was something positive to do.

Now, after a few weeks, he is lapping milk and starting to eat.

Prescription kitten mousse arrived from the vets. Tiny amounts offered on the tip of my finger, to start with. Then I tapped the edge of the plate to encourage him.

After all this nursing, back and forth to the vets for subcutaneous fluids, Monty, is starting to thrive and is gaining weight. He’s still on the baby milk, and I’m reading -and re-reading the ‘ kitten paediatric weaning’ leaflets given to me by the vets to work out how to move him on to dried food. I’ve realised that nothing is going to be easy.

Carrying him around, and literally willing him to live, he is bonded to me now. I know all his funny little ways, and I expect he knows mine too.

He likes to lie down the side of the armchair in the summerhouse, rather than on my knee. He is somewhat squashed in, but I assume he feels safe there.

Monty has been as much trouble to nurture as a rare and exotic flower. But just as rewarding as anything I’ve ever ‘grown.’

I hope you’ve enjoyed this diversion from the usual tour of the garden. Have you ever had to nurture something as much as I have with Monty? Isn’t it rewarding – and exhausting. But so worthwhile. Thanks, as ever, for reading the blog and keeping in touch through these difficult times. It is much appreciated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Links:

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

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

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

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

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

BOOKS TO READ:

An Orchard Odyssey by Naomi Slade

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

The Creative Kitchen by Stephanie Hafferty

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

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

Six on Saturday – my garden 18 July 2020

Calendula Snow Princess. Starts off butter yellow and fades to cream. Edges look as if they have been dipped in chocolate. Each flower is different. Such a pretty thing.

I talk about my calendulas in this week’s Garden News magazine. It’s quite a challenge to say a lot in just 350 words. But luckily I like a challenge. And I’m getting some lovely feedback from readers who say they enjoy hearing what I’m getting up to on my plot.

I have to weave in and out of the calendulas along the path. Verbascum provides a lot of flowers for minimum space. If cut back repeatedly, it flowers until first frosts, and certainly brings in plenty of pollinators.

Sweet peas are in full production. There’s Wiltshire Ripple in the foreground, and Mayflower 400 behind.

We’ve had four hoglets born in the garden this summer, one less than last year. They are all thriving and putting on weight. I’m remembering to put water out for them every night. They drink from the tiny bucket pond on the veg plot and the horseshoe wildlife pond. Early- ripening plums are falling to the ground in the orchard, providing a feast for the hedgehogs. Luckily there’s enough for all of us to share.

And my sixth picture this week, isn’t strictly speaking from the garden, but this little kitten has come to live here and is currently keeping me company in the potting shed. He’s slept all day in a fruit crate, having kept us awake half the night with fun and games. We haven’t decided on a name yet. Suggestions welcome. He’s very bossy. Brave and intrepid. We’ve never had a kitten before. All our cats have been adults or seniors from the RSPCA. But this little fellow is here because of covid. Vets cancelled all neutering operations, and the inevitable happened when the mother cat managed to get out. I like to think that he is something positive to have come out of this challenging time. Certainly we will never forget the year he was born. And he’s making us all smile -when we haven’t really had much to smile about recently. Honestly, who could resist!

Let me know what’s making you happy this weekend. How’s your garden looking at the moment? Have you managed to meet up with family and friends? Get in touch and let me know.

Niwaki winner… prize draw

Thank you to everyone who read my Niwaki garden tools review. I got a message from WordPress saying my ‘stats were booming!’ Whatever that means! I am very grateful for all your support.

The winner for the prize draw for the Niwaki garden snips is Gardening Alice.

Keep an eye out for more reviews and prize draws. There’s plenty more to come…. Thank you again. And thanks to Niwaki for providing the garden snips.

You can read the review here: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/07/10/niwaki-tools-review-and-some-garden-snips-to-give-away-gardening/

Niwaki : https://www.niwaki.com/

Niwaki Jake : https://www.niwaki.com/jakehobson/

Gardening Alice https://gardeningalice.wordpress.com/

I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram. And karen gimson on Pinterest.

Do come over and say hello. There’s a thriving and supportive gardening network on social media. I don’t know what I would have done without my twitter friends these past five months. They have distracted me from worrying and helped me focus on gardening-related matters. It’s been like team work.

Six on Saturday. A walk around my garden 11 July 20209

Phacelia is a bee magnet. I’m growing it around the edges of the vegetable plot. It’s an annual, but self-seeds readily. It can also be grown as a green manure crop, but for this use, it has to be turned into the soil before it flowers. I’ve been re-reading Jean Vernon’s Secret Lives of Garden Bees. Writing about Phacelia, she says: ” Look closely at foraging bees and you’ll notice the blue pollen balls that they collect from these flowers. ”

Geranium pratense. Meadow cranesbill. A native wild flower found along the grass verges here. Seed has blown into the garden and it grows along the hedgerows and amongst ornamentals. It’s very welcome.

Occasionally it throws up a white variant, and also flowers in delicate shades of lilac. I love the green ‘veins’ on the flowers. It reminds me of the markings on a butterfly wing.

Over on the veg plot, I found these flowers this week. They are potato flowers from the Shetland Black tubers growing in compost sacks. Aren’t they beautiful. You can tell the potatoes are part of the deadly nightshade family. I’ve never grown black potatoes before, so I’m eagerly awaiting the harvest.

Dianthus cathusianorum. In the gravel edges on the front drive, these bright pink flowers wave about on 50cm stems. They must love the free-draining conditions. We have to remember to drive around them. The scent is wonderful. Spicy. Heady. Memorable.

And finally, sweet peas. These are from a range called ‘Ripple Mixed.’ I’ve grown Wiltshire Ripple for many years, but the mixed pink and purple- striped flowers are fast becoming new favourites. Highly scented. Nice long stems. Long lasting in a vase. Recommended.

That’s my six for today. What’s looking good in your garden this weekend?

Why not go over to the propagator’s blog and see what everyone is selecting for their six today. It’s fascinating to see what everyone is growing, all around the world.

Links: https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/category/six-on-saturday/

Phacelia :https://www.chilternseeds.co.uk/item_977A_phacelia_tanacetifolia

Geranium: https://www.naturescape.co.uk/product/meadow-cranesbill-plugs/

Shetland Black potatoes :https://marshallsgarden.com/products/shetland-black-seed-potatoes-10506756

Dianthus: https://www.claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk/products/dianthus-carthusianorum-ruperts-pink

Sweet peas: https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Tall_3/Sweet-Pea-Ripple-Mixed-Seeds.html#.XwowbBB4WfA

https://bramblegarden.com/2020/04/02/the-secret-lives-of-garden-bees-book-review/http://addictedtobees.com/. Jean Vernon

Don’t forget to read the next blog down, all about Niwaki garden tools. There’s some Niwaki garden snips to win.

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.