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/

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.

Last of the late snowdrops – and snowy pictures of my garden

Patience often pays off. I’ve been watching the prices for this new and expensive snowdrop. Then, when most of the flowers had gone over, the garden centre reduced the price! It was my lucky day. Galanthus Polar Bear is my new favourite snowdrop, and it’s a quite a beauty, isn’t it.

I managed to find a pot with flowers still in bud. It’s a very late flowering type with short pedicels, making the flowers fling out and look up at you. So unusual, as most snowdrops bow their heads and look down. It’s got a lot of charm, and is the star of my potting shed windowsill at the moment.

While we are still talking about snowdrops, I thought I’d show you some snowy photos of the garden. It’s been the mildest wettest winter on record here, and this is the first, and only snow we’ve had so far. It makes the garden look magical and hides all imperfections (fortunately.) No weeds are on show, and brambles look ornamental with an iced topping of snow. Here you can see my greenhouse, polytunnel and potting shed set up, all close together to save walking too far between them. In front of the potting shed there’s some renovated 1930s plant nursery trolleys. Very useful for moving plant pots about, and for staging potted displays. My second-hand poly tunnel has doors both ends which is great for good air circulation. The 20ft Alton Cedar greenhouse is also second-hand and renovated by my husband. We painted it black, and made matching black staging inside. Beyond is my cut flower and veg patch and then the orchard, before you reach the paddock gate leading to the ridgeway footpath.

In the exotic border in front of the potting shed, I’ve left stems and seed heads intact for birds to eat and insects to find shelter. These innula seeds look pretty with a topping of snow.

The horseshoe pond can viewed from the potting shed windows. There’s a gently-sloping boulder beach to stand on, and this gives easy access for hedgehogs, frogs, newts and grass snakes. It’s very calming to stand and watch the ripples from raindrops. Today the pond is a cauldron of frogs, mating and producing frog spawn.

From the pond you can see the cut flower and veg patch. My hazel sweet pea supports have weathered three named storms on consecutive weekends. Really, if they can cope with all that, I think they will stand firm and strong for the summer display. There’s little slab paths between the plots so I don’t have to walk on the soil. It’s a no-dig garden inspired by Charles Dowding who’s been a patient and valued mentor these last few years, along with his partner Stephanie Hafferty. They’ve both given me lots of advice and I’ve got more value out of my plot thanks to their suggestions.

At the end of the veg plot there’s a small orchard, rather neglected. We’ve pruned it this winter which means we might lose some of the crop in the summer. But over a few years we will get the trees back into shape and down to a manageable size for harvesting. Under the trees I’m planning a wild flower patch. I’m going to leave some grass and see what happens, I will sow some plug plants in another area, and finally I’ll try a wild flower lawn, ready seeded. I’ll report back on the project.

Finally here’s the view down the field hedge tunnel. This path is made from bark and brushwood chippings from the garden, put through my new Stihl electric shredder. It saves a fortune on bagged bark supplies, plus helps me recycle waste from the garden.

Thank you for reading. Please share on any social media platform , and get in touch and let me know what your garden looks like just now. Comments box is right at the bottom of the page.

Links: Stihl shredders : https://www.stihl.co.uk/STIHL-Products/099364/Garden-shredders.aspx

Polar bear : https://www.avonbulbs.co.uk/spring-planted-bulbs-and-snowdrops/galanthus-snowdrops/collectors-snowdrops/galanthus-polar-bear

Easton Walled Gardens -Open for Snowdrops Today- Sunday 23 February 2020

Last chance today to see the snowdrops at Easton Walled Gardens. Opens 11am -4pm. I visited last week for a preview and if you listen in to BBC Radio Leicester you might have heard me talking about the history of the gardens.

Here’s a slide show of my photos from the event.

There’s a link to the website for more information: https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/gardens/snowdrops

Daffodils are just starting to flower at the same time as snowdrops. It’s been very mild and wet they year.

Yellow cornus mas (cornelian cherry) and white snowdrops. A perfect combination.

The summerhouse and spring flowers. You can hire the venue for an afternoon. Lovely spot for tea and cakes.

A favourite view of the walled garden. Sweet peas will be grown along the sunny walls this summer.

Looking across the terraces for a view of the steps and topiary yew.

Apple tree pruning in progress. I love the shaped apple trees and heritage varieties at Easton. I watched carefully how the pruning is managed. Might have a go at home. Lots of inspiration in this garden.

The finished topiary apple tree. Trained around a circle. Looks architectural and productive. Very pretty with apple blossom and bright red fruit to follow.

Spring bulbs in the woodland near to the gatehouse. The hellebores are looking fabulous at the moment.

I particularly liked this pretty hellebore with a ruffled centre.

Stone troughs look beautiful planted with spring bulbs. I might copy this idea. I have a small stone sink covered in moss with nothing growing in it at the moment. Was just waiting to decide what to do with it.

I can never go home without buying a pot or two of bulbs. The cyclamen coum are looking very cheerful. I fell in love with the dwarf iris. There’s a pale blue one called Painted Lady. I couldn’t resist.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slide show of photos. Even if you can’t get there today, bookmark the gardens for a visit in spring, and make a note of the dates for the sweet pea festival, which is always a lovely day out.

I wrote about Easton Walled Gardens here : https://bramblegarden.com/2017/02/13/happy-valentines-day-with-a-tour-of-easton-walled-gardens/

And here : https://bramblegarden.com/2016/05/20/a-visit-to-easton-walled-gardens/

As you can see, it’s a favourite of mine. Enjoy!

A Walk Around my Garden Saturday 8th February 2020

Welcome again to a peaceful walk around my garden. Enjoy the sunshine and spring flowers. The temperature today is 9C. There was frost overnight. It’s still too wet to garden, so I’m continuing to tidy the potting shed and mooch in the greenhouse. I expect all the spring jobs will come at once and I’ll soon be dashing about. But for now, it’s a slow meander around the pathways, taking in every tiny jewel-like flower, breathing in the honey-scent of snowdrops. Looking in the pond for signs of life- no frogspawn yet. Soon though. There are stirrings. I peer into the water trough and watch a tiny water boatman. I watch like a child in a trance as the tiny oar-like legs propel the boatman around its miniature world. A world I created. A simple metal tank, with a few spare oxygenating plants thrown in. I marvel at how easy it is to help wildlife. I quietly whisper ” I made this for you.” The water boatman dips and dives and delights in its domain. And I revel in every second of quiet and calming observation, with no other purpose than to just enjoy this moment.

White primulas on the garden tables. We’ve had honey bees looking for pollen, and a few sleepy bumble bees ‘bumbling’ about crashing around the garden. I’ve rescued a few, utterly helpless and disorientated, and set them upon a patch of wild primroses.

Aconites, or gold coins, as we call them, are spreading nicely in the far corners of the garden, undisturbed. This is the first year they have had to fight with cowparsley leaves, emerging early due to warm temperatures. I might have to intervene.

There’s more cowparsley at the top of the garden. I’ve never seen it look so lush in February. The hellebores will have a race to flower and set seed before being over-run by the pretty but invasive weeds.

At the top of the garden we store our wood ready for chopping for the fire. I stood and marvelled at the beauty of this red-stained heartwood. Sadly the tree succumbed to disease and died. But it will have another purpose for a year or two as a home for spiders, woodlice, springtails, beetles – insects that will in turn provide food for mammals such as hedgehogs, and birds. Blackbirds and robins thrive in this garden.

Snowdrops are spreading along the leafmould paths. Each year I divide them and move them further along the tree-lined tracks.

Snowdrop corner. Filling out nicely. Snowdrops come from Easton Walled Gardens, Hodsock Priory and National Garden Scheme open garden days.

Snowdrops look cheerful placed on the potting shed windowsill where I can look out and see them while I’m working indoors.

I’m very fond of this snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis Viridapice. Such delicate green-tipped petals.

I bought just three Madeline snowdrops three years ago from Thenford gardens. It must be happy, as now there’s nine flowers. It grows in nice moist leaf-mould soil under deciduous trees.

But I’m just as happy with my plain native snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, growing all along the hedgerow between the garden and the lane.

Regular readers know that after a ramble around the garden, I always take you out of the top gate and along the ridgeway footpath behind my plot. It’s good to see the changing seasons in the countryside. Our neighbouring farmer has finally managed to plough the field. It’s the first time he’s been able to get on the land due to the record amounts of rain we’ve had here over autumn and winter. Ditches are still full, and overflowing at the bottom of the hill.

There’s still a few crab apples lying in the hedgerow. We had a record harvest last autumn. Good news for all the birds and mammals eating them through the winter.

Some welcome signs of spring. Blackthorn blossom is starting to emerge.

And elderflower leaves are unfurling. The hedgerow is waking up.

Almost hidden in the brambles is a concrete trig point. A reminder of the past. Measurements were taken from theodolites placed on top. This one dates back to around 1936. They were built between the 1930s and 1962 and sited on the peaks of hills. It’s no wonder our garden is so windswept. We are at the highest point for miles around.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your walk around my garden. Leave me a message to let me know what’s flowering in your garden right now. And thank you for reading. I’ve checked the ‘stats’ and I am amazed to see 140,000 views for the piece on the dangers of sepsis and gardening injuries, and 70,000 views of these quiet rambles around my garden. I’m very grateful for every single reader.

Links: Six on Saturday- I follow this blog and like to join in. https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/02/08/six-on-saturday-08-02-2020/

In a Vase on Monday- another blog I enjoy: https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/02/03/ina-vase-on-monday-in-the-queue-for-green/

Waterboatman: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/invertebrates/bugs/lesser-water-boatman

Snowdrops, Easton https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

Snowdrop festival NGS :https://ngs.org.uk/snowdrop-festival-brings-first-signs-of-spring/

Blackthorn https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/blackthorn/

Elderflower https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/elder/

All about the history of trig points : https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/in-pictures-36036561

In a Plant Pot on Wednesday – 5th February 2020

It’s a wonderful moment when potted spring bulbs suddenly flower. They seem to be in bud for weeks. Then virtually overnight, all the iris and dwarf daffodils burst into life. Colour at last. It’s much appreciated on a dark cold February day.

I planted shallow pans of bulbs on October 12th last year. Dwarf iris Katherine Hodgkin is a pale blue beauty with markings resembling blue ink pen lines. Each winter I try something new, and this time I’ve chosen iris reticulata Blue Note, very striking with deep indigo flowers and white markings on purple black falls.

Bulbs are grown on in the protection of the greenhouse over winter, but as soon as they flower I carry the pots about and set them on the garden tables. It’s so cheerful to look out of the house windows and see something colourful.

I’ve used pussy willow and hazel catkins to prop up the paper white narcissi. They have a habit of flopping everywhere, but look lovely with a few stems supporting them. On the right of the table there’s some cherry stems in a Kilner jar. Picked now and brought indoors they will open early for a glorious pink blossom display.

Scented paper whites might be too strong for indoors, but on the garden tables they are perfect. The creamy white flowers are a pretty accompaniment to emerging fluffy grey willow catkins.

A large Sankey terracotta plant pot of Narcissus February Gold makes a centrepiece for the picnic table. Hazel twigs are used for supports.

Here’s how I started out in October with a selection of terracotta plant pots, many inherited from my grandfather Ted Foulds.

I use a mix of 50/50 peat free compost and grit for good drainage. Bulbs are planted half way down the pots. They are watered once and placed on the greenhouse staging.

Pots are topped with extra grit to finish them off. This keeps the flowers clean and stops them being splashed with soil when watering.

Hyacinths are almost perched on the top of compost in individual 4″ pots. These are placed in a huge plant pot under the potting shed bench in dark, cool, frost free conditions and brought out just before Christmas when flower spikes are showing.

Here’s the view from the potting shed in October as I’m planting all these bulbs. A lovely reminder of all the sunny autumn days we had.

For contrast, here’s an oak tree from the lane where I live. Just as beautiful. Like a charcoal pencil drawing.

Have your spring bulbs started to flower this week? Are you trying anything new, like me, as well as sticking to a few old favourites too.

Get in touch and let me know what’s happening in your garden at the moment.

I am @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram

Links: I like to join in with Cathy for #IAVOM In a vase on Monday, but this week is was working, and my flowers are in pots! But I’ve read and caught up with everyone’s postings

https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2020/02/03/ina-vase-on-monday-in-the-queue-for-green/

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

Compost from Dalefoot : https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/our-products.aspx

Blue Monday in My Garden and Ridgeway Walk – 20th January 2020

Lace-edge primulas, looking glorious in January

Today I’m celebrating. I’ve spent the first full day in the garden for three years. There was much to do! Brambles and nettles have invaded the boundaries, and I couldn’t get down the side of the poly tunnel. Something needed to be done. And luckily my strength and energy levels have returned and I can be outdoors all day. Something I took for granted until becoming seriously ill in 2016. So happily, it’s not Blue Monday for me- it’s three cheers, and hello garden, here I come!

This area round the back of the potting shed and alongside the poly tunnel looks a mess. It’s out of sight and out of mind- until I need to clean the poly tunnel plastic covering. Then I can’t get access. So I set to and cut back all the nettle stems and blackberries. Some of the trailing stems are 4m long. Vicious, thorny things!

There’s a wheelbarrow under there.

Despite wearing tough clothing the brambles manage to ‘get me.’ But I fight back and win. It takes me a couple of hours, much longer than it used to, but I’ve learned to pace myself and celebrate every small achievement. By chipping away at the task the area is cleared, pots washed and neatly stacked and order restored. It’s such a nice feeling, to take back control.

I make a start on mulching the borders. Some of the boundary borders have become over run with plants such as geranium and euphorbia. Perennials like these can be rather too successful. Before 2016, the whole garden was planted with tender perennials, salvias, penstemons, exotics galore. Mum and I would visit rare plant fairs to seek out small treasures. But these require cosseting. I discovered there’s a good reason they are rare. They need splitting, dividing or they disappear. Cuttings require overwintering in a heated greenhouse. They are gone in a flash without tender loving care. I will replant, but hardier varieties are being selected. Newly acquired tender beauties will remain in plant pots, easily scooped up and swept into the greenhouse at the first sign of frost. I’m not giving up on delicate plants, just readjusting the balance.

A whole border of hellebores had to be dug up last autumn. The plants had become overrun with couch grass and weeds. We moved them to the woodland walk where the grass will die out eventually. And I’m delighted to report that hellebores can be moved and thrive. These are looking fabulous. Every one survived in the well-mulched wonderful leaf-mould soil. So pleased, as these were grown from seedlings given to me by a friend.

Another cause for celebration. My new potatoes for winter have been fabulous. We planted these on 7th August in recycled compost bags. Well watered through late summer, they grew like triffids. As soon as the weather turned cold, the bags were hauled into the greenhouse to be kept frost free. Since Christmas we’ve had a steady supply of tasty potatoes fresh from the greenhouse. There is nothing more cheerful than new potatoes in the depths of winter. I’ll be repeating the procedure again this year, with double the number of bags.

As always, after a hearty gardening session, as a reward, I head out of the top field gate and walk along the ridgeway path. Is there any finer sight than an oak tree set against a bright blue sky. It’s a sight I’ll never tire of.

A quick peek though the gap-in-the hedge. I wasn’t quick enough to take photos of the pheasants in the ditch on the other side. A magnificent thrill to see them skimming low across the field, their feathers rich and glowing in the late afternoon sun.

Hazel catkins, a welcome sign of spring. I cut a few twigs to prop up my amaryllis bulbs in the greenhouse. Flowers and catkins always bring cheer.

It’s a circular walk- along the path, down the lane and back home. This is the hedgerow alongside the lane. My favourite oak, on the ridgeway walk, is almost in the centre of this photo.

I stand and admire this 300 year old oak, one of a row. And I think about the farmer who planted them and didn’t live to see them grow to maturity. It’s such a generous act to plant a tree. It’s not for yourself, but for future generations to come. There are some gaps along the lane where elms have died. Perhaps I’ll ask the farmer if I can plant some replacement oaks. And someone else will stand before them, in time, and marvel at their beauty, like I do.

After a cup of tea, I potter about, collecting up plant labels – there are many- and wind-blown pots. I check the greenhouse, first tapping on the door to warn the wrens. They roost on the slider and if I don’t warn them, there’s a sudden flapping of wings around my head. I don’t mind sharing my greenhouse. It might mean the difference between survival and death, in a cold winter.

Turning for home, I notice the time is 5.05pm. It’s a wonderful sunset. And there’s still enough light to mooch about and easily find my way to the back door. Spring is on the way. And I feel ready for all the gardening challenges to come.

Have you spent any time in the garden today? What’s looking good or coming into flower on your plot. Get in touch and let me know.

Links : special primroses from Piecemeal Plants http://www.piecemealplants.co.uk/

Polytunnels, mine was second hand. New ones from https://www.firsttunnels.co.uk/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAvJXxBRCeARIsAMSkApqtMjv4FjaWKWNJbY1MEf_7o_CBJK1XrGe3UABgLDs1weAGIcT3A6caAk26EALw_wcB

I’m using mulch from https://www.bloominamazing.com/.

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

And https://www.plantgrow.co.uk/products/

I wrote about growing new potatoes for winter here :https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/07/im-growing-new-potatoes-for-christmas/

Compost from https://www.dalefootcomposts.co.uk/our-products.aspx

Seed potatoes from https://taylors-bulbs.com/

Oak trees https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/english-oak/

Hazel https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/hazel/

I am @kgimson on twitter, karengimson1 on instagram.

Six on Saturday- Flowers from my Garden 4th Jan 2020

Winter flowers are more precious to me than summer blooms. In summer there’s an abundance of riches, and sometimes flowers go unnoticed with too much rushing about, keeping on top of the weeding. But in winter there’s time to stop and pause, and jewel-like colours lift the mood. Today I’ve picked my favourite blue Algerian iris. How can anything so delicate survive the cold! It looks like it is made of silk. I have a huge untidy patch of Iris unguicularis right by my front door. All summer we trip over the long strap-like leaves, and constantly threaten to dig it up. But from November to May there’s a daily flush of flowers, arriving in ones and twos. They last for a week, brought indoors. Perfect for a tiny Victorian glass vase. Iris unguicularis likes to be planted at the base of a south-facing wall. Heat and drought seem to suit it well.

My iris naturally flowers in winter, but there are also roses in flower, quite out of season. This is Rosa Phyllis Bide, a wonderful rambler which reliably puts on a show from early summer right through to autumn. I’ve also managed to find some Viburnum Dawn and Lisarose, and a sprig or alstroemeria from the poly tunnel. A cheerful, scented posy for the kitchen table.

After meandering around the plot I head for the garden gate and set off along the ridgeway walk. Fortunately it’s a dry day and the footpath conditions are improving. It’s been the wettest autumn for 50 years and farmers struggled to get in the harvest or sow autumn crops. In the distance there’s field after field of maize still standing. As far as the eye can see, fields stand fallow. There’s no lovely green shoots of winter wheat, barley or oil seed.

There’s only two crab apples left. Mammals and birds have had a feast. There’s been an abundance of fruit and berries this winter. Rosehips dripped like blood from the hedgerow. Huge flocks of fieldfares fly overhead and alight on the hedges to strip them bare. Resident blackbirds try their best to defend their ‘larder,’ but they are defeated by the noisy, marauding visitors. Luckily I’ve a store of cooking apples at home and I’ll throw a few out every day if the weather turns cold. Sometimes this bounty, regularly distributed, is the difference between life and death for birds. I generally rely on planting berried shrubs in the garden to provide natural food. But if it turns really icy, I’ll buy some mealworms, nuts and seeds.

As usual, I look for signs of spring. I know there’s a months of cold weather to come, but it’s heartening to find fat buds on the oak trees, above, and grey catkins on willow. Back home, the winter-flowering honeysuckle is in bloom and the scent wafts around the garden. It’s always a surprise to find such a delicious scent emanating from such insignificant flowers. I’ve wound some stems through a silver birch wreath, along with fluffy wild clematis seed heads. After Christmas I miss the decorations. I keep the festive feeling going, but swap to spring flowers instead. This will look lovely and cheerful over the summerhouse door.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden and along the ridgeway today. What flowers have you seen in bloom already? Get in touch and let me know what’s bringing you joy in your garden over the winter.

Links: iris unguicularis https://www.woottensplants.com/product/iris-unguicularis/?gclid=CjwKCAiAjMHwBRAVEiwAzdLWGOy0g3Obpt8I_71GTzDsIURPiShw3RWDCpwp4RC80YOuRaFAqW3ikRoCDakQAvD_BwE

Rose Phyllis Bide: https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk/phyllis-bide?gclid=CjwKCAiAjMHwBRAVEiwAzdLWGOQWws_A5vY11U8becLKemzBaIcwDJ3IzRUq2t10myMB88ssr2Rx4RoC2H0QAvD_BwE

Wild crab apples: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/crab-apple/

Lonicera winter flowering : https://www.crocus.co.uk/plants/_/lonicera-fragrantissima/classid.4101/

Fieldfares: https://www.bto.org/understanding-birds/species-focus/fieldfare

A walk around my garden Tuesday December 17 2019

Photo taken February 2019.

Something I love to do is pot up a lot of bulbs to make a table display. Bulbs are fantastic value right now. Today I bought two sacks of daffodils reduced from £24 to £3. They were virtually giving them away. I just couldn’t resist. So the morning was spent cramming them into 6″ pots with recycled compost saved from summer. As pots of compost are not very inspiring, I’m sharing a photo of my table display from February this year. Isn’t it cheerful to think we will be looking at all this colour in just a few months.

From left to right, there’s white Carnegie hyacinths, yellow tete a tete daffodils, Blue Jacket hyacinths, white Joan of Arc crocus, and various bright and wonderfully scented primulas and primroses. The perfume carries all around the veg garden. Such a joy after a cold, wet autumn and winter.

Some bulbs just starting to come into flower are Paper White narcissi. I started these off a few months ago in 10″ pots in the cold poly tunnel. There will be a steady stream of highly -scented pure white flowers for the next three months. Fabulous for cut flower displays for the potting shed and house. My favourites.

This week I harvested some of the new potatoes grown in recycled compost bags for Christmas.

I wrote about planting them here :https://bramblegarden.com/2019/08/07/im-growing-new-potatoes-for-christmas/

There were a few critical comments on social media when I posted this. Some people said it was a waste of time, there wouldn’t be much of a crop, the potatoes just didn’t grow for them. I was quite down-hearted for a while, thinking I might have wasted my money on the seed potatoes. But, this week, I tentatively plunged my hand into the compost bags, and found these beauties. There’s lots more to harvest. The good thing about growing them in bags is you can just take a few at a time. So I’m glad I didn’t listen to negative comments and give up. I’ll certainly grow them again for next Christmas, and I’ll double the number of bags; that new potato taste is absolutely wonderful in the middle of winter. A special treat. Which is what gardening is all about, pushing the boundaries and trying something new. A little bit of success is so encouraging.

Another winter task I love is making plant labels from twigs. I’ve lots of self-sown ash and hazel trees in the garden with nice straight stems. A good way to control them and make something useful from the wood is to cut them into 8″ -10″ lengths and shave off one side for the writing. It’s a lovely soothing job when you’ve spent time battling through crowds for Christmas shopping. Restores balance and good humour!

Following a wander around my garden, there’s always a trip through the top gate and out on to the back fields. These trees are much admired every day of the year. There’s usually a buzzard perched in this first one. It flies along to the next tree, keeping just ahead of me, as I amble along. Quite often there’s a pheasant in the ditch. Meg almost catches the tail feathers as they leave it until the very last moment to fly away. She is being trained to stop and do no harm. But the pheasants don’t know they aren’t in any danger. They make quite a noisy fuss, skimming low over the fields right to the other side and safety.

Along our walk today we visit the sunflower field. Great clouds of small birds rise out of the crop. The sunflowers are like statues- all facing south, their heads frozen in time, but determinedly facing the sun. Backs to the north wind. Like us really. Today, I’m facing south and trying to catch any slight rays of sunshine I can.

I find lambs’ tails. Hazel catkins. That’s sunshine to me. Soon be spring, they seem to be saying.

What signs of spring have you found in your garden today? Have you got snowdrops showing through yet? Here they are poking through the ground, tiny milky white buds like the eye of a needle.

I like to read Six on Saturday. Mine are always more than six, and I can’t always take part on the right day. Life is too short to worry about these things. https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/14/six-on-saturday-14-12-2019/

A Walk Around My Garden and Back Fields -7 December 2019

Can there be anything more cheerful in winter. Hyacinths, planted in October and grown in the dark, now brought out into the light. Roots climbing out of the pots. Emerald green flower spikes. The promise of flowers- and scent- at a time when we need promise. I potter about all day in the sunshine, planting bulbs, poking about in plant pots, looking for life. I find snowdrops. The tiny white flowers, tight closed. But soon they will be lighting up the garden.

In the greenhouse, the miniature iris bulbs are through. I’m growing Iris reticulata Harmony, a lovely deep inky blue; Katherine Hodgkin, pale blue, and a new variety, Katherine’s Gold, a sport which is a pretty pale yellow form.

These pots will be placed on garden tables in spring, but for now, they’ll stay protected in the greenhouse. Mice are very partial to bulbs.

All jobs completed- pots tidied for recycling, and a few leaves raked into piles to be turned into leafmould- I set off for my daily walk out though the top gate and along the hedgerow path.

Oak trees and hedgerows are almost bare now. A chance to enjoy the beautiful intricate structure of branches. Hidden views are revealed, and if we are lucky, we see a barn owl, hunting in the late afternoon as food becomes scarce.

Just a few crab apples remain on trees. Blackbirds and mice have had a feast this year. It’s been a record harvest.

I find a patch of oak leaves turning a glorious gold. But why haven’t the winter gales blown the leaves across the field, like the rest of them.

Looking closely, I find leaf galls on the undersides of the leaves. They are types of Oak Spangle galls. I wonder if they can somehow manipulate the chemical composition of the leaf to delay senescence. I have seen tiny insects, mine caterpillars, do this in my beech leaves. There are so many mysteries, so much more to learn. Who knows if this will be useful to humans in some way in the future.

On my beech tree leaves, a tiny green oasis remains. Evidence of tunnelling by the moth larvae of Stigmella tityrella. Have you ever noticed these on your trees before?

I find a hazel leaf cozily wrapped around a twig. I gently peep inside. Who could resist? A tiny cluster of ladybirds are snuggled at the base. I carefully fold the leaf back and hope they stay safe and sound until spring.

Turning back, the sun is starting to set. I can see our trees in the distance. A blackbird sings in the hedge. It sounds so loud on a still afternoon when there’s no one else around to hear it. Just me. It will be dark soon, so I hurry across the fields. Suddenly it feels cold. How quickly a sunny day can turn to dusk. Luckily I know the path well and could find the way with my eyes closed. Which is just as well, as it’s pitch black by the time I reach home.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to share my blog and help me spread the word. Are you managing to get any gardening done at the moment. Get in touch and let me know.

Links: More than Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/07/six-on-saturday-07-12-2019/

Stigmella tityrella :http://www.leafmines.co.uk/html/Lepidoptera/S.tityrella.htm

Moths: https://ukmoths.org.uk/species/stigmella-tityrella

Galls: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2018/07/galls-to-spot-this-year/

A Walk Around My Garden – 23rd November 2019

If I could only have one tree, it would be a field maple. At this time of the year, there’s a golden carpet of leaves covering the whole garden. Even dark corners and shady woodland walks are glowing yellow. Much needed cheer, when the days are short and turning cold and dark. We must find our own warmth from nature, whenever we can.

This year, I’m experimenting with the boundary. Thin branches are laid horizontally to form a ‘fedge,’ a cross between a fence and a hedge. This creates a habitat and shelter for mice and hedgehogs, birds and insects. Smaller twigs are put through my new shredding machine to create woodland paths and mulch. The idea is to make use of everything in the garden and do away with the need for bonfires, which are bad for the environment. Sunflower and cow parsley stems will be woven into the ‘fedge’ creating useful hibernation sites for beetles, ladybirds and lacewings. Even earwigs are welcome here, useful predators of vine weevils and many orchard pests.

Looking up, you can see there’s plenty of twiggy growth in this garden. I rather like the pattern of black stems and yellow maple leaves. It looks like a pen and ink drawing and someone has ‘scribbled’ across the skyline.

Temperatures suddenly dropped below zero for the first time this autumn. We’ve been relatively mild until now, with record amounts of rain. The hazel trees responded by dropping all their leaves in one go- as if in fright. Overnight, puddles of ‘gold’ appeared all over the garden.

Searching for more gold, I found a dogwood, Midwinter Fire.

This dogwood is beautiful all year round, but particularly shines in November. When the leaves drop, bright orange stems will catch the winter sunlight. A wonderful sight in snow and frost. Well worth planting in any border, in full sun, or part shade. Needs minimal pruning, unlike the red-stemmed varieties which can be pruned to the 3″.

Mooching about the garden, I find a mini potted fruit tree with its first apple. This is a desert apple, Malini, growing on a dwarfing root stock. I’m growing it in a 12″ pot and it will go with my youngest daughter when she flies the nest. I have a patio full of tiny fruit trees, to form a fledgling orchard, for her first home.

Into the poly tunnel, I find some pretty chrysanthemums coming into flower. These are the hardy Stallion variety. They can cope with the cold, but do better if protected from rain. They are grown in 10″ pots, stood outdoors all summer, and brought under cover in October.

There’s plenty of yellow chrysanthemums too. We call these Aunty Dorris, as cuttings were given to my father law by his aunt in the 1950s. Much treasured in our family.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your walk around my garden this week. Are you searching for colour at this time of the year. What are you finding that’s cheering you up at the moment?

Finally, as a change from gold, I find these beautiful – and very late roses in the front garden hedge. I believe they are the Ballerina Rose, a really good, disease-resistant variety. It flowers on and off all summer- and right up until Christmas. In fact, these roses will be going into my Christmas door wreaths, along with rosehips, old man’s beard wild clematis, fir cones and crab apples. Guaranteed to bring good cheer.

Links :

Field Maple, Acer campestre https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/field-maple/

Hazel : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/hazel/

Dogwood https://www.rhs.org.uk/plants/57639/i-cornus-sanguinea-i-midwinter-fire/details

Apple trees: http://www.lubera.co.uk/?gclid=Cj0KCQiAw4jvBRCJARIsAHYewPOyG2A6Q46HJPng2Xsb2BEURZuS09DZ69up4PWKOAp7k10agvT6HVgaAuxQEALw_wcB

Rose Ballerina: https://www.classicroses.co.uk/ballerina-shrub-rose.html

More than Six on Saturday : https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/11/30/six-on-saturday-30-11-2019/

A walk Around My Garden – 16 November 2019

Today’s photos have a golden theme running through them. For a few short weeks, everything glows. It’s a last gift from the garden before we descend into cold dark days. And it’s a very welcome gift. Even the flowers are golden. The last dahlias make a cheerful posy for the garden table. Tubers of favourite David Howard dahlia are tucked up under a foot of dry leaves now. Here I’ve found some blue borage and a few nasturtiums to go with the solo dahlia bloom. I feast my eyes on the sight. It will be another 9 months before I see dahlia flowers again.

Luckily, in the poly tunnel, my ‘Aunty Dorris’ chrysanthemums are coming into flower. My father in law has been growing these since the 1950s after receiving cuttings from his aunt. Sadly he’s had to leave his garden, and the precious plants have come my way. I’m determined to keep them going, in memory of Aunty Dorris and as a tribute to their shared love of gardening. There will be a steady flow of flowers to the care home where my relatives now live, right up until Christmas time.

White Swan chrysanthemums are also flowering. I grow them in 12″ pots in an open-ended poly tunnel. They don’t mind the cold, but the rain spoils their flowers. There’s often enough for Christmas table decorations.

Stepping out of the poly tunnel door, this is the scene. A bank of wild cherry trees make a golden veil. Next spring there will be snowy white cherry blossom, followed by luscious red fruit. There’s always something to look forward to. Nothing stays the same. I remind myself this, when there’s bare stems and cold dark days ahead. Winter is not my favourite time of the year, but I store up memories of the past, and at the same time, look to the future. My garden provides a kind of winter armoury.

Alongside the greenhouse, there’s a group of hazel trees. We harvest a few cob nuts each year, but squirrels take most of them. It’s cheerful to see catkins – or lambs tails- forming already.

Through the hazel and maple trees, you can just spy the summerhouse. Fallen leaves make a golden footpath leading the way.

Tall golden beech trees make a backbone for the summerhouse. It will be six months before we see lime green shoots and new leaves again.

Surrounding trees and the back fields are reflected in the summerhouse windows. Sunset is a favourite time to sit here and ponder on the growing year coming to a close. And also think about all the flowers, fruit and veg I’ll be growing next year.

What plans have you for your garden next spring? Are you enjoying the autumn colours just now, as we are here in the Midlands? Get in touch and let me know how things are going in your garden right now.

While you are looking at these photos there’s some music to go with them. Here’s the link to Yellow (Coldplay) sung by Jodie Whittaker for Children in Need. It’s very appropriate for my post this week. At 1.35.09 on the timeline. Or number 12 on the playlist.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p07sc6bw

Children in Need; https://www.bbcchildreninneed.co.uk/shows/got-it-covered/

Links : SOS. I like to join in with Six on Saturday, but always have more than six to share https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/11/16/six-on-saturday-16-11-2019/

Six on Saturday- A Walk Around My Garden and Back Fields- 9th Nov 2019

It’s a cold, misty start to today’s walk around my garden and back fields. Peering through the gap in the hedge, the old oak tree looks golden. We see a fox crossing the field, so brazen in the morning light. Fox and field blend into one. All autumnal tones merge today. The fox heads for the ditch, sending a pheasant flying into the next field. In the hedge where I’m standing, blackbirds and robin start up their alarm call. I think it must be the fox causing the upset. But then a buzzard glides low overhead- silent at first, then making a plaintive mewing cry. I shiver. Magnificent. Deadly. Owning the sky.

We walk along the ridgeway path. It’s been a slow start to autumn here. Field maples usually yellow-up by mid to end of October. Suddenly today, as temperatures dip below zero, the hedgerow takes on a golden hue. It reminds me of a patchwork quilt. ‘Squares’ of black dogwood stitched together with patches of golden maple. Such a pretty view. I gaze at it, and hold it in my memory. A few autumn gales and the magic will be gone. A whole year before we see such sights again.

Blackberries. The bane of my life this year. They have taken over my garden and this winter there will be serious chopping back. Meanwhile, leaves glow a glorious red. Quite pretty, if they were not so determined to take over the world.

It’s been wet here. So far this month there’s been 42mm of rain. In October we had 146mm, and in September, 118mm. The ground is waterlogged, ditches overflowing. We follow a path where horses have trod. The ground is so soft there’s deep hoof prints, full of water. It’s calming following footprints, the sky reflected in the little pools of water.

A dip in the hedge reveals our trees on the left. I can hardly believe we planted them, all those years ago, when I was in my 20s. They’ve been a source of joy ever since. On the right in the distance stands Polly’s Wood. I have a dream to join the two woods together- a corridor for wildlife. One day, perhaps. We shall see. Dreams do sometimes come true.

Back through the garden gate, on our boundary, there’s a green corridor running down past the pond to the summerhouse beyond. Autumn and spring are my favourite times for this part of the garden. In spring, the lime green new shoots are bright and cheerful. At this time of the year, field maples and cherry trees create a golden tunnel.

If you look carefully, you can just see our 1930s summerhouse, hidden amongst the trees.

Thank you for all your kind words last week, following our cousin’s funeral. It’s seems I am not alone in turning to nature as a balm when there are sorrows. Perhaps we all find solace and hope in nature all around us. And gardening is something we all turn to in moments of need. This week after walking for miles, and gardening all hours, I feel restored and ready to face whatever life brings. No doubt there will be many more ups and downs to deal with. Nothing stands still in life, or in gardening, for that matter. Does it.

Links : More about buzzards and listen to their call :https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/buzzard/

Field Maples : https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/trees-woods-and-wildlife/british-trees/a-z-of-british-trees/field-maple/

In A Vase on Monday- 28th October 2019

The first frost sees me running up the garden, collecting dahlia flowers in buckets. Even slightly faded, tatty flowers are harvested. Every bloom has suddenly become precious. It will be a whole nine months before we have any more of these glories.

In amongst the dark blood red dahlias are these interlopers. I didn’t plant them. I’ve been growing cactus dahlia Nuit d’Ete for around 20 years. Alongside, there’s some white dahlias called My Love. Could they have crossed to produce this striped flower? It’s a mystery. A very pretty interloper, even so. It can stay.

Frost means the end of tender flowers such as dahlias. Plants will collapse virtually overnight. Last year I left the tubers in the ground and covered them with a foot of dried leaves and a cloche. The secret is to keep them relatively dry. However, this year I will lift them all. The ground is sodden. We’ve had 266mm of rain over the past two months, double the usual amount. Five months worth of rain in the past five weeks. There’s no way I’m going to be able to keep the dahlias from rotting, unless I lift them.

So, using very sharp florists’ scissors, I collect buckets of flowers for the house, before tackling the tubers. Tubers are carefully lifted to avoid bruising. They are cut off leaving 3″ of stem. Turned upside down to drain. Then put in a dark, cool, frost free shed. After a week or two, I’ll wrap them in newspaper, or put them into pots of dry compost to overwinter. They will be started back into growth in the greenhouse in February, cuttings will be taken, and the whole cycle of planting and harvesting will go round again.

I also picked some verbena bonariensis, diascia, the last of the Nicotiana Mutabilis, some very late gladioli, and herbs such as rosemary and lavender.

There is one last flower from Dahlia Obsidian, a tuber I bought from East Ruston Garden in Norfolk a few years ago. I like to buy a few plants when I’m on holiday to remind me of the visit. This one is particularly good for pollinators, being an open, single flower.

Added some Amaranthus, love lies bleeding. I have grown the red and the white form this year.

And this is what the flowers look like, all put together. I had enough flowers for four or five vases.

I put the verbena mixture in a Kilner jar that used to belong to my great aunt Betty. She was a keen cook and preserved everything in those jars. She gave me about 100 when I first set up home. Happy memories; I use them every day and think of her.

It’s warm and sunny enough to sit in the garden today. After all that rain, I’m not spending a second shut indoors! I’ve even written this sitting outside on an old garden chair covered with a cosy woollen blanket. My feet are getting cold, so I’ve put a few bricks under them as a makeshift foot stool. No doubt there will be more frost ahead, but I’m determined to get outdoors as much as I can this winter and not get stuck by the fire.

Have you had a frost in your area yet? Are you leaving your dahlias in the ground or lifting them, like me? Let me know how things are growing in your part of the world.

Links : Cathy IAVOM https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/10/28/in-a-vase-on-monday-not-fade-away-2/

Dahlia Nuit d-Ete https://www.peternyssen.com/nuit-d-ete.html

East Ruston Old Vicarage http://www.e-ruston-oldvicaragegardens.co.uk/pages/view/564/home.htm

Dahlia Obsidian https://www.sarahraven.com/dahlia-verrones-obsidian.htm

I am @kgimson on twitter

Karengimson1 on instagram.

Thank you for reading, and for getting in touch.

Six on Saturday- 26 October 2019

The last of the sunflowers. This one, above, looks like it can’t decide whether to open or not. It’s been wet here, 142mm of rain this month. Twice the usual amount. However, flowers coped well with the deluge. Dahlias love the rain. They just tip forward slightly to drain. Sunflowers have also thrived. My sunflowers are a mixture of Infrared and Allsorts Mix from Mr Fothergills. I sow them in seed compost in March in 9cm pots, grow on in the greenhouse until they have two pairs of leaves, and then plant out after all danger of frost has passed. I use Strulch mulch to protect from slugs. It’s a scratchy kind of mineralised straw mulch which slugs and snails don’t like. It helps to retain moisture and feeds the soil as it rots down. I also spray everything with home-made garlic liquid. The recipe comes from Sienna Hosta nursery. If it’s good enough for a multi- gold medal winning nursery, it’s good enough for me. It works, with the proviso that you have to spray repeatedly, especially after rain. I’ve got a 3L Hozelock sprayer set up ready, which makes life easier. It’s worth it to protect delicate seedlings from slugs, without resorting to chemicals. The garlic spray doesn’t kill slugs, but deters them, leaving them available as a food source for birds and mammals.

Seed merchants used to mostly supply yellow sunflowers, but in recent years there’s been a big increase in varieties available. I love the chocolate -coloured flowers and the mini-sunflowers, such as Teddy Bear, which can be grown in a container and only grows to 1m with 12cm wide very double ‘fluffy’ yellow flowers.

Glowing red, this sunflower reminds me of rich dark chocolate. This was the darkest flower in a packet of Velvet Queen seeds. Truly scrumptious.

Plenty of pollen for bees, and I leave the seeds on the plants for the birds to enjoy over winter. Insects hibernate in the sunflower stems.

Lovely markings on these sunflowers from the Allsorts Mix.

And finally, Thompson and Morgan produced a new and exclusive multi-branching sunflower which repeat flowers from spring until Christmas, if protected from frost. It has rather an unwieldy name- SunBelievable Brown-Eyed Girl. It’s perfect for containers. My potted sunflower was amazingly prolific, and produced about 100 flowers over the season. Plenty for mini flower arrangements like this one which has calendulas, and herbs mixed in with the sunflowers. It lasts about a week in a vase.

Tonight we put the clocks back and the evenings will gradually close in. We’ll just have to make our own sunshine- and grow more flowers. Don’t you agree?

Which plants have you grown this summer? Let me know which have been a success for you. It’s good to share ideas and information, and help one another- especially as winter draws near and we all need a bit of colour to keep our spirits up.

Links : SOS six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/10/26/six-on-saturday-26-10-2019/

Mr Fothergills Infrared https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sunflower-Infrared-F1-Seeds.html#.XbSrg4zTWfA

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

Velvet Queen https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Sunflower-Velvet-Queen-Seeds.html#.XbStyozTWfA

Thompson and Morgan https://www.thompson-morgan.com/p/sunflower-sunbelievabletrade-brown-eyed-girl/tka1036TM

Calendula Orange Flash https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/Flower-Seed/Calendula-Seed/Calendula-Orange-Flash.html#.XbSvAozTWfA

Garlic wash spray, Sienna Hosta Nursery https://www.siennahosta.co.uk/pages/garlic-wash-recipe

Karengimson1 on instagram

@kgimson on twitter

GardenMediaGuild member

The Light in the Dark- book review and prize draw

The Light in the Dark- A Winter Journal

Horatio Clare

Published by Elliott&Thompson

£9.99 ISBN: 978-1-78396-462-8

There have been times when I’ve stood and stared in despair at the depths of human cruelty. One winter, in a muddy field on the boundaries of our village, I came upon a heartbreaking sight. Four ponies lay, dumped, one on top of the other, their necks broken, legs tangled. Filthy, caked in mud, flea ridden, they had literally been tipped out of a truck and left in a pile. Such sickening callousness. It’s a sight that will never leave me. Sadly, the perpetrators were never found. I raged for a long time. Such a senseless act. Why couldn’t they just have handed them over to someone who’d care. It made me unhappy for a very long time. Then one day on twitter, I saw an appeal for a pony called Eggsy. He’d been abandoned, left to starve, and was in a very poor state. But this time, the story has a happy ending. Carol Caton rescued him and set up a Go Fundme page for support. Since then, I’ve been regularly sending funds their way. I couldn’t help the ponies dumped as if they were unwanted trash. But I can help Carol. There’s a link at the bottom of the blog if you’d like to learn more.

What has prompted me to tell you this story? Well, in Horatio Clare’s new book, The Light in the Dark, he writes about his own sad discovery. I won’t spoil the book by revealing the details. Suffice to say he describes the discovery as “a nauseous thump in the gut, and a sudden hard drum of the heart as the world narrows, my vision tunnelling.” Travelling to his mother’s farm to face the crisis he says “Somewhere between Newtown and Llandrindod a rage bursts in the pit of me, a howling, violent thing exploding, and the furies come screaming out, and I roar in the car.”

But, the book is not all about grief and tragedy. It is a story of hope. It’s about overcoming the pain and sadness in life, and finding a way through the dark.

“Let grief be a fallen leaf, at the dawning of the day. Let grief be a fallen leaf, I think. There is much to do. And indeed, the days that followed the winds blew, the leaves fell and winter’s occupation began. ”

The Light in the Dark is a journal written from October to March. It’s a deeply moving account of surviving depression. Seasonal sadness, the winter blues, depression are widespread in the cold, dark months. Horatio Clare struggles to eat, to sleep, to work. But by “looking outwards, by being in and observing nature,” we can all learn to celebrate winter. It is magical to witness how the natural world becomes his salvation.

It’s impossible to put the book down. We are travelling on Clare’s journey, sharing moments of despair and joy. Beautiful words carry us along.

The book more than shines a light in winter, it beams! A brilliant, radiant, glowing light. For many, it will be a beacon of hope, leading the way to spring.

Please feel free to share this post. Leave a comment if you’d like to be included in the prize draw. The publishers have one copy to give away. Names will be randomly selected.

Links : https://eandtbooks.com/book/light-dark-winter-journal

Eggsy : https://www.gofundme.com/f/z8gpxg

Eggsy on twitter https://twitter.com/eggsypony

Clearing Out the Greenhouse & Taking Pelargonium Cuttings – Sunday September 15

I start off with good intentions. Each spring, I determine to keep the greenhouse tidy. By September, all manner of clutter- bits of string, old labels, empty plant pots and dead plants- trip me up. It looks a mess. So this weekend I’ve emptied all the plants and swept right through. Phew. It doesn’t get any easier. It’s a 20 foot Alton cedar greenhouse, bought second hand and painted black. First I take out all the pelargoniums. The one above is called Tomcat. It’s like burgundy velvet. It flowers non stop from March through to November. In a mild winter it carries on flowering for 12 months. This year, I’ve decided to cut everything back and keep all the plants as cuttings in 9cm pots. The mother plants, several years old and getting leggy, have been composted. It’s hard to do. I tend to hang on to plants even when they are past their best.

There’s still a lot of colour, but the cooler temperatures and damp atmosphere creates mould. Botrytis is a killer of tender plants such as pelargoniums. Cutting them back and reducing the watering helps to combat the problem.

I’ve got an ancient wood and metal garden nursery trolley which I station outside the greenhouse doors to hold the plants temporarily.

Luckily, it’s a beautiful sunny day with temperatures around 21C. We’ve had one night of frost, but no damage so far. Night time temperatures are dipping into single figures though, so there’s no time to waste.

I quickly snip off 3″ cuttings from non-flowering shoots and pile them in my trug. To take cuttings, I cut above a pair of leaves to start with. Then I use a sharp knife to cut below a leaf joint where there’s a concentration of hormones to aid rooting. I use my fingers to snap off all but three leaves at the top. Any large leaves are cut in two to reduce moisture loss. The soft, tiny winged growth on the stems is rubbed off as they attract mould. I gently rub over the leaves to check for aphids.

I fill 9cm pots with 50% peat-free multi-purpose compost and 50% grit or perlite for drainage. Tap the pots on the table to settle the compost. Cuttings need air as well as moisture to grow, so I don’t squash the compost down.

It’s still warm enough to work in the potting shed. There’s a robin in the eaves, quietly twittering away. Sometimes robins can be incredibly loud, at other times its almost a whisper. It’s as if they are singing to comfort themselves. It comforts me as well to have such calm and joyful company.

All potted up, I water them once and set them somewhere cool, bright and frost free to root. The west-facing potting shed window will do for now, out of direct sunshine. They will spend their winter in the greenhouse though with a fan heater set at 6C. Next spring, I’ll tip them out and pot them into individual 9cm pots.

Back in the greenhouse, all the staging is cleared and jet washed down. Any spiders are relocated to the poly tunnel. I can’t kill anything. Slugs and snails go into a dry ditch beyond the boundary hedge. Food for other creatures, I hope.

When I’ve cleaned the glass and repaired the sliding door mechanism, I’ll push the citrus trees back in for the winter. It’s been a good summer for lemons and oranges. A few lemon cakes and orange marmalade might be in order….

Winter salads and micro veg are springing up in shallow terracotta pans. There will be more room now I’ve cleared out the huge pelargonium pots.

Luckily, there’s a few pots of colour left. This orange gerbera has been flowering for months. And my purple bougainvillea usually flowers into December. I haven’t quite finished polishing the glass, or replacing the comfy armchair, the biscuit tin and the radio. That will be tomorrow’s finishing touches. For today, after all that work, I’m collapsing in the summerhouse with a nice cup of tea and mulling over the autumn and winter season to come. I’m ready for anything the weather might throw at us.

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

Follow me on twitter @kgimson

On instagram at karengimson1

On #sixonsaturday with https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/09/14/six-on-saturday-14-09-2019/

On #IAVOM with Cathy https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/09/09/in-a-vase-on-monday-daisies-and-an-infiltrator-2/

Pelargoniums https://www.fibrex.co.uk/collections/pelargoniums/ivy-leaved?page=4

Six on Saturday

For a change, I’m going to let you wander around peacefully on your own. I’m in the potting shed cleaning tools and generally getting set up for the growing season. There’s a lot to do.

Overhead there’s skylarks. I’ve turned the summerhouse towards the back fields so you can watch them. Such a wonderful sight and sound. Four years ago, we had only one. A lonely skylark is heartbreaking. No amount of frantic singing attracted a mate. Since then numbers have increased and I counted several today. They nest on the ground in the field behind ours.

Like a mirror, the field is reflected in the glass. In the top right window, you can see the trees on the other side of the field.

We peep through the gap in the hedge to watch the skylarks.

Bullfinches are investigating a bird box in the trees behind the summerhouse.

Finches have been eating the wild clematis seeds. Each day I replace the stolen wisps of old man’s beard.

Pots of Paperwhite narcissi sit on the steps. The scent drifts in through the doors.

There’s lots of white Joan of Arc crocus too. Plenty of bumble bees today. It feels more like April than February.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden.

Links : Six on Saturday https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2019/02/23/six-on-saturday-23-02-2019/#comments

Skylarks : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/skylark/

Bullfinches : https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/bullfinch/

Paperwhites ; https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/daffodils-narcissus/tazetta-poetaz-narcissi/narcissus-paperwhite-grandiflora

Joan of Arc crocus : https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/crocus/large-flowering-crocus/crocus-joan-of-arc

In a Vase on Monday – Spring Flowers

Monday 18th February. I’ve run around the garden and picked flowers for a tiny posy. My mother in law Joan gave me the little cut glass vase. So cheerful, the reflection of light, and jewel- like flowers. How can such delicate beauties survive the cold.

There’s double and single snowdrops, chinodoxa glory of the snow, pink cyclamen coum, crocus, Paperwhite narcissi, and heavenly-scented daphne.

I’ve spun the vase round to show you the yellow aconites. What a joy to see them flowering in the wild garden. Just as the aconites start to go over crocus tommasinianus suddenly appear. A feast of pollen for emerging queen bumble bees.

Crocus are doing well in the woodland garden, but I didn’t plant these out in the meadow here. I wonder why an unexpected plant, growing where it wants to be, should make me so happy. I run out and check these little flowers each day and stand and ponder. I couldn’t be happier, and I’m not sure why.

For my summerhouse door wreath this week, I’ve popped a few crocus flowers in my recycled test tubes filled with water. No need to use florists foam which adds to pollution. Use little test tubes, glass spice jars or miniature jam jars.

Fresh green ivy berries and moss hide the workings, and wild clematis or old- man’s beard- makes a nest for the snowdrops.

There’s stirrings from the pond already. I’ve seen several frogs- maybe there will be frogspawn soon. A pair of bullfinches are investigating the nest box in the tree next to the summerhouse. They are going to be very noisy neighbours, judging by the racket they are making. A friend and I sat and watched them this afternoon, and marvelled at the weather being mild enough to sit outdoors, in the middle of February, the summerhouse doors thrown open. A moment to treasure.

Links; Cathy IAVOM https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/02/18/in-a-vase-on-monday-alternative/

Bullfinch song https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/bullfinch/

Crocus tommasinianus https://www.peternyssen.com/tommasinianus-ruby-giant.html

Cyclamen coum for autumn planting https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/cyclamen/cyclamen-coum

Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis https://www.cumbriawildflowers.co.uk/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=181

Chinodoxa https://www.avonbulbs.co.uk/autumn-planted-bulbs/chionodoxa/chionodoxa-forbesii-blue-giant

clematis vitalba https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/trees-woods-and-wildlife/plants-and-fungi/woodland-wildflowers/travellers-joy/

Last Minute Christmas Presents for Gardeners

Here’s my last minute recommendations. I would love to receive any of these. They all last longer than Christmas Day. Prices vary, depending on special offers and discounts.

1. Vouchers for a course at Common Farm Flowers.

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

I joined the Grow Your Own Cut Flower Patch course a few years ago, and I’m self-sufficient in flowers for my friends and family. There was enough information to grow plants commercially, if I had wanted to. I’m delighted to be able to wander about my garden at any time of the year and create beautiful hand tied bouquets and pretty jam jar posies. There’s something special about home-grown flowers. It’s all a matter of planning and knowing what varieties to grow. Georgie is an excellent teacher. After attending one of her courses, you feel as if you can conquer the world. It’s a rather wonderful feeling!

Courses on offer range from £15 for a garden tour to £290 for a painting course.

Courses: Flower Farming, encouraging wildlife, social media for small businesses, starting a kitchen table business, grow your own wedding flowers, hand tied bouquets.

2. RHS Membership. From £61.

Develop your gardening skills with an RHS membership package. Membership includes unlimited entry to RHS gardens, discounts for show tickets, personalised advice, and entry to 200 partner gardens. The RHS magazine,The Garden, is worth the membership price alone. It is packed full of inspiring ideas and information. Written by experts we all trust. I always look forward to my copy, and it keeps me up to date with new plants, ideas for recycling, using less plastic in the garden and information on the latest research into plant diseases. It’s great to see The Garden magazine will be delivered in recyclable paper packaging instead of single-use plastic next spring.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/shop/special-offers/active-offers/rhs-gift-membership-offer

3. Support the Woodland Trust with a membership package. £48.

Explore 1,000 Woodland Trust woods. A walk in a wood lifts your mood and re-energises you. It will do you a power of good.

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/membership/

4. Membership for St Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital. £36.

We all rely on our wildlife, hedgehogs in particular, to help us combat slugs. This is a wonderful way to support wildlife and learn more about them.

https://www.sttiggywinkles.org.uk/top-navigation/help-us/membership.html

5. Join The Hardy Plant Society. £17 a year.

A great way to discover more about hardy plants, find like- minded gardeners and join in with events such as talks and slide shows, conservation and plant sales. There’s two issues of the The Hardy Plant magazine a year, free advice and a chance to take part in the free seed distribution scheme.

http://www.hardy-plant.org.uk/whyjoinus

6. Charles Dowding No-dig course. Various prices. Approx £150 a day.

Learn all about growing all kinds of vegetables and fruit, productively and with less effort. Charles has helped me to garden with a poorly back. I fractured my spine in a car crash 15 years ago. Without his advice, I would probably have had to give up my one acre garden. With his no-dig techniques, I have managed to keep on top of weeds, and grow all the fruit, veg and flowers I want to, without aggravating my spinal injuries.

I hope these last-minute suggestions have been useful. If not for Christmas, they make a lovely birthday present.

What’s the best course, or membership, you would recommend? Let me know so I can share your ideas too.

Coming up in the new year, I’ve been invited to try out some weekend holidays for gardeners. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’ll be taking my Mum with me, of course. Something to look forward to in 2019.

Family Favourite Recipes – Chocolate Marzipan Cherries.

When I started this blog, my intention was to write down all our family favourite recipes in one place. It occurred to me that our much loved recipes exist on tatty pieces of paper. My children might want to find Aunty Betty’s toffee apple recipe, or the Gimson Christmas trifle. Stained and ripped pieces of paper might be difficult to find. So recipes are deposited here for future reference. Today I’m sharing my home made cherry chocolate recipe that I make every year. It’s a money saving recipe if you use your own fruit. And it’s simple to make. Even little children can have a go.

Ingredients

Home grown cherries, preserved in brandy. Choose good quality fruit that is slightly under ripe. Only preserve the best fruit, and none that has any blemishes.

Or

200g glacé cherries

500g marzipan

200g good quality dark chocolate.

Method

Soak the glacé cherries in cherry brandy overnight. Drain and reserve the liquid for adding to cakes.

If using your own preserved cherries, drain and gently pat dry with a clean tea towel.

Break the block of marzipan into four, and microwave for a few seconds to soften.

Take tablespoons of marzipan (about 13g).

Roll into a ball, and then flatten to enclose a cherry. Roll gently in the palm of your hand to smooth the marzipan. Leave to dry for a few hours.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave. Drop each marzipan cherry into the chocolate and use a spoon to roll them about to coat.

Stand the chocolates on foil until set.

Keeps for about 1 week in a cool dry place. If you can resist them that long!

Enjoy 😊

I made mine in the summerhouse, with the radio on and sunshine streaming through the open doors. It’s amazingly mild for December. We’ve had 12C for days, although last night it was -2 and we woke to a frost.

Here’s the ingredients. It’s a really simple recipe. Wonderful if you have a cherry tree in the garden.

I used white marzipan, but you can use golden if you like.

Drop into the chocolate. Make sure you don’t get any water in the chocolate, or it will go dull.

They take about an hour to set. The recipe makes about 35 cherry chocolates. There’s enough marzipan and chocolate to make another 30 if you buy more cherries. Or make 30 almond marzipan chocolates.

Simply enclose one whole blanched almond in the marzipan as above, and coat in the chocolate. Delicious! You can also use whole Brazil nuts and use milk or plain chocolate.

How to Preserve Cherries

450g cherries

75g sugar

2 drops almond essence

600ml brandy.

Remove the cherry stalks and stones and prick all over with a sterilised needle or cocktail stick.

Layer the cherries with the sugar in a large sterilised preserving jar, fill to within 2.5cm of the top. Add almond essence.

Pour the brandy to cover the cherries. Seal the jar and shake well.

Keep in a cool, dark place for at least three months to allow the flavours to develop. Shake the jar from time to time.

Strain the cherries through a funnel lined with muslin. Put the cherry brandy into sterilised bottles to give as presents. Use the cherries in the chocolate marzipan recipe above, or in pastries, ice cream and other winter treats. Enjoy 😊

Six on Saturday. Joining in for the first time.

Six photos from my garden and potting shed this week.

Catching the light in my potting shed window: Old Man’s Beard, wild clematis vitalba. Commonly called traveller’s joy. I stand on tip toe, reaching into hedgerows to harvest long stems with silver seed heads. They’re a lovely addition to winter flower arrangements.

Silver coins. Honesty seeds. Hanging from the rafters to dry. They will be tucked in amongst rosehips, holly and ivy for Christmas decorations.

Chinese lanterns, harvested in October. I love the various shades of orange. They fade to a delicate papery apricot colour. And left long enough, they become transparent.

My potting shed window looks out onto the wild garden. So heartening to see hazel branches with lambs-tail catkins. A welcome reminder that spring will return. The twigs make useful supports for my paperwhite narcissi and hyacinths which are in the dark under my point shed bench at the moment.

The last few golden leaves are fluttering in the breeze. Hazel, maple, ash trees make a mini woodland. I’ve planted 200 foxgloves in the wild garden. We sowed the seed in mid summer, pricked them out in August, and planted out, they will sit making roots over winter. I’m growing Sutton’s Apricot, a glorious silky, peach- coloured foxglove, and Pam’s Choice- white with a blackcurrant thumb print in each flower.

It’s dusk before I finish planting. I stand by the pond watching blackbirds taking a last-minute bath. I wonder how they can stand the cold water. I expect it keeps their feathers in good condition. A tawny owl glides silently along the field hedge. Short-tailed voles live in the long grass here. Within minutes, it’s dark. It’s not like in summer, where there’s enough moonlight to potter around. November dark is cold, pitch black. Time to go indoors, light a fire and make hot chocolate.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a walk around my garden with me tonight. I’m joining https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/ for his Six on Saturday meme. What jobs are you doing in your garden this weekend?

In a Vase on Monday – flowers for a christening.

Pink roses for a baby girl. Just the right flower. That’s what I decided when a friend asked me to make a door wreath for her granddaughter’s christening.

Setting out with a wicker basket, I spend a happy hour searching the hedgerows around the garden. I’m looking for ivy leaves, and their lime green and black flower heads and seeds. The perfect background for any circle of flowers. I find jewel-like Euonymus europaeus, or spindle tree, growing wild amongst the ivy, dogwood and hawthorn. Their bright pink fruit split apart to reveal orange seeds inside. Leaves turn a burnished bronze and then red. I add them to the basket. It’s like finding treasure.

I find some silver coins. Well, they look like coins. Honesty seed heads have turned a glorious silvery grey. Perfect for tucking in amongst the flowers. I love the way they catch the light. No need for fairy lights here.

I search around for some sprigs of a newly- planted viburnum. This winter-flowering gem is called Viburnum tinus Lisarose. Clusters of small pink and white flowers look lovely at all stages from bud to fully open. It flowers from November to April, just when we most need some cheer.

It’s my lucky day. I’ve found some late-flowering roses. My favourites, The Fairy and Pearl Anniversary. They have small clusters of pearly pink semi-double flowers. Both are compact, easy to grow varieties. Mine are thriving in containers and are moved into the greenhouse to provide flowers right up until Christmas. Pearl Anniversary is a compact, patio rose, and The Fairy is a small shrub rose. Both are repeat flowering and disease resistant.

Roses make the perfect focal point at the top of the wreath. Not many are needed to make a display.

Rosehips. So glossy they look as if they’ve been dipped in varnish. They cascade from the top of the hedgerows. The birds will have a feast. I harvest some for today, and some for Christmas, not taking them all. It’s best to share. I weave them in and out of the ivy. It’s a happy combination of hedgerow and garden. Just perfect for a baby girl’s special day.

Each week I join Cathy for her IAVOM Meme. Luckily flowers don’t have to be in a vase to be included. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and harvesting for their flower arrangements this week. Let me know if you have ever made flowers for a special occasion like I have. It’s lucky when the garden and hedgerow provides such bounty, even in November.

Cathy : https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/

The Creative Kitchen – Book Review

By Stephanie Hafferty

Published by Permanent Publications. November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Almanac – A Seasonal Guide to 2019

Book Review

Lia Leendertz. Illustrated by Celia Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the Amazon Link for The Almanac.

It’s hot, hot, hot….. what the garden looks like on 5th August 2018

Plants in my garden are matching the heatwave! These sunny rudbeckias were sown last summer and planted out in autumn. They make much stronger plants grown as biennials.

These are Rudbeckia hirta Glorious Daisies , also known as cone flowers, from Mr Fothergill’s Seeds. Bees and butterflies love them. They are easy to grow and last a week as a cut flower.

They remind me of sunflowers. I love the yellow petals and the deep chocolate cone centre. To get them to flower as annuals, sow seeds in a 3″ pot of good quality seed compost in February/ March. Place in a propagator at 18C. Prick out as soon as there are two true leaves. Prick out into individual 3″ pots to give the plants room to grow. Grow on in a frost free place in bright light, but not direct sunshine as the tender new leaves will scorch. Plant outside in a sunny sheltered position at end of May. They will flower all summer long.

If you have a very sheltered garden, you can overwinter them. To grow them as biennials, sow them in summer and plant out in early autumn into soil that has been well prepared. Incorporate lots of good garden compost, well rotted manure and leafmould. This will improve drainage over the winter when it’s the wet that tends to kill plants rather than the cold.

As temperatures are regularly hitting 28C to 30C these rudbeckias really shine out and match the sunny weather. I’ve not watered these, but any planted since Christmas would need a thorough soaking once a week.

To add to the sunshine look, I’m trialling the new Thompson and Morgan sunflower Sunbelieveable Brown Eyed Girl. These are making lovely short stocky plants suitable for containers. They arrive in the post well packaged and soon grow into 50cm plants.

I’m also growing various sunflowers from Mr Fothergill’s including Evening Sun which has a stunning range of colours. And bees absolutely adore them.

These last a week in a vase and make a lovely centrepiece of any cut flower posy. Calendulas are also doing well on my plot despite the heat and dreadful drought. I am only watering containers and succulent crops such as runner beans and courgettes. Everything else is relying on good winter mulching with home made compost and Plant grow fertiliser. We haven’t had any rain since May.

Regular readers know that I always cut my flowers for my MIL Joan and my Mum Marion. This summer has been a particularly difficult one, health wise, and sunshiny flowers have been much needed.

Calendula Snow White and subsequent seedlings are a firm favourite. I post photos of my posies on IAVOM which Cathy hosts on Mondays. Thanks for joining me on a ramble round my rather hot and parched garden. Let me know what you are growing in your garden the first week of August.

Thanks to Helen for hosting the End of Month View.

Product Trial : Hopes Grove Nurseries- Hedge-in-a-Box Kit

Photo: Prunus blossom from my hedgerow.

Visitors to my garden sometimes look surprised when they see the state of my hedges. They don’t often know what to say. Or they launch into a lecture offering kindly advice which usually involves grubbing out the rampant species and cutting everything back. I say nothing.

Truth is, I know the hedges are untidy. But I love them that way. There are gaps – but they allow ramblers on the lane to view the snowdrops. And me to watch the barn owls glide silently by at dusk. Yes, there are tangles of wild clematis, ivy and honeysuckle. Bees love the ivy flowers and birds love the berries. It’s a living tapestry of colour all year round.

Even the scruffiest, wild and untamed hedge provides nesting and cover for birds. A home for insects and small mammals. A microclimate, baffling the wind. Far better than any fence or wall, allowing frost to filter through and creating shelter.

Being a fan of all kinds of hedges, I made a beeline for Hopes Grove Nurseries at a recent garden trade fair in London. Hopes Grove are launching new themed hedging kits. I asked if they could design a florists’ hedge for me, and three days later my hedge-in-a-box arrived on the doorstep.

My new hedging kit contains a mixture of plants to give colourful stems, flowers and evergreen foliage. There’s a mixture of bare-rooted stock and potted plants including deutzia, escallonia, ribes, forsythia, hydrangea, mock orange, spirea. A lavender has been included as a sample of what the nursery sells. I think I’ll plant that in my herb garden. For glossy evergreen leaves there’s griselinia littoralis and osmanthus burkwoodii. And for winter colour there’s dogwoods with black, yellow, red and orange stems. My wild and untamed hawthorn hedge marks the boundary of my acre plot, but nearer the house and around the veg plot I’m going to plant a new mixed hedge, one I can harvest for my flower arrangements.

The plants, well packed, arrive in cardboard boxes. Boxes and paper packaging are all recyclable.

You wouldn’t know they have been packed in a box and been on a journey. The plants are really well grown and fresh. There are plenty of new buds on the Hydrangea Annabelle, and the osmanthus is just about to flower.

Bare- rooted plants are also substantial, well grown stock. We’ve heeled them in to the veg plot temporarily, until the ground is less waterlogged for planting. Each week I join in with the IAVOM (In a Vase on Monday) meme. I post a photo of what I’ve grown and harvested from my garden and take a look to see what other people all around the world are growing for their flower and foliage arrangements. Have a look at Cathy’s site to learn more.

Another new hedge-in-a-box kit is the Gin Makers’ Hedgerow, with fruit and berries for alcoholic infusions. There’s wild pear, crab apple, plum, and cherry amongst the long list of suggestions. And I noticed dog roses too, which grow freely in my garden.

Of course, my wild informal hedge might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s important to say that Hopes Grove supplies plants for more structured hedges such as yew, privet, box and beech. Plant sizes vary from economical one year old cuttings, bare rooted transplants, 2- 4 year old feathered whips, right up to 25ltr pots and troughs of well grown plants for instant effect. There are hundreds of plants listed in the catalogue.

Hopes Grove send out a well-written site preparation, planting and aftercare guide. Morris Hankinson is the founder of Hopes Grove and grew up in the tiny oast house on the small family farm that is now in the centre of the nursery site. Morris has grown the business from a “one-man-band planting, growing and selling hedging” to a nursery covering 50 acres and employing 18 local staff.

Contact Details: Hopes Grove Farm, Smallhythe Road, Tenterden, Kent, TN30 7LT. Tel: 01580 765600. E-mail : morrish@hopesgrovenurseries.co.uk. http://www.hopesgrovenurseries.co.uk. Click Here to visit the website. These are not affiliate links.

I’m delighted that Hopes Grove have asked me to trial this hedge-in-a-box kit. I love to hear of innovative ways of growing and selling plants. I’m very happy to wholeheartedly recommend their hedging plants and I’m grateful for the chance to give my honest opinion.

Hopes Grove won the Bob Maker Memorial Award for the best stand at the trade fair, the Garden Press Event in London.

Photo. Wild flowers – stitchwort- growing in the hedge at home.

In a Vase on Monday

If you look carefully, you’ll see little ice cubes floating in the vases in my potting shed today. The jam jars and jugs froze solid. And I was away in London, so couldn’t rescue them. Luckily the flowers didn’t seem to mind. They perked up as soon as the temperature started to rise. These are the very last of my Paperwhite narcissi. They’ve been fantastic value, giving flowers for cutting for three months.

For my IAVOM I have recycled my spring flowers. I’ve cut off the bottom 2cm of each stem, given them all fresh water and added lots of grey willow catkins and hazel “lambs tails.” It looks like it’s a yellow and white theme this week. I haven’t planned it, but doesn’t it look cheerful. We’ve had temperatures go from -10 to 10c in just 24 hours.

Double snowdrops, Galanthus flore pleno, from my “Hodsock” corner are still flowering well. The freezing temperatures have prolonged the display. Every year Mum and I visit Hodsock Priory in Nottinghamshire. We always stay overnight so we can walk in the woodlands just before dusk and again at sunrise -before the crowds arrive. It’s a special treat to have the gardens virtually to ourselves. Each year we buy a few pots of snowdrops for a couple of pounds. And over the years they have spread to make a corner of my garden that reminds me of our special holidays together.

Noticing that I haven’t got many vases, a relative has taken pity on me and donated these little containers. The snowdrop vase has a lovely green glaze. The brown container looks like it is made of wood, but it is actually ceramic. I’ve never seen these type of vases before. I think they date back to the 1920s and were family wedding presents. So happy they have made their way to my potting shed to be treasured for years to come.

I put some moss in the container and added some hazel twigs. It is just perfect for holding a few tiny snowdrops.

The potting shed window has miniature green hellebores this week. The leaf and flower shape looks like Hellebore Corsicus, but I’ve never seen one as petite as this. I love the lime green flowers.

Here’s a quick peek at what it’s been like outdoors here. The farm pond was frozen solid for a week. We spotted a kingfisher on an overhanging branch staring intently at the water. Many of the garden birds came closer to the house during the freeze. A little gold crest has been roosting in the potted acer by the back door all week. I’ve fed it mealworms and crushed sunflower seeds saved from the veg plot.

And the gap in the hedge view. I didn’t linger long. There were hares racing across the field and pheasants in the ditch.

Today, there is no evidence of wintry weather. I feel like I’ve stepped from one country to another – a much warmer one at that. 7c feels positively balmy after what we’ve been though. And the willow catkins give us hope.

Thanks to Cathy for hosting the IAVOM meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing in their gardens and cutting for their flower arrangements this week.

How has your garden fared in the bad weather? As you can see, I’ve written it on a Monday, but not managed to post it until today. Our internet is on the blink again. BT no doubt will blame the snow. Have a good week all of you.

End of the Month View – March 2nd 2018

Thank goodness there’s some colour in the greenhouse right now. I planted these Iris reticulata last October. And just when I need something cheerful to look at, they’ve sprung open like a jack-in-a-box. As soon as the sun hit the greenhouse glass, they pinged open. A lovely moment. Glad I was there to see it.

Such an inky blue. I planted Iris Pixie and Harmony, and then somehow lost the labels. A common occurrence in my garden. I must address the problem of how to keep labels this year.

I’ve no need to tell you what the temperatures are like at the moment. One look out of the window and you can see for yourself. We are white over in the UK. So today I’ve been mooching in the potting shed and greenhouse.

Planted last September, these Carnegie hyacinths are a joy for months. The buds are pretty, with just the green tips showing. I think there’s as much pleasure in anticipating what’s to come, as there is when the buds finally burst into bloom. The scent fills the whole greenhouse and makes it a pleasure to work in there on a freezing cold day. I heat the greenhouse to between 5 and 7 degrees. It is an old Alton Cedar greenhouse -second hand, renovated and painted black. Being cedar, the wood swells in the winter and cuts off any draughts – keeping it warm and cosy in there.

Prepared -or temperature treated bulbs – are planted in September in individual 3″ pots. The bulbs are given a cold period to fool them into thinking they have been through winter. We then put them in a cool, dark cupboard in the potting shed or garage for 20 weeks which finishes the treatment. Then, the bulbs are gradually brought out into a cool greenhouse and grown on. You can delay development by just keeping them cold and on the dry side, which is how I’ve managed to keep them flowering right through winter.

Choose bulbs that have flowers roughly the same size to plant into bowls and create displays for the house.

Today, I’m looking out at a snow, right across the back fields, and there’s icicles dangling from the greenhouse roof.

All along the top shelves are succulents and cacti- which need virtually no water between November and mid-March. These Echeverias have grey -blue leaves and striking orange flowers in summer.

The potatoes are starting to chit. Hard to believe, I will be planting them in a few weeks. I’m growing Charlotte and Lady Christl- both delicious. These varieties are on the RHS recommended list for growing in containers. If you are thinking of growing in containers, you need 8 litres of compost per potato. So put five in a 40 litre bag or 16″ -18″pot. Start off filling the bags with 20 litres of compost and 125g organic potato fertiliser. Sink the potatoes into the compost, and water. As the haulms or stems grow, add more compost to cover them and gradually fill up the pots. The secret to success is not to overwater. Soggy compost deprives the plants of oxygen and leads to stunted growth. Start feeding with potash when the leaves are out of the top of the pots. Other varieties I’ve tried and are RHS recommended include Casablanca, Golden Nugget, Sharpes Express, Maris Bard, Jazzy and Vales Emerald. I don’t grow Sharpes Express as much though, as it tends to disintegrate when it’s cooked and you end up with a pan full of soupy water.

Just behind the potatoes and bedding plant cuttings is a pot of wild rocket. I sowed the seed in autumn and now have lots of little pots like these from which I can pick a few leaves each day. Pick from the outer leaves, leaving the centre of the plants to keep growing.

Here’s a quick peek in the potting shed at dusk. The last of the Paper White narcissi are cheering up the potting bench. Another fabulous scented flower.

And in the potting shed window there’s snowdrops. This one is a very pretty Galanthus Viridapiece which has delicate green-tipped flowers. A favourite of mine.

Thank you to Helen at Patient Gardener for hosting this EOMV meme.

How are you coping with the weather? Get in touch and let me know how your garden is faring in the snow. Keep warm everyone.

#WordlessWednesday #GardenPressEvent

Sending you these photos today from the London Garden Press Event. I reckon we all need some colour and cheer right now . It’s -4 here in the city, and -6 at home. So here’s a gallery of David Austin Roses for you to enjoy.

These are from the cut flower range.

All the latest flowers, seeds, machinery, products- you name it – are showcased at the Garden Press Event . It’s a whirlwind of a day. I’m sitting here surrounded by a huge pile of brochures, catalogues, samples. It will take me a week to work though them, so this is just a little taster for now. Keep warm and safe all of you. Hope we get better weather soon.

In a Vase on Monday – @ashnurs @GdnMediaGuild

Vases full of spring tulips and daffodils are frozen solid in the potting shed today. They will be fine when they thaw out. Hopefully. Meanwhile, I’ve run round the garden and collected some flower heads to float in water. All the window ledges in the house now shine with colour and cheer. I’m determined not to be downhearted by the big freeze. The Beast from the East- I’m not scared!

Inspiration for my flowers this week comes from John Massey’s garden at Ashwood Nurseries. I was incredibly lucky to be invited to a tour of John’s private garden. It’s three acres of sheer delight. A plantaholic’s paradise. I couldn’t stop looking at this gorgeous bowl of jewel-like flowers. John, who has a passion for hepaticas, says they last a week outdoors in a shallow stone trough. They have been frozen overnight several times, and still look fresh the next day. You learn something new every day!

I’ve seen hellebores floating in water before, but never hepaticas. And it’s useful to know they last so long. I’ve put a bowl by my front door as a welcome to visitors.

Some more photos from the garden, which is open on selected days for charity. There’s a link for more information on John’s Garden.

I came home and copied theses pink-themed hellebores. Such a simple idea for a spring display and so effective.

On a tour of the nursery, I fell in love with a deep red hellebores.

And this cream hellebore. In the sunshine the petals look like satin.

These are the new 2018 Evolution Hybrids; double and anemone centre golden forms. This is the first year they have gone on sale.

We learned how to grow hepaticas. They need really good drainage. Some of the pots had virtually no bottoms. That much drainage!

White flowers are always quite difficult to photograph, but I persevered with this one.

Here’s John explaining how to grow hepaticas from seed.

John’s garden is open on March 17, April 22, June 2, and other selected days through the year. See website for details. All entry fees will go to Wings, Wombourne special needs support group for children and young adults. Last year, the garden openings made almost £25,000 for the Beacon Centre for the Blind.

My behind the scenes tour was organised by the Garden Media Guild. I’m pleased to have been a member for about a year. Membership can be for full, probationary and associate membership. I’ve found the GMG networking and training events very useful and I’ve met a lot of new friends. A recent newsletter states: “The guild welcomes any new garden communicator who wishes to embrace professional standards and work towards earning an income from their work. ” Courses, trips and mentoring schemes all assist probationary members. A lot of people have helped me with my work over the years. I’m always thinking of ways to help others. This might be the incentive you need to go for it and join in. Let me know if you do. Find out more Here . www.gardenmediaguild.co.uk

Opening times and details for the nursery Here

Thank you to Cathy ramblinginthegarden for hosting this meme. Why not go over and see what everyone else is growing, and putting in their vases this week for IAVOM.

And feel free to share this blog on twitter, Facebook and Instagram (crediting me with the pics and words, thank you). This photo of hepaticas appeared on my twitter account this week @kgimson. And on Instagram at karengimson1. Do come over and say hello.

Snowdrops and Botanical Art at Easton Walled Gardens @EWGardens

If you’ve never visited Easton Walled Gardens, you’ve got until 4pm tomorrow to view their stunning snowdrops. The gardens are open today and tomorrow 24/25th February, from 11am. And you are in for a treat. The winter displays have never looked better and feature snowdrops, iris, crocus, hellebores and masses of scented flowering shrubs.

I wrote about the history of Easton in a blog post last winter Here.

Here’s a gallery of photos I took earlier in the week.

If you are lucky, you will see kingfishers flying along the river. Such a special moment when you catch sight of that bright flash of blue feathers.

A favourite view of the stone bridge crossing from the meadow to the walled garden.

Always a poignant moment to stop and look at the ruins, all that remains of the mansion house that once stood on this site. New this year, there’s some marker stones set in the grass to show where the front door would have been.

We love the kokedama displays. Such an unusual and pretty way to display snowdrops.

I might try this idea, hanging basket kokedamas look spectacular in the gatehouse stone archway.

There are displays of little potted bulbs all around the gardens. This one is Iris Blue Note. The huge snowdrops are Comet.

Discovering secrets. How to dry and store seed, so that the mice can’t get at them. Easy when you know how.

There’s always something new to find at Easton. This year it’s a botanical art exhibition in the courtyard which runs until 11th March -on Easton’s usual opening days.

I loved this aconite. My camera phone doesn’t really do it justice.

The artists taking part are Norma Gregory, Dawn Wright and Sue Vize.

For more information go to www.visiteaston.co.uk .

Easton is just off the A1 near Grantham in Lincolnshire.

Ellicar Gardens -open for NGS 25th February @ellicargardens

There aren’t many invitations that start with the warning “beware of the goose!” But when Sarah Murch sent an e-mail inviting us to visit, she told us to sound our horn when we arrived. She would safely let us in past the goose.

Now, I had a very unfortunate experience with a gander some years ago. I only just managed to outrun him. They are surprisingly scary at full speed, with their necks out stretched and wings flapping. Not an experience I particularly wished to repeat.

But to be honest, we didn’t need to worry. The Ellicar garden goose was more concerned with guarding his “family” of adopted bantam chicks. But we gave him a very wide berth anyway.

The newly-hatched chicks and goose combination were just the start of what turned out to be a most surprising visit. We found a llama, goats, rare breed sheep, cows and two adorable rescue pigs. And they all clearly love their owner. They all come racing across the field as soon as they catch sight of Sarah.

This is Orlando, Sarah’s newest acquisition; a birthday present, she explains. Well, I’ve never met anyone who’s had a llama as a birthday present before, but I’m soon quite envious. I find myself enquiring exactly where one could obtain such a gorgeous creature, how much they eat, how much they cost…… I’m nearly ready to order one on the spot when I hear the coat can be brushed and fluff woven and knitted into jumpers! What a joy. We move swiftly on. Turning our thoughts to the gardens, around the corner, past the paddocks, is a sight of great beauty- a natural swimming pool.

The pool is frozen over when we visit, but Sarah explains the water is warm enough to swim in from March to November. The temperature is 17C in spring, and 20-26C in summer. The pool is naturally filtered and surrounded by grasses and willows that cast their reflections on the water. Sarah painted a lovely picture when she described swimming with kingfishers flying by, just above their heads.

The garden is planted with wildlife in mind and many of the perennials and shrubs provide nectar for bees and butterflies, and seeds for birds. Grasses are a special feature of the garden. At this time of the year, they look stunning, backlit by a sunset, which is when I took these photos.

The grasses include various stipa, silver feather grass Miscanthus Silberfeder, and feather reed grass Calamagrostis Overdam.

Seed heads shine amongst the colourful dogwoods and willows; eupatorium, aster and sedums in particular.

Coral bark willow, Salix Britzensis- pollarded to produce bright red stems- looks fabulous set against a background of white silver birches. They are underplanted with masses of emerging spring bulbs, including crocus, snowdrops, iris and narcissi.

We love this living willow “fedge” a cross between a fence and a hedge, with teasel heads in front. And there’s a children’s garden, with bug hotel, wild flower planting- and even a willow den.

Ellicar Gardens covers five acres and has been created over the past eight years by Sarah and her husband Will. The gardens open this Sunday February 25, 12-4pm for the NGS charity. There are other opening dates on the website. Adults £4.50, children free. Carr Road, Gringley-on-the- Hill, Doncaster, DN10 4SN. For more information : ngs.org.uk. Hodsock Priory is about 20 minutes drive away and the winter garden there is open until March 4th. Their last opening day is also in aid of the NGS.

Hodsock Priory .

Ellicar Gardens

Two happier pigs have never been seen! Just irresistible.

In a Vase on Monday- a peek inside my potting shed

This week I’ve potted up some prepared hyacinths. I started them off in a cold, dark potting shed in September. The bulbs were put through a cold treatment before I bought them – to trick them into thinking they had gone through winter. Putting them in a dark cupboard for 10 weeks completes the treatment. They grow fabulous roots in the dark and form a strong flower shoot. Some hyacinths were brought on in warmer conditions to flower for Christmas. But spare bulbs have been kept cold and dry to stagger the flowering display.

I grow them individually in 3″ pots. To create a display, I simply choose bulbs that have flower spikes about the same size.

I love the green edge on these Carnegie white hyacinths and the scent cheers up the potting shed. It’s a joy to work in there at the moment.

My grandfather Ted Foulds gave me these terracotta Sankey plant pots. I love using them and always think of him. Happy memories – I had a carefree childhood. For which I’m very grateful. They were simpler times then, when we made our own entertainment. Mud pie gardens, surrounded with stones and topped with flower heads. Making gardens in a biscuit tin lid, with tin foil ponds and tiny twig “trees.” Keeping snails as pets and feeding them lettuce; and great delight when the snails produced eggs, hatching into a family of miniature baby snails with translucent shells.

Here’s some hyacinths that have been flowering in the greenhouse for several weeks. They are such great value. Below, I’ve used foliage from the garden, dogwood stems, salix catkins and hazel lambs tails, with a single pink hyacinth flower and some double snowdrops.

And finally, in my mother-in-law Joan’s posy, there’s white hellebores, and the first daffodils, surrounded with ivy, and twigs and some green foliage which is actually a weed. It’s known as shepherd’s purse, and has tiny hearts all along the stem.

Thank you to Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden for hosting this meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and using for their flower arrangements this week. As you can see, you don’t have to use a vase. Any container will do.

I hope you enjoyed a peek inside my potting shed. Get in touch and let me know what you are growing.

Garden Restoration Plans for Holme Pierrepont Hall

There’s nothing more cheerful than turning up at a favourite garden to find everyone happy and smiling. This week I visited Holme Pierrepont Hall to find the owners and gardeners busy with renovation plans. Funds from a Heritage Lottery grant and the Country Houses Foundation means work can start on restoring garden walls which date back to the 16th century.

The funding will also enable research into the site’s history. During my tour of the gardens, I learned the topiary courtyard once housed aviaries for tropical birds, and a monkey house in the centre. I can’t wait to see what else is revealed when historical documents are studied by experts.

Built in 1500, the hall is thought to be the oldest brick building in Nottinghamshire and is still lived in by descendants of the Pierrepont family. Three generations of the family live here now, Robin and Elizabeth, Robert and Charlotte and their children Oliver and Cicely. Elizabeth, whose great grandmother was Lady Mary Pierrepont, moved here in 1969 and undertook some major restoration work in the house and garden. Today, the new conservation work is being led by Robert and Charlotte. And their enthusiasm is catching. It’s easy to get caught up in the optimistic atmosphere at Holme Pierrepont. They love their home, and genuinely enjoy sharing it with visitors. It’s heartening to hear plans to open on more days in the future. Currently the house and garden opens Sunday to Wednesday, February and March, and Sundays in April, 2-5pm. (Closed Easter Sunday). New for this year, there’s additional garden open days in May and June. Dates and times are on the website http://www.holmepierreponthall.com

As well as the courtyard, the hall is famous for its Spring Walk, featuring daphne, hamamelis, rhododendrons and acers, underplanted with hellebores, primula and masses of early bulbs. To help visitors identify the varieties, a guide has been produced and new signs installed in the garden.

Scent is important in the garden and mature hamamelis and daphnes are fabulous at this time of the year. This one is Daphne Jacqueline Postill.

There are several Hamamelis planted alongside the pathways. Hamamelis mollis, Diana and Westerstede, (pictured below) among them. It’s good to have a guidebook and new signs to be able to identify them correctly.

Snowdrops, these pictured below, are Galanthus Sam Arnott, are looking spectacular at the moment in the spring garden, and also in the Woodland Walk.

New signs direct you through the old walled orchard and on to the woodland where there’s also large drifts of wild Tulipa Sylvestris. These have been growing in the grounds since the 17th century. They were apparently first planted in the main garden, and then seemingly “thrown out” in to the woodland – where they’ve thrived.

It’s a peaceful walk, amongst the Jacob sheep, now occupying the walled orchard. There’s a possibility in the future these kitchen gardens might be restored.

The old walls curve around the orchard at the back of the hall. So many layers of history in those beautiful red bricks. I’d love to know what the research reveals about them.

There’s a circular walk around the woods, which were opened up to visitors in 2011. You’ll find evidence the family’s young children enjoy this space. There’s various dens and piles of sticks and vegetation made into bug hotels and wildlife habitats.

It’s inspiring to meet the gardeners and volunteers ( pictured below) and all the other experts working on the restoration project. Their enthusiasm and obvious love for this special place is evident. I was pleased to hear students from Brooksby College will be involved in the scheme, and will be learning conservation brickwork skills. I’m in favour of passing traditional skills on to young people. And opportunities like this are all too scarce today.

Until 29th April, visitors can view an art exhibition at the hall, made possible by the new funding. There are paintings by the last Countess Manvers, Marie-Louise Pierrepont, and also a relative, Georgina Brackenbury. Georgina, a militant suffragette, is renowned for her painting of Emmeline Pankhurst which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London. You can learn more about the exhibition at http://www.holmepierreponthall.com/georgina-brackenbury/.

Many thanks to Robert and Charlotte for inviting me to visit the hall and for taking the time to explain the plans. It’s an exciting time ahead and I wish them all the very best with their conservation project, preserving the garden for future generations- and visitors as well.

Contact details: http://www.holmepierreponthall.com e.mail: rplb@holmpierreponthall.com Tell: 0115 9332371

BBC Radio Leicester Gardeners’ phone-in recipes

CITRUS MARMALADE AND ORANGE FLAPJACK

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

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

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

ORANGE MARMALADE

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

1 lemon

4lb or 1.8kg granulated sugar, warmed

4 pints water

6 x 1lb jam jars

Square of muslin

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

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

ORANGE AND WALNUT FLAPJACK

250g or 9oz unsalted butter, chopped into pieces

250g or 9oz golden caster sugar

175g or 6oz golden syrup

425g or 15oz porridge oats

50g or 2oz walnut halves,slightly crushed.

Grated zest of 1 orange.

3 tbsp orange marmalade

160C gas / mark 4 for 30 minutes

28cm x 18cm shallow baking tin

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

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

End of Month View – January 2018

Reasons to be cheerful. The first spring lamb has been born in crossroads field at the bottom of our lane. It’s been a daily ritual, walking downhill to check on the flock. Each time, we are hopeful. And then today, we stand at the gate and scan the field. And there, by the hedge, one tiny white lamb. Newborn and softly steaming in early morning sunshine. A joy. A reassurance. After all the family illness of the past few months, worry and fretting, one tiny lamb sends a subliminal message- all will be well. The season moves on and the familiar sights and sounds of our daily life returns to normal. We have weathered the storm and spring is coming.

There’s been some catching up to do in the potting shed. Seed packets are inspected, catalogues perused, and a list produced. It’s a start. Little pots of snowdrops are dotted along the windowsill. I marvel at the variety of markings. Those little green hearts. I could quite easily become a galanthophile.

Hyacinths, set in a dark cupboard in September and brought out in December, are in full flower now. And what a scent! Carnegie, my favourite white variety, brightens the gloom.

On one glorious sunny day, with temperatures reaching 12 degrees, a red-tailed bumblebee sleepily blunders in through the shed door and buries itself in a potted hellebore. I gently shoo her out for fear she’ll be caught in a spiders web indoors. And at any rate, there’s plenty of pollen outside with sarcococca, viburnum and winter flowering honeysuckle in full flower.

Sarcococca humilis attracts bees – and hoverflies. These, I’m told are Eristalis hoverflies, mimicking a bee. They had me fooled.

On sunny days, the snowdrops have a wonderful honey scent. I must admit, I didn’t know this fact until a few years ago when I visited Easton Walled Gardens. We stood at the top of a sunny bank, and the fragrance drifted up. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Sadly, a dull wet day doesn’t produce the same scent. And many snowdrop garden visits since have been on cloudy days. So I’ll just have to hold on to that memory.

This is my “Hodsock” corner at home. Each year we visit Hodsock Priory and buy one little pot of snowdrops for a couple of pounds. It’s amazing how quickly they bulk up. It’s a nice reminder of a lovely day out.

The potting shed makes an ideal reading retreat. It’s so peaceful in there. High in the tops of the overhanging beech trees, songbirds are singing, staking their claim to spring territories. A cheeky robin is taking an interest in the shelving at the back of the shed. There will probably be a nest.

Thanks to Steve at Glebe House blog for hosting this meme and for encouraging me to write. Go over and have a look what his garden looks like at the end of the month and visit some of the others joining in, from all around the world. What signs of spring are you seeing in your gardens at the moment?

In a Vase on Monday- Sweet scented flowers and shrubs.

For the past few weeks my bedside table has contained little jam jars of water, into which small posies of “twigs” have been placed. Never have I been so grateful for a garden full of winter-flowering shrubs. For the twigs are smothered with tiny flowers- bursting with scent. Top of my list of favourites is Sarcococca Purple Stem, also known as sweet box. This one, in a pot by my front door, has shiny evergreen leaves and pink and white spidery flowers. A joy at any time between December and March, but particularly welcome when you are stuck in bed with the flu.

Here’s a quick peek in my potting shed. I’m sad to report that I’ve only managed to visit the potting shed twice since Christmas. Something I intend to remedy now that I’m up and about and almost, but not quite, back to normal.

The sugar pink flowers are Viburnum Dawn. In the centre there’s Hamamelis Jelena, and on the right, winter flowering honeysuckle, Lonicera purpusii. There’s also some daphne and to add more cheer, pussy willow catkins and hazel or corylus “lambs tails.” The Hamamelis was a bargain basement purchase for just a few pounds, but didn’t have any labels. Cathy – who hosts the IAVOM meme – writes about Hamamelis this week and I learned that Jelena is named after Mrs Jelena De Belder, and Diane is named after her daughter. You can read all about Cathy’s Hamamelis collection Here .

Covered with snow, it looks spectacular. The delicate scent is noticeable on a sunny day, or when twigs are brought into a warm room. I think the yellow- flowering Hamamelis have perhaps a stronger scent though.

Just getting into its stride is Daphne odora Aureomarginata. When fully open this will scent the whole garden and perfume will drift through open windows and in through the front door.

In my vase this week I’ve added some hellebore Jacob which has been in flower since mid- December. And also some hyacinths. These were prepared bulbs planted and put in a cold, dark cupboard in the potting shed for 10 weeks and then grown on in a polytunnel for another 22 days. Gradually I brought them into a warmer room as they came into flower. Slow, cool growing conditions ensures the flower bud forms properly, and prolongs the display.

I love the velvet blue colour and white edge. I’ll plant the bulbs out in the garden when I’ve harvested the flowers.

Here’s a pot I forgot about. I’ve only just taken it out of the dark cupboard and you can see the bulbs are really well rooted. The roots are climbing out of the sides. And the flower spikes are well formed. These are going to be pure white. Something to look forward to over the coming weeks, a good two or three months before the ones in the garden start to flower.

Hiding amongst the flowers are some stems of Pelargonium Tomentosum from the heated greenhouse. The hairy leaves have a lovely fresh minty scent when they are crushed.

On my potting shed window are little terracotta pots of honey-scented snowdrops, flowering a few weeks earlier than the ones in the ground. The Sankey pots came from my Grandad Ted Foulds. I love to use them and think that he held them in his hands. It’s a reminder of happy times. He loved visiting my garden each week and giving me hints and tips on what to grow and how. I still miss him. But I have his garden tools and his plant pots. And my whole garden is planted with little seedlings and divisions from his garden. So I feel as if he is still here with me really, keeping an eye on me and my family. I like to think so anyway.

Thank you to Cathy for hosting IAVOM meme. Go over and have a look at what Cathy is putting in her vase this week, and then have a look what others are growing and cutting from their gardens – all around the world. It’s a fascinating story and one I love being a part of.

Blackcurrant Cheesecake

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

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

Blackcurrant Cheesecake

500g packet of digestive biscuits

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

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

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

1/4pint or 142ml double cream.

3oz or 85g sugar. 1/4 cup

Juice and rind of one lemon

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

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

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

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

Growing Blackcurrants

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

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

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

End of Month View December 2017

Tucked up in bed with the flu, I have my i-pad balanced on a heap of rugs. I am shivering like a new born lamb. My garden in December isn’t making me feel any warmer. Snow features in most of the photos. I won’t attempt to add too many words. I doubt they would make much sense at the moment. I just want to send a cheery wave to you and wish you a wonderful, Happy New Year. Wishing all your dreams for a peaceful, happy and prosperous new year come true. Much love- karen xx

Luckily, just when I need some cheer, there’s viola odorata flowering at the garden gate. A much loved cutting from my Grandfather Ted Foulds. They are all over my garden now. A happy reminder of such a lovely man.

By the front door there’s more flowers. Iris unguicularis. A reliable winter-flowering joy.

There’s plenty of Paperwhite Narcissi. I planted them in tall glass vases for Christmas. I wrote about them Here .

And then there was snow. And -7C temperatures. Our windswept top of the hill garden took a battering. Here’s the frozen pond.

View through the pergola to the shady shelter.

And the view from the end of the garden.

Looking towards the village

Trees on the ridge. A favourite view.

And after all that snow, here’s what I’m hoping for in 2018- lots of colour; roses and peonies, tulips and daffodils and cut flowers galore!

The scent! Roses from my plot and a wreath for the summerhouse.

Thanks to Steve at glebehouse garden for hosting this meme. Go over and see what others are posting for their end of month view.

Enjoy your New Year’s celebrations! Much love- karen xx

In a Vase on Monday – Happy Christmas everyone!

Wishing you all a wonderfully happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Anyone visiting Bramble Garden this week would have found me covered in flour. Mince pies emerged from the oven at regular intervals. Hot pies disappeared before they had time to cool. In between all that cooking, I dashed around the garden gathering armfuls of foliage; sprigs of rosemary, Scott’s pine, some wild Clematis and willow; and wove them into wreaths.

I added some dried hydrangea flowers. I love the faded antique pink and cream hues. And some willow stems with the grey catkins just starting to emerge. A welcome sign that spring is just around the corner.

I twisted some Clematis Montana stems into a circle and decorated our five bar gate. Some festive cheer for anyone walking along our country lane on Christmas and Boxing Day. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas holiday. Thank you as always to Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden for the IAVOM meme. I always love to see what you are all growing and using for flower arrangements, all around the world. So many inspiring ideas. Meanwhile, I’m off to make some more mince pies. It is Christmas, after all!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last minute Christmas Present Ideas for Gardeners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wrote about my trial composter Here.

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

Recipes include Plum, Orange and Ginger Blondies. Delicious!

There’s knitting and crochet scarves to create.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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