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/

The Wild Remedy- Book Review

A Diary. How Nature Mends Us.

Emma Mitchell

Michael O’Mara Books. Hardback £14.99

ISBN: 978-1-78929-042-4

It’s entirely appropriate for a review of Emma Mitchell’s diary The Wild Remedy to appear here on Valentine’s Day. For Emma’s beautiful new book is a love letter to nature.

In almost 200 pages, Emma walks with us through woodland and the quiet country lanes of her Cambridge home. Through her eyes, we see wild flowers, birds and wildlife, bees and insects. It’s an inspiring and joyful journey. Her commentary is like taking a walk with a friend. She’s talking about how she feels and I’m nodding agreement at her side. Sometimes I find myself mumbling soft words of comfort and encouragement.

It’s a personal journey, written from the heart. Emma has suffered from depression for the past 25 years. Her response to illness is to walk, taking photographs and drawing what she sees. As I follow her journey, I’m hoping she finds solace in the beauty around her, in being outdoors in fresh air and sunshine. And although she never simplifies the struggles of depression and mental illness, Emma shines a light on her own discoveries, detailing how her encounters with nature significantly influence her mental well-being. Emma touches on new research into natural remedies, how nature affects our neurochemistry, for example.

Fortunately, I’ve never suffered from depression. But I’ve watched friends and relatives suffer, and felt lost and helpless to know what to do for the best. Alongside the medical treatments available, we are all realising that maybe nature has more to offer. Reconnecting with nature might be the salve we need as life becomes more pressured and stressful.

It can only be a good thing to take time to stop, look about us, and appreciate the beauty of simple things; watching the birds, finding a feather, turning over a smooth stone in our hands. Simple things. Powerful as any medicine, maybe.

The publishers have kindly offered one book free for a prize draw. Please comment below to be included. There’s no cash alternative and the publisher’s decision is final. The publishers will randomly pull a name out of a hat and will send the book direct from their offices.

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to share this review on any social media platform. The pictures above are my camera phone photos from Emma’s book.

Links :

The Wild Remedy contains 100 hand-drawn illustrations and 35 colour photographs.

The Wild Remedy https://www.amazon.co.uk/Wild-Remedy-Nature-Mends-Diary/dp/1789290422.

I wrote about Emma’s book, Making Winter here: https://bramblegarden.com/2017/12/16/last-minute-christmas-present-ideas-for-gardeners/

About Emma Mitchell https://silverpebble.net/about-me

About Michael O’Mara Books https://www.mombooks.com/

In a Vase on Monday-February 4th 2019

I’m starting to miss sunshine and warm weather. I’m muffled up with coat, scarves, gloves, two pairs of socks, and still the cold seeps in. There’s been such a cold wind. The ground is frozen and the pond iced over. And yet, mooching about looking for something cheerful, I find chinodoxa- untroubled by the cold, the colour of Mediterranean skies. A little bit of hope.

A circle of silver birch twigs makes a pretty background for spring flowers. I just twist the branches like rope and tie the ends together. I’m trying not to use florists’ foam as it’s currently not recyclable. I’ve found a solution. A friend sent me a box of orchids, each one with a 7cm test tube of water, keeping them fresh. Recycling them, I twist a piece of wire around the necks and stick them in amongst the twiggy coils. Topped with moss, and hidden with ivy, no one will know they are there. I just have to top up the water each morning, and at the same time, add fresh flowers as I please. The wreath here was made on Saturday with wild clematis -old man’s beard- ivy and winter flowering honeysuckle lonicera fragrantissima. It survived high winds, mostly. Silver honesty lasted a day, then blew into the back field hedge where it glistens like a tiny mirror. And the star-like cow-parsley seed heads have gone. It’s an arrangement that changes with the weather. I like that. It’s real life. A reflection of what’s happening in my garden today.

So this morning, I’ve picked some snowdrops and chinodoxa and added them to the arrangement. Chinodoxa known as “glory of the snow” seems untroubled by the cold north wind. Such a delicate flower, and yet so hardy.

To add my own sunshine, I’ve found some aconites, Eranthis hyemalis. We called these gold coins when we were growing up.

Snowdrops nestle amongst the foliage. I bought the single variety , galanthus nivalis, from Easton Walled Gardens. A little bit of history now growing in my wild garden. There’s been a garden at Easton for at least 400 years. A renovation project started almost 20 years ago, has rescued the garden for future generations to enjoy. The double snowdrops came from Hodsock Priory. Another favourite place to visit with my Mum.

My wreath sits above the doors on our 1930s turntable summerhouse. We’ve turned our backs to the wind and swung the summerhouse around to face the wild garden. There’s wild garlic thriving on the right, under the willow. I’m really pleased to see snowdrops I planted three years ago starting to form little clumps. How long, I wonder, before the scene is a sea of white. I shall have to wait and see.

Links :

I’m joining Cathy for her IAVOM meme. https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/2019/02/04/in-a-vase-on-monday-skinny/

Chonodoxa https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/chionodoxa/chionodoxa-violet-beauty

Eranthis https://www.gee-tee.co.uk/bulbs/bulbs-in-the-green/eranthis-hyemalis-winter-aconite

Easton Walled Gardens https://www.visiteaston.co.uk/

Hodsock Priory snowdrops http://www.hodsockpriory.com/about-us/the-gardens/snowdrops/

NGS snowdrop gardens to visit https://www.ngs.org.uk/find-a-garden/snowdrop-gardens/

Lonicera fragrantissima https://www.rhs.org.uk/Plants/68665/i-Lonicera-fragrantissima-i/Details

A walk around my garden 2nd January 2019

Cyclamen Coum. A cheering sight in a quiet corner of the wild garden. Perhaps I’ve missed my chance to clear away fallen cow parsley stems. They will just have to compost down naturally with the autumn leaves- which also didn’t get raked up last year. Time just evaporated.

I found hibernating ladybirds. They are welcome here. I hope they’ll munch the greenfly in the summer. I left them undisturbed.

And early snowdrops. Mrs Macnamara, bought from a sale at Hodsock Priory a few years ago. There seems to be an early flowering seedling too. I wonder if it’s a new variety.

Hellebores seem to get earlier every year. A sign of our changing unpredictable seasons.

Algerian Iris unguicularis suddenly flowers. Baked at the base of a south facing wall, it’s always a heart-sing moment. Such delicate blue flowers. How can they survive the cold.

Vinca, periwinkle is rarely out of flower. I love the sky blue hue – against a grey sky.

By the front gate, and all along our hawthorn hedge, there’s violets. Such a joy on a cold day. The scent is something you’ll never forget.

Thanks to Helen for hosting #EOMV meme at https://patientgardener.wordpress.com/. What’s flowering in your garden at the start of the new year?

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.

In a Vase on Monday. White and Green.

A slide show of flowers from my garden. Paperwhite narcissi, Hellebore Jacob Royal, white heather, Ice Princess. Variegated pittosporum, hebe, juniper, ivy, conifers, Mossy green apple twigs, woven in.

It’s 12C today. No wonder the Paperwhites won’t wait until Christmas. I’ve planted more, a fortnight apart in 10″ pots in the poly tunnel.

There’s still some bees and hoverflies about. But the wasps have stopped coming. They left an empty paper nest in the long grass in the wild garden. We knew they were there and kept a respectful distance. We’ve had no trouble with aphids all summer; wasps have zoomed in and feasted on them with relish.

Dusk seems to descend all of a sudden. One moment I am mooching in the greenhouse, the next I’m plunged into darkness. I’ve strung some mouldable wire fairy lights through the lemon trees. They make little heat and will only be left on for an hour or so. Enough to cheer me through the gloom of December days to come.

Winter sunsets are glorious though. I stay out until the very last minute. Hopefully, I’ll spot a tawny owl before it’s time to go indoors.

Thanks to Cathy https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/ for this IAVOM meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and arranging this week. Let me know what’s looking good in your garden at the moment too.

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?

The Bumblebee Flies Anyway

Book Review

Kate Bradbury. Published by Bloomsbury Wildlife. Hardback £16.99

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

REVIVE YOUR GARDEN book review

Nick Bailey. Photography by Jonathan Buckley

Kyle Books £25 Hardback. Published spring 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a path through there……

And there.

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

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