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Shrubs for Cutting

April 24, 2017

These were rounded-up for a friend’s new baby and it made me think about a list of useful shrubs for picking throughout the year. Herbaceous plants and bulbs have been available in the garden for a simple vase most weeks but there’s always a need to keep ahead.

Viburnum opulus ‘Roseum’ (syn. ‘Sterile’) is the round yellow flower-head here in the vase although the flowers are described as white.  Three more plants of this variety were added to the garden recently in anticipation of mass pickings and all are flowering. You don’t have to wait long from newly planted but be aware they grow rapidly. A garden that’s visible from my desk has a huge plant measuring 5 m tall and it would require scaffold to pick the huge number of flowers.  Below is one that I was given two years ago from a cutting and it’s now 2 m tall and full of flowers but regular picking will keep the plant in check.

Lilacs can be purchased as shrubs or small trees and this white lilac tree was planted six years ago and flowered properly for the first time last year. It’s a good size for a town garden and this Spring it’s again full of scented flowers.

It’s useful to grow plants that can add bulk to vases and Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Paterson’ is one such. It’s a slow-growing evergreen shrub with rounded, undulate leaves opening white, becoming dark green speckled with white and often tinged pink in winter. Fragrant deep purple flowers are produced rather sparsely from mid-Spring with a surprisingly pretty scent. It makes a good filler for picking with tulips.

Rosmarinus officinalis is not only essential to have for cooking it also provides an interesting upright form in a mixed border of perennials and roses. Picked with grey santolina, helichrysum, artemisia and roses it makes a great scented posy in Spring and Summer.

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Another favourite shrub is Rosa glauca (synonym. R. rubrifolia).  It’s dark grey foliage is suffused with pinky-blue that reflects the intense pink of the rose flower. It has the added bonus of hips in Autumn.

Hydrangeas- in my opinion any and all are worth growing. A favourite is Hydrangea ‘Madame Emile Moulliere’ which has compact dense cream flowers.

I picked more lilac and viburnum for the house and since the container was tall the stems of the Viburnum opulus stayed upright.  They can droop though if not supported so it’s best to pick the stems long, plunge into water and then reduce them to about 25 cm before putting them in a vase.


A recipe new to me for Vegan cherry and almond brownies was a hit at the weekend.

Galvanised Planters

April 17, 2017



These generous-sized  galvanised planters from Ikea are rather good value. Four holes had to be punched in the base for drainage and then they were planted up with Euphorbia robbiae and Molinia  caerulea ‘Subsp. Caerulea variegata’. Both these plants have spread all over the garden and will be perfect for my daughter’s decked courtyard garden which is in part-shade. 

The flower bed next to the allotment shed is awash with Ajuga reptans ‘Atropurpurea’.   It’s mingling with acid yellow Euphorbia myrsinites and they look gorgeous together. Since the tulips are over I’ve added bits of both to a few pots on the terrace. When they’ve finished flowering I plan to add the ajuga to the shady bed at the far end of the garden planting it around the primroses.

Coriander seeds sown twelve weeks ago have done really well in the greenhouse. A polystyrene trough was going free outside a fish restaurant and it has made a great growing space.

Spinach beet has been cropping all Winter but will shortly be going to seed so more rows have now been sown.

A new recipe for Easter Marmalade and Chocolate Tart…

..for those times when you need a pudding as indulgent as it is quick to throw together.

Serves 8
For the base
400g milk chocolate digestives
100g unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing

For the filling
5 tbsp rough cut marmalade
300ml double cream
200g milk chocolate, broken into small chunks
100g dark chocolate, broken into small chunks

1 Grease a 20cm loose bottomed tart tin with butter.

2 Put the biscuits into a food processor and blitz until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add the melted butter and blitz again, until the crumbs start to clump together.

3 Put the biscuit mixture into the greased tart tin. Press down the mixture with the back of a spoon, so that it evenly compacts in the tin and up the sides. Put the base in the fridge to set for at least 1 hour.

4 Once the base has set, spoon in 4 tbsp of the marmalade, and evenly spread it out.

5 Put the chocolate into a large, heat- proof bowl, then pour the cream into a pan and put on a medium heat until it starts to bubble. Remove the cream from the heat and pour gently and slowly over the chocolate. Whisk the cream and chocolate mixture, until all the chocolate has melted, and the mixture comes together.

6 Pour the mixture on top of the tart base, spooning over the last 1 tbsp of marmalade and swirling through when you are done.

7 Put the tart in the fridge to set, for at least 3 hours, before slicing and serving. This keeps well in the fridge for 2-3 days.


A pot of Spring flowers gathered from the garden.


April 10, 2017

When rhubarb plants are divided up they can take a couple of years to re-established but three years on I have a fine crop.  Here’s a fab recipe for Rhubarb, Cardamom and Rose jam from Diana Henry’s excellent book Salt, Sugar, Smoke. The subtle flavour of cardamom and the intense flavour of rose water is a stunning combination and I have cropped the rest of the rhubarb to make more. has some good ides for using rhubarb especially the meringue pudding recipe.

A reminder from a stall in Jerusalem to sow radishes, Spring onions and more flat-leaf parsley this week. The seeds will be sown in labelled rows directly into raked soil that will have been gently watered.

Broccoli ‘Rudolph’ seeds sown two weeks ago in a pot are now in individual plugs to establish strong roots. This will begin to crop in September but is at its very best from November to February. My Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants have been cropping since Mid-March and it will be good to bridge the gap with this earlier one next Autumn/Winter.

Verbena bonariensis plants needed cutting back months ago – they were nearly a metre tall. With lots of new green side shoots all the way up the plant I was reluctant to waste them. So I snipped off the shoots and dipped the ends in hormone rooting powder and 8 weeks on they have formed good roots. There’s plenty of time to do this if you wish to propagate from older plants since they grow fast when planted in the soil and flower late summer till early Winter.

I was glad not to have missed Tulip ‘Bruine Wimpel’ whilst away and it goes well with the lime-green of Euphorbia robbiae.



Beautiful Resistance

April 5, 2017

These images are of the Separation Wall in Bethlehem that marks the borders that Israel has built to mark the land it claims to be its own.

Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel left us with mixed feelings about this attention-attracting project. It is built in Bethlehem, right next to the 9m high wall in an Israeli-controlled C zone – an area where Palestinians are denied planning permission to build homes or offices. We were left wondering whether the hotel’s proximity to the wall will bring more awareness of the political situation to visitors?

The good thing about the building was an excellent exhibition space for Palestinian artists. Anisa Ashkar’s work used marker pen, oil, tar and ink to create very powerful images and Banksy’s video on the history of the politics was clear and concise.

And in the other gallery – that is the actual wall – work by the Palestinian artist Benji.

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Many of the lock-up shops in the souk in the town of Hebron are empty and the entire culture of trade that Arabs have relied on for centuries is steadily being denied. The inhabitants in the nearest settlements lob detritus into the souk which is protected (of sorts) by a mesh roof over the ancient walkways. A closer look at the top of the image shows the stinking rubbish that is renewed daily.

A walk from Nebi Musa South of Jericho took us round precipitous rocks whilst a constant flow of water from springs fed into the Wadi Qelt. A Bedouin shepherd passed us leading his herd of goats to drink whilst rock Hyrax bellowed across the valley. Masses of wild flowers filled the landscape and the occasional trees provided shelter from the heat of the sun.

The route led us past the St George Monastery, a cliff hanging complex carved into the rock wall of the Judaean dessert. At the base was an unexpectedly lush garden with olive trees, oleander and cypresses.

We walked in the most beautiful and timeless landscape that allowed us to experience open skies in a space with no walls, no barriers and where nothing had changed in centuries.

Finally a walk late afternoon led us towards the Dead Sea…

… to a Bedouin community for an overnight stay.

The Bedouin family greeted us warmly with the words ‘You are welcome’ as did all the Palestinians that we met.

Our trip was organised by Siraj Centre an excellent travel agency that made it possible for us to walk through rural Palestine. We were able to explore its natural beauty, history, culture, cuisine whilst being welcomed by authentic Palestinian hospitality along the way.

In Bethlehem Abdelfattah Abusrour the founder of the Alrowwad Centre for Culture and Arts in the Aida refuge camp talked about their work with young refugees. It provides dynamic community arts projects, promoting the cultivation of creativity as an alternative to violence. They call it ‘beautiful, non-violent resistance’ to empower children, young people and women. As well as offering a child-centred, safe and inclusive space, the programme uses creative opportunities as a platform through which individuals can build in confidence.  They express themselves and tell their stories through theatre, dance, music, photography and film.

‘As Palestinians we don’t have the luxury of despair-we choose Beautiful Resistance’

A Taste of Palestine

March 23, 2017

In anticipation of a trip to the Levant I felt it was essential to familiarise myself with some recipes so I started with these savoury Za’atar buns.

I found them in Joudie Kalla’s cookbook Palestine on a Plate where she says for displaced Palestinians, food is a means of connecting with their culture.  Since the occupation food has taken on huge importance and her book is full of tempting yet simple recipes cooked for generations past. Rummaniyeh – a combination of pomegranates, lentils, aubergine, garlic and lemons – will become a favourite.


Slowly climbing up the wall, not me, the ornamental quince Chaenomeles japonica has been in flower since early January.  Fruit occasionally appear but are never edible but the subtle orange/red of the flowers is why I love it against the grey stone wall.

The sweet peas sown in November and kept in the poly tunnel, have had their tips pinched out and are now in the ground. And the purple peas are also planted out to free up shelves in anticipation of serious sowing on my return. A net will be draped over the bamboo frame in a week or two to give them support on their journey up.

Tulip Belle Epoch and T. Bruine Wimpel are bursting into flower and look great in these black pots.

And whilst I was in the garden snapping the tulips a robin let me know that the bird feeder was empty.

The Climbers are Taking Off

March 17, 2017

An Akebia quinata planted last summer with the aim of replacing the rose over the arbour has rocketed up one of the rebar posts. The plan is to reduce a major part of the Rosa lutea which covers the arbour but to leave enough of it to grow through the balconies on the first floor and down the steps. It’s a stunning rose and is about to flower with thousands of small buds soon to open over the next few weeks. It provides great shelter as a green canopy in the summer but the powder yellow flowers last for just two weeks and it sheds leaves for six months of the year.

The akebia will eventually provide the same shelter from the sun and will be a much softer plant to clamber up the structure. I planted two and the other one, whilst less vigorous, is now in flower and is a very pretty dark plum. Here it is picked for the kitchen table and I love the delicate leaves as much as the flowers.  I expect to be waiting some time to get full cover over the arbour but doing it in stages will lessen the trauma of the loss of the rose.

Prostrate rosemary has been blooming since January and has proved difficult to capture in a photo (it bleaches out to a cloud).  It sits in a tall terracotta pot at the bottom of the steps looking very pretty behind the Akebia quinata.

Clematis armandii is in a similar terracotta pot and struggles a bit to climb through the railings on the steps.  Ideally it should be in the ground which will involve lifting a paving slab and some hard-core before filling the space with rich soil.

Hydrangea petiolaris is almost an ever-green climber. It sheds leaves in December then within ten weeks it is back in leaf with new flower buds emerging. 

On the allotment there’s less of a vegetable gap than usual for this time of year with Purple Sprouting Broccoli, flat-leaf parsley, spinach and a row of young pointed cabbages to crop. I have wanted to make this cabbage recipe for weeks so I finally did and it was great with pork sausages.  I found that the quartered cabbage needed six minutes to blanch (rather than the 2-3 mins suggested). The griddling achieved a fabulous smoky flavour.

And surely the last vase of hellebore flowers …


March 9, 2017

The potatoes are chitting and I have to confess I’ve planted the Charlottes. It’s a bit early but I googled the weather for the next ten days and it is forecast to be mild. They are planted in ground that had been protected all winter with a tarpaulin and after planting I covered the bed with a clear polythene sheet. I felt guilty for the planted  tubers on the way home but with a busy month coming up I am taking a chance to get ahead. Last year the potatoes went in early and yes they were hit by frost, the blackened leaves proved it, but they were unharmed as a crop.

The Purple Sprouting Broccoli,  protected from pigeons with a net curtain, has just started to sprout and will fill a definite hungry gap.

The broad beans are in and more have been sown in a pot to spread the crop over a month or two. They were covered in netting when Storm Doris was hurtling towards us and it will be taken off this weekend.

This sweet potato and lentil soup was a delicious mid-week lunch.  The fried garlic, onion and root ginger intensifies the sweetness whilst the curry powder contributes a spicy hit with a bit of heat. No coriander in the fridge so I substituted pea shoots and sprinkled them over the top.

Probably this is the last blog about hellebores for now but they’ve been such a joy and even in their faded glory they add a huge amount to the late Winter/early Spring borders. I shall continue to cut them for the house for the next two weeks then hopefully the tulips will follow.