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Apple and Cinnamon Muffins

November 20, 2015


With some Bramley apples needing to be cooked I made apple and cinnamon muffins.  These were prompted by Sophie’s recipe and were a delicious treat.

There’s very little to pick in the garden for the first time in months but the Kaffir lily, one of three planted only four weeks ago, has saved the day.


Another plant in flower is a pineapple sage. This herb I grow mainly for its fresh green-scented leaves and compact form.


Its pot was needed to take the Osmanthus fragrans but it was carefully re-planted at the base of the shrub and within days it looked as if it had been there forever. It’s very long-suffering and even put forth these pretty red flowers. It’s next to the house wall outside the kitchen so hopefully will survive winter.


My experiment spraying cut fatsia flowers with silver paint worked but only for four days. Since then the flowers and stems have collapsed and are looking very un-festive. If the flowers remain healthy on the plant then I shall try again and I’ll pick them a day or two before Christmas to spray back and front with silver or gold.



On the allotment  the garlic and onions are through the soil with their green shoots making a welcome sign of life. We’ve had really heavy rain for the last three weeks and the ground is sodden so I worry that the weather may be against them.

And I picked the last of the cosmos before the temperature drops this weekend …


Scented Tulips

November 13, 2015

A gorgeous present of Sarah Raven’s scented tulips came my way this week beautifully wrapped in a hessian sack tied with a pink ribbon.


The weather is due to change so I got ahead and planted Tulip ‘Orange Favourite’ with Tulip ‘Brown Sugar’ in one huge terracotta pot and Tulip ‘Ballerina’ in another.

It meant lifting the Scabiosa ‘Butterfly Blue’ which, after five months of non-stop blooms and regular visits from bees, had recently stopped flowering.


The clump was easy to pull apart and ten small plants are now potted up in 9 cm pots to be over-wintered in the pop-up greenhouse.


In the border three plants of Helleborus augustifolia are flowering early.


As is a stately evergreen Fatsia japonica adding height and drama to a shady corner of the garden.

The cream flowers are challenging to use in a vase so I picked a bunch and sprayed them with silver thinking ahead to Christmas decorations. They’ll be checked over in the next few weeks and if they survive then the rest of the flowers can be sprayed silver and gold.


I forgot to post a scented plant for October but conveniently Rosa ‘Iceberg’ is having a second flush with its beautiful flowers and delicate sent.  It’s a pure white rose but looks palest pink in the fading light which triggered the street light at four in the afternoon.


The cut flowers this week are the leaves of the fern Polystichum setiferum, Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’ and the last of an un-named cream hydrangea flower.DSCN5670

Book Review: Grow Your Own Wedding Flowers by Georgie Newbery

November 5, 2015

A few years back I offered to help a friend with the flowers for her wedding.  This included the bride’s posy plus bouquets for three bridesmaids and the buttonholes for three. There were two large displays needed for the lovely country church and pew-end posies for the end of the first twelve pews. A hundred guests were to be seated at four long trestles for the wedding feast and these tables needed to share two dozen  simple table decorations. With access to my trade account at a flower importer the bill for the flowers and foliage cost about a thousand pounds. The experience was good but left me feeling that a wedding florist would have been entirely justified in charging at least three times that amount.

All the flowers were in peak condition and most of the chosen species were ordered specifically to arrive at the importers three days before the wedding day. We were organised with containers weeks ahead and we’d chosen the colour themes months before this summer wedding. I had three assistants and we assembled all day on the thursday and friday before the wedding on the saturday. The flowers looked wonderful and aside from some last minute stress levels we were very pleased and I would do it again.

So when Georgie Newbery’s latest book Grow Your own Wedding Flowers arrived in the post I asked myself if I’d ever consider actually growing the flowers for such a celebration. Having immersed myself in her book, and with a passion for growing cut flowers on the allotment, I’ve concluded that I certainly would albeit only for a close family member.


As an experienced artisan flower farmer and florist Newbery has all the knowledge required to plan ahead and to anticipate the challenges.  The book caters for a wedding designed around a bride and groom and three bridesmaids, a hundred guests at ten tables plus both sets of parents and one best man and one usher. From this model you can make your calculations scaled up or down depending on the size of your own celebration.

Once you know the season of the wedding and the approximate number of guests a key consideration of course is how much growing space you’ll require. From day one you’ll also need to know roughly how many stems for each display and from that you’ll work backwards to what size beds to prepare. Newbery  provides ball-park numbers to roughly guide what’s required for each arrangement. An area measuring 1 m wide by 3.5 m that can be scaled up x 3 should be enough space to grow for a hundred guest wedding party.  This stem counting formula covers table posies and pedestal arrangements for the church and reception plus the bride’s bouquet and bridesmaids’ posies and five buttonholes. Foliage she says can be rounded up from the garden of friends and relatives and will need to be identified as available as early as possible.IMG_5305

With that in mind she suggests a mood board as a practical first project to gather ideas and to help settle on a colour theme.  Newbery provides a guide to seasonal flower combinations and these lists are essential at the early planning stage and the mood board can then be built up from this guide. She says there’s no point in saving lovely images of peonies if your wedding is in winter or relying on hydrangeas if you are planning a spring wedding.

She’s aware that any stress is to be avoided and I endorse her suggestion that the bridal bouquet, bridesmaids’ posies and buttonholes could if you choose be made by a professional florist. This then leaves you to simply focus on growing the flowers for the table displays, church and reception and that would surely encourage anyone tempted to have a go. These lovely table posies would look pretty even plonked in jam jars…IMG_3043

If you like a challenge and are prepared to follow some simple guidelines then it’s possible to save a fortune both on wedding flowers and on air miles.  You’ll have the satisfaction of creating something really beautiful and personal for a very special day.

Even if you aren’t tempted to grow for a wedding there’s a huge amount of advice to be gained on growing cut flowers for other celebrations. Pages of inspiring seasonal images has prompted me to sow many more flower varieties on the allotment next year. To pre-order a signed copy of this gorgeous book go to Common Farm Flowers

Strawberry Runners

October 30, 2015

The strawberry bed is four years old and it needs serious attention dotted as it is with couch grass and other weeds. The fruit declines after four or five years but can easily be renewed by propagating healthy young runners in late summer. Strawberries do this quite naturally on their own (helped by pegging down) but on the allotment they’ve spread onto the paths and the beds are crowded out with both old and new plants. So in August I selected 14 of the best disease-free parent crowns and from these I cut four runners each – about 56 plants in total and brought them home to pot up into 9 cm pots of fresh compost. The plantlets will stay in their pots until spring when they’ll be planted in rows at the end of the extended strawberry bed. These can then be identified as the youngest plants in the bed and will need to have their flowers pinched off to stop them fruiting and to get further established. Any of the really old parent plants will be discarded but there should be enough strawberries from last year’s runners  for picking next summer…DSCN5665


Talking of berries there’s a profusion of juicy red ones on the half-standard holly tree in the garden. This is meant to be a sign of a very cold winter to come…DSCN5661

This week the cut flowers are nasturtiums …


Know Your Onions

October 22, 2015

I planted 100 Sen Shyu Yellow onions last weekend in the beds that had previously grown beetroot and salad leaves. Japanese onion sets are great for Autumn planting and should be planted in ground that has not been recently fertilised.  And three garlic bulbs were split to give 24 cloves and were planted in the bed that had contained early potatoes. The garlic crop was brilliant this year and I have enough stored to take me into next spring. A large bundle of spring greens were rounded up at the garden centre and planted in the brassica bed to add to the cabbages.

The Brussels sprouts are such handsome plants and growing a pace in time for Christmas…DSCN5620

I moved two mature shrubs this week that were planted for their scent three years ago. The Viburnum  bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and Osmanthus fragrans came out of the ground relatively easily with just a bit of forking and tugging for the final roots.  They were then re-planted into deep containers either side of the kitchen door. Here they are…



I was feeling very pleased for getting instant form from these mature plants and for freeing up a bed for roses and herbaceous plants. Two days later on a cold and windy afternoon I planted the onion and garlic and ticked off all these projects for Autumn. Since then I have barely been able to move with excruciating back pain and am dosed up on all manner of pain-killers. The lesson I think is all things in moderation especially when working in damp and chilly weather.

There’s a firework display from Amelanchier canadensis at the end of the garden…


It was a good summer for Agapanthus and I’ve left the flower heads on several pots of this gorgeous plant. The extraordinary flowers look very dramatic at night when the security light comes on…

Meanwhile the cosmos and nasturtiums continue to bloom…DSCN5624

Greening Up Urban Areas

October 15, 2015


This extraordinary planted walkway in Peckham S.E. London …

choumert square (1)


…is a no-through lane linking two terraces of about twenty-three cottages facing each other and with pedestrian access only. Every household has amassed plants and planters on the patch of land outside of each front door resulting in a leafy oasis in the heart of Peckham…DSCN5509

Huge pots of hydrangea…DSCN5525

…nestled next to pots of Gaura lindheimeri…


Lovely African daisies spilled out of planters at ground level the flowers offset by their deep green leaves…DSCN5526

Arches covered the walkway adorned with various climbers…


Pots of red pelargonium mingled with bright orange nasturtiums and could well survive the winter in the shelter of such intense planting… …


And Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Joubert’ glowed in the shade…


This is the view through the metal gate on the pavement…


We would adore to achieve something similar here in the lane at the back of our terraced houses but the tarmac road has vehicle access. However I am increasing my simple planters outside the back door (I added another two this week) and I’m now hugely inspired by Choubert Square to get our lane as green and leafy as possible.

On the allotment the last of the runner beans have been picked in their papery pods and the roots left in the ground to absorb nitrogen. Cooked for 20 minutes the podded beans make a great salad with flat-leaf parsley and tomatoes…


DSCN5574Two lovely late sunflowers Helianthus ‘Earth Walker’ grown from seed from higgledygarden were added to a vase with Salvia elegans ‘Pineapple sage’, achilleas, cosmos and scabious…


Defeating Slugs and Snails

October 8, 2015

Determined to get more colour in the beds for September/October I started a major overhaul of the bed I rejigged this spring. The herbaceous plants chosen last May/June were seriously demolished by slugs living in the old stone walls. Survivors were Verbena bonariensis, Aquilegias and Festuca glauca so these will be increased by division and cuttings.  Japanese anemone hybrida ‘Max Vogel’ seems resistant to slugs and snails so five 9cm pots of these will go near the wall…


And because I needed to get going in the glorious weather last week I bought a container-grown shrub rose from David Austin on-line (rather than wait for bare-root in six weeks time).  Rosa ‘Munstead Wood’ arrived in a huge carton with the deep plastic pot secured at the base and with instructions to keep the box upright.  These instructions had been followed to the letter and it arrived in perfect condition and in full flower and it’s completely wonderful and I am delighted …


The fall is upon us so time to bag up the leaves for leaf mould next year. I retrieved six bags from behind the garden shed from last Autumn and it was rich and moist and ready to cover the cleared beds around the newly planted rose…


On a role in the glorious sunshine, fifty Allium bulbosum bulbs were planted since it was the best thing in the garden for many weeks this summer…

allium pflo nigrum rvroger (1)

And 20 Allium siculum bulbs were planted in the new bed …

aalium siculum

…to come up around the new rose and around the existing Rosa glauca…

Rosa_glauca_img_2726And five more clumps of white cyclamen were planted under the Amelanchier trees…


I’ve been loving the view through the kitchen window with a neighbour’s Virginia creeper lounging over the back wall.  I wanted nothing more than that colour in the house and mixed the leaves with Amelanchier canadensis in pretty glasses…DSCN5540


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