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Fresh Start

January 12, 2017

This week my recipe is celeriac and beetroot pickle which requires only 24 hours to mature. We ate it as a side with salmon steaks steamed on a bed of buttered leeks with basmati rice and it was a great combination.


It prompted a purchase of beetroot seeds in preparation for an early sowing session. Burpees Golden Globe is not one I’ve grown before and I love the intense colour.

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Babieto di Chioggia is an heirloom Italian variety that was grown around Venice in the C19. It has a mild flavour and these very pretty rings and can be eaten when young or stored for Winter.


Beetroot Boltardy is a favourite and I shall sow seeds of all three in compost from early March.

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And I am tempted to try growing celeriac although I was slightly put off when a very experienced plot holder held up three celeriac roots. Excited as he was at his first attempt they were still only the size of apples. Size isn’t everything but with the possibility of the badger rooting them out along with all other roots it will be a limited experiment. Apparently the leaves can be eaten too.Image result for celeriac seeds uk

Cuttings of Verbena bonariensis were taken three weeks ago and are looking healthy in the greenhouse.


I noticed that the watering can (left inside to reduce a cold water shock to the seedlings) had 5 cm of ice on the surface water last week. A heavy frost is forecast for this week so I am trying to reign in taking any more cuttings and will resist seed sowing for a good few weeks.


Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ growing in a very deep pot outside the kitchen door has just started to flower. I forfeited the tallest stem since it has reached the balcony on the next floor and is bashing against a trough. As the flower buds open in the warmth of the kitchen a delicious scent is filling the air.


Calm Winter Hues

January 4, 2017

The quieter colours at this time of year suit my mood and I find I am more than happy to wait for a change in temperature to stimulate the next stage in the garden. So I rounded up the only flowers I could find: the spent heads of Hydrangea petiolaris still clinging to the walls and some over-looked hydrangea flowers from late-summer found lurking under the bush. The burnt-out colours perfectly suited these copper-toned lustre ware jugs.


There are  small signs of Spring with Helleborus argutifolius about to burst into life. It would be cruel to pick the flowers but the foliage is a huge plus and makes me aware of the contribution leaves make to a garden.1-imgp1420

It’s the same with this Mahonia ‘Charity’ growing in the university grounds. Handsome, upright dramatic foliage with the added plus of scent similar to Lily of the Valley. Great for pollinating insects in Winter and followed by deep purple berries to attract birds in Spring. I really want to find room for this in my garden but it’s huge and deserves a generous space to show off its architectural beauty. No room here sadly so I shall take daily walks and admire it whilst inhaling deeply.


And although Sarcococca confusa (Sweet Box) isn’t very dramatic the scent from the tiny cream flowers certainly is. It makes it worthy of a space by the kitchen door and this year the black berries are enormously fat, shiny and juicy.


I have a drawer full of torn out recipes saved from the weekend papers and I plan to make one recipe a week for the coming year. My reckoning is that if I felt they were worthy of keeping then they are worthy of making so here we go. I am starting with Dan Lepard’s  Sopa de Ajo (Garlic Soup) to improve a very bad cold. I substituted sourdough bread for his soup bread and it’s delicious but I now can’t wait to make his over-night bread recipe on the same page.1-imgp1441

Talking of garlic January is a good month to plant providing the ground isn’t frozen solid. I experimented late-summer with a huge bunch of purple garlic brought back from the South of France but there’s no sign of life.

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Using a culinary garlic sometimes works but it depends on the source. Turkish or Eastern European bulbs might have adapted to cold weather but Southern French will have relied on baking sun and a drier climate.

Decorations From Nature

December 16, 2016

These gorgeous leaves arrived in the post lovingly made by the artist Susan Deakin. She had carefully and laboriously dried fresh Autumn leaves between newspaper then threaded the stems with black cotton. Here they are attached to the fire surround but I can imagine them draped along the length of the Christmas table.

Cutting back all the plants past their best in the garden I decided to pick the spent flowers of Japanese anemone hybrida ‘Honorine Jobert’. I love the pea-sized seed pods that sit at the end of the stems.
It started as a minimalist display and then by chance I gently squeezed a pod and it opened into this…
It’s very mild again in the South West and all the seedlings are thriving in the allotment greenhouse. So larkspur and Ammi majus seeds were sown into trays, this might of course provoke a sudden frost. But it’s snug and warm in the zip-up so further inspired I forked over the two beds either side of the central path and sowed coriander and rocket seeds.
And two trays of ‘Meteor’ peas have been sown in guttering…
and Robinson’s Purple podded peas have been ordered since they did so well last summer…

Wishing you all a Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

All That Glitters

December 6, 2016

The sprayed artichoke heads are mingling with dried hydrangea flowers and tall candlesticks give some height…


Photographed at night with a light behind…


I made a hasty trip to the allotment in icy weather to check on seedlings in the greenhouse.  All was well there but rows of kale had been demolished by the birds whilst the spinach was still looking good. I rounded up a couple of pointed cabbages and when the scruffy outer leaves had been peeled back these soft green leaves were revealed. They were just perfect for wrapping up and stuffing with minced lamb.



1 medium onion finely chopped plus 1 clove of garlic squeezed and both gently fried together in olive oil for 10 mins.

200 g minced lamb stirred in and cooked for further 20 mins.

100 g cooked brown rice stirred in then all left to cool.

S & P and 1 tsp dried oregano added

Blanch the cabbage leaves for five minutes in boiling water and drain. Add about 1 tbls of the mixture to the middle of the leaves and fold over to make a parcel and secure with a cocktail stick. Place in a baking dish and cover with a tin of chopped tomatoes. Bake for 30 mins at 180. Serve with a crisp green salad.


There’s very little to pick from the garden but on the allotment the spent flower-heads of Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’ had turned a rich, brown-red and suited a glittering lustre jug.


Autumn in Full Swing

November 25, 2016

Fagus sylvatica as beech hedging comes into its own at this time of year offering an appreciation of form and rapid changes to excite the senses.  This was it three weeks ago…


…and then at the weekend after torrential rain and cold winds it turned a rich, burnt orange.



The hedge grows either side of the path and offers clean lines to compliment the low-growing form of the evergreen box parterres. The box is Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’ which with regular pruning can be kept to a manageable height of no more than 50 cm.

And even the golden hop, Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’, clambering over the metal arbour is looking richly decorative in its decaying stage. I can’t bring myself to prune it back…1-imgp1291

The spent flower-heads of the deciduous Hydrangea aspera Villosa against a pale sky give a fantastic silhouette…


Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ has deepened in colour and contrasts well with the grey leaves of Euphorbia characias…


It’s been too wet to garden so baking filled the time with a couple of Lavender and Lemon cakes which were delicious. You can buy lavender flowers from baking suppliers but I saved and dried 4 tablespoons worth from flowers in the summer.  These were then added to a Kilner jar of 500 g caster sugar to infuse with a lavender flavour.


There are very few flowers to pick in the garden but these lovely little tins have been knocking about here for a few years and I’m experimenting. Ikea regularly stocks small metal containers (even if you have to punch a hole in the base) and they can be planted with herbs or sweet hellebore (spotted in Lidl) for possible Christmas presents.1-imgp1331

And the spent artichoke heads are now sprayed with Oasis Super Silver spray and have taken on the paint rather well leaving them with a good weighty finish.


Bulbs Planted

November 18, 2016

I dodged the rain and planted up five large pots with Sarah Raven Brandy Snap tulips. The collection is made up of the exotic T. Bruine Wimpel, T. Cairo, T. Belle Epoque and T. Ronaldo.


Allium bulbs were also waiting to go in but as often happens at this time of year I got on a roll and started shifting plants and dividing up. Two Cistus ‘Sunset’ shrubs bought in 2 L pots earlier this year needed room to spread so after lifting huge sprawling clumps of Sedum ‘ Autumn Joy’ there was plenty of room to take the cistus.  I put two bags of the sedum out on the pavement with a flower in each to show it’s potential and instructions to plant in part shade or full sun and both were taken.


Phlomis fruticosa, which is one of the easiest herbaceous perennials to divide up, went from a clump to five new plants simply by lifting and easing apart at the base. These were re-planted around a shrub rose to hide the stem when the phlomis flowers should reach 1 m next year. It’s great as a cut flower seen here in a vase with Nigella damascena.

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I then got the allium bulbs in and planted A. caeruleum dotted to come up through the phlomis. Allium aflatunensis bulbs were planted in the main bed.


Dividing up and moving plants around is especially satisfying when using existing stock and herbaceous plants are some of the easiest to lift and divide. I will wait until next Spring to split clumps of Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ since the ground is soggy and the paths will be muddy doing it now.

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Tellima grandiflora is also on my list for lifting and dividing next year.DSCN6534

The vase this week is based around scented leaves: Pineapple sage, Lemon verbena, Geranium macrorrhizum and Cistus with a few flowers of Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ which is the only flower available to pick now.


Something To Look Forward To

November 13, 2016

A metal arch inside the garden gate frames the view of the entire garden and is draped with a Winter-flowering clematis C. cirrhosa balearica. It was planted five years ago and it’s never flowered and is now re-planted on a wall where it will get more sun. It’s replaced with C. montana ‘Elten’ a pure white scented flower that is tolerant of part-shade and should ramp to a manageable 6 m. Montanas are indefatigable and I love the fat buds that emerge in late-Spring before the full-on display that follows.

clematis montana elten

After planting I spread a bucket of chipped bark around the soil surface to a depth of 5-7 cm to keep the roots cool in summer and to protect it over Winter.

On the allotment the largest of the three onion beds was awash with weed seedlings. I’d ignored the problem for the last four weeks but this weekend I tackled them.


Onions hate competition and although the ground was soggy which made hoeing difficult I set to with a hand fork and a small hoe and cleared the patch.


In the green house the sweet peas have just emerged three weeks after sowing…1-img_20161113_122421121-1

With news from the states dominating we decided we needed friends, family and comfort food all week.  Soda bread is great for a fast loaf since there’s no rising required and it was delicious with allotment spinach soup.1-imgp1233

Spinach Soup

Finely slice a shallot and a medium onion and cook gently in butter for 15 minutes. Wash and then cook 300 g of spinach in a small amount of water for 10 mins and then add to the onions and shallots. Blend with 1 pint of vegetable stock and  test for seasoning. Stir in cream or fromage frais and gently heat.


Artichoke heads still left on the plants are worth saving and drying and can be sprayed silver to make great alternative Christmas decorations.



I gathered up any flowers I could find from the garden to fill a vase. Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’ and Verbena bonariensis make up the bulk plus the leaves from Arum italicum.