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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.



March 2, 2017

The hellebores are filling the ground with more appearing every week and growing taller every day. Although the blooms do tend to look downwards and are difficult to see without picking they still contribute lots to the Spring garden.  I have gathered them over the years and all labels are now lost but this is possibly Helleborus purpurascens…


This is possibly Helleborus ‘Harvington White’…


Below is possibly Helleborus ‘Harvington Double White Speckled’…


This is definitely Helleborus angustifolius and it’s been in flower since December but opened fully in the last four weeks….


A pot of Iris reticulata burst into flower last week ..


At this time of year there are encouraging signs of new growth at ground level from perennials all over the garden. In pots the tulips are in leaf and will soon add much needed colour as the earth warms up from Winter.

Meanwhile there’s cooking with Basque Soup Bread  another recipe torn from the weekend newspaper and left in a drawer for months until I retrieved it last night. It made a wonderful white loaf after an over-night rise followed by a twenty minute bake at 240 degrees this morning.


A lovely Primula vulgaris was hidden under the large leaves of the hellebore so I forked it up for a pot on the kitchen table.1-imgp1753

When it’s finished flowering basal root cuttings will be taken to increase the stock of this pretty, early Spring plant. The basal stems are solid in Spring so 10 cm long shoots can be easily identified and cut from the base with a sharp knife.  These cuttings need air so terracotta flower pots are best to ensure water drains away readily. Filled with compost a 14 cm pot will take 5 cuttings round the edge. The pot can then be placed in a heated propagator or behind a sunny window till shoots are visible. The newly propagated plants will then be put in the ground to increase interest in the Spring beds.

Winter Walks

February 23, 2017


A stunning walk through Ashton Court in Bristol this weekend reminded me to make the most of the bare beauty of the Winter landscape before it transforms in Spring.  The carpets of fallen leaves will decompose to add nutrients enriching the soil and helping to retain moisture.


And these ancient dead trees make a crucial contribution to the forest ecosystem with 40 % of woodland wildlife relying on them.


Lichen, fungi, invertebrates, mosses and birds are all deadwood dependent and this is increasingly being recognised in woodland management.


The allotment is on the edge of this beautiful parkland so a quick check in the greenhouse before the walk proved exciting. Two pots of broad beans were up and I planted them out this week with a cloche cover since Storm Doris is now with us.




And the gutter tray of purple peas is also looking good although a second row of purple pea seedlings had been devoured and all that was left were the bare stems. More are now sown and both gutter trays positioned high up on the greenhouse shelves.

The recipe for this week is Kuku Sabzi a herb frittata from the excellent cookery book My Persian Kitchen.


I cooked it in a lasagna dish in order to cut it into squares and it made three times this amount for a great starter. Not sure the huge quantity of salt the recipe suggested was correct so I used 2 teaspoons. The flavours were fresh and delicous and made me aware of the need for lots of herbs both here and on the allotment. The dill seedlings are coming on a pace in the greenhouse and flat-leaf parsley is always easy to grow sown direct in April and mint pops up of its own accord near the shed.


I pruned the Fatsia japonica and this splash of shiny bold green on the hall table has lifted the spirits for the last ten days.

Spring Re-Shuffle

February 16, 2017


The shady bed was desperately in need of improvement so six large pots of Helleborus ‘Silver Moon’ and more clumps of snow drops were added.  Masses of bulbs come into flower in March but the bed was  crying out for interest now.


A recent purchase of two pots of Iris unguicularis are yet to be planted but meanwhile they’ve opened in the warmth of the kitchen. The untidy foliage was snipped off and the lovely scent is similar to that of primroses.


More major work was needed in a shrub bed where hydrangeas bought in Ikea about three years ago for Autumn flowers had outgrown the space. Reduced to 50 pence a pot and with two tiny green leaves on each to show they were still alive, they grew from 40 cm to 2 m by 2 m. As a shrub they are a little underwhelming for Spring/Summer and have been moved to the back of the border but with access for picking. Lots of fat green buds are emerging on all the stems …


Regular editing and shifting is par for the course in gardening but NOTHING GETS WASTED.  Tomorrow’s job will be to lift and divide the scented-leaf Geranium macrorrhizum which has spread over the path. It’s semi-evergreen and vigorous and will be re-planted at the base of the hydrangeas since it copes with full shade.

Image result for geranium macrorrhizum

Whilst sorting through seeds I found a packet of dried peas from last year…


…and sowed them in a small box of compost for pea shoots.  Brought into the house for warmth they germinated within a week and are steadily growing.


The remainder of the packet I made into a delicious soup…


The instructions on the packet said to soak the dried peas overnight, then drain and cover with boiling water.  I added a couple of fried shallots before simmering them with the peas for 20 minutes. A quick pulse in the food processor was all that was needed for a fairly thick soup served piping hot with a dollop of sour cream.  They are the mushy peas of childhood and delicious.


These came from the florist and are multi-headed so possibly Tazetta daffodils. They have a gorgeous scent and if I had more space I would grow them in the garden. Instead miniature daffodils are easier to manage and when they finish flowering at 15  cm high they are easily camouflaged by surrounding foliage where they can be left to die back. This miniature Narcissi Tete-a-Tete was rescued when moving the hydrangeas and will be re-planted in a few days.




Taking the Pulse

February 9, 2017


Supper last night was a staggeringly good recipe that I had saved from the weekend papers a few months back. You can currently find it online, about one-third the way down this webpage. It’s a vegetarian chilli cooked with tomatoes, rice and pulses and all in the same pot and a great opportunity to use packets of dried beans from the back of the cupboard. It makes a huge quantity so some was frozen for another meal and some will be added to minced beef and chorizo.

On a gloriously sunny day this week we strolled along a track under the Clifton Suspension Bridge beside the tidal reed-beds 0f the River Avon.


Past the bridge there is a steep climb up through Nightingale Valley where sunlight filtered through the deciduous trees onto the woodland floor.


Thick coatings of sphagnum moss and ferns, looking primitive and lushly green, were holding their own in the relative shelter of the steep terrain.



Snow drops were flowering on the high open ground…


I was given the sweetest posy this week bought from a very imaginative local florist les fleurs. My neighbour chose the flowers and the florist assembled them mixing texture and form with these soft and subtle colours. It’s an inspiration and arrived in a small glass container wrapped in pale yellow tissue paper.




February 2, 2017

Fulfilling my challenge to use a new recipe every week for a year, I have made for the first time a marmalade using pink grapefruits, lemons and Seville oranges. I watched a neighbour finely cutting peel for his marmalade recipe which had been passed down from his mother decades ago. He was unspecific about quantity so I looked up my usual Seville orange recipe and bought the equivalent weight made up with 5 Sevilles, 2 lemons, 2 pink grapefruit and 2 kg of granulated sugar.  The fruit was cooked whole for 2 hours in 3 L of water and when it had cooled the fruit was halved and the inner flesh scooped out. This pulp was saved in a clean tea towel and squeezed really hard to extract the pectin into a measuring jug before topping it up to 2 pints with the cooking liquid. The orange and grapefruit peel was cut fairly thin and the lemon peel discarded. The cut fruit went back into the preserving pan with the liquid plus the sugar (which had been warmed in a low oven). It was stirred until the sugar had completely dissolved before boiling fast for 15 minutes. I used the cold plate test and it only took this short time to set. Poured into sterilised jars this quantity made six various sized pots ( two were given away).


There were  Seville oranges still on offer in the local supermarket and in the greengrocer yesterday so I plan to make a second batch.

Finally stirrings are afoot (after three weeks) in pots of broad beans and peas in the pop up greenhouse. Not quite worthy of a photograph yet and a reminder that until the weather warms up, unless the greenhouse has any heat other than nature, there’s really no point in sowing early. I am determined this year to hold back on sowing any seeds until mid-March to avoid juggling trays of seedlings in a very limited space.  They always get leggy and mid-April will be soon enough for most to be re-planted in the beds.

But slowly the ground is warming up demonstrated by the dormant rhubarb now emerging and unfurling these pretty pink leaves.


I picked the tallest hellebore flower I could find and seared the cut end over a flame for 60 seconds. It’s surrounded by the leaves of the arum lily and is sitting on my desk as a little gesture towards Spring.