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Silver and White

December 11, 2017

I am keeping it simple this year with artichoke, allium and agapanthus heads saved from summer and now sprayed silver.

The spray used is Christmas Traditions by Goodmark and it’s one that the floristry trade has identified as light but seriously shiny. I also discovered some tiny battery-operated Led Lights on a 2 m string by Lumineo. Light-weight and delicate they can be dropped along a mantle or as here pushed into and around the sprayed allium heads.

An obsession to only pick leaves and flowers for the house from the garden is challenging at this time of year. But the bitter chocolate heads of Hydrangea petiolaris make a good contrast with this metal container and a few stems of the scented Cistus ‘Sunset’ leaves cheer it up.


A couple of weeks ago I picked a branch of the ornamental quince Chaenomeles that was covered in tight buds. A week later the flowers opened an intense orange and waxy in texture resembling all those classic images associated with Japanese art. I have combined another stem with Euphorbia robbiae which had the earliest sign of flowers emerging in the centre and look the lime green flowers are opening.

It’s now too cold for the allotment but a week ago on a sunny and crisp Sunday the autumn raspberries were planted and another path was laid with wood chip. An hour gardening in any form is the most restorative pleasure for me and so I look forward to getting back into the swing as early as possible next year. In the meantime Happy Christmas and a bountiful and peaceful 2018 to all.







Waste Not Want Not

November 27, 2017

When you grow fruit and veg you become acutely aware of the time involved -especially when sowing from seed- to get produce to the plate. Don’t get me wrong I love the whole process but because of the hours involved I find I waste nothing. This week the crop I’ve been waiting ten weeks for was a row of Pak Choi sown rather late from seed. The leaves were deliciously peppery stir-fried with shallots, carrots, celery and prawns but I needed to pick the whole row. They are growing under a fleece but will they survive the Winter frosts?  I guess I won’t know until Spring when hopefully they will sprout more leaves.

Other than these Orientals there’s Swiss chard, Kale ‘Bolshoi F1’ and spinach to pick until the leeks fill out and the pointed cabbages firm up. We can’t grow carrots or parsnips because the badger digs them up and the last of the summer broccoli ‘Marathon’ was cropped three weeks ago. So I am longing for Spring to start the whole growing process again.

Twelve bare-root raspberry ‘Autumn Treasure’ plants arrived to replace ten year old stock. Provided the ground isn’t icy they will be planted next week in a new fruit bed which is currently half full with strawberries. These were increased by runners two years ago and I am feeling optimistic for a good crop of berries next summer but rigid protection from pigeons will be needed.

Soda bread is a great standby when there’s nothing in the bread bin and it’s too cold to go shopping. I used Delia’s recipe with sour cream substituted for buttermilk and it takes nothing more than a quick mix with a fork and into the oven and no waiting for a rise.

The ornamental quince Chaenomeles x superba is flowering early …

I picked a stem for the house…



November 13, 2017

Too wet and cold in the last ten days for much action in either the garden or the allotment so cooking has taken priority. A gift of quinces from the Cypriot grocer in Green Lanes in the borough of Haringey was transformed into pickled quince.

It’s a recipe I first used last year from Diana Henry’s book Salt Sugar Smoke and aside from the gorgeous Autumn colour of the fruit the pickle is excellent for eating with cold meat, terrines and cheese.

There’s a definite colour theme in this post with a walk at the weekend in the grounds of Frampton Court in Frampton-on- Severn.

Every changing season offers delights but Autumn is a reminder that nature needs a rest before Winter officially arrives on the 21st of December.  The falling leaves will be taken into the soil to nourish and feed the trees to prepare for Spring and form will soon be taking precedence. In the garden the beech hedges are reflecting this with a display of Autumn colour before the leaves turn to copper and Winter will have definitely arrived.

The flowers on the allotment are now over with a frost taking out the nasturtiums, cosmos and marigolds overnight.  It’s not much cheerier in the garden although a coral pink Kaffir lily was having a last fling and looks good against the dark blue-green of Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii.

Sowing Sweet Peas in Root Trainers

October 31, 2017

Space is limited here for over-wintering plants so the Geranium ‘Little David’ propagated from one clump a few weeks ago have now been planted. They made nine new plants and are now in groups of three in the main bed. Perennial geraniums make robust ground cover and will survive the winter to provide lots of flowers next summer.


Still hanging in there this pretty Lychnis coronaria flower had a last fling in the border and prompted a division. They self-seed readily but are easy to divide through the root and one clump made six more plants.   They make good pops of colour in a mixed vase and the leaves will contribute to the grey foliage and purple/magenta theme in this bed.

The seeds of sweet peas were saved in late summer…

…and sown in root trainers about four weeks ago. Germination was fast and the seedlings will be kept in the cold frame till April 2018.

Helleborus argutifolius flowers are emerging really early this year and will bloom till April next year.

I pruned the spent flowers from the Hydrangea petiolaris that lines about five metres of wall behind them…

…and decided to leave the mass of fallen hydrangea leaves on the ground for the worms to drag in. Raking and bagging up is a challenging task at the back of borders and nothing like the ease of sweeping a paved path.Cut flowers this week were the result of pruning various evergreen shrubs to keep their shape, with recycled flowers from a gift ten days ago, added to enliven the display.

Allotment Tidy Up

October 18, 2017

The nasturtiums and marigolds still look glorious across most of the allotment and I am reluctant to clear them away.

But there’s always a slight urgency to get ahead at this time of year so to keep on top of things new paths have been laid. The allotment shop sells a weed suppressing membrane and with a huge and enticing mountain of wood chip on site no time was wasted. We cut the membrane to 50 cm width and tipped on barrow loads of wood chip spraying with water to hold it in place in the event of hurricane force winds. It has given me a larger bed- always a good thing-and this week the remainders of the grass path has been forked out along the 5 metre edge. The grass was laid face down to decompose in the compost bin (secondhand for a fiver in the allotment shop) and installed half way along the plot to save time and energy. The three other bins are metres away behind the poly tunnel and are now full to bursting and will be left till Spring before turning.

In the shed I rolled all the individual nets and plastic sheets into neat bundles secured with rubber bands to store till they are needed. My tendency throughout the growing season is to lob them to the back till required but it’s not fair on Colin who shares the shed. I brought back all the plastic pots and trays since most propagating is done at home.

Weeding the strawberries and preparing the bed to take new raspberry canes was another job ticked off. The blackcurrant bushes are in the next bed and the new plan is to keep all the fruit in one area by removing the grass path between the two (more planting space yippee). A couple of old floorboards can be moved around to provide planks for picking and planting. This re-design involved cropping the last of the sunflowers ‘Velvet Queen’ growing with Dahlia ‘Magenta Star’. These single flower dahlias are fantastic for pollinators with all their reproductive bits on show ready for bees, butterflies and other insects to access pollen and nectar. They have a reasonable long vase life and the buds open in water.

 The dahlia tubers are now lifted to over winter in the garden shed in compost in a polystyrene box for extra frost proofing.

Santolina pinnata ‘Sulphurea’ is a favourite low-growing evergreen shrub that needed cutting back to keep it compact. The cuttings were trimmed and the ends dipped in hormone rooting powder and they are just showing enough green growth to pot on into individual 9 cm pots. They will be over wintered in the cold frame ready for planting next May…

The half-standard holly tree is full of luscious red berries but not for long. As I approached to take the photo a fat pigeon shot out of the branches like a self-powered war plane.

Autumn Flowers

October 10, 2017

A trip to Great Dixter and Sissinghurst last weekend confirmed that both these stunning gardens hold their own throughout the year and are well worth seeing even out of season. The substantial evergreen planting in both gardens sustains form and interest whilst the luxuriant planting in the beds cleverly softens the formality.  And whilst the borders were fading the drama was maintained in both gardens with swathes of dahlias and fabulous clumps of Cosmos ‘Sensation’ and C. ‘Purity’ and C. ‘Rubenza’ below. For the cost of a packet of seeds the most glorious display can be enjoyed throughout summer up till the first frost.

Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’ was thriving at the castle in four urns at the entrance to the garden and a profusion of Erigeron karvinskian had colonised at the base …

On the allotment the broad bean ‘Aquadulce’ sown two weeks ago germinated fast and are in the ground spaced 25 cm apart in two rows. More will be sown at home in a month or two to prolong the picking but in my experience they tend to catch up and usually produce their beans all at the same time.

However it’s good to fill the beds at this time of year and they are sharing the space with  Russian kale for winter pickings, garlic and Pak Choi. The homemade compost  spread over this bed a week ago had produced masses of small weed seedlings that were easily hoed off. And the row of spinach sown from seed a few week back was demolished by slugs as soon as it was in the ground so will be re-sown and protected in the cold frame till bigger and stronger.

Envelopes are now stuffed full of seeds of ‘Love in a Mist’, nasturtiums, aguilegia, sweetpeas and these Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ seeds.  It’s a great plant for its vibrant orange flowers and for the strangely primitive form so seeds were scattered next to the allotment shed for picking. If they fail to germinate I shall edit out plants from here to take to the allotment next Spring.

And I moved all the Kaffir lilies to the back of a border at home because they tend to flop over the garden path.

A row of stunning sunflower ‘Velvet Queen is coming to an end but has been such good value for the last eight weeks.

Dividing Plants in Autumn

October 1, 2017


For several years Geranium ‘Little David’ has lurked very close to a box hedge in the first parterre where it produces  non-stop simple blooms from June to October. It’s rather good value in that it’s low-growing and pretty with flowers that enhance the grey foliage of Santolina pinnata ‘Edward Bowles’ and Salvia officinalis that are planted near it. Suddenly I could imagine the whole bed full of silver plants with purple and cerise pink geraniums dotted in amongst. I plan to propagate from the santolina next week but the clump of geranium was very easy to lift out and the base pulled apart to make several rooted stems.

Six new plants are now in 9cm pots and within two days they are looking fresh and ready to put on roots over the coming months to plant out next Spring.

Lemon verbena survived last Winter in a pot next to the house where I will leave it again this year. It’s currently looking very healthy but in case it gets lost to frost I decided to cut some of the leaves to make a sorbet.


225 g sugar dissolved in 1 pint of water on a gentle flame. Add 3  handfuls of lemon verbena and 1 of lemon mint and simmer for 3 minutes. Strain into a bowl adding the juice of 3 lemons then when cool churn in an ice-cream maker for 30 minutes. It slipped across the tongue and was the most intensely refreshing sorbet yet to be made by me.

Eight bags of leaf mould rounded up last Autumn and stuffed behind the garden shed were spread over beds this weekend. It had decomposed and broken down to a rich organic humus to provide a mulch and further enrich the soil.  With huge trees in neighbouring gardens it is very satisfying to round up leaves knowing they will be returned back to the earth to contribute to the ecosystem.

There’s quite a limited choice of flowers in the garden currently but I  rounded up Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’ with Verbena bonariensis.