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Comfrey Tea

May 31, 2017

Three weeks ago I cut a row of healthy comfrey leaves and laid them in a 30 cm deep trough before raking the soil back over prior to planting the climbing French beans. A further quantity enough to half fill  a 2 gallon bucket and weighed down with a brick was then topped up with water. It is now black and smelly and will be diluted 1-20 in a watering can and used as a feed on the base of squash, courgette and tomato plants. I chose Comfrey ‘Bocking 14’  a Russian variety that won’t self-seed and here is the row three weeks after its major cut and soon it will be ready to cut again.

Weeding rows of onions on the allotment this morning I accidentally forked one out and to my dismay there were signs of onion white rot. White mould was clinging to the base of the bulb so there was no choice but to harvest the lot. Luckily the disease appears to be very limited with only five out of the fifty showing any signs of rot.

I brought the damaged onions pus the weeds from the bed home for the council green bin where green waste gets heated to a high degree. It’s a serious disease and can lurk in the soil for up to then years and it can affect both garlic and leeks.  Crop rotation will help but there’s a need to be vigilant especially when rain in warm weather lingers on for several days. The healthy onions are now on a frame in the garden shed to dry out. The bed will be used for above ground crops both now and next year with borlotti and climbing French beans to go in next.

The broad beans are looking healthy and should be cropping in a week or two.

The purple pea pods are clambering up the netting.

And in the last two weeks the beetroot has emerged in four distinct rows and should be ready to harvest in about five weeks. More were sown today along with radish and dill.

Self-seeded ‘Love in a Mist’  has to be ruthlessly evicted from the base of the raspberries and is providing endless pots of lovely flowers.

There’s no new recipe to show for this week because we ate Nigella’s cheese stars before I remembered to take a photograph. I cut them round with a sherry glass and they were great and will be made again next week.

Filling the Beds

May 23, 2017

The first of the sweet peas sown in November are now flowering and were chosen for their intense scent. The lovely long stems are the result of the deep root trainers but sorry to say I have lost the name tag.

On the allotment red and green salad leaves are making two fat rows and looking very pretty. The pak choi planted last week from a living salad purchased at the supermarket are also doing well. I plan to plant seedling peas in and around this group to fill the ground and to pick as young pea shoots to mix with the leaves. The runner beans are climbing up their bamboo supports and the first broad beans should be cropping in a week or two. With the leek seedlings now planted, the ground is almost full and all that remains to do is a gentle weeding session plus watering to bring it all together. Meanwhile more beetroot seeds and dwarf French beans will be sown in pots ready to go in when the broad beans and onions are out of the ground.

In the garden I have a completely blind rose full of healthy stems and lush leaves but no sign of a flower. I rescued it two years ago from a border smothered by the climbing Hydrangea petiolaris. My mistake was to over-feed the rose and to fail to recognise that it needs more than two hours sun. It can be re-positioned in Autumn and in the mean time the hydrangea is kept under control having discovered it makes a great cut flower.  It only lasts three days in a vase but today I shall seal the cut ends over a gas flame to see if that prolongs the display.

My fridge tidy-up lunch was inspired by Mr Slater. I fried an onion, celery, red peppers, cooked carrots and tomatoes in olive oil for 8 minutes before adding a large free-range egg- awesome.

Roses in Mixed Borders

May 17, 2017

Rose Munstead Wood is full of fragrant flowers and although only purchased a year ago is on the way to forming a substantial shrub. It’s under planted with Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ and surrounded with Allium christophii.

I bought Rose Darcey Bussell at the same time and that too is full of flowers and again it will be allowed to grow into a substantial shrub. At its base are the handsome leaves of Helleborus augustifolia.

On the allotment rain and back pain  has limited all activity over the last week but the runner beans ‘Lady Di’ are in the ground and grew 8 cm over the last week. And I hope I don’t provoke a late frost but the butternut squash and courgettes are also planted. With only a cold frame at home juggling plants as they reach a decent size becomes a challenge. So it was tempting to get these pots of allotment veg out of the garden and into the ground.  A friend gave me a fantastic assortment of home-grown tomato plants and about a dozen are now planted in soil in the allotment greenhouse. In preparation I assembled a bucket of chopped up comfrey leaves held down with a brick and filled to the brim with water. It will be diluted 1-8 as a feed in a month or two.

 Lidl is selling  ‘Super Living Japanese  Spinach and Purple Pak Choi’ in a tray for £1. I have gently separated them into a row and planted them on the allotment to see what happens.

My new recipe this week was orange sorbet.  I followed a lemon sorbet recipe and substituted the lemon juice with orange juice from blood oranges that were juiced and frozen in January.

Peony Rubra Plenary is a cottage garden favourite and one of the earliest to flower. It readily sheds petals but its scent and beauty makes it worth it for a day or two of drama on the kitchen table.

Street Planting

May 8, 2017

This Wisteria was recently planted in a good depth of soil in a space on the pavement up the road.  It’s supported with wires against the wall of the house and the base is planted with Geranium maccrorhizum. The house owners are keen gardeners so will give it lots of attention.

When the council put double yellow lines down the back of our terrace here we decided to green up the pavements to enhance the lane with plants. Plastic planting bags from Poundland were cheap enough for the experiment but I will probably replace them with more substantial planters later in the year. They are designed for a short life and tend to tear round the rim when moved but at £1 a go- no complaints. The experiment has proved good and inspiring and it’s a pleasure to see greenery in an urban street.

Here are two of the bags planted with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’, one of the easiest perennial plants to lift and divide.  The fleshy, textured leaves look good next to the beautiful, arrow-shaped leaves of Arum italicum, another perennial that’s easy to lift and spread.

Below is Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ planted around the base of the evergreen Pittosporum tenuifolium. This and a Buddleja davidii ‘Black Knight’ are the only shrubs that I’ve planted in the lane since watering is crucial for woody plants whereas herbaceous perennials require far less.

Erigeron karvinskianus is the low-growing perennial daisy from Mexico and it has seeded itself along the pavement.  

Alcea rosea (hollyhock) a biennial surviving in the smallest amount of soil,  shares the space.  As soon as the tall spires of flowers set seed nature spreads it along the cracks in the pavement and a neighbour gives a hand to ensure a regular display.

A neighbour has planted an evergreen Cotoneaster amoenus in a pot sitting under a window. It links the windowsill to the pavement providing a block of green all Winter followed by flowers in June.

And it will soon be time for Campanula poscharskyana to bloom with its soft mauve flowers.  It thrives on benign neglect and survives in broken concrete paving all along the street. Here it is mingling with the Mexican daisy.


A recipe from a new Cuisinart ice-cream maker which I can highly recommend. I simply followed the Vanilla Ice Cream recipe and added some orange peel strips. The joy is you simply freeze the bowl, pour in the mixture and churn.

 The very last of the hellebores with aquilegias and Euphorbia robbiae.

Transforming the Courtyard

April 30, 2017

Two years a ago, inspired by a magazine showing a lush green space visible through a kitchen window,  I greened up the paved area outside our kitchen. It went from this…

to this…

and this…

The rose is Rosa banksiae ‘Lutea’ and it was very easy to propagate from the existing one that covers the main arbour.  I peeled off two young branches and pushed them into the small bed by the drain pipe in early Autumn and they took off. It’s described by all the rose growers as yellow yet remains creamy-white in my garden but I can vouch that it is thorn-less and has a delicate scent and it flowers early.

In the opposite corner Euphorbia mellifera has revived after a severe attack of frost bite and is looking very lush with masses of honey-scented flowers and new stems at ground level.

Take a look at Christina’s gorgeous view from her kitchen window in Italy.

Ajuga reptans ‘Atropurpurea’ is a very useful plant for Spring colour. It’s evergreen and has the advantage of remaining upright so is great for edging a bed near a path.

This Angelica is in its second year so is producing flower-heads. It’s short-lived and may not come back next year so it will be lifted and the root divided into several more in early Autumn. A sharp knife will cut through the base and then the pieces of root will be re-planted immediately 40 cm apart to create several new plants.  I love the form and can imagine it with other tall plants maybe Stipa gigantea or Verbena bonariensis. The leaves are good in salads or even crystallised for cake decorations and the bees are loving the flowers.

Wild garlic has taken over the parterre at the end of the garden but it’s easy to manage and disappears in a few weeks time. I steamed a bunch of leaves and flowers for four minutes then  chopped them up and stirred them into mashed potato. It has a subtle garlic flavour and I shall try it next cooked and added to pasta recipes.

The Welsh poppies are back and these had their stems seared on a gas flame and this is day three…

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.

Image result for rosemary officinalis

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.