Category Archives: Gardening

The Garden in February

So, it’s the middle of February, and the middle of winter, the spring equinox still some six weeks away. Yet here in the West of England spring has well and truly arrived today. Gone are the chilling winds, the grey leaden sky, the snow,  the sleet and the rain. Today the sun is shining, the central heating off as the temperature rises, and out in the garden flowers are everywhere.

The first to greet any visitor to the house is the front lawn along the driveway – a technicolour mass of white snowdrops that are self-seeding and thus multiplying each year, and crocus popping up everywhere in many shades and hues of blue, violet and yellow, and with the sun out today, the flowers are fully open. Wonderful! I even noticed the first yellow flower, just one mind, on the forsythia hedge. There’s a yellow haze on the hedge which means it will not be long before it, too, bursts into full golden glory.2017-02-17-13-39-55

Out in the rear garden, cyclamen are in flower along with most of the red hued hellebores; the white clumps are still in bud but should be fully open by next weekend. I love hellebores, the flowers last for weeks. I sometimes pick a few flowerheads and float them in a pretty glass dish of water indoors so we can admire the flowers. In the garden, most varieties always have their heads down. I might try a plant in a hanging basket next winter and see how it fairs.

2017-02-17-13-46-12Already some of the daffodils are open too, the majority of which are the small, dwarf types. The stock of these has been building up over several years as I am wont to buy small pots of them in the supermarket each week instead of buying bunches of, as I used to. My sister gave me the idea of buying the potted ones for indoors and then after they have finished flowering, to plant them in the garden for next year. Now why didn’t I think of doing that sooner?

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If the weather forecasters are right, next week here is going to be even more mild and bright so I shall have to get my skates on (no, forget skates, snow’s gone…) garden shoes on and bring the rest of the garden to life. There’s much tidying, pruning, dead stem pulling, general clearing and maintenance to do. Already there are fresh leaf buds on the clematis and honeysuckle, things are moving fast. I shall be popping outside everyday looking to see what else is coming up.

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It’s such a delight hearing the birds singing in the early morning. The dawn chorus always gets me off to a good start knowing the dark days are behind us. And to think, before much longer I shall be able to enjoy coffee and breakfast in the garden again. Yippee!

The Garden In November

2016-10-21-12-08-34Slowly, imperceptibly, Earth has tilted towards winter again, and as the clocks are forced backwards an hour, daylight increasingly less and less, my garden is still proving to be a delight. The start of this month in the UK has been dismal and grey, turning my mood to grey too and wishing I could withdraw under the duvet until spring. It’s only because we’re having such a colourful autumn that I haven’t quite sunk into S.A.D mode completely. However, this morning the sun is out and before my backyard is plunged into shadow for the remainder of the day and until next March, I ventured outside with the camera to capture the garden’s last flush before tonight’s frost plunges it into hibernation.

2016-10-21-12-05-48The cosmos is still in flower, the pinks and whites a dazzling splash. They were worth every penny. I usually grow this plant from seed but this year, because I wanted the space to move plants from the long border for the planned revamp, I didn’t sow any. These I bought as small plants which have done me proud.

The cosmos is interspersed with dark brown flowers from my chocolate cosmos, my favourite. It not only looks pretty but smells of chocolate. Wonderful! Now this has been a success. I’ve tried for many years to keep this plant over winter but every year, good old Choccy always dies on me. But not this one. It survived, now in its second year and I am hoping it thrives again next year.

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We haven’t been able to carry out the planned revamp this summer, so that has been put back until next year, and thus the long border has been left to do its own thing this summer, and gaps filled in with pots of plants rather than planted.

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Faithfuls have been the fuchsia, grown from a cutting taken years ago from my childhood home back in London. We don’t know the variety, but always refer it as the Hounslow fuchsia. The nigella has been flowering non stop since early spring. It pops up everywhere, in various shades of blue, pink and white, and self-seeds readily. Another plant I can always rely on is the everlasting wallflower (Erysimum), whose long stems of mauve flowers keep coming and coming. It flowers for most of the year so, even in winter there is always this gorgeous splash of colour. I’m on the lookout for the orange variety, but having difficulty locating one.

2016-10-21-12-09-01One plant family I’ve only recently come to like is Heuchera. Its many different varieties have the most varied leaf colours I know, from lime green, through to almost black. The flowers are nothing special, usually white or pink spikes but the beauty of this plant is that it grows in almost any position and doesn’t die back in winter. I must get some more next year. I have the perfect bed for it near the patio doors.

So whilst the rest of the garden succumbs to the autumn chill, I can at least for the time being enjoy the splashes of life thriving in my little plot.

I just wish someone would tell my rhododendron it’s not supposed to flower until next May!

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(This article first appeared in Over the Backyard Fence Nov 2016)

Watch The Birdie

Whilst my husband would say I’ve wasted most of this morning, it’s his fault — he bought me the bird feeding station. This morning especially, it’s brought me and the birds a lot of pleasure. I am a bird watcher (not a twitcher), I just love watching them. They are fascinating.

This is the first winter I’ve had the station and the amount of birds drawn into the garden has been wonderful. I’ve always fed the birds — they need help in all seasons — and I’ve always had a flock of sparrows here along with a dunnock, blackbird, wren and blue tits year round. Winter always brings in a blackcap or two, the familiar robin, and occasional thrush and redwings depending on how cold the weather is. This season hasn’t been particularly cold, certainly no snow here (thankfully), yet the birdlife is booming.

This morning I’ve spent over an hour watching two wrens ­whereas normally only see one darting in and out of the shrubbery. This morning they are gorging themselves on insects and grubs they find in the various flower troughs of bulbs and pansies around the koi pond. It’s such a pity the zoom on my camera isn’t good enough to capture them. One of them has been singing his heart out most of the morning, a gloriously loud song from such a tiny bird.

The robin sees off the blackcap but ignores all the other birds, while the blackcap will see off the sparrows, who generally ignore everyone else. Meanwhile, the dunnock will mind his own business and quite happy to rummage about the undergrowth in search of his fill. At first glance he is very much like a sparrow to look at, but has different coloured legs and behaviour and is always on his own. I’ve never seen him feed off the station, but always pecking on the ground beneath it.

Four blue tits are frequently flitting to and from the peanut feeder and occasionally feasting on the crumbs and bits on the plate feeder; three great tits are also flying in every so often to feed.

Then there’s Waggy, a pied wagtail that struts his stuff around the garden as if he owns it, ignoring the other birds but he’s very nervous and will fly off at any sudden noise or movement.

Instead of just one blackbird, there are four males in the garden this year, two in particular are always together. Despite this, they maintain a distance from each other where the food is concerned, one chasing off the other from his favourite feeding spot. So far, all the bulbs poking through— the hyacinths and bluebells, have been left alone by the slugs and snails, although I’m finding lots of empty snails shells. Thank you, blackbirds. I hope you stay during the rest of the year and keep these pesky pests in control. The snails decimated my hostas last summer despite an all out attack by me. Believe me, eggs shells, grit, coffee don’t work!

A short while ago, a noisy flock of seven long-tailed tits flew in, pecked and fed on the feeder and in the shrubbery before flying off again.

Other rare visitors today were a pair of goldfinches who munched at the seed feeder for several minutes before moving on. Beautiful birds which rarely come into the garden. Wished they’d call more often.

I’ve observed some interesting behaviour from the magpies too today. I know they like shiny things and will steal and hoard them but one here this morning has been taking large beakfulls of food (crumbs and bacon rind) and burying it elsewhere in the garden. I’ve watched him drop the food into various holes on the bare veg patch, then pick up a large stone and drop it in the hole before placing a large twig across the hole, like some sort of marker. I never knew they did this, and am interested to see if and when he comes back to claim his treasure. I don’t mind the magpies as they see off the pigeons, of which we are plagued with here.

So, maybe to some it was a wasted few hours when I should have been doing other more productive things but I don’t care, for what is life if for several minutes we cannot stand and stare and enjoy the beauty in nature around us.

Right, off to make coffee and wile away another half-hour watching the birds.

 

October Morning

It’s hard believing October is nearly at an end, that the clocks went back an hour last weekend and that it’s only some eight weeks to Christmas, especially when this morning I found myself sitting in the garden, drinking coffee and enjoying the birds and the sunshine, and most of all the unseasonally warm temperature here at 9 o’clock this morning. Unheard of for this time of year in England! The garden borders are still looking good, with cosmos (I’ve never known it grow so tall – over 5ft) and dahlias, coreopsis and fuchsias still in a profusion of bloom, even a carnation poking its scarlet head through the flowering oestospermums and the rudebekias are still going strong. Not a breath of wind either, which is most unusual for this garden as we’re high up and invariably there’s always a wind blowing.100_6741

With a second cup of coffee in hand, I watched the robin who’s claimed the garden as his home flit from seed feeder to bird bathe to flowerbeds in his busy hunt for food. He’s getting quite tame now, and even before I’ve turned away from filling up bird tray on the stand each morning, he’s there picking out his favourite morsels from the oats, suet and mealworms before the greedy starlings flock in. A quick drink and he’s up in the holly tree chirping his heart out in competition with the two wrens sitting in the ivy – such little birds with loud voices and beautiful songs. Anyone would think it was spring instead of approaching winter. A pleasant two hours spent listening to the birds chattering, the sparrows vying for a place on the perch of the seed feeder.

But two hours was all I could spend there today, not because of the things indoors I had to do but because at this time of year, the sun has left the patio by 10 o’clock, thrusting the garden into shade for the rest of the day. Another week or so and there will be no sun at all in my back garden until March, so I made the most of it before going back inside and sorting the washing, find the vacuum and the duster. I found them, but then couldn’t be arsed to do any housework. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps it will be too cold to sit outside. Perhaps it will be cold enough to turn on the central heating, put on an extra layer of clothing and think of the glorious days we’ve had this summer. On the other hand…

A Gardener’s Delight

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We might now be in August, but you certainly wouldn’t believe it with the weather the last few days; there’s a distinct autumnal chill in the air early mornings and not warm enough (for me) to sit outside, but the forecasters say it is only a blip. Meanwhile, thanks to the wonderful invention of photography, I can at least sit back and admire the garden as it’s been these past few months – it’s been glorious!

100_6648It’s been one of our best for colour. Dave and I love colour; not for us the subtle tones and pastels as we love big and bold and bright and the unusual. We happily plant pink and yellow flowers together – they look great and, let’s be honest here, nature doesn’t pick and choose and colour co-ordinate. And the yellow rudbeckia planted next to a pink phlox and overhung with a blue clematis works for me!

100_6599This year we have planted the hanging baskets and pots with begonias, the showy, blousy sort I never used to like but I have been converted. It is a pity the winds and heavy rains of recent days have knocked them about a bit but they should recover. The dahlias, many of which have been grown from last year’s seeds, have not failed us. The bees love them and so do we.

Other plant100_6603100_6456s in pots include pelargoniums (or geraniums as they used to be called), particularly pink ones, and complimented by black pansies. These have proved a lovely foil for many plants and ones we will grow next year.

Also we’ve included lots of white nicotianias in the borders. Not by design, more by luck. These have all germinated from those we grew in planters last year – plants for free and, again, a perfect backdrop to bring the colours of other plants particularly in the shadier parts of the garden.

Best of all has been the wild flowers. A couple of packets of seeds strewn in the bare patches where I have removed unwanted or thug plants and bingo! A plethora of flowers have been growing non-stop for weeks.

100_6356100_6541100_6608Many of these wild flowers I do not recognise, others I’ve not seen for many a year, and I shall let them all set seed and fling themselves around the garden in the hope they will come again next year. Plants such as corn cockles, marigolds, love-in-a-mist (white, pink and various shades of blue), candy tufts and violas, snapdragons (although I know them as bunny rabbits!), cornflowers in blue and pink, poppies and many, many more I do not know and need to find out. I just hope I can buy the same seed mix next year.

The bees and insects have been loving all this although what is missing is the numbers of butterflies seen, way down from last year. Just a few red admirals and painted ladies, the odd comma, spotted wood, a holly blue, and very few cabbage whites – a good thing as it’s meant there’s been few eggs laid on the nasturtiums and thus no caterpillars to destroy the leaves, that’s been left for me to cut back to allow the flowers to be seen. I wonder if the lack of butterflies after last year’s plethora has been caused by the wet spring we had. There must have been lots eggs, chrysalises and caterpillars about. Did most get washed away, drowned or destroyed in the floods and rain?

100_6542On the plus side, I’ve had many birds visiting, thanks in part to the new feeding station, but also I think because of the extra insects thanks to the wild flowers. Apart from my resident sparrow flock, now numbering over 30 that congregate and sleep in my firethorn, along with the usual robin, blackbirds, wren and tits always flitting about, I’ve had goldfinc100_6485hes and chiff chaffs as regular visitors this year.

Yes, it’s been a good summer so far and there’s much still to come. It’ll soon be time to gather stock and decide what add, what to move or to change for next year. I’m hoping the sun will come back soon so I can put my feet up sitting in the shade on the patio, enjoying the sights, smells and sounds of my little patch of heaven.

101 Things to do with Cucumbers…

…well, maybe not 101, but there’s certainly more to this fruit than sliced in a salad. And yes, cucumbers are fruits.

This year, we’ve grown a dwarf variety, two plants which are cropping ridiculously well. If we’d only grown one plant, it would surely have died, as in previous years, but this summer we are awash with them, cropping 5-6 a day. The Bee Gees may have had a Cucumber Castle (how many of you can recall that film, I wonder?) but we have a cucumber mountain!

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Today’s crop

I’m all for eating 5 a day, but I don’t think that it meant 5 cucumbers! Oh heck, what to do with them all? I’ve given plenty away, and eating the rest as best and as fast I can in the hope that like the cucumber, it will make me tall and thin, and most probably turning green as a result.

My dear English granny would always and only serve cucs thinly sliced and soaking in malt vinegar – not for me. It seems that was the only way the British ate them, apart from sliced into thin, brown bread sandwiches so beloved of the English garden party and tea at the Ritz!

These cucs, as fat as the normal ones but only much shorter, are too big to pickle and preserve like gherkins, so apart from making tons one of my favourite Greek dishes -tzatziki (yogurt, crushed garlic, and cucumber) and adding them to every sandwich and salad, I’m also been happy to use them as a side dish vegetable with a cooked meal. You may wonder if I’ve gone a little mad, but this dish is one eaten often in Germany, and one my mother showed me how to prepare. It’s simple and delicious and goes very well with hot food such as casseroles or steak or chicken (think KFC chicken with coleslaw). It’s especially good with fish dishes and one I always make when serving trout.

Cucumber Salad

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Cucumber Salad

Simply peel cuc and thinly slice, add a finely chopped onion, and toss in mayonnaise. Serve within half-an-hour or the water in the cuc will thin down the mayo too much. If you do want to make this more in advance, slice the cuc, put into a colander, sprinkle with salt, and press down with a heavy weight, ie a brick on a plate, to extract the juice. Then, before adding the other two ingredients, pat the cuc slices dry on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper.

That still leaves me with a mountain to conquer, so yesterday I attempted making cucumber soup. If leek and potato soup can be eaten hot or cold (even if it is renamed vichyssoise), I thought why not give it a go. I love cold soups, gazpacho being a favourite frequently made in the summer. Cuc soup didn’t disappoint. Hot or cold, it was lovely and simple to make. I enjoy making soups as you can use anything and especially useful in using up those bits and pieces lurking in the fridge. As long as you have the basics: potato and onion, you don’t have to fuss with weighing and measuring everything either.

Cucumber Soup

100_6528Using approximately equal volumes of cucumber, potato and onions (spring onions, including the green parts, also work) simply the peel the two veg, chop into chunks then sweat these two in saucepan in a little butter or oil for a few minutes before adding cubed cuc – no need to peel.

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Add  enough water or vegetable stock to cover (I used the water my runner beans were cooked in the previous day – full of goodness and flavour), place lid on saucepan and bring to a gentle boil before turning down heat to a simmer for approx. 10­ to 15 mins or until veg and cuc tender. Then add in some chopped lettuce, such as cos or little gem, and cook for a further 5 mins.

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Add salt and pepper to taste and if you wish, a flurry of chopped fresh parsley. Allow to cool slightly before blitzing with blender until smooth. Serve hot or cold with a swirl of cream or yoghurt. If reheating, do not allow to boil.

This is one I will definitely be making again.

Making a Comeback

SURPRISE! Have you missed me? Where has the time gone? Actually, it’s gone so blooming quickly I can’t believe my last blog post was September 2013. So much has happened and gone on it’s difficult to know where to begin. I won’t bother you too much with details, suffice to say if you really want to catch up with what’s been happening in my world these past months, you are more than welcome to pop your head Over The Backyard Fence and read my monthly missives there.

It’s been a chaotic and difficult time, I have to admit, a few health issues, a major project that I’ve been working on and keeping under wraps, as well as a few problems and incidents plus a major, milestone birthday earlier this year, all of which left me feeling very depleted and down. I’m not by nature a person to succumb to depression but I did hit a low point, only to bounce slowly back. The warm weather now has certainly helped, and as I sit in the garden typing this, I can honestly say, “I’m back!”

It’s not been all doom and gloom – my life’s not like that. On the plus side, I’ve sold several paintings and, fingers and paint brushes crossed, hopefully secured a commission for a large landscape, so watch this space. I’ve created a new blog/website for my art, due to go live in the next few weeks, and meanwhile have been working hard finishing a novel or two –  “Finishing”, being the operative word. The past few months have been a time for reflection, evaluation and redefining the path my life is taking and I am now at the point where I am moving forward, taking a different route, and getting back to enjoying life to the full.

You might have noticed I’ve dropped off the radar on Twitter too. I think I got bored with it, plus it takes up so much time and nothing achieved or gained. I mean, doesn’t anyone “talk” on Twitter any more? All I see is a constant bombardment of “Buy my book”, or words to that effect. What’s happened to all the jokes and fun and light hearted banter that used to go on? – which was why I joined in the first place. Okay, I’m a writer too and a book person, but I don’t want books, books, books 24/7. The same with Facebook. Okay, most of the changes there are FB’s own doing. They keep changing it, moving things around and, well, ruining what was a good thing. Not much I can do about that.

So, what do I have planned for my blog? A promise (to myself) to blog more often, to get back to writing about the things that are important to me and articles on any subject which I hope will be of interest to my readers. I’ve some recipes to put up, gardening features and, well, back to what it was when I first began.

100_6381I mentioned I’m in my garden. It’s had a bit of sorting out year, with many shrubs pulled out, plants divided and moved and it’s beginning to come into its summer glory thanks to a packet of wild flower seeds costing £1 from Lidl, and scattered all around the garden. I think every seed has come up and with a promise of much more to come. Will certainly buy that again. I haven’t done as much to it as I’d planned though – lousy weather and lousy joints have put 100_6380paid to a lot of that, and the cost of shrubs in the garden centres – extortionate this year! Still, there’s always next and I already have a lot mapped out for spring 2015. I’ve also got a new bird feeder which the birds are loving and I love because it brings them much closer to the patio and means in winter I won’t have to venture across muddy, wet, frozen grass to get to.

Well, that’s about it for now.  Hope you all come back soon.

Through the Garden Gate

It’s been ages since I last blogged here but life and business have been hectic with little free time despite the virtual holiday I had last month (you can read all about that here!) Summer is now heading towards autumn (boo hoo) but what a glorious one it’s turned out to be here in the UK and the garden has certainly rewarded us with its glory.

To think we went from this:

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to this:

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Last year’s weather was a washout and this year was forecast to be the same yet Mother Nature has a way of recovering and boy, did she! From a superb display of daffodils and stupendous tulips:

100_5817100_5830to being eventually entertained, if about a month late, with the most wonderful array of poppies, peonies and foxgloves leading into a hot, colourful display all round. One foxglove grew to over 6 foot tall.

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pruned foxgloves

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But not everything faired well. The fuchsias haven’t been good, the columbines peaked all at once and were over within a week and my two tall, all-summer-long varieties were blown over in the strong winds we have here. As the plants flourished, so did the snails to decimate my hostas – their leaves are like lace curtains although the flower spikes survived. We aren’t plagued with slugs, thankfully. We have an army of frogs that keeps them in check. The roses have re-bloomed three times now, and we have never had such a glorious or long display of sweet peas. I’m still picking them.

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The rear garden is still dazzling splash of colour with many pots and hanging baskets,

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and the new lilies we found, in red, yellow and white, were exotic but each flower only lasted a day.

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The good weather enabled me to get in the garden more, enjoy my early 7:00 am coffee out there and it’s been wonderful being able to sit outside all day and work whilst enjoying the sights, sounds and perfumes.

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Along with the glorious flowers we have taken much pleasure this year in the wildlife that’s come back to the garden. We came across our first slow worm for many a year, although he nearly got chopped up by the lawnmower!

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Dragonflies have been in abundance, as have the butterflies (read more about the butterflies in Over the Backyard Fence), moths including the fascinating humming bird hawk moth, crickets and bees – I never realised there were so many different sizes and varieties of bumble bees, from tiny “baby” ones to huge fat, long haired ginger ones. Certainly no shortage in my garden.

What we haven’t had this year is the plague of flying ants we normally get in July, nor wasps.

Soon it will be time to put it all to bed and dream of next summer. I’ve great plans for the garden. Much has to come out as it has become crowded, many larger plants need dividing, ie the astilbe and hosta, most of the irises and crocosmia will be thinned out so I can put in a wider variety of perennials and shrubs, and several larger shrubs must come out altogether as they are taking up too much room and creating far too much shade, apart from which they are not the colour they were supposed to be when purchased, but they have served their purpose and given the birds handy perches whilst waiting to feed.

Ooops, spoke too soon. A wasp has just landed in my glass of wine. Oh well, at least he’s died happy and merry. Best go and get rid of him and refill my glass.

So cheers, here’s to a wonderful summer. Thank you, garden, for giving me such a good one this year.

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I Hate Winter!

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January 2013

It’s official. I hate winter. Always have. Always will. I hate always being cold – but I’m that during the summer too, even my husband will tell you I’m the only one he knows who can be  under a tropical sun on a beach in Barbados and still have goosebumps! I hate wearing layers and layers of clothes which, in turn, means there’s far more washing in the winter, and how the hell are you supposed to get it all dry? Thank goodness for the tumble drier. No, I much prefer to feel the sun on my skin, only happy when I can wander about all day in a floaty cotton kaftan, when I’m not hungry all the time, and when don’t have to rush to the loo every five minutes to spend a penny.

Winter Wonderland
Here’s one I did earlier

And pretty as it might look, I absolutely hate snow. We’ve had our fill here yet more is forecast this weekend. The only good thing about snow is that it makes for some nice landscapes to paint.

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By the gate 1 February 2013

So, thank goodness January is over, always the worst month of the year, and we are now into February. On the first of this month, the snow had melted, the sun was out and it was mild, so I took a walk around the country estate garden, to see what  was happening. And joy of joys, the snowdrops were out, as were some crocus. Last year, these were in flower on New Year’s Day, so they are only one month late.

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1 February 2013

The daffodils by the hedge stood a foot high and buds showing that first tinge of yellow. The hellebores were nodding their pretty mauve, red, white and two-tone heads and the primroses were out. The hyacinths were up, as were the first leaves of the bluebells.

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My favourite hellebore in flower 1Feb 2013

In few weeks the forsythia hedge will be blossoming, and I see as I look through the gap between the houses opposite to the wood, the trees are showing hints of green. Yes, spring is definitely edging in. Yippee. And in a few more weeks’ time, hopefully, I can enjoy breakfast and morning coffee in the garden again. Bring it on, I say!