Thursday, 30 July 2015

Bugs in the Garden - Gatekeeper Butterfly

I have read up and found that this is a male Gatekeeper Butterfly.  There have been several around the garden.  This one is basking in the sunshine on the holy tree just behind the marjoram which they are on..  I love the two figure of 8 on each forewing.  It was still cold from the low temperatures overnight, and I caught this on my early morning slug and snail hunt yesterday.

Hurrah for the Cherry Season

I love cherries....and was invited to by my friend Roz for the afternoon on Tuesday to pick cherries.  I am a climber, have always been.  I brought these bright shiny, ripe,  cooking cherries home......

After a full morning stoning, to give 2.75Kg fruit, and 2 Kg sugar, and three lemons, and an afternoon pot stirring....

I cracked some stones, and put the small kernels in the jam, so when it is dreary and wet, out will come this delicious concoction, and whether it is to make a lovely tart with frangipane, or to be put with yogurt, I shall remember the lovely afternoon spent picking cherries.  Roz also told me how she uses it with duck breasts, how delicious.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Bugs in the Garden - Ladybirds

The ladybird I watched eating away at the blackfly on the Clematis, is multiplying...and the greenfly and blackfly are under control...hurrah!

I've enjoyed watching the insects in the garden, and also other wild life.  A few years ago I bought Ladybirds by Majerus and Kearns, Naturalists Handbooks 10.  However to share in the enjoyment why not link into UK Ladybirds.  They have two very good sheets helping to identify ladybirds and their larvae, and explain life cycles.  This would be a lovely summer holiday for any of your little budding entomologists.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Echeveria Elegans multiplying

The trough full of Echeveria Elegans

My lovely new pot bought from a potter at the Alnmouth Open Studios with a filling of well draining compost and a layer of grit, with little offsets hopefully ready to root down into the growing medium.

And here is one I prepared last year, which is now filling out.

And here is the trough in flower earlier this year

Buscot House and Gardens

A drive to Swindon to view sofas, which was not successful, was made a little better for a lovely drive back through the Cotswolds.  We stopped at Buscot House and Gardens, had a picnic lunch, a saunter round the walled garden, and a tour round the house. We've visited many times, and the plantings in the walled garden and the orchards are maturing.

I love the clock tower above the old stables.

 Great plantings

Long borders with a dramatic backdrop of trees.

We sat and chatted and enjoyed the long views.

In a Vase on Monday - Between a rock and hard place

I have been thinking over several days about different issues, many leaving me between a rock and a hard place.  On the gardening theme, it is when to ditch succulents and start again.  When I say start again it means cutting the plant down for propagation, but at a time of the year when the plant is probably starting to flower.  The plants have usually outgrown their pots, have probably been left a year too long, are growing too big to spend winter in the conservatory or the house.....

And since they are succulents and I imagine that they grow amongst rocks in the wild, the idiom Between a rock and a hard place popped up in my thoughts again.   I love Idioms. my little container/vase this week is a cute little hand made stoneware jam pot.  The contents are the remnants of my weekend succulent propagation efforts.  I also love rocks, and have a few around the place.

Pale foliage: Echeveria Elegans; large flower from my Cotyledon Orbiculata, 

purple rosettes from Aeonium Zwartkop, and the smaller flower from an unnamed Echeveria.

I don't really feel comfortable in a 'hard place', and by nature normally veer towards the softer option, so I offer this vase with more clematis.  

This pretty small Caithness Vase has a good heavy bottom.  I picked it up in an 'antique' shop when on holiday in Alnwick.  Flower and foliage:  Clematis Viticella Purpurea Plena Elegans, foliage Rhammus Alaternus Argenteovariegata, and a few leaves from Carex Oshimensis Everest.  

I think my camera is starting to show its age, and does not seem to be behaving...and if you think I can spout the names without looking them up in my garden book...maybe it would be 'Wordless In a Vase on Monday'.  However I do so much enjoy reading about the plants and flowers other followers of Cathy's Meme, that it would be selfish not to make the effort!

Saturday, 25 July 2015

July Garden Update

With an absence of two weeks, there was much work to do in the garden to get some semblance of order ready for the Kenilworth In Bloom Judges.  I tried my best, and with thanks with a little input from my hero, who is not the gardener, I felt reasonably happy with it.  But it was 'not in bloom'.

If they had come mid June they would have been amazed..but I have decided to grow my garden for myself and not put myself through this again.  However it did get me doing various jobs around the garden which I may have delayed....

Unlike some of my new friends from In a Vase on Monday, I do not have a specific cutting garden, in fact my whole garden is one from which I pick flowers.  Picking posies and making arrangements is one of my favourite ways of enjoying the fruits of my labour.

However I am growing to like annuals a little more, and will add more next year.  I love propagating, and last year picked a few nastursium seeds from some plant growing over a wall somewhere, no I did not lean over the wall to collect them!  They were rattling round the car, then the conservatory, but all six germinated!  They are in the bed just beyond the first arch over which grows the best of red climbing roses:  Etoile de Hollande.  Sadly it was between flushes on the judging day with only about five blooms out.  This corner bed just by the dustbins used to have a very productive Victoria Plum Tree until last Autumn when sadly it had to removed due to disease.  Under the tree I have several clumps of double snowdrops, pink primroses and later a white geranium, and some lily of the valley which is gradually being cleared out.  All attracted numerous bees.  I think this will become the 'yellow and orange' corner of the garden.

In the corner is Leycesteria formosa 'Golden Lanterns, which I had growing in a pot from a small thing for a couple of years. In pride of place is the Sunflower plant given to me by Izzi, my little grand daughter.  It is doing fairly well with some watering and feeding.

I am already trying to decide what to dig out and get rid of.  I have quite a few duplicates, some tall perennials such as the peonies which only perform for a couple of weeks, and maybe two clumps are enough!

The second arch by the shed has two roses:  Super Excelsa which always manages to flower when all the other roses are having their rest.  I'm not sure if it performed as a 'reapeat flower' as it is claimed to be, last year, but we shall see.  On the other side is Claire Austin, and I am not overjoyed by this one.  It flowers only at the end of the stems, but maybe again as it matures it will improve.  Alongside Clematis Comtesse de Bouchard has been established for about four years, and is doing very well.  In the corner behind the bench, a clump of poenies, a variegated Pittosporum Garnettii, some Alchemilla Mollis, Astilbe Chinensis Pumila which will look at its best in a couple of week's time.  In amongst the stones, I have various low growing thymes, violets, and the yellow flowering  Lysimachia nummularia, both yellow and green leaved varieties, cyclamen and other rock plants.  O f course I love my succulents and have sempervivums dotted all around, both in pots and in the ground.

Just by the bird bath and overhanging the path is a flowering cherry, name unknown, which just hangs it.  Each year I try to prune out any diseased wood, but as it arches prettily, I keep hoping it will hobble on.  This is towards the shady end of the garden which is overshadowed by a tall conifer.

 I have a bamboo behind the gazebo, and am gradually turning this area into a fernery.  I love all the complicated leaves, and cannot resist buying plants when I see an interesting one.

I keep so many shrubs in pots...too many really, its almost as if I wished for a much bigger garden!  The Clematis Viticella Purpurea Plena Elegans is growing over the Rhammus Alaternus Argenteovariegata right by the conservatory.  

Some of the earlier flowering perennials such as geraniums, Phuopsis Stylosa, centaureas etc  had been cut back, and hopefully will be flowering again soon.  Some of the Astrantias had really finished and the three or four different Phloxes were about three weeks off flowering.  The Sanguidorba Officinalis Pink Tanna made quite a stir with the judges as it had about fifty hover flies in attendance.

In addition to the plants I love the insects, well most of them, that come into the garden, feed, lay their eggs, etc.  All these visited the garden the day before the judges..good enough for them!

 The two Dahlias are just coming into flower as the Poppies and Sweet Williams finish in the bed by the patio.

Three of my favourite small shrubs still in pots are on the corner of the patio:  Japanese Umbrella Pine Sciadopitys Verticillata, Fothergilla Gardenii Blue Mist, and Lophomyrtus ralphii 'Black Pearl', with its deep bronze textured leaves.  And as a nod to 'in bloom', I added a pot of Coreopsis which was waiting to be planted into the growing 'yellow border'.

Another beloved range of plants are the sedums...different ones, small, medium, large, ranging from glaucous green to purple leaved ones are dotted around.

Yes I think a few annuals sown early in the Year will bring a little added boost of colour.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Chocolate Sticks

I have a backlog of two bakes from the Book of Buns, I knew I was going to bake these a week or so ago.  Veronica bought the two bars of dark chocolate required for this, when we popped into the Basingstoke Tesco.

Jane Mason had visited De Oude Bank Bakkery in Stellenbosch, South Africa, and this is a take on their chocolate Sticks.

Her recipe starts with a predough which I allowed to mature for 48 hours so giving the dough a deep satisfying taste, and then on Thursday morning, I made up the dough, kneaded it, but did not read the recipe before planning my day!  You leave the dough to rest in a rolled out oblong on the work surface under cling film for 2 hours.  It ended up being left for nearly 3, but everything worked out very well.  I found it much easier to arrange the dough on a well floured piece of clingfilm, then cover again with film for the last rise before cutting into fingers.

With just around 50g total of butter to paint on the surface, then scatter with chocolate, before folding, turning re-rolling, and repeating a further two times, these are a lot less fatty than pain au chocolat.

I cut 16 short fingers, but they were fairly large when they had risen in the oven.  Next time, I will roll out the rectangle a little longer, and get 20.  I may even roll then thinner, then make longer sticks. The tops are brushed with the standard glaze from the book: an egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water, together with a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar.  I usually put the remainder, about half, covered in the fridge, and then end up throwing it away, as I am not sure whether it would be off after a day or so.  This time I froze the rest in a little pot, and will bring it out and defrost for my next bake. 'Waste not want not!'

They are non the less really wonderful and fragrant, and very tasty.  I would class them as a sophisticated chocolate treat for any time of the day, but I am looking forward to maybe having one warmed up with coffee and fruit and yogurt for breakfast tomorrow.

This is my 25th bake from 50 recipes, so I am half way.Each is well worth repeating, and I have now baked several twice!  I now only have one more bake and I am bang on target...

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Snittsidan Bullar

'Cut Side Bun' in Swedish, so I am told.  Another great bake from The Book of Buns.

This is a great shaping technique which I shall be trying on other buns.  You roll all your dough into a long tight sausage, then cut slices.  The cut surface is sticky so it is put into a bowl of mixed seeds, then put on a baking tray to rise.  As there is no tight top skin as on a rolled bun, they expand sideways rather than mostly upwards, so leave plenty of space.  This gives a nice shaped roll for filling.  While still hot, you brush it with olive oil.

Again another bun containing tasty.  Yes I know ....cos I just ate the tiny ones!

Copy Cat Flat Bread

If its got rye in it,  its likely to be Swedish...and I love the original name 'Polar Bread'.  This recipe comes from Home cooking with Sonya.  We are baking buddies on the Facebook page of The Book of Buns.

We had run out of bread, what with the need to get the garden up to scratch reading for the Kenilworth in Bloom competition, and needing rests from time to to time.  The judges arrived early yesterday and were suitably bribed with the last of the sweet buns in the freezer, warmed and puffed up, and tea.

They were hastily made on Sunday...actually they take a little time to cook on the griddle, 3 minutes each side, but with 3 at a time it was easy.

I made them smaller making 10 all together, but I think I shall go smaller to 12 next time.   We had them filled with a chickpea stew for Lunch.

We had one each for lunch, and the rest for later in the freezer.

Monday, 20 July 2015

In a Vase on Monday....Be afraid

Poisonous plants in a little Poison Bottle

In the Vase on Monday this week is staged in a little blue bottle.  When I saw this little cobalt blue bottle on a stand at The Kenilworth Castle Fair at the weekend, just a couple of £s, I knew straight away that I would get it to stage this week's In a Vase on Monday.  It is an old poison bottle with ridges and the words


When we visited Alnwick Castle just a few weeks back I had two guided tours of the Poison Garden.  There were some gruesome tales, and I have at least two toxic plants in the garden.

The lovely blue Aconitum growing under the fence from my neighbour, and a little Euphorbia with which I have a love hate relationship.  I love it in the spring when it comes up with its acid green, then by now it is usually scraggy...and I cut it down, being very careful to wear long sleeves, trousers and gloves.

Today as I was looking for something to set off the lovely blue of the Aconitum, I saw that the Euphorbia is just about to flower a second time.  Both plants are toxic and need to be handled with care.  However the bees loves both these plants.

I'm not the first to use Aconitums this year in In a Case on Monday, so it is their  inspiration which inspired this posting.  

Cathy who is the instigator of this theme, has posted a beautiful calm bouquet.  There is so much inspiration from other contributors too, and I am continually adding to my understanding of plants, and maybe new additions for my garden.  

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Staying local

For several years we have travelled to Kelmarsh Hall for History Live.  I'm not a history buff, but I love reading novels set in the past, visiting museums, looking at  architecture, watching history type documentaries on TV, and understand that what happened in the past has a strong bearing on how we live our lives now.  Often I like to be able to put myself in the 'shoes' of other people.

For some reason it had not twigged with me that this very weekend here, just a moderate walk from our home, up at Kenilworth Castle there was a Medieval Festival....

After a morning in the garden, a quick early lunch, off we went.  The weather was fabulous, the grounds well set out, interesting stalls, knights and ladies, scallywags and ruffians too.  We loved looking round all the stalls, and particularly chatting with the 'campers'.  Over the years of reading etc I have gained quite an insight into the domestic angle...of course I love my kitchen, but how about this for a batterie de cuisine...

Mr S discussed pottage and we also talked stews with this 'pot stirrer'

I love the fact that you could buy indulgences and pardons: medieval equivalent of going to your 'therapist' to talk over problems and find 'resolution' perhaps?

We found a sheltered bench against an ancient walk and with a pint of good ale for him and a half of excellent Perry for me, we sat and chatted, and watch the world and his dog go past.  We really love all the 'enactor dogs', they get a nice pat and chat from both of us!

Going again today...I bought three masks, 'Green Men and Women' and want three more for the gazebo.  Just updated these: got 3 more masks and a plant from the English Heritage Stall...a golden sunny plant in go into what is evolving into my golden corner, as apposed to the pink, mauve theme elsewhere.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Summer Sunshine

Friday was chutney making I mad?

By the end of the day I was really tired, but had been occupied as mainly displacement therapy.  My hero arrived home, smiled, gave me a big hug, rolled up his sleeves, cleared the kitchen and did all the washing up.

Vinegar is one of those smells he really we had our drinks on the patio, in the sunshine, and then we spied butterflies.

I had heard all about butterfly watch on the radio that day, so got out my camera.  Not a clear picture as each time I got close enough it flew off...this was taken from about 3 metres..I read that one of the plants it lays its eggs on apart from nettles is hop, and I have just planted a golden hop just below where I took this picture.  I'm entering the garden for the Kenilworth in Bloom competition, with judges arriving on Monday....don't think it will quite up to standard, more Britain in Bug that Britain in Bloom!

This little hover fly seemed to want to pose.  I was starting to despair at the amount of greenfly and black fly in the garden, and just could not justify spraying on account of the number of bumblebees and bees on the flowers.  But suddenly all their predators have arrived and all will be well.

Earlier this week, through the conservatory window I watched a ladybird larvae munch through a whole of lot of black fly just on the other side of the glass.  I knew I had some black fly on some succulents on the other side of the garden, so went to pick it up and take it across.  On the plant it went for the black fly, but suddenly some ants arrived and fended it off, about three ants ganged up, and the poor larvae dropped to the ground, but very quickly made off under its own steam for some other greenery.  So even the black fly and green fly provide food for other insects...for the moment I shall just watch and marvel...except for the Rose Saw fly which I attack with my fingers.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Shubbak el-Habayeb

My lover suggested we share our bun, as my 'Lover's Window' Buns came out quite large, and we are both on a diet of 'elegant sufficiency', eating a little less, and getting used to smaller portions.  My windows look shut though....Maybe next time I would make 16 buns to get some a smaller size.

They are delicious with the aroma of rose water, orange blossom water, cardamon and mahlab.

This is a recipe from the Iraq region, and has lots of sugar for 12 buns:  100g.  Next time I make these I shall activate the yeast in the milk with a little of the sugar and some flour, before adding it to rest within its cocoon of sugared flour.  Jane Mason in her Book of Buns gives the first technique for most of her recipes...add the yeast and liquid into a well into the flour, close by flicking some of the flour over, and leave to rest for an hour, before kneading.

Monday, 13 July 2015

In a Vase on Monday, May I have the both please?

This week Cathy has been inspired by Old Masters.  This week I have tried to be 'on time', and true to nature want to post Both Vases I have made up this morning.

I know that even when I was small, I just could not make my mind up when faced with choices.  I remember this one, and my mother reminded me often:  gooseberry pie or 'another pie' answer was 'May I have the both please?'  I must have been about eight years old, and we were visiting one of my mother's friends in the UK, although I spoke English very well then, my main everyday language was jumping between French and  Creole, and then English when my mother was about.  I think the grown ups must have all had different thoughts. My Mum was probably embarrassed by the lack of manners, my father thinking there's my girl if faced with tasting two puddings which I never had before, why not both, and as these were two older 'posh' ladies I would like to think they they only thought good of me...there was plenty, and really I only wanted half portions of each.  I used to visit a lovely little Italian Restaurant many years ago, where they made marvelous desserts, and the waiters there knew I wanted a little taste of two or three restaurants make a real art of 'composing an arrangement of several dessert elements on a plate'

Again I could not decided on which flowers to use.  I tip toed outside in the rain, bucket in hand, and began snipping.  Back inside I chose two vases, both of which had belonged to my mother.  Last week I just put all the blooms into one vase, but today a more simple arrangement came into mind. 

The first one is in a 'posh' vase:  Clematis Comtesse de Bouchard, Pittisporum Garnettii, Astrantia Major 'Sunningdale Variegated', and a stem of sedum, still green.  The variegated astrantia is much later flowering in the garden this year, compared to the other pink astrantia which all need cutting back now, and the Lemon Balm called to be picked as I brushed against it as I walked back to the kitchen.  Its form on a closer look is interesting with its whorl of little small flowers, and it has a lovely scent.

The second one in a little simple vase which my father brought back from Japan in the 1960s.  Here again a sprig of Lemon Balm, some Pink Williams which I have grown for the first time in this garden, my first Dahlia flower of the season, bright pink cosmos, and Achillea Millefolium 'Lilac Beauty'.  I bought the dahlias and cosmos from the gardening club sale, and they were pressed upon me despite the fact that I knew I had little space for them.

Last year the Achillea was smothered in green fly, but it is clear this year.  Usually we have a good balance with many different type of ladybirds foraging the greenfly, but to date I have not spotted a single one.  Instead every flower in the garden seems to have several small beetles almost the size of a pinhead, called Pollen beetles which I have hardly noticed in previous years.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Summer Holiday

This year we went to Alnwick, home of Alnwick Castle and Alnwick Gardens; two weeks up 'north', where during the first week, it was cool enough to need the heating on at night, and the second just about warm enough to walk along the beach without a coat, and all this time they were having a heat wave back home.

Our flat was really lovely, very well appointed, and stretched across two Georgian Houses at second floor level within a stone's throw of the market square, and being in the pedestrianized area with no traffic really peaceful.

Loving baskets, I was chuffed when Mr S bought me my first little gift of the holiday from the Basket & Co stall at the market piled high with sweet smelling veta vera grass baskets made by a Fair Trade Co-operative in Northern Ghana called Bolgatanga.

It wasn't long before we felt drawn to the coast.  We walked to castles, played on beaches, and went pond dipping.

It poured with rain whilst we were on Holy Island, but after it seemed every drop has fallen, it cleared and we made our way round the ruins, then to the Castle.  On the way there we stopped to walk around Bamburgh, and visited the Grace Darling Museum.

On one of the days when Vicki was staying with us we traveled inland to visit Armstrong's Home at Craigside.  We had been two or three times before, but there is so much to see there.  Being an inventor his home was a showcase for all that was new: light bulbs, his own hydro electric generating plant, lifts etc.  His home is full of superb furniture, and collections, carvings etc.

On the way there we stopped by a really beautiful isolated little church: St John the Baptist which was built in the 11th and 12th Century, and right by the 13th Century Edlingham Castle.

Best of all was playing on the beach, and all the wonderful wild flowers which were at their best.

I shall write a little more on another day........