Monday, 26 February 2018

In a Vase on Monday - Shapes and shadows

On Saturday, I was getting rather excited preparing for the visit of two IAVOM friends the following day, and felt a little gardening would calm me down.  I wanted to start the preparations for planting out new snowdrops and later I attacked an old potentilla shrub that miraculously survived builders as the conservatory was under construction last year.

Here we are Alison C and Sandra D and myself...very cold but enjoying good company, winter gardens, and snowdrops.

Sadly the the lovely angel sculpture within the Palace has been moved....but here it is from when I posted about a visit in 2017 .  I have a thing for angels in the same way that Sandra has a thing for pineapples.  I am sure she will be writing about her Pineapple experiences in Wells!

At first I didn't particularly like this shrub, and would have had it out, except that Mr S liked it.  It would therefore seem quite disingenuous of me to dig the Potentilla out whilst he was away running model layouts at the weekend with friends!  Besides which, I felt it had earned a little reprieve having flowered its little socks off almost until Christmas.  Usually if I like a shrub or plant I carefully research and prepare for the best way to reduce or transplant it...if I don't, I usually just go for it.  I have since read that from time to time Potentillas do need a seeing to and will bounce back from even the harshest of it will recover, but maybe not flower until 2019.

I got busy with the secateurs and quite soon what was once a shrub a metre high and across became much reduced.  As I worked through the bush I became to appreciate the shape and curves of the woody stems, and saw the first sign of spring growth.  I chose some stems and 'pushed' them into a lovely  studio vase which my father brought back from Japan in the 1960s.

The shadows on the wall too added to the interest, but I have neither the skill nor the patience today to show this to advantage and have just added one of those tones available on the photo storage system I have.  The black elephant again is pottery from my Husband's family home, and the two little keys rings, skillfully made from wire and small beads,  were brought as souvenirs by my sister after her holiday in South Africa. 

The stems reminded me of the thin leaved scrubby trees we used to drive through, in one of the drier regions in Mauritius near Black River, where,  as children we would imagine we were driving through African grass lands with  acacia trees with rhinoceroses and elephants.  We had no television in those days, but we had large books with black and white pictures of landscapes from around the World, which I often had my nose in.  We would even see Lions in the clouds. 

I am sure you would like colour and for that you will be enchanted by a flower originally from the same continent as the rhino, so head off to Cathy's post this week.  Cathy is the creator of IAVOM....and without this post I would not have had such a special day with two new friends.

Friday, 23 February 2018

Succulent Update

One of the succulents which I have found particularly easy is Echeveria much so that I have plants dotted all over the house, sheltering from the cold.  I even have this tray in the conservatory.  The three large ones left in the soil in the garden are finally surrendering up following all the rain and now the first hard frosts of the year here in the sheltered garden.

Echeveria Elegans

Even their flowers make excellent cutting and last a long time.

Doing very well at present are the Aeoniums.  I currently have four different types.  The large one for which I have no idea what it is called has a natural way of sending out  side branches from just below the lead one.  On this plant which was rooted about three seasons ago, the first set of side shoots is already sizeable. I acquired the original from my honey friends in Kenilworth.

I have my green ones which smell of honey growing well... fact I have several of them, but here on the table in the conservatory the central one is flanked by two which I acquired on my trip to St David's last autumn.

The Schwarzkopf is on guard in its trough, grateful for the recent sunny days, which have transformed its leaves from a wishy washey to a good dark colour.  I have shown aeoniums in local shows and enjoy sharing cutting and plants with friends.

Here is the little pan of recently propagated Echeveria purple purl, sorry I meant purple pearl...I must have had half my mind on knitting!!!!

I have some leaves of echeveria curly locks waiting to have the same treatment.

The pot of Delosperma: hardy ice plants looks as if they have started to take root.  I was interested to learn that they are hardy succulents with lovely flowers, and the trader at Wells market gave me this little selection of cuttings.  I had taken him a few of cuttings from a selection of my succulents.

I would like to explore the more hardy succulents, at least hardy enough to overwinter in the conservatory...and have discovered on line Surreal Succulents based down near Truro.  They have a handy filter on the site where you can select succulents according to their hardiness.  

Bacon, Cheddar and Jalapeno Loaf

The recipe for this loaf is on page 122 of Jane Mason's Book Perfecting Sourdough.  However I made a few variations.  Due to issues with consuming cow's milk, I went for goat's cheese made at the farm in Wookey. I have only had to travel a short distance from Cheddar too!  I'm just having a bit of a smirk as I think about this, as I am sure most people won't be using Cheddar Cheese from Cheddar!

For the chilli I used some chopped up yellow chilli which had been in the freezer since last year when a new friend Tiana had passed a few to me.

The only other change I made was that I set the finished dough to rise in a large cake tin.  I ought to have set the dough in a large 1Kg proving basket...but I felt happier not doing the turning out thing this time.

The bread smelled divine as it was baking, and formed the basis of lunches with soups and salads, and I found Mr S snuffling up a just a bare slice for his supper!

The flavour and texture of the loaf is excellent...but next time I would bake two 500g loaves and freeze one.  This is the first time I have had hot chilli peppers in a loaf, and probably would not have baked this loaf if I had not been in the Facebook group baking through all the recipes in this book.  However now that I have read about the Jalapeno Pepper, I am even willing to grow my own.   A few years back I was growing small red chillis and this was hugely productive.

In my view all manner of additions could be added to this dough...olives, spring onions....but then there are lots of other savoury loaf recipes in 'Perfecting Sourdough'.

Monday, 19 February 2018

In a Vase on Monday - Small offerings

In a New Vase...just the right size to show off a few snowdrops.

I had thought I had lost my smallest of ceramic vases so bought this at a stall at the Shepton Mallet Snow Drop Festival on Friday.  Alison C:  a Fair Maid from IAVOM joined me for a lovely afternoon at the festival.

Pride of place in the front is a flower from a new snowdrop bought at the show: Viridapice nivalis green tip  This is quite a common snowdrop I understand...but I love it as it is easily identified by the green on the outer petals.

Along side are  snowdrops which survived the move from the midlands, and a couple of periwinkle flowers from a clump of Vinca Minor.  Its not quite the right blue to match the vase..but I have little else in flower.

Whilst unpacking the last of my boxes of vases on Sunday I found the smallest vase...too small for these but fine for a trio of mud spattered primroses.

With it a spring of rosemary and a little stem of sedum a gift plant from Alison last year, which is starting to sprout very nicely.  I think it may be Sedum Autumn Charm 'Lajos'.  Here it is sitting on a very old doily which would have graced tea time tables in the days before paper or plastic ones.

Cathy has her arrangement on a tea go and see what is on offer to wet your appetite there.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Snowdrops in Somerset

Those Fair Maids of February, those White Ladies were all the focus of the Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival 2018.


I met up with one of the Fair Maids of IAVOM fame and spent a lovely sunny February Friday afternoon exploring the two specialist stands in the market square, the exhibitions in the Church, and visiting some of the gardens open for snowdrops.

We just managed to fit in our visit to Windsor Hill House and Old Mill.  We were made most welcome.  Nestled amongst rolling hills, with springs and streams, this is where James Allen the famous Victorian Snowdrop enthusiast was born in 1830 and where he lived until 1853.

We listened with great interest to the owner who had some sobering stories about illnesses and looting mobs, and the bravery of James's older brother holding them at bay even though he was just 17.

I loved this old roller in the border, with a clump of the Candlemas Bells piercing the deep leaf litter. I wonder just how old this roller is, could this have been a Valentine Present?  Love the hearts.

Earlier, in the Church, we looked around a number of stands and exhibits.  Not having found my tiny little vase in my unpacking, I succumbed and bought one just right for showing off just a few snowdrop blooms.  I do hope that my purchase of snowdrop Viridapice nivalis green tip bulks up sufficiently for me to pick a few blooms next year.  As I start to get my eye in and see what differences there are between the cultivars, I have noticed much more about the blooms.  I like for instance about this one that it is very easily distinguished by its green wash to the lower outer petals, but I have also noticed the prominent and split spath.

I bought the plant from Jackie Williams the owner of Triffids Nursery.

In the Church Alison bought some tickets for the various prizes with all funds going to help with the festival.  We both admired the beautifully decorated cake...but if we could choose a prize it would be the large bowl full of growing snowdrops.

In Shepton we also visited the home where James Allen carried out much selection and hybridization of snowdrops of which he was a pioneer, with galanthus Merlin and Magnet being sole survivors to the botrytis which destroyed much of his work and which must have been devastating for him.

 Galanthus Merlin Flower

Galanthus Magnet 

Another IAVOM friend Anna, who is perhaps the most knowledgeable of the group as regards snowdrops has suggested a very good site for me to refer to: Judy's snowdrops

These are snowdrops and small arrangements from my previous garden...I just hope that when the few bulbs I brought from my last garden flower this spring the little one with a clear horseshow shows up, which is one I grew from seed.

February focaccia

What is the difference between a Focaccia and a Pizza?

I thought I would make a Pizza, but added more herbs, and oil and make a soft fluffy base, and therefore it became a Focaccia.

Topped with pesto, and fennel roasted butternut squash, a few olives on one, some left over hummus on the other...and then all the buffalo mozzarella.

One for supper this evening...

and another into the freezer for another day!

As they are warmed up, there will be a further grating of pecorino cheese, and fresh basil tossed over the top as it is taken to the table.  A delicious fennel and walnut salad, with added sliced radishes will complete the meal.

I am now really happy that the run of cupboards with lovely pull out baskets etc is in full working order.  I have found my lovely ceramic heart a Christmas present from Jayne some time back, and am now waiting to find decorative hooks to hang both this and the lovely sampler: a house warming present from Kay in Kenilworth.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

All you need is love and cake

Love is a Mosaic made by Helen Clues


She spied wild flowers on the seashore

Wild flowers on the Seashore - Cyprus 2011

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Blackcurrant Bushes Planted

A couple of weeks ago I dropped Mr S off in Shepton Mallet to start his weekend away with friends exhibiting a large model railway layout.  As I knew it was market day there, I went down to see what was on offer.  There were only a few market stalls, but I spied one with plants.  There were some bare-rooted fruit bushes, all well labelled, and with their root balls very nicely taped up in small bags with soil around them.  I found the stall holder very helpful, giving me advice on the best fruit for the area.

These bushes had been grown in Norfolk.  He had a variety of fruit bushes and trees.  When I asked about the variety he would recommend for my small garden he suggested Ben Sarek and found me two very sturdy plants.

A few months ago I had been researching which varieties to grow and this is one of the recent introductions and is compact , and self fertile.  What I like is that Ben Sarek is early fruiting, frost and mildew resistant, and has good yields of large berries.

Today the sun has been shining, it hasn't rained, and I felt the pull of the outdoors.  After half an hour or so of weeding, my eye fell on the plants standing up by the water-but.  Each plant has been carefully planted in a deep hole, and the soil as it was returned around the roots, mixed with well matured compost and fish, blood and bone.  It was very nearly dark when I finished, but my little camera still coped with the low light.

In all my gardens and also when I had an allotment, I have planted blackcurrants.  They are a fabulous fruit to have, and each bush can yield a few pounds.  Even when I was without fruit for a season or two, I managed to find some lovely fruit for preserving.  One of my favourite deserts although quite simple is poached pears and blackcurrants.

Mr S's choice preserve by far is Blackcurrant Jam.  When we went together to pick some at a pick your own farm, he realised just how hard work they are to pick...and hence the price in the shops.

And now for the hard to bear pruning regime, which entails cutting these lovely little twigs with their promising buds down to about two inches above ground.  I was really hoping to find some way of keeping some stems and hence fruit this season.  I did leave a couple of bushes like this in my last garden, but the hard pruned ones did perform the best.  Tomorrow I shall go out, and prune them hard, and as the stems look so healthy, will try rooting them for additional plants.

Here is to 2019 when I hope to pick the first blackcurrants!

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Cheese and Onion Sourdough Bread

It seems ages since I had my hand in sourdough, and having refreshed the starter last night, I set about one of the baking challenges set this month.

At the same time I made up something that approximates to Do-good Bread, divided  into a loaf, and some mixed up with soaked up bottom of the bag fruit and fibre cereal with added fruit.  Its one of the ways I use up all the fine stuff left at the bottom of the cereal bag!  We end up with breakfast bread that uses up what would have been wasted.  Our wild birds prefer sunflower hearts to left over cereal!

As I write this up, the smell of the cheese and onion loaves, slowly cooling on the rack, is wafting upstairs. Supper this evening will be this bread together with a warming and spicy soup.  We had a altogether delicious and filling lunch, and this will do very nicely indeed.

The recipe gives a 1.4 Kg loaf, which would be great for a gathering.   I therefore chose to make two smaller loaves, and feeling that my dough would slide across the baking sheets during its two to three hours final proof, used two deep pan  baking tins. 

As for the 200g mature Cheddar Cheese, this was not on the cards for us.  Such a shame as Cheddar is just down the road...Instead I thought some goat's cheese from a farm even closer at Wookey, bought straight from the farmer at the Wells's farmers' market on Wednesday would do very nicely.  It came wrapped in grease proof absolutely no plastic in this instance!

Once the dough was ready for its final rise, it was popped into tins...

and after about two hours I brushed them with egg wash and added just a small sprinkling of cheese.

Then after another hour...I felt they were ready for the oven.  After the first blast I decided to sit out in the kitchen and watch the loaves carefully through the oven window and was happy that the cheese did not burn.

Here they are turned out and cooling....

When I popped into the library this week...out on the New Books stand I found this one.  Of course, I was drawn by the title...and I have found it entertaining and amusing and read about Lois being shortlisted, or not for a market stall in San Francisco.  Nice to have a novel with a character who is beguiled by sourdough!

Off to heat up the soup now.....

Saturday, 3 February 2018

Crassula falcata miniatum

I believe this plant to be Crassula perfoliata var. falcata or var.minor, but my plant looks different to the ones I have seen on the internet.

It has the interesting sickle shaped grey leaves but after about 8cm tumbles down and just keeps growing down, with many side shoots. For me it has never flowered but even so, the very grey leaves and their sickleshape are worth growing this plant for.  I am putting a link here to Bruce Brethauer's article on this plant at The Central Ohio Cactus and Succulent Society as it gives very good guidelines on cultivation etc.  Having read the article I shall adopt cooler winter time temperatures with as much light as possible, with even more sunshine during the summer months.  I also now understand that they may go into a summer dormancy when watering ought to be reduced.

Again it is only now that I write about this plant for the first time.  I have or rather had two plant pots with Crassula falcata.  I have had them a number of years.  I used to have them in the conservatory, but thought it was too cool and had them either side of the bay window on the windowsill.  It is only because they are in heavy clay pots within a ceramic pot outer that the weight of the plant does not overbalance.

Yesterday I found one half  of one of the plants on the floor.  Unlike the plant in the picture above, it had a little 'overwatering' injury a few years ago, with a blackened stem.  It continued growing but I think the weight of the growth was so great that it finally fractured at this point.

Here is the broken stem from which I started to prepare some new cuttings.  

I have taken some today for one of the stall holders at Wells Market who is a bit of succulent lover.., along with some bulbs from the Ledebouria, and Crassula ovata gollum. I have again put a link to some photographs of the Ledebouria taken by Bruce Brethauer on flick.

I shall wait a day or two and pot them up in some sandy compost. I wonder whether fellow blogger Daisy Debs will have this plant and comment. If you don't have this one Daisy, and would like a piece, then just ask. If anyone else reads this post, and has anything to add on their views as to what this plant is etc...comments would be very welcome.