Monday, 28 January 2019

In a Vase on Monday - Simple things

Celebrating simple things comes gradually as I start to recover form the plenty of the festive period.  In January like many I can feel bereft or low, but then with a few hours sunshine, and a slow sewing project, I start to appreciate and then notice all the beauty in what is around.

When there is little in the garden, I gain pleasure from the form and and structure of shrubs, then enjoy the contrast between deciduous and evergreen plants , and take in the thought that without herbaceous plants dying down I would not be able to enjoy and anticipate new shoots from bulbs and other plants emerging from the winter hybernation,  even if they can be a little nibbled.

I suppose I could have picked a few crocuses or snowdrops or cyclamen for In a Vase on Monday.  Maybe I ought to have done so, considering we are promised snow this coming week. With a small garden, I can sit in the conservatory and enjoy them easily, and with stone paths I can go out and enjoy the garden without having any grass to walk across.

Just in front of me  this morning, as I sat quietly working on a project, was a vase of a sort with something in it:

This is the Crassula Kokedama which Sandra D brought last year.  It has never been potted up....and in the picture below it is propped up with some pebbles, just to prove it.

However it is a little unbalanced now and is best in the pot with its garden angel.  Sitting and sewing quietly I was pondering the whole recycling thing, and the question of black plant pots.  Coming up soon is the period when as a person who can't help but try and propagate things like me, is thinking of what plants to sell on at the gardening club sale.  I had the answer before me:  I shall offer plants without plastic pots:  instead of planting up succulents in pots, I am going to look for moss to make Kokedamas out of them.  There is plenty of drainage and lots of air and I can even see the little maze of roots mingling with the moss.

This is the little Crassula nearly a year ago....

The project I am working is being worked on gingham, a simple but delightful crisp and colourful first challenge was the hem, such a simple thing I thought.  After carefully cutting and pressing the fabric, came the sewing up of the hem.  Its ages since I tackled any first I thought the hem was reasonable, then looking at it, as on the lower part below, I started to realise that if the white thread was in the white square it would definitely show less, by half was along the second edge, I was happy with the result......

I was positioning the needle to catch a thread along the stronger white line, and finally a nearly invisible stitching line was achieved.  Kay who sent me this project would approve...but I am going to leave the hem as it is as reminder to myself of the journey towards a better hem!  I can only sew in the very good light in the conservatory.  Ever since a little girl I loved gingham.....

Without first looking at Cathy's post which is also all white and green, I can now say snap however hers is definitely not simple but sophisticated.  For a little distraction do go and see what see and others are posting this week for In a Vase on Monday.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Phlomis fruticosa 'Bourgaei'

One of the group of plants I particularly like are the Phlomis.  I first grew a pink shrubby Italica as well as the yellow fruticosa, on a steeply sloping dry bank, and have continued to be drawn to this plant.  Whether on holiday in Crete, Cyprus, and other places within the Mediterranean, I play spot the phlomis!  

Currently in my garden I have Phlomis purpurea Matagalio  growing as strong bushes direct in the ground.   I grew these  from seed sown last year. The quickly expanding clump of herbaceous Phlomis russeliana has lovely erect stems of yellow flowers in the Summer,but will probably need to reduced.

I saw this new shrub in the market on Wednesday, and have spent several days thinking about it.  Today there were still a couple of specimens left, and not surprisingly one had to come home.  The label reads Phlomis fruticosa Bourgaie...but I believe the label was probably printed in Holland.  The name appearing mostly on the internet is Phlomis fruticosa Bourgaei.  There is very little written about this plant, and I hope that my appeal to the holder of the National Collection of Phlomis will bring more information.

What appealed to me with this cultivar, was the shape of the leaf which is elongated, with a fine undulating margin which shows up silvery compared to the grey green leaf surface.

I realise that this plant has probably been cossetted and brought on to look this good in January.  Non the less I am rather pleased to have this to add to my dry and sunny garden, as once it is established, like other phlomis will be drought tolerant.

I share with you the best information to date on Phlomis fruticosa Bourgaei

I was intrigued by this cultivar and wanted to know more.  I got in contact with Beth Smith who holds the National Collection of Phlomis, and she kindly researched this and sent me the following:

 "Glad to hear of your love of Phlomis!  P. bourgaei is named in honour of 
Eugene Bourgaeu (1813-1877).  It's endemic to Turkey from sea level to 
1000m.    It is not a fruticosa cultivar but a separate species.   
Phlomis are notoriously difficult to ID.  We are inclined to think that 
you have a new Dutch cultivar, lazily named.  Maybe one parent is P. 
longifolia - long, narrow, rugose leaves.  Is the other parent P. 
leucophracta?  That would account for the greyish, soft, leaves and 
their curled margins.   We are uncertain and making enquiries from a 
Dutch contact.  I'll write again as soon as I can."

In addition should I get drawn hook' line and sinker into this group of plants and want to learn more, Beth's advice regarding books on Phlomis : "only one in existence has been a great help and was produced by the former NC Holder:

Phlomis:  The Neglected Genus, Jim Mann Taylor, published 1988 by the (former)  NCCPG, now Plant Heritage.   ISBN 0 9532413 0 0     It is out of print but can be obtained as a Book on Demand from Lulu or is available on line as a pdf.   

Just in case I received even more information I contacted the RHS who gives advice to members, using their on line advice system:

More information about the variety, breeding, origin etc

I have grown other Phlomis, but when I saw this plant, I knew I had to get it!!! It has longish leaves, covered in grey fine hairs, typical of Phlomis. The leaves are elongated with a soft wavy edge which I had not seen in other shrubby Phlomis. The label gives Phlomis fruticosa Bourgaei and there is not much on the internet except for a couple of posts from Europe. What does Bourgaei stand for and mean? What is the history of this cultivar and where did it come from? I presume that it would have similar cultivation requirements to other Phlomis...sunny, very well drained, drought tolerant etc. I shall attach open flowers till later in the summer I am sure, but I can send you some later if necessary. I have just bought it....

This is the answer I received:
Phlomis bourgaei is named in honour of Eugene Bourgeau (1813-1877), French botanical traveller, who collected in France, Spain, Corsica, North Africa, Asia Minor and North America.  It is recognised by Kew and the RHS as a species distinct from P. fruticosa.  It native range is E. Aegean Islands to SW Turkey.
In the wild it is a yellow-flowered shrub (corolla 20-30mm) to 150cm, found in machis shrubland, oak scrub, and pine woods, on calcareous and serpentine rocks.  There is little written about it from a gardening point of view – I did not find it in RHS books but if you can track down copies of The Mediterranean Garden Society Journal, the Index has references to volumes: 40 (pp. 42, 43); 72 (p. 13); 73 (p. 13).
Cultivation requirements would be similar to those for Phlomis fruticosa ie fertile, well-drained soil in full sun.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

January Sticky Buns

How could I call these Autumnal Sticky Buns when it is January....

A revisit of Autumnal Sticky Buns from Jane Mason, which I first made back in 2015, was part of a large pumpkin bake today.  This time I shaped the buns as for 'free standing' Chelsea buns as I wanted to freeze them individually.  I didn't bake them with the underneath goo, so put the pecan nuts on top of the filling before rolling them up.  A little glaze with the remaining sugar and lemon 'sauce' from left over from making the crystallized candied lemon peel. (Waste nothing)

I had already baked the pumpkin before Christmas, so it was just a matter of defrosting and allowing the pumpkin to reach room temperature.

The first bake of the morning was a big batch of cheesy pumpkin twisted sticks , link to the recipe,filled with herbs and chopped olives....sorry they are all batched up and already placed in the freezer.  Since first devising this form and recipe, and having shared them with friends, and found them exceptionally good, rewarmed from frozen, they have just got to be a standby in the freezer.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Cyclamen and snowdrops

Jo Hynes from Higher Cherubeer, Dolton in Devon was at the Somerset Hardy Plant Society today.  My friends Sally and Peter Gregson had invited me to join them at the meeting.  Last Autumn I  shared a goodly number of germinated cyclamen coums with Sally which took us some time to pot up into modules, and are now growing on well in her nursery.  Sally therefore thought this talk would appeal to me.

The talk started off with old pictures of what the garden was like back in 1991 when with a young family Jo and her husband Tom took a farm and developed it over the years into a show stopping garden, specialising in snowdrops, cyclamen and other early flowering plants.  Pictures of what they had achieved displayed the hard work required to transfer old farm yard and breeze block buildings into a garden which many travel miles to enjoy.   Of course the garden is also designed for year round interest but as Jo's talk was about enjoying the garden in winter, we had some interesting information about cyclamen and snowdrop growing.

I've renamed the post Cyclamen and Snowdrops.  Jo Hynes has many snowdrops in her collection and is working hard on developing new crosses.  In her garden she likes to position the early flowering C. coum in her winter interest beds alongside the snowdrops.  Today (Sunday), I have repotted the Cyclamen cilicium, and made up a second pot with three small seedlings found in the pot, planted the white flowered coum below, close to Galanthus Magnet, and found some recently germinated seeds of this one too, which will spend a couple of years safely in a pot.  From another pot of coum that I had raised, with pink flowers and speckled leaves, I planted four corms along the snowdrop border.

Jo shared with us her experience of lifting and dividing snowdrops.  Of course the specials are prized and expensive, and I am sure the very choice ones are brought on in baskets or pots.  For ones grown out in the garden, Jo explained that a good time to work and move the plants is when they are dormant in July or August before the bulbs start to grow roots.   If moving in the green one has to be particularly careful not the damage the roots or the leaves, as these permit the plant to renew itself forming leaf and flower within the bulb.  Jo also outlined her feeding regime.  Taking on board her tips, I hope that my snowdrops develop well in the next few seasons.

Being the holder of the National Collection of Cyclamen, except for c. percicum, it would have been rude of me not to acquire a souvenir of the talk:

 A Cyclamen Coum with well variegated leaf and a white flower with a flushed magenta blotch at the base of its petals, which I shall plant out in the border alongside my special snowdrops.

The second plant is a Cyclamen cilicium which Jo had selected for leaf.  This cyclamen flowers in the autumn...

Now that I have got it home it looks remarkably similar in patterning to the C. coum above, so I do hope it is not the case of a wrong labeling.  I'll keep my eye on this one!  It will probably go on the sunny dry slope in the garden, but for now, I'll keep it under observation till flowering time.

Lastly because I like a challenge, I bought a packet of Cyclamen graecum candicum seed, which I planted up on the 20th Janaury!  This is one for a sheltered and warm part of the garden, or even in a long tall pot for display in the conservatory during late autumn when it flowers.

When I posted IAVOM cyclamen coums back in 2016 before we moved, I seemed to have a nicely spotted leaf, which I seem to have left behind in the old garden. Update...found them in the sunny border!

At the 2015 Autumn Malvern Show, I greatly admired this cyclamen....and maybe I shall grow one nearly as beautiful as this one!

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Snowdrops from Anna

I was delighted to received some special snowdrops from Anna last week.  For each of these I have put a link to Judy's Snowdrops, as Judy's description of the cultivar is very good, and also put pictures of where I have planted them.  I fully intend, as soon as it is a little warmer, to go out and make a plan of where in the bed I have planted my special bulbs, which I have collected since arriving in Somerset.



Lady Beatrice Stanley

I need to add to the list others:

2017 Woronowii
2017  Elwesii
2018  Viridapice nivalis 

2018 from Cathy
Blewbury Tart
Mrs Macnamara

Plus lots of miscellaneous single and double snowdrops brought from Kenilworth, but planted well away amongst the shrubs etc.

Thanks to friends and purchases during visits to shows, I have sufficient specials for now. I think I shall enjoy my collection as they start to bulk up.  Having a small garden I think 9 specials is just right for me to enjoy.

Although Magnet with two bulbs in flower, has been displaying for more than two weeks...the ordinary singles and doubles out in clumps in the garden are only just piercing the soil.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Seville Nouveau

We have all heard of Beaujolais Nouveau.......

With the first Sevilles of the season, some big juicy lemons and cane sugar I give you Seville Nouveau.  A simple Seville Marmalade:  Seville Nouveau.  If you would like all the tips, and I think this is my final version do check out Mrs Mace Preserves.

Again mastering pictures taken with phone, and uploaded straight to blog....quality not great, compared to my Canon IXUS, below, but it may just be the operator.

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Reviewing photographs - Wild flowers on Cyprus

For various reasons, back in 2011, when we visited Cyprus for the first time, I didn't post much.  It is only during a few minutes reviewing and deleting photograhs, that I came across the photographs and on this dark January evening, these few of wild flowers do make lovely viewing....

My favourite being the first: a cyclamen cyprium growing out of the rock face

No wonder I was looking so pleased:  not a selfie, but taken looking into a mirror

Somerset levels - January cycle

Continuing with cycle rides straight from home, I am finally getting to explore some of those long droves which criss cross the Somerset wetlands.  Whilst the narrow roads leading off the hills can take the form of hollow ways lined with ferns, down on the Moors, where the droves are flaked by rhnes which at this time of the year are full of water, they are higher than the surrounding areas.  I find the term Moor strange, as I had previously thought and experienced moors at high levels, not like these areas which are only a few meters above sea level.

Yesterday's ride of 12km, took me across the A39 Wells to Glastonbury Road, through Upper Coxley and onto Pill Moor.  In effect my cycle ride took me round Harter's Hill.  It is the first in the section of pictures below.  I am a complete novice regarding taking pictures my mobile hence fuzziness, exposure may be me or maybe I am just expecting too much from it!

There were many birds in the rhynes and fields.  On this ride there were rooks feeding in the grass, and an adult swan and two juveniles in one rhyne near Harter's Hill, which got me thinking of Wynne the widowed Swan at the Bishop's Palace in Wells, who managed to rear her cygnets single handed this year.  She has flown away, and we are all wondering whether the new swans will learn to ring the bell.  Standing out in the dull grey day were two little white egrets, a couple of herons, and what looked like a very big heron type bird, which took off in flight as soon as I came riding down the drove.  Looking up the site for birds on the levels, I see that there has been Cranes on the levels.  I will be sure to pack my binoculars for my next ride out on the levels!  

With all the stopping to admire the views, and enjoying checking on my map on the phone, the ride took longer than I had anticipated.  It was well worth it.

Monday, 7 January 2019

In a Vase on Monday - Getting outside

Its early January, we have just had our first frost in the back garden, sufficiently hard to knock back the nasturtiums, fuchsia, and Salvias.  

A few steps into the garden to hang out the washing usually leads me to looking around the garden.  I know the rule is to leave the garden alone, but I really felt like ripping up all the soft and saggy nasturtiums and low and behold the sign of shoots from bulbs beneath brought joy to my heart.

Around the Hydrangea Paniculata growing in a large pot, I had planted a few embryonic cyclamen about three years ago.  They were giving a nice little show, sufficiently to spare a few blooms for my little ceramic vase.  A couple of leaves of other cyclamen, and two leaves from a little native evergreen fern.

The fern is called  Asplenium trichomanes or Maidenhair spleenwort and is a native everygreen fern which is very hardy. The little bright green leaves come from a nearly black central rib.  I've seen this growing in cracks in walls.  I love this little fern which I bought a few years ago, and have it growing in a pot where I can admire it.  During the summer, I move the pot to a sheltered and shady spot, and even in the few instances that it has dried out, a good soak in a basin of rainwater has revived it.

For this week I am grateful to IAVOM for getting me outside.......not just to pick the little vase full of early spring flowers, but to photograph the vase.  Inside the light is just far too poor.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Ash Trees on the Mendips

I'm using this Title on this post because I took a picture of a magnificent ash tree on my ride today.  It was a shorter ride at around 8km, with 144m ascent.

The quiet time after Christmas is traditionally a time to consider new resolutions, Normally I don't make any resolutions, well not at this time of the year, but it dawned on me in the small wee hours that I ought to be less timid.    Friends who know the outer me may laugh at this, but the inner self does lack confidence in just getting on and trying things.

In  my less timid mode, I thought through the things I ought to set my sights on.  An important one is good health and fitness within one's capabilities.After my injury on the walks in Crete and a realisation that my feet would hardly ever be likely to be in shape to attempt even moderate walks let alone walks such as The Tour de Mont Blanc and crossing the Pyrenees as I had done some years ago, my mind has turned to cycling.  We are fortunate to live in a beautiful area, with reasonably quiet roads so this will be my new challenge and offer a variety of 'adventures'.

I have my workhorse of a bicycle, which with its panniers, serves me very well for visits to friends locally and most grocery shopping.  However there is no reason to limit oneself, and this is the third of my rides in my new regime.  I am exploring the area straight around our home.

Another area in which I have been timid, is in the use of the mobile phone!  After years of having first a pager, then a mobile phone for work, and jumping each time wondering what emergency would need to be dealt with, I had decided to use them as little as possible.  I have one and I want it to be a tool.

On my recent two cycle rides on the levels, one of the difficulties was getting out the Ordnance Survey Map from my pannier, opening it, finding where I was, and maybe trying to hold it open in the breeze or in the mizzle, which is the name for very fine rain/mist.

With the new Ordnance Survey Maps there is a facility to download a code, but first you need to upload an app, my first one!, and now I have the map on the phone, with a little help from Mr S.  So today, I have used this for the first time, and I am sure there are many features to explore and will be fun to use.

Another 'must try harder' area is using the mobile phone to take pictures....The picture of my Giant was taken with the phone, and another first for me today was uploading the picture to a 'Facebook' post using the phone.  Another first was sending the picture to my own email from the phone, so that I could upload it to my blog.

The Ash Tree was taken with my camera, and it really doesn't quite look as good.

There are large areas of mixed woodland on the Mendips, with Ash dominating.  Away from the coppiced woodland within the smaller fields 'eye catcher' specimens like this one offer landmarks along the lanes.  After cycling and indeed walking up steep hills pushing the bicycle, there was a steady downhill ride into Wookey, with much breaking. 

When looking up the flora and fauna of the Mendips I read that one of the plants 

"Purple gromwell: A characteristic plant of the Mendip ash-lime woodland frequently found in clearings and beside rides"

which by the way I shall look out for this spring around the edge of the wooded areas,  is growing in the green swath, which stands in for lawn in my front garden.  Was it planted there at some time, or is it a remnant of the original turf?

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Somerset Level Alders

To end the year I planned a solitary cycle ride on the levels taking me a little further than a week or so ago.  With ordinance survey opened out, I found a low point in the ridge along which the B3139 runs from Wells through to Wedmore and beyond.  It was across the gap near Panborough that I ventured from North Moor to Knowle Moor which lies wedged between this ridge and the Mendips.

On North Moor the tall willows mark the edges of dykes along field boundaries, and within the grazing areas wide expanses of sedges dot the grasses Over the last few weeks I have come to appreciate the beauty of this low level countryside, and plan to learn more about  its flora and fauna.

Towards the ridge, it was the Alder Trees that started to take over from the Willows.  In the low winter light, their twigs with tight buds shone purple.

With their leaves all gone, the structure of the branches is silhouetted against the low grey clouds,  again forming field bounderies.  The Alnus glutinosa adds fertility as it is able to trap nitrogen with the help nitrogen fixing bacteria. 

At one stage a brightly coloured kingfisher flew ahead of me along a dyke,  and later I stopped to watch a sole little egret, I think, well it was egret shaped and white, but as soon as it turned and saw me, it flew off!   There were the usual flocks of gold finch, long tail tits, willow and other tits.

On the way back I cycled round Knowle Hill, where I found a young heifer loose on the drove.   At the time I was anxious in case it turned towards me, so I made sure I kept a constant steady slow speed, and as it jumped the dyke  in a well trodden area, It dawned on me that it must have done this several times. It had galloped in front of me for half a kilometer before jumping the dyke and then swaggering into its 'home' field by Knowle Farm.

On the last leg of the cycle, I had a few hills to pass through as I cycled through Yarley and back towards the Ben Knowle and Hay Hill Gaps, passing Fenny CastleVineyard.

The weather was mild.....

Friday, 4 January 2019

Mahonia Gin

Mohonia Aquifolium is a tough plant, and was here growing in the garden when we moved.  It is a large shrub growing against a stone wall...

In mid winter before the flowers appear the foliage turns a red and bronze colour.  It is soon followed by clusters of sweet scented flowers which are a magnet to early foraging bumble bees.

During the Summer, when it was heavy with its small purple fruit, Blackbirds soon followed by other fruit eaters started to harvest the crop, with branches weighed down.

Not surprisingly, after a little investigation I decided to gather a bowlful of the small fruit.

Having washed them, I put them in the freezer.

I had thought of adding them to some jam or fruit jelly, and had quite forgotten about them until the end of October.  When I realised that it was a little late to start to look for sloes, the thought of trying a little 'Mahonia Gin' came up. 

My current gin of choice, on account of quality and price is this photographed with another of Lidl's best products in this household...

I added the frozen mahonia berries, with equal weight of caster sugar to a kilner jar, and then just covered them with gin.

Every few days it would come out of the cupboard, be shaken, then put back in the dark.  A couple of days before Christmas, I used the port filter to strain off the liquour....

I came across Geoff's post and having read that the berries are not poisonous, was reasonably happy in trying this just for Mr S and myself.   The verdict is that it is worth making and since there were so many berries...enough for us and the birds...a small glass each over the festive period topped up with our favourite Feverfew tonic brought back memories of summer, flowers and birds.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

A couple of days in Dunster

Mr S had organised a couple of days away so off we went just after Christmas....the weather started off damp and very misty, but at the western edge of the levels we drove out of the mist to blue skies.

We made straight for Porlock Weir, where it was so warm, and calm.  We walked along the shore and enjoyed the gentle lapping of the water more reminiscent of a lake side than a sea side.

Almost everywhere was still closed even though it was the 27th...but driving back we did see a board on the road side saying lunches and teas, and I am jolly glad that we chose to turn back having already driven a mile or two past the sign.

The little village we arrived at was Selworthy, and after lunch at the Periwinkle Tea Rooms,  we followed a path...up and up.  Mr S would say he wasn't surprised...if there is a hill, I am likely to want to go up it.  This turned out to be well worth it, not only because this was the best walk I have managed since returning from Crete.  We walked through woodland with wonderful views, and glimpses of woodpeckers, till we arrived at the top where we came across an ancient hill fort.

It was warm and sunny...and even coats were being carried!

For our return walk, we used the Church with its whitewashed walls as indication of what direction to walk in, and quite naturally we had a little visit.  Little Angels hovered above us!

Outside there were benches where one could sit and admire the views.

Our Hotel for the two nights was the Lutterell Arms, and we had a large room with a four poster bed that was so high...I could not reach the floor!  With a side room nicely set out as a reading room, set over the entrance, there were good views up the High Street towards Dunster Castle.  It was in that room that we stacked the many 'obligatory' cushions and coverlets for the bed!

We had stayed in Dunster last year.  This time many of the shops were closed but the Castle was open, and we walked up there and admired the many well decorated Christmas Trees, as well as the dinning room set out for Christmas Lunch.

Even the horse boxes had been decorated with foliage and dried flowers from the grounds....

In the shop as I was choosing flours, one of the Millers came in and introduced himself and approved my addition this year they have organic spelt grown in Somerset.

Before buying the flour I wanted to walk up to the top of the Keep where I found interesting plants around the Bowling Green and wonderful views on all sides, with sounds of the steam railway as the trains were past.

As we walked to the Beach from the Castle, stopping at the preserved railway station, looking back inland, there were views of the Conygar Tower...a folly built in the eighteenth century.

All in all, a lovely Birthday Treat.......thanks Mr S!