Thursday, 31 December 2020

Year End 2020

 What a year!  Best forgotten? Ah but small steps enabled me to find a sense of equilibrium.  The best thing is appreciating the strength of our twosome.  Thank goodness for love and understanding.  Thank goodness for friends, neighbours, family.  Thank goodness for living amongst good people.

It has turned cold, and with determination, on the last day of the year,  I set off for a small walk this afternoon, all wrapped up.  In the garden frosts are forming pretty edgings.

In the garden, after putting warm water in the birdbath, I look around.....

Best wishes to everyone...keep safe, and reach out.

Monday, 28 December 2020

In a Vase on Monday

 Still looking good several months later, with my Christmas Fairy, is  Hydrangea paniculata Vanille Fraise. 

A short and sweet post this week: better to have contributed than not.


These appeared in the Vase on Monday on 24 August this year, and they are still looking lovely.  Linking in with Cathy as usual for this meme on vases from our gardens.

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Christmas Baking Review

 Although I love to try different recipes and techniques, because this Stollen is as good as it gets, I have kept exactly to Andrew Whitley's original recipe in Bread Matters. I've been making this each year, and the first time I mentioned this in a post was in 2011.

Andrew Whitley's Christmas Stollen

I baked my Pumpkin Panettone, but with goose eggs rather than hen eggs this year.  I used pistachio and pecan nuts, and the fruit soaked in my Old Mauritian Rhum.  I thought there was a little too much dough, so I made two smaller brioche tinned buns.  The rise was great, but the next morning, when I saw the  panettone cooled, I realised that I ought to have done my usual trick of cooling it upside down,  suspended with long skewers through the base.  We enjoyed that for breakfast on Christmas morning, and it is delicious, and this morning had a slice lightly toasted for a change.

I felt so grateful to have a little encouragement from Mandy on Christmas eve, and asked her to share again with me the recipe for the Ricciarelli Mince Pies she had made this year. We had a conversation about these quite early in the morning, and forwarded that the quantities in the recipe were not quite enough to make the 12.  In the end I tweeked the recipe.I must remember to write down my variation in my recipe book, as when printed from the Good Housekeeping site, it only gave quantities and not method.  I upped the pastry by 50% but doubled up on the Ricciarelli as I fancied some almond petit fours.

With all that is happening with the 'will we have one, or not post Brexit arrangement', families having to plan last minute Christmas meals because of new travel restrictions, etc., too many people were out last minute shopping, and anyway all the Pistachio and other very good Turkish delight was sold out, the Ricciarellis would be my 'chocolates', since now chocolate is nearly top of the list for causing adverse reactions.

The pastry needed a little more water than the recipe even though it had two egg yolks.  Once chilled it handled easily and there was sufficient for twelve standard and twelve mini mincepies.  I also got to play with my wooded pastry pusher.  The mincemeat was my homemade January 2020 vintage one. The 12 minis are in the freezer for later in the week.

My response is why make any others, since these are just perfect!  I'll be using the pastry recipe and the Ricciarelli recipe even if not making mince pies. 

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Christmas Braised Red Cabbage

Happy Christmas Steve: the braising of the red cabbage is complete, the house smells divine, and the Pumpkin Panettone style Christmas breakfast bread is rising. Yesterday during our WI Zoom Camera Club, we were introduced to the term Steve: we all thought it was probably a 'joke' from one of our member's 'young adults' to make fun of the parents, but we heard today that Steve is the slang word for the day before Christmas Eve, ie 23rd December.

A week or so ago, Kay a dear friend from Kenilworth asked me for the recipe of the red cabbage dish I used to share with her.  I have been making this for years, and would take a jar along to our sewing group, and found out that Kay enjoyed it so much, it was even eaten cold straight from the fridge.  

I bought Delia's Three Part Cookery Course back in the early 1980s, that is forty years ago now!  Then I bought 'Delia Smith's Christmas' as soon as it came out in 1990.  I've just checked, Delia had another one in 2009, all that is besides the point, and quite honestly, the recipe for her braised red cabbage is on line.

The only changes are that I use cider vinegar, red onions, and this year added some dried cranberries.  By coincidence I am taking some of this round to Anne, later today. I was also in the very long queue, all with our masks on,  for Holly's stall, she is the Duck, Goose, Chicken, Egg lady at the market today, and I learnt that a couple of friends were just giving up afterwards, and would not have their red cabbage after all.  I wonder if I can stretched this three ways?

A quick phone call after writing this post to Anthony and Maggie meant that I didn't have to drive round to their place.  A quick salutation to our trusted greengrocer, along which the long queue deterred many as it was also pouring with rain, resulted in a red cabbage being tossed across in exchange for a pound coin.  Bet there were some laughs!  They now have enough cabbage to last a few days.

Monday, 21 December 2020

In a Vase on Monday

 No water required for this salvaged hydrangea head. It featured a few weeks ago, and has gracefully dried whilst turning duck egg blue and a tasteful pink. I'm linking in with Cathy who has a little collection of vintage and antique ink wells with a lovely small posy flowers.

It is sitting in a little bowl just bought on our visit to buy our Christmas supply of Keeved Cider. The bowl was made by Angela, and it is sitting on the beautiful base of stems woven together, bought last year at our visit to buy cider.

Angela also gave me some twisted hazel which was to form part of an arrangement, but being quite large it stayed by the front door and has some ivy from the garden and berried holly brought over by another gardening friend.

I may just add a little of Father Christmas's beard, which looks nicely washed and is hanging around hedgerows locally. Plenty will be left for the Old Man.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Christmas Traditions

 One develops Christmas traditions: they help one to feel Christmassy. Last year we visited Pilton Cider for the first time, and having enjoyed another visit yesterday, picking up a choice of delicious carefully crafted Christmas drinks, this will be equivalent to our walking across the fields in Kenilworth to pick up our Christmas bird direct from the farm.

The Keeved Cider is our special drink over the period, and we came back with a little stash that will last well into the New Year.

It is always interesting walking around the Factory Complex housing many small manufacturing/storage/outlets.  This is a  small boot scaper, outside one of the outbuildings of The Anglo-Bavarian Brewery from 1860s. The outbuilding and the bootscaper may of course be of a later date.

We had a little tasting, and looked around Angela's art exhibition. She had some wonderful Trombocino squashes from her polytunnel.  Sadly the long curly one had been sold! I did come away with a few small ceramic dishes, a woven star, and a lovely bit of twisted hazel.

I was going to make an arrangement inside with the twisted hazel, but for now, it is joined by the front door, by some ivy and lovely berried holly brought over by fellow Henton Gardening club committee member Sue.


 Having finished knitting my third pair of Garden Path Socks:

I needed to start another pair.  Concentrating on knitting socks is a wonderful way to relax, and a reasonable excuse to sit down whilst your drink cools! This pattern is called Thistle Socks, one of the patterns I saved when ditching over 100 editions of The Knitter Magazine during the last few weeks.

Saturday, 19 December 2020

Six on Saturday 19 December 2020

Our  Director for the SOS production of "Six things in our gardens each Saturday" is allowing the back log of bulb planting get to him, I think at this stage, he ought to call in other members of the back room team to help, don't you?

(1) Just thought I would get in a little preview of the Christmas present I bought myself.  No compost is allowed near these until after the day.  If I gave myself cart blanche to do gardening things then nothing else would be done.  I have shopping, baking etc to get on with!  Oh and today visiting a good cider place, cider tasting and purchases for our 'local Christmas'.  A big plus is that whilst Mr S tastes and discusses cider, I can catch up with my friend Angela who is a talented artist and professional gardener.

 (2) I got carried away with the tidying up the snowdrop and cyclamen stage bed, and trying to remove all the leaves from the two rose bushes, almost ended up all her lines cut with a full prune.  I say to myself that the bare root rose trees come looking like that, so time will tell if I have been a 'naughty' gardener. I've just heard that our local Rocky Mountain Nursery has a large batch of rose trees waiting in the wings. Well as one well known supermarket is saying in their adverts, there is no naughty step for me this year, and I would much rather have a plant or two than a box of chocolates.

(3)  I have to get out in the limelight as soon as it stops raining, even if I can only manage a few lines little walk around.  On these dark days, there are some plants that stand out, not because of their wonderful evergreen colours, but with the strange season, they are later to die down. It is as if the spotlight has been directed on Thalictrum delavayi splendide, (that is her stage name) or she has just blanched at the thought of other plants having exited, leaving her all alone. She has only just coloured, so I hope it means she has stored a lot of energy ready to send up several flower stems next season, and may well be the leading lady come June or July. (Fred, our lovely French contributor, may be thinking I have been at the brandy. But no! This is a skit, parodying Pantomime: a type of Christmas Farce, which many British people love), and both adults and children to go to the theatre to watch over the Christmas period) Fred, is there something similar in France?

(4) I have a little nut tree evergreen, or maybe as there is as much stage make up pink and cream, I should describe it as a 'not deciduous' shrub.  I would say it is amongst my top five shrubs in the garden.  It lights up this dark border, even when the sun is hidden behind heavy clouds.  What a star! Lophomyrtus ralphii Little Star. 

(5) Just on the edge of the picture above are the 
Primula alpicola var alba.  Within a few days they have also turned yellow, and will 'melt' away into the wings to appear ingĂ©nue like in late spring.  I divided them after flowering and moved them.  Again I have high hopes of a good performance during the summer season.  Here they are a little further away from the bird feeder, as they had been in the high bird footfall area, and prone to damage as they emerged.

(6)   Mr S and I  have decided 'no gifts' to each other this year. However we shan't be totally without the Christmas morning surprise presents, as yesterday a postman delivered a box of lovely presents from our family, all beautifully wrapped. With a different one for the birthday. 
Some wrapped up presents feel like a lot of bumps, and sets one guessing. This little plant is just a mass of bumps at the moment.  Can you guess what it is? Answers next week. 

Good job we have lots of very happy Christmas get togethers under our belts, and Mr S and I shall chat about them on the day.  Oh yes, we shall.... and hopefully there will be a good Pantomime from a previous year on the TV.  Wishing everyone: girls and boys, and gardeners everywhere,  A Happy Christmas.  

Saturday, 12 December 2020

Six on Saturday 12 December 2020

1. Ivy: Walking to the outside of our garden boundary fence, looking for ivy to glean for decorations, I  found some 'mature growth flowering. It had flowered a month or so back, but I could see that there were new buds ready to break any time soon.  Because we still have bees around on sunny days, I am going to leave these, and pick the longer juvenile stems.  Apparently there is more ivy growing, as per this highlight from the New Scientist, reported on Bug Woman's blog. 

2. The observations of earlier autumns in that article is contrary to what is happening in one corner of the garden, with a few leaves still hanging on to the Acer.

Another interesting source to dip into and find information is the Facebook group: Learning about our Garden Wildlife. There are short but interesting articles, with some amazing photography.  There is an interesting Christmas Quiz being posted daily, but you can still catch up with all the previous ones, no answers yet.  I learnt about the lifecycle of greenfly or blackfly, why and when they grow wings, and how they overwinter.

3. Suffering from the winter blues, a little cheering was in order, and I felt something golden and beautiful to look out on when the leaves have fallen, was in order.  Solved of course in a way to please me year after year: the answer came in the form of a Cornus. I had this cornus in my last garden, and I do believe that if a garden is only big enough for one cornus, then for me it has to be Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'. 

4. A member of the Gardening Club came round to visit the garden this week, having taken up on my offer of cyclamen seedlings..  This is when my little stash of well rooted cuttings come in, as Patricia also had one of the Salvia Amistads which will overwinter in her glass house.  And I am sure that John Massey would  smile at my sharing seed from the Eryngium Silver Ghost. Even the C. coum are flowering very early this year, this is one of the standard ones, but non the less a lovely vibrant pink.

5. The Penstemom Rich Ruby has no idea of closing down for the winter just yet....

6. I've been enjoying the colour and texture of the Phlomis purpurea Matagallo in the low winter sun. My garden visitor admired the shrub, and Patricia was intrigued to hear of a pink phlomis. Although a shrub for the dry summer garden, with its upright form and interesting textured silver leaves, it shows up very well in a winter garden.

Low winter sun through Phlomis purpurea Matagallo. 

If you would like to spend some time reading up about what real home gardeners are up to, and maybe also contributing, the idea is to go over to The Propagators Post, where he put up a post each week, and we link in.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

New Vegetable seeds arrive


So this is my seed order from MoreVeg all well packaged and on my doorstep with days of inputting the order, ordered evening of 30 November arriving Thursday 3 December, well that is pretty good service.  I had seeds from MoreVeg last year, and having just small quantities at reasonable prices allows for some variety on a small plot over the season, with fresh seed each year.

One my main reasons for choosing these crops is so that I can step from my back door, and pick some veggies free from pesticides, and without all those miles and plastic bags.

No.QuantityProduct no.NameUPVATTP
11 piece(s)BFDANBean French Dwarf Annabelle
21 piece(s)BFDTGBean French Dwarf Tendergreen
31 piece(s)CSLVTCorn Salad Vit
41 set(s)COUPTCourgette Patio Star F1
£1.35 / set(s)0%£1.35
51 piece(s)COUAPCourgette Atena Polka F1
61 piece(s)CUCPOCucumber Poinsett naturally nurtured seed
71 set(s)LETGDLettuce Gilaad (romaine) naturally nurtured seed
£0.75 / set(s)0%£0.75
81 piece(s)LETLGLettuce Little Gem (Cos)
91 piece(s)PEADPPea Douce Provance
101 piece(s)PEASDPea Sugar Snap Deliket
111 pack(s)SPNAVSpinach Avon F1
£0.90 / pack(s)0%£0.90
121 piece(s)SPOIBSpring Onion Ishikura Bunching
131 piece(s)SPOPUSpring Onion Purplette
141 piece(s)SPOEFSpring Onion Eiffel
151 piece(s)PEAMCPea Mangetout Carouby de Maussane
161 pack(s)HBBBRBasil, British
£0.60 / pack(s)0%£0.60
171 piece(s)HBCOCCoriander, Cilantro naturally nurtured seed
Dwarf French Beans: go check out the article written on MoreVeg's site, if you are unsure of growing dwarf beans, or which variety to choose. If you are looking for steps to achieve a good crop, garden focused is a good guide.

Dwarf French Bean Annabelle:  In 2020 I grew a climbing french bean, but this year I am growing dwarf beans for a change.  Being on the shorty list, I found picking the tall ones at the back of the border a bit of a pain, anyway nice to have a change.

Dwarf French Bean Tendergreen:  This is the bean that I shall start in pots as early as I dare, probably half a dozen towards the end of March.  The climbing french beans Cosse de Violette this year were so late to crop, the earlies picking during early August.  I think that was their habit, as they waited till they had reached the very top and some, to start flowering. 

Corn Salad Vit or lambs lettuce is something I used to grow when I had an allotment, almost like a soil covering during the winter, but making for good dark green salads in the winter.  I shall sow just a few seeds in a pot this week, and see how they grow on for the spring, otherwise I shall sow them later in year probably September.

Courgette Patio Star which hopefully will be compact, and Atena as I like to grow yellow courgettes too for the kitchen.

I had such fun and delicious eating from the cucumbers this year, that growing these again next is a definite.  Cucumber Poinsett reviews of this heirloom cucumber recommend its disease resistance, so I am going to give it my best attention.

Mrs Mace loves lettuce, and could eat it at every meal, Mr S eats lettuce, because he loves me!  Lettuce Gilaad well those leaves are just so dramatic! Lettuce Little Gem to take up little room and use as interplanting.

Pea Douce Provance for a very early crop: sowing can start anytime from now for a very early crop, and Pea Sugar Snap Deliket   being dwarf and compact and can be used very young or in pod. I don't look for large harvest, but just a handful or so every few days to add to salads, stir fry dishes, or mixed steamed vegetables.  I grew a few peas for the first time this year, to eat the shoots raw in salads, but ended up really enjoying a handful of peas now and then. The flavour of peas cooked or eaten within minutes is supberb!  Don't take me wrong, I am very grateful for the bags of frozen peas bought at other times.

Pea Mangetout Carouby de Maussane, with pretty purple flowers, and good recommendations, I just had to add this heritage mangetout to the list, and give it a try.  I shall probably grow this one as an 'ornamental' on tripods amongst my other plants, as if they were sweetpeas!

Spinach Avon I've only ever grown the perpetual type, and fancy trying the standard spinach for once. There are some good sowing tips on Garden Focused.

Onions grow very well on this soil, and you can't get fresher than just picked, and with no grit down the the cut stems, which I have come across several times in supermarket spring onions.  If you harvest them, cut the longer leaves off and wash them close to the fields it is probably impossible not to end up with grit.  I wash them and prepare them and tend to use the fresh green leaves to their very tips.

Basil and coriander..well there is always a call for herbs in my cooking and salads too.

Spring Onion Ishikura Bunching, is a long Japanese onion which can be harvested thin or allowed to thicken up to give long leek sized onions.
Spring Onion Purplette with a long season for sowing, and the possibility of growing a little longer for delicious little Cipollini, and purple ones at that, how could I resist these.

Six on Saturday - 5 December 2020


It definitely feels like winter: I am grateful for the odd hour of sunshine, but it has mainly been dark and wet, and Friday from mid morning was glorious for a few hours, then back to poor light, mizzle and cold.   I feel like setting up a vigil through the night to catch the cat(s) that have chosen to use my beds where there are emerging bulbs, for you know what.  They are now strewn with every sort of thorny stick I could find. If anyone knows proven ways of deterring cats, please let me know.  

Jon the Propagator has a collection of winter beaten plants, and tips, and also a fancy new module system for seedlings which looks interesting.  I'll be looking into those Butaseed modules soon, for all those veg seeds I hope to grow.

1. There is nothing quite like the low winter sun shining on  Japanese Grass Hakonechloa macra Albostriata, to get me reaching for my camera. 

The variegated colour and stipes have been replaced by a warm sensual titian glow.  Contrary to usual guidance, this 'shade loving grass' has thrived  in deep clay pots in full sun all year, having been watered in the driest periods weekly. I had another in a more shaded area to compare it with, that one has less vibrant autumn foliage.  

Geranium robustum Silver Cloak

2.  I admired this plant in Beth Smith's garden: Foamlea. I feels such a long time ago that we visited her but it is only 18 months ago.  Beth gave me a small plant, but I had obviously not given it the good drainage it needed.  I felt quite bereft, and was soon trawling the internet for a grower of Geranium robustum Silver Cloak.  I bought two and placed one in the front hot dry sunny garden, and one in the gravel garden.  I am pleased to say that each plant is thriving, and there are a few cuttings taken as an insurance policy, and to send to Jim next spring.  I love soft grey leaves, intricately divided leaves, and hardy geraniums, so this has been a great introduction to the  garden this year.

3. Thanks to the generosity of Jim, the seeds he sent me of another silver hardy gernanium, are coming up nicely, and are being nurtured.  They could be G. incanum or G. harveyii and it will be interesting to compare this with Silver Cloak. According to Robin Parer. in the Plant Lover's Guide to Hardy Geraniums. G incanum is one of Silver Cloak's parents.

4. Whereas Geranium Silver Cloak is not deciduous,, many other geraniums have just melted into the ground in the last couple of weeks.  I have been watching a geranium that disappears in the summer.  I am happy to report that all three clumps of Geranium malviflorum luckily escaped being overplanted, or damaged during their summer dormant season, and I am very much looking forward to their spring flowering.  I have learnt that they are best moved/divided just after flowering whilst they are in the green.  I shall be sure to do that, and bring them closer to the edges of the borders, in between winter dormant perennials. 

Geranium malviflorum emerging in December

 5. Early to flower, this little primula reminds me of the time we visited The Vyne with my grand daughter when she chose this plant.  I had wanted her to choose a plant for herself, but she wanted me to have it.  Hope I can look after it and keep it healthy, and maybe one day she may want a piece.

6. I'm not sure if this plant is quite to my taste, and  I can't quite work out why.  I like white flowers, I like scabious, and to think this is flowering in December too. But this may not be the normal flowering period, it just seems so wrong. 
Scabiosa caucasica 'Perfecta Alba' might get moved a little further away, maybe it is just in the wrong place and not in harmony with the rest of the planting in that area. My plan this week  is to work out where it will be moved to.....

I shall give it one more year, and then....after all with so little space, and so many plants to try, I now am going round the garden removing the ones that are iffy.