In a vase on Monday: A to Z

imageIt has been such a wonderful growing year I had to join in today with Cathy and post my Monday vase which is full of yesterday’s pickings from the allotment.

Starting with A for Acidanthera, I can’t believe that this sweetly scented bulb is still flowering from a planting made last year. And now I’ve learnt to seal the ends in boiling water they last in a vase for a week.

I thought I would give Cosmos a rest this year but one plant popped up in my wildflower patch and here she is. I will sow cosmos again next year as I’ve missed the late summer forest of pink and white on the plot.

However, abundant pink and white flowers have not been completely absent thanks to perfectly pink Dahlia ‘Onesta’ and a direct sowing of Z for Zinnia ‘Green Envy’, which is white with a green rim, although they’ve also disconcertingly appeared in most other colours of the rainbow which has been fun to watch.  Next year I will sow a packet of true multicoloured seeds as I think Zinnia looks better in colour. Last year’s Pink anemone coronaria ‘Sylphide’ is also re-flowering (having been swamped by calendula for most of the year), but she is on very short stems so didn’t make the cut.

The fennel was sown for the kitchen but I love everything about the flowers: the colour, the form and especially their aniseed scent.

In other news, the white nerines I planted last spring are flowering. For a decade or more I had a stand of bubble gum pink nerines growing tight against the house wall. They were beautiful but a few years ago, not sure why, they languished and died. The new nerines are at the front of a new planting area made after taking out an enormous laurel this March. Magnolia stellata  looks healthy and happy after a couple of years growing in a pot, Clematis Etoile Violette flowered her purple socks off from June to September and Geranium Rozanne is still flowering. I try not to look too far ahead but I am excited about seeing the new spring bulbs return here. I have tulip Angelique and Narcissus ‘Sailboat’ to add but rather than risk spearing the bulbs in the ground I will plant two or three to a pot and transplant them in early spring when the snowdrops, narcissi and allium are above ground.

Back to the present and Autumn has been late arriving in my neck of the woods. In this morning’s sunshine I noticed that the edges of the Norway maple are starting to glow gold so I picked up some leaves to bring indoors.  In the garden the berries of Sorbus hupehensis are flushing pink and its sea green foliage is showing a hint of colour while the leaves of Cornus  ‘Midwinter Fire’ are buttercup yellow and contrasting  with the pinky-red stems. The Virginia creeper which grows on the garage wall has had a very good year and is now showing all colours from palest orange to deepest Crimson. Around the pond  (still very low) coral pink Hesperantha has been flowering since the end of July. I pull out the finished flowering stems regularly which I’m sure encourages new flowering stems. Roses are on their second flush – it was too hot and dry in the summer – and I’m delighted to have roses in October.

It is lovely to be here today. Let’s go and see what Cathy has in her vase on this fine October day.





An apple a day



I picked the apples from the Lord Lambourne apple tree on Sunday and today I’ve sorted them into two lots: those pecked by birds or showing symptoms of fly speck for eating now and those that are perfect and can be wrapped in newspaper and stored in boxes in a single layer. I still have the apples from Chivers Delight to pick but as they are a late eating apple I will leave them on the tree as long as possible. I don’t have any special apple storing furniture – strong cardboard boxes, newspaper and a cool airy garage seem to keep the apples in good condition until January.

In our village we have a special, even historic, building called The Apple Store. It probably dates to around the late 19th century when the Manor House was occupied by the Lambert family whose wealth was derived from the tobacco industry. We have a fascinating photographic archive of this large family (there were six daughters and possibly almost as many sons) living their late Victorian lives devoted to sport and leisure. We see them taking tea on the lawn underneath the Cedar tree, playing lawn tennis – not forgetting the pony-drawn mowing machine, bicycling, carriage driving and picnicking A favourite photo shows one of the girls riding side saddle dressed in a sweeping riding habit. The manor house has been the club house for the golf club since the 1920s when the stables and glass houses were swept away to make room for housing, so it is rather pleasing that the Apple Store, hidden away in a corner of a field now used for mini-rugby, is still there and allows us to remember a time when self-sufficiency in apples was normal.

A few years ago I surveyed all the old apple orchards in my area for the People’s Trust for Endangered Species and even in my semi-rural commuter village you would be surprised at how many orchards still exist as you only need five fruit trees to make an orchard. Sadly I know of two which are no longer. One was recently grubbed up to make way for an expanse of prairie planting and the old orchard behind my allotment was reduced in size last year to allow a sand school for horses to be built.

Yesterday I half-caught a snippet of radio 4 news where the reporter had spoken to a young woman in Aleppo who was pregnant with her first child. The woman said how much better she would feel if she could just eat a fresh apple. Hearing this stopped me in my tracks. How I would love to give my boxes of apples to the people of Aleppo and how much would I give for the continuing horrors to be over and for Syria and all other war-torn countries in this region to regain their paradise. (It is the Persian word for an enclosed garden devoted to fruit trees and other sensory delights  -pairidaeza – which became the Roman paradisus and thus gave us our English word, paradise.)

Continuing with apples, yesterday I found a secondhand copy of The Book of Apples by Joan Morgan. (Her latest, The Book of Pears, is just about to be published.) It is a tantalising mixture of history, beautiful watercolour paintings and encyclopaedic information about every apple under the sun.

And to finish four photos from my week.

The apple display at West Dean garden near Chichester last Wednesday. The chilli displays were outstanding too. 
I loved the colours and texture in this square bed also at West Dean garden which inspired me to plant Pennistum alopecuroides ‘Hameln’ together with a purple flowered hellebore (garden seedling), rosy Astrantia (divided to make two new plants) and four different tulips: Angelique, Black Parrot, Blue Parrot and Ronaldo – because you can never have too many tulips. Also in this new area is the established peony Sarah Bernhardt while a crimson clematis, Madame Julia Correvon, climbs up and through Cornus Midwinter Fire and Euonymus Emerald Gaiety. 
Coming down from St Martha’s Hill, Chilworth on Sunday where we’d been to a wonderful concert of classical guitar music in St Martha’s church. The concert was performed by three students from the Yehudi Menuhin School. 
The gardener’s cottage at Polesden Lacey yesterday afternoon.

Hoping you are also able to enjoy an apple a day – and if it’s from your own tree then that is even better. I now have to decide where to plant my new quince tree, which will bring my fruit tree tally at the allotment to six. For now I buy quince from my local greengrocer and once I’ve enjoyed the scent for a few days I make quince and apple cake. Here is my recipe:-

One quince and three apples peeled and  chopped and mixed with the zest and juice of one lemon and one heaped tablespoon of soft brown sugar. Place in an ovenproof dish and cook in the oven at 180 degrees for 20 mins.

Meanwhile cream together 150g butter and 150g sugar until pale and fluffy, add two large beaten eggs and continue mixing. Fold in 100g of ground almonds and 85g self-raising flour and half a teaspoon of baking powder. Add the cooked fruit with  all the juices and mix together gently. Pour into a lined cake tin (I use a 23cm square tin) and bake at 180 degrees for 30 mins. Delicious either served warm as a pudding with cream or creme fraiche or cold as a cake.




Still Summer in October


Another beautiful day and I’m slowly but surely getting the allotment back into shape, after a rather neglectful year. The above photo was taken at around 5 o’clock yesterday evening after a four hour session wearing shorts and t-shirt.

As usual it has been a mixed growing year. Beans, courgettes (I’m still picking courgettes in October), squashes, all the leafy stuff including spinach, chard and salads have been excellent. Strawberries were very good, thanks to the June rain, and I made many pots of jam during their 10-day cropping period. All the old strawberries are now out and I have planted new runners in fresh soil. Summer raspberries were delicious. They are nowhere near as copious as Autumn raspberries but are much tastier and tend to keep within bounds. The old canes have been cut down to the ground and the new canes mulched. I ate a last handful of sun-warmed ever-bearing strawberries yesterday  (they take off when the summer raspberries stop) and chopped off the leaves before spreading a mulch of manure as I think it is time these plants have a rest.

Last weekend I dug up all the Autumn raspberries which had become an impenetrable thicket surrounding the pear tree and almost impossible to pick. I’m looking forward to planting new bare-rooted canes (possibly Polka as a change from Autumn Bliss) in fresh soil this winter. Charlotte potatoes were as good as ever, except we’ve just finished eating the two rows I planted so I will try and squeeze in an extra row next year. In the old days I would religiously plant earlies, second earlies and main crop potatoes and keep my family of four in potatoes for at least six months but nowadays I plant a few rows of Charlotte or Nicola  and we enjoy them fresh from the ground from midsummer onwards.

Shallots and garlic were excellent,  although I didn’t plant enough garlic as we’ve already eaten this year’s crop of about 4o bulbs.  I know I’ve made a lot of pesto as the basil has been the best ever this year and I’ve continued to make it into October. (Pasta pesto with French beans – easy, quick and delicious.)

What hasn’t been so good this year? Florence fennel was a first for me but the bulbs failed to swell in this summer’s bone dry soil. The flowers have  been pretty though, they smell of aniseed and stand well in a jug. The leeks are dreadful and hardly worth harvesting due to leek moth. If I grow these again, and they have always been a stalwart winter veg for me, I’m going to have to cover them entirely with a fine mesh fleece.

Top fruit has been a mixed bag. Malus Fiesta is resting this year after 12 years without a break, but M. Lord Lambourne is more than making up this shortfall and M. Chivers  Delight which I squeezed in a few years ago is bowed down with rosy red apples. Victoria Plum also rested this year and Pear Fondante D’Automne (chosen for her name alone) has produced a couple of dozen delicious fruits. I’m hoping that without the raspberries growing around her feet she will be more productive in years to come.

So there we have it, another growing year bites the dust and we can start planning for next year. Already looking good is purple sprouting broccoli, the rhubarb is mulched and the asparagus fern is taller than me. The old  Autumn raspberry bed has had 12 barrows of manure spread around ready for potato planting next year and I planted a first row of French Violet Garlic yesterday.

I must mention my flowers and I was so pleased to see marigolds, cornflowers, corn cockle, Nigella and poppies self-seeding around to colonise any bare patches and ensuring that despite my neglect the plot has been full of butterflies and bees all summer long. I’ve cut down my mini wildflower meadow which was beautiful for months. The dahlia (I only have one – Onesta – and she looks like a pink water lily) and the Zinnias have revelled in the summer heat. I’ve really enjoyed growing lots of flowers this year and although my flower growing year did not start off well with tulip fire spreading through my established tulip bed it has got better and better and I’m excited about continuing to experiment with flowers for cutting next year.

I hope your year in the garden has been as much fun.


I think my holiday in Florence with my daughter the week before last and all the delicious food we ate and especially our visit to and lunch in the covered market is partly responsible for  my renewed allotment enthusiasm. The museums and galleries and architecture were superb and who could forget evening mass in the Duomo or live opera in the church, but my best bits were climbing to the top of Fort Belvedere and looking down on views like this and having a giggle over a glass or two of Chianti with my gorgeous girl in red. Grazie mille Bella.




Raspberries and Recognition




Sam at A Coastal Plot has just written a post that could have come from my pen, if only I could find it. But it’s not my pen I’ve lost but my voice. My mind is overflowing with stuff I would love to recollect here:  holidays (I’ve just returned from Cornwall and Bath and I’m going to Florence next week with my daughter), recipes for allotment gluts (Anna Jones’ A Modern Way To Cook is the source of my two current favourite recipes – sweet roasted courgettes with crispy chickpeas and raspberry and pistachio brownies), helping with church wedding flowers using  locally grown flowers (bit of a coup not using imported flowers), the clash of heritage weekend with the flower and produce show this weekend,  going on a printmaking workshop and keeping calm (struggling with this a bit I’m ashamed to say)  as I get used to our son living at home again after three years away at university. It took two trips (in our Golf estate) to bring everything home and I’m relieved to report that he drove to the recycling centre this morning with the Polo brimful of unwanted stuff and I followed  up with a trip to the charity shop this afternoon. Phew – there is really nothing like a good clear out and I think we both needed to clear some space.

Almost as good as connecting with Sam through the blogosphere this evening and to feel my head nodding as I read her post and to think yes, September is here (always a favourite month for me as it signifies starting anew) and it will be fun and interesting  to resume blogging. Thanks Sam for the inspirational shove and good luck with your show entries.



In a vase on Monday: Half way and jug half full



imageI’m having a much-needed rest day and am home alone today so time for a few photographs and a catch-up post.



Despite, or more likely because of, all the rain the garden and allotment have never been better. Frogs, toads, hedgehogs and birds (I have a wildlife pond and never use slug pellets at home but have used them sparingly  after transplanting French beans, Florence fennel, basil and  Zinnia “Envy” at the plot) have been taking care of the slugs and snails. Interestingly and in my experience direct sown crops fare much better than transplants. I don’t use mains water on my garden (it goes against my organic credentials  to use drinking water on an ornamental garden)  so in a very dry period my garden can suffer temporarily but it always bounces back when rain falls and this year it has been wonderful to see everything looking so perky and un-stressed.


For weeks now I’ve been bringing home armfuls of sweet peas, sweet Williams, sweet rocket, anemone, Nigella (a new white one with a pronounced purple centre as well as the ordinary blue), cornflowers, cerinthe and borage from the allotment and my kitchen frequently resembles a flower shop.

I love this time of year. The main strawberry season is over for me but for about a fortnight I was making a couple of jars of strawberry jam every other day. The summer raspberries are now producing enough for two and the ever-bearing strawberries and the red gooseberry bush are just starting to crop. I’ve taken a dozen runners from my strawberry bed and soon I will dig up the exhausted plants, manure and plant  purple sprouting broccoli. The new strawberry plants will be planted in fresh ground in September. The leeks are transplanted,  the garlic is drying, the Charlotte potatoes are delicious and I’m awash with salad leaves. The broad beans are nearly ready and I have little-finger-sized courgettes on my three plants. The French and Borlotti beans are climbing  (I had to start again with the French beans due to slug attack), the basil and Florence fennel have just about recovered from munching molluscs and five blue Kuri squash plants are effectively suppressing weeds as they cover the ground. I even found time to make a couple of bottles of elderflower cordial last week and have been making lemon verbena syrup which makes a delicious gin-based mojito with muddled lime and mint  (recipe in last weekend’s Guardian magazine) which slips down very well.


At home the grass is green,  the peonies have been fleeting, the roses are simply beautiful, the scent of philadelphus fills the air and clematis is in bud. Oh, and the pond is brimful and clear and teeming with life with yet another dragonfly currently eclosing on a flag Iris.



In the last couple of weeks we have been down to the sea several times for easy restorative shoreline walks and I’m finally getting over my bike fall a month ago which shredded my left arm and badly jarred my left shoulder which I normally take good care of due to an ancient torn rotator cuff injury. Unsurprisingly I’ve upset the old scar tissue which I know from experience takes weeks or even months to settle down. Amazingly apart from bruising and grazing to my left hip there wasn’t another mark on me and I know I was very lucky especially as I was coming downhill at speed and wasn’t wearing a helmet. I had a tentative swim last week and my shoulder held up so I hope to be be back to full strength very soon.

It has been an exhausting spring and early summer though. We are almost there with selling the cottage and we can say goodbye to our fortnightly mowing and weeding sessions. I am so glad I blitzed the cottage garden in early spring. I think we spent three long days pruning, weeding and burning but even so we’ve taken boot loads of green waste and other rubbish to the recycling facility and the compost heap is taller than me. Looking after the garden has been fine but it has never felt like mine (just like the cottage itself has never felt like home) and I neither need nor want the responsibility and work that owning a second home entails. Why did I not realise this earlier?  We have done an enormous amount of work in a short space of time and I have learnt so much (not least about myself) but now it is time to regroup, focus on the things that really matter and get on with our real lives. I have to say that my husband, who is not a gardener, has been a complete star and has tackled everything  I’ve thrown at him with aplomb. We definitely had our scary moments during the cottage renovation but we’ve come through it as a team.

Meanwhile our son has graduated (with a 2:1) and is now travelling through India with his newly-graduated girlfriend. He is posting occasional photos so we know all is well. We had a wonderful midsummer day with them both, the one sunny day during an especially wet, cold week, and I felt so positive and optimistic for all the young people graduating and then the Brexit axe fell. I do hope the UK is able to extricate itself from this muddle. We all make mistakes (see above!) but surely for all our sakes this is a decision that could be/should be reversed by parliament?

I’m so pleased to be joining in with Cathy and many other bloggers around the world with my flowers today.  I have been picking and plonking  regularly but have had no time to post lately so it feels good to be here today.