In a vase on Monday: Advent Angels



Advent, if one can avoid the mad frenzy of the High Street (both real and virtual) and the siren call to buy what you don’t need, is one of my favourite times of the year. I love the stillness of the countryside as flora and fauna settle into winter hibernation and nothing can beat a winter sunrise or sunset. At this moment my garden is aflock with acrobatic birds from the far north feasting on the white pink-tinged berries of the Sorbus tree while the sky is a rosy glow heralding another starry night and frosty start.

My Advent preparations have so far  consisted of making mince pies by the dozen for immediate consumption while today I refreshed my autumn wreath, the base of which I made from a coil of Virginia creeper stems. Now it is wearing glossy green leaves and tiny white flowers from Sarcococca twisted with fresh green and white leaves from Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’.

In my vignette  I have a Blue Kuri squash waiting to be turned into Thomasina Miers’ squash and pasta soup with fried sage and Parmesan. The recipe was in the Guardian magazine of 26 November and it was so good I’m making it again. I harvested 14 Blue Kuri squashes from five plants this year and this is the seventh to come into the kitchen,  although they keep until March in my cool garage. The orange slices are waiting to be dried for decorations involving cinnamon sticks and the succulents were casualties when the biggest head toppled over felling the others in its wake. When I carefully detached the fallen heads I noticed I had several tiny new plants growing in the gritty gravel. I put the stems in water and now I see they have developed fine roots so on a warmer day than today I will pot them up into small terracotta pots. Or maybe add them to my winter wreath?

During this time of waiting and expectation I’ve been thinking of my dear dad as today would would have been his 90th birthday. I hadn’t realised until recently what a stellar year 1926 was to be born: David Attenborough, the Queen, Eric Morecambe and Fidel Castro, to name just a few.

Philip Larkin was born in 1922 and died 31 years ago but last Friday evening a memorial stone to him was laid in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey. I didn’t care much for Larkin’s lifestyle but I cannot fail to be moved by his poem “An Arundel Tomb” which he was inspired to write by the tomb of Richard Fitzalan, 3rd Earl of Arundel (1307-1376) and his second wife Eleanor. In his Will Richard asked to be buried  “without pomp” in the Chapter house of Lewes Priory and I imagine his fine tomb was moved to Chichester Cathedral around the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. See how Eleanor’s body is twisted towards her husband’s and how he has slipped his hand out of its gauntlet in order to take her hand in his. The little dogs with their noses blunted by time symbolise the loyalty of the Earl and Countess to their king and kingdom.


Here is the final verse from “An Arundel Tomb” by Philip Larkin.

“Time has transfigured them into

Untruth. The stone fidelity

They hardly meant has come to be

Their final blazon, and to prove

Our almost instinct, almost true:

What will survive of us is love.”

Joining in with Cathy with my succulents. The garden pickings may be very slim in December but I am always inspired by your vases.

London skyline at 15.50, 29 November 2016 

In a vase on Monday: Blue dusk



What an absolutely gorgeous day, chilly but not freezing if you keep moving and just perfect for a bit of gentle cutting back and digging out of crumbly compost to make room in the full to overflowing compost bin for today’s prunings. I never call it garden waste or green waste, it is the essential ingredient for growing a garden. I cut the dried flower heads of Verbena bonariensis today and added them to poppy seedheads and a seedhead of Allium Christophii. I was going to cut some flowers from my various clumps of Panicum, but they are looking so good right now I just couldn’t bring myself to spoil the display.  I adore grasses, especially at this time of year. I planted another Pennisetum this autumn and have been wondering if I should pot it up after the alarming weather forecast for tonight.  It is planted in a sunny well-drained spot and I’ve surrounded it with tulip and narcissus bulbs which I don’t want to disturb so I think it will have to take its chance.

The vase is special to me. It was made by Amanda Brier when she was working at the Leach pottery in St Ives and I bought it direct from the pottery maybe 15 years ago. It is a simple cylinder in shape and it reminds me of the sea and holidays in Cornwall.

I am getting ready for Christmas in my usual low key way. I made a fresh batch of mincemeat over the weekend (I use Delia’s recipe) and have just rolled out my first batch of mince pies.


I’ve also been making Liberty lawn lavender bags filled with dried lavender from the garden. (I make an inner bag from leftover lining fabric and use toy stuffing as well as lavender to make them soft and plump.) And I’m pleased with how this crochet cushion cover (still awaiting its feather pad) came out as I copied a photograph from a book and worked out the pattern  myself. (Is it a ripple wave? It has a really nice texture.)  It has been made for the painted chair with a punched star seat which I bought from a junk shop for the cottage. This is my (absent) daughter’s bedroom and today it not only smells of lavender but is also scented by the Rose of Attar pelargoniums overwintering on the windowsill.



I love a sunny blue sky day. Tomorrow is forecast to be as good and I’m going to London to take advantage of my Tate membership and plan to see both the Paul Nash exhibition at Tate Britain and Elton John’s modernist photograph collection at Tate Modern. As I’m going with my husband there is bound to be a nice lunch too. We first visited Tate Modern in December 2000, taking the opportunity of a child-free day out together while our four-year-old daughter stayed at school all day for a Christmas play.  I remember it well because we bought a print of The Snail by Matisse for the playroom and had lunch at the Globe theatre before dashing home to collect the children at 3.15pm. Tomorrow will be more leisurely I hope.


It’s great to join in with Cathy and post my vase on Monday.

Soldiering on

There isn’t much flowering in my garden in mid-November so I won’t be joining in with May Dreams Gardens Blooms Day round-up but in order to do better next year I’m going to write about what is looking good on this mild, damp and windswept day. No photos I’m afraid, unless I find some of relevance in my archive.

As I look out of the window as the light fades the first plant that I see is Nandina domestica and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the barely blushing leaves and teeny tiny cones of pink berries. Behind is a generous mound of Sarcococca, not quite ready to burst into fragrance, and in front flowering lavender and Erigeron. Two clumps of panicum are looking good, but they need the sun to alight on their inflorescences to really shine. Geranium leaves are colouring red and the flower heads of Sedum are a pleasing peaty brown. Undoubtedly the highlight of this south-facing border is the combination of Pyschocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ with its  interestingly-shaped burgundy/red leaves against the solid green of Euphorbia palustris and the orangey-yellow leaves of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’.   Up and over the pergola the yellow wisteria leaves are showering onto the deck and blowing into the pond whose margins are still studded with red hesperantha.  The pear tree is in that fragile ghostly state where the grey leaves have turned even paler.  Sometimes this tree goes out in a blaze of glory – not this year though, the next cold day it will literally shiver its remaining leaves to the ground.  Viburnum bodnantense  ‘Dawn’  is flowering and the leaves of Magnolia Stellata are the colour of caramel. Looking good all year round is the closely planted combination of Euphorbia characias wulfenii, Helleborus Corsicus and Bergenia Silberlicht. The white nerines are a little frost-damaged but from the kitchen window look just about ok.  But my absolute favourite right now is the warm orange light coming from Sorbus Hupehensis and at its feet amplifying the glow is Hakonecholoa macro ‘Aureola’. I love this grassy plant which earns its keep for about 10 months of the year and changes from the freshest lime-green in spring to the most gorgeous rusty hue through autumn. The pink-flushed white Sorbus berries will be a feast one cold January day for the fieldfares who fly in from Scandinavia. There is another buttercup yellow Cornus in this bed showing up well against the glossy green leaves of a camellia. Moving round there are hips from Rosa Glauca Rubrifolia combining with the last of the fuchsia flowers and the remains of Dianthus Barbutus, sown from seed as an annual last year but flowering here almost all year round. There is more yellow glow coming from the garage bed where I have a large stand of Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ and on the right-angled corner where the soil is practically non-existent there is a successfully-placed Panicum which catches any low sun at this time of year.

Reading this back has certainly made me feel better about the garden. Yes, there are few flowers but there are interesting shapes and once the wind has scoured the garden of its litter of leaves I have some good evergreen structure and tall trees to draw the eye up to the sky.

Today, and proof that my shoulder is finally on the mend, I gave the cedar deck its annual scrub to remove the layer of algae. I have a system for this job which just uses warm water, a stiff brush and my muscle power as I cannot bear noisy garden equipment. Today it took me an hour from start to finish and as soon as I was done I jumped into a hot bath to release my shoulder.

Talking of which it turns out that I had sustained a new muscle tear to the subscapularis muscle which lies underneath the scapula (shoulder blade) which was why every forward and backward movement made in an arc from the body was so painful. I still can’t front crawl (I tried again in the pool yesterday) and tying my apron strings behind my back is impossible but I am so much better than I was six months ago when I fell off my bike. I have found an excellent physiotherapist and after only two sessions I am starting to re-build strength in the shoulder. I’m sure that like many of us being unable to do stuff in the garden is the worst thing so I am very relieved to be on the mend after a somewhat frustrating summer.

I think a visit to Wisley may be necessary to see what is blooming locally in November. I usually avoid Wisley at this time of year for fear of stumbling across a Christmas craft fair or shopping event, but needs must and I think my garden has room for a special purchase or two.

Oh and look what I found in my archive,  a mosaic of November 2015 photos. Not quite the intensity of colour I’m seeing this year, but a good enough flavour I hope.

In a vase on Monday: Pure gold

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The homeslip on Sunday morning, after our first frost of the season.

It was important to me to join in today and celebrate with Cathy, and other blogger friends, three years of In a vase on Monday. I started posting my Monday vases in May last year when I was very new to blogging but I became derailed when we bought the cottage and my focus shifted to making an 18th century cottage habitable and then saleable. Thank goodness that is all in the past.

Today I spent a couple of hours in the garden planting the remainder of the Angelique tulips and ‘Sailboat’ narcissi. I waited until after our first frost  as I needed to plant them in the only free space in my garden around the collapsed peony ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ which has been cut to the ground and mulched with home made compost. The soil here is beautiful – dark and crumbly and sweet-smelling and exactly as you would expect after 25 years of home composting. It wasn’t always like this. At the beginning even digging the smallest hole for a bulb meant excavating demolition and builders’ rubble and compressed blue clay, not a job to look forward to.

Bulbs planted I whizzed around the garden with the lawn mower spreading the grassy leafy mulch directly on the woodland border. I also did a little bit of cutting back, not too much as I like my garden to decay gracefully and gradually.

What did I find to bring inside?  A flowerhead and bud from Clematis ‘Marie Boisellot’. She was cut to the ground after her May-July flowering period and now she’s back up the fence and flowering again. I love the almost linen-like texture of her petals. In the smoky glass posy vase there is the last Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’. Dare I say this plant is losing her vigour. She shares a bed with the equally ‘intent on garden domination’ Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’. I usually cut the cornus hard back in the spring but I missed the moment so the cornus is top dog(wood) this year. Also in this vase is a white cyclamen (I have a lot of ants in my garden and consequently I have cyclamen popping up everywhere), a few daisies from Erigeron which had its annual hair cut today in a probably futile attempt to stop it self-seeding everywhere and a stem of sweet-scented lemon verbena. I thought about cutting a stem of white-flowered nerine, but as I see them from the kitchen window and I only have three flowers they have all kept their heads.

There is also a bowl of Lord Lambourne apples which have been so good this year. I picked the apples from Chivers Delight a fortnight ago as we were going away and I was concerned that an October gale might strip the tree for me and they too are delicious. We made a flying visit to Canterbury on Saturday so I took my daughter a basket of apples. We had a very good lunch in The Goods Shed in Canterbury which uses local and seasonal produce to mouth-watering effect and afterwards visited Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’,  currently on tour in The Beaney.

Our holiday was spent on the Cotehele estate as I was  interested in seeing the orchards in fruit, especially the mother orchard which was planted in 2007 to help preserve the old Cornish apple varieties. We had marvellous weather and walked for miles in golden sunshine every day. One day we had a birthday lunch at Endsleigh and explored the Repton landscape garden (the acers were on fire) which surrounds the early 19th fishing lodge built for the Duke and Duchess of Bedford high above the river Tamar. The day was crowned by the most spectacular sunset viewed from the top of Kit Hill.

Heading home we crossed Dartmoor and walked up a tor or two. The sky was blue as blue can be but it was ear-numbingly cold as we climbed high. We also made a pilgrimage to Sanders at Lettaford and when I pinged a photo of this unspoilt Devon longhouse to our children our son replied “Heatwave”and we remembered the May half term when he swam in the freezing river. Our final night was spent at the newest Pig hotel near Honiton. We have had several nights staying at this small chain of hotels and always had a great experience. The food isn’t fancy or trying to be faultless as all the vegetables and fruit are grown in the garden, they keep chickens and pigs for a home-grown breakfast and everything else comes from within a 25-mile radius. They describe themselves as a ‘kitchen garden with rooms’ and that is exactly right.  It was very lovely mid-evening having a star-lit walk around the garden before coming back to cheese and pudding in front of the log fire.

We were lucky to have an open fire (and no wifi – hooray) in our Cotehele holiday cottage so I took a small crochet project for the evenings and enjoyed making up my own design for a cushion cover to sit on the Nordic-style (well it has a star pattern punched in the seat hence the need for a cushion!) white-painted chair in my daughter’s bedroom.

I just made it to the brilliant  Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition at Tate Modern and as a birthday present to myself I decided to join the Tate as a member. On the same day I caught the boat to Millbank to look at the artwork of the Turner Prize finalists at Tate Britain. In contrast to Tate Modern which at times is unbearably busy I usually  find Tate Britain a quiet haven of contemplation. I especially like the walk through British art from 1500 to the present and have my clear favourites. Outside Tate Britain I hopped on a bus to Westminster, walked across Westminster bridge to Waterloo and then home.  I am planning a year of culture … but before that I have to see what vase of delights Cathy has posted today.



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.