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.




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.