Thursday 6 December 2012

The birds are back

At 11 am the temperature has just crawled above freezing after minus 4.5 C overnight. The birds are coming back in from the fields to feed on the peanuts, birdseed and kitchen scraps we put out. There's plenty of berries in the hedges and on the holly tree - and pigeons and or pheasants have been eating my sprouts! - but when it's so cold they need to fuel up. This morning's visitors include:
  • Pheasant - magnificent golden male
  • Collar dove - only one, usually they go around in pairs lovey dovey
  • Several wood pigeons
  • Long-tail tits
  • Great tits
  • Robin
  • Dunnocks
  • Nut hatch

Thursday 29 November 2012

Winter's here!

Not much news from the garden during the last couple of weeks. We've had days of torrential rain when it's been too wet and depressing to do much outside except clear drains. Now we've had a spell of very cold and clear days. The frost has not cleared from the lawn at the back of the house.

The trees have shed all their leaves and are looking dark and dramatic against the grey/blue sky. Paul raked up 8 barrows of leaves from the lawn to give the grass some light and prevent it dying.

There's a huge amount of tidying to do, pruning, weeding, digging over the veg plots and spreading compost. But it will have to wait for more clement weather. Despite the weather the first hellebore flowers are appearing!

We have a stream that runs when the water table gets high and goes through various – intended – waterfalls and ponds but ends up in an unintended water feature just outside our back door. I think we should make it permanent with some fish and build a little bridge across like you see in fancy houses on films! But I’ll probably just keep my wellies by the back door…

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Fried Green Tomatoes

Managed to get a couple of hours in the garden this weekend. The last couple of weeks I've been glued to the computer screen with work and in any case the weather has been grey and damp. Sunday was a lovely day - frosty first thing but sunny and warm during the day.
I cleared out most of the tomatoes in the greenhouse. The stems and leaves were going brown and collapsing so the fruit were not going to get much bigger. I harvested about 5 pounds of green tomatoes. They will ripen on the kitchen window sill. But I've always wanted to try fried green tomatoes. I researched a few recipes and went for this:

1lb of green tomatoes
2 eggs
100gms polenta
Salt & pepper to taste
Rape seed oil or butter to fry

Cut the tomatoes into slices 1/4 inch thick
Break eggs into a small bow and whisk up with salt and pepper
Spread the polenta on a large plate
Dip the tomato slices in the egg and then coat in the polenta.
Shallow fry for a few minutes and turn over and do the same so they are golden on both sides and slightly soft. Do in batches and keep hot in oven.
Enjoy. We had them with cold pork from Sunday roast and the verdict was "Good!"   

I think they could be improved with a pinch of chilli powder or other spice mixed with the polenta. And maybe could try with wholemeal flour or breadbrumbs.

Sunday 28 October 2012

First real frost

Very cold this morning - bright sunshine and a bitter north wind. There was ice on the fountain and a spattering of white snow. I abandoned plans for weeding and just dashed out to pick raspberries - about 3 lbs - and 4lbs of tomatoes from the greenhouse which I'll ripen on the kitchen window sill.
I brought some of the tender plants into the conservatory for the winter - geraniums, fuchsia and bougainvillea. The geraniums keep flowering all winter and will brighten up the grey days.

Friday 26 October 2012

Turning yellow

Yellow tones in the maple and walnut trees. Golden hosta leaves below the rockery.
Yesterday we did a quick trip to family in Dublin. Driving along by Phoenix Park the trees were so beautiful with reds and oranges and browns intermingled with dark green.

Last weekend I took some photos of Froggarts Cottage Garden with the foliage on trees, bushes and herbaceous plants like hostas turning distinctly yellow. We arrived home from the airport at midnight to see a carpet of yellow leaves blown down from the big ash trees in the  the field. Today the ash trees and the walnuts and maples are beginning to look very bare. Seems like we're not getting the vivid colours we have some years. Perhaps it was the lack of sunshine this year. The golden yellows are beautiful anyway.
Redcurrant bushes are turning yellow and starting to shed leaves

More yellow tinges, set off with the black-eyed daisies which have flowered all summer long

Variagated shrub with extra autumn hues
Don't know the name of this lovely small tree. It has beech-like leaves and small yellow flowers
in the early spring before the leaves come out.
The last of the squashes - colourful "Celebration".

Monday 15 October 2012

Weekend chores

The weekend was sunny at times after a light frost and ver calm but on both afternoons it rained so there was only time for a bit of tidying up.

The brussel sprouts are looking better now - although some have been eaten by slugs and are stumpy and bare. I hoed around them but didn't have time to stake them up. Our neighbour at the top of the hill has a large plot with all his brussel sprouts standing like soldiers each with a nice stick holding them up. Earlier his onions were beautiful - all big and uniform and no sign of the deadly allium leaf miner that has ruined our onions and leeks last year and shallots this year.

I cleared out the Cuore D'albengo tomatoes in the grenhouse which didn't do as well as those in the conservatory and tidied up some space ready for big pots of potatoes. The potato yield this year wasn't good so we're going to need some extra ones to get through till next year. We usually grow some in pots or bags from February but thought we'd give it a go right away. They'll be protected from weather and pests in the greenhouse.

Thursday 11 October 2012

Tomato Soup

This morning I looked at the growing number of punnets and bowls of tomatoes in the fridge and thought SOUP! The Big Boy and Cuore d'albengo tomatoes are easy to peel encouraged just a little bit by a bowl of hot water. They also don't have many seeds so the yield is very good. So to make yummy tomato soup:

  • Destalk and peel the tomatoes and remove most of the pips
  • Keep as much juice as possible
  • Add a little salt and black pepper (according to how you like it)
  • Whizz in batches in the liquidizer
That's it - no cooking, no stock - just tomatoes.
Serve warm or cold with a swirl of cream.
You can freeze it in plastic tubs to cheer you up in the winter.

Cuore d'albengo tomatoes 

Monday 8 October 2012

Autumn flowers

It's really Autumn now - cold nights (2-3 degrees C) and bright sun over the weekend, but today is grey and misty. The leaves on the trees and shrubs are beginning to turn and some are even falling. The plum trees are completely bare of leaves. There are still a few bright spots with these late bloomers:

Miniature Cyclamen

Japanese Anenomes

Michaelmas Daisies

Rose flower, bud and bright red rose-hips

Monday 24 September 2012

Winter's coming....

It's just stopped raining and a little watery sun is peeping through the gey clouds. It's rained solidly for 24 hours and is COLD. Not as cold as a few nights during the last week when the early morning temperature reached 2 degrees C and the marrow and squash leaves suffered from a slight ground frost. Thankfully no damage to the fruit.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Autumn raspberries

It's beginning to feel like Autumn - sunny but cold - and the leaves are just starting to turn yellowish. Yesterday evening I picked 2 lbs of raspberries. They've been superb this year with an early crop on last-years's stalks and large, perfect berries on tall stems now. There are still flowers being pollinated mostly by small bees.

We have some other raspberry bushes which have only just started to fruit and they often go on till November.

Can't resist raspberries & ice cream for tea but I saved some in the freezer to brighten up winter meals. Open freezing keeps them from going to mush.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Up on the roof

The weekend was hot and sunny with a gentle warm breeze - our last chance of a summer. Back to cold, wind and rain now. Still, I do remember some years when October has been quite hot ... so here's hoping!

We spent the weekend on the roof painting the new render on the chimney. At least Chas did - I'm a scaredy cat with heights but I did make my shaking legs get me up there one time because, while we have the scaffolding, it's the only chance I'll get.

These are some of the photos from our roof:

Across Yew Tree House and looking towards Griffydam

Looking across Billy's field with our two walnut trees on the right

Billy's field and the old ash tree- home to many pigeons and occasional little owl
Our garden with the rockery in the front and the summer house
almost swamped by the variagated maple

Our garden witht he dead dawn redwood looking stark and the lush silver birch on the right.
Centre front is a bamboo which each year generates several new supports for our tomatoes.

Tuesday 4 September 2012


I've just picked the last of the Broad beans (masterpiece green long pod). I've left the largest pods on the plants to go brown and dry off. They will be for planting next year. I've done this a few years now and it works really well and saves a few pounds in buying commercial seed.

The French beans (Blue Lake) have been a bit variable. They didn't germinate well, then the slugs got them when I planted them out. I kept planting more seeds in the ground where there were gaps on the cane wigwams (apparently should be called a Tepee!) so now there are some that have climbed to 6 ft and are flowering and producing beans and some which are about 2 inches and just thinking about it.

The Runner beans are doing well as always. We've picked loads, eaten them, frozen them and given some to friends. Surprisngly since the ground still seems wet after our torrential summer some of the beans have shrivelled up before developing. No problem because we have loads. As well as eating, sliced as a veg we usually make soup and chutney with the runner beans. The beans we grow are saved from seeds year on year since my mother set up her garden in Dorset 30 years ago so I have no idea what variety they are.

Monday 3 September 2012

Jungle & plums

We've been very busy the last couple of weeks - hence lack of posts. The weather this year has been very strange with spells of warm - even hot- weather mixed with torrential rain and hail. A couple of nights ago the temperature went down to 2 degrees C.

The wet and warm has resulted in shrubs, trees grass and of course weeds growing like mad. It really is a jungle and whenever it's not pouring I've been out hacking and pulling at the overgrowth. Not sure I'm winning!

It's harvesting time -  plums are beginning to come nicely now and the runner beans. We have 5 very large marrows one of which has been made into a marrow / tomato / onion / garlic / herb mix (version of ratatouille) which we freeze and eat with pork and sausages during the winter. At least one of the others will be chutney.

Plums from various trees
Plums are a delight. They're great just raw off the tree and gorgeous cooked. I did our favourite plum crumble on Friday and last night I cooked plums cut in half with a tablespoon of demerara sugar, a couple of cinnamon sticks and covered with our own elderberry wine. Delicious!

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Hot potatoes

It was a great August weekend - sunny, just a couple of spots of rain and hot! With our fickle weather we had to make the most of it in the garden.
I dug up the remaining potatoes. So far the yield hasn't been great (mostly Sante and Pentland Javelins) but the last bed was Desiree and Colleen with some Rosas that came up from last year's missed ones (what I call feral potatoes!).
In general the Desirees were good quality and size. I got 22lbs from 3 lbs of seed potatoes I bought, which doesn't sound all that great but much better that the Sante and PJs in the other bed. Colleens are supposed to be first earlies but I find they are better left to get a decent size and got about 30lbs from the 3lbs of seed potatoes. I did take a few for new potatoes early on.
The commercial potato growers are all complaining because although this year there was lots of rain there was not much sun. Their yields are down 15-20%.
This year I planted some potatoes saved from last year. Because of the warm winter a lot of our stored Sante & PJ potatoes had started sprouting so I thought they may as well get planted because they weren't any good for eating.
In general:
  • The early potatoes (Santes & PJs) grown in pots in the greenhouse from own stock were good this year and I may do more next year.
  • Santes & PJs grown outdoors were poor, maybe weather or soil or possibly a bit of blight. We love Santes for their flavour but I may give them and the PJs a miss next year and try other varieties. We had Hunters last year and they produced really nice big white potatoes.
  • Desirees were great. I will plant more in future.
  • Feral potatoes come up sooner than planted potatoes and give reasonable yield - maybe because they get started earlier or have proved their strength by survival in the soil over the winter. Is it worth deliberately leaving some in or planting much earlier?
Potatoes waiting to be packed into cardboard boxed for storing in the garage.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Comma butterfly

The conservatory doors are wide open most of the time during this sunny spell and loads of insects - flies, bees, dragonflies and butterflies fly in. They are welcome to pollinate the tomatoes and squashes but I do try to evict them before the end of the day because they don't survive overnight.
Yesterday we were delighted to see a butterfly which at first I thought had been damaged maybe by a bird looking for lunch. The trailing edges of its wings were ragged and indented. But on closer inspection I could see it was that way on purpose and on the underside of the wings it had a distinct "eye" pattern. I hadn't seen one of these here before. I consulted UK Butterflies and discovered it was likely to be a Comma (pictures from their website). Great to see more variety of butterflies.

Comma butterfly - image from UK butterflies

See the ragged edges of its wings and the little "eye"
image from UK butterflies

Monday 13 August 2012


August 12th was a day of celebration! Successful London Olympics and great closing ceremony. I loved the Olympic cauldron with the 204 petals. It was a beautiful, original and imaginative design by Thomas Heatherwick and a feat of engineering and workmanship. After the brilliant opening ceremony with the flaming petals rising together into a united cauldron we waited in anticipation of how it would unfold and die. A shame it will be dismantled - but with the individual petals going back to the competing nations it will have another life.

Our own little celebration - we picked our first ripe Big Boy tomato and had it for lunch. It weighed  11oz. I noted from our "sow and harvest" logbook that last year our first crop was on 13 August so fairly consistent there.

Sunday 5 August 2012

Saturday Night at Froggarts Cottage

Saturday night at Froggarts Cottage is spent:
  • Podding a bucket of broad beans and putting them in ice-cream boxes to freeze
  • Juicing yet more blackcurrants
  • Sorting and spreading out 2 buckets (about 30 pounds) of potatoes dug this morning to dry-off ready for putting in store
  • Cleaning filthy fingernails!
Earlier - dinner of fried courgettes and home-grown spuds with steak followed by raspberries and home-made blackcurrant icecream. Mmm!

Tuesday 31 July 2012

July flowers

We're nearly at the end of July! We've had torrential rain at the start of the month and a week of real hot sunny days and now it's reverted to April showers - yesterday hail! The flowers have been magnificant this year. Everywhere there are plants and bushes in bloom, bigger and more profuse than ever. I love this garden.

Here's some pictures of the garden in July.

Clematis keeps flowering

Pink & purple toadflax. Some people regard them as weeds
but the bees love them and they provide colour and height
throughout the summer. They seed everywhere but it's easy
to pull up the ones you don't want.

Hostas, yellow stone crop and the rockery
Fern garden with pipe waterfall - running for the first time in
2 years thanks to the record rainfall
Self-sown foxgloves are huge and in various colours from purple
through pink to white with purple spots.

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Blackcurrant harvest

We have 12 blackcurrant bushes and the fruit is lovely and ripe now. My neighbour volunteered to help with the picking and she worked tirelessly in the sunshine for 3 hours yesterday afternoon. The haul from just 6 bushes was 12  pounds. I finished off the redcurrants and collected some raspberries from the various bushes. V went away with raspberries for tea and promise of redcurrant jelly and blackcurrant jam.
There's another 6 bushes to pick!
Blackcurrants are lovely - I love the smell of the leaves too - but a little goes a long way. I make jelly and puree and just freeze the currants for use during the winter months. The puree freezes well and is great poured over vanilla ice-cream or cereal and yoghurt for breakfast. Other blackcurrant recipes:

  • Ice-cream - using the puree
  • Crumble - best added to apple or pears to reduce the intensity of the flavour
  • Summer pudding. I've only made this once or twice. You can use all kinds of summer berries and fruit. My Mum says her landlady (when she was a student teacher back in 1930s!) used to make it just with blackcurrants and served with Devonshire clotted cream. Mmm!
  • Fruit pudding - sponge topping over a mix of red and black currants
  • Blackcurrant muffins - use  currants in place of blueberries

Monday 23 July 2012

Broad Beans

Picked 6 pounds of broad beans this afternoon. We had some with duck legs in orange sauce and froze the rest. They are Masterpiece Green Longpod variety and certainly live up to their name. We saved beans from last year to sow this ( and they've certainly worked out OK. They are green and sweet and freeze well. No need for blanching or any of the stuff we used to do years ago. Modern freezers are so cold they freeze produce quickly before the sugar turns to starch. You need to do it same day as picking.
Broad beans in flower in June

Thursday 19 July 2012

Nuthatches, woodpeckers & squirrels

There are two nuthatches on the birdfeeders, eating upside down as usual! The bird table has been pretty much monopolised by the baby squirrels   playing, fighting and trying to work out how to dismantle the feeders.
At lunch we saw a young woodpecker - with a red beret - chasing off the small birds but then too shy to feed. Eventually daddy woodpecker arrived and got stuck straight in to the nuts. Then the youngster took a quick peck and flew off with a peanut to the dawn redwood - their favourite place to finish off their haul.

Friday 13 July 2012

Garden Babies

I'm sitting in my studio being entertained by a couple of young robins - small, round, fluffy and spotty. They are clearly only a day or so out of the nest and still fluttering and looking for mum to feed them. They've learned one good thing - that roses can provide a protein-packed meal of aphids. I like them!

All the birds seem to be doing well with large and multiple families. Blue-tits and great-tits nested in the warm weather in early spring (some in our bird-box on the summer house) and have had further broods. Each afternoon we get a crowd of noisy jackdaw youngsters (still haven't got their grey helmets) joined by young magpies and jays. 

The most fun are the baby squirrels. We had mum feeding for a few weeks - looking rather harassed towards the end - and now we have 3 cheeky youngsters getting up to all kinds of acrobatics to feed on the peanuts on the bird table. How do they eat hanging upside down by their toes?  

Wednesday 11 July 2012


Our garden has many different types of roses - climbers, ramblers, bushes, miniature and roses round the door. Some have been blooming for a few weeks and others are just getting going now. They are lovely - but I'm not much good at looking after them. They seem to get a lot of black spot - this year especially perhaps because it's been so wet. The previous owners who designed and built our lovely garden planted roses at the base of all the big trees so we have roses in the magnolia, the silver birch, the maple, Korean fir.

Here are some photos of roses around our garden:

I love this one that looks like it's been painted - but it has lots of prickles!

Bunches of little pink & white flowers

Climbing roses in the silver birch

Big floppy pink roses with lovely perfume

The small pinky-white roses round the front door are looking rather sad this year I usually have to fight the greenfly in the spring and caterpillars later in the year. But this year the leaves are brown and not many flowers at all so I haven't taken a photo. This what they are supposed to look like.

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Slug update

The record rain during June has brought out the slugs and snails in force and I need not have worried about the shortage of slugs in the early spring. We've seen a few adult frogs too.
Slugs are everywhere, including I suspect around my French Beans, and in the conservatory and kitchen. They can squeeze through tiny spaces and nowhere is safe.  There's all sizes and colours including the leopard slug which apparently only eats dead vegetation (like wood lice) and so are really useful in the compost heap and generally tidying up.

Here's an entertaining video about their sex life from the BBC Springwatch team:

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Busy weekend with redcurrants and tree cutting

We had to take advantage of the few dry spells but managed to get a couple of big jobs done - netting the redcurrants and preparing space for the potted fruit trees.

Last year's Redcurrants - the ones' the birds didn't get!
I hate putting nets over the redcurrants because it does seem a bit mean that we don't share with  the blackbirds and pigeons - but the problem is that left alone the birds don't leave enough for us humans! The pigeons land on top of the bushes, attacking from the top and breaking the branches to get to the fruit. The blackbirds come from below and take the ripe fruit on the lower branches. They are pretty persistent and I have often been picking on on side of a bush and a blackbird on the other side. They get quite annoyed and make their scolding noise if you try and chase them away. Anyway this year we decided to put nets over the six redcurrant bushes. The nets are old and needed some repairs so we'll see how enterprising our feathered friends are in getting to the lovely berries.
The other big job we did - or at least got started with - was to clear space for the new fruit trees we bought last year and which are still in pots. We cut down a malus tree that has rather insignificant flowers for just a week in the spring. It's been trained rather badly into an umbrella shape with the result the grass below is dead. The other area for planting is where a couple of shrubs died in the deep freeze winter before last. We pulled out the stumps and dug over the ground pulling up loads of ground elder to burn.
Next job is to get rid of the tree trunk and dig in lots of compost. We'll use the trunk and larger branches for firewood and have a big bonfire with the rest (as soon as it stops raining!)

Thursday 21 June 2012

Fox in the garden

We have quite a lot of wildlife in our garden because it is surrounded on 3 sides by a field used for grazing young cattle. This spring we've been visited a few evenings by a fox, possibly a vixen, scavenging for scraps from the bird table. He/she seems to like the peanuts especially.
The photos are blurred because they were taken at about 9.00 pm and quite dark so I had to do a bit of image processing.

Fox in our Garden

She seemed to like the peanuts scattered for the birds

Sunday 17 June 2012

Stormy weather

It's been a pretty horrible week - Mum ill with shingles and very wet and stormy weather making gardening a bit difficult. The weather people say we've had the wettest April and are set to have the wettest June since they started recording these things, and that after the driest winter and warmest February! 

However, everything in the garden is growing, including weeds of course, and it looks like a jungle.

On Friday we had a heavy thunderstorm with hail which has shredded the leaves of rhubarb, marrows and squashes and snapped off the top 18ins shoots of the broad beans. Joe Hashman (On the Plot with Dirty Nails) says he pinches out the tops of his broad beans to deter black fly (before they get infested) and steams them like spinach so I had a go and they were really nice. A bit more bitter than spinach but good with butter and pepper. Shame to waste them!

On a good note, we've harvested the 4 pots of potatoes planted in February and the first early Colleens in the veg plot are starting to flower so a good sign they'll be ready in a couple of weeks.

Friday 1 June 2012


A cuckoo is cuckooing loudly from one of our two walnut trees. He was calling at 6 this morning and flying around and cuckooing since. They are late this year. Usually we hear them from April onwards.  I seem to remember a poem from childhood about cuckoos "changing their tune" in June, signifying I think, that the breeding season was over and the parents were soon back off to Africa. Apparently their offspring go later. Of course they abandon their eggs in some other poor bird's nest so there's no parental care or teaching how to be a cuckoo. They just know instinctively how to get back to the warm of Africa when the time comes.

Monday 28 May 2012

Tomato planting

The glorious weather continues so lots of work in the garden and also the conservatory and greenhouse.

We set out 3 large grow-bags in the conservatory with 6 Big-Boy tomatoes and 3 Cuore D'albengo plants we grew from seed. For the last few years we've used some plastic planters for the growbags which mean you can:
  1. water the tomatoes without it spilling all over the growbag and onto the floor
  2. add 6 inches more soil or compost so the very large tomato plants are a bit more stable
  3. give the stakes a good foothold.
We only had six so I made some from 1 litre ice-cream tubs - cutting out the bottom and pushing into the compost in the growbag then filling up with compost. Best to make sure the cut-out is the same size as the ice-crem tub. Seems to work OK so far!

Now I have to plant out the rest of the tomato plants in the greenhouse!

Tuesday 22 May 2012

It's hot!

Glorious weather all day - the sun has been shining, clear blue sky and a light northerly wind. The temperature is 24 degrees at 6.00 pm. This is pretty good for an English May but even more special following the awful weather in April. So far this year we've had the warmest February, the wettest April and coldest May and of course we're still in a drought despite April's downpours.

We've decided to risk putting the geraniums outside. They've been in the conservatory all winter and not stopped flowering all that time. I've put the squashes out to harden off and will plant them out in a day or so if the weather remains good. There's always a risk of a frost but it can freeze in June so at some point you have to just do it!

Thursday 17 May 2012


Sitting in my studio in the garden wrestling with CSS and HTML and two goldfinches flew down and spent 4 or 5 minutes pecking around the rambler rose outside my window. It's great working from home!

Didn't have my camera, but this is a photo of a goldfinch by Steve Round on the RSPB website

Sunday 13 May 2012

Where have all the slugs gone?

I have a small compost bucket outside the kitchen door where I put out all the peelings, egg-shells, toilet roll middles and any other bits and pieces that will go into our compost system up in the garden. At this time of year, in fact even in the winter unless it's really frosty, when clearing out the scraps last thing at night I expect to meet a whole host of slimey and slithery creatures - slugs and snails of all colours and sizes. I also see toads and frogs who come for a meal of slug or two. (Isn't the food chain wonderful!). But this year there's hardly any slugs, a few snails only. I haven't seen many in the vegetable garden either, although the pak choi have a few holes.
It was a very dry winter, athough mild, so maybe they didn't over-winter well. As a gardener I should be pleased, but I'm concerned about the creatures that rely on these slimey invertebrates for food - hedgehogs, toads, frogs even foxes when pushed. We don't get many hedgehogs here but we usually get loads of frogs and toads (clue in the name of our cottage!). There are very few this year and despite the early courtships ( I haven't seen any spawn in the pond, although a neighbour saw some in the stream a few weeks ago.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Here comes summer!

Yesterday I saw two swifts. They have much longer wings and are much darker in colour than swallows or martins and no white tummies. Today a couple of swallows were flying around. The Canada geese are moving in to the nearby pond - announcing their arrival with their noisy honking. Summer is definitely here!

The horse chestnut trees are beginning to flower, our neighbour's lilac is in bloom and our small, red apple is covered in blossom. When the sun shines the garden is multi-media delight. Perfume from the apple and lilac, birds of all kinds singing from 5 in the morning till sunset (and a few owls during the night!), bees a-buzzing and an absolute firework display of blossom and leaves of all colours.  It's great to be alive!

Monday 30 April 2012

Monday morning

Our world has emerged this morning from a 24 hours deluge with glorious sunshine, blue skies and birds singing. Yesterday (Sunday) it didn't stop raining - big heavy rain. The gutters couldn't cope so water was pouring from the roof everywhere. To make things more miserable there was a strong north wind. So outdoor gardening was a wash-out (!).  The local Litterpick was abandoned it was so bad.
Nevertheless we planted up 30 french beans in pots and 9 peppers.

I walked around this morning to check for damage. A sweet-pea wigwam was blown over, not too much of a problem because they hadn't really got climbing. The rose arch was at 45%. The climbing rose is very vigorous and gets super-heavy without aggressive pruning. I straightened it up - but that's a job for a dry day to prune the rose and strengthen the arch supports. Lots of other climbing roses had come away from their supports and need tying back. Some of the old fencing and the side gate are continuing on their one-way road to total dilapidation.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Rain, Rain!

It's been raining solidly since Tuesday night. We really, really need this. In addition to our 4 butts I've been collecting water overflowing from a blocked gutter in a big plastic dustbin. They have been threatening further drought and possible hosepipe bans so want to keep every drop for the crops in summer.
The situation is serious. The press has been full of pictures of dry river beds and reservoirs only half full. The little stream that runs through the field surrounding our garden (Billy's Field) is absolutely dry. Not even a slight squelch when I walked along it. No sign of water gushing from the many springs either. Last year we lost nearly all our fruit after a bumper blossom in April and May and our Dawn Redwood died 2 years ago. We suspect this might be related to lack of water.

Tuesday 17 April 2012


Here are some of our regular visitors. They are very busy now they have broods to feed. I think one pair has a nest in the boxes under the summerhouse roof. We have blackbirds nesting in the yew tree.

Bluetits feeding

Monday 16 April 2012

Sweet Peas

The northwind blew at the weekend - but no snow. It was sunny on Saturday and I got out in the garden well wrapped up for a few hours.

I set up two "wigwam" frames for Spencer Mixed sweet peas. I saved the seeds from last year and have been growing them in the conservatory and greenhouse. Now about 6ins high they are ready to go climbing. Thankfully they're frost-resistant because we had a frost overnight. We sowed another tray of bought seeds so we'll see how they compare.

The wigwams were made from hazel shoots cut last year. They haven't grown enough to cut another lot for this year - it looks like every other year we'll get more poles. We have a Bamboo which generates 6 - 8 tall, strong canes each year so we're pretty self-sufficient in supports. We use prunings from fruit trees for pea-sticks and supports for broad beans.

Tuesday 10 April 2012

Cuore d'albengo tomatoes

Last year our friends Renny and Calvin visited us and saw the small forest of tomatoes we grow in the conservatory. When they got home they sent us a packet of Cuore d'albengo tomato seeds to try. It was late in the season for sowing but we put in a tentative 2 seeds - with one fine specimen reaching the roof! Eventually it produce half a dozen smallish fruits and one apple-sized which taste delicious and very sweet. This year we've planted more and are looking forward to more and bigger tomatoes in late summer.

Cuore d'albengo tomatoes from seeds sown in 2011

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Snow! careful what you wish for...

This morning we woke up to SNOW - horrible wet snow and driving wind. By this afternoon it had turned into steady rain. Only a few miles further north they had snowdrifts and roads were impassable. Reminded of the forecasts of drought and our dry weather so far this year I placed a large plastic dustbin to catch the rainwater pouring out of a blocked gutter (will get up those ladders sometime...).

Tuesday 3 April 2012

At long last RAIN!

We've got the first rain for about 3 weeks. It's a serious downpour so will give the broad beans, potatoes and peas in the veg patch a good drenching and fill the water butts. Last year we had a very dry period during April which contributed to our dearth of plums, pears and apples so we're pretty nervous. The water levels in the streams and ponds is very low.

Sunday 1 April 2012

April Fool Sunshine!

The first day of April - and a beautiful morning! The sun is shining but it's still a little cold. After a fortnight of really warm, summery weather yesterday reverted to normal March with grey sky and cold, north wind. Even so I continued with the potato planting and put in a row of mangetout peas.

Last week I discovered a box of potatoes in the garage. I store them in cardboard boxes, the kind that wine bottles come in with the cardboard sections to separate the bottles. The box had got moved onto another shelf and forgotten. There was half a box of Pentland Javelins all sprouting nicely and so I have extra seed potatoes to put in!

Up in the greenhouse discovered that the potatoes in pots had got a touch of frost. Also some of the magnolia tree blossom was "toasted". So winter is still with us.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

Hellebores providing a great show

We have a lot of hellebores which are giving a particularly good show this year. They start flowering on inch-high stems in January and keep going. The last rain we had (about 3 weeks ago) gave them a boost and they shot up with some 15-18 inches high. We have various colours but they self-seed and so there's a predominance of mid-pink with greenish markings

Monday 26 March 2012

Digging and planting

Really summery weather this weekend - in March! After a foggy start to Saturday the sun came out and the rest of the weekend was lovely. The clocks went forward on Sunday morning so we could enjoy the sunny evening. It's just a bit worrying that there has been no rain for about 2 weeks and the water levels are very low. The whole region has been pretty dry for months. However, the soil is still damp and with the warm weather it should be good for planting.

During a busy weekend we planted shallots, moved the runner bean frame to its new position, set out  3 gooseberry cuttings and planted Big Boy tomato seeds in pots. They'll stay in the conservatory and be planted out into grow-bags. The last few summers have been fairly cool and our early experiments with outdoor tomatoes were complete failures. They also got blight. So now we just grow tomatoes in the conservatory and greenhouse fairly successfully. We regularly grow Big Boys which are great for cooking and last year we grew Harbinger and Alicante as salad tomatoes. I'll sow some of these in the greenhouse tomorrow.

Sunday 18 March 2012

Getting started with sowing

Started sorting out seeds - remains of packets and some that we saved from last year's harvest. Sowed a couple of short rows of PakChoi. Haven't had a great deal of success with these in previous years. They tend to get eaten by slugs but thought I'd use up the remaining seeds. Sowed Lollo Rosso Lettuce and Rocket in the greenhouse. They will be up and eaten before the tomatoes are ready to go in the bed.

Dug over the plot for the Broad Beans and worked in a bit of well-rotted stable manure. Planted 60 beans - 2 groups of 3 rows. These were saved from last year's harvest. Later Mum & I planted 24 Beetroot seeds and 40 Sweet Peas in modules which will stay in her conservatory until they're ready to plant out. The Sweet Peas are Spencer Mixed and saved from last year.

Also planted 5 Celebration Squashes - seeds saved from a bought squash - and 3 Uchiki Kuri Squashes left in the packet from last year. This is a bit of defiance really because last year none of the 7 planted in pots and kept indoors even germinated. 

The season has started!

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Mr & Mrs & Mrs Pheasant

Watched a lovely little show today. Two female pheasants came into the garden from the field and spent a few minutes pecking around under the bird table, with upward looks at the nut feeders trying to work out if they could get up there. Enter Mr Pheasant - a beautiful bird with shiny golden feathers, a red face and little black tufty ears. He didn't go for the food but walked into the helibore bed and clucked and bobbed up and down almost like he was saying to the females - "Look at all these lovely flowers I've got for you!". This went on for quite a while with the females moving around the garden feeding and the male following and keeping watch.
The menage-a-trois was finally disturbed by the neighbour's big tabby cat who fancied his chances with the birds while their attention was elsewhere. He crept up the steps and around the fountain but the birds caught sight of him and flew off with customary squawking.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Last of the Celeriac

An absolutely beautiful spring day! Warm and sunny with a light breeze, birds singing, first few butterflies and ladybirds everywhere.

I'm gradually getting around to digging over all the vegetable beds ready for broad beans and peas straight into the soil as soon as it's a bit warmer. They're frost resistant so not much risk with early sowing. We've got caught a few times planting runner beans and french beans in May even, so this year I'm going to be cautious and leave them till nearly June. They grow fast when it's warmer and will catch up.

I've still got sprouts standing. Today I picked enough for a couple of meals and there's still some left, but they are beginning to open out so maybe another fortnight and they'll be over.

The other crop still in the ground is Celeriac. Last year Paul gave me a packet of seeds. I've never grown them before but followed the instructions on the packet and also advice from  Joe Hashman (On the Plot with Dirty Nails). I ended up with about 60 seedlings which I planted out. But they never really got going and, unlike the football-sized job we bought from the supermarket just to see what they were like, we've only had tennis and ping-pong balls. Anyway I dug up what was left and made Celeriac and Potato Mash to go with roast pork and the sprouts - very easy because celeriac cooks quickly in the microwave with a splash of water and a bit of butter and you can mash it up with a fork.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

Pyrocantha pest

We have a pyrocantha growing against the wall at the front of the house. It has developed sort of dry blisters on the leaves which are going brown and dropping. Inside the blister are some little dots I suspect are aphids. My neighbour's shrub is showing similar signs. I sprayed liberally with a mild solution of washing up liquid, my usual anti-aphid weapon, and there does seem to be some improvement. Don't know what this pest is called. Any ideas?

Monday 5 March 2012

Coffee & Walnut Cake

This weekend was a wash-out. Brief sun on Saturday was followed by persistent rain so I decided to stay in and bake a cake.

A quick poll around the family elected Coffee and Walnut which I haven't made for a while so I consulted with Nigel Slater (The Kitchen Diaries). I'm not a great follower of recipes. I use them as a guide and then do my own thing.  I used less sugar and more flour, proper coffee instead of instant and rather than put chopped nuts in the butter icing I arranged half walnuts over the top (looks pretty!).

Coffee and Walnut Cake

Ingredients for the cake:
  • 175 grams unsalted butter
  • 200 grams self-raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 150 grams granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons STRONG coffee
  • 65 grams walnuts pieces
  • A little extra butter for greasing the cake tin
Ingredients for butter icing:
  • 150 grams butter
  • 300 grams icing sugar
  • 2 tablepoons of STRONG coffee
  • walnut halves for decoration

Butter a 20cm loose-bottom cake tin, then line it with grease-proof paper and butter that.

Take the butter out of the fridge an hour or so before you start so it is soft enough to work with. Mix the butter and sugar in a bowl using a fork or wooden spoon. When it's creamy and smooth add the eggs and flour and baking powder. Add one egg then some flour, keep beating, then the next egg and more flour and so on. Then add the coffee. Chop the nuts very finely using a large knife on a flat board (or blitz in your favourite machine). Stir into the mixture.

Turn on the oven to 160C. I used a fan oven which heats up very quicky so I don't need to turn it on before starting the mixing. If you have a conventional oven you may need to turn it on earlier and set it to 180C. Pour the cake mixture into the cake tin and smooth over the top. When the oven has reached the correct temperature place the cake in the middle of the oven. It should be done in 45 mins, but check towards the end because ovens and the mixture can vary.

Take the cake out and cool it on a wire tray. When cool enough to handle remove from the tin, remove the paper and leave to cool some more.

Make the butter icing by beating the butter and sugar together until smooth and then mixing in the coffee and beating some more. I do this by hand but you might prefer to put all the ingredients in a food mixer and blitz.

When the cake is cool cut through the middle with a bread knife. Spread half the butter icing through the middle, sandwich the top and bottom together and spread the rest of the icing over the top and decorate with half walnuts. Enjoy!

Monday 27 February 2012

Weekend in the garden.

It's been a beautiful, warm and sunny weekend so I abandoned any desk-work and went out and pottered.

Some of our 2010 potato crop
I planted up 4 large tubs with 2 potatoes each and covered them with 6 inches of compost. As the shoots appear I'll cover up a little more until the whole pot is full. This encourages more potatoes to form from the roots at each level. I used Santes saved from last year's crop. Last year's harvest wasn't very good because of the dry weather and they didn't keep well because it has been a warm winter. The potatoes left in store in the garage are already sprouting and aren't much good to eat so they may as well start off the new season's crop. May do some more in compost bags if I have time. It'll provide some nice new potatoes well before the main crop and in pots they tend to be clean and pest-free.

The weathermen are forecasting continued drought - dire warnings about hosepipe bans etc. It certainly is a big problem with the water table very low. The stream in the neighbouring filed is just a trickle. I suspect lack of water might have contributed to the demise of our Dawn Redwood which needs a lot of water.

I did a lot of tidying, dead-heading and pruning. The fern garden was overrun with spurge which was hiding the smaller ferns and snowdrops and helibores. I cleared out a lot of the spurge and also some bracken than had taken hold there.

The last job was to pick some sprouts to eat with the roast chicken for Sunday dinner and pulled the first rhubarb. The stems were only about 6ins but I could resist no longer. Delicious just baked with a sprinkling of sugar, served with custard and cream!

Thursday 23 February 2012

Spring has sprung...

or is it teasing again?

It's a lovely day - warm, sunny with a gentle breeze. Crocusses are blooming and the snowdrops are even more glorious.

I heard the cry of buzzards and looked up and saw two of these beautiful birds sailing effortlessly across the sky. Frogs have woken up and are crooning in the pond (well they are croaking what sounds like a gentle love song!).

And I've just seen the first bumblebee of the year!

Monday 20 February 2012

Winter reading

Winter is a good time to plan for the coming year and get some new ideas. Time to read some of the books I've been given for Christmas or bought and have stayed on the shelf. In general I'm not a fan of the gardening "experts" in newspapers and TV. They make it seem such hard work. But it's good to do a bit of learning from people who've done it before. I've really enjoyed reading On the Plot with Dirty Nails by Joe Hashman

This little book from Joe Hashman is a gem. It's a diary of bits and pieces of gardening information, tips, observations, and recipes week by week during the year. Interestingly Joe Hashman starts his year in February, perhaps because January doesn't really do very much. It's even too cold to weed and tidy and even February he does a lot of "tidying". It's a good book to dip into and wonder if I should be digging the bed yet or what seeds to sow. Not a book to read from start to finish in one go.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Rockery Heathers

We escaped the snow that was threatened this week. We just got a sprinkling on Thursday night, but it has been very cold - minus 5-ish overnight. Today the sun is shining and the sky is blue.

Bright purple heather flowering in February despite the frost
One of the cheerful spots in the garden is our rockery which has a number of purple, pink and reddish heathers. I was advised to trim them over after they have flowered, but I tried it on one and it took 2 years to regain the level of flowers I had when I just neglected it. Maybe I did it at the wrong time but in future I'll leave them alone and just prune from the base to keep them in trim.

I took these photos of the rockery and heather a last week before the snow.

View of our rockery in February 2012

Sunday 5 February 2012


Heavy snow last night - about 6 inches - but a beautiful sunny day and the snow has melted quite a lot.  Not much to do in the garden but tidy up. I was emptying old pots into the compost heap and a robin flew from the laurel bushes and briefly perched on my hat!
It's very cold tonight but jut a tad above freezing.

Friday 3 February 2012

Am I a galanthophile?

We have snowdrops everywhere. Patches in the borders are mostly single and fairly tall and coming into bloom. We have swathes of snowdrops planted in the lawn (term used rather loosely for our grassy bits between the beds & borders) which are doubles and much shorter. They are still mostly in bud and they make finding a safe path to walk on the grass somewhat difficult to avoid treading on their heads.

In a couple of weeks they will be in full bloom and gorgeous like this photo taken in February 2008:

Snowdrops are fascinating and very beautiful. The BBC website has an article about snowdrops and snowdrop fanciers apparently called "galanthophiles"

There are over 2000 varieties. I know ours are quite different and obviously increase by seeding (that's because we can't cut the lawn until after the daffodils have finished flowering) so maybe we have some new varieties if they cross-pollonate.

Thursday 2 February 2012

Arctic Cold

It's very cold with clear blue sky and plenty of sunshine. The fountain and the pond are iced over and the frost is not melting in the shade during the day. Little specs of snow are falling.
The bulbs - daffodils, hyacinths, bluebells - are still pushing up but with no sign of flowers. However, the snowdrops are doing fine and the helibores are blossoming. I'm glad I dug up some snowdrops and put in a pot for Mum to enjoy (she can't get out in the garden now).

Monday 30 January 2012

Birdwatch Results

Photo by Nigel Blake
(from the RSPB website)
It was a rather disappointing hour on Sunday morning 9.50 -  10.50. The weather was grey, frosty, slightly misty and windless and I think our usual birds were huddled away trying to keep warm.

The results during the hour were:

Dunnock           2
Great Tit           2
Blackird            2    (a pair)
Woodpigeon     1    (There's usually about 8 sitting in the walnut trees. I think they may have been on the sprouts which I can't see from the kitchen window!)
Robin                2
Blue Tit             2
Magpie              1
Carrion Crow    1

No woodpecker, chaffinches, collared doves or long-tailed tits which we usually expect. Just after the hour a flock of about 8 noisy Jackdaws descended. The numbers are a count of how many birds are seen at the same time.

Sunday 29 January 2012

Lettuce seedlings

Tray of lettuce seeds planted two weeks ago and placed in the boiler room (it has a window) have sprouted. These are Tom Thumb - small round lettuces which we'll grow on in the conservatory and then plant out.

Friday 27 January 2012


The RSPB are holding their annual Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend. All you need to do is spend an hour on Saturday or Sunday looking in your garden and recording what birds you see and send your results in on-line. More here:

I'll have a go - although it's sometimes frustrating when regular visiting birds don't turn up to be counted during your hour!  I'll report here on Sunday evening what we see this year.

Saturday 21 January 2012

First snowdrops

After the cold snap last week it's much milder and Spring is now continuing apace. Thr rhubarb is looking a bit chirper and snowdrops are starting to flower.