Sunday 29 December 2013

Cold end to the year

During the week before Christmas we had severe storms with violent winds. Thankfully only minor damage here but friends further south were flooded out.

The corrugated roof on the lean-to was lifting off with the wind and the rose arch (tubular metal construction which replaced a previous home-made one a couple of years ago) is flattened. Also a section of roofing-felt on the summer house was blown off. So far nothing serious - but the forecasters are promising more wind and storms for the new year.

Yesterday was fine and sunny and this morning is cold and frosty with just a little breeze. Doing a few tidying jobs in the garden:
  • Cutting back the old leaves from the hellebores so we can see the flowers - and indeed the little buds are already showing colour.
  • Clearing the overgrown reeds from the little pond. I'm always worried about disturbing the hibernating frogs and newts but it has to be done to stop the pond getting smelly.
  • Covering the already-emerging rhubarb with compost to protect from the frost.
  • Removing the dead leaves from the hostas which are lying on the gravel and getting soggy and messy with all the rain.
  • Trimming the climbing roses which seem to have ambitions to reach the sky.
  • Having a big bonfire!

Saturday 30 November 2013


I remember this poem as a kid - about the limit of my poetry-remembering skills! (If it was me writing I could nearly add No blog!)

November by Thomas Hood
No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -
Don't know much about Mr Hood (read Wikipedia entry here when I get a chance) but I think he was being a bit pessimistic or perhaps he was a townie.

Today - last day of November - we've had a few hours of bright sunshine and blue skies, lovely for walking, and during this month the moon has been bright and large when we've had clear night skies.

As for "no birds"!

The bare trees provide a great opportunity to see birds of all kinds which are normally hidden by leaves. Our maple was alive with long-tail tits. And this year we have some winter visitors - fieldfares. I don't remember seeing them so close to the garden before, only in ploughed fields when I've been out walking. This afternoon there were 20 or more at the top of the walnut trees taking advantage of the last rays of the setting sun.

Image from BBC website

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Fantastic storm

We're having wild, wet, windy autumn weather. On Saturday we had a fantastic storm. The sky was yellow and the colours in the garden were very strange. The sun was shining on the yellow leaves of the walnut tree while the rain was hammering on the conservatory roof and a big rainbow arced over the whole garden. So I had to run out and take some shots and got very wet!

Rainbow with our little apple tree - still hanging onto its red fruit.
Yellow sky - looking across the field to Clay Lane

Rainbow over our two walnut trees - leaves turning an Autumn yellow

Monday 7 October 2013

Cooking the harvest

The garden is still producing a great harvest. We picked more than 50 lbs of Russet apples - lovely golden-yellow apples with a sharp but sweet taste. There's still loads of squashes and courgettes and the late raspberries are just staring to ripen.

This evening we had a meal where about the only thing bought from the shops was the leg of pork.
I rubbed the fatty skin with salt and fennel seeds saved from last year. We had potatoes (Setanta - which are great roasters but fall apart when boiled) roasted with one of the oddball squashes that came from seeds saved from a shop-bought butterbut squash and the last of the french beans. Instead of apple sauce with the pork we had Crab Apple Jelly with rosemary - very tasty.

To follow I made baked apples with the Russet apples.
Buttered a baking dish. Cored the apples (2 per person) leaving the skins on, and placed them in the dish. Mixed up sultanas, chopped walnuts and demerara sugar with some orange juice and filled the centre of each apple. Some falls out the bottom but it all gets sticky & gooey anyway.
Cook in fan oven 160 C for 30-40 mins.
Serve warm with cream.

Thursday 26 September 2013

Damson mania

My hubby has transformed 40lbs of damsons into damson vodka, damson cheese, damson jam & damson & apple jam! There's still loads on the tree. Last year we had hardly any so are stocking up for possible famine again next year.

Had a struggle to find enough jars and lids and had to buy new lids (from  - very quick delivery and the only place I could find click top lids which suck down when the jam cools and stays down unless the seal is broken) for the boxes of used jam jars collected from various sources.

son & Apple Jam label
Jam label

Monday 16 September 2013

Crab Apple Jelly

No time to blog over the last week or so. The garden is in full production and it's a full time job harvesting and then processing the fruit & veg ready for storage or immediate consumption.

A big producer this year is our Crab Apple Tree. Last year we really thought it had died. The tiny fruits dried up and fell off as did all the leaves during the summer. Early this spring, before the flowers came out, I sprayed it with an organic fruit tree wash in case the problem was an aphid or moth or bacterium. Anyway, whatever the problem last year, this year the tree is loaded with beautiful yellow and red fruits.

We've made two batches of Crab Apple Jelly so far - 10 jars of plain jelly (beautiful, clear ruby-red), 4 with sage and 4 with rosemary. The jelly with herbs is great with roast pork, lamb or cheese.

Ripe crab apples on the tree
Crab apples chopped and cooking in the pan

Crab Apple Jelly in jars - we used coffee jars.

We also made Marrow & Apple Chutney which is a great favourite.


Monday 2 September 2013


Squashes and a marrow from Froggarts Cottage Garden
Last year I saved seeds from an enormous shop-bought butternut squash and sowed them this spring. All the seeds germinated and have thrived in the veg bed after planting out.

The plants are enormous and have produced a good collection of fruit. Some are rugby-ball sized, weighing 5 - 6 lbs, yellow with green stripes, or pale green with dark green stripes. Not a butternut squash to be seen!

The commercial growers (in Italy or South Africa - can't remember) obviously used F1 seeds which are hybrids. The seeds are produced by carefully cross-pollinating two or more different varieties to produce squashes with desirable qualities. The seeds from the off-spring of F1 plants are rarely like their parents. In our case they had obviously used a variety of squash bred for SIZE!

Here's a bit about F1 hybrid seeds and plants >>

Anyway our super-squashes are fairly tasty - yellow rather than orange-fleshed like a proper butternut squash - and have been roasted and made into soup. The small fruits can be used like courgettes - fried, baked, stuffed whatever.

Monday 26 August 2013

Swallows and Martins

Sitting in a chair taking a rest with a cup of coffee I was treated to a magnificent aerial display. Swallows, with swept-back wings and forked, pointy tails, dived and swooped across the garden, between the fruit trees and over the hedge. Martins, smaller and with shorter stubby tails, flitted acrobatically high in the sky.
I was fascinated. Some were swooping just a few feet from my face. However, over on the telephone wires in Clay Lane they were starting to congregate in lines. I guess they will be on their way to Africa in the next few days.
This summer has been a lot warmer than the previous few years and we've seen many more swallows and martins this year.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Summer flowers

At this time of year there are some very striking flowers in our cottage garden. The subtlety of spring has given way to bold shows of colour and style.

Sunflower grew from seed dropped by the birds under their feeder.

Bright pink roses
Staely yucca with creamy-white bell-shaped flowers

Sunday 11 August 2013


The sunny summer weather has brought out the butterflies in thousands. The garden is all a-flutter with the lavender, marjoram and buddleias particularly popular. We've seen all colours - white with black wing-tips, orange wing-tips, brown, peacocks, tortoiseshells and a comma.

Of course these lovely creatures start off as voracious caterpillars which strip the leaves off anything.
Last year the rose round the front door was devastated by little stripey caterpillars. Each year small green/grey grubs completely strip the leaves of the Solomon's Seal after the flowers have finishes. We have self-sown tall yellow mulliens around the vegetable plots at the top of the garden which are host to hundreds of yellow and black striped caterpillars.

Unfortunately some butterflies are very fond of brussel sprouts. We have put nets over them to keep off the pigeons and pheasants but the butterflies have got in. So this evening I spent an hour on hands and knees squishing little green grubs and yellow and grey eggs. Not nice.

Thursday 8 August 2013


I was digging potatoes last night and disturbed a small brown newt about 3 ins long. We've seen one or two before mostly around the pond. I think this was likely to be a common newt or smooth newt and apparently after the mating season they spend time in damp earthy patches (like potato beds!) or under stones and logs till the springtime calls again.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Harvest Helpers

We had friends Reny and Calvin staying over the weekend and Reny did well with picking blackcurrants (9lbs) which I made into Blackcurrant Jelly for them to take home a jar.
Then yesterday more friends, Cathy & Jim from Dorset, came and picked broad beans (3 big buckets each weighing 11 lbs plus quite a few eaten as we went), raspberries, tayberries and loganberries and cherries from the big wild cherry tree. It's good to have some extra help when everything is ripening at the same time and it's a lot of fun!
I'm keeping a log of this year's harvest. Take a look at what we've got so far >>

Saturday 27 July 2013

Bindweed and other niche specialists

Bindweed reaches the top of delphiniums.
My mind wanders when I'm in the garden,and sometimes it results in entries on my business blog like this:

Raspberry Ice-Cream

The hot and wet weather has produced a good harvest of all the berries including the Raspberries. I love raspberries just as they are but a really nice way of using them is Raspberry Ice-Cream.

I use a recipe based on one from Hugh Fearnley-Wittingstall's The River Cottage Cookbook.
This is his first or at least an early book and is full of country cottage garden wisdom and delicious recipes.

500 g raspberries
4 large eggs or 5 medium (yolks only)
150 ml water
100 g sugar (white granulated is fine)
500 ml double cream

Put the water and sugar in a pan and heat slowly stirring until the sugar has melted. Gently boil until it becomes syruppy. Set aside to cool a little.
Press the raspberries through a sieve to generate a thick puree.
Separate the eggs. Keep the whites for macaroons or meringues.
Put the yolks in a large bowl and whisk with an electric hand whisk, balloon whisk etc. Gradually add
the warm syrup and keep whisking until thick and custardy.
In another bowl whisk the cream till fairly thick but not solid.
Now mix together the eggs and cream and stir in about half the puree.
Place in a plastic tub suitable for the freezer and place in freezer for about 3 hours.
Remove ice-cream. It will have started to become solid round the edges. Stir it up with a fork or spoon (the idea is to break up the ice crystals into smaller ones so the ice-cream doesn't get solid. Stir in the remaining raspberry puree leaving a ripple effect. back in the freezer and should be ready in a further 3-4 hours.
Of course those with an ice-cream maker will need to adapt this a bit.

To make the meringues or macaroons:

4-5 eggs whites
150g sugar
100g ground almonds and a few flaked almonds for the macaroons.

Place the egg whites in a large round-ish bowl and using a clean whisk whisk until stiff then add about 150g sugar and whisk again so it's nice and stiff and glossy. If making macaroons add 100g of ground almonds and stir in.

Turn on the oven to 160 deg C. Place a baking parchment or grease proof paper on two flat baking trays. With a large spoon scoop up dollops of the mixture and arrange on the tray with space around to accommodate some expansion. Place a flake of almond on the top of each macaroon.
Cook in the oven for around 30 - 45 mins until they are firm to the touch.
Getting perfect meringues is difficult because the exact temperature of the oven (they all vary) and the moisture content in the oven (i.e. are you cooking a stew at the same time?) can affect the firmness and crispness. Don't worry - they'll taste fine anyway.


Tuesday 23 July 2013

Much-needed rain

After two rather dull but humid days at the weekend we had a violent thunderstorm yesterday evening and this morning it's pouring. Just the thing to fill up the water butts!

Having seen the weather forecast for Coleorton yesterday afternoon I spent a couple of hours harvesting raspberries, loganberries and tayberries which were ripening fast in the heat and would get ruined with the impending downpour.

Thursday 18 July 2013

Hot & dry

We've got a proper summer! Actually I can't remember many summers recently where we have had so many consecutive hot, sunny days. It's 30 C  out there this morning.

Of course we British gardeners always complain about something and now WE WANT RAIN!
All 4 rainwater butts are empty, and the green pipe and spring which produced so much water during last year's official wettest on record   have long since dried up. So it's out with the hose and using tap water - not good because it's got chemicals in, because we're on a meter and because we try to be self-sufficient and using mains water seems like a cop-out.

I don't really care about the flowering plants, although the roses and oleanders are looking a bit droopy, but the vegetables and fruit are starting to produce big-time and need water. Plums and apples in particular will just drop their small fruit if they get thirsty.

There is still some moisture in the soil, thanks to our record-breaking wet winter and spring so hopefully established plants will send out roots to reach what they need.

Friday 12 July 2013


Juicy ripe redcurrants
Today I picked this year's first batch of redcurrants. I only had half an hour to spare and picked 4.5 lbs off just one bush.

The last two years we've had to put nets over the 6 redcurrant bushes to stop the blackbirds and pigeons raiding them. They would completely strip the currants and be so bold that they were stealing currants on the other side of the bush as we were harvesting.

This afternoon I was being scolded by a blackbird the whole time I was picking. There's a self-sown bush down by the pond which we leave uncovered for the birds, mostly frequented by blackbirds and robins.

Monday 1 July 2013

Gooseberry Meringue Pie

Fantastic weekend! Sunny and warm - so spent nearly all Saturday & Sunday out in the garden. Lots of tidying, weeding and cutting down. But also some harvesting - 4 lbs of lovely spuds from the second pot of Sante potatoes, fresh crispy Tom Thumb lettuce for lunch and gooseberries for a Gooseberry Meringue Pie for tea.

Gooseberry Meringue Pie recipe:

Basically similar to lemon meringue pie but much simpler and arguably even more yummy.
(Sorry - no photo 'cos it got eaten before I could get out the camera).

1 lb gooseberries
6 oz self-raising flour
3 oz soft margarine
2 tablespoons milk
2-3 eggs
7-8 tablespoons granulated white sugar

Prepare gooseberries:
Top & tail 1 lb gooseberries with scissors, clean off any brown mildew and give them a good wash. Lightly cook them either in oven or microwave (no water needed). They should still have some shape rather than be totally mushy.
Add 3-4 tablespoons sugar (check for your taste and depends on how ripe the gooseberries are).

Make a pastry case:
6 oz self-raising flour
3 oz soft margarine
2 tablespoons approx milk
Mix soft margarine into the flour with a fork (very easy) then add milk and mix into a dough - using your hands if necessary.
Grease a 8 ins shallow pie dish.
Place the dough in the dish and press it out into the dish and making a small lip round the edge.
Cook in oven (Fan 170C) for 15 mins then remove from oven. The pastry will have puffed up in the middle so bash it back down to pie shape with the back of a spoon. Pop it back in the oven for a further 10 mins. (This method is much easier and gives better results than baking blind with beans).

Make the meringue topping:
Separate 2 large or 3 smaller eggs. Put whites in a bowl and whisk with balloon whisk or electric beater till stiff. Add 4 tablespoons sugar. Whisk again till thick and glossy.

Put it all together:
Mix the egg yolks into the cooked gooseberries and pour into the pie case.
Pile the meringue on top.
Cook in oven 150C for 30 mins till meringue is slightly golden and crisp. Sometimes the meringue goes all gooey instead of crisp (depends on what else is in oven maybe) but it's delicious anyway..

Serve warm with cream.

Thursday 27 June 2013

Bee House

The garden is buzzing. My fears for the bee population and consequences for our fruit and vegetable harvest seem unfounded.

After the late spring we've had some warm, even hot, days followed by rain with the result that everything is over-producing to catch up. The garden looks like a jungle. Loads of foliage, flowers - and weeds!

Of necessity and by choice our garden is pretty wild, albeit based on a great design by the previous owners. We have a lot of comfrey which grows like crazy and the bees love. I let some grow at the edges of the vegetable beds to attract the bees who hopefully will move on to the beans and raspberries.

I'm not really fussed what insects do the pollination. Two years ago we had a wasps nest in the ground behind the greenhous and they did a sterling job with the raspberries and currants. We were given an insect house which is basically a bunch of hollow bamboo canes in a wooden box and we placed it in a conifer hedge facing south east. We've noticed some activity in previous years with the ends of the bamboo filled with wax, but this year it's home to small bees. Fascinating to watch them come and go, laying down wax and sealing the tubes.

Bee house - bees were shy when I took this photo but are busy and buzzing this morning.

I don't know where the nearest conventional bee hives are. We certainly rely on a variety of types of bees as well as other insects for pollination and I guess I don't mind who gets the job done. 


Wednesday 19 June 2013

First potatoes!

Eating our first potatoes of 2013 tonight with some chicken breasts baked with garlic and ginger.
Actually they are the saved 2012 Santes we planted in October in big tubs in the greenhouse so perhaps don't count as 2013 crop. 4 lbs from 4 seed potatoes doesn't sound a lot - but a couple of meals-worth of lovely, clean, worm-free spuds is great when this year's harvest will be another 4 weeks at least. Home grown spuds taste so much better than shop-bought.

Here they are:

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Staking up broad beans

The last few weeks the weather has been mixed - a few glorious days and then torrential downpours. Result - loads of weeding to be done. The wind and rain started to take its toll on the broad beans which are now looking pretty good.

So I went out with stakes (from last year's fruit and walnut tree pruning) and 50 metres of rope.

I have two banks of beans arranged 3 rows of 10 each (total 60 plants). I place stakes at each corner of each bank and two along each side then wrap the rope, about 18 inches off the ground all the way around the outside then criss-cross diagonals using the stakes along the sides. This gives them support without having to stake each bean plant individually.

The bees were really busy in the bean flowers but didn't bother me.

Criss-cross diagonal ropes keep the beans from being blown or flopping over.
I use sticks from pruning trees - so they're not very straight!

Beans as they were at the end of May.

Broad bean flowers

Thursday 23 May 2013

Magnificent Magnolia

This year our magnolia tree has been magnificent. It started flowering 4 weeks ago and we had a dodgy couple of mornings after frosty nights when we thought the flowers had been "toasted" by the frost. This often stops them opening and they look sad and still-born while all the spring flowers are bursting into life around the garden.
Here it is in it's glory:
Our magnolia tree.

Friday 17 May 2013

First cuckoo

This evening I heard my first cuckoo of summer 2013. Unfortunately not in our garden but about a mile away in the Gorse Field near Hough Mill, Swannington.

Gorse blooming  in the Gorse Field.
Hough Mill
I joined the Coleorton Heritage Group tour of the old coal mines in the area with a guide from the Swannington Heritage Group who own and care for the land and have restored the mill.

It was a beautiful evening and lovely walking through the spinney of native English trees and wild spring flowers like red campions and lady's smock.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Dogs Tooth Violets

We have a terrific variety of plants, trees and shrubs in our garden - thanks to the design and gardening skills of Hilary and Pat, the previous owners of Froggarts Cottage. One of the loveliest spring flowers is the Dogs Tooth Violet.

They are also called Yellow Adder's Tongue and Trout Lily but their proper Latin name is Erythronium Americanum.

I think they rather like shade and damp, but we had some in the fern garden which flowered each year but this year no leaves or flowers and I think they were drowned in the awful wet we had over the winter.

There's a nice description of the Dogs Tooth Violet - which is actually a lily - on the Old and Sold website which is about auctions and old stuff but has a really eclectic selection of articles (old and new) about stuff.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Beans, beans, beans!

No posts for a few weeks - partly due to the great change in weather, especially over the May holiday, which meant that we could get outside and DO stuff.
I finally got the runner beans planted. Although we usually follow a random crop rotation policy, this year I've kept  runner beans in the same place as last year. Haven't had time to move the frame (made by the previous owners from scaffolding poles and the heavy wire mesh that builders use in reinforced concrete). So I just dug over the soil and put in a couple of barrow-loads of home-grown compost before popping in 48 beans. Hopefully by the time they emerge any risk of frost will have passed. (Was pretty cold  (4 deg C) last night though).
The 60 broad beans (Masterpiece Green Longpod seeds saved from last year's harvest) planted out from pots started are looking great despite the wind. I'll need to stake them up as they get bigger.
We've planted 60 french beans (Blue Lake) in pots in the conservatory. They are quite tender and have lost loads in previous years through putting them out too soon. So they won't go outside until the start of June when in theory nights will be warm.

Monday 29 April 2013

EU ban on pesticides

"Bee deaths: EU to ban neonicotinoid pesticides"

See story and background info in BBC story

Good news that the EU and member state's governments are taking this matter seriously at last. Our ecosystems are so complex it's difficult to pinpoint the cause of lack of bees. Maybe it's the pesticides (these or others), maybe it's the weather, mobile phones or just a natural cycle we haven't recognised. But we should try to find an answer and reverse the trend. There has certainly been a reduction in bee numbers here - especially honey bees. Actually, I don't really mind what insects do the pollination. One year we had 2 large wasps nests in the garden which did wonders for the raspberries which the wasps seemed to adore.
I do wonder whether commercial bees are getting publicity for their problems when the issues may well also be with bumble bees and all the other bees and insects that work hard for our harvests as well as themselves.

See my post on first bee seen 
But it's only this last week that we've seen many more - mostly big bumble bees.

Monday 22 April 2013

Flower show

I walked round the garden and took these photos of spring flowers. They really make a show, especially the heathers. There's quite a few butterflies - mainly peacocks - and some bees now. Hope there will be more bees when the fruit trees are in flower to make a good crop this year.

Daffodils and a shrub with delicate yellow flowers - don't know the name

Snakes-head fritillaries

Heathers have been flowering right through the winter - even in the snow

Jetfire daffodils

Wednesday 17 April 2013

One swallow.....

Yesterday afternoon I saw a swallow darting over the garden, proof that spring is really here even if one swallow doesn't make a summer! This week the weather has turned warm and flowers are blooming everywhere. There are a few, very few, bees emerging and a couple of butterflies.The ground is drying out and should be able to start planting the potatoes at the weekend.
The nut cages on the bird table were visited by one of last years brood of squirrels - Skinny-Tail squirrel who is looking a bit plump and may well be a Mrs Squirrel expecting!

Monday 8 April 2013

Pruning raspberries in the sun

Sunday was a beautiful Spring day - warm and sunny with a gentle southerly breeze. It was great to get out in the garden and start preparing for the new season.

I spent a couple of hours tidying up the raspberries. Last year they produced luscious fruit right through the year. I cut last year's new stems down to 18-24 inches. They are already budding and a few have started to open bright green leaves. They will produce an early harvest and the brand new stems, which aren't even showing yet, will produce fruit through the summer and autumn.  Then I removed the 2-year-old stems which had died back anyway so just a firm tug was needed to release them from the base.
Looking forward to some beauties like these in a few months!

More about Raspberries and other soft fruit and berries at Froggarts Cottage >>

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Indoor planting to beat the cold

Well, my planned Easter in the garden didn't happen!
There's still quite a bit of snow on the ground and the beds are sodden where they are not actually frozen. My son, Paul, dug over the "using" compost heap and filled a barrow and several large pots. It's 2-3 years old and looks pretty good. I planted up a couple more big pots with some Tescos-bought Juliette potatoes which had started sprouting in the cupboard and these have joined the row of pots of Orla potatoes in the big conservatory. The sun is quite warm and the day-time temperature in there is around 20 deg so hopefully we'll see some green shoots soon.
One of the 4 marrow seeds planted 10 days ago and kept on the south-facing bay window has sprouted. Nice to see some signs of Spring.
There's no point in planting anything in the sodden cold veg plots so today I (with a little help from Mum) planted up 12 pots, 5 seeds in each, of broad bean seeds saved from last year's bumper harvest. They'll be nice and warm in her conservatory and hopefully will grow into sturdy plants to put outside when the weather decides it really is Spring.

Monday 25 March 2013

Spring hasn't sprung yet!

We've had massive snow - eight inches and higher piled up against the back wall and patio doors - and a biting easterly wind. Supposedly the start of spring last week but it feels like midwinter. We keep getting hopeful of better weather but they're promising another week of cold and even more snow.  Last year by this date in March we had planted broad beans in the ground and started on the potatoes. This year the ground is frozen and/or waterlogged. It will be a few weeks before we can plant. I'm going to start off the broad beans in pots in the conservatory (the greenhouse is too cold) and hope that by the time they are big enough to plant out the ground will be warmer and drier.

Still - some bright spots: I crept up to the top of the garden yesterday evening and picked some rather sorry, snow-covered rhubarb. Some stems were frozen and broke off but I managed to harvest enough to make a rhubarb fool.

Here's a picture taken nearly 2 weeks ago with the snowdrops still blooming and the cocusses providing a splash of colour:

And this yesterday from the warmth of our bedroom window!

Monday 18 March 2013

No end to the cold and wet

It's still very cold. After a wet weekend, with snow flurries on Sunday, this morning dawned with a heavy frost, the fountain frozen and a thick fog. The winter is really hanging on. And it's so wet!
There is a spring at the top of the garden which has never flowed so strongly. The drainage channels that feed the water feature and ponds are over-flowing and everywhere is squelchy.
Last year, in mid March, we had started planting broad beans and potatoes. I can't see that happening for another 3 weeks. The beds are much too wet to dig over let alone plant up. The potatoes in the unheated greenhouse which I planted up in November are only about 1 cm high! On Sunday I filled another couple of pots with compost (from our huge, 3-bay compost system) and installed them in the conservatory to warm up and plant up a few more spuds that are chitting. If we rely on outdoor potatoes we won't get any until August unless the weather warms up dramatically.

Sunday 10 March 2013

Hellebore Posy for Mother's Day

It's a cold day with snow flurries sweeping in from the north east. It's Mothers Day so I picked these hellebores from the garden to make a little posy for my Mum.

Hellebores from the garden make a lovely posy for Mum on Mothers Day.

Monday 4 March 2013

First bees

We've had a few sunny days, although with cold nights. On Saturday morning I saw a few brave, or hungry, bees on the snowdrops, but none since.

Monday 25 February 2013

Buying seeds and potatoes

Time to check the seed store and buy new seeds needed for planting this year.

We always save bean seeds and have a good supply of Broad Beans and Runner Beans from last year's harvest. (We're using the Runner beans saved year on year from seeds that Mum bought in 1982.) However last year the French Beans just didn't get going. I tried saved seeds and two different purchased packets and they were all pretty  pathetic so I'll have to buy more this year (Blue Lake).

Also need to order potato tubers. We usually plant Sante and Pentland Javelin and a couple of other varieties to try out. The last few years I've managed to save some of our own - but last year's harvest was so poor we don't have much in store. I have kept some Desirees which didn't do too badly although they were all very small. They are already sprouting in their cardboard box. Back in November I planted a few Sante in big tubs in the greenhouse. They are only now beginning to break the surface of the soil so we won't be harvesting for a couple of months! This year I've decided to buy Sante, Orla and Setanta and plant the saved Desirees.

As well as potatoes I've ordered:
  • Marrows - green long bush which we harvest small and use for courgettes and let 3 or 4 grow to marrows for chutney.
  • Brussel sprouts (Bedford)
  • Lettuces (Tom Thumb)
  • Parsley (Moss curled)
  • Beetroot (Boltardy)
  • French Beans (Blue Lake)
We're still not planting onions, leeks and shallots because of the alium leaf miner. see December 2011 post "Know your onions and their predators ". They devastated our newly-purchased shallots last year.

Monday 18 February 2013

Dominant species?

Beautiful sunny weekend! Great to be out in the warm sun for a couple of hours without risking frostbite. Two little blue tits were playing in the last year's fennel stems not bothered by me working. A buzzard was soaring above with the inevitable couple of crows mocking it. Two collar doves have been cuddling up on a branch of the redwood for two whole days popping down to the bird table every so often for a quick snack.

There's so much to do - weeding, tidying, cutting back. The fallen leaves and old flower stems have gone soggy with all the rain we've had so it's a messy job. There's loads of couch grass which, with the wet soil, comes up by the yard. But despite my efforts there are hundreds more green shoots where I cleared last week. I can't help feeling that human beings are really not the top species on this planet. We slave away trying to impose our idea of  "tidy" and the couch grass and ground elder and bindweed just keep going without any apparent effort. "Lilies of the field" I suppose.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Tidying up the hellebores

The weather has been cold and wet. They have promised snow but at present it's grey and pouring with rain. Yesterday I had a quick hour in the garden before the rain set in and managed to tidy up the hellebores in the bed outside the kitchen window. I cut off the old leaves so we can see the flowers better and, in any case, the leaves are going brown and will die back soon on their own. There are little new leaves sprouting and lots of little seedlings which will flower in a couple of years.



Monday 4 February 2013

Snowdrops everywhere!

Beautiful sunny day but windy. The garden is emerging after the January snow and the snowdrops are everywhere.

Snowdrops in the border pushing through brown, fallen magnolia leaves
Snowdrops emerging through the fallen magnolia leaves
Snowdrops in the grass
Snowdrops in the grass

Thursday 31 January 2013

Early Rhubarb

Last Saturday the rhubarb was under 6 ins snow. Now the sun is shining and it's relatively warm (10 deg C) and the rhubarb is sprouting beautifully. I really don't see the point in forcing rhubarb when it comes up quite deliciously without any attention (except a bit of compost from our huge heaps). Maybe some rhubarb and custard at the weekend!

Rhubarb sprouting colourfully after the snow.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Birdwatch 2013

Did the annual RSPB Birdwatch on Sunday between 1.30 and 2.30 in the afternoon. The idea is to count the maximum number of any bird species seen in the garden at any time. So although I saw a male blackbird then later on a female, because they were on their own each time that counts as one.

Counts as follows:

Blackbird        1
Sparrow          1
Woodpigeon   3  (sitting in the walnut tree)
Pheasant         2
Robin              1
Great-tit          2
Dunnock         2

Not much different from last year really:

I have no idea how the RSPB use these results to assess which bird species are booming or failing. Wonderful thing stats. Anyway we'll be looking out for the national and Leicestershire results soon.

Sunday 27 January 2013

End of the snow?

For the first time for over 2 weeks I've woken up and the garden is not covered in snow. The grass is green and the snowdrops are just beginning to push up through. There's not a lot of colour - a few primroses and helibores - but lots of daffodil and other bulb leaves showing and buds are swelling on the shrubs and trees. There are catkins on the hazel tree.

When the weather started to get really cold I spread sacking over the rhubarb plants and yesterday still with 3 ins snow on the ground I uncovered them. Today the red stems and yellow/green leaves are looking perky and bright in the sunshine.

Saturday 19 January 2013

More snowy garden pictures

Heavy snow yesterday on top of the frosty cold days before have transformed our garden into a mono-chrome wonderland:

Snow on the contorted hazel creates dramatic shapes.

View through the "Mediterranean Garden" which in summer is blue with lavender.

The temperature has been hovering around zero - just right for producing dramatic icicles on our conservatory roof

Snow-capped teasels and a view over the field to The School House.


Wednesday 16 January 2013

Winter freeze

Looking out from our warm kitchen at our snow and frost-covered garden! It was -7 deg C last night and hasn't climbed above zero today despite a bit of hazy sun. Look at the poor birds huddled in the redwood tree.

Our snow-covered garden

Tuesday 8 January 2013


Four grey squirrels have been treating us to a fine display of acrobatics and fun. I know they are supposed to be pests but they are very entertaining. They chase each other around the bird-table, the rose frame, summer house roof and the dead redwood. They sit on the stubby, broken branches in typical squirrel pose, tail erect and curled up over their backs. Last year there were 3 babies - 2 quite big and the other smaller with a thin tail. Looks like the family are doing well!

Saturday 5 January 2013

Wet Wet Wet!

It's official - 2012 was the wettest year for England since records began.
See the story & stats from Mark Kinver at the BBC
This is extra amazing since we were in drought mode until April. In March I walked the field that surrounds our garden and the stream that usually runs through it was absolutely dry, as were the various springs. Now this is how it looks:
Billy's field in late December

Water flowing from the draining pipe into the fern garden

The previous owners of Froggarts Cottage built a system of "French drains" in the orchard and vegetable garden and channeled the water through a pipe into a series of water features - the fern garden, then through a pebble fountain and stream at the top of the rockery and over a slate waterfall into the pond. From there the overflow goes into a soak-away and drains.But there's so much water now the system is overflowing and the plants in the fern garden and the lawn are waterlogged. As an emergency measure we have diverted the water straight from the drainage pipe along a length of guttering straight to the pond. The result is continual sound of pouring water - but the lawn and fern garden are a bit more healthy.
Water pouring into the pond from the guttering
The last few days have been sunny and warm and we're promised a good dry weekend so I'm looking forward to getting out there and getting rid of wet leaves lying on the garden and trimming back some of the more unruly bushes.