25 Jul 2015

Seven Days



This time last week I was sitting at my computer in a right old blue funk. Thankfully, since then, my week has got a lot better - apart from one tiny blip of the caterpillar kind.

So why the frustration?  My local borough has an annual gardening competition. After much pondering and loathing of form filling, I decided to enter with about 8 hours to go before the deadline. The prize (should I be so lucky) is garden centre vouchers and I'd like more fruit trees. I like to do things thoughtfully so this online process (answers and photos) took a chunk out of my day.  And then at 7.14 pm (deadline midnight) and just before I'd pressed SUBMIT, the form closed down taking my application with it!  Too tired to start again that night, I gave a big sigh and started over on the Saturday morning. Just in case.



Following that dismal Friday night, Saturday was a fresh slate.  My son was working at a festival over the weekend with late shifts; in his absence, I was able to eat delicious vegetarian meals (he's a carnivore) and just relax in the evenings. Normally there's a steady stream of his friends coming and going. While it's always lovely to see them, bobbing up and down answering the doorbell is not conducive to calm.

On Monday, I spoke to the organisers of the gardening competition and was told that my entry/ies would be accepted. (The first one survived the shut down with a bit of searching.) Apparently I wasn't the only one gnashing my teeth on Friday evening. Some discussion ensued as to which category my entry should go in - environmental, individual or community - and whether each collage of photos, above, counted as one of my three images or was, in fact, bucking the system. The latter, I think. Still, no points for not trying.

Serendipity continued to flow on Tuesday when an elegant and totally fabulous bouquet arrived. This was my prize as a runner up in a Pinterest competition to win tickets to RHS Hyde Hall flower show. At times like that, I'm pleased to not be first.  Anticipating something from Interflora, I toyed with the idea of sending the bouquet elsewhere. (I don't like the idea of hothouse flowers imported from another continent.) So glad I didn't - this package was a visual treat from the moment it arrived. A slim elegant box opened to reveal carefully picked and packed roses, lisianthus (new to me), eucalyptus and limonium with a card giving tips on arranging and care of the flowers. + a relevant quote hidden under the flowers. Gorgeous.



Wednesday was City Farm day. I'd taken a couple of small children to see the brand new piglets; they (the pigs, not the children) were huddled together asleep in a far dark corner so we were thwarted.  Instead, we were invited into a new visitor pen to stroke and feed some goats which was much more interactive and fun with both children coming away glowing from the experience.

Thursday. Aaah, lovely Thursday. I was up early to go to the passport office on my son's behalf (he's away at yet another festival).  On the return journey the train could take me no further than Camden Town. Walking the rest of the way, I discovered the Oxfam bookshop in lower Kentish Town. I can't resist a bargain and the first thing I saw was a Carol Klein veg book for £2 which I'd been about to order on Amazon. How lucky was that!  I picked up several other books but had to limit myself to five, bearing in mind the walk ahead of me. (Even that was a stretch!)



And the day got better: in the afternoon, as I set about starting to prune the plum trees, I made an amazing discovery.  High up in the centre of the tree, I have a plum. Yes, just the one, a big fat beast of a fruit.  I searched the trees for any more but no. Just one.  Still, it would be churlish to chop the tree down now, wouldn't it?



The rest of the day was spent weeding, deadheading, planting … and picking off about 30 caterpillars from my brassicas. Rather obviously, these were Large Cabbage Whites and Small Cabbage Whites. No, I didn't net - a lesson learned too late. They also like nasturtiums so had landed in the perfect spot. Although the damage looks dreadful, I think the plant should be okay, especially if I keep an eye out from now on!  (Four more had appeared by Friday morning.)



And so to Friday. With the promised heavy rain in my thoughts, I started in the garden very early and managed three hours of planting, picking and tidying before the rains started properly.  The water butts are all but empty so I absolutely relished the continuous steady downpour of water, soaking into the ground. That should keep the plants happy for a while. I believe we're in for another dose on Sunday which to my mind will be excellent.

+ to bring the week full circle, I was contacted late afternoon on Friday by the organisers of the aforementioned gardening competition with the news that my garden has been shortlisted!  I'll be receiving a judging visit next Friday which is a bit scary - although lovely Chris Collins, the ex-Blue Peter gardener, will be with the Mayor and other judges. I think I'll still be nervous though.

19 Jul 2015

Pollinator Awareness Week


Hoverfly on Linaria leaf


While I'm on the subject of bees (last post), I've picked up lots of tweeting in the past few days about it being Pollinator Awareness Week.  I would probably have missed this if not for the Twitterati so am overdue for a bit of an awareness boost.

While we all know that our summer crops would be dismal without help from pollinators and that it's essential in spring to tempt bees towards the fleeting blossom on our fruit trees, what can we do to attract bees into our gardens all year round and, more importantly, keep them there?

Veg and allotment gardeners provide rich summer feeding grounds with the flowers of annuals such as broad beans, peas, climbing beans, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, redcurrants, all the berry bushes, asparagus, artichokes, fruit trees and herb flowers.  Comfrey is a spectacular bee magnet and worth growing to have a very useful plant fertiliser to hand.  And if, like me, you find your autumn sown carrots bolting into flower - leave them! Carrots belong in the Apiaceae plant family, so named for their affinity with bees (Latin name - apis).

I found a very good page on the RHS website with downloadable leaflets of what can be planted to make sure there's plenty of insect food in your garden from wintery-spring right through to late autumn.  Even if you only squeeze a few of these plants into your garden, it will be a case of, as they say, "every little helps".  I won't repeat what the RHS writes - the link is here.  

I like to think that I'm a pollinator friendly kind of gal so, for a bit of fun, I traipsed down to the garden to see how many boxes I could tick. Here's a few of them in flower today:

How many can you guess? Answers at post end.

The RHS lists have made me think about moving some of my plants around - replacing some of the poorly fruiting strawberries with Sweet Woodruff and planting more snowdrops, tulips, hellebores and forget-me-nots for springtime and Erigeron (fleabane) for summer.

It's fairly blowy day here so it was interesting trying to get photos - speed rather than aperture being of the essence.  It didn't take too long (I stopped to gather a few bits for lunch) but nearly every plant I stopped at was attracting bees.  My halo is shining.

A garden friend, if not exactly a pollinator. Couldn't resist.


Grid Quiz answers! 

From left to right, top to bottom:
Allium, Echinacea, Linaria, Perovskia, tomato
Phlox paniculata, Eryngium, Blackcurrant sage, Achillea, Mange tout
Bupthalmum salicifolium, Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve', Borage, Scabious, Fennel
Comfrey, Sedum Thundercloud, Honeysuckle, Sweet William, Sweet Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
Cosmos, Lavender, Nasturtium, Thyme, Calendula




With that picture grid above, I'm also linking to Carol's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for July.

18 Jul 2015

Biscuits, bees and lavender



Shall we just pretend for a moment that the grey skies of the past week haven't happened?  It's not been very summery over the last week although, once outdoors, I've been surprised how humid it feels despite grey skies and drizzling rain. But enough of all that.  Let's pretend that it's a glorious warm and mellow summer's day - a perfect day for relaxing in the garden with some iced lemonade and homemade biscuits, listening to the bees busily collecting nectar from the nearby lavender bushes. Hmmm.  Biscuits + Lavender. Now there's a thought.

Lavender is definitely the top summer plant in my garden for attracting bees, the bushes are in constant motion with bees landing and taking off again from the flowers.  But they're not just a pretty face - there's a lot more that lavender is good for. The dried leaves and flowers can be mixed with rice to make aromatic microwave-able handwarmers; fabric pouches filled with lavender flowers can scent clothes or be tucked under a pillow for good night's sleep; the oil is soothing, calming and healing; lavender spikes make lovely cut flowers (cut when half to one-third of the flowers are open and cut above a pair of leaves) and, of course, the flowers are edible.

I came across this recipe while skimming through a Mary Berry book due for return to the library: Lavender biscuits, how intriguing.  And there's something so dependable about Mary Berry that I instinctively trust her recipes.  This recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of fresh lavender flowers and/or leaves.  Ever one to expand my repertoire of what to do with edible flowers, I decided to make a batch for the blog.

First task was to gather flowers and photos. This part of making the biccies took a while; I'm easily distracted from the task in hand when watching bees and hoverflies and came back with many photos, mostly of blurred bees.




Back indoors, I'd left the butter to soften and already weighed out the other ingredients so it was just a case of stripping the stems, finely chopping the flowers and putting it all together which took hardly any time at all.  Don't waste the stems - when used as skewers for grilling meats they'll add subtle flavour and can also be used to gently fragrance the dying embers of the barbecue or winter fire.

The biscuits are baked on two trays but, instead, I used one tray twice.  Just as well, as I thought the first batch (lavender only) tasted a bit 'soapy'. I added a grating of lemon zest to the second batch which made a much better and very tasty biscuit.  Of course, that could just be me.  I recommend you try them.  Even without lavender, the biscuits are a lovely open 'shortbread' texture and keep well in an airtight jar.  Oh, and don't skimp on the Demerara sugar - it gives a lovely sweet crunch to the biscuit.

Recipe here on my Google drive - download for printing, if you wish.
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