Sunday, 29 November 2009

Root Vegetables - Familiar and New

It's been a while since I've posted any garden news, this is not my favourite time of the year for gardening and family-wise things are a bit all-consuming at the moment. However this morning I ventured out to the kitchen garden with a pail of vegetable peelings for the compost heap and had a quick look around at the vegetables still in the ground.

I selected a leek and some baby turnip and a large celeriac. The celeriac had the most wonderful celery scent when I pulled it from the ground. This is the first year I've grown it and despite it's long growing season - in the ground from June to December - I'll definately grow it again as it was so trouble free; other than keeping it watered and a bit of earthing up to keep it white there was nothing to growing it.

The turnip are somewhat disappointing at the moment and I don't expect them to grow much bigger through the Winter so I'll harvest them and use them as small, whole turnip. So now off to the kitchen to get warm and start using the vegetables...

Friday, 2 October 2009

Party Patio

A major piece of the garden hard landscaping has reached a significant point in its progress...all of the paving and the main structure for the roof are finished. The Party Patio is a large area sitting in one of the sunniest spots in our garden next to the Goathouse. It will be used to share meals with friends and for general entertaining.

The Handyman and I spent time yesterday evening reviewing his handiwork and considering the next phase of the project...the outdoor fireplace for those chilly evenings when you'd rather be outdoors but the temperature drives you in.

We spent time considering the size and visual weight of the fireplace and laying bricks in various mock-ups, we also referred to the fireplace in the dining room for proportion; books, magazines and my ideas scrapbook were strewn around the dining room table...we both love this process of design and build; it seems to work well for us to date...time will tell wth this project.

Whilst walking around the patio thinking of the options I really noticed for the first time the shapes made by the wooden joists, all contructed by hand by the ever versatile Handyman, the shapes against an October sky I thought were very evocative of the skill that has gone into creating the structure.

Now how to plant up the borders that will enclose the patio? Time for me to get the gardening books out and develop a planting plan over the Winter months.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

End of Season Bonus

The time has come to clean out the greenhouse, first removing the exhausted courgette plants. These two have provided lovely baby courgettes and giant marrow for many a meal over the months from late June to September and, with two large marrow remaining, will provide some more food for a little while yet.

Then it's the turn of th
e four tomato plants, one each of four varieties: Gardener's Delight - a prolific small-fruited variety, Totem - a bush type, a beefsteak and a plum tomato - varieties unknown. Lots of green fruit especially on the Gardener's Delight. I could leave them a little longer on the plant to ripen but the next few weekends are busy with friends and family and if I don't get the greenhouse sorted now it will be the end of looks like Holly Grove Kitchen will be making a batch of green tomato chutney sometime soon.

The last of the onions drying out on the greenhouse benches are gathered up and together with the garlic bulbs this makes a substantial basket full of produce from the greenhouse.

I'm already thinking of
how I might use the greenhouse - a 6' x 10' unheated type - over the coming months starting with a couple of growbags of lettuce to overwinter, some broad bean seeds to start off and, of course, to shelter the fuchsias in pots before the first frosts.

So, with my Harvest Festival basket and thoughts of new plantings I set off for the HG kitchen...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Summer Lovelies

Our Summer bedding in pots around the outside walls of the house is still looking good. Every year I pot up some pelargonium plug plants, bright red, for the Handyman. They are his favourite and remind us both of lovely times in France. This year's plants had a bit more of an orange tinge than we like but they have performed well in what, during July and August, was a wet and sometimes chilly Summer. They have loved the warmer and much drier weather of September and appear to be putting on a final flourish. They can be overwintered from cuttings taken in August or September, but I have so much to do within our acre that I usually compost the plants at the end of the season. Perhaps when I give up the day job and I have more time for the garden I'll try my hand at pelargonium cuttings.

The other regular visitor to our pots in Summer is the Busy Lizzie, Impatiens walleriana. Preferring a cooler sight, though they will grow in full sun, I set the pots along the back wall of the house - east facing - so they get the morning sun but sit in shade from about 11.30 onwards. They are such a cheery plant, covered in muti coloured blooms. Again, though they can be propagated by cuttings, my preference is to buy them as plug plants in the late Spring.

Various fuchsi
as join in the Summer colour, some hardy and some not. The hardy ones will be taken to the cold greenhouse to overwinter in their pots and be planted out in the garden borders on the arrival of Spring, the others will be added to the ever expanding compost heap.

For now I'll enjoy the final burst of colour from this trio of lovelies!

Sunday, 13 September 2009


Just had to quickly share this photo of our enormous sunflowers (self-seeded in the kitchen garden from last year's seedheads). They are over 8 feet tall and looked beautiful against the azure blue September sky.

Saturday, 12 September 2009


Walking through the lanes this morning on one of my, now regular, foraging trips I noticed a crab apple tree in the hedgrow. On closer inspection the fruits were ripe enough to come off in my hand with a gentle twist of the stalk.

I took one of my foraging bags, better known as small freezer bags, from my pocket and collected about 2 pounds in weight.

On reflection I should have waited for my return trip to gather the apples as I now had to carry them with me on the rest of m
y walk.

The real purpose of my trip this morning was to gather a couple of bags of pine cones that I had seen on a walk earlier in the week.

Under the branches of five Scots pin
es in amongst the pine needles lie masses of disguarded cones. I like the idea of a few pine cones on our open fire in the midst of Winter. I've no idea if this is a practical idea but I'd like to give it a try.

So with two carrier bags of pine cones, two pounds of crab apples and a small bag of blackberries - well, you can't go foraging at this time of the year and come back without a blackberry or two - I wandered home to look for a recipe for the crab apples.

Our Batty Cats

We have two cats whom we live with at Holly Grove. They came to stay with us just over 2 years ago when they were about 15 weeks old. I say about 15 weeks as we don't know exactly when they were born. We adopted them from a cat rescue centre, they were such timid little things; born on a factory site to a feral mother they were not used to human contact.

But now 2 years on, what a difference, they rule the roost, though Bobbins (the tabby) is still unsure of strangers, our Tootsie (black as your hat) loves people and is as soft as butter.

We get such pleasure from watching them cavorting around the garden and they keep the mice and rabbit population at bay - no mean feat in this neighbourhood!

Thoughts Turn To Spring Bulbs

It's early Autumn but with this late burst of sunshine and rising temperatures it still feels like Summer. Time to turn my thoughts to Spring
flowers and particularly bulbs. It's the ideal time to buy bulbs whilst there are plenty in the shops to choose from - make sure that they are firm to the touch.

Last year I planted around 500 daffodil and narcissi bulbs outside the gates on the lane verges and in the woodland border. I also put in about 50 English bluebell bulbs - they are rather expensive and good naturalisers, so they should bulk up well over time.

This year I'll add more narcissi, bluebells and snowdrops...but which ones?

Narcissi Tete a Tete is a favourite of mine, so a few more wouldn't go amiss in the woodland border. As the steps rise up through this border it is a good site for minature narcissi.

We're going to continue to spread daffodils along the lane verges, they were so lovely last year. So time to get out the fork and spade, lift some turf, plant some bulbs, replace the turf and look forward to the Spring display - fingers crossed!

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

New and Familiar Beans

I gathered, what I think will be, the last of the Runner Beans for this year. The number of young beans on the plants is deminishing, so I'll leave a few now to go to seed to be planted next Spring. The White Lady beans were beautiful, long straight pods, stringless and sweet when gathered young. We have had many a meal with these delicious pods, so much better than supermarket beans, picked straight from the plant to the pot.

I planted some Borlotti Beans at the end of July in the hope that I might get a few beans before the frosts come along. I haven't grown this type of bean before so I'm not sure what results I'll get. However they seem to have started well and are beginning to climb up the canes. Here's hoping for a bit more of this lovely and warm Autumn sunshine that we've been having over the last week or so that will encourage this young growth and keep the pollinators around until the flowers appear - I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Nectar for the Butterfly

It has been a beautiful September day today - sunshine, warm air and a lovely breeze - good gardening weather. I started the day with a walk down the lane to the postbox and back, which woke me up nicely...birdsong, a peaceful start to the day.

I was about to start tidying one of the borders by the circles when I noticed the Sedum Spectabile 'Brilliant' covered in bees, wasps and butterflies all savouring the nectar. So I had to get my camera and try and capture the moment and postpone the gardening. The butterfly in the photograph is a Red Admiral, quite common by all accounts, but nontheless beautiful. The second butterfly was a Comma,smaller than the Red Admiral and less flashy - there must have been at least five or six of these on the plant.

Later in the day I saw more clusters of butterflies on the Verbena Bonariensis, this time they were n
either Red Admirals nor Commas but Painted Ladies.

In the evening light a fourth type of butterfly was spotted. Smaller than the others and with distinctive pale bluespots along the lower edges of its wings - a Small Tortoiseshell.

I have planted lots of nectar-rich plants in our garden in the hope of attracting as many insects, butterflies and birds as possible, so I am very happy to see these varieties of butterfly in the garden.

The search to identify these butterflies led me to a very helpful website - - and one I'll be using more often. It has even helped me to identify the type of Cabbage White that is devastating my broccoli for the second year running - so not all butterflies are welcome here!

Monday, 7 September 2009

One, Two, Three and More Butternut Squash

Autumn beckons but the last of the Summer flowers hold on for a bit longer - here some Black-eyed Susan (Rudbekia Fulgida Goldstrum) make a pretty picture next to a rambling Butternut Squash. The daisies were moved from a more shady spot in the garden this Spring and they're obviously loving this sunnier spot as they've produced lots of bright flowers since July and don't look like stopping for a few weeks yet.

Next to the rudbeckia I planted two squash plants grown from seed in the greenhouse in the late Spring and waited in hope whilst they wandered around the flower beds. They produced lots of yellow flowers, very similar to courgette flowers, but with the poor Summer weather I didn't hold out much hope of getting any fruits. Then yesterday, whilst meandering in the garden, I discovered one medium sized and one small squash. They are beautifully firm to the touch and the skin is blemish-free.

On closer inspection of the plants I found five more squash about the same size as the smaller one that I picked. I'm going to leave them for a couple more weeks on the plant and see what results I get.

I tried growing Butternut Squash last year to no avail, so any that I harvest this year are a welcome addition to the Autumn larder, and if I get seven then that will be a fantastic result!

Friday, 4 September 2009

Mums' Crab Apple Trees

In April this year the Handyman and I chose two crab apple trees to plant close to Star's hedgrow as Mother's Day presents for our Mums. We chose them because of their ultimate height, not so large to take the sunshine and yet providing some dappled shade and beautiful Spring blossom and Autumn fruits. They will be a reminder of our Mums and the bounty of their love.

Malus John Downie (right) is a lovely tree with white blossom and orange and red fruits that ripen in October. The tree is a first year maiden and is already laden with lots of fruit for its size.

The second tree Malus
Red Sentinel (above left), is also a first year maiden and also laden with fruit. A pretty tree with scented white flowers followed by red fruits in the Autumn; these fruits often remain on the tree until late December, if the birds or the preserving pan don't get to them first!
I think I'll try using b
oth varieties in a crab apple jelly come October.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Great Marrows from Little Courgettes Grow!

I've been spending quite a bit of time in the kitchen recently rather than the garden as the autumn flow of produce begins; apples, blackberries (from the hedgrows), plums, damsons etc, all requiring some kind of preserving. This morning I thought I'd take a look in the greenhouse to see how many courgettes I might have courgettes, but three absolutely enormous marrows! Had it really been so long since my last trip to the kitchen garden or was my eyesight failing that I didn't notice these ever expanding courgettes. So I thought I'd better harvest one and see how much it weighed in my amazement it registered 9lbs 3 ozs - almost the same weight as my younger son M when he was born, though quite a different shape!

If you have a look on Holly Grove Kitchen you'll see how I managed to use this unexpected what to do with the remaining two!

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Plums, plums and more plums

A few days ago the Handyman harvested a trugful of plums from our ancient and gnarled plum tree. This tree stands on the 'Builder's Yard' side of the garden where the Handyman keeps all the materials required to develop the structural features for our acre and any recycled wood that will be used on our woodburning stove over the Winter.

So it has been a neglected little tree and yet repays us each year with an abundance of the most delicious plums. All we have to do is pick and eat them - various recipes for making use of these fruits can be found on my companion website Holly Grove Kitchen.

We planted a young plum tree (Opal - on St Julien rootstock) and a young greengage tree (Old Greengage - on St Julien rootstock) nearly 2 years ago and they are doing well, though no signs of any fruits as yet. Our hope is that they will be as prolific and tasty as the old plum which we think is a Victoria. If that is the case then I'll have to give up work throughout the Autumn to keep up with preserving, bottling and juicing our harvest...talking of which not long now until the damsons and apples are adding to the feast. Ah, Autumn is on its way, season of ripe and mellow fruitfulness, and lots of kitchen activity!

Friday, 14 August 2009

View from the Ironing Board

Last Sunday was a lovely day, the sun was shining and the garden looked very inviting...unfortunately I had a pile of ironing as tall as myself. Now I know I'm not very tall, but in ironing terms that's still quite a challenge. So what to do...ironing?...gardening? For once the ironing won out (guilty conscience), so I decided to make the best of it and set up the ironing board in the garden. With Radio 4 and Gardeners' Question Time to look forward to, I set about my task. I finished my ironing in record time probably as a result of the lovely view.

Later in the a
fternoon I managed to persuade the Handyman to stop work on the Party Patio and take a break for a picnic lunch. We laid a blanket and cushions on the main lawn looking back towards the house through the old apple trees and ate a picnic from my lovely new picnic basket (a birthday present from the Handyman). Now this is the way to enjoy all the hard work we've put into the garden over the past two years. It makes quite a change for us to take time to sit and admire the garden but that's what we did last Sunday, oh, for at least thirty minutes! Then back to weeding and deadheading for me and patio construction for him.

Friday, 7 August 2009

The Potato Picker

I make no apology to Van Gogh for paraphrasing the title of his famous painting, The Potato Eaters, after I'd finished digging for the day I felt, and probably looked, like one of the sitters in his painting!

I spent a couple of hours last Sunday digging C
harlotte potatoes from the comfort of their raised bed. It was the first warm and dry day for a couple of weeks, so time to get the tatties out of the ground and dried off for storing. My back was aching by the time I had finished, though I couldn't stop smiling as I saw the pile grow and grow.
I spread the potatoes on a plastic sheet on the ground to dry for a couple of hours and then sorted them into three sizes - large, medium and small. Any damaged potatoes I put to one side to use within the next couple of days and the others I packed into paper sacks to store in my Potting Shed where it's cool, dry and dark. I'll be interested to see how these store as they are salad potatoes and I feel that they probably should be eaten sooner rather than later.

I've four potato barrels to empty yet, one of Charlotte and three of Maris Bard, so I'd better start searching for some potato based recipes to test them out on - any suggestions?

Thursday, 6 August 2009

August Evening

After spending the evening cutting the grass and watering the pots and baskets I took my camera for a wander around the garden. It's been the first warm and dry evening for a while and it was lovely to be able to stroll around checking out the plants. Unfortunately a number of them are looking a bit battered by the inclement weather that we've had over the past few weeks.

The buds and flowers on Rosa Geoff Hamilton are prolific but unfortunately the petals are scarred by the rain. Still the scent is beautiful and if the weather improves there are plenty of buds set to open.

Living where we do we are very fortunate not to suffer from too much light pollution which is one reason I think we see so
many lovely sunsets and this evening was no exception. As I walked towards Stars gate to water the last of the baskets I was presented with the sky on fire, I was captivated, so much so that I almost missed photographing the scene. It's at times like this that I'm reminded how fortunate we are to live here at Holly Grove.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Woodpecker Alert!

The apple tree border has just been visited by a green woodpecker (you can just about make him out on the trunk of the apple tree). We've been hearing him (and it is a him) since we moved to Holly Grove but this is the first time that we've seen him.
He seems to be attracted by the windfall apples, glad that something other than wasps like them! His mate appeared very
briefly before they both flew off together. What an amazing start to the day!

Monday, 3 August 2009

Solitary Poppy

This solitary oriental poppy popped up in the border yesterday. The poppies were stunning earlier in the year but they finished flowering several weeks ago and the foliage has been dying back, but then, oh joy, this pretty madam raised her head for a final exciting!

Luscious Lilies

Sceptic tanks...hmm, a necessary feature but not a pleasant image in a rural home, we've surrounded ours with scented plants.

A low hedge of lavender, white-flowered lilac for the Spring and now, at the height of Summer, lilies. Beautiful potfuls of white, deliciously scented lilies. If the weather was sunnier and warmer the scent would travel on the evening air, but even in this wet weather and less than optimum temperatures the scent is pervasive.

I think that lilies are best in pots. You can then sight them in a prominent position whilst they are in full flower and remove them to a less obvious spot in the garden when they are past their flowering best but need to be fed and watered to build the bulbs for next year.

I have some oriental lilies in a border that I plan to lift in the Autumn and transfer to pots for next year. I think I'll place them on the Party Patio that the Handyman is in the process of constructing...more on that in future posts...for the moment let's enjoy the lilies.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Wet July Weather

I've not ventured out into the garden much over the past couple of days hence no recent garden images. The weather is very wet and dull, more like April than July - let's hope that with the dawning of August tomorrow things improve.

Anyway this led me to think about what the garden was like this time last year and I've found a couple of photos from last July when the garden was just one year old.

I'm a big fan of hostas and this one was a real beauty last year and even bigger and better this year after transplanting into a larger pot this Spring. As everyone agrees the worst thing about hostas are the slug and snail pests. I admit that I resort to slug pellets, but my first and most effective form of attack is a midnight slug and snail hunt. Armed with a torch, gardening gloves and a bucket of water myself and the Handyman set off on our search. The drowned slugs are laid out on the grass as an early morning feast for the local bird population. So happy hostas and happy birds - happy me!

The Kitchen Garden last July was beginning to be productive, though the raspberries were very small having just been planted. The early stages of the fruit cage can be seen, though we still haven't gotten around to putting the netting on yet - so much to do, so little time!

The sweetpeas were a joy this time last year. The scent of sweetpeas filled the house and their pretty colours and tissue paper petals are a joy for the eye.

The lack of sunshine this July hasn't yet produced such good results, still perhaps in August...

RHS Membership

A belated birthday present arrived in the post this morning - 12 months membership of the Royal Horticultural Society.

I'm already planning some more RHS show visits and I'll be looking into the seed list when it is published in October.

It would be interesting to try some more unusual varieties of vegetables and I'm sure they'll have a good range of cottage garden plants.

A very thoughtful, useful and appropriate present for any gardener - thank you both, G&K!

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

New Boots

I treated myself to some new gardening shoes whilst I was at Tatton RHS Flower Show last weekend. After reviewing my Well Worn Boots post I thought it might be about time to refresh my footware.

I love these RHS waterproof cloggies from Hunter, they're great for slipping on and off at the back door and are very practical in the garden - as well as pretty. They're going to cheer me up as I potter round the garden in this monsoon weather!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

More Tatton Moments (VFTA No 1)

I promised more on Tatton so here we go...I think I'll start with the RHS/Ball Colegrave National Flower Bed Competition - the favourite entry for J and me was the Dumfries and Galloway entry of Peter Pan, Captain Hook and the Crocodile - fantastic! Not the show winner but, hey, what do RHS judges know!
Our two visits to the Floral Marquee were made during lulls in the sunshine - we were loathe to miss any sun this summer! The chrysanthemums and orchids seem to have been J's preferred options, judging by the number of photos taken. They were strangely attractive, though at odds with the prevailing cottage garden look of most of the exhibits.
But the highlight of the marquee for me was the Bowden Hostas stand - a Gold Medal winner with the judges and me. I managed to restrict myself to just one hosta but as mail order is their speciality I don't think that it will stop there!

In the National Plant and Societies Marquee we loved the display by the National Vegetable Society - how do they get the vegetables to look so perfect! And the Tomato Growers' Association st
and tasted delicious - hmm, time for lunch...
After a bite of lunch we moved on to the show gardens - all in all a bit disappointing this year and the same could be said for most of the Back to Backs.

So onward to the Plant Plaza where the urge
to purchase became much to see, touch, smell, buy! Some of the displays outside of the little stalls rivaled the back to backs in content and structure.

A lovely day out with good company, fine weather and the joy of gardening...can't wait until next year!

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Tatton Trip

Just returned from a lovely weekend with my sister, J and her family. J took me to Tatton RHS Flower Show as a birthday treat and we had the best weather of recent weeks and a fantastic day out together. I'll be posting more of Tatton over the next couple of days but here's a taster and a big thank you to J for a lovely birthday treat!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Veg Box

Off to visit J tomorrow with a basket of Holly Grove goodies. One of the real joys of gardening is sharing the results of all the care and attention. The redcurrants, cabbage, courgette, beetroot, carrots and potatoes were freshly picked today.

The herbs include sage, parsley, rosemary and three types of mint - apple, chocolate and ginger.

I'll pick a bunch of sweet peas in the morning before I set off so they'll fill the car with fragrance on the journey and arrive in good condition.