Hidden Gems….

The nectar bar is lovely and the bees can’t seem to get enough…. word has got out that it’s permanent Happy Hour and they’re starting to bring friends with them!

The Nectar Bar

…but if you walk around the back of the garden there is a very different view.

Not so pretty!

… it’s overgrown with grass, nettles, thistles & there is a disturbingly large pile of wood that needs to be sorted before winter. There are piles of building materials lying around, waiting for the building work to recommence, and a big pile of sand that the bunnies have turned into a maternity unit.
I keep telling myself (and anyone who questions my garden housekeeping) that this is a haven for wildlife and an essential part of organic gardening. I confess that, whilst this is true, a little part of me is cringing! There really is an abundance of insect activity, rabbits, foxes, birds of prey and other UFOs (Unidentified Furry Objects).

You see I am so contrary in many ways – I love order but need some chaos. I enjoy soft pastel colours in the borders but crave the gaudiness of Dahlias and, more worryingly, I plan most things in advance and then ditch the ideas at the last minute so I can be spontaneous! Many would call this trait indecisiveness but I like to think it’s creativity (… I haven’t made my mind up about this yet though!!)

So let me end on a positive note at the end of July…

Alstroemeria

The Alstroemeria have been stunning despite the very wet weather!
See you in August x

Floral Dance

The flowers are certainly thriving now that the sunshine has arrived, in fact, we’ve been over run with poppies! I’ve cut the seed heads off the poppies before they can spread further. I do think they’re pretty but I want to limit where they’re growing at the moment so I cut their heads off (how cruel) before they can set seed. I’d like to dry them in the hope that the seeds can be scattered in the paddock… the problem is that seed heads are usually left on the plant to dry. Has anyone managed to dry them from the green?

Dead heading is great therapy and a good snipping session always makes me feel better – especially as I know the reward will be further flowers!

There are several stars in the floral department and most of them have come from Sarah Raven. I am a huge fan and I’ve been very impressed with her plant selections, reliable service and customer care. The small sunflower Vanilla Ice is such a pretty lemon colour and compliments many other plants. I still love the Cosmos and will definitely be growing more next year.

Helianthus “Vanilla Ice” and Cosmos “Antiquity”

In the herb bed the Curry Plant is a clear winner… I love the smell if this plant so much and, although it’s not the edible variety, the flowers are pretty enough to use in bouquets and aromatic enough for a pot pourri.

Curry Plant and Agastache

Three Agastache plants were carefully labelled as, until they flowered, I had the urge to weed them out thinking they were dead nettles! The insects certainly love them, especially the bees, so they have earned their place in the nectar bar.

Despite the floral dance that happens this time of year there has been a distinct lack of butterflies. I assume that this was due to our very soggy weather this year – any ideas? I’ve seen the odd Cabbage White trying to access the netted brassicas or the odd Fritillary or two. In your experience, apart from Buddleja, are there any other plants that butterflies go particularly mad for? I want the Flutter-By’s back x

It’s Here!

Finally, the sun has arrived and it hasn’t rained since Saturday! The butterflies have started to show themselves and I am convinced I can see the bees smiling as they hum their little songs.

Everything has grown so well – especially the Broad Beans! They had started to look a little tired (probably from trying to turn into monsters) so I decided to harvest them all together and chop the plants down. It wasn’t as cruel as it seems – I have some Dwarf French Beans (yellow podded and purple podded) that were sheltered beautifully by the Broad Beans. Now the weather has improved I want to give the little French ones all the benefit of the sunshine, fresh air and nutrients.

My lovely husband volunteered to remove the pods and shells… no mean feat but “tenacious” is his middle name and he did a great job! Once they were green and naked they were put into boiling water for 3 mins before being plunged into ice cold water. They were gently patted dry and put onto baking sheets to fast freeze. Now this has been done we will look forward to having Broad Beans as we wish.

The shallots were looking in need of harvesting so most of them were dug up and left in the sun to dry. There were a few flower heads starting to appear so it was time and I want them to dry naturally in the sunshine. The garlic is not quite ready yet but it smells delicious! I just need to carefully decide what other crops to plant in their place as otherwise it will be beetroot again :-)

Finally, the cosmos are doing really well. It’s a variety called “Antiquity” from Sarah Raven. The flowers open as a deep burgundy but gradually fades to a dusky pink. I was surprised to see a funny looking bloom this evening and thought I was seeing double at first!

Beetroot Passion

Here goes…

My name is PJ and I’m addicted to beetroot.

I’ve been so welcomed and encouraged into the world of blogging that I feel the need to reveal a little more of the real me – but I warn you that you may never view my posts in the same way again!
I’ve always had an overactive imagination and have managed to mostly restrain the crazy for the sake of this blog. The crazy is seeping out – you have been warned.

My  infatuation started many years ago when I was so small that I have no memory of this story. My Mum likes to remind me, and anyone else who will listen, about the time she found me in the cupboard under the stairs munching my way through a whole jar of pickled beetroot. There were bright pink stains everywhere and I was inconsolable when she tried to remove me from my new found favourite snack. I was promptly put in the bath and scrubbed extremely well but all I wanted was more beetroot!

This episode took a less happy turn when I started to pee dark pink and my Mum rushed me to the doctor thinking it was blood – she was highly embarrassed when he asked if I’d consumed a lot of beetroot recently!?! An unfortunate but harmless side effect of too many beets…

So, all these years later, I manage to keep my addiction under control favouring the more subtle roast beetroot to the pickled variety (although grown up me has now discovered the joys of balsamic…). I love grated beetroot in salads and have you tried beetroot and chocolate cake? Mmmmm.

The grown up me still finds beetroot alluring for many reasons, I mean, talk about the bad boys of the vegetable world… beetroot is deliciously dark, needs to be handled with care and is also prone to bolt when you least expect it!

On Saturday though I was transported to beetroot heaven – did you know that beetroot goes beautifully with so many ingredients such as oranges, thyme, peppercorns, horseradish or bay? It also mixes beautifully with the songs from the Phantom of the Opera. You see, whilst dealing with this devilish root vegetable I have found that it even has it’s own soundtrack….

Life is always better when most senses are engaged so why not match music to food just as you would wine! Crazy – moi? I’m sure there must be sympathisers out there….

Gingerbread Heaven

Our home faces beautiful woodlands, hills and countryside – we truly count our blessings every day when we look around. Being in the middle of England there is only one thing that we miss and that is water… I can’t believe I’m confessing to this after all the moaning about rain I have done lately!
I had a hankering for Gingerbread and the Lake District is only a couple of hours away by road so we had breakfast and took a drive up there.

We couldn’t believe how quiet it was at Windemere – normally there are loads of tourists but the sun was out and it was really peaceful. It was great just to be able to sit at the edge of the Lake and watch the swans glide by. We played our usual game of “… if I had a boat then I’d have THAT one!” and watched people happily sail off into the distance.

We then headed off to one of my favourite places which is Grasmere famous for William Wordsworth who used to live, work and was finally buried there. There is a really peaceful daffodil garden dedicated to him – we’ve visited here in Spring and the daffodils are so beautiful. It certainly has a different feel in Summer but it’s still a lovely place to sit awhile. Once again, it was so quiet!

Next to the garden is St Oswald’s church where Wordsworth is buried and the old schoolhouse where he used to teach. This became a Gingerbread shop once the school closed down and sells one of the tastiest tea time treats ever! The recipe is a closely guarded secret and has the perfect amount of ginger inside each bite.
The shop is absolutely tiny so anymore than a couple of people queuing is a little overwhelming.

We headed home at the end of the day and there were only two things on my mind….

Gingerbread with a nice cup of tea! I still can’t decide whether the Gingerbread from Grasmere is like a cakey-biscuit or more like a biscuity-cake!?! Who am I to argue with a recipe that is over 150yrs old? Especially when it’s as delicious as this :-)

New plants

My lovely husband has been at Silverstone watching the Formula One racing this weekend so I’ve had some proper “me” time. So, whilst he’s been up to his knees in mud (due to the persistent rain) I’ve been visiting nurseries and going all gooey over plants. It used to be handbags and boots (but I’m undergoing a 12 step programme) and now my new high is acquiring plants.
I’m so excited about my first purchase! It’s a lace-cap Hydrangea Hobella and I’ve positioned it in front of the Garden Room so I can look at it every day. It’s unapologetically girly, frothy and gorgeous. It stopped me in my tracks and I had to have it – my normally pragmatic inner voice was nowhere to be heard! Wouldn’t it make a beautiful wedding present?

I didn’t go out looking for anything in particular as I’ve found that most of my shopping trips (clothes, presents, plants..) are more successful when I don’t have a list! The Bumble Bees happily alerted me to my next purchase which was a gorgeous hot pink Bergamot Monarda Cranberry Lace. 

I then came across a Chocolate Cosmos that made my heart sing… once upon a time, a long time ago, a very cherished cat used to sleep amongst the chocolate cosmos. He also used to sleep in the Cornflowers too but they still grew around him! I bought the Cosmos to remind me of George… he was such a gorgeous cat!

The bees were also buzzing happily around the Salvia Mystic Spires Blue so how could I not buy some? They even followed me to my car so I’m reassured that I’ve made a good choice… I think I’ll shop with the bees more often :-)

It stopped raining at lunchtime and the sun made a valiant effort to shine through the clouds. Hopefully, the tomatoes will start to ripen soon and the courgettes will make an appearance… I have a ratatouille craving so they’d better hurry!

Summer Cold

Head colds are a nuisance at the best of times but there is something so wrong about having a cold in Summer! I tried to take things easy this weekend but there is an awful lot to do in the garden at this time of year… mowing, strimming, weeding, sowing. My mind was soon taken off my sore throat and aching bones and because of the head cold I didn’t notice my hayfever! Bonus!

Tea time

Everything in the kitchen garden is starting to look like it should. I spent ages in winter looking through seed catalogues and trawling the internet for great plants. When I first looked at the various little seeds in my hand it was hard to believe they would transform so quickly into such great plants!
The first sunflower is out and there are lots of different colours in the raised beds. Admittedly, it does look like a five year old has been in the crayon box but in my first year excitement I just threw plants in – and it does look pretty! My main aim was a productive fruit, vegetable and herb garden with a nectar bar for the wildlife. Next year I would like a more cohesive flower design if possible… maybe there’s an artistic seven year old out there?

Flower Power

The first sweet peas are out so I picked the few that had already opened and put them into a small jar along with some Rosemary. I love to put herbs and fresh flowers together and I’m just disappointed that I can’t smell them at the moment!

Sweet Pea

The thing that I’ve enjoyed more than anything this weekend is the fresh produce for lunch – baby carrots, roast beetroot, chard, and broad beans (freshly podded and lovely). The sun made an appearance late afternoon and I could almost hear the tomatoes and dahlias singing!