September Glow

The days are now much colder, so much so that the log burner is already earning it’s keep and the woolly jumpers are back out! The garden is looking battered due to the high winds and persistent rain but I must say that there are a few flowers that remain resilient. The Agastache (above left) is a firm favourite already and the bees can’t leave it alone. Despite being a fairly tall plant it hasn’t required staking and it will be planted again next year. The Black-eyed Susan (above photos, bottom right) was very slow to take off this year but seems to making up for lost time now. I’m not sure about the name of the orange flower (top right) so help is needed please! It’s been flowering prolifically for a couple of months now but requires regular dead heading.

I’ve confessed previously that I have an unfathomable attraction to dahlias. These have been grown for cutting and are looking beautiful (and the slugs think that they taste pretty scrummy too…). The varieties above are all from the Venetian Collection from Sarah Raven (a Gardening Goddess!) and I’ll definitely be ordering more tubers from her again next year.

I love these words from Susan Branch!
There is a wonderful website that I have recently found that has the most delightful artwork and posts. There is an example (left) of Susan Branch’s work and I love it! I’ve always been interested in decorative words and I’ve toyed with calligraphy and watercolour paints in the past but Susan’s work really speaks to me. Her words dance and her art is simply beautiful.

It’s hard to believe that it’s nearly October and thoughts are turning to the Autumn and the cooler weather.

In the next couple of weeks I’ll be putting the garden to bed and tucking it up nice and tight ready for winter. I love this time of year as it holds great anticipation for the  next growing season and allows me time to reflect on the work already done… it’s been a great year so far despite the horrendous weather in the UK. I just hope that we have a few fairly dry weekends so that I can get some jobs done as it’s no fun digging in mud with my wellies filled with rain water!!

Sniffles Away!

It’s that time of year when the nights start to draw in and thoughts turn to becoming prepared for the chillier days ahead. Colds and Flu symptoms are tedious so it’s good to be armed with a recipe that Mary Poppins would be proud of! There’s certainly more than a spoonful of sugar in this recipe but it’s required to preserve the fruit mixture. Some of the documented benefits are:
1. Immune system booster
2. Powerful Antioxidant
3. Helps to relieve coughs, colds, sore throats & Flu
A spoon can be taken once a day to prevent Winter sniffles or 3-4 times a day if symptoms suddenly appear. There are thousand of recipes on the internet (I recommend that you research this for yourself) but this is the recipe I use and it tastes delicious!

Firstly, you need to locate and properly identify the Elder Sambucus nigra and collect only the fruit that is plump and really dark. We have an Elder bush that lives by the shed (that was helpfully planted by either a bird or squirrel) and luckily there are quite a few Elders down the Lane too.

The Elder is an amazing plant that not only produces pretty and useful flowers (although a little whiffy for my liking) but it also has the most amazing jewel-like berries on colourful red stems. It’s important not to strip the plant completely as many birds rely on these berries for food… and it’s also nice to leave some berries for fellow foragers! The great thing about this recipe is it’s adaptable depending on how many berries you have. If you don’t like the spices below then you can omit or replace as desired.

RECIPE
Ripe elderberries
Sugar (equal amount in weight compared to elderberries)
1 Lemon
2 Star Anise
20 Cloves
Thumb of fresh ginger
Lashings of good intentions ;-)

It’s important to only use the ripe, black berries. Those that are green or dark pink could make you ill… as do the the stems or bark so it’s important to prepare these little rascals properly! My preferred method, whilst sitting at the table with a cup of coffee, is to gently hand pick each berry off the stem. If the berries are really ripe then a fork can be used to ease them off the stalks but this can result in extra stems being added too!

It took about 45 minutes to obtain a decent bowl of elderberries and it’s slightly more interesting than podding broad beans (but not much). The berries need to be washed well – and if an earwig runs out try not to have a screaming fit and throw the berries everywhere.

1. Put the washed elderberries in a large pan
2. Cover with just enough water and put on the stove until boiling
3. Add the lemon and spices and stir well
4. Cover and leave to simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Sterilise the bottles in readiness
6. Mash the mixture to release the flavour, carefully remove the large pieces of lemon and ginger and carefully strain into another container (I used a cafetiere as my sieve wasn’t fine enough!)
7. Measure this liquid, return to a clean pan and add equal amounts of sugar*
8. Boil for approximately 10mins and ensure that the sugar has been dissolved.
9. Let the liquid cool a little then decant it into the sterilised bottles.

* some recipes recommend 3/4 amount of sugar to the full amount of elderberry juice. It’s important to remember that the sugar is there as a preservative so your juice may not stay fresh without sufficient amounts!

The containers I used were anything from old whiskey bottles to recycled glass herb pots (which are a great handbag size for taking to work!). They also make thoughtful gifts for friend or family who become ill… or those who can’t afford to be!

The spices give the syrup a lovely, mulled taste and it’s very like blackcurrant cordial. Some culinary uses are:

- Poured over pancakes or vanilla icecream
– In a favourite cocktail (eg with champagne as an alternative to Kir Royale)
– Hot Toddy
– Added to fruit crumble or fruit pie instead of sugar
– Added to sparkling water for a refreshing fruity drink

I maybe should have mentioned at the beginning of the post that these little beauties stain so protect work surfaces and wash your hands well. I still have a black stained thumb that looks like I was fingerprinted at the weekend!

Winter Breaks for Insects

The mornings are darker, the air is cooler and there is definitely a whiff of Autumn in the air. With the success of the Nectar Bar this year I’m already thinking of expanding my interests into insect real estate….

There is already a simple insect dwelling like the one below by the front door. The Lacewings and Ladybirds love it and there are a few crafty little spiders who act as security guards. It’s easy to maintain, looks attractive and provides good shelter against the elements. Unfortunately, it gets a little cramped over Winter and there is only one bathroom so it’s time for an upgrade.

Okay, I need to source various materials such as bricks, drilled wood, pallets, tiles and pipes… thankfully I have a huge heap of these in the paddock and, once the thistles have died down, I’ll gather these up. I just need to think about what style to have. I like the thought of a country retreat for them but, as many of the insects around here already live in the country, they may wish to try something different.

Maybe I could build them a town house….

… or a whole metropolis! The nightlife is certainly going to be more vibrant and they’ll meet all sorts of interesting multi-legged friends. The only problem is that it took us SO long to get planning permission for the outbuildings that buiding an insect city may not be worth the stress!

On reflection I’ll probably build a simple pallet structure that is tucked away in a quiet corner similar to the one below! As an organic gardener I have to take care of the friendly bugs so that they can scare away the nasty ones (I was once told that they eat their enemies but this is too gruesome to contemplate).

Ever since I saw Malc’s insect hotel over at Green Bench Ramblings I have been mulling these ideas over so watch this space in a couple of months and you may just be surprised (hopefully in a good way!).

Chocolate Cosmos

It was International Chocolate Day yesterday and thanks to Cathy from Words and Herbs it didn’t completely pass me by. Her post made me laugh… especially when I discovered that chocolates are afraid of heights (which mean that they’ll jump off the top of cupboards to save themselves!).

It should be no surprise that the Chocolate Cosmos (cosmos astrosanguineus – yes, I’m trying to include the Latin names!) is one of my favourite plants. It’s still in flower by the garage and the bees are loving it too. It has such a rich velvety colour and there is a faint smell of chocolate and vanilla so what’s not to love? It’s one of the most sniffed plants in my garden!

Saving Seeds

Today has been really sunny but the trees can’t be fooled and have started to gently let go of a few leaves. After the awful Summer I’m surprised the trees aren’t hurling their leaves in disgust! The flowers in the Kitchen Garden are still plentiful but do need to be deadheaded more often and I’ve noticed that the vibrant colours are slowly becoming sepia tinted. I’ve started to collect some of the seed heads in paper bags and really hope that I can enjoy these plants again next year… it would be fab to have enough to share with others too.
I’ve been reading Carol Klein’s Grow Your Own Garden book in hope that it will make me more successful with propagation (don’t worry Carol, I won’t blame you if things go horribly wrong!). I really enjoy her easy going, chatty style of writing which mixes common sense advice and with realistic expectations. I plan to collect much more seed next week.

This weekend I collected seeds from (left to right) Scabiosa, Geum and Allium Atropurpureum. The main photo at the beginning of the post is Allium Sphaerocephalon. There is so much seed around the garden and, unfortunately, so many plants that I don’t know the names of yet. For now I’m happy collecting seeds from the “Furry Leaved Magenta Flower” or the “Looks Like an Orange Geum But Isn’t“. I have a feeling that I may be brushing up on some plant identification and learning Latin over the winter… or posting the John Doe’s for virtual identification!

September Song

Red Admiral Butterfly

One of the best decisions I made with the garden was to plant a Nectar Bar to attract the pollinators and beneficial insects. It has surpassed my expectations and it’s an absolute must for my future planting schemes.
Today was a good day as I even managed to photograph one of the butterflies that have eluded me over the last few weeks. A longer lens on my camera and a tripod were key – but balancing on one leg whilst the tripod was in mid air probably wasn’t that helpful!

Bees on Agastache

There were a huge variety of bees out today and I noticed that each species seemed to have their favourite flowers. The Agastache, Scabious and Coreopsis were the favourites today and I noticed that whilst most bees were methodically working the blooms others zoomed around them as if the Bar was about to close!!

The Nectar Bar

The Bar is open as usual my little buzzy friends… and hopefully will be for a few weeks more! Come on in, have a good time and bring a friend too x