Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Book Review - The Jam Maker's Garden by Holly Farrell

I was sent a copy of this new book, The Jam Maker's Garden by Holly Farrell with photographs by Jason Ingram to review and I was delighted to read it.  I am likely to enjoy any book that starts with a quotation from Alice in Wonderland and indeed a favourite one about the rule about 'jam today'.  It made a good start.

Some of the best things that can be made with garden produce, in my opinion, are jams and jellies.  This book tells us, from start to finish, how to make the most wonderful of recipes.  When I say from start to finish, I mean the very start.  Holly tells us what varieties to plant, how to plant, how to look after them and when to harvest. Then there are the recipes to try and these are plentiful and many are fascinatingly unusual.  There are over 50 recipes, some of them I am familiar with and some I have never heard of yet now want to explore.
I was taught how to make jam by my maternal grandmother when I was a child.  I think it is fair to say that those early expeditions into jam making were rather hit and miss but I learned the basics and that stood me in good stead.  Then when an adult I returned to jam making whilst at school I learned more about the science of what I was doing which meant I could better understand how to be successful.  I pause for a moment to wonder if jam and chutney making is still taught in schools and I think I can guess the answer to that.

Holly makes sure we understand the basics, talking about how to garden, the soil pests and diseases.  Once we get into the specifics of jam making then there is clear guide to equipment, ingredients and very importantly, definitions. So I now know the difference between a jam, a jelly and a compote.  I know what distinquishes a ketchup from a relish and a curd from a cheese.  Those, what I deemed as 'pretentious' names for such things on menus I now realise have a meaning.

This book is more than jams and jellies, there are curds and cheeses and cordials.  I really want to make some cordial when the rose-hips are ripe.  There is also the recipe for medlar fudge, I think this will be a must try too.  I have made medlar jelly in the past and it is a wonderful thing, but fudge sounds even more amazing.

Making jams etc is not difficult as long as you understand what you are actually doing to the ingredients to achieve your desired aim.  This book is an excellent guide.  It helps you have success and gently explains why you might go wrong.  I really liked this book and I think I will be dusting off my jam-pan very soon.

The Jam Makers Guide is published by Frances Lincoln

Sunday, 25 June 2017

A day at the marvellous West Woodhay Gardeners' Fair

I received an invitation the other day to go to the West Woodhay Gardeners' Fair; a quick check on the map and I thought it would make a nice day trip.  I happily said yes and waited for the weekend to arrive.

I have never been to West Woodhay before and I do not know that part of the country hugely well.  It is around two hours from where I live and the journey (particularly once I was off the motorways) took me through some delightful countryside.  In particular as I got closer to the fair I noted some impressive trees.  I also noted the impressive signage to the fair.  I have rarely seen such good clear signage that took me from when I left the main road straight to the fair.  I give a big thumbs up to this.
The day when it arrived was warm but rather overcast.  Actually in truth it was beautifully sunny at home but got cloudier the further south I drove.  It tried to rain a couple of times during the day but nothing significant and it was not unpleasant.  It has been a hot week so it made a nice relief.
The fair was thoughtfully laid out.  Lots of space to stroll and enjoy and some really good stalls to peruse.  We are talking a high standard of stall such as Hardys and Special Plants, a full list of exhibiters is here   There were beautiful things to buy as well as plants,
I loved this stall selling garden ephemera,
and also fell deeply in love with this bench.
There was also plenty of space to sit and eat, drink, buy Pimms and ice cream.
I am going to give special mention to the food which was by Honesty Catering who are based at a nearby pub.  The food was wonderful - thank you.

Seriously, everything you could want from a day out was here.  Including......
..... the grounds and gardens of West Woodhay House itself which were worth seeing fair or no fair.  Just let your eye follow the lines on the lawn that go up beyond the lake.  I loved this detail.
The signage at the fair encourages you to explore the grounds and the gardens, which also also partially across the road from the house.  The Walled Garden is must-see.
 The scent from all the roses bombards you as you enter the gardens.
The garden is made up of mainly narrow paths that open up to discoveries, like the matching dove-cotes atop their topiary mounds.
The planting is superb.  It looks casual but there are delights like the colour of this rose against the purple foliage behind.
and there is the kitchen garden, complete with bees.
These were immaculately gardened.  Everything was neat and tidy and looking perfect.  The scent from the sweetpeas wafted in the breeze.
You could wander through the glasshouses,
... pondering this amazing pelagonium that looked self-seeded into the ground.  If anyone knows what it is please let me know.
and this eruption of coleus just took my breath away.
The Justicia leapt onto my 'must find' list.
and I pondered on the use of this raised bed at the rear of the glasshouses.  I thought maybe squash/pumpkins?
Back into the main part of the Walled Garden and there are two matching incredible fruit cages set in a sea of roses.  They are beautiful and functional and, well, just awesome.  When I came out of the Walled Garden I felt like I had been on an Alice Through the Looking Glass journey, moving from space to space finding more wonders at each turn.
and of course a plant was purchased.  Just the one you say? Yes just one, I was very tempted by many but this one was on my list as it is a Sparmannia africana.  I first saw one of these when I visited Thenford earlier this year and I had been searching for one.  I bought this from Hill House Nursery who are part of the founding force behind the Independent Plant Nurseries Guide who are worthy of a plug.  This fair is all about independent plant nurseries and regular readers will know I am a huge fan of buying from independent nurseries.  The plants are the best because they are grown with knowledge and love.

The other impressive thing about this fair is that all the profits are going to various benefiting charities who include the NGS.

I leave you with this thought, there is a plant fair whose name is still whispered in hallowed tones by those who visited and those who wished they had.  All plant fairs since are measured consciously and unconsciously against this bright light that shone so brightly yet briefly.  As I walked around this fair the name of that show whispered through the trees and I nodded in agreement.  West Woodhay Gardeners' Fair is something special.  It has the capability to become something seriously seriously special and I will happily drive for two hours to visit again.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Irritating Plant of the Month - June 2017

This month the culprit shone out at me.
Rose 'For your eyes only' has been disappointing pretty much from the start.  Now I am being a little mean as it was given to me so no money exchanged hands, but it was a small plant to begin with.  Two years later it remains small and until this year has not bothered to flower until about October.  Then just before the frost sends it to sleep it sends up one grumpy flower and that's your lot.

So why nominate it now?  Well this year here it is with two flowers and in June.  This is great, this is success.  Is it irritating, well yes as it shows its been capable of performing all along.  I am, without doubt, rose-shaming.

It also comes with a built in ear worm, it is debateable whether it is Sheena Easton's finest (hard to decide, I want to say Nine to Five, but really U Got the Look has to be right up there).  But I feel that a moment to have a pause and think of Roger Moore as James Bond is never a bad thing.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Product Review - Gro-Sure Smart Ground Cover

I was asked a few weeks ago if I wanted to trial some Gro-Smart Ground Cover, which is made by Westland.  I hesitated a little before agreeing as I am not someone who generally mulches areas of the garden.  One look at my weed population will confirm this but I do like to have self-seeders and mulches will keep them controlled as well as the weeds.  After some thought I realised that it could be really useful in my vegetable borders where I do want to restrict self-seeders from colonising.  A short time later a bag duly arrived.
The first thing I noticed is that it is incredibly light.  I braced myself to lift the bag and it was really easy to lift.

Then I set to spreading it out where I am growing beans this year.  I am not growing a lot of veg this year but nothing beats the taste of freshly picked french beans.
I spread it so it was a few centimetres thick as the instructions stated.  I made sure the bed was well weeded and I also picked a day after we had had quite a lot of rain.  I thought it would help to have the ground well watered before covering it over.

The ground cover is made from wood fibre and the manufacturers state it is better than bark and has about 50% better coverage.  It certainly spread quickly and effectively.  The bed took about half a bag to complete.  Apparently the fibres lock together so they work even on slopes.  Despite it being very light it has not blown around in the recent gusty days we have had.
A few weeks later, and no annual weeds have appeared.  No weeds, none at all.  This is impressive.  It did not deter Bruce from sunning himself on the border, I think the fibres are quite cosy.

So I can absolutely recommend it, I might now be a mulch-convert.

More information on the Gro-Sure Smart Ground Cover can be found here: http://www.gardenhealth.com/product/gro-sure-smart-ground-cover  it retails at around £9 a bag.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

and then it got hot

Suddenly after a somewhat chilly start to spring, June has galloped into action by firstly providing lots of rain and then almost without warning, a heatwave.  Now us Brits are used to newspapers and TV telling us we are going to have a heatwave but they do not always appear.  This weekend, suddenly, we were plunged into a bone fide, flipping hot, heatwave.
I had lots to do this weekend in the garden so I got ahead of the game by cutting the lawns when I got in from work on Friday.
This has become an increasing habit this year and it fulfills two purposes.  Firstly it is the best detox to the week I can think of.  After an hour or so of mowing things that are worrying me, forcing itself to the front of my mind, are muted by grass clippings and hopefully put away until Monday.  Secondly it means I am ahead for the weekend.  I do not have to consider getting the lawn cut on either Saturday or Sunday, I can just pile into the weekend gardening jobs......
...... except this weekend it was hot by 10am and by noon it was (gosh I hate saying this, but this time it is true), too hot to get anything meaningful done in the garden.   I found this fox nestling into the shady parts of the Prairie Borders.
Esme was spreading herself on the shady concrete by the coal bunker.  She seems to have been trying to get as much of her as possible flattened onto the cool path.
Whereas Flossy, who is a heat-seeking kind of cat, went more the for the dappled shade approach where she arranged herself in a lady like manner.  Flossy never lets me forget that she is the Audrey Hepburn of cats.
and as for his gingerness, well he was in wise Yoda mood and chose the shady end of the bench.  For most of the day he was not visible at all, he was in some shady spot in the garden keeping as cool as possible.  If Flossy is Audrey Hepburn then Bruce is the Fonz.  Now I have to think who Esme is, I think she is probably George from the Famous Five;  either that or she is Boudicca for I am pretty sure she was a warrior queen in a former life.
I managed some planting out fairly early on but by lunchtime I was struggling. I also knew it was only going to get hotter.  The heat brought out the scent of the roses magnificently in the garden, but I knew I would have to give up and go indoors.  This always seems a shame when it is so glorious outside but I know (because Noel Coward tells us) that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun and I am neither.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Bridal Flowers 3 - there is progress

It feels like the time is right to give an update on how the wedding flower growing is progressing.

It has been about ten weeks since the dahlias were potted up and they have virtually all started to grow.  This is a good start.
The majority of the dahlias have been planted into one of the veg beds.  They are getting a bit attacked by slugs but I am persevering in trying to keep them at bay.  I am have removed the growing tips to help them bush out and also to delay flowering a little.  The wedding is not until October so I am a little anxious that I need to keep them in flower.
A few of the dahlias have been planted into the Forest Deep Root Planter I constructed earlier in the year. It is perfect for growing dahlias in.
The first plump buds are starting to form, I just need them to keep flowering for another 16 weeks or so.
The chrysanthemums have now been planted out as well.  These should flower at about the right time too.
There are also marigolds and zinnia seeds now germinating well and some tiger lilies.  The tiger lilies  are vitally important as they are a key part of my daughter's fiance's bouquet.
The sweet peas were deliberately sown late and are now growing well.  I am very hopeful they will still be flowering when required.
I am also eyeing up the wild roses in the boundary hedge, they produce the most wonderful red rose hips and I think they could be very useful in an autumnal bouquet.

So far so good, as long as the slugs leave some dahlias all should be well.  I have been research button-hole making and had a brief consideration of flowery crowns.

I will update again in a few weeks as the day gets closer and if you could all keep your fingers crossed for me I would be very grateful.

The Bridal Flowers 1

The Bridal Flowers 2

Saturday, 10 June 2017

RHS Chatsworth - a new show for the Midlands

I have to state my bias right from the start, I have lived all my life in the Midlands, I am of the Midlands.  The prospect of a new RHS show just over an hour from my home was just too exciting for me to miss.   Luckily I was granted a press pass for the review day and I also bought tickets to go again the next day, yes I was that excited about it.

The Press Day arrived.....
and so did the weather, torrential rain and gusting winds,
Deckchairs threw themselves to the ground in despair,
Mr Titchmarsh had to help with cow-uprighting,
and the stallholders in the very smart shopping area looked rather wet and gloomy.  At 1pm the weather won and we were all sent home.  It was such a shame but I knew the forecast for the next day was much better so I was not downhearted.
Day two and the sun was shining.  The wind dropped and after a rather traffic snarled journey we finally arrived at the show.  There were issues with the traffic, more than I have experienced going to other shows and whilst it did not spoil our day it tried hard to.  I am sure it was just teething troubles for this is a brand new show so I have optimism that next year they will have worked out to prevent it happening so badly again.

Anyhoo, the show is the thing
and it is a show filled with some really interesting things.  There are the conceptual pieces,
that I cannot say I fully understood,
but they did make me stop and ponder for a while
and Chatsworth House made a fantastic background to set them against.
Chatsworth is deeply imprinted into the show, this magnificent inflatable glass house as an echo of the Great Conservatory or Great Stove created by Joseph Paxton back in the 19th century yet now sadly no longer in existence.
Inside the inflatable glasshouse was this wonderful installation, dripping water into a huge paddling pool.  There were also displays of exotic plantings and many bananas.  The bananas are central to Chatsworth history.
I was going to say that there were not as many show gardens at Chatsworth as there are at Chelsea, but as there were fewer gardens at Chelsea this year, I am not so sure.  I was delighted to see that crazy paving is as cool as I have been saying it is.  I knew not removing my crazy paving would one day put me back into fashion.
This is the rather wonderful Tanya Batkin of Vergette Gardens with her silver medal winning garden 'The Movable Feast'.  All the planters are on wheels,
so you can move them around and rearrange them.
The planters had different themes and styles of planting and worked extremeley well.

Best in show and best construction and a gold medal was won by Paul Hervey-Brookes and the IQ Quarry Garden,
which I was privileged to be allowed to have a wander around with Paul.
for which I was very grateful.  It is always fascinating to hear about the thoughts behind the garden.
I loved how the rain from the day before was drying on the natural stone.
and the planting was superb.  The detail that many visitors do not get a chance to see, was just incredible.  The idea of this planting area was that it was a garden based on plants that had started by self-seeding into the area and then have been gently cultivated into a garden.
This bench made of rocks looked so inviting to sit and rest a while on.

Jo Thompson's garden for Brewin and Dolphin was a delight of soft romantic planting,
it has that 'to look this simple it must be very complicated and skillful' look about it, with areas marked by different sized stakes,
used to very dramatic effect.  The garden won a gold medal and rightly so.
The metal structure went out into the river, which does not show well on the photographs but really worked well.
This is the Wordless Cupboard, designed by Sheena Seeks and inspired by a poem by Sylvia Plath called The Stones.  As I have recently went to pay my respects at Sylvia Plath's grave, so I was interested by this garden.

The gardens were all interesting and of very high quality.  Bearing in mind the weather that had been battering them, you could see little evidence of this.

The gardens had great variety and were thought provoking.  Which is how it should be.
and there is also shopping to be had.  I loved this dragon but was talked out of bringing him home with me (maybe next time.....)
There were two huge marquees full of plants.
I fell for this plant, I was transfixed by it.  It is Sinningia leucotricha, it looks like someone has made it as a textile project.
and yes a baby one came home with me.  Carefully balanced into my Chatsworth Garden Show mug which turned out to be the perfect plant protection.

I had a great time at the show.  Yes there were some issues that will need sorting out, but as said at the start, this is as close to a local show as I have.  I not only want to support it, but I can support it happily.  I am already looking forward to next year.