Tag Archive | gardening

October Morning

It’s hard believing October is nearly at an end, that the clocks went back an hour last weekend and that it’s only some eight weeks to Christmas, especially when this morning I found myself sitting in the garden, drinking coffee and enjoying the birds and the sunshine, and most of all the unseasonally warm temperature here at 9 o’clock this morning. Unheard of for this time of year in England! The garden borders are still looking good, with cosmos (I’ve never known it grow so tall – over 5ft) and dahlias, coreopsis and fuchsias still in a profusion of bloom, even a carnation poking its scarlet head through the flowering oestospermums and the rudebekias are still going strong. Not a breath of wind either, which is most unusual for this garden as we’re high up and invariably there’s always a wind blowing.100_6741

With a second cup of coffee in hand, I watched the robin who’s claimed the garden as his home flit from seed feeder to bird bathe to flowerbeds in his busy hunt for food. He’s getting quite tame now, and even before I’ve turned away from filling up bird tray on the stand each morning, he’s there picking out his favourite morsels from the oats, suet and mealworms before the greedy starlings flock in. A quick drink and he’s up in the holly tree chirping his heart out in competition with the two wrens sitting in the ivy – such little birds with loud voices and beautiful songs. Anyone would think it was spring instead of approaching winter. A pleasant two hours spent listening to the birds chattering, the sparrows vying for a place on the perch of the seed feeder.

But two hours was all I could spend there today, not because of the things indoors I had to do but because at this time of year, the sun has left the patio by 10 o’clock, thrusting the garden into shade for the rest of the day. Another week or so and there will be no sun at all in my back garden until March, so I made the most of it before going back inside and sorting the washing, find the vacuum and the duster. I found them, but then couldn’t be arsed to do any housework. Perhaps tomorrow. Perhaps it will be too cold to sit outside. Perhaps it will be cold enough to turn on the central heating, put on an extra layer of clothing and think of the glorious days we’ve had this summer. On the other hand…

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101 Things to do with Cucumbers…

…well, maybe not 101, but there’s certainly more to this fruit than sliced in a salad. And yes, cucumbers are fruits.

This year, we’ve grown a dwarf variety, two plants which are cropping ridiculously well. If we’d only grown one plant, it would surely have died, as in previous years, but this summer we are awash with them, cropping 5-6 a day. The Bee Gees may have had a Cucumber Castle (how many of you can recall that film, I wonder?) but we have a cucumber mountain!

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Today’s crop

I’m all for eating 5 a day, but I don’t think that it meant 5 cucumbers! Oh heck, what to do with them all? I’ve given plenty away, and eating the rest as best and as fast I can in the hope that like the cucumber, it will make me tall and thin, and most probably turning green as a result.

My dear English granny would always and only serve cucs thinly sliced and soaking in malt vinegar – not for me. It seems that was the only way the British ate them, apart from sliced into thin, brown bread sandwiches so beloved of the English garden party and tea at the Ritz!

These cucs, as fat as the normal ones but only much shorter, are too big to pickle and preserve like gherkins, so apart from making tons one of my favourite Greek dishes -tzatziki (yogurt, crushed garlic, and cucumber) and adding them to every sandwich and salad, I’m also been happy to use them as a side dish vegetable with a cooked meal. You may wonder if I’ve gone a little mad, but this dish is one eaten often in Germany, and one my mother showed me how to prepare. It’s simple and delicious and goes very well with hot food such as casseroles or steak or chicken (think KFC chicken with coleslaw). It’s especially good with fish dishes and one I always make when serving trout.

Cucumber Salad

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Cucumber Salad

Simply peel cuc and thinly slice, add a finely chopped onion, and toss in mayonnaise. Serve within half-an-hour or the water in the cuc will thin down the mayo too much. If you do want to make this more in advance, slice the cuc, put into a colander, sprinkle with salt, and press down with a heavy weight, ie a brick on a plate, to extract the juice. Then, before adding the other two ingredients, pat the cuc slices dry on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper.

That still leaves me with a mountain to conquer, so yesterday I attempted making cucumber soup. If leek and potato soup can be eaten hot or cold (even if it is renamed vichyssoise), I thought why not give it a go. I love cold soups, gazpacho being a favourite frequently made in the summer. Cuc soup didn’t disappoint. Hot or cold, it was lovely and simple to make. I enjoy making soups as you can use anything and especially useful in using up those bits and pieces lurking in the fridge. As long as you have the basics: potato and onion, you don’t have to fuss with weighing and measuring everything either.

Cucumber Soup

100_6528Using approximately equal volumes of cucumber, potato and onions (spring onions, including the green parts, also work) simply the peel the two veg, chop into chunks then sweat these two in saucepan in a little butter or oil for a few minutes before adding cubed cuc – no need to peel.

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Add  enough water or vegetable stock to cover (I used the water my runner beans were cooked in the previous day – full of goodness and flavour), place lid on saucepan and bring to a gentle boil before turning down heat to a simmer for approx. 10­ to 15 mins or until veg and cuc tender. Then add in some chopped lettuce, such as cos or little gem, and cook for a further 5 mins.

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Add salt and pepper to taste and if you wish, a flurry of chopped fresh parsley. Allow to cool slightly before blitzing with blender until smooth. Serve hot or cold with a swirl of cream or yoghurt. If reheating, do not allow to boil.

This is one I will definitely be making again.

Through the Garden Gate

It’s been ages since I last blogged here but life and business have been hectic with little free time despite the virtual holiday I had last month (you can read all about that here!) Summer is now heading towards autumn (boo hoo) but what a glorious one it’s turned out to be here in the UK and the garden has certainly rewarded us with its glory.

To think we went from this:

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to this:

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Last year’s weather was a washout and this year was forecast to be the same yet Mother Nature has a way of recovering and boy, did she! From a superb display of daffodils and stupendous tulips:

100_5817100_5830to being eventually entertained, if about a month late, with the most wonderful array of poppies, peonies and foxgloves leading into a hot, colourful display all round. One foxglove grew to over 6 foot tall.

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pruned foxgloves

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But not everything faired well. The fuchsias haven’t been good, the columbines peaked all at once and were over within a week and my two tall, all-summer-long varieties were blown over in the strong winds we have here. As the plants flourished, so did the snails to decimate my hostas – their leaves are like lace curtains although the flower spikes survived. We aren’t plagued with slugs, thankfully. We have an army of frogs that keeps them in check. The roses have re-bloomed three times now, and we have never had such a glorious or long display of sweet peas. I’m still picking them.

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The rear garden is still dazzling splash of colour with many pots and hanging baskets,

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and the new lilies we found, in red, yellow and white, were exotic but each flower only lasted a day.

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The good weather enabled me to get in the garden more, enjoy my early 7:00 am coffee out there and it’s been wonderful being able to sit outside all day and work whilst enjoying the sights, sounds and perfumes.

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Along with the glorious flowers we have taken much pleasure this year in the wildlife that’s come back to the garden. We came across our first slow worm for many a year, although he nearly got chopped up by the lawnmower!

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Dragonflies have been in abundance, as have the butterflies (read more about the butterflies in Over the Backyard Fence), moths including the fascinating humming bird hawk moth, crickets and bees – I never realised there were so many different sizes and varieties of bumble bees, from tiny “baby” ones to huge fat, long haired ginger ones. Certainly no shortage in my garden.

What we haven’t had this year is the plague of flying ants we normally get in July, nor wasps.

Soon it will be time to put it all to bed and dream of next summer. I’ve great plans for the garden. Much has to come out as it has become crowded, many larger plants need dividing, ie the astilbe and hosta, most of the irises and crocosmia will be thinned out so I can put in a wider variety of perennials and shrubs, and several larger shrubs must come out altogether as they are taking up too much room and creating far too much shade, apart from which they are not the colour they were supposed to be when purchased, but they have served their purpose and given the birds handy perches whilst waiting to feed.

Ooops, spoke too soon. A wasp has just landed in my glass of wine. Oh well, at least he’s died happy and merry. Best go and get rid of him and refill my glass.

So cheers, here’s to a wonderful summer. Thank you, garden, for giving me such a good one this year.

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A Fine Day Out

It’s almost time for my husband to return to work following his hip replacement, which has gone so well even his surgeon is surprised how swiftly he’s recovered. Four weeks ago Dave was tamping at the bit, bored and anxious to return to his job, but both his surgeon and GP were adamant he takes the full 12 weeks’ recuperation.  After the glorious weather we’ve been having here in the UK this week, I don’t think he’ll be so keen to return to the 7-til-7 schedule. Particularly after days like today.

We are, as you probably are aware, keen gardeners and our patio already resembles the local garden centre, full of row upon row of seed trays and bedding plants waiting to be planted out, and the greenhouse is stacked almost to the roof with shelves of plants, so many in fact, you cannot actually get in the thing, and have to be careful how you open the door. So, with little else to do now until we are clear of frosts, he decides today he wants to go somewhere, go for a drive. I had other things planned, but heck, when he says he fancies going out, I don’t argue, equally eager to take a day away from the computer screen to enjoy the sun.

We headed for our favourite garden centre some 30 miles away deep in the Gloucestershire countryside, where we couldn’t resist buying a few more plants. But neither of us can stop at one – garden centre, that is. And with the boot of the car (good job it is a small one) full of plants and several on the rear floor inside, we set of for another. And then another. The pleasure isn’t just the plants and the looking and loitering, the planning and imagining, deciding shall we, shan’t we; it’s the actual drive we enjoy the most, and the Gloucestershire countryside in Spring is glorious. Dave knows lots of little side roads to take, bypassing the busy main roads, up and down valleys, round steep hills and narrow, stonewalled lanes, where we jealously admire the honey-coloured houses set in acres of green fields full of springy, bouncy lambs (aah) and steeped banked verges in an early flush of bluebells, green shoots of wild garlic, and blossom and drifts of daffodils and primroses.

We stop in a small village shop and buy pasties and Coke and treat ourselves to a couple of pastries and then drive further on to pull up on the verge of a quiet lane with views overlooking a cascade of small lakes, turn off the engine, open the windows, and with silence except for birdsong, we enjoy our impromptu picnic watching robins, chaffinches, thrushes and bluetits in the trees, and pheasants strutting their stuff across the fields. I’ve never seen so many gathered at once. Stupid birds but so beautiful, elegant and graceful. Except when they try to fly, usually straight at the car.

As well as a love of bluebells, I also have a passion for lavender and my three pots on our front garden have taken a hammering this winter, so Dave drives to the Lavender Gardens near Ozleworth. I only wanted three plants, but we end up buying nine, three for each pot.

Finally arriving back home, relaxed and happy, we settle in the garden with a couple of G&Ts (me) coffee (him) and reflect on what has been a perfect day, even more so as  I don’t have to prepare a cooked meal as we are both still replete from our lunch. “If this is retirement, bring it on,” Dave says. Going back to work is going to be hard for him. At least he only has another nine months to endure. Then we can enjoy a lot more days out together – days like today.

Garden Reflections

The Earth has turned another full circle and in a private corner of southern England I sit enjoying the warmth from the sun on the patio whilst I drink my mid morning coffee and reflect on a summer blown too early into autumn. A chill wind has forced the Bishop to lay spreadeagled across the lawn although his scarlet-red flowers are still vivid and bright, many more still to open. The hanging baskets are forlorn and limp, ripped by the wind, the last few flowers holding on in a blaze of orange and purple. The geraniums in pots around the koi pond and patio are still wonderful in fiery splashes of red and white and pink. Yellow, red and orange nasturtiums light up pansies and begonias against background foliage; whilst under the shrubs, wild cyclamen poke out their white heads, a sure herald of the shortening days.

I’ve seen far more creatures in the garden this year but perhaps that is because I have had the time to sit back and look more than in previous summers. Butterflies have visited in profusion. Red admirals, peacocks and commas, holly blues, and for the first time an orange tip danced and fluttered in the sunlight, enjoying the buddleia and erysimums, teasing the frogs that hop in the flowerbeds.

A little field mouse decided to take up residence under the stone sink in which carnivorous pitcher plants dwell. He’s become quite tame. What was once a quick dash to grab a few seeds put down for him is now a carefree amble as he comes close enough for me to stroke, but I refrain, content to just watch and admire him.

My family of sparrows patiently await their turn on the bird feeder. It’s such a pleasure to watch them communally splash in the birdbath; some prefer to sit below on the grass to wash in ensuing shower of water droplets instead. Despite reports that sparrows are in decline, they certainly are not in my garden. Their number has risen from six to twenty during the summer. They’re cheeky little birds and will come and tap on my patio door if the feeder is empty or to tell me the birdbath needs refilling. When the sparrows have finished playing in the water the robin jumps down from his favourite perch on the obelisk to take his bath before flitting to the bird table to breakfast on oats and mealworms.

There have been lots of birds in the garden this summer, blackcaps and dunnocks, blue and great tits, greenfinches, bullfinches and a garden warbler. Most days a sparrow hawk rests on the fence or up in the neighbour’s cherry tree to catch his breath. He’s used to me sitting here, as are the other birds. They don’t seem to mind my company.

Soon the sun will no longer rise above the roof and my garden will be in constant shade until next March. I shall miss not being able to sit in the garden but it will still delight during dark winter days with white and purple hellebores, sweet-scented yellow mahonia and the bright yellows, blues and reds of the primulas until the snowdrops and crocus emerge, heralding a new spring.

“A poor life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”
William Henry Davies

TIPS OF THE DAY

Gardening:

Beware the dreaded lily beetle is already on the prowl in South West England.

These pesky things are an absolute menance and ruin not just lilies, they like any of the lilium family and frequently attack crocosmia, day lilies and hyacinths. The little blighters contrary to belief can fly. Their young look like black blobs of sticky excrement, which is exactly what it is. They cover themselves in their own poo to hide from predators. I don’t like using any chemicals or sprays in the garden, particularly as we have a large koi pond but I’m afraid I rage war on these creatures. I use a systemic insectide, one especially made for lily beetles. Their method of escape is to drop to the ground and burrow into the soil if they see so much as a hand spray near them. I’m just not quick enough to catch them any other way.

Kitchen:

Never run out of fresh milk again. Milk freezes very well so always keep several pint bottles of fresh milk of the sort that comes in plastic bottles. Milk freezes well. It does look yucky when frozen but returns to normal and thaws swiftly. Other than that, you may have to buy a cow.

Arty Things:

Do you ever find the plastic caps on your tubes of paint break, becoming useless long before the paint’s run out. If by strange chance an empty tube still has it’s cap in tact, thoroughly clean, scraping out any conglomeration of paint on the insides, and keep as spares.

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