A rose for life

My sister came bustling in the other evening all aglow with Christmas cheer. In addition to her usual peculiarities she appeared to be wrestling a large, brown paper sack into my living room, a room already under siege from a recently purchased, very wet, over-sized Christmas tree.

“I’ve brought you your Christmas present” she proclaimed joyfully. ” I had to bring it early ‘cos it probably won’t survive if I hang onto it.”

This ruled out my initial thought that she had been on the sauce and decided to bring me a sack of spuds for Christmas; I like potatoes but not as a gift. With much giggling she delved into the paper sack and brought out…….(drum roll)…….with a flourish………da da daaa…..A TWIG!

The appearance of this five pronged piece of vegetation, with it’s long, dirty roots, made my merry little heart leap. What an ace gift from my blue haired sister, a rose bush!  But this is not just any rose bush, this is a David Austin rose bush.

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David Austin roses are amongst the finest in the country and, out nine hundred varieties to choose from, she has picked the perfect rose for me.

gallica rose

Rosa gallica officinalis,  also known as the Apothecary’s rose, was once one of the most highly regarded medicinal plants in medieval gardens, a ‘must have’ for monks across Europe and beyond. The aromatic rose petals release an astringent when boiled in water and it’s these oils that were so important in early medicine to cleanse wounds and promote healing.

The fragrance of roses is irresistible. Who can resist burying their face in the soft, warm petals of a rose on a summers day. I find myself inhaling deeply and releasing my breath with a satisfactory sigh, totally blissed out. And so I should be because the scent of roses lifts the spirit, it is a natural feel good aroma that makes us happy.

Nowadays rose oil is big business as the benefits are being recognised in the skin care industry. I spent a lovely evening in the company of friends being pampered with Temple Spa products. These paraben and alcohol free cleansers and moisturisers are full of essential oils including rose oil. They smell amazing and I can honestly say we all felt very chilled and happy at the end of the evening, and we had beautiful, glowing skin too. The scent of rose is also included in fragrances, candles and oils to evoke a sense of well being. While I am all for good skin care products and a well balanced fragrance, I love using the real thing too.

My rose bush may look like a twig at the moment but this little twig is full of potential. All it needs are the right conditions, a little bit of tender loving care and the right time to bloom. And bloom it will. In summer, tightly packed buds will gently unfurl to reveal deep pink, scented blooms. I can’t wait to sip my first cup of rose petal tea in the garden where the fragrance of rose lingers in the air, or perhaps I will scatter the petals in an early morning bath, listening to birdsong as a new day unfolds.

Whatever I choose, it will be good, for me and the garden. This is a gift that keeps on giving, every year getting bigger and better, it’s a fantastic gift.

A rose is for life not just for Christmas!

If any of you are lucky enough to be given a bare rooted rose for Christmas, here’s what to do.

Soak in water for a couple of hours, it will be thirsty after its journey.

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If like me, you haven’t decided the best place for it, plant the rose in multi purpose compost in a pot. Ensure the graft is above soil level and firm in.

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Your rose will be perfectly content outdoors so get back inside, put you feet up and enjoy a warm mug of Gluhwein.

 

 

 

 

 

Jack Frost has gone all Mondrian

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What’s happened to Jack Frost ? Hurrying back from the school run this morning I noticed that the delicate, fern-like drawings usually left by this mischievous sprite, had changed. Instead cars doors were patterned with parallel lines and blocks of muted white; a far cry from the extravagant and flamboyant masterpieces usually created in the early hours of a cold winters morning. What’s up Jack, are you miffed that it’s taken so long for winter to arrive?

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But at last it has arrived and I breathe a sigh of relief because now I can hang up my gardening gloves and curl up indoors. After a year of hard graft I can stoke up the wood fire, charge my glass with Gluhwein and lose myself in a stack of gardening books.

There is no better time than winter to gather our thoughts and plan for the year ahead. I have decided to transform my allotment into a beautiful kitchen garden. Obviously it’s nothing like the size of a Victorian kitchen garden but I can live with that. After all I married for love not money and am unlikely to find myself living in a country manor any time soon so a bijou garden it will be. I don’t expect to be self sufficient but what I do want is to enjoy something fresh from the garden every day of the year. Even in the depths of winter there is always a little morsel of flavour to be had in the form of evergreen herbs like bay and rosemary.

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A new aspect to my kitchen garden will be cut flowers. It’s not an area of gardening I have indulged in before but I love having bunches of flowers in the house. To help me I have a fabulous book called ‘The cut flower patch’ written by Louise Curly aka Wellywoman. Filled with beautiful photographs of flowers and arrangements it makes me fill a little bit giddy for the future.

So now I have dusted off my drawing pad, sharpened my pencils and measured up my plot. I have 195 square metres of ground to play with and play I will. For just like Jack Frost I am a carefree creature, happiest when I can behave as I please, with no obligations, I am able to flourish.

Time to dig up the parsnips, like life, so much sweeter after a frost!

Creativity

” I am an artist! “

There, in response to an invitation to live an artful life, I have ‘outed ‘ myself. It’s such a relief to discover there isn’t something wrong with me, it’s simply that I am a ‘creative’.

I have often wondered why I couldn’t define a business card. I couldn’t narrow down what I do to one or two words. Some days I design and build gardens, other days I cook with produce I have grown in my own garden. I tend other peoples gardens, I give talks on edible gardens, I write about gardens, I grow herbs. I clearly have a passion for gardening; sometimes I feel if you cut me my blood would run green.

I can’t stick to one thing. My amazing husband Mr B thinks it’s hilarious and, when I took on a steady job in a plant nursery a few years ago, he suggested it wouldn’t last. He was right. I loved it for a couple of years then felt like an animal caught in a trap. It was time to move on.

Moving on is completely liberating because moving on means changing and changing means developing and developing is growing and growing is good.

” We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”.

 

Walt Disney

You’ve got to love Walt Disney the cartoonist and philanthropist. I had to google philanthropist; it is a person with a “love of humanity” in the sense of caring, nourishing, developing and enhancing “what it is to be human”. So much more to that guy then funny films.

Being human is to be creative and a life lived creatively is a beautiful, satisfying life.

Gardening is my creative expression and, even in the damp, cold of winter it brings me great joy. There’s always something to do in the garden and something to look forward to, because a garden is a gift that just keeps giving.

Happy Gardening everyone !

 

Pickled beetroot

 

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I really need to warm my poor, frozen hands up a little before I make a start on pickling my beetroot or I may not know if I am awash with beetroot juice or have actually lost a finger. The beetroot I am pickling is Boltardy. It has been steadily growing since I planted the seeds in april and I now have a fine harvest of deep red, round, firm vegetables. Beetroot seedlings need to be thinned to allow them to develop, a task I failed to do. As a consequence I have a mixed bunch of medium sized and marble sized vegetables. The reasonable sized ones I am pickling the little ones will be made into beetroot, pear and feta cheese salad; a delicious side dish to have with lamb and cous cous.

The first thing to do is heat the oven to 180 degrees gas mark 4. While the oven is warming, wash the dirt and the occasional slug off the beetroot and trim off the leaves. These leaves are too tough to be eaten so they are going on the compost heap. Wrap the beetroot up in foil and roast in the oven for 1-2 hours depending on the size.

While the beetroot is roasting the pickling vinegar can be made and the jars sterilised.

For 2 kilos of beetroot you will need

1.5 litres of malt vinegar                                                                                                          1 tbsp of black peppercorns                                                                                                10 whole cloves                                                                                                                     1 bay leaf                                                                                                                             250 g granulated sugar

Method

Put all the ingredients in a large pan, bring to the boil and boil for 1 minute. Turn the heat off and let the spices infuse for 1-2 hours.

When the beetroot is tender and cool, peel and slice. Place the slices into sterilised jars, warm up the pickling vinegar and fill. Put the lids on, store and enjoy.

A squash and a squeeze

Two winter squash plants, that have spent the summer weaving their tendrils across my plot, have yielded three good sized pumpkins. This optimum harvest has delighted the younger Broccoli’s in our household, who all have a pumpkin to call their own. IMG_1087

I am not a great fan of Halloween, it’s too ghoulish for me, but I do appreciate the creativity that goes on in my kitchen on this occasion.

The biggest pumpkin has already been allocated to the smallest child. During the growing season he fed his pumpkin a regular drink of beer in an effort to increase its size and, like many real ale drinkers, its girth swelled magnificently.

It’s the outer skin that attracts the children, a blank orange canvas on which to display their art. However its the richly coloured flesh that interests me, and the seeds, the flat husks of dormant life that will explode into being next spring.

I’m a sucker for a great name which resulted in my choosing a variety of pumpkin called ‘Magical’. I sowed the seeds singly, in pots on a sunny windowsill, in March. When all danger of frosts had passed, at the end of May, I planted the seedlings out. The soil had been enriched with well rotted manure in winter and the pumpkins were, well, happy as pumpkins in muck.

So that’s the kids sorted and my kitchen is awash with seeds, scoops, knives, secret diagrams and candles. Better not tell social services!!!

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As for me, I find small is beautiful and my attention has turned to the tiny little squashes smuggled back from Belgium. I want to collect the seeds from these and grow them next year. As any of you who have grown pumpkins will know, they don’t half ramble and can smother other crops in the blink of an eye. For this reason I am planning on using the space saving technique of growing upwards. Smaller squashes can be trained up hazel wigwams and arches and look superb in autumn. This will give me a greater variety of fruits and therefore a greater variety of flavour.

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I am planning on stuffing my little squashes with rice and spice and all things nice while the mischief makers walk the night gathering slugs and snails and puppy dogs’ tails.

For my stuffed squash recipe click on the recipe at the top of the page.

The Optimistic Gardener

My other half is sitting next to me, mostly hidden by the enormous newspaper we like to indulge ourselves in over the weekend. Behind this paper thin wall I hear giggling then full blown laughter, now he is in hysterics. He peers at me over the sheets, eyes lit up with glee. ” Come on then, out with it” I mumble pretending to be not at all interested.

He is reading an article, written by Sarfaz Manzoor for The Telegraph weekend. It’s a brilliant article about ‘a wife who sees the brighter side of life’. Sarfaz reflects on his struggle to live with an optimistic wife, a woman who is always late, always in a rush and always believing she can pack more into a day than is humanly possible. I want to hang out with his wife.

My husband is tickled by this read because he knows better than anyone that I too am a hopeless chronoptimist and will always have a glass half full. But of course I am. I am a gardener after all, an outdoorsy type, affected by the changing seasons that, right now, are wickedly luring me into cosy hibernation. I slide into this restful period happily, for I am confident of the explosion of new energy in spring. Surely all gardener’s are optimists, if we weren’t, would we ever get anything done? When we buy a packet of seeds and they tumble out of the packet, dry and lifeless, we have no doubt at all that a couple of weeks after planting, new life will emerge and we will be delighted. We will plant out our tiny offspring and revel in it’s maturity.

Even weeding is full of optimism, the satisfaction of surveying our beautifully hoed earth leaves us no time to contemplate the prospect of having to do it all over again in a week or two. And when we do, no doubt the sun will shine, the air will be fresh and we will enjoy a deep rooted sense of well being.

One of the tips in The Telegraph’s ‘How to cope with an optimist’ suggests that         ‘The next time the optimist in your life is late, pass the time waiting for them by muttering “punctuality is overrated” and smashing your pointless wristwatch into pieces.’

Chances are, if you are waiting for an optimistic gardener, they won’t own a wristwatch for they are indeed pointless. After all, who needs a wristwatch to tell you you can squeeze another hour of gardening out of a gradually shortening day, surely the moon is there for  reason…

Curiously Kooky Cucamelons

It’s always good to try something new and, with so many exciting new edibles available to grow, it would be remiss of me not to experiment. This year we have grown cucamelons and crystal apple cucumbers on the plot, along with the usual pumpkins, courgettes and squahes. We have indulged ourselves in curcubits of all shapes and sizes.

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Cucamelons are curious little fruits. When fully formed they are the size a gooseberry. They grow on climbing, leafy tendrils that grow wildly so are best trained up a support. We grew our cucamelon plants both inside the greenhouse and outdoors. The ones outside faired much better although I suspect the plants in the greenhouse may have suffered from a hefty dose of ‘well passed its sell by date’ seaweed fertiliser. Ooops.

The fruits are delicious. Imagine if you will the flavour of cucumber with a hint of citrus and there you have it, cucamelon. These bite sized bubbles of goodness are perfect for picnics and packed lunches are just for popping into your mouth as you wend your merry way through your plot. If there are any left they can be pickled or flavoured with spicy oil for a more sophisticated occasion.

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Cucamelons are high on my list of favourite plants to grow, not least because they come back every year, as along as the roots are protected from frost. However these fruits are so delicious you will want everyone to try them so why not grow them from seed. Plant the seeds in april in seed compost and allow them to germinate on a warm windowsill. When the plants are between 10-15 cms high and all danger of frosts have passed they can be planted out in a sunny position against a support. Fruits are quick to form and you may be picking from June to october especially when the autumn weather is as glorious as it has been this year!