Winter beauty in a vase

Flowers in my home are as important as pictures on the walls. I’ve said this many times, but I really do feel that our home loses some of its soul when its not filled with flowers from the garden.

In October dahlias, zinnias, cosmos and the like are still bringing large displays of colour into our homes, then the sudden shock of frost can leave rooms looking bare and empty, without the vases of blooms we become accustomed to during the year. There’s a great risk that the winter months of November, January and February can look stark and cold with that empty feeling similar to when Christmas decorations come down, the warmth and fun of the festive season over, replaced with cold, damp, monochrome winter days. We need to start planning alternative vase displays for those tricky months winter months.

With the popularity of naturalistic (prairie) planting in our gardens we’ve come to realise the beauty of our garden borders in winter. The great proponent of this and my garden hero, Piet Oudolf values the garden in winter as much as any other season, he believes the winter garden and its magnificent decay is about texture and shape, the seed heads and the skeletons. This has become an important feature of my own garden, I’m also keen to bring it into the home, filling the flower gaps and embracing the detailed structural beauty of the winter garden inside as well as out.

So, I’ve been out in the garden looking for inspiration.

eupatorium seed heads

Echinops seed head

Echinacea seed heads

These are some of my winter arrangements so far:

Homemade apple juice and cider

We’ve fifteen apple trees and one pear tree in our garden, I’ve always felt guilty that we’ve not made the most of the fruit. We don’t buy dessert apples in September and October, a few apple pies are made, but, the majority fall to the ground waiting to be picked up and put on the compost heap. Past attempts to store apples have always attracted mice or rats, resulting again in the whole lot going on the compost heap.

So this year I treated my husband who has a September birthday to an apple press and crusher, with the idea that we’d make lots of juice and cider from our apple harvest. So yesterday we spent a productive day, picking, juicing and bottling our apple crop.

To my amazement the whole family joined in! We had a great day crammed into our boot room (three boys, two dogs, my husband,myself, the dog beds, laundry and apple pressing paraphernalia. No doubt those of a hygienic disposition will stop reading at this stage), everyone taking on a role in the production process, and sticking with it!

Apples on the treeDessert apple ready for picking

Cooking apple harvestPicked cooking apples, dog beds and clean laundry in our boot room yesterday! 

Crushing the applesThe apple crusher. Apples were cut in half and put in the top where they were the were grated ready for juicing.

Pressing the applesThe crushed apples were then put into the nylon bag in the apple press, the wood chocks inserted and the press screwed down…

The apple juice flowing…and the juice flowed

Once juiced it will keep in the fridge for a couple of days. We had 36 litres of the stuff so we decided to pasteurise and bottle the dessert apple juice and some of the bramley apple juice. The rest of the cooking apple juice was to become cider.

How to pasteurise your apple juice

To pasteurise you add 5 grams of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to 10 litres of juice and then put in glass bottles. The bottles (uncapped) are placed in a large sauce pan of simmering water. A digital thermometer is placed into the bottle and when the juice reaches 75 degrees C remove the bottles and place the caps on tightly. This method should ensure the juice has a two year shelf life.

Pasteurising the apple juicePasteurising the juice, the wire coming out of the bottle joins the digital thermometer

Dessert apple juiceThe dessert apple juice bottled 

How we made our cider

The majority of our cooking apple juice was placed in a fermenter for cider. A packet of cider yeast was added and this will be left for a couple of weeks until fermentation is finished, my husband tests for this with a hydrometer. The juice is then transferred to another container where campden tablets are added to sterilize. The cider is then transferred to bottles and will be ready for drinking in 6 months.

The apple juice in the fermentor, destined for cider

All in all a very productive day, the boys loved crushing the apples, the husband has a ridiculous amount of cider to look forward to next spring and I have fewer apples to pick up and compost this year and that warm satisfying feeling that I’m making the most of what my garden has to offer.

A Produce from the garden up date.

My cutting garden has moved to the side of our house, bricks laid by my own fair hands, but I have to confess the flowers (like me) are behind this year, veg is bit behind too! Life… it’s not all bad news though, I do have lots of new dahlia varieties this year which have moved into my old cutting garden so we have that to look forward to.

I have also been busy with a different ‘produce’ from the garden. I’ve been working with a number of clients with differing needs providing therapy from the garden. Horticultural therapy is an amazing intervention that makes a positive impact to someone’s life, enhancing wellbeing, confidence and engagement. I work one on one with clients in their own gardens, if you know anyone who might be interested and benefit from Horticultural therapy do call me on 07814 550254 or message me. And I promise dahlias will be on that stall in the weeks to come!

P.s. the fence in the picture will be going once the laurel hedge is tall enough and thick enough to keep the dog in!

Holiday flowers

Holiday flowersEven though we’re on our hols I can’t resist flowers on the table. Picked from the roadside, the husband was very good and didn’t complain once when I yelled ‘stop’ whilst wiggling round the country roads.

Our first melon

My first melon

My first melon. I’ve not grown melons before, it’s never really occurred to me, until I was rifling through Lidl’s fabulous spring selection of seeds which cost pence. I end up buying far too many packets and often plants I’ve never considered growing previously. I always feel it’s a wasted opportunity for 50p, leaving them in the shop. This year’s experiment was this melon, Lidl’s diligent efforts at keep costs down mean I’ve no idea of the variety, just the picture on the front of the packet. We’ve therefore named them mini watermelons. Perfect for my family who love watermelons (2 out of the 3 boys won’t eat any other variety), but if I buy the normal sized watermelon, they never get finished, and get left, tasting of vinegar in the fridge, destined for the compost heap. So yet again Lidl has come top with its wonderfully cheap seed.

Painting Grass!

I’ve spent the day painting a garden plan on to the grass. I’m really pleased as it’s given me a temporary impression of what the garden will be like and it’s easy to make changes. The lines are also going to be a very useful guide when work I start to dig. The only fly in the ointment is that this area of garden by the side of our house in currently occupied by my boys. Last summer I gave them a five year notice of eviction, in true unscrupulous landlord style I’ve just wound on the clock a bit! Negotiations with the boys have been fruitful and the swings moving down the garden and the play house is relocating.

So hopefully by next Spring we’ll have a Celtic cross like design, borders edged with bricks and gravel paths. I’ll just have to decide what to plant, a dedicated dahlia garden?

Celtic cross garden design

Sweet William, the must have cut flower for late Spring

Sweet William bridge the cut flower gap between daffodils and all the wonderful cut and come again summer annual flowers. I grow Sweet William ‘Auricula Eyed Mixed’, A range of pinks in every shade and white, some even with stripes. This year they’re growing amongst self sown Nigella, the combination is perfect. They have competed for space, providing me with lovely straight long stems, perfect for cutting. They’re also self supporting each other, no need for netting which I forgot to put in place earlier in the year!

Nigella and sweet williamThe wonderful froth of Nigella and Sweet William

Nigella and Sweet William in the cutting gardenNigella and Sweet William in buckets

Some close ups:

Light blue nigella

White Nigella

Dark pink sweet william

Pink stripped sweet william

Pink Sweet William

White sweet william

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Flippin’ pigeons!

I’ve planted a vegetable bed full of Kale; Cavelo Nero and Redbor. Not only a delicious multi functional vegetable, that we’ll be cropping until next March/April, but, also a stunner in the kitchen garden.

Sadly it’s not very stunning at the moment. Pigeons have been helping themselves to their young succulent leaves!

Kale eaten by pigeonsMy kale, savaged by pigeons!

I remember Monty Don speaking of similar issues in an episode of Gardeners World a few years ago. His solution was to dangle a potato on a piece of string from a hazel rod. The potato is even wings with collected feathers. According to Monty, this menacing imitation of a bird of prey will scare any self respecting pigeon away. I failed on two counts, firstly, I couldn’t find any feathers, so had to improvise with rosemary. Secondly, our VERY naughty Spinone puppy ate the potato!

The first pigeon defence systemPlan A – Pigeon defence system

So onto plan B. Bunting! I’ve heard all the wise cracks from my husband and children, but, so far so good!

Pigeon defence systemPlan B – Pigeon defence system!