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Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Roses, chamomile and nigella.

Borage, valerian and rose.

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I just love this time of year when everything in the herb garden is overflowing; with colour, scent, the buzzing of insects and the joy of being, expressed in its fullest.

The intermittent sun and rain have ensured lush growth on everything. Several things have bolted like the lettuces, parsley and this 8 foot monster lovage.

Lovely lovage.

Parsley gone to seed.

However plenty of other things are just opening, the feverfew and vervain included. I adore vervain, Verbena officinalis, it is easy to see why it was considered a sacred herb by the Druids, it has such a magical quality to it.

Feverfew

Vervain

Many herbs are in full bloom and perfect for harvesting now like lavenders, thymes and white horehound.

Thyme

Lavender

White Horehound

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Lavender – Edelweiss

The garden is full of one of my favourite flowers, Nigella, or love-in-a-mist. This year I not only have the usual blue variety but some gorgeous pink ones, Mulberry rose, the seeds for which were sent to me so kindly by Cheryl last year.

One of the real highlights of summer is the vibrant colours, sun-filtered and glowing so that even in my tiny plot there is always something new to marvel at. Yellow loosestrife is a beautiful wildflower but one I grow in pots due to its over zealous nature!

Yellow loosestrife

Rosa ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’

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Even simple salad vegetables can be among the highlights of the garden.

Tree spinach

Red orach

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These lovely little sea thrifts were given to me by my father who grew them from seed.

What are the highlights of your garden right now?

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Spring is the perfect time for getting up close and personal with nature. Unlike later in the year when gardens and hedgerows are adorned with blossoms, bright flowers and expanses of green, in early spring you have to really look to spot all the small beginnings of beauty, all the tiny possibilities emerging from seemingly dried out twigs and all the unfurlings of potential and change.

First forget-me-not opening

It’s the perfect time for going exploring with a magnifying glass and gaining a more intimate view of all the wonders of spring. I have two that I recommend, the first is an average magnifier, bought from an art shop for about £1.50 and useful for getting an overview of leaves, buds and insects. The second is called a loupe and is used by jewellers for closely examining gem stones. You have to get really close when using a loupe but it’s great for examining little details of a plant like veins, hairs on stems or stamens.

Magnifying glass and loupe.

On a pleasantly warm spring day you can pass hours like this and the rewards are as innumerable as the marvels themselves. It’s a wonderful activity to involve children in and such an inspiring way of appreciating a whole new dimension of the natural world. You can start to connect with things as if a much smaller creature and your imagination is fed by this new way of looking. Each tiny hair on the gooseberry leaves becomes defined…

Gooseberry leaves unfolding

Each bud so vibrant and alive in its becoming. Someone else was also appreciating this one.

New buds on the fig

Each new leaf displays its uniqueness. Veins, ridges, hairs, colour variations all become dramatic parts of a landscape when viewed so intensely.

Bright spring growth of Wood Betony

Tiny seedlings become like little trees.

And there is enough to wonder at in a single bud to keep you busy all morning.

Downy buds on the blueberry

Looking closely at a leaf displays its many forms and colours. What first appears to be just red and green also has shades of yellows and purples, browns and blues.

Young rose leaf

Like the Frech soldier and writer Xavier de Maistre, who, in 1794, wrote the quirkily charming Voyage autour de ma chambre (Voyage around my bedroom) in which he explored the confines of his own room then wrote about it as if it were a great travel epic, we too can become strangers in a familiar land.

You can engage in this voyage even if you don’t have a garden of your own, as simply looking at a few houseplants or a window box can become a great adventure of discovery. Failing even that you can plot adventures through the un-explored territory of your fridge’s vegetable compartment. How marvellous is this cabbage? How worthy of wonder and gratitude.

When we start to look closer, appreciate the small and the overlooked, then we can never be bored, never uninspired and never ungrateful again.

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Outrageously Orange

“In my garden there are now purple roses, red roses, even yellow roses… But not orange. I draw the line at orange.”

Katherine Swift - The Morville Hours

Since writing my last post on Calendula a few days ago, I’ve been noticing even more than usual how cheerily beautiful these flowers are. In fact, every time I walk through the garden I stop to appreciate their intensity of colour, which like the sun, rather than detracting from the other softer-hued blooms, seems only to enhance their radiance. However it has come to my attention of late that many gardeners consider orange flowers some thing of a faux pas. Perhaps seen as garish and lacking in modesty amongst the gentle pinks, blues and whites of many popular garden flowers, several writers I have been reading recently seem to have taken against the use of orange in the garden. Even the equally exuberant yellow and red flowers get a better press than the orange.

Well call me tasteless, lacking in class or otherwise aesthetically impaired if you will but I adore orange flowers. Some of my favourite bits of the garden are populated with orange.

Like these nasturtiums and Californian poppies.

I also love these little crocosmia, the only flower that was already in the garden when we moved in.

Those who read this blog regularly will have heard me rave about my lovely little rose ‘Warm Welcome’ and I’m getting much pleasure from the softer apricot tones of ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’ too.

I think the vibrant hued oranges blend beautifully with softer shades like this creamy peach rose with the nasturtiums.

I love planting oranges alongside mauve or blue flowers, like the crocosmia with this blue geranium. I think I get this from my Dad who always grew mountains of love-in-a-mist with Californian poppies.

And to make matters worse, I even like oranges and pinks together!

When it comes to matters of taste, it seems there’s no hope for me at all.

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An Abundance of Roses

For the most part I prefer plants as close to their natural state as possible and would always take a wildflower over a showy cultivar any day. Not only are they more beneficial for insects and other wildlife but are also much easier to look after, more robust and better suited to their environment.

So my obsession with big, beautiful, temperamental and highly scented roses is quite out of character. I don’t love the exquisite wild roses of our hedgerows any less because of it and from them I make a lovely cooling and astringent tincture as well as using the hips later in the year. Our wild roses are not that highly scented however so to make the delicious, sweet, aromatic rose tincture that makes even the iciest of hearts begin to thaw, I really need to use cultivated roses. That’s my excuse anyway.

Wild Rose - Rosa canina

Most people tend to use either Rosa damascena, The Damask Rose, or Rosa gallica, The Apothecary’s Rose, to make aromatic tinctures and both produce some lovely medicines.

 Apothecary’s Rose

I’ve been quizzing different herbalists for a while about which roses they prefer for tincture making but it was Stephen and Carol Church, whose rose tincture is the most divine I have yet to taste, whose advice and method I have stuck with. They recommended using ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ a lovely pink English rose with a beautiful, strong scent. It apparently has the highest yield of volatile oils of all roses. I bought one last year and have been experimenting this summer with their directions.

Gertrude Jekyll

They advise macerating the petals in the alcohol for no more than 24 hours, a much shorter amount of time than usually allowed for tinctures. What this achieves is extraction of the volatile oils but without all the tannins which make rose tincture quite drying. Part of the nature of rose as a medicine is that it is cooling and drying but there are plenty of times when I want to work with the aromatic healing qualities of rose without using a medicine that is overly astringent. Besides, it tastes so much more delicious this way and that, as you know, is a big part of the magic of Rose. In her first growing year, my plant has yet to produce the abundance of flowers that Stephen and Carol’s do so I have just been experimenting with small quantities this summer. To make a specific tincture, that is one from fresh petals, try using a 4o% vodka, 1:2, which means one part rose petals by weight to two parts vodka by volume. Remember that rose petals are very light however so you need to cram a lot in! I actually didn’t have enough flowers blooming all at once to get the right proportion so I double infused it instead and it has still come out nicely.

Here ends the informative part of this post, the rest is just gratuitous rose indulgence. You have been warned!

My husband’s favourite rose in the garden and possibly mine, were I to have favourites, is the floribunda Margaret Merril. She has it all, beauty, elegance, scent and attractiveness to insects. She starts as a perfect creamy bud with a blush of pink…

Margaret Merrill

…and opens to form a perfect, white, deliciously scented bloom.

Along with the Apothecary’s Rose and Gertrude Jekyll, I have one more pink rose, ‘Scepter’d Isle’. Though not as sweetly fragranced as some of the others, she has a delicacy of presence that is healing just to look upon. This picture, taken after a heavy rain, does not really do her justice.

Sceptr'd Isle

All three pink roses in a jar.

We have two miniature roses on the kitchen windowsill. The pink one I found in the middle of the road last year without a pot. I always wonder how it could have ended up there, victim of a lovers quarrel perhaps? I was quite happy to give it a home and it is much loved and admired now.

I have also found a passion for orange, yellow and apricot roses this year. I fell in love with ‘Graham Thomas’ during our trip to Mottisfont Abbey, home of the National Collection of Old Roses, and found it impossible to leave without one.

Graham Thomas

‘Lady Emma Hamilton,’ my most recent acquisition, has the cheeriest disposition and the sweetest of scents.

Lady Emma Hamilton

‘Wollerton Old Hall’ is another new addition, a very generous early birthday gift from my lovely colleague and fellow rose obsessor, Laura. Isn’t it just beautiful?

Wollerton Old Hall

And I have shown off my joyful little miniature climber ‘Warm Welcome’ before. Bred by my uncle and given to me by my Dad, its a firm favourite in my garden and is covered with small but wonderfully vibrant blooms.

Warm Welcome

My wish list is ever expanding and includes the gorgeous dark bloomed Rosa gallica ‘Tuscany’, a rambler to cover the ugly old tank by the gate and the lovely ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ which I have much admired at The London College of Physicians gardens. We are in the process of getting rid of our car parking space in order to accommodate them all!

What are your favourite roses? For medicine making or for pure enjoyment?

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My vision for our small garden is that it will not only provide food and medicine for us but also be a haven for wildlife and other creatures.

The bees have been very happy here this year and I have seen many fat bumblebees and hoverflies hanging off the hyssop and monardas.

Lavender is nearly over now but every last flower is being made use of. The Apothecaries Rose was also a favourite when it was in flower.

There’s been a whole host of caterpillars, mostly fat and green, and some interesting spiders too. So it was with all these little residents in mind that I decided to add an insect hotel to the quietest area of the garden.

Ok, compared to some grand affairs this is more of an insect caravan but its a start and will hopefully provide a bit of shelter for a few needy wayfarers. If you have space you can make a very large, 5 star affair by stacking pallets full of different materials on top of each other but, if like me, you garden is more ‘bijou’ then you can make more of a boutique bug residence with a wooden box or old drawer filled with pine cones, straw, moss, hollow bamboo canes for solitary bees, bits of wood with holes drilled into them and other such items. Tuck it away into a quiet corner and you’ll be encouraging bio-diversity even in a tiny garden.

There has also been a number of butterflies like this beautiful Comma resting on the echinacea and this poor raggedy old Red Admiral on the nettles. Up on the Downs behind our house I also saw this lovely Chalkhill Blue.

The keen observer will spot other wild beasts lurking amongst the flowers.

We have also been joined recently by four new additions in the form of some highly spirited rescued ex-battery farm chickens. They live in the back garden, well away from my prized salad crops, and have settled into life outside a cage very quickly. We got them through The British Hen Welfare Trust which is a great charity and well worth supporting. They were in a sorry state when they came to us, straight from the battery farm that morning, but already their feathers are growing and they are gaining confidence by the day. For anyone who has hens or is interested in keeping them I would recommend reading this great article by Kym Murden on The Herbarium which gives lots of tips for herbs to grow around your chooks and other natural health tips. Ours are currently enjoying garlic and nettle tincture in their water, nettle seeds in their feed, lavender in their bedroom and rose petals in their nest box. They are as friendly as can be and make it their mission to sneak into the house whenever the opportunity arises.

Here is Primrose stretching out her wing for the very first time.

Violet and Clover discover they have a taste for my once lush Mizuna.

They have earned their keep by helping with the weeding. Not a scrap of ground elder remains now.

Honeysuckle and Clover check to see whether they’ve been busted sneaking in.

Finally, whilst on the subject of birds, bugs and beasts, I would like to urge you all to take a few moments to sign one (or all) of the petitions against the proposed badger cull that the government hopes to enforce next year. As badgers are known TB carriers, the government is hoping that their mass slaughter will halt its spread amongst cattle. Most of the available scientific evidence shows that this is not the case and implies that the cull may in fact make matters worse as it did in Ireland. The problem is due to poor farming practices not badgers and the only pro- badger cull arguments I have read are financially motivated as farmers do not want to lose money from their herds. Healthy animals are much less likely to be infected so all resources should be put into better farming practices not into killing one of our most treasured wild species. The plan is for 70% of badgers to be slaughtered. It breaks my heart that this is even a possibility.

You can read more about the issue in this Q and A document from The Badger Trust.

And if you feel strongly about the issue too there are petitions available to sign on the following sites:

38 degrees here.

The League Against Cruel Sports here.

Save Me here.

And you can reply to the consultation by following the guidelines here:
http://www.brianmay.com/save-m​e/badgers/DEFRA_E-mailer.html


(N.B. The final image of the badgers is from google images, source unknown, all other photos are my own.)

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There is little to rival the sheer exuberance of the garden at this time of year. Even in my little patch things are flourishing and vital.

Blue and pink Hyssop are covered in blooms.

Echinacea is looking beautiful. If you look at this close up you can see that each head is actually made up of many tiny individual flowers, called florets. Amazing no?

I planted the cornflowers late so they are only just blooming now.

I adore borage flowers, they are so ethereal yet the plant’s medicine is so strengthening. Along with the normal blue flowers I’ve had a few rogue pink ones this year.

Self heal and heartsease, both favourites of mine and excellent skin healing herbs, are adorning the spaces between larger plants.

Monarda, geranium ‘rozanne’ and Calendula all add some blazes of colour.

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And best of all we are harvesting something delicious for our table everyday. Romanesque cauliflowers captivate me completely, their fractal forms seem almost unreal. Peas are about my favourite garden snack, along with strawberries of course, and salads fresh from the garden are a million, million miles from those bought in the shop.


The Roses and Motherwort have also been stunning but they will have posts all of their own in the next week or so. I hope you are enjoying your gardens, patios, window boxes and local parks this summer, wherever in the world you may be.

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One of my favourite blogs to read is Take Time To Smell the Flowers by Cheryl. It charts the seasons and wildlife in her garden through a perfect combination of wisdom, exquisite photos and an evident love of the natural world. A quote on Cheryl’s blog reads ‘As is the gardener, such is the garden’. To my mind that must make Cheryl abundant, altruistic, beautiful and perhaps a little bit wild!

The lovely Leslie from Comfrey Cottages has also been posting about her new herb garden this week. Leslie and Cheryl have quite a bit in common from what I can gather through reading their blogs, both being gardening, animal rescuing, bee loving, super-grannying custodians of nature.

Anyway, between them they have inspired me to share a little about the changing face of my garden and it’s visitors.

When we moved in last year the largest of my five beds looked like this.

So I spent a fun afternoon with my Dad and the kango drill when he came to visit in the autumn.

Though I’m still in early stages of working with the garden, to look on this bed now gives me great pleasure, filled as it is with Hyssop, Thyme, Lavender, Sage, Escholtzia, Valerian, Alecost, Monardas, Salad Burnett, Wormwood, Motherwort and other herbs. I’ve also planted a highly scented climbing rose to grow up the shed wall which i will use for tinctures and other medicines.

Our narrow bed is currently housing brassicas and other veggies though I am hoping our names will work their way to the top of the allotment waiting list by next year and this bed too will be devoted to herbs and wild flowers.

At the back of the house Nigella, Love-In-A-Mist, has just started blooming. This is one of my favourite flowers and made up the bulk of my wedding bouquet along with rosemary and other herbs.

After years of city living there is still a container gardener in me and my husband has started complaining of late that we wont be able to get to the house if they spread much more.

This golden marjoram has been with me for years and years and I still get so much pleasure from it’s vitality and delicious leaves.

I have several pots of chamomile after it self seeded throughout everything last year.

Other things in the garden that give me great pleasure are the furry buds of borage…

The slowly ripening blueberries…

This beautiful clematis, a gift from my Dad.

And the subtle hues of this variagated thyme.

This miniature climbing rose, Warm Welcome, was bred by my uncle and is so richly coloured it seems to glow on the stems.

And of course what could bring more happiness than to see that others are also enjoying your garden. I love watching the bees lazily bumbling from one foxglove flower to the next, they look in heaven.

The chives and arnica are also popular destinations.

And everyone loves the Valerian.

Only the poor mullein has suffered terribly this year as the caterpillar of it’s namesake, the mullein moth, has made a tasty snack of half it’s leaves.

One of the most welcome of all our visitors at the moment is a beautiful nightingale who sings us to sleep every night. You can here the calls of the nightingale on the RSPB site here.

What are you finding most exciting in your gardens at the moment?

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