Divide and rule!

David Perry demonstrates how to divide a clump of Miscanthus.

This week, I’m handing over to my partner in crime writing, Julia, to tell us about her latest trip to RHS garden Rosemoor where she received some seasonal advice.

It is such a treat to visit Rosemoor on a regular basis, as I am doing this year attending a series of talks, and to see the garden evolving with the seasons. Last week, I went on a garden talk entitled ‘What now? Spring’

The course notes said: ‘Let the RHS experts help you through the gardening year providing a whistle-stop tour of techniques, tips, tricks and advice on seasonal tasks so that you know what you could be doing when. Spring topics covered – dividing and planting herbaceous perennials, spring shrub pruning, cutting back of ornamental grasses, plus other topics of seasonal interest.’

This was exactly what I needed as I am never entirely sure what I should be doing when especially when it comes to pruning. Somehow, I had it firmly in my brain that I had to cut everything back in the Autumn… and was then surprised how many plants I manage to kill off every year! There really is no excuse for such ignorance as there are tutorials online and thousands of excellent gardening books but, somehow, it is always better to be shown how to do something first hand.

Our tutor at Rosemoor was Garden Manager, David Perry. Pruning is always a thorny topic, but within the first minute, David had explained two pruning terms that I had followed but did not know why – prune back to two buds and cut on an angle. Why two buds? If the top one gets frosted and dies, you still have the second one. Why cut on an angle? To provide a difficult surface for water, dust or parasites to settle on. Obvious, really!

The ‘bare bones’ at Rosemoor, beautiful in their own right.

Shrubs grown for their colourful stems or foliage, such as dogwood, need to be cut down in the spring to encourage new growth, known as coppicing. No wonder they hadn’t done well for me before, as I had chopped them off in November! He also demonstrated how to prune shrubs and roses into a ‘goblet’ shape, cutting out shoots that cross over, or were growing inward, to allow free airflow and a general rather lovely shape.

Buying plants can be expensive, so it is really useful be able to identify ones that can be divided to create more. All clump-forming herbaceous perennials, including ornamental grasses, can be divided and, when done regularly, helps ensure healthy plants that will continue to perform year after year. While perennials can be divided at almost any time if they are kept well-watered afterwards, David said it is best to do it when the plants aren’t in active growth. He demonstrated how to divide a substantial clump of Miscanthus using two garden forks back-to-back as levers to loosen and break the root mass into two sections. He made it look easy!

It was interesting to see the ‘bare bones’ of the garden at this time of year. The shape of espaliered and step-over fruit trees were art forms in themselves and it was also great to see the wooden supports staff were creating with coppiced sticks – so much more natural than bamboo poles!

How to divide perennials

Here are simple tips for dividing perennials from the RHS website:

  • Lift plants gently with a garden fork, working outwards from the crown’s centre to limit root damage. Shake off excess soil so that roots are clearly visible
  • Some plants, such as Ajuga (bugle), produce individual plantlets which can simply be teased out and replanted
  • Small, fibrous-rooted plants such as Heuchera, Hosta and Epimedium can be lifted and pulled apart gently. This should produce small clumps for replanting
  • Large, fibrous-rooted perennials, such as Hemerocallis (daylily), require two garden forks inserted into the crown back-to-back. Use these as levers to loosen and break the root mass into two sections. Further division can then take place
  • In some cases, a sharp knife, axe or lawn edging iron may be needed to cleave the clump in two
  • Plants with woody crowns (e.g. Helleborus) or fleshy roots (e.g. Delphinium) require cutting with a spade or knife. Aim to produce clumps containing three to five healthy shoots.

Top photo: Lovely pair of pottery chickens by Somerset artist George Hider.

0 Comments

Fabulous Faberge egg Easter cards

Lots of people are thinking about Easter cards at the moment – I can always tell as sales of chicks, rabbits and now our Faberge eggs are really strong! We decided to have some Faberge eggs in the range as I thought they would make a much more flexible die than just plain Easter eggs. That’s the only trouble with seasonal designs, they can be a bit limiting – you are not likely to use a Santa in August or a Happy Father’s Day in October!

Faberge eggs are a true symbol of wealth, indulgence and fabulous decoration. I have had a play with decorating real eggs and it’s a wonderful skill – I wasn’t too adept, but my teacher was just amazing and I still have the egg she gave me. Faberge eggs were created from 1885 through to 1916 when the Imperial Russian family were removed by the revolution. The detailing on the eggs and the contents were just breathtaking.

Now I am not saying we mere cardmakers can produce anything quite so fabulous but you can have a lot of fun playing with gold, flat backed crystals and pearls and family pictures peeping out of the little opening door! So maybe you could create a beautiful anniversary card with a Faberge egg on a stand – or just enjoy creating! I have to admit that sometimes I just make cards because I can, it’s so therapeutic and relaxing.

2 Comments

A whole new meaning to a ‘kitchen garden’!

I am really getting into growing our own veg this summer – gold star to Joanna for ticking box on ‘must do’ list! As you may have realised, I am not one for wasting things. Well, OK, so I am a typical crafter and I hoard things… but I also like to recycle and make use of ‘waste’ products in the garden too. We all go on about ‘being green’ and reducing our carbon footprint, but really, this is all common sense stuff that previous generations did as a matter of course!

Slug off!
If you want to give your garden slugs a hard time and, like me don’t like using slug pellets, save your coffee grounds! Empty the bits left in your cafetière or machine on to the soil around your plants. They not only keep the pests at bay they will enrich the soil too.

Now this idea is a little contentious… but you could try submerging some plastic cups into your veg beds around your plants and fill them with beer. Yes, beer. The slugs will be attracted to the beer and drop into the cups. Richard is not entirely happy about this…

Egg shells are also a pet hate of slugs and snails as they don’t like to crawl over them. I put my empty egg shells into a plastic container, wait until I have quite a few and then take great delight in smashing them into small pieces with a spoon! You can then sprinkle them on the ground around your salads and the critters ought to keep away.

Eggcellent compost
Egg shells can also be added to your compost with other compostable waste. Around a third of an average household bin can be composted including fruit and vegetable peelings, but don’t put whole old potatoes in, as these will grow into plants and create more spuds. You can also use teabags and even shredded cardboard and newspaper along with your general clippings and cuttings but be sure you don’t put in any weed seed heads or those with roots that can regenerate.

Rice water is nice water
When you cook rice keep the water rather than pouring it down the sink. There are several plant friendly minerals that are ideal for giving your plants a nutritional boost.

3 Comments

A Fowl Murder

 At last – ‘A Fowl Murder’ – book three in the Swaddlecombe series, is being published next weekend! Victoria and Albert are back and you can catch up on their latest adventures.

To whet your appetite, here’s the synopsis from the book jacket:

———

As her first summer in rural Devon draws to a close, Victoria West feels comfortably settled and her relationship with farmer Albert Moreton is jogging along nicely… but then death comes a–calling.

A work colleague from Victoria’s ‘old’ life in London appears on the scene and life starts to get complicated. An article on breeding chickens somehow draws Victoria and Albert into a web of jealousy, lies and murder. There’s a catastrophe over the canapés and plenty more shocks in store in the third Swaddlecombe adventure.

As ever, the locals add plenty of colour to this the cosy British murder mystery. Will pub landlord Roger ever be able to face a cup of coffee again? Can Victoria keep clear of the clutches of sleazy Morris Podger and will Albert manage to bake a gluten-free cake?

——— 

Thank you all so much for your patience, support and kind words. A Fowl Murder has, for all sorts of reasons, taken much longer to publish than we had hoped. My partner in crime writing, Julia, and myself hope that it brings you suspense and laughter in equal amounts… and that you think it has been worth the wait!

The paperback will be available on my website and on Kindle very shortly and I will let you all have the link as soon as it is ready!

5 Comments

Do room temperature eggs really make a difference?

As you know, we like our chickens and eggs on this blog! So what about the whole ‘room temperature eggs’ debate? Delia Smith says don’t put them in the fridge, so that must be correct then. I’m sure you’ve seen room temperature eggs listed in the ingredients for various recipes, and maybe you’ve followed those instructions, or maybe you haven’t. So, the big question is, does it really matter?

And the answer is… it depends! 

For most baking — things like biscuits, brownies, quick breads, and even some cakes— using eggs straight from the fridge will not make a noticeable difference in the overall finished product. However, using cold eggs will reduce the temperature of the batter and dough, and your cake or loaf will probably need a few more minutes in the oven than if you had used room temperature eggs.

Where room temperature eggs really matter is in recipes where the eggs are whipped to incorporate air into the batter – for example a light sponge cake, like a Victoria sponge. Warmer eggs whip to higher volume than cold eggs, resulting in a lighter and more delicate cake. For recipes like these, it’s best to let the eggs sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before using them, or follow the handy tip below.

How to quickly get eggs to room temperature

If you do have a recipe that requires room temperature eggs, you can get them to room temperature quickly by placing them in a small bowl and covering the eggs with hot (not boiling) tap water. Let them sit for five minutes before proceeding. Hey presto!

PS. Another good excuse for keeping your eggs at room temperature is that you can justify buying all sorts of lovely chickeny designed egg holders and storage things – as my hen-keeping partner in crime writing Julia does. These are just a few of hers in the photos along with her hens wonderful eggs.

2 Comments