Thoughts of spring…

As we enter November my garden is looking a little drab. There’s lots to do to ‘put it to bed’ for the winter but it’s all somewhat uninspiring. So, to cheer myself up I am already thinking about next spring when the first green shoots start to push their way up through the soil.

I always buy far too many spring bulbs and end up running around like a demented squirrel trying to find empty patches of soil to plant them in. I just can’t resist the thought of all those delicate, pretty early bulbs announcing the arrival of another growing year.

As I was planning this blog, I sat and thought about my favourite spring bulbs. Of course the list is huge, but narrowing it down, I came up with the following top five:

  1. Snowdrops (Galanthus) in a drift are just gorgeous. The moment I see their delicate little flower heads pushing up, even through snow, I know that spring is on its way!
  2. Tiny daffodils, or narcissi (Poeticus recurvus) – so delicate and more subtle than the rather lumbering yellow trumpet daffs we get later on.
  3. Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) I am a sucker for bluebells. Loved them as a child and still do. A Devon wood carpeted in bluebells is a sight to behold.
  4. Runuculus – great for cutting and bringing indoors, these pretty bright blooms are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
  5. Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) This little plant is only about 10cm (4in) tall and looks best grown in a group, preferably somewhere that gets the morning sun.

It’s a bit soggy in the garden just at the moment, but the bulbs need planting. The worst thing that can happen is to not get on with it and then find the ground is frozen – disaster! Here are a few tips to help you get a lovely display this spring.

  • Always plant bulbs in ‘informal’ groups, or drifts – don’t plant ones or twos or in regimented lines! Actually throwing a handful of bulbs across the ground and planting them where they land is a simple way of doing it.
  • When buying bulbs, reject any that are soft or showing signs of mould. Small bulbs may not flower in their first year.
  • Bulbs should be planted in holes three to four times as deep as the bulb itself. So, for example, a 1in crocus bulb needs to be planted in a hole 3-4in deep.
  • Fill large plastic pots with your favourite bulbs and, just before they are about to flower, use them to plug holes in the border. Plastic pots can also be slipped inside more elegant terracotta ones and whipped out when the bulbs are over. Clever! 
  • Finally, do read the packaging on your bulbs to ensure you plant them at the right time. Lots of garden centres sell them from July onwards and they want them sold and out the way before the stock up on Christmas baubles, but July is way too early to plant spring bulbs.

 

Good luck!

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The Forager’s Kitchen

Hedgerows are always a source of fascination, they are so full of flora and fauna. At the moment, they are dotted with glossy blackberries, and I can never resist picking them as I pass. My mother, the queen of preserves in our family, is already making jam and there has been talk of a blackberry and apple crumble coming our way too…!

My level of hedgerow foraging is fairly basic, but there is lots of ‘free’ food out there if you only know what to look for. My friend Julia Horton-Powdrill is a great forager and it was through her excellent Facebook page that I came across ‘The Forager’s Kitchen’ a truly fascinating cookery book that contains over 100 easy recipes from savoury to sweet, written by a Scots lady called Fiona Bird.

Don’t be put off by the title – this book is absolutely fascinating just to sit and read even if you have no intention of going and collecting any of the ingredients yourself. Not only does Fiona provide lovely (and easy) recipes, she gives lots of additional information about wildflowers, herbs, fruits and berries and more. Should you feel inspired, she also tells you how to forage, essential ground rules (how to avoid misidentification!) and a range of lovely little ‘wild notes’ with really useful hints and tips.

The book is divided up into sections – Flowers & Blossom, Woodland & Hedgerow, Fruits & Berries, Herbs and Sea & Shore. There’s a huge range of recipes – from Christmas Tree Cookies (using Douglas fir needs) through Carrot & Clover Cake to the most gorgeous looking Violet Macarons with Primrose Cream. Fiona writes very well and, whether you live in a city, the countryside or by the coast, if you follow her advice, you will find more ingredients growing in the wild than you could imagine!

Our ancestors knew what to pick and I do think it’s a shame that most people today are so ‘disconnected’ from the countryside and, indeed, wary of it. There is so much beauty in nature and such bounty out there if we only know what to do with it.

Fiona Bird is a mother of six children. She is a self-taught cook and past Masterchef finalist who has always had a passion for cooking and her approach to food is based on her knowledge of tight budgets and limited time. You can follow Fiona on her Facebook page. 

 

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Devon violets: a symbol of modesty or a little flirt?

I was peering in a junk shop window the other day – it was closed so no time for a rummage sadly – when I spotted a little pottery perfume bottle with ‘Sweet Devon Violets’ on it… and I remembered an elderly aunt (who was probably not that elderly at all) who always had handkerchiefs scented with sweet Devon violets.

Devon is a wonderful place for wildflowers and violets seem to grow particularly well in the climate here and are usually plentiful in the springtime. Beautiful and delicate, the pungent perfume of the variety Viola Odorata is used as a source for scents in the perfume industry.

Violet is known as a ‘flirty’ scent as its fragrance comes and goes. Ionone (a chemical substance) is present in the flowers, which turns off the ability for humans to smell the fragrant compound for moments at a time – isn’t that clever?

The Viola Odorata was one of the first flowering plants to be grown commercially and there are records showing they were for sale in Athens 400BC and being grown in specialist nurseries in Attica. Throughout the centuries violets have been a favourite flower, either for their perfume that scented the rooms and floors or their medicinal qualities that are still being researched today.

Dawlish in Devon was the most important centre for the cultivation of violets in 1916 and a special train ran from Cornwall to London carrying all the flowers on their way to Covent Garden Market on a daily basis. By 1936 there was a flourishing trade from this area and flowers were sent regularly to the Queen and ladies at the Court. During the war years, the land was requisitioned for growing much needed food, and violets went out of fashion, sadly never to return.

As a result, nowadays we tend to associate the perfume with elderly ladies and as being rather old-fashioned. As a flower, the violet represents modesty–hence the phrase ‘a shrinking violet’–so perhaps that has something to do with it being regarded as rather shy and retiring and old hat! Yet the sweet violet is really the true flower of Valentine’s Day as legend has it that, while in prison, St Valentine wrote a letter to his lover with ink made from violets.

Sweet Devon Violet products are still popular today with Devon violet soaps, bath bombs, perfume, essential oils, candles and much more, all being widely available on line. Look into any Devon gift shop and you are sure to find some products too! So perhaps the popularity of this lovely fragrance won’t fade away like our aged aunts and does still have a place in modern life, albeit a slightly shy and retiring one!

 

 

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Secret gardens just waiting for you…

Spring is so slow to get going this year that I am trying to convince myself it will be doubly good when it finally does arrive!

In eager anticipation of this, I thought that I’d mention the National Garden Scheme in this week’s blog. Some of you may already know it – it’s often referred to as ‘The Yellow Book’ scheme – if not, you are missing out on a real gardening treat. The National Garden Scheme (NGS) is a wonderful idea that not only raises lots of money for charity, but also allows you to visit some absolutely stunning private gardens.

Most gardens that open for the NGS are privately owned and open just a few times each year. Some gardens open as part of a group with the whole community involved. The gardens give all the money raised directly to us (including from the sale of teas and plants); the only exceptions being in some cases they ask that a small proportion goes to a nominated local charity.

When a garden is open, it puts out a distinctive yellow poster – look out for these! A few years ago, I had a wonderful afternoon wandering round a garden that was right next to somewhere I’d lived as a child. It had been home to Enid Blyton many years before and the current owners had done a fantastic job restoring the garden. I had been visiting the area and drove past the end of the road and saw the sign – pure chance. Sadly, that particular garden isn’t open this year, but there are no less than 3,700 across England and Wales that are, and some of them are bound to be near you. 

Buy a copy of their ‘Yellow Book’ Guide and it will tell you all the gardens that open, and when. There are some absolute gems! Their website is also very useful and includes details of when you can stay near particular gardens, details of plant fairs and nurseries etc.

 

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Keeping the children amused during the Easter Holidays!

There are several ideas here for you to use with your children or grandchildren if they are visiting at Easter. Crafting can never start too early I reckon! It’s best to get everything prepared so that you can get straight into the ‘interesting’ bits with them rather than boring old getting things ready!

Easter Basket

There are dozens of free basket/small box templates on the internet if you do a Google search. Just choose a pretty basic one, you could try this one.

You’ll need coloured card, a butterfly punch or similar and some pretty ribbon. Use the punch all round your basket once it is made up and keep the butterfly pieces for decoration.

We used PVA glue to stick it together and while it’s drying, hold together with a large paper clip or a clothes peg to stop it slipping. We then cut a length of card and glued on a handle then added more butterfly decorations.

Decorated Eggs

These polystyrene eggs are a lovely way to craft with children and use up all sorts of odds and ends that you have in your craft room.

You can paint the eggs, decorate them with scraps of ribbon or self adhesive gems and pearls (as the blue one at the front of the picture).

Try wrapping them in tissue paper, decorating with punched out butterflies and snowflakes or maybe just draw a funny face on them!

Pipe Cleaner Pets

These easy projects need pipe cleaners, pompoms, googly eyes and some coloured card.

Twist the pipe cleaner around your finger (or two children’s fingers as they are so much smaller) and then take another pipe cleaner to make wings for chicks or ears for the rabbits. Attach them to the back of the first spiral by twisting them on. Glue on the pompoms and googly eyes using PVA glue. Then cut small pieces of card for the mouth and the feet.

What a lot of wobbly fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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