Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Winter Beauty

A bench or table smothered in white snow is transforming. Lines may be accentuated as in the table and chairs scene; creating a surreal view. Or the picture can be softened as with the bench fronted by whispy oregano seedheads now holding the snow. Either way, while it lasts and gardening boots are put to rest, this moment is one of great beauty.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Season switch: Formal Garden in Winter and Summer

What a contrast from winter to summer; the seasons certainly bring about change here in England. This view of the formal garden at The Manor Hosue, Stevington is a total contrast!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

House at Pooh Corner

The little play house was built over 20 years ago for our daughter Suzie. Now it has had a Winnie the Pooh makeover so that children who visit the garden on our Open Days can enjoy playing in it. Maybe they will bring their own favourite teddy and have a teddy bears picnic; complete with honey sandwiches.

Phil Remblance and his son Carl from Kempston have masterminded the transformation. You should see inside. Balloons are painted on the ceiling, floating amongst the clouds and bees. Its such fun! Poppy was our first little visitor.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Frost Fair

Cold frosty nights are perfect for frost fair picnics; when lily pods and chinese lanterns become candlebras for all the little creatures to enjoy the spread of crinkly leaves and seeds and cones.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Hot Jelly for Chilly Weather

One of my favourite shopping expeditions is to visit nearby Olney Market on a Thursday early afternoon, browse the plant stall and visit one of the fruit and vegetable stalls.

My recent quest was red peppers with which to make a spicy preserve reminding me of a tasty jelly I ate thirty years ago made by friends in Hampshire. I can still remember the experience and the joy!

I also loved the very much hotter version which my son Jonathan made at home last year by raiding my chilli hanging baskets. One small part of a jar still remains so that I can try to recreate its sweet but fiery taste. His blog Around Britain with a Paunch is overflowing with exciting cookery experiences.

Over the weekend I made two versions one with red peppers and tomatoes, one with red peppers and chillies. Both were based on strained apple juice made from stewing apples. It is so rich in natural pectin that it makes the jelly easier to set. Besides we still have so many apples that it is a simple way of using them. Sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and cider vinegar were also added.

The result is a stunning red jelly. The one with chillies certainly has an extra kick, good for those crisp autumnal days that are just around the corner and when winter really starts then every jar provides a clever form of central heating. Both are perfect to accompany game birds or simply delicious with crusty bread and cheese.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Green Olympics

I was so lucky to join a coach party of the Garden Media Guild last week who were invited to tour inside the Olmypic Park to see the new planting which has been achieved ahead of the London Olympic Games next year. The transformation is breathtaking in terms of the NEW green landscape complete with prairie meadows as well as bogland plantings all played out with the painterly touch of Sarah Price and others. On the banks in front of the Olympic Village the wafting grasses and asters seem to rise up like the buildings themselves.

My favourite building was the wonderful velodrome shown in the photo above. Although I wish the trees had not been planted to obscure the distinctively beautiful cedar wood cladding, but maybe it was just the view from where our coach was parked.

When you see how clear the new waterways are, but then see how the dredging of the River Lee still continues, then you realise just what a mammoth exercise this all is......from dirty, polluted, sludgy to glistening, sparkly and truly exciting. It is a huge achievement which will benefit thousands of city dwellers and out of town visitors (Westfields is next door) for decades to come.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

New French Garden

Box blight ravaged the formal lines of box which meant the old box parterres disappeared in the spring along with the hornbeam towers. Now lavender lines the path, buzzing with bees and providing a larder for my lemon and lavender drizzle cakes. Fastigiate yew have been planted to provide the accents in the distance. The roses and late flowering clematis on the arbours have done so much better and now down below the agastache perfectly blends with the lavender.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Late flowering clematis are so early this year

I love this moment when the roses are in bloom with the late flowering clematis. It normally happens here at Stevington in early July but in this extraordinary year, it is happening now and what a delight to see blousy pale pink Constance Spry vying for space with rich red Clematis Madame Julia Correvon. Meanwhile exquisite Clematis Blue Angel with its crinkly edges is juxtaposed with fantastically fragrant richly coloured Rose Mme Isaac Pereire. Elsewhere mysteriously dark almost black Clematis Romantika is blooming amongst bright pink Rose Gertrude Jekyll.

Our National Garden Scheme open evening next week on Thursday June 16th from 6-9pm promises to be a spectacle of roses and clematis.

Add a glass of Pimms or wine, a host of Abba and Beatles songs sung by the Eagle Choir and the evening will be a real treat.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Rose Petal Mugs

I am so pleased that my very special rose petal cake fine bone china mugs arrived yesterday, made by a Staffordshire firm with a lovely image of my signature rose petal cake on the front complete with recipe on the reverse.

My garden group visitors today were from Estonia and they were the first to drink from them, while sampling the actual rose petal cake. With roses so far advanced and in bloom I am busy making the rose petal butter ready for all my groups.

The mugs will be on sale in my shop along with my rose petal cards and Edible Flower recipe book.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Asparagus for Mother's Day

We have waited for three seasons and now we have our first crop of asparagus. I am surprised how early it has grown after such a horrid winter. But a few intrepid shoots have grown in the last few days and with a quick flick of the knife we cut three spears and enjoyed one each for our mothering sunday feast! I couldnot help tasting the end of one I trimmed before steaming....it was as sweet as sweet can be. You never notice that if you buy them. Home grown is deffinitely good news as from ground to plate can be within minutes with all the sugars still captured in the succulent spears.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Spring Clean and The end of an Era

All change! Our French garden which was planted 17 years ago was once a joy but box blight has ravaged the central parterres. So at dawn on Tuesday the dreaded moment arrived and out came the box; so too the hornbeam towers. Fastigiate yew will replace them without the need for trimming twice a year, while lavender will replace the central box on either side of the path. It is a warm, sheltered spot and the lavender will be good for the bees, good for my cakes and will still provide a little French influence.
Elsewhere in the garden ceanothus, buddleja globosa, cistus and solanum glasnevin have all fallen pray to the winter weather. Its a great shame because we are very fond of them all. I just can't imagine May without the glorious blue of Ceanothus so hopefully my replacements will do well.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

French Interest in Stevington's Ghostly Birches

I can't quite believe that our white stemmed Birches Betula untilis var. jacquemontii 'Grayswood Ghost' were purchased as sapplings about twelve years ago. At that time the ghostly hue was nowhere to be seen; only time would tell whether they would prove worthy of the position we had in mind; an avenue running from east to west leading to an ellipse. The decision to buy was taken on their reputation alone. Plus the fact that Bedford itself had many of the species growing as street trees throughout the town.

Last autumn the well known French photographer and bark specialist Cedric Pollet phoned to say he wanted to visit. He came on a glorious sunny autumn day and repeated his visit last week though truth be told the shy was heavy laden, the atmsosphere wringing with rain. Such a shame there was were no low rays of wintry sunshine to emphasise the ghostly glow. But these birches never fail to create an atmosphere of their own and sun or cloud they aare always very special. I wash them with a power hose at the end of January. The green algae goes and the bark radiates.

Thank you Cedric for your photos including the high rise views of the winter garden with its colourful cornus and weeping birches. I look forward to your return visit next year.

© Cedric Pollet; please have a look at his wonderful website: www.cedric-pollet.com

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Sticks and Cones

Using cut foliage and stems to insert into winter contianers is an old idea which I read about in a Victorian container gardening book. It works wonders transforming an otherwise fairly sparse planting scheme into something altogether more attractive and interesting.

Pussy willow, hazelnut with catkins, fiery cornus stems all add their own sort of magic and will last for several weeks just pushed into damp compost. You might even find they have rooted by the time you take them out!

I have lots of spare, very spare, soft green moss in the garden at the moment and have enjoyed weaving it amongst my bulbs and plants in the containers. It makes them look so snug, and the bright green colouring helps to set off the flowers so well.

Fir cones are another good addition, again adding warmth and texture.

All these plants can be bought in the garden centres right now to make instant containers; adding stems, moss and cones really sets them off. They make a little, go a long way.

Our last Winter Tuesday open day is on February 22nd, 12-4pm. Hot drinks and scrummy home made cakes are on offer. Today it was rosemary and orange drizzle, and oh there was carrot cake too.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Feast for Winter Bees

February 8th has been a lovely warm day, frosty at first but then filled with sunshine; a welcome change from the endless grey days of late plus the roaring winds.

Suddenly I heard a great commotion on the verandah where baskets of hellebores and winter flowering aconites were in full bloom. I noticed not just one, but maybe 8 or 10 honey bees buzzing about from one flower to another, most indignant that I had appeared and interrupted their feast. One bee had a huge sack of pollen; it could hardly move. Weeks of starvation meant that it was determined to go home laden. Our two beehives seem to have survived the winter so far. These have been extreme times for them.

By coincidence I wrote a blog on February 5th last year after noticing the bees on hellebores and snowdrops. Maybe we should collate the information in a survey of winter honey bee sightings, as is done for garden birds!

The sunshine was especially welcome today as this was one of my February Open Tuesdays bringing visitors to see my winter garden. The grasses were magical with their sunny backlight,the cornus stems glistened,and the newly washed white stemmed birches positively gleamed. The aconites were in full flower and the bees obviously enjoyed them.....the snowdrops will follow in the next ten days.