Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Mothering Sunday treat

Jonathan and Sarah came home for Mothering Sunday and we invited Hannah Miles and her mum and Mike, and friends John and Jane for afternoon tea.....who ever thought that people don't eat sandwiches, scones, and cakes any more! The simnel cake was a throw back to my childhood when it was alawys a tradition at Easter or Mothering Sunday to have a fruit cake filled with layers of marzipan and then decorated with primrose and maybe violets. Well this time I soaked the fruit in tea for a few hours, then made a marzipan mixture adding violet liqueur, and hey presto it was delicious. We had great fun....a real tea time sharing treat.

Sunday, 29 March 2009


Violets are one of my favourite flowers at this time of year; tiny but so sweetly scented and lovely for flavouring jelly, roulades, vinegars etc. I have had great fun preserving some. It will be interesting to see whether the blue or white have the better flavour. But look at the blog below and just see the vinegar change colour after one day.

Violet vinegar

Some violets are blue, others are white, steeped in a light vinegar you can enjoy the flavour right through the year. Mix with a little oil and you have a dressing fit for a banquet.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Dusky delights from a memorable garden

I am in the middle of one of my favourite jobs; creating the planting plan for a client's new garden! An oval green oak arbour is to be a major features, and as it mellows with age it will turn a silvery grey.

I have a vision of claret vines scrambling up the pillars and over the top; large, dusky, dark, velvety leaves turning crimson in the autumn; and all the while, stunning with sunlight shafting through the gaps and backlighting the leaves. Peachy, apricot roses such as A Shropshire Lad might provide contrast inbetween them.

For extra special interest, the double Clematis called 'Mary Rose' Clematis viticella flora plena, will clamber up as well.........such softness, almost indescribable colouring somewhere between blue and purple. We have grown it here at Stevington for a number of years. But at Wollerton Old Hall in Shropshire www.wollertonoldhallgarden.com I saw it in early July eighteen months ago, trained over a low oak structure fence. I was mesmerised.

The silvery oak and dusky flowers was a partnership made in heaven. The garden's owner Lesley Jenkins, has a wonderful painterly eye. I hope I can capture this combination again; on the arbour. Its certainly worth a try.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Drawing emotion from Hokusai

I imagine that when the Japanese artist, Hokusai carefully crafted his Great Wave off Kanagawa as a woodcut in the 1830s, little did he think that a garden designer in Western Europe would try to capture the emotion in the image. For me the cresting seedheads of the miscanthus are like the foaming waves breaking into claws and having planted very tall miscanthus on either side of a grass path, it feels like walking through a giant wave, each side tossing and turning in the breeze.

In the second woodblock shown here called Fuji Seen From the Sea, dated 1834, the tension is shown through the fine lines which create the force of the wave. I think calamagrostis and miscanthus stems echo this linear force and I love to draw the comparison between his art and our style of gardening. Yesterday's cull (see blog below) bought a joy of its own....destructive yes, but working with these beautiful stems was a pleasure in itself.

Annual Cut of Grass

It was certainly breezy yesterday as we started our annual cut of our Hokusai Grasses. It was so sad to do it as the garden still looked fantastic, just as it had for the last six months since the miscanthus started to flower. But cut it we must or else it would never regenerate as we want it to.

I put on my gloves, roped the grasses, and then Simon used the hedgetrimmer to slice them off. We carried them away, and in between sleet storms we cleaned the gravel, as best we could, of all the debris.

Now we look forward to the new growth emerging over the next few weeks. By May/June the blue salvias which line the edge will be in flower, so will the calamagrostis and stipas. The various miscanthus including the two giants 'Goliath' and 'Professor Richard Hansen', as well as 'Silber Feder' and shorter 'Flamingo' will start to flower in September.

This sort of gardening is like a wonderful crescendo.....waiting expectantly for the high point; I love it at every stage but from Saturday to Sunday there was certainly a dramatic change!

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Snowdrop Magnet

Snowdrops appear so fragile, elegant, clean, pure and yet have braved the coldest of wintry weathers. No wonder we love them.

Ornamental grasses get the Snip

Sunday's job has been to clear the large area around the Hepworth garden. We have cut several pampas, geraniums, solidago; we have pruned various buddlejas, eleagnus Quicksilver, and cornus; then we tackled the main 'Green Caves' area itself (shaped on Barbara Hepworth's geometric painting of the same name); over twenty sedums, over thirty small grasses, as well as a dozen calamagrostis of two sorts, and ten miscanthus were cut and cleared; then we raked and hoovered; it now looks so much bigger. The good news is that the wonderful Hepworth shapes sing out again, set against the backdrop of the green slate.

Slowly over the next seven months, the plants will grow and flower, masses of bees and hopefully butterflies will visit, and once again the garden will reach its full glory. We enjoyed coffee, lunch and tea on the bench! It was fantastic to feel the sun's warmth again!