Saturday 24 July 2010

Roses round the door

I live in an English country cottage, so, of course, I grow roses round my door. The kitchen door faces north, in the corner of an L- shaped house, not the most hospitable of places.
But the rose,'New Dawn' is very obliging, it has a long flowering period and I partner it with the clematis,'Belle of Woking'.

'Constance Spry' faces south and west and gets a good baking. It gives one glorious display and then is over for another year, but it is such a beautiful rose that it is well worth the wall space.

Roses on the west wall.

'Raubritter',  doesn't climb but tumbles over low walls. The little balled heads are extremely pretty and it is one of my favourite roses.

Friday 23 July 2010


I dislike strong yellow and orange colours although there are many such flowers growing in my garden. They were planted by previous occupants and they are all sturdy specimens.
I have been digging up one clump of particularily garish orange flowers for several years, each winter thinking that I have successfully eradicated the horror, only to find it rearing its ugly head in spring, choking and obliterating my chosen, more delicate replacements of delphiniums and campanula, 'Chettle Charm'.
It pushes up through a mound of purple sage creating an outrageous colour combination.
Now I am pulling up the plants once more, but it has got to the point where, if I were successful in getting rid of the thing, I might just regret it!


Fickle gardener!
For a dandelion field
such contrary praise

I'm busy in the fruit cage with a pair of scissors disentangling convolvulus from the autumn fruiting raspberry canes. How I hate this weed! It has a beautiful flower but it's character is sneaky and mean, it gets right in at the root of of some precious plant and then climbs up and proceeds to throttle its host.

Yet, every year I plant a dark purple convolvulus and encourage it to grow wherever it will in the garden, on walls and fences and up through the bean stakes. When it has finished flowering I carefully collect the seed so that I will have plenty to plant the following year.
How contrary can you get!

Thursday 22 July 2010

What a fool!

I bought a new juicing machine a couple of years ago. It's a big brute and spends much of the time skulking at the back of a kitchen cupboard. But from now until the end of autumn it will be out on the worktop earning its keep.
I've picked a bucketful of gooseberries, no need to top and tail, just a quick wash and then down the chute of the juicer. The result is a clear liquid with a frothy green head, perfect for making gooseberry fool.

Gooseberry Fool.
Sweeten the fruit liquid from a pound or more of gooseberries  with elderflower cordial, to taste. ('Almost a Spell', June.) Heat in a saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of cornflour until slightly thickened - this gives a firmer, blancmange-like consistency to the fool.
Fold in 1/4 pint cold, thick custard and 1/4 pint whipped double cream.
Mix thoroughly and chill in the fridge.

My black-currant bush, 'Ben Sarek' variety, was given as a present by my friend, Molly, when we moved to this house. It is wonderfully prolific, providing fruit for juice and jam and the freezer. Homemade black-currant icecream is a family favourite, it is a wonderful colour and full of flavour.

Blackcurrant icecream

1 lb fruit, juiced
6 oz sugar boiled in 150 ml water
half pint double cream, lightly whipped. Churn all together and freeze.

The walnut tree is weighed down with nuts, this is the heaviest crop for many years. There is little point in getting excited because as soon as the nuts are ripe the squirrels will arrive and work hard  until they have stolen the lot. They put on an impressive high wire act to avoid the frustrated, waving human and barking dog on the lawn below. When we are not around they bury their spoils in the vegetable garden and my plant pots. Walnut tree saplings pop up in the most surprising places.
We bought a humane trap, but it's of no interest whatsoever to the squirrels. I suppose that I could foil them by picking the green nuts now for pickling, but we don't eat pickled walnuts, so what's the point?

Sunday 18 July 2010


I planned a white border at my last house and the result became a source of considerable amusement to my friends. I planted an alba rose centre stage. It was beautiful, but pink! White lychnis bloomed with a soft pink eye, white iris opened with throats of startling yellow; everything conspired against my intended display of pure white. Other colourful flowers arrived from who knows where. 

The result was charming, but it was never white. Friends followed progress with interest, and, in spite of evidence to the contrary, always teasingly referred to that part of garden as my 'white border'.

I have learnt not to make bold claims for colour control in my present garden. White flowers now grow where they will, campanulas seed themselves in cracks between flagstones, lychnis coronaria dots itself about the garden and I have to wait until flowering to discover whether the plant is white or splashed with pink or brilliant scarlet.
White flowers are as beautiful in bright sunshine as they are in evening shade.

My big Shasta daisies are as tough as old boots. They bring light to a corner of the garden where an old boat has been upturned to use as a seat.

The 'Melancholy Gentleman', astrantia major, obligingly fills an inhospitable area beneath the walnut tree.
 Whites and nearly whites - I love them!

Friday 16 July 2010

Saint Swithin's Day

Doorway and window in Mells
Never plan an outdoor party for the fifteenth of July.
 It's St Swithin's Day and our anniversary. St Swithin is a reliable saint, he provided a good downpour on our wedding day and has done the same for many celebrations since.
 Today is no exception, the sun is shining brightly but it is also wet, with those gusty squalls of drenching rain that catch you unawares when you've just popped into the garden to pick a few flowers.
 But today it is welcome rain, filling the empty water butts and nourishing drought-stricken plants.

We are planning to go to Mells for a pub lunch. It is an attractive village with a pleasant circular walk. We intend to visit the churchyard and put the flowers that I have gathered on the grave of the poet, Siegfried Sassoon.

But now the rain is tipping down. Am I surprised? No, it's what happens on St Swithin's Day. We'll have to abandon the pleasure of a summer walk. But we shall still visit the churchyard, wearing waterproofs and taking umbrellas and place our flowers on the poet's grave.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Bean salad

In early spring I passed a board at the roadside that was advertising a seed swap in the local village hall. At home I made up a number of packets from my store, seeds that I knew would give reliable results; Jaspee de Vende squash, deep purple morning glory and white foxglove. With a dozen or so 'swaps' in my pocket I went to the event, not knowing what to expect.
It was a new venture for this area and there wasn't a large turnout, but I came home pleased with my exchange, beetroot and basil, peas, French and broad beans.
The broad beans and peas have grown far taller than my usual varieties and I've had to cobble together some higher supports - very Heath Robinson, and a high wind could create havoc and bring it all tumbling down. But the crop is excellent and we are munching away happily.

Summer Bean Salad

Boil young broad beans and peas until tender. (Don't add salt to the water.) Drain.
Toss in a dressing of
olive oil
chopped anchovies, a couple or so pieces
                parsley, a generous amount
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper

As a light main meal add crumbled Feta cheese, torn basil leaves and small tomatoes.

Saturday 10 July 2010


Diana, a friend since childhood, has been to stay. She brought a bouquet of white lilies, one of my favourite flowers. I have bought many lily bulbs over the years, but have never had any success when planting them in the garden, they just seem to disappear.
Now I plant only in pots, where they oblige me with a reliable display. There is the added bonus of being able to bring the pots into the house as the buds open to enjoy both the flower heads and their perfume.

Lily Beetle

I grow my lilies white
their leaves are green.
The lily beetle's vain and easily seen
in scarlet wing case,
like a lacquered nail.
Once spotted it's of no avail
for her to hide.
I take her life, it is of no account,
the beauty of the lily's paramount.

The garden is alive with insects and butterflies, not all of them being very well behaved. The tips of my asparagus fronds (How much time posting, June) are now stripped bare and it's anyone's guess who will win this particular battle.

Deadly Occupation

Put on my surgeon's gloves and eagle eyes,
(two for the price of one)
and concentrate to finish what's begun.
Eradication is the only goal - 
a battle - not for heart and not for soul
but for the fronds of greenery, now stripped,
demolished by the caterpillar's grip.
I won't be beaten,
have my set routine
each morning, search, and if they're seen,
the rubber glove revenge.

The beetle drops, survivor's strategy.
I'm ready and my hand is cupped below.
(I've got the killer instinct, you should know.)
I want my plants to flourish and to grow.

A gentle occupation, you might think,
is gardening.
It's life lived on the brink.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Summer Pudding.

In previous years I have grown the sweet pea 'Elizabeth Taylor', an extremely vigorous, sweetly scented pale lilac variety. I could cut and cut, giving generous bouquets to friends and still have plenty left over for my own home. But this year I thought I would have a change and opted for 'Lord Nelson'. What a mistake! A very puny character he's turning out to be. He's only climbed as high as my shoulder and although it stated otherwise on the packet, there is very little scent. He's absolutely weedy. Perhaps if I'd planted him with a 'Lady Hamilton' he might have bucked his ideas up a bit.

Charles de Mills is a very sturdy rose and has given a wonderful show, but the garden is crying out for rainfall after weeks of hot, dry weather and further flower buds have failed. I'm having to cut back stems to keep plants healthy. The lawn is bleached to the colour of straw. Come on - this is England and it's summer, where's all the rain?

Meanwhile I'm picking bowls of soft fruit and making summer pudding, which has to be eaten with a generous pouring of cream. 
 (The smallest bowl contains wild cherries, gathered on a walk.)

Summer Pudding.

Slices of white bread to line a pudding basin
1lb raspberries
8oz redcurrants
4oz blackcurrants
5oz sugar

Gently heat the fruit with the sugar for a few minutes until the sugar has melted. Keep some of the juice to one side and pour the fruit mixture into the bread-lined basin. Make a bread lid. Put a saucer on top and a 1lb weight on the saucer. Place in fridge overnight. Invert onto a dish and pour over juice to cover any pale pieces of the bread. Enjoy!

Here's Napoleon, or at least, his hat; the rose, 'Chapeau de Napoleon', showing Lord Nelson how to put on a good display.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Fourth of July.

We've been out celebrating - not American Independence, but the birthday of our friend, Janet. She is knowledgeable about flowers, and plants that I refer to as, 'thingumijig' she calls by their proper latin name.
 We have very different gardens. Janet's is coastal and suffers occasional batterings from high tides.

But she has many flowers that the weather cannot harm and they are her beautiful embroideries and enameled pieces of work.

The pinks in my garden are in bloom. I love their sturdy little mounds of blue leaf and flowers that seem immune to slug and insect damage.
Unlike Janet's embroidery, my pinks will not bloom for long, they will need to be cut back lightly to give another flowering later in the summer.

I've given the rose, 'Paul's Himalayan Musk' on the garden fence a really good haircut now that its magnificent display is over. We had a bonfire from the prunings, with the smoke curling up through the apple trees.

Saturday 3 July 2010

A flower for every day in July

White 'Iceberg' rose with foxgloves

cosmos 'Purity'

with lychnis

clematis, 'Belle of Woking'



Morning glory

Cupid's Dart

Blue Moon
(not very blue!)

'Miss Kelly' phlox

perennial sweet pea


pink phlox


Queen of Denmark


A rose from Corfu

Constance Spry

Rosa Mundi

Chapeau de Napoleon

Gertrude Jekyll

Charles de Mills