Monday, 31 December 2012

Happiness is the way

Shed no tear! O shed no tear!
The flowers will bloom another year.
Weep no more!  O weep no more!
Young buds sleep in the root’s white core.
                        From Faery Queen by John Keats  

Today's pansy basket - with its promise of delight to come in the in the new year ahead

Don’t evaluate your life in terms of achievements, trivial or monumental, along the way … Instead, wake up and appreciate everything you encounter along the path.
Enjoy the flowers that are there for your pleasure. Tune in to the sunrise, the little children, the laughter, the rain and the birds.
Drink it all in… there is no way to happiness;
Happiness is the way. 
                                               Dr Wayne W. Dyer

Pablo's Christmas outfit

Compliments of the Season and best wishes for 'happy gardening'     in 2013 
                           Pablo Cat.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Twas the night before Christmas ...

Pablo waiting for Santa to appear down the chimney

Tradition has it that girls who wish to see an image of their future husband should walk backwards around the nearest pear tree nine times on Christmas Eve. I guess most women are too busy with last-minute preparations to find time to do this, but if anyone is so minded, there are two pear trees in Pablo’s garden that he is more than happy to be utilised for this purpose.

Bringing greenery into the house at Christmas was an Egyptian tradition when palm branches were used to celebrate the winter solstice and the Romans used evergreens to for the same purpose. Holly and ivy from Pablo’s garden has been picked for use in seasonal flower arrangements.

Christmas swag
Gawsworth \Church festival
 You can’t beat the smell of a real Christmas tree and it was a joy when, on a visit to Gawsworth Hall in Derbyshire to see the Christmas flower decorations, we also had the opportunity to visit a Christmas tree festival at the nearby church. The church looked splendidly festive and there were mince pies and teas to be had in the church hall, presided over by smiling ladies who could have stepped out of an Agatha Raisin novel. 

Jesus was said to have appeared to a poor peasant family one cold winter’s night. The couple took pity on his plight and took him in and fed him. When the couple woke the following morning, the cottage was bathed in a heavenly light. As the child left, he took a branch from a nearby fir tree and stuck it in the ground, saying it would provide food and comfort each winter for the family as repayment for their kindness. 

Happy Christmas

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The holly and the ivy

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness everywhere!

                                                           William Shakespeare

Frost and snow have ensured that no real gardening could take place during the past few days. Despite the season, there is still colour to be seen in Pablo’s garden in an occasional perennial that hasn’t as yet been affected by the frosts, including some of the this year’s pentstemons and salvias.

There is also one climbing rose, viewed from the French windows, that still bears one solitary red rose which continuously waves at me from the left hand border – a wonderfully uplifting sight.

Evergreens take the lead now. The holly tree has very few red berries so perhaps it won’t be such a bad winter after all. Legend has it that the cross was made of wood from the holly tree and thus the holly must suffer by bearing thorny leaves. Its berries are supposed to represent drops of Christ’s blood.

Ivy leaves from the garden with shop-bought roses
The ivy, which is often such a nuisance in having to be regularly chastised from entwining itself around the guttering, now comes into its own. Because of its clinging nature, ivy is seen as the feminine counterpart of the masculine holly. Small birds love to nest in it in the spring and in the winter it is perfect for flower arrangements.


A white flake here and there – a snow lily
Of last night’s frost – our naked flower beds hold;
And for a rose flower on the darkening mould
The hungry redbreast gleams. No bloom, no bee.
                                         From ‘Winter’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Sad songs of Autumn mirth

Food for the birds

Putting the garden to bed for the winter is almost complete.
The borders have been tidied, the roses pruned and leaves raked from the lawn. The final garden bin of 2012 is full to overflowing. Tubs are full of winter pansies and primroses and under-planted with the spring promise of miniature daffodils and iris reticulata. 

Michaelmas daisies going over

The final garden task remains – the planting of tulips. I’ve not yet decided whether to plant them directly into the borders or, as friend Avril does, plant them in tubs. Experts recommend digging up tulips after flowering with a view to replanting the following year. I’m too lazy to do this and usually try to plant them quite deeply with the hope that they’ll survive another year.

Digging at the allotment is now complete and the Japanese onion sets have finally been planted. Spring cabbage, Durham Earlies, are surviving – just - hopefully protected from marauding rabbits by protective netting. Fingers crossed! 

Statuesque artichoke flowers at the allotment

The strawberry bed is finally weed-free and I’ve decided to concentrate on growing perennial flowers, rather than vegetables, in an area which is permanently dry - being affected by roots of the nearby ash tree - beginning with a white form of echinacea, courtesy of fellow allotmenteer, Chris.

Everyone agrees that this has been a dreadful year for growing and will result in substantial rises in the costs of vegetables in the shops. 

Make a New Year Resolution to grow your own next year!

Today I think
Autumn colour of quince leaves
Only with scents – scents dead leaves yield,
And bracken, and wild carrot’s seed,
And the square mustard field;

Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the root of trees,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;

The smoke’s smell too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.

It is enough
To smell, to crumble the dark earth,
While the robin sings over again
Sad songs of Autumn mirth.

                                     Edward Thomas

Monday, 5 November 2012

Remember Remember

The fifth of November

I love bonfire night and am so pleased that Spennymoor, my home town, is one of the few places to hold its annual firework display on 5th November, no matter which day of the week it falls.

The bonfire used to be held in Jubilee Park. My aunt would have baked potatoes in the coal oven and we’d all set off for the celebrations with pockets stuffed full of the hot potatoes which both warmed cold hands and were a delight to eat while firework-watching. Once the excitement of the display was over we’d hurry home to a feast of hot dogs and home-made toffee apples. Those were the days...

This year, however, the supper will be pumpkin soup made from a pumpkin grown on the allotment.

Cinderella for the use of ...

Spiced Pumpkin Soup

Serves 4

600g (1lb 5oz) pumpkin flesh, roughly chopped
2 celery sticks chopped
1 garlic clove ditto
1tsp each of ground cumin and coriander
800ml (1 pint 7fl oz) vegetable stock
200ml (7fl oz) coconut milk

Put pumpkin flesh into a food processor and whiz for 30 seconds until almost smooth.
Add celery, garlic and spices and whiz for another 30 seconds.
Empty into a large pan.
Add the stock and coconut milk, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for c15 minutes.
Remove from the heat and blend until smooth.
Check the seasoning and ladle into warmed soup bowls.
Sprinkle with pumpkin seeds and freshly ground black pepper.
Serve with crusty bread

We always used to burn our garden rubbish on 5th November and it was amazing how many times neighbours took the opportunity to volunteer extra items to add to the conflagration! The ash contains potash and is excellent for sprinkling around fruit trees. These days bonfires aren’t encouraged any more. Although still allowed at the allotment, strict rules are enforced so very few allotmenteers burn rubbish, preferring to compost as much as possible.

Beechwood fires burn bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year:
Chestnuts only good they say
If for years ‘tis stored away:
Birch and firwood burn too fast,
Blaze too bright and do not last.
But ashwood green and ashwood brown,
Are fit for a Queen with a golden crown.

Oaken logs, if dry and old
Keep away the winter’s cold:
Poplar gives a bitter smoke,
Fills your eyes and makes you choke:
Elmwood burns like churchyard mould,
Even the very flames are cold:
Applewood will scent the room:
Pearwood smells like flowers in bloom:
But ashwood wet and ashwood dry,
A King may warm his slippers by.

Tree man seen at The Floriade

Bearing in mind the latest threat to Britain’s ash trees, we may all be very warm this winter!

Friday, 2 November 2012


No warmth, no cheerfulness, no helpful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member
 No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds – November!
                                                                             Thomas Hood

When north winds do blow...
Madness! With a covering of snow at the end of October, albeit fleetingly, and now on this morning, 2nd November – All Soul’s Day,  the day set aside by the church for praying for souls in purgatory – hailstones bouncing off the ground outside the French windows.

The clocks have gone back and the luxury of that extra hour in bed is almost forgotten as we head towards the dark days before Christmas. Many dread the dark nights and prefer to virtually hibernate until the days begin to lengthen. No longer having to turn out on frosty mornings or de-ice the car before leaving work for home, I can take advantage and appreciate the charm of the shortening days.

Autumn leaves

There is still much to see and enjoy in the autumn garden and the leaf colour has been a joy. I’ve refrained from cutting back many perennial plants to aid wildlife cope with the deprivations of the winter garden but have been using some of the startling red stems of euphorbia fireglow and solidago for example as foliage for autumn flower arrangements. A few stems of honesty, aided and abetted by Chinese lanterns -  courtesy of friend Brenda -  need very few flowers to produce a pleasing splash of colour in the home. (Witness previous pumpkin arrangement).

Autumn colour in Auckland Castle park

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Too busy to stand and stare...


“The spirits of the air live on the smells
 Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
 The gardens, or sits singing in the trees,”
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat;
Then rose, girded himself, and o’er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight: but left his golden load.
                                                           William Blake

The fine weekend prompted a frantic tidying session.
The greenhouse is now empty of all except chilli peppers and tender over-wintering geraniums. The summerhouse is full of garden furniture, including my lovely new bench and all seat cushions have been aired and stored in the garage. 

Pablo cat enjoying the flowers

The small front garden has had its lawn edges sharpened and the dead foliage of day lilies etc have been cut back to stop slugs and snails taking refuge there. The few roses have had an early prune and the fruit of the ornamental quince is beginning to fall, reminding me to harvest the rest and consider making Sarah Raven’s delicious quince and apple cake. Quinces smell wonderful and I recommend adding some to a bowl of  pot pourri to help lift the spirits during the dark days to come.

Pablo’s garden is beginning its autumnal clearance. I no longer cut everything back, preferring to leave some foliage to dry naturally and leave seed heads both for the birds and to self sow in situ. This works really well with foxgloves, honesty and aquilegia and I give the stems a good shake to distribute the seeds each time I take a wander around the garden.

Use for a home-grown pumpkin

Drying autumnal garden foliage looks wonderful arranged in a vase together with a few stems of honesty. You don’t need many flowers to make an eye-catching arrangement as witness my allotment-grown pumpkin surrounded by a few flowers and foliage picked from the borders of Pablo’s garden.

Happy Hallowe’en

Thursday, 11 October 2012

The cure for all ill ...

 is not to sit still
Or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and a shovel also,
And dig until you gently perspire.

                                                                   Rudyard Kipling

Every woman should have one
The sunshine of the last few days, coupled with a promised skip to take  rubbish away, has prompted lots of digging and a tidying frenzy on the part of the allotmenteers – myself included.

October is a hectic month for the vegetable gardener, removing perennial weeds and digging over vacant plots to allow the cold weather to help break up the soil in anticipation of spring planting next year. It is hard work but very satisfying.

I guess gardeners must be optimists as, despite the extremely poor harvests this year, here we all are, planning ahead to next year’s crops – ordering seeds, planting Japanese onions and Durham Early spring cabbages to over-winter and get a head start on the 2013 growing season. 

Globe artichokes grown for glory not food!

There will be leeks and Jerusalem artichokes yet to harvest during the worst of the winter and there ought to have been Swedes but mine just haven’t grown – lots of green tops but no swelling bottoms to add to soups and warming vegetable cobblers. How do supermarkets always manage to have them in abundance?
'Jemmer' coourgettes

I have had some courgettes, although again not the crop I’d hoped, but sufficient to make friend Vivien’s delicious Courgette and Cumin soup:-

25g butter                                       
 1 onion –chopped
 1 garlic clove –crushed                  
2 tsp ground cumin
150g potatoes – cubed                 
 350g courgettes – thickly sliced
450ml vegetable stock                   
300ml milk
freshly ground pepper

Melt butter and fry onion and garlic until soft.
Add cumin, stir in potatoes and courgettes
Cook gently in stock and milk until vegetables are soft
Purée the soup and serve hot or cold, garnished with sliced courgettes.


And my personal favourite courgette recipe -
Courgette Provençale:-

Slice courgettes, onions, and tomatoes (they can all be lightly fried beforehand but healthier not to). Layer in a soufflé dish or similar, adding a grating of cheese every now and then together with black pepper (a smattering of your favourite herb can also be a welcome addition). Finish with a layer of courgette slices and cover with grated cheese – I prefer a strong cheddar. Bake in a moderate over for approximately one hour. Delicious served warm with a salad and crusty bread or as a side vegetable. (It also reheats nicely in the microwave for a few minutes if you want to use leftovers later).


Monday, 24 September 2012

What is this life if full of care

We have no time to stand and stare.

So wrote W.H. Davies of Autobiography of a Supertramp fame.

Time to stand and stare

The remainder of the poem is very much doggerel but the first two lines have always strongly appealed to me, so much so that when I ordered my garden bench from Blue Gentian Crafts, and realised I could have a phrase or saying engraved on to the back , I knew instantly what to  choose (complete with book and wine glass!)

After a wonderfully inspiring break on Holy Island, thanks to friends Anne an d Erica from Alnwick, followed by a lovely weekend with lots of sun and thus the opportunity to catch up on autumnal allotment digging and home garden tasks – including weather proofing the garden furniture again – the horrid wet and windy weather today has prompted me to catch up on blogging and soup making to use up over-ripe greenhouse tomatoes and some of the home-grown basil – yummy!

Sun rising over Holy Island

Today’s weather prompts a perfect opportunity to think about drying hydrangea heads as the flowers have just begun to change colour and the stamens are beginning to wither.  Mine are pink and blue fading to a turquoise green. My cousin has glorious deep red hydrangea and I usually manage to acquire a few to add variety. Pop the flowers in an upright vase, add a couple of inches of water. Once this water has been used up, the flowers can then be left to dry naturally. They look wonderful piled into straw baskets and can also be sprayed silver or gold and used in Christmas flower arrangements.

Golden rod and bronze fennel

The golden rod is still in flower and its distinctive yellow colour is a welcome addition to the bottom border. It was believed that secret treasure could be found where golden rod grew and that, in a diviner’s hands, it had the power to uncover hidden underground springs.

Sadly neither fortune nor water have revealed themselves in Pablo’s garden, but the golden glory of this flower at this time of year is treasure indeed.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Shasta daisies with greenhouse in the background
Gardeners throughout the North East would agree that 2012 has been one of the worse years ever for vegetable growers. On the allotment rabbits ate the early peas and broad beans then pigeons nibbled most of the brassicas. The sweet corn refused to swell and the beetroot is almost non-existent.

Sadly, slugs ate every one of my glorious sunflower plants which usually stand guard at the entrance to my plot, charming all visitors with their happy,smiley  faces, yet the insistent Jerusalem artichokes are rampaging determinedly across the allotment landscape.

In the greenhouse tomatoes are desperately in need of sunshine to ripen their trusses and peppers and chillies are sulking and refusing to ripen. Cucumbers have resisted mildew but haven’t produced as many fruits as in previous years, even so, nothing beats the tasty crunch of freshly harvested cucumbers eaten with home-baked bread and greenhouse tomatoes – delicious.

All-female cucumbers

Despite the difficult year, the Bishop Auckland Hospital Garden Club held its inaugural show. Some classes were poorly represented – especially onions, both those grown from seed and from sets – but participants put on a wonderful show regardless. The room was bedecked with splendid tied bunches of dahlias in a myriad of colours, autumnal flower arrangements, delicate button holes and gleaming jars of fruit jams and chutneys.

£200 was raised for The Stroke Unit at Bishop Auckland Hospital so well done and sincere thanks to both those who took part and the staff of the Hospital Club who hosted the show at no charge.

Chilli peppers

Thanks also to the judge who awarded me first prize for my greengage summer jam!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Evening red and morning grey are the sure signs of a fine day

Sunset over Bishop Auckland roof tops

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight,
Red sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning

Shepherd's delight

The old saying proved correct last week. The fantastic sunset over Bishop Auckland last Tuesday evening certainly did predict a period of fine weather.

Fuchsia and crocosmia

The welcome sunshine reinforced the autumnal tones of the borders and it was surprising just how colourful the garden looked – a veritable kaleidoscope.

Pink cosmos

The acanthus is a particular favourite of mine. Last year was a disappointing one as lots of glorious leaf colour was evident but no flowers appeared. I have kept an anxious eye on it for some weeks and my vigilance has been rewarded – what a stunningly elegant plant it is.

Acanthus flowers in the shady border
Said to cure gout and soothe burns and scalds, the leaf of the acanthus has been the inspiration for many decorative designs – especially on the columns of Greek temples - and it was a favourite motif of William Morris.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

And the days go short when we reach September

So sang Sinatra in September Song and it’s certainly true.

The long light nights giving opportunities for reading or working in Pablo’s garden until late evening have now gone, compensated for by the ethereal light cast by the  harvest moon – which always reminds me of late artist and friend, Tom McGuinness, whose night time scenes were always illuminated by the glow from a McGuinness Moon.

Lucifer crocosmia
There is still lots of colour both to be seen and to look forward to in the autumn garden as, ironically, the hot area of the colour wheel is in the ascendancy – oranges, yellows and flaming red – Nature’s own bonfire which, with perfect timing, will burn itself out around 5th November.

My song is half a sigh
Because my green leaves die;
Sweet are my fruits, but all my leaves are dying;
And well may Autumn sigh…

   From September by Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)

Don’t be too downhearted by Christina’s usual doleful verse. 

Bronze fennel and  apple mint

In Pablo’s garden we’ve still got Nature’s fruitful bounty to look forward to – the harvesting of apples and pears; the gathering of seeds for drying and growing on next year; dividing and replanting  perennials ; indulging in the produce from the greenhouse including the delights of jam and chutney making and the optimistic buying and planting of spring bulbs.

Keep gardening but, more importantly, as my grandfather always signed off his letters to me -
Keep smiling!