Sunday, 22 December 2013

Christmas Quiz

No prizes, but fun to find out the answers - I'd love to hear some of them.

1. Name 5 plants which flower (naturally) in the UK in December.

2. What is the latin name of the Christmas Rose?

3. How would you propagate mistletoe?

4. What is the meaning of ivy in the language of flowers?

5. What is the common name of the shrub Sarcococca?

6. List 5 red berry bearing flowers, shrubs or trees.

7. Spring and Summer Snowflake are varieties of which species?

8. Which garden writer is the author of 'The Winter Garden'?

9. What colour are poinsettia flowers?

10. What was your favourite flower of 2013?

You can find my answers by clicking this link, but there may be more!

Saturday, 21 December 2013

All I want for Christmas is…. no viburnum beetle

It's not every week that the predominant question asked by my teenage son is:
"Mum, did you find a pick axe today?"

He has had a bee in his bonnet about it since last weekend when he and his father decided that they'd take on the gargantuan task of removing my much lamented viburnum tinus 'Eve Price' from the spot where she has kept sentry over the compost bins since we moved here several years ago.

But sadly, like the rest of us, Eve has got a bit smelly and moth eaten in her old age, thanks to a heavy and ongoing infestation of viburnum beetle. A younger, sprightlier and much smaller golden variegated holly is waiting to jump into the space she has long filled with such vigour.  The only issue has been actually getting her to release her grip on this patch of long uncultivated soil.

Under a foot of accumulated compost and ground elder roots lay a sheet of thick black plastic which had obviously not fulfilled my purpose of keeping the ground elder at bay.  Instead, it formed yet another layer of resistance in the great removal operation and had to be surgically sliced apart with spade edges and gardening knives.

Eve was lopped, sawn and generally maltreated but refused to cede her ground.  Trenches were dug around her, and battle was waged against her tenacious roots, to minimal effect.  Hence the repeated question of my son, on returning from school  every night this week.

And what young teenager would not get a glint in his eye when his prayers for heavy garden weaponry were answered. Friday yielded a sturdy mattock/pick axe combo which aforementioned son and husband have wielded with much gusto this morning.  And alas, poor Eve, she is no more - apart from a very significant uprooted stump now waiting for disposal at the recycling centre.

Just the ground elder to deal with now, before planting my juvenile holly. And a further viburnum to go in order to remove the last dwelling places for my stinky beetle friends.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

End of term and time for the big clear up

Last Christmas fair of the season today and my wreathed out fingers are breathing a huge sigh of relief. Much as I love making them, I have now officially reached wreath saturation. Just one more tiny circlet to do to surround a pillar candle, and then I'm done for the season, website orders permitting.

It has been an informative first Christmas for me and the flowers.  I now know that I need to plant my hyacinths for forcing in September for bigger poky nosed sprouters to sell at Christmas markets, and that crocuses are great for starting off in the dark. But my biggest lesson has been that I can plant as many crocus teacups as I can lay my hands on and that I'll probably manage to sell them all!  They have been a roaring success, and quite rightly so, as they are the perfect quirky gift for that hard to buy for person.

Doing workshops with enthusiastic wreath makers has been great seasonal fun and it is always amazing to see just how differently people can construct a wreath from the same set of ingredients.  A fun way to spend a few pre-Christmas evenings to get into the spirit (and the mince pies).

Two wedding orders under my belt to bring in the New Year, leave me feeling that things are ticking along nicely for Tuckshop Flowers.

So, with dahlia tubers drying in my porch, the contents of tulip bulb packets finally tucked into the waiting flower beds and only one packet of muscari still begging to be planted, I am almost ready to curl up and enjoy the Christmas holidays - when I have been to the recycling centre with my hacked down viburnums (damn damn damn damn those pesky beetles) and when I've finally cleared out the wreath making detritus from the living room, that is….

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Berry bounty for the wreaths

The hedgerows have yielded luscious Christmas trimmings this year and my school run (or should that be amble?) has never been so foragingly productive.  Star turn of the day were the Snow Whitesque apples found in the park - perfect for wiring onto wreaths at tonight's workshop to make some globes of stunning colour.

Foraging for wreath fodder makes you look at things in a whole new light.
Even the insides are gorgeous! What IS this variety? Want one!

While Christmas decorating in this house doesn't start in earnest until later in the month, there's one room of the house which the festive season has taken over, for this evening at least.

All lined up and ready to wreath...

 The wallpapering table has had its legs reinforced in readiness for the bounty which will get woven upon it and Frank Sinatra's Christmas album has had the dust blown off its cover in readiness for the occasion.  It even had got an preliminary airing while I made pastry this morning.  The cats ran off into the garden as I yodelled along with gusto….

 Really looking forward to this evening as tonight's participants are a group of friends and I reckon they'll be very pleased with their creative efforts by the end of it - wreaths truly are such satisfying things to make.  My dry run last week (a red wine and natterfest) with one of my mates was very enjoyable and she was delighted with the wreath she produced.

Just a batch of mince pies to make, and some mulled wine to warm and then it looks like we're all set for a very Christmassy evening.  Must remember not to sing though.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Pale, but otherwise unharmed, prisoners emerge from the cellar.

Even the gas man is giving me funny looks now.  He knocked on the door to do a meter reading this week, and was ushered down into the darkness of the cellar, with me on his heels carrying a watering can.  He looked rather nervous at the prospect.

As he checked how many billions of pounds we owe the gas company, I carefully tended my row of captives - hyacinth and crocus bulbs which are being forced to grow, against their seasonal inclinations, to flower in time (I hope) for Christmas.  The first planting of crocuses looked anaemically sprightly, with significant shoots poking sturdily out of the soil.  So, as they have decided to submit to my will and cooperate, I have granted them release from the darkness.  Added a bit of moss to the soil to hide their naked bits, and voila:

Plant up crocus bulbs in early October for flowers at Christmas

Swan planter with crocus bulbs - a one off from

Won't this be lovely when the flowers are in bloom?

…they're ready for market on Saturday.  Now I'm wishing I'd planted more up. These will be white 'Ard Shenk' crocuses in the coming weeks. Rather pretty, don't you think?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Frosts herald tulip time

First frosts have hit Birmingham, so now it is time to get the tulip bulbs in before winter earnestly sets in.  Planting them after the frosts lessens the risk that they will be hit by an infection called Tulip Fire which, for the unlucky, can strike bulbs planted in the warmer conditions of early autumn.

Am really looking forward to the ruffled purpley pink beauties called 'Rai' which I am planting for the first time this year. Am also going to be brave and dig out the 5 year old bulbs which have given me such lovely flowers in previous years - titchiness tendencies are becoming too pronounced, so it is time for them to make way for some vigourous new blood.  And it gives me an excuse to dig out lots of mint roots which now snake through that particular patch in the the main border (and to think I once couldn't get mint to really get going… be careful what you wish for is the moral of that particular story).

Will also dig in the compost which sits waiting for a new home after the recent bin turning exercise and retire to my slumbers tonight, dreaming of gorgeous goblets of glamour next spring.

It may have taken a long time for them to arrive this year, but when they did, the tulips made it in style.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A necklace of crab apple and a feather of grass.

I've been grubbing around again….

Today's colour was definitely yellow.  The windfall crab apples in the school garden, the uprooted cotoneaster berries in a local skip and the rejected crocosmia seed heads sitting waiting for the green waste collection to come by for the very last time. (Birmingham is going over to wheelie bins for compostable waste, and a fee for using this service).  I also rootled through a bag containing magnolia trimmings - brought back memories of how magnolia saved my bacon on my first ever stall earlier this year.

My foraging sack, otherwise known as an H&M plastic bag, ranneth over on my way home from school:

Love these yellow crocosmia seed heads

With a bit of patient threading, spike trimming and mixing and matching, these bits were teamed up with items from my stockpile of natural goodies and became….

Freshly cut evergreen wreath with pine cones, magnolia and silver birch twigs.wreath with crab apple garland

Vine wreath with ammi seed heads, pampas grass and silver baubles.Yellow cotoneaster berries, mossy twig bundles and crocosmia seed heads decorate this pine and willow wreath.

 … amongst other things.  Love the wisps of pampas grass heads on the white feathery one. Am quite taken with that.

Saturday, 9 November 2013


Every year, my children get to purchase a new bauble for the tree and we have had some beauties - a handblown green glass globe strung on a velvet ribbon, a matt gold bauble frosted with a jacquard of glitter. And there have been horrors - plastic knobbly glitter peaches and bright blue monsters….

But you can't beat a bauble and I have not lost my childhood fascination for them - can still remember a small pale pink one with a scallop pattern of white glitter which I adored on the family tree for many years and the feeling of delight as I unearthed the segmented box in which it nestled when the decorations came out of hibernation each year.

Making lots of wreaths this year has given me an excuse to go bauble shopping and I've found some lovely clustered ones in a range of colours, finishes and sizes.  Here's today's wreath just pretending to have berries….

Red baubles, pine cones and birch twigs on a fresh viburnum leaf Christmas wreath.

Viburnum leaves are a perfect size for making a door wreath.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Today we are wearing.....

....mostly twigs.
Forage your wreath ingredients - there are lots out there!

This one is made from a metal wreath frame wrapped with silver birch twigs.  Two young teenagers on bikes saw me picking up twigs on my way back from school today and were curious as to what on earth I was doing.

"Here's one", kindly offered one youth, proffering a mangled stick which had been run over several times to me, the obviously mad lady.

I had to then explain that I only wanted pretty twigs, not any random manky objects - which probably just made me seem madder, now I come to think of it...

Twiggy wreaths are, however, among my favourite styles. Nice to have a birds nest on your door.  The only question remaining is: to bling or not to bling?  Toying with the idea of a clip on robin or a few gold sprayed teasel heads. What do you reckon?

Monday, 4 November 2013

A virtuous circle

I'm the nutter in the park, picking up cones and birch twigs and eyeing every mossy branch I pass.  Which means that we're heading into the festive season and I've got lots of wreath bases to decorate....

Here is my favourite one of the day:

Winter wreath by Tuckshop Flowers.

Never throw anything away is the moral of this one.  The stems binding the metal frame are from my recent flexible virginia creeper pruning, the poppies were salvaged and hung to dry in the summer and the lavender has been hanging in a large bunch from my light fitting for about 6 weeks. I'll miss it now it's found a proper home. As for the twigs, they're from one of my bag lady foraging missions...

What I like about wreath making is that there are so many possible variations - dried, relatively minimal ones like these, or the big fluffy evergreen ones which will go into larger scale production at the end of November.  It's quite fun working out how you can use a handful of  pine cones and twigs which the recent wind has scattered.

Maybe I should have a rival for Radio 4's 8.00 am piece and introduce a new feature: 'Wreath of the Day'?  But it will have to be 'Wreath of the Evening' as I don't think I can produce them that early in the morning.

Any Birmingham locals wanting to have a go? Come along to a workshop in November or December and see what masterpiece you can create for yourself! It is very satisfying...

Monday, 21 October 2013

And now..... the website

After a long labour, I am pleased to announce the birth of 

Born at 10.00pm, 21st October 2013.

Mother and website both survived the ordeal (just).


Friday, 18 October 2013

Let there be light

Autumn is always a good time to evaluate the garden - what went well, what earns its space, and what poor specimens have been selected for the chop. Literally.

Whilst prowling the flowerbeds, plotting where to plant the 100 narcissus bulbs desperate for a home, I decided I could regain quite a bit of at least temporary space by giving the thuggish cherry laurel hedge a rather drastic trim.  Should buy me enough time for the narcissus to put in an appearance at any rate.

And so the pruning saw was wielded with vigour and it felt like the flower bed breathed its thanks for the increased light levels.

autumn garden, England
The new look hedge and the old version, side by side. Has to be done in stages just to deal with the mountains of pruning generated.
The drastic haircut in all its glory. Euphorbias are on their final warning as well.

Not content with that bit of culling, I progressed to hoiking out some of the bulky euphorbias which, lovely though they are, do not get cut for bunches due to their poisonous sap. Out out vile irritants. Likewise large angelicas, of which I have plenty, and which self seed prolifically.  Likewise foxglove stumps which really should have been uprooted months ago, but kept sprouting mini flower spikes and earning reprieves which metamorphosed into an extended holiday.

Pulling things out also reveals where all the weeds and slugs are hiding, so they were all dealt with unkindly too.  Clearing done, all the bulbs then went in.  Now I've just got to find space for all my alliums. Which patch shall I target next?

I also spent half an hour of today's dry weather gathering in all my dried seedheads to furnish me with wreath making ingredients for the forthcoming festive season.  Better to collect and store them somewhere dry now, before the weather can destroy their delicate forms.

On my way back from school this morning, I saw someone else had been seized with the same hedge-trimming mania and a coniferous one was being drastically reduced.  Cue visit with plastic bag to gather up trimmings.   The result:

The first wreath of many over the next two months.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Abundant autumn

FINALLY got down to the allotment yesterday in a window between gardening for other folk and picking up children from school.  Grass needs attacking and weeds need clearing but yesterday's mission was to pick the remaining apples, dig up the potatoes (or what the slugs have left of them by now) and to get the last dahlias cut before all are laid low by frost.

Deadheading dahlias prolongs their flowering period and gives bucketsful of blooms
How many more buckets like these will I see in October?

Recent rains had weighed down the big bonces of my dahlias and quite a few stems were hanging low, bent double by the weight, but they still form great dabs of colour against the fading autumn backdrop of the allotment.

As ever, I did not manage to knock off all of the tasks on my to do list.  Indeed, the apples were so abundant that after filling two huge plastic bucket/trugs, cutting two buckets of dahlias and picking a kilo or so of beans, there was no time to do anything more than ferry my bounty back up the steep hill to the main gates in multiple arm-wrenching trips.  The slugs have had their potato-feasting time exteneded until the weekend it would seem.

rosy applesapple harvest 2013

I'm still dealing with my harvests today - in the kitchen, apple and mint jelly is straining drippy vinegariness through a jelly bag, an apple and raisin cake lies in half-demolished ruins following its joyous breakfast-time reception by my children, a gooey toffee-esque German apple cake lurks in the fridge and I have apple slices drying in a cool oven.

Despite giving away a shopping bag full of apples to a neighbour and squeezing about 2 litres of juice to put in the freezer, I still don't seem to have made a dent in my bucketloads.  Will store some in the cellar for the coming months, and will doubtless get fat on puddingising the rest - needless to say, my children love this sweet-toothed time of year.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Christmas bulbs: keeping them in the dark

I have imprisoned things in the dark dankness of my cellar today. Not something I did lightly.  Indeed, in order to achieve my objective I had to move the ironing board, the recycling, the camping table, the shopping bags and the vacuum cleaner and then remove the floor sections of my glory hole. (I'm sure the people who come to read the meter have palpitations and have flashbacks to Kathy Bates' film 'Misery' when I go through these procedures and usher them down the dark brick steps).

Today's victims, whose banishment will endure for about 8 weeks, were teacups full of crocus bulbs, and terracotta pots of hyacinths which I'm trying to force into flower around Christmas time.  I am going to put together a few teacup bulb kits for people to plant themselves, but feel that these are nicer sold ready growing, with a hope of flowers during the dark days of December/January rather than the recipient having to plant them up some time in the new year, with the resulting flowers appearing at the same time as the ones in the garden.  What do you think?

This spring's teacup planter crop in late March - a great success with customers.

In the garden, I've cleared spaces and put in lots of scented narcissus bulbs, muscari and leucojum aestivum. I've also laid waste to a couple of the viburnum bushes, which has generated new wish lists for things to put in the gaps.  Scented peonies from Kelways Nurseries are currently tempting me greatly, but they have such a short season for the space they take up.  Should probably be more practical about it, although they are soooooo beautiful and I love the idea of scent with those blousy blooms.

Still have all my tulips to plant, but will leave those until November to avoid the risk of the fungal disease, tulip fire.  At least the weather is turning colder now, which should kill off lurking bugs and beasties that munch.  It will also, sadly,  put paid to my cosmos and dahlias which are still flowering their hearts out.  In the greenhouse, however, I've got a nascent crop of cornflowers, ammi, marigolds and cerinthe which are all doing brilliantly from September sowings.  I've got so many cornflowers, that I'm even going to risk planting out a load after hardening them off to take pot luck in the great outdoors over winter.  If they don't make it, at least I won't have had to invest lots of watering time and compost on their upkeep over the next few months.

I didn't have a great deal of success with my anemones this year and the Twitterati of #britishflowers were all swooning over their tunnel grown crops of the same, so have today planted lots of black nuggety corms in my greenhouse border, to see if I have better luck with getting a decent crop of them in there.  I'm dreaming of future bunches as I tend all these bulbs and babies.

Red anemone de caen with alchemilla mollis and astrantia
This year's anemone planting is 'The Bride' - a white variety. Hope I get these mad red ones reappearing too.
But back to the present:  I've got 100 wreath bases taking up valuable shelf space in my shed, lavender, statice and honesty suspended from anything vaguely suspenderable (including my light fittings where the ceiling is high enough) and bags full of cones waiting for the call to action.  It feels very odd to be thinking about Christmas this early, but need to start organising my plan of action for stall wares in November and December.   I've even got to organise a Christmas photoshoot for my china wares in order to generate some festive purchase spirit in my online shop!  I just hope my family will be in the mood for mince pies and german lebkuchen at some point in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Key word giggles

I was idly perusing my stats for the blog and glanced at the key words which led traffic to my site.  My eye was caught by the phrase 'sweet pea stripper' which led me wonder which of my posts might have included it.  Was it a variety of sweet pea? Was I discussing the ravaging of these scented ephemeral beauties by a plague of devouring insects?  Couldn't think what it could be, so I decided, out of curiosity, to feed the phrase back into Google and see which of my posts popped up.

I never did come across a listing for Tuckshop Gardener, but did find about 4 pages worth of links to various posts about a minor celebrity being hit over the head with a bottle by a stripper called 'Sweet Pea'.  Have been chuckling ever since.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Last minute call up for end of season debut

Having last week posted about my final flowery stall of the season, I got a surprise phone call on Thursday night asking me to do a prestigious local Farmer's Market on Saturday. Couldn't really say no as I've been trying to get on it for ages, so...out came the scissors, purple buckets (and torch), and off the merry-go-round went again!

Spent Thursday night thinking "But what have I got? What can I sell?" and came to the conclusion that if I could muster flowers in April after a foot of snow the week before, I could come up with something in late September....

A session of sitting in the sunshine peeling the papery cases off honesty seedheads proved worthwhile, as I dressed up some of my dried herb wreaths with these, and the results proved popular on the stall.

The dahlias provided much of the bounty once again, bless them - such good bloomers (of the petalled kind).  Also taking a starring role were schizostylis coccinea 'Major', although my mind went completely blank when asked what they were by curious customers.  I could only think of the 'coccinea' part of their full name, as it puts me in mind of the red food colouring, cochineal.

Schizostylis adds late season colour and grows easily in UK gardens.
Schizostylis Coccinea Major

I decided that I should start an 'Aaaaaw, cute!' monitor, as it seemed to be an exclamation drawn from a large number of passers by as they gazed upon my stall.  Should set myself targets for how many I can extract from people at each market, and see if there is any correlation with my takings!

Had my first wedding meeting last week (for May next year) - the most laidback bride imaginable in terms of being relaxed about the small details, so that should be a kind introduction to this element of the floristry world.  Lots of teacups for tables, which is right up my street.  It's a win win situation as the bride to be gets teacups for her guests, and my guests get more room to swing cats etc as my spare room is currently crammed with china on every once-vacant surface.

Still have to plant all my spring bulbs to provide me with lots of fragrant narcissus, tulips and other lovelies, and to sort out my china teacup planters which I'll be selling with white crocuses as Christmas sets.  Lots of prepared hyacinths to force for the festive season too, so have now got to set my mind to the issue of what containers to use for those.  Ah the dilemmas of the day job.  Beats the educational funding minefield of my previous working life hands down!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Sleigh bells in September

No, this post isn't a moan about music in department stores - not even they have started their Christmasitis yet.  It's simply that the flowers for my stall yesterday seemed to encompass the look of about three different seasons:

dahlia 'Peaches', salvia, alchemiila mollis and magenta dahlia 'Purple Gem', arranged in an informal bunch with cosmos 'Purity' and 'Seashells'.

The rich colours of faded hydrangea heads combine well with rosehips.  The up cycled beer bottle vase makes a perfect container!  (from

This screams Christmas!  Falstaff and Black Baccara roses with fennel and ivy flowers in a victorian fluted teacup. By Tuckshop Flowers.

So many vibrant colours still around - love the summery abundance of cosmos (at last, after a very slow start), dahlias and salvias which bring bright and brilliant hues to the first bunch.  I also adore the faded glories of hydrangea heads as they start to turn deep reds and greens as the colder weather comes along.  As soon as I put this clustered head together with rosehips, I thought "I know just the vase for this" and I was right - a cut off classic beer bottle from St Peter's brewery formed the perfect container for this combination.

And then there were the Christmas roses.  What a genius cup to set them off!  If only deep red roses bloomed in my garden in December... I know what I'd be selling lots of come the festive season...  I might just have to print this one out for Tuckshop Flowers Christmas cards!

Arranging flowers for this weekend's stall, I was also raging against the dying of the light.  At 5 o'clock in the morning, it was pitch black and even with the house lights on, I could barely see what I was arranging on the outside table. (Evil plan to turn garage into flower studio goes up by one notch at this point).  Swearing abounded until about 6.45am when the sun got switched on and made the world a better, lighter place.

When I returned from the market, I spotted a fabulous colour combination which had got left on the table.  Inevitably, some blooms are too spoiled and tatty for the stall, so get shoved unsentimentally into the compost bin.  But in my haste yesterday, I just shelved the rejects in a small vase and their colours leapt at me when I got home.  Tatty or not, they are now on my kitchen window sill and I am inspired by this combination - not something I would necessarily have planned, but wow!

Dahlia 'purple gem', rose ' Savoy Hotel' and dahlia 'Peaches'.
Faded beauties
The last flowery stall of the season is now done and dusted.  Have made it through my first year of flower selling and have enjoyed it hugely, but now have to cope with the flatness of the wind down.  Ah well. September sowings still to do, damsons to pick and an immense tidy up to be done everywhere to get things shipshape for next spring.  And a garage to transform??

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Dahlias of infinite generosity

The weather may be tending towards autumn, but those dahlias just keep on coming. Every time I look at my dahlia bed, I'm gobsmacked by the amount of flowers which have appeared since I last saw it.  Witteman's Best, the crimson dahlia, is still out there in front in terms of quantity and quality of blooms, and being reliably long stemmed - I really have fallen for that one in a big way.  Rip City, the dark, nearly black, beauty has been lovely, but has, in my experience, a tendency to be a bit short in the stem and hasn't had anywhere near as many flowery explosions as its scarlet cousin.

My forays into flower arranging have also led me to a new favourite colour combination which I will aim to replicate more in the garden next year - peaches and ... not cream.... but silver.  Definitely need more silver foliage plants next year.  Lambs Ears are a treat to arrange with and always a hit both in bunches, and in the garden. Variegated pittosporum is also lovely for a pale and delicate foliage, whereas artichoke leaves do big and dramatic very well.

Honesty provides a gorgeous silver counterpoint to dahlia 'Peaches' when you peel off the nasty brown seed casings.

My mission this year is to chop down and remove all viburnums except bodanentse 'Dawn' in an attempt to get rid of viburnum beetle which has decimated all of its hosts except the aforementioned lady.  Maybe they will migrate to her in the absence of any other hosts but it has to be worth a go.  I will miss them as I love their early, neat flowers and their metallic blue berries, but I'm sick of the ragged leaves and the stench of beetle havoc.  So, out they will come this winter, and instead, I plan to plant more variegated or silver foliage shrubs.  I have my eye on variegated cornus plants, as that is such a great shrub for dramatic winter stems and also for foliage for cutting.

I do need, however, a replacement evergreen to screen my compost bins if my sizeable viburnum 'Eve Price' is going to be relieved of her sentry duty in that part of the garden.  Suggestions on a postcard please...
Viburnum Tinus Eve Price, showing early signs of beetle attack. Sorry mate, but you're going....

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Blackberries: the pain and the pleasure

Nettle tingles and searing scratches ripple through my typing fingers this evening, and 6 jars of blackberry and apple jam stand on the worktop for my pains.  But despite the scars (and they are abundant), there is something deeply satisfying about blackberrying - it marks the end of summerness and the start of the slow slide towards autumn.  I love the fact that my children love it too - munching dark, stainy mouthfuls and spitting out seeds, reluctantly dislodged from dental crevices.

Why, my younger son asks, do the best berries always dangle from the most inaccessible part of the bramble eruption?  Not quite so inaccessible to my longer arms, but still an annoyingly uncomfortable and often scratchy reach.  Dress carefully for such forays - tough old jeans, long sleeves and boots to stomp down the accompanying nettles - or regret it at your peril.

An afternoon of bush-lurking, to the backing track of of Sunday league ladies football ("Come on! We can DO this.") has resulted in about 3 kilos of blackberries, some of which have been dispatched to the deep freeze until I buy further lemon and sugar stocks to foster the next bout of preserving frenzy.  

But look at these almost metallic beauties with their juicy juice-bags.  Yum, yum, yum. Ouch, ouch, ouch. More painful than Estonian mushrooming, but just as satisfying.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Autumn rains

Hedge cutting in the rain today, admiring a client's tree, heavy with figs.  Seemed funny to pluck a ripe fig under grey West Midlands skies, but the sticky pulpy fruit was none the less delicious for it.  What a great summer we've had.  Sunshine, showers and more sunshine.  It might not even have gone completely yet either, just having a rest?  Let's hope we can eek it out for a little longer.  Sooooooo much better than last year's dismal effort at seasonality anyway.

A good fruit year with abundant damson crops.  Yippee!
My dahlias are still going bonkers, raspberries, apples and damsons are drooping in weighty bundles and the spires of gladioli puncuate my borders.  I guess that means it is September - and I still haven't been blackberry picking. A lack of purple jam tells its own tale so I don't think scoffing hedgerow fruits with my son on the way back from school counts as proper blackberrying.

A grabbed trip to the allotment on Monday night gifted me a carrier bag of runner and French beans, a hessian shopper full of eating apples, a collection of turnips and a to do list which includes digging up the rest of the potatoes and tying up the tomatoes properly in an attempt to help them ripen before the frosts arrive.  They are scrambling all over the floor at the moment. Bad, bad, BAD allotmenteer.

On the flowery front, I also need to get my September sowings in.  Based on last year, I'm going to sow in trays in the greenhouse, with just a couple of direct sowings in the garden as a point of comparison.  Can't believe that I've nearly completed my first year as a flower grower and have to say that I've loved it, despite the early mornings!

Allotment open day arrives on Saturday and the forecast is for more rain.  I might not get around to any cakery makery, but will be able to donate a bucket of mixed flowers and a rather wimpy gazebo to the allotment cause.  I just hope that plot inspection is not imminent - especially by an expert tomato grower...

Dahlia 'peaches' with lambs ears.
Dahlia 'peaches'

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Treasure troves and happy accidents

"Very Michelle Obama" remarked my mum as I waltzed in, all dressed up in my embroidered flowery skirt for her golden wedding do.

"I bet she didn't get hers from the St Mary's hospice shop though" was my prompt response.

Indeed, while visiting the town of my youth in search of non-chrysanths and un-carnations to boost my flowery haul for the said do's flowers, I also popped into the various charity shops in search of more buried treasure to show off my lovely blooms and to grace future wedding tables when my eclectic charms get more widely recognised...

Charity shops cannot be praised enough.  Below is a taste of what other people's unwanted tat, or "rammel" as my Derbyshire dad would term it, can look like with a bit of flowery love:

vintage blue ceramic basket with country posy
Who coud resist a vintage 50s ceramic basket for table flowers? Fell in love with that blue.

teacup arrangements for a golden wedding
Golden wedding teacups - you know these are my favourites by now!

The pearlescent glaze of this simple jug sets off the fading tones of this hydrangea.

Wasn't planning the jug or basket combinations, but had the containers to hand to stuff cut bits in. The hydrangeas were only put in the jug to condition, but go with it absolutely perfectly. Don't think I'm ever going to paint that garage door again either as I've now discovered it makes a great backdrop for photographing flowers...

...don't you think?