Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Random acts of flowery kindness

A lovely day spreading flowery joy around the neighbourhood today.

A slow turnover at the bank holiday market yesterday had left me with a beautiful bootful, along with the grim prospect of composting them as I am going away again tomorrow.  Too horrible to contemplate such an early wormfood fate for my pretties.

Came up with the idea of asking a local restaurant if they would be interested in purchasing my market surpluses at a bargain price and carrying my card  (thus benefitting both parties), but sadly, they currently dress their smart interior with only artificial flowers (boooooooo!), and none even of those in sight today, so obviously not a priority.  A shame, as I think my bunches would be a brilliant contrast to the restaurant's sleek lines and really cheer the tables with their charcoal grey settings.   So, leaving the maitre D a couple of gratis bunches for the bar so he can see how marvellous they look and sow the seeds of a flowery idea, I departed, with one dahlia arrangement still in my hand.

Saw a lady who works at my bank about to cross the road, so gave her a rather pleasant surprise by interrupting her shopping with an impromptu bunch. Another passerby said "Oh, I was just admiring those.." at which I offered her a further posy from the car, thus earning myself promises of a prayer and a church candle for my largesse.

A nearby, flower-nut friend got back from holiday this weekend, and I knew for certain that she would appreciate the remainder. Roses, sweetpeas, dahlias and echinacea got a very excited reception from the friend and her daughters who rapidly pressed them into service to garnish their tea table laden with the results of their baking spree - sparkly iced cakes, biscuits and nutella lumps coated with melted chocolate.  I can vouch for the tastiness of the latter.

My this week's catsitter and her daughter called in to check feeding arrangements and claim keys, and received a dahlia bunch and two bedside posies for their pains. Their delighted grins and exclamations over sweet pea and mint scents, made me glad I had found such good homes for my ephemeral beauties.

The pleasure my bunches have brought all the diverse recipients today has more than made up for a lack of sales. Powerful things, flowers!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Weeds glorious weeds

Alys Fowler loves weeds, according to Radio 4 yesterday.  She was singing their praises for their wildlife attracting benefits and for their beauty.  The humble dandelion was top of her list for gorgeous looks, but I'm afraid I can't share her love of that one.  The shiny, almost metallic yellow petals of creeping buttercup, settled in a cloud of blue forget me nots, have been known to lift my spirits and escape the weeding hand from time to time. But Alys's  broadcast set me to thinking which other weeds I gladly harbour in my garden.
Frothy spurge hides the naked legs of my Zepherine Drouhin rose.
Hens and chickens goes so well with Carex bronze curls.

Self sown prettiness in the form of linum (I think)

Bees and butterflies love the buddleia which the birds brought me.

I never planted this lemon balm, but it's very welcome.

A bit hazardous to use the compost bin right now, but once the berries have ripened I will tackle this tasty weed.

Does cerinthe count as a weed if I didn't plant it in the gravel?
I'm not showing you my ground elder and bindweed however, because they are evil devils and do not deserve any publicity. Even though the ground elder flowers do make nice fillers in bunches...

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Holiday harvests

Have just returned from a week split between Latvia and Estonia - both fantastic.  Also learned lots about mushrooming, herb tea concocting and general foraging from Ilona, our supremely hospitable and generous host.  Am quite obsessed with finding good mushrooming sites now that I'm home.  Forest floors beware!

I also loved Ilona's outdoor walk-in larder - a bricklined earth mound, resplendent with shelves, hanging rails and ancient hooks from which hams once hung.  Made me think that I should press my cellar into service as a jam and preserves store, not that jams and preserves hang around for very long in this house...

Ilona's garden was also steeped in family history, with plants dating back to her grandmother's pre-Soviet garden, and a gnarly, sprawly apple tree grafted with several different varieties by her great-grandfather which still bears fruit today.  Talking plants with her was fascinating, and we found that we have quite a lot of flowers, and a shared taste in unfussy gardening in common.  However, some things that I love, like verbena bonariensis, while fine in an Estonian summer (and seen in swathes planted in Latvia's capital, Riga) would not take kindly to -30 degrees in winter, so have to be viewed as annuals only. Her golden rod, astilbes, phlox, peonies, echinacea (which I've always found a bit tricky) and sedums are obviously tough plants as they have persisted over generations through such incredibly harsh winters.  They deserve more than an RHS award of garden merit for showing such staying power!

Her generous garden is so different to my own - wrapping all around her gorgeous long, low wooden house, overlooking a beautiful, forest fringed lake.  In my own garden, my planting is often to screen neighbouring houses and to create a feeling of privacy, whilst in hers, tall bulky planting would be the last thing needed as it would block out that amazing view.  Oooh, such a lovely challenge though!

Returning home to Birmingham, it was straight to work with the cutting scissors in order to stop my productive flowers setting seed and giving up the ghost.  Swathes of sweet peas were therefore stuffed into any receptacle of a suitable height, and the forests of dahlias were felled and put into vases.

Cut cut cut!

At the allotment, badgers seem to have enjoyed all the broad beans which I didn't get time to pick before going away, stripping all the previously laden plants clean of pods.  They had left me runner beans and french beans though and do not seem to have any appetite for courgettes or chard, so I didn't leave the plot empty handed.  The first, early apples are crisp, sweet and ready to pick, so I'd better dust off the juicer, the tarte tatin recipe and get ready to extend all my waistbands in readiness for apple cake season.  The rhubarb also seems to be getting its second wind - wonder what it tastes like juiced with apples? Too sour?  Will have to try it to see.

'Charlotte' potatoes just half and hour old provided a treat for tea and I'm impressed with their yields this year.  'Rooster' doesn't seem to have produced many tubers though, so don't think I'll buy that one again next year. A pity as it is a really tasty variety - and that's saying something as I am not generally a potato fan.

A bountiful day, all in all.  The only thing missing is mushrooms... and a lake view....

Friday, 2 August 2013

Going to seed

The July flop is happening and the earlier flowers are going to seed.  Where the slow starting annuals have got going, they are bursting buds and showing some welcome colour.  I have fallen back in love with Nigella (the love-in-a-mist variety, not the TV chef), having grown it from fresh seed this year and getting the gorgeous pastel blue shade back.  My self-perpetuating, self-seeded stuff always seems to come up faded grey/white, so its nice to see the blue ones again.

Their delicate sculptural seedheads are just as pretty as the flower itself and they are fabulous for cutting for bunches.  Want MORE. Greedy.

Elsewhere, seedheads are featuring largely in the borders and on the worktop. The fat black cerinthe seeds are still being gathered in quantity and the fine umbellifers of ammi are still proving useful for cutting - shape, but no pollen now!  My main border has still got plenty of height, but not enough colour.  The knautia is doing its annual seed-chucking exercise in a bid for complete domination next year but it is going to get a thinning, so doubtless friends will be glad to receive its potted up offspring into their gardens.



I've got lots of shape, but not enough colour and am desperate for my cosmos 'purity' to get going to add a bit of flowery interest.

In the righthand border where I hoiked out the rambling rose, the dahlias are doing their stuff and are producing lots of flowers at the moment, loving these alternately hot and wet conditions.  Yesterday my  in-car thermometer read 34.5 degrees, but today is warm, cloudy and damp. Good growing weather - time to start taking cuttings of my herbs and lavender methinks and make the most of this propagating climate.