Saturday, 28 June 2014

How does my garden grow?

A marmite jar of Tuckshop Flowers.

The most common comment I get on my market stall is:
 "Marmite jars!  What a good idea!"

The second most common is:
"Your garden must be lovely."

I think seeing a stall full of cottage garden flowers, people are intrigued as to where they have come from.  So for those of you who want a sneaky peek into the Tuckshop Garden, walk this way.

The Tuckshop garden before I took my spade to it.  Wall to wall lawn.
When we moved into this house, the garden was wall-to-wall lawn, with a few trees, tired shrubs and lots of ground elder and conifers.  First stop, tree surgeons.  In with the chainsaws and down with the conifers.  Light reached the soil and things started to grow - as did the ground elder (and still does - grrrr).  With every passing year, the amount of lawn is reduced and planting areas extended - much to the disgust of my eldest son who has a passion for petrol-powered lawn mowers.

The garden has changed over the years and continues to do so!
Some time after….
Even since this photo was taken, the planting areas have extended:  the expansive patio has now been reduced - a significant number of slabs have come out, and a largish border created in their place, further bringing the garden right up to the house.

Hard surfacing has given way to vegetation in my quest to extend the cutting garden.

It is a place of constant change - every season brings different flowers, and every year brings new areas coming under development, or old areas which had been left to their own devices getting a significant overhaul.  The one thing I've learned in my gardening life is that plants don't last forever.  And when they start to run out of steam, I'm afraid I'm quite ruthless.  Get them out, take cuttings or divide them where possible, and put something else in to fill the gaps.

Last week was spent culling all the aquilegia which put on such a lovely spring display.  But I know if I leave them in with their shapely seed heads rattling in the breeze, next year I'll have an forest of Granny's Bonnets nodding at me.  Pretty though that may be, I don't want the garden to be a mono-culture, so out with the secateurs and off with their heads.  And more often than not, out with their roots too to make way for some of my current crop of maturing seedlings  which are begging to be planted out.  It's the only way to keep things productive and to keep colour coming later in the season.

The tulips in my raised bed on the patio have been over planted with dahlias and sweet peas and these are now just starting to flower.  I'm so pleased I took the sledgehammer to this particular area of concrete as I now have something much nicer to look at out of my kitchen window.


I've got a tulip catalogue on my desk and a wish list in my head - so am already plotting and scheming about where I can make my tulip bed next spring, and what to use the raised bed for instead.  Tulips don't really flower brilliantly after they've been in for a couple of years, so the ones above are due for replenishment.  I always feel a bit guilty for abandoning flower stocks that have served me well, but getting them out gives me chance to put some goodness back into the soil with compost, leaf mould, manure and other such additions.  And as soon as the replacement plants start to flourish, I'm afraid I never look back!

So don't be afraid to overhaul scruffy patches, or be lenient with tired plants.  Prune them, split them or chuck them - but do these jobs in spring or autumn if you want them to regenerate elsewhere in the garden.

If you want to see more pictures of the garden, visit my Pinterest board.

This post has reminded me that I need to take some more photos of the garden as it is now - I've got lots of flower photos, but not so many of the garden as a whole.  Next project….

Monday, 16 June 2014

On being a flower ninja

I'm a flower ninja.

Today I planned and staged a stealth attack on Bully, the Bullring's favourite son, and snazzed him up with a rosy crown to celebrate British Flowers Week. Eat your heart out Lana Del Rey.

British flowers Birmingham.  For local wedding flowers, event flowers, green funerals

Along with my fellow ninja, Judith, I sneaked through the city centre, secreting posies around Brummie landmarks as part of the Lonely Bouquet initiative.  Like wartime evacuees , the flowers were sent forth with cardboard labels round their necks, asking to be rehomed. So far I know that one of them has ended up in Warwickshire, delighting the shopper who found it on her birthday; and another posy has come home to roost not more than a mile from me.  I await news of the other lost souls.

With my twitter fingers recovering from their overtime, and febrile Facebooking leaving me limp, I'm left happy and slightly knackered, reflecting on a brilliant day.  I can't think of a nicer way to conduct marketing or to bring a smile to people's faces.  And great fun to work with another flowerbod on the project too, so thanks again go to Mrs Pollen Floral Joy.

British Flowers are just gorgeous and it wasn't hard to spread a bit of Mrs Pollen and the Tuckshops' flowery delight.  I know we ninjas were infected by it too.
British flowers Birmingham.  Grown by Tuckshop Flowers B30
Photo courtesy of Pollen Floral Joy

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Natural fizz - Elderflower Champagne

Elderflowers.  I get slightly obsessed with using them each year but sometimes their frothy white flowers are already going slightly brown and crispy before I get organised enough to do anything about it.  But not in 2014!  I already have a batch of lemony tangy elderflower cordial in the freezer, and now it is champagne time.

If you want to follow suit, scour the hedgerows now as (in the Midlands at least) the flowers are just starting - so you should have at least a couple of weeks to get yourself geared up to make it.

I can remember my aunty making this in the early '80s and being very impressed as a teenager that you could produce a fizzy drink without the aid of the ubiquitous Soda Stream - a mod con which never got over the threshold of our house. If a television couldn't make it through the front door, I suppose a Soda Stream didn't stand a chance!

In the process of making this, I've also discovered that being a regular flower picker has the advantage of always having that rare beast, a clean bucket, to hand.  You'll need one for this recipe.

Gather together:

A clean bucket
36 heads of elderflowers (with as few bugs attached as possible!)
4.5 litres of water
680 grammes of sugar
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar
1 lemon - zest and juice needed (no pith).
Strong bottles (flip top ones good for this, or strong brewing bottles) - sterilised.

To make it: (WARNING: highly technical)

Chuck everything in the bucket and leave for  24 hours.  After this time, strain the liquid through muslin and bottle it.  The liquid will be a bit cloudy - this is normal.  Once bottled, it will start to generate fizz which you will need to release every now and then so that your bottles don't explode. Leave for about 2 weeks.

Serve chilled on a sunny day.

I think I'm going to try adding a squeeze of lime, chunks of ice and a slug of gin to make an Elderflower Tom Collins cocktail with some of mine.

Roll on summer.