Summer Dreaming

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Winter

The Quiescent Landscape

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‘Heartwood’, Bradgate Park, Leicestershire


Winter Song

By

Wilfred Owen

The browns, the olives, and the yellows died

And were swept up to heaven; where they glowed

Each dawn and set of sun til Christmastide,

And when the land lay pale for them, pale-snowed,

Fell back, and down the snow drifts flames and flowed.

From off your face, into the winds of winter,

The sun-brown and the summer-gold are blowing;

But they shall gleam with spiritual glitter,

When paler beauty on your brows falls snowing,

And through those snows my looks shall be soft-going.


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Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

Like the trees, I begin to truly burst into life as the days start to lengthen. Penning this, winter solstice approaching, I look forward to that first moment, often around mid March, when I can stand in the garden, close my eyes & hold my face to the sun & feel its warmth gently radiate across my skin. My inner spirit, like the sap within the trees, starts to rise & come to life. I have always been free-spirited & often find winter restrains, stifles & sometimes can even suffocate this fire within me. Even the requirement to don a tightly buttoned up coat, socks and boots mean I can’t physically move with the freedom I want to, let alone feel the earth beneath my feet! I do acknowledge this is probably sheer poppycock to most but to some of you out there I know you get where I am coming from!

I do therefore grab every opportunity I can to be outside, either in my garden or observing & exploring my favourite landscapes: The Vale of Belvoir, Bradgate Park, Beacon Hill, The Lake District, Dartmoor or my ever beautiful North Cornish coast, even if it is in a coat or indeed a winter wetsuit!!

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Winter bracken on a February descent off Fairfield Horseshoe, Lake District

The Winter landscape is indeed a thing of ethereal beauty. What remains once the winter winds have stripped the trees of the last few tenacious leaves & the birds devoured the dwindling supply of berries may well be a skeletal landscape, but it is a beautiful one. Mother Nature may be resting, taking a well earned breath, but the silhouettes of the landscape she gifts us set against our winter skies can be breathtaking.

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From my garden – Ilex aquifolium (Holly)

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Fennel seed heads

With winter & the absence of the summer greenery, I feel the skies are bigger, more expansive. I love the sense of space this brings especially when at the snowy 873m summit of Fairfield, my favourite Lakeland Fell. The sense of emptiness & void is inherently calming and I begin to understand the need for Mother Nature to just take time out to rest, recharge & quietly catch her breath. Perhaps I to should take heed of her ebb & flow & follow her rhythmic lead!

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Fairfield Horseshoe, Lake District

With the absence & distraction of spring, summer & autumnal foliage, previously hidden colours, textures & forms come to the fore. The vivid greens of algaes & lichens on the north side of trees & clefts of branches are discovered or the fractal forms of bracken & ferns, accentuated by a hoar frost, are observed more keenly.

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Winter, Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

As winter marches on I will try to echo the words of Owen in his ‘Winter Song’ & allow my inner self to be sprinkled with ‘spiritual glitter’. Without doubt, to be able to sparkle is so much, much more preferable than to be stifled ✨✨✨💚💚💚

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The Lake District & an abundance of wintery sparkle! 

 

GoLakes

 

 

A Taste of Summer


It was nothing short of a glut. Admittedly not quite the proportions of the EU butter mountain in the 1970’s, but nonetheless a sizeable surplus that, whilst immensely satisfying to harvest, was far beyond the capability of any ‘normal’ person or persons to consume on a daily basis! So, when life does indeed give you tomatoes then there really is only one option ………. make TOMATO SOUP!!

I grew three varieties this year. The ever reliable ‘Gardeners Delight’, an immensely flavoursome ‘Sungold’ & finally, with a high sugar content, ‘Sweet Aperitif’.

Gardener’s Delight

As well as these three reliable ‘doers’, I am always on the look out to grow new and unusual varieties. Last week I was able to indulge in a long overdue revisit to The Eden Project, Cornwall and a fab feature in the Mediterranean Biome was an area planted with seasonal Mediterranean produce – so much colour, flavour & fragrance to delight the senses! It included some unusual tomato varieties which can be grown quite happily in a greenhouse in the UK so I may give one or two of them a go next year. 

A few that caught my attention were:

  • Tomato ‘Indigo Rose’ – an unusual new deep purple variety rich in anti-oxidants and vitamin C
  • Tomato ‘Cream Sausage’ – a firm creamy, yellow flesh with very little liquid and so perfect for salsa
  • Tomato ‘Principe Borghese’ – perfect for drying either outside or more likely, in the oven, in the UK

Tomato ‘Indigo Rose’

Tomato ‘Cream Sausage’ & ‘Principe Borghese’


I make a conscious decision to grow organically, peat free & sustainably. I do lose stuff to pests & disease but it’s just so much kinder to our environment, our precious pollinators, local wildlife as well as my four bantam hens & of course my kids. Dalefoot peat free composts are just amazing as is their business ethos & their mixes are a great supplement to my own erratic efforts at making compost. All irrigation is amply sourced from three large water butts attached to the greenhouse, organic seaweed feeds & my ever magical garlic water & beer traps keep black-fly and slugs at bay. Pea sticks haphazardly arranged across my raised veg beds are the perfect barrier to my free roaming hens but quite frankly given the bountiful harvest this summer, both in the greenhouse as well as the kitchen garden there really is enough to feed every creature that happens to take a fancy to my horticultural efforts!

All three varieties are used in my basic tomato sauce recipe alongside other stars from my fledgling kitchen garden:

  • Red & white onions
  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Bay


The only other additions to the recipe are a locally sourced cold pressed Rapeseed oil & a good quality balsamic vinegar. Where balsamic is concerned cheap stuff just doesn’t cut the mustard – too acidic. I use Danilo Marco Grand Reserva which I buy from Delilah’s, a fab deli located in Leicester & Nottingham.

This simple, light, fresh tomato sauce is incredibly versatile & I have listed a few ways in which I use it a little further on in this blog.  Although a bit time consuming make the effort to pass it through a sieve at the end to remove the skins & seeds to leave a smooth, velvety sauce – it really does make all the difference!

MY BASIC TOMATO SAUCE 

  • 1.5kg very ripe tomatoes, halved if very large
  • 3 medium white/red onions, roughly chopped
  • 50ml rapeseed oil
  • 50ml water
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 2 tablespoons caster sugar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • A few sprigs of oregano 
  • 3 bay leaves
  • A handful of freshly torn basil leaves
  • Freshly ground salt and black pepper


The gentle simmer

METHOD

  1. Add the rapeseed oil to a large pan or jam kettle on a medium heat. Add in the onions and garlic and soften for a few minutes. Tip in the tomatoes, water, caster sugar, tomato purée and bring to a simmer. Add the balsamic vinegar, oregano, bay leaves then season with a generous pinch of salt and freshly black pepper.  Simmer for approximately 30-45mins until the pulp has softened and the skins come away easily.
  2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  3. Using a hand blender, carefully blitz the tomatoes until relatively smooth.
  4. Ladle the sauce into a sieve placed over a large bowl and pass it through by pressing down with the back of a spoon.
  5. Allow to cool fully and store in containers to whatever portion size suits and freeze immediately.

A taste of summer

VARIATIONS

CLAMS IN A TOMATO SAUCE

My favourite way to use my base tomato sauce is with clams. A simple supper in less than 15mins. The pics below are from my efforts this week using fresh Cornish clams. This recipe serves 6.

  • 2kg fresh clams, scrubbed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large shallots, finely chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 100ml double cream
  • 8 tablespoons dry white wine
  • 400ml of basic tomato sauce (see above)
  • Chopped flat leaf parsley to garnish

Clams in a garlicky tomato sauce

METHOD

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and add shallots and garlic to soften for a few minutes.
  2. Turn up the heat  & add the wine.
  3. Empty in the clams and cover with a lid.  Allow to steam for 5 minutes or so until the clams have opened.
  4. Remove the clams to a bowl, discarding any unopened ones and turn up the heat. Reduce the liquor by half.  Add the cream.
  5. Add the tomato sauce and season to taste.
  6. Bring to a simmer and then turn off the heat.  Add the clams back to the pan to warm through and serve immediately with spaghetti or simply with warm crusty fresh bread to mop up the juices.

AND MORE ………….

With the addition of a couple of tablespoons of double cream you have a rich, creamy delicious tomato soup. I have also used it as a base for a tasty pasta bake. Slice up some breast from a roast chicken & toss in the sauce. Add in some cooked pasta of your choice plus some roughly torn buffalo mozerella. freshly milled black pepper and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Perfect as a mid week supper served simply with rocket and a homemade crunchy slaw.

Finally this colourful side dish delivers a true taste of summer. In an ovenproof dish simply roast ripe tomatoes with quarters of red onion, crushed garlic, a drizzle of both olive oil and balsamic vinegar plus some torn mozzarella. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes.  Garnish with basil leaves and serve warm or cold.

ENJOY! 🍅

SUPPLIERS AND USEFUL RESOURCES 

Garden Organic

Dalefoot Composts

Real Seeds (Non GM & no F1 Hybrids)

Chiltern Seeds

Eden Project

DAHLIAS

Lend me your eyes; I will change what you see

This weeks pickings for the vase

 I love to have my eyes opened to the new, irrespective of whether it is the joy of seeing or experiencing something for the very first time or perhaps observing something known but in a fresh or revolutionary way.  That being said I have always been inherently drawn back to plants that are very much informal in their makeup, I suspect because I am at my happiest when connected to beautiful wild spaces that owe their beauty more to Mother Nature’s serendipitous ways rather than any thoughtful planning. I have a fondness for plants which hold their delicate flowers in dainty clusters on top of long, willowy stems. Plants that are airy, loose and transparent. Plants that have an ethereal beauty. Plants that are uncompetitive, understated and whose personality isn’t wired towards the stamping of feet and screaming ‘look at me, look at me!’

And so I had closed my eyes to Dahlias, blinded by my own preconceived ideas that they belonged to a distant gardening era. They were old fashioned, ornamental, garish, brash even and certainly had no place in the naturalistic planting design I felt connected to. Then a few years ago while indulging in a few ‘me’ hours at the renowned Cotswold Garden Flowers, my eyes rested upon a sumptuous flower of the deepest, richest maroon. It wasn’t flamboyant in a shouty ‘look at me’ sort of way but it definitely had presence, a voice. Petals, iridescent and silky in texture, formed a perfect Fibonacci spiral. I had been seduced and my seducer, a most handsome fellow indeed, Dahlia ‘Arabian Night’!

Dahlia ‘Arabian Night’

My passion for this Genus of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and its 5000+ cultivars shows no sign of abating and it is a ‘proper’ joy to browse the suppliers catalogues and websites searching for next seasons tuberiferous treasures! In the last few years my haul has amassed to 15 cultivars – some old favourites and some newbies. This year I am particularly enjoying ‘Thomas Edison’, a giant cactus form with vivid magenta/purple blooms. Reaching 1.2m high with flowers up to 15cm in diameter it is very long lasting and has proved a magnet for pollinating insects, especially bees.

Dahlia ‘Thomas Edison’

One of my greatest and simplest joys is to fill my house with flowers from the garden so this year, border fork in hand and a barrow load of earthy organic matter, I created a dedicated cut flower garden to nurture more of these beauties with their gorgeous, vivid, clashing colours and forms. They are definitely not without their needs, but I wouldn’t call them onerous – garlic infused water and dishes of beer to keep the aphids and slugs at bay and a weekly dose of liquid organic seaweed will reward you with a garden and subsequent vases overflowing with cheeriness.  Tubers are lifted after the first frost, cleaned and then over wintered in trays filled with a virtually dry mix of compost and sand in a cool, but frost free environment until spring. On lighter soils, in milder areas, I have clients who never lift them and they thrive year after year.

From the cutting border left to right: D. Ambition, D. Sylvia, D. Rip City, D. Downham Royal

 

I am already planning next year. Top of the wish list are some fiery oranges plus a more restrained, Dahlia in the guise of Dahlia ‘Verones Obsidian’, a member of the single orchid class (sometimes referred to as ‘Star Dahlias’). They are characterised by having an open star like flower whose petals curl inwards. She is without doubt a minimalist sort of girl compared to some of her more flamboyant cousins – delicate and airy with small flowers on top of wiry stems. I will experiment, placing her amongst the naturalistic schemes I favour, quietly nestling alongside my Thalictrum, Sanguisorba and Fennel.

Dahlia ‘Verones Obsidian’

Thankful that my eyes have been opened to this colourful and characterful Genus, I will continue to enjoy their presence in my garden. Whether or not it is a fleeting or more lasting relationship only time will tell, but for now I will embrace the mantra of just enjoying the ‘moment’ along with the joy and smiles they bring. 💚

Below are some suppliers I have used to source Dahlia tubers:

SUPPLIERS;

Halls of Heddon

Sarah Raven

Rose Cottage Plants

National Dahlia Collection

USEFUL RESOURCES;

The Plant Lovers Guide to Dahlias, Andy Vernon ISBN: 9781604694161

RHS

National Dahlia Collection

EVENTS:

Dahlia Festival 3rd September 2017, Kelmarsh Hall, Northamptonshire