Tag Archives: pruning

Still catching up

Poppy in the shade Aug 2017_cropped

An extra day off this Bank Holiday weekend has meant that I finally feel I’m catching up with myself down at the allotment – and in the garden at home for that matter! What a difference an extra day makes, especially when the weather was kind to us for a change, and the sun shone throughout. Lawns duly mowed, fruit trees summer-pruned – well, what I can reach at any rate. Even with extendible loppers I couldn’t reach the topmost branches of one of the crab apple trees at home, and I restricted myself to just trimming the branches I could reach with secateurs in the allotment orchard. Pruning all five apple/plums in one go is too much otherwise. As it was, I took 3-4 barrowloads up to the allotment bonfire site, and there will no doubt be the same again when I finish the job with the long loppers next weekend. So satisfying 🙂

Apple juice with lunch

The harvest is coming in thick and fast now with courgettes multiplying in size overnight and windfall apples aplenty. Fresh apple juice with the red-skinned Katy apples is a must at this time of year, especially as they don’t keep. I even resorted to putting a basket on the road outside the house this morning for people to help themselves to overgrown courgettes and apples – virtually all gone this evening, thank goodness, especially as I came back from the plot with yet more apples, windfall Bramleys this time, and spare French beans.

New basket

Beetroot is another veg in plentiful supply this year. Much as I love having a bowl of cooked beetroot (baked in their skins, after which the skin peels off beautifully, and served sprinkled with balsamic vinegar) in the fridge to accompany my lunchtime cheese and crackers, I’ve been wondering how else to extend my beetroot repertoire. I’ve already made my favourite spiced beetroot & orange chutney, but wondered about a cake. I’ve made Nigel Slater’s beetroot & chocolate cake before (Tender Book I) and liked it, but my beetroot-averse daughter-in-law cold still detect its presence. This time, I thought I’d try some brownies. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe appealed, but contained normal flour, no good for gluten intolerance. Searching for a gluten-free version, I came across this Riverford recipe, which sounded perfect – and was! Delightfully chocolatey, fudgy and moist, I can’t detect the beetroot at all – it remains to be seen whether it will pass my daughter-in-law’s test….

Chocolate & Beetroot Brownies – makes 18

Chocolate and beetroot brownies

250g dark chocolate, chopped
200g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tbsp Tia Maria or other liqueur (optional – I forgot and it still tasted divine!)
250g raw beetroot
3 eggs
A drop of vanilla extract
200g caster sugar
50g cocoa powder
50g rice flour
1 tsp gluten-free baking powder
100g ground almonds

Preheat oven to 180°C/Gas 5. Use baking parchment to line a rectangular tin, roughly 28x18cm.

Wash the raw beetroot, remove leaves and surplus roots, then wrap individually in foil  and place on a baking tray. Bake in the oven for 1 hour – or longer depending on the size of your beetroots! Leave to cool in the foil, after which the skins should peel off easily. Turn oven down to 160°C/Gas 4.

Put the chocolate and butter in a large bowl and place it over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the base of the bowl. Leave to melt, then remove from the heat and stir in the Tia Maria, if using.

Purée the cooked beetroot in a food processor. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla and sugar, and mix until smooth.

Sift the cocoa powder, rice flour and baking powder into a bowl and stir in the ground almonds. Stir the beetroot mixture into the melted chocolate and then fold in the dry ingredients.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 30–35 minutes, until just firm to the touch. It’s important not to overcook brownies; a skewer inserted in the centre should come out slightly sticky. Leave to cool in the tin and then cut into squares.

Delicious with coffee, but would also be good as a dessert with whipped cream 🙂

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Spring is in the air…

Aquilegia and hellebore foliage

I can’t believe it’s over a month since I last wrote – so much for my good intentions! What with pressures of work, a skiing holiday, decorators in painting the kitchen /utility room after having a new oak floor fitted at the end of last year, a wedding food tasting and lots of family visits, blog-writing has definitely taken a back seat of late. This weekend was Mother’s Day, with one son and his fiancée home, then a trip over to my parents’ to see all the family on Sunday – and beautiful spring weather for once too!

The recent springlike weather has tempted me out into the garden to mow my lawn (just the once!), cut back my buddleias and the giant lavatera, prune the roses, dead-head last year’s hydrangea flowers and chop back any remaining perennials that I’d left through the winter to provide shelter and food for birds and insects. There was still a cold wind when I ventured out on Saturday afternoon, but I was determined to pot up my new dahlia tubers from Sarah Raven and the overwintered monster begonias. I also sowed the first batch of seeds, always an exciting moment: sweet peas in pots on the conservatory windowsill (I’ve reverted to trying some inside this year after such a late crop last year, but I will plant more straight into the ground later too, when the soil warms up). Tomatoes (my favourite Sungold and the old-fashioned Ailsa Craig), chillis (Summer Heat and Padron), Romano sweet peppers, aubergine Bonica, lobelia Crystal Palace, and the three leek varieties Bandit, Pandora and Nipper for a succession of leeks all through the autumn/winter – all now tucked up in the propagator. Let the season commence!

Back side bed

I’ve still to distribute last year’s compost around the garden, but there’s always next weekend… In the meantime, let me finish with a springtime lemon & ricotta cake I adapted from a River Café recipe. I had some ricotta in the fridge and fancied a light, lemony and gluten-free cake. This was the result – exactly what I was looking for. The original quantities make a huge cake – I didn’t have a tin big enough and there were only five of us for dinner, so I cut the quantities back by a third – perfect. I found the original recipe here if you’re catering for a crowd!

River Café Lemon, Ricotta, Almond & Polenta Cake – serves 10

Lemon ricotta cake

150g butter, softened
170g ground almonds (you could also use almond flour)
65g fine polenta (whizz in the food processor if you can’t buy fine)
finely grated zest of 4 lemons
170g caster sugar
4 large eggs, separated
200g ricotta
juice of 2 lemons
icing sugar, for dusting

Pre-heat the oven to 150°C.  Grease a 24cm round springform cake tin and line the base with greaseproof paper.

Combine the almonds and polenta (whizzed in the food processor for extra fineness if necessary) and add the lemon zest. Beat the butter and sugar together using an electric mixer until pale and light.  Add the egg yolks one by one, then add the almond mixture and fold together. Put the ricotta into a bowl and beat lightly with a fork, then add the lemon juice. Stir the ricotta into the cake mixture. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until they form soft peaks.  Finally fold the egg whites into the almond mixture.

Transfer the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 40 – 50 minutes, until set.  Test by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean.  Leave in the tin to cool for at least 10 minutes before turning out. Dust liberally with sifted icing sugar before serving, and garnish with fine strips of lemon rind if desired.

I served it with a jostaberry purée from the freezer, but any red fruit coulis would be good – and it was delicious on its own too. Enjoy!

Standen March 2017
Beautiful Standen near East Grinstead – perfect Mother’s Day outing

 

Happy New Year!

Caterpillar vase blooms December 2015

I always like to keep a record of what’s flowering in the garden over this Christmas and New Year period and there is no shortage of suspects this time round, with the weather being so mild. There’s even a solitary daffodil valiantly trying to flower! I was given the beautiful caterpillar vase pictured above for Christmas and it makes a superb showcase for these unseasonal blooms: hellebores, daphne, viburnum, heather, primroses and even a daisy (Anthemis)! Brilliant blue pansies and cyclamen are putting on a great display in my outdoor pots, and the ornamental quince, Chaenomeles Crimson and Gold, is covered in plump, red buds. I only hope that when the bad weather arrives, as it surely must, these blooms aren’t damaged, but go into suspended animation to continue at a more appropriate time….

Party Frock in flower Dec 2015
Hellebore Party Frock

Today, gloom and drizzle notwithstanding, I managed to escape into the garden for a spot of fresh air and recuperative snipping, cutting back the tired and drooping foliage of some of last year’s perennials: the scruffy stems of helenium, anemones, centranthus, geraniums, peonies and some asters and chrysanthemums were adding nothing to the garden scene and had to go. The hellebores too can lose their leaves at this time of year, all the better to see the emerging flowers and prevent the spread of hellebore leaf spot, which can debilitate the whole plant if you let it take hold.

Double white hellebore Dec 2015
Double white hellebore, grown from seed

Affected leaves need to be put in the garden waste bin or burned, rather than composted, to prevent the spread of this fungal disease in future years. The species hellebores don’t seem to be afflicted, for some reason.

Helleborus foetidus Dec 2015
Helleborus foetidus (or stinking hellebore!)

I also cut down my English roses by half to prevent wind rock – although given the gales we’ve experienced recently, that’s probably shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted… Even my tall Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill, source of the heavenly scent pervading the back garden at present, received a haircut. I usually trim its new top growth in late spring, after flowering, now it’s reached its desired height of 7 ft, but it has continued to grow in the warm, damp weather and was threatening to overpower its neighbours (and mine!).

Daphne JP flowering Dec 2015
Daphne bholua Jacqueline Postill

In the front garden, Daphne aureomarginata provides the fragrance that assails your nose the minute you step through the gate. It was planted as a small bush between the fence and apple ‘Katy’, but evidently loves its sheltered, if rather dry position, and has grown to a substantial bush some 6 feet across and 4 feet tall –  I’m even thinking of trimming the lower branches of the apple to give it more room!

Daphne aureomarginata Dec 2015
Daphne aureomarginata

Viburnum bodnantense Charles Lamont provides another shot of winter colour on the opposite side of the garden path. Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as scented as the daphnes, nor even as other bodnantense varieties I’ve had in previous gardens, such as Dawn, but it’s a showy shrub nonetheless with lovely bronze young growth and pale pink clusters of blooms through the winter months.

Viburnum Charles Lamont Dec 2015
Viburnum bodnantense Charles Lamont

It was so good to actually get out in the garden at long last after weeks of constant wet or lack of time due to the hectic pace of work and a busy social life. I’ve still not finished the winter cutback; the grasses will need to be chopped back hard in February/March, but for now I’m still hoping for some proper winter weather to show them off in all their hoar-frosted glory.

Happy New Year to you all! I, for one, am looking forward to the return of the gardening season.

Valentine’s Day Massacre

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At last – some sunshine! The perfect day to go out and cut back the late-flowering clematis to twelve inches or so above the ground. My father always maintains this job should be done on Valentine’s Day, so two days later isn’t too bad given the recent appalling weather. These are clematis which flower in the latter half of the summer, so the viticella and texensis types – mine include Etoile Violette, Mme Julia Correvon, Multiblue, Kermesina, Niobe and Black Prince, to name just a few. Prolific, late-flowering blooms, but they need cutting back now so they can put their strength into the roots and produce all that new growth by the end of the summer. There will undoubtedly be new green shoots higher up in the old growth, but just cut low down regardless – they’ll soon take off again!

Don’t whatever you do, get scissor-happy and snip off early-summer flowering clematis, as they flower on the previous year’s growth, or species varieties such as montana, alpina and macropetala which flower in late spring and just need tidying up when they start to get out of hand. I once made the BIG mistake of snipping merrily through the stem of my clematis armandii, that beautifully-scented early spring-flowering evergreen clematis, thinking I was cutting back the Multiblue growing close by. I only realised when the deed was done and lost of all my flowers for that year… No lasting harm done though and the shed it grows up and around is now smothered in clematis – so much so that I probably should cut it hard back after flowering this spring: it’s starting to impede my whirligig washing line and opening the shed door is becoming ever so slightly tricky….

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Sheds with bonnets are obviously my weakness: the allotment shed too is wreathed in a lacy topknot of rosy clematis montana, the deep-purple Etoile Violette and a delicate pale pink clematis alpina Willy. It’s certainly a sight to behold in flower; as to whether it played a part in camouflaging the shed in last year’s spate of allotment shed break-ins, I really can’t be sure. There’s certainly nothing of value in my shed (just second-hand tools picked up from the local dump, a little Calor gas stove for those essential cups of tea down on the plot, and all the flotsam and jetsam of netting, fleece and plant labels that goes with vegetable-growing), but it was one of the few that wasn’t broken into, so maybe its living overcoat did help a little….

Here’s hoping that’s just the first of many days out in the garden over the coming year. So much better to feel the sun on your face and your hands in the soil – or on the secateurs at least!