Easter Delights

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There has been much debate about my white bluebells on social media this week. Are they Spanish or English? White English bluebells do exist although they are rare in the wild. In domestic gardens like mine they are much more likely to be a hybrid form and the sheer quantity of flowers per stem lead me to believe this even more. However, they make a nice change from the blue and take visitors by surprise.IMG_20170416_114354

I was surprised to find quite a few Cosmos seedlings in the front border this week and I am guessing they must be from ‘Xanthos’ which were nearby last year. This is a first for me, I have never had self sown Cosmos before. IMG_20170415_115644

We went to see some friends in their ‘new’ cottage this weekend, The Old Smithy in Harrold, near Bedford. They don’t claim any credit for their beautiful garden and are doing the sensible thing by letting everything happen for a year before making any changes. The bones are definitely there and few changes will be required, The previous owners did a great job of planting a selection of tried and tested shrubs and perennials.IMG_20170415_115427

The different levels and material changes add to the interest and the stone retaining wall helps to maintain the raised border without bending down. Early spring blossom is everywhere making it a garden for several seasons.IMG_20170415_115519

The arch covered with ivy and Clematis montana ‘Elizabeth’ is a joy and provides a colourful focal point where the driveway meets the garden,IMG_20170415_115716

And the separate garden alongside the drive is dominated by a wonderful and productive Bramley apple tree underplanted with Bergenias and tulips.

What a lovely start to the Easter weekend!

 

Taste Test

014This is a serious taste test comparing a traditional everbearing Strawberry (variety unknown) and a Framberry, a cross between a strawberry and a raspberry which I was sent in December 2012 by Spalding Plants and Bulbs to grow and review. It has been a good year for soft fruit and each variety has produced heavy crops of berries. This morning I picked four of each for the taste test and with my notebook to hand the test was carried out in the time honoured fashion. And the result…?016

Delicious!

Currant Affairs

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I didn’t think we would ever beat last year’s soft fruit harvest but we have. The Redcurrants in particular have been truly prolific and we decided to take the covers off today and strip the bush of it’s delicious fruit before the inevitable blackbird and pigeon invasion. We only have one large bush but with careful pruning to maximise fruit production we get enough fruit for several pots of jam, jelly, sauce, pies and crumbles and still have loads left over for freezing. 020

This year we got 14 lbs (6.35 kgs) off this single bush which we find simply amazing! When they are picked over and rinsed they will be frozen on flat trays which helps to separate the currants from the sprigs.032

Truly scrumptious!

Reds

Garvinea 'Rachel'

Garvinea ‘Rachel’

There is something about red. I just love it. I seem to be drawn to it. It is warm and ripe and hot. I have a lot of reds in the garden. Here are just a few.

Salvia microphylla 'Royal Bumble'

Salvia microphylla ‘Royal Bumble’

This pretty Salvia is in flower at the moment right outside the garden room window alongside the popular ‘Hot Lips’.

Red Pelargonium

Red Pelargonium

Pelargoniums are such a reliable performer in a hot summer and I always buy a few to put in pots around the patio.244

I love big blousy red poppiesDahlia 'Redskin Mix'

 

And red dahlias…this is ‘Redskin’051

And Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ a chance seedling introduced by Perry’s nursery in Enfield017

You might have read about my love of chillies and this particular Cayenne variety which grows so well in my greenhouse

Yum Yum!

Yum Yum!

And finally, our scrumptious and reliable autumn raspberry ‘Brice’ .

Just can’t resist red!

 

Germinating Strawberries

When I finally got down to sowing the Toscana F1 strawberries from DT Brown, I read a few reviews and blog items and it seemed that germination was a bit tricky, particularly at this time of year, even in a propagator. However, I came across a “surefire” way of getting the pesky little seeds to germinate on an american homemade youtube video which looked promising so I decided to give it a try and……………….it worked!014

A week after placing the tiny seeds on damp kitchen paper sealed inside a ziplock plastic bag kept in a warm, light place, seven out of ten have germinated. I am not bothered about the others at the moment, experience has shown they can be erratic so they can stay in the bag a bit longer.

In the meantime, I have just carefully transferred the seedlings by toothpick into a pot of sieved seed compost. Fingers crossed!012

 

Turn up the heat!

ToscanaJust received these seeds from DT Brown. Was about to sow them and suddenly noticed the germination temperature! Thought I would ask their advice so I sent them the following:

I bought some ‘Toscana’ strawberry seeds,                                                                            I thought I would try something quirky,                                                                                     I looked forward to a summer of delicious soft fruit,                                                           And went to the greenhouse all perky.

But when I read the sowing instructions,                                                                                In despair I sank to my knees,                                                                                                 It said that in order to germinate,                                                                                           They need a temperature of 200 degrees!

Oh Mr Brown, I am now in a pickle,                                                                                          I don’t know what I should try,                                                                                               I’ve turned the knob as far as I can,                                                                                      But my propagator won’t go up that high!

Perhaps it’s a typo that nobody spotted,                                                                                 It can sometimes happen you know,                                                                                     Or maybe it’s true and these special seeds,                                                                           Need roasting to get them to grow!   

So please Mr Brown let me know what to do,                                                                      I’ve tried but I can’t raise that heat,                                                                                           If there’s something to try, apart from the oven,                                                                     Your wisdom would go down a treat!

Another Fruitful Day

One of the many joys of gardening for me is picking our own soft fruit. We have strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries and autumn raspberries. Also, and new for this year, three blackberry bushes including ‘Bedford Giant’ which has put on 12 feet of growth in it’s first year! I have just tied in the thorny canes to a frame I made and have the scars to prove it! Judging from the little buds sitting in every leaf axil, there should be a bumper crop next year. 

Sadly, due to the cold wet weather in April and May, the apple blossom was not pollinated by bees and other insects and so we had just two apples this year off our little tree compared to our usual haul of at least 20 kilos plus the windfalls.

However, the stars of the show at the moment are the autumn raspberries. I started with just 12 bare roots of Autumn raspberry ‘Brice’ two years ago which I planted 600mm apart in a single row but now it is a ‘patch’ 8m long and 1.2m wide in which there must be at least 100 canes all cropping prolifically right now! This year I followed advice from the RHS and sprayed with Magnesium Sulphate (Epsom Salts) because the leaves were yellowing and streaky due to a local deficiency of Magnesium. The fruits are a dark red and taste divine.

At the peak of fruit production, usually weeks 3 to 6 in the cycle, we pick approx 2 kilos every other day and slightly less in the 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after. In total, fruit picking usually goes on for about 9 weeks from late August until the leaves eventually turn yellow and the fruits begin to lose their taste and then stop ripening at the end of October. Cropping started a bit later this year due to the lack of sunshine and warmth but they are certainly making up for it now.

Autumn Raspberry ‘Brice’

There are far too many for the two of us to eat but we have found they actually taste even better after they have been frozen and so most of them end up in our spare freezer in the garage. We have found the best method is to firstly immerse them in a bowl of cold water; this is not to wash them but any insects and grubs will float to the surface and can be easily removed. The water possibly reduces the flavour slightly but, unfortunately, the Raspberry Beetle lays it’s eggs on the flowers enabling the subsequent tiny caterpillar-like larvae to feed off the fruit. We are not totally organic, I just don’t use chemical insect sprays so we put up with it and deal with any we find. They are probably harmless but we don’t like the idea of eating them!

After freezing

Then comes the fiddly bit. After an hour or so, we drain them and leave them to dry upturned on a clean tea towel or kitchen paper. After another hour or so, we place them on plastic trays and  freeze them flat in the top compartment of the freezer overnight. That way they don’t stick together.

Before vacuum sealing

They are then either popped into freezer bags, zip-lock bags or we use our new toy, a vacuum sealer, which removes all the air. They store better and take up less room but don’t try to vacuum seal fresh fruit, you will just end up with mush!

Vacuum sealed

The other advantage of freezing is that you can bag them up in just the right quantities so they should last even longer. They will keep for several months in the freezer and there is nothing quite like the taste of your own raspberries at Christmas or in the depths of a cold winter. In my opinion, freezing them seems to intensify the flavour as well. When they are defrosted, they are slightly softer but usually keep their shape well. And if not, there is always raspberry coulis!