Showing posts with label Saturday Snap. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saturday Snap. Show all posts

3 Dec 2011

On the First Days of December

Just popping in to show off what my true love (my garden) sent to me ... a coneflower with open pink petals!  (Tra-la-la, festive spirit in the garden and all that.)

So glad I had a finger-numbing wander round the veg patch yesterday morning. The sun was shining (but it was very cold), it was my day off and I had a couple of tubs of seaweed to drop off in the veg patch, not wanting to take them food shopping with me - and look! ...

December coneflower

As the Christmas rush started in the shops for a large percentage of the so-called civilised world, this little gal had been quietly unfurling her petals.  Cue flutter of excitement from yours truly!  Warm enough to tempt her to keep growing but too cold for this mere mortal's hands so I snapped this photo very quickly. There's quite a bit more still happening in the veg garden but, as I have to be at a workshop in an hour and I'm still in my pyjamas, the rest will have to wait until later today - if I can prise the laptop away from my teenager.

Gosh, looked out of the window at London's very leaden skies just now - quite glad I'm going to be indoors today! Hope it stays good enough to garden for everyone else,

Caro x

12 Nov 2011

Saturday Snap: Mushroom magic

So here we are, getting on for mid-November: recent days have been damper and darker, with indoor lights needed by half four in the afternoon. Never mind, it's less than 6 weeks until the winter solstice when it all starts going in reverse and the days gradually lengthen. Looking at things that way, it doesn't seem too bad to my mind. Time to close the curtains and settle down with a good book and mug of tea.

At the moment, I'm reading a recent cookbook purchase of Veg Every Day, the latest from River Cottage. I've cooked up some wonderful meals from it, last night enjoying Mushroom Risoniotto, (riso being a tiny rice shaped pasta) a pasta affair with mushroom, fresh herbs and creme fraiche which was utterly delicious. Of course, I had to buy the mushroom ingredients but I did wonder, fleetingly, if I could have eaten any of these beauties found in the Veg Patch gardens - prompted by Hugh F-W recommending the use of "dark and flavoursome mushrooms ... include a few wild mushrooms if you have some to hand". (Nooo, I didn't; even I wouldn't be that silly! I haven't got a clue about mushrooms, unless they're store bought.)

Obviously the warm, damp weather conditions are just right for fungal growth in the grass. Apparently the presence of mushrooms means the grass is healthy; the fungi thrive by feeding off old plant debris under the surface and leave the soil in a better condition.  I was amazed at finding six different mushrooms in one patch of grass less than half the size of a cricket pitch.  Anyone know what these are?

Mushroom 3

There's something so magical about mushrooms (leaving aside references to Timothy Leary, any psychotropic happenings of the 60's and purported peddlings in good ol' Camden Market). For me, mushrooms springing up overnight will always remind me of misty dawn childhood expeditions with my siblings and my Dad, hunting for mushrooms on the airfields of Culdrose in Cornwall. The thrill of finding field mushrooms to take home for breakfast!

Mushroom 1
Mushroom 4   

Mushroom 2 Mushroom 6 Mushroom 5

And, seriously, if anyone can shed any light as to what sort of mushrooms these are, please let me know!

5 Nov 2011

Saturday Snap: Calendula Officinalis

All summer long I've been bowled over by the wonderful bright orange blooms of the calendula (aka Pot Marigold) in the veg patch.  The seeds were sown in late May and took a while to get going but have really been making up for it over the past three months and the plants are still flowering abundantly in early November!


The colour is such an intense orange that, despite taking numerous photos over the summer, I've never felt that they've done the flowers justice. This afternoon, just as the light was fading around 3.30 and rain threatened, I quickly tried once more and, this time, I'm quite pleased with the result.  You can just see the start of the raindrops on the petals!

Mine were grown to bring in the hoverflies and bees and did an excellent job but they also, apparently, reduce soil eelworm. They're a beautiful flower to look at, growing to about 18 inches high, but calendula is a herb and I really should have used it in cooking.  (There's still time.)

Fresh calendula petals can be sprinkled over salads and boiling the petals produces an edible yellow dye that will colour rice, hence the nickname "poor man's saffron". Dried petals can also be used to season and flavour soups and cakes. The petals should be picked early in the morning (preferably on a bright, sunny day but I think I may be a tad late for that) and dried quickly in the shade. As a bonus, the flowers are high in vitamins A and C which I didn't know before and is useful information to have at the onset of winter. Similarly, tea made from the petals will aid circulation (useful) or can be used as a hair rinse to add golden tones to auburn hair. (Not so useful, and unlikely to have me reaching for the secateurs.) Something worth noting for next year is that calendula is a good companion plant for tomatoes.  Wow, I love the idea of all those reds and oranges growing together!

Year on year I get a bit  more organised around planning in the veg patch so it's worth knowing that calendula seeds, like sweet peas and broad beans, can be sown in the autumn to give them a head start for the following year.  If they're happy where they are, they're highly likely to self-seed and I did have one or two from last year so, together with self-seeding sunflowers, nasturtiums, orache and cerinthe, it looks like the veg patch might slowly be turning into the flower garden!

2 Oct 2011

Saturday Snap: Summer swan song

Goodbye summer

Of all the flowers in the garden, the sunflower is surely the one most readily associated with the long, leisurely, picnic-filled days of summertime.  Most of my sunflowers have either faded and drooped their lovely faces towards the soil or have been cleared away during the last week due to their extremely brown and crispy appearance. As this gloriously welcome hot weekend dawned over the veg patch on Saturday morning, there are two sunflower plants still putting on a show.  By standing on a wall, I could just about photograph this one;  with the sun shining through the petals, I was struck by how beautiful the back of the flower is. It seemed an appropriate view to symbolise the last of the summer. 

This unseasonal heatwave is forecast to start fading soon, with it lingering the longest in the South East of England, and then we'll be forced to face the reality of October as it should be.  I noticed a heavy beading of dew on the cauliflowers so the night temperatures are low; not too long before we all have to think about night frosts and cloches, I think.  

24 Sept 2011

Saturday Snap: Just a Perfect Day

Actually, yesterday was the perfect day especially since it was also my day off! I was at liberty to go and drift through the veg patch making lists of what needed to be done.  I'd walked past earlier on my way to the recycling corner and been completely bowled over by how beautiful the garden looked in the morning sunshine.  So pencil, notepad and camera in hand I strolled, paused, sat, pondered, touched, ate, plucked (the odd weed) and planned.  Being Friday, with all the kids at school, it was so quiet in the garden that as I approached the Cerinthe planted next to the purple beans, I could clearly hear several bees busy collecting nectar.  The usual determination to gather every last drop of nectar was evident as they buzzed between the flowers.  And there I sat, on the ground, crouching low, camera in hand in the warm sunshine.  I have no idea how long I sat there because it was just ... perfect.

And this is what I came home with:

Aaaand on to the next one!

Finally! A clear and detailed photo of a bee in action!(Click on the photo and you'll be taken through to Flickr where you can see the photo in BIG full screen size.) Can't begin to tell you how pleased I am with this photo but it was a hard choice as I also snapped a ladybird dozing on a drying sunflower head, which is sort of cute and summed up the moment nicely.

Summer's end

Hope the weather stays good for us all, happy weekend everyone! (Our street party takes place today so I'm hoping to fit that in as well as gardening.)

20 Aug 2011

Saturday Snap: Tangled Web Woven

Spider web copy
Arachnophobia?  Luckily, not something that affects me - and you have my heartfelt sympathies at this time of year if you really don't like spiders.  This past week, the weather has felt more than a little autumnal and the effects of this on the arachnid population have been seen both indoors and out in my home: I've been releasing spiders back into the wild (aka my balcony) and spotting delicate webs appearing overnight. Spiders are seen most often in September or October in Europe; this little lady (the females are bigger than the males) had spun a large beautiful web on my balcony herbs one morning, so perhaps she could feel the summer's end already. (Although, please, let's be wrong about that!)

It was quite hard to see the fine, sticky threads of the web but I wanted to clearly show the spider and her web to a fascinated but very young visitor - without small pointing fingers wreaking havoc.  Here's how I did it:  I fetched my tea-strainer and a tiny spoonful of flour, then gently sprinkled a dust cloud of flour over the web.  This won't harm the spider - in fact, she didn't even move - but the web and its tiny insect-catching threads can then be clearly seen. (If you have a fine spray bottle, a light misting of water would also work.)

This spider, I think, is an Orb-Weaver and very common in the UK garden. The web is spun in the morning; any insects caught in it are either eaten straightaway or devoured when the web is eaten at suppertime. The next day the process starts again - sort of Groundhog Day, spider style.

31 Jul 2011

Saturday Snap: Beauty among the Beasts

Beauty and the beast

Two weeks ago I wrote about the Zucchini Chop, an exercise in removing unnecessary leaves from my courgette plants to direct energy to the fruit.  Since then I've enjoyed a daily exhibition of beautiful new flowers and tender leaves emerging to protect the fruit while the remaining leaves have swiftly grown to fill the gap left after the cutback.  The plants now stand proud, healthy and large once more in their space - a dual edged sword as it happens.  On the plus side, children are reluctant to race down the narrow path in the middle of the veg patch for fear of scratching their shins but, not so good, is that smaller children (the under-5s) are less able to easily access the beds for watering, a task they like to help with.  I think it may be time for a few more leaves to come off!

The above photo was actually taken in the evening. I like to just have a little meander round, check on the progress of recent sowings (peas, parsley, carrots all growing well), perhaps pick a few sweet peas or sample a raspberry or two (autumn raspberries just coming into fruit) or munch a freshly picked spinach leaf. I intend to make some more stuffed fried courgette flowers (absolutely delicious, more on this with recipe in the next post) so was counting the flowers that were ready for this. Peering through the larger leaves, this beauty caught my eye, it's yellow petals singing out, the dusk light lending an almost purple tinge to the soil below. I think this may be one of my favourite snaps! (I do love my veg.)

Some tips with today's Saturday Snap:

1) Identifying courgette flowers:  male flowers are long and slender on a slim stalk, almost like a rose.  Female flowers are the ones that make the courgettes and have plumper flowers on a chubbier stem. The female stem looks like it will become a courgette; in some cases the slender courgette can be picked with the flower still attached and the whole thing battered and quickly fried. Delicious.

2) Encouraging more fruit: It's essential to leave some male flowers; without them, bees have no pollen to carry across to the female flowers. It's this act that pollinates the flower, causing the courgette fruit to form.

3) Photographing veg:  evening light - if you catch it right - is so much more forgiving than harsh middle of the day sunlight. The midday sun creates hard shadows and burnt out texture in photos;  however great the subject may look to the naked eye, I'm always disappointed with the results if I photograph in strong light. The veg patch is shaded by late afternoon and the last of the day's sun is sometimes reflected back onto the veg by being bounced off nearby windows. This is a perfect time (around 6 - 7pm) in the summer to take photos.

23 Jul 2011

Blue Skies at Dawn! (The Saturday Snap)

(That title is for Flighty - I couldn't resist after his comment on my recent post, The Zucchini Chop!)

It's been a busy week, almost too much happening in fact so, to make the most of another (frankly, by now unexpected) day of dry weather, I zipped down to the veg patch early, postponing my weekly slog to the supermarket. Blue skies and warm sunshine graced the veg patch by 7.30 a.m. (not exactly the dawn of my post title but good enough), a welcome turnaround after the night-time rain that had still been falling three quarters of an hour earlier.

Saturday mornings here are quiet, there's hardly a soul about, but it was still a treat to see this gruff looking wood pigeon perching on the wall.  What surprised me was that he stayed there, even when Geordie Frank (neighbour, pensioner and my erstwhile garden labourer) spotted me reaching for my camera.  "Alright then, Flower" he bellowed from the other end of the block.  "What're you up too, eh? Aw heck, look at that bloody great pigeon, what a size, heh heh, 'e's far too fat to fly." (Guffawing loudly while ignoring my pleas to shush, stop, be quiet ... pleeeease!)

Wood Pigeon
:: Wood Pigeon, aka Columba Palumbus which I think suits it very well ::

So, I got my shot, then managed a second closer photo and then Columba Palumbus, who'd had enough, simply turned tail and walked off, ploughing it's way through the ivy.

Onwards to the veg patch to plant out some Strawberry Popcorn, recently gifted from Victoriana Nurseries in Kent.  I'd ordered this a tad late so it needed to go straight in to a bed which I'd already prepared for it, having mulched it a few weeks ago and then covered it to keep it warm and weed free.  The first plant went in and, in the blink of an eye, a small grasshopper jumped on to the corn leaf.  My first sighting of the year.  Quietly and quickly, I reached again for my camera but I could have taken my time, he stayed there for half an hour or more, basking in the warm sunshine. Had he travelled from Kent?  I don't know; but I do know his presence added to the enjoyment of my morning.

Jiminy Cricket
:: Ah! Grasshopper! (Not cricket, who have longer antennae) ::
I spent a happy few hours in the Veg Patch yesterday, got loads done, got two Saturday Snaps and now keeping my fingers crossed for more dry weather so that I can get the rest of my planting finished.

Posts may come thick and fast this week as I have such a lot to tell.  Exciting times in the veg patch (for me, at least!)  Hope you'll join me,  Caro xx

P.S. In finding the link for Victoriana Nurseries, I have just read of the demise of the Shirley family's beautiful dog, Polar Bear. Stephen Shirley writes of the loss to his family in a very heartfelt way and I feel very saddened by this news. My sincere condolences to all the family. With love, Caro x

17 Jul 2011

Saturday Snap: Bee Balm Bergamot

Bee Balm Bergamot
:: Monarda growing next to my fennel which is currently over 8 feet tall! ::

I'd hate to think I was falling into a pattern here but, yes, this is another herb! Edible, medicinal, beautiful, this plant was named for Nicolas Monardes, a Spanish physician, who wrote a book in 1574 describing new world plants, of which this is one.  Today Monarda (aka Bee Balm, Horsemint, Oswego Tea) is identified as being part of the Lamiaceae family, a huge group of plants which includes many of the culinary or aromatic herbs. So my little bergamot flower is related - amongst many others - not only to sage, mint, rosemary, lavender and thyme but also, bizarrely, teak and coleus. (Amazing what you can find out on the internet!)

I've grown this from an unpromising looking little seedling, bought for pence at a plant sale in May last year. It came from a Victorian garden I like to visit (or, at least, from one of the volunteers who keep that garden looking so inviting). They hold a plant sale every year to raise funds for the National Gardens Scheme and a few Monarda cuttings had been brought along for the sale. I was unfamiliar with the name Monarda when I bought it but a quick Google search revealed that I had a plant that would be very attractive to bees. Excellent! and the photos of what it might look like were very exciting. A very happy purchase indeed!

I had just the one fragile little plant and lots of concerns about its survival but, by surrounding it with a cut-down 5 litre water bottle - and staking the 'cloche' in with bamboo skewers - it was protected from buffeting winds and inquisitive fox cubs and has thrived in my herb bed. It spreads, so I now have a clump of monarda, a fact which I'm delighted about - especially now it's flowered.

On a more factual note, the flowers are edible, making an attractive addition to a salad.  The leaves and shoots can be cooked and added to salads but it's not the same plant that gives Earl Grey tea is citrus flavour: that's Citrus Bergamia.  Naturally antiseptic, a poultice of the leaves can be used to treat skin infections and wounds and an infusion of crushed leaves is said to be good for headaches and fevers as well as being both a stimulant and carminative. Apparently the leaves can taste bitter, (think spearmint, oregano, thyme), so I'm unlikely to be enjoying a cup anytime soon ... although with a spoonful of honey, it might make a refreshing alternative to paracetamol for the occasional headache!  It grows up to 3 feet (1 metre) tall and the leaves can be cut down in the Autumn when it's finished flowering, ready to start again in Spring.  It can be propagated by seed or cutting or dividing. It's also reputed to improve both the flavour and health of tomatoes when planted nearby.  Awesome! I'm more than a little bit in love with this plant.

I have no idea whether this is M. fistulosa or M. didyma - if any of my more knowledgeable friends could advise on this, that would be most appreciated!

Shall we just have a close up?

Monarda, close up

I'm a little late in posting this so I'll wish you all happy Sunday gardening with hopes for dry spells (we've had a fairly soggy Saturday here in London).

11 Jun 2011

The Saturday Snap: Wandering Around

Due to the rain, I was back indoors in time for Gardener's World yesterday evening. I don't watch it regularly but last night's was jolly good with Monty in his herb bed, dispensing good advice about which herbs will happily grow together, i.e. get the soil type right, one size does not fit all. I particularly liked how to tell the difference between french and russian tarragon, especially as I've just bought a tiny (labelled-as-french) tarragon plant. Carol Klein pottered around her beautiful garden at Glebe Cottage, gathering seed from Hellebores and taking softwood cuttings from a Black Elder (Sambucus nigra) shrub and honeysuckle. (I didn't know you could do that with hellebores.)  Catch up with it on BBC iplayer.

I've just been outside to see if I could find any seed to gather from the hellebores in the Secret Garden below my windows but, sadly, the rain has made the flowers mushy and all the seeds have already dropped. I'm probably a week too late but I'd hoped to photograph the seeds still attached to the flowers for today's Snap.

Wandering further along the path, some beautiful Hydrangea heads caught my eye, still glistening with the drops of night-time rain showers;  as I rounded into the veg patch, the sun came out from behind a cloud and, although there was a little breeze, I managed to photograph red orach, a yellow ladybird, the unopened centre of a sunflower and honeysuckle rambling through ivy.  All together a very satisfying start to the day but now comes the choice:  which photo to pick for the Saturday Snap?? I think it has to be

Yellow Ladybird

The photo feels so bright and sunny even though there are currently black clouds looming, it's going to be one of my favourites and looks lovely as a desktop background!  If you want to see the others, go to my Flickr page (link on the right).  I'm not sure how this works, but I think you can also download the photo to your own desktop (if you want).

Tomorrow's forecast is for rain ALL DAY so I'm off to put out tubs and containers to catch the water (good for the blueberries) and to get some more seeds sown.  I seem to remember parsley doing particularly well a couple of years ago, sown just before a downpour.

Good gardening everyone!  Caro xx

P.S.  If anyone would like to join me in the Saturday Snap, please leave a link in the comments box.  I'd love to see your photos! xx

4 Jun 2011

The Saturday Snap: Secret Garden

This last week I went to London Zoo in Regents Park.  Have you been to this zoo recently?  It's changed a lot (for the better) since I was last there - unsurprisingly, as it's been quite a while since my last visit. (We're talking years, not months, here.)  I used to go and sketch there while my (then) baby son slept in his buggy (or I'd practise speed sketching while he watched the animals as a toddler). It used to feel very wrong and very grey, with all the compounds made of brutal concrete and very little vegetation. I felt so sorry for the animals, cooped up in that grey world but still able to see the park beyond the fences, so close but so far. So it was a very lovely surprise to rediscover the zoo as a beautifully lush and verdant space with lakes, shrubs, planting and grass at every turn - so much so that it was sometimes hard to spot the animals!   Of course, I completely forgot that it was half-term as well as the London tourist season and therefore the zoo became very crowded - but not before I'd happened upon an oasis of calm in the children's section. Not only, wow!, a giant 4 foot high flowerpot in the entrance but written on it a verse which summed up my thoughts on why I garden.  So this week's Saturday Snap (and verse) is

The Secret Garden

Secret Garden Flowerpot

The secret garden is a place
Where time moves at a slower pace.
Flowers sway, Leaves rustle,
Away from all the noise and bustle.

Ah, yes, my sentiments exactly. 

14 May 2011

The Saturday Snap...

I'm introducing this as a new feature on the blog - a regular weekend gallery for photos. I always have a camera of sorts to hand, whether indoors or out and can't resist pressing the shutter button! So, to start with, today's offering is...

Kitchen basil May

This is the basil that sits on my kitchen windowsill.  With the sun streaming through the window onto its leaves this morning, it inspired my Saturday shopping list towards salads and pasta dishes.  I happened to have a cup of tea in hand while I skimmed through the Waitrose Kitchen magazine for ideas (I love cooking but get bored eating the same tried and tested recipes) and, serendipitously, there was a small column about keeping potted basil at its best:

  • Keep in a well-lit, protected area away from cold draughts.
  • Water when the leaves start to wilt and the compost is dry - it only needs a little water, especially in winter.
  • Stress the plant by not giving it too much warmth and light - it will fight harder to survive and this strengthens the flavour. 
  • When using the leaves, tear them off with your hands as using scissors or a knife may blacken the stem and bruise the leaves.
  • To encourage bushy growth, occasionally cut back the stems to just above a pair of new side shoots.

Apparently too much water will dilute basil's flavour so it's best to try not to water it for a day before using - something I was previously unaware of.

By doing all of the above, I've managed to keep one basil plant (supermarket bought at the beginning of 2010) going right through the winter months! (Admittedly, it has just about had it now and, once they've flowered, the leaves turn bitter.)

I've most recently used basil in a make-it-up-as-you-go-along pasta dish which turned out surprisingly well and was a big hit with my teenager.  If you want to give it a go, I've typed up the recipe here.
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