Sunday 31 May 2020

Oriental Poppies

Hello Friends!

Anyone who knows me knows that I love poppies of all kinds and they bring me much happiness and joy.  Right now, the blousiest, most beautiful Papaver Orientalis, or Oriental poppies, are beginning to bloom in my garden.  Not only do they bring a fabulous splash of bold colour where they bloom, there's the added bonus that the bees love them too.

This was my first ever Oriental, Coral Sea.  Last Autumn, I thought I may have lost it as a careless handyman and his {very unable} assistant lifted a baby boulder {which took two to manage} and instead of putting it to one side, or on the wall, recklessly dumped it in the border, smack bang on top of my Coral Sea!  I did not discover this until after they'd left and the damage was done.

How could they do this?  It is far too big and heavy a stone for me to even think of moving, even with the most careful application of the laws of physics {I can hear some of you now, hollering "Deb, don't even think about it!!!}

However, a few weeks ago, I saw the familiar leaves poking around the stone.  She'd survived and is spreading out and around the offending rock.  Last week, a few tentative buds appeared, and today she is starting to dance in all her ballerina glory!

Thrilled with the beauty of this poppy in the garden, just after the marriage of William and Catherine, I bought two Royal Wedding  poppies.  Only one plant was in flower, one was in tight bud, and I was smitten by the stunning contrast of a navy centre against the pure white petals.

Peek a Boo! Do you see the bug?

However, when the second one opened, it was not the same colour at all, but a delightful shade of mauve.  I was not disappointed at all, but have no idea what this one is called.  It's very, very pretty indeed.

So, I had three beauties in my garden, bringing lots of pleasure, although they are short lived.  I had hoped to gather and sow seed, but was told Orientals do not propagate from seed, but on runners and root cuttings.  Then this happened:

Two years after I planted the Royal Wedding, a magnificent, deep orangey pink poppy opened, and I have no idea where it came from, or how, but I would say it's self seeded, contradicting what I had been told.

If anyone knows anything how this might have happened, I will be interested to hear from you.  It looks more coral than Coral Sea!

The only down side is the blooms only last for about five days, but when a single plant is so full of buds that after twenty seven you tend to lose count, my only wish is that they would all open together in one colossal and magical display.  Just once, then they can return to normal, but wouldn't that be something to see?

Until next time
Stay safe, stay well,
Deborah xoxo

p.s. I apologise for the differences in text, I have tried the new blogger which is being forced upon us again, and I definitely do not like it.  I wonder how many of us will lose swathes of followers as we did last time?

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Making a List

Hello Friends!

No, it's not "that" time of year, this list is what I want to encourage growing in my garden.  As I read it, the names on it seem very familiar, so I find some comfort in that I am not changing my mind often, I still like the same things.  With a bit of luck it means no expensive purchases that are impulse buys and end up not working out.

Many of the plants that show up repeatedly on my list are freely self seeding, so even if I have to buy a packet of seed or a couple of plants to start me off, future years are generally taken care of.  Here's a little of what my list of "must haves" looks like:

Umbels of any kind, I am a lot in love with umbels!  I like edible ones, such as dill, fennel, and angelica, and I allow any that just drop into my garden from the nearby countryside to grow where they seed, such as Cow Parsley and Alexanders.  I could wax lyrical on umbels, and they are so photogenic oo.  I adore the pop of the purple Verbena bonariensis against the yellow green of this dill.  The dill is growing where it was put, the Verbena is a happy interloper from the flower garden into the herb garden.

Aquilegia, preferably the old fashioned, single colour ones, although I am happy to have some of the multi coloured or double ones if they happen to show up.  As followers of this blog will know, I have them in so many colours, from almost white, to pink tinged, and right on into deepest purple.  Another free seeding plant, and they look so pretty and old fashioned in Springtime. 

Daisies  I love anything daisy, or daisy looking. Osteospermums, Marguerites, Feverfew, and my lawn is full of those tiny, bright and star like ones from which we made our childhood daisy chains.  Such a simple beauty, full of innocence and joy.

Lavender.  My garden would not be my garden without fragrant lavender.  Preferably the long stemmed type, so I can make my lavender wands, but any type of lavender will be just fine.

Not forgetting the fabulous fathead lavenders!

Roses.  There have to be roses.  Shrub, patio, rambler, and the more fragrant, the better.

Ladies Mantle.  A great all rounder, the acid yellow flowers and lime green foliage are a perfect foil for whatever flowers they have as neighbours, and they big, cushiony mound perfectly fill in so many gaps.  Above, it highlights the pink rose, here it is a fabulous foil against a red verbena.  It's froth of flowers looks spectacular in a border or in a cut flower vase, and the leaves are amazing in the morning dew.

Poppies of any sort, from the humble wild field poppy, the Icelandic and the Californian, to the big and blousy short lived, but spectacular Orientals. I just adore poppies, any colour.  As for the seed heads, they bring so much interest to the border later on.

Plants such as Foxgloves, Mullein, Evening Primrose, Borage, Verbena Bonariensis, and more, all make me so happy, especially when they give of their seeds so freely!

I don't only have all of these, they are my must haves, my go to plants, and everything else just sort of falls in around them.  Then there's the clematis, camellias, hydrangea, pinks, cranesbill geranium, Japanese wind anemones and so many more.  I wouldn't think I could cram so much in, but somehow I do!

Over the years, I have paid attention to what does well, and what doesn't.  That sort of diligence helps me establish what works and will bring year after year of joy. 

I don't usually turn to a lot of annuals. I don't know why.  I do have a few, mostly pansies and violas, I am partial to lobelia, and purple alyssum {when I can find it}.  Just this morning I pushed a few Empress of India nasturtium seeds in pots and borders where it looks a bit bare. They should grow and make a pretty, and edible, filling in plant.  I usually buy a tray of violas or pansies every few years and they just continue to self seed and I leave them alone to get on with things.

Until next time
Stay Safe, Stay Well!
Take Joy in the Little Things
Deborah xoxo

Friday 22 May 2020

What's Happening in the Garden?

Hello Friends!

It's a strange week, for ordinarily I would be immersed in the annual event that captures my attention every year, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.  Like all our favourite spring and summer events where crowds normally gather in celebration of gardens, music, or sport, it is cancelled. It is soul destroying to think how much hard work and planning is now lost, but the consequences of such gatherings is unthinkable.  However, if you click on the link it will take you to a virtual Chelsea, and I am enjoying the week by watching the television presentations that are reliving the best of the shows of previous years.  It's not quite the same, but it brings a small sense of normality in a world where normality is anything but normal.

oriental poppy
I haven't really spoken much about my garden of late, so I will bring you up to date.

On the whole, following a very dry April, May has been a decent month weather wise, although cold and windy, and I have been trying to busy myself with gardening projects, which are bringing me immense joy and satisfaction.  At long last I have the time to begin sorting out my long neglected garden.  It's taking much planning and thought how to best proceed, but I am forming ideas that I hope will work.  I will reveal them slowly as they take shape, but I change my mind a lot.


I am trying to do it myself, but as some of you know I suffer with recurring back issues and arthritis, and these limit the amount of work I can do.  At some point I will have to bring in help, however, I am doing my best to push through, carefully and cautiously. I am determined, if nothing else.  On one hand I am frustrated, for if I did not have these physical limitations I would not be so dependent on good weather, and I would be out every possible moment, in almost all weather, all day long, doing much more than I am able to now, and the work would be so much further along than it is.  On the other hand, however, I am getting exercise and fresh air for a couple of hours a day, doing something I love, in twenty minute increments to protect my body, and I am learning patience, for these jobs cannot be hurried, and I now accept that slow and sure will win the race too.  Gardening is good for both the mind and the body, and if you garden you need neither a gym nor a therapist!

native fern
I have spent days painstakingly starting to cut back wild brambles that have taken over what was once my soft fruit beds.  Painstaking in more ways than one!  It is not a job I want to hurry, as I want to, and must, do it thoroughly, which means maintaining the area I have already cleared as I move further into the patch. The vines are notoriously tenacious and seem to start sprouting back overnight. It is also literally painful, for I firmly believe there is no such thing as a guaranteed thornproof pair of gardening gloves!  If you know of such a thing, please leave details in the comments below!

{I am not going to show you photos of the brambles just yet, for I am ashamed at how out of control they have become.  Thicket is a word that comes to mind.  Just take my word on it, and maybe one day I will happily show you.}

Blackcurrant flowers

I could go in with a strimmer and be more invasive, and quicker, but there are things that I am trying to save, such as my existing fruit canes, and strimming is indiscriminate. So, I plod on, slowly and methodically pruning out each individual bramble vine by hand.

osteospermum Purple Sun

The bramble patch, the former soft fruit area measures 40 foot by 10 foot.  It is surrounded by a low wall, and I once had my compost bins here, along with blackcurrants, gooseberries, loganberries, and four types of raspberry {which I love, and these four varieties were supposed to give up to five months of staggered harvest from June to October}  Once reclaimed, my intention is to grow the two raspberries varieties I favour best of all, Autumn Bliss and Glen Clova; blackcurrants; gooseberries; give the loganberry one more chance to prove itself; and put in raised beds with strawberries.  As I am cutting back on the overall number of canes I am considering some native trees, such as a bullace or wild plum, maybe a crab apple.  They will have to be grafted on dwarf stock.

strawberry flowers
These strawberry plants, from Suttons, came with three varieties that give the prettiest flowers I have ever seen on strawberries, and merit them a place in my garden regardless of the fruits.

I have also made a start on sorting out weed ridden borders.  I have begun with the two raised borders that are directly in front of the cottage, and which separate the patio from the lawn.  This job is painful and I can only tolerate to do a little at a time, but again, every little helps and this is one job that is nearly complete.  One border is about 10 foot by 12 inches, the other is 14 foot by 12 inches. The entire length of both borders was full of the freely seeding Briza Maxima, or Quaking Grass, which is slowly being eradicated from the garden.  It was a gift from a cousin, many years ago and gets in everywhere. It is the epitome of a White Elephant!  At the moment there is a lot of bare soil, but I have some new lavender plants on order, and I have patio roses and plenty of Ladies Mantle to fill in any gaps.

Taken in 2013
I find the above photo quite depressing, for although not wonderful, it is picturesque by today's standard.  I am hopeful, I have to be, that it will one day look better again.  It is not helped at the moment in that I cannot get a hard rubbish collection.

The lawn, currently more bee friendly with Hawkbit and dandelions than grass, is roughly 36 foot by 18 foot, but not a perfect rectangle, and it is surrounded by borders that are about two foot deep.  I plan to dig out the two cartwheel sized beds in the middle to make mowing easier, and the intention is to make the borders deeper to make less grass to mow.  I do not need a huge lawn, just enough to sit on.  There are camellias, pieris, roses, clematis and euphorbia, as well as a yew tree and patch of Japanese wind anemones to work around.

Golden Wedding rose
To the north side, there is a low walled section about 20 foot by 16 foot which gets full sun most of the day, and once reclaimed that will again be my vegetable plot.  I have plans for small raised beds and it is well drained so a good spot for my herbs, which previously thrived there.

libertertia peregrinans wandering iris

So, my friends, a brief guided tour, and I look forward to sharing the improvements as I can make them happen.  Those of you who have followed me for some time will know the heartache I have at seeing my once lovely and productive garden in such a poor state of repair, but I am a hopeful gardener, and I love my garden, despite it's currently parlous state.

Last night, we had some much needed rain, and despite all it's shortcomings, the garden is sparkling and gloriously refreshed this morning. Nothing beats a good drop of rain!

Until next time, may the sun shine on you as you stay safe and well
Deborah xo

Thursday 14 May 2020

A Day in My Life May 12th 2020

Hello Friends!

Recently, on Twitter, I was made aware of the May 12th Mass Observation Project, which you can read about if you wish; it is quite lengthy but very interesting.  Some of you may have read the book "Nella Last's War" adapted from Nella Last's diaries as Housewife 49 for this project, which began in 1937.  Anyhow, I started to take part by writing my record of that day but have since decided to share my thoughts here.  No photos on this one, just a day in the life of living in a global pandemic. May 12 happened to coincide with my rare grocery delivery day.

Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

I had been lightly dozing in the early morning daylight for some time when the alarm went off at 7:00 a.m. I turned over, thinking I might sneak an extra half hour.  Then I remembered the virus, Covid-19, that is now an all consuming part of daily life across the world.  "Tuesday", I said out loud, "It's Tuesday" for since Lockdown began two months ago I have got into the habit of telling myself what day of the week it is immediately upon waking.  

I remembered the much needed and hard to get grocery order was being delivered between ten and eleven o'clock.  Drat, no crafty lie in today.  I struggled out of bed, cursing that I did not get a doctor's appointment for these aches and pains, presumably caused by the worsening of my arthritis, before Lockdown began.  Like so many other things, it is on my long list of "I Wish I Hadn't Procrastinated".

Most of my mornings follow the same routine as they have done now for some time. I begin with prayer. I get up, washed, dressed, sit at the computer with a mug of black tea to check my emails and my Twitter account, moderating comments on my Blog, and generally waking up to what is going on in the world.  I email my best friend Darlene as I do most mornings, and I fixed my usual breakfast, a bowl of porridge with blueberries and linseeds.  My mind wandered off into the mire of the Coronavirus world in which we now live.  I seldom think of anything else these days.  Does anyone?  I wonder how this happened; how it got so out of control; how will we ever get out of it? Will we ever get out of it? As someone with an underlying health condition, I wonder if I will ever live a vestige of the life that was normal just three months ago.   The same questions billions of us across the world are asking hourly.

The telephone rang; it was my neighbour who was sharing this hard to get grocery order, asking what time it was coming, and did I happen to have any paper baking cases.  I did.  They, apparently, are one of the commodities in short supply, along with flour, yeast, sugar, eggs, pasta, rice and toilet paper.  Why toilet paper was panic bought and is in short supply is a conundrum that will puzzle us for many years to come.  I went to the kitchen to find the cake papers. 

Online grocery deliveries are now difficult to book.  My once easy weekly delivery is now about every three weeks apart, and takes a lot more planning with lack of availability. Many items are restricted to no more than three and I cannot order more than 80 items per order.  As I order for my neighbour too this is not a lot to go around.  So, I have to plan ahead, and I have learned to order, for example, a kilo bag of onions instead of four loose ones.  A bag is one item, four loose ones is four items.  I slice and freeze fresh fruit and veg to use over the coming weeks before my next order. This ensures I minimise waste and have enough to last until my next order.  I have learned to write clear notes to the pickers, who are unsung heroes, so I don't get substitutions that I cannot use.

The worst part of all of shopping is having to disinfect it.  Today was all about disinfecting.  I have set up a disinfecting station in my back porch.  The groceries were dropped off at my back door, and then the new routine began. I have learned you must do everything in order, so I put on an apron. I washed my hands.  I gelled my hands with sanitising gel.  I boiled a kettle and made a solution of hot water and disinfectant.  I put on long rubber gloves.  I opened the rubbish bin in the back yard by the door.  I then looked to the bags and found the frozen and dealt with that one first, followed by the chilled.  This involves emptying the bags into a big, shallow plastic pan inside my back door.  The bag is immediately binned into the waiting rubbish bin.  Working left to right, I take each item and wash with disinfectant then set it aside on a clean towel to dry.  I remove my gloves and take the disinfected frozen shopping to the freezer. I wipe the freezer with disinfectant, then I put my gloves back on and work my way through the rest of the shopping.  

Half way through, the phone rang.  I had to remove my gloves and apron to go answer.  I told the caller, British Gas, that it was not convenient as I was disinfecting my groceries.  What a bizarre thing to have to say to anyone.  I asked them to call later, wiped the phone with a disinfecting wipe, and I washed my hands, returned to my station, once more donning apron and gloves.  I leave the phone off the hook.

Anything that comes in a cardboard packet, such as enveloped tea bags or taco shells, is wiped, then opened and contents decanted into a clean polythene box and the card put straight into the recycling bin.  Lastly, I wash all the fruit and vegetables and dispose of any outer wrappings.  Anything that I can leave sitting in isolation for up to three days is left alone.  I then tidy up the area, make sure everything is properly disposed of, wipe surfaces down with disinfectant, and all towels used and my apron go into the wash at 60 degrees. Finally, I wipe down the outside of the washing machine and disinfect my rubber gloves and set them aside.

The order was a good one. I got almost everything, only two substitutions and only one item not available.  So grateful to have my disinfectant, Dettol spray, and Dettol wipes at long last.

I wash and gel my hands again before phoning my neighbour who comes to collect her groceries.  I carry the bags to the bottom of my drive, she comes and picks them up.  We stay at least six feet apart and exchange pleasantries, although we speak every day on the phone. We comment on how long our hair is getting. We worry about our weight and our fitness.  We go home and wash and disinfect our hands yet again.  Later that day she will transfer the money she owes me directly into my bank account so we do not have to handle change, which could be contaminated with virus. I know! 

The post has been delivered during all of the morning's activities.  I go to my front porch where a small grey tray sits with a note requesting my post is put in the tray. There is a letter.  Without touching it I spray it with Dettol spray and leave it to dry. I wash my hands again.

It all sounds excessive, but do I want to take a chance? No, I don't. Besides, if this virus is with us for the long haul, as I believe it is, we need to establish our good practice and habits to make them routine.

All of that took up the entire morning, and it was time for lunch.  I put the phone back on the hook. I wash my hands.

As I knew I would be busy, I had ordered a pre made oven pizza.  I was looking forward to it, but it was very disappointing.  It was dry and the texture of cardboard and sawdust, with a scant, supposedly oven roasted, vegetable topping.  Most unappetising but I ate it as these days wasting food is more scandalous than it has ever been.

My letter is now dry, so turn it out onto the step without touching it, spray the other side, and leave it to dry. I wash my hands.

I decide to watch the one o'clock news.  To say it is worrying, depressing, and repetitive are understatements. I begin to wish I hadn't turned it on.  I freshen my third mug of tea and settle down to watch my daily indulgence of "Neighbours".  Since this virus began, we've been down to two episodes a week, but this week we are back to a daily showing.  

As soon as the show begins, the phone rings! Darn it. British Gas again. They are suddenly taking my complaint over my new heating system seriously.  I can't put them off, I can watch Neighbours on catch up later.  It's not as if I am going anywhere.  Thirty minutes later I come off the phone.  My tea is cold, I drink it anyway.

I go to do my lunch dishes, the phone rings again.  This time it's my cousin phoning to see how I am doing.  We chat for an hour, exchanging our moans and groans about how life has changed. They are keeping well, and their son does their shopping for them, dropping it on the door and saying "hello" from his car on their drive.  They have been left mid project with a small cloakroom conversion, so have holes in walls and other work related chaos.

I go back to my cold tea and top it up with hot water. This is getting ridiculous!  I get a biscuit as it's now mid afternoon.  

I have to phone my Godmother to pass on some news from my cousins, but before I can, another neighbour phones, a local man has died from Covid-19. It tears at my gut. My thoughts go immediately to his family and what they must now be going through.  It is unthinkable.

My hot tea is cold again.  I sit down anyway, and the phone rings yet again!  British Gas, someone else, who now has questions.  I get the feeling they are trying to wriggle out of selling me an inferior system.  I fight back, I am in no mood for his patronising statements as he blames me not British Gas for the inadequacies.  

By the time I hang up another hour has gone and my Godmother's phone call will have to wait until tomorrow now, for I am mentally drained.

I am in time to catch "Richard Osman's House of Games" to which I believe I am addicted.  It's a daily dose of fun, mental gymnastics.  I turn the oven on to heat up, I take the phone off the hook. I make a fresh mug of tea and cut a slice of the orange caraway seed cake I made two days ago. I sit down and enjoy the show, for thirty minutes I manage to forget the troubles of the world.

After the show, I put a vegetarian lasagne in to hot through. I made a small salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and beetroot to have with it. I poured a glass of wine.  I have not been drinking hardly at all since Lockdown began, but treated myself to a bottle of Shiraz today.   

While my meal cooked, I went and watered my pots of salad crops and flowers outside.  The seeds have germinated but this sudden cold snap has probably pushed them back.

I enjoyed my meal around 7:30 the cleared away the dishes and tidied the kitchen for the night.  I sat for the rest of the evening trying to read and do a little cross stitch, but to no avail as I could not concentrate.  I decided to watch the film "Hidden Figures".  It's a super film about the role of vital importance played by women of colour in the NASA space programme, and I recommend it to anyone.  It didn't finish until gone 11:30,  by which time I was more than ready for bed. While the film was showing, I slathered my hands in rich, soothing L'Occitane shea butter hand cream, with a few drops of lavender essential oil added for extra soothing.  Like so many, my hands are in ribbons from the constant washing and alcohol gel.  I was yawing my head off as I prepared my hot water bottle, and dragged myself through my night time pre bed preparations, brushing teeth, asthma medications, prayers, and eventually snuggling down and drifting off to sleep.

So, my friends, a snapshot of a day during Lockdown.  I hope you enjoy it. And don't forget to wash your hands!

Until next time, 
Deborah xo

Friday 8 May 2020

An Easy Spicy Applesauce Cake

Hello Friends!

I don't know about you, but I am baking a lot more these days. Is it the craving for comfort food and something sweetly satisfying?  Is it driven by the need to do something familiar and soothing? Or is it the need to make sure nothing goes to waste?  I am using up a lot of out of date things that might otherwise have lingered too long in the cupboard and ended up wasted.  I know one thing, as a nation we must be baking a lot more as, following on from the toilet paper shortage of seven weeks ago, we now find ourselves struggling to find flour, sugar and eggs!

I found some chunky, home made applesauce lurking in the freezer. It has been there since last Autumn.  It needed using, and as I have not been baking much since Christmas I found I have some slightly out of date flour and baking fat that needed using up too.  I don't know why, I suddenly fancied an apple cake of some sort, so I Googled Applesauce Cake.  I found a lot of different recipes, so I took elements from several of them, converted from metric and cups into Imperial {I am an old fashioned girl when it comes to my baking} and devised my own recipe, which follows.

Cooling in the tin

A slice showing the chunky apple sauce and raisins

It makes quite a dense texture, maybe I didn't add enough baking powder?  Maybe I should have used self raising?  It is not unlike a Bread Pudding {do not confuse with a Bread and Butter Pudding}and for that reason I really like it.  A lot. It is good warm with yogurt, or a drizzle of Golden Syrup.

Here's what I did.

4 oz butter
7 oz sugar {I used golden granulated}
up to 10 oz apple sauce {smooth or chunky} unsweetened if using a sweet apple.
8 oz plain flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
a scant 1/4 fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ginger powder {optional}
2 oz dried fruit {cranberries, raisins, sultanas etc} optional
sugar for sprinkling {optional}

Cream together the butter and sugar.  Stir in about 8 oz of the apple sauce and combine well.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  Add more apple sauce if mixture is too dry, and make sure all ingredients are well incorporated.
Tip into a greased and floured 20cm round baking tin.  Sprinkle with a little sugar, if using, or add when cake comes out of the oven, depending how you want it to look.
Bake on Gas Mark 4 for approximately 40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool in tin for 15 minutes then carefully remove from tin to finish cooling.

I may try adding walnuts next time, which I think would be a good addition.  I will also bake it in a suitable loaf style pan too.

As there are no eggs, if you use a vegan baking fat I think it would be good for vegans too.

with home made yogurt for pudding

Next up to the oven are the two long term resident oranges in my fridge. I fancy an Orange Drizzle and maybe a small batch of Orange and Blueberry Muffins.  Waste Not, Want Not, and my freezer has space now, at last, but not for long.

Today is VE Day. Normally, street parties and all manner of social gatherings would have occurred, along with events from Buckingham Palace and all up and down the length and breadth of Great Britain, but Covid-19 has put a stop to almost all activities.  A lot of people put up bunting, and this afternoon a few of us gathered, carefully observing social distancing, in a neighbour's car port. We each brought our own cup of tea, and our own plates of food.  We sat, a good six feet apart, and chatted for over an hour.  Up and down our street similar groups gathered outside on the pavement. I cannot begin to tell you how good it was to talk to people face to face instead of over the phone, but it was a strange time too, celebrating that which brought us all closer together seventy five years ago, by keeping our distance from one another.

Here is my tray.  I picked a tiny posy from the garden, including Forget-Me-Nots and London Pride, which seemed appropriate inclusions, and Treasure had his own, special, tiny picnic hamper too.

Did you do anything to celebrate VE Day? I hope you managed something to alleviate the current mood.  We do know how to put on a good street party in Great Britain, and excel at celebrating all the anniversaries, jubilees and royal weddings!

Until next time
Deborah xo