It’s been a rather busy six months for me. I can’t quite see where my time has gone. Well, I say that, I spent a lot of it working in my client gardens. Unfortunately, this meant that I wasn’t able to look after my own pots as much as I’d have liked to. It certainly put the Fuchsia Berry to the Test! It really grew lots over the summer and it bloomed lovely to my surprise.
I had my first Berries from the plant in July. Albeit only a few. Never the less, I had berries and my first victims, umm I mean candidates, to try the berries and the flowers (along with myself) were my parents and my guinea pig. I wish I had been able to record my parent’s reactions, they were priceless! I did get a snap of Oscar trying his. He wasn’t too sure.
(I will apologise if you have been following me on twitter as I am using the same pictures in this blog as I have published on there!)
We all tried the flowers first. I ate each piece individually, which is probably best when you first try them as each bit tastes different. Mum on the other hand put the whole thing in in one go and then proceeded to proclaim, while screwing her face up ‘how could you give me something so foul! You evil child!’ All in jest of course. My dad had played the tactical game waiting for our responses before he would dare to try it. Now he was a little put off by mum’s reaction but I managed to get him to try a bit and after a few small bites he said he didn’t mind it but wouldn’t rush to have another one.
The berries were a different story. We all enjoyed them and I got my Grandad to try some when I had a few more and gave him some to take home to nanny for her to try. They never made it home. I don’t think they even made it out of the door!
The berries to me taste like a cross between a blueberry and a grape. The skin has a slightly bitter taste but that maybe because I was feeding my plant with Worm Tea from my wormery.
Over the next few months I trapped more people into trying my berries. Nearly everyone who I asked to try them were dubious whether I was trying to poison them. Ye of little faith! Of course, I promised the I wasn’t and I ate them in front of them to prove that I was going to be poisoned as much as they were. Their responses were much the same as mine. They either said blueberry or grape or a mix of the two.
When it came to the flowers though a few really protested that you can’t eat Fuchsia flowers. Even with me eating them in front of them and explaining that Thompson and Morgan have tested it and verified it is safe they still wouldn’t. Those who did try them had a similar response to my dad. Although they did say that it wasn’t what they were expecting but they did taste ok and would eat them again if they were on their plate.
I think the reason why the flowers got such a bad reaction from my mum and an alternative reaction from others that tried them was because they don’t taste anything like you expect them to. They trick you. Being the hot pink and purple that they are, you expect them to be sweet like most other things of their colouring are. But don’t be fooled. When in their prime picking season, mid-summer, the stamens have a fiery kick to them, like pepper crossed with chilli and the petals and bracts taste like rocket and red mustard leaves. If you want to give your salad an exotic twist this is certainly the thing to do it with.
It was my mum’s birthday in August so, being the good daughter that I am, I made her a birthday cake. Chocolate sponge with chocolate fudge icing and chocolate sprinkle and sugar flowers. Pretty eurgh if you ask me, but then I don’t really like chocolate. More of a tomato girl. Any way just before I lit the candles and we sung the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ I went out into the garden and picked some Flowers along with some of my home-grown strawberries to finish the cake off. I think they added that extra little bit of pizzazz! Although mum still wouldn’t eat them even with Chocolate fudge icing on them.
The Fuchsia Berry is certainly a good conversation starter and this year I hope to see if feeding it sugar water makes a difference to how it tastes. But for now, it is tucked up in fleece inside my heated greenhouse.
I wish you all a Happy New Year and a prosperous and plentiful growing season to come,
Having heard Prime Minister, Teresa May, speaking earlier this week about her plans to ‘transform’ attitudes to mental health and to provide improved support to sufferers, I was remembering that someone told me once that spider plants were great to have around, at home and in the office, as they could help lift mood and alleviate depression. We’ve all heard about the therapeutic value of gardening and I even heard on the radio recently that some enlightened GPs are actually giving suitable patients prescriptions for mental health-promoting gardening projects.
I wondered if there was any scientific evidence that supports the idea that plants are good for mental health. Certainly, when I did an internet search for ‘mental health and plants’, it threw up a long list of articles, research and advice. The general consensus seems to be that having plants in your home and in your work space can really improve negatives such as anxiety, depression and tension, whilst improving productivity and reducing fatigue.
The areas in which plants can have a positive effect on our mood and productivity are many and varied according to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). It appears that the benefits of living and working around indoor plants have been shown to include:
– Improved mood
– A reduction in stress
– Increased productivity
– Improvements in attention span and concentration
Physical health improvements have been shown to include:
– Reductions in breathing problems
– Reductions in blood pressure levels
– Reductions in levels of fatigue and headaches
And the fact that patients in hospital rooms with plants report better pain tolerance is a bit spooky, but brilliant! There’s science to prove this; research from Kansas State University in 2008 showed that hospital patients treated in rooms where plants were situated, needed lower levels of pain killers
It appears that the plants trap and filter air pollutants in the home – kitchen products, air fresheners, faulty boilers – and at work – bacteria, dust, cleaning products, creating better air quality. Apparently just one plant per 3 employees can improve air quality in an office and can reduce CO2, dust and bacteria. I even found a study by NASA no less, saying that they’d found that plants are able to absorb and break down even quite harmful chemicals in the air through their leaves, creating a healthier indoor eco-system.
It sounds like a no-brainer! If we’re going to be happier and healthier in the home or at work if we import a few plants, let’s do it! Obviously we don’t want to live and work in a semi-forest environment, but within reason, it’s not difficult or costly to bring a bit of greenery into your life.
It seems that the visual benefits – and hopefully the health benefits too – of bringing plants inside is being recognised by retail companies and restaurants. We’ve noticed that various eateries and shops seem to have jumped on the vertical garden trend bandwagon. Here’s a fabulous wall of greenery that we spotted in west elm on London’s Tottenham Court Road.
Leigh Hunt, one of the authors of the RHS paper which discussed the benefits of bringing plants inside, said that you don’t need to surround yourself with exotic or expensive plants, ‘a spider plant is a good choice, or even common English ivy’. I can’t say I’d want ivy growing in my house – I’m in a long-running battle with ivy growing over our shed – but it was good to read that Mr Hunt has confirmed my long-held, but unsubstantiated view that the humble spider plant was thought to be a good mood-enhancing house plant to grow.
Prime Minister, Teresa May’s speech also emphasised the need to provide more help and support for young people with mental health issues. Having read about research showing that plants and greenery can help to reduce stress and blood pressure in students and young people whilst encouraging their concentration, I plan to continue with my practice of giving my children and their friends a home-grown spider plant as a ‘going off to university’ gift.
I love spider plants. Not only do they have a kind of ‘70s kitsch thing about them, which adds a bit of nostalgic fun, but they are incredibly easy to grow and seem to be virtually immune to neglect. And I should know! I don’t remember to water mine as often as I should, but they still seem to sprout their ‘babies’ at the ends of their long tendrils. They look great perched on a shelf at home or at work, and if you need a new one (for aforementioned students or others in need of a mood lift) you can just snip off one of the ‘babies’ and stick it in some compost in a pot, water it when you remember and hey presto! a new spider plant grows.
Other plants that are suitable for indoor growing, and which would suit an office environment too, are aloe, cacti, succulents, ivy, rubber plants and peace lilies. These are generally fairly low maintenance and should support conditions produced by air conditioning and possible neglect during times when the office might be empty.
I’ve got a spider plant positioned on top of my in-tray on my desk at work now, so I’ll have to let you know if I notice marked improvements in my productivity and general cheeriness!
Christmas? Well thank goodness that’s over! So used to being outdoors am I (virtuous, smug) that being confined to quarters made me as sleepy as a dormouse. I reckon I was spending 14 hours a day either in or on the bed! Buoyed up by the prospect of increased day length (1 minute per day, yippee!) I have taken to mooching around the garden, peering at the earth for signs of life. And I haven’t been disappointed: crocus, snowdrops, narcissi; pulmonaria, cyclamen, Lords and Ladies; hellebores, scuttelaria integrifolia (Blue Helmet, cross between mint and salvia – look it up, it’s a thug but great for shade), sedum; and at eye level Clematis Freckles, little darling it is!
At this time of year there is no hiding place for hangers on I can tell you! I have been stalking around, beady eye looking out for howlers and as a result have a lovely list of removals in the offing: A variegated Philadelphus in a patio container never flowers well due to lack of bright sunlight and contributes nothing of interest to the winter displays. Where to put it in the borders though? It’s like the Domino effect here, what can I move on to make room for it? David reckons if he stands still too long he won’t be safe either! I can’t wait to get that clumsy spotted laurel out after sneering at it for years (ruthless terminator!) and replace it with Cornus Kousa Robert’s Selecte. The tree peony will be looking for a good home too. It doesn’t warrant its position as focal point of the fernery. Poor thing has only produced 3 flowers in its 5 year existence due to low light levels. I am rubbing my hands together in glee at the boundless planting possibilities: Maybe the T&M Blechnum Brasiliensis Volcano?
No more excuses! The miscanthus has to be lifted and divided in spring before it swallows up neighbouring thalictrum and euphatorium. Oh the effort, the mess, the clearance! Ah, but once it’s done think of the extra space. (Do you have two little green men on your shoulders arguing away behind your back? Only wish they could do the digging as well.) And bidens Hannay’s Lemon Drop is creeping through the salvia uliginosa and has to be stopped before it takes over. Trouble is, that whole section of bed will have to come up to separate them all. Perleeease! I’m exhausted already!
Some things seem to be a bridge too far though, like resolving to grow culinary herbs outside the back door. Trouble is, they start off vigorously enough in Spring, but by summer the passiflora canopy has shaded them out, and or the cats have been grazing on them. Maybe hanging baskets?
It’ll be a month or so before I can really get stuck in, but I shall console myself during the frosts by scouring the new Spring T&M catalogue. Plenty of sumptuous ideas for container planting, as well as delicious new tomato and veg varieties. A Must-Have addition to the allotment will be strawberry Just Add Cream, introduced to us at last Summer’s T&M Triallist’s Open Day. But more about the forthcoming year’s trials in my next blog.
In the meantime, here are some of my personal favourites from our garden throughout 2016:
Cleaning Garden tools for winter
A good garden tool isn’t just for Christmas ….
A cliché, but true. Proper tool maintainance, from the humble trowel to the mighty cultivator, will extend their useful life considerably. Regular cleaning, oiling, sharpening and generally looking after them will also make your life a lot easier. Some tools may only need an annual service whilst others will benefit from being cleaned after each use.
I have to admit that I’m no angel all the time when it comes to this, and I’m sure there have been times when we’ve all left a pair of secateurs outside or put dirty spades and forks away in the shed. When was the last time you sharpened your shears properly and gave your Dutch hoe some TLC?
As it’s now that time of year when a lot of the garden has been put to bed and tools are away for the winter. The lawn mower has gone into hibernation in the shed or garage like a bear settling down for the winter and even the hedge cutter can find a roost and be hung up until it’s needed again.
But before all that happens, I need to be kind to my tools so that I can use them when I need to come spring!
First of all, anything with a blade I will give a good clean. I’ll use a strong detergent, water as hot as I can bear a scrubbing brush and one of those sponges with a scourer on one side. It’s so easy to let a build up of rubbish, gunk, sap etc accumulate, especially on secateurs and loppers; scrape off the worst of it using another blade (I use the knife on my trusty Multitool) and then give them a good scrub. Once they’re all clean and dried, sharpen them using a file or whetstone if you have one, they’re cheap to buy anyway and well worth getting one. You’ll get a much keener edge on the blade, which will make pruning later on much easier and you’ll also get a cleaner cut, which will reduce the chances of disease getting in! One I’ve sharpened the blade, checked it and put a plaster on my thumb where I found out it was VERY sharp, I put a drop of oil on the hinge and any other parts that move and I also then spray the blades with WD40.
Next on my list are the hand tools; the trowels, spades, rakes and hoes etc. These are usually the ones that take the hardest beating each year, and so also end up looking the worst of all.
A good scrape of the worst of the built up dirt followed by a wire brush to really give them a thorough clean and then the detergent and scourer again to finish them off. Once the metal parts have all dried I wipe them over with an oily rag or again a light spray with WD40
I have heard a tip from a friend who has a bucket of sharp sand in his shed, which has been mixed with motor oil, when he comes in with used tools, he plunges them in and out of the bucket, the sand helps to clean the tools and the oil preserves against rust. I haven’t tried this I admit, it sounds like a good idea, but knowing me, I’d stub my toe on the bucket or kick it over!
Although much rarer these days, some of my tools have wooden handles, these handle can dry out and potentially split, or become weak and break under strain. A clean, light sanding and then a liberal dose of teak oil keeps the wood in good condition and also helps to keep it more flexible too.
I know a lot of people recommend and use linseed oil on their gardening tools, to preserve blades, prevent rust and on wooden handles etc. I am perhaps overly cautious though and don’t really want to have anything that could potentially burst into flames if I forget to do something like clear up properly. I’ll stick with WD40 and teak oil, thank you very much!
I’m not a mechanic by any means but I do carry out a few simpler tasks on any garden machinery I own. For major things I always use a professional as it’s just not worth doing a “bodge” job on any piece of machinery that could go wrong and be expensive to replace!
Cleaning is probably the most important part, especially on your lawn mower, the build up inside the deck of old grass, mud, leaves and goodness knows what else can lead to rust holes on a metal deck, or an inefficient grass collection, the blades catching in internal debris can be harmful too.
If you have a petrol mower, tip it back in the direction recommended by the manufacturer, if you don’t then trust me, the oil can go everywhere, and this can REALLY mess things up later on. I usually use an old paint scraper to get rid of the worst, then it’s back to brushes and hot soapy water to give it a thorough scrub. Whilst you’re waiting for it to dry off, take the blade off if you can (wearing gloves of course) and test the cutting edges. Sharpen using a file, balance it and put it back. If in doubt, take it somewhere that can sharpen mower blades and balance them properly. If a rotary mower blade isn’t balanced then the vibrations it will cause when in use will seriously harm the machine, not to mention it being absolutely awful to use too!
Check the oil regularly of course, and clean out air filters, or replace them, this goes for all petrol machinery throughout the year. It’s a similar routine for tillers and any other large, driven machinery. As a matter of course, before I start any machine, I always check the spark plug lead is intact and that it’s firmly seated onto the plug itself, this is from past experience and prevents some head scratching as to why the machine won’t start!
The internal workings of some of my electrical equipment I honestly leave well alone. I’m nowhere near qualified to take my hedge trimmer apart, so I don’t. I really good clean and brush down, Good old WD40 on all the moving parts and check all the wires and plugs for damage is about all I can do.
Obviously make sure your storage area is clean and dry too, no point cleaning everything up & putting it away only to find the more rust has accumulated over the winter!
These are definitely “chores” every year, but I’ve found that it’s well worth it, keep your favourite tools clean and tidy and you’ll have as much pride in them as you will your garden!
Obviously more hints and tips are more than welcome from everyone!
Time moves on so quickly and 2017 will be the 5th year that I have been trialling plants for Thompson & Morgan in my multi-award winning seaside garden! Back in 2013, the first items I received were a Cox’s orange Pippin Apple Tree and a Plum Gage, Reine Claude. Back then we were sent whatever was chosen by the company and I feared that I would not be able to use then in my exposed coastal garden. Now, they are both established and have started to produce small amounts of fruit, always difficult here on the coast, with the wind blowing across the garden!
Another arrival that first Spring was a delicate rose ‘garden party’, which still flowers profusely in the front and back garden each Summer. Also received in the first year were Peruvian Tree Lily, Alstroemeria ‘Everest Collection’. These have been quite stunning year on year and much remarked on by our many garden visitors. They were all planted in a large container and are still doing really well. Last Summer, I was very lucky indeed to have trialled 2 brand new 2017 plants, featured in the Spring catalogue. The stunning new fuchsia ‘Icing Sugar’ on the front cover and the equally beautiful Bidens ‘Firelight’ on page 11. I’d suggested 2 names for the plants, but I’m afraid they weren’t the final ones chosen! However, my quote on the Fuchsia was used in publicity last November.
“Geoff Stonebanks, gardening writer, blogger and creator/owner of The Driftwood Garden near Lewes in Sussex, trialled ‘Icing Sugar’ for T&M last year and says: “The beautiful new fuchsia, ‘Icing Sugar’, certainly lives up to its name; a delicate and frosted gem.” Geoff added: “As an avid fuchsia lover, this delicate and frosted ‘Icing Sugar’, on show in my garden for the first time this summer, is utterly stunning.”
Both of these plants are ones I would heartily recommend for anyone’s garden this Summer.
So, what can I and my garden visitors look forward to seeing in 2017 from Thompson & Morgan? We’re set to open 14 times this summer and already have several coach trips booked into the garden as well, as a result of me and the garden being seen on BBC Gardeners’ World last Autumn. Here’s what we will be receiving in the next few months. Strawberry ‘Just Add Cream™’. Petunia Amore ‘Queen of Hearts’, Buddleja davidii ‘Wisteria Lane’, Geranium ‘Black Rose’, Osteospermum ‘Falling Stars’. Gazania ‘Shepherd’s Delight’, Calendula ‘Winter Wonders Collection’. Petunia ‘Mini Rosebud Romantic Peachy’, Sweet Pea ‘Earl Grey’ and finally Petunia ‘Night Sky’ again, as it was such a success in 2016.
The information both on-line and in the Spring catalogue certainly made me want to see these on show in the garden. Who could resist the chance to smell the intense perfume that evokes childhood memories of your first taste of a strawberry or appreciate the fashionable new sweet pea, offering stunning colour on both sides of the graduated or ‘flaked’ petals. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they all grow this Summer and will be posting update son my garden web site throughout the season. Check them out at wwww.driftwoodbysea.co.uk
A quick update from the garden after the growing season.
So now the colder months begin and the long, darker nights draw in I am reflecting back on the last growing year at certain successes and trials in the garden and allotment sites. One of the big successes has been the runner beans. I planted 3 different Thompson & Morgan varieties – all with different coloured flowers. I planted these down at the allotment mixed up so that when they grew it created not only tasty beans but also a lovely mix of different coloured blooms on the plants too, winding up the canes. These were perfect simply chopped up and boiled for evening meals in pastas or grated for seasonal, fresh salads. I simply kept picking them every few days and they kept on growing right into end September/October which was fantastic. A real crowd pleaser both for ease of growing and for taste value too.
Another massive success was the raspberry canes. Now I know I mention these every time but it is simply because I have been so impressed by them each year in the summer. In particular the ‘Glen Moy’ variety has flourished. Fruit started appearing nice and early in the growing season and from then on gave a regular and heavy crop each week till late. I loved picking these fresh, juicy raspberries as I wandered past to feed the chickens I keep and try to save the raspberries to go with my breakfast porridge. However, most of them did not make it back into the house for cooking desserts or breakfasts as they were consumed earlier on the garden walk.
Jerusalem artichokes have been a new discovery for me this year – trying to grow and cook with them. They were easy to grow and I have experimented with cooking them in different ways. They are a faff to prepare and peel but are a nice addition to a potato gratin with tasty layers topped with cheese and cream – perfect in autumn!
The spring onion (White Lisbon variety) crop I have had this year has been immense! Simply so easy to plant and grow with little intervention apart from regular watering. I have had a formidable crop and have used them mercilessly snipped into fresh salads, mixed into potato salads and as a quirky addition to scrambled eggs on a Sunday (with wild garlic).
Overall, I cannot wait to get cracking with the next growing season and focus on one particular element next year. I haven’t decided which project yet but possibly thinking salads or unusual varieties of vegetable.