Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 31 August 2015

Back to School



It was most timely when My Garden School contacted me recently with an offer to review one of their 4-week long courses. I'm disappointed with the range of evening classes at my local college this year and decided not to take one this autumn.

In contrast, My Garden School's list of options is quite extensive, and I swithered for quite a while between Toby Musgrave's Garden History, Michael King's Perennial Planting with Nature, and Noel Kingsbury's Planting Design With Perennials. However, the clincher for me was finding Clive Nichols' Flower Photography Masterclass. I missed out on a day with him and the Garden Media Guild last year as I was ill. I couldn't possibly miss out again, albeit in the virtual world this time.

Each course's listing comes with a little introductory video, so there's an opportunity to get an idea of each course and lecturer to see which one appeals the most. One little niggle to report here - I found the jaunty jangly background music competed too much with the lecturer's introduction. I hope this doesn't happen in the course proper.

The course consists of 4 half-hour long videos delivered on a weekly basis, plus transcripts and access to a virtual classroom. In the latter I can discuss the course with my fellow classmates and Clive. There's a maximum of 20 students per session, so hopefully we won't swamp Clive too much with our questions. We also get weekly homework designed to put what we've learned into practice, and offer it up for critique.

I'll blog about my progress over the next month or so, which will probably take the form of my response to the week's set homework, so you can critique it too. NB: Happy Mouffetard's had the same offer; you can see how she gets on with Noel Kingsbury's course over the next few weeks, and Alison's completed Toby Musgrave's already.

Update: Ronnie Tyler is taking the container gardening course and the link takes you to her first post about it. So too is Andrew O'Brien - you can see his first post here.

Note: 4-week long courses usually cost £145. However, you can have 15% off if you sign up before October 7th and use the code MGSBTS at the checkout. The next set of courses start on September 2nd, and the offer code also covers October's courses (which start on the 7th of that month), if you'd like a little longer to decide. NB I have no affiliate arrangement with My Garden School.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Tomato Trials

Tomaoes awaiting our assessment at Thompson and Morgan

Forget your 5 a day, how about eating dozens of tomatoes in a few hours? This sight greeted me at Thompson & Morgan's (T&M) trials ground on Tuesday, ready for 15 or so of us to sample these tomatoes. At the front you can see 8 'traditional' varieties ready for our assessment, with bowls of 9 each of 'coloured' and 'cherry' tomatoes lined up for later.

As with wine tasting, the bottles of water and crackers you can see were much needed accessories to stop our palates becoming jaded, though thankfully we were allowed to swallow our efforts rather than using a spittoon.

The assessment sheet used for the tomato trials day

Much chewing and thought ensued, with us assessing each variety for its appearance, skin thickness, initial taste, juiciness and flavour. I ignored a plea from a fellow assessor for us all to add salt to our tomatoes; I haven't cooked with salt for decades, so I knew his assertion it improves the flavour wouldn't apply to me.

At the end of each round we had to announce our own winner and loser in each category . We turned out to be a fickle bunch, with one person's favourite quite often despised by their neighbour. It's all a matter of taste!

With our assessments totted up, the overall winners and losers were announced, and the names of the tomatoes revealed. Here a little impishness crept in, as T&M's vegetable expert, Colin Randall confessed some supermarket purchases were sprinkled in to see what we made of them. Luckily none of these came out as a winner.

View of the outdoor tomatoes trial
T&M's Colin Randall treads carefully in the outdoor trials plot after Monday's deluge of rain

In between each round of sampling, we were taken around the outdoor and indoor trials areas. Outdoors there's a major blight trial taking place, both as part of a Europe-wide initiative and in T&M's own work with bringing new varieties to market. Other trials included looking at fertiliser treatments and grafted plants.


The Brix Refractometer in use


Tomato flavour, particularly sweetness is one of the key criteria for a successful new introduction, so it was interesting to see the almost instant assessment provided by the pictured Brix Refractometer. Brix is a measurement of sweetness of solutions and is used for a variety of vegetables and fruit. A tomato with a score of 10 or more is considered sweet. It was interesting to see variations in sweetness were found in the same variety grown under different fertiliser regimes.

We were invited to snack along the rows of tomatoes, and I confess that once I'd popped a cherry tomato or two, I simply couldn't stop. I must have eaten around 100 tomatoes of various sizes, shapes and colour on the day.

Collage of the Thompson and Morgan garden at Jimmy's Farm
Main picture and bottom right: general views of the T&M garden at Jimmy's Farm
Top right to bottom: Phlox 'Popstars' mixed, Alstromeria experimental, and Basil 'Crimson King'
Bottom left to right: Rudbeckia 'Caramel' mixed, Nemesia experimental, and Petunia 'Night Sky'

Our assessment duties over, we were invited to Jimmy's Farm for a spot of lunch and to have a look at T&M's new garden there. Unfortunately the day's fine weather turned to rain soon after we arrived, so that part of the visit was cut short. Luckily, I was there a couple of weeks ago for a bloggers' get together, so here's a few photos of what caught my eye from a sunnier time. Click to enlarge for a better view.

Several of the other attendees have blogged about their visit already, so I'll leave the story of that day in their capable hands:

Let me know if I've left anyone out. My thanks to everyone at T&M for 2 fun-filled and educational days.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Art of Swimming *

Direction pointer to King's Cross Pool Club

Take a wander around the rapidly changing King's Cross area and you can't help but notice this intriguing sign in several places.

Outside the King's Cross Pool Club

Further on, a fence and a planted mound obscure the view towards the newly minted apartment and office blocks.

The doorway to the viewing platform

A doorway invites you in, so you climb the stairs...

View from the viewing platform towards the pool

... and the mound's purpose is revealed.

View of the changing rooms

My place was booked, so after checking-in I was pointed in the direction of the red and white cabins to make my preparations...

A view from the changing cabin

... and ponder the view.

King's Cross Pond Club's noticeboard

Then I noted the temperature and...

Ready to take the plunge

... ignored the Frenchman still shivering on the side, and plunged straight in.

For a while I had the entire pond to myself.


King's Cross Pond Club swimmers


King's Cross Pond is the UK's first natural swimming pond and the latest in a series of art installations in the Lewis Cubitt Park area of the shiny new King's Cross development. The design uses plants to filter the water, so no chlorine or other chemicals are added for cleaning.

It makes for a different, most surreal swimming experience, particularly when the Eurostar goes past or the area's cranes swoop across the sky with their loads.

The number of swimmers is limited to 160 per day, calculated to ensure the plants can maintain the water's quality. I had to take a cold shower before entering the pool as part of this process, and the surprised cries of later arrivals at this stage, gave those of us in the pool a sense of achievement. We got chatting too, which isn't the usual form when going for a swim.

View of the pond's planting


The plants are separated from the bathers and take up around a third of the pond's area. It was great to lean on the wooden edge of the bathing area and peer down at the plants below. You can see water lilies floating on the surface and the surrounding aquatic plants include Phragmites, well known for its water filtration capabilities.

I loved the feel of the water, even if it was rather bracing, so the order of the day was to keep moving. Afterwards, the most invigorating glow spread throughout my body and later that evening, I had the best night's sleep I've had in months.

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Black & White arty shot of King's Cross Pond Club swimmers

The creator's intention is to provide a contrast between the urban and rural in the heart of the city. They've called the installation 'Of Soil and Water' and say it's a piece of 'experiential art'. I'm too down to earth to feel I've participated in an art installation, but it's interesting to note that since my visit, all I can think of is a massive black and white photography project, which documents the many moods of the pond and its visitors.

* = The Art of Swimming is the name of the book written by the creator of the Shaw Method, a way of teaching swimming developed by Steven Shaw. It's based on the principles of the Alexander Technique and places the emphasis on feeling at ease with the water, rather than swimming fast.

I feel the book's intention matched my experience.

Sepia toned arty shot of the fence, cranes and lifeguard's chair at King's Cross Pong Club

Update: By a strange coincidence Caro was in the same area the day before me and had the chance for a good look around The Skip Garden. This is great because I wanted to have a look round too, but sadly I arrived too late in the day.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Seasonal Recipe: Apricot Tart

Apricots ready for baking in the oven

It's Great British Bake-Off time on the telly, where the contestants vie for the top prize with increasingly ambitious bakes and not a soggy bottom in sight. I was gifted a tray of tomcot apricots when I went on a blogger day at the Thompson & Morgan garden recently, so my thoughts also turned to baking and the art of producing a simple-to-goodness tart.

If memory serves, dessert tarts require a sweet pastry, a baked custard made with cream, and a sugar-glazed coating. I wanted to produce something lighter and less sugary which allowed the flavour of the fresh apricots to shine through. This resulted in the following version, which judging by NAH's reaction was a success... "Will you marry me?", said he after taking his first taste.

Of course I had to refuse. I'm a happily married woman.

Ingredients


Butter for greasing
200g ready-made shortcrust pastry*
A little plain flour for rolling out the pastry
9 apricots
1 tablespoon sugar, plus a further 50g**
2 tablespoons ground almonds
2 large eggs
150 ml skimmed milk
4-5 drops almond essence

* = the packets of ready-made pastry are usually 500g, so you could make a quiche at the same time like I did. In this instance it was the variation I cited recently in my Courgettes with Lemon and Thyme recipe. Use this shortcrust pastry recipe if you want to make your own.

** = I used golden granulated sugar, to which for some reason NAH added the last remains of a packet of muscovado sugar left in the cupboard. That explains the dark brown bits you can see in the picture above. You can use whatever you have to hand or a drizzle of honey.

Fresh out of the oven - the finished apricot tart


Method

  1. Butter a 25cm diameter flan dish, ensuring both bottom and sides are well covered
  2. Coat the surface where the pastry's going to be rolled out with a thin layer of flour
  3. Roll out the pastry to a size a little larger than the dish's diameter plus its sides
  4. Place the pastry on the dish, ensuring it's pressed well into the sides
  5. Prick the pastry generously with a fork and allow to rest for 30 minutes in the fridge ***
  6. Whilst the pastry is resting, pre-heat the oven to 200oC (170 for fan-assisted ovens)/Gas Mark 6
  7. Halve the apricots, de-stone them and place on a non-stick baking tray
  8. Sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon of sugar (or less) as shown in the top picture. 
  9. When the pastry's well-rested, trim off the excess pastry, add some baking beans to the dish and bake-blind in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the base is crisp, but not browned. The apricots can be baked at the same time.
  10. Remove the pastry base and apricots from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. 
  11. Place the base on a baking tray
  12. Add the ground almonds and ensure they form an even layer all over the base
  13. Place the apricots on top of the almonds - as well as tasting good, the almonds are key to preventing a soggy bottom due to the juicy apricots
  14. In a bowl quickly whisk together the eggs, milk, 50g sugar and almond essence, then pour the mixture over the apricots
  15. Bake for 20-25 minutes at the same temperature as before, or until the top is browned and the custard mixture is set
Serves 6-8 slices depending on your generosity. Serve warm or cooled with some Greek yoghurt or half-fat creme fraiche if desired.

*** = Don't worry if you forget to do this, you'll end up with a pastry base with little or no sides like I did. The end result was still good enough to merit a marriage proposal.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Things in Unusual Places #16: A Shed

Possibly the fastest shed in the world at Castle Combe recently

Castle Combe Circuit isn't the first place which springs to mind for a shed, but this is the view NAH captured last Saturday. He was immediately behind the pictured shed when he arrived at the race track and after they'd both entered the event, it hung around near the entrance.

It was getting in the way of parking, so NAH wound down his window and shouted: "Oi, would you mind moving your shed?", much to the amusement to everyone else at the time.

We call my car "the shed on wheels" as it's usually crammed with things I need up at the allotment as my actual shed up there is too insecure to store anything of value. I never thought I'd see a proper shed on wheels though.

It belongs to Kevin Nicks from Oxfordshire and as of Sunday, he can now claim to have the fastest shed in the world. It achieved an average speed of 70.8mph at Elvington airfield near York, beating the previous record of 58.4 mph set by Edd China on April 1st (really??? - Ed), 2011. It's also legal to drive on the road, so who knows when this shed might suddenly appear near you.

You may also like:


I witnessed the wonderfully eccentric lawnmower racing a while ago. I wonder which gardening activity will be taken for a spin next?

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Plants for Bugs

Plants for Bugs: Comma butterfly on Verbena bonariensis
A comma on non-native Verbena bonariensis in my garden this week - it was there for over an hour 

In May 2012 I wrote in my Secret Wisley entry:

"... I was taken on a tour of one of the Plants for Bugs trials sites: it was so fascinating I'm saving the details for another post."

How time flies... I've kept some secrets for a little longer than planned. Tucked away in a not-so-much-visited corner of Wisley I saw this:

View of part of the Plants for Bugs trials plot at RHS Wisley May 2012
Part of the Plants for Bugs trials area at RHS Wisley, May 2012

The RHS released the first news of their research results last week, so at last it's time to tell you more. The key message for gardeners here in the UK is:

 "Don't get too hung up on keeping to solely native plants; choose from a wider planting palette - particularly species from the northern hemisphere - to encourage more insects and other invertebrates into your garden."

From the thousands of invertebrates collected during the study, around 300 different species were identified. The research also showed pollinators may not choose native plants as their first-choice to visit. In addition, growing a wide mix of plants originating from around the globe extends the season of availability of important food sources such as nectar and pollen.

I think there's further good news for UK gardeners because


  1. Our choice of native plants is relatively small - approximately 1,400 species, with around a further 1,300 classed as naturalised (source: JNCC). Our gardens wouldn't be half as interesting if we stuck to just our native flora.
  2. Invertebrates are towards the bottom of the food chain, so if their population is a healthy one it's good news for the other wildlife that visits our gardens to feast on a tasty snack or three.
  3. I grow a broad mix of plants from many countries, so my garden's wildlife population has a better chance of being diverse and in balance. There is less chance of any pest - such as aphids - having a population explosion which in turn overwhelms my plants.
Plants for Bugs planting plan for a native species plot
A planting plan for a native plants trials plot - other plots had solely non-native (northern hemisphere in origin)
 or exotic (southern hemisphere in origin) plants

I had a think about the native and non-native plants in my garden after my Wisley visit, and I guessed correctly what the result might be. Many of the wildlife-friendly plants which sprang to my mind don't hail from these shores e.g. Buddleja aka butterfly bush. However, it's good to see the science has proved my notion, and it's interesting to note there's a difference in the results with plants chosen from the northern and southern hemispheres.

I've enjoyed watching the many invertebrate visitors to my garden this year and I'm planning on showing you some of them in a later post. I've seen quite a few insects for the first time - I think my woolly lawn might have helped...

Neatly labelled plots - it was a very cold spring in 2012, hence the lack of colour.
We were told that growth was about 3 weeks behind the norm at the time of our visit.

Note: the results may not be transferable elsewhere


Veg Plotting's non-UK readers - particularly from across the pond - may question these results as gardeners in the USA are often actively encouraged to focus on native species *. This is largely in response to:

  • Some non-native plants which are proving to be invasive e.g. the garlic mustard I wrote about for June's Blooms Day
  • Gardeners are also encouraged to provide the right habitat and native plants for key species like the monarch butterfly along its migratory path.

Whilst our definition of native is probably similar - plants which have arrived and established in a country without the intervention of man - our timeframes are different. In the UK we usually mean plants which were here at the end of the ice age 10,000 years ago, whilst in the States it's much later, at around the time of Columbus. 

The total number of plants native to the USA is more than ten times greater than the UK's at nearly 19,000, though these numbers are probably reduced at State level, owing to the variation in plant hardiness zones across the country. It means Stateside gardeners already enjoy a wider mix of plants to choose from within their native flora.

* it's probably the wide availability of support materials and articles aimed at USA gardeners online which has helped persuade some of us in the UK that focusing on native plants is better for our gardening too. That's why research such as Plants for Bugs is important as it helps us make better informed decisions.

The main Plants for Bugs information board at RHS Wisley
The main information board at the research area, showing the layout and some of the collection methods

Note: this isn't the complete picture


Gail's left a great comment about the importance of trees in our garden mix. For example, our native oak hosts hundreds of insect species, and that's just for starters. The Plants for Bugs study focused mainly on perennials and grasses, plus a few shrubs. I wonder what the results would be if our native trees, shrubs and other plants such as bulbs were compared with their non-native cousins.

However, I'm not suggesting we all start growing oak trees in our gardens as they're too large for most plots. A study of the smaller garden-worthy trees would be helpful and I'm a huge advocate of growing at least one tree in every garden. The RHS has a couple of lists of suggestions for trees and shrubs for your consideration: Trees for smaller gardens, and Trees and shrubs: native to the UK

My friend Gail's blog, Clay and Limestone is worth a read and note she hosts Wildflower Wednesday every fourth Wednesday in the month. It's a celebration of all wildflowers from around the world.

And then... there are other factors to consider, such as:

  • Single vs double flowers and how plant breeding for showier, often double blooms may affect the availability and accessibility of nectar and pollen. 
  • The specific plants insects like the holly blue butterfly need to complete their lifecycle.
  • The influence of factors such as habitat, height above sea level, aspect, soil etc. - these variables would have to be eliminated as far as possible in the RHS's study so the full impact of the 3 plant types they looked at could be compared. However, as a gardener I'm happy to vary the number of conditions (e.g. damp, dry, shady etc.) in order to grow a wider variety of plants and to attract more wildlife.

As with much of life, there aren't really any simple ways to ensure 100% success with gardening, but on balance I believe the key message from Plants for Bugs is a good starting point.

Further Reading


Links to the RHS's Plants for Bugs project:




Other reading which may be of interest:

The RHS's Perfect for Pollinators page has links to 3 PDF lists to help us choose the best nectar and pollen-rich plants for our gardens. I wrote a post a while ago on the bee-friendly plants I've found do particularly well in my garden. Since then, I've found Agastache, Knautia, Echinops and thyme are good for all kinds of insects in addition to the Verbena bonariensis shown at the top of this post.

It's great we can grow such a wide variety of plants, but that doesn't necessarily mean we should grow all of them. Here's Plantlife's guidance page on invasive non-native plants in the UK. NB some familiar plants such as Cotoneaster horizontalis are included.

Here's a list of invasive species I've found for the USA -  you'll see there's plenty on there which we welcome here, such as ox-eye daisy. Verbena bonariensis, the loved-by-many-a-UK-gardener-and-insect-alike plant shown at the top of this post is on the invasive watchlist for Washington State.

Friday, 14 August 2015

GBBD: Persicaria 'Fat Domino'

Close-up of Persicaria 'Fat Domino'

Like Wednesday's hydrangeas, I've dismissed Persicaria as a plant of value to VP Gardens for far too long. How glad I am I succumbed to the charms of Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Fat Domino'.

Why the initial resistance? I don't really like the candy-pink version which crops up in so many planting schemes... though I've also started to re-evaluate that notion.

Why the change of mind? Well consider this...

Mass planting of Persicaria 'Fat Domino at Knoll Gardens

Isn't that glorious? It's part of the masterful planting Neil Lucas put together at Knoll Gardens in Dorset, which I saw last September. Dark red flowers have a habit of speaking loudly to me and I could see the spot where this plant would fit nicely into my garden.

So two plants followed me home, one for me and one for Karen.

Persicaria 'Fat Domino' and Agastache 'Blackadder' in combination in my garden


As you can see it's settling in very well here and I hope to see it doing the same when I visit Karen soon. I rather like how it echoes the form of Agastache 'Blackadder' in the terrace bed above it. I'd love to claim responsibility for this combination, but in reality nature did it for me as this year the Agastache decided to grow to the left of the position I planted it in 2014.

I love how visits to gardens and shows, plus the art of just looking, enable us to re-evaluate our ideas.

Now where can I put this...

Another Persicaria I liked the look of at Knoll Gardens - 'September Spires'

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

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Latin without tears


According to my A to Z of Plant Names, Persicaria is derived from Latin/Greek and means peach-like. This refers to the shape of the leaves in some of the species. 

The species name amplexicaulis is from Latin and refers to the way the base of the leaves clasp the stem. This Persicaria species is native to an area which spreads from Afghanistan to China. However, P. 'Fat Domino' is the result of a plant breeding programme (the link takes you to more details) and is currently subject to Plant Breeders Rights.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Plant Profiles: Hydrangeas, especially H. paniculata

Plant profiles: Hydrangeas - Hydrangea macrophylla in our back garden

The first plant gifted to VP Gardens was this Hydrangea macrophylla from one of our neighbours, who'd proudly propagated lots of them and passed on his surplus to us and the other newcomers to our part of the estate.

That was 15 years ago and I'm sorry to admit I've neglected our gift by relegating it to one of the garden's most shady corners. It's a good filler plant, but like many people, I'm not that keen on the mophead hydrangeas, especially when they're sugar pink from an alkaline soil.

Last year saw a sea-change in my general dismissal of hydrangeas. I was with Victoria and Charlotte on our post-Fling road-trip around Oregon and a friend suggested we visit Dancing Oaks nursery, close to the farmstead where we were staying. Amongst their many treasures were a number of fine-looking hydrangeas of various species and hue, with Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee' looking particularly perky to me.

Then I visited Aberglasney in Wales early this year where the Head Gardener's planting of Hydrangea paniculata stopped me in my tracks. Their faded blooms were exploding out of the borders making a firework-like display. 'If they're that spectacular in January', I thought, 'imagine what they're like in peak flower'.

Well, imagine no more VP, take a gander at this:

Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight'
Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' - also has an RHS Award of Garden Merit

The best thing - in my view - about H. paniculata and some of the other species like H. quercifolia, is their colours stay true irrespective of the soil pH. There's no danger of that in-between muddy purple hue that many of the mopheads adopt. As well as the dead flowers providing interest well into the depths of winter, many H. paniculatas also undergo a colour change when in bloom - these 'Limelight' flowers will darken and develop a pinkish tinge later on.

I'm currently hacking back the shrubbery at the bottom of our garden and I've surprised myself by putting a hydrangea at the top of the possibles for my planting list...

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Cultivation Notes


A closer look at H. 'Limelight'
Hydrangeas are largish shrubs, with H. paniculata growing to 4-10 feet depending on the one chosen and if it's pruned. They bloom for a long time, typically July to October and the flower heads can be retained to provide winter interest. They're not fussy about soil acidity/alkalinity and do well on fertile, moist soils. They also prefer a shady spot out of cold winds and frost pockets.

Several H. paniculata have the RHS Award of Garden Merit - Graham Rice describes some of them in his article on 10 AGM hydrangeas, which includes H. 'Limelight'. I saw them looking good with astilbes in the woodland garden at Beth Chatto's garden last week and Ursula Buchan recommends Japanese anemones as a good companion.

H. paniculata 'Pinky Winky'
H. paniculata 'Pinky Winky'
The species mentioned here should be pruned in the spring - paniculata and arborescens types should be cut back hard as they flower on new wood. H. macrophylla needs the dead flowers removed, plus cutting back to a pair of strong buds as this type flowers on old wood. Oak-leaf hydrangeas just need the removal of dead or overlong stems. Beware late frosts - I've been caught out before - which may blacken the season's new growth. Propagation can be achieved by taking softwood, semi-ripe or hardwood cuttings.

Hydrangeas are relatively pest and disease-free - I've never had any trouble with them - though the RHS website has advice on hydrangea scale.

The National Collection of Hydrangeaceae - which includes hydrangeas - is at Lagg House, Dunure in Ayrshire.

H. arborescens 'Annabelle'
Also worth considering:
H. arborescens 'Annabelle'

You may also like:


  • The RHS general guide to hydrangeas, with lots of cultivar recommendations from several hydrangea species
  • The RHS trials report on H. paniculata
  • The US National Arboretum's Q&A guide to hydrangeas - includes good descriptions of the main cultivated species


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Latin without tears


Hydrangeas hail from Asia and North America; the genus name Hydrangea is derived from the Greek for water hydor, and aggos meaning vessel or jar, which refers to the fruit. There are 23 species and of those mentioned in this blog post:

  • arborescens - from the Latin arboresco, becoming tree-like and this species can indeed grow tall. Native to eastern USA. 
  • macrophylla - from the Greek meaning large-leaved. Native to eastern Asia.
  • paniculata - from the Latin for tuft panicula, and refers to the shape of the flowers. Native to eastern Russia, China and Japan. 
  • quercifolia - from the Latin Quercus, the binomial name for oak and folium for leaf, so you can easily imagine what the leaves of this hydrangea resemble. Native to south eastern USA. 
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Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

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Monday, 10 August 2015

Seasonal Recipe: Courgettes with Lemon and Thyme

Stir frying the courgettes
Stir frying the courgettes - you can see they're just beginning to brown. 

Our courgettes went from zero to glut within a week and our continuing trips away means I'm not keeping to my pick small and often philosophy. Faced with yet more courgettes reaching for marrowdom, I came up with this simple recipe which can be used in a number of ways.

It's inspired by my memories of holidays in Greece where walks to the beach were scented with wild thyme crushed underfoot and us brushing past lemon trees. It makes a change from the Italian twist I usually add to my courgette glut. You can adjust this flexible recipe to suit your circumstances.

Ingredients


  • 1 large courgette
  • Half a tablespoon good olive oil
  • Leaves stripped from 3-4 large sprigs of freshly picked thyme
  • Juice of 1 small unwaxed lemon ('cooked' on high for 20 seconds in a microwave to release the juices)
  • Freshly ground black pepper


Method

  1. Cut the courgette in half lengthways, then halve each half again. 
  2. Cut each quarter into small slices and place in a bowl
  3. Add the olive oil, thyme, lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  4. Mix together well and leave to marinade for a few hours in the fridge, preferably overnight
  5. Take a large non-stick frying pan and heat to a high temperature
  6. Add the courgettes and stir fry until the courgettes are well browned


Serving ideas

  • Serve warm with grilled salmon and boiled new potatoes
  • Serve warm or cold to accompany a salad

Quiche made with courgettes with lemon and thyme


Variations

  • I didn't have a lemon, so I used a few large dollops from the tube of lemongrass paste I keep in the fridge to replace it and the olive oil. Chopped lemon verbena or lemon balm leaves should also work well with a tablespoon of olive oil
  • Add a handful of pine nuts to the stir fry for the last few minutes to add a crunchy, nutty bite
  • Sweat a finely chopped onion in a non-stick frying pan before adding an equal amount of marinaded courgette, then stir fry until the courgettes are soft to make a filling for a quiche or omlette

For more glutbuster courgette recipes, see my Easy Recipe Finder.

PS It's National Allotments Week - so this post forms a personal celebration with the produce from my plot.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Tree Following With Lucy: Late Summer Update

New growth sprouting from the ash stump as photographed for "Tree Following with Lucy: Late Summer Update"

It's late summer and three months since my last update on the ash tree I'm following. As you can see, May's Green Shoots of Recovery have grown both in length and profusion. Nine months on from November's Drama, it's clear my tree has indeed survived and grows stronger by the day.

The ash tree after last November's tree surgery
The form of its recovery is intriguing. My tree stands in the small clearing which marks the extent of its former canopy and as a result is lit pretty evenly all round. Yet all of the new shoots are coming out of just one side, which is the location of one of the two 'prongs' the tree surgeons left last November (see right).

Could it be only one part of the tree survived? What role (if any) does the ivy we can see curling around the other 'prong' play in the tree's regeneration?

A closer inspection is required...

Visit Loose and Leafy to see what the other Tree Followers found this month.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

In the Night Garden at West Green House

A collage of the night garden at West Green House - some of the magical lighting installed so opera goers can picnic and take a stroll around the gardens

There's an opera season every summer at West Green House and it was a lovely surprise to have an invitation to see Ariadne auf Naxos on Sunday. To celebrate the season, the grounds are transformed into a magical night garden.

I thought you'd enjoy some of the views from my post performance walk, especially the fleeting appearance of the moon above the moon gate. One minute later it had disappeared beneath those clouds.
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