We’re jammin’

It seems that everyone I speak to at the moment is in a mad frenzy of preserving fruit and vegetables! It’s the sign of a good year in the garden, when you have so much produce that you can’t eat it all at once, and this year seems to have been one of those years.

Making jam and preserves is a fabulous way to ensure that you have a lovely stock of summer memories for the coming cold months ahead. Opening a jar of homemade strawberry jam, to smother on hot buttered toast in the depths of winter, must be one of the most comforting things that you can do. It is a reminder of the long summer days which have ripened the fruit, and there are few things which compare to the taste of good strawberry jam. I can attest to this, because my dad makes the best strawberry jam in the world. I’m sure this would be difficult to prove either way, so you’ll have to take my word for it, but it is literally the best.

But it’s not just jams – I was speaking to my editor at the paper this week, and he has had a particular glut of plums in the garden of his new house. He has been making plum gin, plum jam, crumbles…. it’s a really great way to feel that you are not wasting any of the produce that you have grown, and a great idea for Christmas gifts – it’s economical, and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t appreciate the thoughtfulness of a homemade, and homegrown gift. I’ll be heading over to see my parents tomorrow evening, a blackberry and apple pie has been promised!

Bloom and Wild – you’ve got mail!

Any regular readers of this blog will know, that there are few things in life that I enjoy more, than recieving flowers. Be it from a friend who is visiting for the weekend, a dinner guest, or delivered to my office for a special occasion, there are few things as exciting as opening that card to find out who they are from. Another thing that I absolutely love, is recieving post – one of my very best friends has written me a letter every week for the last ten years, and I her. I expect we will do this every week for the rest of our lives, and the boxes full of letters that we have kept will perhaps one day be opened by our children, or grandchildren. So, a combination of these two things – post, and flowers, strikes me as an excellent idea indeed.

I was sitting in the office last week when a lady came through the door – this happens fairly regularly with people wanting to sell things, or advertising their business. Most of the time I am not interested – either a new restaurant menu, or a removal company, but this time I was interested – a new idea for floristy – a new idea for sending flowers to either business contacts, or to friends – by post! At first of course, I was thinking of all of the reasons this might not work – what if your letterbox was really small, what if the flowers were waiting on your doormat all day whilst you were at work – wouldn’t they be dead by the time you got home if they weren’t in water… etc, etc.. but then I looked up the website of the company, and could see that they had thought of all of these things. I could, however, see all of the benefits too – my sister, for example has lost several lovely bouquets of flowers, due to not being in when they have delivered through the post in a large parcel – when sending some flowers by post, that don’t fit through a letterbox, they are then taken back to the Royal Mail delivery office, which is only open during her working hours, thus meaning that by the time she can get there to pick them up, the flowers have long since expired,..

After having mentioned on twitter that I had met with the lady from the company in my office, the business contacted me, asking if I would like them to send me some flowers so that I could see what they were like, and how it worked – YES PLEASE was my immediate response – never one to turn down the opportunity of flowers – I waited with anticipation!

When the flowers arrived, I wasn’t disappointed! The packaging was chic and understated. The flowers inside were delicately protected, and when I unwrapped them, they created a huge bunch of flowers which was much bigger than I expected, and formed a huge bouquet for the price that they would have been. There was a sheet of information about the flowers, with an interesting fact about the gladioli which I had never heard before – a little flower lesson with my bouquet – just another thing which sets Bloom & Wild apart, and makes the whole package more special.

The other thing which I love about this company, is that they have tapped into the market, and the way in which people always want to have things ordered these days. We order our supermarket shopping online, with the facility to just enter everything that you ordered the week before, without really having to think about what you need – or we order boxes of healthy snacks to be delivered to our workplace – again, leaving the decision for what we have delivered to someone else – it’s a good way of getting some variation, whilst still fulfilling the need to buy some healthy food for the day at work.

Bloom and Wild offer a service whereby you can order flowers to be delivered to you on a weekly, or monthly basis. The flowers are selected by a different price banding, and then you will recieve flowers in that style or range each week, or month, for however long you have chosen. It’s obviously possible to have them delivered just on a one-off basis, but the idea of having a “surprise” bouquet delivered in the post on a weekly, or monthly basis is fabulous. It’s a great, and lasting idea for a birthday or anniversary present, and the prices that are being quoted for the bouquets are also very reasonable. I know I’m going to be trying this company out in the future!

The plant of the centenery…

At the Chelsea Flower Show this year, people were voting for the plant of the Centenery – there were many to choose from, and I was quite surprised to hear that Geranium Rozanne had been picked as the winner.

It wasn’t one that I was familiar with, and with lupins and the like to choose from, I thought it a slightly unexpected choice.. However, when looking around several open gardens recently, I have spotted this little plant creeping in. I wonder whether they have always been there, but I haven’t been looking at them in the past?

Nearly every garden that I went to in the local open gardens had at least one of these lovely plants. The colour is divine – the petals look as though they have been individually painted – with their delicate vein pattern, and perfect hues. They appear fragile, although they seem to grow very happily, or at least they were very healthy looking plants in the gardens that I saw, and the combination of the colours of the flower, against the lush green of the leaves, is pretty picture perfect.

I have never really liked geraniums, or at least I’ve never thought that I did, but this year, I have potted two red geraniums into terracotta pots and put them on wall sconces outside my house – they give a real air of French chic, and they really brighten up the brickwork – I think my thoughts on the genus might be changing…

Geranium Rozanne doesn’t look like what I would expect from a geranium though – I would normally associate them with bawdy colours, and vibrant petals, and of course a fairly strong scent. These are different though – they are a far more feminine, more gentle version of the flower that I knew of, and the more I see of them, the more I begin to understand why they were picked as the winner!

When plants are fun.

I was getting in the car to go to work last week, when I saw a group of boys hanging around near my front door. There is a fairly overgrown hedgerow near to my house, and they seemed to be rooting around in it. My first thought, quite unfairly, was that they must be up to no good. They must have been around 11 -12, and I thought they must have found some rubbish in there, or perhaps had found a bird’s nest – although if I had thought about this for longer than five seconds, I would have realised that I don’t live in an edition of Just William, and boys probably don’t go hunting for bird’s nests these days.

I carried on watching as one of the boys broke away from the group, and started to chase the others – they were whooping, and chasing each other, and I suddenly realised why – STICKY WEED! That wonderful natural toy – sticky weed. It is something that I had almost entirely forgotten about – of course, I have an ongoing battle with it in my flowerbeds at the moment, but I had forgotten about it as an implement of torture – of it being one of the simplest, and most fun things that you can play with as a child – the idea of running around and chasing your friends with a long weed, seems silly when you put it in writing – but in real life – it is absolutely wonderful.

We used to hunt for it as children – finding some would be a great achievement, and then of course it would give what felt like hours, but was more likely minutes of fun – chasing each other and sticking it to the back of the poor victim, who would almost certainly not be able to reach the blasted thing half way up their back… and then when it would finally become free, of course the chase begins again!

I wonder how many children these days know about sticky weed – I hope it’s more than I would expect.

The Tatton Park Flower Show – Bee Happy

The Tatton Park Flower Show was far busier than I was expecting yesterday. I don’t know why I thought it wouldn’t be as busy as it was, but it was the first day of the show, rather than being press day, which I would have normally gone to, but as I took my parents with me, I was going on a normal day. It was a good experience for me to go then – it’s easy to forget what flower shows are really like when you only ever see them on press day – you get caught up with taking photos of all of the celebrities, and you start to lose sight of what flower shows are really all about – they are about people, they are about members of the general publics – in their hundreds, and sometimes thousands, all gathered in the same place due to a shared common love of gardening, and plants.

Yesterday you could hardly move for the number of people in the floral marquee. I personally prefer for it to be a little quieter, so that I can have the space that I need to be able to see the exhibits properly, but there was a real buzz about the place which you don’t get on press day – there was a real excitement of people looking at plants, considering where they might put them if they were to buy them and take them home.

There were lots of things that I would have loved to buy and bring home, but I’m in the midst of waiting to find out if i’m going to be featured on a tv programme, so I’m being a bit cautious of buying lots of plants, as they might be wanting to make big changes in the garden, and I don’t want to spend money to only move, or lose the plants in the long run.

I did, however, buy a beautiful necklace of a gold plated sycamore seed – it’s beautiful, and really individual. I asked the man whether he sold them mail order, or whether you could buy them online – he told me that he doesn’t, because each one is made from a real leaf, or seed, and this is so true of nature, and plants – every one is different, each so individual in it’s own way.

Two things which really caught my eye at Tatton were a stand within the floral marquee, which had the most incredibly coloured hydrangea. Hydrangeas are a big favourite of mine anyhow, with their big blousy flower heads – but the colour of this was just divine – like an angry bruise.

The other thing which really caught my eye was a garden done by a young designer, which was designed to attract bees. Bees being my particular passion, I couldn’t help but fall in love with this wonderful garden. If you get a chance to go to Tatton over the weekend – you should go – it’s fabulous!

The sweetpea lady – part two

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will have heard me speaking about my mother – the sweetpea lady. A friend of mine from primary school had always thought of her as such, due to the bunches of sweetpeas that she used to sell at the school gates for charity.

Whilst looking around some open gardens with another old friend last week, she told me that she always thinks of me, when she sees sweetpeas. I wondered if this makes me her “sweetpea lady”, and was proud to think that anyone would think of me, like my mother.

Last night I went over to my parents’ house for dinner. As soon as I walked through the door, my mum told me “I’ve already picked your sweetpeas, they’re in the kitchen for you”. There were two things about this that made me smile – firstly, the fact that nothing has changed in the last twenty years – she is still picking hundreds of bunches of these divine smelling flowers from her garden throughout the summer months. Secondly, the fact that she didn’t even think to ask me whether I would want to take a bunch home with me. She knows how much I love them, and she had made me a huge bunch, all put together with frothy green alchemilla - the perfect combination. She has taken to calling me “Sweetpea” recently, and I love her even more for that – if that were possible.

We took a walk together down the garden to look at my allotment – she told me that the radishes were looking like they might soon be ready, so we went to check. I ended up with three, very small looking radishes – we decided to leave them another week or so before pulling any more. I love this time with her. Walking around their garden. The garden that I know so well, and which makes me feel so happy, and so at home. She always points out something special, or something that she is particularly proud of. I can see that she has cleared a path, which was almost completely covered last week in slightly rain battered aquilegias – which she plants in their thousands every year. She shows me a tiny orchid which is growing – it has self seeded itself, and I recall how delighted she was when she first spotted it there a few weeks ago.

When the time comes for me to go home, I take the flowers back to my cottage, and struggle to find a vase large enough for them – all of my jugs are full of roses from my own garden, but I eventually find one which is big enough for them. Placing them in pride of place in my sitting room, where I will be able to enjoy them, I sink my face right down into the middle of them – the scent is everything that you would want it to be – it is a mixture of so many memories for me – it is summer, it is smiles, it is happiness, and comfort, but more than anything, it is her. It is the smell of my beloved mum.

Hampton Court – A rose in the crown of the show season.

Last Monday I headed off early for the Hampton Court Flower show press day. After a really scorching few days which had preceded it, I had dressed in as cool clothes as I could find. I wondered how all of the plants would be coping with the heat, but when I got there, I could see that they had all been well looked after, and were looking resplendent.

I had never been to Hampton Court Flower Show before, and was really struck by the beauty of the venue. Set around the water, there was a wonderful breeze coming off the water, which was incredibly refreshing, and very much needed in the heat of the day. I walked around the show gardens, noting which ones I liked, and which were not so much to my taste. Some of the trade stands were also particularly impressive – for example the Alitex greenhouses stand, which I could have spent all day looking at.

My favourite thing about the day however, was the rose marquee. As I have written many times before, I adore roses, and the scent of old English roses. The wall of scent hit me as soon as I walked into the marquee. The flowers, each perfect in their own way, were being exhibited by various rose growers, including Peter Beales, and David Austin – and there were various florists also displaying fantastic work.

I’m already marking it firmly in my diary for next year!

Why does it make me so happy?

Sometimes, for whatever reason, you have a bad day. We all do. Some of us more than others, granted, but we all have them. I spend a lot of my life keeping busy. It’s something that I do on purpose, and it’s something that I’m very aware of. I do it, because I don’t like being on my own. I like my own company some of the time, and actually, I probably need my own company for at least some time in every day, but essentially, the thought of spending every evening at home, on my own, is terrible. Because of this, I find that I cram my diary full of appointments. I see my friends, we go for dinner, we go to the cinema, another evening I’ll visit my parents, or perhaps do a supermarket shop – anything just to mean that I don’t just go straight home and have nothing to do… but then I get tired. I don’t realise that it’s happening, and then all of a sudden I realise that i’ve been doing too much, that I need to have some time to myself, some time at home, some time to relax, get an early night.

Today was one of those days. I found that I was overtired, that I needed some time to relax, but I’m not one for just sitting in front of the tv – for me, an evening to myself means an evening doing what I love most – being in my garden. I didn’t really even have anything that needed to be done. I had bought myself two very happy looking lupins which needed to go in, but that would have only taken five minutes if i’d wanted it to, but no, I wanted to spend some quality time, just me, in the garden. I pottered, which is what I do best when I’m gardening. I slowly wandered around the garden, watering things here and there, moving some pots around, and sowing some lettuce seed in my inside bed, in the hopes of growing some salad crops for the first time. It made me think about what it is about gardening that I love so much – because when I know I can spend time in the garden, it doesn’t feel like spending time alone. I’m not going to tell you that I think of my plants as company.. I haven’t quite got to that point yet, but I did enjoy the company of a mother bird, who is sitting on some beautiful blue eggs, in a nest in my clematis. She is only at about waist height, and due to my own stupidity of cutting back the clematis without checking for nests first (something I shall never do again), her nest is quite exposed. I had to be very careful every time I walked past her, but she didn’t flinch. She bravely sat looking at me.

Maybe it is because I feel that I am doing something, achieving something, building something beautiful. Or maybe it is because being outside is generally good for me, breathing in fresh air, getting exercise, releasing endorphins and all of that scientific stuff… I don’t know what it is about it that makes me love it so much, but I know one thing for sure, and that is that I feel thankful for it every day.

The call of the wild.

I spend a lot of my life stuck in traffic. I hate it. It’s boring, it means I’m often late to wherever I’m supposed, and want, to be. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life, and it’s not something that is possible to avoid.

Whilst sat in traffic on my way to the office this week, I started to look around me. I noticed something that distracted me from the frustration of the traffic jam – the hedgerow next to the road – was absolutely, and utterly breathtaking. I always enjoy seeing flowers growing along the side of the road, and I have always been fascinated to see really pretty flowers next to a dirty smoggy road. I would love to learn more one day about the conditions that these flowers are growing in, and the effect that the exhaust fumes have on them, but that’s for another time when I have more time on my hands.. for now, I am happy to enjoy them.

On this particular day though, I noticed something different. On the stretch of road where I had been sitting for some time, the roadside looked as though it had been planted by a Chelsea designer. The whole verge was absolutely full to bursting with frothy cow parsley. I have always loved cow parsley – it is so ageless, so rural, and so delicate in the way that it falls – always looking to me; slightly sleepy, or deferential – bowing their heads to me as I pass – like ladies in waiting. The cow parsley in it’s resplendent white, was streaked through with red. Poppies. Blowing in the wind like tipsy bridesmaids, dancing at a wedding. Nobody has touched these flowers – nobody has created this vista – nature has put this scene together, it makes me think, and not for the first time, that often the most beautiful gardens of all, are the ones that seed themselves.

Lonely Bouquet

The last weekend of June played host to International Lonely Bouquet day. This is something which is completely new to me – I had never heard of it before, but as I was looking through Twitter, I noticed that a lot of the florists who I follow, were posting photographs of beautiful bouquets in slightly strange locations – they seemed to have been completely abandoned – but each was complete with a note explaining that it was a “lonely bouquet”, and thus needed to be taken home by whoever found it…

I looked further into this idea, and discovered that this is something which takes place all over – florists make up bouquets, and leave them places – park benches, railway stations, wherever they think someone might come across the bouquet and take it home to enjoy.

I saw some which had been left locally to me, or rather I saw their photos online – I didn’t actually have the luck of finding one. I’ve been thinking about the idea though, and I would like to think that if I had found one, I might have left it behind for someone else. There might be many things that I might go without – I don’t go on dozens of holidays a year, I don’t often buy expensive clothes, but I do treat myself to flowers – to me, they are not a luxury, but a necessity – and although that probably sounds terribly middle class, I don’t mean it to. They are not always expensive flowers that I buy, and certainly when there are daffodils available for £1 or £2, I will always buy those over anything else, but I have long held the opinion that I would rather go without food than not have flowers in the house!

So… I like to think that I might leave them behind for someone who wouldn’t normally treat themselves – someone for whom the idea is aimed – to get the idea of lovely flowers into people’s homes, and to get people involved in supporting our fabulous florist industry.