Summer relish

 Another rather late post, because your gooseberries will be gone by now, but I wanted to share the gooseberry love, and also the glory of my garden to which I have done precisely NOTHING, and which nevertheless was styling it out beauteously in June and July (see pics below)… As Maria sang, I must’ve done something good.

 

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When I was little we used to go for sunday lunch with my grandparents. I don’t remember much about these lunches, but I do recall the fact that they often merged into teatime. My grandmother had proper china tea in very thin cups that needed a silver spoon placed inside them before the tea was poured, lest the china should crack under the heat. I don’t remember milk being an option (though I’m sure it was there)…everyone, including children had weak lapsang with a slice of lemon and that was that. And then there was also something called ‘sticky bread’, a treacly, molasses-laden confection which came from the supermarket, and which we spread with butter. Memories.

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This only relates to gooseberries because I was an eater of lemons, pilfering the delicious sunshine coloured semi-circles and scoffing the juicy flesh without so much as a squint. Sour is one of my greatest pleasures, so no surprise then, that I’m a gooseberry lover. I take them and eat them neat, even early in the season. I love the hairy skin, and the fact that they burst in your mouth. I love that other people aren’t interested in them – less competition…all the more for moi.

I got my bush from Mark Diacono at Otter Farm, who sells a lovely selection of good, bare-root plants. Mine is Invicta, and it gave me an absolute bumper crop this year…too much to demolish in passing (even for me). I don’t give it any special treatment. You could grow it in a pot if you wanted, but mine is in a raised bed with a redcurrant, some roses and a bit of lavender. Picking is a prickly business that needs to be done slowly and with some care if you want to emerge unscathed. Take care…it’s worth it.

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The advice from Twitter was to make relish, from a recipe by the utterly brilliant Pam Corbin in her River Cottage Handbook ‘Preserves’. It couldn’t be simpler and, well, there’s none left.

Just heat 500g sugar with 100ml cider vinegar and 100ml water, along with some spices (Pam suggests mustard seeds, fennel, cumin, nigella and fenugreek seeds). Dissolve the sugar and set aside for a while to infuse. Then add the fruit (1kg), along with some raisins and cook gently for 20 mins until you can pop the gooseberries and the thing is thick and gloopy. Pour into sterilised jars and use within a year.

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Delphinium devotion

 

 

 

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I return to my blog, post baby, with a gratuitous shot of a bee in a bee

Someone, I hope, will tell me what kind of a bee it is, and whether I am right in thinking that the centre of each delphinium flower is actually called a ‘bee’, or if my brain has made this up (I only have a few moments to post this before mothering duties call me away)…

This is a long overdue post to glorify my delphiniums, which are now utterly and completely over, but which gave me such unspeakable joy in June while they lasted. For full disclosure I am bound to tell you that the plugs were sent to me by a rather fabulous outfit called ‘Plant Me Now‘, way back in March, and, perhaps because of the name, I didn’t actually get them into the ground  until the end of April…or was it the beginning of May??? Back then, we thought winter would never end…remember that?…all the cold and the rain, and I was loathe, in my heavily pregnant state to be out in the freezing elements digging holes, however small…but eventually I did get round to it, and after rather a lot of toing and froing with a torch at night to extract slimy invertebrates, and rather a lot of surrounding the precious seedlings with special anti-slug things, like wool pellets, baked egg-shells and something called ‘slug stoppa’, I finally got my rewards as they emerged…

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 Tight little balled up buds, like determined little baby fists, and with those dainty, embryonic spurs behind each one…

 

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 …and you know, there IS no in-between stage with a delph…they go from buds to blouses, without even a flicker of shame. How I love them with my pink geraniums (and yes, the odd dandelion)…

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 …They made fine friends with the euphorbia too, and didn’t seem to mind a bit of shade.

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 Here they are in the distance, adding loveliness all the way along the back border of my garden.

Yes, they are a faff, because you really have to look after them in their infancy.

I planted twenty one, and lost nine seedlings because I missed a couple of nights fighting the slug war.

But OMG, they are worth it, and I would, and WILL do it all again….glutton for punishment that I am.

The seedlings arrived beautifully packed, and in absolutely perfect condition…so spotless I was almost afraid to touch them. These people clearly know their stuff. Check them out here, and you can start making a wish list from their huge range of perennials.

 

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This is what happens when the sun shines…

You mow the lawn (or get someone to do it for you)

You sit around with treasured friends, and eat and drink and play

Children strip off…as if they know their little bodies need the sunshine

…and all is right with the world.

Click here to get my lawn-mowing odyssey – tips and tricks and tools galore.

Secrets of a perfect pickery.

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Armfuls of flowers, at your whim, to do with as you please….to scent your home (including your bedroom, and your loo) and enough left over with which to play lady bountiful…that’s one of the reasons I got into gardening.

I’ve been growing flowers for cutting since I began this whole gardening malarkey…making my way through trial and error. It’s not a difficult thing to do, but there are ways and means in which you can maximise your yield (and therefore your joy), and so when Georgie Newbery (above, in linen apron) of Common Farm Flowers told me she was holding a course on cut flowers for town gardens, just down the road from me, I jumped at the chance to get the lowdown from an expert.

Many of you will know that Georgie creates wonderful, uniquely special posies, bouquets and occasion flowers from her cutting garden in Somerset. Her arrangements are not only beautiful, but seasonal and chic.

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Here’s a very bad picture of what she brought to the workshop, (held back in March when it felt like there was nothing lovely to be picked, let alone tied up and plonked in a vase. You can see more examples here.

And (get ready for hearts to THUMP) Georgie is going to make up a posy for one very lucky reader – see below for details!

But back to the workshop: I got so much more than I ever dreamed.

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Georgie is one of these people who (correctly) believe that the more you give, the more you get in this world. There’s no scientific way of explaining it, because we’re talking about feel-good factor here…simple, honest generation of good-will. You’d think a fully comprehensive day learning about how to grow your own flowers for cutting at home might be the one course a flower farmer would think twice about giving…Not so – in fact the opposite is true…and Georgie knows this.

Within moments of sitting down, not only did I have a mouth crammed with delicious home-made cookie love, (see above) but a ream of paper, listing all of Georgie’s best tips…all the little things she’s learned in her experience of working with cut flowers at Common Farm. New information, stuff I’d never heard before started pouring out of her. She gave us a recipe for the perfect posy, very cleverly, in terms of shape and texture, and therefore what to plant in our patch in order to create that, ultimate mix. She told us her secret potting mix (and I mean she showed us exactly what was in it). She imparted two or three great recipes for home-made fertilisers, courtesy of the very brilliant Sara Venn, who teaches courses at Common Farm on composting, amongst other things).

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She also told us her particular method for sowing seeds….“SOW THINLY, DARLINGS”…this was a revelation to me, (a person who assumes that half of what I do will come to naught, and therefore always sows far more than I need.) After Georgie’s course, I have come away with an entire cutting patch in one seed tray. She only let me sow five (yes, FIVE) cosmos, five sweet peas, four cerinthe, five molucella and the merest suggestion of a pinch of nicotiana (I’m sure she would have preferred me to tweeze each one of those out of the packet individually, had we had the time, or the eyesight for it). Apart from being obviously money-savey and un-wasteful, this method struck me as being just so fantastically, epically OPTIMISTIC….just to assume that every seed is going to come up. I love it, and will never go back to sowing extra ‘just in case’… unless of course I WANT a jungle.

I scribbled away frantically, asked far too many questions, stuffed myself with a delectable, home-made lunch (even the butter was churned at the farm next door to Georgie’s house) and came away with a head full of dreams and a joyful heart.

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Georgie’s courses are here. Be really, really quick booking them, because they fill up FAST.

These few precious seedlings will be planted in my patch, along with the ammi majus and a few other annuals I sowed in the autumn. ‘Excited’ does not *quite* cover it. I’ll keep you up-dated.

To get that gorgeous posy,

….which will not only gladden your heart, but open your mind, simply leave a comment below, and subscribe, if you haven’t already, to my mailing list in the bright pink box below, and then go over here to subscribe to Georgie’s too. This is our way of keeping you up to date on flowery things…Don’t worry we won’t bombard you with stuff and we will NEVER share your details with anyone… not ever.

The winner will be announced in a couple of weeks…good luck!

Easter pickings

 

…Because I am away, and I’ll miss doing Eastery stuff like this – some little projects from my vault: Just click on the titles to find out how to make and do.

 

Pussy Willow Nests

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Decorating with eggs

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Lantern Posies

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Easter Baskets

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My half-hardiness has been well and truly established…

…I’ve been trialled and tested and let me tell you this:

I wouldn’t be welcome in my own garden…I wouldn’t be able to take it. I know this because I’ve been in bed for the past two weeks with the most almighty plague which I haven’t been able to shake without the help of evil, pesky pills (the sort that will, no doubt, kill us all in the end anyway)…

All this, I suspect, because it’s been a bit colder and wetter for a bit longer than normal. It irritates me beyond measure.

I yearn to be a geranium, but I am actually an orchid, FFS (more of which later)…

If I didn’t have a small child to look after, I might well stay in bed until May you know….

It’s the centenery of the Chelsea Flower Show, … Have you got your tickets? If not, then I have TWO to give away, for the Wednesday, courtesy of my lovely friends at the RHS. See below if you want to get your hands on them.

But first, I’ve been getting excited about the show from my snotty bed. May is a favourite time of year for me – Newness and the knowledge that it’s going to be *relatively* safe to go outside without being hit with a stabbing wind or lashing rain…

It’s very difficult to get a proper idea of which show gardens are going to make me go oooh this year, but here are a few (in no particular order) that I’m getting a bit excited about:

Jo Thompson’s FERA garden

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A garden that starkly draws our attention to the fact that our trees are under threat from pests and diseases. It’ll have an avenue of DEAD trees in it…beauty and ugliness side by side.

Adam Frost’s Homebase Garden

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This is being billed as the ultimate modern family garden, with an emphasis on helping children to understand the natural world. Lots of wild-life attractors here, along with a place to sit, eat and play.

 Kate Gould’s Wasteland

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A garden built on waste ground, and full of recycled materials sourced from that site.

 

Ulf Nordfjell’s Laurent Perrier Garden

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I just know this is going to have me come over all dreamy and peculiar…sucker that I am, for softness and romance.

 

Christopher Bradley-Hole’s Daily Telegraph Garden

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This is supposed to echo the making of the English landscape – you know, the way in which it got all patchworky with fields. Full of English native trees and shrubs, and the blocks will represent those fields. I like the Japanesey edge to it as well.

It’s tough to get a proper view of the show gardens, which is why my favourite bit of Chelsea is pretty much always lurking around in the big tent, taking hundreds of pictures of exquisiteness and listening in on the experts giving advice on how to grow stuff.

Now: those tickets.

If you want them just do the following:

1. Enter your email into the ‘Subscribe’ box on the right of this page. (Don’t worry, you won’t get bombarded with emails; it just means that these posts will go to your inbox…I only post about once a month). The reason I want you to do this is because I’m planning on doing some new stuff, just for subscribers – little videos and extra projects that subscribers will get before anybody else.

2. Tweet or share this post on Facebook (you don’t HAVE to do that, but it would be very gorgeous if you did). You can find my Twitter and facebook page just up there on the right, underneath the subscribe box. Either just re-tweet or share straight from my twitter or facebook page, or hit the ‘Tweet’ or ‘Share’ buttons at the bottom of this post, but remember to tag me by name so I know about it.

Twitter: @laetitiamaklouf

Facebook Laetitia Maklouf

3. Put a little comment in the box below telling me your favourite thing about Chelsea (this can of COURSE, be food, or gardening gloves, or GNOMES) x

 

My rosy outlook

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Roses at Arne Maynard’s Laurent Perrier Bicentenery Garden at RHS Chelsea 2012

I have done a BIT of gardening recently…

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…well, I say *I*….what I really mean is *he*

HE turned my compost heap, and HE mulched my beds.

I had not touched the compost for two years, and the bottom layers were lush.

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Hunk likes the physical work (and it really is a work-out…much better than the gym). You may not believe this, but I watched him, in the soft drizzle, working away and was hit by a pang of jealousy that I couldn’t join in (bun in the oven). He likes to work to music…it keeps things flowing.

The garden looks all warm and comfy now…and much tidier (I also pruned my roses you see).

…I plan to do an Arne Maynard and wrap some of them around dome-like structures this year…see how they like it. It was so beauteous at Chelsea last year, and I tried to do it when I got home, but the everything was too stiff and prickly and I chickened out. I’m going to need some of those lovely big willow or hazel supports…where do I get them? Anyone know?

 

Other news:

I’ve been busy doing a bit of filming and writing for the very brilliant app that is IntoGardens, and its sister, ‘Gardens’ for iPhone. Do check them out, if you’re at all interested in gardens and general loveliness.

I’ve been blogging for Crocus all about hanging things up too…

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Galanthus ‘not sure what’ in a hanging spice jar. Next to my bed now, for honey-scented dreams

I was going to flash some seedlings at you in this post, but it’s too long, so you’ll just have to wait.

Meanwhile…please do sign up on the right (where it says ‘subscribe’). I won’t bombard you with hideousness I promise, it’s just a feed so you get this (rather sporadic) blog in your inbox, and so that you get exclusive stuff, for subscribers only, like little how-to videos and stuff like that! xxx

 

Five of the best for February

I went into the garden today (bit early, I know – how unlike me…I mean it’s not even MARCH yet is it)

…but there was a sliver of sunshine, and the grass was gleaming, and the whole thing just sort of said ‘come hither’. So out I waddled, inappropriately dressed as usual, and stood next to the Lonicera, and breathed deeply. I planted this shrub three years ago, when I bought it in a small pot at the garden centre. I never dare to hope too much when it’s something I truly madly deeply love, so the fact that it has shot up and out and everywhere and is now blooming its gorgeous heart out is the best feeling…like I just won something in a raffle.

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If you don’t have one of these, they’ll be on sale NOW, flowering so you can sample that sweetly floral pong. Buy one and put it in. QUICK. It will make your Februarys sing.

There are snowdrops too.

I find it ridiculously difficult to get a good photograph of a snowdrop, but here you go. These are a slowly increasing patch of I forget which one…S. Arnott perhaps?, which are prettily scented, and which I pick mercilessly (naughty me)…but then I’m not in the garden enough over the winter to praise them like I should.

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Buy them now. Put them in a pot if you don’t have a garden (these come from a pot where I’d kept them, on my windowsill for five years). Use John Innes no 2 compost, with some added grit. Enjoy.

Hellebores are the very loveliest of things out now, with their speckledy petals and wonderful bruised colours..

It is for this reason alone that I forgive them for not having scent (cardinal sin) but you can’t have everything…you mustn’t be greedy. I grow them under my apple tree, but also in window boxes and hanging baskets, where they do well enough for me to murmur to myself ‘I must’ve done something GOOD’.

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An essential plant in any garden (sorry to be bossy, but it is true), and, as I said, you don’t need a garden to have one or two in your life. Multi-purpose half and half with John Innes no 2 and you’re laughing.

Sarcococca. I won’t go on about sarcococca

….I blether about it far too much. Suffice to say if I had to choose between House of Cards (which I am LOVING) and my sarcococca, then Netflix would have to do without me. Here’s var dignya, for your delectation.

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…And yes, if you don’t have a garden, then it will do perfectly gorgeously in a pot…nice and deep please. Thank you.

 

And an update on my indoor shenanigans:

I sowed basil and some peashoots, amongst other things, just under three weeks ago on my Crocus blog. Basil just appearing now (it takes its own sweet time, does basil), but I’ve been eating sweet pale green peashoots for a couple of weeks now, and they look (and taste) just DIVINE.

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…it’s like you can FEEL the chlorophyll, coursing through your body, doing you GOOD. Time to sow another pot I think. I also have rich micro-pickings of lettuce, coriander and dill.

Even if it’s only February, my plate says it’s summer time.

 

I had ten people over for Christmas lunch…

 …Here are some truly terrible photos of how I did my table and stuff…

I sprayed my alliums silver...

I sprayed my alliums silver…

 

 

...and then I hung them on the ceiling with fishing line and sellotape

…and then I hung them on the ceiling with fishing line and sellotape

 

...and it was glittery

…and it was glittery

 

I did a bit of stuff with white hyacinths and candles...

I did a bit of stuff with white hyacinths and candles…

 

...and mossy branches and mirrors

…and mossy branches and mirrors

 

...and it was sweet-smelling

…and it was sweet-smelling

 

I put crambe cordifolia everywhere...

I put crambe cordifolia everywhere…

 

...and it made an excellent chandelier

…and it made an excellent chandelier

 

Itching now for a day in the garden….

 

 

 

 

Santa baby…

My daugher’s Christmas List goes like this:

Princess Dress (pink), Princess Gloves, Princess Ring, Princess Crown. Father Christmas has taken note.

Here’s MINE:

Lovely old watering cans (£30-40) from Petersham Nurseries.

Beauteous Christmas (and any-time-of-year) light to hang on my apple tree (£119.99) from Crocus.co.uk

Jean Dange Bohemian Pot (£54.95) from Clifton Nurseries

Six fat quarters (that’s quilting speak for 6 pieces of fabric) in gorgeous vintage prints (£20) from V&A

Utterly glorious scented stuffed fish, made with old silks and brocades (£45) from Tobias and the Angel, where absolutely EVERYTHING is covetable.

Long tie shirt ($283) from Tucker. Exquisite silk printed things that I lust after.

A bouquet each month for a year. I defy anyone not to want this. (£450) from Common Farm Flowers