An autumn flower I always forget

I’d briefly wondered if the autumn crocus would appear this year in view of the encroaching Pulmonaria which had self-seeded by the Ribston Pippin apple tree. In truth, I’d thought the crocus rather weak, even though beautiful. So, a little sad though I felt at the prospect of its disappearance, I shrugged it off.

Then suddenly today there was a bright pink flower peeping out amongst the greenery. The autumn crocus has not disappeared but is in fact better than before.

It would be nice if it spread but after at least five years in the ground, it’s not going to happen, is it? Perhaps crocuses don’t spread anyway. I just hope that the ones in the front garden make an appearance next spring, after being planted at the beginning of this year.

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Blame it on the Red Campion

Silene dioica, more commonly known as Red Campion, has been gradually taking over the front garden since I threw a packet of seeds down, not expected them to come to much. Seeds sown directly into my soil rarely do for me.

Having decided it was not the right location for this flower, I was already of a mind to dig it out. Then I needed the space for all my Summerfield Nursery purchases. The last of these was the Japanese anemone ‘September Charm’, chosen by my daughter.

In sorting out the spot for it, I discovered to my dismay that one of the hellebores that I bought in February has disappeared. Subsumed by the rampant Red Campion methinks. At least, I still have another.

Also disappointing is my knocking the flowers off the Kniphofia in trying to wrestle the rather stubborn Red Campion roots out of the ground. I had enjoyed seeing these fiery red heads when I opened the curtains in the morning.

Oh well, at least I didn’t damage the rest of the plant and a bucketful of unwanted greenery has filled up the Green Johanna. Just in time to go with the kitchen waste friends brought round this lunchtime.

Other good news is that I have finally been approached by someone else in my village through Thank goodness the Green Johanna is always hungry, helped along by my turning it every day or so with the stick that comes with the bin.

Posted in Gardening, Good for the environment, soil management | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

“Betty Botter bought a bit of butter“

Red Lodge Farm has started selling cream from their raw milk. Or maybe they have always sold it but there was never any on the counter when I arrived until recently.

After my last failed attempt to churn a pat of butter from cream skimmed off the raw milk I get from the farm, I wondered if using cream they’d skimmed for me would be worth a try. It costs £3 for 500ml and is extremely thick.

I deliberated for a week. We are all stocked up with butter since our trip to Helmsley a couple of weeks ago. But curiosity got the better of me.

The upshot is two-fold. Firstly, I now have approximately 300g of butter made by my own hand. No doubt because the cream was so thick, churning it for five minutes – in a bowl with a fork no less – was all that was needed. And the cost is comparable to a good quality butter that I would buy to support local/organic/free-range. Only my butter is even more local (as well as being free-range) and direct from the farmer.

Secondly, the process of making the butter brought to mind a tongue twister: Betty Botter (Carolyn Wells, 1899).

Betty Botter bought a bit of butter;

“But”, she said, “this butter’s bitter!

If I put it in my batter

It will make my batter bitter.

But a bit o’ better butter

Will make my batter better.”

Then she bought a bit o’ butter

Better than the bitter butter,

Made her bit of bitter batter better.

So ‘twas better Betty Botter

Bought a bit o’ better butter.

Posted in In the kitchen | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Making room for Rheum

When is rhubarb not rhubarb? When it’s a plant in the Rheum family but not edible and has the name of ‘Ace of Hearts’. It might still have medicinal properties, which is why I decided to plant the one I bought from Summerfield Nursery the other weekend in the forest garden.

I’d gone on the shopping expedition to the nursery near York out of curiosity, thinking I might find plants suitable for the front garden. However, I was delighted to find plants that would fit into the back garden as well.

The pond tends to dry up during warm, even hot, weather in the spring and summer. This therefore is a situation I would like to remedy and one way of aiding this endeavour could be to provide shade, particularly on its south side.

According to the label on the pot, the ‘Ace of Hearts’ has a maximum height of 90cm, which is already quite impressive. On the other hand, I have seen elsewhere the suggestion that it could get as tall as one and a half metres, which would be even better. It would certainly provide shade.

After first seeing Gunnera at Belsay Hall in the exquisite Quarry Garden, I was much taken with this structural masterpiece from the natural world. Yet it would overwhelm the outdoor space on my property. So, it will remain a plant I admire on other people’s properties unless I have a radical change of heart about I want this space to be!

By comparison, I hope that the small Rheum I bought instead will satisfy my longing as much as protect the pond. And I look forward to the flowers it should produce, which I will report on in due course.

Posted in forest garden, Pond and bog garden | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

A scream in the garden

Friday was an unexpectedly sunny day but cool enough for some heavy-duty work in the back garden. In view of the recent rat activity in the dakek compost bin I was keen to eliminate the issue.

Having made the holes in the cardboard for the garlic last weekend, the first job was to pop the cloves in their places. Then I could empty the finishing-off compost bin’s contents over the top, which in turn would enable the contents of the dalek to be transferred to the aforementioned bin.

The bin was full two months ago when I transferred contents from the Green Johanna to the finishing-off bin.

I started by unloading the dalek from the top but this proved to be heavier work that I had the energy left for. So, off came the hatch at the bottom and out came some fantastic compost. It pleases me that the dalek produces such an excellent medium for growing.

After getting out the most accessible contents, I started to dig more deeply into the heap, which is when I screamed. A grey animal jumped out and ran off into the undergrowth.

At first, I thought it was a mouse, as it seemed quite small but on reflection it must have been the rat. It was a tad too big for a mouse and I’ve not known them to take up residence in the compost bin before now.

Unfortunately, soon after the encounter with my furry garden helper (it does help me make good compost), I ran out of steam and so the rest of the unloading will have to be done another day. But I was hopeful that the little scare might have sent a message to the rat that it needed to find alternative accommodation.

No such luck! At least, I don’t think the message has got through yet as this morning I have noticed some activity in the compost I placed over the cardboard mentioned above.

It would seem that the Green Johanna takes longer to process some food remains than I had originally hoped. Already, I had picked out some of the ‘unprocessed’ contents and taken them back to the food waste composter for a second sojourn there. However, it looks like I’m going to have to get my gloves on again and weed out anymore tasty tidbits that the rat could be interested in. And think again about how to manage the contents of the Green Johanna.

Posted in Gardening, soil management, Wildlife | Tagged , , | 19 Comments


What makes you happy? Regular readers may be familiar with one of my passions: making compost, especially when the process is going right.

So, I was very pleased the other day when I went to turn the contents of the Green Johanna. It was actually quite a cool morning, so it came as a surprise when I noticed what can only be described as steam coming out of the heap as the stirring stick brought up the compost from the middle of the bin. It was also a surprised because I had only recently put in quite a few woody cuttings, which I’d expected to slow things down a bit.

Some of the woody cuttings came from pruning the wormwood in the front garden. It was looking decidedly leggy and encroaching onto the path which leads to the front door. I didn’t mind jumping over the branches to get in the house but I wonder how much the postie enjoyed the experience when trying to get a piece of mail through the post box.

However, I had been a little concerned about setting my secateurs to the the bush. There seemed to be so much conflicting information about when to prune on the internet. Still, the RHS website says quite clearly that the best time to do the job is in the autumn. Further, it suggests cutting the branches back down to the base.

This second point sounded a little too risky. What if I killed the plant? Thus, I decided upon a slightly more cautious approach: cutting off the branches hanging over the path but not all the way to the base. I can revisit the situation another time if it feels appropriate.

Besides the issue of not wanting to harm the plant, there is also the question of how much can fit in the Green Johanna. After all, its primary purpose is to compost kitchen waste, so if there were no room for this, especially with neighbours now contributing their kitchen waste, I could be in a bit of a fix. Somehow, I doubt it is going to come to this, though, if the steam continues to rise from its contents over the autumn and winter months.

Readers may notice that I am recycling a photo from another, recent post. At the same time as cutting back the wormwood in the foreground, I dug up a patch of or red campion in order to plant the kniphofia, featured in the centre of the photo.
Posted in Gardening, soil management | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Summerfield Nursery

I can’t remember why I was attracted to follow Summerfield Nursery on Twitter but perhaps it had something to do with the fact that it sells hardy perennials. In any case, on Sunday they tweeted that they were open and with it being beautifully sunny in our part of the world, I decided a trip out to York would be the perfect spontaneous day out.

Actually, the heavens did open while we were browsing round the plants. That did not, however, dampen my enthusiasm and I was ever so pleased that my daughter engaged in the activity of selecting a range of plants.

We were ostensibly looking for plants to grace the front garden. In an ideal world, I would like it to be a place of beauty, rather than the hotch-potch of overgrowth that it is at present. The Red Campion is taking over everything else and I don’t want it to smother the other plants I value, such as the hellebores which went in at the start of the year. I’d also simply like to arrive home to something that makes me smile.

One of the plants I bought was a kniphofia. I do not know if it will be good for wildlife but I couldn’t resist its fiery spikes.

The kniphofia is the one with the orange flowers.

I also couldn’t resist buying plants for the back garden. This included a cardoon, which probably needs more sunshine than the front garden could afford it.

I’d been inspired to get one after seeing a post on WordPress by Lass leben! My globe artichoke is struggling to survive, possibly because it doesn’t get enough sun. It needs to be moved to new quarters but in case it doesn’t survive the move, I now have the cardoon to provide beautiful flowers towards the end of the summer.

Posted in Days out, Gardening, perennials | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Making holes

Since putting newspaper, manure and cardboard down to create better soil near the back door, I’ve been mulling over how to proceed.

First of all, I wondered how easy it would be to plant through the cardboard layer, at the top of the piles. So, when it rained the other day, out came the scissors and it was just like slicing butter with a hot knife. The points of the scissors went straight through the cardboard, so I made as many holes as seemed appropriate for the garlic to be dropped into – when the time comes.

The next question is whether I should go so far as to plant the garlic now or leave it a week or two. I could always plant now and cover the cardboard with compost in due course (ie when I have time). However, that somehow seems wrong.

In other words, I think I’ll be waiting at least to the next weekend before revisiting the garlic conundrum. If only the rest of the world had the mental space to be bothered by such questions.

Posted in Gardening, soil management | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

A rowan tree

Until Thursday, I had prevaricated over whether to keep the self-seeded rowan growing by the bay tree. Then the decision was made to chop it down. It was too close the house and seeing how big some of the rowans in neighbouring gardens have grown, removing it seemed the best option.

Actually, as it was getting dark by the time I’d mustered the energy to do some work in the garden, only the branches got chopped off, so the stump left in the ground may regenerate. So be it.

Many of the branches have been added to wood pile at the end of the garden. The ones I placed there last year, have not yet begun to decompose, so I doubt they make an ideal habitat for many insects. However, the new additions should make the spot more appealing, at least in the long run.

The smaller branches were added to the Green Johanna to provide air pockets in the compost. Decomposition has slowed down now the weather has turned cool and I need to think strategically about what should go in there in order not to end up with the kind of food waste that attracts rats in an open compost bin. Fortunately, I have a cunning plan which will be revealed later in the month.

In the meantime, here is a podcast I listened to this morning with Jen Gale of the Sustainable(ish) blog, talking Anna de la Vega (The Urban Worm) and Tim Mead (Yeo Valley) about how organic farming can help against the climate crisis. Particularly notable for me is the role of soil in this endeavour:

Posted in climate change, Gardening, soil management | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Unexpected raspberries

The other day, I was disappointed. Whilst picking raspberries, I managed to pull not only the one I wanted off the plant but in doing so, off came the branch with two which were not as yet ripe.

Thinking that I’d wasted these unripe fruit, I tossed the into a corner on the ground. At least all would not be lost: perhaps they would create new shoots next year or if that failed, they would feed the soil.

I was somewhat surprised therefore when I took a break from work this morning and found not only ripened raspberries on the canes but two little yellow ones on the ground.

I’m not sure what the black on some of the raspberries is. Mould maybe? In any case, I’ve been picking out the affected parts and overall it hasn’t dinted the number of fruit collected.

They are a little tart, although I wonder if it is the colour influencing my palate. I saw an experiment where people thought strawberries, for example, tasted different if they weren’t red, but when the people were blindfolded they thought they tasted normal.

Posted in Gardening, In the kitchen | Tagged , | 5 Comments