Summer in my kitchen (part 1)

If you ever find yourself in the happy situation of having several large fresh figs and a bowl of raspberries, I strongly urge you to make a Fig and Raspberry Crumble Cake.

My neighbour has a large fig tree which has produced masses of exquisite figs this year and she kindly gave us a load. As there are only so many raw figs one can eat, I searched for a recipe and found this one from the fabulous cookery writer Diana Henry. I altered it only very slightly in that I used a little less sugar, used set Greek yoghurt instead of regular natural yoghurt, because that’s what I had, and omitted the flaked almonds (which should be sprinkled on top) only because I didn’t have any.

I did wait for 15 minutes for it to cool slightly before releasing it from the tin (as instructed) but the smell was so divine that I just had to cut a slice and try it while it was still warm from the oven. It looks quite stodgy and maybe even undercooked in the photo but it wasn’t – it was surprisingly light. (I didn’t eat all that by myself by the way.) This is Seriously Good Cake and it would also make a wonderful pudding.

As well as this cake, I also made two banana loaf cakes (recipe here) and a huge apple and blackberry pie – all in an effort to use up the fruit mountain that occurs at this time of year. I’m missing my sous chef, though, and she’ll be cross she missed a mega-baking day but we do have a big party to cook for soon, so there will be plenty more baking going on next week. Bang goes my waistline.

Good luck to any of you whose children collect A or AS level results today. My eldest took one AS level (these are exams taken half way through an A-level course; exams for his other two subjects are all at the end of the two years) and he’s off to school soon to collect the result. Fingers crossed.

Cheerio for now.

Snapshots of an English summer

Verbena bonariensis at Wimpole Hall
A whole swathe of Verbena bonariensis at Wimpole Hall gardens in Cambridgeshire.
Yorkshire cottage
Gorgeous stone cottage in Castle Bolton, possibly one of the prettiest places in Yorkshire.
Walking in the Yorkshire Dales
Father and son in the glorious Yorkshire Dales.
Durham Castle.
We took the train from Northallerton to Durham one day. This is the castle which is part of the university. Students actually live here!
River Swale and Richmond
Richmond, North Yorkshire, and the River Swale.
Apple tree
An old apple tree in a lovely community garden in Reeth.
Perennial planting
Community garden in Reeth
Yorkshire Dales
Yorkshire Dales views.
Chickens
These very friendly chickens greeted us each morning. There’s a funny video of them running towards us on my Instagram.
Bolton Castle gardens
The gardens at Bolton Castle (from inside the castle).
Bolton Castle
The view of Bolton Castle from our holiday cottage in Castle Bolton!
Wildflowers
Stupendously beautiful wildflower planting at RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate.
I can’t remember what these flowers are but they are at Harlow Carr and were buzzing with bees!
RHS Harlow Carr
RHS Harlow Carr near Harrogate. Definitely worth a visit if you’re nearby.

At the beginning of the long school break it feels as though there is a whole heap of that nebulous luxury: extra time and empty days. But once you start organising days out, trips to visit people, people visiting you and a holiday, the days start whizzing by.

School holidays with teenage children have a different tempo. Mine are 17, 15 and 13, becoming increasingly independent and don’t necessarily want to do what we want to do all of the time. (To be honest, the two boys hardly ever want to do what we want to do these days!) My eldest son stayed at home when we went to Yorkshire recently – it’s the first time he’s not come on holiday with us and it felt odd just being a family of four. Happily, we (and the house) survived. We had a very relaxing week in Castle Bolton in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales and he looked after the pets and entertained friends without wrecking anything or causing a neighbourhood disturbance. He’s now got a holiday job in a local hotel so he’s finding out what it’s like to work hard for his money. Which is, of course, a good thing.

My daughter is currently away on an activity holiday until Saturday – the house is eerily quiet – and the other son flies to Madrid next week to stay with a school friend for a few days. Gone are the days when we spend all of the holidays together and I am slowly getting used to it. I do love the fact that I’m no longer responsible for their every entertainment but I sort of miss it in a weird way. The trick is to keep busy and make the most of the rare moments when we are all together.

While they’re off gallivanting or working, I’m also working and catching up with the garden in any spare time – deadheading, weeding, picking kilos of raspberries and tomatoes, plus courgettes and squashes, then processing the pickings (jam, chutney, sauces). Before we know it, it’ll be the time for buying new school shoes and stationery, the time of conkers and crunchy leaves 🙂

Thank you for calling by and saying hello (and hello to new followers). I hope your August is going swimmingly. Have a lovely week.

PS All these photos were taken with my increasingly cantankerous phone, hence the odd sizes and dubious quality!

Five flowers for July

Choris at The Blooming Garden is showcasing 10 of her favourite July flowers and encouraging other bloggers to do the same; I’ve chosen 5 because these are the ones that are looking good in my garden right now and are my absolute favourites.

1  I’ve said before that Verbena bonariensis is one of my top-ten favourite plants of all time. It’s the most striking, useful, gorgeous bee-magnet you can plant. It adds height, structure, colour and interest; I love the criss-crossing erect stems holding aloft purple flowerheads. They look airy and delicate but they’re tough as old boots and withstand the winds round these parts.

Verbena bonariensis
V. bonariensis is a great ‘see-through’ plant so you can put it anywhere in the border.
Verbena bonariensis and Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
Here with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’.
Verbena bonariensis and bee
The flowerheads are made up of loads of tiny flowers full of nectar for pollinators.
Verbena bonariensis and plum tree
I know it’s fanciful but I think they look like tall, cheerful stick people waving big hands.

Verbena is a group of hugely versatile perennials – we also have Verbena rigida, which is another gorgeous purple and grows to about 50cm, and the semi-trailing, bright pink Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’, which is great in pots.

Verbena rigida
Verbena rigida
Verbena 'Sissinghurst'
Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’ growing in a pot with Nemesia.

 

2 Sweet peas. I can’t think of a better-value plant for cutting flowers – the more you cut them, the more flowers you get. It’s like magic. You can cut flowers every day if you have enough plants. They’re delicate, beautiful, easy to grow (in my experience, but beware slugs and snails early on), come in a wide range of colours and the fragrance is heavenly. Everyone has their own methods of growing and planting sweet peas but I grow mine from seed in tall pots (or even old toilet roll holders) in spring, pinch out the tips when they’re about 30–40cm tall to encourage side shoots (which flower), then plant out in May. Our soil is very free-draining so I shovel in compost and keep them well watered. I feed mine when I feed my tomatoes – once a week with a tomato feed – but everyone has their own methods. We have one plant that self-seeded from last year, grew throughout the winter and has borne loads of flowers since late May! They’re tougher than you think.

Sweet peas need support to climb up – a wigwam of twiggy branches is perfect, or beanpoles with twine tied around, or some people use trellis. Their tendrils will grab hold of anything nearby so it’s good to check where they’re heading occasionally and redirect them. Anyway, once they start flowering, you start cutting and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have so many sweetly-scented flowers you’ll have jugs of them wafting their glorious fragrance in every room with enough left over to give handfuls to friends. Get them going early enough and you could have flowers from as early as May through to October or even the first frosts but peak sweet pea month here is July. If you follow Sultanabun on Instagram, you’ll have seen it’s her peak sweet pea time, too.

Sweetpea tendrils
Sweetpea tendrils will grab hold of anything as they grow.
Sweet pea
If you give sweetpeas a little love (water well and often, feed them occasionally, plant in good soil) they’ll reward you with flowers and flowers and flowers.

3 Ammi visnaga. All the Ammi plants growing in our garden this year have grown themselves. They self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year and have multiplied tenfold which tells you how easy and undemanding they are. If you want to grow Ammi and don’t want it spreading everywhere, make sure you dead-head rigorously… The best thing about them is that the flower heads are great big landing pads for bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Made up of hundreds of tiny white flowers, the heads are compound flowers providing rich nectar for pollinators. The foliage is a lovely green, delicate and feathery, so stems of Ammi make great cutting material for vases.

4 Another fantastic flower for pollinators (are you sensing a theme here?!) is Scabious atropurpurea. We have two colours here – white and pink. The seed packet I grew them from last year showed rich dark colours, so I was a little disappointed when they turned out to be pale pink, lilac and white. But they’ve come back this year strongly (they’re perennials) and the bees love them, so they can stay. I plan to grow some richer colours at some point.

It’s another plant that pumps out flowers all summer long and into the autumn if you dead-head regularly (or cut the flowers for vases). I sowed a £2-packet of seeds last year and have three large patches of plants for the second year running. Excellent value, I’d say.

White scabious
Here you can see a full flowerhead, one that’s turning into a seedhead (fluffy with a few petals still attached) and a tightly budded head at the bottom.
See – bees LOVE scabious.
White scabious
Grown here with linaria (going to seed) and hardy geranium in the background. This one needs staking (the twigs) as it grows to about 80cm tall.

5 Finally, here’s a flower I’ve grown for the first time this year and I’ll definitely grow it again – Salvia viridis (or clary sage). It’s a hardy annual and the striking blue/purple flowers you can see are actually coloured bracts, not flowers. The real flowers are tiny and grow close to the stem further down.

I planted them out in early June and they’ve been looking fabulous for a few weeks now and have been buzzing with pollinators. The stems are upright and quite striking, with real impact when grown together. We have a patch of about 5 plants, then others dotted between other grasses and perennials. They like free-draining soil and full sun.

Salvia viridis
Look down the stems and you can see the little purple and white flowers.
Salvia viridis
A drift of clary sage makes a big impact in the border. It’s upright and quite tidy so would also work well lining a path (which I might try next year).
Salvia viridis flowers
Close-up of the flowers.

Right, I’m off out into the garden to pick some sweet peas 🙂 Have a lovely weekend.

In a vase on Monday: A–Z

With so much to choose from in the garden this week, I’ve picked just two different flowers – Ammi and Zinnia – for a Monday vase.

All the ammi (Ammi visnaga) are self-seeded from plants I grew from seed last year; they’re over-crowded and some are growing where I don’t want them. Rather than chuck those I’ve pulled up onto the compost heap, I chopped their roots and lower leaves off and plonked them in water.

This is the first year I’ve grown zinnias and I expected them to be rather prima-donna-ish but they seem pretty tough. According to what I’ve read, they hate root disturbance, don’t like overwatering and can’t be planted out until it’s warm enough to sit outside in the evening without wearing a cashmere wrap (I made that last but up). I was quite careful about potting on the seedlings, but not overly so, and there’s not much danger of them being overwatered around here. I was a bit worried about the temperature but I needn’t have as it’s been almost Mediterranean-like here. The major problem has been our slimy foes, the slugs and snails. A fair few pristine zinnias have been toppled and munched, sadly, – I reckon I’ve lost a third of the plants – but the survivors are hitting their stride now and starting to pump out flowers. They’re great for cutting as they last for ages in a vase, the colours are fantastic and they’re like sweet peas – the more flowers you cut, the more you’ll get, so that’s what I’m doing.

How’s life with you? It’s the last week of school before the summer holidays here and everyone is weary; the children are especially weary this afternoon as it was Sports Day today. Despite emails from the school inviting parents along to watch, my three pleaded with me not to go: ‘It would be social suicide, Mum!’. Mortifying our children seems to be something we’re particularly good at but I graciously stayed at home. It seems only five minutes since they were telling me where to stand so they could see me and to shout loudly. How times change.

‘In a Vase on Monday’ is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. I recommend visiting her blog to see what she and other bloggers from around the world have found to put in a vase today; it’s always inspiring.

Wishing you a good week.

Checking in

Ha, just spotted my m-in-l top left taking photos!
Dog looking shifty.
Remember that bare bank of soil?
Terracing starting to come together. The grasses – Calamagrostis, Miscanthus and Stipa t. will soften it.
Aha, the pond! We didn’t realise there were paving slabs this end of the pond until we cleared the big pile of rocks, soil and brambles…
This jasmine smells divine.
Climbing rose over the wonky arch. No idea what variety it is.
Lavender and briza.
Pink scabious (bees love it), with ammi, sweetpeas, marigolds, Verbena b. and grasses behind; blue Campanula to the left.
The new veg patch on the other side of the steps.
Colour-pop pots.
The zinnias are coming!
Gaura ‘The Bride’.
Two ‘Turk’s Turban’ squashes growing in the compost heap. They’re now taking over that whole corner…
Front left (looking towards the sea) taken from the balcony.
Front right.
The back garden which has been a bit neglected, tbh, while we’ve been beaming on the front garden. Goodness knows what we were thinking when we took this on…

 

Hello, how are you?! It’s been all work and no play for the past couple of weeks here at acoastalplot, hence the radio silence. It’s good to be busy (freelance work tends to be like buses) but I have missed you 🙂 I’ve also found it slightly excruciating (if it’s possible to be excruciated in degrees) being indoors at my desk during some completely glorious weather; looming deadlines meant that I couldn’t down tools and head to the beach with my family at the weekend. But, hey, there’ll be other days.

The garden has had to pretty much fend for itself, so thank goodness it’s finally raining! Hoo-flipping-rah. The sky has been full of grey clouds all day but it didn’t start properly raining until early evening. It’s now bouncing off the skylights and I’m imagining the plants are cheering, especially the grass which has lost most of its green. The snails are probably cheering, too, so I expect I’ll find more destruction in the morning. I must take a photo of one of the dahlias to show you – it’s a poor dahlia skeleton. Curse those slimy creatures.

These photos were taken in the garden just after the garden safari weekend. We were still planting, moving rocks and laying paths right up to the night before, but it all went well and we had lots of lovely people through the garden, met new neighbours and locals we hadn’t met before, and chatted to fellow keen gardeners. It was lovely to be able to take a breather and to enjoy being in the garden and we even managed to visit a few inspiring gardens recommended to us. A decent amount of money was raised for the hospice and everyone declared it a success. Looking at the photos, it’s amazing how much everything has settled in and grown since they were taken. The little orchard area is now full of wildflowers, the ornamental grasses and perennials are filling out, we’ve courgettes, tomatoes and squashes growing like crazy, and enough flowers to keep me in vase material for a good while yet. I can’t wait to have time to get out there again. When it stops raining.

Have a lovely rest of the week. More anon. x

 

In a Vase on Monday: Summer

After a hectic couple of weeks building up to our village’s open garden safari this past weekend, where every spare moment was spent in the garden, it’s lovely to be slowing down a little today and joining in with Cathy’s Monday vases.

It’s that time of year when there is so much material to choose from, so I started with dahlias that needed dead-heading and went from there. Joining the dahlias (which I think are ‘Karma Choc’) are three types of hardy geranium (unknown varieties), Verbena ridgida, white Scabious, lavender, Salvia viridis, Nigella seedheads, sweetpeas and Gaura lindheimeri ‘The Bride’ (which is just starting to flower). All of these flowers are beloved by bees in our garden and I had to pick carefully to avoid bringing several into the kitchen. And all these flowers sing out ‘summer’ to me and encapsulate a beautiful late June day when the sea is turquoise and the blue sky is dotted with wispy clouds.

Do visit Cathy’s blog to have a look at what others have found to put in a vase today. (She also has dahlias.)

I’ll post separately about the open garden when I’ve had time to catch up with myself. I hope you had a good weekend and that the sun is shining where you are. Cheerio for now.

In a Vase on Monday: Simplicity

After the excitement of last week, I thought I’d pare things back and go for a very simple vase today (and ended up with two). The wildflower patch at the bottom of the garden is overrun with oxeye daisies again – although they look lovely and last a long time, they are smothering the more delicate wildflowers that are in there. If you look very carefully, you can just see some yellow vetch to the left but there’s little evidence of anything else. We’ll need to thin the daisies out later in the year.

The whole area is looking a little bedraggled after the storms last week so I’ve brought some of the flattened daisies indoors (along with a few grass stems). Oxeye daisies don’t smell particularly nice (think cats…) so I snipped a couple of sweet peas to sit alongside them and, happily, their delicious scent is stronger than the other one.

Simplicity is something that politicians and the media seem allergic to; they seem intent on making life thoroughly complicated. If only there was a group of sensible, forward-thinking, cross-party MPs who could get us through EU negotiations – I’m sure there are several who could work together for the greater good rather than point-scoring party politics. Is it naive to think that something like that could happen? Probably. Sigh.

Anyway; back to the garden… It’s almost peak lavender time. Yay. The two simple rows of lavender flanking the steps on our top terrace were also bashed about by the winds last week, but they’re tough plants and, while they may be leaning slightly, they are starting to colour up and should look fabulous in time for the Garden Safari in a couple of weeks. It’s all go here in any spare time, or it was until I pulled a muscle in my lower back yesterday afternoon – too much bending, lifting and pulling! Grrrr. I was so cross. I’m trying to walk it off, stretching it out with yoga and popping the painkillers. Hopefully it’ll be sorted in a few days as there is so much to do.

I was going to forgo the pleasure of joining in with Cathy’s IAVOM today as cutting flowers requires painful bending but I couldn’t resist. Do pop over to her blog to see what she and others from around the world have found to put in a vase today.

Have a good week.