Wordless Wednesday – A Woodpecker and a Chaffinch walk into a bar …

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‘Bartender, my friend and I require a drink’

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‘Carry on … You were saying ?’

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‘Mmmm, this is the good stuff!’

 

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In a vase on Monday – Lazy Herb Salad

For lunch at the weekend I ‘prepared’ a lazy salad fresh from the garden: ‘Erbette’ perpetual spinach, beetroot leaves, chives, parsley, coriander, mizuna, red veined sorrel. I washed the leaves and stood them in a pint glass of water for people to help themselves, to be folded and dressed them how they preferred into falafel and pitta. At the end of the meal the selection of salad leaves was untouched, except by me! When I asked why no-one had taken any, my son told me that he thought it was one of my flower arrangements! Lol.

So today, for Cathy’s (@ramblinginthegarden) weekly call to create an arrangement for her ‘In-a-vase-on-Monday‘ meme, I thought I would in actually fill a vase with bits of salad and a few herbs:

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A vase of herbs

I quite like the effect, a bit loose and meadow-like. It is less green than the weekend version obviously. There is sky blue borage, giving the vase a distinct cucumber smell:

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Pretty blue borage stars, giving the vase a cucumber smell

Strawberry flowers, for a pink punch. They look good with the lovage flowers

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There is a sea of pale pink marjoram flowers as the volume filler, together with the leaves.

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Greenery is a combination of fennel, carrot, chives, mint, celeriac flowers, lovage flowers and Italian parsley

Unsurprisingly, while taking the photos outside, the vase attracted bees and hoverflies.

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Now, I wonder if anybody will steal bits of my arrangement for tonight’s tea?

Thanks to Cathy for hosting!

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Wildlife Wednesday – Knapweed Magnetism

Over the years I have noticed that knapweed is as attractive as thistles to winged insects. It has similar shaped flowers and is a similar colour, but thank goodness it is a lot less prickly than thistles. So I’ve happily managed to grow patches of lesser knapweed throughout the wild area in the garden, which gives us little oases of purple at this time of year.

I’ve had more trouble establishing the more showy Greater Knapweed. I’ve no idea why. However, I have succeeded with common Knapweed and that plant is currently acting as a highly effective magnet for typical meadow butterflies and bees. Yesterday afternoon I took some photos and this is what I saw:

Several Skipper butterflies

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Small Skipper, Thymelicus sylvestris (male)

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Small skipper in that classic x-wing, half-open posture

A couple of Meadow brown butterflies

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Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina

Three Marbled Whites

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Marbled White, Melanargia galathea

A Leafcutter bee

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A Leafcutter bee, Megachile centuncularis (I think) joined one of the Marbled White butterflies

Various Carder Bees

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Common Carder bee, Bombus pascuorum

and some Hoverflies. This is one I’d not seen before:

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Possibly a Long hoverfly, Sphaerophoria scripta ?

And if you are still in doubt about how attractive Knapweed really is then look at the next photo:

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Knapweed growing in the South Avenue at Wimpole Estate, 28th June 2020

I counted 11 marbled whites, two skippers and a red-tailed bumble bee on the one plant, but they move about all the time! Did I miss any? 😉

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Six on Saturday – Flower spikes and Hoverflies

We’ve had a stressful week with a poorly dog and daily visits to the vet (arthritis and pancreatitis apparently). Hopefully Sadie is in the recovery phase now, but I will be glad when I stop having to visit that front car park/waiting space with its social-distance markings, odd grey ‘sitting blocks’ and sad, sad pet owners. I mean that literally, as I have witnessed a lot of heart break there over the last five days. There is little privacy for consultations. If you get called down the side driveway it is rarely good news. So our own garden has been a place of refuge, for the shortest of walks and lounging with the dog. It’s been too hot to garden anyway and the flowers are doing their stuff all on their own.

Here are six things for ‘Six on Saturday‘ that I’ve been admiring on my frequent meanders. Many thanks to Jonathon, The Propagator, for hosting this weekly meme.

1 ) Verbena ‘Bampton’

I took a single cutting from the one at work last year, so I am pleased to see that it is doing well. As an insurance policy though, I also ordered 6 plug plants (yes, another Lockdown purchase). They are all coming into flower now and I can’t say enough how much I love the atmosphere they create. The plants (like verbena bonariensis) all have a stiff, open structure, except that these have dark (almost black) foliage and stems, but still ending in pretty pale purple flowers. As they sway in the breeze, they are like airy candelabras tipped with sparkling fairy lights:

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Verbena officinalis ‘Bampton’

2 ) Olives

There’s been a sudden explosion in the number of hoverflies around this week don’t you think? Better than last week’s flea beetle invasion though (though they are still around, annoyingly stripping brassicas and ruining rose photos). Our olive trees have just burst into flower and the hoverflies are round them in clouds. Hard to photograph though, so I tried a shot against the sky. You can see several hovering, but there are plenty on the flowers too.

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Hoverflies enjoying our olive tree flowers

3 ) Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

I am enjoying a third year of flowers from my Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’. This is a half-hardy cross between a foxglove and isoplexis canariensis. It has never looked a tremendously strong plant and I am not sure how long-lived they are, but they are showy and completely wonderful in flower.

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Digiplexis ‘Illumination Flame’

4 ) The dragons are back

Sitting by the edge of the pond, with dog, has meant that I have had plenty of time to watch the antics of dragonflies and damselflies racing across the water. They like their lookout perches, so I’ve pushed a few hazel sticks into a planter next to the pool to maximise our chance encounters and photo opportunities.

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Male Broad-bodied Chaser

This photo is of a male broad-bodied chaser, with a powder-blue body, yellow spots along the sides and a dark thorax. Easy to spot! Up until now I’ve been seeing golden females. Although there are other medium-sized dragonflies that it can be confused with, this type is distinguished by their chocolate brown eyes. Aaahhh, bless!

5 ) Cherry Sage

OK, so I’ve lost the label for this sage, but I believe it to be Salvia greggii ‘Cherry Red’. It seems to flower nearly all year long and is generous with it. I forgot to trim it in the spring and it has grown right across the path. With all these flowers, I won’t be cutting it any time soon. We will just have to step over it for a while.

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Salvia greggii ‘Cherry Red’

6 ) Crop of the week – Blackcurrants

I’ve been putting up blackbirds whenever I open the gate to the vegetable patch for a few days now and it took me a while to put two and two together. There are two young blackcurrant bushes at the back there … and the birds have been feasting. Well, I’ve caught on and have the remaining currants to use. As yesterday popped up on Twitter as #nationalsconeday or #nationalcreamteaday or some such hashtag, I decided to make ‘summer berry scones’ from a National Trust (Ickworth) recipe using the currants. (They burst and ooze nicely as they bake.) Now we’ve run out of jam, so guess what’s next!

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Blackcurrant scones

Those are my Six. Don’t forget to visit The Propagator’s blog for other selections.

Until next time!

 

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Wordless Wednesday – A bright new visitor

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Having thought I spotted something colourful in the top of the birch tree last week, we had confirmation that we have a bright new visitor yesterday when this Bullfinch, Pyrrhula pyrrhula, came down to get some water. What a no-nonsense beak, don’t you think? It could be made from steel!

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Six on Saturday – Good enough to eat!

As well as rain (for which I am very grateful), clouds of flea beetles seem to have descended on the garden this week. They are all over the poppies and roses, but are also consuming various leaves in the vegetable plot, particularly the peppery salad leaves and Cima di Rapa. I was really hoping that we’d escaped them this year. Ah well, since they are late we’ve already enjoyed some good pickings and must live with them.

But now it is time for ‘Six on Saturday‘, a weekly opportunity to share our gardening triumphs, problems, purchases, projects etc with like minded folk via the ever efficient author of this meme Jonathon aka The Propagator. Click through to his blog to follow the trail to other Sixers.

Here are my six:

1) Wine-coloured Pea and Bean flowers

I decided to up the beauty of the vegetable plot this year, not only by inter-planting with companion flowers such as tagetes, pot marigolds and cornflowers, but by choosing veg. varieties that are intrinsically attractive such as ‘Shiraz’, a purple-podded mangetout and ‘Crimson-Flowered’ Broad beans. They are in flower now and look like they will produce a good crop:

2) Gooseberries

What is under the gooseberry bush? Not much! The branches were so laden that they were on the ground. I tried a few at the beginning of the week and discovered that they are ripe, so it is time to pick this crop. So far we have had stewed fruit with custard. Classic. I’ve frozen some for later and now I have this bowl full. What shall I make? Fool or crumble?

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With the few left on the bush I was considering making gooseberry gin. They seem like they’d be the right kind of flavour for such an endeavour. I’d grow more of them if only the bushes didn’t have thorns!

3) Hyssop ‘Kudos Golden’

I bought a hyssop ‘Kudos Golden’ last year (there is a whole Kudos series). It overwintered fine and is once again loaded with flowers, but I also took cuttings and am now in the enviable position of finding homes for them.

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This one is now located in a freshly emptied bed behind our new stone fountain. Bees love them too.

4) Rose ‘Wildeve’

This is one from the ever delectable selection of David Austin roses. It is described as seashell pink and it really does remind me of those tiny pink clams I used to collect as a child.

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5) Dianthus cruentus

I bought these from Special Plants Nursery as jumbo plugs, just after we went into lockdown (when they decided to shed some stock rather than pot them on). They have not had a chance to bulk up much yet, but they are in flower. The colour is wonderful against perennial wallflower ‘Bowle’s Mauve’ and all those blue shades of salvia like ‘Amistad’ and the Wishes series.

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6) Tradescantia

For years I thought Tradescantia were only indoor plants in the UK, with stripey purple leaves cascading down walls from macrame hanging plant holders (OK that may just be my parent’s house). Now I know better and I love it when my white one opens up its ultra-clean, three-petalled flowers. The flowers are worth a close look. I love that cloud of white puff surrounding the stamen. Hoverflies are very keen on them. I am not sure what type of bee is on the one in the photo (possibly an andrena of some kind).

Plus, I have a friend who (I discovered via #Lockdown correspondence) has other colour variations and she has promised a couple of divisions in the autumn.  Result!

That’s all folks! I hope that you’ve enjoyed the rain this week. We (the gardens) needed it.

Keep Safe!

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Wordless Wednesday – Blue, blue, electric blue …

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Penstemon heterophyllus ‘Electric Blue’

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The tubular flowers are a brilliant colour and really glow, especially in the dusk.

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P. ‘Electric Blue’ is a low growing (to about 60cm) perennial with silvery-grey salix-like foliage, flowering from June to October. It responds well to regular cutting, hurray!

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I adore the pronounced rib structure of the stamen.

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And if you look closer!

 

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Wordless Wednesday – Bees love poppies

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Eager – flying in, almost fully loaded

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Honey bee tickling the stamen

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White-tailed bumblebee with tongue out in anticipation

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Bit of a challenge, but worth the reward

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More tummy tickling!

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A frenzy 🙂

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Resting hoverfly on a beautiful seedhead

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In a Vase on Monday – Mashed Potatoes

Mashed Potatoes (James Brown)

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Charlotte potato flowers

I was checking the garden today when I noticed that our potatoes have started to flower. There are two rows of Lady Christl and two of Charlotte, but it is the Charlottes that are coming into flower. Their flowers are really rather lovely, pale lilac and white and could be mistaken for petunia flowers at first glance. So I picked some and decided to add a few other flowers to join Cathy’s ‘In a Vase on Monday’ challenge.

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It’s a shame that they were hanging their little heads, but they look cute dangling over the edge of the vase.

I added some nigella (love-in-the-mist). They are the most fantastic, easy-to-grow annual flower ever and they self-seed readily:

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And picked some of those beautiful, strongly-scented, two-tone Matucana sweetpeas:

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Plus some foxgloves, linaria, ox-eye daisies and quaking grass, Briza maxima. All self-seeded in fact.

Eventually I remembered that I had seen some potato vine flowers (Solanum laxum) by the greenhouse, so I couldn’t resist pick those too and mashing them all together …

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See … Mashed potatoes

(Dee Dee Sharp this time!)

Don’t forget to check Cathy’s post for more vases.

 

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Elderflower and Lemon Curd – Rapture!

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With the hedgerows billowing under the weight of scented, frothy white elderflowers (Sambucus nigra), it’s obviously time to get cracking on a few brews of elderflower champagne and/or elderflower cordial.

However, in my ongoing search for foraged food ideas I’d recently come across an elderflower recipe that was an obvious variation on a traditional theme, brilliant in its simplicity, but that had never occurred to me before: Elderflower and lemon curd.

Yum! I could almost taste how good it would be … smooth, tangy, floral, creamy, citrusy, essence-of-the-beginning-of-summer!

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It turns out that since Megan and Harry’s wedding cake reveal, lemon and elderflower combos are in vogue. You can, in fact, buy this upmarket curd from producers like The Bay Tree. I’ve no idea what that is like, but in any case, where would be the fun in  purchasing it anyway? Besides, this way, you can make as much as you like and adjust the floral/fruit taste ratio to suit yourself.

Here is the recipe I used for my curd:

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Ingredients:

5 or 6 large heads of elderflower
200g/7oz sugar
4 fl oz/120 ml freshly squeeze lemon juice
110g/4oz butter
4 large eggs, lightly beaten

A word about gathering the elderflowers – since I am looking to maximize the delicious scent of these flowers it is best to:

* Pick flowers in the morning.
* Avoid picking after rain, choose a dry, sunny (if possible) day.
* Choose fresh, newly opened flowers, full of pollen.
* Smell the flowers before picking, because not all flowers smell the same.
* Remove as much of the green stalk as is practical to avoid bitter tones creeping in.
* Shake the flowers gently to remove insects and other hedgerow debris (my elder is in a  hawthorn hedge so is often covered in fallen petals)

Method:

1) Dissolve the sugar in the lemon juice in a small pan over a low heat. Once achieved turn off heat and add elderflowers, stirring to mix completely. Then cover pan and leave the syrup to steep for a couple of hours.

Note: If you want to increase the citrus taste, include some grated lemon rind with the juice. I didn’t because I wanted the elderflowers to dominate the flavour in this first attempt. In subsequent batches I would probably be tempted to add a little rind.

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2) For this next stage the curd needs to be slowly heated over simmering water, so use a Bain Marie or double boiler if you have one, else (like me) use a Pyrex bowl in a saucepan of simmering water. Strain the syrup into the bowl, squeezing out as much juice from the flowers as you can. Add the butter to the syrup and stir occasionally until melted. Then, using a small whisk or fork, stir in the beaten egg. Continue to gently, but thoroughly, whisk the mixture to avoid any areas sticking, until the mixture begins to thicken to a custard-like consistency.

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3) Remove from heat and pour into sterilised jars. I use a collection of different sizes, partly because I am never sure about the quantity and partly since they are what I’ve saved over time. This recipe makes about 400ml I believe.

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4) Seal and refrigerate until used. The curd keeps for roughly 2 weeks like this, but that is if you can make it last that long!

I tried some for breakfast, lathering the curd on sourdough toast … and it was delicious:

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Next day we had it on scones, when I tried out the 3-ingredient scone recipe that is currently all the rage: Cheat’s Lemonade Scones (It makes incredibly light, moist scones)

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They were heavenly.

Enjoy!

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