Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Epimedium – Barrenwort

Last year I discovered a ground cover, spring flowering plant called Epimedium. I did a bit of research and eventually bought myself a good sized root of a white variety from Ashwood Nurseries. I potted it on and after flowering I divided it into three. I am hoping that it survived the chickens and the Winter. Today I plan to have a look at them and bring them indoors for a bit of tender loving care. It is listed as ground cover and is said to thrive in dappled shade. Visually the plant looks robust then surprisingly the flowers are very delicate. I really hope that I can get a good colony of these beauties into our garden.

Apparently this species is becoming more opopular because of the arrival of a new species from China and Japan. The Asiatic varieties require summer moisture whereas Europeans can be mainstays in dry shade. A Genus of more than 50 species of evergreen and deciduous rhizomatous perennials from the Mediterranean to temperate easten Asia. They are found in woodland, scrub and shady, rocky places which gives an idea of their preferences. Info from Burncoose Nurseries.

Some varieties have been in western cultivation for the last 150 years. There is now a wide array of new Chinese species being cultivated in the west, many of which have only recently been discovered, and some of which have yet to be named. There are also many older Japanese hybrids of the genus in cultivation. Few genera of plants have seen such a dramatic increase in newly discovered species, primarily thanks to the work of Mikinori Ogisu of Japan and Darrell Probst of Massachusetts. Most varieties are proving extraordinarily amenable to general garden and container cultivation. Wiki

This plant is getting more and more interesting . There are so many different types and colours that like the Cranesbill I am spoiled for choice and my wish list it growing daily.

There is an amazing article by Tony Avent on the RHS site that is a mine of information about this very interesting genus. Its called An Overview Of Epimedium and, written in 2010, is the best source of knowledge about Epimedium that I have come across.

https://www.rhs.org.uk/about-the-rhs/publications/the-plant-review/2010-issues/march/an-overview-of-epimedium.pdf

Spring 2020 – New plants

Cranesbill Pratense Mixed Seeds

Its 11th February 2020 and we have been potting up new bulbs, roots and corms. Lauras enthusiasm far exceeds mine and she has been obsessed with seeds and plants since January, just as I used to be before Adam was Poorly and eventually passed away on 20th February 2016.

I have to admit that I can get lost in messing about in the garden and find some sort of peace out there. At present the garden is far from beautiful. I still keep a few chickens and they have eaten quite a few plants over the Winter. This, added to my neglect, has meant there is a lot to do to bring it back to life.

An online foray onto Wilkos website saw me buying a few bare roots and corms plus some topsoil and compost. I bought Spectabilis, Dahlia, Gypsophila, Calla Lily and mixed Cranesbill seeds. Laura added roots of Agapanthus and Sea Holly.

Dicentra Spectabilis Alba – This white perennial dies back to below ground level each year in autumn and fresh new growth appears again in spring. If you can get a plant established it will bloom during April and May and can become fully hardy. Arching sprays of dainty, pure white, heart-shaped flowers appear in late spring above fresh green leaves. Easy to grow, this elegant plant is ideal as part of a cottage garden scheme. As long as the ground is kept moist it will thrive in full sun or partial shade.

Dicentras are northern hemisphere plants, growing from Asia to North America. In their natural habitat they are found in moist soils in the cool margins of woodlands. This dicentra was first introduced in 1816, then disappeared from cultivation but was reintroduced by plant collector Robert Fortune in 1846. It soon became one of the most popular garden plants. It is one of the earliest perennials to flower but the foliage does start to die back after flowering.

Calla Lily – Zantedeschia White – Caring for white calla lilies is different to caring for the colourful hybrid calla lilies. White callas are semi-aquatic and their rhizomes thirst for watering holes but their colorful cousins hail from higher ground and their tubers demand drainage.

Calla lilies prefer to grow in a sunny spot with rich, well drained soil. These tropical beauties also prefer slightly moist soil that’s rich in organic matter. If you are growing calla lily in containers use a commercial potting soil. Move the plants indoors before frost strikes in Autumn. I have planted a few of these before but think I have lost them. Time will tell.

Dahlias – I bought four Dahlia corms. The varieties are Perfect Match, Crazy Love, Avignon and Cantarino. Dahlia is a genus of bushy, tuberous, herbaceous perennial plants native to Mexico and Central America. A member of the Asteraceae family of dicotyledonous plants, its garden relatives include the sunflower, daisy, chrysanthemum, and zinnia.Wiki

Dahlia Cantarino
Dahlia Crazy Love
Dahlia Perfect Match

Gypsophila Paniculata – Babys Breath

Gypsophila paniculata is a species of flowering plant in the family Caryophyllaceae, native to central and eastern Europe. It is an herbaceous perennial growing tall and wide, with mounds of branching stems covered in clouds of tiny white flowers in summer.

Copyrighted Aad van Haaster

I have some seeds to start too but thought I would hedge my bets with a bare root. There were three good roots in the pack labelled one. I have a soft spot for this plant as it conjours up old memories of my mothers garden around the prefab where I grew up. She had a large old root that carried on giving for years and frothy sprays of which she used to add to bunches of pinks or carnations grown in the coal sleck beds which were our front garden. In season she sold these bunches to neighbours for a shilling. Always useful to slot into the electricity meter. I have tried and tried to create a similar strong root in my own garden over the years but so far to no avail. Maybe this will be the year.

Favourite Flower 2019 Gaura the Bride

Although this plant was started from seed last year, 2018, it didn’t come into its own until this Summer. This years favourite flower then is Gaura Lindheimeri, commonly known as Whirling Butterflies. The variety I have is white and called, The Bride.

It is such a lovely plant that, although I intend to propagate the plant I have, I intend to start more of the other varieties and colours. There is a dark pink variety, Belleza, that is smaller than mine and I am on the hunt for some seeds.

To propagate in July dip each gaura stem in powdered, gel or liquid rooting hormone, then plant the stems in the holes, just deep enough to stand upright. Pat the soil lightly around the stems. Be sure the leaves are not touching the soil.

Red Ginger Lily Torch

We decided to have yet another go at growing Ginger. After trying to start shop bought rhizomes with no success Laura decided to buy some seeds from Chiltern Seeds. The variety is Phaeomeria magnifica Pink. Laura gave me three seeds and she sowed seven. I duly sowed them in a largish pot in new multi purpose compost. I laid the three seeds on top of moist compost and covered with a plastic bag.

You know what they say about not buying at auction without first visiting the property, well I think a similar caution should be taken when sowing gifted seeds. Doing my research after the event I found that this particular plant can grow to 13ft. Now, I know that Ginger is in general a substantial plant but I am a bit concerned about the future of this one.

One of the world’s magnificent plants, a gigantic herb from Indonesia with long, arching canes, produced annually, bearing pointed leaves like those of the Banana. The fantastic and striking, torch-like flowers, formed of countless waxy bracts, are borne on separate, leafless stems and are a brilliant red edged with a white margin.  13ft chiltern seeds.co.uk

Hardy Geraniums – Cranesbill

This year I have bought in some Hardy Geraniums or Cranesbill. I bought them from Cranesbill Nursery in Walsall. I have never grown them in the garden before but after doing a bit of research online and finding this specialist nursery I decided that I had to have them in the garden.

Out of a very tempting variety, and with cost very much in mind, I had to choose just four plants to start my collection. My first list of must haves would have cost over a hundred pound so a bit of pruning had to be done and my list of four was ordered.

Geranium Maculatum Beth Chato

The journey to the nursery was horrendous. It was very hot, traffic was end to end and the scenery between home and the nursery was awful. However, Gary, the plantsman, was lovely. I bought four very established plants and was very happy. I think if I do order any more I shall order bare root and have them delivered.

Geranium Pratense Delft Blue Butterfly

My first choices were, Geranium Pratense Delft Blue Butterfly; Geranium Pratense Laura; Geranium Beth Chato and Geranium Versicolour.

Geranium Pratense Laura

I have a lot to learn about this rewarding genus and am looking forward to having a lot more of every variety in my garden.

Cherries – Growing and Cooking

I understand that cherries are a good source of vitamins and minerals including potassium, calcium, vitamin A and folic acid. They are also well known for their antioxidant properties. I think the birds who visit our garden are also aware of this as they seem to know the minute that the cherries are ready to harvest. I have two trees, a Stella and a Sweetheart, however they are both now too tall to net so we agree that I pick the lower fruit and then birds can have the higher up bounty.

Sweetheart is a popular, self-fertile sweet cherry and the large fruit have a good flavour. Beautiful white blossom in spring is followed by large, sweet dark red cherries (darker than Stella). This is a late-cropping variety, so useful for extending the season. The fruits ripen over a few weeks so you don’t get a glut all at once and you can be picking well into September.

Stella is a smaller tree and is also self fertile.  It is a heavy cropper having good resistance to late frosts. Stella will thrive in most locations and can be grown in a large container. The sweetly flavoured fruit will be ready to pick from mid July.  The lovely blossom which appears from early March will brighten your garden and herald the arrival of spring.

 

We all like to eat the fruit as it comes but another family favourite is Cherry Pie.

Recipe:-

  • A guestimate of cherries, washed and pitted
  • Lemon juice
  • 4oz sugar
  • Almond essence
  • 1 block of Sainsburys Shortcrust pastry

I normally cook the pitted cherries in a little lemon juice and sugar with a dash of almond essence. Set them on one side and line a pie plate with half of the pastry. Pour in the filling and put the pastry lid on. I brush with milk and sprinkle sugar on top then bake in the middle of the oven at 180 for 20 mins.

How to pit cherries. Place the cherry on top of the mouth of an empty bottle. With a chopstick, apply pressure and push the pit into the bottle. 

 

From beautiful blossoms to delicious pie

A Shropshire Lad – David Austin Climbing Rose

Rosa A Shropshire Lad

 

On 20th February this year it was three years since we lost Adam and to mark the occasion Sean and I went to Ashwood Nurseries and bought a climbing Rose to put in the garden as a tribute to Adam.  A Shropshire Lad is a beautiful subtle pink rose by David Austin. A vigorous scented climbing rose with very few thorns, dark green foliage and beautiful subtle pink flowers. I have admired this rose for years and so going with Sean and buying it together in remembrance of Adam made the sad day a little easier for both of us.

A Shropshire Lad

A vigorous scented climbing rose with very few thorns, dark green foliage and beautiful subtle pink flowers.

The name is taken from A. E. Housman’s collection of poems about Shropshire published in 1896 where the David Austin rose gardens and nursery are situated.  A. E. Housman’s ashes are buried near St. Laurence’s Church in Ludlow, Shropshire. David C. H. Austin, born in Shropshire, is himself a Shropshire lad.

To add to this treat Sean also bought me another rose that I had been wanting for ages, the English Shrub Rose Queen Of Sweden. I plan to take cutting of both of these when the time is right.

Queen of Sweden – Small buds open to half-enclosed cups which eventually become wide, shallow, and upward-facing. The colour begins as soft, apricot pink, gradually changing to pure soft pink over time. It has a lovely myrrh fragrance. It forms a bushy upright shrub. It was named to commemorate the Treaty of Friendship and Commerce between Sweden and Great Britain by David Austin in 2004.

English Roses have natural, shrubby growth which makes them ideal for both rose borders and combining with other plants in mixed borders. The more compact English Roses work well in rose beds, whilst taller varieties can be trained against a post and rail fence. Most varieties will perform surprisingly well in partial shade with at least four or five hours of good sun a day. English Roses as shrubs look best when planted in groups of three or more of the same variety. They will then grow together to form one dense shrub which will provide a more continuous display and make a more definite statement in the border. David Austin.

https://www.davidaustinroses.co.uk

Herbs and Spices 4 – Ginger. Hedichium Ginger Lily – Growing and Cooking 2018

Little is known about how ginger first came to be cultivated. Historians write that the plant did not exist in its current form, but was bred by humans. These days, most ginger comes from Asia. India produces the largest quantity, followed by China and Indonesia. Zingiber Officinalis is a tropical plant which grows in shaded swamps so in the UK it needs help to get started. 

Ginger is easy to propagate using a piece of fresh root ginger, the rhizome of the plant. Choose the freshest piece you can with visible eyes. They are the small yellow tips from which the shoots sprout. The roots are like a hand with fingers of rhizome that can be separated by breaking into pieces.  Place each piece in a pot of compost  with the eyes just level with the surface and water in well. Enclose the pot in a clear plastic bag and place in a sunny spot indoors at about 20C. In a few weeks you will start to notice green tips. This is best done in the Spring. Kept in a light, warm room your ginger will become a pretty houseplant and start producing harvests after six to eight months.

Ginger plants love light and warmth but they can do just as well in strong sunlight. Avoid cold, wind or drafts at all costs. The growing tips at the end of each finger of the rhizome will sprout quickly. Long, slim leaves will grow from the end and look  like sprouting grass. Potting on is essential as within eight to ten months the ginger plant will be fully grown.

  • Garden care: Plant the rhizomes into pots using a good soil based compost. The rhizome should be placed horizontally just below the surface of the soil with the small reddish coloured buds facing upwards. Water well and then grow on under glass until all risk of frost has passed. Alternatively, store the rhizomes in a cool, frost-free place until they can be planted straight out in the garden. Keep well watered during the summer but dry during winter. The rhizomes should be covered in the Autumn with a deep, dry mulch, or brought inside and kept in a frost free spot until the Spring when they can be planted outside again. (info from Crocus.com)

Ginger is a flowering plant whose rhizome, ginger root or ginger, is widely used as a spice and a folk medicine. It is a herbaceous perennial which grows annual pseudo stems about a meter tall bearing narrow leaf blades. The inflorescences bear pale yellow with purple flowers and arise directly from the rhizome on separate shoots. Ginger is in the family Zingiberaceae to which also belong turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. Ginger originated in the tropical rainforests from the Indian subcontinent to Southern Asia where ginger plants show considerable genetic variation. As one of the first spices exported from the Orient, ginger arrived in Europe during the spice trade, and was used by ancient Greeks and Romans.

Ginger root has been used medicinally in Asian, Indian and Arabic herbal traditions for thousands of years. It is still used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an aid to digestion and to calm upset stomachs. Its warm, spicy aroma has been believed to awaken vitality and in many ancient cultures it was used as an aphrodisiac.

Ginger is the perfect way to spice up your cooking. The intensity of the flavour varies according to when the ginger is harvested. The older the plant, the hotter the root will taste. Young ginger roots are softer and more succulent and have a milder flavour. These young tubers can be eaten fresh or preserved in vinegar, sugary water or sherry. Young ginger is also perfectly suited for making ginger tea. Just add sugar and lemon to taste.

Fresh ginger can be used finely chopped, grated, crushed to give a ginger juice, or simply sliced. In South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent, fresh ginger is frequently added to curry pastes and it is often cooked with fish dishes in China. In Europe, dried ginger is more frequently used in baking, as in the classic parkin of northern England.

Another wonderful use for ginger is Ginger Beer. I remember my mother often had some of this on the go in out little kitchen. She made it in the traditional way fermenting it with yeast but below is a cheat recipe.

Ginger Beer Cheat Recipe.

Ingredients

  • 2 lemons, juiced and zested
  • ½ tbsp. clear honey
  • 150g root ginger, peeled and grated
  • 115g caster sugar
  • 1½ litres soda water

Method

  1. In a large jug, mix the juice and grated lemon zest with the honey, grated ginger and caster sugar.
  2. Pour in 150ml soda water and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.
  3. Top up with the remaining soda water.
  4. Using a fine sieve or piece of muslin, strain the mixture into another large jug, discarding the zest and ginger pulp.
  5. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving with ice.

 

Ginger is used in many forms. Whole fresh roots, Dried roots, powdered, preserved, crystallised and pickled.

  • Whole fresh roots. These provide the freshest taste.
  • Dried roots.
  • Powdered ginger. This is ground dried root
  • Preserved or stem ginger. Fresh young roots are peeled, sliced and cooked in heavy sugar syrup.
  • Crystallised ginger. This is also cooked in sugar syrup, air dried and rolled in sugar.
  • Pickled ginger. The root is sliced paper thin and pickled in vinegar.

 

Ginger tea is good to drink when you feel a cold coming on. It is a diaphoretic, meaning that it will warm you from the inside and promote perspiration. Use it when you just want to warm up. Steep 20-40g of fresh, sliced ginger in a cup of hot water. Add a slice of lemon or a drop of honey if you fancy. This is great for lifting your mood. Packed with antioxidants, it has a whole range of health benefits so is the perfect Winter warmer.