End of April in the garden

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Flaming Pierus under a clear blue Scottish sky. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again. Thank you for stopping by my blog. I hope you are keeping well. Not so many words from me in this post, I am letting the glories of the spring flowers speak for themselves. I hope you enjoy looking at them.

Like the rest of the UK, we have had a wonderful month of weather here in central Scotland. In fact, it has felt more like May than April, with several flowers, shrubs and blossoms a couple of weeks ahead than this time last year.  Funnily enough, as I sat down to write this post today, the skies clouded over and we have had some much needed rain. It is also cooler, and the forecast looks set that way for the next few days ahead.

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6 of the best tulips. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The bold and brassy tulips are early this year by about 2 weeks. The classic upright varieties have been planted for a few years now, but the multi-petal, peony-like ones, I put in last Autumn. The colours are so bright, they take on an almost day-glo look in bright sunlight.

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Snakeshead Fritillary in white and deep pink. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

More sedate-looking are the Fritillaries in white and in deep pink. They don’t grow in huge clusters, just a few dotted here and there, but year on year, they are slowly increasing in numbers all round the garden.

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Morello cherry and Conference pear blossom. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Apple, my favourite fruit blossom. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The fruit trees are laden with blossom. Fingers crossed that this means a good harvest of fruit later in the year. The bees are certainly busy, so the signs are looking promising so far.

Now that the daffodils have finished flowering in the raised bed, the Forget-me-nots are free to take up the space left behind. This is a very sunny spot in the garden, and they thrive here.

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Dainty baby-blue clusters of Forget-me-nots. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My final image this week is of another early appearing flower. These last few days of warmth and sunshine have brought out the bluebells in front of my greenhouse. Their sweet, spicy fragrance hangs heavy in the air, and their vivid blue-lilac, little pixie hat-shaped flowers are popping up all over the flower-beds and paths.

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Scottish garden bluebells. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Over the past few weeks, I have been feeling more fortunate than ever over to have such a wonderful garden to escape into, and with beautiful weather to boot, these strange times we find ourselves in have been so much easier to deal with.  My best wishes to you, and I look forward to catching up with you again soon 🙂

This weird spring

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Chionodoxa, Spring’s little gem. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again everyone. I hope you are keeping well. The weather has turned fine these past few days since my last post and it has been a joy to be able to escape into the garden. Whilst the world is in shut-down, Mother Nature is carrying on as usual.

This very week, 16 years ago, I moved to Scotland and took over a much neglected garden. There was not much in flower back in April 2004, but by the following spring, with a little TLC, the first Chionodoxa magically appeared (I didn’t plant them) and have been coming up each spring ever since. They love the sunny flowerbeds and paths and are poking through everywhere at the moment. In contrast, their relation, Scilla, prefer the cooler, damper, shadier part of the garden. In the low light, their bluish-lilac flowers seem to glow with a luminous quality.

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In the shade of a tree, Scilla flowers blooming. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Another shade lover, is the primrose. There are 2 varieties in the garden at the moment. The bushy yellow one flowers just for spring whilst the paler variety is in bloom and and off for several months of the year. There are several primrose clumps now; they seed themselves and multiply every year, and really do brighten up a dark corner.

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Scottish primroses. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

There were a few tasks to get on with at the weekend. One of which was to prune the bay tree-bush which has got a bit wild. I ended up with a huge trug full of bay leaves – they will keep me going for a very long time!

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Springtime bay pruning. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

One of the first tasks I can remember tackling in the garden that first spring, was to dead-head the Hydrangeas. The papery flower heads act as a natural frost protector for the buds and leaves forming on the stem below. This is one of my most enjoyable annual tasks in the garden mainly because it doesn’t involve too much bending 🙂

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Bucket of dry Hydrangea flowers. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My final image this week is of a Ribes Sanguineum or the flowering currant bush. It has been looking a bit sad for the past couple of years, but after a rigorous pruning last Autumn, it has come back to full flower and is looking much healthier. I love the blackcurrant aroma that the flowers have.

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Flowering currant bush. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

That’s me for another week or so. Enjoy the outdoors if you are able, and keep safe. Until next time, take care.

 

Spring rhubarb harvest, roasted and poached

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This year’s first and second stems of spring rhubarb. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello everyone. I hope you are all keeping safe and well. Over the past couple of weeks, with the growing limitations on social interaction and movement, I have felt more grateful than ever before to have my own outside space. Not only are there cheery spring flowers everywhere and the joyful sounds of birds singing, I have been able to pick the first of this year’s home-grown produce.

At the beginning of the month, I had my first taste of this year’s bright pinkish-red, tender stems of forced rhubarb which I covered in early February. The stems weren’t very long because the pot I used wasn’t that tall and it made the stems  grow a bit wonky and squat. However, the colour was intensely vibrant and the flavour was fruity and  tangy.

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My home-grown forced rhubarb. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

With more undeveloped stems peaking through, I re-covered the clump and was able to pick a second harvest a fortnight later. I have left the remaining stems to grow naturally. I have covered up another clump which will (hopefully) yield a few more stems ready for another harvest next month.

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Freshly picked and prepared, forced rhubarb. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I didn’t do anything fancy with the rhubarb this year. I roasted the first batch with vanilla (recipe below), and the second harvest of stems got poached in the juice of my last blood orange of the season (sob) and some of last summer’s frozen raspberries (recipe below). Both very simple serving suggestions, but utterly delicious.

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Roast rhubarb with vanilla. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Roast vanilla rhubarb – I used 200g prepared spring rhubarb stems cut into even thickness pieces, about 8cm long. Put the rhubarb in a small roasting tin and sprinkle with 2 tbsp vanilla sugar and 3 tbsp water. Add a split vanilla pod and bake at 200°C, 180°C fan oven, gas 6 for 15-20 minutes until just tender. Serve warm or cold.

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Spring rhubarb with orange and raspberries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Rhubarb with raspberries and orange: I used 250g prepared rhubarb stems, cut into 5cm lengths. Put the rhubarb in a frying pan with 300g frozen raspberries and the juice and rind of 1 orange. Sprinkle over 5 tbsp granulated sugar. Heat gently until steaming, then put the lid on the pan and simmer for about 15 minutes until just tender and cooked through. Stand for 10 minutes before serving hot, or allow to cool completely. Discard the orange peel before serving.

I do enjoy eating rhubarb with a crumble topping but I find that spring rhubarb overcooks under a a crust of any kind. I came up with an idea which means you can cook a crumble topping separately and sprinkle it over fruit just before serving.

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Preparing oaty crumble topping. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Oaty crumble topping (serves 4): in a saucepan, melt 110g dairy-free margarine with 25g golden syrup and 25g Demerara sugar. Remove from the heat and stir in 150g gluten-free jumbo oats and 50g gluten-free plain flour blend. Spread out thinly over a lined baking tray and bake at 190°C, 170°C fan oven, gas 5 for about 15 minutes until merged together. Break up the mixture into clusters and return to the oven to bake for a further 7-8 minutes until golden and crisp. Serve hot or cold. Once cold, the mixture will keep in an air-tight container for several days, and it freezes well too.

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Roast rhubarb with oaty crumble. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

That’s me for this month. I look forward to posting in April. Until then, keep well and stay safe 🙂

 

 

Amaryllis – no one year wonder

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Amaryllis Picotee in spring last year. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ve been compiling this week’s post for a while, and I have been in a bit of a dilemma as to the best time to go public with it.

Often given as Christmas presents, Hippeastrum hybrida, commonly known as Amaryllis, will begin to grow soon into the new year if they have sufficient warmth and light, but where I am in the north of the UK, I find it a challenge to get the bulbs started much before late spring. I do love their big voluptuous blooms, so flamboyant for something that grows in such a confined space. I’ve purchased many a variety over the years but it’s only recently that I have realised that you can keep the bulbs from one year to the next, and have them flower again. So while I wait for mine to start shooting, I thought I would post this week for the benefit of anyone who has been enjoying their Amaryllis already this year and who wants to do so again.

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Amaryllis first and second time around. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

When I first planted the Amaryllis bulb back in 2017, the following spring, I was delighted to see 2 strong stems of flowers forming, I ended up with 4 blooms on each stem and they lasted in succession for several weeks. Once the flower buds form, move the plant to a cooler spot, still in the light as too much warmth and mean that the flowers will go over quickly.

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When the floral show is over. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

When the final flower has faded, cut off the stalk but leave the plant in the light and  warmth, and continue to water and feed as usual. You need to encourage the plant to grow foliage so that it can photosynthesize and build itself up for next year. These plants are best left indoors; they are not very robust and can’t tolerate variable climates.

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Green foliage and the dormant season. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

In late summer, you will notice that the foliage will begin to die back. Stop watering at this point and allow the foliage to dry and shrivel. Store the bulb, still in its pot, in a cool place, unwatered, so that it can become dormant over the Autumn and into winter. Leave it like this for at least 6 weeks, and don’t let the temperature get below 10°C.

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New shoots. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

As the coolness of winter approaches, bring the bulb back into the warm and start watering and feeding again, and soon the shoots will appear. Don’t over-water otherwise the bulb will rot, but make sure the soil doesn’t dry out completely. In the second year, my Amaryllis produced one flower stem with five blooms attached.

After the second year of flowering, you might want to re-pot the bulb when the flowers have died down. They don’t like too much space, so only upsize if really necessary and then only transfer to a pot one size up from the original. Take care with the roots, they don’t like root disturbance either.

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A stunning floral display, 2 years running, Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It looks like my bulb is a long way from doing anything at the moment. The weather is too cold and dull for it to get it started. But I am looking forward to it’s splendid display in a couple of months time. Until my next post, I wish you well and hope you have a good few days ahead.

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Amaryllis with 5 blooms. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Winter garden round-up

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A splash of much-appreciated Winter colour, early Rhododendron. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

So far this year, Mother Nature has provided 4 seasons in 1 month. There have been several mild days; a few blue-sky, frosty days; a couple of snow-laden days, and in between, grey skies, rain and gusty winds. The poor bulbs and bushes don’t know whether they are on the way up or whether they should still be hibernating.

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Earlier this week. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Snow-covered apple tree. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The snow has now gone, and the temperature has gone up several degrees. I’m happy to say that plants and bulbs that were covered at the beginning of the week, have survived and are blooming again.  The crocus were a couple of weeks early this year, so they must have had one hell of a shock on Monday night when the weather changed. The rhubarb shoots have begun to unfurl since the snow melted. I think I will pop a large pot over this clump at the weekend, and force a few stems for spring.

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Yellow crocus, snow-covered and snow-survivors. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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New rhubarb shoots. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

At the beginning of the week, all the snowdrops in the garden were still tightly closed, but as the thaw took hold and the temperature rose again, many of the buds have opened. These are such pretty, dainty little flowers, and are a sure sign that spring isn’t too far away. Have a good few days whatever the weather brings with it 🙂

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New season snowdrops. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Happy Hogmanay 2019 (and New Year 2020!)

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The last frosty morning of the year. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Happy Hogmanay! I hope you’ve all had a good Christmas. And now it’s the end of another year. Where has the past 12 months gone?

Much like last New Year’s Eve here in central Scotland, it has been a chilly day with bright sun and a cloudless blue sky. In spite of the sunshine, most parts of the garden remained covered in a thick crisp, frosty coating.

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Frost-covered lawn and Foxglove. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Hogmanay afternoon. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To end this short post, I photographed some “lucky” white heather out in the garden today with the hope that it would set us all on a good path for the year ahead. Whatever you’re up to this evening, I hope you have a good time. All my best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous year ahead. Happy New Year 2020!

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Happy New Year 2020. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Shades of Autumn

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Japanese maple in the Autumn sunshine. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

To be completely honest with you all, this really isn’t my favourite time of year. However, when it’s not raining and when the sun is out, I do spend a lot of time in the garden admiring the glorious colours that this month often has to offer.

The Japanese maple tree above is situated in the corner of my drive-way. It has leaves that seem to glow in the sunshine, and when the leaves mature and fall to the ground, they turn a vivid shade of red as they dry out.

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Fallen maple leaves. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

There is more red to be seen elsewhere in the garden. The Cotoneaster is crammed full of berries this year. Standing in front of this hardy specimen is a more delicate Fuschia bush with pink and purple petals that clash spectacularly with the scarlet berries behind.

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Pink Fuschia and berry-laden Cotoneaster. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Another crop of Autumn crocus has sprung up in one of the flowerbeds. A later variety, these beauties are Crocus Sativus or the saffron-crocus. When the sun hits the golden stamens, the spicy aroma is quite mouth-watering.

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Crocus Sativus. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s been a good year for Hydrangeas; they have been in bloom for many weeks. I love the way that the blooms fade gradually and gracefully as the days draw in, and develop a “vintage” appearance.

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Fading glory. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

A few plants are now on their second blooming of the year. This solitary Leucanthemum flower stem is the only one that has developed on the plant second time around. It does look a bit lonely. The variety is Bananas and Cream which is a great name for any plant in my opinion.

Have a good few days and enjoy the Autumn colours if you’re out and about 🙂

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Bananas and Cream for one. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Autumn approaches

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Autumn-flowering heather. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello again. As I sat down to write this post, it felt like summer was here again. Today has been gloriously warm and sunny with blue sky all over. A perfect day to do some tidying up in the garden before the weather turns more seasonal. Whilst the nights are drawing in and leaves on the trees are on the turn, spring bulb shoots and leaves are sprouting all round the garden.

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Grape hyacinth foliage. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The Japanese anemones have been in flower since early last month and are still going strong. Surviving batterings from both wind and rain, they are so hardy and yet so fragile looking.

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Pink and white Japanese anemones. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

One indicator that Autumn is upon us is when the Autumn crocus appears. Towards the end of last month the tall, pale, leafless stems of the crocus first appeared in the shadier parts of the borders. Another leafless stem is the Nerine. These lilies have opened this week; they love the sunshine and their deep pink petals are a very welcome sight when most plants are dying back.

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Autumn crocus and Nerines. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

In my garden, September is the time of year when a lot of produce is ready for harvest. This late sunny spell is very welcome particularly for the greenhouse tomatoes. I have so many green ones yet to ripen, but I am hoping that over the next couple of days more will start to redden, and herald the time to get the chutney pan out again.

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September greenhouse tomatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s not been such a good year for the old apple tree in the garden. In fact, you have to play spot the apple this year. I should have enough to put with the tomatoes for making chutney, but not enough to freeze. The miniature eating apples have done well though. The fruit is crispy, refreshing and sweet; they make a delicious tarte tatin.

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This year’s eating and cooking apples. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The runner beans had a slow start this year but have more than made up for it now. The plants are heaving with beans. I dug the first of the Pink Fir potatoes last weekend, and was very pleased with the yield. They store well, so I should have plenty for a few weeks ahead. That’s all from me this week. I’m looking forward to spending the weekend out of doors and enjoying the sunshine. A happy weekend to you what ever you are doing 🙂

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Runner beans, Autumn raspberries and Pink Fir potatoes. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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My weekend harvest. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Aronia berry and apple jelly (naturally gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Garden berries and apples combined to make a delicious jelly preserve.                            Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I wasn’t planning another preserve recipe for my blog so soon after my “jam” post earlier in the month, but last weekend I made up a new recipe and as the result was a success, I am sharing it with you this week.

I inherited several established shrubs and bushes when I moved into my current house over 15 years ago. Many were familiar to me but a few were not. One of the curios was the Aronia Melanocarpa. This is an evergreen shrub with leathery green leaves. In the summer it produces arms of red berries which ripen and turn black. For a while, I assumed the shrub with its berries was purely ornamental, however after a wee bit of research I discovered that the berries are edible.

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Aronia Melanocarpa shrub and fruit. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The shrub is well known in the USA and was introduced into Europe in the 1700’s, as an ornamental. The berries get their common name of chokeberry because the fruit is very astringent when eaten raw, however, I have decided not to test this out for myself! The berries contain a large amount of vitamin C and looking on the web they are considered to be a bit of a “wonder-berry”. Aronia berries are ripe when they are fully black, which happens from mid to late summer depending on where you live. I found the ripest fruit difficult to pick without squishing the berries, so snipped off the stalks as well (which is fine for jelly making). The juice is potent and stains a vibrant shade of blue, so you might want to wear gloves. I should imagine the berries would freeze ok if you needed to harvest them in batches.

I could find little reference in terms of recipes, so I based my mixture on a cranberry jelly, adding apple to temper the astringency and to help with the set. The final jelly has set well and is dark red-purple in colour, with a taste that is sweet and quite similar to a blueberry preserve. This is a great result for me because my blueberry bushes produced no fruit at all this year, so I’m glad I have discovered the wonders of Aronia Melanocarpa 🙂

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Scottish berry jelly with oatcakes. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Makes: approx. 650g jelly preserve

Ingredients:

  • 200g aronia berries, washed (small stems are fine if it is difficult to pick the berries without)
  • 400g whole cooking apples, washed
  • Approx. 430g granulated sugar – see method for exact quantities
  1. Put the berries in a large stainless steel saucepan. Chop the apples into small pieces, (skins, core and pips included) and add to the pan along with 350ml water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, mashing occasionally, until very soft and pulpy.
  2. Line a large nylon sieve with muslin and place over a large bowl. Choose a sieve that you’re not too precious about as it may stain blue with the juice. Carefully pour the pulp into the muslin and leave to cool. Leave to strain for at least 3 hours.

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    Preparing the fruit for jelly-making. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
  3. Pour the strained juice into a measuring jug, cover and chill until required. Tip the pulp back into a saucepan. Add another 200ml water, and heat, stirring, until back to the boil.
  4. Repeat the straining of the pulp as before, but this time, after cooling, put in the fridge and leave to strain overnight until the pulp is very dry.
  5. Discard the pulp and pour the juice into the jug. I achieved 375ml juice from the first straining, and 200ml from the second. The ratio of sugar to juice is 450g sugar to 600ml juice, so I used 430g for my 575ml.
  6. Pour the juice into a saucepan and heat until steaming. Add the sugar, and stir over a low heat until dissolved. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for about 10 minutes. For jelly making, I use a sugar thermometer to gauge the setting point – 104°-105°C- to give the best result.
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    Cooking the juice. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

     

  7. Pour into warm, sterilised jam jars and seal immediately. Leave to cool then label and store in the usual way. The jelly will keep fine for at least 6 months. Serve as a sweet preserve or with savoury dishes too.

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    Aronia berries, ripe and ready for picking. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

My July garden retrospective

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End of July in the garden. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Hello everyone. We’re almost at the end of another month; how time flies. I’ve been taking some time off work and my blog this month but I found some time to capture some of the flowery and fruity delights that have come and gone these past 4 weeks.

The wonderfully prickly specimen below appeared in the garden last year courtesy of the birds. It didn’t flower, but produced some magnificent spiky leaves. This year it has gone from strength to strength and this month it really took off. Sadly it was a victim of its own success and toppled over under its own weight. Most of the blooms are growing at all angles but upwards apart from this one.

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Wild thistle. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Something a little bit more delicate are the charming and dainty Campanulas which flower at the beginning and middle of the month. The flower-heads seemed a lot bigger this year. And in the picture below them, my beautiful, very fragrant and very old rose bush. It did me proud again this year and was laden with blooms. Sadly now finished, but I am ever hopeful for a second blooming later in the year.

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Early July Campanulas. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Old fashioned, highly scented rose. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The garden has been alive with bees and butterflies this summer. Lots of different varieties of bees all over the tiny petals of the Scabious (or Pincushion) flowers, it seems to be one of their favourite blooms. And here is a Scarlet Lady butterfly bathing on a very fragrant sun-bed of lavender.

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Scabious and lavender with bumblebee and butterfly. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Aside from the delicate and fragrant, the brash and bold flowers have also been abundant. The Hydrangeas seem more colourful than ever this year, and the poppies are springing up everywhere to add bright splashes of colour to the borders and beds.

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Tall red poppies and small bush Hydrangeas. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s also been another good year for the outdoor soft fruit. The small espalier Morello cherry produced ¾kg cherries (all bottled and stored) and the raspberry bushes, now in their 14th year, have produced another mega-harvest of berries which I have frozen for making into jam later in the year. The dishful of berries in the picture were cooked with freshly picked rhubarb and made into a “crump”, one of my favourite desserts from my blog a couple of years ago. Here’s the link: Rhubarb, raspberry and custard crump (gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan)Very tasty it was too 🙂

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Mid July Morellos. Images: Kathryn Hawkins
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Aptly named, Glen Ample raspberries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

That’s all from me for now. I look forward to sharing more recipes and garden posts in a short while.