Hogmanay in the garden

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Welcoming in 2019. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A very happy new year to you all. I wish you good health and every success in the year ahead. I hope that you have had a good Christmas holiday, and now we wait to see what 2019 brings to us all.

My Christmas holiday has been very peaceful and relaxed. The weather has been mild considering the time of year and has given me the opportunity to get out in the garden and tackle a few jobs like pruning the old apple tree.

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Recently pruned gnarly old apple tree. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The holidays started on a very chilly note with a heavy frost on Christmas Eve which made everything look very festive and sparkly in the sunshine and crisp, fresh air. Frosted_Hydrangea_lawn_paths_and_greenhouse_glass

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Frosty garden on Christmas Eve. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Out in the garden today, things were looking a little different from a week ago. No frost, just mild, breezy air and patches of blue in a heavily clouded sky. 2018 has certainly given us some unusual weather and I think this is having an impact on the garden now. Several plants are much more advanced than usual: the snowdrops are almost out in flower; the buds on the early spring flowering rhododendron are breaking open, and one Hellebore is already in full bloom. The usual oddities are around too: a solitary stalk of fresh flowers on a very sad-looking, bedraggled lavender bush, and a few new red-fringed orange carnation buds are about to open for a second flowering. Snowdrops_in_bud_and_a_white_hellebore_in_bloom

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Hogmanay flowers. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

I’ll sign off this post with an image of some “lucky” white winter-flowering heather to bring us all good fortune over the next 12 months 🙂

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Hogmanay white heather. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

August flowerings

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Scottish garden flower bed in early August. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

I’d been thinking that this is the month that my garden begins to lose some of its overall colour. But I have been pleasantly surprised when I put this post together. I have chosen a different flower bed to photograph this month – the Ox-eye daisies are in full bloom and you can see the Lysimachia, Hydrangeas and Scabious in the background, which add vibrancy now the pretty shades of late spring have faded.

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Pink Hydrangea. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins
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Pink Scabious and Lysimachia. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

All round the garden, from mid July onwards, I have bold and brash coloured poppies opening out, adding splashes of pinks and reds in the beds. And then, by way of contrast, white and pale pink Japanese Anemones grow in wispy clumps; they look so fragile and delicate and yet they always bounce back after a heavy shower.

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Large red, black-centred poppies. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins
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Pale pink Japanese Anemones

I have many lavender plants, but sadly most are fading fast now as the season progresses. My favourite is the deepest blue-purple Dutch Lavender which grows next to a rather messy clump of Santolina (or cotton lavender). The contrast between the 2 colours is mesmerising on a sunny day. The lavender is coming to the end of a very long flowering, but it’s still adding a lovely splash of colour in the borders and some late pollen for the bees.

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Cotton lavender (Santolina) and Dutch lavender in full bloom. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

There are now some more obvious signs in the garden that Autumn is not too far away. Apart from the slight nip in the air, there are floral reminders too. The globe thistles (Echinops) are blueing up, and several borders are glowing with the colours of Montbretia and Golden Rod. But I’m still clinging on to a memory of summer with a second blooming of lupins.

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From top left: Lysimachia and Montbretia; From bottom left: Echinops and Golden Rod. Second Lupin blooms. All images: Kathryn Hawkins

I’m going to close this post with an image of my beautiful white Hydrangea which is just opening up. I don’t have many white flowers in the garden, but this is a beauty. When the flower heads are fully open, the tiny centres of each turn pale blue. I have always thought that these flowers would make a stunning bridal bouquet.

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White hydrangea and petal. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

A taste of Summer: Sweet lavender vinegar (gluten-free, dairy-free)

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Scottish garden lavender. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

We haven’t had the best of weather so far this month, here in central Scotland. Too much rain to be able to spend quality time outdoors, but it has been warmer, and we have had a few precious sunny hours. The lavender buds are just about to bloom, making them perfect for harvesting.

I have several lavender bushes all round the garden, ranging in colour from pale, pinky-lilac to deep, blueish-purple. Apart from looking delicate and pretty, the soothing scent that lavender brings to the garden is one of the true aromas of Summer.

One of the best ways to continue to enjoy this sensual memory, even when the gloomier months of the year set in, is to pop a few stems in a bottle of vinegar. In a few weeks, you’ll have the sweet smell of lavender and its delicate floral notes, preserved perfectly, in a bottle. It makes a lovely gift too.

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Sweet lavender vinegar ingredients. Image copyright: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

For best results, choose lavender stems with buds that have swollen and are about to break flower. Lavender keeps fresh in water for 3 days after cutting, but keep out of sunlight in order to prevent the buds opening. Change the water and trim the stems a little each day.

To make sweet lavender vinegar:

  • Wash and sterilise a sound, sealable glass bottle large enough to hold 250ml liquid.
  • Trim down 12 stems of lavender to fit neatly inside your bottle and discard any leaves. Gently rinse and pat dry – dip lightly in a bowl of water and dry on absorbent kitchen paper.
  • Gently crush the bud end of each stem between your fingers to release the aroma, and arrange in the bottle, buds downwards.
  • Slightly warm 250ml white balsamic vinegar (agrodolce white condiment) – place on a sunny windowsill, just to take any chill out of the liquid – then pour into the bottle using a small funnel. I use white balsamic vinegar because it is naturally sweet and enhances floral and citrus notes in herbs and flowers. For a more traditional vinegar, choose a good quality white wine or cider vinegar.
  • Seal with a non-corrosive, acid-proof lid or stopper. Label and leave on the kitchen work top for a couple of weeks, gently turning the bottle upside down and back each day.
  • After 2 weeks, taste for flavour and either strain and rebottle ready for long-term storage, or continue to store as it is, allowing the flavour to slowly increase. For an intense flavour, strain the vinegar after 2 weeks, rebottle with more fresh lavender, and store until required. Stored correctly, in a cool, dark cupbaord, your vinegar should last for up to 12 months.

You can use the same method with other fresh flowers and herbs. Rose and Calendula petals work well for flowery vinegars, whilst bay, fennel, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme are good choices for herbs to flavour vinegar.