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

 

March, in like a lion….

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Under a yew bush, a lion and thistle embossed, iron screen stands boldly behind the first Tête-a-tête of the year. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

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The old saying about March certainly rings true for the start of this month here in central Scotland, but there are a few signs of spring in the garden. The snow has gone, and the temperature has risen (slightly). Today though the weather’s been blowing a gale and it’s very, very wet. I’m still not feeling that spring is here entirely.

However, last weekend was fine, and I managed my first major gardening session for several weeks. I was relieved to see that new life is creeping back into the garden again. The first Tête-a-tête are in flower, and my barrel of crocus seem to have suffered no ill-effects from being under snow for several days, and bloomed in the weak sunshine for a few hours. Ever since I took these images, they have been tightly closed.

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Crocus after the snow. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Snowdrops are the main feature in the garden at the moment. The splash of white petals and the bright green foliage bring some welcome interest and signs of life amongst the dying residues of winter and the mostly bare soil.  March_garden_Snowdrops_growing_under_a_beech_hedge

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Charming and delicate, snowdrops are one of the first signs that spring is on its way. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

The first Rhododendron is also in bloom. One of a few different varieties in the garden, this scarlet one is always the first to flower, and often, flowering not long into the new year; however, this year it has been curtailed by the frosts and snow.

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Scarlet Rhododendron bloom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

My lovely pot Hyacinth has come into full flower this last week. The fragrance is sweet and spicy, and quite intoxicating. The 2 blooms are so heavy and full, I have had to add support to the pot.

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Pink pot Hyacinth in full bloom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

That’s the end of my garden round-up for this month. I’m heading back into the kitchen now to get my next recipe post ready. Until then, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the second part of the March saying to come true……..Bring on the lambs!

 

Overnight seed and berry porridge (gluten-free; dairy-free; vegan)

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Oatmeal and seed porridge with berry compote. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It still feels more wintry than spring-like here in central Scotland. We have had a blue-sky day today, the first for a while, and the temperature is slowly rising. The snow is beginning to thaw slowly, but most of the garden is still covered in a thick, white crust of powdery snow. The snowdrops under the hedge are the first to emerge at long last and I am relieved to see that they have survived their week inside a snow-cave – what robust little flowers they are 🙂

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After-the-snow snowdrops. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

One of my favourite warming breakfast dishes is porridge, and it seems a lot of people agree: porridge has become the super-star amongst breakfast cereals, and the supermarket shelves are stacked out with different varieties and all sorts of flavours.

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Pinhead oatmeal for “proper” porridge”. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

I like my porridge made the traditional way, which means I prefer to use oatmeal (or groats) rather than rolled oats. However, it’s not an instant breakfast and requires some organisation: the oatmeal requires overnight soaking before it can be cooked. But if you have a slow-cooker, you can cut down on the preparation: just mix everything up in the slow-cooker the night before and leave it on a low setting until the next morning, by which time it’s ready to eat as soon as you want it.

The oatmeal in the picture above is a local Scottish brand and is not guaranteed gluten-free. As you will know, oats themselves don’t contain gluten, but there is a contamination risk from other grains during processing, so if you do have a serious gluten allergy, you should seek out gluten-free oatmeal.

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Slow-cooker porridge: oatmeal, water and salt. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

If you don’t fancy leaving your slow-cooker on overnight, slow-cook the porridge as you like, and once cooked and cooled, the porridge will keep in the fridge for a few days. You can take out a portion and reheat it with you favourite soya, rice, nut or oat milk when you’re ready. Just pop a portion in a microwave-proof bowl, mash it with a fork and stir in some milk, then reheat on High for about 1 ½ minutes. Alternatively, you can reheat the porridge in a saucepan, with milk, in the same way.

The following quantity will make 4 to 6 servings: pour 1.1litre water into your slow-cooker and stir in 175g pinhead oatmeal. Add a pinch of salt and mix well. Cover with the lid and switch the cooker on to the Low setting. Leave to cook, undisturbed, overnight (for 8-10 hours), until thick and soft. To serve, stir well and serve with hot, non-dairy milk mixed in. Add sugar or syrup to sweeten if you like, and top with sliced banana, fresh berries, grated apple, dried fruit etc.

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Homemade seed mix and my frozen summer berries. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

For an extra nutritious start to the day, I like to stir a heaped tablespoon of ground seeds into my bowl porridge and top with some summer berry compote.

For the seed mix, grind 3 tbsp. flax seeds with 2 tbsp. sunflower seeds, 1 tbsp. chia seeds and 1 tbsp. sesame seeds – I use a coffee grinder to do this. Stir in 1 to 2 tbsp. ground almonds, pecans or Brazil nuts. Store in the fridge in an airtight container and use to sprinkle over anything you like for some extra nutritious nuttiness!

The berry compote is made from my freezer supply of home-grown raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. I simply put a quantity, still frozen, in a saucepan with the lid on and sit the pan over a very low heat until the berries soften and cook. I add a little vanilla sugar once the berries are cooked. Delicious eaten hot or cold.

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A spoonful of my favourite oatmeal porridge. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

 

 

 

First of February in the garden

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Blue sky day. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s been a lovely start to the new month today. Very clear and crisp. After taking the image above this morning, after a full day of sunshine, by the time I got round to typing up my post, most of the snow had melted away.

There has been quite a lot of snow fall in January, and it’s been quite cold too. No sooner had the temperature risen again and things were beginning to feel a bit more spring-like, then down came another pouring of the white stuff yesterday.

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Last day of January snowfall. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

The new season’s growth seems a little slower in showing this year. Most of the bulbs I have planted around the garden are only  just beginning to poke through the soil, but the ones below, in an old wheelbarrow, are much more advanced. When I’m gardening I often accidentally dig up bulbs. I usually put them back in the same place, but last year I cleared an area which had become too densely populated, and ended up with loads to replant. The wheelbarrow and an old barrel seemed like suitable new homes. Hopefully I will end up with a colourful display from both in a few weeks time.

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My barrow of bulbs. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Looking back at my garden in February last year, I had a few snowdrops out in full bloom by this time. At the moment, the petals are firmly closed, but with a couple more days of sunshine, they should open up. In other more sheltered spots around the garden, the snowdrops still have quite a way to go before they flower.

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First of February snowdrops. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Another precious flower in the garden at this time of year is the winter-blooming white heather. It certainly looks very healthy. Believed to bring good luck, white heather brings the feeling of life and vibrancy to the garden long before the other colours of spring appear.

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Lucky white winter heather. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

Another plant that is also looking very floral just now is a new Helleborus Orientalis I planted last year. It’s very pink and very pretty. The more established Hellebores in the garden are only in leaf with no sign of flower stems, so I guess that this one must be an early variety. It does look a wee bit lonely in the border, with just the one flower open, but there are lots of buds, so they may well be flowering when the others decide to make a show. See you next time 🙂

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Early Hellebore. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

 

Marvellous March

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Under a blue sky, snowdrops in full bloom. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s been a wonderfully bright start to the new month. Blue sky, a light breeze, and warm(ish) sunshine. It is chilly in the shade, with frosts overnight, but the spirits are lifting as the flowers are blooming. In the garden, snowdrops are the main stars of the show and small clumps are in flower all over the place.

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Snowdrops growing under the beech hedge. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

There are also little pockets of sunshine yellow, here and there, as the Tête á Tête Narcissus have burst into flower these past few days. These are a favourite of mine, with their sweet, spicy perfume as well as their bright, almost glowing, petals.

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Miniature Narcissus. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

It’s only occurred to me this year, how much of the heather in the garden flowers at this time of the year. In Scotland, heather is something I associate with as a mid to late Summer flowering plant, when it grows over the hills as far as the eye can see. I have planted lots of heather varieties in the garden over the years, and mostly by good fortune, there are plants flowering in all seasons. This pure white one overhangs the driveway.

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March flowering white heather. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

A couple of the early flowering rhododendrons are just about fully in flower. At this time of the year, they are vulnerable to frosts, but, so far (with fingers crossed), they have been unaffected. Both shrubs have been in the garden for many years, and are well established; they pretty much look after themselves.

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Early flowering rhododendrons. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

In a few shady spots in the garden, where the sun doesn’t reach, the hellebores are opening out. Probably one of the most challenging flowers to photograph owing to their drooping heads, this white one with dark red spots is one that grows more erect. It is the first one to bloom fully; the darker varieties are not quite open yet, but will feature in next month’s post.

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White Hellebore. Image: Kathryn Hawkins
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Hellebore: close up and personal. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

To close my post this month, the most pleasing sight in the garden yesterday was this little fellow, standing alone, just a few centimetres tall. In a couple of weeks, the bare garden soil and gravel paths will be over-run with Chionodoxa and Scilla; there will be speckles of bright blue everywhere. These tiny, wee plants herald the start of the new season in my garden, and are a delight to behold.

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The first Chionodoxa. Image: Kathryn Hawkins

February in a Scottish garden

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Frosty mornings. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Frost and fog have been the order of the day since my last out-of-doors post. Without doubt, February is my worst month of the year. To me, it’s neither one season nor the other, and I am longing for Spring. Many plants that seemed so advanced back in December, have slowed down recently, and my hopes for an early end to Winter have been thwarted.

On a positive note, the afternoons are getting noticeably  lighter as the days begin to draw out, and, the snowdrops are beginning to bloom at last. I hadn’t given much thought to this well-known, delicate little flower until I moved to Scotland. Snowdrops grow every where in the countryside around me: from the sides of the roads to carpets in the forests, and in the most modest of gardens to the landscaped grounds of castles and palaces, they certainly feel at home here. I have small clumps growing in different areas all over the garden; none have been planted, they come back naturally year after year.

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Early February snowdrops. Images: Kathryn Hawkins

Other bulbs are greening up, and most shrubs are in tight bud; I am hoping they will open up in the next two to three weeks. I have are a few heathers in bloom here and there, adding splashes of pink amongst the green shoots.

The weather has just turned milder these past couple of days, which means (fingers crossed) that the garden will spring into action once more. Until next month………..

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February pink heathers and rhododendron buds. Images: Kathryn Hawkins