Monday, April 30, 2007

Before and After, Another Garden Project

A garden is never finished, there is always something or other to do. I recently started working on my garden shed and turned it into a small garden cottage, or so I've been told by my fellow garden bloggers. That shed had been an eye sore for far too long and I'm glad that is looking so much better now. There was however one part of this problem area around my shed, that I haven't shown you before and with good reason, because it looked really and truly horrible. Every time I walked past my shed, I averted my eyes from this painful eye sore. Here, see for yourself.

The before picture is not a pretty sight, you'll agree.

And this is what it looks like now, much improved, don't you think? I like the after picture much, much better.

It took me most of last weekend to make this area of my garden look more presentable. First I cleared away all the rubbish, then the under-gardener was asked to put up a few planks to block the view from all the wood that's stored at the side for the wood burner.
The pear tree that is close to the shed is forming mini pears at the moment as you can see here, and in the background on the left the new planks that hide a myriad of sins. Then I whipped out my trusty paintbrush and painted the whole thing in white and yellow, after I had finished painting the other side of the garden cottage white.
It took 3 layers of white paint to hide that horrible brown. But all the hard work was worth it and I am very pleased with the end result. And there was more to paint, there's no rest for the wicked, is there? ;-)

From the previous owners we'd inherited this rather old and decrepit wheelbarrow. It's made of iron and therefore very heavy, even when it's completely empty. Not very handy, you'd agree. So I thought of something else to put this wheelbarrow to good use.

First I asked the under-gardener to drill a few holes in the bottom of the barrow.
Then I gave the wheelbarrow a good clean and painted it a dark blue.
It looks like medium blue in some of the pictures but in reality it's a dark blue. After I had finished painting the wheelbarrow and the paint was completely dry, I put a few crocks in the bottom.
Then I filled the wheelbarrow with a good quality potting compost. The crocks are there to ensure good drainage and to prevent the earth from blocking the drainage holes.

On Saturday I had gone out to buy some plants to put into the wheelbarrow once it was finished.

On Sunday the wheelbarrow was planted up, the plants got a good soak and then I wheeled it over to the garden cottage, where it's taking pride of place.

There, all better now.

To think of gardens as you think of decor is to miss much of the satisfaction that the subject offers. No matter what the media tells you, gardens can't be treated like outdoor rooms.
Stefan Buczacki, The Guardian, 19 February 2000

Friday, April 27, 2007

Impressions of Bliss

April at Bliss is a wonderful time, especially when spring turns into summer so very early and we have the warmest April since goodness knows when. The birds are singing, the bumblebees are humming, the Russian Blues Sam and Pippa are frolicking amongst the daisies, and the April sun is smiling down on everyone.

The south borders are looking lovely at the moment, so much is in flower; columbines, geraniums, tulips, daffodils, ajuga reptans, chives, clematis, aubrieta, lily of the valley, lavender, saxifraga, forget-me-nots, rosemary, alliums and centranthus ruber.
A close up of a part of the south border.

Apart from Rosa Moonlight, Madame Alfred Carriere and Sombreuil, rosa Blanc Double de Coubert has also decided to join the club of June roses flowering in April. The scent of this rose is heavenly and its flowers are whiter than white.

In the ornamental vegetable garden there's an early harvest of salads and radishes. Delicious!

The bed with broad beans (in flower already) demonstrates clearly that a kitchen garden can be pretty as well as functional. On the four corners of the bed I've planted box for all year round interest and centranthus ruber is brightening up this bed by flowering its heart out and it's also luring pollinators into the vegetable garden.

This is another bed planted with box and bay leaf on the 4 corners (2 of each), forget-me-nots and chard. In the middle is a standard gooseberry that doesn't take up too much valuable space. Lots of veggies or herbs can be planted underneath.
In the Victorian greenhouse the tomato plants are growing away like there's no tomorrow. In 2 weeks time, they have tripled in size.

And look who we've got here, it's our cheeky friend robin redbreast.
The lovely lilac pansies are still going strong and bring lots of joy with their happy, smiling faces.
Last year I planted two grapes, 1 white and 1 blue and this year it looks like we are going to have a lovely harvest of grapes in autumn for the first time, if all goes well. Something nice to look forward too.
In the front garden, the Irises are in flower. This is a very pretty one isn't it? I've named it Abra, because even though I called another, this one came.

Madame Alfred has decided to take over the whole pergola and smother it with her lovely scented flowers. It's wonderful to come home and walk underneath the pergola and be enveloped in a cloud of rose scent. Truly blissful.
I'll leave you with our darling Dolly Daisy, who is expressing extremely well what we at Bliss feel at the moment; rolling in clover and daisies.

Have a wonderful weekend!

We come from the earth, we return to the earth, and in between we garden. Unknown

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

My First Garden Project of 2007

The shed.

The shed again

And again with the shed (hey there's Vita)

And once more with feeling: the shed!

When we bought our house almost 6 years ago it had been terribly neglected, it looked very dark and gloomy even on a sunny day. The shed in the garden was no better and has been an eyesore for quite some time. Unfortunately I didn't have the time to do anything about it, until now. It's amazing what a lick of paint, a bit of elbow grease and some styling can do, don't you think? There, all better now, or is it? Because uh oh

there's more painting to do.Oh nooooooo!!!! Best get on with it then, while the weather is still good.

And the weather has been good, extremely good in fact. In April we would expect an average temperature of 11 to 14 degrees Celsius during the day. This April, temperatures have been ranging from 18 to almost 30 degrees Celsius. I think that this April will be another record breaking month. Last year we had the hottest July ever (in 300 years) followed by the wettest August ever. This April will probably be the warmest and driest ever.

Here's Madame Alfred Carriere, already flowering in April, unheard of in this neck of the woods.

Gardening baffles me. I can do houses but not gardens. Houses are obedient dogs, waiting patiently to know their master's bidding. Gardens are feline, nature and nurture in constant argument. Leave them alone for a minute and they will strive after some state of nature. They are second cousins to chaos.
Simon Jenkins, The Guardian, 3 February 2006

Monday, April 23, 2007

Make Your Own Champagne!

We at Bliss love champagne and quaff it in vast quantities. Champagne is our favorite tipple, it's so cool, bubbly and refreshing. There's nothing better than a glass of cold bubbly on a warm summers' day in the garden.
It's drunk while doing a spot of light gardening, we're having a glass or two while reading a book, it's imbibed whenever the mood strikes us, because mmmmmmmm utter bliss!

And you haven't heard the best bit yet; it's so easy to make and it won't cost the earth either, so you can afford swilling the stuff like there's no tomorrow.

But enough of waxing lyrically about champagne, I'd best get on with telling you how to make the stuff yourself, so that you can drink it in vast quantities too. You can never have enough champagne, that's one of my motto's, and a good one it is too, even if I do say so myself.

As the Bliss team are firm believers in spreading lots of bliss around, here's the recipe for elderberry flower champagne.


- 6 elderberry flowers (Sambucus nigra)

- 1 lemon
Buy it in a health food store or grow your own like I do. Don't use lemons that have been sprayed with all kinds of unhealthy stuff.

- 1 1/2 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
- 3 litres of water
- 1/2 kilo of sugar

Bring 400 ml of water to the boil, add the sugar and stir until all the sugar is dissolved.
Take it off the heat and let it cool to room temperature.

Wash and squeeze the lemon and cut the peel into pieces.
Put the juice and the peel in a big pot or pan. Add the elderberry flowers, 1 1/2 table spoon of white wine vinegar and 2.6 litres of water and stir. Add the sugar water and stir again.
Put the lid on and wait for 4 days, don't forget to stir every now and again.

After 4 days strain the elderberry flower liquid through a sieve. I always put a bit of muslin in my sieve to catch everything that is not supposed to go into the liquid.
Pour the elderberry flower liquid into clean bottles with a screw top.
Once in the bottle, gas will form, resulting into lots of bubbles. This process takes on average about two weeks. Because explosions can happen, store the bottles somewhere safe and and be sure to check them once a week and release some of the pressure, if necessary . When there's bubbles from top to bottom in the bottle, chill the elderberry flower champagne and as soon as it has the right temperature, drink it. It's non alcoholic so everyone can join in the fun. Be sure to open the bottle above the kitchen sink, champagne eruptions can happen. Cheers!

I'm only a beer teetotaller, not a champagne teetotaller. G. Bernard Shaw

Saturday, April 21, 2007

April in the Kitchen Garden

April in the kitchen garden is a wonderful experience of discovery from day to day. Almost every day there's some new development. The strawberries are already setting fruit as you can see on the picture above.

The Thalia daffodils, a firm favorite with many garden bloggers, are growing in a terracotta pot and enhance the kitchen garden with their beauty. I love it when they move about in the breeze, they look like a cloud of elegant white butterflies then.

Beauty can be found in even the most prosaic of things. Here's the humble chard with blue forget-me-not, isn't it just absolutely marvellous, those reds stems combined with blue flowers? And the chard tastes good too!

Of course my garden would not be complete without a cat or two. Here's Dolly Daisy checking out the cold frames. It's amusing to see what my cats find interesting in the garden.

In the cold frames the salad rocket, radishes and lettuces are growing quite quickly and this week I harvested my first salad from the kitchen garden together with the first rhubarb.

I'm very partial to a salad of baby leaves, they are just scrumptious. This salad contains leaves from the salad rocket, the red chard, lollo rosso, oak leaf lettuce, ordinary lettuce and a few sprigs of chives. The salad was delicious of course and so was the rhubarb. Because the rhubarb had been forced, the stems were very tender and tasty. The rhubarb was cooked for 10 to 15 minutes in some orange juice with a stick of cinnamon to add some more flavour. Then I let it cool down and added some sugar. It's very simple to make and it's one of my favorite desserts.

My potatoes are doing fine. I've planted some lettuce in the bed too, because it will take a while for the potatoes to grow into big plants. I was pleasantly surprised when the potatoes pushed their leaves through the earth last week.
I never expected potato leaves to be pretty, but they are, very pretty, don't you think? Above you see the leaves of the Red Duke of York potato.

The raspberries are in flower now. This is the first year that I'm growing them, and it's interesting to see all the various stages the plant goes through, before the fruits are finally ready for harvesting.
The gooseberries are already forming their first fruits. They are still tiny of course, but they are getting there. The mild weather we're having, is really doing wonderful things for my kitchen garden.
In the foreground is the 3 sisters bed that I've planted this week with corn and squash. Next week I'll plant the beans and some sunflowers as well and then they can all grow away to their hearts content.

The kitchen garden is south facing and surrounded on 3 sides by beech hedges (fagus sylvatica) and on 1 side by Cupressocyparis x leylandii. This makes it very secluded and protected from the cold wind, so most plants do well here.

Behind the Victorian greenhouse the Amelanchier lamarckii aka Juneberry or Saskatoon is showing off. Lovely, isn't it, this great white cloud of very dainty flowers?
And it's not the only one in my kitchen garden with beautiful white flowers. My elderberry started flowering at the end of last week, a whole month earlier than expected. It's flowers are so delicate and remind me of very fine lace. Apart from enjoying their beauty, there is so much more that you can do with these flowers. More about that next week.

My Angelique tulips have almost finished flowering now, next week they'll be gone and I'll put something else in this pot to brighten the place up a bit.

I'll leave you with an update about the climbing roses in my front garden. This year the race was won by Moonlight that managed to flower first on 16 April, but a good second is my old and trusted friend Madame Alfred Carriere, as she offered me her first flower on 19 April. Isn't she absolutely gorgeous and her scent is, well, bliss!

We seem to make a more heartfelt response to the coming of spring than to any other season. The first green film on the hawthorns, or a swallow on Easter Day, can lift the spirits far more than is explicable by a simple relief that winter is past. Perhaps our biological roots are deeper than we think, and we recognise these natural tokens as part of an annual renewal in which we share.
Richard Mabey, Country Matters, 2000