England’s Amberley Castle wildlife…
I love English country gardens and my own. Our English relatives John and Ann, indulging me in my passion, always plan a visit to extraordinary gardens when we come and spending time in their own lovely garden with its roses and pond is an enormous pleasure. I bring home inspiration, seeds, garden ornaments, pieces of flint and photos. Here are some of my favourites and how we’ve worked at Canadianizing them.
What does it say about me that my favourite garden plant is deadly? Digitalis, also called Dead Mans Bells, Bloody Fingers and Witches Gloves is toxic but beautiful. A few years ago a US woman poisoned her husband by adding foxglove leaves to his salad. He became violently ill but survived. I guess the guy wasn’t handy.
I prefer to call by them by their more endearing name, Foxglove. Also called Virgin’s Glove, Fairy Caps, Folk’s Glove and Fairy Thimbles, this cottage garden flower is a key reason my secret garden looks magical this morning. I grew all the foxgloves in my collection from seeds in the greenhouse…many of them ordered from Plants of Distinction in England. Some of my favourites are Candy Mountain Peach (see, not a sinister name at all)…the bells face upwards in this one, Camelot cream with its densely clothed stems of Guernsey cream bells, Elsie Kelsey, with its beautiful snow white bells and a raspberry jam lip and obscura with a nodding red-veined yellow flower from Spain. Heywoodii is of the palest of pinks with heavy freckles with densely packed bells on a dwarf plant. Mertonenisis is also a very fine hybrid reproducing truly from seed with its crushed strawberry bells…I could go on.
They are virtually maintenance free and hardy. It took some patience as most are biennial. I had to nurture my seedlings, harden them off, plant them and wait another whole year to see their bells. They will grow in a number of soil types as long as there is good drainage. Most are hardy to zone 4.
Once your foxgloves are blooming let them for for as long as you can. Your goal is to allow the plant to go to seed and for the seed to dry so it can be scattered around the garden. Yes please. I love the unkempt look of the garden with self-seeders.
Bees love foxgloves and their blooms are entirely dependent of the visits of this insect. The projecting lower lip of the corolla forms an alighting platform for the bee and as he pushes his way up the bell, to get at the honey which lies in a ring around the seed vessel at the top of the flower, he rubs on the pollen. A single foxglove can provide from one to two million seeds. This particular plant is a whopper with beautiful markings towering above my head. They love the dappled shade of my secret garden although they will tolerate full sun.
I love they way their dramatic spikes of tubular flowers with speckled throats add elegance and height to my garden.
Foxgloves are pretty darned handy. They are used to produce the important heart drugs digitoxin, digitalin, digitonin and digitalenin which are extracted from the leaves. The drug increases the activity of all forms of muscle tissue, but more especially that of the heart and arterioles, the all-important property of the drug being its action on the circulation.
The birds know a good thing when they see it. The very minute blueberries are ripe and ready to eat they are on it. If you want to find your thrill on blueberry hill you need some pre-planning. Our berries in our first producing patch are just blueing up nicely so it’s time for The Handyman to work his magic.
The Handyman used 3/4″ PVC with some t-joints and PVC glue to make the structure, spending about $50 on materials. He measured the width of the blueberry bed and the height. Our box was 8 feet wide and he used two 10-foot sections of PVC to give us a 7-foot clearance at the apex of the hoop. He says you could also add some rebar inside the PVC to make the structure sturdier which he plans to do in the future when we enclose the much larger commercial patch for the berry farm. If you need to make the structure more freestanding, ie. you don’t have a wooden box as your bed to staple the PVC too, you will need to insert a section of rebar into the ends of the PVC to allow you to dig the PVC into the ground. The bird netting was a lucky drive-by find found at the side of the road with a “free” sign on it. Of course, you can purchase netting…
Sweet Dough (makes enough for two 9-inch crusts)
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream the butter and sea salt on medium speed for about 1 minute. Scrape down the bowl and add the confectioners’ sugar and combine with the butter at low speed. Scrape down the bowl and then add almond flour and vanilla and combine at low speed. Add the eggs, one at a time and about a quarter of the cake flour and beat on low until just incorporated. Stop the machine and scrape down the bowl. Gradually add the remaining flour and mix just until the dough comes together. Don’t over mix. Press the dough into a 1/2″ thick rectangle block, wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight or for at least two to three hours.
You could also make the streusel (see below) on day one and or the blueberry filling and refrigerate until ready to assemble and bake.
After it has chilled, remove the dough from the refrigerator, cut it into two equal portions and roll one out in a 1/4 ” thick circle and line a 9-inch tart pan, ring, or heart.
Using a fork, perforate the bottom of the shell making rows of little holes. Place in the refrigerator uncovered for at least an hour. (Freeze the second portion of dough for a future use). Pre-bake the shell in a 325F oven. To do this, line the shell with parchment and add rice, dried beans or pie weights. Bake with this “faux” filling for 15 minutes and then remove the parchment and rice, beans or weights and return the tart shell to the oven for another 5 to 15 minutes until it is golden brown and evenly coloured. Brush with an egg wash (1 beaten egg with 1 tablespoon of water) and return to the oven for five more minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before filling.
In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries and 1 teaspoon of the sugar and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and boil for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, water and cornstarch in a medium bowl. Gradually stir the mixture into the berries and simmer 1 minute until thickened. If the mixture is too watery, dissolve another 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch into a tablespoon of juice and stir in. Simmer until thickened and then remove from heat.
Using a knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds into a medium bowl. Add the egg yolk and remaining sugar and beat together with a whisk. Add the milk and cream and beat together until the sugar has dissolved. Stir in the blueberries.
(This will make more than you need. You can freeze the leftovers and use to make fruit crumbles or top muffins.)
Preheat oven to 325 F and line a baking sheet with parchment. Cut the butter into cubes and place all of the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer and mix on medium for about 2 minutes until crumbly.
Spread on the parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally until golden brown and crisp. Allow to cool.
Sprinkle 17 grams or 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of the streusel in an even layer on the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell. Spread the blueberries on top. Place on a sheet pan and bake 30 to 40 minutes until just set. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
I took my camera out for “a few minutes” in the early morning today for a look-around the secret garden and an hour later had to be dragged away. Here’s a Cole’s Notes look at what held me captivate because sometimes, the biggest secrets you can only tell a stranger.
“The best secrets are the most twisted.” Sara Shepard.
“Photography is all about secrets. The secrets we all have and will never tell.” Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.
“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.
“But some secrets are too delicious not to share.” Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay.
“That, my dear, is what makes a character interesting, their secrets.” Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden.
“Secrets are like plants. They can stay buried deep in the earth for a long time, but eventually they’ll send up shoots and give themselves away.” Judy Reene Singer, Still Life with Elephant.
Just like Mary in her Secret Garden, I like the name and the still more the feeling that when its walls shut me in no one knows where I am. The Handyman built my walls five years ago and I’ve been planting and revising ever since. This sheltered spot is maturing nicely and is being discovered by others who see the merit of a trickling brook, pond and shelter from the wind. It’s becoming a mini bird, bee and frog sanctuary. A family of racoons and another of skunks also make frequent visits to the pond, mostly at night luckily.
Here are a few of the plants blooming today:
Another ideal small tree, Japanese stewartia, frames the lady’s head. It gives you lovely peeling bark all season, hot fall colour and it blooms with white June-into-July flowers. It’s a distant relative of the tea family.
Like any good secret, my garden is best revealed in instalments. I’ll post more when new blooms arrive.
“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden.
With every shovel of dirt came rocks and my future pints of raspberries went up another 10 cents. “That will be $50 please…” My revelation for the week was a reminder of just how hard farming is and how much it should really be worth.
In a backwards fashion we are adding to our symphony with a second 100 raspberry canes for our Carpe Diem berry farm. Last year we planted Encore raspberries, this year Prelude. Our Encores are doing great and establishing well. We will get a medium-sized harvest this year and a much bigger one next year as they mature.
We chose Prelude and Encore raspberries to offer our customers early and late season berries while our competitors have the more commonly harvested supply. Prelude and Encore were developed by Cornell University at the New York State Experiment Station in Geneva, New York. Prelude matures a high percentage of its fruit in late June and early July while Encore is harvested from late July to early August. Like picking paint colours, I have to admit I was also swayed by the musical names.
Raspberry cane planting primer
The Handyman supplies me with lots of mulch from his chipper.
Prelude produces attractive, high quality, firm fruit that will taste amazing. I can’t wait although now that all the canes are in I’m starting to think about the hours of picking ahead and price of those pints.
Next up is the addition of 50 more blueberry bushes and a netting structure to protect the blueberries from the birds.
Lavender is one of my favourite garden perennials and it suits our hot dry Okanagan summers perfectly. I have a bank behind the house I want to plant up all in lavender which could cost several hundred dollars if were to buy them as plants from a nursery. I gave growing lavender from seed a go last year in the greenhouse with marginal success. It’s hard to germinate although I did get a few nice white lavenders to grow. I’ve since learned that it’s easier and much more successful to propagate lavender from soft-wood cuttings in the spring. This method clones the lavender so what you see (parent plant) is what you will get.
“Forgiveness is the smell that lavender gives out when you tread on it.” Mark Twain.
Taking cuttings is basically just snipping off a piece of an existing plant and placing in compost to grow its own roots.
Here’s how I went about it:
1. Using secateurs, a sharp knife, or scissors, snip off a piece of lavender from the parent plant just below a leaf node (place along the stem where the joints of the leaves grow out of).
2. Prepare your pot, or seed tray with free-draining compost.
3. You will need a rooting hormone or Karolina from Forest Green Man Lavender suggestion of honey as a more natural and easily obtainable “green” substitute. It is thought that honey may contain enzymes for promoting root growth. It is also a natural antiseptic and contains anti fungal properties — both of which are believed to be one of the reasons that honey as a root hormone seems to work so well.
I am conducting a very unscientific experiment and planted up half my tray with the cuttings dipped in water and then the traditional nursery-bought rooting hormone and the other half by dipping the cuttings in honey. Stay tuned…
4. I stripped the lower leaves off each of my cuttings and nipped some of the top growth off with my fingers. The leaves will use a lot of the water in your potting soil better used for the new root production and will likely die off anyway. I inserted a pen (you could use any appropriate object) to poke a hole in the planting medium. You don’t want to use just insert the cutting without making a hole first as all your honey or rooting hormone powder will come off the tip.
5. Scrape the bottom of your cutting with your thumb on an angle to expose more of the rooting area.
6. Dip the cutting in water and then rooting hormone powder or into a dish of honey.
7. Plant up your tray or pots with the prepared cuttings.
8. Add a dome or plastic bag. Make sure to keep moist but not waterlogged and clean the condensation off the dome or bag periodically. Lavender doesn’t like it to be too wet. I placed mine on a heat mat but a greenhouse or window sill will work. Rooting will take place over the next two weeks to a month after which the plants can be potted up in larger pots or hardened off and planted directly into the garden. Only about half of the cuttings will produce roots. Check for new growth or wiggle the plant around a bit to feel for rooting. Look for mouldy or obviously dead plants and remove from your tray.
I’ll let you know how my honey vs. rooting hormone experiment worked.