Friday, December 21, 2012

Of cataclysms and croci, destruction and daffodils

So, we have reached the deadline of 21/12/2012 and it seems that the world is still turning. Hey ho, at least I can get this blog post written now. It seemed a bit pointless earlier today to spend what could have been my last hour writing a post if no-one would be around to actually read it.

Anyway, since planting a veritable plethora of bulbs in October and November I'd been checking everyday for signs of life. Absolutely nothing happened in the first few weeks so the checking sort of tailed off until I stopped looking altogether. And then suddenly this morning, I looked out and saw these:

The first two photos are daffodils (Cornish Gold, I think) and the last one is some kind of crocus. I planted 4 varieties but I won't know which this particular one is until it flowers. I could have labelled the pot when I planted them, but that would take a much more organised gardener than me. I usually rely on memory serving me well. Which it very often doesn't. Anyway, I was delighted to see it. Though the delight was slightly overshadowed by the possibility that the world would end before it had chance to flower and  that I'd perish in some epic and dramatic apocalyptic earthquake/flood/fire/brimstone event and would never know what crocus it was. In fact maybe I'd wasted £20 in September by forking out for a load of bulbs without first checking on the timing of end of the world forecasts. That's me all over though – rushing in with no long term plan...

But thankfully, it looks as though the Mayan calendar was just a bit too short, rather than being a prediction of the earth's final day. Happy Friday everyone!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Sloely does it

At long last, we got around to making our 2012 sloe gin. Bearing in mind that the sloe picking was a month later than planned, this should come as no surprise.

By the time we got out to collect the lovely berries of the blackthorn bush (in the secret location along the secret cycle path behind the not-so-secret Morrisons supermarket) it was almost the end of October. And by the look of things, the local council hedge-trimming contractors had got there before us - we arrived to the sight of the entire hedgerow line hacked off leaving behind split stems, ripped branches and mangled twigs. They took most of the sloe berry harvest with them, so we had a much smaller harvest than previous years.

Much advice on sloe berry preparation tells you to prick each berry with a thorn taken from the bush. Personally I think life's too short for that kind of thing, so a few days in the freezer will serve to split the berries and achieve the same end. And there are many different 'recipes' for making sloe gin, but there are so few ingredients that you can't really go far wrong. The basic idea is to have half as much sugar as sloes, but you can add more later if it's still too sharp.

So here's a basic recipe to get you started: a litre of gin, 500g of sloe berries, 250g sugar. That's it. If you're making it up directly into bottles you'll need an empty one to take the excess, and the patience of a saint to drop the sloe berries into the neck of the bottle one by one. We tend to use large kilner jars so it's easy to add the ingredients and there's air space in the top for stirring the contents or for mixing by shaking.

Add berries and sugar and then pour on the gin. Mix well and then store in a cool dark place, mixing every few days to help the sugar dissolve and the berries to break down. The gin will gradually turn a wonderful shade of rich purple as the berry juices are released. Leave it for at least 6 weeks before drinking - at which stage you can add more sugar if you wish. We find that decanting it into bottles through a coffee filter removes most of the remains of the berries. Serve neat as a winter warmer or with sparkling wine/cava/prosecco/champagne for my personal favourite - a Sloegasm!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tulips on Twitter

Everyone loves a freebie - especially if it's in the shape of tulip bulbs. So when I saw a tweet from the lovely bods at Spalding Bulbs offering tulip bulbs to garden bloggers, I just couldn't pass it up.
So, just a few days later I received a well packaged delivery of no fewer than 4 varieties of tulip bulbs. This is the first year I've really gone for autumn/winter bulb planting and I'd already put a mix of purple tulips (Attila, Havran, Recreado) that I bought in September in the raised bed in the front garden. So I thought I'd plant these bulbs 'a la Carol Klein' and have them in pots. November/December is the best time to plant tulip bulbs as the cold weather we would usually expect (and have certainly be experiencing) should kill off any lurking viruses that might be detrimental to the bulbs.

My bulb delivery contained:
White Triumphator – a white lily flowered tulip – which have been planted in a pot currently home to black lily grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' for those who want to be precise). I thought white tulips emerging from a mass of black leaves would look quite striking.

Darwin hybrid – a mix of yellow and red viridiflora tulips, 'developed by crossing the wild Fosteriana Tulip with the large Darwin tulip'. 

Parrot tulips – mixed colour tulips with frilled and twisted petals.

Candy Kisses – dark pink and white on the outside and pale orange inside! The blurb says 'It is possible to get 5-6 flowers from one bulb' – it will certainly be interesting to see if that happens.

These last 3 varieties were planted up into terracotta pots to their required depth, (3 times the height of the bulb for tulips) using fresh compost and a layer of grit beneath for drainage. I also top the surface of the compost with grit/pea shingle to keep down the weeds and because I think it looks nice.

I shall post updates of the tulips as and when they start peeking through the gravel. Roll on springtime!