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Autumn Leaves: Putting the Garden to Bed…Again

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Yes, it is that time of year again. Time to empty out pots; lift and divide plants; prune hedges and shrubs and generally to do all of those little autumn gardening jobs that need doing before winter really takes hold. Moreover, let us not forget about endless sweeping up of fallen leaves. I have managed to assemble four large sacks of leaves so far. Casting an eye over both front and back gardens tells me that the whitebeam tree is now winter naked, but that the sycamore has yet a frustratingly leafy appearance. If I am being truly conscientious, I will wash out all of the plant pots and tubs ready for spring. Oh, and tidy the shed, throw out anything broken or unnecessary and put the garden furniture somewhere dry.

My autumn resolution (my own innovation) has been to make myself take advantage of every mild, dry hour to do odd jobs, because I know from experience that when the bad weather really sets in then I might not set foot in the garden for days (OK, weeks). So far, this is working out, which is just as well as I still have bulbs to plant out. I do also need to lift and divide the miniature strawberry plants that have expanded over the summer. You might recall from a previous post that I have divided and re-planted some large clumps of chives, now settled in nicely before the winter. Also remaining on the ‘to do list’ is to find a home for two pots of campanula, bought weeks ago (marked down to clear) at the Airfield Estate garden shop. I hope it isn’t too late to tuck them into the ground; ideally they will go into our bulb/wildflower patch to add some gorgeous purple tones.

Returning to the topic of fallen leaves, I have been checking on the state of the compost bin before I run out of steam with the advent of winter. Our compost is improving all the time, I am glad to say. I cannot say that we are up to Monty Don’s standard yet (and anyway he has a much bigger space to play with) but I am pleased that we have been able to use compost for at least some of our planting for the last couple of seasons. Some of the bagged up leaves will gradually make their way into my compost mix, while the rest will mulch down for spreading directly on the borders. I am even contemplating acquiring a second compost bin. Sometimes, I am not sure whether I look rather eccentric, earnestly giving my compost a stir round with a stout stick at regular intervals. As it seems to be working, I think I will just have to risk it!

One of the lovely things about the garden at this time of year is the colours of the seasonal berries adorning various shrubs. For practical reasons, my favourite of these are the rosehips. Once again, we are planning to make some rosehip and apple jelly so I have been risking scratches to gather in the harvest. If there is a plant not to trifle with, it’s a dog rose; it takes no prisoners. At present, the fruit safely tucked away in the freezer awaits a jelly-making session. Thinking ahead to summer colour, I am anxiously watching my young foxglove plants, hoping that they survive their first winter and then bloom next year. My final mention goes to the lavender plants. We have three now, and I trimmed the oldest one back recently. The saved lavender flowers are awaiting attention. If we can find some suitable fabric tucked away, then I will be sewing up lavender sachets for the linen trunk at some point. That sounds like a cosy occupation for those cold, wet winter days when my gardening mojo falls by the wayside.

How are your autumn tasks going? Do drop us a line.


The Bees Knees

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There has been much in the news lately about how important bees are to our ecosystem and what gardeners can do to encourage bees (for example this recent article from The Journal.) I have always loved to hear the buzz of bees on a summer’s day (and I am a great honey lover) but of course the important aspect of bee activity is in pollinating plants so that we continue to have food to eat. Bearing that in mind, here at Curiously, Creatively we have been gradually working on ensuring that the garden pulls its weight on the bee supporting front. Our aim is to have a garden where virtually every plant is bee friendly.

Many plants loved by bees are great favourites of ours anyway, so we were able to get off to great start with our good intentions. One of our very favourite summer flowers is lavender, of which we now have two plants, one from 2009 with a second specimen planted last year. I can’t find a note on the varieties but I think the first one was ‘Hidcote’ and the second was ‘Butterfly Lavender’. As you will know, our stripy friends are very fond of lavender too, so there is a great deal of gentle buzzing going on chez nous in the summer months. There is something wonderfully relaxing in hearing the sound of that industrious nectar gathering.

I recently came across an Irish Times article on bees’ needs by Jane Powers (2010) that I had stuck into the Garden Diary for inspiration. Jane Powers’ article (Gardens for Busy Bees) suggests a list of plants suitable for honeybees and bumblebees, as they having slightly different needs. What I didn’t realise was that bumblebees have longer tongues, so flowers suitable for them might not be so good for honey bees. In this category comes the foxglove, a plant that I have long meant to have a go at raising. We are nursing along some seedlings, started off in the summer so I hope to have plants established next season. We will let you know how we get on with the foxglove project. Another project to talk about another time (and also a bee related exercise) is seed saving and even a little seed scavenging, to expand our plant stock.

To tide us over until next year’s blooms, we took pictures of some of our burgeoning stocks of bee friendly plants. These snaps were taken in the autumn, so it was nice to see have the colour right into the gloomy wet weather. You might even spot the odd bee…

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Despite the miserable weather, we are trying to be good gardeners over the winter so keep an eye out for some winter gardening posts (we hope!) Meanwhile, please do let us know what you’ve been up to this autumn…

Picture Credits: Verity

Bath bomb bubbles

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I recently had Jenny Q, Stitched Up! by Pauline McLynn from the library and was surprised to find some extra material in it. Namely, several knitting patterns and instructions for making bath bombs. He Who Put The Shelves Up and I made a couple for Chris’s birthday. Chris and I made another batch a few days ago and have improved a little on the original.

Bath bomb ingredients

Citric acid (bottom) and essential oil.

Five ingredients are needed: cornflour, bicarbonate of soda, citric acid, water and essential oil. The first two can be found in the baking aisle of a supermarket. The citric acid and essential oil is a little bit trickier to get hold of. We found the citric acid in McCabe’s Pharmacy. It is shelved in the health food section, with the vitamin supplements and things like that. Essential oils are another health product, they are used for massage and oil burners. We found them in The Health Store, from a company called Atlantic Aromatics. The small bottles are not very expensive and as you need very little for the bath bombs, one bottle should last well. We bought lavender oil, which makes a relaxing and restful bath. Atlantic Aromatics produce a wide range of oils, so you can choose one you like.

Bath bomb mixture

Dry ingredients, oil and water is added next.

The method is very simple, first you have to pick a measurement to use. We used a level egg cup as our measure and made about eight bath bombs in each batch. The quantities are two parts citric acid, one part cornflour and one part bicarbonate of soda. These three should be mixed well in a bowl. Then, add a few drops of oil. We added about eight drops and the mixture smelt quite strong. However, when I tried the bath bombs out, I found they didn’t give out as much scent as I was expecting. It’s up to you how much oil you add though, depending on how strong you want them to smell.

Bath bombs

The mixture was too liquid and expanded.

Next you add the water, starting with a dribble. We had a bit of trouble with the consistency. The recipe says, ‘a good consistency’, but that isn’t very specific. The first time, the bombs took a long time to set and they kept expanding and shrinking a great deal. This time, we added the water very slowly but the bombs still expanded when they were in the moulds. Some expanded so much, we were forced to take the top off them and put it in a separate mould. We used a bun tin for a mould, as advised in the book. We lined the tin with bun cases, which proved to be a good idea when it came to lifting them out. With the second batch, we were more sparing with the water. Instead of mixing, Chris kneaded the mixture, until it was slightly doughy. This batch set much better and in nicer shapes.

Pink Bath bombs

The pink ones (left) set better than the white ones.

Feeling confident, we decided to get a bit more fancy. We mixed some dried lavender into the first batch before adding the water and sprinkled some more on top before the bombs were dry. We added food colouring to the second batch, turning them pink. The colour was paste colouring and I combined blue and red in an attempt to make purple, to echo the lavender. Pink wasn’t the intended effect, but it still looks pretty.

Food colouring

Blue and red paste colours, I combined them to make pink.

We were very pleased with the final result, which left us with nineteen bath bombs. Sourcing the ingredients took a little while, but they are actually quite easy to get hold of. The method is simple enough, although there are some mistakes to be made in the mixing and moulding stages. The finished item looks and smells lovely, and is a pleasant addition to a bath! Bath bombs make great presents, or just treats for yourself so why not have a go?


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