Plants for dry shade – video

Watch my quick video where I show you three plants that can grow in dry shade under a pine tree…

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Things to make with elderflowers



Elders grow absolutely all over the place – they’re the ‘weed’ of trees. We’re lucky to have them, because their flowers are so delicious and so versatile, you can make a whole host of tasty treats and drinks with them. Best of all, they’re free!

When picking elderflower, make sure you choose trees that are growing away from roadsides, as they can be polluted or dirty. The best place to pick elderflowers is in coutry hedgerows or in parks. The flower heads a big, so you’ll need to take a few carrier bags with you.

Here are some great elderflower recipes that I’ve found online that I’d like to try…

Deep-fried elderflowers with sugar, salt and fresh chilli
These work well as a tasty and unusual savoury snack to serve with drinks. Find Stevie Parle’s recipe for deep-fried elderflowers with sugar, salt and fresh chilli on

Elderflower delight
This must be the quintessentially English version of Turkish delight… Find the recipe on River Cottage – Elderflower delight.

Elderflower and gooseberry vodka
This fragrant and easy-to-make drink can be served ‘on the rocks’ or added to a cocktail. Find the recipe on BBC Good Food – Elderflower & gooseberry vodka.

Elderflower gin and sour elder
Here are two tasty summer tipples. Find Stevie Parle’s recipe for elderflower gin and sour elder on

Gooseberry, elderflower and Sauvignon sorbet
A refreshing and sophistacted dessert to wow your guests! Find the recipe on BBC Good Food – Gooseberry, Elderflower and Sauvignon sorbet.

Elderflower fritters with honey
Eat these as a dessert, a decadent garnish or a sweet nibble. Find the recipe on BBC Good Food  – Enderflower fritters with honey.

…That should keep me busy for a while!

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I love gardens with lots of flowering perennials – they’re so much more substantial than bedding plants. Not only do they provide plenty of colour, height and movement, but they’re relatively fuss free and easy to care for too. One of the best things about perennials is that they stay in your garden and flower every year, each year forming a bigger, more established clump.

At the end of the flowering season, chop perennials right back to 1-2 inches. They’ll then become dormant for winter and then regrow the following spring.

Here are some easy sun-loving perennials which are flowering now in my garden:




Verbascum like hot, sunny borders and cope well with drought. Some varieties grow very tall and are perfect for the back of the border. This one (‘Southern Charm’) is shorter, growing to under 1m, but it is quite bendy and usually requires staking.

Hardy geranium



Hardy geraniums are great because they’re flower from June right the way though summer. They require very little maintenance – just cut them right back if they start to look tatty and they will grow back and flower all over again. They don’t really need watering and can grow in very poor soil, in sun or partial shade. In my opinion, these are the best summer-flowering perennials for beginners. I think this one is Geranium ‘Johnsons Blue’.




Astrantias are low maintenance and look great in the border, plus they also make great cut flowers too. They come in various shades of pink, mauve, white and burgundy.




Sisyrinchium grow well in sunny borders with very little fuss, and they’re ideal if you don’t want to spend lots of time watering. The leaves are in a similar ‘fan’ shape to irises and multiple, small creamy yellow flowers are produced up the stem. Growing to about knee height, they look great planted in clumps near the front of the border.




Nepeta is also known as catmint. Bees and butterflies love it, and it has a soft, wild look to it, making it ideal for wildlife and cottage-style gardens. The leaves have a sweet, minty smell.

If you’re a busy person and want colour in your garden but don’t have time for faffing around, give these a go. They’re quite bog standard, but they’re very reliable and don’t ask for much care.

Do you like flowers which attract bees, butterflies and other wildlife? Read my other blog post, Plants for pollinators.

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Seasonal salads

Hello people, long time no post! I’m sorry about that.

Check out my friend Mira’s new blog, ‘The Morningstar kitchen garden’. She’s my super friend for gardening college and knows a lot about growing delicious fruit and veg. Particularly how to make the most out of a small space, so very useful for any of you urban gardeners.

You’ll also pick up a lot of fantastic healthy eating recipes and ideas. Yummy!

Source: Seasonal salads

The Morningstar Kitchen Garden

One of my big plans for next year is a vertical garden, along a sunny wall, to grow salads and herbs. We moved in this July, so at present the ‘kitchen garden’ is just a single hand-built wooden trough with a trellis, on the back wall of our house. However, I plan to get the most out of this little space. I had some Pumpkin ‘Munchkin’ plants which I’d started off at our previous place, so I trained these up the trellis, and planted up the trough below with mixed summer lettuces.

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As we move into autumn, I have sown different varieties of winter salad in patches around the base of the lettuces. These will come up as the lettuces are taken out, one by one. These hardy varieties are perfect to sow at this time of year – the cooler, shorter days will mean they don’t bolt (run up…

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Chamomile and mint tea


Last summer we decided to try growing our own chamomile tea from seed. How easy was it? Very!

With Christmas looming, the garden may be the least of many people’s priorities, but I remember it was this time last year that we bought in our seeds to start off in the New Year (they make great Christmas presents).

Chamomile is very easy to grow outdoors by scattering onto prepared soil. We sowed ours direct into a pot in March, and by June the chamomile was flowering beautifully.

We harvested the flowers by snipping them from the plants whenever there was a sufficient amount, and left them to dry on kitchen towel for a few weeks. Chamomile will continue to produce flowers up until September with regular harvesting. We also harvested mint and lemon balm, so we could create tea  mixes, and dried them the same way.

Once the harvest was dried we put them into jars and left the lid off for a further month to make sure there was definitely no moisture left.

Since then, the flavour has been maturing within the jar. I popped it open the other day and the smell of chamomile was really intense – perfect for infusing.

This tea can be used with a tea strainer, or you can put it into drawstring teabags. We were going to give homemade chamomile tea as gifts for Christmas but I don’t think we grew enough in the end. One 2 litre potful grew enough for this small jar. Maybe we’ll keep this for us and aim to grow more next year!

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Gardeners in time

A great blog post from my old boss here.

Dennis – Trinity won’t be the same without you. Every posh gardens needs a long haired, heavily tatooed metal head looking after them. Lovely to read a bit from good old John Page too. It’s brought back lots of happy memories! All the best to you Xx


As my time at Trinity draws to a close, I have been reminiscing about my horticulture career and my journey to the dizzy heights of Head Gardener at Trinity College. Especially remembering how difficult it was at the beginning.

I have now written a couple of posts about how difficult it is for people entering and working in the world of horticulture. The first post I wrote on this subject  was about my own problems I faced in the eighties, the second being about the problems many are facing in more recent times. So, I thought it would be interesting to see how things were for people starting out in horticulture before the eighties.

I started working at Trinity as an Under Gardener in May 2000, where I met a gentleman called John page, who had worked in the gardens dept since 1984; John still works in the gardens to…

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Fig jam

Delicious figs and Bess the Labrador

I treat figs as a ‘special occasion’ fruit. They’re quite expensive to buy in the shops, especially if they’re out of season. Despite that, they’re quite easy to grow (given the tree time to mature), and a fig tree can be kept small if you don’t have a lot of space. They like to be grown in a pot, too.

Figs prefer warmer climates, but many varieties, such as ‘Brunswick’, ‘Chelsea’ or ‘Brown Turkey’, can be grown successfully in the UK, in a sheltered spot.

September to October is the time for harvesting your fig crop. If you have a big tree, you can end up with a few too many to eat fresh all in one go (it’s best not to over-do it on figs).

Fig jam recipe

Tasty fig jam

Here’s a recipe for a lovely fig jam, courtesy of Mamounette in France, which will conserve your fig harvest so you can use it throughout the year. It’s good with liver pate and various cheeses.

Preparation time: One hour
Cooking time: 30 mins


  • 2kg figs
  • 1kg jam sugar
  • One cinnamon stick
  • 2 tsp cardamom seeds
  • 1 tbsp of ginger
  • Two cloves
  • One split vanilla pod
  • Juice of a lemon

Day 1:

  • Peel and cut roughly the figs. Mix in a big bowl adding the sugar and all the spices.
  • Toss several times to make a thick puree and let rest all night.

Day 2:

  • Take a large, heavy-bottomed pan, put the prepared ingredients with the vanilla pod (sliced in two) and the lemon juice, and bring to the boil (remove the cloves and vanilla pod husks).
  • Keep boiling and stir regularly for 30 minutes.
  • In the meantime, sterilise your jars in boiling water and place them top down on a tea towel.
  • When the jam is ready, fill the jars and put the lids straight on.

This recipe gives the fig jam a ‘Christmassy’ taste. Enjoy it with pate or cheese.

Images © Alan Jones

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