In a Vase on Monday: Magical March

Cathy, at Rambling in the Garden, has a magical meme where we are invited to go out into our gardens and seek materials for a vase to bring into the house. I have now been taking part in this meme for around a year – my first vase was full of violets, and they are just starting to flower again this year.

With rain and storms forecast I decided to take advantage of some fine sunny weather on Saturday, so I did cheat a bit this week! It was so lovely just wandering round the garden in the bright sunshine, peering at all the tiny shoots appearing above the dry ground, feeling the warmth on my back, and listening to the bees humming happily all around me. Magic!

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I picked a posy of pretty spring flowers – the only criteria being “small and colourful”. (The vase is a schnaps glass and I had to fix the very short stems with an elastic band!) While taking photos on the patio a bee took a fancy to the pink Glory of the Snow (Chionodaoxa) flowers.

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He’s already got quite a load of pollen, as you can see better here…

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The flowers I included were a red hellebore, one Rip van Winkle and one Tete-a-tete daffodil, a couple of pale purple pansies, a red Corydalis, a pink Pulmonaria, Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Pink Giant’, a small Muscari azureum (which flowers earlier than the others), the light blue striped Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica, and some chickweed, which creeped in – as it does! A couple of Heuchera leaves rounded it off.

If you click on any of the images below you can see them as a slide show…

Now hop over to Rambling in the Garden to see what Cathy and many others have found for vases today.

Hope you get the weather you wish for this week!

(We are getting gale-force winds, hail, sleet and snowy showers!)

Fancy Little Cakes

I have made quite a few new dishes in the last couple of months, but either haven’t got any good photos yet or am still tweaking the recipes. This recipe, however, turned out perfect first time, and the sun even came out for some photos too.

French Fancies, Fondant Fancies or Petits Fours… whatever you fancy calling them, these little cakes are scrumptious!

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Ooh la la!

Sweet bites of buttery sponge cake, with a strawberry jam and buttercream filling, a thin layer of marzipan on top, and then icing drizzled over each individual little cake. Top with decorations of your choice and this would be a fabulous treat for Easter weekend, afternoon tea, or any spring gathering. Or, if you are feeling adventurous, make them with children/grandchildren and make a lovely sticky mess with all that coloured icing!

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I didn’t put the buttercream all round the edges as the original recipes say, nor did I put a blob of it on top. I also had no luck finding fondant icing sugar in my local stores, so I used normal icing sugar instead; even if they aren’t perfectly coated in a smooth layer of fondant I still think they look irresistible. So can I still call them Fondant Fancies? Probably not. But I think Fancy Little Cakes describes them well enough!

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They are actually a LOT easier to make than they look, but you do need a bit of time to assemble them in advance. I made the cake the evening before and did the filling and decorating the next morning – it took me about an hour (plus extra washing-up time!).

For the cake you will need:

  • 175g (6 oz) butter, softened
  • 175g (6 oz) sugar
  • 3 free-range organic eggs
  • 175g (6 oz) SR flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2-3 tbsps milk
  • 20cm (8 inch) square baking tin

Grease and flour your baking tin and preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Cream the butter and sugar together with a mixer and then add the eggs, one by one, mixing in each well. Sieve the flour and raising agents and then fold in to the batter carefully with a metal spoon. You may need to add the milk now, to achieve a “dropping” consistency, so the batter just about drops off a spoon. Pour it into your cake tin and even it out. Bake for about 25 minutes until firm to the touch and golden brown. You can test it by sticking a toothpick in the middle – if it comes out clean the cake should be done.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Allow to cool completely and then trim the edges so they are straight. Wrap in clingfilm and chill. (I left it in the fridge overnight).

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For the filling and topping you will need:

Buttercream – 75g (5 tbsps) butter, softened and 150g (1 and 1/5 cups) icing/powdered sugar, sieved

Strawberry jam

225g (8 oz) marzipan

Icing: 400g (3 and 1/5 cups) icing sugar, sieved and food colouring of your choice

Decorations: sugar flowers, sprinkles, mini eggs, let your imagination free run!

Cut through the cake horizontally so you have two layers. Spread the lower layer with strawberry jam. Beat the butter and icing sugar for the buttercream until soft and fluffy (you can add a drop of milk if necessary), then spread this over the strawberry jam. Put the top layer of the cake back on. Spread a little jam on the top, just enough to make the surface sticky. Roll out the marzipan to the shape of the cake and place this on top of the cake. Trim the edges and place on a large piece of clingfilm. Now mark lightly with a knife where you want to cut the cakes – I divided mine into 5 across, 5 down, so I had 25 little squares. Cut through with a sharp knife and wrap in clingfilm. Chill for at least half an hour.

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Now make the icing by mixing very little warm water with the 400g of icing sugar, a drop at a time, until you have a thick pouring consistency. Divide into different dishes if you are using different food colours. This is the fun bit! Use a spoon to dribble the icing over each cake. Place them on a cooling wrack with a tray beneath it to catch the drips. Put your decorations on while the icing is still tacky. Once the icing has set a little you can put the cakes on a plate and place in the fridge to firm up.

Just before serving, put them in little cupcake cases.

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This was something I had wanted to make for ages, and I really enjoyed it, despite the sticky fingers!

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Happy Baking!

:D

In a Vase on Monday: Dawn Chorus

At 4.30 this morning one of our resident blackbirds started singing outside the bedroom window. Whether he was doing it out of pure joy, or had a really important message to broadcast, I don’t know. He is always the first to start and when the whole woodlands above our house wake up it is deafening outside! At this time of year I can enjoy it, roll over and go back to sleep. When the weather warms up and the window is open it is, however, another story… Anyway, the cheery blackbird inspired my vase title today… even if the contents have little to do with dawn except perhaps the “dawning” of spring.

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Yes, Monday rolls round again and this week my vase for Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday meme, where we are invited to find materials from our gardens to bring indoors, is full of spring sunshine (on a cloudy day) and promise… the Forsythia and Flowering Currant have not quite opened. The daffodils and hellebores are in full bloom now, and the hazel catkins are finally pollen free and safe to bring indoors again. I also added a bit of ivy, some red Euphorbia and some golden Euonymus.

“Morning has broken, like the first morning

Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird”

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The soft toy blackbird is a bit cheeky don’t you think – he was borrowed from our little dog and is one of the many toys she doesn’t play with! She is fascinated by the blackbirds in the garden, and they tease her, hopping across the lawn just a couple of metres away. But she knows she mustn’t touch…

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It looks like something has nibbled at that daffodil, but I do like the tiny tinges of orange on the trumpet.

Do you ever get woken by the dawn chorus?

Take a look at Cathy’s vase today at Rambling in the Garden, as well as all the others that have linked in from around the world with lovely contributions.

Thanks for hosting, Cathy!

 

Happy Spring 2015!

The spring equinox occurs today at 11.45pm here and our weather has certainly been spring-like. If you are still waiting for your snow to melt then be comforted – spring will come to you very soon. Gardeners are patient souls, so enjoy the last few days of dreaming and garden inactivity before the season sweeps you away!

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My first tulips “Early Harvest” have been open for a few days now. During our partial solar eclipse this morning they actually closed up. It was amazing to watch as we had bright sunshine and clear skies. I didn’t have the special glasses to look at the sun, so I watched my tulips instead. Although there was only an hour or so when the light seemed slightly dimmed, the sun was still casting strong shadows. But the tulips closed… fascinating!

This tulip is a real winner. It opens very early, usually mid-March, on a short stem. Then the stem continues to grow as the flowers go on blooming and blooming, until April. They remain compact and sturdy, reaching about 25cm, so they would be ideal for containers too.

Tulipa kaufmanniana 'Early Harvest'

Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Early Harvest’

The glowing mandarin orange colour may appear brash – in fact I was unsure the first few years if I really liked it. This is the spring version of marigolds! However, on an overcast day they reflect light and continue to glow even at dusk. A gorgeous splash of colour against the bare soil.

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Happy Spring!

The International Year of Soils

Did you know that 2015 has been designated International Year of Soils by the United Nations?

Logo of International Year of Soils 2015

I was a bit slow reacting to this, but then I finally got round to reading a few articles about it. And they got me thinking…

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“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
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SOIL

DIRT        EARTH

MUD     MUCK

COMPOST

It is under our feet, maybe covered with concrete, gravel or tarmac, but it is everywhere and we rarely give it a thought. Okay, if you’re a gardener then you probably do think about it. You think about it being acid or alkaline, sandy or clay, stony, rich, poor, fertile, compact, organic and maybe a few more adjectives spring to mind. But on a grander scale what about soil erosion or desertification, contamination and pollution, soil degradation, increased salinity, soil management in developing countries…?

The aim of the IYS is to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions

Raising awareness is only the first step. After all, we are all very aware of global climate change and yet our governments still refuse to sign this or that agreement, to invest more in renewable energy, or to reduce subsidies for blatantly environmentally-damaging products and processes. But it is an important step as, at the end of the day, it is down to individuals to bring about change.

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“The fate of the soil system depends on society’s willingness to intervene in the market place, and to forego some of the short-term benefits that accrue from ‘mining’ the soil so that soil quality and fertility can be maintained over the longer term.”

Eugene Odum (US biologist known for his pioneering work on ecosystem ecology)

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The next stage promoted by this awareness campaign is to educate people about how important soil is for our ecosystems as a whole and how it affects not only our health, but also our economic welfare; sustainable soil management is the practical form of this educational process and must be invested in – worldwide – with the support of government policies and protective legislation.

The EU – after many years of deliberation – still does not have a cohesive soil governance policy, relying only on environmental policies and legislation of member states. Do we need a single policy? Or should soil governance be a regional issue? After all, the effects of poor soil management can have global repercussions…

~

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One square metre of rich soil can harbour as many as 1,000,000,000 organisms, including nematodes, bacteria, slugs, insects etc

~

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In Germany I have only been able to find a few events taking place to celebrate the Year of Soils – mostly rather dry-sounding lectures in distant cities.  But I have found a few links to interesting sites. In particular this one: http://saveoursoils.com/en

Please take a look at it. There is a wealth of information here, with some great short videos and a list of things you can do to help;

Buy organic

Garden organically

Eat less meat

Compost

Look out for more information and pass it on!

(e.g. Write a blog post about it, however long or short, or simply add a couple of links to interesting articles or videos)

~~~

Did you know that earthworms can deposit up to 10 kilos per square metre per year of valuable worm droppings in the soil?

(Neither did I! ;-) )

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“We are able to breathe, drink, and eat in comfort because millions of organisms and hundreds of processes are operating to maintain a liveable environment, but we tend to take nature’s services for granted because we don’t pay money for most of them.”

Eugene Odum

Here are some other links. There really is so much information online, so this is just a selection of what I found recently:

Earthworm Society of Britain

Global Soil Week

Video “Support World Soil Day”

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification

The International Union of Soil Sciences

http://www.soilassociation.org/internationalyearofsoils

 So, have I got YOU thinking too now? I do hope so!

In a Vase on Monday: Lenten Roses

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Finally the dark red hellebore flowers have opened. There are so many this year that a few could easily be snipped for displaying indoors. The other white ones are not quite so prolific but since they hang their heads so low I can enjoy them far better indoors than out. A couple of lighter reddish pink ones are also now flowering too. The yellowish one is, yet again, the Hellebore “Christmas Star” that has flowered on the patio all winter, and this is the only one that actually holds its head up high. (And the only one I can name with certainty!)

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I have learnt so much from Cathy’s In a Vase on Monday meme over at Rambling in the Garden in the past twelve months, including the art of floating hellebores in a bowl, and now putting food colouring in the water too! Just a tiniest hint of pink (organic beetroot powder) has been added to empasize the shades of pink on the petals.

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I also put some glass pebbles in the base of the bowl and think they look a bit like bubbles in the picture above!

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I wonder if you can find anything for a vase (or a bowl) this week to join in this addicitve meme. Take a look at the other contributions all linked in here to Cathy’s post today.

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Have a good week!

Mothering Sunday and a Mahonia

Happy Mothering Sunday Mum!

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In the UK today is Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday – the traditional day to return to your home town and present a posy to your Mum. Well, it will have to be a virtual posy I’m afraid.

:)

I chose this Mahonia, as it is such a lovely intense golden yellow when the sun shines on it and it smells so sweet and honey-like. These pictures are from last year, as it is taking its time to flower this spring.

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Hope the sun is shining for you all!