In a Vase on Monday: February Blues?

Finding something in my garden to bring indoors and put in a vase is quite tricky as winter drags on. But I am enjoying rising to the challenge and am grateful to our In a Vase on Monday host, Cathy at “Rambling in the Garden”, for the motivation!

Despite a couple of mild and sunny days it is now cold and wet again, but fortunuately I nipped outside earlier, before the sleet started, and cut a few patio violas/pansies peeping out from the melting snow, and one more bud of my patio hellebore “Christmas Star” (which has miraculously survived being frozen and thawed, frozen and thawed incessantly since Christmas).


The pansies all had very short stems, so I put them in a miniature rose bowl that my Mum gave me years ago, and displayed them on a glass cake stand.


The blue of the violas is actually more of a purple in real life. These little flowers always amaze me as they seem to withstand any amount of cold and then look fresh the moment the temperatures rise again.


If you haven’t yet joined in with Cathy’s meme, maybe the onset of spring will encourage you – take a look at what others have found for a vase this Monday for inspiration!

Book Review: Flora Poetica: The Chatto Book of Botanical Verse

Flora Poetica: The Chatto Book of Botanical Verse

Selected, Edited and with an Introduction by Sarah Maguire


Recently this book featured as a prop in my “In a Vase on Monday” post, and I realized I had not reviewed it although I have had it for several years now.


This collection of poetry is the second favourite in my book shelf (my first favourite is the New Dragon Book of Verse which I learned to love in my school days!), and it often gets an airing, not just in winter.

The poems are all about plants, and they are (in my opinion!) all wonderful… in very different ways. Perhaps I haven’t read every single one, but there are many I have read over and over again. One seasonal example is Louise Glück’s “Snowdrops”, which I find very moving. Here’s an excerpt…

… I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring–

Snowdrops February 2014

Snowdrops last spring

The book is divided rather unusually into botanical families, which means that I have learnt a few things while thumbing through it. Did you know, for example, that forget-me-nots are in the same family as borage? I suppose some of you did, as you are all so knowledgeable, but I had never given it much thought! We are taken through over 50 different botanical families such as the  Maple and the Beech, the Onion, Arum, Lily, Beech, Spurge and Olive, and many of the poems have a note on the botanical name of the plant, tree or flower that is the subject. The sections vary in length; families like the Vine have only one, while the Rose section has over 40. One of my favourites in the Rose section is Dorothy Parker’s “One Perfect Rose”, and here are the first and last verses

A single flow’r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet –
One perfect rose….

… Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it’s always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.


 Another surprising element of this anthology is to read one poem from, say, the 17th century and then the next one is from the 20th century. For example, Robert Herrick’s poem “To Daffadills”  is followed by Sylvia Plath’s “Among the Narcissi”. Then the first line of the 1998 James Reiss poem “Lily” reads “Went out & scissored a lily…” and on the opposite page we read “White though ye be; yet, Lillies, know…” in Robert Herrick’s “How Lillies Came White” from 1648. These juxtapositions are fascinating, unexpected and work very well.


It is also fascinating to see the way certain plants, such as the rose, have captured the romantic imagination over centuries. Symbols and human desires have changed very little over time, even though the countryside in which they grow has altered dramatically. John Clares idyllic images of rural England in the early 19th century demonstrate this time and again with his references to meadows, wheatfields and cattle grazing. There are quite a few of his poems here; with his eye for detail and his passion for the countryside he tended to focus frequently on individual plants.

And then having Sylvia Plath next to Ted Hughes, or John Clare (“The Wheat Ripening”) next to Vikram Seth (“Evening Wheat”) is, quite simply, very enjoyable reading.


There are many writers in here I did not know before, from all over the globe, and I have been encouraged to look for more of their work. But then there are also the lovely old English familiars; Thomas Hardy, John Donne, W.B.Yeats, William Wordsworth, D.H. Lawrence, etc.

The book has an index of the poems under the botanical families, as well as an index of poets, one of titles AND one of first lines. There is also a nice introduction by Sarah Maguire, a poet herself, who composed this anthology. She describes how and why she gathered so many poems on flora and gives a few details of what she was unable to include, as well.

If you love plants, botany and poetry you will most definitely like this book!


Click on this picture for a link where you can buy Flora Poetica

A final note: the name “Chatto” in the title refers to the publishers Chatto and Windus, an imprint of Random House. I thought there must be a connection to Beth Chatto so looked this up and found out that the founder of this publishing house in 1873 was actually Beth Chatto’s father-in- law. Curiosity satisfied!

In a Vase on Monday: Catkins

Catkin: a slim, cylindrical flower cluster, with inconspicuous or no petals, usually wind-pollinated…


The contents of my vase for this week’s meme “In a Vase on Monday” – where Cathy challenges us to bring garden materials indoors each week – are completely recycled;  February is still cold and snowy and everything in the garden seems to be hanging in icy equilibrium.

But the Forsythia and catkins brought in from the cold last week are opening and remind me that spring will soon be here.


The green shoots are on a twig of spindle tree, which was in last week’s vase for the seedheads. And a piece of Miscanthus from last week also fitted into my tiny green vase.


 The Flower Fairy poetry book in the background is open on the Hazel Catkin page:


I love that last verse!

While yet the woods lie grey and still
   I give my tidings: “Spring is near!”
One day the land shall leap to life
   With fairies calling: “Spring is HERE!”


Can’t wait to hear those fairy voices!



Do visit our host, Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, to see her vase and all the others linked in from around the world.

Maybe you can join in too?


Little Coffee and Walnut Cakes

In the colder months of the year a little indulgence is allowed, don’t you agree? And coffee flavoured buttercream is most definitely that; a luxurious indulgence.


This cake is apparently British in origin, and when I was young my Mum used to make it using Camp coffee essence… not sure if that is still readily available, but my recipe uses a good dose of instant (decaffeinated) coffee granules and is just as good.

I decided to use my mini sponge cake tin instead of two normal 20cm sponge tins. This meant I could easily freeze half, without the buttercream, for another day. 🙂

Little Coffee and Walnut Cakes


You will need either two 20cm sponge cake tins, greased and floured, or a mini sponge cake tin – mine makes six which are then sliced through the middle horizontally. You could of course make cupcakes in a muffin pan too, but you’ll need less buttercream then I think.

Ingredients for the cake:

  • 175g (1 and 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 125g (2/3 cup) sugar
  • 50g (1/4 cup) brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsps instant coffee granules dissolved in 2 tbsps hot water
  • 175g (1 and 2/5 cups) self-raising flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 75g (a good 1/2 cup) chopped walnuts
  • 2 – 3 tbsps milk

Ingredients for the buttercream filling/topping:

  • 110g (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 220g (1 and 3/4 cups) icing sugar
  • 3 tsps instant coffee granules dissolved in 3 tsps hot water
  • a few walnuts for decoration

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.

For the cake, dissolve the coffee first, so it can cool. Cream the butter and sugar with a mixer until light and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the coffee and then gently fold in the flour with a metal spoon. Finally stir in the chopped walnuts. Now you need to have a soft mixture that will just about drop off a spoon – add the milk to reach the right consistency. Divide between your cake tins and then bake for about 25 minutes. Check the middle is done with a cocktail stick or something similar, as it may need a few more minutes. When cooked, leave in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

For the buttercream, prepare your coffee first again, so it can cool. Then just beat the butter and icing sugar together until creamy, and then mix in the coffee. (I only made half the amount for three mini cakes as I wasn’t sure if you can freeze buttercream. Has anyone tried that?)

When the cakes are completely cool, spread the buttercream over the base and place the other half on top. Then use the remaining buttercream for decoration on the top, adding a few walnut halves/quarters too.

These are just as delicious with a cup of tea as they are with coffee!



What foods do you like to indulge in during the winter months?


In a Vase on Monday: Coming In From the Cold

Every Monday I join Cathy at Rambling in the Garden in her challenge to gather materials from my garden to bring indoors. And in February it really is a challenge!

We had more snow today, but I was determined not to be beaten, so this afternoon I wrapped up and went ambling around the garden in my wellies and cut a few bits and bobs… Hazel catkins, which have thawed out since last week’s icy coating, some dwarf Miscanthus that has been flattened so often but stands up again once shaken free of snow, one piece of Mahonia – with a bud that might even open indoors if I’m lucky, and a few pieces of Euonymus europaeus with the seedheads still attached.


The best light was outdoors! But of course, I couldn’t leave it there. So I brought it in from the cold for a few more photos. 🙂

Some of the catkins in our garden have already opened, and others are still tightly closed… these will soon be making us sneeze I fear! But I love having them indoors.


The Miscanthus is so pretty when the seedheads go all fluffy, and I do love the Euonymus seedcases too…

Why don’t you join in and look for something to put in a vase on Monday. Cathy has composed a lovely musical arrangement today, so do go and take a look! Thanks for hosting Cathy!

Tree Following – Germany’s Tree of the Year 2015: the Field Maple

The German Tree of the Year is named by a Foundation (Baum des Jahres – Dr. Silvius Wodarz Stiftung) in a similar way to the Flower of the Year, which I posted about recently. The aim is to draw attention to the tree and inform people about it, with information leaflets and activities, for children in particular.

When I realised that the tree chosen as our Tree of the Year is one that stands proudly in my garden, I decided to start “tree following”; over the past few months I have read with interest about various blogging friends’ trees, posted as part of the Loose and Leafy tree following meme. I was too late to join in for January, so I shall link to Lucy’s meme today for February. Here’s a photo taken just recently.


Acer campestre, commonly known as Field Maple, or in German Feldahorn

This photo was mid-January, before the snow.


It is the smaller brother of the maple trees, often with several trunks, too small for use by the forestry industry. In fact sometimes it looks barely more than a shrub. At a rough estimate, ours has been standing for at least 30 years. We use one of the three trunks, along with a nearby birch, for one of our hammocks in the summer (maybe you can spot the rope around the trunk, although we don’t notice it any more!). Our maple is a pretty shape as it has fortunately had enough space around it to grow upright.

I shall look forward to sharing more pictures with you as the year progresses.

Do you have Field Maples in your neighbourhood?

How about joining in with Lucy’s meme? All the instructions about how and when can be found on her special page here.

Thank you for hosting, Lucy!