Random Ramblings

Random Ramblings: Personal observations on a wide variety of subjects. Photographs of creatures and things that are taken on seeing the unusual as well as everyday things.

Aphid control

As the year is beginning to warm up the conditions become ideal for insects to hatch out. The garden begins all fresh and green in the April showers but soon the plants are colonised by greenfly and aphid and these rapidly inhabit every leaf and stem.

Here is a close-up of the head of an aphid:

Aphid - close-up of the head and eye  Aphid – close-up of the head and eye

This little creature was one of two walking across one of my rose leaves. To the naked eye they just looked like two tiny specks of dust but zooming in revealed that they were about to colonise my rambling rose.

There are ways of keeping aphids, greenfly and black spot under control. In the countryside where I grew up it was always commonplace to use garlic. Just as garlic cloves purify the blood of human beings they also purify the sap of woody shrubs and trees. All you need to do is to plant one or two garlic cloves at the base of the plant as near to the main stem as possible and allow the garlic to do its work. The garlic forms tiny little bulbs that spread all around the base of the bush or tree. When the plant drinks up water from the earth it takes in the garlic too which spreads throughout the plant and protects it from garden invaders. It is the most wholesome way of protecting the shrubs and plants in the garden and is much kinder than spraying with insecticide and fungicide.

There is an added benefit to using this method of control as a lovely crop of garlic grass is produced at the base of all of the plants. This may be cut off and added into salads, stir-fries, soups, etc. It is slightly more mild than using the clove itself but is lovely, rich greenery that makes an attractive addition to any dish.

Garlic planted at the base of a rose bushGarlic grass at the base of a thirty-year old rose bush

Bluebell wood

The English Bluebell is a soft, gentle flower that is permanently bowed and is sometimes referred to as ‘the old man of the wood.’ All other bluebells in the world stand erect and point towards the sky with the exception of the English Bluebell. This beautiful woodland flower has a haunting perfume that is sweet and intoxicating. It thrives in semi-shaded areas that have dappled sunlight and it likes to be moist. Its little bells are coloured a sort of blue hue with a hint of violet and they hang like miniature lanterns gracefully on the slender stems. The camera tends to make them look more violet than blue. When picking bluebells the stem should be held firmly and snapped over at the bottom – never pull the stem as this damages the tiny bulbs below the soil. The bluebell will form seed heads if left which will fall to the ground to make new plants.

 

English Bluebell English Bluebell

The English Bluebell is a member of the lily family.

Rosemary

One of the oldest, perennial herbs that deserves to be planted in every garden is Rosemary. It is a member of the mint family and flowers all through the year from the beginning month of January through until December. The leaves are evergreen. The oil from the plant is both anti-bacterial and anti-fungal so it has been used as a skin saviour and medicine for thousands of years. It has long been used as a soak and may be added to a bowl or bath to soak either part of the body or all of the body for the treatment of disorders of the circulatory system and problems like gout, rheumatism and general aches and pains of the muscles. Break off  the leaves and small branches – lightly rinse off dust and dirt with cold water – then use a heavy object like a brick/rolling pin/stone/hammer and tap the leaves and branches to bruise them – pour on a pint of boiling water and allow to infuse for 15 minutes then add the mixture to the bath water/basin/bowl and submerse the aching joint or muscle. The leaves may also be bruised and added to final rinsing water after washing hair – the natural oils from the plant condition the hair and make it shine beautifully. Rosemary tea has long been used for its revitalising properties and is especially useful after periods of illness. The plant is also used by many in cookery where it is often added or sprinkled on meats (especially beef and lamb) whilst roasting.

Rosemary herb in flower

Rosemary in blossomRosemary in blossom - April

This particular plant is over 25 years old.

Tulips

I have always thought that no English garden is ever complete without a few tulips in the border. Over the years we have had several varieties and various shades but only one has ever been true and has never let us down. It is a golden yellow tulip that was planted over thirty years ago and has always maintained its full flower size as it has spread making a small tulip patch in a corner of the border.

Golden yellow tulips Golden yellow tulips

Large Golden Yellow Tulips Golden yellow tulips from above

Tulips

Candytuft – perennial

Most people think of Candytuft as the harlequin annual that fills up the barren places of the border. Usually its flowers wearing bonnets of pinks and lilacs. I have a very old variety of Candytuft in my garden. It has snow white flowers sitting on emerald green stems and leaves and is breathtaking in its beauty. It loves to wrestle with areas of the garden where nothing else will grow and so is an ideal addition to any little plot. It will even grow well shaded elbowing its green stems to occupy the most driest of border soils. Sometimes it is sold as an Alpine plant … but if you see some in a garden nearby why not ask for a cutting as it is kind to even the most non-green of thumbs!

Candytuft Candytuft – perennial flowering in April

St George’s Day

The George Cross – The Flag of England

We wave our flag for victory, we wave our flag for joy; for every new born baby; for every girl and boy. We wave our flag for freedom, our voice it will be heard; our flag it will protect us; our country gives its word. We wave our flag for honour, we wave our flag for pride; our soldiers are the bravest their arms stretch far and wide. We wave our flag for wisdom, our love it knows no end; for every person on our soil is treated as our friend. Our flag it knows no colour, our flag it knows no creed; it is the envy of the world and we its precious seed. Kloggers 23.04.2010

I wish each and every one of you a most happy St George’s Day!

St George flagSt George the English Flag

Cooking perfect rice

It is the staple of many and yet there are those who find it difficult to cook. Many years ago the secret of cooking perfect boiled rice was passed on to me by a chef. I have used the method ever since and always have beautiful, fluffy, perfect boiled rice. I will share this secret with you.

  • Firstly, always use long grain rice – choose the best quality you can afford – Basmati if you want to control your weight …
  • You will need a saucepan with a tight fitting lid
  • A measuring jug
  • Always measure twice the amount of water to the quantity of rice that you need to cook
  • Wash the rice thoroughly taking out any impurities, stones, dirt, etc
  • Place the required amount of water into the saucepan
  • Bring to the boil AND add a very, very small pinch of salt –STIR the pan
  • Add the clean rice – STIR the pan – bring back to the boil then - PLACE on the saucepan LID
  • Turn down the heat to minimum – TIME for exactly 10 minutes
  • Turn off the heat – ALLOW to stand for 10 minutes – take off lid and stir with a fork
  • Serve

 

  • This is a faultless way of cooking perfect rice every time provided that you always measure both the water and the rice - (half rice to water) and you adhere to the cooking time in a pan with a tightly fitted lid.

Bowl of raw Basmati rice Basmati rice

Cat corner

If you think of a cat’s life the same as a dog’s life … each human year being equivalent to seven, then our little cat is officially an old lady being the grand old age of 77. Over the last year she has decidedly become more sedate, keeping her stalking down considerably. She now, for instance tolerates the larger birds coming into the garden and will sit and just watch them not wanting to go even one step nearer to them for a closer look. The Wood Pigeons are perhaps one of her favourites as she glances at them with much bemusement … they never came into the garden when she was younger - ‘what on earth do they think they are doing, risking all now?’ Perhaps they just simply know that they are no longer at risk – may be animals exude some kind of chemical when they are constantly stalking their prey – it’s certainly a new mystery to me.

We have an old, garden bench that has been dragged into a corner – as you can see she not only likes this position but also enjoys her comfort at the same time. The cushion is pure wool so it breathes and keeps her warm on cool days and not too warm on hot days – that apparently is the theory!

 

Cat corner Cat’s comfy corner

Wild garlic or English garlic

One of the loveliest plants that can be introduced into the garden border is Wild Garlic. Every part of the plant may be eaten either raw or cooked and has a magnificent mild flavour of the stronger continental garlic clove. Once established it will self seed and the little seedlings may be pulled up, washed, left whole and either wilted and mixed with carrots and potatoes or used in stir fries or soups, etc. When the plant is fully grown a lovely ball of white star like flowers appear on long, lean stems … all of this can be added to meals. The little stars may be pulled off the ball and tossed into salads or the complete ball of flowers may be placed on the top of dishes as a garnish. This is a free, easy and old fashioned food that is delightful and warming. Worth a little corner of anyone’s border … enjoy the flavour and the display!

Please do not consider planting Wild Garlic if you have Lily of the Valley in your garden as the leaves are easy to mistake and Lily of the Valley is a poisonous plant!

Wild garlic - spread by seed Wild Garlic … spread by seed

Wild garlicWild Garlic leaves 

Wild garlic in a crackWild Garlic … invades all available nooks and cracks

Wild Garlic - RamsonsWild Garlic flowers – picture taken last May

Wild Garlic is often called Ramsons or Stinking Lily.

Car park catkins

I have noticed that over the last decade or so, open aired car parks are planting various varieties of trees that have catkins. There are quite a few different varieties ranging from Hazel, Birch, Hornbeam and the occasional variety of Willow. The probable change from pretty blossom trees to those that produce catkins are most likely linked to the amount of deciduous matter (petals and large broad leaves) that fall off the trees. At one time these were just left to blow away or rot naturally. Local Authorities have recently become more wary of being made accountable for any accidents that occur if the ground becomes slippery due to decomposition.

Catkins Catkins on a small tree on the car park opposite the Law Courts in Redditch

It will probably take the leaves to form on this tree before it can be properly identified … at the moment my thoughts are that it is most likely a Hazel which grows to approximately six metres high.

Bluebell, cultivated

It has been many years since I was given a small clump of cultivated bluebells. I was sitting on a bus and two men, both gardeners were sitting across the aisle opposite to me. They were discussing various plants and I couldn’t help but overhear that the nearest man said ‘I have dug up all of my bluebells and thrown thrown them all away.’ Well – my garden was new with so very few plants in it … I couldn’t help myself and so innocently inquired ‘I wonder if I could be cheeky and ask if I might have a few of your bluebells?’ The man very kindly arranged to be on the bus the very next day and bring me some. The were a little ragged around the edges. The leaves were somewhat bruised but I planted them and kept my fingers crossed and I have had bluebells in my garden ever since. These are the cultivated version and are really more like hyacinths but they smell beautiful and sickly sweet when they are in bloom and their perfume wafts throughout the whole of the garden and the house. Who needs aerosol sprays when the real thing is so much more effective and certainly 1000% better?

You do have to be responsible when you incorporate cultivated plants into your borders though. As you have a duty to make sure that none of the cultivated versions escape and become cross-pollinated with the wild versions as this ruins the genus which is always best kept pure. Now many might think that – what does it matter if cultivated plants breed with wild ones? Well, for one thing – many plants are potentially great healers and we are constantly finding out new illnesses that can be cured by using them. In practically every case, it is the wild version that has the healing property … so it makes sense to keep wild flowers pure. It was alleged to have been reported many years ago of a *wild pansy that cured cancer. What the pansy was is still a mystery to many but hopefully, one day a botanist will re-discover it – if the wild stock hasn’t become contaminated with various garden strains.

Bluebell - cultivated - April_edited-1 Cultivated bluebell plant – April

The bluebells are very late this year. The cultivated versions are usually coming into bloom by now.

* It was alleged that the wild pansy with curative healing powers pertaining to cancer, came from the county of Devon on the South Coast of England.

Cat plant

The one thing about cats is they know all about patience. Every family member of cats has a dedicated inborn spirit that oozes patience, calm, serenity and a complete stress free life. We can learn a lot from cats. Even their exercise plans are slow and steady being a series of stretches and yawns that keep every sinew and muscle totally defined. A total six-pack animal … how we should watch and learn from these creatures.

My cat has noticed that her favourite plant has started to sprout from the earth. Only a few short weeks ago, there was no sign of it. I thought that it had died off … but she knew. She would go and sit beside it and simply meditate. Her reward for her patience are a series of healthy sprouts of the cat mint:

Cat mint - catnip - catsigh - April Cat mint, catnip

Cat watching the cat mint - catnip grow . . . The cat sleeping besides her cat mint waiting patiently for it to grow so that she can roll in its glorious perfume

Daffodil

Finally spied a beautiful, solitary daffodil …

DaffodilDaffodil

 

Daffodil Spell

‘I smelt your perfume through a crack in the pane; the sweetness propelled me away to a time in my youth when I ran with the wind in my face and with you at my feet.’ Kloggers

Perfect portrait plum blossom

Spring is now skipping with frisky steps like a young new season lamb. Every day is speeding along with new sights which are almost lost as they gambol along faster than an avalanche. Two days ago, this part of the garden was a few barren looking sticks but today it is full of blossom. There is nothing quite so beautiful as fresh blossom on a bare bough – the sharing of the beginning of new life.

Plum blossoms - AprilPlum Blossoms – just peeping out (yesterday)

Plum blossom - April Plum Blossoms – today

Victoria Plum blossom in April  Victoria Plum Blossoms

Once the blossoms of Spring start to form into full flower the speed at which it occurs is amazing!

Dandelion daisy king of Spring and Summer

There is an old saying in England that refers mainly to the small white daisy whose petals are often tipped with a tiny speck of blood red, called Bellis Perennis -

If you can place a hand or foot over five or more flowers at any one time, then good weather and sunshine heat will surely follow.’

It is a saying that marks a beautiful Spring and Summer. There have been several sightings this year despite the cold, long Winter and the very late beginning of the usual rollout to Spring. Now almost immediately the dandelions are in full bloom. The Dandelion, is the king of all of the daisies. Not only does it spread with decisive ease, it offers the cure for a profusion of maladies and was once used as a vegetable but now is often scathed about - without being fully understood.

*The young leaves may occasionally be used in salads or lightly steamed as greens. Long ago the roots of the plant were sometimes added chopped up into stews, roasted or simply sliced raw into salads. The flower heads may be used for wine making. The sap for easing away corns, hard skin on the feet, diminishing warts and verrucas. The Dandelion plant was used to treat gall bladder problems and occasionally liver troubles. It is known to purify the blood and so was taken to cure spots, eczema, acne and other skin conditions. Years ago young women may well have included dandelion once a month in their diets as it is good for eliminating water retention being a useful and effective diuretic. The roots may be roasted well and ground up finely to make Dandelion coffee and the leaves are often dried and used to make Dandelion tea (raw leaves may also be used to make a refreshing Spring and Summer tea - ‘if using fresh leaves, then lightly chop them, place one or two spoonfuls into the pot – pour on freshly drawn and boiled water and allow to stand for three minutes only’).

*If you have never used Dandelion before then it may be best to check with a herbalist for medical advice on how it may best serve your condition. It is wise never to take any herbs whilst taking prescribed medication. Always check with your General Practitioner/Doctor before taking any herbs whist under medical care.

Dandilion and Bumblebee Dandelion and Bumblebee (sometimes called Humblebee)

Sawn off

Late in the Autumn, after much thought, it was decided to cut down the purple lilac. It was not that I wanted the lilac to be cut down it is just that with rather bad planning, it had been planted too near the path as a very young and spindly bush and throughout the last two Summers as it began to grow taller and stronger, we had all nearly had our eyes poked out by its overhanging branches. The plant was too thick to cut with secateurs and so it had to be carefully sawn through. As soon as the job had been completed, I had a stab of regret. The colour of this particular plant is so vibrant and rich – it is a deep Victorian purple and lilacs this colour are difficult to get hold of. Even this particular plant was a young shoot that had formed a new plant from a very ancient parent plant … yes, it had been given to me as a gift. All through the Winter it lay lifeless but to my surprise as I examined it today I could see new buds forming on the thick stump … I do hope that my bush will thrive again!

Lilac stump - purple flower

Lilac stump - sawn off in late Autumn

Lilac stump -  purpleLilac stump – now showing new buds

Hyacinth

The long cold winter has taken its toll on hyacinth. This year, not only are these plants very late in flowering - their normally packed stems are more sparsely laden with the beautiful waxy pixie hat flowers.

Blue hyacinthBlue hyacinth

Blue and White Hyacinth - April 2010Blue and white hyacinth 

Dark Pink HyacinthDark pink hyacinth 

 

These are a few of the hyacinths in my garden, some of which now appear to be reverting back near to their wild form of a  'wood hyacinth.’

White hyacinth - April 2010White hyacinth

Sop

This is an old and tried treat. Simple to make and useful to use either as a pudding or a means of encouraging a delicate person or someone that has been off their food for a while back into the habit of eating and the road to recovery.

Depending upon the quantity you need to make:

You will need one pudding basin or glass bowl, two slices of bread, four teaspoons of jam, six teaspoons of water, either instant custard one-half to one pint or egg custard stirred and made slowly on the stove.

Method

Take two or more slices of bread and remove the crusts (scones, cobs or plain sponge may be used if preferred)

Take four teaspoonfuls of jam and add six teaspoonfuls of water – heat the mixture stirring until a warm watery syrup is formed

Place the bread at the bottom of the dish, pour over the jam syrup and allow to soak into the bread – gently press the bread with a spoon until it has drunk up all of the mixture.

Make some custard – at least half-a-pint – pour onto the bread and syrup mix and allow to cool and set.

A few sprinkles of sugar onto the surface prevents a skin from forming.

Serve as required.

Note: The mixture is best when made with a red sweet jam but some might prefer damson, cherry or bramble jelly. Apricot jam or marmalade may be used as an alternative but these both are usually too rich for someone with a delicate stomach.

Sop has been used as a gentle food source for hundreds of years – so why not give it a try – you may be pleasantly surprised at its ease to make and its lovely flavour.

 

Picture of sopSop (a family dish)

Prickles

Tonight quite late, around 11.00 pm, I heard a noise somewhere outside and fairly near to the backdoor. The sky was cloudy and so it was very, very dark. I opened the door but in the pitch darkness I couldn’t see anything. I waited and strained my eyes but still nothing was visible. My fingers moved up and down the wall trying to locate the outside light switch as my eyes glued to the darkness tried to see what it was making the noise. Then as the light was turned on I saw the round shape towards the end of the house – it was the first hedgehog of Spring. It was a fair size but still a little dozy after its very long Winter nap. It has been such a long and cold Winter this year that whereas normally hedgehogs will awake from hibernation when the temperature lifts a little, this year they have not had the chance to take in a few extra nibbles here and there throughout the long Winter spell. It is most probably that only the very fittest and fattest have survived so it is important to help to build them back up again.

This one was munching on some cat food that I had placed down in anticipation of their arrival. It was most probably a he by its size and he was so drowsy that he continued to eat his supper even though I was standing near enough to take a picture or two. After I had taken the photographs, I went back inside and found him a handful of large soft white Marcona almonds as payment for his patience with me.

Hedgehog - the first hedgehog of the year  The first hedgehog of the year

Hedgehog - first of the year

Attack!

It had been fairly overcast for most of the day. I decided to put out extra bird food most of which I scattered on the patio around the bird table. About thirty minutes later I could hear a noise from the birds. It was loud. More and more of them began calling almost in unison … I had never encountered anything in my life quite like it before. I thought that it must have been an argument about the ‘pecking’ order regarding the food I had placed outside. I glanced out of the window and there was not a bird in sight … but still the calling persisted – each bird was almost semi-shouting their calls. In the front garden I could see members of the crow family, mainly magpies and jackdaws with a large black crow dotted here and there. They lined the roof tops, the walls, the trees and the hedges each one calling out. Several flew overhead and then began diving down towards the ground. Swiftly they plummeted suddenly changing direction at the last minute – they circled around and repeated the action several times over. I went outside to try and see why they were doing this – I had never seen a mixed flock before. On next door’s driveway a bird cowered near to the hedge. Another was on top of it – it was a bird of prey clawing at a bedraggled bird which was standing and calling out for help. As I approached the bird of prey (only a small one about the size of a sparrowhawk) flew up into the air. Immediately several magpies and jackdaws and a solitary crow sped after it and began bombarding it – it barely managed to escape. Meanwhile, the distressed and very dishevelled bird on the floor flew up onto a nearby rooftop … it turned out to be a jackdaw.

I think that it eventually recovered after quite a long rest.

I have never seen birds collectively try to rescue another bird like this before.

Today, I saw a mixed flock of magpies and jackdaws … I wonder if this ‘friendship’ will continue?

bird 4

bird 1Distressed and dishevelled jackdaw after the attack

video