This is the journal of my endeavours to grow a range of fruit, veg and flowers from seed, grow organically, and my attempts to create a personal paradise with 1/2 acre of maintained gardens and 1/2 acre wild meadows. Northern Ireland's average daily high temperatures are 18 °C (64 °F) in July and 6 °C (43 °F) in January. Soil type: Clay

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas goodies

What to do when the ground is frozen and its the holidays...

Here's what I've been up to...

Making gingerbread houses is loads of fun especially with kids! The icing is confectioner's sugar (icing sugar) mixed with a little water & it makes a great edible 'glue'.
These were pre-bought kits that get assembled - an entire village of five little buildings. So much fun!
This is one of the little houses that came in the gingerbread house kit.
Also on the agenda this week, by popular demand (my brother loves these) - peppermint bark. Just melt white chocolate, drop it onto wax paper in cookie shapes and top with crushed candy canes. Let harden and enjoy. Quite nice!
One of my favourite treats - pretzel sticks dipped in white chocolate and topped with festive sprinkles. Again, so easy to make. Pretzels don't seem to be very popular in the UK but Americans seem to love pretzels, I know I do - and even better dipped in chocolate!
Another holiday favourite - making sugar cookies. This is a Bettery Crocker recipe. It's so fun to cut the dough into different festive shapes. The kids love helping.
Sugar cookies baked and ready to decorate.
This is where the fun really begins. Icing sugar is so yummy and a tiny drop of food colouring makes the colours. Sprinkles of choice!
They taste yummy and Santa seems to enjoy them!

Did you know.. In the UK we eat on average of 9,000 calories on Christmas day! Might as well enjoy the cookies too!

Happy Holidays, Happy New Year!
& Happy Blogging!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Snow covered Belfast

Don't you just love taking Winter walks! I do. Here are a few photos from a walk in our snow covered Belfast Botanic Gardens.

A 55% chance of a white Christmas in Northern ireland.
The Palm House at Belfast Botanic Gardens.
Not sure what the plants are they are trying to protect.
3 days to Christmas!
Hope your festive plans are taking shape.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Christmas Poinsettia & Let it SnoW

When people shop for turkeys, crackers and presents, they tend to pick up a poinsettia... at least I do. I love poinsettias and I always have one this time of year. It looks good for months. I've never planted it outside as I think they need a warm climate (native of Mexico?).

Pictured left, you may notice snow in the background. This photo was taken during our 'big snow' lasting 12 days! (28 Nov to 9 Dec). 12 days of snow is rare for Northern Ireland. Now we're at the beginning of our 2nd big snow this year, and more to come!

I think these make great little Christmas stocking stuffers (except they wouldn't fit in a stocking).
Above, these poinsettias seem to have a hint of yellow, quite nice. Recently I came across an American blog in Ohio that had dozens of poinsettia photos taken at a poinsettia show. If you want to have a look at this really lovely blog go to

Snow on the homefront... pictured above heather covered in snow. Headlines in the local paper,  Northern Ireland get the worst snowfall for 25 years costing the local retail economy £10m this weekend, 700 schools closed, and the Met Office has issued an emergency flash warning for heavy snow for counties Antrim, Down and Londonderry. The Big Freeze hits again!
Great for making snow cones & snow angels.
Six days to Christmas!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Blitzen and Christmas flowers

Nine days to Christmas and more snow is on the way!
The forecast for Northern Ireland... cold and snow. Looks like the weekend will be good for mulled wine, hot chocolate and Christmas movies.

Blitzen Sr (pictured left) is looking a little stressed (this is his busy time of year!).

Hope your holiday shopping is stress free!
Aren't these Cyclamen gorgeous. They make nice house plants or many varieties are hardy. Photo taken at Donegore Garden Centre.
Woulsn't this make a great Christmas gift! The primrose, cyclamen and other plants look so healthy. Creative and lasting longer than a tin of chocolates!

Happy holidays - have a great week!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Leeks n Taters

During the 12 days of snow some of the plants around the garden looked like they weren't gonna make it, stalks drooping, exhausted. However the snow melted and the plants perked up - calling out to go into a warm casserole. Above: Melted snow on a leek.
I've been harvesting pot grown leeks throughout the summer as they grew exceptionally fast in pots. I sowed the seed back in April/May and planted them in various containers, and in the ground. The ones in the ground have grown much slower and most of them I expect to to harvest in Feb/March. A few baby leeks harvested along the way. (I have about 30+ leeks in the ground.)
Above, ground leeks. After the big snow, they're fine of course. Looking at the photo, I think I may eat these soon. Some of the leeks I doubled up i.e. two in the hole to make smaller leeks. Variety: Leek Musselburgh, Carters Tested Seeds, 350 seeds, 70 pence per pack.
Here's some of my Maris Peer potatoes. I stored some in the garage wrapped in newspaper and I brought them out over the weekend to use. On the menu - chicken casserole with leeks and taters. Comfort food! I have about 4 lbs of potatoes still wrapped in the garage and will be using them to bring in the New Year.
 VarietyMaris Peer Potatoes, Homebase, 2 kg bag for £3.49

Gardening is so much fun!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Crocus and Narcissi bulbs

Our snow is gone! The big melt down started Friday and by Saturday all the snow in Belfast and in County Antrim where I live had gone. The temperature today was in the high 30sF (4C). It felt quite warm compared to what we'd had lately so I headed out into the garden to plant my bargain-buy spring bulbs.

Earlier in the week I popped into B&M (pound/dollar store) and I found that all their spring bulbs were marked down to 25p per bag. I thought this was a good buy as the packs are normally £1.99 or higher. (I imagine the quality will be ok.)

I bought four different varieties; I'm not too sure what the difference is between a Specie crocus and a Botanical crocus & not bothered to google it. I was just thrilled I found some on sale! Varieties: Crocus Botanical Mixed (40 bulbs) which flower Feb-March; Crocus Large Flowering Purple (25 bulbs); Specie Crocus Mixed (75 bulbs) and Narcissi Minnow (30 bulbs). I'm a fan of the miniature daffodil/narcissi as they don't get damaged in the strong wind we get in early spring.
Working in the garden I spotted some crocus planted in previous years in one of my borders already coming through. Signs of Spring already!
The site supervisor, Jammie, oversees the bulb planting. She finds it hard to get her body and all her paws on the post.
Only a few days ago I was walking through snow - this is the view one morning as I was going to work.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Snow & Coldest Night in 10 Years

Eleven days of snow on the ground and counting. It was -15C (5F) last night in Northern Ireland, the lowest temperature in 10 years. It's the BiG FReeZe. Headlines today: Almost two weeks since the cold snap hit and the government are still arguing over who should grit pedestrian sidewalks (footpaths); although the paper did note that our government building was gritted so our politicians won't slip. (Belfast Telegraph). I was at our Parliament Building last week, and yes, well gritted.
Above: A little weeping willow frozen beside a larger native Rowan tree. The weeping willow looks good in winter, leaves bare. In summer it quickly resembles 'Cousin It' from the Adams Family. Variety: Salix Caprea Kilmarnock Weeping Willow. Bought for £10.99 a number of years ago; it's a popular small garden tree as it only gets 2 metres (6.5 ft) high and just over a metre wide.

We're expecting freezing temperatures again tonight. I bought several bags of crocus on clearance (one of my favourite words) this week for 25p per bag of 40; I only need the ground to defrost!

Monday, 6 December 2010

St Johns Wort & more Snow

Still snowing... no new snow over the weekend but a bit of a blizzard today with slushy snow and freezing weather tonight (not a good combination).

I had a trip to Parliament Buildings, Stormont a few days ago (where our NI government meet); a florist was bringing in the Christmas flower arrangements and I spotted Hypericum St Johns Wort berries in the arrangements so I thought I'd take a few photos.

The Hypericum berries look fab in festive arrangements. The florist mixed a range of  flowers and greenery such as pine and rosemary - it smelled fab! Don't you just love the big red exotic flower (anthurium?).

I've been told St Johns Wort is like a weed as it self seeds easily in the garden. The photo (left) was taken on 6 Nov 2010 and, right on 11 Aug 2010. This plant appeared in my garden this year and has grown quite rapidly.

This is what it looks like outside right now...
Frozen climbing hydrangea plant.
Brrrrr, it's cold!

Friday, 3 December 2010

And more Snow...

A little more snow last night & today. I don't remember having a Nov/Dec snow in Ireland lasting more than a few days (until this year). Scotland seems to be getting the worst of it.

Headlines in 2 Dec paper... government departments arguing over who's responsibility it is to grit/salt sidewalks (foot paths). They're afraid if they grit and someone falls they'll get sued; so some aren't bothering. Sometimes the world doesn't make sense!
Above & Below: Harry Lauder's Walking Stick has lost most of its leaves. It'll form fuzzy catkins in about Feb time.
Snow covered (spent) Sedum Autumn Joy provides some interest in the garden. Glad I hadn't got around to tidying up and cutting it yet.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Cinnamon Rolls for cold days

The big freeze - it's cold outside. Northern Ireland's coldest November in a very long time. It was -9.5C (14.9F) this week. Scotland is getting it worse, as low as -20C (-4F). This is't normal for us this time of year.

What to do in bad weather... bake, eat, and store fat for the Winter! I made cinnamon rolls over the weekend from a recipe in the Irish Times. I'd never made them from scratch before and I was suprised how easy it is. Mostly flour, sugar and butter!
This is the dough after it was left to rise for 45 minutes. There are plenty of recipes for cinnamon rolls on the internet. This one called for 14g of yeast. It's so much fun seeing bread rise. This big ball of dough was divided in two and rolled out into two rectangles, spread with a buttery sugar mix & raisons, rolled, sliced and then put in round pans to bake for approx 35 minutes. (no chocolate this time)
This is the result. I think they taste as good as the Cinnabon chain!

On a cold, Wintry day, these are a great way to cuddle up to a coffee and a good book.