Sunday, 27 April 2014


Click here for the 'Seeds of Eaden' seed shop

Mushrooms and toadstools seem to magically appear overnight and have been the subject of mystery and folklore for many centuries.  

Fungi are classified separately from plants and form their own kingdom.  Fungi are composed entirely of minute underground threads called hyphae, and theses form a dense network called mycelium.  This lies buried under the ground or tree trunk or whatever substrate the fungus grows on.   

Mycelium is so small that it cannot be seen by the naked eye.  These can survive below the surface for many years and the mushroom we can see above ground is in fact the fruiting body, the fungus equivalent of a flower. 

Fungi reproduce by producing microscopic spores. A mushroom is the only reproductive part of the fungi and exists solely to produce and disperse its spores.  These are dispersed from the mushroom to a new area, and germinate to form mycelium.  

This mycelium spreads and when its comes in contact with another mycelium of the same species they will they fuse.  If there is enough food material, and if conditions are suitable regarding light, temperature and moisture levels than a fruiting body will be produced.  

Unlike plants fungi do not contain chlorophyll and so cannot photosynthesis their food.  Instead the mycelium secretes enzymes which breaks down materials in the substrate to obtain nutrients for the fungus.  

Mycelium is constantly expanding outwards from a central point in a ever enlarging circle.  Fairy rings in grass are an example of this, and are caused by mycelium growth, often originating from rotting plant material.

The term mushroom can be used to referred to cultivated varieties we buy in shops or any fungus with a mushroom shaped fruiting body. Traditionally we refer to toadstools as anything that is poisonous, but as several species of mushroom are also poisonous the terms today have lost their original meanings.

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What is a mushroom?
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What is the difference between a squash, pumpkin and a gourd?
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Thinning and transplanting
Tree size
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Why don't seedless grapes have seeds?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


Click here for the 'Seeds of Eaden' seed shop

We recently visited Greater Dixter, the famous garden of the late Christopher Lloyd.  I have visited the gardens before but wanted to take Simon along as he had never seen them.  Unlike me he is not a fan of cottage garden style so I thought I may have uphill battle on my hands, but he loved it.  

We visited on a spring day not expecting to see a great deal out in bloom, assuming it would look like many of the herbaceous borders we had seen recently at Wisley.  However fantastic colour and detail was everywhere.  There was so much of interest in the garden that you forgot you were visiting it at the very start of the season. 

The garden was designed by Edwin Lutyens in 1910, when he added to and restored the property.  He was responsible for laying out the surrounding garden framework but unlike Sissinghurst he did not work with Gertrude Jekyll to carrying out the planting on site. Christopher's father Nathianel directed the gardens and planted the key topiary pieces we see today.  Christopher Lloyd inherited these gardens and passionately enhanced them with additional plantings for the rest of his life. 

It is the sheer exuberance of planting and breathtaking landscape that make this garden so very special.  The gardens do feel like a more exuberant version of Sissinghurst, with plants bursting at the seams to escape their formal setting.  The formal garden compartments with their perfectly clipped topiary hedges and peacocks are in perfect contrast to the adjacent informal meadow and woods. Plants spill out from the beds over paths and restrict your access along the ever narrowing footpaths.The companion planting is  fantastic and voluptuous, and certainly deserves it tag as a dynamic garden.

I love the surrounding landscape; it reminds me of nearby Tonbridge where I happily studied at Hadlow college.  The garden effortlessly includes the external landscape in the garden, in fact it can be difficult to distinguish the garden borders.  

Great Dixter is a fantastic cottage garden because it breaks the rules of cottage gardening.  It is both formal and informal, a combination of both wild and tame. The informal meadow is the first area you see on the way up to the house, rather than a typical formal bed.  I love the contracts between the restrictive, colour filled topiary rooms and the green, calm meadows and orchards surrounding them.  

The exotic garden was created in 1993 by Christopher to replace Lutyens old rose garden. The bananas and t-rex were just starting to show when we visited, but I do remember the complete feeling of enclosure from the garden when I visited in summer last time and cant wait to see what bedding and overwintered plants will be positioned in the garden this year.

Christopher Lloyd worked hard with his head gardener, Fergus Garrett.  They were forever challenging the garden and changing the planting within it.  Rather than getting a stale garden with overgrown plants shading out and competing with others the planting at Great Dixter is dynamic. New plants are placed in new combinations to ensure a spirit of adventure within the garden. Following Christopher's' death Fergus now maintain the gardens for the Great Dixter Charitable Trust in the same adventurous manner as they had done previously.  

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Saturday, 19 April 2014


Click here for the 'Seeds of Eaden' seed shop

We visited RHS gardens at Wisley the other day, and they were doing a grow your own sunflower event for children. Little George and Nathaniel planted up their sunflowers in a paper cup and bought them home to grow in the garden.  

Inspired by this we planted several more when we got home.  There was a sunflower species to suit us all; a medium height red sunflower for Daddy to put in his tropical border (Velvet Queen); a black one to put next to my dark foliage dahlia (Black Magic) and a really tall one for Nathanial and Ellie to grow for the giant sunflower competition (Russian Giant).  

Growing sunflowers (Helianthus annus) really is simple, and great fun.  They are hardy annuals, so you will have to plant from seed every year. Sow them direct into the soil in early spring and early summer, or a little earlier in pots. The advantage of growing them in a pot is that they get a chance to get established before any slugs get their chops around them.  

Plant sunflower seeds into pots indoors in late winter/early spring.  Sow into individual 7.5 cm / 3 inch pots.  Fill the pot up with multi purpose compost and drop the seed in pointy tip upwards a 1/4 inch into the soil.  Water gently and place in a sunny position of 20-30 C (a sunny windowsill will do).  Germination will take about 21 days. Plant out in the border when the  risk of frost has passed.

When planting directly outside wait a little longer until the soil starts to warm up.  Choose a position suitable for your sunflower; most prefer a sunny border but they will tolerate most sites and soils.  Rake the soil to a fine tilth and plant the seed 1/4 inch into the soil, pointy end up, and cover with soil.  Place a cane nearby so that you remember where they are planted and water the seeds in.

Tie them in to the cane when they grow to prevent them from being blown over and feed weekly with a liquid fertiliser and water daily during the summer. Your sunflowers will flower in late summer.  After flowering the heads will turn to seed and you can remove these and hang them up around your garden for birds to feed on.

The key to successful sunflowers is to select the correct species for your needs.  If you want a really tall sunflower then you need to select a giant seed and a single flowering type.  If its colour you are looking for then you can choose from red, black, brown, white, orange or bi-coloured varieties. Sunflowers come in a huge range of heights and are available as early, medium and late flowering varieties.  

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Thursday, 17 April 2014


Click here for the 'Seeds of Eaden' seed shop

I bought some cute chicks in nest decorations this year to put on my Easter cake. I decided to make a carrot cake for Easter this year as a homage to the Easter Bunny (he eats carrots, right?). Anyway, tenuous link aside I love carrot cake but perhaps more importantly my other half does too.


For the cake:
8 oz / 250 g Carrots (approximately 3 medium sized carrots)
6 oz / 175 g dark brown sugar
7 oz / 200 g self raising flour
3 eggs

100 ml sunflower oil
6 oz / 175g sultanas
1 orange
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
3 teaspoons mixed spice

For the topping: 
4 oz / 100 g butter
7 oz / 200 g icing sugar sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cinnamon


Pre heat the oven to gas mark 3 / 325°F / 170°C.

Place the brown sugar and eggs into a mixing bowl and whisk for 2-3 minutes.  Add the flour, mixed spice and bicarbonate of soda and stir the mixture together.

Grate the zest of the orange and peel and grate the carrots.  Add these to the mixture along with the sultanas.

Pour the mixture into a lined 8" tin and bake for 35-40 minutes. The cake is cooked when it is has risen and is springy when pressed. When a metal skewer is placed in the middle of the cake it should come out clean. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack.

To make the topping mix together the butter, icing sugar, cinnamon and vanilla extract.  Spread over the top of the cake and decorate with Easter chicks.

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Tuesday, 8 April 2014


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Shortbread is fantastic served with an afternoon cup of tea.  I love home made shortbread as it reminds me of past days and everyone seems to love it.  You can add ingredients such as lavender, currents or hazelnuts to spruce it up once in a while.


300 g / 10 oz unsalted butter

300 g / 10 oz plain flour

170 g/ 5 oz sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Cut the butter up into small cubes.  Mix together with the sugar until smooth and then add the vanilla extract.  Gently add the flour to the mixture, ensuring that you do not work the flour too much.

Squeeze the dough together to form a ball and roll out onto a lightly floured surface to a thickness of 1 cm.  Cut shapes using biscuit cutter or knife and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes to ensure the biscuits hold their shape. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3.

Sprinkle the biscuits with sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes until pale golden brown.
Allow to cool on a wire rack.

For related articles click onto:
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Friday, 4 April 2014


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Sometimes in life you just want to cook something fast, and don't want to spend forever in the kitchen.  On days like that I like to make a meal that I can have ready in 20 minutes.  

This recipe is a quick cook version of beef stroganoff, but tastes great. You can use cheaper cuts of meat such as braising steak; just marinate overnight in the fridge.

Serves 4


1 lb / 500 g fillet or rump steak
150 ml crème fraiche or soured cream
50 g butter
2 onions
1 green pepper
200 g mushrooms
Salt and pepper 


Cut the steak into strips approximately 5 cm long and 5 mm thick. Finely chop the onions and slice the mushrooms and pepper.

Melt half the butter in a pan and fry the onions until soft.  Add the mushrooms and pepper and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from pan.

Place the remaining butter into the pan and fry the meat for five minutes, turning regularly to ensure even cooking.  Return the onions, mushrooms and pepper to the pan and season with salt and pepper.  Add the crème fraiche and stir well.  Heat until piping hot, but do not allow the mixture to boil.

Serve with rice.

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Tuesday, 1 April 2014


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As you have probably guessed by now, I love cocktails.  We have been living the (cocktail) dream since we came back from Florence.  The price of cocktails there inspired us to buy all the ingredients and make them ourselves!

This is a new one for me but I am slowly working my way through the recipes so that I can impart my knowledge to you.........

Makes 1 cocktail


40 ml vodka
100 ml orange juice
15 ml Galliano
Ice cubes

Pour the vodka and orange into a cocktail glass.  Pour in the Galliano.
Add the ice cubes and garnish with a slice of orange, cherry and cocktail bling.  


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