Monday, 30 December 2013

New year .......... I don't do resolutions but ...

I don't "do" new year resolutions but this coming year I have three things I want to achieve at the very least...

1. Get fit, lose weight and get back to the fitness I used to have and weight I used to be.

2. Save money, cut spending and live well for less. This will give us money for the things we want to do this year.

3. Get my business off the ground, to give me money to make ends meet and work satisfaction.

Fingers crossed!

Getting Fit and Losing Weight

I know I am no spring chicken and losing weight and keeping fit gets harder as you get older, but you kinda never think it will happen to you, ha ha. Knowing you have put on weight because you feel uncomfortable and your clothes don't fit is bad enough. Stepping on the scales and having to face the reality is worse! I have had a few years of dramatic upheavals in my life, leading to lack of motivation to keep fit or keep up my hill walking. I had no time to do either of those things as a single parent. Then there's comfort eating, the medication that makes you put on weight but no one warned me about and then meeting the love of my life who, like me is a real foodie, being happy and content... So many reasons for that stone and a half to creep up on me and go BOO!

Like so many people I have tried so many diets and failed because I love my food, I love good food and I am a chocoholic. I recently read about the 5:2 diet. I bought the books and thought "here we go again - good intentions grinding to a halt a few weeks down the line". But I feel so unfit and unhealthy I really need a kick up the backside! So come next week when we are all back to work and school and back into a routine I will be doing it!

And exercise: how do I fit that into a full time working life, with a partner and three or four teenagers to look after, a house and garden to run and a new business being started up? It has to be something that motivates and is short but impactful. Another internet surf brought me to Davina McCall's DVD "Fit in 15". It has had great reviews and is broken up into 15 minute segments that can be done on their own or a few together as a longer work out. 15 minutes out of my day or yours, that isn't much is it? I bought the DVD (yup, been there before) and trialled it on and off last week to get a feel for it. I really enjoyed the work outs, I could do them and I felt I'd done something productive in only a few minutes. So again next week once we're back in the routine I shall be doing those 15 minute routines.


Living Well while Spending Less
How to save £90 on food shopping each month... Our biggest expense is food. With three to four hungry teenage lads to feed every week that's not surprising, but we need to cut costs. So this week we have saved £38, not by changing what we buy, but where we buy it. I bought some short-coded goods from www.approvedfood.co.uk and saved £25 on the normal retail price, then we shopped at Aldi instead of Tesco and saved £13, The rest of the shopping we got in our usual store. If we can do that over a month then we will save approx £90 a month! That's £1080 a year, which could buy a poly tunnel for our new business, a family holiday or perhaps an over payment on the mortgage, what's not to like about that?


This week's challenge (in keeping with the spend less plan) is not to do any food shopping! The cupboards, fridge and freezer are laden with food stock-piled for Christmas and gifts we have received. I want to see just how long we can go without doing a full food shop. I have set a small budget for fresh items such as milk and fresh fruit and vegetables. It could be an interesting week and potentially £140 saved if I succeed! Last night I fed seven on pork shops in marmalade sauce with mashed tatties and vegetables, followed by mince pies and Christmas cake for dessert. Tonight's dinner is for six: a winter vegetable curry with rice, naan and onion bhajis. I had found the naan and bhajis reduced at 17p and 29p respectively, the rest we had in the house. Total cost for 6 people £1.89. Brilliant.


Getting my New Business off the ground.
If you read the previous post on my workshops you will know this is part of the grand plan for Easter Mosshat Gardens. We have such a great resource here in the gardens and want to share our knowledge and experience with people and show that you can create a beautiful garden in difficult growing conditions. As well as the workshops we will be opening the garden to the public and eventually supplying B&B accommodation with home-cooked food and lots of luxurious attention to detail: somewhere cosy and quirky to stay!







Saturday, 21 December 2013

Home made Christmas at Easter Mosshat

Every Christmas here at Easter Mosshat the kitchen and the house is full of the smells of spices, dried fruit and cakes baking. I love making and baking at any time of year, but there is something comforting about creating Christmas decorations with a twist and avoiding the overwhelming plastic tat that abounds nowadays. Here are few examples that are cheap and easy to do but which will add colour and natural scent to your home in the festive season.

A treat for everyone at work the week before Christmas. A Chocolate mint cake topped with festive candy canes and edible glitter!

Every Christmas I make about 10 different types of truffles for Christmas presents and for visitors to the house over the festive season. Its at least a days work but worth it to see everyone enjoying them.

Rum truffles and chocolate stars, part of this years home made truffle collection.
I have been making this decoration every Christmas for many years. I find it therapeutic to stand and make it amongst the heady scent of the citrus fruits and cloves.



Close up of the citrus and clove table decoration
This years spruce christmas tree, hung with decorations old, new and edible
Home made orange decoration for the tree, dried slowly in a cool oven for hours, then threaded with string. Back lit by the tree lights these decorations are cheap and easy to make.

Home made Gingerbread reindeer threaded with colourful string and hung on the tree.

Home made mincemeat pies filled with home made mincemeat which has been marinating for nearly three months.

Suppliers:
Sweet and Scrumptious - lots of different cookie cutters and baking sundries including the reindeer cutter
used for the gingerbread tree decorations.
Sprinkles Shop - sprinkles of all shapes for every occasion, including the candy cane sprinkles on the chocolate mint cake.
The Bakershop - suppliers of all sorts of baking sundries including the edible glitter on the candy cane cake.


We would like to wish you a very merry Christmas and Happy New year from all of us at Easter Mosshat Gardens.



Garden workshops at Easter Mosshat Gardens 2014

*** Unfortunatly as we are longer at Easter Mosshat volunteering and courses are unavailable. At some time in the future once we have our own garden again, I hope to offer the chance of volunteering with us and doing the garden courses below. As they say, watch this space ***


I have always enjoyed working with others and sharing my passion for gardening, which is why I'm excited about our programme of gardening workshops. For 2014 we have seven one day workshops to choose from, suitable for the beginner and more experienced gardener. They focus on a range of interesting and useful gardening topics and are competitively priced at just £95 per person. Whichever you choose I'm sure you will have a wonderful day.
A welcome coffee, tea and home-made shortbread are served from 9:30 and you can wander around the garden or chat before the start at 10 am. We provide a delicious home-made lunch made from local produce served in our spacious sun-room, overlooking the garden and with views of the Pentland Hills. The day finishes about 4 pm with time for another wander around the garden or a walk in the woods before going home.
The workshops are practical and hands-on, split into classroom time and practical work out in the garden and potting shed. If the sun is shining, most of the day will be outside; if it’s wet, more time will be spent inside but bring a coat anyway!
Our aim is to work with small groups and share our passion for plants and gardening and give you the knowledge to go home and get results. The maximum group size is 5 though it is likely to be smaller. Contact us if you would like to organise a larger number.
If you would like to create a personal piece of paradise in your own back yard, come and share our passion for plants and gardening and we will inspire you with ideas and practical tips to get a “wow factor” in your garden. If you are looking for a gardening holiday or a gardening weekend break in Scotland, easily accessible from Edinburgh, Glasgow or the borders you can have fun, relax and learn new skills. The beautiful surroundings, wide range of plants and relaxed, informal workshops make learning at Easter Mosshat gardens a pleasure and an inspiration. 
Planning a border or a garden
The content of the workshop will include the following, though the exact format will be tailored to the needs of the individuals in the group. We will discuss the points below and look at how you can use them to design your own border. The idea is to complete your plan during the workshop.
~ What do we want from our garden?
~ Design, atmosphere and quirkiness
~ The Bones ~ trees, shrubs and buildings
~ The pretty fillers ~ perennials
~ The seasonal highlights ~ bulbs and annuals
~ How to achieve interest and colour all year round
~ Planning your own border
What you need to bring: the measurement of the border you want to design, photos if possible and an idea of soil type and aspect.
Bespoke course of clients choice
The framework of the day will be tailored to the choice of subject and needs of the individuals in the group. Gather together a group of friends for a different day out and discuss with me what areas you would like to cover when you book the workshop. You can choose practical problems like how to propagate or prune plants or design conundrums like which bulbs can you run through a border of ornamental grasses to provide all year round interest, etc.

Gardening on the wild Side
Over the day we will discuss the points below and what makes a garden challenging, how you can deal with your own gardens challenges and create beauty on the wild side!
~ What is gardening on the wild side?
~ Why do we want to tame nature and why it is easier to work along side her
~ Different garden problems and how to deal with them
~ Rona’s top 20 plants that grow well on the wild side
~ Your own garden’s problems and how to get the results you want

Woodland Gardening
We will cover the points below and look at how you can use them to create a woodland garden even if a small one in your own garden.
~ What is a woodland garden?
~ How to create the feel of a woodland in your own garden.
~ Rona’s top 20 woodland plants
~ wildlife that is encouraged by woodland habitat
~ features and quirky things to make your woodland different

Foliage in the garden
The framework of the day is along the following lines though the exact format will be tailored to the needs of the individuals in the group. We will discuss the points below and look at how you make a beautiful garden with clever use of foliage through out the year.
~ Why use foliage?
~ Different styles of foliage plantings
~ The Bones ~ trees, shrubs and buildings
~ The pretty fillers ~ perennials
~ The seasonal highlights ~ bulbs and annuals
~ How to achieve interest and colour all year round
~ Using foliage in your own garden

Plants that Excite
he content of the workshop will include the following, though the exact format will be tailored to the needs of the individuals in the group. We will discuss the points below and look at how you can use them to enhance your garden.
~ Why do we get passionate about certain plants?
~ Collections and individual stand alone favourites
~ The Bones ~ trees, shrubs and buildings
~ The pretty fillers ~ perennials
~ The seasonal highlights ~ bulbs and annuals
~ How to incorporate your favourites into your garden

Scottish Gardens
We will take a look at the history of gardening in Scotland and Scotland’s rich gardening past
~ A short history of gardening in Scotland
~ Famous Scottish gardens and plant hunters
~ Plants that flourish in Scotland

Seasonal What to do in the Garden
Each workshop will focus on what we should be doing over 6 periods of the year.
If gardening is new to you or you just need to brush up on techniques then join us for a series of practical workshops every two months where we share with you the seasonal tasks you can do in the garden. These workshops encompass the whole of the garden such as trees, hedges, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, annuals, bulbs, herbs and fruit and veg. To ensure you feel confident and enjoy your garden whether it be a small garden, larger gardens or gardening in pots and containers.
March / April
May / June
July / August
September / October
November / December

Workshop Dates 2014 
1st March ~ Seasonal March / April
15th March ~ Planning a border or garden
29th March ~ Woodland Gardening
12th April ~ Gardening on the wild side
26th April ~ Scottish Gardens
10th May ~ Seasonal May / June
24th May ~ Plants that excite
7th June ~ Foliage in the Garden
5th July ~ Seasonal July . August
19th July ~ Scottish Gardens
2nd August ~ Foliage in the Garden
16th August ~ Woodland Gardening
30th August ~Seasonal September . October
13th September ~ Plants That Excite
27th September ~ Gardening on the Wild Side
11th October ~ Planning a border or garden
25th October ~Seasonal November / December




Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Bit More than a storm in a tea cup!

We are always at the mercy of the weather up here at Easter Mosshat. Gardening at 850 feet above sea level on an exposed hill does add an element of gardening on the edge. So when bad weather is forecast we batten down the hatches and keep our fingers crossed for minimal damage.

A leaning Scots Pine after the storm

Last week the winds were gusting at over 70 mph and slamming into the house like an express train, so I didn't get much sleep that night. Then there is dreading daylight and seeing what damage has been done.This time there was no structural damage to the sheds, potting shed, office or house and the roofs were all intact. The smaller cold greenhouse has lost the glass out of its door though and all the cloches on the alpine troughs were scattered across the lower garden, so they will need fixed and put back in place. A fence running from behind my potting shed to the corner of the woods and orchard had been blown over, the posts either snapped or loosened, so this is another repair job to be done. We will use either replacement fence posts or insert some angle iron down the side of existing posts to keep them upright. This fence has been up since I first came to Easter Mosshat fourteen years ago, so it hasn't done too badly. One of my winter jobs is always to check fences and tree stakes and ties and do any maintenance to reduce major damage over the year. I have been beaten to it by the weather this year.


The top of a Scots Pine lying across the woodland path

The worst damage in this storm was to a couple of our old ladies in our woodland, these Scots Pines are an important part of our windbreak and woodland, but because of their shape, type of wood and shallow root plate they are susceptible to wind damage. One has had the top blown out, just leaving a few straggly branches at the top of what remains of the trunk. The rest is lying across the path, so all twenty odd feet of it will need sawn up and moved. The other Pine although intact is leaning at an angle and snagged up in the surrounding beech trees with the root plate lifting out the ground.

Sometimes we gardeners can turn a disaster into a new planting opportunity. Unfortunately it will take a long time for all the young trees I have planted over the past fourteen years to fill the spaces left by these old ladies. The fallen wood will be cut up and piled up on log piles in the woods for wildlife hideaways. Eventually the leaning tree will be dealt with but it will require a tree surgeon with chainsaw.


The tree in the middle is now topless!

 So the final score for this storm is two trees, a fence and some cloches. It's annoying, but all part of living and gardening in an exposed location and of course it could be much worse!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Keeping Chickens

I first started keeping chickens in 2003 as part of my self sufficiency plans for Easter Mosshat. In a bid to up the female side of the household (living with four males in the house and the dog being a boy too!) I bought 6 Silkie cross leghorn hens from a local chicken keeper in West Calder. I brought them home in a cardboard box, much to the amusement of  my boys. Installed in their huge enclosure with newly made ark they were soon at home. Typically one of the hens turned out to be a cockerel. Since the boys were fans of the film Chicken Run he soon became known as Rocky, with an entourage including Babs, Ginger and Chicken Tikka.
Our flock having their breakfast

In 2006 I added six Black Rocks to the mix. These are big tough birds who lay very reliably all year, providing big brown eggs to compliment the Silkies' wee white ones. This necessitated another chicken shed, which was converted from a cheap garden shed, bought from a well known DIY retailer! Chickens really don't need a fancy chicken house costing hundreds of pounds, as long as they are dry and have perches for roosting and boxes for laying, they will be happy. In 2009 I was given a Bluebell and a Speckledy as a birthday gift from friends. We then became a bit of a re homing centre for several friends' chickens who could no longer keep them and so another speckled, 4 pure Silkies and a hen pecked Black Rock joined the enclosure over the next two years. Over time the older birds died off, having lived very happy lives with us. Having a mixed flock provides lots of interest and colour and different eggs too.

Buffy our Buff Orpington cockerel
In 2013 as part of the getting the Easter Mosshat Garden project airborne again, we re-homed ten ex battery hens. They weren't in as bad a state as I thought they would be: a bit threadbare and not sure of the big bad world but they soon made themselves very at home and are doing really well! Mugging us as soon as we go into the chicken enclosure, making it tricky getting to the shed for the swarm of birds round our feet. If you are looking to re home some rescue chickens in central scotland get in touch with Wing and a Prayer Rescue, this is where we got ours.
Contact them by email: wingandaprayerrescue@hotmail.co.uk 
or on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/#!/WingAndAPrayerRescue
 
The Rescue Chickens when they arrived
Keeping chickens is easy and great fun, even if you have a wee garden. Keep them safe from foxes and give them fresh water, layers pellets and mixed corn and they will reward you with endless entertainment and fresh eggs. They love sunflower hearts and leftovers, especially pasta. As soon as ours see anyone out in their side of the garden they quickly start their shouting for treats.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Wrapping up the Garden for Winter

It's that time of year already, when we have to think about wrapping up, moving in and protecting the more tender, special and exotic plants that we insist on growing. Up here at Easter Mosshat, on our exposed windy hill I like to get this done in mid October at the latest. Its not unusual to get snow flurries early October but it's the nippy frosts that will do the most damage.

The big heated greenhouse bubble wrapped and packed with all my tender plants for winter 

My first job is to clear out both greenhouses and get the bubble wrap up. This does make a difference to heated and unheated houses so is worth the investment and time. I have been using the same bubble wrap on my two greenhouses for 19 years, so I think that's a sound investment! It gets carefully stored away in sacks in the potting shed over the summer. Once the bubble wrap is up, I then move my Pelargonium collection from the small cold greenhouse into the larger heated one for winter. Now that I have over forty this takes up a good bit of the large house! In between them are all the tender plants that have been outside for summer on the patios and decking and dotted around the garden. I take the wheelbarrow and walk around the gardens, loading up as I go with pots, ornaments and the tender plants that all need winter protection. Plants that will take the cold but still appreciate being undercover or are in pots that need to be out of the wet freezing conditions go in the smaller unheated greenhouse.

Although the garden doesn't look this tidy at this time of year,
you can see the Agapanthus covered with its bamboo cloche

Once the greenhouses are tided, bubble wrapped and filled with the tenders that have been cut back, cleaned up and watered its time to wrap the plants that can't be moved indoors. There are very few of these now in the gardens at Easter Mosshat since the very bad winters of 2009 and 2010. I lost so many plants outside and even in the greenhouses, it was heart breaking and expensive! I have been growing Agapanthus outdoors for many years. Given the exposure of the garden this should be tricky, but if wrapped over winter and as their roots are protected by the surrounding soil they do okay, even flowering if we get a longer summer. In fact as I write they are still blooming, despite last week's frost. To wrap herbaceous plants and bulbs such as Agapanthus I use horticultural fleece and bamboo cloches. Cut off the old stems and leaves, and pack the fleece over and around the crown of the plant. (You can also use straw or hay if you have it). Next place the cloche over the packing material and pin in place using canes.

The alpine troughs covered with their cloches, you can see how exposed they are in this part of the garden.

Last are the cloches that go over the alpine troughs on the patio. Because they have lots of special little alpines that might be damaged in the damp and frost I cover them for winter, keeping them not necessarily warm, but dry. I have made these cloches out of sheets or corrugated plastic. the length and width of the troughs, hinged at the apex with duct tape. They are then tied on with rope so they don't blow away (yes I have had to jump the fence and retrieve them from the neighbouring field!).

With everything ready hopefully the garden will survive our harsh upland winter and emerge in the spring as gorgeous as ever.





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Friday, 25 October 2013

Building the Pond in the Scottish Natives Garden

A new part of the garden we have been designing and working on this year is the Scottish native garden. Once the new office was finished we wanted to landscape the bit of ground between it and the drive, not least because it is the first thing you see when you drive up the drive and draw up in front of the house. For 13 years this has been an unsightly patch of weedy waste ground where things got dumped.



So how do you build a pond? It really depends on what style and design you want. We wanted a natural style of pond that would fit into the native garden and provide homes for small creatures and be big enough to make a visual impact. Firstly you have to decide where it is going to go and start digging a hole! The most important thing is to make sure the sides are level all the way round, otherwise you'll have water escaping and liner showing which spoils the whole effect. This series of pictures shows the process we went through with this pond.

Fine tuning the levels and depth of the pond, this pond has 3 different depths

I added a thick layer of sand to protect the liner, especially as this is stoney soil

Next lay in some underlay. This can be old carpet, carpet underlay
or a ready made pond liner. We recycled some old office carpeting

Yes it was freezing! Its Scotland in October, even if the weather has been unseasonably warm! 
Someone has to get the short straw to make sure  all the creases are smoothed out as the pond fills


Here we have started trimming the liner to size and burying the edges under soil and put in place bags of gravel and cobbles for beach at this end where it merges into the gravel of the drive. We used three different sizes of gravel and cobbles to give a more natural look.

The border along the left side has had compost added and some plants planted. Two big pieces of stone have been put in place as stepping stones along the back of the pond to access the seating area. Once the rain stops we can finish burying the pond liner and borders to the right of the pond.

When the water has settled in a couple of weeks time, we'll introduce some aquatic plants and when it stops raining we'l get the rest of the native garden round the pond dug over and planted up and another area in the garden or mini garden will be finished.





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Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Hedgerow Bounty Part Two - Abundant Brambles

Autumn is one my favourite times of year. I love the colours as the leaves turn, the chilly mornings though the sun is shining, the smell of the leaves decaying and the abundant crops in the garden and free pickings in the hedgerows. Working as I do in the countryside I frequently spot something that can be picked and taken home to cook and keep us in jams, jellies, cakes, etc for quite some time, and when I freeze some, out of season too.

Brambles ready for picking

This week I came home with 2 3litre pots of brambles. Because of the hot and sunny summer we've had, the berries are huge, beautifully black and sweet but still with a bit of tartness. Although it cost me quite a few scratches and nettle stings to pick them it was worth it for the bonus fruit.

Once I had cleaned them up (not much cleaning is needed if you are thorough when you pick them) I weighed them out to help me decide what to make. 12 lbs of fruit eventually became 6 lbs of jam, 5 lbs in the freezer and 1 lb in a bramble and pear
cake. Brambles are not to everyones' taste. They can be quite tart, but make a wonderful accompaniment to apples or pears and are great for jam. The best way to freeze any soft fruit such as brambles, raspberries and strawberries is to lay the cleaned fruit on trays and freeze. Once frozen they can be weighed, bagged and stored in the freezer. I usually bag them in pound lots. This ensures the berries are more likely to stay whole once defrosted and not become a fruity mush.

On trays to be frozen

Bramble jam is tasty and easy to make and there is nothing nicer than toast and home-made jam for breakfast.

Bramble jam

6 lbs blackberries
5 fl oz water
juice of 2 lemons
6 lbs of sugar

Hull and pick over the berries; rinse and drain
carefully. Put in a pan with the water and
lemon juice.

Simmer until the berries are soft, then add the sugar and stir until dissolved.

Boil rapidly until it reaches setting point. There are two ways to identify this. Spoon a little onto a cold saucer. Once cooled a skin will form and will wrinkle if you push it. Alternatively stir the jam gently with a sugar thermometer and watch for it to reach 105 degrees Celsius or 220 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once it has reached setting point the jam can be spooned into sterilised jars and left to cool. Once cool put lids and labels on and enjoy through the winter.

Easter Mosshat Bramble Jam


There are cultivated thornless varieties, one of which I have growing here in the garden. Bramble 'Oregan Thornless' produces lovelybig berries with no pain when picking them! It makes a BIG plant so leave plenty room for it with some way of tying it in.






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