Friday, 29 August 2014

It's That bramble time of year again

Today I picked some brambles from the hedgerows. I love finding free, natural foods and producing things for use in the home and for eating. They are not as large as last years berries, but I will still be making some jam with them. Last year I managed to find a lot of Brambles and we had plenty of jam and fruit for pies and pudding. Last year's Bramble blog covered making jam and freezing fruit for pies and puddings. See last years Bramble blog here.

Still plenty more fruit to come
This year I thought I'd look at other uses of brambles, Rubus fruticosa, particularly in Scotland. This sprawling, very jaggy, vicious plant grows in hedgerows, waste ground and through shrubs and trees if its gets a chance. It forms an often impenetrable barrier by rooting when a piece of a branch touches the ground. It then sends up a whole new set of canes and a new plant is formed and so it goes on. It will also spread by seed, generously and unwittingly helped by birds and small mammals that eat the fruit.

From the time when man became a hunter gatherer and then a farmer many plants have had uses in the home, as medicine and as a food. We know Brambles best as a food. Their sweet and tart, vitamin-laden berries flavouring puddings and as a base for jams and jellies. Frozen they give us a taste of late summer right through winter. My favourite pudding with them is a plain and simple apple pie with brambles added. Put in some extra sugar if you think the flavour will be too tart. Serve with custard or cream. I'm feeling hungry already and I've just eaten dinner!

In Scotland the humble Bramble is said to have powers to ward off evil and offer protection from witch craft. This was done by weaving it with Ivy and Rowan and placing it above the lintel of the house. The peeled branches of the Bramble were sometimes used to represent St Bride at spring festivals in the Highlands and Islands. It is also thought unlucky to pick the berries after St Michaelmas day as it was thought the devil has spat on or possessed the berries after that day.

There is an old story told of a Cormorant, a Bat and a Bramble who entered into a partnership to be merchants of wool. They loaded a large ship with wool on loan and set sail. The ship was wrecked and sank to the bottom of the sea and the enterprise went bankrupt. This is why the Cormorant is always diving into the sea to search for the sunken ship, the Bat flies about at midnight to avoid the creditors and the Bramble takes hold of passing sheep to gain back the wool lost at sea!

The Bramble has many names, many of them not very polite when it snares you as you walk past or try to get through it to pick berries. It is also known as bumblekites, bounty thorn, skaldberry, blackbutters, blackbides, gatterberry. In Gaelic it is the prickle thorn - dris-muine.

Medicinally the leaves were used for burns and swellings and for sore throats and rotting gums. The leaves could either be chewed or made into a tea. Fife mining families used an infusion of leaves to treat diarrhoea. Culpeper advises us to use a liquid strained from the boiled buds, leaves and wee bits of the wood for treating 'putrid sores in the mouth and throat'. We now know the high concentration of tannins gives this plant its astringency. Nowadays Brambles are also classed as a super food because of their antioxidant values and high vitamin content.

A recipe for Fresh Blackberry Leaf Tea
1 handful fresh green blackberry leaves.
1½ mugs water
Makes one mug. Simmer the green leaves (and bark if used) in the water for about 10 minutes
(do not boil as this may reduce the vitamin content). Strain into cups and add honey.
Use this hot, as a refreshing vitamin and antioxidant filled tea, or cold as a gargle for sore throats or as an astringent mouthwash.

Other uses for this versatile plant include wine, cordial and puddings mad from the berries which can also be used to produce varied colours of dye. Depending on the ripeness and strength of the berry juice they produce dyes of rose pink, red, orange, purple and grey blue. Traditionally bramble wood was used to make pipes.

From time out of mind people have spent time harvesting brambles. Family afternoons out picking the berries to take home to make into jams and jellies. Sticky purple fingers and a few or more eaten along the way. Scratches and thorns the price for a winter supply of conserves and puddings. I am sure this tradition will go on for a long time yet.


Tess Darwin, The Scots Herbal, 1996
Richard Mabey, Food for Free, 2007

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Meccano for Gardeners

I am loath to say it but there is a distinct air of Autumn around. The mornings are much cooler and there are definite tints of colours on the trees. We are still having showery weather so there hasn't been much progress, but when the rain goes off we have been working on getting the big greenhouse up. The cooler nights are certainly motivating us to get it done so I can get my tender plants under cover before the temperature dips too far. The cacti and succulents have enjoyed a summer outdoors but will need to be in soon. My Pelargonium collection also needs to be undercover, especially as I re potted the plants which have suffered from neglect this year. They need some heat to root through before winter.

Digging out turf to create the greenhouse base,
Bracken is always on hand to keep an eye on things

What next Bracken?

Typically the best place for the greenhouses, where they will get sufficient sun and light is on a slope. Levelling the base involved cutting out the turf and then levelling the soil. Once this was done we then did a final level with some sand. A long piece of straight wood and a spirit level are essential here to make sure the level is true all the way across the area in all directions.

Levelled, sand down and starting to lay the slabs

We downloaded the instructions for the greenhouse from the Robinsons Greenhouse website. Along with a few bags of new bolts, it actually went together easier than we thought. We built each side as a panel on the grass, it really was just like a meccano set for gardeners. Once the four sides were put together with the help of extra bodies we bolted them together and put the roof piece in. I have had this greenhouse for 20 years and  it was second hand when I got it for £100 out the local paper. A bargain for a 12 x 10 foot greenhouse in good condition. This will be the third time it has been dismantled and rebuilt by me! Its done no bad. See here for some ramblings about dismantling the greenhouses a couple of months ago and here.

Which bit goes where?

The four sides put together

It looks like a greenhouse again. Spot the Bracken.

The lawn mower was not part of the greenhouse construction crew's equipment, but the lawn maintenance department was doing their job, making the most of the dry weather.

The slab inspection department

Well that's a relief, the frame fits the base. Only joking, we did measure it several times. I have gone for slabbing the entire base because we have to re instate the lawn when we leave in a year or two's time. Previously I had a bed in one side for growing tender vegetables. Once we are some where permanent I will put in a veg bed again.

The Viking contemplates

The next stage is to bolt the frame to the slabs and get the glass in, the benches in place and the heater installed. In the last garden the gas heater was fuelled from the domestic bulk tank, by pipes we had installed when we built the house and the tank was put in. Obviously this isn't an option here, so I am looking at large propane bottle from a local supplier.

Appart from putting up the greenhouse, I have repotted or top dressed all the plants that go in the greenhouse, so I can put them straight in once its finishedI I've also started feeding and top dressing the shrubs and trees I have in pots, to give them a wee boost and keep them going. Its a bit like making sure I have wine and chocolate, it keeps me going and all is well with the world :)

Am I enjoying my temporary garden? Yes I believe I am, I'm enjoying the lack of overwhelming jobs and being able to just enjoy pottering with my plants. Its refreshing, enjoyable and makes me happy.

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Friday, 8 August 2014

At last some dry Weather!

Into my second week of holidays and the weather has been patchy to say the least! So frustrating when we had all that baking sunshine through July. Hey ho. Wednesday evening turned out sunny so I gathered up some motivation and headed out to try and finish weeding and tidying the patio. Now the dead weeds and rubbish have been swept up it looks not too bad. Can't say it makes me like the red slabs any more but I'm sure I can live with them for a year or so. 

The bench, which will get a coat of paint in due course and
some alpines

The picnic bench now in place and partially cleaned with a wire brush,
looks much better

 I have gone through all the plants we brought and pulled out the containers and tubs that are usually dotted about the garden. These are now positioned on the patio to soften the edges along the back of the house and to hide some gaps in the slabs. They all got a feed of pelleted chicken manure and a top dressing of fresh compost. A lot of the pots have been sadly neglected this year because of the house sale and move upheaval.

Some of the succulents grouped together

The herb corner, leading into the tropical area

About a month ago I bought two wooden planters and they have lain outside in their packaging, waiting to be built. The plan is to use one for culinary herbs and the other for fruit. They will be opposite the back door, so nice and handy to nip out and snip a few herbs. I do miss producing edibles from the garden so this will go some way towards being productive. I plant to grow sage, rosemary, chives, thyme and parsley. A few more annual herbs may sneak in next spring. In the fruit planter will go some of the currant cuttings I took from the plants at Easter Mosshat. They will be under planted with strawberry 'Cambridge', the very reliable strawberry I grew at Easter Mosshat and some alpine strawberries. Today I bought some multi purpose compost, John Innes compost and some grow bags and on the next dry day I shall mix it all together and get them planted up.

Lots of bits!

The finished articles

Yesterday we had a sunny, warm and dry day, so I spent most of it pottering about. This pottering involved starting to repot and tidy all the plants to go back into the greenhouse once they are rebuilt. The cacti and succulants look much better for this and a topdress of new gravel.

My Pelargonium collection has been sadly neglected this year, so after the succulents, I started working through them. I repotted them into fresh compost with pelleted chicken manure and gave them a haircut to encourage more growth and better shape. Because a lot of them had been in the same compost for a while and were very mushy. I shook a lot of it off before re-potting. This will encourage the plants to put on good new root growth too.

He's always there somewhere
Cacti  and succulents repotted and top dressed

Some of the newly re-potted Pelargoniums,
only 30 odd to go!

Greenhouse plants still to be tidied and repotted

The fruit corner
Earlier in the week we had a trip to Dumfrieshire to collect some bat monitoring equipment and we managed to squeeze in a trip to my old stamping ground Threave Gardens where I did my Diploma in Horticulture and various other qualifications. That was longer ago than I care to think about! It was strange going back and although there were many changes, a lot of things were just as they were 27 years ago. David, Ben and Daniel were very impressed, which was nice.

Butterfly on Agapanthus

Glasshouses in the walled garden

Threave House

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Sunday, 3 August 2014

Hello, its been a while .....

Nearly a month since I last blogged, but with good reason. We have finally moved house, we've been here a week and nearly got rid of all the boxes! I've even done some gardening in our temporary garden. Now half way through my two week summer holiday we are able to take some time off and have some days out with the kids. So far we have walked across the Forth Bridge, been to the beach and had fish and chips for tea, been to the movies and had dinner out.

Hopefully I will catch up some ideas I have for new blogs and what I have planned while I am in what I have named my Inbetween garden!

Bringing the outdoors in, some flowers from the
plants in the moving troughs

The animals all moved well, we brought six of our chickens and the cockerel with us, having re homed 5 ducks and 8 chickens. David and ben worked hard the week before we moved building a new chicken enclosure and two sheds and a lean too for all our outdoor stuff. The dog and cats are still trying to work out their terratory and the tropical aquarium move went well, all 240 litres, thirty odd fish and four foot long tank of it! We did lose the two silver dollers sadly, our oldest fish.

My new teeny weeny potting shed, a quarter of the size of my last one,
compact and bijou, but a good excuse to have a clear out

Having weedkilled the patio and started sweeping it,
it was good to position some pots to add interest.

Part way through sweeping up the patio

A wee bit of refreshment on a summer evening

Some pots on the study steps to give a tropical feel

Potted herbs at the back door, nice smells when you come out the house

A corner of the kitchen

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