Saturday, 9 November 2019

Delphinium Society Seedlings

My first year with Delphinium Society seeds. Got a good collection of dusky pink and purples. Also a very pretty lavender (no pics - hopefully next year).
Dusky pink seedling with brown striped eye from Delphinium Society 2018 seeds, sown 2019
Delphinium Society - Dusky Pink dark eye first year flowering (November 2019)

Delphinum Society seeds 2019, dark purple with a light eye
Delphinium Society - Dark Purple with blue tips, white feathery eye first year flowering (July/August 2019)

Monday, 7 October 2019

Delphinium Elatum - Nobility

First year flowering of Nobility in September.
Delphinium Elatum - Nobility
A lovely rich purple pyramid with white eyes. The sumptuous flowers seem to glow. 

This year it was one of the first to pick up mildew on the leaves, but the robust spike lasted well through heavy rain and moderate wind.

Delphinium Elatum Nobility - first year flowers in September
Delphinium Elatum Nobility - First year flowers.
Mixed Delphiniums bulking up in 10L pots. Left to right: Delphinium Pandora, Nobility, Cassius, Purple Velvet, and a seedling from my delphinium society seeds 2018

Friday, 13 September 2019

Sky Blue Delphiniums

There's something rather special about sky-blue flowers, and a towering delphinium brings a concentrated hit of this most elevating colour up to eye level.  Caught against a blue sky in summer or autumn, they're breathtaking.

Pacific Giant Seedling of Summer Skies, first year flowering in July from Feb sown seeds 2019.
Summer Skies - Sky Blue seedling
Just look at that blue! I was amazed at how truly sky-blue this summer skies seedling is. No Photoshopping the colours here! That's the colour of the sky and the colour of the flowers; an almost perfect match in tone and intensity. for the week this was in flower I steered all visitors to my garden to these flowers, with a whispered "just look at those flowers against the sky." After the flower spike formed Summer Skies picked it up mildew on the leaves, but cut back to the base after most of the flower spikes were spent, the trio of summer skies planted together in an ericaceous pot (for the lilies, not the delphs) have formed flowers almost ready to open this week (sept 14th). Just in time to compare themselves to clear autumn skies.

Glowing light blue flowers of delphinium elatum Pandora in 2019
The darker blue of Pandora if enhanced by a beautiful eye: black striped with blue. A nice pyramid shape too.

Delphinium Elatum Blue Lagoon 2019
Blue Lagoon

A mauve and and pale blue seedling of summer skies
Summer Skies
Blue Lagoon: Sky blue with hints of mauve and below, a similar colouring from a summer skies seedling. Note the pinked petal tips on the summer skies vs smooth points of Blue Lagoon.  

This Summer skies was chunkier and more well filled than Lagoons first flowering.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Lifting an overgrown conifer hedge

We inherited a an overgrown conifer hedge that made it difficult to get down the drive and out of the car.  We considered taking it down, but the tall trees provide useful screening between ourselves and our neighbour's windows - an really expensive thing to replace. So, we're lifting the canopy to create trees! 
Conifer canopy lift (or murder) underway

Conifers starting to show their trunks. New fencing put in plank by plank!

Optimistic planting underway underneath the conifers
Now we can walk underneath the hedge and we can both get out of the car at once. There's a new challenge of planting under the conifers. I've got a range of tiny plants getting ready to go in. When in doubt plant a geranium (or a foxglove). Hopefully at least some will cope in the dry partial shade if I help them get established with plenty of water. 

The toughies being tested are: 
Geranium Rozanne - mostly because it's lovely and I had so many spares it seemed worth a try! 
Foxgloves - mostly seedlings of Excelsior mixed from packet seeds and saved seeds.
Vinca Minor - white flowered
3 types of Heuchera
Euphorbia: Robbiae, Martinii, and Purpurea. The Robbiae should do just fine, I've got that in similar conditions elsewhere (the former owners of our plot really really liked conifers), and the purpurea should cope, but be a bit less colourful, Martinii is a punt.
Festuca Glauca, which is supposed to cope with any kind of condition. First time with this, so we'll see.
A nice yellow leaved grass grown from seed who's name I've forgotten, Bowles something.
Convallaria majalis
Euonymous Emerald Gaeity

Delphinium Black Knight Group (Pacific Giants)

Intense purple Pacific Giant Black Knight Group delphinium with well filled flower spikes, flowering first year from seed.
Chunky well filled Black Knight Group
A beautiful well filled Black Knight's first flowering from seed sown in Feb 2019. This one produced 3 flower spikes in late August (initial growth was cut back so that more flowers would be produced, but later). About 3ft tall this year and at that height survived 20mph winds and rain without support. The lack of support was carelessness rather than intention! 

Some mildew after a dry but humid summer.

Have labelled this one "M" and will see if it comes back next year with the same vigour.

I don't think anyone could complain about the first year performance of this Black Knight from seed.

Saturday, 13 July 2019

Delphiniums: Seeds, seeds, more seeds and plants

Blue Bird pacific Giant Delphinium with interesting tufty black and white eye
Delphinium Blue Bird (Pacific Giants) sown Feb 2019
I saw my first show-class delphiniums at the RHS Chatsworth show in 2018. Impressive towers of intense colour.  Beautiful but expensive, I thought, "I remember growing delphiniums from seed." Things quickly got out of hand.

Delphinium Black Knight Pacific Giants from Seed
Delphinium Black Knight from Seed (2012)
Years ago I grew a beautiful delphinium from a packet of Tall Black Knight Seeds. It was lovely for several years, then one year the flower spikes were munched by some kind of caterpillar and all snapped off. The next winter I forgot about until a terrible crunching sound underfoot whilst weeding. That, and the increasing shade from a maturing sunburst cherry, probably led to it's demise. It never came back.

Time for it's triumphant return! Tall Black Knight seeds went in the online basket, then some other lovely looking Pacific Giants: Cameliard, Blue Jay, Blue Bird, King Arthur, and Summer Skies.

Imagining a swathe of delphiniums gently swaying in the breeze, I germinated the seeds by chitting them in the fridge sealed in bags with some just-damp paper towels. Meanwhile: to the Internet! to read about my lovely seeds while waiting for them to germinate.

That search uncovered something unsettling; Pacific Giants are supposedly not what they once were. The strains, so they say, have become "a shadow of what they once were". My poor seedlings, dissed before they've even germinated.

I joined the Delphinium Society (DS) to get my hands on their precious Elatum Hybrid hand-pollinated seeds. While waiting for them to arrive, I read some more about Delphinium Society seeds and discovered Dowdeswell Delphiniums of New Zealand. Starting from Delphinium Society seeds, Dowdeswell set out to create better seed-raised strains of delphiniums. Turns out the seed can be ordered direct from New Zealand!  Hello there, cobalt dreams, sunny skies, black eyed angels, purple passion, pagan purples and blue lace.

Of course, I now had an appetite to see some of the famous AGM delphiniums listed by the Delphinium Society. There are a couple of sites listed in Yorkshire as good places to see them. The DS had even donated delphiniums to the refurbished delphinium beds in the walled garden at Castle Howard. Seems that 2018 was a really bad year for Delphiniums leading to the demise of many. By July 2019 there were only 3 on display at Castle Howard. At a nursery 40 minutes up the A1: perhaps half a dozen. Temple Newsam still holds a National Collection, but they moved their delphiniums from the dedicated bed (google for pictures of it, it was beautiful), into the mixed herbaceous borders in the walled garden, and they were rather struggling, and less impressive dotted about. There were perhaps 12-15 to be seen in June.

If I wanted to see the elite delphiniums growing at their best, without the train fair to London or Wisley, I'd have to get hold of them myself. A fine excuse. So, now there's another 9 young delphiniums; Pandora, Blue Lagoon, Jill Curley, Pericles, Amadeus, Nobility (powdery mildew already!), Strawberry Fair, Purple Velvet and Faust (this latter bought in bloom from the garden centre). 

Now I've got dozens of seedlings, young plants, and flowering-size plants (from the early Pacific Giants sowing). At least I'll be able to compare them. Do the Pacific Giants deserve to be shunned? Will I fall in love with Dowdeswell's Delphs? Will I be awed by the English style hybrid elatums? I should keep some records. And breed my own of course. 

Black Knight (pacific giants) sown Jan/Feb 2019

July 2019

The first one has oddly, but not unappealing hairy flower buds. They are less well filled than my first Black Knight, but they are still currently in 2 or 3L pots and it's their first year. So, maybe they will fill out. Flowers are a single or semi-double.  The colour is an intense dark blue in shade and a dark purple in full sunshine.

Delphinium Black Knight Pacific Giant from seedDelphinium Black Knight Pacific Giant from seed - hairy budsDelphinium Black Knight Pacific Giant from seed

Blue Jay (pacific giants) Sown Jan/Feb 2019

July 2019

Two different plants of Blue Jay, pictures 1 and 2 are the same plant in different lighting, the first picture best represents the colour in sunlight. The first plant seems to have well filled spikes, the other has much wider spacing between the flowers. I don't know whether this will persist in next year when the plant is more mature. It's an intense mid-blue double flowers with hints of lavender purple.

Blue Jay,  Pacific Giant Delphinium from seedBlue Jay,  Pacific Giant Delphinium from seedBlue Jay,  Pacific Giant Delphinium from seed

Summer Skies (pacific giants) Sown Jan/Feb 2019

July 2019

This one is growing in a much bigger pot that it's sharing with some roselilies in ericaceous compost. It seems to really like it. The flowers really are the colour of a summer sky - look at the first picture! Sky blue with small green dots on the  petal edges. One of the three in the same pot has powdery mildew on the leaves.

Summer Skies,  Pacific Giant Delphinium from seed July 2019Summer Skies,  Pacific Giant Delphinium from seed July 2019

Faust Bought July 2019 Garden Centre

July  2019

This was bought already in flower. The flowers are double and an intense blue with hints of purple in direct sunshine.  Very sturdy looking - which will in part I think be due to the nursery production, so won't be a fair comparison until next year.
FaustFaust,  Elatum Hybrid Delphinium bought as rooted cuttingFaust,  Elatum Hybrid Delphinium bought as rooted cutting

Blue Bird (pacific giants) sown Jan/Feb 2019

July 2019

Still in 2 or 3L. Just one flowered so far, closely spaced single flowers of intense blue with an attractive and interesting white-tufted bee. Tall slender spike. Very nice indeed. 

Delphinium Blue Bird - tufty
Delphinium Blue Bird - tufty 

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Easy, Quick, No-knead Soft Sandwich Loaf (UK Recipe)

This is my Saturday morning bread recipe; a reliable sandwich loaf that's good for toasting, dipping in soup, and making sandwiches (of course).  I make it most Saturday mornings, getting it started while I make my morning coffee before I've even woken up properly and it's ready by [insert suitable time of day that doesn't make me sound lazy].  It's easy, no kneading just a bit of folding, it's quick, no 24 hour waiting, and the ingredients are straightforward, no weird bubbling sour dough starters to keep alive.

please don't look at how much my extractor switch needs cleaning, look at the lovely loaf. mmm loaf.
375g (Organic) Strong White Bread Flour
125g (Organic) Strong Wholemeal Bread Flour (or you could use all white)
7g Easy/Quick Yeast (the kind that you add straight into the flour), this is about 2 tsps
7-8g Salt, (it's important to weigh the salt because one tsp of salt flakes has a much bigger volume than 1 tsp of table salt) 
Wet (wet should come to 335 to 340g)
1 tbsp of oil
1 tbsp of cider vinegar (I use raw unfiltered organic cider vinegar)
About 80ml semi skimmed milk
"arm (not hot) water (about 200-250 ml, but weight it, rather than measure it, see below)
1 generous tbsp of honey

Equipment: Large mixing bowl, add-and-weigh scales, 2lb loaf tin, and some measuring spoons.

Ingredients, soft no-knead sandwich loaf, white & wholemeal

1. Measure out your ingredients:
You can weigh everything into the large mixing bowl to save on washing, just go slowly when adding the water as it's the hardest bit to remove if you go over!  Weigh your flour, zero the scales and add the yeast, stir it in and add the salt.  Zero your scales and add the oil and vinegar, top up with milk until your scales read about 100g, then slowly pour in the lukewarm water until the scales read 335-340g. Then add a tablespoon of honey.

2. Mix your dough:
Stir it all together with a metal spoon, scraping the sides of the bowl down. You'll probably need to finish off with your hands. All you need to do is get all of the dough evenly wet making sure that you don't have any big lumps of dry flour.  You don't have to knead the dough, in fact it's too sticky for kneading, which is a good excuse not to.  Cover the bowl with cling film.
Your mixed dough will look shaggy, like this, it's supposed to, honest.

3. Prove your dough / First rise:
Microwave a cup of water for 60 seconds to warm up the microwave interior. Then put the bowl in the microwave and leave it for 40 minutes. No microwave? Leave the dough somewhere warm (preferably about 22C, but 18-21C works, just add another 5, 10 or 15 minutes if the dough hasn't puffed up).

In the meantime oil and flour your loaf tin. Use kitchen paper to spread oil evenly over the interior of the loaf tin, then sprinkle it generously with flour and shake it around so that there is a light dusting everywhere, then tip out any excess onto the board you'll be using to shape your dough.

Oiled and floured Mermaid 2lb loaf tin, this makes the loaf slip out easily. No sticking! No Teflon required.

 After 40 minutes the dough should be big and puffy.

This dough has puffed up. You could leave this one a little longer, I used the dough like this.

4. Shape your loaf and second rise:
Sprinkle a layer of flour over a big chopping board, or non-stick silicon mat, and spread it around with both hands.
Flour your work surface; this is a silicon mat from Lakeland, less mess than working on the counter
Tip the dough onto the board. It will be sticky, you'll see the dough be stringy - that's the moisture working on the gluten.

Your dough should look stringy like this after first rise (without kneading)

(1) flatten
You're not going to knead the loaf, but you do need to make the dough hold it's shape a little better. You're going to do that by gently folding the dough over, then making it the right shape for the tin.

Flatten out your dough into a rough oval (1).

Then fold the dough in thirds, by taking the right third over the middle third (2).

(2) fold in right third
Take hold of the left third and then gently stretch it over the other folded pieces (3).

Fold the dough in half top to bottom, then squidge the dough flat and do the same serires of folds again, right third, left third, which will leave you with an oblong piece of dough.

It should now feel a bit more cooperative, but will still want to stick to your hands, don't worry, that's just what this dough is like.

(3) fold left third over the other 2 thirds

roll up your dough like a swiss roll

To shape the loaf for the tin, you need to roll it up like a swiss roll. Shape the dough into a rough square that is a little bit narrower than the width of your baking tin then roll the dough up tightly like a swiss roll and tuck the ends underneath.

Turn the dough over, then flatten is slightly. Then gently roll the dough up again, you might only be able to do this in thirds or it might roll a little tighter.

after the second roll-up, pinch the seam together

Tuck the edges under, and pinch the seam together.

Lift the loaf and place it gently in your floured tin, seam-side down. Sprinkle with flour and cover with cling film.

Warm the microwave up again by nuking a cup of water.Then put the dough in the microwave to rise for about 45 minutes.

Loaf shaped dough, just put into the oiled 2lb tin. The ends are a bit fat on this one, but it turns out OK!

The risen dough will puff up past the sides of the tin

After 45 minutes, the dough should be just starting to rise above the tin.  If not leave it a bit longer, but check every 5 minutes; this is a wet dough that might collapse if you leave it too long.

5. Bake your loaf:
Turn the oven on to heat up with a target temperature of 190C fan. After about 5 minutes of warming up, put the loaf in the oven (minus the cling film!). Set the timer for 25 minutes.
This loaf is baked at a slightly lower temperature than I see for most loaf recipes, that's to stop the crust from getting too dark or too hard (the honey makes a loaf that burns easily) or generally becoming OH unfriendly.  My disclaimer is of course, that these are the temperatures that my smallish digital oven claims it is baking at, your oven might make different claims. I know my big oven burns everything it sets it's eyes on in one back corner. So, use your experience of your own oven to make adjustments.

After 25 minutes, turn the heat off and let the loaf cook for another 5 minutes in the residual heat of the oven. The loaf should come out mid-brown. Take it out of the tin and a tap on the bottom of the loaf should sound hollow, if it doesn't it might need another 5 minutes.

Let the loaf cool *completely* on a rack before trying to slice it. That's very important. The bread isn't finished until it's cool. Cut too early and the middle will make claggy dough balls. Patience friends. Patience.

If you don't get through bread quickly, you can keep a sliced loaf in the freezer, just taking out a slice or two when you need it. No waste.

My bread-making equipment:
This recipe makes a loaf the right size for a 2lb loaf tin. The loaf in the picture is from one of my two hard anodised Mermaid tins, which I like better than non-stick coated for high oven temperatures. I also use Alan Silverwood 2lb Loaf Tins, which are slightly lower and wider and also hard anodised rather than Teflon coated.  You can double the recipe to make two loaves and bake them side-by-side.