It's marmalade time....When the ground is frozen solid and it's just too bloody cold for gardening why not have a stab at making your own marmalade. The Seville oranges have arrived in the shops and markets and should be around for about a month or so. My mum used an old-fashioned recipe from the Ballymaloe book:
I also love Ginger Marmalade - you can follow the Ballymaloe recipe and add 175-225g (6-8oz) of peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger. Demerara sugar gives a fuller flavour and darker colour. Delicious.
With temperatures dropping and more snow expected this week, it may seem strange to be posting pictures of summer flowers. However, with the ground frozen solid there is not an awful lot that can be done in my garden at present. This cold snap provides the perfect opportunity to start ordering seeds (if you haven't already) for the year ahead. If you are thinking of growing cut flowers this year, I would really recommend some of the varieties pictured above for their ease of growing and stunning results:
Ami Majus (the cow parsley type plant) looks beautiful mixed with the softer colours of sweet peas and cornflowers. It gives a delicate lacy effect to simple arrangements. Thin to 45cm apart. They will need netting for support - I didn't do this last year and paid the price when they all fell over! They have quite fragile stems.
Salvia horminum (bottom bouquet, far left). I grew a variety called Blue Denim, which surprisingly also threw up some lovely pale pinks, in amongst the blue. The flowers themselves are barely noticeable but the flower bracts are striking with a pretty vein like pattern. Thin to 25-30cm.
Dahlia - I love this old-fashioned allotment flower, but prefer the really dark varieties for more impact. Try 'Arabian Night' or 'Black Fire'. I enjoy putting lots of bold clashing colours together in bunches - I'm sure professional florists would balk at the thought, but I think a real assortment of reds, oranges and pinks thrown together looks great. Dahlias like lots of organic matter and should be staked for support. Space tubers 2-3ft apart in a hole 1ft wide and deep.
Zinnia (Dahlia mixed). Again I love this variety of Zinnia for its wonderful clashing blooms. Sow a little later than most half-hardy annuals.
Rudbekia Rustic - this is one of the easiest half-hardies to grow and has vibrant sunflower like blooms. It looks great mixed with helianthus or deep red dahlias.
If there is one bit of advice I can offer when growing cut flowers, it is to provide adequate support. I have been lazy in the past and kicked myself after painstakingly having to pick up every plant after the slightest amount of wind. Also, using a polytunnel means plants tend to grow more vigorously and taller than they would outside, so support is really essential to avoid total collapse. Stretching a pea netting with a wide gauge tightly over bamboo canes is a tip from Sarah Raven, and it works a treat. The stems grow up through the netting and foliage obscures the unsightly plastic.