Reclaiming Paradise awards 2018

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As the old year rolls on and we venture into 2019, it’s award season at Reclaiming Paradise. In a year of weather extremes and personal complications, we celebrate all that is great, good or frankly unsuccessful in my garden and allotment. This year I  cracked a bone in my arm, helped my mother move house, acquired a second cat and was overcome with day job commitments. But the garden, the allotment and the blog bring me joy, and the Reclaiming Paradise awards help me to celebrate that with you. Here are the award categories:

Most impressive garden developments; Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge; Most extreme weather; Most successful vegetables; Most unsuccessful vegetables; Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit; Most unsuccessful recipe; Best use of garden produce; Most colourful vegetable;  Most awe-inspiring wildlife; Best cats.

Scroll down to find the winners:

Most impressive garden developments

This was the year that I finally got round to having the conifers and the giant sycamore removed from the garden. This was done, not by me, but by professional tree surgeons and a professional stump remover. It was expensive but necessary. The space left behind enabled me to have a go at creating a garden bench and several raised beds:

of which the bench was fun at best and hopeless at worst while the raised beds produced bumper cucumber and tomato crops. I still have plans to do more with the space left by the conifers but they were thwarted by the broken bone and other commitments.

The winner in this category, however, is the allotment, for which I got a key in February, moved my wellies and gardening gloves into the shed, observed flooding in April, found a use for my 25 year old hoe and entered a bumper crop of vegetables into the allotment show, winning a few prizes but it was the growing that mattered, not the winning:

Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge

This award goes to the footballs and other useful items which emerged during the giant conifer hedge removal:

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Most extreme weather

For 2018 we must reinstate the most extreme weather award, with the Beast from the East providing Bella with many photo opportunities:

and an unexpected use for a cow shaped boot scraper as a ‘cowometer’ to allow me to see the increasing depth of snow on the pond:

The impressive snow was followed by equally impressive ice on the pond in early April:

Most successful vegetables

Reclaiming Paradise is all about growing vegetables. As always there were several contenders, including courgettes and marrows:

which were very impressive, even though not enough to win any prizes at the allotment show. The peas were beautiful and very productive both in the garden and the allotment:

but they will qualify for another award, as we will see.

The amazingly hot summer certainly helped the cucumbers to flourish in their newly built raised bed/cucumber frame:

But the outright winners have to be the tomatoes:

which started slowly but then flourished in the hot sun and continued into November. They provided enough surplus to make soup which we were still enjoying in December.

Most unsuccessful vegetables

You may be beginning to believe that my fingers are so green that everything flourishes in my garden. Not so. My biggest disappointments this year were the onions, which I sowed in newspaper tubes in early spring and transported to the allotment:

They succumbed to the drought. A few of them made it but most did not. These, I admit, were meant to be autumn sown and I was taking a chance with them. We were compensated by a very successful crop of ordinary spring sown onions in the bed beside them. I learned something about how not to sow onions.

Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit

The fig tree produced some fruit for the first time ever:

WP_20180804_09_42_56_Pro[1]I suppose I knew they would never get any bigger than peas but a gardener is ever hopeful. A close contender for this award was the cherry, of which there was only one, and it got snaffled by a passing bird between this photograph and going back to pick it:

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Most unsuccessful recipe

While dwelling on the year’s failures, I think the rhubarb curry was probably the least successful of my cooking experiments. On the other hand, the rhubarb did win a prize at the allotment show, and was very successful in cakes, crumbles and jam:

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Best use of garden produce

The summer gluts nearly overwhelmed us but we were assisted by visiting musicians, who moved in for the summer and helped to cook and eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. We made cakes and stews, soups, jam, chutney, pickle:

We made a wonderful Christmas Day smoothie, lemon curd (although not from the garden), a very successful summer pudding:

but the winner, out of these many, has to be the musicians’ giant stuffed marrow, so huge that it overflowed the serving dish and had to go in the oven at an angle :

giant marrow

Most colourful vegetables

The Reclaiming Paradise awards always include a most colourful vegetable prize. The purple radishes again produced lovely flowers but no radishes and the Swiss chard continued to provide rainbows:

For the third year running, however, the award goes to the peas:

with which I am now so besotted that I have saved the seed of the salmon pink and may need to venture into other varieties as well next year.

Most awe-inspiring wildlife

The annual awards cannot pass without an award for wildlife in the garden and allotment. This year we have outright winners. As well as the bees, robins, snails, foxes, ladybirds and other creatures, we had a multitude of frogs, congregating in the pond during the heatwave:

and bringing us joy.

Best cats

Finally, 2018 brought a second cat into the garden. Chelsea helped to build a pond in my mother’s garden but then moved in with us, leaving the pond to new owners and new cats. I won’t let her and Bella compete for this award as they have enough to fight about already. So the best cats award goes to them both for being awesome and in the hope that they will learn to share in 2019:

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So that’s the awards for this year. Much has been missed off but it is nice to look back and see what has happened in the garden and allotment over the year. Happy and productive gardening and best wishes for peace and happiness to all my followers for 2019.

Yet another apple cake recipe

Thanks to the tomato, apple and courgettes gluts, there have been mutterings lately about ‘too many vegetables’ and that ‘vegetables with vegetables and vegetable sauce is not a proper meal’  at Reclaiming Paradise. So, when it came to making a start on the annual birthday cake marathon (everyone here except me has birthdays in October), I had to think of a way of making a cake that would help to use up the glut without being too obvious.  The result was Chocolate Apple Cake*:

WP_20181014_13_00_43_Pro[1](Pictured, partly hogged, complete with some birthday music)

Chocolate Apple Cake

*recipe based on one from Ruth Ward (1988) A Harvest of Apples

  • 450g apples
  • 50g raisins
  • 50g dates or apricots or similar dried fruit
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/tsp mixed spice
  • 1/tsp ground nutmeg
  • 225 g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2tsbp cocoa powder
  • 350g sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g chopped walnuts
  1. Peel and chop the apples
  2. Add the spices, and the dried fruit.
  3. Stew in a little water until soft
  4. Mash up with a wooden spoon
  5. Add the butter and mix until melted
  6. Leave to cool slightly
  7. Mix in the flour, cocoa and sugar
  8. Add the beaten eggs
  9. Beat the whole mixture for a couple of minutes
  10. Add the walnuts
  11. Pour into a large greased and lined cake tin
  12. Bake for 50-60 minutes at 180c

To make the chocolate fudge icing

  • 50g butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1tbsp cocoa powder
  1. Melt the butter in a small pan
  2. Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder
  3. Mix well together until smooth
  4. Add a little water to thin and mix well
  5. Spread over the cake

The cake went down well and has just had an additional endorsement from my brother, who dropped in for coffee and insisted on having two pieces. Praise indeed and it used up a few apples – only about two hundred left to go.

I didn’t feel brave enough to put tomatoes in the cake so am contemplating other possible uses. We have had a lot of tomato soup, tomato sauce and tomatoes, with tomatoes and tomatoes (not a proper meal) lately. The freezer is now full so I need to come up with more old fashioned methods of preserving them. As a birthday outing we had a little trip to Dundee. (To do this properly, I should have made Dundee cake but that wouldn’t have used up any of the gluts). We had planned to go to the new V and A exhibition but it was absolutely crammed with visitors intent on learning about design, or possibly just sheltering from the teeming rain. We avoided the crowds and went instead to visit Captain Scott’s ship Discovery, next door. We had been many times when our small people were small and we were happy to have another look. The rain continued to teem, giving the ship a certain maritime authenticity.  I noticed, as we went round the ship, that they took ‘preserved tomatoes’ with them to the Antarctic – I have just noticed that these boxes say preserved potatoes but they did have preserved tomatoes too:

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I may need to check how they did their preserving back in 1901.

 

Tomato rainbow

This year’s tomatoes have probably been the best ever:

WP_20180608_17_20_16_ProHere’s how they looked just planted out in June in their shiny new raised bed 

Since then, what with all the hot weather in the early summer, they have grown massive and have long since caused the canes to collapse:

We’ve had a few red ones but there are now hundreds of fat, juicy green tomatoes, threatening to not ripen before it gets too cold.

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Last night the temperature dropped below 3 degrees – now that is already too cold for tomatoes. They seem to have survived that dip but today I needed to take some drastic action.  I made a big batch of green tomato marmalade – recipe here

WP_20180923_22_50_41_Proand some fresh tomato soup:

WP_20180923_21_36_48_ProBut there are hundreds of tomatoes left – I’ve put some on trays to ripen inside and I’ll race out to get some more tomorrow

In the mean time, we are experimenting with actually cooking with green tomatoes. Along with the fresh tomato soup, we had some green tomato salsa, which was rather good. Last week we tried roasted green tomatoes. One year we tried green tomato mincemeat – it did not go down well with the wider family.  I saw a recipe for green tomato cake and suspect it would be met with similar suspicion. So, mainly, I’m hoping that the tomatoes will ripen on the trays and we can use most of the rest in soup and pasta sauce.  Even if they don’t all ripen, it’s been a wonderful tomato year and I’m already planning what to sow next year. The lovely stripy ones are Tigerella and the long Italian ones are San Marzano.  I think I’ll go for Tigerella again as they are so beautiful. Here’s a close up so that you can seetigerella.jpg

Home

Back home from a little break involving much walking and talking and eating lovely things in the far north of Norway.  There wasn’t much gardening to be done but there was lovely scenery and good company. Northern Norway has the northenmost botanic garden in the world and it had some lovely things in flower in September

wp_20180906_19_15_46_pro.jpgI forgot to note down their names but I liked the colours.  We also had a couple of days in Oslo and spotted this unusual creature:

An important reminder to protect our natural world.  It was quite a short trip but now we are home and the garden is abundant.  The musicians have been looking after things at home, making serious inroads into the plum glut.  I felt a need to make some emergency plum jam to use up some more. This is ‘whole plum jam’, one of the easiest jam recipes:

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Whole Plum Jam

  • 2 kg plums
  • 2kg sugar
  • glug of green ginger wine
  1. Wash the plums, cut in half and remove most of the stones – you can leave a few in
  2. Place the plums and the sugar in layers in a large bowl and leave overnight or for a few hours
  3. Tip everything into a large pan (it needs to be very large for this quantity)
  4. Add the glug of green ginger
  5. Heat slowly until all the sugar dissolves
  6. Boil until setting point is reached
  7. Remove any scum that forms
  8. Any stones that you left in will eventually float to the top – remove these. Some stones may remain but that doesn’t matter so long as you warn anybody about to eat the jam!
  9. Pot up into warmed, sterilised jars – makes about 6-7 jarsWP_20180914_20_33_52_Pro

As well as eating plums and creating beautiful music, the musicians have been playing football in the garden (our neighbour noted that ‘they are much better at music than football’ ) and being quite careful with my precious vegetables, though ‘there may have been one or two ‘windfall’ tomatoes’:

WP_20180914_20_31_33_ProThe tomatoes are doing extremely well.  There have been a few ripe ones as well as all these ‘windfalls’ and I’m still hopeful that a few more will ripen before the frosts hit. Now I just need to get along to the allotment to see how it has fared in my absence.

Cakes

There have been a couple of late night cakes this week, brought about by a combination of allotment gluts, visitors, resident musicians and Friday nightitis.  So we had a raspberry and apple flapjack earlier in the week, made from the windfall (well broken branch fall) apples in the allotment and a handful or so of autumn fruiting raspberries. pictured here in mid-preparation:

WP_20180821_20_08_53_ProAnd here once completed:

 

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The recipe is based on the rhubarb (or plum) flapjack here

It seemed to work and it got hogged very quickly by the resident musicians. There is nothing like having a bunch of young people in your house for getting food eaten, although even they are struggling a bit with the marrows, despite their valiant efforts.

Tonight’s attack of Friday nightitis was brought about by getting a long overdue work thing finished and needing to celebrate. I don’t know what other people do when they want to celebrate on a Friday night but it was pouring with rain and we couldn’t be bothered going out so making a cake seemed like a good idea to me. So here is a Danish apple cake (also from the allotment windfalls).

WP_20180824_22_16_53_ProThe musicians have gone out for the evening, so we have a chance to have some before it disappears.

Pickle

Last night’s rain has caused the cucurbits to grow overnight I think:

and we had some more rain this morning:

WP_20180728_10_57_13_ProStotting off the patio is the only way to describe it. The sun’s out again now and we had a garden lunch:

WP_20180728_14_18_39_ProWhole cucumbers, along with yesterday’s courgette pickle and pea guacamole.  The pickle was surprisingly successful – recipe here

Courgette pickle

  • 1kg courgettes
  • 4 tblsp salt
  • 2 onions
  • 1 ltr vinegar
  • 240g sugar
  • spices – I used a handful of home grown coriander seeds, peppercorns, mustard seeds and radish seed pods
  1. Cut the courgettes into cubes or slices  and chop the onions
  2. Place in a bowl with the salt
  3. Cover with cold water and leave for at least an hour
  4. Then rinse the vegetables in cold water several times and leave to dry in a colander or similar
  5. Boil the vinegar with the sugar and spices for at least 5 minutes
  6. Add the vegetables to the mixture and cook for a few minutes
  7. Pack the vegetables into sterilised jars and cover with vinegar
  8. Cover with waxed paper and seal – makes about 5 jars

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I found this on the internet somewhere and it used far too much vinegar so some has been put in the fridge for use on salads. The pickle is a bit like pickled gherkins and not a bad thing for that. I don’t know how long it will keep but we may eat it rather quickly anyway. So a use will be found for those courgettes, busy growing as I type.

Pea soup and summer pudding

My gardening is still a little restricted by my damaged arm but I’m enjoying doing some light harvesting and cooking. Today’s haul included pea soup:

 

WP_20180721_15_39_38_Pro.jpgMade mostly from mange tout peas with some added whole peas from the heritage salmon pink pods – all very beautiful in flower but equally good to eat

We also had some broad bean guacamole

guacamole.jpgRecipe here

Later we had summer pudding. This is a dish which looks unlikely, but was described by a young visitor as ‘the best thing I’ve ever tasted’. It didn’t last long:

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Summer pudding recipe

  • Mixed soft fruit – strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants (about 500g)
  • A stick of rhubarb, cut into chunks
  • about 100ml orange juice
  • tblsp lemon juice
  • 50g sugar
  • 3-4 slices of sliced bread*

All quantities are very approximate – nothing matters too much so long as it fits in your pudding basin and you can adjust the sugar according to taste and health obsessions

  1. Heat the orange and lemon juice in a pan and dissolve the sugar
  2. Stew the rhubarb in the juice for about five minutes until the mixture is quite thick
  3. Add the soft fruit and cook for about one minute – don’t overdo it
  4. Line a pudding basin with 2-3 slices of bread
  5. Pour the fruit and juice into the basin
  6. Put the last slice of bread on top to make a lid
  7. Put a small plate on top of the pudding and add something heavy to weigh it down (I use a cast iron pestle and mortar but whatever you have around would do)
  8. Leave to cool and then put in the fridge overnight
  9. Turn out onto a large plate and decorate with some extra fruit

*The recipes usually say to use white bread and cut the crusts off. I don’t bother. Wholemeal or granary bread with crusts seems to work perfectly well. We don’t always have sliced bread in the house but because of my wonky arm, we have been buying the sliced stuff  so I can make my own breakfast without asking some one to cut the bread for me. Unsliced bread would work too but you would have to cut it fairly thin.

Lemons…

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If life gives you lemons…. make lemon curd. There was a bit of lemon mountain at my mother’s house.  I’m not entirely sure why they were there and I offered to take some home. But, no, ‘let’s make lemon curd’, she said. So we did. Here’s how:

Lemon curd

  • 4 lemons
  • six eggs
  • 4 oz butter
  • 1lb sugar

You will also need

  • a large saucepan
  • a large heatproof bowl which fits over the saucepan, without touching the base of the pan
  • a grater
  • a sharp knife and chopping board
  • several small bowls
  • a couple of wooden spoons
  • something to juice the lemons with – an old fashioned hand-juicer is fine or you can squeeze them hard with your hands or use a fancy juicer thing if you have one
  • weighing scales, or a means of guestimating weights of sugar and butter
  • a jug and a ladle for transferring the curd from the pan to the pots
  • 3 or 4 jam jars and lids, covers, labels etc
  1. Grate the rind of two of the lemons, or use a sharp knife and cut the rind into fine strips
  2. Squeeze the juice from all the lemons into a bowl.
  3. Fill a large saucepan with boiling water and put on the cooker to simmer gently
  4. Pour the lemon juice, sugar and finely cut or grated rind into the heatproof bowl
  5. Stand the heatproof bowl on the saucepan, so that its base is in the water but not in danger of sinking
  6. Stir the sugar and lemon juice with a wooden spoon until the sugar dissolves
  7. Cut up the butter into small pieces, add to the mixture and stir until it all melts
  8. Beat the eggs well and add to the mixture
  9. Stir the mixture for about 20 minutes, over the simmering pan until the curd thickens
  10. Transfer the mixture to a sterilised heatproof jug, using a ladle
  11. Pour into sterilised jam jars and cover and label with the date
  12. Store in the fridge and eat within 3 weeks

Makes about 3 jars – if you think you can’t get through that amount, make half quantities

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We used a recipe from a standard ‘how to make jams and preserves’ book, but to be honest, apart from the ingredients and some of the basic instructions, we had to work some of this out ourselves, particularly the order of adding the mixture to the bowl. It would also have helped to think about the equipment in advance, which is why I’ve listed it here. When I make jam at home, I usually think through in advance what I’m going to need but things were a little different today. Fortunately we are both experienced cooks and jam makers so were able to improvise when we couldn’t find a bowl to fit over the saucepan, using a casserole dish instead (it worked fine).

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It helps if you don’t try to make onion soup at the same time or have an urgent need to dig up a winter box cutting from the garden or text your family members. But there were two of us so we coped with the multi-tasking.

Lemon curd is basically scrambled eggs with added lemon and sugar but it tastes amazing.  You can also use oranges or a mixture of the two. The last time I made lemon curd was when my children were small. I don’t remember if we had the same issues with multi-tasking (we probably did) or not having the right equipment to hand. What we did have to do, in those days, was to plant the lemon seeds and grow lemon trees*.  They make rather nice houseplants, though ours have never flowered and will never produce fruit. For more on pip growing see here. I’ve still got one of the lemon trees:

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*which is why this counts as a garden story  .

Apple strudel – enhanced by candlelight

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It was the last night of the holidays and there were three Howgate Wonder apples left from this year’s crop.  I had been saving them for an apple strudel for some point over the festive season. This seemed to be the night. There was the added dubious advantage of a full house of assistants, ready to mock as I nobly struggled with a recipe, which included such instructions as ‘Don’t worry it’s not as difficult as it looks’ and ‘don’t panic’. I didn’t worry and I didn’t panic, but my efforts were rewarded with unhelpful comments:  ‘It looks like one of those creatures from Star Wars’, ‘It reminds me of that UFO they saw in space last year’. It maybe wasn’t the most beautiful strudel, but it more or less worked, and it wasn’t as difficult as the recipe looks. Here’s the recipe if you’re feeling brave.

Apple strudel

Pastry

  • 150g flour
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tblsp oil
  • 3 tblsp warm water

Filling

  • 15g butter
  • 25g breadcrumbs
  • 500g cooking apples (the original recipe said 675g but I think that was a little too much, contributing to the alien effect so have adjusted the quantity here)
  • 25g flaked almonds
  • 25g raisins
  • 25g sugar

To decorate

  • 25g melted butter
  • a little icing sugar

First make the pastry:

  1. Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl
  2. Add the egg, mixed with the oil and water
  3. Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough forms a ball
  4. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes, adding a little extra flour if too sticky
  5. Put back in a bowl, cover with a damp cloth and leave for 30 minutes

Make the filling

  1. Melt the butter and fry the breadcrumbs until golden brown
  2. Peel, core and slice the apples finely, leave in a bowl with a little lemon juice until ready to use (I didn’t peel the apples as these are so beautiful but you may wish to if using a tougher variety)
  3. Weigh out the sugar, almonds and raisinsWP_20180103_22_10_59_Pro

Construct the strudel

  1. Take a clean tea towel and lay it out flat on a work surface
  2. Sprinkle flour all over the towel
  3. Place the dough in the middle and roll it out with a floured rolling pin until it covers the whole towel (the recipe in the book says here ‘don’t panic’ – I agree, the dough will stretch)
  4. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly across the pastry
  5. Cover with a layer of apples, spread evenly across the pastry
  6. Sprinkle the almonds, sugar and raisins on top

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Assemble the strudel

  1. Grease a large baking tray
  2. Taking one end of the tea towel, lift it and gently let the strudel roll over itself like a Swiss roll – don’t panic at this point either
  3. When it has completely rolled up, carefully transfer it to a greased baking tray
  4. Bake in an oven at 180 degrees/gas mark 4 for about 25 minutes
  5. Take out and brush with butter and return to the over for 5 minutes
  6. Sprinkle with sieved icing sugar

*based on a recipe from ‘The Apple Book’ by Jane Simpson and Gill MacLennan, 1984

My charming assistants admitted in the end that it was really rather good, an appropriate celebration of the end of (some of) our holidays, a fitting use for the last of the Howgate Wonders and definitely enhanced by candlelight.

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Reclaiming Paradise Awards 2017

As the year turns, I’ve set to reflecting on 2017’s disasters and successes (in the garden anyway, let’s not dwell on the wider world here).  Last year we had the inaugural Reclaiming Paradise awards – details here.  Now they have become annual, though the categories vary slightly from year to year.

Most disappointing vegetables

The red flowered broad beans and purple radishes share this award. They both produced the most lovely flowers but neither produced a decent bean or radish. The radishes did, however, produce lovely seed pods, eventually

WP_20170930_13_11_58_ProI’ll grow the radishes again, but just for the flowers and pods. As for the beans, I’ll stick to my old favourite black and white varieties – for an entire blog post about these, see here

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Most successful vegetables

and the joint winners are rainbow chard, broad beans (the black and white variety) runner beans, peas, courgettes, crystal lemon cucumbers … and marrows

Juiciest fruit

Plums, on their way to becoming jam, autumn fruiting raspberries, strawberries, at last doing well now that they have their own  strawberry bed

and apples and rhubarb, maybe not exactly juicy, but always wonderful and great in cakes of all kinds.

Most colourful vegetable

Sharing top position for the second year running are the rainbow chard and the pink and blue peas.

Cheekiest garden pests

The snail that came into the kitchen with the rainbow chard, the snail that took a chunk out of a chilli and, the brave vine weevil that met its nemesis in the insect eating plant – more on that here. But enough of vine weevils, which also caused havoc outside, destroying my hamamelis and trying to destroy my bay tree.

Most successful recycling

The rotary dryer which became a pea support, the freezer baskets which kept the cat off the seedlings, and this happy banana box which is still keeping cats and frost of my autumn sown broad beans.  It is a little early to say how successful this has been but there are signs of hope:

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Flowers

As always daffodils, roses and sweet peas. This year I also took particular delight in the flowers in my mother’s garden while she was in hospital. So a special award goes to her tulips and spring flowers for bringing joy in adversity

Cooking and recipes

Raspberry cake, a lot of jam and pickles, and the ever wondrous green soup

Simplest pleasures

Sunsets, my first potatoes in a long while, seedlings and bees .. oh and frogs..

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There were really too many simple pleasures this year. There always are but this year we’ve had family worries and reasons to focus on nature’s wonders. I also took part in the #30dayswild twitter challenge, to find something wild or natural every day in June. This led me to really look.  I won’t list them all, but I found:

plants making an abstract painting on a wall, bees and sunsets (of course), but also

a reason to take pleasure in snails (this one eating a daisy) and rain (it fills up the water butts), going outside after dark to see what I can see and hear.. and more bees. Since June I haven’t sought out something wild every day but I have noticed things that I might have missed before, like the sunsets and the wonderful clouds and the patterns in the frost

Despite all the gloom around us, there’s always something in the garden to bring cheer.  Blogging and tweeting about these things also helps. Best wishes from Reclaiming Paradise to all my readers for 2018.