Exmoor exploits

After lots of Christmas travelling, spending time with loved ones, and of course way too much food, we’ve finally paused for breath in Exmoor – the little patch of England my heart calls ‘home’. Don’t get me wrong, I love Hampshire, and I have travelled to some amazing places around the globe, but there is something about these deep valleys, undulating wooded hills and bracken-strewn moorlands, all conveniently packaged alongside stunning coastal views, that make Exmoor the most special place in the world for me.

The green fields of Exmoor

The green fields of Exmoor

The woodlands of Exmoor

The woodlands of Exmoor

The deep valleys of Exmoor

The deep valleys of Exmoor

The bracken-strewn moorlands of Exmoor

The moorlands of Exmoor

The coastal views of Exmoor

The coastal views of Exmoor

We’ve rented a 1-bed cottage in Porlock for the week, we’ve got the walking boots and the mountain bikes, and the forecast is good. So follow our exploits on Exmoor, as we climb a few hills, follow a few rivers and indulge in some very special 15 minutes of green:

If you love Exmoor, and have any special experiences to share – favourite places, recommended walks etc. – please leave a comment below. Thank you.

Green aromatherapy

Given the mild weather at the moment (for December!), the tidying and mulching continues. This weekend’s attention to the herb bed had added benefits, as the uplifting scents that wafted from my small patch of overgrown culinary herbs were nothing short of sensational.

Herb bed

The herb bed before the big clear up

After 15 minutes of chopping and digging I had created a unique energizing fragrance of rosemary, sage and mint, with subtle hints of thyme and fennel, all then blown away by the heady aroma of lavender.

Tidied herb bed

The herb bed: chopped, tidied and mulched

Aromatic plants are incredibly versatile. Inhaling their intoxicating scent is one of life’s simple pleasures – I can rarely resist a ‘scratch and sniff’ as I pass – so why not experiment with some homemade pot pourri? Each also has its place in the kitchen of course: how much better are new potatoes when embellished with a spring of mint, or lamb roasted with rosemary?!

But have you thought what other uses these herbs might have? Here are a few of my suggestions, but I’d love to hear yours so that I can make more of my herb bed next year. Please leave a comment below.

  • Peppermint: pour hot water onto a handful of peppermint leaves, brew for 5 minutes and add brown sugar or honey to taste. Mint tea can aid digestion.
  • Rosemary: add a few sprigs of rosemary to your bath water for a lovely aromatic soak, or strip the leaves and toss the woody stems onto an open fire for a wonderful pine-scented perfume. Rosemary is also a moth repellent, so you could try hanging some sachets of rosemary leaves in the wardrobe (better than the smell of moth balls!).
  • Basil: plant in pots near your doors to help keep flies out of the house. (Flies don’t like lavender or mint either.)
  • Lavender: rub the fresh flowers directly onto your temples or forehead (avoiding the eyes!) to ease a headache, or before you go to bed for a good night’s sleep.

 

 

 

Wet weather jobs

Wet weather is part and parcel of gardening in the UK. Unfortunately, that means that on more days than we would like the soil turns to mud, the lawn becomes a bog and gardening in the strictest sense of the word becomes pretty near impossible.

wet weather gardening ideas

It’s raining (again!) outside

But that’s no excuse for sitting indoors moaning about the weather. There are plenty of 15-minute jobs that can be achieved from areas of firmer ground, such as patios, paths or driveways.

Wet-day jobs include:

  • Feeding the birds and fish – they’re still hungry whatever the weather (although watch the temperature in your pond and feed accordingly)
  • Wiping external window sills (mine seem to be perpetually splattered in mud and leaves at the moment)
  • Sweeping up leaves from patios, pathways and other hard surfaces – it makes no difference if the leaves are wet as they’re heading for the compost bin or a mulch bag anyway
  • Emptying, cleaning and storing used pots and seed trays – cleaning the keepers and recycling the rest. Check out recycling options near you.
  • Cleaning bird feeders (the RSPB have some good tips on this)
  • Planting spring bulbs in frost-hardy pots (not too late for tulips!)

All you need is the right clothing. So don your raincoat and wellies, and get out and grow!

the right clothing for wet weather gardening

All you need is the right clothing

Herbaceous tidy up

Tidying and mulching perennials in herbaceous borders

Et voila! One perennial border … tidied and mulched

15 minutes of tidying and mulching every day and I’ve knocked my herbaceous borders into shape.  Well, I’m certainly further along with the tidy up than I was this time last year.

 

Preparation of herbaceous borders for winter

Leave some height and structure if possible

The general idea is to leave some woody stems above tender herbaceous perennials to protect the new crowns from frost and provide a habitat for insects, but most of mine had become rather soggy and unsightly, so I trimmed them down and applied a compost mulch around the plants and over the crowns to provide some protection. I also lifted and potted 3 lupins and put those in the greenhouse, as I never seem to be able to overwinter lupins in the ground.

The strawberries were next for the the ‘tidy up’ treatment. I removed all the dead leaves and put those in the compost bin (remember, you need ‘brown’ materials in the compost too), then applied a mulch of compost around the remaining crowns.

 

Strawberry plants - tidied and mulched

Strawberry plants – tidied and mulched

The herb bed is now quivering in anticipation, as that’s next on the list for the chop and mulch treatment.

 

 

Here comes Winter

Today marks the start of meteorological winter, and there’s certainly a chill in the air. In fact, the Met Office has forecast widespread frost and fog across the UK this week, even snow (in Scotland!).

To be fair, we have had ‘above average’ autumnal temperatures for a while now, and my garden appears to be a tad confused. For example, a hebe that should have finished flowering in October is still going strong, and some of my spring bulbs are already trying to make an appearance. So a drop in temperature might help to get things back on track.

December-flowering hebe

December-flowering hebe

Fish feeding tips

Meanwhile, my pond fish, who seem to be constantly at the surface in begging mode, continue to glare in disgust at me as I feed them wheatgerm sticks rather than tasty fish flakes. But it’s for their own good!

As temperatures drop you need to start preparing your pond fish for the winter ahead. It’s a good idea to buy a pond thermometer and keep an eye on the water temperature.

It’s fine to feed your fish on high-protein foods in warmer weather, but when the water temperature drops below 10 degrees you should switch to a wheatgerm-based food and be careful not to overfeed them as the temperature continues to fall. When it falls below 4 degrees it’s time to stop feeding them until Spring.

Preparing fish for winter

Do not overfeed fish in cold weather – no matter how much they glare at you

Fish are not capable of proper digestion in cold water and proteins are much harder to digest than other nutrients. Any food that they don’t digest will rot in their stomachs, sending bacteria into the bloodstream and killing them. So I guess I’ll just have to put up with the dirty looks!

Preparing the garden for winter

I confess, I haven’t quite put the garden to bed for the winter yet. I’ve done a fair bit of tidying up, but not covering up, so I’m going to have to get my skates on (hopefully not literally).

Here are my top 5 jobs this week (which I probably should have done last week!):

  1. Cut down the perennials that (a) don’t provide winter structure and (b) don’t provide seeds for the birds to ground level
  2. Lift and store dahlia tubers
  3. Add a thick winter layer of mulch to the borders to protect perennials and improve the soil
  4. Move frost-hardy pots nearer the house for added protection
  5. Empty, clean and store terracotta pots in the shed

Oh yes, and one other thing …. find my thermals!