Three ways to plant a terrarium

You know the string of hearts plant that I bought last week for my sister’s birthday and then fell in love with so much I became reticent to give it away?

Well, I needn’t have worried, for she is a sister of excellent taste and – at our joint birthday celebration last weekend – she gave me this.

Copper terrarium planting ideas | Wolves in LondonA copper framed terrarium.

Isn’t it a beauty?

I’ve been lusting after a terrarium for some time now, and we both admired some excellent examples earlier this year at Grow London. Wonderful sister that she is, she remembered and bought me my very own.

But with such beauty comes great responsibility. I wanted to make sure I planted it up in a way that worked with its lovely exterior. And though I’ve been studying horticulture in one form or other for three years now, I am still fairly new to keeping houseplants. (Or at least, to keeping them alive…)

So as soon as I got home I jumped on Pinterest and started looking for the perfect planting choices to go inside this little gem.

Here are my three favourite options for terrarium plants:

  1. Succulents

Succulent terrarium
From Wit and Whistle
Succulent terrarium
From Floral Verde

Needless to say, succulents were the very first thing that sprang to mind. Most of the Pin-worthy terrariums that I’ve been lusting after have delicate little plantings of succulents on top.

This won’t work in a sealed terrarium (mine is an open version) as the succulents don’t like humidity and can start to rot, but with a bit of heat and a bit of air flow, they should stay pretty happy.

I absolutely love succulents at the moment (who doesn’t, right?), but after considering it for a while, I decided that my terrarium was too big for my favourite rosette-type  and it would be a bit of a waste of all the vertical space at the top, which could better be filled with a taller plant.

Still, I’ve been feasting on pictures of these fat-leaved delights.

  1. Tillandsia

Tillandisa terrarium
From Centro Garden
Air plant terrarium in a lightbulb
From The hipster home

AKA air plants. This is another great terrarium option, for the obvious reason that they don’t need soil to survive. And soil in a nice glass container can end up looking a bit… …mucky.

In the wild, air plants grow in jungles or deserts, the roots attached not to the soil below, but to the trunks of other trees or rocks. (This can allow them to grow high up in the tree’s canopy and get to sunlight that wouldn’t reach the jungle floor below.)

In terrariums, you can place them onto whatever looks attractive: a few pebbles, a piece of wood, sand: anything that won’t retain too much moisture and cause the plant to rot. Then you just need to spritz it with water every now and again to keep it moist.

Having read up a bit on tillandsia, I am definitely tempted to buy a few, but not, I think, for my terrarium. I think those copper edges might not work so well with the fine, feathery leaves that characterise lots of air plants. And so, on to…

  1. Pitcher plants.

Pitcher plant terrarium
From Apartment Therapy
Pitcher plant terrarium
From Lila B Design

When I came across the photos above I knew that I’d found my dream plant.

I’ve had a passion for pitchers since an old flatmate strung one from our kitchen window when I was in my early 20s, but, I have to say, I have never succeeded in growing one myself.

I bought a lovely hanging pitcher plant from Columbia Road flower market years ago, but killed it off in record time (probably because I didn’t bother to water it with rain water…) Then, when we were living in Hong Kong for six months, I strung our balcony with a variety of different pitchers, but killed them all off before we moved out (probably because I didn’t bother to water them at all, thinking they would get water as they were outside. Of course, as we were in a towerblock balcony, there was no way they were getting wet in the rain…)

Still, I’ve learnt loads more about plants in the intervening years, so, fingers crossed, I should be able to keep them alive this time round.

After a bit of internet research I’ve found the brilliant sounding Triffid Nurseries in Sussex ( who specialise in carnivorous plants. I shall be making a trip in the near future and then will get on with planting up the terrarium. Promise to let you show you pictures once it’s done…

(Oh, and, just so you know, I couldn’t resist that string of hearts either. I went back to the shop I bought my sister’s one and got another for me. It’s sitting on my bookshelves and looking rather wonderful right now.)

Tomato, tomato, tomato: a season’s growing notes

Home grown tomatoesOf all the veg and fruit that I grow, there is no doubt that I have most success with tomatoes. Tomatoes love me and always grow well for me. I love them right back and am always ridiculously over-proud of my tomato-growing achievements.

And this year is certainly the pinnacle of those tomato-growing achievements so far.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been growing five different types of tomatoes in my giant beast of a greenhouse.

Three tomato varietiesSuper Marmande is a beefsteak variety (the seeds given to my hubby as a present a year or so ago, but stolen by me this spring time). Gardener’s Delight is a small cherry tomato that I grow every year as it crops so very well and tastes so very good. Tigerella are new to me and are striped like a tiger. I know! Could you ask for more? Tumbling Tom Yellow is another new-to-me variety. I’ve got some small still-very-green tomatoes on a few plants that I can’t wait to see ripen. And finally, a solitary plant of Lizzano, the only seed to germinate from an entire packet. Also yet to ripen.

I was hoping against hope that I’d have all varieties ripe and ready to eat at one time so that I could photograph them all together. But, I suspect that the Marmande and Tigerellas will be over before the last two ripen, so I settled for some nice pictures of the first three varieties.

Gardeners Delight tomatoes
Gardeners Delight tomatoes
Super marmande tomato
Super Marmande tomato
Tigerella tomato
Tigerella tomato

All three have cropped magnificently. My only quibble is that I would say the beefsteaks aren’t always quite as beefy as I suspect they should be and the cherry tomatoes are sometimes very, very tiny.

But all are utterly, utterly delicious and I will certainly be ramming my greenhouse full with these varieties again next year.

Red tomatoesA few lessons I’ve learnt from this season:

  • Don’t pack the tomatoes too deep onto the staging. I’ve been finding it seriously difficult to pick the plants at the very back without crushing the plants at the front. (At least it does release that heavenly tomato vine smell into the air, though.)
  • I won’t use tomato growbags again, an experiment I tried out for the first time this year. I found it a total pain trying to water into the small exposed bit of soil at the cuts in the bag, which were often covered up with foliage. Much easier to water into a normal pot, and all the rest of my tomatoes – growing in (often quite small) pots – have produced more fruit than the ones in the growbags.
  • In the height of summer, if the tomatoes are in a greenhouse, you might have to water twice a day. To be honest, I find this a bit of a pain. I dream of having the money to afford a computerised irrigation system for the greenhouse!
  • If you do water a bit irregularly, you’ll most likely spot blossom end rot: a sunken brownish patch at the bottom side of a tomato fruit. It’s caused by a lack of calcium, but comes about because the water flow to the plants extremities isn’t sufficient. I lost a couple of fruits this way, after a very hot week and not enough time spent watering… But I upped my game after that and all the rest were subsequently fine.

Tell me, do you grow any varieties that I should know about? Do let me know in the comments below…

Notes from a summer: Regent’s Park sunshine

Echinacea in Regents ParkHellebore leavesRegents Park sausage borderA few Fridays ago, I had the most blissfully relaxing day I have had for some time. Possibly for three years, in fact.

The thing about living with small kids, I find, is that no matter how many wonderful, cute, endearing individual moments there are, day-to-day life can feel a lot like a repetitive slog.

Well, I speak only for my own small kids, of course, who both still need post-lunch naps to avoid serious meltdowns, and who will both only contemplate taking post-lunch naps in their own beds, which ties us close to the house at all times, and mostly on a merry-go-round of park visits / singing classes / soft play excursions, all accompanied with a never-ending soundtrack of “why haven’t you put your shoes on yet to go out when I’ve asked you ten times?” or “can you please eat something from your lunch plate that’s not just grated cheese” and “why are you throwing that bouncy ball at your brother / the priceless Ming vase / my head”…

Chocolate cosmosSedumAnyway, a rather exciting development at the end of August was that both boys started to go to nursery two days a week. Leaving me with one day a week to attend my garden design course and one day to… …do whatever I like!

This particularly blissful Friday a few weeks ago, was the very first of my child-free days. I left the boys together at nursery, sitting next to each other at the breakfast table, eating rice crispies and looking very happy and not at all sad to see me leave, which was completely wonderful.

Then I had to pop to Regent’s Park to take some photographs of one of the flower beds there for a garden design assignment.

Regents Park in the sunSunflowers in Regents ParkSedum flowers at Regents ParkAfter which, I went and had lunch with the hubby at a French wine bar in Farringdon. I had pâté and cured ham and drank a kir. Oh my days, I tell you, I felt so carefree and relaxed!

The sun was shining, I travelled the tube unencumbered by prams and without any deadlines to arrive anywhere, I had an actual conversation with my husband without being either completely shattered or interrupted. Well, all in all, it was a pretty heavenly day. And it made me realise that having a few more days like that would no doubt do me (and the rest of the family) the world of good.

All pictures here, by the way, are from Regent’s Park on that day. One of our assignments for my garden design course is to photograph the same flower bed each month of the year to see how it changes. The bed I chose is known as the “sausage border” because, erm, it’s sausage-shaped. It has some really lovely herbaceous plants in there and at the height of summer is an exuberant riot of abundance. If you’re ever close to the park, head over to the Mediterranean garden, just past the rose garden, and you can find the sausage bed a little further north from there, just next to a small pond. It’s a great space to sit and think on a sunny day…

So here’s to days for relaxing, days to yourself and days of sunshine. May we all have at least one of these this month.

Share your serenity: 4 things that keep me calm

Quite some time ago, the lovely Sarah of A Life Less Physical asked me to #shareyourserenity. To create a little collage of four things that make me feel calm and peaceful.

In truth, there has been little serenity around here these past few months; highlighted, no doubt, by the fact it’s taken me more than three weeks to get these images together.

But even amidst the chaos of small child-rearing, something that frequently makes me feel as if I never have a single second of peace to myself, these four things invariably make me feel just that little bit more relaxed.

Cosmos daydream

  1. Plants

Yes, yes, you already know it, I love plants. I love to grow them, look at them, learn about them, learn their beautiful Latin names… This photo is of a particularly beautiful cosmos — ‘Daydream’ – that I grew for the first time this year. It’s been slower to bloom than the white cosmos (Purity) that I normally grow, so I’ve still got flowers in the garden now, and a choice few cut and in small vases around the house.

Pile of books and armchair

  1. Reading

Is there a better sight in the world than a stack of books, a cosy armchair and a spare 30 minutes to curl up and read?

Fact fans: the book at the top of the pile is Lolita. Which is, I think, if really pushed to make a decision, my all time favourite book ever. In fact, this has been the case since I was 18 when my English teacher asked me that question and I am now wondering if that teenage reading experience will ever be bettered? Any suggestions, please make them below!


  1. Knitting

As Autumn comes in, I am drawn towards my knitting needles once more. No longer the obsessive knitter I was a few years back, I now seem to be a one-knit-a-winter kind of person. But there is nothing more relaxing than the clack clack of the needles as you’re watching a gripping box set in the evening.

Cuppa tea

  1. Tea

It feels wrong to have this at number four, because really this is the one bit of serenity I grab every single day. The trusty cuppa. I think I am more than a bit addicted to tea, I simply can’t function before that first cup (which my rather lovely husband brings me in bed every morning. As I write that, I realise it is something to be extremely grateful for!)

So that’s my four.

I’m nominating my friend Annie, at her new blog Pom poms and tutus to join in. If you fancy it, that is, Annie!

If anyone else is interested, you can see a bit more on the Portmeirion blog here. They will be selecting someone to take a one night stay at Portmeirion, so if you fancy joining in, please take this as an open nomination…

Urban Jungle Bloggers: plants and art


Urban Jungle Bloggers: plants and artI’m sure you’ve all come across Urban Jungle Bloggers, a monthly series about living with plants, organised by Igor and Judith, that aims to:

“highlight the beauty and benefits of houseplants and other greeneries in urban spaces.”

As you know, I’m something of a plant fanatic, so the only surprise is that it’s taken me so long to join in. *

This month, the topic is plants and art and I had planned to get my little bathroom plant crew (a few ferns and lovers of low-light) and photograph them with some of my old botanical illustrations.

But yesterday, I bought this little beauty as a birthday present for sister and just couldn’t resist photographing it before I hand it over to its new home.

String of hearts plantIt’s called string of hearts (Latin name: Ceropegia woodii) and, oh my goodness, it is an absolute stunner. I didn’t know it before (I’m not wildly up on houseplants, it has to be said) but it stopped me in my tracks when I went into the flower shop originally to try and buy a small succulent in a terracotta pot. I couldn’t resist.

The glorious little marbled heart-shaped leaves spaced out on a long string-like stem makes it just beg for an old pot and a position on a high shelf, where it can cascade down appealingly.

Ceropegia woodii leaf

I found an Alys Fowler piece about it on the Guardian which says it’s super easy to care for and not too fussy about light levels, fluctuating temperatures or high humidity. (So, potentially, good for a bathroom or kitchen.)

Pretty to look at and easy to care for: basically my idea of the perfect houseplant.

Maltese statue

As for the “art,” hem hem, this is a little replica statue I bought on holiday in Malta a few years back. I’m sure I’m showing my ignorance by no longer having any recollection of what exactly it is replicating. But I have always loved her tiny head and fat thighs. Beauty in all shapes and all that…

So, that’s my contribution. Do head over to Urban Jungle Bloggers to see more, or take a look at the #urbanjunglebloggers hashtag on instagram. I can already tell I will be enjoying taking part in this monthly challenge hugely.

But now, I think, I must run back to the flower shop and buy one of these string of hearts plants for myself. I think I’m just going to miss it too much once I give this one away.

*Actually, if you’re a regular reader, you probably won’t be in the slightest surprised, knowing that my To Do list is generally six pages longer than my “Done” list, ha ha.



It could have been me #savesyriaschildren syria2I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I haven’t watched the news for three years. Since I had the sproglet. Or read the news section of a newspaper, looked on a news website or listened on the radio.

Do you know that post-childbirth feeling, when you are in absolute awe of this precious amazing incredible thing you have brought into the world and you just can’t stand to think about all the terrible, ugly things there are out there or you just might explode at the injustice of it all? I don’t think I’ve ever quite got past that.

At first it was unintentional, just a vague avoidance of seeing horrible headlines, reading about murders, violence or atrocious wars.

Since I had the littlest, the avoidance has been fully aware. I feel so utterly helpless in the face of all the bad news stories, and so aware that there is nothing I can do to alter any of it, that I don’t want to hear about another murder in a part of the country I’ve never visited, a war in a part of the world that I can’t help, and – most especially of all – the death of a child that could have been avoided if only somebody had done something.

All my news knowledge these days is gleaned from Facebook statuses.

But, of course, in the past few days, an image of a beautiful little boy, washed up dead on the shores of Turkey has been unavoidable, even by the news-phobic such as me.

Like all parents, I’m sure, who saw the photograph of Aylan Kurdi, I couldn’t help but think that could be one of my children.

The sproglet (my second child) is three, just exactly the same age.

And my oldest son died when he was just small, so I know, all-too-well, the heart-bursting anguish of seeing your child lying completely still in death. In this country where I live, that is a rare event. A terrible, unthinkable tragedy, that most people will never have to experience. For those living in and trying to leave Syria, of course, it is far from rare.

So I just want to say – thank heavens for social media, for people who are engaged and political and ready to share images so that even the news hermits like me are aware what is going on in the world.

Of course, I wanted to help. Personally, I decided to donate money to someone who could spend it more wisely than I, perhaps, would be able to. Someone who knows exactly what is most needed. But there are lots of different ways to help.

I’m joining in with a number of bloggers, including Mammasaurus, to say, please just do something:

“There’s lots that you could do from the comfort of your own home.
Please don’t turn a blind eye.
Do Something to help.
Whatever you decide, don’t choose apathy.
#SaveSyriasChildren To donate £5 please text SYRIA to 70008”

And if you haven’t seen it already, take a look at this article from the Independent, which outlines various different ways to donate items, money or your time.

The world is, to be sure, a terrifying and awful place, where violent wars go on, and the people who try to flee aren’t immediately given governmental assistance. But how wonderful to see such an outpouring of compassion from those who want to do what they can. Please join in.

Notes from a summer: London Wetland Centre

London Wetland CentreAhoy there! Hello! How are you? It’s been ages, I know. I fell off grid a bit, this August. Technology (such as this dear old laptop on which I write all my blog posts) becoming substantially less appealing than lying outside in the sun on a picnic blanket.

Anyway, such times have come to an end, it seems, with this utterly relentless and miserable rain of the last week, so I’ve finally remembered how to open up Word and plug my camera into the computer to take a look at some pictures I’ve taken over the past few months.

It’s been something of a pottering sort of summer. No big holidays, but the odd weekend away. Few exciting day trips, but lots of time poking around in our garden pond, or building soil castles in the flower beds, or mooching along to the local park.

Still, I have a couple of little gems of visits to share with you so, for the next couple of days, a few notes from summer 2015.

First up, the utterly wonderful London Wetlands Centre. We visited a fortnight ago, when the summer flowers were just reaching their end, and the first hints of autumn were coming in.

Summer planting at London Wetland Centre
Kniphofia, grasses and asters looking abundant
Wood sculpture at London Wetland Centre
I loved this wood sculpture
London Wetland Centre
I shared this pic on instagram, having been astounded at my wondrous photography prowess. Very few people liked it, ha ha. Just goes to show, you never can tell with instagram,

It’s a great spot for kids: acres and acres of lakes, surrounded by long winding paths, perfect for running down and exploring.

(Side note: last time we visited the littlest was still pram-bound only, and I found that a more peaceful experience than our most recent visit when he was off toddling away and I had to keep a close eye to ensure he wasn’t about to leap off into a huge body of water. So if your child is toddling age, perhaps wait six months or so until they really understand why it’s best not to run headfirst at a lake…)

Of course, there’s lots of wildlife to see, of the ducks, birds and otters variety, but I am always especially taken by the glorious plants. It’s naturalistic planting at its best, in my opinion, everything appearing to be growing just where it wants to but – I am sure – in fact carefully planned and designed.

London Wetland Centre
Paths for wandering
London Wetland Centre
All the reflections made me think a lot about what plants are best to sit next to water. There is something lovely about seeing the flickering mirror image upside down of a beautiful plant.

A high point of this trip was discovering three sleepy ducks sitting on a wooden bridge. As we approached, they opened their eyes to take a look at us, but made no attempt to actually move, so I got the chance to photograph them for some time, while the sprogs stared and asked various questions about their feathers, their legs and why they had chosen to go to sleep on a bridge.

Ducks at London Wetland Centre
Duck feathers
Those amazing feathers!

And aren’t these just the sorts of conversations you want to be having on a day out?

Practical info:

  • The Wetland Centre is in Barnes and is run by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT).
  • Entrance is £12.75 for an adult or £7 for a child. Various family, concession and membership options also available. I’ve just seen, while checking prices to write this, that you can save 10% by booking online. Doh, if only I realised that before we went.
  • Their website is here: London Wetland Centre
  • There’s a cafe (essential in my eyes) and various activities for children too.

Dresses for girls: homemade baby presents

A momentous event occurred a few weeks ago. My sister gave birth to a baby girl.

Of course, every birth is pretty momentous — a life is begun where before there wasn’t one — but this was especially astounding as the baby was the first of her generation to not be a boy

Homemade baby present, Liberty print dress and bloomers | Wolves in LondonBetween me and my siblings, we’ve so far produced five boys, so the arrival of a little girl into the mix is most exciting.

Also exciting for me was the chance to make some cute little dresses and bloomers. I love my boys (of course, it hardly needs saying) but if there is one thing I miss not having a girl, it’s the chance to sew tiny girl clothes with beautiful Liberty fabrics.

But that chance I now have!

The sewing machine was retrieved from the attic, dusted off and I got to work.

I made two matching sets, both from the same patterns and, sigh, just look, aren’t they sweet?

Homesewn Liberty baby dress and bloomers | Wolves in LondonThe dress is from the Purl Bee tiny triangle dress pattern. It’s a straightforward, though slightly fiddly sew, I found. Ironing 1/4 inch seams onto every edge was a little bit of a faff and I got a bit bored of trying to endlessly measure them to make sure they were straight, so, well, some of them ended up a tiny bit not straight.

Do any more regular sewers have any tips for good ways of going about that?

Liberty print Purl Bee tiny triangle dress | Wolves in LondonAnyway, other than that, it was very simple to put together and the end result looks lovely. I think my only criticism is that, in the wearing though not so much in the photos, the triangle shape is actually a little bit too extreme — it really does stick right out at the sides. This would probably be fine on a standing-up toddler, but on babies who spend their time lying or sitting, then there’s a little bit too much material in the way.

Liberty print bloomers | Wolves in LondonBloomer cuffThe bloomers are made from a free pattern by Sewing Mama RaeAnna on Craftsy and I was utterly, completely delighted with these. They look way more complicated than they were to make, just using some elastic round the waist and legs to get that cute gathering, and I sewed them up in no time. If I ever have another summer baby (boy or girl) I will definitely be making loads of these as nappy covers as they are seriously adorable.
Green Liberty bloomers | Wolves in LondonThe fabric for both is a Liberty tana lawn*. The designs are called Capel L (the green flowery one) and Lola Weisselberg (the purple, more ornate pattern). The first is available on the Liberty website, though I can’t find the second. I have to confess, I bought both from eBay.

To go with the dresses I had to – of course – make some personalised babygrows using my go-to fabric transfer paper method. I made her older brother a set of printed babygrows when he was born (you can see them here: a very important arrival) and I wanted her to have some of her own as well.

(Please excuse the rather crappy photos, I always have difficulty photographing these: invariably, parts of the babygrow are blown out, while the background looks grey and under-exposed. Three years of making these and I still can’t take a decent photo of them…)

Anteater babygrow homemade | Wolves in LondonTulip babygrow | Wolves in LondonA is for... babygrow | Wolves in LondonThe tulips are a Graphics Fairy image; I just couldn’t resist using some more flowers since I rarely have the chance to put lots of flowers onto my boys clothes. (Not that the sproglets don’t love them, actually, so maybe I should break away from all the gender stereotyping.) The As because her name starts with A. The anteater is from an amazing vintage alphabet I first found years ago, but use at every possible opportunity I get. The French A is from a new discovery: a partial vintage alphabet, also free from copyright.

And that’s the complete set: a load of teeny, tiny, flowery little girl clothes. I’m already planning what to make her for Christmas…

*I realised as I wrote this that I didn’t actually have a clue what “tana lawn” meant, so I have just Googled it to find out that the Tana is for Lake Tana in East Africa where the original cotton grew, and “lawn” is used to describe a fabric made with high count yarns; the Liberty tana lawn is made “without the use of crease-resisting chemicals or irritating allergens, the result is a famous masterpiece of fabric technology: fine, cool, comfortable and durable, with brilliant reproduction of colours and prints.” Which all sounds wonderful, but does explain why I found the fabric creased a lot as I sewed it and I had to constantly iron it out. Not really an ideal quality for an item of baby clothing it has to be said. I did also find, as a very amateur sewer, that the slightly silky quality to the fabric made it a little trickier to sew. But will no doubt be lovely to wear…

Food collaging: my July harvest

July harvest | Wolves in LondonI’m completely addicted to taking courses.

Photography, blogging, garden design, how to rear alpacas… …you name it, if I’m half interested and there’s a course I could possibly take, chances are I’m going to sign up.

(I often think that if I won the lottery, the best thing of all would just be to take endless courses, learning ever-more-esoteric things, until I pop my clogs and depart this earth. What a heavenly way that would be to spend my days.)

Anyway, when I discovered Skillshare recently, a repository of short (about 30 min) online classes I was immediately hooked. The first thing to catch my eye was a course on food collaging, by Julie Lee of Julie’s Kitchen. (The class is here, if you’re similarly inclined: styling food for instagram.)

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might recall that I used to do a monthly garden moodboard. I really loved it, but after 18 months or so I felt like I had already photographed every single plant in my garden so many times that I’d run out of ways to come up with anything new. So I stopped.

But I thought I’d resurrect these moodboards for the summer months this year, just to show off the highlights of my veg patch.

Following the tips and hints on the course, I put together my first moodboard: purples and greens from my garden in July. This is the pic I posted to my instagram account:

July food collage | Wolves in LondonI’ve got to say, I’m pretty happy with this photo. I mean, both with the photo and with the foodstuffs contained therein. Something that constantly amazes me is the absolute beauty of fruit and veg you’ve grown yourself. I’m sure it’s just the same as the way you think your own kids are the most gorgeous people ever to have walked this earth, but having sown, watered and cared for these little veggies for the past few months, I can’t help but marvel at their delicacy, the intricate patterns and beautiful colours.

Come, take a closer look with me.

Borlotti pod | Wolves in LondonBorlotti pod open | Wolves in LondonBorlotti beans | Wolves in LondonI’m a huge fan of the borlotti bean, despite the fact I fail, spectactularly, every single year to actually grow enough to make more than one single meal.

You could argue that one meal for months of tending a plant is really crappy pay off. And, I have to say, I’m inclined to agree with you. But no matter how many of these I think I’ve planted every year, I always lose hundreds of the plants to slugs and each plant only produces ten or so beans (at least the way I’m growing them…)

Every time I’ve planted them in the ground I’ve lost the entire crop to the voracious slimy beasts, so I keep them in pots now, with a line of copper tape at the top, but I still somehow managed to lose about a quarter of the crop. In fact, the beans in this photo make up the large majority of my entire yearly harvest.

Ah well, small numbers they might be, but just look at them! Surely the most beautiful bean ever to have been created?

Yin yang beans | Wolves in LondonA first for me this year was the yin yang bean (erm, you can see a pattern here, can’t you? Namely that I like a bean with a pattern…) Black and white mottling on the bean inside a green (turning to yellow) pod. It’s another glorious little thing.

Tomatillo | Wolves in LondonRipe tomatillo | Wolves in LondonTomatillo peeled | Wolves in LondonAlso new for me this year is the tomatillo. Basically, a tomato that grows inside its own casing, just like a Chinese gooseberry. Once the tomatillo inside fills the case and starts to burst out a little then you know it’s ready to eat. (Unlike a tomato, they don’t ever turn red.) You can peel back the papery case (which is covered in the most wonderful purpleish veins) and use the tomato inside. They need to be cooked before you eat them but other than that, they seem to taste pretty much the same as a tomato. Apparently, they’re a staple in Mexican cooking. I’ve got five plants growing and they seem to produce a lot of tomatillos each, so I should have a really decent harvest of these.

Garlic bulb | Wolves in LondonI’m not sure I’ve grown the garlic right — again the first year for me ever growing it. The leaves have gone yellow and started to wilt, which is the sign for pulling them up, but the garlic heads themselves are still very small. Still, I’ve been using the heads whole and they still seem to taste pretty good. I’ve been hugely fascinated by that light sheen of purple iridescence on the papery skins ever since I pulled them out of the ground last week, losing myself in the odd reverie, wondering at their beauty, in the middle of the kids’ tea, or when I’m meant to be making a sandwich. Beetroot | Wolves in London

Finally, and a little more prosaically, the humble beetroot. Root veg to end all root veg. The veg that some people claim tastes of nothing but dirt. Personally, I love it. Love, love, love the sweet taste of a roasted beetroot, the bright purple insides that bleed onto anything they touch and the green and purple veined leaves that taste a little bit overly “healthy” but bulk out a salad in times of need. Another mighty handsome vegetable in my opinion.

So there they, all photographed for posterity. A good thing, actually, since I’ve already devoured every last one: turned into a big ratatouille last week. Yum.

Next month I hope to have a huge selection of tomatoes to show you. The six different varieties I’m growing this year all seem to be coming along nicely and the first ones are turning red right now. Hoorah for homegrown.

Feasting on sour cherries: morello cherry compote recipe

It was a bumper harvest from our little morello cherry tree this year.

We planted it two years ago, in the front garden, and – until now – it had spectacularly failed to either grow a lot or produce very much fruit.

But, back in Spring, I was excited to see the branches weighted down with blossom and I had a good hope for enough fruit to do more with than my usual annual bottle of cherry vodka.

Cherry blossom
Photo taken from my instagram account, apologies to those who have seen it before…

I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, so low-slung were the branches from the mountains of cherries that I feared they might never regain their normal shape again.

Picking cherries
I couldn’t resist showing you the perfect match between my nails (in an extremely rare manicured moment) and the cherries…
Sproglet and cherries
“Take a photo of my hands and the cherries too please Mummy”

After a good cherry harvest (with excellent help from the littles) we were left with a giant bowl of cherries, ready to cook up and turn into something fabulous.

Morello cherry bowl
Our fruit bowl piled high with the bounty

Morello cherries, despite looking fabulously glossy, red and biteable, are actually quite sour and can’t be eaten without cooking and / or adding a large dollop of sugar.

I ummed and ahhed with the idea of cherry jam or a cherry pie, but in the end settled for a huge batch of compote since it can be added to so many other things.

Morello cherry compote
Such a spectacular coloured compote…

It’s hardly even a recipe, so simple is it to make, but here it is written down for anyone interested.

  1. Wash and halve cherries and remove pips.
  2. For every 300g of cherries, add 50g of sugar
  3. Place cherries and sugar in a pan, with a tablespoon of water for every 300g.
  4. Cook, over a gentle heat, for about 10 minutes, until the fruit is soft but hasn’t lost its shape.

You could eat the compote hot, with something like a chocolate or rice pudding, or let it cool and keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks and turn it into any number of other wonderful things.

I used some of mine to make ice cream, by using our ice cream maker to churn a tub of natural yoghurt, then adding a bit more sugar and a few tablespoons of the cherry compote right at the end.

Most delicious though, was this layered pudding, made with a layer of the compote followed by a layer of crème fraiche and then repeated. I didn’t have ay amaretti biscuits, but some crumbled over the top would have made it even more toothsome.

Cherry compote and creme fraiche
Two minutes to make, but beautiful to look at…

And so, until next year, our morello cherry harvest is eaten up and I just have the odd snifter of cherry vodka to remind me of the tastes of early summer. I needn’t feel too sad though, for the plums and apples are ripening on the tree and I have the promise of an equally delicious plum and apple compote soon enough…