The Spring Flowering Peak

Our garden was largely developed by the people we bought the house off. They were extremely interested in acid- loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. They are not my favourite plants, but right now they are at their absolute peak and the garden looks amazing. I’m just going to paste in a few photos (taken with the iPad) and let them speak for themselves. Most of the flowers are unscented, but this gorgeous peachy orange variety has a delicious lily scent. 

Talking of lilies, the lily of the valley are also out now. These are one of my favourite plants, I look forward to this time of year for so many reasons, including asparagus, the first strawberries and of course the absolutely exquisite scent of these very delicate flowers. I will be picking a couple of bunches today to scent the house. They are also a tremendously useful ground cover plant as they grow well in dry shade under trees. The one problem is the leaves have a marked resemblance to wild garlic, a plant I also enjoy eating (mostly in the form of pesto) at this time of year. So pick with care!


Anyway, here’s a selection of our finest roddies

 and azaleas…


We have not planted any tulips here yet, but this autumn we’ll be doing a big order. They don’t last more than a few years and the ones a,ready here are getting past their best. 

These are my favourites right now, the last few remaining. I’m not normally a pink fan, but I really love the contrast with the acid yellow. I will be trying to replicate this combination… 

Now my coffee is ready and it’s time to get to work… 

Superstar skimmia

There are some plants that every garden should have, they are simply so rewarding. In my view, the Skimmia is one of them, especially here in Denmark where our dark northern winters seem to stretch to more than half the year.

These plants have flower heads that remain tightly packed through the winter with a delicate pink blush, bursting open at this time of year in a mass of flower heads. We have had this one in a pot by our front door all year. 


What you can’t see in this photo is of course the fantastic spicy scent. On a slightly humid April evening it wafts along the garden paths. If I could I would create and wear a perfume like it. Absolutely glorious and there are often bees and other insects buzzing about it so clearly it’s very attractive to pollinators too. 

I have cut a few sprigs and put them in a vase in the house where they are again mildly perfuming the air. I liked this combination with another of my superstar plants, Cornus Alba, Red dogwood about to blossom outside and therefore definitely ready for some pruning. The other plant is I think some kind of flowering current, it has rather unobtrusive pale green flowers which pollinators again seem to like, but no real scent. 


We have several different skimmia said in the garden, the remainder are smaller, their flowers seem to miss the pinkish accents and I don’t detect such a strong scent, so this could be a specific variety, perhaps Skimmia Japonica ‘fragrans’ (fragrant cloud).

They don’t seem to like full sun though and as our large pot is now getting a great deal of sun (finally, as the sun gets higher), it will soon be time to move it in to the partial shade for the summer and find something else to bring joy to the front step. 

The only mystery with Skimmias is where on earth are all the female plants? They have attractive red berries through winter, but I have rarely seen them for sale here. The pannicles of buds seem to be the preferred decorative option. I have exactly the right spot for a red-berried shrub, so I shall keep looking… 

Lords and ladies

Our beautiful garden is really springing forward, which means it’s time to impose some order. 

We actually have done relatively little, structurally at least, most of it was already in place when we bought the house. However we noticed last year that the cuckoo pint, or lords and ladies, Arum maculatum, a native species was starting the appear everywhere. 

I rather like it. The flowers are spectacular (and spectacularly phallus like), followed by gorgeous glossy red berries. Unfortunately just about every part of the plant is poisonous, and handling it with bare skin is likely to leave irritation behind. 

The plant also has the unfortunate habit of blending in with both my spinach, our host as and other spring bulbs, so I have spent a satisfying half an hour digging it up. 

I don’t expect it’s all gone, the rather withered and misshapen bulbs are

 only fragilely attached to the rather lovely heart shaped leaves, so no doubt many of the bulbs are in the ground. Hopefully however, my attempts to play referee will mean slightly fewer providing temptation to small children this autumn… 
   
   
It’s often surprising what you find after you’ve started looking, I hadn’t expected to find so much in the garden that I would fill one of our big plastic buckets (below with our trusty sneeboer trowel for scale).

  

Creeping back to life

After the long grey winter it’s time to start thinking about the garden again. 

Actually, the winter hasn’t been too bad this year, largely thanks to a three week trip to the Southern Hemisphere, of which more another time, if I ever get a round to it… 

On our return from holiday the first snowdrops and snowflakes were creeping through, followed by a mass of winter aconite, Eranthis.

  

   
   

These have now finished and when I came home after a few days away with work, the garden is 

awash with gorgeous blue stars, Chionodoxa luciliae.    

It’s a truly uplifting sight.

The daffodils have also started to come through. We started with the little tete a tetes, a miniature early variety which we have planted in pots and window boxes as well as a number that seem to be growing in the garden. I love the rich golden color, especially in the low evening light, which finally, finally, is now reaching our rather sheltered and sunken back garden. It’s really a sign that life is returning to the garden.

   
 
There’s also this rather nice bi-colored variety in full bloom today . 

  
And the constant in the garden all spring have been these beautiful hellebores. The advantage of these is that to thoroughly appreciate them you have to get down to their level as the flower heads nod downwards. It made me appreciate the beautiful squeaky succulent glaucous foliage of the sedums in the foreground of the picture above. Their little mini-cabbage head hold beads of water, I would never have otherwise spotted.

 
The Spring flowers will be with us for some weeks yet. I have been pretty stressed out and busy at work for the last few months and sometimes, in combination with the busyness of family life it starts to feel just too much. However I have been forcing myself to slow down and to take a stroll round the garden and to really, really look. It is helping massively in keeping it all in perspective. 

I have read about the Therapeutic effects of Nature before, I am unsure how reliable the science is d of course this just one anecdote, but it does seem to help me.

Anyway, after this little ambling diversion, back to work…. 
 

Winter light

I have mentioned before the importance I place on just being able to be in the garden, to find something to appreciate in the here and now. This winter has been so grey and miserable and wet, so far at least, so it was a big relief when it started to snow a few days ago. Somehow everything looks instantly better under the snow duvet and I love how even flat grey daylight is scattered back into any room, instantly brightening everything. Having spent quite a lot of time in the Arctic, the snow light inside always reminds me of Svalbard.

So when I awoke to alpine blue skies and blazing cold sunshine this morning, it wasn’t hard to bet the garden, and our local park, would be looking amazing…
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Since our garden is rather sheltered and faces West, we don’t really get a lot of winter sun so the few glancing rays through the trees make all the difference. The quality of light and dark shade contrast beautifully on these kind of days and it struck me how important light is to us especially now at this time of year when it’s in such short supply.

I love these birch trees in the park behind our house for example, the brilliant silver white glimmers in the low winter sun in a very evocative contrast with the Scots pines. The combination irresistibly reminds me of the Cairngorms, Glen Affric and the few remaining fragments of Caledonian wildwood.

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Clearly the light entices and encourages exploration by this little wood elf at least:


  
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I think she was feeling the magic too, especially after our successful sledging trip earlier.

Other parts of the garden in deep shade are scarcely attractive at all, like the rather forlorn sandpit and raised vegetable bed (with topiary teddy bear! Not, I hasten to add my work at all)…


So then, eventually, the cold drove us inside and the exploration of all that beautiful winter light was halted, until I went out to (rather unglamorously) empty the food waste bucket on the compost heap. Heading back to the house, the importance of light once again struck me. The picture doesn’t really capture it, but I think we have all felt the pull and the power of the bright window in the dark on a cold night at some point.

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Famously and perhaps apocryphally, the Danes use more candles per capita than any other nation, the long dark winters are definitely one reason why. This year for some reason we have joined the legions of candle-lighting Danes.

However, we’ve also added these charming LED lights in a tree. They can be seen from the kitchen shining into the back door, they make a huge and very hyggelig sight from the frigid wastes of the back garden at night.

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And the little “twigs”, sticking out of the window box in this picture? They are the remains of sparklers that my husband loves to light and play with for the kids. Yet another way of holding back the dark and enjoying the light at this time of year.

In the bleak midwinter.

It’s been a pretty mild and grey winter (until this week, more on that later) but brightening up a corner of the garden has been this beautiful Cornus Alba, red dogwood. 

  
It’s actually visible from the kitchen window which is important when you don’t particularly want to go outside. This is one of those plants that if I didn’t have already, I’d have planted when we moved in. 

The red stems are very decorative and last for ages in a vase. 

  
They have the additional advantage that bringing them into the warm allows them to start shooting their beautiful bright green leaves early. And even, if you’re lucky, the beautiful white flowers that give them the Latin name Alba. 

  
In other words, it’s a perfect winter plant. 

They need cutting back in Spring to ensure a good sheaf of fresh shoots over the summer for that midwinter show….

Vibrant viburnum

December is often a dull dank month, usually enlivened in Denmark at least with lots of candles and hygge. The temptation to go into the garden is not very high mostly, but the view from the kitchen window is considerably cheered by this beautiful Viburnum x bodnantense.

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I was really happy to discover we had one of these in the garden when we moved in -if we hadn’t, I would have planted one. They are rather shrubby, dense and nondescript in Ssmmer, though their densely packed branched do provide good cover for garden birds. However in winter, especially in mild spells like the one we have had recently, they are covered in these beautiful pale pink flowers.

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I first came across the tree in the garden of our first house together, where my husband spent a good deal of time and sweat thoroughly renovating three viburnum trees. We didn’t really know what they were then but happily the good old RHS produced a very nice guide to the all different varieties at some point.

I was rather surprised to discover that this particular type is actually a rather recent introduction, bred by crossing two different species of viburnum. The name refers to the famous Bodnant gardens in Wales where it was produced.

The branches of flowers are a mainstay of our indoor cut flowers in Winter. They have a pleasing minimalist, Japanese style which I really like. They last about a week in a vase and this variety at least has little scent (though I recall our old ones having a very heavy scent like most winter flowering shrubs). I always think that the freshly cut wood smells of sesame oil.

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I am trying to be a little more mindful these days, it has been a busy and difficult year for a number of reasons, and there is pretty god evidence that focusing on the here and now and taking pleasure in your surroundings is very good for both de-stressing and  for your mental health in general. I think writing this blog is a really great way to focus on doing exactly that so expect a few more of these small posts on the simple pleasures in life.

Quite apart from that we also pay a great deal of tax for the privilege of a garden in Copenhagen and it makes sense to enjoy it as much as possible, not just in summer! So this morning it is time for a good home made caffe latte and some time contemplating the shrubs before work…

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I am ridiculously proud of being able to make a caffe latte with different strata…

 

Autumn’s last fruits

The best thing about getting a weekly delivery of fruit and vegetables is the feeling that someone has just brought you a present. I came out the house to be greeted with a stack of boxes up to waist height, delivered by Aarstiderne in the wee small hours. Every Tuesday come rain, snow or sun they deliver to us a box of veg, a box of mixed fruit and a box of bananas, to which I sometimes add extras like cheese, nuts, oranges and other specialities in season, today it was different squashes.

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Like a tower of gifts, I usually can’t wait to unpack them all…

We subscribe to the “dogme” vegetable box, 100% guaranteed Danish grown organic vegetables. This does mean that you have to be creative with cabbage, carrots and potatoes, especially in winter.

On the other hand, a vegetarian diet lends itself rather wonderfully to these ingredients and we’ve never been bored. Eating seasonally means you really appreciate the flavours and colours of vegetables, often just for a short time before something else comes along that is appealing. Today the box included this little box of beauties:

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Cherry tomatoes, grown in Denmark – the last of the summer’s crop?

They are probably outrageously expensive to produce (hence the small amount), but they are also oh so tasty, a last lingering taste of summer, with not a hint of the waterbomb Dutch ones grown on Groningnen gas

I usually do one big cooking session a week and then it’s easy for whoever has brought home the children to just heat up and serve at dinnertime. So after working way too late tonight, I was happy to complement my Danish tomatoes with the last of the seasons mixed salad leaves and a feta cheese and leek tart I made yesterday for a quick supper.

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Leek and Feta Cheese tart (a completely made up recipe) with salad. Perfect late night supper…

The fruits in the background (mostly not Danish, though the apples are Danish, and extremely tasty too) also arrived today. We seem to eat a vast quantity of fresh fruit and vegetables, all of this will be gone in a week, which is no bad thing. The peelings and apple cores will go to our compost heap there to help make new compost for our garden.

The primary reason I order from Aarstiderne is actually convenience. I am no unquestioning fan of organically produced food per se, I cannot believe we will feed the world organically, and some forms of organic production also have environmental downsides (watch this TED talk for example which explains the issues based on sound science).

https://embed-ssl.ted.com/talks/jonathan_foley_the_other_inconvenient_truth.html

However, I do like eating seasonally and locally and healthily. Both I and my husband have pretty intensive jobs, there is not much time for shopping and I prefer to spend my out of office time with my children rather than on chores. Having brilliant, fresh, good quality veg delivered to our door is a luxury I consider well worth paying for. As an additional advantage Aarstiderne have a rather good app too so in a quiet moment this afternoon I was able to order all the food for our Christmas dinner to be delivered the Monday before.

A Vegetarian Christmas Dinner

We’re having Nigel Slater’s rather wonderful mushroom Bourguignon with kale and creamy mashed potatoes, and of course sprouts. For dessert it will probably be home made Ris a la Mande – in my opinion the best part of the Danish Christmas Dinner, plus of course a proper British Christmas cake (my preferred recipe is a good old Delia Smith one), nicely maturing in the cupboard at the moment with the assistance of some Strathisla single malt whisky.

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Christmas cake, this is the second one we’ve made this year,the first one was eaten within 2 days. I think it’s fair to say the family likes it!

The joy of veg

Christmas must be coming, we received our first Brussels sprouts in the veg box this morning…  

 
Perhaps surprisingly, this news was greeted with great joy by the two munchkins who, they tell me, “love Brussels sprouts, they’re yummy”…

We’ll see. 

It’s for sure though that husband doesn’t! 😃