How Does Your Garden Grow... Suggestions Please?

As the Spring heralds new life, a new something seems to appear every day in Ash Cottage's garden.  On Thursday I thought I would photograph the emerging surprises that a new garden brings, for Mammasaurus' How Does Your Garden Grow linky.  I'm not sure what many of these plants are, so, if you know please let me in on the secret.   Above is some type of clematis?

I brought cuttings from our old garden, a lot of which didn't survive the transportation and neglect over the winter.  One thing that did was Nana's peony, I'm discovering that the previous owners of Ash Cottage also liked peonies.  The picture on the left is a quite healthy looking specimen in a overgrown bed in the centre of the garden and I think the picture on the right is another one, there are at least 2 more.

peony garden ash cottage

When we moved into Ash Cottage the plan for the garden was to clear, sort out the veggie patch, chickens and trees, use up old seeds and then not buy or plant any new ones.  To get ready to start the garden year proper in the Autumn.  This isn't quite what's happened.  I've now got a hexagonal greenhouse full of tomato seedlings, with nowhere to put them.  

garden ash cottage

We've been here since September and while I know we have a lot of stinging nettles, ivy, dandelion and other weeds, I am now discovering some hidden gems too.  Hidden amongst the comfrey(?) that is rampant all over the western boarder of the garden is the shy head of a frittilaria(?)

frittilaria garden ash cottage

frittilaria garden ash cottage

frittilaria garden ash cottage

I think I almost dug this beautiful flower up when feeding, weeding and re-seeding the lawn.   It is a reminder to go a bit slower in my attempts to clear and tidy the garden as I don't yet know what else may be hidden.

In the same bed is the plant below, which I think is a euphorbia?

euphorbia garden ash cottage

I think this might be a euphorbia too?  The ants seem to like it.

euphorbia garden ash cottage

I've no idea what these plants are:

garden ash cottage
Mystery Plant One

Mystery Plant Two

The little pink flower is on a shrub, whilst the other comes straight out of the ground on a single stem.

I'm on safer ground with the picture below.  It's blossom from a fruit tree.  Some kind of plum, damson or greengage maybe?  I've got to wait until late summer when the fruit has set to be sure which one, but from the shrivelled desiccated old fruits still hanging on the tree from last year, I think it is something of that kind.

And finally - Ta Da! - my apple trees are putting out green buds and leaves.

apple saplings garden ash cottage
James Grieves April 2015

I'm relieved, after all my faffing around (details here), getting them into the ground I wasn't sure they were alive, that I hadn't just spent a lot of time planting sticks.  James Grieves is doing the best, then Grenadier and then Blenheim Orange, but all have green shoots.  Phew - Proud Mama!

Speaking of which, finally, finally, here are my girls, out in the garden for the first time this/last week.  Haven't they grown.

chicks garden ash cottage

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How Does Your Garden Grow

Bye bye little Mouse

Mrs Fox's felted mouse - £8 on

Another of our little felt mice heads out into the big wide world to a new home.  This time a lady is doing her friend's nursery as a surprise for her on Saturday - isn't that sweet!

"Say Little Hen"

mr fox's first chicks

I just could not resist using that title for this post.  I think you'll find it comes from The Good Life - Series One, Ep.2.

This Easter we got 4 chicks, babies only just over a week old.  The Little Foxes only changed schools at last half term (quite a wrench!) and we ask their old school, who take part in the Living Eggs scheme, if we could re-house the chicks that they hatched this year.  On the last day of term we drove back to the old school, picked up our little ladies, peeping noisily in a cardboard box.  They have been living in the nearly renovated boot room at Ash Cottage, in a home-made brooder with a heat lamp, ever since.
We each named one chick, they all had to have names that began with  the letter A.

Please meet:-




The Little Foxes LOVE the chicks, and are extremely good at telling them apart.  Astrid is blondest, biggest and bravest and named by Una after the character in How to Train Your Dragon; Ashleigh, Louis named and is a very calm bird; Anoushka, is Mr Fox's little lady and is second largest and rather flighty; Agatha is mine and the youngest, she has only just got some tail feathers and is rather silly and flappy.  We look forward to them supplying us with eggs, around 15 weeks from now.

Possibly even more excited about the presence of chicks than the children is one of our dogs, Bea.  She has spent the last 2 weeks almost permanently at the side of the brooder, as close as she can get, whining quietly but with a very high pitch.  This does not seem to phase the chicks at all, in fact I wonder if the noise is not quite comforting to them.  Maybe they think that attentive, white, fluffy being is their guardian, with no thought but of their comfort and safety.  I think they need to read that informative work of one of my idols, Beatrix Potter - The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck.

chicken house

Ash Cottage came with a 60ft chicken run, which we have cleared, fixed and down-sized slightly. The Sargies, who cut down our trees and built our garden fences, also built us a chicken house.   Best described as channeling a bee hive it's design is influenced by that wonderful book Rosie's Walk.

Our chicken house could probably house about 10 chickens so I am hoping if all goes well to increase our flock by the end of the year.

Today for the first time this Easter Hols I have had the whole day alone, the children went to the local stables for a pony day.  So, with the help of Bjork, Carole King and Pat Hutchins I painted the chicken house.  Bjork (Debut) & Carole King (Tapestry) I have discovered are very good to paint to.

And the sweet tastin' good life
Is so easily found
A way over yonder
That's where I'm bound
A Way Over Yonder lyrics by Carole King 
Joining in with Mammasaurus' How Does Your Garden Grow again this week:
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How Does Your Garden Grow

Mrs Fox's Crafty Boxes - A Felt Apple Needle Case

how to make a felt apple needle case
Mrs Fox's Felt Apple Needle Case Kit
Apples are on my mind at the moment, there is no two ways about it.  I've spent a lot of time digging holes and planting apple trees in our garden, you'll find more on this little adventure on Mrs Fox's Den.

how to make a felt apple needle case
Needle Case Kit

Last week I ended up digging out the felt apple needle case kit I made last year, dead simple to make and a lovely gift.

how to make a felt apple needle case
Shapes to cut out to make our own felt apple needle case

You will need:

2 Red & 2 white felt squares approx 15cm x 15cm
Smaller scraps of green and brown felt
Red, white and green embroidery silks
needle and scissors

You will need to use blanket stitch and running stitch.
  1. Cut out 2 red apple shapes that take up almost the whole 15cm square.  Then 2 smaller white apple shapes.  
  2. Take the white embroidery silk, threading your needle with two strands.  Centre one of the white apple shapes on one of the red, sew them together in a neat running stitch around the edge. 
  3.  Using a single strand of white sew a blanket stitch around the circumference of the other white apple shape.  Position the brown pips onto this shape and overstitch them into position.
  4.  Lay the second piece of white onto the first, line them up and with a neat running stitch (again in white) sew up the centre of the two pieces.  
  5. how to make a felt apple needle case
    And the back looks like this...
  6. Take your ribbons and secure them with a few stitches to the back of the red apple shape, being careful not to go through the white pieces as well.
  7. Take the second piece of red apple, arrange the stalk and leaf in position slightly overlapping the leaf onto the stalk and sew into place using green thread, making sure you put a couple of stitches through the leaf, stalk and red apple shape to hold them all together in place.  Sew up the centre of the leaf in a running stitch.
  8. Finally, lay the two pieces of red apple together, using2 strands of red thread and starting at the stalk, sewing away from it, sew the two apple pieces together using blanket stitch.  When you get back to the stalk split your silk into a single thickness and blanket stitch up around the stalk. 
And there you have it a simple first sewing project and makes a great little gift for someone who likes to sew.

Mrs Fox's has made this little craft into a kit that contains everything you need to make one felt apple needle case, you can purchase the kit for £6 +p&p through  

how to make a felt apple needle case

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A is for Apple

In our garden in North London, when I was a child, we had an apple tree.  Its' apples were tastier than any from a store, climbing it was an adventure and reading a book in it's dappled shade a delight.   I knew when we bought Ash Cottage that we would plant apple trees.  I dream of a wild flower meadow with my children climbing in the branches of the trees to sneak early apples from their boughs.  My chickens perched in the low branches.  Bee Hives below, with the bees foraging among the wild flowers.

We have cut down quite a few trees at Ash Cottage in the last few months and I am a little embarrassed by this.  Not to mention concerned that all the birds that I have seen in the garden will not return.  Along with the bird feeders and bird houses now hanging from the remaining trees, I need to do a bit of tree planting.

However, apple trees are not quite as simple to cultivate as I at first thought.  There are pollination groups and root stock to consider, bare root or pot grown saplings to choose from.  Culinary, dessert, cider or dual purpose varieties, early or late fruiting, tree, bush or pollarding to consider.  Position and situation of the orchard to plan.  I don't remember my parents doing anything but picking apples from the apple tree in our garden.  But then it was an established tree by the time we moved in.

So, I've been reading up, and did some research online, and have chosen a group of three heritage trees;
James Grieves
& Blenheim Orange.

The latter was the first to be chosen;
"Blenheim Orange is a large classic English dual-purpose apple, useful for dessert and culinary purposes. It has the characteristic orange flush which is often associated with English apples".   
This last line in the description called to mind the apple tree in my childhood garden, so it was my first choice.  Blenheim Orange is a triploid, this means it needs two other trees to cross pollinate it.
This then dictates the other trees are from within it's pollination group, group 3, or adjacent groups.  I chose another dual purpose apple - James Grieves,
"...raised in Scotland at the end of the 19th century, the height of the Victorian period of apple development in the UK. It is a very juicy apple, producing plenty of sharp-tasting apple juice."
James Grieve is an excellent pollinator for many other apple varieties and is a variety that matures mid-season, while Blenheim Orange is a late variety.  

My final choice was Grenadier, an early season cooking apple, that is apparently "fool-proof" to grow.  I ordered bare root trees.  These are young trees that are dug up whilst the tree is dormant for winter. They can usually be ordered between November and March and need to be in the ground by the end of this month, before the tree comes out of it's dormant period.

They were delivered last Monday by courier, in a box, quite large, bare, twigs with a bit of netting on the bottom.  As they are dormant, they look, well, to be honest, quite dead.  It feels like we have just spent a lot of time planting dead bits of twig in the ground and I keep going out there and gazing at them in the hope of seeing something that looks a bit more alive.  I made the classic error, that I was warned against in my reading, of not preparing the holes before the trees arrived and as my last post details they were delayed going into the ground by a long deeply sunk metal post, or 3.

I ordered the trees on M26 rootstock.  This is a semi-dwarf variety.  Rootstock, and I think I may be becoming an apple tree nerd here, I found fascinating.  Apples trees are made up of 2 parts, the largest part being the scion, which is the fruiting tree of the variety you have chosen, and it's rootstock, which in apple trees is usually another apple tree.  The scion is grafted onto the rootstock primarily to control the size of fruit trees, but also allow trees to grow in local environmental conditions and may provide some disease resistance.   However it is not a straight forward as root-stock = tree size, local conditions, pruning and species of tree all play a part.

I was going for a tree, but not too massive so M26 rootstock is bigger than M9 (which is used in commercial orchards) but smaller than M111.  As apple trees are probably the first trees humans ever intentionally grew for fruit, and have been cultivated for thousands of years in Asia and Europe, we've spent a lot of time messing with them, grafting them onto this, that and the other.

So I know that my M26 rootstock is derived from the M9 (or MIX) rootstock produced in 1917 by the East Malling Research Station in Kent (still up and running;  M9 is derived from the Paradise rootstock "Jaune de Metz".  Paradise was the most widely used rootstock in the 19th Century with a wide variety of vigours and no standardisation, until the East Malling Research Station began classifying rootstock and developing new ones for specific purposes in 1912.

I'm sorry, I told you I've become a rootstock nerd.  Anyway I found the whole thing fascinating and it has made me want to plant a mixed fruit orchard.  We have about 6 fruit trees already in the garden; 3 greengage, and 3 damson or plum trees, we think.  There is also a little line of sloe bushes at the end of the garden.  I would like a Quince tree.  Raspberries, gooseberries, black currants and rhubarb are going over in the veggie patch.  And Mum has given me a fig tree, but I think I am going to return that to a plant pot over by the house as it is more sheltered.


River Cottage Handbook No.9 - Fruit by Mark Diacono
Fork to Fork - Monty & Sarah Don

When I was looking to purchase trees I found both the following nurseries' really helpful and informative both online and in person on the phone.  I only bought from one, but it simply came down to what stock they had available as I was trying to purchase the bare root trees late.

Joining in with Annie at Mammasaurus for "How Does Your Garden Grow" again this week.

How Does Your Garden Grow

A Little Boy's First Room - Part 2

little boys bedroom

It was a good few weeks ago that I posted part one of this little tale, A Little Boy's First Room .  I thought I should finish it.  And I wanted to prove that I have been doing things on the house, not just the garden.

So the hideous purple gloss ceiling took 4 coats of paint to conceal; ceiling painted white and walls pale blue.  The far wall was painted black - so we wallpapered over that with a Cath Kidston wallpaper of London landmarks, buses and taxis.

Print from

Louis loves cars (buses and taxis in particular) and he loves animals, so I had said we would go for one or the other as a theme.  In the end we sort of went for both, with my love of London thrown in for good measure.

a little boys first bedroom

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Crafty Ideas for Easter for the Kids from Happythought
To help with your Easter Hols preparations here's a round up some of Happythought's Easter freebies and printables.

1) Printable bingo game - FREE EASTER BINGO
2) Bunny rabbit mask template - BUNNY MASK
3) Mini top hat templates - DIAMOND HAT TEMPLATE
4) Easter bunny party kit - PARTY PRINTABLES
5) Barnyard gift boxes - GIFT BOX TEMPLATES
6) Printable bunny garland - FREE BUNNY GARLAND
7) Easter pinwheels, bow ties and carrot gift boxes - EASTER PRINTABLES

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