Monday 27 June 2016


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No other colour gets as much attention in a garden as black.  Plants that produce large amounts of purple, brown, or maroon pigments have leaves that are so dark that they appear black.  While purists would argue that black is not a true colour, rather it is the absence of light; black creates interest, denotes sophistication and adds a sense of opulence to the landscape.
Black plants are excellent for creating contrast and interest. Pair black-foliage plants with lime or light greens, yellows, pinks and a variety of other colours for great effect. Position them in light areas and avoid hiding them in the shade as they can get lost. 

While there are very few true black foliage plants, there are a number that are dark purple, dark red and near-black which are stunners and look fantastic in the garden.
Sambucus nigra 'Black Beauty'
Deep purple, almost black foliage make it a great contrast item with anything in your yard that’s green, golden or pink. Blooms with bunches of pink flowers throughout the summer. 
Aeonium aerboreum 'Zwartop'
The "flowers" of black rose. are actually rosettes of burgundy-black leaves at the ends of stalk-like stems. In winter, bright yellow flowers contrast with the dark foliage.

Phormium Black Adder

A fantastic deep burgundy coloured phormium with a semi-upright habit. This clump forming perennial has black, strap like leaves and grows up to 4 feet in height.

Dahlia black ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ 
This fantastic dahlia has near black foliage and semi double deep red flowers. Grows up to 3.5 feet in height.
Weigela florida ‘Dark Horse’
Dark bronze foliage with lime-green venation combines with purplish-pink tubular flowers to create a dramatic statement in the garden. Neat, compact habit is easy to maintain. Dark Horse Weigela is a perfect accent or an element in the shrub border. Deciduous. Best when grown in full sun. Grows to 3ft tall and wide.

Ruellia 'Black Beauty'
The winter deciduous Ruellia 'Black Beauty' makes a 10" tall x 18" wide clump of dark black thumb-shaped leaves. The clumps are topped with 2" mauve lavender flowers during the summer.

Ajuga reptans ‘Binblasca’
This low growing plant features dark burgundy, almost black foliage with scalloped edges. Many small spikes of deep blue flowers bloom in late spring to early summer. Grows 3-6 inches tall and up to 36 inches wide.
Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens
This classic, extremely popular ornamental grass features true black, strap-like leaves forming in slowly spreading clumps. Excellent in containers, as a groundcover or in the garden it grows to 10 inches in height.

Actea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty'
This gorgeous dark foliage plant has deeply cut, serrated foliage that emerges emerald green, maturing to brilliant dark purple. Towering creamy-white, slender bottlebrush flowers are fragrant as is the foliage. A standout in the shaded border, woodland or cottage garden. Prefers full to part shade and wet or constantly moist soil. Grows to 2ft tall and wide with flower spikes reaching 5-6ft. 
Fagus sylvatica var purpurea
This upright growing tree features flossy, veined, dark purple leaves that turn coppery red in Autumn. Excellent specimen tree. Prefers sun to part sun and well drained soils. Grows to a height of 25ft and 15ft across.
Canna Tropicanna Black
With oversized leaves in a sultry blend of purple and black, this plant stands out in any garden or landscape. In sharp contrast, the flowers are a rich tangerine, which is an eye-popping combination with the dark, fade-proof foliage. 
Heuchra 'Black Beauty'
Deep, reddish purple leaves which are glossy and profusely ruffled.  Compact mounding plants reaching up to 12 inches highs they produce white flowers in the spring.
Colocasia 'Blue hawaii'
These black, velvety leaves look fantastic is the garden. Black Beauty’ is grown for its 2-foot-long, 1-foot-wide, dark purple leaves with green stems and green veins.  However it is not hardy so needs plenty of TLC.

Ricinus communis
More deep red than black, I couldn't resist adding this corker to the list. A fast-growing evergreen shrub, often grown as an annual, with large, palmately lobed leaves and dense spikes of small flowers, followed by prickly seed capsulesLarge, deep bronze-red, palmately lobed leaves and showy red female flower spikes in summer.

Black foliage plants
How to grow black grass Ophiopogon planiscarpus 'Nigrescens'

Saturday 18 June 2016


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We recently went on holiday to Majorca and visited Marineland with little George.  He loved it of course, and we saw the dolphins, penguins and sharks.  But he especially loved the sea lions and seals, and was soon pointing out the differences between the two.

Seals and sea lions are both marine animals and in fact are second cousins. Along with the Walrus they are Pinnipeds (fin footed).  

They do look similar at first glance, with exception of their size.  But look a little closer and you will see some key differences in their appearance and behaviour.


True seals belong to the family group Phocidae, and are believed to have descended from a terrestrial weasel-like ancestor.  There are two seal species to be found, the harbor seal (Phoca vitulina), and northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirotris).

Seals are smaller than sea lions, reaching a length of up to 6 feet and weighing 300 lbs. They are often seen bobbing in the surf, checking out the shoreline.

Harbour seals come in a variety of colours from almost pure white to mottled grey or brown, but usually some form of colour patterning is visible. Elephant seals, on the other hand, are uniformly tan coloured all over,

Seals lack visible the ear flaps present in sea lions.  Their hind flippers are fixed backwards, and unlike sea lions are not capable of rotating their hind flippers under their body.  This makes them faster in the water but slower on land, where they have to crawl along on their bellies using caterpillar like movements..

Seals are better adapted to living in water than they are on land, and are more agile and aquadymanic than sea lions. They live predominantly in the water and their thick blubber under the seal's skin helps to insulate the and maintain their body temperature.

Because seals are water based they are less social than their land based cousins, leading a solitary life and coming ashore together only once a year to mate.

Sea Lions

Sea Lions belong to the family group Otariidae (eared seals), which includes the fur seals
Their range extends from the subarctic to tropical waters of the global ocean in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, with the notable exception of the northern Atlantic Ocean

Seal lions are larger than seals.   A male California sea lion weighs on average about 650 lbs and is up to 8 feet long.  Females are smaller, weighing 220 lb and 6 feet long. The largest sea lion is Steller's sea lion, which can weigh up to 2,200 lb and grow to a length of 10 feet.

Sea lions are sand brown in colour.They also have small ear flaps, which are lacking in seals.

Unlike seals they 'walk' on land using their front flippers, which are much larger than those of seals. This is because they can rotate their hind flippers forward and underneath their bodies. 

Sea lions are very social, congregating in large herds on land of up to 1500 individuals.

If you are in any doubt between seals and sea lions listens to their call; sea lions are very noisy, barking loudly whilst seals are quiet and squeal softly.

For related articles click onto:

Sunday 12 June 2016

How to grow black grass Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'

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We have a tropical theme going on in our garden, with lots of large leaved and contrasting plants. To give the garden some vertical height we have some hanging baskets dotted around the walls.

Having been disappointed in a traditional flower display I am slowly changing the planting from bedding to succulents, ferns and other exotic looking plants. The black grass, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens', will fit in perfectly with this theme.

 Belonging to the family Asparagaceae, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' is a evergreen perennial, forming clumps of narrow strap-shaped black leaves. Growing to a height of 20 cm, Ophiopogon forms grass like tufts and forms small white flowers on a leafless stem during in the summer. 

Ophiopogon likes a well drained, light, acidic and moist soil in a south, east or west facing position. Although they will grow in sun or partial shade, position in full sun or your black leaves will turn purple-green. You can divide these clump forming plants in the spring.

How to grow black grass Ophiopogon planiscarpus 'Nigrescens'
Black foliage plants

Friday 10 June 2016


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We recently made a chocolate orange cheesecake and it was delicious. We were inspired by our love of chocolate orange and this did not fail to disappoint. It is a very rich cheesecake, but a small slice served with thick double cream is delicious.


15 digestive biscuits 
50 g butter 
2 tablespoons of Cocoa powder

For the filling:
250 g mascarpone cheese 
200 g cream cheese 
1 chocolate orange
3 oz caster sugar 

To serve:
200 ml thick double cream


Crush the digestive biscuits to form fine crumbs. Melt the butter and add to the biscuit crumbs along with the cocoa powder.

Place the mixture into a cake tin and push down firmly with the back of a spoon.  Place in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

Softly melt the chocolate orange in a bowl over a saucepan of water.  Place the mascarpone cheese, cream cheese and sugar into a bowl and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.  Mix the chocolate into the cheesecake mix. 

Pour the cheesecake mix onto the base and place in fridge for at least 4 hours to set, ideally leave overnight.

For related articles click onto:
Recipe for chocolate orange cheesecake
Recipe for Egg Custard

Monday 6 June 2016


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We were inspired by our recent holiday to Sorrento to grow a lemon tree in our garden and I am so glad we did as it looks great. 

Lemon trees can be grown successfully outside in the UK but they do require some specialist care. lemons are Mediterranean plants and so like warm, well drained soil and high temperatures. Ensure good drainage by planting your lemon tree on a slight mound, and pick a sheltered, south facing position away from frost.

Because lemons are very cold sensitive we chose to grow our tree in a pot, so that we could move it indoors during the winter.  This technique of bringing in citrus plants indoors during the colder winter months is a long established and although we don't have a purpose built orangery for this it fairs well in the log cabin during the winter.

Prune your tree to maintain a good shape to to keep to your desired height.  We keep ours small to fit in with the garden and pot, but lemon trees can grow up to 10 feet in height in favourable conditions. 

Irrigate your tree weekly, allowing sufficient water to penetrate the soil deeply. Lemons like acidic soil and we found ours leaves were prone to looking yellow due to  magnesium deficiency, so adding epsom salts to the occasional water helps to green up the leaves.

Of course, lemon trees can be successfully grown from lemon seeds.  So next time you drink your gin and tonic remove the lemon slice and have a go at growing your own lemon tree.

Cold hardy bananas
How to overwinter banana plants
How to grow hardy bananas
How to grow an apple from seed
How to grow a lemon tree
How to grow a lemon from seed