Category Archives: Horticulture

Flowers for Love

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

not every woman loves the same flower

nor wants the same flower from her love







jack collier


Things haven’t been going to well for me recently ~ so, I wanted to post something happy and pretty today.  I hope that you all like these flowers.





jack collier

flower faces

expression of delicate frustration

turning a painted face to the sun

perfumed treasured spring bloom







words and pictures by jack collier

Medicinal Plants ~ Rosehips


Autumn is upon us, and in England the hedgerows are full wild harvest.  One of these is the false fruit of the dog rose, (rosa canina), more commonly known in England as rose hips.

p1050177You can do a lot of stuff with rose hips, from making syrups and jams, to my preferred use which is to make a tincture of rose hips and rosemary in apple cider vinegar.  As well as sweetening and adding taste to the cider vinegar. the rose hips also add diuretic, lithontriptic, and mild laxative qualities to your brew.  As for rosemary, this stuff is almost a cure-all.  I just add an odd number of fresh sprigs to the bottle, (it must be an odd number.)

The finished product, (ready in about 6 weeks and will keep for a year or more), is a great basis for a salad dressing.  Diluted in water it is also a first class tonic and as part of a whole-body cleanse.  There is no truth whatsoever in the rumour that this is a female aphrodisiac.  However, it is supposed to be a cure for practically whatever that ails you.

You can also make a true tincture of rose hips using medicinal alcohol, (or vodka).  For those of us with a real taste for booze, just make a rose hip brandy or vodka.  I have even heard of rose hip gin, although I’ve never tasted it.

The dog rose is an important plant to the herbalist, because the leaves, petals, and hips all have their uses.  In a hedgerow, the plant may reach six feet or more in height, its flowers can be anything from white to a delicate pink, and if will guard its bounty with some particularly persistent thorns.  (You can also use the hips, leaves, and petals of the cultivated rose, but I would look for a rose variety that’s as close to the wild rose as possible.)

The mixture of rose hips, rosemary, and organic apple cider vinegar is as near to a sorcerer’s brew as anything I know.



the warmth of a real a log fire

Now that autumn is drawing in, there’s nothing much nicer than sitting near a crackling log fire.  Cats love being near the warmth, and the flames seem to fascinate the little assassins.  Almost every woman you meet will love to curl up in front of a log fire, if you’re lucky right next to you ~ or the cat anyhow.  Burning wood is environmentally friendly, (more or less), and it’s a much cheaper and nicer way to heat your living-room than oil or gas.

Well, let me tell you, if you’ve never had a log fire, (or a wood burning stove), then it’s all a lot more complicated than you’d think.  First of all do you have a fireplace, or a wood burning stove?  Do you even have a chimney?  Look outside, are there neatly stacked plies of seasoned firewood?

Start with the basics, and assume that you at least have a fireplace.

When was the last time the fireplace / stove was used, and when was the chimney last swept?  Burning wood creates ash, smoke, soot, and tar, which then goes up the chimney, and some of it sticks there.  Birds and other creatures nest in chimneys, or on top of chimneys.  Dead stuff and other crap falls into chimneys.  If in doubt thoroughly clean out the fireplace and chimney, (this should be an annual job anyway).  If you’re a useless wimp and in real doubt get some guy to do it for you, (if you have never seen a fall of soot you have no idea how filthy, stinking, dirty that is).  If you don’t have a clean chimney some very bad things could happen; the fire may not light, your house may burn down, you may die.

Do you have some firewood?  Have you any idea how much seasoned firewood you can get through in one winter ~ even if you only light the fire / stove at weekends?  Do you know the difference between hardwood and softwood?  Have you ever used an axe, log splitter, saw, chainsaw?  Do you own a truck?

We could see that gas was costing us too much money.  That’s why we made the choice to go to the wood burner.  It’s easy to do.  Cutting firewood is putting a little sweat equity into it, is all.  ~  Jerry Lambert.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn average sized home could easily get through two cords of wood in a winter, just to heat the lounge in the evenings ~ Jerry Lambert must be one fit actor, or he buys in his firewood by the truck load.  I have cut, hauled, split, stacked, and brought firewood into my home ~ and let me tell you it’s hard work requiring some expertise in everything from forestry to using hand tools.

The Finns have a proverb; Judge a man by his firewood.  If you can haul enough firewood to heat your lounge in a cold winter, then you’re a real man.

Open log fires can spit sparks onto the hearthrug, burning embers can fall out, and they are quite inefficient, (maybe 10 to 15%).  Really, an open log fire is for looks, cooking the odd whole side of lamb, (cooking with wood is by far the best way to do a lot of meat), and for snuggling near in the flickering light, (much better than scented candles).

vermont_encore_woodburnerTo actually get some heat into your home by burning wood, what you need is a wood-burning stove.  These are heavy, expensive, usually iron or steel, use much less wood for the amount of usable heat you get, and you can also get your hot water and central heating from the thing.  Some come with pretty glass doors so you don’t lose the joy of watching the flames, (or you can open the doors while your girl is snuggling with the cat).

If you don’t already have a stove, you may need a professional installer to put the thing in for you ~ or you could start learning some practical skills.  One benefit of a wood-burner is that you do not need a working chimney, you can run a steel flue outside of the house.  (If you don’t understand that, then you do need a professional installer.)

The choice of stoves is huge, and mostly limited by your wallet.

The last time I built my own place I had a pretty little stove with glass doors in the lounge, and a much bigger, utilitarian, stove in the kitchen for cooking, central heating, and hot water.  I also owned 18 acres of woodland, a tractor, and passed my chainsaw certificate.  My cat, Pyewacket, loved those stoves, but I was always too damn busy shifting firewood to take his picture sitting next to one.



Wildlife Gardening ~ Hedges

There are hedges and then there are hedges loved by wildlife.  In this, (quite long), guest post by my friend Gillian Rooke she discusses some of the things that go towards a hedge designed to really attract wildlife.


Guest Post by Gillian Rooke

So many people now are looking out into their gardens and seeing  only a lawn  surrounded by close boarded fencing. Perhaps in a tiny town garden this is understandable, but in a long garden that could be beautiful? More people seem to be into minimalism now, which is fine indoors, but nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum. I am not a minimalist. I love intricate shapes and interesting textures. Horses for courses of course; and there is one way of making a minimalist garden that is good for wildlife:- replacing the fencing with hedging.

Hedging is gaining in popularity by leaps and bounds at the moment, which is very encouraging. Even I can find a striped lawn surrounded only by hedges exciting and uplifting. There is something about the angle of the green, going suddenly from horizontal to vertical that makes the senses swirl. And the things that one can imagine existing beyond a hedge are far more romantic, than anything one might find behind a fence.

Also hedges can be taller, Putting up a close boarded fence over six foot in height, requires very strong foundations, and neighbours and even the council can condemn it as an eyesore, whereas a neatly cut hedge can go on up to ten foot in a front garden. Very few people object to a huge ornamental hedge. I have seen them with crenulations and windows; really fantastic.

Of course in a back garden where the hedge is a boundary you need a neighbour that also loves hedges because he will have to cut his side, or let you on his land to do it. It makes a very good talking point though, especially if you plan between you what plants you would like to use.

Before advising on the planting I had better say a word about the wildlife of a hedge. As you probably know, hedges in the countryside are arguably the most important wildlife habitat. You have the two essentials side by side for miles: deep thick cover, and long grasses and flowers. A hedge provides the best cover of all habitats. Because the outside is cut back, the branches thicken up and  make better supports; a strong framework for nests, and the leaves on the outside are very close together providing an excellent screen.

This green cathedral is a sanctuary for wildlife of all kinds, from the monkey-pea, and exotic species of millipede and centipede that delight in the rich black leaf mould, through the spider species with webs of all kinds, catching the aphids and all the small wasps midges and flies, to the reptiles and amphibians and the burrowing mammals that can find a permanent undisturbed home here, among the rows of dark pillars that rise from the mould. And then, higher  where the pillars turn into vaulted arches, you find our most beautiful song birds living the safest and most productive lives that are to be found anywhere. Large predators cannot penetrate a well kept hedge, nor can torrential rains wash nests away or wild winds destroy them.

So why not create something so beautiful and so needed as a hedge? Here’s how…

Field hedges tend to be mostly of hawthorn blackthorn or hazel. The first two are good for domestic hedges which abut a road, because they are deciduous and the lower branches don’t get so messed up by traffic. Also of course they flower which is nice. But these hedges, because they are trees not shrubs are looser than you would really want in a neat garden. The twigs are just that much too thick to be cut well by domestic hedging shears, and the leaves aren’t very pretty.

Everyone is familiar with the deep green velvety texture of the evergreen  Leyland hedge, but this although very beautiful  has the one big drawback that it is very fast growing, and needs to be cut so very frequently. If you can afford it or can take to time to grow it, a yew hedge is even more beautiful and much easier to manage.


Two non coniferous trees which make superb hedges are beech and the evergreen holly oak.  They are quicker to establish than yew and make equally good tall hedges. However when using trees for hedging, you have to consider the width of the trunks, and the spread of the roots. These hedges will spread outwards and may end up, in fifty years or so, as much as eight foot thick. Also you shouldn’t plant forest trees close to the house, even if you are going to be cutting them back all the time. While they are fantastic hedges; the beech keeping  its rich brown leaves all winter and the hollyoak turning bright silvery yellow with its new leaves, they are not; because of this thickening, suitable for  gardens of less than half an acre.

In smaller gardens it is better to use shrub hedging rather than trees.

The smallest and daintiest hedge of all is the European Box, Buxus sempervirens. This is most often used as a tiny hedge for dividing beds from paths, for making divisions within herb beds, and most famously for topiary. It is very slow growing with tiny leaves and so is capable of being shaped in great detail. It is actually a small tree, and left to its own devices will grow to thirty feet or more. The fact that it has a trunk, and a very strong one, makes it possible to create fantastic and durable living sculptures.

Another hedge which is very similar in appearance to the box is the Lonicera nitida, but while it looks the same, as a clipped hedge, its habit is completely different. It grows very rapidly and is difficult to keep clipped although it does make a very smoothly sculpted surface. The drawback of this little honeysuckle is the weakness of its stems and their habit of twisting round each other, which means that as you are pruning one section you can be killing branches in a completely different section. Also it is prone to collapsing and needs to have a post and rails to keep it upright if you want it as a sizeable hedge, or a permanent armature if you are using it as topiary. It has another even worse drawback, in that bits keep coming up where you don’t want them.  As with all the other green hedges a golden version is also available, and marbled in with the green it can produce a striking effect.

Flowering hedges. Many people may be surprised to learn that privet has a flower. Unpruned it makes a bush of up to eight foot which is covered in summer  with white frothy floppy candles with a delightful strong heady scent. Unfortunately it is impossible to keep it in any semblance of a clipped hedge and still retain the flowering.

One that everyone knows is the Forsythia, with its brilliant yellow flowers in early spring. This does flower very well as a hedge and indeed it should always be pruned fairly closely. However it is deciduous and the branches show twigs between the leaves even in summer. It is really rather unattractive when not in flower.

Most of our garden shrubs have an inverted conical habit. They grow up on many long stalks which fan out into a wide, domed area of leaves and flowers. You could shape the top of them loosely into an elongated hedge but there would be nothing but bare branches close to the ground. However by putting a flowerbed at the base of these plants to hide the bare stalks, you could use the height of plants such as philadelphus or wigelia or lilac as a continuous barrier hedge. This type of hedging is useful if you have a boundary wall which is not quite high enough to provide privacy. However these plants do not cut back strictly as a hedge and although they should be pruned, they should also have space to ‘billow’ a bit, and of course flower.

My favourite flowering hedges are the Berberis .There are two main types of which there are various cultivars. Berberis  thunbergii  is a short  usually purple leaved variety, (atropurpurea) with yellow flowers. It makes a neat attractive hedge up to four foot, which is almost as beautiful when not in flower.  Berberis Darwinii has thinner glossier leaves which are usually at least partly retained through the winter, and deeper orange flowers which make a solid wall of colour. It is an altogether tougher, stronger growing plant and can be self supporting to six foot in a sheltered location.  Berberis are also useful for keeping trespassers out because they are thorny.

There are also some pretty hedges grown for their leaf colour. Choisya is usually found with a golden leaf and it also has a nice white flower. Aucuba the spotted laurel is very famous, although with its large leaves it is difficult to shape,  Photinia fraseri red robin, is a wonderful  plant although it is also difficult to clip. It makes a barrier rather than a hedge.

hedgeWith all this choice, (and I’ve only named a fraction) of planting, and of course you can mix and match, who wouldn’t want to look out on a hedge rather than a close boarded fence?

With a hedge you have the beauty of seasonal colour changes, but best of all you will see goldfinches, long tailed tits, linnets etc etc flying out of your hedge to your bird table and you will know that they are nesting, part of your family, sharing your space, and not flying in perhaps from miles away to grab a few mouthfuls and try to keep their distant chicks from starving.

Next time I will tackle Wildflower lawn versus wildflower meadow.


Palm Desert Art

Drive south-east from central Palm Springs on Route 111 and you come across the Palm Springs Art Museum in Palm Desert.  This is in a seriously upscale area, and the museum is full of very expensive, contemporary pieces.


Outside, the gardens are filled with quirky sculpture, like these long faces.


Outside, its garden is a peaceful, spiritual place.  The Renaissance Man should have an interest in art and gardening.


As an antidote for the constant excitement of Palm Canyon Drive, spend a while wandering the gardens.  If you’re looking for a million dollar home in the Palm Springs area, you can’t really afford Palm Desert.


But, if you want some landscaping ideas for your desert home, you should really check out the museum’s gardens.


Keep heading south-west on Route 74 and you are into some cool scenery.  And, on a road trip, cool scenery is one of the prerequisites.  This is the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Park.  And, if this part of California looks familiar, it’s because I’ve seen it countless times in westerns, at the movies and on TV….

P1030208pictures by

jack collier and

the girl riding shotgun



Pacific Palisades Perfection

You can lie around on a rock all day, building up that suntan, hoping good things will happen for you eventually.  Or, you can make the good times happen.


Take a road trip, drive the Pacific Coast Highway, (aka State Route 1), stop off in the Pacific Palisades.  On the way enjoy the drive, the sunshine, the music, the girl…


When you get to the Palisades, visit the Getty and relax among some beautiful gardens.


There is mucho sunshine in Southern California.  Back here in the North of England, in November, it’s cold, windy, and wet.  Rain, rain, beautiful rain…

P1040008pictures by jack collier

The Getty Villa

I can’t honestly say the food stall at the Getty Villa is quite as stunning as the rest of this fabulous place, nestled in the incredible Pacific Palisades.


However, the art and gardens are beautiful.


Although this chap needs to cheer up a bit.  (picture taken in the gallery)


pictures by jackcollier

Make Love ~ Grow Your Own Meadow

A meadow in bloom is an uplifting sight.


Growing one’s own patch of meadow is easy ~ more or less.  There are some basic pointers;

  1. Poor soil is no handicap for a meadow.  What you want to keep from among your flowers are strong grasses and pernicious weeds ~ both of which will romp away in good soil.
  2. Clear the ground, or at least dig out strong growing grasses and pernicious weeds ~ making certain you get out all of the root stock.  Personally, on a large area I couldn’t be arsed with that and use weedkiller.
  3. poppies-lupine

    google images stock picture of poppies and lupine

    Dig over, rotavate, plough the ground, and rake to a coarse tilth.

  4. Choose wild flower seeds suitable for your conditions ~ adding Yellow Rattle, which weakens said strong grasses.
  5. Water if you have too.
  6. Direct sow the seeds, a mixture of perennials, biennials and annuals ~ keep the damn birds and other critters off your seeds.  You can sow any time from late summer until spring ~ but not during or right before frosts.

How does the Meadow flower its bloom unfold?  Because the lovely little flower is free down to its root, and in that freedom bold. ~ William Wordsworth

The first year the show of flowers will be annuals.  Don’t pull out anything you do not recognise ~ remember you will have unfamiliar bi-annuals and perennials coming through.

Collect seeds from your own area when you have the opportunity ~ just chuck them on your meadow.

poppyMaintenance involves;

  1. Removing pernicious weeds before they have a chance to self-seed / spread.
  2. Cut down the meadow when the last of the flowers begin to fade ~ only cut in dry weather and leave the hay on the meadow for a week / two weeks until it’s dried.  This will ensure that all the seeds among the cut hay fall back onto the meadow.
  3. Remove the hay from the meadow and give it to your rabbit / chickens / horse.  Taking away the cut hay keeps the soil poor, which encourages the growth of just your wildflowers.

P1020573There are some real benefits to a meadow;


  1. Low maintenance and cheap to establish.
  2. Encourages wildlife.
  3. Requires no watering ~ maybe except in extreme drought.
  4. Helps reduce climate change.
  5. A meadow is pretty, calming, and a part of the real nature.  Hence it will increase libido and desire if you are connected to the Earth Goddess.

You have never truly made love if you haven’t loved among the meadow’s fragrant embrace.


meadowpictures by jack collier

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