Karen Platt's Blog

  • Eat It Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton


    Eat It Up by Sherri Brooks Vinton, softback published by Lifelong Books, Da Capo in the USA. ISBN 9780738218182, price 12.99 in the UK, available from www.dacapopress.com

    Are you throwing away too much food? Find 150 unusual recipes to make the most of all the parts of the food you buy or grow. Use those carrot toppings, cauliflowers leaves and asparagus trimmings. This book is a great reminder of how wasteful we can be. Cut down on the waste and eat it up. New tricks turn food waste into recipes. Simple, practical steps and interesting recipes could cut your food expenditure. Milk going out of date - make cheese, watermelon rind - pickle it, carrot tops - create pesto. No frills recipes with straight text and drawings, no colour pics but easy to follow and use. As a young girl, my mother always bought cauliflower with the leaves and cooked them as greens, now we cannot even usually buy them with the greens. Wake up to the waste in your trash and transform your menu.

  • Gardens to Visit - Derby Arboretum

    Whilst I am sure no-one would wake up one morning and think I must travel miles to visit Derby Arboretum, if you are in the vicinity it is worth a visit.

    Walking from the railway station along the riverside you get to a picture postcard shot of the cathedral, where the riverside is planted with trees. However before this spot, the riverside is choked with Himalayan balsam and Convolvulus (bindweed), both immensely pretty but to be scorned as obnoxious weeds.

    The Arboretum lies directly behind the Crown Derby factory and shop and has some beautiful mature specimens of trees. The Arboretum is not very large and a brisk half hour's walk will make sure you have made the circular tour. The bark is wonderful and the green canopy provides shade. The Sorbus were already covered in berries. There are very few planted up borders or anything else, which is a shame. Someone has an eye for colour in the circular border. There is a great colour echo between the golden Agastache just coming into flower and the Verbena bonariensis, purple Campanula, Eryngium and the sour grapes Penstemon, as well as the silver foliage. If you love these colours, see my purple flowers book and my silver foliage book.

    In 1840, the Arboretum was the first publicly-owned, landscaped, recreational park in an English urban area. It was given to the city by Joseph Strutt, who is commemorated in a grand statue at one of the entrances. It is thought to have influenced Olmsted's vision for Central Park in New York. The gardens were restored in 2005 with a Heritage Lottery grant.

    As I left the Arboretum, my eye was caught by a pretty, minute front garden with petunias and verbena surrounding the bay window, a clump of Crocosmia and a Solanum potted up against the doorway.

    If you like gardens and plant, take a look at my garden books in print and as ebooks online

    Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Green Spaces in Sheffield

    Sheffield is one of England's greenest cities. The latest addition is a long stretch from opposite the Fire Station Museum, in front of the Magistrates' Court and along to the bus stops near the Police Station.

    It consists of a wave of grass amid plantings of shrubs, trees, bulbs and perennials, interspersed with seating. It was planted up in late spring and has already brought much colour to the area.

    It is part of the Grey to Green plan to transform the riverside area. This is a 4-stage plan that includes extending the city boundary back to its original and also the regeneration of Castle Hill. All this regeneration work is funded by the EU. I have recently read about people saying we don't need money spent on plants and I am very sorry that people feel that way. Making areas look good in our city centres or seafronts, is not a waste of money. It brings jobs, much needed renovation and in turn brings people in to visit and spend money.

    This once redundant area, is now colourful and provides a place to sit and contemplate the perennial meadows and rain gardens with improved urban drainage. It also regenerates a few shops in the area bringing new footfall.

    I will say one thing - I find the landscaping a bit at odds, I know it was planted up quickly, but plants needed to be in drifts and the colours are at odds. But that's the horticulturist and garden design part of me.

    These projects would rarely get off the ground if were not for EU funding. So what you say - it's money we put in. Not exactly we get much more out and central government and local Councils would have been unlikely to do this.

    But we don't need flowers you say - well it brightens my walk into the city centre and it has provided jobs and also given artists a space to exhibit their work in the 4 totem poles. It has also generated income for suppliers of plants, the seating, drainage, paving etc. It will be enjoyed for years to come.

    But it does not stop there, in South Yorkshire the amount of funding from the EU to help the Dearne valley has been astronomic. This area would never have been regenerated without that money. Who closed the pits and the steel industry? Who did not care about the wastelands? Dearne Valley was Europe's biggest industrial wasteland and central government was just not interested and local Councils had no money to spend.

    In the early 1990s, the EU gave £750m to South Yorkshire - a huge investment to regenerate the Dearne Valley. Then between 2000 and 2009, it provided a further £820m. The South Yorkshire region has received more than £1 billion of EU money since the early 1990s, says Sheffield Council’s business boss Leigh Bramall. Later on it funded the Fox Valley scheme in Stocksbridge.

    In Sheffield we have the water feature outside the train station, the Peace gardens, Tudor Square and the Advanced manufacturing Retail Park amongst others including roadworks and even broadband. Barnsley has its bus and train station and so on. Don't think of them as fountains or gardens - think of them as regeneration because not only do they make life better, it's for all the reasons above. The benefits extend to employment and education that have had an impact on those struggling and helped people up the jobs ladder. One in 7 jobs in the region are linked to the EU.

    A huge fuss was made over the amount of money we pay to the EU - and it was greatly exaggerated. The truth is we get much more back - we get access to the single market and we get a peaceful Europe. We also get to work where we want, to travel without restriction. I know we are better off in the EU. There is still a big movement to #remain. I don't want to see my city return to being a city with no money to spend on regeneration whilst central government sells off the NHS and wastes money on Trident. The EU is far more democratic and we do live on the continent of Europe. So if we do exit and it is by no means decided, we lose control over our Continent. Why not find out what the EU has done for your area and join the #remain campaign.

    Words, images copyright Karen Platt 2016


  • Lyme Park, nr Disley

    This NT hall and park is well-known as it was used in 'Death Comes to Pemberley'. That was not really my reason for wanting to go. I had seen images of the spring bulb display, but every time I looked up the weather from mid-March on, it was dire. I have therefore come to believe that Disley has the worst weather in Britain. However last weekend I checked the weather and although not terribly warm, it looked like the rain would hold off. My son said he would rather help me with some household chores - needless to say, we went to the garden instead.

    Getting out of the city was a nightmare, as there were diversions everywhere and in the end, we had just got beyond the city limits when we should have been half way there. It's an interesting route with fantastic scenery, so we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

    When we arrived, we had our picnic on the lawn. Then we headed straight into the house. It is amazing, I could not remember any of it from the TV series, and I have seen that twice but maybe they used private rooms or maybe, more likely, I had just forgotten. I could not even picture the entrance (which looks more like the private entrance to Chatsworth on the TV, maybe it is.) Anyway it is just so enjoyable, I loved all the ceilings and I was very taken with the figures on the golden harp. You'll find information on the furniture and paintings in each room. The rooms and furniture are magnificent. You can even dress up as an Edwardian! I was tempted, but my son had that 'oh my god, she's going to show me up' look on his face. We then headed past the formal beds of Dahlias and Cannas and into the Orangery where there was a wonderful Abutilon, ferns, and Ophiopogon, then round to the formal rose beds. Most of the gardens are formal, but I like that. People were playing croquet on the lawn. We worked our way round the lake, offering a great view of the house, and round to my favourite bit, which is sunken below the house but above the car park, what is known as The Italian Garden. There is a huge deer park too. We had tea and cake and headed home very happy. I would love to see the spring bulbs one day.

    The house and gardens are open from February to October, and the garden is also open at weekends in winter, check dates and times on the National Trust website. Well worth a visit.

    Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Burghley House and Gardens

    I have wanted to go to Burghley House for years, fortunately I made it. The outside of the house is fantastic. Inside it is more Georgian than Elizabethan but still awesome. This was the house of William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer of Elizabeth I and is grand as only the Elizabethans knew how.

    As the weather was not set fair for the whole day, we did the gardens first. The garden of surprises is just that - a garden full of water features and wonderment. The unsuspecting could end up with a shower even in fair weather! There is a water rill, fountains, water 'curtains' and all manner of wonderful things. Kids will love this space, some of the features are interactive. There is also a fernery and borders in a courtyard garden with 'busts' that turn and a sundial. I don't think I have ever seen anything so miraculous. Everything is a discovery. I don't know who the gardens were designed by, but they are a wonderful.

    We then had lunch, with my son saying I had prepared a picnic for 6, there were 3 of us. Then it was off to the sculpture garden. Again I was not disappointed, it is fantastic, with a wide range of beautiful sculptures to suit all tastes. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    There was a food fair but I resisted paying 12 pounds for a tiny packet of tea, quite easily. Another attraction on this weekend was a Rolls Royce event, so we could see all the old cars, in beautiful condition with their wonderful lines. Looking across you could clearly see the ha-ha, a feature Capability Brown pinched from a Frenchman. It keeps cattle from crossing to the land near the house.

    Last of all, we went into the house, I think the painted walls and ceilings are the most striking feature. Elizabeth's State Bedroom is there, but she never slept in it.

    All in all a wonderful day, that I thoroughly enjoyed. The gardens are near Stamford, on the A1. Stamford is also worth a visit.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • The Dingle Garden and Shrewsbury

    This was my first ever visit to the lovely ancient town of Shrewsbury. It combines my love of old architecture, history and gardens. The riverside is super too and I liked it all enough to put a ring round the flower show date later in the year.

    The highlight of my visit plant-wise was The Dingle Garden, designed by the late Percy Thrower. There are a few entrances and exits to this more or less oval garden. I entered from the south. Immediately my day brightened as my eyes were greeted by fantastic foliage, shrubs and trees, flowers and a lake. Whilst from this viewpoint, you can see a large part of the garden, there are lots of hidden bits and nooks and crannies. It is superbly designed and contains all the essential features - water, hardscaping, mature plants, seating areas, bedding, rock garden and more. I guess the outstanding feature at this time of year for most visitors is the magnificent Rhododendron. I found it hard to take my eye off the Acer and I loved the colours in the garden. The wallflowers were going over but the colours were gorgeous.

    This is one of the best kept and best planted public gardens I have seen. I would recommend a visit. Entrance is free. It is situated in the Quarry.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Botanical Style by Selina Lake


    Botanical Style by Selina Lake, hardback published by Ryland Peters. ISBN 9781849757133, price 19.99 available from www.rylandpeters.com

    Decorate with style - botanical style. If plants and flowers are your passion, indulge in all things botanical from cushions to wall hangings, plates, chairs, tablecloths and dressing gowns to rugs. Surround yourself with calming green or exotic flowers.Tropicals, ferns and flowers can adorn accessories in your home or you can create botanical 'corners' to connect with the natural world. This book is all about bringing the outdoors indoors and creating a botanical haven. The book is split into chapters: Botanical Inspirations - Vintage, Boho, Industrial, Tropical and Natural. The book features how to display houseplants and how to decorate your home with a love of all things floral and green. It is filled with style ideas. There are projects to make too such as floral wreaths or a botanical pinboard. The book is lavishly illustrated throughout.

  • Ilkley Moor and Skipton Woods

    How many times do you unwind with a walk immersed in nature? We are blessed on this small island with many natural features. There is nothing like a bracing walk along clifftops or immersed in the greenery of woodland.

    Yesterday I ventured on a coach trip to Ilkley and Skipton. The sole purpose of the day trip for many was to go to Skipton market. My sole purple was to visit Ilkley Moor and to go to Skipton woods. Skipton is known as the gateway to the Dales and the area is Wharfedale with stunning green Yorkshire countryside.

    The first stop in Ilkley almost totally confounded my objective as we had just under one and a half hours. The cow and calf rocks loom above Ilkley. At first I thought it would be too far, but I set off, the rocks seeming ever distant. Just as I thought I could get a photo, a few paces on the rocks tantalisingly disappeared from view. No time to wander on the moor today. In the end, I got close, but the steep climb was not being friendly and I snapped a couple of shots and returned downhill to the town. The distant views of the moors are stunning, even on this almost sunless May morning.

    I grabbed a coffee at Avanti and a slice of their fabulous coffee cake. The cafe was busy and very hot. On the far side of the coach car park is a fabulous clothes shop, but you do need a large bank account, I wish. I could quite easily have disposed of 1,000 gbp on a couple of outfits. Next door is an equally stunning home accessories shop. Ilkley, with its Victorian buildings and independent stores, is a beauty set amongst its green landscape.

    On arrival in Skipton I headed to my favourite store, to find it had changed hands. It had been a sort of charity shop with a difference having old crochet and linen, the odd dress, cheap threads and more. Many things that could be re-used in crafts, a real magpie's haven, but sadly gone.

    I entered the church, it is the first time I have done so in many visits to Skipton. The stained glass is amazing in this church with medieval origins. I lit a candle for someone dear to me that I lost a week ago and for my mother, gentle soul that she was. Outside I wandered out of the church grounds with their pretty flowers and a fabulous specimen Acer, past the castle (I have entered three times before, it is well worth a visit), and round to the back in search of the entrance to the woods off the main road.

    This green canopy was so soothing, so natural and beautiful. Deep in the woods you can hear nothing but birdsong, on the edges you can hear road noise. There are seats dotted around. A stream runs through the ravine and the hillsides are cloaked in Allium. There is even an outdoor 'classroom'. The area is managed by the Woodlands Trust. It gave rise to another idea for a book, that I might just pursue. For now I must finish my new purple flower book, launching this month.

    Back in Skipton, with over an hour to kill, but very weary feet, I wondered whether to get a sandwich in M&S, or to go to my usual haunt, which used to be called Wild Oats but has changed its name. I was not sure if it had changed owner and the food too. I decided on M&S, but there was a chilly wind and I thought it too cold to sit and eat a sandwich in the plummeting temperatures. Then my eye was caught by the Three Sheep Cafe and I enjoyed their quiche very much. The cakes looked delicious but I had eaten cake for elevenses, so resisted, (halo still in place!). Without my glasses, I wondered why someone had put a tissue in my teapot. Lifting the lid, I saw this was an 'extended' teabag. The teashop owner had seen the idea in Madeira.

    A very enjoyable day in touch with nature. As we headed home, I took a pic from the moving coach of the view.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Harrogate Spring Flower Show 2016

    Still a bit achy from my day in Chesire, but I braved the drop in temperature to go to the Harrogate Flower Show, my favourite excursion in spring. I did not know they were building a new Hall and the plants had been moved into a marquee, but the lighting was far better, so better photos. Despite the hail and freezing weather, I had a wonderful day.

    You too can have a super day at the show, tomorrow is the final day. If you can't get there this spring, the autumn show is fantastic too and there's always next year.

    The displays took my breath away this year from the Fritillaria and Cypripedium on Jacques Amand's stand, to Taylor's Clematis, Dibley's Streptocarpus and so many more. Some plants were definitely must-haves, so I have made a list of most of those here. They are not in order

    1. Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) Blossom Quinn from Warmenhoven

    2. Petunia Black Knight from Iddon's

    3. Cypripedium from Jacques Amand

    4. Heuchera Sweet Tea, I thought this was the best, a few nurseries were showing it

    5. Incredible Erysimum I had not seen before, being sold by a few nurseries including Hardy's, this one is Red Jep

    6. Breathtaking Clematis Pink Champagne from Taylor's

    7. Muscari Bling Bling again sold by three nurseries

    8. Primula 'Slack Top' from the nursery of the same name

    9. Pelargonium (need to decipher the name, sorry)

    10. Streptocarpus from Dibley's

    11. Iris sold by two nurseries and just unimaginably beautiful greenish and faded denim

    12. This amazing bonsai of Acer

    Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Nostell Priory

    Nostell, near Wakefield is owned by the NT. Parts of the house and the grounds are open and there is a cafe, plant shop and places to picnic.

    The house and parkland are magnificent, set around the lakes. The land is green as far as the eye can see. There is a formal area to one side of the house, at this time of year planted with spring bulbs. The tulips were few in number and still in bud, but the daffodils were hanging on and there was a central walk planted with daffodils and scented hyacinth. The herbaceous border was just beginning to wake up. It has a backbone of shrubs with many Ilex (holly) and the Euphorbia was looking good. I was feeling a little disappointed however, as spring had not really sprung here. Then I turned the corner and noticed something in the grass - fritillaries and suddenly I felt so glad that I had come. To one side they were large Ensete (bananas), still in their winter garb, wrapped in old leaves against the chill and at their base Cynara, the globe artichokes whose silver leaves were sparking in the cold sunshine.

    I walked through the children's adventure playground and found a bug's home. The winter beech leaves were shivering in the wind, still clinging to the twiggy branches. A little further on, round the back of the house, you come to the lakes, looking wonderful at this time of year. I circled the large lake with its Typha (bullrush) and came round to the Menagerie Garden, where the Magnolia were in bloom. This area had many shadows and felt particularly cold, and the Magnolia had suffered some light frost damage, but still made a terrific outline against the blue sky. Again, I was glad I had made the trip.

    At the shop I loved these carved wooden chickens. I entered the house to be awed by Adam's plasterwork and ceilings and the Chippendale furniture. Then back outside to walk to the smaller lake and the Obelisk.

    It was a wonderful day out, well worth a visit and I might return in summer. I took the train from Sheffield and then the bus from Wakefield bus station. It was an easy journey. Whilst in Wakefield, you might also wish to visit the Barbara Hepworth Gallery.

    I know many criticise the NT and their care of houses and gardens, but without them, many of these places would no longer be there at all. I do have one criticism however, the standard of the NT cafes/restaurants. I think they are rather poor, not only in their selection and quality of food but in the length of time you have to queue, even when there are only a couple of people in front of you and the cleanliness, price and poor service. This is true of three NT properties I have visited this spring. Take your own food and drink.

    If you love gardens, take a look at my gardening books in the online shop

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

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