Karen Platt's Blog

  • Seasons - Winter

    Poor winter. It always comes too early and leaves too late. What it is about winter that we cannot get over it too quickly? Winter has only just begun (officially 21st December) yet we start immediately looking for signs of spring.

    So let me say a few words in praise of winter. The white landscape blessed with snow or kissed by frost that is necessary to kill off bugs and to give plants a rest. The tracery of bare branches against the sky. Frosted leaves that look so pretty. Berries clinging to shrubs to provide much-needed food for birds. Those bright cold days with clear skies and low sunshine that seems to glow.

    If you do have deep snow, knock it off the branches of shrubs and trees to alleviate the weight, but leave it elsewhere as insulation. Make sure plants like Artemisia and Achillea are dry at the crown to prevent rot. Often we dislike winter because we have not planted for the season. Try to make space for a few handsome winter shrubs such as Hamamelis, Chimonanthus or Parrotia. Hellelbores will provide colour, cut back the leaves to reveal those blooms and I always find Ranunculus provide a welcome winter drift with their small yet interestingly coloured leaves. With the right winter plants, you will not wish winter away so quickly.

    Each season has its purpose. Appreciate the winter artistry of nature. Embrace the rest from digging, cutting back and deadheading. Yes it is cold, and it is my least favourite season. I am a hibernator. Yet if spring comes too soon, frosts will only kill off the plants with their tender buds. So enjoy the season, for what it is. Rest for the plants, a time to plan and re-adjust. It rarely pays to sow seed early either, these too just take longer to grow and later sowing often catch up with earlier ones. Sow something different, there is so much to try.

    Enjoy the silhouettes, the sunrises, the photo opportunities. Relax and plan what to sow and how to sow it. There's never been a better time than now.

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • 2017 Colour of the Year - Green

    When it comes to the garden, green is so ubiquitous, it is the colour we do not even think about. It is relegated to backdrop, ever present but hardly registering on the visual scale as eyes fix on highlights of colour as if they are popping around a pinball machine. The backdrop fades into nothing but a blur, necessary but not the main feature. Yet the wizard of the garden is green - especially when it comes to flowers. For green flowers in the garden are used as rarely as those sought after blacks and blues and can provide stunning colour.

    My research led me to find over a 1,000 green flowers for the garden from exotic orchids to common garden annuals you can grow so easily from seed. Whilst I love Paphiopedilums, I realise that not everyone would want to grow one, but even the kids can sprinkle a few Nicotiana seeds and enjoy lime green flowers.

    I have a preference for lime green or chartreuse and many of the flowers are in this colour range. If there is one plant I must mention outside this colour range it is the jade green Strongylodon, the plant that sent me off on my research. One I would gladly buy a heated greenhouse for if I had the space and money. Be bold and plant it with purple and a dash of orange or go all out for green and red. Whatever you plant, make 2017 colourful and include a few greens in the garden, even if it is just adding a few lettuce, potager-style to the border.

    Discover a whole new world of green flowers for your garden and some choice variegated plants, there's 25% off now until stocks last


    Words, images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • When Autumn Leaves Turn To Gold

    I dillied and dallied and autumn turned to winter too fast. One moment the leaves were turning to glorious colours and I was thinking, wow I must do an autumn post. However I was wrapped up in my new book Woven Textiles of Tunisia, and suddenly it seemed that autumn had vanished.

    To be fair we have still only had one night of frost (although I might have escaped a couple of nights at the beginning of November as I was in sunny Greece), but one night last week changed the landscape of the garden from dazzling colours to silvered and nipped with frost, plants limp and reeling from the cold. Those blazing fiery hues of autumn leaves fell to the ground and became brown and wizened and often wet and soggy. I had been astonished to see asters, cornflowers, red hot pokers, verbena bonariensis and rudbeckia still going strong to the end of November.

    One is reminded of the eternal cycle, the return to earth, the renewal that follows. But for a while it will be frosty photos. So I recall the beautiful colours of autumn. I particularly love the rusty colours of Taxodium.

    You can enjoy year-round colour with my gardening books

    Words and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • The Greening of Cities

    Coming from Sheffield, one of the greenest cities in England and having just spent a week in Athens, Greece, I was struck by the lack of greenery in the city. Once you get out of Athens itself, there is beautiful scenery and I know the Pelopennese bursts into flower each spring, but Athens would be a much nicer place if those rows upon rows of concrete apartment blocks greened up their balconies let alone the roofs.

    Occasionally you will pass the wondrous waft of jasmine scent, occasionally a few orange trees, or a splash of bougainvillea. I have no idea how many apartment blocks there are in Athens, but they are endless and far too few have any greenery at all. I know there are restrictions in the U.K. on having plants on balconies in some apartments - check your lease - but such restrictions are rare overseas.

    I passed two parks regularly, both with a forlorn, almost uncared for look about them, not welcoming with nary a flower in sight. One redeeming feature in the city is the National Gardens, around the Parliament building. Visit in daytime only.

    By the Acropolis Museum is a beautiful garden space, but the only one I saw. There are trees growing up the side of Lycabettus Hill too. However, I want to make a gentle plea to Athenians to green up their city. Be proud, be happy, love green.

    Words and image Karen Platt 2016

  • Belton House - Grantham

    I travelled to Grantham by train and then caught the 27 bus to Sleaford, which stops outside the gates of Belton House, which is part of the National Trust. It is often called the quintessential English country house.

    Rain was forecast, so I headed off to explore the outside areas first. There is a Dutch Garden and an Italian Garden. Although they are pleasant, they are not that exciting. I was just a little bit disappointed that the dahlias were all the same, one yellow round the fountain, and one red along the terrace. Although drifts work well, there are so many dahlias that you could still have had a drift of yellow or red using many different varieties. The bones of the garden are good, it just lacks imagination in planting. There were lots of rather basic plantings of pelargonium in the magnificent urns.

    The Orangery is planted with fuchsias and abutilon as well as palms. The planting is dense with a central water feature. The shrimp plant (Justicia) was in flower. Immediately behind the Orangery are hydrangeas in a lovely deep pink and a lawn with what looked like medlars and a small herbaceous border on three sides. This was planted with plants grown from seed - Xerochrysum, the strawflower everlasting and Cleome, which you don't often see - I like its striking blooms but watch the spines.  Agastache and Dahlias were combined effectively. There were also Sedums and Acanthus.

    I entered the Norman church, not part of the NT. It's well worth a visit. There are some very ancient trees in this part of the garden. Then I came out and walked down to the Italian garden, nicely done, but at one time full of roses. You get wonderful views of this area from the house.

    The house is the best part, I loved it. The interiors are perfect and elegant. I loved the Chinese silk room best of all. There is currently a raffle to save Darcy's desk.

    There was also a display of embroidery by the local branches of the Embroiderer's Guild  that is worth a visit. It is in celebration of Capability Brown.

    There is a large deer park, but my legs were objecting so I returned to Grantham, to be greeted by a terrible storm - torrential rain, thunder and lightning. Honestly that sort of welcome was not necessary!

    Facilities include a shop, garden shop and cafe.

    Words, work and images copyright Karen Platt 2016

  • Healing The Vegan Way by Mark Reinfeld


    Healing The Vegan Way by Mark Reinfeld, softback published by Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780738217772, price 15.99 in the UK, available from www.dacapopress.com

    The health benefits of vegetarianism and veganism are often brought into question. In this book, subtitled "plant-based eating for optimal health & wellness', the author fully describes and shows the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. You'll find expert testimonials, research, essential information and mouth-watering recipes. There are 200 recipes to get you going on the right track. We really are what we eat and eating the right foods can have a beneficial effect on our well-being. This book offers a way forward through the myriad of confusing claims and counter-claims and provides a straightforward basis for optimal health. This is a practical guide to eating vegan and all the benefits it can bring. Part One is all about healing - the challenges, theories, nutrients, benefits and practicalities; in Part Two you will find all the recipes including preparation, breakfasts, drinks, appetizers, sides, dressings, soups, mains and desserts. Try a digestive tea or a healing broth when you are unwell or to keep you in tip-top condition, eat raw for energy. There's so much in this book that can help you make the most of your health.

  • Naturally Lean by Allyson Kramer

    51vmfqJVHZL._SS300_Naturally Lean by Allyson Kramer, softback published by Da Capo Press in the USA. ISBN 9780738218564, price 15.99 in the U.K. available from www.dacapopress.com

    Don't grab the wrong snack or fill up on saturated fats and high sugar meals. Make everything you eat count towards good health. Get off the diet yo-yo and join the ranks of the lean. Allyson provides 125 gluten-free, plant based recipes under 300 calories. The book is divided into an Introduction - all about lean, healthy and good for you, followed by 6 chapters: Greens & Crucifers; Hearty Grains; Fabulous Fruits; Nuts & Seeds; Legumes; Squash, Roots & Mushrooms; at the end there are suggestions for pairings and metric conversions. The recipes cover everything from breakfasts and smoothies to dips and salads, snacks, cake and desserts or treats, soup, lunches and toasts. Some of the sweet recipes use agave syrup, which is a sugar even though the blurb on the back says no added sugars. Note to publisher - more photos please.

  • 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


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