Monthly Archives: October 2014

How to make sloe gin

Homemade sloe gin makes a fantastic gift and is really easy to prepare using three simple ingredients; gin, sugar and sloes. The dark blue fruit of the blackthorn tree (Prunus spinosa) appear in abundance on its branches from late summer until the end of autumn and although they taste horribly tart when eaten fresh, they add a complex flavour and a dark ruby red colour to gin. After making, sloe gin should ready to drink in as little as two months, but try to be patient – the longer you can leave it the better it will taste.

Homemade Sloe Gin. Sloe, Sugar and Gin - © GAP Photos

Homemade Sloe Gin. Sloe, Sugar and Gin – © GAP Photos

Gather ingredients
Start by getting your ingredients and materials together. You will need a sterilised glass bottle, some caster sugar, a bottle of gin and enough sloes to half fill your empty bottle.

Homemade Sloe Gin. Sloe, Sugar and Gin. Woman pricking holes in fruit - © GAP Photos

Homemade Sloe Gin. Sloe, Sugar and Gin. Woman pricking holes in fruit – © GAP Photos

Prepare the sloes 
Wash the sloes in cold water, then prick the hard skin a few times with a clean needle or skewer to allow the flavours to escape and infuse the gin.

Homemade Sloe Gin. Sloe, Sugar and Gin. Pouring sugar over fruit in bottle - © GAP Photos

Homemade Sloe Gin. Sloe, Sugar and Gin. Pouring sugar over fruit in bottle – © GAP Photos

Add some sugar
Tip your sloes into the bottle and add some caster sugar. About 250g should do it, but you can always taste it for sweetness later and add more if necessary.

Homemade Sloe Gin. Sloe, Sugar and Gin. Pouring gin into bottle with fruit and sugar - © GAP Photos

Homemade Sloe Gin. Sloe, Sugar and Gin. Pouring gin into bottle with fruit and sugar – © GAP Photos

Top up with gin
Fill the bottle with gin and put in a cool, dry, dark place, such as cupboard. Give the bottle a gentle shake every other day to help the sugar dissolve.

Woman holding bottle of homemade sloe gin to give as a gift - © GAP Photos

Woman holding bottle of homemade sloe gin to give as a gift – © GAP Photos

Let it mature
Let the sloe gin mature between two to six months, then strain the liquid into a new bottle through a muslin cloth to remove the fruit. It’s now ready to serve.

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Naturalising crocus

Crocus naturalised in grass - © Sharon Pearson/GAP Photos

Crocus naturalised in grass – © Sharon Pearson/GAP Photos

Bathed in soft, late-winter sunlight, the champagne flute shaped flowers of crocuses are a welcome sight early in the year – after a long, cold and often bleak period in the garden they are a sign that spring is on its way. These versatile bulbs are perfect in beds, borders and pots but are ideal for naturalising in lawns due to their size, fleeting appearance and low-key leafy growth that disappears by late April.

Naturalising them in autumn is easy. Simply grab a handful of bulbs and drop, planting them more or less where they fall – dig small holes with a narrow trowel, 15cm deep. Don’t pepper the lawn with bulbs or the display will look artificial. For a naturalistic look that’s easy on the eye, plant large groups of crocuses in several places, such as around the base of trees or in swathes around the edges.

These diminutive flowers are largely native to Central and Southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Plant breeding on these wild species has led to the introduction of hundreds of different varieties. Not all are good for naturalising. Among the best are the varieties of Crocus tommasinianus and Crocus vernus, or Dutch crocus, which come in shades of yellow, white, lilac, mauve and purple.

Winter containers

Gardens can often look a bit dreary during the colder months the year, but there’s easy way to give them a lift – fill some containers with a selection of late autumn and winter interest plants and they’ll inject an immediate splash of colour that will last well into spring.

Most garden centres, nurseries and DIY stores stock a good range of shrubs, flowering perennials, grasses, bulbs and seasonal bedding plants, such as cyclamen, that can be combined in pots to break up the monotony of a brick wall, brighten up a shady courtyard or placed on a patio within sight of the house.

Red and green winter container with Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' Red Cyclamen and trailing Hedera - © GAP Photos

Red and green winter container with Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ Red Cyclamen and trailing Hedera – © GAP Photos

Finding the right pot is equally important as choosing plants. Glazed terracotta is perfect for a formal space, while metal containers suit a contemporary garden. Smooth ceramic or terrazzo pots are elegant, while coloured pots will help to brighten up the garden on a dull day. Don’t be afraid to combine containers in different styles, materials and sizes to create an exciting mixed display.

Winter container with Carex, Calluna vulgaris 'Alicia' and Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Niger' - © GAP Photos

Winter container with Carex, Calluna vulgaris ‘Alicia’ and Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Niger’ – © GAP Photos

If your chosen container only has one drainage hole in the base, cover with a layer made up of broken bits of terracotta pot to prevent compost from clogging up the hole. Multi-purpose compost is fine for temporary displays, but a mixture with added John Innes compost is better for shrubs and longer lived plants. Add a handful of controlled release fertiliser granules to help sustain the plants for a full growing season.

There’s an infinite number of planting combinations you could put together, and what you choose comes down to personal taste. A great way of creating a fantastic spectacle from late winter into spring is to make a witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’) the centrepiece of recipe that includes white hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus ‘Cinderella’) and blue Scilla siberica, a bulb commonly known as Siberian squill with bright blue flowers held on 10cm stems. Place the pot in a prominent spot so you can enjoy the scent from the witch hazel’s heavily scented, spidery yellow flowers.

Hammamelis 'Arnold Promise', Salix caprea pendula, Scilla, Helleborus 'Cinderella', Lonicera and Crocus - © Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos

Hammamelis ‘Arnold Promise’, Salix caprea pendula, Scilla, Helleborus ‘Cinderella’, Lonicera and Crocus – © Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos

Winter containers don’t have to include flowers to pack a punch. Dogwoods are unassuming plants for much of the year, as they make a leafy foil for more exuberant flowering species. But in autumn, they start to earn their keep as the leaves change colour before falling to reveal their glowing stems. One of the best is Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, whose mass of orangey-yellow and red shoots look superb rising above a swathe of black dragon grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’).

Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' and Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens'  - © Richard Bloom/GAP Photos

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ and Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ – © Richard Bloom/GAP Photos

Under plant your container displays with early flowering bulbs to add an extra layer of interest at ground level and to ensure an even longer season of interest. There are hundreds of compact varieties to choose from and it’s a good idea to add several varieties that flower at different times to provide colour for many weeks. Among the best for containers are snowdrops, dwarf irises, winter aconites, Scilla siberica, grape hyacinths, crocus and compact daffodils, such as ‘Minnow’, ‘Jack Snipe’ and ‘February Silver’.

Winter container with Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' - Common Dogwood, Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens, Snakesbeard, Galanthus 'Sam Arnott' in February  - © Richard Bloom/GAP Photos

Winter container with Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ – Common Dogwood, Ophiopogon planiscapus nigrescens, Snakesbeard, Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’ in February – © Richard Bloom/GAP Photos

Looking after winter containers is really simple. Raise them up on pot feet to allow excess moisture to drain away, and to prevent puddles from forming underneath that could lead to roots rotting. Apart from this, all you need to do is keep a close eye on watering – although rain or snow help to keep the compost damp, a few sunny, dry or windy days can lead to the compost drying out quickly, so check regularly and water whenever necessary. Avoid washing compost out of the container by using a long spouted watering can to deliver water accurately to the surface.