Thursday, 15 September 2011

Sunflowers - and Cupcake Heaven

So tempting!



I had no idea when walking into a room full of garden journalists a week ago that a tier of cupcakes was considered "the ultimate in contemporary cool", but a centrepiece of realistic sunflowers had me intrigued. The occasion was to announce seeds and plants that would be appearing in the 2012 Dobies of Devon catalogue, due for release at the beginning of October.


Sunflowers: they make you smile, and bring sunlight and joy to a garden on even the dullest day. Most varieties are tall and need staking but are nevertheless a delight to wild-birds (watch them pecking out the ripe seeds from a spent flower-head and de-hulling the seeds to get to the edible heart or kernel). 

I was captivated by a new Dobies sunflower introduction which I first spotted at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show: 'Waooh' is a branching variety ideal for planting in a large container as it grows to only 60cms (24ins) in height and will flower from July until September. It will be available in 2012 as plants - so look out for it in the new Dobies catalogue - we'll post a link as soon as the order code is to hand.

'Waooh' will certainly be amongst my list of 'must haves' for next year.

Back to cupcakes and their apparently universal appeal. Ideal of course for family parties or special events, they are really easy to make and decorate, as I quickly discovered after buying a really enchanting book: ‘Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery’, by Martha Swift & Lisa Thomas. I particularly wanted to recommend a book published in the UK (Kyle Cathie Ltd), and this could not be more English, or more entrepreneurial; for it is the work of two young mothers who started baking cupcakes for children’s parties and now run a flourishing business in Primrose Hill and Covent Garden, London.

These Lakeland cases really work
This is their story, with magical recipes for cupcakes and decorations. Mouth-watering and irresistible. As I’m more of a slab-fruitcake cook, I turned to kitchenware supplier, Lakeland Ltd, for equipment. You can off course buy pretty pleated paper cake-cases in supermarkets, but I particularly liked Lakeland’s pastel-coloured silicon cases: the cakes do not stick and slide out easily once cooked and cooled. Their silicon piping set is ideal for decorating. Both products are dishwasher safe - perfect.

So how about making  cupcakes to celebrate harvest-festival? Meanwhile of course, it’s too late for sowing or planting sunflowers, but we should still think of our garden birds - after the last two harsh winters, the wild-bird population has declined dramatically. 

This may be due to changes in our own gardening habits, but Dobies readers who follow our monthly e-newsletters will surely be aware of the importance of wild-life in the garden. In preparation, you can purchase bird feeders and food online by clicking here on the Dobies website. Don't wait until the cold weather arrives, action now - encouraging visitors throughout the autumn will be vital; and a life-saver for many birds - this thrush visited our bird table continuously throughout the terrible snowstorms we experienced earlier this year.

P.S. I'll be blogging 'live' from the RHS Malvern Autumn Show at the end of next week - edible gardens, the best of nature's harvest, a new Orchard Pavilion, the Festival of Perry, and so much more. See you there ??


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