Plum Upside Down Cake Recipe

It’s been great fun in the garden in recent weeks with all the yummy things we have been picking. This week, our lovely neighbour, Auntie Muriel, asked us to help pick the plums on her tree and said we could take as many as we liked. Daddy was very brave going up a high ladder and racing the wasps to the fruit. He managed to get lots as you can see from our picture! So, even after we shared them out with lots of people we still had loads leftover so needed a yummy recipe to make. Mummy chose a Plum Upside Down Cake from the clever Jamie Oliver (1) and it is properly deelish…

 As usual, I need to inspect our pickings and ensure they meet my strict quality control standards

As usual, I need to inspect our pickings and ensure they meet my strict quality control standards

Plum Upside Down Cake

INGREDIENTS

• 225g butter
• 225g caster sugar
• 4 eggs beaten with 3 tbsp milk
• 100g ground almonds
• 1 tsp baking powder
• ½ tsp salt
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 150g plain flour
• 50g unblanched almonds, chopped or bashed in a pestle and mortar

Topping
• 125g butter, plus extra for greasing
• 150g light brown soft sugar
• 600g plums or greengages, stoned, halved and cut into 1cm slices

This was only some of the plums from Auntie Muriel's tree!

This was only some of the plums from Auntie Muriel’s tree!

METHOD

1. Start with the topping. Grease a 23cm-diameter round cake tin, then melt the butter in a pan. Stir in the sugar until the mixture is foamy and pale, about 2–3 minutes. (If it starts to separate, take it off the heat and keep stirring.) Pour into the cake tin and spread evenly. Arrange the plum slices in concentric circles over the topping, then put to one side.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in a quarter of the eggs at a time, mixing thoroughly between each addition. Stir in the ground almonds, baking powder, salt and vanilla extract. Fold in the flour, then stir through the chopped/bashed almonds.

3. Pour the cake mixture over the plums. Place the cake tin on a baking tray and bake for about 1 hour or until golden and a skewer comes out clean. 4 Rest the cake on a wire rack for 2 minutes before sliding a knife around the edge to loosen it. Place your serving plate over the top of the cake and carefully invert onto the plate, avoiding any juices that may escape. Gently remove the tin and replace any dislodged pieces of fruit. Serve with custard, crème fraîche or ice cream.

Upside down plum cake - very pretty!

Upside down plum cake – very pretty!

There are lots of other lovely things you can do with plums from crumbles and chutneys to dipping sauces and jams. Plums can easily be frozen too – just cut in half, remove the stone and lay them on a baking tray with cling film over them. Once frozen, bag them and they will keep all winter and won’t all be stuck together in one big lump! Yummy cakes at Vialii Towers all winter, yay! Hope you love it as much as me!

Lulu

1. I have a friend called Jamie and a friend called Oliver. They are brothers and are very cute. For boys 😉

Stirling News

Work on Provost’s Park which Vialii designed finally gets underway after several years of designing, consulting and fund raising for the make-over.

stirling-news-august-2013

Perfect Potatoes

Potatoes are great, aren’t they? They are a bit like me, wonderfully versatile 😉 As you all know by now, I am Lulu the Secret Blogger, and I like to update you on what is happening in my garden as well as lots of other general gardening wonderments. Today, I am mostly talking perfect potatoes (or top tatties!)

M&D have tried many varieties of potatoes over the years, some good, some not so good. They reliably informed me that one of their favourites was Maris Peer so that was what we chose to plant again this year. Way back in April, when it felt like summer would never arrive, we planted our seed potatoes in our raised beds. Over the months I watched with amazement as plants would poke through the surface of the soil which would then be covered over again with earth until they sprouted so high they were free to sun themselves. Flowers appeared and then, eventually, the foliage slowly started to die back. One day, Daddy announced it was time to dig deep in the raised beds and see what we could find – how exciting! Just like a treasure hunt. Here are some photos of how to successfully dig up potatoes, Lulu-style…

  1. First, dig and collect the potatoes. Be careful with your fork as you don’t want to spear all the potatoes and ruin them.
  2. Next, carefully inspect each potato. Teeny small ones, green ones & rotten ones are all discarded.

    Quality control is very important when you are sorting perfect potatoes

    Quality control is very important when you are sorting perfect potatoes

  3. Then, carefully put the potato in the correct trug. One for good potatoes, one for the discarded potatoes. It’s important to remember which one is which!

    Our trug full of lovely perfect potatoes

    Our trug full of lovely perfect potatoes

  4. It is very hard work so if you feel tired, have a wee lie down! They did say this was a raised bed!
Have a roll in the veg beds to get warmed up!

Have a lie down in the veg beds – it is such hard work!

5. Serve them with some of the other lovely veg from your garden, yum!

A plate full of lovely home grown veg

A plate full of lovely home grown veg

We grew our potatoes in our raised beds but you can grow potatoes anywhere – in your flower border, in a pot, in a compost bag. They are super-easy to grow, really cheap and they taste so much nicer than supermarket potatoes.

Store your potatoes in a hessian sack in a cool, dry place like your shed or garage. They will keep well for a few months but keep checking on them and remove any that are starting to show signs of rot straight away.

Hope you have as much fun as I did digging (and eating) up potatoes! Click here to read about what else we have harvested this year.

Lulu

Transformers – Gardens in Disguise! Part 2

Earlier this year we blogged some “Before & After” pictures of a few of the gardens we have designed and built. Here are some more of our recent garden transformations…

A Room with a View, Brightons

Before: the garden had become overgrown and was on an awkward slope.

An overgrown, sloped garden

An overgrown, sloped garden

After: this garden was completely transformed with new lawn, planting and the addition of the fabulous garden “pod”, allowing the garden to be enjoyed in all weathers.

One of our garden transformations

The tranformed garden with the amazing “pod”

A Plantsman’s Garden, Larbert

Before: the garden was water logged and lacked inspiration.

The garden had no seating areas and lacked focal points]

The garden had no seating areas and lacked focal points]

After: Additional slats to the fence, new paths and patio, reshaped lawn and some beautiful planting perfected this makeover.

The new garden is packed with interest

The new garden is packed with interest

A Low Maintenance Family Garden, Bridge of Allan

Before: there was little to be kept in the existing garden except an apple tree and rhododendron.

The apple tree was one of the few things to keep

The apple tree was one of the few things to keep

After: The existing apple tree was given a good “hair-cut” & became the key feature of the new patio in this garden. New lawn, gravel borders and structural planting all completed this transformation.

Curving lawn, a new patio and structural planting transforms this garden

Curving lawn, a new patio and structural planting transforms this garden

A Contemporary Wildlife Garden, Bridge of Allan

Before: The wonderful view beyond was hidden in this garden by overgrown hedgerow. There was nothing to keep in the garden at all.

There was nothing to keep in the garden

There was nothing to keep in the garden

A new log fence, morning patio, raised deck, lawn and veg beds were all carefully designed to complete this garden with a view.

The new deck provides a contemporary space to enjoy the lovely views

The new deck provides a contemporary space to enjoy the lovely views

If you are interested in having your own garden designed, click here to contact us for a free design consultation.

To see more transformations click on the following:

Transformers – Gardens in Disguise! Part 1

Transformers – Gardens in Disguise! Part 3

Thanks for reading.

All at Vialii

Harvest, Hooray!

I had a really fun weekend here at Vialii Towers with M&D. On Saturday it was really quite wet so we stayed indoors and did lots of fun arty projects with crayons, pencils, paints and glue! On Sunday the weather was a lot better which meant we could get outside and give the garden a bit of a tidy It was also time to harvest some of the fruit and vegetables we have been growing over recent months.

Harvest: Sometimes what we were picking didn't quite make it to the basket...

Sometimes what we were picking didn’t quite make it to the basket…

Now, regular readers will know that we had quite an array of vegetables we were growing this year. Some things didn’t do so well like the spring onions ‘cos someone kept climbing up onto the veg beds and lying there (1). And the cavolo nero suffered as the caterpillars decided they were going to get in there first (2)! Not to worry as we still had loads more things we were growing. Here is a pic of a few of the things we did manage to harvest at the weekend:

We harvested lots, from parsnips to chard and beetroot to turnips!

We harvested lots, from parsnips to chard and beetroot to turnips! Oh and some potatoes and apples too!

Lulu

1. I can’t imagine who that could have been!We had a scrummy dinner with the potatoes and Mummy roasted the beetroot, parsnips and courgette. Then she made a rhubarb crumble and a lovely Rhubarb & Lemon Cake.

2. Next year I am going to insist that we cover the kale in netting before butterflies can lay their eggs and caterpillars get munching!

The Bees Knees

Hi, it’s me, Lulu, The Secret Blogger again! So, the bees knees. What a funny saying. I mean, do bees even have knees? And if so, why are they so good? Anyway, knees or not, bees are very good things. And not just because I can say the word “bee” very well plus I can do a good impression of a buzzy bee! We need bees for lots of reasons…

Bees on eryngium

Bees on eryngium

Why Bees Are Important

Bees pollinate a wide range of crops, vegetables, fruits and plants

It’s important we encourage bees into our garden. There are lots more plants that bees like and M&D have listed their top ten favourites here. If we all plant a few of these in our gardens it will make a huge difference and that will be the “bees knees” 😉
Echinacea is popular with bees

Echinacea is popular with bees

To celebrate the humble bumble why don’t you ask your mummy and daddy to help you make your own bumble bee? I love this project as it’s suitable for kids of all ages:

Fingerprint Bumblebees

You will need:
How to make your bumble bee:
Make a bumble bee from finger prints

Make a bumble bee from finger prints

So, even when you are indoors you can have your very own cheery bumble bee! Thanks to the crafty people at DLTK for this idea.

I will leave the last word to a man called Albert Einstein. He was very clever, just like my Mummy.
 
“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.”
Lulu
 
1. I have a lot of friends who like their food a LOT and they wouldn’t be happy if there wasn’t enough to go round. Mentioning no names. Euan 😉

Provost Park Set To Blossom

For almost three years, local business Vialii Garden Design have been working closely with Bridge of Allan Community Council to create a new design for the village’s Provost Park. Having secured funding for the build, the design is about to be finally brought to life. Being based in the village, Vialii are delighted to have been involved in the project from its initial concept and to be able to give something back to the community for residents and visitors to enjoy.

Vialii's design for the new Provost Park

Vialii’s design for the new Provost Park

Since the controversial new toilet block was finally completed in Bridge of Allan, the space around it, known as Provost Park, had largely been left untouched and was a sad space in an otherwise beautiful and prosperous village. The Provost Lamp had been renovated and given a new life but its surroundings had yet to be brought up to the same standard.

Vialii Garden Design were approached in late 2010 to discuss the possibility of being involved in the renovation of Provost Park. As a local company based in Bridge of Allan, Vialii were delighted to be able to provide advice and designs for the benefit of the community.

Initially, company directors Michael and Jill Burt met with some of the Community Council to discuss the project. Jill recalls:

“It was in the middle of a cold snap in the winter of 2010 when we first met up Gavin Drummond and Liz Rankin from the Community Council. They were putting up the village Christmas tree in the park to try and add some sparkle to what was otherwise an uninspiring space. At least the thick covering of snow hid the lack of interest underneath! At the meeting Liz and Gavin discussed some of the ideas that had been considered for the space and asked if we were able to pull together some thoughts.”

The beautiful, renovated Provost Lamp

The beautiful, renovated Provost Lamp

Jill explains the inspiration for the design:

“There were three main requirements which jumped out at us from the outset. Firstly, the community required a practical area where they can relax and enjoy the world going by. The space needed to be usable by everyone in the community whether that’s families, couples or elderly so path widths and surfaces were important. Plentiful seating was clearly important too. Secondly, the area had to look good. The Friends of Bridge of Allan, who look after many of Bridge of Allan’s public gardens, carry out fantastic work in the community and Provost Park has been a contentious issue for some time. We were keen to design a space that the community could all be proud of and be happy to use. It’s a great space, right in the middle of the village so it needed to have the “wow factor” and be fitting of its focal point in such an attractive village. Lastly, we were keen to reflect the Victorian inspiration which surrounds the park and the spa village and design a garden which would be appropriate for the space.

The current park is uninspiring

The current park is uninspiring

“The main focal point for the design is a stunning, cast iron gazebo, situated in the centre of formal gardens. Victorians loved symmetry and topiary so we made sure these were key features of the space. Vintage style bricks edge wide pathways suitable for all members of the community. Decorative metal screens will surround the toilet block providing a nicer backdrop to the gardens and will include details inspired by the village itself. In the corner closest to the toilets, an ecclesiastical garden is to be created, reflecting the park once being the site of a church. Liz has managed to obtain beautiful pew benches from one of the village churches which will sit in this area looking onto a centre bed of perfumed plants. The central focal point of this area will be the existing stone fountain.

The wall which runs the length of Provost Park will boast new interpretation boards highlighting some of the key features and historical information about Bridge of Allan. To the front of the park, a grassy area has been included, allowing space to sit out and relax and watch the world passing by.

The mood-board shows the inspiration behind Vialii's new design for Provost Park

The mood-board shows the inspiration behind Vialii’s new design for Provost Park

The planting is a mixture of formal topiary as well as smaller shrubs, bedding plants and bulbs. The aim is to keep the gardens fairly low maintenance to reduce pressure on the Friends of Bridge of Allan, who will take over responsibility for the garden once it is complete.

It’s been a delight to work with Gavin, Liz and the team as well as working with the local community and taking their views on board. We are honoured to have been asked to be involved in such an important project and to be able to give something back to the community. We look forward to seeing the actual gardens being constructed very soon but the real icing on the cake will be seeing local residents and visitors using and enjoying the space.”

Thanks for reading

All at Vialii

Money Down The Drain? Never!

One of the most common problems we come across when we go to see new clients is a sodden lawn and garden drainage issues. And after the Winter we have just had they are even more prevalent! And whilst we can’t fix the weather, there is a lot that can be done to help fix your flooded garden…

Garden Drainage Issues

Drainage drainage issues are becoming increasingly synonymous with new build homes but they can prevail in pretty much any garden. In new estates, gardens are often littered with builders’ rubble and more often than not insufficient subsoil is removed and not enough good quality topsoil is brought in. In other gardens, soil may have become compacted, the soil may have too much clay content or the lawn may be shaded by overgrown trees. Or there may be some hidden drainage problem which needs to be addressed. Every garden is different and we always recommend getting expert advice. Here are some of the ways we help our clients tackle their soggy bottoms…

Garden drainage issues

We can help fix your garden drainage issues

Aeration

When soil becomes compacted it’s necessary to put some air back into the lawn area. The grass is spiked and, where necessary, cores removed. A sandy loam mix is then brushed in. Remember, if you have a problem with soggy grass, avoid walking on it in wet weather as you will compact it even more. Foe more info on looking after your grass click here.

Drainage channels

Where the flooding is bad, adding drainage channels can help improve the situation. The extent of the problem will determine the amount of channels required and how much of the existing turf will need to be removed and new turf laid.

New turf

If the lawn has been laid on poor quality soil, it may be wise to lift the grass and remove the top soil and any rubble. We would then rotovate the area thoroughly, dig in lots of organic matter, sand and grit before adding good quality top soil and then laying new, good quality turf. It may sound like a faff but it could be the best way to give you a LLL (long-term lovely lawn!).

Artificial turf

Whilst you can lay artificial turf on a wet area without tackling the drainage problem, you should still consider additional drainage measures if you’re problems are severe. We would recommend following the same steps as with laying new turf and if really bad consider drainage channels too.

Artificial grass is an option to overcome issues of a sodden lawn

Artificial grass is an option to overcome issues of a sodden lawn

However. sometimes you need to know when to quit and try something else. In some gardens the aspect, soil and elevation may mean that a lawn is not a practical solution (or perhaps not for the whole garden). Gravel is one great alternative as it’s relatively low cost, low maintenance, hides lots of sitting water and can be softened by planting, pots, statues etc.  Or go with the flow (excuse the pun) and install a pond in that area of the garden.

There will be different solutions to suit every garden but we are happy to visit and give you our friendly advice and a free estimate.

All at Vialii

Pallet Perfection

The landscaping side of our business gets a LOT of materials delivered on pallets. Lately we have been giving some thought to what we could use the leftover pallets for. Here are some of the items we have made from upcycled pallets so far:

Some old pallets ready to become upcycled pallets

Some old pallets being stripped ready for a new life

Planters

These pretty planters can be made to whatever size or shape suits your garden. We have made a few herb planters so far but we have a tray of alpines waiting to be re-homed into a brand new pallet planter at our front door. These can easily be personalised by spraying whatever words you want onto the front. To read how to make your own pallet planter click here. Or contact us to order your own bespoke planter.

Pallet planters

Pallet planters

Gate

We have been meaning to add a gate to our back garden for a while now, to help keep our little one from escaping. We decided to make a unique gate out of pallets and used a vintage garden tool as a handle. We will be adding some suitable wording to the horizontal slat soon.

Pallet gate

Pallet gate

Sand pit

Essentially, a large planter, the sand pit is proving to be a very popular addition to the range. Just make sure you sand down the pales well and you use a robust liner inside. Oh and add a lid so that local cats don’t use it as their very own outdoor litter tray! Again, this can be personalised and we have added a hole in one corner for a windmill 🙂

Pallet sand-pit

Pallet sand-pit

Shed

The main structure of our bespoke garden shed is made with some heavy duty pallets.

Pallets used to create the shed frame

Pallets used to create the shed frame

These were then covered in slats on the outside and a living roof added on. It wouldn’t be us without the quirky handle, alternative down pipe and loveheart hole in the door!

The completed shed

The completed shed

Next we are thinking about trying out a children’s bench. If you have ideas of other items that could be made from upcycled pallets we would love to hear them. Or if you want more information on ordering any of these items please get in touch.

Thanks for reading,

All at Vialii

Get To The (Focal) Point – Part 2

In our recent blog on garden focal points we told you why they are such an important feature in the gardens we design. Here are a few more examples of some of the focal points we have used in our gardens…

Oil Lantern

This oil lantern is made from corten steel which is designed to give this beautiful rusted finish. It is wonderful focal point in this garden, guiding you round the path up to the seating area in the top corner.

An oil lantern made from rusted metal is softened by planting and is perfect garden focal points

An oil lantern made from rusted metal is softened by planting

Classical statue

This garden has a formal layout of raised beds and lends itself to having a focal point down the central aisle. A classical white statue looks great against the clipped hedge.

A formal layout is complemented with this classical statue focal point

A formal layout is complemented with this classical statue focal point

Dry-stone seat

This wonderful seat is a lovely feature in this city centre garden. Hand crafted from stone without the need for any mortar it is a true work of art and a lovely focal point in the garden.

A dry-stane seat creates a wonderful focal points as well as a place to rest on your journey round the garden

A dry-stane seat creates a wonderful focal points as well as a place to rest on your journey round the garden

Garden pod

There is no missing the main focal point in this garden – the garden “pod”. The bespoke pod was crafted from timber and has a living roof. Great to look at as well as a place to shelter from the Scottish weather!

The garden "pod" is a strong feature of this garden

The garden “pod” is a strong feature of this garden

Feature tree

This wonderful old apple tree was the only thing to be saved from the old garden that we transformed here. It had grown a bit wild but with a careful “hair-cut” it was restored to its true glory and became a wonderful feature in the new patio.

The gnarly old apple tree was sculpted and made the focal point within the new patio in this garden

The gnarly old apple tree was sculpted and made the focal point within the new patio in this garden

Water feature

Water features can be a wonderful addition to the garden, providing a wonderful focal point to look and listen to (and feel if you are a child having lots of fun in the garden!) This lovely water feature sits in a bespoke vintage brick patio.

A beautiful water feature set into a patio creates a wonderful focal point at the end of the curving path

A beautiful water feature set into a patio creates a wonderful focal point at the end of the curving path

Garden Globe & Canal

The “canal” is a lovely feature in this garden, providing a contemporary pond for adults and wildlife to enjoy. It leads on to the metal globe focal point which leads your eye up and to the stunning view beyond.

Here, the water feature and metal globe draw the eye up to the beautiful views beyond

Here, the water feature and metal globe draw the eye up to the beautiful views beyond

If you are would like some focal points introduced into your garden please get in touch to discuss what would work well in your space and to your budget.

Thank you for reading.

All at Vialii

Danger Danger! Our Guide To Poisonous Plants

Recently I went on holiday with M&D and my BFF Euan and his parents. It was a brilliant holiday and we spent loads of time at the beach (1) which was LOTS of fun. On one of the days M&D took me to Alnwick Gardens. There is a Castle there where Harry Potter used to live which made it extra exciting. Thankfully we didn’t run into Voldemort! We loved our visit to the Gardens and there were lots of wonderful things to see. My favourite part of the gardens was the Poison Garden. It is sooo dangerous that they keep it under lock and key and you can only get in with a tour-guide. Honest! I learnt lots about potentially poisonous plants in the garden and there are even things you will have in your very own gardens you really ought to know about…

The Poison Garden at Alnwick Gardens

The Poison Garden at Alnwick Gardens


Eating Plants

Now, I don’t want to be scaremonger. It would be boring standing about in a field all day. Really, you just need to be sensible in the garden. But it’s us kids which are most at danger so I feel it’s my duty, as Blogger-in-Chief, to pass on some of the things I learnt and mention a few of the plants which you might have in your garden which could pose a risk.

Now, whilst mummies and daddies are always encouraging us to eat up our greens so we can grow up to be big & strong, this Phil Osophy (whoever he is) doesn’t apply to any old bit of greenery in the garden. You mustn’t just go and eat leaves or berries you find in the garden as they could make you very poorly. Only a CLEVER adult can tell you what is edible in your garden and if you’re not 100% sure then don’t take the risk. Here are some common poisonous plants you will find in the garden which you must not eat:

Foxgloves are poisonous plants if eaten. So don't!

Foxgloves are poisonous if eaten. So don’t!

Skin Irritants

Some plants can give horrible burns or make your skin feel very itchy. Be careful around these plants and if you are helping out in the garden make sure your arms are covered up and you wear gloves. Ask a grown-up to deal with the plants which could cause a skin irritation. We need to make sure we look after our beautiful skin! Plants to watch out for which you may find in your garden include:

Even beautiful tulips can irritate the skin and be poisonous plants so take care

Even beautiful tulips can irritate the skin so take care

So, whilst being out in the garden is my FAVOURITE thing to do and I would always recommend you spend as much time out there as possible, just be careful.
Lulu
1. We went to Northumberland on holiday which I hugely recommend for you to take your grown-ups to on holiday. There is lots for everyone to do. My favourite beach was Bamburgh beach, it’s lovely!

2. I would also class boys as a skin irritant but I don’t know the Latin name for a boy yet to list it here!