As I lounge in the lounge gazing out at the rain on an overcast Mid March day (it is after all St Patrick’s Day and it is traditional that he sheds a tear for Ireland), the highs of the past few sunny spring days that raised my spirits to an ecstatic high a distant memory, I remember why it is I love to plant my window boxes from scratch rather than buy ready grown ones. The sight of the partially emerged muscari amongst the narcissus pulled me right back to the reason why I love Spring, there is so much more to come and the rain…………….. well that’s the part that makes it all possible! Window boxes are a great way of bringing nature into your home and are great for the smallest of outside spaces.
As I begin to get those summer bulbs in starting with a humongous pot of white gladoli my thoughts turn to dreams of long, hot loungey summer days in the garden and whilst recently enjoying a sunday morning at the columbia road flower market, I happened upon two gorgeous babes – perfect to accompany me on these days. I originally spotted this style of deckchair in an Alan Titchmarsh gardening book years ago, looking aged and comfortable in a pretty garden, and dreamt of having similar ones ever since but could never find them anywhere for sale in the UK until now. THE CRUISER CHAIR (folding deck chairs) not only look amazing but are really comfy to lounge in (pop in a few cushions on the VERY lazy days) and they will also weather beautifully over time. Check out WAWA on line or go down to the market for a leisurely browse of their products.
Over four days of hard labour from morning to late evening (10pm in most cases) the only way I could contribute to the hard landscaping being put in place for my envisaged urban oasis was by making a hearty meal on my day off for the grafters. I picked up my trusty old “Floyd on Africa” book and sourced the ingredients listed therein to make a lamb and green pea breedie (remember this one Rosco) with a green apple sambal – it certainly went down a treat after a hard days work. This has been an old favourite of mine and Frex’s for over ten years since we first discovered it and has proved a strong favourite with friends we’ve cooked it for and the people who’ve borrowed the recipe to cook for themselves. Whilst browsing through the amazing colourful photography from Africa that is in the book I happened upon a recipe for “preserved lemons” ah ha another great use for the abundance of lemons yielded from the little lemon tree and how fabulous would these taste in with a middle eastern style chicken roast! It was a great loss to the world when Keith Floyd died in 2009 but his legacy lives on – he was one of the greats who truly understood taste and food combinations. If you are lucky enough to get hold of a copy of this book (it is worth it for the photography alone – never mind the endless tasty, easy to cook recipes inside) hold on to it, if you’re not here are details of how to cook lamb and green pea breedie and how the make lemon preserve from your home grown tree (there also a chance to use some of those herbs as well!). Try them – it will be time well spent! Bottoms Up!
Layer the thinly sliced lemons with olives and thyme in a jar with a seal, fill with groundnut or olive oil and leave in the fridge for at least one month to the flavour to develop
cut lemons into quarters and layer with rock salt and thyme in a steralized jar. Heat some lemon juice in a pan and pour over (enough to cover the lemons) seal the jar and leave for a month for the full flavour to develop
Lamb and green pea bredie
method: heat oil and brown off lamb, add onions and cook for a few minutes, add star anise, red masala, chilli, garlic and thyme. Pour on stock, cover and cook for 20 minutes, add potatoes cook for 20 mins, add peas and cook for 10 mins, season to taste and serve with rice and green apple sambal (juice 2 lemons, 4 hard green apples peeled, 2 garlic cloves crushed, half to one chilli finely chopped, grate apple into lemon juice, toss from time to time add rest ingredients and mix well – it compliments the dish so well – don’t be tempted to leave it out!)1kg lamb shank, 3 onions finely chopped, 1 tsp star anise, 1 tspn red masala curry paste, 2 green chillies (the recipe says 5 but I find that too hot!), 5 garlic cloves, some sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 litre lamb stock, 1lb new pots or large ones diced, 1lb peas, salt and pepper to taste
What you might ask has Frankie and The Lankan got to do with gardening. Well these are the two people who are helping to make my vision become a reality. We have lived with a small front garden for many years where I have dreamed of making an urban oasis for all to enjoy and now it is finally becoming a reality. Envisaging, planting and putting the final pretty touches is definately my bag but when it comes to the hard landscaping you gotta bring in the grafters. Removing tonnes of old ’70’s concrete pathways (didn’t they learn anything from the edwardians?), digging the site and mixing and pouring a solid cement foundation upon which to lay the lovely tumbled natural stone is no easy feat. Frankie dug for England whilst the lankan pottered about and opened a tinnie. Does Frankie have any Aussie blood amongst that Armenian and Welsh coz he dug so deep I thought he was making his way down under although he assures me it was because he was a mole in his previous life (Adrian mole aged 11 and 3/4 maybe).
Some daffs, muscari and bluebells did get damaged in the making of this space (sob sob, lament) But they all remain beneath the soil and will raise their beautiful heads in next years new improved spring garden. Cheers to change things can only get better.
“I wondered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er dales and hills when all at once I saw a crowd a host of golden daffodils, beside the lakes beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze, ten thousand saw I at a glance tossing their heads in sprightly dance”william wordsworth
Every year they arrive so quickly almost like a fairy has waved a magic wand over night and they never fail to evoke a feeling of excitement and put a spring in my step. For most they herald the arrival of spring – it’s probably their abudance and ubiquitousness that create this excitement as the crocus and snowdrops that have gone before don’t seem to create the same kind of buzz for most (although for me they have already provided days of endless gazing pleasure)
If your garden is lacking in spring colour – now is your chance to get started. Buy some ready planted containers or some ready grown bulbs and plant up your own containers, window boxes or hanging baskets. Things like narcissus and muscari always look good planted together in pretty teracotta pots or harmonize some paper whites and white primrose in a hanging basket. When they have finished blooming, let the plants die back to bulbs (the primroses can be planted straight into the garden to lighten up a shady spot) and think about where you would like to put your bulbs next autumn so you will have spring flowers popping up year on year. For best effect plant in clumps of threes (space the clumps out as they multiply!
Early spring bloomers – narcissi, muscari and primroses.
I always find that I have an abundance of those hardy herbs that keep on going over winter – sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme and even parsley (when the weather is mild enough). What do I do with them all to keep them pruned as I always have more than I can ever use – the answer is simple – hang them up and dry them out, mix them together and there you have it – a never ending supply of mixed herbs for your herb drawer to add to all those lovely home made pasta dishes yum. They look and smell lovely as they hang to dry, after a few weeks when they are dry pull the herbs from the stalks and store them in jars. If you fancy getting creative, draw up some pretty labels to attach to jars and share then with friends and neighbours. Easy to grow if you are limited for space on your balcony or terrace.
Ever the keen gardener my eyes are always peeled as I walk along surburban streets and parks alike to see what I can find. Many of my garden plants are bourne of seed pods spotted and picked in the depths of winter or cuttings from friends and families gardens. These ones shown below I spotted a few weeks ago dangling daintly from a twig like shrub devoid of all its leaves so no idea what to expect from the planted seeds found inside the pods. Watch this space……..
Spotted dangling daintily
seeds in a pod, plant in a pot
the begining of a wisteria vine
Last years major seed haul produced two huge pots of lupins which have started to sprout already again this year. Mine looked great displayed in large tall pots on the patio or you can plant them up in the border in a sunny position. The plants also produced another yield of seeds that I have just planted to produce more blooms this year which I will be able to share with friends.
With a little thought about what you plant in your outside space it will not only look beautiful but will yield some very useful and inspirational things prompting the unleashing of the creative you. Lemon trees look great and you can grow them in a pot on your balcony or terrace (they will flourish in a sheltered area or you can take them inside if the winter is very harsh). The tree will give fruit all year round. When the blooms appear before the fruit the air is scented like a heaven send – it doesn’t get much better than this. Lemons get used lots in summer to help olive oil dress your salads or squeeze into a summer cocktail or fruit add to a fruit punch. In winter try making your own lemoncillo the perfect winter schnaps or a lemon loaf to help keep your cockles warm, entertain guests and make your kitchen smell like a kath kidson advert! The perfect pretty plant, with many uses, to grow in a big pot on your balcony or terrace. Keep your lemon tree well watered and in a sunny spot to produce big bouncy lemons!
Zest your lemons (making sure you do not to include any of the white pith) Pour vokda over zest, put in an airtight jar for at least a week, shake daily, pour boiling water over sugar and disolve, then add the vodka and zest mixture that has been resting for a week and leave in the airtight jar again for a further week, shake daily, strain into bottles and add some lemon zest strands to each bottle
Some inspirational uses
Refreshing and light the perfect palate cleanser and digestive, have with tonic water as a sweet tasty refreshing drink, add to champagne, mix with a fruit juice for a delightful cocktail, drizzle on ice cream, fruit salad or fresh strawberries.
Well the garden is pretty quiet this time of year apart from the snowdrops dainty pretty heads bopping about, and the “how does it do it in the middle of winter” hellebore blooming it’s head off interspersed with the occassional early appearance of a primrose. It’s also an exciting time of year thinking about what lies beneath and what is to come. With winter dormancy comes a chance to clear up, trim up, think of the big picture and sort out the detail with the future envisaged. Where do those spring and summer bulbs need to be popping up from and what would look fabulous where. Sketch it, draw it, write it down for later. Next autumn is when you can get your bulbs in for the following year or pop a few ready grown bulbs where required in place for this spring.
read on for some magical inspiration………
In the fairy garden “If you believe in fairies then what you see here is real, If the sight of one eludes you just stop, stand still and feel the gentle breeze as it goes lapping past your eyes, the soft damp dew upon your nose, it’s fairy dust did you realise
Smell the air it’s always full of sweet perfume you know, its left behind lingering around by fairies as they go close your eyes imagine the magic they can do, then jump right up go on your way and know that you can too” fen – inspired by my little niece Isabelle 2010