As short winter days leaves gazing at the garden out of the question I realise how much I miss my summer evenings but never fear nature is still providing a plenty. I find gazing at the sky replaces the garden gazing as mostly it is bright at night and there are so many interesting things to observe. Sky gazing inspired a series of paintings which ended up becoming Christmas cards . Each cosmic explosion naturally inspired a line from a Christmas carol and hence the unplanned Christmas card making began.
How great thou art
Silent night holy night
Then sings my soul
Joy to the world
And to the earth it gave great light
The sky garden has kept me entertained as I await the first snowdrops in the garden in January – I can already see signs as I look carefully amongst what is left of the lawn
Happy new year garden growers – it will all be exploding out there before you know it
With ample blossom, snowdrops and the beginnings of the narcissi blooming about it would appear that Spring is emerging. Time perhaps to start thinking about getting seeds in for cultivating your summer window boxes and baskets. As bedding can get quite expensive why not save seeds from last years pots and plant them to grow your own blooms this summer. If you have already discarded all of these remember there is always another chance at the end of the summer blooming season.
I especially love French marigolds for their bright colourful display and their easiness to grow and maintain. I usually have them in abundance
Keep summer going for longer with these zesty coloured marigolds that stay blooming well into September and October if the weather is mild
extract the tiny seeds from dead flower heads. Happy cultivating there is nothing more satisfying.
Well not literally hay but as close as you might get to making things from nature in an urban environment. The sun shone and it was hot and sunny for the first time in a long time this summer. No better time, I thought, than to make a refreshing elderflower drink from the trees that have been blooming away at the end of my garden and has upon it some elderflowers at their optimum – heady, perfumy in the peak of their blooming life- giving joy from above before the tiny flowers begin to fall to the ground below creating a summer “snow effect”
I have been waiting since the beginning of summer when they first started to bloom and when the time feels just right and the air is filled with their perfume on a sunny day I know it is time to swing into action and begin the process to make a very tasty and most refreshing summer drink. Drunk in your garden on a hot summers day it is only what I can imagine it is like being in paradise.
I got this recipe from a friend who is a natural master chef extrodinaire and her daughter, Alexandra, drew me up this pretty diagram to help me on my merry way to making the delicious summer drink, I find it a very useful reference picture in the potion making process.
All you you will need is
250 grams of sugar
6 heads of elderflower at their optimum blooming point
two to three non waxed lemons
2.5 litres of water
Here’s what to do
Put the sugar in a jar and add some warm water to melt the sugar
cut the lemons into chunks and squeeze the juice into the sugar and water
throw the remaining bits of lemon into the syrup mix
add the elderflowers and mix
add the yeast
fill the jar with 2.5 litres of water
cover the jar with a lid if it has one or just use a piece of kitchen roll and an elastic if not
mix (making sure you touch the bottom) three times a day and keep in a sunny spot
taste after four days it is has been sunny it will be ready if not leave for five days but no longer as the taste will turn bitter after this.
Strain through a sieve into a bowl, bottle it up and keep in fridge
simple and delicious!
(Making Elderflower cordial – this post was due to be published at the beginning of July but was not finished or published due to me being out of action so bear the time of year in mind if you decide to make this delicious summer drink)
I love the satisfying circle of prolific self seeders, partnered with a combination of other perennial plants and bulbs, my idea of a perfect garden is complete, wild, natural and self perpetuating. For plants that need a helping hand I like nothing better than to collect their seed heads in autumn, plant them in some good compost in pots and reap the joy of their rewards the following year. Potting up and prettily presenting your excess plants grown from seeds will help spread the joy amongst others that you know. If you are a beginner, try sweet pea, nothing could be more easily grown and beautifully rewarding when in bloom The plants will provide you with cut flowers for the home throughout summer, the more you cut the more they bloom. Plant the seeds in autumn in some good compost and when they begin to sprout in spring support them with some bamboo or wicker which they will readily spiral up, cut the flowers for indoor display , this will keep the sweet pea blooming throughout the summer months.
The art of creating a beautiful space……….
The solace of a space, love, nurture and cultivate
Even if you only have the tiniest of outside spaces a balcony, terrace, window ledge or the front entrance to your home, window boxes and containers can open up the world of gardening to you, any space is enough to create the perfect kitchen garden. Plant up hardy herbs together, they will last all year round and will help inspire your winter cooking. Those non hardy herbs that prefer a warm sunny clime, will thrive throughout the summer and lend themselves nicely to the quick and easy oriental style and mediterranean cooking (much needed when life is too short and the days are too long to be spending too much of it inside).
Winter window box for the kitchen (think winter casseroles and slow roasts)
Bay, Rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano
These hardy herbs will last all year round – don’t forget to keep them watered during dry winters!
Spring to Autumn Window box for the kitchen – Semi hardy herbs (feeling like a lighter meal, think potato salad, fatoush, pasta or fish with creamy, herby sauces)
chives, parsley, tarragon, mint
(will die off in a frosty winter if kept outside but will grow back again the following spring)
Summer window box for the kitchen (think mediterranean, marinades, salads and quick and easy chinese and thai inspired stirfries)
lemongrass, basil, dill, corriander, chillies, spring onion and garlic
Enjoy the fruits of your labour
Have a look at this great site selling unique trough containers – They not only look picture pretty but are great for a small outdoor space to grow your all your kitchen requirements
If you have only the tiniest of window ledge, providing it is a sunny spot, why not grow lavender in a window box. When you open your window the summer flowers will make you feel like you are in your own little garden, bringing the outside in. Lavender also has many culinary uses, infuse in your tea, make lavender cupcakes, lavender sugar and lavender vinaigrette. Use the dried flowers to make lavender pot- pourri to use around your home or put in little muslin bags to freshen up your wardrobe or mix with some sea salt and olive oil to make a luxurious foot scrub. Trim the lavender plants back by about a third each year after the flowers have faded and they will bloom for many. Lavender is quite tolerant to dry conditions and loves to be in the sun. You will know it is summer when your lavender is in bloom, touch it, smell it, you will definately love it!
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
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.
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.