A Place to Ponder

vejer a place to ponder2

One of my many passions in life is to travel the world and explore new places and with holidays being scarce when you work full time I always like to try and venture to new territories for new explorations.  Apart from my home country of Ireland, that has entrenched in me an unbreakable bond,  there is one place that keeps drawing me back for visits over the years.   A trip during the summer just gone confirmed to me that this is the sort of  place I could grow old in.  It is the pristine white hilltop town of Vejer de la frontera, built by the Moors and preserved by the Spanish.  With flowers a plenty blooming in every street, every courtyard and roof terrace,  in bright vibrant colours,  coupled with the beautiful white backdrop of the town,  it is like waking up on a movie set every day.  A great inspiration for urbanisation – fill it with flowers and the heart will blossom.  Here people do not have gardens but they make use of every available space to create a town full of tiny blooming places, people together enhancing the majestic town.  There is a lot to learn from Spain where living in apartment in an urban environment does not have to mean dank and grey. Vejer is a town united, where tiny blooming places gel together to make one of the prettiest places I have ever visited. It is not just contained to this particularly picturesque town in Spain, nearby towns in the Cadiz region like Conil bloom as well as the larger city of  Seville to the north,  where apartment living does not mean a life without a blooming outside space.

If you look behind and above the blooming rose to the forefront (insert smiley face here)   you will see tiny balconies filled with flowers – no place is too small

vejer balconies in bloom

Where there is a balcony there is a pot and even where there is not!

vejer balconies in bloom2

If you have a verge outside – fill it with pots

vejer blooming street

Never mind deck the halls – deck the streets

vejer blooming street2

Behind closed doors  – You would never expect it but most open up to little havens of flower filled courtyards

vejer courtyard in bloom

vejer let it all hang out

Plants cascade down from roof terraces to meet up with the potted plants below creating a flowing, fluid flowering facade

vejer cacading roof terrace

Plant it – it will grow.  Tiny terraces planted with big blooming plants

vejer plant it it will grow

With the plants come the wildlife – this little fella was spotted wandering freely around our flower filled patio

vejer iggy and the pot

In nearby Conil this pretty flower fronted bar was beckoning for me to come and sit for a drink

conil blooming bar

conil blooming bar2

Tiny spot blooming beautifully

conil blooming bar3

conil blooming bar4

In Seville tiny balconies were packed with flowers – urban doesn’t have to mean concrete only!

seville fill it with pots

seville have a balcony fill it up

Fill it with Flowers

seville have a balcony fill it up2

Wandering around Seville to see what I can find

seville wandering around

Found it! My city pad

seville ornate balcony

A beautiful ornate balcony to fill with flowers

seville ornate balcony2

Urbanites be inspired

What’s in the box – the winter warmer inspired window box

If your window boxes are looking a bit sketchy and you are wondering what should I do next, how about getting in some hardy herbs that will keep on going throughout winter and will inspire you to get in the kitchen cooking up some winter warmers as the evenings draw in and cosying up seems like an attractive alternative to a night on the tiles.  As I plant up the window boxes I am dreaming of casseroles, stews, soups, roasts and all those lovely dishes that warm our cockles on a cold winters day. Rosemary, thyme, bay and sage are all strong on flavour, taste and aroma.  Best of all they are hardy so will last throughout the UK winter. So why not get planting and get cooking – aaahhhh the smell of it!

and now just a little something to help get your creative juices flowing – happy planting, happy cooking and happy eating

ham hock white beans

Smoked ham hock with white beans

1 large smoked ham hock
250g white beans, soaked
1 tsp vegetable oil
2 carrots, peeled and cut in three
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 bouquet garni
1 bunch fresh thyme
A couple of bay leaves
1 litre chicken stock

A day ahead, soak the ham in cold water for 24 hours to reduce its saltiness, changing the water a few times. Soak the beans in cold water overnight, or for at least 12 hours.

Next day, heat the oil in a pot big enough to hold the ham. Fry the carrots until caramelised, then add the onion and garlic, and cook for six or seven minutes until translucent. Add the herbs, ham and drained beans, pour in the stock, cover and cook on a medium heat until the beans have absorbed most of the stock and are very soft, and the ham is tender. Remove the bouquet garni.

This is a rustic dish, so serve it as it comes in deep bowls with some crusty bread to mop up the juices.

 

The Kitchen Planter

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

Grow herbs in a window box whatever size to suit your space
It’s amazing the variety you can pack in, your very own organic mini supermarket
Plant some herbs in a big wooden barrel or terracotta pot on your terrace or pop it at your front door, I usually dry out the abundance of hardy herbs they always come in handy in the store cupboard
Basil likes to stay inside when it is cold outside but will thrive outdoors in your window box during the summer months

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

http://www.harrodhorticultural.com/HarrodSite/pages/product/product.asp?prod=GPL-695

Growing Lavender

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!

Grow Lavender in your window boxes
Infuse your tea
Create your own tea infusions, this one has green tea, camomile, hisbiscus, lavender and lemon
Bake some lavender cupcakes
Make some home made pot pourri – I pulled the lavender flowers from their stalks after they had dried out and mixed with some dried rose buds collected throughout the summer – you can also package these in little bags and tie up with ribbon – they make a pretty gift
Dried lavender also makes a great wardrobe fresher – pack in pretty bags and hang in your wardrobe
Keeps my wardrobe smelling fresh
The smell of lavender will keep months at bay

Here is a great link I found to explore the many more uses of lavender http://frugalgranola.com/2012/02/culinary-uses-for-lavender/

Mish Mash

As most people will know good design doesn’t just happen by chance.  It is a carefully processed and perfectly executed melange.   And like with any good design careful consideration needs to be given before creating your perfect outside space,  from what plant where to which plant suits which pot.  It is always wise to remember size and colour matters whether planting your borders or containers.  Although tempting as it may be to “acquire” everytrhing that you LIKE a little bit of forethought, restraint and planning will result in a garden that you LOVE.  But before planting can commence it is good to have an overall vision in mind.  Visions can change and evolve as is nature’s way and they give you the focus to start creating something that will look great.  You can clash you can mix you can match just don’t mish mash!

For the enthusiasts amongst you who want to get some spring colour around your home now  below are some ideas, lots of  the spring bloomers shown come in a variety of colours so choose which colours  you would like for your spring window boxes,  patio planters or borders.  For me it’s purple and yellow mixes that hail the coming of spring!

“calming whites” white tulips and trailing ivy
“cute contrasts” white muscari and purple viola
“sunshine yellow” yellow tete a tete with red, purple and yellow primroses
“wonderland of whites” muscari, hyacinth, daffodills, tulips
“Walk on by” these boxes have been planted with daffs for spring when they finish flowering replace with lavender for the summer season ahead

 

Room With A View

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.

Spring in a window box
Watch them grow
Gaze from the window

All Hail Spring