I have just picked my first crop of ripe gooseberries.
My gooseberry crop
They have that wonderful combination of sweet sharpness, which I look forward to at this time of year. I have four bushes, three inherited when we moved here and the forth given to me by a friends lovely mother-in-law who wanted it re-homed. I love the generous spirit all gardeners seem to possess, whether it is with knowledge, seedlings or plants in need of a new home. Gardening is the best leveller, opening doors to a vast range of interesting and lovely people whose company you’d not normally get the chance to share.
Sadly some of the gooseberry branches have been stripped of leaves all munched by hungry gooseberry sawfly, I had a good look for the culprits but couldn’t see any of these caterpillar looking bugs. Hopefully they’ve turned into flies and decided on a different location to reproduce!
Gooseberry branches stripped of leaves by the gooseberry sawfly!
My kitchen garden bibles are Nigel Slater’s ‘Tender’ volumes I & II.
My much loved and slightly battered kitchen garden bibles
I love diving into these tomes that list fruit and vegetables alphabetically, giving growing tips, varieties and recipes. When I read Nigel Slater, I hear him talking to me in that beautifully descriptive, informative and accessible way that he has. I turned to Gooseberries in his Volume II, to seek out a quick recipe for our supper:
Gooseberry and Elderflower
400g Gooseberries toped and tailed
4 tbsp Water
2-3 tbsp Honey
Pop ingredients in a pan, bring to a gentle boil and cook until the gooseberries have split, it takes about 10 minutes. Take out the Elderflower and eat hot or cold. It was delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
I’ve just popped the flowers I cut yesterday evening into vases.
This evening I’ve cut my first bucket full of flowers from the cutting border and another bucket from the dahlia bed. Both are conditioning overnight in a cool dark place (helping to extend their life) before I pop them into vases tomorrow. This crop will be a drop in the ocean compared the number of bucketfuls I’ll be harvesting in a few weeks. It always amazes me how a few plants can produce such an abundant crop of flowers.
My first bucketful of flowers this year
My first bucket of Dahlias this year
My youngest and I have recently discovered how fabulous Mulberries taste. We’ve kept this our little secret as the tree (planted by the previous owner) is still young and the crop not huge. Just enough for a little treat as we pass by. Eventually we’re going to replace the existing garage, so the tree will need to be removed. Whilst the Mulberry is still young we plan to relocate it, offering it the best chance of survival. We’ll wait until autumn before we embark on what I suspect will be a tricky, heavy and exhausting caper which the husband will be recruited to assist with.
The Mulberry Tree
One of our delicious mulberries
To me Elderflowers represent early English summers. We have a few Elders in our hedges and I treasure their crop of flowers. The tree itself does little for me; it has a tendency to look like a tatty intruder, a weed of the tree world. Their existence in our garden is saved for the flowers and subsequent cordial.
I love Elderflower cordial mixed with sparkling water it’s a refreshing aromatic summer drink. I’m using Mary Berry’s recipe as she uses campden tablets, which helps extend the cordials shelf life.
Cut 25-30 Elderflower heads, they need to be fresh open flowers (with no brown bits), if shaken the flowers should stay firm and not fall on your feet like confetti.
Elderflowers that I’ve just picked
These are added to a slightly cooled mixture of water and caster sugar that has been brought to the boil to dissolve the sugar. To this I add finely sliced lemons, citric acid and campden tablets. Leave in a large bowl over night, then, pour through muslin to remove all the flower heads and lemons.
The cordial mixture
Bottle up the cordial and store in the Fridge. It should last for 2-3 months.
Bottled up cordial
Elderflower cordial Ingredients:
25-30 Elderflower heads
1.5 kg of caster sugar
1.5 litres of water
2 lemons finely sliced
50g citric acid
2 x campden tablets
Elderflower cordial also makes a cracking cocktail which I can highly recommend.
Fresh Mint Sprigs and/or Cucumber slices
Pour a dash of Elderflower cordial and 20ml of gin into a glass and simply fill with cold Prosecco. Then decorate with a sprig of fresh mint or slice of cucumber if you wish. Cheers!
Elderflower cocktails – cheers
My blogs have been a little sporadic over the last few weeks. I have been busy helping to organise our schools Summer Fair, held this weekend. My children had a ball, winning a collection of sweets that will last them the summer and yet another hoard of soft toys, as if we don’t have enough already! An exhausting event packed with lots and fun and heaps of laughs.
A perfect pick me up followed the next day, a lovely Sunday afternoon wandering around our village garden safari with my three year old. We explored lots of beautiful gardens; my son was treated to ice cream and cake by various kind garden owners. We had a good old natter with everyone we met and left feeling very inspired, warm with contentment that we live in a lovely community with fabulous, kind, interesting and creative people. Sadly no pictures, too busy chatting and keeping up with my son. A beautiful, loved back garden provides more inspiration and achievable ideas than any named garden open to the public, whose survival is dependant on a team of professional gardeners.
Once home I pottered into the kitchen garden to discover an army of cabbage white caterpillars gorging themselves on my Cavolo Nero Kale. Luckily they were only on a couple of leaves, so I snipped off the leaves with the caterpillars, and relocated them in the compost heap, hopefully too far away for them to crawl back.
Black fly are feasting on my dahlias, artichokes and runner beans flowers. I started by wiping them off the stems with my fingers, but now the infestation has ramped up to quite another level. So, out came my misting sprayer, filled with a good squirt of washing up liquid and water. Fingers crossed this will work and not harm the plant. I understand that if you just squirt with water, their bodies repel it, but the detergent will work through their protective layer killing them in the same way it cleans grease off your frying pan. Hopefully we’ll soon have an army of hungry ladybirds come to our rescue, finishing off those that get away.
Black fly on my runner beans after a spray
Black fly on the dahlia after spraying
A fox has dug a hole next to one of my pumpkin plants, disturbing roots and knocking all the soil on the gravel path. Outcome, plastic drink bottles ¾ filled with water distributed around the kitchen garden. It worked with cats that decided to use the gravel in my old London flat’s garden as a toilet. This tip was given to me by a friend whose grandfather had had an allotment for years. Apparently at night the reflection of light off the bottles deters the cats. In London it worked a treat; hopefully it has the same effect on foxes in the countryside.
Bindweed in my garden really is a bind! As I’ve mentioned before I dug out mounds of bindweed root whilst landscaping the kitchen garden. I have the odd shoot come up, but at this stage I’m just pulling them out. My main herbaceous border is a different matter. Before planting this border up in the spring of this year I dug it over thoroughly, pulling out networks of brambles, nettles and bindweed roots, however, I knew there’d be a lot of bindweed root left in. Jeanette the amazingly talented plantslady of Wheelgate Nursery suggested an ingenious but simple solution. When you see a bindweed shoot emerge, pop in a cane for it to grow up.
Bindweed grown up a cane
When it’s established take away the cane, then, pop the length of bindweed into a sandwich bag. Spray inside the bag with glyphosate, pop a rubber band around the bottom and leave for a couple of weeks. Amazing, kill your bindweed whilst keeping your precious plants safe.
My bagged up bindweed
I have even tried it on a couple of horsetail shoots that have jumped the ditch from my pond area. I’m looking forward to seeing the results.
I always end up growing more that my family can eat. At the moment the crop in question is rhubarb, the children refuse to eat any more and I must admit, I think I’ve had my fill of it for this year! The solution, a little stall on the road, it’s my own little pound shop in the heart of Kent!
Rhubarb I’ve just picked for the stall
My stall by the side of the road
Following on from my last blog I have popped a couple of white Nigella and cornflower ‘black ball’ in a little vase. I think they work very well together.
Nigella and cornflowers
This posting will hopefully inspire you to join me picking weekly flowers. I cut flowers on a Friday evening, often accompanied by a glass of wine! The children are in bed and I spend half an hour pottering, snipping the odd stem, popping them in my bucket and savouring the peace that an evening in the garden brings, a perfect bridge from a hectic week into the weekend.
I fill the house with flowers, foliage, and hedgerow finds March through to December (January and February I make do with dried stems from the garden such as cardoons or nigella). To me cut flowers are as important to my home as pictures on the wall. Flowers lift a room giving colour, fragrance and a very special extra dimension to an interiors look and design. Weekly flowers from florists or farm shops are out of my budget and supermarket blooms are not to my taste, they tend to look a bit plastic and rarely have any scent. The solution is growing your own supply.
I have had a re-occurring conversation with many friends and family about cut flowers, they all love to have flowers in their homes, but most don’t have the time or inclination for a dedicated cutting garden. They all have lovely gardens full of blooms which they don’t dare pick for fear of ruining the display. It is my strong belief that taking one or two stems from a plant won’t in any way ruin a display; in fact it will probably improve it. There are three key facts to keep in mind:
- Many plants work on the basis of producing flowers to create seed, pick those flowers, the plant then has to produce more flowers to fulfil their purpose in life, reproduction by spreading seed. This is the case for most annuals and many herbaceous perennials. So picking flowers for the home means more beautiful blooms in your garden.
- Popping your gorgeous treasured bloom in vase on the kitchen window sill, means you’ll notice and appreciate them far more than when they were at the bottom of the garden.
- Keep it simple. Unless you have borders bursting with flowers forget huge bouquets and hand tied displays, they require a large quantity of blooms with long straight stems. Think single stems in a vase, or just a few blooms. Use small vases, I’ve collected mine over several years and they’re nearly always saved from going in the bin. Old room fragrance reed diffusers are great for single stems. Any small jar that doesn’t have the ridges for a screw top, spice jars are often good examples, you just need to snap the plastic lid off. Long shot glasses are also a favourite of mine for 3-5 stems.
Three old room fragrance bottles, an old sake bottle, a supermarket spice jar, and a long shot glass (from left to right)
Single stem rose
Mock Orange, a fabulous scent drifts through the house.
A few flowers in the old spice jar.
Small flowers displays look great by themselves dotted around the house or grouped together in a display.
A selection of vases as a central table display
Hopefully I’ve inspired you to pick a couple flowers a week to pop in vase and enjoy. Believe me, if you miss a week you’ll notice, your home will look bare.
I am very excited; we have our first tomatoes, four little Sungolds, the best little intense shot of sweet warm tomato. Heaven!
I also managed a picture of our mini cucumbers before my three hungry children wolfed them down. We’ve got four plants and we’re cropping 2-3 a day and it’s only the start of the season, I just hope the children don’t overdose on them resulting in ‘Not another cucumber Mum!’ sort of comment.
I’ve just spent a lovely half hour pottering round the garden this evening cutting flowers for a dinner party with great friends tomorrow night. We’ve had a scorcher of a day for June (26°c), so I’ve waited for the temperature to cool before picking, if not the flowers would have wilted and their vase life significantly reduced.