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Summery floral drinks from the garden

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Contrast
My lavender, in its glory days

After a couple of years living in the wasteland that was my allotment, my lavender plant has gone a little wayward and woody. The rosemary is the same way, really. They should have had an annual chop after flowering, to keep them nice and fresh. It’s possible that some serious remedial pruning later in the summer will shock them into more appropriate behaviour – but it’s not guaranteed. The garden wouldn’t be the same without rosemary and lavender (their flowers and their scents, their lovely flavours), but they’re easy plants to replace if they get out of control. (There’s nothing inherently wrong with a big, bushy lavender or rosemary, I just don’t have the space to let them grow.)


Lavender 'Hidcote'
My new lavender ‘Hidcote’

This lovely new specimen was given to me by online retailer Best4Hedging , who #LoveLavender as much as I do – so much so that they are providing gardening advice, tips and tricks for lovers of lavender. My new plant is ‘Hidcote’, a variety that is supposed to be particularly suited to culinary uses, something that might sound strange to us, but was common in past times. In the old garden I did once make lavender sugar, but never got around to using it in baking – I was planning some lavender shortbread, if I remember correctly. Since then I’ve had lavender buffalo milk ice cream, which was a real treat, but possibly a bit of an acquired taste :)


Flight of the bumblebee
Bees #LoveLavender too!

If baking and biscuits all sounds a little bit last year then why not try using your lavender in a cocktail instead? The team at Best4Hedging have come up with some lovely drinks recipes for common garden plants, the first of which is lavender lemonade:

Lavender Lemonade is very easy to make. All you need is lavender sprigs, lemon juice, sugar and water. Bring one litre of water to the boil in a large saucepan with 1 ½ cups of sugar, and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Squeeze the juice of about six lemons into the mix, before sprinkling in some fresh lavender flowers. When it cools, the drink can be served with ice and garnished with lemon slices and lavender sprigs for decoration.

I definitely need to give that one a go – it sounds like a lovely thing to be sipping on my new patio!


Buzz!
The rosemary is a-buzzing and a-fizzing!

My old rosemary plant can get in on the action as well, with this recipe for rosemary gin fizz:

All you need to make rosemary gin fizz is fresh rosemary, lemon juice, honey, gin and sparkling water, and it only takes a few minutes. Cut the fresh rosemary into three one-inch sprigs, and mix together ½ teaspoon of honey and the juice of one lemon in a drinking glass. Pour in the gin and sparkling water, give it a stir, and add some ice.

Do you drink your herbs? Do you #LoveLavender? Join in the conversation and tell me how you use yours. Last year, Write Club entrant Beth Tilston shared her recipe for lavender and oregano salt. It’s the perfect time to give it a go!

Posted in Blog on Jul 3, 2015 ·

Tags: herbs & flowers.

Time for a tea break

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A study of 2,000 British workers, commissioned by Tetley, has discovered that 44% are ‘too busy’ to stop for a tea break at work. A British institution is at risk! (And so is our health.)

They’d like to encourage us all to take the time to make a brew at least once a day. Of course, they do have a vested interest in the topic – 36 million cups of Tetley are drunk each day. Just, clearly, not in the office. Working in partnership with Lee Maycock, Vice President of the Craft Guild of Chefs, they have devised a series of dishes “that perfectly complement our diverse range of tea solutions” (I think they mean flavours, or possibly infusions ;).

I thought I’d share a couple of their recipes with you. Not only do they look tasty, and take us into the evolving world of tea and food pairings, but they involve some very interesting plants!

Teff porridge

teff porridge

A different way to start the day, Teff (Eragrostis tef) is an Ethiopian grain packed full of calcium, iron, protein, and amino acids, and is gluten free.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

120g jumbo porridge oats

40g teff grains

1.2 litres skimmed milk

40g dried fruits

40g fresh blueberries

20g pumpkin seeds

0.5 tsp cinnamon

Method

Their instructions are a bit on thin side, saying only “Make the porridge in a thick bottom pan with the oats, teff, cinnamon and milk. Place into four bowls and top with the dried fruit, seeds and blueberries”.

I make my porridge in the microwave, so some experimentation may be in order. First to source some teff….

Teff porridge apparently pairs well with Tetley Original (I have my morning porridge with builders’ tea, too).

Pairing your office lunch with the perfect tea might be a step that very few of us have time for, so let’s skip that and head straight to the heavenly dessert that’s waiting for us when we get home… (I wish!).

Chocolate Quinoa Pot

chocolate quinoa pot

Heading over to the other side of the world, quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) is an Andean pseudocereal (which means that it looks like a grain, and is used like a grain, but doesn’t come from a grass species).

Ingredients (Serves 4)

300g dark chocolate

300g double cream

300g vanilla custard

200g quinoa

200g raspberries

Honey cress* or mint

Method

Cook the quinoa until soft and drain well, then gently fry it until crunchy.

Heat the cream slowly and add the chocolate and the vanilla custard, then warm though until melted and mix together.

Place the raspberries in four glasses and pour over the chocolate mix.

Refrigerate until set, and serve sprinkled with a little toasted quinoa.

The ideal pairing for this one is apparently a nice cup of chamomile tea.

*It seems Honey cress is the brand name for a particular variety of microherb used by the catering industry. I have no idea whether it’s available directly to consumers, but I’ll let you into a little secret – it’s Stevia (Stevia rebaundiana) sprouts, so you could try and grow your own! (Suttons is one company that sells Stevia seeds.)

Are you a Are you a #TeaTaker or #TeaMaker? What would entice you to stop for a tea break? Join the conversation @tetley_teafolk.

(Images courtesy of Tetley.)

Posted in Blog on Jun 29, 2015 ·

Tags: tea & food.

3 planters planted

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After the paving was finished on Tuesday, Ryan and I moved the planters into the front garden, to their new home on the path. Ryan then filled them 2/3 full with leftover topsoil from the garden – which makes them so heavy that they can’t be lifted, so they should be safe enough now. (If you’re interested in the planters, I wrote more about them when they arrived).

Today it was my job to fill them :) The ultimate plan for these planters is that they will be herb gardens, where I can just nip out of the front door in my slippers and snip off a few herbs for a cup of tea, or to add some sparkle to dinner. The herbs are scattered in various smaller containers, many of them newly planted and not ready to be disturbed. In the meantime, I have lots of plants that need a good home, so for the summer the planting is as follows.

(This is as much for my benefit as yours – some of those plants are bound to lose their labels!)


Coastal Mist planter
The Coastal Mist planter

The ‘Coastal Mist’ planter (I’m referring to the paint colours) has 3 small Salvia ‘Kate Glen’ planted in the front. This is a purely ornamental variety, with lovely purple flowers – the plants were a gift to me from Unwins, and I’m looking forward to seeing them grow. Apparently they’ll smell nice, too :) The plug plants are small, so you can’t see them yet.

In the middle at the back is a bergamot (Monarda didyma). I bought a plant earlier in the year, and divided it into four. They’re looking a little droopy (and at least one is covered in dust from the paving), but should perk up now they’re planted.

2 pepper ‘Garnet’ at the back, which I grew from seeds from Victoriana Nursery Gardens. This variety of pepper is good for making paprika.

3 pepper ‘Roter Augsburger’ at the front – these were given to me to trial by Organic Plants. They’re an heirloom variety bred for outdoor growing in cooler climates. They look terrible, which is entirely my fault – they’ve been stuck indoors until the paving was finished. Hopefully they’re not too far gone….


Sea grass planter
The Sea Grass planter

The Sea Grass planter also has its front row of Salvia ‘Kate Glen’, and a bergamot in the middle.

It’s pepper contingent is 4 ‘Fooled You‘, a heatless Jalapeño chilli, and (on the left hand side), two ‘Cayenne Sweet‘, a similarly cool Cayenne chilli.


Lavender planter
The Lavender planter

Likewise, the lavender planter has its bergamot and salvias.

It also has two ‘Cayenne Sweet’ chillies, this time on the right hand side.

The remaining 4 plants are ‘Padron‘ – the pepper variety that is used for Spanish tapas. They’re mostly sweet – you get the occasional hot one!

They’re all planted into a nice layer of peat-free compost, on top of the topsoil, have been watered in and mulched with bark chips (although I’ve run out, so the last layer is a bit scanty and will need topping up).

At least now things are moving in the garden, and I can start to deal with the backlog of plants that need a permanent home. Most of them are still in the separate strip, waiting until the new raised beds have arrived and been filled.

Posted in Blog on Jun 26, 2015 ·

Tags: general & herbs.

End of day 4: Completion

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And so it’s done – the paving is complete. We have a shiny new path from the front door to the garden gate, which extends in front of the patio doors and widens into a large patio. At the top of the garden another strip provides hard standing for sheds/ a greenhouse and the arbour.

The photos don’t really do it justice – the blocks come in a subtle mix of colours that is still somewhat hidden by dust and sand. We need it to rain to give it a good wash :)

The intention was that the long patio would entice us out of the house and into the garden, and it’s already doing that. It’s hard not to just stand and stare at it, even though it doesn’t yet lead to the arbour.


The end of the paving. The start of a whole new garden adventure :)
The view from the house

T-junction
The grassy spaces will soon be home to raised beds

Ryan re-hanging the gate
The fencing and the gate are back in position

Front path
This view of the front path shows the subtle colour mix in the paving

Next step: building the raised beds. They’re on order, and we’re figuring out how to fill them, although practicalities mean we’ll probably have to do them in batches.

Posted in Blog on Jun 24, 2015 ·

Tag: general

End of day 3: Aggregate and sand

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Day 3 started with the delivery of the aggregate and sand, and ended with quite a lot of the blocks being laid. We’re not allowed to walk on them yet, though!


The aggregate has arrived :)
The arrival of the aggregate

The sand is down. Soon be time for the blocks :)
Sand laid (on top of the aggregate) for the front path

First blocks are laid
The first blocks laid, outside the patio doors

Front path
The front path isn’t complete yet

Laid patio
The patio is nearly finished

Today: Completion!

Posted in Blog on Jun 23, 2015 ·

Last modified on Jun 24, 2015

Tag: general

What would you plant?

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New garden plan
Ryan’s 3D render of the garden plan

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter last night, prompted by me asking a question, which I will repeat here so you can join in :)

We ordered the raised beds for the garden yesterday. As you can see from the plan, there are 12. Each one is just over a square metre, giving me 17 square metres of planting space. As soon as they were ordered I planned an asparagus bed – I can get 15 plants, of 3 different varieties (from Victoriana Nursery Gardens) into that bed, and have my own permanent asparagus patch.

So… the question is this. It’s July and you have 11 empty raised beds. What would you plant?




The first suggestion was for biennials, and wallflowers in particular. I have really never liked them! There will be more flowers in this garden, and another tweet suggested tulips (did you know you can eat the petals?), which may well be included at some point.






That lot would keep me busy! I have alpine and wild strawberries, and one odd species (the beach strawberry, irrc), and oca to plant out, and some cherry tomatoes in various pots. There are herbs all over the place, although no parsley as yet.




I think I will have to order/buy in some leek plants and some brassicas to overwinter (although I don’t know yet how much of a problem the local pigeon population will be!).




I have a selection of edible dahlia varieties from Lubera to try out – they need to be planted out as soon as possible. Each one should have a slightly different flavour (it’s the tubers you eat), so I’m looking forward to investigating those in the autumn.

And I have some pepper plants that need a permanent home as well – some sweet, some chilli – as well as odds and ends that came back from the allotment.

Interesting times. If you had all of that space, what would you plant?

Posted in Blog on Jun 22, 2015 ·

Tag: general

End of day 2: Edging

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By the end of the day on Friday, the landscapers had finished edging the paths. The garden has a very different feel to it now – it feels like you’re standing in something, rather than the blank canvas that was there before. It’s taking shape, and it’s very exciting. The patio already has a magnetic quality, drawing you out of the patio doors (although it’s currently a big step down!) into the garden.


Big step
Going outside is a big step ;)

Edging
The edging, and one of the flat spaces that will be filled with raised beds

Garden already feels so different!
The front and back gardens will be linked by paving

Next steps:
On Monday, the landscapers will start laying and compacting the layers of aggregate and sand that will underpin the paving.

Over the weekend we can check the measurements and order the raised beds :)

Posted in Blog on Jun 20, 2015 ·

Tag: general

End of day 1: ground work

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Work started on the garden yesterday, and involved digging out where the paving will go, and removing the soil. The paving blocks were delivered and the spoil (very stony soil, I am keeping the best stuff to reuse) has been removed. Two fence panels and the gate have been removed temporarily, for access. The terrain looks very different now.


Spoil heap
The spoil heap. Ryan took this photo whilst I was at work

To the fence
Looking towards the fence, across where the patio will be

From the fence
Showing the patio in relation to the house

Front path
The paving blocks and the new path across the front garden

Today: edging

Posted in Blog on Jun 19, 2015 ·

Tag: general

Ready, set...

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All being well, the contractor will arrive to start paving the garden on Thursday. It has been a long time coming, and it’s only the first stage in getting the garden ready to be planted. Once the paving is complete then we still need to build raised beds and fill them, which will probably involve a bit of levelling here and there. When we investigated the cost of building the E-shaped raised beds in the original plan, we found that they would be considerably more than we wanted to spend. Ryan has come up with a cheaper alternative, which should look just as good, and even gives me more planting space! He has created a 3D render, printed it out and stuck it to the patio doors to give me something to look at:


New garden plan
A 3D render of the new garden plan, courtesy of Ryan

As you can see, the paving is quite extensive, and laying it will disrupt the whole garden. Which means Ryan and I spent the weekend moving all of my plants again, and they’re currently residing in a sanctuary we created in the roadside strip:


Roadside plant sanctuary
Temporary plant sanctuary

One or two plants that are special or have sentimental value are still safely in the main garden, hopefully out of the way of where all of the action will take place. They’re with the arbour and the shed, tucked into a corner where there won’t be any paving.


Tucked away
The rest of the garden contents, tucked out of the way

Moving the old shed was fun. It’s in a bad way – it leans and the sides are coming loose. The roofing felt split in the wind last year, and Ryan stapled it back into place. Even so, the shed held together so that we could just pick it up and move it, with the help of a sack truck. As soon as the paving is done we can order its (larger) replacement.


Empty garden
The empty garden

The garden is now incredibly empty, which makes me sad, but it shouldn’t be for too long. The plants and I are looking forward to having a permanent place to grow – it has been three years since some of them started their journey!

Posted in Blog on Jun 16, 2015 ·

Tag: gardens

Getting ready for paving

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Painted fence, removed roots
Newly painted fence

(The unpainted panel doesn’t match, and will be replaced)

We finally have a date for the paving – 22nd June, weather permitting. It has taken a long time to get one, and I have been going a bit crazy without a proper garden. In the meantime, we have been doing a lot of work in preparation for the paving, including taking out the shrubs along the fence. Getting their roots out was fun, they’d lived here longer than we have! And that has given us the opportunity to start painting the fence. The lefthand side of the garden now looks quite different.


Moved shed
Let’s play Spot the Shed

So does the righthand side of the garden – we’ve moved the old shed out of the way so that the area can be re-paved for the new one. The arbor is also out of the way for the time being.

Which leaves the problem of all my plants in pots. They need to find a home elsewhere for the duration of the paving, and that means tackling the overgrown strip in front of the garage block, which I would otherwise have left until the main garden was finished.

Fortunately, I was offered the opportunity to try a product from the EGO Power+ range of power tools. They’re powered by 56v lithium-ion batteries, which means they’re light and cordless, and quieter than petrol machines (and produce no fumes). The rapid-recharge batteries come in three different sizes, and are standard through the range – so you can power more than one of the tools with the same battery.

Ryan jumped at the chance to get his hands on the chainsaw, and it seemed the ideal time to tackle the conifers in the strip that were in the way.


The strip - before
The ‘before’ picture of the garden strip

It’s not easy to see from this ‘before’ shot, but there were two bushy conifers, both multi-stemmed.


Tackling the stump
Tacking the stumps with the EGO chainsaw

Ryan donned all the safety gear (including the essential chainsaw trousers) and had a practice run on an old pallet. Then it was time to bring the trees down, which was much, much quicker with the chainsaw than it would have been by hand. Far quicker than me dealing with the smaller shrubs with my secateurs.


Gone!
The ‘after’ picture of the garden strip

In no time at all, the trees were reduced to two small stumps, a pile of firewood and fronds that make a nice, aromatic floor covering. I haven’t entirely decided what to plant in this strip of garden in the long term, but in the short term it will provide a safe haven for my container plants whilst the landscapers are doing the paving.


The EGO chainsaw
Ryan’s verdict on the EGO chainsaw? “I like this!”

Ryan would quite happily give the chainsaw pride of place in the new shed, even though we’re not likely to need one very often. We won’t really need a mower, either. In fact, the garden should be pretty low maintenance (a phrase I hate – ‘low chore’ might be more appropriate, since there will be plenty of fun gardening to be done!), and isn’t that large. If we had a larger garden, we would be seriously looking at the EGO Power+ range of tools, as they are light and quiet. The battery recharged in about half an hour, and lasted longer than we needed it to. There are also strimmers, a hedgetrimmer, and a leaf blower in the range. If I still had the allotment, it would be perfect for keeping that in trim (although I still probably wouldn’t need a chainsaw. Sorry Ryan!)

Posted in Blog on Jun 11, 2015 ·

Last modified on Jun 7, 2015

Tags: gardens & reviews.

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