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Hey Presto – Pesto!

It was too hot tonight to spend much time in the kitchen – what was needed was a quick supper for the family to eat in the garden. Salad is plentiful at this time of year, so add a bit of pasta on the side and job done. Pesto is great to mix with speedy pasta and luckily I’d made some earlier in the week. Here’s how I made it, plus some top tips on how to grow and harvest the basil and store the pesto afterwards…

Sowing Basil

I grow basil on the top shelf of the greenhouse (away from all but the best ninja slugs) and I usually grow sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) as it has the sweetest taste for pesto and salads. I’ve grown Thai basil in the past – I grew Ocimum x citriodorum ‘Siam Queen’ primarily for cooking Thai dishes. It has a stronger liquorice flavour which is lovely in a curry and is a more ornamental plant with its purple/red stems and pink flowers. It didn’t make such good pesto though, so I went back to sweet basil for my pasta dishes.

Seeds can be sown from February to June and take a couple of weeks to germinate in a propagator or a pot/tray inside a polythene bag. Once the seedlings are large enough, they can be pricked out into small pots. I tend to grow mine in pots (I pot them on a couple of  times over the growing season into larger pots and probably would grow them in bigger pots still if I had the room.) They can also be grown on a windowsill for the duration or hardened off after the risk of frost is over and planted outside in a sunny, sheltered spot. I’ve found this to be less productive due to low temperatures in past summers, but in a hot summer this would probably be more productive than greenhouse growing if you have enough space.

If you like the idea of growing different types of basil for pesto or other recipes these seed suppliers are a good place to start. Here are a few on my seed list for next year…

Thompson and Morgan – I like the idea of Basil ‘Lemonade’ adding a ‘sherbert lemon twist’ to a bowl of summer strawberries.

Kings Seeds – Cinnamon basil sounds tasty and ripe for some culinary experimentation. Lemon basil also appeals and I like the idea of adding it to Earl Grey tea. Especially when the tea is made from bergamot from the garden.

Nicky’s Seeds – Basil ‘Floral Spires White’ and ‘Floral Spires Lavender’ combine the ornamental and culinary, with pretty flowers on a compact plant. Sounds like it has real potager potential.

Top Tip 1:

If you don’t want to raise basil from seed it is easy to buy a cheap supermarket pot of basil and divide it. I did this one year when I needed plants for the school plant sale and mine had all been gobbled by the hungry and increasingly skilled ninja slugs.

Basil in pots is overcrowded and often doesn’t last long – convincing cooks that it is a hard plant to grow. With a few extra pots and a bit of compost, all the seedlings in the pot can be pricked out, given their own space and then grown on in a greenhouse, on a windowsill or in the garden. This gave me over 30 individual plants which all matured to be stocky sizeable specimens with many leaves over the course of the summer. Bargain!

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Some of the basil after its first mini haircut

 

Growing Basil

Basil likes warm conditions and plenty of water. It should also be fertilised once a month over the summer.

Top Tip 2:

I grow my greenhouse basil in pots placed in gravel trays. Although the plants shouldn’t be sitting in water, I do find they are happier in a more moist environment than many of my greenhouse plants. Without a gravel tray the water quickly drains away, but with it they can absorb more of the moisture and then any excess can be tipped away. (Although in practice I’ve found an occasional few days here or there sitting in water doesn’t seem to do them any damage.)

Even managed to squeeze some basil into the tomato hanging baskets

Harvesting Basil

Basil can be harvested throughout the growing season and is lovely in salads and well as in pesto. I particularly love it at this time of year in a basil, tomato and mozzarella salad with a mix of our red, purple, orange and yellow tomatoes.

Top Tip 3:

I generally harvest basil for pesto twice in the season. Pinching the plant out stimulates side growth, leading to a sturdier, more productive plant. I use the pinched out leaves for salad early in the season and then leave them for a few weeks to grow back. I then take most of my plants back to the lowest set of leaves and make pesto. Finally towards the end of the growing season I pinch the plants back to the lowest leaves again. This set of leaves usually makes the largest amount of pesto.

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This plant has been pinched back hard twice and is branching enthusiastically

 

Making Pesto

I collect a basketful of leaves from about 20 plants and then pick off and wash the leaves. These are blended with 50-100g of pine nuts, 1-3 cloves of garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 100g grated Parmesan cheese and enough oil to blend to a fairly smooth paste. I generally try the pesto when it’s blended and add more garlic, salt and/or nuts to taste.

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Late summer pickings

 

Top Tip 4:

This week I discovered I only had half a pack of pine nuts in the cupboard – disaster! I read about using other nuts in pesto so I added cashews to make it up to the right amount. The pesto was delicious and I’ll be trying different types of nuts in the future (pistachios and walnuts for starters) to see what works.

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Pesto ingredients with a mix of pine and cashew nuts

 

Top Tip 5:

The second batch of pesto invariably makes more than we can eat fresh, even in a particularly pesto-loving household. I have frozen it in little pots before which is a bit of a nuisance as it ties up all my containers for months, so this year I froze it in ice cube trays and then popped the pesto ice cubes into a bag when frozen. Leave out the cheese if freezing and add when you defrost. The pesto ice cube can just be stirred into hot, cooked pasta and it will melt with the cheese to create perfect easy tea.

Pesto ice cubes

What have you made pesto with and how successful was it? I’d love to try other greens in the future as well as different types of nuts…

Pesto pasta for all the family with a colourful garden salad

More delicious recipes from the garden to come in later posts. Follow the blog to get tasty updates…

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Free From Article 5

Grow your way to happiness…

It’s not been the easiest time in my life, but the past 5 years have been the making of me – mentally and physically. I’ve been a full-time mum for 7 years, having left the teaching profession to focus on being with the kids in their formative years. I’ve loved being at home, but have also had to deal with illness, culminating in a diagnosis of coeliac disease. Compared to what many people have to cope with it hasn’t been too bad, but it has still required a change of mindset and re-education where food and cooking is concerned.

During this time gardening has been a really positive force in my life and has inspired me to follow a new direction – training as a garden designer and setting up as a gardening blogger and writer. I’ve also become involved in several community garden projects including The Wynd Garden, The ‘In Bloom’ Garden and The International Garden Cities Garden in Letchworth, and the Triangle Community Garden in Hitchin. Through my volunteering I’ve seen how gardening can help people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to develop confidence, overcome problems and enjoy a meaningful relationship with the natural world.

I’ve recently had an article published in Free-From Heaven (a great magazine with endless lovely healthy recipes and stories) and hope it might help others to grow their way to happiness. I’m not sure I’m a prolific gardener and I don’t spend much time crimping pasties, but apart from that it’s all true!

The full text is reproduced below the image – do leave me a comment below with feedback and let me know how gardening/cooking has influenced your life. Thanks.

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My Free-From Life…

Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be up at dawn, exploring the natural world at its most active, listening to the dawn chorus and engaging with the day in its infancy. In reality most mornings I struggled to rise for work, or in the early days of motherhood, to soothe night-time toddler traumas. And much as I loved interacting with my kids, games, for me, were generally conducted from the sofa rather than the floor.

Then five years ago I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, like my father five years previously and slowly I began to understand the reasons why my expectations so far exceeded my abilities. I was tested because of my family history and registered positive in both the blood test and a biopsy. Initially we thought I was asymptomatic, but after a year on a gluten-free diet I realised other people didn’t try harder than me to get out of bed in the morning – they just had more energy than I did. My general health and energy levels, which I’d never thought of questioning, improved rapidly.

Over the past five years I’ve rearranged my life around new rules. I generally choose not to eat out as I’m extremely sensitive to gluten and have had a couple of bad experiences in the past, so as a full-time mum I turned to my house and garden, to growing, harvesting and cooking my own food as a way of regaining control of my life. Using my gradually developing energies, I learned to create the kind of food I feared I’d be missing now eating out was off the menu.

Initially I used the garden to provide ingredients for my cooking, but it quickly became something greater, an inspiration, an education and a growing passion. My garden became a haven, somewhere I felt comfortable, but also somewhere I was finally able to develop my relationship with the natural world. I started laying the first border into the grass at a stage where I could only manage an hour’s digging before retreating to bed, then laid paths, developed flower borders, nature areas and set up a productive, although small, fruit cage and three vegetable beds. As a family space, the garden gives us a base for finding essential oddments for craft activities, gardening with the children (as I write, they have a thriving bed filled with carrots, oca and enthusiastic nasturtiums) and a willow den, which my father and I built using willow whips, and which now can entirely absorb passing small children into its frondy interior in summer games of hide-and-seek.

Produce from the garden has been an inspiration in my cooking. As I’ve begun to master gluten-free cakes, biscuits and a variety of different pastries, the garden has provided. It has offered vegetables for Cornish pasties, raspberries and alpine strawberries for adding magic to cupcakes with the kids and baskets of fruit which my husband carefully transforms into jellies, jams and chutneys to see us through the winter. As my confidence in gluten-free cooking has grown, I have begun to create more ambitious foods. Birthdays now always mean a big gluten-free cake – anything from rainbow cakes to flower garden cakes and even an entirely gluten-free gingerbread house! Most normal recipes need a little alteration, but we think my cakes and biscuits are generally pretty similar to gluten alternatives.

Bread is the latest challenge – one of our New Year’s resolutions for 2016. Soda bread has been very successful, especially when eaten on the day it’s made – with a homemade soup based on seasonal vegetables from the garden. My first focaccia attempt would have been extremely useful as a building material, but had little culinary merit. Since then I’ve experimented with different flours, psyllium husks and flax seeds. The results are slowly improving and I’m hopeful that a soft, tasty loaf with plenty of added fibre is just around the corner. Perfect to spread with home-grown jam or to make into a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich, with salad freshly picked from the garden.

I no longer feel the need to rise at dawn because I now engage with the world in a more immediate way. I’m out there, doing what I love, greeting the days with renewed energy, grateful for my new life and my good health.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this post, please do follow the blog below:

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If you’d like to get involved with volunteering in your local area there are many community gardens throughout the UK. The BBC has a list of local gardening projects, the RHS runs the Britain in Bloom and It’s your Neighbourhood projects which offer local volunteering opportunities and the social and therapeutic gardening charity Thrive also has four community gardens around the country supported by local volunteers.

With thanks to my friends and family for their support and to all the garden volunteers who give so much and make so much of a difference.

 

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Wordless Wednesday (almost!)

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This anemone has two pale pink petals, two dark pink petals and one striped petal.

I found this anemone blooming in the woodland garden at Beth Chatto’s garden this week. I love ‘Honorine Joubert’ but I’m generally not so keen on the pink versions (less visually striking and more invasive), but this one stopped me in my tracks. Each flower had two petals of different pinks and one petal which couldn’t make up its mind. There wasn’t a label – does anyone know if it is a specific cultivar or just a beautiful aberration?

I’ve now kindly had an ID (see comments). It’s Anemone hupehensis ‘Hadspen Abundance’, discovered in the late 1970s by Eric Smith at Hadspen House in Somerset and first listed in around 1980 by Beth Chatto. It’s a stunning plant which reaches 90cm in height, is a prolific flowerer and suits sun or semi-shade. It’s already made it onto my wanted list… 😁

(If you buy it make sure you see it in flower as apparently some anemones sold as ‘Hadspen Abundance’ are simply pink doubles.)

 

 

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Exploring wild flowers: 5 coastal plants with interesting edible histories

These days I spend much of my time in private and community gardens (and sometimes even my own) working with plants and I’ve learnt a great deal over the past few years about where garden plants will thrive, how they will combine with their fellows and when they will steal the limelight. But my knowledge of our native flora is still at the seedling stage, with only a few stalwarts remembered from walks in the Welsh country lanes with my grandparents (Herb Robert, Red Campion, Lords and Ladies…). I’ve not yet developed the ability to connect with a landscape through observing its plants the way I have with birds, through years of watching, listening and learning.

So this year I’ve started developing my knowledge of our wild flora. I’ve attended several excellent courses at the Cambridge Botanic Gardens – on Trees in Winter (sticks), Trees in summer (sticks with leaves) and Tricky Taxonomy (focusing on Docks, Sedges, Umbellifers, Crucifers and Willows). These courses have been interesting and useful – not because I can identify a great deal more than I could before, but because they have opened up a whole new world of native plant life and a new way of looking at it – focusing on the structure of the plant and its links to native habitats, rather than considering plants in terms of their garden worthiness and aesthetic possibilities.

Thus I found myself at RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk this week, crouched in the vegetative shingle, focusing on the plant life rather than the bird life. There was a brief foray into East Hide with the rest of the family to marvel at the iconic avocets and argue over the identity of a female whinchat/stonechat, but mostly I wandered along the shore learning to connect with the landscape through its vegetation. I’ve learnt to identify new species and enjoyed researching their history and uses. I’ve been surprised at how many have edible parts, at least theoretically and historically (some are now not eaten due to their toxic effects and some are protected species in certain areas).

Here are some of my favourite new acquaintances and a little about why I’ve found their histories captivating:

1. Sea Pea (Lathyrus japonicus)

These beautiful little papilionaceous flowers (shaped like a butterfly) are tiny specks of colour in an otherwise green and tan landscape. A trailing perennial, the flowers have obvious links to sweet peas and garden peas with their 5 petals (the upstanding ‘standard’, the 2 lateral ‘wings’ and the 2 fused lower petals forming the ‘keel’.)

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The delicate sea pea flower

 

The seeds float and can remain viable for an impressive 5 years. It was first recorded in 1570 and used to be so abundant that it was regarded as a valuable food source in Suffolk in times of famine. However, like many other members of the genus, they contain a neurotoxin which can cause a disease called lathyrism if consumed in large quantities. Lathyrism causes paralysis and is still an problem in some areas of the world where large quantities of lathyrus seeds are consumed due to poverty and famine.

Suffolk supports a large percentage of the UK’s scarce population of sea peas, so foraging would no longer be a responsible option – even if there was a consensus on the safety of eating it in small quanitites – which there isn’t.

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Beautiful and enigmatic sea pea

 

2. Sea Radish (Raphanus maritimus)

A common sight along the coast, I love sea radish for its yellow or white flowers and its abundant profusion. The flowers aren’t conventionally beautiful, but I spent quite a lot of time studying Brassicaceae flowers through a hand lens last month, examining the four petals in a cross shape which gave the family its older name, Cruciferae. The open flower structure and generous quantities of sea radish blooms add a fresh, airy feel to the dunes. Although the Brassicaceae I’m most familiar with are grown for their edible parts, the family also includes ornamental garden favourites like wallflowers, aubretia, honesty and night-scented stock.

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Clouds of fresh sea radish flowers

The seed pods can be clearly seen at this time of year and remind me of the rat-tailed radishes which commandeered the vegetable patch last year and produced hundreds of (to my mind rather unpleasantly cabbagey tasting) seed pods. The abundance of sea radish and the fact that it can be harvested for leaves, flowers and young seed pods, especially in winter when other wild crops are scarce, makes it a valuable wild food source. Although I didn’t harvest any myself this time, it is possible that the taste will be better than the rat-tailed variety as I do generally like the radish pods of varieties which are not conventionally grown for their seed pods (not sure why they taste better – perhaps it’s just that I don’t get on with anything with ‘Rat-tailed’ in the title due to nettle compost tea trauma – see Nettle Soup blog post).

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Sea radish seed pods

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Rat-tailed radishes in the garden last year

 

3. Sea Kale (Crambe maritime)

Another member of the Brassicaceae family, sea kale was a favourite food of the Victorians and their habit of digging up plants to try and grow them in their gardens contributed to their decline in the wild. Today plants are still scarce in some areas, but they grow in abundance on stretches of the Suffolk coast. However, we can now grow sea kale from seed, thus avoiding putting pressure on local resources. Seeds are available from Suttons Seeds and The Organic Gardening Catalogue, or plants can be bought from Victoriana Nursery Gardens from 2017. (All links are based on my personal knowledge and use of these suppliers. They are not sponsored links). Sea kale is an interesting vegetable to cultivate because of its perennial nature and its many edible parts – roots, leaves, flowers and seeds. If you are interested in learning more about sea kale, Mark Williams’ fascinating blog, Galloway Wild Foods covers more foraging information and Alison Tindale offers excellent practical advice about growing and propagation in The Backyard Larder.

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Sea kale shoots emerging from the shingle

 

4. Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)

Sea holly is another plant perfectly adapted to grow on vegetative shingle, with its long tap root growing down a metre or more and an extensive root system which helps protect the environment against erosion. It has a long history of usage as a medicinal and edible plant – the shoots can be blanched and used as an asparagus substitute whilst the root can be cooked as a vegetable or candied and used as a sweetmeat.

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Silvery sea holly on the shingle

 

Eryngium spp. have, of course, been traditionally planted in gardens for their ornamental value. The waxy, glaucous leaves and bracts which protect the plant from sun and wind damage, also create the beautiful silvery blue sheen which contrasts so well with orange and yellow flowers such as Helenium, Anthemis and Achillea, or complements blue and purple combinations with other flowers like Allium, Echinacea and Perovskia.

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Blue flowers above the glaucous bracts

 

For more information on sea holly’s history and edible properties I’d recommend Plants for a Future. I first came across this resource several years ago when I bought the book second-hand at Conwy RSPB reserve. Online, it’s an astonishing database of over 7000 edible and medicinal plants, with their historical and modern uses. I use it regularly both as a source of fascinating historical information and to help me maximise the use of the plants growing in my garden and allotment.

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Prickly sea holly on the shingle/dune margin

 

5. Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis)

Marsh mallow is a plant of tidal river banks, salt marshes, damp meadows and coastal margins. The flowers are smaller and paler than common mallow. Most of the mallows have been used as food for centuries in the UK and all around the world and marsh mallow was apparently a delicacy in Roman times. Like the sea pea, marsh mallow is still eaten in countries like Syria as a staple in times of famine, but without the unfortunate side effects.

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Marsh mallow flowers have a softness with their pinky-lilac hue

The mucilaginous sap of the root has been used as a sweet treat since Egyptian times, mixed with sugar and egg whites to form a meringue which hardens as it cooks. Modern marshmallows no longer use Althaea officinalis as the base of the confectionary, but the plant still has myriad uses. The root can be cooked as a vegetable, the leaves used to thicken soups and the flowers and root made into tea. Marsh mallow also has many medicinal applications listed in Plants for a Future and further interesting historical information is available in Mrs M. Grieve’s A Modern Herbal (1931), now accessible online.

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Common mallow flower (Malva sylvestris)

Marsh mallow is scarce in the UK these days and therefore not a viable option for foraging, but seeds can be bought from numerous suppliers, such as Kings Seeds and Jekka’s Herb Farm. With a damp area in the garden it should be possible to grow Althaea officinalis to make marshmallows, as a vegetable or for medicinal purposes. Alternatively it could simply be grown to attract pollinating insects and to create a link to our diverse and rich natural floral history.

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It’s always great to have comments on the posts – I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences. Do you forage, grow or cook with these or other coastal plants? Looking forward to hearing from you…

Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally. Always ensure it is legal to forage and where identification is concerned, if in doubt, leave it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream – perfect for a summer afternoon tea

The best thing about scones with raspberry jam and clotted cream is that you get two bites of the raspberry. You can make the jam in July with a glut of summer raspberries as we did, or wait until the autumn fruits begin and then start jamming. Or even make jam all summer long with both types. Our summer canes haven’t stopped producing yet although they have passed the glut stage and the autumn canes are already producing fruit – mostly the lovely yellow ‘All Gold’ raspberries.

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A mix of summer raspberries ‘Glen Moy’ and ‘Glen Ample’ and autumn raspberries ‘All Gold’

All the rain in June and early July suited the summer raspberries perfectly, swelling the fruit and providing us with baskets of delicious berries for adults, children and jam pan alike. We didn’t have many autumn fruiting canes, but the allotment we took on in March has two 6m rows of autumn raspberries, so I think we’ll have our first year with not one, but two raspberry gluts.

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At the allotment the raspberry canes go on and on…

I’ve always loved raspberries best – there is an intensity about their flavour which can’t be matched by even the best strawberries or blueberries. I collected them from the hedgerows as a child foraging in Welsh lanes and then planted them as soon as I had my own garden. I love their long season, their varied colours and their cheerful, robust nature.

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I enjoy our blueberries, but I’m still a raspberry lover at heart

So here’s my (or actually my husband’s) recipe for raspberry jam and gluten free scones. He’s the preserve enthusiast in the family and makes excellent desserts too, whilst I tend to make the cakes and biscuits (once you have lots of jam you have to use it up in jam tarts and Victoria sponge cakes!) We run a gluten free kitchen because of the severity of my coeliac disease and we’ve both enjoyed getting to grips with new recipes over the past 5 years. I avoided scones for a couple of years as the shop bought gluten free ones were dry and crumbly, so this recipe allows me to indulge in a spot of clotted cream and jam all over again. The jam can, of course, be spread on whatever type of scone comes to hand.

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Raspberry jam also turns homemade rice pudding into an indulgent supper

Raspberry Jam

Ingredients

450g raspberries (make sure some of the raspberries are slightly under-ripe as this ensures there is enough pectin)

Approx. 450g granulated sugar (or weigh the raspberries you have and add an equal weight of sugar)

Method

Put the washed fruit in a jam pan or other large pan and gently crush it with a wooden spoon to release some of the juices. Gently heat to boiling point.

Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let the mixture cool a little, then push it through a stainless steel sieve to remove the seeds and create a puree.

Measure the puree and pour it into the clean jam pan. Add 450g sugar for each 600ml of puree (450g of raspberries should make about 600ml of puree.)

Gently heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Boil rapidly until it reaches setting point. (Stick a small plate in the fridge until it is cool, then remove and test jam after 10/15 minutes of boiling by putting a teaspoon of the jam on the cold plate. Leave for a minute, then slide finger across jam on plate to see if it wrinkles. If it wrinkles only a little, boil for another 2 minutes and try again.)

When setting point is reached, skim any froth off the surface with a slotted spoon and pour into sterilised jars. Seal and leave to cool.

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This year’s glut reincarnated

Gluten Free Scones

Ingredients

115g gluten free plain flour

115g rice flour

60g caster sugar

4 tsps. gluten free baking powder

1½ tsps. xanthan gum

75g unsalted butter (cubed)

200ml buttermilk

80g sultanas

Method

Preheat the oven to 220ºC (200ºC fan). Sift flours, sugar, baking powder and xanthan gum into a large bowl. Add the butter and rub with fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

Stir the buttermilk into the mixture. Add the sultanas. Mix with a round bladed knife to make a soft dough. You may need to add a little more plain flour at this point if the dough is too sticky.

Kneed the dough a few times, then roll out onto a floured surface to around 15mm thick. Using a round cutter of any size, cut out scones and place on lightly greased baking sheet on a baking tray. (We don’t have a cutter of the size we like, so we use a child’s plastic cup to cut out the scones!) Rubbing the top of the cutter/cup with flour stops it sticking to the dough.

Make sure the scones aren’t too close together on the baking tray. Bake for about 15 minutes. Serve warm or cold with jam and cream.

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Don’t mind if I do…

I suspect these scones are probably at their best in the first couple of days, but to be honest they’ve never made it to day 3 for empirical testing! They can also be frozen – but why would you want to??

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Teatime…

If you’ve enjoyed reading about our crops and recipes, you can subscribe to the blog here:

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and read more of my recipes for Thai Curry, Elderflower Cordial, Rhubarb Recipes and Nettle Soup.

It’s uncanny how similar scones with jam and clotted cream are to Gladioli ‘Flevo Sylvia’ which I think should be renamed Gladioli ‘Scone’!

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Side gardens and shared spaces

Shared garden spaces can be tricky areas, divided by property boundaries and subject to different gardening styles. But plants are not bothered by boundaries and they can be a great way to forge links, cross gaps and bring both gardens and gardeners together. The front of our property has a side garden strip of about 2m x 10m bisected by the property boundary. When we bought the house 6 years ago the garden strip was overgrown with hollies, dwarf conifers and weeds. Initially all we did was cut back the weeds to reveal an extra 50cm of driveway. Then, earlier this year we were finally ready to make the space into a garden.

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The side garden after removing the hollies

Our friendly neighbour was more than happy to get rid of the overgrown shrubs and trees so we could plan a more attractive garden. I drafted a design based on a gravelled area like our front garden but with a more Mediterranean feel to fit in with the style my neighbour wanted to establish in her front garden. In this way the side bed aims to blend the two gardens, creating continuity and harmony.

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The digging begins…

We removed the existing plants and dug over the area ready for new plants to go in. I laid semi-permeable membrane so that the weeding wouldn’t get out of hand and then we were ready for the fun part – laying out the plants.

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Trays of aubretia waiting to go in

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More plants ready to go in

 

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The empty border…

I’d chosen a quince tree (Cydonia oblonga ‘Meeches Prolific’) to go at the back as we’d always wanted one and never had room. It adds some height in front of the new binstore and lovely spring blossom. It had far too many fruits this year for a new tree, so I reluctantly thinned them, keeping only 7. Even this might well prove to be too many for it, only time will tell. But I’m deriving an enormous amount of pleasure from watching the furry fruit grow and thinking about the stewed apple with quince and quince jelly we’ll be able to make in the autumn.

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The whole tree was covered with wonderful blossom

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Tiny fruit developing

The rest of the border is edged with lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Munstead’) underplanted with aubretia. I’ve found in the back garden that these two plants work really well together. Just as the aubretia is ending the lavender takes over, ensuring a colourful hedge for several months in spring and summer.

Edging of aubretia and lavandula with permanent colour through spring and summer

This is interspersed with Potentilla x tonguei – a lovely ground cover plant with delicate orange flowers and Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ to link to our front garden and create winter interest.

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Potentilla x tongue

I’ve added Choisya ternata Sundance, Euonymus fortunei ‘Silver Queen’ and Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ for evergreen backdrop colour and then continued the orange and blue/purple colour theme with the beautiful Verbascum ‘Clementine’, Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ and Echinops ritro. Now the garden is beginning to develop and the colour shines out, attracting lots of positive attention from passing neighbours and happy pollinators.

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Our littlest helper planting the Choisya

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Plants in place

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Gravel added

We went out a few days ago and there were so many bees and butterflies on the flowers that my youngest renamed it the pollinator garden… and the name has stuck.

Our pollinator garden

We share the watering and the weeding with our neighbour and her children. Just as the planting was shared without prior discussion, so tending for the garden happens without negotiation. Every few days I look out to see next door’s kids watering the plants and we do the same. We’ve had some lovely chats about the plants and wildlife outside in the sunshine. This small garden has done what good gardens should – it has brought pleasure and developed relationships with people and nature.

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Echinops – spiky perfection

 

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Verbascum ‘Clementine’ – one of my favourites this year

Now we can all look forward to the pleasure that new gardens bring as it develops over the coming months and years.

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The pollinator garden really hit its stride in midsummer

From dark and overgrown to colourful and uplifting

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I’d love to hear what you have transformed in your garden and whether shared gardens have been easy to design and manage. Have you had a positive experience sharing gardening with your neighbours? If so, please do leave me a comment and let me know about your experiences… Thanks.