Crystallized flowers – what little gems!

This week, I’ve asked Julia Horton-Powdrill to write a guest blog. I met Julia on a creative writing course a few years ago, and was impressed by her great writing, humour and enthusiasm.

When not writing, she keeps extremely busy running a number of ‘wild’ businesses including the Really Wild Food Festival and Wild about Pembrokeshire!

Wild about Pembrokeshire is all about foraging and runs wild food foraging walks and day courses and, as Julia says, encourages you to ‘Discover your Inner Forager’!!

Julia’s mission is to encourage people to have a fun day in the countryside or on the coast and help them to identify and make the most of what is available from Mother Nature! She also advises on the legal side of foraging from the wild and how to collect sustainably and responsibly.

To find out more, visit: www.wildaboutpembrokeshire.co.uk

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As everything is fresh and young in the countryside (apart from me!) now is the time to try out a few recipes. One I mean to do each spring but always forget is to crystallize flowers. Gorse, primrose, sweet cicely, wild violets, apple blossom and rose petals can be used, but experiment yourself as long as you know what you are using isn’t poisonous.

Beat an egg white lightly with a fork, paint each petal, immerse or sprinkle over, some caster sugar then leave overnight on a lined tray. Use to decorate puds or cakes or just to eat on their own. Mothers used to crystallize flowers on the stem where they grew then let their children loose into the meadow to hunt for them and eat them… great idea!

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The glorious British bluebell… or is it?

Bluebells are with us early this year, the mild weather brought them into bloom at the end of
 March in this part of the world.

The delicate bell-shaped blooms are definitely something to be enjoyed en masse – a carpet of bluebells in woodland is a gorgeous thing to behold – and wonderfully British.

Sadly our native bluebell is under threat from an aggressive hybrid. Apparently, these invaders are spreading rapidly and are appearing in woodlands rather than just urban areas.

Bluebells are protected and it is illegal to dig them up from the wild. However, there are various nurseries that grow them for sale. They are best planted around this time of year ‘in the green’, which means that they appear with leaves rather than as dried bulbs. You don’t need a huge woodland to grow bluebells as they will grow happily under deciduous shrubs, or along the bottom of a hedge.

Can you tell a native bluebell from an interloper? Nope – well here’s a quick guide – you too can become an instant Bluebell expert!

Native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

  • Flowers have a strong, sweet scent
  • Pollen is creamy-white
  • Flower stems nod to one side
  • Deep violet-blue in colour
  • Often found in woodlands or shady areas

Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica)

  • Native to Portugal and western Spain
  • Pollen is deep blue
  • More upright than native plants
  • Flowers can be pale to mid blue, white or pink
  • Grown in gardens and found in the countryside

Hybrid bluebell (Hyacinthoides x massartiana)

  • Flowers range from dark to pale blue, pink and white
  • A hybrid of native and Spanish bluebells
  • Can show characteristics of both parent plants
  • Widespread in urban areas; has been recorded broad leaf woodland
  • Thought to be more common than the Spanish variety

In the meantime just enjoy that blue haze of little flowers anywhere you can – the bluebell native or interloper is a beautiful sign of Spring!

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Herbs for colour…

I always have to restrain myself at this time of year – unlike me I know! Yes, it’s spring and everything is bursting into life, but no, it is not *quite* time to start rushing outside and planting things as we are not safely free of frost yet.

Some of my veg growing friends have got their beds prepared and have planted their early potatoes but generally, it’s best to hang on just a week or so longer…

Luckily, one of my favourite pastimes is buying packets of seeds and looking through seed catalogues or, more likely nowadays, browsing websites full of beautiful photos of plants and herbs.

Although I don’t have time to grow veg, I do like to cultivate herbs. Herbs are so wonderful – they look gorgeous, they smell wonderful and they are delicious too.

If you intend to grow some herbs this year, now is the time to start planning and, if you can, sowing seeds indoors or in the greenhouse.

I made a list of some of the prettiest herbs I could think of and thought I’d share that with you as you might like to try something new. 

Borage
Rich blue, for salads and summer drinks, it grows like wildfire in this part of the world!

Lavender
That lovely soft purple, for scent, pot-pourri and also cooking

Nasturtiums
Vivid reds and yellows, easy to grow and lovely to add pepperiness and beauty to a salad or garnish

Violets
Purple, for medicines and crystalised decorations

Elderflowers
White and fragrant for wines, cordials and favouring fruit dishes. Again, grow freely everywhere! 

Pot marigolds or calendulas
Vivid orange for salads, pot-pourri and food colouring

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Daffodils – harbingers of spring

When the first daffodils start to appear, I know that spring is really here.

Here in Devon they have been out for a few weeks and not only are people’s gardens full of them, but there are a few wild ones in the banks and hedgerows around the lanes nearby. Absolutely beautiful.

Daffodils are hugely cheering, their rich yellow colour and their open faces just seem to brighten your mood. You may not think of daffodils as a particularly scented flower – but they do have quite a strong perfume. I had some in my office last year and, having left the door closed overnight, I was amazed at the lovely strong aroma that greeted me the next morning!

Daffodils belong to the genus Narcissus, so we shouldn’t be surprised they smell lovely, but it’s a less heady smell than narcissi, lighter and brighter somehow.

I have pressed daffodils successfully. You can press the whole flower for smaller species like narcissi and the lovely mini Tom Thumbs etc, but for the larger ones I usually cut them in half and then press them to give a sideways profile of the trumpet. You can also dry them in silica powder/crystals although they do reabsorb the moisture eventually they are a fun project to play with!

A very popular flower they even have their own society established back in 1898!

 

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Bring your garden into your home…

The garden is looking so forlorn at the moment that I popped into a local florist last week when my eye was caught by a lovely burst of colour – a bunch of pink, purple and cream anemones! Such cheerful flowers, I bought some and did an informal arrangement that has really brightened up my craft room. I used a terracotta pot from the patio which helps give a feel of bringing the garden inside.

Depending on where you live, anemones should soon be emerging in your gardens but, if like me you can’t wait, you should easily find them in a florist or supermarket at this time of year. Hellebores, which as everyone probably knows by now are one of my most favourite plants, are certainly out this time of year and I’ve made use of their amazing leaves in this arrangement too.

Anemones in terracotta

Most of us only think of using terracotta outdoors, but it can look stunning when used for informal arrangements indoors. Either waterproof the container by coating the inside with PVA adhesive and blocking the hole in the base or, much more simply, put your flowers in a jam jar hidden inside the container.

You will need:

12 – 15 Helliborus foetidus leaves

3-4 bunches of mixed anemones

One jam jar (or seal the container, as above)

One terracotta pot

1.            Clean the pot if it has been outside, but don’t scrub too hard as the discolouration is really attractive. Put the jam jar inside the pot (or waterproof as mentioned above) and fill with water. Place the hellibore leaves around the pot and a random way to forma base for the flowers.

2.            Place the flowers in the container one at a time, mixing the colours randomly. Ensure that the stems are well down in the water. This is an informal arrangement, and the look should be natural – the backs of the flowers and curves of stems can be as attractive as the full face.

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