Rising to the challenge!

I’m a firm fan of raised beds as they have so many plus points. They’re a great way of growing all sorts of plants, particularly vegetables. They’re also excellent if you have poor soil in the garden as you can simply fill your raised beds with a different soil type with a mix of compost. Raised beds are also a useful way to garden if you have restricted mobility as they reduce the need to bend and reach.From building these new beds in the spring…

Raised beds should never be more than three to four feet wide, that way you can always be sure to reach into the middle easily. If you’ve got a small garden then a raised bed is ideal as you can plant much more closely and grow more!

It’s easier to plant vegetables in close formation – much closer together than in conventional row gardening. Because they are close together, but evenly spaced, once the vegetables are fully grown, their leaves just almost touch each other, creating a microclimate that helps keep out the weeds and conserves moisture. It makes life a whole lot easier as there’s no need for fiddly hoeing in between rows and constantly grubbing about on your hands and knees weeding! You can see why I’m a fan, can’t you! … to all this veg by the summer!

You can grow almost any plants in raised beds – you could try the following:

  • Most vegetables can be grown in raised beds.
  • Soft fruits, such as strawberries, currants, raspberries and blackberries.
  • Herbaceous perennials, raised beds are a good idea for establishing a cutting garden for cut flowers – I love having flowers in the house.
  • Alpines, ideal for alpines that love good drainage.

Raised beds can be made any height you like, from about 12” upwards. If you need to sit down, or are wheelchair bound, a raised bed can be built at just the right height for you and make gardening a real pleasure again.

Top tipsNo matter how small the space you can build, or buy, a raised bed to fit!

  • To save cost, use soil scooped from paths to fill beds, and fill paths with bark, gravel or other paving materials. I like gravel as it is not only neat it also seems to do a good job of stopping slugs and snails in their slimy tracks!
  • Bury any turf removed in creating the beds in the lower levels of the bed’s soil to enrich the soil as it decays.
  • If you don’t have a handy man (or woman!) to build your raised beds from scratch, you can buy a range of sizes and styles of ready-to-assemble raised beds at garden centres, or online, and you really can grow a lot in a small space! Have fun!
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Infusing oil with herbs and spices

Oils infused with herbs and flavours are very handy to have in the kitchen. They can alter a salad from yawn to yum in a flash. I particularly like basil oil and use rosemary oil when I am roasting lamb. You can infuse any variety of oil, I use a mild olive oil for infusions destined for salad and then any mild vegetable oil if you plan to use it for roasting etc.

It is important to use dried ingredients, if you use wet basil or fresh garlic, it contains a large percentage of water and this can cause bacteria to grow in the oil and give you botulism, which is not worth the risk.

So choose your dried ingredient (or dry them by hanging in a dark place for a week or so) and an attractive bottle. I try and remember that any old bottle produces oil that tastes just as nice but I do love pretty bottles! You can buy bottles that would make lovely gifts filled with oils from Lakeland the kitchen company.

Insert dried ingredients into your bottle and then fill up with oil. Leave on a sunny windowsill for a couple of weeks before using – there see that doesn’t stretch anyone’s cooking abilities! I recommend keeping the infused oil in the fridge just to be safe and I usually err on the side of making it little and often rather than vast quantities that will take forever to finish.

My suggestions for things to flavour the oils would be dried lemon/orange peel, basil, rosemary, garlic, chilli and so many more that I am sure you can think of… they make a lovely nibble before a meal as a dip with chunks of a really good or unusual bread too!

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Secret gardens just waiting for you…

Spring is so slow to get going this year that I am trying to convince myself it will be doubly good when it finally does arrive!

In eager anticipation of this, I thought that I’d mention the National Garden Scheme in this week’s blog. Some of you may already know it – it’s often referred to as ‘The Yellow Book’ scheme – if not, you are missing out on a real gardening treat. The National Garden Scheme (NGS) is a wonderful idea that not only raises lots of money for charity, but also allows you to visit some absolutely stunning private gardens.

Most gardens that open for the NGS are privately owned and open just a few times each year. Some gardens open as part of a group with the whole community involved. The gardens give all the money raised directly to us (including from the sale of teas and plants); the only exceptions being in some cases they ask that a small proportion goes to a nominated local charity.

When a garden is open, it puts out a distinctive yellow poster – look out for these! A few years ago, I had a wonderful afternoon wandering round a garden that was right next to somewhere I’d lived as a child. It had been home to Enid Blyton many years before and the current owners had done a fantastic job restoring the garden. I had been visiting the area and drove past the end of the road and saw the sign – pure chance. Sadly, that particular garden isn’t open this year, but there are no less than 3,700 across England and Wales that are, and some of them are bound to be near you. 

Buy a copy of their ‘Yellow Book’ Guide and it will tell you all the gardens that open, and when. There are some absolute gems! Their website is also very useful and includes details of when you can stay near particular gardens, details of plant fairs and nurseries etc.

 

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Cod, basil & tomato with a potato thatch

What is it about fish pie that is so warming? I don’t know the answer, I only know it is! With a green salad, this makes an ideal dish for lunch or a family supper.

Serves 8

You will need:           

  • 1kg/2lb smoked cod
  • 1kg/2lb white cod
  • 600ml/1 pint milk
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • 1 sprig lemon thyme
  • 75g/3oz butter
  • 1 onion peeled and chopped
  • 75g/3oz flour
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 tbsp chopped basil

For the thatch

  • 12 medium sized old potatoes
  • 50g/2oz butter
  • 300ml/2 pint milk
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley 
  1. Place both kinds of fish in a roasting pan with the milk, 1.2 litres/1 pint water and the herbs. Simmer for about 3-4 minutes. Leave to cool in the liquid for about 20 minutes. Drain the fish, reserving the liquid for use in the sauce. Flake the fish, taking care to remove any skin and bone.
  2. Melt the butter in a pan, add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes until tender but not browned. Add the flour, tomato pure and half the basil. Gradually add the reserved fish stock, adding a little more milk if necessary to make a fairly thin sauce. Bring this to the boil, season with salt and pepper and add the remaining basil. Add the fish carefully, and stir gently. Pour into an ovenproof dish.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Boil the potatoes until tender. Add the butter and milk and mash well. Add salt and pepper to taste and cover the fish, forking it up to create a pattern. If you like, you can freeze the pie at this stage.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve with chopped parsley.

 

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Just the tonic!

Hair tonics are not something you often see among commercial hair care products. They are a special hair treatment that can be applied as a finishing rinse. These tonics and rinses will help make hair shinier, have more body and generally look healthier. Think of it as an extra dose of help, whether your hair is in good, bad or indifferent condition!

To make up hair tonics, or finishing rinses, simply infuse the herbs for about an hour. To make an infusion, put the herbs in a measuring jug and add the correct amount of boiling water. Leave to infuse and then strain through a sieve and discard the herbs. Then add the essential oil, and any other ingredients included in the recipe, to the cooled infusion.

Use the tonic after you have finished any other treatments on your hair. Stand over a large bowl or hand basin, with the plug in, and pour the mixture over your hair. Recycle as much of the liquid as possible using a cup and pour it over your head again to get as much as possible into your hair. Then gently massage your scalp.

Finally, use a little cool water to lightly rinse off the tonic. Don’t use a power shower to blast all the mixture off as the idea is that the treatment will continue working on your hair until the next time you come to wash it.

Rosemary Herbal Finishing Rinse

For all hair types

  • ·      2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 tablespoon of dried)
  • ·      300ml boiling water
  • ·      2 drop rosemary essential oil.

Chamomile and Lemon Tonic

For fair hair

  • ·      2/3 cup of chamomile flowers
  • ·      500ml boiling water
  • ·      Juice from 1 lemon
  • ·      2 drops lemon essential oil
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