“Rhubarb rhubarb!”

I do enjoy Gardener’s World – an hour of delightful diversion, relaxing and thoroughly good for you. Whenever Monty Don so much as mentions a plant that I have in my garden I instantly feel as if this makes me a Proper Gardener. So, imagine my excitement last Friday when he was talking about picking your first rhubarb of the year and went on to say how a breakfast of stewed rhubarb and yoghurt was one of the most delicious breakfasts you could eat… that was just what I had tucked into myself earlier in the day! The combination is so yummy (a top culinary term!) the creamy yoghurt and tart rhubarb – and what’s more, it makes you feel virtuous as a healthy breakfast choice.

I think rhubarb is a bit like beetroot or avocado, a very distinct taste and you either love it or hate it. I love it, and it is so easy to grow! Our rhubarb is only about three years old (you shouldn’t harvest from it in the first year), but it is huge! Wrestling the stalks off the plant can be quite hard work (you have to carefully pull and not cut) and the enormous leaves need to be cut off and put straight in the compost bin, as they are poisonous. Unfortunately, people have been poisoned after eating the leaves. This was a particular problem during the First World War when the leaves were mistakenly recommended as a food source!

Rhubarb is such an easy thing to grow and you get so much back from it and I, for one, like its rather exuberant appearance. Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable but it is treated as a fruit, despite its tart flavour, you really can’t eat it raw and must add sugar. It goes well with ginger and strawberries… as well as custard and cream! And let’s be honest – is there anything more wonderful than a rhubarb crumble? Do you like rhubarb? If so, what do you make with it? Do share!

Rhubarb grows in two crops, the first arrives early in the year and is ‘forced’, or grown under pots, or those lovely tall terracotta forcers made especially for the job. The ‘rhubarb triangle’ around Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford is renowned for its production of delicate forced rhubarb, grown by candlelight inside sheds… I saw a TV programme on it once – fascinating!  You can read more about it here.

Forced rhubarb is a lovely pale pink, with lime green leaves, and it is the more tender and delicately flavoured of the two crops. The second, called main crop rhubarb, arrives in the spring and is grown outdoors and is what most of us have sprouting in our gardens. Its stalks are a deeper red, tinged with green, and its leaves a brighter green. It has a more intense flavour and a more robust texture than the forced crop.

Rhubarb is a fruit (or vegetable!) that has many health claims attributed to it. As ever, I think we have to take some of these with a pinch of salt – or spoonful of sugar in this case! Rhubarb is packed with minerals, vitamins, organic compounds, and other nutrients that make it a good healthy option. Some of these components include dietary fibre, protein, vitamin C, vitamin K, B complex vitamins, calcium, potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Every serving of rhubarb provides 45% of the daily value in vitamin K, which supports healthy bone growth and can limit neuronal damage in the brain.

And if you’ve ever wondered why we use the term ‘Rhubarb rhubarb’… it goes back to 1852, when the theatre company of English actor Charles at the Princess’s Theatre, London would say the word rhubarb repetitively to mimic the sound of indistinct conversation in any crowd scenes, the word having been chosen because it does not have harsh-sounding consonants or clear vowels. So there you have it!

 

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Why butterflies are best!

Butterflies are unendingly popular – and not just popular with us crafters, but also the world. They are beautiful fragile fluttery little things (and sometimes not so little) that captivate us all.

Butterflies also demonstrate so well how a very average looking young person can change into a real beauty as they mature – sadly it sometimes works the other way too and stunning little Hollywood starlets can look wonderfully average as adults!

For those of us fascinated by crafting, of any type, the butterfly has many good points. They are beautiful in shape and colour and can be the focus of any project, blending with any natural world theme. But the best – and I mean THE best – reason why I use butterflies so often is that they are the best mistake coverer uppers (is that a word?!) ever

So many times I have slipped with the glue, designed something and then hated the spacing, or had a helpful animal or small child add a pawprint or handprint that I needed to cover to save my projects. Enter the butterfly either in 2D or 3D and your project is saved.

I have often cut a little extra butterfly out and used it to make the card better balanced. As I mentioned I have covered marks/glue that shouldn’t be visible, but also adding a butterfly can just give your project that perfect finish and extra lift. These Jane Shasky butterflies come in a pad brimming with little butterflies and you can use them as the focal points like these examples or grab one to flutter on the side of a topper to make something wonderful!

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Here’s to a blooming good summer of flowers!

I’m sitting here writing this blog with glorious sunshine streaming through my workroom window – at last, Spring really does seem to have arrived! I strolled around the garden earlier and picked all the daffodils with broken stems, something I often do as the lovely blooms will only spoil if left flopped on the grass and, as they have already fallen it makes me feel less guilty for picking them! I always think a bunch of daffs is like a little ray of sunshine brought indoors, they cheer up my desk and their subtle fragrance is lovely.

I was thinking about cut flowers when scrolling through Sarah Raven’s glorious website during a quiet moment over Easter. Like so many gardening websites, they make life easy for us by grouping plants by colour, or growing conditions, ideal aspect and so on. Sarah seems to be particularly good on flowers for cutting and she does the loveliest selection of seeds for cut flowers. The current fashion for much more relaxed and wildlife inspired arrangements – bringing the outdoors indoors, so to speak – is just gorgeous and these seed collections are ideal for producing this look.

I also came across a company called ‘Meadow in my Garden’ who have lovely meadow seed mixes that will produce flowers all summer long. Growing from seed is the cheapest way to grow your flowers and will give you a wide choice of blooms – and also a clear conscience, as you won’t be contributing to air or road miles by buying your flowers from a shop.

You don’t need a great deal of space to grow flowers for cutting, as little as a metre square will do, although a bit more would be good. Find somewhere sunny, part of a neglected flowerbed or perhaps a tatty area of lawn that you’d love to see the back of. If you have raised beds, you don’t only have to grow veg in them – try flowers as well! When you sow seeds, there are two choices – neat rows or patches. Rows will give you better quality flowers on longer stems, whereas a patch looks less regimented and you don’t get obvious gaps when you cut your blooms.

For most of these seed mixes, you scatter them in a prepared bed and cover with a little more spoil, water… and wait! Provided your seeds aren’t old or out of date, you really can’t go wrong. One of my most favourite cutting flowers, sweet peas, can be sown direct, but I find I get the best results if I sow them in pots and then plant out. This year’s batch is already shooting and I’m getting excited just thinking about their heavenly scent!

 

 

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The beauty of birdsong

The magical song of a blackbird at dusk…

Is there anything more beautiful than birdsong? From the first trills of the dawn chorus to the solo blackbird singing as dusk falls, it is the most magical thing.

I read recently about some musicians holding concerts in woodland in the hope that a nightingale would join in the music – how magical that would be. Sadly, not many people have ever heard a nightingale as they have declined greatly over the past few years. The RSPB says there are fewer than 5,500 now, down from 60,000 a few decades ago. Isn’t that sad? It is only the male bird that sings and what makes the nightingale unique is that they sing many different notes and appear to respond to music made by humans.

A song thrush singing early on a summer’s morning.

The nightingale is the bird widely regarded as the star performer, but I can think of several others that frequently wow me with their musical skills. Many times up on Dartmoor I have listened to the beautiful trills and twitters of a skylark – only visible as a tiny dot, high up in the sky. A song thrush, again a bird in major decline, is also lovely to sit and listen to, it’s song so varied and clear. The gardener’s friend and surely one of our cheekiest birds, the robin, also has a delightful song and a blackbird’s solo at dusk is the perfect end to a day.

Birds use their voices to communicate with other birds. A bird ‘call’ says something definite about the caller – for example, “I’m a robin and I’m worried about that cat down there”. Bird ‘song’ is a specialised form of bird call that is designed to ensure the breeding success of the singer, to indicate clearly that he is healthy and fit and ready to breed.

And yes, as is so often the way, it’s largely a boy thing, designed so that other females of the same species are attracted and males of the same species are repelled.

A cheeky robin serenading us as we work in the garden!

Birdsong is most highly developed in a group of birds called ‘passeriformes’ which include wrens, robins, blackbirds and song thrushes. Basically, it means ‘perching bird’ and it’s an enormous group – around 5,400 of the world’s 8,000 to 9,000 species are ‘perching birds’ and all of them sing differently.

Each species has its own signature song. Some are basic, chiff-chaffs just go ‘chiff chaff’, but many are complex and never fail to lift the spirit – the blackbird being possibly the best example. Each song is different. It has to identify the singer’s species and also say something about the health of the singer. Many species even mimic other birds’ songs just to increase their repertoire, and it’s not unknown for other sounds, such as cats’ calls, to be included as well!

Birdsong is an integral part of the soundtrack in our everyday lives (well, for we lucky country dwellers at least) and when the singing stops – it is quite unsettling. I recall when we had an eclipse about 10 years ago and, as we stood outside, marvelling as the light quickly faded as the sun disappeared… the birdsong ceased. I found that silence along with the sudden gloom, very unsettling. A world without birdsong would be a barren place indeed.

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The weather is looking a bit blenky out there…

I suspect we’ve all been a little obsessed with the weather over the past couple of weeks as we have swung from a mild February into a ferocious and freezing March… and then back to balmy spring days again – I know I have! I’ve been glued to the Met Office App and avidly following weather stories on the BBC website.

After witnessing a stunning weather phenomenon – a sort of universal ‘glazing’ – down here on Dartmoor last week, a post on Facebook drew my attention to ‘Ammill’, the official term for this rare event. As ever, this set me thinking and I started looking for other unusual or forgotten weather terms – and was delighted with what I discovered! I suspect that, years ago, the weather had so much more direct impact on our lives that we had many more terms to describe it. I am going to start a crusade to reintroduce some of these gems into regular use. So, the next time we are stuck with drizzle and strong wind, be sure to tell everyone it is hunch-weather!! Enjoy…

BLENKY

To blenky means ‘to snow very lightly.’ It’s probably derived from blenks, an earlier 18th-century word for ashes or cinders.

A perfect Drouth day.

DROUTH

This is an old Irish-English word for the perfect weather conditions in which to dry clothes.

FLENCHES

If the weather flenches, then it looks like it might improve later on, but never actually does… we have a lot of that in Devon!

FOXY

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, if the weather is foxy then it is misleadingly bright’ — or, in other words, sunny, but freezing cold.

Hunch weather.

HUNCH WEATHER

An old 18th-century name for weather — like drizzle or strong wind —that’s bad enough to make people hunch over when they walk.

HENTING

A Cornish word for raining hard, as in “ee’s henting out there!”

BENGY

Pronounced ‘Benji,’ this is an old southeast English dialect word meaning ‘overcast’ or ‘threatening rain.’

MESSENGER

A messenger?

A single sunbeam that breaks through a thick cloud can also be called a messenger, rather lovely, I thought.

SWULLOCKING

An old southeast English word meaning ‘sultry’ or ‘humid.’ If the sky looks swullocking, then it looks like there’s a thunderstorm on the way.

HEN-SCARTINS

This is an old English word for long, thin streaks of cloud traditionally supposed to forecast a rain. It literally means

Now that’s what I call a Twirlblast!

‘chicken scratches.’

TWIRLBLAST AND TWIRLWIND

Two lovely old 18th-century names for tornados – much more fun!

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