Keeping it contained!

Just as I enjoy small and intricate card designs, so I enjoy smaller, creative container gardening. It also makes me feel good as I can be frugal by recycling objects that might otherwise be thrown out, like old wellies, and results in something totally original that appeals to my slightly quirky nature!

Now I know you can be thoroughly green and use cut out milk cartons, plastic bin liners and old tyres, but I think whatever you use for your plant containers needs to fit in with your surroundings and be to your style, otherwise, you won’t be happy with the end result.

My favourite quirky planters include old watering cans, old wellies (the more colourful, the better!) and tin cans. The latter need some care and using tins with ring-pull tops are best as they give you a safer edge, you don’t want to cut yourself, but I do think they look good. Any containers you use will need drainage holes, so you might need to get someone (a man with a drill?!) to help you do this, unless it’s something soft when you can probably punch or cut the holes yourself.

Alternatively, old kitchen utensils such as colanders have built-in drainage holes and you don’t need moss or coir to line them – they make great hanging baskets too! Perhaps this is something Victoria should think about in our second novel ‘A Violet Death’, due out very shortly! Oops – did I just give our next book a plug there? Naughty me!

Have a think about what flowers will be right for the scale of your containers and try and get a nice mix of trailing and taller plants and decide whether you want similar colours, or more vibrant contrast shades. 

One lovely idea is to grow herbs in tin cans or in old kitchen utensils, they look great and it’s so apt too!

Here are a few more tips to help you get the best out of your containers:

  • Always raise your containers off the ground so that they can drain freely, both in summer and especially in winter, when they can freeze.
  • Water plants either first thing in the morning or in the evening – avoid the middle of the day when temperatures are high and so is the rate of evaporation.
  • Always add a barrier layer between the drainage materials and the compost to stop the compost washing down and blocking drainage holes. Use old net curtains, washing-up cloths, pillowcases, capillary matting, sacking or landscape fabric, and use old broken pots to help drainage.
  • Group containers in their final position before planting, especially when moving heavy pots.

 

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Colourful Couscous!

Edible flowers are a fabulous way to decorate savoury dishes as well as sweet things like cakes and desserts. Here’s a bowl of couscous with some lovely flowers adding a great splash of colour on the top. Obviously you could change the selection depending on what you have in your garden or, if all else fails, some supermarkets are now selling edible flowers – I know Waitrose do. If you are at all unsure, do have a look online to find out what is edible, and what is not. As mentioned in a previous blog, this company local to me, Greens of Devon, has a really useful and very pretty guide, here, that you can refer to.  

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed but still whole
  • 2 onions, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4 cups organic chicken stock
  • 1 cup canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots, quartered
  • 1/2 cup dried figs, quartered
  • 1 red bell pepper, cubed
  • 1 cup sultanas soaked in fruit juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups couscous
  • Nasturtiums and marigold petals etc to decorate

Method

  1. Sauté the garlic, onions, cinnamon, cumin and turmeric in olive oil, for about 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, stir around well to deglaze the pan then add the chickpeas, apricots, figs, red bell pepper and sultanas. Stir and simmer until tender, about 15 minutes. Discard the garlic and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Put the couscous in a large bowl. Boil 2 1/2 cups water and pour over the couscous. Cover and let sit for 5 minutes. Fluff the couscous with a fork.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together and serve in a bowl garnished with flowers.

 

 

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There’s no need to gild the lily…

My garden is a constant source of inspiration – whether it’s for colour, scent or form. Just by looking at it out of the kitchen window, nature reminds me that so often, less is more, and it’s best to keep things simple.

I have included edible flowers in various recipes lately and, especially in the height of summer as now when we are all eating lots of salads, a delicate sprinkling of blooms or petals can make an ordinary meal look amazing. I threw this nasturtium and calendula salad together when we were working on a recent photo shoot for the blog and I thought how stunning it looked.

Although I have quite a range of edible flowers in my own garden I recently discovered a local company called ‘Greens of Devon’ who sell boxes of beautiful edible flowers by mail order. They also have a great website that includes a guide to all the edible flowers they sell – and there are a lot – and quite a few that I didn’t know were edible. For example, did you know you could tuck into tulips? That was a new one on me! They also include some very tasty recipes that you could try. Click on each flower in their guide and it tells you what the flower tastes like and suggests how you might use it – really fun!

Their boxed flowers are very much special occasion prices (!) but it is so easy to grow them yourself, cost should not be an issue. All these very common flowers are edible:

Pansy, borage, viola, pea, mallow, primula, dianthus, chive, rose and sunflower. Note that I am talking flowers and petals here and NOT bulbs – that’s a whole different area.

Just as with anything you do design-wise, think about colour and form to get the best effect with edible flowers. For the salad, as I was using big bold nasturtiums, I didn’t want to confuse things with a mix of colours, so used a similar coloured calendula to keep it striking and simple. Other times, when I have sprinkled petals, or tiny flowers like violas, over cakes I might go for a range of colours to give more of a naturally scattered look – but hey – the choice is yours! Experiment! Go mad and chuck a few petals around the kitchen! Richard, poor chap, is used to me doing such things, so never bats an eyelid on his way to make a coffee. Hey ho! 

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Elderflower Cordial

One of the (many) joys of living in the countryside is the amount of ‘free food’ we can find in the hedgerows. Obviously one must take care that plants are not destroyed or removed but picking something plentiful, such as elderflower, is fine. I am doubly lucky in that I have elderflowers just inside my gate and although it’s a bit dull most of the year – this time of year it’s a marvel!

There are lots of things you can do with elderflowers, my favourites are elderflower champagne and elderflower cordial. I am also going to try making an elderflower salad dressing this year – but no experimenting done yet! This recipe is from River Cottage who produce some of my favourite cookery books.

This cordial will keep for at least six weeks – we have never managed to keep it any longer as we’re always to keen to sample it and check it’s still fine. This recipe makes about two litres so make sure you have suitable bottles ready, I prefer to make small bottles in order to open just a little at a time to keep it fresher. To sterilise the bottles, I use a hot cycle on the dishwasher – quick and easy.

Ingredients

  • 25 elderflower heads (check carefully for insects)
  • 3 unwaxed lemons
  • 1 unwaxed orange
  • 1 kg sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp citric acid (you can get this from chemists or shops that sell wine making equipment) but this is optional
  • You need a jelly bag or a piece of muslin

How to make the cordial

Use a large bowl and put the elderflower heads in there and zest the orange and lemons. Boil 1.5 litres of water and pour over the flowers/citrus mix and leave to infuse overnight.

Strain the liquid through a clean jelly bag or piece of muslin and pour into a saucepan. Add the sugar, juice from the orange and lemons and citric acid.

Heat gently to dissolve the sugar and then bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes.

Use a funnel to pour the hot syrup into sterilised bottles and seal them with either swing-top lids, sterilised screw tops or corks.

 

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Keep your cut flowers looking good for longer

Whether you’ve been presented with a bouquet, bought them or grown them yourself we all want to keep our cut flowers looking good for as long as possible. Here are some useful tips on how to get the best from your blooms: 

  • Cut flower stems at an angle to prevent the stem resting on the bottom of the vase and sealing itself over. Angular cuts also create a larger surface area for water uptake.
  • Strip any leaves from stems that would sit below water level in a vase as these will simply decay, becoming slimy and smelly – ugh!
  • Always use a thoroughly clean vase as bacteria can survive in dirty vases and reduce the life of your cut flowers.
  • Cut stems at an angle.Always use tepid water in your vases. Cold water has a higher oxygen content, which can cause air bubbles to form in the stems of your flowers, blocking their water uptake. Spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils are the exception as they prefer to be placed in cold water.
  • Add a splash of bleach to the water to inhibit bacterial growth and make your flowers last longer… I know it sounds odd, but… You only need to add about ¼ teaspoon per litre of water.
  • Try adding a tablespoon of sugar as this will help to nourish the flowers.
  • Position your vase carefully. The vase life of your cut flowers will be reduced if you put them too close to heat, draughts or direct sunlight. 
  • Keep cut flowers away from fruit bowls as fruit produces ethylene that causes cut flowers to die prematurely.
  • Remove any dead heads or fading blooms to prevent bacteria damaging the healthy flowers.
  • Change the water every few days, refreshing any flower feed and preservatives at the same time.

 

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