No longer the ‘has bean’!

beansAh the joys of growing your own vegetables… you stare at your courgette, runner bean or tomato plants for weeks and weeks and nothing happens. And then suddenly – whoosh – they all ripen at the same time!

We are currently awash with courgettes and runner beans and trying all sorts of different recipes and playing ‘swapsies’ with other veg growers. But it is all great fun and tremendously satisfying to eat what you have grown.

I love runner beans (luckily!) but coming up with different ways of preparing them can be a challenge. The beans have to be trimmed before cooking, so they need top and tailing and the fibrous strings on each side need to come off as they can be tough and difficult to digest. An old farmer friend who used to grow masses of runner beans every year recommended this nifty bean slicing device (pictured). It is brilliant at producing beautifully cut beans quickly and easily. I can buy the bean slicer in my local Devon ‘sells everything’ shop, but if you can’t find one, try online. It really is a fab kitchen gadget!

beanslicerThe key to good runner beans is to pick them before they get too big and woody and not to cook them for too long, otherwise they become tough and grey and they lose flavour and nutrients. The poor old runner bean does get a bit of a bad press as so often we just boil them and stick them on the side of the plate next to sausages or Sunday roast. But they are great in their own right and versatile and you can do much more with them.

Quite often it is just a case of combining the cooked beans into a salad. I always steam mine, retaining the colour and texture and often add them to salads. As soon as you have streamed them, run them under cold water, shake dry and mix in with whatever salad takes your fancy. For a quick and healthy lunch, I love mixing them with feta cheese, spring onion and a sweet homegrown tomato or two finished with a drizzle of salad dressing. If you like fruity salads, why not try grilled nectarine and parma ham with a runner bean salad – it’s the perfect summer salad, chock-full of seasonal flavours. If you look online you will find thousands of recipe ideas for how to deal with your runner bean glut.

beansfriedHow you cut your beans will dictate what you can do with them. Thinly cut with my magic bean slicer and they are great in salads… but if you want to cook them in a dish, such as a curry or a stir fry, top and tail them and then cut into angled chunks. They are then quite robust and won’t fall apart. For an interesting hot dish, you could try sautéed runner beans with onion and garlic. Simply crush a clove of garlic and fry with some chopped red onion in olive oil until the onions are soft and golden– make sure you don’t burn the garlic or it will be bitter. Add in the beans (top and tailed, raw and cut into chunky slices) and sauté until they are crisps and also tender. Sea salt and fresh ground pepper are the finishing touch, although a splash of really good balsamic vinegar added at the end of cooking lends a sweet and pleasantly tang. Delicious!

 

 

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The perfect hanging basket!

HydrangeaBasketI love hanging baskets and every year I promise we will have really splendid ones as you see in commercial places like pubs and shopping centres. I have discovered my problem – they all rely on an automated watering system, hence the beautiful and prolific blooms. I, however, have to rely on a Richard watering system, which although wonderful, amazingly hard working and… (what else should I say?) – just doesn’t seem to want to water the hanging baskets many, many times a day and do you blame him? He did try suggesting we had plastic flowers in the baskets this year – and I said I felt my Mother would send down a bolt of lightning onto him if he did that!

This card shows one of many ways to use our brilliant Signature hanging basket die, together with the Signature Busy Lizzie die and the Signature Sabrina Lace Border. The embossing folder is called Tied Together and must, I am sure, have been one of the best-selling embossing folders of all time.

Layer some embossed white card over a gentle mustard or mid-green card. Layer a smaller panel of white card with the same green and some pink. Assemble the card with the embossed layer, then some Sabrina Lace, then the smaller panel. Now put the hanging basket in place with the filling/soil made by cutting out some beige card or white card coloured with pens.

Now cut lots of the Busy Lizzy flowers and colour those with pens too, you could cut them out of pastel card if you hate using pens. Attach the hanging basket to the smaller panel using glue gel to raise the basket slightly. Now arrange your flowers and leaves as shown.

As an important embellishment, there is a self-adhesive pearl on every visible junction of the embossed card and a little dot of glitter in the centre of the flowers. Add the chains from the die and a ribbon bow and you’re all set!

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Longer lasting lavender…

LavenderBiscuitsI adore lavender. I love the scent and the colour, I have it in dried arrangements around the house and I also use it in cooking – lavender shortbread is delicious. However, it can be a surprisingly tricky plant to grow successfully. When the plants are first established they look wonderful and give off their gorgeous smell as you brush past. But I always struggle to keep lavender for more than three or four years as it becomes woody, gappy and just plain tatty and I end up digging it up and replanting.

Early September is the time I usually give my lavender its summer trim. The flowers have lost their colour and the bees have lost interest. So I thought I’d look for advice on pruning English lavender (the French variety has the little tufty ears and needs different pruning), to ensure I was doing it correctly.

LavenderPruneI always prune my lavender rather timidly having been told that if you cut into the wood it won’t regrow. However, looking online, I have found that specialist lavender growers say that English lavender needs hard pruning and you should cut right down into the brown part, where little lavender shoots can just be seen. They suggest cutting back as much as 9” just after the plants finish flowering.

A neighbour (with enviable lavender plants!) says he cuts it right back to the brown, especially in particularly spindly areas of a plant, and it shapes up well again before Christmas. In fact, you can prune lavender into a sculptural shape for winter – it looks lovely in the frost. So, this year, I am taking the bit between my teeth and will be chopping back the lavender plants a good 6” and see what happens… if it’s a success I may be bolder next year!

Top Tip
LavenderChair
The experts say you should use good secateurs for cutting lavender. This makes the job a lot longer than using shears, but it seems to give a tighter, more sculptural finish. And you need to not go mad and chop at it willy–nilly or you will kill it. Secateurs mean you can see what you’re doing. You need to be careful and cut just above the tiny shoots at the bottom of the stem – if you cut the lavender down below them, it won’t regenerate and it will die… So wear your reading glasses!

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Spruce up your garden on a budget!

I am forever sighing over garden makeovers in magazines or on TV. The trouble is, it can all be so expensive! Don’t despair, though, there are lots of things you can do to spruce up your garden, big or small, at little or no cost.

PaintedShedAs pretty as paint

Wood stain and paint for sheds used to come in dark brown or, if you were really racy, green! But not any more, now there are fabulous colours available and, if you choose ‘own brand’ options, rather than some of the posher paints, a litre of paint can cost as little as £12 and will cover about 12 m². Sheds can look shabby and garden furniture frumpy but if you give them a lick of paint in an exciting colour, it will cheer you, and your garden, up no end. Do make sure you use proper exterior wood paint or stain, though, as interior or gloss paint won’t work.

A friend of mine who didn’t feel up to wielding a paintbrush outside bought a very cost-effective pump-action sprayer and covered a fence and a trellis in no time. Provided you clean it out properly after use, you can re-use the sprayer again and again.

Shaping up

CircularLawnOne of the easiest and cheapest ways to transform your garden is to cut the lawn into a clearly defined shape such as a square or a circle or even a heart. It’s important to plan it out first, so mark out the shape with string and use a spade to cut away the excess grass. It’s not a difficult job and shouldn’t take more than an afternoon. But if digging is a bit much… perhaps a teenage offspring could be persuaded to help for a small bribe?!

Stack the cut turf green side down and stack in an out-of-the-way corner. Leave it for a year and you’ll have beautiful stuff that makes great seed compost!

Divide and thrive

GeumsA really cost-effective way to fill flower beds with great colour is to buy perennials that can be divided. This works really well with any clump-forming perennials such as astrantia, geums (love them!) and hardy geraniums. Tip the plant out of its pot and carefully pull it apart into two or three bits, each with some stalks and root. Dig a hole and plant each bit in your flowerbed and water well. Next year when they’ve grown and established, simply do the same again…

See the light!

When I was a child, fairy lights were for Christmas and that was it! Now, you can buy an amazing array of colours and shapes to use outdoors. Fairy lights can be bought online all year around and they’re a quick, simple and cheap way to bring a pretty glow to your GardenLightsgarden. Drape them through tree or shrub branches or attach them to fences, they can be run from a plug inside the house, so you don’t need an electrician. Or, look out for solar powered lights for the easiest option possible.

Shop online and you can find all sorts of bargains… have fun!

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Phew! It’s a scorcher!

Deckchairs2I am always amused at the British enthusiasm for talking about ‘The Weather’ – it is always either too wet or too dry or too cold or too hot! The trains can’t run for leaves on the line, the wrong kind of snow, or as a few days ago, rails buckled due to the heat! In among all these weather stories online are pages and pages of hints and tips about how to manage this roaring British summer weather… But what is true and what is false? What is fact and what is fiction? We know the common advice for coping with the warm weather – stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, drink plenty of water, use sunscreen when you’re outside. But what about all those other tips?

Wearing white cotton clothing is best

It is true that natural fabrics like linen and cotton absorb sweat and allow it to breathe. They’re much better than man-made fibres like polyester, which can trap the moisture against your skin, leaving you hot and uncomfortable. But when it comes to colour, things are a bit more complicated. White is good if you’re out in direct sunlight a lot – it will reflect the heat better than any other colour. But if you’re spending time in the shade, black is a more effective colour to wear as it radiates out heat into your environment, cooling you down.

ColdWaterDrinking hot drinks actually lowers your body temperature

Staying hydrated is very important. If you don’t drink lots of water and beverages like fruit juice, you can start to become unwell, with symptoms of headache and tiredness. It can lead to heat exhaustion and heatstroke. But can hot drinks help cool you down? I’m afraid we are back to sweat again… The thinking is, drinking a hot drink raises your body temperature, causing you to sweat. Sweating cools you down because as the moisture evaporates it takes away some of the heat of your body. But sweating also means that you are losing liquid from your body, meaning you need to take on more to stay hydrated! Why is life so complicated?!

Keep the curtains closed as they block out the sun

This is another one where there is no straight answer. If you have thick dark curtains then keep them open otherwise, the fabric can keep the heat trapped in the room. However, lighter curtains can help reflect the sun’s rays back out of the room, so keep them closed.


HotDogKeep windows open during summer to circulate the air

Surprisingly, this is another instance where there is no hard and fast rule. If the room you are in is actually cooler than the temperature outside (as in my old farmhouse) then keep the windows closed otherwise, all you are doing is letting hot air in. But if the room is warmer – and this is much more likely to be the case at night – then opening the windows will help cool your home down. Always consider home security and safety when it comes to leaving windows and doors open though.

There’s lots of advice online (some of it very strange) but to be sure you get sound advice, always go to an ‘official’ site. The NHS website has lots of useful advice on how to cope in hot weather. If all else fails, wear a knotted hanky on your head, and stick your feet in a bowl of cold water – always works for me!

 

 

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