Container herb gardens

What’s not to love about growing your own herbs? They look lovely, they taste terrific, they smell super – and you will save a fortune!

Not everyone has space for a herb garden, or knees young enough to bend down to pick fragrant sprigs, so growing herbs in containers works brilliantly. Herbs are ideal subjects not only for conventional pots, but also containers of all kinds – wall pots, troughs, window boxes and anything you have handy. Containers have advantages of their own: they can be used to confine invasive herbs, such as mint, or filled with ericaceous compost for lime-hating plants.

Window boxes

Let’s start with a window box. This makes an ideal herb garden, accessible at all times and changing with the seasons if a supply of potted plants is kept in reserve. Make sure brackets are strong enough to support the weight of moist soil and use a box about 25-30cm/10-12in deep to allow a good root run for the plants.

Provide ample drainage in the same way for other containers, and then fill with a moist, soil-based potting mixture. Either plant young herbs directly into this or grow them in 10-12cm/4-5in pots, burying them just below surface level in the box and replacing them as they are exhausted.

Small herbs, especially ornamental varieties, are best but space can be made for taller kinds such as bay and rosemary, started as cuttings and grown in the box until they are too large, when you can transfer them to the garden, or to larger pots to stand alone on a balcony or patio.

Here’s my list of herbs for a sunny window box:

  • Calendula
  • Chives
  • Dill
  • Lemon thyme
  • Lemon verbena (summer)
  • Marjoram
  • Nasturtium (summer)
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Scented-leaved geraniums (summer)
  • Tarragon
  • Winter savory

There are so many recipes you can use these herbs in and, being fresh, you’ll notice a huge difference from using dried.

 

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An egg-citing post…?

Did you know chickens lay blue eggs? No, neither did I until my Hen Pal presented me with a lovely eggy selection last summer which included a blue one.

I love hens, but don’t have time to keep them myself. Hen Pal currently has eight chickens and we are lucky in that we get a regular supply of gorgeous, totally free-range eggs. The yolks are a rich orange, not like anything you can buy, and they taste amazing.

The blue egg layer is a pretty chicken called Hetty and, just to confuse things further, she is a Cream Leg Bar! The blue eggs taste no different to the other eggs, but they just look so lovely…

Eggs are wonderful things – delicious to eat of course, but also fun to be creative with. Blowing eggs is not that difficult and you can still eat the egg so it’s not at all wasteful.

As a child, I loved blowing eggs and decorating them, why not have a go this Easter, it’s great fun!

How to blow an egg:

You need to ‘get the feel’ of your egg, grip it firmly enough, but not too hard so it breaks. If you always work over a bowl even if you break one you can still use the contents once you’ve picked any shell out!

First, grasp your egg! Insert a long needle into the large end of the egg to make a small hole. Work the needle around a bit to enlarge the hole slightly.

Then, do the same on the other end, but this time wiggle the needle more to make a bigger hole – this is the end the egg will come out from.

Push the needle into the centre of the egg and move it around to break up the yolk.

Now, place your mouth over the end with the smaller hole, the other end over a bowl and gently blow into the egg. It might take a few puffs before it starts to come out, but once going it will all come out with a few blows. If any of the egg gets stuck, shake the egg and give it a few more prods with the needle.

Rinse out the egg by running a thin stream of water into the larger hole, then blow out the water the same way that you blew out the egg. Leave to dry and then they’re ready to decorate.

And now – it’s up to you! Paint them, stick on sequins, draw on them with Promarkers or any other alcohol-based ink like the Spectrum Noir range. Great Easter gifts for old and young alike.

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Bread – the stuff of life

What could be more wonderful than the smell of freshly baked bread? It seems to be an aroma that automatically makes us feel good. The kneading process is very therapeutic and then there’s the eating… well it’s the perfect comfort food all ways round!

As you’ve probably gathered I am very keen on herbs in all forms – and this recipe is so delicious! Rosemary is an evergreen perennial so it’s hard to kill off. Even in the depths of winter, I can scurry outside and snip off an aromatic sprig to use in lots of different dishes. Just bruise the leaves slightly and that wonderful scent fills the air…

Rosemary Bread

Sliced thinly, this herb bread is delicious with cheese or soup for a light meal.

Makes one loaf

You will need:

1 packet (7g/¼ oz) dried fast action yeast

170g/6oz wholemeal flour

170g/6oz self-raising flour

2 tbsp butter, plus more to grease bowl and tin

60ml/2fl oz warm water (45ºC/110ºF)

250ml/8fl oz milk (room temperature)

1 tbsp sugar

1tsp salt

1 tbsp sesame seeds

1 tbsp dried chopped onion

1 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves, plus more to decorate

115g/4oz cubed Cheddar cheese

Coarse salt to decorate

 1. Mix the fast-action yeast with the flours in a large mixing bowl. Melt the butter. Stir in the warm water, milk, sugar, butter, salt, sesame seeds, onion and rosemary. Knead thoroughly until quite smooth.

2. Flatten the dough, then add the cheese cubes. Quickly knead them in until they have been well combined.

3. Place the dough in a clean bowl, greased with a little butter, turning it so that it becomes greased on all sides. Cover with a clean, dry cloth. Put the greased bowl and dough in a warm place for about 1½ hours, or until the dough has risen and doubled in size.

4. Grease a 23 x 13cm (9 x 5 in) loaf tin with the remaining butter. Knock down the dough to remove some of the air and shape it into a loaf. Put the loaf into the tin, cover with the clean cloth used earlier and leave for about 1 hour until doubled in size onece again. Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/gas 5.

5. Bake for 30 minutes. During the last 5-10 minutes of baking, cover the loaf with silver foil to prevent it from becoming too dark. Remove from the loaf tin and leave to cool on a wire rack. Decorate with rosemary leaves and coarse salt scattered on top.

PS. Rosemary is another one of my ‘essential’ herbs that I’d put alongside bay, parsley and mint, as already mentioned. I’m plan to be blogging quite a bit about growing herbs over the coming months…

 

 

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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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A basket of flowers…

I thought it was about time I had a look at a card design – and I’ve chosen a really lovely one for you! The artist behind this series of 3D-decoupage is T.C.Chui and I just love all the flowery interior scenes we have chosen in this pack – such pretty pictures. The sheets are available from my website.

A basket of flowers on a card can be just the thing for so many different occasions and gives you the chance to add some pretty paper or silk flowers as embellishments.

The decoupage is made up using silicone glue or Pinflair glue gel – or alternatively you can use little foam pads. Then mat and layer on some pretty pink card and place on a seven or eight inch square base card with a fairly neutral backing paper. The fun can then begin with floral or die cut embellishments and ribbons!

With Valentine’s, Mother’s day and Easter looming, you can have great fun creating something really lovely and personal for those special people in your life.

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