Herbs for colour…

I always have to restrain myself at this time of year – unlike me I know! Yes, it’s spring and everything is bursting into life, but no, it is not *quite* time to start rushing outside and planting things as we are not safely free of frost yet.

Some of my veg growing friends have got their beds prepared and have planted their early potatoes but generally, it’s best to hang on just a week or so longer…

Luckily, one of my favourite pastimes is buying packets of seeds and looking through seed catalogues or, more likely nowadays, browsing websites full of beautiful photos of plants and herbs.

Although I don’t have time to grow veg, I do like to cultivate herbs. Herbs are so wonderful – they look gorgeous, they smell wonderful and they are delicious too.

If you intend to grow some herbs this year, now is the time to start planning and, if you can, sowing seeds indoors or in the greenhouse.

I made a list of some of the prettiest herbs I could think of and thought I’d share that with you as you might like to try something new. 

Rich blue, for salads and summer drinks, it grows like wildfire in this part of the world!

That lovely soft purple, for scent, pot-pourri and also cooking

Vivid reds and yellows, easy to grow and lovely to add pepperiness and beauty to a salad or garnish

Purple, for medicines and crystalised decorations

White and fragrant for wines, cordials and favouring fruit dishes. Again, grow freely everywhere! 

Pot marigolds or calendulas
Vivid orange for salads, pot-pourri and food colouring

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Carrot Cake with Geranium Cheese

At a pinch, you can justify carrot cake as being good for you – at least this is an excuse for taking a good many calories on board! But the flavour is worth it.

You will need:

To make one cake

  • 2-3 scented geranium leaves (preferably with a lemon scent
  • 225g/8oz cups icing sugar
  • 115g/4oz self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • 200g/7oz soft brown sugar
  • 225g/8oz grated carrot
  • 150g/5oz sultanas
  • 150g/5oz finely shopped preserved stem ginger
  • 150g/5oz pecan nuts
  • 150g/5oz sunflower oil
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Butter to grease tin

Cream cheese topping

  • 30g/1/4 oz softened butter
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind
  1. Put the geraniums leaves, torn into small to medium-sized pieces, in a small bowl and mix with the icing sugar. Leave in a warm place overnight for the sugar to take up the scent of the leaves.
  2. Sift the flour, soda and spices together. Add the soft brown sugar, carrots, sultanas, ginger and pecans. Stir well then add the oil and beaten eggs. Mix with an electric beater for about 5 minutes, or 10-15 minutes longer by hand.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4. Grease a 13 x 23cm/5 x 9 in loaf tin, line the base with greaseproof paper, and then grease the paper. Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for about 1 hour. Remove the cake from the oven, leave to stand for a few minutes, and then turn it out on to a wire rack to cool.
  4. While the cake is cooling, make the cream cheese topping. Remove the pieces of geranium leaf from the icing sugar and discard them. Place the cream cheese, butter and lemon rind in a bowl. Using an electric beater or a wire whisk, gradually add the icing sugar, beating well until smooth
  5. Once the cake has cooled, cover the top with the cream cheese mixture…. And enjoy!


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Daffodils – harbingers of spring

When the first daffodils start to appear, I know that spring is really here.

Here in Devon they have been out for a few weeks and not only are people’s gardens full of them, but there are a few wild ones in the banks and hedgerows around the lanes nearby. Absolutely beautiful.

Daffodils are hugely cheering, their rich yellow colour and their open faces just seem to brighten your mood. You may not think of daffodils as a particularly scented flower – but they do have quite a strong perfume. I had some in my office last year and, having left the door closed overnight, I was amazed at the lovely strong aroma that greeted me the next morning!

Daffodils belong to the genus Narcissus, so we shouldn’t be surprised they smell lovely, but it’s a less heady smell than narcissi, lighter and brighter somehow.

I have pressed daffodils successfully. You can press the whole flower for smaller species like narcissi and the lovely mini Tom Thumbs etc, but for the larger ones I usually cut them in half and then press them to give a sideways profile of the trumpet. You can also dry them in silica powder/crystals although they do reabsorb the moisture eventually they are a fun project to play with!

A very popular flower they even have their own society established back in 1898!



Fennel Cleanser for some clean living

Fennel is a herb that self-seeds all over the garden, so once you have planted it, supplies will be no problem. The plant has an aniseed aroma. This mixture gently, but thoroughly, cleanses the day’s grime away.

You will need:

  • 1 tbsp fennel seed
  • 250ml/8 fl oz boiling water
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 tbsp buttermilk 
  1. Lightly crush the fennel seeds, pour on the boiling water and allow to infuse for about 30 mins.
  2. Strain the cooled liquid into a small bowl and add the honey and buttermilk. Transfer to a clean bottle and keep the mixture refrigerated.

Fennel Seeds

The tall graceful heads of fennel seed add height to a cottage herb garden. The seeds are valued for their distinctive aroma.

Fennel bulb

Surprisingly easy to grow, fennel is a versatile vegetable and its aniseed flavour is unusual and adds a twist to any meal. The fennel bulb can be used raw, thinly sliced and added to salad, braised or roasted. The fronds of the plant, before the seeds develop, also make a very pretty garnish.


Spring lambs

I love Spring – the garden bursts into life, baby birds start appearing as do the lovely bouncing lambs – they are just the cutest things!

We are lucky in that there’s plenty of farmland around us here in Devon and now is the time to see the lambs at their best. They are about two months old now and getting very bold. I love catching glimpses of them as I drive along our winding country roads – while being careful not to end up in the hedge!

What makes them jump and spring? Just youthful energy and the joy of life I suppose. A Dartmoor farming friend of ours says that all young animals do it, including the calves he used to have. He reckoned that at around tea time every day, they’d start running in a group, circling the field, and then just start jumping and springing! This would go on for about 20 minutes, then they’d stop and go back to grazing as if nothing had happened.

I’ve sat and watched lambs do it too. They often jump onto things, like trees stumps or mounds of earth, and then spring off trying to outdo each other. It always makes me laugh as they look quite surprised, as if they don’t know why they are doing it either!

I tried looking up ‘gambolling lambs’ online and was surprised to find there was no scientific explanation… it seems no-one really knows why they do it.

Me, I just reckon they are having fun!

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