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Divide and rule!

David Perry demonstrates how to divide a clump of Miscanthus.

This week, I’m handing over to my partner in crime writing, Julia, to tell us about her latest trip to RHS garden Rosemoor where she received some seasonal advice.

It is such a treat to visit Rosemoor on a regular basis, as I am doing this year attending a series of talks, and to see the garden evolving with the seasons. Last week, I went on a garden talk entitled ‘What now? Spring’

The course notes said: ‘Let the RHS experts help you through the gardening year providing a whistle-stop tour of techniques, tips, tricks and advice on seasonal tasks so that you know what you could be doing when. Spring topics covered – dividing and planting herbaceous perennials, spring shrub pruning, cutting back of ornamental grasses, plus other topics of seasonal interest.’

This was exactly what I needed as I am never entirely sure what I should be doing when especially when it comes to pruning. Somehow, I had it firmly in my brain that I had to cut everything back in the Autumn… and was then surprised how many plants I manage to kill off every year! There really is no excuse for such ignorance as there are tutorials online and thousands of excellent gardening books but, somehow, it is always better to be shown how to do something first hand.

Our tutor at Rosemoor was Garden Manager, David Perry. Pruning is always a thorny topic, but within the first minute, David had explained two pruning terms that I had followed but did not know why – prune back to two buds and cut on an angle. Why two buds? If the top one gets frosted and dies, you still have the second one. Why cut on an angle? To provide a difficult surface for water, dust or parasites to settle on. Obvious, really!

The ‘bare bones’ at Rosemoor, beautiful in their own right.

Shrubs grown for their colourful stems or foliage, such as dogwood, need to be cut down in the spring to encourage new growth, known as coppicing. No wonder they hadn’t done well for me before, as I had chopped them off in November! He also demonstrated how to prune shrubs and roses into a ‘goblet’ shape, cutting out shoots that cross over, or were growing inward, to allow free airflow and a general rather lovely shape.

Buying plants can be expensive, so it is really useful be able to identify ones that can be divided to create more. All clump-forming herbaceous perennials, including ornamental grasses, can be divided and, when done regularly, helps ensure healthy plants that will continue to perform year after year. While perennials can be divided at almost any time if they are kept well-watered afterwards, David said it is best to do it when the plants aren’t in active growth. He demonstrated how to divide a substantial clump of Miscanthus using two garden forks back-to-back as levers to loosen and break the root mass into two sections. He made it look easy!

It was interesting to see the ‘bare bones’ of the garden at this time of year. The shape of espaliered and step-over fruit trees were art forms in themselves and it was also great to see the wooden supports staff were creating with coppiced sticks – so much more natural than bamboo poles!

How to divide perennials

Here are simple tips for dividing perennials from the RHS website:

  • Lift plants gently with a garden fork, working outwards from the crown’s centre to limit root damage. Shake off excess soil so that roots are clearly visible
  • Some plants, such as Ajuga (bugle), produce individual plantlets which can simply be teased out and replanted
  • Small, fibrous-rooted plants such as Heuchera, Hosta and Epimedium can be lifted and pulled apart gently. This should produce small clumps for replanting
  • Large, fibrous-rooted perennials, such as Hemerocallis (daylily), require two garden forks inserted into the crown back-to-back. Use these as levers to loosen and break the root mass into two sections. Further division can then take place
  • In some cases, a sharp knife, axe or lawn edging iron may be needed to cleave the clump in two
  • Plants with woody crowns (e.g. Helleborus) or fleshy roots (e.g. Delphinium) require cutting with a spade or knife. Aim to produce clumps containing three to five healthy shoots.

Top photo: Lovely pair of pottery chickens by Somerset artist George Hider.

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Beauty within…

If you were choosing your veg purely for their looks, I suspect celeriac would not be high on your list. It is knobbly, often muddy and all in all, a bit of an ugly beast. But don’t let that put you off!

Celeriac is a great winter vegetable. It combines rooty texture with a spicy celery flavour and is delicious roasted and also excellent for pepping up winter salads. You can roast it in chunks, add it to soups or make a rich mash as a change from potato.

Available all year round, celeriac is at its best from September to April. Choose a firm root that feels heavy for its size and avoid those that are discoloured. To prepare it, use a sharp knife, top and tail, then use a potato peeler to remove the tough skin. It’s quite hard going, but not as bad as a butternut squash!

Remoulade, a classic French salad, is really easy to make and also delicious. This recipe is dead easy – you might want to check how much mustard you add… I like it with a bit of a kick, but you may prefer less.

Ingredients

  • 7 tbsp good quality mayonnaise
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • Juice of a lemon
  • 1 small celeriac about 600g (1lb 4oz-ish)

Method

  1. In a large bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard and lemon juice together thoroughly. Add a generous sprinkling of salt and some freshly ground black pepper, so it all becomes one sauce.
  2. Peel and quarter the celeriac, then, working quickly, coarsely grate it and stir into the sauce until evenly coated. And that’s it! Serve on toast, or with a salad instead of coleslaw. It will keep in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Cook’s tip: Celeriac is one of those vegetables that goes brown when cut up so, if preparing in advance, leave it in water with a dash of lemon juice.

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The not so humble cabbage

Today, I feel inspired to write about the cabbage! Many people think of the cabbage as a bit of a poor relation in the veg world, a dull old veg and one that many of us were presented with at school in a disgustingly overcooked state. This is very unfair as cabbages are versatile, great to grow in your veg plot and good for you.

Cabbages come in many different shapes, sizes and colours and every variety has its own character, texture and flavour. With a little planning it’s possible to pick them fresh nearly every day of the year in your garden. They can be used raw in salad or coleslaw, and as ingredients in soup, boiled, steamed or braised.

The savoy cabbage, a wonderful dark green and heavily textured individual, is wonderful when slowly braised with onion and finished off with a dash of cream. You can also give it a quick plunge in boiling salted water and then toss it with butter and black pepper, simple but so delicious.

Other thick-leaved cabbages, such as January kings, are excellent for using as wrapping and making parcels for meat stuffings.

The pale green pointed spring cabbages have sweet, delicate leaves that are tender enough to stir fry or even char on a griddle.

In contrast, red cabbage is sturdy and tightly packed and traditionally used for pickling. Braised red cabbage has become immensely popular as a Christmas vegetable when cooked slowly with red wine, cinnamon, apples or cranberry. It is also superb for adding some colour to a boring winter salad when shredded finely.

Last, but not least… the classic white cabbage! A tightly packed, football-sized bundle of excellence it is the mainstay of coleslaw, a popular healthy salad at any time of the year and certainly one of my favourites.

Cabbage is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, and is a good source of fibre, so it’s a good way to fill yourself up for very little calories. What’s more, it is a good source of vitamin C and vitamin K. We all know how important vitamin C is in our diet, while vitamin K makes bones stronger, healthier and delays osteoporosis. Like other green vegetables, cabbage helps provide many essential vitamins such as riboflavin, pantothenic acid and thiamine that we need for a balanced diet.

So if you tend to think cabbage is a bit of a dullard, please think again and, if you can, try growing some yourself – they taste even better!

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Unusual twist on lasagne

lasagnemontageWith the thought that many of us may have had more than enough turkey… I felt it might be timely to do a quick note to mention the new lasagne sheets I have discovered in Sainsbury’s. I am always on the hunt for new ideas and products when I am out shopping, or chatting to other keen cooks, and this is the newest vegetable offering from Mr Sainsbury.

I did not use it to make a vegetarian lasagne (Richard would shudder at the thought) it’s a normal beef lasagne but instead of using pasta sheets for the dividers, you can now get butternut squash sheets or courgette sheets. If you imagine a peeled butternut squash going through a thin bread slicer – that’s what you get, firm but slim slices that are almost the size of a normal lasagne sheet. Likewise with the courgette version although they were a little smaller.

I layered mince cooked in a tomato sauce, you can make your own or cheat as I did and use a Dolmio version (sorry but I was in a hurry that day), anyway a layer of that then a layer of your veggie sheet, then white sauce or cheese sauce depending on your choice, another layer of the vegetable sheets and then more tomatoey mince. Obviously, easy peasy to create a purely veggie lasagne – just leave the mince out of the tomato sauce.

I continued with this until the dish was pretty full (as you can see from the photo) and then topped it off with some grated mozzarella and a grind or six of pepper. Forty minutes in the oven and hey presto! Even veggie-averse Richard was very complementary – that’s one way to get veg down them!

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Clotted cream at Christmas!

clottedsprouts

Have you ever seen sprouts look so delicious?

I came across a sweet little free booklet this week entitled ‘Clotted Christmas Recipes’. Aha, I thought, this looks interesting! I think most of us tend to think of clotted cream as a summertime treat for afternoon tea in the garden, served with a scone and homemade jam. This little booklet, and then a trip to Trewithen Dairy’s website soon made me rethink that view!

Their website has lots of delicious recipes and the one that caught my eye was for… wait for it… sprouts! How seasonal is that? Do have a look at their other recipes, there are some lovely ones… and it is a Westcountry product, so I am all in favour!

We love sprouts. We love clotted cream… so why not put them together? The clotted cream will coat the sprouts with a rich glaze while the crispy bacon seasons them with a lovely umami quality. You can prepare your sprouts traditionally by scoring the base with a cross before boiling or for a slightly different version make a sprout hash by shredding them finely and steaming for 1-2 minutes before sautéeing with the bacon and coating in clotted cream.

Serves 6clotted

Ingredients

  • 700g Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved and washed
  • 4 rashers crisp-cooked bacon, finely sliced
  • 50g crème fraîche
  • 25g Trewithen Dairy Clotted Cream
  • 2 teaspoons horseradish sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 10ml vegetable oil

Method

  1. clotteddairyIn a bowl mix together the crème fraîche, clotted cream and horseradish sauce, and set aside.
  2. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, add the sprouts and simmer for 4 minutes, drain well in a colander.
  3. In a frying pan, add the vegetable oil and fry the bacon strips until crisp and golden, carefully remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on some kitchen paper.
  4. In the pan add the sprouts and carefully sauté in the fat from the bacon for a few minutes until they just start to colour, remove from the heat and add the cream mixture and crispy bacon, ensure they are liberally coated, taste for seasoning and serve.

I hope you all have a lovely Christmas and that your sprouts are delicious, however you cook them! Smiles, Joanna.

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