A stunning walk through Ashton Court in Bristol this weekend reminded me to make the most of the bare beauty of the Winter landscape before it transforms in Spring. The carpets of fallen leaves will decompose to add nutrients enriching the soil and helping to retain moisture.
And these ancient dead trees make a crucial contribution to the forest ecosystem with 40 % of woodland wildlife relying on them.
Lichen, fungi, invertebrates, mosses and birds are all deadwood dependent and this is increasingly being recognised in woodland management.
The allotment is on the edge of this beautiful parkland so a quick check in the greenhouse before the walk proved exciting. Two pots of broad beans were up and I planted them out this week with a cloche cover since Storm Doris is now with us.
And the gutter tray of purple peas is also looking good although a second row of purple pea seedlings had been devoured and all that was left were the bare stems. More are now sown and both gutter trays positioned high up on the greenhouse shelves.
The recipe for this week is Kuku Sabzi a herb frittata from the excellent cookery book My Persian Kitchen.
I cooked it in a lasagna dish in order to cut it into squares and it made three times this amount for a great starter. Not sure the huge quantity of salt the recipe suggested was correct so I used 2 teaspoons. The flavours were fresh and delicous and made me aware of the need for lots of herbs both here and on the allotment. The dill seedlings are coming on a pace in the greenhouse and flat-leaf parsley is always easy to grow sown direct in April and mint pops up of its own accord near the shed.
I pruned the Fatsia japonica and this splash of shiny bold green on the hall table has lifted the spirits for the last ten days.
The shady bed was desperately in need of improvement so six large pots of Helleborus ‘Silver Moon’ and more clumps of snow drops were added. Masses of bulbs come into flower in March but the bed was crying out for interest now.
A recent purchase of two pots of Iris unguicularis are yet to be planted but meanwhile they’ve opened in the warmth of the kitchen. The untidy foliage was snipped off and the lovely scent is similar to that of primroses.
More major work was needed in a shrub bed where hydrangeas bought in Ikea about three years ago for Autumn flowers had outgrown the space. Reduced to 50 pence a pot and with two tiny green leaves on each to show they were still alive, they grew from 40 cm to 2 m by 2 m. As a shrub they are a little underwhelming for Spring/Summer and have been moved to the back of the border but with access for picking. Lots of fat green buds are emerging on all the stems …
Regular editing and shifting is par for the course in gardening but NOTHING GETS WASTED. Tomorrow’s job will be to lift and divide the scented-leaf Geranium macrorrhizum which has spread over the path. It’s semi-evergreen and vigorous and will be re-planted at the base of the hydrangeas since it copes with full shade.
Whilst sorting through seeds I found a packet of dried peas from last year…
…and sowed them in a small box of compost for pea shoots. Brought into the house for warmth they germinated within a week and are steadily growing.
The remainder of the packet I made into a delicious soup…
The instructions on the packet said to soak the dried peas overnight, then drain and cover with boiling water. I added a couple of fried shallots before simmering them with the peas for 20 minutes. A quick pulse in the food processor was all that was needed for a fairly thick soup served piping hot with a dollop of sour cream. They are the mushy peas of childhood and delicious.
These came from the florist and are multi-headed so possibly Tazetta daffodils. They have a gorgeous scent and if I had more space I would grow them in the garden. Instead miniature daffodils are easier to manage and when they finish flowering at 15 cm high they are easily camouflaged by surrounding foliage where they can be left to die back. This miniature Narcissi Tete-a-Tete was rescued when moving the hydrangeas and will be re-planted in a few days.
Supper last night was a staggeringly good recipe that I had saved from the weekend papers a few months back. You can currently find it online, about one-third the way down this webpage. It’s a vegetarian chilli cooked with tomatoes, rice and pulses and all in the same pot and a great opportunity to use packets of dried beans from the back of the cupboard. It makes a huge quantity so some was frozen for another meal and some will be added to minced beef and chorizo.
On a gloriously sunny day this week we strolled along a track under the Clifton Suspension Bridge beside the tidal reed-beds 0f the River Avon.
Past the bridge there is a steep climb up through Nightingale Valley where sunlight filtered through the deciduous trees onto the woodland floor.
Thick coatings of sphagnum moss and ferns, looking primitive and lushly green, were holding their own in the relative shelter of the steep terrain.
Snow drops were flowering on the high open ground…
I was given the sweetest posy this week bought from a very imaginative local florist les fleurs. My neighbour chose the flowers and the florist assembled them mixing texture and form with these soft and subtle colours. It’s an inspiration and arrived in a small glass container wrapped in pale yellow tissue paper.
Fulfilling my challenge to use a new recipe every week for a year, I have made for the first time a marmalade using pink grapefruits, lemons and Seville oranges. I watched a neighbour finely cutting peel for his marmalade recipe which had been passed down from his mother decades ago. He was unspecific about quantity so I looked up my usual Seville orange recipe and bought the equivalent weight made up with 5 Sevilles, 2 lemons, 2 pink grapefruit and 2 kg of granulated sugar. The fruit was cooked whole for 2 hours in 3 L of water and when it had cooled the fruit was halved and the inner flesh scooped out. This pulp was saved in a clean tea towel and squeezed really hard to extract the pectin into a measuring jug before topping it up to 2 pints with the cooking liquid. The orange and grapefruit peel was cut fairly thin and the lemon peel discarded. The cut fruit went back into the preserving pan with the liquid plus the sugar (which had been warmed in a low oven). It was stirred until the sugar had completely dissolved before boiling fast for 15 minutes. I used the cold plate test and it only took this short time to set. Poured into sterilised jars this quantity made six various sized pots ( two were given away).
There were Seville oranges still on offer in the local supermarket and in the greengrocer yesterday so I plan to make a second batch.
Finally stirrings are afoot (after three weeks) in pots of broad beans and peas in the pop up greenhouse. Not quite worthy of a photograph yet and a reminder that until the weather warms up, unless the greenhouse has any heat other than nature, there’s really no point in sowing early. I am determined this year to hold back on sowing any seeds until mid-March to avoid juggling trays of seedlings in a very limited space. They always get leggy and mid-April will be soon enough for most to be re-planted in the beds.
But slowly the ground is warming up demonstrated by the dormant rhubarb now emerging and unfurling these pretty pink leaves.
I picked the tallest hellebore flower I could find and seared the cut end over a flame for 60 seconds. It’s surrounded by the leaves of the arum lily and is sitting on my desk as a little gesture towards Spring.
I doubled up on this collection including a new variety of salad potato ‘Pippa’ . It’s bred from Pink Fir Apples and offers a pink blush and waxy yellow flesh. The other two are favourites: Lady Christi is a 1st early and stays firm when cooked and has good disease resistance. And Charlotte is a second early which can be left in the ground till early Autumn.
I spotted a packet of 4 organic baby leeks in the supermarket for £2.50 which makes my twenty or so babies worth £14. So in the diary for this year is a reminder to sow seeds mid-summer for a row or two of tender little leeks perfect for this simple recipe. The trout fillets were pan-fried for eight minutes skin side down whilst the leeks were saute in a little butter for about 30 minutes and then assembled with basmati rice.
I had a last-minute inspiration to serve it with the celeriac and beetroot pickle made three weeks ago and it was excellent together.
The blast of intense perfume from the Sarcococca and the Viburnum ‘Dawn’ currently in flower makes me crave more scented plants in the garden at this time of year. So I rounded up two pots of Iris unguicularis which are a little underwhelming at the moment but I am optimistic for next year. The rhizomes can be divided in Spring to increase the patch.
The garden is looking scruffy and dormant and all the beds are desperately in need of a gentle raking. It’s too chilly to get out there but the first job will be to cut back the leaves on the hellebores to expose the flowers which are just emerging at soil level.
With very little to pick I decided to forfeit a Helleborus angustifolius with its huge, fat, cream flowers now in a vase surrounded by arum leaves and Euphorbia robbiae to bulk up the greenery.
I never quite manage to fill the ground with produce to carry through from November to April although every year I plan to and it’s certainly my aim this year. But I am pleased to report that curly kale from the freezer revives very willingly. It kept on giving from June till November then suddenly hungry pigeons stripped two rows of what appeared to be inexhaustible plants. Since I tend to return from the allotment with as much produce as possible I ended up in Autumn cooking batches of kale for the freezer. The leaves were stripped from the central stem before blanching for 2 minutes in boiling water and then they were dipped in cold water to retain the colour.
De-frosted these leaves readily transform into Kale braised in coconut milk which was delicious served as suggested with brown rice and chick peas.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 tbsp minced lemongrass, tough outer stalks and base removed first
1 tbsp sambal oelek
340g kale, centre stems removed and chopped into ribbons
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
235ml coconut milk
1 tsp sugar
1 Heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium-low heat. Saute the shallot for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, lemongrass and sambal oelek, then cook until fragrant – about a minute more.
2 Add the remaining ingredients, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cover. Simmer for 10-15 minutes more, or until the kale is tender.
Lucy Madison and Tram Nguyen
I substituted sambal oelek with a tablespoon of chillie paste but I guess dried chillie powder would also work .It’s a great recipe and relatively fast to make and as the chefs say the slight bitterness of the kale is a nice counterpoint to the rich coconut milk.
This season I shall sow a dwarf Green Curled Kale variety and protect it from birds with a fleece tunnel next Winter to prolong the picking. And the dramatic leaves of Redbor F1 kale will also find a place.
I would love to say I am cropping great fat leeks but the reality is that two trays of leek seedlings crashed to the ground in gale force winds last May just before they were to be planted. I grew more but about twenty slender specimens are all I have to show for it and nothing like the whoppers on the plot next door. It will be different next year with seeds of Musselburgh purchased ready to sow under cover in March.
But I do have a row of small cabbages …
And the garlic has been planted 10 cm deep with 20 cm between and in four rows.
Hydrangea petiolaris is still giving pleasure and the delicate dry flowers are a pretty orange when they catch the light. I added a few stems from an olive tree to give it some green.
This week my recipe is celeriac and beetroot pickle which requires only 24 hours to mature. We ate it as a side with salmon steaks steamed on a bed of buttered leeks with basmati rice and it was a great combination.
It prompted a purchase of beetroot seeds in preparation for an early sowing session. Burpees Golden Globe is not one I’ve grown before and I love the intense colour.
Babieto di Chioggia is an heirloom Italian variety that was grown around Venice in the C19. It has a mild flavour and these very pretty rings and can be eaten when young or stored for Winter.
Beetroot Boltardy is a favourite and I shall sow seeds of all three in compost from early March.
And I am tempted to try growing celeriac although I was slightly put off when a very experienced plot holder held up three celeriac roots. Excited as he was at his first attempt they were still only the size of apples. Size isn’t everything but with the possibility of the badger rooting them out along with all other roots it will be a limited experiment. Apparently the leaves can be eaten too.
Cuttings of Verbena bonariensis were taken three weeks ago and are looking healthy in the greenhouse.
I noticed that the watering can (left inside to reduce a cold water shock to the seedlings) had 5 cm of ice on the surface water last week. A heavy frost is forecast for this week so I am trying to reign in taking any more cuttings and will resist seed sowing for a good few weeks.
Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ growing in a very deep pot outside the kitchen door has just started to flower. I forfeited the tallest stem since it has reached the balcony on the next floor and is bashing against a trough. As the flower buds open in the warmth of the kitchen a delicious scent is filling the air.