I’ve noticed a distinct lack of colour in our garden this year, well other than green anyway. Every pot and free bit of space is being taken up by my obsession to grow more lawn chamomile. Containers that would normally be used for glorious annual bedding plants have now gone monotone. I’m sure it’ll be noticed very soon and a bit of colour will creep back into the garden when Julie takes a trip to the garden centre.
There is an herbaceous plant managing to break the monotony, a small perennial cornflower (Centaurea Montana) . This feathery purple flowering plant arrived unannounced a few years ago and is managing to pop up in various places.
Centaurea montana is a variable but attractive plant native to the mountain meadows and woodlands of continental Europe, so it’s an ideal addition to our gardens. It grows best in a moisture-retentive soil in sun or partial shade. It's perfect for growing in sunny borders and gravel gardens. It's easy-to-grow, bearing clumps of mid-green leaves that perfectly complement its summer flowers.
Most flowers have a meaning behind them. Take the red carnation, this symbolizes an aching heart or admiration, jasmine says sweet love, geranium says true love, yellow rose means jealousy and so on. In the case of the perennial cornflower though it was used as a secret symbol by members of the Nazi party in Austria and was the German Kaiser Wilhelm's favourite flower. Who would have thought gardening and growing flowers was so political, although there was the War of the Roses that lasted over thirty years.
Every year around this time I am reminded that there is ground elder in the garden. It tends to hide behind the polytunnel and occasionally pops inside the tunnel to say hello via its long spreading roots coming in from under the plastic. I tolerate the plant, mainly because like a lot of things, we can eat it.
Also known as goutweed, ground elder is one of the first abundant edible greens that appear in spring time, together with cow parsley and nettles. It has a long history of being used as medicine-food. It was cultivated as food crop in the middle ages (probably before that too) The plant grows strongly in harsh conditions and can become a real problem in the garden if not kept under supervision as it’ll survive most attempts to clear it altogether.
When you decide to nibble on a bit, the young tender leaves are preferred, before the plant is in flower. The flowering point can be postponed however by harvesting the top of the plants regularly. When the leaves are a bit more mature they can get a less appealing taste and they may act as laxative. They can be prepared as spinach, in stews, soups, sandwich and pies. Just a word of caution though (apart from the usual disclaimers about checking for allergies etc) is to only nibble on the young fresh leaves from a place you know the dog hasn’t been. It can make the taste that little more bitter.
Progress in the garden
My vegetable seedlings are shooting up now. I’ve planted out three large rows of pick and come again lettuce, along with some rocket for that savoury addition to a salad. The coriander and spinach has come up, I planted those straight into the garden along with the peas and beans which are now attaching themselves to the bamboo poles I put up for them. The courgettes will be planted very soon too if I can find a space in between my clumps of chamomile (I’m selling them one-bay now to reduce my collection- or you could pop in and collect a few if you are passing)
I was also told of a place here in Inishowen where we can get free mushroom compost by the car load as long as we shovel it ourselves. I got thirty large coal bags full the other week and I’ll let them heat up over early summer and then use it as mulch around the mature plants later in the season as it’d be a bit strong year to put near younger ones. Some of the bags have been emptied straight into the compost bins to keep the worms happy.
Where do you get this fabulous spent mushroom compost? I hear you ask. If you go past the Rock Bar out of Muff, you’ll see a small sign on the right saying “mushroom farm” That’s inishowen mushrooms, Drumhaggart,Muff. See you there!