Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Edimentals - A Fine 'Blend'

How do you like the words Brexit, Jedward, brunch, chillax and mansplaining?  These new words formed by fusing together parts of existing words are known as blends. Some are more popular than others as there will probably at least one word above that makes your skin crawl.

They used to be called portmanteau words, but this term isn't used as much nowadays. Blends are very common in the English language and account for a very large number of the new words added to encyclopaedias each year. Blends are not strictly the same as ‘compounds’, which are made by joining whole words together, rather than parts of words. Examples include website, housemate, keyboard, makeup, lawnmower, pitchfork, bluebell and motorbike.

More well-established blends include guesstimate, motel, fanzine, and shopaholic; among the more recent coinages are affluenza, infotainment, botnet, and labradoodle. 

The gardening world doesn’t escape the fusing of words either, take the broccoflower , tomacco, peacherine and the latest buzzword is taking the word edible and ornamental to make ‘Edimentals’ which translates into decorative plants you can eat. 

Edimentals fall into a couple of categories. We can have leafy ornamentals that can be used in salads such as young hostas and nasturtium leaves but this week I want to concentrate on edible flowers.
 It’s the time of year when we are spoilt for choice with colour. 

The first plants that spring to mind are the pansies and violas all members of the violet family. The leaves are added to soups and stews and the petals can be candied and used as a cake decoration adding sugar and eggwhite. Angelia flowers can be used in the same way.

Borage is next on the list. The leaves can be eaten (as long as you don’t mind hairs) but it’s the flowers that have more versatility. They can be candied like the violets and also eaten straight from the plant. They look great individually frozen in ice cubes too and taken out on hot sunny days to add to the drinks on the patio table.

Daylilies - although you have to be fast getting them because as their name implies, they are not around for long.

For a huge show, how about adding hollyhock flowers to a salad? They can be nearly the size of a side plate so really make a statement. Flower buds can be added to stews.

The weedlike Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides) is a very versatile plant with not only the flower but the whole plant being edible. The young shoots are eaten like asparagus and the roots cooked up like parsnips make a great talking point at lunchtime.

Chrysanthamum flowers are edible and make a fine drink and let’s not forget nasturtiums for edible leaves and seeds.

You can keep the spread of forget me nots down by eating their flowers and begonias and daisies can be nibbled too. If you are lucky enough to have St Johns wort in the garden, these flowers can be added to salads and made into herbal remedies.

Clover flowers are good if you have that growing in the lawn and coltsfoot flowers are edible if you have them growing on newly disturbed patches of ground. Lavender flowers add a touch of class in both savoury and sweet dishes and like a lot of herb flowers; sage makes a great addition to stews.
Of course please take allergies onto consideration when going around munching on the garden flowers; some of them such as chamomile flowers might cause an allergic reaction.

Scrace (Scratched the Surface- my blend)

I’ve only really scratched the surface of flowers we can eat in the garden and I can only ‘guesstimate’ the vast range available. If you have young children playing in the garden it’s always handy to know which flowers are edible so we don’t fly into a huge panic when we see a stem sticking out of some smiling teeth. 

Children’s safety is important, so much so I’ve just invented a new portmanteau word especially -  “Chifty” – Children’s Safety - You are welcome…..There’s one for the English dictionary (drops microphone and walks off the stage)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Favourite Plants You Wouldn't Be Without

Do you have a plant you wouldn’t be without in the garden?

My mother in law loves poppies and much to her husband’s irritation will happily let them self-set all over the vegetable garden. They come and go in a flash of purple and soon die back so don’t really get in the way. 

Julie loves her marigolds but this year for some reason none of the seeds that fell from last year’s plants germinated. The garden does lack that rich orange colour I must admit.  We tend to go more for the annuals for a splash of colour and have bulbs in the front garden for early colour in spring.

Favourite Plants
My favourites seem to change often and this year my plant of choice would be the chamomile, mainly because it’s given me a revenue stream. It is the most relaxing plant I have ever dealt with because of the fragrance and I am at peace when putting the plantlets into envelopes to post. Even weeding out the rogue nasturtiums and chickweed in between the plants is a meditative experience. 
These are the types of plants I would dig up or divide and take with me if I moved again. I think that is an indicator that the plants mean something to you. I would take herb cuttings I think and also a few bay tree cuttings to grow on. 

There are plenty of lists for plants you shouldn’t be without in the garden. A lot of them concentrate on attracting bees and other beneficial insects. So many in fact they are split into the different seasons. In spring you might like to see wallflowers, cyclamen, daffodils, tulips pansies and violets. The summer could give you alliums, clematis, bellflowers and geraniums. Autumn gives us asters, red hot pokers, penstemons and smoke bushes and there’s colour in winter too. Winter aconites, dogwood, hazel, skimmia and cotoneaster all give lovely shows.  

It all depends on personal choice of course and some plants will be on the favourite list because they hold a reminder of something, evoking memories in much the same way that music does a smell can take you back to a happy place. Useful plants are good to take with you into a new garden too. Bamboo for poles, comfy for fertilizer all come in useful and can save you money in the annual upkeep for the garden.

What’s your Favourite?
I couldn’t let this opportunity go by without asking you which plant you would always have in the garden or take with you when you move. 

Here are some of your replies:

Kelly - Peonies! They smell heavenly and remind me of my childhood.

Merry -Old roses for their delightful smell. 

Andrea- Peonies they remind me of my grandma. Actually have some growing that were taken from roots of her plant. They are over 60 years old. 

Tracy- Tulips of all colours but especially the black are favourite flowers. 

Karen- I love daylilies. I always plant sunflowers, they are so cheerful looking and my bird and I love the seeds. 

Nikki- I live in Portugal and it's really dry here, so my favourite plants are globe artichokes as you can eat them, they are really beautiful and quite drought resistant. 

Laurie- Hydrangeas are profuse bloomers with beautiful green foliage...a must have in my garden.
Heather- Chinese lanterns. Reminds me of my grandmother's house when I was growing up.

Trudy- Clematis! My favourite is the old fashioned Jackmanii. I love the profusion of purple blooms! I planted one every time I moved to a new location. There is a trail of clematis vines behind me in several different gardens!

Bob- Lavender, we distil our own oils. 

Janet- Gardenia... my grandparents had one outside of EVERY window in their house.

Rebecca- Old favourite peas....my dearly departed dad would not let my mum go to the hospital and give birth to me until all the peas were shelled.

Frances- Hydrangeas are my favourite flowers. They take me back home to my Grandmas farm.

Looking around my garden I realise that a lot of plants we took for granted haven’t made the journey with us from older gardens. We have lost a lot of herbs and shrubs as well as some lovely flowers such as the large daisies. Our relations still have some that we gave them years ago so it looks like we need to make a list of plants we want to get back and go visiting some friends where the plants still flourish.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Right Gloves

Gloves to suit most jobs in the garden

There are work gloves to suit most manual situations. It took me a long time to realise this and for years I tried to work with potting compost using porous orange builders’ gloves. The result was always a total waterlogging of the fabric backing and the lime in the bag eating the skin away on my hands.  I would actually have been better off not wearing any gloves at all.

Rubber work gloves like the red cotton lined pvc ones weren’t much better either, especially when using a hose pipe as they would fill up with water and my hands would slosh around like feet in oversized wellingtons.  I have tried the leather and suede rigger gloves, pvc dotted gloves, fabric types and sometimes even resorted to ski gloves. One time I even used a pair of glow in the dark ones . I’m not sure why but I’m guessing I was doing something at night.

The Right Gloves
Now my favourite glove of choice is a heavy duty rubber pair. They don’t give the same level of protection as the leather type but they are perfect for washing the roots of my chamomile prior to selling and most other weeding jobs. I do tend to leave the bright yellow gloves on a bit too often but as yet I haven’t been to the local shop in them. I did go out in my “washing up pinny” once to the shop so I can’t rule it out altogether.

Regardless of which type of glove I am wearing I have also got into the habit of wearing a pair of nitrile powder free disposable gloves underneath. I’m sure they were around in the years when I was using the lime based potting compost and if I knew of their existence would have saved me years of uncomfortable cracks in my skin.  I do meet people who would never wear work gloves in any situation as they take away the tactile connection to what you are doing but I like clean finger nails so have an array of gloves at my disposal.  

I was going to do a review on the best gloves on the market but as I mentioned, it all depends on what you are doing and how much you are willing to spend.  So I’ll narrow it down to this if you are looking to wear a bit of hand protection. If you are doing things that get your hands wet, use waterproof types, heavy dry work, use thick types and the nitrile disposable gloves come in packs of 100 which last for ages.

New Mower
I’ve bought a new lawnmower. I just couldn’t face the disruption of the strimmer so got online to read some reviews of the lower priced electric type which suit my small patch of lawn. I settled for a small rotary type with a metal blade and I must say I am impressed with the cutting power helped on by a 1200 watt motor. It cut through the foot long grass with no bother.  It’s far better than the Flymo and the only negative comments on the reviews were about the grass storage not being large enough and having to take too many trips to the compost bin. As I am never more than 10 paces from one of my bins I didn’t think that was too much of an issue and most of the time I wouldn’t even bother with the grass collector as I like to keep the cuttings on the lawn for a mulch. 

When I was down at the DIY shop buying the mower I noticed they had loads of bedding plants for sale at reduced prices. Some of the trays were beyond reviving but a lot of plants were still in great condition. I got a car full of petunias, geraniums, begonias, marigolds and daisies for under twenty euro. I must confess that I am a bit naughty when it comes to picking the trays; I will take a few of the good plants from one tray and swap them for the dead ones in another. I justify this by thinking that none of them would sell if it wasn’t for me taking the initiative to make one good (ish) tray out of two. I would have done that myself when I was selling plants. I’m not really sure if it’s illegal but I do feel like I am doing something positive so I am sure I could talk the sales staff around if they catch me in the act.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Time to take some Softwood Cuttings

I pulled up the old broccoli plants this week. I was going to give them to some deserving horses after the bees finished with the flowers. Greenfly had other ideas.  I first noticed a small clump of the little green suckers about three weeks ago and thought nothing of it. Over the following days their reproduction rate grew exponentially, so much so that every stem was covered in the offspring. The whole plants seemed to be moving as they sucked the sap out of the plants, you could hear them dehydrating the stems. 

I chopped the plants up on the lawn which in hindsight appears to be a pretty silly idea. I think most of the greenfly jumped ship before I stuffed the stumps and stalks into coal bag to take to the recycling centre. I would normally compost most plants but these take a few years to rot down because they are so ‘woody’. 

The greenfly that didn’t make the car journey to the skip have happily taken refuge on more young stems in the garden. They are mainly going for the new broccoli and kale as well as any other juicy stem from the bedding plants we have. I’ve never really had a problem with these sap suckers but this year I have taken action. My bottle of neem oil which has been hiding in a dark cupboard for three years has come out. It doesn’t seem to work but at least I feel proactive and the greenfly are happy.

My fabulous Deutzia X hybrida 'Mont Rose’ shrub performed well again. At the end of every year I consider pulling the whole shrub up as it’s far too big for its spot, but every spring it rewards us with the most beautiful flowers bursting with nectar for the bees and I let it stay for another year. I was thinking that I might even take a few cuttings now the flowers have gone to pass on the beauty to other people who probably have more room for one. 

After flowering is the optimum time to trim back these types of shrubs so it’s an ideal time to keep a few of the stems from this year’s growth to increase the stock by taking softwood cuttings.

Softwood cuttings.
This techniques ideal for a lot of shrubs from buddleia, lavender, euonymus, pelargoniums and salvia to name just a few.
  • Cut one of the softer stems and make it a bit longer than the finished cutting, just above a leaf on the parent plant.
  • Use a sharp knife to cut just below a leaf joint and remove the leaves
  • Aim to make a cutting not more than 10cm long. Use a sharp knife to cut just below a leaf joint and remove the leaves from the bottom half of the cutting.
  • Reduce leaf area by half to minimise water loss from the cutting.
  • Some people recommend a rooting hormone powder and you might want to dip the stems in that. Willow water works too helping to promote faster roots but personally I don’t bother and most cuttings are successful.
  • Insert cuttings into 7cm pots of moist cuttings compost, keeping lower leaves just above compost level.

For the really tidy ones amongst us, push in thin canes around the pot and cover with a clear polythene bag held in place with an elastic band. Place cuttings in a warm position, out of direct sun, to root. I sometimes edge my bets and push some of the cuttings into the ground as I tend to forget to water pots in hot weather. Finding a shady spot outside or even a large container where weeds are controlled seems to work fine for me.

Elderflower Cordial
My mother in law was knocking on the door this week looking for someone tall to go and give her a   On the menu this year will be the cordial and also she will be making some fritters. Anything deep fried is OK with me, I’ve even tried the deep fried chocolate bar. I did have to clean out the fryer afterwards though so it was far too much bother.
hand collecting elderflowers from the branches.
Elderflower cordial is a delicious summer tonic that you can make yourself.
Her recipe is best made with fresh flowers, which have been picked on a sunny day when they are still creamy in colour and before they fade to white. At this time they have the highest amount of pollen, which contains the yeast. The recipe is water, sugar, lemons, citric acid and of course the elderflower. Like most recipes it’s open to interpretation. Maybe some of us might add a touch of vodka in there too.

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