The Canny Gardener

how to grow, cook and use plants, plus some philosophy!

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Wet Garlic


Wet Garlic may appear in many vegetable boxes now. I was enticed by the name but I did not know how I could use it.  Wet garlic is called so because it has not been hung up to dry. It has to be picked by hand; a very lengthy process. During its short season it is very much sought after by gourmets.  My wet garlic actually came from France where it is well used.  The juicy cloves (you can see how the cloves will form if you cut through it) are less strong than dry garlic.  So wet garlic can give food like soups a particularly creamy, even sweet flavour. The creamy cooked garlic is delicious spread on toast or mixed with butter and used on vegetables or in baked potatoes.  Here are two other quick ways I used it.

1. Wet Garlic with chicken liver and potatoes

I used up some fat left behind from grilling pork left on the baking dish.  Being a lazy person, I put the whole thing on the hob, fried the potatoes first because they take the longest, then added the chicken livers and then the chopped up wet garlic.  It took 20 minutes to do, make sure the liver is cooked through.  I added some salt and pepper to flavour and voila!  a healthy simple meal.  The pork fat was used up in the cooking so not much cleaning up to do afterwards.


2. Pasta with wet garlic


Again another simple dish.  I sweated out the chopped up pieces of wet garlic, added some anchovy and pepper with some left over pasta- ready in less than 10 minutes!  Bon appetite!

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three benefits of gardening


I have but a modest little balcony to adorn with flowers and it has given me such valuable benefits, apart from the food I grow in containers.  Here the three main benefits-

1. Exercise- bending, straightening up, kneeling, stretching, lifting (carefully!), lifting up on your toes- all these positions that we use while gardening are also poses used in Yoga, Pilates and other stretching exercises.  With care, these can become a  part of our daily routine- and time saving as well because you can exercise while doing something else .  Gardeners are some of the healthiest and fittest people I have seen.

2. Mental health- The gardener’s concentration skills and calmness are also affected positively by what they do and how they do it.  I suppose that is why Zen monks take such good care of their gardens. It is a two way process- creating beauty with very little (some Zen gardens are just raked sand and stones) which in turn gives the benefits of creativity and calmness. Spending time outdoors is also healing.

3. Building better bones- I recently had a health scare when my blood test revealed very little Vitamin D.  The lack of vitamin D can lead to bone pain and tenderness due to a condition called osteomalacia.  Despite doing Yoga and stretching, I was still suffering from aches and pains (and am due to visit a physiotherapist).  I have been prescribed Vitamin D tablets now.  However, I was surprised to learn that these tablets by themselves do not do much- they still need sunlight to make them effective.  Sunlight has UV light that helps Vitamin D to absorb the calcium from food.  Particularly for women after the age of 30-35 when bones start to disintegrate and for older people, sunlight is essential.  However too much UV exposure can lead to melanoma and pre-mature skin ageing.  So I was scared of going in the sun.  However, if you do your outdoor gardening before 11-00 am and after 4-00pm, when the sun has lost its fierceness, you will be be fine as long as you don’t let your skin burn.  About 5 minutes exposure to white skin is fine while darker skins should be out for longer.

My 81 year old Japanese friend who looks at least 20 years younger, gave me this tip- she exposes her palms and lower arms to the sun for about 20 minutes and she has had no problems at all.  This can be done very easily when gardening.


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Gluten free elderflower fritters


Inspired by my friend, Ivan’s efforts and sad to see the crop the elderflowers being ‘wasted’, I made this elderflower fritter.  There are recipes by Nigel Slater and from other websites that you can google so I won’t bore you with those.  My batter was egg-less and fizzy water- less- I used potato flour to give it some ‘body’ and used soda bicarbonate to add some ‘fizz’. I also added couple of drops of lemon juice to a batter made with potato flour and arrow root flour (I like gluten free stuff!). I also added the sugar in the batter and lightly sprinkled some icing sugar when serving.  Served with my home-made ice-cream of Venezuelan chocolate, it made a great complementary combination.  I experimented with various batter consistencies and at the tasting thought that the mid-consistency batter worked out the best.  My son preferred the more ‘lumpy’ version.  Watch out for the tiny black bugs before you use the flowers for cooking!!

For my earlier post on elderflowers, please see-


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Simple tips

I have been planting in preparation for summer months- salads and herbs and flowers.  Many of my perennials have come up with lovely blooms.  And I have so far bought nothing.  I see my neighbour frantically going to the garden centre, come summer, buying plants and seeds.  The whole of the summer is then spent sowing, watering and weeding- never time to enjoy the garden. Last year with minimal effort, I even managed to win a gardening prize.  This year I am learning to be even more of canny gardener.  So here are some tips, I have learned recently.

1. Go to your local garden centre for free lessons, seeds, plants and tips- many local centres hold planting and sowing workshops this time of the year.  Subscribe to their emails and go to the sessions.  I picked up some lovely seeds, pots and compost- all for free.  Plus a sowing lesson on herbs and flowers- all nicely washed with a glass of presecco!

IMG_1794 IMG_1795IMG_1747

Photo1: compost+vermiculite/charcoal mix after one week; Photo2: pure compost mix after three weeks; photo3: sowing workshop at local garden centre with prosecco

Here are some tips from the author and gardener, Laetitia Maklouf ( I have edited and shortened what she sent me.  See my own comments in brackets and in italics)

1. Seed-sowing: the basics.

  1. Compost
  2. Container
  3. Seeds
  4. Sowing
  5. Covering
  6. Watering

1. Compost

There are so many ways you can go with this, but the important thing to remember is that seeds need compost that is nutrient-poor. I use a half-half mix of peat-free multi-purpose compost and horticultural grit (or sharp sand). (see the difference in that compost makes- the seedlings in the photo planted on a mixture of vermiculite and compost came up more quickly than pure compost)

2. Containers

Unless you are running a flower farm, or sowing for an enormous garden, there is no need for anything except small pots. 7cm circular or square pots are fine.  Cleanliness is key – I wash my pots in warm soapy water with a dash of bleach before I use them. (I use a mixture of vinegar and soap and put it out on the rain to wash off- helps with killing some pests as well)

3. Seeds

Sow seeds that you like. Don’t stick to ‘easy’ things. Instructions on the back of the packet are generally good. Always read, but then feel free to bend the rules! Best to sow a little late than too early. I do most of my sowing beginning of April, as March is so unpredictable. Late sowing is simply ‘successional’ which means that although your plants won’t ever reach the giddy heights of those sown in the autumn, you’ll get fresh, new plants later in the season, when everybody else’s are going over – nice.

(also see the use by date on packets. I found that seeds that are past the use by dates either produced very slow and weak seedlings or nothing at all)

4. Sowing:

Make sure your compost is damp BEFORE sowing – this way you avoid the need to water afterwards and you won’t wash all your seeds out of their pot.

Make sure compost is nicely patted down (horti word for this is ‘tamping’)…do this either by firmly tapping the pot on the table, or using another pot to push down gently but firmly on the compost. Reason for this is that these little seeds have teeny tiny roots, and the roots need to get water AND air from the soil. If there are huge air pockets in the compost they wont get the moisture they need. Likewise, if the compost is too compressed, they won’t get the air….so it pays to make sure things are just right.

The general rule re depth of seed is to sow at roughly 2.5 times the height of the seed. Important not to be shy about burying your seed; if the seed is sown too close to the surface it won’t anchor itself properly and you’ll get floppy, leggy seedlings.

Some seed benefit from being soaked, to help them germinate more easily. These are generally ones with a very hard seed casing, like sweet peas.

Cover seeds with sieved compost (although not all of them need it- as a rule of thumb, the harder the casing, the more likely you need a cover)

5. Covering

Most seeds benefit from a humid microclimate – this aids transpiration. Warmth and humidity is key for most seeds. Light is usually not a requirement until later.

Use clear plastic bag (so you can see what’s happening), with an elastic band, or you can buy a cloche to go over your tray (propagator). Some people use a pane of glass. (i have used a plastic cover but inside the room, I found one does not really need it)

The important bit!

AS SOON AS THAT SEEDLING SHOWS ITSELF PROUD OF THE COMPOST, REMOVE THE BAG. You want fresh, healthy air circulating around the little plant, otherwise it will grow long and leggy and floppy and unhealthy.

Open a window nearby, and after a couple of days, put the seedlings outside in the daytime (though not in full sun). For three days, bring them in at night, and on the fourth day, leave them outside overnight. This is called ‘hardening off’. (I have hardened them in the full sun- they seem to love it although I bring the plants inside after awhile)

6. Remember to water. It’s essential.

Water from the bottom (i.e. into the tray) or with the fine rose of a watering can, GENTLY. Compost should be moist but not wet. (you can make up a cheap watering can by punching some holes in a plastic milk bottle cap and then putting it on the bottle and watering with it)

DO NOT RELY ON RAIN, PLEASE. (I do really on rain, especially when I am away but yes, on hot summer days, just like you’d drink water, you’d give your plants enough water too)



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Sage- the ‘wise’ plant


Salvia officinalis (sage, also called garden sage, or common sage) is a perennial, evergreen shrub, with woody stems, grayish leaves, and blue to purplish flowers. It is a native of the Mediterranean region, with many medicinal and culinary uses.  It is traditionally used in sage and onion stuffing for turkey or chicken.

Salvia and “sage” are derived from the Latin salvere (to save), referring to the healing properties long attributed to the various Salvia species. It has been used internally (as tea or directly chewed) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, mouth, gastrointestinal tract, and skin.  Other uses are as an antisweating agent, antibiotic, antifungal, astringent, antispasmodic, estrogenic, hypoglycemic, and tonic.  But most of all, I love it because of its hardiness which means I don’t need to do much for it.  But Sage is a generous plant- with its medicinal and culinary uses and now also for ornamental uses.

sage tea


This photo shows sage tea which is traditionally offered in many Mediterranean cultures,  especially in the winter for its great benefit in combatting winter colds and congestions.  You may put some honey in it if you like to sweeten it.  I have also used it in my bath, the hot water releases the beneficial oils.  Make sure you always have some sage growing in your garden (mine grows in a pot)!