The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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Ginkgo walks in nature

I have been going for walks as soon as the sun comes out- these days as it has been rare but it has given me a new appreciation for nature, and even decay.  Japanese poets traditionally used haiku to capture and distill a fleeting natural images such as rain falling  or a flower bending in the wind. Many people go for walks just to find new inspiration for their poetry, known in Japan as ‘ginkgo walks’. This weeks poem was inspired by David Bowie who left the earthly abode last week.

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Fallen leaves, fallen heroes

Float away or stay still, very still

Forever in my heart.


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A new beginning

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Winter is a time of hibernation, of sleep, of drawing back but also a time for rejuvenation and preparation for the glory of spring and summer.  I have been busy but there is not much to show at present.  These gorgeous holly branches with their vibrant green and reds show that winter still has power to dazzle as much as spring.

Britain has been hit by storms and rains and it has been very hard to do any useful gardening work.  However, the warmer winter has meant that the plants which normally would have died down by this time are still thriving without any help- such as as the sweet peas and some of the flowering climbers.  But soon, I will be back out again, to show you some of the ‘invisible’ work that nature has been doing without my help. In the meanwhile, hope you all have a lovely 2016!

Easy beauty

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The Canny Gardener

I recently went to an exhibition and saw a new invention- a kind of an eco-friendly dishwasher made with charcoal and rice water.  Apparently rice water is used as a detergent in Asian countries but I had never heard of this before.  So I investigated a bit more and found out that not only is rice water good for your dishes (and hands) but also for your face.  Here is  the best method of making rice water which I compiled after reading about it.

Take as much rice as you will want to use for your cooking.  Rinse the rice in water and throw that water away- you may want to water your plants with it.  Then sit the rice in fresh water for 15 minutes until it turns milky (use no more than a cupful of water for two cups of rice).  Strain the water out and store it…

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The flower of the moment

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Elderflower shrubs and trees start flowering mid May- this year, the errant summer has made this a bit later.  These grow wild almost everywhere and also in parks.  Its funny since I have become aware of elderflowers, I now find them everywhere.  The photo above shows one next to a railway line.  I choose flowers in full bloom, clipped during midday sun and from places sheltered from traffic fumes and other pollutants because you should not wash them before use.  Be careful where you get them from and do it safely.  I do not clip flowers from people’s gardens unless given permission to do so.  Also, remember to shake out or cut out the masses of black bugs you may find before using them.

These year, I have found masses of elderflowers so have frozen two bag-fulls as it is best to use them fresh.  There are many recipes out on the internet on how to make elderflower cordial, so I won’t give any here.  Over the years, I have experimented with less sugar, cutting out on citric acid, using more flower heads, using frozen elderflower cordial, frozen flowers and using the leftovers (all with great success).  You have also do this.  But here are some things which I have discovered through experimentation I thought might be useful to share.  After all, this blog is about being a canny gardener and is not the same as others!

Can you use frozen elderflowers?

Yes, they are not as good as fresh ones, so I use a little bit more than when using fresh ones.  Last year, my frozen elderflowers got freezer frost yet I was able to make cordial in the height of winter from those.

Do I have to use citric acid to make the cordial?

Citric acid is often used for proper mineral supplementation of food, as an acidity regulator, and as a flavor compound.  Sometimes you may have difficulty finding it- many ethnic food shops keep it.  Most elderflower cordial recipes use it.  However, I have cut it out and increased the flower heads instead for more flavour. If you want more lemony flavour, try squeezing out the sliced lemons you used.

What can you do with the leftovers from the elderflower cordial making?

The sliced lemons make a great treat for children.  I also use them as garnish for ice-creams and drinks.  The used flower heads can be put in the compost heap.  

The photos from this year’s elderflower making are belowImageImage

 


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wildflowers

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( a posy of wildflowers- wild geranium, euphorbia, buttercup, field genetian, forget me not, Green alkanet, sweet cicely, Mountain crane’s bill and the heavenly scented Butterfly bush)

We are so lucky in late spring to be blessed with wildflowers- many of whom are cousins of cultivars.  These are free, abundant and hardy.  While we have to be careful in picking these- for example, the Euphorbia shown here is a laxative!- we can still enjoy them whether in the garden or in a vase in our room.  I find these more delightful than cultivars- they seem to be naughtier, tinier cousins-daring you to pick them up. It was my son, in fact, who noticed the Butterfly bush with its deep scent- much nicer than any perfume or room freshener you could buy!

Such bits of wild spaces in the city attract bees, butterflies and birds- I heard the most delightful singing of birds when I was picking these flowers up.  As birdsong has decreased by 60% in the UK, wildflowers and spaces are the right thing to have in your garden.  Even one small container or pot with wildflowers will attract bees and butterflies as I know.  


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Starting young

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This is a photo of my son, trying out some bread with herbs made at a gardening workshop.  Once children get into growing things and tasting them, they become not only keen gardeners but less fussy eaters.  Children are very tactile creatures, observing, tasting, smelling any thing they can.  I was surprised to see my son trying out the flavours of different herbs.  Last week, he went to a pizza making party and told me he put mushrooms in his pizza which he used to hate in the past.  The peer pressure of other children also helps!

So take your children gardening, and if it is safe, let them feel and taste herbs.  It will make them good eaters for the rest of their lives.


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The mint story

I never believe how hardy some plants are.  Image

 

These are my new mint plants coming through in the spring.  I had forgotten to water them last summer and snow had covered the pot in winter.  But again, here I see that the mint comes up again and again.  The mint teaches me a lesson of resilience and hardiness!

Per weight, herbs are more expensive to buy from the market.  So to be canny saver yet lazy gardener, I grow herbs more than vegetables which are need more care and space.  Herbs take up very little space, can grow indoors and outdoors, protect other plants and provide amazing flavours to the food.  They also look very pretty, attract bees and smell good!