Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Couch grass

A weed, goes the popular convention, is any plant growing in the wrong place. Personally, I can’t think of a right place for couch grass to grow. Having pretty much eradicated it from part of the garden where I was putting our raised beds a couple of years ago (and nearly doing my back in in the process) I’d forgotten about its pervasive, snaking habit and how you find the stuff EVERY BLOODY WHERE you dig. You can’t leave on tiny bit of it in the ground without knowing that it’s there, laughing at you ready to grow as soon as your back is turned. So imagine my delight at discovering it had set up home precisely where we’ve been planning to overhaul what I laughingly call our borders. The truth is we’ve kind of neglected them over the past couple of years as we have concentrated on growing the herbs in our poly tunnel further up the garden. Digging in one spadeful looked like I’d just pulled up a load of evil albino spaghetti from the ground. Richard, who reads up on these things, has discovered it is edible and has turned up recipes. He's on his own with that one. Three hours later, we’d got this little lot out:
I’m sure we have missed bits…..

Friday, 6 January 2012

Twelfth Night

"Down with the rosemary, and so Down with the bays and mistletoe; Down with the holly, ivy, all, Wherewith ye dress'd the Christmas Hall" "Ceremony upon Candlemas Eve" Robert Herrick (1591–1674)
Twelfth Night (January 5) is upon us and it’s time to take down the decorations. There’s lots of wonderful history attached to decorations dating back to Pagan times. I’ve always been fascinated by old customs and decided to look a few of them up, and it’s amazing what you find out. People would bring in greenery – including live trees or strings of ivy – into their homes because they believed the plants were inhabited by spirits who needed somewhere warm to stay during the cold winter. Bells would be hung in the trees (when one rang, you knew a spirit was there) along with food and treats for them to eat. Good spirits were also associated with the holly plant, and ivy – despite associations with Bacchus, the Roman god of living it up – was thought to be able to protect against plague and evil. But if you left the greenery in your home after Twelfth Night – and therefore, by default, the spirits – then they would cause trouble in the home until they were released. Others thought that if the greenery was not returned to the countryside spring would not appear, and neither would the crops. This year we put some of our stacks of ivy climbing the fence to good use, cutting it down and hanging it in bright swags around the front room. Far, far, better than tinsel. Dried rosemary sticks were threaded with chillies, orange slices and bay leaves and hung around, giving off a fabulous scent when the fire was in full flow and they heated up. And the scent got even stronger when we put it on the fire last night to burn the last of the decorations. Bonus. Twelfth Night is also associated with the draining of wassail bowls of a drink called “Lamb’s wool” made of sugar, ginger, nutmeg and beer. It would be drunk by wassailers. Looks good, too. That's my weekend project sorted... Lambswool Recipe Recipe Ingredients: • 1.5 Litres (3 x 500ml bottles) of traditional real ale – or traditional cider • 6 small cooking apples, cored (Bramley apples) • 1 nutmeg freshly grated • 1 tsp ground ginger • 150g brown sugar (demerara) Recipe Method: Preheat the oven 120C Core the apples and get rid of the pips. Cook at 120c for an hour. In a big saucepan, add the sugar and pour enough booze in to cover. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add spices and stir, adding in the rest of the alcohol Leave on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, scoop out the flesh of the appeals and mash it up, adding it into the saucepan. Heat through for 30 minutes then whisk quickly until everything froths up. The idea is that it looks like lamb’s wool

Sunday, 1 January 2012


It’s difficult to believe that wonderful plants come from such tiny things as seeds. They are full of promise, a whisper of spring and summer to come, another year exciting and new and unseen.
We’ve already done one sowing of seeds such as chamomile, elecampane and sweet cicley in the autumn, and they are starting to come up. But we’ve got much, much more to do.
Here’s just some of the 20+ packets we’ve got. Much of it we collected from our garden this last year, but others like Mandrake (from the wonderful Nicky’s Nursery) we are trying out.

This week, we’re continuing to sow seeds that need stratification - that is, a period of cold weather before they start to sprout. I know it’s been a mild winter so far, but you can bet that colder temperatures are round the corner.
Angelica, Calendula, Viper’s Bugloss, sweet woodruff, sweet cicely, self heal and wood sage, together with vervain and soapwort will all be sown in trays, covered with vermiculite and a sheet of glass, and left outside in all weathers.

Viper's Bugloss

Others, like toadflax (Linaria vulgaris), Meadowsweet, St John’s Wort and Agrimony, we’ll sow and leave in a cold frame to get a bit of extra protection.


There’s just one thing…. Anyone know where I can borrow a greenhouse?


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