Since I last blogged, it’s been perfect for gardening – neither too hot nor too cold, and with showers to refresh the vegetables. The flower patch has come into its own, too. Dead-heading when appropriate has meant that there is a continual supply of cut flowers for the house. Joy indeed. But as I picked and weeded and made notes of things to do next month, it came to me that gardens – being living entities – do from time to time need resuscitating. A revamp. Gardeners themselves may also feel the need for rejuvenation; it’s all too easy to become set in one’s ways because “that’s how I have always done it.” So garden resuscitation is the order of the day; the thought would never have come to me had I not been tidying ‘The Shed’ – not the one with tools and gardening paraphernalia, but the one in which I store a library-full of BOOKS.
Gardening books galore
I have far too many for I seem incapable of throwing them away! Because I spend part of my life reviewing new titles, I have amassed a vast store. And it came to me as I was making space for yet more boxes, how publishing fashions have changed and that modern techniques for book production, digital photography and printing have brought a huge change to what is on offer. Hardly a week goes by but a new title lands on my desk; and yet running my hand along the shed shelves, I experienced a feeling of nostalgia. Sometimes a re-appraisal of old favourites bring new delights. So it was for me when, during a day of heavy downpour when I could not work outside, I decided to sort and discard what I really did not need.
Thinking of garden resuscitation had me pulling books off the shelves that would refresh my ideas of how I want to redevelop our acre, to be more in-line with increasing age, and a husband’s growing infirmity. I am an advocate of companion planting, of maintaining the sort of garden that benefits and helps to maintain the health of the environment. (What a thrill it was to see that where the rain had beaten down the marjoram, a sprawling ‘Durandii’ deep-blue ‘clematis was visible; honey-bees and butterflies feasting. Such joy.) So back in our lounge I open ‘Bob Flowerdew’s Complete Book of Companion Gardening’ – my copy is the fifth edition which I acquired ten years ago. First published in 1993 by Kyle Cathie, it is still just as relevant today. Forget the cosseted spaces that now so frequently appear in TV programs, open your mind and undertake your own garden resuscitation. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Garden Resuscitation might be no more than refreshing your brain as to what to do in your plot – when, and how. Two more-recent books that I realised could take much of the strain out of making continual gardening check-lists are in fact perfect for keeping one sane when necessary tasks seem to be tumbling over each other for attention. ‘Your Kitchen Garden Month-by-Month’ (published in 2010 by David & Charles) is one such – a monthly guide to starting, tending and living off your kitchen garden. Author Andi Clevely not only leads you by the hand with simple explanations for tasks, seasonal produce and how to grow and harvest it, he also provides two practical projects per month which, if you are a relative newcomer to producing your own 5-a-day, will quickly enhance your knowledge base. The illustrations alone are enough to tempt one on the road to growing one’s own food. It gave me such a buzz to re-read this, it has sparked an idea for keeping a kitchen garden scrapbook next year!
In a totally different style is Alan Buckingham’s ‘Allotment Month by Month’ which hit the book shops in 2009. Published by Dorling Kindersley and subtitled “how to grow your own fruit and veg”, it is just as relevant to home gardeners as those fortunate to have a plot in an allotment. It’s a heftier tome illustrated with the most excellent and copious photographs. So, for instance, you could not fail to understand what constitutes a good compost heap, nor how to prune apple trees, or discover pests and beneficial insects in-situ, to take just three examples. A second section covers planning, and provides cultivation details crop-by-crop plus other useful hints an tips. Finally, trouble-shooting (common diseases, malnutrition, and pests and parasites). Brief but helpful advice is offered on obtaining an allotment – either council-run or a private site.
Into the Kitchen
Another all-time favourite that should never have found its way off my kitchen bookshelf into the shed is ‘Sensational Preserves’ by Hilaire Walden (stunning photography by David Gill). It’s now re-instated as I drooled through such tempting methods and recipes for preparing the most delicious edibles – sweet and savoury. The pages fell open again at ‘Minted Apple Relish’, ‘Hedgerow Jelly’, ‘Indian Carrot Sticks in Oil’ and ‘Elderflower Vinegar’. I suppose I put it aside once our family of five became just the two of us; but the numerous stickers and bookmarks plus notes on the pages has reminded me just how much I loved this title, and relied on it for making gifts as well as stocking our own larder. Published in 1995 by Conran Octopus, I must have acquired it at the height of our gardening (and cooking) endeavours.
Sometimes however I come up with ideas all of my own (though I guess others have had the same discoveries, so mine are not unique). Broad (fava) beans are delicious when young but as they age (if not picked), they develop an earthy taste that children, particularly, dislike. When podded they should be no larger than a finger nail, and can be dropped into lightly boiling water for a few minutes so that they retain their appetising, bright green hue. Cool them if you wish to add them to a salad. (And don’t forget to put the empty pods onto the compost heap!) The picture shows broad beans way past their prime – but I have ways with these elderly beauties when they have been left on the plants for too long.
You can identify the ‘old ones’ by the dark scar that appears where they were attached to the pod. Simmer for just a few moments and leave to cool. Now comes the fiddly bit: peel away the skins. If the inner beans are still firm, toss them into a salad or add to home-made soup that has already been cooked. If they seem ‘pappy’, mash in a bowl with butter or cream, a little pepper and some grated cheese (a mild Cheddar is good). Then use the mixture as a toast topper (flash them under the grill for a second or two). Sliced tomato adds a little moisture, colour and extra flavour. In reality, just experiment, as many a housewife (and maybe house partner) have done since time immemorial.
Garden Resuscitation – and more …
This image of my ‘square foot’ garden, taken in 2009, brings back many happy memories of the time when I created it from virgin ground, bit by bit over two or three years. It is now in need of a complete makeover after considerable neglect and a takeover by thugs (of the garden kind). Not yet awhile; but I will take this image with me in my mind as I head for hospital on Monday (18th) for a fairly major op. Forced inactivity in the ensuing weeks will allow me the time for plenty of reading and planning, visiting the old favourites about which I have written above, with the thought that any garden resuscitation will bring new beginnings. An update, op-success willing, will appear at the end of the month.