Issue 21

Garden Tips & Hints    wateringcans2Tilt

Here is a new addition to the Compost Corner. Over the coming publication I hope to give you tips and hints, to aide you in your gardens and improve your gardening skills.

Next years season appears to be big on Herbs. The members of the OT gardening group will be developing a new Formal Herb Bed in the Therapeutic Garden, edged with Box and herbs will play a big part in next years OCN course. Not forgetting, Andy's great successful herb bed in the Cardigan Garden this year. So for my first Tips & Hints, I will focus on the Herb.

Every herbs prefer full sun, although some like, Woodruff, Chervil, Lemon balm and Mint, will grow in partial shade. Many herbs tolerate rocky, thin soil, but will be more productive in average, well drained soil. You may choose to grow your herbs in a separate bed, but they look just as good, grown in a mixed flower bed, or among your vegetables. At one extreme is the formal herb garden with its angular knots and pruned hedges and at the other end a random grouping of what ever suits the season or your tastes.

The key to success is to work with nature. Look carefully at your previous planting and note what had worked and what had not. The secret is to understand your own garden environment, each garden is different, learn how to work within your very own specific site. What grew well, without constant attention? Learn the characteristics of the plants you grow well, that will tell you something about your soil. Having said all that! Be adventurous, there is no right or wrong in gardening, or garden design. It's merely a journey of discovery. You will learn over the seasons, what works for you. Regardless of the size, shape, or location of your garden, its style is merely a reflection of your own personal taste. What's wrong with herbs in the rockery, or planted in gravel – garden paths, or in hanging baskets, just outside the kitchen door?

Right, what to grow in your herb garden? The key to having a beautiful and productive herb garden is to use herbs that are adapted to your particular climate. Here in South Wales we could say that we have a moderate climate, that is to say temperatures in winter do not fall below 10 degrees F (-5 degrees C) and summers are warm and dry with cool nights.

So; basil, bay, coriander, fennel, feverfew, geranium, lavender, lemon verbena, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, passionflower, pennyroyal, rosemary, sage, thyme, violet and witch hazel, should do well. The following herbs will tolerate shade (although drill, fennel, rosemary and geranium really prefer full sun): angelica, bay, bergamot, catmint, chervil, comfrey, coriander, feverfew, ginger, hyssop, lemon balm, lovage, mint, parsley, woodruff, tansy, tarragon, thyme and wormwood, would all do fairly well in shade.

Be aware, that one of the first rules to learn about growing herbs is to harvest them early in the morning. The best time is just after the morning dew has dried, but before the sun gets a chance to warm them up. The reason is that essential oils that give herbs their flavour and fragrance are most intense early in the morning and lose their quality when exposed to heat. There is nothing wrong with dew, but wet leaves takes longer to dry out before you can store them. For this reason don't harvest herbs on rainy days. A cool, dry, sunny morning is best. Having said all that, you need not be so fussy if you plan to use fresh herbs that are picked and use them right away. Avoid heavy harvests of perennial herbs during the first year of growth, to allow them to establish and gain root growth. You may want to cut them lightly to promote bushiness. Once established, harvest the foliage twice a year, once in spring and again in summer. Since annuals are limited to just one season, your only concern is harvest as much as you can before the frost. The same is true if you are growing biennial herbs, such as parsley. A general rule is to harvest the top half of the plant in one cutting. Most annuals and biennials may be harvested several times each season. Before the first frost you can cut annual plants to ground level, or pull them for drying. If you are growing biennial herbs, like caraway, for their seeds, avoid harvesting the foliage in the first year. The more energy the plant can make and store, the more seeds they set the following year.

So, what can we do with these herbs? In fact the list is endless .There are many great books out there and I do not have the space to cover this vast subject. In the Kitchen; herbs can be used for, cooking, hot and cold drinks, salads, mayonnaise and mustards, oils and vinegars, marinades and butters, even sweet and savoury sauces. In the Home; herbs can be used for, furniture, fabric and surface cleaners, home fragrance, first aid, beauty products, relaxation and even pet care.

Mint Vinaigrette:

3 tbs mild olive oil
1 tbs white wine or balsamic vinegar
pinch of sea salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 tsp honey or soft brown sugar and a handful of spearmint leaves, chopped.

Method:

Place the oil and vinegar in a bowl and whisk together. Add all the remaining ingredients and blend. Taste to check the seasoning, then pour mixture over the salad, toss and serve. Alternatives; you can use chive and mint leaf, great for potato salads, or drill leaf, great with courgettes, or garlic and sweet marjoram leaf, for tomato salads, or tarragon and sweet basil, great with cold fish.

Herb Mayonnaise

2 large egg yolks room temperature
1tsp English mustard powder
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 fl oz of light olive oil or sunflower oil
2 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp lemon juice
1 bunch parsley finely chopped
2 sprigs of fresh basil, finely chopped

Method:

Place the eggs yolks, mustard and salt into a bowl and mix together, add the oil, very slowly, one drop at a time, whisking until it starts to thicken. .When half of the oil has been added, add one teaspoon of white wine vinegar to thin the mixture. Now add the in a thin stream, whisk continuously. If the mixture is too thin add a little more oil and when happy with the consistency, add the lemon juice, chopped herbs, salt and pepper and a little more white wine vinegar, if needed. Leave to infuse for one hour and then use as soon as possible, as chopped basil leaves may begin to turn brown, when mixed with vinegar and exposed to the air. Alternative; chervil leaves, create a delicate flavoured mayonnaise, good with rice. Or garlic clove mayonnaise, wonderful with fish and even chips, would you believe. Or French tarragon leaf, good with fish, chicken and rice. Or sorrel leaves, classic green mayonnaise, good with fish or cold chicken. Or even wild rocket, which adds a peppery, beef flavour, which combines well with new potatoes or egg dishes.

Herb Butter:

2 tbsp thyme leaves chopped
4 oz unsalted butter

Method:

Remove leaves of thyme by rubbing fingers up and down the stem. Once removed, chop up to release the oils, then mix with soft unsalted butter. It is important to use salt free butter, so that the herb flavour comes through. Use a fork to blend the herbs and butter and when mixed, roll in greaseproof paper and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours to set.

Alternatives; coriander leaf and garlic butter can be rubbed over trout before grilling, use 1 tbsp chopped coriander and 2 cloves of garlic. Or drill leaf, great for salmon ,one handful of drill, chopped. Or parsley and lemon thyme leaf butter, pushed under the skin of chicken before roasting. Or rose scented geranium butter, great in cake making, 3 leaves, chopped.. Sage leaf butter, good for using on grilled pork chops, use 3 leaves, chopped.. Or for those of you who have a sweet tooth, try, spearmint leaf and elderflower butter, its very good for making a sweet sauce for ice cream. Use 1 tbsp of chopped spearmint and 2 heads of elderflower. Much of what we once knew, has been lost, bring it back and have fun in your kitchens.

Mankind has been using plants since the dawn of time. Take one of our most common remedies for headache, the Aspirin, it comes from the bark of the Willow Tree, I know it's a tree and not a herb, but it tells us of the true value of plants. Without trees there will be no oxygen in our air and trees, like the sea, filter and store a great deal of our carbon, what other secrets are still hidden out there in the world of plants, yet to be discovered? I hope that you enjoyed this new addition to the Compose Corner and I hope that it has been helpful. There is more to come in future publications, so watch this space.

AlanT

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