Many people are commenting about changes in both activity levels and the feel to the season. The first frantic rush of digging, sowing and planting has past and there appears to be a short hiatus while seeds germinate, seedlings grow and need nothing more than to be watched and watered.
I can feel the seasons moving as well. Daffodils and tulips are almost long forgotten, petals fallen and seedpods lost in quickly growing grass. In two weeks, banks of nettles grew from several inches to several feet in height, hiding piles of stones and enclosing the damson tree and elecampagne at the Sanctuary as if they were the sole plants elected to flourish on that patch of earth.
In my home garden it has been the Swiss mint running rampant in the darkest bed, dwarfing valerian and hiding pale green elecampane leaves which are half the size, but double the number of their younger counterparts, introduced a year later to a much sunnier location. I had to cut back curling green fronds to let in light, thinking these ferns will soon be culled, since they add nothing to the medicinal, culinary or floral beauty of the garden and we need their space!
Clearing nettles behind one of the garden seats has led me to experiments in juicing for the first time, both nettles and cleavers. The juicer was not impressed. Tiny amounts of vibrant, dark green juice eventually emerged, but hardly enough to drink or add to anything flavourful. I may be more successful adding small amounts of herbs to smoothies, rather than forcing the juicer into overheated sulks with large volumes of plant material.
The hawthorn hedge has grown into a substantial tree, producing more blossom than I’ve ever seen before. Sitting outside in evening sun shine, you can smell the cherry aroma filling the air. I’ve started two jars of hawthorn tincture and another of infused vinegar.
Last night was the May meeting of the Mercian Herb Group. The title was “eating and drinking flowers” presented by Debs Cook. It was a lovely evening. Debs had grown some stunningly beautiful pots of flowering herbs in her green house – thyme, jasmine, ginger rosemary, heartease, clove pinks and chives to name but a few. Just looking at the beautiful flowers made you feel happy!
Debs made a wonderfully moreish cheese dip with cottage and cream cheese mixed with thyme and chive flowers. She also prepared a hawthorn blossom brandy which will be ready to use in brandy sauce and custard to pour over Christmas pudding - something I’d never thought of.
It’s amazing how stuck in your ways you become until someone jogs you out of it. I’ve always used vodka for may blossom and brandy for haws, now I shall have to try something different!
We drank newly made dandelion syrup, last year’s elderflower cordial, violet syrup Debs brought back from France and some of her homemade honeysuckle wine. There were also rose geranium and marigold cakes to sample, which left everyone with happy, sated smiles on their faces.
Thunder rolls around outside as I write, dropping torrents of water over Birmingham City Centre. Such frustrating weather after a possible sighting of sunlight half an hour ago. I thought perhaps we might venture into the garden once I returned home to clear the last patch of wilderness so I can plant out the pumpkins I bought some times ago.
I’ve never really had time to grow vegetables, apart from runner beans each year, but this year is different. We have a short, established fruit border containing a gooseberry and elderberry bush we brought with us from our first house in Selly Oak three years after we were married. (The theory was we couldn’t have children without a gooseberry bush in the garden. So, having moved in in 1980, Richard duly appeared in 1982!)
Chris adores raspberries, so two years ago I planted several raspberry canes in the hope we might get our own crop. The red raspberries were fine, but the yellow autumn gold were very sour the first year, but seemed sweeter last year. There are two redcurrant bushes I collected from a nursery in North Derbyshire, one early and one late. They both produced lots of redcurrants last year, but it doesn’t look as if all the flowers have set this year and some of the strings are half empty.
I decided to experiment with strawberries as well last year and they seem to be flourishing, with lots of flowers, complimented by a sea of alpine strawberry flowers and set fruits all around the garden.
This year I’ve planted a few cabbages, cauliflowers, lettuces, spinach, broad beans and peas. Some plants have disappeared in the night, but some are still with us, which makes me very happy,
My real joy is the runner beans. Every year my parents plant seeds for me and I collect the young plants when they’re ready to be placed in the outdoor bed. In January this year, I collected a whole pile of seed from last year’s crop when I finally took down the bean poles. I wasn’t sure they’d be viable, but I threw caution to the wind and planted up about 24 seeds in 12 pots on the patio just to see what might happen.
It was such a delight to notice one runner bean popping up in each pot at the beginning of the week after two weeks sitting quietly doing nothing. My parents will still be planting 25 more seeds for me in the hopes I may get an early and a later crop. Knowing our luck they will start producing beans as soon as we depart for Cornwall in August and I’ll return to an entire line of beans which have grown too hard to be eaten! Maybe this will be the year my children finally learn how to pick beans after so many summers of enjoying them fresh from the garden.