Our Papa’s mantra for a rich and fulfilling life was simple. “All you need, darlings” he would say as he hugged us close. “Are just three things: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.”
I’m lucky enough to have all those things in abundance, but each year I make a point of adding something new to my ‘looking forward to’ list. So this year I’ve decided to follow Voltaire’s advice and concentrate on my garden.
Living in Africa I was spoilt. Not only did we have someone to plant and weed and sweep and mow, but almost anything you stuck in that fertile soil would grow – all of it vibrantly voluptuous, bounteous and exuberant. Nothing, it seemed, had to be nurtured, cosseted or fed. Nature did it all – or almost all. Not so here in England. I don’t mean that Britain’s gardens aren’t beautiful – they most certainly are. The British are deservedly famous for their gardens and throughout the United Kingdom there are gardens great and small, formal and informal, private and public, that illustrate the British passion for creating green, growing spaces of their own. All are different, and all, like their owners and creators, have a distinct personalities. But it ain’t easy. Believe me, I’ve tried – with varying amounts of success - over the last couple of years. Learning to garden in England is much more disciplined and academic than it was in my wild Africa, so it’s a steep learning curve for me!
But nothing daunted - I love a challenge so I intend to start planning my new garden here in Norfolk right now this minute. Cosily huddled in front of a roaring log fire, I shall begin drawing up a plan and doing lots of research in those glorious glossy gardening books while winter howls icily outside. My one criteria is that I must be able to do more than just admire the flowers in my garden and pick them for the house – I must be able to eat them as well.
Along with the herbs we know and love, I’ve learned that there are all sorts of flowers that can be used in cooking. Kathy Bown’s book Edible Flowers is a foodie gardener’s bible. Kathy not only recommends pinks, jasmine and wallflowers for anything from fondants to fritters, but includes some real exotics such as banana, yucca and chrysanthemum flowers. How about cucumber flowers with mackerel, or pea flowers sprinkled over baby carrots and new potatoes? Cherry blossom infused cream, anyone? Shortbread laced with lavender blossom or rose petals in an apricot and pine nut rice salad both sound blissful. I also want to try marigold flowers sprinkled over a big tureen of chicken soup, as well as elderflower jelly combined with strawberries and lemon balm. You can also use the petals from hollyhocks, bergamot daisies and dianthus in salad – can you imagine how gloriously pretty that would be? Hmmm….I can’t wait for the gentle strains of Spring’s lilting melody to start digging my new garden – now that really is something to look forward to!
Here are some potential beauties for my patch. Oh, decisions decisions!
- Cream infused with apple blossom or elderflower is delicious with fruit salad.
- Borage flowers have a cool, cucumber taste and work well as a flavour for sorbets or sprinkled over a salad. They are also just as good in Pimms, punches or a gin and tonic.
- Infuse sugar with scented geranium leaves or line a cake tin to lend perfume and subtle flavour to the mixture
- Jasmine tea can be used to infuse rice and is excellent in many Asian recipes.
- Try lavender jelly with roast lamb or add lavender to your chocolate cake mix. The tiny blooms add a delectably mysterious scent to custards, flans or sorbets.
- In China peony petals are parboiled and sweetened as a teatime delicacy. You can also add the petals to your summer salad, or try floating them in punches and homemade lemonade.
- The lemony taste of lilac blossoms work really well in salads
- Depending on the variety, tulip petals taste like sweet lettuce or baby peas and some have a cucumber-like texture and flavour.
- Fill whole nasturtium flowers with cream cheese and finely chopped chives for canapes which look beautiful and taste delicious. Their peppery petals are perfect for salads and the seed pods can be pickled and used as a substitute for capers.
** apple blossom, peony, lilac and nasturtium photo credits to The Good Gardener Magazine **
What do you have planned for your gardens, balconies or windowsills this spring?
tessa, how wonderful to stop by and find this post. i am a gardener too--it is often my therapy. i love the whole process, the hopeful seed, the breaking through when the ground splits open, the dogged appearance of shoots and stems, the colors, the scents, the cuttings, the scenes.
but tessa, i have never thought of using my flowers as you have explained here. WOW! i love squash petals stuffed with italian spices and cheese, but this is something else!
i hope you are settled in, dearest tessa. your calendar is on my desk; right this minute i see your hand and beautiful face.
welcome back, heart sister. i'm glad.
My poor garden is quite distraught at the moment, having been recently overwhelmed by snow and ice. I have my work cut out for me to return it to its usual floral glory for springtime. Our cottage is surrounded by 54 hydrangea bushes, which unfortunately, look rather severe in the wintertime, but are glorious in every other season, so we give them a pass this time of the year. We have a riot of colour in the front garden, but keep the back garden in all white. We do so enjoy the back garden in the moonlight!
Ooh, this had made me excited. Where did I put my trowel??
I vote for the nasturtiums
they are delish!!
Lucky you making a new garden
I do not have one!
Great idea. I'm a great believer in not wasting garden space and grow edibles, which as you say, can be decorative at the same time. I love borage and cream cheese stuffed ravioli or deep fried courgette flowers. Even wild flowers are edible, such as daisies. Dahlias are said to be edible too. The roots can be grated over a salad.
Good luck with the garden
Thank you very much for this post.
I always loved my gardsn - such as it is - but over the last few years I got so wrapped up un union business I completely neglected it.
Now I'm clear of all that - training to be a driving instructor - you have given me the inspiration to get my garden back to it's wild beauty of years back.
Lots of mature shrubs - just need cutting back. Borders to turn and add fresh soil. Climbers to control.
It's a jungle out there and I'm ready to go!!!
Ta very much for getting what passes for my mind back to some'at worthwhile!!!!
Oh Tessa, what a fabulous post! I love my garden with a passion but it is not a formal flower garden. Practically everything we grow we can eat as that seems most fitting in a place like this which has always been practical and almost accidentally beautiful. That is what I am trying to create here. Marigold flowers are great both to look at and to eat. Have you thought of growing artichokes? Fabulous to eat as chokes but let them flower and they are stunning.
What fun you are going to have!
I have not had a proper garden for about 22 years. Everything grows so abundantly here that I really don't need to cultivate one of my own, The walkways and forests are full of edibles- I do like nasturtiums however and they seed themselves- will grow anywhere and everywhere- they are even growing out of the boat in the drive...Good luck with your garden- that will be so much fun and so rewarding! Glad to see you by the way- LOVE xxxooo
For me - it has to be something that slugs and snails detest!
Great Post! I've been studing the seed catalogs for weeks now and plotting and planing what I will add to the gardens this year. We're expanding the veggie garden and the flower always seem to be expanding as well. I love playing in dirt!!!!
Oh, you are inspiring me to think about our garden!! I love to cook with flowers and herbs. I am always all inspired in the spring to plant the garden, but then when it's summer here in the southern US, I sort of just melt and want to stay indoors... Good thing Daniel doesn't mind the heat! Hugs, Silke
tessa i am so grateful for your generous sharing of your dad's advice! then too i appreciate the tickling of my spring and summer dreams which are tucked away under layers of sheets and duvets right now until winter's end (which i imagine will be in two or three months for us!) have a lovely evening. steven
hi Tessa, I've just come via fb (Sally from made4aid). I was in my droopy sodden garden yesterday looking forward to spring.
This looks like a great book. I didn't know wallflowers are edible and am very happy as I planted some in the Autummn. Have you tried elderflowers before? they are wonderful.
so pleased to have found you
What an inspiring post Tessa - especially with much needed glimmers of spring! I have always enjoyed adding edible flowers to add spice and surprise to any dish. Nasturtiums and geraniums are always on hand and well-loved by my family. I have a huge collection of peonies and did not realize that they are edible. Cannot wait to use them this Spring! Thank you.
ooooh love the image of an ice winter howling outside and you dreaming over flower books by a roaring fire...gorgeous..and that sea scape...oh wow oh wow oh wow..happy new year!!! i'll remember that. someone to love, something to look forward to and ahem, what was the other one again? will take another look. lots love x j
You had me at Africa. I always hear Africa in my head.
Did you know after the nasturtium flowers die, they leave these little green pods that can be pickled and used as peppery caper like goodies? They are wonderful in too many ways.
What a lovely post to read and think about on a cold day in Connecticut. And your papa's words? I'm taking them right from you and spreading them generously on my own tribe. Thank you.
And you will have the most glorious garden of all beautiful Tessa.
Holy your Dad is so handsome.
Oh oodness gracious! What a handsome man! After your father's photograph I really did not want to go on any further.
My mother cooked with flowers, well, we had a dish made of squash flowers and she also treated out coughs with a concoction from a local flower. My mother knew so many medicinal uses of plants and it is a shame that I never inherited the desire in learning more about plants. I was born in an island with a volcano so our rich volcanic soil made anything we stuck on the ground grow. However, even though we had laundry women and cooks later to help us, it was my chore to weed and water the plants - MANUALLY with a watering can after I pumped the water and carried it in a pail to the garden!!
Ack! I mean goodness, not oodness, although henceforth I shall now call it oodness.
Tessa, I've been absent from visiting your blog so long, I've spent the last hour browsing...and haven't made a dent. You are so interesting!! Hope everything in the new year is going your way. Drop by and visit...coffee's on.
I love your Papa, that is the same mantra I live by. Beautiful photo.
Good luck with your edible flower garden Tessa, i've only grown nastursiums. And i always grow sweet peas, not sure if you can eat them.
enjoy your new home and garden.
A wonderful motto of your father! (What did he do in Austria 1946? Was he one of the "four in the jeep"? He must be approximately the same age like my father, who was born in 1924 in Vienna / Austria ...)
The book about the edible flowers sounds very interesting. We have some flowers which I use sometimes for salads or cooking, but I am sure there are lots that I don't know!
Warm regards from snowy Austria, Traude
I'll bet you'll have a magnificent garden with an abundance of healing, edible flowers!
What a perfect winter project, planning your garden to while away the frosty days and nights.
I hope you'll take pics to show the progress of the garden from start to finish, so that inept gardeners like myself can live vicariously through you ;)
What a delicious book, Tessa! Can't wait to see how your garden grows. The scented geraniums, are a delightful family - apple and rose sorbet - yummy!
How lovely! What a great project and isn't the planning at least half of the fun? I used to work with a chef who used edible flowers often and I was so enchanted by the idea that one could eat the pretty bits of the plants too. Courgette flowers remain one of my favourite things... on pizza - yum!
Enjoy and I look forward to what you will share.
KJ: You do write most beautifully. Just there, in that first paragraph, is the most perfect description of nature's birth....'the hopeful seed, the breaking through....' Poetry, sheer poetry!
We are settling in...slowly but surely, thank you dearest friend. Most of the rather radical treatment I've been having for myeloma is nearly over for the time being, so those long, dull days of hospital visits will cease and we can get on without interuption.
Pamela: 54 hydrangea bushes - WOW! How truly magnificent they must look when in full flower. One of my favourite gardens ever is Vita Sackville-West's all white Sissinghurst garden, so I can envisage how beautiful yours must be.
Elizabeth: I bet you could grow nasturtiums in a pot on 1a sunny windowsill....instant yumminess and colour for your salads.
Heiko: Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing your tips about dahlia bulbs..I wonder if they taste a little like radish? The ravioli stuffed with borage & cream cheese sounds utterly delicious and yes, deep fried courgette flowers are a favourite of mine too!
Four Dinners: Yes, back to the garden for you, old bean! It sounds like a wonderful challenge.
ElizabethM: Lovely to see you again - Happy, Happy New Year to you! Judging by the jaw-droppingly beautiful photos I've seen of your little piece of paradise, I'm quite certain that your garden must be just heavenly! So agree about artichoke flowers - they are stunning and they last for ages, too.
Linda Sue: Big squishy kiss to you! I can just imagine you with a big wicker basket over your arm collecting little wild delicacies for the kitchen as you walk through the forest. Wonderful imagery!
Wrightstuff: Hello! I think marigolds are the flowers you need to keep away the slugs and snails...or so I've been told.
Carol: Yes, playing in dirt is fantastic fun...especially when something beautiful (and edible) appears a few weeks later. Happy dirt playing days to you this year!
Silke: Yes, summer is the time just to sit back and admire your handiwork. Best to leave the weeding to someone else!
Steven: Waving a big hello to you! Spring and summer dreams are indeed very important when winter is doing his best to make you shiver.
I'm inspired! Yes. We have our challenges too in Oregon. But, your post was a great reminder to do our best to create delightful corners in our lives. Good enough to eat, your flowers.
Lettuce: Lovely to met you too - thank you so much for dropping by. Yes, I have tried elderflowers...both as a cordial and as a syrup. The latter is delicious drizzled over ice cream.
Bonnie: Hello there! Oh, I love peonies too...and what fun it will be to try them out in salads to add a bit of colourful zing.
Janelle: Jambo sana - habari yako? Heri ya mwaka mpya! In fact, happy everything to you, you wild singing cowgirl you!!
Suzyhayze: Hmmmm..yummy pickled nasturtium seeds - just as good as capers, I think. Glad you like my Papa's mantra for contentedness...so simple, yet so true.
Renee: You angel - thank you. And yes, my Papa was very good-looking.... and even handsomer when he was old and gray. I think men just do, don't you?
Ces: Darling girl, I can just picture that pretty little madame determinedly carrying her watering can without splashing or spilling! My headmistress, in a vain effort to try and get me to concentrate on something other than being naughty, made me tend my own little veggie garden outside the french windows of her office where she could keep an eye on me. I was enormously proud of my radishes and presented them to her with clods of earth still clinging to them. She was not amused. Indeed to oodness!
James: How special to see you here and thank you for your kind comment. And yes, I would love to pop over to yours for a cup of coffee and a browse through your wonderful blog!
Lori: Oooh, please don't eat your sweetpea flowers...I've heard that they're poisonous. However, those cute little flowers which bloom before green peas appear are delicious - and sooooo pretty - used as a garnish for potatoes, carrots etc.
Rostrose: Hi there - great to meet you! No, my Papa wasn't one of the 'Four In A Jeep'! He was in Austria at the end of the war after having been one of a small number of British solidiers to accompany General Patton on a mission to rescue the Lipizzaner stallions being held at Hostau,
Lolo: Happiest of Happy New Years to you, lovely lady! Thank you so much for taking the time to visit. Yes, I will definitely post some photos of how the garden progresses throughout the summer. I doubt very much that it'll be magnificent, but I do hope it will be colourful ....and sweetly scented!
Caroline: And the happiest of New Years to you as well! The thing I love about adding flowers to salads and desserts is not only how exotic and/or different they taste, but how beautiful they invariably look!
Kendalee: You are such a wonderful bloggy friend...always stopping by despite my not always being able to reciprocate. I really treasure your comments...so thank you very, very much for taking the time.
Ooooh yum! Hadn't thought of courgette flowers with pizza - now that is a brilliant idea!
Ribbon: I can't wait to get started....roll on spring! I'll certainly keep you posted on progress. xx
Lakeviewer: You, I know, are a wonderful grower of vegetable and a forager supremo...I remember well your posts from last year about your garden...and how you have taught your granddaughter to enjoy what can be harvested from the land and sea.
Tessa, what a great post! You've inspired me! I had been planning to plant some vegetables and herbs in a rooftop garden outside my apartment in Alaska, but now I think I might include some of those edible flowers. I'll let you know what sort of delicacies I made with them.
Thanks for your inspiration! I'm so glad you're back to posting!
I've love to have my plans for my garden beyond chopping back the holly hedge, but studying has put paid to any thoughts of doing anything. I shall yet again aim for my wilderness garden with conspicuous success.
Wonderful (and profound) advice from your papa!
Have fun with your gardening!
We are starting a new garden this Spring, and will probably grow as many weeds as anything, but pulling them will give me opportunity to think about what weeds need pulling in my LIFE!
Love & Light~
I loved this post...I love food and the idea of growing flowers, as well as veg, for eating is a fantastic one!! Unfortunately, I'm just not green fingered and even the thought of gardening makes me want to run....
fortunately we have lovely neighbours who have asked if they can use our veg patch and they will share whatever the grow with us...now that is what I call a win win!!
My daughter once tried our Marigold and couldn`t stop giggling for a long time afterwards. Maybe you should try your flowers before you serve them...
What I can advise you is put some horse manure in your garden. We had lots for free from our horses, and after 2 years of rotting it was something the plants all LOVED! You could hear them chewing and burping at night! And our cosmea were twice as high as in the next garden.
Cindy: Hello and Happy, Happiest New Year to you! A rooftop garden in Alaska...how amazing that sounds! Do please post some photos on your blog when summer comes around and things start blooming!
Madame deFarge: Great to see you - thanks so much for stopping by! I do think a wild garden is so much nicer than something that is too contrived, don't you?
Becky: That's a wonderful analogy...life weeding is just as important as clearing the garden of the pesky things!
Carol: Hi there! What great neighbours to have - that certainly is a winning combination!
Angela: Blowing a kiss across the North Sea to you! Marigold giggles, eh? Are you sure the petals weren't mixed with something rather hempy?! As for the horse manure - great tip, thank you. Can't wait to hear my plants happily chewing and burping all night!
such a beautiful garden you have planned. My plans for this year are to watch what unfolds...not so much doing as being.
Tessa go check what Mad Texter (Corey) did with your painting.
You will love it and him.
wonderful flower pictures
I'm hoping to cultivate a few dahlia plants this summer. I started last summer, and I'm enthralled with these flowers.
Your last few posts are beautiful. Loved the one about London. Thanks Tessa and enjoy your time in Africa.
There is nothing as satisfying as working in your own patch no matter how manicured or wild (mine's wild). That first sunny day when you feel it is warm enough to start tidying the winter's ravages away is the best day of the year. I'm ashamed to say I am one of those fair weather gardeners and although I should be out there right now digging a new patch of earth for planting, I never can make myself start until the season has definitely turned.
I just love your father's quote and hope you won't mind me keeping it in mind for myself.
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