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?