potagers, physic gardens and whirling topiary

Yesterday I got up exceptionally early (actually an hour earlier than I needed to because I couldn’t read the clock) to head down to London for the Chelsea Flower Show.  Despite an hour of extra time to get ready I  managed to leave my phone at home so all the photos here are courtesy of the lovely Caroline who acted as my official snapper.

I was rather disappointed with the show gardens.  I appreciate that everything comes in cycles and that fashions change, but I got rather bored of endless firs, sparse plantings and large blocks of concrete and metal.  I mean, I took one look at the metal slabs in the Best in Show Telegraph garden and the first thing I thought was “of course, mountains”??  Meanwhile I rather liked  the comment I overheard at the L’Occitane garden “I might like it when it’s finished”!  Indeed, it was an excellent reproduction of a pretty and arid scene somewhere in the south of France.  But it wasn’t a a garden.  Certainly there were precious few that I would say, “oh yes, I’d like to sit out in that.”  But then I suspect I am rather old fashioned.

This came to be proven when we came across the Harrods Garden.  Plentiful and stunning planting, we weren’t the only ones to think so, it was one of the most crowded gardens I have seen in Chelsea for years.

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It was rather eccentric as every 15 minutes the topiary began to whirl and bob, the garden spun around the folly, and the window boxes rose up to the second floor (I rather liked the idea of being able to take your window boxes to bed with you).  But the planting, it was a dream.

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The other garden I loved, was similar in style, the RHS Greening the Gray garden, again plentiful planting (I particularly liked the idea of planting roses amongst the annuals, so often they are made to stand alone).  This was unusual as you could walk through it and enjoy it as a garden rather than merely spectate.  Vegetables in pots on the roof of the sheds, traditional mixing of veg and flowers and plenty of bee friendly plants.  In both gardens I was so impressed by the lupins, delphiniums and foxgloves so tall and straight!

We are fortunate enough to have enough space to grow pretty much what we want, north of England weather and chickens permitting.  I am very keen to build a physic garden and really want to do the Foundation Course at Dilston Physic Garden.  I wanted to do it this year, but I can’t make the dates so have blocked out the dates for next year already!

In the meantime I  need to start to plan the plants and compare to what I already have and where I have them.  At Chelsea I saw these  by Bacsac

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They are lovely, but more than I can afford.  So this bank holiday weekend the Boss and I are going into design mode.  Actually the design is less of a problem it’s the material, but we have an idea.  Watch this space to see if it works.

Love Gillie

 

 

 

greenery – drying herbs

Back in the garden the greenery is doing greenery types of things.  Essentially it’s growing.  The Boss goes out with a frown and starts to remove the greenery which is growing where he has plans for other greenery.  I run behind him and rescue his victims.

Then when he has had enough of killing off the greenery I want to keep he goes for a kip and I go and pinch (sorry forage) for more greenery in the fields and woods.

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So far I have collected:

  • Chickweed
  • Cleavers
  • Nettles
  • Elderflowers
  • Plantain
  • Horsetail

From the garden I garnered:

  • Mint
  • Apple mint
  • Raspberry leaves
  • Sage
  • English Mace
  • Bay
  • Tarragon
  • Celery leaves
  • Comfrey

A particularly lovely and refreshing tea is nettle and mint. At this time of year you can use the fresh leaves (don’t forget your gloves!).  But I’m stocking up for the winter months.  You can dry leaves and flowers in a cool (50 centigrade maximum) oven, bottom of the aga or with a dehydrator.  Alternatively  if you want to be completely carbon neutral tie them in bunches and hang in a warm airy room.  If you are drying flowers like elderflower which may drop off then place a paper bag around the  bunch, but make sure to make several holes in the paper to ensure airflow.  Our aga is off for the summer and I like the speed and convenience of the dehydrator.  I dry a lot of plants and it is the easiest way to bulk dry without turning on the oven.

Plenty more to forage and garner but I have had enough for today and am going to settle down with a banana, strawberry, applemint smoothie thinned down with the whey from the cheese.

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the herbal medicine cabinet

Living with less is not just about decluttering, about getting rid of stuff.  It is about changing how we live, about adapting our lifestyles to leave less of a footprint.  I have long wanted to learn more about herbal medicine, to be able to treat ailments from the content of my garden and the surrounding fields rather than by prescription.  Before I am hounded out, I am married to a medic, I fully appreciate that conventional medicine is both essential and lifesaving. But as even the Boss acknowledges  aspirin, digoxin, vinca alkaloids, atropine, l-dopa and many hundreds more drugs upon which we depend are all derived from plants.

I have made some ointments (comfrey, calendula and lavender), I have dried some plants, made oils and decoctions but only using a handful of plants I knew and was confident to use.  So I was so excited to spend a day with Sarah Hughes at the woods owned by Chris and Rose Bax of Taste the Wild.  Sarah is a nutritionist and medical herbalist and not only clearly knows her stuff, she is fun, interesting and makes you want to know more.

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We walked through the woods, identified plants, learned about their therapeutic uses and laughed.

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Laughter is a great medicine.  Take if from me, somebody who has been in some dark and lonely places and has the dubious honour of being the subject of a police helicopter search, if you can laugh you are 99% of the way towards recovery, regardless of your ailment.

So we laughed, foraged and then we met Mr Plantain.  Some of you will know that I had a slight disagreement with the tram line in Edinburgh on Tuesday.  Net result a huge hole in my knee.  By the time I arrived this morning  the wound was frankly gooey and unpleasant.  Not yet infected but it wasn’t looking good.  Ah ha.  We were going to make a plantain poultice, a poultice which is good to draw our dirt and toxins and is best used before the comfrey I was used to using.  Using comfrey on a potentially dirty wound risks healing of the skin over an unclean wound = abscess.

So I was the class practical session.  Poultice applied mid morning.  It is now early evening and the redness has reduced and whilst it is still sore it no longer throbs.  I have replaced the poultice with a fresh one.  Here is the poultice covered knee.  I did think seriously about showing you the lovely clean wound, but I suspect that some of you might never come back again if I did.

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But you don’t have to have a hole in your knee.  Many plants can be taken orally as a tea, a decoction, a syrup.  You can make oils or distillations.  inhalations and powders. Foot soaks and hand soaks (have you tried ginger hand soak for osteo arthritis?)

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You do need to know what you are doing, just as you need to know what you are doing if you are foraging.  Make a mistake and you could kill yourself.  It isn’t a game.  But it is an alternative and one we ought to learn about and understand.  We now finally believe that it is time to teach our children how to code rather than how to use a software programme written by somebody else.  When will be believe that it is time to teach our children how to use the plants around them to cure and to feed, and even more importantly which never to touch?