Tag: gardening



Woodruff, or Galium odoratum to give it its botanical name, is a pretty little plant which can be found growing in beech woodland.  It forms dense mats, and so is a good ground cover for gardens, looking very fresh and lovely when it flowers in the middle of May.


Fresh, the plant has a mildly pleasant smell.

BUT… when you dry it for a few days, it gives off a powerful aroma of almonds and maraschino cherries, and as such it is the key ingredient for Maibowle, or Bowl of May, a traditional German punch to celebrate the coming of the summer.

To dry the woodruff: pick a small bunch of about 9 stems, tie some string around them and hang up in an airy place for a few days.



  • Woodruff, a small bunch
  • Strawberries, sliced
  • A bottle of sweet German wine
  • A bottle of sparkling white wine, ideally Sekt

You will also need a large glass bowl.

  1. Pour the sweet white wine into the bowl, add the strawberries and the woodruff, and steep for about an hour.
  2. Add the sparkling wine and stir gently.
  3. Ladle into glasses, say Prost! and welcome in the summer.
20160604_213249 (2)

A word of caution: two glasses is delightful, but don’t overdo it.


2016-04-10 18.31.51

Although April is green and lovely, for the people of the past, it was ironically the start of the ‘hungry gap’, when last winter’s stored roots were eaten and there was not much by way of fresh vegetables until June. For those who had to grow their own food and eat seasonally because they had no choice, nettles must have been a welcome gift.

So here is a recipe for Green Nettletop Soup, made with the tender top leaves of nettles.  When the nettles are cooked, they loose their sting. But don’t put raw nettles in your mouth! Nettles have a definite green taste, a bit like spinach.

When you pick them, choose only the tender top leaves and wear rubber gloves. (See previous post N is for Nettles.)



  • Leeks, 2 large
  • Potato, 1 about the size of your fist
  • Nettle tops, about 2 hand fulls
  • Oil for frying 1 TB
  • Stock 1 litre
  • Salt and black pepper

2016-04-10 18.11.22


To make

  1. Remove the manky outer leaves of the leek.  Slit the green part vertically to expose the lurking grit, and wash carefully under cold running water to remove it.  Slice the leeks finely into rings.
  2. Peel and chop the potato into small pieces, about 1 cm cubed.
  3. Wearing your Marigolds, chop the nettle tops small.
  4. Heat the oil in a saucepan, and gently fry the leeks, taking care not to let them burn. Add the potato and stir.
  5. Add the nettles and the stock. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer very gently for about 30 minutes.
  6. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve in bowls and enjoy the pure flavours of this delicious soup.

Serves 4

And finally a bit of Nettle Lore…

It is said that in the First World War, the uniform of the German army was made from nettle cloth.  Ray Harwood, Professor of Textile Engineering at De Montfort University, heads up a research project into the use of nettles to make sustainable textiles. The stem fibres are woven into a yarn that is cool in summer and warm in winter, a bit like linen.

More remarkable though, are the remains of  nettle cloth worn by bronze-age Danes in the National Museum of Denmark.

th (2)
Nettle cloth








And Bane of my Allotment and Bloody Nuisance in my Garden, as it spirals up the stems of everything taller, twirling and strangling  as it goes.

Bindweed: what is it good for?  Absolutely nothing!

But no, hang on a minute.  The very essence of bindweed – its basic bindiness – can be turned to an advantage.  Ever been stuck down the allotment without your string?  The stem of bindweed can be used to bind stuff, in this case to tie up a bunch of lavender – and you can even knot it.

Bindweed has its uses
Bindweed has its uses


R is for Revolting

Revolting larvae of the lily beetle
Revolting larvae of the lily beetle

How can something as handsome as the Lily Beetle ( See H is for Handsome), have such revolting offspring?  They are fat and maggoty, and live in a lump of sticky black poo, glued to the underside of the lily leaves by their crafty parents.  As mentioned in the previous post (H is for Handsome), I remove them with the hose, set on a gentle spray, and as they drop, I collect them by hand, into a container bound for the compost heap. Yuk.


H is for Handsome

A lily beetle looking very handsome
A Lily Beetle looking very handsome

The Lily Beetle, aka Lilioceris Lillii.

I noticed them in spring, just a mating pair, and in a moment of weakness, I was overcome with admiration for their shiny scarlet carapace and natty black antennae.  Besides, it was spring.  Let them have their fun, I thought.  Needless to say, I have regretted that moment, as over the following months, they and their loathsome offspring  have decimated my lilies. (See R is for Revolting)

From then on, it has been war: I use my hose, set on a gentle spray, to wash off the grubs from the underside of the leaves. The thin threads of orange eggs I scrape off, although they are not easy to spot.  As for the adult beetles, and here I’m being completely honest, I crush  between my nails.  OK, OK, I know it’s gross, and I do have a twinge of regret.  However, I love my lilies more, so I harden my heart against the scarlet blighters.

The RHS are currently tracking Lilioceris Lillii, as it scoffs its way through the lilies and fritilleries of the UK, concerned that their numbers are on the rise. If you grow lilies, you may like like to take part in their survey: it only takes 2 minutes.  https://www.rhs.org.uk/lilybeetleonlinesurveys

A is for Abundance


I am sat in the sun, on an allotment brick, next to my strawberries.  They dangle over the edge of the bed, all glistening and scarlet in the sun, or lurk under the leaves, both provocative AND available.  These are the fat fruit of summer, all luscious, warm and sweet. And I have hundreds of them! I love all this wanton abundance.


So once we have all eaten our fill, what to do with them all?

Well, I have made the best strawberry conserve ever, see recipe below.



  • Sugar 450g
  • Strawberries, small to medium size 450g
  • Lemon juice 2TB
  • About 4 jam jars with lids, plus waxed discs, selophane tops & rubber bands to seal

To make:

  1. Prepare your jam jars by washing them in hot soapy water, then standing them on a small baking tray in a very low oven. I put an old tea towel under them so they don’t jostle or crack.
  2. Remember to put a small plate into the fridge for when you are ready to check for setting point.
  3. Wash and hull the strawbs.
  4. Put the sugar and lemon juice into the pan, on very low heat, and stir until the sugar has completely dissolved, and you have a syrup. Remove from the heat.
  5. Add the strawberries and stir gently until they are all covered in the syrup. Let them soak in the syrup for 20 – 30 minutes.
  6. Return the pan to the heat and cook steadily for 5 – 7 minutes, until setting point is reached. (Put a dab of jam on the chilled plate, and push the surface gently with your finger. If it wrinkles, then setting point has been reached.)
  7. Allow to cool a bit, stir to distribute the fruit, then spoon into the hot jars and seal down.

Intriguing variation: Marguerite Patten (‘Jams, Preserves, And Chutneys’, from The Basic Basics series) suggests using 4TB of redcurrant juice instead of the lemon.  Press the redcurrants through a nylon sieve, then strain, to get clear juice.


  • Makes 750g of conserve.
  • The conserve is rather loose and full of fruit: perfect for scones & cream, filling Victoria Sandwiches, etc.
  • Strawberries have no natural pectin, which is why you add the lemon juice.
  • The method works well for all berries, as it prevents the fruit breaking up.