gardening · health and wellbeing

Space

It seems each time you glance at the calendar another week has passed by. Someone is saying, ‘is it that time already?’ or ‘was that really three years ago, it feels like yesterday!’ Our perception of time has evolved this way because our days are so oversubscribed. We constantly move from task to task with minds locked into what is ahead, what needs to be dealt with next. As we continue to operate this way, there is very little space to process what is. A sachet of seeds will remedy this.

Whatever the season, it is time to plant something. Your task is simply to determine what that happens to be in your location right now. Gather some seed raising mix, a container with drainage and your seed package. Once your container is filled with the mix, water it well and allow it to fully drain. Plant your seeds individually, following the spacing and depth specifications on your pack. Cover your container with a clear lid or clingwrap and place it near a sunny window. For a more detailed explanation this Youtube clip will take you through the process.

While you are setting your seeds up this way, life space is created and all you are really considering is how the seeds are. From then on each day you will visit them and look and think about them. As they emerge you will marvel at this and look and think about this. When the adult leaves develop from the two baby leaves you will plan their next potting, while you are looking and thinking. When you introduce your young seedlings to the outdoors you will be a mother duck, watching and thinking. Each day they live in the garden soil you will watch the weather and plan for its impact on your plantings. And finally, one morning when you visit your crop a flower will be there.

And that is when you will really know why you planted your package of seeds.

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PS After the joy of the blooms has wilted and dried, you can then gather the seed and create the space once again.

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gardening

Repurpose

When perusing a seed catalogue with a view to vegetable planting for the coming season, it’s easy to have eyes bigger than available plot space. I have experienced this in the past and with novice gardener’s enthusiasm have attempted to grow too many varieties resulting in what can only be described as a crowded, unsuccessful tangle. This season I am narrowing my selection to three plantings based on what will grow best and what we will actually eat. It’s all very well sowing several rows of hollow-crown parsnip seeds, but what do you do when upon harvesting your glut, everyone at the table pokes at the mash suspiciously or makes polite excuses? So this winter, I plan to slice the heads off cauliflower and broccoli and uproot a good supply of leeks because these are the staples that appear in many of our cold weather meals. There will also be some fenugreek seeds going in, a herb to be added to winter Indian curries, and based on the fact they will prosper independently in terracotta pots, they won’t be part of the head count.

When you keep chickens, it’s amazing how generous people are with their empty egg cartons. I have accumulated a tremendous supply from well-wishers who I suspect, like me, are not comfortable tossing away these resourceful cardboard packages and share a collective relief that there is a good home to be found for them. There is however, a limit to how quickly my brood of five can fill them, so I do have a considerable stockpile. You can then imagine how pleased I was when I saw these gems planted up as seed sprouters, that when the seedlings have reached maturity, can be planted out directly in the garden within their own biodegradable pods. Less shock to the seedlings and nothing to be disposed of – a perfect gardening scenario.

When sliced down the centre, the bobbly half of the carton with the 12 egg craters is filled with seed-raising soil (after being pierced with a skewer for drainage). Simply insert the exact number of seeds in each pod and gently water with a spray bottle. Each of my seed planters sits in its own aluminium baking tray and is covered with cling film to create a mini hot house. The cardboard lip that was formerly used to close the carton is a fabulous place to write the name and planting date of the seeds.

The plan is, once the sprouts have appeared, all but the strongest in each pod will be culled – survival of the fittest, natural selection, runts of the litter – whatever biological theory you subscribe to, will be the way the most superior, robust seedlings with the greatest chance to produce will go forth to the great outdoors and provide us with a groaning table of winter veg. Well, that is my theory. For now they sit lined up near a sunny window and I have a new daily task assigned to lift the cling film, give a light spritz of water, watch and wait.

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gardening · health and wellbeing

Sowing

Little Red Hen

It’s usually when I’m knee-deep in dirt that my most profound thoughts occur, and to follow suit as I recently pushed the pitch fork into the neglected vegetable patch, this came to me: you reap what you sow. Obviously not an original light bulb, but one that spurred me to dig deeper as weeds resisted and motivation waned. To keep turning that soil and uprooting a winter’s worth of tangled roots, the mental picture of what would be thriving in a few months fuelled the progress.

So as fork struck earth, as it so often does my mind took that thought on quite an expedition, concluding at the realisation that all we reap from life does in fact come from all the effort of our sowing.

This row of infant beans will be fed, watered and watched over. Should environmental factors threaten, they will be protected, mended and secured once more to their trellis. My hopes for these beans are that they grow tall and are healthy, producing a bounty for our table.

Row of new beans

Like these beans we nurture our children, nourishing, shielding and guiding with hopes of healthy, robust individuals emerging. And it is through these sowing and cultivating years that can be so challenging we know to persevere, as the ripening of resilient people is the greatest reward.

And our friends, the cheerful petal-faced people, that brighten our days as their horticultural counterparts do from their vases, flourish with our attention. Considered time and effort is a necessity to keep flowers blooming – and so it is with our companions. Both to be treasured.

flower seeds

All of the delicious meals, fascinating stories and masterful accomplishments in the workplace began with cognitive seeds, given time to develop. Pause and reflect on the satisfying fruits of your recent labour and know that it was your careful sowing that resulted in their fruition.

scarecrow

Postscript: Mind you, there are times when no matter how carefully you sow and how expertly you guard, the crows of life can intervene ….

gardening

Pink

Pink Blossom

As Winter free-wheels down to its closing stages, a delightful spring teaser surreptitiously unveils. The prunus trees, having been all skeletally grey and bare for many months, miraculously bloom into fluffy marshmallow-esque wonderments. The blossom is about – and spring is drawing closer.

Today my first glimpses are caught through the window of an ever-ferrying suburban car, but as a child quite differently. On crisp mornings casually sauntering along the school route, I would gaze in admiration, as these neighbourhood trees would transform into naturestrip and front-garden showpieces. Should the temperature elevate slightly, making a particular morning unseasonally mild, the bees took an interest equal to mine.

But let me tell you, not all prunus trees are created equally. My backyard hosted a couple of species, one from which my childhood swing was attached. The blossom they produced, while pink and delicate, did not have the voluptuous density of those pictured above. Their display was usually short-lived as they shed quickly. My classmate Anna however, who descended from avid gardening stock, was keeper of prunus that was simply majestic. Anna would arrive in the classroom clutching a spectacular arrangement, ends expertly bound in foil, to present to our teacher. How I coveted her offering.

One morning, when the urge to present a bouquet of my own became too great, I paused on school route and diligently snapped a number of branches off a local tree. Hats off to the teacher, who must have been aware of their origin by the clumsy arrangement and without hesitation, showed equal enthusiasm for my contribution to her desk.

Prunus Blossom

Postscript: and still, not having a sumptuous prunus to call my own, I am once again coveting the beauty of others’ by gazing at and photographing my neighbourhood gems.

gardening · homemaking

Float

camelia bowl

Bursting onto the scene in their usual prolific manner are our winter camellias. Green glossy leaves and copious flowering heads, they brighten our chilly gardens and offer a bounty of cut specimens.

The trick is to outwit the rain. Sudden downpours bruise delicate petals, so cut before the clouds gather overhead. Should you miss the opportunity, do not despair, as camellias bud abundantly so new blooms unfold almost daily. The insect community loves them as we do, so before bringing them indoors, gently brush off to release any outdoor residents. Don’t be hesitant to harvest, as like all shrubs, camellias love a good cutting.

Once indoors, arrange them as you please in vases and jars alike. Way back in the 1930s and 1940s, homemakers loved to display their cut specimens by floating them in round shallow bowl/vases made for the purpose. This 2013 homemaker likes this method as well.

Floating camelias

For your floating centrepiece of beauty, hunt out your widest bowl and fill with water. No wide bowls? I can tell you that thrift shops are bursting at the seams with them, your only dilemma will be whether to go with glass, porcelain or three of each. Trim the stems close to the bloom and save a few leaves to balance the display. If you have access to a number of varieties a mixed bowl looks lavish.

Collect them now, as before long the display season will have come and gone and your dense green leafy shrub will take its place in the general garden scene once again.

cut camelias

Postscript: and hopefully the comments you will receive from your fellow occupants will be less like “How come we always have flowers all over the house!”…..

gardening

Nasturtium

Yellow nasturtium

How are you at cultivating weeds? Excellent, then you will have little trouble enjoying a thriving horticultural relationship with the nasturtium.

A simple matter of pressing a handful of seeds into less than average soil and applying a generous spray of water will in very little time, result in the appearance of tiny rounded pumpkin-esque leaves. These tender beginnings will only continue to develop into greater wandering vines seeking optimum aspect to settle for bud burst. Turn your attention to matters of the indoors for several days only to be pleasantly surprised, on the unplanned day you chance to pass this patch once more, now lavish and beaming with the rusty orange and golden yellow jewels this secretive perennial has been longing to astonish you with. And astonish you it will.

Let not the display remain outdoors, but gather small handfuls of the gems to be spaced with sprigs of generic winter garden greenery, filling orphaned milk jugs to brighten the bleakness. Interestingly, well after the pricey bunch of hot-housed tulips have dropped their heads, with a swift freshening of the supporting green, the little nasturtium posy shines on.

nasturtium jug

For me, nasturtium fondness traces back awhile. Back in fact to the base of a mission-brown stained paling fence with a northerly aspect, flanked by a thickness of orange blooms set off by the vivid green. This is the visual I have of the dividing line distinguishing the boundary between my childhood home and the neighbourhood path.  With the fence and the home a distant memory,  it was therefore without hesitation, when I saw this artwork in our local gallery that I purchased a print. Complete with cabbage moth, who shares an equal affection for the plant, this print provides a restful scene to reflect upon before the bedside lamp clicks off, punctuating the end of another day.

nasturtium art

Postscript: Is it too late to add, that both leaves and blooms are wonderful additions to simple tomato, cucumber and lettuce salads? (once you have trained the uninitiated palettes into the ‘appreciation of the peppery’ of course)

nasturtium salad

family · gardening

Sprout

sprouted seeds

To have the privilege, be the silent observer of life unfolding in its most rudimentary form, has great impact on the psyche of the young. To know the grain will become the tree, plants the seed of understanding regarding our own place on this terra firma. And holding this belief, I have enormous gratitude for my mother, who in recent weeks, arranged a sprouter for the youngest in our family, so he too could make this cognitive connection for himself.

Seed sprouters have certainly made significant leaps since my early days. Ours, being ice-cream lids or saucers lined with damp cotton wool, played the role of propagators to handfuls of wheat. Every kindergarten nature table in the 1970’s displayed them proudly. The sprouting science did not stop there, but continued on into early high school. ‘Controlled experiments’  were devised to prove hypotheses around photosynthesis – one poor saucer being sentenced to a darkened cupboard whilst the other basked on the sill. After a short space of time it became abundantly clear to us all, as we extracted the yellowed, wispy lifeless growth from the pitch, that plants do indeed require sunlight to thrive. Basic conversion of light to energy – simple chemistry.

If you believe that your grasp (and that of your progeny) of your collective place in the scheme of things is quite sound, rendering a seed propagator superfluous, then there’s more to be learnt. Once their educational role has been performed, these lovely shoots will become nutritious accompaniments to your sandwiches, salads and stir fries. Think alfalfa, radish and broccoli (below) for your sandwiches, adzuki beans, mung beans and lentils for your salads and chick peas and soya beans for extra protein in your next stir fry. Who knew that simple germination could yield such results?

seed sprouter

Postscript: and for the Breaking Bad fans amongst us, in the words of Walter White: always respect the chemistry.

gardening · recipes

Red

Bowl of Tomatoes

When faced with a beautiful fresh ingredient, the first response if often to take a complex approach and involve it in an elaborate recipe, only to lose its original charm. As we know, tomatoes are the foundation upon which many wonderful meals are constructed but taken singularly they are a true delight.

Tomato season is at its height right now, and we are being presented with healthy specimens to devour. The truth is, garden stock really outshines supermarket stock when it comes to the flavour of these beauties, so it seemed a shame to mask this in a pasta or casserole. Rather than sacrifice this rarity, I rallied the tomatoes’ flavour cousins: basil and parmesan, and built some rather clumsy rustic bruschetta on sour dough for lunch this week.

Tomato Bruschetta

If even that seems to be taking things a little too far, slice them in half and season with salt and pepper – a between meal snack that any nutritionist worth their salt would have to approve of.

Brown paper bag

Postscript: Some of you may have noticed I am having a love affair with Instagram at the moment, hence the ”’arty tomarty” images. I urge you to get involved and unearth your inner Annie Leibovitz.

gardening · recipes

Beans

broad beans

Every year I raise a patch of broad beans – and not because I am a broad who loves beans – but rather because I enjoy presiding over a vigorous leafy crop laden with produce. A thick forest of tall growth bursting with fat pods does wonders for the soul.

Invest in a packet of seed and plant yourself some rows when next you are given some sunny moments of alone time on a future weekend. If the soil is moist, there is not much else to do but wait for a few weeks to see your bean shoots appear. Once established, rather than deep watering, broad beans love a good spray. Soon white flowers with black spots will appear – the forerunner to your pods. During this period, as your crop develops, make regular visits and marvel at the dense growth.

Other than a gentle watering, these beans will ask nothing of you, will not notice if you’re sporting gumboots with pencil skirt and will stand silently by you as your strategy for dealing with an aberrant child is formulated.

Here is a soup derived from a recipe in my new soup bible, a tome that will be seeing me well through Winter 2013 and beyond. (Many of my favourite food people have had a hand in this book: Sophie Grigson, Monty Don and Sarah Raven, so it was impossible not to own a copy.)

1 tbsp olive oil
3 onions sliced
1 leek sliced
1.5 kg shelled broad beans
4 garlic cloves crushed
4 new potatoes, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper
flat leaf parsley
parmesan cheese

  1. Heat oil in a large pan over a medium heat.
  2. Add onions and leek. Soften for 10 minutes stirring often.
  3. Add the beans, garlic, and potatoes. Stir then pour in 3 litres of water. Season well with salt and pepper.
  4. Increase heat and bring to the boil, then simmer for 15-20 minutes. Cool and then process with stick blender.
  5. Serve with parsley scattered over and some parmesan cheese on top.

broad beans growingPostscript: People originating from distant parts prefer to eat the beans freshly from the pod, with a glass of arak to see them down. Therefore, my beans rarely make it to the cooking pot, with often only a pile of vacated skins left abandoned on the counter top as evidence that they ever were.

gardening · homemaking

Floppy

 pink hydrangea

We know Summer is in her prime when large frilly heads, collectives of miniature florets, billow about. With deep green glossy foliage giving us welcome visual relief during searing spells, it is no wonder we have such a fondness for these grand old dames of the floral realm – the hydrangea.

060When the temperature climbs, I liken a generous vase of hydrangeas placed in the kitchen to putting on a cotton summer dress. Suddenly everything is lighter, fresher and cooler and all is as it should be to manage a summer’s day. Shedding minimal debris and with incredible staying power, they excel as cut flowers. Even as they slowly dry, hydrangeas take on a charming antique appearance – another dimension of their beauty.

Mass plantings under the eves of weatherboard homes, is a strong visual memory from a suburban Melbournian childhood that I hold dear.  To generate your own mass plantings without having to invest a fortune, take cuttings from your (or a kind aunt’s) shrub. They strike in a pot of moist soil very quickly in a shaded spot, and if nurtured over winter, your wall of hydrangeas will be ready to plant out next spring. Providing you keep the water up to them during the heat and they dwell in semi-shade, these are not a difficult species to cultivate – and your vases will be filled for summer.

059Postscript: rumour has it, that beautiful chocolate replica leaves for cake garnishes can be had by smearing the fresh leaves with melted chocolate, leaving to set and then peeling away…hmmm