“I think, if you have enough inner resources, then you can live in isolation for long periods of time and not feel diminished by it.” Aung San Suu Kyi
Our volunteers have been using their inner resources and their outer ones too while isolating from covid-19. They’ve not been able to meet up for sessions, but some have been going to the garden to do a solitary weed, tidy or water. Others have been propagating plants and sowing seeds at home.
The very dry and sunny April has meant regular watering has been needed to keep the garden alive. Our brilliant volunteers have been managing to do this and its down to them that we still have colour in the garden. Unfortunately, the plants in the yard haven’t been accessible, so most seem to have died. There has been some rain now, so maybe some can be resuscitated, but I’m not too optimistic.
The bulbs are dying off after giving the garden some lovely colour during the spring. Our crab apple trees are in blossom. And shrubs, like fuchsia, are coming out too. The lily of the valley is flowering for the first time. I’ve been adding some alpines to the chimneys that have been donated. And the two alpine hanging baskets I put together are now hanging in the bird area. Alpines don’t need much water and are low maintenance too. Ideal for this summer.
Most of the winter veg is over now. We’ve been lucky to have kale, cabbage, chard, fennel and spinach to pick. And Fred our tortoise volunteer has been sampling the last of the winter lettuce. The asparagus shoots came up early and are being cut as they get big enough. Beans have been planted in the veg garden. The broad and runner beans are growing well. But something has been eating the dwarf and climbing beans. No sign of slugs yet, so maybe it’s the birds?
You may have noticed a tall plant behind the herbs at the front of the garden. It looks like giant hogweed, but this is the herb ‘angelica’. It’s in the parsley family, but actually has an aniseed-like flavour. And don’t confuse it with giant hogweed or hemlock, who are in the same family, or you could be in trouble. Angelica has so many uses I could write a whole blog on it. For a start, it’s used in making gin, vermouth and chartreuse. Linked to that, a tea from the leaves is also used to treat alcoholism. The leaf tea is used as an eye wash, skin freshener and to treat the bubonic plague. The leaves can be used to flavour meat, fish and cooked fruit. They can also be used as a poultice for arthritis. The root is used in perfumery as a substitute for musk. The stems can be prepared like asparagus, chopped and stewed in rhubarb or minced in preserves. And it’s hollow stems make a good straw to drink your gin through. So feel free to cut off a ‘branch’ of this herb when you are in the garden and give it a try.
As one of my lockdown activities, I’ve been candying some angelica stems from the plant grown at the railway station. Candied angelica used for cake decorations is probably it’s most commonly known use. It’s best to cut the thick stems as these are easiest to peel. (Of course, I didn’t realise this when I cut mine!) Cut the stems into lengths to fit in a kilner style jar. First blanch the stems by adding them to boiling water with a spoonful of bicarb in it. Remove after 5 minutes and shock in iced water. Then peel the outside of each stem. Make a syrup using about 1 cup of water to 1 cup of caster sugar. Bring it to the boil and add the stems for one minute. Then put stems into a covered container. Leave the syrup to cool, then pour over stems and leave overnight at room temperature. Repeat the syrup stages for another 3 days. After the final boil, roll the stems in caster sugar, then leave to dry. Seal up the dried stems in the jar and keep it in the fridge ready to use. This keeps for up to a year, I’ve been told. And remember, don’t throw away the sugar syrup. Add a measure of it to gin or vodka, ice and soda water for an easy cocktail.
It’s the 75th Anniversary of VE Day on Friday 8th and a Bank Holiday for those who are still working. People are being encouraged to hold a Stay at Home Street Party to celebrate. The idea is to toast the anniversary with a cup of tea in the afternoon and all sing ‘We’ll meet again’ at 8 o’clock. I’m toasting it with a gin and angelica cocktail. It might improve my singing.
The Blooming Old Gardener