Time for a trim

A trip to the hairdresser is long overdue. I’m beginning to look like Hagrid’s little sister but a text message from Annie who has been cutting my hair since she left college has reminded me that I have only twenty-four hours to wait. To celebrate I have given one of our lavender hedges a bit of a trim.

My love of lavender is well-known. It’s such a versatile plant; I’m partial to a lavender scone and harvest copious amounts for pot pourri and sleep sacks. Above all, it’s good for the bees. And yet it’s only comparatively recently that I have learnt to prune it properly.

I grew up being told never to cut into the woody stems or it wouldn’t flower again but even the most careful pruning would often result in a hedge with some gaps and less than luxuriant growth. I had to replace plants every 3-4 years.  Then I had an epiphany. I decided to cut back my lavender plants to about 9 inches, even into the wood when I pruned in August. I reckoned there was a 50:50 chance of survival and was prepared to replant if necessary. It wasn’t!.

Now when I prune the lavender in August when the flowers have turned from blue to grey and the bees have had their fill I’m not afraid to prune back into the wood, to just above some fresh shoots The plant pictured is one I planted 15 years ago. Proof that a good trim can keep a plant healthy and looking good. I hope the same it true for humans.

Summer 2019: Purple Patch

Homegrown harvests are good for the soul and this week they are purple. After a really busy term, including a month of GCSE examining, where I was tied to a pc for 10 hours a day,I am more than ready for whole days spent out of doors in the garden, which, I admit was somewhat neglected. Yesterday I cut back some of the lavender to allow the eldest son to get his road bike out more easily.

Some of this will be used to make lavender sacks to stow inside pillows to aid sleep when the nights are hot and sticky.

Some will be stored in the pantry to make lavender scones.

The odd sprig has found its way into a homegrown posy.

The rest will be added to homemade pot pourri . It really is the gift  that keeps on giving.

Early in the week we gathered a bumper crop of black currants from our two garden bushes which resulted in a tasty black currant fool and a delicious cordial. Fruit fool is one of my faves of high summer. I don’t use a recipe but combine about 100g sugar with every half a kilo of fruit to make a purée – sometimes strained through a sieve, sometimes not and then stir some of it through equal amounts of whipped cream and natural yogurt. Chill and serve  in pretty glasses.

 

 

The sweet peas have finally started to bloom after a shaky start. I think they needed more water early on but the cottage garden pinks have done exceptionally well this year.

 

Hetty Hyssop and the Case of the Missing Bouquet Garni

The Courts_July2011 003
Thanks to all the lovely children, parents and grandparents who came to dabble in a bit of herblore at The Courts in Holt today. Professor Rosemary Spongle had plenty of help to find the missing herbs and the Orchard Room was a truly relaxing place on probably the hottest day of the year so far.
I promised to post up the recipes for lavender bath milk and lavender bath bombs so that anyone can dabble and experiment over the holidays.These recipes will work just as well with other fragrant plants. Chamomile or jasmine works well in the bath bombs or try rose petals in the milk. And if you’re feeling adventurous, try adding some food colouring.

Bath Bombs
300g bicarbonate of soda
150g powdered citric acid
5 tablespoons dried lavender (or alternative)
12 drops lavender essential oil (or alternative)
witch hazel

Sift together the bicarb and citric acid until well blended. Mix in the oil and dried flowers.
Spray or squirt on some witch hazel. You’re aiming for a mixture which is wet enough to stick together but not so much that it starts to fizz.
Press the damp mixture into silicon moulds, bun tins or large ice cube trays. Small is good for little hands and silicon is great because you can turn the contents out easily.
Leave to harden for up to an hour. Ours took 15 minutes today.Then turn out onto greaseproof paper and allow to harden further.
When fully set, pack up into paper and tie with raffia or store in an airtight glass jar. Great for you or to give away as presents to your friends.

Bath Milk
200g powdered milk
120g Epsom salts
12 drops essential oil (rose or lavender)
a handful of dried rose petals or dried lavender flowers

Mix together the milk and salts. Add the oil and dried flowers/petals and give it a gentle stir. Store in an airtight jar where it will keep for up to a year.
Scatter a handful of the mixture under running water for a lovely relaxing bath.

And for those of you who like to eat your lavender, there’s a knock out recipe for lavender scones here

And finally a little request….if any parents took pics of their children getting stuck in and are prepared to let me have one or two for my records, I’d be really grateful. Perhaps in exchange for a free place on one of Forest School workshops I’m running at Hartley Farm in August. Email me at cally@countrygate.co.uk if interested.

I’ll be back at the Courts on Thursday August 15th following in the footsteps of the great Victorian Plant hunters and making wild art on the 22nd. Hope to see you there.

A potted history of lavender

I’m on a mission. One of the schools where I work wants to run a project to get the whole school gardening this year and because of the inevitable constraints of time and money I have decided to link this in with their history studies. Dreams of designing Dig For Victory allotments and Victorian Walled Gardens briefly floated through my mind but this year the children are studying the Egyptians, the Romans and the Aztecs. Mmm! Then I woke up and  smelt the lavender.

We have loads of the stuff growing at school. I love the fact that it just keeps on giving. It’s one of the feel good plants I plant in every garden. So beautiful. So useful. And it seems to have been growing in every period garden I’ve visited this year. So I did a bit of research……..It’s a wonderplant. The plant equivalent of Superman but without the odd taste in clothes.

The Egyptians used it in cosmetics and embalming. (Remains of it were found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.) The Greeks put it on their feet. The Romans strew lavender in their bath water. In fact, the Romans used it for practically everything  – headaches, burns, sore throats, insect bites, washing walls, inciting passion and cleaning wounds, recognising its antiseptic qualities as well as its aromatic ones.

In the Middle Ages it was confined to monastic herb gardens until Henry VIII decided to ‘go off on one’ as my daughter so delicately describes it and then it moved into fashionable society to perfume linens or be mixed with beeswax to make furniture polish. Elizabeth I drank lavender tea to relieve migraine and Hildegard of Bingen (who was one of life’s multi taskers) spotted a use for it in treating headlice and fleas. What a girl!

French kings stuffed their cushions with it before they lost their heads and Renaissance glovemakers used it to perfume their wares. Seventeenth century herbalists hailed it a cure all and prices rocketed during the plague. Victorian ladies wore it in their cleavage to attract lovers.

My granny spread her pillowcases out on her lavender bushes and now I bake scones with it and stuff pillows with it to help my children get to sleep.

Job done. I’ll start a lavender farm at school.

To make a sleep sack….

Take a couple of handfuls of dried lavender flowers and the same of dried hps and use to stuff a small cotton pillow (about 15cm x 10cm). Put inside a pillowcase to aid sleep. If you make (or buy) a cotton sack with a velcro fastening it’s easy to refresh the contents.

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