Growing and Gardens
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It’s all about flavour. A sprinkle of a particular herb can make all the difference to a dish and can even be the primary ingredient. Consider Lebanese Tabouleh with its pile of fresh parsley, or even the humble mint sauce. Take away that mint and what have you got? Nothing you would want to eat with that roast lamb.
We are less adventurous when we don’t have herbs to hand. We can’t be spontaneous when our spontaneity has to be put on hold while we trudge off to the supermarket. A recipe might demand a generous handful of chives but that translates to a couple of pots of pricy herbs. Even worse is a dish that calls for a tablespoon’s-worth of dill. You hang on to the remaining wilting fronds and then they head for the bin.
Why not grow your own herbs? They are always fresh. Cutting bunches will often help to keep the plant in shape. Collect just a sprig to add savour and a floret for garnish. This is a hobby not just for the cottage garden fanatic, nor for those who are looking for a horticultural challenge. Growing herbs is easy and The Cooks Herb Garden is a book to give you all the advice and hand-holding you’ll need.
This book is a photographic catalogue of more than 120 herbs and a cookbook of 60 recipes. There is a raft of information on growing your herbs and improving your harvest. You’ll want to store your produce so there is a section devoted to drying and freezing. There are great tips, including one for chopping and freezing your fresh garlic that will save your cash and effort.
You don’t need a smallholding to grow a worthwhile collection of herbs. Just a window-box or a container will supply you with some money-saving aromatics. The authors have included some planting suggestions for those with little space but the love of taste. There are six container gardens that each have a different focus. Everyday Essentials gives you basil, oregano, parsley, thyme, sage and coriander. Salad Herbs offers those light fresh summer flavours of chives, rocket, tarragon and the like. The Mediterranean Pot will transport you to those southern climes with basil and lavender. There are planters for every culinary persuasion.
The Cook’s Herb Garden is an impressive book which gives you all you’ll need to grow those leaves and flowers that so enhance our foods. It’s a step-by-step guide to selecting the herbs best suited to your particular growing conditions and to your style of cooking, be it traditional northern European or exotic Asian; this could be the book for you. An attractive volume and great value for money.
Cookbook review: The Cook’s Herb Garden
Authors: Jeff Cox and Marie-Pierre Moine
Published by: Dorling Kindersley
Monty Don has been a familiar face on BBC Gardeners World for 5 years or so. He is not only passionate about gardening in front of the camera but lives the life he preaches. He and his wife Sarah have an organic garden that feeds family and friends in fine style.
Fork to Fork is an apt title for a book that does indeed chart the progress of food from the ground up. Is it a gardening book with recipes or a cookbook with a spot of horticulture? Hard to say, but however you choose to describe it the book works. The volume looks the part with its distinctive jacket (well, more of a cummerbund, in the form of a band round the middle) and heavy-duty card cover; this is a book that will improve with age and use.
Fork to Fork will encourage many hardy sorts to go and find a vacant allotment (good luck, you’ll need it), and others to have a go at growing a few veggies in a small garden. You’ll obviously grow more in a bigger space, but how pleasing it is (not to mention much cheaper) to grow even your own herbs in a window box.
Each chapter considers a particular month. There is plenty of advice about planting and propagation and all written with the conversational style that was so enjoyed by viewers of Gardeners World. The recipes are a delight. The book is about growing and enjoying vegetables and fruit but the authors are not vegetarian and don’t assume you are. It’s a book about the best of cooking in all its forms.
The food is old-fashioned and comforting. Those dishes that were considered as passé a few years ago are enjoying something of a revival. We are now more concerned about quality and simplicity than extravagance and culinary bling. Puddings, crumbles, sausages are the order of the day but add in some contemporary twists and you have a recipe book that keeps the best of the past and marries it with new ideas, a dash of olive oil (thought in the past only to be good for ear-aches) and even some garlic!
I have several must-tries from Fork to Fork. Raised Chicken and Pork Pie is surprisingly easy to make but the result is stunning. Individual pies are made using a jam jar as a mould. The filling is seasoned with nutmeg, sage and cider brandy (but use a dash of calvados if you can’t find that). Damson Sorbet has full marks for colourful impact. It only has three ingredients and, being made ahead, will be a no-stress dinner party stunner.
Fork to Fork is a volume that will be appealing to both gardener and cook. Anyone starting a new vegetable patch will be glad of Monty’s advice, but this is a book also to be enjoyed by those who have no garden at all but would like to understand what is in season and when, and who want to cook with the ever-changing seasonal produce.
Cookbook Review: Fork to Fork
Authors: Monty and Sarah Don
Published by: Conran Octopus
Garden Feast is an inspiring volume by Melissa King. She is a passionate gardener, TV presenter and writer with a degree in horticulture. The delicious recipes come from Heronswood Cafe in Victoria, Australia and offer lovely ideas for using the freshest of ingredients that have travelled less than 50 yards (45.72 metres) to reach your kitchen.
Melissa has written Garden Feast with, well, gardens in mind and the bias is towards those with space to cultivate, but anyone with a local farmers’ market or pick your own farm would enjoy this book. It’ll give you ideas for those seasonal gluts so you can make the best of fruit and veg when it’s at its cheapest.
Space to grow food doesn’t mean that you need acres of walled and romantic kitchen garden. There are plenty of tips in Garden Feast for those of us who only have a small area with some tubs. Think of the money you could save if you didn’t have to buy any more pricey bunches of herbs. How about a few leaves of cut-and-come-again lettuce? You could grow that on the balcony of a 6th floor flat.
There is a wealth of gardening information relevant to each plant, tree or root. You’ll learn about growing and harvesting as well as cooking. The important consideration when growing your own produce is to select what will grow well on your particular patch and to choose those things that you and your family will enjoy eating. Melissa provides you with everything you need to make a success of your vegetable garden.
The recipes are lovely and there are several for each fruit or vegetable. There are preserves, tarts, salads and bakes. They are tempting and designed to show off the depth of flavour that you will find with produce that has never seen the inside of a chilled lorry or supermarket.
Garden Feast is an ideal book for anyone thinking of growing their own produce. Don’t wait till next spring, start planning and get the wellies out.
Author: Melissa King
Published by: Apple Press
In horticultural terms India would be the head gardener and Europe would be either the apprentice lad or the pot washer, depending on which particular European gardening nation we are considering. India has been gardening for longer and on a grander scale than probably any other country, but its gardens are so often overlooked in favour of those more stereotypical examples from England, Italy and the classic ones of France.
It’s not just that Indian gardens are beautiful but there is another element and one which is missing from most western gardens. So many plants and trees have a religious or mystical association that adds another dimension to an already exotic environment. Tulsi (sacred basil) is revered by Hindus for both its medical and spiritual qualities. This shrub is unique in that it emits oxygen at night and was therefore planted in courtyards where people would sleep to avoid the oppressive heat of summer.
Sandalwood is also known as Chandana in Sanskrit and ancient texts tell us that the scent of the tree filled the Gardens of Paradise, and it is still used in Hindu religious ceremonies. In 1792, the Sultan of Mysore declared sandalwood to be a royal tree and now every such tree has government protection to prevent illegal smuggling of this prized wood.
The Lotus is the national flower of India and sacred to both Hindus and Buddhists. It represents Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and prosperity, and the flower symbolizes spiritual enlightenment, divinity, fertility, wealth and knowledge.
Banyan represents the gods Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma and is symbolic of life and fertility. The tree can grow to an amazing size and the Great Banyan in Howrah in the Indian Botanic Gardens is among the largest in the world.
Gardens of Delight – Indian Gardens Through the Ages charts the changes reflecting the tide of varied influences of culture and religion. Ancient paintings depict scenes of formal gardens with couches and fountains, exotic trees and flowers. These gardens were considered extensions to the inside living areas and often had pavilions and tents to provide shade and privacy.
Garden design does not remain static and this book has some stunning examples of modern Indian gardens. The swimming pool of the Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel in Agra owes much to Moghal architecture but has crisp terracing that reminds one of classic European gardens in Italy. The Baha’i Temple in New Delhi is modelled on a lotus flower. It’s a veritable Asian Sydney Opera House floating on a sea of green. The podium gardens at the Kalpataru Horizon in Mumbai blends contemporary architecture with Indian trees and shrubs. Striking.
Gardens of Delight – Indian Gardens Through the Ages is a sumptuous book and a joy to leaf through. It’s filled with ideas for those of us who want to create our own Gardens of Delight. It’s a perfect gift for gardeners and travellers and those who love India.
Asian book review: Gardens of Delight – Indian Gardens Through the Ages
Author: Rahoul B. Singh
Published by: Pavilion – Anova
“Honestly, officer,” (do you call them officer or sir?) “it’s a book about cures for athlete’s foot and acne.” And it’s the truth! This book by James Wong is the companion to the BBC TV series of the same name. You don’t need to have seen the series to appreciate the book. It’s a stand-alone work as I can attest, having never, myself, seen the programmes.
This handsome young man has inherited his knowledge of plants and their uses from his Malaysian grandmother (well, yes, his grandmother and Kew Gardens and the University of Kent) who would pound roots to make soothing balms for insect bites and other ailments.
Grow Your Own Drugs will teach you how to forage for and find wild plants for herbal preparations. James offers advice about using common garden plants to produce cures for simple health problems and beauty aids. You don’t have to go out and buy a still or expensive equipment, you will already have most of the paraphernalia required to make these potions... and not a dodgy pipe to be found.
James has a Getting Started chapter which will point you in the direction of a few ingredients that you probably won’t have in your domestic larder. Nothing startling for which you’d need a licence, just some oils, vitamin C powder, waxes and glycerine.
The remedies are for non-life-threatening problems such as bad breath and spots, but they are said to work and you’ll know they will be pure compounds and free from additives with no testing on animals. Do note, however, that these are “fresh” products and should be kept cool.
Rosehip syrup has long been recognised as being packed with vitamin C. James has a recipe for a Vitamin Booster which is classic rosehip syrup with the flavourful addition of cinnamon and cloves. I am sure this would be delicious with hot water as a warming and healthful winter drink. James suggests using the syrup to pour over pancakes or ice cream to tempt the younger members of the family.
The recipe for Bath Bomb is sure to be popular. These are easy to make and the kids will enjoy helping. They might even be persuaded to use them! The Hair Strengthener is a nettle tonic which is said to stimulate growth and leave hair soft and smooth. The most prominent ingredient is wine vinegar but I am sure the addition of aromatic herbs (James recommends lavender and rosemary) will stop you smelling like a chip shop.
Although the book is entitled Grow Your Own Drugs it’s most appealing to those of us who want to avoid taking conventional drugs. Whilst it’s true that we should not be foolhardy, these treatments could help with minor health issues. If in doubt, consult a doctor. This is a well-written and absorbing book that will encourage you to look at plants in a different way.
Grow Your Own Drugs
Author: James Wong
Published by: Harper Collins
Jekka McVicar is a familiar face to UK TV viewers. She has oft graced our screens on gardening programmes and also alongside food worthies such as Rick Stein and Jamie Oliver. With reference to Jekka’s Complete Herb Book Jamie has said “Jekka’s is a must-have book for everyone who loves gardening and cooking, I’m her biggest fan.”
So what’s so special about Jekka’s book? Why would one of Britain’s best loved chefs be so impressed? It quite simply does what it says on the label. “Complete” is the key word. This book tells you all you are likely to want to know about herbs. History, cultivation, propagation, cooking, and medical uses are all here.
It’s good to find gardening books that don’t assume the reader knows anything about the subject. The photographs of the herbs and the food are lovely but what do you do when you have a virgin patch of ground and a few packets of seeds your dad bought for you “to give you a start”? Jekka has pages of advice that starts with showing you how to sprinkle seeds and continues to the planning of your herb garden. You don’t need a big garden, there is information on growing herbs in containers.
There are plenty of surprises. Helleborus Niger or Hellebore or Christmas Rose is a plant that many of us are familiar with. I didn’t know that apart from being a lovely plant, it’s also a herb and considered to be one of Britain’s oldest cultivated flowers. It’s thought to have been brought over with the Romans although it’s hard to envisage a stocky legionnaire toting a sack of plants to make his garden look nice.
Jekka’s Complete Herb Book deserves to be a best seller. It’s a book that will be enjoyed equally by both gardeners (expert and otherwise) and cooks. Jekka McVicar has made her living from herbs and she has produced a manual for the home-grower. Your herbs might not ever introduce you to culinary celebrities but they will give you some flavourful meals, a cure for vertigo and a lot of pleasure.
Jekka’s Complete Herb Book
Author: Jekka McVicar
Published by Kyle Cathie
My reader from beyond the UK might not even know what an allotment is. It’s truly an allotment of land, perhaps 10 by 15 yards and in an urban area. Many of them started as patches of land given to workers by their employer. Railway lines often sported verges of allotments tended by engine drivers and their families - a good way to spin out meagre wages back then. And even now they serve the purpose of making money go a little further, with the added benefit of being able to grow untreated produce.
Celia is known to me as the author of one of my all-time favourite vegetarian cookbooks, World Vegetarian Classics (View my review here). It’s a book I use often. As Celia is passionate about good food I guess it was a logical progression from writing about it to growing it. It wasn’t an instantly fulfilled ambition as she had to wait for several years for her allotment to be, well, allotted, but now it’s in full production and giving plenty of tasty veggies with which Celia will work her culinary magic, for this is not only a book about growing but eating those vegetables.
There are plenty of vegetable-growing manuals on the market and even one or two which focus on allotments but New Urban Farmer has a different slant from most. Yes, it will teach you how to grow your plants but Celia doesn’t assume you are already well-grounded in all things horticultural. This is a learning journey that the author has taken and she invites you to travel with her. A book of seedlings and delicious food, it also carries tales of fellow “lottie” enthusiasts like Two-Shed Fred. Celia passes on their advice and experience. These are not qualified gardeners but rather just ordinary folk who happen to have been doing it for years.
The book is divided by season and then by month. Each section boasts a comprehensive list of seeds to sow direct, those to sow inside, plants ready to harvest and then recipes to show your crop to best advantage. Because Celia is an experienced cook she is well placed to give advice about storing and preserving your glut of veggies. She suggests, for example, that extra leeks can be held in a jug of water for several days if the roots are kept muddy and intact.
This volume might easily be retitled The Urban Farmer’s Diary. It’s a frank observation of progress and setbacks. It’s refreshing to know that not all goes well in the garden. It’s easy to lose heart when we are invariably presented with TV gardening shows awash with vegetables that look good enough to be plastic, hauled from ground that is so light and fluffy that the spuds can be raised with nothing more than a twist of the wrist and a teaspoon. Gardening has never really been like that and it’s reassuring to read the trials and tribulations of one who is confronting the same problems as her readers.
New Urban Farmer is a practical and inspiring read. It isn’t patronising and the veggies don’t have Latin names. It’s amusing, encouraging and informative. A book written by woman who manages to juggle a successful career as well as maintaining her little corner of land. It’s a great book for anyone who is thinking of embarking on home food production, either via the allotment or a patch in the garden.
Cookbook review: New Urban Farmer
Author: Celia Brooks Brown
Published by: Quadrille Publishing
This is a surprisingly trim volume for the information it holds: 250 or so pages with over 500 photographs, plans and illustrations. The secret of success for this book is its variations on a theme. The chapter concerning A Small Sheltered Garden, for instance, has a design, planting, features but includes four alternative plans for a long narrow plot, a corner plot, a triangular plot and a rotated aspect. Consider this a horticultural take on 500 Cookies, with the basic recipe and then some options.
There are a full fifteen garden types considered by the author, Tim Newbury. Part One of the book looks at those gardens: cottage gardens and formal gardens, front gardens and roof gardens, enclosed gardens and gardens for special needs. Then Part Two takes an in-depth view of garden features, starting with water and finishing with pots and containers. Part Three has a plant directory that has all the information you’ll need on the plants proposed in any and all of the garden designs. It’s the mixing and matching of ideas and possibilities that has enabled Tim to cram so much between the covers.
The Ultimate Garden Designer has just about everything that a novice gardener would need to transform an existing garden or to plan a garden around a totally empty space. Tim doesn’t assume that you are familiar with plants nor that you have a plot the size of a working farm. He even presents a tiny, low maintenance garden that is 7metres by 7 metres. For lovers of TV garden design programmes Tim has a split-level garden with decking and water feature!
If you are embarking on garden design or redesign then this might well be the book for you. The Ultimate Garden Designer is packed with advice and ideas and is very reasonably priced. This would make a lovely house-warming gift.
The Ultimate Garden Designer
Author: Tim Newbury
Published by: Octopus