Introducing Tabitha

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Lots going on here at The Fig Tree. Figs are busily ripening quietly, courgettes are sending out sunshine yellow flowers and I’ve had my first harvest.

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The stripy one is courgette Piccolo. I was keen to go for more unusual courgettes this year and this one hit the mark. You need to pick them small. The yellow one might well be the Flying Saucer squash Patty Pan.

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I almost missed these Cobra Climbing beans. They start producing beans when they’re really quite short then they grow a bit and produce another crop and again and perhaps again….will have to see! It means less successional sowing which is a win win in my eyes.

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I thought this was some kind of sugar snap pea but couldn’t remember planting it. Turns out it’s Blue Shelling Pea. Look….

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…beautiful little peas snuggled up inside. Funny how they’re green not purple!

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More delightful royal purple found with the Artichoke Purple de Jesi. I have to admit I’ve never tried to eat these. I love them for the architectural element that they provide and I have used them in a Christmas decoration which I may well do again this year.

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Another bit of excitement….the greengage tree has fruit! I love this little cousin of the plum. It’s so delicious and after it’s poor harvest last year I was worried it might have had it’s day but it lives on and is thriving!

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The fennel is flowering heavily right now and each umbrel is full of fennel pollen. I mentioned fennel pollen in this post in March 2014. I have to admit that I haven’t thought much about it since until a meeting with a foodie friend who has started a cool foodie business called My Kitchen Notebook. It was a joy to talk about edible flower, herbs, horseradish and liquorice root and of course fennel pollen! It actually made me inspired to go back to my old blog posts and also to start blogging again about the more unusual things that I grow and what I do with them. More of that to come……

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This photo shows that even though the coriander has long gone the flowers are still delicious and quite beautiful. So the air is heavy with sheer hard work and abundance right now! I find myself walking quite a lot these days. I go from the vege garden to the flower garden to the herb garden to the nuttery to the wildflower meadow to the flower garden overflow……it’s exhausting!!!! Seed need sowings, seedlings need planting, shrubs and perennials need homes too. Everything needs watering and  of course the weeds are doing their level best to Take Over The World Mwah ha ha (evil laugh of the weeds….). I used to joke to Mr Fig that I’d need a Golf Cart to ride on around the place to save my legs. Oh how we laughed…..! However, I’ve recently found something far better than a golf cart! Introducing….Tabitha!!!

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Isn’t she a beauty?! Classic moustache bar with leather look grip, 7 speed internal hub gears, full length alloy mudguards, front mount wicker style basket, alloy kickstand…… I had to look all that stuff up you understand. What I really love is THE COLOUR! and the BASKET!! The basket is so handy and not just for looking pretty with flowers! Of course I don’t really cut flowers straight into the basket because flowers should be cut straight into water. Couldn’t resist for the pic though.

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So there I go…..off into the nuttery careful to avoid the prickly thistles…..

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Might stop at the herb garden and check if the latest batch of sweet peas need watering (yes not strictly a herb at all but running out of room…)

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…then a pause to admire the poppies and cornflowers mindful that their short season will be coming to a close soon….

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….finishing up at the Cutting Garden to check everything is growing well and wondering when I’ll get my first zinnia…. all sounds idyllic right?! Yes well I don’t really do that. It’s more a case of zooming round doing the watering rounds, heaving hoses hither and thither and digging up hard, sun baked soil to plant yet more seedlings! But have to say I loooooove Tabitha! And she reminds me of being little when I used to zoom around on my red bike with Mr Snoopy clamped firmly behind the saddle….

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Happy gardening!

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Scented Geranium Tea

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I’ve got herbs on my mind at the moment as it’s all go in the new Herb Garden. The last few months have been mainly all about Project Cut Flower but last weekend Mr Fig surprised me by striding out through the Cut Flowers into the “Herb Garden To Be” wielding weed matting, pins and muttering about string and straight lines. Looks like my hints at cultivating another bit of the paddock had worked. I was Chief Tape Measure Holder…….and look at what we achieved!

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Not very pretty yet but at least it’s now a properly marked out area so I can hone my design a bit. I find that plans that look good in my head look totally different when I actually stand in the space I’m working on.  I have re-jigged my design again and again; each time making it more simple. The centre will be a small circular Chamomile Lawn and the hard landscaping will be pavers and gravel with little herbs tucked here and there in between. The L shaped beds round the sides will be packed with a mix of herbs – not many culinary ones though as I keep these nearer the house. There will also be 4 small square beds in symetrical pattern around the lawn. Not much to do then……!

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One of my more exciting new leafy additions will be scented geraniums (pelargoniums). I’ve been accumulating quite a collection. I have to admit that the flower isn’t anything special but the leaves are quite extra ordinary. Gently rub the leaf and sniff…..

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……..chocolate? Really? Try another and you might smell mint. I’ve also got orange, rose and anise.

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I find geraniums really easy to grow.  You don’t need to fuss too much about watering but apparently they do need a bit of shade and, being a tender annual, they are frost tender. It’s a good idea to take little cuttings and pot them up in the greenhouse or sunny windowsill over winter just in case the frost gets to your prized plants outside in the cold. Geraniums are very obliging plants and are obviously geneticlly engineered to multiply so taking cuttings is a cinch. Just snip off a stem and pop it into a pot of compost. It’ll happily put down roots and, with a bit of warmth in Spring, it will grow surprisingly quickly into an established plant.

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So why the new obsession with scented geraniums? Well, I’m quite partial to  scented geranium tea. It’s so easy to make and you can choose from a huge array of flavours or even go mad and combine a few for the ultimate Scented Geranium Tea Experience! I like mixing Perky Peppermint with Chocolate. This is what I do…..

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Pick a handful of your chosen geranium leaves. I pick the whole stalk to keep the plant looking tidy. Harvesting leaves for tea is a great way of controlling growth and pruning into shape. Wash the leaves and remove stalk. If the leaves are large tear them up a bit and you can chop up the stalks and add them in too if you like.

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Pop them into a teapot and pour on not-quite-boiled water. Leave to infuse for about 10 minutes.

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There you go it really is as simple as that.  My other favourite is rose scented geranium tea – just like my fav chocolate bar Turkish Delight but healthier 🙂 Of course these teas are great chilled with some ice – especially the lemon flavoured one. Or you can even pick a small posy, tie it together and hang over the bath tap. As the water runs through the leaves it will infuse the water with yummy geranium scented loveliness. What a plant!

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DIY Face Scrub

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We’re on Easter holidays at the moment and it’s been lovely to take a break from the usual routine and enjoy some lazy days. I’ve been a real squirrel over summer harvesting and drying flowers for potions and teas and now that I have some time I thought I’d whip up a batch of incredibly easy facial scrub from The Holistic Beauty Book by Star Khechara. It’s called Fairy Face Scrub but I call it Garden Scrub (!) because many of the ingredients came from my garden 🙂 The best bit about this recipe is that I get to use one of my latest gadgets; The Grinder. When I first bought it I loved grinding up all sorts of things. I loved the grrrrr grrrrrr grrrrrr that reduced the substance to dust. Now I tend to grind in large batches. I’ll dry a couple of orange skins and grind them up and store them in a glass jar so I can get a good few potions out of one grinding session.

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I got these for Christmas from my sister. They are the cutest measuring cups ever and they are dinky sized so can measure spoon measurements. I adore using these for my potions. I only ever make small batches of any homemade potion because I don’t use preservatives so need to measure in tiny amounts – perfect!

Ingredients
2 Tbsp ground almonds
1 Tbsp fine oatmeal
4 tsp powdered dried rose petals
4 tsp powdered dried orange peel
4 tsp powdered dried lavender flowers
4 tsp finely grated cocoa butter
1 Tbsp mango butter, roughly chopped
2 tsp almond oil (or more if a little dry)

The ingredients are just gorgeous aren’t they!

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These petals haven’t retained their scent as much as I’d have liked but there is still some colour. Apparently the best rose to dry is Rosa gallica officinalis or the apothecary’s Rose which is more fragrant dried than fresh. I’ll be looking out for one next Spring.

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Here is the beautiful ground up orange peel that made my house smell so delicious as it was drying. I also use dried orange peel (in chunks not powdered) when I make fire starters (more about that in the winter).

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Oats and ground almonds are probably in your cupboard right now.

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You just need two types of butter for this recipe; mango and cocoa butter. Mango butter is the large white lump and cocoa butter is the yellow/creamy coloured one.

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1 teaspoon of lavender going in…. anyway, here’s how I make Garden Scrub. Grind up the oatmeal if it looks a bit too chunky. Then grind the rose petals, orange peel and lavender flowers.

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Put all the dry ingredients in  bowl.

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and grate in the coco butter.

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Give it all a good stir and you will begin to see the texture of the face scrub come together.

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Add the roughly chopped mango fat.

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Finally add the almond oil. Give it all a good stir and you will get a thick paste like consistency.

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Spoon it into a pretty jar and firm down. It looks good enough to eat but don’t! To use, put a small blob into your palm and mix with a little warm water. Rub gently over your face to reveal silky smooth skin! The butters leave your skin really smooth and soft and the scent of orange and lavender will linger to remind you of those sunny days pottering in the garden.

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More Tea Vicar?

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Actually the tea I’m going to blog about today would have you struck off the Parish Flower Arranging Rosta quicker than anything if you offered it to the vicar. Comfrey tea is for the green and leafy amongst us aka plants and it is a miracle fertiliser that I’ve been using on my veges for a couple of years now. It’s so easy to make and once you have a little patch of comfrey in your garden you will always have it! You can find this perennial herb in your local garden centre; it’s real name is Symphytum x uplandicum and you’re after the Russian Bocking 14 variety. If you have a friend with comfrey in their garden simply dig up a bit of root and plant it; you’ll have comfrey plants in no time.

The magic of comfrey can be found within it’s thick, deeply veined leaves which are full to bursting with several minerals including nitrogen and potassium which are vital for flower, seed and fruit production. It’s leaves rot down really quickly so if you have comfrey in your garden you have an ready supply of instant fertiliser for your plants.

You can also use comfrey as a compost activator. Cut some leaves and wilt them in the sun for a few hours then throw on the compost. It will soon heat up the pile and get the compost going.

A word to the wise; choose a home for your comfrey very carefully indeed. It’s a tough little cookie, a real survivor, and possesses a long tap root so, even if you think you may have dug it out completely, any little bit of root left in the soil will soon sprout more leaves and make more plants. This is what’s happening to me at the moment. I merrily planted some comfrey in the tomato bed when I was unaware of it’s Tap Root Growing Ability. I thought I’d dug it out completely but whenever I dig over the bed I discover rubbery bits of root springing up all over the show. It’s like opening up one of those joke tins that contains coiled up paper snakes that spring out forcibly, and rather alarmingly, onto the unsuspecting victim. Even though I know the roots are there I can’t help but emit little cries of alarm as, yet again, another little bit of root pings up from the soil and hits me on the ankle like a rubbery snake. Note to self: avoid similar unsettling experience by planting in the correct location from Day 1.

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Making comfrey tea is as easy as, well, making tea really but you need to exercise a bit of patience; magical brews take a while to create. Simply take an old bucket or barrel and fill with freshly cut comfrey leaves; quantity isn’t really important but I tend to half fill my bucket. Then fill with water and leave for two weeks.

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Some people stir the brew every couple of days to reduce odour and others add a lid. I just leave mine to fester and turn a deep, rich brown and leave it out the way where the smell won’t bother anyone; it’s a pretty potent smell I have to warn you and whatever you do, DON’T splash any on your hands or feet when you come to use it! I did once and I turned into a social pariah in my house despite copious lathering of soap and water…just saying. After the allotted 2 weeks simply dilute the brew 1 part comfrey to 10 parts water or thereabouts and lavish generously on your plants. Tomatoes, curcubits and beans particularly love it but I also use it on squash and this year on fennel for the first time. If you’re feeling creative with your tea making then feel free to add seaweed, farm manure, fish bones and other organic goodies; it’s all good stinky stuff!

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Chickens are also rather partial to some comfrey now and then. I add it to my Chicken Tonic which you can read about here. What a useful herb that brings delight to plant and foul alike and to me; as I wonder about with my watering can full of this elixir I feel as if my plants are sitting up just that little bit straighter, nudging each other and waving their leaves excitedly with a soft chorus of “Me First!” on the breeze. The Figlets don’t call me Crazy Lady for nothing you understand…..the cheek!

A Little Light planning

Kings seed Catalogue

It’s still raining here and the puddles are getting bigger and deeper and more pond like in the paddock. The sheep are very happy mooching around and the cheeky little Pukekoes are just adoring this inclement weather. They love splashing around in puddles on their awkward red legs; such a geeky, gawky bird!

I forgot to mention in my last post that there is something other than Sorting and Trying Something New that I like to do when it’s rainy; I like Planning. Nothing pleases me more than a little Light Planning aka Dreaming. I always have a notebook of some description ready to be filled with my thoughts and wonderings. Here is my latest one:

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Not what you were expecting? It’s a little Retro isn’t it?! It’s been upcycled from an old recipe book; old pages have been included throughout the book amongst the new pages. My hubbie, Mr Fig, bought it for me as I have a bit of a thing about herbs. My Planning today is all about Spring!

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I have lots of new ideas for my garden this Spring. I was delighted to receive my new copy of the latest Kings Seeds catalogue; I’ve clocked up a sizeable list of seeds to buy already. I find that I go through phases with flowers; especially certain colours. For the last two years I’ve gone mad for lime green and orange; pairing Zinnia Giant Lime with orange crepe poppies and calendulas with Bells of Ireland. I noticed after browsing through this catalogue that spiky purple flowers were On My Mind. We have a circular bed in the middle of our drive; the Roundabout Bed (or the drives-me-round-the-bend bed). It’s a bit of a conundrum for me so I’ve been very slowly (4 years worth of slowly) taking out plants and paring it back to a bare canvas. I found quite a few limestone rocks hiding under the agapanthas and Mr Fig very kindly went off with the trailer to procure a few more to edge part of the roundabout bed. What a difference! I don’t have Before and after photos but the purple spiky plants are the next addition to reinvent this bed so I will be photographing my progress from now on. Here are my purple spiky contenders….

I’m particularly taken with the Agastache since it has a lovely minty scent which I will benefit from every time I amble through the trying-hard-to-be-a-bluebell-wood path to feed the chickens. I also love the thought of anise with it’s culinary possibilities (great in fruit salads and teas). Decisions, decisions…. Here are a few more of my flower choices for 2013 including the Snail Vine that I can envisage scrambling over the back gate and arch of the vege garden wafting it’s gorgeous scent all over the veges! I love a bit of wafting! There’ll be a bit more scrambling action with Peach Melba Nasturtiums too; who can resist that yummy pudding name?

I have lots and lots of herbs but I still can’t resist adding to my herb beds with Alchemilla mollis. I was inspired by the wonderful blog Life in Mud Spattered Boots to plant Alchemilla molis with Globe artichokes and feverfew; just gorgeous.

Alchemilla Molis

These herbs look a bit interesting too…..

I grow so many veges from seed that it’s a bit overwhelming to picture them all. Therefore I’m going to show you my Ones To watch for 2013. These are ones that I haven’t grown before and am therefore not just a little but excited about! Gobstopper size carrots, mini white cucumbers and strawberry spinach. Yes spinach pickled with tiny little strawberries; both cucumbers and strawberry spinach will be perfect for my Pimm’s Bed.

Mmmm I can see it all now; a riot of colour and scent. Will be interesting to see just how my Planning turns out in Practice!!