Mowers test @ Tyntesfield for the Daily Telegraph

Time travel, weird edibles and lawnmowers

To be able to spend time in a garden is a great privilege, it’s a luxury that not everyone has and even though sometimes it is so hard to keep up with everything, I really do treasure my garden time.

The last few weeks have absolutely flown by. There have been garden highs and lows and a few exceptional moments.

Greenhouse triffids

In the greenhouse the foliage fairy has been to visit. Just about everything that could be growing is reaching for the sky in a botanical race for light. It’s been exciting to see my overwintered Sutherland begonias, fuchsias and dahlias sprouting into life. Some of them looked quite dead until two weeks ago and I had almost given up on them. Coaxed out of their hibernation by the spring sunshine, they are now joining the race for life with a vengeance and it is so exciting.

The coriander thinks it is a triffid; there is so much of it now I could supply the local restaurants. It’s just so satisfying and easy to grow from seed and to know exactly how it’s been grown. For me that’s free from pesticides and in peat free compost too, so it’s an eco ingredient for my kitchen. There’s masses of spinach too, which is just fantastic as well as an army of other seedlings sprouting up from the modules and pots. I need to keep up with the potting up, so I’m doing a little each day.

Baby peaches develop after the bees have pollinated the flowers
Baby peaches forming on a patio peach. Image: Jean Vernon

Thanks to the busy bees the peach tree is dripping with baby peaches. The hard bit is to thin them out, but I’ll wait a little while before I do that.

My garden fruit trees are in blossom. Something ate the apple flower buds, which was a little annoying, but the pear trees, plum trees and greengage have so many flowers I can’t count them. I’m looking forward to a bountiful harvest and plenty of fruit for puddings and jams.

Edible weeds

Talking of cooking, I made an incredibly tasty pesto this week from harvested nettle tops and a type of garlic that I love to grow. It’s called Babington Leek and is a milder, soft neck native garlic that is perpetual and easy to grow. I just whizzed a few stems with a harvest of steamed nettle tops (gloves are essential for picking these) and some olive oil and toasted pine kernels in my trusty Kenwood blender.

Nettles and babington leek pesto for supper
Freshly picked nettle tops and babington leeks for supper. Image: Jean Vernon

I bottle it and keep it in the fridge and then add it to cooked pasta with some tasty cheese for a fast supper when I’ve been out and about. Eat it with a fresh garden salad for an ultimate veggie meal. Freshly picked and delicious. Replace the toasted pine kernels with toasted sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds, or even walnuts or cashews. Toasting them really brings out the flavour, but don’t forget to add the salt and pepper too. You can use normal garlic or wild garlic instead of the Babington leeks. It’s a cheap eat and a wonderful way to make more of nature’s bounty.

Spring bulb bonanza

I was privileged to be invited to Amsterdam last week to see the tulips. It’s a Dutch Icon and is widely celebrated in spring in and around the capital Amsterdam.

Tulips at Museum Square, Rijksmuseum
A colourful welcome awaits at the Museum Square, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Image: Jean Vernon

It was a whistle stop tour of tulip delights from an exhibition of Matisse at the Stedelijk Museum to the flower garden at the Rijksmuseum .

We visited the slick operation at the Aalsmeer Flower Auction  where millions of flowers are sold daily in the early hours of the morning.

Early morning at Aalsmeer Flower Auction.
Trolleys of flowers at Aalsmeer Flower Auction, FloraHolland. Image: Jean Vernon
Keukenhof Tulips
Tulips at Keukenhof Gardens in Holland. Image: Jean Vernon

We were whisked away to Keukenhof to see the seven million tulip bulbs on display in the spring gardens. It was spectacular but I couldn’t help feeling it was rather sterile and staged. There’s a lot of concern about the pesticides used to raise these bulbs for gardeners and the lack of bees at the gardens was very palpable to me.

A bike ride through the bulb fields was a personal feat and something I will remember for a very long time.

Stuffed, pickled tulip bulbs
An acquired taste. Tulip bulbs and smoked Kings crab @ The Waldorf, Amsterdam. Image: Jean Vernon

We were fed tulip inspired delicacies including eating the bulbs themselves. What an experience. I’m not sure I can say that the tulip bulbs were delicious; they were interesting and very different, slightly crunchy, with a crisp texture. They were the food of necessity during the hunger winter following the war and many Dutch people still associate eating them with that dark period of time. But opinion is changing and just occasionally they are featuring in high-end cuisine at hotels in the capital. We were served organic pickled tulips in sweet and sour with sour cream, dill, capers and chives at the Waldorf Hotel in Amsterdam.

Lawnmower Testing

On my return I spent some time at NT Tyntesfield where we were testing six new fangled lithium ion lawnmowers for the Daily Telegraph. The team of gardeners had been using the mowers for a few weeks as spring arrived and had plenty of grass to trial them on. You can read all about it online at Telegraph Gardening.

Mowers test @ Tyntesfield for the Daily Telegraph
On test – cordless lawnmowers @ Tyntesfield for the Daily Telegraph. Image: Jean Vernon





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