Spring is here, the sun is shining, the pollen as always has jumped in sneakily behind. I love it when the clocks change. Every day I check the time of sunset and plan my day around the light. I love seeing that time creep forward a couple of minutes every day as we approach summer, to jump an hour is pure joy. I am like a Bisto kid on my walk home by gardens cheerful with yellow floral hedges and the occasional magnolia tree scenting the air brightly.
The birds in my garden are back. They wake me way too early, I forgive them for that knowing that they are cheerfully hunting down and chomping on snails and slugs. I make them fat balls with lard and nuts and seeds. They are my most important visitors and I want to keep them happy. I watch them through my window while I work, and see them rescue shreds of old plants from last year which they use to build their nests. I left them there because I never moved them, mainly, and also because I heard they were good for cocooning butterflies to latch on to. I like them too. Bees come for the gorgeous bright yellow cavolo nero flowers. I will plant more borage for them, and also some clover and other plants that will make them sleepy with happiness.
Teasing joy from chaos
My garden is chaotic, neglected over winter (and I know I should have been planting green manure and all that other stuff), there is a shaded corner that gifts me brassicas, cabbages, kale and cavolo nero. I have started to tend to it again, cutting back the creepers and uprooting the endless sycamore seedlings. This I feel a little bad about. There is a sycamore tree in the corner of my garden, I am continuously impressed by just how successful it is in terms of its ambition to spread. I felt the same as a child about all the tiny sycamores that would grow in the drain and in the cracks in the footpath. I hated to kill their joyful enthusiasm and ambition, and so we kept one, which is now an enormous tree in my mothers front garden. My little London garden can’t bear any more though, and so to the compost heap they go.
Wild bright things
I found some little wild violets, cheerful in purple and reaching for the light in the other corner, growing through the cracks in the concrete. Of which there are many. I live in a rented flat and if it stands that seems to be enough for my landlord (I have no idea who he or she is, I rent through an estate agent). I tend to the garden now but laying and sorting concrete is not something I have any mind for, besides I love the gentle urban decay. Everything lives and dies and then violas come cheerfully rampaging through the cracks. Life moves on.
My lemon balm has erupted and taken over its entire terracotta pot. It is like the end of a dance routine, green arms in the air reaching for the sun. It has shot roots through to the ground below and firmly attached itself. It makes a wonderful tea and is a terrific ingredient regardless. Great with sweets, it is reminiscent of a lemon sherbet. I have added some with rhubarb to some vodka where it will infuse gently before being introduced to my cocktail shaker. (I have a pretty fabulous rhubarb and cardamom gin in the works too).
There will be lots of digging and preparing. For the first time I had the occasion to use the compass on my phone, I found that my garden faces westward. There are houses all around and my garden is small so this is limiting in terms of light, but we get enough on one wall to please tomatoes and other things. Last year, also tomatillos, that small chilli farm, many herbs, chickpeas and borlotti and purple beans.
Planting a container garden vs planting a regular garden
Last year I planted a container garden. Living with a year to year lease I was reluctant to do anything long term or more permanent, but what is permanence really? Is it even a real thing when none of us are permanent at all? This year I have decided to embrace it and plant a proper vegetable garden, bright with flowers (mainly edible) especially my favourite climbing and tumbling bright nasturtiums. My chicory is large and enthusiastic already and hopefully this year will gift me some bright purple chicory flowers. Last week I needed some cheer and so I bought a magnolia plant which some day with care will be a joyful tree.
Today, I have for you a soup that I enjoyed so much that I have eaten it 3 days in a row. That never happens. A bright pasta soup, cheered and spiced with ‘nduja (a spicy soft pork sausage from Calabria), chunky with potatoes (don’t shriek, pasta with potatoes is a traditional and wonderful Italian dish) and held together with a lovely chicken stock. Finished with wild garlic oil made from my stash, which is sadly now empty. I am actively seeking more.
Enjoy and tell me, what do you like to grow?
Note on the recipe: for ‘nduja less is more and more is more, depending on who you talk to. Sometimes I like a lot, and may double this. The mount here is enough to taste the ‘nduja without making the soup to hot, or allowing it to dominate the other ingredients.
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 200g potato, peeled and diced
- 100g pasta, something sturdy, I used maccheroni from Calabria
- 25g 'nduja
- 75g cabbage, finely shredded (approximately 6 leaves)
- 500ml chicken broth (or veg broth works too)
- 1 tbsp wild garlic in oil
- oil for frying, rapeseed or olive oil
- double the oil to wild garlic leaves, blitzed in a blender. Store in the fridge. (e.g. I made 100ml extra virgin olive oil and 50g wild garlic leaves, rapeseed oil works very well too)