Nature is a an amazing thing just as the rhubarb comes into its own the angelica ( Angelica archangelica) raises its lofty head as if to say ‘here I am don’t forget how useful I am’
Before I started growing angelica I associated it with the sticky green candied variety used to decorate cakes and puddings. But now I know better. Fresh angelica is one of those amazing plants that reduces the acidity or sourness in fruit such as rhubarb and gooseberries so that much less sugar is needed to sweeten it.
The plant in the picture is in its third year and as you can see from the swollen stems near the top it is really trying to flower. The flower is a large umbelliferae (Apiaceae) blossom which is really quite beautiful. I have removed the flowers to try and prolong this plant’s life because once it flowers it will die. However, I feel that this one will probably sneak a flower or two when my back is turned and then gracefully fade in the autumn. But all will not be lost as each flower head produces literally hundreds of seeds which look a bit like fennel or cumin seeds. The seeds should be planted immediately as if kept there is a much lower germination rate. Before winter there will be lots of little seedlings ready to be planted out for next year and the promise of tender fresh angelica. I have just planted three plants into a different herb bed which I grew from last year’s seed just to make certain that the angelica supply will not cease.
So how to use angelica? The simplest use is adding a few leaves when your are stewing fruit and remove them before serving. ( People don’t really like seeing wilted leaves in their pudding). Taste the stewed fruit before adding sugar and you will be amazed that it not very sour – add sugar with care as you will probably need much much less than you would normally add.
But if you have a little more time then why not go for pan cooked rhubarb and angelica served with vanilla infused cream and some home-made shortbread. But the most delightful spring pudding of all is rhubarb and angelica tart where a creamy rich filling made with double cream infused with angelica and vanilla, eggs and sugar is poured over rhubarb and baked.
Mice and voles are cute furry little creatures until they find a vegetable grower and then there is a conflict of interest! What havoc they can create – in the seed trays and in the vegetable garden. How many times over the years have we watched for the first sign of the broad beans and peas only to find that they have been munched by our friendly mice and voles and not a single one is left to grow.
This year I decided to get one step ahead of my furry friends. Beans and peas really don’t like having their roots disturbed so planting in a seed tray and then pricking out is not an option. So I have planted broad beans and french beans in little newspaper pots. A good use fo the excess newspaper and a biodegradable pot that can be popped straight into the row in the vegetable plot. I find that if you put tow or three little newspaper pots in a 9cm pot then fill with compost and plant the beans they are easy to move around and the plastic pot reduces the amount of water that is lost through evaporation.
So here is lovely little broad bean plant ready to go into the ground with a healthy root system and a few minutes later happily planted!
Broad bean in paper pot
Not that there is any competition in the household but I am hoping that ‘my broad beans’ starting life in their newspaper pot will crop far earlier than those planted by the man of the house directly into the ground – we’ll have to wait and see!
As I pottered in the garden this evening checking on the progress of flowers, fruit and vegetables I stopped to watch a bumble bee explore the delicate flowers of one of my favourite plants – Solomon’s seal. Watching the bee seek its supper I looked up and realised that the garden and surrounding fields are clothed in fresh green and creamy white – May is really here.
I had often read about Gertrude Jekyll and the famous white garden at Sissinghurst but it wasn’t until I moved to Shropshire and watched spring arrive with snowdrops then the blackthorn, fruit tree blossom followed by swathes of dandelion clocks and ox-eye daisies which are iridescent in the early evening light that I understood the full beauty of the white garden.
So I took a few minutes to enjoy the dappled evening sunshine and all the wonderful green and white around me – the Hawthorn in full bloom; the delicate lacy flowers of Guelder rose, Rowan, Sweet Cicely and Queen Anne’s lace; the pink tinged apple blossom of the late flowering King Edward and in the borders the Astrantia is just starting to open while the chrysanthemum hosmariense or Moroccan Daisy is in full bloom.
So here’s to Gertrude Jekyll and her wonderful sense of colour and design but more importantly here’s to spring with its hope, vigour and promise of new life.