Edible flowers, bike rides and a self-watering polytunnel
aquilegia and honesty
Those brief, rather brilliant moments of spring have been a blessing, but blink and you miss them. I caught yesterday's burst of afternoon sun riding a bike across London. Despite all the petrol fumes you could catch that waft of spring in the air. Pussy willows glistening in Hyde Park, buds fattening in St. James's, violets in flower around the base of horse chestnuts and the sun blinding as it bounced between glass-fronted buildings (surely architects should consider such things?). I like the way manhole covers turn golden on such afternoons. It was a jolly ride, but I would rather have been in the garden.
And even an afternoon away and things have moved on. Those brilliant soft greens of new leaves that suddenly appear all over the place (mostly weeds but still it's growth and sign of things moving on). I am most impressed with aquilegias at the moment. That dusky purple hue on the underside of new leaves and they way the rain catches into pearls nestling in the middle. These, Martin Crawford of Forest Garden fame writes, are edible. I eat plenty of the flowers, but am a little wary of the Ranunculus family. It has some of our most toxic plants in it. Think of Monk's hood, a plant so poisonous that it can kill you, though it was used as a painkiller in the past (the pun being quite literal perhaps?) or hellebores, all of which are pretty toxic.
Orychophragmus violaceus/Chinese violet cress
But aquilegias are edible, Martin assures us, as long as you don’t eat leaves with mildew on. He doesn't explain why, perhaps its self-explanatory, they are hardly going to taste nice when diseased. I take a tentative nibble of the fresh young growth, the only bit you can eat.
They taste green, a hint of cabbage, a little sweet, entirely pleasant in fact and well worth adding to a salad. They look pretty too. My other salads are getting back into gear. The sorrel is in full swing, the land cress, winter lettuce, purslane and that divinely pretty February Orchid/Chinese violet cress/Orychophragmus violaceus are all merry. I've been supplementing them with the first new growth of dandelions from the parks and watching avidly as the nettles reappear. I can hardly wait to eat nettle risotto again.
The allotment is almost all dug over apart from the bit that will become the polytunnel. I have to mark out the space for inspection next week. I’m very excited about this. Then I will embark on the 'self-watering polytunnel project'. I am in two minds whether it is madness or a rather brilliant idea, but as I quite intend to have at least one or two weekends camping away this summer, someone will have to do the watering and if the polytunnel can do it, all the better! But more on this later…
I've also created a rather haphazard bean support at the end of the allotment. I wanted to create a little privacy as well as something sculptural. It’s made from hazel and red stemmed willow that the last tenants left. I’m going to grow sunflowers one side and runner beans the other. I’m going to go for those very tall 'Russian Giant' and a runner bean 'Moonlight', which is a runner that thinks it's a French bean, so self pollinates and tolerates dry conditions better (the main reason I'm using it as I think that the sunflowers might rob a lot of moisture).