14 Sep 2019

Catching up with myself

Wild strawberries among greenery in urban garden

I feel an explanation is warranted.

This year, with the Blog of the Year winner’s trophy sitting on a nearby shelf at home, I’ve been shamefully neglectful of putting time aside to write.  Sometimes, the muse just disappears or there’s little to tell; but this time I actually have a few good reasons for my absence here.

29 Aug 2019

15 Practical and beautiful ideas from The Skip Garden

While writing about the imminent closure of The Skip Garden in Kings Cross, I felt a twang of nostalgia looking back through the seven years of photos that I'd taken during my visits.  It's a garden that I'm familiar with, and it hasn't changed much over the past four years, but I still get a buzz of excitement as I head towards the gates.

There's always something new to see, small or large - whether it's bird boxes made during a workshop, different crops in the skips, fresh ceramics, or a parquet floor patio made from scaffolding boards. Totally inspiring, unexpectedly beautiful.

This year the chicken house/coop had gone, in its place stood an intriguing incomplete new structure and newly built empty wooden planters waiting to be filled. I assume the planters were destined for a local business as the gardeners are hands on in the local community. There were also several planters of herbs by the kitchen patio - I love a herb patch and looked to see what was thriving in the sunshine. And immediately added it to my list of practical and beautiful ideas from The Skip Garden that I'm sharing below.

28 Aug 2019

Return to The Skip Garden

I, We and The Planet.

Those five powerful words underpin the work of Global Generation, the charity bringing youth, community and enterprise together in London. Why am I writing about this? Well, with everything that's happening in the world today, those words seem particularly relevant - and I visited their flagship Skip Garden in Kings Cross last week.

I make an annual pilgrimage to the Skip Garden - it's a short walk from where I have my car MOT done and the kitchen café serves a fine coffee and freshly-made food. But it's all about to change, again.

13 Jun 2019

How to use fresh calendula to make a soothing oil


Yellow and gold calendula flowerheads with a jar of calendula oil


Let me say right now that I've only just made this for the first time because it sounded so lovely. Calendula (pot marigold) has so many uses; not only is it a cheerful, pretty flower with edible petals, it's also a good companion plant in the garden deterring hornworm (the caterpillar that may eat/destroy tomato plants) and it's known to be beneficial for skin complaints.  Combine it with the moisturising and antioxidant qualities of olive oil (or sweet almond oil) and you have an effective natural remedy for cuts, grazes, sunburn or for soothing dry skin.

6 Jun 2019

Ranunculus: A buttercup by any name

Pink and white Ranunculus flowers edging a gravel path


I'm a real sucker for those bags of bulbs that drop into the shops in autumn. When there's daffodils, tulips, grape hyacinths and anemones to look forward to in spring, the winter months almost dwindle away.  It's the promise of all that colour after the monochrome of winter.

26 May 2019

Beginner's guide to: potting on tomato seedlings

I was deliberately late in sowing tomato seeds this year (hellooo urban flat, shady interiors, minimal windowsill space). A good decision as it turns out because all seeds germinated leaving me with 63 tomato seedlings to find room for. (Now 58 as I culled a few.)

So I had 5 or 6 seedlings in each small 9cm pot that needed to be potted on into individual pots. Doing this gives each plant more root room to grow and should be done when the seedling has its first true leaves. (Plants that aren't potted on quickly enough will adapt to the smaller environment and never reach their full potential.)

19 May 2019

I love the smell of elderflowers in the morning

... particularly when that smell indicates elderflower cordial being made for summer!

It's easy to lose track of how quickly the seasons advance at this time of year.  May has been typically unsettled weather-wise so I was delighted to see elderflowers starting to open as I walked home a fortnight ago.  Luckily, I walked that route again last Thursday and saw that there are now enough blooms to make elderflower cordial.

I've written about making elderflower cordial before - and how to correctly identify the right tree to pick from - so this post is by way of a reminder for anyone who wants to make delicious cordial before the blooms fade ... unless you have your heart set on elderberries for wine!



It was a stroke of luck seeing those elderflowers as I usually walk far and wide over Hampstead Heath in search of them.  My favoured patch was felled during repairs to the Heath ponds a couple of years ago and then last year I recall being concerned about the amount of sugar needed for the recipe so didn't make any.

It was a decision I came to regret during the extreme heat of the summer - a glass of iced water sweetened with a slug of citrus infused cordial hits the spot nicely on a hot day. So this weekend I bought sugar, dug out my recipe and went out this morning with my trusty secateurs to collect the bounty.


I've included my recipe below as I think it's an easy one and got very confused when I first tried to make elderflower cordial. Mine is an adaptation of several that I've used and tweaked year on year. (I now never use lime.) But first, a few tips.

Tip one:  Most recipes will include citric acid as a preservative - I don't bother.  As I found it hard to get hold of at first, I now keep one bottle of cordial in the fridge and freeze the rest in small plastic bottles saved from the smoothies I buy when out. I think that the addition of citric acid may alter the flavour and the cordial might not taste as nice.

Tip Two: Look carefully for aphids before you pick the flowers.  I found some stems covered in the sort of black aphids usually found on broad beans and left those blooms well alone.  Even so, when I got home, I made sure to gently shake the blooms over the sink to dislodge any other critters.  (A few black aphids, greenfly and a couple of small spiders, thanks.)  Having done that, I then held the blooms over a white tea towel for a second look; it was needed.

Tip Three:  There may be some tempting plate sized blooms below knee level just begging to be picked. Don't.  Wherever you live, there will be creatures that wee. In my case, dogs and foxes.  (I hope that's all but let's not go there.)  My advice is to pick the blooms that you have to stretch up high for, just to be on the safe side.

My simple but trusted recipe for Elderflower Cordial



3 unwaxed lemons
1 or 2 oranges
1 kg (2.2 lbs) granulated sugar
15-20 medium to large elderflower heads
1.5 litres tap water (50 US fluid ounces)

First stage:
  1. In a large pot on the stove, make a sugar syrup by slowly dissolving the sugar in the water over a gently heat.  Stir occasionally and once dissolved (no more sugar grains to be seen), bring the syrup to the boil for about 5 minutes.
  2. While that's doing, peel or finely grate the oranges and lemons. The white pith is bitter so try to leave that on the fruit.  (I have a julienne peeler which does the job perfectly. Link here to show what it is, I'm not an Amazon affiliate.)  Save the juice to add to the cordial at the end, if desired. (That's this year's tweak that I found in a River Cottage recipe. Am trying it for the first time.)
  3. Cut the big stems off the cleaned/shaken elderflowers and put the flowers in a large pot or saucepan with the citrus peel.
  4. Pour the hot syrup over when it's ready.  Put a lid on the pan and leave to infuse for 24 - 36 hours.
Next day/stage:
  1. Sterilise bottles or jars ready to decant the mixture into. Giving plastic bottles a good hot wash will suffice if they're going into the freezer. Glass bottles can be washed and then dried on a low temperature in the oven for 10 minutes.  As a time saver before now, I've washed and then microwaved glass jars to sterilise (but not the metal lids - please!)  Lids should be boiled in a pan of water for a few minutes.
  2. Sieve the infused cordial through a muslin cloth or tea towel, placed in a sieve over a bowl or large jug. I now use a jelly bag held securely in it's frame, so much easier! (Here, for info.)
  3. Add the saved fruit juice (step 2 above) if wanted.  Pour the cordial into the bottles, and store as appropriate.  
... Or drink straightaway!



I've currently got a pot of citrus rinds and elderflowers in warm sugar syrup, which I'll leave to infuse for the next 24 hours - timing which suits me perfectly as I'm at the Chelsea Flower Show all day tomorrow (or today, by the time you read this!).  I'll be reporting back from the show over the next few days but after that I'm keen to show off my new herb garden! See you on the other side!


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