March and April are really exciting months for me. Spring is properly underway and everything is coming to life. I am always oddly relieved when spring comes. I am not a winter person and find it hard not to get sad come November when all the plants go to sleep to rest and recuperate.
I chose that wording carefully by the way: ‘go to sleep’. That is actually my partners turn of phrase. When winter sets in, I’m the one looking forlornly at the fallen leaves and declaring ‘everything is dying’! It’s so hard to believe when winter comes that everything will come to life again. logically I know it will. I mean it does every year right but still, what if this year… So yes, spring is here, winter is over!
Here is a snapshot of a few things that flower on my allotment in the spring. Not the best images I’m afraid as they are all taken on my phone camera.
The picture at the top is of a flowering jostaberry bush. A jostaberry is a cross between a gooseberry and a black current. I think it’s delicious – it really does taste like a half blackcurrant half gooseberry with fruits between the two in size. I like it raw but also the jam is epic- really tangy but rich and dark. The bush is not at all spikey and is really really vigorous. It seems to fruit on the previous years wood. Our bush at the allotment is 1.5 x 1.5 m and makes loads of fruit even though we basically ignore it. Also the flowers are gorgeous.
These lovely little green flowers are white current precursors. White currants are like red currents but um, white. Actually, that’s a lie, they are sort of yellowy-transparent and look like really cool weird alien eggs. They are super tasty though. Very similar in flavour to red currents but a bit less sharp and more honey-ey. Ah berries are foods of the gods.
This is landcress going to seed. Landcress is a spicy salad green with a similar taste to watercress (but you don’t need a river to grow it). Pluses are that it survives well outside over winter and it freely self seeds. We have tons of it. Downside is that I don’t really like it. Its pretty intense and when it’s all you have growing in the hungry gap it gets a bit uninspiring. It’s a brassica (cabbage family) but doesn’t get attacked by caterpillars the way the rest of that family do.
This is borage, a bee plant. I grow it because bees love it and it’s a gardeners job to love bees. Not only are they really cute and fluffy and able to make honey but they are essential pollinators. Transferring pollen between flowers is what allows plants to fruit and seed, making both tasty crops and a new generation of plants for next year. Borage flowers are edible and taset a bit like cucumber. They make pretty additions to salads if you can be bothered with that type of thing. In my opinion the best use is to garnish a gin and tonic. The stuff big red in the background is chard by the way and the tiny fluffy things will be love-in-a-mist (best flower name ever).
Comfrey is close relative to Borage and is one of those additions to a vegetable garden that you don’t know about until you start growing. It’s not grown for food for you but as food for bees and your plants. It flowers all spring and insects, especially bees love it. Comfrey is also used as mulch and as a fertilizer- comfrey tea is a trad tomato feed. There are loads of different types comfrey. The one in this picture is a creeping comfrey and wow does it creep. This started as a single offcut a couple of cm big 5 years ago. I’ve hemmed it in with paving stones but it still finds a way out. It’s also really spikey. We have another more upright and neat variety with gorgous deep purple flowers and smoother leaves that is either a common or russian comfrey and is much more ruley.
At last, a flower that will be a vegetable! Broad beans (Fava beans) are eaten widely across Europe and the middle east but in are one of those vegetables that aren’t grown as a commercial food crop in the UK. They can be sown in autumn or early spring and have a cool knack of being able to germinate at low temperatures. You can eat the whole pods when they are very tiny but when they get big the inside of the pods gets fluffy and you just eat the beans. Some people remove each beans little jacket but the outsides are perfectly edible if a little bitter. Broad beans are extra cool because they have interesting facts associated with them. Number 1, a science fact: There’s a genetic condition called favism (or more scientifically, Glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency) where eating broad beans is a trigger for badness in the form of red blood cell break down. Number 2, a folklore fact: Broad bean pods were traditionally used as a cure for warts.
This last one is Aquiligia, Columbine or granny’s bonnet. It doesn’t really have a ‘proper’ place in a veg garden but it is very elegant and beautiful and the more flowers you have the more insects you have, thus the more fruit etc. It makes a great cut flower, it‘s a perennial (so lives year after year) and it self seeds readily. I just pull up the ones I don’t want and give them to my neighbours. You can also collect when the seed heads are dry in the autumn and sow in an orderly fashion if that is more your thing. Free local cottage garden favourites. These ones are under a just flowered dwarf Egremont Russet apple tree. We’ll get the apples around September (fingers crossed).
This is just a taster of the bees spring menu. They’ve also been yumming up other lovelies like gooseberry flowers, forget me nots, bluebells and chives.
The garden is blooming and the insects are fed but for people, May is the’hungry gap’. The stored veg from last year has just about run out (bar the squash for us) and this years crops haven’t started. Even if you buy veg, look where its from. Most will be from even further away than normal except for a few early season crops from southern Europe and some fruit from France and the UK. This will have been grown in incredibly energy hungry heated polytunnels.
This is the time of year to live off the bees happiness, drink the pollen in the air and eat all the random greens we can forage. And eat tins and frozen stuff. But don’t worry, all the flowers mean food is on it’s way.