In Shakespeare’s time a path strewn with primroses was a common metaphor: it signified the easy option, the choice that was alluring, the least challenging and most self-indulgent.
And quite apart from their sheer prettiness – and the joy they bring as the ‘first rose’ of spring – they are extraordinarily useful (one of the reasons they earned their place in those mediaeval cottage gardens).
Every part is useful: you can infuse the plant and its leaves to make a tea (one part primrose to 10 parts hot water) which will calm and soothe the nerves. It’s also said to ease coughs and rheumatism.
Not much happening – and most of it yellow.
That’s been my general verdict on this month’s flowers: though tinged with a great deal of relief that our ‘false spring’ in the unseasonable warmth of a couple of months ago hasn’t, after all, kiboshed the real one.
Was there ever such a spring-like colour as yellow? It shines out at you wherever you look: gleams and sparkles and cheers the soul. Perhaps that’s why it’s so much more welcome at this time of year than, say, in mid-summer when yellow flowers just seem brash: after all, we all need a bit of cheering up after the winter.
So now is the time of the spring bulb: there isn’t much else peeping out just yet. But bulbs, above all, should have the place more or less to themselves anyway: that way you can admire them without distraction, to your heart’s content.
|Some of the hosts of golden daffodils
cheering up the slope at the back of the garden at the moment
|Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’|
|Another mystery daffodil: could be ‘Jetfire’?|
|Chionodoxa forbesiae (I think: lost the label. Again.)|
|…and the flower buds of the same:
almost as exquisite as the flowers themselves
|Narcissus ‘February Gold’|
Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens – thanks Carol!
|A landscape that’s remained much the same
for over a thousand years
Some gardens are known for their topiary; others for their cloud-pruned hedges, or monumental cascades, or ranges of spectacular Victorian glasshouses.
If you can tear yourself away from the crocus for long enough (don’t worry: there are bound to be more just around the corner) there are other delights to be seen at Forde: not least the Abbey itself, a wonderfully mellow 12th century Cistercian monastery owned and run privately by the Roper family for over a century.
|Peach ‘Peregrine’ in the lean-to greenhouse looking sublime
against the mellow stone of the Abbey walls
The lumpy-bumpy cloud-pruned hedges that greet you on the other side of a monastic archway are echoed in the quirky and deliciously tactile dollops of clipped yew hedgery that line the pathways. Forde does long framed views extremely well – the legacy of its 17th-century landscape roots – both down the Lime Avenue and across the Mermaid Pond to the waterfall beyond.
|Yews like big green dollops of cake mix:
I just wanted to stroke them
Water is a big thing at Forde: as well as the Mermaid Pond and its accompanying Long Pond, running the length of the double herbaceous borders, there is a huge bog garden full of burgeoning skunk cabbage, a canal pond and a Great Pond, too – the only surviving bit of the landscape the monks left behind.
The gardens of Forde Abbey, Dorset, are open every day from 10am. You can also look around the house if you go in the afternoon between April and the end of October.
|Mustard ‘Golden Streaks’|
This was a revelation. We’re used to oriental mizuna, mibuna and mustard spicing up our salads in winter. But they’re also excellent as mature leafy greens, a vegetable in their own right, cooked lightly – a little like spinach – or stir-fried, or used in soups. The flavour takes a little getting used to, as it’s spicier than our tastebuds usually allow (with a few exceptions).
Shungiku: leaves like chrysanthemums: not surprising, really, as that’s what they are. Its other name is chrysanthemum greens (chop suey greens is another alter ego). Sarah Raven describes the flavour as ‘strange, fragrant, slightly sweet and slightly peppery, with a good crunch’. You can eat leaves, the tight yellow flowerbuds and flowers – though petals only, not the bitter centres.
|Tatsoi ‘Yukina Savoy’|
Tatsoi ‘Yukina Savoy’: big, puckered leaves of a deep, rumpled, velvety grey-green held up on strong, creamy stems. ‘Savoy’ describes the texture well: the leaves are thick, firm and meaty. Tatsoi and pak choi are often confused, and tatsoi is also known, just to be more confusing, as rosette pak choi: it has a similar combination of thick stem and leaves but grows in a rosette rather than that very distinctive pak choi fluted vase shape. The flavour is described as ‘strong’, but I think not peppery.
Cooking: recipes are – cautiously – finding their way into cookbooks. Pick the growth tips and dip in batter before deep-frying for tempura, or wilt large leaves in a tiny bit of water like spinach. Stir-fry in oil with spring onions, ginger and garlic; and cut thick stems into 10cm pieces, blanch in fast-boiling water for a minute or two, then stir-fry with a little sugar, ginger, rice wine vinegar and oyster sauce.
Joy Larkcom brought Asian greens to the UK and has written an excellent book on the subject (recently updated). But we all seem to have stopped at the baby-leaf stage. Oriental greens have so much more to offer: this year, I’m going to let them grow up.
Some time ago, at a press event somewhere, I picked up one of those bags of gardening-related products you get when people who sell things want you to write about what they’re selling.