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Useful plants & summer tips

Useful plants & summer tips

Join Trevor Bridge in his jardin potager as he enjoys his summer harvest and explores those plants which are both attractive and useful...

The long hot days of our glorious summer are now bringing our jardin potagers to their most productive time, when everything is ripening and maturing in the warmth and sunshine. This is when we enjoy the benefits of our work earlier in the year and gather in the rewards of our main vegetable harvest. Most importantly, we can take pleasure in eating fresh, tasty and healthy vegetables plucked straight from our soil.

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At the same time, this is high season for perennials when they are at their most excellent. Hemerocallis (Day Lilies) produce fresh sprays of exotic yellow, orange or red flowers in late summer and Rudbeckias with their showy, yellow cone-flowers are superb now. Phlox paniculata, the traditional easy going border plants, have flowers ranging from white to pink, purple, mauve and crimson whilst Solidago (Golden Rod) brings a fine show of yellow at this time of year. Other perennials still providing colour include Delphiniums, Hollyhocks, Michaelmas daisies and Perovskia.

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What to do in August and September

VEGETABLES

There should be lots of produce ready now. Main-crop potatoes will be being dug up and enjoyed fresh from the garden; there is no comparable taste in my opinion. Onions are ready for cropping. Lettuce, radish, rocket, spinach and other salad crops can still be harvested, and there is time to sow more of these quick maturing crops to eat later on. Try sowing winter lettuce varieties like laitue ‘Grosse Blonde d’Hiver’, ‘Valdor’, ‘Merveille d’Hiver’, or ‘Brune d’Hiver’ for cropping next Spring. If you have carried out succession sowing, peas and beans will still be available but they are coming to the end of their season.

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Continue picking courgettes and cucumbers regularly to encourage further cropping and to prevent them from getting too big. Sweetcorn cobs are ready when their tassels have withered and the corn is firm and produces milk when squeezed. Aubergines are harvested as soon the fruits have ripened and coloured and before their skins wrinkle.
If you are using the cordon method, carry on pinching out tomato side shoots regularly and tie leading shoots to their supports as they climb upwards. Pick unripe green tomatoes by the end of September and make into chutney. Pot up basil, marjoram, mint and parsley to grow in the kitchen window for winter.
As summer progresses sweetcorn, beetroot and globe artichokes will mature and leeks should be ready later. Parsnips can be lifted now if they are big enough, but if left in the ground they will taste much better after a frost.

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FLOWERS

There will be less to do now that August is here and you should be able to relax and enjoy your ornamental garden. Continue to weed your borders and deadhead and water plants when necessary, remembering to be water-wise. Colchicums can be planted in August for autumn flowering. Lilies and spring-flowering bulbs such as anemones, bluebells, crocuses, daffodils and snowdrops can be planted. Leave planting tulips until November to avoid tulip fire attack. Biennial and perennial seeds such as cyclamen, foxgloves, violas and wallflowers sown earlier in the year can be transplanted in September. Hardy annuals like calendula, eschscholzia (Californian poppy), nigella, larkspur and myosotis (Forget-me-not) can be sown directly into their permanent positions for early flowers next year. Climbing and rambling roses and other late flowering shrubs such as helianthemum should be pruned back while wild flowers like cornflower and scabious can also be sown directly now.

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Useful plants

There are countless wonderful plants that serve all kinds of practical purposes other than for food or flowers. These useful plants offer a satisfying combination of splendour and usefulness, and, as well as being used in the kitchen for flavouring and preserving, are beneficial for health and pest control. Herbal dyes are unsurpassed for subtlety of colour and aromatic herbs contain antiseptic oils useful for cleansing. Away from these practical uses, the simple fragrance of many plants freshens the air far better than any artificial aroma, and there are many ways of using them for decorative effect.

A French rural garden would not be complete without a selection of herbs and plants with a practical use. In the past people gathered them from the wild, but to make life easier they eventually began to cultivate them. Herbs are traditionally planted in an area set aside in a vegetable garden, or in decorative pots on window sills where, as well as being convenient for the kitchen, they have the added effect of deterring insects from entering the home. Basil is particularly good at this. Plants such as lavender, thyme and rosemary also look attractive tucked into ornamental borders mixed with flowers and where their fragrance can also be enjoyed.

Culinary herbs & preserves

Cooks delight in having fresh herb sprigs snipped straight from the garden as they are far superior to bought ones. The classic French blends, bouquet garni, Fines herbes and herbes de Provence are composed of a few Mediterranean herbs which are easily grown in a warm, sunny position in the garden.

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Recipes vary, but we make bouquet garni from a large bay leaf and two sprigs each of parsley, tarragon and thyme. These are gathered together into a small bundle and tied with kitchen string. Fines herbes consists of equal amounts of chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon, chopped and mixed together. Add to your dish at the end of the cooking process. Herbes de Provence ingredients have changed over the years with the addition of such herbs as basil, tarragon, chervil and fennel (which you can include), but a basic recipe comprises one and a half tablespoons of lavender flowers, five tablespoons of thyme, two tablespoons of marjoram (or oregano), three tbsps of savory and five tbsps of rosemary.

Interesting and delicious preserves in the form of aromatic oils and aromatic vinegars are made by infusing such herbs as basil, fennel, marjoram, mint, rosemary, savory and thyme. It is worth searching out recipes for these. Away from Mediterranean herbs, coriander, is an essential ingredient for us, and often difficult to find in French shops.

We use its leaves as a garnish to Asian dishes and add it to salads and soups. We also use its seeds in curries and soups. Its flowers attract beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps and predatory flies so it is beneficial to grow coriander amongst vegetables. It is grown from seed in a sunny situation, but as it bolts quickly it should be sown in small quantities through the summer.

Household uses

Plants can be used to keep unwanted pests at bay and are, of course, safer than chemical poisons, a very important point in the kitchen and other areas where food is present.

Tansy is an ancient plant with a plethora of uses that is back in vogue. When hung indoors, placed in cupboards or on shelves, it deters ants, mice, flies, fleas and moths - remember to agitate the leaves from time to time to release the scent. It deters insects if planted around fruit trees, it increases potassium when mixed into compost heaps and its flowers can be dried as “everlasting”. Tansy was a favourite of Charlemagne and could be found planted throughout his estates. It tolerates full sun or partial shade.

Plant lavender where you sit out in the evenings as it is a well-known mosquito deterrent. It also deters moths and fleas so it is worth hanging a bundle in your wardrobe or placing in clothes drawers.

Dried bay leaves repel weevils if placed in rice and flour jars. Many old French houses traditionally have a mature bay tree, but they can also be obtained from nurseries and garden centres in containers and pruned to stay small.
A disinfectant can be made by boiling rosemary stems and leaves in water for 30 minutes, the less water the more effective it will be. It will keep in the refrigerator for a week. Rosemary also repels mosquitoes so, like lavender, plant it where you sit outdoors in the evenings.

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Plant dyes produce wonderful delicate colours and although dyeing is time-consuming, it is fascinating and worth pursuing. Woad produces blue dye and is an ancient perennial with yellow flowers easily grown in the garden. Camomile creates yellow-gold dye and is a plant that tolerates light shade or full sun. It should be trimmed regularly to encourage dense, compact growth. The leaves of Elder, that well-known native shrub, make yellow-green dye. Nettles produce grey-green on wool and cream on silk. Rich browns are derived from onion skins, and bramble shoots produce light brown. Artists’ water colours can also be produced from plants such as red cabbage, beetroot and onion skins. Potpourri, in English and French now means a mixture, but the original French meaning was “rotten pot”. It is a traditional way of capturing the essence of a summer garden. The basic ingredients comprise flowers for scent and colour, aromatic leaves, spices and peel. Many recipes can be found for them, but a simple potpourri for the kitchen uses four parts lemon verbena, two parts mint, two parts bay leaf, one part tansy, one part lovage and a few cloves. Handle the leaves from time to time and it will reduce cooking smells and deter flies.

Gardening terms

b2ap3_thumbnail_shutterstock_86198422.jpgAnnuals are plants that last for one growing season from seed to flower to seed before dying.

Biennials are plants that live for two seasons, flowering and seeding in the second year before dying.

Perennials are plants that grow for more than one year.

Herbaceous perennials die back in winter and reappear the following spring.

 

Trevor’s tips


• Clean out greenhouses and cold frames ready for being used in autumn and spring and to stop pests making a home in a nice warm environment.

• Keep on top of weeds. Little and often will stop the garden getting out of hand. A hoe is invaluable. Weed on a dry, sunny day so they will dry out and die on the surface of the soil.

• This is a hot time of year so be sure to water. Think ‘water wise’ and use collected or recycled water whenever possible. Enlist friends and neighbours if you are away from home.

• If you have heavy clay soil, start digging towards the end of September and add lots of organic material to improve the quality. It can be left rough as the winter weather will break it down ready for spring.

 

© Living Magazine - all rights reserved. Published August 2014.