GAR­DEN­ING

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS -

GAR­DENS play such an im­por­tant part in our lives through­out the year, so noth­ing could be more re­ward­ing than bring­ing a tiny part of them in­doors for Christmas. You can en­joy this as part of your feast or a ta­ble dec­o­ra­tion. Get a buzz by nip­ping out to the gar­den on Mon­day morn­ing for a fresh, last-minute treat.

Luck­ily for me, the gar­den pro­vides ev­ery­thing for our meal, in­clud­ing the cen­tre­piece, a large, suc­cu­lent roast goose, but if you’ve only got a win­dow box, it may still give you some­thing.

I love arm­ing my­self with a bas­ket and spade and set­ting off for the kitchen gar­den to dig up the veg. On the way back to the house, I’ll get some tasty Avola pota­toes for the goose stuff­ing and Mayan Gold tat­ties for the best wedges ever.

But, sadly, things may not be quite as easy this year. I woke up this morn­ing to an overnight tem­per­a­ture of -10C and had a choice of is­su­ing my poul­try with ice skates or tak­ing my life in my hands by pound­ing their pools to break the ice.

The ground is rock hard at the mo­ment and we’re liv­ing on veg I dug the other day, just be­fore the Arc­tic blast. I cer­tainly can’t pre­dict what the weather will be like when you read this, but if the cold snap per­sists, har­vest the Christmas din­ner today.

On the veg front, my pick­ing list in­cludes car­rots, parsnips, leeks, pota­toes and sprouts for the main course.

Gar­den veg frozen by the weather needs to be treated dif­fer­ently to veg from the freezer. If the ground is rock hard, start the process today. Use a fork, not a spade, to loosen the top 2cm-5cm of soil round the car­rots, parsnips and leeks. The soil un­der­neath is per­fectly soft. Then dig deep with a spade – parsnips have long roots, up to 30cm. Bring whole plants, soil, fo­liage and ed­i­ble parts, into a cool room, as a shed may be too cold.

Over the next cou­ple of days the plants will grad­u­ally de­frost. Knock off any soil that comes away eas­ily to­mor­row morn­ing and, later in the day, wash and clean up the plants, re­mov­ing any out­side leaves. This slow thaw pre­vents the plant cells from burst­ing and helps re­tain flavour.

Sprouts will only need 24 hours to re­turn to life and I also like tak­ing some en­dives from un­der a cloche. These de­li­ciously bit­ter leaves go beau­ti­fully with a goose liver starter.

Sur­viv­ing leaves in the herb gar­den, such as Salad Bur­nett, leaf cel­ery and sweet ci­cely, can be picked on Christmas morn­ing, as can sage: if frozen, they should re­cover in time for cook­ing.

The con­ser­va­tory or green­house pro­vides bay, rose­mary, thyme and juicy rocket, pars­ley, chervil and par­cel leaves. Again, har­vest on the big day. And a win­dow box? If grow­ing thyme, sage, rose­mary, pars­ley or chervil, make good use of it.

And why not in­clude ed­i­bles in your ta­ble dec­o­ra­tions? If you have any small red or rus­set ap­ples left, pol­ish them up with kitchen towel that’s been dipped in light veg­etable oil. Their sheen, set against a green back­ground, makes them ir­re­sistible at the end of the meal. Sprigs of rose­mary or bay work well as a green back­drop.

Holly and slightly poi­sonous ivy leaves are fine for other ar­range­ments, when set off with bunches of hawthorn or co­toneaster berries. I can still pick slightly poi­sonous holly berries from my trees, a de­press­ing sign that thrush num­bers, like those of so many other birds, may be in dan­ger­ous de­cline. I would nor­mally also rec­om­mend rose­hips, but see most of mine have turned to mush af­ter the harsh frosts.

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