Archive for March, 2008

The Origin of Herbs

Monday, March 31st, 2008

The efforts of Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator, met with greater success when he sailed from Europe round the Cape of Good Hope to the Malabar Coast in 1498, returning to Lisbon with a rich cargo of herbs and spices. On a second voyage in 1502 he reached Ceylon.

In 1524 he was appointed viceroy of India for his discoveries, which enriched Portugal and raised her to the front rank among European nations. In time Portugal had a monopoly on the lucrative trade in herbs and spices, supplying Europe with pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. The Mediterranean remained relatively unimportant as a trade route until the opening of the Suez Canal and Venice was replaced by Lisbon as the centre of commerce in herbs and spices.

Portugal’s influence was extended later as far as Madagascar, Sumatra and Java, and above all to Malacca, famed spice port in the south Malay Peninsula. The island of Ternate became the centre of the spice trade and despite the persistent and often bloody defense of the native Muslims the Portuguese gradually gained a monopoly on the world spice trade.

Planting Deciduous Shrubs

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Many shrubs bear an abundance of beautiful and fragrant flowers or ornamental fruits and are thus an important decorative element in the garden, able, in many cases, to serve the same purpose as annual and perennial flowers.

Native shrubs, their ornamental forms and above all related and established exotic species offer a wide selection from which to choose those suited for various sites and locations and for various purposes. Besides the standard shrubs from 1 to 3 m high, there are small or dwarf sorts of up to only 40-60 cm, especially well suited for the rock or heath garden. There are also .shrubs that are practically small trees with their height of 5-7 m.

As to the flowering period, some shrubs, bear blossoms before the onset of spring with the last remnants of snow still lying about, whereas others flower late, opening their blooms just before or after the leaves fall.

The colour of the flowers is another important aspect and the choice is wide, ranging from white through yellow, pink, red, and blue to violet. Size also is variable, ranging from the practically indiscernible greenish blooms of Hippophae rhamnoides to the large showy flowers of Magnolia and Rhododendron. Other shrubs with unobtrusive flowers are loveliest in the autumn, when they are covered with bright ornamental fruits – Cotoneaster, , Pyracantha, Hippophae, etc.

Sweet Basil

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Watercress is a perennial herb up to 80 cm (32 in) high. A native of Europe, it has become naturalized throughout the world, growing wild alongside brooks and streams in lowland country as well as in mountains.

The young leaves have a pleasant taste resembling that of horseradish and are used, chiefly in Scandinavian countries, as a pungent salad rich in vitamins. Watercress was popular in the days of the Roman Empire.

Myrtle is a tender evergreen shrub. It is often grown in pots in the house, conservatory or on sheltered patios because of its ornamental flowers (1), glossy leaves and attractive habit. The flowers of shrubs growing in the wild are followed by many-seeded berries (2), which are green at first, later turning blue. Plants grown in pots, though they flower, rarely produce fruits. It is an old custom for guests at a wedding to wear a sprig of myrtle tied with a white ribbon on the lapel or shoulder and for brides to wear a wreath of myrtle on the head.

Cardamom

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Clove is the dried flower bud of a tropical evergreen tree, native of the Moluccas, which reaches a height of 20 m (65 ft). It was known in the Far East and in India in ancient times and was shipped from there by the Chinese as far back as 400 B.C. For centuries it was used to alleviate toothache and also to sweeten the breath.

It is the seeds of this perennial plant that are used as a spice. It is native to southern India and Sri Lanka and also raised nowadays in Central America, particularly in Guatemala. Cardamom is used mostly by the peoples who grow it as is also the case with many other herbs and spices.

The tender, juicy young leaves may be minced and used the same as chives in sandwiches, in cream cheeses, on boiled, buttered potatoes and as a garnish on cold meats. The ovate seeds, up to 1.5 mm long, are used in Iran, India, Greece, southern France and Spain to make a very pungent mustard.

The Advantages of Your Garden

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

Some idea of the type of garden you want may already be beginning to form in your mind. Before you start to translate your thoughts on to paper, make a rough but accurate survey of the garden.

If you have ever consulted an architect to extend your house you may already have a plan available, or a small site plan may be attached to the deeds of the house; any architectural drawing shop will enlarge this to scale for a small fee. But if you do not have a plan, the procedure for measuring up the garden is fairly straightforward.

First measure up the house and mark in the dimensions on a rough drawing of the shape of the house. From the rough drawing and the measurements, plot an accurately scaled plan of the house on to a large sheet of paper, using squared graph paper if you find it a help. Pick a scale which allows you to get the whole layout on one manageable sheet of paper. For the larger small garden, a scale of 1 :100, giving you 10 mm to a metre. For a smaller garden, a scale of 1 : 50, giving 20 mm to a metre should be possible. Then measure and mark in the site boundaries, followed by any existing features such as trees or manhole covers.

Rosemary

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

The scientific name of this plant is a pleonasm because the generic name Salvia is derived from the Latin word csalvare’, meaning to cure, and the specific name officinalis from the neo-Latin word `officina,’ meaning pharmacy. Despite the fact that sage is an important medicinal plant used by the Romans of ancient times, it also has its place in cookery.

When and how it spread through Europe is not known, but one thing is certain – that it ranked high on the list of culinary herbs in the Middle Ages. ‘How can a man die who has a sage in his garden’ was a common Arabian saying. Recipes for pork in sage sauce and chicken with sage survive from that time.

As a seasoning it is most popular in Italy, France and England, where it is used with meat, mainly mutton, pork and game, as well as poultry, fish, in sauces, soups, salads and pickled vegetables. It is used crushed or ground and added to foods when they arc almost ready to eat, for lengthy cooking would cause evaporation of the essential oil that gives it its fragrance. Rosemary is an excellent seasoning but must be used sparingly, for larger doses may be deleterious.

Getting confused with all the hedge trimmers available?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Once you have spent a weekend or two triming the hedges with a old pair of rusty shears then you will understand why every gardner should have a powered hedge trimmer in his shed. It doesn’t really matter whether you have a gas powered, electric powered or even a battery powered hedge trimmer.

Most of us don’t enjoy yardwork, yes planting flowers can be fun as you know they will grow and give you something lovely to look at. Mowing lawns, cutting hedges and the other back breaking clean up jobs are not as much fun thats for sure. The work you have to do becomes easier when you have the right tools for the job.

The right hedge trimmer for you needs to be powerful enough to do the job at hand, easy enough to use without having to read a manual as large as war and peace and it needs to be priced properly. There is no point buying the best hedge trimmer in the world if the money you spend on it will mean you can’t afford to turn your electricity on for a month or two.

Mock Orange

Monday, March 24th, 2008

The mock orange attains a height of 2-3 m and is of upright habit. The buds are opposite and small, in summer concealed beneath the broad leaf base; the twigs are dark brown. The flowers, which appear in June, are white and have a sweet scent resembling that of the orange blossom, hence its name. The capsules containing a large number of tiny seeds ripen in October.

This shrub is a native of southern Europe but has been cultivated in western Europe since the 16th century. It was once a very popular shrub for parks and gardens in western and central Europe and is completely resistant to frost. It is moderate in its requirements of soil richness and moisture and also tolerates shade, though it then bears fewer blossoms.

The wealth of flowers is influenced by the amount of light, otherwise the shrub does not require particularly rich or moist soil. It is easily propagated by means of softwood and hardwood cuttings. Early spring (April) is the time when flowers are borne by the related species S. thunbergii, S. arguta and S. crenata.

Pruning Shrubs

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Another method of increasing certain shrubs and their garden varieties is grafting and budding, where part of the plant to be propagated, either a graft or a bud, is transferred and attached to well-rooted stock of a common species. For some shrubs and fruits this is practically the only and most reliable means of propagation (tea roses, lilac, magnolia, apples and pears).

Shrubs bearing terminal panicles or racemes on strong summer shoots require harder pruning at the beginning of spring, otherwise they produce weak shoots and scanty blossoms. In such instances the shoots should be shortened to as much as half their length. This group includes mostly shrubs that do not flower until June, e.g. Cytisus, Spiraea salicifolia, Spiraea japonica, Buddleia, Colutea, Ligustrum, Rosa rugosa and remonant roses, Lycium, Hibiscus.

It is necessary to stress that care and precision are important requirements of grafting and budding. The knife used to prepare the scion and the stock must be well sharpened, the cuts must be straight and smooth and their surface must not be soiled by the fingers or otherwise.

Garden Thyme

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008

Garden thyme is becoming increasingly popular and more widely used. Whereas the Egyptians used it as a perfume and for embalming the dead and the ancient Greek scholar Dioscorides, an acknowledged authority even during the Middle Ages, stressed its medicinal properties (the plant’s generic name is derived from the Greek `thymos’, meaning strong or manly), nowadays it is used primarily as a food flavouring. Thyme may be used as a flavouring by itself, but usually it is one of the ingredients of proprietary herb mixtures. With parsley and bay leaf it serves as an ingredient of the traditional bouquet garni. Thyme is practically universal in its uses. It is added to soups, vegetables, fish, poultry and meats (particularly dishes prepared au chasseut), sausage meat, stuffings, salads, pickled gherkins and olives and is also used to make herb butter (often together with tarragon) and even to flavour honey.

The best quality seasoning is obtained from the black truffle which grows in the oak woods of southern France and northern Italy. Of all the edible truffles it is the most prized for its flavour.