Friday, 27 January 2012


It’s winter, the cold has finally descended on us and there’s just one question on your minds. What can I do with my glut of parsnips? Well here is a quick, simple and dare I say superb soup from those clever folks at Covent Garden, it’s so good that even my good wife who is an avid hater of parsnips likes it.
Maple roast parsnip soup:

2 tablespoons olive oil
4 medium parsnips, cut into lengths
2 tablespoons maple syrup
25g butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon plain flour
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Steam the parsnips for 6 minutes until soft
Roast the parsnips (in the oil, preferably pre-heated) for 15 minutes until starting to colour.
Add the maple syrup and roast for a further 10-15 minutes until sticky and caramelised.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan and cook the onions and garlic until soft.
Add the flour and cook for a further minute.
Add the stock and roasted parsnips, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 10 minutes.
Blend until smooth before returning to the pan, seasoning and allow to heat through before serving.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Plant encounters of the new kind

There are estimated to be around 400,000 flowering plant species currently catalogued on Earth, of these only a tiny fraction are grown in gardens and sadly most gardens tend to be highly repetitive in their choice. Now as much as I like roses, conifers and hydrangeas it can make a garden feel a little stagnant when all plants have been bought down the local B&Q or Homebase, this is of course one of the joys of independent nurseries.

I’ve lost track of how many species I’ve grown to know over the last 14 years of gardening and would probably be surprised at just how many it was, however as you would expect there’s always so much more to learn and I get a little buzz of excitement every time I come across a plant I’ve never seen before. Just imagine walking into someone’s house and discovering an animal that is completely different to what you know or one that is overly familiar but a completely different colour or size, it’s the same with plants, and with the addition of climate controlled greenhouses the possibility of growing unusual specimens is almost infinite.
I once heard of a man on the committee for a botanical gardens who expressed the view that “plants are boring” clearly he was in it for the prestige rather than horticultural love and obviously had never gone down into the glasshouses to marvel at the floral wonders contained therein.

Take for instance the humble
Hydnora africana,a parasitic plant which lives on the roots of Euphorbia’s in Africa and has a fruiting head worthy of The Little Shop of Horrors. This is a real plant created by nature and growing in the wild right now. Now I know it’s not something I’m likely to come across whilst pottering away in a garden in Cardiff but to know that the plant kingdom includes such wonders as this is a joy regardless.

To stay a little closer to home, there is wonder to be found even in the seasonal unfurling of a ferns frond or the yearly eruption of bulbs from their wintery dormancy. You’re probably saying now that these are nothing new and surely I’ve seen these things before; true but generally we look at them once they’ve done their active growing, we admire the fern in full leafy spread or the bulbs flowers open to the day rather than stopping to watch nature in motion.

Okay; to return to the joy of discovering new plants here then. This a relative of the Iris known as Dierama pulcherrimum and is able to be grown in most British gardens, commonly called Angels fishing rod it’s a beautiful graceful plant that grows in full sun to semi-shade and produces masses of fantastically bright flowers towards the end of summer when most plants are starting to dim.
It might not look as exotic as Hydnora but with an appearance somewhere between a foxglove and ornamental grass it stands out perfectly in its own right and is quite unlike many of the more well known garden plants.

The natural world is full of curios like these and though we will never come close to knowing them all we can at least keep an eye out for those that are surely around us all the time, if only we paid more attention to the surrounding world. It’s time to pull our heads out of our phones and mp3 players and see the beautiful and fascinating world we live in, from plants to insects to other people we’re all incredibly unique and mind-blowingly amazing.