PUBLISHED: 06:30 01 September 2014
It was on a flying visit to Wyken Farmers' Market that I met this month's wonderfully creative producer, Gabriel Reid, selling beautiful hand-tied posies of spring flowers. Eclectic mixes of flowers and colours gathered together in a relaxed, beautiful way - my kind of flower arranging.
Gabriel’s Garden is based at Gissing, in south Norfolk, specialising in growing best varieties of cottage and country garden seasonal flowers and foliage specifically for cutting.
While Gabbi’s children were growing up, she worked and volunteered for a community playgroup, and trained in early years’ education. When the children were older, she started The Salad Patch, growing, cutting and delivering a wide variety of salad leaves and edible flowers to restaurants, pubs and farmers’ markets. She also grew flowers for cutting, and as her passion for growing seasonal flowers grew, she launched a new business in 2012, Gabriel’s Garden, producing flowers from late March to the first frosts of November.
It’s Gabbi’s amazing knowledge of leaves and edible flowers that fascinates me – I asked her for her top tips for growing these wonderful fresh ingredients.
“Source seeds from a variety of companies such as the ethical and sustainable Real Seed Company, Kings Seeds’ grow your own and the Chase Garden Organic Catalogue. You will find interesting and unusual varieties like the Really Red Deer Tongue lettuce, with its long, pointy, dark red leaves and the rare, pale green, crunchy Reine des Glaces Toothed Crisphead lettuce that combines a crisp heart with frilly, ornately jagged leaves,” says Gabbi.
She goes for varieties that will give a good range of flavours, colours and textures, from the sweet and mild Little Gem to the bitter Endive Pancalieri. “Grow a good balance of Butterhead, Cos, Oakleaf, Crisphead and Lollo Rosso and you will have an endless supply of beautiful tasty salads from April through to November.”
Many of the flowers Gabbi grows for cutting are suitable for eating. The stunning orange, red and yellow of calendula and nasturtium are slightly spicy, and the sky blue borage tastes a little like cucumber.
The sulphurous yellow/green dill flowers work brilliantly with fish, and the delicate and pretty coriander flowers will enhance any Asian dish.
Try thyme flowers with a Mediterrean risotto or paella.
Gabbi’s handy tips
1 Make three sowings – March/April, June/July and Aug/Sept, with six of each variety evenly spaced in a seed tray.
2 When plants have four or five leaves, plant them out, grow in a block formation, planting any red or darker varieties on the outside (slugs seem to prefer the greener salad plants) or grow a row of radish around your salad to distract the slugs.
3 Pick outer leaves from the lettuce, leaving four or five leaves to carry on growing – this way you can harvest from the same plant for several weeks.
4 Grow wild rocket or mustard streaks to add a spicy hot flavour to your salad.
5 Place a tray or plank of wood close to your salad patch; slugs love to crawl under to stay in the shade. Check your tray or plank night and morning and remove any slugs you find underneath.
6 Water regularly in hot and dry weather.
www.gabrielsgarden.co.uk; 01379 677793; 07743920440.
Homemade salad cream
Yolks of two hard-boiled large eggs
2 tbsp English mustard powder
Juice of half a lemon
1 tbsp caster sugar
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
150ml double cream
150ml of light oil (I use sunflower)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place all ingredients, except the oil, salt and pepper in a food processor, and whizz until smooth and creamy, then very slowly add the oil, a little at a time, until the salad cream thickens and emulsifies. Taste and season; if too sharp add a little extra sugar too. There’s no exact science to make a good dressing, it’s more about the flavours you like.
Dressings for a garden salad
I make these two favourite dressings in jam jars and keep them in the fridge - they will keep for a week or more and are cheaper than buying ready-made. Taste dressings as you make them by dipping in a salad leaf, you need a balance of sharpness and sweetness, and seasoning is crucial. The flavour of some oil and vinegars can be so overpowering that it doesn’t matter what other wonderful ingredients you use, there will always be a strong overriding taste.
Simple lemon dressing
1 part rapeseed or olive oil
2 parts freshly squeezed lemon juice
A pinch of salt
Pinch of sugar, if needed
Honey mustard dressing
1dsp apple balsamic
1tsp runny honey
1tsp wholegrain mustard
Freshly ground pepper and salt