Kitchen Garden Notebook in April
By Ian James, gardener, and co-custodian of Water Lane
Ian shares some of his expert tips and thoughts for making the most of your garden this month.
Spring has properly sprung, and Water Lane is a hive of activity in both the garden and kitchen as we prepare for the full growing season ahead of us. It’s wonderful to be outside with Spring sunshine on our faces, after what has felt, I think by many, a very long winter. It is of course Easter this month and that means hot cross buns, either bought or homemade, it doesn’t matter as long as they’re toasted and thickly buttered, a long and relaxed Easter lunch and copious bunches of jewel-coloured tulips, from ruffled Parrots, flamboyant Rembrandts, to the classic daintiness of the Single Late varieties.
April brings longer days and lighter and warmer evenings. It can feel like a mad dash this month but take your time and beware of late frosts. Never plant in ground that’s too wet or still too cold; if in any doubt, always leave planting out until another day. My best advice is to buy a thermometer, as any late frosts will kill tender seedlings.
In the vegetable garden:
Sowing outside can now start in earnest. Brassicas, legumes, roots and stems, alliums, salads can all be sown
Pot on or transplant your earlier sowings from undercover - make sure you harden off or protect young plants from frost
Take a walk on the wild side and forage for young nettles. The new tender green growth on nettles is as delicious in the kitchen (use as spinach or basil to make pesto, gnocchi, pasta or stir into soups and risottos) as it is helpful in the garden. Make a simple nettle ‘tea’ by loosely packing a large bucket with freshly picked and roughly chopped nettles, cover in collected rainwater and place a lid, ajar, over the bucket. Stir every day while the brew ferments for up to two weeks. Strain and bottle. The brew is potent, and to be totally honest smells awful, and you must remember to dilute it 1 part to 10 parts water, before using it to fertilize your plants. A sustainable, free and at your (gloved!) fingertips solution for happy and healthy plants
In the flower garden
It’s no less busy in the productive flower garden as the time has come to sow in earnest half hardy annuals. These flowers germinate quickly and rocket up in the cutting bed. Our favourites at Water Lane are all destined for the florists’ bucket or for arranging. It’s an added bonus that these simple, beautiful and unfussy flowers are beloved by the pollinators who have easy access to their rich nectar. Try sowing Cosmos, Nicotiana, Tagetes and Zinnia and see your garden awash with colour, while listening to the contented murmur of bees and butterflies
It’s time to plant out your Autumn sown sweet peas. Let them start to grow on before pinching out the side shoots and tendrils to maximise strong and bushy growth. Ensure you have adequate support in place at the time of planting, not only for Sweet Peas but also other climbing and rambling plants
If you’ve been bringing on your Dahlia tubers undercover, it’s the perfect time to take a cutting or two to boost your collection. In the first year of flowering dahlia’s are generally more floriferous than older plants so if you love a particular variety making cuttings will help create a steady succession. Similarly, take Chrysanthemum cuttings in readiness for an autumn show
Roses will appreciate their first feed of the season and mulch perennials in readiness for peak growing season
April is a lovely month to be in the kitchen. Yes alright, we’re at the tail end of the Hungry Gap, but goodness, there’s so much to be excited about. The new season British Asparagus will be with us by the end of the month and before that there’s wild garlic and new season nettles, encouraging us out in the woods and hedgerows for a healthy dose of vitamin D, while bringing home supper, to boot. One of the nicest things to do with a few large handfuls of wild garlic is to wash and pat dry, before mincing finely and mashing into an obscene amount of butter with a few twists of freshly ground black pepper, flaky sea salt and a grating or two of lemon zest, before massaging inside and out of a whole chicken and under the skin, before pot roasting in a lidded casserole pot. The verdant pungentness of the wild garlic is tempered by the richness of the butter, mingled with chicken juices. Heaven with a simple rice pilaf or orzo.
Jersey Royals have arrived too. These celebrities of the spud world deserve to be hero-worshipped. Simply steam or boil and serve with soft and floppy butterhead lettuce, beetroot slices, boiled and halved free-range eggs (our favourite eggs are from Ashford based farm LAM), crunchy sourdough croutons and a punchy Dijon mustard, cream, and tarragon dressing.
Wild garlic is a genuine seasonal joy, and it will be gone almost as soon as you spot it. Preserve wild garlic by making a pesto like sauce with walnuts, a little garlic and grated Ashmore, a Kentish cheddar style hard cheese from Canterbury. Using a pestle and mortar, or a small food processor, blitz the just blanched and squeezed dry wild garlic leaves with rapeseed oil, salt and a little apple cider vinegar, or wild garlic vinegar if you have it, until you have a chunky sauce for spreading, dipping and folding through hot pasta.
[This piece originally appeared in the March issue of Kent Life]