Alys Fowler tries to avoid shop-bought fruit and veg and live off home-grown produce. Alys shows how flowers and herbs bring the garden and kitchen to life.
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I'm Alys Fowler.
I'm a gardener and a writer.
I grew up in the countryside,
but now my husband and I live in the city.
I get pleasure from the simple things.
My chickens, home-grown food,
and sharing nature's gifts with friends.
-A house warming present.
-Thank you. That is beautiful.
This is my garden, a small Victorian terrace backyard,
around 20 foot by about 60.
That's my finger.
This year, I'm experimenting and trying to avoid
shop bought fruit and veg and live off my own home-grown produce.
But this won't be easy because I want my garden to be both beautiful
This week, I am focusing on the flowers and herbs that flavour my food,
colour my home and attract wonderful wildlife into my garden.
They're my garden garnishes.
Showing how your plot can be pretty and edible,
even if you live in the city.
A purist would say that the only flowers you should have in an edible landscape are ones you can eat,
but there are just too many that I love too much
to stick to such extreme rules,
so instead I've chosen to keep flowers in my garden that I can use for several purposes.
Some of them need to be edible and then there's others that I can use for cut flowers.
But the third group, they're perhaps more important than all the others.
I have a group of flowers which are just here for the insects.
The beneficial predators, the pollinators -
these are the things that actually make my garden work.
Without the pollinators I would be bereft of fruit, flowers and vegetables
and my garden would be a very sorry place.
But my garden must feed me as well as the insects,
and provide cut posies for my home and for my friends.
And if I'm clever, I can use flowers that will satisfy more than one of these needs.
For instance violas, calendulas and poppies can all be both eaten
but are also a good source of nectar and pollen for insects,
and then other plants like the valerian or the verbenas, those that will bring in bees
and other good insects are just as lovely in a vase in my house.
So I get to eat something, I get to put something in my house and the insects get something to forage in.
In high summer there is plenty of food to go round.
Flowers and herbs from my kitchen and nectar for the insects too.
But in spring it's more of a challenge,
because at this time of year there's not many flowers out in the garden, so any bees and pollinators
that are around are desperately looking for kind of nectar.
I am in the classic late spring/ early summer hungry gap,
which is one of my winter crops are coming over
and I haven't really established enough of my spring/summer crops.
You can get out of this gap if you plan a bit better but I didn't!
And by this time next year, my hungry gap will be filled with a range of leafy greens to call on,
like kale and chard, along with some late winter salad crops.
But despite my lack of planning this year I already have a few established herbs,
such as this aromatic purple sage that appears all year round.
And for the insects, I have early sources of nectar from the beautiful spring blossoms on my magnolia tree.
But the big hitters in my April borders are rosemary and rocket.
Of all of my garden garnishes, rocket is one of the most beautiful, obeying all of my three rules.
It's a delicious tender salad leaf, and if you keep your plants over winter,
their early flowers are a welcome sight in spring and the insects get a good meal too.
I love rocket because it's a really pretty flower.
It's got this lovely sort of antique veining up it and it's edible.
It's got a very mild rocket flavour.
It's very nice to put in salads.
'Whilst rocket brings a feast of flavour to the table,
'this sun-loving rosemary will give me evergreen garnishes throughout the year.
'It's a drought-loving herb, with aromatic leaves that need a minimal haircut to keep it happy each year.
'In return, it will offer untold rewards, decade after decade.
'Herbs fulfil many uses in the garden, both as medicine and for culinary purposes,
'and so this group of plants fill the gap between your vegetables and your ornamentals.
'At this time of year, rosemary adds a delicate flavour to my home-made bread.
'I just add a tablespoon of chopped leaves into the dough and bake as normal.
'And as the year progresses, there will be poppy and sunflower seeds to add variety to my loaves.'
It's hard to be good at making bread and when the right loaf comes out...
..it's a very...
You're very grateful for your daily bread
when it all comes together.
'It's May and the warm weather means my first chance to plant out the beautiful Verbena bonariensis,
'which bears her wispy purple flowers from late July.
'For me she's the supermodel of my border catwalk. Slim, elegant and irresistible to my winged visitors.'
You can always tell you've got a good plant if you can see roots...
just beginning to come out.
It's not root bound, but the roots have taken up the entire pot,
and a sign of a perfectly happy plant, they're just...
You can just tease them out as gently as possible because you want
them to get out and into your soil as quickly as possible.
And the trick is always to make sure that you've got the level of the pot
at the level of soil.
The lovely thing about verbena is that at this stage it doesn't
look much, but it grows very tall, and is completely airy, you can see right the way through it,
and then on the top it has lovely deep purple flowers,
and it won't shade out any of the vegetables around it,
so it's perfect for here and will bring in a lot of bees and pollinators.
I can also use it as a cut flower.
And, if you didn't need any more it will flower right the way through to the first frost.
'Whilst Verbena bonariensis is a perennial, my sunflowers are annual plants.
'One-off wonders giving a virtuoso performance in late summer,
'followed by an edible winter encore for the hungry birds and me.'
I sowed these seedlings back in February and I'm planting them out at the back of my border,
because they'll develop into towering ten foot displays
and my fence will provide them with support.
'Although our gardens are often enclosed by walls and fences, they needn't be a barrier to friendship,
'or for that matter to wildlife.'
It's unfortunate that our countryside is not
full of more small fields and lots of wild flowers, but the reality is it's not,
so the back garden has suddenly become a really important resource for the insect world.
The more flowers you can put in the garden and the longer that those flowers can go over
so that you have flowers in January right through to December,
then you suddenly have this incredibly important habitat.
Many little back gardens together filled with flowers and fruit and vegetables
actually make a huge resource for the insect world, particularly the bees.
And for me, bees are the life blood of the garden,
an echo of the countryside in the midst of city life.
I'm keen to know where my own garden bees come from,
so it's time to pay the beekeepers in my local park a visit.
So what exactly is the honey made out of then, the nectar?
The nectar and the moisture in it is reduced.
How far will they travel in a day?
About a three-mile radius of the hive.
So the bees that I see in my garden must be your bees then.
-Could well be.
-Because I'm just over there.
You're not going to charge us for it, are you? It does my whole heart good.
No, but it is funny, because you see one come and find something they like, and then you suddenly see...
-I want to get a fuller one.
-..hundreds of them.
Honey bees will go to one flower that's yielding nectar in the morning
and they'll stick with that all day.
-Now that is a load of nectar coming in, can you see it glistening?
If you turn it over on the other side, when it's ripe they cover it over with wax.
'Urban honey is holding its own against its country cousins
'because of the different nectar sources our small back gardens can provide.
'And every hive produces unique honey because the flavour depends on the flowers
'the bees are visiting.'
If you want honey as good as the stuff these guys make,
then you need lots of bees and more importantly lots of flowers.
Mmm. So sweet.
Insects are the same as guests.
Some are always welcome and others only arrive when your larder's full
and proceed to eat you out of house and home.
The trick is to get the balance right, because then your welcome guests will see off
the ones only intent on vandalism.
Sometimes you have to make a leap of faith when you're asking nature to do your pest control.
For ages these seed heads have been covered in aphids,
but yesterday I noticed a whole host of ladybird larvae
and these guys are munching their way through the aphids.
Then there are also hover fly larvae doing exactly the same job.
So by waiting and just having that extra bit of faith, the problem's going to be taken care of.
Even so, I do give a helping hand when I can
by picking off caterpillars which the chickens simply love.
This honesty is absolutely covered...
in cabbage white caterpillars.
Very large cabbage white caterpillars.
Although I don't really mind them being on the honesty because it means at least they've left my
cabbages and kale alone, I think there's slightly too much of a population here,
and as a treat, a welcoming present for the chicks,
I thought I would do just a little bit of pest control.
Here chicky, chicky, chicks.
Look what I've got for you!
June sees the arrival of another champion in my edible garden.
Their flowers offer colourful edging to my borders
and nectar for the insects throughout the summer months.
I use both the leaves and the flowers to flavour and embellish my seasonal meals.
For me, herbs are such an essential part of an edible garden,
that you need to keep them close by for easy pickings.
Many of the most kind of useful herbs around the patio, so that come winter when it's dark and wet
and muddy, I don't have far to go, and then all the way along the path there are various different chives.
Chinese chives, garlic chives, mouse garlic.
Normal ordinary chives.
I can't really get enough of those.
This is Sweet Cecily. It's an amazing herb. It smells of aniseed.
It's exactly the smell.
It's quite sweet.
But it has this lovely delicious anise flavour and you use it in puddings and apple pies and
things like that. It's lovely.
'June is also the perfect time to make elderflower champagne, so my brewing partners Jeremy
'and Ingrid, are joining me on a floral forage for the ingredients.'
I think it's best to go for the ones which are really in flower.
Yes. Try not to get any that are discoloured in any way.
How many does the recipe say we need?
If we're going to do 10-12 litres, something like that, we're going to need about 35 heads.
How strong you do think it's going to be, the champagne?
They call it champagne but it's not going to be as strong as champagne.
It's going to be more like a weak lager, something like that.
It's always the way that the really good ones are really high up, isn't it?
Yes. It's that sun thing, isn't it.
It's also important that we don't get... THEY LAUGH
-..we don't the leaves and stalks.
-OK. Why's that?
Because there's some sort of cyanide or poison in there.
Yeah, they smell, you can tell that though when you break the leaf up.
I mean that smell, that's really bitter, it's just clearly unpleasant, isn't it?
The hot water is boiling.
Excellent. Right well, let's start with the champagne.
Back at theirs it's just a matter of throwing the ingredients together.
That's sugar dissolved in boiling water and
then topped up with more water and then the elderflower heads.
We're only using this just to... dissolve the sugar.
Because if we were to put the flowers in now
with the boiling water, it would kill all the yeast on the flower heads,
so we wouldn't have an alcoholic brew at all.
'Elderflowers have a natural yeast on them, so there's no need for a brewing yeast.'
It smells brilliant as well.
'But to give it a kick, there's the zest and juice of lemons and limes,
'followed by a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar.'
So the important bit is how long before we actually get to drink champagne?
We will be drinking this at its earliest within two weeks.
It does improve with age.
The warmth of July heralds the harvest of two more of my garden garnishes, mint and lavender.
For me, lavender is a must-have plant.
It is kept happiest in well-drained soil and loves a warm, sunny spot.
Mint though, grows any where, sun or shade, with very little maintenance, so it's one of my essential herbs.
One of the nicest things to grow is your own mint tea.
It's incredibly easy. It's just as happy in a pot as it is in the ground,
and all it needs is good, rich, compost to grow fat and happy.
The more you pick, the more it sprouts, so you pick all summer long
and then come towards the end of summer you cut the plant back and dry it for winter use and that's it.
Simple as that.
All mint makes great tea but ginger mint,
lemon mint and black stemmed peppermint
make a fantastic brew.
There are lots of different varieties of mint but the one thing they all have in common
is that they tend to spread, so it's best to plant them in pots.
CRASH OF THUNDER
It seems that the summer's over before it begun and we've two weeks of solid rain.
-It's not easy to be a good vegetable grower when you've got
this much rain constantly, because the slugs keep coming out,
there's too much, there's just not enough sun for good growth.
It's really heart breaking.
Sometimes you break absolutely everything - your back, your heart, your nails.
The whole experience hurts.
The fact is, even the Met Office agree that this summer is rubbish.
And when the garden is too wet for words, I turn to the kitchen for solace.
This is not the summer I asked for.
And my way to get myself out of this slight funk about the British weather
is just to bake. And lavender biscuits,
there's nothing more summery than the smell of lavender biscuits.
They say summer indoors even if it's not summer outdoors.
It's good, isn't it, Iz?
I've chopped some lavender leaves into the biscuit mixture and put a few flowers on top.
But the flavour is quite strong so it's best not to overdo it.
As the rain clouds pass and the sun comes out, so do the hot colours of the season.
My edible firecrackers have arrived.
Summer flowers unfurling from my vegetable crops.
Others are are springing from seed I sowed directly on to the the soil in spring.
All are perfect for picking.
Now I don't think anybody in their right mind would suggest that you can dine solely off flowers.
But a few nasturtiums, a stuffed courgette,
some chicory petals,
the lovely bright colours of calendula.
The point about them is to use flowers
in your cooking much the same way as you would in your garden.
They're just there to kind of decorate.
Often, more often than not it's just the petals which are edible.
Scatter them through salads or across soups.
They're there to make the whole thing look pretty.
August arrives and my slender supermodel Verbena bonariensis is striking a pose.
What's more, the bees adore her.
My garden garnishes are reaching a glut.
Something I'm very keen to take advantage of.
The classic Herbes de Provence, those main stay of cooking, that's bay, thyme, rosemary, sage
and winter savory, all have fairly similar requirements.
They want very free draining soil.
They want to be in full sun and they need to be used a lot.
The whole point about herbs is you eat them.
If you don't keep cutting and keep harvesting you get leggy plants and they're no good because you
get less and less leaves,
so the more you pick and the more you use,
the healthier your herbs will be.
It's good to know where herbs originate from in order to get the best flavours.
Thyme for instance comes from the harsh Mediterranean, so it really can't cope with too much love.
Too much food, too much water and it gives up.
So if you want thyme, be mean.
And when you want a plant like basil, mint or parsley,
and you want a good amount of leaves and you don't want them tough,
you want them tender and sort of soft,
then there's no point starving them of love.
You get those leaves by good rich soil and lots of water.
Of course every garden has a range of conditions.
So it's worth thinking about where each herb will thrive before planting out.
But a garden or kitchen without herbs would be a sorry place.
'And as my friend Rachel is moving house,
'I hope my herb bouquet will be the perfect house warming gift.'
-It's a little house warming bouquet.
-Some of the herbs you should need until your own garden gets going.
-Gorgeous. What's that?
That's mouse garlic, and you just let it dry and put it in soups.
Then there's sage, Vietnamese coriander, which is good in stir-fries.
Oregano, thyme, bay and I think there's some rosemary down the middle.
-So just hang it upside down and let it dry naturally.
Gorgeous. Are you going to give me a hand?
I've had my chickens for three months now and they're very happy hens laying daily,
so summer for me means fresh omelettes with home-grown herbs.
Every day I get two eggs,
one from Gertrude and the brown one from Alice.
I sort of feel now that a life without chickens is a life half lived really.
They're such lovely, sweet, easy to look after animals.
It's that whole cottage sort of economy thing, you know they're really kind of resourceful animals
to have because you can just recycle all sorts of things into their lifestyle, and in return
you get the eggs.
So even the shell of the eggs I wash, and then I give it back to them as a form of grit.
And then they eat it and can make more shell. They're just lovely.
They're a complete kind of recycling loop.
Aren't you, girls? Yes, you two.
Little that you know about it though.
Hey Isobel, omelettes.
Isobel, come on.
One of the joys of growing your own is that you get to eat things that aren't in the shops.
I'm going to use mainly oriental herbs,
because I've found it makes a really great omelette.
Firstly I'm chopping up Japanese bunching onions.
They're a bit like spring onions but sweeter and less pungent.
They sound exotic but they're simple to grow.
The first one, perilla, is a herb with a delicious bitter flavour.
I bought my plants in pots, from my local gardening show back in June.
Then there is mitsuba, it's the Japanese equivalent to parsley and tastes a little like celery.
And to complete the flavours, I am adding chillies, grown in pots on my patio.
They'll be a very good alternative take on the herb omelette.
Before then, I need to whip some eggs into shape.
Time to enjoy a summer lunch cooked exclusively from my garden larder.
No food miles. No chemicals.
Two happy hens and a handful of herbs.
By September, it's clear that the natural cycles I've been trying to create are working and the garden
is mostly taking care of itself.
The sunflowers I planted back in May are at their most glorious
and I'm still picking salads and herbs every day.
Then right on cue an Indian summer arrives.
It's a mellow month, beckoning me to sit back and enjoy its fruits.
I love camping with friends.
But even here flowers and herbs that have decorated the garden
and my food all summer long are on the menu.
This is the most girlie tent now.
Along with Jeremy's elderflower champagne.
To friends, elderflower champagne and our beautifully decorated bell tent.
Is there any more?
Next week, I'm looking at how my garden can furnish me with a winter store cupboard.
It's all about the plants that will keep me fed into autumn and
those that will provide me with gluts that I can store over winter.
-Look at that. And I did nothing.
-I'll share it with you.
And I'll be meeting two friends who know everything there is to know about pickling and preserving.
That smells really nice.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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Alys Fowler attempts to avoid shop-bought fruit and vegetables and live off her own, home-grown produce, all from her tiny terraced back garden. It's no easy task because Alys doesn't want to turn her garden into an allotment, so she's growing her fruit and vegetables among her flowers.
Alys focuses on different foods and shows how anyone can grow, cook and eat from their own garden, even if they live in a city.
In Alys's pretty but productive backyard, she grows flowers and herbs for many reasons: to flavour her food, to decorate her home and to attract wildlife essential for the health and productivity of her garden. From herb omelettes and bread made with rosemary to salads of edible blooms, flowers and herbs are the garden garnishes that bring both the garden and kitchen to life.