Friday, 2 May 2008

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb.... and sweet cicely

Our terracotta rhubarb forcer, handmade at The Potting Shed in Hexham, has produced some wonderful, delicate stems, vivid in colour, delicious in taste. We cook them with chunks of stem ginger, using a little of the ginger's sticky syrup, and a couple of large leaves of sweet cicely; its aniseed flavour and natural sweetening happen to grow at the perfect time to be used with the rhubarb. As a wildflower, sweet cicely grows particularly well in Northumberland because it likes the cool river banks and road verges, being the first umbellifer to flower in the spring. We have it on display in the main herb border, growing in the sun, though it does especially well in semi-shade.

The last few days of warmth have brought the garden on in a tremendous burst - it was just waiting for the end of the cold weather, poised in energy. I find it hard to believe that it happens so quickly, when I look at a verdant fern that I last saw (surely only a week ago) as tiny croziers. The daffodils and tulips are colouring the beds and this picture is of the centre of the formal beds which later will be a fuzz of acid green from lady's mantle.

The formal beds are planned not just for colour but to be attractive to insects from early spring to late autumn; tulips and daffodils followed by two different salvias, 'Blue Queen' and 'Rose Queen', and the lady's mantle, then Verbena bonariensis following for several months and Sedum spectabile as a final banquet. The formality contrasts nicely with the naturalistic planting of the rest of the garden and the lawns are a welcome green space to sit - or lie, as I found last year when seeing a man flat on his back, gazing up at the sky through the massed purple heads of the verbena!


Anonymous said...

in the south of england, it's cow parsley that is the first umbellifer to flower in spring, but in the north it is indeed sweet cicely which is abundant in Northumberland. sweet aniseed taste and a lovely name, i always think.

daphne said...

Mmm. sweet cicely and rhubarb is spring in its essence.