Wild Flower of the Year – 2013

Every year the German Loki Schmidt Foundation pronounces a wild flower “Blume des Jahres” – Flower of the Year, in order to draw attention to the fact that certain plants and their habitats are endangered. I was particularly pleased to hear last week that the Hepatica nobilis (Liverwort – Leberblümchen) has been declared Flower of the Year 2013.

I love this flower, and if you saw my post in the spring, you will surely understand why. It is the first wild flower to show its pretty colours in March, sometimes even February. Where we live the conditions are perfect; chalky, well-drained soil, and shady and damp, undisturbed woodland floors.

We are fortunate to have so many in our region, since they have died out in some states of Germany already, and are endangered in many others.

When the Hepatica is flowering, no other flowers are yet in bloom – not even the violets – so I have been confused by one thing; imagine snow-covered ground, leafless trees, barely a hint of spring in the warm breeze, the first blue flowers peeping through patches of melting snow, and ….. a light and sweet perfume wafting in drifts across the footpath. Heavenly! I have never found the scent documented, so unless it’s my imagination I have perhaps just been extremely lucky to smell them! They MUST smell slightly, as ants are attracted to the seeds.

Do YOU know this wild flower?

Borage and a Stir-fry

Borago officinalis

Borage, sometimes known as Starflower

(in German Borretsch, or “Gurkenkraut” – cucumber herb)

The borage took a while to get established this year; after the snails tried nibbling it, the slugs also had a go (yes – despite the bristly stems!), and the remaining plants finally started growing in the heat and drought of August. Since September though, they have been looking fabulous, filling in spaces where early poppies and spring bulbs left gaps.

In Germany it is one of the seven herbs used in the “Grüne Soße” -Green Sauce. It is also often added to cucumber salad. It is good for you, containing plenty of vitamin C, and as a herbal remedy it is said to help with stomach disorders, and ease symptoms of the menopause and rheumatism.  I have often used the pretty flowers in salads and for decoration, but recently decided to try the leaves… supposedly similar to spinach….

They are slightly prickly, rather hairy, and quite leathery too. I must admit I was sceptical!

Stir-fry with Borage

This is not really a recipe. Every time I make a stir-fry I add different vegetables – whatever is in season or in the fridge!

Today there were some spring onions and carrots, sliced; a little zucchini and some tofu, cut into small chunks; peanut oil for frying; dark miso paste, garam masala and black pepper for seasoning; a few nasturtium leaves, and some udon noodles. Oh, and a spoonful of leftover sweetcorn! And of course a handful of borage leaves, which were added to the wok right at the end of the cooking time.

With the flowers as decoration it certainly looked good…

The verdict? Tasty! The leaves have a freshness that is hard to describe, but you can taste them beside the other seasonings.  They do not, however, overpower the other flavours at all. If you don’t have any spinach or chard at hand and want to add some greens to a dish, this is a great alternative. The texture is firmer than spinach, similar to that of sage. The prickles and hairs are undetectable after cooking!

A succesful experiment. And a delicious stir-fry!

What do you like to put in a stir-fry?

The Rockery in Autumn

A couple of years ago I was afraid I would lose the star of our rockery, our Japanese Maple, as a fungal infection got one of its main branches. After treating it promptly, and chopping back some overhanging trees to give it breathing space, it seems to have fully recovered. I’m so glad we could save it!

The grasses below the maple come into their own at this time of year, especially when the wind rushes through them.

The tall grass is Miscanthus sinensis, and the short one in front of it is a dwarf Miscanthus – ‘Adagio’, pictured again below. Adagio only grows to about 1.5 metres (under 5 ft), and starts flowering late summer. It’s one of my favourites because I can leave it standing all winter and it doesn’t get untidy or flattened (unless we have really heavy snow).

This grass (pictured below) at the top of the rockery has flourished this year after a slow start last year (planted spring 2011). It is very slow to grow in the early summer, but then suddenly shoots up at the end of August! However, I have noticed it is spreading, so will have to watch it doesn’t become invasive. It was sold to me as a carex, but I’m not sure about that. (Maybe you know what it is?)

Another very good plant for dry ground and autumn colour is the outstanding Persicaria amplexicaulis (Firetail)

It adds height and interest to the rockery in autumn when all other flowers are slowly dying back. The background leaf is a Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald and Gold’ – beautiful all year round.

Note: All these photos were taken last week, and within days the garden has changed, with more golds and the acer’s leaves now falling…

Enjoy the rest of the autumn while it lasts, everyone!