Monday, 26 May 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: Sweet William, Martha, Nigella and Sarah


Down the allotment at half seven this morning I suddenly realised that my first bunch of home-grown flowers was ready for the picking. Not my first bunch this year - my first bunch ever. I feel peacefully happy walking away clutching my handful of stems. Sweet Williams are one of my favourite flowers for their patchwork of pinks and rubies, and have one of those perfumes that sums up early summer.

I don't think Sarah Raven should get worried that I'm after her job quite yet, but I feel just as self-satisfied as when I made my very first cake out of Nigella. Raven and Lawson have a lot to answer for in the Martha Stewart-isation of a whole generation of women like me who were brought up to think we should aim at the very least to be Chair of BP. Now, our fiercest ambition is focused on the idea of having our own cutting gardens.

I don't think this shift is a bad thing, though. It doesn't mean that we're aiming lower - just at different things. (It's even been alleged that Stewart, Lawson and Raven make us feel unbearable levels of social pressure to have a perfect home, make a perfect meringue and grow perfect peonies. In the face of all that, quite a few women might opt for running BP as the easier option.)

Surely none of these domestic goddesses imagines she is putting pressure on others: Nigella is all about making it possible for everybody to bake; Sarah Raven wants everybody to grow flowers at home, to have the pleasure of walking outside and choosing what colours and shapes to bring into the house.

But if you find Raven too much - and some do - try one of my favourite domestic over-achievers: Linda Beutler, who wrote Garden to Vase, about growing and using your own cut flowers. I have to warn you, she has a fairly Hawaiian sense of how to make a flower arrangement. But the book is stuffed with information from someone with years of experience, and is detailed and full of tips. 

In particular, Linda Beutler's practical advice for cutting flowers is great:

  • Cutting flower stems with a diagonal cut, to increase surface area for absorbing water, is "the single most important factor in flower longevity."

  • Cut flower stems with secateurs, not scissors, for a better, cleaner cut.

  • Revitalise tulips and roses by recutting the ends and lying them horizontally immersed in a warm bath.

  • Keep flowers longer by adding a quarter teaspoon of bleach to the water to kill germs (must admit, haven't actually tried that one yet).

However I feel ready to graduate to School of Raven. I just ordered The Cutting Garden on Amazon: wish me luck.

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