Books – How To Grow by Hollie Newton

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As winter approaches, the thoughts of gardeners everywhere are turning to spring, to seed catalogues, and to gardening books. As the soil freezes over, planning what to grow helps keep the chill at bay.

From growing your first wonky courgette to completely transforming a shady patio garden, in How To Grow, self-taught gardener Hollie Newton divulges all the secrets she’s discovered over the past few years as she’s journeyed from gardening novice to vegetable-grower-extraordinaire – all from her pint-sized London garden. With chapters on easy-to-grow veg, fruit, herbs, salad and flowers (along with plenty of tried-and-tested guidance to keeping those plants alive, and delicious recipes to make the most of your haul), you’ll also learn everything from the basics of planning your garden to stylish design ideas.

Focusing on small and urban spaces and including beautiful photography throughout, this is practical advice for a whole new generation of gardeners.

In an extract for Locavore, Hollie guides us in the growing of that peppery, brightly-coloured, flowering annual, the nasturtium.  She also gives us two recipes to best showcase both the leaves and the blossoms.

NASTURTIUMS

Aka ‘Edible Pest Control’. Black fly and caterpillars will attack the heck out of them, but they’re so resilient that two days later, they’ll be back to their tumbling selves. I plant one at each end of my raised bed to soften the edges and add a cascade of bright green and orange to my flagstoned garden.

When: Sow nasturtium seeds in early spring and your plants will go all the way through the autumn and into winter, if it’s mild.

Where: Though they prefer full sunshine, nasturtiums are perfectly happy in partial shade.

How: Rake the soil, then make 20mm-deep holes to sprinkle your seeds into. Cover with a light layer of soil. When seedlings appear, thin out if they’re crowding each other.

Space: Thin plants to 30cm apart.

Harvest: Once up and running, nasturtiums are so rampant that you’ll need to cut them back quite brutally a few times over their growing season, to give space to your other plants. Luckily, the following recipes will mean it’s a harvest, rather than a cull.

Keeping them alive: Nasturtiums are indestructible. In a drought, throw a bit of water at them, but other than that, they’re a force to be reckoned with.

FROM THE GARDEN TO THE TABLE

NASTURTIUM FLOWER SCHNAPPS

Makes 750ml

Here’s what you’ll need:

A big bowlful of nasturtium flowers

750ml schnapps (Doornkaat German Maize Schnapps, if you can find it)

A 750ml decanter, Kilner-style jar or glass container, sterilised 

Let’s start with those deep orange flowers. Infusing their colour and peppery taste into a lean alcoholic base is a great idea and makes for a unique cocktail ingredient (or chilled after-dinner shots, Scandi-style). Its pale peach colour is irresistible and looks splendid sat on a shelf or drinks trolley

Choose the freshest, least-damaged flowers – shake off any bugs – but don’t wash them. Then fill your sterilised decanter with the schnapps, drop in your flowers, giving them a gentle prod/stir around, seal and sit in a cool dark spot. It should take three-ish weeks for the peppery taste to infuse into the vodka.

Give it a try after a week or so. I like a strong peppery taste, but if you want a subtler effect, you might want to strain it sooner.

Then simply strain the liquid through a muslin-lined sieve, pour into a sterilised bottle and make some damn fine cocktails. It’s particularly good served with soda over ice, a fresh nasturtium flower per glass as decoration.

NASTURTIUM LEAF PESTO

Makes about 150g

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 big bowl (about 4 litres in capacity) nasturtium leaves

5 garlic cloves, cut in half

100g of really good Parmesan, grated

120g walnuts

A big big glug of extra virgin olive oil

A clean sterilised screw-top jar, about 150–200g

On to those big beautiful leaves. Nasturtium pesto is a thing of taste-bud-tangling wonder and a real treat to look forward to come nasturtium-cutting-back time.

I’ll be honest, when I first came across a recipe I thought, ‘what’s this hippy shit?’ But as usual, I was being an idiot. Nasturtium pesto is even more delicious than basil pesto. Stirred into spaghetti, sprinkled with Parmesan and accompanied by a chilled glass of white wine, this is summer in a peppery bowl.

Go forth and pesto.

First, get in there and harvest the rampant little rotters. Don’t worry about picking too many, it’s like a triffid; more likely to kill you than vice versa. Wash all the leaves, then pat them dry on some kitchen paper.

Then it’s easy. Chuck the garlic, Parmesan and nasturtium leaves into a blender with the walnuts. If you haven’t got a blender, rip up the leaves and use a pestle and mortar. My stupid blender once broke halfway through, so I had to revert to cave man technology, and it worked a treat. Add the oil and mix thoroughly. When the mixture reaches a finely textured pesto appearance, it’s done.

And that’s it. Nasturtium pesto, ready in minutes.

Pop it in a sterilised sealable container and it’ll keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. In fact, I’m going to eat some right now. Yum.

Follow Hollie on Twitter here.

How To Grow is published by Orion. To buy a copy, click here.

Photography: Rita Osborne.