Saturday, March 31, 2007


March came in like a lamb, growled a bit and tried to persuade us it was a lion in the middle, and is now going out like a pussy cat. Milan missed most of the bad weather but much of Italy was hit by snow, hail, winds and so on with predictably disastrous results for agriculture. Here, temperatures dropped and we did have a bit of much needed rain (though not enough ) but nothing that isn’t normal for March.

With the result that the balcony has continued to advance towards spring. The wallflowers, bellis and stock are now coming out, and I even have a petunia in bloom – one of the ones that I grew from seed last year and which made it through the winter. Everything else is back in growth with buds already on some of the antirrhinums, geraniums, unknown daisy flowers and so on. And the seeds that I planted at the beginning of the month have started to germinate – I’ve got nasturtiums, sunflowers, convolvulus, marigolds, zinnias, campanula, alyssum and various other stuff bursting through all over the place. So we’re back in business. As I write the flat is vibrating with the sound of my husband putting up another trellis on the wall of the front balcony – as soon as it warms up just a bit more, I’ll put out the Mandevilla which has been overwintering happily in the front room since November.

March did come in like a lion in another respect though – it’s been an incredibly busy month and I’ve had time for nothing but work. Hence the sad lack of posts recently. But as it’s the last day of the month, I had no choice today but to get up a post on this month’s calendar item – Ramsons, or Bear’s Garlic (Allium Ursinum).

Ramson’s are a member of the onion family and grow well in loamy soil which is no more than slightly acid. They’re often found growing in large numbers in woodland – as in the picture from the calendar. The alternative name, Bear’s Garlic, comes from the fact that brown bears like to eat the bulbs and frequently dig up the plants to get at them. As do wild boars – I wonder if they grow down in Tuscany.

The leaves flowers and bulbs of ramsons are all edible, but most of the suggestions I’ve found involve using the young leaves – in salads, soups, or turned into a kind of pesto. Or even in ham sandwiches. Ramsons apparently help in cases of high blood pressure and guard against arteriosclerosis – they stop cholesterol accumulating in the arteries.

It looks to me like a plant that it would be fun to add to a kitchen garden, and I found the seeds for sale on
this site. They should be planted in the autumn, and I may well give it a try this year. I’ve never come across the site before, so can’t vouch for how reputable it is, but it is mentioned in the book which I posted on earlier this year Curious Incidents in the Garden at Night-Time. It interested me because it sells a lot of wildflower mixtures aimed at attracting beneficial insects and wildlife. It's not the glossiest, slickest site I've ever come across, but the content looks good. If you’re outside the EU, check out their page on the phytosanitary certificate which will ensure that the seeds you buy will make it through customs.

The calendar warns, though, of mixing Ramsons up with Lily of the Valley or Colchicum if you find them in the wild. Both of these are deadly poisonous, but have leaves which look very similar. Won’t be a problem when they’re flowering, but don’t risk it if you’re not sure. Stick to the kitchen garden.

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