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22/09/2021

Gardening with Jo: Luscious lavender

With Jo McGarry of Caragh Nurseries

Gardening with Jo: Luscious lavender

A couple of weeks ago I looked out on my two troughs of lavender which are situated just outside my kitchen windows.

Their colour was at its very best and they were attracting a lovely large swatch of bees and butterflies - just the way I intended it. But as I look out now, the lavender is just starting to fade, so what to do with it now?

Well, I always cut the majority of my flower heads and dry those for lots of purposes. I love having small bunches of dried flowers in jars and small vases throughout the house for their wonderful scent - and also to remind me of the summer months. I dry lots and lots of bunches, usually in my laundry room, tied with string to dry out. I would also use a small sprig tucked inside a napkin ring when having friends and family over for dinner. I use some in the wardrobes to keep away that musty smell.

Only trim your lavender at this time of year, as in a good year you will get another flush and it provides another lot of feed for those late butterflies and birds. You will cut it again later in the year, I cut mine back to within 3-4 inches to ensure fresh, soft growth next year.

To grow lavender well, you need a sunny, sheltered spot with drier soil as it won’t like being too wet. It rots and nobody wants that.

I grow lavender hidcote, it works the best for me and creates that swathe-like effect that I mentioned. It also goes under the name Angustifolia. Never cut lavender early in the morning or after rain, as it needs to be as dry as possible.

Soap making

I have tried my hand at making lavender soap, although I have never tried extracting the oil. I have also made lavender focaccia and lavender and lemon drizzle cake, which is my absolute favourite.

I made my lavender soaps as gifts one year and they were very well received (it was more in the packaging than it was the soap, I expect) - although I did have to buy lavender essential oil to intensify the scent. I bought soap moulds cheaply on eBay, and here is what I did;

* Place 1 pound of glycerin goat’s milk soap inside a microwavable bowl.

* Melt the soap in the microwave at 10 second intervals until soap is fully melted and creamy in appearance. Stir between intervals. It takes about 6-8 intervals in total to fully melt. Don’t overcook as the soap may burn.

* Pour the mixture into the soap moulds. Before the surface of the soap sets, insert a sprig of lavender leaves onto the top of the soap. If the surface has already hardened, gently poke the surface with the end of the stem to release some melted soap to help hold the leaves in place.

* Let the soap fully set in the mold for at least one hour before removing. Wrap it in decorative paper or tissue and tie with a simple piece of twine.

Another thing I am told, for all the bakers out there, is amazing is lavender macarons - will somebody give it a try and send me the recipe please? For my favourite lavender and lemon drizzle cake here is the recipe which is by Diana Henry and is just divine.

FOR THE CAKE:

300g granulated sugar

¾ tablespoon dried lavender

175g plain flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

250g Greek yogurt

125ml mild olive oil or sunflower oil

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 1 tablespoon juice

FOR THE ICING AND DECORATION:

1 egg white

150g icing sugar, sifted

Squeeze of lemon juice

6-8 sprigs of fresh lavender

Caster sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 180°C/fan oven 160°C/mark 4. Put the sugar and lavender into a food processor and whizz until the lavender has broken down. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Add the lavender sugar. In a jug, mix together the eggs with the yogurt and oil.

Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and gradually pour in the wet ingredients, stirring as you go. Add the lemon zest and juice. Be careful not to overmix. Scrape into a base-lined and buttered cake tin, 20cm diameter and 6cm deep.

Bake in the oven for 55 minutes, or until the cake is coming away from the sides of the tin and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Turn out the cake, peel off the paper and set on a wire rack to cool.

For the icing, beat the egg white with a fork to break it down, then put half of it in another bowl. Mix the icing sugar with the remaining half egg white, beating until smooth. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Spoon over the top of the cake, allowing the icing to drip down the sides.

To make sugared lavender, dip sprigs in the reserved egg white and dust all over with caster sugar (not too thickly). Set on a wire rack somewhere warm and dry. When the sugar is dry, decorate the cake with the sprigs.

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