Posts in Spring
Embracing the Elements

We’re currently at the time of year when the weather throws almost everything it has at us, often in the space of a single day. It’s not unknown in these parts to have sudden snows followed by fast thaws in April (last year’s alarmingly submerged garden being a case in point). Days can start off bright and sunny, if stingingly cold, only to turn dark and stormy a few hours later. Suddenly, as the rain hammers against the windows, that planned afternoon walk doesn’t seem like such a good idea after all.

And yet… There are times and places when the bluster is to be embraced. I looked up the meaning of ‘Elements’online and the definition(s) were very interesting. These, in particular:

‘…strong winds, heavy rain, or other kinds of bad weather’

and

‘…a person's or animal's natural or preferred environment’.

The two can go together.

There’s something incredibly life-affirming about walking up on the moors on a dark, gusty day. Perhaps it’s those Bronte novel evocations: hurrying across the spongy moss and springy heather whilst rooks circle above and gnarled, stooped old hawthorns are bent further sideways by the wind. Or simply the wild, rugged landscape providing the perfect foil for leaden skies and howling gales.

An empty beach on a stormy afternoon can be a wonderful place. The waves crashing and the smell of ozone, the blackness of wet rock and the sheer desertedness can, in an odd way, be balm for the soul. Just as with homeopathy and its basic philosophy of curing like with like, time spent outdoors embracing the elements can actually help still a turbulent mind. You become aware of your place in the universe; you gain perspective and step out of any troubling thoughts. As the wind stings your face and your eyes water, as the whistling and crashing replaces any internal chatter, you become more aware of what’s surrounding you rather than what’s going on within.

Yes, a beach is beautiful on a still summer’s day. So is a meadow, or a clearing under the trees. If I get time alone during the temperate months I sometimes escape to a little secret spot of mine, high on some banking above the woods and river. I lie back in the long grass and listen to the hum of the insects. I feel the warmth from the sun and the ground beneath me, and watch the white clouds above.

But if we only went outdoor adventuring in ‘good’ weather – well, we’d spend an awful lot of our time indoors. Particularly in Britain.

So, what to do during those long weeks where all it seems to do is rain? Some of us may subscribe to the Scandinavian notion that ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’. We might pull on the waterproofs and wellies and get out there anyway. Others may just decide that we’d rather stay home and dry. What then?

Rather a long time ago, I wrote a blog post titled ‘Proximity’. It was all about my dreams of a veranda where I could sit on rainy or snowy days and observe the weather and the garden, perhaps from under a blanket. I’d still be dry and warm but I’d be able to breathe in the damp earth smell, listen to the birds, hear the rain falling on the roof above me. We can still protect ourselves from the elements without being sealed behind double glazing, cocooned by central heating, separated from the outdoors. Veranda or not – taking shelter in a greenhouse or a garden shed brings us that bit closer to nature.

When we first moved to this house (around 18 months ago) I hated our bedroom. The ceiling is vaulted to show off the heavy oak beams. The sound of passing tractors and quarry trucks seemed super-amplified without any attic space above us and I tried to convince my other half to put in a false ceiling, insulated to muffle any unwelcome sounds. I didn’t get my way and, admittedly, I’m glad. There’s nothing more comforting on a night when the rain’s coming down in stair rods than lying in bed with a book and listening to it hitting the slates.

As a child, I’d stand with my brother, the front door wide open, watching thunderstorms. The thrill of seeing the road transform into a river, the lightening crackling across the sky whilst we were safe, even if just inches away from it, was something not to be missed. It was on just the right side of daring. Not for me, hiding under the bed! It was doing something a little bit dangerous but without any real danger there, the meteorological equivalent of putting just the one toe onto the ice before jumping back again.

Have you experienced the outdoor places you love, the special ones, where you’re in your ‘element’, in all weathers? (Perhaps not the woods on a windy day, from a purely common sense point of view). I don’t know why, but some of mine always draw me there on wilder days. Just like some of them are, to me, very autumnal or wintry places, these spots call out to me when the weather turns.

Of course, as well as blowing away the cobwebs, there’s something rewarding about coming home again with red cheeks and smarting ears and tangled hair. You appreciate those home comforts all the more. Perhaps it’s all about contrasts, extremes even. You have to experience one in order to fully appreciate the other.

Microadventures: Where The Trees Grow…

Today is the first post from our new Adventure Editor, Chelsea. If you haven't seen our introduction to the new editors yet, head over here to find out more.

When I imagine adventurous escapades, I think of climbing up intimidating rock faces, trekking across uncertain terrain and paddling downstream as though your life depended on it.  However, as I embark deeper onto my Walk 1000 2017 challenge, I’m finding that everyday is an adventure, it just depends on your perspective. Last month, I walked through forests and woodlands and not only did I meet a few interesting souls along the way, it brought back much loved childhood memories. I’ve come to the conclusion that woodlands and forests certainly match the definition of a microadventure:

“Outdoor adventure that is small and achievable for normal people with real lives.” Alastair Humphreys

The woodland next door to my Nan’s house was a playground for me whilst growing up. Winter saw us re-purposing bin bags as sledges and whooshing down the banks, dodging the trees.  Autumn saw us enjoying the crunchy leaves.  Spring saw us picking bluebells and daffodils. Summer saw us playing hide and seek, hoping we wouldn't be found, yet our laughter echoed for all to hear.

We eventually moved near to a valley. Mum and I along with our two cats in the summer would go deep into the valley equipped with a packed lunch and an art set. We’d attempt to paint the scenery as Merlin and Misty played in the grass, trying to catch the gentle and unsuspecting field mice.  I was too young to perhaps appreciate how valuable this part of my childhood was.  Although I do remember cloud watching and marvelling at the idea that this paradise belonged to me.  There were many happy memories in that valley including learning to ride my first bike which resulted in a very nasty nettle rash!

Then I grew up - teenage years hit and I preferred to hang out with the local crowd; my priorities changed, unfortunately. Fast forward a decade and I met my partner who grew up in his Grandad’s forest, we moved to tree-infested Wales and just like that, my love for being surrounded by life’s giants has come back again.

"As a child I used to play in the woods with my best friend, we had a tree we called the Diamond Tree as we used to polish stones and hide them in a little nook at the bottom.”  Caroline Devonport

As I said in the beginning, Alistair’s definition of a microadventure matches perfectly with the woodland and forestry terrain since they’re accessible and mostly free to everyone in the UK.  For those of us who can’t take off for X amount of time because of commitments and such things, we do have our forests and woodlands to take time out in. I think they’re a perfect environment for young minds just starting out and equally for grown ups who want to reconnect with nature.  There are so many benefits associated with wooded areas including creativity, increased immunity and better cognitive development.  Personally I think that makes perfect sense considering trees give us oxygen and that’s the ‘stuff’ us humans need to function on!

Now I get to create more memories on a daily basis without having to trek across the world (although I’d love to see the Californian Redwood in home territory). It’s a pleasure watching my pup’s eyes almost pop out of her head at the sight of a selection of perfectly chewable sticks.  She face-dives into muddy bogs and bounces on the springy, moss-covered floor.  I enjoy late night walks among the woods with my partner, letting go of the day’s events and breathing in the clean oxygen the trees willingly give us.  I enjoy watching the fog creep around the tree barks and I bask in the morning sunrise which paints the woodland scenery in a shimmering gold.

10 Tree Inspired Adventures

  • Climb a tree
  • Play hide and seek
  • Collect different types of leaves / conkers
  • Identify the different trees there are
  • Wild camp
  • Build a shelter
  • Find a comfortable spot to sit and read
  • Forage
  • Take pictures
  • Paint a picture of a tree or of a woodland scene

Psst! In the summer you can find me walking and biking among Coed Y Brenin forest.

A Seasonal Year: Spring

Welcome to spring!

 

Spring Rituals

  • Spring clean using natural products. You only need lemon juice, bicarbonate of soda, distilled white vinegar and a bit of beeswax. For more tips head over to this article.
     
  • Wake a little earlier to make the most of the longer days. Think it's impossible? Get inspired.
     
  • Make time for other simple pleasures: introduce one of these rituals and you'll get your motivation back in no time.


3 Seasonal Recipes

Sauteed spring greens, bacon + mustard seeds
Rhubarb, orange and almond cake
Broad bean hummus with lemon zest + mint

 

3 Books for Spring

  1. The Book of the Green Man (Ronald Johnson)
  2. The Wild Life: A Year of Living on Wild Food (John Lewis-Stempel)
  3. Arboreal: A Collection of New Woodland Writing (Ed. Adrian Cooper)

This post is a shorter version of our spring email sent out to members of our free community. Want to join? Click here - we'd love to have you!

SpringEleanor Cheetham
Bringing the Outdoors In

Today is the first post from our new Nature Editor, Sarah. If you haven't seen our introduction to the new editors yet, head over here to find out more.

I always associate spring with the nature table. At primary school we always had a little display in the corner of the classroom with pussy willow stems in jam jars and a plastic tray filled with frogspawn. As the tadpoles sprouted legs, our teacher would prop the tray up at one end to enable them to crawl out of the water.

We were lucky to attend a village school with beautiful countryside on our doorstep. On hot days lessons would be abandoned in favour of walks outdoors, impromptu games of rounders simply having our lessons on the field.

Our headteacher, the charmingly-named Mr Chalk, would place a jar of seasonal stems or flowers on top of the piano at the beginning of each week – daffodils or teasels or holly. And during our daily assembly he’d tell us little stories, often with a nature theme (I always remember one about a man mistaking a priceless rare black tulip bulb for an onion and eating it). There’d be an annual autumn fair and we would make corn dollies to sell alongside the cakes and bric-a-brac.

Several years ago, Country Living magazine ran a campaign to bring the nature table back into schools. It stressed the importance of children not becoming isolated from the natural world, of their knowing about food sources and of spending time outdoors for physical and mental wellbeing. Of course, that holds true today and it’s something many of us feel very strongly about. Children are the future custodians of our countryside, after all. And there’s something incredibly fulfilling about watching them exploring and adventuring outside. To youngsters, the world seems a huge place where everything is amplified and where anything is possible. Insects and plants, woodland and water hold boundless opportunities for learning and imaginative play.

Finding and collecting natural things to touch and feel and study is hugely beneficial. An understanding of the seasons and curiosity about plants and animals are just two things the traditional nature table can foster.

But what about us grown-ups?  What relevance does the nature table hold for us?

I’m a collector. Partly because of my vocation as an artist – my workroom has jars of shells and dried seaweed from holidays by the sea, pots of feathers, pieces of driftwood and countless specimens of dried flowers and leaves – but also because I just love having these things around my home. When I was very little, my auntie and uncle lived in a beautiful old cottage. There was an occasional sitting room replete with rich velvets and tapestries where nobody really ventured, but I always tiptoed in there when we visited. A huge, dark oak dresser held all kinds of treasured antique china but there was one tiny detail which fascinated me: a twig with three little pine cones attached. I don’t know why I was so enamoured with it, but I was. And to this day I always have bits of nature in the house. My mantelpiece even holds a tiny, fragile bird’s skull found on a beach on the Isle of Skye. Pheasant’s feathers, too. And always a vase of simple seasonal blooms next to my mum’s photograph.

Because a nature table doesn’t have to be just that. You can adorn a windowsill, a shelf or a gap in a bookcase with finds and each time you see them you’ll feel connected to the outdoors and the seasons.

You can arrange, style and admire to your heart’s content. Or (like me) study, draw then press or preserve your little collection before going out and gathering again. These details can also be a source of inspiration or comfort on a dark day.

So what’s out there right now to bring indoors? Well, a great deal. Not just from fields and hedgerows either. Rather than picking wild flowers*, scout around the garden for snowdrops, daffodils, early cowslips, muscari, hellebores, fritillaries. Stems of catkins or magnolia and other early-flowering shrubs look beautiful in a simple stoneware jug or bottle. And consider having some flowering bulbs, too. There’s something particularly lovely about seeing living, growing things indoors during the colder months and bulbs do signify the end of winter for me.

Other items can be placed alongside to make a small display. Feathers, blown quail’s eggs and (if you’re lucky enough to find one) old nests which have been blown down. For those stylists amongst you – and I confess to being a bit of an aspiring one myself – consider leaving drawings, cards or beautiful nature books lying open ready to read. Following on from vintage Observer guides, Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady and The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady (both published posthumously and taken from her collected nature notes) is seeing a resurgence. The watercolour studies are exquisite and evocative. I found my second–hand copies online for next to nothing and I now treasure them.

Of course, this isn’t all a case of simply prettifying the home. Not that there’s anything wrong in that. But bringing nature indoors increases our sense of closeness to it. It’s wonderful to watch the seasons from the window but even better to get out there and experience them fully: the smells, the textures, the sounds. We all have access to somewhere green where there will be little gifts to spot and put in a pocket, later to be brought back home and admired.

One last thing, though, and it’s an important one: always be responsible if you’re collecting things to bring home. Never dig plants up from the wild or disturb bird’s nests which are still where they should be (as opposed to having been blown down). Likewise, always take just a small amount of any one thing. Wildlife depends on many flowers and berries as a food source.

*You can find a list of our protected plants and flowers here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/protected-plants-protection-surveys-and-licences.

Eat Seasonably in May

May well and truly marks the end of the hungry gap. Instead of scraping the bottom of the veg box and relying on potatoes and root vegetables in storage, we can once again relish fresh produce grown in the UK. And not just any fresh produce; it's asparagus season! It's time to gorge yourself silly on these tender stalks for a month or so before you've had your fill to satiate you for the next eleven months. My favourite way to enjoy them is with lots of black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Alternatively, try boiling some Jersey Royal new potatoes and add them to an oven proof dish with the asparagus before topping with cheese. Bake until bubbling and serve with crispy bacon and you're on to a winner.

Perpetual spinach is firmly on the scene by May, and if you've got a spare corner then plant a few seeds to enjoy freshly picked leaves for the entire summer. Stir it into a pesto spaghetti dish in the final moments of cooking, or enjoy steamed with leeks and butter as a side dish. If fruit is more your thing, then rhubarb is enjoying its final hurrah before being overtaken by summer's bounty. Why not whiz some in a blender and use the purée to create a base for a seasonal drink?

If you're looking for a quick and easy breakfast dish, then poached duck eggs (with more asparagus if you so desire!) are the perfect start to the day, and now the daylight hours are stretching further into the evening, both ducks and chickens will start to lay more, which means they will be readily available. Choose local and free range, if you can, for yellow yolks and a much tastier treat.

For even more greenery to adorn your dishes, add spring onions to stir fries, wraps and salsas. A stronger flavour than your traditional onion, they're not everyone's cup of tea (and I can only eat them cooked), but fry them in some olive oil and they'll provide that kick that some dishes often require.

British Wild Flowers

British wild flowers have long been the heart and soul of our countryside. From the humble cow parsley to the rare chickweed-wintergreen, the appearance and spread of these delights can herald the change in seasons long before cultivated varieties. But why is it so important to conserve and protect our nation's wild flowers?

  • You will help to prevent rare plants from becoming extinct.
  • Insects - and bees in particular - will enjoy the nectar and pollen the flowers offer.
  • In turn, birds will feed on these insects and also the seed heads once autumn arrives.
"None can have a healthy love for flowers unless he loves the wild ones." 

(Forbes Watson)

So we've established that wild flowers are essential to the flora and fauna of the countryside, now the question remains - which flowers should you grow? Here's a round up of my favourites:

CORNFLOWER (Centaurea cyanus)

Originally a common cornfield plant, there are now only 100 ancient cornfield sites known and numbers are dramatically declining. 

DOG ROSE (Rosa canina)

Though its flowering season is short, this hedgerow shrub's simple pink flowers are worth every moment they are in bloom. It is virtually scentless, but the red-orange hips that follow the flowers more than make up for that.

HAREBELL (Campanula rotundifolia)

Similar in appearance to the bluebell, the harebell is a flower of dry, open, windy places from the hills to the sea. Its delicate translucent petals bob slowly in the breeze and the clumps are pretty additions to hillsides and verges. My favourite overall.

HONEYSUCKLE (Lonicera periclymenum)

The heady scent of honeysuckle is evocative of muggy summer evenings and golden hours. Nothing smells quite like it.

SNOWDROP (Galanthus nivalis)

Brought to the country by gardeners in the 16th century, this much loved flower is a welcome sight as the depths of winter draw to a close. It is a sign that life is emerging and signifies the cusp of seasonal change.

Dog-Rose-Creative-Countryside

One of the easiest ways to encourage wild flowers is to leave part of your garden free of cultivation; simply leave a corner or an area of your lawn, avoid mowing the grass and throw a few wild flower seeds into the mix as the weather begins to warm in the spring months. It may take a little time to notice a difference, but believe me it will be worth it once life begins to emerge from your soil.

What's your favourite wildflower?

All photographs courtesy of Bob Gibbons.

May

May is... the start of stretched out golden evenings, blossom petals fluttering like snowflakes, the drawing to a close of the 'hungry gap', and floral crowns.

Did you know? May should be seen as a time of great celebration, as it was traditionally a recognition of the end of the harsh winter months, and a nod to the unfurling of summer.

Dates for your diary: May Day (1st) is celebrated in villages and towns across the country, so get the maypoles out, decorate your flower garlands, and get ready for some morris dancing. Time-honoured British customs can be seen as eccentric in our modern age, so buck the trend and get involved with your local community! On the 8th, festoon your garden with bunting and play a few big band tunes to celebrate the 70th anniversary of VE Day. For ideas on how to honour the occasion, head over here.

May in words: 

"The world's favourite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May." 

(Edwin Way Teal)

Things to do at home and in the garden:

  • Plant lettuce seeds (in pots or modules) every couple of weeks for spread-out growth.
  • Scatter radish seeds into a flat tray and watch them sprout before your very eyes. See if you can resist eating until they're fully grow; I bet you can't.
  • Plan ahead for autumn and get those squash, courgette and pumpkin seeds sown. One small pot per seed, ideally in a greenhouse or polytunnel.
  • If your grass is looking a little tired, scatter some seed now the days are warming through (this is most definitely on my to-do list).
  • Now the warm weather is well and truly on the horizon, take the time to wash your windows. I use a mix of distilled white vinegar and water, a cloth, and some newspaper.

Be creative: if you haven't made a spring wreath yet, there's still time. For an easy tutorial head over here.

Create: A Spring Wreath

I've mentioned my love for wreaths a few times before, and while many see them simply as a festive decoration for December, I like to hang them the whole year round. Creating my autumn wreath was so simple that I decided immediately that I would make another come spring, and this week that time arrived, just ready for the Easter weekend as well.

I started by browsing the local florist for a few select blooms, including one bunch from the reduced section in front of the shop. Although the flowers were already open, it didn't really matter as I knew the wreath would not last as long as a styled vase, and wanted the visual impact to be immediate. I didn't set out with a colour scheme in mind, but as these things often do it evolved naturally into a predominantly purple and yellow display - perfect to brighten our home and in keeping with fresh spring colours. I also picked up a couple of eggs as a homage to Easter and a reminder that new life is on the horizon.

Like last time, I used a willow wreath base, and you can pick them up from garden centres or online, or if you'd prefer you could use a wire base instead. I added the thistles and eggs first and then filled in the gaps with the rest of the flowers, making sure to slide the stems far enough into the willow so that they stay put (this way no string or other attachments are needed - so simple!).

If you're thinking of giving this very simple craft a try, here are my top tips for the perfect wreath display:

  • Invest in a solid base. I've used my willow base for a couple of years now and it's perfect for weaving stems in and out.
  • Choose a mixture of foliage and flowers for a balanced effect.
  • Start with the big stems first - these will be the trickiest to slot into place.
  • Don't be afraid to pull something out if it doesn't work - the beauty of wreath making is that it doesn't matter if you make a mistake.
  • Stand back throughout the process to check what the wreath looks like from afar.
  • Once flowers start drooping, simply replace them with new ones if you want to keep your wreath displayed for longer than a few days.
Eat Seasonably in April

April is, inevitably, dominated by Easter, and what's on our plates is no exception. Rather than stocking up on chocolate eggs from the supermarkets, though, why not try and make some of your own delicious treats? Hot cross buns are the obvious choice, but as someone who really isn't the biggest fan of mixed peel, I tend to add cranberries and other dried fruit and remove the peel. Seeing chocolate at every turn makes it hard to resist, so for once give in to temptation and indulge in a decadent brownie or rich chocolate torte, and serve with homemade ice cream or crème fraîche. I'm hungry just thinking about it.

Fish is the order of the day in April, so why not take advantage of fresh white crab meat and make your own crab fishcakes? Add a dip and some greens and you've got a heavenly dinner ahead of you. If you're after something a bit heartier, try a fish pie. Bulk it out with prawns and white fish, but make sure you include some salmon too for a richer flavour. Top with creamy mash and serve with peas for the ultimate comfort food.

If after all that you find yourself searching for something a little lighter (and this is something I will often find as the sunshine starts to appear and the days get longer), then try roasting some new season veg like radishes, blitz some beans to make a dip and serve with crispy flatbreads; lunches just got a whole lot more exciting. If salads are more your thing, then simply add a sliced spiced chicken breast and anything from the deli counter (sun-dried tomatoes, olives, feta cheese...) for a quick, easy dinner.

April

April is all about... new life and fresh beginnings, eggs (both chocolate and chicken), alfresco breakfasts, morning dew, raindrops and listening to the dawn chorus.

Something to eat: Easter tends to call for a roast dinner, so what better than a leg of lamb with baby potatoes and garlic crème fraîche, followed by profiteroles and lemon curd ice cream. Head over here for the recipes.

Something to visit: A whole host of National Trust properties that are offering Easter egg trails alongside Cadbury this month. This website offers you the chance to search for events in your area, and with over 300 there's bound to be something going on near you!

Something to make: A wreath for Spring. Be inspired by these ideas, or have a look at my Autumn wreath tutorial to guide you through the basics. Bringing nature into the home is something that I am really trying to do more of this year, and wreaths are a great way to mark the changing of the seasons.

Something to celebrate: Shakespeare would have been 451 years old this month. Why not read a play or sonnet in his memory? Or if you're in the area, join in the birthday celebrations in Stratford-Upon-Avon that include a parade featuring a 3 metre wide horse drawn birthday cake, workshops, readings and street theatre.

Something a bit different: Every been to an event based entirely on fire? Inspired by a traditional Gaelic celebration, Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh takes place on the final day of the month and sparks the beginnings of summer with a procession led by the Green Man and the May Queen, which is followed by lighting an enormous bonfire. Head over here for more information.

Flowers in Season in Spring

Buying British products and produce is something that I will be forever passionate about. If it's available in the UK, why waste time, money and air-miles on products flying in from far afield? Nearly 90% of the flowers we as a country buy are imported, often travelling thousands of miles before being packaged and placed in our shops and advertised to sell as 'fresh' flowers. What's fresh about that? Perhaps more importantly, why do we feel the need to buy in these exotic blooms when British flowers are so wonderful?

A posy picked straight from the garden is always going to make a house feel firmly rooted in the season. Failing that, a bouquet or small bunch from a local florist will do almost as well. They might be a little more expensive if you choose certain flowers, but go for the ones that are abundantly in season, and you'll find they're usually cheaper than any other flowers you can buy. In March, daffodils often go for a pound a bunch and can brighten up any frosty Spring morning with their vibrancy. As we get further into the season, tulips can often be just as inexpensive and can surely satisfy that need for pops of colour in our vases? You'll also be helping to support the habitats of insects in the UK; from butterflies to bees they all need flowers, but farmers will only grow them if there is the demand.

With this in mind, here's a quick summary of what's in season (florally, of course) during Spring...

  • Daffodils {so easy to grow in the garden}
  • Tulips {look for different varieties - there are plenty!}
  • Hellebores
  • Hyacinths
  • Irises {a particular favourite of mine}
  • Lilac
  • Bluebells
Eat Seasonably in March

March heralds the start of Spring, and that means fresh new shoots and green vegetables emerging from the soil. But we are also still in the depths of the 'hungry gap', where the veg plot has little to offer that can appear on our plates. It is instead a time for waiting, nurturing and patience. With that in mind, a lot of what is seasonal at this time of year is either forced (rhubarb) or stored from the winter months.

If you can hunt out some early Spring greens, try them sautéed with bacon and mustard seeds - head over here for a recipe. Wild garlic should also start to surface soon - difficult to buy in the shops but available from organic veg schemes such as Riverford, it has a subtle flavour and is perfect in homemade pesto and pasta sauces. In fact, anything green and leafy is good at this time of the year; as the winter months come to a close and the stodgy puddings and hearty casseroles are left behind for another year, it is only natural to start craving nutritious, healthy foods.

Salads are sneaking back into our kitchens in many forms - add olive oil, mozzarella and a few nuts or sultanas to mizuna or rocket leaves and you've got yourself a nutritious side dish. I've been adding leftover grains from chillis and risottos to make a more substantial lunch.

Finally, if you're looking for ideas for a Spring feast, you can't go wrong with hogget. Not as well known or as popular as lamb, it is actually far tastier as the sheep is slaughtered somewhere around a year old and as a result the flavour and tenderness are much improved. Find cuts in good butchers or local farm shops (you won't find them in supermarkets!), roast and serve with fluffy roast potatoes.