A bouquet of flowers, a handful of leaves
For the past five years, on one morning in mid July I am to be found in my garden, secateurs in hand, cutting foliage and flowers while from the house the children shout "Mum, where's the milk? What's for breakfast? Mum? MUM!"
On the final day of the school term I task myself with providing two homegrown bouquets - one for each of my children's teachers. They get tightly tied with twine and placed in a jam jar to be precariously toted on the walk to school and handed over with a smile and a hope that they aren't too disappointed it isn't wine.
I could buy some flowers, but I like the idea of giving them something personal. For me, this is what having a garden is all about - using it as a personal treasure house - for flowers, for foliage, for herbal teas, for fruit, for vegetables, for salads. They key is quality, not quantity: sometimes, I get both, if I am lucky (like the annual super-glut of Victoria plums), but it's not a deal-breaker.
The bunches of flowers, artless as they are, are the distillation of what's looking good in my garden right now. Once they're picked, I have to wait a few days until there's enough new blooms to fill a vase for my house. There's plenty that's looking rubbish - as usual the lawn is a nubbly, stubbly mess, there's blackspot on the leaves of my roses, the patio has been due for a clean for six months now, and the pears look like they've got bitter pit, but provided I can grab a handful of parsley when I want one, and there's enough Mexican tree spinach (about which, more another day ...), good king Henry and kale to keep me in a daily side of sauteed greens, I am happy.
This is real gardening, not the edited fantasy you see on Instagram (my account included, of course). I would put a picture here of the nubbly lawn, but who takes a photo of that? I should, though. In fact I will, and I know you'll hold me to that.
Anyway, back to the good stuff, the harvest. If you like this approach; the keen appreciation of small - sometimes tiny - crops of all kinds from your garden, then Lia Leendertz's new book Petal, Leaf, Seed: A Cookbook is for you. I may be biased (Lia is a fellow garden writer and writes for the Guardian as a freelance contributor), but I *love* this book. The recipes are beautiful, yet don't require you to buy obscure ingredients that you'll spend a fortune on, then never use again. It's ideal for those of us or whom a handful of leaves is more common than a glut. If you want to try before you buy, there's a selection of Lia's recipes here, as printed in Weekend Magazine.