Mindfulness not Mindlessness this winter!

Therapeutic Gardening with Sophie Lacey Good Thymes Gardening

Just like in our homes, there is always something to do in the garden, even as we slide into those colder months. So many of us have discovered how valuable the garden is for mental health and wellbeing, but often people only really interact with the garden during the glorious dry days in spring and summer. Here is your reminder that our gardens are not closed for winter, we’re missing out on some wonderful interaction with nature. So, strap on those welly-boots and get out those thick warm gloves because our mental health is important over winter and our gardens are waiting!

Tips on interacting with the garden over winter to aid your mental health and wellbeing:

Winter seed sowing
Every seed is an opportunity

It’s getting darker earlier and earlier, make use of time indoors to sow a few trays of annuals giving you a headstart on the following year. Suggested seeds include love in a mist, pansy, sweet pea and pot marigold. Keep your trays indoors or in protected greenhouses/polytunnels and ensure they have plenty of light, warmth and water!

Winter Interest

Autumn isn’t just about fiery foliage, staying indoors means we’re missing out on the frosty seed heads, crisp dried flowers, glowing bright-coloured stems and berries. Take the time to notice and focus on the rosehips or the dried alliums, or the soft stems of a dogwood. When practicing mindfulness in the garden, the aim is to bring your awareness completely to the present. Each time your mind wanders to ‘what’s for dinner’ or ‘did I send that email?’, bring yourself right back to the present without judgement.

Planting

As if I need much excuse to buy more plants. Autumn is a perfect time for planting perennials, shrubs, trees and even your wild-flower beds. It is such a magical feeling planting even a bare root stub of a rose shrub in the ground in autumn/winter and then watching its leaf-buds swell and sprout later in the year. Of course, there are always spring-flowering bulbs to plant this time of year, why not try a bulb lasagne in some spare containers and dress the top with some colourful cyclamens, cineraria and violas (see pic right).

Pruning

Roses, hydrangeas, acers, dog-wood, fruit bushes and trees and all can be done with care, love and presence. This is my favourite part of gardening in the winter. You have to be cruel to be kind making some big strategic cuts as you plan ahead for how you want your shrub to grow and flourish the following year. You won’t reap the rewards until early summer really, so I find this a very relaxing and positive activity to do in the garden where I like to be thorough, take my time and make some precise, clean angled cuts. When it comes to pruning the best advice I ever received was “just get on with it”, try not to over-think and to enjoy the process.

Tidy and care

I see this as similar to packing away the summer clothes and taking out all those thick cosy knitted jumpers. It feels good to welcome winter. At home I like to give the greenhouse a tidy, so it’s ready to rock and roll come Spring: washing, sweeping and most likely rearranging the shelving for the 3rd time this year. This is also a chance to start some leaf mould, mulch beds and lift and protect anything a little bit sensitive and dramatic over winter. It’s also an opporunity to give your tools some love: a bit of oil on the handles, some WD40 on those squeaky secateurs, scrubbing off any rust and sharpening of course to make sure those cuts and clean.

Planning

Don’t wait until Spring to think about what you want to sow and grow, use this time taking on what you learnt from this year to plan the year ahead. Nose through seed catalogues and Pinterest, do your research and there are many end of season sales to enjoy for cheaper plants. Seeds and plug plants help save a few ££ and is a really rewarding activity – garden magic at its best.

GROW:

Kale

A delicious and reliable favourite and if sown late enough in summer will continue to feed you well into winter.

SOW: Sow direct from mid-spring to late-summer. It can get quite wide so ensure you’re providing enough space or thin out seedlings as they germinate.

HARVEST: When leaves are at least 25/30cm in length they can be harvested, snip away the older leaves where the leaf meets the main stem and give a good wash before cooking.

TIP: Keep checking underneath the leaves for clusters of yellow coloured white cabbage butterfly eggs. Pop on a glove and wipe them off, saves using chemicals on those frisky pests.

COOK:

Mr GTG’s General Tso Chicken with Kale

  • 10 Kale leaves shredded into thin strips
  • 300g Diced chicken breast
  • 2 Cloves of garlic
  • 2-3 Spring onions chopped
  • 500ml Vegetable oil for deep frying
  • Optional MSG instead of salt to season
  • Serve with rice

BATTER MIX

  • 20g Flour
  • 20g Corn starch
  • 1 Egg white
  • 1 tbsp Rice wine or Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1/2 tbsp White pepper
  • 1/4 tsp Salt

SAUCE

  • 50ml Chicken stock
  • 1 red Chilli deseeded and sliced
  • 4 tbsp Honey
  • 1 tbsp Oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp Rice wine or Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tsp Sesame seeds
  • 2 tbsp Light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Dark soy sauce
  • 20ml White vinegar
  • 30g Sugar

METHOD: Begin by heating the oil in a large saucepan/wok to medium-high heat. While heating up the oil, place the chicken into a bowl with the salt, pepper, egg white and rice wine. Mix thoroughly, then incorporate the flour and cornstarch to form a thin batter that coats the chicken (add water if too thick).

Using tongs, carefully place the chicken one by one into the wok and deep fry for 5 minutes. It should not brown too much, so turn the heat down if it does. Remove and place onto kitchen paper.

Leave the oil in the pan as you make the sauce by combining all the sauce ingredients in a separate bowl, during this time the oil will be heating back up. Place the chicken back in the pan/wok and fry until golden this time, repeat frying gets the chicken nice and crispy and releases oil from the batter. When golden remove and place on kitchen paper again. Keep the oil going on the same heat, we’re going to use this pan again in a moment.

Get a second, new pan and heat the garlic and spring onions in it with a bit of oil on medium heat for a few minutes and then add the sauce. While waiting for the sauce to start to bubble, drop all of your shredded kale into the original pan/wok and deep fry for 1 minute. Remove and place on kitchen paper, sprinkle with salt and sugar (I’d recommend MSG instead of salt, as it has a lower sodium content).

As the sauce begins to bubble, add in the chicken and stir gently for a few more minutes – until the sauce begins to coat the chicken. Once coated, transfer the chicken to a serving bowl and garnish with the kale crispy “seaweed“. Serve with boiled rice.

 

 

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