Monday, 25 November 2013

Making your own Sloe Gin, Limoncello, Vin d'Orange, Quince Wodka, Verveine Liqueur and a recipe for Thyme or Mint Liqueur

Being the last meeting before Christmas and a bit of a dead season in the garden, we thought to do something different.  Although making alcoholic drinks is not our usual garden subject, it is related to  plants as the drinks are made with fruits and plant material many of us have either growing in our gardens or is found in the wild near our homes.  Most of the drinks are local, sloe gin is not normally drunk in Provence.  All the drinks will be offered to our members, together with slices of Baguette spread with Mavis's delicious Arbousier (Arbutus unedo) jam, recipe for that in

We had planned to make just Sloe Gin, Limonchello, Vin d'Orange and Verveine Liqueur, but Gabrielle brought her home made Quince Vodka and Hanne brought along a home made Mint Liqueur and a shop bought Chartreuse that she felt tasted very much like her home made Mint Liqueur.   We were spoilt for taste.

Quite a few of our members mentioned their own way of making Sloe Gin, Gabrielle's Sloe Gin dated from 2009 and was very much like a Martini Rosso, she adds cloves to her Sloe Gin, Hanne's Sloe Gin had a much different taste, more fruity.

Sloe Gin

Despite its rustic, somewhat obscure image, there is no mystery attached to making sloe gin, either at home or in a distillery:  basically it is a mix of the small, blueish-black berries of the hedgerow Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), plus sugar, gin and almonds.
Pick the fruit in October whilst still firm. Rince them and put in the freezer, which helps them to break down a little in the gin. Alternatively one can prick them but this is tedious.

1 kilo of defrosted sloes
700g sugar
50g almonds(skinning optional)
1 litre of gin.

  1. Put the sloes in a large steralized jar. At this stage they can be lightly crushed with a wooden spoon.
  2. Pour in the sugar, gin and almonds.  Seal the jar tightly and shake well.
  3. Store in a cool dark cupboard and shake every other day for 1 week.
  4. Then shake every week for at least 2 months.
  5. Finally strain through a muslin, preferably overnight, and then pour into steralized bottles.


  1. Scrub 7 lemons, grate the zest and squeeze the juice.
  2. Mix with 1 litre of 95° alcohol or 1 litre of vodka.  Using alcohol makes the drink more alcoholic.
  3. Leave in the fridge to infuse for 8 days.
  4. On the 8th day boil 1 litre of water with 500 g of sugar to make a syrup then leave to cool before adding to the lemon mix.
  5. Leave 24 hours in the fridge before straining and bottling.
  6. Makes 2 litres.
Add some Limoncello to a glass of sparkling wine or prosecco, makes a tasty change.

Hanne mentioned that she makes a very clear Limoncello with lemon peel, sugar and eau de vie.

Vin d'Orange

In our village it is common thing to make Vin d'Orange.  Many of the vignerons work for the Cooperative, as well as receiving money, they are paid in kind (rosé).  Some of it is kept as rosé, but a lot of it is made into Vin d'Orange to offer to visitors. 

750 ml rose wine
3 large oranges
1 grapefruit (the grapefruit can be replaced with an orange, makes the drink less bitter).
150 g castor sugar
150 ml 95° alcohol

  1. Peel two of the oranges and dry the peel either above a radiator or in a very cool oven.  Sqeeze out the juice and reserve.
  2. Roughly chop the remaining orange and the grapefruit and put these along with the dried peel and all the juice into a large wide mouthed jar.
  3. Add the rose wine and pop on a lid.  Set aside in a cool cupboard for 3 weeks.
  4. Strain out the solids, pour back into the jar and add the sugar and alcohol.
  5. Pop the lid back on and shake the jar every day for a week to dissolve the sugar.
  6. Strain through a muslin into a jug and pour into a pretty bottle or decanter.
  7. Serve this drink icy cold.
Liqueur de Verveine

60 leaves of verveine (lemon verbena)
50 lumps of sugar
1/2 litre 95° alcohol
1/2 litre water

  1. Add the sugar to the water, shake well to dissolve the lumps. 
  2. Add all the other ingredients.
  3. Shake ever so often to make sure the sugar has been dissolved.
  4. Leave in bottle for 60 days.
  5. Sieve out the leaves and it is ready to serve.
Hanne makes a Mint Liqueur in much the same way as the Verveine Liquer.

Thyme liqueur

I've received 2 recipes for this liqueur.  One from Felicia Victoor, the second from Brigitte Caillol.  They are very similar.  It is not the right time of the year to make this, but good to know for spring.

1 litre 95° alcohol
100 g of thyme in flower
1 litre water
200 g sugar

  1. Leave thyme to macerate in alcohol for minimum of 10 days to 4 weeks.
  2. Make a syrup with 1 litre water and 200 g sugar (for those who do not like their drink sweet, use 65 g sugar), leave it to cool.
  3. Strain the thyme and alcohol mixture.
  4. Add syrup to alcohol.  Makes 3 bottles of 70 cl.

Quince Liqueur (Gabrielle's recipe)

Quince peels

  1. Mix it together in a large jar, shake for time to time till sugar is dissolved.  
  2. Leave for 3 months in a dark cupboard
  3. Strain, ready to drink

Rumtopf (mentioned by Francoise)

A Rumtopf is a large jar (5 litres) made from stoneware.  Through the seasons fruit is added together with sugar and rum.  The season starts with cherries, followed by whatever fruit in season.  Once the fruit is weighed, sugar is added, 1/2 the weight of the fruit, then covered completely with rum.  This procedure is followed through the seasons.  After the last addition, wait for 6 weeks and enjoy.

Thanks to our members for their contributions:  Hanne Beasley for her Sloe Gin, Mint Liqueur and Chartreuse;  Jeremy Frankel for his Verveine liqueur;  Gabrielle Wellesley for her Sloe Gin and Quince Vodka;  Gerda Nagtegaal for liqueur glasses;  Brigite Caillol and Felicia Victoor for Thyme recipes and Mavis McQuade for making the Sloe Gin, Limoncello and being such a support in this venture.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Grow food not lawns

Grow Food, Not Lawns Sur la page Facebook de Grow food not lawns j'ai trouvé cette idée de décoration de Noël

Acca sellowiana, Feijoa, Goyavier du Brésil

Lors de la visite du jardin de M et Mme Patry aux Arcs, nous avons dégusté des feijoas, pour moi c'était la première fois que j'avais l'occasion d'en goûter.

Quand nous avons visité les jardins de la Louve  à Bonnieux il y a deux ans nous avions admiré les fleurs du feijoa elles sont superbes et beaucoup d'entre nous plantent des feijoas pour leur floraison spectaculaire.


Les fruits  ont la forme d’un kiwi  sans poils, avec une peau rugueuse verte qui le reste même à maturité. La pulpe est granuleuse à pépins avec un goût légèrement acidulé et un arôme délicieux rappelant l'ananas, la goyave et la fraise, c'est un des fruits les moins énergétiques, riche en vitamines B et C et en iode

Le feijoa est un arbuste de la famille des Myrtaceae, il  a un feuillage persistant gris vert, duveteux sur la face inférieure. Les feuilles peuvent tomber si la température descend en dessous de -12°C. Elles repoussent au printemps suivant. 

Les feijoas ne parviennent à maturité que dans les régions de climat doux, car les fruits se récoltent vers novembre. Pour avoir une bonne productivité il est préférable de planter plusieurs Acca, afin d'obtenir une pollinisation croisée. 

Plantez-le en situation ensoleillée en sol bien drainé, il résiste à la sécheresse et aux embruns.

Supprimez les pousses situées à la base chez les plants greffés. En mars et avril, rabattez les deux tiers des pousses secondaires. 

Sources : Le Truffaut, Wikipedia, plantes et jardins
Photographies : plantes et jardins, Elisabeth BK

Friday, 25 October 2013

Salvia Garden in Les Arcs

The title of this blog is 'Salvia Garden', but although there are several Salvias growing in this garden, it has much more to offer.

our group with the Szechuan pepper tree on the right foreground

Mr. and  Mrs. Patry, started 15 years ago with the aim of creating a garden with minimal water requirements.  On the lower terraces of their 4000m2 plot, they planted olive trees.  Initially they bought a lot of plants from Pepiniere Filippi in Meze,  at that time, one of the few garden centres that specialised in plants that could stand the summer drought.

Their son, Guillaume, led us round the garden.  He was very knowledgeable and pleasant, never tiring of all the questions members asked him.

He mentioned that they plant in the middle of September.  As the weather is still nice, the soil is warm, new roots sprout easily.  After planting he waters the plants once a week, till their roots have settled and grown.  By summer the plants are well established and do not need watering.  To prevent water loss, he uses wood chips as a mulch.  As he has his own garden maintenance company and is a tree surgeon, he has a ready supply of wood chips.

Some of the Salvias growing in this garden are tender.  I've given the lowest temperatures they can take as a guideline, taken from Christine Yeo's books on Salvias.  Christine Yeo is a National Collection Holder of Salvias (NCCPG) in the U.K.   In this particular garden they seem to cope with much lower temperatures.  Often the tender Salvias die down during the winter to come up again in spring.

Salvia apiana - whole plant covered with white hairs, with pale lilac flowers, up to -3C.

Salvia azurea - up to -3C.

Salvia 'Blue Spires', sometimes called 'Mystic Blue Spires', dies down in winter, comes up in spring:

Salvia canariensis - growing near the house, up to -5/-6C:

Salvia darcyi, magnificent large red flowers -8C:

Salvia chamaedryoides (blue), up to -6C, together with Salvia greggi, up to -6C, many different varieties, discussed in last month blog on Salvias:

Blue flowering Salvia chamaedryoides with red, pink and salmon flowering Salvia greggii next to it

Salvia leucantha - flowers in autumn, up to -4C:

Salvia microphylla - many different varieties, various colours, discussed in last month's blog on Salvias, up to -10C.

Salvia microphylla var. neurepia has very large leaves with large red flowers:

Salvia pomifera - not in flower, very nice grey crinkly leaves, up to -10C:

Salvia uliginosa - requires regular watering - light blue flowers, dies down in winter, up to -10C:

In addition to Salvias there are many shrubs and trees, some of the lesser known ones:

Acacia karoo (long thorns)

Acca sellowiana (Feijoa)
Arbutus andrachne
Arbutus unedo - strawberry tree, native to the region, the fruits resemble strawberries, hence the name:

Buddleja alternifolia.
Ceratonia siliqua - Carob tree - the seedpod can be crushed and used as a chocolate substitute.
Pistachio vera - a male and female tree are required for it to set fruit.
Zanthoxylum simulans - Szechuan pepper tree, I tried them, spicy and acidic at the same time.

The owners introduced plants that grow naturally in the Mediterranean basin, to mention a few:
Euphorbia dendroides:

Euphorbia resinifera:

Euphorbia myrsinitis.
Euphorbia rigida - like myrsinitis but more upright:

Globularia alypum:


Ptilostemon gnaphaloides, with thistle like lilac flowers:

Santolinas, with one in particular that stood out, Santolina 'Small Ness' :

Trachelium caeruleum :

I noticed several members asking Guillaume for the name of the plant below, Beschorneria yuccoides.  This is what it looks like in flower:

The hills surrounding  Les Arcs are made of a special type of limestone called 'Tufa'.  Tufa is soft and very porous, water drains easily.  Because of this 'Tufa', Mr. & Mrs. Patry were able to introduce exotic plants that you normally only find at the coast.  In winter they protect the plants against the frost:

Agave attenuata
Agave parrya
Agave parviflora
Agave victoriae-reginae:

and Cacti.  They even created a special sanctuary, a covered area built into the rocks to house the Cacti.  As there is no natural rain water coming into this area, they are watered once a week:

Cephalocactus senilis, the grey hairy cactus, behind the Echinocactus:

Ferocactus stainesii, the 3 cacti close together, outlined in red:

Echinocactus grusonii:

At the end of our visit we were treated to a table full of Acca fruit.  Quite delicious, an unusual flavour.

A big thank you to all our photographers, without them the blog would not be the same.

Clarisse sent an email mentioning a pepiniere, Le Sceau Vert, 800 m outside Salernes on the Route d'Entrecasteaux, on the right.  They have a large selection of Salvias and very reasonably prized.  Tel:  0621098825.

Photos:  Elisabeth Boutevin, Hazel Francis, Gerda Nagtegaal and Isabel Pardoe.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Up to date pruning techniques

During Sue's latest trip to the U.K., she went to a lecture on pruning at one of the nearby nurseries.  She compiled what she felt was useful to our members and added some of her own comments.


9th October 2013


Why prune? * improve fruit and flower production
remove dead or damaged branches
plant too large for location
create topiary

Tools: secateurs (anvil = l stationary + 1 cutting blade)
Parrot clippers
Wetstone to sharpen blades

Anvil secateur

Parrot clippers

Felco Wetstone

Sharpening tools: sharpen bevelled edge only (push downwards and away from body).
Check edge sharpness by holding blade up to good light (if flat it is sharp).

When to prune: immediately after flowering so as not to prune next year’s flowering shoots
OR in spring after frosts i.e. not in autumn.
Prune on a cloudy day

After pruning: feed with compost and water well

DO  NOT tidy up perennials in autumn (do this in spring)
DO  NOT cut off Agapanthus flowers

Rose (rambler): Identify = lots of stems from base
Example = Rosa filipes 'Kiftsgate', 'Kew Rambler', Rosa banksaie (my double white Banksia had no flowers in spring 2013 – due to long cold spring).

Rosa filipes 'Kiftgate'

Pruning = remove dead and old wood after flowering.

Rose (climbing): Identify = sprouts from single stem
Example = Rosa Madame Alfred Carriere, Cecile Brunner and Iceberg.

Madame Alfred Carriere

Feed in spring
Train horizontal to encourage vertical growth
Prune from October - Spring.

Rose (floribunda): cut to ground in late winter to 3rd outward facing bud from ground

Rose (shrub): aim for open goblet shape

Cut dead/damaged/diseased/weak branches (to reduce blackspot).

Lavender: prune when still in flower to avoid cutting next year’s flowers (as per Norfolk lavender farmer)
(needs 8 hours of sun per day and light soil)

Buddlea, Lavatera: prune in autumn by one-third all over to reduce wind-rock.

Vines: spring spur prune
Summer remove leaves around grapes.
Remove one-third of all bunches of grapes.

Dogwoods: Cornus sanguinea 'Winter Beauty' (light prune)

Cornus alba (can be hard-pruned by1/3rd each year)

Camelias: prune immediately after flowering in the Spring, flowers on new growth (can prune hard).  Flower buds from in the Summer, so pruning later will remove flowers for next year.    Also, extremely important that they are given plenty of water (in our climate) as flower buds are developing.

Hydrangeas: remove flower heads in late spring

Trachyspernum jasminoides :

 prune in late summer.



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