The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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Wild Garlic

Wild garlic is now available- for free!  You can get it from about April to June so although you may overindulge on it now, like other wild plants such as samphire, it is made more delicious by the very nature of its seasonal availability. You can forage for it in the woodlands, especially in places where it is quite shady.  Allium ursinum – known as ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek, or bear’s garlic – is a wild relative of chives native to Europe and Asia.Blooming_wild_garlic.jpg

(Wild garlic leaves and flowers: image credit Marcelle Rose Nutrition)

Wild garlic of course, doesn’t look like garlic and it is the leaves that you use.  The taste of the wild garlic leaves is quite mild but the effect on your stomach can be strong, so it is best used cooked, not raw.  You can smell the leaves from quite far and so they are easy to find.  Be careful because often they grow with other leaves and grass which are not only unsavory but can be poisonous.

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There are many ways to cook it but my favorite is the wild garlic and potato soup because it is healthy, filling and easy to cook. There are soups with just wild garlic in it but I find them too strong.  I first learnt to make this soup in Devon, almost twenty-five years ago and this is it-

Ingredients
I tbsp oil or a small blob of butter for frying
1 medium size onion, chopped
400g potatoes, peeled & diced (occasionally I have also used carrots in this mix)
1.2 litres vegetable or chicken stock (I use organic stock cubes or Bouillon powder dissolved in water)
50g wild garlic leaves, shredded
Crème fraîche or double cream (or I prefer yoghurt) to serve
Wild garlic flowers (if you have them and make sure they are opened up, not closed)
Salt & pepper to taste

Heat the oil/butter in a large saucepan. Add the onion and fry on a low heat for 6-8 minutes, until softened without colouring.  Add the potatoes and stock. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Blitz in a blender or food processor until smooth, with flecks of wild garlic leaves. Reheat in the pan, seasoning to taste. Serve with a swirl of cream/yoghurt and garnish with a few shreds of wild garlic leaves and flowers.

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The other way I have used them is to use them in pasta with a seasonin of chilli flakes, salt and shreds of garlic leaves fried in olive oil- heavenly!  You can also make garlic leaf pesto but again I find that too much.  In my opinion, you can need to use garlic leaves sparingly like you would coriander.

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Shreds of wild garlic also work well in salads.  Here I have used it in a raw courgette salad with a simple dressing of lemon, salt and pepper with olive oil.

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Surviving climate change

Despite what climate change sceptics might say,  in my several decades of gardening, I have seen how unpredictable and severe the climate has become in London where I live.  The summer seems to last for ages and the heat is almost unbearable.  The winters are mild and cool, snow hardly ever falls.  Storms are like crazy maniacs on the loose- just last week, five people lost their lives in the stormy seas, tragically caught in fast changing weather conditions.  I have just come back from a two week holiday to find my lovingly created patio garden in a wreck.  The strong sun has killed off most of the flowering shrubs and other delicate herbs and flowers.  Strong climatic conditions hit patio gardens more than plants grown directly on soil.  Here is a photo of my patio-

P1050656.jpgEven some of the nettle has died, along with my elderflower shrub.  Some weeds though are thriving as you see.  Disaster!

After a few days of shock and mourning, my first instinct was to cut out the dried plants and buy some new plants.  However, after thinking some more, I thought about working with climate change, instead of fighting it.  Here you can see that some plants have survived- these are the plants that originated from hot climates such as the African Cala lily, the Agapanthus from South Africa, the Indian hawthorn (from Hong Kong), avocado plant and Mexican daisies- all survivors of the intense heat.  In the future, we will have to get used to less water.  So I thought of creating a low water garden.  At present, I have decided to leave the dried bushes as they are.  They are preventing seeding by weeds and also protecting the soil from getting too dry.P1050657.jpg

In the meanwhile, baby agapanthus plants have started appearing even in the cracks in between the pavers-P1050659.jpg

So here is the to future- more resilient plants out on the patio!


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Natural dyes

 

Having an Armenian link in my family, I decided this year to make traditional Armenian Easter eggs alongside a traditional meal. Making these Easter eggs involves using onion skins, turmeric and other natural dyes to colour eggs. Here are some of my efforts. I collected red onion skins- shopkeepers were happy to get rid of them. I also put in some chilli flakes that I was not using (these also make the water red). I boiled these for about twenty minutes and left it to cool overnight. In the morning, I pasted some leaves I found in the garden on the raw eggs using water. I used organic hens and duck eggs. Then I put the eggs inside cut up old stockings and boiled them further for about 20 minutes. After removing them from the stocking, I left them to cool. When they were cold to touch, I polished them with some olive oil to make them shine. Even though the duck eggs were less successful, the over all effect of mottled colour with silhouettes of leaves, was charming on both types of eggs.

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What about waste?  The skins were put in the compost and the leftover liquid was used to dye an old white silk blouse which is now a pretty pink colour. No waste- perfect!

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I will be trying out more natural dyes made from vegetable waste or origins such as blueberry juice, coffee, tea, etc. I have already used such colours in creating a portrait of person who likes spicy food (turmeric and onion skins), tea and coffee and more mineral colours.

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making the most of basil

As I have mentioned before, it is worth buying potted herbs from shops, rather than trying to grow your own from seeds.  Growing from seeds has been lengthy and bit of a hit and miss. I do still try.  Recently I read about making the most of shop bought herbs.  One of the tips was to re-pot the herb after buying and the other tip was to cut off the tip.  I tried both techniques and this is what happened-

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The pinched basil is more bushy, the leaves more rounded and tasty.  In the picture to the right, I am holding up the type of three leafed bud that needs to be taken out.  The re-potted one which has flowered as well, has more pointy leaves which are less tasty and a bit woody.  However, it might be worth doing both things- re-potting and pinching to encourage even more growth and I shall do that an dlet you know the outcome.  Both plants were bought about 3-4 weeks ago and I imagine should last me the whole summer if not more.


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Container garden experiments

Summer has sort of started in the UK and so I am starting on a container garden experiment.  Rather tired of growing conventional stuff and losing them to slugs, insects and weather, I am going to be a bit daring.  Three weeks ago, I bought some seeds as written about in the books by James Wong, the best selling author of many books including ‘Grow your own drugs’.  James trained at Kew as an ‘ethno-botonist’ and has worked with herbalists and other experts to write his books.

These are some of the seeds I will be using-

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These include many unusual container vegetables- Chopsuey greens, Mooli, liquorice, Chinese chives, callaloo and Samphire.  I chose these ones because I usually eat them and buy them at exorbitant prices from supermarket.  For £2-49 each, it was worth a try!

The Chinese chives have already started to come through- see below and note how I am protecting them from slugs by using crushed egg shells.  Unlike an ordinary garden, my terrace is protected from rats so I can use egg shells.

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Above you can see the tiny liquorice and one samphire plant coming through in my improvised egg carton seed tray.

James Wong also writes that Hosta is edible, but when I got round to seeing why my Hosta plants weren’t coming up, I realised that slugs had also found them equally tasty!  However, I managed to salvage one tuber although at that point much its leaves had also been chomped through.  Re-potting them, and protecting the remaining leaves by using some crushed egg shells, has made new leaves come through.  I can’t wait to try them in a stir fry.  I will be posting stories of this experiment through the summer (including recipe successes and disasters!) and I hope this helps others who might be minded to try the same thing.

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Palette clever

Last week, I created a plant and tool tidy from a palette. I am not a great carpenter and because I have arthritis, can’t do heavy sawing or nailing.  This is very simple to do and I used whatever stuff I had at home, being a believer in re-use and of course, being canny.  All you need a good quality palette, some pin nails or a stapler, a hammer and plastic containers and trays that you get from supermarkets and takeaways. If you can’t find a good quality palette (those are not easy to find, just use what you have)

1. First I nailed the trays and containers on the central timber stringer.  This can be a bit tricky because even though I have small fingers and used a small hammer, it is not easy to nail in the corners or the inner sides.  However the timber is soft and the pins go in quickly. I used pin nails as they are small. You can try a stapler gun on the outsides if you wish but this is simpler.

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2. Then I screwed in a hook to bottom of each of the top stringers to hold a variety of garden tools. I now turned the palette the right way up and put in the plants and the tools- Voilà it is ready!

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Because I used the supermarket trays, they also fit the pot sizes.

You can personalise this- perhaps write labels on the timber near the plants, perhaps have more hooks to hang things from or even paint it.  You can see I have a micro greenhouse for the ginger plant I am growing and you can add your own things as you need them.  In the winter, I intend to make a plastic cover for it and it will become my herb green house. Perfect for small patios and balconies.


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where to spend and where to save

There are many things that people do during the summer planting season when they get enthusiastic about growing.  My neighbour plants tomatoes for instance every year.  Tomatoes, potatoes and some herbs (Rosemary, chives, mint in particular) are easy to grow from seeds or cuttings. Sometimes people plant too many and I am lucky to have got plants from neighbours who then wanted to get rid of them.

However, having tried growing some herbs and berries from seeds, I would advise that it is definitely easier to buy some of these than growing them.  These include Basil, thyme, parsley and strawberries.  Supermarket herb pots (as recommended by some blogs) have been a disappointment so I tend to buy them from small nurseries or Kew Gardens.  Strawberries can be notoriously difficult to grow from scratch, especially given the erratic weather.  Here are some of the bought herbs compared to ones I grew from seed- see the parsley and thyme.

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Home grown Parsley and thyme toward the bottom.