The Canny Gardener

how to grow, cook and use plants, plus some philosophy!

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Another year: another sense

As I write after a long time, I reflect on what a year it has been. Since the Coronavirus 19 was discovered, it spread around the world rapidly and lockdowns were announced in several countries to try to contain the spread. The UK announced a lockdown on 23rd March 2020. My book on healthcare design coincidentally was published by the Royal Institute of British Architects in January 2020. In that book, I had talked about the climate crisis and future pandemics, not knowing that soon the entire world would be engulfed in it.

The coronavirus is a human induced virus in the process of interfering with nature. Whether the secondary host was a bat or a pangolin is in a way immaterial- what is important is humans have been brought into contact with animals that should have been left alone. Apparently, the Amazonian forests have thousands of undiscovered viruses. That these forests are being cut down is a cause for concern not just for the climate and environmental crisis but also for human health. In the July of last year, I was asked again for a response to the Covid crisis with contribution to an optimistically titled book, Rethink Design guide: Architecture for a post pandemic world. This book was published exactly a year later. Now I’m waiting to see if my predictions come true and whether the world wakes up to take responsibility for the damage to nature.

Rethink: Architecture for a post pandemic world, RIBA publishing 2021
Future healthcare design, RIBA publishing 2020

I try to be optimistic- I also learnt that by book Architecture for Rapid Change and Scarce Resources, published in 2012, and which examines the role of development in an unequal world, was to be reprinted as it is being used for a course for design professionals in the US. I had written that book as a plea to design professionals to consider culture, colonialism and climate crisis in all forms of development and it looks like some people have got on board this message. So as we still continue our caution with the pandemic and our sadness at 3 million deaths, there are some hopes for a better and responsive world.

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Ginkgo walks in nature

I have been going for walks as soon as the sun comes out- these days as it has been rare but it has given me a new appreciation for nature, and even decay.  Japanese poets traditionally used haiku to capture and distill a fleeting natural images such as rain falling  or a flower bending in the wind. Many people go for walks just to find new inspiration for their poetry, known in Japan as ‘ginkgo walks’. This weeks poem was inspired by David Bowie who left the earthly abode last week.


Fallen leaves, fallen heroes

Float away or stay still, very still

Forever in my heart.

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A new beginning


Winter is a time of hibernation, of sleep, of drawing back but also a time for rejuvenation and preparation for the glory of spring and summer.  I have been busy but there is not much to show at present.  These gorgeous holly branches with their vibrant green and reds show that winter still has power to dazzle as much as spring.

Britain has been hit by storms and rains and it has been very hard to do any useful gardening work.  However, the warmer winter has meant that the plants which normally would have died down by this time are still thriving without any help- such as as the sweet peas and some of the flowering climbers.  But soon, I will be back out again, to show you some of the ‘invisible’ work that nature has been doing without my help. In the meanwhile, hope you all have a lovely 2016!

Easy beauty

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The Canny Gardener

I recently went to an exhibition and saw a new invention- a kind of an eco-friendly dishwasher made with charcoal and rice water.  Apparently rice water is used as a detergent in Asian countries but I had never heard of this before.  So I investigated a bit more and found out that not only is rice water good for your dishes (and hands) but also for your face.  Here is  the best method of making rice water which I compiled after reading about it.

Take as much rice as you will want to use for your cooking.  Rinse the rice in water and throw that water away- you may want to water your plants with it.  Then sit the rice in fresh water for 15 minutes until it turns milky (use no more than a cupful of water for two cups of rice).  Strain the water out and store it…

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( a posy of wildflowers- wild geranium, euphorbia, buttercup, field genetian, forget me not, Green alkanet, sweet cicely, Mountain crane’s bill and the heavenly scented Butterfly bush)

We are so lucky in late spring to be blessed with wildflowers- many of whom are cousins of cultivars.  These are free, abundant and hardy.  While we have to be careful in picking these- for example, the Euphorbia shown here is a laxative!- we can still enjoy them whether in the garden or in a vase in our room.  I find these more delightful than cultivars- they seem to be naughtier, tinier cousins-daring you to pick them up. It was my son, in fact, who noticed the Butterfly bush with its deep scent- much nicer than any perfume or room freshener you could buy!

Such bits of wild spaces in the city attract bees, butterflies and birds- I heard the most delightful singing of birds when I was picking these flowers up.  As birdsong has decreased by 60% in the UK, wildflowers and spaces are the right thing to have in your garden.  Even one small container or pot with wildflowers will attract bees and butterflies as I know.  

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Starting young


This is a photo of my son, trying out some bread with herbs made at a gardening workshop.  Once children get into growing things and tasting them, they become not only keen gardeners but less fussy eaters.  Children are very tactile creatures, observing, tasting, smelling any thing they can.  I was surprised to see my son trying out the flavours of different herbs.  Last week, he went to a pizza making party and told me he put mushrooms in his pizza which he used to hate in the past.  The peer pressure of other children also helps!

So take your children gardening, and if it is safe, let them feel and taste herbs.  It will make them good eaters for the rest of their lives.

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The mint story

I never believe how hardy some plants are.  Image


These are my new mint plants coming through in the spring.  I had forgotten to water them last summer and snow had covered the pot in winter.  But again, here I see that the mint comes up again and again.  The mint teaches me a lesson of resilience and hardiness!

Per weight, herbs are more expensive to buy from the market.  So to be canny saver yet lazy gardener, I grow herbs more than vegetables which are need more care and space.  Herbs take up very little space, can grow indoors and outdoors, protect other plants and provide amazing flavours to the food.  They also look very pretty, attract bees and smell good!

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the value of weeds

“Everyone born in this world has a unique role that only he or she can fulfill. Were this not the case, we would not be here. The universe never acts without cause; everything invariably has a reason for being. Even the weeds people love to loathe serve a purpose.”

Daisaku Ikeda

In the spring, amazingly beautiful weeds spring out of nowhere.  People seem to not like or enjoy the beautiful colours they bring- with no effort or cost. These weeds grow anywhere, cracks and crevices, with no need for watering or fertilisers.  They seem to be very hardy and resistant, coming up every year, despite being pulled out all the time. In spirit of these resilient creatures, I thought I should let them stay and play in my garden too.  Some are quite useful like the nettles (soups) and chickweed (for salads) and they grow in my garden, welcome and cheerful.

Below is a photo of a house nearby with its gloriously sunny and hardy crop of ‘weeds’ that never fails to bring a smile to my face.


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Starting out



This is the photo of the patio which I hope to transform the next few months before I go on holiday.  As you can see, it has rather ugly concrete paving which have become pretty from the weeds growing in between.  My neighbour religiously pulls these out but I think they give a character to the space.  You can also see the pallets which I found outside in my street- which are now transformed into fences and will become supports for the plants.  I also found the concrete blocks in a skip and the builder was very happy for me to take them.  These act to prevent the fence from toppling in the high winds and also support the pots.