I had been away for awhile and the blazing spring had turned into a burning summer. One of the plants that had suffered from this was my bay tree. I don’t know why or how the others survived but this one literally looked burnt. I’ve had this tree for a long time and was sad that it had gone. But I don’t know why, I decided to replant it elsewhere. Each time I watered it, I muttered words of encouragement and thanks for the bay leaves it had given me. In the meantime, someone had given me another bay tree for which I was very grateful. So I decided I should get rid of the dead bay tree. Lo and behold, when I went to do so, this is what I saw-
It was as if the bay tree was saying to me, ‘Why did you give up on me?’ Now I’ve taken this lesson as a metaphor for life. Never give up!
This Christmas a lot of tinsel, wrapping paper and cards will make their way to you via many different routes. Tinsel is not recyclable (so I reuse the tinsel that I actually found 12 years ago on the street) and any wrapping paper that doesn’t stay crumpled up, is not recyclable (try crumpling a part of it and see). Each card takes about 140 kgs of CO2 to make and send- enough for two cups of tea.
One of my cards made out of the box that my Panettone came in!
For years, I have been using the same plastic Christmas tree and its decorations so it is as sustainable as I can get.
Our 12 year old Christmas tree!
I generally believe that living plants should stay living, in its natural habitat but terrariums are another thing. Especially during cold and wet days, it is quite nice to do indoor gardening!
This year, instead of buying flowers, I made a terrarium and a planted pot to decorate the Christmas table. Here is the step by step guide to both (which are slightly different to what you will find elsewhere). So first the things you need-
Activated charcoal (from an aquarium or pet shop)
Pebbles and rocks (I had some and bought some from the pet shop and washed them carefully)
Moss (I got these from the pots outside)
Different plants- I bought a fern (asplenium), a plant with colourful leaves(Fittonia Skeleton) and an orchid (Dendrobium Berry Oda)
A glass bottle (I had a leaky one which I’ve used)
packets of desiccator usually found with food
Any decorative things- I had some sea shells, sticks, and bigger rocks
Tools which included a newspaper to cover the table, a cloth to wipe, a wood spoon to tap soil and place the plants inside the bottle, secateurs, and a plastic funnel (the one I used was a leftover from an old dishwasher)
The first step was to wash the bottle thoroughly. Once it was dry, I put in the desiccators first and sprinkled some charcoal around it. Then I put in the washed pebbles, following it up with some more activated charcoal. One advantage of choosing colourful rocks was that the charcoal doesn’t look too out of place.
Instead of buying more soil, I used the ones in the pots- they were were more than enough. I put in the soil next. All my plants were quite big, so it I had to divide them up. The Fittonia was easy to do but the fern and the orchid were hard. I looked up various articles on how to do this on the internet but I’m still not sure about the orchid (which was the most expensive thing to buy!). Time will tell if these plants will survive although I’ve followed the instructions. Upon reflection, my advice will be to buy the smallest possible plants which will grow into bigger ones and are also easy to handle. On the cons of that, you will need to buy enough potting soil.
Dividing the orchid was difficult!
Planning the inside is also an art- you don’t want it to be overcrowded but to look well managed. The plants need space to grow and breathe. So I have placed the plants well apart as the orchid was pretty big.
There was enough soil and plants to make another pretty pot, so I did that using all the leftovers. This is what it looks like.
Merry Christmas and happy holidays!
And here are some ideas from Tom Dixon Studios for some fun terrariums (they don’t need many plants only a sense of humour and creativity!)
These are photos from an ‘Energy garden’ project we are doing on a London Overground station. The intention is to have vegetables, herbs and flowers growing on the platform, with rainwater harvesting, composting, and recycling. So the vegetables and flowers have been planted and are doing well- thanks to the station staff who look after them. A mural and slate plaque are planned for later this summer.
This work is being done as part of the environmental design charity I started, Charushila. For more information see www.charushila.org
This video introduces the Energy Garden concept which is a partnership between London Overground, Groundwork Trust, Repowering London and local organisations like ours-
I have just started using coconut husk compost for my spring/summer planting. First of all, I have to comment on how easy it was to transport and use. I didn’t have to lug a heavy bag of compost on the bus- the compost comes a brick sized light block. I took it out of the paper wrapping (which was recycled unlike the usual compost which comes in a plastic bag and it is difficult to find places that recycle them), then put the entire brick into a bucket on a day when I knew it was going to rain heavily.
So when the bucket was full of water, the coconut compost expanded to fill the bucket (one block makes 9 litres of compost). I could then use it to fill my baby bath tub planter which I found abandoned.
I had used up the winter offerings of dried shrubs and leaves as a composting material, on which I lay the coconut husk compost. I spread some seeds on the compost and then spread a thin layer of the coconut husk on that. The coconut husk compost is easy to work with, unlike the conventional compost. My seeds are now sprouting and I will keep you updated on how the plants do.
I travel quite frequently for work, so while I like to see greenery indoors, I found that I can’t really take time over indoor plants. From books to plant feeds and self-watering systems, and once, even leaf shining wipes (embarrassing!), I have tried many ways to look after these plants. Inevitably these have been a waste of time and money. I have been responsible for many shriveled and dead plants. So now I have made a terrarium.
While I looked at many Youtube videos and web based advice before starting out, I was also keep to make it out of what I had at home and not buy more stuff. I also took inspiration from the Princess of Wales greenhouse at Kew Gardens, London. I learnt that there were some key ingredients for a terrarium-
An inert base made of charcoal, especially if there were plants needing frequent watering. The charcoal helped to absorb odours, keep the terrarium free of fungal or insect infestations, like it does in aquariums.
Moss- which helped to regulate moisture in the air, absorbing the excess
Main plants that you want to use inside and any ‘decorations’
Charcoal is useful if you are going for a closed self sustaining system but as I was using cactus and succulents, my terrarium needed to be open and so I didn’t need the charcoal. So I made the base of used match sticks, found the moss in the garden and I already had the pasta jar which I cleaned before use. I reused the compost that came with the succulents and cactus to which I added some sand. Believe it or not, the aloe plant came as a decoration from a plate of rice ordered in a restaurant! I needed to have a vision of what I wanted the terrarium to look like before starting. If you like, you can draw a rough sketch before inserting anything inside as it can be very fiddly to take things in and out and also this risks damaging the delicate plants. You can use chopsticks, or tweezers or any kind of grabbing instrument to place the plants.
I first laid out the matchstick base, then put in the soil over which I laid the moss. I kept space in between these where I wanted to place the plants. These plants do not need depths for soil- they are happy with shallow soils as their roots don’t go very far. What you need to be careful with is the amount of water you use as these plants need good drainage. After I inserted everything including the ornaments, I sprayed the inside generously. Then I forgot about it! It has been one month now and the cactus has sprouted a little baby and the succulents, aloe and the moss are doing fine. I spray water every 3 weeks and that seems to keep it fine. Too much water and everything will rot. My next project will be to make a terrarium for orchids.
It is autumn and pumpkins are readily available. Use them for your Halloween pumpkin and then make pumpkin soup from that. But don’t throw the seeds or the gooey stuff around the seeds. That gooey stuff attached to the seeds can be taken out easily using water as this Youtube video shows. The gooey stuff can be thrown into your compost and the water used for the plants (so don’t use running water to clean the seeds as the video shows but use a bowl of water instead) The cleaned seeds can be used for snacks. Many of the recipes use shelled seeds and some don’t- you can use what you prefer. Due to some health issues, I can’t have the shells so I have used bought pumpkin seeds for this recipe but you can do the same with your seeds with shells. I have also let go of the olive oil used in many recipes because it is not good in the heat but used coconut oil instead. You need much less oil this way.
Heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade. Put your oven tray in for a few minutes to warm it, get it out and then put a tiny (I used a teaspoon) of coconut oil. It will melt. Spread the oil around the tray evenly and then put in a teaspoon of cajun spice or you can use garam masala. Mix the oil and the spice and blend in the seeds so that you have a even one layer of seeds on the tray. I also sprinkled some Himalayan sea salts on the mixture- again a small amount.
Stick the tray back in the oven for about 10 minutes or so until the seeds have turned crispy and become a lighter colour.
The finished seeds should have golden light colour- see the difference in the photos above and below. Then they are done. They are so yummy, low fat, free (if you have the pumpkin) and so simple to make! Its great party food plus very healthy-with nutrients ranging from magnesium and manganese to copper, protein and zinc. They also contain plant compounds known as phytosterols and free-radical scavenging antioxidants.
Because these are high-fibre seeds, they’re able to boost your fibre intake, helping you reach the ideal amount of 50 grams per 1,000 calories consumed and keep your bowels clear. You can also take them as snacks for work or to the park because pumpkin seeds are highly portable and require no refrigeration.
Even the most ugly buildings get transformed by flowers. I have been photographing beautiful flowers on buildings. As John Ruskin realised during the Industrial Revolution ‘that the quest to make a more beautiful world is inseparable from the need to remake it politically, economically and socially’. Tsunesaburo Makiguchi believed that beauty, benefit and goodness provided the basis for a creative society.
I am currently working on a project that is bringing beauty in the form of plants and flowers, sustainability in the form of rainwater recycling and solar panels and benefit in form of public seating in a rather plain London overground station. Here are some photos that I took for inspiration ranging from pubs, houses and stations
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-
Even 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.
In the meanwhile, baby agapanthus plants have started appearing even in the cracks in between the pavers-
So here is the to future- more resilient plants out on the patio!
An important part of being a canny gardener is thinking about how to do the most with least (thereby save money). Some could be about buying perennials, some could be about plants that re-seed/re-grow by themselves every year and some about plants that do two or three things. Here are some easy plants that have worked for me because they are easy, need little watering and resistant to common pests while attracting bees and good insects.
Eating and looking/smelling good– Edible Chrysanthemums, Chopsuey greens (extreme right), pansies and lavender. Shown below (left) is the edible chrysanthemums and my thai rice noodle made with it. I am going to use the flowers and the pansies, along with the nasturtiums to make a ‘flower salad’ later.
Buy one and get many for free– Calla lilies, Hosta, Alpine sedum, mint (both mint and sedum work well as ground cover, saving time on weeding. Shown below is my Hosta plant which has had many babies and survived slug onslaughts (slugs love Hosta). When the leaves are young, you can eat them as greens.
Reseeding by themselves- Mexican Daisy, poppies and Marigold. White flowers spring through fall. All needs medium to low water. With the daisies, you can also divide and get many from one small pot that you buy.
Perennials– Clematis, Agapanthus, Lobellia Fan Scarlet, Canna (many of the South African flowering plants will also grow in the UK and Europe, needing only little watering and care and producing gorgeously vivid blooms) . Shown from left to right are the Californian poppy (that occasionally becomes perennial!, calla lily and agapanthus, Erysimum (Bowles Mauve) and Clematis.
Useful weeds– Herb Robert, Dandelion, common geranium, nettles- I have got these free from the heavens- they are medicinal herbs, good for bees and grow with no problems! Shown below are nettles which I use for food, fertiliser and tea and also wild geraniums.
I grew up in India where there were many household insects ranging from the dangerous such as flies, mosquitoes and termites- to others such as spiders, ants, bees and butterflies. These last three were considered beneficial or not harmful. Now living in the UK, I find that bees are on the decline due to many factors including disease and the the widespread use of insecticides and pesticides. Butterflies are also on the decrease- in 2012, the Telegraph reported that bumblebees, beetles and butterflies are at greater risk of extinction than lions and tigers, according to a global study by the Zoological Society of London. And as for ants, I am always amazed at finding ‘ant killers’ at DIY and hardware stores. Why kill ants?
Most of the things ants do are good for us and the environment, including eating the larvae of fleas, spiders, bed bugs, flies, silverfish and clothes moths. There is a notion that ants may contaminate your food by crawling on it. The remedy is simple- cover your food and keep it out of reach of ants. I find a seasonal invasion of ants and I watch them with fascination as they go about looking for food. The first scouts can be held back I realised by putting out some water soaked cloth on the floor- I saw that when it rained they did not come in, only in the heat did they come in to find water. I had a great benefit from the ants- I found that they had been eating the tiny mites growing on my houseplants. Every year I have had disasters with my houseplants, particularly with the delicate parrot plant. This plant you see below was saved from the descendent of another parrot plant and then after that by cutting of the mite ridden branches in the new plant. I didn’t think it would survive the extreme pruning and by being left out in the cold but it did- parrot plants can also be resilient.
This year I was dreading the return of the spider mites but noticed that my friends, the ants had been busy on its branches. Now the plant is growing well and the ants return from time to time to clean off any mites that may come back.