The Canny Gardener

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


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Abundance of nature

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Nature is not mean with her gifts to us.  This is a pear tree which grows in a community centre where I volunteer at the reception every five weeks.  Yesterday, I not only had four pears for lunch but also brought back a bagful to give away.  Having been grown organically and being in season, they were deliciously sweet.  I don’t normally like pears but these were out of the world.  Eating with the seasons mean that Nature is more than ready to shower us with its abundance.


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Gratitude for plants

Recently I was reading about plants that grow in water.  You can put literally anything like carrot tops, onion tops, celery etc in water and they grow again.  Amazing, so I have  been doing some experiments to see how little plants need to grow again.

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But there are plants that grow in air too. You will have seen root plants such as potatoes, ginger etc as well as bulbs such as garlic and onions also grow from nothing.  Here are my experiments with turmeric which needed nothing but darkness and air  to start growing green shoots.

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Here are the planted shoots, growing beautifully-

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Which brings me to the point of this post- how amazing plants are and how little they really need.  A bit of water, a bit of soil, bit of sunlight, some pruning from time to time and perhaps a change of soil and addition of compost.  Yet they provide an eco system that supports our very life.  They attract bees that pollinate other plants, they give us food, medicine and clean and purify the air we breathe.  We’d all die if plants died.  They are beautiful and keep us healthy.  They give us so much for so little.  Yet, how many times have I expressed gratitude for plants?  Not many times, perhaps because I take them for granted.  From now on, I shall express gratitude for plants every day!


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trying new foods

I didn’t know what prickly pears were- I thought they could refer to pears that were a bit irritating (only joking!).  No, I really didn’t until I went to the local Lebanese shop and bought these-

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As an artistic person I was attracted to the colours, texture and shape of the fruit and thought they were beautiful!  I cut open the fruit and the fragrance was amazing- it had a ‘sweet’ perfume and tasted like cross between a melon and an apple.

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So I did some research on the fruit.  Apparently it grows on a cactus in semi-arid regions and is better known as Opuntia ficus-indica. It is a common drought-resistant fodder plant.

The fruit can be chilled in the refrigerator for a few hours and then cut into slices- the outer hard skin and seeds are not eaten. They can be boiled and made into jams and juices.  Mexicans eat the young cactus pads sliced into strips, skinned or unskinned, and fried with eggs and jalapeños, served as a breakfast treat.  In the early 1900s the USA imported these from Mexico and the Mediterranean countries but they gradually fell from f(l)avour during the mid-1950s. Since the late 1990s, they have become popular again.  Below is my version of the Mexican breakfast made with fried green prickly pears, Romero peppers, green chilli, fried egg with cumin, garlic, coriander and red pepper seasoning.

Mexican breakfast

I was also amazed to find out that they serve as not only fodder and drink for the cattle in the Southwest United States but also may be used for a boundary fence.  Cattle can be made to stay in one area enclosed by a prickly pear fence. The spines can be burned off to reduce mouth injury to the cattle when feeding them with the plant. The cactus pads, on which the cattle feed, are low in dry matter and crude protein, but are useful as a supplement in drought conditions.  In addition to the food value, the moisture within provides the cattle with hydration.  All from a lowly cactus!  I will try to grow one from the seed.

So next time you see an fruit or a vegetable that you’ve never eaten before- do try it!  You may learn something about our wonderful world as I did.


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Photographing gardens

Photographing gardens and plants are something we can all do. These stunning photos taken by amateurs and professionals prove that it is the eye that counts- we must try to see the beauty that may be invisible to most. Many of these photos have been taken with a smartphone, many are on the spur photos. But the attention to detail and composition make them stand out- this requires ‘being in the moment concentration’. So do get your camera and start- I feel inspired to take some myself and will be sharing those with you in the coming year.

International Garden Photographer of the Year: Winning photos of nature’s beauty


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Easy beauty

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 in bottle- it will look milky.  Use the rice water for light cleansing of the face or a toner or pick me up- I use it before parties before I put the moisturiser. Works well as a light cleanser for plates and delicate china.  Best of all, organic rice can be used to make this easy cleanser/toner.

PS- Cook the rice adding more water as directed-it cooks beautifully, fluffy and white, having been soaked.  Enjoy!

A NOTE  OF WARNING: Wet rice (cooked or uncooked) left long enough, creates the environment for the dangerous bacteria bacillus cereus to flourish. So keep the rice water refrigerated and do not use beyond three days (as I learnt by suffering!)