The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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Using green mulch

In these days of climate change with extreme heat and lack of rain, even in the UK, one has to think about how to keep plants hydrated.  I went away for three weeks recently and had only just bought a lavender plants before leaving.  I was worried about it dying while I was away.  So I used a weed- nettles which grow well in my terrace- to make a green mulch.

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The green mulch would not only save the soil from drying out but also as the nettle dried out, it would nourish the soil.  It also would prevent other weeds from growing in the pot. I had first learnt about green mulch from some Cuban organic farmers who had used it during the ‘crisis’ days to grow urban food but had never used it myself.

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Almost four weeks later, this is the result.  The plant looks healthy and has grown well while the nettle has dried and become part of the soil.  Some small weeds have grown in the pot but those will also form part of the new green mulch.  This was so effortless and economical that I’m going to use it again and again.


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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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Elderflower tests

Elderflower juice

This photo shows some of my elderflower cordial being sold at my son’s school fair- it was very popular and sold out soon, even though it was not the sort of weather for it, i.e. cold and rainy.  I made the cordial this year with a little added Chinese wine vinegar which appeared to have improved the taste.  Now the elderflowers on trees are slowly turning into elderberries, so soon it will be time for compotes.  This summer I tried some more experiments with elderflowers.  Here are couple-

1. Growing elderflowers in a pot

My previous potted elderflower died- they do not like containers but that is all I have, so I have to keep trying to grow them.  This year while getting the flowers for the cordial I made above, I managed to tear down an entire small branch. Racked with guilt, I didn’t want to throw it away.  So I thought, why not try to plant this in the pot. I kept it for a few days in some water and then using some rooting compound on the cut stem, I put it in a pot. It seemed to a be failure and I was about to throw it away yesterday but lo behold, it seems to be growing. Now I need to see what happens- will keep readers updated and if any of you have have success with growing elderflowers in a pot, please let me know.  Apparently they need severe pruning in early spring or late autumn and they may die after three years (as it happened with my last one)

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2. Elderflower tea

I did a taste test between dried and frozen elderflowers.  In samples tasted by four people who didn’t know which one was which, all concluded that the dried elderflower worked the best for tea. So next year, more dried elderflower tea (the good thing is it doesn’t need any kind of sweetener- it is lovely as it is) and has many health benefits.  Elderflower is rich in bioflavonoids, mostly flavones and flavonols. The most abundant flavonols in elderflower are quercetin, isoquercitrin and anthocyanins, which have antiviral properties as well. Elderflower also contains chlorogenic acids, such as cinnamic acid, which may help with allergies, regulate blood glucose levels and have a laxative effect on the body (so take in moderation!). Triterpenoids, especially β-amyrin, erythrodiol, and oleanolic acid, are also found in elderflower. These triterpenoids offer a variety of health benefits including analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

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