More than spring, I love autumn. There is a smokiness in the air from the wood fires, it’s not too cold when you can walk in the parks and there are still days of sunshine when it is not too cold to sit outside. Nature is settling down for a sleep over winter and there is quietness like when someone is preparing for bed and mysterious shadows especially in the afternoons. Animals are busy gathering food to last over the winter and we are also busy foraging and preparing chutneys, jams and other delicacies from the bounty that nature presents in autumn. Autumn is a season of great generosity from nature. What I enjoy the most are the autumn colours which are quite unlike spring when branches are still bare. The trees and shrubs display their most amazing colours in leaves, berries and barks. Soon these will become nature’s own special compost. I have been walking around in London and Cambridge, taking photos of autumn scenes. I feel so energised when I go out to the park. I hope you like these photos!
As a child, I used to love shelling peas- a task handed by my mother to our small fingers. Many got eaten straight away instead of being handed back for cooking. Nowadays, we get ready shelled frozen peas which are convenient. Peas are associated with fish n chips, Sunday roasts, pea soup, and many Western foods. However, it is surprising to note that peas actually arose in Greece and the Middle East- Greece, Syria, Turkey and Jordan. Ancient finds also indicate that peas were eaten in Egypt, Georgia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India from 4800- 1750 BC. In the second half of the 2nd millennium BC, it appears in the Ganges Basin and southern India. Due to trade it spread further east- Japan, Korea, etc. and also West.
Peas have given rise to stories (The Princess and the pea, Five peas fairy tale, etc.) and proverbs (two peas in a pod, peas thrown against the wall, etc.) and is much loved all over the world. In the world of science, peas provided the basis for the theory of genetic inheritance. In the mid-19th century, Austrian monk Gregor Mendel’s observations of pea pods led to the principles of Mendelian genetics. Gardeners love the beautiful and delicate pea flowers. They attract bees which not only pollinate them but also produce honey. They are fairly easy to grow in a small plot of land or in a container.
A bumble bee hard at work on pea flowers
The most common type is the green garden pea (English peas) and the smaller, French petit pois. Nutritionally, peas are high in fibre, protein, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin K, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc and lutein. Though starchy, the glycemic load of a single serving of peas is estimated to be about 4, making them a low-glycemic food. For me, I find that eating some peas stops me craving for any sweet dish afterwards. So I add to many foods that I cook. It is an inexpensive food that is always in my freezer and I can add them towards the end of the cooking. As they have been frozen, they retain the vitamins and other goodness. Here are some foods I cooked using peas.
The open squares day is a great day to visit gardens in London- big or small. London’s hidden green spaces open their gates for public enjoyment and discovery.
The very first London Garden Square Day took place in 1998, with 43 gardens taking part. The aim was to draw attention to the contribution that green spaces made to the city- in fact, almost half of London is green. The open Squares days offer opportunity to explore those private and more secret gardens which are not generally accessible to the public and to join in the community events taking place. Caroline Aldiss, a resident of Collingham Gardens at the time, founded the event in 1998-9 with the support of the London Parks and Gardens Trust and English Heritage. She thought that a day when all the green spaces could become open to the public, would be good event for the summer and for people to become interested in gardens and gardening.
This year I visited St. Mary’s secret garden in Hackney with its wonderful array of tables selling home-made produce such as jams and chutneys, honey, plants, bird houses, tea and cakes. Along with the buzz of people, bees and birds, it was a lively atmosphere and inspirational. For over 25 years, St. Mary’s Secret Garden has offered a safe space where people with support needs and the local community can get hands-on experience of gardening, gain a sense of inclusion and receive the benefits of horticulture and other eco-therapy activities.
I have written previously about how winter leaves gifts behind, although spring and summer are seen as seasons when we have more gifts from nature. I made this gift for my colleagues at work using leaves and dried flowers that I was going to put into the compost heap. It was easy to do and looks quite good I think. I had all the stuff at home including the vase and the sponge base, so it is a zero waste zero price gift!
The lotus flower grows, which is an aquatic perennial, in muddy ponds all over South East Asia. But the flowers are offered to the gods and kings, despite such humble origins. That a muddy dirty pond should give rise to such a beautiful and majestic flowers- a flower that is the national flower of a country, India- is not a contradiction. In Buddhism, the lotus flower is held up as a symbol of how one can transform life’s trials and tribulations into beauty, compassion and wisdom.
Worshippers in Kandy, Sri Lanka with the white lotus
The lotus flower is also unique in the sense that seeds and flowers are to be found almost simultaneously in it, as a metaphor for the Buddhist belief that cause and effect are to be found together.
White and purple lotus flowers on sale at a stall, Kandy, Sri Lanka
The lotus flower is also held up a symbol of longevity. Seeds of a lotus flower which bloomed 1300 years old in a lake in northeastern China ago were made to flower. The lotus flowers are to be found in ancient Egyptian murals as well as many countries of Asia- China, India, Japan and Korea- testifying to the universal sense of wonder that one experiences when seeing them. Now they are grown all over the world.
My friend’s terrace where he grows the lotus flower in a small container
Photo of my friend’s lotus flower
So next time you see a lotus flower, enjoy its beauty but also think about the various metaphors associated with it that might help you in life!
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 been very guilty of loving my houseplants too much- by overwatering, over-fertilising and doing every other over-the-top thing. I have lost many plants and also money. So now I have reduced what I buy- though I still love to have plants in the house. Contrary to the view that houseplants hugely increase the amount of carbon dioxide during the evening and night and therefore it is not good to have them inside the house, it has now been calculated that they only increase it by a very small amount. This amount of carbon dioxide does not have any health disadvantage and the benefits of having house plants outweighs everything else.
During the late 1980’s, NASA did some research on houseplants as a means of providing purer and cleaner air for space stations. The plants filter out certain harmful compounds in the air and make it much healthier to breathe. My top three maintenance free and double use houseplants are-
Spider plant (which can absorb 90 percent of the toxins inside the house by absorbing mold and other allergens, small traces of formaldehyde and carbon monoxide; and best of all, live on practically nothing and yet produce ‘little babies’ that can be detached and given away as gifts!)
Aloe vera (the juice of which can be used for burns and insect bites)
Peace Lily (which improves the indoor air quality by as much as 60 percent by reducing the levels of mold spores, keeping bathrooms free from mildew and absorbing harmful vapors from alcohol and acetone. The peace lily also produces beautiful white or pale flowers- bonus! And after reducing my watering, it has finally produced a beautiful flower after many years of being flowerless.
Over the years, I have drastically reduced the numbers of houseplants but I was still overpowering them with water. But simply keeping water levels low or watering them every 2-3 weeks works well. A tip I got about watering houseplants when going away was to leave an ice cube in the pot- this has also worked well. This time was the first time I didn’t find my houseplants nearly dead from overwatering after I returned from a three-week holiday (previously I used to sit my houseplants knee deep in water!). My nearly dead poinsettia has even come back to life with glorious red leaves as you see below. I am now working on the orchid on which I will report later.
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.
(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.
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-
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.
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.
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.
My friend Jonathan went out and found these lovely autumnal colours in the local park.
He took these photos and I wanted to share these with everyone because of what someone decided to do with the fallen leaves. Ephemerally beautiful, arranged in the manner of the art of Andy Goldsworthy, these are worthy natural artworks by an unknown creative.
But this kind of beauty is also found in many smaller seasonal vegetables and plants that I have been photographing recently-
Spring is not the only time to find beauty in nature! In case you are interested, BBC has done a short film about why leaves change colour in autumn, which you can find here.
I love it when the first clematis come out in- it really is the beginning of warm weather and it makes me smile. Here are the first blossoms, along with their friend my ‘permanent robin’ and the new leaves on my olive tree.