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.
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.
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.
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 started writing this blog as a diary of transformation of my garden. See my first post from May 2013 and this photo of how it was-
This year I have managed to put some effort into the garden which is what you will see below. Many of the pots were got from street, some from charity shops, some given- only one was bought. Most of the plants were either grown from seeds, rescued from somewhere or given and a few were bought as ‘baby plants’. I have used wooden pallets found on the streets, tyres, home made compost and bits of furniture to create a container garden. I love the fact that not everything grows all at once- there is always a new surprise all year, especially summer. There is a bit of everything- things to eat- herbs, salads, tomatoes, potatoes; things to look at- ornamental cultivars; and wild things- nettles, wildflowers, dandelions- all of which I use for cooking or decorating. Someone once said that they spend about one hour each day, on the garden and from this experience, I concur. A lot of the work is upkeep, rather than simply planting. Again, I think, container gardening is harder than conventional gardening- the amount of moisture in the soil, the nutrients and the placement of pots are very important and take planning and time.
Nettles grow wild in the UK and most throw them away as weeds. However, nettles are quite nourishing with health restoring properties. It is a slow-acting nutritive herb that gently cleanses the body of metabolic wastes. It has a stimulating effect on the lymphatic system, enhancing the excretion of wastes through the kidneys. Nettle contains iron and vitamins C and K. It is reportedly specially beneficial to pregnant women. It is also anti-lithic and nephridic, breaking down stones in the kidneys and gravel in the bladder.
I had a recipe for a spinach and banana dish in which I decided to swap for nettles and plantain. I used plantain instead of banana to overcome any possible strong reaction with the bowel because plantain slows it down. Pick the nettle leaves carefully and put them in some hot water which makes them stingless and then they can be chopped up roughly. To couple of spoons of hot oil, I added a pinch of cumin seeds and birds eye chillies and fried for 1-2 minutes until the cumin seeds were puffed up. Then I added four chopped garlic cloves, half chopped onion and one tomato, quartered, along with the sliced plantain and chopped nettle leaves. Stir until all done- takes about 4-5 minutes with a lid on during last few minutes. Serve with rice and salt to taste.
“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.”
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.