The Canny Gardener

how to be a smart gardener


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Foraging rules

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Summer is here and I am making the elderflower cordial I have made for many years now.  This year I am going to try out agave nectar instead of sugar- it is sweeter but has less calories.

I got these flowers from an abandoned garage near my house and also some from the park.  Before foraging any edible plants, leaves, fruits or flowers, it is best to have a check to see what you are doing is legal or not.  In the UK, many parks and wild areas have plenty of material for foraging but you might be damaging the biodiversity of the area by overpicking.  For instance, many people were prosecuted for picking mushrooms from the Royal parks.  Picking mushrooms by bagfuls would destroy the natural flora of the area.  So do not pick from any protected areas such as Royal parks, area of scenic beauty or those with fragile or seasonal flora (Dungeness beach comes to mind).  Always check notices to see if foraging is allowed- local bye laws which prohibits foraging can be passed by councils, the National Trust and government conservation agencies such as Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Countryside Council for Wales.

The second is if you are foraging for yourself, that is fine.  But commercial activity, i.e. selling what you get out of foraging is not permitted. The Theft Act 1968, for England and Wales, states that: ‘A person who picks mushrooms growing wild on any land, or who picks flowers, fruit or foliage from a plant growing wild on any land, does not (although not in possession of the land) steal what he picks, unless he does it for reward or for sale or other commercial purpose.’  And the Scottish Outdoor Access Code allows foraging, but again, not for commercial use.  My one small bag of flowers for my own use is allowed from the park I got the elderflowers from.  You should never pick all there is, you should always leave plenty for others to enjoy – including wildlife.

Third, you can’t pick someone’s overhanging branch that might be on the street or even over your garden fence.  Nearby this tree were some other elderflower trees with lovely blossoms. I was lucky that the owner happened to be there and I asked permission to get the flowers.  It all sounds simple really and part of good manners- only take for yourself, leave for others and always ask permission.

 

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canny planting

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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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A year later!

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-

Starting out

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.

 

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wildflowers

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( a posy of wildflowers- wild geranium, euphorbia, buttercup, field genetian, forget me not, Green alkanet, sweet cicely, Mountain crane’s bill and the heavenly scented Butterfly bush)

We are so lucky in late spring to be blessed with wildflowers- many of whom are cousins of cultivars.  These are free, abundant and hardy.  While we have to be careful in picking these- for example, the Euphorbia shown here is a laxative!- we can still enjoy them whether in the garden or in a vase in our room.  I find these more delightful than cultivars- they seem to be naughtier, tinier cousins-daring you to pick them up. It was my son, in fact, who noticed the Butterfly bush with its deep scent- much nicer than any perfume or room freshener you could buy!

Such bits of wild spaces in the city attract bees, butterflies and birds- I heard the most delightful singing of birds when I was picking these flowers up.  As birdsong has decreased by 60% in the UK, wildflowers and spaces are the right thing to have in your garden.  Even one small container or pot with wildflowers will attract bees and butterflies as I know.