Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Grow Hope with World Vision this summer

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Thirty years ago, Ethiopia’s Antsokia Valley was known as the “Valley of Death”. 15-20 people died every day, in the midst of the worst famine the world has ever seen. Ethiopia was in the midst of a drought, and Antsokia was a wasteland.

Today, the picture is much brighter. World Vision’s relief work in the region turned into a long term development effort. They provided local farmers with seeds, tools and livestock. They planted more than 22 million seedlings, may of which were fruit plants. They brought bee hives, training and new infrastructure: flour mills, veterinary clinics, roads and irrigation channels.

Traditional Ethiopian crops including sorghum and teff now grow here once again, but they are mixed with novel crops that bring multiple harvests every year. Mangoes, papayas and oranges hang from the trees, and are joined by bananas, sugar cane, tomatoes and cabbages in the fields. More productive agricultural techniques, such as organic fertilising and crop rotation, mean that over 99% of the children here are now classed as ‘adequately nourished’ by World Health Organization standards. Life here may not be easy, but the people in the Antsokia Valley can live without the feat of hunger.

Elsewhere in Africa, the outlook isn’t as rosy. World Vision’s Grow Hope campaign is bringing orange maize seeds to vulnerable people in Zambia. Although maize (sweetcorn, Zea mays) is a staple food for over a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, the varieties commonly grown are lacking micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), such as vitamin A, that are vital for health.

But maize is naturally high in genetic diversity, and varieties exist that are high in provitamin A (converted to vitamin A by the body when the maize is eaten). Conventional breeding has created Orange Maize – agricultural varieties that are naturally high in provitamin A.

A field of orange maize. Image credit: HarvestPlus Zambia Country Program

Look out for World Vision’s Grow Hope show gardens this summer – they’ll be at BBC Gardeners’ World Live from 12-15th June and RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show from 8-13th July. (If you’re lucky, you will already have seen their Chelsea show garden!)

And if you register for more information about the Grow Hope campaign, World Vision
will send you a free pack of Calendula (pot marigold) seeds and some freshly ground Ethiopian coffee as a thank you gift. And if you sign up via this special Grow Hope link, you’ll also be entered into a competition to win two tickets to the Hampton Court Flower Show!

Posted in Blog on Jun 10, 2014 ·

Last modified on Jun 10, 2014

Tags: competitions & ethnobotany.

Plant Me Now Christmas Gardens competition

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Garden Lights

Garden Lights by Lindsay T

Plant Me Now are running a Christmas Gardens Facebook competition for gardeners who like to decorate their gardens for Christmas. All you need to do is get your garden ready for Christmas, take a photo and submit it to the competition page. You can submit as many photos as you like before the closing date of 22nd December 2013. The prize for the winner is a £100 voucher to spend with Plant Me Now. You could use it to buy some plants for when your garden wakes up in spring (I’ve always been fond of fuchsias, personally).

Christmas tree 1

Now, I’m a natural kind of girl and I don’t like dressing my garden up with too much bling for Christmas, so here are my Top 5 tips for sustainable garden decorating:

  1. I leave my Christmas tree outside. It’s much happier there anyway, as they don’t like the warm and stuffy environment inside. If you can’t live without an indoor tree, then you can always buy another one to have outside – I picked up my tree from a garden centre just after Christmas, in the sale. It was only little then, but it’s getting bigger every year!

  2. If you want to light up an outdoor tree then make sure you get proper outdoor fairy lights and that you have a safe source of power outside – you don’t want to electrocute anyone, cause a fire, or watch your display fizzle out in the rain.

  3. Turn the lights off when you go to bed. Leaving them on all night is a waste of energy, will annoy the neighbours and may well affect wildlife.

  4. Think about making some of your decorations edible – not for you, but for our feathery and furry friends. They’ll love fat ball baubles, filled coconut shells and hanging decorations made from moulded seeds. You can buy lots of different edible wildlife treats these days, but it’s also possible to make your own. Hang them with colourful ribbons and make sure there’s a source of fresh water somewhere close by.

  5. Whatever you choose for your garden decorations, make sure you know what you’re going to do with them when you take them down. If you can keep them to reuse next year, that’s great. But everything else should be composted, recycled or disposed of responsibly by 12th night.

Do you decorate your garden for Christmas?


Posted in Blog on Dec 12, 2013 ·

Last modified on Dec 11, 2013

Tag: competitions

Win tickets to Innocent Inspires

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How do you fancy heading up to London, kicking off your shoes inside the Innocent yurt and listening to Arthur Potts Dawson talk about sustainable food, and Laura Bailey on living a stylish sustainable life? There’s also the opportunity to get your hands dirty doing some guerilla gardening to create an urban wildflower garden, and there’s a picnic to boot. That’s the Innocent Inspires ‘Ethics’ event on Wednesday 19th June 2013, and I have two tickets to giveaway to a lucky blog reader!

The prize also includes a month’s supply of Innocent smoothies, which should keep you going once you come back to every day life. I’ve set up a Rafflecopter for the competition entries, which is all new to me, so it’s very exciting. This competition is open to UK residents only – we’re not shipping you here, or highly perishable smoothies abroad.

The competition is now closed. Thank you for your interest. You may like to head over to the offers and coupons section, to see what else is available. Or perhaps you’d like the chance to win some cheese?

Posted in Blog on Jun 7, 2013 ·

Last modified on Jun 14, 2013

Tags: competitions & food.

2012 Olympic Wreath competition

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The Princess & The Ivy

The Eden Project is one of the botanic gardens taking part in the 2012 Olympic Wreath Competition.

The idea is for young people aged 11-19 to design an Olympic wreath fit for a champion that contains at least three plants that represent Britain. At least one has to carry a conservation message related to the plant’s environmental, economic or cultural significance.

Once the wreath is made entrants have to submit a photo of themselves wearing it :D plus a list of the plants used and a short piece about why they were chosen. The closing date for entries is the end of the year.

The Eden Project will chose five winners, which will then be submitted BGCI global wreath competition. Eden’s winners will receive certificates and will be contacted by the Eden Project in January 2012.

Winners of the global BGCI competition will have their photo displayed in London during the Summer Olympics 2012. They will be announced on the BGCI competition page and contacted by the Eden Project.

For full details of how to enter, click through to the Eden Project competition home page.

Posted in Blog on Oct 12, 2011 ·

Last modified on Oct 11, 2011

Tag: competitions

Write Club 2011 winners

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September has come to a close, and with it the inaugural Write Club competition. I am sure you will all agree that the quality of entries was very high, and that every single guest post was worth reading, so lets have a virtual round of applause for all our entrants:

Thank you to everyone who expressed their appreciation via a comment, FB like, Tweet or Google+. I can finally reveal that the winner of the public vote was…………………………….. Tom Carpen, with his Season’s Bleatings!

Carl Legge was a very popular runner-up and I know that many people will be enjoying his recipes for years to come.

From all the comments that were left I have used the random number generator to pick one winner, and it chose Catofstripes, who will receive a book from my shelf. I will be in touch with both winners shortly to arrange delivery of their prize.

It only remains for me to say that I have enjoyed Write Club 2011 immensely, and I hope you have to and that you’ll join me next year for Write Club 2012!

Posted in Blog on Oct 2, 2011 ·

Tag: competitions

Write Club: Postcard from Tamil Nadu

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This Write Club 2011 entry is from Katie Allen who regularly blogs for UK charity Salt of the Earth at

Reading about Bolivian families in the excellent World Vision greenhouse project, inspired me to write about the work of our sister charity, Social Change and Development (SCAD), in Tamil Nadu.

Tamil Nadu is in India’s south and roughly the same size as Great Britain. Just under half of the 70m population make up the rural poor where the average wage is just under £250 per annum.

It’s a dry, arid place and people living there are experiencing the effects of climate change with prolonged droughts, erratic monsoons and the resultant food security fears. Food prices run at about 30% inflation throughout the state.

This is why part of SCAD’s work focuses on the management of the land so that people, animals and the environment all benefit in the three districts in which it operates.

I spent six months out there last year and I would see organic kitchen gardens growing in villages everywhere. The scheme was started in 2002 in order to answer the need for accessible nutrition for everybody, especially mothers and babies.

This is how SCAD operates. It is a community-led approach, where help is only offered once a village has identified what problems it wants to solve first. Support is normally given through the network of 2,500 women’s self-help groups and this is how the kitchen gardens have rapidly grown to around 1,500 in total.

Villagers attend courses organised by the women’s groups on vegetable growing and composting as well as watering techniques like harvesting grey water. They are also shown how to secure their gardens with fencing to protect their produce from the local wild pigs.

Every year thousands of packets of seeds, purchased by SCAD, are sold for small amounts of money; those who can’t afford to pay are given some for free.

Two years ago a five-acre demonstration garden was set up at Anbu Illam – SCAD’s school for 75 differently-abled children. Along with training, the garden provides food for the children who are also involved in growing vegetables. Another 104 schools have kitchen gardens so a new generation is now growing up learning about the importance of food production and healthy eating.

Pictured above is a woman from Sivaloor village who poses with her harvest – bottle gourd, ridge gourd and radish – all nutritious and popular staples in the local diet.

The photo here is of Guru Lakshmi who is harvesting some okra in her kitchen garden. If there’s a glut or a good harvest then some of the villagers will sell their produce to make a little extra cash.

The women’s groups also spend time promoting the cultivation and education of other indigenous plants such as the Moringa or Drumstick Tree. Most gardens will have at least one of these species growing somewhere and the leaves, trunk, flowers and fruit are highly nutritious and help to increase haemoglobin levels.

Of course these vegetables are suited to tropical climes so hard for me to grow now I’m living back in London. Have you tried growing anything of these vegetables or a Drumstick Tree in your garden?

If you’d like to look at more photos then please look at our Flickr set.

Posted in Blog on Sep 29, 2011 ·

Last modified on Nov 28, 2012

Tags: competitions & unusual.

Write Club: The Late Late Show

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Sara is telling us about her autumn flowers for Write Club 2011 entry. Find her on Twitter as @hillwards; she blogs at Hillwards.

If you like this post, leave a comment or ‘vote’ for it by tweeting or liking it on Facebook.

As September draws to a close, our garden has suddenly seen an unexpected flush of late flowers alongside the ongoing performance from cosmos, antirrhinums and sweet peas.

From repeat bloomings on established roses – here the yellow rose by the shed

and the pale pink rambler along the front fence

- to the first late flowers on new plants raised or acquired in the past few months, most of which have only been in the ground for weeks.

A handful of flowers have sprung up from the Geranium ‘Orion’ plant that my mum gave us, which went into the ground about six weeks ago; with their long stems they nestle into the foliage of the cosmos behind. This should be spectacular next year, once it has found its feet.

Nearby, one of the clumps of Geranium sanguineum that I split and transplanted from the building rubble of the front garden earlier in the year has produced a single vibrant flower; its magenta petal edges seem to be lined in bright blue.

This pretty two-tone scabious was concealed beneath the leucanthemum, where it must have been blooming quietly for several weeks. It was the only plant to germinate from a packet of mixed seeds, and once planted out at the edge of the leucanthemum was quickly swamped beneath their rampant display.

Other plants are not quite so far advanced, their flowers still forming in a battle against the seasons.

This Eryngium planum ‘Blue Glitter’ was planted out as a small plug a couple of months ago and has grown tall through the summer and formed dozens of green flowerheads: will there be sufficient sun in the coming days to turn them blue before the frosts come?

One of the Gypsophila paniculata, raised from seed in the spring, is covered in tiny buds just beginning to burst open.

This tiny delphinium (one of 5 Delphinium grandiflorum chinese ‘Blue Pygmy’ plugs that arrived mid-summer and languished in pots before planting out ) has survived the slugs and is also budding up – will it bloom before the frosts?

The cardoon, meanwhile is also still holding its buds closed; another race against time.

I am thrilled by each new arrival, and anxious as to which of the remaining will fulfill their promise before the cold weather draws in, as we sit on the cusp of the seasons. But then, gardening is full of surprises and promises, both of which hold us in thrall.

Posted in Blog on Sep 28, 2011 ·

Last modified on Sep 27, 2011

Tags: competitions & flowers.

Write Club: Of Fat White Grubs And Pale Jade Beads

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Alison Tindale is here to tell us all about Chinese artichokes for Write Club 2011 entry. Find her on Twitter as @backyardlarder. You may also enjoy her earlier guest post, Easy vegetables from the backyard larder.

If you like this post, leave a comment or ‘vote’ for it by tweeting or liking it on Facebook.

A few years ago I planted my first Chinese artichokes (Stachys affinis), bought from the Organic Gardening Catalogue, in the clay soil of my allotment. Not one of them came up. I reckon they rotted away – they like a rich but well-drained soil but I think I read this after planting and so dolloped some spare sand on top of the soil hoping the worms would take it down for me. Maybe they don’t do that.

Chinese artichokes have many other names including Japanese artichokes, knotweed and crosnes – pronounced ‘crones’ – after Crosnes in France to which village they were brought from Asia in the nineteenth century. They are popular in France but haven’t caught on in England yet, on account, I read, of being fiddly to clean and looking like fat white grubs. This much is revealed in a five minute Internet search and then endlessly repeated on other websites along with some more tantalising snippets.

“Chinese poets compare them to jade beads and give them poetic names such as kan lu, meaning sweet dew”. (I believe this comes originally from Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book).

That set me on fire with curiosity and I clicked and clicked in search of that Chinese poet who looked at some knobbly tubers and saw precious jewels. I haven’t found the poem yet but will just have to keep hunting. That’s probably because my reaction today on finally digging up my first homegrown tubers was, “they look like strings of pearls not fat white grubs|. I hadn’t thought that when the tubers for planting had arrived from Poynztsfield Nursery in Scotland. But today I was beguiled: it was raining and the tubers had a fragile translucence about them. So that Chinese poet and I are buddies you see!

I brought them home and washed them. Not fiddly at all, although I made use of a tip gleaned from an allotment neighbour. One day I was confessing to sometimes throwing away tiny potatoes because they were a fiddle to wash. “Don’t do that,” she chided, “Do as we did as children. We were given a bucket of water with a bit of sand or grit in it, all the little potatoes went in that and we swirled them around with a stick until they were clean. They were lovely when they were cooked!” (Ken Fern, I notice, gives the same advice in ‘Plants for a Future’.

We ate some tubers raw (they can be steamed, boiled, fried or eaten raw) and most of my family liked them, the verdict being that they were like firm bean sprouts or very mild radish and that they would be nice in a salad. The surprising thing about them is their crispness – they break easily with a pleasing snap. Jane Grigson enthuses over their flavour and is definitely someone to go to for advice on how to prepare them.

Every garden could have a patch of these in the border (the flowers are quite attractive purple mint-like spears). They are easy to grow and can be dug up as you want them, like Jerusalem artichokes, as they are frost hardy. I think my somewhat neglected tubers were a bit on the small size and probably could have done with some soil enrichment but no pests had gone for them all summer and they formed quite a carpet and kept the weeds down. Just replant a few after you harvest, for next year’s crop. All in all, a perfect candidate for the perennial vegetable garden. I’m keen on easy homegrown food like this, being convinced that many people who don’t have much time for growing annual vegetables could harvest a lot of food from a range of easier perennial vegetables.

If you are interested in growing Chinese artichokes I will have some ready to send out in mid October. They will cost £5 incl. p&p for 15 tubers. I also have the following perennial vegetable plants available at present:

Babington Leek (Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii) £5.00

Tree Onion (Allium cepa proliferum) £5.00

Wood Sorrel (Oxyria digyna) £4.00

Buckler-leaved Sorrel (Rumex scutatus) £4.00

Giant Chives (Allium schoenoprasum sibiricum) £4.00

Pink Purslane (Claytonia sibirica) £4.00.

Red Veined Sorrel – (Rumex sanguineus) £4.00

Musk Mallow (Malva moschata) £4.00

Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) £4.00

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) £4.00

Email to to check on availability and new plants. I am also on Twitter. 
(Prices include post and packing)
(50p reduction on total price for each additional plant)

Payment by Paypal to or ask for details for paying by cheque.

Posted in Blog on Sep 27, 2011 ·

Tags: competitions & perennial.

Write Club: A plant in the wrong place

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The Courtyard Gardener is sharing her thought on weeds for her Write Club 2011 entry. Find her on Twitter as @courtyardgarden ; she blogs at The Courtyard Gardener.

If you like this post, leave a comment or ‘vote’ for it by tweeting or liking it on Facebook.

One skill I’m trying to learn as a new gardener is identifying which seedlings are “weeds” and which are “plants”.

But the thing is, there are many weeds that are welcome guests in my garden. Like the violets that creep between the gaps in my paving, their pretty purple flowers nodding in approval at their narrow home, or the wild strawberries that wind their way through my flower beds. They may be wild, but they’re very much plants in the right place.

Of course not all the plants that arrive under their own steam plant themselves in just the right spot. But one of the best things about nice plants growing in the wrong place is that you can immediately convert them from weed to garden treasure by simply moving them to the right place. For example, my hellebores seem to love seeding into the cracks between the paving of the courtyard, rather than into the flowerbed. Of course these are plants in the wrong place – but are they really weeds, when a new Hellebore in my local garden centre will cost £10? (admittedly a few years on from my baby versions … and yes, I do live in London!!)

These plants are perfect for moving to a new spot: I know they are basically happy in my garden, and I have a pretty good idea from their parents what they will grow up to be. Moreover, where one seedling grows usually there’s more than one – giving me lots of plants that I can group together for maximum impact when they reach full size.
Similarly this cute fern is growing in my front path. It’s clearly not got a future there (if it grows to any size it’s going to get trampled), but it would be perfect by my pond if I can just winkle it out without leaving its roots behind.

As for the plants that I really do see as weeds: generally they’re plants available for sale at a garden centre near you: be it the Parrots Feather in my pond, or the Hypericum weaving its way indelibly through all my beds. Still, even these plants are not entirely unwelcome, but can contribute to the great cycle of life in the garden, either in my own compost heap or (for the tenacious Hypericum root) in the big brown council compost bin in the sky…

What’s your favourite non-weed weed, or most hated weed non-weed?

Posted in Blog on Sep 21, 2011 ·

Last modified on Sep 20, 2011

Tags: competitions & weeds.

Write Club: Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner – Your Help is Needed

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Today’s Write Club 2011 post comes from VP, aka @Malvernmeet; she blogs at Veg Plotting.

If you like this post, leave a comment or ‘vote’ for it by tweeting or liking it on Facebook.

Ever since I first spotted the signs of damage on the horse chestnut trees by my house a few years ago, I’ve been keeping my eye on the seemingly inexorable increase of the culprit: the horse chestnut leaf miner. This year I’ve counted just 14 conkers on my local trees and the damaged leaves look worse than ever.

I picked a couple of the flatter leaves from my nearest tree and placed them on the small light box I have at home. The above picture is the result. The brown areas are the now dead leaf tissue eaten through by previous generations of the moth earlier in the year. The yellowy green almost circular ‘splodges’ are where the current generation reside. Look closely and you can just see a slightly darker larva shape within.

I cut open the leaf and managed to extract one of the larvae. It’s hard to imagine how such a small creature – impossible to photograph with my point and shoot camera and about 1cm in length – is exacting so much harm on one of the stateliest of our trees, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in numbers.

I was feeling quite depressed about this until I found out about some research being carried out by Bristol and Hull Universities. They’re mapping the extent of the leaf miner population and have developed a couple of smartphone apps – one for the iPhone and the other for android – to enlist your help. All you need to do is download the appropriate free app to your phone and then complete the simple form to load your data up to the project.

Don’t have a smartphone (like me), but would still like to help with the project? Don’t worry, you can register and submit your information via the Our Web of Life alien moth survey website. It’s very easy to do, though it helps if you know the postcode close to where the tree(s) are. A zoomable satellite picture helps you pinpoint your tree and you then just simply click on the appropriate picture to record your estimate of the damage, then another to say what the ground’s like underneath. Simple!

NB recording undamaged trees is just as important as recording those that are, not only for monitoring the spread of the leaf miner, but possibly also pinpointing any trees which may be resisting an attack in some way.

I think this is a brilliant use of technology which helps to gather far more data than could be managed by the researchers working on their own. Over 8,000 people have added their contributions already and you can see some of the preliminary results on the Leaf Watch blog. How about joining me and adding yours?

Posted in Blog on Sep 20, 2011 ·

Last modified on Sep 19, 2011

Tags: competitions & pests.

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