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Showcasing science with plants: Dark Matter at Chelsea

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Dark Matter garden design for Chelsea 2015
Dark Matter garden design for RHS Chelsea 2015

An ethnobotany superhero by night, my mild-mannered daytime alter ego is a science writer for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), one of the UK’s research councils. It’s not often that those two worlds collide, although during the early summer the campus I work on is dotted with the blooms of hardy orchids.

This year, though, STFC have sponsored a garden at Chelsea! It’s a lovely garden for the National School’s Observatory (NSO), a website established by Liverpool John Moores University to provide schools in the UK and Ireland with free access to the Liverpool Telescope (the world’s largest fully-robotic telescope).

Two scientists at the NSO, Professors Andrew Newsam and Mike Bode are making it their mission to inspire as wide an audience as possible about astronomy, and getting people into scientifically-themed show gardens is one way they do it.

In 2013, the team (Howard Miller Design Ltd and Landstruction) put together a horticultural representation of a spiral galaxy that won a Gold medal at RHS Tatton, and proved very popular with visitors to the show – where else would you expect to find people queueing to listen to a scientist! Mike took the black hole home, and it now has pride of place next to his greenhouse, but you don’t have to worry, as he says it’s not plugged in ;)


Dark Matter Garden
The Dark Matter garden, before the crowds arrive at RHS Chelsea

Fresh from their Tatton success, they decided to design a show garden for Chelsea, and to give themselves a real challenge – the concept behind this year’s design is Dark Matter, something we can’t see, and can’t (yet) detect in any way. If you’d like to know more about the science then you can read the piece I wrote for the STFC website – Say it with flowers, which has links to even more good sciency stuff for those of you who are really interested.

The really exciting news is that not only did the garden win a Gold medal, but it was also chosen at the Best Fresh Garden, so that is thrilling (and well deserved) and I’m so happy for the team that put together this smashing garden. It has also gone done well with the press, and you can see some of the responses to the garden on the Storify I put together at work: Dark Matter at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 (and which I am updating all week).

If you’re heading to the show for the last couple of days, then do make sure you stop by and see the Dark Matter garden whilst it’s still fresh ;)

All that remains now is for the public to offer their opinions, and vote in the People’s Choice Award for their favourite Fresh and Artisan gardens (the smaller show gardens) – so do pop over and vote for your favourites :)

Posted in Blog on May 20, 2015 ·

Tag: events

Naked Gardening Day - health and safety tips

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Dancing
Dancing by Marko, via Flickr

Today, the first Saturday in May, is World Naked Gardening Day. The idea is to pop out and do some gardening in the altogether (‘as nature intended’) to help improve our sense of what is normal and acceptable in terms of body shapes and sizes.

(I did once seriously consider going to a ‘clothes optional’ day at Abbey House Gardens, but found surprisingly few takers for travelling companions.)

We’ve had a health and safety briefing at work this week. We are required to fill in risk assessments for all tasks that are potentially hazardous (i.e. absolutely everything), but if it’s a quick thing you can go through a short ‘on the job’ checklist. I thought it might be fun to put together a bare bones guide to the hazards of naked gardening ;)

The weather
We’re told these days that we’re all vitamin D deficient, and we should expose our torsos to the sun whenever possible, so naked gardening scores some points in that dimension. However, if it’s sunny we do have to be aware of the risks of sunburn, and skin cancer, so protective lotion is almost certainly required.

A hat will protect you from sun stroke, especially if you’re a bit thin on top.

Looking out of the window, a more pressing concern in my garden today would be hypothermia, especially if the forecast rain arrives later. Have a towel, dry clothes and warm drinks on standby for when you retire indoors. From experience (selling university rag mags in Birmingham in November, dressed as a St Trinians girl) I have found that a hot shower is more warming than a hot bath, if you’re very cold.

Cuts, grazes and puncture wounds
There’s plenty of potential for injury in the garden when you’re nude. Feet are especially vulnerable, so it would be best not to let them go au naturel but to continue wearing your normal gardening footwear. Forks and spades will go straight through toes if you let them, so avoid flip flops and go for sturdy shoes or boots instead.

Thorns are a particular hazard for feet, but also for hands, so gloves may continue to be a necessity, depending on what you’re doing. I would leave pruning anything prickly for another day, personally.

Cane toppers. Great for stopping you poking out your eyes on a normal day, you may want to consider popping them on short canes today as well, so you don’t poke anything else while you’re bending over. You know what I mean, stop sniggering at the back!

Impromptu amputations
Sharp objects abound in the garden, and a lot of them are tools. Mind what you’re doing with those secateurs/ loppers/ pruning saws – some pruning cuts cannot be reversed. Anything electric should be protected with a circuit breaker, by which I mean you should protect yourself by using a circuit breaker with any electrical tools.

Self-stoning
Lawn mowing… looks like a nice, gentle activity that should be safe enough whilst naked (with boots on, see above), but it does throw up stones. Safety glasses just aren’t going to cut it today.

Self-immolation
Fires. Really? You’re choosing to have that bonfire/bbq now? Are you insane? Put your clothes back on! No one likes the smell of burning hair!

Chemical burns
I’m sure you’re all organic gardeners, with no nasties in the shed, but if you’re not then leave them in there until you can wear the proper personal protective equipment (i.e. pants). Watch out for plants that can cause chemical burns if they come into contact with bare skin. It’s bad enough when it’s your arms….

So, once you’re wearing just your hat, boots and gloves, you’re all set for appropriate gardening tasks. Such as light weeding… although do be careful of toxic/ scratchy plants in the vicinity. Or sit back with a nice cup of… better make it iced tea, you don’t want to risk a nasty scald somewhere sensitive. You could maybe do a little potting on, that should be safe enough, if you stay out of the sun.

What’s that? Your garden is overlooked by the neighbours? They have young children? You’re right, perhaps we should confine our naked gardening to sowing seeds indoors ;)



This has been a bit of a giggle for World Naked Gardening Day, but in all honesty safety in the garden is no laughing matter. In 2004, 87000 people in the UK were injured whilst gardening – seriously enough to need emergency medical treatment. After lawn mowers, the thing most likely to cause injury was found to be… flowerpots.

What’s your top tip for gardening safely?


Pots
Flowerpots – an accident waiting to happen!

Posted in Blog on May 2, 2015 ·

Tag: events

Edible Garden Show 2015

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Months ago I booked tickets to this year’s Edible Garden Show, which is happening this weekend at Alexandra Palace in London. (I bought them when there was an offer on, and two tickets cost me about £30.) I took yesterday off to go – but as I haven’t been very well this week I wasn’t sure I would make it. Although I went to the first three shows at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, I didn’t go last year (when I was between gardens) and felt miffed that I’d missed out on meeting the liquorice people, so I decided to make the effort.

I hadn’t appreciated how much of an effort it would take. We had to drive to the station and pay for a day’s parking (£6.20) and get two off-peak tickets into London (£50). We then used our Oyster cards to travel to Wood Green, via King’s Cross. I think it’s the longest tube journey I’ve ever had to make.

The website for Alexandra Palace says that Wood Green is the nearest Tube station, so I naively thought it would be close – it isn’t. It’s a 30 minute hike uphill to the venue. There is a shuttle bus, and we waited for a while by its bus stop, but when it didn’t come we decided to move on, as the wind was bitingly cold.

Of course, once we started walking the sun came out and by the time we arrived at Ally Pally we were boiling. Having left the house at 10am, we arrived at 12:45, missing the only talk I really wanted to hear (from James Wong).

We did a circuit of the hall, spotting the Lubera stand, which was attracting quite a lot of attention. (Lubera have been breeding new fruit varieties for cool climates (and edible dahlia roots with a range of flavours). I’m working on a reader discount for you, so watch this space for more about that.)


Lubera's fruit stand
Lubera’s new fruit varieties were popular

Once we finished out circuit we stopped, and tried to work out what we were missing. Because the show was tiny. At Stoneleigh it took up more than one hall, there was an outdoor section on the way in, and there was a smallholder marquee with lots of animals. This year there was one hall, with a small city farm outside.

There were a few stalls with seeds and plants, but mostly it was gardening kit. There were a handful of foodie stalls, and not much on offer in the way of actual food.

There were lots of visiting school children, but no buzz.

I was disappointed.

We sat and ate ‘gourmet’ sausage rolls at the edge of the hall, and then tried another circuit. I bought some herbs, from Urban Herbs, who are based in the Midlands. They had a lovely selection, but unfortunately don’t do mail order, so you have to catch them at a market or at a show. I bought Indian Mint (Satureja douglasii), Blackcurrant sage, Pineapple sage and an Aztec sweet herb (Lippia dulcis). Since it was 5 for £10 I offered Ryan the final choice and he picked out Lemon verbena.


Urban Herbs stand
A good selection of herb plants from Urban Herbs

Discussing how this show was much smaller than the last one we’d been to, and how much more fun that one had been, Ryan remembered we’d seen Joy from Sea Spring Seeds in 2013. Having seen her tweet about coming to the show, we made a special effort to find her stand (we were not given a show programme, and the one on the web was woeful). Eventually we did, and as usual she was deep in conversation with chilli addicts:


Joy at the Sea Spring Seeds stand
Joy Michaud from Sea Spring Seeds

And so we left, and started the long slog home. According to Ryan’s FitBit we walked 9.6 km and climbed the equivalent of 46 flights of stairs during the day. As the day weighed in at about £100, it was an expensive way to get some exercise.

It’s such a shame, because I really enjoyed the event when it was at Stoneleigh, and felt it had something different to offer than the run-of-the-mill garden shows that I avoid. I won’t be going again, I will save my money next year and spend it on plants instead.

What do you think – is a trip to the Edible Garden Show worth the money?

Posted in Blog on Mar 21, 2015 ·

Tag: events

Swapping Seeds

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Seedy Penpal package

This is the parcel of seeds I received from my Seedy Penpal this week – it includes tree spinach (Chenopodium giganteum), Potimarron squash, Courgette de Nice, Hamburg (root) parsley and scorzonera as well as Tithonia flowers and tree paeonies. The Seedy Penpal exchange, organised by Carl Legge, isn’t a straight swap – I sent a parcel of seeds to a different individual last month. If you fancy becoming a Seedy Penpal yourself, then you can register your interest now; the next swap will take place in August.

Swapping seeds on a one-to-one basis, whether the exchange is mediated by the internet or not, is an entirely different experience than attending a seed swap. It’s seed swap season, with local events springing up all over the country, often in tandem with potato days, where you can buy your seed potatoes for the year.

The Seedy Sunday seed swap in Brighton is arguably the most famous (and potentially the largest) in the UK. I’d always wanted to see it, and so this year I made the trip down to Brighton to have a look… and was bitterly disappointed.

To begin with, there was a queue to buy tickets. Now I don’t have any objection to paying an entrance fee for an event like this, but I hadn’t been expecting one – because it wasn’t mentioned in any of the promotional materials that I saw when I was doing my pre-swap homework.

I couldn’t find much guidance, either, on how the swap itself worked – which kinds of seeds were allowed and which were not, and so on. There was a mention that you could swap seeds for a 50p donation per packet, if you didn’t have any seeds to swap yourself. It wasn’t until I was in the swap and standing by the tables that the rules were explained.

Seedy Sunday

Getting to the seed swap tables was an epic adventure – the hall was heaving. There was no room to move, and nowhere to stand, you simply had to go with the flow and hope it took you where you wanted to go. People were rude (as they often are), shoving and barging.

At the seed swap tables, the seeds were organised into small boxes according to plant family. You have to have some method of organisation, as otherwise the seeds go all over the place and you can’t keep an eye on what’s going on. But as soon as you put the seeds in boxes you limit access to one or two people at a time; the larger the boxes, the longer people take to flip through, make their selections, and move on.

People were impatient. There was more barging and shoving. And when I finally did get a chance to browse, there was nothing of interest left in the boxes. Although I am assured that they began the day with a more interesting selection, but lunch time you would have been hard pressed to find anything other than tomatoes and runner beans.

Moving on from the swap itself, there were some interesting stalls – but again it was hard to get close to them. The Thomas Etty seed stall was tiny, and the queue several people deep. Edulis had a larger table on which to display their plants, and I managed to buy a Cha Cha Chive so that I didn’t leave with nothing. But in less than half an hour I had given up and left.

I don’t have all the answers on how to run a better seed swap – I’ve tried it myself, and it’s difficult to handle crowds. At least the Seedy Sunday helpers probably didn’t have to cope with the constant demands for explanations of “how it works” that you get when you run a seed swap as part of a larger event, or hoards of people turning up who weren’t expecting a seed swap and have nothing to exchange.

If you’re the kind of person who likes hunting through bargain bins and doesn’t mind crowds, then Seedy Sunday might be for you – it runs in February every year. If not, then I’d suggest looking for something a little smaller and closer to home – or swapping on a more individual basis with the online gardening community. And if you’re looking for something in particular, then just ask – many people are happy to swap, or to send out surplus seeds for just the cost of the postage.

How do you swap your seeds?

Posted in Blog on Feb 17, 2014 ·

Last modified on Aug 31, 2014

Tags: events & seeds.

World AIDS day

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Ribbon tree

Ribbon Tree, by Mark Turner

Today is world AIDS day, an opportunity for us to unite in the fight against HIV, to show our support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. The event has been running every year since 1988.

I came across the image above on Flickr, and it made me wonder why we adorn trees in this way. We have Christmas trees and yule logs, wishing trees and prayer trees – obviously there’s something universal in the human psyche that finds trees moving or meaningful, long-lived or even eternal.

Wishing trees are very interesting. People spontaneously begin to hammer coins into the bark of fallen trees, as a wish – usually for health. The belief is that hammering in the coin removes disease; anyone who subsequently removes the coin would bring the disease on themself. It happens all around the UK and there’s some lovely pictures of these coin trees on the Daily Mail website (sorry!).

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney has a wishing tree, and special instructions on how to use it make a wish, which involves being “as quiet as a tawny frogmouth” at one stage.

Wishing trees are sometimes associated with clootie wells (spelling is region-dependent), again with a reference to the removal of disease. There may be parallels with wassailing, a winter tradition of toasting apple orchards, and apparently in America (and other places) there is a tradition of tossing shoes into trees.

I prefer Tibetan/ Buddhist prayer flags myself, sometimes strung between trees and far more attractive fluttering around in the breeze than an old boot (you can also make your own prayer flag tree from a branch). Hindu mythology also has a wishing tree – the banyan.

I tucked a wish, written onto a paper leaf, into a wishing tree display at the Natural History Museum earlier this year, in their extinction exhibit. Of course none of this explains why we do it….

How about you, have you used a wishing tree?

Posted in Blog on Dec 1, 2013 ·

Last modified on Nov 30, 2013

Tags: ethnobotany & events.

Postcard from: Canterbury

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Friday 22nd November 2013 was the day of my graduation, which was held in Canterbury Cathedral. As you can see, my parents are very proud.

I am now officially an ethnobotanist. Ethnobotany is the study of how people make use of plants. It’s a multidisciplinary subject, encompassing aspects of botany, anthropology, chemistry, forestry and agriculture, horticulture, medicine, geography, conservation, history…. It’s hard to find relevant books in the library, they could be anywhere!

Economic botany is the same subject. Which term you use depends a bit on where you are in the world, but there are also some historical connotations to both that some people dislike. Britain has a long history of economic botany, but as it is tied up with our colonial past and our exploitation of other people’s natural resources, the term is a little out of favour here at the moment. There’s also plenty of anti-commercial feeling that objects to the use of ‘economic’ for natural resources, as to some people it smacks of commercialization (and, again, exploitation).

Ethnobotany can also be problematic, as it has its roots in the study of what anthropologists refer to as ‘other’ – people who aren’t like us. The use of plants by tribal and “primitive” groups. We understand now that “primitive” is not an appropriate word to describe people whose lifestyles are very different from our own and don’t rely on modern technology.

My personal preference is to think of its more as a difference in focus. For me, economic botany is about the what and the how of plant use, whereas ethnobotany looks at the who and the why.

These are both valuable areas of study, but my interest lies in the concrete facts of which plants are edible or otherwise useful, and how that can be done. I prefer to think of the ‘economic’ in economic botany in its original sense, the idea of how people make their living from plants – household economy rather than commercial economy.

I like this quote from Wickens (1990:24), in which he reminds us that the small and local are just as important as the large and global, and that economic botany is as much a science for the future as it is a a study of the past:

“No use is regarded as too insignificant that it should remain unrecorded, for economic botany is never static. Some uses may be superseded by synthetics; others may lie dormant for want of the appropriate technology for their development, or a better economic climate. Still other uses have yet to be identified; the economic botanist must always be alert for new alternatives.”

My certificate may say ‘ethnobotany’, but I’m an economic botanist at heart :)



Wickens, G.E. (1990). What is economic botany? Economic botany, 44(1), 12-28.

Posted in Blog on Nov 27, 2013 ·

Last modified on Nov 26, 2013

Tags: events & ethnobotany.

How to add a royal touch to your garden

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Emma Cooper meets the Duke of Edinburgh

I met the Duke of Edinburgh a few years ago. Shame I was stuck in front of a computer at the time, and not somewhere more exciting like the Chelsea Flower Show. Meeting human royalty might be a rare occurrence for most people, but you can surround yourself with royal plants and get that regal feeling every time you step into the garden. To illustrate my point, let me share with you an old joke….


Once upon a time there was a family of very well-bred Jersey Royal potatoes, with three daughters of marriageable age. The father sent each of his daughters out in turn to find herself a suitable husband….

The eldest daughter was gone for a number of weeks, and came home to happily announce her engagement to a Kind Edward. Her father was thrilled.

The second daughter then went on the hunt, and several weeks later was fêted grandly when she brought home the Duke of York.

The youngest daughter was gone for a matter of days, having already chosen her beau. But there was trouble when she brought him home to receive her father’s approval, as she had decided to marry John Innverdale*.

“You can’t marry him!”, her father yelled. “He’s a common tater!”

So you can certainly grow your own royalty in the potato patch – there’s also British Queen, and Caesar if you’re feeling a bit more historical. There’s also a variety of papyrus called Cyperus papyrus King Tut, which is another useful plant.

Good King Henry Flower

Good King Henry, in flower

There’s more coinage in the ornamental side of the garden, though, with roses particularly well-favoured with royal names. Prince William has a red hybrid tea rose called ‘Royal William’; his mum had several pink roses named after her, including the ‘Princess Diana Rose’. There’s also a pink floribunda ‘Queen Elizabeth’ and a salmon pink ‘Duchess of Cornwall’ rose. William and Catherine had a shrub rose named after them in time for the Chelsea flower show in 2011; they also have a sweet pea.

Diana, Princess of Wales, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge also share the honour of having had orchid varieties named after them in Singapore, although sadly Diana died before she was able to visit her namesake.

King stropharia

King stropharia mushrooms

If you have a favourite royal, then the chances are you can find a plant for your garden that has been named after them. There’s regal alstromerias, clematis, delphiniums, lobelia, narcissus and rhododendrons. What do you think will be the first species named to celebrate the birth of Baby Cambridge?

Crown Prince squash

‘Crown Prince’ squash

Which royal figures are you hob-knobbing with in your garden, or down on the allotment?



*I used to love telling this joke when I was a kid, but back then Des Lynam played the starring role. I have updated it to feature John Innverdale as he’s not quite as ancient and also because – following his sexist comments about the female Wimbledon champion – he certainly deserves to be someone’s punchline. If you don’t find this joke funny, it might be because you need to brush up on your British Potato Varieties. Or possibly you’re just not familiar with British sports commentators.

Posted in Blog on Jul 23, 2013 ·

Tag: events

GIY UK - Birmingham 2013

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Big Joe, the University of Birmingham’s famous clock tower, was striking 9am when I arrived for the GIY UK launch event on Saturday morning, but I prefer to believe it was chiming to celebrate the return of a world famous alumna ;)

Sadly my arrival was not fêted with an honour guard, so I had to make my way up from the car park to the conference venue on my own – a task made much easier when I realised that they’d divided the campus into colour-coded zones in the years since my graduation.

Arriving at the right place, there was time to briefly peruse the display stands (companies such as Franchi Seeds and the Secret Seed Society had come along, together with event sponsors Carbon Gold, and the team from Birmingham’s Urban Veg project).

Then we were all rapt with attention as we learned about GIY, an emerging network of people who grow some of their own food that began in Ireland and is spreading throughout the world.

Panel

L-R: GIY founder Michael Kelly, Mark Diacono, Alys Fowler, Rachel de Thample and Maddy Harland

Founder Michael Kelly shared with us his GIY (Grow It Yourself) ephiphany, standing in a supermarket and wondering why he had to buy garlic from China when it grows just fine in Ireland. He planted his own cloves, without a shred of gardening experience, and was amazed with his first harvest. The GIY organisation put down its first roots in that moment, and is driven by Michael’s belief in the importance of a concept he calls food empathy:


Food empathy – a deeper understanding of food, where it comes from, how it is produced, and the time and effort required. An understanding of seasonality and the lifecycle of ‘growth-decay-groth’ which is so central to life on this plant.”

Three keynote speakers followed. Alys Fowler talked about the generational gap in gardening knowledge, and the importance of “turning around and telling someone else” when you learn something new, an idea that’s alive and well among gardening bloggers and blog readers!

Craig Sams from Carbon Gold explained that a vegetable gardener with a hoe is 120 times more energy efficient than an organic farmer, and 240 times more energy efficient than a conventional farmer – something we will all need to bear in mind as the era of cheap oil comes to an end.

And Mark Diacono spoke about the ‘new edible garden’, where people throw out the traditional crop rotation and stop growing turnips because “that’s what everyone grows”, and instead devotes their garden space to thing they enjoy eating, plants that have the power to transform meals, delicate crops and expensive luxuries, and the things you just can’t buy. His advice is to make your kitchen garden a place that you’re happy to spend time when you’re not gardening, so that it’s not just about work.

After lunch the conference broke up into four different streams, which posed a dilemma for every delegate as it involved the desire to be in more than one place at a time. The first sessions were a talk on creative urban gardening by Rachel de Thample, tips on growing with kids by Amy Cooper from the Secret Seeds Society, a slideshow of inspiring allotments by Lia Leendertz and a run-down on how to grow as much food on a balcony as you can on an allotment by Mr Vertical Veg himself, Mark Ridsdill Smith.

I had a great time meeting people I know online in the flesh, and I’ll blog more about the afternoon sessions later in the week, but in the meantime have a look at the GIY website – you might like to sign up for their free weekly newsletters and to access the forum. If you’re inspired to start your own local GIY group, you can do that too, or think about affiliating an existing gardening group with GIY. And you can also support GIY by joining as an individual member, or by helping to spread the word about the organisation.

The next GIY meet-up is in Ireland in September; the UK event was such a success that they’re already planning next year’s! Keep an eye on the website, or follow @GIYIntl on Twitter if you want to join in.

CMP.LY

Posted in Blog on Jul 22, 2013 ·

Tag: events

Victoriana Nursery Gardens

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For a couple of days this week I have been on a little Kentish adventure. I was fortunate enough to be invited by Susanne Masters to see her and some of her ethnobotany classmates graduate in Canterbury cathedral, and to meet some of the staff at Kent uni.

Over the last few years I have added a number of plants to the garden via the Victoriana Nursery Gardens mail order service, and so I decided to pop in and visit on my way home.

For sale

The nursery covers 26 acres, but it’s not all open to the public, so you won’t run out of steam before you’ve seen it all! A covered area has lots of goodies on offer – herbs and tender fruit plants, a bewildering variety of fuchsias and plenty of ornamentals.

Nursery

Outside there is a good selection of hardy plants – fruits common and unusual, as well as shrubs and aquatic plants.

Veg patch

And you can always sneak a peek in the veg patch :)

Stephen Shirley gave me a behind-the-scenes tour. If you’ve ever ordered seeds from Victoriana then this is where they’re packed and despatched:

Seed packing room

The seed packing room doesn’t get used much during the summer, but the team are about to head out and harvest seed from the bluebells that grow in their woodland.

Woodland

The woodland is also being brought back under proper management for firewood and Stephen showed me the lovely homegrown tree stakes they will soon be selling at the nursery.

Tomatoes and peppers

Inside the polytunnel there’s a large selection of different tomato varieties ripening (slowly, in this poor summer!), together with peppers and aubergines.

Tomato 'Surender's Indian Curry'

This one sounded particularly interesting – it’s an Indian variety of tomatoes used for curry, which aren’t very sweet even when they’re ripe. It’s a new one that Stephen’s trying this year.

There are plenty of familiar tomatoes as well, though, and Victoriana are having a Totally Tomatoes event on 28th July if you’d like to pop along and find out just how different tomatoes can taste!

Chiltepin

If chillies are your thing then head over for Challock Chillies day on the 29th September. Keep an eye out for this one which is Chiltepin, or the wild chilli. It’s not the easiest chilli to grow in our climate as it doesn’t fruit in its first year – you have to keep it alive over the winter, and it will need somewhere frost-free and with good light levels to wait out the cold/ damp weather.

Watch the slideshow to see the rest of the photos I took at Victoriana Nursery Gardens:



Posted in Blog on Jul 13, 2012 ·

Tags: gardens & events.

World Oceans Day 2012

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Surf

Today is World Oceans Day, a chance for humanity to celebrate the oceans that link us all together. For gardeners, the ocean can be a source of fertility – seaweed makes a wonderful fertilizer (as does gull poop!) – but also a source of frustration, as only plants that have evolved to exist in salty environments can survive the constant lash of salt-laden winds.

Those that can thrive here are called halophytes – the salt lovers. One or two of them have even made it into the kitchen garden, although not many of them are common there.

Flowering sea kale

Sea kale is one that is enjoying a bit of a renaissance as our interest in perennial vegetables is rekindled.

Samphire 3

Rock samphire is a lovely wild edible along the coast, but you can add marsh samphire to your garden – plants are sold by Victoriana Nursery, and watering them with salt water adds a touch of novelty, if nothing else!

Alys Fowler was recently discussing the virtues of Saltwort (Salsola soda, also known as agretti and land seaweed) in the garden. Seed is not always easy to come by, and has to be sown fresh, but Seeds of Italy are one source if you’d like to try it.

Sea beet

Sea beet is a perennial relative of leaf beet, beetroot and all the other Chenopods (and I believe they all have some salt tolerance). It’s a common coastal plant, and I saw it growing wild in Anglesey last year and have some seeds tucked away somewhere. There’s also sea buckthorn, of course, which I saw on Par Beach this April.

Considering how far I (currently) live from the coast, it’s odd that I should have developed such an interest in halophytes. I also have a desire to grow my own seaweed. I’m not sure it’s even possible on a garden scale (I need to do some research on the topic, when time permits), but apparently we should all be eating more seaweed, so perhaps I should start there as it’s not something I’ve ever done!*



*The “crispy seaweed” served in UK Chinese restaurants is nothing of the sort, I’m afraid, however tasty it might be. It’s deep-fried spring cabbage. Every time I have it with my mum she wonders whether it was originally made with seaweed. I have no idea!

Posted in Blog on Jun 7, 2012 ·

Last modified on Mar 10, 2013

Tag: events

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