Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

An edible archway

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Edible archway

An archway into a pergola at the Cotswold Wildlife Park

Ryan and I went to the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens last weekend, which is a nice day out if you’re in the area. (If you book online you save a little bit of money, and some time at the ticket kiosk – tickets are valid for one month from purchase.)

The animals are great; there’s always a crowd around the meerkat enclosures, and there’s plenty of cute things on show. There was a man doing a falconry display as well, but since his falcon had basically flown off and was showing no sign of coming back, it was more like a man swinging a piece of dead meat on a string with a running commentary ;)

The planting is always interesting as well. My favourite part on this occasion was in the walled garden. A large pergola has been planted up with climbing edibles. At first it simply looked like a grape vine (there are several around the walled garden), which was fruiting merriily. But on closer inspection I found…

Hanging kiwi

Kiwis hanging from the pergola

…at least one very happy kiwi plant, fruiting away merrily in the shade under the pergola. And it got even more exciting, as there was something else climbing up the poles….

Bottle gourd flower

A bottle gourd flower

They had several bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria), which were flowering and fruiting on the sunnier edges of the pergola. The flowers are quite distinctive, as are the immature fruits:

Baby bottlegourd

Baby bottle gourd fruit

It was a lovely feature, I could have spent hours there! Whilst I might not have room for an extensive pergola in my new Middle Easten garden, I do have my arbor, so I can recreate the scene on a smaller scale. Vines, fruit and climbing squashes will fit in with the theme perfectly :)

Posted in Blog on Aug 24, 2014 ·

Tags: gardens & fruit.

Fruit Audit

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Fruit trug

I estimate that two thirds of my allotment is currently covered in fruit bushes – there’s two or three massive rhubarb plants, a Hinnomaki Green gooseberry bush, several blackcurrants, a hybrid berry of some description (which is thornless, but rampant) and raspberry bushes cropping up in odd places.

Some of those may have to go, if only to make room for some of the things I want to bring from the garden. I have a frightening number of fruit trees and plants. My three kiwis are already in my parents’ Malvern garden (and in fact they’ve planted out the two ‘Jenny’ – too close together, sigh – at the end of the garden), as is my baby yellow plum I grew from seed. They’re happy to have the medlar (which is in a container) when it has to relocate.

But they don’t have space for everything, and I’m left with a fair few things. In terms of soft fruit there are autumn-fruiting raspberries and strawberries (wild, alpine, beach and some regular ones as well). I have a blackthorn (sloe), and two aronia bushes. The Japanese wineberry is an easy one to take with me, as it has created several offspring and I have just potted one up. (It’s an easy plant to propagate, as it layers, but it has also self-seeded in the garden.) The blueberries are in pots, and can travel; I have taken cuttings from the honeyberries. And there are two little Chilean guavas that are in small pots and are no problem.


The fruit trees are more problematic. I can have them on my allotment if they don’t shade someone else’s plot, but some are mature and can’t be moved; I will be sad to say goodbye to the Saturn apple, but it falls into that category. It has lived up to its disease-resistant marketing, and has been easy to grow organically. The apples are big, red and tasty, so it’s definitely a variety I would consider growing again in the future. Its pear tree companion is less of a loss, as it rarely grows pears and I don’t like them anyway.

The patio nectarine’s only redeeming feature is that is has lovely blossom in spring. It has never ripened an edible fruit, and succumbs to peach leaf curl. I don’t think it will be making the trip. I don’t think anyone would thank me for planting either of the figs on the allotment, but dad might like one. I might send the crab apple ‘John Downie’ his way, too. It’s in a container, and happy enough for the time being, and it can help to pollinate his apple trees until I get another of my own.

(Suttons Seeds are one of the places with a nice selection of fruit trees if you’re now thinking of adding a few more fruit trees to your collection ;)

And that just leaves me with a pair of cobnuts, although they hardly qualify as fruit. They might be fun to have on the allotment, if it’s not overrun with squirrels, and they can be kept at a reasonable size. The only problem is where it’s all going to fit. I really need to crack on with that design!


Posted in Blog on Jun 18, 2013 ·

Last modified on Jul 10, 2013

Tags: allotment & fruit.

When life gives you lemons...

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Way back in 2008 I reported on the arrival of the Miracle Berry (Synsepalum dulcificum) in the UK. Whilst not in itself particularly sweet, miracle berries contain a glycoprotein called Miraculin. When Miraculin is combined with an acid (something with a low pH), it becomes able to activate the sweet receptors on your tongue – it literally changes the way your taste buds react to sour foods.

I still haven’t had the opportunity to grow a Miracle Berry plant (they are tender and would need to be kept as houseplants), and until the weekend I hadn’t tasted miracle berries either. But I was invited to a dinner party on Saturday night (in itself a rare occurrence these days), and as part of the post-prandial portion of the evening, we had some fun with miracle berry powder (from, and made from freeze-dried berries).

We had lemon quarters and lime quarters, and it’s quite an odd sensation to suck either of those after rolling miracle berry powder around in your mouth. You get the full force of the flavour – but it’s sweet, not sour. You’re sitting there expecting your mouth to pucker and… nothing happens.

I don’t imagine they have much of a future beyond being a novelty, but apparently they are used in their tropical homeland to sweeten sour dishes. There has been some talk about them being used as a low-calorie sweetener, but since they only work on sour things it’s not something that would be any use stirred into a cup of tea!

Have you tried miracle berries?

Posted in Blog on May 13, 2013 ·

Tags: unusual & fruit.

Blueberries: grow your own superfood!

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Fruit trug

More and more these days, the media is full of stories of superfoods – usually fruits with high concentrations of antioxidants. The blueberry led the superfood charge, but has been left behind by newer and more exotic rivals, such as acai berries, goji berries and the yumberry.

But that doesn’t mean that the blueberry has lost its superfood credentials, or that blueberries are getting any less expensive to buy. Investing in one or two blueberry bushes now means that you can enjoy these tasty and healthful fruits for years to come – ultra fresh, from your own garden.

Blueberries aren’t too hard to grow, but they do need acid (also known as ericaceous and lime-free) soil. If you don’t have that in your garden (use a pH meter or a soil chemistry kit to check) then you’ll have to grow your bushes in containers (12-15 inches in diameter) in lime-free soil or compost. The pH you’re trying to achieve is between 4 and 5.

Blueberry flowers

Blueberry bushes are fully hardy, although their blossom can be damaged by late spring frosts. Give them a sunny, sheltered spot and plenty of water, especially in containers. They like to be continuously moist, but not waterlogged. If you have alkaline soil then you’re likely to have alkaline tap water as well – invest in a water butt and only use rainwater to irrigate your blueberries.

Blueberries fruit on wood that is 2 to 3 years old, so there’s no pruning to be done for the first 3 years. After that, it’s simply a case of removing diseased or damaged wood in the winter, while these deciduous bushes are dormant.

If you have enough space, plant more than one variety of blueberry. Although these fruits are self-fertile, having more than one variety will increase your harvest. And since different varieties crop at slightly different times, it will extend the blueberry season as well. However, birds love the fruit and so to harvest any of them for yourself you’ll need to net the plants as soon as they start to fruit.


Ripe blueberries are deep mauve, with a grey bloom. They don’t all ripen at the same time, so you’ll need to check the bushes every couple of days. Assuming that any berries make it back to the kitchen, don’t wash them until you’re ready to eat them!

Feed your plants with a balanced ericaceous fertilizer in early spring and late summer, mulch with composted bark or pine needles and remember to check the pH of any soil amendments before you use them. Yellow leaves are a sign of iron deficiency, an indication that the soil pH is too high. Sulfur chips are an easy way to reduce soil pH, but this is most easily done on small areas of soil or in containers.


Blueberry bushes add some colour to the autumn garden, as their leaves turn a lovely red color before they drop. And although blueberry flowers are simple and white, they make a pretty addition to the spring garden. You can even under plant the bushes with cranberries (another acid-loving berry) to make the most of your space. Although they might be superfoods, blueberries are not demanding. Planting one or two bushes in your garden is an easy, and cost-effective way, to add them to your diet.

(And if you’re looking for a variety that’s a little bit more unusual, how about trying the pinkberry?)

Posted in Blog on May 9, 2013 ·

Tag: fruit

New Plants: Pepinos

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Spalding Bulbs have been kind enough to send me three pepino (Solanum muricatum) plants to grow this year, a ‘Lost Crop of the Incas’ that I have yet to try. The pepino (also known as pepino dulce, poire-melon and melon pear) is a low-growing, evergreen shrub native to South America. Here in the UK, it needs winter protection as it is frost-sensitive.

The fruits are reported to taste like a slightly sweet cucumber when unripe, and melon with a hint of pear when they’re ripe. Immature fruits can be cooked, but the pepino is mainly used raw.

Ripe fruits are large, conical and yellow with jagged purple streaks. They are very sensitive to bruising, and need to be handled with care. They don’t lend themselves to long-distance transportation, so you’re unlikely to find them on supermarket shelves.

Pepinos don’t like high temperatures (so don’t grow them in the greenhouse) and can’t withstand drought, so keep the water supply steady. Don’t over fertilize them, as that encourages leafy growth and leads to poor fruit set. Their flowers don’t need to be pollinated, so you can keep just one, although self- or cross-pollination will increase the amount of fruit. You’ll need to watch out for the normal roster of pests – aphids, spider mites and whitefly.

Pepino fruits don’t ripen all at once, which is great for a gardener as the plants crop over a long time. They are usually peeled, as the skin can be bitter. Seeds aren’t always produced, but they are small and edible and easy to remove if you don’t like them. Ripe fruits have similar levels of vitamin C to citrus. They don’t respond well to being refrigerated, so they are best eaten fresh.

If you’d like to try growing pepinos this year, Spalding Bulbs are selling packs of 3 plants of Melon Pear ‘Pepino Gold’ for £10.25.

Spalding Bulbs gave me two packs of plants – one to keep and one to give away. As pepino is “highly suited to culinary experimentation”, I have given the second set to Carl Legge. Hopefully he’ll have some new pepino recipes to share with us later in the year!

Most of the details given above are taken from ‘Lost Crops of the Incas’ – there’s not much written about pepino cultivation in the UK! Maybe we can change that this year ;) Apparently the fruit characteristics are affected by cultivation conditions, but no one really knows how that works….

National Research Council. 1989. Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.

Posted in Blog on Apr 27, 2013 ·

Last modified on Apr 27, 2013

Tags: fruit & unusual.

Magical Mystery Tour: Tomatoes

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Tomatoes and aubergines

The tomato polytunnel at Victoriana Nursery Gardens

For me, the internet is a bit like the Discworld’s special library dimension, L-space. Or perhaps a bit like Narnia, where you wander in to a virtual polytunnel, exit through the back door and find yourself somewhere else entirely.

I regularly find myself on a magical mystery tour of fascinating discoveries, in which it’s possible to lose hours without thinking about it. I have been on one this morning, which I thought you might like to share.

It began with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and his tinned tomato recipes, which actually sound quite tasty, and do-able in a shared student kitchen. Except I don’t currently have an oven-proof dish with me, but this is why they invented pound shops.

At this point I left the real live internet and wandered in to the realm of Evernote, a fascinating piece of software that lets you preserve bits of the internet forever and ever, thereby entirely missing the point ;) But it also allows you to tag, file and search for them later, and I use it as an extension of my brain, which is quite full these days. I squirrel away treasures to refer to later, some of which get lost in dusty piles. But the joy of Evernote is that you never know when they’re going to resurface.

Whilst I was filing away Hugh’s tomato recipes, Evernote sent me to back a delightful New York Times article about whether tomato leaves are poisonous or not. It’s a discussion of folk lore and plant chemistry, looking at the alkaloids that are present in tomato leaves (alkaloids being one of the topics we touched on in last week’s plant chemisty class).

If you’re brave enough to try it, you’re also directed to a recipe for Leafy Tomato Sauce.

It was at this point that hunger pulled me back into the real world and I wandered off to get some breakfast (the Librarian* not having left any handy bunches of bananas lying around).

But the internet had one more gem up its sleeve this morning, which I found when I came back to the blogs that I subscribe to (via Google Reader, which keeps them all nice and tidy for me). Wolfgang Stuppy of the Millennium Seed Bank is waxing lyrical about the flowers of the weird and wonderful snake gourd, which is lovely enough in and of itself. But it contains the intriguing line “Inside they contain a soft, red, tomato-like pulp that can be used as a tomato-substitute in cooking.”

Now if that doesn’t get you scrabbling for the seed catalogues, I don’t know what will. But in the event you depart on a magical mystery tour of your own today, do come back and tell us where you ended up :)


Posted in Blog on Jan 26, 2013 ·

Tags: fruit & internet.

22 December

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Welcome to my Virtual Veg Advent Calendar. In the run up to Christmas I am revisiting some of the photos that have appeared on the blog over the years, and the posts that go along with them :)


These stunning chillies were on display at Oxford Botanic Garden in 2008.

Open door 22:

  • I have picked pretty peppers for today’s surprise. Have a look at the Sweet Lipstick fruits I harvested in June one year

  • because I had tried overwintering pepper plants.

  • Or you can listen to more general pepper growing information in episode 55 of the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show.

3 days to go!

Posted in Blog on Dec 22, 2012 ·

Last modified on Nov 24, 2012

Tags: advent & fruit.

20 December

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Welcome to my Virtual Veg Advent Calendar. In the run up to Christmas I am revisiting some of the photos that have appeared on the blog over the years, and the posts that go along with them :)

Strawberry spinach

Strawberry spinach, strawberry blite, beetberry or epinard fraise. This plant was popping up in the garden all summer.

Open door 20:

  • Strawberry spinach is Chenopodium capitatum. Have some pretty pictures of it with some of its Chenopodium buddies :)

  • Or go the other way and listen to episode 108 of The Alternative Kitchen Garden Show, which is all about strawberries!

5 days to go!

Posted in Blog on Dec 20, 2012 ·

Last modified on Nov 24, 2012

Tags: advent & fruit.

Happy Apple Day

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It’s Apple Day here in the UK, a day when we stop to celebrate our orchards. I recorded a podcast episode on Apple Day a few years ago, so I won’t repeat myself here, but I have been enjoying apples from my tree back home this week.

Although it is generally considered to have been a rotten year for apples (with everything from late frosts, a lack of pollination and water supplied at exactly the wrong time to contend with), my tree has produced a bumper crop. It’s a Saturn, and was originally a Minarette, although my pruning technique means no one would recognise it as such anymore ;)

I chose Saturn as a variety because it has good disease resistance, which is an important factor when you garden organically. It produces large apples, the skin of which turns a glorious red colour where it’s exposed to the sun. Where it isn’t, it stays green. Snow White would be wary, but the fruits are delicious when harvested at the right moment.

It has an apple friend in the garden – a crab apple “John Downie” which is pretty and fruitful and helps with cross-pollination. The poor thing is still in a container (although it’s a big one) and would dearly love to be planted out as it suffers in dry weather. It fruits in later summer/ early autumn, and I gave the apples to my dad to make jam/ jelly.

Of the four Minarette fruit trees I originally bought so many years ago, only two remain. The apple is productive and my favourite fruit. The cherry only fed birds and blackfly; the plum didn’t fruit and became a magnet for wasps. They have both been removed. And although the pear has fruited a couple of times, I don’t like pears, so it is next for the chop. It’s a good job I’m not writing this on All Fruits Eve ;)

If your orchard could do with a few more trees, check out my Apple Day offers.

Posted in Blog on Oct 21, 2012 ·

Last modified on Oct 21, 2012

Tag: fruit

Forest Garden Plants: Shallon

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After my visit to Martin Crawford’s well-established forest garden in Devon, I am adding to my blog posts on forest garden plants.


Gaultheria shallon is a hardy shrub in the Ericaceae family – it’s related to blueberries, which is very obvious from the flowers (although not, perhaps, in this picture).

Also known as Shallon, or Salal, it’s native to western North America and was introduced into the UK as an ornamental shrub. In suitably acidic environments it can become invasive, although it’s easily kept under control by grazing animals.

It’s a good choice for a forest garden as it tolerates both sunny and shady conditions, growing to around 2 metres. According to Wikipedia, the fruits produced are actually swollen sepals; they are produced in abundance through the summer, dark purple and the size of blackcurrants and a bit like their blueberry relatives.

They have been used as appetite suppressants, but also make good eating – dried or fresh, baked or made into jam. The leaves are edible and can be used for herbal tea or as a potherb. Apparently the foliage is also popular with florists.

If you want to add this pretty shrub to your garden then you’ll either need acid soil or to keep it in a container in a suitable ericaceous growing medium.

Have you grown shallon?

Posted in Blog on Aug 30, 2012 ·

Last modified on Aug 30, 2012

Tags: perennial & fruit.

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