Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Time-travelling Clanger

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Time-travelling Clanger

Taken in the Evolution Garden at Bristol University Botanic Garden on Easter Monday.

Posted in Blog on Apr 26, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Saturday: Eden Project

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On Saturday we took a trip to the Eden Project, and met up with Radix and Choclette. This is the view from the new aerial walkway in the tropical biome. They have only completed phase 1 of the walkway, so there’s plenty more to come. The treetop lookout was closed, it was too humid to go up that high.

Oh, and I can thoroughly recommend the paella served in the Mediterranean biome, if you’re there for lunch.

Posted in Blog on Nov 20, 2013 ·

Last modified on Nov 20, 2013

Tag: gardens

Garden Visit: Westonbirt Arboretum

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I love trees. I have been known to hug them. I say hello to them. So I was quite excited to visit Westonbirt Arboretum, the National Arboretum at the weekend. We went on Sunday, when the sun was shining, and as autumn is late this year it seemed as though we might have timed it perfectly, to see the autumn colours.

We had. So had everyone else – the world and his wife was at Westonbirt, complete with children of various sizes (many screaming) and a lot of over-excited dogs. We sloshed through the mud in the old arboretum, queueing to take photos of the acers in their autumn colours.

I hated it. It didn’t smell like a forest, it didn’t sound like a forest. I felt as though the trees had been reduced to meaningless monuments, there merely to be ticked off the tourist list, something to see before you die. It was boring. And whilst I normally love gift shops the one at Westonbirt is now the worst bit of a modern garden centre – all Christmas decorations and scented candles.

So… that’s quite an admission for an ethnobotanist to make. I hated Westonbirt. We may choose to give it a second chance, taking a day off and aiming for a time when it should be quieter.

Feel free to express your horror – leave a comment and tell me what I missed :)

Acer palmatum s. amoenum

Posted in Blog on Nov 13, 2013 ·

Tag: gardens

Edulis: An Unexpected Pleasure

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The Walled Garden

Tucked away in a walled garden in Pangbourne, not far from Reading, is a land of make believe for gardeners. Through the gate you’ll find a chaotic, abundant mix of unusual edibles and hard-to-find ornamentals, brought together here by garden owner and nurseryman, Paul Barney. Paul is also a modern day plant hunter, and has brought many of the plants here to the UK himself.

This is the home of the Edulis nursery, a name that will be familiar if you’ve spent any time researching unusual edibles, or attending Rare Plant Fairs. The nursery itself is not generally open to the public; there’s a mail order catalogue, but if you want to pop in then you have to wait for an open day, or make an appointment. I have been meaning to pay a visit for years, but never got around to it. But when I saw a tweet from Paul on Saturday morning, saying that the nursery would be open for his end-of-season sale, I took the opportunity to pop along.

Even on a grey autumn day, it’s a lovely place to have a poke around. There’s something of interest for every gardener – if you can find it! If there’s something specific you want (and you can download a PDF copy of the catalogue, to have a good look in advance of a visit or show), then Paul is on hand to find it for you.

Zanthozylum americanum

He encouraged me to take a nibble of one of these Szechuan pepper berries – the effects of which must have lasted for a good ten minutes. From the initial very sour, mouth-puckering flavour I thought would never end, through the slight numbing effect and on to the very odd ‘tingling’ sensation (which is actually a measurable vibration).

I have wanted to add a Szechuan pepper to the garden for ages, so I came home with two different varieties – Zanthozylum simulans and Z. bungeanum. I imagine it will be a few years before I can inflict their effects on unsuspecting visitors to the allotment….

Chilean guava

A slightly less controversial taste is offered by the Chilean guava – this one is Ugni molinae variegata, which was wafting a strawberry scent through the air. The berries are very tasty indeed, reminiscent of strawberries and very sweet.

Yunnan licorice

It was an interesting time of year to visit, as the Yunnan licorice (Glycyrrhiza yunnanensis) was producing these fluffy flowers or seedheads. It would make a very ornamental addition to an autumn garden. Nearer the ground, the earth chestnut(Bunium bulbocastanum) was also in flower:

Earth chestnut flowers

I also brought home a couple of plants that Paul recommended. The first was Allium hookeri, an edible allium a bit like a broad chive.

Allium hookeri

As well as being edible, it produces white flowers that make it the “bee plant of the century”, according to Paul.

Allium hookeri

And for those of you who like watercress, but dislike the American land cress that is often grown as a winter substitute, Paul recommends Cardamine raphanifolia, a shade-loving perennial that is completely dormant in summer, and comes back into leaf once the weather starts to cool down.

Easy watercress

This lovely specimen is happily growing in a pot, and doesn’t need a constant supply of water. Paul calls it ‘easy watercress’.

Happy Head

If you’re looking for more blog posts on perennial vegetables, try:
Szechuan pepper trees
Book Review: Paradise Lot
Easy Vegetables from the Backyard Larder

Posted in Blog on Oct 21, 2013 ·

Last modified on Oct 21, 2013

Tags: gardens & perennial.

Roman Gardening plant list

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Seeds of Italy Hampton Court Garden

Yesterday I was talking about the plants Romans brought to Britain, and I showed you this lovey sketch of the Seeds of Italy Roman Garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show earlier this year (drawn by Alex Arrigo).

The last few weeks have been hectic, and my inbox has reached mind-boggling levels, and it slipped my mind that I was sent a planting list for this garden by Maureen Chapman (@vegimo), who grew most of the plants for the garden (in Yorkshire), and planted it up with Jo Campbell (@jokitchengarden).

So, for those of you who fancy planting your own Roman garden next year, here is the plant list for the Seeds of Italy design.

Vegetables etc.
Cavolo nero
Onion rossa lunga di firenze
Chard bionda di Lione
Chard – Rhubarb
Beetroot di Chioggia
Lupini Beans
Courgette – Rugosa di friuli
Red Cabbage

Salads etc.
Wild rocket
Endive romanesca di taglia


  • Red salad bowl

  • Green salad bowl

  • delle Ghiacciole

  • Quattro stagione

  • rossa riccilina da taglio

  • parella rossa

  • gentillina

  • lollo rosso


  • di treviso

  • variegata di lusia

  • variegata di castelfranco

  • puntarelle

  • pan di zucchero

Herbs and medicinal and flowers
Parsley gigante
Fennel – Bronze
Fennel – green
Alpine Strawberry
Malva sylvestis – Mallow
Viola sp
Mentha piperita
Lemon verbena
Opium poppy
Bush basil

Seeds of Italy Roman garden

Photo credit: Seeds of Italy

Posted in Blog on Oct 3, 2013 ·

Tags: gardens & ethnobotany.

Garden Visit: Paignton Zoo

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After running in overdrive for several weeks to write my dissertation, my brain is a little fuzzy and my ramblings may be more than usually disjointed, but I am trying to get back into the swing of things :)

In August I took a week out from working on my project to go on holiday with my family, a trip to Devon that had been organised before I even knew I would be going back to university, as part of the celebrations for my mum’s 70th birthday. We stayed in a lovely cottage near Newton Abbott, and I spent some of the time helping to entertain my young nieces. (If you find yourself in a similar position, I can thoroughly recommend Babbacombe Model Village).

Early on in the week, we all went to Paignton Zoo. I’d been once before, and it’s a lovely zoo. My nieces loved the baby orang utan. There were also emus who were happy to pose for pictures:


I took plenty of animal photos on my last visit; this time I mainly snapped the plants. They have a great desert habitat, which is full of imposing cacti (and the picture of the cheerleading cactus on my last post was taken there, too).



They weren’t all obviously labelled, so I wasn’t able to identify them all. But this one is the Golden Barrel Cactus, Echinocactus grusonii:

Golden Barrel Cactus

And these spines are on the Indian fig, Opuntia ficus-indica:

Indian Fig

An Opuntia is on the list of plants I’d like to add to my garden at some point in the future.

Outside the restaurant area there’s some lovely flower beds, which were buzzing with bees:


And outside the veterinary centre there’s a bed of medicinal plants, although it always looks a little unkempt. The calendula were making the most of the sunshine, though:


Whenever I go away on holiday, I always want to come back with something as a souvenir, but I usually struggle to find something I actually want and end up coming back with nothing but photos. This time I have started what I hope will become a new tradition for me, as I have decided to bring back (wherever possible) a plant. On this trip I stopped at a little nursery close to the cottage and bought a Cordyline – chosen after reading Dave Hamilton’s description of Cordyline australis as the ‘Torbay Palm‘. It seemed appropriate (and it’s edible!) and I chose Cordyline australis ‘Sunrise’, which is a stunning dark pink colour. Hopefully it will enjoy life on my allotment!

Cordyline australis 'Sunrise'

Posted in Blog on Sep 9, 2013 ·

Tag: gardens

Edible Landscaping

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A couple of days ago I watched a webinar with Rosalind Creasy talking about Edible Landscaping: The New American Garden. It was part of the 2013 webinar series from Seed Savers Exchange, most of which are archived on the website (although this particular one won’t be).

Minty drum

Reusing an old washing machine drum for a mint plant is practical and resourceful recycling, but it’s not edible landscaping

Creasy is the author of several books on edible landscaping, themed around different collections of plants – I have several of them myself. She is fighting against a system of zoning in America that frequently makes it illegal for people to grow edible plants in their front yards, although what you do out of sight round the back is up to you.

I’ve always thought that edible plants are beautiful, and I can’t understand why people prefer ornamentals, but as Creasy says, it’s not the plant, it’s what you do with it. I loved my garden, but even I have to admit that it never reached an aesthetic standard that would satisfy the style police. However, the idea behind edible landscaping is that it’s perfectly possible to have your garden, and eat it.

Creasy redesigns her front yard every year, to showcase what it’s possible to do with edible plants, and she’s never had any complaints from the neighbours. You can see examples of her work on her website,

Here in the UK we don’t have the same kinds of restrictions, and you can grow whatever you like in your front garden, and as long as you keep it in good order you’re unlikely to fall foul of your neighbours. But there’s a long tradition of hiding the veg patch as far away from the house as possible, and the prevailing trend of ‘allotment chic’ doesn’t really help our case in this regard.

If we want growing your own to go up in the world, we need to start thinking in terms of something a little more stylish.

Watercress rill

Vestra Wealth’s Jardin du Gourmet at RHS Hampton Court (Photo courtesy of the RHS)

We may not all be able to find room for Vestra Wealth’s stunning watercress rill, which spills over into a sunken seating area, but – according to Creasy – we should all be spending a little time thinking about the juxtaposition of line, texture and colour. And remember that you need flowers in a healthy vegetable patch – to bring in beneficial insects – so they should feature as part of your design.

I’m sure there are plenty of examples of stunning edible landscaping in the UK that you can visit if you’re need of inspiration. One that springs to mind is the Biodynamic Garden at Ryton, where each part of the design represents a part of the biodynamic ethos:

Biodynamic garden

The big garden shows are getting a bit better at this, so they’re worth a visit as well if you’re in the planning stages.

I’m hoping that I can incorporate some of these ideas in my next garden (wherever it is in relation to the house!). As garden design isn’t really my thing, I will have to employ the services of a company that provides bespoke garden features, but in the meantime, I can dream :) I’d like a rain garden that feeds into a pond, among other things.

Have you got an edible landscape you’d like to show off? Or have you spotted something at one of the RHS shows that you’d love to be able to add to your garden? Let me know in the comments, and leave a link to the photos if they’re online!


Posted in Blog on Jul 25, 2013 ·

Last modified on Apr 29, 2014

Tags: gardens & events.

Pretty pictures from Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons

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It wasn’t all work and no play when I went to visit Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons for my research project last week. I had the opportunity to take some photos in the garden afterwards, so I will share some more of those with you today :)

Chinese artichokes
Anyone who says veg plants aren’t attractive hasn’t had a good look at Chinese artichokes.

The angelica was literally exploding like fireworks.

Sweet cicely
The sweet cicely was setting seed.

Just in Thyme
The thyme was abuzz with bees.

Pestle and mortar
The garden is full of sculptures and works of art, but I think this one is my favourite :)

Posted in Blog on Jul 3, 2013 ·

Tags: gardens & science.

MSc Project: Le Manoir Case Study

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SE Asian Garden 2

Earlier this week I was lucky enough to visit the garden at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, as they are growing both oca and achocha this year and agreed to be a case study for my MSc research project. I have been to Le Manoir once before, in 2009, so it was interesting to see how things have changed – I have put the links to my 2009 blog posts at the end of this one, if you didn’t see them at the time.

The oca and achocha are growing in the ‘South East Asian’ garden, a central section of the main vegetable plot. Its planting isn’t strictly south east Asian now, but the original inspiration for this collection of the plants was Raymond Blanc’s travels in that region. It has evolved over the years to become more focused on unusual edibles.

Fat Baby

They have ‘Fat Baby’ achocha growing up canes in several places in the garden. I potted mine up in my garden yesterday; I don’t have anything for them to climb up yet! I have two plants each of ‘Fat Baby’ and ‘Lady’s Slipper’.


Oca ‘Scarlet with White Eyes’ are nestled in a corner. They have been replanted from tubers grown last year. Apparently they were quite a hit with the chefs in the kitchen, who used them raw, and sliced thinly, in salads.

Gotu Kola

This plant was new to me – Gotu Kola, Centella asiatica, a bog plant with a very pungent flavour. An acquired taste, I would imagine….

I had a lovely couple of hours at Le Manoir, and it will be very useful for my project. Head vegetable gardener Anna Greenland offered up some juicy tips during my tour:

Sea kale flowers

Sea kale flowers are edible! They taste a bit cabbagey, with a burst of honey flavour in the middle. And if you get your nose down to the flowers, they smell like honey. At Le Manoir they have great rows of sea kale, so the scent wafts through the air. My sea kale in the garden is flowering now, so I will be harvesting some flowers to scatter over my salads this weekend.

And after having done a spinach trial, Le Manoir has come up with a favourite variety that has the best good flavour raw or cooked – Bloomsdale Long Standing, which is a heritage variety you can source from Thomas Etty if you’d like to give it a try yourselves.

There are more photos and snippets I can share from my tour next week, but in the meantime here’s a relaxing treat for the weekend :)


Blog posts from my 2009 visit to Le Manoir

Posted in Blog on Jun 28, 2013 ·

Tags: gardens & ethnobotany.

Moving on

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The events of this time last year seem a long time ago now, but the house didn’t sell and when I left to go to Kent I left my garden behind, untended. The house has to sell this year, and I will have to move on, and so I am dismantling the garden.

A lot of the my favourite plants have already left, and are being looked after by my parents. But they don’t have room for everything (and some of my choices don’t fit my mum’s garden aesthetic) and so I thought many of them would have to be grubbed up and composted. Indeed, I spent a lot of last week pulling up the wild strawberry ground cover, which has worked really well.


I have started removing the concrete blocks that made up the raised beds, and stacking them to one side. My neighbour wants them as foundations for his new shed, so he will be collecting them when I’ve had a chance to move a few more (they weigh around 12kg each – I can’t shift them all in one go!).

As I go along, I am dealing with the plants that lived in the holes. Some are saved, some sent for composting. Of the miscellaneous mints, I have saved two nice spearmint specimens and the apple mint (I also have a non-culinary buddleia mint, which is in a pot). I am saving all of the saffron corms, which have bulked up nicely:

Saffron corms

I have filled two big tubs, with more saffron plants to go…. Mum wants some, but the rest will find new homes.

From the bed itself, I have saved two self-seeded Buckler-leafed sorrels and some of the wild strawberries. I had red and white varieties; I need to wait and see some fruit before I know whether I’ve managed to save one or both!

I have no idea whether they will take, but I have struck some cuttings from the grape vine:

Vine cuttings

I took some once before, but at the other end of the year. They worked very well, although I never got around to potting them up and so they eventually died.

From elsewhere in the garden I have potted up my violet, and a rooting section of Rubus tricolor, which has been MIA at the bottom of the garden, hidden under brambles and other weeds.

For over a year now, the garden has not been a happy place – thinking about what would have to be left behind made me sad. But I have some exciting news, which is that I am getting an allotment. I am waiting to hear which plot will be mine, but I should be able to get started next week. So the garden is a happy place once more, because I can pot up and save far more plants than I had originally envisaged :)

The self-seeded elder will have to stay, but as it is just coming in to bud I may be able to harvest some flowers before I leave!

Elder buds

Posted in Blog on May 25, 2013 ·

Tag: gardens

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