Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Trendy Pond

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Trendy Pond front
My new Trendy Pond, still in its packaging

The nice people at Swell UK have given me a trendy pond to play with – as you can see, I haven’t managed to take it out of the box yet, but might manage that this weekend. I’m hoping that it will make a nice water feature in the garden next year, and that I can plant it up with some edible plants.

Ryan has already said that he’s not keen on the idea of an indoor pond (one of the suggestions made on the packaging!), so we can safely assume that it’s going to live outside. It will hold up to 30 litres of water, and isn’t really suitable for fish, so I can just go nuts with the planting. The website gives the dimensions as approximately 45 cm wide by 30 cm high.

I was talking a couple of years ago (doesn’t time fly!) about wanting an edible water feature of some kind in the garden, and started a list of potential plants then. Of course, in the intervening time I had forgotten, and so started a new list when the pond arrived. The only plant I came up with this time that didn’t make it onto the last list was Water Pepper, Persicaria hydropiper.

I do have a book on Edible Water Gardens, which I never got around to reading when I bought it, so now that it is back from storage I can read that once I’ve finished Homegrown Tea. Given the small size of my new pond (which is purple, btw :) I’m leaning towards a bog garden rather than a full-on pond, but I might change my mind before spring. I’m also wondering whether I could combine two obsessions and have a pond filled with aquatic tea plants! But so far there’s only water mint on that list….

Have you got edible pond/bog plants in your garden?

Posted in Blog on Nov 20, 2014 ·

Last modified on Nov 20, 2014

Tags: gardens & unusual.

West Dean Gardens Victorian Glasshouse appeal

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Last week I showed you the unusual cucumbers I found in one of the glasshouses at West Dean Gardens. West Dean has an impressive array of Victorian glasshouses, lovingly restored to be home to tender fruits and vegetables.

Indoor vine
The vinery at West Dean Gardens

Me being me, I was so engrossed in taking pictures of the pretty plants that I forgot to take any of the glasshouses themselves, which is a shame (or an excuse to visit again!).

Indoor fig
A fruitful, indoor fig

A trained peach

As well as the strange cucumbers, there are also plants that the average home gardener might have in their greenhouse :)

Impressive tomatoes

West Dean is famous for its annual chilli fiesta

Of course, glasshouses are expensive things, and as they get old they need maintenance. The team at West Dean have started an appeal to raise money for essential restoration work on two of their glasshouses. You can donate online or print off a donation form to mail in with a cheque (although when I tried it, it wasn’t designed to print on A4 paper, which caused no end of printer confusion…).

£10 could buy 1kg of nails

£25 could buy 2 litres of paint

£50 could buy 50 metres of timber

£180 could pay for a day of joinery

£500 could pay for 3 days of painting and glazing

In the absence of photos (sorry!) you can see the glasshouses in the Sussex episode of Christine Walkden’s Glorious Gardens from Above on iPlayer (if you’re in the UK). The series is well worth watching for Christine’s enthusiasm for horticulture and willingness to get stuck in. You might also enjoy looking at the gardens :)

Posted in Blog on Nov 18, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Raymond Blanc at Kew

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Long view
Raymond Blanc’s kitchen garden at Kew

Ryan and I stumbled across Raymond Blanc’s kitchen garden at Kew during our visit a few weeks ago – we hadn’t known it was there in advance. There’s a notice that informs you that this is being grown for a television programme (it’s ‘Kew on a Plate’, four programmes to be broadcast next year, with an accompanying book) and that it is being constantly filmed. It also asks you not to pick anything….

Raymond Blanc statue
Side view of the kitchen garden

It’s quite a formal layout, complete with a scarecrow statue that comes from the kitchen garden at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons. But the planting is less traditional – you can see there are lots of herbs and flowers amongst the vegetables. In fact it was here that Ryan first encountered lemon verbena :)

South American crops

A bed with crops from the Americas was drawing a lot of attention from passers by, mainly because they couldn’t identify all of the plants! As well as familiar squashes and sunflowers, the bed included quinoa and amaranth:

Colourful amaranth

and some healthy-looking yacon:

Yacon foliage

So I was able to introduce Ryan to yacon’s adorable furry foliage :)

There were also some mushrooms growing in Kew’s Ice House, but the low light conditions made it very hard to get a decent photo.

Will you be watching when the programme airs next year?

Posted in Blog on Nov 17, 2014 ·

Last modified on Nov 17, 2014

Tag: gardens

The kitchen garden at West Dean

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I’ve had one of those days at work, and I don’t much feel like writing. So have a nice picture of the ordered ranks of the vegetable garden at West Dean Gardens that I took last month, and we’ll try again with words tomorrow :)

Vegetable garden

Posted in Blog on Nov 14, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Kew's Intoxication Season

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Quite often, when I tell people that I’m an ethnobotanist (and explain what that means), they grin and joke that I must enjoy studying Cannabis. In fact, I have a pair of silver cannabis-leaf earrings that I sometimes wear as an ethnobotanist’s joke. But plant-based drugs are an interesting topic, so before we moved, Ryan and I took a day trip into London to visit Kew Gardens during their Intoxication Season – a celebration of mind-altering plants. Some of the species on display were familiar, and legal:


Tea and coffee both contain mind-altering caffeine

The display notes that tobacco could become a biofuel crop, and is being used to develop an experimental drug to combat the Ebola virus

Salvia divinorum
Salvia divinorum is used by shamans to produce altered states of consciousness.

But most are illegal in at least some countries:

The cannabis plant was kept under lock(s) and key

As was the peyote cactus

Kew couldn’t obtain a license to have a real Coca plant, so visitors had to make do with an illustration

Opium poppies
The Opium poppies had been harvested and dried. They’re legal to grow in the UK, but trying to turn them into drugs isn’t.

Intoxication Season, which focused on different types of plants over four weekends, was designed to inspire debate about mind-altering plants, society’s views on them and the choices we make as to which are legal and which are not. There’s a nice write-up over at New Scientist for those of you who would like to know more, and I can thoroughly recommend Mike Jay’s book on the topic, High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture, which is utterly fascinating.

Posted in Blog on Nov 12, 2014 ·

Last modified on Nov 12, 2014

Tags: ethnobotany & gardens.

Opportunity costs, and tea

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Tea time
A lovely set-up for a spot of outdoor tea

My problem with the garden at the moment is that I’m not seeing its possibilities – I’m seeing the opportunity cost of going down any particular route. The garden is (as they all are) of finite size. This shouldn’t be an issue, because I have finite resources of energy, time and money to lavish on it, so there will always be a limit to how many different things I can grow. But how to whittle down the list so that I don’t rule out anything too exciting, but have something manageable to focus on? Rationally, my blank canvas of a garden will keep me busy for many years to come, so not only is its finite size not a problem it also helps to keep the project manageable.

Over the past few years, there have been lots of plants that I wanted to grow, but I have been continually frustrated. Countless plants have been bought and neglected to death, and endless packets of seed languish unopened in my seed box. All kinds of plant projects have been dreamed up – things I wanted to plant, and grow, and write about – but come to nothing.

Suddenly faced with the space to grow, and (hopefully) the stability to allow my garden to thrive, it was hard to choose between these put-aside options, and the new ones that are constantly popping into my head. But since trying to do everything at once is a guaranteed recipe for failure, and that the garden can be reinvented over time, it seemed sensible to choose one to begin with.

And the one that has risen to the top for 2015 (and possibly beyond) is tea – I’m going to try and grow as many tea (or tisane) plants in the garden as possible. I have been reading Homegrown Tea by Cassie Liveridge, and it’s amazing how many of the plants she includes in the book I either have, or have wanted to grow for a while (often for a different purpose).

I’ll need to buy some new plants (woo hoo!), but I have plenty of seeds in my seed box as well. There’s no point starting until the bare bones of the garden are in place – plants that can’t go in the ground get neglected and are sad – so that’s the priority over the winter.

Real tea, Camellia sinensis, is a definite possibility for the garden, although self-sufficiency would be impossible :)

Do you have a favourite plant in your garden that you use for tea? Or one that’s on your wishlist? What’s your strategy for dealing with the inevitable limits to your gardening ambitions?

Posted in Blog on Nov 10, 2014 ·

Tags: tea & gardens.

Thoughts on: Exotic

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A view up through the canopy in the Eden Project's tropical biome
A view up through the canopy in the Eden Project’s tropical biome

It’s November, and across the world hundreds of thousands of writers are taking part in NaNoWriMo – a month-long sprint to write 50,000 words of fiction. I have no current interest in writing a novel, and indeed I doubt I could manage NaNoWriMo this year. So much has happened that I am struggling to write at all. And so I thought I might take up a different challenge and try and blog every day in November. (I’ve already missed yesterday, but I’m home sick so I’ll get my mum* to write me a note ;)

New additions to the house this week include a sofa that’s comfortable to sit on (a big plus!) and enough boxes from Ikea to make even a flatpack virtuoso cry. Ryan is in the process of putting together our new wardrobes; the additional storage space will make life much easier. There are also new desks for the office, but they will have to wait a while.

Had we moved in when we expected to, the garden would have been more of a priority. But now that winter has arrived, with damp days and dark evenings, there’s not a lot I can get to grips with outside at the moment. I have been thinking about what I am trying to achieve in the garden, and last week I started jotting down some words that came to mind. One of them was exotic, a word that tends to be synonymous with ‘tropical’ when it comes to gardens – but tropical isn’t what I have in mind. I prefer Google’s definition:

Google’s chosen definition of the word ‘exotic’

So… foreign :) Distinctly non-British. No red, white and blue colour schemes. No cottage garden, rose garden, or straight-lined vegetable patch. Peacocks rather than wood pigeons. Exuberant, rather than restrained. Colourful, fragrant and (and this is a word I’m not overly comfortable using) sensual.

That’s all I’ve got for today! You might be in for a month of partly-formed thoughts.

What does ‘exotic’ mean to you?

*That’s a joke. I don’t live with my mother, I have a shiny new house :)

Posted in Blog on Nov 5, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

Introducing the new garden

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Well, we’ve been here a couple of weeks now, so it’s time I introduced you to the garden :) It’s a real blank canvas at the moment, waiting for me to have the time to start working on it. The front garden is the sunniest spot, and can be considered to be in full sun:

Front garden 2

Front garden
My front garden

The front garden is 6.8 m along the house and 3.1 m wide. That trellis panel is prime plant real estate – possibly the best spot in the garden for something that likes it sunny. I haven’t decided what to plant there yet, but a nice climber would give us a little more privacy. Suggestions include a grape vine, and some sort of climbing rose. Possibly a kiwi fruit, but Ryan isn’t the biggest fan. What would you put there?

For the rest I am thinking that this would be a good place for a herb garden – right outside the front door. I also have 6 Chilean guavas that might make a nice little hedge against the picket fence, and we need to put some sort of path down to the garden gate, as this is the main way into the garden.

You’ve already had a sneak peek at the back garden – this is the view from the other direction, facing the house.

Facing the house

The back garden is pretty much a square, with an extra ‘hidden’ bit under the kitchen window. If you stand there, you get this view:

Back garden

Rough measurements are about 11 × 8 metres. It’s going to be compact, especially once the arbor is up and we’ve put in a largish shed and a greenhouse :)

Existing shrubs

There are some mature shrubs along the front fence that I will take out; current plan for the arbor is for it to go in the corner on the right hand side of this photo. This main garden is where I am thinking of putting in a Middle Eastern-inspired design.

But there’s an extra bit of garden…. It’s completely separate, and has to be accessed from the road at the front of the house. It cannot be fenced off, as it contains a utility box (gas, I think) for which access is required. It’s currently a bit of a no man’s land, with ‘low maintenance’ planting:

Extra strip

Extra strip 2
More garden

But it should be relatively sunny, and it’s larger than the front garden – roughly 7.8 m along the carport and 3.2 m wide.

I am thinking this would be a nice place for plants that are more able to take care of themselves – small trees, shrubs and perennials. Again, it might be nice to have a bit of a path down the middle, but that’s as far as I have got. There is a reasonable amount of traffic (car and foot) in front of it, so it’s not the place to put anything too tempting.

So that’s my new garden :) When I look at the back garden, sometimes I think it’s going to be too small – but then I remind myself that I haven’t even touched it yet, and that manageable and productive is far preferable to over large and out of control!

It will certainly be an interesting year next year.

What do you think?

Posted in Blog on Nov 3, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

And we're in

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Ryan and I have (finally!) moved into our new house! And, whilst we had the use of a van, we collected all of the tall plants from the allotment. So the first refugees from my old garden have arrived in their new home. As well as my Christmas tree, there’s two cobnuts, a crab apple, a golden bamboo, a rosemary and a lavender, the medlar and one that remains unidentified until I can have a good look at it.

I also brought back two scented pelargoniums that I uncovered from amongst the weeds on the allotment – one is Attar of Roses :) They were part of an order of four; all that remains of one is an empty pot. One seems to have been eaten to the ground by snails. Frankly, I am surprised any survived!

And I found, but didn’t bring back for the moment, my horseradish.

There’s a lot more work to do, rescuing plants from the allotment and bringing them home, but that can be done over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we have plenty to keep us occupied unpacking indoors, and I have some nice big pots ready to be planted up with winter veg.

Did I mention that I now live just a stone’s throw from a garden centre?


Posted in Blog on Oct 17, 2014 ·

Tags: gardens & allotment.

Garden visit: Roman Fishbourne Palace & Gardens

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It was raining last weekend when Ryan and I went to visit Fishbourne Roman Palace & Gardens, the remains of what was one a high-status Roman building by the sea. It doesn’t make a difference to viewing the ruins, which are housed in a lovely, open-plan building with specially-constructed walkways that allow you to get reasonably close to the mosaic floors without any risk of damage to them. Which is important, as subsidence and algae (they were built without foundations, and water rising up is a problem) are both doing their bit to reclaim them already. There’s a museum, with some of artifacts archaeologists have found on the site, and a short film to watch if you are so inclined, as well as activities for budding archaeologists.

Roman mosaic
A famous Roman mosaic, showing Cupid riding a dolphin!

A particularly lovely mosaic. Some of the mosaics here are as old as any you’ll find in Britain. The Palace was repurposed several times over its lifetime, before being abandoned when it burned to the ground. One of the last ‘upgrades’ was still in progress – the installation of a hypocaust heating system:

Roman-style central heating, unfinished

I was more interested in the gardens, so it was a little disappointing to have to see them in the drizzle. The gardens at Fishbourne were immense – around half have since been covered by modern housing, but you can still get an idea of the scale. The formal gardens were… extremely dull. A large expanse of lawn surrounded by box hedging. The original kitchen garden is no longer present, but there an area has been designed to showcase some of the plants that would have been grown in Roman gardens. There’s even a gardener, in his potting shed:

Roman gardener
A Roman gardener, in his potting shed

I wouldn’t recommend listening to him for too long, though. He’s a bit of a whinge bag!

Far better to step outside and have a look at the Triclinium:

The Roman concept of outdoor furniture – for lounging and dining

In terms of plants, there was (of course) a big fig:

Big Fig
Lots of leaves, but no figs, at this time of year

and an arbor covered in grape vines:

Autumn grapes
Grape vines showing their autumn colours

An old bay tree had been pruned, was was sprouting new leaves from its sizeable trunk:

Big bay
When bay becomes a real tree

Branched asphodel

According to the label, the bulbs of Asphodelus ramosus were roasted and eaten, but as yet I haven’t found any modern references to the plant being edible, so do your homework before you tuck in!

It’s a lovely place to have a wander, and I’m looking forward to going back earlier in the growing season (hopefully on a more pleasant day!). There’s a good gift shop to peruse before you leave, which (pleasingly) is stocked more with things adults might like than plastic tat aimed at children (although they have not been forgotten). Ryan bought himself a leather pouch, which he is using to protect one of his camera lenses. As I already have a copy of the book ‘Roman Gardens and their Plants’ by Claire Riley, I bought myself a little kit to try making lip balm and a clean t-shirt (over-stressed brain having forgotten to bring any!). If you’re a long way from Sussex then you can order a copy of the book from Seeds of Italy; mine is in a box waiting to be unpacked once we’ve moved.

If you’re intrigued by Roman gardens, here are some more blog posts you will enjoy:

Have you been to Fishbourne, or another Roman garden?

Posted in Blog on Oct 12, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

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