August 2009


Squirrel Poo!

Sorry – a joke from my childhood. And one which only works if you know it was an advertising slogan for a chocloate bar.

For a long, long time I’ve been interested in British native plants. Sadly, my enthusiasm outstrips my knowledge and though I’m constantly trying to top that up, my brain is a bit like a bucket with a hole in it, so that no matter how much I put in, there never seems to be an increase in the total.

At the moment I’m devouring The Forager Handbook by Miles Irving. Subtitled “A Guide To The Edible Plants Of Britain”, it’s one of those books that makes you want to race out and engage with what you’ve just read. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily have to go off roaming woods and fields, as there are things in my own garden that I never knew were edible such as Rhus typhina (Stag’s Horn Sumach) and Centranthus ruber (Red valerian).

I’m doubly keen to do some foraging as I have a simple recipe I’d like to try involving hazelnuts, but as Miles points out grey squirrels strip the nuts off the trees before they are ripe, so you don’t stand much chance of foraging any.

However, I think I may have found an isolated source – a hazel tree bounded by a road and railtrack which is loaded with them, although I’m wondering whether there are contaminated soil issues.

In the meantime – Don’t tell the squirrels.

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ajI seem to see this oxalis more and more.

Am I just noticing it all of a sudden, or is it new and spreading?

It’s not a plant I recall at all from my childhood. Not that I was some juvenile botanist you understand, but I did notice a lot of plants, even if I didn’t know what they were called.

A few years ago, the father in law had a brick-paved terrace, the cracks of which became crammed with the stuff. This was due in no small part to his habit of showing visitors how the seeds pinged out if you brushed against the plants.

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“What would you like for tea?” I asked Little Boots, expecting a request for some unlikely foodstuff in combination with gravy.

(All food is improved by the addition of gravy apparently)

Nevertheless, I was still a little thrown by a demand for a broccoli sandwich.

Not just any broccoli sandwich mind, as the very precise instructions that followed made clear. No, this was a sandwich made from a warm naan bread cut in two between which is placed hot broccoli, “sliced into tiny, tiny stalks.”

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I did so much on Sunday I can barely believe it – normally I just seem to charge around and achieve nothing.

Little Boots didn’t wake up too early for a change. I think Summer Hols are proving a bit exhausting, as the perisher just sat watching TV and reading for most of the morning. Meanwhile I got on with a mountain of washing up, while alternating between that, sorting the recycling, and sawing and treating some wood for a shelf on the greenhouse staging what I built.

At this point Little Boots demanded I make a cannon from the wildly disparate bits and pieces that had been wombled together from around the house. We ended up making crossbow that fired plastic corks out of some pieces of a wooden train track, elastic bands, masking tape and a peg.

After lunch we set off for a garden centre. I only wanted a couple of seed trays (the sort without holes), but ended up also buying some salad seeds, a rather jazzy Phormium, that Little Boots insisted on for the jungle area, and another Sempervivum, for the collection that I’m in denial about

We then dropped off some RHS notes and huge canister of slug pellets, I’d unearthed during “Operation Clear The Greenhouse“, at a friend’s place. Unfortunately my friend wasn’t in, although that’s probably just as well as she’d have had conniptions to see LB, anywhere near her greenhouse with the crossbow.

After stopping on the way home to do some recycling and then shopping we arrived back and whilst I got on with fitting the greenhouse shelf LB got on with lying in ambush and pinging me with corks everytime I appeared in the open.

I also managed later to squeeze in a spell down the allotment and came away with lots of bits and pieces. Not enough for anything other than a stir fry, but at the risk of sounding smug it contained garlic, chilli, red onion, French beans, runner beans, carrots (Little Boot’s own Red Dragons), cabbage, perpetual beet, chard and coriander.

Actually risk be damned – I am smug – even 48 hours later.

 

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If I find the garlic in the kitchen has started to sprout I often stick a couple of cloves in a pot of compost on the window sill. You don’t get any new bulbs, but the leaves that sprout can be cut and used as chives – albeit with a mild garlic flavour. L-ah-vely.

Cooking Tip – if your garlic cloves have started to sprout you can still cook with them, provided they haven’t gone too far, but remove the shoot or it will taste bitter.

Well, whilst they might like it on the kitchen windowsill the garlic cloves in my office allotment were not a success. They grew well at first but were soon ridiculously leggy and floppy and so have been consigned to the compost heap. The problem is surely one of light as the office glass has a tint to it.

Similarly the French Tarragon is putting on a reasonable amount of growth, but it is soft and pale green – again it doesn’t seem to like the office too much. The Lemongrass however is growing well and has leaves at least a metre tall.

New additions to the indoor plot are Lemon Verbena and Vietnamese coriander. Also added a short while back was a Pineapple plant which I grew myself from the top of a fruit we’d eaten, and is starting to grow away, so that I’m thinking it probably should have been repotted before I took it to the office.

 The biggest success though is the Ginger which first threw up a leaf-spike on Boxing Day 2008, already has two 1m+ shoots and is producing a third which is currently growing at a rate of seven centimetres per day.

I will have to look into the ginger family for more OA candidates.

Little Boots has a little wooden playhouse in the garden. Last year, near to this, I made a small wooden deck. Around this was planted some leafy plants, which the perisher soon christened the Jungle Area. It’s only small, but has a lot packed it. Initially it was planted with 3 bananas. The biggest – definitely Musa basjoo. The other pair were Musas, but I’m not sure which. They were cheap buys at the end of the season and probably planted out too late, so that even though well protected they didn’t make it through the winter. Other planting was very much a mish-mash. Some home grown cannas, end of season reduced Melianthus and Miscanthus, some Crocosmia “Lucifer” that had never done very well where it was first planted, all bulked out with Alchemilla mollis.

Well, as I’ve intimated, only one of the bananas made it. The cannas, even though lifted and stored under the greenhouse bench, were killed by the cold winter we had. And even though the Melianthus came through, it’s sulked this year.

However there have been successes. The Lucifer has flowered like never before, two large blue alliums appeared as if from nowhere (they must have been a forgotten purchase from our local nursery), self-seeded Verbena bonariensis has dotted up throughout, although it has only just started to flower. This season’s additions were headed by Ensete ventricosa (going batty), along with a Hedichium, Canna, Incarvillea (already looking “toes up”), Perovskia “Blue Spire” (which doesn’t really fit and will probably get moved or used as a stock plant for cuttings).

When we went to Wizzles recently, I wanted to get a couple more Musas from the Plant Centre, but Little Boots was quite adamant that we shouldn’t buy anymore and demanded we buy something else. “OK,” I eventually relented, “but what other plants are there here that are jungly?”

Without further prompting LB raced around and chose Unula magnifica, a Bergenia and Stachys monieri – all leafy things and so, good choices, but I have reservations.

However, it did occur to me that this may well be how Christopher Lloyd started – in which case I’ll let the munchkin get on with it.

I’ve just found out that there is a nursery called Daisy Roots.

Not only that, but they seem to have some great stuff.

I was planning to go to that Future Gardens thing next week with Little Boots – I wonder if I dare stretch it and visit the Daisy Roots Nursery on the same day?

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