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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Why We Love Weeds

Plants for a Future are like me, advocates of weed gardening. Here's why:

Things have been very intense for the past couple of years while we are setting up home but the garden is beginning to get some attention at last and some of the Goblin's fruits are being the blog will begin to revive this year. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Poetry Fruit Garden: Goblin Market

I grew up on a diet of many delights, one of which was Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. Living in Stroud some years ago, I felt a connection with this poem of my childhood far away, and this led me to make a film about the poem on Super8.

Now I have returned to Stroud, and at last, have a garden of my own. There is already growing a lovely cherry tree and an apple, some strawberries and the ubiquitous blackberries, and lots of herbs, and it came to me that this could become a fruit garden with a fruit fence strategically placed to screen the road at the back.

And then I heard about the Hampton Court Palace Show gardens designed for poems, and although I think these seem to be rather clumsy and literal attempts to represent poems, undaunted I thought I could set myself the task of growing all of the Goblins Delights from Rossetti's most luscious of poems.

Here is a list of all the fruits the Goblins tempt the two girls in the poem with:

Apples Russet and dun,
strawberries; -
Rare pears
grapes without one seed:

There is also mention of:

Some of these will present more of a challenge than others (dates???! - pineapples????!!!) but hey, lets give it a go. I already have a lemon tree and the previous owner left a rather nice grape vine in a pot so we are well on the way I reckon.

Whether I can do better than the hopefuls at Hampton Court remains to be seen - and it could take a few years to find out.

So wish me luck - and please - tell me how to grow melons!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Farewell to all that

The days of the weed growing are numbered as I am moving to Stroud (of Rupert Burdock fame) and I will have to abandon the anotment after three years of adventures (or is it four, I am useless at tracking time). 

I have been so excited by working with the land and the girls that I am looking for ways to pursue the same interests in Stroud once I can get more settled there.

A Pensford Field committee member spoke to me after the recent work day and explained the plans for the back of the studio. I was sad to hear it will be lost in their plans to build a shed, but I am hopeful that some of the learning can be brought forward into the planned garden for the front of the space. He said it would likely be winter before anything actually happens. If this is so I am in contact with someone who may be able to continue monitoring the patch over the summer.

I had a lovely send off from the fantastic Girls Art Club, who threw me a leaving do recently. I have seen them learn a great deal through joining me in my own efforts to explore the plants as they grew up behind the studio of their own accord.

It was great to see how the girls changed through being at the club, the garden and the field - from being often quite timid with nature, to being very confident - from squealing and running away from worms to handling all kinds of bugs and wanting to look after them and 'put them in the bug hotel' which I built into the side of the garden. They started out very wary of the nettles and now they just grab their gloves and come out and get digging. They teach each other as well which is great.

What I have learnt from the experience is that working with wild plants or edible weeds, (with a few more familiar herbs thrown in) can be a very exciting way to bring kids into contact with nature and to help them build confidence in it. The girls developed a real sense of ownership and even have begun planting things they brought from home. They've made suggestions and it has been a great way for them to learn what various wild plants taste like and also about the relationships of wild plants with bugs and other wildlife. Its a way of seeing our links with nature rather than the separation, eg. how we and bees can both eat the same plants.

Parents have also got involved with tasting.  One girls' father has offered to do some work there such as clearing space, digging, etc.

Working with weeds is very low maintenance. If kids trample them, they rebound easily; if they are neglected over the summer, they thrive; if there is a drought, fat hen keeps it looking green and if there is rain, an abundance of variety springs up. There are almost no costs - a pair of gardening gloves is handy, and a trowel - but no pots, no compost, no watering, is needed. It also benefits wildlife: in late winter and early spring, the bees can feed on the alkanet, providing honey for the beekeepers later on, and the unuusual flavours of the plants keep everyone entertained (if not always delighted) throughout the year. The diversity of plants provides a resource for wide range of creatures, without providing enough for any bug to take over. In short, this garden to me represents a great learning opportunity at the axis of human and wild life.

I must thank Pensford Field Environmental Trust for offering me this fantastic opportunity to explore edible wild plant gardening. Ive enjoyed it and learnt so much and I will be carrying on.

I hope the committee will consider doing some transplanting of plants and or soil, as there are quite an interesting mix of plants there now, including lavender, sage, several types of mint, fennel, as well as the wild things like Alexanders, burdock, woad, thistles, horseradish, oregano, poppies, fat hen, etc. I do hope that some of the life of the wild garden will continue around the studio, for the sake of the kids, the wildlife, and everyone.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rupert Burdock, Wild Food Mogul

Rupert Burdock and his Wild Things
A couple of weekends ago I was in lovely Stroud where I met Rupert Burdock. He sold me a bag of Milk thistle heads and invited me to join his afternoon wild food walk. Sadly I couldn't go that day but we had a very nice cup of tea instead with some poets and artists.

Next time!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Spot the Bugs

Sometimes bugs are spotted: I liked these ones.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Eat Biodiversity

Being as it is the Year of Biodiversity and I am making my own plot more biodiverse than it was, I thought this would be interesting for you biodiversityfoodiephiles.

Bem-me-quer is a vegetarian restaurant located in the centre of Lisbon (Portugal).

This vegetarian restaurant has launched a cuisine to show how a simple dish can contain millions of years of species evolution.

The project, titled “Biodiversidade à Mesa – como proteger Natureza com faca e garfo” (Biodiversity at the table – how to protect Nature with the fork and knife),aims to promote to diners the value and impact of people’s every-day food choices, and the important role that traditional agriculture has played over millennia to bring us crop varieties.

More information is here:

and the restaurant's website is here:

If you are in Portugal you can visit it here:

View Larger Map

Friday, July 23, 2010

An Uncommon Day Out

Last weekend I went on a family outing to Sussex to see where my brother works at as they had an open day.

It was fascinating and inspiring, I discovered:

- nettle tea goes clear when you add lemon drops
- how to bodge a rounders bat
- when to collect woad for dyeing
- a new drink called kefir - its fizzy yoghurt and its yummy. I have been craving it since trying the free sample
- that all the sheeps wool in the UK ends in a single processing plant, I think its in Huddersfield - but do correct me - and from there it gets auctioned once a week to highest bidders.
- how to make artists charcoal
- that buddleia makes a good yellow dye even after the flowers are dead

I also got some beeswax, a diblet, milk fresh from the cow, honey, sunshine, a delicious lunch of mutton, organic beetroots, a lesson in wood turning from a delightful man called Bob, some fresh willow charcoal, and a lift there and back from mum and dad.

Super nice man who swapped charcoal with me

Super super nice Bob who let me wreck several pieces of wood on his pole lathe...

It was really great and interesting. I wish I lived in a town like that. I am saving up so I can go on a course and make a shave horse next May. Will have to get a house to keep it in as well....

Bicycle Botanist Trailer

More coming soon!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Mid-Late Summer Update

It's been a while but the plants have moved quickly. A month ago the plot was green and lush and new things seemed to be appearing every day, crowding each other out. Now it looks untidy and shrivelled but I have been collecting poppy seeds and heads for decoration, and some of the slower things are starting to look fat with promise.

So by way of an update here are some photos from June:

Looking lush in June


Opium Poppies
Common Poppy

Opium Poppy in July is covered in aphid. The green heads are where opium comes from so I wonder if that is the attraction for these black bugs.

Where the aphid do well, so do the ladybirds

Broad-leaved dock

I think these are red admiral caterpillars on the nettles in June. Now it's July, I have seen a lot of butterfilies but more in the nature reserve than on this plot.

Wild Rocket


The opium poppies look pretty but I am not convinced they will be so well used next year. The seeds are delicious and so are the leaves earlier in the season but they are very shabby when they go over and take up a lot of space. I may try to keep them in more around the edges, and eat most of the little ones as lettuce.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I'll Be Nice to Nettles if Nettles be Nice to Me

Apparently it's Be Nice to Nettles Week here in the UK and I have juct been at the notment manhandling some of my own. Not that I really claim to own the nettles but I am allowed at the moment to interfere with them if I want to. They sting! I am quite used to it from working on this plot and today I decided to see if the adage was true that if you grab them quick they dont sting.

Also today Chris tells me on Facebook that he used to EAT them - raw - and that it doesnt sting either. And last week there were two kids at the art club and they said they ate the nettles raw and it didnt sting.

All this not stinging...its almost as if the whole thing was just a myth spread around to turn people against nettles, and now there is a Be Nice week to restore the soured relationship between the two species, and get us all to realise that actually nettles are really nice.

But let me tell you, they DO sting, even when you grab them, and I will be nice to them when they are nice to me!

Have you got a nettle experience to share? Do they sting you??

DISCLAIMER I can't quite say 'no nettles were harmed in the making of this post' but actually I am very nice to the nettles in my care and let lots of them stay where they are with only occasional shoves when they are completely smothering my rocket or fennel or what not. I even wrote a Pamphlet about them. Although I do eat them (cooked) and I suppose they would consider that not to be very nice of me at all.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Blewitts Again

One nice thing about this project is learning slowly and developing a deepening relationship with the natural processes. Last year I found wood blewitts growing on the plot and this year they came back. They seem to be rather out of season but I am still fairly sure that's what they are! I ate them and enjoyed it a lot, in fact more than last time. And its very satisfying to see that they came back again. Unless they are different bnut its still interesting.

This time the recipe involved frying onions and Alexanders with the mushrooms in rapeseed oil from the local shop (Squire's) and at the end, stirring in the wild garlic pesto my brother and his wife made.

And here are the pictures:

Baby Blewitts among the baby alexanders

Ready to eat - I left about half in to reseed for the next crop
Rapeseed oil, wild pesto and alexanders ready
Chop everything up and fry with the oil and a squeeze of grapefruit juice. Mix with noodles, top with yoghurt and paprika and settle down for lunch with a good book.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Truth About Wildlife Sheffield

I just picked up a little book in a charity shop the other day because it mentioned wildlife gardening and I wanted some wholesome retail therapy.

I didn't expect much, I thought it would be very light and fanciful. But it turned out it was a fab piece of popular science writing, about a study done in Sheffield on the wildlife in ordinary gardens. It's charmingly written but I especially like it because it's based on scientific research and it declares the limitations of its own statistics.

In summary it says that they found out that using 'native' plants in Britain has no effect on the amount of wildlife. Including nettles - which have a mythological status when it comes to wildlife gardening but apparently this is bunkum.

Native is a very slippery concept anyway. But there are some things which make a huge difference, consistently in different locations.

In summary, these are the top ways to maximise your garden biodiversity:

1. Grow trees (or at least shrubs, if you can)

2. Have a compost heap

3. Have a pond (this can actually just be a window box or tub with water in it)

4. Don't use pesticides

5. Leave dead wood and leaves, etc, on the ground

6. Let the grass grow long (so butterflies can lay their eggs)

These are the ways to boost the biodiversity to the max in your garden.

I recommend buying the book if you would like to find out more details on improving your garden's biodiversity, either from Amazon or the reused books shop

Ah! You might ask...but why should I increase biodiversity?

Well I will expound upon that topic in a later will just have to sign up for emails if you want to find out some reasons....or visit the NHM website about biodiversity. (Did you know 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity?)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Capital Growth Member 0423

The Pensford ecosystem/wild/edible garden has been officially accepted onto the Capital Growth scheme member number 0423.

This scheme, run by the London Mayor's office and various social and environmental organisations, means I get some free advice and they also sent some chive seeds and an outdoor sign.

In the pack I also got a gardening catalogue and some ads for gardening services of various kinds. They are, to be fair, highly relevant and usually discounted, however it does look a bit like a marketing scheme as well as a positive endeavour.

My mission is to try to get wildlife and biodiversity up the list of priorities when it comes to growing. Alot of times there may be good wildlife areas being destroyed in order to grow veg and this is not something I would want to happen too much.

It would be best to see veg being grown in places where nothing is growing already, so come on London, dig up those car parks and pavements, restore your front garden to earth and life. And stick a green roof on your house or shed, add living walls and make the place green again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Plants recorded in TW9

The Natural History Museum has this interesting list of plants recorded in the local area. You can use it anywhere in the UK - just type in your postcode

Lots is going on this spring at the anotment and will be making several posts in the next few days... including:

- Wood blewit and alexanders pasta with wild garlic pesto
- Capital Growth scheme numer 0423
- Kids Art and Nature club starts - saturday mornings at 11 ages 7 and up
- lots of planting and rapid growth
- making a honeysuckle fence
- Bicycle Botanist video series to be launched

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Life Returns to Notment - and my soul

It has been such a long time, we had so much cold and rain and snow this winter that I have hardly been down to the notment at all. A couple of weeks ago I did go, and collected some baby Alexanders, which went down very well with the family. They are very herbal, like fennel, aniseed or celery but stronger and with a distinct flavour. They work very well chopped up with mashed potato or in an omelette.

Then yesterday I went back for a propoer look at the spring life. Many of the fragile little seedlings planted last year in their fleece-poo blankets are still alive if not exactly thriving - including a sage, some fennel cuttings, a feverfew and calamint.

Sadly though, the huge ants nest has gone since the breeze blocks were sold to alocal builder who has been able to reuse them. I had been hoping to provide a new home for the ants, but failed to act in time and so now just have to wait and see if they managed to survive or not.

I am fairly ignorant about the habits of ants, but I believe the ants on the breeze blocks were the common black garden ant Lasius niger.  Ants hibernate in winter, so who knows whether any could have survived the disturbance. I hope they have because I think ants add enormous value to the ecosystem in my little plot. They are amazing - and had made a big impact on an area of earth about two foot square. Apparently "they have quite a large brain in proportion to overall body size, at about 6%."

I found the soil under where the breeze blocks had been, is of a thick clay type, but in the part where the ants had nested, the soil is fine and crumbly and soft and almost looks good enough to eat. It is full of tiny woodchips and seems to me to be very clean and clear of debris and seeds and stuff. There is loads of it, and I think it will make a very good seedling compost if I go down that route. I spread some around and then scattered fennel seeds onto the area. It remains to be seen whether the seeds will get eaten by hungry creatures but perhaps a couple will make it.You can see in the picture the square where the soil is a different colour because the ants made it.

I met Pam at the field and was trying to explain the philosophy I am developing on this project. I can illustrate with the ants quite well. I have noticed a number of websites saying ants are pests and they can be killed in such-and-such a way, but I would like to propose another view. The ants are making fresh compostable soil - in fact one of the pest websites actually said that the soil they make 'encourages weeds' which illustrates the point that the soil is great for germinating seedlings - and the ants do it in the natural course of their business, and produce large volumes.

This fresh, clean soil that the baby plants love so much, is a valuable resource to any plants that are suited to using it. So, my concept is, not to say that the ants are a nuisance and will bite me, so therefore have no place in "my" garden, and should be killed; but to notice they are there, observe their habits, and that they have made all this lovely seedling compost, and then use or redistribute their product, just as we do with honey from bees, to give benefit in turn.

So now it not about killing the ants and preventing the weeds, but providing the ants with somewhere to live that is not too much in the way and in turn, won't be disturbed; and then collecting their fresh earth each spring for seedlings. I would in fact then observe the weeds that grow, finding out when they grow up, whether they can be eaten or used for other purposes, by myself or other animals, and in turn, intervene to find them their place in this little ecosystem. These little plants by some magic, then turn this earth, with a little sunlight and water mixed in, into food for my plate, or for something's feast.

And this all requires almost no work on my part, but just sitting in a small garden and observing and thinking about what I see. And all the while, browsing on baby Alexanders. While this won't feed me properly, it could be scaled up and over the years I would extend this experiment to a larger space and a more complex system. And there all the benefits of gardening such as creating an interesting and relaxing place and providing an abundance of resources to draw upon, from cut flowers to herbal medicines, light snacks to staple dishes and from rare encounters with wild creatures to celebrations with dear friends. And look - if an ant bites you, well, you can eat it, and the ant cannot do the same to you. (I am convinced that sherbert dip is an artificial imitation of its natural precursor, the ant snack.)

The goal is really, to maximise the diversity of the site, and to have the minimum amount of effort but to allow each thing to work in its natural way, intervening to distribute things evenly and prevent anything taking over too much, and to thus create the greatest total wealth possible in the given space.

I could say that this philosophy could be extended to human society too, a matter not of opposing forces, with this absurd concept of "winners" and "losers" and "the fittest" but of each element finding its place, each behaviour having a function, and of placing people and things in such a relation that they feed off each other. Redistribution and balance are very important, when there are great imbalances, such as an overadundance of, say, nettles, but once its running, a complex system can usually manage itself. As in the case of a rainforest or ancient wood.

Finally I add that the pond in the nature reserve had a lot of frogspawn but it was drying out, so for the first time in my life I touched frogspawn, and it wasn't slimy but rather firm, like a jelly, and I hope I might be able to save a few frogs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

One Wassail Picture

We had another wassail at Pensford Field where the camera battery ran out (Twice!) so I only got one picture. I was going to go back to get some pics for you of the notment in snow but Then my own battery ran out and I got a horrible flu. If the snow holds I will report on the state of the plants in this delicious snowy blanket, which I learn might be helping to suppress virulences of various kinds, in the earth if not in my own weary body.

Pensford Field are asking for votes in a Bovril competition so they can win a grant - they would be very happy if you would click to vote.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blewitts (and more) in Pictures

I brought camera on sunday and got some pics for you:

A woolly blanket for the baby herbs, keeps down the competition and the slugs hate fur too:

Nettle roots will be used to dye the rest of the fleece:

Lepista sordida growing among nettles - and Alexander seedlings in the foreground:

and at home waiting to be cooked:

with red onions and butter:

giving a simple meal with a beetroot and Alexander salad in the background:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Wood Blewitts and Alexanders

I went down the notment a couple of days ago as its the change of season and its time to check up.

I found all the little herbs I planted doing well under their woolly blanket, and the big dominating original plants that were so enormous in the summer, dying back and shrivelling. The Alexanders were fallen, rotting already, but there were masses of baby ones coming which is perfect for harvesting so I got a good crop of those as well as some very lush and think dandelion leaves for a nice salad. The Alexanders are rather strong flavoured to eat in quantity but they were excellent chopped up small with a beetroot salad.

As I cleared away the burdock, getting burrs all over my woollens, and the nettles, and the big Alexanders (fallen), I found a big collection of purpley-brown mushrooms. They smelt heavenly, a very strong mushroomy smell like oyster mushrooms and at first I thought that's what they were. Really the scent made me want to eat them right there and then, its was very powerful.

But closer up they obviously werent that, so i took one home to identify and pored over my books and left it on a black paper to see the spore colour. It looked promisingly like a Wood Blewitt but could have also been something nasty called a Silky Pinkgill, so as always with a new mushroom a certain sense of adventure fell upon me.

I checked the books and they gave rather unclear and conflicting information, and online I fared no better. Adding up all the evidence and trying to make sense of it (what is a 'mealy' smell? Is the Silky Pinkgill poisonous or not? What is the difference between 'pink' and 'pale pink' spores? Does it matter that my mushrooms stems didnt look as fat? Why does only one of the books mention Lapista sordida?) I decided that I was 90% sure it was OK.

So I cooked them up in copious quantities of butter (the books say you must cook your wood blewitts), and served them to my family to see what would happen... they cam e with a warning so in the end it was only me and my father who actually tasted them, and in very small doses, and mum reminded us that only one mushroom can actually kill you, so it was fine, and they tasted fab.

This morning I had no ill efects at all so I have eaten the ret of the mushrooms along with the remains of the chicken stew which was very delivious but even better with the mushies.

And now that I check up on Lepista sordida, I actually think that is the mushroom I have been eating, and apparently it is uncommon. This is very exciting because I almost have never found uncommon things and most things always turn out to be something incredibly normal. The picture on the link really does look most exactly like my mushrooms. I'm sorry to say I didn't take my own pics this time but will try to get there tomorrow in daylight and photo the little ones that are left.

So here's to the notment and its amazing and unexpected autumnal offerings - for which I had to merely turn up. (Well there was a certain amount of nettle root pulling but that is all part of the fun.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kew Road Chestnuts

It was chestnut season a week or two ago and now they are over but I still have the pics. Being from the Kew Road, they are probably full of horrible pollutants but they were very sweet and delicious after a bit of roasting.  They went down well in this house and you can see the before and after in the pics. I also put some into a potato mash with Kew Road Walnuts as well. It went very well with the pheasant that Dad gave us from the Richmond Market game stall, roasted and stewed with beetroots and loads of gorgeous veg.

Chestnuts come in a prickly casing which you stamp on to pop the nut out so you don't have to get your fingers scratched.

The walnuts make a great and very durable dye but I haven't used it because we were moving back into the flat after the New Kitchen and all that, so I didn't have time to do all the processing.

I have bought some wool carders however, and will spend the winter processing the fleeces I collected in the summer. The white wool will be dyed with colours from the nettle roots and onion skins that I also have been collecting up, and when I am ready I will collect some walnut leaves which are just as good as the flesh on the outside of the nuts for dyeing with.

Why are most of the trees in the back streets just horse chestnuts and planes, when we could all be eating fabulous walnuts and chestnuts every autumn?

I even planted a Kew Road chestnut last year in a little pot and now its a healthy seedling. But I wonder where he will live, will I find him a good home?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

more pictures and nettles keep coming

how the notment is looking after a lot of nettle-clearing. I have cleared this area twice now, cropping the baby nettle and fat hen as it crops up so quickly.

A pile of breeze blocks under the nettles has been partially dismantled to make small seats in a circle for the herbs - with the help of my Lovely Assistant

Collecting fat hen (delicious! like spinach but nuttier) and dandelion

using sheeps fleece to protect herbs planted out from my backyard pots. They are doing ok and the fleece also keep slugs away very effectively (they dislike hair!) The fox liked it though and came and dug at it when it first appeared.

a large burdock - can be used in dandelion and burdock cordial...

collecting the nettle tops

pureeing the cooked nettle tops with the white sauce, a messy business. (My old kitchen, soon to be gone, a nasty steel cooker in its place.. it just wont look as good in the pictures any more :-( )

ooh a lovely meal, cheese makes anything taste good!

All the details on cooking the nettles are on the earlier post

Tell me a good recipe for nettles please!!