In praise of dandelions

Dandelions seem to be universally despised, but not by me!  I love them:

  • they are sunny and cheerful
  • they have deep roots that reach down and bring up nutrients into their leaves which they then donate to the soil
  • they feed the birds with their seed
  • they have medicinal properties
  • they can also be eaten

I have not always loved them, I used to try to remove them as other people generally do.  But then I saw their benefits and now I enjoy letting them do their own thing.  I don’t have problems with them getting out of hand and I like them mixed in with the other plants.

DSCN6172 dandelions in lawn Dandelions in the lawn

DSCN6154 dandelions and sweet cicely Dandelions and sweet cicely

DSCN6160 dandelions and spring flowers Dandelions and spring flowers

I did this post because my partner was complaining about the dandelions in the lawn and I wanted to stand up for them and to see what other people think.

Posted in Polycultures, Relationship with nature, Uncategorized | Tagged | 8 Comments

Recent (book related) Events

This is just a quick post about recent events since my book – Edible Perennial Gardening – was launched last month.  I have had three very busy weekends with book related events.

On 31 March 2014 I attended the Edible Garden Show at Alexandra Palace in London and gave a talk about my garden and book.  On 5 April we had a private party for family and friends to celebrate the book’s launch and today (13 April) I have been to Beanpole Day / Grow Local which is a joint venture between Transition Town Telford and The Small Woods Association.

In addition to the obvious pleasure I get in selling copies of the book it has been particularly encouraging on each of these occasions to find that there is a lot of interest ‘out there’ in the land of what I call ‘normal gardeners’.  So many people have approached me to say that they want to either try something new or more natural or something less labour intensive.

Emma Lawrence who illustrated Edible Perennial Gardening came to the Edible Garden Show as well – here we are enjoying the whole experience:


and me in an unfamiliar environment – on stage!


Now that the initial excitement is over I shall be getting back to blogs about what is going on in the garden(s).

Posted in Edible Perennial Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Polycultures, Transition | 3 Comments

The Edible Garden Show

Now here is something I really was not expecting – a book launch at The Edible Garden Show at London’s Alexandra Palace at the end of this month!  Not only that, but I am going to be doing a question and answer session in the ‘Experts Theatre’ with Maddy Harland (editor at Permanent Publications)!!!!!!!!!!  My slot is on Sunday 30 March at 3.10 pm.

Maddy and the whole team work at Permanent Publications work tirelessly to bring permaculture to a wider audience and it is therefore even better news therefore that on the Friday and Saturday they have slots at the show with two of their other authors – Juliet Kemp and Carl Legge.

This is the stuff of wildest dreams – being able to share something of what I have learned about perennial vegetables and polycultures at such a prestigious event.

Posted in Edible Perennial Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Polycultures | 2 Comments

Edible Perennial Gardening

I am very excited to be able to say that at last my book is very nearly here.  It is currently at the printers and will be ready to buy later on this month.  There is a preview of what it will look like here:

Edible Perennial Full Cover Low Res

and if you would like to buy it click here!




Posted in Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Polycultures | 2 Comments

Recent plantings and changes in the Borderland garden

I have made some changes in the Borderland garden over the past two weeks.  The vegetable patch begun last year (for a polyculture of perennial vegetables) has been moved and fruit trees planted. 

The vegetable patch was in the way of a planned extension to the house and needed to be moved.  For anyone who has not read last year’s posts about the development of this bed it was constructed from a mixture of twigs, branches, decomposed humus-y material from the hedge, upturned lawn turf and grass and hedge trimmings.  Considering its’ haphazard ‘construction’ the amount of growth the plants made was quite astonishing and the produce was good as well.

The branches and twigs that had formed the edges of the bed were used as a foundation for the new one and just laid on top of the grass.  This was covered with the remaining materials – mainly soil plus smaller twigs.  It was interesting to see how things had developed in the bed over time – it was still a long way off what you could call a well formed soil, but it had lots of worms and in one part the mycelia resulting from the breakdown of woody material was very evident.  

A very low hazel edging has been put round the bed to ensure that it all looks neat and tidy.  It has been planted up with the plants that were in the former bed:

  • Perennial kales
  • Sea beet
  • Perennial leeks
  • Welsh onions
  • Wild rocket
  • Clumping spring onions
  • Radish (last year’s kept for seed)
  • Carrot (also for seed)
  • Around the edge are herbs – wild marjoram, fennel, mint, lemon balm

I have added some other things:

  • Flowers – to help stabilise the edges of the bed and for the insects and bees – foxglove, bugle, honesty, forget me not, toad flax, creeping Jenny, violet, pulmonaria plus some summer flowering bulbs, a camellia and another flowering shrub.
  • For nitrogen fixing and to eat – field bean and peas have been sown.
  • To get more of the soil covered with plants I have scattered some saved flax seeds on and will throw some spare phacelia seeds on later today.

At the moment the main thing is to get things growing in it as that is my way of ensuring the vitality, health and fertility of the soil.

In due course I will also plant:

  • Roots – probably Jerusalem artichoke, oca, yacon and scorzonera
  • Beans – some new varieties to experiment with
  • Anything else I can fit in!

I have also planted some fruit trees – four are in so far with one more to go.  I wanted fruit trees from the outset but have taken some time to observe the garden and think about what to get.  There are so many to choose from and I found it a daunting task.  However it was made easier discovering some heritage Welsh apple trees in a local garden centre.  A bit of internet research revealed Ian Sturrock and Sons, Welsh Fruit Tree Nursery in Bangor, north Wales.  They specialise in researching and trialling ancient varieties and have a range of rare fruit trees for sale.  I have bought:

  • Apple – Trwyn Mochyn (Pig’s Snout), a large green cooking apple from Anglesey first recorded in the 1600s.
  • Plum – Denbigh, the only native Welsh plum to survive, first mentioned in 1785.
  • Damson – Abergwyngregyn, from a single tree growing on the Menai Straits which is thought to be over two hundred years old.
  • Cherry – Cariad, bred to do well in the Welsh climate and tested along the Menai Straits for ten years.

I have planted one other apple – Sunset.  It is a small apple, similar to a Cox but more disease resistant.  This came from another nursery near home.

It will be some years before these one and two year old trees begin to bear fruit, but I am already relishing the thought.  In the meantime there will be harvests of raspberries, blackcurrants, jostaberries, gooseberries, loganberries, tayberries, chokeberries and wild strawberries.  These are already in the garden and I plan to add more types of fruit later this year.

Here are a couple of pictures to show how things look at present:

photo (14)

photo (25)

It was really lovely being outside and feeling spring coming ever closer with crocuses in flower, warming sunshine, chirruping birdsong and that intangible knowledge that spring is in the air.

Posted in Borderland Garden, Forest Gardening, Fruit, perennial greens, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Polycultures, Relationship with nature, roots and tubers, Suppliers | Tagged | 8 Comments

Evaluating 2013 in the Telford garden

Our house in Telford went up for sale in the late spring of 2013.  As yet it has not sold but the year began with the clear possibility in mind that we may not see the growing season out in the garden, so I decided to move as many perennial vegetables as possible from there to the Borderland garden.

As a result most of my time and effort were concentrated on developing the new garden and the Telford garden pretty much had to fend for itself.  The time spent in the garden decreased accordingly – from 76.75 hours in 2012 to 17 hours in 2013.

Time Spent in Telford Garden 2013 (hours)
Activity Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total %
Sowing seed / taking cuttings 1.25 6.5 0 0.25 8 48
Planting out 0 0 0 0 0 0
Management / maintenance 0.5 2.25 0 3.25 6 36
Preparation of new areas 0 0 0 0 0 0
Other tasks 0 2.75 0 0 2.75 16
Totals 1.75 11.5 0 4 17 100
Total time spent 2012 76.75  

I continued to sow seeds for new plants and to take cuttings – some, or possibly most of which were then planted in the other garden.  I did a certain amount of maintenance at the end of spring / early summer and in the autumn, mainly to tidy up and that was about it.

Produce from Telford Garden 2013 (g) 
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Total %
Onions 16 55 0 87 158 1
Cooking greens 277 628 0 116 1021 8
Salad leaves 172 131 10 89 402 3
Roots 0 0 0 1368 1368 10
Beans / peas 0 0 320 0 320 2
Fruit 0 0 6638 3777 10415 76
Totals 465 814 6968 5437 13,684 100

For comparison total produce in 2012 was 40,390 g / 40.39 kg, and in 2011 it was 24,900 g / 24.9 kg.

  • Produce from the garden was clearly much reduced – approximately one third of the 2012 total – and consisted in the main of fruit.
  • Early in the year there were harvests of cooking greens and salad leaves.
  • I did replant some Jerusalem artichokes, oca and mashua but most of the roots and tubers were re-planted in the other garden.  I left the harvesting of most of these roots until after the New Year so the yields do not appear in the 2013 figures.
  • I experimented with a new variety of runner bean but they did not do well unfortunately.
  • I removed many of the perennial onion varieties to the other garden and therefore had quite small harvests from them.

Even though I had less time to spend in the garden and correspondingly lower harvests the output in terms of kg produced for hours of work increased from 0.526 kg per hour’s work in 2012 to 0.804 kg per hour’s work!  That is very reassuring to me given my objective of obtaining as much yield as I can for as little input of time.

Of course one of the most important things about a garden is what it looks like.  Even though that is not one of my main aims, I do want it to be aesthetically appealing and it does seem that leaving having a hands off approach and letting nature largely get on with it works for this as well.

DSCN5174 flowery edge July 2013


DSCN5175 more flowers july 2013


DSCN5183 back garden july 2013

Posted in Forest Gardening, Fruit, perennial greens, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, Polycultures, roots and tubers, Telford Garden | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Delights in the Mid Winter Garden

I would contend that a garden of edible perennials must be one of the few to yield delights in the cold and often bleak mid winter months. 

I have left a number of root vegetables in the ground over the winter.  Some have been left to continue making tubers and the others I am storing them outside in situ as an alternative to having store them indoors.  Last week I went outside to harvest some.  

Before I went outdoors I poked my head into the (unheated) conservatory to see if anything was stirring yet in the pots of yacon tubers.  These young growing tips for next year’s plants were removed from plants harvested earlier in January.  They were planted into pots of just damp compost and left in a cool, but not cold airy place (ie the conservatory).  Yacon tubers (and the young plants as well) grow very slowly and can take a long time to produce shoots; so I had not expected that four of the dozen or more pots would be showing young leaves breaking the surface.  That’s one delight!  Here are the others found in the garden:

  • Perennial onions of different varieties – perennial leeks, three cornered leeks, Welsh onions.  Some of these appeared before Christmas and are by now growing very strongly.
  • Self seeded lamb’s lettuce that I have been picking since just after Christmas.
  • Fresh young shoots to pick on the kales.
  • Daubenton’s kale cuttings taken in late autumn sprouting new leaves.
  • and what I went outside for in the first place – harvests of Jerusalem artichoke, mashua, oca and skirret – some to use in the kitchen and some to save to replant for the coming year’s crop.

Of course one of the most delightful times of the year for any gardener is when the snowdrops make their appearance, heralding the beginning of the end of winter.  This weekend my partner and I walked to an isolated church on a Welsh hillside looking towards the Shropshire hills.  There in the hedge, glinting in the pale morning sun, between showers of rain were these beauties:

snowdrops at trelystan church

Posted in Forest Gardening, Hedgerow, perennial greens, Perennial Vegetables, Permaculture, roots and tubers, Telford Garden | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment