All posts by Anni Kelsey

Author of Edible Perennial Gardening and avid researcher into edible perennials and associated useful plants.

This year’s batch of blackberry chilli syrup

The blackberry chilli syrup I made last October was so good – mellow and fruity with a bit of a kick – that I just had to make another batch for the forthcoming year.   We have been using it in small amounts, mainly on top of fresh fruit and natural yogurt which we often have with a cup of tea in the afternoon and we are on the last bottle now.

My partner collected some blackberries yesterday evening and I made some syrup this afternoon.  I had more blackberries than last year but we were running low on sugar; so (based on the same ratios as before) I calculated how many blackberries I needed to use up the sugar.

I varied the method a little by adding the lightly cooked and sieved blackberries to the syrup, lemon and chilli mixture as it boiled rather than at the end of reducing the syrup.  The chilli was the same variety as last year, in fact the same harvest – it has been in the freezer since then.

I don’t know if it was the change to the method or some effect of freezing the chilli but the taste is very different, explosive you might say, but tasty nonetheless!

DSCN6618 blackberry chilli syrupAnyone for a cup of tea and some fruit?

September reflections

DSCN6601 late summer flowers

I asked my partner what she liked best about the garden.  Her reply – she likes the “general unpredictability” of it – how there is often a harvest of the unexpected arriving in the kitchen.  She also likes the way it is so attractive to wild things – bees and insects – and more recently blue tits that have been eating something in the fennel early in the morning.

I particularly love the way it yields tasty vegetables for very little work.  I have just added up the produce (from the Borderland garden) so far this year; it amounts to 15.3 kg:

  • 7 kg roots
  • 3 kg green leafy vegetables
  • 5 kg onion-y things
  • 8 kg fruiting and podding vegetables
  • 1 kg others

I also love ‘just being’ in the garden.  This afternoon we needed to dig out some of an earthen bank to make space for a storage chest for garden tools etc.  I did some of the work but Pat valiantly did most of it.  I needed a break and went to sit by the polyculture patch just taking time to look at it, to lazily pull some ripe radish pods (to save the seeds) and watch the bees humming on the toadflax and fennel.  After a very wet August it was so peaceful enjoying spending some time with the late summer flowers and their accompanying insects.


DSCN6603 late summer flowers


Shrewsbury Flower Show 2014

Shrewsbury Flower Show took place on 8 and 9 August.  I had the privilege of being invited to be part of a new venture – the “Our Futures” marquee.  Most of the show consists of very traditional things –  floral displays, vegetable competitions, traders’ stalls, show jumping, cookery demonstrations, brass bands, horticultural talks, musical events, fireworks and a commemoration of the events of 100 years ago when the show did not happen because the first world war had just begun.

Alongside all this traditional content the organisers wanted to look towards the future and invited a selection of local people and organisations to participate.  There were the organic gardeners, Friends of the Earth, Boningales’ Nursery (green roofs), me and Emma Lawrence (illustrator of my book).  Emma did a fantastic job keeping small children busy with a colouring competition and craft activities and I had a stand focussed on perennial vegetables.

I have never been at an event like this before and it was very interesting to observe how people reacted to things they were (in all probability) unfamiliar with – such as perennial vegetables.  One lady spoke to my partner and was insistent that the very large oca plant I had on display was clover; even after being told what it was she did not seem able to absorb that and went on her way saying “I never knew you could eat clover”.  On the other hand I chatted to a man who uses the wild edibles and flowers in his garden to put in his lunch time sandwich and is growing all sorts of very interesting things.

The plants I had on display were not in any way forced into being something they were not, they were in pots of course, but otherwise they were as natural as they would be in the garden.  This was in stark contrast to the magnificent floral displays and show gardens which were obviously designed and put together so as to be eye catching and magnificent.  I am not knocking that at all, those gardens and displays were beautiful; however they conformed to what is expected at these events and it seemed to me that my less extravagant and less showy plants just did not register on many people’s radar as they walked past.  Of course many people go to a show like that for a good family day out and with so much else going on the horticultural side may not be interesting to them.

photo (59) show

My three pots (and me!) outside the marquee.  The organisers asked for them to be at the doorway, but even though we later rearranged them they did not have the impact they might have done had they been in a more enclosed space.

Shropshire-20140808-00426 show

A rather more showy display!

photo (63) show

A show garden

photo (60) show

Another show garden (both of these had Great War themes), this one harks back to the use of horses and dogs (out of sight) in that war.

photo (61) show

Having said that, there were a significant minority who did stop to look, to read the displays and to ask questions.  I came away with a list of people interested in more information and the possibility of collaborating with other local organisations on joint gardening projects.  If I am asked to go back next year, and I hope I am, it will be with a slightly sharper sense of how to attract the attention of the general public and some focussed ideas that they may be able to relate to a little more easily.

Woolly thyme and other creeping things

Whilst I am custodian of the edible perennials my partner quite rightly craves flowers in the garden.  In the spring we took up a patch of sloping difficult-to-mow lawn and used the upturned turf to create a new polyculture patch.  The ex-lawn area is in the process of becoming a flower bed.  I have sown herb and flower seeds so it is becoming an odd mix of flat leafed parsley, dill, love in a mist, calendula with some bought herbs and flowers – various thymes, sage, savory, pansies, day lilies, roses (transferred from the other garden).  Flower bed or no, it is being cultivated, if that is the word, along the same lines as the vegetable parts of the garden.  That is to say:

No digging

This is self explanatory; and impossible anyway as this bed, like the rest of the main part of the garden, is very hard clay with lots of stones very firmly embedded.  I am trusting to time and in due course lots of mulching on the surface to change this.

Allowing anything rather than nothing to grow ……

that is until something more useful comes along.  Therefore when the bed was new and bare there were quite a few “weeds” that germinated.  I left them in place whilst the scattered seeds began to grow and then gradually removed them when the adjacent flower plants were a reasonable size.

Why do this?  Because some of the microscopic life forms that will eventually thrive in this hard and barren soil need living beings (plants) to feed them via the exudates from their roots.  They don’t mind what the plant above ground is as long as its roots are alive.

Observing what happens over time

This is how I learn things.  What I have seen today is various plants racing to cover the soil.  At the bottom of this photograph there is the very pretty tiny leafed woolly thyme.  Now it has established it is trying very hard to spread in all directions.  To the right there is a deep burgundy coloured bugle taken from another flower bed and on the left a white clover.  The clover just appeared in the bed, but may have come from the lawn that was removed.  I will watch and wait to see which plant overcomes the others first and then choose what to do.  But perhaps the main lesson is that nature does not like bare soil and has plants eminently suited to making sure it doesn’t stay that way for long.

DSCN6533 woolly thyme


DSCN6540 flower bed


DSCN6532 flower bed


Summer in the garden

After my post a few weeks ago about a lack of bees, there are more about in both gardens than there were.  The Borderland garden is now absolutely buzzing with both bees and other insects.  The Telford garden has less, but more than a few weeks ago.  They are particularly attracted to a narrow border that was created last year on the edge of the lawn.  Amongst other things it was sown with saved carrot and fennel seed (from the other garden).  Both the fennel and carrots are now flowering and have made what I am referring to either as my fennel and carrot hedge or fennel and carrot forest.  Most of the fennels are above my head height and many of the carrots are up to my shoulder height.

photo (58) carrot and fennel hedge

We ate some of the carrots over the winter, but they were the product of carrots saved over successive years and had either reverted to something a bit wilder or crossed with a wild carrot and many were not very good.  So I left the remainder in place to flower this year for the insects.  They have produced multiples of large globe shaped heads each one containing however many hundreds (or thousands?) of very, very tiny individual flowers.  I think they are very lovely viewed individually or en masse.

DSCN6509 carrots in flower

DSCN6514 fennel and carrot

The new polyculture patch is coming on well.  It is full of perennials retrieved from the other garden (oca, mashua, scorzonera, skirret, ground nut, Jerusalem artichoke, yacon, Welsh onions) plus wild rocket, kales daikon radish, peas and beans, shallots, herbs, potatoes, squash, courgette and some flowers.


DSCN6528 polyculture patch 1

DSCN6519 polypatch 1

DSCN6520 polypatch 1

and finally – some biodiversity found under a burdock leaf (our cat Fleur)

DSCN6531 fleur under burdockPS I will be at Shrewsbury Flower Show on 8 and 9 August in the “Our Futures” Marquee with a feature on edible perennial gardening.

Emma Lawrence – the best illustrator

While I was writing Edible Perennial Gardening I knew it needed some very clear illustrations to help make certain points.  I was therefore incredibly fortunate to have a friend with an amazing talent for drawing who took my very rough and scrappy diagrams and utterly transformed them into lovely illustrations.

Emma is a freelance illustrator who adores drawing the natural world and she would love the opportunity to work on other similar (or different) projects.  Her website with details of her work and her contact details are here:

Unintentional emails

I don’t know if this will reach all the people who had spam emails that came from my email today, but I hope that it gets to quite a few of you.  I think it was probably caused by two messages that came via WordPress (ie this blog) with spam content.  Such messages have never before come into my email and I used email to delete them.  I think that must have been the action that allowed something to take hold.  I am always very careful with emails, but this got past me.  I am wiser now.