Exuberant angelica

Reviewing recent photos confirmed what my senses told me – that when the angelica came up this year it veritably exploded from the ground!  One week it was a relatively small hummock of leafy growth, eight days later it had grown a couple of feet and was bearing flowers.  Another couple of weeks on and it was about my height!  I know this is the time of year when gardens are exploding with growth, but mine seems to have even more energy than normal.

This photo shows the garden on 16 April 2014.  The angelica is part of the hummocky greens in the lower middle ground.

DSCN6148 side garden 16 April 2014

And this shows it eight days later on 24 April 2014.

DSCN6178 angelica 24 April 2014

By 12 May the whole garden is transformed!  Much of what is visible is early spring flowers that bring a wealth of bloom and attract plenty of insects.  They will soon be gone (having generated lots of biomass to feed future fertility) and there will be space for more edibles.

DSCN6228 side garden 12 May 2014

I bought the angelica years ago from a garden centre as a diminutive looking herb.  I knew it might get quite big, but not this big!  I have never used any part of it but am happy it is there for the insects and also for the biomass it generates.  I have just checked the entry on the Plants for a Future database and found out all parts are edible, so I should make more effort and use it.  Anyway I like it so much that I have bought another plant for the Borderland garden, where I plan to plant it in the hedge, hoping it will help fill up a bit of a gap.

Plants for a Future  says it is normally biennial but can be reliably perennial if prevented from setting seed.  I usually set it back by removing flowering heads and it comes back year on year.   Last year I let the seeds ripen, which was a big mistake as it generated approximately a trillion tiny seedlings.  However I despatched almost all of these by covering them with an ultra massive dose of mulch from the compost bin and also some ‘slabs’ of upturned bedstraw from another bed which had got equally out of hand.  After a couple of weeks the bedstraw ‘slabs’ had almost completely decomposed into a dark brown mulch.  I was surprised they had done this so fast, but checked my notes to verify the dates.  I have noted before that plants left to decompose on the soil surface disappear remarkably quickly which I am putting down to very active micro organisms.

Posted in Forest Gardening, Hedgerow, Herbs, Permaculture, Polycultures, Telford Garden | Leave a comment

Plans and Priorities for 2014

My general aims for both gardens this year are:

  • To increase the amount of produce from the perennial vegetables already under cultivation – essentially by having more plants.
  • To extend the area under cultivation – in the Borderland garden.
  • To try some new crops – mainly different varieties of peas and beans, plus some grain and seed crops.

Extending the area under cultivation

In the Borderland garden the new polyculture patch has been extended further using multiple layers of turf (removed from lawn near the house) laid on top of hawthorn hedge trimmings.  It has been sown with pea and bean seeds and will have some flowers sown or planted soon.  I found last year that peas and beans grow well in upturned turf.  I am not in a hurry and just want this area to have a chance to bed down, for the turfs to decompose whilst allowing nitrogen fixers and other beneficial plants to play their part in enriching the soil.

On the roadside along the boundary hedge I have taken up the rough grass and other plants to make a bit of a border.  I turned the grass / plants upside down and put them under the hedge to decompose and planted oca, beans, peas and flowers in the new border.  This soil here is already very deep, soft and it certainly appears fertile so I have not felt the need to allow it time to build fertility before planting.


photo 8 before

and after:

photo 50 after

Earlier this year I planted this hedge edge with golden hop, jostaberries, blackcurrants and primroses (from the other garden) together with a small plum tree and day lilies (gifts) and a bought loganberry to join mallow, wild garlic, broom, wild flowers and a few other bits and pieces already in place.

Beside the house where the lawn has been removed I am planning a conglomeration of flowering things.  These will be for the benefit of bees and other insects, for visual delight and possibly with some edible bits as well.

Increasing the amount of produce and trying new crops

In the Telford garden I have planted out shallots, oca, yacon, potatoes.  Corn and peas are sown, with beans and more peas to come later.  Because of the house sale I am keeping it simple as I cannot be sure how long we will remain here.  Although having said that there has been very little interest so far as unfortunately I live in an area that is being utterly swamped with new housing and it is proving harder for people to sell older properties so we could be here for a very long time to come.

As far as trying new crops goes I would like to grow plants that provide as wide a range of nutrients as possible.  Most vegetables are very watery in content and their nutritional value lies primarily in the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients they encapsulate; although some roots, like potatoes, are carbohydrate rich.  I want to grow more of my own carbohydrates, protein and oils which means more grains, peas, beans and seeds.

So far I have put in a few sunflower seeds, but plan to plant as many sunflowers as possible in the next few weeks.  Where I have removed some ‘weeds’ I have scattered flax seeds and plan to go round tomorrow scattering some more.

This is, I think, just about the loveliest time of year.  Today’s early morning dappled sunlight, birdsong with the joy of so many flowers and the attendant buzzing of insects was just divine!  Here are two pictures from the Telford garden:

DSCN6243 dappled light May 2014

It doesn’t look like there is much room for vegetables, but I just slot them in between the flowers (or take the flowers out if they are over or in the way).

DSCN6258 garden in sun May 2014

Posted in Borderland Garden, Edible Perennial Gardening, Forest Gardening, Hedgerow, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures, Telford Garden | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

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 | 15 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