Monday, 26 May 2014

Nasturtiums - edible and beautiful

In this post, my first under the new blog name, I'll be discussing the edible flowers and leaves of the nasturtium, tropaeolum majus, amongst other edible plants and garden related themes. This one has survived the winter, crawling along the ground, curling around other plants and exploding in a show of colour. Planted in a big pot with some rocket, long harvested and now bolted, it has provided endless interest for the past few months, when my 20ft high, 20 year old Ceanothus arboreus 'Trewithen Blue' broke in three and crashed into the garden, in the St Valentine's Day storm of 14th February 2014.

I've been trying to get rid of a very invasive ground cover bamboo Pleioblastus Pygmaeus so there hasn't been much else to look at, apart from dead branches, except the curious nasturtium.
The year before I grew a beautiful deep blood red nasturtium, but this one has many colours on the same plant from cream flushed apricot/orange, to vermilion contrasting with the blue-green circular leaves. It is the same plant, I've checked!

Native to South and Central America and sometimes called Indian Cress, the leaves and flowers are edible with a peppery taste not unlike the true Nasturtium (watercress) which is a member of the Brassica family. They aren't related! You can use them in a number of ways like these ones

It goes without saying that these flowers and leaves should be pesticide free, so it's better to grow them yourself than buy them from a nursery or shop. You can make nasturtium butters and infuse vinegar with the leaves and flowers, nasturtium pesto, and use the unripe seed pods as a substitute for capers. For more nasturtium recipes and ideas visit Tastespotting. Or how about some marigold tortillas? Or Egg and Tomato Salad with Marigold and Chive Flowers? There are many flowers you can use, from courgettes to herbs, to lavender and rose petals, to borage flowers in your Pimm's to flavoured sugars. Apart from adding a wonderful splash of colour, they provide interesting and unusual tastes.
Why not try a Tactile Dinner, from La Cucina Futurista (the Futurist Cookbook)? Diabolical Roses: Red roses, battered and deep-fried, or Taste Buds Take Off: A soup of concentrated meat stock, champagne, and grappa, garnished with rose petals — “a masterpiece of brothy lyricism.” Heston Blumenthal, eat your heart out! This bonkers manifesto has been tainted by association with Mussolini who adopted it, but it contains some delightful and challenging concepts and ideas about food. The Futurists were concerned with, among other things, abolishing pasta and the knife and fork. 

A good source of information is the Edible Flower Shop, where you can also buy seeds, plants and dried petals - at a premium - so you might want to take the ideas and buy the seeds somewhere else. If you are catering, try Maddox Farm Organics. A list of edible flowers with links to photographs, and a companion list of toxic plants, is on
Big mess o'branches!

Brie, studded with violas (from the Edible Flower Shop blog)
Glorious painterly nasturtium flowers all on the same plant
Big basil leaf - last year these grew hand-sized
Last but not least, a species daylily that has been in my garden for some years and has decided to produce flowers again this year. It is Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus, a plant grown since the 16th century and has sweetly scented flowers.

The beautiful and scented Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (bought as H. flava) - they last more than a day, too

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The last post!

Beautiful and abundant

This is the final post for Goldsmiths Community Garden, which was reclaimed just over two years' ago in a neglected corner of the community centre grounds. I no longer maintain the garden but appreciate the initial work, donations of time, resources and plants by volunteers and local community organisations and groups, and the regular maintenance of the garden every Sunday by the Community Payback Team. The garden has been transformed but more importantly kept under control and ownership, and this has spread to the rest of the grounds which now look wonderful, open and inviting.

These photographs were taken on 13 May 2014 and the one of the bulb display in April.    

Thanks go to all the supporters of the community garden with special mention to Elwood Amey for his horticultural advice, experience and persistence; to Anne Marie at Lewisham Gardens for her enthusiasm, friendship and contacts; to Ruth Webber, Downham Nutrition Partnership, for her encouragement and friendship in making the garden accessible; to Delicious most Nutritious, for their enthusiasm and participation in making use of the  garden plants; to Goldsmiths centre users and groups for their voluntary work and donations; to Ruth and Suriya for their inspiration and enthusiasm for creating the herb spiral and introducing me to permaculture; to Katy Delaney at Lewisham Council Green Scene Community Garden Grants and compost/love food hate waste workshops; and to Capital Growth, the RHS/Groundwork Re-Use scheme and Grow Wild, and the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association for grants and donations.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

In and around the local area

View towards Crystal Palace from Durham Hill
There is nothing like a crisp late autumn afternoon to go exploring the local area. The light is precious at this time of year and you have to make the most of it.

In all the years I worked in Downham and used the old (and lovely) swimming baths and library off Moorside Road, although I must have seen it I didn't really take that much notice of their location and the magnificent views across south London. Durham Hill, which is sometimes referred to as Downham Playing Fields, is accessible from various points along Downham Way, Moorside Road at the junction with Durham Hill (the road), and behind the Leisure Centre.

Downham Swimming Baths (photo courtesy of Ideal Homes)
'When I came back in 2002 the baths had closed and were in a sorry state' (text and photo courtesy of Friends Reunited)
The baths and library were eventually demolished to make way for the PFI financed Downham 'Lifestyles' Health and Leisure Centre, which combines health services and leisure activities in one odd looking building - from the front at least.

Downham Health & Leisure Centre, looking towards Downham Way/Launcelot Road
Towards Downham Way, in the autumn sunshine.
Towards Southover and Bromley Hill
Closer to home  near Goldsmiths Community Garden and the centre the prefab estate is being prepared for demolition and redevelopment. I'm struck by how quickly the lovingly tended gardens have been reclaimed by michaelmas daisies, brambles and bindweed; grass unmowed, shrubs not pruned back.

Contrast the two photos below, taken in March 2011, with now.

 Eighteen months' later. The end of an era.


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Fruits of our labours

Chill in the air

It's been a fruitful year in the community garden, little by little; many herbs have been picked and grown stronger for it, the bricks of the herb spiral are hardly visible, one apple appeared on the fruit trees planted in early spring and the trees are beginning to establish.

A few blackcurrants, peas and lettuces here, some tomatoes there. Lettuces, leeks and broccoli grown in terracotta pipes it's been a year of surprises all round. The brambles are nearly vanquished. When I arrived at the centre on Tuesday green Marmande tomatoes were lined up on the patio table - mysterious. I'll have to make a lot of space on my south facing windowsills for them to ripen, now the temperature has dropped. The ones left on the plants (not many!) may ripen if the sun comes out.

Trevor, super volunteer at the IT Suite, and his wife Rita donated a compost tumbler and a big bag of compost to the garden. All the fruit trees have benefitted from this largesse, and the compost to come. The compost bins built from pallets last year have got bigger and bigger and have now become a repository for branches and twigs. A job for the autumn.

Meishu and Una from Kendale Allotments community gardens brought produce to the Downham Nutrition Partnership AGM on 11 September, which shows what can be done in smallish spaces.

Kendale display at the Downham Nutrition Partnership AGM, with tomato varieties from Dr Tattersfield's garden, white borage, herbs, calendua from Goldsmiths Community Garden and green Marmande tomatoes from Kendale allotments
A solitary Braeburn apple from the fruit trees planted in February this year
Swiftly consumed by Kerry!
Una's produce from Kendale

Rosemary, sage and mint in the herb spiral, planted September 2012
The herb spiral and brick bed, lavender still in flower 3rd September 2013

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Garden travels -Les jardins d'Evea, Maresquel

In late May we visited old friends in Lesconil-Plobannalec located in the Pays Bigouden, Finistere, in the far south west of Brittany. As soon as I turned my camera on it died as I'd forgotten to charge the battery. This also happened to my phone. I had to rely on my memories, and last year's photos (as though I could forget this view of the harbour).

Photo taken from outside the shop, which has an oyster stall on market days and displayed this copy of Liberation, which made me laugh every time I walked past.
We spent Bastille Day (14 July) weekend at a friend's house in Humeroeuille, Nord Pas de Calais. This time, the camera worked and I used it to take photos of a garden that we'd visited three years ago.

Les Jardins D'Evea is on the road between Hesdin and the lovely walled town of Montreuil Sur Mer, behind a typical suburban house with a stunning front garden. Alain and Sylvie Dautreppe the owners have created this garden in only 12 years (and 8,500 plants!). It is one of the most eccentric gardens I've visited, with surprises at every turn, like this delightful quote.

The 5 acre garden is divided into areas and 'rooms' with plants from all over the world interspersed with old furniture, statues and farm equipment creatively and artfully displayed. You may run into chickens, ducks and turkeys along the way or encounter a japanese bridge. A stream forms the boundary of the garden, a tributary of the Canche. If you are in the area, pay a visit - 5,80 euros well spent! They sell very healthy plants (I was very tempted) and have a delightful small cafe and seating area.