Archive for May, 2011

May 25, 2011

Food maps and other things

by growingpeople

I’m a big fan of maps, and I’m lucky to be married(ish) to someone who draws them for a living. Reda has taught me much about the medium’s potential for analysis and presentation and together we are always on the look out for innovative ways of representing space and the information it holds.

With sustainable living and food growing being the issues “du jour”, there seems to be no end to the out pour of creativity which merges design and all things “green”, or which begs us to re-imagine the landscape we inhabit. The maps below are an assortment of some of my favourites.

Artist Ceri Buck’s Invisible Food map was commissioned and produced by Artangel Interaction with support from the National Lottery. It details the location of wild food growing on the Loughborough Estate in Brixton, South London.

Mikey Tomkins draws our attention to the vast amount of unused, potential food growing space in his “Edible Map of South Hackney”. Click here for the proper, interactive version.

These hand-coloured images were produced back in 2009 for the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe). Concrete, tarmac, cement and brick have been removed, leaving only the green – gardens, parks and waterways.

Stephen Walter‘s hand drawn maps are possibly the best thing I’ve seen in recent years. The Island (2008), 140cm x 200cm, depicts the 33 London boroughs as a collection of supermarkets, pubs, CCTV cameras, clichés, secret goings on and hidden gems. It’s the kind of piece which will always offer something new, however many times you’ve seen it, and I urge you to explore it in full here.

Global meat imports

Global meat exports

Global fruit imports

Global fruit exports

worldmapper features nearly 700 maps, re-sized to present a range of startling information on subjects ranging from house prices to voting rights.

And finally…

This map of Hackney and Homerton from 1827 shows St. John’s Church, Well Street Common, the odd building and a whole load of fields. Morning Lane, Homerton Row and Paradise Row are unchanged, while Grove Road seems to have shifted South before it replaced Grove Street.

May 18, 2011

Vertical gardens

by growingpeople

I’ve spoken a lot about space saving vertical vegetable gardens already, but I’m coming across more and more ways of creating them that I’m eager to try. The beauty of these is just how many plants they can hold without encroaching on any of your limited floor space.

First, the recycled shoe storer by pippa5 on instructables. The pockets are deep enough to plant salads, spinach, flowers and herbs, but also tomatoes, strawberries, radishes and chard. The only way one of these ugly things should ever be used.

Next, the upright pallet garden by life on the balcony. The sides, back and base are lined with landscape fabric – a black porous materials made from natural synthetic fibers and available from garden centres – and the pallet is then filled with compost before being planted up. Leave the pallet lying flat for a couple of weeks to allow rooting to establish before positioning it upright.

I’m not sure about using this tin can garden for edibles as the metal may leach into the soil but these are perfect for planting flowers to attract beneficial insects. Punch a small holes in the bottom of each for drainage and staple-gun or nail them to a wooden fence.

And finally, not strictly vertical, or particularly productive for that matter, but oh so pretty, are Japanese artist Kochi Kawashi‘s “Manga Farms” – beautiful little sprout gardens inside recycled and water soaked comic books. You won’t get a massive crop out of them but such a novel way to grow a leaf or too. Kawashi has tried it with radish, buckweat, broccoli, rocket and basil.

May 15, 2011

growingpeople goes coastal

by growingpeople

My mother, my daughter and I spent a few days this week on the Hampshire coast, where we spotted a whole lot of familiar and some more unusual edibles, among a host of wild flowers and natives. A welcome change from Vicky Park.


Armeria maritima (sea thrift), a small perennial adapted to coastal environments.

Ulex europaeus (gorse), an evergreen shrub adapted to extreme dry conditions. The flowers are edible, high in protein, and could be used in salads, or made into tea. This recipe for gorse flower cordial is really making me wish I’d brought some home with me, as is this one, for gorse flower wine.

A young Pteridium aquilinum, or bracken – commonly cooked as a vegetable in Korea, China and Japan, but thought to be responsible for the area’s high levels of stomach cancer, so not recommended.

Silene vulgaris, or bladder campion, is a common ingredient in Spanish cooking, where the leaves, known as “collejas” are used in salads or added to stews.


(left) Equisetum arvense, or common horsetail, is rich in calcium and its tips can be eaten as a vegetable. It is a diuretic and can be used to treat kidney and bladder problems. (right) Cirsium palestre, or marsh thistle, has edible leaves and stems which can be peeled and eaten raw or cooked.


Rumex acetosella, or red sorrel, is a spreading perennial, whose tart leaves can be used in salads and garnishes, or as a curdling agent for cheese.

(left) The flower buds of Leucanthemum vulgare, or oxeye daisy can be used as a substitute for capers, Trifolium pratense (red clover) is made into a tea to treat symptoms of the menopause. (right) Plantago lanceolata, or ribwort plantain, can be cooked as a vegetable or brewed as tea, and its seed husks, known as Psyllium, are sold as an expensive dietary fibre in whole food shops.

(left) The berries of Sambucus nigra, or elder, are used to make jams, the flowerheads to make infusions and elderflower cordial. (right) Anthyllis vulneraria, or kidney vetch, was traditionally known as the “wound healer” and used to soothe skin.

(left) Brassica napus, or rape, is high in essential fatty acids and is heavily cultivated for oil production. Here it grew in the wild on the cliff tops. (right) a field of thrift, red sorrel and rape.

(left) Aquilegia (right) Lupinus beans are pickled and served as a snack similar to olives in several Mediterranean countries, and used in a similar way to soya beans to make tofu.

(left) Silene dioica, or red campion (right) Glechoma hederacea, or ground ivy, is a member of the mint family and can be eaten in salad or infused for a vitamin C-rich tea.

May 13, 2011

May

by growingpeople

After February and April comes May (we skipped March, sorry, but it’s essentially the same as the other two), and things are getting interesting in the edible garden. Perennials like lovage and echinacea are coming into growth after a winter below ground, and the leaves of the Salix alba and Akebia quinata are back. The seedlings that were sown indoors in the earlier months can now be re-potted and moved outside permanently and the seedlings sown outdoors are now growing vigorously.  You’ll probably find that as soon as you re-pot or plant out, the plants have a growth spurt, as their roots have been constricted for the past few weeks. My tomatoes need a cane to lean on now that they are over 30cm tall.

There’s much to do in May as the more tender plants including fennel, green beans and courgettes can be sown now that the danger of frost has definitely passed. These should all be sown indoors and planted out as soon as the seedlings are strong, perhaps with the exception of fennel, which could be sown out now. I’ve also just sown a purple radish, the Hilds Blue, which is slightly more tender than its common red counterpart.

carrot seedlings sown too close together

Thinning out is vital to ensure the growth of crops including radishes, carrots and lettuce. Look at seedlings and pull out any that are growing too close together – imagine the size of a fully grown carrot and remember that each seedling will need that amount of space if it’s going to reach full size. Don’t be tempted to leave in more seedlings than the space can hold, as they just won’t grow and you’ll end up with nothing at all. Runner beans can be sown now – plant in pairs and pull out the weakest plant as soon as they start to grow, and provide support for them from the very beginning. Climbing plants, including runner beans and peas will grow towards the support provided, and without any, will flop and die.

Potatoes should have masses of leaves by now, and will need to be earthed up – simply bury the lowest level of foliage by adding compost to ensure that the tubers aren’t exposed to any light as they break through the soil (this results in green potatoes that you can’t eat).

The first radishes planted back in April should be ready to eat now – keep sowing as you pick them (the same goes for lettuce) to ensure a continuous supply from now right through to the autumn. The radish leaves are edible too, and delicious sautéed in olive oil or added to soup (they are a little too tough to eat raw, although this recipe for radish leaf pesto is a great way of getting around that).

Beneficial flowers like nasturtium and calendula can still be sown this month if you haven’t done so already – I’m finding the nasturtiums particularly helpful at luring black fly away from my broad beans.

And although it sounds obvious, it’s vital to water a lot, particularly if you, like me, are growing in pots. Most plants can survive on just a little water, but need plenty more water to produce the flowers which will eventually produce fruit in the coming months. In this weather, I’m watering at least every other day, and leaving a plate under each pot to minimise the water that drains away.

Keep on top of weeds, again particularly if growing in pots, as plants already have a limited amount of space and nutrients and the weeds only add to that competition.

May is the month to enjoy watching things grow, as it will all happen in quick succession between now and June – I continue to be amazed at how suddenly the flowers have appeared on the broad beans that were nothing more than little shoots only weeks ago, and how quickly the tomatoes develop from skinny seedlings to thick, strong plants.

Finally – because this is what it’s all about, after all – here’s what’s growing in my garden this month, as well as potatoes, chard, beetroot, Anemone coronaria, spinach, calendula, foxglove, rosemary, fennel, runner beans, parsley, chives, sweet pea, radish, Schisandra grandifloraAkebia quinataSalix alba, sweet pepper, Verbena bonariensis, basil, jasmine, iris, lavender and Myosotis (forget-me-nots).

broad beans and nasturtiums

Philadelphus, raspberry, tomatoes

strawberry, borage and nasturtium seedlings

tomatoes, sunflower, carrot

Echinacea, Potentilla, lettuce

tomato, oca

lovage, thyme

borage, squash, mint

May 6, 2011

Secret London Garden #2: Garden Barge Square, Reeds Wharf

by growingpeople

The residential barges that make up the floating Garden Barge Square are moored at Downings Roads Moorings, Reeds Wharf – east of Tower Bridge on the South side of the Thames. These 200 year old moorings were very nearly the victims of closure at the hands of Southwark Council (who deemed the set-up an “eyesore”) a few years ago, but a successful campaign and cross-party support have enabled them to overthrow the eviction notice and stay put.

Which is a great thing, because as well as being a floating garden, the moorings house over seventy people, including several families with children, businesses and artist studios. The gardens themselves are built onto the roofs of the converted barges, which have been topped with huge metal trays and then filled with a thick layer of soil, the barges then joined together by a series of bridges and walkways. Self-seeded wildflowers first sprung up on the barges in the mid 1980s and provided the inspiration for the further planting up of the floating gardens. The rooftops are now home to an abundance of herbs and flowers, a quince tree, Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Fresia’, Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae, ferns and an apple tree. Evergreen and silver-leafed plants such as lavender and Stipa tenacissima are particularly well adapted to the dry and windy air of the Thames.

As well as contributing to the character of the historic wharf it occupies, Garden Barge Square provides a habitat and shelter for Thames water birds and river fish, and maintains sustainable standards through its numerous Ecological  Initiatives.

Sadly for us (it is a private residence, after all), Garden Barge Square is not open to the public for much of the year, but can be viewed from the wharfs. The Gardens are open for public visits once a year, however, as part of the Open Garden Squares Weekend, which takes place on the 11th and 12th of June.

May 5, 2011

Foraging for food in Lower Clapton

by growingpeople

Back in January, I discussed the virtues of the Silverberry, or Elaeagnus x ebbingei, one of the only berries I know of which is ripe in the early spring. The one I walk past every day grows within the gardens of a residential care home, and  is now fruiting heavily. So this afternoon, after weeks of waiting for the berries to ripen, we went and picked a bucketful.

I’d been on the look out for suggestions of what to do with the berries for ages, but the only thing anyone seems to be doing with them is making jam. Until I came across this recipe on the fantastic Gardenbytes, (the owners of which “explore everything from foraging to formal gardens” in NYC) where the bright red berries are blended to a pulp (use a hand moulis with large holes so that the seeds are left behind) and baked into bread. You can also try these as a coulis, sweetened with honey.

Many thanks to the staff of the Median Road Resource Centre for letting me come into the gardens and strip the bushes bare!

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