Monday, 28 March 2011

Broccoli (28 MAR 2011)

On the ground ... which I want to prepare for my new seedlings, there are seven broccoli plants which have been eaten by slugs, snails and pigeons but not by me. Actually, it would be more accurate to say seven plants grown from a packet of seeds labelled as Broccoli Romanesco Natalino because some botanists classify it in the cauliflower family (botrytis) while others consider it a cross between broccoli and cauliflower.

Last March when I was selecting seeds, I aimed to trial one vegetable to start realising my vision of an ornamental kitchen garden. Romanesco caught my eye because its unusual shape was intriguing and it was described as having a nutty flavour (could only be an improvement on cabbage flavour). Another attraction which I didn't recognise at the time, is that it's a vegetable which prefers a cold climate, adding interest to the winter garden .... but now the remaining broccoli skeletons are being overcome by spring bulb leaves.

Its shape is almost fractal because each floret is a smaller version of the whole broccoli head and each floret itself is made up of smaller florets with the same shape. The way that the florets are arranged in clockwise and anti-clockwise spirals follows Fibonacci mathematics (derived from a sequence of numbers 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21..... ) which recurs in nature. The missing link is that broccoli and the rest of the brassica family are cruciferous, ie. their flowers have four petals - and 4 is not a Fibonacci number.

During the past year, since I sowed the seeds, I imagined cutting open a Romanesco, counting the Fibonacci spirals and feeling the points with my fingers. Then I started having wilder fantasies where I tasted the nutty morsels flavoured with anchovy and onion or butter and lemon. However, this weekend I accepted defeat, the chances of an alien green (described as chartreuse - by a seed supplier), pointed broccoli appearing in my garden this year are pretty slim .... the weather is getting warmer and the plants will be prone to bolting anyway.

Instead I have some spring greens (broccoli leaves are edible by the way). There is no risk of these head-less plants bolting as they have totally missed the boat  .....

I also have what looks like purple cauliflower which is (confusingly) a type of broccoli with purple flower heads. Both broccoli and cauliflower originated from wild cabbage, evolving modified flower heads which are edible before the flowers open and bitter after.

The difference between cauliflower and broccoli is that the green or purple flower buds seen in broccoli are replaced by white infloresence (tissue consisting of a multitude of microscopic flowers) in cauliflower.  When I first saw the purpleness, I feared there were insects crawling over my broccoli, yet so far I have had no insect pests in my garden. I like to think this is due to the balance of nature resulting from my organic approach and the concept of growing vegetables amongst flowers. I wont be too smug, in case any brassica pests have laid eggs on the ground, rotating crops will ensure that the pupae wont complete their life cycle.
When I photographed this plant for my 11FEB2011 post, it looked like a regular cauliflower. I didn't feel it was ready to harvest then because it hadn't developed the chartreuse colour of Romanesco or the pyramid-shaped florets. Mr.T advised removing some leaves to accelerate the growth of the flower head as his father used to practise this in his allotment, none of the gardening web-sites mention this tip for broccoli though. Now it has the same colour as advertised on the seed packet (if I ignore purple tinges here and there), but you would be hard-pressed to find a mathematical formula which could define its topology. Having said that, this plant looks the most edible...
considering it took longer to give birth than a human baby, I don't have the heart to sever it though.

Then finally there are these two victims of pigeons. I should have covered them with netting when I first witnessed the damage, but I left them out of curiosity to see what would happen. I was toying with the idea that the slugs and pigeons are in effect doing the same job as Mr.T's father ....

What's next you may wonder ?   Well, I wont be digging them up just yet, and I've just sowed more seeds this weekend ... from the same packet.

Tips for growing broccoli that I shall take note of for the future :
(1) When transplanting seedlings, plant them deeper so that the bottom leaves touch the soil (more roots will grow and add stability).
(2) Harvest broccoli before the buds open, or it will taste bitter.
(3) Cut the central spear of sprouting broccoli to induce the side shoots to grow into bite-sized florets.
(4) Rotate crops so that brassicas are only grown in the same soil one year out of three.
"Bolting is a survival mechanism in a plant. If the weather gets to be above where the plant will survive, it will try to produce the next generation (seeds) as quickly as possible."
"add mulch and ground cover to the ground, as well as watering regularly in order to keep the soil temperature down."
This shows the damage caused by pigeons which looks similar to my shredded broccolis. "Shooting can be effective" (?) ..."The only certain way of protecting vulnerable plants from pigeons is to grow them under netting."

Is Romanesco a broccoli, cauliflower or broccoflower ?
... the jury is out, but it's definitely a decendant of wild cabbage :

Latin Name
Common Name
Brassica oleracea
Wild Cabbage
Brassica oleracea alboglabra
Chinese Kale
Brassica oleracea botrytis
Brassica oleracea botrytis aparagoides
Nine Star Perennial Broccoli
Brassica oleracea capitata
Brassica oleracea costata
Couve Tronchuda
Brassica oleracea gemmifera
Brussels Sprouts
Brassica oleracea gongylodes
Kohl Rabi
Brassica oleracea italica
Brassica oleracea medullosa
Marrow-Stem Kale
Brassica oleracea palmifolia
Jersey Kale
Brassica oleracea ramosa
Perpetual Kale
Brassica oleracea sabauda
Savoy Cabbage
Brassica oleracea sabellica
Curly Kale
Brassica oleracea viridis
"Cauliflower and broccoli are the same species and have very similar structures, though cauliflower replaces the green flower buds with a white inflorescence meristem."
"There are three commonly grown types of broccoli. The most familiar is a often referred to simply as "broccoli", and sometimes calabrese named after Calabria in Italy. It has large (10 to 20 cm) green heads and thick stalks. It is a cool season annual crop.
Sprouting broccoli has a larger number of heads with many thin stalks.....
Purple cauliflower is a type of broccoli ..... It has a head shaped like cauliflower, but consisting of tiny flower buds."

The mathematical shape of romanesco broccoli :
The Fibonnaci sequence 1+1+2+3+5+8+13 ...
... recurs in nature (please watch this brilliant video even if you're not interested in numbers or nature) ...

... including broccoli ....

Recipes I would have cooked if my romanesco broccoli was edible :
Romanesco Broccoli Polonaise, made following this recipe for cauliflower, allows the beauty of the entire vegetable to be displayed on your plate. The broccoli/cauliflower is boiled whole and then topped with  breadcrumbs toasted in butter, lemon, parsley and crumbled boiled eggs :
I chose this Sicilian recipe of broccoli with pasta, anchovies, raisins and pine nuts because the pictures are so stunning and make my mouth water, but I would most likely replace the raisins with chilli flakes :

For more Blooming Friday  On the Ground  posts  visit  Roses and Stuff on 1st April.

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Daffodils (21 MAR 2011)

Is it possible to learn to love ? ... a plant that you don't find particularly attractive.  My relationship with daffodils is certainly not a case of love at first sight and I'm not the only one, there are like-minded people out there, who are against the cultivars at least.  Personally, I would prefer if they had existed longer in their erect bud state, the young grey-green leaves, almost succulent, and the semi-transparent sepals shrouding the compressed, yellow blooms within.

It’s difficult to put my finger on the exact features which displease, but I suspect it’s mainly the trumpet. It just seems to me as if a daffodil is having a big sneeze, especially when the petals are reflexed backwards and the trumpet is elongated and flared at the end, but then my nick-name is BigNose (kindly bestowed by Mr.F) and they do say that it’s human nature to deplore faults in others especially if you share them. “None of us can stand other people having the same faults as ourselves.” - Oscar Wilde

Is it wrong to look at daffodils, then block them out in my mind’s eye and visualise the tulips soon to arrive ?

Surely, tulips are poised compared to ungainly daffodils, keeling over each other soon after they appear. The Greek myth of Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection as he looked down into a pool of water, adds an element of fantasy for a short while, until the flower heads are faced flat on the ground and the leaves turn limp and slimy. I sought to understand why Welsh people celebrate with daffodils on St.Davids Day 1st March, hoping I could rejoice with them in a similar way. It didn't help though, because in the Welsh language the daffodil is called Peter’s Leek (even though it’s toxic), so in modern times they wear a daffodil in their button-hole as a less pungent-scented alternative to their true national emblem.

I was under the impression that the Dutch were to blame for breeding tall, gawdy hybrids in different colours with flouncy or muted trumpets, depending on their fancy, but according to a U.S. daffodil data-base, a number of countries are at it. I do feel a twinge of guilt when I remember how I thoughtlessly tossed a bag of bulbs in the supermarket trolley just because they were cheap. I once read Carol@FlowerHillFarm’s story where she described her journey as she learnt to “manage her land”. At the time, I didn’t feel those words applied to me with my little back garden in surbubia, but now more people are writing about natives such as DonnaBella@GardensEyeView and their message is beginning to affect me.

My only consolation is that the small perfectly-proportioned daffodils in a pot are closer to their wild cousins. They have lasted longer than the large daffodils and they are standing straight.

Wild daffodils (narcissus pseudonarcissus), native in Western Europe, are less than 35mm tall with yellow, cylindrical trumpets and paler yellow petals. They are not in danger yet, but could be in the future, due to hybridisation with garden varieties.

Other people who don't like daffodils :
Germaine Greer : " When sheltered in woodland, the daffodil gets as much of the March gales as it can handle. In exposed sites it is often battered flat, especially if its microclimate is so warm that it has blown prematurely, as happens in built-up areas."

" Lake District daffodils immortalised in the romantic poetry of William Wordsworth are in danger of being overrun by a more common variety. "
" Although the wild species, Narcissus pseudonarcissis, is not threatened, it is already showing signs of turning into a hybrid after cross-pollination with the common, much taller, daffodil. "
Dr Andy Tasker (from www.ihatedaffodils. : " Some misguided individuals apparently believe it’s a good idea to plant all sorts of daffodil bulbs in places such as ancient woodlands, meadows and country lanes. Well, they are wrong. They don’t look nice. It’s like putting lipstick on the Mona Lisa. Apart from the indigenous species, daffodils should be in only three places – in pots, in your garden and in Holland. "

Information about daffodils :
"The daffodil is native to western Europe, and is found in the area bounded by Portugal in the west, Germany in the east, and England and Wales to the north. It is not clear whether the species is truly native to Britain, or was introduced long ago and has become naturalised. "
" The Latin name for daffodil is thought to have been inspired by Narcissus, who was a figure in Greek mythology said to have fallen in love with his reflection in a pool of water. The nodding head of the daffodil is said to represent Narcissus bending down and gazing at his reflection."
" And so today each year on St. David's Day the leek is worn in the cap badges of every soldier in every Welsh regiment. Outside the army however, many other Welsh folk have substituted the daffodil for the leek, perhaps because it looks more attractive and certainly smells a lot better. Interesting to note however, that one of the many Welsh names for a daffodil is Cenhinen Bedr, or Peter's leek."
For daffodil classification and a database of daffodil photos :

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Cuttings (13 MAR 2011)

Wouldn't it be ideal if you could cut off a little toe, wrap it up warm in a blanket, then watch it grow into a babe in arms who looked just like you ? - actually,  maybe not .....
Here are cuttings of pieris, bay, magnolia , weigela,  tree peony, azalea, rhododendron & lace-cap hydrangea which I planted at the beginning of winter. The fact that they are all crammed into two plant pots or stuck in with other plants gives an indication of my expectations at that time, but miraculously, at least one cutting of each variety is showing signs of new growth. 

These miracles were achieved by waiting till shoots formed on the mother plants in late November, cutting sections of stem, removing the lower leaves, then dipping the cut stems in growth hormone gel (which contains fungicide). I put stones in the bottom of plant pots, piled on compost, more stones on top to retain moisture, then stuck the cuttings in the spaces between. I gave them a good watering once, then left them outside (even in the snow) until now. I'm not sure if I should try to separate them, possibly damaging the newly formed roots or leave them be and risk the roots of the different plants intertwining.
Either way, just getting this far is a success because I have given the gift of life, by cutting the stems, I triggered hormones called auxins to be released which turned stem cells into root cells.

I have had failures too ....
In the summer I pulled off rampant green runners from my wisteria tree and placed the ends in a vase of water to root. I was so sure that they would because they seemed to have a zest for life but they just went limp and died. Later, I saw a wisteria runner sprouting from the trunk of the tree, very low near the ground and I tried using the layering techinique, ie. half-breaking the underside of the runner and pinning it down into the soil with a piece of wire. This died as well, though I have seen cases of layering occurring naturally in other plants, such as my hebe, a baby plant growing where a branch of the mother plant had bent down to touch the soil.

I think the wisteria cuttings died of dehydration in the summer heat or because I didn't apply hormones  .... which reminds me that using growth hormone gel is probably cheating according to the rules in my garden.   I'm kicking myself that I didn't plant one set of cuttings dipped in the gel and one set without, as a control sample - what sort of scientist am I?   What if the rooting of the cuttings was entirely due to the chemical growth hormones?  Success doesn't taste so sweet now, but never mind I'll set up a controlled experiment next year.

My opening sentence wasn't entirely in jest, by the way. It does seem that the importance of the simple act of giving life has been lost amongst the complexities of the modern world : finding Mr or Mrs Right, choosing between child-rearing or career, being a good role model, creating a stable home, gaining custody or visiting rights, being able to afford the expense of extra mouths to feed and minds to educate. If only it could be as easy for us as it is for plants .... but maybe there is a way, by carrying an organ donation card - giving an opportunity for life by offering a cutting to implant.

References :

All living organisms begin in the same form: as a single cell. That cell will divide and the resulting cells will continue dividing and differentiate into cells with various roles to carry out within the organism. This is life and plants are no different.

Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings: Instructions for the Home Gardener

Artificial Vegetative Propagation

It is possible to make natural plant growth hormone by boiling up a stock from bark of the Salix (willow) family which is rich in auxins.

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Foxgloves (06 MAR 2011)

Apparently spring is the season for foxgloves to be born again ... measurements continue to be recorded.

Here are the biggest and smallest foxgloves excelsior grown from a packet of seeds sown almost a year ago. The ragged leaves, so glorious last summer, form a nest from which new growth arises. I hover above them with my tape - measure, unsure whether to log
the span of the entire plant, including original leaves or just the fresh, pointed rosettes coated with white bloom. I opt for the former and keep my fingers crossed (not easy to do while manipulating a measuring device).

Daffodils and crocuses are out now, with bright yellow, vibrant violet and pure white petals, but it is the foxgloves that capture the attention of this gardener, even though there are no signs that these plants will ever flower. I gaze at them with anticipation, yet not knowing what to expect.

Ever since I discovered the scientific papers of Wilfred Ernest Warren, an electrical engineer who had a keen interest in botany, I've read and re-read them wishing he was still alive. They have been scanned from type-written manuscripts, there are no pictures or diagrams but the words are phrased skilfully, as one would for a work of literature.

 I can picture clearly in my head what he describes without the need for visual aids. I search for some kind of emotion towards foxgloves in his sentences, but can't find any, I suppose to be objective a scientist put keep himself remote. He does however explain (in third person), that the idea for his research started when he saw in his garden, growing amongst ordinary foxgloves, a monstrosa variant, crowned with a large bowl-shaped flower. He wanted to learn if this characteristic would pass to the next generation according to Mendel's theory of genetics, which dictates that a dominant gene will have supremacy over a recessive gene if they are paired, the monstrosa gene being recessive. 
It seems ridiculous to compare my mickey-mouse experiment with Warren's, but the main difference is that his studies focussed on understanding Nature and how characteristics are passed from one generation to the next, while mine investigates the effect of Nurture. For example, I would like to be able to predict if the foxglove next to the daffodil, which has had a relatively trouble-free upbringing, will flower more or less profusely (I haven't defined how to measure this yet) compared to the little one to the right of the pink flowering quince, which seems to be suffering from some kind of inferiority complex which started when it was born into a very over-crowded pod of a seed-tray.

The three foxgloves above planted along the side of my garden shed are exposed to decreasing levels of sunlight respectively. While the two foxgloves to the left are dosed with optimum quantities of moisture and sunlight, in my estimation. Finally to the right, a foxglove grows in virtual darkness.
So this is the other factor in my experiment, the environments where I planted the foxgloves, which may have a stronger or weaker effect than up-bringing, only time will tell.
For the whole story, click on foxgloves in the cloud of keywords on the right

For more Big and Small  posts visit  Roses and Stuff

Scientific papers by Ernest Warren :
A PRELIMINARY REPORT ON SOME BREEDING EXPERIMENTS WITH FOXGLOVES. Biometrika (1917) 11(4): 303-327 doi:10.1093/biomet/11.4.303
INHERITANCE IN THE FOXGLOVE, AND THE RESULT OF SELECTIVE BREEDING Biometrika (1922) 14(1-2): 103-126 doi:10.1093/biomet/14.1-2.103

To learn about  genetics and inheritance :
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