Sunday, 31 July 2011

Borlotti Beans (31 JUL 2011)

A while ago, a small child visited with her mother.
She asked me if gardening was my job.    No.
...  if I wanted it to be my job.    No.
Why ... ? this and Why ... ? that.    I'd never met a child interested in gardening before.
She then explained that her teacher had given each member of the class a bean and a yoghurt pot filled with compost to take home.  Why a bean I thought ? ... don't children only eat tinned baked beans?

When my borlotti beans germinated, I understood the teacher's choice.

Flowering plants are split into two groups, dicots (with two seed leaves eg. beans) and monocots (with one seed leaf eg. blades of grass). Each dicot seed contains two cotyledons and the beginnings of root & shoot. The cotyledons feed the growing embryo, turning into the first seed leaves, while the shoot grows into the subsequent, recognisable, true leaves. As borlotti beans are relatively large and germinate quickly, this process unfolds visibly, while you watch, within a few days. Dried beans to delicious, fresh beans within three months - I just added compost and water.

How different would my life have been if I had planted my first bean as a child instead of this year?
I would have certainly eaten more beans ... maybe it was for the best.
In a way, I'm glad that I discovered gardening later in life because I am now experiencing the kind of wonder that children feel, which has put an extra spring in my step, mentally at least.

My only gripe is that each plant produced at most six pods containing no more than five beans each, just enough for a side serving, leaving me wanting more. You can't buy fresh borlotti beans in British supermarkets, however broad beans in pods are available in the summer, one of the few items of farm produce which remain seasonal. I stand in front of the compartment filled with bumper packets of pods, buy-one-get-one-free, trying to estimate how many plants were required to make this possible and how many surplus packets will be thrown away at the end of the day.

In contrast, each bean produced in my garden was cooked to perfect tenderness, sucked, tentatively chewed, reluctantly swallowed and finally contemplated. The memory of my childhood, when we quickly gabbled grace before toying with school-dinners or hogging them down, depending on which day of the week it was, comes back to me. I've never said grace since but I feel it now.

Anyway, here is my borlotti bean story :


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

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Mid-Year Appraisal - still Thriving (23 JUL 2011)

So we have passed mid-summer and I'm still waiting for most of my annuals to mature let alone bloom, but as my mug is always at least half-full these days, I'll try to focus on what is thriving at the moment rather than what isn't.

canary creeper grown from last year's seed
self-seeded nicotiana

Unfortunately at work, half-full isn't acceptable. We have mid-year appraisals at this time of year. It's an opportunity to review work-done with the management, assess achievements & shortfalls and reschedule tasks to be completed by year-end in order to fulfil objectives set at the beginning. If I had approached my gardening activities in the same way I would probably have much more to show by now. However in January, I emphasised that there would be no target-setting in my garden, as I wanted it to be my pleasure and escape from the pressures of the world outside. I did make some Promises though, which I believe I have honoured so far ... almost.

rose in the right border ...
... and view from the kitchen sink
"Experiments with Plants will continue" - I didn't think too much about these words when I wrote them in January but they are meaningful now that I have been thinking about the scope of this blog and Diana's question "why am I blogging?"  It's what I do now instead of sitting in front of the TV. I often hear about people having blogging overload and how interacting with other bloggers gets too time-consuming. I have avoided this by keeping a careful life-work-blog balance. (It also helps that there isn't much to blog about in my garden ...)  Only a few of the people I know in the real world are into gardening. By blogging, I have been delighted to "meet" people from various countries with a similar interest. I've learnt a lot and been inspired. I can't remember being inspired by anything else before. What I appreciate most, is that we all have different styles & strong principles concerning our own gardens, yet we are not judgmental about others.


                                                                           roses in the woodland

"no display-ready plants will enter my garden" - This was not really a promise, more an explanation of why my garden looks the way it does ie.half-full. This year I have tried my best to nurture my inherited plants; I have grown more by transplanting suckers, from bulbs & seeds and exchanging seedlings with my neighbour. I haven't even been tempted to buy plants.


"foxglove measurements will be tabulated and correlated with flowering performance" -  This was written when I didn't have a clue if my foxgloves would even flower. Luckily they did. It was the only real "experiment" that I carried out this year, even then I just discovered what gardeners seemed to know already, I guess we are all scientists learning by trial and error. My plan to create a sub-species of foxgloves was flawed because I didn't take into account interference from pollinators doing their job while I was at work. I never bothered to notice what bees get up to till this year; they've moved on to the hebes since the foxgloves died. I assume breeding experiments are only possible if plants are grown in isolation and hand-pollinated.  I must try harder.

white hebe
pink hebe

"Live and let live with the Slugs & Snails" - When I started gardening it was all about the plants. I never imagined that six months later my phobia of creepy-crawlies would be almost cured, encouraging me to deal with others, that I'd be taking photos of slugs and snails and becoming a bit curious about them. I'm convinced that when they eat leaves, the plant's reaction is to flower prolifically so its species can survive. It's not possible to prove this though because there are no slug-free areas in my garden to grow control samples for comparison.

my last broccoli "sedum" ...
... to burst into flower
"Don’t be angry with the fox" – just get some garden netting, it deters slugs, snails, foxes and pigeons. Black bean aphids plagued everything except the peas & beans, but can be washed off with soapy water if caught early enough. Gradually I'm beginning to accept the things that go wrong in my garden, without feeling negative emotions; I put all my energy into working out solutions instead.  This is another example of a lesson I learnt in the garden that can be applied outside.

mixed sweet peas
borlotti beans

"Have trust in Mother Nature" – Before I started gardening, I didn't need to plan or have hopes for next year because it would certainly be the same as this year. My garden is teaching me to be hopeful in a way that I never have been. Starting with little hopes like "I hope this seed germinates", then "I hope this seedling grows", "I hope this plant flowers" leading to bigger hopes not just about gardening. Maybe they will come true too.

love sun rose-despite its scent of cheap perfume
fuschia & late-developing hollyhock
"Use the Garden to do Good Work - which will have an impact beyond the garden, myself and my life."   I've been thinking about this since I wrote it, but have done nothing so far, because I couldn't think of anything within the scope of this blog. Then while writing this appraisal I had an idea ... This year I grew an excess of seedlings; I gave some away but I had to throw away the rest. I wished I could present them to someone to introduce them to the benefits of gardening, just like Mrs. F did to me last year. Extending this thought, I checked on-line for local garden therapy charities. I couldn't find anything in my neighbourhood, but I found Thrive. I'm going to add their logo to my blog, hopefully this is just the beginning.

Thrive is a small national charity in the UK whose mission is to research, educate and promote the use and advantages of gardening for people with a disability.

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

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Houttuynia Cordata Chameleon (13 JUL 2011)

There are a few plants in my garden which I would describe as sinister. Houttuynia Cordata Chameleon is one of them. I didn't realise this until I saw what I thought was one of my weeds in another blogger's post. Alarm bells started ringing. Until that day, when I discovered its name and started researching it, I wouldn't have believed that it was a desirable garden or pond plant, which can be bought in nurseries or ordered on-line, cheap as chips.

If you asked me to define a sinister plant, I wouldn't be able to tell you, it's just a gut feeling, like when you're walking down a street on a dark night and you spy a person in the distance who prompts you to cross over to the other side for no explicable reason. Invasiveness is probably a key factor with sinister plants, but wisteria is invasive and I don't find it sinister, I admire the way it challenges me in fact. Maybe it's underground invasiveness that I have a problem with because you can't see what it's up to. Slugs avoiding certain plants also stirs suspicion, but I found at least one specimen of houttuynia that's been chewed by something, which is slightly comforting.

If you snap a leaf apart, a zest of coriander scent hits your nose. I don't recommend eating it, but the species form of this ornamental hybrid is eaten in Vietnam as salad leaves, where its name translates to fishy mint; its roots are stir-fried like bean sprouts. It's also used in Chinese medicine, even reported to have helped cure the SARS epidemic. On the other hand, it's listed in the global invasive plants database and I've found several comments on the web from gardeners saying this plant should be sold with a warning, including a husband accusing his wife of creating an ecological disaster in their garden by planting it.

I can understand why people might be tempted to buy my chameleon variant as an attractive, ground-cover plant. The red pigment in the leaves is brought out by sunshine on more exposed parts of the plant, whereas leaves protected by the bordering wall or other plants are just green and yellow like ivy.
houttuynia in the sun
houttuynia in the shade

So far I have just been pulling them out when they get in my way, not digging too far down and disturbing the roots; I assumed that was why they kept returning. For the purpose of this post, I pulled out the tallest stem to see if I could photograph the network of roots underneath. This wasn't so easy to do without washing off the soil, but here are the different thicknesses of root I found on digging deeper and deeper. Then I read that, according to  Paghat, just a small fragment of the thick root can be used to propogate this plant; by breaking it off, I have probably inadvertently induced it to have a reproductive spurt!

tallest houttuynia
houttuynia roots

Apart from this photo of a matted network of houttuynia roots, I can't find any evidence on the web which shows exactly how invasive this plant is. It's supposed to thrive in damp soil, especially at the edges of ponds or even submerged in water, though it can adapt to living in drought conditions too (rather sinister don't you think?). In my garden, I noticed it in a flower bed a year ago, in half a flower bed to be more accurate, which I only water at the bases of annuals when they start wilting in the height of summer. There aren't any annuals except for self-seeded marigolds in my garden at the moment, so it's a good time to show the aforementioned flower bed to you - here are two views up and down the bed.

At first you may not detect the houttuynia, but once your eyes get accustomed to the leaves, you see them pop up here and there. It certainly has a presence, but I wouldn't say that it has invaded completely yet. Only time will tell if the plant remains contained in this portion of the flower bed becoming more dense, or if it travels up the bed eventually covering the other half too. My gut feeling is that if I don't over-water this area, it will just fill in the spaces between the other plants. What's going on underground is another matter; sometimes it's best not to probe too much.

accompanying a baby rose
accompanying a bulb
accompanying a baby lupin

accompanying a marigold

accompanying a hebe

houttuynia doing their own thing

The jury is out on the scent of houttuynia, reports vary from coriander to tangerines to raw fish :

Species houttuynia roots stir-fried like bean sprouts in China :

This blogger eats the leaves of the species form of houttuynia before it bites back :

How to save your garden from houttuynia attack :

Houttuynia is included in the global invasive species database :

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

Wordless Wednesday : R.I.P. Broccoli (13 JUL 2011)

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Woodland (06 JUL 2011)

At the bottom of my garden is what I call "the woodland". It's not really ... but if you crouch down low amongst the bushes and think shady thoughts, you might think you were in a wood, I suppose.
The shade is offered primarily by my only tree, the cherry blossom. A couple of months ago, while the rest of the garden was so parched that there were fissures in the soil, this area remained slightly damp. The soil quality is better here too with a higher proportion of humus, which I would like to compare to a forest floor, but maybe that's stretching it too far. 

The woodland was in its prime in spring when the cherry blossom, wisteria, weigela, foxgloves, bluebells, aqueligias, heather and iris were in bloom ... but in June all that remained were cherry suckers and wisteria vines growing out of control; dried bulb leaves and dead foxglove skeletons. As the sight of the latter breaks my heart, I haven't paid much attention to this area of the garden recently.

weigela blooming in May
foxgloves died in June

Even though I generally take pride in being a laid-back, take time to smell the roses sort of gardener, the appearance of bindweed got me into frenzied action. Here's a video of what might happen if you ignore a bindweed problem :

In my woodland, bindweed bloomed white trumpets while it strangled the hydrangea buds, but it helped the pale pink, scented flowers with floppy stems by strapping them to a rose bush.

At ground level, bindweed vines sprouted through the mulch of decomposing leaves, and criss-crossed between monster dandelions and other weeds which dared to encroach on its territory. Even the sword-like iris leaves succumbed to its advances.

I decided it was time for a clear out ...  All weeds were dug up by the roots, dead matter removed, and the ground raked to drag out straggling vines . Suckers were severed except the biggest which I planted in a pot. Bushes were pruned and the overgrown cineria silverdust with their ungainly yellow flowers were cut down to border plants again. This left the soil looking dry and over-sanitised, with the plants lacking cohesion ...

cherry sucker

cineria silverdust

over-sanitised ?

but it allowed the current highlights of the woodland to shine, free from strangulation ...

grape holly

sedum spectabile

hybrid tea & wild roses


  foxglove replacements


.... and in the dappled shade, I can read this poem again if I crouch down low. It doesn't feel so much like a wood at the moment, but hopefully it will fill out again (minus bindweed) in a month or so.

Gardens which make me wish I had more shade :

Carolyn's Shade Gardens

Alternative Eden

©Copyright 2011 b-a-g. All rights reserved.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...