Edible 2018: GYO

‘Grow your own’ is nothing new – kitchen gardens, allotments and veg patches have been around forever. However, in the past few years there has been more and more of us squeezing edible plants onto our rooftops and balconies, with a younger, health conscious and eco-friendly generation realising the benefits of growing your own fruit and veg, and becoming a little more sustainable.

I dread to think about how much plastic I get through buying supermarket produce. It’s relatively cheap and irresistibly convenient, especially living in central London, where farm shops are few and organic veg from health stores costs almost as much as rent.

I’ve always enjoyed growing edibles, but this year I want it to be more than just a satisfying hobby, and actually form a substantial part of the greens I eat. I’ve planned out how many pots, troughs and make-shift containers I can fit into my south-London garden, and what will grow in each. I’ve learnt from recent years that growing too many of the same thing either leads to a glut of produce, or all of them failing if the conditions aren’t right. For that reason I’m going to grow fewer numbers of more types of veg. I’ll keep two or three of each variety, giving extra away to friends in order to avoid overcrowding.

What’s in the line up? So far I’ve sown (ambitiously for February) broad beans, potatoes and tomatoes, all indoors. I’ve got herbs and salad on the windowsill, and hardy peas planted outside. In a few months time when the weather is warmer, I’m going to add strawberries, spinach, cabbage, green beans, courgette and aubergine. I’ve tried aubergines before and they didn’t survive beyond seedlings, so this year it’s Take 2 with a dwarf variety that will grow in a pot and can be moved around to the most suitable place in the garden.

If you’ve never grown veg before, then tomatoes, salad leaves and green beans are easy options to start with. However, it’s a good idea to consider what you eat most of and save yourself money, time and plastic waste by growing your own. Let me know how you get on!

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Petersham Nurseries: Covent Garden

A very exciting thing has happened. The much loved, infamous Petersham Nurseries in Richmond now has an urban sister. Bringing with it exquisite botanicals and aspirational lifestyle pieces, it is the epitome of chic horticulture sitting in the centre of Soho.

Mirrors, furniture, plants and a well chosen selection of books about herbs etc automatically make this one of my new favourite shops in London. It mixes antique homewear with affordable pots and seeds, making gardening both traditional and sexy.

Even if you don’t intend to buy anything, it is an experience that seems to blend your dream home with a lived in conservatory, so definitely worth a wander around. Whether you visit at 10am or 6pm (both of which I have done…) the candles are burning and the assistants are spraying plants and setting out new greenery, achieving sort of urban garden centre oasis.

If that isn’t enough, it’s very own Delicatessen sits a few doors down. Artisan everything, seasonal fruit and veg, and fresh cut flowers sit amongst a small cafe – but you’ll be very lucky to get a seat at one of the few tables.

And finally… there will be a restaurant. Set to open in Spring 2018, so you better reserve your table now.

Petersham Nurseries: Covent Garden online here.

Instagram @petershamnurseries

5 health foods to grow at home

It seems like we spend almost as much on healthy brunches as they do on rent… Most people know how important it is to eat well and fill ourselves with superfoods, but also notice the impact on bank accounts. Growing your own fruit, veg and herbs gives a low cost solution that provides an almost unlimited amount of our favourite goodies. As always, it’s easier than you think!

Here are a few of my favourites and the basics to start you off. If there’s other things that you fancy trying, have a google and find out the conditions they need to thrive. Remember, you don’t always have to grow everything from seed. This year I’m going to buy some maturing plants, such as fruit trees, which means I’ll have a head start and they’ll produce harvests much sooner than they would if grown from seed.

1) Kale
Commonly associate with hippies and packed with good things, kale can be grown in large containers or straight in the ground, depending on your space. Sow seeds from March to June, removing weak seedlings and watering well until mature plants. You can pick leaves from October and they’ll survive throughout winter.

2) Beetroot
A favourite ingredient in smoothies, beetroot can be grown much like carrots. You’ll need a patch of good quality soil or large trough to plant the seeds in. When they’ve sprouted, thin to 1 every 10cm, and keep well watered to avoid stunting their growth. Pull up when they’re the size of small apples – you’ll see their shoulders peeping above the soil.

3) Spinach
I eat spinach several times a week, and it’s never better than picked straight from the garden. You can grow seeds in pots, recycled containers, garden borders or even conservatories, as they’re not too fussy about conditions. Try sowing a handful of seeds at monthly intervals to get a continuous supply. Keep well-watered and protect them from cold weather in the winter.

4) Blueberries
Now these ones are a little fussier about conditions, but it’s worth the extra effort for a bumper supply. Blueberries prefer acidic soil to grow, so I suggest buying a ready grown plant and treating according to care instructions. They work well in pots, as you can control the soil type and water supply. Try to use rain water rather than tap water, as the latter can raise the pH balance.

5) Alfa alfa sprouts
Perfect for salads, and you don’t even need a garden. Source some alfa alfa seeds online or in a health food shop, and place a few table spoons worth in a jar covered with cloth secured with an elastic band. They’ll need to sit in water overnight at first, then rinse every day by swishing water round in the jar before draining. You’ll have a fresh supply of sprouts within 5 days!

2018: Five trends to look out for

Happy New Year! 2018 is here, and there’s a lot to be excited about. Horticulture is continuing to become popular with millennials and city people. It’s not just hippies who are filling their spaces with green, but anyone looking to grow their own herbs and veg or improve their space and health. From talking to fellow Londoners and watching the ever-increasing presence of plants on Instagram, I’ve put together a few predicted trends for 2018…

1.High-street plants

No longer hidden in gardencentres, plants are making their way into our favourite high-street stores, making them accessible to everyone for homeware and gifts. Oxford Street’s Topshop, Anthropologie, & Other Stories pop ups, as well as many others, have flowers, cacti and succulents on sale. Boutique plant shops and workshops, such as Prick, Grace & Thorn, Botany and Conservatory Archives are also increasing in number, with the latter holding a pop up in Liberty London.

2. Botanical remedies

Last year we were putting botanicals in our cocktails, this year we’ll be using them to boost our healthy and heal our ailments. Homeopathic remedies and flower oils have been around for centuries, but a host of new brands using homegrown plants to provide natural remedies and ingredients is sparking our inspiration. Lavender, Peppermint and Lemon Balm are a few of the easy-to-grow herbs that can be used to aid issues such as insomnia, digestion and lack of energy. Take a trip to the wonderful Chelsea Physic Garden to be inspired.

3. Grow your own

For many of us, growing salad and veg is something we’ve been experimenting with for a while. But with people generally becoming health and environmentally conscious, more non-gardeners are being inspired to create their own veg patches and herb gardens. If you’re daunted by the idea of growing from seed, young plants are available online and from supermarkets and gardencentres, giving you a head start and confidence for your first edibles.

4. Indoor gardening

It may be an oxymoron, but it’s a reality if you live in a city without a patio or garden. Why should those with less space miss out? Houseplants are becoming more popular than ever (the cacti and succulent craze continues), and so are salad, herbs and veg that can be grown in the kitchen or on the windowsill. The benefits of clean air plants are not lost on urban homes and offices, boosting a rise in indoor gardening. Check out Patch, the online plant shop helping you choose the best plant for your home or office.

5. Organics

We’re becoming more aware of the direct impact we’re having on the world around us, and are consequently taking steps to minimise the damage. Rather than reaching for chemicals and mass produced supermarket produce, there’s a movement towards natural gardening ranges and organic options, with concern around soil quality and appetite for the health benefits of organic food.

Houseplants: Winter care

With weather this cold, no one really wants to go outside at this time of year, but we can still get our green fix from houseplants. The garden might be looking a little neglected, but there’s no excuse for not giving indoor plants the care they need over the cold season. Although they’re living inside, these plants need certain conditions over winter to help them thrive and continue looking healthy and happy.

So, how should we look after houseplants in the winter?

1) Food and water
Even though they’re not outside, house plants still live in line with the seasons, which means many will enter into a period of dormancy over winter. This means they require less water and no additional feeding, helping them to rest and survive what would be a tough winter outside. If they’re not given this break, plants will continue to grow but become weaker and more spindly. A gentle sprinkling of water every few weeks will be sufficient, and cacti should not be watered at all until the Spring.

2) Temperature and heating
Given that our homes create artificial conditions, house plant owners should keep an eye on the temperatures their plants are living in. If the heating is on full and plants are next to a radiator, they will dry and quickly and leaves will be damaged by the artificial heat. Equally, plants left in a draft or by an open door will suffer from the constantly changing temperatures. The ideal conditions for plants is in consistent temperatures of 12-18oc, away from direct heat or cold.

3) Light and leaves
You’re not the only one struggling with the short daylight hours during winter. Plants rely on light to survive, and often do not get enough if tucked away in the home. To maximise the amount of light your plants get, place them on a wide windowsill or in a conservatory, where they can soak up light for as much of the day as possible. It’s also a good idea to clean your windows and gently wipe the leaves to remove any dust, helping their chances of absorbing the sun light.

The Sustainable Food Story

Last weekend I was lucky enough to join a supper club with The Sustainable Food Story, held at Borough Market’s Cookhouse. This team of scientists, chefs, farmers and foodies connect people to the origins of food through supper clubs around the country. The majority of the menu is made from home-grown, foraged or locally sourced food, with particular attention to reducing waste and making use of every bit of the plant or biproduct.

Run by excited and inspiring founders Abi and Sadhbh, who collectively have knowledge of meat science and sustainable development, the supper club explored how grains can be part of a healthy, delicious and environmentally conscious way of eating. Dishes included:

– Rye levain crispbread with salvaged bean dip

– Root-to-fruit beetroot with goat’s curd and sprouted grains

– Carrot, sage, einkorn and gouda croquette on a bed of leafy greens

– Spelt and rye homemade sourdough

– Botanical panna cotta with heritage grainola and foraged fruit compotes

– Wild cocktail with London distilled gin

Alongside the mind-blowing flavours, Abi and Sadhbh structured the evening with a series of anecdotes and explanations behind their mission and interests between each course, talking about their previous careers and lessons through their sustainability journey. The other diners had links to boutique food start-ups, farming, gardens and environmental causes, making for interesting conversation across the sprouted grains and animal-blood macaroons.

What did I learn from the evening?

  1. The need for cooking and eating more mindfully, considering where ingredients come from and the environmental impact
  2. The shocking extent of food waste, and how less popular cuts or parts of plants can be used to create delicious dishes
  3. The possibilities of ‘growing your own’, fuelling my existing interest in home-grown produce

Following an evening with Abi and Sadhbh, I’m making an effort to make more sustainable choices, and use the inspiration to make tasty and colourful meals from the unexpected. I’ll also be re-vamping my growing list, incorporating more unusual veg with many elements (roots, flowers, leaves) which I can use every part of and encourage others to do so.

Read more about The Sustainable Food Story on the websiteFacebook or Instagram: @thesustainablefoodstory, and look out for supper clubs near you!

Incredible shots of the evening by Ben Peter Catchpole.

www.benpetercatchpole.comwww.benpetercatchpole.com

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Indoor salad & herbs for winter

We’ve reached the depths of winter, and nature has moved into a more dormant period. My recent house move means that last year’s over-winter veggies, such as cabbage and spinach, have been left behind. So there’s not much in the way of edibles going on in my new space at the moment.

To fill the gap until we can start growing more veg early next year, I’ve planted some herbs and salad, which will be kept inside in a light and well ventilated place to encourage growth in the warmer temperatures.

For indoor greens to use in the kitchen, follow these easy steps to growing your own:

1) Choose a pot or container for growing indoors – this requires some thought. You need drainage holes, but also be aware that watering could result in brown liquid all over your windowsill / table, so make sure you’ve got a saucer that fits under the pot. A small plate will be fine, or just remember to move the pot to the sink when you water it. If you don’t have a pot, recycled food/milk cartons can be cut down and given drainage holes.

2) Fill your pot with a general multi-purpose compost, leaving a few centimetres at the top to ensure water doesn’t overflow when giving plants a drink.

3) Choose your seeds. Herbs and salads are all really easy to look after, so pick things you like eating and can share if you get too many. I’ve planted basil and coriander in my herbs tray, and have a container with mixed salad, mustard and lambs lettuce. If you’re planning to sow different seeds in the same pot, check online or the back of packets to check they like the same conditions (but generally salad and herbs are very similar).

4) Sow your seeds as per instructions. Usually around 1cm into the soil, and scattered finely. Add labels or write what you’ve planted on the pot. I always think I’ll remember and tend to forget exact varieties by time they’re seedlings.

5) Water gently (until the surface is moist but the compost is not completely saturated) and place you container in a sunny and well ventilated spot, such as windowsill or kitchen table. Adding a lid or sandwich bag to the top of pots can create an even more moist environment and speed up germination, but even if you don’t do this you should expect to see seedlings appear within 1 week to 10 days.

Time to plant Tulips

November is a time to stay inside and let your garden do its own thing, right? Wrong.

A bit of thinking ahead goes a long way in the garden, and one of many things you can do now to make sure you’ve got a stunning display in spring is PLANT TULIPS.

You can get hold of tulip bulbs very easily (they’re in big Sainsbury’s at the moment), both online and in shops/supermarkets. By planting them at this time of year, the cold weather reduces the spread of disease to the bulbs, and also provides the conditions for them to grow roots.

Simply choose your variety (there are hundreds of colours, shapes and sizes) and find a well-drained but sunny spot in the garden or border. You should then dig holes around 10cm deep and at least 8cm apart, then gently push the bulbs in with the pointy end at the top. If your ground is particularly hard or shallow, you can dig in / mix multi-purpose or specialist bulb compost to boost the quality of the soil.

If you’ve just got a patio or concrete space, you can also plant tulips in pots. You’ll need to make the planting more dense to create a good display, so can plant bulbs at different depths to give enough space. Try layering up your pot with different varieties, placing the tallest varieties at the bottom. You can also work out the approximate blooming time of different tulip types and plant accordingly, making sure they flower in succession and your pots are filled with colour throughout the spring.

Sarah Raven has a super ‘bulb lasagne’ idea for planting in pots, based on the idea that different layers of bulbs will build to give an impressive effect.

Once your tulips are planted, give them a water and then you can almost forget about them. Keep an eye to make sure dogs and hungry garden visitors don’t dig them up! Mice helped themselves to mine last year, but wire mesh or protective covering can be added if this becomes a problem. Blooms should appear in early spring, and will reappear each year (if you’ve planted them correctly).

My top tulip varieties: Black Parrot, Burning Heart, Lilac Wonder, Fancy Frills and Red Riding Hood. (they sound like expensive nail varnishes and are even more impressive)

Grow your own Superfood! Kale

Kale is having a moment, with its health benefits being rediscovered by foodies are gardeners. The ‘superfood’ is low in calories and very high in fibre, as well as containing many nutrients and vitamins that are said to reduce heart disease risks and lower blood pressure. It has been listed as one of ‘the world’s healthiest foods’, but kale is also easy to grow and very versatile in the garden.

As a leafy green vegetable, kale is coming into its own as winter approaches, being used in stews, soups, roast dinners and alongside other hot dishes as an alternative to broccoli or cabbage. It’s also popular in the colder months as it’s in season, and will happily grow and be harvested throughout winter. In fact, it’s even tastier after a frost, as the cold causes it to release sugars. On top of all of this, it’s also a very striking ‘ornamental vegetable’, creating visual interest in the garden when other plants are dormant, growing happily in pots or directly in the ground.

To grow kale you’ll need to get hold of some seeds, which can be bought online, in supermarkets, or the garden centre. Sarah Raven’s Kale ‘Nero di Toscana’ is a favourite of mine because its dark, crinkly leaves look super and taste great. There are lots of varieties available, so check which best suit your garden’s conditions before you buy.

You should then sow these in a tray or propagator from February to May at 1cm deep, and when the seedlings are several inches tall and sturdy, you can transplant them into a pot (giving each seedling at least 7cm) or directly into the ground. They should then grow well if watered regularly and kept out of direct sunlight. They really are that easy to care for!

To harvest, remove the tender baby leaves when they are 10 – 15cm long. You should be able to do this from about October, and continue into the new year. Only pick a few leaves at a time and always leave the plant with enough to continue to grow, meaning you’ll have an ongoing supply and tender leafy veg. Any older yellow or brown leaves should be removed with a knife and thrown away.

The baby leaves can be eaten raw in salads, or sautéed with olive oil and lots of seasoning. Kale works well treated like cabbage, and can be boiled, steamed or added to hot dishes.

Tips for moving gardens: boxes and broken terracotta

Moving house is known to be emotionally draining, and moving gardens is no easier! My pretty South West London patio garden has been fairly fundamental in feeding my love of gardens and growing things in the city. It was also where I decided to start my blog and Instagram after noticing the benefits of gardening and seeing how much London friends enjoyed learning about and eating things I’d grown.

After several years of nurturing the little space and many hours of enjoyment, sunbathing, dinners and garden parties, we moved out when our tenancy expired. With an outdoor space being the top of my priority list, we’ve now found ourselves a gorgeous home with a small patio front garden and large back garden, complete with decking, a flower boarder and a big lawn (for London)! I’ve only had fake grass before so this will be a learning curve…

As sad as it was saying goodbye to my previous garden (where every plant either has a story, was a gift, collected from a special place, or has other ridiculous sentimental value) it’s so exciting to be in a whole new space, faced with new challenges and inspiration.

Having learnt a few things along the way, here are my tips for moving gardens:

  1. If you’re renting and likely to move house often, plant as much as possible in containers, rather than permanent fixtures or in the ground, as this will mean they can be loaded into a van and positioned on your new patio.
  2. If you have favourite plants, take cuttings from them and start them off in your new home. It can be messy and often kill plants if you try to take everything with you, so only move essentials and leave the rest for the next person to enjoy.
  3. Before you move out, wash pots, containers and equipment thoroughly. It will avoid spreading pests and diseases between gardens, ensure everything doesn’t get covered in soil, and give you a fresh start in your new home.
  4. Get someone to help you. Boxes are heavy, so are terracotta pots. Not only will you save your back, but getting a few people to share the load will mean less cracked pottery and snapped stems.
  5. Take advantage of a clean slate! Every garden is different and you will have new soil types, pests and shady spots to learn about. Embrace it, and rather than trying to make it look like your old garden, take some time to watch its natural behaviour and work with the plants and conditions you’ve got.

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