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In praise of Crape Myrtles

This is a collaborative post

Although strongly associated with the southern states of America, the Crape Myrtle can, with the right care, thrive in cooler more northerly areas as well.

In fact there are several types of Crape Myrtle trees from thetreecenter.com that are able to cope with the colder winters that USDA zones 7 and even 6 have to offer, just so long as the grower is flexible in their approach and is prepared to keep an open mind.

crape myrtle 4
Courtesy of Modern Mia

The Crape Myrtle tree is popular because it blooms spectacularly for three months in the summer and boasts very attractive bark that comes in many shades – cinnamon, white, cream, brown and grey. In southern states they pop up all over the place, even in car parks, and everyone loves them. In fact, the only thing gardeners in USDA zones 7 to 10 need to concern themselves about is which colour looks best in their garden and how they can get the longest possible blooming season out of them.

Cooler climes

Northern gardeners meanwhile – USDA zone 6 – often fall in love with the Crape Myrtle after a trip down south and want to try and grow one of their when they get home.
This isn’t beyond the realms of possibility because they can select a hardier variety such as Sarah’s Favourite, which is white, or Velma’s Royal Delight, which is magenta. However, they will need to manage their expectations a little and satisfy themselves with fewer blooms – a small price to pay for what is still a most attractive addition to anyone’s garden.

crape myrtle 1
Courtesy of Modern Mia

Even in USDA zone 5, Crape Myrtle fans can have a go at cultivating these hardier varieties, or perhaps could try the shrubbier ones that grow more as perennials. Each winter it will appear that the tops have been killed by the cold and frost, but rest assured they always leap back to life in the spring. However, be aware that growing a perennial Crape Myrtle means it won’t offer the peeling bark, but if it’s warm enough there may still be some blooms at least on the smaller shrubs – the ones around four feet tall – that will add a splash of mid-summer colour to your garden.

crape myrtle 2
Courtesy of Modern Mia

Tips for increasing cold hardiness

• Avoid pruning or fertilizing your Crape Myrtle in the autumn – you also need to avoid too much water at this time of year because the plant needs to harden off for the winter.

• Don’t place it against a south-facing wall because a sunny day in January, or a brief thaw, might fool the crape myrtle into thinking spring has arrived early.

• After the leaves have fallen in autumn, mulch the tree well with leaves and straw to provide insulation around the roots.

• Think about growing miniature Crape Myrtle – they’re small enough to “wrap up” in winter to protect them from the cold. In late autumn, cover them with screening or mesh-wire cages that can be packed with leaves and straw.

• Not all gardeners have to worry about hardiness, so they can consider cultivars such as Osage or Seminole, which are resistant to the dreaded black sooty mildew. There are also cultivars like Catawba and Tonto, amongst others, that offer resistance against leaf-spot.

• …and remember, regardless of where you live, all Crape Myrtle need full sun and an acidic soil as an absolute minimum.

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Climbing hydrangea ticks all the boxes!

Did I mention we’re building a two storey extension on the side of our house (see Nature not Nuture)? It means we now have a big, beautiful blank canvass of a wall which I would like to adorn with some appropriate plantage.

BLANK CANVASS

Vertical Garden

Something along the lines of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or failing that even a relatively simple vertical garden would be rather nice …but I quickly decided it was a bit ambitious and possibly ill advised on the side of a house with all the damp issues it might cause. Ivy? I have two Sulphur Hearts languishing in their pots that I bought a year ago but still haven’t used for fear of their rapid growth and knack of racing up to the guttering and wreaking havoc… Climbing roses? Hmmmm –  much as I adore roses – especially when they’re heavily scented – I don’t seem to be very successful with them. I am nervous of pruning AND to be honest balk from anything that might, just MIGHT become even the slightest bit high maintenance.

Pause for breath and further contemplation.

CLIMBING HYDRANGEA

Climbing Hydrangea

Then, one day after work the other week when I called in to see my mother and we were sitting in her back garden enjoying a cup of tea in the sunshine I couldn’t ignore her climbing hydrangea in full bloom heavy with flowers and humming with bees. It was a picture! THAT WAS IT! The perfect solution and it had been on my doorstep (or at least my mum’s doorstep) all along.

Cuttings

Of course, I could go online and purchase some plants but that would be too easy and potentially quite expensive. So relishing a challenge, I took around ten soft wood cuttings then as soon as I got home got busy with a paring knife, a chopping board, a pot, a plastic bag, a rubber band and some rooting powder…

Propagating climbing hydrangea 1

Propagation

I need at least two of the cuttings to take (I think a 20% success rate should be achievable) and am watching them carefully for signs of growth. As One of my favourite gardening experts and regular gardening guru Alan Gray says, this kind of propagation tends to be a race between rooting and rotting. Wise words as always, Mr Gray. My success with some Daphne Odora softwood cuttings last year has definitely boosted my confidence though.

To quote the ever handy BBC Plant Finder: Climbing hydrangea is a useful low-maintenance climber for a shady or north wall, also thriving in sunnier sites in moist soils (the flowers do not last quite as well in a sunny spot). Plants are slow to get going, and often make little new growth in the first few years. However, it is well worth the wait. In midsummer the white lacecap-style hydrangea flowers are huge, up to 10in (25cm) across, and can almost cover the stems completely. The craggy stems cling to the walls by adventitious roots. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

Propagating climbing hydrangea 2

I’ll keep you posted with my progress – keep your (green) fingers crossed!

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Time for Topiary at the Villas…

After much consideration, research and nerve mustering, at last I have taken the  bull by the horns – or should I say, the shears by the handles – and  topiarised our handsome two metre tall (and rapidly growing) Cupressus tree!

A gift

The tree was a birthday gift four and a half years ago when it was about ten centimetres high and part of an arrangement in a basket. In fact it is the sole survivor of said arrangement. We wanted a tree in the garden and had the perfect place for it, so I proceeded to plant it out and it has established itself well. In fact it has grown remarkably quickly, to a point where we realised we needed to think about how to control its height before it got too tall to maintain. That’s when ideas of topiary started to invade my mind…

TOPIARY half way

Design

I began paying more attention to topiary on the television and recalled the fine examples Laila told me she’d seen when visiting Versailles and more locally some we saw when we visited Alan Grey‘s beautiful gardens at East Ruston Old Vicarage. All food for thought, gently spurring me on and giving me the courage I needed to have a go myself. But it’s a bit like being entrusted to cut someone’s hair – easy enough to snip bits off but impossible to stick them back on again if you make a mistake! No pressure then.

My first idea was to do a spiral, so I went on the internet and downloaded some appealingly clear and well illustrated  instructions – it looked simple enough. A few weeks later I emailed the experts on BBC Radio Norfolk’s  The Garden Party telling them my plans and asking their advice.  Alan Grey  was very encouraging but suggested graduated balls might be a better design to start with… so now clipped balls had been thrown in the topiary mix.

TOPIARY looking down

Today is the day

My next inadvertent delay tactic was that I didn’t have the right tools for the job. I imagined I might need something a bit like sheep shears – one-handed jobbies – and I started having visions of Edward Scissorhands… Several more weeks went by. Then it was summer and not really the best time of year to do topiary, what with all that lovely hot sunshine to tarnish the freshly cut ends.

Then last weekend I woke up and just knew the day had come. The weather was perfect – mild, dry and slightly overcast – so I strode to the shed and found a pair of loppers, my edging shears and some secateurs.  I then went back to the tree and looked at it long and hard – wheels and cogs whirring in my head. I  plunged my hands into its fragrant dense lime green foliage and had a really good feel. I located the main trunk and noted the direction that the branches grew which was at about 45°. Hmmm.

TOPIARY complete

Surgery

Then I picked up my secateurs and began cutting, branch by branch, stem by stem, from the bottom up. Fairly near the base there was a secondary trunk coming out from the main trunk, so that had to come off if the end result was going to be symmetrical.  Therefore fairly major surgery had to take place before I could continue. However, once removed, I felt empowered to carry on with renewed vigour.

And then there was no stopping me! It was addictive and before long I felt I’d grasped the concept and started to enjoy myself, every so often downing tools and taking a few steps back to check the over all shape was being maintained. Secateurs to begin with then onto shears for fine tuning – which is the messy bit… and that’s where I slipped up because foolishly I didn’t put a sheet down to catch the debris. Note to self, and anyone else who’s interested, ALWAYS put a sheet down before you start – it took me well over an hour to tidy up afterwards!

TOPIARY trimmings

 

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Farewell Rosa Rugosa… Hello Daphne Odora

Just when we thought we had finally finished garden design at the Villas, I had a change of heart about Zone 2 (previously known as the Secret Garden).

Zone by Zone

So, a little bit of background information to set the scene… When we moved to the Villas seven years ago we were faced with 400 square metres of amenity land which we proceeded to landscape zone by zone, year by year.

VILLAS before

Zone 1, nearest the house, consists of the sunken garden and the wall supporting the trained fig and peach trees; Zone 2 the Secret Garden with the Poplar tremula in the middle; Zone 3 with the fruit cage, greenhouse, raised beds …and most recently Zone 4 – now known as the Fruit and Nut Garden, with a couple of cob nut trees and a Greensleeves apple tree.

Rosa Rugosa Rubra hedging

Rosa Rugosa

But it was Zone 2, the Secret Garden, that has been keeping me awake at night of late. A nagging feeling that I was losing control; that the Rosa Rugosa that I had so keenly planted two or three autumns ago, was starting to run riot at the expense of the majority of the rest of the plantage. Also its ferocity – particularly if fallen into by a small child on a a skateboard (sorry Ben) – had become an irritation, literally.

WW Bee on Rosa Rugosa

To be fair to Rosa Rugosa, I’ve only got myself to blame. I’d set my heart on it because of its gloriously scented bee-magnet flowers, juicy scarlet hips much loved by birds, vigorous growth (I’m an impatient gardener) and potential height (it was meant to be a secret garden, after all) …but failing to research it properly before I put in my order.

ROSA RUGOSA HIP

If I’d taken the time to check carefully, I would have known that it “can produce an effect of barbed wire security without ugly barbed wire”, that it has a habit of producing suckers from below the ground (often a metre or so away where , in a confined space, you don’t want it) and individual plants can have a width spread of a metre or so; all three attributes making it somewhat unsuitable for a relatively small garden.

Rosa Rugosa bristle thorns

Thorns

So, it had to come out …and there’s the rub. As well as being vigorous above ground, it is equally vigorous below ground and it had no intention of going quietly. In fact it was a two-man job and we resorted to the power of leverage, as the garden fork very quickly proved to be inadequate. We wore gloves of course, but were picking out the hypodermic-like bristle thorns from our hands for days!

Rugosa and the removal of...

Daphne Odora

Lesson learnt. Note to self: Research thoroughly before planting. I have replaced the Rosa Rugosa at one end of Zone 2 with the three young Daphne Odora plants I grew from cuttings earlier this year while the rest of the vegetation is much happier now that I’ve cleared some space and let the light in!

View from guest room MAY 2013

I have now changed the name from the Secret Garden to the Bird and Bees Garden …and am sleeping well once more.

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Ode to the Elder

Useful

Our love for elder (Sambucus nigra) has been apparent in many of our blog posts. We simply love this fast growing hedgerow plant with its heavenly fragrant flowers and dark purple berries. We mostly love the fact that this plant is useful and not only pretty to look at.

Cordial

We started out by making elderflower cordial. A lovely sweet cordial with a hint of vanilla that, when mixed with ice cold water will refresh you on even the hottest summer days.

Elderflower Cordial

Champagne

Then I made the brave decision to make elderflower champagne. A recipe from famous River Cottage of course. Those guys really do like their home brews. With very little effort we soon had six bottles fizzing away …and that was the problem. I had bought cheap bottles with pop up lids and with all that alcohol bubbling happily in the bottle, one of them exploded.

I should have heeded the advice and relieve some of the pressure but I thought, how bad can it be! Well, there was glass everywhere and precious champagne streaming down the cupboard shelves. Of course after that we did relieve the pressure of the remaining bottles which is a bit of a shame because it alleviates that typical champagne fizz after keeping the bottles for a few months.

However, when Bridget and Michael came to visit in August we opened a bottle and my goodness it’s tasty stuff! I don’t know exactly how high the alcohol content was, but I felt tipsy after just one glass! I will definitely make another batch of elderflower champagne this year and I promise I will document everything, take photos and write a blogpost so you can also try this new adventure. Make sure you get good quality bottles!!

Elderberries 2

Liquor

After the flowers wilted and the berries appeared I went for another foraging trip, this time to make elderberry liquor. After months of waiting for the brew to…well brew, we tried it out. I have to admit I didn’t like the taste very much but to be honest, I’m not a big fan of elderberry juice as either. Friends of ours drank it pure and they loved it, so it’s well worth a try. I have experimented mixing it with all kinds of juices and have concluded that a mix with apple juice is by far my favourite.

Creating a hedge

So earlier in the year when we were deciding which plants to grow in our hedgerow, elder was of course high on our list. We got 10 bare rooted plants which have all survived and are now bursting with green leaves and… flowers! A funny anecdote is that there was this weedy plant growing next to our temporary house. I wanted to cut it down but never got round to it. Then we moved into our new house just a few metres away and I forgot all about it.

Elderflower in our hedge

Mystery tree

Meanwhile, being ideally situated – out of the wind and in direct sunlight – the previously straggly plant grew bigger and bigger… Then one day Roger mentioned that there were flowers growing on the mystery tree that look remarkably like the elder flowers that had appeared on the small elder plants we’d bought for our new hedgerow… and on checking I can confirm that as well as new hedgerow elders we also have (and it turns out, have always had) a large elder bush growing wild but very welcome on our land! We now have sufficient Sambucus nigra to get brewing again this summer.

Conclusion: respect your elders and they will repay you generously!

Elder at the temp house

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How to keep patio plants pot-happy!

Every week I email a gardening question to the panel of experts at BBC Radio Norfolk’s The Garden Party and then eagerly listen to the programme the following day, scribbling down the gems of information they kindly offer. Sometimes Laila sends a question or two as well. This is a transcript of the advice that The Garden Party experts gave us on this week’s gardening challenge!

My question:

Hello there,

We’ve got a bay tree in a large pot but I’ve noticed the leaves are a yellowy-green colour and have been for some time. Does this mean it needs feeding?

I’ve often heard Alan Gray and Ian Roofe mention adding Fish, Blood and Bone to feed plants in pots – sprinkling it on and forking it in… Well, I’ve been given a large box of SEAWEED ENHANCED PLANT GROWTH STIMULANT. Will this do instead?

If so, how many times a year should I do it please?

Bridget

Bay a bit yellow

Experts’ answer:

(BBC Radio Norfolk’s The garden party is presented by Thordis Fridriksson aka @thunderfairy and Alan Gray from East Ruston Old Vicarage with this week’s guest, botanist and garden expert Richard Hobbs.)

ALAN: From the photograph you sent Bridget, I think that your bay tree looks perfectly healthy because that is the colour of bay leaves – they ARE a yellowy green colour, an olivey-yellowish green actually. Of course you can and should feed it if it’s in a pot. Two things however that I don’t like the sound of about your large box of plant growth stimulant though: one is the word enhanced and the other is the word stimulant

THUNDERFAIRY: I would have though both of those words would have gone down very well with you!

ALAN: It just makes me wonder what else might be in it… and growth stimulant can mean many things can’t it…

RICHARD: Such as hormones…

Seaweed enhanced

THUNDERFAIRY: Okay, so if you are looking for something good for all of your plants in pots, what would you recommend? Would it be fish blood and bone? Would it be seaweed feed? What would it be?

ALAN: Well, I’m a great lover of an organic seaweed feed which I put on plants that don’t need re-potting every year. I put about a teaspoonful on the top and just scratch it in a bit and then as you water the plant from the top, each time it gets a little dose of fertiliser.

RICHARD: But I think you’ve got to be careful here but you’re at risk of suggesting that you can just do feeding and topping up, feeding and topping up… but there comes a time when you’ve actually got to get rid of that old compost and start all over again.

THUNDERFAIRY: And how often is that?

RICHARD: Well, as often as you can. Ideally it wants to be done annually but I would say it must be done every third year. You need to get that Bay out of its pot and remove all the old compost, a job for the pressure hose! You can treat it quite roughly, shake it around a bit and even kick it because you get dead bits on the roots just like you do on the rest of the plant and you need to get rid of them. And then re-pot it – it doesn’t need to go in a bigger pot – in fresh compost. The reason you have to do this is that when compost gets old, it loses its structure. All compost needs to have particles of different sizes so they can hold water and air ….and as the compost breaks down into very small particles, you end up with small holes that only hold water but are not big enough to hold air and without oxygen you can shove as much food on the top as you like but the plant can’t take it up effectively.

ALAN: In my opinion you have to be aware that plants have a finite life in pots – they can’t live in them forever, so you have to take that into consideration and weigh up the pros and cons.

THUNDERFAIRY: Well, I hope that answers your question Bridget. Good luck with your Bay tree!

Bay flowers May

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What Climbing Plants Should I Choose?

Every week I email a gardening question to the panel of experts at BBC Radio Norfolk’s The Garden Party  and then eagerly listen to the programme the following day, scribbling down the gems of information they kindly offer. Sometimes Laila sends a question or two as well. This is a transcript of the advice that The Garden Party experts gave me on this week’s gardening challenge!

My question:

Dear garden experts,

We’d like some advice please on what climbing plant or plants we could grow on a trellis (yet to be built) to hide our neighbour’s garage and make our drive more attractive. Something fairly fast growing would be ideal if possible….

It faces west and although the side of our house is opposite, it gets a good deal of light and sunshine in the middle of the day.

To my knowledge, nothing has ever been grown there before so I expect the soil is currently compacted and pretty poor.

Many thanks!

Bridget

Climbing plants as a screen

(BBC Radio Norfolk’s The garden party is presented by Thordis Fridriksson aka Thunderfairy and Alan Gray from East Ruston Old Vicarage with guests Martin Davy head of all things horticultural at Easton and Otley College and Joe Whitehead from Gardenwise).

Experts’ answer:

Alan: Well, I think first of all you should put up a decent trellis rather than go and buy something at the garden centre – make sure you use pressure treated timber, tanalised against rotting. One plant that I love that will do exactly what Bridget’s asking is Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’ (Persian ivy) – it’s quite fast growing, has big leaves which are a lovely vibrant green and then brilliant acid yellow in the centre – they are absolutely stunning.

I think you probably want something evergreen and something to hide the garage all year round …and the other thing is because it flowers later in the year, it’s a very good wildlife plant– you’ll always notice butterflies and other pollinators on it and it’s also good for nesting birds …so that’s what I would go for.

Sulphur Heart

Martin: I’d say make the trellis out of roofing batons – you can buy them from DIY stores – not that expensive – then you can knock up trellis to any size you like – and I would go for Clematis armandii which is evergreen – you cannot kill it – and they’re budding up now to flower. They have white flowers or there’s a vatiety with pink flowers called Apple Blossom, both have quite big leaves and again birds like to nest in them…

Alan: …and both these suggestions can be pruned – the clematis can be pruned immediately after it’s flowered which will probably be at the end of May so that it’s got time to make new growth for the following year and the ivy can be pruned in about February before birds start to nest in it.

Thunderfairy: Would there be any merit to something like a honeysuckle?

Alan: There are evergreen honeysuckles but they’re not as dense and I don’t think they’d be good for this particular spot.

Hmmm – food for thought. Now all I’ve got to do is make my choice! At the moment I’m thinking ivy…

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Can You Build Your Own Pond? Of Course You Can!

If you want a pond in your garden you have 2 choices: Pay someone to install one for you or dig it yourself! For a beginner, the second option might be scary, but it’s not as hard as you might imagine, so let’s get stuck in shall we?

A healthy garden pond makes a wonderful focal point

for your garden and attracts lots of wildlife!

A Healthy Pond Is A Happy Pond

It is possible to make a pond that keeps itself healthy. The right combination of aquatic life and plant life will keep the water cycling and keep algae at bay. But it’s not easy to get right, so installing a pond pump is a good idea. A pump simply pumps water and oxygen into the water to keep it aerated.

Lilly pond

Another important consideration is position. So before you dig your pond out, figure out where to put it. Too much direct sunlight may kill the plant life and make the liner brittle, but putting it under a tree may mean you are forever fishing out leaves.

How To Choose A Pond Pump

We already decided we need a pond pump. So what type should we go for? There are lots of options and it can be confusing. Here are some rules of thumb though:

• If you want to keep fish, get a pump with a filter

• Ensure your pump is powerful enough for your pond

Once you have your plan (more on that later) you can calculate the approximate capacity of the pond and select a pump accordingly. Also keep in mind the height of the pump if you have a shallow pond.

Solar powered pumps will save energy and make installation easier but may not be suitable if you plan to have fish since they don’t work so well at night.

Coming Up With A Plan

How you design your pond will depend on what you want it to be. Some people like big water features, but personally I like to attract lots of wild life. Sketch out your pond however you want and don’t start digging until you have settled on a design. Here are some ideas:

• Include shallow areas where animals can drink safely

• Include deep areas for fish and for plants to get established

• Include some stones or a ramp in case hedgehogs fall in

The more complicated you make your designs, the more features you can add and the more variety your pond will likely be able to sustain. But if you are unsure, or don’t have much space, there is nothing wrong with creating a very simple pond.

Pond plan

Get Digging

Once you have your plan you can start digging out the pond. The simplest way to do this is to dig the biggest layer first to a uniform depth (the depth of the shallowest shelf) and then mark out the next layer and dig to the next depth.

Before digging, peel away the turf carefully and save it for later!

Let’s Talk About Pond Liners

The pond liner is what holds the water in the pond. It is a simple sheet of plastic to separate water from soil, but don’t let that fool you, there are options to be considered:

Moulded Liners Or Sheets?

A regular pond liner is just a sheet of PVC, but you can get more robust pre-moulded ones. These are much heavier duty and will generally last longer, but they cost a lot more and limit you to certain shapes. If your budget allows they may be worth the investment though.

If you go with a sheet, there are different materials to consider. My advice is to go with a rubber sheet rather than PVC as PVC can get brittle as it ages. A rubber liner will last longer. It is also worth investing the extra in a UV stabilised liner to protect against sunlight.

How To Install The Liner

• Fish out stones and anything sharp

• Cover soil with a layer of fine sand

• Insert the liner and push into the corners

• Use slabs or stones to secure the liner

Filling It Up

The last step is to fill your pond with water. If you went with a sheet liner, be aware that as the pond fills the liner will tighten, so pull up the sides if necessary and once it is full trim off the sides leaving a border of a few inches.

Pond plants

Finishing It Off

Finally, you can use some of the turf you saved from earlier to place around the border. Eventually this will grow back in and re-enforce the edge of your pond.

If you want to add some plants to your pond you should wait for a couple of weeks first for the water to settle – of course if you are planning to start your build in early spring then getting your timing right will mean that you will be adding those plants at just the right time.

 Callitriche verna

When choosing plants you should consider things like the local climate, how deep your pond is and how much work you want to put in. For example:

Zebrinus is a pretty grass that can provide cover for small insects, but it can take over your pond so you will have to divide it every year to keep it healthy and in check.

Cyperus involucratus grows well in shallow water and is a hardy plant that shouldn’t take too much maintenance. Plant it in 2 inches of water and watch it emerge in late May.

Callitriche verna is an oxygenating plant, it is also a nice cover for tadpoles, so ideal if you want to encourage frogs into the pond. But in a hot climate it may not fare as well.

This guest post was written by Ricky Peterson. Ricky works at SwallowAquatics.co.uk and when he’s not at work he loves to spend time in the garden or out and about.
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How to Grow a Kiwano or Horned Melon

Polytunnel

Two years ago a friend gave me a packet of Horned Melon seeds but as it’s a tropical plant, there was no way we could grow it outside here in the Belgian Ardennes. Consequently, the pack of seeds ended almost forgotten about at the bottom of my seed box.  Then this year we constructed a polytunnel and around June  time I suddenly remembered the seeds!  It was already a bit late to start sowing them and I had no idea whether the seeds would germinate …but I took a chance and gave it a go.

Neglected

Out of the three seeds that I sowed, only one came up, by which time all the beds were crammed with different sorts of summer veg. So I planted the little seedling in a pot, attached a string to one of the tunnel’s cross bars and placed it up one corner, where it subsequently got a bit overlooked when it came to watering. However, it appears the plant thrived on neglect because a few weeks ago I glanced in its direction and saw to my surprise a strange spiky fruit hanging from the vines.

Kiwano or Horned Melon 1

Taste

This fruit is known by many different names: Horned Melon, Kiwano, African Horned Melon, jelly melon, blowfish fruit, melano and its Latin name Cucumis metuliferus. As the names suggest, its origins are in Africa, the Kalahari dessert to be precise, but the plant is also grown in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The fruits look like an oval melon with horns. It’s ripe when the skin is yellow and the inside is lime green. Mostly used for decoration, it’s also perfectly edible with a cucumber courgette kind of taste when picked green and if allowed to ripen on the vine a combination of banana, melon and cucumber. The ripe flesh is a bit gelatinous and I’ve found out that there is a special method for eating this kind of fruit.

Kiwano

Harvest

Containing my curiosity proved too big a task for me and, reasoning with myself that the fruit would never get time to ripen on the vine now that the temperatures had dropped, I harvested it… wearing gloves of course. The flesh was still a bit firm but had a lovely lemony, cucumber taste. As it was not fully ripe, the flesh hadn’t had time to get to the jelly stage which meant it was crunchier and fresher tasting.

Kiwano flesh

Growing Conditions

All in all, the conditions were perfect for my Kiwano plant this summer – lots of sunshine which brought tropical temperatures to the polytunnel. I’ve found out that my infrequent watering was actually just what this plant likes because it needs to dry out between watering. Perfect! The Horned Melon is not really particular about what kind of soil it grows in but apparently tends to prefer a clay or loamy soil.

Spikes

I am definitely going to give growing Kiwano another try next season but I’ll start sowing a bit earlier to give the fruit the time it needs to ripen on the vine.

Have you grown anything exotic like the Horned Melon this summer?

 

 

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How to Make Capers from Nasturtium Seed Pods

Nasturtium

One of the most versatile flowers to grow in your garden is the Nasturtium for a few simple reasons: Everything is edible, pollinators love them and it attracts black fly and aphids keeping them away from your veggies.

Nasturtium yellow flower

Tropaeolum, common name Nasturtium, was named so because the plant produces an oil similar to watercress (Nasturtium officinale). The flowers come in a raft of colours ranging from creams and yellows to orange to scarlet. They thrive in poor soil and dry conditions so this summer was a good year for Nasturtiums. There are bush varieties and scrambling ones that spread out and can tangle themselves around other plants, so bear that in mind if your space is limited.

Companion plant

Nasturtiums are perfect companion plants for your vegetables for two main reasons – they attract lots of pollinators and can be grown for sacrificial purposes if you have an aphid or black fly problem.

Nasturtium seed pod 2

Edible

The  petals liven up any salad with their bright colours and the leaves add a nice peppery taste.  The leaves can also be used to make a lovely garden pesto. This year however I was focusing on their seed pods to make the poor man’s capers. True capers come from the caper plant but the nasturtium seed pods make a delicious substitute that anyone can grow.

Nasturtium Seed Pods

Recipe for Nasturtium ‘Poor Man’s’ Capers

This is what you need:

100 g nasturtium seed pods (still firm and green)

15 g salt

200 ml white wine vinegar

A few peppercorns and herbs such as dill or bay leaves

This is how you do it:

Dissolve the salt in 300 ml of water and place the nasturtium seed pods into a bowl and add the salty water. Leave for 24 hours.

Drain the seedpods and dry well. Pack into small sterilised jars with the peppercorns and herbs of your choice. Leave room for 1 cm of vinegar on top.

Cover the pods with the vinegar and seal the jars with vinegar proof lids. Store in a cool, dark place and leave for a few weeks before eating.

Use within a year.

Nasturtium capers

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Sow and So Sunflower Competition 2013

Competition

At the beginning of the growing season Bridget and I got into an amicable but quite serious competition… who could grow the tallest sunflower. I boldly started sowing a bit earlier than Bridget in the hope that this would make a difference, caring for the seedlings in the polytunnel where it was already warm and cosy. As soon as the last frosts were over and done with, I planted them out while Bridget was only just starting to sow. Laughing under my breath with glee, I was sure this year would be my year and I would win, hands down.

Sunflower

Support and Watering

Over in Norfolk, England, Bridget went on to plant two rows of seven sunflowers each, her other half Michael getting involved by constructing sturdy scaffolding for support. Starting them off in small pots then transplanting them into the ground,  she actually sunk the empty pots almost entirely into the soil beside each plant to help direct the water to the roots and prevent run-off. She made a point of watering the plants regularly, every other day, believing that if she allowed them to dry out they would be more likely to flower prematurely (and we all know that flowering means the plant has reached its optimum height).

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