Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy (Chinese) New Year

It is the start of the Chinese new year today, and an auspicious new year too –the year of the Dragon.

Gardeners have a lot to thank China for – large numbers of beautiful plants have been collected from the varied regions of this vast country. I’ve written about some of the plant hunters who scoured the world looking for new introductions before: here and here, for example.


‘Chinese’ garden at Biddulph Gardens

Many Camellias come from China although, of course, they have been hybridised since then, to give a whole range of colour and flower forms.


A lot of Rhododendrons, similarly, come from various provinces of China, such as Rhododendron lanigerum (discovered by Frank Kingdon Ward)


 Pieris formosa var. forrestii was discovered by George Forrest in 1910 – this one was photographed at Ness Gardens, for whom Forrest collected.


We would be without the winter interest of Prunus serrula bark if it hadn’t been discovered in China.

Prunus serrula bark

Whilst Wisteria floribunda comes from Japan, Wisteria sinensis hails from China. This white version (var. alba) was photographed at Bodnant Gardens (North Wales).


Sinensis as a specific name indicates that the plant comes from China. So, we also have Camellia sinensis (Chinese tea plant), Corylopsis sinensis (Chinese winter hazel), Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, Miscanthus sinensis and so on and so on…

So many more plants in our gardens originate from China. This Chinese New Year, go out and see what plants you have which  have their origins there.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fine words and edible parsnips

I’ve blogged about parsnips before.

Parsnips are one of the more reliable crops on the allotment, as long as the frosts aren’t so long and so hard that we can’t lever them out of the ground. There’s a fine line between ensuring that the crop has experienced some frost to make them sweeter, and roots frozen into the ground until the earth finally decides to release them, generally after they have developed a core with a hardness of of 10 on the Mohs scale.

We have harvested some huuuugggggeeee parsnips this year. And although I love roast parsnips, parsnip soup and so on, my mind has recently been harking back to a certain failure from a couple of years ago. Yes – the parsnip cake experiment. Or chemical warfare as it turned out to be. It’s a confusing moment – seeing what smells like a delicious cake but not being able to eat it. It does strange things to the mind. The brain thinks “mmm – cake = lovely”. The taste buds, however, beg you not to take another mouthful.

Now, I don’t like to be outwitted by a root vegetable, and this culinary failure has been playing on my mind for some time. So, whilst idly searching the BBC Good Food website for parsnip recipes a month or so ago, I happened across another parsnip cake recipe. I put a link up when updating the seasonal recipes on my sidebar, but hadn’t plucked up the courage to actually make the cake. Until this weekend.

And so, it was with some trepidation that SomeBeans tried a small bite of the proffered cake. The poor chap – the last time I fed him parsnip cake, he accused me of trying to poison him (though not as effectively as I did with the Jerusalem artichokes…). But this time……

SUCCESS! A cake of delights. No acrid aftertaste. No vacillation of brain vs tastebuds. A moist, sweet cake. I have beaten the parsnip demon.

IMG_1380 (We’ve eaten quite a lot of it, as you can see. Well, we do have a guest)

Sunday, January 01, 2012

2011 Almanac – a review

In December of 2010 I wrote a blog post about what my 2011 gardening year would involve. As it’s now 2012, and it is obligatory to review the previous year (whether on TV, in the papers, in blogs, or in your own head), I thought I’d revisit my Almanac for 2011 post


Hmmm. I was a bit optimistic about planting my tulips belatedly. In the end I didn’t plant them until May. They didn’t grow.

Parsnips remained stuck in the ground until February, and then were the size of baobab trees, and just as edible. At least I didn’t make cake.


I did order seed potatoes in both autumn and January. On the plus side, we have enough potatoes stored in the garage to see us through any food shortages over the next 12 months. As long as we don’t mind eating just potatoes.


Yup, still no snowdrops.


Hurrah, hurrah! I didn’t buy any lettuce seed this year. Unfortunately, I didn’t get round to sowing more than one lot of lettuce. Perhaps I should try VP’s 52 week salad challenge this year.

I sowed parsnip seeds and they came up! Freak warm weather conditions mean that this will not happen again.


Ah yes, the weeds… I know foraging is all the rage, but to be honest, there’s a reason why we don’t eat most of these foods any more. I’m looking at you, ground elder, fat hen and bittercress. Although none of these taste as bad as the strawberry spinach we grew once and are forever cursed with. Eat soil – it’s tastier.


Well, my skills with a hoe haven’t improved. I’m sure we didn’t need so many onions, anyway.


I skipped planting out the poor, lanky sprouts and put them straight into the compost bin, thus cutting out the middleman and saving time and effort. Shop-bought sprouts for Xmas dinner; small sprout plants were bought and planted in September – they may just be producing sprouts in time for December 2012.


Ah ha! A triumph! I only planted out 2 courgette plants. Isn’t it amazing how big the devils can grow when you turn your back for a week? This year, I might try hollowing one out and use it for punting down the River Dee.

Did someone say something about a drought? South East England may be lacking in water, but up here in the North West, the horsetails are growing so  lush that I fear to part them in case I come across some vicious predators from the past. Ah, wait – I did:



I was as circumspect with the squash plants as I was with the courgettes this year. And yet, and yet… the growth was still sufficient to allow indigenous tribes to evolve and then, come October frosts, emerge blinking from the blackened foliage.


I think you’ll find I was right about the achocha. Like eating small green porcupines. Except with less flavour.


Ah yes, the pumpkin avalanche in the conservatory. I’m considering going into the decorating business – pumpkin puree makes very good wallpaper paste, and we have industrial quantities of pumpkins to get through.


Ha ha! I’ve planted all my bulbs! It’s good that I’ve learnt something over 12 months. It’s nice to know that I must be at least as intelligent as a slime mould. Although slime moulds would probably be capable of remembering to buy snowdrops.


I will make no predictions about what 2012 will bring from a gardening point of view, except that we will have a new companion whilst doing it this year. At what age can babies recognise the difference between parsnip seedling leaves and ground elder?

A happy gardening new year to you all. May your seedlings flourish.