Pumpkin and Apple Season: Two Warming Autumn Soups

Facebook has just reminded me that five years ago I spent the day at the Luton Hoo Pumpkin and Apple Day, retreating from the crowds from time to time to sit on the haystacks and feed my 6 month old daughter. Today I have been in the town square enjoying our community garden Apple Day. We’ve been selling apples, pears, quinces and our juice (made with windfalls and unwanted apples collected from local gardens and orchards), running craft workshops for the children and chatting to Hitchin shoppers about all things apple related.

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Some of the varieties that have been available for shoppers to try and buy today

Within a couple of hours many of the apple varieties had sold out

Throughout October our house has had an underlying scent of apples – cooking apples stewing, crab apples boiling for jelly and cupboards full of apple boxes stored for eating or cooking later in the year. Our recently harvested quinces have added to the aroma and at the Stotfold Steam Fair last weekend we bought a mammoth pumpkin from a local grower. This has pleased the kids no end as last year I was late to the shops and we ended up celebrating Hallowe’en with a carved watermelon (on the grounds that any cucurbit was better than no cucurbit!)

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You’d never have known that our Hallowe’en cat (designed by my son) was carved out of a watermelon!

There’s no doubt that October brings the excitement of the autumn harvest and related festivities, but it also brings wastage on a grand scale as much of the pumpkin flesh removed prior to carving goes straight in the bin. Sara Venn, co-founder of Incredible Edible Bristol, highlighted this waste at the beginning of the week in her article ‘Please don’t play with your food…’ with the appalling figure that 80,000 tonnes of pumpkin flesh went to landfill in 2014. She has been blogging with pumpkin recipes all week and has asked readers and fellow bloggers to add their recipes and ideas to the mix. So here are some pumpkin soup recipes with a bit of apple thrown in for good measure. The spices in the first soup and sweetness of the apple in the second help to add flavour to commercial Hallowe’en pumpkins bred for size and colour, not for taste. The soups are based on recipes in the Luton Hoo ‘Pumpkin and Apple Gala Cookbook’, bought from the Apple and Pumpkin Day five years ago and much used since…

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Savoury and sweet – this cookbook has recipes for the whole family to enjoy…

 

Pumpkin, Prawn and Coconut Soup

Ingredients

400ml can coconut milk

1 lemongrass stalk or several leaves, bruised

2 tsps Thai green curry paste

4 Kaffir lime leaves

500ml hot chicken stock

1 tbsp nam pla fish sauce

About 500g peeled pumpkin flesh, chopped

250g pack MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) prawns

Juice of 1 lime

1 chilli, deseeded and chopped

A bunch of shredded spring onions or chopped chives

Method

Add the coconut milk, Kaffri lime leaves and lemon grass to a pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the Thai green curry paste and hot stock. Stir gently until the paste has dissolved.

Add the pumpkin and simmer until tender (10-12 minutes). Add the prawns and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove the lemon grass and Kaffir lime leaves. Add lime juice and fish sauce to taste.

Serve topped with shredded spring onions/chives and chilli.

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Regular readers will know I am a Thai food lover. I love growing Thai veg and herbs and this soup used our lemongrass and Thai lime leaves as well as the pumpkin

 

 

Roast Pumpkin and Bramley Apple Soup

Ingredients

1 large pumpkin

2 tbsp olive oil

25g butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 small Bramley ( or other cooking) apple, peeled and chopped

700ml vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Cut pumpkin into quarters, scoop out seeds (rinse and save), brush flesh with olive oil and roast for 25 minutes at 180ºc or until flesh is soft. Once cool, scoop flesh out of skin.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the onion. Soften for 10 minutes without browning. Add stock and pumpkin flesh. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add the apple and simmer for a further 5 minutes until tender.

Blend the soup, add salt and pepper to taste and serve with natural yoghurt and ground black pepper.

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A wholesome warming soup for cold autumn evenings

 

As a tasty extra treat, the discarded pumpkin seeds can be toasted for 20-25 minutes at 180ºc spread out on an oiled baking tray. Remove from oven when toasted. Toss in seasoning and herbs or spices to taste (we used salt, pepper, cumin and paprika) and scoff as a pre-dinner snack.

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Toasted pumpkin seeds – no waste – great taste

The pumpkin and apple harvest adds a sparkle to October meals – there are so many delicious ways to make the most of these hearty ingredients

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My two little helpers enjoying the apple tunnel in a local orchard

For more apple recipes, try some tasty Apple and Cinnamon Butter, Spiced Crab Apple Jelly and Crab Apple Fruit Leathers or our family favourite Rhubarb and Apple Sponge.

If you have other cucurbits to use up, try Stuffed Summer Squash, Courgette and Chilli Cornbread or Courgette Tea Bread.

I’d love to hear about other favourite pumpkin and apple recipes – with all that pumpkin flesh going spare in the next few weeks, every delicious recipe counts. And if you’d like to explore more recipes with me, you can follow the blog below:

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Autumn Foraging In The RHS Forest Garden

“The mushrooms have arrived!” It was the cry everyone wanted to hear this afternoon as we finished arranging the forest garden plants and laying the woodland mulch. For the last couple of days the team, led by award-winning designer Jon Davies, have been creating an exciting forest garden installation at the RHS Autumn Show in the Lindley and Lawrence Halls, London. By tomorrow evening it will be completed for the preview and then the main show on Wednesday 25th and Thursday 26th October, when we’re all looking forward to chatting to visitors about the garden and its fascinating plants.

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The forest logs will harbour oyster and shittake mushrooms

The exhibit showcases the sustainable method of forest gardening – creating a self-supporting ecosystem based on natural woodland. Every plant has a role to play, either as a food source, for timber, medicine, material or providing support for other plants, by fixing nitrogen in the soil, creating shade or as ground cover to suppress weeds. In this way, the garden will be largely self-maintaining, lessening the need for human intervention and creating a diverse and resilient ecosystem. Forest gardens can be large areas, such as Martin Crawford’s seminal garden in Dartington, Totnes, but they can also be much more modest affairs like the one at the show, suitable for rural or urban areas in community spaces and private gardens.

One of the things I find fascinating about forest gardens is the way they combine a wide range of plants from across the world to create sustainable ecosystems. From Chilean wineberry (Aristotelia chilensis) to sausage vine (Holboellia coriacea) and society garlic (Tulbaghia violacae), the RHS Forest Garden celebrates exciting plants with a variety of uses. The garden has several areas with different growing conditions from the woodland floor, to a pond and boggy area, a woodland clearing and an open glade.

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Crab apples create so much colour and interest at this time of year

On entering the garden my eye is first drawn to the canopy of the magnificent forest pansy (Cercis canadensis) with its vibrant yellow cordate leaves. But difficult as it is to ignore the stunning autumn colours above, the woodland floor offers equally inspiring botanical beauties, just in miniature form. Ever since seeing them in Jon’s Hampton Court Forest Garden, I’ve been noticing and appreciating clover leaves wherever I’ve seen them and this garden includes some delicate purple and red forms of Trifolium repens which encourage the visitor to engage with the detail on the forest floor.

The journey through to the clearing leads past the pond area with a range of hosta, sedum and mint (all with edible leaves) and the umbels of skirret (Sium sisarum) with its sweet-tasting roots. Out of the water rise the impressive spathes of arum lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) in front of the fabulous red leaves of Viburnum dilatatum with its edible fruit and foliage.

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Creating the woodland clearing

Inside the clearing, the logs support a range of fungi including oyster and shittake mushrooms. The canopy is created by hazels, crab apples and hops, sausage vines and kiwi trailing up and over the wooden supports. This area has a lovely relaxing feel and creates a calm space in the heart of the garden.

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Hops (Humulus lupulus) festoon the woodland supports

On the far side of the forest garden, in a more open area, plants like the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), myrtle (Myrtus communis), sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) and the purple-leaved Japanese pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum) thrive. In this area, more unusual understorey edibles like yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) and hardy ginger (Zingiber mioga) offer opportunities for new taste sensations, whilst traditional ornamental shrubs like Mahonia aquifolium, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) remind us of the multi-functional nature of many of our garden plants.

It’s exciting that this year’s RHS Autumn Show has a garden of this nature at its heart, surrounded by organisations like the Permaculture Association, Pennard Plants (with its engaging display of edibles) and the Rabbit Pop-up Food Stall offering seasonally inspired food and drink made from sustainable and wild British ingredients. It also fits in well with current national initiatives such as the launch, this weekend, of the National Forest Garden Scheme (NFGS) which aims to bring us individually, and in our communities, to a new level of harmony and well-being through planting, eating from, and enjoying Forest Gardens. In our changing world, forest gardens, with their mix of sustainable methods and diversity of plant species, offer a real opportunity to work with the land, promote biodiversity and widen the range of edibles upon which we all rely.

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Slideshow of the finished garden

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Holding Back The Flood and The Urban Rain Garden

There is a new category of show garden at Hampton Court this year – ‘Gardens For A Changing World’. Each garden considers a challenge of our times and creates a design which will address the issue and offer solutions. Both The Urban Rain Garden and Streetscape’s Holding Back The Flood consider water management issues, exploring ways of conserving our precious supplies and preventing flooding.

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Will Williams has created an undulating flooded area around the alder trees

The youngest designer at the show, Will Williams (21) has created a symbolic garden which offers a way to prevent flood damage using alder trees (Alnus glutinosa) rather than relying on concrete barriers. The garden is inspired by the town of Pickering in North Yorkshire which was turned down for a twenty million pound grant despite its high flood risk. Needing alternative options and drawing on research from around the world, the inhabitants instigated a scheme to plant thousands of alders and create leaky dams to slow down and even prevent downstream flood water. If such lower cost, environmentally friendly and aesthetically sensitive options prove successful, it would be a positive way to approach the model predictions of a 35% rise in winter rainfall and a 25% increase in daily rainfall totals in some parts of the UK by 2080 (source: The role of woodland in flood control: a landscape perspective).

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Although not a conventional ‘garden’, I loved the reflections in the water and the space they gave you to approach the design in your own time and on your own terms

Another community aspect to this design was the construction team – all from Streetscape‘s team of landscape garden apprentices. As a social enterprise company, Streetscape provides apprenticeships for 18-25 year olds, helping them to build the skills, experience and attributes they need to fulfill their dreams and move into and retain work. This must have been a complex build with 52,000 litres of water to contain and nine alders to plant, but it all looks effortless and peaceful, showing the calm beauty of this ingenious, age-old water management system.

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An alder sapling establishing itself

As well as its beauty, the woodland approach to water management also scores highly on sustainability. Will has included miniature saplings around the garden to show how the alders would gradually spread to create a self-supporting ecosystem. The alders can survive up to three weeks submerged in deep water and even longer in boggy ground whilst the flooding recedes. As our climate changes over the next few decades, the research undertaken by organisations like the Forestry Commission, flood prevention schemes such as the one in Pickering and gardens like Will William’s all help to investigate practical solutions to an increasingly important issue.

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Will Williams enjoying the garden after a challenging build

The Urban Rain Garden also offers solutions to flash flooding, but this time within a domestic setting. I liked the realistic scale of the front and back gardens in this design – allowing visitors to imagine how the raised borders might work in a real setting.

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The back garden is bordered by beautiful raised beds with a hidden water management purpose

Designer Rhiannon Williams completed her Masters Degree in Landscape Architecture last year and has a keen interest in the subject of sustainability and water management. She explained that she designed the raised planters to step down in order to take water away from the house. As the water drains from planter to planter, the moisture levels reduce and the planting reflects this.

The water runs off the roof via downpipes and metal chains

In the planters nearest the downpipes, Rhiannon has included marginal plants such as the corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus), rough horsetail (Equisetum hyemale), arum lily (Zantedeschia ‘Crowborough) and Apache beads (Anemopsis californica) which will cope with raised water levels in periods of flash flooding.

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Water then drains from planter to planter

As the planters continue and become drier, the planting changes, moving from hostas (‘Devon Green’ and ‘Purple Heart’) to brighter perennials like sea holly (Eryngium ‘Big Blue’), Agapanthus ‘Navy Blue’, Salvia ‘Caradonna’, ‘Blue Note’, ‘Amistad’ and ‘Ostfriesland’, and Achillea ‘Anthea’.

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Mixed perennial planting towards the end of the garden

In times of heavy rainfall, water reaches the end of the bed system and drains into a tank beneath the garden where it can be stored to use in future times of drought. In this way the garden addresses the two key issues which are likely to become even more important over the next few years – flooding and drought, offering practical solutions in a realistic garden setting.

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The planting also proved popular with the pollinators

Holding Back The Flood and The Urban Rain Garden demonstrate ways in which gardeners and communities can use innovative, yet practical water management techniques to deal with flooding and drought. In a world where we are increasingly needing to address the challenges posed by climate change, ‘Gardens For A Changing World’ offer new ideas and solutions to give us inspiration and hope for the future.

If you’d like to read more about the RHS Hampton Court Gardens 2017, my other articles include:

London Glades: Forest Garden Solutions For Urban Spaces at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

12 Practical Ways To Create A Modern Kitchen Garden

and you can follow my blog below. Happy gardening  🙂

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London Glades: Forest Garden Solutions For Urban Spaces at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Sitting on top of the flowery mound with my bare feet in the chamomile I could be on a woodland hilltop, but beyond the medlar and hawthorn the bustle of Hampton Court Flower Show is just visible. What Jon Davies and Andreas Christodoulou of Future Gardens have achieved with London Glades is a space which excites the senses whilst calming the soul. Designed for a client who wants to re-engage with nature in a beautiful and wild setting, this garden creates a quiet sanctuary in busy urban surroundings. Almost every plant is edible and most are perennial and low maintenance, relying on the surrounding ecosystem for support.

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The fresh, green woodland in dappled shade

Jon told me they were inspired by Martin Crawford‘s forest garden in Devon and also the permaculture practised by Masanoba Fukuoka in Japan. London Glades feels like a botanical library of fascinating plants in a magical setting – from the shady planting of shuttlecock ferns (Matteuccia struthiopteris) with their edible newly-emerged fronds to the hilltop grasses and meadow flowers which were attracting the damselflies and hoverflies; the whole garden has a sense of being in the moment. Jon has purposely introduced some plants which are not at their best – some have gone over, others are not yet flowering, which creates credibility in a garden that values food production – from roots, leaves, buds and fruits as well as flowers – equally with aesthetics.

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The damselflies enjoying the garden as much as I am

The raised areas of the garden are constructed in the German tradition of ‘hugelkultur’ which roughly translates as ‘mound culture’. This involves creating mounds of wood and green waste covered with top soil to mirror the components of the woodland environment. As the material decays it creates a consistent long-term supply of nutrients for the plants which last for twenty years or longer. Heat is created by decomposition, allowing a longer growing season and as the wood breaks down, soil aeration is improved, thus removing the need to dig the beds. Water is absorbed by the mounds and released in drier periods, so irrigation should not be required, except in long periods of drought and they also sequester carbon from the atmosphere. So the ‘hugelkultur’ element of the garden works alongside the creation of a self-sustaining plant ecosystem to minimise the need for human intervention whilst maximising the environmental benefits.

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An example of hugelkultur to show how the mounds were constructed

The detail in the garden is magnificent and deserving of the Gold Medal it achieved. The spreading canopy of limes, crab apples and quince creates dappled shade under which the edible crops of horseradish, strawberries, fuchsia, bettony, skirret, masterwort and wineberries are thriving.

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Lush shady planting

On the mound, lychnis, monarda, oregano, rosemary, mint and chamomile add their aroma to the heady mix of damp woodland and warm hilltop scents.

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The mound is a peaceful and productive place to relax

Swales (carefully positioned ditches) collect water for the garden and are filled with moisture loving plants and logs growing shiitake mushrooms. Around the boundary of the garden is an edible hedge, providing berries and fruit for the client and food and habitat for wildlife. But it was the ground cover that drew me into the garden with an almost reverent feeling as I walked barefoot across the alternative lawn of heath pearlwort (Sagina subulata).

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The garden is cool and soft underfoot

This delightful evergreen carpet can withstand fairly heavy footfall, tolerates drought or moist conditions, has tiny white flowers in later spring and early summer, and feels soft and springy beneath the feet. Around the margins, a tapestry of other intricate ground cover plants like Leptinella squalida with its tiny fern-like fingers, succulent white stonecrop, red clover and low-growing thymes provide miniature vignettes in which the higher planting layers recede, leaving only the magnified colours and textures of the forest floor.

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Fascinating detail on the woodland floor

The dense matrix of planting in London Glades gives the garden a vibrant energy. The visitor is encouraged to move lightly around the space, stopping to sit and relax on one of the large smooth boulders, the only non-plant material in the garden. As I sat, I considered the other reason I felt at home in this garden – there is clearly an educational mission behind London Glades – to show an alternative to the traditional kitchen garden, to showcase how forest gardening can provide sustainable, wildly beautiful, productive spaces in an urban setting, and to offer an alternative way for gardens to connect us with the landscape.

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‘Taunton Deane’ perennial kale just below the mound

The message is conveyed subtly – at first glance the garden could appear to be a traditional woodland with just a few rhubarb and kale plants visible to the casual observer. However, London Glades offers practical ways to suit forest gardening to small, urban plots, using readily available plants and ingenious, yet traditional methods of landscaping and planting like ‘Hugelkultur’ and swales. Jon is hoping to relocate elements of the garden to Mind charity in Harringay, where it will no doubt continue to provide a peaceful environment and an educational resource.

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The winding path through London Glades

Owning a garden like London Glades would certainly be an education, but it would be a gentle, life-affirming way to engage with the land and the sustainable, low-maintenance approach would allow the client to develop their stewardship of their garden. I like this soft approach to learning and have followed similar lines in my own ‘hidden allotment‘ front garden which uses similar plants to my neighbours’ gardens and appears to follow traditional ornamental design, but incorporates many edibles which forest gardener Stephen Barstow would call ‘edimentals’. Jon explained that clients would receive a bespoke book with the initial chapters explaining the thinking behind forest gardening and the second half offering recipes to help with harvesting and using the ‘gourmet’ ingredients which would be available in the garden throughout the year.

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The beautiful, wood-bound guide book

This would be an invaluable resource in a process of learning about the plants and how to make use of them. London Glades takes you on an edible journey of discovery through different habitats and plant ecosystems. The stewardship of such a garden would be certainly be an inspiring and fulfilling adventure.

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Soft pink monarda creates a gentle atmosphere in the understorey

If you’d like to read more about edible and sustainable planting at Hampton Court over the next few days and follow my blog as I experiment with all manner of fruit, vegetables and herbs, do subscribe below…

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Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Not everyone reacts positively to all edible plants or other plant uses. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Greenfingers Charity Re-leaf Day

thumbnailGreenfingers is a national charity dedicated to supporting the children who spend time in hospices round the UK, along with their families, by creating inspiring gardens for them to relax in and enjoy. So far Greenfingers has created 51 inspiring gardens in children’s hospice around the country and has a waiting list of other hospices which need help.

I first heard about Greenfingers when I found out they are currently building a garden at our local children’s hospice – Keech Hospice in Luton. I often visit the shop in Hitchin town centre and the charity is regularly the focus of local fundraising efforts, so it’s lovely to think that children at the hospice, and their families, will soon be able to access a new garden for therapeutic rest and relaxation.

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Work begins at Keech Hospice in early February 2017

Over the next few months the charity is organising several fundraising events and the first takes place in Cambridge on Re-Leaf Day, 17th March.  The Great Garden Re-leaf Walk involves a 10/20 mile walk from Scotsdale Garden Centre in Horningsea to Great Shelford, where hundreds of energetic supporters including Scotsdale Garden Centre staff, Peter Jackson, BBC Radio Cambridge gardening expert, local residents and gardening industry professionals from all across the country will be enjoying a Spring walk through Cambridge to raise fund for children’s hospice gardens.

Gardening experts from Mr Fothergill’s Seeds, Newmarket and pot and container experts from Cadix and Elho as well as gardening glove experts Briers, will be on the walk ready to talk gardening advice with all walkers. SBM Life Science, Cambridge who market well-known ranges of garden fertilisers and control products will be sponsoring the walk and providing 200 commemorative medals for all fund-raising walkers.

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Some of last year’s Re-Leaf Day walkers

Members of the public are welcome to join the walk free of charge – as long as they sign up to personally raise funds for Greenfingers Charity. At the end of the walk there will be tea and cake, a barbecue and a chance to watch Triathlete, Heidi Towse, complete a 20 mile row on a static rowing machine at the finish line. Thanks to Young’s Coach Company, Ely, the day will start with a luxury free ride from Scotsdale Garden Centre at Great Shelford to the start point at Horningsea.

In 2016, Greenfingers Charity benefitted by more than £140k from Re-Leaf Day, the most successful appeal so far and the hope is that this year will break that record and enable more gardens to be built for hospices currently on the waiting list. If you can’t make the walk, there are lots of other activities you could support. Alan Down, owner of Cleeve nurseries, Bristol, will be opening the gates to his private collection of Hellebores to a small group of gardeners to raise funds.

Before and after – Bluebell Wood, Sheffield, completed in October 2016

Garden centres and nurseries all around the country are participating in the 24hr plant-athon (to find your nearest, use the area search), including Aylett Nurseries, St Albans, who are having a Mad Hatter’s Day with a talk from Pippa Greenwood, Squires Garden Centre, Hersham with an Afternoon Tea Party and Millbrook’s, Gravesend, who have a whole weekend of activities planned (children’s activities, Our Amazing Animal World Experience, planting demonstrations, a coffee and cake morning and an evening with plant hunter Tom Hart-Dyke described as the ‘new David Bellamy’) with all proceeds going directly to Greenfingers.

Little Havens Hospice Garden in Essex

With so many exciting gardening activities going on up and down the country on Re-Leaf Day, there should be something for everyone to join in with, or you can hold a Char-i-TEA Garden Tea Party in your garden, allotment or work in the summer – anything from a simple cake sale, to a cuppa with a slice of homemade cake or even an elaborate high tea worthy of Downton Abbey. With fundraising kits available to help hosts with everything from tickets to cake recipes, it couldn’t be easier to get together and raise funds for new hospice gardens. To find out how you can get involved, you can contact Greenfingers by email: Teaparty@greenfingerscharity.org.uk or call the fundraising team on 01494674749.

Nationwide Plant-athon activities in 2016

It’s also possible to donate to Greenfingers Charity via JustGiving by following the link at the top right-hand side of their homepage. Greenfingers aims to build four new gardens during 2017 and, subject to successful fundraising this year, to plan and complete a further three next year. The locations will stretch North from Luton to Loch Lomond and west from Grimsby to Oxford. Creating inspiring gardens for life-limited children and their families to enjoy is such a important and worthwhile cause – I’ll be donning my apron when warmer weather returns to bake some gluten-free cakes for my friends and family in a FUNdraising effort to support the work of this marvellous charity.

Images courtesy of Greenfingers Charity.

Show The Love With A Green Heart

February is ‘Show the Love’ month. People across the country are wearing and sharing green hearts to show our love for the natural world in the face of climate change. ‘Show The Love’ is run by the Climate Change coalition, a Non-Governmental Organisation dedicated to action on climate change made up of 100+ member groups with over 15 million members all over the UK. On the Climate Change Coalition website there’s an interactive map showing activities around the UK and places where green hearts are available. There are some interesting mini-stories, with links to more detailed articles on the way climate change might affect such varied topics as tea, the arctic, herons, coffee, gardening, coral reefs, bluebells, hot summers and chocolate.

As a tea-drinking, bird-watching gardener the facts behind these stories make for uncomfortable reading, but obviously there’s much more to it than that. It’s about respect, about safeguarding our planet for ourselves, our wildlife and those who will inherit our world with all its wonders and all its problems. On the Climate Coalition website you can sign up to be part of campaigns or you can follow the campaign on Facebook or Twitter. Individual member organisations also often have campaigns which you can sign up to – helping spread the word and increase pressure on politicians by writing letters and joining peaceful protests.

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Show the Love for our natural world

I’ve struggled recently, like many others, to maintain a positive attitude in the face of political and environmental news. The relationship between humankind and the natural world, and our understanding of its importance, not just to our emotional well-being but to our survival as a species, seems to be degenerating by the day. Thinking about these big issues is overwhelming, leading at times to paralysis, a state where depression can affect the ability to act. So I’ve been trying to focus on the positives, trying to stay rooted in the here and now, concentrating on actions I can undertake which make a small difference.

I think about all the people around the country volunteering in community gardens, in public spaces where people can engage with nature and focus on its importance in our lives. Our community garden helps local people develop relationships with plants and the natural world. This is just a small step towards avoiding ‘plant blindness’ – a lack of awareness of the fundamental role plants play in feeding us, helping maintain our environment and treat our diseases. I think about my kids and the primary school children I work with, about the way nature opens their eyes, connecting them with the natural world – its beauty, complexity and importance.

I’ve been focusing on just two or three organisations which I can support by donating and writing campaign letters, rather than feeling I somehow have to support every cause and fight every corner. I don’t feel that focusing on the positives is evasion or delusion – it’s a coping strategy which allows me to continue fighting whilst maintaining a degree of sanity and a better quality of life.

What are your coping strategies and how helpful have you found them? What do you think are the most important steps individuals can take towards improving the way we view and safeguard wildlife and the environment? 

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I picked ivy for my green heart as it epitomises the every day plants which surround me. They aren’t unusual but they form the basis of my love of nature…

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Pumpkin and Apple Season: Two Warming Autumn Soups

Facebook has just reminded me that five years ago I spent the day at the Luton Hoo Pumpkin and Apple Day, retreating from the crowds from time to time to sit on the haystacks and feed my 6 month old daughter. Today I have been in the town square enjoying our community garden Apple Day. We’ve been selling apples, pears, quinces and our juice (made with windfalls and unwanted apples collected from local gardens and orchards), running craft workshops for the children and chatting to Hitchin shoppers about all things apple related.

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Some of the varieties that have been available for shoppers to try and buy today

Within a couple of hours many of the apple varieties had sold out

Throughout October our house has had an underlying scent of apples – cooking apples stewing, crab apples boiling for jelly and cupboards full of apple boxes stored for eating or cooking later in the year. Our recently harvested quinces have added to the aroma and at the Stotfold Steam Fair last weekend we bought a mammoth pumpkin from a local grower. This has pleased the kids no end as last year I was late to the shops and we ended up celebrating Hallowe’en with a carved watermelon (on the grounds that any cucurbit was better than no cucurbit!)

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You’d never have known that our Hallowe’en cat (designed by my son) was carved out of a watermelon!

There’s no doubt that October brings the excitement of the autumn harvest and related festivities, but it also brings wastage on a grand scale as much of the pumpkin flesh removed prior to carving goes straight in the bin. Sara Venn, co-founder of Incredible Edible Bristol, highlighted this waste at the beginning of the week in her article ‘Please don’t play with your food…’ with the appalling figure that 80,000 tonnes of pumpkin flesh went to landfill in 2014. She has been blogging with pumpkin recipes all week and has asked readers and fellow bloggers to add their recipes and ideas to the mix. So here are some pumpkin soup recipes with a bit of apple thrown in for good measure. The spices in the first soup and sweetness of the apple in the second help to add flavour to commercial Hallowe’en pumpkins bred for size and colour, not for taste. The soups are based on recipes in the Luton Hoo ‘Pumpkin and Apple Gala Cookbook’, bought from the Apple and Pumpkin Day five years ago and much used since…

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Savoury and sweet – this cookbook has recipes for the whole family to enjoy…

 

Pumpkin, Prawn and Coconut Soup

Ingredients

400ml can coconut milk

1 lemongrass stalk or several leaves, bruised

2 tsps Thai green curry paste

4 Kaffir lime leaves

500ml hot chicken stock

1 tbsp nam pla fish sauce

About 500g peeled pumpkin flesh, chopped

250g pack MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) prawns

Juice of 1 lime

1 chilli, deseeded and chopped

A bunch of shredded spring onions or chopped chives

Method

Add the coconut milk, Kaffri lime leaves and lemon grass to a pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the Thai green curry paste and hot stock. Stir gently until the paste has dissolved.

Add the pumpkin and simmer until tender (10-12 minutes). Add the prawns and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove the lemon grass and Kaffir lime leaves. Add lime juice and fish sauce to taste.

Serve topped with shredded spring onions/chives and chilli.

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Regular readers will know I am a Thai food lover. I love growing Thai veg and herbs and this soup used our lemongrass and Thai lime leaves as well as the pumpkin

 

 

Roast Pumpkin and Bramley Apple Soup

Ingredients

1 large pumpkin

2 tbsp olive oil

25g butter

1 small onion, chopped

1 small Bramley ( or other cooking) apple, peeled and chopped

700ml vegetable stock

Salt and pepper to taste

Method

Cut pumpkin into quarters, scoop out seeds (rinse and save), brush flesh with olive oil and roast for 25 minutes at 180ºc or until flesh is soft. Once cool, scoop flesh out of skin.

Melt the butter in a pan and add the onion. Soften for 10 minutes without browning. Add stock and pumpkin flesh. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add the apple and simmer for a further 5 minutes until tender.

Blend the soup, add salt and pepper to taste and serve with natural yoghurt and ground black pepper.

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A wholesome warming soup for cold autumn evenings

 

As a tasty extra treat, the discarded pumpkin seeds can be toasted for 20-25 minutes at 180ºc spread out on an oiled baking tray. Remove from oven when toasted. Toss in seasoning and herbs or spices to taste (we used salt, pepper, cumin and paprika) and scoff as a pre-dinner snack.

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Toasted pumpkin seeds – no waste – great taste

The pumpkin and apple harvest adds a sparkle to October meals – there are so many delicious ways to make the most of these hearty ingredients

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My two little helpers enjoying the apple tunnel in a local orchard

For more apple recipes, try some tasty Apple and Cinnamon Butter, Spiced Crab Apple Jelly and Crab Apple Fruit Leathers or our family favourite Rhubarb and Apple Sponge.

If you have other cucurbits to use up, try Stuffed Summer Squash, Courgette and Chilli Cornbread or Courgette Tea Bread.

I’d love to hear about other favourite pumpkin and apple recipes – with all that pumpkin flesh going spare in the next few weeks, every delicious recipe counts. And if you’d like to explore more recipes with me, you can follow the blog below:

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The Bee’s Knees

Earlier this year I decided to focus on pollinators at the school summer fete plant stall and since then I’ve been a little obsessed with growing and learning about plants which give our pollinators a helping hand. I’ve been raising a small army of dwarf sunflowers from seed (Helianthus annus ‘Little Leo’ and ‘Waooh!’), dividing garden plants like Echinacea purpurea and Monarda didyma, and still have Nasturtium and Marigolds (both Calendula officinalis and Tagetes patula) to sow.

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Some of the sunflower army ready for pricking out and potting on

I’m planning on creating a pollinator quiz at the fete to encourage the children to think about the role of insects in our lives. Entries with correct answers will be entered into a draw to win a ‘make your own bug hotel’, which will hopefully give one of the children the chance to get up close with pollinating insects in their own garden. We’re also taking a class of students to a local community pollinator garden so they can learn a little more about these important insects and then help the volunteers plant sunflowers in the meadow. The plan is to use these nutrient and moisture hungry plants to reduce the fertility of the soil ready to sow a wildflower meadow for pollinators later in the year.

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Pollinator fun for the kids

My daughter and I had fun a couple of days ago creating a butterfly bath next to the bird bath so our welcome visitors could drink without danger of submersion. The back garden currently houses two bee and insect hotels, one made by the kids and one given to us, to try and encourage as many pollinators as possible. I have also tried providing sugar solution on a sponge, but without much take up, so perhaps that’s an aspect of our hostelry skills which needs honing this summer.

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The pollinator and bird baths – apologies to the birds as theirs needs a bit of a clean!

 

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Last year’s homemade bug hotel

 

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And the deluxe version

Then today, the bee’s knees – quite literally, as we noticed that solitary bees were building nests in our new green roof binstore. I’d put holes of different sizes in the side of the wooden supports when we built it in the hope that the bees would find it accommodating. We’d previously found one hole blocked up with mud which told us that bees were using the holes to lay eggs. When we were in the front garden today laying the gravel, there were several bees investigating and filling the holes. In fact, in between leaving this afternoon for the allotment and returning, another hole had been filled.

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This one’s taken, mate…

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The completed bee nest

During the day we laid gravel on the side garden which now only needs a few extra plants adding when the weather gets a bit cooler, and started the dinosaur garden in the allotment (more on both of these projects in another post.) Sunshine, three generations of helpers and lots of laughter ensured a good time all round, and the bees were a lovely addition to a fun and satisfying day.

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This bee spent ages trying to decide which hole it preferred

Around the World in 6 Garden Cities

Volunteering is fun. I enjoy meeting people from different walks of life in an outdoor environment, having a laugh, consuming tea and biscuits (why does tea always taste so much nicer outside?) and leaving an area tidier, more attractive or more productive than it was before we started. A couple of weeks ago we began a particularly exciting project which involves planting a new garden designed to celebrate Garden Cities around the world. The project, based at Standalone Farm in Letchworth Garden City, is a collaboration between the RHS and the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, supported by Arch Community Group. It is the second such garden to be built at the farm.

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The beginnings of a new garden

Community Garden Spirit

Last summer volunteers and staff worked hard to transplant many elements of the Hampton Court Flower Show ‘In Bloom’ garden, celebrating 50 years of the RHS community gardening campaign, to the farm grounds. At the end of last year work began on an adjoining piece of land in preparation for the new International Garden Cities Garden. The hard landscaping team persevered throughout the wettest December on record, to complete a stunning framework ready for planting to begin in the spring.

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Refuelling in progress…

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Our littlest volunteer resting in the sunshine

 

International Garden Cities

David Ames, Head of Heritage and Strategic Planning for the Heritage Foundation, explains that the project explores the influence of Letchworth Garden City (the first garden city) on gardens and gardening in towns across the world. The garden includes representations of garden cities in Australia, Brazil, South Africa, China, Germany and the UK. Designed by Charlotte Liu, each of the six areas showcases plants from the different countries. The Australia garden uses native plants such as Eucalyptus gunnii, Ozothamnus rosmarinifolius ‘Silver Jubilee’ (formally Helichrysum rosmarinifolius) and Brachyscome iberidifolia (an annual herb found in Western Australia), whilst the Brazilian garden includes South American favourites such as Alstroemeria ‘Apollo’, Stipa tenuissima and Tropaeolum majus (Nasturtium). (More on the design of the different areas in later posts focusing on the individual countries.)

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Performance area in the Australian garden

The garden will also include other elements such as a dry pebble area and small wooden bridge in ‘China’ which creates the illusion of being beside a lake. This aspect of the garden follows traditional Chinese design principles by mimicking the natural environment.

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Planting begins in the ‘China’ dry lake area

In ‘Germany’, raised beds explore the concept of the Schrebergarten – German allotment gardens which enable urban citizens access to land on which they can grow their own crops.

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Schrebergarten raised beds filled with plants for the garden

 

An Interactive Garden

Each country also has an interactive section, many of which are designed for children. These include a giant sandpit, a teaching and performance raised deck surrounded by large rocks for seating, and areas where visitors can learn to grow their own herbs and other crops. Interpretation boards in each section will give more information about the countries and their links to the garden cities movement (initiated by Ebenezer Howard in 1898 with his publication of To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform and realised with the building of the first garden city in Letchworth, begun in 1903). The boards will also have information about the different ways in which visitors can volunteer and participate in the garden.

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Sandpit waiting to be filled

Garden in Progress

All 25 volunteers worked in the garden throughout the day planting up many of the areas and the weather treated us well, only starting to drizzle at 5pm when we were packing up. I met new people and caught up with friends I’ve not seen much over the winter months. There was a shared sense of purpose as we added to the character of the garden plant by plant, until by the end of the day there was a definite outline emerging. There are still plants waiting to go in, a wooden bridge to be added, raised beds to be filled and tender specimens to nurture under protection until it is their time to shine, but the garden is no longer just a concept – it is almost a reality.

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Planting begins in the Letchworth Garden City area

Many of the volunteers will return throughout the year, supporting the garden maintenance programme, helping with events and chatting about the garden with visitors. The farm is a favourite location for many local families (mine included) and the new gardens will give visitors the opportunity to learn about nature as well as the ways in which Letchworth has influenced town planning across the world. As the designer, Charlotte Liu, says ‘People have always desired a closeness with nature and this is fundamental to the idea of the garden city. Letchworth has shown the world that you can live in nature.’

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The new International Garden Cities Garden is due to open in June

For more information about international garden cities visit the International Garden Cities Institute website at http://www.garden-cities-exhibition.com/institute/ and for information about the world’s first garden city visit the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation website at http://www.letchworth.com/heritage-foundation.

Farm activity and opening information can be found at http://www.standalonefarm.com/

 

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More plants arriving

 

 

With thanks to Christian Trampenau and the Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation for permission to use some of the images in this article.

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