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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

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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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