Book Review: RHS Plants From Pips and The Little Book of Hygge

A cosy window seat has to be the best place to curl up with a cup of tea and a good book. As a child, I preferred to read near the top of our tall Scots Pine, with a Famous Five and an apple from the garden. Now I favour the cushion strewn window seat in the lounge  which overlooks the front garden. When we redecorated, I wanted to recreate the feeling I had as a child reading endless stories on a little sheepskin covered window seat overlooking the fields and woods in a Scottish holiday cottage. I’ve recently discovered there’s a word to describe that feeling – ‘hygge’ – a Danish word roughly translated as an atmosphere of warmth, relaxation, security and love or even ‘cosiness of the soul’¹. Snuggled in the corner of my window seat, I am connected to the outside world but protected from cold winds and rain (increasingly important with winter looming), there’s room for a selection of books and magazines, and a cup of tea and piece of cake on the window ledge. I have my own secluded nook, a hyggekrog: a place to relax and find inspiration, before re-entering the frenetic, demanding, yet delightful world which revolves around my two young children and my work.

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My hyggekrog

Bookish Hygge

Looking along the window ledge, my book selection currently includes H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, The Well-Tempered Gardener by Christopher Lloyd, The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking, The Twins at St Claire’s by Enid Blyton (I’ve been raiding the children’s shelves again), A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer, The Ash Tree by Oliver Rackham and RHS Plants From Pips by Holly Farrell. The last title was a happy chance find in the library with the kids last week, lost for a while between Harry and the Robots and Emily Prickleback’s Clever Idea and finally resurfacing a few days ago. Its subtitle is ‘Pots of Plants for the Whole Family to Enjoy’ and I like the rustic style of the images, the range of ‘pips’ which can be nurtured into interesting house plants (from avocados to dragon fruit and pomegranates) and the clear instructions, equally suitable for the beginner or the more experienced grower.

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A little light reading

 

Childhood Hygge

My children (4 and 7) enjoyed looking at the pictures in RHS Plants From Pips showing how seeds grow and how they are dispersed. We chatted about which fruits they were familiar with and which new ones we might try (since then they’ve tasted their first pomegranate and both enjoyed it very much.) Several of the pips appealed to them – avocados, olives and lemons, but we decided to start with a peanut in a clear container so we can watch the new peanuts develop beneath the surface. Farrell rates each pip for ‘easiness’ (of growing) and the ‘patience’ required. The peanut scores 1 for each, which is good because the kids are neither patient nor particularly adept at growing plants yet. The method is relatively simple – soak the peanuts in water for 12 hours, sow in pots in pre-watered compost and place in a warm, sunny spot. Germination takes 2-3 weeks. As the kids watch the plants developing, they should be able to see the leaves folding up at night and the flowers growing downwards into the compost where they will produce new peanuts. They will be nurturing a new life and learning about the ingenuity of the plant kingdom.

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Shelling and soaking the peanuts

Botanical Hygge

As well as the chapter on ‘How Plants Grow’, RHS Plants From Pips also has sections on how to grow your pips successfully, how to repot, plant out and what pests, diseases and other problems you might encounter. There is also useful advice on how to restrict growth – particularly relevant as some of the plants would grow to a considerable size in natural conditions. A plant like the papaya (Carica papaya) is suggested as suitable as a ‘novelty plant for a single season’² due to its fast growth habit and full height of 3.5m, whereas mango (Mangifera indica) can be restricted by removing the top bud/leaves and tips of stems to keep it well below its natural height of 2m. By differentiating in this way, it is easy to choose a plant which will suit the position and space available. Most of the plants from pips are unlikely to fruit because their natural habitats differ greatly from household conditions, but they can make unusual houseplants which will give pleasure for many years and the act of experimentation is a valuable and interesting one, especially for children.

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The peanut in its homemade transparent plant pot

Community Hygge

In The Little Book of Hygge, Wiking describes five ways to achieve summer hygge, number three being ‘Join or Build a Community Garden’. This acknowledges the hyggelig (hygge-inducing) aspect of taking the time to tend crops, get together as a neighbourhood and develop a sense of community spirit. Hygge is about relaxing with friends and loved ones after a day’s hard work outside, eating hearty food and having a drink together. These are all things I value about gardening, whether in the community garden or with my own family in the garden or allotment.

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Hygge, when it’s cold outside, is a cup of assam, a stack of novels and botanical books, and some time to devour them…

Family Hygge

Not everyone has access to a garden, allotment or community growing space, but anyone can have a go at growing a plant from a pip – a free resource which would otherwise be thrown away. Everyone can experience the excitement of seeing an embryonic shoot emerge and the seed leaves unfurl. Watching such miraculous beginnings can spark a lifelong passion for plants and establish the foundation for plant hygge in adulthood. When my children experience the natural world as adults, I hope they will have just such a store of memories to draw upon. The call of a buzzard, eating raspberries with red fingers, the smell of apples stewing and the first spring bulbs emerging have all created moments of hygge in my life. In the same way that I get the kids involved in cooking with crops from the garden and allotment so they can share the satisfaction of producing a tasty meal for the family, so I want them to share the pleasure that I get from watching plants grow. Plants From Pips is a great, accessible way to share this experience and create warm family memories for the future.

1. The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking, page 6

2. RHS Plants From Pips, Holly Farrell, page 68

 

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Grow your way to happiness…

It’s not been the easiest time in my life, but the past 5 years have been the making of me – mentally and physically. I’ve been a full-time mum for 7 years, having left the teaching profession to focus on being with the kids in their formative years. I’ve loved being at home, but have also had to deal with illness, culminating in a diagnosis of coeliac disease. Compared to what many people have to cope with it hasn’t been too bad, but it has still required a change of mindset and re-education where food and cooking is concerned.

During this time gardening has been a really positive force in my life and has inspired me to follow a new direction – training as a garden designer and setting up as a gardening blogger and writer. I’ve also become involved in several community garden projects including The Wynd Garden, The ‘In Bloom’ Garden and The International Garden Cities Garden in Letchworth, and the Triangle Community Garden in Hitchin. Through my volunteering I’ve seen how gardening can help people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to develop confidence, overcome problems and enjoy a meaningful relationship with the natural world.

I’ve recently had an article published in Free-From Heaven (a great magazine with endless lovely healthy recipes and stories) and hope it might help others to grow their way to happiness. I’m not sure I’m a prolific gardener and I don’t spend much time crimping pasties, but apart from that it’s all true!

The full text is reproduced below the image – do leave me a comment below with feedback and let me know how gardening/cooking has influenced your life. Thanks.

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My Free-From Life…

Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be up at dawn, exploring the natural world at its most active, listening to the dawn chorus and engaging with the day in its infancy. In reality most mornings I struggled to rise for work, or in the early days of motherhood, to soothe night-time toddler traumas. And much as I loved interacting with my kids, games, for me, were generally conducted from the sofa rather than the floor.

Then five years ago I was diagnosed with coeliac disease, like my father five years previously and slowly I began to understand the reasons why my expectations so far exceeded my abilities. I was tested because of my family history and registered positive in both the blood test and a biopsy. Initially we thought I was asymptomatic, but after a year on a gluten-free diet I realised other people didn’t try harder than me to get out of bed in the morning – they just had more energy than I did. My general health and energy levels, which I’d never thought of questioning, improved rapidly.

Over the past five years I’ve rearranged my life around new rules. I generally choose not to eat out as I’m extremely sensitive to gluten and have had a couple of bad experiences in the past, so as a full-time mum I turned to my house and garden, to growing, harvesting and cooking my own food as a way of regaining control of my life. Using my gradually developing energies, I learned to create the kind of food I feared I’d be missing now eating out was off the menu.

Initially I used the garden to provide ingredients for my cooking, but it quickly became something greater, an inspiration, an education and a growing passion. My garden became a haven, somewhere I felt comfortable, but also somewhere I was finally able to develop my relationship with the natural world. I started laying the first border into the grass at a stage where I could only manage an hour’s digging before retreating to bed, then laid paths, developed flower borders, nature areas and set up a productive, although small, fruit cage and three vegetable beds. As a family space, the garden gives us a base for finding essential oddments for craft activities, gardening with the children (as I write, they have a thriving bed filled with carrots, oca and enthusiastic nasturtiums) and a willow den, which my father and I built using willow whips, and which now can entirely absorb passing small children into its frondy interior in summer games of hide-and-seek.

Produce from the garden has been an inspiration in my cooking. As I’ve begun to master gluten-free cakes, biscuits and a variety of different pastries, the garden has provided. It has offered vegetables for Cornish pasties, raspberries and alpine strawberries for adding magic to cupcakes with the kids and baskets of fruit which my husband carefully transforms into jellies, jams and chutneys to see us through the winter. As my confidence in gluten-free cooking has grown, I have begun to create more ambitious foods. Birthdays now always mean a big gluten-free cake – anything from rainbow cakes to flower garden cakes and even an entirely gluten-free gingerbread house! Most normal recipes need a little alteration, but we think my cakes and biscuits are generally pretty similar to gluten alternatives.

Bread is the latest challenge – one of our New Year’s resolutions for 2016. Soda bread has been very successful, especially when eaten on the day it’s made – with a homemade soup based on seasonal vegetables from the garden. My first focaccia attempt would have been extremely useful as a building material, but had little culinary merit. Since then I’ve experimented with different flours, psyllium husks and flax seeds. The results are slowly improving and I’m hopeful that a soft, tasty loaf with plenty of added fibre is just around the corner. Perfect to spread with home-grown jam or to make into a cheese and mayonnaise sandwich, with salad freshly picked from the garden.

I no longer feel the need to rise at dawn because I now engage with the world in a more immediate way. I’m out there, doing what I love, greeting the days with renewed energy, grateful for my new life and my good health.

 

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If you’d like to get involved with volunteering in your local area there are many community gardens throughout the UK. The BBC has a list of local gardening projects, the RHS runs the Britain in Bloom and It’s your Neighbourhood projects which offer local volunteering opportunities and the social and therapeutic gardening charity Thrive also has four community gardens around the country supported by local volunteers.

With thanks to my friends and family for their support and to all the garden volunteers who give so much and make so much of a difference.

 

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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