Monday, September 30, 2013

Edible Hedges

Calamondin - a fantastic dense bush in the citrus family with fruit that makes the best marmalade and candied fruits.

Not all of us have acreage and maximizing your garden space can sometimes be a challenge - but also a lot of fun when you let your ideas evolve and then just take off - especially when you realize you can have a hedge and eat it too!  Hedges make a softer option to fencing and walls with an infinite number of plants and combinations to choose from that create a beautiful green and productive boundary to your garden.  Just think of your hedge as part of your food garden!

The Feijoa is a very underused hedging plant - it has attractive contrasting silver/grey foliage, beautiful flowers and sweet, tasty fruit.  It is also very easy to grow and tolerant of a wide range of conditions.

This topic started with a question from a lady browsing my plant stall yesterday "Did I have any hedging plants"?  When I discovered that she was living on a suburban block with limited space I suggested that she think about using edible plants for the hedge - well, her face was like a light bulb coming on.  After she had said "Well, my husband won't like it, but I think it's a wonderful idea" she asked me the loaded question "What do you suggest?".  I hate to think that I may responsible for some local marital rift, but here goes!

NOTE:  This list is suitable for anyone living in the tropics/sub-tropics.  I'm afraid you will have to do your own research for other areas.  I have deliberately excluded many plants that may be a wonderful food source but are invasive and can present 'weed' problems. A lot of plants do have the ability to seed/sucker/spread (like elderberry and curry leaf tree) but you just have be a responsible gardener and try and keep it contained within your patch.

The Lemon Myrtle (an Australian native) is gaining popularity as a versatile bush tucker plant - I just love to use it for making a very refreshing tea.  It's a compact small tree that is ideal for hedging with clouds of creamy-white flowers in early summer.

NOTE ABOUT ROSES:  I'm a sucker for roses!  There is nothing quite like the romance, fragrance and sight of roses blooming in the garden and the delight of a vase of freshly picked roses for the table.  Roses for the sub-tropics you might say, but there are plenty of wonderful varieties coming on the market all the time that have been bred for specific conditions.  Two David Austin roses meet that criteria Jude the Obscure - a beautiful apricot shrub rose, and Papa Meilland - a wonderful deep crimson tea rose rose, just perfect for making rose petal jam and ice cream.  And, don't forget about the old fashioned rugosa roses for including in your hedge - extremely hardy with wonderful bright red hips for making jams and syrups.
Jude the Obscure - a wonderfully fragrant shrub rose for the sub-tropics

A NATIVE HEDGE:  There is absolutely no reason why lots of varieties of flowering and fruiting natives cannot be incorporated into your hedge to provide habitat and food source for local fauna.  You will just have to consult your native nursery for a complete list of suitable local species.  I would not be without the grevilleas, melaleucas, leptospermums, lomandras and hakeas in my garden for attracting the wonderful array of birds that visit daily.

The Australian natives from the list below are the Midyim Berry, Finger Lime,  Lemon and Aniseed Myrtles.
Scarlet honeyeater having a feast from my grevillea hedge (this is 'Robyn Gordon')

THE DWARF OPTION:  Bear in mind that many of the fruit trees now available for the home garden have been grafted to create dwarf varieties - which means that you can have just about anything you your heart desires!

PRUNING AND SHAPING:  If you have limited space your hedge will need regular pruning to reduce its width and height - it's better to start this regime when the plant is young to encourage dense growth.  Espalier - or training plants so that they create a vertical flat shape - has long been a method used by gardeners to grow fruit trees and hedges in limited spaces.  Plants from the list below that would be suitable are; all the citrus, bay, curry leaf tree, elderberry, feijoa, roses, tea camellia and hibiscus.

Jaboticaba - an unusual small tree that does well in the sub-tropics with delicious, nutritious fruit - it flowers and fruits up the stem (this is cauliflorie!)

Common Name Botanical Name Height Features
Acerola Cherry Malpighia emarginata 2m Fruit
Aloe Vera Aloe vera <.5m Border/leaves/medicinal
Avacado (dwarf) Persica americana 2m Fruit
Babaco Carica pentagona 3m Fruit/preserves
Basil (perennial) Ocimum sp. .5m Border/leaves
Bay Tree Laurus nobilis 1m Border/leaves
Calamondin Citrofortunella microcarpa >2m Fruit/flowers
Cape Gooseberry Physalis peruviana 1m Border/fruit
Carambola Averrhoa carambola >3m Fruit
Casana Cyphomandra cajanumensis 2-3m Yellow tamarillo
Cassava Manihot esculenta 1.5m Leaves/tuber
Chlli Capsicum sp. >1m Border/fruit
Comfrey Symphytum officinale .5m Border/leaves
Cumquat Fortunella margarita 'Nagami' 2m Fruit/fresh/preserves
Curry Leaf Tree Murraya koenigii >2m Leaves/Asian cooking
Dragon Fruit Hylocereus sp. 1m Fruit
Elderberry Sambucus nigra 2m Berries/flowers
Feijoa Feijoa sellowiana 1.5m Fruit/preserves
Finger Lime Citrus australasica 1-2m Fruit/seimi-shade
Galangal Alpinia galanga 1.5m Rhizome/leaves/Asian
Jaboticaba Myrciara cauliflora 3m Fruit
Kaffir Lime Citrus hystrix >2m Leaves/fruit
Kei Apple Dovyalis caffra 3m Fruit
Lemon (dwarf) Citrus limon 2-3m Fruit/flowers
Lemon Grass Cymbopogon citrates >1m Border/tea/Asian food
Lemon Myrtle Backhousia citriodora 3m Bush tucker/tea
Lemon Verbena Aloysia citriodora 1m Border/leaves/medicinal
Lime Citrus aurantifolia 2.5m Fruit/flowers
Mandarin (dwarf) Citrus reticulata 2-3m Fruit/flowers
Mango (dwarf) Mangifera indica 2m Fruit/preserves
Midyim Berry Austromyrtus dulcis 2m Shrub/fruit
Natal Plum Carissa grandiflora 3-4m Fruit
Paw Paw/Papaya Carica papaya 3m Fruit/preserves
Pomegranate Punica granatum var. 'Nana' 2m Fruit/flowers
Red Hibiscus Hibiscus rosa-sinensis >2m Flowers/tea
Rose Rosa sp. >1.5m Flowers/preserves
Rosella Hibiscus sabdariffa 1.5m Shrub/desserts/jellies
Rosemary Rosmarinus officianalis >1m Leaves/flowers/herb
Scented Geraniums Pelargonium sp. >1m Leaves/Medicinal
Tamarillo Solanum betaceum 2m Fruit
Tea Camellia sinensis 2m Tea/deserts
Yacon Polimnia soncifolia 1.5m Tuber

TALL SKINNIES:  These are the plants that don't take up much room and fit in between other plants; yacon (this dies down in the winter), paw paw, tamarillo, casana and babaco.

ASIAN COOKING BORDER (for the semi-shade):  This is a useful list as just about everything else requires sun - although I have found that most of the citrus on this list will fruit quite happily with some shade; curry leaf tree, lime, paw paw, galangal, kaffir lime, chilli (taller bushes like long red and lantern chillies) with a front border of turmeric (also dies down in the winter.  The value of having your own galangal, turmeric and ginger, for that matter, is that you can pick - or should I say dig - as required.
Golly, gosh - I forgot the pineapple Ananas comosus - happily doing its own thing in my Asian food hedgery.  To cultivate, simply plant the green top from the fruit of a pineapple and watch it grow - takes 2-3 years to fruit but is worth it - no pineapple you have ever eaten will taste like a home grown one.

(I can feel that this is one of those topics where I am going to wake up in the middle of the night and remember plants I should have put on the list - the Cape Gooseberry did it to me last night!)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Pumpkin Fritters

Pumpkin Fritters

I think I am lucky - I know not everyone enjoys cooking, but I love it when 5 o'clock comes around, I put the music on, have a look around the garden to see what we have to eat and then get in the kitchen to remind myself what I have in the fridge - and then start cooking!  It certainly wasn't always so enjoyable when I was working full time and had the family's schedule taking precedent over my limited time - we ended up eating out and having take-away far too often, but I have always found cooking to be perhaps the only creative thing that I may have done that day and, best of all - you then get to eat it.

This recipe for Pumpkin Fritters is one of those really versatile dishes than you can eat as part of a mezze plate or add a hearty salad to make a really wholesome, cheap and easy meal.  This is really a Greek dish, which I first enjoyed on the island of Folegandros, but it is something I have had many times since traveling around Greece - just dressed up in a different ways.
Folegandros - one of the southern-most islands in the Cyclades and the perfect spot to sit in the evening and have a glass of something cold and share a plate of these pumpkin fritters.

Pumpkin Fritters
1kg pumpkin, grated (I use my food processor to do this - it has a grating plate and saves your knuckles!)
1/2 cup chopped spring onions or chives
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped mint
1 egg
1 cup plain flour
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying

1.  Combine all ingredients together and season.
2.  Heat oil in large pan.  Mould pumpkin mix into patties (make them bite-size for a party platter and larger if you are having them for dinner) and fry for 3-4 minutes until golden on each side.  Serve immediately.  I'm not a 'deep fried' kind of a girl, but you can cook these in little oil and they are really quite delicious.

TOP TIP:  For chilli freaks, like me, serve with a sambal of chopped green chilli, fish sauce, soya sauce, lime juice and sugar.  For that traditional Greek flavour, serve with yoghurt and chopped mint - you can add some grated fresh ginger to it for a little zing!


Folegandros is a very dry, rocky thyme covered island with soaring cliffs and is often quite windswept but fortunately not when we were there - as you can see - not a ripple.  We were also fortunate to stumble upon this deserted and just lovely hotel.  We were desperate to bolt from the one we had booked on-line - which would have been OK if it had not been full with a Swedish wedding party determined to party hard about 20 hours a day!.  

The main town or Chora of Folegandros is a very sleepy and charming place - no cars with a town square circled by tiny houses built into the Venetian fortifications which dates from the 13th century.  We walked up the winding pathway you can see above the hotel, to the church at the top.  This is built on the site of an ancient Greek (dated BC) temple to the goddess ARTEMIS with pieces of marble columns and statues just lying around the churchyard or randomly incorporated into the walls of the church. It also contains a precious silver Icon saved by fishermen from marauding pirates. That's one of the other things I love about traveling around Greece - it is always full of unexpected and interesting surprises.

We had some marvelous food on Folegandros including a memorable kind of fish stew with fennel, a rabbit stew STIFADO with onions, cloves, bay leaves and juniper berries, STOFURNO - aubergine fried with potatoes and baked with tomatoes cummin, parsley and feta AND - I can still taste it now - homemade rose petal jam for breakfast with crusty bread and a fresh curd cheese. (This is making me hungry!!)

TOP TIP:  Instead of pumpkin you can use grated, uncooked sweet potato or zucchini (with excess liquid squeezed out).  If you are using zucchini - add some crumbled feta for extra taste.
For an ITALIAN twist you can use cooked kale CAVOLO NERO - again squeezing out any excess liquid.  Omit the mint and parsley and add 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese instead - this is a traditional recipe from my Italian friend Christina.

I never thought that my dusty collection of travel diaries would prove to be such a valuable
memory bank (mostly about food!) and contain such useful and fascinating information - like this for example:

Something that may help you on your travels in Greece from the Lonely Planet Greek phrase-book 2006 - on dating:
1.  O thee mu! - Oh my God!
2.  Si gha re ghoi! - Easy Tiger!
3.  Min ansihis tha to kano monos! - Don't worry, I'll do it myself!
(Fortunately I have to say that, so far, I haven't needed any of these!)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Prince Charles and the Importance of Meadows

Great Dixter meadow with wild orchids

What do you think Prince Charles gave his mother to celebrate the jubilee of her coronation?  No, not a set of gold plated steak knives, a couple of corgi pups or a foot massage, but a network of coronation meadows -  a scheme to return a meadow to each county in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and then encourage them to multiply.  When I read this, my heart just soared.

This ambitious project by HRH Prince of Wales aims to turn back the tide that has seen 7 million acres of flowery meadows lost in the UK in my lifetime.  Britain now has 2% of it's meadows remaining - the same scary figure of 2% that Australia has remaining of it's once mighty rainforests.

I started becoming interested in the whole thing about meadows when I went to Great Dixter, Sussex, last year - where the Lloyd family have been dedicated to creating wild meadows on their property for the past 100 years - bucking the trend at their wholesale destruction.  My interest was also fueled by my sister-in-law and her husband who tried to create a meadow in their garden and failed dismally - they had been TOO diligent in caring for their soil.  The secret to a successful meadow is that it has to GROW ON IMPOVERISHED SOIL- untreated and unfertilized as old soils would be.  Wildflowers and grasses are not adapted to 'rich' soils and will not flourish.

  • Flowery and grassy secrets are not lost to us forever.
  • Animals and insects attracted to these plants do not die out either.
  • They are beautiful.

The old apple orchard and meadow at the entrance to Great Dixter

AND HERE'S SOMETHING UNEXPECTED TO GET YOU EVEN MORE EXCITED! What do you think folk in the country did with their livestock when they were sick, before the age of VETS? They put them in the hospital meadow - a patch of ground that was rarely grazed but left full of wild greens, grasses, herbs and other flowering plants - plants with medicinal and nutritional qualities that had the power to heal!

'I know a bank where the wild thyme blows
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows'
-so said Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. 

I am sure that wherever you live in the world there is a meadow, a lawn, an old sports field or a patch of waste ground, that is just waiting to be re-born!  Do you have an orchard that you are forever mowing - let it go wild - slash it a couple of times a year and see what pops up and what difference these wildflowers and grasses makes to the variety of birds, butterflies and insects they attract.  Just don't SPRAY with any pesticides, herbicides, feritilizers and agricultural chemicals - you could also help it along the way by broadcasting a special wildflower mix that you can get from a reputable seed supplier (Green Harvest/Eden Seeds/Diggers Seeds).

The really serious meadow maker has a task ahead of them - the top few centimetres of soil have to be scraped off (this also gets rid of the exotic weeds and grasses) and then oversown with more friendly species native to the area.  What a worthwhile project though - just think how beautiful it will be??!!  And, just think of the butterflies??!!

Anyone that knows me also knows that I am a bit of a fan of Prince Charles (and no, I don't like the way he treated his wife, the late Princess Diana). However, he doesn't have to stick his head up to talk about important but, let's face it, not very trendy issues like organic gardening, composting, sustainable housing, holistic health, multi-faith dialogues, architecture that feeds the soul etc. etc. - but he does.  He could, like his forefathers before him, just spend his time hunting, shooting, fishing and fornicating - but no!  For example, he has spent the past 30 years at his home Highgrove recreating a meadow, where once there were acres of mown lawn, and making the whole place sustainable and if you want to see how he did it go to this short clip on YouTube and be inspired.

MESSAGE ON A T-SHIRT seen worn by a lady of my generation:
Let's Eat Grandma
Let's Eat, Grandma

Commas Save Lives!