Olives and more in Chefchaouan

Chefchaouan

Chefchaouan

Yeah, its the blue town and full of tourists. And hash punters. My wee hostel was run by some  permanently stoned guys, what a waste! But what a pretty little souk of narrow blue painted alleyways, lovely at night. A wee boy put the finishing touch to a wallet I had made for me.

Leatherwork

Leatherwork

The market day drew in rows of Rifian men and women, here to sell a few cabbages and onions and buy their own shopping before returning. It’s a very hard and simple life for these people…other larger traders had oranges and apples, olives or spices. These palm shoots intrigued me.

Palm Shoots

Palm Shoots

One of the wee squares was piled up with firewood for the Hammam Public Baths, a pleasure I didn’t find time for on this occasion.

Market Day

Market Day

Hammam Baths

Hammam Baths

Heading down from Chef to Fez, I was struck by the oranges,  and beans and others cereals sown underneath the Olive groves. At lower altitudes, there were larger fields of cereals and co-operatives with a more commercial layout of large fields. Almost no hedges or fences exist in Morocco. The sheep are constantly herded to prevent straying; even the motorway verges are grazed between Fez and Rabat!

Espagnol in Morocco

I have just spent a few weeks in Morocco on a farm and travelling around and thought i would record some of the events here. Those of you who have visited this fascinating country will be familiar with much of what is to follow!

English Breakfast

English Breakfast

I failed to secure a hostel in any of the Spanish enclaves so plumped for the longer ferry from Algeciras in Spain to Tangiers Med port.A lovely way to enter Africa, but not without a last breakfast of Eggs and bacon on the ferry.

Then refusal to pay 200 dirham for a grand taxi toute seule, ( thanks Lonely Planet my trusty companion ), and eventually got crammed into one with 4 others for a mad dash to Tangier bus station for 30 dirham. And there I enjoyed my first chaotic experience of the bus stations in Morocco, albeit with a few exceptions like the lovely CTM one at Tetouan. Anyway, I now knew to look for shared lifts, and waited patiently for a cheap shared grand taxi to Assilah. There’s always a headman ready to guide you …its actually quite a good system. But good to get away from that busy place and arrive at the wee town of Assilah by the sea ( though crammed in with 6 others this time! ) .Miles of beaches along the coast en route.

Mint Tea

Mint Tea

My memories of this place are of children moving to and from school at all times of the day, great mint teas, Spanish being spoken, prayers called at 5am, and the one shop with beer for sale!

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Read our 2016 Catalogue

Hurrah! Our 2016 Catalogue is Out!

Inside, you’ll find lovely lists of purposeful plants to choose from this year, from ‘plants on the wild side’ to ‘how to be soft on fruit’! Also, look out for Wild Flower Plugs (new!), Fruit Trees, Workshops and Consultancy.

PLUS, as it’s our 15th anniversary, we’ve got some special offers for 2016. Skip to the back page to find out more.

 Read the catalogue below or click here to download a copy (700kb)

 

Happy browsing!

Spotting the first Hazel flowers

I realised the other day that I now need my reading glasses if I’m going to be the first in the family to spot the 2016 female hazel flowers. I have to be a certain distance away from the tree to be able to focus on the bulging, pink-flushed flower buds. But, at that distance, I don’t stand a prayer of spotting the flowers, on account on them being so minute – not much more than pin-head sized. In their favour, they’re bright red, and very pretty, like tiny wee starfish.

corylus contorta

Hazels are monoecious (male and female flowers are separate, but borne on the same tree), and the male catkins have been there since before Christmas. Up to now, they have been tightly furled, but are showing signs of opening. Wind will blow clouds of ripe pollen onto the female flowers, and nuts will follow! Wild hazels are self-incompatible, so you need more than one bush to get a harvest and generally the more the merrier. Our local hazel copse – which we don’t own but just act as though we do – has a hundred or so, and many seedlings coming along. I planted a single wild hazel in my garden 12 years ago, and have never seen a nut on it – not surprisingly!

Named hazelnut or filbert cultivars like ‘Cosford’, ‘Hall’s Giant’ and ‘Nottingham’ are often claimed to be self-fertile, and we’ve now added a couple of these to the vicinity of my first, barren attempt at nut growing, so things should change! But the one variety in my garden that’s started producing nuts is the one I least expected to – my Contorted Hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’). I know “Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick”, as it’s also known, is a bit of a Marmite shrub – but I love it for the sheer weirdness of the twisty branches seen from the kitchen window in winter – and its precocity in producing real, home-grown hazelnuts!

Meantime, must remember the specs on the next walk round the hazel copse….

The Book Of Pears By Joan Morgan

The Book of Pears by Joan Morgan, Ebury Press 2015. Priced at £45 hardback.

This book has been long awaited by those of us in the fruit world….so here are my initial observations.

Grey Benvie

Its 304 pages long, and takes more or less the same format as her previous book on Apples. There are 182 pages of general information about pears, followed by a directory of pear varieties. This directory is much shorter thean the same section for apples. This reflects the fewer numbers of pear accessions at the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent, from where the information was gleaned. There are one or two varieties listed here however which are not currently held in the collection e.g. Achan om page 194.

The number of Scottish varieties and those varieties very much associated with Scotland are of most interest to me. This includes the aforementioned Achan, and also Ayrshire Lass, Craig’s Favourite, Crawford, Green Pear of Yair, Hessle, Jargonelle, Laird Lang, Maggie, Summer Bergamot, Winter Nelis. The last one was apparently recommended only for under glass in Scotland!

This leaves a big gap as no description of Grey Benvie, Seggieden and many more of the Carse of Gowrie pears receive no treatment here.

There is a brief mention on page 67 of Gold Knaps, and on page 119 a drawing of 5 different varieties grown in the Carse of Gowrie. Unfortunately I have never seen a description of the ‘’Busked Lady of Port Allan’’. It may well still exist!

The early chapters deal with the Monastic connections, and later French influence on our pear culture, equally relevant to the areas with surviving pear trees today in Scotland. I havn’t seen any reference to the Double Fleur, either in the first section or the descriptions., and I know of at least one of these surviving in the Carse of Gowrie.

The pear key at the back seems a bit too large,taking two pages, but is simple enough to comprehend. We do have to take ripening dates with a pinch of salt for Scotland.

Without doubt to my mind, the record of flowering dates and relative vigour of all the varieties is of immense value to me in determining pollination compatibility. The apple directory is a pretty accurate record of successional flowering here in Scotland, and I would expect the pear records to be equally so. This information is reinforced on page 191.

As before , the fruit paintings are superb and painstakingly accurate, it is very enjoyable just turning the pages to view these alone. Use a finger to blank out the names, and you can test yourself!

I have yet to read the whole book, but couldn’t help my excitement to comment here…

Grey Benvie Pears in Dr. Hulbert’s collection, Longforgan

So Joan, when are we going to see the definitive Plum book to complete the trilogy?

Walnuts In Scotland

Walnuts

Walnuts were highly valued as a timber tree centuries ago, but 2015 was a good year in Scotland for the nuts too…our neighbours ‘Buccaneer’’ produced a good crop of nuts. So I thought I would do a bit of research on varieties and their relative merits. Maybe we should be growing more in Scotland? They can even be grown as a hedgerow system, not unlike many apple orchards around the world today.

I know of a few very big old walnut trees in Scotland, so I imagine a need for a less vigorous cultivar would be very useful for most of us. My neighbour’s tree is 8 years old and already romping away at about 12m and growing a meter a year!

It is presumably self-fertile as there are no others in the area.

We have a few seed sown trees for sale here at the nursery.

 

Walnut Tree

Walnut Tree

The Common walnut is Juglans regia, the black walnut, and is native to Persia, Juglans nigra. Is native to North America. Both can produce edible nuts.

The fruits are actually a drupe not a nut! You can expect cropping from 3 to 5 years from many varieties.

Romania is the biggest producer with production of up to 23 tonnes per hectare, but there’s a wide distribution of production from China, through India, Iran, France, and increasing production in Morocco.

( see: http://www.highatlasfoundation.org/).

Over 30 varieties are listed in Wikipaedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walnut ), but here are the most commonly available varieties in UK and abroad:

Buccaneer – A self-fertile Dutch round nut variety. Good for pickling. Upright tree.

Fernor – A new precocious flowering French variety.

Franquette – an old variety, a tip bearer! Doesn’t need much pruning.

Rond De Montignac – another old French variety with smaller nuts and late to leaf out.

Broadview – supposedly less vigorous than others.. self-fertile, precocious, and reputedly frost hardy. From Canada.

Saturn – A Czech variety 1971

Rita – From Carpathians, a smaller tree with thin -shelled nuts.

Lara- a commercial French variety, compact, needs a pollinator

There are many varieties more in France and around the world!

The RHS suggest taking out the central leader if you want to keep the trees in check. Also avoid pot bound plants as the tap -root will be damaged and they hate transplanting so don’t move them once they are planted.

Do not plant them near to apples as the roots exhibit allelopathy – preventing other trees growing. Most need at least 7m spacing between trees.

Grey squirrels, leaf gall, anthracnose and Codlin moth can all be problems with Walnut trees.

So is there anyone in Scotland interested in growing and trialling varieties for a commercial crop of walnuts, i.e. a hedge of them?

 

 

Do you need a forest to have a forest garden?

forestgardenmakingdundee

No! Forest gardening doesn’t mean a garden in a forest, nor even putting forest plants into a garden. It is about growing edible and useful plants, using the way forests grow as a model. The picture shows an urban forest garden bed being created in the middle of Dundee. Think about a wood or forest you know. It will have its canopy layer – that is the tallest trees. Just below the tree tops will be a layer of tall shrubs or small trees – this is called the understorey. The next layer is the shrub layer – small to medium bushes. Towards the edge of the woodland, and sometimes within it, there will be a layer of tall perennial plants and in most woods, a ground layer of spreading or creeping herbaceous plants. Leaf mould and composted woody material or bark lie on the ground and build up annually. Fungi colonise it. Below ground is the rhizosphere, or root layer: deep roots bringing nutrients from the mineral layer of the soil, starchy roots and tubers, bulbs and the anchoring roots of trees and shrubs.

In a forest garden, you create the same layers, but using plants that provide food, firewood, medicine or have other uses, and choosing the ones that are the right size for the site. In a big garden, the canopy layer may be nitrogen-fixing alders, heritage pears, walnuts, birches for birch sap or the versatile rowan tree for berries. In a small raised bed, the canopy may be an apple or two on dwarfing rootstock. The same apple trees, along with damsons, plums, saskatoons or hazels, could be the understorey in a big garden. whereas the wee bed might have a couple of Jostaberries and a broom for nitrogen fixing and broom-bud salad.

Many soft fruits can make up the shrub layer – from brambles to gooseberries, currants, hardy fuchsias and autumn raspberries (summer ones can be used but need something to be trained onto). Where there is enough light, shrubby herbs like winter savory or rosemary can be established, too. If the soil is a bit acidic, blueberries will thrive. Mixing species together ensures that something will always give you a crop, and there is less risk of losing the lot to birds and small mammals.

For the forest garden, or forest bed, good ground cover and eliminating non-useful coarse weeds like dock is essential. I permit a certain amount of ground elder to remain, because it tastes good, and a clump of nettles which, along with comfrey, are dynamic accumulators – feeding the soil with nutrients from below ground. These are regarded as tall perennials – I also find fennel, salad burnet and wild oregano do well in this crowded but productive setting. Skirret and burdock are perennial root vegetables occupying the tall perennial and the rootzone layers. Underneath, try wild strawberries and sweet woodruff for heavy shade, Roman chamomile and buckler-leaf sorrel for the edges, opposite-leaved golden saxifrage for wet areas. Mints are good ground cover as well – pennyroyal is not a culinary mint but smells wonderful and bees love the flowers.

There should be scope for patches of self-seeded annuals for wildlife in bigger forest garden beds – poached egg plants, nasturtiums (edible flowers) and Calendula all seem to work well. And finally, if your canopy trees are tall enough, you can grow hops, vines or other useful climbers up them. There really is a massive choice of plants to use. Martin Crawford’s excellent book, Creating a Forest Garden (ISBN 9781900322621) will take you on a deeper journey, but be careful to choose plants that will really be of use to you and that will do well in your climate and soil. My suggestions all work in my bit of Central Scotland.

Is it hard work? Using sheet mulch and leaf-mould will reduce initial weeding. For a few years you will be adjusting, adding, taking away or moving plants that don’t suit as well as you’d hoped. Some may be useful but need keeping in check – I have to put reins on the apple mint and burdock especially. But soon there will be very little to do; the space fills and there is simply no room for unwanted invaders! My advice? Start small and expand!

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Salad Days – Seasonally

Don’t get me wrong, I like lettuce. And rocket. I grow prodigious amounts of both, and eat most of it. It’s just that if there is none, I am never lost for salad ingredients. And when there is, I augment the tender crispness of lettuce and the bite of rocket with a host of other favourite ingredients from the garden and hedgerow.

Sorrel on chopping board, image from http://gggiraffe.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/ww-sorrel-and-lentil-soup.html

In spring and early summer, there is a wide choice of tender green leaves. Garlic Mustard, with big heart-shaped leaves, appears early obligingly self-sown in odd corners of the garden. Mildly garlicky, with a gentle bite of mustard. Our accidental pole of a lime tree (kept as a pole because there’s no room for a tree) produces the most succulent unfurling leaves before any lettuce is ready. Young shoots of Bishopsweed transfer from the weeding bucket to the plate via a good wash. Then the Sorrel family – Common and Buckler-leaf – provide sharp, lemony, bulky leaves – shred them to mix that sharpness through the salad. Sweet Cicely for a hint of aniseed. Rampion, an edible Campanula, produces a mass of tender leaves. Claytonia, or Miners’ Lettuce, which I’ve picked right through winter from the greenhouse bed, is joined by its cousin the Pink Purslane. New leaves of Wood Sorrel, looking like clover but with delicate white flowers, are found in the woods. It’s a refreshing appetiser when nibbled on a walk. For crunchy, succulent foliage, try the long linear leaves of Bucks Horn Plantain – branched at the ends like antlers. Or the round, slightly bitter but always tender leaves of Orpine, a native Sedum whose flowers bring out bees and butterflies in late summer.

As summer progresses, I add sweetly aromatic herbs to the salad bowl, chopping them finely to disperse the subtle aroma and flavour. My favourites are Golden Marjoram, Lemon Balm and Mint – but not just any mint. One of the citrus varieties – Orange, Lime or Lemon Mint, or Basil Mint, or best of all Eau de Cologne Mint. A little goes a long way! Basil itself, of course, contributes a domineering flavour, good with tomatoes. Judicious amounts of Chervil, Summer Savory or Dill with its cucumber tones can all be added. Salad Burnet or young Borage leaves taste similar.

Yellow Primroses, Ramsons from the woods and Cornflower petals are the first edible flowers to be added; later blue comes from borage flowers. Wild Pansies, bright orange Calendula, sweet white petals from my Jacobite Rose and gaudy Nasturtiums taste as good as they look. If I can stand to sacrifice them, I’ll eat Hemerocallis (Day Lily) flowers too, and the ones from my Clove Pinks.

Wild Strawberry

By now, wild strawberries are getting scattered over the salad bowl, and as summer wears towards autumn, fruit starts to dominate. Anything goes. Whole raspberries, blaeberries and whitecurrants; chopped red gooseberries; peaches and grapes from the greenhouses; brambles and elderberries and onwards till I am confronted by the autumn apple mountain – a source of material for my less frequent winter salads.

Nuts go well with apples; wild hazelnuts and walnuts from my neighbours’ tree, well-chopped. Now I will use the pickled ash keys I made in June and other preserves to spice up a winter salad. Greens come from the greenhouse – hardy winter Lamb’s Lettuce, Claytonia and hot Land Cress. Dried fruit, whether home-dried wild strawberries or conventional shop ones, I add liberally.

Salad Days may be over, but salads go on even in the depths of winter, till spring comes round again.

Plants for Bees (& Beekeepers!)

Bees are the most important pollinators of food crops in the world.

Native bees (bumble, carder and mountain bees) are most effective, while the honeybee is a source not only of pollination, but of honey, wax and a wide range of medicinal and cosmetic products. Honeybees have had a hard time, between varroa mites, pesticides and viruses, and loss of wild habitat has affected the natives.

It’s not surprising that so many people who love gardens and flowers love bees. Many, like ourselves, are beekeepers. Gardeners and beekeepers have become pivotal, in both ecology and economy.

There is a favourite saying of mine: “No bees, no honey; no work, no money”. But more to the point, no bees, no pollination; no pollination, no crops. And no crops, no…..? Yes. We are dependent on them.

By growing nectar plants to attract bumblebees, ensure a good honey crop from your own bees or just to enjoy the summery drone of insects in the garden, you’ll benefit all species – and get great fruit and bean crops to boot!

For long-tongued bumblebees we recommend BergamotComfreyHemp AgrimonySagePurple Knapweed and Valerian.

For honeybees and short-tongued bees grow HyssopMintLemon Balm (said to stop honeybees from swarming!), MeadowsweetMeadow Cranesbill and Catmint.

For an early source of nectar when the queens start laying, you must have Lungwort and Rosemary; for the important pre-winter nectar grow Purple LoosestrifeGlobe ThistleTeasel and Michaelmas Daisy.

Cotoneaster, apples, pears, non-ornamental cherries and currants (flowering or fruiting) will benefit both bees and birds.

The little-known (and under-used) Agastache family (especially Anise Hyssop and Korean Mint) are magnets for all kinds of bees and create superb colour in the garden as well.

Dealing with Thug Plants

“Let me have about me plants that are thugs…
…deep-rooted plants, that never sleep o’ nights.”

With apologies to Shakespeare, this is my mantra for maintaining an illusion of control over the garden. One gardener’s “invasive” is another’s “good spreader” – and good spreaders are what we favour to provide colour, limit (or eliminate) weeding, create habitats and stand up to both neighbouring thugs and garden pests, and hold their own against pathogens until kingdom come.

Some of my favourite thugs are:

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata)
This is such good value. Sturdy, upright stems, each one a spire of large yellow flowers in early to midsummer. It obligingly spreads underground to form an impressive, weed-excluding clump.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Irresistible starry white flowers in midsummer, above a cloud of pretty foliage that just spreads and spreads. I admit, ground elder comes up through it (and what’s wrong with that? very tasty), but the woodruff always wins. As well as being indestructible, it can be used to flavour wine…

Bistort or Pudding Dock (Polygonum bistorta)
Actually most of the Polygonum family make excellent thugs. Bistort gives large edible leaves and tall flower spikes in an incandescent pink. Ground cover understates it!

Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum)
Tall clumps of fluffy pink late flowers, which will fill a large space, repel intruders and attract bees and butterflies.

Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum)
Not the alien invader few-flowered leek, but related, with pretty flowers and deceptively winsome edible foliage that pops up anywhere, even in January!

Finally, and masochistically, there is Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca), so good for you, productive and delicious that we constantly overlook the fact that it’s taking over Perthshire. Be warned – choose plants to grow above it that are also thugs!

“…yon Petunia has a hot-house-hungry look; she wilts too much, such plants are dangerous…”

(Shakespeare, W: Julius Caesar, Act One, Scene Two – look it up!)