Be wary of gardening gimmicks that look too good

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Grafted tomato-potato plants? Sounds smart, but the yield will probably be terrible

It might be an embarrassing thing for a plant scientist to admit, but I am a total sucker for a garden gimmick. I like to think it’s because I am open-minded or maybe just irrationally optimistic, particularly as many things in the plant world are often extremely counterintuitive. But I am not ashamed to say I have fallen for dozens of them over a lifetime in horticulture. While I firmly believe in the value of trying things out for yourself, if you don’t fancy learning the hard way, here are some of the most common garden gimmicks I have come across.

There's a lot of dodgy marketing imagery out there, I’ve seen roses Photoshopped sky blue

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The joy of blooms on a roof terrace | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

While quarantined away from the plot, there is comfort to be taken from new flowers at home

Home after three weeks. And it seems the roof terrace plants have done just fine without me. Liam has been watering. Kala has been dead-heading. The sun has been shining. The geraniums are a riot of bubblegum pink. The new roses have filled out and are in bloom. The midsummer cranesbill is a cloud of delicate blue. The Welsh poppy I had given up on – had even made plans to replace – is covered in bud, delicate flowers of a deep lemon-yellow. I feel happy and ashamed. I talk to it – don’t tell anyone – singing its praises and apologising. I hope I have learnt a lesson. My impatience is deeply ingrained it seems.

We spend a happy hour – or more – moving various pots around, so many different combinations. After a while we settle, stop switching each other’s last move and stand back contented. It has been almost a life-saver this space, particularly through this strange spring and summer. We thank our stars to have somewhere quiet to be outside, access to plants, to the sky and birdsong.

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How to protect summer vegetables from mildew | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

When the weather gets warmer, spores thrive. Here are some tricks to prevent them taking hold

As summer swirls around our plants – rain and sun and rain again – other things start to grow. Tiny airborne spores float about looking for a surface on which to land and feed; if they find courgettes, marrows, pumpkins or cucumbers with those lush big leaves, they’ll happily alight and grow a fine powdery mildew across the surface.

Related: How to grow beetroot | Alys Fowler

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Green garlic: a winter delight that might be growing in your pantry already

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Green garlic can’t be cooked in the same way as a mature bulb, but with just a lick of heat, they will give a similar flavour

“How can I use this?”

I get that question a lot. I’m forever trying to encourage people to cook with different parts of a fruit or vegetable – or try it at a stage of maturity they aren’t accustomed to.

Related: Rare as rhubarb: 'It's fascinating what a big deal was once made of this pie-filler'

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Do houseplants really improve air quality?

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Received wisdom is all very well, but sometimes the science proves otherwise

Gardening is full of received wisdom that is treated as gospel and handed down across the generations – from putting a layer of crocks at the bottom of pots for drainage, to the back-breaking work of Victorian “double-digging” to improve soil structure. But when tested scientifically much of this old-school advice turns out not to be supported by evidence. In fact, in the above two examples, they are actually likely to give you worse results than if you simply hadn’t bothered at all.

Even scientists aren’t immune to repeating received wisdom, or potentially extrapolating more from the data than it actually shows, particularly if the claim supports our existing views. However, the wonderful thing about science, unlike gardening dogma, is that it is forever changing as new evidence comes to light. In fact, as a botanist, I think the freedom to change one’s mind, to hold your hands up to getting it wrong, is science’s greatest strength – particularly in 2020. So I am starting, in my own small way, right here.

The freedom to change one’s mind is science’s greatest strength. So I am starting, in my own small way, right here

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Growing plants inside – the easy way

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Having green fingers is not as complicated as you might think

After months of self-isolating, this weekend I masked-up and joined the queue for my garden centre. As someone who normally visits nurseries or plant shops at least twice a week, it was a huge relief to be surrounded by all the greenery. But perhaps what was even more exciting were the enormous numbers of young people waiting patiently in line to get a houseplant fix. Working in an industry that has struggled for decades to figure out how to make itself relevant and accessible to those under 50, it’s wonderful to finally see a new generation discovering the joys of the natural world through indoor gardening.

But with so much frankly terrible advice on houseplants out there (ironically on the very social media platforms that have created this new flowering of interest), I also had to repress the desperate compulsion to advise the 20-somethings on the plants they were buying. However, doling out unsolicited advice is a bit more socially acceptable in a magazine column than to random people in queues, so here are my top tips for those starting out on their adventure in the great indoors.

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Midsummer daisies to cheer the soul

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Summer brings comfort and colour during an anxious trip

Back at the beach house. It’s midsummer: high sun, quiet Scandinavian sea; a sort of paradise, but also disquieting like in a film. Perfection masking fear.

My mother-in-law lives close by. She is 95, recently self-discharged from hospital, the only treatment now tramadol and tea. We bring her to recline on the terrace. Her sick bed, a sun bed; we talk and listen to the reassuring chatter of birds.

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How to sow Chinese mustard greens for winter salads | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Want spicy greens in November? Then act now

It is my lot in life to be always thinking of the next season. As you start to get excited about tomatoes, or are becoming ingenious with courgettes, as basil is bursting forth and the jam pan is bubbling over, I want to persuade you to think of the dark, wet nights of November, or those moody slate-grey days in February. I want your summer self to think of your winter one and give it a gift.

My present is Chinese mustards. Last year, I fell deeply in love with ‘Nine Headed Bird’ and ‘Dragon’s Tongue’, both from the Real Seed Catalogue), two large mustard greens that brought a sweet, spicy heat to many a meal over winter. I would go so far as to say I feel evangelical about them.

Related: How to grow berries | Alys Fowler

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Grow it, show it, eat it: gorgeous in bloom, cardoons are like artichoke without the hard work

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Beloved by florists and chefs alike, cardoons are worth planting for aesthetics alone, but are as easy on the palate as on the eye

Pre-lockdown, when dining concerns were of the garden variety and not of distances between tables, I had an enlightening discussion with two prominent food critics about eating healthily in restaurants. Great topic.

Eating for a living comes with its challenges, but the true professionals are extremely perceptive when reading a menu – they pick out dishes with hard-to-find ingredients as well as those with a good nutrient value. That being said, no one can deny fried thingies – they are likely to be the tastiest morsels to order.

Related: I dream of rapini: don't let the name fool you, this green is no broccoli

Related: Green gold: Hass avocado season returns in perfect form

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What can I do with a glut of broad beans? | Kitchen aide

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

If your green fingers have been busy during lockdown, you may well now have a sackful more broad beans than you bargained for. Here are some creative, storable, freezable ideas to deal with the glut

• Do you have a culinary dilemma? Email feast@theguardian.com

This is my first year growing broad beans, and I’ve got so many. Any ideas what I can do with them?
Liz, Northamptonshire

Nothing says summer quite like the unzipping of those fluffy jackets, so this is a nice problem to have, Liz. The good news is that, whatever their age, broad beans always have a use. Chef Henrietta Inman, who cooks and bakes using only natural, locally-sourced ingredients, eats the young pods whole, raw with butter and salt (you could add chopped mint, too), with bagna cauda or a pulse-based dip. That doesn’t automatically mean chickpeas, though: “There are so many other interesting beans and pulses growing in the UK,” she says. Her favourites come from Hodmedods, pioneer of UK-grown pulses, from quinoa to carlin peas, which she soaks, cooks and blends with herbs and olive or rapeseed oil. Cooked broads are reserved for tossing through salads and pasta, or for serving with grilled lamb. Simple, yes, but, as Inman points out, “You don’t want to do too much to them, because they’re tasty as they are.”

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How to be an evolutionary gardener | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Creating a pleasing garden is a matter of following your instincts

I’ve been forever fascinated not just by the natural beauty of plants, but by how arranging them can have a profound effect on the overall aesthetics and, by extension, how they make us feel. As an ethnobotanist, I am obsessed by the evolutionary theories that have attempted to explain what appear to be universal rules underpinning garden design. Once you understand the underlying instincts, becoming a better garden designer is suddenly far more straightforward.

We talk about gardens as natural spaces, but they’re the exact opposite: human-made environments engineered using natural ingredients. If they were truly “natural”, we could leave the ecosystem to take its course, letting our plots revert to a wild state – twisted brambles, boggy puddles and all. Ironically, the second we do that these plots stop being real “gardens”. For when you set out to try and define the word “garden”, management is one of the defining features they all have in common.

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The sowing never seems to stop | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Although the summer harvest has started, July might be your final chance to plant crops for autumn

July. The first loss of light – an hour a day by the month’s end. Time for high summer harvest and watering. Time for some urgency amid the satisfaction. Time to plan for winter.

Our autumn arrived in the post. Rosa chicories, red and white treviso, puntarelle, and more chervil and parsley to be sown in paper strips and also scattered. A last rush of rocket.

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Gardening tips: donate seeds to refugee gardeners

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Be creative about watering your garden and plant Mexican giant hyssop

Donate this If you have spare packets of flower and vegetable seeds, why not send them to another gardener? The Lemon Tree Trust’s Gardener to Gardener appeal is providing refugee gardeners with seeds, in the camps of Kurdistan. Visit lemontreetrust.org to find out how to donate.

Tap this Be creative about saving water in the garden. Grey water from the washing-up bowl, bath or washing machine is fine to use on ornamentals; just don’t leave it sitting around before use. Focus on the plants that need water the most: newly planted shrubs and trees, not established lawns.

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How to grow Mexican fleabane | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

These daisy-like flowers will happily self-seed to bring beautiful disorder

The delicate, daisy-like flowers of Mexican fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus, need little introduction. It’s the plant of walls and pavement cracks that, if happy, will seed itself effortlessly into improbably small spots. The first time I became aware of it was when I had to mow the ridiculously perfect strips of lawn that sit either side of Wisley’s formal pond – a task I was always going to fail, because I am not the sort to make straight lines. I wasn’t doing badly at the start, but veered off wildly when I saw this little daisy spilling out down the steps: after all the restrained formality of rectangles, planes and lines, here was a wild thing cascading with gay abandon.

Related: How to grow cucurbits: pumpkins, courgettes and cucumbers | Alys Fowler

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Paint, plant or pack them: how to use plastic takeaway containers outside the kitchen

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

From organising desk drawers to transporting beauty products, the leftover containers can be reused all around the home

When restaurant dining rooms closed during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, takeaway took off. Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and polypropylene (PP) plastics used in food and drink containers are recyclable, but we know that reducing and reusing is a far better policy. Most plastics can be recycled only once or twice to make a new product before they eventually end up in landfill.

Maybe you kept a few to store food, but here are some ways to reuse disposable containers outside the kitchen.

Related: Only a third of Australia's plastic packaging waste gets recycled

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To grow the tastiest herbs, treat ’em mean

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Be lazy, water and feed far less, they will thank you for it

When it comes to growing your own, it’s hard to find a better bang for your buck than with herbs. Not only are they gram-for-gram the most expensive crops in the fruit and veg aisle, but in most cases they are also hands down the easiest to grow. And, for a range of solid, scientific reasons, they will have measurably stronger flavour than almost anything you can buy in the supermarket. So here are a botanist’s simple tricks to grow herbs for truly unbuyable flavour.

To improve the flavour in herbs, you have to understand why the plants produce it in the first place

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Summer’s high point in the garden | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Bees are drunk on pollen, flowers are in full bloom, and veg are ready to harvest – it’s time to reap the rewards of all your work

More than halfway through the year. The sun soon dipping, just off its high. It is hard at first to see it in the glory of the growth.

These are the perfect garden days. Everything exultant; here in its summer splendour. All the work – the digging, the sowing, the hoeing, the weeding, the feeding – paid off.

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How to grow linarias | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

These lofty spires of tiny flowers stand tall in the sunniest, driest spots

Purple toadflax came uninvited to my allotment, as it is wont to do, and got to stay because the bees were so pleased. Linaria purpurea is not native – it hails from Italy. It is, however, widely naturalised and a fan of railway edges, stone walls, concrete cracks and other dry, free-draining spots from which it manages to create lofty spires of tiny purple flowers that look like snapdragons.

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I've decided what to do with the rest of my life: grow a lemon tree

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

My first attempt at nurturing one from seed looked promising, but ultimately failed. Armed with expert advice – and hopefully enough years – I’m trying again

You know you’re getting on a bit when you find yourself paying attention to Gardeners’ Question Time on Radio 4. I’ve been dimly aware of it for ever, but never actually listened properly, other than to gently scorn the twee Britishness of it. And, of course, to wonder at the name of one panellist: Bob Flowerdew.

I’ve turned the corner from fond mockery to rapt attention in a surprisingly short amount of time – a matter of minutes. It happened on a Sunday last month when I had left the radio on by mistake. Someone had written in with a question about what might grow well in a pot on a terrace facing north-west. At this, my ears pricked up like a pair of bamboo shoots. Hang on a minute, I thought, I’ve got a terrace on which some azaleas are thriving. Before I knew it, I was out there with a compass. And, yes, it turns out it is indeed a north-west facing terrace.

Related: Zest for life: citrus plants to grow at home

Adrian Chiles is a Guardian columnist

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