Monday, June 29, 2009

My Five Successful gardening ploys for 2009

This idea came from a great blogsite I found while doing the "Great Problogger teach-in" this year. Tod's upside down planter has had a great following on the net for years and now I spot that Lakeland Plastics have a kit in their catalogue.

This cost me nothing; just stuff I had around - please note I have used a smaller bucket to Tod's idea.

I used the same plants in the same compost planted the same time in very hot southern Spain. The upside down planter has won hands down. Still not sure why it is so successful - airflow? gravity? Photo taken June 30th.

My other ploy this year is to use broken down prickly pear and old newspapers in a trough in my veggie garden before planting my melons, courgettes and pumpkin.This really seems to have held the water in the soil. Despite up to 40deg Centigrade we actually have something to show for the summer.

I have finally been convinced that raised gardens are a must and our September bed is now in preparation assisted by horse manure from a local riding school. Should be nicely ready for our winter plantings.

Being somewhat disabled I have come to love an old tool beloved of people around here - the Spanish hoe. Somehow with its shorter handle and heavy metal wide blade you can get some real force behind your controlled swing.

I have ordered an interesting gadget to help propagate trees and bushes which are expensive purchases and often have a heavy carbon footprint. Just so irritated that this is made in Spain and I cannot find a supplier other than an American one for this but in the long run I hope save.

It is a rooter pot and seems to be similar to the portuguese air layering system . I am grateful to Hannes on the Pete Beale Rose Community forum for this one.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Modern Italy - a first look

When most people think of Italy we think of a place as old as the hills literally and metaphorically with gardens conjured in the mind's eye of renaissance statuary and lush rolling hllls with cypresses pointing heavenwards – right and wrong.

The country we now know as Italy consisted of many powerful and autonomous states right up to 187?. Most of them forever fighting each other. Each with its own natural beauty, agricultural gifts and traditions built on timeless patterns of human activity with a lot of input from the natural world. Italy is split down the middle by a massive fault, with tectonic plates which are pushing the whole country toward iits neighbours across the Adriatics pitted with active volcanoes and constantly reminds us of the fact.

So let's remind ourselves of those elements which now constitute Italy.

Let us start with Rome and the Roman Empire. The Romans tried to steal and dominate most of Europe succeeding for the most part for nearly five hundred years. The power and might emanating from the seven hills of Rome. Not surprising therefore they left a mark on other lands.

And now Rome surrounds the enclave of the Papal State. Now there is a force to be reckoned with.

Map of Italy by Tourizm Maps © 2006
Florence, Genoa, Sienna, Padua, Venice - names that trickle off the tongue. Some more powerful states than others. Each had their own centre of learning and it is not surprising that the Republic contains more that 30 botanic gardens, the first being the 13th century garden of herbs at the Vatican. Latin of course was the academic language of the world as we knew it and in fact is still not dead and wont lie down. Gardeners certainly know this.

Surfing the web there are overwhelming numbers of sites for the Renaissance gardens of Italy to visit. However I will argue that the joy of Italy can be missed if you take a limited approach.

When I visualise and remember what is so wonderful about the gardens and horticulture I remember the fruit trees of the north heavy with blossom, - remember their pears, cherries? fruit trees lining the roads mile on mile. Then the rolling wheat fields of Central Italy , the basis of pasta and the pizza, interspersed with heliotropes, the large sunflower used for oil. Also lets not forget the other key horticultural wonder – the olive industry. Go south to the lemon groves of the Amalfi coast. To see the tomato harvest of plum tomatoes travelling in overflowing lorry loads to the canning factory is gobsmacking eye wateringly astounding given the dirt poor nature of the very south.. The Italian tomato – the food of the people is now a global enterprise.

The North South divide – The link between the foods able to be grown, the climate of each area and the cultural habits that flow from these factors is sharply brought into focus here in Italy.

Ignoring the phenomenal coastline of the Republic which allows for everyday mistaken as I guess it is a very good source of fertiliser - (a point I will check up on).

The real key to the states of Italy then is really its horticultural diversity which has managed to keep ordinary people eating and living relatively well despite its feudal history.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Agave Americana - fully grown now

Hard to work out its exact growth over the last six weeks, it is now huge and verdant for a short period. The birds will start to strip the seeds out now. It is over 20 feet anyway and is still about 17 inches around its girth.

Extraordinarily there are American Agaves this year where I have never seen even one before in the Rambla.

Recently driving down to a beach I had never visited in the Cabo de Gata I saw from a distance a series of masts - I thought it really did have a sailing facility... as I got closer of course it was a forest of agaves sailing on a sand dune.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

In Praise of the Caper Plant

I am so struck with awe by this ancient plant, mentioned in the bible and the ancient greeks. The Caper plant (capparis spinosa (L) ) is native to the Mediterranean. I havent been able to discover how much further beyond this region it has been cultivated except in specialist and botanical gardens including the Eden Project (

Well here
we are in the middle of caper season again and I am busy picking, pickling, utilising and admiring the different stages of this remarkable and useful plant.


  • It goes through the most beautiful growth cycle (while being fortified by the most vicious of thorns)
  • it grows in poor soil
  • You have to do nothing to it - it just dies back and reappears the next year and will continue to do so for decades.
  • it has enormous and famous culinary uses
  • it is wild and it is free
  • its medicinal uses are endless

All that aside I encourage any plants that spring up near the house by cutting and using at all stages but leaving some to gaze upon because of their beauty.

Medical Uses

antirheumatic, analgesic taken as herbal teas, bruised leaves used in a poultice for gout, reduces flatulence, aids liver function and many others


The smallest bud is the most highly prized.
Its buds are pickled and used in salads, on pizzas, in pasta, its tips are pickled in brine as a vegetable and so are its swollen buds after the flowering is over.

Its most famous recipes probably in
  • potato salad with capers - I use cooked and cooled, preferably small waxy, potatoes, a finely cut onion, high quality mayonnaise and pickled caper buds. If they are the bigger buds it is best to cut them more finely. Fold together gently and serve.
  • Skate or where skate is overfished then ray with black butter and caper sauce. Best I ever had was in Jersey.
  • Caper sauce - simply a white sauce with capers and some of the caper vinegar/brine it is pickled in. Can be used with mutton, herring or mackerel.

European names for the Caper

Dutch kappertjes
English caper, caperberry, caperbush
French câprier, câpres, fabagelle, tapana
German kapper, Kapernstrauch
Italian cappero
Norwegian kapers
Portuguese alcaparras
Russian kapersy
Spanish alcaparra, caparra
Swedish kapris

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Agave Americana - at 40 days

This image is now hard to capture if you have been following its life and death as I have to stand further back. And more to come... We are guessing 18 -20 feet now.

Stunningly we have already had a roller come in for a good look around. ( A roller is a medium sized bird, very beautiful with turquoise and gold plumage. Shy and almost invariably has a partner close by. ) Couldn't get the camera set up in time but I will wait for the next time....