7am this morning….
…and 10 minutes later….
Five minus later it had all gone.
Food allergy and food intolerance, freefrom foods, electrosensitivity, this and that...
7am this morning….
…and 10 minutes later….
Five minus later it had all gone.
Roses in full bloom are always pretty spectacular but when combined with a sunny June evening deep in the Sussex countryside, a delicious picnic and the entertainment offered by one’s fellow picnickers – what’s not to love?
Oh yes – of course, then there is the opera. Der Rosenkavalier – one of my absolute favourites. But….. This is not about the opera. It is about the roses, the clematis, the long walks, the lake, the herbaceous borders and, to get the sartorial element out of the way right now, the dresses that match the roses.
So, back to the rose garden…
…and to opera goers smelling the roses – and photographing each other against them…
But then, of course, there was also the clematis…
…and the rose walk beside the house…
Not to mention the foxgloves….
..and the rolling lawns and monkey puzzle…
…and the lake…
…and this amazing pink errrr? Anyone got any ideas?….
Any finally to prove that pure green has its place – Henry Moore and a solitary opera go-er…
You can also both have tea (very good scones although not, I fear, either gluten or dairy free) and dinner in the various restaurants. Unless, of course, you are up for a raid on your favourite local deli (Giacobazzi in Fleet Road in our case) for all those yummy little pots of fagiolini and fungi and zucchini and marinated garlic….
Next time you see a sad, abandoned bit of street with dead KFC bags piling up around the overflowing rubbish bin – why not install a grow bag or one those massive bags that builders use – fill it with soil and….. grow….
As you can see, this is what they have done at the John Scurr Community Centre in Tower Hamlets – and how verdant it looks…
Over in King’s Cross Global Generation have gone further and hi-jacked unused skips for their crops. They have created a mobile farm in the middle of the King’s Cross development site. When the builders start work they just move to another as yet undeveloped part of the site. They grow herbs, chillies, apples, sweet potatoes and cabbages both in their skips and in planters made out of scaffold boards.
And just behind King’s Cross in the Camley Street Natural Park, Urban Bees have a thriving community of bee hives. They also run bee-keeping training courses, and family bee walks and sell King’s Cross honey. (Image courtesy of Insider London.)
But they are only three of the myriad of social networks, community groups and charities scattered across London (and many other cities) colonising abandoned corners, building sites and any square meter of land on which they think they can grow something.
A couple of weeks ago I went to a Food Talk at the Impact Hub in King’s Cross – Who’s going to make our food in the future? The three speakers were from Growing Communities who run thriving urban farms in Hackney and Dagenham, Capital Growth which is an umbrella organisation enabling a whole range of different growing and education initiatives across the city, and the Calthorpe Project in Grey’s Inn Road. This has been run as a community garden since, in the early 1980s, local residents persuaded Camden Council to give them use of a derelict site in Grey’s in Road instead of giving permission for its development into yet another massive block of office.
The ‘mission’ of all these groups is to create a more sustainable food system, growing locally, and organically and involving local communities as growers, as traders and as consumers. By selling the produce that they grow through box schemes and local markets they aim to be self sustaining although most need ‘topping up’ either by local authorities or by funding charities.
But because of the social benefits that they bring in their wake this support is relatively easy to access. They all run training schemes and all work with local schools and groups of disadvantaged residents – the elderly, unemployed, mental health sufferers etc etc. One of the interesting aspects of the Calthorpe Project, for example, is that gardening there is one of the few activities that the large local population of Bangladeshi women would be allowed out of the house to do.
An added bonus that the groups would, rightly, claim is that their flourishing farms are also delivering benefits to the built environment in terms of encouraging wildlife, better drainage, healthier soil and generally raising environmental awareness.
Meanwhile, engaging the local population in looking after the farms and growing and selling the foods means that many of them will be eating far fresher, more nutritious food than if they only ever shop in a supermarket.
Moreover, engaging the local population in the farms – and especially in pop up schemes like skips or the grow bags in dirty corners – really develops a community spirit, pride in the environment, involvement with neighbours and a generally safer environment for all. What is there not to like?
To learn more – and especially about volunteering with any of these groups, all of which rely heavily on volunteer labour, check in to:
Urban Bees (King’s Cross)
This is Harold.
Harold is 15 weeks old today. He is a miniature wire haired dachshund and he belongs to Sarah – and, as you can see, he truly loves her.
This is a white Scabious. The scabious also belongs to Sarah.
And this is the Thames estuary just outside Faversham where Sarah, Harold and the scabious live.
And this blog is merely an excuse to post pictures of Harold, and of Sarah’s garden, the latter created just two year’s ago out of a pile of builders’ rubble and open this year for the National Gardens’ Scheme!
Mind you, Sarah does have form as a gardener. For years she manfully dug and beat into shape several allotments in north London and until recently she wrote the weekly gardening column in The Lady.
Now, in her relatively small patch in Faversham, she is able to grow some very well behaved vegetables, indulge herself with a deep herbaceous border, pick from already well established raspberry, blackberry and gooseberry bushes and await her crop from an extremely healthy looking little apple tree.
Down the mega sunny wall a small green house is home to heavily burdened tomatoes and cucumber plants while water butts collect the rainwater from its roof and that of the small brick shed – all is left of the original builders rubble. And it has now all but vanished under a keenly climbing rose and a clematis.
Back on the brick patio outside the house pots are filled with herbs, with iris and with ‘interesting’ plants – like this pretty little daisy whose name I am sure she told me and I have forgotten.
Of course the patio also provides an excellent place for Harold to sun bathe… And – ‘Come on,’ he says, ‘I thought this blog was meant to be about me! All you have talked about so far is all those boring old plants….’
When I went to stay this weekend Harold had only been allowed out in the street for a few days so the big wide world was still very big, very wide and VERY exciting! Since modern dog training says that whatever you do you must not drag them from the enticing smells at the side of the road, progress into town was slow – to very slow. However, once we finally made it into the busy Sunday morning market progress ceased entirely. Every person we met was greeted as a long lost friend…
and as for other dogs…… This poor retriever was very puzzled by this funny little runt with the flapping ears…
Although Harold wasn’t too sure when it came to investigate a bit closer…
A bit further down the street, he’d obviously decided that running away was not the answer…
After all this excitement, a lap to rest on while we had lunch was very welcome…
…and once we finally got home, he couldn’t even be bothered to sort his ears out before crashing on the patio….
I had never met a wire haired miniature dachshund before but Sarah assures me that they are the most delightful, fun, loyal and loving of dogs – and certainly Harold is a total joy. Except, of course, when he decides to play with the latest, rare and very expensive specimen plant that you have just fitted into the herbaceous border….. Does puppy training work for plants?….
Obviously there is an unspoken law that all wire-haired miniature dachshunds have to have names starting with ‘h’ as Jacquie Broadway has just sent me pictures of Haggis and Horace…. Haggis a relatively old man at around a year old, Horace about a week younger than Harold…… Thank you, Jacquie…..
This is the view across Wensleydale – and yes, the sun is trying to shine, even though the rain clouds are hovering. From the tiny hamlet of Sedbusk, across the Stonehouse Hotel where we were staying for a couple of days, to the very pretty village of Hawes. And this is one of the amazingly floriferous front gardens in Sedbusk.
The webmaster and I had gone for a brief gluten and dairy-free break in the Yorkshire dales – in the full knowledge that we would have to pass on the Wensleydale cheese! We had booked into the Stonehouse Hotel having warned them about the df/gf diet and been reassured that although they could not offer us the full menu, they could certainly offer us a good choice of dishes. The hotel, by the way, was delightful and very comfortable – this is the lovely front garden in which, if you were up early enough, you could watch baby bunnies running riot! And the staff could not have been more charming – chatty, friendly, helpful, nothing too much trouble.
And they were right – apart from the cheese course (six different varieties of Wensleydale!!) we did have a good choice of dishes both for breakfast and dinner. And where the dish was not suitable, chef was happy to alter it to make it so – cooking in olive oil rather than butter, substituting a gf/df sauce for the offered one etc. And we were asked if we had any nut issues.
Vegetables always came with olive oil, not butter; we had a selection of gluten-free breads and rolls (with oil not butter) for both breakfast and dinner and although on the first night the only gf/df desserts on offer were….. fruit salad and sorbet….. by night two chef had come up with a df/gf panna cotta based on coconut milk.
In fact, I was agreeably surprised by how allergy-aware Wensleydale seemed to be. Admittedly, it is in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park so it quite touristy area but every café had some sort of gluten-free offering – even if it was prepacked rather than home made. And… when asked about dairy/milk free. Yes, they they did have something we could eat (thanks to an increase in vegan visitors, I suspect) and were aware when questioned that, for example, not all margarines would be dairy/milk free. Encouraging….
However, we did not spend out whole time in pursuit of food. We were there to walk….
Day one saw us heading off from Bolton Castle for the Aysgarth Falls – across the fields following the walking map through the tiny, narrow stiles – designed that small, I am assuming, so that the sheep are not tempted to try to get through – but you certainly would not want to be carrying too much weight as a walker….
The map was good but for some reason (he really should know better by now) the Webmaster agreed to my suggestion that we needed to head down to the river to get to the falls rather than following the path across the top of the fields…. Errrr…. no…..
By this time the sun was beating down and it was getting quite steamy. We did get pretty close to the river but found ourselves in a maze of sheep filled, sun-drenched fields, all with very classy five barred wooden gates. Each gate led into another field, with another classy five-barred wooden gate, leading into another field… No sign of a friendly little stile or a nice wooden footpath sign. Just a lot of slightly bemused sheep who obviously did not get visited that often by errant walkers….
Eventually, around ten fields and as many five-barred gates (not to mention a few walls and nettle-filled ditches) later, the gentle roar of the Aysgarth Falls led us to the corner of a far field and escape. By that time, I suspect that I would have greeted even Niagara with a slightly jaundiced eye – but the Aysgarth Falls were very pretty…..
Chastened by my map reading failings (and by the fact that it was chucking it down in Wensleydale) on day two we headed south so that we could head up a bit of the Pennine Way (the walkers equivalent of a motorway….) towards all 693 metres of Pen-y-Ghent.
We did not actually make it up all 693 meters because at around 650 metres we encountered a positively Siberian gale and decided that maybe honour had been satisfied and that retreat would be in order. We also were keen to get back to Hawes as we had seen seen a notice that at 6.30 there would be a sheep dog demonstration.
This happened down down in the valley just below the hotel and there must have been a good 40 people there. We arrived rather late so never actually found out who our ‘shepherd’ was. But it was pretty clear that he and his dogs were no mean operators and spent a good deal of their time on the sheep dog trial circuit, not just coralling sheep in Wensleydale.
I had never watched sheep dogs at work before – it is fascinating – although you do feel bit sorry for the poor sheep, driven this way and that and never seeming to know what they are meant to be doing!!
I did know that the dogs basically worked to whistles but I had not realised that each dog had, effectively, its own whistle. So while the length and staccato nature of each whistled command is the same (right, left, stop, start and many more) each dog has its own ‘key’ – higher, lower etc. Which means that from this very simple little whistle, the shepherd may need to produce hundreds of different ‘whistles’ if he works with, as many do, five or six different dogs. The following little video (courtesy of the trusty iPhone) gives some idea of the range of whistles. Our shepherd was working two of his dogs here and their job was to separate off six of the lambs from the rest of the flock.
If anyone wished to follow in our footsteps, it took a relatively painless 4+ hours too pottle up the M1/A1M as far Bedale and thence on to Hawes. We could thoroughly recommend the Stonehouse Hotel to stay and the various walking maps that they have to offer – provided you stick to them! The countryside is stunning, the walking energetic but not too challenging, and there are a number of ‘places of interest’ to visit although, our limited time slot meant that we really only checked out the splendid Outhwaite Ropemakers in Hawes who have been making ropes since 1725 – and still do it in the traditional way.
What a coup!! You see those round little yellow tickets saying OPALS? They are there to tell you, on a scale of 1 – 10, how badly that flower and its pollen will affect you if you have hay fever or allergic asthma. And they are all over the gold-winning Birmingham City Council display at Chelsea Flower Show!
To be fair, its low allergy credentials were not the only thing in Birmingham’s favour when the judges did their rounds. The City Council had also joined forces with the Roland Emmet Society to create ‘A quiet afternoon in Cloud Cuckoo Valley’ featuring many of Emmet’s wonderfully bizarre creations – including this quirky little train which chuffed along the rail track stretched above the garden.
But, while Emmet’s creations were delightful, what we were interested in – and what it turns out the judges and the Royal Horticultural Society were interested in too – was the concept of low allergen gardening. (And just to reinforce the message, another part of the brilliantly colourful Birmingham stand with more OPALS tags…)
Anyone who suffers from hay fever or allergic asthma knows only too well what misery the pollen season can bring. But what most people do not realise is that, with some more informed planting of both our gardens and our public spaces, we could significantly reduce that misery.
As is so often the case, it all comes down to sex…. Male plants are keen to disperse their pollen (for which read sperm) as widely as they can – perfectly reasonably. And one of the ways that they choose to do so is by releasing massive quantities of that pollen into the air in the hopes that the wind will carry it far and wide where it will be picked up by female trees or plants wanting to be fertilised. Female plants wanting to be fertilised, suck that pollen out of the air and use it for their own purposes. But female plants also produce fruit, which, especially in town planning terms, cause a mess and a potential hazard, by falling on pavements. As a result, town and park planners and even garden planners have tended to go for male trees which will not create a mess. But while they may not create a mess, they do blast ever increasing amounts of pollen into the air massively increasing the allergen load for those who react to it.
Californian horticulturalist Tom Ogren has been putting this message out for the last 30 years (see his Allergy Fighting Garden, Safe Sex in the Garden and a whole series of articles on the FoodsMatter site). And in the process he has developed OPALS (the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale) which rates over 5,000 plants on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the least allergenic and 10 the most. His long term aspiration is that city and garden planners will change from planting male to female trees which would scoop the pollen out of the atmosphere instead of blasting more into it. But via the OPALS scale he is offering anyone and everyone the chance to improve their immediate environment by planting their own space with low allergen plants. And before anyone says, oh but they will be so boring and have no colour – just look at the two images of the Birmingham stand above. All of those flowers have OPALS ratings of 4 or less.
While Tom does visit us from the West Coast now and then, his baton has been taken up with amazing energy and success by Nigel Clarke who runs The Queux plant centre in Guernsey.
While filling all of St Peter Port’s hanging and window boxes every year and running Green Legacy Guernsey, Nigel is determined to turn Guernsey into the first allergen-friendly island in the UK. To that end he has created the OPALS tags that you see in the Birmingham garden, which he uses on all the plants that he sells. He also has a heavy breeding programme female trees, hedgerow plants, bushes and flowers.
But, Nigel is not content with merely ensuring that Guernsey becomes a low allergen island – he is busy converting the rest of the world! And through a series of fortuitous connections, he came to talk to Peter White, Deputy Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens – and through him to Darren Share, Head of Parks at Birmingham City Council who is responsible not only for all of Birmingham’s parks but for their stand at Chelsea Flower Show. Nigel is a persuasive fellow – and the cause he has espoused is a good one. Peter White and Darren Share were so Impressed with Nigel’s argument that public authorities had a duty to reduce the allergen load for those 20% of their citizens who suffer from either hay fever or allergic asthma, that they are now reviewing all of the parks’ planting policies. And as a first move towards this change of direction, Darren reviewed his planting scheme for this year’s Chelsea Flower Show to ensure that all of the flowers on the stand would rate at 4 or less on the OPALS scale.
And just fully to dispel the myth that low allergen gardening is going to be sad or depressing, these wonderful clematis, a new type also seen in the Grand Pavilion at at Chelsea, are rated at OPALS 3 (1 being the least allergenic, 10 the most)….
as are these totally amazing begonias….
For more detailed explanation of how and why pollen affects us so badly and what to do about it, see this blog or buy Tom’s Allergy Fighting Garden which includes an A–Z listing of 5,000 trees, shrubs and flowers with their allergen rating. For those interested in the town planning aspects of reducing the incidence of allergy, see Tom’s article here on the FoodsMatter site.
What you can do in your garden
Meanwhile, if you are a garden loving hay fever or asthma sufferer, do seriously look at the possibility of reducing the allergens in your own space. There is nothing you can do about the trees that are around you but just planting low allergen hedge around your garden will already start to protect you. All of the following hedging plants are low allergen and the lower you go (on the OPALS score) the better your protection:
If you want to have a lawn, make sure that you keep it mown short, always wear and mask when mowing and mow in the afternoon or evening; most lawn grasses release their pollens between 3am and 8am.
Do not grow grasses in your garden.
Before buying new plants, check then on the OPALS allergy scale (you will need to buy Tom’s book to get this) and check all your prospective purchases against the scale. Do not buy any plant with a rating higher than 4.
NB. For readers in London,specialist allergy and asthma nurse Shenagh Hume and children’s garden designer Jackie Herald will discuss London’s street tree planting with health in mind. Thursday 1 June 2017, 12.30pm -1.30pm Committee Room 3 at City Hall, SE1 2AA. This event is FREE.
And…. The Birmingham garden is being re-created at the Gardener’s World Live show at Birmingham on the 15-18th June!