My love of gathering wild food started when I was a child. I was born and grew up in London, but spent my childhood summers in the cabin my granddad built in the middle of the woods in Poland. The cabin was a world away from London life. Think washing in the stream, cooking on a wood fired stove, mushroom hunting, stargazing, and having to walk down a woodland path to get to the compost loo. Even when not in Poland, my parents have always loved a life outdoors, and would take my sister and I on all sorts of weekend adventures, many of which did involve mushroom foraging. I learnt about mushrooms mainly with my mum, who in turn learnt from her dad. There’s a big culture for mushroom hunting in Poland. I’m no expert, and really only know a handful of varieties, but the happiness I feel when I come across these mushrooms is immeasurable. Is it nostalgia? Is it something primordial? Or is it both of those mixed with the joy of being in the woods? Who knows. I only know that it gives me the kind of joy that seems excessive and bizarre to someone who doesn’t understand it. It’s also something that inspires my work. I’m an artist, illustrator and author, and my most recent children’s picture book ‘Wylder’ celebrates a more sensitive and mindful way of connecting with nature, including a good few nods to my love of wild food gathering.
There are many different thoughts that can lead me to go out looking for wild food. Mainly though, they fall into two camps: “I could do with some leafy greens,” or “I could do with some mindfulness/therapy.”
Over five years ago I moved to Cornwall, and although I’ve loved mushrooming since I was a child, it’s only in the last couple of years that I really started paying more attention to plants. A couple of years ago, it had been a while since I’d been mushrooming, and a beautiful solo adventure to a new spot reignited my love for it. It must have been then that I decided I didn’t want to rely on just one part of the year to get this feeling. I wanted to learn more about what you could gather all year round, which lead me to think more about plants.
Without knowing it you probably already know a good few wild edibles: brambles, nettles, dandelions… That’s how it started for me. Then one time, along with my sister and mum, I went on an organised foraging walk here on the coast. Gaining knowledge about some new plants sparked my interest further and had a snowball effect. Then learning more and more new plants randomly here and there whilst walking with or chatting with friends and family… It just changed the way I looked at things. I observed more during my walks, and I wanted to know what was what. It does surprise me just how much I’ve learnt through curiosity and interest. Gathering wild food and gaining knowledge on it is a satisfying and rewarding thing. I think the more you know, the more you want to know and the easier it becomes to absorb new knowledge.
Going out to gather wild edibles is a different way of looking at and engaging with your environment. By default you connect and interact with the land, you have to pay attention to your surroundings and engage your senses. I have no doubt that this form of focused awareness and presence has a great benefit for mind health. For me it definitely feels like mindfulness and a form of therapy. And how great it is to then on top of that have access to free food that’s full of nutrients, not only because it’s freshly picked, but also because it’s from more nutrient-rich wild and uncultivated soil.
In a supermarket you only have access to a handful of different leafy green varieties, but when you go for a walk you could be surrounded by dozens of edible plants without knowing it (and of course deadly poisonous ones too!). We’ve experienced a great loss in our connection to nature and food. The knowledge of wild edibles, something that is somewhere deep in all our blood, these days isn’t so readily available or accessible to everyone, and can all too easily start to seem like a fancy interest for the lucky people who have time on their hands.
It’s important to note though, that going out and picking plants to eat isn’t in itself a sustainable act, and on the contrary, when done in a non-mindful way, can actually be very damaging to nature and ecosystems. Something to remember is to never take more than what you will eat, and always leave plenty for wildlife… after all they don’t have grocery shops, and they completely rely on wild food. So go gently, and be mindful. Modern agriculture has a devastating impact on the planet and on the welfare of animals and humans, but with how densely populated the world currently is, plus how little wild spaces are left in comparison, if we all went to forage our own food right now this could have pretty interesting implications on the natural world too. Of course, it doesn’t look like we’re all suddenly going to do that, but it’s just good to stay mindful of how you interact with the natural world, whether it’s the environmental/ethical impact of the food you buy in a shop, or how you pick the mushrooms in the forest.
Here are a few common edible plants you may find it nice to get to know, and some of which you likely already know. These notes are not meant to be a guide in identification, just a little personal introduction to them that might inspire you to investigate further.
I’m sure everybody knows this one! Pick the top couple/few layers of leaves of this super food, and either make a nettle tea, nettle soup, add it to curry or pasta sauces, make it into a pesto, or just steam it and use it like any other cooked leafy green. You can use gloves if, unlike me, you don’t like the sting!
Such a versatile plant. I’m known to not bother de-weeding this nutritious medicinal plant from my veg beds, as I think of it more as a salad crop than a weed! You can eat the leaves, flowers, stems and cook the root. The leaves have a bitter taste, which I personally really like. I love the younger leaves added to salad (as it’s quick, easy and means you keep more nutrients intact by not cooking) and I’ve made soups and pestos out of the leaves too. The flowers are also great in salads, and I’ve made dandelion syrup from them before for a cake recipe, which is a nice thing to do when you have more time. But I’m definitely all about the faff-free plants that you can either eat raw or quickly cook, and dandelion is one of those for sure.
I think most of us know what a clover looks like with its three leaves, and how common it is. Both the leaves and flowers are edible, but up till now I’ve mainly only picked the flowers to add to salads. I really love adding flowers to salads, mainly for the colours and how it looks :)
Sorrel is one of those I had heard about for so long and wanted to find, but somehow only came across my first one way later… and now I see it everywhere! It really is a common plant. It grows in a rosette, and the main identifying feature is the pointed tails at the base of the arrow shaped leaf. It has a lovely sour citrusy taste, and I most like it added fresh to salads.
I love this succulent plant. It grows from stone walls and rock crevices and has a distinct appearance, so it’s an easy one to identify. It has a lovely fresh crisp taste and texture, and is great added to salads, curries, cooked dishes, or as a raw garnish to cooked dishes, to add freshness and texture. Be gentle when picking this one as the roots of the plant come up with the plant very easily if you’re not careful.
Another very common and highly nutritious plant that seems to grow almost everywhere. You can add the leaves to salads, and also add it cooked to dishes you would use other leafy greens in. I’d say I eat this one mainly because it’s so common and nutritious, not because it’s particularly tasty. I haven’t tried them myself, but apparently the flower buds have a mushroomy taste.
I’d known and loved honeysuckle and its beautiful scent for so long before I realised the flowers were edible! I add them to salads, and decorate cakes with them :)
Sea beet (coastal)
This rich green plant with its shiny succulent leaves can be found around the coast. It’s a great one to know about because it’s both very common and also delicious. Similar to spinach but tastier, and like spinach can be eaten raw or cooked.
Click hereThe Secret Wild Garden
Contribution by Maia Walczak words and pictures
Lavender is without doubt one of the most popular shrubs to be found in any garden and with good reason too, providing a plethora of pleasures from the amazing aroma to the wonderful lilac flowers, particularly as they sway hither and thither in a gentle summer breeze. Planted alongside paths and walkways, as a small hedge, the perfume emitted is
therapeutic for the person, whilst at the same time attracting butterflies and bees. Planting lavender in clumps or in hedge form ensues a profusion of blossom and is more beneficial for the insects as it means they can jump from flower to flower with ease, compared to a sporadic planting plan.
Towards the end of August is the favourable time to prune and harvest the flowers, the soil temperature is at its warmest and once pruned the plant will have an opportunity to grow new shoots before the approaching winter, these shoots will then spring into life the following year.
Lavender angustifolia is by far the most suitable to grow here in the UK, the varieties Hidcote and Munstead being the most popular, the latter producing a slightly darker flower.
Both fall into the RHS pruning group 10 classification, meaning they flower on new wood and regular pruning will prevent them from becoming too woody.
The best time of day to harvest lavender for its aromatic properties is early morning, during this time the oils of the flowers are most profound. As the daytime temperature increases the fragrant oils dissipate and the flowers will then begin to open up more and this is the desired time to harvest for decorative purposes.
It is important to use sharp secateurs or shears for pruning as a clean cut is essential and one must avoid from cutting too low into the wood stem section as this will prohibit any new growth which is formed on the upper section only. Aim for cutting one third of the leaf section and in doing so forming a nice evenly rounded mound for aesthetic purposes
The cut stems and flowers can be bundled together with an elastic band or garden twine and hung for drying away from direct sunlight and in a dry sheltered location. Once the lavender has dried, approximately 3 weeks, the buds can be rubbed or shaken off and stored in a lidded jar.
There are numerous applications for dried lavender with imagination being key. The reputed therapeutic benefits include induced calmness, promoting sleep and lowering the heart rate all attributing to a more relaxed state.
To enhance the aromas of the house, dried lavender can be used to aid cleaning with a sprinkling of the flowers on carpet prior to vacuuming to release the fragrance.
Lavender oils also have multitudinous benefits and uses and a visit to the UK’s most southerly lavender farm based here in Cornwall is highly recommended. Here a wide range of products can be purchased, providing much inspiration too.
Contribution by Oliver David Cook on behalf of Green Landscapes Cornwall Ltd
During the peak months of summer and particularly July, the garden more often than not is in
need of water and it is important to monitor all perennials, shrubs and lawn to ensure they are
receiving a sufficient amount.
Hanging baskets, container plants and newly planted summer bedding plants are the most prone
to drought due to being shallow rooted. Shrubs and trees will be deeper rooted and will be able to
source their water supply from further down beneath ground level, that is providing the water
table level has not dropped too low from a prolonged period of dry weather.
There are two sources of water supply available for use in the garden and they are tap-water and
rainwater, the latter being natural and more beneficial as it contains no chlorides and has zero
hardness. However, when there is a limited supply of rainwater, then tap-water will be the only
Ponds and water-features this time of year can drop to a low level and will require the use of a
hose for a regular top up to maintain a sufficient level, this will also benefit any fish, particularly
with the addition of a spray attachment which will aid in aeration.
To maintain a lush green lawn during dry periods can be challenging and it is advisable to water
only once a week to minimise wastage. An excellent suggestion by the RHS is to place an empty
jam-jar on the lawn and with the sprinkler running for a sufficient time, that is until 13mm
(0.5inch) has collected at the bottom of the jar. This is the optimum amount before excess water is
wasted as the lawn has now received its required amount.
With regards to watering plants, it is more economical and efficient to use a watering can
compared to indiscriminate watering by a hose.
Water management is extremely important during periods of drought and the essence of this is the
method of water storage and harvesting. The most popular method by far is the use of water butts
positioned below downpipes which then take the run-off of rain water from various roofs such as
garden sheds, greenhouses or even the house. With the water butt raised up on blocks, the tap at
the base can be utilised to fill watering cans with the valuable stored rain water. The question then
is when is the best time to water the plants and lawn of the garden?
The blades of grass will hold moisture in the early hours of the morning, the moisture retreating
to the roots around midday. It is a general consensus that to avoid evaporation the best time to
apply water is in the morning or evening whilst avoiding the heat of the midday sun. The morning
application is the most favoured, this is because the ground will be drier as the day progresses
compared to the evening time, equating to a reduced chance of mildew diseases and the arrival of
slugs and snails.
The final question being: Is it best to water from the top, watering the leaves too, or from the
bottom and the roots only?
The jury is still out!
THE CHELSEA CHOP
When one talks of gardening in the month of May, without doubt the Chelsea flower show
will spring to mind. However, due to the unprecedented events this year and the prohibition
of the coming together of large groups of people and social gatherings has equated to the
nations favourite flower show unfortunately being cancelled.
For the first ever time the show will be a virtual event which can be viewed online:
Nevertheless, just because there is no actual Chelsea flower show it does not mean that
we cannot partake in the Chelsea Chop.
The Chelsea Chop, to clarify, is a pruning method to determine the size, shape and the
flowering season of many of the herbaceous perennial plants. It is so called as it is carried
out towards the end of May, coinciding with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.
It is suitable for late flowering perennials. But, why should we carry out the Chelsea Chop?
It goes against the natural instinct to drastically cut back a plant prior to flowering.
If a herbaceous perennial is chopped down to half its height, using secateurs or shears, it
will delay the flowering until later in the summer. The plant will be more compact and
shorter which equates to less staking and the flowers can be more numerous if slightly
smaller. This is because the top shoots have been eliminated and side shoots lower down
will develop and produce the new flowers. Overall, the plants will look much tidier and less
If only half of the perennial clump is cut down, such as the front section, this will induce a
prolonged flowering season as the rear section will flower first, then followed later by the
pruned front section.
Plants which can benefit from the Chelsea Chop are:
- Phlox paniculata
- Echinacea purpurea
The following are suitable for coastal gardens:
- Anthemis tinctoria
- Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’
- Aster ‘michaelmas daisy’
The Chelsea Chop is hugely beneficial for perennials subjected to the coastal environment
of wind and salt spray. The chop creating shorter and stiffer stems and more stability.
The Chelsea Flower Show will be greatly missed this year, so why not visit the gardeners
world website and their own guide to carrying out the Chelsea Chop.
Hello everyone, Green Landscapes Cornwall are sharing with you some ideas about how to implement different features for your garden!