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
The pumpkin is characteristic of autumn and synonymous with October and Halloween, it is also variety of squash and its true name being a cucurbita, which is the latin name for gourd. A gourd being a trailing or climbing plant, containing large fleshy fruits with a hard skin, some varieties being edible, others for decoration.
As a guide, the middle of October is an ideal time for harvesting of squash and pumpkin, however, one should be vigilant, they are frost tender and to harvest before the first frost is strongly advisable.
Allow the fruit to mature and colour wholly on the plant prior to the harvest, the colour being dependant on the type and variety which is grown.
The skins should be hard and not easily dented by a fingernail and its shine will also be slightly diminished. A soft outer skin will be susceptible to damage and eventual rot.
If the fruit cannot be harvested before a frost or a large amount of rainfall, then it is recommended to raise the fruit off from the ground, thus it is not in contact with the soil to lessen the chance of rot and infection. This can be done by the use of straw, cardboard or a solid object such as wood or a brick.
To reduce the chances of disease and infections it is best to harvest on a dry day and using a sharp knife or pruners and cut the stalk as far from the fruit as possible, ideally 10cm. The stem remaining intact with the fruit is essential for good health and storage and for this reason do not be tempted to carry them by their stems, the weight of the fruit causing it to brake off.
The fruit can then be cured, which entails leaving them exposed to higher a temperature, either outside or inside on a windowsill for approximately ten days.
This curing will improve flavour, heal any wounds and harden the skin. After they have been cured they can store for two to three months in a cool, dry and dark environment, ideally about 10c. However, beware that it does not become too
cold as they may soften and begin to rot.
During storage, ensure they are not touching each other and preferably, they are on a wooden surface or cardboard, do not store on concrete as it will increase the chances of rot.
Certain varieties of squash and pumpkins are suitable for a longer winter storage, whereas, others are best to be consumed this autumn, therefore, it is best to check which type you are harvesting. The popular squash varieties being the butternut, the golden butternut (coquina) and the striped harlequin are enjoyed with great gusto soon after harvesting.
Pumpkins which are best for consumption are not usually the best for Halloween carving and Jack-O-Lanterns. A rule of thumb being a smaller denser pumpkin will contain more flesh and are best for cooking, whereas, a larger pumpkin will have more area for artwork and with less flesh it will be easier to carve.
Gourds are extremely high in nutrients and being classified as a fruit they contain seeds too, which can also be salvaged and consumed.
It maybe for the culinary delights or for decorative purposes, either way, enjoy the wonderful squash and pumpkin which nature has provided us and after Halloween, why not return the pumpkin to the natural environment and use it as a bird feeder? It will be greatly appreciated.
Contribution by Oliver David Cook
Early autumn is an ideal month to divide the herbaceous perennials of the garden. These are the flowering plants which die back each winter, the roots remaining dormant beneath the soil until the arrival of the following spring, this bringing warmer temperatures which triggers new growth to commence once again.
There are a variety available, producing a beautiful array of colours for the entire summer season. Popular herbaceous perennials are:
The question is why to divide?
Herbaceous perennials can outgrow their space and look rather messy, particularly in the centres and after division, older plants will have an opportunity to rejuvenate.
The garden beds overall may have become overcrowded with plants encroaching on others adjacent to them and without dividing, the following summer the crowding will augment.
It is a productive method to increase the number of plants within the garden and to fill any empty spaces that may exist, this being division is quicker in comparison to growing from seed. It can also save money, if the garden has recently been landscaped then it is an excellent way of adding plants and colour to a newly formed bed.
When dividing, it is advisable to cut down the summer growth of the taller plants near to the base, then with a garden fork gently lift the plant working outwards from the centre as the most vigorous growth is found on the outer areas of the clump. Alternatively, the traditional method of digging deeper around the perimeter of the plant with the intention of
lifting the entire perennial.
A spade can be used on the tougher plants such as Hostas and slicing the clump in two after being lifted.
The smaller plants such as Geraniums, clumps from the outer edges can be lifted using a garden spade, then once lifted, they can be divided again into smaller clumps with the use of a sharp knife.
Perennials with tubers or rhizomes may naturally fall apart when dug, otherwise the tubers are often visible above ground, indicating where to divide.
The divisions should be planted as soon as possible and well watered, part of the clump could be replanted in the same position or a different area of the garden.
It is beneficial to clean the soil from the roots, the advantage being the health of the roots can be seen as one does not wish to replant damaged or diseased roots or tubers. When ever a plant is lifted it is subjected to shock, however, during the dormant time of autumn the shock is less profound. The plants growth cycle after division will be slow as it
recovers from this disturbance. The age old saying being;
‘After you divide a perennial, the first year it sleeps, the second it creeps, and the third
year it leaps’.
Contribution courtesy of Oliver David Cook on behalf of Green Landscapes Cornwall Ltd
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
In these unprecedented times the garden can become our saviour, a place where we can temporarily escape
from the tribulations which are unfolding around us and the rest of the world too.
The garden provides food and medicine for the soul, but it could be regarded as reciprocal, that is the
plants no doubt benefit too from human presence.
There have been scientific studies that plants may benefit from being spoken to by humans and a great
advocate of this was the Duke of Cornwall himself, The Prince of Wales.
It was back in 1986 that Prince Charles famously quoted ‘I just come and talk to the plants, really – very
important to talk to them. They respond.’
Indeed, the plants will respond from the release of carbon dioxide which is produced when people exhale
as they speak. The plants then absorb the carbon dioxide which aids them with their growth and through
the process of photosyntheses, oxygen is released as a by-product which in turn is breathed in by the
It also maybe plausible that plants benefit from sounds such as a person talking. Sounds are forms of
vibrations which the plants do respond to.
An experiment was carried out several years ago by a television crew who arranged plants into separate
greenhouses, each greenhouse having a different theme of sound. One greenhouse was silent, another was
subjected to the sound of people talking, another to classical music and one to the sound of rock music.
The greenhouse which remained silent had the least growth and the greenhouses with music being played
had the most growth, the greenhouse of rock music having the most growth of all.
However, from this conclusion it is recommended that one must not play loud music in their garden if it
would cause any tension with the neighbours at this time of self-isolation, but some gentle singing maybe
Why not try an experiment yourself? It can work with house plants too. Have two identical potted plants
which are placed apart from one another, but if possible the same amount of sunshine and water.
Continually talk to one and not the other and after three weeks, the results may prove conclusive, either
way it can help pass the time of self-isolation.
Otherwise, venture out into the garden and start talking or singing to the plants, select a different area of
the garden each day if possible.
When asked at a later date if he still spoke to the plants, Prince Charles responded ‘No, now I instruct
Whether you wish to instruct them or talk about the day to day events which are unfolding rapidly in front
of our eyes, without doubt it will benefit both the plants and the person who is speaking.
BY OLIVER DAVID COOK
MARCH FOR THE SUMMER BULBS
During the month of March the northern hemisphere spring equinox occurs, thus the length of
daylight is equal to that of darkness. From then onwards the daylight hours increase and the
gardening season is well and truly upon us and no doubt a floriferous spring and summer to look
A variety of summer bloom can come from the bulbous plants and the month of March is ideal to
plant the following popular bulbs:
- Cannas Lily
All of the above can be regarded as sub-tropical plants, which thrive in the sunny and warm
locations of the garden. Therefore, it is best to take heed of the weather forecast and not to proceed
with planting if a frost is imminent.
Essentially the difference between spring bulbs and summer bulbs is that the spring bulbs require
several weeks of cold temperatures to trigger the upward growth, hence they are planted in autumn
and remain in the soil throughout the winter with growth and blossom occurring in spring.
However, the summer bulbs with their preference for a warmer climate do not require this slumber
period of cold temperatures.
The term bulb is used generically as it includes bulbs, tubers, corms and rhizomes. They are all
underground storage organs, the correct name which classifies them all under one umbrella is
‘Geophytes’ originating from Greek, earth (Geo) and plant (phytes).
The planting depths can vary depending on the type of bulb, a good rule of thumb is two to three
times the size of the bulb which more than often equates to planting approximately 100mm deep.
Dahlias are root tubers and can benefit from being pot planted in a greenhouse for the initial growth
to commence and then transplanted into the garden, this is to ensure they do not succumb to any
frosts. It is however, the temperature of the soil, a minimum of 13c and not the air temperature
which contributes to healthy and beautiful dahlias, therefore, it is best to choose an area with full
sun and lighter, free drainage soil.
Gladioli and Crocosmias are both corms and to be planted approximately 100mm deep and it is
advisable to prepare the planting bed by adding some compost after loosening the soil with a garden
fork. The Crocosmia corms will benefit from being planted in clumps, whereas, the Gladioli should
be planted individually with the point of the corm facing upwards and by placing several in close
vicinity to one another, one will be rewarded with a fabulous display of blossom. Gladioli also
make excellent cut flowers for the enthusiastic florists amongst us.
Begonia tubers are suited for containers and hanging baskets and will provide a continuous colour
throughout the summer and autumn. The fibrous rooted variety are more suitable for the garden
beds. The tubers have a convex side which is planted downwards, the concave side will posses the
new growth and faces upwards. Plant in a pot with a thin layer of gravel/shingle to allow for
drainage then the remainder with compost and plant the tuber just beneath the surface.
The range of colourful begonias available ensure hanging baskets are a great addition to any garden.
The canna lily is a rhizome (underground stem) and the large bold tropical leaves and striking
flowers make for a terrific display and should be planted in full sun and a sheltered location away
from strong winds. Plant the rhizomes, with the growing points facing upwards, 100mm deep with
500mm spacing between each one for a superb summer display and then water thoroughly.
It is highly recommended to use a soil thermometer probe before the planting of summer bulbs, then
one can be sure the necessary soil temperature of 13c has been reached for a successful summer
It is a month which at times can show signs of spring and entice one to partake in some gardening. Indeed, if the weather is genial then February is the ideal month to prune those plants which belong to the RHS category of Group Six pruning.
Essentially, these are the plants which flower late summer to autumn and on the current new seasons stems and growth.
Examples of plants which adhere to Group Six pruning are:
As these shrubs flower on the same years growth a hard prune is required during the month of February and as in the case of the hardy Fuschias almost down to ground level, this can be extremely therapeutic too for the person who is doing the pruning. Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’ which exhibits a wonderful display of blue-lilac flowers, also known as Russian Sage, will benefit immensely from a hard prune back to its basal shoots. Perovskia thrives in many coastal areas and in many soil types and with aromatic leaves akin to sage and an appearance similar to lavender it makes an excellent low lying hedgerow.
Buddleja Davidii also known as the ‘Butterfly Bush’ can be cut down, using large pruners, to approximately half a metre from the ground, this will encourage upright shoots with a slight arching habit and will be greatly appreciated by the butterflies.
As a rule of thumb for shrubs which adhere to Group Six pruning, cut back the previous years flowering stems to one or two buds from the older framework.
Certain types of Clematis will also be required to have a hard prune in February, this is particularly the case for Herbaceous Clematis, Gypsy Queen and Clematis Viticella. They all flower on the current seasons growth in late summer and if they are not pruned annually the stems will be devoid of flowers and only up high will the flowers grow and most often amongst a tangled mass of growth. It must be noted that Clematis has its own pruning group classification, those which flower in late summer fall into Clematis Group 3, whereas, those which flower in early summer and on older wood or the previous years growth fall into Clematis Group 2. If unsure when to prune, then observe the time of year the Clematis will come into flower.
For the kitchen gardeners, autumn raspberries will fall into Pruning Group Six.
All old canes should be cut back down to ground level in February and the new canes will start to grow in spring and then fruit in late summer. It is important not to mistake summer raspberries for the autumn variety, as they fruit on the previous years canes, which would result in a loss of crop.
Contribution By Oliver David Cook
MISTLETOE the ‘air-plant’
Mistletoe, its true name being Viscum Album, is synonymous with this time of year particularly with the tradition of ‘Kissing under the Mistletoe’.
There are many ancient mistletoe traditions, the best known being the Scandinavian legend Balder, the god of peace, who was killed by an arrow made from mistletoe and was resurrected by the other deities. The goddess of love was then entrusted with the
mistletoe and regarded it as symbol of love, hence, any person passing beneath shall receive a kiss. Mistletoe is an evergreen parasitic shrub with white viscous berries and of the natural order Loranthaceae. It is a native of Europe and North Asia and requires a host plant with which to grow on, such as an apple tree in the garden. Orchards benefit from the growing of mistletoe on their fruit trees, thus yielding a return during the winter months when the trees are dormant. This is what makes the mistletoe so unique, it is also known as an ‘air-plant’ that is it is not rooted to the ground but it attaches itself to other plants, the correct
name for such a plant is an Epiphyte, this word originating from the Greek words epi (upon) and phyton (plant).
The bark and the leathery mistletoe leaves are of a yellow-green colour and are oval- lance-shaped, mostly in pairs. In spring, there are inconspicuous yellow flowers which consist of four triangular sepals, a similar number of anthers and an ovary with simple stigma. This is followed by poisonous white berries, however, they are devoured by birds most notably the Mistle Thrush, the seeds becoming attached to the branches of trees by their agency. On germination the embryo pierces the bark and penetrates to the wood and here it draws most of its food from the tree, but it manufactures carbohydrates in its leaves.The constituents of mistletoe can vary due to the host plant with which it grows on
and it is believed the Druids regarded the mistletoe which grew on an Oak was the superior, although Oak being a rare host. It possible to grow your own mistletoe and there are numerous fact sheets and websites available including the following:
Hello everyone, Green Landscapes Cornwall are sharing with you some ideas about how to implement different features for your garden!