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Monday, 23 March 2015

London's new Sky Garden

The capital's newest and highest public space, The Sky Garden, at the top of the Walkie Talkie (aka 20 Fenchurch St), is now open and thriving. The first visitors back in February were rather underwhelmed with the planting, but the better weather and longer daylight hours means the plants are starting to feel at home under the glass dome.
When I was there last week, new shoots were emerging on the tree ferns and an iris was in full bloom.
The atmosphere is tropical, with plants mostly from Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand and the Mediterranean – look for the Aeonium (below) African Lily (Agapanthus), Red Hot Poker  (Kniphofia) and Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae).
 Interspersed are fragrant herbs including French Lavender and Rosemary.
The gardens run down terraces on either side of the venue, with restaurants in the centre and observation decks at the front and back. There’s also an open-air terrace facing south, looking towards the Thames, Tower Bridge and the Shard.
 The Sky Garden is on the 35th floor, so the 360’ views are spectacular – and they’re free, though you must book in advance. You can return time after time just to enjoy the changing panorama, or to meet friends for a coffee or a bite. (The restaurants offer everything from a coffee and croissant to a meal with a range of prices: Venison Pie, £18 and Tuna Nicoise £13 at the Darwin Brasserie; Dressed Crab £22 and Whole Dover Sole £42 at the Seafood Bar and Grill.)
The atmosphere is relaxed. There are plenty of places to sit and enjoy the surroundings and because of the booking system it’s not too crowded. My only gripe was that there was no information about what you can see – either the view or the plants. Perhaps that will come later, as it would be interesting to know the background to the building and the planting. In the meantime, perhaps have a map handy to orientate yourself.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

An eco-friendly way with seedlings

It’s always interesting to meet the people behind products, especially in the gardening world, so I was delighted to come across Jane Vere-Hodge at a recent garden press event. Her company, Nether Wallop Trading Company, markets many useful garden items made of traditional materials, but the one I’m most familiar with is her Paper Potter, which turns old newspapers into mini-pots for germinating seeds. 

 It's a simple concept, and I have friends who use them. But how did the product come into being? Jane says it happened when she moved house and found herself with a large garden. Full of enthusiasm, she began growing plants from seed, but soon became concerned about the number of plastic pots she was getting through. She  starteds. She told me the idea came to herrtebegand growing plants from seed. But it was a oon ran out of  looking for a more eco-friendly way to raise seedlings – experimented, and the original Paper Potter was born.

Some 20 years on, it’s still a top seller. 


Sunday, 1 March 2015

Dahlias for dinner?

Come autumn, I would normally be digging up dahlia tubers and trying to store them for the following year. But this year I might be eating them instead.

According to the Swiss plant growing company, Lubera, they were a favourite food of the Aztecs, but when brought to Europe, became more popular for their colourful blooms. Five hundred years on, it’s reviving the edible tradition, having developed six varieties which it says have distinct flavours. 

Hoamatland, with petite, cylindrical tubers, has a delicate texture reminiscent of black salsify.
Black Jack, a giant dahlia, is described as very fine on the palate and tasting like asparagus and kohlrabi.
Kennedy is a hybrid with a hint of fennel and celery.
Sunset, with its elongated tubers, tastes fresh with a subtle kohlrabi aroma.
Buga M√ľnchen is sweeter and reminiscent of fresh parsley.
Fantastic cooks quickly, tastes sour, perfumed and smoky. 

Lubera says they can be cooked as you would a potato – boiled, roasted, mashed, etc. So – two for the price of one maybe: decorative flowers and a culinary experience.

The DeliDahlias should be planted in May/June, prefer full sun and thrive in a wide range of soil types. They’re available on the Lubera website at £4.99 for a 1.3 litre container.