Five Incredible Edibles from Hampton Court Palace Flower Show
by Mark Ridsdill Smith
Blackcurrant Sage from Hooksgreen Herbs, RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, 2011
I’m always on the look out for unusual crops that are both productive and attractive to grow in containers. The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show proves a wonderful source of ideas and inspiration.
First up in the Grow Your Own Marquee, the Trehane family’s stall (The Dorset Blueberry Company, GYO9) is packed with blueberries and cranberries. While the blueberry is already very popular as a container crop, its relative, the cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon), has attracted much less attention. But they’re well worth trying. As Jennifer Trehane explains, “The plants have evergreen foliage and pretty pink flowers in June, followed by green, then red, berries so they’ll add interest to your space all year round. The red berries can be harvested from September but if you want to enjoy home grown cranberry sauce for Christmas or Thanksgiving, you can safely leave the fruit on the bush until December. Birds will not eat the berries.”
Like blueberries, cranberries need acidic (ericaceous) compost. They look particularly good in hanging baskets – just be sure to line the basket with plastic, as they like plenty of moisture. A 35cm hanging basket is perfect for a two to three year old plant. The cranberry is fairly hardy, but Jennifer advises against leaving hanging baskets in exposed, windy spots during the coldest months of winter.
Buckler Leaf Sorrel
Sorrel is a superb salad crop, so I was delighted to find the more unusual, buckler leaf sorrel on the Hooksgreen Herbs stall (GYO11) next door. Buckler leaf sorrel (Rumex scutatus) has all the best qualities of common sorrel but is a much more attractive and compact container crop. It has the same vibrant, lemony taste, so it works well as a salad ingredient or as a herb to flavour fish and egg dishes and it’s also very easy to grow, producing green leaves throughout summer and winter. But while common sorrel is, well, common to look at, buckler leaf sorrel has pretty arrow-shaped leaves. Also, as sorrel has a pretty punchy flavour, the small ‘buckler’ leaves are a better size for salads – just a small handful will add plenty of zip. Sorrel is relatively unfussy but grows best in a good quality compost in partial shade (in full sun the leaves can become rather tough over summer).
If sorrel spices up a salad, edible flowers add colour and character. Although daylilies are commonly grown as a crop in Asia, the fact that the flowers are edible is less well known here in the UK. The RHS Edible Garden is doing its bit to change this though, with a variety of daylilies on show in the Fruit, Flower and Vegetable section. Most daylily flowers have a deliciously sweet flavour, particularly near the base where the nectar is produced. The smaller ones can be used whole in salads, while the larger ones are usually torn in strips. The baby shoots in spring can also be eaten. Daylilies grow well in multipurpose compost in 30 – 40 cm pots and only need a few hours of sun each day.
Amongst the wealth of herbs on show, it was the flowering sages that caught my eye and then captivated my taste buds. Blackcurrant sage produces bright pink flowers right through the summer and autumn and would look stunning in a container or window box. The small leaves release a blackcurrant aroma when rubbed and taste of sage with a hint of fruit. They can be used in cooking like ordinary sage, or added in small quantities to salads, fruit salads, and summer drinks. It grows best in a sunny site and a well drained soil (an easy way to improve drainage of multipurpose compost is simply to add 10 – 20 % sand).
I love finding crops that are worth growing in even the smallest space. Lemon verbena, also available from the Hooksgreen Herbs stall, is a definite contender. You only need a couple of its strong, sharp, lemon scented leaves to make a refreshing and reviving breakfast tea. The leaves can also be used to flavour fruit salads, puddings and home-made cakes – simply lay the leaves on the base of a well-greased cake tin and pour the mixture on top. The flowers are edible too and are delicious scattered over fruit salads. Like the blackcurrant sage, it will do best in a well drained soil and a sunny site. It doesn’t survive cold weather and needs bringing inside before the first frosts.
Some final thoughts . . .
If you grow in a tiny space, a wormery is the perfect way to make compost from your food waste. They take up little space, don’t smell and make highly nutritious compost. I like wormeries made from wood (as the wood insulates the worms from extremes of hot and cold and ‘breathes’ better), but they are usually a bit tricky to find. So I was delighted to come across the Bubble House Worms stand (PK126) which supplies a wide variety of wormeries, including several fine wooden models. The Bench Wormery, £150, is cleverly designed so that it can also be used as a seat – ideal for any garden where space is at a premium. If you prefer to make your own, Bubble House Worms generously provide instructions as well as lots of other useful information about worms and bokashi on their website www.bubblehouseworms.com.
As I was leaving the show I was inspired by this table in Burgon & Ball’s 5-A-Day Garden (PAL328). With salads and edible flowers in the centre, eating al fresco doesn’t get any easier!
The RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show runs until Sunday 10th July. Tickets are still available.