Category Archives: Edimentals

Nettle-leaved bellflower

Nettle-leaved bellflower (Campanula trachelium) has a more southwesterly distribution in Europe than my favourite giant bellflower C. latifolia and replaces the latter species in the south of England, France, Italy, Spain and North Africa and eastwards into West Asia. It has also widely naturalised in northeast North America. Like C. latifolia, it has edible sweetish tasting roots that contain the carbohydrate inulin like Jerusalem artichoke, good for diabetics, but can give flatulence. I suspect, however, that it takes several years to get to a usable size. I’ve been digging over an area of the garden into which Polygonum alpinum (Alpine knotweed) had invaded this week and there were also many self-seeded bellflowers with good sized roots, so I put them to one side to use in a delicious zucchini-bellflower curry which we ate last night!

Nettle-leaved bellflower has similar habitat requirements to the giant bellflower, inhabiting open woodlands and hedgerows and grows well in complete shade on the north side of my house amongst the Hostas. It has a preference for alkaline soils and grows well on clay. It is therefore an excellent plant for the forest garden, although given the choice I would prefer the giant bellflower as the spring leaves of trachelium are coarser and hairier and therefore less good in salads, but nevertheless fine finely chopped in mixed salads.  It has been used traditionally in Italy in mixed species spring soups such as minestrella (see page 59) and is one of the ingredients in pistic (boiled and fried, see page 59 of my book Around the World in 80 plants).

Campanula trachelium in the Jardin de Botanique, Paris at the best stage for harvesting tops and leaves
White flowered Campanula trachelium “Alba” has yellower spring leaves.
Campanula trachelium subsp aloha (in Kew Gardens)
Nettle-leaved bellflower thrives in shade together with Hostas

There are a number of ornamental forms available in the trade which you might like to try, including a single-flowered white form (var. alba), which has naturalized in my garden. The double white (‘Alba Flore Pleno’) form and “Snowball” (https://dorsetperennials.co.uk/product/campanula-trachelium-snowball) haven’t come true from seed for me. ‘Bernice’  is another deep purple-blue flowered cultivar.

Campanula trachelium in the background of emerging Allium wallichii flowers
Campanula trachelium flowers are edible and can be used to decorate salads
Naturalised blue and white forms in my garden
Nettle-leaved bellflower produces masses of seed

Runner Bean harvest

As I wrote earlier, it looks like we may have a glut of runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) this year, the first time for many years. Runner beans are borderline here and last year we only managed to get a few beans before the first frosts. This year, we could have made a first harvest a week ago, but I wanted to keep the first beans for seed for the next couple of years. Yesterday we had bread dough ready and therefore made a pizza with runner beans and a mix of fungi picked in the woods (separate post). The dough was 100% coarse whole grain rye, spelt and emmer (sourdough)! Delicious as always!

Edimental Runner Beans

My Dad (95) has always grown Runner Beans, so I have them in my blood. Moving to Norway, I was surprised to find that they were mostly grown as ornamental plants. Indeed, they are called Blomsterbønner (flowering beans) here. Similarly, broad (fava) beans were also rarely grown as a vegetable although both are being more commonly found in veggie gardens today. 
However, my cool windy shady hillside garden isn’t ideal for growing runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus), really needing a warm south facing spot for reliable yields. However, being in my blood I have to grow them every year, but some years I wonder why I bother, but still hoping for that bumper yield that we had once many years ago. There were so many that we salted many for winter use. 
Well, it looks like this year may finally be that year that my runner beans do crop well and there are already many young beans, perhaps a month earlier than normal, mainly due to the record  warm June here when  they grew almost as quickly as in Dad’s garden (we compare notes by phone every week!). However, a very cold July turned things around until things started moving again in August.
This year I’m growing four different varieties with different flower colour (we can at least enjoy the flowers!)
1. Celebration 
2. Heirloom Painted Lady
3. Czar
4. Plain old red Firestorm 

Broad Bean Mix

Broad beans (favas / bondebønner) will easily cross with other varieties that are growing nearby.  In order to keep a variety pure, you need to isolate them physically. I like to have different varieties with different coloured flowers and bean colour in additon to maintaining early yielding varieties such as Express. I’ve found that I can plant different forms close together and if I save separately beans with different colour and bean size and mark for saving plants with particularly nice flower colours, then I can maintain a good mix in the same place. The flower forms below are all growing within a few metres in the Væres Venner community garden. They were grown from the mix of beans saved at the same place in 2018 (first picture). I don’t offer the different forms as named varieties, but as a mix or composite “Væres Venner Mix” so that others can also select for separate forms! Bumble bees were all over the flowers when I was there!




Alys meets the Modern Monk in the Edible Garden

10 years ago today I had my first celebrity visit, from the UK! On 10th April 2010 I received the following email message entitled Permaveggies:
“I am a garden writer based in Birmingham, England. I came across your work via an interview with you on a website and am very interested in learning more about your garden. I also share a love for unusual edibles that can be used in an ‘ornamental setting’. I suppose my garden has one foot in the forest garden camp and the other in a cottage garden. The greatest majority are edibles (everything from your typical vegetables to the more unusuals) with the rest being useful plants for medicine, feeding the garden or pollinators. I suppose the interesting part is that it’s a typical row terrace garden that’s about 60 ft long- cramped in is one way of looking at its design principles. I’ve written a book about it called the Edible Garden with it in conjunction with a programme on BBC2.
Anyhow I would love to talk more about your work and what you’ve discovered. I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely
Alys Fowler”
The interview was the one published on my friend Telsing Andrews’ blog, The Veggie Patch Reimagined (see https://veggiepatchreimagined.blogspot.com/2010/02/stephens-edimental-oasis-interview.html).
As part of this BBC series, permaculture had just been featured on 7th April 2010. The BBC crew visited Tim and Maddy Harland’s (my publishers) garden and were bowled over by their mature forest garden full of food and wildlife.
In my reply I jokingly wrote “Stop by next time you’re in the area”!
Little did I know that she would do just that a few months later! It turned out that she was researching her book “The Thrifty Forager” and was “looking for people to interview who boldly eat what others might not think to…”!
Alys’ book The Thrifty Forager was published the year after but my book with Introduction by Alys took another 3 years!
She devotes a whole section to my garden, its plants and The Modern Monk (guess who?) :) In the foreword to my book, there’s a picture of Alys reading my old coverless copy of Cornucopia II in the garden!
Below are 4 albums of pictures taken by Alys’ cameraman Brian Wheeler!

I have fond memories of this visit during a really hot period after the coldest June since the 1960s. The first album are pictures from the garden, the second from a forage and swim in the fjord, then a trip up to a local mountain Vennafjellet , via a second swimming spot, Nevrahølet (we were finished quite quickly with the pictures and interview in the garden due to the wonderful weather) and finally some pictures from Trondheim!
Alys was also a presenter on BBC’s Gardener’s World and writes a gardening column for the Guardian!

Other blog posts about Alys!
Alys Fowler in the Edible Garden:
https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=276
Alys’ Pool: https://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=5572

1. Brian Wheeler’s photographs of The Edible Garden

2. Brian Wheeler’s photographs from a tour of the bay and beach below the house (after her swim, Alys said for the first time that I lived in paradise!)

3. Trip to Vennafjellet via Nevrahølet swimming hole in the eyes of Brian Wheeler

4. Alys Fowler in Trondheim (by Brian Wheeler)




 

Red-tailed bumblebee: new species for the garden

Yesterday, I registered red-tailed bee / steinhumle (Bombus lapidarius) for the first time at the community garden (Væres Venner), the first time in this part of Trondheim. This is a common species in the city and is probably the commonest bumblebee in the Allium garden at the botanical gardens. Today, I saw this species for the first time in my own garden, the first record in this area.  It was on Allium pskemense, probably the most popular plant in my garden for bumblebees. In the second video you can see both the white-tailed bumblebee (Bombus lucorum; lys jordhumle) and tree bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum; trehumle). Please correct me if I’m wrong!

A diversity of garden orach

I’ve grown numerous forms of garden orach (Atriplex hortensis; hagemelde) over the years as they are useful and decorative (edimental) annuals for the summer garden. Even though they are grown quite close to each other they don’t see to cross much. My red form (var. rubra) has maintained its colour for over 20 years in one small patch. Other favourites include golden orach (var. aurea) and an heirloom from Seed Savers Exchange in the US “Marie Barnes”. My favourite though is the Norwegian heirloom “Backlund/Bly” with enormous green leaves. Sadly, the seed doesn’t mature often here and I’ve lost it. Although this plant originated in Norway, it no doubt modified to its new home in the Mid-West in the US where it was maintained for several generations in a Norwegian family. See the (Norwegian) story here:
http://www.edimentals.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/3_Backlund-Bly_Hagemelde.pdf
There are also a number of green Danish heirlooms like “Lille Næstved Skole”
You can maybe spot red and golden orach as well as “Marie Barnes” in this salad ingredient picture (click on the plants in the picture for the names) https://www.adressa.no/pluss/magasin/article9858403.ece?rs6280711594805805236&t=1
I use them mainly in summer, both in mixed salads and cooked in numerous dishes, as there are plenty of other perennial greens available in early summer. 
See the pictures below:



A visit from Oslo and Kirkenes

With most Norwegians holidaying in different parts of Norway this year, there are a lot of folks passing Malvik both northwards and southwards and I’ve recently had several requests to visit the garden again. On Saturday,  I spent a pleasant couple of hours in the company of Mads Pålsrud (from GROWLAB, who designed Norwegian Seed Savers / KVANN’s logos) and musician/gardener Bård Watn from Oslo who were here together with Karoline Rånes Fagerheim, who lives in Kirkenes, and her friend Rannveig:

Mads took the following pictures during the garden tour (nice to see what somebody else notices in the garden)