Category Archives: water plants

The mini-pond and marginal areas

My house was given the name Bergstua by the previous owners, literally meaning house on the rock, a rocky hillside overlooking the fjord. Not a natural place for a pond. I wanted to have a pond somewhere, initially mainly for wildlife, habitat for frogs, drinking water for birds etc. 
I eventually chose a small depression in the rock where the previous owners had presumably blasted a hole in order to erect a flagpole. Not being one for flags, I decided to convert this area into a pond and this involved removing both the metal support and concrete base and this took a couple of years of hard work as I also wanted to avoid machines. If it was feasible by hand I would do it by hand, even resisting an electric drill  for many years. I used to come home from work and spent half an hour every day hacking at the concrete with a metal digging bar and when that was eventually removed deepening the depression in the shale-like rock (phyllite).

The hedge you can see behind the pond was Cotoneaster lucidus which has non-edible berries that not even birds take until they are desperate. We bought a rubber liner for the pond in the UK on one of our trips to visit family. I initially filled the pond and the boggy marginal areas with wild plants and creatures like water boatmen and frog spawn from lakes in the area, but regretted a few of the introductions like Equisetum fluviatile (swamp horsetail). The frogs never really thrived but a few survived for a few years and one took up residence in our septic tank…
I later gradually converted the pond to an edible pond and the hedge behind was dug out and replaced by a diverse edible/bird friendly hedge including Morus alba, Crataegus, Viburnum edule, Sambucus nigra “Variegata”, Viburnum opulus, Amelanchier “Thiessen”, Rosa spp., Staphylea (bladder nut) and a few others. About 10 years ago, I overhauled the pond, digging out all the soil and replanting from scratch in order to remove all the horsetail and other aggressive plants. Below is a video of my little collection of water and bog plants this week and below the video is  list of plants we see:

Featuring the following plants:
Gunnera tinctoria (G. chilensis) is one of the 80 in my book Around the World in 80 plants (ATW80)
Althaea officinalis (Marsh mallow/ legestokkrose)
Allium validum (Swamp onion, Pacific onion) which is also included in ATW80
Caltha leptosepala (Western marsh marigold, White marsh marigold / hvit soleihov)
Darmera peltata (Umbrella plant, indian rhubarb / skjoldsildre)
Lilium canadense ssp michiganense (Canada lily, Michigan lily / Canadalilje)
Saxifraga pensylvanica (Swamp saxifrage) is also in ATW80
Typha angustifolia (Reedmace, bulrush, cattails / smal dunkjevle)
Filipendula ulmaria “Variegata” (Meadowsweet / mjødurt)
Polygonum hydropiper (Water pepper / vasspepper)
Eupatorium cannabinum (Hemp agrimony / hjortetrøst) (for insects and butterflies)
Zizania latifolia (Manchurian wild rice) – not very useful as it’s the swollen stems infected by a fungus which is used.
Lycopus spp.
Apium nodiflorum (
Fool’s watercress, European marshwort)
Oenanthe javanica (Water dropwort, seri)



Swamp saxifrage salad

The swamp saxifrage (Micranthes pensylvanica, earlier Saxifraga pensylvanica)  is a very interesting perennial edible for a damp place in the garden. I grow it in damp soil next to my small pond.  It grows over much of northeastern North America in “marshy meadows, mucky seepages in woods, swamp forests, montane bogs and seeps” (Flora of North America). It is recorded as being eaten by the Cherokee people as a salad.
I obtained seed of this in 2003 as its edibility is mentioned in Cornucopia II:  “Young, tender, unrolling leaves can be used in salads, eaten as a potherb or briefly cooked in bacon fat”.  For various reasons I never tried it.
And then I bought Samuel Thayer’s book The Forager’s Harvest (2006) in which he includes this rarely foraged plant, despite it being  quite common over its range! He says that “…the only part of the swamp saxifrage plant that I consider worth eating is the flower stalks”. He considers the boiled young leaves hardly edible, being bitter and tough even when young. However, reading Sam’s account was at the same time that I had started to redo my overgrown pond and adjacent boggy areas. This took several years and it wasn’t until this spring that the swamp saxifrage was big enough again to be harvested!
The verdict: the flower shoots were delicious and crispy raw without a hint of bitterness or toughness. I served them with a simple olive oil and soy sauce dressing. I’d now like to grow a larger area of this! Sam advises against cooking them as this makes them very soft. Incidentally, I didn’t find that the top third of the flowers stalks are less palatable as commented by Thayer.

 

Jorge’s edible water garden

I’ll always be grateful to my friend Jorge Carona as without him I would never have been invited to Portugal. The story of how we met is told here:

Sintra Foraging with Fernanda Botelho

He was also instrumental in suggesting that the Ecoaldeia de Janas should invite me to give a course! Added to that, he did almost all the driving on my trip. I also spent two nights at his house on the hills in Calhandriz above Alverca near Lisbon and was able to see his edible water gardens for the first time! So here are a few pictures of the garden, sadly neglected as Jorge wasn’t living here for some time! He has a large water tank under an outhouse to supply the water for this project! The pond is an oasis for wildlife in the dry countryside which has been suffering from drought for several years! Many thanks, Jorge!
Other edible water plants in the pond: Bacopa, Acorus, Oenanthe, Houttuynia, Aponogeton and watercress. Elsewhere in the garden, Jorge has planted apples, pears, orange, plums,fig and edible bamboos! A great little garden!

Chinese arrowhead: chestnut and artichoke in one vegetable!

Nothing like the promised “giant” 5-10 cm tubers, I was nevertheless surprised to get maybe 3 times the yield of what I planted of chinese arrowhead tubers – Sagittaria trifolia subsp. leucopeta (syn. S. trifolia var. edulis)…a much bigger yield than when I tried North American wapato (Sagittaria latifolia).
211018: I finally got round to trying some. I didn’t peel them and didn’t trim away the edible shoots and started steaming them (as I usually cook potatoes).  Then halfway through I remembered a post by Alison Tindale (see https://backyardlarder.co.uk/2017/11/ducks-eat-duck-potatoes )  where she mentions that they were slightly bitter after boiling,  I therefore boiled them (to reduce bitterness for the second half).  The verdict: one of the tastiest tubers I’ve ever eaten…the texture is like floury potato, but the taste not unlike chestnuts and yes a slight bitterness of the good sort, adding to the overall taste experience…and to cap it, the shoots taste like artichoke hearts!!
I think I will just steam them the next time!
I hope I will manage to overwinter them as I really need to grow more next year! I’m trying to overwinter in the cellar (about 3C and dark), on a window sill in a cool room and in my pond about 10 cm deep to protect  from the worst frost…maybe also covered with spruce branches!

Brown Cress is Back

BROWN CRESS IS BACK!
I received a tip via permies.com that hybrid brown watercress is again available in Europe!
In my book I wrote (in the piece about watercress):
“There aren’t many cultivars and the most common variety is ‘Dark Green American’. In the past, a naturally occurring hybrid between the two closely related species Nasturtium officinale and N. microphyllum (One-rowed watercress), known as brown cress (as it inherited the brownish winter leaves of N. microphyllum), was cultivated. However, this sterile clone had to be vegetatively propagated and the build-up of viruses led to its demise…….It would be nice if the old hybrid brown cress had been available to the home gardener, but I’ve never seen it offered.”
You can order it from:
https://www.kraeuter-und-duftpflanzen.de/Nach-Verwendung/Essbare-Pflanzen/Salatkraeuter/Braune-Brunnenkresse-Pflanz
Please let us know how you get on!

My pond is back

I finally got my Tiny pond back it into life today after 5 years trying to get rid of the Equisetum (water horsetail?) I foolishly planted many years ago…also removed the Zizania aquatica (Manchurian wild rice) which was also taking over..
Unfortunately seem to have lost my ALlium VAlidum (swamp onion), one of the 80 in my book, so if you are one of those I sent seed to, you know what to do :)
I have planted plenty of Saxifraga pensylvanica though, looking forward to trying that one!
P1760104
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Saxifraga pensylvanica:
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Some pictures of Allium validum:
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