On Tuesday 23rd May I spent a great few hours together with Eva Johansson and Annevi Sjöberg from Sweden in my 3 gardens. They were on a fact-finding mission in connection with the project ”Främja fleråriga grönsaker i svensk matförsörjning” (Promoting perennial vegetables in the Swedish food supply). The project Främja fleråriga grönsaker i svensk matförsörjning is financed with funds from the Swedish Agency for Agriculture (Jordbruksverket) within the framework of the Swedish food strategy (den svenska livsmedelsstrategin). The project runs until Dec 2023. The Skillebyholm Foundation manages the project. Jen from Nottingham in the UK was visiting this week to help and learn, thanks to an RHS bursary! She joined us on the trip and can also be seen in the pictures below!
It’s always a pleasure to spend time with students from the Fosen Folk High School from the other side of the fjord. Despite the dreadful weather, we visited all 3 of my sites – the onion garden Chicago at the Ringve Botanical Gardens followed by the Væres Venners Community Garden and, finally, my own garden The Edible Garden (this is the first time I’ve taken a group to all 3 sites!). Those that took part were two of the “lines”: The Self-sufficiency line and the The Organic Farming line (small scale). The Organic Farming line were only on the first two visits, so the picture only shows the Self-sufficiency folk!
I’d sent a few bulbs of twisted-leaf garlic (Allium obliquum) to members of Norwegian Seed Savers’ (KVANN) guild for Alliums and had a few left overover, so I fried them up for lunch and ate them with cheese on toast. A delicious sweetish taste after heating in olive oil. The onions are also a good size! This was one of the 80 in my book Around the World in 80 plants!
(Note that there is a comment suggesting that this isn’t atroviolaceum and is probably rotundum, although accessions I’ve received as that species are much lower plants; will check in the spring) Allium atroviolaceum is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental. I’ve been growing it for some 15 years now and it is admittedly not very productive as an edimental under my conditions, but it’s nevertheless a beauty and it is currently coming into flower both in my own garden and the Allium garden at the Ringve Botanical Garden in Trondheim, where the pictures below were taken. Its wild distribution is in the Crimea, Caucasus, Middle Asia (Mountainous Turkmenistan, Syr-Darya foothill areas) and Iran.
In the Armenian Highlands in Eastern Turkey, there are several ethnobotanical studies documenting its use in local food, presumably wild collected, although there are indications that it might also be cultivated for food including: 1) In otlu peyniri, a herbed cheese made out of sheep’s or cow’s milk. it is used as a flavouring along with many other species (from Wikipedia): Ranunculus polyanthemos L.(Ranunculaceae) Nasturtium officinale R. Br. (Brassicaceae) Gypsophila L. spp. (Caryophyllaceae) Silene vulgaris (Maench) Garcke var. vulgaris (Caryophyllaceae) Anthriscus nemorosa (Bieb.) Sprengel (Apiaceae) Carum carvi L. (Apiaceae) Anethum graveolens L. (Apiaceae) Prangos pabularia Lindl. (Apiaceae) Prangos ferulacea (L.) Lind. (Apiaceae) Ferula L. sp. (Apiaceae) Ferula orientalis L. (Apiaceae) Ferula rigidula DC. (Apiaceae) Thymus kotschyanus Boiss. et Hohen. var. glabrescens Boiss. (Lamiaceae) Thymus migricus Klokov et Des. – Shoct. (Lamiaceae) Mentha spicata L. subsp. spicata (Lamiaceae) Ziziphora clinopodioides Lam. (Lamiaceae) Ocimum basilicum L. (Lamiaceae) Eremurus spectabilis Bieb. (Liliaceae) Allium schoenoprasum L. (Liliaceae) Allium fuscoviolaceum Fomin (Liliaceae) Allium scorodoprasum L.subsp. rotundum(L.)Stearn (Liliaceae) Allium aucheri Boiss. (Liliaceae) Allium paniculatum L. subsp. paniculatum (Liliaceae) Allium akaka S. G. Gmelin (Liliaceae) Allium cf. cardiostemon Fisch. et Mey. (Liliaceae) 2) In another study, the young shoots are used in various dishes and as a flavouring with yoghurt. It us used both boiled and raw. The bulbs are used to replace garlic in food. Local names in Turkey include sirmo, körmen, and yabani sarimsak.
19th June 2020: Video update from the Allium (Chicago) garden at the NTNU Ringve Botanical Gardens in Trondheim. The heat wave has brought many species into flower and the garden’s looking great! The official opening of the garden, planned for August, has been postponed to 2021. We are working on plant signs which will hopefully be added later in the summer. The garden currently contains some 300 accessions including around 100 Allium species and many old Norwegian onions collected over several years from all over the country and funded by Norsk Genressurssenteret and Landbruksdirektoratet. The signs for the garden are in part funded through a gift from Skjærgaarden (https://www.skjaergaarden.no) to KVANN (Norwegian Seed Savers) who have decided to use the gift at Ringve (see https://www.facebook.com/skjaergaarden.no/videos/2972781459487864)
Today at the Ringve Botanical Gardens I found the Allium garden was full of little workers eating the masses of birch seeds that had fallen during the winter….saving me a lot of work later. The first summer, there were thousands of birch seedlings in the garden…
I was walking through the garden yesterday towards the office at the Ringve in Trondheim and I heard a lot of noise coming from a group of conifers, magpies (skjære) excited about something. I walked around the trees to see if I could see what it was only to meet a couple of birders with long telephoto lenses! A tawny owl (kattugle), not something you see often in the garden. There are 3 reports of this species from Ringve, all in February during the last 10 years!
I’ve long had a Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) in the garden without a partner. The oldest is maybe 20 years old. I’ve several times tried to propagate more plants but they always died. I finally got a second plant going thanks to a gardening friend Alvilde who didn’t want hers anymore, but still no fruit, maybe it was a clone of the first one? This spring I took a few sprigs of flowering twigs from a couple of plants at the botanical garden at Ringve and put them next to my two plants. It did the trick as my two bushes were full of fruit this year, but only a few fruit on one of the bushes turned red and probably weren’t fully ripe. Perhaps we’ll make Polish Olives with them? It would be nice with a home grown olive surrogate? See Szczepaniak et al. (2019).
The bushes at Ringve, which were in a warmer and much sunnier spot than in my garden, were, on the other hand, laden with ripe fruit!
Although sour tasting raw, I was intrigued to see what they would taste like dried. My favourite dried fruit are sour cherries. Although not as good as those, I enjoyed the taste and they will this winter be part of my late winter dried fruit mixes that I eat every morning for breakfast once the fresh apples are finished.
There are many varieties of cornelian cherry bred for bigger fruits, there are also pear shaped fruit varieties and yellow cultivars. (Edit: My friend Jesper Bay tells me that there’s also a black fruited variety!) There are also a number of ornamental varieties, such as the wonderful variegated form I once saw laden with fruit in the Oxford Botanical Garden (see the pictures below).
´Elegantnyj´, ´Jalt´, ´Kijevskij´, ´Lukjanovskij´, ´Vydubeckij´ are Russian in origin; ´Devin´, ´Olomoucky, ´Ruzynsky´, ´Sokolnicky´, ´Titus´ are from Czechoslovakia and Slovakia; ´Joliko´ and ´Fruchtal´ are Austrian and ‘Ntoulia 1’ and ‘Ntoulia 2’ are Greek.<
There are also partially self-fertile varieties. Cornus mas has been cultivated commercially for centuries in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Turkey has today an important Cornelian cherry industry.
‘Kasanlaker’ is a large fruited cultivar which is available from nurseries in Western Europe.
I remember on a visit to Scandinavia’s oldest forest garden at Holma in Southern Sweden being shown a large Cornus mas in the centre of the city Lund on 1st September 2017! Here’s a picture of various forest gardeners harvesting the fruit (the tree was full):
Oskar M. Szczepaniak, Kobus‑Cisowska, J., Kusek, W. and Przeo, M. 2019. Functional properties of Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas L.): a comprehensive review. European Food Research and Technology. 245:2071–2087
There’s a great little American chestnut tree (Castanea dentata) just outside the office building at Ringve Botanical Garden in Trondheim where I work. This one has bloomed almost all summer.
The tree has separate male and female flowers, but there has to be at least two trees for pollination ….
I have 5 one-year-old trees from a northern provenance, Jefferson County in Washington State (via Chris Homanics in Oregon) and hope that Ringve would like to plant more eventually….I would love to see if the nuts would ripen here… and also help to preserve a tree species that is threatened with extinction by an imported fungal disease where it grows wild in eastern North America. In its homeland, this is one of the quickest to produce nuts from seed (as early as 5 years!)
Chris, one of my food diversity / preparedness heroes, wrote in 2016:
“Last month was spent collecting many distinct types of chestnuts from about 30 separate sites throughout Western Washington and Oregon. Some were even from old naturalized forests full of chestnut trees. Amassed it represents a diverse foundation stock for planting up, far and wide. In the face of growing droughts and the woes of climate change, I believe this plant will play a significant role in feeding people in the future as it has gone far back into the deep past. My hope is to help foster a revival of interest with the chestnut as a viable sustainable food source by offering a diverse collection of these nuts to the public to select and adapt to their local environment. ”
My other plants I’d like to plant in KVANN’s garden at Væres Venner Felleshage!
Yesterday was St. John’s Day and many Norwegians (and other Scandinavians) celebrated the evening before what is known here as Sankthans or Jonsok with communal bonfires, the big midsummer celebration on the eve of St. John’s Day! Sankt Hans is a short form of Sankt Johannes (and my grandson is Johannes, so this is for him <3)
There is a special perennial onion which was traditionally harvested on this day in the Netherlands, which I believe to have a much large potential than its current status as a local food crop, as it is so much easier to grow, in particular in areas increasingly suffering from summer droughts and water shortages, along with many other perennial vegetables. If nothing else, it complements shallots and onions in that it is available much earlier in the year!
On a visit to the Utrecht Botanical Gardens in the Netherlands some years ago, I’d photographed an onion called Sint-Jansui and given the botanical name Allium fistulosum var. proliferum.
Botanist Gerard van Buiten at Utrecht later wrote to me “Ah, I see you have found our “St Jansuien! Yes, it is an old local variety, grown around Utrecht. One of our gardeners used to grow it on his nursery a long time ago. Every year on “St. Jansdag”, a box of onions was delivered at Paleis Soestdijk, where Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard used to live. It is grown nowadays in some urban garden projects in the city”.
It turns out that this onion is not related to Allium fistulosum and is classified as a triploid hybrid onion Allium x cornutum which has been found both in Europe (Netherlands, France and Croatia) as well as India from where, it is speculated it may have originated. Like Egyptian onion / walking onion (Allium x proliferum), it is sterile and produces bulbils in its inflorescence. I’ve only experienced flowering of this once in 10 years of growing A x cornutum (see below). 10 years ago, Dr. Reinhard Fritsch had sent me 3 accessions from the German gene bank IPK Gatersleben, but only one of these has proven hardy here, although the French accession survived a few years. The other was from India and died the first winter.
In 2014, an open access paper appeared in the BMC Plant Biology journal (see https://bmcplantbiol.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2229-14-24). This study combined molecular, phylogenetic and cytogenetic data and provided evidence for a unique triparental origin A. × cornutum with three putative parental species, A. cepa, A. pskemense, and A. roylei. Hardiness is probably bestowed by Allium pskemense which has been growing in the Ringve Botanical Gardens in Trondheim for many years.
I had planted the Croatian accession in the new Allium garden at the botanical gardens in Trondheim a couple of years ago and I started harvesting it the other day as it starts to die back at this time of year and looks untidy:
In this little patch, there were an enormous amount of onions, admittedly a bit on the small size, but relatively easy to peel and far outyielding shallots here! I will now harvest these and replant to see how well these yield after one year of growth (I am unsure as to exactly when these were planted, but this may be two years of growth).
In Croatia, Puizina, 2013 says: “The term ‘shallot’ in Croatia denotes three genetically and morphologically different, vegetatively reproduced relatives of the common onion, Allium cepa, which are mainly traditionally cultivated for consumption and as a spice: A. cepa Aggregatum group, A. × proliferum and A. × cornutum”. Further, the triploid shallot is “traditionally cultivated in South and coastal Croatia under the name ‘Ljutika’ and it is very popular as a spice and condiment due to its tasty bulbs and leaves”….and “In contrast to most flowering species of Allium in which the leaves are already dying back at flowering time, triploid shallots are perennials, their leaves remain green and suitable for use during entire year”. Ban (2019) shows morphological comparisons of all three types of “shallot” and demonstrates that there are different forms of Allium x cornutum in cultivation, differing in leaf cross-section, bulb shape and leaf waxiness. Bulbs are traditionally preserved in vinegar (Puizina, 2013) as they are difficult to store, resprouting after harvest. It is also stated that A. x cornutum is tolerant of drought and poor soil, enabling it to persist in wild habitats. In fact my own accession of the Croatian shallot originates from such a habitat:
Plant passport data from IPK Gatersleben: “SOURCE – Croatia: Jugoslawien 1985 Dr Hanelt Nr. YUGHAN-85: 5, weedy: Tal zwischen Male Grablje und Milna, offengelassene Olivenpflanzung” (valley between Male Grabje and Milna, open olive plantation). This area has a very different climate than Trondheim, indicating that this is also a very adaptable onion.
The real St. Jansuien shallot from the Netherlands has now also been planted in the onion garden in Trondheim.
I will be making Johannes’ shallots (Sankthans-sjalott) available to members of Norwegian Seed Savers (KVANN) through our autumn catalogue (membership can be had by signing up here: https://kvann.no/bli-medlem . My grandson will also get a packet of onions for his birthday (but, don’t tell him yet…I want it to be a surprise ;) )
Ban, S.J., 2019. Samples included in DNA analysis. SafeAlliDiv meeting, Olumuc, April 2019 (Symposium presentation).
Puizina, J., 2013. Shallots in Croatia – genetics, morphology and nomenclature. Acta Bot. Croat. 72 (2), 387–398.
Perennial vegetables, Edimentals (plants that are edible and ornamental) and other goings on in The Edible Garden