Get Growing


GET GROWING 1 Aug2018.jpg


Friends of ours were visiting family in India and we’d get frequent reports of  fresh papayas for breakfast, chikoos and figs for a mid-day snack, drumsticks (the vegetable!) for lunch – all from the family’s organic garden and farm.

Green with envy, I bemoaned my deprived state. We were still in the brown slush stage in our gardens and there she was, stepping out into all that lush beauty. “The trees are full of mangoes that will ripen in due course,” she wrote in one e-mail.

Visions of the fruit large in my mind, I completely overlooked the delights that were in store for me just a few short weeks away in my own modest garden. Sure, I wouldn’t have enough beans for even one meal if the rabbits had their way like they did last year, but there was enough and more to awaken a winter-weary heart.

And the arrival of this book couldn’t have been better-timed as Mike Lascelle pointed me to all the ornamental edibles in my garden – food for both body and soul!

The nursery manager and certified arborist with a 35-year horticultural background, lists 100 perennials, shrubs, trees and vines that thrive in our northern climes.

It’s strange how the mind works. I read ‘ornamental edibles’ and think exotic potted plants. And there are those, bananas, bay leaf (tej patta in the desi kitchen), citrus and others. But Lascelle gently leads me back to staples in Canadian gardens and makes me look at them with new eyes. And respect. You may have your mangoes, I have apples! And cherries!

Gorgeous images are accompanied by useful information on hardiness, soil and water requirements, edible parts and harvest time.

I learn more about other plants I have grown for years. Amaranth, the plant better known by its more evocative name, Love Lies Bleeding, with its ropes of red. “Dreadlock-like clusters” as Lascelle describes them. Mint, that I can’t seem to get rid of, finds a place in his book. And hostas. The flowers and young shoots are edible, says Lascelle. “The flowers taste of honeysuckle and young pea, shoots have flavours of mild asparagus and green bean.” Who would have guessed, hostas?

He lists other plants that I may have known are edible – such as lavender, that I have tried in lemonade – and bee balm, but also lilac and linden. The large tree in our yard blooms profusely, but the flowers are small, not at all showy and I valued it mainly for the shade it provided for my hostas and columbines to flourish. Thanks to Lascelle, I tried Linden tea in early summer this year. One or two teaspoons of dried linden flowers per cup. 

Of course, for gardeners, it’s always greener on the other side of the hardy zone. I will never be able to grow Chilean guava. And jasmine (the flowers of which are edible) will remain a potted plant in my zone. But I can attempt gooseberry and hardier cultivars of grapes. And I have enough Jerusalem artichoke to set up a stall!

Carlos Magdalena, botanical horticulturist in the Tropical Nursery at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England, is renowned for his unique skills as a plant propagator who is saving the world’s rarest plants.

He has the miraculous ability to bring breathtakingly beautiful plants back from the brink of extinction. He travels to the far corners of the world in search of rare species and then back at Kew, uses pioneering techniques to help them propagate and prosper. In the prologue, he describes the saving of a cafe morron plant. Grown from a cutting taken from a plant on the island of Rodriguez in the Indian Ocean – the last of its species left in the world – Magdalena knows its survival depends on seeds. Would he be able to make this happen? With a cliffhanger such as this, he sweeps readers into the narrative.

With photographs of endangered exotic blooms as well those from his family albums – one of him as a little boy “showing early signs of becoming a geeky-looking natural scientist” and another lovely one of his eight-month old son Matheo sitting on a giant pad of Victoria waterlily, it is a delightful and informative read.