exotic plants


DSCN3971
Moat and gatehouse at Borreby near Skelskør in Denmark

Last weekend I attended Danish Seed Savers relict plant excursion with botanist Bernt Løjtnant.

Relict plants are plants that once was grown, and which since has survived in the environment surrounding the original growing sites. The plants grow only around human settlements or ruins, as they have not been able to invade the forest or field. Therefore, we searched for them around the old manors Holsteinborg and Borreby, in the old fishing village Bisserup and at port and village on island Agersø.

There is also a time factor in the concept of relict plants. The plants must have survived since medieval times, i.e. before Columbus. Therefore no plant originating in America is recognised as a relict plant. Plants originating in America can have great cultural value, but they are not as old as the true relict plants.

DSCN4006
Greater Burdock, Gobo (Arctium lappa)

Relict plants was originally grown for a purpose, typically food or medicine. I was surprised to meet Gobo, an exotic root crop. All commercial varieties are of Japanese origin as far as I’m aware. It is a medieval vegetable that we have forgotten to use. Both roots and leaves were cooked. It is not impossible that we could find better varieties among our relict plants (for our climate) than the ones we find commercially. Some of the burdocks were much higher than I!

DSCN4019
White Bryony (Bryonia alba)

Every time we were presented with a medical plant, Bernt Løjtnant had an earnest word to us. They are toxic – very toxic! They contain not one but several poisons. The contents of toxins varies greatly from plant to plant, from leaf to root, from season to season. They are very capricious in use. White Bryony is one of them. We must not use them medically. Those who are not outright dangerous he considers to be ineffective, such as German Chamomile (extensively used in danish households).

I don’t entirely agree, either entirely disagree.
I love to use my Calendula tincture internally, can’t imagine having to do without it. But it might not be effective. I believe in it and that’s enough for me. I prepare it my at home, so it is cheap. If it doesn’t help my health, it brightens my life anyway 🙂

DSCN3965
Borreby near Skelskør

More photos at Flickr (click here)

DSCN4005
Wolfberry, Goji (Lycium barbarum)

Goji berries have become fashionable as a power food. I knew that it is wolfberry, that grows wild in Denmark, but I thought they were imported as late as in the 1800s. So it was exciting to hear Bernt Løjtnants explanation on the use of wolfberry in eelgrass fences in the countryside in Denmark back in the medieval times.


I captured Bernt Løjtnant explanation on wolfberry and rural fencing in Denmark. Sorry, I didn’t have time to dub the video, language is Danish.

DSCN3691
Oca (Oxalis Tuberosa)

Recently I had an offer I couldn’t resist:
Send some exciting seeds, and you will receive some oca tubers.
They arrived by mail yesterday, and now have a spot in individual pots in the greenhouse. Thanks to Ian Pearson of London! Ian write blog on oca – it is most interesting.

Over the last years I have kindly turned down several offers. Being an Oxalis, they contain oxalic acid. I have not been comfortable with that, as it is suspected some people get kidney-stones from that – and I’m not asking for kidney-stones. But now I’ve read, that a thorough sunbathing (greenhouse or windowsill) can make the oxalic acid go away. Sweet low-oxalic oca sounds tempting, doesn’t it?

DSCN3664
Home grown Greater Galangal Alpinia galanga

Like many a tourist, I bring home souvenirs. I have a preference for the botanical, non endangered kinds. Two years ago I brought greater galangal and lemon grass home from Thailand. They have both grown well since, but this post is only about the galangal.

In the early 1980’s I saw forests in Himalayas crowded with cardamom plants in the forest floor. These conditions I’ve visualised, when growing my greater galangal. Warm, shadow, nutritious, humid, but not wet. I’ve transformed it into a large pot, 23cm across, could have been even larger. Soil recycled from used growing bags from the greenhouse. The galangal never get direct sun. In winter I keep it withdrawn from the windows in the living room. In summer in the shade of the tomato plants in the greenhouse.

DSCN3665
Peeled galangal

What to do with the root of greater galangal? It is always the problem when growing something exotic (to you that is) – how can I make use of it in a pleasing way?
Galangal soup tasted delicious in Thailand. But I’ve never learned to cook Thai food. Really I was just re-potting the plant, never expected a harvest!
A quick search on the internet: Galangal is sold frozen in Asian shops.

DSCN3667
Sliced greater galangal ready for the freezer

The galangal was thinly sliced in a hurry, spread in a thin layer in a zip lock food grade bag. This way, we can pick a few pieces at a time to use in our cooking. Hope we learn to use greater galangal in our food.

DSCN3668
Galangal going into the bottle

The annoying end pieces shouldn’t be wasted…what to do…..Oh-yes..I cut them in tiny cubes, in a little bottle, cover with vodka and a dog tag around the neck:

DSCN3669
Greater Galangal Vodka

Now patience, let the galangal and vodka rest some months.
Will be a joy to sip in the midsummer nights.

DSCN3648
Artichoke Cynara scolymus Serridslevgaard

Now it is finally thaw. The snow has melted for two days, giving me an opportunity to look for some of the plants in the garden.
Have they survived the frost? In January and February, I have been quite calm. It is usually the sun in March, which burns my plants to death when the evergreen stands with frozen roots. These day I keep an eye on where the sun hits evergreens. Are there any plants to shade from the sun through the month of March?

Artichoke Serridslevgaard looks fine inside its little tunnel. But has the heart been damaged by frost, I shall not see it until later, when the leaves rot from the bottom. However, I have no reason to be pessimistic. The snow has lain in 2 ½ months, but it has not been extremely cold and the snow has isolated, so the ground has probably not been colder than in average winters.

DSCN3650
Chusan palm Trachycarpus fortunei

The Chusan palm does not look good. Again this year, much of the foliage from last summer is damaged. I’ve got a sensitive individual? As long as the heart survives, the entire palm will survive.

Chusan Palm in Snow
Same Chusan palm Trachycarpus fortunei one month ago

Note that the snow has covered the palm hearts. The heart is the point at the top of the stem from where the leaves extends.

DSCN3649
Kale Brassica napus Red Russian

My Red Russian kale has just today poked head up through the snow. It is a long time since I saw it last. It looks a bit weathered, but if I will not harvest more leaves from it, I’ll still get some tasty flowers shoots. Flower shoots I enjoy, for me it is the main reason to grow a little cabbage in my small garden. They come early, before there is much else to pick the garden. They can be prepared quickly in a little oil in a frying pan and taste fantastic. My favourite is stir fried with scallops and baby bulbs of bronze fennel.

DSCN3647
Bronze fennel Foeniculum vulgare

Bronze Fennel has grown below the snow. If we get a couple of weeks plus degrees, I’ll start to picking some of the baby fennel bulbs. Taste of individual bronze fennel plant vary. The plant in the picture is my favourite, it tastes sweeter than the other bronze fennels I have.

In the calendar, winter says goodbye – but meteorologists promises more snow in the coming week!

DSCN3631
Konjac Amorphophallus konjac

It was not planned, but happened anyway – the Konjac came in to flower. The corm has rested dry in a cupboard since autumn. 3 weeks ago the bud started growing, very rapidly. Yesterday the flower opened and took on the deep red colour. When I returned after work, I had to cut the flower immediately, and carry it out door into the snow. It has a penetrating odour like decaying flesh, probably perfect to attract the flyes needed for pollination in it’s native habitat.

DSCN3620

I’m impressed, that a flower can grow this rapidly from a corm, given no soil or water. All its nourishment and liquid was stored in the corm.

DSCN3624
The corm

The corm is huge. In Japan they cook a delicacy, konnyaku, from it. It’s a kind of jelly, supposed to be healthy and a joy to eat. It’s also employed by the European food industry. It is labelled E 425. See if you can find it in the supermarket!

DSCN3626

The flower I cut from the corm. I placed it in the snow in front of the kitchen window, and brought the corm inside the house again. The rest of the stem on top of the corm will soon wither away, and after a few months I can expect a single large leaf, shaped like a palm. I grow the Konjac for the beautiful leaf.

Last time I had a Konjac in flower was in 2008.

DSCN3598
Ulluco (Ullucus tuberosus) harvest of the year, lest “Pisac”, right “Cusco”

This time I succeeded getting a tiny ulluco harvest. I planted three different clones. One died. Of the two survivors, only the one from Cusco made a notable harvest. Well, not that the tuber are sizeable at all, but the output was heavier than the input! In their favour I must note, that they sprouted very late, in late June. Maybe they need a few growing seasons to overcome the move from Andes to Denmark?
Compare the size with the parent tubers below:

DSCN2492
The three tubers planted in spring. The small to the very right sprouted first, but only to fade away.

I was away a week in December. When I came home, the ullucos and their pots was frozen solid. An other week passed, before I managed to dig them out of the still frozen pots. The tubers in the surface had all died, but those deeper buried, but still frozen, survived to a large extent. Some died during the first week indoor, but most of them are still in good shape.

Don’t ask how they taste! I didn’t taste them yet. I believe a number of gardeners would like to try them in their garden. All will be saved for replanting in spring.

Ulluco – again an older post

DSCN2755
Alice in one of her brassica beds

Alice grow her garden to harvest green leaves during winter. She’s very consistent in this, more so than I’ve seen by other gardeners. This makes her garden a very interesting wonderland. She grows a lot of brassicas, and select hardy varieties. The hardiness is naturally selected, as Alice save a lot of the seeds in her own garden, year after year.

0122
Savoy Cabbage sown in autumn

Alice shared her knowledge on autumn sowing of cabbage for an early harvest next year. About being dependent on the autumn weather after sowing. If it’s too warm, the cabbage grow to a size where the low winter temperature induce flowering in the spring. If you try avoiding this by sowing later, the seeds might not sprout until spring, and you will not harvest earlier than if springsown. This spring half the savoy cabbage have gone to flowers, but the other half very soon form big heads. Alice tells she avoid saving seeds from these early bloomers. I didn’t ask, but I guess she harvest the savoy heads when mature, and then leave the roots and stalks to form flowers and produce seeds.

DSCN2750
Most plants grow where nature let the seed meet the soil

As Alice produce a lot of her own seed, there is a lot of seed scatter. In spring they germinate, and Alice has to sow very little. Instead the best volunteers are transplanted or eaten at the babyleaf stage, and the rest treated as weed. In the photo is among other vegetables a row of spinach beet she will harvest during the next winter.

DSCN2752
Italian Winter savory (Satureja montana), or would it be a kind of thyme (Thymus sp.)?

The Italian Winter savory was remarquable. First I thought it was an unusual lemon thyme, a bit similar to my own. A green carpet, an aromatic herb with a note of thyme. The Italian Winter Savory she found at a local greengrocer as and ordinary kitchen windowsill herb years ago. She is not really sure, if it is a Winter savory or perhaps a weird kind of thyme. It sets no seed, although there is both ordinay Winter savory and thyme in the garden to interbreed with. It’s an efficiant groundcover – Alice tells a little plant will cover a square meter in a year, it flowers in may and is perfectly hardy in Denmark, even in clay soils. I got a bit of it, and now it has to be kept within its boundaries, either by me or neighboring plants!

DSCN2748
Alice’s frontgarden

The frontgarden is full of romantic flowers, a flowering meadow. It seemed to have flowers for all seasons. This peticular day the columbines, geraniums and veronicas were the super stars. It must have taken a lot of years to find the right balance between the many species, and Alice told, that the Thalictrums tended to take over, so every year she will pick out a lot of them.

DSCN2758
One of the many small nurseries in the garden

Alice is a generous woman, and here and there in the garden you will find a little nursery. She is potting up a lot of plants, giving them tender loving care, until they leave for the right home. No reason to fear the killerslugs, though they live in the neighborhood. She use nematodes, and no plant seems to leave the garden without a douche of nematode water. The garden lies next to a meadow and a lake. Even if she keep the killeslugs at stake so they don’t bother her, they reinvade her garden again and again from the meadow.

DSCN2759
Alice sets out to clean seeds of Musk-mallow (Malva moschata)

Alice is a routined seed saver. It’s a pleasure to see her clean a large batch of Musk-mallow seed in no time. The dried seeds are in the barrel. She rub and turns the seeds vigoriously a few minutes. Then she dives to the bottom retrieving hands full of released seeds. She sift them through old outworn kitchen sieves with different mesh sizes. In this way she first get rid of the rough debris, then the fine debris smaller then the seeds. The final touch is blowing the last debris ower the edge of a flat tray. All done in five minutes!

Thanks for a great garden experience.
Slightly changed on 9th. of july 2009, as Alice gave me feedback.

DSCN2739
Sandleek (Allium scorodoprasum) on top of Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)

On a trip to Jutland I had a chance to visit the garden of Inge Lise and Brian. Brian have two garden websites, Gourmethaven (in danish) and Potager.dk – Ornamental Kitchen Garden.
The beautiful bed with sandleek on top of chives touched my heart – I’m rather easily touched by any Allium. The garden is a heaven for both parents and three children, with lawn, flowerbeds, kitchengarden and two greenhouses.

DSCN2740
Kitchengarden in raised beds

The garden is full of small practical details. I noticed the solar lamp in the kitchengarden. Very convenient when looking for greens for the kitchen in the dark autumn afternoons. The compost pile is located in the middle of the garden, easily accessible from all over the garden. No hiding away. A statement of the value of garden compost. More of us ought to use the compost pile as a garden centerpiece, a fine signal to the community around.

DSCN2745
Inge Lise and Brian next to their Caucasian Spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides)

The specialty most admirably in the garden right now is the Caucasian Spinach. It is a perennial very hardy climber from Caucasus. The leaves taste more gentle and fulfilling than ordinary spinach. The plant is very difficult to find, but the danish seedsavers Frøsamlerne offered it on their members exchangelist this year. It grows very well in Inge Lise and Brians garden, it is not allways growing this well in danish gardens. It was grown as a vegetable hundred years ago, but was forgotten. The garden culture was continued in Estonia, from where it has spread to Finland and Scandinavia, including Denmark.

DSCN2743
Caucasian Spinach with a flowerspike

Caucasian Spinach is related to mercury / Good King Henry, as one can see in flowers and leaves. The seedlings could be taken for mercury seedlings. It originates in mountains of Caucasus, where it climbs up in trees, having the root in shadow.

DSCN2738
Yellow Flag (Iris pseudacorus)

The yellow flag are in a dry spot. This bogplant reacts by growing shorter leaves, thus giving a much better show-off of the flowers. Inge Lise and Brian have used their knowledge on the nature of the boggy yellow flag in an opposite way of what most of us would have done. A copy could be considered 🙂

Thanks for a great garden visit!

DSCN2492
Three clones of ulluco, Ullucus tuberosus

The other day a seedsaver came to collect the globe artichoke I’d promised him. He presented three tubers of ulluco to me – Thanks a lot! He had been in Peru shortly before, and brought back some of those interesting andean heirlooms.

last I tried ulluco it didn’t work out, they didn’t sprout for a start.

I think it will work better this time, as the tubers are bought in marketplaces around Peru. I guess it is quite unlikely that they have been radiated to prevent sprouting. Now they rest in a pot each in the greenhouse – and I’m waiting impatiently.

DSCN1990
Yacon parade in Kirstens allotment

Kirsten have yacon this year. She had some crowns from a seed saver that had luck overwintering his yacon crowns. Overwintering is the real challenge in yacon growing in northern europe. This summer she promised Anne and me a root with crown in autumn. As frost is forecasted a few nights ahead, we agreed to meet in her allotment today. Yacon should be harvested as late as possible, but like Dahlia, frost will kill it. Typically we would wait for the first frost to kill the top, and then harvest the tubers safe in the ground. Anyway, we did it three days ahead.

DSCN1988DSCN1985
Vi both tried digging gently with the fork

Roots of yacon are brittle. Delicious eating, but in demand of a gentle hand on the fork not to break the tubers. We did break some on almost all plants, but still think we did quite well. One of them we tasted. Nice crisp, but no sweetness yet. They need time in storage to develop the charateristic sweetness.

DSCN1987
Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius syn. Polymnia sonchifolia) ‘Morado’
Tubers of yacon grow large

This variety does well in culture. We don’t know a name for it. It grow large to huge red tubers, which after time in storage develop the sweet taste. We agreed not to wash the tubers, but just dry and store them as we do with Dahlias.

Kirsten presented two sets of tubers to me. Anne had a set of tubers, a crown and a small plant. The two last she will try to grow through winter in a cold glazed frost protected balcony. My tubers are now drying protected in my greenhouse. In a few days I’ll store them dry in the bottom of my larder, as I do with my Dahlias. This year I will not eat any of the tubers, as last year I ate them and the crowns died. It’s the crown with its eyes that you set in spring. The tuber have no eyes, and can’t grow a new yacon in spring.

Have a look at Yacon, sweet treat from the Andes and Yacon crown in january

« Previous PageNext Page »