Category Archives: Shrubs

Rosemary beetle

I had a pavement garden put in by the city council, beneath our Amsterdam apartment, soon after we moved here 13 years ago. Such pavement gardens are narrow strips, right up against the buildings, were the pavers get lifted and removed, making the sand beneath available as a planting area for residents. You need to draw up a plan and get written permission from your neighbours, when you request a new one – It was quite exciting I can tell you. Well, my neighbours approved my idea and after the council workers set it up for me, I poured in a couple of bags of compost and planted it up with Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), Purple Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’), Rue (Ruta graveolens)and Lavender (Lavendula augustifolia). Everything in there grew really well, even though the little plot faces full south, is under a bay window and gets little rain. It was a lovely, simple Mediterranean herb garden. The herbs were resplendent and many neighbours would snip off a little Rosemary through the growing season, to add to their cooking. That shrub was enormous and very healthy.

Then last year, things started to go rather pear-shaped in the geveltuin. The mature Rosemary had some damage. More than a little damage, in fact it looked decidedly nibbled all over. Only a few flowers pushed through and the plant looked increasingly bedraggled. We also noticed very pretty, metallic striped beetles on the Rosemary sometimes. Often, when we brushed against the shrub, some of them would shoot off and bounce off the pavings making a characteristic crackling sound. We didn’t realize back then but our Mediterranean herb garden was under attack by the Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana).

Rosemary beetles don’t feast alone! Photo credit: RHS

This week, enough was enough. The Rosemary looked barely alive and as neighbourhood Rosemary bushes were starting to really bush out with lush deep green new shoots, our looked downright grey. To make matters worse, the Purple Sage was almost gone, the Rue totally desiccated and the Lavender was a shadow of its former self. The beetles were more plentiful than before and my herb garden was no more.

Know your enemy
I read up on the Rosemary beetle and planned my counter attack; Hard pruning, taking a few insurance cuttings, enriching the soil and removing the thick blanket of dead leaves (which I was building up beneath the shrubs, out of laziness really). Finally a good drenching with water.

Part way through the pruning operation

Operation Revamp
As you can see in the video, I shook out the shrubs onto a bright blanket, placing tumbling beetles and larvae in a glass jar which became enormously interesting to local kids. We had about 30 bugs in there by the end. The leaf layer was totally cleared and I hard pruned all of the shrubs. The Rue had to go, sadly as I loved it and few people seem to grow it these days. However, I was delighted to find that it had spawned a few babies, growing between paving slabs so I hope they will make it in the newly prepared plot. My daughter and I scoured the geveltuin and surrounding area for more beetles and larvae before giving the remaining plants a really good watering and then enriching the soil slightly with a bucketful of spent compost (which I collect from my old rooftop pots). Later, I added a couple of lupin seedlings which I had on the roof, a few radish and beetroot seeds, some potted tulips from the kitchen balcony and some self-seeded Lemon balm, which was growing across the street in the gutter. A cheap and cheerful geveltuin makeover! The project took a few hours and I am satisfied with the result.

Rosemary beetle. Photo credit: Secret garden.

Prevention
It took me a couple of years to give in to the fact that these pin-stripe armored beetles were beautifully munching through my herb garden and that I was providing them with perfect overwintering conditions. From now on, I intend to keep the plot more open and airy, more species rich and attractive to predatory and pollinating bugs and I will water the plants regularly, especially when they appear to be under pressure. I also plan to place a bird nesting box on the street tree across the pavement and will feed the plants with comfrey & nettle tea, when the mood strikes me.

In the hope that I can help others to spot Rosemary beetle and deal with it more quickly, I made a short video, which you can see here. My daughter and I had fun editing this one so we hope that you find it useful.

Squish or Release?
So what happened to the collected beetles and larvae in the glass jar? Well, I did squish one on the pavement in frustration, the day before the clean up operation and I felt really bad about it. Killing them didn’t feel right at all and I knew well that these bugs were here for a while and I had allowed them to get out of control. I needed to help nature to restore beetle balance. After a chat with a gardening friend, I decided that the best solution was release these little beasts into a more bio-diverse area, away from aromatic herbs and where natural predators could feast on them or they had a chance to escape and live among other species of insects. This morning, we took them to a grassy area, close to water and let them go.

Have you got a beetle problem? If so, how are you dealing with it? What would you have done with the captured beetles? Do you have other herby-pesty problems and can you think of better ways for people to keep their herbs healthy? Do let me know as I would love to hear!

Japanese Quince

Japanese quince
Japanese quince

At first glance it may seem that these early spring weeks are quite dark and dull. But look a little closer and you will see that there are a lot of beautiful flowers around at the moment. Here is one of my Imbolc favourites: Japanese quince (Chaenomeles japonica) Japanse sierkwee.

  • This plant has edible fruit and flowers,
  • Grows easily in Amsterdam,
  • Roots from cuttings and layered branches,
  • Provides nectar through the darker months,
  • Is spiky and protective,
  • Looks very pretty in early spring.

The flowers emerge by this time and keep on blooming until April or even longer. They grow from quite architectural and spiky branches. The shrub is deciduous and the leaves grow back as the flowers fade. They are lush and glossy. Those branches can reach out a long way or can be easily pruned into a sturdy almost impenetrable hedge. I used to have one such hedge in my Somerset cottage garden. I am very pleased that Japanese quince surrounds my Amsterdam school building and am delighted that Amsterdam council seem to like to use it as urban landscaping. You can read about the growing conditions which are preferred by this plant on Plants for a Future.

Japanese quince
Japanese quince entrance screen.

Japanese quince flowers can be red, bright pink, peach-coloured, white, pale orange or anything in between. There are a number of different coloured varieties growing in landscaping along Johannes van der Waalstraat in my part of town. I plan to take a few small cuttings some time soon and will try to introduce the plant to my volkstuin and the orchards of Park Frankendael.

The fruit, or quinces can be surprisingly large. They are edible raw or cooked (foraging site dependent of course). I rarely find very many so I usually clean and chop one into small pieces and then cook them up with other fruit to make a sort of compote. The photo below is of two pots of such compote or jam made by Ilko who volunteers at the orchards. The yellow one contains Japanese quince. The easiest (and perhaps tastiest) thing that I do with these fruit is to simply add them (chopped) to my everlasting Rumtopf.

Ilko's fruit compotes.
Ilko’s fruit compotes.

Japanese quince is a member of the Rosaceae family. The showy, numerous stamen in five petaled flowers point to them belonging to the Rose family.

Autumn Street Treats and Tricks

The past few weeks have seen a bounty of free street food falling from trees in Amsterdam. I’ve been enjoying Hazelnuts, Hawthorn berries & Sloes (plucked rather than fallen) and Sweet chestnuts – all absolutely delicious when prepared! The nuts and fruit are still there for the taking in many places but if you have trouble identifying these, keep your eyes open for fallen orange Gingko fruit, falling to the ground from mature female trees. See here how to harvest, prep and eat them and feel free to join me for a quick lunchtime forage in Oud Zuid, over the next couple of weeks.

image

Here above is Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) (NL: Eenstijlige meidoorn) in berry. This one is in a hedgerow of Frankendael park. I have mostly been cooking them like this:

hawthorn infused casserole

I infuse them into casseroles, using a stainless steel tea infuser. It gives a mild boost to the food and avoids me having to deal with the inedible pips. Ripe Haws taste a rather similar to bruised apples. Taste aside, they are reported to have many health benefits.

image

These are plump plum-like edible fruit which look similar to Sloes (which come from the well known Blackthorn tree (Prunus spinosa) (NL:Sleedoorn)). This shrub is growing in the hedgerow of a local playground and it looks more like a Bullace than a Blackthorn. The fruit are larger and the leaves larger and slightly more smooth. Whatever their exact identity, they are of the Prunus species and they tasted good when ripe.

Turkish Hazelnut Spiral
Turkish Hazelnuts (Corylus colurna) (NL: Boomhazelaar). Larger nuts than the usual multistemmed Hazel (and I haven’t had a blank yet, unlike with the others). I’ve been harvesting lots this year from Pythagorasstraat in Amsterdam Oost Watergraafsmeer. This tree species is used commonly as a street tree in cities, it is very tolerant of harsh growing conditions and doesn’t grow those multiple stems so can be kept easily under control in treepits.
Turkish Hazelnut Case

What a wonderful gift from the Amsterdam town planners!

drying washed Turkish hazelnuts

cracked Turkish Hazelnut

If you are lucky and find some on the ground either within or popped out from these extravagant nut cases, take them home and give them a good wash before drying the surface of the nuts and then get cracking! You can use them straight away as a snack, roast them (when the shell is off) or blend them to make a nut milk, pesto etc. How about mixing them with some cocoa or carob powder and honey to create some choc/carob nut spread? Yum!

And now for the deadly tricks…

bittersweet

These pretty tiny tomato like berries are the fruits of poisonous Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) (NL: Bitterzoet). Please note that in the US there is another plant called Bittersweet which is quite unrelated. The one in my photograph here above is a member of the Nightshade family and I wasn’t able to get a decent shot of the leaves but they resemble a potato leaf rather than the long blade seen next to the berries (see the link for a clearer idea and better still, look in a good field guide!)

Yew berries
A female Yew tree (Taxus baccata) NL: Venijnboom, laden with beautiful red fruit. The soft slimey flesh is actually edible BUT the seed within each red fruit is deadly poisonous.

Fly agaric Frankendael Park Amsterdam

Another red and poisonous autumn beauty, Fly agaric toadstool (Amanita muscaria) (NL: Vleigenzwam). It is also psychoactive. These two were growing in Park Frankendael last week. There seem to been quite a flush of them across northern Europe recently.

Love your Elders!

Love Your Elders – Plant Your Elders!
Sunday 7th April 11.00-12.30

Time to join me to either plant your Elder cuttings from last year, or to learn how to take cuttings and propagate this medicine chest of the European hedgerow. Native Elder (Sambucus nigra, NL:Vlier) grows easily and offers familiar flowers and berries each year. But all parts of the shrub have medicinal, magical and culinary uses. Learn which parts of this beloved urban herb are safe, which parts are toxic and how to make simple remedies, tasty concoctions and fibre dyes from each.
Park Frankendael

As a regular city forager, I think it’s vital to give something back to the land which I harvest from. Of course there are other ways to show gratitude the the Earth but I find that one of the most powerful ways is to add more of the native plants which I use.

€10 per adult
Free for apprentices
€5 if you bring along a rooted Elder baby from last year
Or no cash exchange for a few nice herb seed packets

Includes handout
Please contact me directly (lynn.shore@gmail.com) if you would like to come along.

If you can’t come but want to know how to grow Elder, here’s a link to instructions I wrote last year. Let me know if you need any tips.

365 Frankendael day 150

Thank you to the group of Urban Herbies who joined me For the Elder Workshop today. We harvested Elderberries, Elder leaves and Elder branches. We learned about and concocted Elderberry syrup and numerous other Elder based remedies. I had a lot of fun with you all, and the plants!

I was so busy enjoying the time that I forgot to take an Elder photo so here’s one of the syrup that we made together, from freshly pressed Elderberry juice and honey… It’s a clean but scrappy looking jam jar. That doesn’t matter as my portion of the syrup will be wolfed down very quickly!

As well as Elderberries, there are heaps of ripe Hawthorn berries in the city hedgerows at present. I did remember to take a photo of one such tree. It’s time to try out the Hawthorn recipes, kindly sent to me by one of the Amstel walkers earlier this year.

Here’s a link to the recipe for the Banana bread I baked for the workshop. I added a finely chopped 20cm Ginger plant leaf and I forgot to add the dates. All fine though!

Here’s a link to that information about recent scientific research supporting the use of Ghee and Honey impregnated wound dressings for serious wound recovery.

Thanks Nathaniel and Jade for sharing with us how the Native Americans revere their local Elder species. Here’s a link with a little information about that (at the end). Here’s a link with lots of information about Elder, particularly the US growing species. Not much about the indigenous people but lots of useful stuff.

Here’s a link to one of my mentors: Glennie Kindred in Britain. She wrote the hand sewn books I showed you today. We looked at the one called Sacred Tree in which Glennie lays out her interpretation of the Tree Ogham.

As we talked about honey, Katja shared her latest concoction – fresh ginger infused honey with lemon juice. Yum! I’ll be trying that very soon and will post some photos to brighten up the autumn. Maybe Katja has a photo of hers already?

Cindy, I don’t think you took your portion of ointment and certainly not the syrup. I also forgot to give you the Kombucha so let me know when you have time to collect them.

Thanks again everyone. See you again soon! xx

365 Frankendael day 115

I’ve been to Proef in Westerpark today to have a look at their organic garden, which City Plot tend. It is another inspiring example of how to grow lots of food and herbs without a garden. The site is next to the old gas factory storage tanks and hence the soil is deemed unsuitable for directly growing crops. City Plot have overcome the problem by using raised beds. They look great, house hundreds of very healthy plants and are quite a haven for wildlife. The Growing and Using Exotic Herbs Workshop on Sunday October 14th will take place there. Myself and Suzanne from City Plot will run it.

On my way back home I found this exciting sight… A fully ripe Elderberry spray!

So the time has arrived. Get your paper bags and recipes ready, these berries are packed with nutrients and can be cooked and preserved to deliver them when needed, through the winter.

Herb by Herb part 4 – Elder


My favourite herb, it grows as happily in cities as it does in the country. Generally overlooked, this herbal treasure chest is steeped in ancient folklore and has a long long history of use. You can use parts of it, harvested at certain times, to make simple safe remedies for the whole family.

This workshop is timed to (hopefully) coincide with the Elderberry harvest time in Amsterdam. Elderberry syrup will be on the remedy making menu, as will other useful concoctions. Sambucus  nigra is a herbal gem!

Monday 17th September 2012
Frankendael (bus stop Hugo de Vrieslaan)
10-11.30
€10 each, 5 max
(Fully booked (6/8/12) – waiting list available)

How to Make Elder Babies

Elder cutting with roots

This morning a group Urban Herbies gathered alongside a park hedgerow and took cuttings of a wonderful herb shrub – Elder (Sambucus nigra). We are going to look after the cuttings for as long as it takes for them to find their feet and be mature enough to survive planted out, in another Amsterdam hedge or edge. I was inspired to try this by the work of Glennie Kindred, a wonderful, community spirited wise woman from Britain. Her website contains very useful information about many herbs and has especially detailed information about native trees. Thank you Glennie!

Here’s How to Make Elder Babies:

1. Most shrubs and trees are best propagated in the autumn and winter but its also possible to try easily-rooting Elder in the summer. Chose very healthy parts of very healthy shrubs, ask the permission of the shrub you are drawn to with your heart and actions. Be gentle, respectful and only harvest a little from one shrub. If your cuttings fail to survive then return them to the soil. Never burn Elder and listen to the wisdom it has to offer. All parts of the plant are medicinal and have been revered for millennia. These days we tend to make most use if the berries and flowers. The leaves and twigs also make an excellent skin cream but it is best not to ingest them.

2. We used secateurs or our hands to carefully remove the last 6-8 inches (14-20cm) of a healthy branch. Avoid those laden with berries, the plant’s energy needs to focus on that task rather than growing new roots.

3. Remove all but the last couple of leaf pairs, gently slide them off with your hands. Return these to the foot of the mother Elder. If harvesting in winter, all of the leaves could be removed from the cutting.

4. If using it, dip the bottom end of the cutting into a jar of Willow or Meadowsweet rooting hormone tea. Poke the cutting quite deeply into a pot of good quality soil, so that it is about half buried and won’t topple over. Firm the soil slightly.

5. Ideally, water the pot from beneath by standing it in a bowl of water for a while, until the soil is thoroughly dampened. Ensure that excess water can freely drain from the pot.

6. Place the pot, with damp soil and comfortably pushed-in cutting, in a place of semi shade, or in a loosly closed translucent plastic bag and leave it to grow roots. This will take some time so you’ll need to be patient, maybe for a few weeks. There is no need to remove the cutting to check on progress, just let it do it’s thing and you’ll be pleasantly surprised the day you see Elder roots, poking out of the drainage holes.

7. Keep an eye on the dampness of the soil, Elder will rot if it gets soggy but it will also die if the soil dries out completely. Lightly water the soil when needed. Misting with a water spray is a gentle way to water from above.

8. When the cutting has set down a good root network and has grown a couple of feet tall (about 50cm), it should be ready to plant out when mild spring weather arrives. This may take a couple of years but sometimes it can happen more quickly.

9. Plant out during moderate weather in an area where Elder bushes are sparse. Elder fairs well in most conditions, it will tolerate full sun, lots of shade or partial shade. A hedgerow setting is most suitable. The shrub can be pruned into a hedge if needed or allowed to grow in which ever direction it prefers.

Here’s another link to Gennie Kindred’s website where you will find lots of useful Elder information and several wonderful Elder recipes.

To make the Willow rooting tea simply harvest a few Willow tendrils, chop them and place in a clean glass jar. Cover with freshly boiled water and cover. Leave to infuse as the water cools, for about 8 hours. Then the infusion may be strained or not. It will keep a few days in the fridge if needed or use what you require and pour the rest on your other plants.

365 Frankendael day 42

Today a post about one plant, my favourite, Elder (Sambucus nigra).

This wonderful ancient healing plant, which has been steeped in mysticism and folklore for millennia, is producing flowers that cheer up almost every hedgerow in town, right now.

Where you find one Elder shrub, you are likely to find others close by. It springs up in the most unexpected places and is a true survivor. It has bumpy, brittle, crooked branches, smelly leaves and phenomenal frothy flower heads, stacked all over the plant. They remind me of small terraces, tilting in almost the same direction, all over the shrub.

This photo shows one of many Elder shrubs, along the Hugo de Vrieslaan hedgerow which provides a boundary for Park Frankendael. Now the flowers are mature and plentiful.

I’ve talked about this plant quite a lot previously, Google Elderflower recipes and you may be amazed by how many people like to eat this flower. Remember to avoid eating the leaves amd twigs, they will likely make you ill. I was refreshing my knowledge of the plant this evening by reading Wild Man Steve Brill’s book, Edible and Medicinal Plants. He talks about an American cousin of our local Sambucus nigra, called Sambucus canadensis and I was surprised to learn that the stems and leaves can sometimes yield cyanide, when a bitter alkaloid and glycoside within them change. So definitely parts of Elder to avoid in your diet!

One piece of Elder history I want to mention today, is how ancient Christians were irritated or threatened by the Elder Mother cult in Europe. The Elder mother was/is said to live within the Elder bush. You should ask her permission to harvest from her tree, should never burn her, should never chop her down, without asking her to leave. Ancient Europeans revered the Elder, welcoming and encouraging it to grow near their homes. the Elder mother protected homes from fire and lightning, kept your cattle safe and of course provided simple medicine for your whole family. This folklore helped to make the shrub commonly available for all manner of uses. In an attempt to rid communities of their attachment to the Elder Mother, the plant became embedded in the most negative ways, within Christian stories. Judas was said to have hanged himself from an Elder and Christ was said to have been nailed to an Elder cross. But of course this couldn’t be true due to the brittle nature of the tree. The tree was also much associated with witchcraft and yet was also said to protect you from witches. It seems that everyone had something to say about this shrub which points to it having had many uses.

I’ll be harvesting some more Elderflowers tomorrow, probably to be broken up and sprinkled into a light batter, some to be added to general cooking (we had it on baked fish last week, very good and interesting), some to make a face wash and some to be dried for use as a fever remedy when needed. I also fancy making some Elder leaf infused oil this weekend, for external use in an ointment. It is often useful on bruises, sprains and chilblains.

Love Elder and she will love you back, but be gentle with her and ask (and listen) when you’d like to take some of her gifts. She has many, many gifts and is not to be overlooked or underestimated.