Category Archives: Surreptitious gardening

Stoepkrijt tijd

For English click here

De laatste tijd hebben een paar vrienden en familie me een zetje gegeven over deze botanische stoepkrijt die momenteel in Europa gaande is.

Ann van City Plot gaf me gisteravond een zetje, wat de laatste strohalm heeft bewezen – het is duidelijk tijd dat we beginnen met meedoen! Wil iemand meedoen met ons?

Hier zijn een paar dingen die we vandaag in de stad hebben gekrijt …

Overblijvende ossentong (Pentaglottis sempervirens) Green Alkanet

Er gaat niets boven een naamplaatje om mensen te helpen beseffen wat er onder hun neus groeit terwijl ze door de straten lopen.

Smalle weegree (Plantago lanceolata) Ribwort

Veel van ons kennen de waarde van de planten die de meeste mensen onkruid noemen. We zijn gepassioneerd door mensen die beseffen wat er kan worden gedaan met planten die om hen heen groeien en zorgen voor de planten die van nature groeien in vergeten ruimtes.

Grote weegbree (Plantago major) Plantain

Meestal willen we niet van trottoirs oogsten of foerageren, maar die stedelijke kruiden en groenten kunnen een bron zijn van gratis zaad, stekjes, startplanten en leerplanten.

Lindenboom (Tilia sp.) Lime tree

Hier is een Grote stinkende gouwe die ik vorige week uit een stoeptegelscheur trok en nu op mijn dak groeit voor een huismiddeltje en een leerplant. Het gele sap binnenin heeft verschillende toepassingen.

Stinkende gouwe (Chelidonium majus) Greater celandine

Als je niet zeker bent van de naam van de plant, stuur me dan een duidelijke foto via Whatsapp of e-mail van en ik stuur je de plantnaam. 06 275 969 30

Ik zou ook graag je gelabelde planten zien en zal hier graag wat foto’s plaatsen, en op het Urban Herbology Facebook pagina.


Chalk and talk

Voor nederlands klik hier

Lately, a few friends and family have nudged me about this botanical street chalking that’s going on in Europe right now.

Ann from City Plot gave me a nudge last night which has proved the final straw –  it’s clearly time that we start to join in the fun!

Anyone in?

Here are a couple that we did today across town…

Green alkanet (Pentaglottis sempervirens)

Nothing like a name tag to help people realise what’s growing under their noses as they walk around the streets.

Smalle weegree (Plantago lanceolata) Ribwort

Many of us know the value of the plants which most people call weeds. We are passionate about people realising what can be done with plants growing around them and looking after the plants which naturally grow in forgotten spaces.

Grote weegree (Plantago major) Plantain

Mostly, we won’t want to harvest or forage from pavements but those urban herbs and veggies can be a source of free seed, cuttings, starter plants and teaching plants.

Lindenboom (Tilia sp.) Lime tree

Here’s a Greater celandine which I pulled from a pavement crack last week and now grows on my roof for a home remedy and teaching plant. The yellow sap inside has several uses.

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) Stinkende gouw

It you’re not sure of the name of the plant, feel free to send me a clear photo by What’s app or email and I’ll send you the plant name. 06 275 969 30

I’d love to see your labelled plants too and will happily post some photos here, and on the Urban Herbology FaceBook page.

River of Herbs

A little update on what is happening with the River of Herbs project

I have chosen two sites to focus on for the course which I’m running between February and June 2013. One will be Fraunhofferstraat in Oost Watergraafsmeer and the other is hopefully going to be a portion of Spuistraat, in Amsterdam Centrum. We will work on the two sites as a group, helping to spruce up the neighbourhoods and to create public examples which will hopefully inspire people to recreate the idea in their own streets.

By planting appropriate medicinal and edible herbs in dull patches of land (however small or large) we aim to make the place more beautiful, more attractive to wildlife, to increase urban food security and to encourage community participation with improving the immediate environment.  I don’t envisage Amsterdammers harvesting heaps of herbs from doggy tree pits but I do see them harvesting useful seeds to grow in clean spots or use directly, taking cuttings from the public herbs, making spaces look and feel better and safer and of them learning about how useful and essential plants are to us on every level. All this in addition to boosting the wildlife population of the city – that’s more pollinating insects, birds & bats which feed on them and less mosquitoes! If people get something from these deliberately planted “herb meadows” then I trust that they will be better maintained and provide usefulness to people and wildlife for far longer (than the insect friendly plantings I notice here and there).

If you have ideas of other areas which could benefit from a River of Herbs makeover then please contact me via the comments box below, or directly by email (

Fraunhofferstraat is a street which I look at from my front windows at home. It’s a typical tidy Watergraafsmeer street that has a children’s play ground partway along and about a dozen bare treepits. the tree pits are so uninteresting and uninspiring, especially those running beside the playground. They are simply strimmed back by the council a couple of times a year and left to do their own thing for the rest of the time. When most lucky, we get Chickweed, some Brassicas and Fat Hen growing there along with poisonous Euphorbia species and heaps of low growing tree burrs. The pits get plenty of dog interest and they are sites where a small amount of litter collects at times. Because they are unplanted (aside from the trees of course) the pits beside the playground get a fair bit of human trampling. The Fraunhoffer tree pits are next to the road, a local street which is a turn off from the Middenweg (a main road into the centre of town).

I have been quietly collecting seeds from locally growing Hollyhocks, Poppies, Calendula, Rocket and other easy to grow plants. Whenever I remember, I strew a handful in the tree pits of Fraunhofferstraat and nudge them into the soil with my shoes. Maybe some will germinate in the spring, maybe not but either way I believe it’s a better fate than the seed being swept up and thrown in the garbage and incinerated.  In the early spring the River of herbs group will start by looking at the site, thinking about the uses of the area and how the tree pits could be planted and simply managed with minimal effort and upkeep, to create a more useful and beautiful scene.

My friends at Funky Chickin hotel, Spuistraat 90 have been inspired by the River of Herbs project from it’s conception. They are located on part of a busy central street which could do with some greening.  I have chosen that area  as the second location. Just as with Fraunhofferstraat, I’ll be working closely with the local council to ensure that the herbs and exact locations chosen are suitable and useful and that they help to enhance the area in many ways.

On my quest to get this project going I’ve learned about tree pit adoption protocol, geveltuin (pavement garden) regulations, council spraying policies and realities, restricted plants, invasive plants, perfect city herbs and people who consider matching unmanaged geveltuinen with folks who’d like to tend them. There is a lot of interest and need, it seems. I’m really excited about starting with the group in February, I hope it takes off.

But I don’t have a garden!

Many city people tell me that they would love to grow herbs but they don’t have any space. I say that there is space in everyone’s home – even traveling homes – for living herbs. I also think that learning how to care for a plant is a skill that helps people to care for themselves, that can’t be a bad thing. I can’t recall where I heard or read it but “If you can keep a plant alive, you can keep your self alive” rings true to me. I think it was someone who’d been rather ill. Anyway, back to growing herbs in small spaces…

So where to squeeze in those precious plants? Here are some ideas, in no particular order:

1. House plants
I used to have a flat full of house plants and then we got a cat and I worried about him munching on poisonous plants so most of them disappeared. I mostly focus on plants outside my house but a home is much more pleasant when shared with plants so I always manage spider plants (great for the cat), Aloe vera and a pot of Basil or Parsley on a windowsill. All are so easy to grow and Aloe Vera is a herb which I think no home should be without. If you really really can’t get a plant into your minute studio apartment (which I can’t really believe!) how about placing some in the stairwell?

I recently bought a couple of books about growing tropicals and edibles indoors and have been inspired to try and retry a few interesting houseplants. So Ginger, Banana, Tea, Cofee, Orange, Pineapple and Lemongrass are currently germinating or growing in my home and several more exotics are planned. Don’t throw it grow it, by Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam is a really great resource book for unusual and edible houseplants. I’m really looking forward to a planned workshop with City Plot sometime soon, by Suzanne Oommen who knows plenty about caring for tropical edibles.

2. Balconies
I’m very lucky to have a big roof terrace which I pack full of herbs but I also grow quite a few herbs on my kitchen balcony; Horseradish, Parsley, Vervaine, Wormwood, Mint…

But mine is not a patch on my friend Elodie’s. Here are a couple of photos from her balcony in West Amsterdam. She and her husband cram as many plants as possible into the space they have and it looks really great. Not all of the plants are edible or herbal but a large number are.

Elodie, perhaps you could comment on this with a list of the plants you manage to grow on your south facing balcony? Her plants grow up the walls, trailing over the fence and there’s just about space to walk through to a cosy snug at the far end. Its very beautiful and quite an urban oasis. She has it fenced up to the ceiling to protect her cats from falling.

3. Outside in a Geveltuin (Pavement garden)
In Amsterdam you can ask the local council for a Geveltuin. If your immediate neighbours approve the plan you could soon be the happy carer of a tiny strip of sandy land, right beneath your apartment. Some districts even go so far as to give you a set of herbs or flowers to plant immediately. No such luck here in Oost Watergraafsmeer but my geveltuin was up and running just a couple of weeks from my initial visit to the Staadsdeelhuis, to find out how to apply. I continue to be very pleased with it. As mentioned before I have it planted with drought tolerant mediterranean herbs and they thrive there.

If a dugout pavement garden is not an option perhaps a small collection of herb pots outside your door would work?

4. Outside in public ground
If you don’t mind sneaking around a little, attracting suspicious looks or possibly loosing all your plants to others, why not plant your herbs in carefully chosen public spaces? This is a great option for those straggly looking supermarket bought herb pots, such as Parsley, which after time don’t look good enough for your kitchen windowledge but could manage a further year or more of growth, given a fresh source of fertile soil. If the plants fail outside at least they will fertilize the soil, rather than being incinerated along with your garbage.

If you like the approach you could get busy with some Nasturtiums, climbing through public hedges or planting herbs in tree pits close to your home or workplace. The options are endless.

5. River of Herbs
If you are feeling public spirited and also want to encourage insect pollinators, why not add to the River of Herbs and plant a little, or large, Urban Herb Meadow and label it as such. More information as this develops but the Meadows are for everyone to benefit from. The herbs planted should be safe and be insect pollinated. If you’re uncertain of how to know that, go for pretty flowering culinary herbs and you won’t go far wrong.

So these are my thoughts on growing herbs when you live on a small place. Would you like to add to them?

5/8/12 Update: Here’s the list of herbs which Eldoie grows on her balcony at the moment: 
Cilentro/ Coriander
En tabaksplant from greece Nixtum Lululum
And lots of Peturnias
And yes we still fit on the matras all 4 of us are going to enjoy our Saturday in the sun !

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.

River of Herbs

River of Flowers is a UK based initiative which helps to plant Urban Flower Meadows, of all shapes and sizes, providing corridors of insect pollinated plants throughout cities. I read about it today, in the latest copy of Permaculture Magazine and got very excited about the project! Rather than wild flower meadows (which are of course wonderful and useful in many ways) I would like to create Urban Herb Meadows, here in Amsterdam and beyond.

River of Flowers began in London and seems to encompass many of the ideas that have come up in this website and the Amsterdam Urban Herbologists meetup group. We love nature, we want to learn from the plants, we continue to try our hands at guerrilla gardening and we like to put something back into the environment from which many of us harvest food and medicinals. We also appreciate that a world without pollinators would be very dark.

Amsterdam is rich in plant species and many Amsterdammers enjoy taking care of plants in tree pits, tiny pavement gardens and other strips of reclaimed land. I often look at and photograph these places and wish that more of the plants used could be edible or medicinal. And of course I wish that more of these urban gardeners knew how to harvest and use some of those amazing plants.

So with River of Herbs (the name will stay, if the folks at River of Flowers don’t mind – I have asked them) I’d like to do the following, with your help:

1. Identify and prepare unused spaces, however small, for growing useful perennial, biennial and annual herbs. I’m talking about spaces from plant pots to wasteland.
2. Sew suitable herb seeds and plant cuttings, roots etc. in these places. Suitable for the location, insects and food or medicine.
3. Tend the developing Urban Herb Meadows.
4. Map the locations of these Herb Meadows and photograph them.
4. When ready, harvest some of the material without compromising their usefulness to pollinators such as bees, hoverflies and butterflies.
5. Learn and teach how to use these herbs.
6. Build on successes and learn from the group process, to make more and more Urban Herb Meadows, creating an urban pollinator and food security friendly corridor.

So what do you think of this?
Am I just getting overexcited?
I wonder if our friends at Boskoi and City Plot may like to help out with this in some way?
Design& Collaboration, how about those seeded cards and papers we talked about ages ago?
Would YOU like to come and collect wild herb seed with me, or your friends and family, over the coming summer weeks and through autumn? We can then make little packets of Urban Herb Seedmix, to sew in those new meadows when the time is ripe.

Please let me know what you think. I’m all ears and green fingers.

Surreptitious Runner Beans

OK, so runner beans are not herbs but this is my first real attempt at surreptitious gardening in Amsterdam. I bought a huge bag of runner beans in a country store, whilst visiting my parents. I used what was required at home and school and thought the rest would look good adorning some Amsterdam trees, hedges and wire fences. I also think there should be more food plants in cities, so this was a start.

I wanted to get them off to a good start so I sprouted them in a bowl, over a few days. They got going quickly so I appealed for help from the urbanherbology group and twitter.

Thursday was a bit of a miserable day weatherwise so in the end it was me, my little girl, Sameena and her neighbour who did the planting. I chose Oosterpark because it’s easy to access and could use a little positive energy in parts. It’s also somehow possible to blend in with a trowel in your hand.

Oosterpark is quite a traditional old park, complete with bandstand, children’s paddling pool, some beautiful sculptures and lots of wrought iron fencing. We chose a few locations with good fencing and planted out all of the seeds. Hopefully they will grow well and even if they don’t produce a good crop of beans, perhaps they’ll provide a splash of colour against those railings.image

Many thanks to Sameena & Amber for their help. Next time, perhaps I’ll be more daring in my planting location and we’ll get a few more helpers along.