The Onion Flower

Writer and Horticulturist

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The Big, Bad Book of Botany: The World’s Most Interesting Fauna

botanyThe Big, Bad Book of Botany: The World’s Most Fascinating Flora

By Michael Largo

Avon Press

Publication Date August 2014

Michael Largo covers the alphabet with an A to Z of some amazing plants found throughout the world. I wouldn’t describe many of them as ‘bad’ mind you, but definitely interesting. The story of each plant is told with small snippets of history, science and mythology woven together and the lovely illustrations add to the narrative. Although written for the average person he has clearly done a good job on his research as he surreptitiously teaches you botanical terms. He describes some weird and wonderful plants you have probably never heard of as well as some of the most common things in all our backyards. He even touches on some prehistoric plants that once existed but are no more.

The term ‘botany’ is losing favour nowadays, often being replaced by the less intriguing ‘plant science’. It’s pleasing to me to see the word botany in large letters on a book meant for popular usage. This book is straightforward, fun and hopefully will draw more young readers into the captivating world of plants. Overall an enjoyable read for geeks like me who find plants endlessly fascinating and a quick read for those who want to skip ahead to a particular plant.


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Wildcraft Wednesday

It’s been raining so much lately that it hasn’t been easy getting out to forage for wild foods. To make up for the rainy weather I’ve concentrated on gathering tea herbs, some are wild but most grow in my garden.

In the garden I harvest pineapple mint, chocolate mint, spearmint, lemon balm, lavender, monarda (bergamot), anise hyssop, violet leaves, catmint, raspberry and blackberry leaves. Add to this the wild mint, ox-eye daisy petals, roses, mallow flowers and red clover that I’ve gathered wild. These are the flavours that I like best in my tea, sometimes I’ll open a few decaffeinated green tea bags to add to the mixture and up the anti-oxidant factor. I either use the mixture loose in a tea ball if I’m making a pot or stuff it into tea bags with a fold-over flap that I purchased online. These I find most handy since they come in various sizes and work best for bringing tea in my thermos.


Pineapple mint, slow growing and non-invasive in my garden


Red monarda petals I’ve been harvesting

Generally speaking herbs are at their most flavourful before they flower, although I don’t always get around to picking them in time. After I pick my herbs I let them sit on the back porch for a few hours to wilt and so that any critters that might be hiding can take the chance to leave. After that I gently soak them in water, letting dirt sink to the bottom. If they’re on long stems and it’s a dry day outside I’ll sometimes clip them to the clothesline, although drying in a dark place is best to preserve the essential oils. For small herbs I’ll strew them on newspaper sheets or put them in paper bags to dry. Removing the stems from the leaves will speed up the drying process. I have also used a dehydrator in the past but it’s not usually necessary with something as thin as herbs, I tend to use it more for drying fruit with a high moisture content.


Mint drying on newspaper

Once everything is well and truly dried I seal them in glass jars until I’ve gathered all my herbs for the summer, at which point I’ll decide what kind of blends to make and label the jars accordingly. I sometimes add spices or dried fruit peel as well such as lemon or ginger for a tea that’s more warming. It’s a very comforting feeling knowing you have enough hot soothing tea to get you through a cold winter.


Dried tea herbs in jars


Violet leaves, lemon balm and rose tea. Pale straw colour with a soft rose scent.


 What’s your favourite tea blend?



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Perspective is an interesting thing. When I’m in my garden I’m usually looking at it from a certain angle, most of it displayed out in front of me as I come down the steps that lead from the back door and out into the garden. Earlier this week I saw my garden from a different vantage point while watering plants for my vacationing neighbours.

I stopped and stared.

My garden looked completely different. I saw bare patches, invasive ground cover, small plants blocked by overgrown thugs, pots and tools in what I thought were hidden corners… Yikes!
It wasn’t all bad of course. Some things I had neglected to pay attention to were now obvious. The pretty way the three paths branch out, the flow of the water from the pond, the rise and dip of the garden from one bed into another.

What’s the lesson here? I had begun to take the appearance of the garden for granted, I saw what I wanted to see. I needed to get out of my comfort zone to gain a different perspective. I’m not searching for perfection, but a garden is always a work in progress. As Rudyard Kipling once said “Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.”

This is one of my favourite views right now, the white clematis Henryi framed by the grape arbour.


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Book Review: Incredible! Plant Veg Grow a Revolution

Incredible! Plant Veg Grow a Revolution by Joanna Dobson and Pam Warhurst. Leicestershire: UK, 2014. 238 pages.
Release date August 2014.
Reviewed by Sherry Lalonde

Stories about Incredible Edible Todmorden have been showing up in my twitter feed, in some of the blogs I follow and in popular gardening literature for a few years now. It takes time for things to make their way across the pond but it seems to have finally arrived.
In 2008 a small group of people spearheaded by Pam Warhurst were looking for ways to make their market town of Todmorden in West Yorkshire, England more sustainable, inclusive and community-oriented. They came upon the idea of using local food as a central theme to unite as many people as they could reach out to.
The band set out and began planting food in prominent public spaces and encouraged passer-by to help themselves. They worked with the schools to help grow and supply their own food, set up apprenticeship programs with local farmers, planned food-related events, built raised beds on social housing estates and more. Incredible Edible worked diligently with national agencies and their local government and businesses but initially the grass-roots organization struggled with bureaucracy, funding and direction. It has now been running successfully for several years and the idea has spread to other cities in countries like Canada, New Zealand and France.
Although the book seems rather after-the-fact, the original initiative is constantly evolving and changing to stay relevant and a part of the everyday life of the community.There is no linear trajectory but instead the project continues to grow in an organic multi-directional way with new connections being made all the time.
For those looking for a step-by-step instruction guide to duplicating Todmorden’s success – this is not it. The authors advise tailoring your approach to the individual characteristics of your own town. The best advice they give is not to wait for permission but to start planting, growing and sharing food and worry about road blocks when they block your path, not before.
The earnestness comes across a little strongly at times but it serves to motivate those of us who want to do more but instead are waiting for someone else to take charge. Incredible! Plant Veg Grow a Revolution is an inspiring read that reminds you that small ideas can make a big difference.

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Dark Days Challenge Breakfast

The chaos of the holidays always seems to put good intentions on the back burner.

I had been hoping to cook a SOLE (sustainable, organic, local, ethical) meal before Christmas because I knew there was no way that Christmas dinner was going to adhere to the challenge rules. This year’s dinner was an extended family affair and although I supplied the local turkey I suspect most of the trimmings came from “abroad”. Between work, holiday shopping and various other commitments  however I never got around to cooking that meal.

And so, I bring you a Dark Days Boxing Day Breakfast instead!

Homemade 7 grain pancakes  made from Harmony Milk and Mountain Path flour with foraged raspberries and local Maple Syrup.

7 grain pancakes

L'Epoque Maple Syrup