The Voice ‐ January 2020
Comment by Geoff
A new year, a new decade. We have all learnt that public gardens, whether they be orchards, a copse, parks or individual gardens, are of value to the changing environment and enhance a better environment in which to live.
We are told that the pressures on the environment still in existence and will get worse before it gets better. Although foreboding, this message is important because in the decade to come we must all try our best to create through our gardens a better place for everyone.
I wish everyone a Happy New Year.
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Avocados have long been a part of the Mexican diet. Archaeologists have found evidence of avocado consumption going back almost 10,000 years in central Mexico. Back then, humans were simply gathering and eating wild avocados. Researchers believe that humans began cultivating avocados about 5,000 years ago. Mesoamerican tribes like the Inca, the Olmec and the Maya grew domesticated avocado trees.
In the 16th century, Spanish explorers became the first Europeans to eat avocados. Martín Fernández de Enciso was the first European to describe avocados when he mentioned them in a book that he wrote in 1519. The Spanish called the fruit aguacate, a corruption of ahuacatl. By the time of the Spanish Conquest, avocados had spread from Mexico through Central America into parts of South America. The Spanish eventually brought avocados to Europe and sold them to other countries including England.
In 1653, a Spanish padre, Bernabe Cobo, was the first European to describe the three main types of avocados: Guatemalan, Mexican and West Indian. Different people, including George Washington, described finding and eating avocados in the West Indies. Washington visited the Barbados in 1751 and later wrote that the agovago pears were a popular food.
Sir Hans Sloane, an Irish naturalist, is believed to have coined the word avocado in 1696, when he mentioned the plant in a catalogue of Jamaican plants. He also called it the alligator pear‐tree.
Henry Perrine, a horticulturist, first planted avocados in Florida in 1833. Although they didn’t become a commercial crop until the early 20th century. While they were fairly popular in California, Florida and Hawaii where they were grown, people in other states avoided avocados. They didn’t start gaining widespread popularity until the 1950s, when people started putting them in salads.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fat that your body burns easily for energy. They may be one of the healthiest foods you can eat every day as they help protect your heart and optimize your cholesterol. They also are rich in fibre.
Together with high amounts of several essential vitamins and minerals, including the B vitamins, potassium and vitamin K, the avocado is a fruit you may want to consider for more than guacamole. Adding avocados to salad also helps your body to absorb three to five times more carotenoids, helping your body fight against free radical damage.
An average sized avocado also contains about 10% of the recommended daily value of magnesium, a mineral used by every organ in your body. Insufficient levels may lead to unexplained muscle fatigue or weakness, abnormal heart rhythms or muscle spasms.
Avocados are also surprisingly high in fibre, which plays an important role in digestive, heart and skin health. Fibre is also important in helping to regulate blood sugar and weight management. Avocados don't ripen on the tree, but only after they're picked. Brush lemon juice and olive oil over the cut flesh to help inhibit oxidation. Back to top
Earthworms are the unsung heroes of our world. These lowly invertebrates work unseen underground where they till, fertilise and improve the soil. But environmentalists are concerned that industrial agricultural practices are making life difficult for this surprisingly important animal.
Intensive use of manure and acidic soil with a pH value below five harm the worm, although it remains unclear whether herbicides affect earthworm’s ability to reproduce. But one thing is for sure: the destruction of its habitat every few months with heavy machinery stresses the animal.
On organic farms, where the fields are rarely ploughed, up to 450 worms live in the same area, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). But, fewer than thirty earthworms are found per square metre on intensively farmed fields. That’s bad news according to agronomists and gardeners. A thriving earthworm population is an indication of healthy soil.
The retreat of the species is so evident that the WWF has published an Earthworm Manifesto to publicise the faith of these dirt‐dwellers. “If earthworms suffer, so too does our soil and thereby the basis for agriculture and food supply”, said Birgit Wilhelm, a WWF expert in the farming sector. For Wilhelm, these worms are the least appreciated creatures on the planet.
Earthworms are industrious and irreplaceable in that they tirelessly work to fertilise and aerate soil, and in the process, help prevent soil erosion. “Strictly speaking, there are forty‐five species and four categories that carry out a range of tasks”, explained Professor Heinz‐Christian Fründ, an environmental scientist with expertise in soil at the University of Osnabrück.
Some eat fallen leaves and wood on the soil’s surface. Others gather en masse in compost heaps. A third category lives in mineral soil, which is derived from minerals or rocks and contains little humus or organic matter. The worms replenish the soil with their excrement, which contains all the nutrients plants needs to thrive, including nitrogen, phosphorous, and calcium.
The common earth worm plays a major role for the farming sector, the animal builds a system of tunnels in which it lives. It digs a vertical main entrance from the top layers of the soil until it gets to a damp, reliable depth. In an enormous show of strength, the worm burrows through the earth, aerating it, so oxygen and plant roots can reach further down, this act contributes to soil formation and regeneration and improves its ability to absorb water.
The common earthworm feasts on rotting, bacteria‐rich plant matter that it finds on the soil’s surface. Droughts are particularly devastating for worm populations. If there are too few worms, the soil will become dense, poorly aerated and won't absorb enough water. Soil that contains many earthworms will absorb up to 150 litres of water per hour and square metre, if the soil has too few worms, it will act like a blocked drain. That can lead to floods.
Even the agricultural sector has long known that earthworms need protection, only synthetic pesticides that have been tested for compatibility should be used.
Still, the WWF warns of a dangerous chain reaction for humanity, and has called for politics and society to encourage an agricultural sector more focused on soil and humus‐friendly farming. At a time when development is swallowing up more and more countryside, good soil is becoming increasingly important to ensure a secure food supply for the world’s growing population. Long‐term soil fertility and the ability of farmland to recuperate are under threat and protecting earthworms with their ability to improve soil should be an agricultural goal.
One of the great characters of botany and nature has passed away. It is therefore only fitting that The East London Garden Society pays tribute by means of a short obituary from Janis Fry.
“This is a sad day indeed and I am very sorry to hear from the Conservation Foundation that David Bellamy, the great Botanist, died this morning. I met him several times. He was a great character with so much energy, laughter and enthusiasm.
He also never forgot people and I was stunned when he phoned me up on Christmas day! I remember telling him about the Welsh Historic Gardens who some twenty years ago had butchered the 1,000‐year‐old magnificent yew tunnel and him instructing me to slip in, in disguise, to get photos for him! He then arrived with Russel Ball, told the gardens the tunnel was unique in Europe and they were not to touch another single twig and that all eyes were upon them!
It was a bad business as nothing would stop them doing what they wanted which was to turn the yew tunnel into a neat little affair. TPO’s put on the yews and £25,000 in fines, were waived aside in the interests of tourism, which went to show the protection orders weren’t worth the paper they were written on.
Luckily, they survived and rallied, though to my mind we lost a thing of great beauty and mystery which will take centuries to return to its former glory. The tunnel was responsible for my passion for old yews. I discovered the Gothic looking tunnel in 1974 when exploring the derelict house and gardens. I tripped and fell through a hole in what I thought was a hedge and found myself in another world!
David Bellamy will be well remembered. A wonderful man.” Back to top
The William Paton Garden
Not many will have heard of the name William Paton and is much the same for the community garden in Newham that shares his name.
A member of The East London Garden Society visited the garden with a view to collecting improvements for the local community. It is always sad to see an imaginative space being neglected as is now the case with The William Paton Garden.
The East London Garden Society were instrumental in the garden being established when it was moved because of Crossrail, the new rail link which will traverse London east to west.
Yet again, local ecology is in danger because of decisions soon to be made. However, whilst this oasis is still in existence it must be kept worthy for the community to enjoy, as well as embraced. Part of the mission statement given to The East London Garden Society, is to work with all who wish to promote and enhance the environment of East London. The East London Garden Society will therefore do its utmost to pursue this agenda further. Back to top
Cooking in a Different Way ‐ Hosta
The Hosta was once harvested as a tasty woodland edible plant but has now become a cultivated plant in our backyards.
Long before the Hosta was planted in shady corners of suburban backyards, they were a wild plant in Japanese woodlands. In Japan, they are known as Urui, and are part of a class of vegetables known as Sansai or mountain vegetables which describes wild edibles that are commonly harvested and eaten.
The best time to harvest the Hosta is in the Spring when its young shoots are just emerging from the earth. The flowers are also delicious later on in the summer and you can eat those without cutting into the plant.
Use a sharp knife to slice the Hosta shoots off at ground level. The size of the shoots will vary from plant to plant but generally they are large, so there is more to eat. Since they are often in desperate need of being thinned, it’s not a problem to harvest a few shoots, so take off a handful or two from each plant and there will be more space for the remaining stalks to thrive.
The inside of a Hosta shoot looks a lot like a leek and can have a similar flavour. Bitten raw will give you an idea of how your Hosta variety will taste cooked. If it tastes like asparagus and scallions, give them a quick pan fry in a little butter.
The outside of the Hosta shoot caramelises like an onion, which shows they have a sweet taste. The total cooking time is two minutes at most in a hot pan, and even less if you wish to maintain more of a crunch.
Beyond the shoots, which are a tasty spring vegetable, the blooms later in the summer are also edible.
How to Grow Hosta
In their native Japan, China and Korea, Hosta grows in woodlands and along the banks of streams. It therefore makes sense that they grow best in conditions that mimic their natural environment. That means shade and moist, rich soil with a lot of organic matter. Direct sun can harm them, causing the leaves to burn and bleach white.
Plant them in part to full shade, ensuring that they’re in shade during the heat of the day. They’re a perennial plant, so they will come back year after year in the same spot assuming they are well‐tended. Protect them from rabbits, which love the tender succulent leaves.
There are a lot of different Hosta cultivars, each with different flowers, leaf colour and size. The most common flower colours are purple and white. Choose varieties that best suit your planting location, saving smaller varieties for planting near narrow walkways and inter‐planting with other shade perennials. Back to top