on 16 November 2012
If you want to grow something different or even discover what's edible amongst the plants that might already be in your garden, then I thoroughly recommend this book. It's easy to read and is well laid out. I found some of the photos had an annoying lack of depth of field, sometimes leaving the front of a plant out of focus, and would like to have seen some sort of legend for the full page illustrations. I found the Latin names a little difficult to read in that font, which is annoying because I would want to make sure I had the correct plant.
I bought James Wong's book at a talk he gave last night at Writtle College as part of the "Edible Essex" campaign, part of the Rural Community Council of Essex and sponsored by the Big Lottery Local Food Scheme and Essex County Council.
To a certain extent, James was preaching to the semi-converted in me. Now that I no longer have an allotment and my garden is somewhat overshadowed, I have to be choosy about what I grow, so it makes sense to grow things which are difficult or impossible to buy in the shops. I also need things which are neglect-tolerant, because I get awfully absent-minded when writing and barely remember to feed the family, let alone cosset my plants.
I haven't read every word yet, but I've had a good skim through and I'm delighted with this book.
James Wong's book is full of revelations about what is edible, and how to use them, even in a small space like a balcony or a window sill. I have flirted with micro-greens and will do so more now. I was really pleased to see how to deal with olives, though my olive tree hasn't yet fruited. I was aware that Daylily buds are edible, even put a couple in a stir-fry once, but was worried that perhaps the non-flower parts weren't edible. I'm much more reassured after reading James Wong's book.
I had no idea that Shuttlecock fern crooks were edible. I think I'd read it somewhere before, in fiction, but with a feeling of disbelief because I thought they were mildly toxic. I have a shuttlecock fern (I think: the mail-order nursery did a good job of mislabelling a whole batch of plants they sent me so I'm not sure). Perhaps I'll try them now I know how to prepare them.
Dahlias. OK, I've looked at the tubers before and wondered, but it turns out they are edible and were a foodstuff before they became popular as flowers. Trouble is, I haven't got room to grow them. Another tub, maybe.
Wasabi. I want to grow this, now, thanks James, especially if it grows in shade. The problem is, it apparently needs damp too, something which isn't a feature of the Essex climate.
New Zealand Yams is another thing I'd like to grow, but again, I don't have anywhere to grow them.
I was chuffed to find that the Calamondin oranges are actually used when green as limes because I recently bought one heavily reduced from the supermarket because it was on its best before date (seriously!). I was going to use the little oranges in windfall marmalade, but I'm a tad worried about pesticides as it's supposed to be an ornamental. I ought, as James Wong puts it, to allow it to "detox" for six months to a year. But those little oranges do look rather tempting.
The Japanese honeysuckle on my fence has now had a stay of execution. I never knew I could use the flowers in tea.
I have grown or am currently growing quite a few of the plants in the book. I have grown Physalis, and like them, but they were leggy and unproductive. Perhaps I was too kind to them. I also grew a dwarf form, but the fruit were dwarf too, which annoyed me. I grow tomatillos but I'm not sure about the flavour. It's lemony, but to me has undertones of washing up liquid. I made some chutney with one crop but didn't really like it. I might persist with them and get to like them. (I used not to like courgettes but love them now.) I knew Houttuynia cordata was edible, and used to grow it, but the smell is just revolting to me, sort of dank, but I feel the same way about Vietnamese coriander, coriander itself, and even jasmine, so I think it's a personal antipathy. Houttuynia grows so easily it can be invasive.
I have wanted a tea bush for years. It wasn't until a trip to the Eden Project that I realised they will grow here, though I fear it may be a little hot and dry in Essex.
James Wong's book is a revelation in that there are far more interesting and edible plants available than I was aware of, things which are garden ornamentals or houseplants, or just easy to grow. I wish my garden was big enough to grow all these shrubs and plants which are hardy in the UK but which have, by chance, fallen out of favour. And I miss my allotment. I really, really miss my allotment.