The prerequisite for a place in my garden is that plants must be edible. This, I thought, would keep things simple.
Since then, I have discovered there is a huge range of plants which we can use one way or the other, so I now divide them into edible and palatable – the former is not going to kill me but the latter is worth eating.
What has recently been elevated to the edible category is the Japanese raisin tree.
Hovenia dulcis came to my attention when I learnt that it (apparently!) cured hangovers. The novelty factor of its edible stem also appealed.
I had originally planted it by the dam. Raisin trees are pretty tolerant of most conditions except maritime, and, I found, waterlogging. After several years of torture resulting in a spindly-looking stick with nothing looking remotely edible, I uprooted and plonked it on the southern boundary in the pig paddock. Apparently they don’t mind the cold, so I figured it could live or die there as it pleased.
Digger work accidentally redirecting a spring and pigs doing what they do best with water (making wallows) meant its roots were once again covered in mud. The cows pruned it up and I dismissed it as being useless until I noticed some nobbly, distorted ends on some of the branches late one autumn.
Some fence climbing and stretching (only possible when sober so more proof that it is useless as a hangover cure) and I had a handful of unappetising, stunted twigs. A nibble brought about a revelation. The flower stalks taste exactly like raisins, maybe a bit crunchier with a hint of apple.
I appraised my tree anew. It is supposed to have a rounded canopy with pretty foliage and cream-coloured blossoms, and sometimes even yellow autumn colour. The blossoming can be delayed into summer, then the flowers die back and the edible flower stalk develops, ripening to a light brown colour.
So the water has been diverted, the pig’s wallow relocated, the cattle protector enlarged and some fertiliser applied.
Another recent promotion went to the linden tree.
Tilia cordata had been planted to make honey (via the beehive), but I recently discovered its leaves are edible. Think of a crunchy iceberg lettuce in a heart shape. Linden flowers and the green seed bracts are famous in a tea, and can be infused into a syrup, wine, almond milk or steamed with vegetables for flavour. But it is the new leaves, picked fresh and added to a salad, that have delighted me. Not just edible and palatable, but actually rather tasty and apparently nutritious.
The latest addition is some dahlia bulbs.
They’re discards from my flowergardening mother who thinks I have finally matured enough to appreciate aesthetics. Little does she know that all parts of the dahlia are edible. Apparently the flavour changes with variety and conditions but the bulb can be sweet and crunchy like a yacón. Or it can be bitter and fibrous.
In the UK, a nursery has done some taste testing and released a range of Delidahlias. I’ll let you know if mine turn out palatable… or simply edible.