Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Webb's Prize Cobnut

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Webb's Prize Cobnut

At the beginning of 2009 I went a bit nuts and ordered myself two Webb’s Prize Cobnuts from Victoriana Nursery Gardens (a cultivated variety of the hazelnut, Corylus avellana). They have lived in large containers ever since, and have suffered somewhat in the various moves and periods of neglect they have been subjected to in the gardening interregnum.

They are currently sitting in my front garden, since last weekend we moved all of the refugee plants there from the garden strip that is further away (and harder to water).

The problem is I’m not sure where they fit in the new garden. I have a feeling that space is going to be at a premium, and they don’t earn their keep. They have never been productive (hardly their fault, I would imagine), and now that I live in a more rural area there’s more risk of any nuts being snaffled by squirrels. It’s not as if they add much in the way of wildlife value, since the garden is opposite a tall, wild hedge.


Beyond their nuts, the only other use for this plant would be to coppice it for hazel poles. That’s a possibility, especially considering Ryan wants to experiment with making his own charcoal, and we’re planning on having a fire pit when the garden is finished. The ideal time to coppice a hazel (which, in essence, means cutting it right back) is the middle of winter. Whether or not a coppiced tree would be happy in a large container… I suspect nobody knows. The Forestry Commission have published a good guide to hazel coppicing which suggests cutting every 6-10 years. Which makes mine an ideal age for a first cut, I think – but also means Ryan would have to wait another 6 years for any more wood ;)

Perhaps the best idea would be to try it with one of my trees first, leaving the other for another year if the first survives the treatment. In the meantime they could probably do with a top dressing of fresh compost and a bit of a feed. They’ve been fending for themselves for quite some time.

As you can see, I’m currently in the process of building myself a new garden. The story of my first garden is told in The Alternative Kitchen Garden: An A to Z. That book is currently sold out and hard to get hold of, but if you’re in the UK you can order a signed copy from me for £12 inc. p&p. Drop me a line if you’d like one.

Posted in Blog on Aug 9, 2015 ·

Last modified on Aug 10, 2015

Tag: nuts

Time to go nuts?

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As I was tucking into Chocolate Ganache and Cinnamon Hazelnut Cake at Café Mauresque following my graduation, dad remarked that I was getting my daily intake of nuts, so I would be alright. Apparently he’d read something about a handful of nuts every day being healthy; I pondered which nuts it meant – culinary nuts forming an overlapping category with botanical nuts.

I figured it was probably something he’d read about in the Telegraph, and it is – they published Nuts linked to lower death risk on 20th November. The BBC headline, Eating nuts ‘may prolong life’ is both more restrained and more accurate.

They’re reporting on one scientific study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, entitled Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality, and partly funded by the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation. It asked people whether they ate nuts on a regular basis, without specifying (as far as I can tell) what they meant by nuts. Later in the report they separate peanuts (which are, botanically, a legume) from ‘tree nuts’.

Wikipedia has a very nice List of culinary nuts, which specifies whether the ‘nut’ in question is a botanical nut, a drupe, or a seed from a gymnosperm or an angiosperm. Hazelnuts and sweet chestnuts are both examples of true nuts.

Sweet Chesnuts

It’s relatively easy (and a fun project) to try growing your own peanuts, although yields in the UK are both unreliable and likely to be underwhelming. The peanut is a ‘nut-like angiosperm seed’, for the record. Tiger nuts (Cyperus esculentus) are really tubers; they’re not included in Wikipedia’s list.

Tiger nuts

There have been other studies (this one refers to some of them) that show that nut consumption is healthy, so this is not a one-off, although it’s still unwise to read too much into one study. There’s nothing here that explains what it is about nuts that’s having a protective effect; certainly tucking into a bowl of salted peanuts every evening isn’t going to be the best thing for you. It’s all too easy to justify bad dietary habits by quoting a newspaper headline, but eating a varied diet seems to be the important thing.

Historically I haven’t been a big nut eater, although I am getting better and am happy to try and add a few more of them into my diet. Martin Crawford wrote about growing nuts in the UK for the BBC Gardening blog a few years ago; I was chatting about nut trees for small gardens for City Planter in September.

Are you nuts about nuts? Do you grow them? How do you like to eat them?

Posted in Blog on Nov 28, 2013 ·

Last modified on Aug 10, 2015

Tags: nuts & science.

Thoughts: Eat your Christmas Tree

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Bhutan Pine
The Bhutan Pine is a little large for most gardens!

We’re still in house renovation hell at the moment, but took some time out yesterday and got as far as the local hardware store to buy some light fittings for the new kitchen. They were selling small Christmas trees in pots, roughly two feet tall, which was rather tempting although I haven’t bought one yet. It reminded me that last Christmas I was thinking about growing an edible Christmas tree.

James Wong was talking about using pine needles in the Christmas edition of Grow Your Own Drugs – he recommended the Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) or Norway Spruce (Picea abies). The Fraser fir was not one of the choices in the hardware store; it grows to about 15m tall and PFAF gives it an edibility rating of 1. The Norway Spruce gets 2, but it also grows to twice the height and would not be a good choice for this garden.

A second option on sale was the Blue Spruce (Picea pungens), which grows to 20m and gets a PFAF edibility rating of 2.

Over at Weeding the Web, Helen Gazeley is talking about how to choose a Christmas tree for it’s traditional decorative purpose. As well as the species above she mentions the Noble Fir, the Nordman Fir and the Lodgepole pine

According to PFAF the Noble Fir (Abies procera) gets an edibility rating of 0 and grows to 60m. The Nordman Fir (Abies nordmanniana) also gets 0 and reaches a height of 50m. It lists the Beach pine (Pinus contorta) with a rating of 3 and a height of 15m, but although the Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta latifolia) grows to the same height it gets a big fat 0 on the yummy scale.

Eat Weeds turns pine needles into vinegar, which I have mentioned before but not yet managed to try. According to them, all of the pine species are edible in this regard, although some are much nicer than others, so it pays to nibble before you make a big batch of vinegar.

If it’s pine nuts you’re after then the main species grown commercially is Pinus pinea, which PFAF gives a 4 to, and which grows to 10m tall. It doesn’t look like a proper Christmas tree though. You could also try P. sabriana and P. coulteri, which give larger pine nuts but are slower growing (according to If you’re thinking long-term then you may be better planting a Monkey Puzzle or two here in the UK.

When I looked into this last year I eventually bought some Korean Fir seeds from Chiltern Seeds, although I haven’t yet sown them. It’s a small, slow-growing tree that looks like a proper little Christmas tree and is very ornamental. Whether its needles would make nice vinegar remains to be seen, but I will dig the seeds out and sow them in spring and see how far I get :)

My ‘Thoughts’ posts are somewhat rambling collections of crazy ideas and research. If you want to look back at the previous ones then flip through the Thoughts category.

Posted in Blog on Dec 6, 2010 ·

Last modified on Aug 10, 2015

Tags: thoughts & nuts.

Forest Garden Plants: Araucaria araucana

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Just over a minute into this film of Ken Fern (badly in need of digital remastering!) he talks about the monkey puzzle tree, Araucaria araucana, and about how it has the potential to be one of the most productive nut trees in our climate. If they had been planted in any number when that discovery had been made then we would be awash with nuts by now – but unfortunately they weren’t. Although they are sometimes grown as ornamental trees, they aren’t often grown as productive trees – and there are a couple of reasons why that is so. The first is that they are slow growing – this one is about 8 years old, according to its label:

Monkey puzzle 3
Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree

It will be another couple of decades before it is reliably producing nuts. The second reason is that plants are either male or female, and you need both for nut production, and it’s impossible to sex the plants while they’re young. So if you want monkey puzzle nuts you need to grow several trees (as yet, I don’t know how many – do you?) to guarantee a harvest, even though one male tree can usually pollinate several local females.

On the plus side, as well as producing tasty nuts, the trees don’t cast too much shade – although they will eventually grow very tall:


And the ones at my local arboretum appear to be taking very good care of the local ladybird population:


I would dearly love some little monkey puzzles of my own, to give me a head start on the forest garden I hope to have room for once we move – they’re definitely on my wish list.

Nicky’s Nursery (supplier)

Posted in Blog on Aug 20, 2010 ·

Last modified on Aug 10, 2015

Tags: permaculture & nuts.


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Watching A Farm for the Future brought to the forefront of my mind a project I have been thinking about (on and off) all year.

My original nutbag* idea was to have a container hedge in the front driveway. The previous occupants of this house thought it would be nice to tarmac the entire driveway, which leaves plenty of space for cars but none for plants (although the daisies around the edge are making a good effort). I thought a few choice ‘hedge’ plants in containers around the edge would be nice. I bought 6 large plants pots in preparation, and short-listed the trees I wanted.

But then I considered the issues…. Anything edible would be subjected to road pollution. There’s a surprising amount of traffic down our road, and since we live on a corner we’re at the point where people slow down and then step on the gas. It’s not perfect.

To a certain extent that washes off, but there are other issues. Fruiting trees aren’t cheap and out in the driveway they will be at risk from mindless vandalism and theft. I honestly don’t know how guerrilla gardeners come to terms with the fact that their plants will be at risk from human predators.

Crab Apple

But I do believe in the vision of the future that Martin Crawford spoke about in ‘A Farm for the Future’ and so I have invested in 3 new trees – a crab apple ‘John Downie’ and two ‘Webb’s Prize Cobnut’. I’ve wanted that crab apple since I saw one at the RISC roof garden; it should be very beautiful when it blossoms, and it will also help pollinate my other apple tree. The move into nuts is exciting, and stems from reading an article by Stephen Shirley in Grow Your Own magazine last year about nuts that can be grown in containers.

The three trees arrived from Victoriana on Tuesday morning. This time they were packed in shredded paper, not grass, so rather than mulch material I was left with over-stuffed compost heaps instead. But I have potted up the trees and given them a short stake to help against root rock (a tall stake is counter-productive and utterly ridiculous in a pot anyway). Don’t forget to tie your tree ties in a figure of eight, which helps stop the trunk rubbing against the stake. And they have a nice mulch of wood chips, too, since I had a few handy.

*I was originally thinking about a truffle tree, a bamboo and possibly some willow. In containers, in the driveway. The nuttiness of the idea doesn’t bother me that much. Maybe next year ;)

Posted in Blog on Feb 26, 2009 ·

Last modified on Aug 9, 2015

Tag: nuts


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