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Sowing tansy and ginger

There was a spooky trend in the 1960s and 1970s for naming babies after herbs. I was personally acquainted with a number of oarigolds and Rosemarys, one Sage, a Sorrel and a Rue, none of which were too

There was a spooky trend in the 1960s and 1970s for naming babies after herbs. I was personally acquainted with a number of Marigolds and Rosemarys, one Sage, a Sorrel and a Rue, none of which were too dreadful.

However, Tarragon and Hyssop must be cursing their parents to this day, and if anyone out there landed Dill, well, certainly a change by deed poll would be the only solution.

All of which brings me to tansy. Rather nice as herbal names go, but not much chop as a culinary addition to the garden. That doesn’t render it useless, however, and if you have spaces to fill in your ornamental gardens,  or problems with ants, fleas, worms and the like, it’ll come in handy.

For starters, it’s a perennial, so you won’t come out one day and find it has committed a dereliction of duty as  a ground cover. Secondly, it concentrates potassium in the soil so it may benefit neighbouring plants. Finally, plant it near roses, cabbages, peach trees, raspberries and grapes and it’ll run a protection racket against common pests.

It’s actually a good, all-round bitter insect repellent and is reputed to be useful in expelling worms in animals and humans, repelling fleas and bed bugs and delousing horses and dogs. Charming!

But don’t try cooking it up at home, because as a medicinal plant, it’s something of a double-edged sword. Its essential oil is considered toxic and potentially fatal. It’s also toxic to cattle and it can cause contact dermatitis.

Aesthetically, though, it’s a winner. It has soft, fern-like leaves and makes little yellow button flowers. It grows like crazy in the right conditions – full sun to partial shade, rich, moisture-retentive soil, good drainage – and a creeping rootstock habit makes it easy to divide in autumn or spring.

If you’re an old hippie with a child named Borage or similar, you can use the flowers in a soothing herbal bath, or dry the flowers and leaves to make potpourri or to hang in bunches from the ceiling.

When the tansy outgrows your garden, chuck it in the compost – it’ll add to the concentration of potassium. It’s useful from beginning to end! then.

Ginger with that?

Ginger is a multi-tasker in the kitchen, the garden and in the medicine cupboard. It has lots of helpful properties  and, when eaten, is said to help rid you of colds, rheumatoid arthritis, period pain, digestive ailments, morning sickness, poor circulation and erectile dysfunction. No promises on those, though!

Edible ginger is quite easy to grow, but it wants to be warm. If you’re in a cooler climate, treat it as an indoor plant or tuck it into a warm, sheltered corner and protect it from frosts.

Plant a fat, juicy rhizome, or stem, with good growth buds either in the ground or in a container. Filtered sun and moist, free-draining soil with plenty of compost is essential. Plant the rhizome about 5cm-deep with the growth buds facing up.

The foliage will get up to maybe 90cm high in the summer and it will flower in the autumn.

Keep watering it while it’s growing and if you want to hurry it along, feed it with liquid fertiliser. Remember, it’s actually a tropical plant so it likes humidity. If it’s inside, mist it regularly.

At the end of autumn, both the leaves and flower stalks will die down. Harvest your ginger and introduce

it into your diet.

Yamming it up!

At this time of year it’s easy to fixate on salad greens and tomatoes, and forget you need to plant now for autumn and winter eating.

If you want to start with something easy, try yams. They’re certainly not the most attractive of tubers in their natural state, but they’re easy to grow and tasty.

You could sprout your own but it takes a few weeks so best to buy some already sprouted from the garden centre. You can choose from a number of varieties that range in colour from yellow through to dark red. They vary in taste, too, but they’re all full of vitamin A, vitamin B6, fibre and potassium.

Find a spot that gets heaps of sun and provide deep, well-worked soil with plenty of well-rotted compost. Plant them in furrows about 15cm deep with the sprout facing upward. As they push through the soil, mound them up like spuds. Water well in dry periods, protect from slugs and snails, count six months, and if the leaves are starting to die down or turn yellow, they’re ready to harvest.

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