Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Eastern Walkabout - Plants in the City - Still in Istanbul

 I've not managed to leave Istanbul yet, still really enjoying the city and the seemingly never-ending spectacles there are to discover here. although with temperatures creeping up to mid 30's Celsius, a wild beach or mountain forest is seeming more and more appealing.

During this post, I'll share some plant observations from around Sultanahmet and Topkapi Palace Museum introduce a demonstration farm/garden I discovered was growing on a shopping mall opposite where I'm staying, and take a look at some other plants from around the city.

Street Planting in Sultanahmet and Topkapi

Some of the best street plantings I've seen are in the Sultanahmet area. This part of Istanbul was first settled by Greek colonists in 667 BC (referred to then as Byzantium) and has been inhabited by humans for at least 2688 years. The humans have had plenty of practice to get their planting just right :) 

Where space is limited these Yew trees Taxus baccata 'Fastigiata' are a perfect fit. Another extremely popular plant all around the city is Loquat - Eriobotrya japonica (right), a native to China, the plant is prized for its sweet, citrus-like fruit that grows in clusters. The fruit, seeds, and leaves have been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years.

Platanus orientalis- Oriental planes are some of the world's most pollution tolerant plants so it's no wonder you find them in cities with temperate and Mediterranean climates all around the world. In the narrow ancient streets of the Sultanahmet, the trees are often planted very close with the lower limbs lifted above the rooftops, the effect being a comfortable shade to walk in and amazing light filtering through the canopies.

 Although trimming trees and shrubs in cities and residential areas is often necessary, and still looks great in my opinion, when you have the space leaving trees to take their natural form around buildings can be even more striking. Proper plant selection and spacing to start with are key here. This Punica granatum - Pomegranate and  Prunus cerisifera  'Nigra' - Purple Plum are great choices In this scenario outside the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul

The Topkapı Palace/Topkapı Sarayı is now a large museum in the east of the Fatih district of Istanbul but originally served as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans during the 15th and 16th centuries. The whole place is really impressive including the landscaped gardens. 

This is the buttress of the old olive tree you can see between the Cupressus chamaecyparis trees in the above photo. The grounds of the place used to be an ancient olive grove and it got me thinking how old the tree could be. I could not find any reference to the age of this particular tree but was fascinated to learn that (as of 2018), the oldest olive tree in Turkey and one of the oldest olive trees in the world is located in the ancient city of Teos in Izmir's Seferihisar town. A whopping one thousand eight hundred trips around the sun!

The palace grounds have a number of buildings that each had some specific function during the days of the Ottoman Empire. Many of the buildings have extended intricately decorated eaves that contrast beautifully with the tree canopies around them I thought

Star Jasmine - Trachelospermum jasminoides, seen here climbing the walls, is super popular around the city and often used to cover metal fencing and brick walls in new developments as well as historical sites. On the right a magnificent specimen of Magnolia grandiflora another plant that is common around the city.

Other Street Plants 

It's always a pleasure to find volunteer plants in urban areas and this Medicago sativa - Alfalfa plants growing on the roadside below the high rise towers were looking very comfortable. 

I was not aware of how well Punica granatum - Pomegranate (left) responds to trimming, making them a great option for hedging.  Another plant that responds well to trimming and planted all over Istanbul as specimen trees, hedging, and shrubs is Laurus nobilis - Bay right) . Generally speaking, the dense growth that forms from repetitive trimming of any plant provides excellent habitat, within the growth for nesting birds, spiders, and range of other invertebrates. 

I'm not sure what the species on the left is, nor the cultivar that gives the tree the unique contorted and partially pendula frame but I really like it, especially so contrasted against the grey skies and stark stones walls of Topkapi Palace. On the right, a magnificent example of an elderly  Robinia pseudoacacia - Black Locust in Abbasagga Park in Besiktas. These plants age so well

Hottentot-fig - Carpobrotus edulis is commonly used as ground cover on roadside plantings, sunny dry banks in parks, and communal areas around apartments. This ground-creeping plant with edible succulent leaves and flowers is originally from South Africa.  A friend gave me a small plant years ago and we have trays of them growing in the nursery now. They are super easy to propagate, rooting from a fleshy leaf pushed into a sowing medium and will establish a good root system within a summer. We cannot plant them outside in our climate (USDA 5b - 6a ) as they will not tolerate frosts but they do survive in the sunroom over winter where temperatures are kept above 0 Celsius. I've not tried the flowers yet but the freshly sprouting leaves make a reasonably good, occasional nibble 

As you move away from the tourist areas of Istanbul and into the residential parts of the city, it's quite incredible how many small businesses there are offering fresh food, whether that be fruits, vegetables, fish, smoothies, pastries, and bread. Often the businesses are family run and in some cases, the family makes up the complete supply chain, with some members growing the produce, others picking, packing, and delivering and others selling to customers in the city in open markets or stores. 

Rooftop Farm - Levent

Unbeknown when I booked my Airbnb I later found out that the buildings I can see from my window have a rooftop farm growing on them. I set out to explore the farm the next day. 

You can access the farm, and outside the cafe area, from the top floor of the shopping mall, Akmerkez.  It's a small garden, mainly for demonstration/education purposes, exemplifying, gardening on raised beds, composting, aquaponics, hydroponics, etc. It's a nice little demo spot and for more info on the garden see here.

It's great to see these gardens in the cities and I've visited a number of these rooftop/urban farms/community gardens in various cities. It seems to me they are always relatively small, the access is always very tight, with tight angles making it difficult to flow around and difficult to maintain. I've yet to experience a strong emotional response in one of these "urban ecological projects", a strong emotional response like you will often be struck with when you stumble upon a particular wild patch of plants or wandering around a well-designed domestic garden or park.  I should add that my sample size is small based on 5 gardens mainly in and around London, this one in Istanbul and a community garden in Sofia so perhaps there are better examples. If you know of some please let me know. 

I don't see any good reasons beautiful, biodiversity enhancing, productive gardens, that people will marvel at, cannot be created. This is something we intend to dedicate more resources and time to in our gardens in Shipka moving forward as we are looking to amalgamate a 3ha plot to start work on in the near future. Part of the work I'm doing during my travels is designing this garden. The garden's working name is Stoa. Named after a great hall in Athens in which the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno gave the founding lectures of the Stoic school of philosophy. Pretentious? mihi? 

Stoa - The proposed site of our new Regenerative Landscape Design Project in Shipka 

That's all for now. For what's going on in Shipka check out Sophie's blog here and here.


Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course 

If you would like to learn how to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes we'll be running our  Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course that starts on May 4th, 2022. 

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and right now we have a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees. Just use the promo code SUB2022 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. 

We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know the very first of its kind, and if you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out. Looking forward to it!

You can find out all about the course here and use the registration form to sign up for the whole course or individual weeks or modules.


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Monday, 28 June 2021

Mulching trees, Sowing seeds and Oppressive Heat - Week 4 - ESC - The Polyculture Project

The dramatic change in temperature started with the new week, and I really can't recall ever experiencing such humid conditions here, most likely a result of the heavy and significant rainfalls of the previous two weeks and sudden rise of temperature by around 15 degrees C. This week we welcomed Fanny from France to the group, and with our ESC volunteers back from Wake Up festival, we started the week by sowing some kale, beetroot and carrot seeds.

Fanny sowing carrot seeds

With the soil moist and warm and hot sunny days that followed, it only took a few days for the kale seeds to germinate, shortly followed by the beetroot. The carrots haven't shown up yet as expected, but they will likely be making an appearance by the end of next week.

Here's a table providing the minimum and preferred soil temperature for a number of crop seeds and the estimated time it takes the seeds to germinate. For a more detailed look at this see our previous blog post here.

 Minimum and Preferred Temperatures for Common Crops

Germination Temperatures for Field Crops and HerbsGermination Temperatures for Vegetables
SpeciesMinimum (°C)Preferred (°C)Days to
SpeciesMinimum (°C)Preferred (°C)Days to
Triticum aestivum
Hordeum vulgare
Avena sativa
Brassica napus
Forage Crops
Medicago sativa
1252-6Corn1016-3210 -12
Birdsfoot Trefoil
Lotus corniculatus
Red Clover
Trifolium pratense
Sweet Clover
Melilotus officinalis
White Clover
Trifolium repens
Fescue Grass
Festuca spp.
Dactylis glomerata
Phleum pratense
Ocimum basilicum
Mentha spicata
1820 -2410-15Rutabaga416-304-6
Petroselinum crispum
Levisticum officinale
Summer Savory
Satureja hortensis
Allium schoenoprasum
162114-21Swiss Chard420-234-6
Trigonella foenum-graecum
16213-5Turnip/Rutabaga1518-213 -6

The moist weather seems to have caused powdery mildew to appear on the leaves of some of the Hazel saplings. I thought perhaps the age of the plants might be a contributing factor to their susceptibility, but the same condition was also observed on some of the leaves of more mature plants. We'll keep an eye on them to see how this develops.

 After the cherries finish and as the Raspberries come into peak early summer production, a fresh round of plants break into bloom.  The below photo is of a south-facing border, and this week, two of the plants in the polyculture captured my attention. Purple Loosestrife - Lythrum salicaria and a 'Reuben' and Rubus fruticosus cv. - Blackberry cultivar we have been growing for a few years.

Rubus fruticosus cv.

Purple Loosestrife is a very ornamental plant attracting welcome pollinators such as butterflies and bees. A very hardy plant, tolerating temperatures down to at least -25°c. It can be grown in a pond or as a wetland plant but may also be very invasive, so care should be taken when planning planting schemes.

Purple Loosestrife - Lythrum salicaria 

The ESC crew have been a massive help in the gardens this week as we race to cut all the biomass in the gardens and mulch the young trees with it before the dry season starts. It's intense work in our current temperatures, and we're starting to create a new rhythm of meeting at 6am to start activities before the sun becomes powerful, which at the moment seems to be as early as 8am.  Many of the trees in our gardens on the East side of Shipka are predated upon by a local herd of goats, and we're in the process of looking into securing a larger area of land in one spot that can be fenced off to give establishing trees and shrubs a chance to mature. 

Target area we are working on amalgamating in order to fence and develop a 3 ha world-class example of a regenerative landscape. 

It's a frustratingly slow process, but the vision is to publicly demonstrate regenerative practices that feature both local and ancient cultivars of fruit and nut trees, the incredible native biodiversity of the region and beautiful polycultures that provide resources for people while enhancing biodiversity.

Here the crew helps out in our garden Ataraxia. We slash the existing biomass, predominantly grasses, that will compete with the young trees and shrubs for water in the coming summer months and drop the cut matter directly onto the beds to build the quality of the soil. The trees are mulched with straw and this is topped up with the chopped organic material

We've been looking at how to attract Beneficial Organisms into the gardens this week during our  Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course. All organisms are beneficial, at the very least all organisms past, present and future decompose to nourish something else, but when we speak of beneficial organisms we are speaking of those organisms that provide clear and present benefits, specifically to our polyculture activity. Beneficial organisms, or Borgs as we prefer to shorten it, are a very decent group of organisms that make great partners in the polyculture landscape offering, as the name implies, benefits to our activity of growing the stuff we need. They seem to be happy to carry out these duties providing we supply (or at the very least donʼt destroy) suitable living conditions for them, i.e habitat. The benefits these organisms offer come mainly in the form of increasing the productivity of our crops via Pollination Support, protecting our crops from pests via Pest Predation and providing fertility to our crops via their roles in decomposing organic matter and supplying nutrients, Fertility Provision. Some plants make excellent Borg magnets, and definitely in the top 10 is Lovage - Levisticum officinale

This Loveage plant in the home garden grows among Raspberries and underneath a young Cherry tree. Borgs flock to the umbels long before the blooms actually emerge

In the below photo you can see the Raspberries that grow next to the Loveage. The crew have really enjoyed gorging on them this week :)

Fanny and Tara tucking in :)

For more info plants for Borgs , check out our previous post  Five of Our Favourite Plants to Attract Beneficial Insects

A quick interlude to let you know about our Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course,  We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out all about the course here and use the registration form to sign up for the whole course or individual weeks or modules that interest you.

The ESC Volunteers have started a new blog recording their experiences and reflections in Shipka. While we are hosting the volunteers and their activities include supporting us in the gardens, they are also getting involved with projects around Shipka, and going to be helping some of the elderly people in their gardens, while learning from them valuable skills in annual vegetable production. 

While on the topic of vegetable production, we'll end this week with a look at just how much Zeno, our annual polyculture planted back in week 1 has grown. The photos were taken 9 days apart, and you can see the plants' response to the wet weather followed by 30+degrees c temps. So far all the plants look healthy which is encouraging.

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)

Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 


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