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Gardening fun with tomatillos and strawberry spinach
Garden path

Gardening fun with tomatillos and strawberry spinach

by Faye Peterson 4 min. 12.02.2022 From our online archive
Sick and tired of the usual suspects? Have fun experimenting with tomatoes' little cousin or make your own mushroom logs
Tomatillos be used to make guacamole, ketchup and salsa verde
Tomatillos be used to make guacamole, ketchup and salsa verde
Photo credit: Shutterstock

‘In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. So sang Mary Poppins.  

With spring just around the corner, now is the time to plan ahead and bring an element of fun to gardening jobs. 

Sick and tired of the usual suspects? Have fun experimenting with different varieties like tomatillos (Physalis philadelphia) and Strawberry Spinach (Chenopodium capitatum) or go out on a limb and make your own mushroom logs.   


For a twist on traditional tomatoes, consider their quirky cousin, tomatillos. They grow in thin paper husks, producing unique lime flavoured fruit that can be used in a number of dishes from guacamole to ketchup and salsa verde.  

Plant as you would your tomatoes, at the beginning of spring after the last frosts have passed. A good quality soil will improve all food's flavour. Use rich compost, loamy earth and provide adequate fertilisation. Unlike bush tomatoes this is a climbing plant that can reach up to two metres in height and be roughly as wide, so it's a good idea to have some support or structure to hand. Save their seeds in exactly the same way you would your tomatoes. 

Strawberry spinach

Is it a fruit? Is it a vegetable? No, it’s Strawberry Spinach!  Like strawberries this plant has edible leaves and bright red berries, but it’s closest relative is actually spinach. 

Also known as Beetberry or Strawberry Goosefoot, this herbaceous annual is best sown direct to the ground in a sunny spot from mid to late spring. Like spinach, the leaves can be used all year round in salads and cooking and, though not as sweet as strawberries, the fruit can be used to add colour to your smoothie or cheer up a cheeky glass of crémant.  A lazy gardener’s dream, this plant will self-seed from unused fruits and proliferate in the garden. 

Mushroom logs

Mushroom lovers rejoice. If you are a confident cook, but inexperienced forager, fear not, it is possible to feast risk free by growing your own mushrooms at home outdoors. The onset of spring is the perfect time to begin.  

For this project, you will need cured (aged) dry logs and a selection of mushroom plugs.  Logs should be around 10-15cm in diameter and approximately one metre in length. It’s rumoured that oak makes the best cultivator for a wide variety of mushrooms, but other species like birch, beech, maple and willow work well. 

Drill each log with holes, insert your mushroom plugs and seal with wax - beeswax is a good choice. Shiitake, Oyster and Chicken of the Woods are just some mushroom varieties to try.  Place your logs in a cool, shady spot either standing up, laying down or hanging. Success is dependent on weather conditions and logs used, but you can expect to reap rewards in as little as four months and for several consecutive years with most species. Not up to the job?  Buy pre-inoculated logs, the results should be the same for a fraction of the work.                            

In the garden

Lost your mojo? Time to ‘play’ with the plants and put the fun back into flowers. Plants don’t take themselves too seriously. How can they with names like, ‘Lilac Squirrel’ (Sanguisorba hakusanensis), ‘Snapdragon’ (Antirrhinum) and ‘Red Hot Poker’(kniphofia).  

Lilac Squirrel is a pendulous pinkish, purple fluff of feather boas. A herbaceous perennial that will add some cheeky drama to your patch. It may look all fluff and feathers, but it is a hardy plant. Seemingly impervious to pests or diseases and requiring little in the way of care - not even a regular prune. Young plants can be placed outside from early spring. These squirrels will tolerate some shade, but at heart they are thirsty little sun seekers.     

Still missing Game of Thrones? Pop a few dragons in your garden - Snapdragons! These annual flowers are a cottage garden staple and a favourite of mine. They evoke memories of my childhood, spending time squeezing the flower's sides to mimic a dragon opening and closing its mouth. Sow your Snapdragon seeds indoors in early spring. Once established, plant these sun lovers outside in a hot spot. 

Torch Lilies or Red Hot Pokers take their name from old-fashioned fire irons, otherwise known as ‘pokers’, that were a feature of traditional fireplaces. Come summer these perennial flowers stand tall with a spiky-looking tip that makes me wonder if the name ‘bottle-brush’ would be more appropriate. Available in an array of colours, they grow with relative ease in full sun on well-drained soil. Soak their tuberous roots in water for approximately 30 minutes before planting directly outside in spring.       

If all else fails, don’t throw in the towel, buy a gnome! Garden chintz is long overdue a revival. When the clouds are grey a cheery gnome or two will brighten a dull day.     

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