Consider the lilies ... for a light lunch

Click to follow
The Independent Online
AN ECOLOGICAL charity in Cornwall has set out to prove that a well-manicured ornamental garden can also serve as a natural larder. Plants for a Future is running a mail-order service for green-fingered foodies who do not just want to admire their lilies and hibiscus bushes, but want to eat them too. It has now published a catalogue listing edible ornamental, pond and lawn plants, all grown at its research centre near Bodmin.

The scheme has been started by Ken Fern, a former London bus driver who started growing his own food after being inspired by the BBC TV comedy The Good Life. Like Tom and Barbara Good, he eventually became tired of the repetitive slog of digging and planting and harvesting conventional vegetables, and decided to investigate whether ornamental plants grown with little effort could yield food all year round.

"I went to botanical gardens and libraries to do research," he said. "Now we grow 1,700 different edible species." Mr Fern bought a 24-acre plot in Cornwall, where he harvests edible garden plants. Plants for a Future has now purchased another 84 acres in north Devon to build a visitor centre, which will publicise the idea.

This is, he said, as much about helping the environment as promoting convenience gardening. "Growing a variety of plants reduces the need to use pesticides because different plants help each other grow."

The plants in the catalogue include:

t White water lilies: common in garden ponds, their seeds can be roasted and explode like popcorn, tasting sweeter than the cinema variety.

t Hibiscus: the common hedging shrub's leaves, flowers and seeds can be used for salads.

t Tiger lily: its large bulbs are starchy and moist, an alternative to potato, but with an attractive red spotty flower.

Free daisy and dandelion leaves can be added to salads - but not too many, said Mr Fern, as "they can be a bit acid".