This morning I visited a wonderful roof garden on an office building in the centre of Reading, where there's not much greenery. Not just any old roof garden, but a permaculture forest garden - in other words, a garden that has been carefully thought out and built to be self-sufficient, to require little maintenance, to feed (in many senses of that word) those that use it.
As it is September, the end of our growing season, the garden is overblown and untidy, but still full of life - amazingly, three storeys up, there are insects and birds (no slugs though, lucky them!). There were apples, pears, cobnuts, medlars waiting to be picked, we drank lemon verbena tea made from leaves plucked earlier from the bush. I was given some of this year's harvest of emmer, the earliest sort of wheat to be cultivated in the British Isles and which looks remarkably like barley at first glance. The next village but one is called Emmer Green, and it is thought to have been named after this primitive wheat. So I am lucky to have the chance to grow this rare plant, sourced three or four years ago from Newcastle University.
The roof garden was made five years ago by the charity RISC - Reading International Sustainability Centre - in order to get grants to pay for a new roof; the old one was leaking, and there was no money in the pot for that sort of expenditure. It's been a huge success, and is visited by groups of schoolchildren, as well as gardeners.
I've come away feeling hugely inspired to do more to make my garden self-sustaining: I've got a leaflet showing me how to make a very small but highly efficient machine (that's too strong a word, but I can't think of a better one at the moment) to make liquid feed out of nettles. Now I know you can just do this in a bucket, but have you smelt the resulting brew? And this way uses a little length of drainpipe which you hardly notice, and which has a lid (made of the bottle you keep the feed in).
Back down on street level, I noticed that the global cafe had been recently taken over by new management, and now specialises in Ethiopian food. Lunch sorted: misr wot with injeera. I've been longing for this food for a few years now (in the 1980s I spent time travelling in Somalia, Eritrea and northern Sudan); I didn't realise I could find it so close to home. Misr wot is a spicy lentil stew - I've now got a recipe, and will try it out one day soon and blog it. Injeera is bread, a sour flatbread, full of little holes on the top like a crumpet; this was made with wheat, it's far far better made with tef or millet, but it was wonderful to eat it again after decades. And Tutu, the chef proprietor, brought me a lovely traditional pot of coffee to end with.
Then over to the cricket club, where I saw Horatio take a wicket, then home to find that Lettice had scored a goal in her hockey match and won 4-0, that Alfred's team had won their rugger match; that England had won the one-day test series against India, the football against Israel to qualify for Euro 2008, AND the first match in the rugby world cup (apologies to Americans reading this for a blatant display of patriotism). Could it have been a better day?
Neil Cooks Grigson has moved to Wordpress - Hello lovely readers! Just a quick message to let you know that I have moved the blog over to Wordpress. It is the home of my other blog *British Food: A ...
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