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Our new British blogger: Emma the Gardener

Hello! I’m Emma Cooper, and I’ve been blogging about kitchen gardening for *ahem* longer than I would care to mention, actually. My blog has moved around a bit, but I’m hoping that it will put down permanent roots in its current home - The Unconventional Gardener. On Twitter I’m @emmathegardener.

Why unconventional? Partly because I have always chosen to garden organically, and without using peat. I got into gardening through a desire to reduce our family Food Miles. I started with a few pots of herbs and leafy vegetables on the patio, and kitchen gardening gradually took over my life. I have become a bit of an edible plant nutter, and I like to try growing new and unusual things, and to learn about how they’re used in different parts of the world.

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My first garden was quite large, and had a funky geodesic dome greenhouse. And chickens. The chickens (Hen Solo and Princess Layer) were famous across the world, thanks to the gardening podcast I used to record - The Alternative Kitchen Garden Show. The blog and the podcast led to my first book, The Alternative Kitchen Garden: An A to Z, which is the story of my first garden and some of the unusual things that grew there.

My second book, The Allotment Pocket Bible, is a far more sensible guide to growing your own on a larger scale. My third, Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs, has a wacky title and a bright pink cover, and is about unusual edible plants and the people who grow them.

Then there was a bit of a hiatus, as life left me without a garden for a few years, and I went off to do a Masters degree in Ethnobotany at the University of Kent. Ethnobotany is about the different ways people make use of plants - from medicines, clothing and basket weaving to food and building materials. They’re all fascinating, but I like to focus on edible plants, because then you get to eat them.

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Just over two years ago now I moved to a new garden (helpfully, it has a house attached to it!), which was a blank slate. It had a poor quality lawn and a bank of overgrown shrubs down one side. We have gradually transformed it with a large patio for outdoor cooking and dining, raised beds for vegetable experiments and his and hers matching sheds. We’ve also turned the front garden into a home for edible perennials.

The garden isn’t finished, we’re still putting the final touches to it, and sometimes that can be frustrating. This is the first spring with all the raised beds in place, and I really must pick up the pace with the seed sowing!

The new garden is also smaller than my old one, and I’m learning to live with its limitations. Whilst I managed my old garden in a similar way to an allotment (my mum hated it!), we designed the new garden to be a multifunctional space, and to encourage us to spend more time outdoors. We want to encourage wildlife in, to have an ever-changing backdrop of flowers and scents to lift our spirits, and lots of tasty treats to harvest. My latest book, The Small Harvest Notebook: Volume 1, is about that journey.

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I’m really excited to be working with Lubera this year, writing blogs and producing podcasts, because the company ethos fits so neatly with mine. Since this Swiss company created a UK website and started shipping plants to the UK,  I have been drooling over their catalogue. They have some unusual plants, which were the first to catch my eye. I’ve been growing their edible dahlias for the last couple of years. (Did you know you could eat dahlia tubers? You get to enjoy a show of beautiful flowers and then eat the tubers, it’s a very space-savvy option. They’re also wonderful ‘stealth’ edibles - I didn’t tell mum we’d eat them!)

And their unusual crops aren’t the only ones that are good for those of us who don’t have as much space in the garden as we would like! Lubera are the only company I know of that breeds plants and chooses varieties for gardeners. They want plants that are easy to grow, that take up less space, that are productive and fruitful, and tasty! We don’t have to put up with commercial varieties that were bred to withstand being transported long distances, and then look good on a shelf. Which, of course, is one of the reasons we choose to grow our own. So Lubera are bringing out dwarf fruit varieties, Moreberries (where you get two different varieties in one pot), and exciting things such as a teeny tiny rhubarb you could grow in a windowbox.

Most of the fruit plants that Lubera sell are hardy enough to survive a continental winter in Switzerland and mainland Germany, and will happily grow here in the UK as well. Alongside the new varieties and unfamiliar fruits they have a great selection of well-known and well-loved favourites; as Markus (the boss) explained to me, Lubera aren’t breeding new varieties (his ‘Novelties’) for the sake of it. Markus is a man on a mission to breed perfect fruit plants. I’m thrilled to be along for the ride!

Emma Cooper

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