Think of the summer festival and you’ve probably got music in mind. For the gardening and food fan though, Kew Gardens has it covered with its IncrEdibles festival. It’s perfect for a family day out and those wondering what it has to offer need look no further than the name. It’s the place to go to find all those incredible edible plants that could find their way into food around the world. Did you know that there are over 12,000 edible plants but we get 80% of our daily intake from just 12 cereals and tubers? Maybe it’s time to broaden our palettes and delve deeper into one of this year’s top gardening trends – growing our own food. I took a trip to report back on the festival highlights.
Tutti Frutti Boating
The main attraction is Bompas and Parr’s Tutti Frutti Boating Experience. Children and adults can take to the water in a fruit-themed boat and explore the banana grotto hidden beneath Pineapple Island. Aside from the giant pineapple, Pineapple Island isn’t quite what you’d expect.
I turned up expecting to see an island full of stacked pineapples but what I found instead were all sorts of plants that made sounds when they were touched. Designer Mileece’s making us consider the responses of plants to human interaction by using bio electrical activity. Dragonfly electrodes are connected to leaves and stems. In case we needed reminding, plants are alive and we should have more respect for the role they play in our kitchens and gardens!
Rose Garden Tea Party
Fans of Alice in Wonderland will love the tea party. A giant wooden table provides the surface for a range of plants spilling out of cups and teapots. We know them by name but do we know what they look like? Plates and saucers spell out their names in case you need help identifying them. You’ll find the likes of rosemary, basil, mustard, liquorice and my personal favourite, tea! As we drink around 165 million cups of camellia tea a day, seeing its leaves in the flesh is fascinating.
The tropical larder was my favourite part of the show as I discovered just how much of our food comes from the tropics. There’s the innocent Macademia nut looking quite sinister hanging from a tree and the smelly Durian fruit – so offensive that it’s been banned on public transport in many countries. If you’re brave enough, you can have a sniff…
A common flavour enhancer in Chinese soups, Coco-de-mer was visually impressive with its harp-like shape and for the cocktail fan, there’s Quassia Amara. It might look creepy with its tentacles but its bark extracts make the perfect additive for bitters.
Although a common sight, Kew also draws our attention to the Cavendish banana. 95% of us buy bananas each week and despite over 1000 types, 97% of us stick to the Cavendish. The lack of genetic variety means that a disease could destroy one or more types, so Kew’s working hard to prevent another outbreak like the Panama disease of the 60’s.
Student Vegetable Plots
As we’re not all about to grow the curry leaf Murraya Koenigii in our gardens, the student vegetable plots are the place to find inspiration for growing common vegetables in a visually pleasing way. Student Will Burridge shows off his directly sown beetroot (Moneta), while Aaron Marubbi borrows Will’s idea of using empty milk bottles to protect his crops from too much rain – a handy tip in our unpredictable English weather!
Rama Lopez demonstrates how planting in blocks can make cultivating and caring for crops much easier and Kathryn Bainbridge provides instruction for keen carrot growers – plant them in sand to keep them standing straight and tasting delicious!
The IncrEdibles festival takes place at Kew Gardens until the 1st September 2013. From the Flavour Fiesta of 30 different chillies surrounding giant water lilies to the Bonsai plants lining the Plant family beds – Kew Gardens has much more to offer. Learn more about where our breakfast cereal comes from in the Celebrate Cereals garden and if you come away needing a gardener to help you plant your own edible delights, post your job.