Peas – Garden, Snap or Snow, which is best.

Garden Peas

Whatever happened to the garden pea?  Finding them in veggie shops is so rare these days.  Yet the Chinese Snow Peas or Snap Peas (sometimes called Mange Tout) seem to have taken their place.  Seems a pity really as the common Garden Pea is so sweet and tasty and we were always told they were full of goodness.

Well its one of the examples of how big business technology actually serves us better because 90% of all Garden Peas consumed today are frozen or canned.  And this is simply because they are generally better this way, being blanched and flash frozen within a few hours of picking.  The process really does lock in the flavour, texture, nutritional value and freshness –  unlike any other vegetable.

Pisum sativumGarden Peas – Pisum sativum – do taste best when hand picked and eaten right away but they do become dry and mealy in texture after a day or so.

Shipping them to veggie stores is therefore a very difficult operation with the distinct possibility that they’ll just not be at their best.

Then you have to shell them as the pods are bitter to taste and stringy in texture ! Not many of us want to do that.

Snow PeaSnow PeasPisum sativum macrocarpon – on the other hand have edible shells and can be popped into boiling water for the quickest preparation of any vegetable.  They are sweet and tasty and also go very well in stir fries.

But the drawback is that they are lower in nutritional value.  This doesn’t mean they are not good, just less good than the fuller shaped garden pea that has had more time to develop.

Snap Peas or Sugar Peas are a cross between the Garden Pea and Snow Peas are plumper in shape and have a crisp, snappy texture.  The pods are also edible.  Again though, they are lower in nutritional value and calories than Garden Peas.

So next time you scoff at a slick TV commercial claiming that Frozen Peas are better . . well Mr Birds Eye and Mr McCain have actually  got it right this time.  Unless of course you are patient enough to grow them yourself then you can have the best of both worlds.

What do you reckon?  Is it worth the effort to grow them yourself?

Pak Choi – Power Greens


Brassica rapa chinensis, otherwise known as Pak Choi, Bok Choy or Chinese Cabbage has to be one of the best ‘quick grow greens’ to raise in your veggie patch.

 In Australia’s warm climate it tends to grow quite quickly, especially on the east coast where the combination of warm days and nights along with summer rains has the seedlings literally sprouting up overnight to produce crisp and nutritious crops that are a delight steamed or flash cooked in a stir fry.


Its best to keep an on-going supply of seedlings to plant out as these brassicas don’t last long at optimum size/condition in your garden before going to seed, especially when the weather is warm.  When you harvest them keep them in the crisper drawer of the fridge but no longer than about three to four days or they’ll go limp.

The stems tend to take a little longer to cook than the green parts of the leaves so boil or steam the stalks first for two to three minutes then toss in the leave for the last two.

Like all brassicas they provide plenty of good dietary fibre to aid digestion and are loaded minerals and vitamins like Thiamin, Niacin, Phosphorus, Vitamin A,  C,  K, Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese.

But Pak Choi also contains powerful antioxidants and phyto-nutrients which help destroy free radicals to protect cells and reduce inflammation.

All this and its easy to grow – therefore clearly deserves the title of ‘Power Greens’.

Tomato Hats – now a fruit-fly-free zone.

Fruit Fly InfestationBeing rather prone to fruit fly in our area we have had most of our tomato and capsicum crops decimated by fruit fly in recent years.  Pesticides and sticky insect traps made a small impression but most fruit were still being attacked.

Its not easy to see at first, as they burrow through the fruit skin to lay their eggs which then hatch and turn the insides to mush.  So initially there is only a tiny hole to indicate that we had squatters inside our tomatoes.

Then I read that fruit fly only land on the top of the fruit – be it tomato or capsicum so we made some small cloth hats which were tied over the top of the green fruits.

Cloth Hat for Tomato

Essentially they are no more than a square of cotton, just large enough to tie over the fruit like a sunhat.

Green tomatoes

Hat raised to show how it works.

I was eager to see if it adversely affected ripening, but it soon became clear that ripening is an internal chemical reaction that doesn’t require sun rays on the fruit skin to make it happen.

Ripe tomato harvestTwo weeks later we were harvesting perfect fruit – made doubly satisfying knowing that it didn’t need washing because it had never been sprayed.  We washed it anyway to be 100% safe but now feel very happy that we have another Integrated Pest Management technique to add to the armoury.

P.S. before posting this blog I did an internet search to see if anyone else had had the same idea but only found fruit fly bags which require sewing and draw strings to attach.  I’d suggest that fruit do not need 100% enclosing – just the top only as we have proved.  But, as always, am keen to know your thoughts.

Author: Bob Saunders

Quirky Garden Art

Although nature always out-performs human artists, for millennia people have placed artworks in outdoor settings.  Some are just statements of wealth and power but the most effective are the ones that show a quirky sense of humour.

Hare sculpture wisley

My favourite (currently) is at RHS Wisley in the UK – Spring Hare – which is bursting with so much natural energy it demands a second look just to make sure it isn’t real.

The Eden Project in Cornwall, UK is renowned for making political statements via its sculptures and ‘outdoor exhibits’ and one that deserves the widest exposure is in defence of the Bee – pointing out that life as we now know it would’t exist but for the bumble bee.

Eden Project Bee

Water Birds sculptureOthers are less famous and deliver on a different level, sometimes with just a gentle charm like these waterbirds from a spring garden in the NSW Blue Mountains.

And it seems that all baby animals mimic their parents !

Two dimensional metal art is increasingly popular and allows the artist to express themselves with only a sheet of steel and a cutting torch – this cat and wren from artist Natalia Broadhurst being a good example of simple and amusing garden sculpture.

Cat and Wren sculpture

Most big ‘garden destinations’ (e.g. aimed at attracting large numbers of tourists) have embraced the concept to add to the entertainment factor.

Though there is one in the Loire Valley of France – Chaumont sur Loire that has crowned itself as the art capital of the garden world.  Their ‘International Garden Festival’ is a bit of a misnoma in that it is all about “Art” and just so happens to be outside.  However some exhibits could not be seen anywhere else.

Chaumont Wicker Houses

These Wicker-Thicket-Houses remind me of the wonderful children’s book by Maurice Sendak called ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ which was recently made into a superb film by Spike Jonez.

But no article on quirky garden art could conclude without the Lost Gardens of Heligan ‘Mud Maiden’.

Heligan Mud Maiden

The gardens themselves are a great place to visit delivering on so many levels, but it is perhaps the Mud Maiden that has become the icon of Heligan and the few thousand pounds it cost to commission has translated into hundreds of millions at the entrance gate.

Congratulations to creator/curator of Heligan, Tim Smit for re-envigorating quirky garden art.

New Warm Climate Climber – Mandevilla Sun Parasol

Its easy to think of Japan only as the origin of many ‘old world’ plants that have been exported and subsequently loved by the rest of the world.


But Japan is at the forefront of new plant breeding and this fabulous new Mandevilla from Suntory is a striking new example of their passion and perfection.

Its called Mandevilla ‘Sunmandeho’ Sun Parasol, its a hybrid and is set to challenge the dominance of Mandevilla sanderii, which is a naturally occuring variety and very popular throughout the warmer climates of the world.

Mandevilla Sun Parasol on fence

With this new hybrid the breeders have managed to exaggerate the prolific flowering to be almost completely year round, the blooms are bigger and the foliage richer and glossier. They are as easy as can be to grow and require little maintenance apart from keeping them moist in the hotter months and a little liquid fertiliser in spring and autumn.

Mandevilla Sun Parasol red

If you live in cooler climates e.g. temperatures drop below ten degrees C often, then its best to take then indoors during winter.

Otherwise expect a spectacular show for most of the year – you gotta love ’em.

See full Plantfinder entry here.

Author: Bob Saunders (