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In the summer and autumn of 2013 Kew Gardens celebrated the amazing bounty of the plant world, inviting visitors to experience first-hand a selection of the 12,000 species we humans can feast on. Throughout the festival people from all over Kew contributed to this blog, sharing their behind-the-scenes experiences of creating festival attractions as well as shedding light on the wonderful world of edible plants.

Bountiful Earth exhibition at the Nash Conservatory

By: Philip Smith - 03 Oct 2013
On 5 October an exhibition of International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY) competition winners opens at the Nash Conservatory at Kew Gardens on the theme of 'Bountiful Earth'. IGPOTY director Philip Smith looks at the appeal of photographing fruit and vegetables.
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Edible plants have always been a very popular category among IGPOTY photographers. Maybe it’s something to do with the light at a time when a lot of fruits and vegetables are at their peak – autumn light is often magical in northern latitudes – especially towards evening.

Photo of a gourd tunnel

Gourd tunnel (Photo: Gary Rogers)

Those of us averse to the very early morning starts of midsummer can relax a bit – photographing around 7 or 8 o’clock in the morning will still deliver great low light that can be used to make the most ordinary scene that little bit special. Or maybe it’s something to do with the pure enjoyment of the extraordinary textures and shapes of vegetables and fruit – quite a different challenge from flowers.

Photo of roots

Nearly black (Photo: Sylvie Pinsonneault)

In the photograph above, Sylvie has limited her view – photography is often as much about what is left out as what is left in – to create an abstract image that still communicates the character of the vegetable.

Fungi, especially, create very specific challenges for the photographer. They are often low down and often in dark and inaccessible places. And yet they can reward us with the most outlandish and exotic shapes to create some wonderful images.

velvet shank

Velvet shank (Photo: David Maitland)

This is a very individual shot from a very unusual angle. The photographer uses shallow depth of field to make sure the fungus is the main item of interest – but there is enough visual information to tell us about the way the fungus grows. Because the tree is out of focus, however, it doesn’t distract from the main subject.

If you do nothing else with your photography this autumn why not get out in the woods on the hunt for the weird world of the fungus – you can find out more about Fungi at Kew's Fungi pages.

And if you''re still looking for inspiration - then why not come and visit the exhibition in Kew's Nash Conservatory?

- Philip -


Visit the IGPOTY exhibition at Kew Gardens

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Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius)

By: Ester Gaya - 27 Sep 2013
Kew's IncrEdibles festival features giant sculptures of some of the UK's most interesting fungi. Kew mycologist Ester Gaya tells us more about one of them, the amazing Chanterelle fungus (Cantharellus cibarius)
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Mushroom-hunting season is here!

As leaves start changing colour, the days get shorter, some people get grumpier in the cooler weather, but I can’t stop thinking of the delicacies that will be proliferating throughought the Gardens and further into the woods. The mixture of a warm summer and the autumn rain has provided the right conditions for a potentially splendid mushroom season this year.

The Chanterelle, golden chanterelle, girolle, or, scientifically, Cantharellus cibarius is among my favorite edible mushrooms! In fact, the scientific name already tells Latin-speakers something about the chanterelle. Cantharellus derives from the Latin word 'cantharus' meaning a large drinking vessel, a bowl, or chalice. The specific epithet cibarius comes from the Latin 'cibus' meaning food (or rations).

This mushroom is very easy to spot if you look in the right kinds of places, even for the non-expert fungus foragers. Getting to be competent at identifying them is not at all difficult. Chanterelles are usually yellow, orange or with a striking egg yolk colour. They are funnel-shaped, and on the underside of their curly caps, they have wrinkles/ridges rather than gills that run almost all the way down to the stipe (foot). If you press those ridges against a paper you will print its spores and will see they are pale yellow. Their taste is mild at first, but it can turn slightly peppery. Chanterelles are a very fragrant species, well known for their fruity, apricot-like smell, best detected if you are lucky and have several of them together in your collection basket.

Cantharellus cibarius (macro)

Close-up of Cantharellus cibarius (Photo: Malcolm Storey)

As with many mushrooms, most of the chanterelle organism lives underground. What we eat is just the fruit. The rest of the chanterelle forms a network underground, where it establishes a mutualistic association with the roots of trees (mycorrhiza): the fungus helps the tree by providing it with minerals from the soil, while receiving nutrients from the tree as "payment." Thus, both the tree and the fungus benefit from this relationship.

Chanterelles are not very fussy about which trees they associate with, from conifers like pines to broad-leafed trees like beech or oak. Perhaps because of this, they appear in many countries all over the world, from June to October. In Britain, these summer gourmet mushrooms are usually over by the end of September (so better hurry up - or just travel to Southern Europe!).

Among the most desirable of edible mushrooms

Chanterelles can be used for dyeing wool, fabrics, or paper. They are a source of potassium and vitamin D, and a considerable amount of vitamin C. But, of course, most people look for more aesthetic/gustatory reasons. Their wonderful aroma has made many chefs consider them one of the gourmet fungi, and they have been eaten since the Middle Ages. Moreover, they are easy to conserve dry or in vinegar, and some chefs even claim that reconstituted chanterelle have a better flavour than fresh ones. Dried chanterelles can be crushed into flour and used in seasoning in soups or sauces.

Cantharellus cibarius

Cantharellus cibarius (Photo: Malcolm Storey)

The flavour of chanterelles come from a range of aromatic compounds and, since most of these are fat-soluble, they are particularly good mushrooms to pan fry in butter, oil or cream. They can also be cooked with wine or other alcohols since they also contain small amounts of water- and alcohol-soluble flavourings.

With its long culinary history, there are many ways to cook chanterelles. You can add it to your risotto dishes and omelettes, make tasty soups or sauces (e. g., Alfredo, béchamel) to be served with chicken or fish dishes. But also with pork, vegetables, pasta, potatoes, nuts, and anything you can imagine. Avoid mixing them with strongly flavoured foods though, or you will waste the subtler delights of your chanterelles. You can also make chanterelle-flavored vinegar or oil. In France, a very aromatic liquor (liquer de girolle) is prepared with macerated chanterelles in alcohol. Some people even make a chanterelle sorbet as a dessert!

But for me, the best wild mushroom recipes are the simplest ones. Anything too complex and you risk losing the taste, smell, look and even texture. My own favourite chanterelle recipe:

  • sauté a few chopped green onions and crushed garlic with parsley
  • add your chanterelles, eggs and
  • voilà! The best scrambled eggs ever.

Don’t confuse it with...

... The false chanterelle (Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca), which has a similar appearance, but it is more orange-brown and graded, with darker centre, and true gills.

It is not hazardous, but not especially tasty and can give you some mild gastrointestinal distress. The jack-o'-lantern mushrooms (poisonous species in the genus Omphalotus) have been misidentified as chanterelles but can usually be distinguished by their well-developed, not forked true gills and yellow-orange interior flesh (chanterelles have forked ridges and a white interior). In addition, Omphalotus grows directly on wood, not on the ground!

Photo of Tom Hare's chanterelle sculpture

Tom Hare's sculpture of a chanterelle (Photo: Max Warren)

Please do not pick fungi - leave them to disperse their spores and be appreciated by others. Never pick and eat fungi from the wild unless you are absolutely certain of their identity.

- Ester -


See Tom Hare's chanterelle sculpture at Kew's IncrEdibles festival

Monday 2 September - Sunday 3 November 2013

FREE entry for children aged 16 and under.

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Creating Kew’s fabulous Fungi Fairy Ring

By: Tom Hare - 06 Sep 2013
Tom Hare, willow sculptor extraordinaire, writes about creating the Fungi Fairy Ring, one of the highlights of this autumn’s IncrEdibles festival
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Meeting the mycologists

After submitting the concept for 'The Fungi Fairy Ring', with its enormous willowy proportions, to the IncrEdibles festival team during summer 2012, I was invited back to Kew to develop the idea further and to meet the mycologists in the depths of Kew's Fungarium.

Photo of working on Tom Hare's fungi sculptures

The monumental fungi weaving process is nurtured on its way with good music, humour and camaraderie from Tom’s team of creatives (Image: Tom Hare)

When you meet a specialist at Kew, in whatever field of study, you can be sure that this will be a privileged occasion. This was no exception. I was introduced to Bryn Dentinger and Martyn Ainsworth, whom I understand are some of the world’s most knowledgeable fungi experts. We descended into the vaults of the Fungarium, where, filed in immaculate boxes from floor to ceiling, lay the world’s largest collection of dried fungi.

With the festival in mind, the mycologists disappeared down an avenue of boxes, plucked out several UK edible specimens and returned with their findings.

From an immediate list of twenty plus, ten seemed a sensible number to discuss in detail. Bryn and his staff were very generous in sharing their knowledge and allowing me the opportunity to document each delicate and meticulously parcelled fungus, pointing out and explaining their unique characteristics. Boletus edulis, for example, delivers its spores through a tubular structure, unlike Morchella esculenta which fires its spores up to ten metres through pits lined with gun-like mechanisms. A truly inspiring and fascinating experience condensed into a singular afternoon.

Sketching the sculptures

Back in the Midlands, sat at the drawing table, I contemplated these ten species and started to translate the personalities of the fungi into willow and steel. From the original ten UK edibles, seven were chosen, including the shaggy ink cap (Coprinus comatus), field mushroom (Agaricus campestris), horn of plenty (Craterellus cornucopioides), chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius) and the parasol fungi (Macrolepiota procera).

First I simply sketch, and then I make a maquette of the armature that will eventually suggest the form, mostly hidden within the sinuous lines of woven willow.

Photo of Tom Hare's fungi sketches

Preliminary sketch for fungi sculptures (Image: Tom Hare)

Making the maquettes

All of the maquettes were scaled by Andy Langley of Artfabs and his crew, in a process we have been developing together over the past ten years. Boletus edulis required another material to suggest its tubular spore delivery system. I immediately thought of water reed and spoke to Lee Miller, friend and master thatcher, who favoured straw for this application, and so the idea was born!

Photo of Tom Hare's Boletus edulis sculpture being created

Creating the Boletus edulis sculpture (Image: Tom Hare)

Weaving together the parts

So from the seven species, clusters of three or four in varying stages of growth were born: some twenty-one items, most of which were dissected into two parts, leaving a small crew of weavers fifty large components to weave, one stem of willow at a time...

Photo of Tom Hare sculptures with different coloured willows

The rich chocolate colours in the work are boiled willows, and the white is a stripped willow. Stripping is undertaken in late spring when the sap is rising, which enables the bark to peel with ease.(Image: Tom Hare)

Installing the fairy ring

Then finally, the sculptures were ready for delivery and installation. The pure scale of these sculptures proved to be problematic from a logistical point of view. The larger forms needed to be made in sections for ease of handling and transportation.

Having worked at Kew creating the seed walk in 2009, when I developed a real connection with the place, I have to say ‘it's great to be back’. The support onsite by Kew staff was exceptional. Thank you to everyone involved.

- Tom -

Tom Hare signature


See the Fungi Fairy Ring at Kew's Incredibles festival

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A fruitful search in Kew’s historic collections

By: Kiri Ross-Jones&Julia Buckley - 02 Sep 2013
As part of the planning for Kew’s IncrEdibles Festival, the Library, Arts and Archives team scoured the collections for all things fruity. Kiri Ross-Jones and Julia Buckley write about how the search revealed several interesting stories about fruit and some beautiful illustrations.
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The Archives

An unassuming volume turned out to be one of our earliest records of fruits grown at Kew. In a small notebook, Thomas Torbron, gardener to the Earl of Aberdeen and the Countess of Bridgwater, detailed the fruits grown at Kew from 1808-1810: eleven (!) varieties of pineapples, vines, peaches, nectarines, pears, apples, plums, apricots, figs, cherries, currants, gooseberries, melons and strawberries grown for the royal household at Kew Palace.

Most of our records on fruit relate to edibles grown in the far corners of the empire. Botanic gardens around the world corresponded with Kew, asking for advice on cultivation, as well as exchanging plants and specimens, introducing new varieties of fruit to the colonies.

Painting by van Nooten of a Javan snake fruit

Van Nooten painting of Java's snake fruit

Miraculous fruit of West Africa

One fruit which caught the attention of Kew was the “Miraculous Fruit of West Africa.The Kew Bulletin describes a plant whose red, oval berry fruits “could change the flavour of the most acid substance into a delicious sweetness”, the Synsepalum dulcificum. The volume describes how the berries were used in Sierra Leone to “render sweet and palatable” Aggade bread, sour fruit and bad palm wine. Interest in the plant continues today, with attempts to commercialise the fruit’s ability to make bitter food taste sweet.

Marvellous mangoes

We hold a beautiful volume entitled “The Cultivated Mangoes of India” by Charles Maries (1851-1902).

Ilustration of Mango by Charles Maries

Illustration of  a mango by Charles Maries

Maries illustrates the different types of mango he encountered during his time in India, where he was employed as Superintendent of the gardens of the Maharajah of Durbhungah, having been recommended by Kew’s Director Joseph Hooker. His interest and expertise in mangoes is recorded in the volume, which was never published, and his illustrations skilfully capture the diversity, vibrant colours and deep texture of this fruit.

The Art Collections

Many of the fruits will be familiar to today’s consumer but how extraordinary they must have appeared when first drawn. Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770) illustrated the colourful flowers and fruit of the banana in Christoph Jacob Trew’s ‘Plantae Selectae’ (1750-73) while the Dutch artist Berthe Hoola Van Nooten produced vivid depictions of the papaya and snake fruit she saw in Java in ‘Fleurs, fruits et feuillages choisis de l'ille de Java’(1863).

Illustration by Georg Dionysius Ehret of Musa (banana)

. Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770) illustrated the colourful flowers and fruit of the banana (Musa)

Kew holds a small number of pomology books including Giorgio Gallesio’s ‘Pomona italiana’ (1817-39) featuring mouth-watering engravings of fruits such as figs, pears and peaches.

Image from Giorgio Gallesio’s ‘Pomona italiana’

Image from Giorgio Gallesio’s ‘Pomona italiana’


Look out for images from Kew’s Library, Art & Archives during the IncrEdibles Festival in various locations from text panels to the patterns on some of the staff uniforms! 

- Kiri & Julia -


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Discovering coffee in Ethiopia

By: Jenny Williams - 27 Aug 2013
Jenny Williams, steadfast tea-drinker, takes you along on her journey of discovery into the heart of Ethiopia and the home of coffee.
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Coffee newbie

Ethiopia is the ‘home’ or ‘evolutionary birth place’ of coffee and I was lucky enough to go there in March as part of a Kew Herbarium expedition to map wild coffee. The irony is that I am a ‘tea-only girl’. Whereas most people know whether they like coffee and what kind of coffee they prefer, I set off to the home of coffee a coffee newbie - but determined to find out more about the ‘good stuff’.

The team thought a little preliminary research was in order and so, before leaving for Ethiopia, we went for a barista session at Union Roast in London. Here we discovered that just a gram of ground coffee can dramatically change the taste of a cup. A mere 15g was the unanimous vote for a medium roast in this instance, and the black coffee was actually very smooth and drinkable, a totally new experience for me. 

Photo of Jenny Williams tasting coffee at Union Roast, London

Jenny Williams tasting coffee at Union Roast, London

Mapping Ethiopia

Three members of the Kew Herbarium team were fortunate enough to visit Ethiopia on the Coffee Discovery Expedition. I was the resident ‘mapping’ person on the trip, and let’s just say we covered a lot of ground; as you can see from the map below.

Coffee trip map Ethiopia

 Map of the team's route through Ethiopia

The research undertaken on this expedition is best summarised in the excellent film “Kew Gardens - Beyond the Gardens - The Forgotten Home of Coffee“ (see the bottom of this page). The film is showing in the Princess of Wales Conservatory for the duration of the IncrEdibles festival at Kew Gardens until November 2013. 

The home of coffee

In Ethiopia things were a little more raw, compared to our coffee tasting session in London. There can be a whole ceremony attached to roasting (pan over coals), grinding (wood pole in a wood hole) and brewing (special round closed coffee pot).

Photo of coffee beans being roasted

 Roasting coffee beans

We just had to try at least a cup in every village we stopped at, and as they were small cups, sometimes more than one. Of course we wanted to determine whether we could taste the difference in the bean due to geographic variations such as soil, rainfall, which side of the rift valley we were, etc. 

Photo of pouring coffee in Ethiopia

 Pouring coffee in Ethiopia

The coffee beans in general were really darkly roasted so had quite a strong initial flavour. In some instances steamed milk (to create a macchiato), or sugar improved the taste, but surprisingly this wasn’t always the case. I found it quite hard to tell the difference between the coffees, but the ones I enjoyed were crisp and smooth, and those I wasn’t so keen on tasted citrus and spicy. The latter happened to be the more habitual coffee drinkers' favourite, so it is really just a matter of taste. 

 Photo of a cup of coffee in Ethiopia

Cup of coffee in Ethiopia

 My coffee low-down by region

  • Jimma – the coffee there is referred to as Limu. My personal favourite: very smooth and a daily drinker.
  • Yirga Cheffe – fruity, citrus. A bit too acidic for my liking, but I understand this is a real high-end coffee and can command very high prices. A specialty coffee for a weekend brew or occasional cuppa.
  • Dole Mena – we were informed that this might be salted! Thankfully in our case it wasn’t, but still that did little to endear it to me. This was the only cup that I couldn’t get through, not even with a lot of milk.
  • Harar – another famed coffee. I did enjoy this coffee, but only black. For some reason the taste was all wrong when milk was added. 

 Photos of coffee farming in Ethiopia

 Coffee farming in Ethiopia

Coffee leaf, coffee husk and coffee bean

Photo of coffee leaves and husks in bowls

Coffee leaves and husks in bowls (Photo: Jenny Williams)

We had a unique taste session in Harar which involved not just the coffee but the leaves and husks too! My opinion:

  • leaf - much like green tea, but with immense and raved about detox properties
  • husk - difficult to describe, not really coffee not really tea, just like you have drunk husk water!
  • harar coffee - rich, crisp, citrus coffee

Washed and unwashed

For unwashed coffee, the coffee bean is left inside the cherry when it is dried so the sugars from the cherry are absorbed by the bean. This is quite unique in processing, and the coffee flavours are apparently a lot more citrusy and spicy. My palate is not developed enough to appreciate the ‘complex notes’, but I understand that unwashed is considered some of the best coffee out there. 

 Photo of coffee cupping

 Coffee being cupped

Coffee Cupping

Coffee cupping refers to the official tasting and grading of ground coffee. The coffee was roasted (medium), ground, weighed (coming in at 13.5g), and the fragrance smelled. It was then poured into 5 cups with 250ml water added (see photo above). Then, the coffee foam crust was broken 3 times and the aroma smelled. A deep spoon of each is slurped and spat out (but in our case we drank it!). Of 5 cups with seemingly the same ingredients and measurements, there was definitely one cup that I preferred. Such a taste science, I loved it. 

 Photo of coffee being transported by donkeys

 Coffee being transported by donkey

Ethiopia: What a fantastic education on the culture and life of the coffee bean, the home of coffee, and the way of life of coffee farmers. In summary, I started a non-coffee drinker and now feel like a slightly educated, non-generic-coffee drinking coffee snob (to the point of annoyance) - sharing my new but limited knowledge with all the coffee drinkers out there!

Tips and titbits

  • Apparently you’re supposed to keep ground coffee in a dry airtight container for a fresher taste
  • Instant coffee is often a mix of both Coffea arabica and C. robusta
  • Experiment with different amounts of ground coffee to find your favourite cup
  • Fragrance refers to a dry component (ground coffee), aroma is the liquid based scent (brewed coffee).
  • Wild coffee in Ethiopia is sustainable and ecologically sound, as a good forest canopy protects the coffee and maintains biodiversity

Read more about our adventures on Storify.

   - Jenny - 



Watch a video - "The Forgotten Home of Coffee"

Did you know that Arabica coffee originally came from Ethiopia? A study conducted by scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in collaboration with scientists in Ethiopia, reports that climate change alone could lead to the extinction of wild Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) well before the end of this century.


Visit Kew's coffee plants

Come and visit the coffee plants on display in the Princess of Wales Conservatory. See Madagascan baobab trees, orchids from Central America and carnivorous plants from Asia.

Princess of Wales Conservatory

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Nespress logo

See the Nespresso photographic exhibition, part of our Incredibles festival this summer.  The exhibition shows Nespresso's work on sustainability around the world.

Find out more about Nespresso and their work.

Find out more about supporters of the IncrEdibles festival and other companies we work with.


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Week by week horticulturalists, botanists and attractions organisers from all around Kew Gardens wrote for this special IncrEdibles blog, describing behind-the-scenes experiences and sharing insights into the amazing world of edible plants.

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