Author Archives: Maike van Stiphout

Wildlife gardening at Great Dixter

Listen to this podcast! What does it mean to be a wildlife gardener? What are the trials and tribulations of wildlife gardening? Fergus Garrett, head gardener of Great Dixter, takes a walk around the garden, where he discusses the habitats he and his team have created to help wild species. He points out various habitats that work for different species, including the pond, the flowering meadows and the giant piles of waste that serve as nesting and hibernation habitats for all sorts of species. The podcast ends with the notion of the immense importance of gardens and porous buildings to increase biodiversity. Nice to hear him use the word “Porosity”. It is one of the three design tools to build for biodiversity, besides variation in size and scale, and diversity in use and maintenance activity (First guide to nature inclusive design).

https://open.spotify.com/episode/1Kq1hE1xt2N24O34z6egNS?si=tHSVErdSTYKU-TevTfcB1w

Bio beauty lecture series

In the document-link you can find the program and the link to follow the english spoken series of 5 lectures about design and biodiversity, organised by Van Hall Larenstein. Designing with nature is an important part of the work of the landscape architect. The first lecture on the 2nd of September at 19h will be given by Maike van Stiphout. She’ll give a theoretical frame for nature inclusiveness, and learn you the tools to make your projects for all that lives. She’ll present the tips and tricks, distilled from a recent research of older nature rich neighbourhoods in the Netherlands, some interesting realised projects of her office DS and other good examples of building with biodiversity. The series is organised for the third year bachelor landscape design, but open to whoever likes to learn more about designing for all that lives with us.

7 edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

7. Dog rose (Rosa canina)

Photo courtesy of Saxifraga. Photographer: Jan van de Straaten http://www.freenatureimages.eu

For our last edible shrub for improving urban biodiversity, we invite you to stop and smell the roses – the dog rose (Rosa canina) to be precise. A native rose prized for its flowers and rose hip fruit, this scrambling shrub is bound to win your heart. Found in the wild in hedgerows and woodland edges, the dog rose looks – and smells – stunning during summer with its elegant pink and white flowers. A vigorous grower, the dog rose will happily claim its space, if you let it, climbing up to 4 metres high. Its long overhanging branches create a striking, arched form. Canina stems from Canis,the Latin word for dog as it was believed that the roots of a dog rose could heal a bite from a rabid dog.  

Take the time to savour the beauty of a dog rose in full bloom. This abundance of flowers, which are rich in nectar and pollen, makes the dog rose a favourite food source for bumblebees, wild bees and honeybees. Furthermore, the rose petals are an exquisite culinary ingredient. They make spectacular decoration on top of a cake and impart a floral hint to honey, vinegar, wine, jam, jelly and candy. Why not try making your own rosewater and rose syrup with your blooms too?

Another reason you’ll love the dog rose are its rose hips. Covered with oval red/orange hips which appear after the flowers, the branches make an attractive floral decoration – though remember to leave some for the birds. When the rose hips ripen in autumn, birds such as redwings and fieldfares will be feasting in your garden. Plus, the thorny branches provide them a safe haven from (urban) predators. Rose hips are a superfood packed with vitamin C. While they’re a wonderful ingredient, removing the seeds (which can be an irritant) takes some dedication. Your hard work will pay off once you’ve taste your delicious jam, jelly and syrup. Both the dried petals and rose hips make excellent tea. 

Able to tolerate air pollution, strong (sea) winds, and rough handling, the dog rose is a tough cookie that thrives in urban conditions. In the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty/ Little Briar Rose, the princess falls into a 100-year-long sleep after being pricked with a needle. The castle becomes covered with thorny roses – can you imagine the city overgrown with these exquisite blooms? Now that’s good reason for everyone to stop and smell the roses. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our seven edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity and hope it has inspired you to create more urban nature in your city!

7 edible shrubs for improving biodiversity

6. Medlar (Mespilus germanica)


If you think that the medlar sounds like something oddly medieval, you’ve guessed correctly. Coveted in Roman and Medieval times, the medlar is a unique shrub that’s rarely planted today. With its pretty flowers and tasty fruit, which has an unfairly bad reputation, it’s a boost for biodiversity – all the more reasons for reviving it. If you’re looking for a characteristic and eccentric shrub for your urban garden, then the medlar may be for you. 

It was brought to the Netherlands by the Romans. Coveted as a winter delicacy, the medlar was likely forgotten over time as other fruits became more available during winter. The name Mespilus germanica refers to Germany, the confusion coming from Linneaus who thought that the shrub originated from there.

The medlar is a slow shrub in all senses of the word – patience is needed for its growth and to ripen the fruit. Its crooked branches are unmistakable; the French expression “As straight as an old medlar” referring to an untrustworthy person says it all.

When the shrub is in full bloom, the fragrance of the lovely large white flowers fills the air. Enjoy this treat for a couple of weeks in May, as will the bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and apple-and-plum casebearer moths. A few months later, around October, the round rust-coloured medlars look like they’re ripe for the picking. But wait. Medlars are inedible until they’ve been softened, or bletted to be precise. They can be left on the tree to soften, frozen, or picked unripe and bletted indoors, much like avocados or persimmons. And if you think you’ve accidentally left them to rot, don’t panic. When the skin and flesh have turned brown and mushy and there’s a heady smell of ripe apples, they’re ready to eat! Soft and sweet, medlars are little vitamin C bombs. A word of warning though: avoid the five rock hard seeds or risk breaking a tooth.

Traditionally medlars make excellent jam, jelly and liquer. Every part of the medlar is said to have medicinal benefits. Dried leaves are used to heal wounds and eating the fruit is said to improve one’s memory and alleviate menstrual pain. Though don’t overeat them because they have a laxative effect!

Bring the medlar back! With its striking contorted form, obscure but loveable fruit and flowers that are a feast for the eye and the insects, the medlar deserves a spot in any city. And lastly, don’t forget to bring your medlar walking stick on your next hike. 

7 edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

5. Elderberry tree (Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’)

From all the edible shrubs we’ve selected, our absolute favourite has to be the elder or elderberry tree (Sambucus nigra). Long revered, the elder is celebrated for its fragrant flowers and superfood berries that are both divine to cook with. If you’re looking for a bold eye-catcher in the design of an urban park, you – and the wildlife – will fall head over heels for the ‘Black Beauty’ cultivar with its stunning deep purple foliage, elegant pale pink flowers and purple black fruit. 

Native to the Netherlands, the elder has been associated with folklore and witchcraft. Its name derives from the ancient Greek wind instrument sambuca, and from the Anglo-Saxon word  aeld meaning fire as the elder’s hollow branches were used to blow the embers of a fire. An elder isn’t fussy about where it’s planted. It prefers sun but doesn’t mind some shade nor wet conditions. Resilient and fast growing, they’re an ideal shrub for establishing a design quickly, bearing fruit already after 2 years. 

If it were possible to capture the scent of summer, elderflower syrup probably comes closest. Choose a sunny day around early June to pick the large lacy clusters of flowers for your syrup – take a moment to really enjoy their heady fragrance. The Black Beauty’s dark pink buds emerge as pale pink flowers, an elegant contrast with its dark purple leaves. Be sure to make enough syrup to last into the colder months when you’re longing for summer. While harvesting, you’ll see that the insects of every kind adore elderflowers as much as we do; planting elder around a vegetable and fruit garden is sure to attract the pollinators you need. Elders are also hosted plants for butterflies and moths such as elderberry pearl moth, swallow tailed-moth and buffermine (gele tijger in Dutch meaning yellow tiger). Dried flowers make a lovely tea.

The sight of drooping clusters of ripe elderberries is an unmissable part of autumn. Leave the green ones as they’re poisonous and pick only the deep purple berries. These make the most delicious syrup (used in traditional medicine to treat colds), jam, pies and wine, and are also used as natural dyes. Birds flock to feast on the ripe berries, their droppings helping to spread the seeds. If you spot some wrinkled little brown ‘ears’ growing on older branches of the elder especially in winter, these are wood ear mushrooms. A culinary delicacy, they’re named after Judas who is said to have hung himself from an elder tree. 

7 edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

4. Common hazel (Corylus avellana)

Which shrub was cultivated by the Romans, its nuts the star ingredient of Nutella? The hazel. Planting a native common hazel (Corylus avellana) will boost the presence of all sorts of wildlife in an urban landscape – the squirrels, particularly, will have plundered your shrub for their winter stash in the blink of an eye.

Give a hazel space and time – it starts producing nuts after about 8 years. Your patience will be rewarded with harvests of delicious homegrown hazelnuts and sculptural long flowers called catkins that add visual interest to the sleepy winter garden. With its sculptural multi-stemmed structure that widens at the top and grows up to 8 metres high, a hazel needs room to thrive. However, it’s also excellent for compact hedges, which are vital for sheltering wildlife. The hazel’s bendy branches are well suited for weaving; corkscrew branches are popular as Easter decorations. 

From winter into early spring, the deciduous hazel looks like it’s hibernating but in fact it’s in the midst of flowering season. It’s the first wild plant to flower so early, marking also the start of hay fever season. On its bare branches hang clusters of yellow male catkins, swaying gently. Nature perfected their lightweight, elongated forms to catch the wind and spread pollen to the female flowers, which resemble buds, located on the same tree. Beekeepers plant hazels to feed their honeybees that are active early in the year.

Appearing after the flowers, the toothed-edged leaves are a delicacy for caterpillars. The hazel is an important food plant for many butterflies and moths. These include the renowned Giant peacock moth and Comma butterfly, and moths with charming Dutch names such as the Hazelaaruil and Bonte beer, meaning Hazel owl and Multicoloured bear. 

Keep a close eye on the clusters of hazelnuts, which form on the female flowers after pollination, as they ripen in autumn from pale green to deep brown. The trick is to pick them not too early as they will be tasteless but not too late as chances are there’ll be none left as the squirrels, mice and birds will have beaten you to it. Forgotten hazelnuts from an animal’s stash get the chance to germinate and grow, which is another way the hazel spreads. 

Biotope city/Wiener wildness

photo: Pi Booy

Two great Viennese photographers, Verena Popp-Hackner and Georg Popp lead you in Biotope city – contact@biotope-city.net, with their photography through the VIENNA WILDERNESS. You won’t believe your eyes what is going on in our man-made and man-inhabited environment without us ever noticing or even imagining it! Verena and Georg have been hunting in this mysterious urban wilderness in Vienna for many years with a lot of patience and sophisticated technology. The results of years of their photography are gathered in their spectacular book VIENNA WILDERNESS, from which these photos will be taken.https://wienerwildnis.at/articles/355

7 edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

3. Amelanchier or Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii)

Plant an Amelanchier or two and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Adored by wildlife for its mass of flowers and juicy blueberry-like fruit, this gem of a shrub adds an elegant beauty to every urban landscape, large or small, all year round. The Amelanchier’s characteristic layered, open structure adds a distinct aesthetic feature to the garden, either pruned as a small tree (it grows up to 10 metres high) or planted as a row of shrubs. 

The Amelanchierhas its roots in America (where it’s also called Serviceberry) but has been naturalised in the Netherlands for centuries, such that the Krentenboom, as it’s known here, is unmissable in the Dutch landscape. In the wild Amelanchier lamarckii is abundant in parts of the country such as Drenthe where special forest hikes take in the best locations to spot Amelanchiers in bloom. 

To plant an Amelanchier is to celebrate the seasons, each season showing off a different, equally spectacular side to this hardy deciduous shrub. With its branches laden with large off-white blossoms dotted with copper-coloured new leaves, the sight of an Amelanchier in bloom is to be savoured – it’s quite breathtaking, especially against a blue sky. The whole shrub becomes a magnet for bees, bumblebees, wasps who definitely wouldn’t want to miss this.

The Krentenboom takes its name from the edible fruit krenten (meaning currants)that starts to ripen in summer. Historically, they were dried and used instead of real Corinth grape currants for baking. Look for the clusters of fruit as they ripen from red into deep purple, but not all at once. You’ll have to compete with birds such as finches, thrushes and woodpeckers who flock to Amelanchiers to devour the irresistibly juicy fruit. Every year, they’ll remember when it’s berry time, meaning your garden will truly become a bird paradise! Krentencan be used in place of blueberries, they’re excellent for jam due to their high pectin content and if the birds haven’t beaten you to a decent harvest, make a pie! Or if they did, remember to plant a few more shrubs next year. 

Equally spectacular in autumn, the Amelanchier lights up the garden when its leaves transform into fiery tones of copper, orange, yellow and red, the sight of which gives a welcome sense of warmth as the temperatures start to plunge. 

7 x edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

2. Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus Mas)

Cultivated for millennia for its wood and culinary uses, Cornelian cherry dogwood (Cornus mas) might just become your new best friend in the garden. It’s best known for its delicate yellow flowers and edible olive-shaped fruit, both of which are equally cherished by people and wildlife alike. In the Netherlands, it’s rare in the wild, limited to the southernmost parts of the country. 

When the garden starts to awake from the cold in early spring, the blossoming of Cornus Masis eagerly awaited – especially for the bumblebees as it’s one of their first food sources available after the long winter. Masses of fine bright yellow clusters of flowers covering this bushy shrub or small tree bring an instant cheer, especially on sunny days when the yellow blooms contrast strikingly with the deep blue sky. An added bonus is that it blooms for several weeks, meaning more time to enjoy this stunning shrub.

Cornus mas is also the host plant for moths including Eupoecilia ambiguellaand Antispila treitschkiella, -metallellaand –petryi. While moths aren’t as prominent as butterflies, they’re important as pollinators and a food source for birds and other wildlife. 

Like all dogwoods, Cornus masmakes a show of autumn colours when its glossy green leaves turn vibrant shades of burgundy tinged with purple. Look for bunches of ripening elongated ruby red fruit called cornels hiding between the colourful foliage. Birds adore them. When ripe, they’re soft and fall easily off the stalk. Their tartness lends itself well to jams and jellies but surprisingly they can also be brined and eaten like olives. As the pits were used as rosary beads, Cornus masis often found in monastery and cloister gardens. 

Cornus Mas stands the test of time, some growing to be over 100 years old! The Romans called it Cornus, meaning horn. As a tough hardwood, it’s been prized since ancient times particularly for spears, wheel spokes and tool handles but also shepherd’s staffs. 

It’s an easy friend in the garden as a hedge or standalone feature, thriving in sun and partial shade and most soil conditions – although it has a preference for chalky soils. It doesn’t mind drought nor wind and gets on well with most plants making it ideal as part of a diverse urban landscape.

7 x edible shrubs for improving urban biodiversity

In these blog posts, Maike van Stiphout (landscape architect and author of First Guide to Nature Inclusive Design) and Jeanne Tan (architecture writer and content editor) delve into the world of shrubs, sharing the beauty of this under appreciated group of plants which are ideal for urban nature, urban biodiversity and urban food forests. First up is Sloe famed for its ethereal white blossoms and its plum-like fruit. Supporting a wide variety of wildlife, the low maintenance Sloe shrub or hedge is a firm favourite for improving urban biodiversity all year round.

  1. Sloe or Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

Native to the Netherlands, Sloe is an ancient shrub that supports a wide variety of wildlife, making it one of our favourites to plant in urban landscapes to improve biodiversity all year round. It’s famed for its delicate white blossoms and edible dark purple fruit called sloes. Low maintenance Sloe shrubs suit rather wild landscapes and gardens and are excellent as hedges. It thrives in full sun but can tolerate some shade.

After long Dutch winters, a blossoming Sloe in March is a spectacle to celebrate – spring is on the way! They transform in early spring from a thick mass of thorny branches into ephemeral clouds of delicate white blossoms. Importantly, at this time when there’s little food available, Sloe blossoms provide precious nectar and pollen for bees, bumblebees and butterflies. After the blossoms have been pollinated, the fruit appears. 

Later in the season Sloe becomes a favourite foodplant for the caterpillars of moths and butterflies, in particular the black hairstreak (Satyrium pruni) which lay their eggs almost exclusively here. This butterflie is extremely rare in The Netherlands.

Sloe provides an ideal nesting habitat for birds – especially with caterpillars, an important food source, within easy reach. Although Sloe is deciduous, its dense, thorny branches offer shelter to birds and other wildlife against urban predators all year round.

Come autumn, the small oval leaves turn orange and the clusters of fruit ripen into a rich dark purple – a beautiful sight. Resembling mini plums, sloes are the predecessor of our cultivated plums. Try to spot birds such as thrushes feasting on them. If you’re going to harvest some, don’t be tempted to eat them straight away – they’re astringent and tart. Traditionally sloes are prized for making jam and wine and infusing liqueur such as Slivovitsj.