Category: From the Garden

Let them eat flowers…

Just had to share this excellent article from our Organic Gardening friends over at Ryton on Dunsmore. As the national organisations spearheading organic and pesticide free vegetable growing, we’ve always had a lot in common.

All the flowers they mention here, as edible, are plants we grow in our Gardens in Castle Bromwich. We try to grow plants that would have been around and familiar to gardeners between 1680 and 1760, so its pretty certain that back then using the flowers for eating would be pretty common … lets make sure we don’t lose that knowledge… nor those delights.

https://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/

“Organic flowers aren’t just beautiful, some are edible too. Why not try a few petals to zing up a salad, pep up a curry, or delightfully decorate a cake. Blooms and buds will add spice, colour and taste to your plate. You can even add them to summer cocktails!
We list below the tastiest flowers. And because you’ve grown them yourself, the organic way, you won’t be ingesting the chemicals used in commercial flower growing.

Quick tips:

  • Only eat flowers that have been identified as edible.
  • Do not eat shop bought flowers. They could well be laced with chemicals.
  • Flowers are an important source of nectar or pollen for bees and other insects.  Don’t be greedy and pick them all! Share your blooms.

Here are our ten favourite tasty blooms:

  1. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)  – Basil is usually grown as an annual herb for its leaves. The flavour of the flower is milder, but similar to the leaves. So don’t despair if your basil plants start flowering in the summer and early autumn. Simply pick the flowering tops as soon as they open, and sprinkle the flowers over salad or pasta and add to soups and pesto. Basil requires a rich well-drained soil. It needs a warm sunny position, with protection from the wind. It will thrive grown in pots on a sunny windowsill, or in a greenhouse.
  2. Borage (Borago officinalisAn annual herb with bright blue-purple star shaped flowers that taste mildly of cucumber. The flowers can be tossed in a salad or floated on summer beverages such as Pimms. Also excellent as a garnish for both sweet and savoury dishes and on iced soups. The flowers can also be crystallized for cake decorations. Likes a sunny spot in any soil. Although an annual, will readily self-seed.
  3. Brassicas – broccoli, cauliflower, mustard (Brassica spp) If you don’t get around to picking all your leafy brassica crops, they will flower. The small yellow flowers have a gentle spiciness and mild brassica flavour. They are delicious in salads or in stir-fries. Best grown in rich soil, sun or partial shade. Net to prevent pigeon or caterpillar damage.
  4. Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) Pale pink or blue, the cornflower adds a deliciously spicy taste to salads. They are particularly pretty when scattered over iced cakes. Easy to grow from seed sown either in late summer or in mid spring. They like a well-drained sunny site and will grow on almost any soil. Don’t pick wild cornflowers – they are an important part of the wildflower meadow ecosystem.
  5. Courgette, squash, marrow and pumpkin (Cucurbita spp) These large yellow flowers have a mild vegetative flavour. Courgette flowers can be coated in batter and then deeply fried. They can also be stuffed (mozzarella cheese is particularly delicious!) then steamed or baked. A popular method is to shred the flowers, soften in oil and add to pancake batter or to a tortilla filling. Grow best in a rich soil in full sun. Start seeds indoors in spring, then plant out when the soil is warm and there is no danger of frost.
  6. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) This common weed has a yellow flower that tastes of honey if picked young. It turns bitter when mature. The flowers can be made into tea, wine and beer. Coat fully-open flowers with chickpea flour batter, mixed with a pinch of garam masala, and shallow fry for dandelion bhajis. They can also be used to garnish a salad. When serving a rice dish use the brilliant yellow petals like confetti over the rice. Dandelions will readily grow in most soils. Leave some blossoms as a nectar source for early Spring emerging insects.
  7. Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp) Not to be confused with other types of lilies, the daylily petals have a crisp and juicy flavour, especially the nectar filled base. Do NOT eat shop bought lilies. Hemerocallis plants have numerous hybrids with different coloured flowers which appear each day. Usually the darker coloured flowers tend to leave an unpleasant aftertaste while the lighter coloured flower are sweeter with a flavour akin to asparagus or green beans. Petals can also be used to decorate salad. Or wait until flowers are slightly withered, then use them to flavour and thicken cooked food. You can also freeze them.. Daylilies are an easy to grow herbaceous perennial. They can withstand neglect in sun or partial shade and will grow through short grass. But they will give the best flowers if grown in reasonable soil in full sun.
  8. Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) The flowers can be dipped in batter and fried, or turned into cordial. They go very well with gooseberries, or make a delicious light sorbet, custards or ice-cream. Dark-leaved elders sometimes have pink flowers, which retain their colour. Elderflowers and berries can be dried for use as a tea, often used as a remedy for a cold. A hardy shrub which will grow anywhere – except waterlogged sites.
  9. Lavender (Lavendula spp) This familiar strong tasting flower can be used in jams, jellies, ice cream, biscuits and vinegar. The flowers can also be crystallised, added to salads or used to make a tea. Flowers are best picked when they first open, before seeds begin to form. An evergreen perennial shrub which needs a neutral to alkaline soil in an open sunny position. Plants become woody with age, but can be pruned back immediately after flowering in order to maintain vigour.
  10. Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) A deliciously spicy-peppery tasting flower. The colourful petals, leaves and seed pods of this annual plant are edible. The leaves have a taste similar to cress. Pick flowers throughout the summer for immediate use. The fat green seed pods can be pickled and used as an alternative to capers. Nasturtiums are a colourful addition to salads, pasta, meat dishes and vinaigrettes. Sow seeds in situ in spring, but many plants will self-seed. Prefers full sun and a light well-drained soil. Grows well in containers but feeding with fertiliser will encourage leaves and no flowers. Keep well-watered in hot weather.

And here’s a few more to add to the floral bunch:

Agastache (Agastache foeniculum and relatives)  – Agastache (giant hyssop) has small but powerfully fragrant flowers with a hot peppermint-like twang. Scatter over ice cream for a delicious garnish or add to drinks or stuffings. This tall perennial plant needs full sun and well-drained soil. Grow from seed or by root division. Hyssop blossoms are particularly loved by bees.

Bergamot (Monarda didyma) This hardy perennial gets it common name, Bee’s Balm, from the bees’ love of its nectar. The flowers are a mixture of interesting flavours, ranging from citrusy and sweet to hot and minty: each flower colour tends to have a different flavour. Can be used to make tea and as an ingredient for cakes. Prefers a moist, rich soil. Tolerates partial shade to full sun. Can be grown from seed or root division.

Chives (Allium schoeonoprasumThe purple onion-like flowers from this perennial herb provide an oniony, but not overpowering flavour. Harvest flowers just as they are opening. Alternatively, developing seed-heads are slightly stronger in taste. Frequent picking will encourage flowering to continue until the first frost. Can be used to garnish salads and added to sauces. Chives are among the most versatile edible flower in savoury cooking. Best grown in rich, free draining soil in full sun, but also performs well in pots. Must be kept well-watered and cut back frequently to promote new growth. Propagated from seeds and by splitting clumps in mid spring.

Dill (Anethum graeveolens) & Fennel (Foeniculum vulgarae) Both these plants have a distinct sweet aniseed flavour throughout. Fennel pollen has recently become very fashionable as an addition to fish dishes, but the flowers can be used for cakes, stuffings, salads or vinegars. Dill is a tender annual and fennel is a hardy perennial: both do best in full sun and well-drained fertile soil.

Hollyhock (Alcea cannabinifolia & A. rosea) The large flowers of hollyhock have a substantial if slightly glutinous texture, and add colour to salads, stir-fries or drinks. Best grown as a biennial from seed: older plants often suffer badly from rust fungus. They need sun and well-drained soil.

Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) The white or purple flowers, have a delicate ‘floral’ flavour. Add to yogurt or use the flowers as an attractive garnish. The flowers are also very tasty deep fried. This familiar shrub is very hardy and easy to grow.

Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana, Viola tricolor) Pansy flowers have a mild fresh flavour, or a slightly grassy taste, depending on the pansy variety and how much of the flower is eaten. The petals are very mild in taste but the whole flower tastes much stronger. Use pansies to garnish cocktails, desserts, soups and fruit salads. Do NOT eat pansies grown commercially.

Pinks (Dianthus spp) Flowers taste spicy and clove-like. They should be picked when first open and the white base removed. They can be added to salads, fruit pies and sandwiches, candied, pickled in vinegar and made into a syrup. A hardy perennial, best grown in a sunny, sheltered, well-drained position in a poor soil. Easily propagated from seed and stem cuttings. To grow in containers, window boxes and tubs use a very free draining compost.

Pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) Pot marigolds produce orange or yellow flowers, which come in a range of flavours: spicy, bitter, tangy or peppery. Petals can be sprinkled on soups, pasta, salads and rice. Powdered petals, also known as poor man’s saffron, can be added to give a golden hint to herb butter, spreads, soups and scrambled egg. Pick flowers just as they open in summer for fresh use and for drying. Grows in a wide range of soil, but does prefer a sunny position. Direct sow seeds in spring, after the last frost: in mild areas can also been autumn sown to overwinter for earliest blooms. Deadheading encourages a continuous harvest of flowers.

Rose (Rosa spp) The rugosa roses have large single flowers with the most flavoursome petals of all the roses. They are followed a close second by old roses – damask and gallica rose petals are particularly delicious. Hybrid roses have flavoursome petals only from the most fragrant varieties, although some leave an aftertaste, so sample a petal before taking it into the kitchen. Ensure when harvesting petals that the whitish petal base is removed, as it is sour. Rose petals can be used to make jam, to flavour vinaigrettes, sauces, sweet or meat dishes. Roses grow best in a rich, well-drained but heavy-textured soil in full sun.

Rocket (Eruca versicaria) The flowers have a spicy taste, not unlike the peppery leaves. A pretty addition to salads, especially early in the year. Sow at monthly intervals from March to September, annual plant which sometimes overwinters in mild areas. Needs sun and a good soil.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) A perennial herb with mauve-blue flowers in midsummer. The flowers have a milder taste than the sage leaf. They can be used in pesto, salads, soups and with fish dishes. Other members of the sage family have tasty flowers too – Salvia elegans tastes of pineapple, while S. gregii is vaguely blackcurrant-like. Grows best in full sun and prefers a light soil. Can be grown from seed or cuttings in the spring.

Sweet violet (Viola odorata) Has scented small blue or white blooms: one of the few edible flower available in winter and early spring. They have a delicate flavour, used to add taste and colour in confectionery, as a thickener in soup and stews and make a tasty, interesting garnish for salads, fruit salads and desserts. Avoid eating to excess as they may have a laxative effect. Sweet violets thrive in a moderately heavy rich soil in a semi-shaded spot. If grown in containers they succeed well but need to be placed in a cool position throughout the summer and must not be given heat during the winter.

Wysteria (Wisteria sinensis) A woody climber with heavily fragrant blooms. The petals are excellent in an infused vinegar or cordial.  The latter is particularly good in baking or as a cocktail mixer.  Plant deep in full sun.  Pruning twice a year will encourage heavy flowering.

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Tulips 2021- Thank You!!

Thanks to our lovely supporters we have hit, and exceeded, our target to ensure we can buy our spring bulbs next year!

Whoopee! That really is a great relief to our gardeners, who are always thinking seasons and seasons ahead.

Your help now, and in the future, really will make a difference to the Gardens’ survival.

Did you know it costs over £550 per day – every day of the year to keep the Gardens running smoothly, so knowing our plant purchases for next year are safe really helps. Thanks again.

The Gardeners have just taken delivery of the summer bedding for this year- from our excellent local professional supplier Baginton’s.

The cosmos, zinnia, salvia, pelargoniums etc are all looking bright and full of vigour – our visitors may have missed Spring – lets hope Summer is not lost.

Without our regular volunteers it will take a little longer for these to go in, though. We also lost all our nursery and propagation spaces 18 months ago when the hotel decided it wanted to nullify a license agreement – so the plants are distributed around in tiny space and we have nowhere to propagate many of our own plants these days 🙁

Looking back and looking forward:

 

 

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dragons tongue 2020

the dragon arises..

Dracunculus vulgaris:  the Dragon lily

It’s arrived! Also known as ‘snake lily’ and ‘devil’s tongue’ -we can see why.

We’ve been lucky with warm springs of recent years and has given us quite a few years of spectacular moments.

It grows wild in the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans.

The flower is also noted for its foul smell of rotting flesh.
Flies are attracted to the smell, but this is no flesh eating dragon; the flies just serve as a  pollinator for the flower. Obviously a successful adaptation which has helped this weird plant survive.
I wonder if the flower will last until we can open the gates for all to see?
In the meantime…
dragon lily in full mode 2020
dragons tongue 2020
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volunteer weeding the bean tunnel

Beans and Potatoes – plant, grow, eat and support growers.

Planting and growing beans and potatoes has always meant a lot to us in the Gardens

We try to keep some of the really old varieties going, but we have also wanted to encourage people – especially children – to feel confident about growing their own food.

In February and March schools and family visitors have great fun planting beans and volunteer weeding the bean tunnelwatching them grow; at home or in the Gardens. Many of these beans get planted up in our own gardens to make an annual Bean Tunnel.

Come summer the tunnel is a lush green place to crawl in, explore and peek out to the world. And what a revelation … those long green things hanging down are beans you can eat!

Potatoes

Everyone loves a potato. When we can, we grow some of the oldest varieties from 100 or even 300 years ago – a way of ensuring the biodiversity of our food stock is kept.

But also, potatoes are pretty easy – 1 potato planted, makes a whole plate of chips or mash!

hallmoor students celebrate the harvest

 

 

 

 

We usually have two weekly visiting groups from special schools and colleges: Hallmoor School and Trinity Specialist college. We are missing their input and they are missing their visits to the outdoors here. Our gardeners have been looking after their plot  while they’re away… potatoes and beans doing fine. Let’s hope they can harvest them later in the year.

What you can do

The bean tunnel is partially potted up, so hopefully in the summer people can see that. Why not encourage young ones in your household to plant some beans themselves. When you  visit us later they can compare how tall they have grown. Beans, sunflowers and peas are relatively easy now. Here’s a great ‘how to’  from Cbeebies. https://www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/makes/plant-pots?collection=national-gardening-week

 

Even if you are not growing potatoes yourself, you can help the farmers who are.

Good and safe food starts with the growers, but many small growers are struggling to keep up in the current times. Some local organisations have banded together to help. Slow Food Birmingham,  and two of groups we already work with, The Real Junk Food Project and The Active WellBeing Society,   have teamed up for a great project – can you help?

http://slowfoodbirmingham.co.uk/campaigns/?fbclid=IwAR2MmZqEt7m2WjZZ-mBPx4LwYdWRr0X4Dznww3HiVvtX-1sMFwyNP9GORZoThe potato project

Charlie, a farmer north of the city, had a field full of spuds and no prospect of selling them because of the drop in trade in the hospitality sector.

There are 10 tonnes of potatoes

Charlie needs to dig up the potatoes and find new customers fast or let them rot and add to the growing numbers of food that is wasted, before it can be eaten. It’s also important that the growers get a decent price for their work and that the potatoes get to the most vulnerable too.

The organisations above are matching up emergency food needs and the general public.  Click below to see how it works.

Buying, donating, paying forward and receiving spuds… all in one project.

If you can’t participate directly – do spread the word about what we can do to make the future of food security better.

http://slowfoodbirmingham.co.uk/campaigns/?fbclid=IwAR2MmZqEt7m2WjZZ-mBPx4LwYdWRr0X4Dznww3HiVvtX-1sMFwyNP9GORZo

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Dig for Victory

It is the bounden duty of those who have the smallest space to cultivate, to do so
intensively, that the brave may be fed and that the lifeline of the Atlantic be not unduly
strained

To mark the 75th Anniversary of VE Day, Matthew Biggs looks into the origins and success of the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign set up during WWII by the British Ministry of Agriculture.

Here below is his fascinating article sent from the Organic Gardening Catalogue 

Click on the link to the catalogue to find the full article

………………………

The 75th Anniversary of Digging for Victory – ‘Fighting on the Homefront’

“At 11.15 on Sunday 3rd September 1939, British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war with Germany. With European ports closed, Britain’s supplies now had to come from across the Atlantic. But within hours, the Battle of the Atlantic also began, with the intention of starving Britain into submission.

In 1938, 55 million tons of food were imported by shipping and 90% of all onions from Europe – there was a vast chasm to fill. Now there was a war to be waged on the Home Front; the fight to feed the nation.

On 12th September 1939 a ‘leader’ in the London Evening Standard, by young journalist, Michael Foot, concluded with the phrase ‘Dig For Victory’. It rapidly became a rallying cry for all. There was an urgent need to educate the public and encourage them to ‘get gardening’.

The Royal Horticultural Society began lectures and demonstrations, a plethora of pamphlets, books and booklets were produced, Mr Middleton broadcast gardening advice on BBC radio at 2.00pm on Sunday afternoons and Lord Dedham, from the Ministry of Agriculture, announced the intention to create half a million allotments, raising the number to 1,330,000. All available land was to be used to feed the nation; stately home lawns, railway sidings, sports field’s, the moat at the Tower of London, lawns in front of the Albert Memorial, even a bomb crater in the grounds of Westminster Cathedral where all turned over to vegetables.

Everyone was encouraged to grow brassicas to replace vitamin rich citrus and bananas and to make their own compost heaps; the introduction of National Growmore in 1942 increased productivity in poorer conditions. They also began to wage war against another arch enemy – pests.

One vital crop was onions. In 1943, the Horticultural Committee of the Red Cross Agricultural Fund introduced a scheme to increase production by forming onion clubs of 12-20 members, who should aim to cultivate ¼ acre between them, to be sold to the NAAFI or Admiralty contractors, with the proceeds going to the Red Cross. If every allotment holder in the country gave 7lbs, 5 000 tons of onions would be produced.

Despite the pressures, an American Professor who visited England, in 1942 was astounded by the health of the people and at the end of the war, the ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign deemed a success.

Growing your own is still the only way to capture the flavour, freshness and natural goodness that kept Britain fighting fit until VE day. Let’s celebrate ‘Dig for Victory’ once again. Growing your own fruit and veg has many benefits – from saving money, reducing food waste and your environmental impact, to improving your physical and mental health through gentle outdoor exercise.”

 

Matthew Biggs trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, has been a professional gardener for over forty years and is a regular panelist on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. He has guested on numerous TV and Radio programs and has written books on a range of horticultural subjects from houseplants to vegetables.

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Actinidia kolomikta

It’s out and showing off its chameleon like habits!

This scrambling vine has graced the courtyard for quite a few years. It happily climbs the height of our lovely walls and has a strange habit of changing colour as it grows… white and pink in almost random proportion and then into green. 2 years ago it was hard pruned, lest year’s show was meagre.. but this year!!! And we are not there to see it :-((

Actinidia kolomikta was collected by Charles Maries (a local boy from Hampton Lucy in Warwickshire!) from Sapporo in Japan in 1878… which is why it’s in our courtyard and not in the main Garden – ‘wrong period’ we love the Victorians, but our dates are 1680s -1760s.

Here also is a wonderful drawing by Jeni Neale of the Birmingham Society of Botanical Artists – a big thank you to her for her permission to share the drawing.

 

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#wegrowtogether plants

The sunny weather is again helping the fair weather gardeners amongst us to get out and pot on…

It you’re planning a proper weekend out – in the back garden/ allotment/ windowsill – here are some very useful links.

‘heir and a spare’

Don’t forget, if you do have any ‘spares’ or ‘extras’ in your propagation pots, do keep a few aside for us, please. If you can.

When we reopen, we’d be very grateful for any donations of plants for us to sell to the public – a way we can raise some funds to fill the hole that has appeared this year. Many thanks  (Ps we cannot take strawberry plants. Please keep your plants at home until we open – we cannot look after them at present. Many thanks

RHS and Garden Organic

The RHS is going all out to create the event of the season online this year. This week saw the launch of My Chelsea Garden, in conjunction with the BBC’s The One Show. It’s a national competition asking people to enter pictures of their garden in one of the following four categories: Back Garden, Front Garden, Indoor Garden (Houseplants, window sills, balconies, etc), and Kids’ Corner Garden.

The competition runs until 18 May so do feel free  to send in your pics using #mychelseagarden 

The RHS are also supporting local nurseries by promoting the Plants Near Me website – if you are looking for plants and gardens product, enter your postcode and see who is still selling- and often delivering.

Working with the earth

As always the national charity for organic growing, Garden Organic has an absolute wealth of advice and helpful information – you can access a lot of their information without being a member…

Here is the link to some great and timely podcasts https://audioboom.com/channels/4987940 

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“As steals the morn….”

a morning meditation piece

As steals the morn upon the night
And melts the shades away:
So Truth does Fancy’s charm dissolve
And rising Reason puts to flight
The fumes that did the mind involve
Restoring intellectual day.

Written and first performed in February 1740. So cold that February, apparently, that the theatre owners had to reassure their audience that there would be fires and blankets – just like here in the Gardens!

Another beautiful song that I’m sure must have been performed in the tranquil rural retreat of the Gardens.

G.F Handel’s oratorio:  L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (“The Cheerful, the Thoughtful, and the Moderate Man”) .  Based on poems by Milton and Shakespeare’s verses from the Tempest

The pictures here are not our Gardens, but just imagine!

Mark Padmore – tenor Lucy Crowe – soprano The English Concert,  Conductor – Andrew Manze Label: Harmonia Mundi, from the Album: “As Steals the Morn (Handel Arias & Scenes for tenor)”.

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Gardening Tips for May

Gardener’s Tips for May

It is now time to give your borders some attention. All the sunshine and showers means the garden should now be at its vibrant best. Remove any faded spring bedding at the end of the month, it’s served you well but it’s time for a change and old bedding can be put in the compost bin to go back on the garden next year as mulch.

Once the risk of frost has passed (what do you think?), plant out summer bedding and ensure it is kept well watered so it can establish.

Ensure any perennial weeds are swiftly removed and hoe off any annual weeds , don’t let them get the chance to flower and seed as this will greatly increase your workload. Tie in any shoots of climbing  plants in your border. Plants like clematis are easier to manage when offshoots are short and young, if you allow them to get too long it’s almost impossible to prise them away from other plants they get tangled up in without snapping.

Hanging baskets

If you want hanging baskets plant them up now and allow them to establish for a few weeks in a frost free space make sure that when you put them out you keep them well watered, pick off the dead flowers and give them a liquid fertiliser feed every few weeks this should keep your hanging baskets flowering throughout the summer. 

Veggy times

You can start to harvest rhubarb this month, twist the stem at the base of the plant but ensure you leave a few stems on each crown.

Don’t strip it bare as the plant needs to be able to feed its own crown.  Continuing with this  theme on the vegetable plot, if you have asparagus ensure that you stop cutting to leave some spears to grow at the end of the month. They produce a lovely ferny foliage which is

needed by the asparagus crown to capture sunlight to replenish its crown for next year. Potatoes that were planted in April  (oh yes they were!) can now be earthed up, by drawing up mounds of soil up around the plant this will help the potatoes create more tubers from the buried stems and increase your crop.

You may have been mowing for a few months now, but it’s time to establish a regular routine. Mowing weekly will ensure you get a denser turf. A denser turf means a better looking lawn and less opportunity for weeds to establish – No don’t be tempted to do it too often because your ‘just want to get out there!’  

For further tips follow the link to view the RHS Gardening Tips for #nationalgardeningweek https://www.rhs.org.uk/get-involved/national-gardening-week/

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