Garden fence

All gardeners like to chat, whether it is over the fence, across the driveway or between allotment patches.  This is the virtual version of that sort of chat and will talk about what has struck us recently, including the weather (we are English after all), what seems to be growing well (or badly) good (and bad) ideas that we have come across and anything else in the fruit and vegetable world that we think might interest other gardeners.

The Village Show

Yesterday was the Cookham Village Show and for the first timer we entered some of the fruit and vegetable classes.  We grow for fun (and mostly to eat) but wanted to support the local show.  We found that the difficulty of getting the matching specimens needed for showing confirmed our view that we won’t be entering any of the bigger shows around.  We don’t really want to be digging up/harvesting more than we can eat or use at any one time simply to have the requisite number of matching carrots (or whatever).

We did have some successes, winning prizes for carrots, sweet peppers and a collection of three types of vegetable (in our case carrots again – albeit a different variety, parsnips and onions), but probably our best entry was the chilli peppers.  These were Joe’s Long, which are not only appropriately named but very prolific, so that we were able to get the required six matching peppers.

Prize Chilli Peppers

Prize Chilli Peppers

Chilli Plants

Chilli plants are one of the great givers.  A single plant can provide enough peppers for a year (unless you’re a real chilli head).  As well as being productive they can be very attractive and although they are often grown as tender annuals in the UK they are in fact perennials and can be over-wintered in frost free conditions.

This one is now just over 2 years old and has been brought indoors for the winter and looks sufficiently splendid that it will be incorporated into this year’s Christmas decorations.

Chilli 24 Nov 2015

Chilli 24 Nov 2015

Generally seed packets suggest that germination of chilli seeds requires extra heat (we generally use a small propagator), but this year we also noticed that quite a few plants had emerged from fallen fruit in one of the raised beds in the allotment.  We’ve potted up half a dozen of these and they are now being looked after on a windowsill to give us some specimen plants for next year.

Spring Flowers

One of the great things about gardening is that it is by nature optimistic and forward looking. Almost every job that we do is an investment in the future. In a country like Britain where there is a distinct rhythm to the seasons, this optimism is especially rewarding in spring. Spring bulbs are the confirmation that earlier work is bearing fruit and that longer, warmer days are on their way.

The “galanthophiles” will claim that snowdrops are the harbingers of the new year, but for Mark the sheer joyous colours of crocuses is the thing that shows that spring is really on the way.

Crocuses among leaf litter

Crocuses among leaf litter

Crocuses 11 March

Crocuses 11 March

A little later there is nothing like a classic daffodil to confirm that the worst of the winter is behind us.

Daffodils in the sun

Daffodils in the sun

A Hidden Gem

While at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow we stumbled across a hidden gem thanks to a small note in a tourist map.  This was the rose garden in Tollcross Park https://glasgow.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=3743.

We were lucky to wander up on a quiet day and find the gardener undertaking the ongoing task of dead heading (over 4,000 plants make for a lot of dead heads).  He was kind enough to take a break and explain the history of the garden and the international trials conducted there.

Our attempted panoramic photograph doesn’t really do it justice, but if you’re ever up that way, drop in and wander round – it is truly spectacular.

Tollcross Park

Tollcross Park

Winter, weather and gardens

Has the weather really got wierder over the past few years or do we just notice it more now that it matters so much more – frosts in the late spring affect gardeners as well as plants.

Since starting this business (and series of blogs) we have had two hot, dry springs (2011 and 2012), both followed by soggy summers and a bitterly cold spring in 2013.  Last autumn and this winter have seen the wettest few months that we can remember – official stats seem to agree with our memories.  We have been relatively lucky with regard to flooding, most of the properties in the village seem to have escaped without being inundated, despite the fact that the Thames runs through the heart of Cookham.  The flood plain seems to have done its job and while there were moments when it looked as though it was close to capacity, there were some millions of gallons of water that were held on field for a few days before returning to the river.  Had this all gone downstream at the same time the damage further down the river would have been even worse than it was.  This “lake” is normally pastureland with a small pond frequented by ducks and swans.

Widbrook Common

All this water has an effect on gardening as well, much of the ground is now so wet that setting foot on it starts to compress it and damage the structure.  This means that the sensible option is to steer clear of the soil and that therefore some of the jobs normally done at this time of year are on hold, for example pruning fruit trees.  For many of these jobs there is a window of opportunity and it is likely that things will dry up before this window closes, so as ever patience is the gardener’s friend.  More irritating is that the unseasonable warmth means that weeds are continuing to grow, yet beds, lawns and borders are so soft that weeding sessions could make more mess than they clean up.  A couple of clear cold weeks would help to get everything back into balance.

In the meantime there is plenty to be done indoors, propagation continues and seed sowing is imminent.  Outdoors there is always the promise of spring and these crocuses sprouting amongst the primulas will soon be in full bloom.

A promise of spring