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Eglwys Fach

43 minutes
First broadcast:
Friday 12 October 2012

Peter Gibbs chairs the horticultural panel programme from Eglwysfach in West Wales, with Bunny Guinness, Bob Flowerdew and Matt Biggs fielding questions from a gardening audience.

Questions answered in the programme:
Q. My parents' anniversary is marked by the flowering of a magnolia planted in the spring when they were married. Does the panel have a suggestion for something similar that could mark our anniversary on October 1st?
A. Tree Mallows, or Mediterranean Lavateras, flower very well in the autumn. Vitex agnus-castus, or the Chaste bush, (despite it's name) has blue flowers which come out in autumn. Alternatively, the mountain ash Joseph Rock is autumn flowering, but has primrose yellow fruit too.

Q. Do the team think it is possible to grow rhubarb on wet, Welsh hills at over 900ft above sea level? I have tried for 25 years.
A. If the soil is too thin, the rhubarb cannot get its large root down. It does not mind the cold, so could be planted in a large container and kept behind a north wall during winter and moved into the sun during spring. Try a virus-free clone such as Victoria or Fulton's Strawberry Surprise.

Q. Do the panel think gardening is a solitary activity?
A. When gardening, you have got to be of one mind and aiming towards the same goal, so it is often better to garden alone!

Q. With few bees to pollinate this summer, should I use a soft brush to help fertilise our four mature grape vines and tomatoes.
A. You can use a feather duster (but not when they're wet). It will do no harm to do it.

Q. Which members of the Cow Parsley family like an acid soil and the wet and windy climate of Wales?
A. Baltic Parsley is recommended, standing about 1.5 metres high, it is quite hardy and can be grown from seed. Alternatively, Anthriscus sylvestris or Ravenswing, Angelicas such as Angelica Gigas, or Seseli Gummiferum are interesting variations. Parsnips produce tall stems and are a statuesque plant or you could encourage existing Hogweed plants which are attractive to insects.

Q. What plants could the panel suggest for me to grow to encourage bats to forage in my garden, remembering that bats are insectivorous?
A. A lime tree is a good habitat for aphids and, as such, would encourage bats. Honeysuckles or Lupins might also be good. A wildflower meadow containing daisies, self-heals and Yellow Rattle for example will attract insects and in turn attract bats. Hawthorn trees will attract insects, as will a pond.

Q. Why can't I grow leeks in Wales? Could it be the slate-y soil, the acidic conditions, or the windy location?
A. Most vegetables don't like an acid soil, so lime will help. Manure will also help, as will growing them with a little more space between them.

Producer: Howard Shannon
A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.

  • When Bob met James Wong: WASABI Wasabia japonica

    When Bob met James Wong: WASABI  Wasabia japonica

    A close relative of the cabbage that thrives in damp shady corners where nothing else will grow and is completely resistant to cabbage white butterflies (the scourge of cabbage growers). The grated root is a seriously sought after Japanese delicacy used to create that wonderfully spicy green paste you get with sushi and on the ever-trendy wasabi peas.

    Incredibly 95% of the 'wasabi' outside Japan actually contains no wasabi at all – it's just a cheap counterfeit blend of horseradish and mustard dyed green (!) – meaning that until very recently the only way you used to be able to get hold of the real McCoy in the UK was to grow it yourself.

  • When Bob met James Wong: Litchi Tomato, Solanum sisimbrifolium

    When Bob met James Wong: Litchi Tomato, Solanum sisimbrifolium

    Now this is a great example of something that has failed my trials. I was excited to try it as a easy-to-grow tomato-like fruit, which is said to have a far superior perfumed flavour. Add that to the fact that as a common weed species in the Southern US it has an iron-clad blight resistance, thrives in drought and is super productive in the fruit stakes and I thought it would be a real winner. It even has showy, ornamental flowers. How could you go wrong?

    Well after tasting one of its scarlet red fruit I very quickly realised (like many other edibles I've trialled) that there is a good reason why this isn't a major crop. The fruit have a strange flavour, somewhere between a watery tomato and a insipid inca berry (aka. Physalis). Not only do they taste bland and boring, but the flavour that is there sits rather uncomfortably between sweet and savoury. Not sweet enough to make a good fruit salad ingredient and not quite savoury enough to simmer up into a pasta sauce. Then of course there are the vicious thorns that cover the whole plant including the casing of the fruit. That means you get a free acupuncture session with each fruit you pick. Sadly I think this guy is going to have to join the roughly 50% of trial species that fail my tests. Hey if you don't give them a grow you'll never know...

  • When Bob met James Wong: PINEAPPLE GUAVA (AKA. FEIJOA), Acca sellowiana

    When Bob met James Wong: PINEAPPLE GUAVA (AKA. FEIJOA),  Acca sellowiana

    Now these are a totally different story. The perfumed fruit of pineapple guavas have to win the prize as easily the most delicious of all hardy 'exotic' fruit, somehow fusing the flavours of pineapple, strawberry, guava and candy floss all into one silvery grey fruit. They are already a common ornamental in the UK for their glaucous evergreen leaves and pretty flowers, yet despite being a major commercial crop in Colombia, New Zealand and Japan, us Brits have for some reason yet to cotton on to their charms. If you had to pick bets on the next 'kiwi fruit' (i.e. previously unknown exotic fruit to make it big) then this would be it.

    Apart from good looks and fragrant fruit, this plant even offers up edible flowers (that have specifically evolved sweet, showy petals to encourage pollinating mammals to dust their fuzzy centres in return for a tasty treat). With a chewy marshmallow-like texture and a flavour like minty strawberries, they are one of the few edible flowers that are actually worth eating – and as you can pick the petals off without damaging the developing fruit you can indeed get two harvest from the same plant!



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