Archives for March 2011

Growing fruit in small spaces

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Jim McColl Jim McColl | 17:12 UK time, Thursday, 31 March 2011

We probably have another month before the bare-root planting season for woody perennials ends, in this part of the country, therefore as demands grow to get other tasks completed I would give planting priority. In that regard, I have just planted a row of raspberry canes, the variety Glen Ample, just one of a number of superb cultivars bred at the Scottish Crop Research Institute which is situated on the north bank of the River Tay on the outskirts of Dundee.

The institute, colloquially referred to as Mylnefield or SCRI, is to be merged from April 1st, with the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute based in Aberdeen, a bit of political symbiosis perhaps? The new organisation will be known as the James Hutton Institute. We should wish them well for both have earned a fantastic reputation over the years.

cordon red currants

Upright cordon red currants

The other day, still re-arranging things in the new garden, I moved two young red currant bushes, trimming side shoots to 3cm, leaving only twin leaders because they will be trained as upright cordons. There is nothing unusual in that, I have been using this technique for some time now. In this era of smaller gardens, I often hear people say "we would love to grow some soft fruit but we don't have room". "Rubbish!" say I. Apart from the fact that you can grow a few strawberries in pots, growbags, raised beds or hanging baskets, you can also accommodate red and white currants and gooseberries as cordons and blackberries (which we call brambles) on a trellis or against a wall, instead of a rambling rose! Gooseberries can be readily adapted to grow in a fan shape. My point is, by training they may take up space in only two dimensions - width and height.

I mentioned raspberries earlier and I will grow them in the traditional fashion - one single row supported by a post and wire system. I could have chosen to plant groups of 5 canes in a circle in the middle of a border to be trained 'tepee-fashion' It works because of the pruning system - cut out fruited canes, tie in new ones in their place. Red and white currants, together with gooseberries produce their fruits on 2-3 year old spurs, just like apple trees and so they can be grown as cordons or fans. I tell you what; it is a lot easier to pick gooseberries from a fan-trained bush than a conventional one! Think about it, these forms, whether trained on walls or trellis work, can be useful to create productive divisions within a garden, just like step-over apples.

Loch Maree Blackberry

Loch Maree Blackberry

In our last house, the upright cordon red currants were planted against a 2m high north facing wall and fruited well every year.

I also made mention of brambles being used to furnish a trellis, can I suggest that you try Loch Maree (bred at SCRI). My photograph doesn't do it justice because the flowers are actually a delicate pink making it rather an attractive ornamental!

The work is unceasing

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Bob Flowerdew Bob Flowerdew | 16:23 UK time, Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Well it's a close race, the end of March is here and my cucumbers are not quite big enough, still another few days. My salads are getting nicer now, more fresh greens from under cover, the claytonia (Miner's lettuce), is in full flush and chives likewise, pak choi is good, rocket, spring onions and some young beetroot leaves, all make tasty fresh salad daily.



The forced strawberries are starting to swell, won't be long for them, and I've had the first asparagus spear. But the work is unceasing, thank goodness for the extra hour from now on. I've the first bed of new potatoes planted (Amorosa and Casablanca), with three barrow loads of compost and a plastic sheet cloche over the top. They should pick up cropping when the indoor crop in tubs peters out. I've also sown the first bed of carrots. So with some already established beds of onions, garlic, leeks, cuttings, raspberries and strawberries that's fourteen accounted for, only twenty six more to sow and plant up. I've been holding as the soil has been cold despite sunny weather.

Grass seed I sowed last month on bare patches in my 'lawn', and sowed again a fortnight ago has still not germinated. I don't hold with the idea of sitting bare buttocked on the ground to determine if it's warm enough - I just watch the weeds and if they don't grow I don't sow. However the established grass is growing, I've given it a second cut today, looks good and I love the smell of mown grass. I've also been moving some primrose and cowslip seedlings, these come in my grass paths so I lift and move them to the edges around my vegetable beds, along with docks, teasels, self heal, violets and other wild flowers. The idea is to encourage in as many native insects as these can entice.

I've also been collecting up ladybirds to release in my polytunnel. It was noticeable how these were most frequently found sunning themselves on brambles and stinging nettles, and annoyingly not on wildlife piles where I expected them. I managed to catch about sixty in half an hour. There are noticeably few bees and I fear for my established peaches and apricots, they're too big to hand pollinate more than a few flowers. Oddly the young peach that had it's trunk burst by severe cold in multiple places and was covered in gummosis is looking better and appears to have healed. I'll be astounded if it has.

Most of the new trees have not moved much yet, nor have outdoor grapes though those under cover are already in leaf. I've made a new super cold-frame for one vine from double glazed units - really smart. In fact I've been busy constructing, also making a play house for the twins from old pallets and starting on a new hen house down nut corner. The hens are laying well and I've three sitting - so it may well be chicks for Easter then.

Plant supports - weave a lattice for peas

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Sally Smith Sally Smith | 07:29 UK time, Sunday, 27 March 2011

Purple podded peas - Ezetha's Krombek Blauwschok

Purple podded peas - Ezetha's Krombek Blauwschok

It's time to sow peas and peas need support - they are the mountaineers of the garden, carrying their own ropes in the form of tendrils that they throw out and belay onto any static object they touch.

Traditionally, twiggy pea sticks are pushed into the ground around the seeds at planting but I like to create a more decorative effect with a lattice framework and then plant this humble vegetable as a feature in the garden.

If you can find a couple of dozen or so sturdy prunings of dogwood, hazel, willow or birch, then you're in business. If you've got only short prunings then grow smaller dwarf pea varieties that will take to a shorter structure, up to 1m.

My favourite variety is a tall, dark purple-flowered and purple-podded pea, 'Ezetha's Krombek Blauwschok', the name is a bit of a mouthful, but it is a decorative and edible delight, good enough for flower borders and sweet enough to simply eat raw.

Here's my step-by-step guide to weaving lattice supports for peas. There are two styles to try. The easiest is made with twiggy prunings, like birch or hazel, and woven in situ where you are planting peas. If you have some beautiful long rods of willow or cornus and you have a bit more patience, then have a go at weaving something taller and a bit more stylish like the one below made with rods of golden willow, Salix alba vitellina.

Materials you will need

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Garden news

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Sally Nex Sally Nex | 07:44 UK time, Saturday, 26 March 2011

In the news...

The weather is a serious business to us gardeners: and never more so when it's unpredictable. The coldest December on record morphed into the ninth-warmest February after another hottest-ever year. Snowdrops have been late, but other flowers are early: with weather like this, it's no wonder they're confused.

The nation's first Climate Week this week celebrated all the positive ways people are helping slow the inexorable upward progress of the temperature graphs. Hundreds of people joined in across the country, planting trees, holding pub quizzes and inventing compostable packaging: the best won awards.

The Met Office provided the science: not only the rather unsettling graphs, but also films weighing up the science like this one:

Also in the news, tree thefts seem depressingly to be catching on. Last week it was western red cedar and Norway spruce saplings destined for Welsh woodlands (most, thankfully, found the next day). This week 12 juniper seedlings disappeared from a conservation project in West Sussex, sending juniper - these days a protected species - one step closer to extinction in the south of England.

On a more optimistic note, curry ingredient turmeric could be enlisted to clear landmines. It isn't difficult to grow turmeric at home though you'll need a greenhouse: quite handy to have around if war breaks out in your back garden, then. Or if you just want to cook a curry, of course.

Elsewhere on the web...

Chickens invaded the Gardeners' Question Time potting shed this week, snaffled by the team from chicken breeder Philip Lee Woolf to star in a grow-your-own extravaganza recorded at the Edible Garden Show in Warwickshire. The ensuing discussion covered talking to hens, Bob Flowerdew's catfood-stealing cockerel and Anne Swithinbank's rather fine chicken impression. And you thought they just talked about plants.

In case you had forgotten, there are only 58 panicking days to go till the RHS Chelsea Flower Show opens. At the moment it's all about walls: a green one for Anne-Marie Powell, designing her first full show garden this year, and a dry-stone one for both Cleve West and Kate Dundas (there are sheep creeps involved in this one). I'd say that's the snifter of a Chelsea trend emerging already, wouldn't you?

Out and about...

I hope you've been saving your pennies. You're going to need them this week: the plant fairs are back.

Specialist plant fairs are perfect for picking up those covetable little treasures and are packed with knowledgeable growers to tell you just how to look after them. So: email your bank to apologise and go indulge yourself and your garden.

Daddy of them all is the RHS Great London Plant Fair in Westminster. It's a magnet for the UK's very best nurseries plus international growers, and the RHS advisory team is also on hand to answer questions. Garden writer Noel Kingsbury is there too, exploding some myths of 'eco-friendly' gardening.

Next weekend the lovely 70-acre grounds of Consall Hall Gardens in Staffordshire host a Plant Hunters' Fair and the Gardeners' Plant Fair at Newburgh Priory in Yorkshire promises some of the North's most passionate nurseries and growers with unusual plants a go-go.

And herb queen Jekka McVicar's first annual open day is next weekend near Bristol. Choose from over 600 varieties and enjoy daily workshops run by Jekka herself.

Masters of gardening

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Philip Turvil Philip Turvil | 12:13 UK time, Thursday, 24 March 2011

Growing cabbage isn't easy.

Islington Master Gardeners

Islington Master Gardeners

First you need to get to grips with oddly firm planting: then urgent butterfly protection. That's where Master Gardeners come in: they'll decode seed packets, interpret the mysteries of cabbage collars and generally save brassicas from potting shed dormancy, keeping new grow-your-own-ers growing.

These enthusiastic volunteers are recruited by national charity Garden Organic (previously known as the HDRA).

But Master Gardeners aren't Master Chefs. Nor can they match the towering expertise of a retired wood-turner I met at my local theatre, building sets. Volunteers include newer growers, because they know exactly what beginners are going through and can advise them so well. Vicky 'Green Fingers' Cunningham, for example: she helped 79-year-old Pearl to grow seedlings in her flat for the first time.

So young cabbages are witnessing Master Gardeners in their 20s to 80s, from two years' spud growing experience to decades - but all helping their community. Beverly in Norfolk, for example, supports whole families with her school food-growing club. Ted helps Robin grow potatoes; while Nigel in Warwickshire mentors 13 office buddies at a well-known carmaker.

London Master Gardeners are often spotted in community gardens, such as King Henry's Walk Garden in Islington where Peter and Felicity swap tips at events. While south of the river, Claire volunteers across Wandsworth, Lambeth and Southwark using her growing diary to inspire locals, including Wimbledon Transition Town.

This cascade learning began with the setting up of the 'Master Composters' scheme a few years ago. Now there are over 550 volunteers nationally, also supported by Garden Organic. They reported lots of fruit and veg questions prompted by renewed national interest, but saw the need for a horticultural shoulder to cry on when cabbage lost 'heart', so to speak.

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The self-watering polytunnel begins to take shape

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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 15:31 UK time, Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Deep in rural Oregon, there is a house that cleans itself. It's aptly called the 'Self-cleaning house' and was invented by its owner, Frances Gabe, who was born in 1915. She worked out pretty quickly that housework is dull, so she invented a bunch of labour saving devices for the house, including the ability to wash itself and then blow its interiors dry, even the paintings are waterproof. Follow this link to very silly film about the house.

She's clearly a little unusual, but hey you shouldn't diss your own kind. By which I mean, I've just embarked on building a self-watering polytunnel. I'm not the first though.

Geoff and Joe

The beginnings of the polytunnel with help from friends Geoff (l) and Joe (r)

The prototype lives in Scotland and was designed by Steve James. Steve adapted an ancient pre-Incan farming method of using deep-water channels between beds. These beds were raised up high enough so that the roots could breathe whilst still drawing up water when they needed it. The water also acted as a heat store (releasing daytime heat) to keep the beds from freezing over. This method apparently enabled farming in the incredibly harsh climate of Late Titicaca.

This all sounds like a plausible ancient technique, but how you then leap from there to a Scottish polytunnel is a feat of genius, but the man has.

Essentially the self-watering polytunnel has a pond underneath it, one that can have its levels regulated. Steve describes it as 'a large sunken bathtub with the sky tap left running'. The rain is collected off the polytunnel one end (the lowest point) and soaks sideways under the beds and if there's a little too much, then any overflow allows the excess to run out the other end.

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To mulch or not to mulch, that is the question!

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Jim McColl Jim McColl | 10:30 UK time, Monday, 21 March 2011

We have had a better week, snow threatened but stayed on the higher ground, some days the sun shone brightly but there is still a cold wind. As a result, thankfully the ground is beginning to dry out.

seaweed mulch

Seaweed used as a mulch in Torosay Castle Garden, Isle of Mull

One of my priorities is to order up some bark to mulch two new borders primarily planted with shrubs and trees. Ground cover that doesn't need cutting every week is what I am aiming for coupled with all year round interest! At the moment, the plants themselves are not big enough to provide that cover, hence mulching is vital. Bare soil is bad - except in winter when it has been freshly dug over and left to 'weather', which I would describe as a natural conditioning process.

Mulching raises the old argument - yes or no? If not, why not? If yes, with what? The first good reason for doing it is to cut down weeding and the second is to help condition the soil by slowly adding more organic material. There are still some spaces to be planted in my new borders, but that is a gradual process so the imperative is to get the ground covered.

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Colour theory in garden design

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Michelle Chapman Michelle Chapman | 07:15 UK time, Sunday, 20 March 2011

Until recently I've not really thought too deeply about colour in my garden. I've trusted to my instincts and gone for pleasing combinations of plants, which look good together and provide a long or multiple season of interest.

Keith Wiley's Wildside

Keith Wiley's garden at Wildside on a dull, drizzly day in July 2010

However, lately I've been making some uncharacteristic choices. Last summer, having planted up my seasonal pots, I realised everything was white: from the large bowls of busy lizzies, through to a wonderfully scented Nemesia 'Wisley Vanilla' by my back door. In the autumn a deep wine-red cyclamen stole my heart. Then in January the Barbie pink hyacinths I'd received for Christmas were perfectly acceptable. In fact they were positively needed.

So what was happening? Was this a sea change in my tastes, or a deeper, more instinctive reason at work? Or should I just put it down to my mood?

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Garden news

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Sally Nex Sally Nex | 07:12 UK time, Saturday, 19 March 2011

In the news...

Ever picked a few daffs for the kitchen windowsill on the way home? You could be risking a criminal record.


The parents of two little girls caught picking daffodils in their local park in Poole, Dorset, were given a police warning for damaging council property this week. Disproportionate policing - or irresponsible parenting? The children were, after all, picking bunches of 70-80 daffodils: I'd have trouble finding that many in my garden.

The Guardian provides a helpful run-through of the rules: not only parks, but also roundabouts, verges, community gardens and nature reserves are all officially off-limits for flower-pickers.

Happy birthday to the Eden Project which is ten years old this week. It seems just yesterday that those iconic biomes transformed an unpromising Cornish china clay quarry into the world's largest glasshouse rainforest.

Thirteen million visitors later, Eden is also a beacon for sustainability, its latest self-sufficiency project a geothermal power plant. Charismatic founder Sir Tim Smit, never one to pull his punches, puts Britain's failure to follow Eden's example down to a 'culture of irresponsibility' in a country 'ruled by the ethics of old men who have lost their virility'. Don't hold back, Sir Tim: tell us what you really think.

Elsewhere on the web...

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On top of the hoeing

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Bob Flowerdew Bob Flowerdew | 16:16 UK time, Thursday, 17 March 2011

Although currently cold outside it's been bright, and still very dry. Indeed I'm getting a wee bit concerned. Still for now it's a gorgeous and early spring and my apricots are blooming.


Most winter flowering shrubs are gone or going over now, replaced by masses of daffodils, violets and red dead nettles. I've some old double daffodils, green in bud and when first opened turning golden yellow. They were here before I came, just a small clump, which I multiplied on my veg patch before planting out along hedge bases around my plot. Being double they're less value for wildlife but as they don't set seed they consequently bloom for longer, and I provide plenty of other flowers anyway.

The weedy, but beautiful, buttercup like celandines are attracting a 'long tailed' hoverfly I've never spotted elsewhere, and there've been several clouds of tiny gnats on still evenings despite the cold (allegedly they may congregate over any truffles).

I'm well on top of my hoeing, dry weather made this easy, and with only a few beds left (which I will scrape clean as I plant potatoes) I have no worries there. The onion sets I planted out a fortnight ago are growing away, as are the garlic and shallots. The sweet peas have not liked the cold though and are sulking, I can't cover them with plastic as they're attached to last year's sunflower stems left standing as their supports.

Under cover I've finished hand-pollinating the potted apricots and moved onto the peach and nectarine flowers.

As threatened I've hacked back all my surviving tropical shrubs - the guavas' woody stems being saved to smoke jerk dishes (gives an authentic Caribbean flavour otherwise unobtainable) and their old wood was then brushed over with soft soap to thwart the perfidious mealy bug. The plastic was then washed - it's amazing how much dust, dead flies and spider droppings can build up over winter on every surface under cover. My tunnel's outside sheet may last another year but my inner one, now fifteen or more years old, is brittle and ripping to pieces so replacing that's a job for this summer. The inner sanctum, a bubble plastic tent, has been sorted with dead and damaged plants repaired or evicted.

The winter cold was so intense only a few pineapples have emerged unscathed, and I've lost all my coffees, pawpaws and passion fruits. Still this has made space for my young tomato and pepper plants which have been moved in thus freeing up room in my 'propagator' for the current batches of seed; more tomatoes, melons, sweetcorn (to grow on in buckets under cover), basil and other tender crops.

The sweet potato slips have been detached from their parent and are growing away nicely, the peanuts are good little plants and I have my first cucumbers. Admittedly their fruits are so far only an inch or so long but they're there - I'll be eating cucumber sandwiches by the end of the month!

Grow your own - trendy gardening

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Pippa Greenwood Pippa Greenwood | 14:50 UK time, Tuesday, 15 March 2011

grow your own

I'm not one to follow most trends. If there's a new plant that has become a 'must-have', then there's a good chance that I'll not be finding space for it in my garden....and there's also a distinct possibility that I will be unlikely to be recommending it to gardeners I come across, broadcast to or write for.

So why all this obstinacy? Quite simply, a trend is not worth following unless it is worthwhile.

But there has been one trend in recent years that's really proven its worth. It's grown and grown and seems to show little sign of stopping.....and I'm a full-on dedicated fan.

That trend? Grow Your Own, often fondly abbreviated to GYO. It is great, useful, fun and certainly well worth the effort!


There is nothing better to do in the garden than grow veg, fruit and herbs and it seems that there are millions who feel the same. Most seed companies I talk to report a steady increase in veg seed sales over the last few years, and ready-grown veg plants too have taken off.

And the great thing is that it is getting easier and easier to find out more about growing your own food. Kitchen gardening even has its own high-profile garden show these days: the new Edible Garden Show, at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire from 18th to 20th March, is dedicated to the edible things you can grow or produce in your own back yard, from veg, herbs and fruit, to hens for eggs and bees for honey.

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Compost for 99p, fruit trees for £1.99. Is there a catch?

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Kevin Smith Kevin Smith | 08:30 UK time, Sunday, 13 March 2011

cheap bedding plants

If you're anything like me, it's likely you've recently made an enormous shopping list of all the plants and seeds you need to buy over the coming weeks. It's one of my most favourite tasks of the gardening year and, being somewhat of a control freak, I like to split my list into sections - veg seeds, flower seeds, bulbs and tubers and perennials etc etc. You get the idea.

Of course writing the list isn't nearly as exciting as the shopping itself. I always aim to have a bit of a strategy, and I've dabbled in several different shopping approaches over the years including buying everything from one place regardless of cost, shopping around for bargains, buying from only local nurseries and trying and do everything online. I've yet to find the winning formula.

This year, things have been a bit different because I've been at home (rather than chained to a desk in a London office for eight hours a day), and I've had time to really investigate what's on offer. And do you know what? You can buy plants, seed, compost and no end of other garden gubbins from virtually anywhere. I am amazed. Supermarkets are the biggest eye opener, with certain chains of German origin offering bare-root trees and roses, seeds, plug plants, canes, compost, cold frames, string and tools - you name it, they've got it. They're all at it though, with better-known supermarkets of UK beginnings also getting in on the act. But it doesn't stop there - I've seen seeds and plants for sale in department stores, petrol stations, pet shops, markets, farm shops and DIY stores. There seems to be a lot of places to choose from these days.

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Garden news

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Sally Nex Sally Nex | 08:10 UK time, Saturday, 12 March 2011

butterfly on an echinacea flower

In the news...

A call to arms this week from the RSPB, which believes if we all did our bit for biodiversity things wouldn't be in such a sorry state. Their 'Stepping up for Nature' campaign asks everyone to help birds, bugs and beasties somehow, whether it's setting up a school wildlife garden or letting nettles grow in a spare corner for butterflies.

Despite last year's International Year of Biodiversity the news seems unremittingly bad sometimes: this week it's adders, lizards and slow worms gradually disappearing from our countryside.

Gardeners are in the front line in the fight against species loss. Slow worms hide in our compost bins, our hedgerows shelter hedgehogs, and our flowers are rich nectar sources for bumblebees and butterflies. So if you garden with wildlife in mind, pat yourself on the back - and squeeze in an extra log pile for the toads.

Also this week: never mind pumpkins, how about giant lemons? Students at Wiltshire College hope the massive fruits on their 38-year-old lemon tree could bag them the world record currently held by Israel with a 5.27kg (11lb 10oz) monster. And yes, it is possible even in rainy old England; a 4.8kg fruit from the Wiltshire tree held the record for 14 years until 2003.

Elsewhere on the web...

Monty Don

Monty Don

At last! After months of speculation and anticipation we got our first peek behind the gates of Monty Don's Herefordshire garden in the first of the new series of Gardeners' World last night. Oodles of snowdrops, rose-pruning and apple trees, plus the return of Rachel de Thame: expect blogs to be buzzing today as the nation's gardeners deliver their verdict.

The hunt for Britain's national vegetable is on: BBC2's Great British Food Revival put the case for cauliflowers this week, and next week Masterchef host Gregg Wallace argues in favour of the humble spud. Personally, I'd go for peas: but parsnips, Brussels sprouts and kale have a pretty good case, too. What do you think?

This week's good listen: the work of botanical artist Barbara Everard celebrated on BBC Radio 4's Womans Hour (15m 50s in), ahead of an exhibition at the RHS London Orchid Show next weekend.

And this week's good read: garden design legend John Brookes on the age-old schism between designers and gardeners. About time they stopped arguing and got on with making good gardens, he says: hear, hear.

Out and about...

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Veg vs flowers - the showdown

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Philip Turvil Philip Turvil | 14:38 UK time, Thursday, 10 March 2011

My delphiniums are worried. With so many new grow-your-own-ers, it seems flowers are being left behind. Vegetable seeds continue to outsell flowers by up to 70% for some suppliers, pushing petals to horticultural sidelines. Images of freshly plucked lettuce are everywhere.

veg beds and growing flowers

veg beds and growing flowers

On many levels, this is wonderful. Growing food offers important life skills, from children all the way up, and brings together unlikely communities, as Chris 'The Tomato Man' Kimberly discovered at his London estate. GYO helps globally, supporting the many Transition Towns around the country preparing for peak oil, and mathematically, towards eating your five a day for a healthier diet. My wallet feels healthy too as it saves a few pounds.

But delphiniums are opinionated flowers. Not to mention their woody counterparts such as Ribes and roses, looking longingly over the fence at the veg patch.

I manage a food skills training programme, and have begun suffering 'dramatic pauses' of late before remembering the name of a flower variety. I have, of course, sought immediate comfort in the herbaceous border, refreshing my memory with my notepad and photo collection.

But do flowers risk becoming too low profile, their benefits overlooked by gardeners in a generation inspired by books on growing veg written by Jamie Oliver and Carol Klein?

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Edible flowers, bike rides and a self-watering polytunnel

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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 10:51 UK time, Monday, 7 March 2011

aquilegia and honesty

aquilegia and honesty

Those brief, rather brilliant moments of spring have been a blessing, but blink and you miss them. I caught yesterday's burst of afternoon sun riding a bike across London. Despite all the petrol fumes you could catch that waft of spring in the air. Pussy willows glistening in Hyde Park, buds fattening in St. James's, violets in flower around the base of horse chestnuts and the sun blinding as it bounced between glass-fronted buildings (surely architects should consider such things?). I like the way manhole covers turn golden on such afternoons. It was a jolly ride, but I would rather have been in the garden.

And even an afternoon away and things have moved on. Those brilliant soft greens of new leaves that suddenly appear all over the place (mostly weeds but still it's growth and sign of things moving on). I am most impressed with aquilegias at the moment. That dusky purple hue on the underside of new leaves and they way the rain catches into pearls nestling in the middle. These, Martin Crawford of Forest Garden fame writes, are edible. I eat plenty of the flowers, but am a little wary of the Ranunculus family. It has some of our most toxic plants in it. Think of Monk's hood, a plant so poisonous that it can kill you, though it was used as a painkiller in the past (the pun being quite literal perhaps?) or hellebores, all of which are pretty toxic.

Orychophragmus violaceus

Orychophragmus violaceus/Chinese violet cress

But aquilegias are edible, Martin assures us, as long as you don’t eat leaves with mildew on. He doesn't explain why, perhaps its self-explanatory, they are hardly going to taste nice when diseased. I take a tentative nibble of the fresh young growth, the only bit you can eat.

They taste green, a hint of cabbage, a little sweet, entirely pleasant in fact and well worth adding to a salad. They look pretty too. My other salads are getting back into gear. The sorrel is in full swing, the land cress, winter lettuce, purslane and that divinely pretty February Orchid/Chinese violet cress/Orychophragmus violaceus are all merry. I've been supplementing them with the first new growth of dandelions from the parks and watching avidly as the nettles reappear. I can hardly wait to eat nettle risotto again.

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For sale! One low-maintenance garden

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Kevin Smith Kevin Smith | 08:20 UK time, Sunday, 6 March 2011

We put our house on the market a few weeks ago. It's the usual story - we haven't got quite enough space, we'd like to be closer to a good school for our daughter and, high up on the list, we'd like a bigger garden. Of course, this wish list is exactly that - a wish. The housing market is totally stagnant in Westcliff on Sea, Essex and we've only had one viewing in the six weeks we've been for sale. Somehow, I think we'll be staying put.

Kevin Smith's 'low-maintenance' garden

But let's pretend we are moving, and that we've had masses of viewings, because that gives me lots to say about my garden. First of all, and this is something I guess we all know, estate agents do not understand a thing about gardening. The particulars outlining what our house has to offer describe the back garden as 'commencing with a paved seating area with low-maintenance shrubs and a raised fishpond'. What a complete load of old rubbish. I told the agent, Scott I think his was called, that the garden was anything but low maintenance but he seemed to think that no lawn means no effort. There's no lawn because there are lots of plants. A lot of plants that need a lot of effort. I do have a raised fishpond, and I do have a seating area, so I'll concede there.

Of course, Scott didn't venture outside in his shiny suit and pointy shoes to take a proper look at the 'low-maintenance shrubs' he describes, and if someone does buy our house expecting a low-maintenance garden they're going to get a shock come the summer. The copious herbaceous plants, giant gunnera, even more giant tetrapanax and the towering arundo donax will all spring to life, transporting the new owners to Jurassic Park in no time at all.

raised fish pond

Of course in reality this won't happen, because I'm going to dig up all of my plants and take them with me to my new garden, leaving the new owner with nothing but a gravel path and bare borders. Ha, that'll teach Scott. I think there might be rules that say I'm legally bound to leave my 'low-maintenance shrubs' where they are, but as I don't have any of those I reckon I'll be fine. And I'll leave the pond and the seating area, meaning I'm fulfilling two thirds of the deal anyway.

massive pot

But can I be bothered with the faff? How on earth will I begin to lift and pot up countless plants from the ground, not to mention move several huge containers, a massive potted olive tree and an equally massive potted trachycarpus? There'll be loads to do indoors, and I can't imagine my wife will take too kindly to me diving into the garden every five minutes to dig up a few plants. And will I need an extra removal van just to shift them all? If so, how much is that going to cost? And will they all survive the move anyway?

It's probably a good job we've had zero interest. The thought of shifting an entire garden, low-maintenance or otherwise, is enough to put anyone off moving.

What are you experiences of moving garden? Have you got any advice to share?

Garden news

'Songs from the Machair' by Colin Campbell

Image by Colin Campbell. Go to for more information about International Garden Photographer of the Year.

In the news....

Could you be harbouring the new Japanese knotweed in your garden? Have you just bought a modern-day giant hogweed at the garden centre? It might sound improbable but a report by plant conservation charity Plantlife says nearly 100 commonly-grown non-native garden plants could be thugs in disguise.

That oxygenating Canadian pondweed we've all got in the pond? Potentially as damaging as water fern and floating pennywort - both garden escapees and costing millions to extract from waterways.

Skunk cabbage, cotoneaster, crocosmia and holm oaks - all could be destructive on an epic scale, according to the report. Many have already jumped the garden fence and are playing havoc with native wildflowers. If you've got one in your garden, don't let it get away: Jeremy Torrance at BBC Nature has tips on keeping them in bounds.

Also revealed this week: the remarkable pictures taken by the country's best garden photographers which made the finals in the six categories of this year's International Garden Photographer of the Year competition. Winners revealed on 3rd May, with an exhibition at Kew shortly afterwards. A true feast for the eyes.

On TV and the web...

Kate Humble's trip around the aromatic world of spices, The Spice Trail, has been a real treat. This week, the last in the series, it was the beautiful tropical vines that produce vanilla, and saffron - perfectly possible to grow in your back garden, though you'll need to hand over most of your patch to gather enough to flavour your supper. Pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves were also on the menu during the series, though as Emma Cooper mentions in her blog, pepper is the only other possible for trying at home. If you've missed it - catch up here.

And not long to wait now... the new season's Gardeners' World begins this Friday, 11 March, surely the most-anticipated series ever. The nation's gardeners will be itching to see inside Monty Don's garden gate in Herefordshire for the first time: letting the viewers in was a condition of his return, he told the Radio Times and the Daily Mail this week, in between sharing some typically forthright opinions about Spencer sweetpeas that have set the horticultural industry and the messageboards seething. Not one to pull his punches, our Monty: this should be an interesting season.

Out and about...

Fans of The Land Girls will know all about their legendary dungaree-clad enthusiasm as they did their muddy bit for the war effort. But women were growing their own long before: Lady Eve Balfour, co-founder of the Soil Association was an early organic pioneer decades before the Second World War.

Land Ladies: Women and Farming in England, an exhibition at the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University, looks at girls gone gardening from 1900 to 1945. As a taster, here's Anne Diamond's chat with assistant curator Ollie Douglas for BBC Radio Berkshire (1hr 16 mins in).

If you need reminding that spring has sprung (and with the sub-zero night-time temperatures, who doesn't) visit one of the many gardens celebrating their first flowers of the year. The intimate Courts Garden in Wiltshire has crocuses, daffodils and violets, and in Scotland there's a guided tour around Logan Botanic Garden in Dumfries and Galloway as the first flowers emerge from their winter sleep.

Count crocuses at the Westonbirt Arboretum in Gloucestershire for their Spring Colour Watch which started yesterday; and if you're quick, you can bag a place on the spring flower photography course tomorrow at Barnsdale Gardens in Rutland; practise your new-found skills in the lovely gardens afterwards.

Oh heaven! The garden's starting to bloom

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Bob Flowerdew Bob Flowerdew | 14:29 UK time, Thursday, 3 March 2011

Daphne odora aureomarginata

Daphne odora aureomarginata

Oh heaven, my divine Daphne odora aureomarginata has started to bloom. The first tiny clumps of waxy reddish violet flowers with white throats are pretty enough but it's their scent, heavily aromatic and citrus - almost addictive and which on warm days perfumes my front garden.

My Chimonanthus, Wintersweet is fading now, the Cornus mas is past full bloom and the sheets of crocus are less intense under the hazels whose cakins hang brown and limp. More glorious is my winter honeysuckle which on warm days is being visited by a few honeybees so some are still around.

My Mahonias, I've several self-grown specimens, are bursting with huge masses of fat blooms as are the winter Viburnums, all really is rather glorious. Even the weeds are blooming with red dead-nettles, abuzz with early humble bees, the blue speedwells and the yellow celandines. I've many clumps of sweet violets, so lovely to smell, (I adore them, add petals to salads and make a liqueur).

It's all such a picture. I've seen a number of ladybirds sunning themselves and a brace of pigeons cooing in my walnut tree. But March often turns around and ends bitterly cold again. Anyway it's been mild; my soil has been workable so I've planted out the last of the garlic sets, 'Flavour'; and 'Sicilian Red', some shallot sets, 'Longor' (amongst my strawberry plants) and two beds of onion sets. All of these were previously rooted in wee cells so they could be easily popped out into dibbed holes. It was noticeable how 'Jet Set' were nowhere near as well rooted as 'Sturon' sets. And also how much root was formed by all before the top had grown at all. Indeed we often accuse the birds and worms of pulling out sets; but under cover in their trays of cells I've watched sets push themselves up and over on stilt like roots.

My first indoor potato plants, 'Rocket' and 'Dunluce', are looking good and have been moved, doubled up, into big tubs of compost. The gooseberries and strawberries I brought under cover are now in leaf and the first gooseberry flowers have appeared. The apricots in tubs under cover are blooming and I've pollinated them by hand with an old shaving brush But conversely my early tomato and pepper plants are not moving very fast yet and the cucumbers are unusually slow, almost miffy - think I'll feed them some warm nitrogen rich water as their compost could be a bit thin.

I've also been tidying dead wood on my citrus. Most have come through the winter better than expected but the Kumquat has been slaughtered by cold, mould and mealy-bug so it's now been more coppiced than tidied. I have to tackle the guavas next as they look rather haggard and the custard apple too - especially as I want more space for the Strawberry guava which proves the more productive, and tasty, of the bunch. Indeed I've had non-stop fresh fruits on this since last autumn.

What's happening in your garden at the moment? What's making you swoon?

Bob Flowerdew is an organic gardener and panellist of BBC Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time.

Organic? Who cares! Eat more veg!

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Jim McColl Jim McColl | 17:04 UK time, Tuesday, 1 March 2011

It is a fine morning, after an overnight frost and we have a good day in prospect but I am down in the dumps! Last week's 'Which' report on organic vegetables and subsequent comments in the Sunday press brings back all the angst about what is going wrong with society in regard to our attitude to fruit and vegetables.

mixed veg

In my view, from a Scottish perspective, we should be encouraging people to EAT VEGETABLES - any D********D vegetables, ‘organic’ or otherwise but I get the feeling that in some ways fewer vegetables are being consumed than when I were a lad! That should be the main concern. Having been born in to a ‘working class’ family our main meal of the day was at lunchtime – 12 noon and 1pm. We would have homemade soup, main course and pudding. The main course consisted of meat or fish, potato and one other vegetable.  We only ever saw chicken etc or a second vegetable on special occasions.  The staple vegetables were brassicas, peas, beans, beetroot, carrots, turnips, swedes, parsnips, onions, leeks, parsley and with pulses many included in soups – all fresh and available according to season. The first time I experienced meat, potato and two veg. served every day, was when I spent some time ‘in digs’ and ate with the family on a Berkshire farm. It was there that I tasted Runner Beans for the first time and I was 24 years of age! I've loved them ever since!

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