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Archive for October, 2012

I must have known somewhere at the back of my mind that the RHS had sold off one of their two halls in London, and because of this, I have to admit to being a tad underwhelmed with their latest show in Victoria. Having marvelled at the size of the competition leeks, and gazed at perfectly formed raspberries, there were only a few stalls left to visit.

One of these was the wonderful Sea Spring Seeds, who did offer a marvellous display of Chillis with seeds to match, and I did buy a couple of garlic cloves from the Garlic Farm stall, so all was not lost. But I’d have been a bit miffed if I’d travelled for hours to arrive at this lightly populated show.

However, there was an apple tasting stand, packed full of apples from RHS Wisley, and this was the unexpected gem of the show for me. With the help of a very friendly RHS gardening team, I tasted a few of the most delicious apples I’ve ever come across.

Lord Lambourne, a variety dating back to 1907, had it all. Crispish texture, but with the sweetest of flavours and a beautiful warm russet-red, fading-into-yellow colouring, and a wonderfully fresh aroma (plus it’s a good storer).  I brought a few varieties of apples back for a client to taste, and we’re now planning on planting a few Lord Lambourne apple trees as cordons, which will look very decorative in her front garden. This variety, although never seen in the supermarkets, was easy to buy and I’ve plumped for an M26 semi-dwarfing rootstock which should keep the cordon small-ish, but have enough vigour to produce plenty of fruit.

Another supremely sweet apple was ‘Sharon’. However, this is predominantly an American cultivar, so not readily available in the UK. I did discuss with Rebecca Bevan (Fruit manager at RHS Wisley) the possibility of grafting a ‘Sharon’ from RHS stocks, and also started discussing the possibility of apple tree grafting courses at the RHS and creating ‘family’ trees with more than one variety on the same tree. Could I graft a Lord Lambourne, a Sharon,

and a Limelight (another favourite) onto the same tree? Intriguing, and something I’ll have to explore further.

I’m also wondering how a Lord Lambourne would fair trained as a Quincunx and where in the garden could I grow it!

So despite my initial disappointment, the show was an eye opener for me in terms of apples, but I’ll be more vigilant from now on as to the listings of the shows. Next week is the RHS London Shades of Autumn Show, with a big caption under the first image warning that it’ll be held in only one hall. However, offering 20 specialist nurseries this time round, I’ll be tempted once again to make the journey to Victoria.

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After a period in August when I was sadly without home-grown lettuces, I’m delighted to be able to nip out again into the front garden to pick leaves for dinner. My butterhead ‘Merveille de quatre saisons’ (sown at the end of June) and the pointy oakleaf ‘Cocarde’ (sown at the end of July) have been giving bowls of luscious lettuce for a few weeks now, and as the weather starts to cool down, I want to see how these leaves will survive outside without any protection as autumn turns into winter.

I’ve also planted some small Cos ‘Freckles lettuces (sown at the beginning of August) that were so fantastic earlier in the year, to see how their growth progresses and how hardy they are at this time of year. If you haven’t got any lettuces on the go, but still want to have some winter leaves, have a read of Michelle Chapman’s great post ‘A cheat’s guide to salad growing‘.

Waiting in the wings to be planted are some tiny mustard leaf seedlings (planted a few weeks ago). They’re going in the same bed as my Tulips, but I wanted to wait until November to plant these bulbs, so mustard leaf seedlings are getting a bit leggy in their seed trays. The energetic me says plant these on into modules right now and they’ll put on some growth before transplanting in a few weeks, but the lazy me has just left them languishing in their trays. This successional planting can require good timing, luck (that snail and slugs don’t gobble all your seedlings) and above all, effort! I know how much I’ll enjoy having Mizuna, ‘Red giant mustard leaf’ and ‘Green in snow’ to eat in November and December though, so I really ought to get potting on straight away while the sun is shining and the leaves are still on the trees.

P.S. Off to the RHS London Harvest Festival Show this afternoon in Victoria, with the London Veg Orchestra playing from 5-9p.m. Intriguing!

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When in France last Easter, I bought a few wild strawberry plants (or so I thought) at a market stall and was expecting to see small intense berries growing throughout the summer.  In fact, Mara des Bois strawberries are something in between cultivated and wild varieties, theoretically giving you medium-sized fruits from July right through until October. Yes, October! If I’d remembered the name of what I’d bought (I knew it had ‘bois’ in there somewhere), and if I’d done a little research, I wouldn’t be so surprised. But the fact that these berries have just kept on fruiting all through summer until now has astounded me. I’ve enjoyed every bite and have shared these berries with equally delighted neighbours who see what I’ve been up to. Another plus about these berries is that they don’t need full sun either. I just popped them in on the edge of a flower border, under some wild roses. What a find!

Earlier in the year, I realised I had no ordinary wild strawberries, when some of the plants produced real whoppers of berries. But both larger and smaller fruits have had a wonderful taste. Not quite so intense as their wild cousins, but still very sweet, with a slight wild strawberry tang. I’m not sure what took me so long to find out about these late season fruits, but I’ll definitely be growing more next year to elongate my strawberry eating season.

The very friendly people at Pomona Fruits have a special offer on at the moment, so you can order now and plants will be sent out mid March next year. If you have a spare patch of ground (or a window box) and fancy eating strawberries in October, worth ordering now!

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