Archive for January, 2011

It was with great excitement but also much regret that I dug up my Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) today. Excitement, as each plant provides such an amazing haul of these splendid vegetables, but regret, as this is my last plant to harvest this winter, and I will have to wait until autumn now until I can have this wonderful treat again. The name Jerusalem comes from girasole-the Italian name for sunflower and they are indeed a member of the sunflower family. I’m not sure where the artichoke name comes from though, as they bear no resemblance to globe artichokes in either look or taste.

I don’t know why I hadn’t grown Jerusalem artichokes before, but a friend gave me 5 tubers to plant last year, and with no effort at all on my part, they produced a very bountiful crop. They have an exquisite subtle taste, unlike anything else, and can be cooked in many ways. Ok, they can cause a teeny bit of flatulence, but this is a small price to pay for such a tasty dish.

My favourite recipe at the moment is to par-boil the artichokes for 5 mins or so and  slice them into 5mm slices. Be careful not to boil for too long as they will disintegrate if overcooked. Meanwhile fry some bacon in a little oil and when cooked, remove bacon from the pan, leaving the fat. Finish off cooking the sliced Jerusalem artichokes in the bacon fat, add the bacon to the pan again, re-heat and then serve both artichokes and bacon on top of a dressed green salad. It’s a real warm winter delight.

I’m planning to plant many more tubers as I just couldn’t get enough of them this year. As a winter vegetable they are invaluable as they can be harvested for 6 months of the year from October to March, but despite being absolutely delicious, they are not that easy to buy in greengrocers or supermarkets. Jerusalem artichokes can be planted from January until March, about 4-6 inches deep (10-15cm) and 1-2ft (30-60cm) apart in all soils, in an open or shady site. Be warned, once you plant them, they’re almost impossible to get rid of, but I think this can only be a positive thing. They grow to about 6ft (2m) high, so take care as to where you plant them so as not to shade other veg. Fuseau seems to be the main variety available to buy and each tuber will produce about 2-3kg when harvested.

Still going strong at the allotment are Cavalo Nero, a great source of winter greens and a lovely architectural plant to look at and

I’ve been digging up leeks too. They may look a bit tatty at this time of the year, but they still have a wonderful taste and are an invaluable addition to soups and stews or just as steamed veg with a creamy vinaigrette-delicious!

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Now is the time to order your seed potatoes or better still, to see if there is a ‘potato day’ near you where you can get to talk to the suppliers and buy varieties that you didn’t know even existed. Potatoes are listed as 1st earlies (ready in June and always very expensive to buy), 2nd earlies, maincrop and late varieties so you can dig up a fresh crop all summer long and even into autumn. At fairs you can buy tubers in small quantities-especially useful when you only have a small space or growbag to plant them in and you get to see some amazing heritage and heirloom varieties. These following websites will take you to lists of potato days that are being held all over the country in the next 2 months;

http://www.potato-days.net/ and http://www.potatoday.org/potatodays.htm

A variety of heritage potatoes

I’ve spotted a potato day in London on February 27th that I’m going to try and get to. It’s at the Garden Museum in London and it promises 100 plus varieties of potatoes for sale by the single tuber, onion sets, shallots, garlic, Heritage Seeds, fruit trees, rhubarb crowns and much more. Sounds like my kind of fun!

If you can’ get to a potato fair, then there are plenty of online suppliers to order from too. I  ordered some Pink Fir Apple seed potatoes (a ‘late season’ variety who’s delicious nutty flavoured potatoes will be ready to eat in September/October) and they were with me in a matter of days. Impressive! All I need to do now is to chit them. What does ‘chitting’ mean? Chitting just means encouraging  potatoes to sprout before they are put into the ground, especially useful to get early  varieties off to a flying start.

Chitting potatoes

Place potatoes with the end with most ‘eyes’ upwards in egg boxes or trays. Make sure they are placed in a frost free, cool, light position such as a garage or shed with windows or an unheated spare room. If there is not enough light, the shoots will become pale and elongated, which will weaken the potato and be more likely to snap off when planting.
So keep an eye on them, as short sturdy sprout are the ideal. Potatoes should take about 6 weeks to chit and early varieties can be planted out mid-late March and April, depending on where you live in the country.
There are plenty of specialist suppliers online, such as Carrolls Heritage Potatoes and all the major seed suppliers such as Suttons, Marshalls, Mr. Fothergill’s, Thomson and Morgan and Dobies offer a range of potatoes too.

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This time last year I went on a study day at Great Dixter in E.Sussex. It was one of the most enjoyable things I did all year. The next course ‘Preparing Your Border for Spring and Summer-The Practicalities’ is on March 28th.

Head Gardener Fergus Garrett (above) leads the courses which usually run from 10 -4.30, with lunch included and a 10% discount is offered on plants bought in the nursery. On this particular course ‘Fergus will show you how to cut down, split and replant perennials, thin out self-sowers, pruning, composts and working in the rain without ruining the structure of your soil. Essential winter maintenance work will be covered on this very practical orientated day.’ Sounds wonderful and you will learn a lot.

In the meantime, the gardens are open for 2 weekends for a viewing on ‘winter structure and winter interest including snowdrops, crocuses, hellebores and much more’ on Saturday 26th and Sunday 27th February 2011 and Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th March 2011

The course that I attended last year in January was on successional planting-how to have interest in your garden all year round. Here are the highlights of the day for me.

Great Dixter in January

Had a wonderful day at Great Dixter in January 2010. I attended (with friend Lucy, and 8 other gardeners) a day course run by Head Gardener Fergus Garrett on successional planting . The morning was spent  (by a toasty open log fire) listening to an indepth talk on the borders at Dixter, illustrated by 200 slides of wonderful plant combinations-for example; Blue Amiable tulips with Mellow Yellow aquilegias- a riot of colour or Petunia ‘Purple Wave’ and Colchicums in flower together-rich and luscious.

Choosing good plants was another area he talked about. For example, when choosing a blue Geranium, varieties which have a long flowering season (up to 3 months) such as; ‘Russell Pritchard, ‘Mavis Simpson’ and ‘Jolly Bee’ are a much better option than ‘Johnson’s Blue’ which only flowers for 3 weeks.

Lucy enjoying all the expertise that Fergus had to offer

Or making sure that Hellenium ‘Moorheim Beauty’ is deadheaded after it has flowered in July so that come September you will have a second wave of flowers. He stressed avoiding competing  combinations so that plants can live together. For example, a Mahonia looks great in winter, but in summer Clematis triternata rubra-marginata is used to cover it to add more colour to the border. A different clematis, such as ‘Bill Mackenzie’ might overwhelm the Mahonia being more vigorous and having a longer flowering season. Fergus Garrett is passionate about his plants, and all that Great Dixter stands for and the talk was enjoyable,  informative and truly inspiring. Always approachable, Fergus welcomed and answered all questions with enthusiasm before we proceeded to lunch.

Galanthus “S.Arnott” in front of Arum italicum “Pictum”

All work is carried out on boards so as not to compact the soil or to disturb plants

After a jovial group meal in the lovingly preserved house, we were then shown around the garden by Fergus. As we walked he showed us areas where another layer of planting could be added, and described the borders in terms of a series of compartments that all have their own planting combinations.

Cyclmen providing winter interest under a tree and spreading all the way to the back of the border

He showed us areas where Cyclamen were not only planted in waves under shrubs and trees, but also going right to the back of borders, using their leaves to maximum decorative effect now even though their flowers would be obscured by other planting later on in the year.

The long border, full of structure , still with plenty of winter interest.Grasses soon to cut down to make way for spring bulbs to be seen.
The long border still providing plenty of interest in winter
Gorgeous Daphniphyllum macropodum adding colour and texture to the garden. The pink was really arresting.
Effective yet unobstrusive means by which plants are staked at Great Dixter

We spent a couple of hours exploring the borders and absorbing much information, then the day was finished off with a welcome cup of tea/coffee and time to wander around the nursery and to buy some plants.

Lucy and I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable day, going away with tons to think about and a heap of useful information inside our heads, in the notes we had taken throughout the day and in the form of a slide list in which all the plants Fergus had talked about were detailed.

Different course are held throughout the year and all the proceeds go to maintaining and developing the gardens in the experimental and joyous fashion of Christopher Lloyd and Fergus Garrett. Book now!!

Great Dixter, Northiam, Rye, E.Sussex TN31 6PH


tel 01797 252878

p.s. You can also read about my 4 days volunteering at Great Dixter earlier on this year (2011). A wonderful experience.

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