The future is right now for strawberry plants

Tom Pattinson Gardening pics'Fresh strawberries
Tom Pattinson Gardening pics'Fresh strawberries

Someone asked recently about the wisdom of allowing strawberries to form on young plants in their first summer of existence.

They’d read something that advised removing any flowers that appear in order to build up healthy plants for the future.

Tom Pattinson Gardening pics'Courgettes forming

Tom Pattinson Gardening pics'Courgettes forming

I’ve heard this one several times before and had to respond in the usual way: ‘Be grateful and accept any bonus that nature offers.’

The future is now as far as strawberry plants are concerned.

Within three years of planting, they are already beginning to lose vigour, which leaves them more prone to disease and viruses spread by aphids.

You won’t find any over five years old in this garden.

Tom Pattinson Gardening pics'Peach potential

Tom Pattinson Gardening pics'Peach potential

Runners, the source of new plants, are so easy to come by that they even root themselves if you fail to peg them down in small pots of compost in August.

Assuming a strawberry bed is blessed with organic-rich content, the plants have enough time to build up reserves for the following year once the harvest is over.

You can help by feeding and applying mulch after the general tidy-up.

Ideally, newly-rooted runners should be planted in early October, giving them plenty of time to benefit from the warm autumn soil.

Tom Pattinson Gardening pics'Honeysuckle for fragrance.

Tom Pattinson Gardening pics'Honeysuckle for fragrance.

However, as this year has proved yet again, you can plant in April and be picking beauties during Wimbledon fortnight.

Our new batch of cultivars arrived by post after Easter with bare roots.

It comprised four varieties, six of each held together by rubber bands.

They were planted straight into the prepared bed and, like everything else, were slow to start growing, but around mid-June they really took off.

The first taste came from Christine, which coincided with Rafa Nadal’s exit.

Flamenco and Sweetheart were present at the feast following Andy Murray’s win, but the mid-season Malwina has not yet ripened.

All four cultivars have grown well and are already sending out runners. They’re good value for money, and fulfil the wish to have a quick return for your outlay.

Much as we yearned for a substantial harvest from the young peach tree, over the past two years we’ve limited the crop to around 10 fruits which reached tennis-ball proportions.

Then, after seeing it growing so well and given the unpredictability of the seasons, we agreed to let nature take its course this time.

Apart from dusting the flowers to encourage fertilisation, we have left every fruit that has formed - an estimated 60.

As anticipated, they are the size of golf balls and still growing, but who cares!

With the fragrance of last year’s ripening fruits still fresh in the memory, the taste buds are tingling.

It’s going to be one of those years for courgettes. We only need five plants to keep us going all summer, and one of those remains untouched, allowing them to grow into big marrows.

However, this time, for the sake of experimentation, we’ve had to accommodate 20 plants covering four different varieties.

Five plants of the ever–reliable Defender are there as a control.

It’s the one we normally grow and is being tested alongside a new cultivar (EXP9) as yet unnamed, that will be in Thompson & Morgan’s catalogue next year.

It looks vigorous and already is showing yellow courgettes of finger length and thickness.

Some of those could join a salad or stir-fry right now, but fruits on another yellow variety Parador, are even thicker.

If we don’t use them first they’ll turn into marrows.

The fourth variety, Tiger Cross, is also bristling with green courgettes which, given the name, can be expected to develop a stripe or two.

So harvesting is underway and these plants are renowned for the constant flow of fruits up to September.

The success enjoyed thus far is down to germinating the seeds individually in small pots of compost on the greenhouse bench, then planting them out into an organic-rich soil after the risk of frost had passed.

If you sow the seeds directly into the garden, slugs and snails can eat resultant seedlings faster than they can grow, but young plants with an established root system keep ahead of the game.

Just to be on the safe side, we surrounded most of the young plants with Slug Gone pellets which are based on sheep’s wool and non-poisonous.

They have formed a physical barrier that has not been crossed.

Courgettes anyone!

Hurst’s Greenshaft garden pea is a variety that seems to have been around forever.

It has achieved long service as a favourite exhibition variety, the slender pods consistently revealing 10 or 11 peas when opened by the judge.

Despite the plants having a tall growing habit that demand supports, it is always welcome in my garden for the flavour alone.

Add to this the heavy cropping and it is still a winner.

A double row has just gone beyond the flat-pod stage at which the peas stand out in x-ray fashion against the light.

Now they are swelling and there’s a pause on the daily walk to finger them.

One day soon, I’ll find one fat enough to pop and enjoy the contents.

The summer garden is so full of pleasant experiences, but they’re not all about consuming tasty crops.

A favourite thing is taking a walk among the ornamental plants, preferably early evening, when bats and moths are on the wing.

Forget about the sights for a moment, concentrate on the scents.

What fragrances fill the moist evening air! And you don’t even have to identify whether it’s from honeysuckle, lilac, stock or an abundance of roses. Summer nights are magical.