GARDENING: Thank goodness for some garden normality

When you're living in uncertain times there's a natural tendency to cling on to, even celebrate anything that appears to be near normal, and so it has been in this fellow`s garden recently.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 12:00 am
Pot grown potatoes.
Pot grown potatoes.

Planned Easter vegetable and ornamental treats delivered on time as usual, and not to be outdone, resident perennial weeds raised their heads above the parapet, signalling the start of a

year-long battle of wills. Thank goodness for some normality.

Home-grown new potatoes and rhubarb pie with custard were on the Sunday evening menu, and we raised our glasses to whoever grew the grapes. These two vegetables are so easily cultivated and ready to harvest way ahead of normal cropping time that I`m surprised more gardeners don`t take up the option. No special facilities are required for either of them.

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Once upon a time, many years ago, I grew potatoes near the window in a cold garage and occasionally in a spare room that we couldn't afford to heat. The leaves can even take a degree of frost overnight and survive but will succumb when it`s prolonged.

Rhubarb thrives in such conditions. Indeed, gardeners of yore believed in digging up roots with crowns and leaving them on the surface to be frosted before replanting elsewhere. The forcing of new shoots in this garden is encouraged by lightly filling a large pot with straw and inverting it over a rhubarb patch.

No garden? No worries! You can use any large container to grow a few potatoes or stems of rhubarb. An empty compost bag that`s dark on the inside is ideal. Half-fill it with garden soil or growing medium of your choice and plant into that. Water both as necessary and top-up the potatoes as the foliage develops.

Sometimes gardening`s all fun, then something crops up to spoil it. We cut the first asparagus spears last week, very tasty and harvesting continues until early June. Also enjoyed some leaf lettuce growing outdoors. Then I noticed a patch of ground elder emerging in a mixed border and dealt with it immediately, digging out every single piece of root with the garden fork. Oddly

enough I found the activity absorbing and rewarding because time was not an issue. No appointments and no meetings to attend.

There`s a sense of dismay that our annual horticultural shows have been cancelled and opportunities to visit gardens open to the public put on hold for the foreseeable future. Each year we eagerly anticipate meeting up with acquaintances at the Chelsea, Howick, Warkworth and Glendale shows, but that`s all on hold for the moment. They will return.

Dibleys nursery specialises in house plants and showcases them at Chelsea Flower Show. Their streptocarpus display regularly wins a gold medal and we manage to arrive home with a few new cultivars. This year, undeterred by Chelsea`s cancellation, they`re hosting The Virtual Flower Show UK on Facebook from April 25 – 26 with dozens of the country`s specialist growers and nurseries participating.

`You never miss the water until the well runs dry` is very appropriate when applied to our local gardening attractions. With membership of Alnwick, Howick and the National Trust, such visits become a way of life, but will never be taken for granted again. Thankfully we can keep up to date through their respective websites. After all, the gates may be closed to us but for plants

growing within these attractions it`s business as usual, flowering in season.

Such was the case last week when we viewed Alnwick garden`s brilliant Tai Haku Cherry Orchard on web cam.

The Garden Media Guild is always up to speed in keeping members informed of events, the most recent being an update of virtual tours online. They explain that the National Gardens Scheme has launched an initiative to encourage participating owners to film their gardens for online viewing. These would be accessed via a weekly e-newsletter and social media channels. Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh has created a virtual spring tour of its four gardens, and you can view Hidcote Garden in the Cotswolds or let Sarah Raven give you a tour of her Perch Hill setup. My favourite thing at present is to think of a garden, local, national or world-wide, check it out online and see what`s happening there at present. Give it a try. The world`s your oyster!

Ironically, this year`s “National Gardening Week” begins next Monday (27th April) and runs until May 3rd. In the April edition of RHS magazine “The Garden” they inform us that in light of the need for self-isolation and social distancing, they`ve changed the theme to `keep gardening.` As recent research has shown, the activity is indeed good for our physical and mental health.