Now that the weather is (hopefully) warming up a bit it is a favourite time of year for many people. The birds are singing and busy nest-building and there is plenty of blossom about, even though some trees/shrubs won’t be in full leaf for another month.
As well as the obvious cherry we can also see Flowering Currant (Ribes), Forsythia, Pieris, some Viburnum and of course Magnolia. These beautiful trees can often catch you unawares as one minute they look like a bare, dormant tree and the next they are full of showy flowers. Many species flower before their leaves open (e.g. x soulangeana} whilst there are some evergreen species, such as grandiflora. Both of these can be trained up a wall.
You will need a big garden for the larger, showy species such as salicifolia, although they can take a long time to reach full height. The likes of Magnolia campbellii can take up to fifteen years to flower. All is not lost, however, as there are many smaller species. Stellata is a favourite, with fragrant white or pink flowers. Plant this in a sheltered spot out of early morning sun as the flowers can be damaged by late frost.
People often ask why we grow the likes of potatoes, beans and onions as these are easily available in the shops and usually quite cheap. Anyone who grows their own vegetables will know the pleasure of doing so and will know exactly where they came from and what went on them. Freshness is the key and the above – mentioned crops are still our best-sellers.
Some growers often experiment with the more expensive and difficult to find crops and oriental vegetables are becoming more popular now for their health-giving properties. Older varieties are starting to reappear in seed catalogues which is useful for us as a Victorian kitchen garden.
Skirret is seldom seen today although it has been cultivated in Britain since the 16th century. A relative of carrots and parsnips, its flavour falls between the two. Similar root crops that we have tried growing are salsify and scorzonera. Salsify roots resemble a thin, elongated parsnip while those of scorzonera have a distinctive black skin. Both grow best in deep, stone-free soil that has not been recently manured.
Sea kale can also be grown from seed. The resulting plants then develop crowns which can be transplanted the following year. Cover the plants in January as soon as they begin to show signs of growth to blanch the young shoots. We use traditional terracotta forcing pots for this but a large bucket or pot will work just as well. Blanched stems can be pulled (as you would for rhubarb) when they are about 10 inches long.
Graham Richardson, Gardener/Manager