June 5, 2009 In the Garden

* It is a good time to give the perennial herb garden some attention. Clumping herbs such as oregano, marjoram and mints benefit from being lifted and split up into smaller divisions for replanting. Cultivate the soil well and add compost because they like richer conditions. Mint is best kept somewhat confined to keep its wandering ways under control. You can plant it in a pot and bury the pot. Sage, rosemary and thyme are herbs which grow in dryer, harsher conditions. If your plants are looking woody, leggy and ugly, try taking some cuttings of firm recent growth. They root easily. Apparently rosemary will even put out roots in a glass of water on the kitchen window sill after a few days. If you have an area where it can naturalise, you can sow parsley by scattering the seed onto the ground.

* Keep an eye on the plant shops for fruit trees. One spin off of the current upsurge in interest is the large range of fruit trees now available. We even found a blood orange which we have not seen on offer before (gives the red orange juice often served in Italy which we initially mistook for added food colouring). Don’t delay if you want the biggest selection. All fruit trees like full sun, good drainage and generally all round good conditions including well cultivated, rich soils.

* You can be planting broad beans and winter spinach, both directly into the ground. Soaking the broad beans overnight will speed up germination.

* We are proudly still harvesting fresh corn here. Readers who followed our advice to continue sowing late crops may also still be harvesting cobs.

* If you have box hedges, give them the once over to thin the build up of dead leaves and debris caught in the middle. The fastest way to do this is to blast it all out with a leaf blower or compressed air but you can do it by beating the hedge and raking up the debris. The reason you are doing this is to try and hold the dreaded buxus blight at bay. More air movement and a looser structure slightly reduces the chances of the fungus getting established. If you wish to tempt fate by continuing to plant box hedges, you can direct stick large cuttings into position now. You can use rooting hormone on the cuttings but it is not necessary. However our previous advice stands: buxus blight is here to stay. Look at alternatives for hedging in the longer term.

* We wished we had realised earlier (many years earlier) that green tomatoes are so edible. There is nothing of the poisonous green potato about them and nor do they have to be a special variety to eat them green. The Victory Gardens programme on Sky showed a useful recipe. Slice larger green tomatoes in half and place face down in a single layer. Sprinkle with a dash of olive oil and a dash of ouzo (now we know what we should have done with the souvenir bottles of that drink brought back from Greece) and bake for half an hour until softish. Puree feta cheese with the drained liquid from the tomatoes and make a bed of it in an oven dish. Place the cooked tomatoes on top of the feta, season well and pop under the grill. Serve sprinkled with chopped fresh herbs. Yum.