In the garden this week: June 11, 2010

Our kereru in the apple tree

  • Tuesday’s bitter cold,  coming as it did after a cold and rainy Queen’s Birthday, was a reminder of why really keen gardeners like to have both a good, weather-proof shed and a glasshouse. A glasshouse makes raising micro veg, mesclun mix and rocket in trays over winter a great deal easier. It also enables you to plan ahead, sow seed and have plants in little pots ready to go out to the garden as soon as conditions are right.
  • Sitting around of a winter’s morning drinking coffee and discussing celery (as we do here), I realised that we have never even mentioned celery in these weekly hints. That is because it can be a very difficult crop to grow well and in the combined experience of growing vegetables here, totalling about 60 years between Mark and Lloyd, both agreed that it is hardly worth the effort for the stringy green stems that result. And if you try blanching the stems to reduce the greening which makes it strongly flavoured and tough, it tends to create a lovely home for slugs. Then leaf diseases defoliate the plants.  We have long figured that it is easier to buy the clean stems from the supermarket when required even if they are hardly organic.
  • If you want the taste and texture of celery at home, celeriac gives the flavour and is a great deal easier to grow successfully.  And Florence fennel or finnochio is a reasonable substitute for the texture (and actually more delicious in our opinion). Both celeriac and fennel also hold very well in the garden, giving a longer season. You can sow celeriac and fennel seed from late August onwards, earlier if in pots under cover. If you want to try celery, you can start it at the same time for summer harvest and follow up with a sowing around Christmas for winter harvest. Treat all three crops as gross feeding, green leafy crops not root vegetables.
  • Plant garlic, shallots, broad beans and the unfussy brassicas.
  • We have a kereru (wood pigeon) which comes in repeatedly to feed from the remnant apple leaves still on our espaliered apple trees outside the kitchen window. There are always tui visible, currently feeding from the early camellias (they need to be simple, single flowers with visible stamens to feed the birds), monarch butterflies are cold but still here and ladybirds are creeping in our wooden joinery to hibernate in the folds of the curtains. We have to take care not to vacuum the ladybirds up when they fall. One of the pleasures of having a garden is the chain of nature it can encourage.
  • Keep an eye on your favourite garden centres to see what new stock they are taking delivery of at this time. It should include fruit trees, new season’s roses, strawberries, all the deciduous crops such as magnolias and cherry trees along with a range of shrubs – all suitable for immediate planting.