Gardens Archive - FEBRUARY / MARCH 2007
2006 was certainly a difficult year for gardeners and growers! An extremely late start to the growing season with frost continuing on into may. It almost seemed as though we went from winter to summer without a spring, then we had record high temperatures later in the year, this made a very short growing season though it has in some way been compensated for, by the fact I am still harvesting in January such as American land cress, corn salad, the winter kales, chards and salad burnett. It has though been mild enough for the cress’s and mustards and many others to continue being sowed and harvested outdoors. Grass has continued to grow right through into January, though it has been far too wet to cut.
Many spring bulbs such as iris and crocus are already in flower though snowdrops and aconites, which you would expect in January, are not! All very confusing.
Our 2-year period of conversion to organic is almost complete and though I have always gardened organically to become certified as organic and advertise as such you must complete two years of rigorous inspection to qualify.
The regulations on organic fruit have recently been extended from 2-3 years so it will be another year before our fruit produced at Northcote qualifies for advertising as organic.
Many of the varieties I have added over the last few years should start to produce reasonable quantities of fruit, though we are always at the mercy of our ever-variable weather.
What looked like being a bumper crop of North American blackberries was thwarted by an extremely wet and sunless August, as was a good crop of strawberries by the lack of sun and cold weather just as they are ripening in June. Gardening is not an exact science, its all about knowing your plants, where they originate from, how the grow, what they need to thrive and adjusting to our ever more erratic weather.
Our outdoor black grapes looked earlier in the summer as if they would struggle, due to the late start to the growing season but sufficient sunshine and settled weather late in the year produced an exceptional crop of over 120 bunches from 1 vine.
The additions to our existing fruit varieties, I have planted over the past few years, Mira belles, blueberries, jostaberries, dessert gooseberries, morello cherries, quinces and white currents that have all established well, though the mulberries are slow to start cropping.
So hopefully you will be sampling some of them in our restaurant in the future along with the vast range of salad leaves I am growing and such exceptional flavourings such as lemon verbena, one of natures true wonders!
The number of varieties of edible plants we grow on site at Northcote now exceeds 150 and I have already to add many more this coming season including numerous varieties of radish including one type you eat the seedpods not the root.
Radishes have sadly become synonymous with the single variety you find in your local supermarket they infact come in all shapes, sizes, flavours, colours, there are the summer types everyone is familiar with but there are also many winter types from eastern Europe and Asia which are more reminiscent radish flavour.
As mentioned earlier the variety munchenbier you eat the seedpods. Flowers and seeds of edible plants are often neglected; the humble nasturtium is all-edible being closely related to watercress. The leaves have a distinct peppery flavour, the flowers in a multitude of colours add a splash of colour to a salad and the seeds can be pickled.
Our native British herb sweet cicely has that distinct aniseed flavour to its leaves and stems but its fresh green seeds area revelation and quite addictive if you are a fan of aniseed, much tastier than any aniseed flavoured toffee.
Grow the herb borage, which once established will self seed itself in your garden and you will be able to add the sky blue cucumber flavoured flowers to your salads, there is also white flowered variety I grow at Northcote but the blue flowers are more striking and distinctive.
All the many varieties of rocket, I grow eight at Northcote have edible flowers, one of the problems growing rocket is that if it is allowed to get dry, even briefly it will stop producing leaves and flower profusely.
All plants strive to produce seed to continue the next generation and any stress to them will induce seed production to ensure survival.
Personally I prefer the taste of the flowers to the leaves, but why not have both; they have a sweet nutty peppery flavour and range in colour from white to bright yellow.
Brighten up your salad with blue borage, white and yellow rocket and red nasturtium!
Everyone is familiar with lettuce and it is sadly often only used as a garnish, the ancient Egyptians considered it an aphrodisiac!
The number and range of varieties of lettuce is vast, we are all familiar with the mass produced iceberg and cos varieties lacking any real flavour, and the ever popular mixed bags of leaves in our supermarkets, but grow some of the northern Italian varieties which re grow after harvest and you will have flavoursome fresh leaves for most of the year.
Lettuces are not difficult to grow as long as you have a moist soil high in nitrogen. Lettuce seed will not germinate below 55 ° F and above 70 ° F soil temperature so as long as your soil is moist and rich and not too hot or cold you will have no problem.
Seeds of Italy sell a huge packet of seeds for £1.20 of mixed varieties enough to supply you with leaves all summer. Many of the oak leaf and coloured continental varieties are very decorative, fill a window box or hanging basket, plant some in your borders, pretty to look at and edible and if they get too big make them into soup!
At the Chateau of Villandry in France they plant carpets of them in a multicoloured patterns reminiscent of a Turkish carpet.Hopefully this year the weather will be more settled though predictions are for an even hotter summer, if so we will just have to prepare for it and adjust what we are growing, gardening is all about continually trying different varieties and seeing what grows well in you area!
Head Gardener Northcote Manor