I find it hard to get excited about growing vegetables. I’m gardening on sand, grit, stone and sand. It takes teams of horses crapping their hearts out, to supply my garden with a little goodness. A million chickens clench their cheeks at both ends, in order to extrude a few pellets of poo for broadcast around my dusty patch. After all of the hard work with fertiliser, weeding and harvesting, I end up with a foodstuff that’s good for me. Calories are scarce and they are my basic measure of flavour.
You can grow a courgette in a trough made out of two bisected trellises, nailed together to make a square. Fill the container with garden refuse and then top it off with finished compost. The warmth from the rotting vegetation below will get your plant away to a flying start. Push nasturtium seeds in the sides for a spectacular style statement. I don’t like courgettes and I particularly don’t enjoy marrow, which is what they turn into if you take your eye off them for a moment. Why do I go to this trouble? I just like telling people that I have a hot box. This year, the wooden framework is looking somewhat shaky. My husband, Attila the Gardener tells me that I have box rot.
I have tried potatoes, beans, peas and all of the usual suspects. I estimate that I paid twice the amount that it would cost for the crop at the local supermarket in seed, fertiliser and failures, although smug pride is a delicious condiment that doesn’t come in a jar. Now I grow artichokes and asparagus for looking at; God help anyone who tries to eat them. Ornamental alliums are happy in dry conditions and the obelisks that the climbing beans left unscaled are now home to white perennial sweet peas. The vegetable plot has never looked prettier.
How about fruit? Now you’re talking. Grow grapes in a sunny patch but get a good variety. Mine grew from an un-named cutting; they perform well but the seeds are only marginally smaller than the fruit. By the time that Attila has peeled and pipped them for me, there’s nothing but a tantalising perfume left behind. If you have an established vine, now is the time to pull on your thermal underwear, two pairs of thick socks and three jumpers. They need pruning now, before rising sap makes them bleed. My blackberry is “Oregon Thornless” which makes annual chopping less of a bloodbath. Summer raspberries throng a sunlit fence and I have wall trained red currants which I neglect shamefully and which fruit far better than I deserve.
February is a good time to plant bare rooted trees. Don’t get a cheap plant from a budget shop. You risk mislabelled goods and your sweet little Victoria plum may turn out to be a bitter, mean cooker. In that case, you are going to wind up with a face that could be used to sour milk. Your tree should be with you giving fruit and pleasure for many years, so choose a variety that you enjoy. My apple is a family tree, with early, mid-season and late fruit, all grafted onto one trunk. Check the rootstock; if you will be asking the head gardener to do the planting in the lower orchard, a full sized stock is fine. If you have a normal garden, you may want a dwarfing stock, which will keep the tree to a reasonable size. I have a crab apple for a splash of winter colour and for pollination.
If you are planning cordons, step-overs, espaliers, fan wall training and the like, you want an expert. Do what everyone else does and look it up on Google.