Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Public shame and humiliation

I have to admit it - my tomato crop is a crashing failure and the picture below isn't my crop - just some colour to catch your attention!  I thought I knew all about tomatoes having grown them since I was a kid and produced a crop in my father's greenhouse by the fashionable method of the time - ring culture! I have grown them in various locations over the years, taught tomato growing, even written about them in one of my books! Yes - I should be an expert but it seems I'm not!

When I got my new little greenhouse this year I thought I'd like  a trip down Memory Lane and grow some again. I filled six pots with a good container compost and planted six separate cultivars, everything from cherry tomatoes to beefsteak and in yellow, red and even chocolate brown.  It was a new greenhouse and so no problems with carried over pests and diseases! Should have been simple! Well there have been no whitefly which is a blessing but tomato moth have been delighted to find them and the resultant voracious caterpillars have munched their way through the foliage with great efficiency! The plants rocketed up to the glass and I duly damped down every day to aid pollination but despite this fruit set has been poor. The chocolate brown one is just starting to ripen fruit at roof level which surprised me but on closer examination, I realised there are no trusses beneath this. The beefsteak has been abandoned as it has no fruit at all. Yet another appears to be a bush type - my mistake - so refuses to be trained.

This is my 'crop' - my good friend Tony says they are too close together and I'm sure he's right.

A few rather pathetic fruit

But the caterpillars have already been feasting on them

Could this be the beginnings of blight? If so that's the end of the crop.

And this looks very much like magnesium deficiency, although I have been feeding them with a magnesium enriched feed.

Finally I have a few fruit ripening - despite the poor crop, probably enough for me on my own - I can hardly parcel up tomatoes to Philip in the USA!  So there you have it - my total incompetence at growing tomatoes. I guess I could have lied and fiddled the pictures - I did once photoshop the colour to 'ripen' some tomatoes on a picture for a book but not this time.  Woops another admission - you'll never believe my pics again!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Clumber Park - a real kitchen garden

Having been negative in my last post, I decided I'd better try and find something good to write about and remembered that I hadn't blogged about Clumber Park which I recently visited. I did mention it last year (read here) but only briefly in connection with a race I was running. Clumber Park is now owned by the National Trust, although originally the home of the Dukes of Newcastle. The first house was burnt down in 1879 and rebuilt to designs by Charles Barry (Houses of Parliament and Trentham Park) but neglect over the First World War resulted in its demolition in 1938. The park was left to the people of Worksop by the Duke of Newcastle and acquired by the National Trust in 1946. It has a lake, woodlands, cricket ground and many walks. In its heyday the estate had over 30 gardeners. However the four acre kitchen garden is the area of greatest interest. This is one of a growing number of walled kitchen gardens, that the National Trust have restored to working productivity, no mean feat considering the intensive labour these areas require.

Running the full length of one wall is a magnificent 140m (450ft) range of greenhouses. In here you will find traditional grape vines, peaches, nectarines and figs as well as tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and lots more. It's a traditional production house, planned to supply  fruit and veg for the great house. The central portion is a protruding display area, filled with ornamentals, including lilies and the lovely old Victorian Pelargonium 'Paul Crampel' that must have graced thousands of flower beds when it was first introduced in the late 19C. It was popular when I was a young gardener, then became virus infected but it is good to see clean healthy stock being circulated again.

Behind the greenhouses are situated the traditional potting sheds, tool and fruit stores that would have been essential additions to this horticultural empire in its heyday. The rooms contain various bits and pieces of horticultural memorabilia most of which is before my time although I do remember the tedium of cleaning clay flower pots.

Leading out from the plant house, a broad gravel walk bisects the garden, ribboned by fine double herbaceous borders, stretching, 120m (400ft) through the garden. These are quite impressive and have some lovely plant combinations, made up with big bold blocks of herbaceous.  My only criticism would be the unsympathetic plastic mesh stretched across the borders as plant support. Whilst doing its job with the taller perennials, it was blatantly obvious, hovering over the lower growing species. I guess that maintaining a feature of this size today demands some serious time-saving measures but it's nevertheless a pity that some traditional unobtrusive staking with hazel couldn't have been used.

Fruit is present throughout the garden on its many walls, as free-standing espaliers and fans, as  step-over plants and in every other form imaginable. There are nearly 60 varieties of apple alone and considering the newly planted trees I observed, I guess this number is increasing.  As well as top fruit and soft fruits, Clumber has the National Collection of Rhubarb with over 90 cultivars. How can it be possible that such a basic plant can be so diverse? Some of the fruit is grown in traditional grassed orchard areas, making a lovely contrast to the formality of the trained trees.

These step-overs would require a long legs!

Vegetables are present in abundance throughout the garden, many of which are old heritage cultivars. Its great to see some traditional vegetables like seakale, trench celery, schorzonera and my favourite golden beet.

Throughout the garden there were patches of flowers making the whole experience truly magical. The scent of sweet peas contrasting with the pungence of that lovely old French marigold, 'Naughty Marietta'. Traditionally the family would often have visited gardens and greenhouses after church and before Sunday lunch. Despite being a working production garden, the walkways had to be softened with flowers for such occasions!

So if you are in the area, the park is wonderful for a Sunday afternoon stroll with a highlight of the walled garden. Fruits and veg grown on site are for sale. There are refreshments and a small plant sales area but I admit I got lost and couldn't find it on my last visit - the park is quite extensive at 3,800 acres, so don't lose grandma or the kids!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A mediocre garden

With so many wonderful gardens in the UK, created with love and care and beautifully maintained, we gardeners are really rather spoiled. However there are also those gardens  that don't score a Gold or anywhere near.  One of the problems of being a professional is that we become very critical and are not easily pleased. Earlier today, I visited Doddington Hall near Lincoln. It was not a good day, to put it mildly! Last night, I had suffered from a migraine but having promised to meet my sister, I decided to go ahead with the trip. Wanting a stress free journey, I opted to take the scenic route via Southwell rather than cross Nottingham and take the new A46 - big mistake! The bridge over the River Trent at Kelham was closed, presumably for repairs or roadworks, resulting in a 40 minute nose to tail crawl through the country lanes up to the A616. So much for a stress free journey!

Curiously the left hand wing has five floors whereas the right had side has just three, as the windows would indicate

Some neatly trimmed heraldic topiary

Maybe this and my sister's frosty reception on my late arrival, didn't put me in the mood for garden visiting but Doddington, despite its pedigree going back to the 17C didn't impress! Much is made of the kitchen garden 'restored in 2007 to its former glory with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.' Sadly, there is little heritage about this as its just large blocks of vegetables, grown in production style with all the charm of a farmer's field. It's organic which I suppose is commendable and there were some fine cordon apples and pears on the walls but little to really attract us gardeners. Inevitably the produce is sold in the farm shop alongside 'Pink Lady' apples from New Zealand and other imported fruit and vegetables.

Where's the heritage?

Top marks for well trained cordons

Great to see these patty pan squash

Farmer's field?

The grounds did contain some fine mature trees, a great Catalpa, Indian bean tree, a beautiful Juglans nigra, the black walnut and an impressive Quercus x hispanica 'Lucombeana'. This fine evergreen oak is a cross between the Turkey oak, Q. cerris and the cork oak, Q. suber. It was originally raised by William Lucombe at his Exeter nursery in 1762. William liked his oak so much, that he felled the original tree and kept the timber under his bed so that his coffin could be made from it. However he survived until he was age 102 and the original timber had rotted, so alternatives had to be obtained for his final set of clothes. I originally came across this tree at Reading University, where we had a huge specimen in the Wilderness, along with the similar Quercus x turneri. More details on these oaks, click here.

The Lucombe oak - Gillian and Alan looking suitably impressed

Close up of oak foliage

At the rear of the house there is an extensive parterre, divided into four quarters which do not match, being made of four separate neatly balanced designs. Some of the beds were planted with colourful Chinese asters and soft blue salvias. Other beds contained flag iris, colourful no doubt earlier but tedious untidy plants after their flush of flower. Sadly some sections were just empty soil and parts of the parterre appeared to be badly suffering from box blight. Altogether a rather sorry looking sight!

Excuse the blur - shot from upstairs through 17C glass

Great to see these cottage garden plants

Box as it should be

Box blight - what a curse

Cyclamen hederifolium

Japanese wineberries - edible but limited crop so more of an ornamental and curiosity

Leather horse shoes - for horses used in the 19C to pull original gang mowers

Giving credit where due, the food in the cafe was good but it certainly wasn't a bargain lunch and on this busy day, we had plenty of time to build our appetites waiting for the food! As this was an RHS partner garden I didn't pay for entry, so I guess my criticism is perhaps a little churlish but there again, I always tell you when a garden is good!