Even if you have only a tiny garden you can give your meals a touch of luxury from time to time simply by growing a selection of useful plants.
- Uncommon fruits can be ornamental as well as edible, but first consider the special likes and dislikes of the plant. Make sure whether there is any reason why it might be unsuitable for your garden. Think, too, about why it is uncommon. For instance sweet cherries are seldom met with in gardens because there are no dwarfing root-stocks yet and they make large trees which cannot be protected from the depredations of birds. But cherries can be kept small by growing them in pots or by training them against a wall and restricting root growth.
- Some fruits are rather an acquired taste. Into this category come the medlar, the mulberry and the quince, all of which have merits as garden trees provided you have the space for them. Quinces, for instance, are easily grown in ordinary garden soil in sunny open positions or against a wall. Varieties include `Meech’s Prolific’ and `Vranja’, both ripening in October.
- Some fruits have become unpopular because of a reputation for being difficult. This is probably true of apricots which so frequently suffer from die-back. The intro-duction of new varieties from America (`Alfred’ and ‘Farmingdale’) may, how-ever, overcome this objection.
- The strawberry-raspberry, or raspberry-strawberry, Rubus illecebrosus, is occasionally grown. A sub-shrubby, creeping plant, 15 inches tall, with red fruits, 1 inch or so long, sweet but insipid, it requires no special conditions.
- Some fruits are still uncommon because they are comparatively new. Such are the thorn-less blackberries and thorn-less loganberries.
- A number of other less usual berry fruits which can easily be grown include blue-berry, boysenberry, Japanese wineberry, king’s acre berry, lowberry, phenomenal berry, veitchberry, Worcesterberry and youngberry.
- The blueberries now being grown are cultivated varieties from an American species (Vaccinium corymbosum) related to our own bilberries (or `blaeberries’ or ‘whortleberries) of the moors. Blueberries have the great merit of succeeding on wet, very acid soil.
- The garden huckleberry still remains an uncommon fruit although it is as easy to grow as any common vegetable. How-ever, although the berries are remarkably sweet, they possess little flavour.
- Where glass is available the possibilities of growing uncommon fruits are greatly extended. Even a few cloches can enable delicious dessert grapes to be grown, and an unheated greenhouse can allow you to enjoy Chinese gooseberries (Actinidia chinensis).
- Try if you can to set aside a patch for unusual vegetables. These will add zest to your meals. Beans deserve special attention since they are useful in so many ways. Some are decorative. There is a section devoted to these and to peas.
This is Brassica juncea, which resembles spinach. The leaves ate eaten raw or cooked. Sow seed at any time between April and July. Thin the seedlings to 1 foot apart. Like Chinese cabbage, the mustard tends to seed in hot, dry weather. Okra or Gumbo (Hibiscus esculentus) An annual growing to feet and needing warm greenhouse conditions. Sow in pots in gentle heat in March. Plant out at 18 inches apart. The yellow flowers are followed by the edible, tapering seed pods which are harvested when still soft.
The potato onion (Allium cepa, var. aggregatum) should be grown as shallots. The (Egyptian) tree onion ( A. cepa, var. viviparum) is a perennial growing to a height of 4-5 feet. Raised from bulbs planted 1 inch deep and 18 inches apart between November and March. The plants need supports. Bulbs are formed on top of the stems which ultimately reach a height of 4-5 feet. Welsh onion, A. fistu-/osum, may be raised from seed or by plant division. Plants make large clumps resembling chives which the young foliage may replace in soups and soft cheeses. The stem bases are used to replace spring onions in salads and for flavouring cooked dishes. The Japanese bunching onion is similar. Rocambole (sand leek), A. scordo-prasum, produces underground bulbs resembling garlic but somewhat milder. Plant cloves 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart in March. Lift and store as garlic, keep in a dry place as for onions.
Scorzonera or Black Salsify is delicious. The flavour is very delicate and much appreciated by gourmets. The long, narrow, straight, black skinned roots need a good depth of light soil. Seeds should be sown quite thinly in 1-inch deep drills in April. Allow 15 inches between the rows. Thin the seedlings as early as possible to 12 inches apart. The roots are ready for use from October. Great care must be taken when lifting them. Damaged roots are liable to bleed. The whole crop may be dug and stored in sand.
Salads are always acceptable. Grow those that are seldom if ever on sale for real luxury. For instance, for winter grow the watercress-like Land or American Cress which at one time was known as Belle Isle Cress.
Land cress, American cress or winter cress (Barbarea praecox).
Sow at any time between August and October in /-inch deep drills. Thin the seedlings to 6 inches apart. If possible give cloche protection in winter.
Purslane (Portulaca oleracaea).
A low growing herb producing leaves for use in summer salads. Sow out of doors in early May and thin seedlings to 6 inches apart. There are green and yellow forms.
Rampion (Campanula rapunculus).
A biennial, to 2/ feet; sow rampion seed in May, and thin seedlings to 4 inches. Lift roots in November and store in a frost-proof place, or leave the roots in the ground and dig them when wanted. The young leaves may be eaten as a salading.
Globe Artichokes (Cynara scolymus)
These plants are very ornamental; they grow to about 5 feet and produce large flower heads which are gathered just as the scales are beginning to open. The flower heads are boiled and the fleshy portion at the base of each scale is eaten together with the base of the flower. To grow these plants well the ground must be deeply dug and manured. Plant the off-sets in the spring at least 3 feet apart each way and choose a sunny position. Keep the plants well watered during dry weather and mulch the beds in the spring. The beds should be renewed about every three years, so it is a good plan to detach off-sets from the parent plants every spring and make a new plantation, discarding any beds that are over three years old. It is important to protect the plants in the winter by placing some bracken or other protective material over them in October. If the soil is too heavy or wet they are liable to rot in the winter; the ideal is a sandy loam.
Seed is another method of propagation but a slower one. Seed should be sown in an unheated greenhouse or frame in March or outdoors in April. As soon as the seedlings can be handled, transplant them and transfer them to their final quarters in the following spring.
Although not commonly grown, this hardy biennial vegetable, known botanically as Tragopogon porrifolius, is no more difficult to cultivate than the parsnip which it resembles in shape and flavour. It is grown for use as a root vegetable, and for the young shoots appearing the spring following a year after sowing. The flavour of the root is considered more delicate than that of the parsnip and salsify is referred to as the vegetable oyster.
Sow seeds in 1-inch deep drills, a foot apart, in deep, moist soil during April. Thin the seedlings to 8 inches and hoe to keep down weeds. In a very dry season watering is beneficial, to prevent the plants running to seed. Good roots are around 9 inches long, and 2 inches wide at the crown. Leave them in the soil and dig as and when required from mid-October onwards. In very cold areas, it may be better to lift the crop in November and, after cutting off the foliage, to store the roots in sand as for carrots.
In the south, sweet corn seeds may be sown out of doors in May. Choose a sunny position and in areas exposed to gale force winds in August, provide a windbreak. The soil should have been well dug and dressed with dung or garden compost. These organic fertilisers not only supply plant foods but assist in providing good drainage on heavy soils and in retaining moisture on lighter ones. Sow the seeds 1 inch deep in rows 15 inches apart. Several short rows are preferable to one or two long ones. When the plants are grown in compact blocks wind pollination is more effective.
In other parts of the country, sow two or three seeds in 3½ -inch pots in the cold frame or under a cloche in early May. Reduce the seedlings to leave one strong plant in each pot. Set the plants in the
No summer is complete without straw-berries. Imagine having so many that you can serve them in great bowls full and still have enough to preserve or freeze!
It is of the utmost importance to start with disease-free stock and one should purchase from a grower with a good reputation to maintain. Where possible one should buy from a grower who has been given a Ministry of Agriculture ‘A’ Certificate for his stock and will quote the number. Unfortunately not all varieties are eligible for the ministry scheme and in such instances one can only patronise growers who have gained ‘A’ certificates for their eligible varieties in the hope that they may be equally careful with their non-eligible stocks.
Although the strawberry is of wood-land origin, the modern fruit requires all the sun it can get. On the other hand, the site for the strawberry bed needs to be sheltered, for cold spring winds can very seriously check growth. The garden sloping gently towards the south, unshaded but sheltered, will yield the earliest crops.
Although strawberries may be grown in most parts of Britain, late spring frosts may be a limiting factor. This can be quite a local problem and if your garden lies in a frost-pocket there is not much you can do about it except to be ready to give some kind of protection with cloches or plastic to plants in flower or to sidestep the difficulty by growing only the so-called perpetual-fruiting types, removing the first trusses of blossom and concentrating on late summer or autumn fruits.
Strawberries do best in a rich medium loam with a high humus content. Well-rotted leaf-mould is an excellent material to incorporate in soils deficient in organic matter, but any other decayed vegetable matter can be used. The site needs to be well drained. Heavy clay, peaty and very light, sandy soils should be prepared well in advance of planting time. Soils with a very high lime content are unsuitable for strawberries.
Strawberries are usually planted in beds, the rows being 2 ½ to 3 feet apart, the plants 15 to 18 inches apart in the rows, according to the richness of soil. One reason for early soil preparation is that the soil should be firm.
Summer-fruiting strawberries may be planted either in the late summer to early autumn or even in the spring, provided that in the latter instance all blossom is removed the first summer. The earlier plants can go out, the bigger and stronger plants they will make their first year – so, if you can obtain plants so early, plant in July, August, or even September, but October is late.
And to complement the strawberries, what about a dish of peaches? Look around for some protected place where you can grow a bush or two.
Bush peaches are hardy in southern England; the protection of a south or south-west wall is needed further north. Nectarines invariably are grown on walls. Both fruits need abundant sunshine and crop to perfection under glass.
Frosty sites are unsuitable as the trees flower in February or early March, and wall trees should be protected with Hessian or Tiffany at night, though this should be removed by day to allow pollinating insects access to the flowers. Although both fruits are self-fertile, hand pollination ensures a full set. Fan trees, however, often set an excessive crop and the fruit-lets should be thinned progressively so as to leave peaches at one per square foot and nectarines at one per 9-inch square. Give copious waterings while the fruits are swelling. Leave the crop to ripen fully on the tree, and check daily for ripe fruits by palming off – finger pressure causes bruises. They should be used promptly, for dessert, bottling, canning or jam making.
The wonderful thing about growing one’s own fruit and vegetables today is that it is such a simple matter to use those that are surplus to immediate requirements. Almost any can be deep frozen. If you have a young family you will be glad to preserve and conserve both fruits and some vegetables. Others can be dried. Many can be stored untreated.