Weather’s frightful, garden’s delightful

They say that every grey cloud has a silver lining, and perhaps, so too will every weather-beaten vegetable garden have its bountiful beds.

Despite the scarcity of sunshine, blackcurrants, redcurrants, and raspberries have ripened, and vegetable-growing enthusiasts are munching through an abundance of lettuce, chard, scallions, white turnips, peas, radish, courgettes, herbs, and broadbeans.

It’s reassuring to know that despite the lack of a summer, certain fruits and vegetables grow well and yield, when all other variables are agreeable. As crops mature, check and harvest regularly, ensuring to pick your produce when in its prime, before the slugs, rabbits, birds, and other villains beat you to it.

Much of vegetable growing is trial and error but obviously, with time and experience, you will be hoping for less errors. A multitude of variables such as soil condition, light levels, moisture levels, temperature, predators, plant diseases, garden location, time availability and cultivars sown, have a direct impact on the success or failure of your vegetable plot.

Hence, from year to year, it makes good garden sense to record what is doing well and what is not. Jotting down records of varieties and quantities sown, dates from seed to harvest, pest and disease disasters, and weather conditions encountered is the key in maintaining success.


Strawberries are such rewarding plants to grow and given a good summer, they will produce a bountiful harvest of luscious, sweet fruits within a year of planting.

They also offer the added bonus of producing ‘runners’ after fruiting as a means of propagating themselves.

Strawberry runners are technically known as stolons; a Latin word meaning a shoot, branch, or twig springing from the root.

Strawberries can be grown from seed but these runners will provide new strawberry plants much quicker.

As the new plants are clones of the parent plant, they can be selected for beneficial characteristics such as prolific fruiting or adapting to local conditions.

Never take runners from a diseased looking plant. One strawberry plant may send out several runners and it is important to remove them to prevent your strawberry bed from becoming overcrowded and losing its productive vigour.

Runners tend to plant themselves anywhere and if left unchecked they will grow like a weed.

The simplest way of getting strong new plants is to select runners from a healthy, vigorously growing parent plant.

Choose the runners closest to the mother plant and those that have put on a lot of leaf and root growth.

Extend out the remaining runners and pinch them off.

In order to move each new plant to a new home, it is best to root them into individual pots first — 75cm pots are ideal.

Fill pots with potting compost (ideally a compost/sand mix) and dig a hole, not too close to the parent plant but within the length of the selected runner.

Bury the pot up to its rim, place the runner on top of the compost, and hold the stem in place with a stone, or pin it down with a U-shaped fencing pin or length of wire.

Keep new plants well watered and after a month or so, the plant will have rooted and can be cut from the parent.

The new plants can then be moved into a prepared bed in the autumn and believe me, you will accumulate so many young strawberry plants you will be sure to have enough to share with friends.

Sing a rainbow...

Colour is the most important thing about gardening, not least container planting, Charlie Wilkins reports.

High summer and autumn are the seasons for theatrical containers. At Villa Marie they’re as numerous as the box balls that line the driveway. And because those areas that surround the bungalow to the rear are rather formal in looks and atmosphere, they are dressed with the kind of decoration you might find inside a smart sitting room.

Two large, glazed pots containing the Hosta ‘Gold Standard’ stand in centre stage, while an assortment of others hold sway in the wings.

There is not a month in the gardening year when I don’t use pots somewhere in the garden and over time I’ve collected quite a number with interesting shapes, sizes and colours.

Many are quite large (and now hard to manoeuvre) but it has always been my policy to buy as large as funds would allow (and in pairs whenever possible) for even when empty during winter they add architectural style to the sleeping garden.

While identical containers will add formality and smartness, groups of different-sized pots give an air of colourful diversion that can be continually changed as the plants come and go.

Colour is arguably the most important element in container plantings and in gardening overall. Which shade we tend towards is entirely subjective but intensity is always thrilling.

It is like a squeeze of pure paint, gorgeously undiluted. It is also a good starting point when thinking about designing a container planting.

Bright or subdued, analogous or contrasting, the colours chosen for a container planting (including the pot) all interact with each other.

Whether those colours “work” is entirely up to the creator, as well as the viewer, although some guidelines do exist to prevent you from making commonly agreed-on mistakes.

It has never been a secret that colour elicits certain feelings and emotions, sometimes incongruous. Red may bring out a bit of aggression or at the very least suggest activity. Orange repels some, and draws others to its autumnal warmth. Yellow is often seen as happy and friendly.

Green can put people at ease, implying abundance and life — or indeed bore them with its ubiquity. Blue generally cools but it might also bring to mind clear skies of summer’s long gone. Purple often suggests nobility or sumptuousness.

White is usually viewed as pure and all-inclusive, whilst black may be considered either sinister and foreboding or simple and elegant. Finally, pink feels spring-like and brown conjures the mess of mud or the aroma and taste of chocolate cake.

While you might disagree with these associations, you will more than likely admit that color has the power to elicit very personal reactions. What are your thoughts on the black glazed container filled with bright orange and yellow Coleus? Does it elicit aggression or suggest activity?

Would you copy this scheme for next year or will continue with those fashionable red opium poppies, grandly tousled like some favourite old dress, dropping its seeds in August among the geraniums and around the legs of your silver birch? Anything is possible with colour.


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