Katherine Crouch

Gardening

Grow your own wine

I cannot instantly recall a more tiresome spring for raising plants. The frosty nights and dry days of April slowed down seedling growth to near standstill, tender plants like tomatoes suffered when put outside only for the day, then the constant rain and cold of May set the whole season back by a good two weeks.

Wisteria is usually well in flower in the last week in April and this year some of the buds got blasted by the frost, so there are fewer flowers than last year. Worst of all, the vines in Bordeaux and Burgundy got hit hard by the frost, turning emerging buds to powder. To stir up the air, bonfires were lit in the vineyards and army helicopters deployed, but with limited success. The grape harvest is forecast to be the lowest for 70 years, 40% below normal years. The Champagne region was not affected so badly, so civilisation as we know it will continue a while longer.

marigold and nicotiana in Somerset

Gardening

Spring seedlings

The cold weather is finally warming up a little, but the nights are still cold, too cold for my tomatoes to be happy in my coldframes just yet. If I had an unheated greenhouse I might risk it with a covering of horticultural fleece. We are not allowed glass structures on our allotments, and it should be noted that polytunnels are not very frost proof but serve only to raise the temperature during the day, not doing a great job of maintaining it at night.  Many nurseries have polytunnels full of bedding in April, but with frost-stat heaters at night.

orange dahlia David Howard

Gardening

Dahlias for Cut Flowers

My name is Katherine and I am an addict. It is harmless and doesn’t hurt anyone. I am addicted to dahlias and currently all my windowsills are full of trays of my favourites just starting to sprout.

I’ve been clean for 12 years since I grew 40 dahlias in a field and had no end of fun selling them outside my house opposite Donyatt church. I also grew zinnias, cleome, Euphorbia oblongata and golden rod to bulk out the bunches.

I resisted temptation for long enough and had a fix online. JRG Dahlias is my favourite dealer. It is so easy just to keep pressing buttons on internet orders but I have promised myself this habit won’t get out of hand this time. There are hundreds of varieties available. The information is seldom more than a picture and an indication of height. You have to grow rather a lot of them to find which ones are best for cutting.

vegetable garden

Gardening

A rainbow of soft fruit

I promised to write about more soft fruit this month, and it is the turn of cane fruit. It is still too wet for serious gardening. I potter out to look at the early snowdrops in the drizzle and potter back in again sharpish.  I will spend more time planning new varieties of plants for the allotment and home garden. Cane fruit mostly have lax growth that requires either a hedge to sprawl through, or post and wire supports, or a fence to be trained against.

vegetable garden

Gardening

Bush soft fruit to plant now

It has been a funny old year. If you have eaten and drunk too much at Christmas to compensate for the absence of wild family get-togethers…. when you would have eaten and drunk too much anyway…I understand totally.

In 2020 many people turned to gardening in lockdown and are reviewing their successes right now. They have enjoyed growing some of their own food and found the results ranged from superb to maddeningly variable.

an autumn border with aconitums and sedums

Gardening

The Newt in Somerset

In early October I visited The Newt in Somerset, formerly known as Hadspen House, near Bruton. It was bought in 2013 by South African millionaire Karen Roos, and her billionaire husband Koos Bekker. The scope of the development here is so staggering that I spent much of the 3 hours muttering special oaths of amazement and awe, mostly remembering not to when mummies and toddlers came too close.

2020 has been a most trying year. It has caused me to swear a lot more than usual. I am not alone in this; my potty-mouthed child-infested friends report that their language worsened during lockdown. The natural result was that their little angels returned to school with a over-developed vocabulary.

wild flower meadow

Gardening

A plea for insects

In mid-September, early one morning, I drove from Somerset to the Malvern Hills to see a client for a garden consultation and drove home again in the afternoon. It was a still and sunny perfect late-summer day, with a round trip of 240 miles.

When I got home, I observed the windscreen had no bugs on it. Not one, and I hadn’t used the windscreen washer since setting off from home. When I was a child, we would amuse ourselves on long car journeys by speculating which particular bug had met a sudden and occasionally colourful end on the screen.

Gardening

Covid Gardening blues

It’s a miserable wet day at the end of August, and while I am in a more fortunate position than many, living in a nice house with a nice garden in a nice village in the nice county of Somerset, I am getting properly grumpy with Covid restrictions that I am willing to adhere to, and not getting out much. So instead of a gentle piece about the joys of gardening, I will treat myself to a rant. Line the food bin with the page when you’ve finished reading it.

a summer grass and perenneial border with diascia personata and Penstemon Plum Jerkum

Gardening

Aimless August gardening

If there is any time of year to be wandering round the garden aimlessly, it must be in high summer. The evenings are still long, the cold wet misery of last winter is just a memory, yet we shall grumble when the temperature rises above 26 degrees, or below 20, moaning it is too hot to garden or too cool for proper summer. The mad spring rush of sowing propagating and planting is over, and although there is still plenty to do, it is not of a strenuous kind, until it is time for hedge trimming.