The organised gardener

For once I am so organised. Christmas presents for the family were all bought in November and my seed order from Thompson & Morgan has just arrived. I really enjoy growing plants from seed. Each year I order them from the T&M and Suttons catalogues, buy a few locally and collect seeds from gardens and parks as I travel about.

This season’s purchases, as always, include many novelties and new varieties, together with old favourites I have had success with in the past and could not resist.

I am growing many more vegetables next year and that seems to be a general tendency. In our case, we grow them in spare corners in the front and back gardens, but also mixed in with flowers in the borders. I shall be constructing a new fruit and vegetable garden behind the Garden Design Academy classroom, just a small one, and have bought four beautiful raised bed kits in Loire Valley oak from a local sawmill for the purpose. This will be my Big Winter Job.

Tomato : Suncherry Premium F1 Hybrid  We always grow Cherry Tomatoes in the garden and in addition to the unfailingly good Sungold I am trying a new variety called Santonio, with plum-shaped fruits. Last year was not good for outdoor Tom’s, but our plantation of Sun Cherry Premium was a great success. We grow a few Courgettes each year, you don’t need many, usually as a mixture to add interest on the plate This year I am trying BBQ mix; last year we had a good crop from another F1 variety early in the season, but Mildew eventually got to the plants and they had to go.

Sweetcorn : Lark F1 Hybrid  Sweet corn has not been a success here so far despite being a region where maize is grown commercially. I am hoping the new raised beds will provide better growing conditions provided I am more attentive to their need for water. I like the sweet varieties and have selected Lark F1 this time. Lettuces are traditionally grown amongst the flowers and seem to prefer the lighter soil in the back garden. Coloured foliage is always welcome and I have ordered traditional Lollo Rossa in addition to a Romaine type called Chartwell.

Artichoke : Originals  Growing perennials from seed is something we do each year as it’s a wonderful way to fill up a new garden. This is now extending into the vegetable garden with the purchase of a packet of Artichoke Green Globe Improved. I love fresh artichokes and I am determined to have a large clump despite them dying whenever I buy plants from the garden centre.

Climbing Bean 'Monte Cristo'  Beans are not something I do well but I persevere! For the first time since we moved to France we will be trying Broad Beans and have selected an RHS award-winning dwarf variety called Robin Hood. My wife loves to eat them raw. Climbing beans are my ‘bête noire’, always running out of steam before I have harvested more than a handful. I have been growing them on a pergola where a neighbour’s tree, now removed, competes heavily for nutrients and water. Monte Cristo is going to change all that, I hope.

Swiss Chard 'White Silver'  Finally, for a bit of fun, I am intending to grow Swiss Chard White Silver 3, of which I know very little but it was recommended in the T&M catalogue by Alan Titchmarch, no less. In addition I am trying Golden Berries (variety Little Lanterns), delicious and very trendy fruits which I last grew in a greenhouse with great success some 25 years ago. Wish me luck!

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It’s Spring in central France: seed sowing and 700 Pear varieties

Spring is with us without a doubt and we were excited to hear that we may get some rain: we have not seen a sign of it in our corner of France in many, many weeks and the ground is dry. This certainly makes weeding easy and I have been taking the opportunity to spring-clean the garden for the growing season. New leaves and flower buds begin to show in the gardens and countryside as they come back to life and wildlife is responding – the garden is full of birdsong.

I have been up in the loft sowing seeds. So far these include the hardy Banana Ensete glaucum, which I hope to be able to grow and overwinter outside as a couple of others do in the village. Thompson and Morgan’s Flower Of The Year, Sweet Pea Ballerina Blue is finally in the propagator, having soaked the seed over night before sowing in individual pots. We like sweet peas but have yet to grow a really good crop – perhaps this year will be different.

For the kitchen I have planted cherry tomatoes and peppers; Suncherry is described as best in a greenhouse but will have to deal with a warm corner of the garden. We love cherry tomatoes, harvesting and eating them every day in the summer, with wine vinegar, salt and olive oil. I have the bush variety Sungold, to sow from seed, but also coming from Holland as grafted plants. I am looking forward to testing them to see the difference in performance. We have bought several hot pepper varieties, having discovered them a few years ago; I am not a lover of hot food but as with so many home grown vegetables and fruit, they are so much better than the shop-bought varieties. Inferno F1 is sown and two others await.

We are growing several Echinacea varieties in the garden now, so I thought it might be interesting to grow some from seed. We are trying T&M’s Magic Box this year and will see how we get on. A number of Garden Design Academy courses cover the growing of plants from seed but we are currently reorganising the menus to make it easier to find them all from the 70+ now on offer. New sections will include Home Gardening, Parks and Recreation courses and General Horticulture.

A change of subject: during our morning walks with the dog we stop to chat with many people we meet along the way: in the street, on their doorsteps and in their gardens. During one such encounter we were invited in to look at the plot of a man pruning his fruit. It turns out he is an internationally famous botanical artist and grows nearly 700 pear varieties (along with a couple of hundreds apples, a dozen cherries……the list goes on). His pear collection is the largest in private hands and people come from around the world to see them. Central France continues to delight and surprise!