Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Veg Talk

Redbor Curly Kale F1 is not only delicious, hardy but decorative too. Just one of a surprising amount we have currently in the veg garden. OK, its a mild winter, we have hardly had a frost yet, but even so, I'm always pleasantly surprised about just how much choice we have at this time. The 'hungry gap' I think of as May and June, after all the last year's stuff has bolted/been eaten/died but before the current year's produce has really got going.  
Leeks are the hardiest winter veg by far, This is Sultan F1, I think. Modern varieties are good as they are more likely to be rust-resistant , and if you like to eat the green bits where most of the vitamins are a rust-resistant variety is essential.
Another good kale is Ragged Jack, but known as Russian Red,and probably a lot more, a good old open pollinated variety, very good when small as well, so arguably a more versatile plant.
Surprisingly good last winter (down to -16C) was Georgia Collard Greens (front), a traditional variety from the American South which are better than any British spring greens variety, but difficult to get here. Oprah Winfrey once mistook Hostas for  them but that's another story. At the back is Mizuna, which survives quite a bit of frost. We have enough of the stuff to feed Tokyo.

 Swiss chard is looking a bit manky, and its not the world's most exciting vegetable, but stays productive through the winter, especially in this mild weather. Far better than spinach at keeping going from one year to another.
Winter is an easy time in the veg garden - very little to do and surprisingly, plenty to harvest. Paradoxically it can be a more productive time than May or June, when last year's crop has finished but before the new year's has come on stream.

Traditional brassicas usually sit out winter well, although in last year's -16C we lost broccoli and cabbage, even famously hardy kale. Softer-leaved oriental stir-fry greens can survive cold well, and in mild weather, like this winter, can carry on growing. Which is not necessarily a  good thing, as they may start to bolt. Which is the curse of these high-speed greens. Once one mizuna pushes up a flower stalk you know that the rest will soon follow. A new winter crop for us is Raab, an Italian hi-speed broccoli, producing small heads a couple of months after flowering, and needless to say going over quickly, but in the winter ours has continued to produce decent little heads for a few months now; leaves have a nice mustardy flavor too. Good stuff, but a bit hard to get hold of - a good reason to save your own seed if you get any.

Only failure has been Chinese cabbage, which is always a nightmare, sow it too early in the summer and it can bolt, sow it too late and it doesn't grow enough to head up - which is what happened to my lot this year - boo hoo!

Still chomping, baking, roasting, souping etc etc our vast pile of Uchiki Kuri squash, the only variety which does here at 500ft (130m) in the Welsh borders, its from Hokkaido which has a very short hot growing season, and it thrives in our long, cool one.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Wolfgang Oehme RIP

Wolfgang Oehme, one of the most important figures in recent North American landscape, has just died. He was one of those people who achieve great things despite being, well shall we say, very eccentric. Autistic basically. Let's face it, they are not always great company but so often it is the extraordinarily focused and utterly obsessive and anti-social geniuses who have moved human history on, despite being exasperating and maddening to deal with as people.  The worst lecture I have ever been to was given by Wolfgang - it was so bad it was almost performance art.

Wolfgang got his deep understanding of plants  in his native (east) Germany where he trained in the tradition of pioneer plantsman Karl Foerster before emigrating to the US in the late fifties. There after a number of years working as a landscape and garden designer he met James van Sweden. The rest is history. It was an extraordinary partnership - between the extrovert James, trained as an architect and not only a superb designer but also a very good businessman and Wolfgang who knew about plants, and not a lot else. Plants which were reliable and deerproof and everythingelse the Washington DC suburbs could throw at them proof, was just what US landscaping needed back in the 1970s. Without Wolfgang there would have few alternatives to grass, more grass, more grass, and the limited number of boring shrubs which the US landscape industry was using at the time. The fact that the US landscape design profession has broken through to its very dynamic and much more plant-orientated present was given an enormous boost through Wolfgang's knowledge.

The Elysian fields will no doubt be planted up with lots of Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' and Calamagrostis x acutiflora. One of my favourite stories about him was him going round to a client's garden and noticing that some impatiens had been planted in the middle of one of 'his' borders. Pulling them out with his bare hands the told the client "this is not your garden , this is my garden". I think most of us in the design profession have felt like doing  that occasionally.

Here's a proper obituary

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Hadspen Garden - The Archive

Part of the Red Border at Hadspen, (c) Clive Nichols Photography

Hadspen House Gardens were, from 1988 to 2005, one of the most talked-about gardens in Britain, and one of the most passionately loved. They had been known before, it was where Penelope Hobhouse started gardening, and after she had left for Tintinhull, when two of the gardeners took it over, keeping it open to the public but letting it sink into a genteel decline, and trying to run a nursery at the same time. Which is when I first discovered it. One of those really romantic secret garden places - go through a door into a sheltered world, of embracing walls, clambering roses and other climbers, sprawling borders, down at heel, a garden taking over the running of itself. It was a kind of a ruin, there had been greenhouses, and vegetable beds and now there were tenderish things taking advantage of the shelter and the south-facing aspect.

The next thing I heard that a Canadian couple, visiting on a tour of English gardens, had heard that it was up for a rent, as a garden+nursery, and stayed, bunked ship, leaving their almost-grown-up children in BC. They had fallen in love with the secret garden, and had taken it on as a business. The next few years saw their reputation grow. They were unusual, clover, skillful, imaginative, disciplined gardeners who worked with color. They were also both so good-looking (which shouldn’t matter, but it does, as we are dealing with something of a myth here, and in myths it always helps if the heroes and heroines are drop-dead gorgeous).

Nori and Sandra had a theory, about how men and women seen color differently, that women have more cones in their retinas. and so see color with more detail, they can see differences that men can’t. I don’t know whether this has ever been tested, but it is certainly true that more men are color-blind. Sandra experimented with color combinations and Nori refined them, specializing in single-color borders. The garden magazines loved them. They were just the right people at the right time. Their work with color was just so thoughtful, so sophisticated. 

Hadspen’s reputation spread. It became one of the most discussed gardens in Britain. Needless to say they did a book, with pictures by Clive Nichols, but it seemed sadly inadequate - it needed to be much longer (Nori had written far more, but it got edited out). Then, in 2005, with grand-children back home and Nori needing a hip replacement they left. The garden was stripped by the local gardening ladies (by invitation of the owner Niall Hobhouse). The rest of the story is well-known. Niall got  a bulldozer in and announced a competition for a gardener/designer. Which nobody really won, and the garden just became a sad empty space. No decision made. Yet. I suppose one day it might be.

Recently though, we have launched ‘The Hadspen Archive’ to try to encourage as many people to send in pictures or other anything else which enables us to do something about documenting this remarkable garden and what the Popes learnt there. Other people will want to carry on from where they left off, and it would be nice if new garden-colorists could have a record of what they
did. If you've ever been and have pictures, we'd love to hear from you.

I am now Tweeting on @noelk57