Colourful potato varieties on sale in a South American market
The days are getting longer and, despite the most dreadful weather over the last few days, there is a sniff of Spring in the Genus garden, so we have started thinking about our growing again!
February and March are traditional months to start chitting potatoes particularly those early varieties like Orla, Arran Pilot and Pentland Javelin, once the threat of hard frosts has past. Gardeners led the way in maintaining and bringing back some of the many ‘heritage’ varieties of potato that we used to grow in Britain. Before the 1950’s it was quite usual to find tens of different varieties in gardens, allotments and the local grocers. Modern production techniques and the demands of the supermarkets drove the decline to reliance on just a few commercial varieties. Conserving and storing potato genes has become a major concern not just in Britain but throughout the world, as so many people rely on the potato as a key staple in their diets. Collections of old varieties may hold the key to better taste and nutritional characters, but also to disease resistance and the ability to withstand different kinds of environmental conditions. All of this is important in the light of climate change and increasing consumer demand. You'll never think potatoes should be huge, round and white ever again!
It’s the month when resolutions are made and so very many people think about dieting to lose the extra pounds gained over the festive season. A recent survey showed that about 6 in 10 people were planning to shed weight or concentrate on improving their fitness for their New Year promise. The good news for gardeners is that gardening substitutes for diets. Yes REALLY! Getting out there and involving yourself in digging, bending, walking, lifting, planting, weeding, pushing and kneeling makes gardening a moderate to strenuous kind of exercise. Estimates vary according to how much you do of which kind of gardening activity, but gardening for more than 30 minutes can help to lose between 150 and 300 calories. Gardeners will be exercising all the major muscle groups as they undertake different gardening jobs, so toning happens as well of course! Clyde Williams of Loughborough University believes that an hour of heavy work in the gym would use about 700 calories, something that can be achieved by three hours gardening varying tasks. You might even consider a gardening weight loss and exercise routine (Wiki has an example and even Bunny Guinness devised one too ). So, all in all, there IS a reason for getting out into the cold January garden and doing a little bit of this and that for the gardener’s sake as well as the garden.
It’s that time of year again and the search for Christmas gifts at full throttle. Gardeners past enjoyed a now familiar set of innovative products bought as special gifts. During the early 1830’s the first self powered cylinder lawnmower was invented by farmer and textile mill worker Edwin Budding (not far away from here at Stroud in Gloucestershire). He got the idea watching rotary machines cut velvet in the mills. As middle class British affluence grew lawnmowers became the must-have gadget for Victorian gardeners. During WWII practical gifts really came into vogue. Items such as gardening tools, books, bottling jars and seeds were very popular so that people could “Dig In” and feed themselves. In 1942 National Growmore arrived - the first synthetic fertiliser with artificially produced nitrate, potassium and phosphorus in exact quantities and always to hand. Some gardening magazines even recommended a bag of fertilizer as an exciting Christmas gift. In 1972, Texan George Ballas was washing his car at a car wash when he noticed the nylon filaments scrubbing his automobile without damaging his paintwork. He wondered if the same principle could cut weeds without damaging tree bark. The strimmer was born and and became one of that decade’s must-have gardeners' tool.
This Christmas gardeners have a huge array of gifts to choose from. Books, gadgets, tools, and of course the latest innovation is the arrival of technical gardening clothes and performance gardenwear. It’s not too late to buy Genus trousers, gilets and tops for that favourite gardener in your life!
Caroline Donald, in the Sunday Times, picks the best in horti couture to get you outside, however bad the weather
She says, "Genus's showerproof gardening trousers are fantastically practical and comfortable; I have hardly taken them off all week."
With the extended autumn and above average warmth, it has been a little time coming, but we are now putting the Genus garden to bed. The herbaceous borders are being pruned back, weeded, and some plants lifted and stored away ready for next year. The garden here is on an exposed rise that tends to get the worst of the winter wind and any frost that might be about. For us it is indeed the time of year to dig up our dahlias and store the tubers away from the risk of winter frost and cold Dahlias have become one of the colourful late summer stars in the Genus garden. Such a lot of bright blousy colour studding the borders - part of our autumn colour treat! One of our most favourites is Rip City, a strong and easy grower with great black-crimson flowers. We are in the process of cutting down the plants and lifting the tubers which we then leave to sit in a cold greenhouse to dry off naturally, before we brush off the soil, trim and leave to sit in trays ready for planting next year. For many gardeners there has been a rediscovery and return to planting traditional plants such as the dahlia in the last few years. We have written before about garden fashion and gardening trends, and enjoying the beauty of dahlias is one we certainly endorse. Such a varied flower, the National Dahlia Collection based in Cornwall has over 1600 different species and cultivars including open daisy-like flowers through to the most ornate of pompoms. There is a dahlia for every soil and position it seems. Some varieties such as Dahlia coccinea are great for bees too. Considering all the pleasure they bring us, we don’t mind a little work lifting, trimming and storing these garden jewels.
We spoke last year when I ordered my first pair of trousers which have been a revelation. My one concern was whether they would be thornproof... I'm here to tell you that 12 months on they are still going strong, and have not torn yet. Not science-based evidence by any means, but they take a proper beating. I wash and wear them every day during the season, and they have been just great. I'll be investing in a second pair soon.
We have written a number of blogs about how great gardening is for improving gardener’s general levels of health and fitness. Our health and wellbeing though, is not just a physical thing. There are many aspects of our health which relate to less tangible sides of our person. We are body, mind and spirit and none of these areas functions entirely alone; each can affect the other. In the kind of autumn we are experiencing this year, when the conditions have been just right to produce some simply amazing autumn colour, it’s easy to make a connection between garden beauty and that uplifting feeling we get appreciating the sight. Colour therapists would have us believe that each colour, being a specific light wavelength, has a specific energy that can affect the body’s inner vibrations in particular ways. There is certainly some evidence that colour can affect our mood. US scientist Robert Gerard conducted a study that demonstrated how the colour red might stimulate anxiety, and colour psychology is used by business to market products and attract customers. The deep purples and indigos are said to be related to the immune system, the reds our skeletal and muscular system, yellow the digestion and, green the blood and circulation. Whatever the benefits of particular colours might be, there can be no mistake that the autumn show is a great attraction (look at the numbers of visitors to arboretums and woodlands such as Westonbirt and Batsford), and autumn colour in the garden and beyond is good for the spirit.
Just to say thank you for such a speedy turnaround with the trousers, the new size is perfect and will be put to use a week early today in the garden. Any news on a summer version?
Too many courgettes? There are some really tasty ways to deal with the garden glut
Here in the Genus vegetable garden, we have reached the season of the garden glut particularly the courgette, marrow and squash glut. It’s an annual phenomenon, and despite knowing it’s on the way, we still end up being a bit surprised by it!
The big issue becomes what to do with all the fruit that comes off these prolific plants. We enjoy preparing the standard ratatouille type concoction because the results are easy to portion up and freeze for an instant meal another time. There are some other great recipes though. What about a colourful striped, layered vegetable terrine for table-top impact, or some savoury courgette and cheese muffins, or even halting the production of fruit by taking the flowers to make fried stuffed flowers? There are also some very naughty recipes to use the garden glut, what about a rich chocolate courgette cake, or a frosted lemon and courgette cake!?
Time to get busy and creative indoors whilst we wait for the next heatwave.