When we reach this stage of the main growing season it is reasonable to make a quick assessment of how our ornamental plants and home-grown crops have performed so far.
Invariably there is the occasional disappointment but this year the positives are already outweighing the negatives. Outdoor plantings of soft and top fruits figure strongly here, and the half-term verdict in that department is – so far so good. Strawberries, currant bushes and gooseberries have done well, and at present we’re trying to keep up with main-crop raspberries. Thank goodness they freeze well.
First they are spread out on trays and spend a day or two in the freezer, then they are bagged and returned to cold storage until required.
We recently had the last of a 2013 batch and they were full of flavour.
The apple trees are carrying plenty of fruits but the Victoria plum has a very modest crop this time. Still enough for our requirements. Most years the branches are bending under the weight of plums and de-stoning fruits for the freezer becomes a marathon task. But every so often, and this year is it for me, the tree decides to take a semi-rest. If this describes your tree, never fear, it will bounce back next year. Generally speaking, plums need little or no pruning after the first two formative years, as you create the future tree shape with secateurs. If pruning is required do it in between late May and early September and leave a clean cut that will heal quickly. Avoid pruning throughout winter because there is a risk of the silver leaf pathogen entering through unhealed wounds. Fruits such as the grape and peach, growing under cover, are doing well. Ours are in a cold greenhouse but friend Alan has some vines in a polytunnel and others outside, not far from the shore at Seaton Point. And yes, although his bunches of grapes are not large, they do ripen.
He could well plant a Peregrine peach tree in the tunnel, cover it with fleece over winter as we do, and pick in mid-July.
It’s a while since we had Brussels sprouts as healthy or advanced as those presently standing tall in the July garden.
They were planted out from small pots, with bounteous roots, in early May, and immediately covered by a fine mesh tent construction that allowed for future growth.
Some early potato crop land is free so it can have a dusting of blood, fish and bone, plus lime forked lightly in, then made firm.
This is in preparation for the purple sprouting broccoli plants presently standing by in pots.
Last year the cabbage white caterpillars absolutely shredded the purple sprouting broccoli leaves to begin with.
The plants did recover after intervention and served us well throughout February and March.
Yes, there will be a mesh tent in place when our white-winged visitors come from overseas. Trust them to be late in arriving when I’m all prepared and looking forward to the challenge.
Potatoes, peas, broad beans, courgettes, summer turnips, spinach and salad crops have all performed well so far.
We ceased harvesting asparagus spears in June and the resultant ferny foliage is now up to eye level. This is good for the future.
The first pick of runner beans will come soon, and the sweet corn cobs are swelling.
So what has underperformed for us this year?
A few shallots started bolting to seed during the recent three weeks of low rainfall, and one or two of the Foremost early potatoes had a touch of scab despite a generous helping of weathered cow manure. On the bright side, the shallots had put on enough early growth, so the roots were eased from the soil and they’re ripening where they grew. Furthermore, the Red Duke of York potatoes are spotless and we’re still digging them.
Where do we start with the flower credits?
Penstemons have been stars of the show and will remain so until autumn. We have a decent selection and they’re such good value for border colour. I’m taking non-flowering stems as cuttings right now. They root so quickly.
Roses are doing well too. I moved an old Cecile Brunner to the back of a border in March with few fibrous roots, yet it has responded with great growth and flowers. The crusader rose (an alba type) is covered in bloom. Whilst in conversation with Alnwick’s head gardener Trevor Jones recently, he told me of a new planting in The Ornamental Garden, near the central holding pool, advising I test the fragrance.
It sits in a parterre planting next to Just Joey, a favourite hybrid tea rose. There I found Chandos Beauty also an HT but with the most stunning fragrance.
Sniff it out when you’re next there and see if you agree!