Regular readers of this blog will know that never a year goes by that I don’t say ‘I’m never going to plant outdoor tomatoes again’ – but somehow I can’t resist finding a space for the leftover plants – and each year, just as they are looking at their magnificent best, along comes the blight. On Friday they were fine, then after the bank holiday deluge they started to show the first signs with a few blackened leaves and stems. Rather than leave them to rot, I harvested the lot. There’s a limit to how many green tomatoes I want to eat and in the hope that I can ripen some, I’m trying a little experiment. Vinegar is supposed to have anti-fungal properties, so I soaked them for an hour in a strong cider vinegar solution. I will now put some in a cardboard box with a ripe banana and see if the ethylene it contains can ripen the tomatoes. I’ve never seen the vinegar suggestion and it may have no effect, but its worth a try. I will let you know if it works. Meanwhile it’s fried green tomatoes for supper.
Keith Whiley is a remarkable man. I first saw his work at The Garden House in Buckland Monachorum where he began his experiments with reshaping the land to recreate the natural plant habitats that he has observed around the world. His methods have not been without controversy, partly because they are so labour intensive and partly because his approach is so uncompromising. So when he had the opportunity to buy and develop his own piece of land ten years ago it was the perfect opportunity for him to stretch his ideas and theories to the limit – without the need to please anyone else. What he has done is astonishing – starting with a flat 4 acre field planted with cider apples, working alone with a hired digger, he has gouged out small-scale canyons, created hills and valleys and turned a piece of south-facing pasture into a landscape that includes north-facing slopes, sun-soaked scree and a series of lush natural ponds. In the process of doing all this earthmoving, he has rather miraculously increased the surface area so that it now covers 6 acres.
The adjoining fields show the local terrain
A small copse of cider apples have been retained to recall the garden’s history
Keith’s as yet unplanted ‘canyons’
It is still very much a work in progress, but as each habitat is completed to Keith’s satisfaction, he and his artist wife Ros add the plants. The variety is extraordinary – from cool and calm wooded acer glade to a magnificently floriferous interpretation of South African veldt, everywhere it is evident that there is a master plantsman – and woman – at work.
South African style planting – Keith is not a purist about using only South African plants – it is the effect he wishes to create
Planting on mounds creates the impression of maturity in quite young trees
Mediterranean planting elsewhere in the garden
A series of ponds lead into one another, giving the impression of a stream
Up until recently Wildside has been open occasionally, but it is now closed at least until the end of 2015 while the Whileys house is built on the site (they have been living in a temporary cabin for the past ten years) – and they decide what they want to do with the garden and nursery in the future. Earning a living seems to be of little interest beyond funding the ongoing work in the garden and keeping the wolf from the door, although they are now selling their plants at Alpine Garden Society Plant Fairs which has proved far more profitable than opening the nursery and garden for the occasional customer. I will be writing an extended feature about Wildside in a future issue of the excellent Hole & Corner magazine and will let you know when it is published.
This blue flax lily is useful in a very dry spot at the foot of a wall where it usually remains pretty inconspicuous amongst its showier companions, but this year’s conditions must really suit it because it has produced these fabulous, intensely blue berries. Some sources report that they are edible, but I’m certainly not going to try them!
I gave up growing acanthus some years ago because the leaves become so ugly in late summer when mildew takes hold and finishes of the job started by slugs and snails. On my recent visit to Glyndebourne I was very taken with gardener Dawn Aldridge’s in the Exotic Garden – she cuts off all the leaves and transforms the flowering stems into something much more interesting. This treatment also allows the new foliage to come through unimpeded.
Thompson & Morgan have been doing some research on growing potatoes in containers and have discovered that the deep bags that have been the standard method in recent years (and in my experience rather unsatisfactory) are far less productive than growing a single potato in an 8 litre bag. The confined quarters seem to stimulate many more tubers and save a lot of unnecessary compost. Their vegetable expert Colin Randall took me to see the trial where the bulging bags reminded me of tiny body builders in too tight t-shirts! He obligingly cut a bag open so that I could see the size of the crop and gave me the potatoes to bring home where I weighed them and found that the single seed potato had produced 1.57 kilos of potatoes. It was grown in a multipurpose compost with no further feeding. Thompson & Morgan have plans to market this growing system in the 8 litre bag with the seed potato already in the compost. All that will be needed is to cut the top off the bag and water thoroughly (and regularly) for your own potato harvest. Just perfect for tiny spaces and for showing children where the potatoes on their plates come from.