The continuing thrill of discoveries old and new

By Richard Wright

Friday, May 16, 2014


The continuing thrill of discoveries old and new

Tomatillo, which can be grown in this country.


IT IS something of a paradox. Gardeners can both be methodical over the years, using the same old tried and tested techniques, and experimental too when it comes to new plants and varieties.

First an example of a product that’s probably been out there for years and completely passed me by.

For many years, I have fiddled about with ever clumsier fingers with bits of twine to anchor fragile sweet peas to canes or to give wisteria branches a clue to where I want them to grow at this time of year.

But twine rots and harsh wire damages delicate new growth.

How much better, then, is simple Tie-Wire.

Those who have discovered it will groan over how long it took me but those who don’t know will thank me.

Two twists — one around the cane and another loosely around the stem — and the job is done.

A thin strand of wire is encased in a really soft plastic casing which won’t damage plants as wire alone would. It’s available for less than £1 for five metres at one of those Newport discount shops and at garden centres too.

One of the experimental plants I am trying this year is tomatillo, courtesy of Christine Williams, from Ryde.

Christine, who insisted I take half a dozen lovely bantam eggs as well when I turned up for the plants, swears by them and wants me to introduce tomatillo to a wider audience.

Mexicans use them in salsa and James Wong wouldn’t be without them — now neither would Christine.

She tells me it is a fruit with a citrusy, sweet flavour contained in dainty, papery husks formed by the calyx.

A member of the same family as the cape gooseberry, it is a distant relative of the tomato and is very productive.

I have grown cape gooseberry and, if it is similar, there will be a surplus.

Select a spot in full sun, with well-drained, moderately rich soil. Tomatillos are lighter feeders than tomatoes and while they are tough, they don’t like soggy, poorly drained soil at all.

Work a couple of inches of compost in before planting, and fork deeply to improve drainage.

It may be a tad late now but worth bearing in mind for next year — tomatillos can be started indoors six to eight weeks before all danger of frost is past.

Harden off indoor-started plants before transplanting outdoors. Set out at the same time you plant your tomatoes, when all danger of frost is past and the soil is thoroughly warm.

They are similar to tomatoes in that they sprout roots from their stems so appreciate being planted deeply.

If planting in a greenhouse bear in mind they will grow 4ft tall and spread out so they will need support.

Two are needed for cross-pollination.

Wonderful plants, generous gesture

A NICE surprise popped through the CP letterbox the other day from Graham Sutcliffe, who was a good friend to my mother and runs the nicest-smelling shop in the world.

He gave me a packet of Oriental scarlet poppy seeds — as it happens, my favourite.

It was to publicise a charity promotion at Easyweigh in Pyle Street , Newport.

Paolo Arrigo, who runs the Italian company Franchi Seeds, which Graham stocks, wanted to do something as a tribute to the fallen in this centenary of the start of the First World War.

He is donating 25p from each packet of poppy seed and red, white and blue flower mix to Help for Heroes. Graham has decided to match that, meaning the charity will get a worthwhile amount.

It is also a good excuse to visit a proper shop.

Message from keen tomato grower

I WAS swamped with enquiries for Queen of Hearts tomatoes and apologise to all those unlucky gardeners out there.

Best of luck growing a taste of Wight to the lucky 18 of you, though.

And, apologies too to an obviously regular customer I didn’t know I had. Each year, especially when the girls were young and willing to prick out legions of tomato plants, I sold — at the garden gate — the surplus. Over the years, I netted a good sum for the Send a Cow charity.

This year, I have been running late and my few surplus plants of Sungold, Moneymaker and a brilliant-sounding T&M hybrid, Rosella, have been devastated by slug attack.

There may be a few, probably in about three weeks, which is horribly late.

To my customer who left me a note spelled out in twigs — 'Y NO TOMS’ — (which made me chuckle) I have kept back one Queen of Hearts plant.

If he, or she, would like to call me during office hours on 522210, ext 146, at least there will be some recompense.

Party to support work scheme

IT IS something I’d do if I had my time over again — horticulture.

I wrote because it was one of the few academic subjects for which I had enthusiasm and that led me here — that and I liked getting out and meeting people, which was what the job used to be about.

Who knows where I would be if I’d had the good sense to take a horticultural apprenticeship, which were legion when I was a lad.

Today, it is a very different world but, thankfully, there are still organisations out there prepared to fund proper horticultural apprenticeships and one such is Ventnor Botanic Garden.

On Sunday, May 25, there is a summer garden party being held at the garden. It includes a reception and tour of the gardens, supper and a silent auction to be conducted by 19th century art expert Adrian Biddell.

He has a connection to the garden through one of his forebears being chaplain to the Royal National Hospital for Diseases of the Chest, which used to grace the location.

Proceeds from the evening will go to horticultural apprenticeships at the garden where under and post graduates are now carrying out research in a new relationship with Portsmouth University.

Tickets are £50 each and can be obtained from Caroline Peel on 872375.

Garden opens after ravages of winter

GRAHAM and Margaret Montrose tell me their beautiful garden, Badmin-ton, at Clatterford Shute, Carisbrooke, is open on Sunday under the charity National Gardens Scheme.

But, boy it has been a struggle to get there after the deluge which hit them.

They say many changes have been necessary due to the flooding and loss of trees. They have made every effort to repair the damage and make improvements. But they do point out all is not finished and visitors should wear stout shoes because some areas remain soft underfoot.

The garden is known for its natural stream and pond — the source of a lot of their bother — but the couple are fantastic plants people and they have set out a one-acre garden of all-year-round interest.

Admission on Sunday, between 2pm and 5pm, is £3, with children free.


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