A new year in the garden

January 30th, 2017 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

With the festive season well and truly behind us the weekends start to free up a bit and there is now a much greater chance of getting the time to get out into the garden during daylight hours. For me the need to work off the extra pounds caused by my fondness for pigs in blankets, adds some incentive to start preparing outdoor spaces for the spring.

There are usually plenty of things that can be done, some more enjoyable than others. I find writing a short list and prioritising what needs to be done really helps me to get on with it and prevents me putting off jobs I might not be so keen on.

Generally speaking the jobs fall into three main categories:IMG_5837_amended 2

1. Finish clearing up. Remove any remaining plants and seed heads that were left to provide winter interest and those persistent weeds that have continued to grow in mild weather. Clear fallen leaves from around perennials to prevent them causing the plants to rot.

2. Preparation. If the ground is workable, dig over any remaining free space in beds and borders and add manure, compost or soil improvers where necessary. Also cleaning seed trays, pots and growing spaces for seedlings. Mulch borders before spring bulbs start to emerge. Weather permitting this is also a good time to divide congested clumps of perennials and replant divisions where there are gaps.

3. Planning. A little bit of planning really does go a long way. Review what was successful last year and what areas need improving. Be bold and make a resolution to change those areas that aren’t working for whatever reason. If you haven’t done so already, decide now what you want to grow and order the seeds. Once you have the packets, their growing instructions will help you to plan out your growing season.

I enjoy finding at least one new thing to grow every year, it can provide a fun challenge and never fails to keep  alive a certain sense of excitement at growing something different and unusual.

It is always easy to find something new in the seed catalogues and those plants that have proved exceptional in previous years become a permanent and often treasured addition to the garden.

Blog by Pim – member of the Johnsons Seeds Team.

Money saving tips for tasty salads….

May 11th, 2016 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

micro gow

Micro-leaves are becoming extremely popular among chefs and foodies alike, as they’re packed with flavour and look great on the plate or in a salad. I love the fact they are also cheap, can easily be grown from seed indoors all year round and can be ready to harvest in just a few weeks from sowing.

A handful of freshly cut micro-leaves will turn a basic salad dish of lettuce, cucumber and tomato into something rather more spectacular. It’s easy to adjust the mix of harvested leaves to create a different salad every day. It feels like a real indulgence as it would cost a fortune to continually buy all these fresh mixed salad leaves in the shops.

Specially designed trays such as the Johnsons MicroGreens tray are a quick, clean and inexpensive way to grow micro-leaves. The seeds are simply sown on the tray insert which sits over the container of water, the seeds will then happily grow until they are ready to harvest and all I need to do is keep the water topped up. After a week or so, when all the seedlings have all been harvested, the tray goes in the dishwasher and it ready for the next sowing. Using a couple of trays, with two different salad leaves on each tray, a constant rotation provides continuous tasty crops, it’s that easy!  snip

I’m currently growing crops of sweet and earthy tasting beetroot leaves and tangy richly flavour rocket leaves, my second tray is ready to go with radish micro-leaves which have a delicious spiciness and my particular favourite Fenugreek, which has a complex savoury flavour, great in a stir fry or I actually just love them in a cheese sandwich!

Now that the weather is warming up it’s also time to begin sowing baby leaves in patio containers, these can be left to grow a bit larger, which takes a little longer but the great pay-off is that they can be harvested as ‘cut and come again crops’. This means they can provide crops for up to a month before the need to re-sow the next batch. Growing in containers on the patio outside the kitchen door they are also very quick and convenient to pick as the salad is being put together.

Any of the MicroGreens leaves work really well for this, as well as many other varieties such as lettuces, rocket, mixed salad leaves and herbs. I tend to sow one large patio container of lettuce leaves and another container with a salad mix, such as Mesclun Mixed a traditional French blend of unusual salad leaves and herbs. I can then use the lettuce to provide the bulk of the salad and adjust the flavours by picking whatever takes my fancy from the mixed container or from the MicroGreens trays on the windowsill.

 

Whatever is going on in the vegetable garden, these reliable easy ways to grow salads indoors or on the patio give us a constant supply leaves for the table. We can see that it saves us money, we love the flavours and it make us feel healthier.

salad plate mesclun mixed

 

 

 

Planning and getting the most from a Cut Flower Garden

March 4th, 2016 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The Cut Flower Garden

One of the great things about summer is having a garden bursting with colourful and fragrant blooms and being able to bring cut flowers into the house to enjoy. From charming little posies to stylish single variety bunches or lush mixed bouquets, we can let our imaginations run riot and create unique cut flower displays to suit every room or occasion.
However it can be hard to decide to cut flowers from an ornamental bed or border, where they look great and may well flower longer than in a vase. We want beautiful displays in the garden as well as in the house! The answer is to prepare an area of the garden especially for cut flowers and to harvest them as we might harvest vegetables. Preferably in an area not directly visible from the house or tucked around the corner from a seating area so that flowers can be removed without it being noticed. They could be grown on the vegetable plot among the other produce growing there. That has the added benefit of attracting pollinating insects and encouraging the natural predators of garden pests.
When planning a cutting garden, the location is the first thing to consider. Ideally in full sun and sheltered from strong winds. The soil doesn’t need to be exceptionally fertile, a liquid fertiliser high in potash/potassium such as tomato feed, can be applied regularly once flower buds begin to appear. However the soil should be dug over well and broken up into a fine tilth which will improve drainage and allow air down into the ground and around the roots.
When deciding what to sow where, consider the final height of the variety, try to sow the smaller plants on the ‘sunny side’ in order to reduce the size of the shadow cast on the plants behind. The tallest and bushiest plants should be saved for the end away from the sun. Space the rows well apart, a little further than the packet might suggest for sowing in a border, this will allow good access for cutting and weeding the rows. Sow thinly and thin out the young plants ruthlessly to make sure each plant has plenty of room to develop.
The flowers should be cut regularly and if any blooms do go over then the dead heads should be removed as soon as possible. This really helps to encourage more flowers to develop for further picking. Preventing the formation of seed heads is essential to get the best out of your cutting garden, this way all the plants energy goes into making flowers.
There range of flowers suitable for cutting is huge and only limited by imagination. There are the fast growing annuals which can be repeat sown two or three times for masses of flowers all summer long, to slower growing perennials that have the benefit of coming back year after year. Most seed packets will state if a flower is suitable for cutting and it only takes a few summers of experience to know what grows well in our particular garden. Don’t forget to include some varieties for dried flower displays and maybe some with beautiful foliage. Some, like sweet peas, for incredible scent and even big blooms like sunflowers and delphiniums to make spectacular giant bouquets. It is usually best to cut flowers as soon as the buds begin to show colour.
Tips for cutting: Read More

Giant Sprouts and Microgreens

December 4th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

It wasn’t even December this year before the first Christmas-related story was being bandied about. “Bumper crop of giant sprouts for Christmas” one national daily headline proclaimed as early as 21 November. The story was weather-related too, and the papers all know how we in the UK love anything on this subject! It seems that many Brussels sprouts, those most unfairly maligned of vegetables, are up to a third bigger in size thanks to a month of higher than average temperatures. Brussels Sprout Nelson F1Lincolnshire is one of our main sprout-growing areas, where farmers are reporting that while sprouts are usually 3cm wide and weigh around 30gm each, this year they are more than 5cm across and weighing in at a hefty 50gm per sprout. And there was I thinking a sprout’s eventual size was limited by genetic factors.

For many years I grew the wonderful, but now sadly departed, Brussels sprout Peer Gynt F1 because I loved the small, tasty sprouts it produced year after year. But perhaps autumns were not so unseasonably mild back then? Mild autumns may be OK in some respects, but I am sure sprouts, and parsnips too for that matter, tasty so much better after a hard frost or two. Apparently we eat 50 million sprouts a year, so plenty of us enjoy them. Of course, the very best sprouts are those we grow ourselves. What is better than having home-grown sprouts, such as Johnsons Nelson, as part of Christmas lunch?

At the other end of the growing spectrum are Microgreens, which produce tasty green shoots in just a Cutting radish after 7 days (Hambidge)few days. Microgreens are almost ‘instant’ vegetables, and it is easy for anyone, including children, to produce their own delicious ‘mini-crops’ in as little as two weeks on a windowsill. The tiny plants have the essence of the mature plants without the more extensive care and maintenance required to grow them. They are perhaps best described as ultra-baby leaf vegetables. I have grown several and these seedlings really add a fresh and punchy flavour to just about any savoury dish – from sandwiches to steaks, stir-fries to soups, or used simply as an attractive and tasty garnish. My favourites include radish and basil.

Well-grown vegetables 2 (Hambidge)How I enjoy reading about research conducted by academic or scientific bodies that reveal what most of us probably know already! The latest work to catch my eye was conducted by teams from the universities of Essex and Westminster. A survey of 269 people in the north-west of England has revealed that just 30 minutes of allotment gardening can help to keep ill health at bay and improve our overall wellbeing. Our mood improves significantly, as does our self-esteem, while stress, anger and confusion diminish after even such a short time in the garden. Could this be the reason we enjoy gardening in the first place? I am convinced it is one of the most therapeutic parts of life.

Making Leafmould in a Topsy-Turvey Autumn

November 20th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

The four enormous Norway maples at the bottom of our garden, which I used to climb as a boy when Norway Maple Leaves 1 (Hambidge)they and I were much smaller, are great when in full leaf through the summer because they provide welcome shade and cool, which both we and our dogs appreciate. At this time of year it is, however, a different matter. They shed their large, pale gold and butter yellow leaves for about three to four weeks, totally carpeting the lawn. As soon as I rake them up, they are replaced in a day or two with even more.

 

This year I am trying to be more positive about this rather unwelcome harvest, and am toying with the Leaf Mould preparation 2 (Hambidge)idea of converting some of the leaves into leafmould. They decay and after 18 months to two years I should have an excellent soil conditioner. Oak, beech and hornbeam make the very best leafmould, but thicker leaves such as those of sycamore (to which the Norway maple is related), walnut and horse chestnut are best shredded first, as they take longer to break down naturally.  A quick way to do this with leaves which have fallen on to a lawn is by running the lawn mower over them and collecting the shredding in its box.

 

The leaves can be put into black bin bags and moistened if they are dry. Tie the top of the bag loosely and spike the bags liberally with a garden fork before putting them somewhere out of sight and out of mind for up to two years. It is a rather long-term project, but I hope the result will be worthwhile when I pull them out from behind the wooden shed. I am told that really well rotted leafmould can be used for seed sowing, but I am not sure I would trust it for that vital function, but I will be perfectly happy if I have something with which to improve my rather poor, light soil in due course.

 

Polyanthus in autumn 1 (Hambidge)There have been several reports in the newspapers recently about the unseasonably warm November we are experiencing, and the affect it is having on plants and wildlife. I love the bold, strong colours of polyanthus in spring, especially the blues and reds. My plants bloomed as usual in March and April this year, and I thought that was an end to them until 2016. Not a bit! After a few weeks rest, they began flowering again in August, and have been in full flower ever since, and still show no sign of fading. I really cannot account for this wonderful display, which is better and longer than the one we enjoyed in spring. I do wonder, though, if they will flower themselves to exhaustion and not make it through the winter.

 

Elsewhere in the country the picture seems to be a similar one. Mallard ducklings have apparently Delphiniums in border 1 (Hambidge)been spotted in Nottinghamshire, hedgehogs, normally in hibernation by now, are still active, while honey bees remain on the wing when they should be resting in their hives. Delphiniums are majestic in early summer, but a commercial cut flower producer in Yorkshire reports she still has them in full flower, as does RHS Wisley in Surrey. It really does seem to be a topsy-turvey autumn. Perhaps a traditionally hard winter will put everything back to where it should be in readiness for next year.

 

Of Garden Centres and Seed Catalogues

November 7th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

I wish I had a pound for every time I had read on the gardening page of a weekend newspaper or in a gardening magazine “As the autumn nights draw in, now is the time to curl up in a favourite armchair in front of a roaring fire to browse through the latest crop of seed catalogues which have been dropping through the letterbox in recent weeks”. Years ago, in the days before garden centres and large DIY stores, gardeners almost invariably did buy their seeds from mail order catalogues, which annually inspired and enthused us with new and improved varieties of our favourite vegetables and flowers.

The seed range in garden centres is nowadays bigger and better than it has ever been, and it is much easier to find unusual, intriguing and the very best varieties in store than it has ever been. I still like to plan my sowings for next season towards the end of the year, and I have recently been deciding which of Johnsons new varieties I shall be growing in my garden in 2016.

 

 

New Variety Images

I always give any new variety labelled ‘exclusive’ a second glance in the hope it really is something worthwhile and an improvement on earlier, similar types. For that reason I shall be trying the new tomato Tomtastic F1, despite it sounding as though it may have been bred by those ageing DJs Smashie and Nicey. Tomtastic is a cherry type, suitable for growing in a greenhouse or outdoors, and requiring supporting and side-shooting. It is said to be particularly productive, and its early-to-ripen fruits have a deliciously sweet flavour. I shall see how it compares to Gardener’s Delight, which was a bit of a flop for me this season, despite my ‘beefsteaks’ being a great success.

 

New Variety Images

Chilli peppers have never been more popular, and there is a huge range to grow from seed – from the gentle to the ‘steam out of your ears’ types. Whether you like them fiercely hot or much milder, when added fresh to a curry they add not only heat, but a wonderful fruitiness – a world apart from simply using a spoonful of dried chilli powder. Johnsons new Mild Jalapeno is claimed to have all the flavour of standard ‘jalapenos’, but with considerably less heat, giving us the best of both worlds. If you prefer something extra-hot, try Bhut Jolokia, also new for 2016, and said to be one of the hottest in the world. You have been warned.

 

New Variety Images

From the ultra-hot to the cool as a…cucumber La Diva, an all-female strain, which is said to have such excellent cold tolerance it can be grown outdoors as well as in the greenhouse. The long, smooth-skinned fruits are succulent and with a good flavour. It certainly sounds a versatile newcomer, and one which I hope to try.

New Johnsons Jekka's Herbs

No one knows more about herbs than Jekka McVicar, so I was pleased to learn that, in conjunction with Johnsons, she has now launched her own range of seeds, all individually chosen by her. Lemon grass is an important ingredient of many far Eastern dishes, but I have never grown it before. I shall be putting that right next spring, when I sow seed from Jekka’s range. A native of the tropics, it can be grown outdoors during a British summer, but it will need frost protection during winter. I’m really looking forward to growing this one.

 

New Johnsons Jekka's Herbs

Borage was one of the first plants I ever grew, but was never sure what to do with it. Nowadays I realise the star-shaped blue flowers are de rigueur in Pimm’s (other summer cups are available), and the leaves can be added to salads; they have a flavour reminiscent of cucumbers. It is not always easy to find seed of borage, also known as ‘bee borage’ because it is such an attractant, but now it is in Jekka’s range I shall take a walk down memory lane and grow it again next summer. Cheers!

 

Plight of the Pumpkin, Gnome and Honey Bee

October 23rd, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

You can tell Hallowe’en is on the horizon – and not just because the shops are full of ‘spooky’ outfits for children, cakes with scary names and all manner of other associated merchandise. At the heart of Hallowe’en is the good old pumpkin, with flesh scooped out to make the traditional lantern, so

4.1.1

unnerving stories about this vegetable are starting to appear in the press. “Pumpkins could run out at Hallowe’en” warns one headline. Suppliers are saying that the poor summer weather we experienced this year has resulted in halved crop yields. Heavy August rains meant many pumpkins started to rot before they matured.

Apparently around 10 million pumpkins are grown commercially in the UK every year, but this year they could be in short supply. Forward-thinking fans of Hallowe’en will have been growing their own lanterns of Johnsons Rocket F1 or Racer F1 in readiness for the end of October.

But all is not lost on the pumpkin front. Cambridgeshire grower Steve Whitworth is growing a white-skinned variety from the USA called Polar Bear F1. His crop of ‘snowball’ or ‘ghost’ pumpkins has grown larger than he expected, with many reaching 20in across, and they will be offered this autumn by a large supermarket chain. Seed of this orange-fleshed strain is not easily available in Britain at the moment, but I wonder if this new type will prove popular on this side of the Atlantic? We shall see!

Gnomes are, of course, the Marmite of the garden world. We either despise them or welcome them warmly. I confess I am in the latter camp because I think they add a touch of humour. It would seem IGnomes in winter quarters am not alone in my affection for these jolly little ornaments. A Home Office study reveals that the number of items stolen from gardens, such as gnomes, chairs and tools, is higher than thefts of credit cards or jewellery.  Property taken from gardens accounts for nearly 10 per cent of all items stolen. I suppose this may be due to the fact we are usually less security-conscious in the garden than we are in the house, and small items such as gnomes can disappear easily. Ours spend winter in the shed to avoid the worst of the weather, and the sooner they are indoors the better, it appears!

 

While opinion may be divided on garden gnomes, most gardeners welcome beneficial insects such as honey bees and bumblebees on to Snowdrop (Hambidge)their plots. I am pleased to report that the British Beekeepers Association (www.bbka.org.uk) has declared that Sunday, 25 October is the start of National Honey Week, marking the end of the beekeeping year and the honey harvest. Bees have been having a difficult time of it recently, so anything we gardeners can do to help them has to be good.

 

In the weeks ahead, keep a look-out for honey bees on winter-flowering shrubs like mahonia and Honey bee on crab apple flower (BBKA)honeysuckles. We can all do our bit to help the bees. For example, there is still just time to sow seed of hardy annuals to flower early next summer and plant spring-flowering bulbs such as snowdrop and aconite. Small trees such as crab apples and sloes (blackthorn) are good choices to attract bees, as both are rich in nectar and pollen, helping the insects to build strong colonies in spring. With a little thought, it is possible to have plants in bloom from February to October, helping to sustain a healthy population of bees.

The Mediterranean Diet – A Bittersweet Experience

October 9th, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

What is it with me and the Mediterranean diet? I have to admit that, on balance, I prefer good old BritishRocket Runway food! I really do wish I liked pasta, but in my opinion, it spoils a perfectly good spaghetti Bolognese. Red sweet peppers are fine, especially baked with a savoury stuffing, but I do find that while they are green they have a bitter edge, which I know some people love. Similarly, endive and chicory have a bitterness which others find really refreshing, although I do appreciate rocket, especially Runway, with its rather sharp, peppery flavour, and enjoy the unique ‘zing’ of basil with beefsteak tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.

 

Olives are a staple of the Mediterranean diet, of course, and to my mind they have an air of sophistication – rather like a grown-up version of a grape! I have had an olive tree growing in a terracotta pot on my warm, sheltered patio Olive Tree (Hambidge)for more than 20 years. It is reasonably ornamental, but in all that time it has barely borne a flower, let alone a fruit! That does not really concern us, as the tree was a gift and neither of us likes olives. Come to think of it, I have never actually come across anyone in the UK who has an outdoor olive tree which bears fruit.

I do, however, enjoy growing and eating tomatoes. I may have said it before, but Johnsons Big Daddy F1 has Tomato Big Daddy F1 406gm (Hambidge)performed fantastically in my greenhouse this year. I have never grown a bigger or tastier crop of beefsteak tomatoes – or had so many ripen naturally. It really is a superb variety. We’ve made it into soup, ratatouille and sauce for pasta, and it is the perfect complement to basil. Friends tell me they have had great results from Big Daddy this year too. If you have not grown it, I urge to find space for it next year.

As someone who is not too keen on bitterness in my vegetables, it seemed like a good idea to me when plant breeders started reducing the level of it in some fruit and vegetables, and making them more palatable. Now an article in the August edition of New Scientist magazine suggests I should perhaps reconsider. Marta Zaraska writes “On the face of it, reducing bitterness in foods sounds like a great idea. But there is a catch. The same chemicals that make fruit and veg bitter also imbue them with many of their health benefits. When scientists talk about the healthiness of green tea, dark chocolate, red wine or broccoli, much of what they are talking about is due to bitter chemicals called phytonutrients”.

Brussels Sprout Brodie F1 2I have never been keen on the bitterness of many Brussels sprouts, and as a child I hated them. This tradition continues with today’s youngsters, of course, although several modern hybrids are certainly more palatable than the varieties I found on my plate in the past, so perhaps it’s not as difficult as it once was to encourage children to eat their greens.  But surely if a vegetable has a milder taste people will eat more of it – and even with a reduced level of phytonutrients that has to be a good thing. We all know we should eat more greens!

Sweet Peas…and Sweet Cyclamen?

September 18th, 2015 | Colin, Uncategorized | 0 Comments

As many annual flowers start to fade and look a little tatty, have you ever considered that late September and early October is actually a good time to start thinking about hardy annuals for next summer’s display? Many are well suited to an autumn sowing, and none more so than the good old Sweet peas in a container 3 (Hambidge)sweet pea. Despite the exotic appearance of those ruffled blooms, the plants are hardy, and will usually pass through the winter unscathed with just the minimum of protection to produce an early show of colour next summer. Seed sown in early October will produce seedlings which can be kept in a cold frame or unheated greenhouse before being planted out next March.

This year I grew sweet peas Arthur Hellyer, Alan Titchmarsh and Charlie’s Angel. In addition to setting plants up a trellis, I also planted some in a large container and a ‘wigwam’ of bamboo canes for the first time ever. Both sets of plants grew well, but there was really not enough room for the ones in the container to flower as well as they should . It was also difficult to tie in the plants in order to support them, while the ones planted by the trellis were able to climb naturally and flower well. The idea of the wigwam was appealing, but I shall not be repeating the exercise.

Basil Pesto 1 (Hambidge)Rather more successful were my pots of basil Pesto, Johnsons exclusive introduction for the 2015 season. Apparently this British-bred herb was so popular with commercial herb farmers in Italy when it was first grown there for taste tests, they stripped the supplier’s plot to take home for making the classic pesto sauce. After that, there was really only one name for the new variety – Pesto. It also impressed judges from the Royal Horticultural Society enough for them to award it an Award of Garden Merit (AGM). In my garden, the leaves have had a really healthy, almost metallic sheen to them, and the flavour really is outstanding.

We hear much about eating our ‘five a day’ portions of vegetables and fruit. Now researchers at St Andrews University working in conjunction with scientists in Australia have found women who Spinach Lazio F1consume more fruit and vegetables have a healthier, more attractive complexion than those who do not. Carotenoids – pigments found in leafy greens such as spinach, tomatoes and carrots – can improve skin tone and facial appearance. And as young women, according to the research, are most likely not to eat their five a day, and are more motivated to change their behaviour for the sake of their appearance rather than for their health, the hope is they start eating more fruit and veg. I’m not sure what the research discovered about middle-aged men. I eat plenty of tomatoes and carrots, but I’m still waiting for an improved complexion!

Driving back from the supermarket with the week’s shopping earlier today, I started to wonder what was the source of that delicate fragrance that I slowly discerned? It was not my aftershave, and my 004wife tends not to wear Chanel No 5 when we go shopping, so that ruled us out. Had the packaging split on something we had just bought? It certainly was not the Guinness – bought for adding to beef casseroles I might add. It was only when we reached home and started unpacking that it slowly dawned on me it had to be the pack of four cyclamen we had just bought – but cyclamen with scent in this day and age? As far as I knew, all scent had long been bred out of these pretty plants. When I was a child, those large-flowered house plant cyclamen were, with the exception of white ones, sweetly scented. Let’s hope my little plants mean perfumed cyclamen may be making a comeback.

Teddy’s Nuts about Squirrels

September 4th, 2015 | Colin | 0 Comments

First it was the plague of hornets nesting in our roof, and now our latest scourge is the grey squirrels, Teddy Jul 14 5who have suddenly realised our hazel tree is loaded with nuts. I don’t mind them having some – there are plenty after all – but Teddy our Irish terrier (sort of) goes berserk when he sees them through the
window. We planted the tree about 15 years ago, and although it was bought as a named variety I simply cannot remember it. I do know it is definitely not the ubiquitous Kentish Cob, but when I google ‘hazel cultivars’ none of the names which appear rings a bell.

While it has produced a few nuts annually for a number of years, the squirrels have not visited before, Hazel and cuttings from it (Hambidge)but it seems word is out in Squirreldom that there is a bumper harvest this summer. The tree has developed a good shape through the years, with absolutely no help from me, but the squirrel problem made me think it was getting rather too high and close to overhead wires, and so the idea came to me I could rid myself of Teddy’s madness and bring back the tree to a more manageable size. I set to work with ladder, loppers and secateurs earlier this week, bringing the tree down to about nine feet, and harvesting two small buckets full of tasty cobnuts in the process. I am pleased to report that although I have seen a few squirrels in the garden still seeking their bounty (coconuts would be more difficult to steal), they are returning home empty-handed, and their visits are diminishing – resulting in one considerably calmer Ted the terrier.

On a more positive note, may I have a little gloat about my tomatoes this year? In my small greenhouse I am growing Johnsons beefsteak Big Daddy F1 and large-cherry Gardener’s Delight, plus two other Tomato Big Daddy 1 (Hambidge)beefsteaks in Country Taste F1 and Orange Slice F1 from another source. I have grown tomatoes for many years, but usually I am plagued by blossom end rot, which produces those horrible, brown leathery patches on the underneath of the fruits. This year, however, not a leathery patch in sight! We are told it is caused by irregular watering, but I have my doubts about that, as I have always watered regularly and well. The only thing I have done differently this year, and I thought it may be asking for trouble, is feeding the plants daily with a supermarket’s own-brand tomato food. Could this be what has kept the blossom end rot at bay? I have noticed too all my tomato plants are healthier looking and cropping more heavily than in previous seasons.

Incidentally, Big Daddy was also once a wrestler, when this form of entertainment occupied the late afternoon slot on ITV on a Saturday. His real name was Shirley Crabtree, so he must surely be the only wrestler to have not one, but two tomatoes named after him!

I love rudbeckias, but this year the two varieties I have grown – Irish Eyes and Cherry Brandy – have been disappointingly late to flower. From a March sowing, Irish Eyes finally made it into flower about three Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy, late Aug 1 (Hambidge)weeks ago, while Cherry Brandy is only just beginning to bloom now. Irish Eyes produces huge flowers, which attract much attention, and Cherry Brandy has such a deep, rich colour, but I do wonder if they are worth growing again.