London is a city in which I have spent plenty of time over the course of my life, but it’s been a couple of years since my last visit. This recent sojourn was prompted by the birthday of one of my oldest and dearest friends, providing a rare opportunity for a day out unencumbered by parenting responsibilities. There are few things I love more than walking around a city – navigating your way through its streets you really get to experience the details and fabric of its life. So, before I joined up for an afternoon of craft beers, I took the chance to have a meander. The area around Kings Cross, which I remember being fairly grotty in the past, has been undergoing major redevelopment. It is now awash with smart new office and apartment buildings, surrounding public squares with trickling fountains, interspersed with designer shops and high-end restaurants. However, the place that I wanted to seek out was the antithesis of these symbols of modern living.
18 months ago, shortly after the birth of my son, I wrote a blog about my intention to redesign the planting in our tiny back garden. The best laid plans of mice and men! Of course in the general melee of life, parenting and the dreaded return to work, little of consequence occurred during 2018 to progress these grand plans. I did give some thought to the plants I might potentially like to use and did a spot of research into their characteristics and preferred conditions which at least helped to narrow things down. Quaint notions of fully developed planting plans however never materialised.
When the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) announced that after many years of searching for a suitable site it would be establishing a new garden in the North-West of England, I was over the moon. Despite having been a member for several years I have never actually visited an RHS garden so the prospect of having one on the doorstep, relatively speaking, was cause for celebration. The news that the RHS was offering members the chance to tour the Bridgewater site while under development was an opportunity not to be missed. So earlier this week myself, and my garden designer friend of The Cheshire Garden, headed off up the motorway to see what was in store, and we were not disappointed!
After a none too subtle hint (i.e. an email with a url) one of my Christmas presents was a book called ‘Green Escapes: The Guide to Secret Urban Gardens’ by Dr Toby Musgrave. It was published earlier this year and I’d clocked it in a gardening magazine and filed it away as a potential giftette for when the question came. It seemed like suitable gift material – something you want but somehow cannot justify buying for yourself. Now I have my sticky little paws on it I thought I’d share a few initial thoughts on whether it meets expectations.
When I first got into gardening I always liked the idea of growing edibles and, like many people, started with a few tomato plants in growbags in the back yard. Although we now have an allotment I still prefer to grow a small amount of produce at home in our tiny back garden which is sheltered and south facing, and so ideal for outdoor grown tomatoes (and chillis). There’s also nothing quite like being able to pop out of the kitchen and pick a few just ripe tomatoes to gobble up straight away. I’ve always liked to try different cultivars, and frequently find myself beguiled by those which are quirky colours or otherwise a deviation from the standard red salad tomato you find in the supermarket.
Earlier this year I read James Wong’s ‘Grow for Flavour’ which is full of interesting approaches to getting the best from your home grown crops and made me realise that perhaps my usual criteria of ‘which cultivar is weirdest’ wasn’t necessarily serving me that well! Amongst his advice on how to maximise the flavour of your home grown toms (apart from choosing the right cultivar) were:
grow tomatoes in soil rather than a container of compost because they will have access to a wider range of nutrients
feed them with Potassium-rich molasses rather than the usual proprietary tomato fertiliser which is higher in Nitrogen
spray them with aspirin (something to do with mimicking plant hormones)
I did none of these things due to a mixture of cost, convenience and time factors, but what did pique my interest was the advice on pruning tomato plants to maximise both yield and flavour. Essentially, rather than the traditional approach of allowing a plant to form 4-5 trusses of fruit before pinching out the top, plants would be stopped at one truss of fruit. In theory this should mean plants can be positioned closer together, would not need staking and would allow the plant to focus all of its attention on producing one truss of large, flavoursome fruit. So this I thought I’d have a go at. Continue reading →