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Update from Daphne – Gardening with Daphne Ledward

Our spring hanging baskets came down later than usual this year because of the deplorable weather.  I hung them, intending to empty them later, on an obelisk that used to support a golden hop until the dogs ate it, where they have remained ever since, waiting for me to empty the contents out.

I bought the plants from my favourite discount supermarket last October; they were advertised as ‘Autumn Collections’, comprising a dwarf grass (Festuca glauca); a repeat-flowering dianthus; the ubiquitous ivy; a small Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Elwoodii’; a Senecio cineraria, and a miniature cyclamen, to which I added either a Thymus serpyllum or a variegated pineapple mint to pack them out.

It wasn’t a particularly exciting selection, but they did well for several weeks, the dianthus and cyclamen flowering non-stop against the coloured foliage, until the first really hard frost finished off the cyclamen and stopped the dianthus flowering until the weather warmed up.   However, they still looked interesting enough to leave up through the spring and early summer, until my summer baskets were at last ready in June.

This week I thought it was high time to make a start on planting my winter/spring baskets,   Far from the old stuff being ready for the compost heap, I found it looked better than twelve months ago, far too good to discard.   I gave everything a good soaking with Miracle-Gro (my favourite remedy for all plant ills), and then found well-grown replacements for the missing cyclamen – heucheras, well-grown pansies or sweet Williams fitted the bill perfectly.

I often use a predominance of colourful foliage in my winter baskets.  If you choose the right subjects they always look good, despite the weather.   On the other hand, flowering winter baskets tend to come and go in interest; pansies and violas usually go out of flower during the coldest months, and other spring flowering plants, like forget-me-nots and primulas, don’t come into their own until well into the New Year.

I am now congratulating myself on having saved a lot of time, effort and money on reusing these baskets a second season.   Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the money I’ve saved will stay in my pocket for long, as there many other things in the garden that need a facelift this autumn.   But in an expensive year when I’ve bought a new three piece suite, new bedroom carpet, new kitchen and a shredder to run off the Kubota tractor at the Patch, any saving can’t be bad.

I wish I could feel as smug about my raised vegetable beds.   Since the beginning of the year, I’ve had good crops of leeks, broccoli, cauliflowers, runner beans and courgettes, but the rest of the brassicas, especially the autumn cabbages, have been a disaster – entirely my fault, but they are three miles from home, and I can’t be in two places at the same time.

I never use chemicals on anything we eat.   We have so many fruit trees that we always have a surplus, even making allowance for pests like codling moth and gooseberry sawfly, and it’s usually quite easy to keep bugs off the raised veg beds by covering with fleece, netting or crop protection mesh.   However, this year, before I noticed it, cabbage white butterflies must have found a chink in my armour; it was only when I noticed holes in the cabbage leaves that I realised there was a problem.

At first I hand-picked the caterpillars, but they doubled in number every day, and in the end, frankly, I just couldn’t be bothered, removing the covering instead and leaving them as a tasty snack for the birds.   Husband John doesn’t like cabbages anyway, and these were given to me by a friend who had grown too many and couldn’t remember what variety they were, so it could have been worse (funnily enough, they left the cauliflowers in the bed next door almost intact).

I see now that these lacy vegetables are starting to heart up as if nothing had happened, so instead of pulling them out and consigning them to the compost heap, I will wait and see if we get any servings off them.   Maybe we make too much fuss about cabbage white caterpillars.

In the meantime, my bed of ‘Fuseau’ Jerusalem artichokes look the best they have done in years so we won’t go short of vegetables.   I treat this bed as a permanent one, digging out some for eating every autumn and winter and leaving the rest in the ground.   This season they have grown about 2.5m tall and the first ones I unearthed the other day were big and tasty, obviously appreciating the adequate moisture they have received for once (they grow in partial shade under the canopy of mature trees and so don’t always get the treatment they warrant).

Yes, I know they have an unfortunate side effect – I do try and serve them only when we’re on our own!

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