Gardening is so much about looking forward and getting on with jobs that need doing that sometimes it’s easy to forget to stop and take stock. Yet, looking back at what worked and what didn’t really is the best way to learn.
It was a mixed year in my own garden, partly down to weather and partly due to not spending as much time on it as I would have liked; family, work and illness have all had an impact.
The Veg Garden
Looking back at the vegetables, there have been several notable successes. My tomato crop was outstanding following the near disaster of 2016 when there was first poor fruiting and then blight.
We were still eating the very last of last year’s tomatoes, those that were picked green and ripened indoors, right up until Christmas. I’m already looking forward to this year’s season and have several new varieties lined up.
Beans were another triumph – both runners and French beans. Poor germination of the first batch of runner beans meant the eventual plants were some weeks later going into the ground than normal. The result was a better staggering of the crop, something I will definitely do again.
Bizarrely, given my sandy soil, I struggle with carrots. Germination has always been difficult, even with ‘easy sow tape’. Last year, I grew ‘Paris Match’, a fabulous round variety, and ‘Early Nantes 2’, which promised reliable germination. For the first time, the carrots came up easily and the last were harvested in early December. There really is nothing quite like home-grown carrots and those varieties are definitely on my list for this year.
Parsnips are always a bit of a ‘feast or famine’ crop. Either they all germinate or nothing comes up at all. Last year, I tried pre-germinating the seed on damp kitchen paper – a method I’d heard about from other veg growers. The family did think I was mad planting out the sprouting seeds with the aid of tweezers but the results have been fantastic.
Obviously, planting is takes longer than just sprinkling seed but there’s no wasted space where nothing’s come up and no need to thin as the parsnip seed was planted ready spaced. We’ve just started harvesting and it’s a bumper crop.
Other crops that fared well were potatoes, radish, beetroot, spinach and the ever-reliable Swiss chard, while strawberries had the best season for a few years with one or two fruits appearing as late as October.
Sweetcorn, while not a disaster, was not as good as in previous years. Germination was more patchy than usual and the cobs were smaller. However, the badger failed to find them so that was a small victory.
Celeriac is possibly not as big as it could be – again probably due to the light soil – so more watering and more thorough ground preparation is needed this year. Cavolo nero started well but came under attack from the resident pigeons before I had a chance to net. It recovered and has given us a good winter crop.
The biggest disaster was the squash and pumpkin, usually one of my better crops. Plants started well but then either failed to set fruit, or simply curled up and died. I can only think it was the weather as everything else was done the same as in previous years. Hopefully, 2018 will be better.
The Flower garden
Last year saw the loss of several large shrubs in the garden and the discovery of honey fungus in our drive, which meant felling three trees. I’m not convinced the two are connected as the shrub border is at the opposite end of the long garden but it’s a possibility.
It’s the first time in my 23 years at this garden that this disease has been found and I’m horrified. Honey fungus is so destructive and I’m looking around wondering what will succumb next. Meanwhile, the border is looking very empty while I research what to plant.
The lost shrubs included Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ and a Lonicera fragrantissima and I’m missing their winter colour and scent. I just keep reminding myself that every plant death is a planting opportunity.
It was also the second year running without wisteria flowers thanks to frost. Fingers crossed for next year.
On a more positive note, the new cutting bed has been a real success and the sweet peas flowered for weeks. There have been numerous vases of flowers indoors and I’ve fallen in love with dahlias. More dahlia tubers have been ordered and I have new annual seeds ready to sow.
So much for looking back at 2017, I am now looking ahead and deciding what to do in 2018. Better planning – more lists – and lots more research are needed. But, it will be better – after all isn’t it optimism that makes gardening so good?