Gazing back, looking forward

Gardeners tend to be optimistic, always looking forward rather than back, convinced that next season will be better. At the end of the year, however, it seems fitting to cast an eye over the past, grumble at the mistakes and celebrate the triumphs.

2015 has been strange for gardeners. Spring came as a cold blast while the year has ended unseasonably warm. Some things have fared well – there’s been a bumper crop of ‘Rainbow’ beetroot and the greenhouse continued to earn its keep – but others, notably members of the squash family, sulked in the wet summer.

Squash were not as plentiful as usual

Parsnips were another problem crop. They are notoriously difficult to germinate, resulting in either feast or famine, and this season was very nearly famine.

I was advised many years ago by a prize-winning grower to hold off sowing for as long as possible to allow the soil to warm but with the cold start, this proved challenging. The first sowing failed and the second was patchy. I was resigned to a small harvest and started to replant the first bed with squash. No soon had they got their feet down then the sulky parsnip started to appear, presumably encouraged by the rising temperatures. Whether they will have caught up after their late start remains to be seen as I have yet to investigate what lurks underground.

The greenhouse crops continued to produce well

In contrast, new varieties of runner beans and tomatoes were absolute winners and are sure to be repeated. Nearly every runner bean claims to be stringless but in the case of ‘Desiree’ it seems to be true. As usual, I struggled to keep up with picking and some beans were definitely on the large side but whereas that would normally mean a mouthful of inedible fibres, ‘Desiree’ lived up to its billing. Thank you, Thompson & Morgan for the trial packet.

Another recommendation came from Paolo at Franchi Seeds. What, I asked, would be a good tomato variety for making sauce, as full of flavour as a cherry type but without the fiddle of skinning tiny fruit? One suggestion was ‘Costoluto Fiorentino’, which produced whopping fruits, packed with flavour and as good raw as cooked; definitely one to grow again next year.

'Costoluto Fiorentino' tomatoes
‘Costoluto Fiorentino’ tomatoes were a huge hit

Nowhere is the changing climate more obvious than in the flower borders. My tulips shivered in the spring chill, the garden lost its sparkle under grey summer skies and now the unseasonable warmth has produced odd flowering companions. As I type, the garden is sporting scabious, roses and marigolds alongside the first of the snowdrops, winter honeysuckle and hellebores, while I fear for the already showing euphorbia bracts if we get a frost.

Galanthus 'Mrs McNamara'
Galanthus ‘Mrs McNamara’ is already in full bloom

More negative was the nightly ravages of wildlife in the garden with a mole criss-crossing the lawn and a badger attacking what was left. Just don’t get me started on slugs and snails.

Iris unguicularis
Iris unguicularis has suddenly produced flowers

Highlights include wisteria dripping with blooms – thanks, probably, to finally hitting the January pruning deadline. Splitting clumps of the early flowering snowdrop ‘Colossus’ means it can be seen from even more windows on those stay indoors days, and an unexpected surprise has been the flowering this month of Iris unguicularis after being little more than a clump of leaves for several years.

And that’s the hope that keeps all gardeners going: next year will be better.

The wisteria was covered in flower

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