Plenty of rain (although thankfully not too much) and fairly warm temperatures have benefited many varieties in the walled garden, particularly the potatoes and beans. We’re always trying to find ways of maximising pollination to get good yields, so with the beans we’re using a method which is both practical and decorative. We sow a couple of Morning Glory seeds (Ipomoea spp.) with each of the climbing French beans, plus the runner beans. (A large selection of Morning Glory cultivars is available from Thompson & Morgan (www.thompson-morgan.com). For some reason, the purple-flowered variety works best for us as the Ipomoea flowers help to draw in pollinating bees early in the morning.
Part of the fun and interest of this garden is the space available for trialling varieties, so among the climbing French beans this year, we are growing Yard Long, bearing long pods probably half a yard on vigorous plants. Also new to us this year is Hunter, which has knobbly, flat-podded beans that are virtually stringless. Beans need a fair amount of water while growing this year’s rain has taken care of that, so they’re looking very healthy.
Near the chillies and peppers, we’ve planted short rows of dwarf French beans. They were all started off in the glasshouse in April, in sectional trays with 15 pots in each. Hildora, a new one to us, has bright yellow beans; Royalty is a glamorous cultivar with purple flowers and pods (the others all have white flowers). Royalty is not only popular for its looks the well-flavoured beans maintain their quality for longer than many varieties. Safari produces straight, very slender green beans, which only need the briefest cooking time, and Sprite is a reliable cropper of slender, very uniform green beans.
As with the beans, and contrary to many people’s experience this year, the potatoes are particularly good; thankfully, rainfall has come at just the right times. This year, we have grown 10 different varieties: a mixture of earlies, second earlies and maincrop. We always have some Belle de Fontenay, which are popular in the house. This old French salad variety has outstanding flavour from its elongated, pale yellow tubers. Epicure, a tasty new potato, is another heirloom type with creamy-white flesh. Kestrel white-skinned with violet eyes iis good for chipping or roasting and has excellent resistance to slugs and blackleg disease. My favourite potato of last year, Picasso, has huge, clean, well-flavoured tubers, of baking size, and it doesn’t seem to suffer any diseases.
The potatoes are generally healthy, and have not been sprayed. If we saw any blight (the warning signs are yellowing and collapsing shoots and foliage), we cut off all growth above ground level and leave the tubers to ripen in the ground, then harvest them at leisure. The earliest, now being harvested, were planted out in mid-March, and the maincrop went in four to six weeks later.
Rainy days have not stopped any work in the peach house, where the fruits are ripening well. Along the whitewashed back wall are fan-trained Hale’s Early, and Peregrine, both of them juicy and heavy croppers. Opposite, trained against the glass wall and roof, is the old variety Duke of York, my personal favourite for its very tasty, large fruits. Fan training sounds fiddly and puts some people off growing peaches and nectarines, but it’s not difficult and ensures you get the best fruits. Young, fan-trained trees are available in garden centres and fruit specialist nurseries.
The trees are pruned in January or February, cutting out the previous year’s fruited shoots and tidying up. In March, I pollinate each pink flower with a rabbit’s tail (you could use a sable paintbrush). Thin the fruits in mid-spring, when they’re about the size of a hazel-nut, to leave them about 4in apart. Then, when they have grown to the size of a walnut, thin the fruits again, to leave each one 1ft apart, in every direction. This enables the plant to produce bigger fruits. As the fruits develop, just remove any leaves that are covering up the ripening fruits. Some 60 to 80 peaches are taken off each plant at harvest.