The slow dying of the greenhouses is the swansong of my year. They’re the last to go: long after the veg beds outside are brown with dead foliage and slimy with rot, the cucumbers are still challenging me to find new recipes and the chilli peppers are suffusing with colour from green to orange to red.
It’s been a good year: and a bad. I have two greenhouses, facing each other in the lee of a hedge across the coldframe I made for my old garden (it’s falling to pieces now – a combination of age and a blackthorn tree just above which keeps dropping branches at inconvenient moments).
In one greenhouse I plant cucumbers, melons, peppers and anything else I fancy growing that year: in the other are my tomatoes.
I always start the year so optimistically with my toms: I love to try new varieties or revisit old ones. This year it’s been Gardeners’ Delight, Costoluto Fiorentino (quite the best beefsteak for flavour bar, perhaps, Brandywine) and the plum tomatoes Rio Grande.
But despite the dry weather, despite the perfect growing conditions of this blissfully warm summer, the blight got in.
I mulched with compost from the bins outside: mistake no. 1, as it no doubt carried blight spores. Then a pane of glass in the roof lost a corner, so the rain – laden, too, with spores – could spatter the Costolutos with fatally infected water. And the bush tomatoes I had in the corner – ‘The Amateur’ – turned out to be the most blight-prone tomatoes I’ve ever grown, finishing off my other plants by incubating and then spreading the plague.
Well: it’s a lesson learned. This winter’s to-do list includes changing the soil in this greenhouse; replacing the broken panes; and fumigating with a sulphur candle. Then next year I shall use nothing but the cleanest compost and water with tap water. I’m considering growing only blight-resistant varieties, too: ‘Losetto’, ‘Ferline’ and ‘Fantasio’, perhaps.
On the plus side, my fruit garden is looking wonderful. I planted it just last winter with two maiden cherries, a redcurrant, a couple of blackcurrants raised from cuttings taken from plants I had on my allotment, and a slew of raspberries. Oh, and a bed of strawberries, of course.
You’re not supposed to grow fruit on chalk, and my soil is grey with the stuff. But as a gardener to the core, I’m going to try anyway. So far I’m encouraged: the raspberries have not turned yellow as I expected them to (though three canes have turned up their toes for reasons unknown); the cherries are thriving; and the blackcurrants have had their first fruits already.
Here’s how it looked in 2010: