A quick whizz round the Garden Press Event up in London the other week – and I do mean quick, as I didn’t arrive till lunchtime having flown in from Bordeaux in France that morning, fingernails still muddy from clearing the garden in the little house my family has bought there.
It’s tempting at this point to get diverted into a little rhapsody about the delights of sitting outside eating a lunch of ham-stuffed baguettes baked that morning, sun shining and temperature a balmy 19 degrees (in February!), back aching pleasantly from raking leaves, loading bonfires, dismantling rotten-roofed sheds and climbing a lot of old trees to pull out ivy.
But I will resist the temptation (until later, anyway) and instead talk about the many little things I came across at the show which caught my eye. The Press Event has become one of those must-attend punctuations to the gardening year: it sort of kicks things off as everyone lines up to show you what the horticultural talking points are likely to be this year.
There’s quite a lot of toot there too, of course, but I tend to avert my eyes tactfully from the stuff that I can’t see the point of or of which I frankly disapprove (one year I listened open-mouthed as an earnest lawn company representative described how their new product would efficiently murder every earthworm in your garden. Not that she put it in quite those words, but I politely refused the free sample she offered: quickest way I know to kill a lawn stone dead).
So here is a little distillation of the good stuff: the half-dozen bits of kit, new plants and innovations which I hope will find their way onto my plot too before too many seasons have passed by.
Grow lights you can use: Oh I know I’ve been banging on about my Vitopod lately but it does have quite a major role in my life just at the moment. So it’s not that surprising that these natty grow lights caught my attention. The only grow lights I’ve come across have been offered me from slightly dodgy sources and are enormous industrial-scale things with questionable electrics. These on the other hand are dainty little things that just clip over your Vitopod lid and extend the day length to up to 12 hours. Daylight being just as important as warmth when starting early seedlings, this could be the missing piece of my jigsaw puzzle.
Tiger nuts: So excited by these. They look a bit like chickpeas, but they’re actually the tubers of an unremarkable sedge, Cyperus esculentus, a close relation to papyrus (the kind you grow in your pond) only not quite as pretty. It’s quite prolific – an average clump yields about 1lb of dried tubers: the texture and taste is similar to coconut, with a little hint of almond, and they’re packed with nutrients. You can dry them for storing over winter, then rehydrate them overnight to eat raw or in cakes and bakes. On coming home to do a bit more research, though, they do seem to be a bit on the tender side. I’m making them this year’s experiment, anyway, to see how they do.
Ornaments that double up as bird feeders: I did think this was pretty, and useful too. I found it on the Crocus stand: you fill the central bowl with seeds, or cheese, or whatever you happen to be feeding the birds at the moment, and they can perch on the ledge to feast. Much prettier than your average wire-and-plastic peanut job.
Charles Dowding’s new book: Charles was there with his partner Steph – also a very talented kitchen gardener and writer – and a lot of copies of his latest publication, Charles Dowding’s Vegetable Garden Diary. a wire-bound allotment notebook-cum-diary interwoven with pages of Charles’s no nonsense advice based on sound practical experience. I have long admired Charles’s quiet ability to plough his own furrow: he draws his own conclusions, he only ever follows what other people say if he’s already proved it to himself, and as a result he is a true pioneer. And Steph gave me some parched peas, too (thanks Steph!)
Dwarf mulberries: Alongside the tiger nuts on the Suttons stand was this little cutie: the first proper mulberry bush. By which I mean one bred to grow just 1.5m tall – or the size of a large-ish shrub, unlike the conventional mulberry bush which is actually a small tree (does anyone know why mulberry trees are called mulberry bushes in the song? The best I can find is this blog post which says it was originally a song about blackberry bushes, or possibly juniper bushes, though it all seems rather vague.) It goes by the pretty name of ‘Charlotte Russe’ and it’s got proper mulberries and everything (and within a year rather than the usual eight or so).
A rude veg competition: Ah yes: rude veg. We all love a bit of double-entendre when harvesting the carrots. Anyway: Van Meuwen enjoyed its Vulgar Veg competition so much last year that it’s doing the same again. There’s £500 of vouchers on offer: the winner last year was a positively pornographic carrot from Weston-super-Mare. What with wonky veg in the news (when you can find any veg at all in the shops, that is) there’s no better time to expose your oddities to a wider audience (double entendre entirely intended): just go to http://www.vanmeuwen.com/competitions and enjoy.