If you thought training fruit was a simple matter of arranging the branches in a sort of fan-shape against a wall, think again.
You can trim them into single stems – cordons – trimming off all the side shoots to encourage fruiting spurs from the main stem only. If you’ve heard of espaliers and fan-training, you’ve probably heard of cordons. The advantage to this is you get to pack about five varieties into a ten-foot space. You can grow cordons upright (though you get less fruit I believe) – like this:
I’m a bit sceptical about cage training – can’t see how you’d keep the air circulating around the centre of the fruit tree, and if you can’t do that it’s a recipe for fungal disease – but I’m willing to be convinced, and it sure does look pretty.
Thank you once again to Jim Buckland, Sarah Wain and the team at West Dean Gardens, near Chichester, for playing around experimenting and showing us all we don’t necessarily have to do it like that.
I’m suffering from a bad case of coldframe envy.
I went down to West Dean Gardens a little while ago, and for a kitchen garden fanatic like me it was like being given the keys to the sweetshop. Jim Buckland and Sarah Wain, who manage the garden and have overseen its restoration, must surely get some sort of award for dedication beyond the call of duty. Since 1991 they’ve turned the walled kitchen garden into a wonderful fusion of old-fashioned Victoriana and modern foody organic growing where they experiment with new (and old) cultivars using very 21st century techniques.
There’s also a college which among other things runs lots of mouthwatering courses in things to do with horticulture, and the gardens host a series of legendary foody events celebrating things like chillies, tomatoes and apples. You’ll see why it’s my kind of place.
But back to those coldframes.
They stretch right along one length of greenhouse (and that’s a very, very big greenhouse). And they’re packed with mixed salads of every kind, all sown lovingly in densely-packed rows. I wish, wish, wish I could grow salad like this.
The whole thing was a lesson in how to contrast leaf shapes, colours and textures: even humble old lettuce gets to look a million dollars if you mix it with a sprinkling of purple basil and pinch of perilla.
My discovery of the day was this dwarf basil, Ocimum minimum, which grows like a tight little football packed with leaves. Picked over just like thyme, they’re intensely fragrant: I always find ordinary basil a little tricky so this could be the answer.
The coldframe I really, really want, above all other, is this one. And the reason I want it is that bit of iron at the side: that’s an automatic Victorian light-lifting contraption. You can wind up the lights bit by bit to harden things off or adjust for the weather: no more bits of wood propping up the glass and getting knocked out, to the accompanying sound of breaking glass, by over-enthusiastic dogs bounding about the garden.
As if that wasn’t enough, they’ve got those lovely curvy glass panels too, designed to guide the water away from the wooden frame and down the centre of the glass. Sometimes those Victorians had the right idea.
I want, I want, I want….