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Showing posts from June, 2020

George says: pass the sugar, it's blackcurrant time

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I know two things about blackcurrants. One is that they are full of Vitamin C (four times as much as orange juice) and anti-oxidants (twice as much as blueberries).  I think my mother, who has always been a fan of alternative medicine, must have known about the Vitamin C, because when I was a child, the only jam we ever ate was blackcurrant jam, and the only soft drink we were allowed was Ribena, diluted to a pale pink. The second thing is that, unlike oranges and blueberries, blackcurrants are difficult to buy in the shops. Ninety per cent of the British blackcurrant harvest goes to Ribena, and this guaranteed market is a lifeline for growers, because the fruit is difficult and expensive to grow commercially.  According to the Blackcurrant Foundation, it takes three years for blackcurrant bushes to produce and another six before producers break even. The crop is weather-sensitive – a late frost creates havoc, windy weather can rip off the berries, and sunshine is needed to ripen them. Co…

George says: grow mouth-watering raspberries

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Whenever anyone mentions pruning alternate canes or stems, my brain tends to seize up in the way that it does if someone says “maths” or “physics”. For this reason, I have never grown soft fruit, despite my late husband’s liking for raspberries. Given half a chance, he would have turned our whole garden in London into a huge fruit cage to grow raspberries, and being a patriotic Scot, he favoured the varieties bred in Scotland by the Scottish Plant Breeding Station, now the James Hutton Institute. For decades, long before we had year-round raspberries from Morocco and Spain, Scottish raspberries were reputed to be the best in the world. You can tell which is a Scottish-bred raspberry variety, because their names all start with “Glen” – ‘Glen Ample’, ‘Glen Lyon’, ‘Glen Clova’ and so on. 'Glen Mor', pictured above left, is one of the newest to come on the market. None of your Sassenach Malling rubbish for us, thank you very much! (Only joking – there’s nothing wrong with the Mallin…

George says: gild (or rather grow) the lily

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I'm fairly laid back about insects in the garden. I keep honeybees, so I don't like using bug sprays. But if there is one critter that brings out any kind of murderous instinct in me, it is the lily beetle.
These bright scarlet pests lay their eggs on lilies, cardiocrinums and fritillaries (all members of the lily family), and not only do the larvae eat the leaves but they live in lumps of their own excrement. So not only do you have a defoliated plant, but one that is covered in poo.
Lily beetles are easy to spot, but difficult to catch. They have a habit of turning upside down, or even dropping to the earth, the minute you try to lay a finger on them. Best time to catch the little b****** is when they are mating, because they are too busy concentrating on what they are doing to perform the upside down trick. (Well, wouldn't you be?)
I agree with Monty Don that the best way to control lily beetle is with a nice hard thumbnail, which you deploy in a combination of squish …

George says: pay a visit to strawberry fair

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I remember a different version of the old English folk song Strawberry Fair, which George quotes at the end of this advice newsletter. When I was little, we had a Beverly Sisters recording, which went: As I was going to Strawberry Fair, Ri-fol, ri-fol, tol-de-riddle-li-do, I met a boy with light-brown hair Fol-de-dee, fol-de-dee He came to buy a chestnut mare, but he stole my heart at Strawberry Fair Ri-fol, ri-fol, tol-de-riddle-li-do, Ri-fol, ri-fol, tol-de-riddle-dee.

The folk song, by the way, has nothing to do with the music festival in Cambridge. It predates it by at least 100 years, and there have been other versions recorded as well, notably by the actor, singer and songwriter Anthony Newley.
I was always fascinated by the Beverly Sisters, because one of them was called Teddie. What a great name! How cool that a girl could be called Teddie! And why couldn't I be called Teddie? It was quite a letdown when I discovered her real name was Hazel.
Apart from that, my only expertise when it…