Thursday, 11 December 2008

Gardening By Firelight

Some of the most enjoyable (and lazy) gardening can be done sitting in an armchair in front of a blazing fire flicking through seed catalogues. Through the window the garden is looking frosty and dormant, but in the imagination the beds are already planted and fruiting with all the new and newly re-cultivated traditional varieties to be found within those tempting archives.
Tonight, as the temperature drops below freezing, I’m drawn to the hot weather herbs Basil Siam Queen, Mrs Burns and Red Robin from Jekka’s Herb Farm and just the downright hot, chilli peppers like the Bulgarian Carrot, Friars Hat or (a warning on the effects of eating these?) the Ring of Fire all available from Simpson’s Seeds.
Sometimes, of course, you need to wait a little longer than the next summer to see the results of all this scheming. Four years ago I planted the intriguingly named apple Pitmarton Pineapple, dating from the 1780’s and waited frustratingly until this autumn to taste the fruit. Well, it was worth all that planning and anticipation, because it is a remarkable fruit with distinctive pineapple fragrance, sweet, crisp flesh and a nutty flavour, but apparently quality can be variable, so I may have to make a habit of patience. That same winter, as I sat over the fruit catalogue from Brogdale ordering the Pitmarton Pineapple, I choose another apple, Ashmend’s Kernal, dating from the turn of the 17th century and was lucky enough to be sent two by mistake, which I planted paired either side of a central path. It has been described as ‘exploding with champagne-sherbet juice infused with a lingering scent of orange blossom’ (Hugh Fearnley-Whittingshall) well I’m not sure about that, but it is certainly good eating. Brogdale holds the British National Fruit Collection and is a must visit online, a great resource as they will graft any species they have in their collection onto any rootstock of your choice. In the photograph a basket of apples before being turned into apple and ginger jam.

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