February

My brief for these articles is gardening matters so please do not be alarmed when I start by extolling the virtues of an article which appeared in Veryan parish mag last year. I have not gone back to look it up but it keeps coming back into my head because virtually everyday I am thankful for the tuition I was given at school in the basic elements of Latin. I wholeheartedly agree with the author who briefly explained how useful it is to understand the root of so many words now in common usage and I recall particularly sitting in a Latin exam being asked the meaning of the word ‘procrastination’, literally, pro or for and cras tomorrow. As a young person I had no idea what the word meant but applying the Latin I had learned I was able to work it out. I have used that knowledge readily and often.

No doubt you may have guessed where this is leading. So often I have customers or friends who say ‘I don’t know how you remember the botanical names of plants’. Well of course over a period of time one does tend to remember them and as a botanical language recognised across the world, I was able to wander around a Nursery in the Caribbean and my Spanish guide and I were talking the same language when it came to plants even though there was a slight confusion over the names of cakes in the café!!

I have touched on this subject before and it all becomes very real and useful when talking to somebody about a particular erigeron (type of daisy) which I know as kavienskis but can be called colloquially in this country, Mexican Daisy, Spanish Daisy or more often now ‘that little daisy you see in the walls in Cornwall!’
So it is worth learning some of the basics like’longifolia’, long leaves, dentata, leaves like teeth, sanguineum,blood red, stellata,starlike. It is also worth understanding the genus or family name which is then followed by the species name so the Chrysanthemum used for cut flowers is usually Chrysanthemum, genus and morifolium, species. The genus isalways being written with an upper case beginning letter and the species in lower case. These two words may not encompass all variations because a species may give rise to several ‘varieties’ with different and distinctive characteristics. Also variations in species have arisen through breeding, selection and cultivation. These are referred to as cultivars.

Variety and cultivar mean the same thing but the botanical variety name is referred to in Latin beginning with a small letter while the cultivar is often given a name which refers to the plant breeder. A cultivar name will be written in inverted commas and begin with a capital letter. Hence, apple, ‘Bramleys seedling’ or tomato ‘Sungold’
My 2010 holiday was taken at Christmas and into January simply because there wasn’t a lot I could do in the garden. I was even reluctant to clean tunnels or sheds in the sub zero temperatures. Therefore my broad beans (which you may recall I sow in January in pots under cover just as my Dad used to do) will not be planted until mid Feb and once they are in and the temperatures looking better I start seed sowing in earnest. Now, if you are thinking you are way behind, worry not. I am fortunate to have a heated bench in the tunnel and so I can give early sowings some bottom heat with a raised fleece to keep in the heat.

When I did my RHS training at Rosewarne, I admired their heated benches but knew they were expensive to buy. So I described it in detail to my husband and he made a bench out of two old bunk beds cut down to form the length of the bench, covered them in builders’ polythene and then put a layer of heavy sand, a heated cable and then another layer of sand. The total sand being to a depth of about 4 inches. The only cost in this was the heated cable and the whole thing may not look as professional (heck, I hope he doesn’t read this!) but it works brilliantly. And so probably the next questions are, ’what should I be doing now?’ What can I sow now?

The answer to those questions is relatively easy. Have a look at the seed displays in the Nursery or Garden Centre and most seed packets (though sadly not all) will display on the front of the packet ‘sow between Feb and April’ or ‘March and May’ etc. Reading this information carefully and following the instructions gives you a good guide as to what to do and when.

Equally the instructions will guide you as to the temperature needed for germination so you may be looking at providing heat in a propagator or utilising the window sill indoors. Where confusion may arise is that some tomatoes, like my favourite Sungold actually take much longer to germinate and grow to useable size than Alicante. This to the extent that there could be 5-8 weeks difference in sowing.

If you cannot be bothered to read the seed packets then one of my early Bibles is Geoff Hamilton’s book ‘A Year in your Garden’. This takes you through month by month showing you what to sow and when to plant out and really is a good idiot’s guide.
Whilst there is a huge variety of veg seed for you to have a go at growing your own I think that these days there are a couple of tips worth applying.

Firstly, if you only have a small veg patch then grow things that you are certain of being successful with because you have done it before, or grow more expensive vegetables. For example, Anya potatoes can be very expensive in the supermarket but are relatively cheap to grow as new potatoes in the garden. Peas are cheap to buy so don’t bother giving them the space unless you really do prefer the flavour. But fancy lettuces bagged and washed are much more expensive when you can have rows of lollo rosso in your garden for a couple of quid. Many of the seed companies also sell lettuce seed mixed in one packet so that you can have a row of assorted varieties rather than loads of one sort.

I am determined this year to have a go at Kelsey onions, these are the big boys that the real Roseland show competitors grow and this year I am going to try and take the competition to them…it remains to be seen!!

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