Do you have the cheap book club come to your surgery, offering a limited choice of books with huge reductions? Cooking, gardening or kids mainly covers the range - never the latest but always the cheapest. Last week I picked up Gardening at Eden about setting up the Eden project in Cornwall. Its eco-friendly, sustainable forest paper could have disappointed at the cover price of £25 but was fine at £4.
I enjoyed its slightly subversive style - I had never considered Capability Brown an environmental terrorist, but I can see the argument. But there is much to make you revisit some more fixed ideas. The credo that there should be 'some tolerance' of pests and diseases is good, as is the emphasis on 'eco-friendly controls' encouraging the use of resistant varieties or natural predators.
Harrod Horticultural offers a good range of pest control but at £22.95 for 25 adult ladybirds for aphid control, they are not cheap (and I bet the ladybirds just fly off next door). Perhaps using the parasitic wasp Encarsia in the greenhouse for white fly control would at least prevent your investment from leaving. Then there are the mechanical forms of pest control. Cabbage collars (£2.10 for 30) are organic material collars that fit around the base of the cabbage plant preventing the cabbage root fly from laying its eggs besides the roots of the brassicas. But even cleaning out the greenhouse and clearing away the rubbish, can greatly help to reduce the number of pests successfully over wintering.
Apparently one of the most popular spots at the Eden project gardens is the lavender field. To keep their shape and not allow them to become overgrown and woody, lavender plants needs pruning back firmly. Hardy lavender can be cut back hard after flowering, although some recommend leaving fiercer pruning until March or April. One advantage of pruning now is that the clippings can be propagated, inserting non-flowering shoots into pots of equal parts sand and peat substitute. Leave over winter in a cold frame or greenhouse. Longer (6-9 inch) cuttings can be inserted directly outdoors. Lavender forms a useful low and fragrant hedge, or pruned into globes it can look both contemporary. Oxford Planters, a small firm on the edge of the Cotswolds, uses a number of woods to make their gorgeous, huge planters. They cost a small fortune, but £500 gets you a thing of beauty that will last and last.
In the vegetable garden it is worth sowing some winter salad. Try Winter Density, a larger version of Little Gem, or the limp-leafed Butterhead lettuce. Both are available from Marshalls or any good garden centre. Red chicory (or Radicchio) can be sown up until early September, then transplanted under cover for a winter salad crop. Some varieties (like the non-hearting Red Treviso) are very hardy and frost resistant. Radicchio can add bitterness to a salad and is also very good when lightly braised.
Finally, have a mind to some winter colour. Simple winter pansies (pictured) can look lovely in the ground or pot and help to fool the senses about winter. Such planting is best done now.
Dr Holliday is a GP in Windsor
THIS MONTH'S TASKS
- Clean out greenhouse and clear garden to reduce pests.
- Prune and propagate lavender.
- Sow winter salad.
- Plant for winter colours.
Gardening at Eden, by Matthew Biggs. Eden Books, Transworld. £25 ISBN 9781903919736.