Tag Archives: vegetables

Name that plant

Mystery plant?

I NEED your help solving a mystery. What on earth is this plant? I know it looks like a courgette flower, but it’s very small, about 14 inches and the leaves and stems are literally covered in quite vicious white thorns.

It was sent to me by a reader, Mr Tapp. I’m not the greatest of plant identifiers but had started to recognise more and more plants and flowers, if not the exact variety, then at least the family. But I’m stumped, and asking other gardeners for help!

I had better luck with another query: Lindsey’s tree. It’s a great big spreading thing at a house she’s only been in a couple of years and this year it has beautiful, huge white flowers all over it, which turn brown and fall off, leaving an unusual spiked ‘cone’.

magnolia grandiflora

It’s a magnolia grandiflora, and I only recognised it as I saw one at Cliveden gardens which covered an entire stately home wall! These magnolias flower in summer rather than spring, and the flowers come alongside the leaves, rather than before. They are evergreen too, which makes them ideal for a sunny wall where you can train them by trimming each year’s growth back to a healthy bud. plant. If yours has become a large tree, with the flowers out of sight above the canopy, then start to hard prune back a third of the tree this year and so on until it’s a manageable size. They can grow to 15 metres by ten wide if you don’t prune. You can see this year’s growth as it will still be green and slightly bendy. It may sulk for a season or two after hard pruning, but should recover.

Philadelphus, or Mock Orange

The next picture is philadelphus, or mock orange, emailed by “Mrs Toodles.” She said: “It looks quite dull most of the year at the back of our garden but this July it was totally covered with lots of white flowers with a strong scent.” Philadephus also need hard pruning too and flowered particularly well this year after the snowy winter.


 This “big daisy flowers with fluffy foliage” sent by Jane and James is annual cosmos. Usually sown indoors in spring and transplanted into place in May/June. There are perennial types, like the delicious chocolate cosmos.

One of the most frustrating things for the beginner gardener is not knowing what you’re actually growing. You may have inherited plants when you move house, or have lost labels or seed packets. The best thing is to get a good book, like Hessayon’s New Flower Expert, and just go through the garden comparing pictures with the real thing. Online gardening forums are great too, if you can take a snap and upload it.

It’s not been a great year for the new gardener, thanks to the drought, so don’t beat yourself up if things haven’t gone as well as you’d hoped, even the most experienced gardeners have had some disappointments this summer. It’s not you, it’s the weather!


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‘Tis the season for sneaking courgettes into every meal

ladybird larvae eat blackfly

RETURNING from a week away showed just how little my garden and allotment need me: they hardly looked any different.

Yes, lots of the marigolds needed deadheading and the courgettes had turned into marrows, but generally, all had carried on perfectly well without my interference. Marrows are a vegetable I have learned to love since I started gardening. Slice lengthways, scoop out seeds, fill with browned mince and rice, sprinkle with cheese, bake in the oven. Delicious.

I’d like to claim it was planned. But in reality I had resigned myself to dead veg and droopy dahlias. The rain may have helped but on visiting the allotment this week I found out how little impact the heavy showers have had. The ground is bone dry and solid beneath the top half inch of damp dust.

Nonetheless, I needed to dig.

I’m trying something out with my strawberries, which have been in a couple of years and have become very clumpy this summer. Usually you can root the runners from established strawberry plants, which are like little clusters of leaves on a long stem which you can push into the soil and then sever from the parent once rooted to get a brand new plant.

My fruit beds have become very overcrowded and messy, so I thought I’d try splitting the big clumps instead. They lent themselves to the reduction well, as there were many plantlets that could be easily separated by gentle pulling, keeping a good amount of root and soil on each. From eight plants I now have 28!

Strawberry plants don’t last forever, and it may be that these have exhausted themselves, but by replanting and watering in well now, it should allow them to establish before winter and hopefully we’ll have better yields of berries next June.

The crops are coming well, and this week we’ve been eating potatoes, shallots, garlic, onions, carrots, beetroot, runner and French beans, courgettes, cucumbers, spring onions, tomatoes, raspberries and blackcurrants, all home-grown.

I made some fairy cakes and mixed in some of the blackcurrant jam that we made and the cakes looked normal on the outside but were purple in the middle.

The beans are still managing to crop despite my blackfly infestation. I don’t spray, and the wildlife is now helping out instead.

The ladybird larvae are more numerous than I’ve ever seen, as you can see in the photo taken on my mobile phone. There are around eight and an adult on one small section. They eat huge amounts of aphids, and are your greatest garden ally. It’s hard to believe those bizarre-looking bugs turn into our beloved round ladybirds.

ladybird larvae (copyright H Scott)

PS: I’m on a mission this week as, by coincidence, several people have asked me to identify mystery plants in their gardens. I’ll update next week, so in the meantime, if you have any photos you want to email to me of plants you aren’t sure about, I’ll happily add them to the list.

courgette glut


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Would your absence be noticed?

I’D love to show you a photo of the first ever tomato to make it to full redness at the allotment, but Baby Bonnie picked it and took a bite before I got to her.

Rather disconcertingly, she then spat it out and handed it to me. And she LOVES tomatoes.

A little worried, I tried it, and couldn’t find anything wrong. Perhaps it tasted too much of tomato. There are loads more just changing colour on my solitary bush tomato, and it just proves that despite previously killing toms at the allotment, they can actually grow there, with even having to be netted.

Apart from the tomatoes, It was lovely to visit the allotment last week, because on my previous visit I was concerned the season was over for me, bar the shouting.

Suddenly everything is ready to eat, despite what certainly feels like the driest summer in years.

A gap of three days since my last potter and the courgettes have turned from tiny half-finger-long veg-lets into marrows. Lots of them.

The kids were digging carrots that were the longest we’ve ever managed in our solid clay soil. Yet more beetroot, spring onions, potatoes, raspberries, far too many beans (they still came through) and onions. The sweetcorn is coming along nicely, and I have a pumpkin plant starting to fruit. At home, there are more tomatoes and the first of a promising-looking mini-cucumber crop.

Now the problem is keeping it going when we go away on our holidays. My attendance is somewhat random at the best of times. How will the plot, and home garden, survive?

In recent years it hasn’t been a problem: it rains.

Usually the problem is coming home to find the weeds have taken over. This year, we desperately NEED rain. And this is coming from someone who is going camping!

What I’d really like is for it to rain heavily every night, just over Northampton, while we’re away. But more realistically, I’ll water and water as much as possible and cover the planting holes of the courgettes and tomatoes with muck and straw to try and hold in moisture while we’re away. Alternatively, you may be able to persuade a friend or relative to water every other day, or fit a drip irrigation scheme with a timer on the tap. I’m too disorganised to have done either.

It was also a pleasure to visit the allotment with all the kids. Our eldest doesn’t have to come after school by virtue of being on the other side of town. It was nice to see how chuffed he was to find the seeds he’d sown in a raised bed back in May had turned into carrots, beetroot, spring onions, coriander and dwarf sunflowers.

He’s also a good forager (scrumping is banned). He came back with blackberries, plums and gooseberries, all growing along the hedgerows (I made him show me).

Foraging is a neglected art. There’s plenty of fruit growing along hedges, footpaths and on derelict land, as long as you’re sure you aren’t trespassing and you know what you’re picking!

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She looked down the slippery slope towards winter

LAST week before school holidays = last chance for un-interuppted gardening. So I spent hours last Tuesday blitzing the allotment.

Up came all my onions, which had keeled over and are drying quite nicely, and most of the shallots. The dried-up pea plants were cut off and the roots dug into the soil.

Weeded quite a lot, especially the tall dandelion-like sowthistle and groundsel, which have taken over my allotment and given a home to many, many yellow and black striped caterpillars of the cinnabar moth.

I’ve rather speculatively put in a row of very chitted seed potatoes with were forgotten on a windowsill, in the hope we have an autumn that’s warm enough to keep them alive for a late crop. I’m having another bash at sowing some kale, under cover, as my previous seedlings got shredded by the flea beetles when sown direct.

Still surviving and starting to fruit beautifully are the ever-reliable courgettes, some bush tomatoes, sweetcorn and beans. The roots, including carrots, beetroot and parsnips are looking good despite the lack of rain and the spuds are blight-free – so far.

My salad leaves bolted in the heat but overall, 2010 has been pretty fruitful considering the warm weather. I’m already planning for next year. . .

cinnebar moth catapillars

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Allotment haul

First pickings of the year from the allotment. Ten spuds, bowl of strawbs, broadbeans, peas, garlic, shallots and an onion. For tea. Yum eh kids?

First harvest from allotment

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They all loved strawberries

  THERE can be few moments more satisfying for the gardener than the first pickings of the year.

This week we’ve started eating the fruits (and vegetables) of our labours as the broad beans, first garlic, peas, early spuds and strawberries were ready for picking.

The strawberries barely make it off the plants before the kids are scoffing their faces with them. I’m not sure a single fat red berry has ever made it home. A home-grown strawberry is irresistibly tasty.

Baby Bonnie has worked out exactly where the strawbs are on the allotment and scurries off up the path to get first dibs on them. She’s usually trying to force her way under the netting before I’ve even untangled the fixings and pegs. She just loves strawberries. I’m dreading when the crop stops coming. Hopefully we’ll have currants and gooseberries ready by then.

The battle with the weeds goes on, but at least I’ve got my leeks and sweetcorn in the ground, and I’ve planted out three courgette plants too. Leeks are easy to grow from seed, and if you were too late you could check out the garden centres for strips of ready-grow leeklets, they may even be reduced. You make a wide, deep hole (I push the handle end of a hoe in to make mine) and simply drop your tiny leek into it, without backfilling with soil. Just water each leek’s planting hole once they’re all in and leave them to it. They won’t be ready until next winter so the hole allows the stem to swell and stay blanched.

I don’t know about you but my onions are looking pretty fat and ready, although the leaves haven’t dried and drooped yet, the sign I usually look for. My onions were a disaster last year. Hopefully the combination of heavy rain and blazing sun has helped them on the home straight.

One disappointment: my little apple tree. Successfully moved from home to allotment due to football damage, it had looked like it was enjoying its new position, in full sun with lots of space. But having blossomed well it has now dropped every one of it’s little fruitlets, so I guess there won’t be apples this autumn again. Not sure what I did wrong. Very envious of fellow allotmenteers who have lots of fruit from relatively young trees. Maybe it will third year lucky.

I might have been doing this gardening lark a few years now, but sometimes I just feel like an absolute beginner.

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