Archive | Fruit, Vegetables & Herbs

Tips on growing good Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs

Umbels for Gardens & Ornamentation

Umbels are far from humble when grown well. When grown badly like Hemlock they are poisonous, even fatal but many species such as carrots, parsnips and fennel are edible or even medicinal.

Umbels flower in a parasol shape with short stalks of equal length rising from a common point opening to a flat or rounded spray.

Book Cover
Unusual Facts About Umbels

  • A small umbel is called an umbellule
  • Fatsia japonica has a globular umbel reminiscent of a golf ball.
  • Sea Holly (Eryngeum) produces fruirlets rather than seed but is still a member of the umbel group of plants
  • Umbellifers are mostly aromatic flowering plants of the genus Apium such as the celery, carrot or parsley family.
  • Queen Anne’s lace is a development from the common carrot
  • The first ‘Herbal’ describing umbels was credited in a ‘History of Plants’ believed to be written circa 300 BC.
  • Coriander leaves produce ‘ cilantro’ which has strong antibacterial and fungicidal properties that helps kill Salmonella bacteria hence its use in food from hot climates

Herbal Umbels in Medicine

  •  Traditionally many umbelifereous plants have been used in herbal medicine.
  • One recurring use of plants from this group of plant is in treating digestive and stomach problems. Parsley, Dill, Fennel,  and Lovage are well known in this respect
  • Angelica, Wild Celery, Caraway, Coriander, Anise, Cow Parsnip and other plants are used for treatments and  a range of medicinal claims, toothpaste, tisanes and poultices.

Sea Holly                             Hedge Parsley  (Torilis japonica)

Ornamental Umbels and Uses

  • The ferny foliage of umbelliferous plants looks attractive when combined in borders with more robust foliage even before the flowerheads are taken into account.
  • See through backdrops and feathery borders can be included in your own bespoke garden design.
  • I grow Angelica in my border and it is a robust plant that survives our northern climate.
  • Many gardeners already grow Astrantia and Burpleurum a couple of other umbels without thinking of them as part of the carrot group.
  • You could grow a whole bed of Eryngium species including, yuccifolium, alpinum, higanteum and variifolium
  • Pennyworts or Hydrocotyle are useful in water gardens and the harder to find Oxypolis is used in wet land.

Wild Carrot                          Pig Nut (Conopodium majus)


Banana Republic and Musa Review

Banana hand

I have just finished eating a Fyffes banana grown in Costa Rica. They were certified by the Rainforest Alliance and were sold as ‘Ripe, snack size bananas’ and a very appropriate  name it was. In our fruit bowl we also have ‘organic Fairtrade bananas fro the Dominican Republic cutesy of the EEC at least until brexit by which time they will be well overripe.

This encouraged me to dig out an old post with photos from Kew in 2010. I was in the middle of a series of posts on fruit trees from exotic climes and realise that the Banana didn’t quite fit. Bananas are herbs and do not grow on trees. The stem,  can grow quite tall in some species and is really just matted together leaves.

Therefore I offered some of my photographs to show different varieties of Banana growing in Kew hot house and Madeira.

Kew Red Banana
Red Banana

Musa coccinea Red banana
Very Red Banana Musa coccinea

Commercial Banana plantation

Banana in Flower

Banana plantation
Banana Crop in Madeira

Read these articles for more information.

Banana growing in UK
Exotic Gardens to Visit to see Banana growing in UK

Other Musa Species and Genra

  • Plantains are  a cooking variety of Musa and a member of the banana family
  • Wild banana species, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana generally have seeds but cultivated bananas are almost always sterile and seedless
  • Wiki as usual has an authoritative list of Bananas and an explanation of their classification.
  • The false banana or ensete is a member of the Musa genra

Rotten Tomatoes

Misshapen tomatoes are a bane this summer and the rot is really setting in early .

Cause of the Problem

  • This is my first attempt at growing beef tomatoes. Did I chose a difficult variety with ‘Marmande’ which I now know is known for it’s different shape.
  • After an early start my plants looked fine until sun shine caught me out. I needed to install greenhouse shading earlier but thought I could rectify and catch up OK.
  • Many leaves curled turned brittle both for me and in my neighbors greenhouse.
  • Water and feed was readily available but not in the right  way to avoid problems.

Action Plan

  • I will settle for fewer plants and cull the worst culprits.
  • I have increased the feed and seaweed nutrients.
  • At the end of the season I will consider not growing these tomatoes again.
  • Our local show has a category for misshaped vegetables – will this fruit be according to classification.

Blossom End Rot

  • Too little calcium is the normal reason for this problem shown below. The strange weather may have contributed this year.

Tomato Husbandry Problems

  • Planting out in the cold will shock the plants and although they may live they wont thrive. Avoid impatience.
  • Inconsistent watering can create problems the most frequent being blossom end rot. Keep soil evenly moist. Ventilate well and water in the evening.
  • Forgetting to pinch out side shoots on cordons cuts down on the size of crop.
  • Tomatoes are heavy feeders – follow the instructions on a high potash, liquid  feed.
  • Over crowding can reduce overall number of tomatoes
  • Poor pollination can be helped by gently tapping open flowers and misting the plants.

Brussels Sprouts Difficulties

Good, firm, mild flavoured Brussels Sprouts are a heavy yielding crop that only need a bit of care and consideration. Here are our top tips.

Correct Growing Techniques

  • F1 seeds will give the best results. It is a case of you get what you pay for. Cheap Brussels Sprouts seeds often lead to open pollinated varieties that fail to justify the time and space utilised.
  • Firm almost packed soil is appreciated by Brussels Sprouts. Draw some soil up around 10″ of the stem in late summer to prevent wind rock or tie plants to a firm stake. Open loose soil encourages blown. ‘fluffy’ sprouts.
  • Wet seasons can lead to foliage loss and leaf disease. Plant 12-18″ apart or wider on an open site to reduce the severity of infection. Water in summer if there is a drought.
  • Where white blister and ringspot diseases are severe choose resistant varieties like Dimitri, Cronus,  & Bosworth.
  • This year I am trying Burbane and Rudolph from Kings seeds.

Pests and Other Problems

  • Whitefly, caterpillars and aphids can be a problem mid season. It is no fun if they get into the buttons. Cold weather cures these problems but failing that I treat plants with a mild insecticide.
  • Yellow fungus infected rotting leaves can’t be treated with any garden approved fungicide. Pull off any affected leaves and bin them.
  • As with other brassicas their is a danger of club root that is best solved by crop rotation into fresh soil improving drainage and adding lime. I have heard of planting the sprouts with a rhubarb leaf as a prophylactic.
  • Frost can be both good and bad. Young plants need to be planted mid summer well after any frost but stalks can stand into winter and are sweeter if frosted first.
  • Old sprouts can have an odor caused by compounds containing sulfur. This may be the cause of sprouts falling out of favour in some kitchens until new varieties were discovered.

Varieties & Variations of Brussels Sprouts

  • Top Eight F1 varieties include  Brendan, Trafalgar, Crispus. Nautic, Bridget, Brodie, Maximus F1 and Hastings.
  • Flower sprouts are the result of crossing a Brussels Sprout and curly Kale resulting in tasty small green and purple sprouts with curly leaves ideal for adding to stir fries.
  • Older varieties of Brussels Sprouts have the best flavour, but it is the modern hybrids which have the ability to hold the small tight buttons for a long time on the stem.
  • Red Brussels Sprouts  deepen in colour as the weather gets colder. Red Bull produces medium sized buttons with an unusual nutty flavour. The colour reverts to green when cooking. Red Ball is hardy and has a long cropping season.

Harvesting Brussels Sprouts

  • Take the buttons from the bottom of the stalk first.
  • Take off blown or flowering sprouts and any yellowing leaves as you go.
  • Cut off the whole stalk and use the sprouts indoors as you need them. They keep better on the stalk.
  • The top of the stalk can be eaten like a small cabbage

Rhubarb All the Talk at a Local Society

RhubarbEarly Spring Rhubarb breaking Through

What Does Rhubarb Mean to You

  • Rhubarb is a vegetable that thinks it is a fruit and has royal pretensions with top varieties called Victoria and Early Albert
  • Rhubarb Rhubarb Rhubarb is an indistinct chant  or none sense word shouted out in an unsynchronised manner at a public event.
  • ‘A rhubarb’ is baseball slang for a fight or argument among players.
  •   “Stop talking rhubarb”. Complete and utter balderdash and b*****s.
  • Stewed or in a pie it is the food of gods. Even raw with the stick end just dipped in a little sugar – gear nosh.
  • Already his year I have had Rhubarb flavoured gin and a special cider flavoured as Rhubarb and custard.
  • According to some ‘Its very name means “food of the barbarians” the people who live beyond the Rha, now the river Volga’.
  • To some less fortunate Rhubarb is a strong purgative.

In Praise of Growing Rhubarb

  • It is one of the earliest crops in the garden.
  • It can be forced into even earlier cropping if kept in the dark with a bit of warmth eg from a straw wrapper in an upturned bucket. The stems will then be thin, blanched pink and juicy.
  • Rhubarb is hardy and if fed and watered will produce for many years.
  • The big leaves are easy to compost. Even though they contain Oxalic acid they do no harm in the compost heap.

Young Stems



A Late sowing of Kale


Here in Oxford, we tried sowing some Kale in the middle of August.

We sowed some directly into pots and as an after thought sowed some directly into the ground.

Going on holiday for two weeks after sowing seeds is always asking for trouble, and by the time we got back they had shriveled up and were only good for the compost heap. However, the seeds sown direct into the ground did quite well. A few got eaten by slugs but a couple grew fast enough to escape their clutches.

The location in the garden wasn’t the best, with shade from Conifer and other trees limited the amount of direct sun, as Autumn progressed, they were lucky to get one hour of sun per day. Yet, despite little direct sunlight, they kept growing and soon started to encroach on each other. We started picking some leaves from the bottom of the plants and got a few meals out of them.

As the nights shortened, growth slowed down almost to a stop and the Kale pests seemed to be taking out more than they were able to grow. I think later damage came from pigeons or the like, it doesn’t look like the work of slugs – too big and neat.

Anyway, they look OK, in the mostly empty border and were a good ground-cover as we await a new fence. The last few straggly plants will be harvested and will make the odd meal or two.

But, for late sowing, they didn’t get enough sunlight to really get going – even the richest soil can’t compensate for lack of light. But, next year, we’ll pick a better spot and hope that they really take off. We may also try a later sowing because Kale is a good plant for providing fresh veg through the winter months. However, we may have to take pest control a bit more seriously which will mean netting to stop both butterflies and pigeons – so maybe not in the flower border.

Here’s a useful post on growing organic Kale.

Related posts at Gardenerstips


Edible Hedges You Can Grow & Pick

Sloes and damsons are in good supply this September in your local hedgerows. I have relied on my own blackberries this year but from the train window yesterday there were masses of plump black fruit for picking.

Forage amongst the book shelves to get a cornucopia of edible wild plant ideas.

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You can plant your own edible hedge now until late March which will give you a supply of edible fruit and berries for years to come. Bare rooted plants are very reasonably priced.

Easy Step by Step Hedge

Clear the ground to remove weeds and old roots by digging or using Glyphosphate based weedkiller. Leave for a few weeks.
Pick a frost free day and when ready to plant put bundles of bare rooted plants into a bucket of water to give them a drink.
Mark out the line of the hedgerow bearing in mind you will want two staggered rows of plants. You can put down mulch matting and plant through it if you wish.
You will need 4-5 plants per square yard.
Continue Reading →


Selecting a New Apple Tree

There are over 7000 different varieties of apple tree including those classed as eaters, cookers, crab or cider apples. 10% of these are available from RHS plant finder recommended nurseries.

Horticultural Considerations

  • Your apple tree should last a long time and be fruitful and satisfying. It is worth taking care to get the selection right.
  • The growth and size of your tree will depend to a large extent on the ‘rootstock’. The most common rootstocks are M27 5-6 feet tall, M26 8-12 feet tall and MM106 12-18 feet tall.
  • Some varieties of apple in clay based soil may grow slightly quicker and larger than an apple planted on light, sandy or chalky soil.
  • Most apple trees need another cultivar to pollinate their flowers and set fruit. It must flower at the same time. Triploid trees are very poor pollinators.
  • Some varieties are more disease resistant than others. Seek out award of garden merit AGM varieties or discuss with a specialist nursery.

Personal Selection Criteria

  • Warm country imports from supermarkets often have less flavour than your home grown apples.
  • Autumn apple days are held around the country and can offer a wealth of local advice. Sample tasting may be possible or you can select trusted well known favourites.
  • How you want to grow your tree can affect the selection. A trained espalier tree or cordon grown on a slant, a ballerina tree grown in a large pot or a ‘step over hedge’ tree are currently popular in designer gardens. The choice is yours but plan now for planting later this autumn.
  • Two year old trees will cost more but crop sooner than maidens.


June 17th Potatoes from a Waterbutt

This £1 packet of supermarket potato tubers have just been harvested to cook as new potatoes tonight. The variety was Charlotte, they were chitted in February and planted out in a frost shelter in March.

The results were better than usual in that they didn’t ‘go into the water’ when boiled. The potatoes were quite waxy, tasty and good value considering the price I paid. I used an old waterbutt rather than these special gro’bags see below. They had let me down in the past as I think they do not hold enough moisture. One advantage of both planters is that the ground stays clear and the space can now be used for other items.

I am now going to try use these planters for some late Chrysanthemums that can be kept outside in summer but brought into the greenhouse for autumn.


Long White Radishes

Mild-flavored winter radish usually characterized by fast-growing leaves and a long, white fleshy roots

White Radish (Raphanus sativus) Facts

  • Seeds of the Daikon, Mooli, Japanese or Oriental Radish are  popular for their pure white roots.
  • Generally they have  a crisp mild flavour that won’t go pithy.
  • Fully winter hardy they are best grown for autumn and winter production.
  • Roots can remain in the ground in good condition over a long period.
  • They can be lifted and stored the same as other root crops.
  • They produce best in sun and moist, fertile soil.
  • Radish do not transplant well but you can try using plugs.



  • Long White Icicle is currently on offer from Suttons in support of Cancer Research.
  • 23 varieties of Asian Radish seeds from
  • Or try our link to Thompson & Morgan top right



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