If there’s one plant that I have enjoyed growing over the years then it has to be glasshouse tomatoes. During my apprenticeship days we grew ‘Ailsa Craig’ as the main crop and despite it being prone to a few problems must be one of the best varieties ever. Grown correctly it had (and still has) a fine taste but over the years the strain has degenerated and it has been superseded by others, particularly the F1 hybrids.

Of the F1’s ‘Shirley’ has been the winner with me and many other growers as it is very much like Ailsa Craig both in looks and taste. As Shirley is my wife’s name, I still grow it but as my main crop now, I have gone back to an old straight variety that for me anyway, beats the lot, ‘Tigerella’. A lovely shaped tomato with orangey stripes over the skin, it doesn’t just taste fine but also looks good on a plate.

I can’t imagine the number of varieties that I have grown but many are now difficult, but not impossible, to find, names like ‘Radio’ and ‘Harbinger’ spring to mind from the past. More recently, with all the choice we now have available, memorable names include ‘Malinowy  Henryka’ a lovely orange coloured, large fruited Eastern European variety and ‘Bloody Butcher’ which as the name implies is blood red and a lovely  heritage type.

As can be seen I am a intermediate type tomato fan, what some might call ordinary tomatoes, although I am happy to add a few others to the cropping plan each year. ‘Sungold’ is a super variety but equally so are some of the plum types that you can pick and eat like sweets straight from the plant. ‘Principe Borghese’ being a lovely one that springs to mind.

So, when it comes to tomatoes, we have never had it so good as far as varieties are concerned. What I will say though is  “don’t always think that you need to go for a F1 hybrid variety to get the best quality fruits”. A lot of the success with tomatoes is in the growing and finding varieties to suit your requirements and situation. I always remember that with dear old ‘Ailsa Craig’ the best fruits were produced at the end of the season when we got a bit of wilt in the glasshouse and so reduced watering. Now that’s what you called – flavour!



Tigerella 009
TIgerella Tomato

The New Year

Next year, 2016, is a big one for me as I reach 50 years working in professional horticulture and 40 years giving advice to other gardeners on BBC Radio Nottingham.

I have worked with some really wonderful people over that time but the ones that stand out are those who guided me through the early years of my career and especially at Boots Pure Drug Company, as it was known then. George Reynolds, Albert Parks, John Frisby and especially Adrian Johnson. No you will never have heard of these people but they were true horticulturists, masters of so many skills and what an honour for me to have learned from them.

Coming up to date and the new  East Midlands Flower Show could not have come during a better year than 2016, when, at last, our area gets its own gardening show. This, to my delight, will also give me the chance to meet many more folks interested in this wonderful pursuit and also, perhaps, offer advice and skills just like those men did for me all those years ago.

The real excitement of gardening is in the fact that each year brings a totally new experience and different challenges for all involved. With all the added milestones going on over the months it is really going to be a bumper harvest for me, no matter what! Merry Christmas.

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The mild damp weather has certainly been a talking point over the last few weeks even though hyped up, as usual, by the media at times. Looking back through articles that I’ve written over many years there are a great number of references to mild weather at this time of years but from experience I can’t remember a tear like this

Yes, it has been very mild during the second half of December many times in the past but usually by now we have had a real cold spell that has, ‘seen of,’ so to speak, those plants which would otherwise keep going on and on. This year has been the exception and therefore we are finding that not just plants but birds and animals have been caught out. Hedgehogs are roaming about, a house martin flying around Attenborough Nature Reserve and spiders happily making cobwebs around the shed.

Back to the plant world and I myself have been quite delighted to see Hebe ‘Midsummer Beauty’ in full flower, a container of English lavender looking as good as it does in summer and to top it all my Pelargonium ‘Frank Headley’ still giving its all out there in the garden. We all have our own examples of unseasonal happenings in the garden and although we rabbit on about wanting some really cold weather, I myself am enjoying every minute of this winter – so far.Geranium 054

East Midlands Flower Show

Look out for more details  of our brand new East Midlands Flower Show being held next June 25th 26th in the beautiful surroundings of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire. The East Midlands has some of the keenest gardeners in Britain so it is about time that we had our very own venue, open to all, of course.Newstead Abbey

Pensthorpe Natural Park

pensthorpe dec 2015 132pensthorpe dec 2015 141It’s very rarely we go to Norfolk without calling in at Pensthorpe and last Tuesday, during a break in the rain, provided the perfect opportunity. I always look in on the turtle doves, who seem quite happy not being in North Africa at present  and also on the red squirrels who were busy carrying sticks about and very active during these mild conditions.

On horticultural matters a visit to the herbaceous prairie as I call it, is a must at any time of the year but at present the old flower stalks and dry foliage is looking a real treat. This is a reminder of course that the herbaceous perennials, although stunning during the summer months are also very showy at this time of the year. The plantings at Pensthorpe are inspirational running down, as they do to a lovely lily laden pool. A full list of the plants is available.pensthorpe dec 2015 135

Us Evil Gardeners

ivyI do get a little agitated with the comments from some conservationists that gardeners could do a great deal more to aid the plight of wildlife. Whether we aren’t planting the right species in our borders, using too many slug pellets, spraying too much chemical on our veg or having too neat a lawn, the list of complaints keep coming.

The latest, of course, concerns hedgehogs and the view that garden fence panels are stopping these creatures from moving about freely. I have just noticed a little booklet called ‘The Last Hedgehog in Nottinghamshire’ and to tell you the truth I could not even open it up because of the sentimentality of the title so I won’t condemn it just from it’s title.

Back to the hedgehog road blocks. I love reading old country books and my favourites are those by G Bramwell Evans a revered countryman who for years went by the name of Romany Of The BBC. His broadcasts on country matters were as live and based on actual observations of nature in the raw. One of these was about a hedgehog he named Hotchi and he describes how this animal climbed a vertical stone wall rolled up at the top and toppled of the other side using his spines as a suspension mechanism when he hit the ground. He also mentioned that hedgehogs can climb trellis and also trees if they so wish and that’s why they are so hard to keep in an enclosed garden.

This, to me goes against what gardeners are being told now that we are stopping their movements which in turn is helping reduce their numbers. I would also say that a lot more slug pellets were used during the time that hedgehogs were seen in greater numbers and that those pellets were much more lethal than those bought now. I have my own ideas about why hedgehog numbers have reduced so dramatically but that’s another matter. All I ask is that we gardeners are given facts which will then help us make a balanced decision on our garden management. By the way I have just instated a hedgehog box as I am as concerned about their numbers as anyone else.