Frosted oca Oxalis tuberosa foliage
I was beginning to think that my new garden might be the opposite of a frost pocket – a frost haven, if you like. Despite the sinking temperatures, and frost appearing outside the garden, there had been none inside. But this morning there’s a touch of frost on the ‘lawn’ (it’s mostly weeds), so that hope has gone out of the window! It might not be a frost pocket, but my garden will have to endure the winter weather that’s on its way.
On the bright, cold days it’s nice to potter about in the garden, doing a little bit of tidying up, and seeing how the winter crops are coming along. My onions are sprouting strongly now, and the chard has been growing as well. The birds are flocking to the newly installed feeding station – I shall have to go out and refill the bird seed later on. We’ve added a woodpecker to the list of visitors! With the arrival of the frost weather it’s important to remember that our feathered friends may need a source of fresh water as well as food, and to break the ice on the water dish after a frost.
We’ve had a long autumn here in the UK, but it seems as though winter is here now, which means it’s time to plant bare root trees, whilst they’re dormant. I’m not ready to do that in my garden yet – we want to get the hard landscaping done before we start thinking about planting – which is frustrating, but it does give me some time to ‘observe’ and see where the winter sun comes and and things like that.
One of the plants I definitely want in my garden next year is a grape vine. It might not be a choice for a GlutBusters garden, given that we hardly have a Mediterranean climate, and a harvest of edible grapes is not guaranteed. But as well as fitting in nicely with my Middle Eastern theme, a grape vine had a lot of advantages that may – at first glance – be overlooked. Now is a good time to plant a bare root grape vine, and there’s lots of varieties to choose from.
GlutBusters grape vine advice
- If you already have a grape vine in your garden, then now is also a good time to prune it. You can shorted some of the prunings and bring them inside as hardwood cuttings, if you’d like more vines. (Or you can wait until late spring/ early summer and take softwood cuttings.) I’ve had completely neglected vine cuttings root, it’s an easy process!
- Vines take up vertical space, which is a boon in a small garden. But it’s also possible to grow them in containers, as standards, if you’re really pushed for space (or want a variety that may need a little extra protection to crop well – you can move it when necessary).
- There’s more to a vine than grapes. They’re stunningly ornamental plants, with beautiful fresh foliage in spring, which turns to heavenly shades in the autumn.
- And they’re great for providing shade – if you have an arbor or a pergola for them to grow up, you can give yourself a cool spot in the heat of the summer.
- Choose a dessert or wine grape variety according to your preference. But if the summer is poor and your grapes don’t ripen properly, don’t despair – try turning your sour grapes into verjus, which was a popular culinary souring agent before citrus fruits became widely available.
- That fresh spring foliage is edible, you can use your vine leaves for dolmades and other wrapped delights. You could even preserve some for future use, by freezing or picking them.
- In a bountiful year, if you have too many dessert grapes to eat at once (!) they can be dried, or turned into jams and jellies, or juiced.
- There are different varieties for outdoor or protected cropping, so you can choose which works best for your space.
- Different varieties also have different ripening times – early, mid or late season. Within the constraints of your climate, you can choose different varieties to extend your harvest season. Most varieties are self-fertile, so one plant of each would be enough.
- Grape varieties don’t grow ‘true’ from seed, and are bought as plants – so an excess is not likely to be a problem! But they are easily propagated if you want more plants, or to share with friends.
- As with all fruit, thinning is vital – a painful process for the gardener, but the result is bigger, tastier grapes.
A grape vine’s autumn colours
If you don’t fancy a grapevine, then there are a range of other vining edibles that might fit the bill. Kiwis are lovely plants – Jenny is a self-fertile variety with beautiful furry leaves and stems with a red tinge. If you have room for a male and a female you’ll have heavier crops of fruit on the female (and one male can pollinate several females). Plus, there’s a male variety called ‘Adam’ that has lovely, pink, variegated foliage and puts on a good show. But it’s not a small plant. For a smaller scale planting, look at Kiwi ‘Issai’, which is a different species and a ‘cocktail kiwi’ – its fruits are smaller, and hairless.
Hops have attractive foliage (especially the golden variety) and the young shoots and leaves are edible – it’s considered to be a gourmet, seasonal, perennial edible. You’ll need a female variety to produce the hop flowers that can be dried for use in sleepy pillows, or for flower arranging.
Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) is the tuberous nasturtium, an unusual (but increasingly available) edible that clambers. With attractive (and edible) foliage and flowers, it makes very good use of space.
A plant I’m hoping to grow next year, but have never grown before, is the Maypop (Passiflora incarnata). A cold-hardy passionflower, it is reputed to have both stunning flowers and tasty fruit. It is deciduous, so it won’t give you year-round interest, but if it is as good as it promises to be then it will be a real edimental (ornamental edible).
There are also some annual options for climbing plants. Runner (pole) beans, of course, but also climbing gourds and squashes. I saw a lovely edible archway that consisted of grape vines, kiwis and bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) over the summer. Fruit, shade and flowers – albeit on a rather larger scale than most of us could manage.
A bottlegourd flower
This one is an affiliate link, but I am genuinely hoping that Santa will bring me one of Suttons’ cuttings tube kit for Christmas. It’s a Victorian/ Steampunk style doofer for rooting water cuttings, all test tubes and alchemist-chic.
I have already been referred to as the Grinch this year, because I don’t like Christmas food. I detest mince pies, Christmas pudding and Stollen. I can eat, but would rather not, roast turkey. Brussels sprouts… pah! A decent chocolate log, that’s what makes Christmas. Growing up, I much preferred Boxing Day, as in our house that meant boiled ham and parsley sauce. Heaven.
From two sowings a year, parsley can be a year-round feature of your garden (with a little protection in winter if the weather is particularly nasty – or a pot on the kitchen windowsill).
Whilst its flowers may not meet our definition of attractive, they certainly fit the bill for beneficial insects such as lacewings and hoverflies, so don’t despair when you parsley flowers and sets seeds (which you could save for next year).
Curly parsley is the traditional British garnish, but the flat-leaved versions are generally thought to have a superior flavour (and they’re easier to chop!). According to A Taste of Beirut, Lebanese parsley is delicate and silky, much finer than Italian flat-leaved parsley, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of Lebanese parsley and so far I haven’t seen it for sale.
As well as making a good garnish and culinary herb, parsley can be the star of dishes such as tabbouleh salad and persillade (which is a a bit like a parsley version of pesto), so sow some indoors now for early harvests next year!
GlutBuster top tip for December
Water is always a problem in winter – there’s often too much of it, and sometimes it’s frozen solid. In fact, it’s often issues with water that kill plants over winter, rather than the cold per se. In wet weather the root zone can become waterlogged; if it’s dry or frozen, roots can be starved of water for days, with plants dying of drought. The key is to improve drainage where possible (remove saucers and trays from underneath containers), protect plants from deluges and remember to water if it’s dry or the soil is frozen.
That’s the GlutBusters newsletter all wrapped up and delivered in time for Christmas 😉 What are you doing in your garden this month?