Garden Plan

I decided it was time to draw a plan of the garden… and this is the first draft. Marking everything is impossible, so I’ve focused on the locations of medium to large shrubs and trees. The fruit trees are numbered and the size they might reach in 10 or 15 years is marked with dashed lines. I’m not sure how practical it is to number and label everything, but I might try later.

Parts of it look a bit odd – why are the vegetable beds to the north of a plum tree? Why does the greenhouse have an apple tree to the south-east, which means careful management of its height forever? The answer is that plans evolved – the vegetable beds ended up where a (now deceased) dessert plum was, and the greenhouse was moved north from the plan after the unexpected arrival of our son made having more lawn near the house a priority. I’m sure that in a decade, things will have shifted more.

A plan of the garden (2016/7)

A plan of the garden (2016/7). 1 = Beurre Sterckmans pear, 2 = Concorde pear, 3 = Beth pear, 4 = Iranian medlar, 5 = Fiesta apple, 6 = Celeste cherry, 7 = Yellow Pershore plum, 8 = Howgate Wonder apple, 9 = Cockle Pippin apple

When drawing it, what struck me is how easy it was to sketch everything from memory. I used an old Google Maps image from back when the plot was bare for the outline, but the rest, the locations of the paths, arches, shrubs and beds, just fell onto the page. Gardening means devoting so much time and effort and attention to such a small space that the entire thing becomes engraved on your memory. Even if we move one day, I’m not sure I’ll ever forget our garden here.

Ulluco for the Win

Remember that I mentioned yesterday that you can buy oca in garden centres nowadays? Well, by complete coincidence I found some ulluco in our local one today. They’re definitely following customer interest in unusual edibles and new experiences.

Since it was on my wish list I couldn’t resist buying a few packets:

Ulluco seed tubers

Ulluco seed tubers

This completes the set of Andean root crops I know about that’ll grow here. If these grow I will have tried them all.

If anyone else wants some, this website sells them. I’ve never used them so I can’t vouch for their service.

Yacon

In 2016 I grew yacon for the first time, and in December I finally dug up the tubers and had a chance to try it. They were crisp but moist like water chestnuts, but with a carrot and mint flavour. They left a similar fresh after-taste in my mouth to mint toothpaste or mouthwash, which may not appeal to everyone.

Yacon tubers

Yacon tubers

To go back a bit, yacon is another Andean crop that’s gained a niche in the UK as an unusual vegetable in recent years, following in the footsteps of oca (which has been sold occasionally in my local garden centre) and mashua. The Andes are also the original home of the humble potato, and traditional agriculture there relies much more heavily on roots and less on grains than our own. The roots they tamed came from diverse families: yacon is a relative of the dahlia (many of which also have edible tubers), oca is a member of the wood-sorrel family, and mashua is related to nasturtiums.

The Andes is much closer to the equator than Britain is, but altitude makes much of them relatively cool and moist. Crops from there feel right at home in British summers… the problem is that there is much less seasonal variation there, and the winters are much milder.

Because of this, many Andean crops respond to changes in day-length instead of temperature to trigger changes such as flowering and tuber production, but unfortunately this means they yield late by UK standards and plants maybe killed by frosts before reaching maximum yield. A long, warm autumn is required. The potato also had this problem when first imported to Europe, but centuries of selective breeding have encouraged it to yield much earlier than in its native habitat.

Luckily, frosts did arrive late this year, so I got to sample the crispy, carrot mint flavour of yacon on my first try.

So would I recommend it? Taste-wise, I’d rank it 2nd in my Andes obscure vegetable list, behind oca (lemon potato with sour cream) but ahead of mashua (sour potato). I find the minty aftertaste a bit odd in a root vegetable.

Health-wise, yacon has a couple of interesting traits. Firstly, it contains a lot of inulin, which tastes sweet but is basically indigestible to humans. This can be useful if you’re diabetic or on a diet. Unfortunately, gut bacteria can use inulin, which means you may get certain gassy side-effects from eating it.

The second interesting but less proven effect is to influence testosterone levels. Some studies have suggested that yacon raises testosterone levels, the opposite effect to mashua, which lowers them. Supposedly the Incas would deliberately feed their troops mashua to stop them getting distracted. Maybe if they’d just eaten yacon as well, the effects would have cancelled out.

Scent

One thing I haven’t really paid much attention to in the past is scent. We have some flowers in our garden which are scented, like the Goumi (elaeagnus multiflora), or the roses, but they weren’t chosen for that reason. This is probably it takes quite a strong scent for me to notice, but my wife has a much better sense of smell and does notice when nearby plants make an effort to be fragrant. Late last year I decided to stock up on more strongly scented plants for her to enjoy, and they’re not all either planted or at least in pots ready to go.

Finding reliable information about scent is actually quite hard without visiting a lot of gardens at the right time of year and smelling for yourself. The quality of scents are very personal and hard to describe to someone else, which makes it hard to know whether you’ll like anything you buy or not until too late, and lists of strongly scented plants always seem to over-shoot. If you filter for scented plants on any supplier’s website you’ll be presented with hundreds of options, many of which are useless unless you actually stick your nose into the flower. This wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted plants which you can smell coming, which give bang for your buck.

Plant Choices

After much short-listing, the selected species were boiled down to the list below. I’ve indicated the claimed flowering times from the suppliers’ websites, but they may be optimistic and continuous flowering over several months may not happen.

Scented shrub flowering times

Scented shrub flowering times

I’ve mentioned the new climbing roses in a previous post. They play strongly into my plant for scent from January to December to the front, the area which gets the most foot traffic. They’re complemented with a winter flowering honeysuckle, a viburnum, and a Korean lilac. All of these have small, pale, strongly scented flowers, which suggest moth pollinators to me. This is a typical description of a moth pollinated flower:

Most ‘moth flowers’ are white or pale coloured, so that moths can see them at dusk. They are usually scented, and often the scent becomes stronger in the evening. And the flowers often have long tubes, to accommodate the moths’ long tongues and exclude other insects. If you plant these flowers you will certainly help to feed adult moths in your garden.

This makes intuitive sense – scent is more useful when other ways of attracting attention such as vision are less useful, and moths are typically nocturnal. Unfortunately it’s quite hard to find information about the typical pollinator for many species by Googling.

For the back garden coverage of the year is less even (there’s a big gap in autumn), although that’s partly compensated for by the large number of flowering and aromatic plants and herbs chosen for other reasons. To those existing plants I’ve added two more shrubs with small, pale flowers: sweet box, widely known for its scent, and a deutzia, where I’ll just have to wait and see. Finally, I have a couple of philadelphus / mock orange plants, which everyone agrees can fill entire gardens with an orange-blossom scent.

Supplier Issues

Unfortunately there were some mail order supplier issues again. I’m starting to get very nervous whenever a plant delivery is due, because it seems like something always goes wrong. At this stage, if I could get hold of everything locally I’d go for it even for a significant premium, but it just isn’t possible.

In this case, the issue was Suttons. I ordered in late November, with the website suggesting delivery within 2 – 3 weeks. I called and was told they were still awaiting stock. No updates were forthcoming. The week before Christmas, still nothing. I called and was told that they would dispatch immediately so we’d have the plants before we went away to visit relatives. Still nothing. I called again and was told the delivery had now been delayed and would definitely be in January after we got back. The next day, the plants arrived.

Don’t get me wrong. The plants are decent sized and of good quality. It’s just that there was no useful feedback at all regarding when they might arrive, and Sutton’s own staff apparently didn’t know that they’d dispatched them when I talked to them the afternoon before they arrived.

Why is running a reliable mail-order nursery and/or delivery business such an impossible thing for a customer to ask for?