Sunday, 23 May 2010


A few years ago I visited the RHS garden at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire. One part that caught my eye was the small herb garden. Instead of the usual box hedge there was edging of chives in full flower and covered in bumblebees.

A Bumblebee enjoying the chives at Harlow Carr

You do have to be patient with chives. Sow the seeds early, in modules . These (below) were sown on 27th March from seeds collected from last years flowers. Protect them from the cold and within a few weeks they will germinate. Chives are monocots with one single seedling leaf.

Chive seedlings grown in modules

Once the roots have filled the modules , plant out the seedlings in a clump – no need to thin them out too much. They like a sunny place – mine line the path and take over from the snowdrops.

They are as tough as old boots and live quite happily in a few inches of soil on my green roof.

Growing happily next to the sedums on our green roof

They probably won’t flower in the first year – but you can still chop bits off to add to scrambled eggs or sprinkle on to new potatoes. In the second year they will flower and start to attract bees, butterflies and a variety of other beneficial insects. They don't seam to suffer from anything nasty. Although they can be attacked by onion fly if grown too close to onions.

There's no need to deadhead them immediately – wait until they have set seed and collect the seed heads and store in an envelope in a cool dry place. Once they have all finished flowering I tidy them up by trimming them down to about 10cm high, usually they will give a second flush of flowers. Come January/February the snowdrops will flower along the path instead.

To make sure you have herbs for the kitchen - wash and dry the trimmings, then chop them into small pieces. spread out a thin layer on a tray and freeze. Once frozen scoop them up into a freezer bag.

Chives are perennials and will give you herbs for the kitchen and flowers for the garden for years. Once they have become established you may want to divide them. Dig them up in March or October and divide the clumps. Put some bonemeal and compost in the soil to give them a feed and replant your chives.

If you saved seeds, sow them in March and start bulking up the clumps of chives you have.

On garden visits you'll often see Box hedging - it is so boring and does nothing for the bees. Why not grow a chive hedge instead? Yes it may take a while but, it will definitely be worth the wait.

Monday, 3 May 2010


In my search for the perfect tomato I grow three or four varieties every year. In 2009 I bought seeds from the Real Seed Company and Seeds of Italy that included:
  • Latah – an early salad tomato. It was OK, but we’ve had better.
  • Irish Gardener’s Delight – vine tomato. Sweet taste but skins split – which was annoying
  • Russian Uribkany – an early bush, salad tomato. OK, but not worth a repeat sowing.
  • Costoluto Fiorentino -  a ribbed beef tomato. We didn’t like this raw in salad as it was too fleshy. But it made a very tasty roast-tomato soup. So this one definitely gets a second year in the garden.
The shortlist for 2010...
Costoluto Fiorentino. The seed was sown on March 21st and most of it germinated. The eight best seedlings were kept for potting on and they are now looking pretty healthy (picture above). They should have been planted out this week - but the weather has turned cold and I wimped out, frightened the frost might kill them off. For the moment they'll stay in the mini greenhouse until the weather warms up.
Harbinger was also sown on March 21st. According to Chiltern Seeds, Harbinger was introduced in 1910. "It produces medium sized fruit, thin-skinned and of a very good flavour."
Big yields are nice, but not that important - taste is why this one made the shortlist.
The Black Cherry seeds were sown two weeks later than the others on April 4th, which is why they are so small (see pic above). That's OK, with some warm sun they will soon catch up. These are a small cherry salad tomato. The fruit should be dark red to purple which will make a change from the usual red.

Besides tomatoes for soup and salad, there should also be enough green ones left over for chutney. 

There is another tomato on the shortlist: Piccolo. It is a small cherry tomato and tastes wonderful, Waitrose and Sainnsburys both sell it. But, nobody seems to offer these seeds. Sadly you can't grow this from the seed collected from the fruit as it would not grow true. It is an F1 hybrid produced by crossing two different tomatoes. To find out more about F1 hybrids try this wikipedia pageAs well as F1 you might see tomatoes referred to as determinate and indeterminate and wonder what that means...

Determinate tomatoes
  • Grow to about 1.2m, flower and bear their fruit all at once
  • Sometimes called bush varieties and often don't need staking
  • Do not need side shoots removed.

Indeterminate tomatoes
  • Bear fruit across the whole season you will see flowers and fruit together on the plant
  • They only stop producing once hit by frost
  • Grow taller and so need staking to support them and the weight of fruit
  • Usually need side shoots removed
  • They are often 'stopped' by pinching out the growing tip after a certain height has been reached.
Black Cherry, Harbinger and Costoluto Fiorentino are all indeterminate.

Christina Fox


Our garden is small. There are two raised beds for flowers -  behind them are two growing areas mainly for veg (with space for a water butt and compost bin). Then at the back is a large, brick-built shed that has a green roof. We're lucky that the Victorians who built our house in 1898 gave us a walled garden, which shields the plants from the wind and gives us a warm protected micro climate. With a small growing area I don’t want anything in there that doesn’t earn its keep.

Last year I grew peas over two arches against the left hand wall. The trouble was that eight pea plants just about give you enough ripe peas for one portion at a time. To get a decent amount of peas for two dinner plates needed more plants and we don’t have the space.

I had the same problem with strawberries – over the whole season we had a good few bowl-fulls. But, there were probably no more that 4 ripe strawberries to eat at any one time. I remember seeing one perfect, beautiful strawberry and thought I’ll have that later. But the local squirrel had obviously had the  same thought and managed to beat me too it. I was starting to think they were not worth the bother.

Then there were the carrots. 2008 produced a great crop of carrots, which kept us going for several months. Come 2009 and three packets of seeds later only one measly carrot managed to germinate.

So, I made a decision. In 2010 I’m still going to grow tomatoes and courgettes, plus I have some strawberry plants left over (so they can stay). However, my main aim is to try and have something in flower every month that will keep the bees buzzing. 

No more worrying about cabbage whites and carrot fly. It's pollen and nectar I'm looking for this year.

Christina Fox