Whilst it may not be gardening weather just at the moment, as soon as the Christmas decorations are packed away most gardener’s attention will turn to getting ready for the new growing year. For the majority of these, that will mean starting the magical process of setting out seed potato tubers in trays or eggboxes, and waiting for their small dark green shoots to appear and herald the arrival of Spring. But how many gardeners know the fascinating history of the humble spud, and the enormous effect it has throughout the world?
The potato (Solanum tuberosum) was first cultivated some 8000 years ago, in the South American Andes, where they were worshipped in many myths and rituals. These original tubers were very bitter as they had high levels of the toxins solanine and tomatine – locals had to eat clay with their spuds to stop these from being absorbed! It is commonly believed that Sir Francis Drake introduced the potato to Europe in 1578 after a voyage to Chile, but this is actually highly unlikely. Recent research using DNA means that it is much more probable that Sixteenth-century Spanish explorers bough the first potatoes back to the Canary Islands and that they then made their way into Europe from there.
The adoption of the humble spud has been credited with fueling the Industrial Revolution – providing a new, cheap food source for industrial workers- but also led to the notorious Irish crop failures in 1845 and 1846 which caused the death of one and a half million Irish people. Today the potato is the fourth largest food crop in the world and in just 500 years production has spread from the Andes across the globe, even to warm, tropical Asia.
For today’s gardener, the range of seed potatoes available is large and varied. RV Roger Ltd in Pickering are offering over 80 varieties, including many rare and heritage varieties. The most popular is undoubtedly Arran Pilot, a first-early originally introduced in 1930 but still unsurpassed for flavour and reliability as an early ’scraper’. For the mashed potato connoisseur, try ‘Yukon Gold’ – bred in the 1980’s to recreate the sublime flavour of a prized variety grown in Lima, Peru. ‘Charlotte’ is another perennial favourite, a waxy potato that tastes great both hot, smothered in butter and mint, or cold in a salad. After the wet weather of last summer, many gardeners are looking at disease-resistant varieties which can withstand the vagaries of the British Summer – both Lady Balfour and Sarpo Mira perform very well, are perfect for organic production and have a great flavour too!
All the staff at RV Roger Ltd have been growing potatoes for years – if you would like any advice, call in or phone us and we would be delighted to help you grow your own potatoes and be part of this 8000 year old story.
Witch Hazel flowers on a snowy winter’s day.
After the warm(ish) Christmas period, the weather has been cold and snowy here this past week with more forecast. As we had a few centimetres of snow on the ground before the cold nights (-11C twice this week), the ground underneath has remained reasonably soft. so we are still able to lift bare-root trees, if a little slower than we would like. If you are unsure of how to look after new bare-root and rootballed trees during this cold weather, feel free to call us, we’ll be glad to advise.
The weather has also slowed progress on our greenhouse restoration. However, all the new timbers are in place and new glazing has started to be installed. Deadline is the end of February, so we can get lots of fresh plants in for the Spring.
This year we also celebrate our centenary, and are currently planning a series of events to mark this milestone. We’ll be sure to update you as soon as these are confirmed – we’d love all our customers old and new to be able to join us in celebrating 100 years of growing.
This coming weekend we are holding our annual Apple Weekend – a great celebration of Britian’s favourite fruit! There will be a display of over 150 varieties of orchard fruit, expert advice from our experienced nurserymen an all aspects of fruit growing, apple identification and tasting, as well as local produce for sale.
We have been holding an event every year since National Apple Day was launched by the charity Common Ground in 1990 – in fact, we were invited to attend that first event held in Covent Garden. There are now hundreds of events held throughout the country, visit their website for more information http://www.commonground.org.uk/
The nursery will be open between 9am and 5pm on both Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st October – we’d love to see you there!
Here at the Plant Centre in Pickering, we have a lovely old greenhouse, made by F Pratten and Co of Bath. No-one here can remember when we originally bought it, but it must have been sometime in the 1960’s. Despite our best efforts, it has started to look much the worse for wear in recent years – the roof leaks and a lot of the timbers are now rotten.
We started to get quotes for a new glasshouse, but in the end decided to have the old one renovated. There actually wasn’t much of a cost difference, but it somehow felt much nicer to restore the old glasshouse to its original glory.
Our friends at SBA (www.sba-design.co.uk) – architects and landscape designers in Malton, North Yorkshire – have managed the project for us, and have used local highly-skilled craftsmen to do the work. The glasshouse was completely stripped, which included removing a wonderful Rosa banksiae lutea and a mature Black Hamburg grape which was full of fruit – painful but necessary.
The replacement wood has now been machined by hand to the original profiles, and in the next few weeks the rebuilding process should be complete. We can’t wait!
July is traditionally the month we spend budding roses. We plant approx 40,000 rootstocks each March (mainly Rosa laxa but also some Rosa multiflora), which by July have established well and grown into small bushy plants. Budding is the name given to the process of inserting a small bud of the variety you want to grow into a T – shaped cut at the base of the rootstock plant. This will then grow away, and you can cut off the top-growth of the rootstock, to leave a plant with the roots of the stock, and the top-growth of the desired variety.
Preparing the T cut in the rootstock
Like almost every other nursery in the UK, we mainly use R. laxa – it is a superb general purpose rootstock for use in the UK, as it is very hardy, rarely suckers and lives a long time. For a few of the exhibition varieties we have started budding onto R. multiflora, as they produce more flowers over a longer season, but they are shorter lived – a rose on this rootstock will only last about 8 – 10 years.
Preparing a bud
The weather so far hasn’t been too bad – if any spot of moisture gets behind the bud before the wrapping tie is put on, the bud will die, so they have been dodging the showers on occasion. This year is certainly a far cry from some of the years when they have opted to start work at 5am to finish early and miss working in scorching heat!
The prepared bud is then inserted into the T cut.
Our team of highly-skilled nurserymen aim to bud 1000 roses each per day. It’s back-breaking work, but it’s a job they actually look forward to each year – the chance to start another cycle of cropping. Plants budded now will be grown on for a year, and then will be available as bare-rooted plants as from November 2013.
A budding tie is then put on to protect the new bud, and it’s ready to grow!
Our Field Manager, Steve Dawson, demonstrates how to T bud a rose:
Welcome to our blog!
The aim over the coming weeks and months is to post a series of weekly updates, with a mix of news and background on what we do here at the nursery, along with the occasional timely reminder for jobs that need doing in the garden and historical background notes on any plants that catch our eye in that particular week.
One of the great things about working at the nursery is the way the work continually changes to reflect the passing seasons. I used to live and work in London, and to be honest the seasons used to pass me by pretty much unnoticed. The only real change was that at some times in the year I’d go home from work and it would still be light, other times it would be dark and I’d need a coat! Here the weather plays a crucial role in the day to day tasks that we need to do, and the passing of each season ushers in a new set of jobs, a new crop to be planted or sold, and a fresh set of horticultural challenges. Hopefully through this blog we can reflect this, and at the same time pique your interest in a new plant, or change the way you see an old favourite.