Even if you don’t feel like going out in the cold, there is plenty of planning-ahead to do for your green space.
Our gardens have been in deep hibernation in recent months. And lets face it, in the cold grey January and early February days – this year with added Covid restrictions – it has felt at times that we too were in enforced hibernation. But the light is lasting a little longer now and it is time for gardeners to start planning their year. In Scotland it is still way too cold for planting – the Borders and the Highlands are ‘up to their oxters’ in snow. The central belt has a fair dusting too and right at this moment, it is snowing outside.
Still, green shoots are appearing through the white stuff and – having been house-and-garden bound for the best part of the year – we are yearning for our green spaces, no matter how big or how small. In 2020 we found a new appreciation for our balconies, our yards, pots and raised beds, our gardens and our allotments – and the abundant produce that even the smallest plot could provide. 2021 gives us the opportunity to plan our approach and learn from our experience and that of others.
Ken Cox, nursery man, gardener and garden-centre owner (as well carrying the title of Scotland’s best-selling garden writer), has practical advice a plenty in his book ‘Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland’ for gardeners and allotment holders.
‘If you have never grown anything before, then start with the simple and quick crops – salads, carrots, radishes, potatoes and the easier fruits such as rhubarb, strawberries and gooseberries. Most of these crops can be grown in a modest space and are suitable for containers and raised beds… If your budget is tight, a lot of what you need may be available for nothing – ask fellow gardeners for their spare old pots, canes for making bean and pea wigwams, etc. Gardeners often pride themselves in ingenious ways to grow vegetables without spending money. Shetland allotment holders, for example, found that used tyres were being given away, so they snapped them up for perfect raised beds and containers.’
The rhubarb is showing through. In fact, as early as the second week in January the tips of new growth were showing through the cold earth in my tiny garden when an outside Christmas tree was removed. The thick branches had provided shelter for the plants from the worst of the winter weather and an early crop should be the result. It is the first promise of Spring and better things to come.
”Rhubarb is an excellent crop for Scotland – almost indestructible – and one you can eat fresh from the garden long before any other fruit is past the flowering stage.’
So what to do with the rhubarb?
Looking forward to the first, early harvest of fresh produce is perhaps the best bit about fruit and veg gardening. With rhubarb we look ahead to the heady days of pies, crumbles, sweet and savoury delights. Here’s one recipe to try when the time comes, a treat to make with children (from Easy Peasy! Real Cooking for Kids by Mary Contini and Pru Irvine):
Rhubarb and Banana Fool
- About 500g of rhubarb
- 1 orange
- 120g of soft light-brown sugar
- 3-4 ripe bananas
- Grate the rind of the orange and extract the juice
- Slice the rubarb into chunks
- Place the rhubarb in the saucepan and add the orange juice, zest and sugar. Put the lid on and cook on a low heat until the fruit is soft – about 10-15 minutes.
- Take it off the heat and let it cool.
- Peel the bananas and put them into the food processor with the rhubarb. Whizz it a few time. You want it thick and lumpy.
- Taste it and add some more sugar if you think it needs it.
Psst! Try additing a bit of chopped-up stem ginger to give it an extra sparkle.