Journal of a gardener 29/03/2017

Rhubarb…a uniquely tart and beautifully pink vegetable, which is more versatile than your traditional crumble and custard combination.

A quick online search will throw up countless delicious concoctions to make your mouth water. Rhubarb and goat cheese salad, crusted lamb with roasted rhubarb, rhubarb gin! It really is worth experimenting. Share your rhubarb recipes on our Facebook page. Show off your culinary skills and make our mouths water!

Rhubarb can be forced (grown under pots) for early harvesting, which is available from January to March, or grown outdoors for later harvesting, sold March until June.  The stems of forced rhubarb are pale and tender in comparison to main crop rhubarb, and the flavour is more subtle.   It should be cooked more gently.

At Country Garden Plant Centre we currently have for sale 4 varieties of outdoor grown rhubarb, at just £6.99 each. This is really excellent value for money when you consider the price of cut rhubarb in the supermarket, and that a good quality rhubarb plant should produce crop for 5 – 10 years.

Timperley Early
The earliest variety, which is ideal for forcing. The stems are red.

Pink Champagne
One of the best known rhubarb varieties. The stems are pale pink and are tender and juicy.

Raspberry Red
This variety produces thick red stalks with a sweet taste, which are perfect for cooking.

Victoria
This is a late season variety, with thick stalks which can be harvested well into the summer.

All grow to a height of approximately 50cm, and a spread of 75cm.

One of the most satisfying things about rhubarb is how easy it is to grow. Like most plants, it prefers a sunny spot. It will grow in most soils, but will appreciate the mixing in of compost and a mulch of well-rotted manure when planting. Water it well (always avoiding water logging).  Resist the temptation to harvest the stalks in the first year, and you will be rewarded with a stronger plant and a higher yield in subsequent years.

To harvest, hold the stems close to the ground and pull upwards with a twisting motion. Remember that the leaves are poisonous due to the concentration of oxalic acid, and should never be eaten, although they can be composted. When harvesting never take all the stems, always leave at least 4. Cut the flower stem when it appears in order to avoid it taking energy from the plant. Do not remove any stems after July. Add a general purpose fertilizer once harvesting season is over.

So, now you know the basics get those hands dirty!

Journal of a gardener 16/03/2017

Spring officially began on 20th March. Buds are swelling on Magnolias in preparation for a show-stopping floral display in the coming weeks.

For those of you who do not have one of these beauties in your garden, Magnolias can be trees or shrubs, evergreen or deciduous (most common in the UK). Magnolias flourish in full sun, but will tolerate partial shade. Most prefer a neutral or slightly acid soil. Magnolias are fully hardy, but a sheltered position is preferable. Late frosts may damage flower buds, which appear before the leaves.
In stock we have the following:
Genie
A tall deciduous shrub with an ultimate spread of 1.5m and a height of 5m. The spring flowers are dark burgundy.
George Henry Kern
A deciduous shrub spreading up to 2.5m across and 4m high over 10 – 20 years. The early spring flowers are a pale purple-pink.
Heaven Scent
A small deciduous tree, with an ultimate spread of 8 m and a height of 8 – 12 m, taking 10 – 20 years to reach full maturity. Flowers are appear from spring to summer, and are pink with a magenta stripe.
Liliiflora Nigra
A comparatively small deciduous shrub spreading up to 2.5m with a height of up to 4m over 10 – 20 years. Summer flowers are a deep reddish purple.
Leonard Messel
A deciduous shrub with an ultimate spread of 8m and height of 8m. This is a long lived variety, taking from 20 – 50 years to reach maturity. The spring flowers are lilac and are scented.
Star Wars
A deciduous small tree/large shrub with a spread of up to 4m and a height of up to 8m. Again, this Magnolia takes 20 – 50 years to reach maturity. The spring flowers are pink and are scented.
Stella Rosea
A deciduous shrub with a spread of up to 4m and a height of up to 4m, reaching maturity within 10 – 20 years. The flowers are white, with up to 30 petals.
Susan
A deciduous shrub with an ultimate spread of 4m and height of up to 4m, taking 10 – 20 years to reach maturity. The spring flowers are red/purple on the outside and pink within.

Some varieties reach such sizes when mature, that we would recommend planting them straight into the ground. However, with careful pruning and aftercare they may be grown in a pot. Trees can be planted with a stake, but ensure that you place the stake in the hole when planting rather than after, as this could lead to damage of the roots.