Spring sings 'Plant me! Watch me grow'. Even if the only thing you've ever grown has been the green mould on the leftover fried rice at the back of the fridge, spring somehow lures even the most brown-thumbed gardener into dreaming of lush harvests. This is the time to take shrivelled seeds or tiny plants in pots and watch them turn into something delightful or delicious (or both).
The five darlings below are brown-thumb proof. They will grow even with extreme neglect; few pests bother them and even possums ignore then. Give them a small amount of care and they will be spectacular - and you may gain the confidence for more exotic gardening adventures.
An admission here. I don't like eating radishes. But if you have killed even the African Violet Aunt Gladys gave you last Wednesday, growing radishes will show you that some plants don't need care or cossetting to thrive.
Radishes grow faster than weeds. Clear the smallest line to scatter the seed. They'll spring up within a week and be ready to eat about three weeks after that. The longer you leave them the hotter they get. I like mine small, crunchy, and tasting of not much, especially radish.
Plant a division from a clump of rhubarb ... it will look large, bulbous and grubby and probably be in a plastic bag at the garden centre, not in a pot. Tiny rhubarb seedlings are easilty smothered with weeds. Feed it lots weekly and weakly, mulch and water and the bush will look fabulous. Forget about it and you will still find a few stems to cook. Red stems will give you red rhubarb; green stems give you green rhubarb. Some stems may need to be peeled. Stew them in a little orange juice, sweetened to taste, without stirring so the chopped stems keep their shape.
Top stewed rhubarb with whipped mascarpone cheese and you have elegance. Spread the mascarpone on bought puff pastry, bake till puffed, then top with stewed rhubarb and you have luxury and an undeserved reputation as a fabulous gardener and cook. A little Cointreau added to the stewed rhubarb will only enhance it.
Naturally small and neat, crab apple trees are unlikely to uproot your house foundations, look stunning smothered in heavy blossom in spring, and stay gorgeous till early winter when the crab apples hang from the branches. Crab apple trees survive drought and birds love to perch on them for their morning chorus. Buy one that produces crabs big enough to make jelly from.
Most roses need pruning, feeding, weeding, mulching and deadheading. Ramblers just need planting and a place to ramble. Ours grow over fences, down banks and up trees. They also grow so fast and thickly that possums and wallabies can only reach the edges for a nibble. Just plant them and let 'em go. My favourite is Climbing Albertine, but there are hundreds to choose from - just check the label at the garden centre for the words 'vigorous' and 'disease resistant'.
Buy a large dahlia tuber - small ones may have been sliced so stingily that even the greenest thumb can't resuscitate them. Better still, buy 20 dahlia tubers. Years ago a friend dug up some dahlias to give away one winter. Two summers later the entirely unsupported dahlias bloomed yet again, still out on the path. They were finally planted in the friend's garden and have flowered every summer since. On the other hand, if you want lots of blooms, and early and late blooms, dahlias definitely do best when fed and well watered.
Dahlias come in dinner-plate sizes, to discreet singles or tiny pompoms, in just about any colour you fancy. The tall ones need staking, especially if they have gigantic blooms. Dwarf ones just pop up, bloom, and vanish in winter until the weather warms up again.
You don't even need a garden to grow dahlias. Look sternly at a sunny corner of the lawn and tell it that it is now the dahlia patch. Dig a hole twice as deep as the tuber; plant it; replace soil; water. Wait. Pick. Pick. Pick ... and next year your tuber will have produced more tubers. A better investment is hard to find.
Gardeners of Australia
Depend upon the dahlia
No need to understand it
Just dig a hole and plant it
The gaudy gorgeous dahlia
Can never, ever, fail yer.
This week I am:
- Admiring the largest most tender piece of asparagus I have ever seen, and Bryan holding said asparagus just before I cooked it.
- Planting tomatoes, cucumber, and zucchini plants, and the seeds of corn, beans, melons, lettuce, carrot and sunflowers.
- Finding many self-sown parsley seeds from two years ago that have just decided to emerge in several useful spots in the garden.
- Discovering that the purple smoke bushes I bought mid-winter are not purple smoke bushes yet again, but the same green-leafed with a faint hint of red on the rim that I've been conned into buying before.
- Thanking Possum X for chewing the leaves of two lemon trees but not the new shoots or flowers, so we may yet have a lemon-filled summer.
- Gloriously overwhelmed by apple, pear, plum, damson, clematis and wonga vine blossom.