29 March 2015 - 7:48pm

Allotments, compost and a flowering cherry

I’ve a friend who is really excited as she is about to take custody of an allotment. You will know if you read this column regularly that I’m no Monty Don when it comes to vegetable gardening, but when she asked for advice I suggested two things I could not be without in any garden: compost bins and fruit. We share our garden with too many rabbits to grow many leafy crops! Fruit first – we’ve got raspberries and redcurrants at Charnwood as well as apples, pears, gages and plums. We even have a Medlar – a good tree for a small garden with pretty white flowers and weird but fascinating fruits that look like they come from another planet – but I digress. The fruit trees I admit I get an expert to look after for us, we’ve a lot and fortunately can afford it as it’s worth it to keep them in good shape. If you are buying fruit trees – you can plant them now – check out the root stock so you know how big it will end up. You may also need more than one to make sure pollination occurs; unless the tree you choose is self- fertile, or you have a neighbour with a similar tree, you won’t get any fruit. Soft fruit plants are cheap and easy to get going and you can plant now. My Dad used to have a posh, huge fruit cage and used to joke he grew the most expensive soft fruit in the world. I just plant plenty and hope the birds don’t steal them all! To be honest I don’t always get round to pruning the currants but they still bear shedloads of gorgeous shiny red fruit. However if you want good pruning instructions with useful diagrams, the RHS website is good. Raspberries are really easy: again you can plant them now into well manured ground – they like some sun but will tolerate a little shade. Plant them 18” apart and prune them down to about a foot. You need to check out whether your canes are summer or autumn fruiting as you will prune them at different times. All fruit likes potash or a spadeful or two of fresh bonfire ash. But don’t worry if this sounds like too much trouble. Most fruit will do its thing despite us! Our garden here wouldn’t be what it is without compost. When we came here in 1987 the soil was thick heavy clay and still is in places. We have bought in mushroom compost and farmyard manure when we have had time, energy and money to spare, but your own garden compost is free and is marvellous stuff. It’s not rocket science to make either, as long as you have a reasonable mix of green material such as grass clippings, and brown materials such as paper or woodier stuff, and you give it a good mix occasionally, all will be fine. Don’t put in pernicious perennial weeds such as couch grass or dock leaves. The best arrangement is to have three bins. Fill up the two outside ones and when they have composted down by half, turn them into the middle one to finish off. Give it a water if it’s a bit dry and add some more grass clippings if it needs heating up a bit. By this time next year at the latest you will have lovely, dark compost full of beneficial organisms and nutrients. I’m looking forward to my dwarf Japanese Cherry flowering later this month (pictured). It’s another excellent tree for a small garden, ours here is now around 25 years old and 10 feet high. Its grown up name is Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’, easily available from garden centres. The flowers arrive on bare stems, starting out as deep pink buds opening to a beautiful soft pink. The leaves have good, bright autumn colour and in winter the branches are fine and delicate.