Other Aspects of Gardening

Do Stick-insects live in the UK?

I was pruning a rose last weekend (when it was still summer), and saw a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye.  Was it a grasshopper?  No, too big and not actually moving any more.  I was reminded of  stick-insects, kept by children as their first “pet”.  An internet search came up with the answer and a request to send a photo and location by Malcolm Lee who collates records of all UK-naturalised stick-insects.

The following is an extract from his reply, once he saw the photo:

“The Unarmed Stick-insect (Acanthoxyla inermis ) originates from New Zealand and has been known from Cornwall since the 1920s at least.   They have been gradually spreading eastwards since then and the first report of one from this area came from Mountjoy, (just the other side of the Burton Road from me).   They most likely arrive by plants brought in from outside and what people usually see is a female, laying fertile eggs without the need for a male; a process known as parthenogenesis.

“Adults do not live very long, with only a few surviving much into winter. In their brief adult lives they can lay several hundred eggs, which just drop below the bush the insect was feeding on, to start the life cycle again the following spring. A very small number might overwinter in sheltered areas, but this is not important for the survival of the species as it is the eggs which are expected to carry them through the winter

“Whilst searching the foliage around dusk can be the best time, you could try a daylight search as some of the adults feed in the daytime. Their excellent camouflage means they are never easy to spot. The feeding damage on large leaved plants like roses and brambles is much easier to look for, as they nod their heads back and forth whilst eating, to take big arcs out of the leaf. This is unlike the edge nibbles of caterpillars and leaf cutter bees. If you see big chunks out of the leaves, especially if they cross the central vein, they will be very close by, probably just hanging underneath the leaves. “

“Sticky” appeared again the following day on the same part of the fence, but now the weather has changed, it might just be down to the eggs hatching out next year.

I didn’t notice any damage on the leaves so I’ll be happy to welcome a few of her children next year.

Maggie Postle

Sometimes the names are as

interesting as the tomatoes

For some years I have been growing Heritage tomatoes and have been able to select the best varieties according to several factors, including taste, yield and freedom from pests and diseases. Nowadays, a new aspect has entered the equation. I am attracted by new varieties whose names are interesting.

In order to keep the article as brief as possible I shall illustrate just two that intrigued me.The first variety is “Astronaut Volkov “ 

Vladislav Volkov was one of several Volkov astronauts and flew on Soyuz 7 and the fatal mission 11, where he and his crew died on re-entry, the only three people to have died in outer space. A valve was jerked open as the descending module separated from the service module and they were asphyxiated. His friend Mikhailvich Maslov, a space engineer associated with the project, was a very keen gardener and grew over three hundred varieties of tomatoes. He picked out the variety he thought best, which was Ukrainian, and named it after his friend. This thoughtfulness has always been the mark of gardeners, and why it’s good to be in their company.

Astronaut Volkov

Later the variety was included in seeds taken to the International Space Station to test growing conditions.

Subsequently many thousand UK schoolchildren have been involved in growing seeds which have spent six months on the station. Generally, they did not grow so well because they had absorbed 100 times more radiation than on earth and been affected by the rocket’s vibration. But they did grow! My son was keen to know whether my tomatoes “glowed in the dark “.  I think this tomato would be interesting for children to cultivate, perhaps, then motivated, to discover the story of the brave Colonel Volkov.

The second tomato is called “Bear Claw“ an American heritage.

Bear Claw

Its providence is vague, but I believe it was originally an American Indian variety, as are many tomatoes I have grown. The Blackfoot or Blackfeet Indians originally came from the North Saskatchewan River in Canada and then settled at the Missouri River in Montana. They were hunter gatherers subsisting on buffalo and gathered vegetables. One of their famous chiefs was “Bear Claw“.

Chief of the Blackfeet – Bear Claw

Also, a final encounter took place at Bear Paw, the culmination of running battles with the Nez Perce Indians in 1877 in Northern Montana. They were seeking to return to Canada as a haven. Some of the Nez Perce escaped to Canada but their chief surrendered most of his tribe to the American cavalry. Bear Paw tomato is quite rare and is pretty much seedless with a sweet fleshy taste and one of my favourites, I would recommend it highly. Maybe it has no connection with the Blackfeet Indians, but as the writing community know too well “we never let the truth get in the way of a good story!“

David Downton

 The species Gentian Sage

Variety Salvia Patens [Oxford and Cambridge Blue ]

This sage variety was discovered in Guadalajara, Central Mexico in 1838 by plant hunters and popularised a hundred years later by the Irish botanist William Robinson.

It’s a gardener’s delight, not only because of its vibrant colours , but maintenance is minimal. The plant is  perennial half hardy and drought-resistant. It requires minimal watering and feeding and is resistant to most pests and diseases. Mine have flourished in the same compost and tubs for years with the occasional very dilute feed of tomato fertiliser.

When the weather gets cold I cut the leaves off and bring the tuber into an unheated greenhouse for the winter.

It is easy to collect seed and all my friends have successfully grown these beautiful plants, photographs of which seldom reflect their glorious colour.

                                                                                                                          David Downton

Beefsteak Heirloom Tomatoes

‘Sioux’ was developed by the University of Nebraska from seeds grown by the Sioux Indians. They don’t genetically modify them but grow the seeds in the best possible conditions to produce the strongest issue.

This pre-1890 Cherokee heirloom called ‘Cherokee Purple’ has superb old fashioned flavour. A purple pink coloured Beefsteak with red flesh and sweet taste.

One of the most fascinating things about growing heirlooms is the story of their origins. I already have next year’s seeds as I believe there may be a shortage. Amongst the varieties are, ‘Hillbilly’, ‘Mr Stripey’, ‘Amish Paste’, ‘Black Krim’, ‘Kelloggs Breakfast’, ‘Omar’s Lebanese’, ‘Carbon’, and ‘Bear Claw’. Another variety has an interesting background to its name. It was bred by an American and the seeds became so much in demand that this ordinary gardener was able to pay off his mortgage with the proceeds of his seed sales. Understandably he called the variety ‘Mortgage Lifter’!

David Downton

Syrian Giant Stuffer Tomato
from seeds brought out of Aleppo

My six seeds all germinated. I kept one and gave the five others to friends.

They have all been outside for some time and are growing well.

Delighted to give away over one hundred and fifty Heritage tomato plants, many to my son’s colleagues at Dorchester Hospital.

Have just planted out some quite rare heritage plants that I have not grown before: Black Krim; Paul Robeson; Black Mountain Pink; Austins Red Pear; and Brandywine Orange.

Gardening with new varieties is so much about anticipation!

Syrian Giant Stuffer Tomato

David Downton

Does a Gardener Ever Retire?

David Downton writes about his new found interest in growing Heritage Tomatoes

Click on the ‘Heritage Tomatoes’ link above to download the article as a pdf.

Heritage Tomatoes

David Downton

Groves mentioned in The Sunday Times 19 April 2020

Club members show their Appreciation of Groves’ Continued Service during the Covid-19 lock-down