- Soil Association
- Spring - Guest Gardener
Guest Gardener: Will Livingstone
Interview with Will
Q: What is going on in the River Cottage garden now?
Spring has sprung and daffodils are in full bloom. We have just started initial sowing with tomatoes, chillies, peppers, aubergines, broad beans, spinach, aigrette and oriental salad paving the way. We have sown them in a heated propagator to get a head start on the season. Machinery and tools are getting a service ready for breaking ground in early spring. We have just re- edged our poly-tunnels, expanding our growing areas for covered cropping. Hedge-laying, fencing, ditching and general farm work continues, as we manage a 100 acre SA certified holding outside of our one acre veg garden.
Q: What’s new? And what did you ditch for this year if anything?
We trial new varieties every year, some work, some don’t, but for interest and diversity we always like to grow something new.
Some of the new things for 2016
- Melothrie ( Cucalmelon)
- Bolivian Achocha
- Carrot- Dragon Purple
- Chillie- Pyramid
- Squash-Summer Crookneck
- Chicory and parsley root
- Salad leaf-Giant Goosefoot
We are also putting in a medicinal herb border, a new strawberry bed, 10 varieties of sweet peas for our 10 years at Park farm anniversary and 20 varieties of tomato. Out of these 20 tomatoes we’ll see which ones worked the best. There is nothing in particular we are ditching.
Q: What has grown in abundance?
Last year we had so much celeriac, we were struggling to come up with ways to use it in the menu – we had so much!
Q: After the first signs of Spring, is the garden coming together just as you had envisaged or have there been any interesting surprises at the start of 2016?
The weather! With the warm and wet weather, everything is a bit confused. Our quince was blossoming in Nov and the fruit trees have barely reached full dormancy making us worried for this year’s fruit set. We also need to keep a closer eye on pest and disease problems, without a good period of cold we may run into problems in early spring. High winds have rocked brassicas and loosened tree stakes creating a bit more work. All in all, nothing we can’t handle!
Q: What would you like to see more of and why?
I am currently working with our chefs to make the veg and fruit the focus of our dishes. I would like to see organic fruit and veg to be championed as much as the meat element. We have also in recent months seen an increase in our organic cut flowers and we host a few weddings now at River Cottage using the flowers freshly cut on-site, in particular the sweet-peas grow really well. Plus we’re thinking of ways to add edible flowers to the menu this year.
Q: What is the hardest thing to grow in the garden? What problems do you face?
Cauliflower (brassicas in general) with a long season and lots of pests growing brassicas successfully can be a challenge. The key (I find) is to raise young seedling undercover and harden them off before planting out. Plant them deep into free draining fertile soil and stake if you are growing them in a windy spot.
Q: Have you got any quirky growing tips for our members?
Keep a diary- write down what you sow and when, giving you good reference for the following year.
Spend time just looking, be amongst the plants, you will have a better chance of spotting potential problems before they occur. Successional sowing will enable you to spread the harvest over the whole year avoiding gluts. Sow some, wait and sow some more giving you a staggered harvest later on.
Q: What is your favourite spot in the garden?
In the corner of the kitchen garden we have a swing seat overlooking the garden. Sitting there at the end of a long day with a cold glass of cider with the sun setting over the valley is quite lovely.
Q: If you weren’t a gardener what would you be?
Very tough question.
I’m happy as long as I’m working with nature, so anything outdoorsy. An interesting conservation project would spark my interest.
Will from River Cottage has just finished his first ‘get growing’ course, which is a one day course on the basics of growing your own veg. He now teaches and runs tours all throughout the year on organic growing, showing people how we operate a small organic mixed farm that supplies a restaurant and cookery school.
River Cottage Trinity Hill Rd, Axminster EX13 8TB, United Kingdom 01297 630300
Will Livingstone Head Gardener at River Cottage