Best of British: Why roses and strawberries are two of our garden greats
PUBLISHED: 10:57 17 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:16 17 July 2019
Roses and strawberries are British garden classics, says columnist Debbie McMorran. Here’s why she loves them so.
If you were asked to write a list of things that you associate with being British, I wonder how long it would take you to get to the humble rose.
Tea would be high on the list no doubt, and possibly fish and chips, the weather, disappointing football results, the love of getting in - or starting - a queue, Wimbledon... the list goes on. If I were writing the list, the quintessential English rose would feature fairly high up, and may even receive top billing.
Sitting at my desk at home, I can smell the rose bed which is underneath my sitting room window. Filled with different varieties of old English rose, I tend to pick them for the strength of scent over and above what colours they are and what they look like.
The thing that I love about roses is that there are so many different varieties, meaning there's one to suit every occasion. Red roses and tiny spray roses - so delicate and fragrant - are always associated with romance.
Some dog roses are so fully open that they don't look like roses at all; the variation in colours mean that there are types of roses for everyone to love.
For me, the old English roses with a scent reminiscent of summers past, and petals which feel like the softest velvet, will always be my favourite. I am drawn to David Austin roses, and Peter Beales. At Hampton Court Flower Show there was a whole tent dedicated to roses, and the scent was absolutely knockout.
In our own garden, the rose shrubs which had given me a good crop of cutting flowers for the house this last month, which I thought had finished, seem to be having a second flourish - showing me that it was worth my while dead-heading them after they had finished, and channelling the plant into producing new growth.
The second item on my list would undoubtedly be the simple strawberry. A whopping 1,660,550 individual strawberries were consumed at Wimbledon in 2018, so it would seem that I am not alone in my love of the juicy British fruit!
I am possibly being over hopeful to think that people are all growing their own strawberries, and thus not needing to buy them in supermarkets, however.
The reason I hope this to be true is not only because growing your own fruit and vegetables is great for the environment, but from a culinary point of view, the taste of a supermarket strawberry simply doesn't compare. There is something about the taste of a strawberry, eaten straight from the ground, where it has ripened in the sunshine, that almost tastes of summer.
We have recently been picking very good crops of both strawberries, and raspberries from our garden - my two year old has caught on very quickly which are the ones to pick, and which aren't yet ready.
She carries her own little bowl, and quite often finds the raspberries that are close to the ground that I otherwise might have missed.
Picking our own fruit has become my favourite part of our daily routine, and I hope it is something she will remember when she looks back on her childhood. Strawberries are fairly easy to grow, and need relatively little attention - as long as you can keep them protected from slugs and snails, you will be well rewarded for your efforts!
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On a side note, my trip to Hampton Court Flower Show earlier this month fuelled my appetite for all things 'cottage garden' - I'm not sure what it is about Hampton Court that makes it feel so special and stand out from the other flower shows, but for me it is definitely a personal favourite.
The fabulous setting and the choice of plants available to buy on the day make it a solid choice for many gardeners.
I was particularly struck by the huge varieties of cottage garden plants which were being snapped up by keen shoppers.
It seemed that everywhere I turned people were clutching onto bags containing foxgloves, tall grasses and other cottage garden staples. It was really heartening as a more 'traditional' gardener, to see that there is still a real love for these more 'old fashioned' plants, as well as the new varieties that seem to crop up with new gardening trends.
Things to do in the garden this month:
- As I write this, we have been experiencing a fantastic run of great weather - by the time this goes to press, it will be bound to have been terrible again! It is obviously important to keep on top of the watering during the summer months - there is nothing more soul destroying than buying and planting out plants, to then have them wilt and die following a relatively short period of warm weather.
- Keeping on top of the weeding when there is a spell of warm weather is also really important. Getting rid of weeds and unneeded plants will mean that precious moisture in the soil isn't wasted on plants that you don't want to thrive!
- Whilst on the subject of water - if you have birdbaths, or trays down to allow wildlife to drink in your garden, make sure you keep these topped up, as they will evaporate regularly in hot weather.
- If you have lavender in your garden, once you have enjoyed it in bloom you can cut it back to make sure that it keeps a good shape, and doesn't get too leggy for next year.
Keeping the bushes compact makes for strong plants, and means that when they flower next year, the flowers will be tighter together and have more impact.
Make sure you don't waste what you cut - the dried lavender is wonderful for tying in bunches to hang in the house, or in a potting shed. If it's not on very long stalks, or it's breaking up as you cut it, you can use the heads to make lavender bags, to help aid sleep, or for freshening your clothes drawers.
Another lovely use is to tie in cotton bags/net and hang underneath the tap for running a bath. As with any essential oils, you must check before using if you are pregnant or have a medical condition that could be affected.