Choosing flowers, fruit and vegetable that are in season
– auf Deutsch lesen – Last weekend a customer asked if we had Shasta daisies. I took her to the table where the white perennials are displayed and showed the two varieties we have currently on offer: the slightly shorter variety Leucanthemum ‘Gruppenstolz’ or the one with filled flowers ‘Christine Hagemann’ which grows up to 80cm. Both well-filled 1-litre pots, both still in their winter-resting mode – we are in winter season. As summer-flowering perennials, they have plenty of time before it is their turn to flower. As I showed this lady the plants, I could watch her disappointment. Her entire body-language expressed the disillusionment at not finding a plant in full growth, preferably showing buds if not flowers.
Nature is clever. She has worked out a feeding programme which ensures that humans, animals and insects will not only obtain sufficient food throughout the year, but also obtains all the right nutrients each of us needs to thrive and be healthy. As the human species changed from being a hunter-gatherer to settled life mankind started growing food rather than collecting it all in the wild. Thousands of years we have done well with this seasonal supply until the industrial revolution started to change things dramatically. Suddenly we could build large light glazed structures, and equip them with heating, so that not only we could grow more exotic crops, we could have them out of season. The more recent advances in science and technology have changed the production game even more radically. Many crops nowadays have their feet in water rather than soil, with a carefully planned fertiliser schedule and are supplemented with artificial lighting when daylight will not suffice.
Out-of-season fruit and vegetable produce
It has made us lazy. We can buy what we fancy. We can have a hugely varied diet. Especially at the end of winter, we do not have to worry how to cook the last of the cabbages and root vegetables before they bolt and go to seed.
Many people get worked up that the strawberries they buy in February, have no taste. They do not ask themselves the question “Why?” They have been grown in heated greenhouses and will have seen little natural sunlight. Maybe they were grown and picked in Spain, before fully ripening, so they will be fresh and fit when they arrive in our supermarkets after their long journey across Europe. The same goes for asparagus sold in October. They come from Peru, where not only the growing conditions are ideal so they have a long harvesting season, their spring starts as our summer comes to an end. Although these have not been forced, they have travelled halfway across the globe before they land in our kitchens. The all-year round availability of many products makes it difficult for most consumers to know when which fruit or vegetable is in season. Unless, of course, you have lived with a vegetable garden, have a weekly vegetable box delivered from a local grower or possibly shop regularly at local markets.
The same problem occurs in gardens. Many people do not know when plants are supposed to flower. You may know roughly when Phlox or asters flower, but unless their flowering coincides with a specific date, like a birthday, it is often hard to pinpoint. Therefore, there are gaps in the flowering calendar of many gardens. Just these past few days, despite freezing temperatures and howling winds, we have had to disappoint several customers who were already looking to buy geraniums for their balconies.
“Buy geraniums early, you buy them twice”
Just as supermarkets want to please their customers and sell the full range of fruit and vegetables all year round, some growers that supply plants to garden centres and the wholesale flower markets equally extend the season of plants by forcing them into growth early. On our early morning visits to the flower market, we ignore what is out-of-season. Why buy geraniums and hydrangeas in Spring? It would mean skipping the entire spring season with all its delights! Not only that, but they are also not hardy, and may very well get caught by frost. My heart sinks when I go to the flower market at the start of July, as that point marks a definite shift in seasons. The summer-flowering bedding plants are phased out and the autumn flowers move in. Heathers, Asters, cyclamen and chrysanthemums fill the shelves, whilst in the garden all the summer flowers only just start to run riot. I have nothing against these flowers, it is the timing that is wrong.
Not only the seasonal bedding plants are forced early into growth, the offer of forced perennials, especially in early spring, is large. Primulas may only be a little ahead of themselves, but astilbes? I can understand people are hungry for colour. So am I. But buy a big perennial that is already in full flower, whilst out in the garden its relatives are only just starting to open one eye, have a stretch and yawn in acknowledgment of springs arrival, you risk buying a plant whose long-term presence in your garden will be doubtful. When they are forced into growth with the help of heat, artificial light and plenty of fertilizer, they will find it difficult to adjust to life and its new growing conditions in your not so generous garden soil, in not-so friendly temperatures.
Be patient – be happy
As a gardener, I have long learnt to be patient. It means I can look forward, savour and enjoy each seasonal delight. Personally, I have never understood why people want to cheat and fast-forward time? Once you bring one season forward, you end up bringing all seasons forward, and at the end of the year, you have a very long dreary autumn. You end up by cheating yourself.Leave a comment