This may seem a bit previous for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, given many of you in the US are under about 19’ of snow, and in the UK it’s been raining more or less continuously since Boxing Day, except for a couple of nights when we had clear skies and a slight ground frost that was enough to get people cursing as they scraped their windscreens. But now is the time to start planning if you’re to get things under way in a timely fashion. In the UK timely is traditionally Good Friday, but this year it falls late in April, thanks to the stupid way that Easter is calculated, so you may need to get things going earlier. So what are you going to plant? It’s your choice of course, but here are a few things to avoid if you value your sanity.
Jerusalem artichokes These are the Viet Cong of the vegetable world. You can tell how dangerous they are from this little tale. I once bought five tubers, put them in the greenhouse, and promptly forgot about them. I found them some months later looking very sorry for themselves, and chucked the bag they were in onto the terrace to be picked up later. The sun caused condensation to form in the bag, and within 40 minutes tiny green shoots appeared on the tubers. I whacked them in the garden, and we had delicious Jerusalem artichokes in abundance. It’s just as well we all liked them, we had an enormous glut. But next year we had an even bigger crop. When you dig the bloody things up, if you leave even the smallest sliver in the ground, it will grow into a sturdy, light grabbing monster. In the US, these plants count as weeds in agricultural land where they have been grown, and need two hefty doses of glyphosate to manage them. You have been warned.
Potatoes An odd choice for vegetables to avoid, but plant them in a bed and they’re like the bloody Hydra; they just keep coming. If you want to grow potatoes, go down to your local tyre dealer and get three or four old tyres; they’ll be free because then the dealer doesn’t have to cough up for disposal. Put down some breathable woven plastic sheeting such as that used for weed control, stand a tyre on it, fill it with earth or compost, and plant the first seed potatoes. When the plants reach the height where you’d be thinking about banking them up, put some more seed tatties between the growing plants, put another tyre on top of the first, fill it with earth. Carry on till you have a stack three or four tyres. And guess what? As my US colleagues would have it, ‘Hey! It’s taters all the way down.’ Just don’t plant them loose. Not quite as rampant as artichokes, but they surely play the same game. The good news is that they well grow in just about any soil you care to mention or happen to have in your plot.
Fennel What an attractive plant this is with its deep green delicate stems and feathery leaves like a captured fairy. Do not be deceived. The delicacy of the appearance is matched only by the bloody things’ urge to live. These are for life, not just for Christmas. Get fennel in your garden and you’re doomed to many many long hours of aniseed-scented weeding. And it will still keep coming back.
Mint/lemon mint/lemon verbena et al. Some herbs are safe to grow in the ground, because they don’t spread like something out of a 1950 sci-fi horror film. Basil is safe, and thrives on neglect. If you must water it, and it’s extraordinarily resistant to drought conditions, DO NOT WATER FROM THE TOP! Water at the base so the leaves don’t get wet. Coriander (is that cilantro in the US?) is also a safe bet, but if it runs to seed make sure you harvest the seeds and don’t let them drop. But with any of the mint family you are in deep trouble, and may need to call in air support with napalm and a later drop of Agent Orange. They’re like kudzu or Spanish moss. I swear on a quiet night you can hear the rustling of their growth, as if Jerry Garcia’s beard has come back from the dead* and invaded your garden.
Cabbages This is probably a personal foible, but at my hands cabbages exhibit a textbook case of ‘failure to thrive.’ I’m bloody useless with them, and they’re supposed to be a cinch to grow. Well not for me. Odd that, because I have a pretty green set of digits. People say parsnips are hard to germinate. No they aren’t. Cabbages are supposed to be easy. No the aren’t. Mine certainly never ever looked even remotely like these strapping specimens.
Lettuce There is only one reason to try to grow lettuces, and that’s as a sacrificial crop to keep the rest of your garden from being eaten by slugs. You’ll really be disappointed, though oddly some of the more exotic ones are a bit more slug resistant than the more traditional varieties.
*Yes that was a deliberate pun.