Sarah Wain's Summer update from West Dean Walled Gardens

Alitex Growing On

By the beginning of June at West Dean most of the glasshouse displays are finally set up after several relocations and pottings up. The glasshouse displays divide into the ornamental and the edible and in early summer our work is occupied a lot by the food crops, either in pots and beds, that we grow in the glasshouses.

In one of the pit houses the double cordons of cherry tomatoes are growing like triffids; we now grow them as double cordons to calm down their exuberant growth and in doing so increase the number of trusses produced. Elsewhere, in a ¾ span lean-to glasshouse, the beefsteak tomatoes are roaring away. These are the only tomatoes we plant into the ground under glass, hoping for six or seven trusses by the end of the season. Most are heritage varieties some of which are shy to set fruit so we try to give them a helping hand by twanging the wires onto which they’re trained around midday to help them release their pollen. I love the colours of these old varieties but honestly there are some more modern tomatoes that taste pretty good too, which would give us much more fruit more easily- but I can never bring myself to make the change to them as I love the colours of the oldies so much. 

Young aubergine plants are about to be potted into their final pot - a large 9" diameter terracotta; if there was more head room in the house I’d pot them up into even bigger pots as they have the potential to grow into quite large plants given the room. I use aubergines as an example of a plant to grow if you want to find out the range of pests in your own glasshouse as they act as pest magnets succumbing in particular to red spider mite. Here’s our action plan for aubergines, water regularly, feed with a balanced fertiliser initially then follow on with one high in potash for flower and fruit production, apply biological control agents for pest management, apply a light shade on the glass in high summer as they seem to prefer light shade ( or use a blind) then watch and wait. Aubergines also like more humidity than their pals peppers and tomatoes which are in the same family but they revel in warmth.

In the cucumber house cucumbers have started to produce a crop now which we harvest and sell to our garden visitor. We have just sown our fourth generation having sown every 3 weeks since week 12 to obtain a greater harvest period of this jungle like crop. Cucumbers are the most bountiful crop of all for us under glass. It’s a bit like one of those packet cake mixes, but with cucumbers instead of adding egg and milk it’s just add water and heat and watch them grow! We train them as cordons and control their growth every other day otherwise we’d have to fight our way into the house with a machete!

Of course West Dean is renowned for its annual Chilli Fiesta which this year will be celebrated on the 9-11th August. It’s the original and the best chilli festival in the country... but I would say that wouldn’t I? And as usual we will be growing a number of varieties of chillies in one of our 13 Victorian glasshouses for everyone to enjoy. However this year the RHS has asked West Dean to trial small compact varieties suitable for small spaces like a windowsill, as many people don’t have the space to grow large potted plants in their own homes and gardens. These will be grown in 7" diameter pots and will be judged in late July. The chillies have moved house too as their traditional home is due for a face lift this year.

For more details of West Deans forthcoming events click here.

Tags: alitex, west dean, sarah wain