Christmas dinners simply aren’t complete without Brussels sprouts. Whether accompanied by chestnuts or tasty smoked bacon, or served au naturel, this small yet mighty vegetable comes into its own during winter, when frosts add a certain something to its distinctive flavour.
The Brussels sprout we know today was developed in Belgium during the 1750s. Nowadays gardeners can grow several cultivars, including the early to mid-season-cropping ‘Abacus’ and the sweettasting ‘ Trafalgar’.
Sow Brussels sprout seeds in March or April and move young plants to their final growing position in rich soil in a sheltered sunny spot from mid-May, making sure they’re well spaced. A top dressing of highnitrogen fertiliser in July helps to ensure these hungry plants get sufficient nutrients to produce good-sized crops.
Harvest sprouts when they’re about the size of a walnut by giving them a sharp downwards tug. Early varieties are usually ready to pick from August.
Protect crops from birds, especially pigeons, and the caterpillars of large white butterflies, and watch out for cabbage root fly, the larvae of which feed on roots. Diseases affecting sprouts can include club root, which is a problem particularly encountered by growers with acid soils.
My French garden
What was your garden like when you first arrived?
It was a blank canvas – a large square patch with pathways around the four sides but with no features apart from a leaning pear tree and a few beautiful peonies, which still thrive in the rich soil. The garden was overrun with weeds and grasses from our neighbouring field.
How have you developed it?
Terry Hall and her husband John bought a Breton in a hamlet near Fougères in Ille-et-Vilaine in 2003. Since retiring a couple of years ago, they have been able to spend more time creating a garden to be proud of Working on a small patch at a time, I have added extra paths criss-crossing the garden that lead to a central gravel area. Here there is a gazebo which provides welcome shade.
My French neighbour, Janine,
has provided me with lots of cuttings and seeds from plants that grow well in this area, which has been a real help.
How do you maintain your garden when you don’t live
there all year round?
We can’t get over to Brittany as much as we would like, but we enjoy our days in our Brittany garden as often as we can. Living in Portsmouth means that we can easily get to France thanks to a great choice of arrival ports all within just three hours.
Our neighbours are very helpful and keep an eye on the garden. We have been lucky so far with watering, as apart from
one very hot year, the garden seems to need very little additional watering. We have three water butts to collect rainwater just in case.
What grows well in your garden?
Poppies, hollyhocks and forget-me-nots self-seed every year and roses seem to thrive and grow over the archway, which provides height to the garden. The lavender and buddleia attract beautiful butterflies and pollinating insects. In the spring, there are the daffodils, tulips and primroses, which came with the garden. We have two plum trees and two cherry trees, an apple tree, a peach tree and a huge walnut tree in our small field that runs alongside the garden. We also have a soft fruit patch with raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants, as well as a mulberry bush, which has yet to bear fruit. There is more than enough fruit to keep us busy making jam – over 30 jars this year! We have branched out into fruit cordials too with added Calvados, which goes down well with the neighbours.