HE­LEN YEMM THORNY PROB­LEMS

This week: cos­mos com­pli­ca­tions, a do­mes­tic dis­agree­ment over a bram­ble, and the mer­its of var­i­ous types of mint

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - GARDENING -

My daugh­ter, grand­daugh­ter and I have grown some fan­tas­tic cos­mos plants, but very few of them have flow­ered – al­though the fo­liage has been stun­ning. I fed mine with to­mato food to try to en­cour­age flow­ers, but to no avail. It isn’t the first time this has hap­pened, so what can we do dif­fer­ently next year?

LYNNE MILLER – VIA EMAIL

Some years ago, fel­low writer Mary Keen, sim­i­larly frus­trated by her non-flow­er­ing cos­mos ‘Daz­zler’, did some painstak­ing sleuthing on this very sub­ject. The ar­ti­cle she wrote for Tele­graph Gar­den­ing is still avail­able on­line, eas­ily found by googling “Mary Keen Cos­mos”.

Put briefly, it would seem to­mato food is not in this case the an­swer, as you and oth­ers have found. The prob­lem of all-leaf-no-flower cos­mos has more to do with rather vari­able seed, which most com­pa­nies im­port from Africa, where light lev­els and grow­ing con­di­tions are ob­vi­ously very dif­fer­ent.

Cos­mos can, ap­par­ently, re­vert to some­thing called “short day flow­er­ing”, a con­di­tion where plants will only flower once hours of un­in­ter­rupted dark­ness are above a crit­i­cal level. One so­lu­tion may be to save seed from those plants that flower in July, rather than those that limp to­wards flow­er­ing (which some leafy plants do) just be­fore the frosts. Mary’s ar­ti­cle cov­ers this com­pli­cated sub­ject in more depth than I can here.

The kitchen view from the house we have re­cently taken on is of a small, rather plain or­chard. I think a whitestemmed bram­ble would cheer up the win­ter view but my part­ner is wor­ried that its prick­li­ness would be­come a

TIP OF THE WEEK

one to go for to en­liven a pot of boil­ing new pota­toes, mix in to mo­ji­tos or add to a jug of Pimms.

Var­ie­gated ap­ple mint has smaller leaves that are sup­posed to smell of pineap­ple (though I don’t get that) and its fo­liage makes an or­na­men­tal, slumpy com­po­nent in a con­tainer (which I do).

Now it gets com­pli­cated: Bowles mint, (a

M suave­olens/spi­cata hy­brid called M x vil­losa var alopecuroides) may

spread­ing li­a­bil­ity. I would ap­pre­ci­ate some guid­ance as to how to main­tain it as a neat “fea­ture” so that I can re­as­sure him it won’t take over the or­chard.

RUTH CHARD – VIA EMAIL

I agree. The white stems of Rubus cock­bur­ni­anus, or slightly more re­fined R thi­betanus, would make an im­pres­sive win­ter state­ment among the leaf­less or­chard trees. As long as you grow one as a clump that you can walk and work around rather than grow­ing it mixed in to a hedge, the main­te­nance is fairly sim­ple: ev­ery spring, don­ning a wax jacket and gauntlets, ei­ther cut all the stems to within a few inches of the ground so your bram­ble an­nu­ally pro­duces a brand new crop of ghost-white stems, or, if you want to main­tain a mea­sure of all-year-round struc­ture, halve the just, in flavour terms, be more “all-pur­pose” in the kitchen. But it is far taller and chub­bier than

M vil­losa and not re­ally suited to life for more than a year in a con­tainer.

Mint is a nat­u­ral sprinter when let loose in a gar­den, and even spearmint in a

1ft (30cm) wide pot will need a se­vere sort-out/ re­plant ev­ery two years as its vig­or­ous run­ners are forced to cir­cle around the edge of its con­tainer and the cen­tral core of the plant weak­ens and dies off.

num­ber of stems, re­mov­ing the old­est, ugli­est and most dam­aged while let­ting the rest min­gle amid the new growth.

Also, to pre­vent the clump from stray­ing, in late sum­mer be sure to cut off the tips of any arch­ing shoots head­ing to­wards the ground, where they would oth­er­wise root and even­tu­ally shoot, mak­ing “satel­lite” plants (as reg­u­lar bram­bles do).

POT LUCK Herbs such as basil are bet­ter in pots than most mints, which like space

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