Gardening: Cuttings

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The Independent Online
There is such a thing as a gourmet potato, and you are most likely to find one that deserves the description in Mr Fothergill's list of unusual varieties. You can order oldies from a Heritage Collection, or home in on potatoes that are particularly good for baking, or salads. You can also try out potatoes that are favourites in other countries, the Dutch 'Bintje', for instance, good for topping casseroles, or the German 'Erntestoltz' which makes the best rosti. Being a martyr to nostalgia, I'm going for 'The Bishop', big in vegetable gardens in the years just before the First World War.

In 'The Bishop' is the blood of 'Queen Victoria', one of the great potatoes of the Victorian age, bred and introduced (in 1863) by the Scotsman William Paterson. 'The Bishop', a kidney-shaped main-crop potato, never took off in commercial terms because, although it tasted superb, it was relatively low yielding. For amateur growers, who can put taste above any other criterion, that's not a constraint. For a copy of Mr Fothergill's catalogue, phone 01638 751161.

The brilliant snub-nosed flowers of Cyclamen coum regularly beat the snowdrops into bloom in our garden. It's a miracle how they stand up to the weather. They look as fragile and exotic as the florists' cyclamen that sulk on window sills after Christmas, but here they are, battered by wind, frozen by frost, drowned in rain, and still they shine, brilliant spots of magenta in a soggy landscape. I'm nuts about them. It's a flower, though, that is best chosen in bloom than out. That's the opposite of what I would normally say. But the colour of some flowers is better than others. I like Cyclamen coum of the richest, deepest magenta, not the pale, indeterminate pink that it sometimes produces. But even at its worst, it is a winner. There is a stunning, white-flowered form, too, the flowers beautifully set off against rounded, polished leaves. Read all about it (and others) in Cyclamen by Christopher Grey Wilson (Batsford, pounds 30). They need soil rich in humus (compost or leaf mould) and good drainage.

A new disease is affecting Britain's cherry trees. It is caused by a fungus, Blumeriella jaapii, which can infect leaves as early as the middle of May, spotting them with purple. Gradually, the spots increase and join up into larger blotches. By July, blighted trees look almost autumnal, with the leaves turning wine-red. At this stage they usually drop, and, in severe cases, the cherry may be bare by the end of August. There is no treatment for the fungus, which was virtually unknown in this country until four years ago, but gardeners can help reduce its spread by raking up and burning diseased foliage.

A spring break for gardeners is offered at the Rothay Manor Hotel in Cumbria, from 15-20 March. Experts on hand include Peter Howarth, until recently in charge of the gardens at Muncaster Castle, who will talk about woodland plants, and Malcolm Hutcheson, of the National Trust's Sizergh Castle. The break includes visits to local gardens such as Broad Gate, Storrs Park and the fine cottage garden at Cleebarrow, Windermere. The price (pounds 360) includes all meals and accommodation for five nights. For more details contact Nigel Nixon at the Rothay Manor Hotel, Ambleside, Cumbria (01539 433605).

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