Asparagus tales

Tiffany Daneff / 07 May 2015

The Sheep Garden produces a veritable feast of asparagus for gardening editor Tiffany Daneff, but things don’t go quite according to plan.

I am not sure I can even tell you about the asparagus.

Just to recap, last year I planted - in the most hideously wet, cold and all round grim conditions - my first ever asparagus.

You have to dig a trench, then build a gravelly hillock (which indeed sounds more archaeological than horticultural) upon which you spread out the Catherine wheel spokes of the asparagus. And then the area needed to be kept free of weeds so, yes, this was some investment. But the return was going to be quicker than usual. (Generally, you plant one year old crowns and must wait two years before picking but these were two year old Gijnlim crowns which are intended to be cut after just one year.) You can read about how I planted them in more detail here.

I have been anxiously watching the asparagus bed all spring. It is, I have to say, a most unprepossessing spot as the soil is horribly clayey and still throws up fist sized rocks as well as chunky thistles while, despite three applications of weedkiller, not to mention regular yanking, the nettles and sticky willies continue to force their way under and through the rabbit fence. And, yet…..just a couple of weeks ago I noticed the first spear poking its way through the orangey clay. And then another and another.

I cut the first four and we roasted them briefly, after seasoning and sprinkling with extra virgin olive oil, in a very hot oven. Okay, so the taste wasn’t very different from locally bought spears – we live not far from Worcestershire where they grow well – but they were so much more tender and with a delicious bite.

Read our tips for cooking asparagus.

Well! That was very satisfying indeed. A little aperitif you might say to the veritable copse of emerging spears.

This bank holiday weekend there was a pretty decent haul. We were having steak and salad and decided to celebrate the asparagus success by harvesting the next crop. There were about twenty spears which I put on a tray and prepared, sprinkling on the oil, Maldon sea salt and grinding over the black pepper as before. Into the oven they went. And there they stayed until half way through my steak I suddenly remembered them.

There wasn’t much that wasn’t charred to a crisp but we nobly ate what we could salvage – maybe three soggy stems? Luckily, everyone thought it was the best joke ever that it was me that burned them. Had anyone else committed such a heinous crime I would have made sure they suffered. As it was the black Pompeiian ash on my tongue was punishment enough.

Look out for… The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge coming to your television screen on Monday May 11 BBC 2, 8pm

This is a brand new four part competitive gardening series, with a twist. The winner gets to design and build a garden feature on Main Avenue at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015.

The six contestants were selected from a long list of several hundred who responded to the BBC’s call out. Adverts were put online, on the BBC website and sent out to horticultural colleges.

The six aspiring designers on the short list include Gillian Potts and Sean Murray, both 51 years. In time honoured Bake Off fashion the six contestants are set tasks. Rather terrifyingly these are to build – in four days only - themed show gardens at venues around the country. These are then judged by RHS Judge James Alexander-Sinclair and Gold Medal winning garden designer Anne-Marie Powell, in the Paul and Mary role.

The budding designers are mentored by the programme’s presenter and an award winning designer, Joe Swift - so we’re promised lots of useful design tips along the way.

In the first of four episodes, shot at RHS Harlow Carr, the six designers have to make a cottage garden. Gillian, one of the first female recruits ever trained at Sandhurst, was inspired by her travels undertaken when she worked for the Serious Organised Crime Agency (on the chase of drug dealers) to make a Turkish style cottage garden. Gillian has since made a complete career change and is now training to become a garden designer.

Sean, an occupational therapist and nurse, is a self taught gardener and flower designer. He recently passed his NAFAS (National Association of Flower Arrangement Societies) demonstrators test. The son of a miner he chose to make a miner’s cottage garden. See how they both fare on Monday May 11.

There are four episodes in all, one a day, running from Monday 11 until Thursday 14 May, BBC 2, 8pm

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