Carney, that lovable and kindly old character who has long been a Crossroads’ favourite, knows just about everything there is to know about gardening – and then a little bit more. Plants seem to respond to his tender touch, and he takes great delight in planning colour schemes for each season, and discussing his new ideas with Meg, who is herself keenly interested in the delights of the garden.
We have persuaded Carney to give us one or two of his tried and tested gardening tips to pass on to Crossroads’ fans. Although ‘persuaded’ isn’t really the right word. Carney loves talking about the garden almost as much as he loves gardening, and he didn’t really take much persuading at all!
Carney loves roses, and he always makes sure that Meg has a rose bowl display in her sitting room whenever the blooms are at their finest. He told us that it is a mistake which many people make simply to cut the blooms and plunge them straight into a vase. Carney always leaves them in a cool, dark and airy spot for an hour or two, and he makes sure that they are in warm water, right up to the base of each flower.
Before he puts them into their display container he carefully peels away the outer stalk for half an inch above the cut, to allow the water to reach the flower more easily. Carney doesn’t believe in hammering the stems, but he sometimes makes a half inch cut up the centres.
Out in the rose garden he removes all dead blooms as soon as they begin to fade, so that the blooms do not begin to form seed pods. This ensures that the bushes will continue to bloom right through the summer, with an occasional feeding – not more than once a fortnight – to keep the colours strong and attractive.
Carney loves gardening so much that spending hour after hour at work is really no hardship for him, but on the other hand he knows that there are many people who do not have sufficient time – or inclination! – to follow his example. Most people though, love to see their garden looking neat and colourful all year round, and to these amateur gardeners Carney recommends planting shrubs.
Shrubs come in all shapes and sizes, and all colours too. Some are chosen for their blooms, some for their distinctive shapes, and some for the attractive colours of their foliage, which often remain throughout the winter.
Once planted they need only a minimum of attention, and they will grow to become attractive features in any size of garden, whether they are planted singly or grouped together for a fine display.
Choosing shrubs in an engrossing and pleasureable activity, whether you are wandering round a garden centre or nursery, or browsing through colourful gardening catalogues at home. Points you will have to bear in mind are how high the shrub will grow, whether it will also spread widthways, and what kind of soil and planting position it will require. There’s a wealth of information in catalogues and magazines, and for a really comprehensive guide you can invest in a book such as the Observer Book of Trees and Shrubs, which is an extremely useful handbook to consult.
Carney makes a point of choosing only the best quality shrubs, even though sometimes it means spending a little more. There are some exceptionally cheap plants on sale each year, and many people are tempted by them, but as a general rule “you get what you pay for”, and these plants will never give as fine a show as those bought from better sources.
FRUIT AND VEGETABLES
Even the smallest garden usually has room for a vegetable patch, and this kind of gardening can be very rewarding and enjoyable. Some vegetables are simplicity itself to grow, and you can generally be assured of a good crop of peas, beans, radishes and lettuce, for instance.
Other vegetables are trickier, and for the amateur gardener with little time to spare, the speciality items are usually best bought from the greengrocer.
The vegetable garden will benefit from careful thought and advance planning, to ensure that something will be growing almost all year round. Any good vegetable growing guide will include a timetable of planting which you can follow. Cloches and cold frames will lengthen the growing season, and if you have room for a greenhouse you will be able to work green-fingered wonders!
Carney has recently tried out a vegetable which is not very well known in Britain, and he has been very pleased with the results. It is called kohl-rabi, and it grows well from seed. The plants have a mass of leaves, and the edible part grows above the surface of the soil. It should be eaten when it is about the size of a tennis ball.
Peel off the purple skin, and boil the vegetable for about twenty minutes. Then slice thinly and toss in melted butter. Served with a meal, or on its own as an unusual starter, the delicate flavour of this unusual vegetable is a real delight.
If you’re looking for a new feature to enhance the appeal of your garden, however small, then you might well consider building a small rockery. Well stocked with alpines and heathers these attractive gardens form an island of interest, and are remarkably easy to maintain.
Over the years you can add attractive stones or large shells, and perhaps one or two simple ornaments, for instance a small rustic bird table. A selection of heathers can be chosen to ensure a burst of colour all year round, and even in the winter months the foliage of those no longer in bloom will still be attractive.
This feature was written before the tragic death of actor Jack Woolgar, who had played Carney for many years. Crossroads’ senior producer Jack Barton paid tribute to him when he said: “Jack Woolgar was loved and respected throughout the profession. He will be sadly missed.”