Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Melanie Dool’s gardening column in association with Orchardstown Garden Centre


WE have become so far removed from plants that I would say most of the western nations have no idea how dependent we are on them for our existence.  From time to time I have written on one or two of those plants that have shaped our lives.



It is interesting to note that humans are way behind plants when it comes to evolving and changing

their status. The cabbage is a polymorphic plant, which means it can evolve into different forms.

From its original wild state, it now includes different types of cabbages, kales, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts, oilseed rape, broccoli, calabrese and cauliflower. These differences have to be maintained and propagated by us as if any of these are left in alone to seed in the wild they would eventually revert back to their original state.


Bacon and cabbage

Cabbage still remains one of Ireland’s favourite traditional foods and it has its origins among the Celtic people of Europe. It became popular because it was easy to grow and produced a large quantity of leaves for consumption and was a mainstay food source during times of conflict, such as in WWII where it was sustenance for everyone, including prisoners of war.


Captain Birdseye

We all know about the frozen food company called ‘Birds Eye’ but when Bob Birdseye was living in the frozen Labrador he saw that meat tasted better if it was frozen fresh so he experimented with cabbage in salted water and it worked, and on his return to the United States he progressed to package a wide range of vegetables in a fresh frozen state to the public.


Tearful revelations

Many of us are reduced to tears when cutting up an onion and that is because a chemical (thiopropanal-S-oxide) is released, which reacts on contact with our eyes. Shakespeare in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ writes, “If a boy have not a woman’s gift, to rain a shower of commanded tears, an onion will do well for such a shift.”


Know your onions

The onion (Allium cepa) C is one of the most nutritious and valuable vegetables, easy to grow and keeps well over winter until the spring.  As one of our oldest vegetables (5,000 plus years) it has a wide variety of related cousins, such as, garlic, shallots, Welsh onion, leek and chives.


Onion Johnnies

In Brittany, where the onion crop matures earlier than in the UK, young energetic men used to jump on their bike and travel to England selling their onions door to door to the housewives. They wore their traditional Breton berets and jumpers and that stereotype of the Frenchman has persisted to this day.


Ornamental twist

There is a spill over with the onion family where there are some that are grown as ornamental flowering plants. All onions (Alliums) are easy to grow and require well-drained soil in a sunny location and can reproduce new offsets in those conditions to grow additional plants. There are dwarf growing types of around 20cm (8”) Allium.moly (yellow) and A.ostrowskianum (pink), to medium ones 60cm (8”) like A.albopilosum 60cm (silvery-lilac) to many giant ones 90-120cm (3-4’) A.Giganteum.



Sometimes when on those few mild days it is tempting to do a good clean up, and that would include some hard pruning, but on that I would advise cutting enough to keep the plants tidy with a final prune around Easter as harsh winter weather might follow and cause disease and die back.

For those vegetable growers, the seed potatoes, onions sets and shallots should be arriving in the shops now and it is always a good idea to start gathering up your needs. If you have any queries or comments you are welcome to share them with me on 051-384273 or orchardstowngardencentre and if of general interest I will include it in a future article.

By Melanie Dool
Contact Newsdesk: 051 874951

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