I am the first to admit that I have a hard time traveling with me – at least if you are not interested in plants. I can’t tell you how many friends and coworkers are forced to make detours in garden centers, supermarkets, even out-of-town hardware stores around the world to learn as much as possible from local gardening.
As I write this column while on a filming trip to North America, I am reminded how many gardening practices in the United States are often recommended to UK farmers, sometimes with great horticultural merits, but often not as much in our much cooler and milder summer climates. So here is my letter home about three apparently ingenious American garden ideas that might be best left on the other side of the Atlantic.
Bean there: Soy takes a lot of heat to thrive. Photo: Naoki Kim / Alamy
We often hear of a Native American farming technique called “The Three Sisters,” which involves growing corn, beans, and pumpkins together to form a symbiotic bond that benefits all three plants. There is something deeply intriguing about this multi-faceted approach that, among other benefits, helps capture the energy of the intense summer sun in the United States more effectively.
Unfortunately, however, the lower light intensity caused by the almost permanent cloud cover in the British maritime climate means that with this technique the plants simply shade each other, which means they do worse together than if they were planted separately.
The same goes for the tomato cages, which I think are becoming more and more popular here in the UK. This clever US-American way of training these sprawling plants removes all of the cumbersome pruning and tethering to stakes and simply places the tendrils in a cylinder of metal mesh to support and contain their growth.
It sounds like a great way to reduce your workload, and indeed it may well be in America, but in damp old Britain, this bushy, clogged method of growing will encourage the humid conditions and poor airflow that cause the dreaded tomato rot . This will decimate a crop here in a few days, but it is almost unknown in most parts of North America.
Finally, my ultimate bogeyman, will seed catalogs and websites please stop selling soybean seeds in the UK? They always claim they are a new strain that will thrive in our cool summers. After trying at least five strains over the decades, each claiming to be the game changer enabling this heat-loving vegetable to grow a bumper crop in our climate, I have not yet received a single bean to plant dozens of them.
There is so much to learn from horticulture outside of our borders, but trust me when I say I have failed these three American horticultural practices in the UK enough times to tell you that you can learn from my mistakes.
Follow James on Twitter @Botanygeek