Symbolic Forest Gardenblog

An experiment in container gardening

Bobbing for fennel

A bit nippy out in the garden today: most certainly not as springlike as other days, with dark clouds massing overhead. Not at all like the warm, insect-filled garden of last weekend. Still, I did the things I meant to do: replanted the pea seedlings in their final location, sowed more peas to germinate on the windowsill, scattered a few “surprise” annual flower seeds in spare corners, and retreated to the sofa before the rain broke.

The pea seedlings have, like last year, gone in a box to stand on the garden wall. I should have transplanted them earlier: they were getting rather stuck in their tiny modules. The next batch of peas will start their hardening-up rather earlier, so they can be transplanted outside rather earlier too. The fennel I repotted last week is looking nicely at home, plenty of feathery new growth coming from the heart of both plants. The sweet peas are not so happy, still looking rather listless and floppy, so I have given them a bit more scaffolding to climb up: horizontal strings wrapped around their cane pyramid.

I said last time that I would explain a bit more about the fennel, and why we decided to get some. It is, essentially, to make up for last year. We tried to grow dill last year, and it was a bit of a failure.

If you look at a packet of dill seeds, you see a rather idealised picture: a big pot with a big dill plant inside it, leaves pouring down like a waterfall. Of course, if you’re growing dill for food, that’s what you need, because you need a good bunch of the individual fronds to put in your gravadlax. However, trying to grow dill from seed, that wasn’t what we got at all. The first plants we sowed in modules and tried to pot on: that failed entirely. The second plants we sowed in their final location; they put out a few leaves, then immediately bolted to a few feet high and flowered. Hardly any leaves at all, not even enough to make a single meal out of. The flower heads are pretty: finely-divided cadmium-yellow umbels; but, to be honest, I like eating dill too much to be satisfied with that. Why did it happen? I suspect the pot we put them in was rather too shallow, and the plants’ roots felt rather too cramped for comfort.

Now, in all the books I’ve read, it says: “don’t grow dill and fennel together”. They might give a reason, too, but if they have I haven’t absorbed it, come away only with the idea that they don’t work well together for some reason. I picture the real explanation being like primary school parents’ evening: “honestly, we love little Fennel, and he’s fine on his own, but when him and Dill get together they do tend to egg each other on. Mrs Anderson still can’t bear the sight of pencil shavings, and it was four months ago now…” Anyway, whatever the reason is, as we were trying to grow dill last year, we thought that fennel must be avoided at all costs. As I’m now completely exasperated with trying to get dill to grow, this year it is the fennel’s turn. We don’t have room for more than a couple of bulbs, so we won’t get more than a single side dish from it at the end of the season – fennel gratin is delicious, by the way. I’m more interested to see if its leaves can be used like dill, or if they will end up as purely structural plants for the summer – hopefully they will give the garden a more delicate sense of height than things-up-canes can provide.

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