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Days of wine - and strawberries!

As well as writing about pollinators and other gardening topics, I’m also a qualified wine educator and as such I really enjoy a glass of wine now and again.

I opened a bottle of an amazing-looking sparkling wine to sip whilst sat in the garden, enjoying the view we have over the beautiful Ribble Valley. The wine is Astoria Fashion Victim Rosé.

Now, anyone who knows me would certainly not put me down as a fashion victim – quite the reverse in fact! But I couldn’t resist it. It’s the nearest you can get to a pink Prosecco. Prosecco has to be made with 100% Glera grapes in a particular part of Italy and it’s always white. This wine, however, has a touch of Pinot Noir to give it that gorgeous pink colour – a work of art in itself. The bottle is a work of art too - apparently, if you could open it up and lay it flat, it would show a map of the canals of Venice. Brilliant!

So what’s this got to do with gardening? Well, I had a sip, and my taste buds were caressed with flavours of strawberry and raspberry mingling with a few floral notes and just a hint of cream - summer in a flute, in fact. So I thought I would write a few words about that quintessential of British summer fruits, the strawberry.

Eating a freshly picked, home-grown strawberry has to be one of the most satisfying, and flavoursome, experiences I have ever had.

As a child I remember helping my mum harvest the first of the season and being allowed to pop one into my mouth, still warm from the sun – the taste is an abiding memory. Shop-bought strawberries seem to lack the ‘fruitiness’ of home-grown ones – perhaps because they have been bred to withstand the vagaries of being transported and still arrive ‘fresh’. So why not have a go at growing your own? If you’ve got space, you can have a traditional strawberry patch, complete with straw to lift the fruits off the ground – hence their name. But if, like many people, you only have a small garden or certainly not enough space for a dedicated strawberry bed, you can grow them in hanging baskets.

The advantages are first, your precious fruits are off the ground so those pesky slugs and snails can’t get their slimy munching apparatus round them, and second, you can tailor the soil to what is best for the plants (fertile, moisture-retentive but free-draining). The disadvantages are first, that because the roots are restricted inside the growing bags the plants are entirely dependent on you to provide the water they need, and second, that nutrients in the growing medium will soon be used and you will have to provide extra food in the form of fertiliser. You also have to be aware of birds beating you to it when it comes to harvesting – but that’s true with whatever method of growing you use.

There are a couple of varieties that appear to be good for hanging baskets – the first is ‘Elan’ which produces and abundance of very sweet fruits, and the second is ‘Toscana’ which not only gives you lovely fruit but it also has deep rose-coloured flowers which will look stunning.

Alternatively, you can grow alpine, or wild strawberries. The fruits are much smaller than ‘ordinary’ strawberries but what they lack in size they make up for in flavour – they’re little taste-bombs of strawberryness (is that a word?). Good varieties include ‘Alexandria’ and ‘Fraise des Bois’.

And what to do with your harvest? I think the best option is just to eat them as they are – or, coming back to my ‘not-quite-Prosecco’, why not pop a berry or two in your glass to complete your fashion victim status!

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