Posted On 23/04/2020
April comes with so many aces it often seems a little unfair to the other months – all that blossom decking the boughs, ponds heaving with tadpoles, slender seedlings pushing through soil – so many signs of life unfurling. But I can’t be the only vegetable gardener who holds out for that moment when I see the first spears of asparagus peeking through the soil.
Asparagus has a special allure, perhaps because its season (April to June) is fleeting, or, a little like rhubarb it may owe it’s mysterious cachet to its essentially subterranean life. Though it does thrust through the soil in March or April, there are more months of the year when it’s invisible, building reserves, fattening its crown of roots, just waiting.
Sown as a seed or more commonly planted as one year old crowns in April, asparagus burnishes its rarefied reputation through parsimony. This is a crop for the dedicated and the patient, withholding its bounty for the first two or three years. Spears will grow, of course, in these early years, but they’ll be spindly and if you give into your greedy desires and attack with a knife, next year’s crop will be lean and poor.
It’s also a diva crop, intolerant of interlopers on its allotted patch of earth. Assiduous weeding is needed to keep your asparagus happy. If that sounds too demanding, think of a dish of tender asparagus tips anointed with butter.
The spears emerging in my Perth garden were raised from Brazilian seed. A bit of a hare-brained scheme, perhaps to hope that seed raised in the Tropics might thrive in Scotland. I’ve been putting the young plants through a toughening up regime, and so far they’ve endured three Scottish winters and come out stronger. I may even dare to cut a few spears this year.
Special knives and saucepans are available to help you cut and cook asparagus. A serrated knife with a hooked end does a good job of allowing you to cut the sometimes fibrous base of individual spears more easily, but I hope my trusty penknife will do the trick.
You can find good cultivation notes on the RHS site. When you’re ready to cook your asparagus, it pairs well with butter, vinaigrette, cheese and eggs, with tarragon, mint, lemon and pepper. It also tastes good with oranges, almonds and peas.
Happy gardening, Fiona.