It was a good day on the allotment yesterday as my neighbour Ben had a visit from his niece Amy, an R.H.S. Wisley gardener and all-round good egg, who, after some encouragement from me (sorry Ben), was up for a masterclass in pruning.
The timing was perfect as I was there for the annual go at my gooseberry bushes, which suffer from being planted too close together, which is a common allotment problem that can only be remedied by replanting or tight pruning. I had always known that you should cut out the centre of the plant to bring in light, reduce branches you were keeping to half their length and get rid of whippy growth, but what to leave behind was a much more murky area for me, so an expert was a godsend.
While in the past I had been taking shoots off at the bottom of the plant where fruit grows and would in the event of growth, drag on the ground, I had not understood a few important facts, so Amy set me straight. Firstly, you should not remove all the growth from the middle of the plant; in fact strong, new branches that have shot up in front of the old wood must be kept, as they are what is needed to replace the old fruiting branches in time. Secondly, for each plant one branch of the really old wood, and only one ideally, should be removed each year. This process will ensure that the bush continues to fruit.
Gooseberries are notoriously tricky plants to prune because at the end of the growing season they present as an unholy, prickly shambles and it's hard, even for a seasoned grower like me, to know where to start. Making the mistake of removing all the new growth from the centre of the plant was where I was going wrong, which accounted for my wonderfully green, packed bushes that actually delivered a disappointingly low yield this year.
But after the day's expert pruning, demonstrated by the "after" bush above, I have high hopes for 2013 and once the plants have been mulched with manure next weekend, my goosegogs should be ready to go for a bumper year. This is all thanks to Amy, who said she thought that while we all love the contemplative peace of gardening alone, it was great fun to garden in a gang as tending the land was really a communal activity. I couldn't agree more, it's that very thing that brings the strong sense of community into the magical world of the allotment, and I love it.