Soil type varies wildly across the county, but as the Thames makes clear most years it's a floodplain, so there's a lot of groundwater, and fair amount of clay soil. This means the particles are tiny, and compact to make the soil heavy. It floods easily and bakes hard in summer. If you want to grow carrots and potatoes you'll probably need to improve the soil with coarse manure.
If you do want to grow root veg raised beds may help with drainage (and are also good for weed control as they stop your path grass expanding into your beds). We are assured that Marfona are the best variety of potato to grow in this county. They suit a wide variety of soils, and make excellent dauphinoise.
Brassicas should do well, as should shallow rooted trees which may explain the abundance of apple varieties native to Oxfordshire. Apples are probably the best fruit for picturesque names, and local varieties (native to Oxfordshire) include Pheasant's Eye, North Aston Non Pareil, Sergeant Peggy, Foulkes' Foremost and the excellent pairing of Eynsham Dumpling and Eynsham Challenger.
Probably the most famous Oxfordshire apple is the confusingly named Blenheim Orange, raised around 1740 in Woodstock. It is excellent for making Apple Charlotte, and goes well with cheese. The only sort of apple we don't seem to have developed is the cider apple, but you don't have to go far - our westerly neighbours Gloucestershire have more native cider apples than eating apples.
According to the RHS, flowering plants that like clay include the evilly-spined Mahonia japonica, and the divinely scented winter-flowering Viburnum x bondantense 'Dawn'. Daily Info would encourage more growing of the latter than the former! Hardy geraniums should also do well.
In recent years various projects have sprung up to encourage community gardening and veg growing. While allotments take serious dedication, students and busy families without gardens of their own make good use of these joint projects and the camaraderie that goes with them. Within the city limits are Barracks Lane Community Garden, and Hogacre Common, both of which hold regular events from the more mundane digging parties to seed swaps, apple days and harvest festivals, and winter storytelling around a bonfire.
One of the more peculiar University traditions is that of wearing carnations to exams. The dress code for exams is already sub fusc (black suit, gown, white shirt, white bow-tie for gents), and the carnation adds a splash of colour whilst also denoting where someone is in their series of exams - white for the first, pink for subsequent exams, but red for the last one. Beware: anyone wearing a red carnation is likely to be celebrating soon. Although this is thought of as a very ancient tradition it seems to have originated in the mid-80's, though no-one is sure how or when. This doesn't stop them speculating: rumour has it that originally people had a white carnation and left it standing in a jar of red ink when they weren't wearing it, so as the week wore on it became pink then red. (Maybe it symbolises blood, sweat and tears!) Now they're sold in a bunch of three - one white, one pink, one red. They're normally bought by friends for each other. Some people keep their old carnations as a souvenir of their exams - dried. It's a very friendly tradition and eagerly perpetuated by generations of stressed and anxious students.
Practical Gardening Tips:
Gardens to Volunteer at and Community Gardens:
Places to Visit:
- Barracks Lane Garden - the granddaddy community garden in Oxford. Open all the time, sometimes staffed by volunteers and sometimes you must book and collect a key.
- Incredible Edible Oxford - part of an international movement about putting public green spaces to use growing food
- Oxford City Farm - next to St Gregory the Great School and Florence Park, OCF aims to educate everyone about food production enjoyably.
- OxGrow - two unloved tennis courts in Hogacre Common (off Abingdon Rd) have become a thriving community food garden. Work sessions Wed evenings and Sun afternoon.
- Wolvercote Tree Group - maintains a Community Orchard opposite The Trout, with annual apple day, and other trees around the village.
- Warneford Orchard - not so much a need for volunteering this, but if you like apples go and pick some! Make use of the town green status and enjoy the produce, some of it rare species. Accessible from Hilltop Road via Warneford Meadow.
Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT): local nature reserves, wildlife advice & more
Living Rainforest, Hampstead Norreys, Newbury, Berks: educational charity providing a genuine, seasonally varied rainforest experience
Kew Gardens: info, educational services, Q&A facility
Museum of Garden History: plant fairs, exhibitions, visits & more in Lambeth, London
National Gardens Scheme: 3,700+ gardens open for charity (including many gardens not normally publicly accessible)
The Eden Project: vast geodomes in a Cornish quarry house a rich global garden
Lost Gardens of Heligan: restoration of fabulous Cornish Victorian garden
Friends of Oxford Botanic Garden: the garden is a national reference collection of 7,000 different types of plant - more diverse than a rainforest!
Plant Locations: AMAZING resource listing interesting/edible plants & their locations (most throughly, Bristol). Want to find your nearest mulberry tree? Wild plums? Fig? Find them here - and enlarge the map by adding plants near you.
Flowers & Plants Association: flower fashion, flower facts, flower care