25 Colourful Crops for a Vibrant Vegetable Garden

In January I banished grey days by reading The Secret Lives of Colour by Kassia St Clair. It took me on a vivid journey through the history of colour, to explore the unknown corners of sepia, fallow, orchil, Isabelline and vantablack. As I read, I noticed how many of the terms are derived from plants like madder, amaranth, saffron, ginger, avocado and violet. Often these words referred to the dye the plants produced as with woad, or the colour of the plant’s blooms, like heliotrope. Colour is an integral part of our relationship with plants, we have used them over the centuries to produce dyes and paints, to bring colour into our homes with cut flowers and recently we’ve learnt more about the health benefits of many of the antioxidants that give plants their colour.

Now we are nearing the middle of February and my dining table is splashed with colour as I sort my seed packets. I usually avoid sowing anything except chillies until early March, so there’s still a couple of weeks to select a rainbow of colour for health and happiness later in the year. Here are my top picks for a vibrant vegetable patch in 2019:

Red

  • Suttons’ new lettuce ‘Outredgeous’ is the first plant to be grown from seed, harvested and eaten in space. It has vivid red leaves, a sweet crunch and can be grown in part-shade as well as full sun
  • Sprout ‘Red Rubine’ is an unusual brassica with red/purple sprouts. We particularly liked the red sprout tops which taste like sweet, crunchy mini-cabbages
  • One of my favourite salad onions ‘Apache’ produces glossy red spring onions that keep their colour when peeled. They are also ideal for container growing
  • The first oca I grew was ‘Helen’s All Red’ from Real Seeds. It produced heavy crops and is also one of the best flavoured of the 15 or so varieties I’ve grown. With edible leaves and ruby fruits in November when the rest of the garden has gone into hibernation, this is one colourful crop you won’t regret growing this year

    oca (3).JPG

    Oca ‘Helen’s All Red’

Orange

  • Suttons’ Squash ‘Uchiki Kuri’ has dense round fruits which keep well and look superb hanging off the climbing plants in the autumn
  • Chilli ‘Apricot’ from Sea Spring Plants was a first for me last year. Its mild fruits matured late and tasted more like a sweet pepper than a chilli – a good choice if you want chilli plants for young children or chillies for stuffing
  • Tomato ‘Sungold’ is an orange winner time and time again in taste tests for the sweetest tomato. The cherry-sized fruits are irresistible to both kids and adults, especially when eaten warm straight out of the greenhouse

    DSC_0006 (2).JPG

    Squash ‘Uchiki Kuri’

Yellow

  • Visually, I prefer ‘Chioggia’ beetroot with its striking pink central rings, but the kids’ favourite is always ‘Burpees Golden’ for its mild, sweet taste
  • Tomato ‘Golden Sunrise’ is a beautiful contrast in a salad to darker varieties and ‘Striped Stuffer’ has scarlet skins striped with vivid yellow making the most beautiful hanging display
  • If you prefer your chillies hot then try ‘Lemon Drop’, a delicious Aji chilli that comes in at a spicy 30,000-50,000 SHU rating

    IMG_20161030_083240.JPG

    A mix of yellow and orange tomatoes

Green

  • A poor relation in the garden, green is often dismissed as simply the colour of foliage, but it can be beautiful and vivid in its own right. Try Tomato ‘Green Zebra’ with its deep green stripes over a soft lime background
  • Or try the tinted white-green patty pan squash with their prolific scalloped fruits – a seed mix like ‘Summer Mix’ from Thompson and Morgan combines the paler squashes with dark green and yellow fruits
  • Cucamelons also celebrate the colour green with their beautiful speckles over the paler skin and Romanesco broccolli excudes lime green from every fractal millimetre

    DSC_0136 (3).JPG

    Cucamelon green

Blue

  • An unsual colour in the vegetable garden, many ‘blue’ crops tip over into tints of purple. You could try Tomato ‘Blue Bayou’ from Chiltern Seeds for its ‘richly coloured dark navy-blue to purple fruits’
  • Alternatively try Sweetcorn ‘Hopi Blue’, an American Indian heirloom variety from Jungle Seeds to find out if blue is for you in the vegetable garden

Indigo

  • We like the meaty, deep flavour of Tomato ‘Indigo Rose’ from Suttons. This almost black cultivar has a secret – lift up the calyx and underneath you’ll find remnants of the red coloration where the skin isn’t exposed to the light

Violet

  • I love deep purple vegetables – whether it’s ‘Purple Haze’ carrots, ‘Kolibri’ kohlrabi or the dwarf bean ‘Purple Queen’ There’s something deep and mysterious about them – especially when the colour magically disappears during cooking as with the beans or gives way to the traditional orange centre inside the carrots

Rainbow carrots and the orange inside

Rainbow

  • If your garden is too small to grow a wide range of crops or you fancy more colours for your money, rainbow collections are a fun way to liven it up. Chilli ‘Prairie Fire’ moves through the colours of the rainbow as the fruits mature
  • We love growing carrot ‘Rainbow Mix’ as the kids never know what colour carrot will appear when they gently pull out the roots
  • Beetroot naturally lend themselves to multicoloured seed mixes. ‘Rainbow Mix’ includes ‘Chioggia’, Burpees Golden’ and Albina Verduna’
  • Of course, the ultimate rainbow crop has to be Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights’one of the first vegetables I ever grew. If the neon stems of ‘Bright Lights’ don’t convince you of the charms of colourful crops, nothing will!

    DSC_0027 (2)

    Beetroot ‘Rainbow Mix’

What colourful crops are on your seed list this year? Do you have any favourites that you grow time and time again?

If you’d like to subscribe to the blog, please follow the link below:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Allotment Soup Challenge: Celeriac and Blue Cheese

When we inherited our allotment last March, the only crop which had overwintered was a collection of celeriac – clearly beloved of the previous occupants if the quantity, amount and size of the plants was anything to go by. I’ve long been a fan of the nobbly, bald vegetable after having it in soups in Austria years ago and being regularly faced with it in veggie boxes since.

Last year I followed in the previous allotment holder’s footsteps and grew celeriac from seed. I suspect I didn’t lavish as much attention on it as the previous year’s incumbents had. We got a crop –  the celeriac were not as rotund as those I pulled up last March – but we managed to grow enough to harvest several for winter meals. Celeriac has a milder taste than celery and is lovely grated raw in salads or boiled and mashed. But as I’m endeavouring to produce as many soups as possible from the allotment this year, here’s one I experimented with recently which was particularly tasty…

Celeriac and Blue Cheese Soup

Ingredients

1 medium celeriac (or you could use a head of celery)

75g blue cheese, eg. Saint Agur

700 ml stock

50g butter

1 large potato or 2 smaller ones

300ml milk or cream

Black pepper

Few pieces of leftover chopped up cooked ham, fried chorizo or croutons

DSC_0211.JPG

The main ingredients

 

Method

Peel and chop the celeriac and potato. Melt the butter in a pan and add the celeriac and potato. Soften in the butter for a few minutes, then add the stock.

Boil in stock for 20 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Blend the vegetables and stock. Add the cheese, milk and black pepper to taste. Reheat the soup to melt the cheese.

Serve the soup sprinkled with black pepper and chopped ham to add a salty twist, accompanied with crusty bread and butter.

This soup is warming, rich and delicious, especially if you’ve spent the morning digging, weeding or planting out in the cold at the allotment!! ☺

IMG_20160911_140638.JPG

If you are after more warming soups, try my Roasted Jerusalem Artichoke and Sweet Chestnut Soup. You can check out more recipes here or follow the blog to get new recipe ideas as I add them to the blog…

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Exploring wild flowers: 5 coastal plants with interesting edible histories

These days I spend much of my time in private and community gardens (and sometimes even my own) working with plants and I’ve learnt a great deal over the past few years about where garden plants will thrive, how they will combine with their fellows and when they will steal the limelight. But my knowledge of our native flora is still at the seedling stage, with only a few stalwarts remembered from walks in the Welsh country lanes with my grandparents (Herb Robert, Red Campion, Lords and Ladies…). I’ve not yet developed the ability to connect with a landscape through observing its plants the way I have with birds, through years of watching, listening and learning.

So this year I’ve started developing my knowledge of our wild flora. I’ve attended several excellent courses at the Cambridge Botanic Gardens – on Trees in Winter (sticks), Trees in summer (sticks with leaves) and Tricky Taxonomy (focusing on Docks, Sedges, Umbellifers, Crucifers and Willows). These courses have been interesting and useful – not because I can identify a great deal more than I could before, but because they have opened up a whole new world of native plant life and a new way of looking at it – focusing on the structure of the plant and its links to native habitats, rather than considering plants in terms of their garden worthiness and aesthetic possibilities.

Thus I found myself at RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk this week, crouched in the vegetative shingle, focusing on the plant life rather than the bird life. There was a brief foray into East Hide with the rest of the family to marvel at the iconic avocets and argue over the identity of a female whinchat/stonechat, but mostly I wandered along the shore learning to connect with the landscape through its vegetation. I’ve learnt to identify new species and enjoyed researching their history and uses. I’ve been surprised at how many have edible parts, at least theoretically and historically (some are now not eaten due to their toxic effects and some are protected species in certain areas).

Here are some of my favourite new acquaintances and a little about why I’ve found their histories captivating:

1. Sea Pea (Lathyrus japonicus)

These beautiful little papilionaceous flowers (shaped like a butterfly) are tiny specks of colour in an otherwise green and tan landscape. A trailing perennial, the flowers have obvious links to sweet peas and garden peas with their 5 petals (the upstanding ‘standard’, the 2 lateral ‘wings’ and the 2 fused lower petals forming the ‘keel’.)

P1020052 (2).JPG

The delicate sea pea flower

The seeds float and can remain viable for an impressive 5 years. It was first recorded in 1570 and used to be so abundant that it was regarded as a valuable food source in Suffolk in times of famine. However, like many other members of the genus, they contain a neurotoxin which can cause a disease called lathyrism if consumed in large quantities. Lathyrism causes paralysis and is still an problem in some areas of the world where large quantities of lathyrus seeds are consumed due to poverty and famine.

Suffolk supports a large percentage of the UK’s scarce population of sea peas, so foraging would no longer be a responsible option – even if there was a consensus on the safety of eating it in small quanitites – which there isn’t.

DSC_0041 (2).JPG

Beautiful and enigmatic sea pea

 

2. Sea Radish (Raphanus maritimus)

A common sight along the coast, I love sea radish for its yellow or white flowers and its abundant profusion. The flowers aren’t conventionally beautiful, but I spent quite a lot of time studying Brassicaceae flowers through a hand lens last month, examining the four petals in a cross shape which gave the family its older name, Cruciferae. The open flower structure and generous quantities of sea radish blooms add a fresh, airy feel to the dunes. Although the Brassicaceae I’m most familiar with are grown for their edible parts, the family also includes ornamental garden favourites like wallflowers, aubretia, honesty and night-scented stock.

DSC_0010

Clouds of fresh sea radish flowers

The seed pods can be clearly seen at this time of year and remind me of the rat-tailed radishes which commandeered the vegetable patch last year and produced hundreds of (to my mind rather unpleasantly cabbagey tasting) seed pods. The abundance of sea radish and the fact that it can be harvested for leaves, flowers and young seed pods, especially in winter when other wild crops are scarce, makes it a valuable wild food source. Although I didn’t harvest any myself this time, it is possible that the taste will be better than the rat-tailed variety as I do generally like the radish pods of varieties which are not conventionally grown for their seed pods (not sure why they taste better – perhaps it’s just that I don’t get on with anything with ‘Rat-tailed’ in the title due to nettle compost tea trauma – see Nettle Soup blog post).

IMG_20160812_201922

Sea radish seed pods

Rat-tailed radish - www.dogwooddays.net (2).jpg

Rat-tailed radishes in the garden last year

 

3. Sea Kale (Crambe maritime)

Another member of the Brassicaceae family, sea kale was a favourite food of the Victorians and their habit of digging up plants to try and grow them in their gardens contributed to their decline in the wild. Today plants are still scarce in some areas, but they grow in abundance on stretches of the Suffolk coast. However, we can now grow sea kale from seed, thus avoiding putting pressure on local resources. Seeds are available from Suttons Seeds and The Organic Gardening Catalogue, or plants can be bought from Victoriana Nursery Gardens from 2017. (All links are based on my personal knowledge and use of these suppliers. They are not sponsored links). Sea kale is an interesting vegetable to cultivate because of its perennial nature and its many edible parts – roots, leaves, flowers and seeds. If you are interested in learning more about sea kale, Mark Williams’ fascinating blog, Galloway Wild Foods covers more foraging information and Alison Tindale offers excellent practical advice about growing and propagation in The Backyard Larder.

DSC_0031

Sea kale shoots emerging from the shingle

 

4. Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum)

Sea holly is another plant perfectly adapted to grow on vegetative shingle, with its long tap root growing down a metre or more and an extensive root system which helps protect the environment against erosion. It has a long history of usage as a medicinal and edible plant – the shoots can be blanched and used as an asparagus substitute whilst the root can be cooked as a vegetable or candied and used as a sweetmeat.

P1020047 (2).JPG

Silvery sea holly on the shingle

 

Eryngium spp. have, of course, been traditionally planted in gardens for their ornamental value. The waxy, glaucous leaves and bracts which protect the plant from sun and wind damage, also create the beautiful silvery blue sheen which contrasts so well with orange and yellow flowers such as Helenium, Anthemis and Achillea, or complements blue and purple combinations with other flowers like Allium, Echinacea and Perovskia.

P1020050 (2).JPG

Blue flowers above the glaucous bracts

 

For more information on sea holly’s history and edible properties I’d recommend Plants for a Future. I first came across this resource several years ago when I bought the book second-hand at Conwy RSPB reserve. Online, it’s an astonishing database of over 7000 edible and medicinal plants, with their historical and modern uses. I use it regularly both as a source of fascinating historical information and to help me maximise the use of the plants growing in my garden and allotment.

DSC_0056.JPG

Prickly sea holly on the shingle/dune margin

 

5. Marsh Mallow (Althaea officinalis)

Marsh mallow is a plant of tidal river banks, salt marshes, damp meadows and coastal margins. The flowers are smaller and paler than common mallow. Most of the mallows have been used as food for centuries in the UK and all around the world and marsh mallow was apparently a delicacy in Roman times. Like the sea pea, marsh mallow is still eaten in countries like Syria as a staple in times of famine, but without the unfortunate side effects.

P1020042 (2).JPG

Marsh mallow flowers have a softness with their pinky-lilac hue

The mucilaginous sap of the root has been used as a sweet treat since Egyptian times, mixed with sugar and egg whites to form a meringue which hardens as it cooks. Modern marshmallows no longer use Althaea officinalis as the base of the confectionary, but the plant still has myriad uses. The root can be cooked as a vegetable, the leaves used to thicken soups and the flowers and root made into tea. Marsh mallow also has many medicinal applications listed in Plants for a Future and further interesting historical information is available in Mrs M. Grieve’s A Modern Herbal (1931), now accessible online.

common mallow

Common mallow flower (Malva sylvestris)

Marsh mallow is scarce in the UK these days and therefore not a viable option for foraging, but seeds can be bought from numerous suppliers, such as Kings Seeds and Jekka’s Herb Farm. With a damp area in the garden it should be possible to grow Althaea officinalis to make marshmallows, as a vegetable or for medicinal purposes. Alternatively it could simply be grown to attract pollinating insects and to create a link to our diverse and rich natural floral history.

If you have enjoyed this post and would like to follow more of my explorations into wild flower territory in the future, please subscribe to the blog:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

It’s always great to have comments on the posts – I’d love to hear about other people’s experiences. Do you forage, grow or cook with these or other coastal plants? Looking forward to hearing from you…

Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally. Always ensure it is legal to forage and where identification is concerned, if in doubt, leave it out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allotment 96B: New Beginnings

Ten years ago I went on the allotment waiting list. Local sites are heavily oversubscribed and I was expecting a substantial wait. Five years later, with one small child and another on the way I decided to come off the list as allotmenteering seemed unfeasible in the blur of family life. Instead we worked on our new garden, trying to include as much space for growing as possible.

IMG_2156

The mini-potager in our back garden

Put off but not forgotten

But I still had a secret hankering for more space – for growing brassicas, potatoes and other crops which aren’t really worth the space in our small raised beds, for experimenting with new plants, for a cutting garden, for oca trials, for experiencing gluts … the list went on and on! Then, this year, with school for my youngest on the horizon, I decided it was time to rejoin the list. Perhaps in a mere six years we would have our own allotment waiting for us… Three months later I received a phone call and within a week we took over Plot 98B with a certain amount of trepidation.

Initial plans for the allotment – the 3 central beds have now been made into 4

The plot in early April… then dug over ready for potatoes

Plot 98B

We chose 98B out of 3 possibilities. Plus points included 4 established rhubarb plants, 2 long rows of autumn raspberries, 3 blackcurrants (or some may be reds), 2 compost bins, a shed, a strawberry raised bed and resident celeriac and broad beans. Also one of the other plots had swede and leeks – ours didn’t (another plus point).

DSC_0256

Our handy little shed

Our weeds

The shed needs some sorting (tidying, water butt fitting, minor repairs), but overall is in pretty good nick. The plot does have quite a lot of perennial weeds, mostly couch grass and poppies with some bindweed thrown in for good measure, but the poppies look stunning and were covered in bees this morning, so at least we’re doing our bit for pollinators!

Poppies smothered in bees

Our crops

The celeriac was swiftly despatched into several batches of soup and I’ve been harvesting the broad beans with the kids to be eaten young, barely parboiled in salads. The broad beans and poppies seem to be harmoniously sharing the same space – we’ll have a go at digging out the poppies and their long tap roots when the beans are over. The rhubarb has already manfully supplied several crumbles, pots of stewed fruit and 4 or 5 rhubarb sponges (my favourite). It’s now destined for cordial and jam.

DSC_0259

The poppies and broad beans happily coexisting

The plot is split up into 6 beds and the fruit takes up 1 1/2, leaving 4 1/2 beds to play with. Today I’ve dug over the 1/2 bed between the rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes and planted 2 courgette ‘Tricolor’ and one Fuchsia berry which we’re trying this year for its fruits. We have four more to plant but this one is the guinea pig (I didn’t tell it) to see if anything eats the plant (slugs, snails, birds, deer…) If so, I’ll need to protect the others when I plant them out.

DSC_0247

Courgettes and fuchsia berry planted out

One bed has already been planted with potatoes ‘Lady Christl’, shallots ‘Picasso’ and onions ‘Red Baron’. That leaves 2 more beds to dig over and plant – with my trial oca plants (all 14 of them!), a runner bean, cucamelon and trombocino wigwam, brassicas (Brussel sprouts ‘Rubine’ and Kohlrabi ‘Olivia F1’) and root crops (Celeriac ‘Monarch’ and a mix of rainbow carrots and beetroot). I feel very behind where I’d like to be, but having only taken on the plot in April and with a small family in tow most of the time I guess I should be pleased with any progress we make!

DSC_0253

Potatoes and rhubarb

Jerusalem artichoke ambivalence

One happy chance find (or possibly not – I’ll let you know) is the large clump of Jerusalem artichokes in the corner of the plot. I’m ambivalent about their taste and have not really found any super successful recipes, but judging by the amount we will be unearthing in November I’d better get working on a range of delicious ways to cook them! We dug out a large area which had encroached on the path last week and passed a couple of bags of tubers on to other people courtesy of a local facebook gardening swap site (not without the warning that it might be better to plant them in a big pot rather than in the ground).

DSC_0246

The Jerusalem artichokes are big, bold and a little intimidating

Our small allotmenteers

The kids are enjoying their allotment experience. They’ve made new small friends on neighbouring plots, ‘helped’ digging holes, watering and we’ve been working on their own dinosaur garden. They chose the plants (the most yellow form of heuchera they could find – ‘Electra’ as yellow is their favourite colour) and planted them in a tyre which we got from the local garage.

Dino

‘Planting’ trees in the dinosaur garden

They’ve collected stones to put around the edge and we’ve started painting the tyre with acrylic paints (yellow) to live it up a bit. Then the big pot of dinosaurs comes out every visit and they create a Jurassic scene. We’ve also had the bug box out examining the mini-beasts on the plot (snails, snails, snails… and slugs) and they’ve both got grubby and tired – result!

DSC_0065

The dinosaurs have found a new home

DSC_0200

The heuchera in the dinosaur garden

All in all the first few weeks of having an allotment has been fun, we’re already eating the proceeds and I’m looking forward watching it grow, weeds and all.

DSC_0269

I found this little beauty, Tragopogon porrifolius (Purple Salsify), growing wild in the meadow verge adjacent to the allotment path

What hints and tips would you give to newbie allotmenteers like us? Please leave a comment for us – we’d love to hear your thoughts. To see our allotment as it develops, follow the blog here:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Currants, raspberries, rhubarb and strawberries

Onion/shallot bed and the rest of our, as yet unplanted, growing space

10 Exciting Crops to Grow in a Modern Kitchen Garden

When we first arrived at Chelsea we made a beeline for the Great Pavilion and my favourite kind of display – those which combine beauty and productivity. I really enjoy the Pennard Plants gardens and always come away with ideas for new crops to grow the following year.

IMG_4523

Allotment gardens to let…

This year was no different. The gold medal winning display covered 90 years of growing, exploring how allotments have developed since 1926 and the birth of Queen Elizabeth II. The first allotment plot included a greenhouse from the 1870s and was planted with fruit and vegetables of the period. There was a regimented air to the planting with all the crops standing to attention in military rows. The plot was packed with vibrant, healthy plants and focused largely on producing as many essential vegetables as possible to supply the demand for food after WW1. The allotment contained examples of vegetables grown from Pennard Plants’ heritage seed range and also included a compost area and beehive – valuable resources then as now.

IMG_4526

Neat and productive 1926 allotment plot

The middle plot was a Chelsea Pensioners Allotment and emulated some of the allotment cultivation going on in the Royal Hospital every year. This time the planting was more mixed, with flowers, fruit and vegetables growing together in cheerful harmony. Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’ and ‘Alaska’ provide peppery leaves and petals for salads and young seed pods can be pickled as an alternative to capers. Borage and calendula attract the pollinators and their petals can also be used in salads, whilst in the foreground Moroccan Mint and Creeping Red Thyme provide leaves for tea and add flavour to all manner of soups, stews and salads.

IMG_4528

The Chelsea Pensioners Allotment is both productive and beautiful

The third plot brought the story up to date with the Modern Allotment. Many of the planting was container-based in galvanised troughs allowing plot holders to move their crops between sites and enabling people to grow in the smallest of spaces. This modular and moveable approach to growing works well in rented properties. The ability to maximise growing space by adding extra soil depth to raised beds also allows gardeners with small outdoor spaces the opportunity

IMG_4542

My reflective shed selfie

The mirrored shed designed to merge into the background was a modern take on allotment storage and the plot also housed chickens and bees, suggesting the role of animals in modern self-sufficiency. However, it was the more unusual fruit and vegetables which lured me in – resulting in my spending a long time taking pictures, asking questions and swapping advice.

IMG_4530

The exciting modern allotment – with spiral trained apple tree

Some of these 10 unusual crops I’ve grown before and are now family favourites, some I’ve heard about and wanted to try, and others are exciting new discoveries. Read on to try something new or add your comments to the blog post and let me know what has worked for you, what hasn’t and any tips you’d give the novice grower:

1. Ground nut (Apios americana) – climbing herbaceous vine with edible tubers and seed pods. Mild flavour and 3 times the amount of protein of modern potatoes. Likes moist, well-drained soil in sun or part shade. Would work well in forest gardens as it can be left to climb through shrubs or trees.

IMG_4559

The ground nut vine

2. Earth chestnut (Bunium bulbocastanum) – beautiful umbellifer which would be at home as much in the flower garden as the allotment. Tubers taste of chestnuts and both leaves and seeds can be used as a flavouring or garnish. Easy to grow and hardy. I’ll be trying this one out next year…

IMG_4554

Beautiful earth chestnut flowers

3. Red perilla (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) – a cut and come again salad leaf from Southeast Asia. This half-hardy annual looks stunning for those who like colour in the vegetable plot or who aspire to create a potager garden as an ornamental as well as productive feature. Can be used to give a scarlet colour to pickled dishes and flower buds and seeds can also be eaten. Mild aniseed-mint flavour, milder than green varieties. Grow from seed each year.

IMG_4546

Striking red perilla

4. Chinese celery (Oenanthe javanica ‘Flamingo’) – beautiful variegated leaves with a pink tinge to the outer edge. Distant relative to parsley, the leaves are best steamed or used as a garnish and have a celery-like taste. Needs a moist, semi-shaded spot in the garden. Vigorous grower, hardy down to about -10.

Warning – many members of this genus are extremely poisonous, so if you intend to harvest the plant, ensure it comes clearly labelled with the correct Latin name.

IMG_4561

Chinese celery looks attractive and delicate

5. Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) – the Japanese horseradish root has a spicy heat which livens up all manner of dishes, such as mashed potato, salads (good in salad dressing) and marinades. The plant takes 2 years to reach maturity and needs acid soil with moist, shady conditions. It can be grown in pots of aquatic compost placed in a tray of water or in boggy ground.

IMG_4551

Spicy wasabi

6. Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) – a tuber from Peru, closely related to sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes. They look rather like potatoes and have a taste rather like a pear crossed with mild celery – in Peru they are eaten more as a fruit than a vegetable. The plants are perennial – dig the tubers up to harvest and select several large tubers to overwinter in a frost free place. These can then be planted out the following spring.

IMG_4544

Yacan is another tuber worth trying…

7. Callaloo (Amarathus spp.) – this attractive plant is also known as amaranth or love lies bleeding and is often used as an ornamental specimen. The seeds can be sown direct from late May to early August and will grow into plants for cropping within 6 weeks. Leaves can be used as a cut and come again salad crop and also fried in curries or cooked in soups – basically used in the same way as spinach. My confession is that I sowed two packets of callaloo seed last year at two different times and not a single seed germinated. Any thoughts on what I was doing wrong would be gratefully received!

IMG_4540

Vibrant callaloo – clearly doesn’t like my garden

8. Mexican tree spinach (Chenopodium giganteum) – an annual which will self-seed and is a relative of quinoa and the weed fat hen (Chenopodium album) which is also edible. The young leaves and tips can be harvested continually and used as a leafy green in the same way as spinach and with a similar taste.

IMG_4535

Galvanised troughs with an interesting range of salad leaves – like mexican tree spinach

9. Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) – a frost tender perennial herb with a lemony coriander taste. It can be grown in a pot and overwintered indoors or simply transplanted from the ground to a pot for overwintering. Grow in a sheltered spot in full sun or partial shade, in rich, fertile soil. Can be eaten fresh in salads and used in soups and stews.

IMG_4550

Vietnamese coriander with its striking leaf patterns

10. Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) – a favourite tuber in our family, we’ve been growing this Andean tuber crop for several years now and this year I’m also growing 14 trial plants as part of the Guild of Oca Breeders study to develop a genetically diverse, day neutral oca which will crop more heavily in the UK than current varieties. Oca can be a range of bright colours from yellows to whites, reds and pinks. They are harvested around November and nothing makes me happier in the rather drab autumn vegetable garden than digging up a treasure trove of little red gems to roast for tea. The tubers are sweeter if left for a fortnight or so on a sunny windowsill. They have a lemony taste and can also be eaten raw. Leaves can also be eaten, provided they are taken in moderation so as not to disturb the plant’s growth and eaten in moderation as they contain oxalic acid like sorrel, spinach and rhubarb. Leaves should not be consumed if you suffer from rheumatism or arthritis.

IMG_4548

Oca – a family favourite

I also got a lovely collection of new chillies to grow from seed next year, recommended by Chris Smith at Pennard Plants. The rest of my family would probably say I already grow enough different chillies, but I love experimenting with new plants. If you would like to try something new, you can get more information on the Pennard Plants website. Follow my blog for more ideas on growing something a bit different and let me know how you get on…

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

My Hard-Working Garden: An Ongoing Transformation(Part 1)

Potager gardens, walled gardens and old-fashioned cottage gardens – all styles I love for their eclectic mix of vegetables, fruit and flowers. They can be seen as nostalgic, whimsical, outmoded; gardens which exist in an historical context, from time to time tempting modern gardeners into grand estates or rural open garden shows, but without contemporary relevance. Their visual, almost casual beauty belies the amount of hard graft behind such dual purpose gardens, which needed to create an aesthetic impact whilst also fulfilling a practical role for the household – whether that be a cottage with two occupants or a grand estate of many hundreds.

IMAG0688

My veggie bed with a mix of edible flowers, flowers for cutting and vegetables (plus Billy the Scarecrow!)

Modern gardens don’t have to provide us with medicinal herbs which are unavailable elsewhere, they rarely need to feed large estates, or provide food for families who have no access to other sources of nourishment. But they do have to work as hard as in the past, especially modern small gardens which are required to fulfil a number of purposes. Many have an assortment of children’s toys sprawled untidily across the centre (ours often does), they are required to provide aesthetic appeal with flower borders, containers and other key features. They are intended to attract wildlife, to create space for entertaining, cooking and relaxing,  and some even have to provide fruit and vegetables for the table. As our requirements for our gardens increase and their size diminishes, the pressure on outdoor spaces to cater for many purposes grows. In this way we could be seen as returning to these older styles of gardening where the garden has to work hard to earn its keep. In spaces too small to allow different areas for each function, the potager style works well as each part of the garden can be used in multifunctional ways.

climbing frame

Our much-loved, but enormous slide and swings

We moved into our current house six years ago and have just finished the major changes on the garden (although I know it will always be changing and evolving and that’s the fun bit). Now there’s no major designing and restructuring to do, I thought it might be good to look back over the past six years at what we’ve achieved and where I hope it might go next.

IMG_1215

Original tidy but rather dull border

Six years ago our back garden was uninspiring, with established shrub borders, a small rotting shed, a lovely little greenhouse and a fair-sized lawn. The garden is about 9m by 13m and is north-east facing, without much shading tree cover and fenced all round. I guess many people would have viewed the garden as low-maintenance, finished and tidy, but I saw it as an opportunity to create a garden which packs as much in as possible without seeming too busy or chaotic.

IMG_1232

This side had an empty gravel border which emphasised the concrete fence base and an overgrown Ceanothus

My first aim was to replicate the semi-wildness of my childhood garden for my kids. I grew up in a 1/3 acre garden in Cheshire with several mature trees, a vegetable and fruit garden and a wild patch at the bottom. The wild patch existed quite happily without having an impact on the rest of the garden as it was unviewed fron the house and therefore an ideal place for secret club meetings, wildlife watching and endless hours of tree climbing with an apple and a book. We have no trees big enough to climb in our current garden, nor much likelihood of growing any, so I decided to create a willow den in the flower border to give the kids an area where they could exist unobserved.

IMG_1236

Behind the shrubs, the border was empty and unused

IMG_1240

The garden had a good-sized lawn

We kept the lawn (although we extended the border area) and the greenhouse, which had been one of the things which had initially attracted me to the garden. I replaced the shed with a larger potting shed, in which I’ve spent many productive, happy hours in the past five years, creating a small plant empire and generally pottering, in teeming storms, muggy afternoons and evenings so dark I’ve needed a headtorch.

IMG_4036

Love my potting shed…

Initially we removed the large Thuja which were blocking light from the garden and then cleared out the back border, giving many of the plants away to local people though Freecycle. My main aim was to get the fruit trees and bushes established first as these would take the longest to become productive. Now, five years on from planting, the plum, apples, greengage, cherry (in a pot) and pear (in a pot) are really getting into their stride and we’ve been harvesting superb crops from the raspberries, currants, blueberries (in pots) and rhubarb for several years. We chose espalier apple trees along the side fence (‘James Grieve’, ‘Egremont Russet’ and ‘Bountiful’), two dessert apples and one cooker/dessert. ‘Bountiful’ went in the shadiest spot near the house, as cookers can tolerate more shade, and we planted short hedges of lavender and rosemary to create areas for herbs between the trees. We now have three modestly productive espaliers, now with four tiers, and a thriving herb border with sage, chives, garlic chives, assorted mints (sunk in pots), thyme (which has been fabulous for the past five years, but didn’t like the wet winter so now needs replacing), majoram, chamomile, lavender and rosemary.

IMG_1643

After planting the espaliers

I’ve also added bulbs with varying levels of success. The snowdrops along the side of the lawn are thriving and the white hyacinths which I planted around the base of each apple tree have increased threefold and look and smell stunning in the spring. Tulips were less successful as the area is mulched with bark and slugs (the latter not intentionally) so I gave up the tulip struggle in this border as they emerged eaten and misshapen year after year. Alliums are more successful and the Allium sphaerocephalon increase each year. This year, however, the stock of larger allium like Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and Allium christophii looks diminished and I wonder if the wet winter is again to blame (we do have quite heavy soil here, but I usually use grit under bulbs when planting which seems to help with longevity.)

IMG_2188

Espaliers, herbs and Lonicera ‘Hall’s Prolific’ on the house wall beginning to get established

 

DSC_0496

The alliums at their best in the herb/espalier border

Winter clematis (‘Freckles’ and ‘Jingle Bells’) thrive up one of the espalier poles and Clematis ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Artic Queen’ up another. The final post supports Vitis vinifera ‘Reliance’, which last year gave us our first harvest of sweet, seedless pink grapes.

Clematis cihhrosa  var. purpurascens 'Freckles'

Clematis ‘Freckles’ flowers non-stop throughout the winter

Clematis 'Arctic Queen'

Clematis ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Arctic Queen’ twine together up the post

At the back of the garden around the fruit trees I’ve planted several varieties of Narcissus which look and smell lovely in the spring, along with Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, Primula vulgaris, Fritillarea meleagris and two Cotoneaster horizontalis which were found in the garden as seedlings and have been trained up the shed wall as coverage for insects and berries for the birds.

IMG_2564.JPG

Fruit trees becoming established

DSC_0113

Daffodils at their best this year

DSC_0324

Early dwarf daffodils emerging – the logs are sections from the tree in the front which we removed as it was too large, too close to the house

 

plums

Plum heaven…

On the back fence, between the dogwoods and primroses we have a blackberry ‘Apache’ which gives us lovely blossom followed by huge, sweet fruit which form the basis of sorbets, stewed apple and blackberry and fruit leathers in late summer. It fits in perfectly with the potager style – combining beauty and utility, covering a boundary with foliage, flowers and fruit.

IMG_3202

This bench catches the afternoon and evening sun – perfect for a late cuppa and a book

pool1

Other pop-up structures the garden has to contend with…

tent

Our DIY tent

So much for the herb/espalier border and the fruit tree area which I, rather grandly, call the spring garden in reference to the blooming of the daffodils, primroses and fruit blossom from March to May. In the next post I’ll take a look back at the development of the fruit cage, vegetable beds, willow den and flower border. All testament to the fact that you can include much of what you want in a garden, if you are prepared to think a bit outside the box (willow den in a flowerbed), embrace the potager style and let your imagination run wild…

Read about the transformation in the rest of the garden in next week’s blog post…