Growing Vegetables in Your Garden


Most people with medium-sized gardens have been accustomed to use a part, usually as out of sight as possible, as a kitchen garden. This pattern followed in essence the big country house pattern in which the utility area was separated from the ornamental garden, or pleasure grounds as they were often termed, by high walls and sometimes considerable distances. These old walled, kitchen gardens with trained fruit trees and greenhouses full of exotic crops were masterpieces of gardening skill. However they were not for polite eyes: they were well hidden and only their produce was seen on the dining-room table.


Ideas from Abroad

Such physical and social isolation is no longer the rule even in the grandest of ducal establishments, but its attitude has spread and remains at all levels: flowers round the house, vegetables on the allotment. Certainly this stratification has not been the case on the continent. In France there is the concept of the potager in which vegetables and fruit were, and still Globe artichokes and rhubarb are not difficult to produce and have the added bonus of elegant foliage. Globe artichokes are especially beautiful if the temptation to cut the buds is resisted and the great blue thistle heads allowed to open.

Are, used as parts of an ornamental formal plan. This was often of daunting intricacy (that at Villandry on the Loire is a famous example). It probably reflects the esteem in which food and its cooking was held. The potager idea has much to teach us here but, like certain wines, it does not travel well.

Germany too has moved forward in the area of home vegetable gardening. Allotments have been upgraded into ‘leisure gardens’ (something of a wry joke after a full day of heavy winter digging). The tool shed doubles as a summerhouse — rather like a beach hut — having a small sitting out area enjoying privacy provided by a small tree or hedge. This is a far cry from rusty corrugated iron shacks, crazily leaning amidst last year’s dead runner beans. This is the classic, though not necessarily true, expectation of allotment gardening in England. Fortunately such attitudes and prejudices, although dying hard, are on the decline. The boring old homily of necessity mothering invention, does have a certain validity in this context.

The cost of vegetables and fruit in the shops is decidedly erratic and the quality most dubious; flavour frequently giving way to the greater commercial importance of external appearance and the ability to travel well. Exquisite flavour and thin skin are not commercially viable. There is increased interest in food, engendered no doubt, by the frequence of continental travel in the 1960’s and dining out in restaurants.

Another movement to encourage home cultivation has been the increase in organically grown food, when the grower knows exactly what has gone into his land. Acceptance that vegetables and fruit need not be aesthetically unacceptable when combined with increased interest and economic necessity, have engendered a revolution in home kitchen gardening. All have been helped by the plant breeders who are year by year bringing out new varieties especially for the home producer.

Varieties of vegetables and fruit once impossible without glasshouses are now available, such as sweet peppers and aubergines; Brussels sprouts are more evenly formed and less ‘cabbagy’ and melons ripen under cloches. Frequently they are described as F1 hybrids; these are the products of a carefully controlled cross between two parents, each offering particularly desirable characteristics which combine in the hybrid. They do not, however, breed true a second year and the cross has to be made anew. This is why gardeners are advised not to collect seed from F1 hybrids.


What to Grow

growing vegetables in your garden In planning any area of vegetable garden it is wise to think carefully of what you and your family most enjoy. There is no point in sowing a couple rows of turnips if you cannot bear to eat them, just because the gardening column in the newspaper tells you this is the time to sow. In choosing crops it is also sensible to consider what is usually expensive in the shops and which vegetables loose their freshness quickly.

A crisp lettuce straight from the garden in high summer is so different from one that has been sitting on a shelf for a couple of days. Vegetables such as potatoes which store admirably, should only be grown after everything else has been fitted in. This does not apply to earlies which need to have their skins rubbed off and be cooked at once.


Understanding Vegetables

It must be realised that all vegetables are plants which have been selected by man to develop some form of leaf, stem, root or even flower which is good to eat. In his breeding those specific parts have been exaggerated far beyond the original plant. Wild carrot, for example, or parsnips have virtually nothing below ground worth eating. In order to build up a huge food stores (which the plant is unconsciously doing in the hope that it can use them next year to push up flower spikes which will in turn seed to reproduce the species) these crops need careful cultivation and feeding. There is little mystique about this; it is set out in all the tomes dealing with the subject, or better, begin to understand the plants as organisms. Then in many cases common sense helps with garden problems.

It might be expected that leaf vegetables require a different feeding emphasis from the root crops and again from those whose fruits (such as peas and beans) are eaten. It is logical, too, if different groups of plants take up different proportions of nutrients from the soil to make sure that no crop stays on the same area of land year after year.

Rotations are not only a subject for agricultural history, they also make sense to today’s gardeners. Pest and disease build up will be less, too.

It is wise to distinguish between plants which respond more favourably to certain conditions because of their original habitat. Runner beans and sweet peppers, for instance, are from the tropics and hence need as much sun and warmth as possible (that is why they are so good, if well fed and watered, in town courtyards). Cabbages and their tribe are plants from northern Europe so are not likely to suffer when exposed to British weather. The exception are cauliflower varieties expressly bred for the special growing conditions of Cornwall or Brittany.

Carrots are originally from dry chalk uplands, parsnips from moist meadows; their ecological background still affects them in the garden. Cultivation, feeding and irrigation obviously ameliorate local conditions but here again these must be worked with: aubergines and melons are not for cold northern gardens, nor asparagus, a plant of sandy shores, for heavy, wet clay.


Crops for Small Gardens

The most suitable crops for small gardens are those coming to quick maturity, so that the ground can be used again for a second or even third crop in the year. The traditional fallow autumn and winter digging all at one time will never happen — short rows, individual cultivation will be the rule. Big perennial crops will not justify a row but in some cases can be used in the ornamental garden. Asparagus grown over 3 sqm (3.3 sqyd) will give fortnightly cuttings, enough for two or three people from April to late June. From then on a cloud of delightful feathery foliage results with a clear, yellow autumn colour. Globe artichokes provide some of the most striking grey leaves in all the garden. Rhubarb could be similarly considered for its decorative value. These are not necessarily plants for the big garden if not considered solely in the traditional manner of growing.


12. May 2011 by admin
Categories: Organics, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Growing Vegetables in Your Garden


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