The Taste of Paradise
PUBLISHED: 10:24 22 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:19 20 February 2013
Based in Castle Cary, landscape designer Adam Hunt offers advice on how to transform your garden into a bountiful larder
Kitchen gardens have a magical appeal that comes from their practicality and cultural significance, and throughout history paradise gardens have been referred to as having vegetables, herbs and fruit in them. In the UK we have a strong tradition of walled kitchen gardens, a wonderful example being the one at Barrington Court. Practically, a kitchen garden is a space separate from the rest of the garden, which is dedicated to growing vegetables and produce for the house. Paradise and walled gardens aside it can be anything from a windowsill to an allotment to a large, formally laid out garden. Why not have a little taste of paradise in your garden?
A complete kitchen garden should ideally include the following: vegetable plot, herb garden, perennial vegetables, soft fruit and maybe cutting flowers. For many of us space is limited, and so one or a combination of some these aspects can be incorporated into the space available. Potagers, a French style of kitchen gardening, where fruit and flowers are mixed together, can work very well in small gardens.
Soft fruit are easy to grow and loved by children, so,
if you prefer fruit to vegetables, plant a soft fruit bed
The best location for most of the kitchen garden plot is in full sun. Soft fruit, some herbs and some salad leaves will grow in shade but for a productive patch you need sun. Raised beds are a good way to start kitchen gardening and they can easily and cheaply be put together using old scaffold boards. If the beds are not too wide, say 3-4ft, then all parts can be reached without the need to tread on them and compact the soil.
The key to a productive vegetable plot is a crop rotation plan. The most simple is a four-year rotation as follows:
Year 1: Potatoes, followed by winter brassicas (cabbages, purple sprouting etc.) in the same year
Year 2: Roots (carrots, parsnips, beetroot, chard)
Year 3: Legumes (peas and beans)
Year 4: Alliums (onions) and cucurbits (pumpkins and squashes)
Each of the four sections holds one of these groups for one year and they move around the garden year by year. This system not only builds soil fertility but also breaks the cycle of soil-borne pests and diseases, essential in an organic regime.
Potatoes are the crop in Year 1. They are hungry and thrive on plenty of nitrogen-rich bulky organic matter such as well-rotted farmyard manure, applied to the soil before the seed potatoes are planted. When they are harvested they are replaced by the winter brassicas later in the same season. The brassicas grow through the late summer, autumn and winter of Year 1 and are finished by the late spring of Year 2. They are replaced by the root crops, which grow through Year 2, being replaced by the legumes in Year 3. These pea and bean crops return the nitrogen originally provided by the manure and taken up by the previous three crops. The legumes leave the ground perfect for the onions which need the nitrogen but do not like it in the form of bulky organic matter. The cucurbits will benefit from the addition of manure at planting. Salad crops can be sowed in between other crops, where there is space, and preferably in Years 2 and 4. Cut-and-come again salads are very effective; popular varieties include baby leaf salad varieties, lambs lettuce, purslane and miners leaf. Oriental salads such as mizuna, pak choi and Chinese lettuce, along with rocket, are brassicas and should be included with in Year 1.
Soft fruit are easy to grow and loved by children, so, if you prefer fruit to vegetables, plant a soft fruit bed. Raspberries, loganberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, white currants and gooseberries all thrive in most soils and they will tolerate some shade. If you have an acid soil try blueberries. Prepare the beds with manure and an organic N-P-K-type fertiliser (such as fish, blood and bone). The manure can be applied prior to or as the fruit bushes are planted. Ideally the bushes are planted in the autumn giving the roots time to develop before the spring leaf growth.
In the UK we have a strong tradition of walled kitchen gardens, a wonderful example being the one at Barrington Court
Perennial vegetables, whilst taking time to establish, can be more reliable than annual vegetables. Rhubarb, sea kale and asparagus are relatively simple to get growing. Follow the same preparation as for the fruit beds and then follow with an annual feed.
For keen cooks a herb garden is essential: rosemary, mint, sage, marjoram, thyme and chives are the herbs most often used. Rosemary is used as leaves, sprigs and skewers, so varieties should be planted with that in mind. Other herbs such as tarragon, lovage, savory and origanum all have their place in a herb bed if you use them. Annual herbs such as parsley, coriander and rocket are best treated
as annual crops and grown in the vegetable garden.
For those who want to grow flowers alongside their vegetables, a potager a French term for an ornamental vegetable or kitchen garden is the answer. Flowers (edible and non-edible) and herbs are planted with vegetables to enhance the gardens beauty. Climbing plants such as runner beans and peas can be interspersed with flowers such as nasturtiums, which can be included in salads, and French marigolds, which deter pests. Brightly coloured leaf crops like rainbow chard also work very well in a potager.
Finally, a compost heap is an essential part of the kitchen garden. It recycles waste, provides vital soil conditioner and in some ways is the heart of an organic garden. If you are new to making compost start with some old pallets roughly put together to create a frame and put the waste from your vegetable garden there. Compost worms known as tiger worms or brandlings will appear and magically transform the waste into useable compost. If you want to add lawn cuttings make sure you have a good collection of leaves from the autumn to mix in with them. The art of making good compost, and it truly is an art, would require another article, but just starting opens up a whole world of interest.
When I started growing vegetables
I found that every experienced gardener I spoke to suggested a different way to do something and at first this confused me but I realised that what they all had in common was confidence. The important thing is to start, and by trial and error you will learn what works.
Go for it and you have a chance to
grow your own little piece of paradise
in your garden.
For more information visit petherickurquhartandhunt.com