Category Archives: growing vegetables

Wonderful world of colour……..In your vegetable garden

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” they say (in fact who did  first say that) but although we all love growing, and eating, vegetables can we really say they all look beautiful in our garden ?

Well I think most do, but if we have limited space, perhaps a town garden or just a raised bed or two, then wouldn’t it be great if we could combine growing vegetables with something nice to look at ?

Anyway I just thought a few ideas of particularly attractive vegetables, which could give you colour through a lot of the year, may be helpful.

(Just my ideas – sure you have lots of your own !)

How about starting with ‘Bright Lights’ Chard, really love this plant which can give quite vibrant colour from mid summer until quite late in the Autumn.

Bright Lights Chard

Now I know Broccoli is not everybody’s favourite, but an early sprouting purple broccoli can bring a bit of cheer to your veg. bed as early as March.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Sticking with the Broccoli family, you may even get the kid’s interested with the fascinating ‘Romanesco’

Romanesco broccoli

By seeding at different times, early Spring to July, you can get a crop through Summer to Autumn.

Allow a bit of room though, the plants can spread a bit !

I think the beautiful red flowers on Runner Beans are lovely, but unfortunately they are quite short lived before the beans come along.

runner bean

But how about if you could grow beans where the actual bean pods themselves gave some really interesting colour ?

For example here is the Borlotti Bean

Borlotti beans f

Again you can sow at different times to ensure colour from Summer to Autumn. You can  pick them as ‘Dwarf’ beans or let them grow up a bit.

I love the colours of Borlottis, but how about a bit of a contrast with the ‘Hildora’ Dwarf Bean ?

Dwarf Bean Hildora

This little bean, which keeps its colour after cooking, can be harvested from July onwards.

Some of the prettiest and daintiest vegetables are in the ‘Lettuce’ family ( huge family the ‘compositae’ even includes Sunflowers !)

Have a couple of real favourites though.

First the  gorgeous ‘Red Salad Bowl’ bringing your bed such vibrant colours.

lettuce-red-salad-bowl1-lg

But can you imagine a circle of these lovely plants being offset by some Lollo Rosso, perhaps in the middle ?

Lollo Rosso

You can keep seeding lettuces from February on to late summer, but they may need a bit of thinning.

Artichokes are another vegetable that doesn’t get everyone’s taste buds going – don’t care though, I love ’em !

The Violetta di Chioggia is a particularly beautiful plant.

Violetta di Chioggia Artichoke

Almost a shame to pick these, particularly as you only normally eat the base of the leaf.

They are perennials, but they may need some protection during the winter .

Ever tried fried Courgette flowers ? They are delicious !

Courgette flowers

Amazing crops you get from a Courgette plant too, for constant cropping you just need to keep picking. They will crop right up to late Autumn sometimes.

I like Borage in salads, and know people who also use it regularly in soups.

I also love its blue flowers.

(It’s used in both a traditional and modern medicine too, for a huge range of ailments!)

Borage

This is not an exhaustive list of wonderful looking looking vegetables, just a taster really (terrible pun.)

But I would like to finish on a real looker, but one perrenial you will need to keep under control.

The ‘Lardizabala’, which comes all the way from Chile.

(Like some of my favourite Sauvignon !)

Lardizabala

This is an evergreen climber – that can turn into a tree.

The soft, pulpy fruit is considered quite a delicacy in Chile and Peru, anybody tasted one ?

Don’t forget that you can add lots of colour to your vegetable garden with companion planting too.

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums for example, lovely edible plants that can attract caterpillars and black fly away from your beans and lettuces.

Marigolds too are really bright and lovely, and their smell wards off the Aphids, but attracts the Hoverflies which feed on them (the greenfly that is !)

Double Whammy !

330px-African_Marigold

This is the Tagetes erecta – the African Marigold.

In fact companion planting is a fascinating subject, but one for another blog.

Help Wildlife In Your Garden this Winter (Then wildlife will help you in the Spring!)

It is estimated that there are over 15,000,000 gardens in the UK, can you just imagine how much we can contribute to wildlife (or destroy it!)

Us gardeners can transform the environment, can really help those bees and other pollinators so, so easily.
How ? With wildlife havens.
Cost ? An odd pallet,few piled logs,couple of sandbags, a natural patch – BIG money !

(The photo shows a real luxury hotel, but could give you a few ideas – although couple of logs mouldering away could be Shangri La for a lot of beasties !)

wildlife-trust-insect-hotel

We can just stick on another jumper or, to be honest, turn up the heating when the weather becomes really cold.

Beneficial insects and animals chilling out the winter months can’t, and many will not make it whatever we do.
But it’s so simple to offer a ‘home’, a haven, to at least help them survive. Survive and get busy in the Spring and Summer pollinating your garden ( or getting stuck into your slugs and aphids !) 

Bumblebees ( hibernating bees are always potential ‘Queens’) hedgehogs, butterflies*, toads, ladybirds …. just so many of beneficial animals which you will really appreciate in your garden.

So it’s definitely in your interest to make sure they do wake up !

Curb all that enthusiasm to cut back and make ‘tidy’ as well, what’s scruffy to you is a well ordered garden city to them.
(And don’t forget to moan at your council next year – we don’t want those verges cut!)

* Some of our favourite butterflies overwinter as adults: Peacocks, Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals and Brimstones for example, but many others try to hang in there as eggs, or even caterpillars.

Peacocksmall tortoiseshellred AdmiralBrimstone

Autumn Preparation for Clay and Heavy Soil

It’s the ideal time to prepare your clay soil before it gets too claggy and wet.

Digging away on a sunny Autumn day but thinking about the Spring to come I find is a wonderful pastime, but it can also reap benefits.

Digging in those essential nutrients, and then using the winter to breakdown the soil, will give your Spring planting a real initial boost (that’s not to say you can’t plant things now – but that’s another discussion.)

When I say ‘digging’ I’m not a great fan of deep digging, or double digging for that matter. You are probably preparing your veg. beds or raised beds and neither will require backbreaking work, let the coming frosts do that for you! Try and remove any remaining weeds (but I do have a cunning plan) but then dig in as much natural manure (it need not be fully rotted) as you can find plus your green compost. To give an extra boost I would be very tempted to dig in some organic soil improvers like seaweed granules http://bit.ly/nYipdT and some biochar http://bit.ly/KlvCYg ( but leave specific fertiliser and growing aids like wormcast extract http://bit.ly/1BQJxOC until you actually plant.)

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Turn the  soil enough to give a spread to your natural additions, but again do not break your back by digging in too deeply, a fork is probably best for the task. (An old gardener once said to me “Dig for brassicas, and you’ll keep the green grocer happy” – nothing against green grocers mind!)

Just let nature take it’s course over the winter period, breaking down your soil and integrating all your organic help into its structure.

Remember though that nature is not really that fussy about which plants grow, and weeds are certainly very ‘successful’ plants which will probably arrive before you are ready to plant your vegetables so my cunning plan is why not cheat a bit? How about covering the soil you’ve prepared with a mulch you can easily clear away when ready, and will also improve the ground a little. It may be easier for me as I mainly grow in raised beds, but I apply a layer of straw and grass cuttings then cover with hessian to keep out the light and prevent new weeds both arriving and existing ones germinating (yep, they will be there!)

The winter storms will try and blow your cover and mulch around a bit, but I peg it down using any old thick, short sticks I can find.

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Just before I finish loads of people have asked me about biochar. I was introduced to it by a lovely, young (she made me feel very old) Oxford Professor Cécile Girardin when we took part in the http://www.bigbiocharexperiment.co.uk/)

If you would like to know more about this ancient organic gardening aid take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNM4CNiSeKE where not just one but three Oxford professors explain it all.

biochar