A Year in the Vegetable Garden

We would not describe ourselves as vegetable gardeners, at least not yet, but since we completed a project to build raised beds in our London garden almost a year ago we have been experimenting with growing our own. Setting up a vegetable garden in June or July would not be described as best practice. Nevertheless in our first season we did well with tomatoes, Venetian beans, lettuce, oriental leaves and most commonly cultivated herbs. I was especially chuffed with the profusion of French tarragon, my favourite herb, which added incredible flavour to boiled potatoes, chicken and egg dishes. Despite Him Indoors accidentally yanking the plants out when I wasn’t looking in the autumn, fragments of root have quickly sent up new shoots and we are back in production again.

Thyme and Tulbaghia, London, June 2015

Tomatoes were super successful, just four plants trained against a brick wall providing all we needed for salads, cooking and chutney making. They were a little late, but not dramatically so. This year we have made room for eight plants of 4 different varieties (F1 ‘Elegance’, F1 ‘Giulietta’, ‘Black Cherry’ and ‘Orange Paruche’), which means we should have plenty to give away later in the year.

It has not all been plain sailing. I thought courgettes would revel in the mounds of manure we incorporated into the soil, but the embryonic fruits kept rotting at the tips and no more than two or three found their way into the kitchen. Sweet corn was an unmitigated disaster, planted way too late and proving a complete waste of time and space. Broadbeans, planted by Him Indoors last autumn, have produced a modest crop this month, but to satisfy us for more than two or three meals we’d need to oust everything else. I like broadbeans, but not that much. The jury is out on leeks, which appear rather slow to do anything at all. If they don’t show promise soon they’ll be pulled out in favour of something I can’t readily buy at Waitrose.

And there’s the rub. If you are seriously restricted space-wise what is the point in growing fruit and veg that are easily bought in the shops? Yes, you know where they’ve been, but where’s the satisfaction? Instead of going down the obvious route we are experimenting with things we don’t find at the greengrocer – colourful tomato varieties, outdoor cucumbers, red-veined sorrel, purple French beans and asparagus peas. Of the regular stuff only gem lettuce, salad leaves and rocket remain, good crops for squeezing in between slower foods.

Vegetable garden from across the pond, London, June 2015

Where pests and diseases are concerned, so far, so good. Naturally we have slugs and snails (who doesn’t?) but other afflictions have been minimal. I tend to think this may be because none of our neighbours grow vegetables and therefore blights, root flies and mildews are taking longer to find our tender harvest. Crop rotation in a single bed of about 7m sq with a distinct sunny and shady side will be nigh on impossible. Next year I will move the tomatoes to the back of the bed, but any further and they’ll be next door amongst the buddleia.

I toyed with planting step-over apple trees against the mellow brick walls. I have not entirely abandoned this idea, but am discovering that seedlings at the end of a row nearest the wall develop twice as fast. I am guessing this is down to the warmth and shelter the wall provides. Now that I have a mini greenhouse I need to get very much better at growing on a few plants in modules so that no space is ever wasted.

Little Gem lettuce, London, June 2015

I have not been able to resist slipping in a few flowering plants, but the confines of our raised beds dictate they must be of the most upright, space-saving kind. Last year it was cosmos (too bushy according to Him Indoors) and this year I’ve planted lime green and burgundy gladioli. A vegetable garden without blooms is a worthy one, but not pretty enough when it’s the only thing you can see from the kitchen window. Our little vegetable garden may not be Villandry (click here for a superb post on that iconic garden at Jardin Design), but it might make kitchen gardeners of us yet.

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17 thoughts on “A Year in the Vegetable Garden

  1. First, let’s get it over with, you win the Blue Ribbon for the classiest vegetable garden like ever. 🙂 I plant flowers all around the border of my raised beds – isn’t that what a flower gardener does? I can imagine those lime green and burgundy gladiolas will be gorgeous. The thing I relish about my vegetables is the fact that I know they started organic and stayed organic all the way to my plate. 🙂

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    1. Exactly… I agree Judy….you know exactly what you are eating and all your friends love coming for dinner because they know even if it is a simple meal it is fresh, free of chemicals and prepared with love!

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    2. Yes, that is a big advantage Judy, although I am afraid I am not averse to administering the odd squirt of insecticide when things get out of control. I try to keep this to a minimum as I am petrified of polluting our pond and killing the fish. Him Indoors is the only limiting factor when it comes to planting flowers. If I had my way the veggies would probably get taken over by stealth!

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  2. Your garden is just gorgeous and you are very lucky to have beautiful walls around it. I’ve never given up much space for vegetables either although I always like the idea of it. I have to say, courgettes are my favourite as they just go on producing for so long, with virtually no attention required at all (are you seeing a theme here with me?). You can get the stripy/yellow/black ones to meet your ‘can’t buy in Waitrose’ criteria and I bet the only reason you didn’t get a good crop last year was lack of pollination. You are bound to be attracting more and more insects in now that you have more flowers and veg so it might be worth considering in future years??

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    1. Hello..pollination super critical.. No bees means no pumpkins, zucchini, cucumbers, or melons. I planted many walkers blue nepetas to help with this and it has made a huge difference.

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    2. Well, we are trying again with a more dwarf courgette variety and will see what happens. Our neighbours seem to have no interest in gardening unless it involves planting Russian vine, cordylines, or bamboo, none of which are especially inviting to bees. I have learnt my lesson now so will be including a lot more flowers among the veg in future.

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  3. Predictably a very stylish bijoux veg garden. Don’t give up on the courgettes, picked at finger size they are lovely additions to salads and the stuffed flowers are one of my favourite dishes. If the ends of the fruit are rotting, just lift them above the compost. You might also try a more up-right variety (Best of British is good but may be too vigorous for your plot). I’d ditch the leeks, they need a long growing season, try spring onions (red bunching types are good) instead. Persevere with the salads and don’t forget the radishes!

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    1. Hello there ..lol it is the only veggie I have never had a problem with!!! The office dread Mondays in summer when I arrive with a huge box of zucchini and squash….. Some which I left for a couple of days too long and are now at least a kilo each ! We have had office comps on how to use. Zucchini slice, muffins, soup, cake, we have done it all.

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    2. Radishes, yes. I love them, and so does Him Indoors. I might even sow a few more tonight – thank you for the prompt. During the week I have such great plans for what I’ll do in the garden when I get home from work, and then I arrive and collapse in a big knackered heap. Watering is my pre-bedtime wind-down, just as the light is fading. Glad you like the garden – bijoux is a very nice way of saying ‘you can’t swing a cat in it’!

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  4. Hello… Most impressed with the veggie effort in such a tiny space and I totally agree with ‘plant what you can’t buy’ and, no veggie patch is a veggie patch without a heritage tomato, or 20!!!! The flavour from home grown can’t be replicated. I have found my tomatoes have really thrived with companion plantings of marigolds and basil, both which I add to salad every day. Fortnightly applications of seasol, a seaweed soil enhancer, and Charlie Carp also helps the veggies thrive.

    Appreciate it is tough with a small space but companion planting and crop rotation are critical for success. It takes a bit of planning but you will get results, Our biggest issue is water, the lack of it, not snails. What an interesting comparison! And yes,,, even after growing veggies for a while…every year is different and crops perform differently, much to my frustration. This years success was last years miserable offering. So, I am so pleased I don’t have to make my livelihood growing grapes for wine, how stressful it must be having to deal with so many variables that are totally out of your control and then having to deal with an opinionated consumer on top of it all.

    Those tomatoes are looking sooooo delicious. Enjoy.

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  5. Those of us who garden in small city spaces perhaps appreciate more the achievement of producing some of our food and herbs. You may not have the acres of Villandry but it’s a very lovely garden!

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  6. Looking very good. It is amazing just what can be crammed into a small space. I’m doing a mini potager experiment this year, just jumbling everything up including flowers in an attempt to lure pollinators and hide the veggies from potential consumers (other than me!). Cosmos have survived there, even though they were decimated by slugs up in the bank. I hope that is a good sign.

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