Monday, 22 November 2010

Vegetables don't always need to be in prison.

It's official, I heard it from an old school gentleman vegetable gardener, it's definitely OK to grow your veggies in your flower border or wherever you like! They don't need to be imprisoned in straight rows only in a vegetable garden, if you like them like that then great - but you can grow them anywhere! I've been yibbering on about growing veggies anywhere there is a space in the garden for years - as long as you grow some, who cares where - gardening is personal - not a dictatorship - we can grow veggies in buckets, flower garden, as ornamentals, in a window box, etc.  Good article about it here - urging you to be adventurous in your vegetable gardening.........

At the moment I'm making a new garden (picture at the top - two new borders) - some of them are for veggies and some of it for flowers - BUT - I'm going to mix them up a bit (flowers and veggies) and grow alot of things together. However, when I've voiced this before in our vegetable garden class, I've often been met with very wry looks from people and more than one raised eyebrow in my time. Cabbages and Calendula side by side in perfect harmony - surely not................! I think its about time more vegetables need to be set free and grown in any available space.

Calendula officinalis - English pot marigold
To make the point, last year, at my teaching garden, I had onions dotted in groups in between marigolds, with cut and come again salad plants in patches here there and everywhere. I'm a big fan of mixing and matching - flowers with veggies - if you've limited space it makes alot of sense to not only dot veggies in where you can - or even grow them with a selection of edible flowers/seeds (e.g I grow in the veg garden,  Poppy seed for bread making, Nigella for that too, Nastutriums for adding to salads etc). You can also plant your veggies in an ornamental way to get the benefit of both looking at them and eating them. The possibilities are endless I do mention this at my class with more than a few quizzical looks from folk there - no I'm not bonkers - it really works and the complimentary planting can often help with reducing pests and diseases. And they look pretty and green salad bowl lettuce - worthy of any bit of the border.

Lettuce - colourful edition to the garden.......and good to eat.
Anyway - I'm off on a tangent again....................... we had asked this chap in to our class the other night as a 'guest speaker' - he is the kind of 'professional' amateur veggie gardener that I'm truly in awe of. The kind of guy who you need your notebook for and do alot of writing notes - he has cabbages the size of basket balls, leeks that could prop up a building - perfect carrots and grows, well a bit of everything really really well. He so reminded me of my grandad - was lovely to see him and hear him talk. He was really full of hints and tips - many I'd heard before and a few new ones too. Anyway, I was really chuffed when half way through the visiting speaker expert chap was bestowing the virtues of sneaking a few carrots, beetroot, cabbage, well any veggies really into your flower borders, as he gave a talk to our gardening class (for my sins I do help teach a veggie garden night class). 
Brassica oleracea - The noble cabbage
Anyway,  I took from him was that in a very small area he was able to eat something fresh from his garden (even here in Orkney) for about 10 months of the year - the other two months he had freezer reserves of peas, beans, neeps (*swede) and so on.
  • He barely bought a vegetable, which he told with great pride - brilliant!
  • He grows a bit of a variety of things that he liked to eat - (seems sensible) and not too much.
  • He only grew 1/2 a dozen of something - ie 1/2 doz one type of cabbage, 1/2 a dozen of another - a short row of this and a short row of that - variety he argued was the way to do it for grow your own.
  • He knew what kept well or freezes well - and makes sure he grows a bit more of that than he can eat fresh - picking a bowl for eating and a bowl for the freezer each time he harvested
  • All onion/shallot/garlic sets are easier if started in seed trays/yoghurt pots prior to planting out - then the birds pull them up. (I do that one already)
  • Carrot root fly can only fly at 18'' above the ground, so grow your carrots in a raised bed/box above that level - easier to pick too! (Great idea)
I wish I'd thought of that before I planted my carrots - which did get a bit of carrot root fly - but mainly they were very edible...........if a little variable in size - I didn't thin them out - so was happy with the results.

As this chap continued to talk, to my delight he was telling the class quite out of the blue:

 'Ye ken, many o' these veggies mak a richt good job in the flower border, especially the root crops. You dinnae need a big garden and fancy stuff to grow your own food, even a bucket will do. The main message I'm giving you is to have a go - start small and see what you like growing'

Makes alot of sense I suppose - try to do a little bit, then try a bit more. I love the fact that he recognised that many of these plants are 'bonnie',  like carrots and beetroot especially, have very attractive spreading foliage which wouldn't be out of place in the flower garden - complimenting your other perennial plant nicely and would do a good job of keeping the border full and the weeds down - no reason why all the veggies have to be grown in straight lines like little soldiers - no reason at all. Variety is the spice of life after all, when I grew the chillis this year - I was surprised at how pretty they were as house plants - and productive! 

Chilli jalepeno grown on the windowsill of the living room - no greenhouse, but that didn't stop me......
I think, well I know that the idea of growing veggies is very appealling to folk, no more so than nowardays - but its a daunting prospect digging up a patch of garden, or building raised beds to commit to a veggie plot in your own patch. On the other hand the idea of planting a few 'ornamental eating plants' (veggies to you and me) in a tub - or putting a few into the garden (or on the window sill) - seems no more onerous than putting in a bit of annual summer bedding, but you can eat it too. And if you've them dotted about the garden rather than sitting thier in rows staring at you - there's less chance of you losing face if you can't get out there for a week or two to week/look after your patch. Growing things in pots is great too - when you've little garden/room or in the case of my chilli plants - no greenhouse and couldn't grow them outside - so they were happy on the living room windowsill.

I'm a bit wary and scared (personally) myself of overcommitting myself with a big veggie garden. I've all respect for those folk who can fit in work/life/family/etc and also manage to get along to an allotment on a regular enough basis and put a real big effort into being able to grow their own food. I've been stung too many times before my work/life balance often is not really what it should be. However, the idea of having a 'few' bits of veggies dotted here and there in the garden - in pots/tubs/borders etc - would probably suit me and my garden very well.

The garden here is quite new and many of the borders I'm carving out of the grass have only a few plants to put in them over the next year - I really do need alot of fast growing vegetable type things to fill up the spaces....................that's a great plan!  I can grow food in the gaps and keep the weeds down. When I think about it, for this good life notion we've got, I do need to grow alot of veggies for our home and with that in mind I did put a plan together to grow some of our veggies in a big raised bed (see the picture below) which I do find very scary - if it gets overrun with weeds or I can't keep on top of it - then I know I'll get overwhelmed quickly. However, I'll do my best and to help that I can make myself have more chance of success by growing a few veggies in the new borders too.

Brilliant - I love when you hear someone like that gentleman gardener speak about something with passion - it really inspires you! Lets hope I can keep on top of the garden I'm just trying to make new this year.

The new raised veggie bed - just filled up with horse muck - a fair bit to do yet! 


  1. How lucky you are to have such space for your garden. The cabbage, lettuce and pepper look so healthy. I agree, I love to listen to passionate people talk about what they love do. Great post.

  2. Hello - we are very lucky - lovely to see you on here! Thank you for your lovely comments - whilst we have the space to grow things the wind is a bit tricky being so close to the sea. Passionate people inspire don't they - thanks again!! - Nice to hear from you.

  3. I think mixing edibles and ornamentals is a wonderful idea, particularly in a small space, but really in any space. Apart from anything else you get better pollination if you intersperse your veges with things to attract the insects. I also love the patchwork effect of growing small squares of veg. A square of cabbages next to a square of lovely lettuces next to carrots etc. makes you feel it is less of a chore looking after a chunk. Plus I reckon if it looks pretty the more you can get away with, but also the more you want to be out there tweaking. Good luck with your new garden, not the easiest environment to grow in with all that salt-laden wind!

  4. Great idea there with the decorative bits helping to pollinate/make you tend the area - we're lucky up here - realise that not all people have the space to grow - or can only have an allottment - the key here like you said is getting shelter in - hence the hedge/netting and more hedging to follow in the side of veg garden. I'm going to plant one of them as a 'productive' fruit hedge - going for a touch/vigorous autumn raspberry (no need to staking and the damage the plant will get to the wood over the winter won't matter - the new growth should come up again OK in spring) which might also flower late enough to survive the worst of the wind during the flowering in early spring is when alot of fruit fails here - a tricky balance - i'll plant them 2x as deep as I'm supposed to and hope for the best - they won't get as big as 'south' growth - but if I can get the right variety with the right kinda habit then I might manage an outdoor crop of rasps - this close to the sea. I'm going to underplant it with alpine strawberries and make a fruityhedgyfest of it :)

    Thanks for dropping in - nice to see you - loving the 'boundaries' blog - beautiful pics! x

  5. Hi Fay, I've just replied to your kind offer of Bere flour again to Hope it reaches you this time!!

  6. Got it thank you - I'm on the case!

  7. How lovely to read about your spot on the edge of the world! I love the look of vegies mixed in with permanent plantings/ornamentals - right now our garden is a random mixture of flowering sage, hebe, lettuce, rosemary, roses and parsley, parsely everywhere! The thought of breaking all of those 'rules' really agrees with me too.... who doesn't like a little garden rebellion now and then? Lovely inspiring blog :)

  8. Thank you! Nice to see you here - love to hear about other folks breaking the rules with gardens - sounds like parsley in your garden is very happy roaming free. Garden rebellion - wonderful term - thank you for popping past!