I haven’t had much time to watch Wimbledon yet; it’s a busy time in the garden and gardening world.
But I have had time to pick my own strawberries to eat with homemade lavender shortbread using home-grown lavender.
I’ve stood watching a bit of tennis whilst munching on a handful of mange tout and baby carrots.
I’m also eyeing up the abundance of courgette flowers and thinking about a Saturday lunch of fritters.
You wouldn’t look at my garden and think it was full of food, that it was an edible garden; you’d think it was full of scented flowers and pretty foliage. It is both of these things. The garden is also full of bird song and the buzzing of bees. Butterflies and dragonflies add flashes of colour. Ladybirds eat aphids and leopard slugs have their own home in the greenhouse.
Yes, I am a gardener as well as a garden designer and gardening teacher; and gardening is a passion. But that isn’t the point. The point is my family enjoys wandering into our garden to pick something to eat at any time of the year. And at any time of the year the garden has colour and scent and is a pleasure to sit in. Edible gardens are a delight to the senses – you haven’t lived until you eat a lunch salad freshly picked from your own garden, warmed by the morning’s sun to bring out the full flavours. Dark skinned cherry tomatoes, peppery salad rocket, sweet basil, and Lollo rosso lettuce tossed in a bowl served with a raspberry and herb vinegar, slices of cheese or cooked meat, and straight-out-of-the oven crusty bread.
If your garden is large enough you could even try growing some wheat to make your own bread from scratch, and keep a cow or a goat for the milk which you could turn into cheese. But realistically, most of us will settle for the easier option of growing just some of our food. Where to start this whole edible gardens idea? When in early talks with clients who would like an edible garden or a vegetable plot in their garden, or with new students who want to learn how to grow their own food, one of my first questions is: “What do you like to eat?” this is often heard as “What do you want to grow?” but is not the same question.
“What do you like to eat?” is the starting point because even if you can’t grow it because there may not be enough space, or care for it in the case of a cow for milk or hens for eggs, knowing what you like to eat helps me as the designer and teacher to find the foods that you have the room and time to grow. I’ll explain what I mean. For example, if you eat a lot of red meat, then growing strong flavoured herbs, Rosemary, Thyme and Sage to use when marinating and cooking is a good idea. Leafy green vegetables complement red meats, so perpetual spinach, chard and Brussels sprouts would be contenders. If you like making curries why not grow coriander, lemongrass, mint, cucumber and chilli pepper? Are you a keen baker of cakes and biscuits? Lavender, scented pelargoniums, poppies, raspberries and apples spring to mind. Do you get the idea?
So which food plants might easily fit into an ornamental garden? Some of the vegetables are decorative in themselves, Globe artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are very architectural with large, spiky grey leaves, stunning at the back of a border. Edible gardens could be as simple as having a rhubarb patch in the shady corner and a strawberry patch in the sunny corner. Arches and trellis can be used to support fruit and vegetables in a decorative manner. A fruit arch covered with apple blossom in the spring and apples in the late summer would make a pleasant walkway between different areas of the garden.
In between all of this there can be shrubs for winter scent and colour, herbaceous perennials such as Giant Scabious (Cephalaria gigantea) supplying flowers for humans and nectar for pollinating insects. Self-sown annuals such as Calendula (French marigolds) provide a zing of colour and companion planting to help keep pests away. As for the amount of time this edible garden may take you, it can be as little as you like.
Why not have a read of our easy maintenance edible gardens blog; or ask us to design one for you? If you live near Edinburgh, check out the Botanic Garden for ideas. If you’re near London, the edible garden show takes place in March and is a good start to the spring season. And as for me, I’m off to prove that even I’m not perfect – some of the sweetest strawberries in my garden that are ripe for eating today are still sitting in small pots waiting to be planted out in the border…