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Archive for the ‘potager’ Category

The walled kitchen garden is like a secret garden at Wiveton Hall. I only know it’s there as a friend rented a wing in Wiveton Hall a couple of years ago, and let me in on the secret. And it’s a delight. In fact, I ‘d go as far as saying I’d die happy if I had such a garden of my own! It is open twice a year for the National Gardens Scheme, or you can just pay £2 in the farm shop to go and see it, but it’s not advertised heavily in the café, shop or on the website, so you could also easily miss it!

Once you enter, the whole feel of the garden is slightly unkempt,

and all the more charming for it.

However, the professional hand of Amanda, the gardener, is evident throughout, as she conjures up an endless supply of fresh vegetables and herbs for the Wiveton Hall Cafe, to complement fruit and veg grown in the Wiveton Hall Farm (which is also ‘Pick Your Own’ for fruit during summer).

Trained fruit trees clothe all aspects of the walled garden

and fig trees have the space to develop into large specimens (which would easily outgrow the whole of my front garden!)

I’m not sure if the garden is quite a potager as the ornamental plants surround the edibles in long herbaceous borders, rather than mixing in with the vegetables to create an overall  decorative design (have a read of Petra’s latest post on ornamental edibles at Edulis),

but this slightly ramshackle kitchen garden is a beautiful

and productive space combined.

After you’ve had your fill of flowers and veg, you can saunter over to the café for the tastiest lunch around for miles (or for tea and whole array of very tempting cakes) and gaze across the marshlands and out to sea. Delia also highly rates this eaterie and if you’re ever near the north Norfolk coast, both garden and cafe should not be missed!

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Foraging talk given by Miles Irving at King Henry's Walk last summer

The more I know about gardening, the more I want to know. Gardening courses are a wonderful way to increase your knowledge and as the growing season starts, there’s a plethora to book onto. Locally to me in North London, King Henry’s Walk Garden has a whole series of great courses and talks running throughout the year.

Photo: Vertical Veg 2011

Last night I went to hear Mark Ridsdill-Smith, of Vertical Veg, talk about growing food in small spaces. All were wowed by the image above and Mark was very generous in sharing his extensive knowledge with all who came to the event. More photos inspired us all to experiment with growing some unusual veg such as Wasabi (as in the beans) for their tasty leaves and flowers, and herbs such as Vietnamese Coriander, Lovage and Sorrel which you’d be hard pressed to buy in the shops.

Mark discussed why you don’t see every balcony and windowsill in urban areas overflowing with tasty produce, and what barriers might stop others from also ‘growing their own’. Probably a combination of not enough time, not being aware what can be grown in such small areas, knowledge of where to start when growing food and also the cost of buying pots, soil and seeds. A really interesting debate and he concluded that beginning with small quick projects might be a good way to encourage others to have a go.

If you sign up to Mark’s Vertical Veg blog, he’ll send you free monthly newsletter full of growing tips and also a his ‘Art of growing food leaflet’ which lists ten very useful steps to enable you to grow your own. If you fancy something more hands-on, Mark will be back at King Henry’s Walk on 21-22 April, for a full on weekend course on ‘everything you need to know about designing and maintaining a highly productive vegetable garden in containers on your balcony, patio and window sills.’  For a very reasonable £95.00,  and cuttings to take away to start you off, this should be a very informative and enjoyable weekend.

Staying in London, The Garden Museum in Lambeth, now lists a whole heap of events, talks, exhibitions and workshops, and I’m very excited to have booked to hear Joy Larkcom, queen of veg growing, talk on June 13th.

And another more hands-on course in London is the Seed2seed monthly foundation course in urban food growing at Food from the Sky on the rooftop of Budgens in Crouch End. Starting next week with a free taster course on March 17th 2012, 2-4pm,  the course continues on the third Saturday of each month from 10-3pm and takes you right the way through the growing season up until November, with a comprehensive study programme aimed at beginners and those with some gardening knowledge too.

photo: Bloomsbury. Laetitia Maklouf talking about making a garden in a year

A little further afield, The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, running from 24th March-1st April, has six, one hour talks from garden writers talking about  their new books (and many other talks from non-gardening authors too!). Above is Laetitia Maklouf who will be talking about  ‘Sweetpeas for Summer: How to create a Garden in A Year’ on March 28th and other talks include: Sararh Raven on wildflowers, Sunday 25th March (which sadly I’ll have to miss due to eating cake at our next ‘Cake Sunday’), Toby Musgrove on heritage fruit and Veg, Jennifer Potter on the History of Roses, Val Bourne on colour in the garden and Andy Hamilton on making wine and beer from fruit veg and foraged plants. All talks last for an hour and cost £10. Certainly worth finding out which talks and courses could inspire and enlighten you throughout 2012.

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I was recently talking to Aya (above with Eini) about the highs and lows of balcony gardening . On her 3rd floor garden, Aya grew herbs, courgettes, salad leaves and a rose last year, and this year wants to try out more fruit and veg. What she noticed last summer is that she didn’t have enough bees to pollinate her courgettes and ended up, rather impressively, doing this by hand.

So this got me thinking about how important insects are for pollinating, wherever your veg patch is. And to help Aya’s veg for this year, we started compiling a list of annuals and perennials that will attract bees onto her sizeable south and west-facing wrap around balcony.

Perennial herbs such as Marjoram (above) and Lavender (and many other herbs too) will certainly do the trick, coming back year after year, and providing great flavours for the kitchen and beautiful flowers and textures for the balcony. These plants can easily be grown from cuttings taken in spring and also throughout the summer.

And annuals (growing, flowering and dying all in the same year) will also play their part. Sowing seeds is a cheap and easy way to have these vibrant bee magnets on your plot and there are plenty of candidates that will attract bees in all shapes and sizes. The delicate Nigella damascena (above) will grow to approx 12-18 inches (30-45cm)

and form alien like seed pods which will, very usefully,  supply seeds for the following year too.

The greenish white domes of Amni visnaga, planted alongside the airy purple heads of Verbena bonariensis will lend a subtle bucolic air to the balcony,

or for a vibrant splash of colour, sunflowers sown from March to May can really provide a substantial and joyous presence to any growing space as well as attracting plenty of  bees.

I found the Chiltern Seed catalogue really useful when contemplating the pollinator issue as it lists nearly 400 bee attracting plants (on the drop down menu under Wild Flower Garden). They also sent me a very useful list of bee and butterfly attracting perennials that will flower in the first year from seed. Jolly useful list if you’re trying to keep costs down and spare plants can be shared and with friends and family too. I haven’t grown any of these perennials before: Leonotis ‘Staircase’Agastache aurantiaca ‘Fragrant Carpet’, and

Monarda didyma ‘Panama red shades’ (aka bee balm or Bergamot, above).

I’m intrigued to see how successful these plants will be at attracting bees to the balcony and I hope Aya can look forward to the merry sound of buzzing all summer long and plenty of courgettes and other fruit and veg to eat too.

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