I let the cat out of the bag on social media yesterday – we are in the process of buying a house, with a garden. The garden that may become mine is pretty much a blank canvas, and although I have thought about it I haven’t come to any firm conclusions on the kind of garden I would like it to become. I will tell you more about the garden when (if?) it becomes the garden that will be mine. In the meantime, it was fun to visit the archives and resurrect an article that lists my favourite plants from 2008….
As a kitchen gardener, my favourite plants are the ones that grow well for me and in my garden and provide something tasty to eat – the ones I look forward to growing all year. Many of my favourite plants grow during the winter months, when just having something growing in the kitchen garden is a satisfaction in itself.
First on the list are Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes. They’re a fabulously easy plant to grow, requiring almost no care and attention. They’ll survive hot summers, wet winters and everything in between to give a bountiful winter harvest when there’s not much else to gather. Some people, I know, aren’t as fond of their invasive tendencies or the gas that eating them tend to produce, but they make a lovely soup and are a winter treat.
Garlic is another plant that grows through the winter without any trouble, and even in a small garden you can grow enough bulbs to last you through much of the year. I grow two types of garlic – soft necked garlic, which stores for a long time, and hard necked garlic which grows beautiful curly flowering scapes and it therefore sometimes called Serpent garlic.
Continuing in the same vein, onions are my third favorite plant. I grow Japanese onions from sets, planted in the fall and left to overwinter. They provide a slightly earlier harvest than onions planted in the spring, but I just love having plants growing through the bleak winters.
Another overwintering favorite is chard and leaf beet, two related vegetables that provide leafy greens in all but the nastiest winter weather. Chard is a large plant with glossy green leaves and colored leaf ribs – so beautiful that many people grow it in their flower borders. Leaf beet is its smaller cousin, plain green but good tempered and so easy to grow. A dash of color in the vegetable garden in all weathers, a harvest of healthy leaves for the kitchen and a firm favorite with the other occupants of my garden – the chickens.
My last winter favorite is the last to provide a harvest – the purple sprouting broccoli. Purple sprouting broccoli is one of the tortoises of the kitchen garden. Grown from seed in the spring time it grows for a whole year before it produces the flower buds that we eat, but the harvest comes during the ‘hungry gap’ when there’s not much food coming from the garden. And beyond that, it’s delicate and buttery flavor is well worth the wait and one of the major joys of homegrown vegetables. Its season may be short and long-awaited, but it’s not a treat you can pass up.
Around about the time that the purple sprouting broccoli is thinking about flowering, my dwarf nectarine is doing the same. It’s much more conventionally beautiful – with striking deep red flower buds that open in exuberant magenta flowers. I keep it in the greenhouse to prevent the leaf curl fungus attacking, which means that hand pollination is one of my spring rituals, and an absolute must to guarantee a mouth-watering harvest of juicy fruit later in the year.
French beans are the next favorite to come into season. Tender plants that can’t be grown until the risk of frost has passed, they’re often battered by inclement weather early in the summer and much mourned. But when they do thrive they are gloriously beautiful plants, with deep green and heart-shaped leaves and pretty flowers. A close inspection a few days after the first flowers appear reveals a joyous sight – the first tiny bean pods forming, which rapidly swell to harvest size. A happy French bean plant provides harvests all summer long.
And while the beans are still flowering and growing new pods, the raspberries come into season. Fresh raspberries are a seasonal delight, loved by almost everyone, but until you’ve tasted a homegrown raspberry, picked and eaten right there in the garden, still warm from the summer sun, then you can’t begin to imagine what you’re missing.
An eagerly awaited autumn event is the ripening of the apples. I only have one small apple tree, but watching the fruits swell and ripen over the summer is a feast of anticipation. Nothing can beat the thrill of picking and eating your own apple, straight off the tree. And when the last of the apples is harvested, the bean plants have died back and the raspberries have stopped fruiting, it’s time to plant the onions, the garlic and the chard in anticipation of winter harvests ahead.
Apart from the nectarine, which was never fruitful and was abandoned when I sold the old house, I would happily have all of these plants in the new garden (assuming they fit in with the plan). I was very sad to have leave my apple tree behind.
What are your favourite plants?