Planting a Kitchen Garden: How To & What to Plant

I grew up in the countryside with a wild garden front and back. Our house was a new build and so the garden was new too. My first foray into edible gardening was in this garden as a small child, when I transplanted my new broad bean plant from a yogurt carton where it had been planted in school, into the soil. I was mesmerised by how much it grew. Then I discovered that marrowfat peas could be germinated in water and planted to become whole bean plants. Beanstalks, maybe with giants at the top? At 7 this seemed possible. I became reckless with my germination and one day filled a big plastic tub with marrowfat peas and boiling hot water before spilling it all over my feet. I couldn’t wear shoes for a week, my feet were covered with blisters and I could hardly walk. Instead I wore floral slippers with a big orange furry bit at the front. (Remember those? I loved them.) This didn’t halt my gardening ambitions. I planted my pea plants in a rockery out the back and watched my beanstalks grow. One day I bounced out only to discover an invasion of slugs, and that was it. I was DONE. Nobody had warned me about that. I was surrounded by gardens though, and farms, and apple trees, even one orchard where we would play. My aunt had a half acre planted with glorious veg, a fruit patch and a greenhouse with vines clambering overhead. Nearby was an abandoned old house, still standing and interweaved with stories all from my head. To each side was a wood, and towards the back a walled garden, our very own secret garden, with apple trees, a cherry tree and lots of fruit bushes, including my favourite gooseberry. It was wild and unmaintained, thick briars climbed the walls but we hardly noticed them. I was a voracious reader and loved The Secret Garden. I fancied that this was one of my own. Since then, a kitchen garden was always something that I wanted to have. But a garden in London is a luxurious thing. One flat I lived in had a sunny window and I had a tiny chilli farm growing in the heat of the sun. I finally moved to a flat with a garden a few years back, but I travel so much planting a garden was never something that I could do. Until this year, a year that I have slowed down to focus on some projects (that book) and just be, rather than be on the move all the time. (I still travel a lot I know, but smaller short haul projects, I am saving my long haul stuff for the second half of the year). Sometimes things are in the ether. I had already bought lots of seeds for my edible garden, heritage Italian seeds and beans, when Wyevale Garden Centres got in touch to see if I wanted to work with them on a gardening project. They could help with what I needed to create my edible garden (I had told them that that was what I wanted to do). I started to research. I knew that I wanted courgettes, they were a key motivation, my desire for a courgette flower bounty was strong. I have long been obsessed with edible flowers too, since I was a child. My first cookbook contains many, from rose flower butter to pansy salad potato soup with chive flowers and chive oil. Wild garlic flowers, wild leek flowers and elderflower are regulars in my kitchen.  I am a month into my kitchen gardening and I am obsessed and mesmerised. The joy of planting a seed and nurturing it to a plant is a wonderful thing. It can be time consuming but I find it so positive, except when I have to deal with the slugs. More on that below.  How to start?  Lentil seedlings Starting Your Kitchen Garden From Seed or from Plant? This really depends on how much time you have, when you start and how much work you want to put in. Growing from seed is very satisfying but it is a longer process and it can be quite involved. Yes seeds do just grow themselves, and it is mesmerising, but starting from plants is quicker, and by the time you get them most of the hard work will be done. If you are starting now, I would start with a mix. If you want courgettes, move quickly, or start from a plant. I will be sharing lots about the possibilities about those over the coming months. I started my garden with some plants provided by Wyevale Garden Centres (including two types of tomato, aubergine, chives, an elephant garlic plant and some flowers) and some seeds, compost, tomato feed and a propogator. A propagator is a useful tool if you are planting late as I did, it is basically a tiny greenhouse that gets your seedlings off to a speedier start. My courgette seedlings popped their head above the soil within 4 days, my purple carrots and nasturtiums took longer. In general you can expect seedlings in at least half the time. You can get simple ones that are just a box with a plastic lid that absorbs the light and sunshine, at this point of the year these will work very well inside or in a bright window. I used a plug in one which I liked so much I bought a second one. This allowed me to start lots of seedlings quickly which I could then plant outside. Take care not to over water them, you can get some mould growing too. Just make sure the soil is nice and damp.  You can of course choose not to plant from seeds and instead plant pots that you buy from your garden centre, where there are amazing selections. More mature plants stand a better chance against slugs and if you are starting late, it gives you a head start.  Where and … Continue reading Planting a Kitchen Garden: How To & What to Plant