Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The Edible Patch and a New Attitude in the Garden

I’ve had an arthroscopy today, and it was to fix up a (somewhat) gardening injury. Now this sounds like I’ve been performing extreme gardening doesn’t it? (Applaud now.) It’s really just that I’m a pretty clumsy person who has a knee that doesn’t – unsurprisingly – like having most of 70kg fall 1m (that’s 1000mm!) onto it. Actually it could have been so much worse, really.

So, sure, the foot is up right now, and movement is pretty limited for a couple of days, but the last 3 weeks have brought out a new spirit, culminating in pre-dawn potting up of zucchini seedlings this morning, pre-operatively.
`Put off until tomorrow’ was my middle…err…phrase (please don’t judge me, constant (mild) migraines are a buggar) but with knee splint firmly on I’ve actually gardened a little almost every day of the past 2 or 3 weeks, and it’s heavenly (even  when it’s just a minor encounter with potting mix at dawn).

Kneeling, my preferred stance, is out, so I’ve bent and leant and tripped and walked like a zombie in this spring weather; I’ve planted tomatoes and beans (J likes `em) and sown more sweet corn seed. (Note to self: when planting the first batch of sweet corn seeds don’t use really old seeds if you would like some to germinate.)

I’ve lashed together rough saplings of tea tree in 5’s this time, not tripods, but…pentapods. There I’ve planted butter beans and green beans and then, just to confuse everyone I’ve found seeds of purple beans to plant too. These are great for the busy cook, my chef-sister tells me; they are the only kind she grows `cos she can see them, especially at dusk at the end of a hard day’s work. In they go. (Green beans cunningly hide amid the leaves.) Hard work, those tripods, tripping countless times but oh so satisfying. Scarlet-flowering beans tempt too: this is the line where the edible patch crosses over into something attractive (hopefully); it’s no longer utility alone, is it? With my usual crazy optimism I tossed in seeds of tall-growing snow peas too; it was a cool day and summer felt far off; why do I garden at times by instinct, leaving intellect slumbering? Will the beans shade them enough and will the irrigation system (from rainwater tanks, like all our water) irrigate them adequately? Probably not.
My friend’s rainbow chard finally made it into the ground: all the pinks and crimson-stalked ones were planted and I’ll see if I really have room before planting the yellows. (I don’t like much too much pink in the garden these days, preferring purple, white, blue and a little lemon, but I love these chard over the yellow and muddy oranges; moreover they are a lovely mix and the plant is mainly green leaf and only a fraction is coloured stalk:  the contrast of ruby stem to deep jade leaf is very attractive.)
About 20 tomato plants made it into the edible patch, in the sunniest part, and I am keeping them watered in.
Nearly 40 of the kale – some red, some dwarf green -  are pricked out now; these germinated well from fresh English seed sent promptly from Chiltern Seeds. (More to do, of course.) I have even weeded and sorted out some pots in my shadehouse. (Some Erythronium (trout lily) have gone to the shadehouse in the sky; one was found escaping through the holes at the bottom of the pot due to the contractile roots – but it had the manners to multiply first.)
I’ve moved semi-mature cabbages into a line that I’ve decided looks French (bear with me) om a veg bed/hen run about to have our girls let loose and then rescued from there about 10 Tuscan kale as well. (Periodically the hens are moved to a fresh veg bed – we have 5 – and I plant the fabulous tabula rasa with fresh plants. J added mulch to the path and sugar cane mulch around plants – while I am less than usually mobile - but not where seeds were sown.)
Vegetable gardening has that huge added bonus of being companionably close to the hens – 3 in the scratching run just now, inches away (`What are you doing, food lady? Anything for us?’) - and listening out, I can hear Freddie and her 3 tiny week-old chicks in the henhouse nearby.
Just now we are picking lots of snow peas, some broad beans (picked very young, so different to how my mother did, feeding a family of 8), a little silver beet, celery (truth be told, from one old plant), and for the chickens, armfuls of mustard greens and Warrigal greens (Tetragonia). But we have done this before.
It’s partly how it’s done.

Potagers are attractive (see photo from Garden of the Five Senses, Yvoire, France, top): with borage, heart’s ease (little Viola), marigolds and other edible flowers popping up around the vegetables, softening the straight lines, adding `pretty’; these I like. (I read about potagers first in the 1980’s.) Those  blues, purples, bright yellow and, if you wish, tangy orange, look so well together and with bold-yellow crucifer flowers of the brassicas too should they flower and give you seeds; and with the many greens of the vegetable’s leaves. Our edible plot is just above almost intact bush along a wet-weather creek so to grow known heavy seeders like these would be pretty irresponsible. I think if I’d had a potager I might have embraced veg gardening years ago. (I’ve done veg gardening but not loved it; and not harvested like now, the other side of the coin from the planting I’ve generally liked.) But with these strong restrictions, it has taken until now to really get the bug.

Why is it all so satisfying? I’ve grown veg for over 25 years (`J heart J’ was planted in lettuce seeds when I was a young gardener, for fun, but it was some time ago) and I’m a bit annoyed with myself for – I think - responding to the latest fashion. Worse, for doing so right now. My darling sister and godmother Caroline was a passionate cook-gardener who reveled in veg gardens and loved to visit those of other people. I’ve missed an amazing opportunity to share this with her but must remember the great times we had looking at ornamental (that is, roughly, flower) gardens together (Bickleigh Vale Village last year was a highlight); enjoying, discussing, mostly agreeing. Caroline’s garden was special and I’ll ask my chef-sister S (owner of another special kitchen garden) about her and about all the bottling, freezing and creating sauces. And discuss S’s edible patch, often tucked prettily amongst the ornamentals; visit gardens with keen friends; and enjoy my new passion: remembering to ignore the light headaches (and put work commitments aside for a half hour) and get out there every day.

Jill Weatherhead is garden designer, horticulturist and principal at Jill Weatherhead Garden Design (www.jillweatherhead.com.au) working in Melbourne, the Dandenong Ranges and Victoria.

No comments:

Post a Comment