Kitchen Garden December 2012

The first major change we made to the garden when we moved here last year was to set up the beginnings of a kitchen garden at one end. By December 2012 we had built 4 raised beds and filled them with compost, and I started ordering seeds and dreaming. I was so excited about the idea of being able to stumble out my back door to pick fruit and veg rather than having to organise myself enough to get up to the allotment. I had lots of dreams for this space, but mostly it was to be colourful, productive, and easy to manage. One of the challenges was to choose what to grow and what not to bother with.

I decided to concentrate on crops that gave lots of bang for their buck. So, not just tasty but best picked fresh, either hard or expensive to buy, and preferably multi cropping. Some things, like carrots, are manifestly far more tasty when home grown and freshly picked but they are a pain to grow because of carrot fly, one seed only gives you one carrot, and they very cheap to buy, so they were out. I had intended to avoid all brassicas for similar reasons – and because they tend to be space hungry – but I adore purple sprouted broccoli, so they were in. Sweetcorn was a must grow, as nothing beats picking it, cooking it and eating it, dripping in butter, within minutes. For the rest I concentrated on legumes – peas, mange tout, broad beans, runner and French beans. Add in a good mix of salad leaves, orientals such as Pak Choi, and the essential beetroot, and the list pretty much wrote itself. I added in celeriac because I love it and it is pricey in the shops, and decided to grow shallots from seed, just to see, because I do a lot of oriental cooking and buying shallots gets expensive. I’d always dismissed growing them as requiring too much space but Charles Dowding suggests growing them the same way I do beetroot, by sowing small pinches of seed in modules and planting them out as clumps to space themselves out as they grow. I only tried one small row but they were wonderful, and I am hoarding the remaining crop for crispy shallots to finish Vietnamese and Thai dishes.

Of course in my head everything grew prolifically, I managed the plot beautifully, and rejoiced in picking delicious edibles and beautiful flowers all summer long, to the first frosts. Ahem.

Kitchen Garden November 2013

This is what it looked like this morning. Despite the cold northerly winds the nasturtiums refuse to give up. The celeriac is still in the ground, and I haven’t cleared the courgettes yet, not to mention the perennial weeds that took over the sweet pea and salads bed. Of the two rear beds, one is now bordered by alpine strawberries, and the other is acting as a nursery bed for my myrtle seedlings, which will hopefully get moved in to the front garden before I find myself wanting to grow edibles there. I’m an optimist.

The good news is that for much of the growing year things went wonderfully well. We feasted on freshly picked salads, delicious beetroot, wonderful mange tout, and the best broad beans I have ever tasted – thank you to Sue@Green Lane Allotments for pointing me in the direction of Witkeim Manita broad beans, which are delicious even when you leave them to get too big.

I cheated and showed a couple of the greenhouse crops too, because it was a wonderful year for tomatoes and chillies, and now I am trying to over winter chilli and sweet pepper plants in the hopes of getting a head start next year.

Then we hit July, Project Kitchen and a lot of visitors. Disaster. I stopped picking the sweet peas, so they stopped producing. Depsite the netting, cabbage whites laid millions of eggs which turned into voracious caterpillars which in turn decimated the purple sprouting broccoli.


Not a pretty sight. I ripped the plants out only to be told that actually, if I had left them, the frosts would probably have finished off the caterpillars and the plants would have recovered. At the time I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I am honestly grateful to Kate (aka Bean Genie) as I will have another go next year without the ugly netting, and see what happens. Probably. If I don’t come across that photo too often in the mean time.

So what. So some things were good, some things were bad, all of the bad was essentially my fault for getting distracted, but in essence the kitchen garden worked really well. So I am greedy for more. Apart from courgettes. ‘Jemmer’ is delicious and, this year at least, prolific, and one plant is plenty, thank you. I really must remember that. Just like I must remember to water the sweetcorn during a long hot spell whatever else is going on so that I do indeed get to eat freshly cooked cobs dripping with butter fresh from the garden. Because this year, not so much. Not really wild dreaming though, is it!

It’s great having a productive (when nurtured) veg patch right outside the back door, but I am yearning for more colour in the back garden. The front garden has a fairly muted colour palette so as not to distract from the view. I want a riot of bright colour in the back. More than just marigolds and sweet peas, borage and phacelia. So I am thinking about skipping the celeriac and trying more flowers in the beds, for colour, cutting and pollinators. I may edge towards planting some perennials in the raised beds, not just in the borders. I also have grand plans for the patio. Which is currently rather a mess.

current patio

Plenty of room for improvement, I think you’ll agree! By filling in the weird half circle bed with gravel we have lived with the resulting size of seating area, and it just about works, both for a quick sit down in a lounger soaking up the sun and eating an icecream (assuming that this year didn’t use up our summer allowance for the rest of the decade), and for sitting round the table and eating. Aesthetic it ‘aint. We had planned to build a deck – straightforward, cheap, we could do it ourselves. Given enough time and energy. However it has taken a year to do the fence in the front garden, I dread to think how long a deck would take us, and besides, in ten years or so it would need some serious maintenance as we couldn’t afford hardwood. So we are thinking of asking a local builder to do us a patio instead. With built in planting pockets for herbs and flowers, not just by the conservatory but round the edge, and then behind the extension. Space to grow sun loving fruit against a south facing wall. There is a rough plan.


I’d like a random effect patio, it will be cheap concrete slabs rather than beautiful stone, but I think it could look great, and anyway, it has to be better than what we have at the moment. And it will spend a lot of the time covered in stuff, because we are untidy.

But there’s more. I have wanted more height in the garden ever since we arrived here. Not just round the edges, but to add interest – and more interesting planting opportunities – in the middle of the space too. Plus there is the shade issue, as in we have none, not during the hottest part of the day anyway. So there is another plan.


Imagine, if you will, a sturdy network of black-stained posts and crossbars, forming arches between the raised beds, linking them to the patio, where a gorgeous vine of edible grapes provides shade and sustenance. Imagine the galvanised mesh attached to the supports in the veg beds groaning under the weight of runner beans, mini squash, courgettes, sweet peas, mange tout. You get the idea. Lush and beautiful.

I like this bit, even the getting up in the middle of the night trying to work out how best to position the posts, and how to join them to the crosspieces. The bit before reality sets in and the costings are sat in front of us and we have to work out whether we can justify the expense. Not to mention whether we can get the patio, at least, done before the growing and playing in the sea season starts next year, because I don’t want to lose another summer to Great Works, however delighted I might be in the outcome. But for now at least I get to enjoy the dreaming.

In the mean time, the magnolia has started to turn beautiful shades of yellow and bronze, and nestled in amongst the soon-to-fall leaves are fattening buds promising beautiful blossom next year.


I love this time of year, a time for planning and dreaming, with the promise of spring. Do you have any grand schemes you are hatching, that you hope will see the light of day next year?

49 thoughts on “The Season of Wild Dreaming

  1. Wow! Love the pergola idea. It’s a great way of uniting the space and making the raised beds a feature of the garden, as well as productive.
    I’ve been thinking of another raised bed too. On a 45 degree slope though this in itself qualifies as a Great Work. It will need a bit of selling in to Mike, who knows just how much labour went into the first two. I am working on it.

    1. Hi Jessica, the thought of it finished makes me smile. The thought of the doing of it, that makes me wince! Good luck with the extra raised bed – surely essential for productive gardening on a slope? Sell him on the “once it’s done we’ll be really pleased” argument? Strangely enough this sometimes works for me…

  2. This time of the year, autumn and lump in winter too, may not be the most comfortable and desirable but sure is great for lots of planning and daydreaming ahead! Love the promise of the Magnolia, might check out ours over the weekend just to get some delight out of the buds that promise spring flowers.

    So many plans so little time and so much to work out! Hopefully you will realize most of them quite soon and still have plenty of time left to enjoy summer just doing…well leisure! But if not then do what can be done and prioritise relaxing in the summer months. After all there’s always next year :)

    Easier said than done we know, after all we’ve been through a very interesting summer ourselves and it’s only now that things have started to mellow. Your kitchen project has taken lots of your precious time but you’re reaping the rewards now which is fab! Hopefully you’ll get a good crop of edibles next year too, and lots of corn laced with butter!

  3. Planning is the best bit ! Plenty of our plans never make fruition, but we enjoyed making them nevertheless.

    I agree with your philosophy of growing things with more bang for your buck. Things like maincrop potatoes take up lots of space, and are not noticeably better than shop bought. New potatoes, on the other hand, are worth it. A few rows don’t take up too much room and they taste fantastic. Well worth it.

    1. Hi Jane, I do love a good spot of planning. I also find that even if the original plan gets discarded it can turn into something even better after a good marinade. I agree about new potatoes, I am thinking of bunging just a token few in here and there, just because.

  4. I can so relate to your experiences with the vegetable garden, Janet! I always have this dream of a weed-free plot overflowing with ripe, tasty vegetables, but the reality each year is rather different. More than any other gardening, I think vegetable gardening can be so different from year to year. I chuckled at your comment about one courgette plant being enough–we call them zucchini here, and one year I had what I called “the zucchini explosion” and everything I cooked had some zucchini in it:) This year, though, the squash bugs got to the plants before it produced anything. I gave up growing broccoli years ago for the very reason you showed here.

    I have lots of plans for next year, too, though I know half of them won’t get done. Winter is a great time for dreaming and planning!

    1. Hi Rose, it is just as well courgettes (zucchini) are so versatile, isn’t it! And you are so right about the year on year variability of a veg garden. I think it is one of the things that stops you giving up after a disaster, you know next year might well be totally different!

  5. Hi Janet, put in a long reply it seems to have been lost?

    Anyway, on a more condensed note, so many plans so little time! Hopefully you’ll realise all or at least most of your plans before summer sets in next year, and you can spend the rest of the warm season relaxing and taking it easy. If not then there’s always next year.

    And hopefully you’ll have more corn next year too! Dripping with lots of butter, very nice!

    1. Finally! I hadn’t ralised that not only did I need to rescue you from spam, I also had to approve you too! Sorry, very rude…

      Anyway, yes, I have high hopes for sweetcorn next year, which is the nice thing about vege gardening, there is always next year. As for how many of the mad plans will see the light of day and become reality, well, who knows! I fear a bathroom is next, but I have hopes of organising the patio bit before the growing season kicks of properly. There again, I am a hopeless optimist!

  6. Really love the plans Janet. It is an added aspect of having a kitchen garden – wanting it to look good too. When you see the glorious magazine shots of them there’s not a hint of fleece or enviromesh in sight. ;) I wanted to make my plot look good this year and found the addition of coppiced posts really made a difference. they just blend in and give everything a lovely rustic feel. Your plot looks like it was very productive. Veg was a bit neglected this year which I would like to rectify next year. I definitely agree about height adding interest. Tall climbing beans and sweet peas and borlotti beans would look fab. Can’t wait to see your plans come to fruition. :) Oh and definitely flowers. ;)

    1. Thank you! I don’t mind bit of honest plant protection, but I do need better supports than my bamboom canes and netting, the wind, when it does get in, fairly howls around and rips down structures that survived my exposed allotment with no problem at all! Coppiced posts are beautiful, and something I have considered, but no local source. Also considered rebar, as rusting metal looks lovely, but not convinced I want food growing up it! I think you can forgive yourself for neglecting the veg on your plot a little, what with, oh, I don’t know, writing a book…

  7. Oh you’ve feasted well this year Janet. I love the look of your ‘pretty enormous salad’ and those beets and am so envious of that ‘stumbling out of the back door’ factor. I’m with you on the criteria for choosing what you grow and we probably grow very similar crops. Will be interested to read about your progress next year. No in depth planning here yet for 2014 as I’m too busy catching up with neglected household tasks but I will be sitting down soon for a good think.

    1. The salads were a highlight Anna, and the beetroot grew really well, though I always find the yellow kinds are much slower off the mark than Boltardy, which is my mainstay. My growing-planning is made easier by already having all the seed I need, apart from sweetcorn and flowers. The patio and pergola planning, however, will involve squared paper and much brow-wrinkling!

  8. It must be great to have your crops outside your door but the downside is that you need it to look good. We can get away with netting over brassicas and enviromesh over carrots. ( I just couldn’t forego home grown carrots)

    Grand plans how long have you got we have them for the plot and the garden. Grand plan 1 for the plot is well underway and I’ll post about it shortly. Martyn has mentioned it several times on his blog and seeing as he has done most of the digging I have let him be the one to write about it.

    By the way thanks for the mention.

    1. Hi Sue, if I had your space I would grow carrots too – and potatoes, cabbages, caulis… Its the smaller plot that forces the difficult choices, and in time I am sure a few carrots will sneak in, probably in pots. Just because. Will watch out for mention of your grand plans!

  9. Janet I think you have achieved a lot in a year and your future plans sound good with some lovely ideas, adding more flowers and height makes me think your kitchen garden is becoming like a pottager, it’s good to be realistic about what you can actually do yourselves I think you are sensible to get someone to do your patio, I should have done that with some of my paths,
    my only dream is still to have a garden in an arid dry area, though I have to add that the new raised beds and my first venture into veg gardening is the only good thing about 2013 and I am thinking about next year and veggies, enjoy your dreams, Frances

    1. Hi Frances, yes I think it is heading towards pottager land, I already have lots of fruit crammed into the borders in the main garden, and more to come when the plum trees arrive. It has taken me more years than I care to admit to realise that some things are worth getting an expert in to do, they do it faster and better because they do it more often! I hope you get your dream of an arid garden some time, if I had to swap this place I would want it to be for somewhere dramatically different, and Arizona has a magic about it that could get me very excited. Good luck with your raised beds next year, and lets hope you have a little less rain and a little more growing fun.

  10. Not so wild dreaming. I love your plans – and think you did marvellously well to get such lovely raised beds in and in pretty full use all summer. Taking them to new vertical heights will be great too.

    1. Oooh, I like that, “taken to new vertical heights”. I am hoping to book a local builder to do the patio early next year, just have to have enough of a plan that he doesn’t laugh at me!!

  11. I loved reading your plans for the raised beds and then the reality – sounds the same as some of my veg attempts which will be even more strongly curtailed next year! And thanks for honestly sharing your patio and pergola plans – the latter in particular should be wonderful and I hope your dreams for this and the patio do come to fruition. I do so enjoy hearing about the planning and carrying out of people’s garden schemes! By the way, what are you doing to over winter sweet peppers (they were one of my few success crops!)?

    1. Hi Cathy, I hope that by this time next year we have a patio at the very least, but it always amazes me how long it takes to get these sorts of things done, even with outside help! I actually need to do some more research on over wintering the sweet peppers, but I have brought them in to my unheated conservatory and am keeping them moist. Come spring and the first signs of new growth I will pot them on and give them a good prune. I’ll post about it some time, I’m sure, I really like the idea of having bigger more productive plants next year.

  12. Hi Janet,

    Oooh looking at you getting all excited about the year to come is making me even more excited at the prospect of moving. Actually now I can’t wait. Just need Christmas to pass, because let’s face it no one really looks for houses at this time of year.

    And do I spy your little Stellata that I may or may not have tempted you to purchase ;) hee hee

    1. Hi Liz, glad you are excited about the move, and you are right, spring is the best time to sell a house, hope it goes quickly for you in the New Year, at least it sounds as if the market is picking up again. As for the stellata, I should call her Liz in your honour, with a nod to Elizabeth Taylor for her elegance ;-)

  13. Oh, I am always hatching grand schemes, Janet – the dreaming and planning is the easy part! I am really hoping to expand my beds and borders more into the lawn in the back yard, and get some paving done. I don’t know if any of it will happen, but I’m an optimist too, so if not next year, then the one after, or the one after that…

    1. Hi Lyn, yes, there is always next year, by which time the plans will have probably grown in scale and detail!! Shall look forward to seeing your progress, I approve of the general land-grab!!

  14. Wow, what a great veg harvest. And you have impressive plans to add more color and interest! I love the photo of you peering out the window over your plans. How do you do that photo tagging thing that you did with the collage? That’s really nifty.

    1. Thank you, I just hope I can nurture them from sketches on scraps of paper to usable reality! The nifty photo tagging thing comes for free with wordpress as part of the new gallery function, it prompts you for a caption for each photo which then gets used when you hover or expand an image. Now I want to find something similar that will work for images from flickr, so that I don’t use up all my disk space on my blog so quickly!

      1. Thanks for the info on photo tagging. Yes, I hope they add that to Flickr! I need to explore Flickr more, as I believe it has many features I’m unaware of.

  15. I loved reading this Janet, and learning about all your plans. I’m doing the same, looking back at my year and reviewing what I should change. I’ve Grand Plans for next year too! I also want to grow more flowers with my veg, but we have such a problem with Rabbits here that everything has to be protected, and the solutions all make the beds look a little less attractive. Solving this is my first challenge.
    I love the patio and pergola ideas, too. Can’t wait to see it all develop!

    1. Hi Wendy, I sympathise with your rabbits vs. attractiveness dilemma, what a pain, though I am sure you will come up with something creative. Its a good time of year for reviewing and laying plans, isn’t it. Of course next spring, when everything is crazy, we could well be looking back at our plans with wistful chagrin…

  16. The pergola idea sounds lovely and I can imagine all sorts of delicious things growing on it. I was surprised at how much shade they do give, on the north east side of ours, we now have a very shady bed, but I wouldn’t be without it when everything is flowering on the uprights.
    You have certainly had a wonderful year with your veggies, you have done far better than I did, I must do better next year!

    1. Hi Pauline, I know, we had a pergola draped in a (non edible) vine at our last house, it cast such deep shade at certain times of day that it could be positively chilly under it! The trick will be to limit the area covered to what is practical, leaving sun lovers able to, well, love the sun whilst others laugh on from the shade. Strange to hear someone say how well I did with veges, I suppose we all tend to see the failures more clearly than the successes.

  17. I do enjoy a long garden blog post like this one, with lots of good pictures.
    You’ve certainly had a good year and it looks like you’ll be enjoying an even better, and more colourful one, next year.
    You’ve certainly got plenty to dream about, wild or otherwise. xx

    1. Thanks Flighty, I keep meaning to do shorter posts but it just doesn’t work for me, so I am grateful to people like you who actively enjoy them! I should probably add a “get yourself a large mug of tea and sit down” warning though ;-)

  18. Your plate of salad is very impressive Janet! I also lost a lot to the cabbage whites, but fortunately they weren’t around as early in the year as usual, so we had a good bit of salad before the caterpillars tucked in! Love the sound of the arches and a vine – dreaming can be such fun! I dream that one day a garden designer will knock on my door and offer to dig up and design (for free of course) the whole of our front, which is currently the “wild” area! Happy dreaming, and I hope at least some of your plans are fulfilled next year!

    1. Hi Cathy, it was a rather large salad, but hey, mostly water, right?! Good luck with your garden designer dream, maybe you could find a budding one to take under your wing and offer a really good opportunity with lots of free publicity…

  19. Glad you enjoyed your vegetable patch being so close, it does make a huge difference! Sorry to add a negative point but I think the pergola idea would make the raised beds too shady; vegetables need sun; if you’re willing to forego the vegetables and have flowers etc. then I think the idea is great, I just don’t think you can have both. My plan for the winter is to add pleached limes to the garden, by which I mean, build a structure and get some small limes, this will be at the back of the formal beds creating my very own spring walk (alla Sissinghurst). It will also give more shade to the back border.

    1. Your spring walk sounds wonderful Christina. Re shade, I wasn’t planning to cover the walkway, just grow things up the supports between the posts, just as I would up wigwams, just a lot stronger. Only the area over the patio will have plants up it to deliberately shade it, so I am hoping the vege beds will be no more shaded than if I was growing wigwams of e.g. runner beans at the ends. Or do you think that would be a problem too?

      1. No, I don’t think that would be a problem; I obviously hadn’t fully understood your intention. I think the form of your pergola adding height and linking with the veg beds will add a new dimension to your garden. I need to find somewhere to grow a grape in my garden, which should be simple but somehow it isn’t!

  20. Another lovely post, Janet, and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments too! I chuckled at your reply to Flighty as I actually do sit down with a coffee on Fridays to catch up with reading blog posts! (Although today, at the suggestion of a Lithuanian friend, I have quince tea… it’s yummy!)
    I totally understand your reasoning in choosing veg – it’s the same scenario here where I’ve had to learn from my mistakes in previous years; far too much of some veg and not enough of others. I’ve reached the same conclusion with carrots but will make space for potatoes (in sacks) as home grown were so delicious this year. I’ve also been incorporating plenty of colour by way of herbs, perennials and annuals – it all helps to keep the bees visiting and keeps the neighbours happy! I’d look very carefully at the shade cast by your proposed pergola; I put up a bamboo cane arch a couple of years back, had wonderful beans growing up – and a completely defunct bed underneath where nothing would grow! You may fare better, but it’s something to bear in mind as most veg enjoy plenty of light in our short season. Just a thought! It all sounds very wonderful and I would absolutely LOVE to be able to pop straight out in the garden, lucky you!! Caro xx

    1. Hi Caro, I love the comments too, definitely the best bit! I’m hoping that by only planting things to climb up the vertical parts of the pergola, essentially the same as having a wigwam of runner beans or similar, the shade won’t be a problem, the beds run north-south so hopefully everything will get enough sun – we’ll see, but thanks for the warning! What perennials do you find grow well in amongst your veges? I’ve been wondering about rudbekias, but of course the soil will be really rich, so I must be careful not to plant things that will then just flop all over the place!

      Quince tea sounds rather lush, I wonder if, in time, my chaenomeles might give me enough fruit to try the equivalent.

  21. What a productive back garden you had Janet! and I love the idea of the arches going there too. I’ve hardly any room to grow veggies so have to stick to growing salad crops in containers. My curly kale was devoured this year.

    1. Hi Rosie, it was very satisfying how much I got out of such a comparatively small space, even with losing all the brassicas. I remember a display of container-grown salads and herbs at a stand at Malvern a few years ago that left me feeling it was the only way salad crops should be grown! They must have been a little desperate to devour your kale like that, I’d have thought the leaves were too tough to be first choice.

  22. Janet, I think you should congratulate yourself on a wonderful harvest this year. Cabbage moths are so destructive, netting will help. There is a lot of food that can come out of four raised beds!

    1. Thanks Janet, though TNG just said to me “Now I understand what happened to the sweetcorn”!!

  23. Quite a successful veggie garden. I added one more bed and plan to plant up to make more room. I really like when you share your detailed ideas…gets me thinking too!!

    1. Hi Donna, I think if I gave the veg patch a report card it would read “Good, could do better” – which is actually on me, not the beds, as they work really well. I think I will have to stop at the 5 beds, but I am cramming fruit in to the surrounding borders. Glad you like the “thinking out loud”, it helps me, and I always love it when other people do it too, though it means my brain is constantly churning over ideas!!

  24. A great review of your year in your kitchen garden and such great plans for next year. Thats one thing I need to remember next year, one courgette plant is enough. I never seem to learn!

    1. Courgettes are like that – and this will be the umpteenth year that I have made a note to that effect!

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