When it comes to gardening, it doesn’t all have to be a chore. Llandaff North gardener Eirlys Rhiannon reminds us that tasty treats can make the hard work worthwhile
“I can’t stand gardening,” my friend said, cheerfully. It was a tad surprising, since at that very moment, he was up to his wrists in soil, covered in muddy smears, weeding, on his had-it-for-three-years Llandaff North allotment. So if he ‘can’t stand’ it, what’s the attraction? Grow your own tasty food
“Flavour,” he answered promptly, standing up to address the question with the full level of enthusiasm he felt it deserved. “There’s nothing like the taste of a raspberry fresh off the cane in the sunshine, knowing you’ve grown it. Makes it all worthwhile.” Now, don’t go thinking that you have to have an allotment – in fact, given the recent popularity of grow-your-own, getting any further than a waiting list might be pretty hard. Nor do you have to dig out your garden to replicate an allotment, because while many folks think that ‘growing edibles = veg patch’, the truth is that edible plants can fit very well into any ornamental garden. They don’t march themselves into rows just ‘cos you can eat them.
No, really, trust me. And here’s the best bit: tasting your garden makes maintaining it even more of a joy. Or, if you’re anything like my friend, it makes the work worthwhile. Think of it this way: edible plants are your garden saying ‘thank you’ for giving it some love.
So if you’d like to grow some edibles, here are some easy suggestions for making a start this spring:
1. Evergreen herbs Year-on-year joy, good for containers if you don’t have much garden, and great in the kitchen. Rosemary, sage and thyme can be bought as small plants for just a few quid, and there are some really interesting colours of foliage available – try purple and yellow sage, it’s stunning. Get them in over March and April so that they’ve grown healthy roots by the time the weather gets dry (yup, I’ve got my fingers crossed too). If you know someone with plants already, ask them for cuttings – they take longer to get going, but will reward your patience with flavour and flowers.
2. Easy seeders Rocket is the taste sensation for those who like to grow from seed. Sow in clumps in sunny patches between your other plants, any time from February onwards. You get a tasty salad, plus pretty flowers. When the plants die back after flowering you can either collect the seed or bend the stalks over to save yourself the hassle of sowing the next batch. Tidy. Calendula (also known as English Marigold) is another fab one to sow, and March is the perfect time. Pick a bright orange variety – the petals look stunning scattered on a salad. They also self-seed, but very sparingly – they’re like a polite, friendly visitor that won’t outstay their welcome. And they’re loved by beneficial insects, so they bring other great visitors along too.
3. Fruit bushes As with herbs, early spring is a good time to get these in the ground. (As a rule of thumb, if it feels like the winter has been here forever and will never ever leave, you’re allowed to call it early spring. The gardening books don’t say this, but I’m sure it’s true.) So which fruit to start with? As my friend testifies, raspberry canes are fabulous, but they’re also enthusiastic (that’s a technical gardening term for ‘messy’), so they need a little bit of care – tying in so they don’t flop over, which means getting good supports in or planting them near something you can tie to, e.g. a sturdy fence. They also send out runners (underground shoots which send up new plants). The runners can be a bonus (yay! I was hoping for a raspberry patch in the middle of the lawn!), or a weed – or even a combination of the two: dig them up from the spot where you didn’t want them, and pass them on to a friend, feeling just a little bit proud of your offspring.
If you’re wanting something a little tidier in the fruit department, my top suggestion would be a currant bush; redcurrants are particularly good and don’t mind a not-so-sunny spot. And guess what? You can get cuttings of these too. As you might guess by now, plenty of edible plants can be grown easily from existing plants, so if you’re reading this, and thinking to yourself “I’ve got a rosemary, and some spare space,” then why not pop some cuttings into the ground now? They may have grown roots by this time next year, and then you can pot them on for sale at next year’s Spring Fairs or community events. While the rest of us are waiting, we can pop along to a local garden centre and start our own collection. One day, we’ll be raising cuttings just like you. If we can stop ourselves from eating the whole lot, of course.