When Joy Larkcom began writing about gardening in the 1970s, the traditional way was still to grow a limited amount of brassicas, potatoes and root veg, all in regimented rows.
With both an insatiable curiosity and an obsession with vegetables, Joy drew inspiration instead from European peasant gardeners with their wonderful ortos, allotments and gardens. Always thorough in her research, she set off in a caravan across Europe with her family, cycling off to talk to people about their veg growing.
As someone who struggles with the concept of a ‘vegetable patch’ (I’m too obsessed by food to have an area that doesn’t contain something edible, so the whole garden is a patchwork of vegetables and flowers) Joy’s ideas about growing edible plants in a more creative way are right up my garden path. And her style, which mixes down to earth common sense with wit, makes her writing my ideal evening-by-the-woodburner reading. While daydreaming about next years’ planting (and tasty harvests!) I find reading about using wild plants in Italy or “slugduggery” on a Suffolk market garden just the thing.
In ‘Just Vegetating’ Joy brings together articles from four decades of writing about vegetable gardening, covering subjects ranging from her 1970s ‘Grand Vegetable Tour’ to Europe, her travels to Japan and China in search of unusual Asian vegetables that would suit our British climate (adding to her favourite hardy cut and come again salad crops) to “two-timing” potatoes by sowing quick growing rocket or cress on top of them when first planted.
I was surprised to discover how much of the things we take for granted these days in vegetable growing (planting cut and come again salad leaves, growing European favourites such as rocket, purslane, endives and chicories, intersowing) were introduced to us by Joy Larkcom. But I also picked up lots of new ideas: I’ll be rubbing a lovage leaf around a bowl of salad to add a celery flavour now and chopping lemon balm finely to add a lemon taste to salads.
And I loved her scholarly findings that, “Vegetables and flowers were grown together indiscriminately in these functional medieval gardens. Even the flowers were grown for practical purposes: medicinal, culinary or for distilling.” Nice to know there have been crazy planters like me for years!
Just Vegetating A Memoir by Joy Larkcom, published 2012 by Frances Lincoln.